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One of my favorite neighbors lives two doors down. He’s a fabulously frumpy and usually mostly grumpy old man with a heart of gold. I’ve written about him before, just after we had our first and one of my favorite quick conversations of all time. He has a little terrier named Lily that he walks with every day for several hours. They’ll leave sometime late morning and if I catch them walking by my house we’ll come up with some quick and amusing banter and then off they’ll go until late afternoon at least. Raymond loves Lily. He’s said more than a few times, “Yep, this little gal’s my best friend, I guess.”
Any time I catch him on the start or end of his walk he’ll tell me one of three stories about Lily that I have heard somewhere between 10 and 50 times already. I’m not sure if he realizes he keeps telling the same stories or if he even cares. I listen, quickly realizing which of the three it’s going to be and laugh where I did the first time. As the story unfolds I say, “oh wow” exactly where I should and where I did the first time I heard it, and eventually end with some sort of closer like, “Well, at least you’ll never need an exterminator” just like I do each time I hear it.
A few weeks ago I noticed him walk by without the dog. I opened my front door and asked, “Hey, Raymond, where’s Lily?” He stopped walking and sort of shouted, “Who?”
“Your dog, Lily.” I said.
“He looked away and at the ground and said, “Oh her. Eagle got her last weekend. She’s gone.”
This was not one of the three stories I had ever heard and if I had heard correctly it seemed an unbelievable one. “What?!” I yelped. “What do you mean an eagle got her?”
Raymond, still looking at the ground, said, “Yep. Was up in the mountains with her, like we do. Let her off the leash, like I do, and she never came back. I seen that eagle before. I know that’s what got her. So, Lily’s gone.”
All I could say was “wow” and “I’m so, so sorry, Raymond.”
He finally looked up at me and said, “Ya well, there’s a little puppy in Olympia I already picked out. Still suckling so I gotta wait a few more weeks. Same breed. Only difference is she’s got two black eyes.” (Lily had a big black spot over her left eye.)
“Well, that’s great. What are you going to name her?” I asked.
Raymond thought a minute. “Think I’ll name her the same. Call her Lily.”
I’m not going to lie, I thought this was a bit strange, but the whole story was strange and the poor guy just lost his little best friend to a huge bird so I immediately replied, “Well, that sounds like a great idea.”
He started to walk his long walk alone and I went back inside and on with my day.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tonight, a few weeks after that conversation, I ran into Raymond again. He patted The Seal and told me the same two stories he always does about labs (one is about how great their shit is for growing flowers) and I asked, “So, when is the new pup coming home?”
Raymond smiled big and said, “Two weeks.”
I told him he needed to bring her by as soon as she showed up and asked if he was still going to name her Lily. He said, “Well, everyone wants to name her Jazz.” I replied that I thought that sounded like a great name.
He responded, “Ya well, I like Lily best.”
“Well, Raymond, it’s your dog, name her what you want.” I said.
Raymond nodded his head back and forth, “Well, there’s another person involved with this new dog and her name.” (I assumed correctly that he was talking about his ex wife.)
I asked, “Does this other person with a say happen to be a woman?”
He smiled and nodded.
“Well then” I said, “Good luck with your new dog, Jazz.”
Ok, caught up? Well, here is a golden little tidbit that fills in some long time blanks to that story. I have no idea how it came up now, but a few weeks ago Violet and I were reminiscing on all of the beautiful trouble the Seal has caused us and her shitting a shirt came up, of course. And that is when Violet’s confession came without warning or apology: “Oh ya, well she only ate your shirt because it was covered in bacon fat.
me: “Wait. What?”
V: “You mean that A-shirt of yours that she ate?”
me: “Yes, and then shit in the park, in front of all of those people. Yes. Wait. Has she shit other garments of mine that I don’t know about?”
V: “No, no. But didn’t I tell you? I mistook that A-shirt of yours for a rag and used it to clean the iron skillet. So, when I put it in the laundry it must have reeked of delicious bacon. So, of course she ate it.”
Me: (having finally learned, after years now, that picking your battles is key to long term love and so there was no need to question the obvious like, why did she use my shirt to clean a skillet in the first place? Why did she cover anything in bacon fat and then put it in the laundry? These sorts of things, you just let them go unless the moment is right.) “Ok. Well, that makes sense, I guess. As far as the Seal could tell it was a bacon shirt… that she ate and then shit in the park in front of all of those people. I get that. But it wasn’t a rag, love. It was my shirt.”
V: “Well yes, I realize that now.”
And really, it hasn’t happened since, thank god for the Seal’s poor bowels and for all of those visually scarred onlookers that morning, so who cares about one shirt of mine turned bacon-shirt turned shirt-like-dog-poo. And most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, the shit-a-shirt mystery is solved. Case closed.
Violet’s mom is in town. I adore Violet’s mom and lucky for me the feeling seems to be mutual. We have been having a nice time despite one minor, yet quite awkward, road bump.
Last night the three of us went out for dinner. After eating way too much fabulous Thai food at (yes, I am about to plug a restaurant) Sea Thai in Wallingford (I have been there 2,387 times and it is ALWAYS delicious), we decided to get a movie and have a cozy, early night. The movie we wanted, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was checked out so we had to come up with a plan B. And I don’t know about you, but for me, renting a movie is like going to the grocery store in that there are tons of things I want but if I don’t make a list before I go, as soon as I step foot in the store, all of a sudden I can’t think of anything specific, in the whole wide world, that I have any interest in at that moment. This happened to all three of us and when the movie we wanted wasn’t there we all ended up staring blankly at a wall covered in dvd’s. Eventually, a woman that worked at the store asked us if we needed help. Clearly we did.
I asked the nice woman exactly this, “Ya actually. My mother in-law and I (Violet was off looking at subtitled documentaries) are looking for a comedy, but not slapstick, you know, something with smart dialog. ” The movie-rental-lady scratched her head and said, “Let me think a minute.” Fine. Violet’s mom and I continued staring at the wall. The movie rental lady pops back, hands me a dvd and says, “Here. This one didn’t get enough attention as far as I’m concerned. It’s from the 90’s. I bet you all will like it. Funny, smart, coming of age. Great dialog.” The movie title was “Slums of Beverly Hills.” Ok, well, it has Marissa Tomei. The plot didn’t seem particularly good but also not bad so it seemed fine. We were all at a loss for other options, so, this was perfect.
We got home, changed into our pajamas and the four of us (the fourth being the Seal, of course) cuddled up on the couch and pushed play.
First scene starts: And BAM! BOOBS. I’m not kidding, no credits, no song, nothing but boobs. The whole tv screen was covered in a close up of some teenaged girl’s breasts. There is a close-up of her trying on bras while her dad is in the background talking about how “she is stacked.” Awkward. Very awkward start. None of us say anything. “It’s just the first scene” my brain is whispering to me, “it’ll get better.”
Second scene: Marissa Tomay attempting to hitchhike in the dark wearing what appears to be a hospital robe. And as a huge semi truck comes blazing down the street, she stands in front of it, the semi honks it’s loud horn, insinuating “get out of the road lady, I got places to be” when all of a sudden… yep, she flashes her breasts. Once again, all in a matter of 5 minutes, I am sitting next to Violet’s mom on my couch trying to figure out how to exist while my tv screen looks like one big poster of breasts. So. Awkward.
Finally, I say something. I have to, no one else is and clearly this might not be the movie for us. “So, should we all start considering something different to watch?” Both Violet and her mom nod their heads. “Should we just give up now or…?” Violet’s mom says, well, let’s give it a few more minutes but so far this movie does not have my attention.” Which was totally opposite of me. I was so mortified by this movie it was consuming me.
Next scene: The “stacked” teenager is looking inside her family’s new apartment when in walks the neighbor. He is smoking a cigarette, comments on her breasts, which then leads to another close up of her “stackedness”, and then asks her if she would like to buy some weed.
So, wow. Now we have a movie about teenage breasts and drugs. Awesome. Awesome recommendation rental store lady. This movie shouldn’t be so vaguely placed in the “comedy” section. No, this movie should go in the “very smart witty comedy movies to watch with your mother-in-law, grandparents, and young children” section.
Oh, and right before we turned it off, the “stacked” teenager’s little brother pulls a cooked cat out of the oven. I might even ask for my money back.
A phone call yesterday:
Violet: Oh hi mom and dad.
Dad: Hi Violet. Are you still planning to go on vacation to Mexico to learn Spanish?
Vioet: Um, well yes but probably not until January.
Dad: Well, you know, December is the best time to hike the Grand Canyon.
Violet: Oh. Ok. No, I didn’t know that.
Dad: Ya, it is. There was an article about it in the New York Times today. So, I was thinking, instead of going to Mexico, you and I should hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon together…
Mom: Well Violet, I don’t think you are going to learn a whole lot of Spanish walking the Grand Canyon with your father…
Dad (interrupts): Oh no, a lot of people speak Spanish there.
Violet: Um, wow, ok, well, can I think about it, talk with jesse and see when I might be able to consider this?
Me (whispering in the background while flailing my hands): Go, go go! Oh my lord, Violet, just go!
Dad: Sure, ok. But I have reserved a couple of plane tickets and our stay at the bottom of the canyon for next week. They also provide our food. I ordered you the stew.
She smiled big. She loves stew… and her dad.
How did this end, you ask?
She leaves next Wednesday.
Several years ago now, I was in France visiting Violet. In France a lot of bathrooms have this strange set up where both men and women walk through the same door only to land in this tiny area that serves as a sort of bathroom-purgatory, if you will. This is the place where the sinks, mirrors and towels are. So, both men and women stand there together while waiting to pee or what-have-you. I found that generally to the left is the womens stall and to the right is the mens. So as it goes, we all stand there, men and women together, waiting for our binary gender appropriate door to open and to then be freed to let us in and be relieved.
So I am in France visiting Violet, looking more masculine than feminine (which is not to say that I think I looked more boy than just me but more than not the French thought I was a guy.) She and I are getting lunch at a cute little bistro and I have to pee. I walk into the French bathroom purgatory area and I wait. Both stalls are busy. I am in this bathroom purgatory with one man. As we wait, in walks a woman.
And then there were three.
A thing I noticed about France (this I learned the hard way again and again): Out in public, women don’t tend to smile at folks they don’t know really. And if a man smiles at a women or vice versa it isn’t unfair to assume they might be flirting a little.
So, I’m in France waiting to pee in the bathroom purgatory with both a man and a women. What I have yet to mention is that when the woman walked in I smiled at her which led her to give me a very awkward and blatant scoff as she turned her whole body away from me. So, either she caught that I am just a stoopeed american girl OR I am crammed in a little room and just accidentally said to some random woman, “Oh, oui!? You like my smile, no?! Well zen… hough hough hough! (that is my impression of a french laugh, it offends Violet to no end.) A second later she mumbled something casual sounding to me in french which led me to respond according to her tone, ” Ah, oui.” And I did what I could to not smile.
At this point, speaking almost no french, I had taught myself how to answer a french question or statement with “oui” or “non” simply by interpreting the inflection of the sentence. I was usually pretty good at guessing correctly.
Maybe it was the bathroom purgatory pressure or maybe I was just doomed to do nothing right, but as that woman looked me right in the eyes and said, “vous la pue de la la de dee da fou le gwagh pa nui hough de le sweegh doo!?!” I had NO idea if I should go with “Oui!” or “Aaaaah, non, non, non!” I went with “oui” again, which was clearly the. wrong. answer.
Next thing I knew a man came out of the mens stall, washed his hands and left. Now there was an empty stall for a man with the three of us staring at the door. And then both the man and woman in purgatory with me looked at me wondering what I was going to do… and so did I!
The purgatory man looked at me, opened the stall door, like a man might do when he’s holding a door for a lady and probably wouldn’t do for another dude that needs to pee, and used his other hand to make the motion of “after you.”
At this point I realized how utterly confused our situation was:
The man that was holding the door for me was there first, so even if I was a guy it was his turn. And clearly he knew this and he knew that I knew this and now I had realized that he knew that I was a girl BUT when this other woman entered our bathroom purgatory both the man and I silently agreed that she clearly thought I was a man and totally mistook my smile for a french, “Hey, how yOu doin? Eh?‘” On top of that, the man that was in the purgatory bathroom before me not only got that I was female and that I was being mistaken for male by an uptight french woman who I had unintentionally flirted with and then answered two of her questions incorrectly BUT he knew I needed some help. SO his reaction was to attempt to save me by giving up his spot in line and escort me into the mens room.
Totally confusing, no?
I gave him an “I don’t know about this” look and he smiled at me and I smiled back while reluctantly walking into the stall. And really, that might have been the record holder for “most innocent smile exchange between the sexes in all of French history.” I walked through his held open door, to which the woman thought nothing of and I peed. Finally.
I walked out of the stall and saw the man that had held the door still waiting, the woman that kind of hated me was now in the womens stall. I stopped, smiled, and held open the door to the mens room for him. We both laughed and as he walked through I said quietly, “Mercy” and through a very thick french accent he said, “You are very welcome, madam.”
The response to my GSA post– the emails, the comments, the conversations I am having, I couldn’t have imagined. Just by bringing this up, folks, adults, are realizing, reopening, saving, reviewing, repairing their own experiences of growing up queer (or whatever words you use to define yourself) and sharing them with me. Reaching out. Reconciling.
I have received amazing emails and they have meant the world to me. Some younger than me, saying, “I don’t want to do it like you did.” One email in particular (and you will most certainly know who you are) sent me an epic email. An entire chapter of her life in my inbox. The parallels between us made it hard to breathe and made me think to believe, “You don’t have to do it like I did.”
I think most of us have that moment, where you wish you could go back and tell the younger-you something. I had no advice for this girl, except to continue reaching out, which I was most afraid of doing. This epic email was like time travel, where I looked my younger self right in the eyes and said, “To answer your question, jesse, the one that won’t ever let you rest, you are not crazy, you are wonderful, and the dark gets light, I promise.”
How is it that every single high school in this entire country isn’t talking about this? There is not one school, there is not one class in any school, anywhere, without a kid or two or three or four or five or six, that would benefit just by knowing that support was there.
I don’t know if I would have gone to the meetings when I was in high school. I was so afraid of my town and so afraid of myself then. But had this club, a GSA, even existed, like I’ve said, would have saved me from a million demons. Sometimes support is just knowing there is support to be found. In high school I use to tell Marie I felt like the last unicorn. Sophie B Hawkins’ song saved me a bit, from that fear. I believed she meant what she sang. There was certainly nothing to gain from singing *that line back then.
(*I lay by the ocean making love to her with visions clear…)
These kids in this new GSA club in my old highschool, in that small town, sit in a room, once a week, after school and talk to each other. And that might be their only commonality. And it might be there only safe place. And that might be all it takes for some kid, a lot of kids, not to give up, in all of the ways there are to just. give. up.
I gave up. When the rumors started, I looked my best friend right in the eyes, in a hallway in my old high school, with my hands on her shoulders, and said, with all of my might, “I am not gay. It’s all a lie. I promise.” I was trying to save her too. Matthew Shepard haunted me. I had to give up a lot to survive.
I am going to another GSA meeting with my sweet GSA kiddos at my old school this month and will continue to as often as I can. I want to make sure they can see that support is everywhere. I want to make sure these kids, all of them, know they don’t have to do it the way I did. And I will continue to write about here (I promise to write about other things here too, I am well aware that Violet and the Seal are way more popular than I.) Also, I am looking for folks, with stories different from mine, like the fabulous woman who will get Cher’s spot tomorrow… stay tuned.
With all of us sitting in a circle, in little plastic desks, in my old high school, there was a room full of young, springy attentive eyes, like all of the questions had all already been asked years ago and everyone was still waiting, with bated breath, for answers.
One of the two teachers that have (bravely and not without backlash) volunteered to watch over this club said, “Well, why don’t we start out by introducing ourselves.” I told them who I was and that I went to this school 40,000 years ago. They giggled. Marie introduced herself. And as the students went around saying their names and what grade they were in it was remarkable how easy it was to remember myself then- so unpolished and so young.
Two of the girls were blushing madly and couldn’t actually make eye contact with me while telling me their names. I remember that feeling too- how anything lesbian-ish at all would just set my chest on fire and make my already awkward existence even more awkward. Like the first time I heard that song, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on the radio. I remember the moment exactly:
I was getting ready for school, adding mad amounts of Aqua Net hairspray to my long, long blond hair when this new song started playing on the radio. The song was good, I like it. And then, all of a sudden, Sophie B. Hawkins ever so stealthily slipped in this line, “I lay by the ocean making love to her with visions clear…” And I froze. I think my heart might have stopped and I know I stopped breathing. I absolutely could not believe what she just said! I was frozen like a statue of myself. I looked in the mirror, unable to move- I looked like the statue of liberty, holding a hairspray bottle over my head like a torch. And as accidental as that last reference was, hearing that line in that song woke up a deep, dark place in me that I didn’t even know about, and set something inside of me free. Something in me, in who I was, started to move, and I felt really, really alive… and terrified, in a good way. And now that I think about it, it might have been the first time I felt totally out of control of my body’s reaction to feeling sexual. I couldn’t not feel, let alone stop, that sharp electric ripple that whipped down through my spine and physically forced me to curl forward and wrap my arms around that weirdly-good nausea feeling that had gone off like a bomb in my tummy (that I would feel for the second time ever, kissing Marie for the first time later that same year.)
Ok, back to the meeting: There are ten or eleven students, a teacher, a guidance counselor, Marie and me (sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.) After we all introduced ourselves, one boy, who I instantly adored, immediately raised his hand with a subtle swoosh while simultaneously asking me, “Ok, seriously, I need to know. Do you think your life has changed much since high school or not really so much?”
Marie and I both laughed a little. I responded, “Um, yes. I would say my life has changed very, very much since I went to this school.
A girl raised her hand and asked Marie how she knew me. We both knew this girl was really asking, “Why is this straight woman here?” Marie said, well, like I said, I am married to a man and have two kids now, right? But in high school I was dating jesse. She was my girlfriend for a long time actually, 4 or 5 years and the first person I was in love with.” And womp. Every. Single. Jaw. Fell. It was great. This was exactly why I wanted Marie to come with me.
“You mean, you were both gay in high school?!? Together!?!” A different girl asked, still unable to make eye contact. Marie nodded and explained that no one knew of course. “No one!” She said, “It was too dangerous. Can you imagine falling in love for the first time, or even having a really big crush on someone and not being able to tell anyone! Not your mom, your friends, no one.” Most heads shook side to side while a few kids made it obvious that, yes, indeed they do know how that feels.
The same boy that I totally adore raised his hand and said, “Here’s the deal. I’m Mexican, duh! And my mom knows I’m gay but I haven’t told my dad yet. And my mom always says that it makes her sad that I’m, you know, gay or whatever, cause she doesn’t want people to make my life hard. She says if I tell people I’m gay I’ll lose friends or not get jobs or get to live where I want to or whatever. She says that being gay or whatever is just going to be way hard. What do you think, jesse? Is it totally way hard? Does that stuff really happen?”
I had already decided, before this meeting, that I was only here to support these awesome kids, not to teach them really. They can teach each other but maybe I can help guide things a little. They already know a lot, they are very self aware and this is their club, their experience. But most likely they don’t have the language for a lot of things yet, that they might be thinking or trying to say, that I could help with. Like the question my sweet, fabulous boy just asked- there’s some internalized homophobia in there, right? And I don’t need to teach them vocabulary (yet!) or how to spell it, but just help them see what they already know a bit clearer. And, I had also decided that although I didn’t want to scare them, I was most certainly not going to lie – about anything.
So, I looked my fabulous favorite boy right in the eyes and said, “Well, let’s just be honest here, you worry about all of that too, right? I mean, your mom didn’t invent that worry – you think about that too and it’s freakin’ stressful, right?!” He and a few others nodded dramatically. And instantly his entire body language changed. I hadn’t said much of anything yet but all of a sudden his eyes softened and he just looked relaxed. And I realized right then, more than anything, that just by being there, just by sitting in this room with these kids, I was validating them. All of them. All of it. Not just their experiences or their confusion or fears or sexual identities – but all of it. I was proof that what they were going through was really, really hard and most importantly, that it was all very real.
I smiled at all of their sweet, attentive faces and took a deep breath. “So, here’s the deal. Here’s the truth. I have no idea how your life is going to go. But for me, in my life, I have lost friends after they found out I was gay. I have lost a job after I came out. And I know there are a few apartments I tried to rent and didn’t get because my roommate for a one bedroom was another girl. I know all of this for a fact.” And now I really had their attention. I was the adult that was telling them the truth and they were ready for whatever I had to say.
I took another deep breath and saw that even the two teachers were frozen, paying a sort of attention that I am not use to and I continued, “But here is what else I know for sure: I don’t have any place in my life for people that don’t want me. Yes, I have been surprised by a friend’s reaction and it totally hurt my feelings, a lot. But if someone doesn’t want to spend their time with me, for whatever reason – that is a big loss for them and what can I do about it anyway? I’m certainly not going to try and talk someone into liking me. And I will definitely meet other new people, the world is HUGE, let me tell you – it’s freaking HUGE- and I’ll make new friends, all of my life, and they’ll like all of me. My real friends celebrate and cherish who I am, all of me, because that is what friends do and I deserve that!.. And why would I want to rent a home that doesn’t want me in it? You know how many places there are to live?! I will find one that wants me. I always have. And I would NEVER EVER want to work for a job that doesn’t get how fabulous I am. I am totally fabulous and I deserve to work for a place that totally gets that”… at which point my sweet boy interrupts with a snap, “You are fierce, girl. So fierce!”
I laughed and continued, “So, here’s the deal, your mom might be totally right, about all of it or maybe none of it, we can’t know. She doesn’t know, she just obviously loves you a lot and wants the world to be good to you. But we also can’t live in this constant state of fear of rejection either or we’ll never get anywhere, right? I mean, you might not get a job because you’re Mexican or I might not get it because I’m a girl, or maybe they won’t like something else about us. There are a million different reasons that the world will come up with to come down on us and make things hard and being gay is totally up for grabs that way. So? What do you do about that?”
It took them a second to realize I was asking them a question. “Seriously, what do YOU do about that? What have you done? What can you do? You certainly wouldn’t be in this club if you weren’t trying to do something about that.”
The other blushed-girl started to mumble, “I think it’s just about exposure. Like, if you’ve never met a gay person then maybe you’re afraid of them or something- but I don’t know why. They’re just people too. It’s totally weird that people say such stupid stuff about people when they don’t even know.”
My brain was screaming, “AAAAAAH! You totally get it! You are right on top of the entire philosophy and structure of the perpetuation of discrimination!” My mouth smiled big, which made her blush ever harder, and I said, “I think it’s about exposure too, like getting information before you decide on something. I think you are totally right.”
And we talked about that for a while. We talked about a lot of things. These kids are on it, they are so so ready to do good work. They decided they want to start a “That’s so gay” campaign, where they would do something about stopping that expression from being used so often in a discriminatory way at school. We also talked about t-shirts for the club, that one girl suggested should all be different colors of the rainbow. They told me what it was like to go to this school now and how there was a lesbian couple who had applesauce flung on them while holding hands in the hallway. They didn’t know who Mathew Sheppard was, so Marie told them that story. They also didn’t know Ellen was ever not out. So, then we talked about coming out and what that had been like for different folks. We talked about a lot and my heart was swooning the whole way through.
As the meeting started to wrap up the students asked, in an adorable, desperate, whiny, puppy way, if I would, “Please, please, pleeeeease come to another meeting soooooon!.” And I was flattered and said that of course I would.
I also said, “Before you all leave, I just want you guys to be totally sure, in case you weren’t or were wondering at all, that you are totally incredible and you have changed the whole entire world by starting this club. I mean, the whole entire world is a different and better place, in a huge way, just because of you guys. You made my life better even before we met today, just by starting this club. And you will never know exactly how many people you make feel better, how many lives you help, but I promise you it is way more than even the highest number you could possibly come up with and it will only continue to get bigger. It is an absolute privilege to have met you all today and to have been invited to this meeting. You are all my personal heroes and I am so impressed with all of you, for who you all are. So, thank you, very much.” To which my favorite fabulous boy flippantly said, “You too girl.”
And as they all started to leave to catch the last school bus, my favorite, fabulous boy was leaving the room when he so perfectly put the gay icing on the gay cake, “And, jesse… girl, you got yourself some goooood hair, by the way. Seriously. Fierce.”
(Looking for the line? Go to 3:18)
As I pulled up to my old high school and parked my brand new car in the visitor section, where a decade and a half ago I use to park a classic cherry red mustang that my step dad bought me, that I totaled flying through a red light many moons ago, because parking in this section was much easier to sneak past the security guard than anywhere else in the lot, I saw the huge prison like structure to my left. It was my old high school, that depressing gray-blue building that use to make every single weekday feel already haunted by bad memories sure to come, and I thought, “Holy shit. If ever there was such a sight.”
With my high school sweetheart, Marie, in tow, we walked towards the huge Venus fly trap front doors. It was 3 p.m. and school was out. At first I was confused as to why so many kids were just standing around until finally Marie reminded me that these young folks were waiting for their parents to pick them up. They couldn’t even drive yet. That made me laugh.
We walked into the office, where I once spent way too much of my time defending myself against actions that had just gotten me thrown out of class. My mouth said, “Can you please tell me which room the GSA meeting is being held?” My brain said, “Ya, we all know I’m the big ol’ faggot dyke looking for the queer kids and I KNOW you know that so let’s all just save our breath and skip the small talk here.”
It was hard for me not to feel angry. High school was one of the hardest chapters of my life and the anger that I left behind in this building was clearly still somewhere in it. I hadn’t realized I had any feelings about this place at all until I could see it while driving from several farm fields away and felt my pulse shoot into my throat. As soon as I stepped into the building it was palpable.
Once I was inside, to my surprise, the old dusty anger was clear. I could smell it. Somehow, after all of these years, my anger was still haunting in the echoes of all of the locker doors slamming open and shut. I could hear it. Or it was lingering in the stampede of jocks pushing their self-declared-entitlement through the halls to football practice. I could see it. Maybe my rage was lurking in all of the seconds between some kid calling another kid a ‘fag’ and the teacher that blatantly heard the slur letting it go. I could taste it. Regardless, I walked into that building and felt like I was looking for the safe room, in a labyrinth of endless hallways, for a little speck of safe space on an enormously unsafe shore, where even though I had my own keys to a get-away car now, that no security guard could keep me from anymore, I was in full defense, like I have written before, and practiced most of my life, I was ready to slip my self into a much, much thicker skin at the drop of a threat. I could feel it.
I have learned to sense it, this threat, with all five, individually.
I was on a mission though. I was going to meet the kids; the really young, amazing heroes that have set my heart into constant flutters that only certain Cher songs have ever created, kids that somehow found the courage to go against the thick, hard grain that the fields surrounding them have proven impossible to bend, that would let them out of this hell hole fairly easily if they just went along. But instead they chose to rise up amongst an entire ocean of ‘usual small town’ affairs with a big huge thunderous bang, with grand intention and inherent dignity, to humbly create the newest undeniable dent, ding, scratch, spark, bang, boom, bam into the unsure, unsafe, unpaved path of social change.
Listen closely please: These kids started a Gay Straight Alliance Club in my old high school, in the middle of Smallmindednowhereville, which is everywhere that doesn’t do that.
This is the kind of change that could have saved me from a million demons more than a few years back. These kids, that, as soon as I entered the room, would look up to me like I knew something, with no clue that I was there looking up at them like bright little pimple faced beacons of hope, saving a million queer ships in a second. They had no idea. Their sweet, incorrigible, ignorant, fearless, cotton candy teenage brains could not, in that moment, wrap around who and what they were to me right then – what they had done for the whole world – and maybe they never would. But right then, the hate and anger and fear and resentment that I have unknowingly been toting around with me for more than any of those students’ entire lives just fell off of me, just like that.
All of a sudden, I was free.
All of a sudden, all of that hope that I hear about, that I read about, that I have studied, that I have searched for in dark and in light places, that I have seen on the side of buses, the kind of hope that one recent man made loud and clear, “Yes. We. Can.,” the kind of hope that came free as a kid, where learning to ride a bike was just one more honest-try away, the kind of hope that let’s you fall asleep at night despite everything you can’t stop knowing, the kind we mindlessly sing along to with the radio, the kind that I dream about at night, all of the time, the kind I have kissed once or twice but just can’t always seem to find when I need it, the kind of hope that I’ve always suspected is somewhere near by, and that I keep hearing has been at arms length the whole time, just like that, found me.
And just like that…
There I was.
And there were those amazing kids.
And there we all were, in a room in my old high school, at a Gay Straight Alliance meeting, just staring at each other like, “Holy shit. If ever there was such a sight.”
**Click here for part 2: part 2: jesse james goes to the old high school’s new GSA club
Aaah greg. Sweet, charming, beautiful, wonderful, greg.
I met greg. I talked with greg. I had dinner with greg and I hugged greg. Yes, there is more to the story than this, but I thought I’d put the highlights right out there for you. I mean, if any of the just mentioned does not totally fascinate you, you also probably don’t like chocolate or puppies or having fun and will most likely find this post a snoozer… keep in mind, that means something is wrong with you.
On Sunday, Kristen, Sin and I got back from Jess’ party with just enough time to get things a bit together before greg and her girlfriend, both of whom I had never met and was quite excited about meeting, came over. Sin had errands to run and so a runnin’ she went. Kristen had long planned the menu and as soon as we got back to Brooklyn she got in the kitchen and started Tearing. It. Up.
Violet is a fabulous cook and because of this I am not just well fed but also a well trained kitchen bottom with over 4 years of experience. Yes, I’ll stick my fingers in the pesto and the pudding when you’re not looking (you totally didn’t see me, did you! Stealth), but I can slice and dice and sauté all under particular orders like a pro. This worked to both Kristen’s and my favor quite nicely.
We had two hours and some serious prepping to do before greg and her girlfriend arrived so naturally, I created a ‘Lady Gaga’ station on Pandora, and we rocked the kitchen dance club style. Chopping sweet potatoes to “Po po po poker face po po poker face” is like a natural rhythm really. And like I told the lettuce, “Baby when its love if it’s not rough it isn’t fun” as I ripped it up into the bowl. Perfect, yes? Agreed.
And the menu Kristen came up with was no small task and as time began to thin she just kept her cool and kept cooking. Somehow by the time our company arrived all was prepared, including sliced lime wedges for drinks.
And then the buzzer buzzed which was my cue to double check that my hair was perfect and that my zipper was up. Check and check (insert snapping S shaped swoosh of hand here.)
Ten seconds later there they were. In walked greg first. And anyone can know she’s beautiful and smart with knock out fashion sense if you check out her blog… I knew this. But still, folks, somehow I was just not prepared.
In the two seconds she turned away from me to take off her coat I managed to down the rest of my glass of wine (you totally didn’t see me, did you? Double stealth.) As she turned back around, sans coat, in a dress that could kill a small village, with knee high boots that would at least make a small village unable to speak coherently, and mentioned that traffic was bad, my fag-brain was screaming, “Love. This. Get. Up. Something. Fierce! Dayamn, girl. Flawless. Perfect. Hot. Love it! Love it! Love it!” My mouth said, “Sorry the traffic was bad. Great dress. Can I get you a drink?”
(I heard later that she was wearing a fabulous necklace but I was too scared. After getting caught looking at my doctors cleavage about a month ago– yes, you heard me: super fail – I have been practicing being a mature adult that can get through an evening without my eyes dropping and I did and I am quite proud of myself, except it turns out I really missed out… on some fabulous jewelry, that is.)
And then, in walked greg’s girlfriend and I was doubly impressed with everything happening. I was very excited to spend the evening in this company.
(Note: Because greg’s girlfriend isn’t really in the blog world I consider her an innocent bystander more than anything else. This is just to say that I am intentionally being overly vague. I will mention however, that if we lived closer I would try, with relentless effort, to make her like me so that I could be her friend that she would want to hang out with regularly. Also, she has a killer smile, but you could find that out on greg’s blog.)
So, I fixed them a couple of drinks. And by ‘I fixed them a couple of drinks’, I mean I stood next to Greg and watched her fix a couple of drinks, as everything she did was deeply interesting and truly impressive.
Eventually we all settled around the table and started to chat while eating some very tasty food. I was permanently leaned in towards greg with my hands folded underneath my chin in awe. I tried to ask her about anything and everything so that she would keep talking and continue to be so freaking-out-of-this-world-fabulous. greg is so engaging, so charming, and so easy to talk with. My new long distance bff, aka greg’s girlfriend, was so very fun and easy-going and made me laugh a lot.
At some point, and who knows how really, Cher came up and I tried to teach Sinclair how to flip hair the way Cher does (WHY did I not ask greg to try?!? And the regrets begin…) There was also a point where greg’s gf and I bonded over constantly being verbally attacked for… dear gawd, do I bring this up again?… gulp… both agreeing that, without any information or details, but purely on looks and looks alone,we think Sarah Palin is attractive (aaand cue the angry emails. But folks, it’s just Tina Fey’s evil twin, really. Ok, moving on! This is about greg. Move. on.)
The evening flowed rather easily for me, as maybe I haven’t mentioned or made clear enough: I was totally infatuated with our company. Throughout the evening, I again went through the brain flips of trying to separate greg from her blog. And again, as the evening progressed it became easier to do.
I hadn’t realized how many blanks I had filled in about her that shifted, of course, once we met. More so than any other blogger I had met this weekend. Even her voice. I hadn’t really considered that I didn’t know what her voice sounded like, or maybe I had created an idea of one. And so, as soon as she said hello, that two dimensional bubble popped and a new, real and in person version of greg began to filter through.
To me, greg’s blog feels personal in a different way somehow, almost like reading a journal. It’s always in the moment and it’s brave and honest, like a letter from a friend that trusts you. I’m not totally sure what it is, but I feel like she keeps me up to date on her day to day, what’s on her mind (yes, I realize it is more actuate to say us, but this is about me now). I feel like she creates a real-life context for herself, including pictures of moments that just happened. Her blog feels like it’s in real-time, like a window.
I’m not sure what it is, but I think I almost forgot that we didn’t know each other until we met. And on top of realizing all of this, I then realized that my feeling this way was not necessarily mutual. My blog, more than not, tends to be in stories about other people, other things, my observations, my version of life, and in no particular order or time frame, and not usually about me in the now, really. She mentioned exactly that at one point, saying, “So, jesse, who I know very little about, tell me about yourself.”
We also talked about many of the finer things in life, such as the Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Did greg totally reenact the table flipping scene from the last episode? Yes. Was it perfect? Don’t ask dumb questions, of course it was. Did I eventually stop asking and then immediately answering my own questions in a ridiculous New Jersey accent? Ya, I did. Did I want to? No. But we needed to move on.)
We continued to have course after course of Kristen’s wonderful, homemade meal and eventually broke into the beautiful dessert that greg had brought.
And just as I decided to sneak off and call Violet to see if we could please keep them, almost as quickly as the evening began, it started to get late. It was Sunday night and some of us still work. They needed to get going.
We all hugged goodbye and like a kid who’s being left with the babysitter for the first time, I attempted to keep a strong face as I waved goodbye- just as greg turned back and said she wanted another hug. My brain was singing, in its best Louis Armstrong impression “…and I think to myself, what a wonderful worrrrrrrld” My mouth said, “It was so wonderful to finally meet you.”
And then, just like that, they were gone.
For over a week now I haven’t been able to find that little cord that connects my ipod to the computer. I have some new music that I am really excited about and a dead ipod and this disconnect has been driving me crazy. I have spent several hours looking in the same 10 places and each time – disappointment. It’s turned into that fridge scenario: When you’re hungry and you just keep opening the refrigerator door as if ‘poof’ a steaming plate of spaghetti will magically appear.
This morning in our mad dash to get ready for our respective jobs I busted into the bathroom, where Violet was, and said,”Sorry, Violet! But I just had a vision! I think that the connector thingy might be in this cabnit here…”
I shuffled through a few things on the top shelf and voila, there it was! (Why was it there? Don’t know and not the point!). I held it up, like the sword that had just been removed from the stone, and made applause noises for myself as I bowed.
“See, I told you Violet! I had a VISION.”
Looking a bit unimpressed she says, “Um, I think that is called a memory, but whatever, good for you. Now, get out of here, please.
Ah, sweet victory. Sweet victory indeed.