About The Book
The signs had always been there. Her husband was distant. Angry. He withdrew if she so much as lightly brushed his shoulder. Still, nothing prepared Margherita Gale Harris for the day when Mark—a physician and Episcopal priest—confessed to having sexual encounters with men he met in restrooms. Faced with his shocking betrayal, she wondered if their entire marriage was a lie.
Mark attended Sexual Addicts Anonymous, they both sought counseling, but nothing really changed between them. When Gale finally told her husband of thirty-five years to leave, the road to healing would be rough. How could she forgive Mark for lying? How could she forgive herself for staying? But support came from unexpected corners: new friends, old classmates … and the daughter she’d given up for adoption so long ago.
Except in the case of well-known figures introduced by first and last names, I have changed names and other identifying details to respect personal privacy. I have also changed several place names.
This is my journey in its fullest truth as I remember it. Some of the dialogue and memories were based on written materials, some were based on my journals, and still others on conversations I had with other individuals.
My memoir is perhaps best understood when read in the context of the social stigmas prevalent during the last half of the twentieth century. If encountered today, many of the unspoken taboos that are woven into the fabric of my story would be discussed openly. Information technology has transformed our lives.
I have written my story because I hope it will be an instrument for positive change in the lives of the people who read it. If you find that it is, please pay it forward.
I’ve been a terrible mother, she said as she leaned slightly forward in Dad’s old upholstered armchair.
Will you ever forgive me?
I took a quick breath and swallowed hard as I tried to hold back my tears. Mom reached for the Kleenex box on the mahogany piecrust table next to her and handed me a tissue as she blew her own nose.
I felt the jailer had set me free. What’s to forgive, Mom? It’s all over now. It’s all okay. Don’t worry.
It wasn’t until then that I realized how tiny and frail she was. Her high cheekbones were fl ushed, and her dark, curly hair was streaked with silver. I watched as she put on her rimless glasses. The spare oxygen tank was nestled next to her chair.
Was it . . . was I really that bad?
I could hardly hear her whisper and leaned forward to catch her words. For a split second, old wounds churned within me as I wondered what had made her change. Then, realizing I’d never know for certain, I said, No, Mom, not really. Look at all the folks we’ve
known: some were alcoholics, some committed suicide, and some had several dads. I’m not walking the streets, so no, it wasn’t that bad.
Do you want to talk about it now? She ran her hands over her blue silk robe.
Not really. I don’t know what I’d say. We’ve been at it so long, and suddenly I don’t feel so angry anymore. I relaxed into the sofa. It was the fi rst time in my entire life I could remember feeling comfortable with her.
The living-room curtains were drawn back, and the cool warmth of the Indian summer sun spread across the thick beige carpet. Outside the window, the old horse-chestnut tree was almost bare. It was 1987. Dad had died seven years earlier. The house still felt empty without him.
If there’s anything I can tell you that would help, she began to explain. I’ve buried a lot way down deep. . . . Dropping her arm over the edge of her chair, she twisted her hand back and forth as if working a stake into the ground. Then, looking up at me, she sighed. I leave in a few weeks for California, you know. When I come back, after winter, if you think it would help, we can talk longer. I’ll do anything that will make it easier for you or the children.
The late-afternoon sun touched her face. She was nearing eighty and still a stunning woman. Maybe we can learn to be playful with one another. She gave me a small smile.
I’d like that, Mom.
We continued talking for another hour, and I almost forgot that we’d never been friends. She wanted to hear about my kids and about me, and at last I was able to share with her without fear of reprisal. I remembered then how animated she could be, gesturing with
her hands. I bent over to give her a kiss good-bye and caught the scent of her favorite perfume, Guerlain’s Tea Rose. Our eyes met for the fi rst time as equals.
Years later, as I lived through the painful events to come, I more fully understood the gift she gave me that day. But then, deep within my heart, her longed-for words and her willingness to accept me as I was had already begun to heal me. The sense of having a mother after all, of being valued and cared for, made me feel more confi dent, and I would need that self-assurance, as I was about to meet challenges that would threaten my life.