I am about to share chapter 5 of my 2015 book. About the time I left the ministry, my son came out as a lesbian which was the precursor to coming out trans. I could not find a normal job at the time so I ended up driving a taxi cab for awhile. The book was about the lessons I learned about people and life in the taxi that I should have learned when I was a minister. I hope you find the story moving.
I am having a bit of unexpected emotions writing my church series. I will get back to it in time. But the comments from a leader in the UCC denomination regarding my concerns about the UCC‘s O and A program have left me speechless. I have a response written, but I want to ensure that my mind is clear before I post it. It is a conviction I have, but some lines in the sand are spaces you cannot come back from. My closest friends say I should and I am in the right, but I need to know that inside.
In the meantime, enjoy chapter 5 of “Night Moves: An Ex-Preacher’s Journey to Hell in a Taxi”. The book I wrote the published in 2015.
Chapter 5: First Love in the Back Seat of a Cab
One night I got a request for an alley pick up on the West side. Joliet is rather like two cities rolled up into one. The West side is relatively safe and very typical Chicago- area middle and upper- middle class. Not all alleys in the city are dark and dangerous affairs. In residential areas with narrow Chicago style bungalows, alleys are wide, well lit, and are where the detached garages are since the gables of the house run parallel to the street. For many people this is the back entrance.
This call was in one of the nicer areas on the West Side. As I pulled into the alley, a young girl was sitting by her garage. She gathered her trendy hemp bag with a large peace sign on it and hopped in quickly. We were off to a house about 2 miles away. She was a typical teenage girl of the Aeropostale/iPhone variety. We made a little small talk. When I dropped her off, she was very apologetic that she did not have a tip but she was using her allowance and needed to get home later. I assured her it was fine and went on my way. I did not think much of this. We get a lot of teenagers in the early evenings. Mostly they are going to the mall or the movies.
About a half an hour before curfew, I got a page for the same young lady to take her home. I pulled up and she got in beaming and looking like she had a wonderful time. I asked her if we were taking the front entrance or the alley. She looked evasive for a moment and said alley. When my child lies to me, the eyes avert and look up as if looking for a story or answer in the horizon. It was the same with this young lady. My dad instinct kicked in. I smiled and said, “Your parents don’t know, do they?”
She blushed and with a trembling voice replied, ”Um no. Am I in trouble? Are you gonna tell them or call a cop or something?”
I smiled, chuckled a little, “No. You are not in trouble and there is no one for me to tell. You are home before curfew and you are paying your fare. No laws are being broken.” I could see her relax a little. “So what’s his name?”
“Please, I was young once. I know the signs. The name of the boy who has you smiling and blushing.” I could almost hear her stiffen up in the back seat. Maybe I crossed the line into creepy old man? I hate creepy old men. I really just was trying to be polite. In a moment I was about to find out how much like my kid she was.
“If you must know, HE is a SHE. That’s kind of the problem and the big secret in my life.”
“Huh,” I said, “So, is this first love?”
I could hear her relax and she leaned closer to the front, ”I don’t know. I think so. I mean, I really like her and think about her all the time. I’ve never dated anyone before. I mean, it’s really hard to date when you’re gay and in school. Especially when you aren’t completely out. I mean, only a few of my friends know, ya know?”
“So mom and dad do not know?”
“God no!” She exclaimed. “They talk about the ‘gay agenda’ almost all the time. Especially after church. They are totally afraid of gay marriage and say it’s a sin and talk about how gay people are going to Hell all the time. How do I tell them that their daughter is a lesbian? They’ll send me to a camp or something. Maybe they won’t love me anymore.”
“You really think that would happen?”
“My uncle is gay and my mom and dad refuse to talk to him. I mean, he’s my mom’s brother. They grew up together and stuff and now she says he’s a degenerate and talks about how he could be a child molester or something. I mean, what is wrong with them? If she wrote off her own brother…” She stopped and I could hear her voice choke up as she struggled to hold back tears.“Kiddo, I’m sorry. We’re here.” I said as I cut off the meter and pulled into the alley behind her house. With trembling hands she handed me her money and asked me if I had to go to another fare. I cut off the engine so the roar of a Crown Vic did not disturb anyone. “Nah. If I get a page, I’ll have to go. What’s up?”
“I just do not know what to do. Do I come out now or come out later? What do I do about my family and the kids at school who say horrible things about the gay and lesbian kids?”
I took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “I don’t know. You gotta come out when you are ready to. The good news is you can tell whomever you want whenever you want. For now, you control the dialogue. You can tell whomever you wish. You are in control of that. What you are not in control of is the reactions of other people. I’d love to give you a magic formula of how to say it and promise you that everyone will still love you and that no one will bully you. Truth is, I can’t. It’s not the world we live in. We live in a world with some parents who don’t love their kids unconditionally and we also live in a world where people bully others and say cruel things. Horrible things. You can’t control that. But they are wrong. God, they are wrong.”
“How do you know all this stuff? Are you gay?” She asked.
I chuckled a little, “No. I’m not gay but I remember a scared little kid coming out to me. My child’s voice trembling with whole body shaking, and all I did was say that I love you and not a damn thing changed. Practically collapsed in my arms and cried and we just held each other in a park for what felt like an eternity.”
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “I wish my dad were like you.”
“Thanks, kiddo. I also know what it is like to hear cruel words spewed at an innocent person. The little one I told you about was outed by a friend without consent. Spent the rest of that school year with a target on the back and was called horrible names. They tore the light out of my child’s eyes and it takes work to get that light back. I’ve also seen how ignorant people use the Bible and church to hurt. It makes me so angry.”
We spent the rest of the time talking about dating. She needed an adult to tell about her dating experience and she had no one to talk to about this. We talked about the butterflies you get when the right person walks in a room. We talked about how a crush has a lot in common with flu-like symptoms. Your stomach turns, you feel dizzy, and so on. Unlike the flu, it somehow feels good. She asked me questions about dating in general. All the stuff parents and kids should talk about dating.
My paging system went off to give me details of my next fare. Cinderella’s coach had returned to a pumpkin and it was time for her to go home. She thanked me so much for being the best driver and dad she ever met. She left having shared the details of her night, her girlfriend, and her butterfly ridden heart all aflutter. These are conversations young lovers should share not only with friends, but with mom and dad, not a cabbie. These are the things that kids today Instagram and make Vines about to share their romance. She lives in a closet and fears pics and posts about her.
Like Romeo and Juliet, they hide from their families who would not approve of their love. It seems in this love story, the Montague and Capulet families are not at odds. They belong to the same golf club and church and get along just fine. Maybe the trials this young lady face are not on the same level as a teen on the east side living on public aid with gun shots going off in the night. Still, hurt is hurt and fear of a parent not loving you is scary. Fear of being bullied in school can damage an already fractured self-esteem.
A few weeks after that event, I was in the mall with my child. I saw the young lady walking with some of her friends. She saw me and smiled and waved. I grinned back. She pointed at my kiddo and mouthed ‘yours?’ I nodded. At this point I realized something. She was holding a girl’s hand. Right there in the middle of the mall. I mouthed back the name of her girlfriend. She nodded. I gave her a thumbs up and chuckled as I saw my kiddo and my young fare’s girlfriend look at us like we were both nuts.
Over the last several months, I have seen her in my cab a few times. Sometimes she is with her girlfriend and other times she is just with friends. They go to the mall, the bookstore, the movies, and all the other places that teenagers go. Normal teenagers. Like her.
Her friends are sometimes confused that she talks to a cab driver about her grades and her school activities. Some of them are getting used to it and join in the conversation.
I do not know if she has told her family or come out. I do know that every time she sees me she lights up. In the night I often feel helpless to make a difference. This time, a difference was made.
*Author’s Note* This chapter is mildly edited. When I wrote the book my son was not fully out as trans. He and I agreed the book could have his assigned gender, but it is difficult for me to repost the words with dead-name and assigned gender. Forgive a liberty or two in editing.