“Well, I didn’t know about all the gay stuff,” she said with a small chuckle, playing with the strings of her light green hospital scrubs. “That was news to me.”
I looked at my mom on the couch, fading away, day by day, platelet by platelet, and wondered just how much I should tell her. “I’m not really GAY, Mom. Seems too strong a word for it.”
It wasn’t. It isn’t. I’d fallen in love with a woman. Spent weekends away with her, exploring her mind and body, and daydreamed of holding her hand strolling through Barcelona, sipping wine and eating tapas. But I was married, to a good and caring man, with whom I shared three children.
“Have you talked to her recently?” my mom asked, looking over at me with her still-bright blue eyes. She knew about the affair; she knew about Emily.
I picked Emily up at her house and drove to the beach in North Carolina. It was late and we drove in the dark, listening to a curated playlist of touchy-feely songs like Miranda Lampert’s Pushin Time and Missy Higgins’ Warm Whispers. She’d casually, shyly, take my hand in hers and lightly caress it while I drove. It was our first time spending the night together.
“Sometimes,” I admitted to my dying mother. “It’s hard to stop.”
Stevie Nicks. It was in my maroon Dodge Caravan with a fake wood stripe I first heard the song, Silver Springs. My college roommate told me to buckle up for a truly life-changing, emotional song. “Give me just a chance! You’ll never get away! Never get away! Never get away….” FUCK. I cried. I screamed. That song, man.
I invited Emily to go see Stevie Nicks in concert. It was a couple hours away and the second time we spent the night together. We got drinks, went to dinner, scream-singed along to Landslide, and went back to our hotel room. It was intense.
Nancy, my mom, was not one to hold back. When I had an affair ten years prior, she was so disappointed and angry with me, she didn’t talk to me for a year. When she found out about Emily, two weeks after her brain cancer diagnosis, she told me to have compassion for myself. I hyperventilated while telling her.
“It’s not very fair to your husband to keep talking to her, is it?” she asked, softly rubbing her seven-inch scar on her almost-bald head. The little tufts of grey blonde hair scattered about her head were usually covered with a scarf but that day they looked beautiful. She frowned slightly at me.
“I think I’m wired to be with a woman,” I implored. “We connect in a way I’ve never connected with a man.”
Our third trip was to New York City. Emily had a work conference and I scheduled some work meetings there too and tagged along. Three full days and three full nights together. We surprised each other with little gifts, she brought me bright Gerber daisies, I gave her a simple, slightly imperfect silver ring. We walked hand-in-hand openly! We explored the city, its bars, restaurants, and little hidden corners to smoke. We spent three nights together.
“Lying isn’t good for anyone, Tracey.” My mom seemed tired. She rarely left the couch at this point and her face showed just how exhausted she was. The blue in her eyes started to cloud. Conversations rarely lasted this long and I was lucky to get even this much. I took her temperature and checked her heart rate and oxygen levels.
Our last trip was to Baltimore. It was very hot and we sweat sipping beers while brewery hopping. We walked the harbor and ate tacos while watching the sun set. I felt guilty. It was our last night together.
My mom died in March after an eight-month, emergency room-ridden fight against brain cancer. Seven days before she died, she sat on the ER gurney, hemorrhaging profusely from her mouth and nose. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she said, blood choking her, tears blinding her.
A year later, I told my husband I am bisexual. That I missed Emily, wanted her in my life. NEEDED her in my life. That I love our family of five, our time together, our life together, but Emily was a part of my life too.
My mom was the first to know about my sexuality. She accepted it and pushed me to be honest, with myself and with my husband. She gave me the final gift of being true to myself.
She never met Emily.
Tracey Harrington McCoy has been a writer and editor for 20+ years. Her writing had appeared in People Magazine, Newsweek, Forbes, Parents Magazine, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and AARP.