At that moment, I’m thankful for the small things.
The shower in my motel room heats quickly, so I don’t have to be cold, wet, and naked for long. There’s excellent pressure, the water blasting out as if from a hydrant, creating a racket that muffles the noise roaring out from my chest. Hard, desperate sobs. Hysterical, high school drama student type sobs, furiously long-lasting, the sort I’d make fun of if an actor made such a commotion. Nobody in real life ever cries like that! Except when they do. I point the shower head to the left just a bit, and the water beats the wall like a drum. I’m not worried someone will hear me. I’m in a corner room, it’s late, and it’s a weeknight in January. I’m worried how easily I can hear myself, how each swell of grief that works its way up my chest cavity and out of my mouth reminds me of what I’ve done. The water blasts the tan, acrylic walls of my shower. So much noise, and for that I’m thankful.
Motel soaps are so brittle. The one in the shower cracks as I rub it over my body, through my hair, my armpits. I would have packed my shampoo if I’d been thinking clearly that night, but I hadn’t done that. What I’d done was to go out in service that day with my brothers and sisters, fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses, my Bible and Watchtower in hand. We were spreading the good news of God’s Kingdom. What I’d done was buy dinner for my family that evening, driving off to pick up the food I’d called in. Driving back, I didn’t know my cousin had gone in my room and used my computer. That he’d stumbled across the endless (and tragically undisguised) links to gay pornography.
What he’d done between the time I’d left home and the time I got home was tell my family what he’d found. What I’d done when I walked in the door and was confronted was lie. I’d set the food on the table and lied. It was all a mistake. An accident. Satan trying to frame me. Not a single Jehovah’s Witness is gay. They can’t be. Lies, and more lies. What I’d done was pack up my bags when told I was being thrown out, forgetting my dinner, forgetting my shampoo.
There are nine rows of holes in the drain of this shower. Each row has nine holes, 81 holes altogether. There are 35 years in my life at the moment. Each year has twelve months. 420 months altogether. Hundreds of months of perfecting an image, of hiding, of sharp-cornered lies that have been polished smooth until they feel like the truth. Thirty-five years, all the life that I’ve known, swirling away with the water down 81 holes.
The water cools, and I turn up the knob. At this moment, my world is three feet by three feet, the length and width of the shower. Beyond me, in the rest of the world, events are already in motion. The congregation will ask why I’m no longer at home. My family will tell them, and they’ll tell them why. Homosexuality, they’ll whisper, as if the word itself is infectious. They’ll be formal about it, perhaps even loving, saying I need mercy, forgiveness. But a sister who was revealed to be a lesbian was expelled, a sister no more. Forgiveness is such a kind word when you mean it. Just a sound from your mouth when you don’t. I’ll have to leave my congregation, I know. My city’s a small one, and I’ll have to leave it as well. Probably the state. Far enough to find a new congregation where no one knows me or knows what I’ve done, where I won’t have to hear the sounds of forgiveness.
And then, naked and weeping, a thought: “You could stop if you wanted. Stop lying, stop pretending. You could actually be yourself. You’ve never been that. Have you thought about that? Everything’s out, and everything you could lose, you’ve lost. All of this could be over. Maybe it’s time to be someone else.”
I run my hand down my chest, feeling slippery, wet skin. I press my fingers down on my sternum, aware that there’s more than just flesh and the bone underneath, but something else, something gentle and fragile. No wider than straw, I feel it run the length of my rib cage, a tiny flicker of light within the darkness that’s settled within me. So delicate I don’t yet recognize it as hope. I turn off the shower, hand on my chest. The feeling remains.
Maybe it’s time to be someone else. I get out of the shower and for a moment, there’s nothing to hear but the sounds of my breathing. And I’m thankful.