Jennifer sat at a table Whisper's, the bar that was at center in her city's LGBT community. She had been here so many times with this group, filled with members of the variety of alphabet soups supporting gay marriage, rights and other LGBT causes. She had become an activist in the community when she was a sophomore in college, just a few weeks after she was convinced by her partner and a therapist to come out of the college. Empowered, she was told. Coming out and then pushing for this cause will leave you empowered.
She was brought up Catholic -- Sunday School, altar girl, etc. But in high school, she soon realized that she wasn't attracted to the boy band cover models or brooding musicians like her friends. She realized she was attracted to other women. It was hard for her, keeping this a secret and feeling like a freak. But once out of the confines of her hometown and on a big, state school campus, admitting it became more of a choice.
All the protests and speeches in classes and petitions and the like were now paying off. It started with Massachusetts and then the dominoes fell everywhere, even with the Supreme Court ruling in their favor. They were WINNING. And they had their latest victory just that afternoon, when a federal judge in their own state overturned the Republican governor's marriage law. Jennifer and her friends and colleagues could now get married.
The mood was jubilant. Happy. Celebratory.
However, Jennifer felt a weird, nervous pit in her stomach. Her foot was shaking and she felt hot, her heart beating faster. It wasn't the flu she was feeling, but it was this strange, sinking feeling. She just sat there, somewhat distracted, but forcing herself to smile and laugh as another round of beers was poured.
She told her parents and brother first. They were stunned at the news. But they soon took it well -- despite being suburbanites through-and-through, they were still reasonable adults. They expressed sympathy for Jennifer and provided her with any sort of support she wanted. They were Catholics in name only, anyways -- they went during Christmas and Easter out of a sense of duty and tradition and took communion during various Christenings and weddings. But beyond that, the church wasn't much of their lives. Her parents moved to Florida just two years earlier, content that their daughter had found her way.
But while coming out to her parents was easy enough, not everyone in her family took it so well. In particular, Aunt Linda.
Aunt Linda wasn't really her aunt. It was her mom's cousin, but for whatever reason she insisted on being called Aunt. Jennifer's mom always gave an eye roll when she heard Linda say this -- she gave her a lot of eye rolls over the years. Aunt Linda was a harsh woman. At any function at her house -- a large Tudor in the wealthy part of her town; her belated husband was a prominent attorney and left her off well before his passing -- a simple thing like a spilled cup of water or a slouch in posture at the dinner table resulted in, at the very least, an arched eyebrow or stern glare.
Linda was also a devout Catholic. On top of her harshness, she was also very rigid in her beliefs. She went to mass every day. She used to joke how she was to the Right of Reagan. She was one who still thought rapping a child's knuckles with a ruler was a positive form of reinforcement. She also loved to let her opinions known to everyone. And Aunt Linda always found little delights with a snide little put-down or insult, especially when she knew she was correct on a subject and the other party was wrong.
Jennifer was home over Thanksgiving break, just a few weeks after she came out to her parents. It was the Wednesday before the holiday, a day when they always went to some cousin or uncle or whomever's house. Jennifer's mom never liked going to these events, as she had some differences with her family. But it was what she was used to doing and continued out of familial habit.
Jennifer, her parents, and her brother were in the living room. Aunt Linda was by the dining room, sampling some shrimp cocktail. And she made a slow walk over and stared right at Jennifer, ignoring everyone else. "So, Jenny. How's school?" She said this with such a snide tone.
Before Jennifer could answer, Aunt Linda continued. "The word is out, Jennifer. I know what you told your parents. I know that you... you're a lesbian." Linda said this so harshly and so cruelly, and shook her head while making a face in disgust. Jennifer just stood agape.
"Linda, please, this is a family--" Jennifer's mom said, placing her hand on Linda's shoulder. However, Linda shrugged it off.
"Do you know what I would do if you were MY daughter, Jenny?" Linda stared at her. "If you told me that you're gay, I'd grab you by the ear, march you down the street to the Rectory, and throw you at the feet of the Pastor so he could put some sense into you. What you're doing is wrong and sinful and I certainly don't approve."
Jennifer shook her head. "Well, I don't need your approval. I don't need you at all."
Linda turned her shoulder from Jennifer and pointed at her mom. "This is your fault. I always told everyone you were just way too soft on your children. Your daughter wearing jeans to a family event? Or how your son dyed his hair blue and plays in some rock-and-roll band? Why, if you were a responsible, good, parent, this would NEVER have happened."
Jennifer's mom lips shook. "Oh, like you would know about parenting? You're an old, childless shrew. You don't know a thing. You've been a judgmental bitch your whole life, Linda. I've always just laughed at you behind your back like everyone else does. But when you insult MY daughter and how I raised her? Well, now I can't laugh anymore. I'm so glad you said what you said to Jennifer and myself because now that gives me the excuse I've been looking for to never, ever see you again."
The whole dining party was frozen.
"Come on, let's go."
Jennifer and her family turned to leave.
Linda, while insulted, chuckled.
"You'll see," she said. "One day you'll see that I was right all along. One day you'll see that the immoral lifestyle you're choosing to live..." She pointed at Jennifer and then her mother. "And how you let it happen... one day you'll see how right I was right. I only hope you get to see it before you see St. Peter standing before the pearly gates."
And with that, they were gone. Jennifer hadn't seen Aunt Linda or anyone on that side of the family since.
Jennifer was nursing her drink. She placed it down, still overcome with this odd shaking and feeling in her stomach. She started to walk the few blocks to her house. She walked right past St. Joseph's Church, and looked up at the cross. And then she gulped, because she knew what she was feeling.
Aunt Linda was right.