Friends, I would like to introduce you to my partner Betsy. She has a great story to share with us today and I am immensely grateful that she agreed to be a guest blogger on my crazy little blog.
On my way home from school this afternoon I stopped to collect the tic-tac, our nickname for Kim’s little, white car. The secretary, a soft, smiling woman I see every 3,000 miles but whose name I’ve yet to learn, handed me the bill. “Your car’s ready.” I smile, “thanks, it’s actually my…”
hesitating seeing the “Make America Great Again” sticker on the wall behind her…it was the type of pause, a movie pause where everything slows down “make America HATE again” is the joke in our home…
“partner’s, my fiancé’s car,” finishing the statement.
She asked if I’d sold our other car. “No” I said, “the VW almost sold, but it fell through.”She looked confused, then asked if my partner was a flight attendant. “Nope, she works in Sarasota.” Now I looked confused.
“You look familiar” she said. She explained, there was another customer whose partner is a flight attendant. I joked “lesbians – we all look alike.”
It turned out that I looked familiar, not from the dozens of oil changes, but rather her daughter was in my photography class a few years back. She remembered me from parents’ evening.
“I pulled her out of school” she explained, “she fell in with the wrong crowd; she fell in with the rednecks.”
A second slow motion moment…a Trump gal critical of rednecks? I stand corrected. Before she could continue, I offered “Bo Potter? Henry Black?”
Her smile broadened; I teach at a very small collegiate high school where rednecks are a rarity.
I explained, these guys were harmless. They just smoked too much dope.She told me they used to “go mudding’, shoot rabbits and eat ‘em!”
“Yeah” I replied, “harmless. Henry used his wild rabbit reciepe for a photo project. His classmates loved it!”
It was time to get home and with my hand on the door handle, she asked me when I was getting married.
My hand slipped from the handle.
“In March, in Venice,” I said.
“Florida?” she asked. “You can get married down here?”
I explained that gay marriage was made legal nationwide over a year ago.
“Oh,” she smiled.
“Welp, I gotta go,” hand back on handle. Smile…
Then, the all too familiar – “How did you know… you were gay? I’m sorry, is that okay to ask?”
Hand OFF handle. Thinking at this point we’ve covered rednecks, gay flight attendants and basic car maintenance – sure it’s okay. I explained that I didn’t come out until I was 30. I explained that I dated guys, really nice guys, funny, talented, kind men. And we had fun. We played pool, drank beer, cooked dinners, watched movies, and it was really…nice.
They were all very nice.
My friends would talk about their boyfriends with voices spilling over with longing and love and I’d think, they must have nice boyfriends too. I told her that it wasn’t until I was a million miles away teaching in Asia, away from the familiar, the family and the faith, that I fell in love, unexpectedly, with a woman. And just like that, I knew what was missing from all those nice guys…love. I knew in an instant and my whole life sharpened.
My individual universe made sense to me. Life’s curtain was lifted.
Duh. Honestly, duh. How had I not noticed before.
I explained to her, all I had seen were models of straight love on TV, in life, at school and at church; I had no words or images to understand who or what I might be when I was growing up.
She was fascinated.
Me, standing in a car garage office, FOX news muted on the wall. She, sitting behind a grimy desk, Trump sticker peeking over her shoulder, and she still had questions. “Why did your partner move down here, why didn’t you move?”
“Well” I explained, “ couldn’t sell my house in time, and my folks live in Venice.” I explained that Kim’s parents had both passed. She looked sad. I shared that when Kim came out to them, they rejected her. She looked even sadder. I explained the best I could; she wanted to know more.
She began to share “my aunt is gay; she was married for 20 years, two kids, and then she just left him…for a woman.”
I wondered if her pause was longer to her than it was to me. She wanted to understand and was asking questions OF me but FOR herself. And for that moment, we were simply two people trying to understand.
As teachers, we are trained to recognize “teachable moments,” so I will resist turning this into the cliche that “we both left that day with a little more faith in humanity…”
But, it was a moment where the politics and politeness and appointments fell aside for a few moments to let two curious strangers, who have known each other for years, trust one another a little more.
The next oil change, I’ll be sure to get her name.
Betsy has been teaching English and photography for 23 years in the States and abroad. In her “spare time”, she rescues beer and liquor bottles, giving them a second chance at life so people can adopt them at local farmer’s markets. She’s comfortable changing her mind as often as her oil.