It was the South Carolina State Fair during an October of my youth. The chill of autumn had not arrived yet; we suffered through an afternoon of uncharacteristic heat. Swelting, summer-like temperatures as we navigated throngs of visitors -- old and young, families on an outing, couples on dates, adolescents in various stages of dare-seeking and mischief. My mother wandered the grounds with my sisters; Christi* and I navigated the fair as a ten-year-old fair, cherishing the few hours of independence my mother allowed us, giddy on the high of entering the Haunted House and riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ferris Wheel and a rollercoaster free of parental supervision. Christi and I had another fifteen minutes before we needed to meet my mother at the rocket -- a visible landmark to which children were summoned when they got lost or evaded their guardians' attention. Being responsible fifth-graders, our meeting had been prearranged -- intercom not needed -- and our Swatches were in sync. Thirsty from perspiring under a humid, cloudless sky, we quickened our walk to the nearest lemonade stand with shortest line. Christi ordered hers and began sipping. Next in line, I opened my mouth to request the same. The woman taking the orders did not see me and took the order of a person behind me. With that customer in possession of a refreshing beverage, I tried again to order. Again, she did not see me. It wasn't just that was a child and shorter than my peers. I was a phantom -- unseen, unperceived. Totally invisible. Christi -- blonde, with round eyes resembling globes of ocean and no land -- intervened.
"She wanted one, too," Christi said. "Can we get another?"
Now, it was Christi who went the way of Casper. If I could remember a thought in that moment of a numbing freeze, I imagine it would have related to the friendly ghost and the uncanniness that its whiteness and its friendliness matched Christi's finely thin locks. Had Christi all along been an apparitional force? As a fifth-grader, I probably would have thought the word "phantomlike" instead of "apparitional." If I thought anything at all when my nerves deadened my brown body into a wraith, when the ground fell soft or I floated above it. When Christi yanked me out of my trance with an offering of lemonade, suggesting that she can remove the lid for me to drink from the cup if I didn't feel comfortable sipping from her straw.
Christi spoke nervously on the way to meet my mother at the rocket, stunned by the exacting force with which the lady at the lemonade had rendered me invisible, her invisible for acting kindly on my behalf, and me tongue-stuck silent. Christi told my mom what happened; her response I could not hear. My gaze fell upon my pink-painted toenails poking through the openings of my sandals. I wanted only to be in the airconditioned comfort of my mother's pale-blue Cadillac. I wanted only to go home.
*Names have been changed.
Each copy of A/TYPICAL LESBIAN LOVE STORY: Surviving a Pandemic + Middle-Child Shit comes signed, hand-numbered, and includes an artwork sticker from book.
The chapbook also comes with a letter to readers explaining my reasons for writing the book, which is copied and pasted below.
If my coming out helps even one person to live authentically, then any heartbreak I've experienced along this journey will have been worth it.
Writing and collage-making have been my salvation. For as long as I can remember, I’d disappear into pages: a diary with a glossy, creaky cover and twee lock and skeleton key, a composition notebook, a Moleskin, or anything I could find. And cutting, tearing, and assembling paper against paint, ink, and other mediums have given me relief—the tactile nature of working with these materials soothing me into meditative presence. These are the tools I use to cope. Writing and collage-making help me to make sense of the matters that burden my soul; they help me to release or reshape the pain of trauma, even if only temporarily.
Words on paper. Paper scraps arranged, adhered, and mixed: apparent trash, remixed. And when the paint and paste dry, images are left: some hideous enough to frighten an intruder away, a now-former friend once said; others unnervingly raw and spirit-rattling (a family member once said); certain ones beautiful or intriguing enough to adorn living room walls; and one crafted specifically for a book cover.
It is words on paper and scraps arranged that helped me survive the colliding events of 2020: the pandemic and being sick with the coronavirus, income loss due to the stoppage of sports, familial estrangement. Running parallel to the myriad layers of strife chiseling into deeper traumas was meeting my soulmate because of my writing, falling in love, and starting a new life together. I love us and the love and beauty we create and share every day. And while being accepted by her bloodline has been the most healing gift, the failure of mine to acknowledge, let alone embrace us, has been an expected sadness. It is a grief I tried to prevent by bludgeoning myself, lifelong, into a pulp that would fit the box they had picked out for me: a box I call a coffin.
A/typical Lesbian Love Story: Surviving a Pandemic + Middle-Child Shit is the product of a year of grappling with love in the time of pandemic, job loss, family estrangement, and a lifelong battle to belong.
by weathered layers beneath,
equally out of options.
Sharing an excerpted reading from the titular poem in my latest chapbook collection, A/TYPICAL LESBIAN LOVE STORY: Surviving the Pandemic + Middle-Child Shit.
Only 25 copies exist.
They arrive numbered and signed, with an artwork sticker tucked into the pages.
Get one before they're gone!
As I grind on book revisions, I fantasize about the feel of paint on my fingertips -- the barrier of slickness between flesh and paper or canvas or wood. Collage-making is my meditation. It is the safety net I surrender into when life is life and people are people and stuff is stuff. Until the time of full immersion comes, I work on mini canvases between book chapters and visit galleries and museums daily, on Instagram.
âMy ideas are infinite.
If only I didn't have the need for sleep.
So, I wrote and collaged a painful and personal thing.
It's a limited edition printing of just 25 copies.
A pretty label-averse person, I found myself today pondering the (lack of) evolution in the English language when it comes to labels and identifiers. Who or what gets labeled, and why? What is deemed worthy of naming -- remembering, writing and recording into history -- and what is not?
More importantly, who gets to decide?
Historically, it has been men. And one look at who gets a moniker indicating familial bond in the English language illustrates a wholly heteronormative, patriarchal view: father, mother, sister, brother; aunt, uncle; niece, nephew; grandmother, grandfather; mother-in-law, father-in-law; and sister-in-law, brother-in-law.
So, what do you call the mother of your soul mate/partner while not bound to your partner by law?
If my partner and I get married, her mother would become my mother-in-law. But what is she to me now?
A word does not exist in the English language for this relationship (and so many others). Our society’s struggle with acceptance and inclusion in some ways is caused by (or at least upheld by) the limits of language. Linguistically, we have chosen not to recognize some relationships simply by refusing to, first, acknowledge their existence and, second, to name them. Homosexual relationships have been criminalized or legally delegitimized worldwide. So, if same-sex couples must continue their struggle for recognition and persistently resist attacks meant to erase them, it makes logical (though tragically unacceptable) sense that language would not evolve to include the couples’ respective family members.
And heterosexual couples living outside of wedlock face a sliver of this issue; only after saying "I do" does a person's partner's family members take on named significance.
My partner's mother is more to me than "the mother of my partner." She is special and that's why I've decided to call her by a tender nickname she has been called by some of the special people in her life: Susu, who sends us mail.
This afternoon I reached an arm outside the door and cool rain trickled over my hand. As with all the rainy days, our black, metal mailbox did not protect our parcels from dampness. But left for us today were not the sales papers, letters for prior tenants, papers of personal business and such that usually stuff our box.
Inside, a small, cream-colored envelope -- its corners damp with rain. It was addressed to my partner, from my Susu. My partner had not been expecting anything and and had no idea what it could be, so she placed the envelope on the table and opened it carefully.
Inside, this radiance on an otherwise dreary, spring day:
Three pins of "pride" and one, to be shared, declaring, "home is for everyone."
Three small pins, and now "pride" accompanies crybear on my canvas messenger bag, and pride enlivens the shade of my partner's yellow desk lamp.
I'll be adding a magnet to the "home is for everyone" pin and we'll place it on our busy fridge door -- perhaps next to Julia Child teaching Fred Rogers how to cook or Maya Angelou, Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo or any of the other "Little Feminists" sitting spiffy in magnetized cartoon incarnation.
And for the rest of my days I'll remember walking into the living room after seeing the pins. There to do yoga with my partner, I dissolved into tears. Just the staggering beauty of not only being seen and accepted, but cherished.
Plus, a lingering, dull ache from feeling this for the very first time.
One year ago today, at 7:35 p.m. ET, I sent a DM on the bird app to the person who, unbeknownst to me then, is the love of my life. "Hey, Dani! I love that you're Gen X," I wrote in response to a comment she posted to one of my tweets. I wrote it privately so as not to offend Millennials I worked with who, by year's end, would prove themselves worthy of neither my courtesy nor respect. "I'm surrounded by Millennials in my work and it's a relief to encounter another Xer!"