Faces of Affirmation

I Do Remember That the Thought Kept Going through My Mind, “Where Do We Go from Here?”

Sarah Nicholson

by Sarah Nicholson

The Year Two-Thousand Eight

The year was 2008 and life was good, or as good as it can be for a woman such as myself; high strung and prone to anxiety and stress over the smallest details. I had taught high school math for 10 years and was currently enjoying summer break with my four children (ages 12, 11, 7 and 3) and with Scott, my eternal husband of nearly 13 years.

We had a lovely family vacation in June, giving our kids the opportunity to fly in an airplane for the first time. We flew to Chicago, then rented a minivan and drove to Scott’s sister’s house in Peoria, Illinois. We visited Nauvoo and the newly rebuilt Nauvoo temple. I was so pleased with my daughter, Sierra, as she, her dad and myself participated in baptisms for the dead. Scott even had the opportunity to perform the baptism ordinance with his daughter for her first time in a temple. It reminded me of her baptism day four years prior, when the Primary president commented on the strength of the holy spirit that day and the feeling that there were angels present. I couldn’t help but think that Scott’s mother, whom he lost to cancer when he was 13, was one of those angels.

Shortly after we returned from our trip, Scott seemed to be handling life a bit differently than usual. He began to get up by 6:00 every morning, which was strange since he has never been a morning person and I was not currently getting up early for work. When he came home from work, he would help make dinner and then sit quietly and read a book. He loves to read, so the reading was not unusual, but he seemed distant somehow. I asked him a couple times if everything was okay, and he sincerely answered yes but did not want to talk much. He only wanted to read his book.

One day he suggested that we should attend the temple again soon. It had been a while since the two of us had gone to an endowment session, so it was not a strange suggestion, other than generally the idea came from me rather than him. I asked him if there was any reason in particular, and he said no, just that it had been a long time and he thought we should go. We didn’t actually make the effort to attend, however, until after the day that changed my life forever.

On the evening of Friday, July 11, 2008, after getting the children to bed and beginning to turn out lights in preparation for heading to bed ourselves, Scott suspiciously went out to the garage and brought in an unmarked plastic bag with something in it. He had a bit of a strange look on his face, so I asked him what was in the bag, to which he responded that we should go in the bedroom and talk. I started to get worried. As we were walking out of the kitchen, I asked him, “Is everything okay with your job?” I had never gotten over the anxiety from the last time he had been terminated, even though it had been ten years, but five years prior we had built a new home with a hefty house payment that required both of our incomes to maintain.
He quickly said, “No, no. My job is fine. Don’t worry about my job.”

As we went into the bedroom, he shut the door behind us, and we sat on the bed. I waited for him to say something. He looked fearful and fidgeted silently. Normally he is pretty calm and does not get nervous about things. He started exhaling slowly and deliberately, like he was trying to keep from hyperventilating, and then said, “I knew this would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard.”

I started freaking out, as I am prone to do, but much worse than usual. “Are you sure your job is okay? Are you sick? Are you dying of cancer or something?” He still wouldn’t answer. I started pacing; my heart was pounding. Heat rushed up my body to my head and I felt like I was going to pass out. “You have to tell me, now. Would it help if I stopped looking at you?” He indicated that might help.

I took a deep breath, sat down on the bed with my face to the wall and my back to Scott. He said something about my needing to hear him out and not overreact. I agreed, and finally, he said, “I am gay.”

His words were not expected, but I was so relieved that he had finally spoken that I let out a sigh of relief. Through stressed laughing, I said, “At least you haven’t lost your job and you’re not dying of cancer.” We both chuckled at that. I don’t remember everything he said and everything I asked, but I do remember that the thought kept going through my mind, “Where do we go from here?”

We talked about his experience with coming out to himself, the fact that he did not choose to be this way, that he had always tried to suppress and ignore these feelings, that he had been faithful to me and never had relations with any men. We talked about how he had been reading Carol Lynn Pearson’s book No More Goodbyes (the item in the bag from the car in the garage). He said he had been afraid to tell me and didn’t want to hurt me, but simply could not bear to keep it from me any longer. It had only been about ten days since he had really figured it out himself, but his journey of self-discovery had been over the past six months, after a night I had blocked from my memory when I wanted some intimacy and he did not, a night that I asked him if he might be gay and he assured me that he was not.

The main point he seemed to want to convey on this life-changing night in July of 2008 was that things could no longer be the same, and that he could not make any promises to me that he would be with me for the rest of our lives or forever, because he did not know what the future might bring, and he didn’t want to risk feeling the need to break such a promise later.

I’m not sure exactly how I felt. I can’t really remember. I was numb. I was in shock. We finally decided we should try to sleep, but after a few futile minutes, we chose to turn on the TV to help get our minds away from the subject in an attempt to rest. The show ended, we turned off the TV, and Scott’s breathing soon indicated that he might be sleeping. I, on the other hand, could not find a way to quiet my mind so that sleep could take over. I had no idea what all of this really meant. Was my marriage now over? If he’s always been gay, and we have survived this long, can’t we keep living like this forever and pretend that nothing has changed? Does his being gay mean that he has never been attracted to me at all? In high school, through his mission, through our 13 years of marriage, was I nothing more than a friend? Scott snored off and on through the night, so I think he slept more than I did. I cried softly into my pillow, my mind kept going through all of these questions. I had never been so confused or felt so helpless. I couldn’t help but think of events and circumstances that pointed to the fact that of course, he was gay, and yet I was oblivious to this until this moment.

Background

I was born into an active LDS family with pioneer heritage on both sides. My parents were not nearly as strict as those of my friends with regards to family home evening, family prayer and scripture study, which frankly disappointed me throughout my childhood. Still, I knew they believed in the gospel despite disagreeing with church policies once in a while. The Mormon Church was everything in our lives and our culture. I grew up with strong faith and testimony in Jesus Christ, scriptures, prayer, living prophets, Joseph Smith, and so forth. I struggled to fit in at church and in school, probably because I was an introvert and awkward, yet very intelligent and especially good at math. I loved attending seminary, and so being called to Seminary Council for my Senior year of high school was an answer to my prayers. It gave me a chance to make close friends with the rest of the council, gave other students a reason to look up to me, and was an amazing way to strengthen my testimony.

I met Scott around that same time. He and I ended up in assigned seats next to each other in our high school madrigal choir. I was drawn not only to his gorgeous bass voice, but also to his amusing, yet quiet personality. When I had the opportunity, I decided to ask him to the Sadie Hawkins girl’s choice dance, which was coming up in November. I asked him by writing a message on a puzzle and putting it in a pumpkin. He answered by making me a pumpkin pie and baking a card under the crust that said, “yes.” Wow, he could cook, too! We hit it off at that first dance. Soon he asked me out to a movie, and then to the Christmas dance.

We spent a lot of time together. When I accomplished something great or was having a bad day, he would bring me flowers. Our friends would tell us how cute our kids would be, and that someday they expected Scott to be the bishop and me to be the Relief Society president. We went on hikes together. We watched movies together. We sang together. We baked chocolate chip cookies together and spent long hours talking and kissing. At his request, I taught him how to knit and crochet. We did baptisms at the temple together. I became quite attached to his little brother and sister, and his dad seemed to really like me. It was like a dream come true.

I had never really dated anyone else or felt desirable at all. And all of a sudden I had a boyfriend: a talented, intelligent, sweet, handsome boyfriend that treated me like a princess. Before too long, I was moving away to attend Snow College, and he was preparing to serve an LDS mission. We spent long hours on the phone. Sending him across the country to Philadelphia on his mission was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Every day my heart would ache for him. I longed to hold his hand and cuddle with him. I missed the sweet sound of his singing voice. And I missed having him around to cheer me up or calm my stress the way no one else could.

I wrote to him for the whole two years at least once and sometimes twice a week. I tried to keep my letters upbeat and spiritual. I heard from him much less often than that, but I knew he was busy, and when I did get a letter from him, I devoured it joyously. His mission experiences and faith uplifted me and I loved him more and more with each letter.

He seemed to write better during the second half of his mission after I wrote to him about someone I was dating. He wrote back panicked, told me that he could not imagine marrying anyone else and that he hoped I would still be available when he got home. I had an incredible spiritual experience while reading that letter, and I felt like I really should wait for him. Within two weeks of him getting home, we were engaged, and within three months we were married, sealed for eternity in the Salt Lake Temple.

Although I had always hoped to be a stay-at-home mom, I wisely finished my degree in math education within the first two years of our marriage and graduated from Utah State University with a toddler and another baby on the way. Circumstances led to my obtaining a teaching job a year later, and we felt it was right for me to work full time while Scott stayed home with the kids and worked on computer and graphic design projects to supplement our income. I had been going a bit crazy with two young children at home, and working helped me have a much-needed break so that I could be a better mom when I was at home. Our marriage improved drastically with some major financial problems behind us, and we soon bought a house closer to my job, which we enjoyed remodeling and decorating together.

When we spoke in church for the first time in our new LDS church ward, I introduced our little family. I said that Scott and I were kind of backwards when it came to gender roles: I worked while he was home with the kids; and he did most of the cooking and shopping, while I did most of the yard work.

Scott enjoyed making homemade chocolates for Christmas, and I would take them around to my friends at work. One time as I was handing them out, one of the ladies said, “Oh, what a pretty necklace!”

I thanked her and mentioned that Scott had made it for me for our anniversary, that it had become somewhat of a tradition of his to make jewelry for me every year. Then another lady said, “Did you get a haircut?”

“No,” I replied, “but Scott did color it for me last night.”

By this time, one of the men was raising his eyebrows and giving me a funny look. “He makes chocolates and jewelry, colors your hair, and stays home with the kids. Are you sure he’s not …?”

I laughed and assured, “No, he’s not. We are just kind of backwards. I work and mow the lawn; he cooks and stays home with the kids.” It was around that time that he was elders quorum president. We had been married several years and had three or four children. With whatever I knew or understood about homosexuality at that time (which I now know was very little), that could not be him. There was no way.

Back to My Sleepless Night

Around 3:00 a.m. on July 11, 2008, I got up, found my scriptures and went into the living room. I read my patriarchal blessing. I read Scott’s patriarchal blessing. I read the Book of Mormon. All three things brought me comfort. I went back to bed around 4:00 a.m. and finally slept for a while.

Then at 6:00 when the light started to come in the window, I woke up. The thoughts and questions filled my mind again. I desperately needed to sleep, but I couldn’t. Maybe some music would help me relax. I picked up my pocket PC (smartphone) and starting perusing my MP3s. The words of a song went through my head. “Where do we go from here?” I remembered that Brooke White had sung it on American Idol; it was from the movie version of Evita, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even though Scott still appeared to be sleeping, I listened to the song:

Where do we go from here?
This isn’t where we intended to be
We had it all, you believed in me
I believed in you
Certainties disappear
What do we do for our dream to survive?
How do we keep all our passions alive,
As we used to do?
Deep in my heart I’m concealing
Things that I’m longing to say
Scared to confess what I’m feeling
Frightened you’ll slip away
You must love me
You must love me
Why are you at my side?
How can I be any use to you now?
Give me a chance and I’ll let you see how
Nothing has changed
You must love me.

My quiet tears turned into audible sobs. I couldn’t believe how perfect the words were. I had to hear it again. I sobbed harder. I didn’t want to wake Scott, so I went to the kitchen to get some ibuprofen for my pounding headache. I got a cup from the cupboard, then turned to head toward the fridge for water.

Scott startled me as I caught a glance of him coming down the hall and into the kitchen. I was sure he had been asleep. Seeing him, I felt like he was a different person, like I had no idea who he really was; a stranger in my house. He had tears streaming down his face. He approached me tentatively and hugged me and said, “The second time through that song was too much to bear.” We hugged for a long time, crying together. He loosened his grip, looked me in the eyes and said, “I didn’t choose this. You understand that, right?” I nodded to comfort him. But in my heart, I did not know. And I kept thinking, “Where do we go from here?”

The Following Days and Months

The next day I started reading No More Goodbyes by Carol Lynn Pearson. I cried and cried through each agonizing story of self-hate and suicide. I previously had no idea that LGBT individuals lived with so much emotional pain. I read the quote on the first page of the section about mixed-orientation marriages: “Should I smile because we’re friends, or cry because that’s all we’ll ever be?”

My reality hit me like a brick. I went into the next room and shared the quote with Scott, but as I tried to read it I broke into tears and could not finish. That is when I started to really understand. That is when I started to really hurt, for him, for me, and for us. I decided I needed a break from the book. It had been a very emotional day.

The next morning I woke up early and could not sleep. I went into our closet and sat on the floor to read so that turning on the light would not wake Scott. I read about failed mixed-orientation marriages, and I came to the conclusion that our marriage was definitely not going to make it. I kept reading and cried and cried. Scott got up and showered. I wanted to keep reading, but we had planned to go to the temple, so I closed the book and got ready to go.

Scott could tell I was really upset but did not know exactly why. I was quiet during the ride to the temple. Scott was afraid to ask me to share what I was thinking and feeling. We attended a session. It brought some comfort, but still, my mind was tormented by the reality of the fear I faced. I could not be alone with four children to raise. I could not lose my best friend. I could not do it. Why me? What was really going to happen to us?

In the dressing room, one of the temple workers was the mother of a seminary council friend and former college roommate. She greeted me happily and asked about how our family was doing. I said we were fine, even though I desperately wanted to share with her what I was going through. I had not been able to share it with anyone except God, which was not enough. A few weeks later I found out that this lady had a gay son. I couldn’t help but think that maybe I was being prompted to tell her the truth about the turmoil in my life.

On the ride home, Scott was brave enough to ask me what I was thinking and feeling. I let it all out, and it felt good. I wished I had told him how I was feeling before we went to the temple. He told me some of his ideas of what felt right for the future, with a disclaimer that he had no idea what the future would actually bring. Some of his ideas were not very comforting, but he said that he could not imagine a future without me in it.

When I got home, I found some courage and began reading again. The next chapter happened to focus on positive mixed-orientation marriages and how some people are able to make them work out. Oh, how I wished I had kept reading before the temple, that I had gone with this comfort in my heart from Carol Lynn Pearson:

“I speak for romantic love. I speak, too, for trusting the mystery, for forgiveness, and for believing that love in all its forms once created can never be undone. And that not only in eternity, but here, hidden under the grey, all is well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Peace began to fill my heart, and I began to heal and to trust God that Scott and I were together for a reason, and no matter what the future might bring, we would have each other as friends, and all would somehow be well.

It was really nice to have the summer to process everything before I had to go back to school. Scott and I both began to devour the words of other gay Mormons on the Internet. Scott already had a blog and I decided to start my own blog at the end of August to help me write out my feelings and experiences, mainly for myself, but also for others who found themselves on a similar path.

We began to come out to important people in our lives, starting with Scott’s sister and then with his dad. After praying about it, we talked to our own children. We have never regretted that decision. We have continued to be completely honest with them through everything since, and even though it has not always been easy for them, it definitely has been the right thing to do, and they have been amazing.

Shortly after that, Scott wrote a letter to all of his ten siblings and step-siblings. The responses were varied, with those who were most active in the Church having the hardest time, and with others being incredibly supportive. I gradually began telling people in my family when the time seemed right.

Eventually, our bishop found out what was going on in our lives, despite the fact that we had both decided that we did not want him to know. Scott had not done anything wrong, so there was no need for repentance, and therefore no reason for him to know. We don’t know who called and told him, but his approach only deepened our agonizing struggle with the church. We had already been having a hard time with the church’s participation in the gay marriage ban in California, and with homophobic comments that came up during lessons at church.

As fast Sunday approached, we both felt prompted that Scott should share his story with our ward by bearing his testimony in sacrament meeting. The reactions and consequences of that decision are far-reaching, but neither of us can deny the feeling we had that it was the right thing to do at that time. I strongly felt the presence of his mother that day and of her love for him.

We began having monthly socials in our home in November 2008 for other gay Mormons and allies that we met through our blogs. We met so many amazing people, gave so many hugs, and made some of our dearest friends at our Moho (Mormon homosexual) parties. The events looked much like church socials with food and laughter. Our children always looked forward to them, and our friends fell in love with our children and their pure acceptance and trust of each of them.

In December, Scott was permitted to baptize and confirm our third child, Samuel. A few months later in August of 2009, we were unable to renew our temple recommends, because our leaders questioned whether we could say that we sustain our leaders, citing proof from our blogs. We were also apparently associating with groups whose teaching were not in harmony with the church, based on what neighbors had said about our socials, and then subsequently because we attended the 2009 Affirmation International Conference that September. Nevertheless, Scott was granted permission to ordain our second child and oldest son, Spencer, to the office of a deacon in October. Then we both took some time off from church attendance in an attempt to calm our anger and sort things out, while we continued to send our children.

The Dark Years

During this time we discovered that I was expecting our fifth child, which seemed impossible since Scott had a vasectomy the year before to prevent any new additions to our complicated situation. A six month follow up confirmed surgery success, but another visit to the doctor after my positive pregnancy test confirmed that he was miraculously fertile once again.

Thus began my first year from hell, when I was miserably sick from my pregnancy and Scott was letting go of me and our marriage emotionally. In July of 2010, a month following the birth of our last child, Scott wrote me a letter to say that he couldn’t do it anymore, that he would move downstairs for now, and then we could slowly proceed to work through the details of our divorce. Writing and sending this letter caused him to have a massive panic attack because he did not want to hurt me, but knew it was inevitable.

And so began my second year from hell. Scott resigned from the church after the threat of excommunication for apostasy. He began living a new life that included alcohol, clubbing, and dating men. He jumped into his gay adolescence at age 36, and though he still slept in my basement, I felt very much like a single parent of five. I was mourning several losses at the same time: my marriage, my close relationships with extended family, and many of my beliefs in the LDS Church. My church attendance ebbed and flowed for me and my children.

In July 2011, it was clear to both of us that life would be easier if Scott moved out. It was a day that proved to be one of the most difficult in my life. Gradually our relationship as friends improved, and eventually, we filed our divorce paperwork without any help from lawyers or mediation, celebrating its finality in June of 2016.

Finding Joy

Life over the last ten years has been an adventurous roller coaster ride for many reasons, and to be honest, I do not particularly like roller coasters. I organized a support group on Facebook for straight spouses and created a video sharing several of our stories. I’ve allowed my children to follow their own paths with regard to the church, and at this point, none of them want anything to do with the organization. My oldest child and only daughter identifies as demisexual panromantic and recently resigned her membership in the church. I am involved in several organizations, including PFLAG, Mama Dragons, and Affirmation. I also serve as the advisor of the gay-straight alliance at the school where I work. I’ve provided a home for several family members and friends for months or even years at a time, and many are now my dearest LGBTQIA friends.

As for the LDS Church, I’m no longer sure what I believe. But I continue to feel like I belong there, where I play the organ, sing in the choir, and associate with many wonderful people.

Overall, I am grateful for my journey and where I am and what I’ve become. I no longer struggle with feelings of low self-esteem. I have found joy in becoming independent, and I am generally happier than I think I’ve ever been. I continue to take medications for anxiety and depression, and I do still worry about what is true regarding God and those ingrained Mormon beliefs. I am sad that my associations with some family members are still strained and might never be any better. But overall, my life is at a point where I don’t worry so much about what the future will bring. I no longer feel stuck in a life that I don’t think I can endure. And most importantly, I find my greatest joy in helping others in any way that I can.

2 thoughts on “I Do Remember That the Thought Kept Going through My Mind, “Where Do We Go from Here?”

  1. Dear Sarah,
    Your story made me cry, profoundly so. Crying with empathy, crying with so many other emotions I can’t even identify. Dreams gone forever and might’ve-beens. Of my own ex-wife and the lost friendship. Crying for me. Crying for god, whomever She is. Thank you for writing it all out, your story. Like a church organ on tremolo, I shake and vibrate with the music you tell here.

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