|Chapter 7: A Heartache Shared|
was nine o'clock on a warm July evening. Michael, who had just finished
watering the lawn, was cooling off with a glass of lemonade in the
kitchen. Kate was at the piano playing "Clair de Lune," when the
"Who could that be at this hour?" Kate exclaimed, as Debussy was abruptly interrupted. She crossed the room and opened the door.
"Laura! Greg!" she exclaimed in surprise. "Come on in. To what do we owe the honor of your company?"
Greg offered a lame excuse as he followed his wife in the door. Michael came in from the kitchen. "Hey, Greg and Laura! Long time, no see!" he exclaimed.
Greg dropped down onto one corner of the couch while Laura perched on the edge of her seat beside him. Michael headed for his favorite wingback chair and lowered himself into it with a tired sigh. Kate sat down on the piano bench, facing them, with one leg tucked under her.
After a few moments of general conversation, Greg came to the point. "Well, actually, we're here tonight because of your son," he said, looking at the floor. Questions flashed through Kate's mind.
"Which son?" Michael asked cautiously. Something in Greg's eyes made him add, "Danny?"
Greg nodded in confirmation. Kate felt her stomach lurch.
"Shelly called us tonight," Greg said. "She told us she had seen Danny at Kinship Kampmeeting, and she thought you might need us. You do know what Kinship is, don't you?"
The blood had drained from Kate's face. "Yes," she said slowly. "It's a kind of support group for homosexuals in the church. But does Shelly....is Shelly..."
"Shelly is lesbian," Laura finished softly,
"Oh, Laura!" Kate wailed in dismay.
It was almost as much a shock as finding out about Danny. Greg and Laura were good friends, and their daughter Shelly, a few years older than Danny, was a special young woman. Bright and talented, she was a research chemist with a large pharmaceutical company.
Laura crossed the room quickly and knelt beside Kate. "I know how you feel," she whispered as she put her arm around Kate's shoulders. As their tears flowed, Michael and Greg stared at them in painful silence.
After a few minutes, Kate regained her composure. "How long have you known?" she asked, wiping her tears away.
"We found out three years ago," Laura said, giving Kate's shoulder a squeeze as she stood up and went back to the couch. "Shelly spent a year as a student missionary in Indonesia, you know, and Greg visited her there on his way to Australia. She told him then." She looked over at Greg.
Greg leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "She had been hoping her year there would help her sort out her feelings and get them under control," he said, staring at his hands, "but instead, she finally had to face the fact that she was a lesbian and couldn't change. She was really upset, almost suicidal, when she told me about it. It helped her when I took the news quite calmly and she realized I wasn't going to reject her."
Kate could hardly take it in. It seemed unbelievable that someone they knew as well as Greg and Laura could have hidden their heartache so successfully. But perhaps that explained Laura's bouts with neuralgia, she realized. And then there was the time Greg had given her a ride to work. He had told her all about some research with rats that showed when they were stressed at a certain stage during their pregnancy, all their offspring exhibited homosexual behavior. She had been a little surprised at his interest in the subject, but now she understood.
Kate's thoughts returned to the present as Laura continued Shelly's story. "Shelly told us later that she had wondered why she never felt the way other girls did about boys, but it wasn't until her senior year in high school that she discovered her attraction to girls. One day, her best friend came to her in tears because her boyfriend had broken up with her. Shelly said that as she put her arms around her to comfort her, she suddenly realized this was what she had always been looking for."
Laura paused. Kate could see that even after several years, her friend still found the memory painful. "Shelly said it felt so right and so good to hold a girl in her arms; she had never felt that way with any of the boys she had dated. She was so upset by this discovery that she ran out of the room and wandered around in the rain, crying, for hours."
"Oh, poor Shelly," Kate murmured sympathetically.
Still finding the whole thing hard to believe, she asked, "Did Danny and Shelly know about each other before?"
A faint smile crossed Laura's face. "No, I guess they gave each other quite a shock," she answered dryly. "Shelly said she was standing in line at the cafeteria that first evening when she looked back and saw Danny some distance behind her. At the same moment, he looked up and saw her."
Laura gave a little chuckle, remembering Shelly's description. "She said they both screeched in surprise and went running toward each other, babbling in amazement! They kept asking, "Are you...? Are you really...? Are you gay too?"
Kate smiled briefly as she pictured the scene, then her face grew serious again. "I don't understand about Kinship," she said, looking questioningly from Laura to Greg. "Danny says it's not recognized by the church."
Greg leaned back and stretched his legs out in front of him. "That's right," he answered, raising an eyebrow and staring at the pillow he had picked up from the couch.
"The people in Kinship want to be a part of the church, but they don't agree with the traditional interpretation of biblical texts that refer to homosexuality," he explained. "They believe the Bible condemns homosexual acts if they are engaged in by people who are heterosexual, but they believe that for them, this is normal behavior. Of course, the church doesn't accept that interpretation."
Kate looked troubled. "No, of course not," she agreed.
There was a moment of silence before Laura spoke. "But Kinship does offer understanding and sympathy that homosexuals don't find anywhere in the church; I think that's why it has such appeal. They need somewhere to turn for help, and the church has pretty much ignored their problem."
Kate nodded in agreement, remembering the feelings of alienation Danny had expressed. "What's happened with Shelly since she first told you?" she asked.
Laura sighed. "She has become quite involved with Kinship. And .... she lives with Jonna, her ...well, they have what they call a committed relationship. In fact, they even had a special ceremony, committing themselves to each other."
A stirring from Michael's corner caused Kate, Greg, and Laura to turn and look at him, as if they had each suddenly noticed his absence from their conversation.
Michael's jaw set more firmly, as it always did when he was uncomfortable with something. He picked up his glass and sipped slowly before asking, "How do you feel about that?"
"Well, we don't like it, of course," Greg answered. "We don't think that it's God plan for their lives. But we want Shelly to know we will always love her, even if we believe she has made a wrong choice. After all, we don't always make the right choices, either, and God hasn't stopped loving us."
Kate nodded. "That's how I feel about Danny too."
Michael cleared his throat. "I'm not totally convinced that Danny is really homosexual," he said with a frown. "I think it's pretty normal for young men to go through a phase of unsettled sexual feelings in their teens. Danny is just so sensitive I think maybe he has talked himself into thinking those feelings mean he's gay."
Kate shook her head in frustration. Michael just couldn't seem to admit there was a real problem. "But, honey, Danny said he prayed for years that God would change him," she reminded him. "He said he dated girls in high school, trying to feel the way other boys felt. I don't think that sounds like he was talking himself into thinking he was gay."
Michael's expression suddenly turned bleak. "Well, I hope he comes to his senses before he ruins his life," he said.
"It's a hard thing to come to terms with," agreed Laura, with a sympathetic glance at Michael. "I'm sure Danny appreciates your love and concern. A lot of parents reject their children when they find out."
"That's right," Greg agreed. "It wasn't easy for us when Shelly told us. I think it was harder for Laura than for me." He looked over at Laura, and she nodded. "But we're glad now that we didn't let it ruin our relationship with Shelly."
Greg ran his finger along the piping on the pillow he was holding. "You know who Moira Cox is, don't you?" he asked suddenly. "She goes to our church."
"You mean that older woman with the accent, who wears her hair pulled back in a bun?" Kate asked.
"Yes, the one who usually sits near the front on the left," Greg replied. "She's such a meek, quiet sort of person that this is hard to believe, but a couple of years ago, her son who lived out in Seattle called to tell her that he was gay and dying of AIDS. She apparently felt that she had to express her disapproval of his lifestyle by refusing his phone calls and returning his letters and packages. She never spoke or wrote to him again. He died a few months later."
"Oh, how terrible!" Kate exclaimed. "She must surely be sorry now that she let him die like that!"
"I suppose so," Greg agreed, nodding his head sadly. "But so many parents seem to feel that it's their duty to express strong disapproval when their child chooses a sinful lifestyle. I think they're afraid that if they continue to show their love, they will be seen as encouraging or condoning the sinful behavior. They forget that the Bible says God loved us while we were still sinners."
"I'm sure part of the problem is the misunderstanding most people have about homosexuality," Laura observed, taking off her glasses and massaging the bridge of her nose. "They think it's a choice that people make. But I was talking to Dr. Martin, and he told me that some of the latest research suggests that homosexual orientation has a genetic basis."
Michael pulled one leg up across his other knee and drew his lips into a straight line. "If a person has no control over being homosexual, then why does the Bible say it is a sin?"
"I think that the condition of being homosexual is a result of sin in the world," Greg said thoughtfully. "We know that God did not create people as homosexuals in the beginning, and I don't believe homosexuality was ever part of His plan. But because of generations of sinful behavior, people today may not be able to help having a homosexual orientation. However, they can, with God's help, choose not to live that lifestyle. I think that's where sin comes in."
The lamplight made shadows on Laura's face as she said softly, "I'm sure it's not easy for our kids. Shelly has helped us see that your sexual orientation is so much more than just the act of having sex with someone. It's an integral part of your personality and affects everything you do and think."
Tears welled up in Kate's eyes as she tried to imagine the enormity of what Danny and Shelly had to contend with.
"Then, maybe .... maybe, you could say that those feelings of... attraction, which just come to them naturally, are not a sin unless they act on them. I mean, teenagers-boys and girls-certainly have strong feelings of attraction for each other, but we don't consider that a sin unless they let those feelings control them and lead them to having sex outside of marriage. And for a boy or girl who just naturally feels attracted to someone of the same sex, it seems to me we would have to look at it the same way, wouldn't we?"
Greg and Laura nodded in agreement. "I don't think God holds people responsible for feelings over which they have no control, any more than He holds someone responsible for being born blind or handicapped in some other way," Greg said softly.
But Michael shook his head. "God asks the same thing of homosexuals that He asks of unmarried heterosexuals-sexual purity. Abstinence. We don't think that's too much to ask of them; why should it be so much worse for homosexuals?"
Kate spoke up quickly, without stopping to weigh her answer. "It seems sad to me, because unmarried heterosexuals can at least look forward to the hope of finding someone to love and marry someday. But homosexuals, if they believe that God forbids homosexual acts, know they can never hope to have that kind of relationship. I know that's no excuse, but it means they have to lead a very lonely life. They can't even have a roommate to share their lives with."
"Another thing that I think makes a homosexual's situation more difficult to bear is the stigma he or she feels," Greg said. "Not just the church, but society as a whole, has an irrational hatred and fear of homosexuals. There is still so much ignorance and misunderstanding about the subject."
Greg looked at his watch. "Nearly eleven o'clock!" he exclaimed. "We've got to go home. But before we leave, let's ask God to be with our children and to show us how we can help them."
they knelt, Kate thought what a comfort it was to have someone who
could share their sorrow and understand what they were going
Near the end of July, Michael left on another trip. This time he would be gone for nearly three weeks while visiting several islands in the Caribbean. After he had gone, the long summer evenings stretched out emptily ahead of Kate.
One afternoon, on her way home from work, she stopped at her favorite fruit stand. A table heaped with watermelons caught her eye. She thumped several until she found one that sounded just right and carried it to the cashier.
At home, she sank a long knife into its center, and it split open with a satisfying crack. "Ah, perfect!" she murmured. Carrying a big quarter piece of melon on a tray, she went out to sit at the picnic table in the backyard.
She could feel herself beginning to relax in the languorous late-afternoon heat. As she swallowed sweet, juicy bites of red watermelon, she gazed reflectively into the leafy green depths overhead. A mockingbird burst into brief song from its hidden perch somewhere above.
When the melon was finished clear down to the rind, Kate pushed it aside and rested her head on her arms, enjoying a rare moment of idleness. At last, she stood up and carried her tray back to the house. I think I'll bring my quilt pieces out and sew till it gets dark, she decided.
"The phone was ringing as she opened the door, and she hurried to answer it. Laura was calling.
"Brace yourself, Kate," Laura said gently. "I think I mentioned to you that Kinship publishes a newsletter. We have a subscription to it, and the latest issue came today.
"Kate....Danny wrote the article that's headlined on the front page. He used his own name. A lot of people who write for the newsletter use pseudonyms, but Danny didn't. He's a very courageous boy, Kate, and I know he doesn't want to hide and pretend to be something he's not. But I thought you'd want to know. It could make things harder for you."
Kate felt a hot flush sweep over her face. "Who ... who might see it?" she asked uncertainly.
"I'm not sure," Laura answered carefully. "But I think probably there are several administrators at the church headquarters who get copies."
"And Danny's article is on the front page, you say?" Kate asked with a sinking heart.
"Yes, it's a report on his experiences at Kamp Meeting. It's very well done, Kate. Danny's a talented writer. Would you like to see my copy?"
"I think so," Kate said slowly. "But, Laura, what do you think will happen when people see Danny's article?"
"Probably nothing," Laura assured her quickly. "I really don't think anybody will say or do anything about it. In fact, so many publications cross their desks, they may just give it a quick glance and not even notice his name. I just didn't want you to be unpleasantly surprised. Try not to worry about it, Kate."
"Easier said than done." Kate sighed. "When can I see the newsletter?"
"I'll put it in your mailbox when I drive by tomorrow."
Kate saw the manila envelope with Laura's return address, she opened it
with a sense of dread. There was Danny's name, big as life, on the
front page, but as she read the article, she was caught up in his
reactions to his first meeting with a group of people like himself and
the poignancy of his sense of self-discovery. Even though she still
cringed at the possibility of people she knew reading it, Kate was
proud of the openness and vulnerability with which Danny described his
Danny's summer class would be over in a couple of weeks, and he would be coming home for a short vacation. As always, Kate looked forward to seeing him again. But this time she was fully aware that there would be no quick, easy solution to what she thought of as his "problem." It was something that would unalterably impact and change each of them for the rest of their lives.
As the day of Danny's arrival drew near, Kate's thoughts turned often to her idea of getting Jay to talk to him. Surely, she thought, it would help Danny to talk with someone who can understand what he is going through. Jay could offer him advice based on his own experience.
As she tried to think of a graceful way to arrange it, she remembered hearing that Jay and Dave, the senior pastor of their church, had been college classmates. Since Jay had transferred to their church after leaving his career as a high-school principal, Kate felt fairly certain that Dave must have been supportive as Jay and Sheila had put their lives back together. Maybe she could ask
Dave to talk to Jay and see if he would feel comfortable about talking to Danny.
But that meant telling Dave about Danny, and it was still so terribly difficult to talk to anyone about it. Even though Dave was warm and friendly and easy to talk to, she hated the idea of telling him about her problems. She felt such a sense of failure. If she looked at her feelings closely, she realized they were probably motivated by pride, but she managed to convince herself that her reluctance to talk to Dave was because he was so busy and had to listen to so many people's problems.
Still, that seemed to be the only way to arrange a meeting between Jay and Danny, so at last, with much trepidation, she phoned Dave one morning. It was easier than she had thought it would be. Dave didn't act shocked. In fact, he told Kate that he had seen a copy of Kinship's newsletter at the home of one of his parishioners, so he already knew about Danny.
When Kate falteringly told him how hard it was, wondering what other people would think when they read it, Dave reassured her, "Kate, these people are your friends. They're not going to condemn you or Danny or stop loving you. I know they're just going to be praying for you and loving you all the more.' He agreed to talk to Jay.
Since Danny had six weeks at home before the fall quarter started at college, he had applied for work at the church headquarters office. With his computer expertise and the speed and efficiency he had demonstrated during previous summer jobs, he easily found work in one of the offices.
One afternoon soon after Danny had come home, Kate had to leave the office early because of a dental appointment.
"No problem," Danny assured her. "I can probably catch a ride home with Sheila and Jay." Kate, who had not yet gotten around to broaching the subject of Jay and Danny meeting, agreed. Arriving home from the dentist's office a little earlier than she had expected, Kate was starting supper when she heard a car pull up in front. Glancing out the window, she saw it was Jay and Sheila's car.
Twenty minutes passed before Danny entered the house, looking thoughtful. "What were you talking about?" questioned Kate.
Danny hesitated before replying, "Jay was taking a vacation day and staying home with the girls, so it was just Sheila who brought me home. Somehow, we got to talking, and I told her about breaking up with Angela and why we broke up. Then she talked to me about what she and Jay have gone through."
Kate was amazed at how things had worked out. "What did she say?" she asked.
"She was really very open about it," Danny answered slowly. "She said Jay had told her when they were engaged that he was homosexual, but they both believed that getting married would take care of it. She told me her side of the story and what it has been like. I could see that it is still very painful for her to talk about. I really admire her and Jay for their courage and the effort they both have made to save their marriage."
Danny paused, then continued with a sigh, "Sheila told me she thought I had done the right thing to break up with Angela. And she said she would be praying for me."
A deep feeling of gratitude to Sheila for being willing to talk to Danny swept over Kate. "Danny," she ventured, "do you think it would help to talk to Jay too?"
Danny looked up, startled. "Yeah, I guess so," he said noncommittally.
"I've been thinking about that for quite a while," Kate confessed. "I didn't know how you'd feel about it, but I asked Dave to find out if Jay would be willing to talk to you. If it's OK with you, I'll check with him and see what he found out. I just thought that since Jay seems to have found some answers to his situation, he might be able to help you."
"Sure, I'd be willing to talk to him," Danny agreed, a little more positively.
Through Dave, Jay and Danny's meeting was set up for a few nights later at the church.
Satisfied that she had done what she could, Kate felt reticent about questioning Danny afterward. It was not until a couple of years later that Danny told her about their meeting.
"We told each other our stories," he said. "Jay admitted the trauma he and Sheila had been through, but he felt it was worth it to save his family. However, he said he believed that I had a right to choose how I wanted to live my life."
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