"No, that wasn't a bag of pot you found in my jeans, Mom; that was oregano. My girlfriend and I were cooking spaghetti at her house."
"Yes, Mom, I have a girlfriend."
"No, Mom, I'm not gay!"
In my 20s, I decided not to lie anymore to my parents; it was too painful. This meant telling them I was gay. To be more precise, I told my mother but not my father. I was too chicken to tell him, too afraid of his disapproval. I figured she'd tell him anyway.
Being honest (within reason, of course) has many rewards. It deepens relationships, gives you a satisfying sense of integrity and authenticity. Over the past few years, however, I've had to forfeit those rewards. I've had to start lying to my mother again.
Ruth, my mother, has Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia (it's rarely easy to know unless you do an autopsy). She's forgotten I'm gay. And so, in almost every conversation, Ruth asks, "Do you have a girlfriend?"
I wrestled with this at first. I hate lying to her; but does it really make sense to 'come out' again to my mother, especially when she won't remember it the next time I call? So I've developed a pat answer: "Yes, Mom, I have lots of girlfriends," which is true.
"Good!," she always says.
Sometimes she'll ask if I'm ever going to get married. "I'm working on it," I lie. Truth is, Nick and I are married.
The day my sisters and I had to move Ruth into an Alzheimer's facility, she was fixated on my marital status. I decided to take it a step further that day and show her a photo of me with Natalie, one of my best 'girlfriends.' My mother was thrilled.
While I've developed some routine 'white lies' as answers, as have my sisters, Ruth still throws questions at me that I'm not prepared for. Too often, in the past, I've told her the truth, which only upset her.
My conversation with Ruth yesterday was a turning point.
I could tell at the beginning of our conversation that she was more confused than usual. "I haven't seen your father in a while, I wonder where he is?"
My father died in 1993, and in the past, I might have reminded her of that. "He's always working late," I responded, without missing a beat. "You know how hard he works."
"I think he wrote a book or something," Ruth replied.
"Yes, it's a book of his photographs, of downtown Greensboro over the years," I lied. "I'm so proud of him."
"Me too!," she answered. "I don't know where the children are either."
"I think they're upstairs, probably playing hide-and-seek," I lied.
"When are you comin' to see me?" she asked.
"I'll be there tomorrow," I lied.
And so, at long last, I was able to easily play along in this excruciatingly painful game. One thing sustained me throughout our conversation, however. With her husband still at work and her children upstairs playing, I hadn't heard my mother sound so happy in years.
|Ruth and me, July 2010, Greensboro|