I catch a glimpse of Miles walking towards the car in the rear view mirror and my breath catches. For a moment it had been his dad’s image in the mirror. Perhaps it’s the way he carries the load of snacks in his arms while holding a bag of beef jerky between his teeth. Or it’s the way they both walk. It could be the sun in my eyes. Or a perhaps it is simply time to have the talk.
I promised I’d tell Miles when he turned eighteen, but that birthday passed over four months ago. Of course I didn’t want to disrupt his studies during the tail end of his senior year, then there was graduation and all the festivities, and now this much awaited road trip. Always an excuse to postpone the conversation, although I’m not sure why I am scared. I guess there is the possibility it will disrupt things, the nice flow we’ve settled into.
“Want anything?” Miles asks good-naturedly as he takes his seat in the passenger side in his own car. His own car. My son is a man now, although he looks like a gangly teenager, he drove us for three hours straight, until I offered to take over.
I shake my head ‘no’ as I ease back on to the highway. I don’t believe this conversation will ruin the trip for Miles, but it might ruin it for me. That is, not telling him is becoming an issue. I look over at my son and decide to leap. “Miles, I want to talk to you about your dad.”
“Go ahead,” He says, ripping into a bag of chips. “What about him?”
“Well,” I hesitate and look over at him. “I want to talk to you about his death.”
“Actually Mom, you don’t have to. Grandpa already told me.”
“What?” My heart thuds against my sternum. I didn’t think my dad knew.
“Yeah. That was on his list of things to talk to me about before he died. Number one, actually.”
I couldn’t believe it. “Grandpa told you your dad was gay?”
“What?” Miles squeals and I look over in time to see a chip fall out of his mouth. He is coughing, so I wait.
“Oh . . . So I guess he didn’t tell you.”
Miles continues coughing and waves his hands in the air.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“That’s not what he told me!” Miles squeaks out, then goes back to his coughing fit.
This isn’t going as smooth as I hoped. In fact, I am considering puling over and giving Miles the Heimlich maneuver, but then he takes a big swig of Mountain Dew and mutters, “Grandpa said that his death wasn’t an accident,” he coughs again. “He said he was really depressed and that he made it look like an accident by not leaving a note or anything, but then he drove off a cliff.” The tears in his eyes must be from choking.
“Yes, that is true. He did plan that accident. But Grandpa didn’t tell you why he was depressed?”
“Well, no. No. He didn’t say why. Why was he?” Miles squeals in a voice an octave too high.
“He wasn’t just depressed, he was gay. Your father was dying. He had AIDS.”
Miles shakes his head in disbelief, and continues to cough.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I mean I’m choking to death, but I’m okay. Mom, how could that be?” I glance over long enough to see his face is still distorted with horror. “Do you have AIDS? Do I?”
“No, no, Miles. Neither of us have it. Your dad and I had . . . a different kind of relationship by that time.”
I look over again and see that the confused look on his face. “Okay, okay, let me explain.” I take a deep breath, put my hand at ten and two on the steering wheel and begin the story of what it is like loving a gay man.