By Tim Curfman
It is the summer of 1996. I am 28 years old and have recently moved in with Jim, my boyfriend of six months. Jim talks to his mother every day on the phone, and I can hear every word that she says, even though the phone is not on speaker. I hear about angry family members who aren’t speaking to each other, and the opportunities to take sides.
I have never met Jim’s mom, but this is about to change. As I peek out the window, I see an older couple coming up the walkway. The woman is tall and confident and is wearing an outfit whose black-and-white-and-red checkered pattern carries over to her scarf, purse, and shoes. Her makeup and hair would make Mary Kay look frumpy. The diamond rings that adorn every finger, including the thumbs, turn the sunlight into rainbow showers of bling. Jim’s stepfather follows behind her, struggling with a giant suitcase.
There are reasons to be concerned. A year ago, Jim had announced to his family that he had renounced his vows as a Catholic Priest, and that he was henceforth going to live his life as a gay man. His mom, a lifelong Catholic who grew up in rural Oklahoma, had been supportive. But now she was about to come face-to-face with Jim’s first actual boyfriend.
As they walk up the front porch, I think to myself, “Don’t other gays hide their lives from their families? What’s wrong with that? Why couldn’t we do that?” But it’s too late. The knock on the door means there’s no turning back now. A chill runs down my spine.
There has already been a series of negotiations about the visit. Jim’s mom required that we pretend we were roommates as to not offend her conservative husband. Times being what they were, we agreed.
She also wanted to bring along her cat. I complained that I had a cat allergy and requested that they board the cat for their four-day visit, which I would pay for. She agreed.
We open the door and Jim introduces his “roommate” to his mom and stepdad, and I ask how much money I owe for the cat boarding. She says “eighty dollars,” and I hand her four twenties.
Momma then goes out to the car and brings back a large box of decorative items. She had become independently wealthy selling these same decorative items through a multi-level marketing company called Home Interiors, and at one point was branch manager to over three hundred sales people in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Suddenly, she’s trying to decorate our entire house with a collection of silk floral swags to hang over each window. I stand between her and our windows, yelling, “You shall not pass!”
We manage to get through the first day. That night I lie in bed thinking, “But I already have a dysfunctional family…”
On the second day, out of nowhere, Momma announces that the cat was so traumatized by its boarding experience that it died, and so they weren’t charging her. She hands me back my eighty dollars. I am horrified. We have only known each other for two days and I have already killed her cat.
The next day I let Momma know how bad I feel about the cat. She replies, “The cat’s fine. I never put her up for boarding. I just left her with a friend. But after a while I started feeling guilty about taking your eighty dollars.”
An electrochemical storm of disbelief fires through my head, causing fifty thousand brain cells to die. My mouth opens and closes, but only a sad little groan comes out.
After they leave, Jim says, “I think that went pretty well.”
“What? WHAT? Really?”
“You wanted her to treat you like family, right?”
Time passes, and I have come to enjoy the force-of-nature that is Jim’s mom. Every once in a while, however, she senses my complacency and decides to kick up her A-Game.
Momma calls Jim up to discuss a men’s ring that she had given him years ago. Back when she was a branch sales manager at Home Interiors, she had won so much jewelry from sales contests that she now has a horde of gold and jewels that any dragon would envy.
She wants to make herself a diamond-encrusted drop to wear around her neck, because she doesn’t have enough bling already, and she wants a big diamond for the center of the drop. Years ago, she had given Jim a chunky men’s ring studded with three large diamonds, a ring so gaudy that he never wore it.
Momma pitches us this idea: She will take one diamond from Jim’s three-diamond ring, add some smaller diamond rings from her trove, and turn the whole pile over to her jeweler, who will make her a fabulous drop for her neck. The jeweler will take the two extra diamonds and create wedding rings for us. And it won’t cost us anything, because there will be enough gold to cover the expense.
How can we lose? Neither of us are that interested in getting wedding rings, but we think, “Why the hell not?”
So Momma retrieves Jim’s ring and starts working with her jeweler on her little project. A couple of weeks pass, and she calls us to say, “There wasn’t enough gold to cover the cost of making the pieces, so you need to send me a check for four hundred dollars.”
More brain cells die. Once again, I’m being treated like family.
Jim and I discuss it, and we know that it’s still a bargain and we send off a check for four hundred dollars to buy rings that we don’t even want. Time passes and Momma shows up with our wedding rings, where they sit in a drawer for eighteen years until a certain Supreme Court decision allows us to say, “I Do”.
Time passes… Momma calls to announce that she has dumped her pesky close-minded husband. As part of her divorce celebration, she wants Jim and me to go on a trip with her to Hawaii. We are thrilled. Over the years, Momma has turned into a favorite traveling companion, always ready for a little fun.
We arrive on the island of Kauai, the wettest spot in the world, and are soon on a tour of the Dole Pineapple plantation. We’re deep into a giant hibiscus-bush maze, when gallons of rain start to pour down on us. We get out of the maze as fast as we can and run to the car, but we are drenched when we climb in.
We look back at Momma, and her bouffant hairstyle has collapsed and is now running down her head like a California mudslide. We go back to the hotel where Jim makes a futile effort to repair the hair-do, but no amount of hairspray, teasing, or blow-drying can restore it to its original glory.
You would have thought she had severed an arm. She didn’t want to go anywhere with bad hair. We were supposed to take her on a dream helicopter trip around Kauai where she would be treated to lush mountains and spectacular waterfalls, the adventure of a lifetime. She says, “Why don’t you guys go on the helicopter trip, and I’ll get my hair done instead.”
We drop her off at a beauty salon while we take off on our big excursion. Three hours later, we pick her up; her hair looks great and she has been restored back to her sunny vacation self. I think she actually had a better time getting her hair done than we did on our helicopter ride.
The years roll by. Momma is down visiting us, and we have taken her to a German restaurant in Round Top, Texas. We’re sitting under a grand old oak tree, listening to a polka band, and the music is straight out of Momma’s childhood. We’re drinking hefty steins of beer and everyone is in their happy place.
On the drive home, I need to pee so bad that I make Jim pull the car over next to a country pasture. As I’m standing in complete darkness in the middle of a grassy field, the car engine fires up and the headlights burst to life. Two parallel shafts of light start moving towards me, and soon they hit me spot-on. And of course, there’s nothing I can do. You can’t stop midstream.
I get back in the car, and Jim and Momma are laughing hysterically. Momma manages to calm down enough to say, “You remember my last boyfriend, right?”
We lean forward, “Yes?”
She continues, “He had the biggest penis I’ve ever seen.”
I said, “You mean until right back there, right?”
Twenty years have passed and Jim still phones or texts Momma every day. I, myself, have grown to love and appreciate my Second Mother. I know she would do anything for me, and I would do anything for her. I have even gotten used to being “treated like family.”
I would still give this advice to anyone who wants to move in together, gay or straight: go on a weeklong trip with your potential mate and their mother. If you still want to move in together after that experience, you have my blessing.
Tim Curfman contributed the article My Muddy Valentine to the February edition of OutSmart magazine. He and his husband, Jim Rolewicz, own and run Scenic Hill Vacation Cabins in Brenham, Texas (scenichillvacations.com). Read all of his OutSmart articles at outsmartmagazine.com/author/tim-curfman.