by Renee Rockland

Red Light. I stop behind her. She jumps out of her car and races back to me before it changes. “What’s your favorite season? I want to know everything about you.” My stomach dips and flips, newfound euphoria. This is the first time I have been in love with a woman. We explore tentatively, testing the permanence of our attraction. A transient phase or a tattoo? Months later, at another red light, we sit in our compact car holding hands. Hers, a novelty to me, simultaneously soft and strong. Abruptly, she recoils, nodding toward the driver in the truck beside us who stares and sneers. I am not used to hiding. She has never been seen. We struggle in the penumbra.

Orange juice with champagne in crystal flutes. My mother proposes a toast. We eat waffles topped with homemade strawberry jam as she peppers us with questions about the significance of a union ceremony. Does it have to be on National Coming Out Day? During The Game of Life, she puts two pink pegs in the front seat of my little plastic car. In private, she absorbs news of Matthew Shepherd and prays for our safety. When I am fired after a coworker outs me, she doubles down. Her parents are less accepting. I am the first girlfriend she’s brought home, and my introduction confirms their suspicions. If I disappear, maybe the impossible truth that their daughter is a lesbian will too. We retreat into the shadows.

Yellow is gender neutral. We paint the nursery walls a sunny hue. Twin daughters are born on their due date. Healthy. Their birth certificates list only my name. Our neighbors welcome us home from the hospital with a Calvin peeing on gays decal. Legally, I am a single mother who could take our children, leaving her without recourse. Legally, she is a single woman who could walk away, leaving us homeless. Our children’s security is precariously perched on the commitment of parents who are overworked, overanxious, and overtired.

Green scrubs at the periphery of my vision. Lung surgery. Only family members are allowed. She produces documentation of our fidelity in the form of a Power of Attorney. The night nurse calls her “honey,” and gives her a pillow and blanket. Shows her where to shower while I sleep. She’s there when they remove the ventilator and tubing. She’s there for fifty-two nights, changing bloody bandages, dispensing pain medication, and faithfully tracking my spirometer progress. An engagement ring appears one morning with my pills. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. In sickness and in health. Inhale.

“Blue jeans and flannel shirts are for boys.” A stranger accosts us at the mall. She eyes the girls in their double stroller eating Cheerios. “You shouldn’t dress your daughters like dykes just because you are.” They learn advocacy young, impelling us into the light. “We don’t have a daddy. We have two mommies.” The power of two. They are a force, this little rainbow-T-shirted duo. They carry handmade signs colored with Magic Markers and march for equality. The audacity of visibility. On Adoption Day, the judge lets them bang the gavel. We are an official family unit. Nothing in their world changes. Ours tilts toward the sun, protection an invisible luxury for those who can afford it. Our pride bumper sticker garners unwanted attention in a small town when we stop for ice cream on a road trip. We usher the girls into the car and turn up Dora the Explorer to drown out the hate. Vámonos.

Indigo Girls are retro according to my high school students. I sponsor the Sexuality and Gender Alliance Club. We champion gender-neutral bathrooms and a pride prom. They expand my vocabulary with words like cisgender and pansexual and gender dysphoria. They teach me about pronouns, making me rethink language and meaning. I stop cringing at the word “queer.” This new generation is fearless. I marvel at their courage and candor. They reignite my waning passion for activism, swallow me into the whale-belly of their fire and carry me on the current of their convictions. I stand in solidarity on National Day of Silence. Still, when we share in circle, they wonder, “Will I be loved?”

Violet streaks the sky as the sun begins its decrescendo on the opposite side of the bay. We wade into summer-warmed water and fall backward, suspended by the salty sea, arms and legs splayed like starfish. Our fingers drift together and intertwine. Overhead, seabirds soar, riding air currents through cumulus clouds. Thirty years have passed. The sun sinks. We float.

 

Photo by Aleksander Vlad on Unsplash