1998: Marisol at 7
From the back of her mother’s minivan, she makes her announcement:
“When I grow up, my husband’s gonna take my last name.”
The words must hit her mother like a slap.
The 25-year-old woman in the driver’s seat knows what it means to fear for her children. She has known that fear since the day that Mari, her eldest, was born.
But today she comes face-to-face with that other, additional reason that she fears for the future. Mari is her ace, her mini-me. What does she already understand about her little daughter? The pair have been fighting over dresses and jerseys, Mary Janes and sneakers since Mari was a toddler. Mari’s mother must know, in that moment, that the fighting over how Mari will dress, how she will speak, how she will play with her brothers, has barely begun.
“You might change your mind about that when you’re older.”
“No,” says Mari. Innocence is clarity. “I won’t.”
2004: Pauli at 12
I don’t understand why I am no longer welcome at the lunch table.
I hadn’t been afraid. I’d realized I was bisexual, and then I’d told my friends. I don’t think it’s any big deal, and neither do they.
Except for one, that is. Her name is Amy.
First Amy tries to convince the friend-group that a bisexual girl does not belong among them. When that doesn’t work she starts to maneuver them against me, one-by-one. She gauges into each girl’s insecurity with precision. She tells one that I ridicule her weight behind her back. She tells another that I call her poor, mock her for the size of her house.
On it goes until she’s worked her way around the table. Within a week, not one of them will speak to me. Not one of them will look me in the eye.
Suddenly friendless, I retreat into the closet. I claim to have been confused, seeking attention. I am not into girls.
I will never admit to being into girls again. The next time I assert my homosexual attraction, it’s to women.
2005: Marisol at 15
She opens her history notebook to a blank page deep in the middle. She begins to write.
I’m gay, she writes. I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay, until her revelation covers the page.
She looks it over.
The terror of seeing it ignites behind her eyes. She flips the page. Conceals the evidence.
She glances to her left, to her right. The kids in the adjacent desks are attending to the lecture or staring into space. No one is looking at her. What to do? How to get out of this?
The trash can is no good. Her handwriting is too identifiable. Even the sound of tearing out the page could draw notice. Could incriminate her, sitting with her truth splayed out before her in blue ink.
When class ends she shoves the notebook in her backpack, hustling it out the door like a live bomb.
She will go home, shred the guilty page into a slew of tiny pieces, and flush them down the drain.
2011: Marisol at 20
“I’m gay,” she tells her boyfriend.
They look at one another.
“Okay. Cool,” he answers.
They look at one another.
“So…” he asks. “What does this mean for us?”
He looks at her, eyes pleading. He’s in love with her. She’s the girl he wants to marry.
She looks back.
2013: Pauli at 20
My father picks me up in his white car in the dark. My 98-year-old grandfather rides in the passenger. We’ve barely gone a block when my Dad asks me if I’m seeing anybody.
“Uh huh. Yeah. I am. A basketball player.”
“Oh no kidding! Is he tall?”
“No, not really. She’s a point guard.”
My Dad taps the brake in the middle of the traffic, then accelerates. My head knocks forward, then knocks back. “She?! You’re dating a woman?!”
“Yes, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”
“Huh! A woman. Wow! Is she Jewish?”
“No, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”
My father reaches to his side, taps his father on the leg. “Did you hear that, Dad? Pauli has a girlfriend. She isn’t Jewish.”
“Ha!” my Grandpa answers. That’s the end of it.
I tell my little brother next. We are passing a bong between us in the grunge of our mother’s basement. I mention my girl. He tips back his head, eyes closing to the fluorescent light as if to bask in sun. He raises up a fist in triumph.
“I knew it! I KNEW it. I can’t WAIT to tell all my friends.”
And that’s that. I tell my mother last.
“How long have you known?” she asks me.
“That I’m bi? I’ve known for a long time. Since I was a kid.”
She stiffens. Her eyes open like wounds. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. We’ve always been so close.”
I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. She deserved my trust. I have kept her out for too many years.
I am arriving late. But I am here.
2018: Marisol and Pauli at the Altar
It is a celebration that extends outside of us.
We marry outdoors in the heart of downtown, as the sun is setting on a crisp September night. We are so spelled by one another that we don’t even notice it– our relatives and friends will tell us later. All around us, strangers gather. What is this scene they have happened across? Wedding guests, white and Black intermingled in the aisles. Two women in stilettos underneath the Chuppa, an old white Rabbi and a young Black minister standing sentinel behind.
Before, we were nervous. Ours was the first gay wedding in either family. We braced for the pushback, the tearful phone calls, the slew of no-shows.
But the pushback doesn’t come.
The family shows out in force for us. One hundred on her mother’s side alone. They sparkle in their finery. They radiate their joy.
Her father, stoic as always, walks her down the aisle to me, then sits down in the front row, fighting tears. By the end of the night, he and I will exchange our first “I love you.”
In the end, there is only one no-show. Mari’s uncle will have to stand in for him on the altar, at her side.
It is her brother who does not show up.
2020: Marisol at Home
She swears it: her family will never know.
I dropped it on my own family more than a year ago. Surrounded by my cousins, my brothers and their girlfriends, my wife at my side, I casually mentioned my boyfriend. Titters and grins made their way around the circle. My brother’s lady socked him in the arm, saying “Why don’t we do that?!” He shot me a glare, and that was that.
But my wife has no intention of revealing it to her family. They’ve come so far since we met, struggled against their Catholic ethics to accept her marriage as equal to any straight one. Why push our luck by telling them that marriage is non-monogamous, too?
For years, she holds the line. Then she meets a girl.
She falls in love, and it changes. First she tells her brother, the one who did stand beside us at our wedding. He laughs. “Yeah, no shit,” he says. He knows. He clocked us years ago, but had the grace to keep it quiet. “I knew you’d tell me when you felt like it,” he says. Simple as that.
Then she decides to tell her Mom. She asks her out on a walk just the two of them, saying she’s got something to talk to her about. And they talk about it.
“It’s strange to me, my daughter,” Mommy says. “I just hope that you protect your marriage. What you and Pauli have is sacred.”
“It is, Mom. I know. But this is a part of what we have. This is who we are.”
“Well my daughter. Whatever makes you happy.”
And that’s that.
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