Val was my mom’s first real girlfriend. I liked her from the moment we met. She was sweet and supportive. I wasn’t surprised when she and my mom bought a house together. They moved in with Val’s adopted kids. I flew to Kansas City and spent Christmas at their new place. We opened presents in the living room and stuffed our faces with turkey. Val wanted to know about my standup and writing. We became close over the years. She has always wanted to write. She likes to pick my brain. My mom and Val struggled like every couple. Eventually, they weren’t able to make it work. They decided to split, but when they came to our wedding, they didn’t mention the breakup. My mom didn’t want to dampen the day. I could tell something was up, but I didn’t push it. I shared a dance with Val, and she told me she’s always thought of me as her son. Until that moment, I’d only thought of her as my mom’s girlfriend. I suddenly realized she was also my mom.
I didn’t realize how many people I grew up with don’t know my mom is gay. These aren’t people I hang out with regularly or talk to on the phone, but it amazes me. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not bigots, that’s not where I’m going with this. If anything they’re overly supportive.
What bothers me is that living in Los Angeles has me equating Kansas City with Mayberry, even though I know firsthand they’re nothing alike. The KC metro area has over two million people.
Still, I’m assuming they’re going to get on a moral soapbox, say something derogatory. But the people I’ve spoken to only gush about my mom’s courage. They respect her. They’re proud of her. If anything, I’m the bigot for expecting anything less from my hometown, which I suppose, isn’t really a town.
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.
Hello, lovely people!
For those of you who just saw The Ricki Lake Show, I want to thank you for stopping by. This blog is my little attempt to tell the story of how my mom came out of the closet after 25 years of marriage. Her declaration shook the foundation of our family. It was shocking and difficult to handle at first, but her truth forced us to really look at our family, to remember why we loved each other. I suppose we’d been taking that for granted, slowly drifting apart. So in some ways, my mom coming out actually saved our family.
I’ve reposted a few of the early blog posts to give everyone a sense of what you might find on this site. I hope you enjoy.
Oh, in case any of you are wondering, Ricki Lake is, without question, one of the most beautiful, kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I was born and raised in Kansas City, so that’s saying something.
Thank you again for stopping by!
In high school I got my ass kicked by a guy named Joey. Yesterday I found out he passed away. It made feel sad and old. It’s been 18 years since he kicked the shit out of me. It started because of a misunderstanding. We were at a party. I was sixteen and drunk, trying to make the girls laugh. I slammed a shot of whiskey and felt the puke rising. I stumbled up the stairs, found a toilet, then passed out on some girl’s bed.
The door flew open and suddenly Joey’s yelling at me. Apparently, someone had told him I’d grabbed his girlfriend’s boob. I told him I’ve been throwing up and that he didn’t want to keep shaking me.
Two girls ran in and forced him to leave.
Joey was Italian and tough. I was a scrawny Polack challenging his manhood.
He stood out on the lawn with a bunch of guys demanding I come out. I didn’t want to go, but a “good” friend of mine said, “You either go out there now and face this or go through the next year looking over your shoulder.”
So like a dumbfuck I walked out and found thirty guys in tracksuits standing in a circle. Joey stepped out from the pack. I threw up my hands. “Everyone, look, I want to apologize. I want to say I’m sorry to Joey and to everyone. I meant no offense. I’m just drunk and if someone thinks I touched a boob, then I apologize. Really. But I would never touch Joey’s girlfriend’s boob.” I knew I should stop saying boob, but it was like I had Tourette’s. “I’m not a boob toucher. I’m not. I’m just sorry.”
I offered my hand, and surprisingly, Joey shook it. I put my other hand on top to, you know apparently, “seal the deal.” It was mistake #2, because Joey grabbed both of my hands, reared back, and cracked me in the eye. He hit me with his ring. It should have knocked me cold, but I was so drunk I didn’t really feel it. The booze was delaying the pain just long enough for me to slur, “Isss that all you got?”
This was mistake #3.
Joey threw a hook to my temple, then a jab to my throat, and another to my jaw. I fell hard. The yard was on a slope so I just rolled and rolled and curled into a ball as he kicked me in the gut. Why didn’t I just shut my stupid mouth?
Finally, some guys pulled him off and helped me back into the house. A girl got me a bag of ice. Two others consoled me. I felt my eye swelling.
I could barely see as the two girls helped me to a bed. My head was pounding, but I still tried to rub their vaginas through their jeans. One girl patted my head and I stopped trying.
The next morning I saw my face and tried to come up with an excuse to tell my dad.
I told him, “I was dancing, and some girl tripped, knocked into me, and I hit the table.”
He didn’t even blink. “Who beat the shit out of you?”
I admitted the truth and he took me to the emergency room. I had a small fracture on my cheek and a nasty black eye, but the real pain was emotional; it was mental. I hated this guy, hated how he’d humiliated me for something I didn’t even do. I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him dead. And I carried this anger with me, even when I moved to California years later. I felt it every time I saw a fight in a movie or someone picking on someone smaller. I’d wake up in sweats remembering Joey kicking me in the chest. I’d clench my fists, grit my teeth, and savor the fantasies of revenge.
If I ever saw him again, I told myself, I’d make him regret everything.
Six years later I got my chance. I was back in Kansas City for a visit, and I saw Joey at a bar. He was with a group of guys wearing newer tracksuits. He called me over. I’d envisioned this moment a thousand times. I told myself I’d punch him before he could say a word, but now that it was reality, I was scared shitless. I walked over in these tiny steps remembering how I’d said, “Is that all you got?” after he jacked me in the eye. He’d probably been holding onto that, letting it burn and fester. I saw the beer bottles on the table, pictured Joey smashing one into my throat, the blood spraying the table, the windows.
He put out his hand. I didn’t know what to do. I shook it. I remembered how he’d held my hands while he drove his ring into my skull.
Joey said, “I just wanted to apologize, Anthony.”
“For what happened in high school. I’m sorry. I don’t even know how it started. I just remember feeling like I had to be a tough guy. And it was wrong. And I want you to know I felt bad. I was just a dumb kid, you know? It was stupid.”
“Oh…that?” I laughed. “I’d forgotten about it. It’s nothing.”
“Well, I’m still sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s water under the bridge. I’m sure I deserved it.”
“Well, still, for what it’s worth…”
I walked off feeling like an asshole. Here I was thinking I was the better person, but I was just the jerk who couldn’t let go of the pain, couldn’t forgive.
So this morning as I scrolled through Facebook and read the grief of his friends, saw the smiling pictures, I understood why they loved him. He was a standup guy, strong enough to admit to his mistakes, and willing to apologize face-to-face to the people he’d hurt.
He was a bigger man than I.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mike_nelson/4723888594/”>Anamorphic Mike</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/4elevenpix/5083673335/”>4ELEVEN Images</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctrl-f5/421166117/”>CTRLF5</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>
My mom just arrived in L.A. for a visit, so I apologize for keeping this brief. But in the few hours since her arrival, I have learned:
1) When she first started frequenting the lone gay bar in Kansas City, the women refused to speak to her. She thought they didn’t find her appealing. It broke her heart. Later she learned the regulars were suspicious of new fems. They figured her “undercover,” which she explained meant they thought she was a swinger, posing as a lesbian to reel in an unsuspecting woman to bring home to her nasty boyfriend or husband.
2) My mom pointed out a mistake in my last post. She said they did have a parade in Kansas City when she first came out. I asked how many people were involved in this celebration. She said, “Like four or five.” So I stand corrected. Ten years ago, Kansas City did have a gay pride parade, though you might have confused it for a few people jaywalking.
3) Yes, my mom sure can take a picture.
Until next time. Cheers!