It was as if a sea of red had washed over my FaceBook news feed. This week as the Supreme Court of the United States took up two landmark cases critical to the fight for marriage equality, a movement began encouraging supporters to change their profile pictures to a red version of the Human Right’s Campaign’s traditional blue and yellow equal sign. As one half of a legally married gay couple who is still denied the 1, 138 rights benefits and privileges that straight married couples receive, I was anxious about these cases and hopeful that they would bring about the change that is so needed for families like mine to be treated fairly. Of course, I was eager to change my photo and update my statuses accordingly to show my personal stake in this critical issue. I frankly never expected what happened next.
Watching my newsfeed this week was somewhat akin to watching the first raindrops splatter on my back deck during a hot summer afternoon thunderstorm. A few fat drops, widely spaced with lots of dry decking in between them giving way to a shower then a downpour until the deck is completely drenched. So too did those first few red equal signs on my friends profile photos suddenly become ten, then 30 then 75, then 200, then so many I could no longer keep track of them all. I was awash in a sea of bright red support, reaching around me, embracing me and lifting me up as I watched my Twitter and FaceBook feeds anxiously for news of what transpired during the oral arguments. The creativity was astonishing. Equal signs made of hundreds of hearts, equal signs made of bacon (side note: bacon’s press agent is doing a hell of a job), equal signs made out of books on shelves, on the chest of Wonder Woman, and every possible variation one can imagine were popping up everywhere I looked. And as with every big social media movement, there was backlash.
This is ‘slactivism!’ came the cry. “Changing a profile photo is an easy way to think you’re doing something without really doing anything!” “I’m not following the crowd!” “I don’t need a red equal sign to show my support!” And the variations on the slactivism argument were as creative as the very emblems they protested. Now let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of slactivism myself. I never ever take part in the pinking of the world every October even though I lost my mother to breast cancer, and I never pass on the “share this if…” memes. It’s just not for me. But there was something different about what happened this week. And the difference was in the dialogue.
I’ve had the ubiquitous blue and yellow HRC sticker on my Jeep for years. The emblem also adorns roughly 10 baseball hats between me and Kelly, a few sweatshirts, and assorted coffee mugs and water bottles. It’s a huge part of my daily life. But this week when dozens of friends messaged me or posted on my wall to ask “what are those two lines? What does this mean?” I realized how few of my straight friends knew its’ significance. The conversations that ensued about the equality sign were wonderful, and I felt my heart grow lighter every time I saw another friend’s facebook page change to red. But it didn’t stop there. A staunchly conservative friend, (yes I do have some of those!) currently in seminary school, took up the banner of marriage equality with a passion that humbled me. Going toe to toe with scripture quoters, and taking down argument after argument against the rights of families like mine. Her fiery passion was humbling, astonishing, and frankly terribly amusing. Those marriage equality opponents didn’t know what had hit them. When she told me “your family is why I fight,” I started to cry. Friends were writing me asking, “how do I get that picture? I want to show my support too!” People sent me photos, clips, memes and messages. Some were funny, and many were touching. “I’m a coward, I didn’t change my photo, my family is too judgmental… but I’m with you,” came one message. “I didn’t want to be a part of this, I thought it was a fad, but now I need to be” came another. “Understanding your marriage changed my mind, I get it now,” came another. A creative friend photo-shopped Kelly and I onto the cover of TIME Magazine with their current headline “Gay Marriage Has Already Won.” And the messages kept coming. People asking me to explain how the laws treat my marriage differently from theirs, people asking me how they could support the HRC, people telling me that they loved me. That sea of red washed over me like the biggest wave on Ogunquit Beach, carrying me to shore and leaving me smiling and laughing in the shallows. It was a feeling so wonderful it left me no choice but run back out and let it carry me again and again.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that this year has been, to put it mildly, difficult, and my ability to keep my head above water and find a silver lining has been challenged at best. But this week, as the sun finally shone brighter outside my office window each day, as the thought of the arrival of spring seemed less and less of a pipe dream, and as that sea of wonderful, creative bright red love washed over me, I found myself smiling again, singing again, and laughing again. There is hope in this world and it showed itself in a sea of red. And for that I can only say… thank you.
It happened so fast. It happened in slow motion. As I turned my Jeep Liberty into my condominium parking lot Friday afternoon, I was thinking of all sorts of things: Finally getting back to the gym now that my strep throat was feeling better, learning those repetitive Act One lines for the show I’m rehearsing, what I would bring to dinner with our friends Saturday night. I wasn’t thinking that in a few seconds my neighbor would back out of her parking space without seeing me, and gun her car right into the driver’s side door of my Jeep.
I remember seeing the car coming at me and realizing I could not speed up nor brake enough to avoid the collision. I felt the back of her SUV collide with me, felt my front door buckle and push in against my hip, and heard the crunch of metal meeting metal. I didn’t feel my knee slam against the steering wheel column… I didn’t feel that until later when I found the big ugly red mark there. I didn’t feel my shoulders slam back into the seat after my seatbelt stopped me… I didn’t feel that til much later when I was trying to find a comfortable position for sleep. And then it was over and all I could think was, “No! Not my Jeep! Not my Liberty!”
The driver’s side door was crushed in and wouldn’t open so I climbed over the passenger seat and out to inspect the damage. MY neighbor was distraught, apologetic, worried, and solicitous. “No, no I’m not hurt.” “No, it’s ok , of course it was an accident. I know…don’t worry. Please. It’s fine.” And of course it was. There was no bodily injury, no shattered glass, just a couple of severely dented doors, and a broken mirror. Yet it wasn’t fine. I headed inside and called Kelly to come help me figure out what to do next. Snow was beginning to fall as we exchanged insurance information and called to place the claim. Why it didn’t occur to us to go inside to make the call I don’t know, but as I stood in the cold on my cell phone, staring at the crumpled doors of my Jeep, I suddenly could make no sense of what the kind Allstate agent was telling me. “I’m going to give you to my wife,” I said, “I’m a little shaken up and I am not concentrating.” Kelly took over and did what she does so well, make lists, ask questions and get things done. Me? I started to cry.
Now here is where you say “Katie, seriously. It’s just a car. You were fine, the car wasn’t totaled, and doors can be replaced, you have awesome insurance, the accident wasn’t your fault, so why the tears?”
Ah yes. Why the tears?
My bright red 2004 Jeep Liberty was the first car I ever bought by myself. Yes at the ripe old age of 38 I finally negotiated, and signed for and paid for a car all by myself. (This fact makes my wife incredulous. She, of course, bought her first car at seventeen.) It was the summer of my divorce and it was the one totally selfish thing I have ever done for myself. I remember taking Liza, only five at the time, still in a booster seat, to test drive it. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with my friend Vicki, an amazing saleswoman, while she scribbled figures on a pad of paper and helped me negotiate over the phone with the salesman. When we picked up the car Liza and I giggled as we pulled out of the lot, windows down and the feeling of freedom before us. “Momma we got a BIG Jeep with BIG wheels!” she squealed from the back seat. And we were off. For me, that Jeep Liberty symbolized MY new liberty, complete with doing scary new things like buying a car for myself for the very first time. For the next 8 ½ years that Jeep took us to work, to school, endless trips to Maine to handle my mother’s cancer care, to the beach, to Rhode Island to see my brother, to the mall, to Nashua to visit Kelly in her apartment, and hundreds of other destinations. It kept me safe in the worst of snowstorms and I always felt particularly butch every time I would pop it into four wheel drive to get up the hill to my condo. Along the way it gained a Provincetown Sticker, a gay pride sticker, an Ogunquit sticker, a Holy Cross Alumni Sticker, an Obama/Biden sticker, and an HRC sticker. A string of pride beads hung from the rear-view mirror, and the collection of cds Liza listened to during her years in the back seat went from “Blues Clues” and “Kidz Bop” to “High School Musical” to Taylor Swift, until finally they were replaced by our battling iPods when she moved up to the front seat. The Jeep bore witness to everything from the nervous tears of a five year old on her first day of kindergarten, to the exhausted snoring of a 13 year old after 3 dance classes and a tech rehearsal. It’s walls hold the confidences of our best mother daughter talks, and the echoes of my tears when I was sure I was failing completely as a mom. While I was relentless about the maintenance of the car I tended to be a bit neglectful of the interior and Kelly often commandeered the Jeep for a thorough cleaning. And through it all I never stopped getting that little thrill I felt when I would see the bright red of its paint waiting for me in the morning, after work, or even in a random parking lot. MY Red Jeep. MY Liberty.
Now I’m a big girl. I know doors can be replaced and eventually my Liberty will be back for me good as new. But the tears that I shed for those crumpled doors weren’t just for paint and metal. They were for what they represented. My new life, my new liberty. But I know it will be home soon, back with us for more adventures… and someday, hopefully, there will be another young lady behind its wheel.. getting her own little taste of liberty.
But not TOO much!
We’ve all heard it. “Just put it out there to the Universe!”. Times are tough? Need a break? Not sure of the next move? Want something really badly? “Just put it OUT there” man! The Universe will answer! Because I seem to have more than my fair share of more new-agey inclined friends I tend to hear this a lot. My mother would have told me to pray to the Blessed Mother for divine intervention. My father would have told me to “work for it!” In the social media world I have a whole slew of friends who subscribe to some feed called “Begin with Yes” that offers up pithy sayings about the awesome power we each hold to create our futures. (Their posts are inevitably accompanied by Thomas Kinkaide-esque paintings of sunrises, mountains, and unicorns). But whether it’s saying endless Hail Mary’s or meditating on the power of the Universe in a yoga class, or networking ourselves silly in pursuit of success, we all get that message somewhere along the way that we just have to BELIEEEVVEEEE in it hard enough, WORK for it hard enough, do all the right things, and just be a good enough person, then what we want will simply… be. Except, sooner or later it happens.
The Universe says “no.”
The past eight weeks have been a soul-crushing, spirit-numbing, tear-stained sequence of “no,” after “no,” after “no” that began on New Year’s Eve and continued relentlessly day after day. I said more prayers for divine intervention than I had in the previous 46.8 years of my life combined, I had long talks in the car with my mother (who’s been dead for five years), I had bursts of strategy and action certain that I had figured out how to conquer the latest obstacle, and every day I woke up and “put it out there” yet again, convinced that finally the Universe would have to say yes.
It might have been bearable if the “no”s had been limited to say one particular area of my life – work, or parenting, or friendships, or volunteer work – but they spread out like an invasive weed to take over all areas of my life. Potential funders who I’d cultivated for weeks and months turned me down, previously fulfilling and fun volunteer gigs degenerated into swampy messes of finger- pointing, slammed doors, stress, anxiety, and some of the most gut wrenching decisions I’ve ever had to make. A show I’d longed to do for years held auditions and I didn’t find out until they were over. Friends who I thought were in it for the long haul suddenly became very conspicuously absent, even angry with me, (probably rightfully so, I’ve been kind of insufferable). Even the small blessings I prayed would come true for my daughter and her friends were summarily denied, denied, denied. January turned to February and I felt sure the streak would be over but it marched relentlessly on. “No” became the standard order of the day.
What the hell Universe? Is this really how it’s supposed to work when I “put it out there?”. Were all those pastel colored posters with their pithy sayings lying? Where were all the friends with their memes and quotes now? Lost in my own stress and misery I binged on carbs, spent long nights buried under fleece blankets, cried on Kelly’s shoulder, cried in the car, cried in the shower, and sent the stock of Yellowtail Shiraz and Kleenex skyrocketing.
And then I noticed something.
I know, you’re thinking “oh THIS is where she’s finally going to see that all those ‘no’s were leading to some great big glorious new ‘yes’ she didn’t see coming.” No, that’s not it. There so far has been no glorious ‘yes’ awaiting me, and trust me I’ve searched for it! What I noticed was that this year seemed to be especially bad not just for me, but for many, many of my friends who were facing trials far beyond my petty problems. Real problems such as health crises, and job loss. And then I noticed that many of my other friends who were often the most silent voices in my very loud and crowded social media world were reaching out to me simply saying, ‘I’m worried.’ Or “I’m here.” Or “I’m so sorry.” They weren’t armed with ready-made sayings, they weren’t promising that things would magically be better, they were just … simply…there. And their actions reminded me to do the same for my friends who were truly suffering. To step outside my own misery (my wife would call it my own tendency to ‘catastrophize’) and try to make things a little better for people who really needed a boost.
I’d love to say that as my 47th birthday inches closer day by day that I can see the dawning of new hopeful skies on the horizon. I really can’t. The friendships that strained remained strained, the things that broke are past repair, and the disappointments still sting. But somewhere out there spring is coming and even if it may not bring unicorns and sunrises and magical days filled with ‘yes,’ it will bring the promise of softer days, longer light, and the comfort of the passage of time.
And for now, that will have to do.