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I never thought of myself as the type to lie to my grandmother. She’s always been my biggest fan. When I was the lead in my high school musical, she memorized my blocking so that she could turn her head for my every entrance. She never wanted to miss a glimpse. Today she can quickly whip out a photo of the brisket I made for Passover or the kugel I made for Yom Kippur break fast (both her recipes). She’s been known to show them off unprompted.
Still, for nine years – from the time I first came out until this year – I found myself lying to her. When asked about my social life and if I was dating anyone, I’d quickly change the subject. Or lie. I’d perpetuate some idea my grandma had about me because I was afraid she’d somehow stop loving me.
It’s not exactly as though I’d ever hid from her.
We love to go to Broadway musicals together, and when she offered her mid-century dining room set to me earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity. Of course, she didn’t know that that dining room set was sent to the apartment I share with my boyfriend. I just couldn’t bring myself to have The Talk because I wasn’t sure how she’d react. I avoided any talk of gayness at all so as to avoid being exposed.
My parents weren’t helpful. My dad told me she wouldn’t understand, and my mom didn’t even want to broach the subject. Yet after having visited my boyfriend’s family for several holidays, I couldn’t take it much longer. It wasn’t fair for me to hide him from my grandma anymore, and I wanted him to be a part of her life as well. Still, I knew that showing up at Thanksgiving with a boyfriend wouldn’t be the best approach to coming out.
So when my boyfriend and I were invited to a wedding in my hometown this year, a perfect opportunity presented itself. Without the pressure of a holiday, I could bring home my boyfriend and introduce him to grandma. But first I had to talk to her.
We live in Brooklyn across the street from Greenwood Cemetery, where Leonard Bernstein is buried just up the hill from us. As I paced along the cemetery’s edge a few nights before our trip for the wedding, I thought of “Somewhere,” from West Side Story. Two doomed lovers pray for “a place for us… somehow, someday, somewhere.”
Hadn’t I found that already?
Gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. I shared a home with my boyfriend. We are far from doomed. Unlike Tony and Maria (or Bernstein and co-writer Stephen Sondheim), we don’t have to yearn for a better way of living. The time and place for us is already here.
I called my grandmother from that strip of sidewalk beneath Bernstein’s grave, and I told her I’d be bringing a date to the wedding, that it was a boy, and that, because we lived together, he too was enjoying her mid-century dining set.
“I still love you,” she replied. “As long as you’re happy, I’m happy. I just want you to be happy.”
At dinner the following weekend, my boyfriend and I told her about our apartment and our life together. We showed her pictures of our apartment – full of the life we’re creating together. She showed him pictures of the brisket and kugel I made (both of which he had eaten and she had not). She talked about how she was never happier than when watching me in my high school musical.
Somehow, impossibly, it had gone way better than I’d anticipated. I waited nine years to tell the person who cared about me the most, terrified that she would no longer accept me, only to learn that I had nothing to fear.
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Prounounced: KOO-gull (oo as in book), Origin: Yiddish, traditional Ashkenazi casserole frequently made with egg noodles or potatoes.