I must confess that to me, like so many of my peers, the journey to self-acceptance means rolling with the punches and marching on. Best to keep moving forward, it is often said. No use in looking back. But in the quest to become who you are meant to be, sometimes you hit a wall where certain aspects of your life just beg for reconciliation. So many of us have spent so long running from bad memories, or where we come from, such inner peace seems impossible.
One of my best girlfriends, Maura, once explained to me that sometimes you have to end a relationship for something new to happen or for something good to come out of that broken relationship. I had always thought this advice pertained to romantic entanglement. Recently, with a lot of thought and reflection, I have come to find that it applies to any kind of relationship, whether it be with family, friends, or yourself.
I thought a lot about Maura’s words on a trip to visit my extended family in Rogersville, Missouri last month. I had not seen most of these people in 10 years. So yes, I was more than a bit nervous.
I had gone from being an awkward boy who was angry at the world to being a grown man who was very comfortable in his own skin, every obscenely bleached and flame-burning ounce of me. And you know as well as I do, we all have preconceived notions about the Midwest. The Bible belt doesn’t exactly scream GAY PRIDE.
The bigger pill I had to swallow, though, was the memories I still had of living in Missouri. Needless to say, they weren’t the warm fuzzies greeting cards are made of. My parents were on the brink of divorce (Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson looked like the Cleavers in comparison), my brother skipped town and found solace in drugs, and I, all of 11, felt like I was left holding the bag. On top of all of the family drama was my starting to realize that I wasn’t like all of the other boys. It felt like war on every level. You grow up fast in situations like that. So really, everything about this particular portion of my life went into that toxic waste dump we all tend to use growing up. Forget about it and move on. And as the bad memories were being tossed away, unfortunately, so were some of the good ones.
After such a long period of “being over” that part of my life, I found myself realizing just how much I had walked away from. I was over doing the Sunday dinner thing with my parents when I became aware of the fact that my cousin Shauna was getting married the weekend after my birthday. A strange sensation came over me. “How could I not know this? She and I are like three months apart and we were so close growing up!” All of the years of running towards a different life came smacking me in the face like a bag of Trojans. “Duh…you dropped off the face of the Earth, you dumb fuck,” I finally admitted.
Well, nothing fuels action more than being pissed off, so I randomly called my Aunt Diane and told her I was crashing her daughter’s wedding. With her delight and encouragement I had decided I was going to cart my big ass back to see the family in Missouri, even if I had to whore myself the whole way down there. Fortunately, my parents (who, by the way, after 20 years of fighting, morphed into a strange little couple on their way to celebrating their 35th… don’t ask… I think it’s something in the Rochester water supply that mellowed them) were intrigued by my spontaneous about face regarding “back home” and decided to road trip it with me.
The visit to my former life as I call it had such a profound and unexpected effect on me. It was great to see my cousin. She’s as beautiful as ever, and her innate sweetness had her picking up with me as if I had never been gone. Being able to reconnect with my grandparents was something I will cherish for the rest of my life. The more time I spent with my Grandmother, the more I started to understand the drive I have and where my ability to keep marching on comes from. She’s been doing it all of her life. I felt loved and needed by every single one of them the entire time I was there. And about those preconceived notions? My family could care less that their cousin/nephew/grandson is as queer as a three-dollar bill. They might not get it, but they love me, unconditionally.
But the best part of the trip had to the emotional truce I called with my Mom and Dad. I had to let go of the past and the resentment I had towards them regarding my youth. And really, after 18 hours in a car with both of them, it was either get over it or leave them stranded out in a field somewhere in the vast state of Ohio (my Mother will vouch for that threat). In all seriousness, what Maura had said was true. It was only when I put an end to the negative relationship and memories I had, was I able to start something new and special with them. And because of that, I am able to fully embrace the new and improved relationships I have with my parents and the rest of my family.
Driving back from the trip, I was listening to the new Wynonna Judd CD (when in the country, do as the county people do!). There’s a line in her song “Dream Chaser” that captured my experience in Missouri so brilliantly. “I’ve always known I’d come back home when I found my rainbow’s end.”
I had found my rainbow’s end, indeed. And what a beautiful place it has turned out to be.
Essential Download: "Dream Chaser"
Artisit: Wynonna Judd
Available On: Her Story - Scenes From a Lifetime
Originally published in the November 2005 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.