I was the first born, my brother being three and a half years my junior. As the first born my father made it clear to me that I was the standard bearer for all things good, all things religious. I was the one being groomed to walk in his footsteps of gospel ministry. In my parent’s eyes I was the golden boy. For my part, I took the role seriously.
Up to this point in my life, just a few days prior to my sixteenth birthday, I’d always done the right thing just because it was the right thing to do. I needed no other excuse. Over the last few years, however, that goodness had become a rather thin veneer that seemed barely to cover my putrefaction. I knew I needed help. I knew I needed to ask for it. I knew my parents would know how to help me fix this if it could be fixed. I had to believe that it could. An alternative conclusion didn’t bear contemplation.
I opened my mouth and the words came out. “Uh … listen, guys … I’m, uh … I think I might … Ummm … I think I’m gay …” They seemed like thunder, rending the family atmosphere. When they had faded silence reigned once more bringing a thunder all its own to our dinner table.
In reality it probably lasted less than twenty seconds, the silence, but the tension mounted exponentially as each one ticked by, seeming to comprise its own eternity. Father chewed methodically, staring at his plate, his knuckles white, gripping a steak knife in one tightly closed fist, a fork in the other. Mother stared at me open-mouthed, her fork poised in midair as the bite it held teetered briefly and plopped back to her plate, splashing sauce across the front of her blouse. It went unnoticed.
The silence stretched interminably but it couldn’t last. The air jolted around us as my little brother’s voice cracked through the family paralysis.
“Oh, this oughta be good!” he exclaimed, his voice laced with irony, “Austin, Dude, you just crapped in the pool!”
He snickered. Even at the age of twelve Dougie had little respect for the level of religious dysfunction that held sway in our home. He seldom expressed his disdain but on the rare occasions he chose to, his remarks, though generally both witty and poignant, were never welcome.
I resented his attitude. He was so different from me it seemed hardly possible we could be brothers, but on this night I understood instinctively he was neither laughing at me nor deriding me. In a moment of clarity it dawned on me that he had been right all along and I felt an affinity with him I’d never before known. In that briefest of moments, when we both knew with dead certainty that all hell was preparing to break loose in our home, I looked across the table at him, communicating my silent gratitude. He met my gaze and acknowledged me with a wink, one corner of his mouth turning up in a slight smile. For the first time in forever my brother and I agreed on something, and that something was the most important thing in my short life.
Some would call it an epiphany but when I look back all these years later I call it beautiful. You see, in that moment, in that one, specific, snapshot in time, I came to understand that having a little brother also meant sharing a treasured, lifelong bond.
Raised in Northern California during the “Hippy” era.
Recently made peace with my sexual orientation.
Process my life’s challenges through my writing.