I’m writing this from my kitchen table at my new house. Not the new house I moved into August of 2017, the brand new house, the dream home, the one for which I chose every material and surface—the beachy wood-look tile, the espresso shaker cabinets, the granite countertops, the extra tall beveled-glass front door, the cavernous master bath walk-in rain shower, the high baseboards and elegant window moldings.
Not that new house.
I’m at my new house, built in and not redecorated since 1989, that I closed on four weeks ago.
Last October, I came out to my husband as gay. My life has changed a lot since then. I cut way back on posting to public social media because there wasn’t a whole lot to say with the truth left out of it. Unraveling a marriage is a private affair. But that’s where I’ve been, in case you were wondering. And that’s why I’m sitting at my retro kitchen table in my new old house that isn’t my “dream” house.
Except, in so many ways, it is a dream house. Because, up until a year ago, that’s all living as my authentic self really was: a dream. I had convinced myself it would never happen. I was trying to accept my life as it was (it was, after all, a beautiful, enviable life) and find peace.
A couple of years ago, I scribbled this thing that is shaped like a poem but isn’t a poem. It was one of many moments when the only way I could find my breath again was to write down my hatred for myself:
I am nothing special.
I am lazy.
I am fat.
I am weak.
There is no reason for anyone to like me.
I am ineffectual.
I am unnoticeable.
I am not worthy of notice.
I am forgettable.
I am not funny.
I am not smart.
I have not lived up to my potential.
My brain is slow.
I should try harder.
I hate myself.
I want to crawl out of my body.
I want my heart to stop hurting.
I want to be unconscious.
I don’t even recognize this person anymore. I’ve come out enough in my personal life that I no longer feel this way. But it’s interesting to me what this not-poem shows. It shows what hiding and being kept from your identity does to a person. A denial of identity doesn’t just affect the part being denied. It wears down the entire system. Denial of identity is a blood toxin, a sickness. It infects every cell.
I have an intimate understanding of why suicide rates are so much higher in the LGBTQ community. The statistics tell us it’s because of lack of acceptance and support, but there’s this other thing, too. How many LGBTQ people killed themselves without ever telling anyone who they were? There’s an unreported segment, I think, for whom denial of self got to be too much. It wasn’t that they weren’t accepted; it was that they believed they wouldn’t be. Or they couldn’t see a way out. And so no one ever even knew.
I tried to trick myself by telling myself that in my “next life” I would be gay. That was the dream: my next life. In this life, I told myself, I would live vicariously through fictional characters. My gayness would exist in the novels I would write as a kind of Easter egg. A secret. Some would see it and some wouldn’t. In my next life though, I told myself, when I get my do-over, I’ll know myself sooner, won’t wait till my thirties to finally figure out who I am. In my next life, I’ll get this all sorted out.
But I was jealous of my book characters. I hated Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle. I watched Kristen Stewart go on SNL and mumble with beautiful, shy conviction, “I’m… so gay” and wanted to slam my computer into the hard tile floor until it was nothing but shards.
I pictured myself unzipping my body, from neck to pubic bone, and climbing out of it. For years I pictured this. Hunks of bloody meat spilling from my seams, and I’d step out of my skin and walk away, raw and overexposed but relieved.
There is no “next life.” There is only this one.
I have pulled apart my family. “Hard” doesn’t begin to describe the last eight months. Imagine Christmas morning, your kids opening presents and you know it’s the last Christmas before you turn their world inside out. Imagine every moment like that, every moment viewed through the lens of “this is the last one.” I know it will keep being hard for a while. Transition has been and will continue to be stressful.
My kids still have a lot of processing to do. It was their dream home too, their dream life. I’m asking them to envision a different future than the one they have trusted in their entire lives. They support and love me in a way only children can. I have done my very best for them all this time, and they see that. They are hurt, but they are not angry with me. And I still have the magical comforting love-powers of a mother. My words and love give them confidence they will be okay.
Our new little house is half the size of the one I moved out of and has laminate countertops, popcorn ceilings, and a “lived in” smell. But it’s a solid house, in a well-kept neighborhood close to everything, close to my kids’ father. When I walked into it, the first thing I thought was, “This is my house.” In the front yard stands a gorgeous old magnolia tree with huge white flowers, and out back is a canal with turtles. It might not be a dream home, but it’s my dream home. It’s my dream, a dream that for years I thought must be subverted for everyone else’s sake.
With each step I take out of the closet, I feel relief. I am still terrified and still suffer moments of crippling guilt, but every day I breathe a little easier. I don’t feel strangled anymore. I don’t wish to be unconscious. I don’t spend every day hating myself for being unable to find happiness in a life that by anyone else’s standards is beautiful.
I am settling into a new normal, doing everything I can to ensure my kids feel safe and protected and loved, writing my ass off, and figuring this “next life” thing out. It’s going pretty well. This morning as I pushed scrambled eggs around my Goodwill-purchased frying pan, my daughter came into the kitchen and threaded her arms around my hips. “This house feels homey, Mommy.”
She’s right. It does feel homey. It feels like hope.
Beyond the Break was more than a story. It was also me trying to live vicariously through fictional characters and find a way to be okay with myself.