Seeing in the Dark

Fiction / Corinne Manning

When you’re a mother there’s no point keeping track of the hurtful things your kids say to you. And after awhile they start to blend together like the time my daughter told me that the worst part of her day was when she came home from school and I was home too, or that she wasn’t gay because I was gay and I repulsed her, or recently when she told me that she was in a relationship with a woman but that it wasn’t part of her identity. “I’m not like you,” she said. “I fell in love.”


As if I’ve never been in love.


If she could see how I love her even though she speaks to me like this.


And yes, I know that children need to define themselves away from their parents—don’t forget that I was young once too and had to do the same thing. But this child is in her mid twenties. She’s not sixteen. At this point it seems like it is time for her to take responsibility for herself.


My friend Barbara once told me that kids get nice again around the time they turn twenty-four. My baby is twenty-six and though I’m relieved that she’s kind of coming out, finally, I don’t see her getting nicer any time soon. For example, we scheduled the most recent talk that we had where she said she was in love—she hadn’t been answering the phone so we set up a phone date. When I called her it was loud and she sounded distracted and it turned out she was food shopping. I heard the murmur of her voice as she spoke to someone in the store.

I said, “You want me to call you later?”

And she said, “No, I don’t have time later. This is the time we scheduled.”

And I wanted to be like, yeah, but you aren’t listening. You are not in a position to listen and I know you, if you aren’t in a position to listen which means sitting up on the couch with the TV off and the computer away and looking at me then you won’t take anything in. Meanwhile I had made myself a cup of tea and was sitting at the kitchen table for this call.


My biggest heartache is that this manner of coming out is too late, that she’s done so much damage to herself that she’ll be bitter and mean and closed off for the rest of her life.


Look at me talking at you and you don’t even know a thing about me. I don’t know a thing about me either. I mean, I do, but I guess my point is that when I came out I learned that I didn’t know myself as well as I thought, and what was the point of claiming to know anything about yourself ever? Maybe my daughter learned that from me, with the whole I’m in love thing.


But I know this isn’t the first time she’s been in love with a woman before. It’s just the first time she’s telling me about it.


“Can I meet her?” I asked.

“Where can I find fish sauce?”

“Probably with international groceries,” I said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said. I pressed my tea to my cheek which was hotter than any tangible feeling between us.

“Well, I’m talking to you,” I said. “Can I meet her?”

“I don’t know maybe eventually. There’s a picture on facebook.”

“You haven’t accepted my friend request.”

“Well, I haven’t accepted dad’s either. Oh, he’s beeping in can I call you back?”


I used to feel bad for my husband. Not outwardly, never outwardly, but privately, in the dark, when I was alone. This experience of feeling bad for him corresponded with missing him. Because I did love him, and I liked sleeping next to his warm soft body, liked the way we would look at each other when we were laughing, liked the way he let me cheat at games, the way he always kept my wine glass full during dinner, how he knew to get me whiskey with Advil when I had cramps and how he felt joy too when they didn’t return after Jenna was born. Yes, I know that the things I love about him all in some way serve me. Jenna has pointed this out time and time again. That’s fine if it makes me a bad person but I think sometimes it’s the way love works. That one person appreciates the way they are loved while the other person appreciates the way they get to love. I’ve been on both sides so I think I have a fuller understanding. I don’t know if Sal ever will experience the other side, which breaks my heart but mostly because it means that he’ll never understand me fully and that it’s not as easy as we got divorced because I’m gay.


He got remarried two years after our divorce and I’m still single, yet everyone still feels bad for him.


I shouldn’t say that. It isn’t healing to say that and just reveals my anger passively when anger should be dealt with clearly and directly. This is what I learned from meditation, and from yoga, and I keep up with my spiritual practices because they help me at night when I wake up and I’m staring into the long tunnel of the dark and feel that the way I see myself is not how the world will ever see me.


Sal met a woman on match.com, Jersey-Italian too but ferociously straight, defiantly feminine. She was a teacher and had been left by her gay husband around the time that Sal asked me for a divorce. She said that it was through teaching poems to her teenage students that she kept her faith in love alive. She never said this to me. I got this from her match.com profile as soon as Sal mentioned he was talking to someone on there. The man is so predictable and I knew what he would use for a password and that predictability translated to this woman. She had one child too, but her body looked younger than mine and she had a face that cracked with foundation that covered her smoker’s wrinkles. She was still dying her hair then, and it was black and curly and long and she had one of those big toothed white smiles and all her pictures were of her in some kind of glittery cocktail dress except for this one of her on vacation at Long Beach Island wearing a man’s sweatshirt and a pair of tight white Capri pants with heels.


I knew what their sex would be like: quick, athletic, and fun. She’s a legs straight up in the air kind of woman and Sal’s a woman’s legs straight up in the air kind of man. We didn’t have sex that way, Sal and I weren’t really compatible in bed and it wasn’t because I wanted women more in the end but because I got bored when he went down on me. Jenna says I’m way to frank about this kind of stuff and I know she’d be cringing right now but look you aren’t Jenna and I think you can see me as a woman in addition to a mom. Just as I can see and recognize Sal as a man.


As far as I know this is the only person Sal dated after our divorce, and he married her. I didn’t get invited to their wedding or anything but once or twice we’ve had Christmas together—mostly when Jenna was in college to make her trips home a bit easier—and I can tell that they either have some rare mutual love where they are both the beloved or they are intent at playing at it.


They are like the kind of people who put those hand painted signs you can get at floral shops that say “Once Upon A Time” and “They Lived Happily Ever After” with a framed picture of the two of them at a beach house at LBI underneath it.


I haven’t experienced love that felt like that, especially since coming out. Sometimes when I’m talking to my older sister or my cousin for whom the fact that she accepts me is a big deal I accidentally say things like “I would never have chosen this path” and “only straight women know how to value each other.”


I say these things and don’t know if I believe them.


When the phone rang again I picked it up on the first ring.

“I can’t talk for much longer,” she said. “I just wanted to call you back.”

“Has there been anyone else besides—what’s her name?”

“Drea,” she said. “No. This is the only woman I’ve been with, which is why it’s not a sexuality thing. We’re moving in together once my lease is up.” I heard her car turn on. I stood up and dumped my tea in the sink. The sun was going down and I needed to make sure I wasn’t drinking anything with even the mildest bit of caffeine.

“Are you sure you want to move in with her?”

“It’s not like this is just happening,” she said. “We’ve been together for awhile its just this is the first I’m telling you about it.”

“I know,” I said. I took a deep breath and made sure to feel my feet on the ground. My anxiety was starting to rise. “But you’re just discovering this part of yourself now. Do you really want to be monogamous don’t you—”

“Mom. Stop.”

“The opportunity to date other people,” I said. “Other women.”


I remember when she was a teenager I would talk to other parents about how dating seemed so geared toward monogamy. You didn’t go out on dates you asked someone to go out with you, like be monogamous with you right away and there was no room to really decide if you liked even being around the person first. This is probably my generation’s fault having something to do with the accessibility of sex. But I don’t know what I’m talking about. Because yes, Sal asked me out on dates in high school and there was another boy or two that I was going on dates with but I wasn’t having sex with all of them or even making out with them all. I ended up only really making out with Sal, and then only having sex with Sal.


Jenna was so adamant. She was in love, they were moving in together.

“I waited to tell you until I knew we were going to be serious.” She was exasperated. I heard her breathing change the way it does before she cries.

“I didn’t even want to tell you—”

“Jenna, you’re not breathing. Calm down—”

“because I knew you were going to make this about you!” She screamed. I felt her voice slice into my heart. The wound children make there? It never heals.

Finally her voice calmed.

“I’m not like you. I fell in love.”


I saw a picture of the two of them on facebook: Drea is this really tall, strong looking butch in a pinstripe suit who I wouldn’t have been able to tell was a woman right away and I wondered if she even thought of herself as one. I prefer women who look like me, I guess. Jenna looked more feminine than ever sitting on her lap with her arms wrapped around Drea’s neck and that made my heart so happy because I felt like maybe everything was going to be okay. Jenna was finally coming into herself.


I saved the picture on my computer. I want Jenna to remember or even notice that she looked like that, full and available. From an energetic stand point I could see that all her chakras were open and spiraling to the universe, which I’d never seen her have, at least around me.


There’s a picture of myself that I love.

It was taken six months before the divorce.


So this is all post coming out, when I had the romance with Tina and Sal knew about Tina, we’d even all had dinner together. There was this one day where we all went to Jenna’s baseball game and I sat between my husband and my lover. The assistant coach was taking pictures of family members and he snapped one of the three of us. My arms are around both of them and my smile is open and big. My hair looks good too. Tina and Sal, in this captured moment, look happy and eased. I look at that picture and try to come up with a different narrative, not that we are all together as one couple, but like I am able to be with both of them and we all respect and love each other. In this narrative I even imagine Sal’s wife somewhere in the background waiting for him to meet her on a date after. Maybe she and I go to the movies—I’m not looking for a threesome. It just would have been nice if that day at the soccer field, the way I felt, the moment that was captured, could have been real.


I barely date anymore. An astrologer in my women’s healing circle told me that there was a planetoid blocking Venus and it would take a few years for that to clear. She also said that “there isn’t one committed partner in your future” and she looked sad when she told me, like remorseful and maybe she should have kept it a secret. I felt sad when I heard it too and that evening as we made these chakra bowls ring out, I mourned that reality, mourned and longed for Sal again. That feeling of partnership.


I’ve been trying to rethink what the astrologer told me. That maybe by one committed partner she just meant that I wasn’t going to get everything from one person, the way that Sal and his wife seem to.


I think that’s what I wish I could warn Jenna about.


But maybe they have that mutual kind of love. Maybe they will get everything from each other.


Do you ever feel like there could have been another way to be? Like if you could have been born later or earlier you would have known something different or would have known more about yourself?


I know I said that I don’t know anything about myself, and I’m not taking that back. But late at night I feel like there was some opportunity, some other way to be and I missed it. It’s dark and I feel like I’m squinting down this long, spiraling tunnel and I know there is something there that doesn’t end with just wanting to sleep with women, that there’s some other reality—close to what exists in that picture—that I can’t quite see.

“Seeing in the Dark” is part of Corinne Manning’s short story collection WE HAD NO RULES, stories from which have appeared in Story Quarterly, Calyx, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Moss, The Bellingham Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Joyland. Additional stories and essays have appeared in Literary Hub, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Drunken Boat, Arts & Letters, and Shadow Map: An anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM Press). Corinne founded The James Franco Review and is at work on a novel, Potential Monsters.