Spotlight Excerpt from ‘Let The Love Surprise You’
This memoir excerpt was written by Amy Estes in Megan Stielstra’s 12-Month Memoir Generator
Amy Estes spent her childhood trying to be the best Christian girl she could be, attempting to please the adults in her life, and striving to fit into the conservative town she was raised in, despite never feeling like she belonged. At twenty-one, Estes found herself married to a man she didn’t love, depressed, and desperate to escape the life she’s built but does not want. As fault lines appear in the faith that was once the bedrock of her life, Estes confronts a series of personal tragedies, her undeniable queerness, and upends her life in search of a new way of being in the world. In her debut memoir, Estes is buoyed by the love and hope she finds all around her as she discovers a new version of faith in the people in her life, in strangers, and in herself, as she explores what happens when you step away from the life that is expected for you in search of the life you want.
After years of struggling, fighting, and trying to drown out the truth that lived as marrow in my bones, I found the language to tell the truth out loud: I’m gay.
My friends had been warmly supportive, wholly unsurprised, and deeply happy for me. I knew they would be.
Those weren’t the conversations I was worried about.
Even though I have never wondered if my parents loved me, telling them that I am gay felt impossible. When I imagined it, I felt as if I was standing on the edge of a cliff, unsure of what would happen when I jumped. While I felt fairly confident that the billowy parachute of my family would catch me, there was the ever present fear that thrummed in my throat when I laid in bed at night: what if, what if, what if . . .
I tried to imagine the news through my parents’ eyes. It felt unfathomable. My parents and I loved one another so much. We’d weathered so many difficult conversations, and I wanted to believe that this would be no different. But in my quietest moments, I still felt like the little Christian girl who was scared of disappointing anyone. I’d spent my whole life feeling that this undeniable secret I’d held so close to myself made me profoundly unloveable.
Nothing scared me more than the idea of finally setting that secret free.
My mom suggested BJ’s Brewhouse for lunch. For the uninitiated, BJ’s is a chain restaurant — better, more refined food and decor than Applebees and a large menu that rivals The Cheesecake Factory, melded with the casual atmosphere of a local brewery.
Lulled by the hum of the loud HVAC system going full-blast to offset the 110-degree Sacramento summer heat, my mom and I slid into a booth. After settling in, my mom went to the restroom while I ordered what everyone in my family drinks: a Diet Coke and a water, two straws, no lemon in either. The server set it down on our table just as my mom returned from the bathroom.
“Thanks for the Diet Coke,” she said, “but I was actually thinking of getting a drink. Do you want one?”
“I think I’m okay,” I said.
She looked at me intently.
“I’m going to order a drink. I think you should too.”
The insistence in her voice was unusual. It wasn’t the first time we’d shared drinks, but having a mid-day alcoholic beverage was not typical. When the waiter returned, I ordered a Berry Burst Cider, and my mom ordered a mai tai. A lull fell over the table as we sipped our drinks. I smiled at her.
“This is yummy,” I said. “You were right.”
She couldn’t meet my gaze.
“I need to ask you something,” she said, toying with the paper straw wrapper. “I’ve needed to ask you for a long time.”
My breath caught in my throat, and I felt as if each of my organs had been replaced by a block of ice.
Was this really happening? Am I going to tell my mom I’m a lesbian at a restaurant called “BJ’s” of all places? The irony . . .
I looked up at her expectantly, bracing myself for the impact of a conversation that would change things forever, no matter how it turned out. Suddenly, I had the overwhelming urge to take it all back. I was thirty. How could I be gay now ? Surely, I’d missed the boat, and this was some horrible misunderstanding within myself.
“Are you gay?” she asked quietly, tears filling her eyes.
The question hung in the air like a foggy mist. I looked down at the table, where I’d ripped my napkin to shreds. I took a swallow of my cider and met my mom’s compassionate gaze.
“Yes,” I said, looking back down at the table.
My mom nodded resignedly, her tears spilling over. She reached across the table and took my hand.
“Thank you for telling me,” she said.
I looked up at my mom’s face, and found it open but hurting, sad but curious.
“When did you know?” she asked.
“I . . . I think I’ve always known,” I said quietly.
“Always?” she said. “What do you mean?”
“Remember Kelsi?” I said. “Kelsi was my first kiss . . . ”
“ What ?” she said. “You were children!”
“I know. Like I said . . . always.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“Just Kelsi?” she asked.
“No,” I replied. I told her about Randi, and about Maggie, and finally about Hewitt. I told her that even before them, I’d known. I’d just been scared.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked again. “It would have been so much easier for everyone. No Nick, no Alex, no pretending . . . ”
“I didn’t think you guys would be okay,” I said. “I didn’t want to ruin things.”
She started to cry.
“But we love you. We have always loved you. And we’ve worked so hard for our relationship . . . I just wish you would have told us.”
“I was worried you wouldn’t understand. With church and everything . . . I didn’t want to be disowned. I love you guys.”
“We would never disown you. Not ever. Even if we weren’t happy, we wouldn’t disown you. How could you think that?”
“I just didn’t know,” I said. “I wanted to be sure.”
“Were you ever going to tell us?” she asked.
“I’d been trying to figure out how. I should have told you sooner,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“It would have been so much easier . . . I just . . . It makes me so sad.”
“I know you did your best. I know you and dad love me,” I said. “I didn’t want to disappoint you again. I feel like I have been such a disappointment.”
“You are never a disappointment,” my mom said. “Not ever. We love you so much.”
At that moment, I felt the thousand tiny paper cuts around my heart start to heal, and the tight knot that had lived in my chest for as long as I could remember began to unravel.
The next day, I talked with my dad. Like my mom, he reassured me that his love for me was never going to change.
“You know,” he said, his eyes moist, “when we first figured it out, I was angry. Angry that you couldn’t just . . . not do this. Angry that you would change our family this way. But then, I realized that you could feel the same way about me—that rather than asking you to adjust, that I could adjust how I felt. Because I love you. And that’s more important than anything.”
When you come out, people want a clean narrative about how it happened: You’re in the closet, you tell people, and then you’re out, and it’s over. But figuring out that you’re gay is rarely a lightning bolt moment. It’s 10 million tiny alarms that go off at different times: the hug of a childhood friend, the absence of warmth in a kiss, a glimpse of a different path. Those moments coalesce to become something urgent and glaring. For me, it was secrets and lies and a thousand signs I buried because I decided that other people’s opinions mattered more than my joy or my needs.
Nothing can remain a secret in your body forever.
When you grow up with your entire life steeped in religion, you’re taught to ignore so much of your own wisdom. You’re instructed to silence the voice inside of you while you listen for the voice of God and taught to listen to adults or elders who allegedly know better. For years, I desperately cultivated the small part of myself that wished I had faith instead of the larger part that told me I could trust myself. I was taught to ignore my own intuition, and to forgo my wisdom: the knowledge that told me I preferred the smell of my friends’ hair to that of boys’ cologne, the knowing in my belly when I caught a glimpse of a woman’s body, the way I’d felt when Hewitt had kissed me versus what I had never felt with a boy.
I felt like I’d spent most of my life trying desperately to understand myself, looking for the truth and refusing to shine the light on what I once believed was darkness inside of me. Even then, I knew that saying it out loud wouldn’t suddenly make my queerness feel okay. But now that the truth was out, the light was on, and I could start to make out the next steps of the path.