The flag fluttering against the June sky unexpectedly takes my breath away, its stripes of white and pink and baby blue at once a promise of liberation and a trauma trigger. I feel brief shame that a symbol of hope for people who very much need and deserve hope has provoked me. I remind myself that I didn’t ask for this trigger any more than the rest of it.
I remember standing among throngs of people on Rigsbee Ave in Durham days after the Pulse shooting. The gay pride and trans pride flags flew overhead and the streets were packed clear across as the eye could see. I stood between a friend who was my student and a friend from the PFLAG group I’d attended twice feeling awe and horror and anguish–and invisibility. Naturally, I knew that a straight cis woman didn’t need visibility in this gathering. It’s just that under the circumstances, circumstances nearly nobody knew about–I was substantially more shaken than I might have been if that wholly described my proximity to the LGBTQ community. I cried at the reading of the names. I cried from grief and solidarity. I also scanned the crowd, really confused about my place in it. Who would know the way I was feeling? Who would feel it with me?
I remember fuming all the way to Salisbury, NC for my first Pride. I’d recently enlisted the help of Erica, a local activist in the trans community. My new friend suggested that I bring Veronica to Salisbury Pride where she might feel safer and we might all spend time together. It would be the first time Veronica would present as herself with me present. It was important to me; we went together to Michael’s where we picked out silk flowers to make matching flower crowns in blue and white and pink.
The day of Pride, Veronica was supposed to meet me when I was done teaching after a busy morning so we could get there in time for Erica’s speech. She’d been erratic and evasive for days, suddenly gone when we’d planned to spend time together. Not there when she’d promised. I think she hadn’t even gotten out of bed when I left my class at 11 am. I drove the two and a half hours to Salisbury alone to honor the commitment I’d made to Erica. Finally arrived, I glared at myself in the visor mirror wearing a white dress, the flower crown, tiny blue and white and pink hearts on my cheek. I went alone to meet our friends.
I remember taking Veronica’s swollen, bloody hands in mine and very gently, carefully cleaning polish from her long fake nails. I think I brought her a bag of ice for her swollen knuckles. I somehow didn’t feel the fear which of course accompanied another incident where she punched the gun safe. I didn’t feel my fear when there was a wounded person to tend to.
After I held and tended to her broken hands and dried her tears I went to my purse and extracted a tiny dark blue box. The box held a delicate, narrow band of crystals; a ring to replace the smooth wide band I’d placed on my husband’s finger as I promised myself to him beneath an old tree on our wedding day. I’d wept and hunted for and surreptitiously bought the ring as a symbol of acceptance and commitment to my spouse. The day before I’d fumed over that ring and the disaster that was the Pride and the disaster that was my marriage, but then maybe the gesture would make her happy. Maybe I could finally make her happy.
I padded upstairs to the broken, confused, tortured person sitting in our bed. She didn’t do what Erica said she would do–she didn’t replace the old ring with the new one. She wept and slid the new ring on next to the one I’d married her with.
And I continued to keep the painful, confusing secret.