The lighted match wavered in David’s unsteady grip as he held it to the end of his last cigarette. Here goes another three minutes off my life he thought to himself with no particular regret, and took a deep drag. He blew out the flame as he exhaled and threw the empty packet into the old rattan wastepaper basket at the end of his bed.
Leaning against the cupboard, he looked around the familiar space. For twenty three years of his life this had been his room. His parents had never moved. Not being the adventurous types, they would just redecorate instead. He could picture layer upon layer of wallpaper like the inside of a tree trunk, an age line for each new year.
Now was the time to move on though. Julian had asked him to move in with him over three months ago, and David had managed to remain undecided. He knew that for a young man to be moving in with his boyfriend of eight months was not exactly a parental dream come true. He knew that for a young man to have a boyfriend at all would probably not be appreciated.
David had known he was different ever since he was eleven years old, when the first experimental kisses were exchanged, and hands were held in lunch hour at school. As he grew older he felt isolated, as if he were being excluded from an elite club with a secret handshake that everyone knew except himself. The boys would boast of their victories while the girls whispered the more honest version of events. David found himself sucked into this vortex of exploration without any effort. He too would brag of conquests without even knowing what he was talking about.
Eventually he did begin to date girls, not particularly by choice. Partly due to curiosity but mainly due to necessity. If you weren’t interested in girls you were considered a fag. David didn’t want to be a fag, as according to the rest of the world they were a joke. A toilet wall scribble of abuse.
He had remained ‘straight’ all through his school and college years without even a hint of suspicion from anyone, but now things had changed. Living away from home for the first time at university, among a group of thrown together people had made him realise that his unusual feelings, maybe weren’t that unusual at all. And then he met Julian.
Julian was the confidence that David lacked. He had other siblings, so his parents’ hopes were never pinned entirely on him to be the perfect child, whereas David, the only child, had no one else to take the pressure off. He imagined how his parents would feel at the prospect of no grandchildren, no ordinary, normal life.
Now university was behind them, and with Julian living in Fulham and David once more in his small, familiar home of childhood, it was harder for him to start pretending again, and impossible for Julian.
“Why can’t you tell your parents about me?” Julian would beseech him time and again. David could do no more than ask for time, sure that it would break his parents’ hearts if he told them. Opportunities would rise, David would run from them, sure that the stigma surrounding the word ‘gay’ would crush his family like a freight train.
Finally Julian had become tired of waiting for David to pluck up enough courage to let his family into their secret, and he had said to him “You have to tell them. I can’t and won’t stay in a relationship in which I’m a secret”. His tirade continued, and ended in an ultimatum. He gave David one week. One week to uncover his lifetime of prevarication. To come out of the proverbial closet.
So here we go, David thought as he put his cigarette out and stood up. The day of reckoning. He knew that his parents would be sitting in the front room, his father on the left side of the sofa reading the sports pages in the Sunday paper, his mother in the chair by the fire, watching the reruns of soaps on TV. He breathed deeply and left his room, nerve ends tingling, heart in his mouth.
Standing on the wrong side of the lounge room door, he conjured up a mental picture of Julian. Was he going to be worth it? Could this person be important enough for him to destroy his parents’ hopes and dream? Then, was he about to hurt them just for Julian’s sake or was he sick to death of living a lie? Only David himself knew the answer to that question, and yes…he had had enough.
With his breath caught in his throat he pushed the door open and entered the room. The warmth from the fire reached out and beckoned him in, and he sat awkwardly on the edge of the sofa by his father whose gaze did not waver from the article he was absorbed in. On the television someone was engaged in another East End crisis. Top this one he thought to himself…and he told them.
It was over in a matter of seconds. The mixed up jumble of words that fell over each other to escape his mouth seemed to be coming out in slow motion, with that sublime feeling of fear where everything seems to stand still.
“Mum, Dad…I’m gay.”
Then it was over. He sat, head bowed to his chest, mentally exhausted, waiting for their anger, their tears, their despair. His father’s comforting hand on his shoulder was not expected, his mother’s words even less so.
“David, we know. We’ve known for years. We just wanted to hear it from you.”
Then the tears came. They cried, they held each other, they knew. It dawned on him that he didn’t have to hide anymore, there were no more secrets, and it really was about time he gave up smoking.