I hate this photo of me.
"Are you a gay couple?"
The one thing we didn't know much about when it came to being on a cruise involved the etiquette one observes when attending the dinners in the formal dining room. The first evening, when we found our assigned seat, we discovered we had been placed at a table holding eight. There was only one couple, an older man and women in their sixties, sitting at the every end of the table. He looked like George Bush, she looked like my mom. We didn't know better. We sat at the exact opposite end of the table and proceeded to ignore them the entire night.
"Are you a gay couple?"
The next evening, we discovered with great pleasure that the table was completely empty as we approached it. We immediately moved over to the seats that George and my mom had occupied the night before. They were plum spots. Right at the very end, by the windows, overlooking the water. I sat down in anticipation of a delicious meal served up by our waitress, a lovely lady from Kenya who had a broad smile and loved to contrict the food selctions recommended by the chef. We had also started to quiz her about her life back in Kenya (she has two kids and doesn't see them for seven months at a time), and I was looking forward to getting more information out of her.
And we were just about to get started on that, when a couple made their way to our table and sat down next to us. He was a nice enough gentleman, kind of non-descript, with a balding head and a short moustache. She had stringy blondish hair and a willowy build. Carried a glass of beer in one hand. And after we had exchanged pleasantries and ordered our meal, she turned to me, took a look at the Appletini in my hand, and asked...yes, you guessed it..
"Are you a gay couple?"
Hmmm. Well, I'm not used to being asked it quite like that, but I'm also not used to saying no. So I just smiled politely and said, "Yes. Yes we are."
A huge smile crossed her face. "Are you?" she asked, sweetly. Her voice had a hint of southern twang to it. "Well, I think that's just great. My son's gay, too. Has a boyfriend that is about ten years older than he is."
Oh, I thought to myself. This might be a nice conversation. How nice that she wants to open herself up about...
"He hates me!" she continued, her eyes widening. "He is HIV positive and a pagan. A pagan! And he has the nerve to go on Facebook and even though he knows I am a Christian, deeply conservative woman, he goes out of his way to offend my God and my beliefs and say the most mean, vile things, even though he knows that I might actually read therm. But tell me, how is your boyfriend's family about your relationship?"
Ummm... "We all get along really well," I replied. "His mother loves me. And my family loves him, even my ex-wife."
"Oh, you were married," she replied, and turned to order another ber from the waiter. "I was married, too."
I glanced over at the man next to her. "Oh, I didn't realize that--"
"Oh no, we've been together a few monthsm" she replied. "He's a genius! Recovers military equipment! But then, so's my son. Former military! Wrote ten symphonies before he graduated from high school! And now, because of this guy that he's with, he no longer writes any music at all. Oh, I just love my gay son. I love all of your kind. Tell me, do you get along with your ex-wife?"
I turned to Corb, who was engaged in conversation with her...boyfriend? I mean, I gues. Okay, no help there. "Yeah, we are great friends. I mean, she's the mother of my children, you know what I mean? And one of my best friends. Is that the way it is with your ex-husband?"
"Oh we get along as well as someone can with a former coke addict crack addict who lies and cheats and hates gay people more than my conservative evangelical family does. Even though his own son is gay. But of course,m he doesn't really know that, because he never sees him. He does see my daughter, though."
"Oh? You have a daughter?" I asked, brightening up, desperately trying to change the subject. "What's she like?"
"Stupid," she replied, and kind of laugh. "Not like my gay son. How's your family about you being gay?"
"Oh, they're fine with it," I replied. "My sister is gay, too, so it kind of runs in the family." I attempted a nervous laugh. "So I gues your family doesn't know...about your son..."
"If they did, they would kill him," she replied. "My father was a preacher all his life and would have disowned him. Of course, I hated my daddy. Didn't talk to him the last 15 years of his life, because he would always come around every Saturday for years and tell me how much I had disappointed him. Finally one day I snapped and told him he didn't need to come by any longer. That was it. Just like that! And when he was dying, my family told me I should go see him one last time, he wanted to see me, and I just said, 'Nope, I done said my peace with him 15 years ago. I don't need to say anything else.'" Then she turned and stared at Corb. "Is he always brooding like that?"
It went like that for the rest of the evening. Questions about being gay. We'd move back to her gay son. Family. Her deeply conservative background. Her God. My kind.
At the end of the evening, I gave her a great big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I thanked her for sitting with us that evening. "You know," she said, "I truly believe God plans for these type of chance encounters. He sat us together for a reason."
Well, wasn't that sweet?
I waited to say anything until we were away from the table. Out of the dining room. Close to our cabin. I know that Corb was waiting for something. Some word. Something.
"That was nice," I said, finally. "And I'll be damned if I'm going to sit with her ever again for the rest of this trip."
Corb smirked. He knew it! "But you two seemed to be getting along so well," he said, using his card key to open our door. "You even kissed her on the cheek."
"And I meant that! I meant the hug. It wasn't a bad conversation at all. I'm glad we spoke, actually. She's clearly looking for something and is troubled about her son and needed to speak to someone. Us? Me, I guess. And you, even if you are brooding. She's trying to evolve. I mean, that's clear. She doesn't mean to be offensive. And I would never want to be rude to her. I just don't ever want to sit next to her again. That's all."
I know, that sounds harsh. I'm not sure I can do justice to why I feel that way. I mean, you're on vacation, you know? You want to relax and get some rest. Have a lot of good food, enjoy the sites. Engage in meaningless small talk with strangers. Maybe, make plans with the one you love. Focus on a project or two.
She was a nice enough lady, but EXHAUSTING. How many more family secrets did I really want to dig up?
And besides that, how much more did I want to talk about being gay, to be honest? Believe it or not, straight lady, being gay and my relationship with Corb and how my ex-wife is about it and how my kids are about it and how my parents are about it is not something I need to discuss for hours on end.
I once had a friend at the last company I worked for who was chief legal counsel for one of the companies and was partnered to a brilliant, succesful artist. She was a fierce advocate for gay rights. People loved having her go places with her partner. But, a lot of times at dinners for the company she'd either get really drunk or skip them altogether. When asked why she skipped out, she'd sometimes say, "I wasn't in the mood to talk about being gay all night long."
It was fine for one night. For the other four nights of the trip? Look. A cruise only lasts so long, you no what I mean? I just didn't feel the need to go through that particular ringer for three more meals.
Post script: we had a lovely meal at an Asian restaurant the following evening, and then checked with our Kenyan friend the next two nights. The rest of our dinners were spent exchanging strictly small talk with complete strangers.
Just what the doctor ordered.