A talented stand-up comedian, my daughter is bubbly, bright, and beautiful. She is also gay. Caroline came out as a high school sophomore ten years ago. Since then, I’ve encountered homophobic remarks from acquaintances and even a few friends. My standard response is, “I wonder if you’ve forgotten my daughter is gay?” I may not change minds, but perhaps in the future, they’ll think before showing their ignorance. I speak up.
Her name was Patti, and ours was an unlikely friendship. She was an evangelical right-winger whose values were antithetical to mine. In retrospect, I realize it was proximity and circumstances that brought us together. A fellow Texan, Patti was my summertime neighbor at a Colorado trout club where our families had been members for decades. When my dad died in 2007, the cabin passed to me.
I trailered my horse to southern Colorado five Septembers in a row before deciding to sell. As the older folks died, sold, or bequeathed their cabins, the club’s ambience had changed. The gentle, gracious people I’d known as my parents’ peers gave way to “redneck with money” types for whom I have little patience. Patti had asked for right of first refusal if I ever decided to sell. She wanted an additional cabin for one of her children. When I told her I wanted out, we quickly agreed on a price and were equally delighted with our deal.
Though late September, it was near freezing as I packed up myself and my quarter horse for our return to Austin. Patti’s husband was driving in for one last weekend before winter arrived in earnest. At 11,000 feet, the Club’s summers were short. I’d invited Patti over for dinner that last night. Knowing she didn’t drink, I set the table for a quick meal sans cocktail hour. I wanted an early evening, a good night’s sleep, and a pre-dawn departure the next morning.
Plain and plump, Patti was a blonde in her mid-fifties. While not particularly stimulating company, she was educated and well-mannered, and she’d always been pleasant and hospitable to me. Arriving at 6:30 on the dot, she carried a zippered leather binder. I was glad she’d brought her planner so we could set the date for our pending transaction. After a supper of the odds and ends left in my refrigerator, Patti retrieved the binder from a chair near the kitchen door. She unzipped it, and I realized that the buttery-soft, dark blue leather cradled not a calendar, but a bible.
In a strangely ominous tone, she said, “We need to talk.” Patti had a high, squeaky little voice and an exaggerated Texas accent. Suddenly, she sounded like my father had when I was sixteen and he’d caught me drinking his vodka and smoking his Marlboros.
“What’s up?” I asked, praying our deal wasn’t about to go south.
“Well, in the YouTube we saw of Caroline’s performance, she talked about her relationships with other women. You told us she’s homosexual and that you’re totally okay with that, even proud!”
Several days prior, Patti and several other members had asked to see one of Caroline’s performances online. As I queued it up, I’d remarked that Caroline is gay, and that her comedy set related several anecdotes about various romantic entanglements she’d had. Consciously preemptive, I’d spent enough time with this crowd to know they weren’t exactly cheering on the Pride parade. My sights were set on selling and getting out of there, not a rumble that might screw things up. I wanted a cashier’s check and a friendly goodbye.
“True,” I replied. Flipping open the bible, Patti’s index finger dived to the passage she wanted to share. I could see that she’d prepared for this meeting; the page was marked with a tiny red satin ribbon. She looked at me hard, then read aloud. I don’t remember it exactly, but I know it was in the book of Romans and was birds and bees-type stuff. Smoothing her long, dishwater-blonde hair, Patti closed the bible and sat back in her chair.
“I’m worried about you.”
“Why?” Suspecting I wasn’t going to like the answer, I still asked the question.
“Do you not get that you’ll burn in hell right along with your daughter if you continue to approve of her lifestyle? God abhors her behavior! It’s up to you to show her the way! Caroline can save herself! She must surrender her will to Him, beg His forgiveness, and go forth as a Christian woman who will honor and submit to a husband.” Patti paused briefly to catch her breath, and then, in a near shriek, delivered her coup de grace:
“Michelle, you must save Caroline — and yourself!”
I felt faint. My palms were moist and my heart pounded. I pushed back my chair and half-stood, then felt dizzy and sat back down. I yearned to say only two words: “Get out.”
But, dammit, I wanted to sell that cabin. A vaguely remembered bible verse skated across my mind. I don’t know exactly how it goes, but the gist is that the love of money is the root of all evil. Still, I said nothing, finally mumbling something about giving it some thought. She continued to press me, but I sat rigidly in my chair, silent. After what felt like an eternity but was only a couple of minutes, I told her I had a long drive in the morning and I needed to get to bed.
Patti had one foot out the door when she turned and wrapped me in an enthusiastic hug. Stiffly, I patted her on the back. She pulled away and said, “I’ll be in touch as soon as Greg gets here and we’ll set a closing date sometime in the next couple of weeks.” Stepping into the icy, moonless night, she switched on a flashlight and disappeared down the dirt path to her cabin.
Two weeks later, I got an email from Patti. She’d changed her mind and no longer wanted the cabin. No apology, no concern, just that, and a suggestion we meet for lunch sometime soon.
The bible verse about money and evil leapt to mind and I felt sick to my stomach. I don’t know what God says about reneging on a promise the way Patti did, but here’s what I do know: I know I still feel the full-on shame and guilt of compromising my integrity and betraying my daughter in pursuit of a payday that eluded me in the end.