85: All of Me

85: All of Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

All of Me

The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.

~Lee Iacocca

“I’m a homosexual!” Natasha Lyonne whined piteously, and the whole room laughed.

Twelve friends and I were crammed into one of our college’s tiny, smelly lounges to watch But I’m a Cheerleader. People sat on coffee tables, on the floor, their heads on each other’s laps, passing around a greasy popcorn bag, boxes of Tofutti Cuties, and paper bowls of vegan nuggets nabbed from the dining hall. My girlfriend, Amanda, had organized the screening. I’d told her two days before that I’d never seen it, which shocked her. She’d announced imperiously, “It’s like the movie every gay girl has to see.” And as I sat next to her watching it, my head on her shoulder, holding her hand, I realized I had never felt so comfortable and so much like myself.

I had dated boys in high school, but it confused me how I had no feelings for my boyfriends beyond vague friendliness. It didn’t hit me until the end of senior year that I was gay. It was too late to act on this realization beyond dumping my boyfriend, so I spent most of my summer months crying to the few close friends I had told and worrying what my Catholic family’s reaction would be if they found out.

My ever-patient, wonderful high school friends assured me, “Just wait till you get to college.” In college, they thought, it would be easier to be out of the closet, because I’d no longer be surrounded by a conservative family and uptight classmates. Besides, they figured I might meet some other gay people.

They didn’t know the half of it. My college turned out to be so overwhelmingly liberal that the Queer Community Alliance Open House contained a third of the campus, and there were even subgroups within the queer community for people who identified as “trans” or “femme.” There was gay speed dating and gender workshops and a college-wide Drag Ball. My world had (literally) turned inside out, and I was rubbing my eyes, trying to process it.

Then, of course, there was Amanda. Of my like-minded, neohippie, gay friends, she was the most intriguing. I found her beautiful and fascinating and three weeks after freshman year started, we were dating. The emptiness I’d felt in my earlier relationships was replaced by the emotional intensity of our first kisses and first arguments. It was like reliving early adolescence.

But when my family called and asked how I was doing, there was nothing I could tell them.

And when dating a just-out-of-the-closet Catholic proved to be too much for Amanda to handle, I didn’t know who to turn to. I stayed in my tiny single for a week, skipping class, sleeping constantly, and eating food from the vending machine instead of facing Amanda in the dining hall. I called home, wanting to break down and be comforted, or have Mom say something sage-like that would make me buck up and move on. I knew, though, that they would never react with sympathy if I told them about Amanda. All I could manage was, “I’m feeling kind of down.”

The year went on, and I had good friends who helped me out of my break-up slump. We went to parties and held our own movie nights, and eventually I felt like myself again. Only, I felt like that self was erased the minute I picked up the phone to call home.

I was quiet and moody after every phone call. It was exhausting to carry on the ever-lengthening lie of what my college life was like. Even my friends told me, “You have to tell your family.”

I knew that I had to, but I didn’t know if I could.

What scared me the most were my parents’ faces after I’d initially say the words, “I’m gay,” before they could censor themselves. I knew what I’d see: horror, disgust, and disappointment.

I thought it over obsessively. I would wait until the summer, when I was home with them, so we’d have time to talk it through before I left for school. I would tell them after our June vacation, so that the vacation wouldn’t be ruined, but before August, because two of my too-young-to-know siblings would be away at camp. I found a friend whose family wouldn’t mind having me over in case mine kicked me out. But the day came, and I knew I couldn’t go through with telling them face to face.

I got out a piece of paper and poured out the story until one piece of paper became eight. I wrote about figuring myself out in high school, about getting to college and being overwhelmed, about Amanda. I told my parents I was spending the night at a friend’s, stuck the letter on the table, and drove away like my old Acura was a race car.

My hands shook as I drove home the next morning. I replayed everything my parents could possibly say in my head and prepared stock responses. I just wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get them out.

Somehow, Mom and Dad were in the yard as I pulled up the driveway. I got out of the car slowly, and shakily, I said, “Hey.”

Before I could make it to the front door, I was embraced. That’s when I lost it.

Dad stood there and watched me as I sobbed for all the time I had spent worrying and hiding and trying to be someone else.

Finally, he said, “Do you want some eggs?”

I nodded, and we went inside.

Coming out wasn’t over that day. There was a lot that my parents needed explained, and some things took them years to fully accept. For me, knowing that they loved me, no matter what, was a step in the right direction. And when I called them from college the following year, it would not be as a liar or as only one side of my personality. I would be all of me.

~Eve Legato

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