“The Miller Family Reunion” by Dennis Milam Bensie
A heatwave engulfs the hometown pavilion. You’re uneasy as you park the car. About sixty relatives are already setting up the food on the picnic tables.
This is your new wife’s first Miller family reunion. She sits next to you in the car pensively biting her nails. It’s been a busy few weeks and she’s tired from packing up the apartment. After graduation at the community college, you’re moving to Chicago so you can finish your bachelor’s degree.
“Do I look alright?” she asks.
“You look fine. I like that blouse,” you answer. You know that she likes it when you throw a random compliment at her. She’s not used to compliments.
You make your wife carry her own covered dish to the event. What she made is a bit “white trash”: Twinkies shredded into vanilla pudding with Cool Whip topping. Hopefully nobody notices who brought it and passes judgment. Both of you hope to get through this day without embarrassing yourselves.
“Oh, you’re finally here,” your mom says.
The chit-chat starts. Waves of kin are swarming the picnic like flies.
“Why aren’t you introducing Julia to anyone?” Mom whispers to you.
You don’t answer. It’s glaringly obvious to your Mom that you have absolutely no intention of showing off your new wife. She saves her daughter-in-law from humiliation while you wandered over to the food table. You can’t help noticing the Twinkie dish is already a big hit.
“This is Julia ….Derrick’s new wife,” she says over and over to anyone who will listen.
“Welcome to the family, Julia.”
The day is slow and hum-drum until you see your cousin, Jeremiah, ride into the park on his noisy motorcycle. He made the five hour trip from Chicago to surprise his parents at the Miller family reunion. No one’s seen or heard much of him in the last few years.
Jeremiah’s mom and dad run to greet their leather-clad son at his motorcycle. His parents are overjoyed, but there are gasps from other relatives when he takes off his jacket and reveals he’s got a plethora of tattoos. Even your jaw drop at the sight of his new look. You are the same age, but he’s transformed himself into one of those alternative-types.
There’s mumblings from a few of your hateful uncles.
“He’s not a real biker, if you know what I mean,” Uncle Mic says under his breath. You cringe at his redneck comment.
“This is Julia, Derrick’s new wife,” your mom announces to your Jeremiah. “The happy couple is moving to Chicago in a few weeks.”
Your wife cautiously shakes the biker’s hand.
“I’m sure you will make a lot of new friends in the big city, Derrick,” Jeremiah says with a confident grin. His voice hasn’t changed a bit. He still sounds like the boy next door.
Your cousin has caught you starring at his sexy tattoos. They’re like a messy buffet arranged here and there on his chest, arms and even his neck. You can’t help but notice that some of them are pretty “gay”.
Jeremiah quickly fixes a plate of food for himself. More and more relatives arrive but he sticks closely to his folks and doesn’t mingle. Your wife nervously laughs when she sees a big helping of her Twinkie dessert on his plate.
Aunt Winnie, the obnoxious one, blows a whistle and the Miller family shift their focus to the far end of the pavilion for some boring family presentation complete with a podium and enlarged photos. You make your way to the park restroom and have a quick, secret smoke. Jeremiah’s the one who taught you to smoke back in middle school and you hope he will follow you there so you two can talk privately. Sadly, he isn’t following you.
Making your way back to the family, you notice that Jeremiah and his bike are gone. You’re disappointed and you take a spot in the back corner of the pavilion by yourself. Your wife’s sitting near the front of the crowd with your parents. She has no idea that you are not taking her with you to Chicago. This is definitely the only Miller family reunion she will ever attend. It may be your last one, too.
You notice that Jeremiah has left already. The rest of the family sits for over an hour in the hot park shelter and share happy memories. But nobody talks about how Aunt Lucy is a drunk, or how Bobby beats his wife and kids. Everyone knows that Grandpa almost divorced Grandma back in the early 1970’s but nothing like that is being said.
You still love the crazy relatives, but wish that someone had the guts to acknowledge that you, Jeremiah and your Aunt Linda are all gay. Everyone already knows the truth. It would mean a lot if someone spoke up at the family tribute and proclaimed that the three of you are all smart and worthy people. You’re just as good as anyone else in the family despite your sexuality.
Getting out of your parents house and marrying a woman seemed like the right thing a year ago. You didn’t know then what you’ve know now. The next step is to get a divorce and finish college so you can follow your dream in a tolerant city. You know you can’t be happy married to a woman and living in this small town. Hopefully your wife will forgive you someday.
After the family tribute is over, your mom puts a small piece of paper in your hand. There’s a phone number and email address on it.
“Jeremiah had to leave early, but he wanted me to give this to you. He said to be sure and let him know when you get to town and he can help you and Julia get acquainted with Chicago,” she says.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll be sure to call him,” you tell her and put the piece of paper in your pocket.
Dennis Milam Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by The Ink and Code, Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, The Round Up, Fuck Fiction, Cease Cows, and This Zine Will Change Your Life and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, which was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.