Little Cheaters on God, The End:
From a glassed-in booth at the postampt, I told my mother to put away the special pins, the thread so fine it was almost invisible. I imagined her rolling the half-sewn gown in sheets and moving it to the upper shelves of her closet, to commune with her three feathered hats from the sixties. At least the hats had been worn. At least the hats were just hats, and not symbols of a life-sized misplaced hope, some wild misjudgment of both myself and someone else.
We’re postponing the wedding, I said. I don’t know when.
It’s okay, my mother told me. I’m sure you’re doing the right thing.
Both R and I were using the word postpone. R was certain it was just a matter of time before we’d be back together again. And I was too much of a coward to say cancel. But every time I said I love you, I’d realized I was crying. And if what hurt the most was telling my mother that the gown would not be worn, I knew leaving was the right thing to do.
I moved to Denver, where I knew no one, to take an editing job. R accepted a position in Frankfurt. He sent me two dozen roses on my birthday. And, now that the world had discovered the internet, we began emailing:
“….I shudder at the thought of losing you. Will you be there in a year for me? I continue to plan my life with you. Love, R”
I told him I was meeting new people. There was someone named S. He was fun, if unambitious. Most important, he liked to kiss me, I said.
R was beside himself. His misery drew out a promise of me to try one last time. On Christmas Eve, R flew to Denver. He still had the same wide, sandy-lashed blue eyes, the same rough stubble over the cleft chin. But now it was impossible for me to look at him without seeing all the hope he had once inspired in me, and all the sadness we’d caused each other.
He brought a gift. It was a juicer.
“Nancy suggested it,” he said by way of explanation, citing his father’s wife.
Sitting on the kitchen counter beside the juicer as midnight approached, he announced that he wanted a new start on new ground, based on truth and openness. Then he said, “Of course you know I’m gay.” He paused, waiting for my acknowledgment. When I remained silent, processing this epiphany, he continued. “Well you are too, right? I mean, you’ve slept with girls?”
I wasn’t, and I hadn’t.
This was the early nineties. It was back before people had gay ex-fiances. I had concluded that our problems were due to my problems: I was unattractive, inexperienced, and uncommitted. My myopia–not being able to focus past myself–had rendered me legally blind to him.
And now I realized he needed me. He needed me to complete the picture of who he wished he was. His family and two half-brothers didn’t know he was gay. He needed me not because others didn’t accept his sexuality, but because he didn’t.
I told him that perhaps he should have brought up the topic of sexual preference before he’d brought up the topic of marriage. I told him to get back on the plane.
On Christmas Day I bought a bag of oranges. When the universe gives you a gay man with a juicer, at least make the juice.
But I was left knowing that the only real relationship I’d had had been based on lies. That the only man who’d deemed me suitable for marriage was not attracted to women. So what kind of a woman did that make me?
Four years later, I turned thirty. I was still single, living alone with my cat. One morning, I picked up the phone and heard R’s voice. He wanted to tell me about his job. A nice one with a reputable firm in Boston. That year alone he had traveled to Barcelona, Lisbon, Madrid, and Seoul. He told me about his house. It was a nice one, too, with a dock and a ski boat. He told me about his guy problems. He was afraid Chad was using him. I listened, and told him Chad was using him. He didn’t know how to get out of it. But he feared he couldn’t do any better.
You’re using Chad, then, too, I pointed out.
Well, yes, he agreed.
Like you used me, I did not say. Like you are still trying to use me, I did not say. I realized he was hoping that I’d come to believe I couldn’t do any better, either.
Essayist Susan Griffin writes, “What is hidden, kept secret, cannot be loved. It exists in a place of exile, outside the realm of response.”
I didn’t have those words all those years ago on the telephone. Instead, I said, You have to stop being afraid of what’s inside you. I said this, afraid, still, that there was something inside me that was keeping me from being wholly loved. But wise enough to know that if there was, whatever it was, it couldn’t be hidden. It couldn’t be hidden, and be loved, too.