Thursday, April 25, 2013

The real gin and juice blues

I don't want to write this post. I've been putting it off for 3 days now. I know putting it into words won't change anything. I know not putting it into words won't either. So I'll just write it.

Melvin died early Sunday morning.* He was a passenger in a car that crossed several lanes of traffic and ran head-on into a pickup truck. He and the driver died there. Careflight came for them, but the coroner left with them instead.

I saw photos of the wreck Sunday morning before church. The car was crushed. I thought, How awful. Nobody walked away from that car. I didn't know it was Melvin who wasn't going to walk away. I don't think we'll ever know what happened that night. The police said neither speed nor alcohol was involved, which means the driver wasn't drinking. Melvin was never sober, but he also never drove. Not after his doctor had his license pulled.

Every time I went out Sunday I expected to hear Melvin's voice, but our part of the street was quiet. He came and went a lot though; sometimes 5 or 6 different people would pick him up and then bring him home in a day. I looked for him, but I wasn't worried that I didn't see him.

The next day his landlord Paul knocked on my door to tell me he was dead. The police couldn't find Melvin's daughter, and Paul wanted to know if I had her number. I didn't.

I'll write more about that day, but not tonight. It's been a hard week, and today is only Wednesday.

There's a big gaping silence over there across the street where Melvin used to sit on his porch and holler to me as I walked to my van, "Baby, how you doin'?" And I'd reply, "I'm fine." And he'd say, "I know you are! I love you, baby. You know I love you, don't you?" And I'd say, "I know you do." And he'd say, "Where you goin'?" And I'd say, "To a party (or downtown or to the store or just out)." And he'd say, "Can I go wit' you?" And I'd say, "No." And he'd say, "That's OK, baby. You be careful. I still love you though. I can't lie. I still love you." And I'd say, "I love you too."

And I did. I did love him too, in spite of myself and in spite of himself. He watched out for me. And sometimes I watched out for him too.

Sometimes he really annoyed me. And .... I don't think I ever annoyed him. He just wasn't like that.

I'll write more about Melvin later. Tonight I'm struggling to see the page through my tears, and I'm tired. Grief makes me tired. The emptiness out there on the street makes me tired.

*If you don't know who Melvin is was, maybe you haven't been reading here long. I've written about him many times. Here's a list of the most relevant posts. I hope you'll want to  know him better.

"Gin and Juice Blues"
On the Radio
Life on My Street
It's Just Not There
Rick and Mitt
Wednesday Night After Karaoke (a poem)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Cookie Monster Shoes


Wordless Wednesday: A day when I can't think of anything nice to say, so I post a photo and say nothing at all, just like my mama taught me. This can't be sustained. (I would so wear these shoes, if they came in my size. My shoes are bigger than my hands though, so these probably wouldn't fit me. It has become painfully obviously I'm Cinderella's Sasquatch-footed step-sister.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Just do it already!

I've been sick. So sick I wanted to fucking die. Nothing that would kill me, of course, because I'm tough. Just a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit, stage-4 lung cancer, and I might have swallowed some razor blades as well. I'm feeling much better today, thanks for asking.

I'll tell you what else makes me sick. This.

This. Makes. Me. Sick.

I don't know what your Facebook feed looked like last week, but mine looked like it was bleeding. Bunch of bleeding heart liberals with their equality symbols.

I got up off my death sick bed to change mine too. I'll leave it up while we wait to see whether SCOTUS chooses to ring the death bells for fucking DOMA. Rights shouldn't be a choice, but here we are, letting the high court choose.

You know who doesn't have a choice though? Gay people. They don't have a choice whether they're treated like they're not as good as the rest of us because they're gay.

And they don't have a choice about being gay.

It makes me sick that in the year 2013 we're still having this discussion. Add a broken heart to my list of ailments.

And let me tell you a story.

My little brother is gay. He came out to me sometime in the early 90's, when he was in his early 20's. I already knew. I'd known for years. Our mom had suspected for years. Even though he dated girls and voted Republican and listened religiously to Rush Limbaugh, I knew he was gay. Even though he loved cars and mowing the yard and fixing shit, I knew he was gay.

He told our middle sister first, and then she told me because she can't keep a secret. I had to keep it a secret from him that I knew. And then act surprised when he told me. Only, of course I wasn't surprised, because I wasn't surprised when she told me. I knew.

I don't think anybody was surprised when he came out, because in addition to those manly qualities I listed above, my little brother liked to wear suits and Italian leather shoes even when he was in high school. His car was too clean, he buffed his nails, and when he was in high school, he sometimes went on a date with 3 girls at once. And after our dad died, he quit football and wrestling because he loved swing choir and theatre and wanted to focus on those instead. It was a big deal. And he worked in a funeral home. (In case you didn't know, the funeral home business is a hotbed of homosexuality. In fact, that's probably what made him gay.)

None of those things I listed would necessarily flip the switch on the gaydar, just as none of those things on the other list would flip the straightdar. I can't tell you how I knew he was gay. I just knew. So for years I just waited for him to catch up.

And it did take years. For reasons.

First, we come from a small rural town in Iowa. Everybody knows everybody and everybody's business.

I don't know what it's like to be gay there now, but I know what it was like when I was growing up. A boy who was suspected of being gay could get hurt. Bad. Nobody wants to be the gay guy in a small town in Iowa -- at least not then.

And my brother was popular -- both in high school because he was smart, funny, and so talented, and because he took care of people at the funeral home. People loved him ..... and people would not see him the same if they knew he was gay. It's really best to be normal in a small town.

(Of course, Iowa has marriage equality now [Fuck you, California!], but when my brother came out, that wasn't even on the radar.)

Second, he  knew too many young gay men who had come out and been disowned by their families. I knew that wasn't likely to happen to my brother -- at least not at the time he came out. But had circumstances been different .....

Our dad died when my brother was 15. Let's just say he wasn't a very liberal man when it came to differences like race and gender. None of us can know how he would have reacted, and to be honest, I'm glad we didn't have to find out.

Seems like that would make it easier, doesn't it? That he didn't have to come out to Dad? Well, it didn't. Because a son can still disappoint a dead father, and disappoint him terribly -- in his own imagination. A son can take on the shame he's sure his father would feel. And my brother believed his dad would be terribly disappointed in him for being gay. In fact, he could never be sure his own dad wouldn't have been one of those fathers who turns away from his son and never wants to see him again. He could never be sure.

I like to think our dad loved him too much to have done that. I can't be sure either though.

And my little brother also had a older brother -- one who was a lot like Dad -- a hard-drinking, Rush-loving redneck who worked at the quarry driving the heavies. He wasn't likely to embrace the rainbow.

He also had 3 sisters and a mom, and while I don't think he should have worried about any of us caring one way or another (women love gay men, right?), he couldn't know for sure that he wouldn't lose his entire family, and that was something he couldn't bear the thought of.

I'm going to skip a whole bunch of other reasons why my little brother didn't come out sooner, because I'm probably preaching to the choir anyway. I'm just going to land on the third and last one.

Third, once he came out to us, he would have to be out to himself, and he was the hardest person he had to come out to. Once he did it, there would be no going back. No hiding in the safety of being a straight man. Once he came out, he would have to accept who he was -- a gay man in a culture where being gay put him at a disadvantage in almost every way, even if his family and his small hometown did accept him.

He knew he would give up so much.

He loved kids, and the likelihood that he would ever have his own family would plummet. He would have to settle for being a fabulous uncle. He couldn't fall in love and get married, and even if he partnered up, he wouldn't have the same rights. He could be fired just for being gay. In some states he could be arrested. He was at a higher risk for HIV/AIDS. People in his own political party would accept his money and his vote while keeping a foot on his neck so he wouldn't ruin their god-given right to a civil union. He might be bullied or beaten or tied to a fence and left to die ...... 

Once he came out, my little brother would never again pretend --either to his family or to himself -- that he was a straight, white man. He would be different.

He would never again enjoy the privilege of being a straight, white man, even though he would still exactly the same man he was before.

He was exactly the same man before he came out as he was after he came out. The only thing that changed was perception.

Why would he choose that?

He wouldn't. He would never have chosen to be gay. My little brother  -- although he wouldn't change it all these years later -- would have chosen to be a straight man. If he'd been given a choice. He wasn't given a choice.

The rest of us have a choice. We can choose to stop treating people like they're different just because they're gay.

I know it's a radical concept, but gay people just aren't different. They're normal, and it's time we stopped treating them like they're not. (Even using this language makes me uncomfortable. "They." There is no they when it comes to rights. It's us.)

Enough, I say. We do have a choice.

A choice SCOTUS will be making for us, and I hope they make the right one, because really there is only one right choice.

I hope eventually my granddaughter never has to see one of these unless it's in a history book. Equality comes when you no longer have to tell people you're all equal.