A few nights ago, I began to remember a conversation.
We were walking to the drug store, the one with the ice cream counter, to buy sour cream and an ice cream cone. Nata was pregnant and what I remember about the sour cream is that it wasn’t intended as a topping or an ingredient in something else. She just wanted to eat it.
We were holding hands. We always held hands, but it struck me somehow differently that day.
“People are staring at us.”
“They think we’re gay.”
“It’s okay. Let them think that. Anyway, I am gay.”
And Nata just looked at me.
A door opened when she said that, but a part of me wasn’t ready to walk through it, and so I denied how I felt.
Because, of course, I was in love with her, and it was evident she was in love with me.
But, more than that, what she said offered a way to untangle the spaghetti strands of my feelings inside, only that seemed too hard to do all in one instant.
What I really felt just then was that she was beautiful—Nata was radiant when she was pregnant—and I wanted more than anything just to kiss her. There, against the brick wall at the side of the store we were walking by, in front of everyone. Suddenly, this was possible.
Not just because she had said she was gay, but because being gay put everything else into perspective. You assume someone is straight and you interpret things differently. If that person seems to have feelings for you, you tell yourself you are imagining things, that you’re misreading signals, that what seems to be there isn’t there. It cannot be like that.
And then you go to buy an ice cream cone and sour cream and you find out it is like that.
The other piece of this for me, I know, is that it meant for me that who I am had her total, complete acceptance. Not that she had to be gay to accept how I felt—if things had gone differently, and those feelings had not been for one another—but she had accepted herself. She could accept me also.
It’s an odd conversation in that way, though, because it was just an announcement, an off-the-cuff announcement at that, not planned in the slightest and no lead-up at all. And Nata talked to me about everything under the sun. Why not that?
I can only guess that she had thought about it years ago, when she assumed I was too young to understand and so the acceptance had come long before she had any feelings like that for me.
I’m writing about all this and I realize I’ve left something out.
At a very core level, only Nata’s opinion of me really matters. She isn’t God, but she was the kindest, bravest, most authentic person I have ever known. I cared and still care what she thinks of me.
Everyone else can really just rot if it comes to that. All the 2×2 nonsense I was brought up on, all of the prejudice in society, all the discomfort with my body and about sexuality the abuse left me with, none of that matters.
But Nata’s opinion matters. Nata’s casual, “Nu?” means the world.