Read an Excerpt
The End of My World
Angela: May 15, 1993
It was May in Chicago. The warmth of spring was starting to wrap its arms around the city we had called home for twenty-four years. But that night we sat in silence, picking at our stir-fry with forks as cold and hard as our hearts.
Dinner was miserable, and it had nothing to do with the food. You’d think that after so many years of living with my disconnected but often argumentative husband, Leon, I’d be used to misery. But this night was unusually dismal.
Our younger son, Christopher, was home for a visit. He had just finished his junior year of dental school in Louisville, Kentucky, after transferring from Loyola University School of Dentistry in Chicago the previous fall. Leon, a dentist himself, was glad that Christopher was following in his footsteps. It was expected that in a year father and son would be working together in our new dental office.
Of course, I too had been looking forward to Christopher’s visit. Like any good Chinese mother, I doted on our two sons, but Christopher and I had always been especially close. Normally his being at home would keep the tension in our home from boiling over. But Christopher’s presence at the dinner table tonight only elevated our family’s permanent state of emotional strain.
A few days before Christopher had come home, Leon was checking the insulation in the crawl space just off Christopher’s bedroom. On his way out of the crawl space, the beam from his flashlight landed on something
tucked away on top of the small access opening. He discovered an unlabeled VHS tape in a worn cardboard case, which he brought downstairs to show me.
As soon as I saw the dusty videocassette, I froze. I knew what it was, but everything inside me hoped it wasn’t. The truth was, for six years I had feared that Christopher’s problem had never really gone away. I couldn’t bring myself to watch what was on the tape, so I asked Leon to do it. He took it from my hand and went into the living room to play it. Finally, he walked back into the kitchen, dropped the tape on the counter, and said, “Yes, it’s that.”
That. He couldn’t even say the word. It was gay pornography. I immediately thought back to when Christopher was sixteen years old and I found out from his brother that he had had a sexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man. Christopher had contacted the man, who then invited him over. Sure, Christopher may have sought the man out, but no matter how you look at it, this man had used and soiled my son. Words cannot express what I felt at that time. Sadness and deep anguish overwhelmed me. But I was also furious at the man who took advantage of my son. Christopher was robbed of the chance to be a normal teenager, and what’s worse, I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I wanted to see this man brought to justice, but that meant making a horrific private matter a public one. And I would not allow Christopher to go through that humiliation. We decided not to press charges, choosing instead to keep the heartache and shame a secret.
Added to the terrible disgrace was constant anxiety. During Christopher’s teenage years, my days were filled with fear. I worried about what people would say if they found out. I worried about how much Christopher was scarred, and whether his future would be affected by this incident.
I especially worried about whether he would become…gay.
Even though this was a very private matter, I knew we should do something to find help. That same day, I had been flipping through material from a dental-office management company. This company helped us better manage our practice in order to increase the dental-office income. In this literature, I read about a counseling program offered by the parent organization. It promised resources for dealing with life’s problems, and the sponsoring organization was the Church of Scientology. I had never heard of Scientology. I was skeptical, but desperate. I would do anything to fix my son.
So Christopher and I traveled from Chicago to the Scientology Mission of San Francisco, where we enrolled in a program that required us to be there mornings and afternoons for two months. Certainly, their techniques were a little bizarre—sitting in a sauna for hours or holding metal cans during counseling, or “auditing,” sessions. But I was determined to beat this—for Christopher’s sake. Failure was not an option that I was willing to consider.
After two months and move than fifteen thousand dollars, we finished the purification program. More important, Christopher assured me that he was over that phase and ready to move on with life. I thought we had it all taken care of.
But on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May 1993, I sat picking at my stir-fry. I was waiting for the right moment to say something, but I had no idea what to say. I glanced to my right at Leon, trying to read his dark eyes. Was he going to confront Christopher as I wished, or wasn’t he? He briefly looked at me, then resumed his eating, oblivious to my agony. Leon wasn’t going to say anything, and as always his indifference drove me crazy. Once again, we weren’t on the same page. Once again, he had no idea how I felt.
I could tell that Christopher knew I was upset. Our relationship had been strained in recent months. He’d been acting rudely to me—more like a resentful teenager than a twenty-two-year-old doctoral student. And this night only added to the tension. He kept looking at his watch and seemed to be contemplating a quick exit.
Leon still hadn’t said anything, and Christopher was about to leave the table. I needed an answer from my son, and I knew I had to speak up. If homosexuality was still a problem for Christopher, then we needed to take action.
“Christopher, Dad found a videotape in your crawl space.” My voice was shaking—with fear, with despair? I never shied away from confrontation, but this was different.
Christopher looked at me with a blank face. No emotion, no guilt, not even surprise.
“Dad watched it,” I whispered. I swallowed hard, wishing this were a nightmare and I would wake up and everything would be okay. I wished my son would tell me what I wanted to hear—even if it wasn’t true. Besides, how could Christopher still be that? After all I had done for him. But he just kept giving me that empty look.
“Christopher”—I forced the words out—“are you…are you still…?”
The question hung there, but only for a moment. Christopher sat up straight, looked me in the eyes, and with a voice full of resolve said, “Yes I am. I am gay.”
He spoke confidently, without disgrace or apology. I couldn’t believe my ears. There was such boldness, as if he were proud of it. But shame swept over me. This couldn’t be true. Not my son, not my Christopher. At that moment, I wished the house would fall down on us and put an end to this mess.
I’d always had our lives all figured out. Christopher and his brother would grow up and accomplish important things in the world. They were both studying to be dentists. They would return home when they earned their degrees, join their father’s practice, and ultimately inherit the family business. Leon and I were just then completing a brand-new, state-of-theart dental office. I would be at the helm, managing the office and making sure everything ran like a well-oiled machine. It would give me the life I longed for—spending time with my family and keeping us all together. But now this.
I looked from my son to my husband and back again. I was as disappointed with Leon as I had ever been. Even though our marriage was totally lifeless, at least he should be concerned about his own son. So today, with Christopher announcing he was gay, why wasn’t Leon stepping in to do something? Why didn’t he say anything? Why wasn’t he outraged? Why wasn’t he telling Christopher that he was not, could not be…gay?
It was obvious to me that Christopher was not thinking clearly. Didn’t he know that he couldn’t choose both—to be a dentist and to live like that? If people knew, Leon would lose his patients. If people knew, no staff would work with us. If people knew, they would be afraid of getting AIDS. Christopher needed to come to his senses and be reminded that
this family practice was everything. It had been our one dream—everything we had worked toward—for almost twenty years.
“Christopher,” I blurted out his name in frustration. “You must choose. You must choose the family or choose homosexuality.” This ultimatum would wake him up. He would have to choose his family and not throw away this bright future in our new office.
My son looked at me and said, “It’s not something I can choose. I was born this way… I am gay.” He took a deep breath and looked away. His neck tightened and his jaw clenched as he looked back at me with an expression I had never seen before. “If you can’t accept me, then I have no other choice but to leave.”
He backed away from the table and uttered one last cutting remark.
“I expected you’d react like this. But that’s okay. I have a family. A real family of friends back in Louisville who accept me”—his voice cracked— “for exactly who I am.”
He went to his room. In a few minutes he came back through the house with his bags and walked out the door. It was as if he had planned this all along. There was no room for discussion, no time for negotiation. That was it. This was the end.
My knees gave way, and I fell to the floor. I felt as if my blood drained out of my body. My arms, my hands, my legs were cold as ice. The weight of shock and disbelief weighed so heavily on my chest that I had to strain just to breathe. This couldn’t be happening.
I began gasping for air. I was choking on my tears, knowing without question that I was a total failure. My marriage had been a failure for years, and now my parenting was a failure. My husband refused to stand by me. My older son had rebelled. And now Christopher, the one I thought would never do this to me, had rejected me.
I wanted to make Christopher stay, but I was out of options. And Leon still hadn’t said anything. He didn’t yell at Christopher or argue with him. Neither did he put his arm around me or hold my hand. He just walked away, leaving me lying on the floor alone, gasping between sobs.
A thought entered my mind, a memory of something Leon’s mother had told him. My mother-in-law had said a wife uses three tricks when she doesn’t get her way. First she cries, second she throws a temper tantrum, third she threatens to hang herself. On that day, I was not playing any tricks. I was certain that I had nothing left to live for.
From the Trade Paperback edition.