One of the most handsome young men I've ever met in real life is my friend, Mao. Tall, dark, curly black hair, black eyes that sparkle like jet, and a smile that just holds you captive. He dances like a wild man and is not embarrassed to sing off key. He opens doors for me, shares his food with me, holds an umbrella over my head as we walk in the rain, gallantly escorts me to my car in the dark. I want him for my son. He is so full of energy I tell him he is the five children I never had. He smiles when I say this. "Kah-thee, I already have a moth-ther," he says in his Colombian accent. "I call her everyday because I love her and miss her so much."
"You call your mother in Colombia everyday?" "Yes," he said.
See what I mean? I want him for my son.
I met Mao in the workplace; he asked me for a ride home one night. We lived on the same street; I knew where he lived. He didn't look like a mass murderer, a rapist or someone who would clunk me on the head to steal my handbag. I said sure, and from that we were friends.
We were an odd pair, he's 20 years younger than I. I'm a dyed in the wool Yankee, raised Protestant, now more of a free-thinker; he's Colombian, Catholic, studied in a seminary for the priesthood. He doesn't like apple pie or peanut butter, thinks the Easter bunny is the work of the devil himself. I eat way too much apple pie and peanut butter. I understand there was no bunny and brightly colored eggs in the Resurrection and that it is a pagan symbol of fertility (and birth/rebirth connection), but I just can't get all fired up over it the way he does. Perhaps I should, but I don't. He was very stubborn; he did not come to my house for Easter even though there are no bunnies here; he did not accept any food I sent him. He called his mother where there are no Easter bunnies and brightly colored eggs. He is lonely, but he will not change his mind.
Mao was very protective of me (He said Colombian men were that way towards their women. I wasn't "his woman" but I was his "woman friend", which translated to the same thing in his mind.) As we became closer friends, Mao was concerned that "I did not have a man in my life." "Kah-thee," he intoned seriously, chiding sweetly, "You need a man. You need someone to take care of you. I will teach you how to get a man."
I assured him that I did not need a man that I chose not to have one right then. I had been married and widowed, been in love a couple of times since then. I was pretty sure that I knew "how to get a man." But he crossed his arms in front of him, stony and implacable. He was a Colombian man; he knew what was best for me. So, after much cajoling and a few cross words about who knew best what was best for me, he convinced me to go with him to a local lounge to scout out the prospects.
There weren't any that Mao approved of. What a surprise.
We sat, enjoying the band. He drank Sam Adams beers and I had a Coke and we were silent for a while, lost in our own reverie. I felt his eyes on me, and I turned to look at him. He was pondering a question in his mind. I tilted my head in question, raised my eyebrows, a sign I guess that my mind was open to his thoughts.
He leaned towards me and said, "Can you keep a secret?"
"It depends," I said. "How delicious is it?" when he did not fully smile, I said, "If it's important to you and it's not illegal, sure, I can keep a secret."
He drew a deep breath and when he spoke his breath rushed past my cheeks. "I'm gay."
I don't know what he expected from me. I was surprised; women of all ages were mad for him. They befriended me to get closer to him; they practically tripped over me to get his attention. He was charming, polite, attentive. I'd stand back to watch the show, and when he'd had enough, he'd give me the eye that said, "Save me," and I'd scoop him up and off we'd go. I was curious why he didn't have a girlfriend, but unlike him, I did not offer to "show him how to get a woman." He seemed to have that all figured out. I just thought he hadn't found the right woman and wondered what she would be like when he found her.
Mao was peering steadily into my face, trying to read the slightest impression. I shrugged. "So? I'm not." I could see the relief flood through him. His shoulders relaxed, he smiled so broadly that he had to pinch his eyes to make room for it.
"Does your mother know?" I ask.
"Yes, I told her. It was very hard. I didn't know how she was going to take it." He settled back into his seat. "You remember I was in the seminary?"
"When I was there, I realized that I liked men more than just as friends. I prayed to change. I was afraid of losing God, but I knew if I loved men, that it was blasphemy to stay in the Church. I am a gay man, but I am the straightest gay man you'll ever meet," he said defiantly, proudly. "It was a terrible time for me. Finally, I knew that I could not change the way that I felt, so I left. And when I left, I felt that I had left God and that He had left me."
He folded his hands on the table and leaned towards me. "When I had to tell my mother, I went home to tell her, face to face. I needed to see her. I asked her to sit down because I had something important to tell her." Mao gave me one of his huge smiles. "She was so worried. I had thought out what I was going to say. I just came out and told her that I was gay. Before she could become upset, I told her that I was not like the gay man who would sneak into her bedroom and wear her high heeled shoes or her lipstick. Those men are not gay. I told her that I did not fall in love with little children. Those men are not gay. I told her that I would not be getting tattoos, wearing leather vests and pants and chains around my neck. Those men might be gay," he laughed, "but they have poor fashion sense."
"Kah-thee, I was so afraid. I was afraid that my mother would hate me and never want to see me again. If that happened, I didn't know what I would do."
I waited for him to go on. "She cried a little, she was disappointed. She said this is not the life she had wished for me. She had wished for grandchildren (but now would have to rely on his brother for grandbabies). But she said she loved me and always would. She said her greatest wish for me was love and happiness." Mao stopped, throat tight with emotion. "Do you know what I realized? I felt something I had never felt before. It was like someone opened a door and let the sun in. That, even in spite of being gay, if my earthly mother could love me, then how could God, my Heavenly Father, love me any less."
There is not a lot to offer in my little city. We have two grocery stores, Wal-Mart and a K-Mart. Mao needed more opportunities, cultural events, brighter lights. He came by the house for the last time, and we hugged and kissed each other on the cheek.
"Kah-thee," he said to me, one arm slung tightly across my shoulders, hugging me close to him as we walked to his car. "You are the woman I love the most on this earth, next to my moth-ther."