Sunday, May 09, 2010

Getting To Know Them...From Afar

So I'm finally back home in Las Vegas at least for a while. I'm currently unemployed for the first time in years, and while I am concerned about the financial ramifications of not having a job, part of me is actually happy about it because it means I will at least be spending the entire summer with Jonah, and this will be the longest consecutive amount of time we have spent together since our commitment ceremony. I actually feel like a house-husband, and it's kind of nice. It makes me feel more married. Of course, I know I will get restless after a while if I am unable to find work, but for now, it feels like a blessing in some ways.

I arrived here about a week ago, and Jonah has put me to work. Saturday evening was his parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and Jonah has been doing much this past week in order to prepare for it, and, of course, he enlisted my help.

My relationship with Jonah's parents and family has been a complicated and rather abstract one. In the entire time I have known Jonah, I have only socialized with his family once (a Thanksgiving before we were even dating). I have really had no other interaction with any of them. I once attended a concert Jonah did and saw his parents and a sibling, I think, from afar, but never talked to them, and it was unlikely they were even aware of my presence. Truly, the only things I know about Jonah's family are what he tells me about them or the occasional voice I overhear when he's talking on the telephone. I have had a hard time keeping track of his siblings' names because I don't even know them except through him.

Sometimes the things Jonah tells me about his family and his mom, in particular, are not always positive things. Jonah's mom can be somewhat controlling and critical, and sometimes Jonah will vent to me his frustrations about her. In doing so, my view of her has always been a somewhat negative one. Some of his siblings attitudes about homosexuality are not favorable, and so I've often had a negative view about some of them as well. This is not necessarily Jonah's fault, but because I don't know any of them personally and because I have kind of preconceived notions about who these people are based only on what I know of them, but never having really interacted with them, I do carry a bit of baggage regarding them.

For this particular event (the anniversary party), it seemed to me that Jonah was doing an inordinate amount of work in comparison with that of his siblings. This is not to say that his siblings didn't do anything to contribute, but Jonah had the heaviest burden, in my opinion. And this seems to be par for the course in this family (at least based on my observations). Part of this, admittedly, is Jonah's fault, too. He has a very kind heart and also a desire to help and a drive towards making things as perfect as they can be, and sometimes I think others take advantage of that. In any case, I was a bit bothered by the fact that he seemed to be doing more work than everyone else.

I will also admit that I am, by nature, a lazy person. I freely admit that I do not like working, and so the amount of work this particular function required fell mostly on Jonah and, as a result, somewhat on me as well. Jonah kept me busy, and I admit I'd rather take it easy than work. ;-) But, of course, I tried to happily do the work I was given because I love Jonah, and I knew this was important to him, and my help was useful in decreasing his workload. Still, there was a slight feeling of resentment - not about the work itself, but about the fact that I was pouring energy into an event for people who, if they knew the full extent of my relationship with their brother and son, probably wouldn't want me there or accept me. And while most of time, this truth does not bother me all that much, for some reason I was feeling annoyed. I kept this to myself, however, not wishing to add to Jonah's stress at all. I also tried to remind myself that I was doing this for Jonah because I love him, not because of his family.

Saturday was quite a busy, busy day. The night before I had ironed 150 chair sashes, and while that may not sound like difficult work, my back and knees ached, and I was quite tired. Jonah and I also spent much of night loading our cars with all the decorations for the next day's festivities. The next day, we got up quite early to decorate the banquet room that Jonah and his siblings had rented for the party. Jonah is not one to go halfway on anything. He is a brilliant decorator, and could easily do it for a living if he so desired. He made and organized most of the decorations himself, and they were quite extensive. While I hand tied the sashes on each chair, Jonah proceeded to arrange centerpieces, candles, table aprons, party favors, etc. Happily, Jonah's friend from work came to help us. She did a lot as well, and I was grateful for it. I tied at least 100 of the 150 chair sashes, and it got monotonous after a while, but again, I reminded myself that I was doing this because of my love for Jonah even though negative thoughts about his family kept trying to worm their way into my mind.

After the sashes were all tied, I blew up helium balloons while Jonah's friend tied strings on them and Jonah arranged and set them. I actually used to blow up and tie balloons as part of a job many years ago, so I was happy a much buried skill came into use again. By the time we had finished (and the time was growing short), the room looked absolutely gorgeous. Jonah has a real gift, and 100% of the way that room looked was due to his vision. That's one thing I admire about Jonah. I can only seem to see things as they actually are, but he has a real gift for seeing things as they could become.

I again felt a little resentful that not a single sibling had come to help us out (and perhaps Jonah didn't ask any of them to do so - I don't know). And it's true that one sibling had acquired the helium tank for the balloons; another had taken care of the cake; another took care of DJ duties during the party; and perhaps the others did things, too; and I know they all contributed to planning and paying for the event. Still, the room, the way it looked, and the hard work it took to make it that way was almost all Jonah, and I knew that even if his siblings appreciated the way it looked, they would never really know or appreciate how much work Jonah put into it, and because that is par for the course for a lot of the things Jonah does for his family, it really annoyed me.

Jonah had asked if I wanted to attend the party. He said he would be up at the dais table with his family and wouldn't be able to spend time with me, nor would I know anybody there, and he was afraid I would be bored or uncomfortable, but he left the choice entirely in my hands. I vacillated. Part of me felt a desire to get to know his family better...even if it was at a distance, and I also felt it might be nice to support my partner even if, again, it was at a distance. The other part of me thought I might feel awkward or uncomfortable being at a big, noisy party with a bunch of strangers and having to answer questions about who I was and why I was there. So I waited until almost the last possible minute before I made my decision: I wasn't going. The clincher for me, quite frankly, was that I was exhausted, and the thought of having to spend the next four hours at a huge party was not remotely exciting or desirable. I just wanted some quiet and some rest.

I told Jonah I was staying home, but we agreed that he would call me as the party was dying down to help take down decorations and clean up. I also agreed to clean the lower level of our house as his family would be coming to our house for a Mother's Day / anniversary breakfast. In truth, I felt like collapsing and sleeping, but I used the next few hours to sweep and mop our floors, vacuum, clean the counters, put away things, clean the bathroom, etc. I finally was able to relax, and my back, neck, knees, and feet were aching so bad that I actually started laughing in pain as I lay down. I didn't really get a nap, but it was nice to take it easy for the first time in a while. I'm sure Jonah was doubly exhausted.

Soon I made the drive back to the hotel where the party was being held. There were still a lot of people there, but things were winding down and the serving staff was starting to clear tables. Jonah gave me directions on things that needed to be done, and I was amazed at how much time it took to set it all up in comparison with how quickly we were able to dismantle everything and take it all down. While I was taking things down, one of Jonah's sisters (the one who I think would have the hardest time with my relationship with her brother) came up to me and said, "Thank you so much for all that you do for Jonah." Having never really met me before, it seemed odd that she would phrase it that way. She could have said, "Thanks for your help" or "Thanks for helping Jonah clean up," but she instead said, "Thank you so much for all that you do for Jonah," and it made me wonder if she knew more about me than I presumed she did. I still don't know the answer to that question, but the way she phrased her thank you had a positive vibe for me (more so than if she had said it another way), and for the first time I saw this particular sister as a person rather than the abstract idea of a person that she had previously been up to this point.

As I continued helping out, Jonah's mother, who I had literally seen only twice in my life, came up to me and said, "Thank you for helping Jonah." She had such a pleasant smile and demeanor and was obviously having a good time, and again, I saw this woman as a human being rather than my abstract ideas of who she was in my mind. I said to her, "My pleasure," and then asked her if she had had a good party. She replied that she had, and I thought silently to myself, "I can't believe I'm actually talking to this woman who in my mind I've created as an unlikeable woman. I can't believe she is talking to the son-in-law she doesn't even know she has. It was somewhat surreal, but in a good way.

Jonah noticed I had been talking to her and quietly asked what she had said to me. I almost jokingly said, "She asked if I was sleeping with you," but thought better of it and simply repeated what she had said to me. I continued to help out and other relatives or siblings gave me words of thanks, and I was really intrigued by how warm everybody was.

I did catch myself wondering how all these same people would have treated me if they knew just how deeply involved I am with Jonah, but for today, I accepted the kindness I was currently being given.

Jonah and I had the place cleaned up very, very quickly, and when we got home Jonah told me we would have to get up early and that his family would likely be here all day the next day. In a way, I was looking forward to it because it meant I would actually get to know Jonah's family on a one-on-one and more intimate basis, and frankly, I think Jonah, understandably, cares more about what they think than I do.

Sunday morning, Jonah got me up early even though I was beat, and we made final preparations for the large amount of family that would be attending our house for breakfast. I spent most of the time cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, taking out garbage, serving food, etc. But I did get to make small talk with some of his family and what I discovered is that they are pretty nice people overall. Perfect, no; but then who is? But I have made a lot of judgments about them without knowing them, and foibles aside, I found them, overall, to be warm and friendly people. Again, I'm not sure how they would treat me if they knew the full truth, but for today the way I treated suffices.

I was talking with another sister, who Jonah has told a bit about me, and she was asking me some questions about where I lived and if I was married, and I kind of hemmed and hawed my way through them when all of a sudden she got this look of realization on her face and very quietly and knowingly asked me, "Wait! Are you Jonah's 'friend?' " It was clear what she meant by "friend," and I somewhat sheepishly answered "yes, I am." She seemed flustered and apologized...for what, I'm not sure. For prying? For feeling embarrassed? For not realizing who I was? In any case, I told her she didn't have anything to be sorry about. She said, "I knew there was something. I could feel it." She asked me why I hadn't been at the party the previous night. I said I didn't want anyone to feel awkward and didn't want to intrude. She said, "You should have come. You should come to things." I kind of shrugged it off and she said something that surprised me, especially knowing how upset she had been initially when Jonah told her about me. She said, "You should come. Jonah's my brother, and I love him, and I've got to respect his decisions. The next time you come, okay?" In her own clumsy way, I felt she was saying that whether or not she agreed or understood Jonah's being with me that she realized I was a part of his life and, therefore, a part of hers, and that made me happy. Of course, she then whispered, "You know, when Jonah first told me about you I was hoping it would be like a shower and just wash off," which kind of ruined the moment, but still, I felt she was trying and that her intentions were good.

I also had quite an extended conversation with his mom, and although I think her reaction would be much different if she really knew what I was to her son, it was nice to just talk to her and get to know her as a human being rather than an idea. I still find her overly critical, a bit judgmental, and controlling, but for the first time since I've known Jonah, I also saw many of her good qualities, and for that I was thankful.

Jonah's brother and his wife were there as well. He is a pastor in the family's church, and has very black and white views about homosexuality. I met his wife helping Jonah set up decorations at their church last Christmas, and I found her likable. She also asked me why I hadn't been at the party the night before, and I said I didn't want to intrude on a family function. She pretty much said, "nonsense" and encouraged me to attend the next one, but there was something in the way she said it that made me feel she understood my relationship with Jonah and that if I was going to be a part of the family, I should actually be a part of the family. She never literally said any of that, but whatever she actually did say, that's what came through to me. Later, after everyone had left, I asked Jonah if she knew about us because I felt that she did and was giving me "permission" to come to things with Jonah. Jonah indicated that she did know and that while his brother (her husband) was far more conservative in his views on homosexuality and that Jonah is going to hell, she has a more liberal stance than he does, and I think he mentioned that she had had a dream (a big thing in the Pentecostal religion, it would seem) that had lightened her views on the matter. In any case, I felt a welcoming spirit coming from her.

I got a chance to talk a bit with one of Jonah's brothers (probably Jonah's closest brother), and he said he had really admired the work we had done on the decorations for the party and that he had been "very impressed." It was nice to see that Jonah's brother had, indeed, noticed and appreciated the work Jonah did.

I actually got to meet and see everyone in Jonah's immediate family except for one sister who lives out-of-state, and it was nice. I guess what I really learned from the experience was that there were more facets and dimensions to Jonah's family than I have given them credit for. I feel I have unfairly judged a group of people I don't really know simply based on my own prejudices and preconceived notions, and it was nice to get to know some of them on a deeper and more intimate level. I actually found Jonah's family to be very warm, welcoming, and friendly. Again, I don't know how all of them would treat me if they all knew the depth of our relationship, but that is for another day. What I do know is that yesterday they treated me well, and some of them knew or, I think, suspected the extent of my relationship with Jonah. It was just nice to see them all in a more positive light than I have previously given them credit for.

I played with Jonah's niece and cousin, chatted with various family members without feeling awkward or uncomfortable, and I think, made a good impression no matter what they know about me. About five or so hours into the proceedings, I started to fade, and Jonah told me to go upstairs and take a nap. I took a short nap and then read until everybody was gone.

Jonah and I had a nice talk about his family. He hopes his one sister doesn't blab about who I really am, but I also think his family has to be pretty stupid to not suspect who I am. Jonah suspects the majority of them won't react favorably, but also says that whatever happens, "It is what it is,' and that he can't control it, and under our roof, at least, we will continue to live as we please. I don't know what the future holds, but yesterday, at least, I had a surprisingly enjoyable time and my eyes and heart were opened towards Jonah's family in a way that they hadn't been before, and for that I am very grateful.

Jonah and I are exhausted. He's out cold right now, and I will soon follow. I'm thankful there are no big parties on the immediate horizon.


MoHoHawaii said...

Thanks for sharing this. I can relate. My boyfriend is out to his siblings but not his parents. Situations like this have their own recognizable dynamic.

Beck said...

What an amazing post. Thank you for sharing this view of your relationship with your in-laws. The lessons I learn from this is the more one is who he is and in the service of others, the acceptance and understanding will come. And, people aren't always as bad as we imagine them to be once we get to know them.


Silus Grok said...

Nonsense, in deed … 


I hope you heed the invitations, and go to more family events.

Bravone said...

Amen to Beck. One of the many things I have learned in my wanderings is that once we allow ourselves to look past our initial impressions of people, we often find genuine goodness in almost all we meet.

Way to support Jonah. That's what really matters.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, guys, for your comments. Just a side note: Jonah's mom remembered me from the Thanksgiving we celebrated a few years ago and remembered I liked the rice we'd had then and asked Jonah if I was till around, and when he said yes, she sent some rice and pork chops with him to give to me. I thought that was nice of her.