Ever since I left Southern California for college in Connecticut, my mother has always waited while I wind through the airport security line. She smiles and waves wildly until I make it past screening and turn around to wave goodbye one last time. Except once.
It was during the first few days of 2009, and I was moving to Washington, D.C. to start a job on Capitol Hill.
The holidays had been tense. While I was home, my mother had begun aggressively asking if I was gay.
I wasn’t sure what had aroused her suspicions, but I had indeed come out to myself the previous summer, just after graduating from Yale and just before moving to Ohio to join the Obama campaign. Dispatched to rural Darke County, I had thrown myself into training volunteers and knocking on doors, putting the emotional aftermath of coming out on hold. But, once Obama won the election, it didn’t take long for those pent-up emotions to explode. A close friend had romantically rejected me. Coming out at twenty-two felt embarrassingly late. I didn’t know how my family would react. By the time I went home for the holidays, I was still fragile and figuring myself out. I wasn’t emotionally ready to hold my mother’s hand through the process of coming to terms with having a gay son.
Somehow I made it through Christmas and New Year’s without being pinned down by her relentless interrogations. But, when my parents drove me to the airport to send me off, she angrily refused to hug me, and snapped, “why won’t you be honest with me?”
I didn’t know what I could say, so I just walked away and slipped into the security line. Out of habit, I turned around to wave. She wasn’t there.