I’m standing in my parents’ garage and my mom tells me she’s gay. Her face is red and she’s laughing, which is what happens when she’s nervous or drunk. It’s obvious she’s both. She’s talking a mile a minute, but I don’t hear a word. “I’m gay!” just keeps repeating in my head.
This can’t be how she planned to tell me. When it’s cold outside, sometimes the garage is where we take the dog to poop. It’s Kansas City, the day after Thanksgiving, so it stinks.
Other words start filtering in, words like, “I wanted to tell you,” and “I’m still your mother,” and “One time I tried cocaine.” It’s a floodgate and she’s rattling off every secret she’s had since grade school.
She says she’s been attracted to girls since she was thirteen, that she fantasizes about women at work.
I feel woozy.
My mom starts crying. “I just can’t keep sleeping in the same bed with him.”
She says she told him the truth years ago, that they’ve been staying together until my sister finishes high school. My parents have been married for a quarter-century and they’re still sleeping in the same bed
I hear my buddies outside the garage yelling for me to get my ass out there. It’s my last night in town. I head back to L.A. in the morning. I’m twenty-two years old, but right now, I feel like a child. Someone starts banging on the garage door.
“So what do you think?” my mom asks.
“About what I just told you?”
“I don’t know… Are you really gay?”
My mom covers her face. “You hate me!”
My father comes in and wants to know what the hell all this racket is. He hits the button and the garage door crungles up. My buddies stop punching each other in the arms at the sight of my father.
“Mr. Szpak,” one of them says.
My mom pulls me to the side and says, “We should keep talking.” She’s trying to whisper, but the booze has removed that particular skill.
My father can tell my mom’s been sharing.
“What did you say to him?” he asks.
“I thought we discussed that you wouldn’t say—“
“You can’t tell me what to say!”
My buddies pull me towards the car. It’s like an undertow, but I don’t fight. I just let them drag me away. My father’s leading my mom towards the house.
“Get your hands off me,” my mom says. She runs over. “Where are you going, Anthony?”
“Strip club,” one of my buddies slurs.
My mom’s eyes widen.
Another friend starts to say it was just a joke, but my mom cuts him off—
“Can I come?”
My father forces a laugh. “All right, let’s go back inside, Kathy.”
“Come on, Anthony, it’ll be fun,” my mom says.
There are moments in every child’s life, which cause parts of the brain to fizzle and burn.
My buddies give my mom a hug and say that’s why they love her. She’s so cool, they tell her.
My father finally corrals my mom. She knows not to push it, because she’s staring into my eyes.
I’m crammed in between two guys who played on our high school football team. Someone hands me a beer as we drive off. I watch my father finally get my mom back inside. The garage door closes.