One of my most meaningful possessions is a notebook my mother wrote for me in the early 90’s. In it, page after page, she expresses her story in the hopes that as I grow up, I will be able to have more understanding and acceptance of what has happened in life. Each entry, she reminds me of how much she loves me. Each entry, I learn something new that I hadn’t known before. I am able to hone in on a different memory or a different version of events that I hadn’t conceptualized yet. I don’t read it often, but when I do, I feel her presence within me grow stronger.
Today marks 20 years my mommy has been deceased. I have a hard time believing that much distance has been between she and I in corporeal form. October 16th has been a day I both dread and look forward to year after year. I am reminded of both the day I lost her, and then of the days when I learned to love her even more now that she has transcended.
This morning, I felt like I have felt almost every morning for a month now: lost and sad. Today, my focus is on my mother, but I can’t help draw parallels to my other situation. From an early age, I experienced a lot of emotional trauma.
While I had 22 wonderful years knowing my grandfather, I am heavily connected to the nine years I spent with my mother. I remember her smile, how infectious it was. Anybody who was within a mile of her could hear her laugh, and they themselves couldn’t help but feel pure joy. There was a darkness about her, haunted almost. You could see that there were parts of her that were broken, and yet, she was able to turn it on and show love and light in ways unlike any other. She was a loyal friend, a protector, a guardian, and she was both heaven-sent and hellbound.
She knew as she was writing this journal to me that she was dying. “The bug,” she called it. Back then, I think that is a vague depiction of a virus that claimed the lives of so many. I always thought it was cancer. In fact, it was pretty obvious to me that it was cancer because she smoked all the time. As a kid, I would walk into the living room, and see her asleep on the couch, a lit cigarette in her hand. There were holes in our couch from the times she would sleep and smoke. My grandfather once got so angry with her that he called her out in front of me and said, “Jesus Christ, Denise! All you do is [imitiates smoking in quick succession].” To this day, it is still a memory I recall with such fondness. If you ever see me in person, ask me to imitate it.
I decided to read the journal this morning. Usually, when I start to read it, I become very sad and start to cry, but that wasn’t the case today. I was able to read it through and actually capture the essence of that time more clearly than ever before. I learned that my parents met in Manhattan, NY in January of 1978. My mom was living in New Jersey with her brother while my father lived in a one bedroom residential hotel in Manhattan. They would oftentimes go to Port Authority for Off Track Betting in the hopes of earning some quick cash. My father knew very little English then, and because my mother was fluent in Spanish, they were able to connect easily.
They would go to a little Spanish restaurant nearly every day for lunch. My father was slow to anger, quiet, private (all things I am not), kind and gentle (two things I do believe I am). My father was “a typical Aries” and my mother was on the cusp of an Aries and Taurus. She mentions imagining “the bull and the ram” and my mind can’t help but wander what their conversations really looked like.
While I won’t get into all of the details of what happened (and many of my close friends already know or have some semblance of an idea), my parents both tried very hard to be good, decent people. They had my brother Michael at a time when they needed joy and laughter though he was a total surprise to them. When he was killed around age 5, it sent my parents down a black hole. She said, “I had left the apartment that afternoon with a son I adored above all else, and when I returned, I was alone.” She describes what happened within weeks of Michael’s death. “I didn’t want to live, and I couldn’t seem to die, so I did the next best thing- I lived in a fog.”
She got pregnant again, and believed God had realized His mistake; that Michael was coming back, and she would have him and hold him in her arms again. She miscarried after four and a half months. By then, the damage had been done. That fog that my parents were living in would ultimately lead to poor choices that resulted in waining health. It was back to whatever means to cope with day to day living for both she and my father. Her parents knew they had to intervene and help them start anew. My grandfather was retiring in Alabama close to my grandmother’s family, and they encouraged my parents to follow them there.
In April of 1986, she found out she was pregnant and this time, it was completely planned. While this was a time of excitement, she had a hard time allowing herself to be joyous. She confesses that she constantly felt she would lose this baby. She prayed for it to be a boy as opposed to a happy, healthy child. She would name him Matthew which means “a gift from the Lord.” She also promised “whatever powers that be, that I would be a better mother, a better person, if only I could keep you.”
Evidently, I was a very active baby, always turning and hiccuping inside her stomach. I never knew, but I was two weeks late (guess I could have been a New Year’s Day baby… drats!) When I was born, my father was so excited, he ran around passing out cigars. She even said she didn’t know people actually did that still at the time. My parents and grandparents had fallen completely and madly in love with me from the moment I entered this earth, screaming at the top of my lungs, she says.
“I always wished I had some artistic ability- the ability to create something beautiful. I realize now that I do possess the ability to create beauty. I created two of the most beautiful, wondrous beings the world will ever know.” That line really hit me. I grew up drawing, very into acting and being dramatic, and I had no idea where I got that from. I assumed I got it from her somehow. My family was astounded at how unlike everyone else I was from the moment I started coming into my own. I enjoyed public speaking, I was never shy and I was always “different.”
“‘Being different’ can make your life a living hell, and I so want to protect you from that stigma.” Even from a young age, my mother knew I was different. I always remember loving the color pink, playing with Barbie, dressing up. I would sneak into my grandmother’s room and put on her silk nightgowns and walk around like a princess (I always had good taste, ha). In kindergarten, I would fight the other girls in class over these ruby red slippers that were in the dress-up corner of the room.
I’m sometimes asked how my parents reacted when I came out of the closet, and unfortunately, I’ll never know. I came out to my grandfather, aunt and cousins, and they all accepted me as they had always known all along. But I never got that chance to tell my parents because they died when I was so young. I, too, knew I was different than the other kids, but much of that was outside the realm of just being gay (and even still, I don’t know that I knew that term’s meaning back then).
The hardest part of the journal was when my mother tells me to forgive her. “I love you so much. Please don’t hate me, unless hating me helps you to survive. In which case, hate me as much as you need to. You are so beautiful, so talented. Don’t let anything hold you back. I love you, baby.” If I’m being honest, for years, I did hate my mother. I hated my father, and God, and anyone else who took them away from me. When I didn’t understand that their actions played a part in their demise, I blamed God for picking me out of all the other kids in the world to suffer so much, so soon. I also blamed myself for having “unusual” feelings towards boys and not girls; that maybe me being this gay word was a punishment beyond being teased.
When I understood that the choices you make now can have a deliterious effect on your future, I shifted the blame to my parents thinking, “If they loved me more, they would have fought harder to be better.” I would learn about my parents in segments: one thing about my parents as individuals that made a huge difference in my thoughts of them, then years later, understand something different that would alter my views completely. One of the worst parts about my life, I have to say, is that fact that I won’t ever 100% have all of the answers. I will have answers provided by memories and through others that have recollection of those times like my aunts. Maybe having all of the answers would do more harm than good, but maybe they would help me find even more peace. I will never know. (So I guess, why bother trying, right?)
Now at almost 30, I am trying to put certain pieces together to better understand this puzzle called life. I have met many people who have told me that I am their hero; that they’ve never met somebody who endured so much at such a short time and came out on top. While flattering, it also can be quite painful to hear. I’m reminded each time something like that is said, “Wow. This is really my life.” Even I forget sometimes.
There have been and will be plenty of other children who experience so much more than I did. I try to shift focus on the countless out there who don’t even have homes, never knew their parents, were born in war-torn countries, I mean, you name it. I have also realized that you can’t compare your life with somebody else’s. No matter what, you experienced what you experienced because you were meant to have a certain outlook on life that would carry on until the day you die. You make choices based on those experiences, so don’t doubt the progression of your life.
Sometimes, I wish I had taken the time to learn Spanish when I was younger. My family tried to get me to learn it, and boy, would it be an asset to this day. The other kids at my school didn’t speak Spanish, so I didn’t understand why I had to learn it. I put up enough tantrums that eventually, they relented and I stuck with English all throughout. It would be amazing to have learned that early on, but even now, I wonder, “how different would my life have been if I knew Spanish fluently?” I’ll never know. There’s no reason to look back with regret at this point.
I’ve met many wonderfully brilliant people in my day. People who are so book-smart, who know history, who know math, who speak multiple languages and/or have traveled all over the world. And I see myself, feel myself, being very jealous. “Why didn’t I have that upbringing? Why wasn’t I born into a life like that? Why, why why?” I have to stop those thoughts from occuring. I was not meant to experience that in my life. I was meant for other avenues.
I have allowed other’s words, their knowledge and experience make me feel less-than a person. I have believed when someone called me “stupid” or “unworldly.” I would choose to keep quiet over subjects I didn’t know about instead of stating, “I don’t know about that. Why don’t you teach me?” Sometimes, when I did, the person would speak in a condescending tone that made me sorry I even asked. I never understood speaking to people with a “greater-than-thou” attitude when they are clearly interested in learning more from you.
I have done winged-eyeliner for years, but that doesn’t mean everyone else in the world has had that experience. Allow me to teach you a way that makes you feel confident and good about it; not judge you because you aren’t up on the latest trends or regularly use YouTube. That’s just silly to me. Instead of comparing apples to apples (or really, apples to oranges), I have to remind myself that what I went through, what I experienced was designed for me. Nobody else that I know could have gone through what I went through and turned out like me. Just like I couldn’t have gone through what they went through and come out like them.
There is a darkness within me. A deep depression. I am able to turn on an act and make people laugh until they cry, or have them crying until they laugh, but deep down, there is a part of me that has always been missing. I project rainbows and unicorns most times, though I replay a black and white film about love gained and time lost in my head. It’s a part of my make up. I am a genuinely happy individual mostly who wants nothing more than to bring happiness to others, but behind the smile and the sparkle in my eyes, there is a part of me that is broken.
Have I thought about death? Of course, I have. Death doesn’t scare me. In fact, I yearn for it. Before you get all, “Oh, dear Lord,” to those words, listen. My belief in life after death is that I’ll be reunited with my family. Spend eternity with my loved ones and finally have what I have longed for my entire life. I want to meet my brother, Michael. I want to tell my parents I love them. I want to see Diddy again. If I died tomorrow, my hope is that I would be with them and have the biggest smile on my face when I actually am.
Don’t worry, though. I’m not rushing the process. I have so much more to live for. I have the desire to make something of myself for nobody else but myself. I want a family. I want a kid (maybe more). I want to be a good husband, a great partner, a best friend and a soul mate to somebody who wants to be all those things as well.
I found love before. This past year and some change, I was more in love than I ever knew possible with N. Even still, I have people asking me, “How did things turn out? How was your trip?” When I explain that things didn’t go as I had hoped, they ask, “Well, did you have a good vacation at least?” The answer is yes. Of course, I did.
I learned more in that timeframe and afterwards than I have in a really long time. I have no doubts that there was love there. Was it the right person at the wrong time? No. It wasn’t the right person, but it was the right time. I needed this to ground myself in a self-love I wouldn’t have known or desired otherwise. I haven’t loved myself much in my life. I have put love in other people, other relationships, and hoped by doing that I would be loved back.
I am loved. I know there are so many people who think of me, wish me well, want me to succeed. I just have to actualize a love for myself that no one could or should give to me. I don’t want to expect someone to love me anymore. I expect myself to be the embodiment of love to others and come home every day knowing I did something good to influence somebody else without wanting anything in return. I wanted N to love me as I loved him. I wanted N to believe I was the only one for him, and that no one else could love him like I could.
Truth is, N couldn’t love me like I loved him. He isn’t me. Nor am I, him. I should have just accepted the love he had for me when I had it instead of hoping it would transcend into something else. Also, I am right in saying no one will love him like I did. He will be loved by others, others that would do anything for him, I’m sure. But there is only one me, and there is only one him. What we shared, those memories, are ours. No matter who hears the story, no matter who weighs in on the events, they are ours forever. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
It is now really time for me to move forward. I have to remember that N isn’t my end-all, be-all. I wanted that, but it wasn’t and isn’t fair to either one of us. I am bound to find somebody who adores me as I, him. Somebody who loves me as I, him. Somebody who values many of the same things as I do. And when I do, maybe it will be a magical experience that will last a lifetime. Maybe not. What I won’t do is harness anymore negative energy towards, what I consider to be, a highlight in my life.
My parents and grandparents are deceased and have been for quite sometime, but my life progressed onward. I am still able to smile and laugh and make others follow suit. This past month was one of the hardest experiences I have ever gone through. I believed in the signs; that fate was on my side. I believed that I deserved a love with somebody like N, and grew to love that idea more and more every day. Things didn’t work out like I would have wanted, and that happens. All I can do now is pick myself up and keep walking.
In life, many of us are longing to move up, to go north (not necessarily geographically, but figuratively). When we hit a low point, we get down and go south. Today, I realized that if you take up and down, north and south, out of the equation, what directions are you left with? East and West. However you want to look at it, when things don’t work out in life, you either go left or right. Sometimes you have to leave something or somebody behind, but don’t let that anchor you to the south. Let it be the boost of energy you need to move forward in the opposite direction. Along the path, you’ll have many more ups and downs, but so long as you’re moving, you’re headed in the right direction.
So today, I’m determined to really keep moving. My parents loved me and I know that. They’re not here with me right now. It may be 50 more years before I see them, but I’m not going to be landlocked to depression and sorrow for eternity. I have to keep moving.
N and I didn’t work out like I dreamed. I love him, and deep down, I believe he loves me still, but we met at a time and experienced so much that weren’t meant to lead to an eternity as lovers. I won’t mourn the ending as much as I will smile in the experience. I will use what I learned to better myself and perhaps those around me to build a bright future ahead. It’s like Kelly Clarkson sings in Already Gone,
You know that I love you so
I love you enough to let you go
I want you to know
That it doesn’t matter
Where we take this road
Someone’s gotta go
And I want you to know
You couldn’t have loved me better
But I want you to move on
So I’m already gone
Remember all these things we wanted
Now all our memories, they’re haunted
We were always meant to say goodbye
I love you.