My Mother's Gift

5.3.2011

By Rahul Mehta

When I told my mother, she was surprised, which in turn surprised me -- how could she not know. If she was upset, she hid it behind her sunglasses. She said something about understanding that I was born this way. She said she was glad that after graduation I was moving to New York City, where I could find a 'gay-positive community.' I asked her where she learned that term, and she smiled and said, 'Oprah.'

Over the next few years, my mother slowly told all of my relatives in America that I'm gay. My father was the last. I wondered if we should tell him earlier, but my mom said she had to prepare him. Later, my dad said he was glad she had.

We decided not to tell my relatives in India. We reasoned that they are distant relations that I rarely saw. 'Besides,' my mother said, 'they wouldn't understand.'

The week I start making notes for this essay is the same week my mother is reading for the first time the manuscript for my short story collection, Quarantine. She'd been nagging me to send the manuscript, but I kept telling her it wasn't quite finished. Now, I've finally sent it.

Last fall, Robert and I went to visit my parents. Over lunch at a restaurant, I tried to explain what the book is about. I said that the stories are about families and relationships, and that many of the characters are gay. I explained that certain passages may be difficult for them to read. As we talked, my parents kept looking at the people sitting at the tables near us. I told my parents I knew that they loved me, and that I didn't need for them to read the book. My father said he probably wouldn't read it. 'I don't really read much.' My mother, a librarian, said she was eager to get her hands on it.

What I didn't say then was that I don't want them to read it. And now that my mother is, I am terrified. I am worried that she will object to the family stories I have stolen and altered and bent to suit my purposes. I am worried that every time she reads a passage in which a young, gay Indian-American man is having sex, that she will think it is me: me having rough sex in an alley, me masturbating in the back of the family car, me having unprotected sex in a loft in New York.

After I send the manuscript, I don't hear from my mother for days: strange, considering we usually talk multiple times a week. After a few days, I call. I get her voicemail. I leave a message about something banal. A couple more days pass.

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