DISCLAIMER: This post is a touch more dramatic than usual. Promise will return to light fluff as Rugged Fox gets out of Tennessee and back in to Vancouver.
“WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU??” my sister screamed at me as I walked back up to the rental car. “WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD.”
As much as I love jumping to a good climax, I suppose I should rewind an hour or so in order to explain how my life went from dry brunch to Unsolved Mysteries. Alright, as you may recall from such posts as the previous one, at the top of my agenda for the day was to find an outfit for the night’s major event: a classic Southern Style BBQ/cocktail reception.
I did not mention this detail the last time because it was not relevant to my search for a Bloody Mary; but when the five us pulled up to park at the restaurant, I noticed a cute little consignment store that was right next door. As we piled out of the car, I trailed behind to peek in the shop window. My gay-male-sixth-sense was obviously tingling, because I knew this would be the place I would find my outfit.
I ran to catch up with everyone and mentioned to my father that as soon as we finished brunch, I was going to pop in to have a quick shop. Fast-forward one verbal attack on a bubbly waitress later, and the men at the table (including me) stood up to leave. My sister agreed to stay on with my mother while she finished her fresh cup of coffee. Mama Fox was notorious for always ordering another cup of joe just as everyone at the table was ready to leave. On Friday nights at Pizza Hut as a teenager, I always dreaded whenever the coffee pot came around because it meant I was going to miss another episode of Boy Meets World.
Outside the restaurant, I left my dad and Lachlan deep in conversation to make a b-line for the clothing store. Inside, I was welcomed by the chime of a bell and a warm smile on the shopkeeper’s face. Similar to my age, she was dressed in a retro 50’s style that I have always been fond of. Her bright red lipstick worked in direct contrast to an open-collared white sleeve shirt that tucked in to a Houndstooh pencil skirt. Her feet were adorned in leather flats that matched the same shade as her lips.
“Good morning,” I said. I had calmed down considerably after my incident in the restaurant.
“Hi,” she replied taking a sip from her tea. “All the men’s clothes are in the back. I am happy to help if you need me.”
Painted canvas white, a collection of vintage lamps propelled down from the high ceilings towering over the shop. Spartan in design, apart from a dresser here and there propping up jewellery, there were a series of clothing racks that were spaced out respectfully from one another. Each rack exploded with colour, pattern and history. You could tell that each garment was chosen with purpose and intention. Every stitch wove together a different piece of the city’s history.
I made my way to the back and almost fainted when I came upon a small collection of denim overalls hanging down from a rack of plaid shirts. I hit the jackpot and thanked Meryl Streep for my good fortune. Next I proceeded to try on every piece of clothing that I laid my hands upon. I was not keeping close track of time but I did find it odd that my dad had not popped in to the store once to tell me to hurry up. I suppose I figured that he was still chatting, my mom was still sipping coffee and I had all the time in the world.
I had no idea, of course, but while I tried on clothes a full-scale search was underway to recover my body.
Checking out, I thanked the shopkeeper for her kindness and lifted up my paper bag stamped with the store’s name, Hoot + Louise. I walked outside pleased as punch with my new outfit and that is when everything turned sideways. I noticed my sister standing next to the car, and as I got closer realized something was terribly wrong. Before I could say a word, she began screaming at me.
At first I thought this must have been a joke. In between gasps of her cigarette, she explained to me that everyone had been searching in back alleys for me for the last half hour. She had been tasked with staying at the car in the event I came back and was furious at me for putting her through this torture. I could not believe this was happening. This was certainly not a joke.
“Why didn’t anybody call or text me?” I asked, scrambling to find my phone tucked deep in my bag Hunter. As the screen lit up, I realized I had spoken too soon. Ten missed calls and three text messages punctuated with a thousand question marks.
When the rest of my family returned, I found myself in just as much disbelief as they were. How on earth was it possible that everyone jumped to the conclusion that I was dead so fast? None of it made sense to me. Clutching his arms to his chest, my dad’s blood pressure was off the charts. I pleaded to him that I told him exactly where I was going but he would not hear it. My mom grabbed on to my arm like she did when I was a child and did not loosen her grip.
I have obviously never been a parent before. At this point in life I am not sure whether fatherhood is in my cards. I always joke that I would love to raise a gay kid; except it was not until that moment that I became present to the anxiety my parents felt having raised one themselves. Crawling in to the backseat of the car, I flashed back to the look of trepidation on my parents’ faces the night I came out to them at The Keg.
My nineteen year old self was much too naïve to know this then; but ten years later in downtown Memphis it finally dawned on me that my parents were never once afraid of me being gay – they were terrified about what might happen to me because of it. I have never talked to them about that night at the steakhouse, or what thoughts were racing through their minds at the time.
I can only assume that while I sat there filled with white wine and promise about leaving the closet, their imaginations jumped to images of: young men being dragged behind trucks, Tom Hanks covered in lesions across the screen from Denzel Washington, and my mom’s uncle who never married and took his life after a long battle with depression.
Sandwiched in the middle of the back seat, I waited until we were across the Mississippi River before trying to lighten in the mood in the car.
“Now that it is confirmed I am alive, does anyone want to see my new overalls?”