‘My mom quickly shut the door. ‘I’m gay,’ she said. It didn’t make sense. My parents slept in the same bed, said ‘I love you’ every day. I looked in her eyes and said 3 words I regret to this day.’

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“Adolescence is a confusing time for everyone. It’s a time in everyone’s lives where we must, for the first time, figure out what we like, who we like, and what we want to be. It’s a time where we must discover our true selves. My adolescence was all of those things… and more.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

Like most teenagers, I was moody and sometimes sassy. I remember wanting to sleep ALL of the time. Luckily, I had a good relationship with my mom and dad. In fact, I could always confide in my mom. Whenever I did something stupid or felt like things were falling apart, she’d always be there for me, cheering me on. My whole childhood, I was attached at her hip. She was my best friend. I didn’t know the time for me to be there for her would arrive so quickly. The roles entirely reversed.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

 

I was thirteen years old. I still remember the conversation like it was yesterday. My mother, my brother Jacob, and I were sitting at the dining room table. It was a regular afternoon and Jacob and I had just returned from school. My father was asleep because he had worked his third shift at the hospital pharmacy. It was always just the three of us after school.

At first, we were talking about normal things. School, food, our likes and dislikes. Then, suddenly, my mom shifted the conversation and began talking about her cousin. ‘You remember her, right? The woman with the female partner?’ We both nodded our heads to say yes. I had never thought poorly of her cousin before. In fact, I loved going over to her house. The next question out of my mother’s mouth floored me.

‘You’re okay with them being gay… right?’ I was shocked. I’d never been taught that anything was wrong with my second cousin having a girlfriend. I confidently replied, ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?’ My mom’s hazel eyes shifted to my little brother. He was two and a half years younger than me, and he wasn’t really paying close attention to the conversation.

I lifted an eyebrow at my mother. There was a concerned, almost hopeful, look on her face. I instantly developed a knot in my stomach. ‘Come here,’ she said. My mom stood up and walked me from the dining room to the hallway that lead to me and my brother’s rooms. She quickly pulled me into my room and shut the door. She looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I’m gay.’

‘What?’

‘I’m seeing a woman.’ My mom and dad were still married. They slept in the same bed and said ‘I love you’ every time my dad left for work. It was the first time in years where our family had felt perfect and happy. My thoughts were spinning, so I forced a smile. ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ How could this be happening? I felt my life turning on its head. My mom gave me a smile of relief and a big hug.

For the next few months, I kept my mom’s secret. My dad was none the wiser. He was happy, and still under the assumption that my mom was faithful and loved him. It killed me inside. I didn’t care that my mom was gay, but I cared that my dad didn’t know.

One day, I made a post on Facebook about how depressed I was feeling about the whole situation. I was about fourteen years old and I honestly didn’t care how I came off to others. I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of posting such a thing on the internet. Minutes later, my great aunt commented on it. She sounded concerned.

When my mom saw the exchange, she panicked and told me, ‘Delete it now!’ My anger finally bubbled over. I stomped back into my room and she followed me. She was concerned and kept asking, ‘What’s wrong, Chey?’ We sat down on my twin-sized bed and I looked my mother in the eyes and said the three words I still regret to this day: ‘I hate you.’

I could physically see her heart shatter, but I was so angry and confused that I brushed it off. ‘I hate you and I want you to tell dad what you did, or I will!’ She nodded. I could tell she wanted to cry, but I was so worked up that I didn’t care. ‘I’ll tell him.’ She left my room, and I laid down and sobbed.

My mom told my father sometime later, and they decided to try and work it out. She cut it off with the woman she had been seeing. The next 2 years after that were tumultuous. My dad began drinking again. Neither of them felt happy, but they wanted to keep the family together so they tried their best. They didn’t want to break us apart, but to me it already felt broken. In photos we were this big, happy family. They were clinging to some sense of normality that, for me, was no longer there.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

Then when I was 16 years old, my mom’s father passed away out in North Eastern Iowa. My mom and him hadn’t talked for a while, so her heart broke even more. Something inside of her snapped and she decided she couldn’t live a life of lies any longer. Just before the funeral, she told my dad, ‘It’s over.’ His world shattered once more and the bottle comforted him.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

When we got back from the funeral, my mom moved her bedroom into the basement and started talking to a woman from Australia. My dad was angry, although he never took it out on us. I could just see it in his eyes. When he drank, he listened to songs about divorce and heartache. Sometimes he would cry alone, others he would come into my room and say, ‘Stay up with me, please.’ It was hard to watch.

My mom took up a job as a long-distance truck driver. She was gone a whole three months before she quit and told me, ‘Being away from you and your brother is just too hard.’ But things changed drastically in her absence. My dad started hanging out with an old friend of his brother’s. He stayed the night a lot, often sleeping in the reclining chair outside of my dad’s door after hours of drinking. I didn’t like this man much, but I didn’t say anything about it.

Several weeks into this new reality, I stayed home from school one day because of a severe panic attack I’d had the night before. I was sixteen and in my sophomore year of high school. I found myself sitting at the dining room table with my dad. The same table my mother and I had sat at years before when she first broke the news to me. My dad looked at me, nervously turning the beer in his hand around in circles. ‘He’s my boyfriend, you know?’

I think my jaw hit the floor. ‘What?’ I was completely confused. My mind took me back to words he had said years back. ‘It’s not good for a lesbian to be around kids.’ The words rang loud in my ear. Then, I learned something interesting about my parents.

When my dad met my mom in the early 90s, he was a virgin. But only with women. ‘Your mother was my first heterosexual relationship,’ he informed me. I strongly believe the only reason they married was because they found out they were pregnant with me. Still, fate is a strange creature. My parents both unknowingly married someone who was using a straight relationship to mask their true identity. My mind was blown.

By the time my mom came home from truck driving, my dad was really sick. He stopped eating and sleeping. His skin and the whites of his eyes turned yellow. He looked like Homer Simpson, just with a large black beard and curly dark hair. His boyfriend wasn’t really worried. In fact, he told us, ‘The hospital can’t help you. It’s probably just jaundice.’ It was my mother that forced him to go to the hospital. For the next year, he was teetering on the edge of life and death. He tried his best to smile through it.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

The gastroenterologist originally thought it was stage IV liver failure. We were told, ‘Most people don’t survive this.’ Eventually, they discovered it was autoimmune hepatitis. His immune system was attacking his liver, a disease mostly contracted by women.

During this time of intermittent hospital stays, and trial and error immunosuppressant drugs, my dad confronted his boyfriend. He had slowly stopped talking to him and rarely visited him in the hospital. One emotionally charged day, as we sat in his hospital room, my father told him, ‘Get out of here.’ That was the end.

When my dad was well enough to be home, he moved in with my grandparents because he was feeling weak. He needed people to be around him 24/7 in case something happened. My mom, brother, and I moved into an apartment about 15 minutes away from him. We visited each other a lot during those days, and finally started to rebuild our family. Our family was different than it had been, but one thing changed for the better: we were all living truthfully. Slowly but surely, we began connecting again. We began to forgive.

As things settled down, I continued on with high school. For the first time in years, I finally felt peace. After graduation, I moved two hours north with my boyfriend. Today, I work at a hospital and he is a marketing assistant.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

My dad gave himself much-needed time to reflect and discover himself over the years. He finally accepted that he’s bisexual. He’s with a woman again now. Woman or man, I don’t mind. I’m happy as long as he’s happy. They now live together with three of her four children, and two fur babies. An orange and white cat named Garfield and a rambunctious German Shepard and Pit Bull mix named Max. This woman is everything I want for my father. She’s fierce, gentle, and, most importantly, kind. She treats my little brother and I like part of the family.

My mom and brother live with her girlfriend of 4 years. The two of them met on the Internet during my last year of high school. They’ve been together ever since. They have a tiny Chihuahua and pug mix named Cami, and a cat named Joe. She also treats us like her own.

Courtesy of Cheyanne Burkhalter

In the end, what my mom did was brave. She lived in fear for over half of her life just because she wanted to love a woman. She risked everything to be who she is, and for that I respect her. Despite the backlash she got from her family and my father’s family when she first came out, she still fought to be herself. My father realized he could just stay angry with my mother, or he could be himself too. Luckily, he chose the latter. He realized sexuality isn’t just black and white, and embraced himself for who he really is.

So, my family is a little different than most. It’s been hard to get to this place of acceptance, but I’ve gotten there and I wouldn’t change my parents for the world. They are who they are, and they’ve shaped me into who I am today. They taught me the importance of living your truth and accepting yourself no matter what. They’ve taught me what it means to be who you are, even when it seems like the whole world is against you. And for that, I am forever thankful.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cheyanne Burkhalter of Sterling, Illinois.  Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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