Summer Memories: Drama in Chatham

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The first time I went to a production at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY was the day I told my parents that I was gay. Well, it was the day they read the first draft of a letter-to-the-editor in which I said I was gay. It was also the day they told me they wished I wouldn’t publish it. That night, my Mom had tickets to some musical revue at the Mac-Haydn, purchased and planned at a prior time, so we took the long awkward ride into the beautiful rolling hills of Chatham. It was a quiet drive, one in which I contemplated keeping silent to appease my parents, while struggling with the very real need to reveal who I really was.

We drove along the verdant roads, past tall fields of corn on the verge of being harvested, by ponds dotted with wild geese. Nodding umbrels of Queen Ann’s lace drooped after the hot sun of the day. Fuchsia-tinged thistles lifted their sharp leaves upward. The sky was a bright blue, holding a few puffy clouds, and the air was still. In the heat of high summer, it was better not to move too much. It was easier that way. More comfortable. The effort of sending out ripples sometimes feels more onerous than letting things lie.

I don’t remember much of the performance that evening. One thing that does stick out in my head was the oppressive heat, still lingering even after the sun went down. Sweat was pouring off the performers. One must have wiped it off between numbers a little too quickly and carelessly, as he returned to stage with a big piece of paper towel still stuck to his forehead. It was all I could focus on; my mind was entirely elsewhere. Bothered by the expected, but still unexpected, lack of support by my parents, bothered by the confines of upstate New York, which seemed to stretch out and sprawl forever, but held onto its small-minded lack of acceptance as if it was all that mattered, I couldn’t pretend to care about singing and dancing. I wasn’t that strong yet.

At intermission, I mulled around the little lobby area, lingering until the last possible moment. The lights went down and we were shrouded in darkness. The show began again, and for another hour we could pretend that nothing was wrong. And really, what was wrong? The simple fact that I was gay? Or the act of me wanting to tell the world? It was probably a little of both.

The ride home, in the kind of all-enveloping darkness that can only be found in the country, was equally quiet.

The next day I hand-delivered my letter to the local newspaper. I was directly defying my parents’ wishes. I was deliberately disobeying the two people who raised me. I felt guilty, and sad, and hurt – and like the biggest weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made in my life – and it saved me. When you can’t count on anyone else to do it, sometimes you have to save yourself.

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