November 10, 2013 by C.Perez-Matos
At the young age of eleven, I met Donna, a gym teacher at my school. Every day she would wear gym attire, wore her hair very short, wore glasses and un-matching studs in her ears, one of a triangle and one of the Greek letter Lambda. My frequent talks with her became a constant source of thoughtful curiosity and excitement. I had an admiration for her personality and demeanor that I could not really explain. She was unlike anyone I had met before. Her thought process was different, and she was never shy or apologetic for voicing it.
I remember once on the bus ride from field day, the kids were singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and she was sitting in the front of the bus one row behind the driver. I practically trampled over the whole bus isle to secure the seat parallel to her. She had been singing with the rest of the kids as we rode along, but when that song started, she stopped. As the quiet observer I have always been, and continue to be when I am intrigued by something, I noticed that she was not singing.
“Why are you not singing anymore,” I asked.
“I do not agree with this song” she replied.
“What do you mean?!” I insisted. She turned and looked me in the eye with that knowledge that I was yet to understand and began talking about “normal” and about “rights”. “Rights” that some people had, but others lacked. I didn’t really understand what she meant. Yet a phrase I remember; the phrase that shook my entire universe was uttered in the middle of a thought. She said, “The thought that there is a right way to love and a wrong way to love… how can anyone dictate what the right way to love is?” I was silent and lost in thought. The words had struck a nerve, though I didn’t yet understand why or what.
Donna became a sort of center for me from that point forward. When I felt a little lost or out of place, I knew that I could talk to her. That somehow being near her or hearing her “wisdom” brought me back to who I was, or at least gave me a sense of the incredible kid she thought I could be. So when she directed me to Courtney, the school counselor, to help me with the thoughts and feelings I had recently discovered, I took her advice. The next morning I was standing in front of Courtney’s office door all the way up on the 9th floor of our school building.
My palms were sweating and my heart was pounding when I arrived at the counselor’s office. The door was opened and I could see a blond woman with shoulder length hair sitting on her desk by a window opposite the door and a blue cloth loveseat. On the wall on the side of the door, there were two bookshelves filled with books. I knocked to announce my arrival. Courtney turned smiling and pointed to the couch.
“Come on in, make yourself comfortable” she said as she got up from her chair to close the door behind me. “I am glad you came. I spoke to Donna last week, and she told me that maybe you would drop by sometime.”
I nodded, still not convinced about the whole situation. We chatted a little about classes, about school, about my adjustment to the United States. The first few times we talked it was all very generic, although every session she attempted to establish more trust and to help me open up a little more. After a few weeks of talking, Courtney and I had established a good rapport, and I felt comfortable enough, for the most part, to talk to her about any crazy thought that came to mind. So, on one particular day as I sat on the blue couch that I had come to know and love, I said to her,
“So you know, Donna wears two different earrings on her ears.”
“She does?” Courtney replied.
“Yes,” I said. “One is a lavender triangle and the other is this funky ‘L’ looking one.”
“Ok,” she said.
“Do you know what that means?” I asked.
“Do you?” She replied.
“I think you should ask Donna about the meaning of her earrings directly.”
I sat quietly for a minute. I had had suspicions of the meaning of the earrings for some time, but I wanted someone to confirm them to me. Somehow I was sure that the ties Donna and I had and the connection I felt to her were deeper than our common interest in sports or our appreciation for female vocals and folk music.
“You know, Fran Blake I finally asked, after much time had passed in silence.
“Fran Blake? In high school?” Courtney asked.
“I don’t know her well, but yes, I know her.”
“She’s pretty cool right?” I asked with a big smile on my face. I couldn’t hide the excitement I felt at talking about her.
Courtney looked at me in silence for a minute, as if waiting for a specific sentence she was sure would come next. I, however, wasn’t ready to say much more than the above.
The next session, I began by speaking about softball practice the previous day. I told Courtney that after practice Erica White and Fran, our varsity assistant coaches, had stayed along with Donna to work individually with me and Susie on our batting.
“You know,” I said, “Erica’s control when she pitches is pretty amazing. I think we were mostly there to have her practice her pitching rather than for her to help us with our batting.”
“It’s good that you have role models!” Courtney said. “I think you learn better and faster when you have people to look up to.”
“I agree!” I exclaimed. “Erica is a great role model! She is like a born leader, you know? Donna too! I want to be like her!”
Courtney smiled at me. It was a knowing smile that took many years for me to understand. “What about Fran? You always talk about her with a smile. Isn’t she great role model too?”
I was quiet.
“Isn’t she a co-captain of the Varsity team?” Courtney continued.
“Yes, she’s a great role model…” I said, looking down at the floor. “I really like her.” The words were almost a whisper. “Is that wrong?” I asked now looking up at her. I was so hoping she would understand my question without any further explanation.
She thought for some time before answering the question. “Cece, now why would you think there is anything wrong with liking someone?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” I wailed frustrated and childishly, not wanting to put words to my confused emotions. “I don’t want to be like her… I don’t want to just look up to her… It’s different.”
“Ooh, well why don’t you explain.”
Tears began to run down my face. I felt unexplainable shame and an overwhelming sense of wrongness, but I couldn’t describe why or what it was that I was actually feeling about this girl.
“Oh Cece” Courtney said as she got up to give me a much-needed hug. “There is nothing wrong with the way you are feeling, but let’s talk about it to the extent you feel comfortable so that we can get to the bottom of this.”
During the weeks that followed I continued meeting with Courtney and discussing my feelings. It was during this time that I learned that my emotions were not totally uncommon, but we continued without labels or definitions.
In one of our meetings, Courtney asked about my family and what their possible reaction would be if I were to explain these feelings I was having to them. I told her that my family had always tried to keep private stuff private and that they would probably not agree with Courtney’s involvement or knowledge about my personal thoughts. Other than that, however, I was sure that both my mom and dad loved me unconditionally, and they were so proud of me that the idea of me loving one person versus another would make no difference to them. I told Courtney about the “love story” that my parent’s lived. Everyone had disapproved of my parents love. My dad was more than twenty years older than my mother. He was married with a family when he met her. He was also a rising politician at that time. As soon as he began courting my mom, my grandmother, the Amazon of the family, told him to stay away because he had no business with her family. He began having a “semi” secret affair with my mother, which gained the disapproval of many friends and supporters. Eventually many people formed the idea that my mom and dad’s affair was the downfall of my father’s political career. I would disagree, but that is a story for later. Despite all odds and popular opinion, my parent’s love was greater than any love I know to date. The letters that they left behind as testimony to their love are even more incredible than the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Additionally, the obstacles and long periods of time that they were true to each other, even when faced with years and years of absence, all lead me to believe that if anyone understood love, it would be my parents.
“Do you think my parents should know about the things we talk about here?” I asked.
That year, time passed both fast and slow. Coming out to my family became the biggest obstacle I had ever faced up to that point in my life. It was especially complicated because when I came out, I didn’t even know I was. I didn’t know there was a word or a culture associated with my feelings. I was only trying to share with them these butterflies I had when I was around this particular person.
During this time however, my friendship with Fran deepened; at least as deep as a friendship can be between a middle-schooler and a high school senior. More importantly though, during this time my feelings for Fran became more complex. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. I just knew a trillion butterflies flew jubilantly in my belly when she was around and my heart broke every time I remembered how many days were left before graduation.
Growing up, my mother kept this one closet locked. In it she kept all the important paperwork and her jewelry. Every night she would lock her closet and hide the key. A few months before the end of the school year, my mother was taking my sister and I to a dinner with some “to do” people, and, of course, we could only leave home with proper jewelry on. That particular night my mom had one of her pouches rolled out, revealing several rolls of rings.One specific ring caught my eye; it was a simple platinum band with embedded diamonds that covered the surface. There was nothing impressive about the ring, really. If anything it was a little more masculine than the others, and it looked like a wedding band. That night, I asked my mom if I could wear it. She agreed. During the dinner, I kept admiring my ring, not because I liked how it looked on my hand, but because of this unexplainable feeling it provoked. At the end of the night, I begrudgingly gave the ring back to my mother, and she put it back into her closet.
Although the ring was locked away in the safety of my mom’s closet, I could not lock away the unexplainable feeling the ring had provoked in me. I spent much of the weeks to come trying to decipher what I was feeling. Finally, a few months before graduation, the feelings came to a peak, and that night, my young eleven year old brain concluded that there was only one thing that could be done: I had to find the key to the closet and get that ring, then I had to give that ring to the only person that could make that ring look right. I had to give it to Fran as a graduation present.
Finding the key took many nights of stalking my mom as she prepared for bed. I like to call this period the beginning of my training as a private investigator. The skills I learned on those long nights turned out to be very useful throughout my adult life! Lol!
I got my hands on the ring and packaged it into a pretty little silver box. The memories I have of the delivery are very vague. I remember standing outside the fourth floor library. I think I said something about wanting her to have something to remember the great time we had in softball together, and awkwardly saying something about giving her a gift that equaled her in beauty, then running for my life with my heart beating hard and fast.
I am not sure which day was more painful and stressful, the day I delivered the ring, or the day she returned the gift telling me she couldn’t accept it. The day the ring was returned to me by Fran was a life-changing day. It wasn’t until that day that I was able to admit to myself and understand that I was in love with her and that I was gay. Also that day my mother was informed about this generous gift I had attempted to make. The arguments that ensued over the ring were terrible. She could not understand why on earth I would take her ring without her authorization, but more importantly, she demanded an explanation as to why I wanted to give this girl a ring. I, of course, could not give her the explanation, as the only thing I could say was that I was in love with a woman and this was UNACCEPTABLE. That day, my mom took the ring and promised I would never see it again.
When my mother passed away two years ago, she died leaving behind over a million and a half dollars’ worth of debt. Because of the expenses of the long litigation over the final resting place of my father’s remains that took place shortly before her passing, she was forced to sell most of her possessions, including her jewelry, her car and anything of value There were, however, a few pieces of jewelry that she held on to at the time of her passing, which my sister kept at my mother’s instruction.
My sister and I spent over a year after my mother’s passing without talking. Recently, however, when I was in the hospital recovering from major cancer surgery, my sister visited me. When she arrived, she told me that she wanted to give me something my mom had left for me. She simply said she didn’t know why this particular item was so important and handed me a small pouch containing something solid but light. As I lay in the hospital bed, I opened the pouch slowly as to not spill or damage its content. The small item rolled out onto the palm of my hand. I stared at it in disbelief. It felt like my mom was staring back at me. A tear rolled down the side of my face. There, in my hand, sat the ring that 21 years prior had been the source of a roller coaster of feelings, and as Michelle and I began planning our wedding, it was as if from the grave, my mother was finally giving her blessings.
This December, Michelle and I will make history as we walk down the aisle, as our wedding will be the first same-sex marriage of the daughter of a Latin American President in this country. I cannot imagine a better way to make history than by incorporating the ring that marked my life so long ago into my wedding band and having the woman that marked my life so long ago give me away.