Two Years Later
“Mom wants you to come to San Francisco for Thanksgiving. You and Zora. Come stay in my apartment.”
My brother had called to deliver my mother’s message for her. It seemed too good to be true: our first time all together. My brother (a flighty San Fran techie), my father (a quiet, stoic family-man), my mother, my wife, and me. This is a trap. This is a trap. This is a blessing.
And so, last Thanksgiving, we made the trip to San Francisco.
My parents, Zora, and I spent several days driving along the California coast – Big Sur, Monterey, and back up to San Francisco in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Just going. Just seeing. Just taking photographs to remember that we were there. My parents are window-shoppers of the universe. I wonder with guilt sometimes if they would have enjoyed a cruise or a safari – the sort of thing I wouldn’t enjoy and that their frugal nature keeps them from experiencing.
My mother brought a mix of nuts for the drive. “I roasted them myself,” she said, and she’d press the cashews – the most delectable – alternately into my hand and Zora’s.
And she’d hold out a whispered “wow” as we drove between the sea and the mountains and pat my father’s arm, and he’d stop at an overlook, where she’d turn and walk back a ways to pick succulents. “I’m taking these 肉肉 home,” she explained. For her imperfections, I’ll confess that she has a way of making things grow.
I watched my parents hold one another and take photographs. Zora and I snuck into a few. We teased them for their selfie stick. We watched a sunset and a mated pair of peregrines. I watched my mother and my wife search for hermit crabs, crouching over the same tidal pool, heads bowed. Big Sur is indeed big. It’d been a long time since I last stood beneath a sky this free, on a land this wide.
Remember this, I told myself, as the very best moment of your life.
How phenomenal and undeserved: the grace of my wife putting aside the pain of rejection to meet my mother partway, and the grace of my mother putting aside the pain of alienation to meet my wife and me partway.
One Week Later
“She didn’t help me scrub the stain out of the rug. She didn’t decline when I asked if you wanted to take home the remainder of the clementines. And she insisted on getting a pie. Pies are expensive. I’m so disappointed with you and Zora.”
That phone call after Thanksgiving took the air out of my sails. She had kissed us both goodbye. She had sent us off with home-cooked food. She had squeezed my hand as we looked at sunrise for coffee on the streets of San Francisco. Why did she cry that morning before we ducked into a taxi and left?
I cradled this knowledge for a little while, afraid to tell Zora about my mother’s disappointment. But Zora reacted calmly when I released the news to her. “We’re just having regular in-law problems now, not gender-based in-law problems.”
And I hadn’t thought of that. For that, I was grateful.
And Zora is learning, no-nonsense and humble as she is, what it means to be a daughter-in-law that aligns with my mother’s cultural expectations.
I’ve never felt close to my mother, not for lack of wanting, but because we’re two magnets of the same charge. Ours is an ongoing story, not a singular happy ending. But along the journey, we’ve had overlooks of tremendous beauty, and this one – this treacherous road of steep drops and formidable peaks – is one of them.
In the meeting place of the currents of gender, ethnicity, national identity, sexual orientation, and more, a great confusion happens. But there is richness, too. There is an opportunity to stand in the primordial space where no harmony can be assumed and relationship must be built, limb by limb, piece by piece.
I believe that the Spirit calls us to stitch that space together. And I’ve learned how to do some of that stitchwork by being an LGBTQ person. I’ve especially learned by dwelling in the space between my mother and my love for my wife that – yes – we build the kin-dom by building bridges, but that – yes – we also build the kin-dom by being bridges and being built.
This Thanksgiving, I’m writing to you a thousand miles away from my parents at Zora’s childhood home. Writing this one was hard. There is still pain and frustration.
But I remember well the smell of the wild ocean, the sound of its rhythm unending, the kiss of sunlight on my face, the smile on my mother’s face. This path that my mother and I are on is not a wide one, and at times it’s not a safe one. But it brings together the mountains and the sea, and for that, it is a beautiful one. It is the path where we become the bridge.
Photos from architectureimg.com and trover.com