Unraveled by Stephanie White

“How was the concert?” he asked, in a tone that I did not recognize. The sheer energy of his anger was enough to pin me against our walls. Something was very wrong. He finished off the last swallow of red wine and rose from his chair. I had come home from a Metric concert; happy, but with the usual guilty feeling that a mom carries when she spends an evening away from her family.

“It was good,” I shared with an uneasy feeling as we walked up to bed in silence. Silence and tension had never been a component of our relationship. Laughing, light-hearted, easy-going exchanges were the norm. Our bedroom was small, cozy, and always a place of peace. I made my way onto the mattress, entering at the foot of the bed, since my side of the bed had long been wedged up against the wall to save space in our room. Rolling my body over on my right side, I hid myself and faced the wall, hoping I had misread his mood.

Before I could close my eyes, the question that changed my life forever came pouring out, “Am I too close to you?” Then I knew. He knew. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

With a soft voice, yet terrified by the conversation that had started, I said, “No.” I stared at the darkness of the wall.

“You’re sure? I’m sure you need to tell me something.”

“Ok,” I paused. “Did you see something?” I could barely get the words out.

“Oh,” he replied with a raw devastation. “I saw a lot.”

My Twitter account. My journal of sorts. An alter ego of expression. My daily internet searches that I had engaged in out of desperation to make sense of myself. I had forgotten to log out before I left for the concert.

“Let me show you something,” he said, as he was already out of bed and headed back to the basement to find the laptop that held the truth. I followed. Somehow my breath had remained steady.

Laptop in his hands, his body framed by my favorite blue leather recliner, he read to me, “How gorgeous is she? There’s the best looking DJ in Columbus.” Jason, the wind knocked out of him, continued going down my page. Tweet after tweet about being uncertain. Vague tweets of questioning myself. Tweets asking why I was so confused. Tweets going to nowhere, but my eighteen private followers. Tweets that showed that I had been harboring confusion for months, if not longer.

The search history was next. He continued to read:

-“Coming out when you’re older”

-“Do people know they are gay their whole lives?”

-“Married might be a lesbian”

-“Sexual fluidity”

This moment was the most heartbreaking and liberating moment of my existence. I had been avoiding this moment for so long by carefully deleting my inquiries from our computer, inquiries that were free to happen while my husband spent nights at the firehouse. I had been free to find myself by way of the Internet, without having to look over my shoulder.

Overcome with emotion, half crying, half angry, Jason exploded, “Are you living some sort of secret life?! You’re a lesbian?! Who are you? Who. Are. You?”

I was numb. Numb, but heart racing. Numb, but relieved. This was the most surreal moment of my life. I simply stared at the carpet and back at Jason again; tears slowly falling. “I’m sorry. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m sorry.” I took a breath. “I don’t have a separate life. I’m so sorry. I’m so consumed. I’m so scared. I don’t know why, but I’m so attracted to women and I don’t know what the fuck to do anymore. I’m so sorry. I’ve never acted on it. I just, can’t think about anything else.”

My mind scanned back over the last several months to my first Zoloft prescription to mask my suffering. My Twitter account. My crushes on women. My dreams about women. My prayers that it would all go away.

The laptop shattered against the wall. Every night, the slightest of noises awoke our boys. That night, the shattering of a marriage did not even nudge the slumber of two boys merely steps away.

My perfect life; my perfect family; my perfect husband… unraveled. We had been so fortunate. Our siblings and cousins were our best friends. We spent weekends having game nights, city-wide scavenger hunts, and Sunday nights at our favorite pub. We had not avoided tragedy in our decade together. Far from it. We lost loved ones, had money troubles, and jobs gone wrong. But we always took adversity in stride. We had a sense of humor about life. I felt we could never be broken. The pain in Jason’s eyes was deeply horrifying. I knew, even though it was the worst day of my life, it was the worst day of his, and his worst day was exponentially worse than mine. I knew of my struggle. He kissed me goodbye several hours before, oblivious. He felt betrayed. He felt conned. He felt lied to. He felt like he’d lost everything in an instant.

“I always knew you were a lesbian.” He stood in the kitchen, pouring rum into a tumbler and drinking it like water. Jason never drank, but in that moment, what else could someone do when their life was falling apart?

I let him talk, sitting across from him. The overhead kitchen light was on, and I could see our bathroom light peeking from behind the kitchen doorway. I didn’t have anything to say. I had so many feelings come over me, that my body and mind retracted from the room. I was so calm. Eerily calm.

“Why don’t you care?! Don’t you even care?! Why aren’t you saying anything?!,” he demanded, anguish flowing from his mouth. “Who are you? My family. My family.” He sobbed into his hands. “They loved you. They loved you so much. My God. My God. How? Why? Grandma. Grandma! She’d be so disappointed in you. I can’t have you around my kids. You can’t be around my kids.”

With that, I was suddenly afraid, afraid of losing my place in our family as the mother of my kids. With sudden clarity, Jason made his way to our older son’s room. His room was lit with a the faint blue glow of an airplane nightlight we had bought him while I was pregnant. Jason tried to shake him awake on the bottom bunk. “Mama isn’t going to live here anymore. Wake up. Did you hear me? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry buddy.”

I stood in the hall unable to breathe as I watched our son remain asleep, unaffected by the chaos.

Jason’s eyes narrowed close to mine, “Who the fuck are you? I want you out of my house.”

On this night, our life divided into mine and his. I had taken comfort in our house, our life, and our kids. The unity of our lives, our family, our belongings, would never again exist. The painful sound of his sobs echoed through my soul as I numbly looked at him with tears in my eyes. I had always been so quick to cry, but I couldn’t produce more than slow tears that night. I’m not even sure I was there.

Without a sound, my body moved toward our countertops, searching for my keys. Then with metal in my hands, I squeezed tightly, wondering if the prodding of the keys would awake me from the nightmare. But pain and guilt made my body stop registering sensation. Walking to the door, I hoped he would stop me. I hoped that I was straight. I hoped that I was still a good wife. I looked at Jason with painful eyes before sinking into the driver’s seat.

In a rage, Jason tossed a plant at my car, wracking my hood. My life would never be the same. The husband I loved so much, would never be mine again. Then, I pulled away slowly, not sure what was scarier—leaving and facing my life, or leaving my best friend and the man I loved to be in pain by himself.

Turning down the street, it occurred to me; I had nowhere to go. It was just me and my distress, riding through our neighborhood. No belongings. No plan. I had not told a soul. Two years of quiet curiosity that rose into confusion and now chaos.

Not knowing what else to do, I circled around the block, pulled up in front of my house and came to a slow and quiet stop, half hoping that Jason was asleep inside and half hoping that he would come out so that I’d know he was all right. I sat there. Who could I tell? I never thought this moment would come. I never thought I’d have to tell anyone. I never thought it was real. How could this be real? How could this be my life?

And the bigger questions hung overhead? How do you tell your family that you think you’re gay when you’ve never so much as kissed a woman? How do you come out when you don’t really have anything to come out over? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. I couldn’t come out.

Then came suitcases, boxes, a shirt, jeans, shoes, all tossed into the yellow light reflecting on our front porch. This was the porch that that we used to sit on in the summer and watch our kids run through the grass while we put our feet up.

A yellow lab escaped the front door. One hundred and five pounds of pure love that fell straight off our priority list after the boys had been born. He took his time, walked to my car and looked at me. His eyes met mine. Stared. Slowly he lowered into a sit. He looked around as if to say, “I’m not going anywhere.” He laid down in the street next to my car door.

Jason yelled, “Tucker! Get in here! Come on! Let’s go!” Frustrated, Jason went back inside. Not wanting to disturb Jason or the neighbors, I loudly whispered to my dog to go inside, over and over again. I cried and whispered again and again, until I was empty. He didn’t move.

Jason walked through the grass into the middle of our yard. “Come inside. You can stay here tonight.” He was not quite empathetic, but seemed to show me pity.

Walking back into my living room, we sat in a pair of blue chairs. Just five months before we had bought them for $35. We had wanted a place to sit and talk away from the TV. Not long ago, we sat here talking about home improvement projects, cleaning out the garage, our favorite pizzas, and our boys.

I caught my breath. I felt a moment of normalcy. I was able to be heard for a moment, “I don’t know if I’m gay. I just am really attracted to women and it won’t go away. We’ve gotten away from focusing on us. Maybe we need to work on our marriage. Maybe we should get back to our relationship and get away from living as only parents.” Jason nodded calmly.

The moment of calm abruptly ended. Jason stood with clenched fists, unsure of what to do with himself. Up to pour another drink, the bottle was empty. I felt my heart and throat tighten. Jason walked to the back door and stumbled into the grass. Throwing his bottle of rum far into the field behind our house, he collapsed on the ground. He cried like he did the night he had lost his father; a cry of pain and helplessness, sheer devastation. The stillness of the night, mixed with infinite pain was more than either of us could grasp.

I stood just outside our back door watching him deteriorate. He allowed me to help him up and guide him inside, and into bed. I held him as he sobbed, his body shaking. He started to put his hands on my skin and kiss me. “Please,” he held on tighter. “I need you.” I could see from the glaze in his eyes and hear from the broken nature of his muddled speech, the alcohol had taken away his coherence. “Please show me you love me.” He was not forceful, but emotionally desperate for some sense of normalcy.

“It’s OK,” I said as I let him take over. “It’s OK.” In order to fix what I had broken and prove that I still loved him, I gave in. I gave in, not knowing that what would happen next would be an unloading of desperation, guilt, exhaustion, and love. Jason wavered from crying and telling me he loved me and could never hate me, to making my heart feel physically wounded. “How could you do this to me?” he’d narrow his eyes to a glare. I lost track of time. It had to have been going on for three or more hours. It was raw and intense. Wanting it to end, I passively laid there, complicit, hoping he would soon pass out. It was the most disconnected sexual experience of my life. The night faded and upon the morning arriving, both of us awoke.

I looked at him, feeling safe. Feeling normal. Inside of myself, I felt like I had proven that I could stay married simply by consenting and participating in hours of drunken and crying nakedness. I felt like I had fixed it. I was certain it was time to put away my fears of being a lesbian. On that morning in May, I felt it necessary to muscle my way back into a heterosexual mindset. My family had been ruptured by my painful journey to make sense of my sexuality. It wasn’t worth it.

He looked at me with a look that was loving and familiar, but his words emerged with a cold tone, “You need to leave.”

*Some names have been changed for privacy.


Stephanie White lives in Ohio and spends her days as a reading teacher outside of Columbus. She loves exploring cities, local breweries, and drinking fresh pour over coffee. She lives with her wife, kids, and two dogs. “Unraveled” is her first published story.


Issue Contents

From the Editor

Lost in Reflection

A fleck of light stung my eye, begged for attention as I walked past the mirror attached to the second-hand dresser in my bedroom. Sunlight had reached through the window and ignited the brilliance of the stone hanging from my ring finger. I paused the search for my earrings, focusing instead on my left hand's reflection. As I watched the mirror-hand move, I admired the weighty diamond bound to platinum alongside its matching wedding band.

I’d lost track of time as I puttered around my rental, sorting piles of little boy laundry, changing the sheet on the queen mattress they shared. There were still...

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Contents

Cosi, Cambodia

I still remember everything about the night I met Cosi. I remember the smell of the hostel even: someone was chopping...

The Cherry Red Motorcycle

Sam brought home the cherry red Yamaha one Friday night, the summer everyone was dying. He was straddling the motorcycle...

Unraveled

“How was the concert?” he asked, in a tone that I did not recognize. The sheer energy of his anger was enough to pin me against...

The Teacher

I was everyone’s least favorite person in the village. To be a teacher was frowned on. To be a female teacher was greatly frowned...

Aloft

I’m standing a little inside the doorway of my son’s room. It’s our first night in the new house, and I’ve just walked in to say...

The Heart of Winter

We wake to the cold of a winter morning when all is still and dark, when the ancients whisper in our ears, “Stay in the cave.” But...