The steps were easy. At least in my mind. Go to “Contacts.” Type in “M—,” oh there it is. Press “Mom.” Then hit the green phone-shaped button to dial. By the time the dial-tone started ringing, I knew I had closed a very heavy gate behind me. And behind that gate’s all the pretending of the past decade, of telling myself that I am not gay, that truthfully, without a doubt, I am straight. As I waited for mom to pick up, years of self-hate still tainted the truth hanging on my tongue to make it feel less like a truth I am revealing than a truth I am making real.
“And your grades?”
“Are they still A’s?”
Oh god. That is such a model minority question. “Mom, I’ll tell you if you need to be concerned.”
“Hehe,” it was a you’re-so-adorable chuckle. “And you’re still doing that thing? That club you were talking about?”
“I don’t know. You’re in a lot. The one where you help kids.”
Right, that one.
I’m a straight-A Berkeley student, with leadership positions (at least that’s what an internship feels like to a first year undergrad) in more than three clubs, and never did drugs or stayed out past midnight. On paper, I’d be a pretty good kid. As an Asian American, I’m like a walking stereotype. But as a closeted gay Asian American male that doesn’t know if my parents would accept the gay part of who I am, trying to be the most awesomest person in the world is how I compensate and survive.
“Oh yeah. I’m trying to see if I can be a coordinator next year.”
Mom nodded and looked away. Subtly. Smiled a bit through just a slight, upward crease on the corner of her lips. Subtly. Eyes glimmered. Subtly. It all just screamed I’m-proud-of-you at me. And at that point, my world couldn’t have felt any more unreal in the worst way.
“Hi!” mom said cheerfully into the phone, breaking off the dial tone. “How are you?”
“Hi,” I muttered back. Thoughts ran like freight-trains crashing into each other and exploding every two seconds in my head. Do it subtly. Build it up. Warm her up to it. Control the dynamic. Be smooth. Control the vibe. Start with small talk. Control her reactions. Be ready for pushback. But be calm. CONTROL EVERYTHING.
“Yeah…so umm. I’m gay.”
“What?” I heard shock.
In reality, there was at most a two-second pause after that. But it was more of a one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi situation than a simple one, two. And that’s enough time for the crashing freight trains in my head to crash, tumble, fall off a cliff, and explode. She hates me. This was a bad idea. Fuck. There’s no going back, though. Oh my God. I am gay. I just said it. Out loud. What the fuck. This is official. This is real. This is me. Gross. Gross. Grossss.
“Waitwaitwait,” mom suddenly freaked out.
My thoughts became silent.
“There’s nothing wrong with being gay! There’ssomanygaypeopleeverywhere! It’s normal now! Totally normal! There’sgaypeopleinChinaintheUS, allovertheplace!” she yelled in one breath.
We both waited, and her tone became gentler. “Where are you right now?”
“On my bed.”
She slowed down. “Okay. That’s good. It’s totally. Normal.”
I leaned back against the wall and felt a nice, smooth rhythm flowing through how I breathed. It drifted up to my head and added stoplights and lanes to the chaos that was my thoughts. We talked for two hours, about how she loved me, how I’m sorry, how I don’t need to be, how she’ll love me for who I am, how I can still give her grandkids, how that’s not really a top concern right now, how she still loved me, how I still loved her, and how I should stay safe on the way back tomorrow for the weekend.
And we cried through it all.
After we hung up, I pictured my mom standing at the aisle in that grocery store, asking me about a college club that I wanted to be a coordinator for. I pictured her subtle smile, subtly glimmering eyes, and that I’m-proud-of-you look she had when she looked away. And at that moment I knew it was real.
The train began to slow and I got out of my seat to stand in front of the door. As another highway replaced the view of the valley that replaced the empty hills we passed by a few minutes ago, I thought about how she might react when she saw me. Maybe she would smile. Maybe it would be awkward. We would drive back, my cousin who’s visiting oblivious to the conversation we had yesterday, with everyone weirdly silent. In a day or two, we might bring it up again. More soberly, and with more considerations in mind.
Rows of tiny houses replaced the view of that other highway, and I turned my head to the left to see the train station come into sight. And I saw her stand there anxiously, leaning forward to look in my direction, searching for my train. And somehow, like fate, I stopped right in front of my mom, the doors opening for me to see her beam into a happy, relieved smile.
And we hugged.