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Velcro Part Eight: The End and Beginning

Part Eight: The End and Beginning

My aunt wants to talk to me and pulls me to the bedroom. Maybe she'll ask me to stay over and we can begin my planning. Instead, Aunt Striggy explains that she and Elizabeth share a bed but don't have sex. It didn't occur to my aunt that I might not be up to speed on adult relations regarding a shared bed. It also didn't occur to my aunt that I might not be interested at that age. Or ever. I knew my parents slept in the same bed and my interest in that scenario ended there. I shared a bed during sleepovers with friends. I shared a bed with cousins. I shared a bed with my stuffed animals. I played with legos in my bed. I lay in bed with colds and high fevers and the special treat of a twelve-inch, black and white television set propped nearby to pass the hours. A bed was for toys, sleep, and adults to make you feel safe with a fun tuck-in. Sharing a bed didn't have any confusion to me earlier in the day and now I was introduced to a scenario where sharing a bed with someone could be viewed as weird. The afternoon of homophobic hazing continued.

Why was my aunt intense and incredibly not fun? I wanted to look out the windows. I wanted to know more about this apartment living thing. I'd spent the afternoon opening and closing the velcro on my sneakers, getting them just right, not needing help and improving hand dexterity. I was small and my world was small and the oversharing made me feel unsafe. The absence of my mom, whose legs I hid behind in social situations, was felt. Without her I was vulnerable to adults and their agendas. I couldn't trust my dad to protect me the way my mom's mere broad-shouldered presence was a constant warning shot. I was also confused why my mom hated this world because the parts I understood looked great to me.

As I got older the reality of Aunt Strigga's life was clearer; she was closeted, in her head. The charade of having her "friend" Eli live with her and pretend they weren't a couple, and the burden she placed on everyone around her to lie and play along, assumed the worst of others. Eli was friendly, easy, and brought out the softer sides of Striggy. Whatever delusion our aunt thought she was pulling off, it was obvious in ways that might have been painful, or she was in denial about. But she didn't seem to make the kind of changes she could have to ease that perception if it did weigh on her. It was like she was living an openly gay lifestyle of her choosing and asking others not to acknowledge it, or worse, being angry if they did. She was a woman conflicted about her life who made others uncomfortable as a consequence. This failed duplicity prevented my aunt from seeing the loving family in her home while she was busy fearfully assuming how we might see her. That's how I was presented with same-sex relationships as a child. This was my aunt’s stuff but it stained young me. A lifestyle I envied, that was full of shame. In a time period long before online access to information and like-minded people was easy, while living in a suburb ensconced in heteronormative roles, I didn't process this out of my head; it stayed with me like the bad feeling you have after a nightmare you can't recall.

Right or wrong, I had been angry at my aunt since.

But the stain wouldn't mark for long.

One day, as a teenager, driving with my mother, the subject of attraction came up and through sudden tears I said, "I don't want to be gay because you hate Aunt Strigga because she's gay and I don't want you to hate me." This was my fear being revealed to me in the moment as I revealed it to my mother. It was an accidental truth with the possibility of life-changing consequence. This was my shame, falling out into the air. A vulnerability I did not like. A big fear. Maybe all the fear, collectively, shared by kids who are told from early on they are straight, either directly or through even seemingly benign decisions like not being given pants with pockets when your brothers had pants with pockets, and then questioning, and then worrying that being able to love who you are truly, would mean losing the people who love you.

The traffic slowed to a red light, my mom eased off the gas pedal to coast a little before braking. With the light red, the car stopped, she turned to me, shifting her weight so her back rested against the car door. She was now facing me, really facing me. There was a pause as long as the forty miles of Route 18. She was choosing her words carefully. I could tell she wanted me to hear her. I could see her thinking it through, deciding on the clearest way to express what was in her heart, "I don't hate your aunt because she's gay, I hate your aunt because she's a fucking bitch." With the air now smelling like the ocean, the light turned green, and we drove through.


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