I was 40. An awareness was seeping slowly into my brain, a sick panic taking root in my center.

I had met my husband – a shy guy with a disarming smile – in high school when I was 16. I had been married to him for almost 20 years and together, we had three much-loved children. But tension was an ever-growing wall between us and the subject of divorce had been touched upon. Quiet desperation feasted on my innards but outwardly I kept up the illusion of a ‘white-picket-fence existence’.

The first time he broke up with me, I was 16 and he was 17.

I had dated a few different guys but it always ended the same. I felt certain I truly liked a boy but inevitably my own unease would beat me over the head. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. But inside something felt ‘off’. My girlfriends dated and never seemed to feel anxious or scared like I did. No one else dreaded that first kiss or that first touch and everything that would follow. Why did I always feel like I was on the outside looking in? Why did I overthink every little thing –  so damn much? Why couldn’t I just be normal?

Then my future husband asked me out. I liked him a lot, his crooked smile; his outrageous comments that caught me off guard and made me warm with embarrassment.  For the first time ever, I didn’t feel so scared. Looking back, I think it was because each date started with a can of ginger ale spiked heavily with Jack Daniels. The whiskey diluted my fears, my uncertainty – made me feel perhaps I was normal. Kisses were still awkward but we fumbled through and my unease subsided.

Our three-month anniversary was coming up and I allowed myself to feel deceptively normal. Then one day, as I pushed through the jostle of gangly teen arms and legs toward his locker, he slammed the door and hurried away. The sounds of camaraderie and laughter continued on around me and I ignored the sinking feeling in my stomach and told myself he hadn’t seen me. But as the day wore on and it became clear he was avoiding me, I knew it was over. Heat spread across my cheeks, prickled down my back and the bottom fell out of my world.

He had discovered my secret. I wasn’t a normal teenage girl after all. I was a pretender. I was devastated and spent the rest of the afternoon crying in the bathroom. When the bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, I left the safety of the bathroom and merged into a giggling throng of schoolmates making secretive plans for the weekend. I had cried my makeup off hours ago and my eyes were puffy and swollen so I ducked my head and made my way out the north doors to my bus. I blew my nose and peered out the window. There he stood with the group I had so recently been part of. And there she stood – the teenage boy’s dream. She was cute and easygoing and as I watched she slipped her hand into his and leaned comfortably into him.

She wasn’t frigid. Or aloof. Or weird on the inside. I slouched down, my bare legs sticking to the cracked vinyl seat, and closed my stinging eyes.

I tried again and again over the next year but that familiar ripple of panic that ruled the bottom of my stomach made me sabotage every potential relationship.

Then grade twelve trickled away and sadly my high school years were over. College loomed and summer raced by the window of the drugstore where I worked as a cashier, shimmering heat rising up from the sidewalk. Across the street a motorcycle slid neatly into a parking spot and I watched as the rider stepped off. Then a customer took my attention and as I scooped their change out of the cash register, the bell chimed over the drugstore door. My belly flip-flopped as I stared into the blue eyes of my future husband, the collar of his leather jacket pulled up, his motorcycle helmet tucked beneath his arm. That same disarming smile. The attraction was still there. Caught somewhere between a confused girl and a woman who thought she knew what tomorrow should bring, my summer weekends became cans of spiked ginger ale, house parties and back road tours, Sister Christian vibrating from the speakers, the lyrics echoing in my muddied mind…

You’re motoring
What’s your price for flight
In finding Mr. Right
You’ll be alright tonight…

And the rest is history. The joy in the creation of our wonderful children. Twenty years of laughter and tears and ups and downs. Love and happiness. Sadness and desperation. And now divorce.

“Oh my God … I’m in love with this woman. The notion I might be gay had never occurred to me before.”

Then, one day, sitting across from Jess, I realized, Oh my God … I’m in love with this woman. The notion I might be gay had never occurred to me before. As I grew older, I had expected to change, but I didn’t believe my core values, my inner beliefs could just do an about face. If I’d been told a year earlier, I would have replied, ‘Are you freaking nuts? I know exactly who I am and I am certain I am NOT gay – maybe empty, maybe sad, but definitely not gay!’

But the moment I felt the feather-soft of her fingers on my brow, the heat of her stare, the truth in her words – from that moment – the understanding of my sexuality changed completely. I wasn’t sure if I had feelings for women in general or just for Jess. But, as that awareness seeped into my brain, I gradually and with a sense of reluctance and relief, came to understand and accept I was gay.

With that realization I would come to see my experience was not that unusual.

And finally, I allowed myself to believe that perhaps, after all, I was normal … in my own way.

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