‘If he’s coming, there’s no reason why you should not be coming.’
So said Roger about the christening of his grandson, as I was talking to him over the phone.
Roger had been my partner for the last four years (both of us divorced for many years, with two grown up children each.) The ‘he’ he was talking about was the new partner of his ex-wife (name unknown – to this day).
It looked like I was going to have to come to the christening of David, the son of Roger’s daughter Sandra. It also looked like this event could be pretty awkward. Roger’s ex-wife would be there, his son Vincent too. Roger was no longer on speaking terms with either of them.
Roger’s strained marriage had culminated in a divorce. For years, he had felt manipulated by his ex-wife, and had been cheated out of quite a few possessions when the push came to shove. As for his son, Roger was avoiding him like the plague. For his father, Vincent was a troublemaker – full stop. The one who had stolen from his parents. The one who had got his young and inexperienced girlfriend in the family way, as they say, which brought her to have an abortion. Roger thought too, that he had beaten her. Yet, in spite of his questionable personality and his troubled past, Vincent was to be David’s godfather.
Needless to say, Roger was not enthused about going to the christening. He loathed family get togethers, anyway. But he did not want to make Sandra unhappy. So he had agreed to come – with me… as a shield?
As for myself, I did not mind going to the christening. To me, christenings were, and are, a nice tradition: the welcoming of a new child by community. This is probably why Sandra wanted her son to be christened. Nobody in Roger’s family was particularly religious.
With family tensions at the forefront of her planning, she was busy organising the big day, dealing with the invitations, the ceremony, the restaurant, while trying to prevent as many hiccups as possible. She wanted to have her son christened in the presence of her closest family members; she did not want a war with blood running.
As the event became closer, I rummaged through my wardrobe to find a suitable outfit. Maybe Roger wants to show me off, I thought silently… Did I have something suitable? What do people wear on these occasions? I settled for a black and white ensemble.
On the day of the christening, Roger and I arrived late. Roger could not get into his suit [these men!] and he miscalculated the time we needed to drive to the little French town where the catholic church ceremony was going to take place.
Sandra, surrounded by her guests, waved to us as she saw our car coming, before showing us her watch, obviously bursting with impatience.
We stopped, we parked, and we stepped out of the car. Roger nodded and smiled to a few people. I faced the small crowd and felt the stares upon myself. So that’s her, I could hear their minds thinking. I did not know a single soul, but here I was, smiling and kissing whoever was coming to greet us.
I followed everyone into the church. On my way in, I found myself walking next to a lady with brown hair. She must be Roger’s ex-wife, his Spanish ex, I told myself. Why shouldn’t I talk to her?
‘You are Pia, I suppose?’
‘Yes I am.’
‘Ola! Buenas tardes,’ I said with my best Spanish accent, trying to make a friendly overture.
Pia smiled, and we dispersed ourselves around the priest, who was standing next to Sandra, her partner and their son.
The ceremony went like clockwork. The speech, the water poured over the baby’s forehead, the photos, the whole lot. I took in the whole ceremony, and did not try to figure out who was who.
We came out of the church. Lifts were organised for everyone to get to the restaurant where the meal was taking place. I sat down in the front, next to Sandra who was driving. Roger was in the back seat.
Sandra started to talk.
‘Dad, did you notice anything in the church, about Vincent?’
‘No, I did not. Was there something to be noticed?’
‘Hum… Vincent came with someone.’
‘Oh, he’s got a girlfriend. That’s nice,’ I said encouragingly.
‘It’s not a girlfriend,’ Sandra added awkwardly, ‘it’s a… boyfriend.’
I broke the uneasy pause which followed, with a statement which boomed throughout the car.
‘But that’s nothing to worry about!’ I said, making a wide gesture as an invitation for tolerance.
Sandra was pulling a face, obviously uncomfortable with her brother’s newly acquired sexual orientation.
‘Well, when I heard about this…’ she said.
No bleep from Roger. He was chewing on the news.
We finally reached the restaurant – we:
– the gay godfather, with boyfriend in tow;
– the unmarried parents of the christened baby;
– the maternal grandparents, divorced, each with their new partner.
Some catholic christening.
At the restaurant, Sandra had organised the sitting of her guests at several tables, according to who was to avoid who. Roger and I sat next to some relatives of David’s father, and I talked with them and laughed several times, listening to stories from other families, hearing of other dissentions. Boy, it was not only us, the weirdos.
And for all I knew, maybe I was chatting with closeted cross dressers? With BDSM adepts? With lustful swingers? Tell me, who isn’t a weirdo?
The meal was nice, lovely actually, with a traditional christening cake to top it off. We opened the presents; I had brought an outfit for little David. The weather was beautiful so Roger and I went for a walk outside. Vincent, who was sitting next to his mother at the other table, took smiling selfies of himself and his boyfriend. Meanwhile, some of the guests played football with the kids in front of the restaurant. If boundaries were upheld, everyone was well behaved, and maybe too, was having a good time. I certainly was enjoying myself.
At the end of the afternoon, I went to say goodbye to Pia. Roger and I got into his car and we drove back, commenting on the day.
‘Everything worked out fine,’ I said, with Roger nodding, ‘as for Vincent…’
‘That’s his life, after all,’ he replied.
‘It sure is. Having someone in his life might help him to settle down,’ I added, confidently, ‘do you think the priest has seen what was going on?’
‘I don’t know,’ replied Roger, ‘he’s known us for a long time, anyway.’
Maybe, even for that catholic priest, what was once completely taboo and unacceptable is now just more or less fine. At least, it is in some circles.
We then both fell silent, each taking stock of the events we had seen played out during the day.
I thought back of that priest, a kindly, warm and informal celebrant, who had told us about St. Mary, the saint who had christianised our area. I imagined St Mary, a man bearing a name usually for women, clad in a robe and soft spoken when telling the good news to rough and hairy barbarians. Was St Mary a gender bending dude?… Mmm… Food for thought.
‘What a strange but lovely day,’ I told myself, in a final reflexion.
In the following years, Roger kept away from his ex-wife and his son, but we heard from them. His ex-wife got sick again; the ‘he’ who had ventured into her life died shortly after the christening; Vincent broke up with his boyfriend (rumour has it that he found another one). David was diagnosed as having a genetic disorder and is, to this day, an only child. His parents did not get married, but are now civil partners. It looks like their relationship is going well. Roger and I are still together in spite of our living apart. Yes, together while living apart, not to mention the distance between each other. A strange world, surely… One where relationships, family ties, are reinvented every day. But Roger and I see each other regularly, and we sometimes joke about filing for divorce when we have different views. We also took the opportunity to visit Sandra and her family again. Every now and then, Sandra and I exchange messages through Facebook.
Again and again, when I think back of that strange but lovely day, I cannot but be struck by its strange premises. But what I think, too, is the following: that each one of us can bring change into this world, sizing every opportunity of our daily lives, through family get togethers, work events, chats with our neighbours, to make a difference in the world we live in and where we can be ourselves, with no need to hide. A world where ‘weirdness’ does not have to be repressed. We should remember that bringing cultural change is an everyday business for us, weirdos.
Story by Jocelyne Rigal
Illustration by Tigrowna