The Facebook reunion I never saw coming

My mom shunned me after learning I was gay. But the site's distance gave me the courage to get close again

By Adane Byron
Published August 18, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)
                 (<a href=''>pearleye</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>/Salon)
(pearleye via iStock/Salon)

The sun beamed through the large window of my studio apartment. A cigarette was held captive between my index and middle finger as I clicked my way onto Facebook. I sipped my coffee, and nearly choked when I saw that my mother sent me a friend request. I hadn’t seen her in eight years.

Finishing my cigarette, I lit another, and exhaled a stream of smoke directly into my computer screen where her smile taunted me from her profile picture. I was not smiling.

I looked at her profile, and found photo albums chronicling the growth of my 20-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister. Laughing at birthday parties. Smiling with their arms around each other. Graduation pictures. I was jealous. I had been deprived of a mother. She had gotten it wrong with me and became the mother I wanted to them. I pushed myself away from my computer and paced, flapping my hands at my side, for what turned out to be close to a half-hour. I was happy she found me, angry she had thrown me away and hurt that she didn’t seem sad in the photos. These feelings created an uncomfortable tension within me. Didn’t she miss me?

Sitting back down, I calmed myself. The second to last song of Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” was playing on iTunes. Jeff crooned about an eternal life as I clicked confirm. My mother and I were FBO, Facebook official.

I never thought this is how she would come back into my life. I was a shy and reclusive boy who struggled from a young age with doubting-daunting voices in my head. By 14, I knew I didn’t like popular girls and video games. I liked music and writing in my journal, where I scribbled down my attraction for my male best friend. One day I came home to find the locked journal that held my secrets had been violated. That night, at dinner, my mother read the journal out loud. My little brother and stepfather devoured chicken and mashed potatoes as I heard passages never intended for an audience. I kept my hands clasped in my lap, but I wanted to strike her.

I had begun experimenting with drugs, which intensified to self-medicating. Things between us became unbearable. She bullied me for failing to be the son she wanted. She called me “faggot.” And I lied and stole from her to fuel my hidden drug use, as I found a home in New York City’s nightlife. At 16, I began to see a therapist and was diagnosed with depression. I had a session with my mother, but on that day my anxiety became so overwhelming I took Ketamine, and to this day I don’t remember what went on in that office. The drug use buried my mother’s insults, my self-doubt and anger. It all went into an overflowing box in the back of my head.

Two months after my 18th birthday, my mom asked me to leave our Brooklyn, N.Y., home. Around that time, I had been approached by an agent to model. My shyness made me dismiss the agent’s offer, but I kept her card. The day after I left my mother’s home scared and scarred, I met with the agent, signed a contract and left for Paris.

I spent years overseas working hard and partying harder. I went to Brussels, Berlin and London, but I dwelled on my damaged relationship with my mother. I was a good model, when I was high. But without the drugs I was a fidgeting mess. At 24, my agent advised rehab, but after a week I checked myself out. I couch-surfed, still addicted to heroin and coke. One day, high to the newest moon, I called my mother to blame her for screwing me up. I don’t remember that conversation. That summer I went back to rehab and have been clean ever since.

Four years later -- the friend request came. Afterward, we traded phone numbers, but when we spoke, she offered no apologies. I thought the coming out stories of Ricky Martin, Neil Patrick Harris and shows like “Glee” might have given her a new perspective toward who I was. She told me she kept my magazine clippings and photos in frames in her office.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re my son,” she said. The only emotion alive in me was rage. There was no offering of remorse. I never felt compelled to call her again.

But I could cope with her through Facebook because we didn’t have to face each other. She told me about her tummy tuck and her new haircut. Our public interactions embarrassed me at times, and irritated me at others. I would type my day’s frustrations into a status update and she would make some comment that nourished my annoyance even more, because her sentiments were too late. They were comments she should have made when I was younger and coming to terms with my sexuality. Comments that would have made me stronger. I sensed her desire to reconcile. So I tried to endure her on my computer screen.

“You’re beautiful, because you look just like me,” she wrote under the photo plastered on my wall. My saucer-shaped eyes gazed into the camera and my brown skin glistened from the bronzer on my cheeks. Our resemblance was striking, but I didn’t want to admit that I had inherited anything from her.

I was angry at the way she acted, as if she were my friend. I needed a mother. I had enough friends.

Recently I published an essay about my anxiety, and my mother sent me a message. She told me she was proud and asked my permission to post how pleased she was on my wall. My fingers clanked along my keyboard to reveal: “I can't pretend everything is okay. There needs to be an honest conversation. We aren't friends. You're my mother. Moving forward, we need boundaries. My pain can’t be cured by a compliment on my wall.”

Her response was: “Ok no problem, take care.”

I had given her an open door and instead of walking through it she had walked away. I didn’t allow her to, I asked why she couldn’t talk to me about what we’d been through. She confessed that she didn’t know how -- that it wasn’t just with me, but it was her life. I could understand this dilemma. It had always been so hard for me to express myself by speaking. We shared an inability to let our true selves be seen.

Then the word that I had been waiting so long to hear flickered on my screen: “sorry.” The other words surrounding it were mere blurs. She apologized for not being more attentive.

The conversation continued as if I was pulling a heavy anchor out of her. She told me of her shattered relationship with her own mother. Her words seemed vulnerable to me. She told me she was crying in her office. I could not see or hear the tears but I felt them through my screen.

I was able to finally tell her how hurt I was by how she treated me. I had abandonment, neglect and trust issues because of her.

By the end of that conversation, I was the one who was trying to lift her up out of her own anger and bitterness. I told her she could crawl out of the dark hole. I felt she needed me. I smiled a little to myself, the smile of a child who finally felt loved. In that moment it was my turn to take care of her.

Adane Byron

Adane Byron studies creative writing in New York City. He is currently working on a novel and a collection of poems. His work can be seen in the New York Times anxiety column.

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