March. 2004. Twelve years ago. The morning after opening night of my production of West Side Story, scheduled for a three-week run, almost every show of which was already sold out, and almost every one of its more than thirty teen cast-members relied on me to one or another degree for parenting, support, affirmation, discipline, advice, and, definitely, Love. In particular, there were a few boys who struggled with their sexuality, whose lives were dangerous in small-town Frederick. I had a few of these every season, some for seasons at a time. I could be counted on to see them. To listen. To get it. Except, one of them I had been unable to cast in West Side, and during the course of its rehearsals, he tried to kill himself.
The morning after opening night, I was home alone. Would be home alone for another few blessed hours of silence, solitude. It had been a rough six months. In September, a man I had loved and who’d loved me in the typically difficult, complicated, impossible way I managed such things, had killed himself not long after I had screamed at him the sins of his perfidy and cowardice about who he was and who I was to him.
Days after he had finished his life with a bullet to the head, my dearest male friend — my only real male friend — he who had been the one who’d had to tell me of the lover’s suicide — he died unexpectedly due to complications from a simple surgery. We’d known one another since I was a young teen, and he, the older teen, both of us in a local theatre production and giggling messes whenever we were on stage together. In the long decades since we had spent endless, lovely and horrible hours together making theatre and terrible, silly, hysterical mistakes with awful men, each of us in our own way, mine being a refusal to engage at all, to live nearly celibate, not believing any sort of happy awaited me, while he did much the opposite, never NOT believing this one would bring happiness, both of us dysfunctional and scarred by difficult childhoods, name-callings and hiding and semi-in-and-out of closet lives that we might survive.
So, that morning, right? After West Side opened, home alone, in my room. Grateful for silence, for peace, for a chance to take a breath or two. The front door bangs. My housemate. She is calling me with some urgency. She should be teaching. She should not be home for another six hours at least. I come out of my room. I head downstairs where she stands in the kitchen, inside the door, looking terrified. I ask, What is it? “Sissie died.” My aunt, who’d raised me, who’d given me reading and theatre and unconditional love and who had been ill, in the infirmary of the Record Street Home, where she had moved with some bitterness in her eighties, where she had been lost in a netherworld of forgetting and after years of seeing me as her perfect Charlie had come to believe me to be my father when I went to visit. She had died. My housemate tried to hug me, but I just stood there. She asked what did I want, what should she do. Leave. Go back to work. I’m fine. She did not believe me, but I would not budge, I insisted — loudly, at last — that I wanted her to go. I am fine. She left. I watched through the window, making sure she’d driven away. I went into the bathroom. Took off my clothes. Stood in the shower. Finished. Dressed. Sat at the kitchen table. My cell rang, it was the child who was playing Tony. He’d heard. They all — my children — knew how I felt about Sissie, what she meant to me. They saw the pictures of the two of us on my wall, three-year old me, forty-ish her, holding my hand. Holding my hand. Holding my hand. My Tony was saying something. Charlie, do you want to hear something funny? Is it okay if I tell you something funny? Would that be wrong? No, I told him, go ahead. He told me a story about the two girls with whom he was hopelessly, endlessly in love and how one of them had shown up at the cast party and attacked he and the other with a purse as they were tangled together, asleep. It was quite a hilarious story and I laughed. And laughed. And laughed more. Until I was sobbing. And sobbing. Because she was gone, Sissie. Not holding my hand. Not holding my hand. Not holding my hand. I hung up. I’m fine. I’m fine. And I screamed and cried and ranted and howled and keened.
Yesterday, Orlando, and started the texts and the messages and the calls making sure I was okay. I’m fine. No one I knew was murdered. It was horrible, yes. It would become a cluster of missing the point and blame and ignorance and hate coming in where love ought to fill voids and we’ve been through this and I have theories and I wanted to espouse them but, instead, I posted this (in pieces, connected) on Twitter:
Rise. Love your best Love. Light your brightest Light. Offer that. Share that. Resist the urge to answer hate with despair. Rise. RISE.
Dear ones, this thought: So many on here & IRL msged me asking if I’m okay today. Yes. I am focusing on all that love in my life. I am strong of spirit, here, ready to hold the hands & stanch the weeping hearts of any who need me. Life has given me SO MUCH, & I am determined to grow my joys, share the companionship & humanity you loves, you lights, send my way. Virtual to you or real life, I am grateful to touch/be touched by your thoughts, ideas & join w/you in the face of any hates, despairing, sorrow, setback to say; I am angry, sad, joyful, confused, WHATEVER we are/you are/I am. Let’s live in it together & chant in Love & Light: I am I am I am I am!
Because, I felt as if I wanted to write my heart. I felt as f I had to say something, allow something to flow. Because, Orlando.
I’m not a social scientist or a brilliant essayist. I’m not the miracle to which my name aspires. I’m not particularly good at navigating within the confines and conditions of what most people consider to be real life. But I am, at long last, happy. And while today seems odd timing to say so, I have always over-shared. This is not the manic happiness symptomatic of my dysthymia, those happiness rushes which are always followed by equally deep gutterings of sorrow; this is a happiness of contentment.
After decades of sorrow and helping others let go of theirs, here I am, going. When a month ago I got my latest eviction notice and went into panic, a few weeks after I had spent the best week of my life living the glamorous, love-soaked, passion-filled fantasy scenario I’d dreamed of since childhood, I started to fall to pieces. For a hot minute. Then I hooked up for another hot minute (well, more like a hot three hours) with a gorgeous twenty-six year old, Triple AAA league baseball player, and started looking for a place to live. Which I found. And started purging for the packing. Letting go. Getting rid. Knowing that with this, another in the long line of sudden, unexpected relocations and changes of my life, I had finally gotten it.
I am, indeed, fine. And so when everyone checked on me yesterday, I could say, in truth, I am fine. I was sobbing. I was angry. I was grasping for explanations, wanting to make sense of it, wanting to blame. And so I packed some more. And so I went to the gym because there are fellows there who give me comfort. And so I watched the Tony Awards with loved ones and knew there were loved ones in the audience. I sobbed at the pre-show. I sobbed during the show. I let myself feel. I let myself be in each moment.
Yes, I want to accuse. I want to rant my, “It’s you Reagan and Bush and Romney and Ryan and all Republicans — whether you are one of the ones ACTIVELY espousing LGBTQ hate and assault rifle/NRA love, or just continuing to be in silence a member of the party under which banner such things are espoused — you are guilty of the Orlando deaths.” I want to rail my “You who CALL yourselves christians and espouse beliefs that being LGBTQ condemns one to lovelessness and sin — whether you believe that or continue in silence to be a member of an organized church that does — you are guilty of Orlando deaths.” I want to howl at every politician, every hypocrite, every citizen of this country where we drone-death people EVERY SINGLE DAY — which I continue in silence to be culpable of. I want to keen at this country in which people of color are murdered, again and again, by MY POLICE FORCE. I want to shout about the inequities and onus heaped upon those of us who are in the bottom percentage of income, without credit cards or “acceptable” credit history and our inability to book a hotel room, change our address with the USPOSTALSERVICE on-line. I want to. I want to. I want to.
But, Orlando. Today, still, too much. I am fine. I am blessed in all of this to have the people I have, the privilege I have, the freedom I have, the Love and the Light I have. And I have keened and mourned and wept and fought for decades.
Orlando. I am holding hands. I am here to hold hands. I honor the fight. I may fight again, loudly, but today, for me, like the day Sissie died, if I let it all in, it will be too much. I am not letting it go, I am holding on to my center, sharing what center I have with those who need me to hold them up.
It’s what I do. Have always done. Will always do. For me, Orlando, it is about mourning the sorrow and yet, still, somehow, finding a way to give to you my Love, my Light, my peace and center, and not — right this moment — focusing on how the tentacles of discrimination and hate and homophobia have infiltrated my reality and killed lovers, friends, whole generations of my people with plagues, and hiding, and horror, and this.
Orlando, I mourn for you.
My people, I will be here for you. To hold you. To listen to you. To stand with you. To stand FOR you. But right now, this actual minute, 9a.m. on the day after Orlando, I am heading for a storage unit to purge and cull and let go and hold on to 20 years worth of stuff before I move it again, before I start again in a new location on Thursday.
Because we go on.