A Mother's Pride

6.13.2014

By Rina Hod

On the occasion of Tel Aviv Pride, out journalist Itay Hod shares an essay by his mother Rina Hod, a retired teacher in Tel Aviv, about her son.

These words you're about to read are not mine, they're my mother’s. Years after my coming out she handed me a short story written in third person. I wasn’t ready for it back then. I remember reading it, then tucking it away. Never thought about it again. I think I may have been embarrassed by it. Or maybe I was just tired of talking about my sexuality. Yesterday I was cleaning out one of my drawers when I found her short story. I read it again. And this time, I cried. —Itay Hod

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He was born with his eyes wide open. A beautiful, inquisitive, baby. Ten fingers, ten toes, a healthy smile. She can still remember that moment, the indescribable love she felt shooting out of her the second she laid eyes on him. From the moment she scooped him in her arms and looked into his deep blue eyes she saw it, felt it even. A certain spirituality she’d never witnessed before in any of her other children. She knew it in her gut. This boy was special.

The kid grew up to be smart, assertive, kind. He was full of tenderness, as though all the love she showered on him throughout the years had been absorbed inside. The two were attached, an invisible thread connecting his heart to hers. When her boy would stray even a little, the love string would tug at her chest, a pain so strong she thought she would die.

Yes, all mothers think their boys are special. But it wasn’t just her. Everyone who came in contact with the kid felt it, an overwhelming joy, an all-enveloping feeling of warmth. Magic.

She raised him without fear or anxieties. For the first time in her life it was easy, uncomplicated. Mother, son, and the natural course of nature.

He was her youngest, her baby. He wasn’t the biggest, or the strongest but he could hold his own. She liked watching him fight for his place in the world. At times it wasn’t easy. There were constant battles with his older siblings, especially the middle one. But he was smart, and quick and savvy which compensated his for his younger age and smaller size.

He was also a good student. She remembered how proud she felt during PTA meetings listening to his teacher talk about him. Her kid seemed to have it all. Beauty, brains, ambition.

It wasn’t until much later when she started noticing signs. Nothing big at first. Little things, small hard-to-read clues left for her to see. Some name calling in school, a comment from a perceptive teacher, and the fact that all his friendships were with girls.

Then the anger came. Not hers, his. She watched as her sunny, luminous kid was becoming burdened with dark silence, afflicted with rage. She could feel the blinds coming down on the windows of his soul.

She tried to talk to him but it was no use, he pushed her away. Ironic. She who made a living by making people open up, she who could unlock any heart with a simple word found herself helpless when it came to her own son. She didn’t have the key. She couldn’t even find the lock.

So she prayed. She prayed that she was wrong, that this was just a phase. But deep inside her awareness was slowly cooking. The truth was boiling. The timer on her consciousness was about to go off.

She tried to fight it. She refused to give it a name, a title. She wouldn’t admit that her boy wasn’t special, he was different.

She hoped he would talk to her, share what’s on his troubled mind. She wanted to help, ease his pain, but she realized he chose to go through it on his own.

He finished high-school with honors, but instead of happiness, sadness in his eyes. He was exceptionally beautiful, a handsome young man. There were muscles on his firm body, the features of an adult.

A short-lived romance with a beautiful girl had for a moment lightened up her world. She hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe this boy was simply a late bloomer. Just one of so many explanations she had stored in her arsenal. But when that relationship ended she sadly acknowledged that she could not think of one significant connection he’d made with a girl over the years. All his relationships were of a friendly nature.

Years went by and her boy was growing more melancholic. His sadness hovering above his head like a rain cloud in a Hannah-Barbara cartoon. She tried to get closer but couldn’t. It was during that time that her suspicion was taking form, becoming deeper, until even she couldn’t escape it. But even then she waved away the thoughts, as though they were a pesky fly.

Then one day he brought home a friend. A male friend. She studied the intruder carefully and cringed at the intimacy she sensed between them. There was nothing overt, but it was enough that she couldn’t ignore it. For a moment she was mad at her son for bringing this man into her home. For not allowing her to continue in her illusion. She wanted to cling to it forever. But she knew the price you pay for denial is distance.

One day she dared do what she had never done before. She said the word out loud during dinner with her husband. For a moment she was terrified, worried his father might not understand. But she had to talk to someone. She couldn’t hold it in anymore. The secret, it was suffocating her.

“I don’t care,” he told her. “He’s my son and if he’s gay, that’s okay. I love him no matter what.”

She looked at her husband with admiration. He had been able to say what she couldn’t acknowledge for so many years. She was surprised at how the word “gay” which had stood there in the middle of the room didn’t seem so frightening all of a sudden. She looked at the man who she’d been married to for more than three decades and couldn’t help love him just a little more.

But even then she didn’t confront her son. She waited. She waited because the truth wasn’t yet ready to be told, not by him, not to her. A friend had told her, “Go ahead! Ask him!” But she knew better than to push him. She knew he was getting ready. She knew she was too.

She thought about what would happen when he finally came out. Would she have to come out too? Who would she tell? What kind of mother would she would be?

Then one sunny summer afternoon as she was drying off some dishes at the sink she could feel tension in the air. It was palpable. Is this when all hell breaks loose? She heard him say the words.

“I have something to tell you.”

He was nervous, she had never seen him this way. His voice was cracking, the weight of the world clearly visible on his shoulders.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for you to say those words,” said her daughter who was also in the room.

Her daughter, the sensitive one had made it so easy. She had already known. She looked at her son, looked at her daughter and felt nothing but love and respect.

Then it was over. Relief on her son’s face. His forehead for the first time in years was smooth. And at that moment she felt only one regret. The energy wasted all these years. Wasted on hiding something irrelevant.

They sat down and talked. They talked all night. She wanted to know. When did he realize? Was this man or that man a friend or a boyfriend? She asked every question that’s been stubbornly nagging her in the back of her mind for the past decade. And she was happy to see him talk about it with such ease. Her son wasn’t different. He was special.

Years later she would get an e-mail from him. A long thank you note for the way they all handled that moment. He had told her in so many words that to this day when he tells the story of that night, his gay friends cry. 

Tags: Pride
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