Ann Arbor isn’t far from the suburb where my dad grew up, surrounded by GI Joe and kids with names like Delvecchio and Lombardo and Rutigliano. We like to joke that Ann Arbor is basically Detroit, for all it isn’t. For all Detroit is stuffed with graffiti and casinos, for all Detroit’s particular brand of cold is laced with a sense of quiet stagnation, a layer of rust over chrome and steel hopefulness. Ann Arbor isn’t like that. Which, I guess, is why my dad wears his maize and blue so proudly. Because Ann Arbor means U of M, and U of M means Michigan isn’t just one big Detroit, sad and old and quietly atrophying. U of M means hail to the victors. And that’s important.
Not that I’ve always known that. I loved the Wolverines before I knew what that meant, before the day I sat down next to my dad on the couch, only nine years old, stared seriously at the TV, and asked him to teach me the rules of football.
But there’s a thing you know, a thing my dad taught me from the minute I was born. It’s that you should never, ever, forget where you came from. For me, that starts in Italy at the turn of the century, goes through Ellis Island and across to Detroit. And somewhere in between being Italian and being American, football seeped into my blood.
It’s not something everyone understands. But this isn’t for them. This is for the ones who do.
Hail to the victors valiant, hail to the conqu’ring heroes, hail hail to Michigan…
I could tell you it’s special That things are somehow Different with us But I think You and I both know That would be a lie I’ve never been A one-city woman There’s Detroit And there’s New York San Francisco Boston Toronto is the closest I’ve come to falling in love Long distance, even Memories of tall buildings And waterfalls You’re nothing like The last city I had Messy Like a tequila buzz Harsh You’re colder Guarded You hide behind Flannel shirts like Alloyed armor You touch my face Like I’m breakable A snow bride My hand slid down A warm torso Sweat-slick She had a Jack Daniels kind of voice She screamed She carried holy water I like you better You’re comfortable In your coldness Easier not to need you To raid your closet when I go To take only the good memories With me
I haven’t prayed since I was in high school. I don’t know if you’d even call them prayers at all—just these long strings of pleases that got lost in the corners of my bedroom ceiling. But I prayed for him, every day for 545 days. I don’t know who I was praying to—not any god he’d recognize, anyway, though I’d like to think we’re past that now. But who knows.
The day he left was the first time since I’d gone to college that he’d hugged me and it felt like goodbye. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of when we were kids playing in the snow at Grandpa’s. There was nothing more exciting than a white Christmas back then. We played football, all wrapped up till you couldn’t tell which one of us was which except for my pink ski jacket that I hated because I had a moral aversion to pink and it made me feel like being swallowed by a marshmallow. He was almost as tall as me then, but I wouldn’t have told him that under pain of torture—who wants to admit their little brother might be in any way better than them? I think he was twelve the first time he could tackle me. Really tackle, grab me around the shoulders and give me a face full of snow. We rolled over, laughing, both our faces a jigsaw puzzle of red and white. I remember wondering when my stupid little brother got so big.
That’s what it felt like, hugging him that day. Cold and warm at the same time, too much taller than me, bending down to give me the tightest hug I’ve gotten in my life.
I gave him my calendars, the ones I kept when he was gone, every day marked off with a thick stripe of sharpie. He traced the marks with his fingers, showing off the tan line his uniform had given him, just below the wrist.
I hadn’t seen him cry since he was eight.
He came up for Christmas this year. His hair had grown in, just barely starting to curl again. He showed me the new tattoo on his right arm, and I showed him the one I got on my left shoulder blade.
The snow had stopped by then.
I haven’t seen snow since the winter before I deployed, he said, that tone in his voice he never had before he left.
I said, Hey, wanna go throw the football around?
Yeah, he said, with a hint of that old smile.
I don’t really pray, not anymore. But I thought thank you thank you thank you.
It finally starts to get dark at eight, the sun morphing into a flush of pink, mauve streaks like watercolor across the sky. I’m going east on forty, just shy of eighty, the wind whipping around the open windows. It doesn’t feel reckless yet, driving without headlights. Funny, how easily some things become familiar again. Like dangling my arm out the window, letting it catch and surf along the side of the car.
The farther east I go, the more this feels like last summer. It settles over the faded, rusted exterior of my old car, that relic. Like a worn flux capacitor, the radio sings static. The hills rise green and solid, lightning-catchers on the sides of the highway.
I imagine your feet stuck out the window, Goodwill shoes resting on the side mirror. Nights when I sleep with the windows open, I dream of driving this road, those mornings we went downtown before dawn, watched the sun rise over pancakes and tea with honey. The highway stretched out infinitely ahead, in that limbo between eternity and the inevitable crunch of fall. I remember a time too hot for endings.
You used to make me so nervous, then, laughing past the siren paranoia in my throat.
The usual place, you’d said.
I remember when the highway was our dance floor, crowded and intimate, doors vibrating with the force of the speakers. Are you as loud now as you were then?
The usual place, you’d said.
The 20th century AC used to screech, on those rare occasions we turned it on, sharp howl juxtaposed with Freddie Mercury, like Dada art. We licked warm buttercream icing off our fingers. That’s how we were.
We learned the perfect time to make a Sonic run, the exact amount of time it took to get from Charlotte to Church, from Waffle House to the parking lot where we threw open the car doors and danced to Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald.
If you time it right, you can get past the park ranger and out to the creek at night.
The usual place.
We went skinny-dipping there once, floating up on our backs like leaves. The stars sprinkled like salt over the universe’s shoulder, some ancient, un-named god. Our bodies were too big for that. The moon was our guardian, then.
If you’re there tonight, really there, I’ll tell you what you told me, that first night, with that same breathless awe, that same impressionist kind of look.
Leaving tastes like burnt coffee Sharp and necessary Too-hot on my tongue. The roof of my mouth Tastes like your last kiss Biting The bruises I prodded On insomniac nights Like secondhand smoke, Stale, A fix too long in coming. It wasn’t worth the shakes, The withdrawal pains. You weren’t worth it. (I’m homesick For a place that doesn’t exist.) They think I imagined you. (Maybe I did.)
I remember the day I finally had the courage to say I was gay. The day I stopped using euphemisms, kind little verbal escapes, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.
Gay. Lesbian. Dyke. Queer.
They were like bulllets, like I could shoot to kill with the click of consonants, the slight upper Midwest drawl of my vowels.
The first person to ever come out to me was my first girlfriend. There were no grand romantic gestures in the way we got together. It was a long discussion, a careful arrangement on her sofa in her empty house so that we wouldn’t touch. I was so close to her, with her dark, frightened eyes, the way her drummer’s hands shook like all she wanted was something to hold on to. Like there was a divide we had to bridge.
We tried to talk past our fear (what if someone finds out what if they catch us what if we can never see each other again is the risk worth it).
It didn’t really work.
We broke up (twice).
But through our other relationships, through the girls who came in and out of the closet, the ‘gay till graduation’ girls we knew (and dated), we were still tied together by that fear.
A month before Congress voted to allow repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we sat in the hallway in front of my locker as she told me all she wanted was to be in the military. She still couldn’t look me in the eye.
I know a girl who hid scars underneath wristbands, whose parents wouldn’t let her be alone with anyone, let alone another girl. Who is dating a boy now.
I know a girl who didn’t understand what it meant to have to hide until she went to Catholic school.
I know a girl who sat and listened to Tegan and Sara with me for the first time in her life. Who is so quietly strong it makes me want to cry. Who keeps telling me it gets better, reassuring me, even though I’m the one getting out, going to college, leaving Tennessee behind. Even though she might need that comfort more than I do.
It takes so much courage to be who we are, to walk down crowded hallways with rainbow shoelaces, to take a deep breath and just say it.
But we do it. We fight; we crawl upwards, clawing though the fear and the hurt and the looks we get from the “normal” people. We find a place, maybe as small as our bodies, as the connection between one person and another, in touch, just holding someone’s hand, maybe as big as the block they closed off for Pride. But we find it, and we hold tight, white-knuckled, and we don’t ever, ever let go.
“Some people protest carrying signs. Some people protest by making activist radical music. Sometimes people try to just make it through a day and not kill themselves, and that’s their activism for right then, because that’s all they have.”—Kathleen Hanna (via thegits)
V:Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villian by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengence; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.
“I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Except one. An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.”—Valerie Page
“At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”—Emma Goldman, Living My Life