Corsair Bay, January 2017
Let me tell you about coming out. About waking up in the middle of the night in the second week of that brave new world, and sitting up suddenly in bed, eyes wide. I’m gay, I whispered into the darkness. I’m actually gay. And suddenly I found myself on my knees beside the bed, hands clasped. I want to live my best life. I want to live my actual life. It was a prayer. A promise. My vow to me.
How did I do it? How did I do those first days of knowing, sludging through grief and shock, not breathing a word out loud. Panicked and stricken with every thought of the future, every thing that would not be. All the plans so tenderly hoped for. Every goal we’d worked so hard for. And the girls. The girls. I told Pat late on a Saturday evening in November, over a year ago now. After a long day of waiting, knowing it was time to tell him the truth. After writing it in my journal for the first time that morning; I’m gay. And then saying those brand new words out loud to a friend that afternoon. I couldn’t go a moment longer without telling him.
It was like there had been a death in the family, we both felt it. The words had come out quickly, tumbled out clumsily, because there was no point in prolonging anything. I’ve realised I’m gay, I said. You know the thing I was upset about last weekend, I’ve realised why I was so upset about it. It’s because there’s something I’m wanting that’s more than what I have in my life right now. I want to be in a relationship with a woman. I’m gay. And we both sat there stunned.
We went on our own journeys of mourning. It was the hardest thing to see him hurting because of what I’d done, and not be able to do anything about it. I moved out of our bedroom. First to the couch in the lounge, with my pile of books and hairbrush and things perched on the edge of the bookcase. Then into what had been his office. First on a mattress on the floor, then on a bed of my own, single, for the first time in 17 years. One day I went back into what had been our bedroom to get some clothes and I stood at the dresser and looked over at the space where my bedside table used to be, where I had sat up in bed all those hours writing, working on my thesis. That space which had been so nurturing, so wholly mine. And I fell on my knees at the end of the bed and wept.
There was never enough crying. I never got to the end of it. Not the first week before I told a soul, when I cried whenever I was somewhere no one could see me, nor the weeks after as I settled into my new room. There were always more tears. It was a private grief, hidden from the world. Isolated and utterly lonely. It was the only way I knew. I had to do the work on my own.
And I did it thoroughly. Writing screeds in my journal. Re-reading back over years of old journals, remembering the marriage that was. How hard we worked. How much it cost. There were therapist sessions by skype, and long conversations with a few close friends. Nobody questioned what I was doing. Everyone who knew me could see it was the truth. Everyone who knew me could see I was doing exactly the thing I needed to do to stay alive. I was rescuing myself. I was giving myself a life.
I took the girls to Christchurch for a few days that January. It’s our big smoke now that we live in the South and we love it. We are regulars at the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Margaret Mahy Park, and at my sister’s place over by the beach, where weather-beaten houses perch beside wild sand dunes. It was my first trip away with the girls since coming out, and I knew somewhere deep down that it was a taste of a new way of being family, of the new shape that would eventually form out of the ashes of what was. And I’m always up for an adventure. The road was what I needed.
For a dark moment somewhere between the December after I came out and the January of a new year, I faltered. The thought of everything I was breaking was almost paralysing. I was taking what I had worked so hard to build and ripping it apart with my very own hands. I couldn’t fathom it. It was excruciating. And yet as I wondered if I could just take the words back, pretend I’d never said them, pretend I could carry on as I was, I felt the shadow of depression cloud over me somewhere. I realised that to go back was to go down. I knew that if I didn’t keep moving forwards something dark and empty would suck me under.
I drove away from my sister’s place one evening and instead of carrying on to where we were staying I took the tunnel road through the Port Hills to Lyttleton. I had the sudden urge to explore, to go somewhere I’d never been before. What a surprise it was to see the tunnel open up to the harbour and the port below, the broad mass of ordered logs waiting on the way to somewhere else. The hills on the other side were warm in the setting light, beckoning, hinting at hidden bays behind soft curves. I kept driving until we got to Corsair Bay. The carpark was staggered in layers, and the slope of the land led our eyes down to a thick band of trees which I knew must hide the beach below. I wanted to see it.
We walked a worn path down through the trees, passing families making their way back up, arms filled with the paraphernalia needed for a day at the beach. Below the trees was an old concrete sea wall, tracing the shape of the small bay, the water and harbour reaching out beyond it. I sat on the edge and watched the girls paddle in the dark and silky water. There was a fixed raft out where the bay opened to the harbour, and people were still swimming out there in the fading light. I saw a couple of swimmers even further than the raft. Swimming in a straight line towards the moored boats. This was their regular exercise, I imagined. These swimmers were owning the wild space that was the broad expanse of harbour. They were not content with the shallows.
I could have stayed in that old, familiar life. But what kind of life would it have been? What stories would I have written? Not the ones I’m writing now. Not the ones that wait, just below the surface of things. The ones I will write now that finally I know who I am. Would you have wished a half-life for me? Would anyone who really knew me be happy for me to live any less than the wild and broad life that waits for me? But I didn’t do it for you.
All those years led me. The marriage, the family, the building and the stretching and the growing up. I gave my best. I was faithful. And look what came out of it; three incredible women. Three women who are growing up too, who will take a path towards themselves and, I can only hope, not waver.