By Edward M. Cohen
Aron was a year and a half when Laura and I divorced. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life guilty about the pain I caused and the misery of the break-up and the chaos in his life afterwards.
She and I had met in college and rushed into, what was for me, an affair based on homosexual panic; my first with a woman – and my last. Of course, in my innocence, I got her pregnant and there was no other solution but to marry. It’s a familiar story in New Hampshire, where I come from – a long way from Stonewall.
The truth could not be kept hidden for long – not from me – and when it exploded, so did the marriage. I found a new life but still kept closely in touch with Aron; visiting him regularly. When he was older, he started spending weekends at the new home I shared with Pete. Pete, because he loved me, also loved Aron. He was a music teacher so one of the ways he connected was to give Aron piano lessons. The boy was amazingly talented – he’s grown now and, what do you know, a musician! Pete would be pleased if he knew – but Pete and I broke up, too.
What happened was that Aron was seeing the school psychologist because he was causing trouble in class and Laura and I were required to see her also. At one meeting, she said, “Aron talks a lot about Pete. Who is Pete?” In my stupidity, in my new-found freedom and bravado, I said, “It’s never come up so I’ve never mentioned it but I’m gay and Pete is my lover.” After all, Laura knew and I had grown so comfortable with my new life that it made sense to have it out in the open.
Apparently, not in New Hampshire. Laura reacted as though I had committed a felony – not my being gay, but my announcing it. The psychologist was worse. She babbled on about how she couldn’t continue to see Aron if she was put in a position in which she had to keep secrets from him, how perhaps he shouldn’t visit my home any more, how she would have to check with her district supervisor, how Laura might be advised to talk to her lawyer. This was only twenty years ago. Can young people today even comprehend what it was like?
The idea of fighting never occurred to me; too cowed to check with a lawyer on my own. So I gave in to the school’s demands – supported, of course, by a stony faced Laura. Aron could visit my home only if I assured them that he would have no contact with Pete. Pete would have to stay in a motel any time Aron was there. It was either that or Aron would have to switch to another school and Laura would take me to court. Guilty and ashamed about Aron, I agreed – now to be guilty and ashamed about Pete.
After all, he loved the kid, too. It had started because he loved me and wanted to be part of my life but it had evolved into a love all of its own between him and the little boy. When I told him what I had agreed to, the blood drained out of his face. Soon, it drained out of our life. How could I have said something like that to a man I loved? How could I have told him there was something so wrong with him that he could have no further contact with my son? Society starts the process but we end up punishing ourselves.
Pete and I broke up not long after. The hurt, the disappointment, the silence between us had simply grown too wide. I don’t know where he is now. I don’t know what happened to him. But I am writing this as a love note to him. I hope he gets to read it.
Recently, I knew I had to tell Aron. I was afraid he would discover the truth somehow and never forgive me for lying to him. I didn’t want some slip of somebody’s tongue to destroy the trust that had been built between us. I couldn’t imagine he hadn’t figured it out on his own – he is a bright, sophisticated guy but I wanted him to hear it from me.
Walking to the movies one day, I blurted it out.
“Aron, there’s something I want to tell you – and it’s going to be hard.”
“What’s that, Dad?”
“I want you to know the truth about my life – that I’m bi-sexual.”
“Well, gay really is the word. I was bi-sexual when I was married to your mother. That, I guess, is obvious…”
Thank goodness, he giggled. His charming little-boy giggle.
“But since then I’ve been gay. All my lovers have been men…”
“Pete…” he said.
I was astonished. It had been many, many years since he had seen or heard of Pete.
“Pete,” he murmured. “My first piano teacher..”
We walked in silence but I was so shocked by his immediate connection that I didn’t know what to say. He seemed to be mulling it over so I waited for him to go on.
“You know,” he said slowly, sweetly. “My girlfriends are always astonished that I have such deep, close men friends. It’s something that’s always been in my life and something that’s really nice. That comes from you, from you and Pete. Because I always knew how much you meant to each other.”
What could I say? Now that I think of it, I should have said, “Thanks.” But I was stunned into silence – and admiration. He’s such a wonderful boy, such a lovely, loving son. Obviously, I didn’t do everything wrong.
But I wanted you to know too, Pete, wherever you are.
Author Bio: Edward M. Cohen’s (he/him/his) novel, “$250,000,” was published by Putnam; his novella, “A Visit to my Father with my Son,” by Eclectica. His story, “Peroxide Blonde,” won the 2020 Key West Tennessee Williams Prize. His collection, “Before Stonewall,” won the 2019 Awst Press Book Award and will be published next year. This story was originally published online in the June, 2019 issue of Cleaning up Glitter.