Editor’s Note: The following submission is from Lyralen Kaye. Have an LGBTQ+ related experience or story to share? Having your article published on this site will automatically enrol you into a raffle to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card. Submit an article today via queerdeermedia.com.
My mother was 37 when she fell in love with a woman, the same age I am now. It was 1974, I was 14, and the woman my mother fell in love with was the principal of my brothers’ and sisters’ new grade school, a nun who also happened to be my mother’s boss.
As if this wasn’t complicated enough, I had become infatuated with one of my friends, an Italian girl with dark sloe eyes, olive skin, and wide hips–a girl whose body felt soft whenever I found an excuse to hug her.
* * *
I remember that year, 1974, with a frightening and bitter poignancy. It is a slide show, my mother’s deepening interest in Sister Nancy, their kisses, their bodies changing in relationship to each other, to all of us children, and to the space of the occupied world.
Contrasted with this was my first year in an all-girl high school. I was not happy, but I was glad to be away from boys and what they thought of my mind (too sharp), my face and body (they called me a dog), and my neediness, my inability to protect myself from their anger. I had no true interest in any of them outside of a friendly competition, but I wanted a boyfriend the way I wanted to smoke cigarettes, proof against mockery, against being different, against something completely visible that only I couldn’t see.
* * *
Of all the memories of that year, there is one that comes back to me again and again, and it is a memory of my mother. The night is a Friday. The family has eaten dinner, Sister Joyce is over, and I want to attend a basketball game at my high school. So the three of us–Joyce, my mother, and I–get into the station wagon. I sit in the back seat and stare out the window, spacing out like a good adolescent, answering only the questions they address directly to me, which are not many. They are absorbed in each other. My mother’s hair has been cut short, and though her face is a perfect oval, feminine and pretty, her predilection for long shirtwaists and tailored clothes, combined with the new hair, conspire to make her look like a nun. Later, I will learn that lesbian couples have this tendency, to blur styles and to resemble each other, but at 14, as we turn toward the convent to drop Joyce off and I look at my mother’s short, frosted hair, I don’t think of this at all. I think, Get it over with, will you. I don’t want to be late.
We pull into the driveway of the convent, and Sister Joyce says a short good-bye to me, a long one to my mother. The car is dark, only the lights of the dash shine, dimly upward, toward their faces. When Joyce bends toward my mother, her short veil falls forward, but not enough to obscure my view. Unselfconsciously, without shame, she kisses my mother on the lips. I watch their four lips like simple physical objects. I see them press together, smooth out; I see my mother look into Sister Nancy’s eyes. And in that one moment the world changes. The skin on my body begins to tingle; I can feel each separate pore. And I am frozen; when Nancy gets out of the car I can’t move, not even to get in the front seat with my mother. She has to call my name three or four times before I get out of the car to move up front where I place myself on the vinyl as far away from her as possible.
I sit there, my thoughts moving so fast it is as if I can think of nothing. My body is still tingling, but I am aware of my legs as unattached; I must order them to cross and uncross. My mother is a lesbian and I have had exactly three months free of mockery, free of boys, and maybe that is all I will ever have. Because I am a lesbian too, and I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be like her, I don’t want to be made fun of, or to be different, and I am, I am different, not just smarter, or too needy, or too scared to punch one of those boys.
I may be mocked for the rest of my life.
I may be just like the mother who has never defended me, who tells me I’m pretty, but when she thinks I don’t notice looks at me as if she’s trying to understand what’s wrong with me, who is cold, and feminine, and tense, and beginning to soften.
I say good-bye to my mother when I get out of the car, and then I slam the door as hard as I can.
* * *
Ten years after my mother first fell in love with Nancy, I came home from Europe with hairy legs. I was twenty-four and had already had my first serious relationship with a woman; my mother had left my father, but Nancy had been transferred to another convent because of rumors about their relationship, which was already starting to wane.
I had told my father and the older kids I was bisexual four or five years earlier, but I hadn’t told my mother. She found out by reading letters I sent to one of my sisters.
One night, when we were alone in her townhouse, sitting on the couch, she reached over and tugged at the hairs on my legs.
“You bisexual,” she said. Then she gave me one of her shy smiles.
I was the one who didn’t know what to say. “Maybe I am,” I finally answered.
There was this strange silence.
“Well, what about you and Nancy?” I asked.
“We were soul mates,” my mother said. “I’ve never had a friend like that before.”
It was the most she had ever said, the most she ever would say.
* * *
Six years later, she married to a man. Even before the laws changed, I married a woman. I was the same age she was when she fell in love with Joyce. She did not attend my wedding, but I was thinking of her, and the ways that I have always completed her life. I thought of the answers I wanted and she couldn’t give me, the answers needed by an unpopular 14 year old girl, and I wondered whether marriage, or writing, or even activism have helped me to become a woman who is less her daughter. Sometimes, in this vast intolerant world of ours, I think I am still sitting in the back seat of that station wagon watching a kiss, knowing what it will mean for the rest of my life; and I am afraid. Then I remember the softening of my mother’s face, and I know that my marriage is the furthest thing from silence. I had a June wedding, and when I bent into a kiss of my own, and it was my choice, and it remains my answer.
A Note from Lyralen: Because of my mother and Nancy, I continue to write about religion and queer sexuality…my latest is Priest Kid, about a queer daughter and her priest mom. The stories just keep getting more redemptive, which makes me entirely happy.”