Updated: Aug 17
By Monica Matthews
I learned about foreshadowing in college during a Film Noir course. Foreshadowing is often used in movies to drop subtle hints on what is to come. Sometimes, whether we realize it at the time or not, foreshadowing occurs in our own lives, too.
As we age, all of our childhood memories seem to become movies in our minds. In 1973, when I was six years old, my mother handed me an ice cream cone one summer day. I had been waiting for it with great anticipation. What should have been a delightful moment of sugar-spun dreams that only children understand, became the worst kind of film noir for a six year old child. It was a movie that earned an R-rating in my mind, but a G-comedy in those of my older siblings and cousins who witnessed it. Laughter and teasing ensued while I sat there feeling shamed and shrieking, with tears rolling down my face, afraid to lick my ice cream cone. You see, my cone was flawed. The laughter and teasing had clued me in to that, quickly.
We had all piled into the station wagon to head back home after an Oregon coast trip. My mother and Aunt Dee handed us kids hand-scooped ice cream cones; the pale-yellow ones that taste similar to cardboard-infused sugar mixed with a pleasant array of merriment and joy. In the seventies, some cone brands added something else to that cone of joy – names! You were lucky if you got a cone that had a beautiful or cool name on it like “Mary” or “Jim”; and even luckier if you were handed a cone with your very own name on it! That day, I was handed the cone named “Gay”.
In my mind, eating from an ice cream cone that was named Gay, while being laughed at, fell into the same category of childhood shame and humiliation that Hollywood movies have failed to fully capture on screen. I was living this reality. With a full-flushed face and my childish curious mind, I failed to understand what was wrong with this name. Did gay not mean happy and joyful? What was the joke in a name like Gay? That day all I knew was that being gay or having the name Gay was funny – but only to those who did not have it. Going forward I knew I never wanted that Gay cone again!
Foreshadowing was setting the stage. At the age of fourteen, I had forgotten all about the Gay ice cream cone. One summer afternoon we were having another family gathering; this time with my Uncle Roy who was visiting from the east coast. While all my aunts and uncles were strolling along our scenic lawn that sat nestled above a small lake, I noticed something for the first time. Uncle Roy was walking with a stride that had enough sway and bounce in it that it might have created ripples and waves on our lake had he been a tiny bit closer to the shore. Not only did his hips sway, but his hands seemed to have a voice all their own. And curiously, I had no idea who this man was walking beside him who he had brought all the way from North Carolina.
Sitting in my sister’s room that evening, I asked her why Uncle Roy had never married? Who was his friend he had brought with him to our house? Why did he not have any children (children equated to cousins for me; purely self-serving)? My sister looked at me and chuckled. She stared at me just long enough, with that kind of look that reminds every younger sister that she will always be the stupid younger sister. She responded with, “He’s a homosexual.” I replied, “A what?” She followed up with, “You know… ‘gay’.” And there it was again, that word, Gay. “Gay?” I responded, “What does that mean?” She remarked, “It means Uncle Roy likes other men, and the friend he brought is his boyfriend.”
Homosexual. A man liking the same sex. Gay. Surprisingly, I hadn’t known that existed – but it was all coming back to me. I now had a lot to think about. All these years I had wondered why getting handed an ice cream cone with the name Gay on it had made me the joke. Now I knew. Loving someone of the same sex was funny. It was a joke people laughed about and spoke silently about, but most importantly, kept hidden. Why had my mother never mentioned this? I figured the answer must be just like the letters S-E-X (spelled out). There are some things we just didn’t talk about it. I thought it through and did the math. Sex was something we only did to have a baby. For that reason, I calculated that my parents had had sex a whole six times. Furthermore, my uncle was gay. It was also a secret and so he was probably only one of ten gay men in the world. His secret was safe with me.
As the years rolled on, I became more aware and educated, but stereotypes, beliefs, and judgments are buried deep. They are buried in ice cream comes and family gatherings. They are buried in laughter, jokes, religion, and unspoken truths. I thought homosexuality was wrong, but my movie wasn’t over yet and the foreshadowing was just beginning.
In the 1990’s, when I was in my twenties, my Uncle Roy would devastatingly become part the first generation to die of AIDS. I worked at Nordstrom’s in Portland, Oregon, with several gay young men at the time. Portland was full of LGBTQ people and it was also full of some of those same people losing their lives. I was observing something new. Apparently my uncle was not one of ten – he was one of thousands. My mind began to shift and open some more.
As my movie played out and I continued to learn and grow, I married and had my own family. Having children is based on the luck of the draw. We accept and love what is uniquely given to us. We wait with hopes and anticipation, for that delightful moment of sugar-spun dreams that only mothers know, when they hand us that bundle of joy. With a name, no name yet, cleft lip, birthmarks, Down syndrome, perfect, or imperfect – that child is ours. It is a moment of perfection. The moment we become mothers is the moment that teaches us life. And yet that moment has no name. You give it the name you want; some just call it love. Then as mothers, we sit back and watch these unique beings blossom and grow. We observe. We love unconditionally.
In October 2016, my ten year old son Zander sent me a text while riding home on his school bus that read, “Mom, I’m gay”. I read that text, but I already knew (observation and foreshadowing). I smiled and thought to myself, “This is the best ice cream cone anyone has ever handed to me.”