July 02, 2005

i'm a [last name] girl

When my mother calls to check in on me, she asks about my health, my overall well-being and the rest of the usual mom-kid topics.

I tend to answer the questions about my health with extended and detailed reports. I'm a middle child and totally crave the attention so she gets an answer and then some. I freely answer those questions because they aren't personal. Thankfully my areas of medical woe don't pertain to my girly bits and pieces (knock wood). If they did, mama would be in the dark, let me tell you.

Questions about my overall well-being, however, are indeed personal so they're met with a canned "Things are fine" response. My mother tries to dig deeper but I'm quite good at stonewalling her. If I've learned anything over the years, it's how to hide things. I'm incredibly resourceful in this task and alarmingly quick with a believable ruse.

I might elaborate on certain elements but I'm careful to avoid conversations that could possibly segue into discussions about who I'm dating. My mother is always on the prowl for an "in," you see. Of course, sometimes she throws contextual relevance to the wind and will slip a question in there anyway. She can find boyfriend potential in a discussion about my switching from All to Tide with Bleach. It used to make me all hyper and crazed but now I can dismiss it with a casual, "When there's someone worth mentioning, you'll know." And I do mean that.

You see, I'm a control freak. I moderate and modulate the course of conversations. Rarely do they get away from me. I'm in charge of the information and emotions I share. If there's going to be a big reveal, it's because I orchestrated it.

But during yesterday's check-in, I was forced to concede some power to my mother. I'm in a bit of a financial bind so I asked for help. And, thankfully, she and my father are going to provide.

Our conversation was varied and rather freewheeling (for us, at least). We covered a lot of terrain as my mother tried to get to the bottom of my financial aches and pains. I didn't foresee this happening but one topic led to another and before long, I confessed to my mother that for the past five years, I've been seeing a psychiatrist and taking antidepressants.

Whoa, where'd that come from?

My mother's voice started to shake. She fought back tears... but not for the reasons I feared. I used to worry that her stiff upper lip and British reserve would make her scoff at therapy. I thought she'd find it silly. She gave me no reason to believe that but, in my head, it was a very real fear.

There was a momentary silence. Her voice shook when she finally found the words. She was angry and hurt that I didn't tell her. I felt such shame in that moment. My mother was completely crushed. I apologized and assured her that it was my own fears and insecurities that made me hide it so long.

But that's not entirely true.

I always knew that if my mother knew of my condition, she'd ask why I was depressed. And sure enough, she did. She asked if it was just my money situation weighing me down. Yes, my debt is a huge problem but really the biggest anchor in my life is the secret I carry around with me day in and day out.

But was this the time to tell my mother that her daughter is a lesbian? I considered it briefly but then decided against it. So I continued to blame my finances.

My mother pleaded, "Are you sure that's all it is?!" It's like she knows and was hoping that for once in my life I'd stop being selective with my revelations and fully confide in her.

But I continued my lie and said quietly, "No, it's just the money."

I'm not sure if I missed my opportunity or perhaps opened the door to one. I'm going to see my parents today. Maybe I'll fully open up. Maybe not.

Part of the reason I keep a blog without my real name on it is so that I can write freely, without expectation and without limits. Anonymity liberates me. My real last name carries weight. Certain behavior is expected of those of us who bear it. I don't mean to seem overly dramatic but that's honestly the way it is. It's not even my parents who put that pressure on us -- it's always come from teachers, clergy, friends, relatives and acquaintances.

We were well-adjusted, well-behaved kids who didn't cause embarrassment or shame for our parents. We did our homework and our chores. We were polite to our elders. We wrote thank-you notes. We were far from perfect but when we partook in naughty dealings, we were smart enough to cover our tracks.

In grammar school, my sisters and I were in an exclusive set -- we were the [Last Name] Girls. The principal addressed us as such and it trickled down. We were among the families who were judged as a whole. We weren't allowed to ever waiver or falter in our studies. Whereas teachers abandoned hope and didn't expect much from other kids (sadly), we were raked over the coals in a spectacular and very public fashion.

[Last Name] Girls only received good grades. Extra-credit assignments and extra-curricular activities weren't optional for us -- we were expected to do those things. If we didn't volunteer or participate, we were shamed and accused of laziness. We were reminded of our Last Name and then subsequently bludgeoned with it.

Each of us was held to a high standard set by the older sister. Comparisons were made constantly. If I had trouble with math (oh, and I did!) I was reminded that my sisters ran circles around me in the subject. I was mocked and told I was "nothing like the rest of the [Last Name] Girls." Even though I heard that quite a bit, it always shocked me and took my breath away. That was so painful. I felt like I disappointed my family and tarnished our good name. And then I'd lower my head so that no one could see the hot tears quickly filling my eyes and overflowing onto the lined sheets of my marble notebook.

Mercifully, I went to a large public high school where teachers didn't know one [Last Name] Girl from the next. For the first time, I worked my ass off to get good grades and joined activities for ME and my future, not to uphold some legacy someone else saddled me with.

To this day, the [Last Name] Family is known for having its shit together. We're happy and well-adjusted. My parents have a cute house with a lush green lawn, sun catchers in the windows and a bird feeder in the backyard. My father is an usher at 9:00 Mass every Sunday morning. My mother attends the same service. She arrives early and waves to her friends sitting in their usual pews. The Monsignor knows the [Last Name] Girls by name, occupation and location. He delights in telling us how proud our father is of his four girls. He marvels at our loving, cohesive unit and reminds us how lucky we are. I get the same speech every time I see the Monsignor but despite the repetition, he speaks with conviction and enthusiasm.

While the Monsignor gives his spiel, I put on a false face of unequivocal agreement. But inside, I think of my secret. Would my father still be proud if he knew? Would we still be a cohesive unit? Or would I fracture my family beyond repair? What would people think of the [Last Name] Family if they knew one of them was gay?

Sometimes I visualize how revealing my secret might play out. I revel momentarily in the relief being unburdened provides. But the comfort is short-lived because the pressure of being a [Last Name] Girl creeps in. I'm reminded of the nuns' admonitions and taunts that I'm "not like the rest of them." And that still shocks me and takes my breath away. At the same time, I'm proud of what makes me different from my sisters.

My mind is in a million places right now. I feel like the truth is playing tug of war with obligation and for once, obligation isn't winning.