The ache of watching a loved one grow smaller was hard enough. But I also wasn’t prepared for the way care-taking would force me to tamp down my queerness — and to become smaller myself.
Despite coming out to my grandpa years ago, I still internalized the pressure to mute essential aspects of my identity, to shield him from the “distressing” truth of my own queerness. I spoke with a deeper voice around him. I hid my romantic life. And because he had always nagged me about landing that “better job,” I leaned into the role of a straight-laced go-getter with a future in management. I wordlessly stuffed the creative queerdo I know myself to be back in the closet.
When I was younger, I always envisioned caring for my elders as something that would happen in a distant era “later on.” Maybe I’d have salt-and-pepper hair and bifocals and be doing yawn-worthy, respectable office work. That future version of me is more mature, established and utterly unrecognizable. He is actually ready for that responsibility.
At first, my mother, the poet Anne Atik, had seemed just ordinarily confused. Then, very gradually, the confusion took on a pathological aspect. She...