Meeting the Parents and Putting on a Show
It’s been a chaotic time. In the past month or so I’ve met with the committee that decides whether or not my research direction is fit to ride to graduation. My boyfriend moved in with me, burying the apartment in boxes and kitchen appliances. My performance in my most recent class generated a bureaucratic quantum superposition for me, meaning that I’m both failing and passing simultaneously.In addition to the “interesting” developments I had a first. I met the parents of a partner for the first time. A warning, this post is going to be autobiographical and personal. All pretensions of a journalistic voice have been dropped.
Before I met the parents I watched the dawn of Father’s Day. I watched the light play across my boyfriend’s freckled back. I watched the Hudson flex its sky-mirror muscles. I’d been up all night with Chris after we crashed here following a “Gaymer Night” with his comrades in the countryside. “Here” was a historic mansion on the Hudson River built by a robber baron, maintained by a friend of Chris for a philanthropic organization that used it as an event space. We made drunk love in one of the most baroque guest bedrooms while cherubic paintings of fat, Italian children looked on. I felt myself become irrationally self-conscious at their gazes. I wondered how many times they’d watched people get squishy, biological and carnal, in this room? How many secrets they’d kept for the masters of this house, or from them?
Lovemaking over, Chris fell asleep quickly and began snoring. I’d left my medication somewhere in our apartment, the error that would prove to be my undoing. That night I became reacquainted with my chronic insomnia and expensive molding. Did you know that robber barons preferred to have naked children in both paintings and as motifs in plaster on the ceiling?
The plan was to have breakfast out on the movie-set veranda with Chris’s soft-spoken, southern gentleman friend (whom I’ll call Anth) and Anth’s boyfriend, drive the 45 minutes or so to the parents, do something “casual” partake in dinner and get home in time for the last episode of Game of Thrones. The first mistake, the medication, had already happened and the quinoa-crust quiche Anth “threw together” wasn’t even cold yet. All told though the morning among the robber baron’s pillars was lovely. The weather was mild and breezy. Breakfast was good. It was one of the few times I felt comfortable in my skin as a gay man, that I felt like I belonged in the in-group that formed around my sexual orientation. I found myself watching the sparrows dart after unseen insects, the rustling of the grass, lulled by friendly company and the Georgian charms of our host.
We hopped in the car and roared our way down unkempt, pot-holed country roads, twisting out way through farm fields and dilapidated townships. Bucolic scenery, awful drivers, motion sickness, some alchemy of a sleepless night, medication withdrawal and generalized anxiety about meeting the parents transmuted the breakfast into a monster trying to escape. By the time we pulled into the gravel driveway to Chris’s parent’s house the only thing I could do was lie down in the back yard and stare at the clouds. A marvelous first impression to be sure. Here I was, a boyfriend young enough to be my partner’s son, his parent’s grandson, curled up in fetal, hiding from relative motion.
When the world stopped moving we talked, talked nature, talked future, talked gardening, talked all kinds of mundane things. I felt like I was recovering, that the day could be salvaged. The nausea had been pushed to the back of my head. It was suggested by somebody that we go to a nature preserve and walk along the creek. Perfect. We’re playing on my home field.
The party climbs in the the parent’s car and we set off down those same county roads. Somebody proposes a pit-stop at a McDonalds to partake of dirt-cheap ice tea and coffee. We do. We partake. We put the car into reverse and the transmission breaks. Somehow the car is stuck in park, and reverse simultaneously. The “backing up” lights are on, the engine will not restart. The car is marooned in the egress route on the county road. Maniacs pull past us at 90 miles an hour spewing fumes. More maniacs careen past the car on the way to pick up Big Macs. Our party becomes castaway on a concrete island in a place without sidewalks
Chris’s father calls a tow truck which comes as soon as can be expected in rural upstate NY in the middle of somewhere in nowhere. His mother and I are left behind as the two of them hitch a ride back to the house to get a car for us. There are two of us on McDonald’s Island, she and I and we get to talking. First about ants, nature, history. It’s a nice progression; connection is building. Then we transition to talking about the work hazards of her old job at the National Park’s FDR mansion. Suddenly I’m swept up in a wave of medical descriptions of contusions, punctures and spinal injuries that happen when you don’t use the right safety ladders or wear good boots. I discover that my panic attacks have another trigger.
After what feels like hours Chris arrives, knight in shining sedan, to my rescue. I’d have kissed him if it weren’t for my fear of feeding him baby bird style with the fruits of my panic. Somehow Chris’s father thinks that this nonsense will be resolved if we all go through a car wash together, for fun, as a gift, the mind boggles. I clutch my phone as a talisman against the demons of high water pressure and strange chemical smells. All I want to do is run.
Dinner happens. Still nauseous and panic stricken we sit down to grilled steak, salad and baked potatoes. In a gesture of grandparently kindness Chris’s father, perhaps thinking that I looked hungry, loaded my plate with a half a pound of steak. My stomach sent the calculations to my head. “She won’t hold that much strain, Captain.” I spend the meal silent and pick at my food. Chris, ever my rock (and my vulture) keeps the conversations afloat and “steals” my meat with gusto.
We depart. Through my dizziness I manage a smile or two, thank them for the meal. I spent Father’s Day tapdancing on a landslide of my own making. I met the parents. Next time I’ll be sure that the shaking sound in my backpack is actually coming from a bottle of pills instead of assorted nerd dice. I can’t remake my first impression but I can keep myself neurologically stable for the next one.