It was the quiet spaces that were the killer. The fact that I saw things about Dad we didn’t talk about. The quirky way he and Jim would look at one another after having drinks after 5, after being separated all day, then joining back together with us kids for the evening. It was the way Jim took care of Dad when he sometimes went too far with drinks…when we’d gone out to dinner. Then, when Jim moved with Dad to a new house on Coralville Lake.
It was the deafening silence that settled into my body when I was hoping someone would speak up, help me understand what was really going on. Help me read between the lines; help me to see I wasn’t crazy. Wasn’t imagining my dad was awesome yet different in the way he held an intimate relationship.
It was the quiet way I held things in, lurked in the shadows as a teen when I was just sure Dad was gay but was unsure how to speak about it, speak up, or speak out. Defend his honor.
Then there was the time I quietly sat on the floor in my dark apartment, gazing into space stroking my cats, thinking about Dad and his HIV infection. In truth my mind focused on the AIDS version, worst-case scenario. I racked my brain trying to decide whom I should divulge my secrets to? I wondered who would listen, be compassionate? Who would help keep my secrets silent?
Time went on and I rode dad’s wave of pain, went into his nights as an adult. I sat by his side listening as he began to slowly open up to me about what it was like to loose a partner, what it was like to feel the pulse of disease in his community. Still, I kept my thoughts, my feelings to myself. I wanted to support my dad, wanted him to see the reflection of hero in my eyes. So, I stayed quiet about any negative or shameful thoughts I had.
Out on my own I worked to carve my own path. I kept his life secret separate from my daily life. Others around me, at times, responded to how they felt about gay life. They joked, sneered, belittled and it hurt. But in the 80’s and 90’s I didn’t know how to begin to step up so I looked inward, shriveled to a smaller me. I wanted to be brave but couldn’t find courage. I wanted to keep my life moving so I said nothing that might jeopardize my forward progress. That, somehow instead kept me back.
Once in a coffee shop a man spoke of my neighborhood, of Wrigley Field being the biggest gay bar – defamed it negatively, bitterly. I froze. I stood silent, threatened, and afraid, not knowing how to navigate. My children were steps away, cupping, sipping hot chocolate. I hoped they hadn’t heard, understood, soaked up the homophobia that had been sprayed in our immediate direction.
I hadn’t been coached on how to make change. I’ve got some catching up to do. I need to make some noise!