2001 / 2012 / 2016
baby steps

Your heart is beating so fast you swear it might burst right from your chest. The flushed pink of your cheeks is too telling as you open up your book, laying it flat on the bed and quickly grabbing a highlighter. You arbitrarily start to highlight as the door opens, your mother coming in to drop off folded laundry. "Are you staying for dinner, Andrea?" It's the first time that you venture a glance to the girl sitting next to you, whose cheeks are a similar color of bright pink. She stutters over her words a little, which makes you have to stifle a giant grin.

There's something exciting about the secret you two share, and it goes beyond what she'd experienced the time she snuck out of the house to meet Trevor Kent in his car to make out after curfew. This feels special in a way, knowing that they both have this feeling of a shared intensity of feelings. Good girls from South Carolina don't forego their studies in order to get to second base with each other. It's the first time she feels like she's doing something for herself, which is odd because it doesn't mean all that much to her.

The thrill-seeking part of herself wonders what would happen if she just let her parents in on the secret. She can see her mother's face go ashen as she'd try to figure out what she'd say to the country club members. She can see her father growing uncomfortable and grumbling but never actually saying anything. All of this however, would come after Fiona figuring out who the hell she is and how to even define her own sexuality. It doesn't seem to matter much, at least not at sixteen.

Her mom leaves and she forgets the books a second later. You outwardly "blame" her for being too cute or whatever other cheesy comment that comes out between stolen kisses. You can deal with your indecision and definitions later. Right now, you have twenty minutes to kill before behaving yourselves at dinner.

It's just a rumor, but it's the first time you have real anxiety about it. It's just a rumor but you know that there are those people back home who cut out every clipping about you they can get their hands on -- true or not. This one is ... mostly true. Surely embellished to sell magazines, but it's private, and you don't like that your private life has become public domain once you've garnered even the smallest bit of success. The problem is, really, that out here you never hide any part of yourself. You don't not hold hands with someone just because someone might be taking a picture. You're so authentically yourself when you aren't anywhere near your parents. Your siblings love and support you and don't care about your own preferences when it comes to relationships (or lack thereof), but there's this part of you that gets anxious.

You've rebelled in your own way since you were a kid. You never followed any path that seemed to fit into the lifestyle of your upbringing, and that always felt really good in its own way. Why then, is it still important to you not to cause disappointment from your parents? You didn't care when you got suspended from school after cutting class (which made no sense -- shouldn't you get MORE school as punishment for skipping it?) or when they caught you sneaking out of the house more times than you could count. The answer is so blatantly obvious, but it's scary to admit. It matters because this isn't anything about what you do, it's about who you are. Self discovery took a long time, and you don't want to regress in any way. You can't.

It's Christmas and you can't avoid it anymore. You arrive to the normal fanfare and insistence of family photos now that you're all together again. Being there is like waiting for a bomb to drop -- where you keep hearing the phantom whistle before the boom. Your brother is the best person in the world, sensing your nerves and distracting you when he can. There's no real distraction when that boom comes over Sunday brunch, directly after church. Of course. Maximum guilt, achievement unlocked. It's mentioned offhand and at first you play dumb, and feel sick to your stomach about it. Mom is treading lightly, and you're dancing around the subject. It's like two lions parrying but never going in for the kill.

You could have more tact before you finally get frustrated enough with the passive aggressive comments and digging, but that was never your strongest suit. "If the worst thing your adult child does is sleep with women, I think you should be damn happy about that." And God was it hard not to flourish the outburst with "fuck" thrown in there. There's never been a more quiet moment at the dinner table. You silently hope that neither of your parents feigns a heart attack right now. Silence is worse. Silence feels like a point of no return. Thank god for your brother, who attempts to make a joke, even if it falls flat. You excuse yourself and go outside in the cold, because it feels better than being inside. But hey, at least it's out there ... sort of.

You always kind of find reasons to ignore her texts and calls until you are ready to deal with your mother. It's mostly that she just prattles on with things that you don't care about, but hey, at least she's stopped trying to convince you that Charles Peterson is great husband material — and a dentist now! It's always such a gear-up to actually call her back, but she knows you aren't working and it's been a few weeks of traveling — so you're due.

You catch up in usual fashion: Dad's spending a lot more time golfing now that spring is in full swing, and she's got a fundraiser she's hosting next month, but that pesky woman Marge Hewell is sticking her nose where it really doesn't belong. "That bitch," You say as a joke, which earns a 'tsk' and a gentle reprimand for using that kind of language.

It isn't long before conversation turns to politics, which already makes you cringe. You're not on Facebook for that very reason. You avoid it at all costs, mostly because of the fiasco that was Thanksgiving dinner conversation of 2008. Your ultra-conservative parents have very different views than you do, and it's a bone of contention you try not to bring up … really, ever.

"So you're voting for Trump, right?" Your tone is trying to convey joking, but there's a near-bitterness to it you can't quite shake. "Oh for God's sake, no." You almost feel bad at how shocked you are to hear that. She goes on to say that she doesn't see how anyone could vote for such a "horrific display of the worst in humanity" and you honestly feel proud of her. You don't say it, but your tone shifts and you know she can tell.

"I really don't know what I'll do this year, because you know I've always stressed the importance, especially for you girls, in exercising your right to vote. I just can't see myself voting for Hillary, either." You roll your eyes at that one, but decide to pick your battles. "I just don't know, Fiona. I can't in good conscience give my vote to someone who doesn't support my daughter's rights, you know?" You're so taken aback for a moment that for a minute as she goes on, you don't even think you heard her right. You only tune back in as she pulls it back around to something you can grasp coming from your mother. "I'd like to actually attend my daughter's wedding in any state she'd want to. I mean, should you actually decide to marry someone, I'm not saying I'm pressuring you! Even though I do want grand babies, you know. You're not getting any younger, Fiona. Don't think that I'm pushing you, but if you decide you want to get married, especially with that Gaelle. She's really lovely you know." You're laughing because she's acting like she's telling you something you don't know — and in a way she is. It's the first time she's mentioned that kind of a commitment from you that isn't centered around her ideas of a man at the center of it. No, you aren't running off to propose any time soon, but the fact that your mother for the first time outwardly supports who you are is … mind blowing.

You don't even realize you've got tears in your eyes until you hang up. There's this feeling you maybe have never felt after such a call with either of your parents until this point. It's a feeling of being accepted, without the kind of pressure to change who you are just to fit in their box of ideas for you. Maybe you didn't have to wait so long to embrace who you are in front of them, too.