Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Fourteen: "The Cowboy in Me" (Pt.3)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 24th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As my wife and I seek outside advice about my "revelation" to her, we grapple with the issues: how to tell the kids, going on a European Cruise already paid for, and do we stay married? Ah, decisions, decisions???

Company's Comin'

After three days of not talking during which time I’d properly installed that infernal new Service Pack, we began talking again. Nancy asked a lot of questions like, “So that explains this _____? And that explains that______?” I forget what the particulars were, but she’d begun the healing process by putting together little things in her mind that should have been tip-offs to her that might have given her little hints she had a gay husband in the house. So many, many wives in this world do and don’t even know it! A goodly number of their husbands aren’t even sure, and society bears a certain percentage of the blame for this, but I digress.

We decided at that particular moment to make no decisions if for no other reason than we had family and friends coming for visits in the next few weeks. Too much was going to be happening and soon. Karyn and Roy (Nancy’s aunt and uncle) were coming for their first visit in just a couple of weeks. Dale and Polly (Nancy’s brother and sister-in-law) just a week or so after them, and our friends Greg and Bev the week after that. April in Tucson is glorious and our dance card was booked! The desert blooms and everyone wanted to see it!

Well, they did, and we had to make nice. I’m an actor, so it wasn’t such a big problem for me. Face it. Gay men are often actors. We have to act straight in a straight world, and you have no idea how many of us pull it off. Many of us can even fool ourselves! Oscars anyone? We’re damn good. But Nancy? Poor Nancy was ornery three weeks in a row. “She’s on her period.” Nancy was on her period three weeks in a row for three different sets of visitors though perhaps one of those weeks may have been legitimate. She just couldn’t continually cover her gloom, and she couldn’t share her secret with anyone. She had no one during these early days to talk with, to commiserate with. Eventually, some months later, after we’d discussed the topic to death, she opened up to her sister Evelyn and a little later still her sister Sharon, and only then did she begin to feel better. But it took her many months to feel more comfortable with the topic.

Outside Advice: Both Good and Bad

In those early weeks and months we remained in the same bedroom and bed. We were safe in the knowledge that there existed this elephant in the room which at some point needed to be dealt with and would be dealt with. Our bed was a king-size bed so it was easy to ignore one another though on occasion still a couple of times a month or less we took care of needs. If the mood hit us, we could still do that. We did not hate each other. We still had love for each other.

That summer though I did decide to seek therapy for a few visits, because I really needed an answer for two basic questions: 1) did I want to remain in the marriage, and 2) did I want to remain one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? My therapist helped me explore the answers to both of those questions.

That summer I’d been a Witness for thirty years, thirty long years. At first I’d been bowled over by how I’d been readily accepted into the family atmosphere. Swept up into it. There are no choirs in the congregations and not content to be just a bystander, I’d gone on to become a ministerial servant (sort of like a deacon in other church atmospheres) and eventually an elder for many years (like a full minister). I’d given public talks (sermons) both in the home congregation and at other congregations even at circuit assemblies in front of over a thousand people becoming an accomplished public speaker thanks in no small part to the weekly training of Jehovah’s Witnesses public speaking course, their ministry school held within the local congregation. However, after so many, many years I was finding I’d begun to disagree with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society on many fronts. Many of these were small little things, but a few were big themes like voting, a woman’s place in the ministry, and ecumenicalism though I conveyed my thoughts to no one. I had come to believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the sole holders of “The Truth” as they called it, and it had begun driving me nuts probably more than any other singular topic (other than their position on gays). So you could say I was having issues. My therapist helped me to see that perhaps I may need to leave them. How would Nancy feel about that?

We discussed it. She wouldn’t be happy, but she could live with it. We decided at some point that it might be a good idea to at least talk to the elders (a group of three) to tell them I was gay, and see what they had to say about it. Get some counsel. So we approached one we liked a lot and broached the subject, and we suggested a few names. The five of us all gathered one evening and talked. Basically the counsel was not helpful in the least. The elder we liked a lot was very, very kind. We knew he would be. That’s why we’d asked him. The second one was quiet and non-committal. The third basically condemned me to Hell though he didn’t outright mention Hell by name, because Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in Hell and Hellfire. But more than my ears were burning that evening. All of my flesh was! And it was not helpful. Basically, I could be gay, but only in my mind. Well, thanks! Gee, thanks a lot. I was 54 years old, and I found myself back at Square One. Gay But Only in My Mind. Sounds like a goddamned country song! I left that meeting telling absolutely no one that at some point, not just yet, but it was over. I would be leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses behind.

And I felt bad for Nancy because part of the reason for that meeting had been to seek some counsel and reassurance for her and there had been none forthcoming. Zilch! The only fraction of a by-product to come from it was that she had felt enough of a kind reassurance from the one elder, the one that we had liked that she had opened up at one of the future meetings about the situation to his wife to include her into the problem. And so a closer bond was formed there, and the friendship and counsel of this sister came to help Nancy very much over the next weeks and months, but otherwise the rest of the congregation proved fruitless and cold save this one couple.

I couldn’t leave Jehovah’s Witnesses behind entirely because when I did I would become shunned, a pariah, and when I did it would put people who cared a great deal about me in an impossible situation. When Nancy and I had moved to Tucson back in the autumn of 2004 fairly early on we had contracted with our nephew and his wife, Ben and Ana for a 12-day Mediterranean cruise which we were due to take in November of 2005, and we’d paid for it in advance. We could have canceled, but we’d only get half of our money back. I was all for taking the cruise, Nancy still wasn’t so sure. This had been an ongoing discussion. Friends and even couples divorcing can do this. Even my therapist said so. So far this was a discussion I was winning. She really wanted to go to France just to say she’d been there. And Italy. Oh, Italy! And Spain. Ooo!

As for the answer to the other question did I want to leave the marriage behind, the answer to that question hinged on one unique point: could we work out some sort of an arrangement? You see, I didn’t come out of the closet to be celibate, and at this point, I’d still never even kissed a man, never dated, never done anything more than look . . . from afar . . . longingly.

While it would have been nice, adult even, to think that we could have pulled it off to remain in the same house together for the rest of our lives as “husband and wife” yet separated with distinct lives, Nancy was still a Christian woman, and I was her gay husband. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and yet live in the same residence, and at the same time remain her husband. The only resolution was to leave the marriage. In July I moved out of our bedroom into the guestroom to the other end of the house forever severing the marital ties of our relationship. Out of necessity we would live under the same roof separated as husband and wife for the next thirteen months.

We still hadn’t broken the news to our son and daughter-in-law.

Breaking the News (And Botching It)

In August we “celebrated” our 30th wedding anniversary back in Joliet with Frank and Michele, and our two grand-daughters, Alexis and the newer addition, Abigail. Abby had been born the previous May and was four years younger than her older sister, so we were pleasantly getting to know our nine week old new one. It was a great and pleasant homecoming, and we just couldn’t tell them. That would have been the time, when we were face-to-face. That would have made sense on the one hand, but we just couldn’t break the joy we felt at being there. We didn’t want to do it.

Looking back I probably should have made a special trip back. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to phone them. I’ve always been better with writing, and so I chose to write Frank a personal letter , and I chose my words very, very carefully, most of all letting him know how much I loved him unconditionally.

It proved a disaster. If for no other reason than when the letter arrived in the mail, addressed to Frank, Michele opened it up and read it, and then she called him at work and read him the contents of the letter. I never expected that to happen, and I’d neglected to put the words personal or for his eyes only on the front of the letter. I guess I thought I didn’t need to or something. I don’t really recall what I was thinking. But it happened, and it all blew up!

Michele called, and it was all so horribly emotional, accusatory even. Months later Frank and I finally talked for about an hour or so, but it resolved nothing, and we would talk no more for six long years. Ultimately, without talking there has never been any understanding of what anyone is feeling. However, with Jehovah’s Witnesses it’s their way or the highway. I’ve since taken The Highway.

The Divorce Tour

In mid-November of that year, Nancy and I took what we would later call our Divorce Tour to Europe with Ben and Ana and her dad. Ben and Ana knew that we were separated and that at some point I would be leaving the congregation and why. We’d let them in on the secret back in July when we separated when it was still early enough to cancel, and if it was going to be a problem we felt it was only fair. That was cool with them if it was cool with us. And so it had remained a go. The only agreement had been was that Nancy and I wouldn’t push our single berths together. At our age we probably wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. We were out of the room so many hours of the day, we barely slept!

We began by flying from Tucson to Barcelona, Spain . . . by way of Los Angeles to Dublin, Ireland to Cork. Our ports of call on this 12-day extravaganza were supposed to be Barcelona to Villefranche, France (on the Riviera next to Cannes) then up the coast to some city outside of Rome. However, this was November 2005 when the huge Italian dock strike was going on and nobody could do a thing about it! Celebrity Cruises (part of Royal Caribbean) had been pleading with the Italian government to no avail for weeks. No go! And so it was no go to Rome for us!! However, Celebrity, realizing that the Rome stop was the crown jewel of the entire trip and didn’t want a ship full of grumpy, sorely disappointed travelers so they desperately tried to make it right for all of us by returning $150 per ticket price to all of us and putting us all up in a 4-star hotel in Barcelona for the extra two days we would be in port and not sailing (our 12-day was now a 10-day) free of charge with full breakfast. Not bad. We enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous sea view room on the sixth floor, and while Nancy stayed pretty close to the hotel, the rest of us were all over Barcelona. Nancy got out a bit for a tour or two, but Ben and I became subway regulars. I’d never been on a subway (even in Chicago), and here I was taking one all over Barcelona. It’s still my favorite city in the world, and I can’t say that I’m entirely disappointed we missed Rome.

Up the coast to France, and the Riviera looked just like it does in all the paintings. Magnificent! Back down the coast to Malaga, Spain. Farther down the coast and through the Strait of Gibraltar past the Prudential Rock (unpaid advertisement), and out into the Atlantic Ocean to the Canary Islands to Tenerife where we stopped for the day. I went out on a jetty to go whale watching with Ana, and I jumped off the back end with some of the others for a swim in the ocean. One only lives once!

Once we left the Canaries it’s about a five day cruise across the ocean to Ft. Lauderdale and our flight back to Phoenix and Tucson where we arrived before our luggage. Good old U.S. Airways. What are you going to do?

Everyone who is getting divorced (and amicable about it) should go on a Divorce Tour. (Technically it was a pre-divorce tour since we hadn’t yet filed, and in fact were several months yet from doing so though we knew it was inevitable.) All the little old ladies kept coming on to me during the cruise, and it was a big inside joke between Nancy and I, “If they only knew!” We kept having the last laugh. And, of course, we never let on.

And when we got back to Tucson, then we had decisions to make.

The Disassociation

On December 8, 2005 I sent a letter to the body of elders of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses Nancy and I attended in Tucson disassociating myself from among them and the organization known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I didn’t want any longer to be a part of them. Though they knew the great part of why, it was not directly stated in the body of the text. By removing myself from among them, I was leaving on my terms which meant something to me though the end result was the same as if I’d been disfellowshipped (“excommunicated” as in other faith communities), I was to be shunned, ignored until such a time as I should be restored to my sanity and return to the flock of my own volition. I had chosen 12/08/05, the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon, another of my muses and heroes to send out this letter to them specifically because of its significance to me. I’m certain that was lost on them. I have yet to set foot in any Kingdom Hall since.

Once this became official the ice set in. My oldest of friends became former friends. I was notified via Nancy, via Michele, via Frank (chain communication) that I would not be having any communication with my grand-daughters. I had hoped we all could discuss something, but I wasn’t holding any cards.

In January 2006, Nancy and I put the house up for sale. We had no idea how long it would take to sell. Our retirement dream house. We were sad. But change was afoot. I was making personal changes, and Nancy could see it. I was growing and changing before her eyes. Some of it was good, perhaps some of it wasn’t. I was certainly different. I was still me, but yet different. Same body, different husband, different guy, friend now. Who was this man? Even I couldn’t answer that question. I had no idea.

(In the next concluding installment to Chapter 14, I begin coming out to others at work and reaching out to the gay community . . . finally!)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Divorce, Divorce And Separation, Gay, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Jehovah Witnesses, Jehovahs Witness, Jehovahs Witnesses, Jehovahs Witnesses Rejection, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Pariah, Separation, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?