It was a Helluva Year
Looking back on it, I sometimes can't believe that we went through all that we did and lived to come out on the other side. It was a year of extreme highs and devastatingly grueling lows. It was a year of grief, pain, fear, frustration, and desperation. It was also a year of peace, joy, self-acceptance, self-awareness, relief, discovery, and hope. The events of this year could easily be written into several sizable chapters.
My mom spent the year dying. Her previous diagnosis of advanced breast cancer had been held at bay with chemotherapy. But in 1996 her remission came to an end and when she started spending seven or eight hours a day in the bathroom and she got out of the car one day and crawled up the driveway into house we all knew the cancer had spread to her brain.
A thick tension developed between Claire and me. Soon after I had confessed everything to her we made the decision to stick together through it all and try to make it work. In spite of this, I caught Claire staring at me with those wide, haunted eyes several times a day. She started bringing up issues of homosexuality in general terms, which angered me. I wanted to just not talk about it anymore. I wanted her to forget the whole thing, but of course she couldn't. I started to feel like she was trying to punish me by repeatedly bringing it up. At one point, angry, I challenged her by snapping, " Why do you insist on punishing me? I'm trying to move on, I'm trying to repent. I said I was sorry! What more am I supposed to do?"
In February we booked a 3 day cruise as an unspoken final effort to work things out between us. We enjoyed ourselves in many ways. However, my attempts at rekindling our physical relationship were met with distance and apathy. It began dawning on me that Claire was having second thoughts about a lot of things. While sitting on deck watching the ship cut through the Pacific, she told me that she had done a lot of thinking that that she didn't want to have much to do with the church anymore. This sideblinded me; I was shocked. This was no small thing. She said that if I wanted to continue being involved with the church, that would be fine, but she was done. I didn't know what to say. It was then that knew we weren't going to last. Leaving the church had never occurred to me, in spite of everything.
The next few weeks things crumbled, quickly. Claire began pulling away from me and became passionately involved in rally car racing. Who could blame her? She spent most weekends away, while I dutifully stayed home with the girls and took them to church and continued teaching the three-year olds there.
We continued in this frame of existence until that fateful day in April when we had the tearful, gut-wrenching conversation that had been a long time coming. Holding hands and crying, we agreed that we were much better friends than spouses, and for the sake of the emotional health of both of us, our marriage relationship needed to end. We made a list of mutual agreements that would make it easier for us to go through the impossibly painful transition. She gave me her wedding ring and I gave her mine, and we hung them on gold chains around our necks, right over our hearts. Along with our rings we gave each other our blessings in going out into the world and trying to make sense of what our lives had become.
And then I fell to pieces. I cried all the time, I didn't know who I was any more, I didn't want my marriage to end, I didn't want to put my girls through a divorce. I didn't want to leave the church. I didn't want to stay in the church. I certainly didn't want to go throught the process of leaving the church. I didn't want to tell my family. I didn't want to tell my friends. I didn't want people at work to find out that Claire and I were through. I didn't want my family to be broken. I didn't want to have a failed marriage. I didn't want to be gay.
I went through days and weeks in a stupor. I wasn't eating; I was losing weight. I wasn't sleeping; the bags and dark circles under my eyes became the dominant facial features. I would put my head down on my desk at work and wish for the world to go away. Thoughts of suicide crossed my mind. The only thing I was able muster up the energy for was hugs and smiles for my beautiful daughters, who were still blissfully unaware of the drastic changes that were about to undergo their family.
I had to get some help, or I wasn't going to make it. I didn't know where to turn; I had no idea of what kinds of support groups and help existed for people like me. A gay Mormon father who was just coming to terms with his sexuality and going through the break up of his marriage?
Thank God for my two friends at work, Sue and Jane. Up to this point I hadn't told anything to anyone about the things that were going on in my life; everything was getting very bottled up. Sue and Jane could tell something was very wrong and one afternoon they cornered me and demanded I tell them what was going on. Through my sobs it all came pouring out, even though I was afraid that they would think differently of me. I will never forget the way that they listened to me and hugged me, and said, "It doesn't matter that you're gay! We're just sorry that you're having to go through such a rough time. We're here for you. We love you just the way you are."
I felt such relief finally telling somebody! Somebody who didn't care if I was gay, somebody who loved me anyway, somebody who didn't pass judgement, somebody that didn't come with a predetermined prejudice about homosexuality. This encouragement made me think that maybe, somehow, things would be okay.
One day while absently flipping through channels on tv, I came across the real estate/public service channel. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the words:
Need help? Nowhere to turn?
Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
Call for information!
What??? Gay and lesbian Mormons? Talk about an oxi-moron! But I was fascinated that there might be other people like me, going through what I was going through. I began attending meetings which opened up a whole new world to me. I realized that I wasn't alone. I realized there was hope. I realized maybe I was going to be okay. I also learned that there was another organization out there called Gamofites, which was similar to Affirmation except everyone was just like me, a gay Mormon father. This nationwide group of men served such a huge purpose in those critical months of 1996 when I was struggling to figure out who I really am.
This year of transition was tumultuous to say the least. We rented a big house in order to accommodate Claire's growing daycare business and then things got really crazy. We invited a friend of ours to live with us for a while because she needed a place to stay, and Claire's brother, Lincoln, lived with us too. My little brother, Paul, came to spend the summer. I finally decided to fix the trainwreck that I called my teeth and got braces, sentencing myself to two months of agony, soup and yogurt. Toward the end of the year, Claire's new boyfriend, Dennis moved in. I started meeting guys and having some of my new gay friends over. My mother' health declined very rapidly. And then Claire and Dennis decided to have a baby.
Everything moved so unbelievably fast. We seriously could have been guests on Oprah. There was a popular song that year that went, "All I can say is that my life is pretty strange. . ." That was our theme song for a while. I'm sure there may have been better ways for us to go through this transition, but we did the best we could at the time. The neighbors and the church really started wondering what was going on, and the gossip flew. But the most important thing was that there was peace inside that house. Claire and I never fought; we placed the other's needs and comfort at the top of the priority list, along with Hilary's and Amelia's.
In November, our condo that we had rented out in order for us to rent the house became vacant, so I moved back in, just a couple of miles from the house, and we equally shared in the responsibilities of taking care of our children.
Then, on December 22nd, I put the girls in the van and drove through a blizzard back to Pleasant Grove, knowing that it was the last time I would travel to Utah to see my mother. When we arrived, she was no longer coherent and in tremendous pain. All six of us kids gathered around her bed on Christmas Eve and tearfully told her that we were all there now and that she didn't need to hold on anymore. We told her how much we loved her and we encouraged her to let go. When I woke up the next morning I went into her room, and she had done that very thing. She let go.
Claire, about five months pregnant, flew up to be with me. She insisted on going to the mortuary and putting my mom's make-up on her because she knew how she liked it, soft and subtle. I will never forget how Claire sat there, pregnant with another man's baby, holding my hand and crying with me all through the viewing and the funeral.
We were no longer husband and wife. But we still shared a love and a bond that would never die.