Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Requiem for a friend...almost 30 years too late.

Last night I got a message from my friend Jo that said "Go check my blog". So I did. She was writing about a mutual friend of ours that we both knew many, many years ago, and her post broke my heart. I too owe our friend more than silence. And I speak here with Jo's consent.

There was this little band of us, three of us in high school, one of us in college. We were all friends and members together in church, myself, Jo, Mo, and JP.

Jo and I went to high school together for a time. She was the minister's daughter, which meant of course, that she lived her life in that uncomfortable fish bowl that all preachers kids live in. In her case, it was times a factor of 10, given her parents deep involvement in the local presbytery and beyond, with the denomination. I did realize that Jo was under extreme pressure, even back then; I am only just now, as we have renewed our friendship after decades, finding out just how bad it was!

 Mo was a young college student, and I think the oldest of the four of us. She played guitar and banjo, with incredible talent, and had an incredible gift for singing. I also played guitar and sang, although not quite at Mo's skill level.

JP had been my friend since birth (not kidding about that - our moms were pregnant at the same time with us, our parents were dear friends, and she and I grew up in each other's back pockets, so to speak.) The four of us formed a quartet of friendship, music, faith and fun. We were usually found together on Wednesday nights at church. Mo came over to my house and played music for my parents.

I graduated, and went off to college. The first year I came home for the summer, I was hauled off for a trip with my parents, and then worked for my dad at his business. I saw Mo briefly - nothing seemed wrong, exactly. Or did it? Does what I have learned now add a new perspective to an old memory? I want to say I felt that she was uncomfortable, and that something was seriously out of kilter. If I did see this then, it was subliminal, an instinctive question that never quite emerged into the light of day, I have no idea now if I wish I had spoken up or not...I saw Mo one more time, in December of that year. I was in the hospital with surgery, she came to visit and sat with me. So did JP, though they came at different times, and not together. Is that significant, now, I wonder?

I don;'t remember seeing Jo at all. JP was at church, but she was here going to a local college, and we were going two different directions, we didn't really connect as strongly. And then I went back to school. Due to how the next few years played out, I was almost not at home at all for 3 summers straight - I worked jobs out of state, went to Alabama for a summer with my college roommate, etc. When I came home for good, three years later, it was to a stunning tragedy.

Jo was married (which turned out to be not a good thing, over the years, but hindsight is 20/20) and she was not at our church any more, though we saw each other every so often.

JP and I did reconnect and had a few years of close friendship before we drifted apart again.

But the tragedy was Mo.

She was dead.

I don't think anyone even told me when she had died. Not even my parents! I was stunned and devastated. And something was horribly wrong. I could not get any  real information on what in the hell had happened. NO ONE would talk about it. Mom and Dad intimated that there had been "problems". The closest thing I could find out was from JP, who stated that Mo had overdosed. Possibly suicide. End of story. No further details. JP was very terse, harsh and judgmental. Which became a pattern that was characteristic of JP, although I had never really seen it before this. I was horrified at the bitterness and callousness of JP's response. I can see now it was a mask for pain and sorrow too. But that was it.  I could not get any further information. Out of anyone. It remained one of life's dark mysteries, that my mind returned to every so often over the years, usually late at night in the privacy of my own thoughts. My own life became very confused at this time, as I struggled with coming out as Gay, and then in self denial, ran from that truth for the next decade.

JP and I stayed fairly close, up until we both married. We slowly drifted apart, again, and now see very little if nothing of each other. I can't say I totally regret this. We inhabit different worlds, philosophically and spiritually. Should we ever discuss these things, the result would be terrible. There are times when its wise to let go.

And then there are times when letting go is stupid. Jo was pretty much out of my life for years afterwards. She changed churches, and denominations. She moved out of state. Occasionally, once in a blue moon, we collided around town when she was visiting her parents. Given that I was Gay, and still thinking of Jo as the Christian I had known, I held her at arms length. The last thing I needed, my reasoning went, was for Jo to find out I was gay, and word through her to get back to her father, and through that, to my parents and family. Oh, what I did not know! (For this, I apologize, Jo. I should have trusted you.) I was always very glad to see her, but wary, and kept contact superficial.
As I said, hindsight is 20/20. Bitterly so.

A few months ago, Jo's Mother died. I went to the funeral, back at the old church, which I have long since left, and saw Jo for the first time in years. It was an extraordinarily uncomfortable funeral - there were under currents that were strange. And being there is always heart wrenching for me anyway, due to the memories I have. But it was a joy to see Jo. We swapped enough information to get in touch, and when I got home I got an extraordinary email from her - she has left Christianity, and found a new path as a pagan Goddess worshiper, and she has been coming Out as Gay. return email was "Well, guess what, I left the old church, I am Episcopalian now and a a third degree pagan priest, and Gay" Which of course led to Jo pointing out that she has suspected that I was Gay for awhile. It must be the flashing sign over my head...anyway. We have spent the last few months joyfully reconnecting, talking over old times.  I came Out further to her as transgender, we follow each other's blogs etc, and have plans to spend time together, DreamWeaver, and myself and Jo, for Beltane with her group.

And  then Mo's name came up. We have been talking about her for a number of weeks, edging around what happened to her all those years ago. And then Jo posted her blog last night...

And this is what Jo said.  Mo was Gay. She and Jo lived together for awhile during those years I was away at college. Mo was in counselling with Jo's father, the minister of the church, struggling with her homosexuality and receiving nothing but judgement and condemnation and being told you must change. And Jo and Mo were lovers. But Jo, as it says in her blog post, finally left Mo and moved out - broke up, so to speak, because Jo's parents were pouring on extreme pressure for Jo to move out and get away from Mo. Jo was also struggling with the "oh my God, am I Gay?" question, and facing the horribly conditional love of her parents that she never could satisfy. It was an unbelievably nightmarish situation.

Finally, Jo's father refused to counsel Mo any further, and cut her off, because she could not force herself to be straight. I wonder if that was carried further - was she actually excommunicated from the church? I don't know, but it sure would fit the situation - this church has done it before, in its arrogance and intolerance.

What we conjecture may have happened, due to JP's harsh judgement and bitterness and reticence after Mo's death, is that Mo MIGHT have confided in JP her struggle with being Gay. We don't know for sure and I doubt we may ever know, but it fits. And if Mo had confided in her, knowing JP, she rejected Mo and cut her off. It would be consistent with JP's pattern of behavior.

Jo was driven away by the terrible threat of losing her parents love and acceptance, and by the nightmare condemnation of the conservative church.
Whatever happened between JP and Mo, JP for sure wasn't there for her.
And I was gone, out of town, out of touch with the whole thing, and clueless.

And Mo killed herself.

She killed herself because she was Gay, and the church condemned her for it. Her support system unraveled, partially due to the bigotry of the church. And she could not reconcile at all her inner self as a Gay person and the crushing judgement and demands of the faith which had been her solace and refuge up until then.

And now I know my friend Mo died by her own hand, unable to reconcile her truths.

I have spent this night weeping, and raging. Heartbroken for Mo, and for Jo, for the horror they endured at the hands of the church. Heartbroken that I was not there for them at the time. You always have that feeling, you know? Maybe I could have made a difference. But that was almost 3 decades ago. My own self realization of being gay had not even begun when this all took place. I was not then what I am now, did not know what I know now. I do know that I would not have been cruel. Even back then, I was capable of unconditional love. But I also would have at that time intellectually believed the traditional rationale that homosexuality was a sin. Maybe the unconditional love would have been enough to balance that. More than likely, I would have been another nail driven into Mo's coffin. It will always be a "what if", in this life. And it will haunt me forever.

So these are MY words to Mo.

Mo, I also loved you. I miss you and I wish to God I had been there for you. I pray for your forgiveness that I was not there when you needed me, even though it was perhaps impossible for me to have known that at the time. I have loved you and remembered you for all these years. And despite the pain, I am glad I now know what happened. Your life was a blessing to me.
You will always be remembered. And what is remembered, lives.