“My side of the bed has never been colder,” teased Wendy, my former wife, in 1989. After coming out to her the year before, I thought it only fair to allow her to say whatever she felt was necessary. It was all in fun, plus we only tease the ones we love.
Earlier this week someone asked if I had any contact with Wendy and it reminded me of the length of time I would have been celebrating being married if I had not spoken my truth. Wendy was always clear that the 25th anniversary gift is appropriately silver and a band of diamonds was her expectation. Little did we know that I’d be more likely to wear drippy jewelry than her.
Along with appreciating some exquisite memories shared with Wendy, thoughts of her immediate family came to mind. Her brilliant Mom, her powerful younger sister, her older brother who helped define the word ‘determination’ and her powerfully athletic little brother. These are all very special people with whom I am so grateful to have shared a part of my life, yet really knew nothing about.
The youngest brother had played national level and professional volleyball, and I had remembered him commenting on the news that a teammate on Team Canada’s National Volleyball Team had come out. Being rather sensitive to news about gays, while in the closet as a married man, my heart raced when he commented, “He better not look at me while we’re showering or I’ll kill him.” Not good news for the brother in-law who would eventually tell his sister he was gay.
So I took this nostalgic energy to Calgary this past weekend to spend time with my family and, in particular, my two nephews. While committing to arriving at my youngest nephew’s hockey game at 8:15am on Saturday morning, my sister asks me a very interesting question, “Do you know or have you heard of a Grant, not sure of his last name. He’s real tall and I think he used to play with Canada’s National Volleyball Team. His name seems familiar to me.”
By the look on my sisters face, as I respond to her, she knows she’s struck an enormous nerve by posing that particular question. I say, in the calmest of tones, yet freaking out inside, “That is Wendy’s youngest brother. I was just thinking of him earlier in the week.”
My sister loves the expression, “Oh my God!” Well at this particular restaurant and in front of her kids I had not ever heard her exclaim OMG as loud as she did. She went on to share, “Grant’s son plays on”, and she points to my youngest nephew, “his team!” The words “… or I’ll kill him” ring in my ears.
My two nephews know I was married and that I am gay. But imagine explaining to an 11-year-old that one of his hockey buddy’s Dad used to be my brother-in-law. Now this is fodder for a great mini series or perhaps a soap opera. On top of that, add the ambient laughter of my 13-year-old nephew, his brother. Awkward never loomed so large. Thank goodness for the brilliant parenting and sibling skills of my sister, although she was laughing as hard as her teenaged son.
So after 22 years of really knowing nothing about Wendy and her family, I’m one breakfast away from seeing my former brother in-law and in a twisted kind of way I think, ‘Thank God it’s not in a public shower.’
Between leaving my family after dinner and being in awe of the way the Universe works its wonders, I begin to think of all the healing that has taken place in 22 years of my life. I’m poised to reconnect with the brother of one of the greatest loves of my life. “Thank God I didn’t see this one coming,” I hear myself mutter because I may not have shown up for this reunion.
My sister did ask if I wanted her to chat with Grant before I arrived at the arena. This unusual calm came over me and I simply said, “I don’t think that is necessary. But if it will make you more comfortable, then go right ahead.” My sister laughs and shares, “I think I’ll tell him that 20 or so years we may have attended a wedding together and then let him know it was yours and Wendy’s.” I can still see her rolling in laughter as she concocts the story.
“Thank you God for another day” rolls from my lips as my eyes open that next morning. The next thought wasn’t so divine. I’m about to walk into a hockey arena. ‘Gay Uncle Thomas’ walking into a place that is known for fights breaking out. I notice a tinge of panic when I think of the reception Grant’s gay teammate received while sharing his sexuality.
I could not have conjured up a story like this in the greatest rendition of a trashy gay fiction novel. This is priceless, perfect, and without a doubt an amazing opportunity to trust the wisdom of life as it unfolds, exactly the way it needs to.
As I walk into the arena I sense a bit of discomfort in myself, my sister and some of the hockey Moms. Intuitively, I look for an escape route. It’s something that we do as gay people just in case our audience is not as open as we’d hoped for. I chuckle at how ridiculous this seems, but notice how proud I am for thinking about my own safety. Plus, if it all goes awry, the hockey Moms will scratch his eyes out.
As I walk into the ice arena, there stood Grant, all 6 foot 5 of him. How did this 20 something year old end up with a 12 year old son? I quickly snap out of my nostalgic haze, reached out my hand and said, “Grant, it’s amazing to see you. I understand you and Frances met at a wedding 23 years ago. Small world, huh?” He laughed and I began to breathe.
I stood in this magic place with him. I felt safe. He looked me in the eye. We laughed. He shared that his wife, Kathleen, told him years ago when Wendy and I first got married that she thought I was gay.
Grant updated me on his Mom, his Grandmother, his older brother and sister. He also shared that Wendy was well; she returned to Calgary from Toronto and had three kids. I smiled remembering how Wendy felt she’d be a terrible Mother and that was our reason for not having children. I felt such love for her upon hearing the news.
I noticed a profound sense of gratitude I had while with Grant. I had moved from a place only a few days ago wondering about Wendy, her family and her brother Grant to now knowing some things I had, at times, longed to know but somehow thought I’d miss in this lifetime.
I ended my time with Grant asking him to say hello to all these amazing people that had been a part of my life. He enthusiastically said, “Absolutely!”
As I released his hand from our handshake and started walking away I turned back and said, “Thanks for not hitting me.”