Author’s note: This is a piece I wrote five years ago. I made several weak attempts at getting it published—all unsuccessful. Now, I’ve decided to post it in short chapters on my blog. All names have been changed and some details. Since I wrote this, my beloved dog, Baxter, has died, I’ve gained weight, again, and have three novels published and two more in the works. Like the river, life goes on and is usually wonderful! Enjoy and feel free to give me feedback. Bill Mathis
The River Path – Chapter 7
We stand by the river path, watching a noisy group of children from the YMCA day care enjoy the play area of the park. The ‘we’ is Cheryl, my ex-wife, and Mattie, my seven-year-old step-granddaughter. They drove up to spend the day with my partner and me. Last April, Cheryl, her daughter and husband, plus Mattie, spent Easter with us. I’m beginning to understand how our relationship—Cheryl’s and mine—is now deeper, contains more respect and greater support for each other than when we lived under the same roof together. Our divorce was amicable. Our marriage was not. It was filled with frustration, anger, unmet expectations, coldness, blame and misunderstanding. I now realize, most of the frustration and misunderstanding was mine, about who I thought I was supposed to be, how my narrow beliefs and upbringing didn’t allow for self-awareness.
We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant. I introduce Cheryl as my ex-wife to several acquaintances and friends who smile, yet quickly glance at my partner. They know of my relationship with him, but know little of my past lives. Several struggle to control their expressions as the realization hits that my ex-wife came to visit her ex-husband. Not only her ex, but her gay ex-husband and his partner, and they just ate lunch together! As we walk away, I can almost see their minds spinning. I understand. Mine spins too sometimes.
I think about our situation—Cheryl’s and mine—how unusual it seems, but also how right, normal and fortunate it feels. I recall the time I informed Cheryl I was gay, after our divorce, after I finally put most of the crazy pieces of me together, after I accepted I was gay, after I embraced myself. Her first question, with tears in her eyes was, “Are you happy? That’s all I want is for you to be happy.”
I can’t help contrasting Cheryl’s accepting and supportive response with that of my siblings who refuse to consider anything other than a literalist Biblical viewpoint. “God says you deserve death. Repent!” They said, then informed me I was not welcome at family events. (Update: In recent years, I attended family events, but the pain is still fresh and there’s always an elephant in the room that hasn’t been discussed.)
I reflect how coming out forced me to reconsider the concept of family. DNA is important, but I’ve decided family is also about who finds you, embraces you as you are, and whom you find and embrace as they are. My family is growing immensely.
Cheryl and Mattie hug each of us, then buckle into their car to leave for their two-hour trip home. Are they my ex-wife, my ex-stepdaughter, my ex-step-granddaughter? Technically, yes. Though in reality, they’re just part of my new, revised, and expanded family. I’m learning that titles, like religious dogma, are relative and usually irrelevant.
Sorry to say, but next week’s Chapter 8 is the last in this series. Let me know what you thought: firstname.lastname@example.org