Break It To Them Gently

My hands shook badly and I thought I might throw up. I walked slowly down the hall and caught my look in the mirror. Mom’s words came back, “Maisie, you can’t lose any more weight! Your face is starting to cave in.” I leaned forward to peer at my face. Bloody hell, she was right. My cheeks were hollow and dark shadows smudged beneath my eyes.

“You deserve to look like crap,” I whispered to my reflection. “You’re about to ruin your kid’s lives.” I bit my cheek hard, determined not to cry, and continued to the kitchen.

Movement outside the window caught my eye and I placed my palms on the pane and watched the most wonderful scene in the world. A scene that filled me with a powerful hurt. All three of my children jumped together on the trampoline, my oldest home from college for the weekend. Johnny fell hard as my youngest, Evie, gave him a big shove. But he grabbed his little sister’s slim, tanned legs and pulled her down on top of him, amidst a flash of blonde hair and giggles. My other son, Finn, executed a perfect back flip and landed on his feet, not a care in the world.

And I was about to destroy all they held dear.

I had talked to my sister, Fiona, that morning, desperate for moral support – desperate for her to convince me I was doing the right thing. “How can I do this to them, Fi? I don’t think I can!”

Fiona had been my source of comfort and strength over the past months. I’m certain I would have lost myself and my courage if it hadn’t been for Fi. She’d guessed my carefully guarded secret. And she’d encouraged me to live my true life.

“You can do it, Maise. And you must! You need to show your kids you’re strong! They need to know you have the courage to be yourself. And you need to do this for yourself.”

“But what if they hate me? What if they never talk to me again? Oh God, Fi. They’re everything to me. This is going to kill them.” Our phone calls usually ended up with me blubbering like a fool.

I had never felt more afraid. Since the day they’d been born, I had been there for them and always would be. They knew they could count on me for anything. They could tell me anything. And they knew, I loved them no matter what.

And so, I had all three kids together for the first time in weeks and I had chosen today to confess. I’m tearing our family apart. Your dad and I are getting a divorce. And I’m gay.

My stomach hurt and I tripped over Poppy as I reached for the back door.

“Hey guys, come on in. Dinner’s almost ready!” I called brightly, my voice sounding brittle, as though it might fracture into a million sharp pieces.

As my three loves galloped up the deck stairs and into the kitchen, the scent of the end of summer followed them into the kitchen; fresh-cut grass, sunscreen, sweaty bodies.

Johnny caught me watching and I saw his eyes narrow before I quickly looked away, a heavy darkness spreading through my limbs. My daughter’s arms closed around my waist and I squeezed her hard before reaching up for the dinner plates.

“Go wash up, guys. Shepherd’s pie’s ready.” And for dessert, I’m going to serve up a big bowl of disappointment.

As everyone settled and I served up their favourite dinner, I couldn’t help but stare at the empty chair at the head of the table as my daughter chattered happily about her latest swimming badge. Finn gave her a high-five and I again caught the covert glance of my oldest son as I tried to swallow my dinner.

And then dinner was done. And this was it.

At the end of my halting speech, three sad and bewildered faces stared back at me. I hadn’t seen such sadness since Grandad had passed away a year ago.

I take it back. What have I done?

The silence was unbearably loud. “I’m so sorry, guys. I love you.”

And for dessert, I’m going to serve up a big bowl of disappointment.

Evie hugged me again, always the pleaser. Johnny wiped hard at his eyes and turned away. Finn pushed away from the table and sauntered out into the back yard, his back ramrod straight. Evie followed Johnny down the hall to his room and I followed Finn outside. He turned to look at me. I reached out and he took a step back.

“What? You think I’m going to let you hug me so you can make yourself feel better?” He slouched away and kicked a stray soccer ball hard against the shed door.

I felt the blood drain from my face. His words cut deep. And I deserved it.

Moving through the silent house, I peered through the living room window. Johnny cradled his little sister. She was too old to be picked up, but her arms were wrapped tight round her big brother’s neck, her face buried in his shoulder.

My vision turned liquid. I tried to hold back. But I couldn’t.

I made my way to the front yard and surveyed the wreckage I had created. Johnny set Evie down gently, then peered sadly at me. He raised his hand in silent farewell before he climbed into his car and slowly backed out the drive. Tears streamed down his face as he drove down the street – back to college – alone.

Evie turned back to me and I picked her up, settled on the porch swing, the sound of a soccer ball smashing the shed door, over and over.

My God, what have I done?

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