By Steve Buckley -
A candid admission: There was a time when I hated it when my mother would call with an urgent request that I drop everything to take her shopping.
These trips often involved the pursuit of trivial items — shoes, a table lamp, frozen strawberries. Or scatter rugs: In any given year, my mother would acquire enough scatter rugs to cover every inch of the playing field at Fenway Park [map], including the bullpens.
I, on the other hand, had much more important things to do — such as go on the radio to share my concerns about the depth of the Patriots [team stats]’ special teams, or take Dan Duquette to task over his stated belief that Jose Offerman was going to replace Mo Vaughn’s on-base capabilities.
But my mother’s calls were not really about shopping, of course, but about enjoying life — getting out of the house, hearing news about what’s going on with the family, maybe even quizzing me about my job, though she was no sports fan at all and didn’t know Johnny Damon from Johnny McKenzie.
And the truth of the matter is that, as my mother aged, even as she was being treated for cancer, she had become wonderfully anecdotal, using her sharp mind to share stories about her younger days that might otherwise have been lost to the passage of time were it not for these midweek Scatter Rug Adventures.
Just over seven years ago, before Thanksgiving, we were getting into the car outside of a CVS when my mother said, “I think you should go ahead and do that story you’ve been talking about.”
“Yes,” she said. “Just go ahead and do it. And then we’ll have a party.”
She was talking about the story in which I would say that I am gay.
(I guess I’ve kind of buried the lead here, which, I admit, has been a common complaint about my writing over the years. But what the heck: The headline has already given away the story, and, anyway, what happened that day seven years ago is central to why I am writing today.)
My mother and I had already had the gay talk, during which she had told me that nothing had changed, that she loved me, asked if I was seeing anybody, and so on. What she didn’t like was the idea of me coming out publicly; she was of the opinion that it was really nobody’s business, and she worried that prejudice might disrupt my career.
But like an NFL referee, she had overturned the original call. “Do it,” she said. I thanked her. She smiled. And then I made the biggest mistake of my life: With a vacation lined up for the first week of December, I told her I’d get to it when I returned to Boston — just before Christmas.
The vacation came and went. The day after I returned to Boston, I received a call from the Lifeline people telling me my mother was being rushed to Mount Auburn Hospital, where she had undergone radiation therapy during the summer. The family gathered at her side. The next morning, she suffered a heart attack. She died a few days later.
There was a funeral at Doherty’s, and then a very soulful, reflective Christmas. And then a Super Bowl, and then spring training. The story didn’t get done. Whenever I revisited the idea of coming out, I’d foolishly dwell on how it was to have been a big family event, my mother pulling everyone together. When that was lost, I guess I lost my way.
Now I’m not going to suggest that these past seven years have been filled with sadness and dread, for the reality is that I’m a pretty happy guy — great family, great friends and a job I truly enjoy, even if, OK, I probably talk too much about the ’67 Red Sox [team stats], the “Godfather” movies (“I” and “II,” but never “III”) and postseason pitching rotations.
But I’ve put this off long enough. I haven’t been fair to my family, my friends or my co-workers. And I certainly haven’t been fair to myself: For too many years I’ve been on the sidelines of Boston’s gay community but not in the game — figuratively and literally, as I feel I would have had a pretty good career in the (gay) Beantown Softball League.
Over the past couple of months I have discussed the coming-out process with my family and a few friends, and have had sit-downs with Herald editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca and sports editor Hank Hryniewicz, as well as with WEEI’s Glenn Ordway. They’ve been great, as have my friends and family.
But during this same period, I have read sobering stories about people who came undone, killing themselves after being outed. These tragic events helped guide me to the belief that if more people are able to be honest about who they are, ultimately fewer people will feel such devastating pressure.
It’s my hope that from now on I’ll be more involved. I’m not really sure what I mean by being “involved,” but this is a start: I’m gay.