When I nudged her, she mumbled some unintelligible words but did not budge. I tapped her on the shoulder repeatedly, each time pushing her more firmly. When I walked off the plane in North Carolina, my mother cocked her head. She looked down at my shoes and then slowly moved her gaze up, like she was analyzing an outfit on a mannequin, her lips pursed and their corners turned down.
But it was what she did not say, her Southern way of saying something in place of saying what she thought, Those are homosexual clothes. I slept in my childhood bed that night, my feet hanging over the edge, and stared up at the ceiling, thinking about the stars in Colorado. I touched my body the way Don had.
In the morning, my mother was sitting alone at the kitchen table, her back to me, and I looked at the nape of her neck. One of my earliest memories was sitting in the back seat of the station wagon, my father driving and my mother sitting next to him. She smoothed the hair of her new pixie cut with a white-gloved hand as we crossed the bridge over Buffalo Creek. Our new house on Latham Road appeared above the dashboard, and I kept watching her fuss with the hair on the back of her neck, wondering what the expression on her face might reveal.
I sat down at the table and glanced at her face. It was the same grimace I saw when she uttered the words lesbian and homosexual. I was testing the waters, and now I was drowning, and she knew it. I winced and began to retreat. She cast aside her Southern euphemisms and went straight for the jugular. There is nothing natural about it. The torture would continue for months. It was calculated and surgical, like the removal and irradiation of a gay tumor.
Often, it takes place at the dining-room table. I returned to the closet, and Sheila returned to the bottle. Neither of us was strong enough to maintain the path we cut together along Clear Creek. Sheila died in the middle of the night from a sudden brain aneurysm when I was in my thirties. She was living in a trailer park in Florida alone, except for the two dozen or so exotic birds that she was breeding as her next big moneymaking scheme.
I did not cry when she died, less because she would not have wanted it, and more because I felt like I did not deserve to.
It was another thing that Sheila and I had in common, how our secret kept us far away from loving ourselves. Twenty-five years later, my wife, Katherine sits next to me, in the passenger seat of our minivan, and fidgets with her hair. The families who settled this small New England town built stone walls at the edge of their existence.
Hundreds of years later, the boulders crisscross fields and tumble into the woods, staking long-forgotten boundaries. I drive our minivan in silence past the pumpkin-colored village colonial, past Oak Hill cemetery bordered by a crumbling fieldstone wall, and pull into the Walmart parking lot. The air in the van is too heavy. They disappear into the dark and then reappear beneath a yellow circle illuminated by a parking lot light. Their questions, I imagine, are easier to ask and to answer.
Do we need more paper towels? How much milk is left?
It took me 25 years — after marriage and 2 kids — to come out
Will we make it back in time to watch American Idol? It has always been there, but I kept it cordoned off for all these years. I built my life on No. That life is crumbling now, and neither of us can keep pretending I can support it. For a moment, the world stops turning, and we stop breathing. Our whole lives suspended in the silence that a shattered secret can make. I exhale as she inhales. Her body slumps under the weight of the words, filling the van like water.
But I know, the hardest things to prepare for are sometimes the things that we already know. For the first time, I see that nineteen-year-old traveling that one crooked road along Clear Creek. Buy Now, Pay Later. Already a Subscriber? Log In Here. Please sign in with Facebook or Google below:. If you have an older Salon account, please enter your username and password below: sign in Forgot Password?
Log Out. Every morning, we would rise earlier than the sun, jump in the pickup truck, and drive in silence from Denver toward Saddleback Mountain. There was only one crooked road that led up to Central City before gambling took hold there. The tips of the pine trees and high canyon walls would catch hold of the sunlight, and just like that, it would ricochet and splinter into a million points of light upon the ripples of Clear Creek, where it slowed down and spread out many times wider than it was deep. Related Why I'm never leaving the hood. NSFW: Top bidder in the date auction. Editor's Picks "The Hot Zone" has viral potential.
On parade at West Point 50 years later. A horror comic for the Trump era. I'm not like them, but I can pretend. She had thick, curly dark-brown hair and very silly eyebrows and beautiful brown eyes, and she wore glasses that she called Official D. She was possibly the funniest person I ever met. Jane knew everyone; I really only knew Jane. She was older; I was hungrier. For most of the time I knew her, in the nineteen-nineties of Bill Clinton and Catharine MacKinnon, liberalism gone wrong, feminism gone bonkers, we talked on the telephone maybe half a dozen times a day, like ladies in a nineteen-seventies sitcom, Mary and Rhoda, Maude and Vivian.
We discussed lunch: tuna fish or egg salad? We compared the soundtracks of our days: Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris. We analyzed people. GWF, 36, Loves E. Passionate, smart, and seriously funny, with a soft spot for kids and four-legged friends. Seeking similar, for friendship, maybe more.
She tried Zoloft. She tried yoga. She kept the rain off me but it always fell on her. All I could do was write; writing was what she could not do.
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The year I finished my dissertation, she left graduate school and spent a year at an ashram. She wanted to become a writer. She wanted to have children. How do you do it? And why: Why the books? Why the babies? Why the essays? Why so many, why so fast? Jane is the how, the why, the rush, and the fire. She never got to do any of the things we both wanted.
Only I did.
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I found a file of commonplaces, her favorite thoughts typed out in one long poem. Those were her very rotten choices. Her cells divided. My cells divided. Our selves divided. I was with her through terrifying treatments, each new unavailing misery. Is it simply living through the procedure? She lived through it. But living through it was not the definition of success. When she was sure she could not survive, when her doctors had given up, she decided to refuse to die until my baby came; she would wait to meet him, and only then would she let go.
She wanted to wave to him on some kind of existential highway, driving in opposite lanes. It was like a game of chicken. This resolution brought her unbearable pain, and it broke me. I think I must have asked her not to die before the baby came. I probably begged her. The whole year is a near-blackout, except that I remember how each day carried my baby closer to life and her closer to death.
I put her through this , I put her through this. I sank to my knees under the weight. On April 1, , at a Passover Seder, Jane ate a bite of the matzo and the maror , the bitter herbs, the bread of life and the bitterness of affliction. The next day, she could no longer speak in sentences. My contractions had started. I went to the hospital. And I tried as hard as I could to push, but it felt as though I were pulling Jane to her death. Mainly, I screamed. They unzipped him out of me and sewed me up. Friends took a picture of the baby the minute he came out, a Polaroid, it slipped out of the camera like a tongue from a mouth, and then they ran down the hall and out into the parking garage and drove that hundred miles, childbed to deathbed.
She knew, she heard, she knew. Did she know? Twenty years ago this spring, I put my baby in his Kermit fleece and carried him out of the hospital. I could not leave my baby. The feminism of writers who are mothers is a fetish, but the motherhood of scholars is forbidden.
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When my son was four months old, I tried going to a conference. I missed him too much. I made a rule: no more conferences. I did not.
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Jane would understand. I wrote in my acknowledgments about my oldest son, ridiculously, and regretted it when a reviewer mocked me. I adopted two new rules: never again read a review, and never show your colleagues your soft belly, ever. I got tenure. She loved nothing more than a baby. I missed her like crazy. I bought them those piped snowsuits, the red-and-yellow one and the green-and-blue one, and knit them matching hats and mittens.
I pictured her scooping them into her arms. When it was too cold and blustery to walk them to their day-care center in the stroller, even with the snowsuits and the blankets, we had to drive the car. Once, after I backed out and started driving down the street, the car staggered, and I thought it was stuck on ice and snow. Then the rear of the car started smoking. I pulled to the side of the road. I tugged it out and smothered it with snow. And then I collapsed sobbing on the sidewalk, staring at the red and the yellow and the green and the blue, turned black, as if the children themselves had been in a terrible accident, the piping broken open and white as bone.
I went to California to find out about a job in a place with no snow.
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I was writing a book about slavery. A professor whose work Jane and I had read together in a graduate seminar arranged for me to meet him at his apartment, because he wanted to show me his collection of rare books. I decided against California. I took a different job and moved into a house closer to preschool, so we could always walk, and never have to take the car again. I finished the book. I had another baby.
Book, baby, book, baby, book, baby—another rule. I stitched another quilt. I started writing essays. I wrote about everything I thought Jane might ever have wanted to, but never did, never could, never would. I read books at Little League games. I wrote at the kitchen table, among piles of homework. It was a uterus.