I’m From Dubuque, IA.

by Sarah A.

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

They say “the truth will set you free.” I’m not sure I believe that. I used to lie to everyone, and sometimes I still do. And sometimes the truth pays off, sometimes it makes things better. But sometimes when you tell the truth your world comes crashing down around you. So I guess you have to be ready to take that chance when you decide to start coming clean. Sometimes when I do it, I remember why lying was easier. Sometimes I just wish that I could go back. I long for an innocence I never had, for a family that never truly existed. Sometimes I want the security of the lie, the safety of the control it provides. But the truth is, of course, that we can’t go back. We can only move forward into the unknown and hope that freedom awaits in the darkness.

I quit teaching, and my students all asked if they could friend me on Facebook once they were no longer my “students.” I thought this is a chance for me to be honest with them. Here is a chance for these very conservative high school students to know that the teacher they respect is a lesbian. A chance for them to realize that she didn’t have horns, that she wasn’t a threat to their lives or their families. So I clicked “confirm” and held my breath and waited for whatever would come. And the truth is no one hastily deleted me. No parents called and freaked out. They commented on my status, they tagged me in their pictures. The truth is that they were okay.

I got a new job, working with adults with mental disabilities. My co-workers were mostly young, mostly conservative and full of their own opinions. But I was only going to be there a few months so I figured, what did I have to lose? And once I was asked, “Do they let you people work in this field?” As if “us people” had infectious diseases. As if others could catch “the gay.” But the truth is, most people didn’t care.

My cousin, whom I live with now along with her two young children, I thought deserved to know in case it changed her mind about me moving in. “You know, I’ve wondered for a while now,” she said, “but I just figured you would have already told us.” Her mother’s, my aunt’s, response was to say through tears, “It doesn’t change who you are. We will always love you, you are always welcome here.” They might not understand, they might have reservations, but they care more about me than they care about that. The truth is they love me, just the way I am.

My mom asked the question a while ago, and when I told her the truth she was unexpectedly calm. I thought that meant it would all be okay, that we’d live happily ever after in peace and harmony. But the truth is the other shoe was waiting to drop at the worst possible time. She waited several months, until I was really taken in before I was hit with the scenario I’d feared. She waited until I’d move home to regroup, go back to school and change career paths, to inform me that as long as she and my dad were providing any kind of support I “wasn’t allowed to pursue lifestyle choices we find offensive.” Did I think it was fair, she asked, that she and my father give me money and food and a place to live, that they make sacrifices for me and that I not make any in return? It was like I was fifteen all over again, feeling like a terrible daughter because I’d made some common teenager mistake when I was supposed to be perfect to make them look good.

I was just trying to tell the truth, I said. I was trying to give them the chance to get to know the daughter they had instead of the one they had wished for. Didn’t they want that? Didn’t they want to know me? To really know their own daughter?

“I do know you,” she said, “I know you better than you know yourself. You aren’t really…” and here she wouldn’t even say the word. “You aren’t, you’ve just convinced yourself that you are. I watched you grow up. I’ve watched you get sucked into this world and lose yourself completely. I know you better than you know you. You have no idea what you’re doing.”

I tried to explain that she didn’t know me, that I’d lied to her all my life, that I’d tried, I’d tried so hard for years to want to be the daughter she wanted, but that I couldn’t, that this was just who I am. She said that life is about choices, that this “who I am” thing is a fairy tale. “You can choose to be what you want,” she said, “You can choose the life we want for you, you just won’t do it because you’re stubborn.” I tried to tell the truth and I was told it was a lie.

And when I asked her to tell me the truth to a question I needed to know, if she was ready to lose me over this issue, to never see her daughter again, she asked if I was ready to walk away from the family that had loved and supported me. When I cried and felt guilty like the worst daughter on earth, when I finally managed to mumble, “yes,” through the sobs that wracked my body, all she could say in a cold tone of voice was, “I had hoped you were smarter than that.”

The truth comes with consequences that can be heart wrenching and terrible, because now I’m an orphan with parents. I don’t have a gravestone to mark it, or visit, but my relationship with them is dead. Sometimes when I see a movie or tv show in which parents show love for their children I can’t help but cry because it reminds me of the truth: My parents would rather we all go on lying than accept me as I truly am. Now that it’s over I see all the lies that have consumed my world for so long. I see their manipulation for what it was and I refuse to keep playing my part. I see the guilt and the pain they inflicted and I stand up and say no more! I spent a lifetime defending them, a lifetime understanding and seeing their side of the story. But whether they meant it to be or not is irrelevant, because the truth is that it was abuse.

I’ll never stop wishing that things could be different. I’ll always regret that sides had to be taken, while I’m grateful for the people on mine. The truth is in spite of all this, I’m lucky in many ways. I have a brother with whom to spend Christmas; to whom I can always tell the truth. I have a cousin and roommate who stands at my side, who is there for me when I cry. The truth is its harder than I thought it would be, but I’m building a new family of my own from the friends who’ve been faithful and the orphans among us rejected because they told the truth.

And the truth is I don’t know what’s next in my life, but I figure I made it through this…
so the truth is no matter what the world throws at me, I’ll figure something out.

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