On Coming Out to Someone Who Won't Remember

A couple of years ago my mom, my aunt Mari, my grandmother and my grandfather had brunch on my grandparents' porch in their two-story suburban home. My grandfather gave the prayer and thanked God for his son. He said, "girls are okay but boys, now, they are the real deal." My grandmother reached over and put her hand on his forearm. "Honey, you're at brunch with your wife and your two daughters." He did not understand and continued to give thanks for his son Patrick. Sometimes, when your memory comes and goes you say things that exist in your subconscious but do not exemplify how you live your life. How he lived his life is more important, my mom told me.

My grandfather loved when I played my fiddle because the oriole birds sang along with me from the nearby trees. He had a robust build, cobalt blue eyes and scraggly eyebrows sometimes singed from burning firewood. He sat on the porch of his cabin along Lake Marsha, tapped his foot and half-whistled half-hummed along.

His name is Clay, like the earth. He worked for the FBI. Back when he could remember he told me stories about a confrontation between law enforcement and First Americans at Wounded Knee, and his work during the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. He was distressed about the street violence between protestors and agents. One day he walked into his office and placed his gun down on the table and told them that the violence had to stop. He was never promoted after that.

It is hard to remember what he was like before Parkinson's disease made him forgetful so I remember him mostly through the stories that he told. During my gap year I spent hours asking him questions about his life and listening to stories about Larry Mateka, his army buddy, about how he proposed to my grandmother along the Potomac River in DC and about how he worked the day before his wedding and had to drive all night from DC to Minneapolis in order to make it on time.

When the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) decided to allow LGBTQ people to be ordained ministers, my grandfather's church held a public debate about whether or not they should leave the ELCA. He lined up to say that leaving would be a mistake because our only job is to love. He doesn't remember that, but I won't ever forget.

I told my grandfather that I was gay a few months ago. He would not remember the conversation. Even though my mom warned me that he might not respond the way that he would have before, and my grandmother worried that it might upset or confuse him, selfishly, I had to. I blurted it out, "Grandpa, I need to tell you something. I've been dating women recently." I didn't stop there. I talked about how I was happy that I didn't need to hide anymore, about how it didn't feel sinful, about how I really needed him to know. I kept talking so that he couldn't hurt me with his response. He placed his hand on my thigh and looked at me. "I have no qualms with that. I just know that God is preparing someone who sees just how incredible and beautiful you are." When I told him that I was heading home he didn't remember who I was or how long I had been there. He just asked me to come back sometime soon.

*Names have been changed.