Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Monday, September 25, 2017
Art by Brian Rea
On our first date, I dared to give her a lingering hug on a crowded subway platform on West Fourth Street, an unusual display of physical affection on my part, which I blamed on the wine. It was the start of spring, the city in bloom.
Charmed by the hug, she agreed to see me again.
We wandered the city, strolling through the Upper West Side and Harlem. Smiling her shyest smile, she told me she dreamed of living in Harlem and starting a family after finishing graduate school. I began to visit her at her studio in Washington Heights, where we would spend hours.
She would make us dinner, mostly pasta sprinkled with Parmesan cheese — the only thing she knew how to cook. We spent evenings watching CNN and debating politics, whether or not Obama would win the election. By the time she laced her fingers with mine and kissed me as we sat crisscrossed on her carpeted floor, our mouths reeking of garlic and tomato sauce, it felt like we had known each other all our lives.
During one of our evening strolls, our hands brushed. It never crossed my mind until then to hold hers in public. I felt a thumping in my chest when I did. She took my hand without question or pause, as if she expected it.
It felt so right. No one blinked an eye. Then one sultry day that summer, I felt comfortable enough to lean in and kiss her in Central Park where we were sitting on a beach towel. I never knew something inside me was transforming until the L-word slipped from my lips and she smiled.
I wasn’t always like this. I hadn’t been around displays of affection growing up. My stepfather and mother were in love but showed it only with a subtle smile across the room or a vague innuendo that passed as swiftly as a breeze rustling the mango trees.
At 17, I moved to the United States from Jamaica, where I had felt as if I were the only lesbian in a country in which police turn a blind eye to mob violence against gays and sex between men is punishable by law. When I arrived in New York City and had the opportunity to date women, I was still glancing over my shoulders.
At first, I kept my romantic affairs with women casual, never getting too invested. Though I was out about my sexuality, I never felt the need to display affection in public. But when I met my future wife, things changed. We wanted to hold hands everywhere. We kissed goodbye on the subway and put our arms around each other in the theater to keep warm.
This might seem like nothing for a straight couple. But I’ve noticed that there is a strange hierarchy of handholding that dictates who gets to express physical affection without repercussions. For straight couples it’s fine, of course. For white gay couples it’s a little less fine. For black lesbians like us, it can feel like a radical act.
Two years into our relationship, I convinced her to move to Brooklyn, where I had been renting. Bedford-Stuyvesant was more affordable than her Harlem fantasy.
We also fit easily into the scene on Fulton Street, with its mostly African-American and Caribbean population. A place where the bass of dancehall and reggae merged with hip-hop and old-school R&B; a place where one can smell curried goat and jerk chicken alongside fried chicken and catfish. A place where summer months mean block parties, people-watching on stoops and strolling through the neighborhood to another backyard barbecue. A seemingly urban utopia populated by well-dressed transplants and those born and bred in the “do-or-die.”
But I would soon learn that it is one thing to be black and lesbian in this urban utopia and another thing to act on it.
The man was no taller than 5-foot-7. Yet he seemed to hover over us, with shoulders spread like the wings of a falcon. In his eyes were the flames he swallowed, his pupils hardened into something we couldn’t break. “No Rasta woman do dat,” he said with a sneer.
He gestured wildly at us with our dreads, our hands intertwined, me in a summer dress and her in cutoff shorts and a tank top. Surely he was not talking about our outfits but the fact that we were holding hands. He flung his condemning words into the sudden soundlessness of busy Fulton Street.
This had happened to us many times since moving to Brooklyn, but this time stood out because of his insistence on causing a scene.
My wife glared at him. “Only a coward picks on women,” she said.
He came menacingly close and repeated his words. But before my wife could say anything more, I tugged her arm and said, “Just keep walking.” My chest tightened and I felt helpless, reduced to a position of surrender like I would have been back home.
Gone from my mind in that moment was the fact that I was on American soil. I may have been able to flee the intolerance of my homeland, but it turns out that intolerance moved to New York City too.
Now there are times when my wife and I walk out of our building without reaching for each other’s hand, already too weary of the reactions we may get. Too weary of the gestures or comments that may ruin a night or an entire day.
Some Jamaican men seem to take it as a personal affront to their manhood when they see us together. After we pass, they spit words at our backs like chewed-up cane husks: “Sodomites!”
From the sides of my eyes, I can see them adjust themselves, getting ready to rise from their squatting positions and haul themselves onto soapboxes. I squeeze my wife’s hand, chilled by the hostile stares, angry that I let them get to me.
We’re married, I remind myself, holding on tighter, my wedding band pressing uncomfortably into my flesh.
By the time the man with the loud mouth hovered over us, I had almost given up fighting. Days before, we had encountered another black lesbian couple. We knew them — they are part of the large yet still mostly familiar population of black lesbians who seek asylum in Bed-Stuy because of its affordability.
When the couple saw that we were holding hands, they said, “You two are brave! We don’t hold hands around these parts of town.”
While a white lesbian couple could walk holding hands or even tongue kiss in the middle of the street, lesbians of color, particularly black lesbians, have a hard time doing the same. I felt outraged when this became more apparent to me, as an open femme, who can pass as straight — the ultimate trigger for men who have a hard time accepting that women like us are out of reach.
The fact that we could not openly love each other as black women without some men presuming ownership of our bodies shook me to the core. Something had to give. I had not left a homophobic country to continue living in fear in America.
But on that bright evening, as the man lambasted us on the street corner, I relapsed and pulled my wife away. “You don’t know what he’s capable of!” I snapped, surprised at my words and ashamed that I’d turned my fear into rage toward her. But I did not want to lose the woman I love to someone who appeared to have nothing to lose.
I clenched my teeth to steady my words. I could hear my heart pounding between my ears. Meanwhile, the man stared us down. He shook his head, baffled; our public display of our love appearing to cut him deeply, causing rippled lines across his dark forehead.
“My girl,” he whispered with a hint of possession, of familiarity. “How can you embrace dat lifestyle?” He clutched his chest in pain, looking at me as though I was the one who needed to be reasoned with — as though I had lost my mind in this foreign land with this foreign disease. “You know bettah.”
That evening, my wife and I walked home without holding hands, and I had never felt so robbed. I became angry at the world, at myself, at my wife. I grew so angry, in fact, that I could not be angry anymore, especially when I realized that I could destroy our love with my pent-up rage.
Walking down the street holding my wife’s hand is perfectly normal, I told myself. And I have become determined to fight for this love and our freedom to express it. Gays and lesbians before us fought for this, and we would too. We would dare to find a home, our place, on Fulton Street, as we have found a home in each other.
By: Nicole Dennis-Benn
Source: The New York Times
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Monday, September 18, 2017
On the drive from the Calgary airport to the hotel for our honeymoon, my new husband casually mentioned that he would need to find a criminal defense attorney when we got home.
“I’ll probably just plead no contest to rioting,” Alex said as we sped by the brown prairie grass. “And the resisting arrest. That’s just something they always tack on.”
I clutched the door handle of the little red rental car, feeling lightheaded and panicky. “What?” I said.
The Rocky Mountains, once so lovely in the distance, now loomed before us.
“The obstruction of justice is a trumped-up charge,” he continued, “but it’s definitely something to deal with.”
“What?” I said again.
He began to explain, in a calm and lawyerly way, what the charge meant and why it wasn’t really applicable in this case.
“No, I mean: What in God’s name are you talking about?” That’s the clean version of what I said.
Alex explained that on the night of his bachelor party, he and a few other friends had gotten into a drunken argument with some locals in the only bar in town, apparently over a flip-flop. Someone, at some point, threw a punch, and it all went downhill from there.
He and four members of our wedding party had spent the night in jail. The others had just been put in the drunk tank, but my husband-of-a-day, claiming he was only trying to help by intervening when a friend was being hauled into the police car, had been arrested on multiple charges.
His best man had to collect A.T.M. cards from the guests to gather enough cash on a Saturday morning topost bail for him before the wedding. This was after he already had been frog-marched from the jail to the courthouse of the adorably quaint Appalachian mountain town in leg and arm shackles, chained to the other men being arraigned that morning, including his cellmate from the night before, who stood accused of attempted murder.
The cellmate had claimed self-defense.
“He kept explaining that he’d been hit with a hickory switch,” Alex said, “and it took me 10 minutes to figure out what he meant.” He seemed so delighted with the story that I began to think he might be kidding. Or at least exaggerating.
“Are you actually serious?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, turning to me with surprise. “Are you upset?”
“Yes! I’m upset.”
“Why? I’ll have to pay a fine, but it’s not the end of the world.”
“You might go to jail in Virginia!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, there was a chance I might not have made it to the ceremony, if the judge had decided not to grant bail. We didn’t want you to worry before the wedding.”
“We? Who is we?”
“Well, everyone else at the wedding. Everyone but you.”
Suddenly it all made sense. My older brother’s black eye. (He said he’d walked into a door.) The bruises around my younger brother’s neck. (He hadn’t even tried to make up an excuse.) My sister making me walk the long way to the hair salon on the morning of the wedding instead of the direct route past the courthouse. The fact that my bridesmaid’s husband and my sister-in-law, two people who didn’t really know each other, took off together with a lurch and a screech in my husband’s car when I waved at them on the way to the hairdresser.
Everyone had known but me.
It was too much. “Our marriage is based on a lie!” I yelled, and burst into tears.
It wasn’t a lie, of course. Not really. It was simply a lack of information. That’s an important distinction.
Back then I wasn’t yet a hospice chaplain, a job in which I spend much of my time listening to dying people’s secrets and revelations. If I had been, I would have known that not one of us ever has all the information when we get married.
The state of being married is coming to the realization that the person you have pledged your life to is, at heart, a mystery. There will always be things unknown to you.
Usually, these are the things we keep hidden, the secrets we don’t even share with the ones we love most.
At least half a dozen hospice patients have told me that their husbands were not the fathers of their children, and that they had never told anyone, including their spouse and child.
Once, it was the other way around. A husband told me that he knew his eldest child was not his, and had always known: The dates simply did not match up. He was out of the country for the war. It was not physically possible.
He loved his wife so much, though, and had always loved her and would have married her no matter what. But now, he wondered, why had she still not told him? Why, at this late hour, after all these decades of happiness and hardship together, had she still never confided in him?
And sometimes, there are things we choose not to see.
One old woman, timid and always trembling in her bed, always with the shades drawn and the light off, had no friends, no family, no one. She had moved across the country to this little town where no one knew her and she knew no one, and she wanted it that way.
Her husband, I learned, had been convicted of over 100 counts of sexual assault of children. The accusations and charges spread out across the 50 years of their marriage and even before. They had all been family members.
“I didn’t know,” she said. “I swear to you I had no idea. No one believes me. They say I must have known, must have had some idea. I swear to you — I swear to God — I didn’t know. I didn’t know him at all.”
In the end, as at the beginning, we are mysteries to each other.
The work of chaplaincy dabbles in mystery all the time. The mystery of God, the mystery of death, the mystery of life. What was it all for? What does it all mean?
Add love to that list of mysteries.
In chaplaincy, a mystery is not something that cannot be known. It’s the opposite. We say God and life and death are mysteries in theological language not because they are unknowable, but because there is so much to know that you can never know the depths of it; there is always more you can learn. They are Mysteries, with a capital M, because they are infinitely knowable. The more you learn, the more you want to know.
That’s really what falling in love is, isn’t it? Yearning to know more about a person, the amazement and delight as each layer is peeled back, the realization that you can never get enough of the one you love. Perhaps the death knell of love is not anger or even indifference; it’s losing the desire to know more about your partner.
So my marriage was not based on a lie. But like all marriages, it is a mystery. I could not know everything there was to know about Alex the day I married him, and he could not know everything about me. Neither of us could know what the future held. Neither of us could know, in that little red rental car, that I would have a baby two years later in the town in Iowa where we lived, far away from the town where we married.
We couldn’t know that I would develop drug-induced psychotic disorder from anesthesia during that birth. Couldn’t know that a psychiatrist would tell Alex that I would be disabled for the rest of my life from psychosis and that we would move back across the country to be closer to my family. Certainly could not have known that with the right help, I would get better in that new town of green hills and stone walls on Buzzards Bay, and that I would find a calling to work with the dying there.
Why, then, would any of us leap into marriage, knowing that the future is unknowable, knowing our spouse is a mystery we can never fully understand?
I suppose it’s faith. Belief that there is something deeply good in the mysterious heart of the infinitely knowable other. And hope that this goodness will be enough to face the future together. Sometimes that works out; sometimes it does not.
In the end, Alex didn’t go to jail for his bachelor party escapades. He paid a fine, just as he predicted. He still doesn’t understand why I cried all night the day after we got married.
I still believe there is something deeply good in him. I still don’t understand him at all.
By: Kerry Egan
Source: The New York Times
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Aren't these amazing? I found them in a pretty bad shape in an antique store in Hungary, and was obsessed with getting them in the best shape possible. Mission completed! They look adorable and are waiting for you in onecreativebunny.etsy.com . It is never too early to start Christmas shopping!
Friday, September 15, 2017
Onecreativebunny.etsy.com is back from its vacation and I am listing amazing findings from a road trip across Romania and Hungary. There are some amazing vintage findings waiting to be listed, some pretty new charm necklaces and a recycled polymer clay papr plane that I had a chance to finish during my trip.
Stay tuned for more!
Stay tuned for more!