This week, Guiding Light viewers were treated to something we've been waiting for, as Rafe confronted Natalia with his discovery: that Natalia and Olivia are more than just friends. True to form, the writers have not sold us down the river, or sold out.
Rafe's Reaction: Forgive Him, He Knows Not What He Does
Some Otalia fans are bound to be furious about Rafe's reactions to this revelation: he starts out confused, moves to anger, and eventually storms off in pure disgust. As someone championing Otalia, this was difficult to watch. Who, after all, isn't ready for Natalia and Olivia to have more than one or two moments of happiness together? The course of true love never runs smoothy on soaps, though, and Otalia face more profound hurdles than most struggling couples.
From the very beginning , one of the most attractive things about the Otalia story line has been the fact that writers haven't taken any short cuts. The truth is that, in most places in America, it is not easy for two women to enter into a romantic relationship without there being repercussions - from family, friends, neighbors, etc. Rafe's reaction to the news that his mother has fallen in love with another women is painful to watch in part because it's realistic. Few 19 year old boys would welcome such a revelation with hearts and flowers. The fact that Rafe has been raised in the Catholic faith only serves to intensify his feelings of revulsion, and his righteous indignation. He looks for logical explanations to assuage his fears: Olivia has forced Natalia into this....Olivia is holding something over Natalia....Natalia is in love with the idea of Gus' heart. His final grasp: Natalia has needed care and security that Olivia has been able to provide while he's been in prison - but he's out, now, and ready to take charge of the situation and take care of his mother.
Rafe's reaction is painful to witness, but it's honest and, more importantly, there's a certain legitimacy to it. And by "legitimacy" I don't mean "correctness." I mean his reaction comes from a legitimate place - from the only place he has. The heart of Rafe's reaction lies in his statement/question about the many hours spent at church, the candles lit, the time the Riveras have spent on their knees, praying. Rafe's reaction is ugly, but it makes sense. Given his background and his upbringing - it is, really, the only reaction we can expect from him.
When Rafe asks about "the man" he's "supposed to be", he might as well be saying to Natalia: You made me...you made this...you raised me to believe in certain things: the sanctity of male/female relationships, the importance of following church doctrine to the letter, the concept of a son becoming man of the house and taking charge....you poured all of this into me, and now you've pulled the rug out from under my feet. You have betrayed every single thing you've ever taught me.
Imagine you have been raised vegetarian for ethical/animal rights reasons, and that you have never even tasted meat because you feel that killing animals for any reason is wrong. Imagine then that one day, when you're 19 or so, you're eating a sandwich and discover a slab of beef hidden in it. Wouldn't your mind naturally fill with images of the abattoir? Wouldn't you be confused by this unfamiliar food? And then angry at having been secretly fed flesh? And then repulsed by the idea that an animal had been slaughtered in order to make that sandwich? Wouldn't you curse the sandwich maker, and get as far away from them as possible?
Rafe Rivera has just been served a big, old lesbian sandwich the likes of which his Catholic upbringing has not prepared him for. He reacts in the only way he can react because he has been raised within the narrow confines of a church that has no room for same-sex love, and has provided him with little room for critical thinking. A sad, painful reaction to witness, but a realistic one.
More worth noting, in my opinion, is Natalia's part in this confrontation.
Natalia's Response: Hold Fast To That Which is Good
I've read several posts from people who found the Rafe/Natalia confrontation worrying. They worry that Natalia will cave, that she'll give in to her guilt, and acquiesce to her son's angry pressure. While it may be true in the short term that Natalia will wrestle with the price she may be asked to pay for declaring her love for Olivia, her words and actions tell me that she has every intention of staying the course.
"Oh my God" : On realizing that her secret is out, these are Natalia's first words. It's true that Natalia has dreaded this moment, and found ways to avoid telling Rafe the truth, but it's also true that she's been incredibly bold in embracing what she has found with Olivia. Remember - Olivia gave her every opportunity to walk away and pretend their feelings for one another didn't exist. When Olivia retreated, it was Natalia who teased her out of hiding and basically declared that pursuing and embracing the gift which the world has offered them is the right thing to do. How many times have we heard Natalia talk abut how "God is love"? She's said it to Olivia. She's said it to Father Ray. It's this very concept, and her faith in it, that gives her the fortitude to go forward and pursue happiness with Olivia. Her "Oh, my God" isn't, in my opinion, an indication of shame about her relationship. It's an expression of regret - regret that Rafe has found out in a way that she hasn't planned. Natalia has hoped for a gentle, loving atmosphere in which to tell Rafe about the best thing in her life. His discovery has destroyed any possibility of this, and turned what could have been a sweet, intimate family moment revolving around the happy miracle of love into an abrupt, seedy expose' of what Rafe obviously perceives as an ugly secret. "Oh, my God", indeed.
"I can't tell you that" : When Rafe demands that his mother tell him that her relationship with Olivia will be over soon, Natalia is gentle but emphatic in her refusal. How much easier wouldn't it have been for Natalia to calm the waters by giving in to this request? She cannot and will not do this, though. If there's one thing we know about Natalia, it's that she's true. She's not the type of person to pay lip service to anyone or anything. If she believes a thing, she doesn't just say it - she lives it. She does, however, believe in the power of words, and that, once something is said, it can't be unsaid. She and Olivia discuss this after Olivia's graveside confession. Natalia will not appease her son by saying that her relationship with Olivia will be over soon because she doesn't believe in saying that which one does not truly mean. She has no intention of ending her relationship with Olivia or turning her back on her own feelings. She can no more promise to end things with Olivia than she could recite marriage vows to Frank.
"It's not weird - it's love": This may seem like a minor statement, but remind yourself that it's coming from a woman who, just a few months ago stood in the gazebo and said, about her feelings for Olivia, "Whatever this is...this doesn't happen in my world." The same woman who, minutes after confessing her love for Olivia asked, "What is it that we're feeling?" In both real time, and soap time, Natalia has shifted from confusion and uncertainty to a quiet sort of steely resolve: what she feels for Olivia (with whom it "feels right", and who she "needs") is most definitely not weird. It's love. It's a simple declaration, but a profound one.
There will certainly be a rough road ahead, and I suspect Natalia will have a good deal of guilt to deal with. However, I'm not so sure her guilt will be around the love she shares with Olivia. If it is, I'll be disappointed: the writers have already laid this to rest by having Natalia sit in church, holding Olivia's hand and "being together"....by having Natalia counter Father Ray's arguments with scripture....by having Natalia say, out loud, "I don't want to give up anything - I want all of the things that people in love share."
No- if the writers stay the course, and continue to present a story that challenges and provokes, the guilt Natalia faces will revolve around the narrow parameters she has allowed Rafe to grow up within, and the part that her parenting choices have played in his being so judgmental and self-righteous. This is not to say that Natalia will or should turn her back on her faith, but that, if this plays out the way I hope it will, she will find herself wishing she'd raised her son to embrace his faith while still following his heart and his instincts. There is a difference, after all, between having faith and allowing someone else to do all of the thinking.