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Who can cast their mind back 10 years?!
January 2001 – Wikipedia went live…Apple introduced iTunes…George Walker Bush marginally defeated Al Gore to become the 43rd President of the U.S.A….Channel 4 launches E4…Rui Da Silva featuring Cassandra were Number 1 with “Touch Me”…and I came out to my sister.
20 years old, at uni, balancing study with trying to have a fun social life. But nursing a broken heart.
Well…kind of. I had met someone in a Soho coffee-shop after a night out. There was an instant attraction; like most chance encounters, it was exciting, spontaneous, and intense. We met again, and had a magical night of wining (him), dining (me!), dancing and more. Leaving my flat late at night, I wondered when I would see him again. He wanted to go for a day-trip but didn’t want me to call. He rang several times to try and speak, leaving voice-messages as I was busy…but didn’t want me to ring back. And then on a Friday, I got a text saying he was sorry but did not want to meet me again and wanted no contact. He had a boyfriend and this had happened before. He wanted to call the shots but didn’t want to get hurt by not being able to be with me as and when he wanted.
I was stunned. And felt crushed. For months I was depressed; I remember it as being one of my darkest times.
“But why?” I asked myself. OK, I had heartache before…but I’d only met this guy twice! “Am I that pathetic?” Why did I care so much about this time compared to the others? My brain was saying one thing, but for some reason it was poles apart from my heart’s voice.
I was desperate to talk to people, and found myself confiding in many whom I would normally not confide half as much.
But still I needed help. And that was when I found myself yearning for family.
I had come-out to my parents at primary school but after it wasn’t taken seriously, I had decided to keep schtum to my immediate family until I was financially independent, had my own roof over my head and had more stability. It was agony…but I had to do this after I qualified from uni.
So with this in mind, there was some serious chewing of cud. I had no plans to come-out while at uni. And no plans to come out to one family member a long while before any others. But realising I needed to speak…there was only one person I could think of. My sister.
I had always kept a lot of stuff private from my family and sister when it came to personal life…but more so than most normally do, mainly because I was gay and didn’t want to attract any suspicion until I was ready to come-out.
But feeling at dire-straits, I had no choice. Speaking to her on the phone, I mentioned how it was important to share things…I knew she immediately thought I sounded odd in saying that. Still confused as to why I was so affected by someone I had met so little, I had decided to myself to tell her on the coming Saturday…20th Jan.
So there we were, in the living room, just finishing breakfast, Mum pottering in the kitchen, Dad somewhere out or busy. The usual Saturday morning telly. CD:UK was on ITV…I loved watching music television and performances, but that day it was going straight through me. “How was I going to say this?”, I thought. So…general chat it was, my sister saying what song she liked or didn’t like, me vaguely joining in, then turning to what she’d been upto recently, hoping she’d ask me too.
And then…onto what I mentioned on the phone. I could tell she was trying not to squirm and yet engage at the same time. “Ignore it!” I thought, and carried on. So…was I just going to come out with it? Of course not. So I continued by saying I had been really sad and didn’t know what to do about something that happened recently…I got really close to this guy…we had a great time…but now he said he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me…he said he likes me and has got a boyfriend…and I feel really bad.
Inbetween this she interjected with “OK” and “I see”, and nearing the end while I wasn’t stating it, it would have been obvious that there was a strong link with this guy. So she gave her support and said “Don’t worry”. I said “I just feel bad for him, like I’ve done something wrong”. “You haven’t”, she said. “I know. But I miss him”.
After some silence, she asked more about my feelings for him, and I was honest. Until the last thing I was asked was, “Do you see your future with a man or a woman?” With a man”, I replied.
She cried. I came-out to my sister, but she was the one crying, lol! I had been prepared for the worst for years, so we consoled each other and she apologised for crying, and I said she didn’t have to apologise. She said it explained some things, that she had wondered for a while. She didn’t want me to think she was upset at me, but just hearing it out loud was a shock.
The rest of the day was a bit of a haze. There was a family dinner that night for my approaching birthday, and the meal at the restaurant was great, was fun, but it seemed a little surreal. I couldn’t believe I had said it but was glad I had. And so night drew to a close, we all went to our homes, and my family retired for the night and we all went to bed.
Next morning I woke up. For a few seconds nothing, then I remembered. “Gosh”, I thought. I really did it. What would the future bring? I checked my mobile. And saw I had a text. It was from my sister. She sent it the night before while we were in our beds. I still have that text now. It read “Don’t worry about me brudda I’ll be fine, just look after yourself and take each day as it comes. See you in the morning. Night night, X”.
For the first time, I cried. Out of nowhere, it just hit me. Her text really brought it home, and I felt she had listened.
So…what about this guy? Well, I did a lot of soul-searching over the weeks. And I realised exactly why I felt so lost. It actually wasn’t really about him – I had questioned myself already as to why I was so affected by someone I had met only twice. But the last time we met, I was a little blown away. I met his friends, we talked about university, background, he was 36 and I was 20, holidays, sharing anecdotes, then just us two onto a posh restaurant, then more chat, to a bar, then mine…it was a very intense evening and I had a taste of a world I was able to now have. Be free and open as a gay man with a potential partner, or even just with friends but have a social life that was fun and honest and fulfilling. Having lived a life in secret, it was that night that blew me away. So when he said he didn’t want to see me anymore, I landed back to Earth with a bump right on my heart. It wasn’t so much him, but more the reminder of my double-life I had been living for so long, which at that point had been going in completely different directions. It felt like the life I had a right to was suddenly being taken away from me, and there I was, back at university, back to rewardless hard graft, back to my horrid, torn, secret existence, back to lying to my family where I was tired of this facade. So I had a meltdown. I was sick of it, and found myself telling friends, even acquaintances. But I had to tell family. Tell someone. Tell my sister.
I told my friends that I came-out to my sister. It was a big deal for us, and they were all excited. My friends would joke, ‘Oh she must be a fag-hag!”. It couldn’t have been further from the truth! A combination of things including the friends she had at the time, her goals in life and her own views on a ‘gay’ in our family meant that while she wanted to support me, she found it difficult. She had been to gay clubs a handful of times, found it fun and novel…but that was someone else’s life. Of course, I was expecting it to take a long time for her to get used to it, I didn’t after all take just a few months and think, “Hey, I’m gay, it’s all cool!”. And of course my sister had serious cultural and religious misgivings, and yet was a modern girl. But after all, this was me and it was the start of telling my family, ‘Love me as me, as I love you as you”.
She spent time with her friends and talked about gay issues. Then would go to gay bars with her friends, sometimes with me, and had fun. Waiting from the sidelines, I was looking forward for her to meet my friends. Seeing her getting comfortable, I was really happy for her progress, and with our lives we started to share. I did wish there was a lot more of this sharing. Being gay; it was the life her brother had but had never shared, part of my identity, and I expected, and I wanted – most of the time at least – to share my sister’s new experiences, to be the one to introduce her to ‘my world’ as it were, after so long. She preferred to explore the gay scene with her own friends separately. And it’s important to have separate experiences and not do things together always. But for the longest time she’d feel reluctant if I encouraged her to explore the scene, then tell me about being out all night at a gay venue! But hopefully there’ll still be time for sharing.
10 years on she’s a fully-certified fag-hag. Ha! Clubbing every week…wish I could rather than study! But seriously, looking back, it was an important milestone. Melanie Phillips recently wrote on how kids were essentially being brainwashed into being gay. What she refuses to understand, is that if schools and families continue to ignore the fact that gay and lesbian kids exist and do not choose to be that way, instead of talking about it as natural and something that has and will always exist, then the millions of queer kids’ suffering will never cease. No more years of having to hide who you are, living as a ghost with your family, never knowing what your full potential in life is, growing-up with a daily, never-relenting fear of being disowned. I wonder if she and journalists like her will be doing anything worthwhile for LGBT History Month this February.
After telling my sister, the days of questioning about girlfriends or having to tell half-truths about my socialising were no more. And it was the first time there were no major secrets from me to someone in my family. Now our Mum’s died, it’s more important than ever to keep it together.
Thanks for listening to me that day 10 years ago Farrah. Gotta teach you some dance moves now!
12th of December 2010.
Just another day.
I guess I imagined I’d be with my Mum.
Perhaps driving with her to my Grandparents, looking over to me with a slight hint of pride sitting with her son at the wheel.
Or helping her cook her infamous lamb biriyani for my close friends that she (and I) had so longed to meet, to know an important part of my life, looking after everyone as always. Both watching contentedly as people close to my heart enjoy her food, eating with us.
Taking her to a museum, both eagerly discovering, say, the ancient Egyptians, or enjoying a West-End play, or simply spending time with her in town, arm in arm, proudly showing her off to the world.
Or at home, she’d be listening, enraptured, beaming, as my sister spoke excitedly about her hard work paying-off in her demanding job, or how I got an ‘A’ in my latest assignment.
I could be sitting with her in the living-room, me obsessing over the latest pop artists on T4 or X-Factor, my Mum half-frowning at me, half-joining in.
Or maybe…she would just be there…while we were chilling at home…her pottering around or feet up on the sofa…just her presence, but such a powerfully loving, warm, pure and immensely beautiful presence.
But, all this and more are bittersweet fantasies, endlessly evolving in my mind, since my Mum died unexpectedly 3 years ago today.
Memories have always been important to me. Actually, massively so – half the time I’m in a constant state of playback of past experiences.
I think this is why I’ve found it particularly cutting. I remember speaking to someone shortly afterwards who said that after his Mum passed away many years ago, the pain never goes, you just get try and get used to it. ‘Blimey’, I thought, ‘this bodes well’. Actually…he was so right. Well, for me at least. Of course, everyone dies. Bereavement and mourning are a fact of life, always very sad, but the final rite of passage. Everyone who’s ever lost someone always feels pain, but I guess it all depends on different circumstances, some people’s are worse than others.
I think what makes it quite tough is that since late primary school, a distance developed on my part when I realised I was gay. Sensing early on the social taboo, but then the far greater family and cultural and (gravely misinformed) religious view, the idea of being close when I might be disowned was too painful, and unsafe. And so although I still was a part of the family and enjoyed good times, in my heart of hearts, it was always from a distance.
Desperately wanting to be honest, be open, just be me, but too scared of rejection. But I’ve always said, as harsh as it sounds, that I’d rather be disowned than be dishonest. After years of damage, when I came out to my parents for good (I initially came out at primary school…but in short, it wasn’t taken seriously), it was like being reborn…a feeling I’m sure others can relate to. It was the most difficult but proudest moment of my life.
Of course, it was an ongoing process, and there were some very difficult times. But to finally know that there were no secrets, that she knew who her son was. No sinister ‘elephant in the room’. I was ecstatic. Nothing could ever compete with that relief and happiness. And very slowly, I started to reform broken bonds, making up for lost childhood. It was a massive learning curve for her which she was still on, and I was immensely proud at how she dealt with it, in her way. One can’t expect ones’ parents to get used to it overnight.
And so I hoped to take her out, show her my friends she had always wanted to get to know, or my partner, go out with her, anything and everything. I could be 100% relaxed and feel at home in my family once more. The one thing so many take for granted, the only thing I had wanted for so long, was now finally coming.
But a few months before she passed away, life suddenly descended into darkness. There was a lot of pressure on our extended family, but particularly my Mum. All families have ups and downs. There are a couple of incidents that were our toughest times, but we pulled through. But, this time, regardless of my Mum’s death, was shaping up to be yet another. I shan’t elaborate here, but again we all tried to pull through.
Less than 24 hours previously, I had met her at my flat. Unfortunately my last moment with her was to be a brief hug in the cold. Dropping some stuff over, my Dad asked my Mum if I could come downstairs rather than meet me in my flat. ‘Thanks Mum’, ‘OK darling, Dad’s tired, we have to go’, ‘OK, see you later’, ‘Bye, see you later’, *HUG*, ‘Love you’, ‘Love you’.
I remember on the day she died, something horrible I had recently heard she experienced as a child particularly gripped me that morning, and I solemnly vowed I absolutely had to get justice for her while she was alive. And then, hearing it on the phone, the words that broke my heart. Running out into the street at night, finding taxis who’d agree to take me home, seeing my sister’s telling face at the doorstep, then rushing upstairs seeing her laying on the bed, blood on the pillow near her face. She still smelled so strongly of ‘Mum’, that comforting, loving essence. Her skin still so silky soft. She went to sleep in the afternoon, and my Dad found her a few hours later. The coroner said she was healthy and didn’t know why, but perhaps her heart. I think the hospital misdiagnosed her a few days previously. A few weeks after my Mum died, my Granddad also died.
We all face hurdles…I’ve faced a lot that other people also have, and a lot that people haven’t. But I feel you must always tell yourself that there are people in a worse-off situation. Because it’s true. But even though that doesn’t help sometimes, you have to, otherwise you’d be bitter, be unsuccessful, be defeated. But thank God / Cosmos, like a lot of us, I’ve got through them, and achieved, and then one can finally appreciate the good in one’s life, and enjoy life.
But with my Mum taken away, it was difficult to keep telling myself the same thing. She was barely 60 years old, I was in my 20s. Her parents were still alive. After years of being trapped, I had only just started to develop a full content relationship with her after coming out, sharing our life the way we were supposed to, the way others did and perhaps took for granted. She had devoted her life to making everyone around her happy, putting others before herself, and I wanted to devote the rest of my life to making her happy. And the last few months of her life she was tortured with sadness.
That was the moment I thought, ‘No, f**k this. What the f**k just happened? My Mum’s been robbed from me. I’m supposed to live my life with her. We’ve been through such a difficult journey, and now we deserve happiness. We need to make loads more memories. Good happy memories. I wanted her to meet all my friends. It’s not fair’.
And so the memories I had became like gold-dust. Such memories with my Mum are worth more than all the money on the planet…and then some. From waking-up, to going to bed…her face, her voice, her laughter, her kindness, her joy…infiltrate my mind, my soul. Painfully sometimes.
In the absence of creating new memories with her, I have a desperate need to share past memories with others whose lives she blessed. Of course, something we all do when we lose a loved one. Regaling tales, swapping anecdotes, reliving. That’s all I could do.
And so we move on, try to adjust. Make the most of our lives, with those important to us. Knowing I could never do that with Mum, I hoped to do that with those she was important to too.
So memories. To try and make up for missing out on them. Unfortunately, the other thing I was relying on seemed to give way. My sister and Dad together with me in my family home. My Mum’s extended family together with us three. But my Mum’s family and Dad grew resentful of each other. My Dad entirely refurbished my family home. And then he remarried within months, and then left the country.
‘So what did I have left?’, I asked myself desperately. I never say never, but it’s unlikely I’ll have my family back to how it honestly ought to be. I feel it didn’t have to be that way.
If anyone else is going through a similar experience, this is what I hope helps. Some of what I always did, some of what I’ve learned since.
Talk to friends. Maybe a counsellor might help?
Share your memories with your loved ones. In some cases your family may implode and you can’t. I tried to find at least a few people with whom I still could.
Tell those important who hadn’t met them, all about them. Share what made them special.
Make good memories! With people in your life who are still here.
Surround yourself with positive people. Try to distance yourself from negative people.
Try to be around those who truly appreciate you. And make sure you tell people whom you appreciate exactly that.
Live your life respectfully and try to do what you can to make those who you’ve lost proud.
I don’t think my Mum got enough of the appreciation and support she deserved and so selflessly gave others. And we never had enough of a chance to share life and for her to meet my friends. But I hope by making her proud and letting people know about her, it’ll make her and me happier.
Hope this helps anyone else who is going through a tough time.
R.I.P Mum. Love you and miss you forever. X