At that moment, for small things, I’m thankful.
The shower in my motel room heats quickly, so I don’t have to be wet, cold 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. I point the shower head to the left just a bit, blasting the wall, increasing the racket. 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 me, how each bit of grief that works its way from my mouth reminds me of what I’ve done. The water blasts the tan, acrylic walls of my shower. So much noise, and I’m thankful.
Motel soaps are so brittle. The one in the shower cracks as I rub it over my skin, through my hair. 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 go out in service that day, my Bible and Watchtower in hand, hoping to spread the good news of the 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 links to gay pornography. What he’d done between the time I’d left 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 12 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. 35 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. 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, when you mean it, is a word. 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, I’ll have to leave it as well. Very likely my 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, feeling more than just flesh and the bone underneath, but something gentle and fragile. No wider than straw, I feel it run the length of my ribcage, a tiny flicker of light from the darkness that’s settled within me. So delicate I don’t recognize it as hope. I shut off the water, hand on my chest. The feeling remains.
Maybe it’s time to be someone else… I turn the shower head away from the wall and for a moment, there’s nothing to hear but the water hitting my skin. And I’m thankful.
Will McMillan was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where he still lives and writes today. A dedicated, die-hard Pacific Northwesterner, his essays have been featured in The Sun, Sweet, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, and Pidgeonholes literary journals, among others.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS/AUSTIN GODBER