The sign glows red, do not walk but the cars are spaced far enough apart for me to make it. I measure their speed against the risk of one of them actually hitting me, not even breaking to avoid me. When I told my mother I was gay, that I liked women, that I had spent the last nine months working double shifts at Hollister to be able to afford gas for the drive to Milwaukee, I was measuring my time, the time before impact.
She pressed her spoon into her mashed potatoes, wrecking the whipped effect. She lifted the gravy cup fit-for-one, her thumb and index fingers clamping around its spout shaped neck.
The gravy continued to fill the edible pool she’d constructed. The stream stopped. She looked up at me and for once I was unable to sense if her eyes were red with anger or betrayal, perhaps both. “You’re gay? Well when did you decide this?”
The car made impact; the tire caught my heel just before it reached the safety of the sidewalk. I got angry at her word choice, “decide.” But how could I expect her to know anything about political correctness and orientation. The gravy pool sprung two leaks. I could see them from my side of the restaurant booth. The creamy white potatoes were slowly being soaked in peppered brown sludge reminding me of those times my father and I used to watch Indiana Jones glide atop ancient caves right as they were crumbling in or filling with water. I wished I could have caught a rope and swung myself, exiting as the brave hero. My silence only annoyed her: “So tell me Anna, when did all this happen?”
“I told you years ago when you met Sarah.”
“You were sixteen; you didn’t have a clue about sex and certainly not about sexuality.”
I wonder what two years time has taught my mother about me.
“You bring me to Bonefish to tell me you’re gay, did you stop eating meat too?”
When Indiana clatters up the crumbling prehistoric monument he always has something in hand, he saves someone, or some irreplaceable relic. Right now I am holding my identity, my mother’s eyes are hunting me, waiting for me to waver, to say that I’m not sure, that I’m experimenting. I am clinging to an imaginary wall as she pulls the bricks out from under the ledge beneath my feet.
“This is somehow my fault. I didn’t give you a good example – all the men in my life have been horrendous. Please tell me, was it because of your father and I, was it all of the fighting?”
I’ve grabbed onto a vine, the only chance I have at surviving.
“This isn’t about you at all, but somehow you make it out to be.”
I am alone in this booth, my mother is in front of me, but I am very much alone, an untouched meal, a soybean salad with pine nuts is wilting on the plate before me. My fork has a smudge on the stem from where I went to pick it up, but lost the courage to eat. The silence propels her into defense mode. She tosses her napkin aside and walks out. I, Indiana, have done what I came here to do, to tell my mother that I am gay, that I have a lover seventeen hours north of here. I pay the waiter and collect my things. I will make it out with a prized possession: this time it’s my courage, my freedom to be whoever I felt I was and claim it, something I didn’t think I had.
It’s been six years since that conversation, but every street crossing reminds me of the time I had to gauge if it was worth the risk, take an inventory of the costs of sexual difference (Mark Doty said that, I think), if I could cross on my own terms and not get hit.