Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Story

“God made women especially sensitive to their children,” said the voice on the radio. “They are able to nurture them in a way that men often can’t. When a child has been hurt and needs to be comforted, it usually wants to go to its mommy, not its daddy.” The boy glanced at the radio, which was sitting on a shelf next to a petunia. It seemed to smile cheerfully back at him as the row of lights on its face rose and fell to the sound of the man’s voice, which droned on, explaining that God didn’t want a woman to stay home because she was inferior to a man, but because she was so much better at nurturing her children.

The boy half-listened to and half ignored the voice, as he made his way across the wine-red living room carpet, past the potted palm tree in the corner, and into the spacious kitchen to get a snack. When he reached it, his mother was sitting at the kitchen table. Her red hair was disheveled, her white sundress wrinkled, and her shoulders shaking. Seeing him, she quickly wiped her eyes with a white lace handkerchief.

“What’s wrong?” he asked gently, laying his hand on her shoulder.

“Nothing,” she replied, quickly, standing up and smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress, and trying to adjust her hair. She took a head of lettuce out of the refrigerator and started to wash it at the sink.

“But you were crying,” the boy said.

“I said it was nothing,” she said, pouring dish soap onto the head of lettuce and scrubbing it with a scouring pad. “Damn! Look what I’ve done!” she exclaimed, throwing the head of lettuce in the trash. She hurried out of the kitchen, her heals clicking on the hardwood floor as she went.

The boy stood in silence, feeling frightened. He glanced at the kitchen table. There was a pile of newspapers on it, but he saw the yellow corner of a book sticking out. He picked up the book, glanced at the cover, and froze: the words “Someone I Love Is Gay” were written in large navy blue letters on the yellow cover. There was a bookmark, and slowly, he opened the book to the marked page. The bold-print words “Mothers and Sons” leapt off the page at him. He started reading. “Many mothers have a very close relationship with their homosexual son. Sometimes, the relationship is so close that it becomes unhealthy, bordering on a state of “emotional adultery.” He quickly closed the book, and stuffed it back under the pile of newspapers.

The boy walked out of the kitchen, and out through the front door, glancing back several times. Did she know? How had she figured it out? He walked away from his parents’ house, and into the City, through streets set at odd angles, past middle class houses and apartment complexes. His footsteps became lost in the rush of the City’s noises, and his thoughts rose up into that noise, jumbled and undefined, latching onto the squeaking of brakes and the whispers of children. To an outside observer, he might appear to be nearly a man – he would go to the University in the Fall. But inside he was still a boy, lonely, uncertain, seeking direction.

He wandered into a park. In a deserted corner, facing a small lake and under a weeping willow tree, he found a bench. It had been donated to the park in memory of Leroy J. Palmer, and its faded green pine studs were slung over a rusting black iron frame. He sank into it. Through his tear-heavy eyes he gazed across the park, at the narrow lawns winding through trees, and above the trees, the sky hanging down gray and unforgiving. A breeze blew over him, neither warm nor cold, but he shivered.

Presently, he saw a man watching him.

The man came over and asked him gently, “Is there any way I can help?” The boy looked up. The man looked down on him with compassion. “Are you doing okay?”

Suddenly, he didn’t care who knew about him anymore. Something inside him burst, and he poured out his pain to the man. He was not very coherent, but the man understood the main points; not only understood, but also sympathized.

“I know what you’re going through,” he told the boy. “I went through the same things.” The man tried to explain all the things that he had learned over the years, how the boy had been born this way, how his family couldn’t possibly understand what he was going through, how there was a whole gay community who could understand him and who would support him.

He placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, to comfort him. The boy needed to break out of the repression which his family had imposed on him. The man wanted to help, to show the boy what freedom and love and living were all about.

The man glanced over at the bushes. He’d done this before, and he was fairly certain that, sooner or later, they would end up there. The boy saw where they were going before they got there. He watched himself as if from a distance. There was a boy in trouble in the park. He tried to shout, to warn him, to tell the boy to watch out. But the boy didn’t hear him. He tried to run to save the boy, but as in a nightmare, his legs moved with molasses-like slowness, and he knew he wouldn’t reach the boy in time. Or maybe the boy heard, but was also stuck in the nightmare and couldn’t move. He saw the man lead the boy into the bushes, and the boy did not resist, perhaps could not resist.

The nightmare was over and he tried to wake up, only to find that it wasn’t over and he couldn’t wake up because he was already awake. He scrambled to pull his pants back on, and saw that they had gotten covered with mud. His heart felt as dirty as his pants. He hadn’t even learned the man’s name.

What would he do? He would run. The nightmare was still going on, but now his legs were free and he could run. He ran as fast as he could, out of the park and through the streets.

Finally, he found that he could not go on, and stopped. He sat down against a tree, and held his head in his hands, breathing heavily. He could not keep running forever. Somehow, he must face this.

Slowly, the boy began to walk home. When he walked into the kitchen, the mother looked up from the steaks she was slicing for dinner, and noticed that his white pants had been stained black with mud and that his expression looked troubled.

She was about to ask him if anything was wrong, but then checked herself. She remembered the words from the book: “Many mothers have a very close relationship with their homosexual son. Sometimes, the relationship is so close that it becomes unhealthy, bordering on a state of “emotional adultery.”

She had been thinking about those words all afternoon, and now she knew her duty. She had been wrong to get so close to her son, and wrong to break down like that in front of him. He had tried to comfort her. The book had said that many mothers of homosexual boys were emotionally manipulative. They would cry or show emotion in front of their sons, so that the sons would comfort them. She had just cried in front of her son, and he had tried to comfort her. That made her a manipulative woman.

If manipulative mothers could make their sons gay, then that must be what had happened to her boy. But she knew her duty. She would stop being manipulative; she would give her son the space he needed to mature into a real man, push him away from her apron strings, if necessary. She had made a mistake, but she could still set it right.

“I’m sorry for that outburst this afternoon.” Her voice was even and steady. She wanted to be sure she was not showing her emotions to her son. It would only hurt him more. The boy needed to become a man, and she had kept him from that. Never again. Keeping her voice level, she said, “I should not have gotten emotional like that.” That was all. Like a robot. The boy looked at his mother in surprise. Her lips were thin and drawn, and her face showed neither joy nor anger nor anything else. Like a corpse, he thought with a shudder.

He suddenly felt very afraid. He wanted to talk to her, but a wall seemed to have grown up between them. “I’m going upstairs,” he announced uncertainly.

“Ok. Dinner will be in forty-five minutes.” He saw the mechanism around her mouth move her thin lips and pasty cheeks into a smile, but her eyes remained ashen.

She watched her son walk upstairs. What was she to do? She’d first started to fear that he was gay when he started spending so much time with that Nelson boy. At first, she’d been pleased that her son, who had been a loner for so long, had found a good friend. Nelson could play the piano, and often, they’d sing together. For a while, they’d talked about working together on writing a musical. Of course nothing had come of that. She had watched his confidence blossom, as he began to be more social; he’d also grown a lot happier. But as they spent more and more time together, it gradually began to dawn on her that neither of them ever talked about girls or seemed to show any interest in asking any girls out.

Thankfully, Nelson’s father had gotten a job in another city, and the family had moved away. When Nelson left, she had felt more hopeful, because now maybe her son would find time to be interested in girls. But those hopes had been dashed one day when she had gone into her son’s room to change his sheets. She’d found a book on homosexuality from the local library hidden between the mattresses. She hadn’t known what to do. She had tried, as best she could, to love her son as she’d always loved him. She didn’t want him to be gay. But whatever happened, she was going to be right there with him, like any mother should.

Then she’d seen the ads in the newspapers said that gay people could change. Then she’d seen the TV ad in which the mother of a former homosexual said, “Just because you love your children, doesn’t mean you approve of everything they do. Sometimes they make bad choices. If you love your children, love them enough to let them know the truth.” Then the former homosexual had said, “I’ll forever be grateful that she loved me enough to tell me the truth – the truth that set me free.” Afraid that maybe she was doing the wrong thing for her son, she’d called the phone number in the ads, and they’d sent her the book with the yellow cover. Now she knew her duty not to be emotionally manipulative to her son. She would do her part by not getting so close to her son; she was sure that now God would help her to make him straight.

Her son walked up the stairs, barely making it into his room before he burst into tears. He fell facedown on the red and white comforter on his bed. He lay there for a while, paralyzed by grief and fear. He was roused from this state by the warm breath and wet tongue of his dog, Snoopy. He sat up. “Hi, Snoopy,” he said, picking him up and holding him on his lap. “Would you still love me if you knew that I was gay?” Snoopy cocked his head to one side, and looked up at the boy’s face. “I sure hope you would. Because I am, you know. There. I’ve told you. We’re still friends, right?” Snoopy licked his nose. The boy picked him up and cuddled him against his chest. “I guess that’s a yes, then.” Snoopy wagged his tail. “Anyway,” said the boy, “I’ve known for quite a while. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I guess I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about it before. I still don’t, you know. But now that Mom knows, I just feel so confused that I guess I need someone to talk to. Since you’re my best friend, I’m going to talk to you. Is that ok?”

Snoopy didn’t object, so the boy continued. “I don’t know why I’m gay. I’ve snuck down to the library and read a bunch of books about it, you know. Some people say its genetic. That’s what I think makes the most sense. But other people think its caused by having a bad relationship with your dad, or being too close to your mom. But first conservative Christians tell everyone that women should stay home and take care of their kids and be the one that the kids go to – like that guy on the radio today. And then they write a book like that one that Mom has which says that mothers shouldn’t be close to their sons. I wonder if Mom blames herself? Or Dad?”

“I guess you’ve seen Dad and me fight a lot. But I don’t think that caused me to become gay. Lots of guys fight with their dads and are straight. Besides, Dad always wants me to play football or date some pretty girl or be the star of the basketball team. Well you know me – that sort of thing just doesn’t interest me. I didn’t think anyone would suspect that I was gay, because I was just one of those intellectual geek types who was too interested in other things to bother with sports or dating. But I’d love to date someone. Just not a girl.” He smiled. “Of course, I guess I was kind of dating Nelson.”

“Dad’s pretty homophobic, you know. I bet you didn’t really understand some of the times in the past when I’ve been really mad at Dad. Well, it’s because he makes some fag or queer joke.”

“Like remember when Uncle Joe was talking about that Church across town which had allowed a gay guy to become a deacon? Remember what Dad said? ‘I don’t have any problem with fags being leaders in the church, just so long as they lead themselves and their faggotty-assed friends right out of the Church.’ I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t, because other people were laughing. But I did cry after. I was so glad you came and slept on my bed that night. You made it a lot easier, you know. I just wish we could have talked about this back then.”

“What am I going to do, though? I didn’t want to be gay. I prayed so hard that it would go away. But it didn’t go away. So what now? I’ve prayed a lot, but I still don’t have a definite answer.”

“I just wish I could marry a guy and live happily ever after. It seems pretty hard to me to go your whole life without sex, you know what I mean? Well, I suppose you don’t, since we got you neutered as a puppy.” The boy smiled and stroked Snoopy’s ears. “I guess you’re like a Catholic priest – celibate for life. So maybe this is kind of like confession. I’m pouring out my story to you and you’re listening. ‘Father, I have sinned,’ and all that. Well, I guess I have sinned. If you’re going to ask me if I’ve had impure thoughts, the answer is definitely yes!” The boy laughed and continued. “I read a book by a Catholic guy once. He was kind of different. He said that it was ok to be gay, and that it was ok for two men to fall in love, but that it was wrong for them to have sex.”

“You know Nelson and I never had sex? Of course, part of that was because both of us were too scared to bring up the subject, and felt too guilty about it. But we were together all the time for two years. It was great just to be able to put my arms around him and to be able to talk to him and to put my head on his chest when we watched a movie and listen to his heartbeat. And now he’s gone and I’m all alone.”

He paused, and glanced around the room. Tears brimmed up in his eyes. After a few moments, he continued, in a subdued voice. “You know, Snoopy. There’s something I haven’t told you yet. I haven’t told anybody about this.” He stopped again, and wiped his eyes, then grabbed a Kleenex to blow his nose. “Today, I saw that Mom had that book about gays, and I got so frightened, because I knew that she knew about me. I went out for a walk to try to sort out my feelings. I went to the park, and this guy at the park asked me how I was feeling. And I guess I just needed someone to trust right then, and I was desperate, and he seemed nice. So I told him. And then he…” The boy paused, and took several deep breaths. He wiped his eyes again. “Then he… Why in the hell did he have to do that to me? And then he left. He didn’t care about me at all. I bet he was planning to do that when he first asked me what was wrong. Bastard. Is that how I’m going to get treated? Afraid to talk to my family and fucked over by gay guys?” He punched his pillow, hard.

After a pause, the boy continued. “After that, I was so upset. I felt dirty and guilty and used. On the way home, I saw a bus coming. For a minute, I thought that if I jumped out in front of it, everything would be over. Then when I was walking across the overpass over the freeway, I thought that I could jump. Or maybe one dark night when it’s raining, I could drift across the center line when there was a truck coming the other way. It would be over in a second. I just wish it were over.”

The boy wiped his eyes, and continued. “You know, I’ve also thought about running away. Nelson and I could run away together… If we do, we’ll be sure to take you, ok?” The boy brightened up. “Disney could make a movie about us. ‘The story of two boys and a dog – a journey that became an incredible adventure.’ And now that the Southern Baptists are boycotting Disney for being so gay friendly, maybe they really would make the movie! Nelson and I could write the songs. There’d be an incredibly moving love song at the end that Nelson would sing to me about how our love will last forever, and everyone would love the song and we’d win an Oscar for it. And then we’d live happily ever after!”

The boy’s eyes were gleaming, but the light soon fell away from them. “It’s a nice dream, isn’t it, Snoopy?” The boy sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “But it’ll never happen. And I’m stuck here until I go to college.” The boy sat still for a long time.

“Too much pain,” he cried, lying down on the bed again as the tears started to fall onto his pillow. Snoopy lay beside him, with his muzzle against the boy’s cheek. The boy put one arm around Snoopy, and the two of them lay there for a long time, until his mother called that dinner was ready.

After this, the boy’s daily life went on, and he lived behind a mask, trying to act cheerful and happy even though he was dying inside. His mother, too, went on. Meals were served on time. Smiles were exchanged at the dinner table. Dinner table conversation between him and his parents went on as usual. But there was a strain, and the wooden smiles started showing cracks around the edges.

The mother arranged with Mrs. Morris for the boy to take Sheila Mae Morris to the Senior Prom. He did not make a fuss, hoping that if he went to the prom, his mother would not mention the book. He did not want to talk to her about it.

However, once during the following weeks, the boy nearly worked up the courage to talk to his mom. He found her in the den, with a magazine in her hand. “Mom, I need to talk to you,” he said. She was reading an article in one of her Christian Family magazines, entitled “The Myth of Gay Youth Suicide.” The article said that the radical homosexual activists tried to play on your compassion. They would say that gay children were more likely to commit suicide, so that people would support their agenda out of compassion toward the children. But that was a myth used to misguide good people, the article said.

She saw the desperation in his face, his eyes. But she also remembered that her son should not be dependent on her. She was sorry she had made him dependent on her. No, she wouldn’t let the Devil confuse her. He could parade as an angel of light all he wanted, but she knew her duty and would stick to it.

“A boy your age ought to talk to his father about his problems,” she said. “I’ll tell your father that you need to talk to him when he gets home.” Again he saw the mechanism around her mouth move her thin lips and pasty cheeks into a smile. She hoped it would re-assure him that everything would be all right.

It did not. He walked upstairs again to his room. How could he possibly talk to his father about what had happened in the park? He could barely imagine talking about it to his mother. What had happened to her? They were separated, as clearly as if she had died. Or worse. At least if she’d died, her corpse wouldn’t keep walking around smiling at him asking him to talk to his father and telling him that everything would be all right.

Several times that day, the mother wanted to go up, to comfort her son, to find out what was wrong, to help him through all this. But she mastered the temptation, though with difficulty. Her boy was withdrawing into himself, and she could see he was becoming more and more depressed. Even Snoopy couldn’t cheer him up anymore. She desperately wanted to give him a hug, to make everything better. But he needed to become a man. If she let him cling to her apron strings again, and if she let herself be emotionally manipulative to him again, it would only get worse.

Finally, her resolve crumbled, and she climbed up the stairs to his room to talk to him. His door was closed, but she could hear his voice. He was talking to someone on the telephone and laughing happily. Puzzled, she tiptoed up to his door. The door muffled the boy’s voice, and she strained to make out the conversation. Suddenly, her back stiffened: she heard him say Nelson’s name. She was about to open the door to yell at him; but something inside her stopped her hand. The boy was speaking louder, now. “Oh, I can’t wait to see you again!” Quickly, the mother backed away from the door, hurried downstairs again, went into the den, closed the door, and cried for a long time.

The night of the Prom came. The boy dressed up and took the car to pick up Sheila Mae. The mother watched him go with concern. There was a strange look in his face. She couldn’t decide whether it was determination or resignation or fear or hope. She attributed it to nervousness about the dance. She hoped he would have a good time. She told herself hopefully that if only he found the right girl, things would turn out ok.

It was four o’clock in the morning. The mother sat in the living room waiting for the boy to return. At one-thirty, she had called Mrs. Morris; Sheila Mae had been dropped off just before midnight, right when she was supposed to be. The mother sat up, worrying and waiting for her son. She wished, without precisely explaining to herself why, that Mrs. Morris had told her that Sheila Mae had not come home.

She pulled the navy blue and purple comforter around her body, and fell back on the couch. Weeping, she hugged herself until finally, exhausted, she fell into a turbulent slumber as the bleak morning light began to filter through the curtains on the East windows.

Copyright 1998 by Ron Belgau