by: Patrick Gill
“Go sit next to him.” She jabs me lightly in the ribs with her elbow. My sister sees that I have dislodged myself from the family pod. We, a collection of my paternal relatives and close family friends, are sitting in my Aunt’s condo, either encircling my grandfather or cropping up in separate conversations. I am apart of neither. I just talked to my grandfather, I don’t want to any more. My eyes and nostrils widen and my jaw hangs out and low. “No. I don’t think I can do that nicely. We talked enough too.”
He and I are done for the day. It’s a pity because this is one of the few times I can make it out to California in the year, let alone down to Orange County to see that side of my family. The circumstances are somber. We just finished praying the rosary for my uncle who passed. That’s already stuck in my craw, leaving me particularly vulnerable. Then I had a conversation with my grandfather. Things did not improve.
We were all trying to regale him with stories about what were up to, like a good lineage should—like were in a quiet and smaller version of a Viking Hall. I can’t really talk about football with him, like my brother, I can’t really talk about anything in his scope of interest, besides bourbon, but he doesn’t talk about that. I don’t even know if he can drink it anymore. So I am telling him about my new job, in a kitchen, as a cook, in a great food city like Chicago. I stay away from the fact that it is primarily vegan cuisine, in a health food store, and that I make soups that he would deem a pejoratively pronounced “ethnic”.
And yet. And yet. He found a fault. “Yeah grandpa, I really love working as a cook. They even use my recipes, my coworkers are nice.” He looks me up and down, looks square at my slightly paunchy stomach. “I can tell.” He moves on. I get up for water without anyone noticing I’m a blushing mix of ashamed and angered.
“Just, come on, no one else is next to him, just sit there.” My sister attempts to reintroduce me to the conversation. She mentions that I have been writing, that I was published on the Huffington Post not to long ago. I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him about my writing. I brace like a retaining wall anticipating a mudslide. He, luckily, glides over her comment. I whisper to her through my teeth, “He doesn’t get to know that about me.”
My writing is too gay for him. Literally. My grandfather doesn’t know I am gay, so really anything and everything I do is too gay for him if he knew it. Doesn’t know that this, is gay. He’s never seen it, I think, I hope. Typing that makes me feel so small again, like I could live in the back of my throat.
My grandfather, Walter, is a resilient and stubborn man. I inherited some of this from him. I feel a weird kinship to him, in spite of my resenting his hyper-conservative ideals and his brusque
This is a man who was indignant and appalled when he found out I was a vegetarian, he yelled down the table of my brother’s graduation dinner, at my father “Tom, did you know your son doesn’t eat meat! Doesn’t. Eat. Meat.” Walter, I resisted the lead you just gave me.
When I came out, I thought my parents had done all the heavy lifting for me, had gotten that whole “He/I like dudes!” thing out of the way. Knowing my mom I actually envisioned a map or web, drawn out with rainbows connecting each family member and that she colored each in every time she talked to someone about my homosexuality; or that she bought “He’s gay” stationary to send out as soon as that day came. She likes to plan ahead.
They actually told me, probably two days after I came out, that they had told everyone, everyone in the family. I believed that, until one of my first returns from college; the whole family was together. I think I wanted to talk about my boyfriend at the time, my mother clasped my arm and said with a rush “No. Your grandpa doesn’t. Know, yet.” Ironically, in that “yet” I heard no hope for a future telling. It became, a thing, something we preserved but never observed, like most Americans with Labor Day.
It is almost painful knowing that there is a moment that could occur, that could yield cross generational understanding, that could change two people’s perceptions of each other and cause them to think harder about the people that we love. But I get caught in the fears of what this news can do to him, physically and emotionally. He has a tough mouth but his body and mind are weathered.
I wouldn’t call my grandfather mean or a bad person; harsh, stern, plain in tone and thoughts, maybe a jackass on reflex, before realizing who he was and the whole situation. I have marched to the precipice of speaking as frankly as he is about my sexuality. I understand there is much more to me than whom I love, but it factors so greatly into my stories, my narrative, my life. I feel that he deserves to know about this life, this life he has contributed to—from checks in birthday cards, to tough love, to genetic material and aped mannerisms. Walter deserves to know my life, entirely. And some sentimental, proud part of me wants to fulfill, in my own way, or help redefine for him a vision of his rich and full rich lineage. To do this though, before he is gone, before I am sitting in the living room of an Orange County condo, hands clutched in prayer as they slide ‘round a rosary. I don’t know if I have the will to know what could happen in this short about of time.