Out

A light, spring breeze drifts through the window of my fifth-floor dorm room as I finish packing the brown canvas duffle on my bed. I pull hard at its shiny, metal zipper, pleading with it to close without having to remove or rearrange any of the contents within. Though it took some coercing on my part, the bag finally zips closed, and I let out a sigh of relief. I fall face forward onto my twin-sized bed and let my body sink as far into the plastic mattress below me as possible, a last-ditch effort to delay the inevitable.

“You’re so dramatic,” I hear John say from his side of the room.

“And you’re an ass, what about it?” I reply, only half meaning what I say. We’d been roommates for the past two years here at Wellman University, and while John can definitely be an ass at times, he’s actually a pretty great guy.

“Dude, you’re going to be fine, your mom isn’t going to care. You’re completely overthinking this.” I wish I was as sure as he was.

Wow, leave it to the straight guy to completely downplay the act of coming out to a parent. You’re really killing it at this supportive roommate thing.” Now I’m being an ass. I don’t mean to be, but the thought of telling my mom that I’m gay scares the shit out of me, and I’m taking it out on John.

“Look, Asher, I’m not saying this isn’t a big deal — it’s a big fucking deal, I get that, but you owe it to yourself to let your mom know who you really are. You also owe her the chance to know the real you.”

“Damnit. You know, I really hate it when you’re right.” I let out another sigh, this time in annoyance.

“Just because I play football doesn’t mean I’m dumb.”

“Doesn’t it though?” I say through a smirk.

“Dick. I think it’s time for you to get your ass up and go home.” John feigns offense, but he knows I’m only kidding.

“If I must.” I say as I dramatically turn over on my back and sit up.

“You must.”

“If things go to shit, I’m blaming you.” I tell him.

“You always do,” he laughs.

At that, I stand up from my bed, grab the duffle bag that was just beside me, and head towards the door. As I twist the knob, I look over to John and say, “See you in a week.”

“Have a good spring break, man. You’ve got this.”

“Thanks,” I say as I walk through the door and close it behind me.

I take the stairs, all five flights, another effort to give myself more time — as if the two-hour drive home wouldn’t be enough. Probably a mistake given how heavy the duffle over my right shoulder is. A slight pain is already starting to set in. I make it through the lobby of the building — which the university has attempted to modernize but is still stuck in the past with its penny tile floors and wood paneled walls — and out into the parking lot. Throwing the duffle into the back seat of my black 2009 Toyota Camry, I pause for a moment and take a deep breath. I take my place in the driver’s seat, turn the ignition, and drive out of the Beckham lot towards home. There is no turning back now.

I’ve known I was gay since I was five and had my first crush on Tommy Gardner from my kindergarten class. I didn’t quite understand it or even have the words for it then, but I knew I was different. At recess we’d always take turns pushing each other on the swings, always trying to see how high we could make each other go. At lunch I would share my Goldfish crackers with him, and I didn’t share my Goldfish with anyone.

At eleven I would tell my mom I needed to use the bathroom no less than twice every time we went to the store. Lies, of course. Instead, I would sneak off to the clothing section and nervously walk down the men’s underwear aisle — curious, but afraid I’d get caught. Of what, I still wasn’t entirely sure, but even at a young age I could feel the societal shame. Later on, I would go on to discover I wasn’t alone in this, that it was essentially a rite of passage for every young gay boy. An unspoken, collective experience.

At fifteen I shared my first kiss with Paul Harrison at Brentwood Park. We’d been riding our bikes and the sun had just begun to set. Both of us would be late for curfew, but we didn’t care. We sat under an old oak and watched the sky turn colors, from pink to purple to the darkest blue. We sat in silence as the breeze whipped up our hair; mine chestnut brown, his golden blonde like fine jewelry. Before I knew what was happening, he leaned over and pressed his lips to mine, stealing my breath away from me. I leaned into it and kissed him back, holding onto that rich, golden hair of his.

The next year, at sixteen, we slept together. Paul’s parents were away for the weekend and I’d convinced mine to let me stay over; a hard sell with no supervision, but they eventually agreed. That night he was romantic, his hands were both gentle and purposeful. Paul made me feel needed and cared for and I drowned in that feeling. That night I think I loved him, maybe the first time I’d ever loved another man, but the next day he freaked out and called me a faggot before throwing me out of his house. We never spoke again. For a time, I was completely crushed, but I soon came to realize that it wasn’t about me at all. Paul was afraid of what we’d done, of who he was, and I couldn’t hold that against him.

Four months after what had happened with Paul, I decided that I didn’t want to live in the same fear and shame as him, so I decided to come out to my parents. I would sit across from them both at the dinner table and read them the folded-up speech I’d hid away in my back pocket, knowing full well without it, the words would escape me and I’d fuck the entire thing up. At least, that’s how it was supposed to happen, I never got that chance. The night I’d planned to tell them, my dad never made it home from work. A drunk driver hit his car while he was on his way to pick up pizzas from Antonia’s, and just like that, he was gone.

I’d lost the most important man in my life and I failed at letting him know who his son really was. There were several times in the months following my father’s death that I’d considered coming out to my mom, but each time I could never bring myself to do it. For one, it felt selfish to try and make things about me, even if it was killing me inside to continue to hide myself. Most importantly, if this was something she couldn’t accept, I just couldn’t handle being one more disappointment in her life. So, I continued to hide. Not out of shame or fear like Paul Harrison, but out of love and obligation to my mother.

A year and a half later I was eighteen and off to start my freshman year at Wellman University. I was ready for a fresh start, a new queer beginning, or so I thought. It was a slow start at first, until I met Noah Riley at the end of the fall semester at some random off-campus party. I noticed him in the kitchen, the lip of a brown beer bottle resting on his own as he tipped it back and consumed the amber liquid within. He finished the bottle and wiped his lips with his flannel cuff, obscuring his sculpted jawline for just a moment. I found myself paralyzed taking him in with his broad shoulders and his buzzcut, which only worked to highlight just how damn beautiful he really was.

Before I could look away, he caught me starting. I was mortified until he smiled back at me, which melted away any and every bit of embarrassment I felt. He reached towards the counter beside him and grabbed an unopen beer and used the hem of his flannel shirt to twist it open, exposing just a sliver of his waistline. Holding out the now opened beer, he offered it to me, and I gladly accepted.

There was something about Noah that allowed me to relax and connect with him immediately. It was the way he would look at me, never losing eye contact; engaged with every word that came from my moth — slurred or not. It was how he would touch my forearm every time he’d laugh, which had sent chills throughout my entire body. It was how he had walked me back to Beckham Hall in the freezing cold, our arms brushing against one another’s the entire way there. The way he reached for my face and drew me in for a kiss, which sparked a fire in my cheeks and stole the breath right out of my lungs for only the second time in my life.

We had continued to get closer over the next few months. We shared our hopes and dreams, our desires and secrets. We shared kisses on doorsteps and park benches, in the front seats of our cars and in his bed in the middle of the night. We shared our bodies with one another, which freed me in ways I never thought possible. We shared hours and minutes and seconds, despite the fact that time seemed to stop while we were together.

He wanted to share our love with his parents and my mom, to shout it from the rooftops and let the world know, but for that, I wasn’t ready. I reverted back to the boy who couldn’t bring himself to come out to him mother after his dad died — too afraid to hurt or disappoint her. Though Noah understood my position, my inability to come out was a heavy blow to our relationship that we were never able to recover from.

The night that Noah ended things, I was devastated, but I had no one else to blame but myself. I found myself unable to move from the concrete stairs of Beckham Hall, the same place Noah had kissed me that very first night. All I could do was sit and sob as other residents walked past offering sympathetic looks, but too afraid to get involved. It was an hour before John found me there, coming back after grabbing dinner with some friends. He picked me and allowed me to lean on him all the way back to our room.

As the heavy wooden door of our dorm closed behind us, I sank into my bed, my back against the cold concrete wall. Tears were still rushing down my face, my breathing labored. Unable to hold onto the pain any longer I told John everything. I told him that I was gay, about Noah and our relationship, and how I single handedly fucked it all up. The truth poured out of me until there was nothing left. John was kind, patient, and accepting. He listened to me in a way I had never expected. For the first time, I had come out to someone and it wasn’t a disaster. As much shit as I give him, I will forever be grateful to John.

It’s been a year since I first came out, and though I’ve gotten better at telling my friends at Wellman, I still haven’t managed to muster the courage to tell my mom until now. The last year has taught me to value ourselves as well as the loved ones in our lives. Though it doesn’t make it any easier to tell her, if my mom can’t accept me for who I am, has she ever really valued me at all? I can no longer live a lie for the sake of someone else’s happiness. For this reason, I have to come out.

After two hours of driving and reflection, I finally make it home and pull into the driveway. As I turn off the car and remove the key from the ignition, I take a deep breath and exhale, a futile effort to calm my nerves. Slowly, I open my door and step out into the warm, spring breeze, my first welcome home. I grab my duffle from the back seat and head toward the front door, which is already unlocked.

As I enter the house, I kick the door shut and place my duffle on the ground in the entryway with the intent to deal with it later. I walk towards the kitchen, the smell of food enticing me forward, not realizing just how hungry I was until now.

“Oh, hey Ash, I’m just finishing up some dinner if you want to grab some plates and set the table?” A typical greeting from my mom.

“Sure. Pasta Bolognese?” I ask eagerly.

“Of course, pasta Bolognese. You expect me not to make your favorite when you come home?” she says with a wink.

“You always pull through,” I say as I grab some plates from an upper cabinet and some forks from a drawer.

“You better believe I do.”

I place the dishes on the table and head back into the kitchen and pick up a bottle of pinot noir from the rack on the counter. “Glass of wine?” I ask her.

“For me, yes. You, absolutely not.”

“Mom, I’ll be twenty-one next year, it’s really not that big of a deal.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a soda,” she says through a cheeky smile. I knew she’d say no, but I had to try.

Mom pours the Bolognese into a serving dish and brings it to the table as I pour her a glass of the pinot and grab a cola for myself. We both sit down at the table, one across from another, and start filling our plates with the meal before us. My first homecooked meal since Christmas.

“So, Ash, how’s school? Are Your classes going okay?” Mom asks through a mouth full of pasta.

“Yeah, they’re fine. A little stressful, but that’s college, right?” I don’t really want to talk right now. I’d much prefer to focus on the food in front of me.

“And John? How’s he?

“He’s fine, I guess. He’s supposed to be heading home tomorrow, I think.” I know exactly where this small talk is leading and I’m not ready yet. I can feel the stress starting to creep back in and I start to lose my appetite.

“And what about girls? Have you met anyone recently?” And there it was. Every damn time without fail. Why couldn’t this wait till after dinner?

“No,” I say as I pick around the pasta Bolognese on my plate.

“Well, that’s okay honey. I’m sure you’ll meet a nice girl soon enough,” she says in attempt to make me feel better.

“I don’t think I will, mom.”

“Of course you will. You’re smart, you’re handsome, you have a great personality. Any girl would be lucky to have a guy like you.”

“That’s not the problem, though.” Here we go, no turning back now.

Confused, she asks, “what do you mean? What problem are you talking about?”

“I don’t want to find a girl, mom.” It comes out sharper than I meant for it to.

“Well, honey, there’s no rush, I was only saying — “

“That’s not what I meant.” The combination of my stress and frustration are getting the better of me. This is not how I was hoping this would go.

“What do you mean then?” She asks, a perplexed look on her face.

“I’m gay mom. I’d planned to tell you and dad a long time ago, but then he died, and I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you and chance hurting you even more. But I’m gay. I’ve always been gay, and I always will be.” Tears fall down my face as quickly as the truth fell from my mouth. For several moments we both sit in silence. My mom processing what I had just said as I was processing what I had just done.

Mom was the first to break the silence, “Oh. I had no idea.”

“I’m sorry if I’m a disappointment, if you can’t accept me. I just can’t go on living a lie anymore.” The tears continue to fall down my face, but I slowly begin to regain my composure.”

“Asher, honey, you could never be a disappointment to me, of course I accept you. Why would you ever think that was even a question?” She reaches out and places her hand on mine, squeezing it gently.

“After dad died you just started to make all these plans for our future; for my future, and I just didn’t want to hurt you anymore than you already were.”

“I’m sorry that I ever made you feel that way. I just thought focusing on what could happen next for us would help us heal, to move forward. I didn’t realize that meant I was holding you back from being yourself in the process. Asher, I’m so incredibly sorry.” Tears begin welling up in her own eyes as she squeezes my hand harder.

“It’s not your fault, mom. You were just doing the best that you could.” I start squeezing her hand back.

“But I could have done better,” she tells me.

“We both could have.”

My mom lets go of my hand as she pushes back from the table and stands up from her chair. She moves towards me, bends down, and takes me into her arms. “Thank you for telling me that Asher. I know that had to have been difficult, but I’m so, so proud of you, and so would your dad. I love you more than anything in this world and nothing could ever change that.”

“Thank you, mom, I love you too,” I say as I hug her back.

My mom gives me one last squeeze before letting go and standing back up. She looks at me, smiles, and says, “today has been a much more emotional day than I anticipated it would be. I think we could both use a drink, don’t you think?”

“Both?”

“Both. But just this once, okay?”

I agree with a nod and head into the kitchen to grab the bottle of pinot and an extra glass, refilling my mom’s and over pouring my own.

“Asher, really?” she asks grudgingly.

“Like you said, it’s been a really emotional day,” I say with a smile and a shrug. Mom rolls her eyes and we both laugh.

“So, I guess I should ask if you’ve met any boys recently?”

“Mom, baby steps and boundaries. Please do your best to remember those.” What else could I have expected from her?

“I make no promises.” She winks.

At that, we resume our dinner of pasta Bolognese, which now was freezing cold, but it didn’t matter. I did what I wasn’t sure I could ever do. It feels as if a weight has been lifted off of my chest, and for what seems like the very first time, I can finally breathe. Now I can be myself boldly and unapologetically, I can love and be loved openly, and I have a mother who accepts me for exactly who I am. I am free and I’m finally out.

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Robbie Wethington

Robbie Wethington

Full time public relations major at EKU. Part time amateur photographer.