Mary and I divorced after eighteen years of marriage. I packed up my secret along with the rest of my life and moved to Pasadena. The lure of a new life was bittersweet. Failure at marriage and separation from my daughters gave me dark days. The sweetness I expected from the opportunity to reinvent myself failed to offset the sadness.
Susan and Sharon came to Pasadena every other weekend the first year I lived there. Two hours from Bakersfield, Mary and I split the difference, each driving an hour to a mutually agreed on meeting point.
As Susan became busier with high school activities, she stopped coming as often. Though the distance between us was a natural part of adolescence, divorce aside, geographical separation intensified my pain.
Sharon continued the usual routine. One weekend she brought her friend Amy. Earlier that week we talked on the phone about plans for the weekend. “Me and Amy want to go to Hollywood,” Sharon said. “I think it will be fun to see movie stars just walking down the street.”
In the 1980s, Hollywood Boulevard was sleazy, grimy, and festering with homeless people, runaway teenagers, drug addicts, and hustlers. I was reluctant to expose my daughter too soon to the hard facts and realities of life. Not wanting to rob Sharon and Amy of their innocent expectations of Hollywood’s glamour, I put my concerns aside. My friend John and I drove them to Hollywood Saturday afternoon. They didn’t see the sleaze. They didn’t see the grime. They didn’t see movie stars.
When we returned home after going out to dinner, Sharon asked, “Can we go down to the spa?” We changed into swimsuits. I gave everyone towels and we headed to the spa. The night air was cool. It wasn’t long before the girls went back to the apartment. John and I stayed in the spa.
Sharon and Amy were in the den watching television and getting ready for bed when John and I came upstairs to the apartment. John changed and went home. “We had a fun day, girls,” I said, as I headed for bed.
Sunday morning when we returned home from church, I fixed lunch. Sharon was unusually quiet. “Is anything wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she snapped. I let it go.
“After lunch,” I said, “you girls need to get your things gathered up. Amy and I looked at Sharon who sat head down, aimlessly pushing a shred of romaine around her plate with a fork. “Excuse me,” I said, standing up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”
I walked down the long hallway toward my bedroom. Passing the door to the den, I glanced in. The room was a mess. It looked like their bags had exploded scattering clothes and hair stuff everywhere. On the floor. On the unmade sofa bed. On the chairs. How is it possible, I wondered, to create such chaos?
I returned to the dining room where Sharon and Amy sat in silence. “I’ll clear up the lunch stuff,” I said. “You girls get packed.” We need to leave in about an hour.”
Amy got up from the table and went to the den. Sharon sat, motionless, then silently stood and walked away without looking at me. What is going on, I thought. I cleared the dining room table.
With the kitchen cleaned up and still troubled by Sharon’s sudden change in behavior, I took my concern to the den. On the way, I passed through the living room where Amy sat on the sofa, bag packed, ready to go. The draperies in the den were closed. In the dim light, Sharon listlessly picked up clothes and other belongings.
“Did I do anything to upset you?” I asked.
“No,” she said, jamming a wadded night gown into her bag.
“If I’ve done anything, I need to know what it is so I can have an opportunity to make it right.”
“Everything is fine, Dad.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
The hour drive to meet Mary passed in silence.
“Thanks for the week-end,” said Amy as she closed the back door behind me.
“Bye,” Sharon said, opening the passenger door and getting out of the car without looking at me. She got into the front seat of Mary’s car, closed the door, and looked straight ahead.
The change in Sharon’s behavior nagged me on the drive back to Pasadena. That evening, I called her. “I’m concerned about the way you behaved,” I said. “I need to know what that’s all about.”
“You really want to know?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I do.”
“You remember last night when we went down to the spa and Amy and I came back up to the apartment?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I ran out on the sun porch to wave at you and John.”
“Dad, you were kissing John.” Her simple statement tore through my consciousness. My secret was out. My worst fear confronted me. Against my will. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. It’s too fast. In an instant, I was caught in an emotional storm.
“Dad,” said Sharon, cutting me off, “is there something you want to tell me?”
“John,” I said, in a frantic search for words to cast doubt on what she thought she saw, “John is a very good friend.”
“Are you trying to tell me you’re gay, Dad?”
I was unprepared for the question, least of all from my twelve-year-old daughter. Silence.
“I’m trying not to tell you,” I said, at last.
The sound of her crying was a cruel indictment.
“I’m sorry, Honey,” I said. “I understand if you are angry with me.” It will never be possible to reconcile this, I thought. I was caught. Living a lie. And now I faced losing my daughters and maybe my whole family.
“I’m not angry because you’re gay,” she sobbed. “I’m angry because you didn’t tell me.”
“I’m sorry.” We were silent for a time. “I think I’d better talk to your mother,” I said at last.
“Hi,” said Mary, her voice flat, emotionless.
“Now you know my secret,” I said as I tried to prepare myself for the angry barrage I expected and deserved.
“That explains a lot,” Mary said.