Someone asked me, did you really need to do it? Did you really need to split up your family, just because your wife would accept your daughter? Never mind your son, sons have all kinds of stupid ideas when they’re just into their twenties. But to throw away all those years …?
It never seemed rash. I was so stunned by the things she said. People say, “You had all those years together.” But the people you love can say things and you wonder what “all those years” even were. Hate can turn you into sudden strangers.
I didn’t know where all of that hate came from. It poured out. It was so different from how I felt. She had told me first. We were coming up from Devil’s Lake, the truck full of groceries on the back seat, planks from the lumber yard in the bed. Laura had come home for Christmas. She hadn’t come the year before, and I had wondered. I had no idea, really. But I knew something was keeping her away. We were talking about things, what New York was like. She was good at bringing it alive, how different it was to live in streets walled by tall buildings. When we went there I had a good feel for it. And in the middle of that, she said, “Dad, I’m seeing someone.” And I smiled, glad for her, and I said something stupid like, “Oh, good!” and then she said, “Dad, it’s a woman.” I looked over at her. She was looking out the other window, out at the land all covered over with snow. I think she didn’t want to see what might be coming. I had felt happy for her for that moment, and I felt that air slipping out. But I wasn’t angry. Not even shocked, really. At that moment I realized I knew, I had known. She wasn’t different. Laura was Laura, and this was Laura. I’ve thought about this a lot since, that day. It’s become such a big moment in my memory, now that she’s gone. I felt something in me crumbling away, I don’t know what. Maybe an illusion. Maybe all of the thoughts that I had ever thought about … young gay people. All of my ideas about it. Part of me felt like I was breaking. Part of me felt a peace.
In my memory, I like to think I said something like, “I’m happy for you.” I don’t think I said that, though. I think I said something stupid, a stupid try at saying something, like sometimes happens when you’re having a conversation that is very ordinary and suddenly it becomes a conversation different from any conversation you’ve had before and you don’t know what words should go in it. I know I did reach over and take her hand. I gave it a squeeze. She gave a little squeeze back.
I asked her if she had told her mother. She said, “Not yet. I thought you would be easier.” I said, “You should tell her when you get home.” I thought it would be bad. I had no idea how bad it would be.
Jodi didn’t say anything when Laura told her. She just got up and left the room. Laura looked me, and then she did the same thing. Went up to her room and closed the door. Jodi didn’t say anything for awhile, for hours. Not through getting dinner, not through eating it. Josh was there and he was asking stupid questions. “What’s going on? Why isn’t anyone talking?”
That’s when the sandbags broke and the flood poured out. Jodi said, “Why don’t you tell him, Laura?” Laura looked at her and said, “Later.” I think that’s what she said. Josh protested, “Why not now?” Laura wasn’t looking at them, but she shook her head. So that’s when Jodi said, “Fine, then I’ll you. Your sister has just us that she’s in a lesbian relationship. And I don’t know what to think about it. I don’t think that belongs in this house.”
There was more, I don’t even remember. Laura got up and went up and slammed the door. Josh made disgusted sounds, as though this had turned him into a barnyard animal. Jodi was going on about “not in this house.” She kept referring to Laura, or what she thought Laura had done, as “that.” It was like Laura had suddenly become a thing.
I tried to be peacemaker. I could feel her anger and part of me understood it. I felt it taking her over. I wanted to help her stop it. I put my hand on her shoulder and she ducked away. She said something like, “Don’t you dare try to smooth this over, prevent this isn’t something intolerable.”
Laura left on Christmas morning. She said, “Can you drive me to Fargo? I can change my ticket for no charge if I go on Christmas. I can’t stay here.” So I drove her. We didn’t have any Christmas that year. We never really had a family Christmas again. In the weeks after Laura left, I tried talking to Jodi about it a few times. But we never really talked about it again. Sometimes, if the sermon at church brought up homosexuality, she’d say things about it, but she’d just blurt them for people to hear. We weren’t really talking, not about it, not about anything. The next year, it felt like we had decided to give up on Christmas. We would just put up the decorations and say the things but not really have it. It was as though we had been a family and then we had decided to give it away. Send it back. We didn’t want it if it meant we had to give up our anger. Or our hate, whatever it was. It didn’t feel like a household any more. I felt like I was living with complete strangers, and I had no idea how they would react to anything.
When Laura had told me, I had felt a peace. I had known all along. What did Jodi feel? I still don’t know. But from the way she responded, her rage, I thought she must have known, too. And hating her daughter for a long time.