I remember how she came out. I was hung over as hell. It was the last time I visited Michigan, July 2013. I’d gone out with some friends the night before. We’d consumed every drink that came within arm’s reach.
I woke up to Lindsay delivering kicks to my ribs. I’d gotten in late. Or early. Whatever. All I wanted was to sleep for a few more hours. My tongue was dry and my bladder was full.
The blows landed, and landed well. What did she want?
My liver must have been on vacation that day. My mother’s grandfather clock chimed, echoing between my ears.
“Josh. Wake up, Broham.”
I rolled over. “Just leave me alone for a while.”
“No. Get up.” This wasn’t a negotiation.
“What do you want? You’d damned well better have a Bloody Mary for me.” I was going to get violent.
“Whoa. You had a decent time last night, I assume?”
I’d seen several of her friends the night before, and they were generous, buying me drinks and eventually depositing me into the gutter in front of Mom’s house. I hadn’t been to Michigan in two years. My homecoming was humbling, to say the least. I never felt welcome, though it was supposed to be my home. Red-cap, whole-milk America. Middle America — my America.
“Ugh. What the hell, Linz? I feel like shit.”
“Well,” she started, “Grandma Sally’s birthday is today. You only turn 80 once.”
I’d completely forgotten about it, which was unfortunate. I was supposed to be in charge of the “surprise” part.
“Oh, by the way, my friend Britney is coming,” Lindsay said. “She’ll be here in a little while. Please don’t embarrass me. I really like this girl.”
My mind raced. Lindsay had been posting pictures on Facebook making out with female strippers. But I thought it was just drunken fun. Was this how acceptance would come? Put it right under everyone’s nose, and to hell with the consequences?
“Um, is there something you’re trying to tell me?” I asked Lindsay. She’d just told me she was having a girl over and that she “really liked” her. What? Was I even awake? Did her daughter — my niece — even exist?
“Okay. Is this, like, a thing now?”
She offered no words but she grunted again.
I thought about a diplomatic answer. This was a shock to me.
“Well, whatever makes you happy,” I said, just to end the conversation.
After Grandma Sally’s birthday party, my friends came and picked me up. We went golfing at a little par-three course that allowed people to bring their own beer. At this course, scores were not determined by how few strokes one took but by how many beers were had and whoever had the most spectacular golf-cart roll.
Somehow, we didn’t roll any carts, but we did drink plenty of beer. No one was sober enough to drive anywhere, so we sat there after we finished, shooting the shit, smoking cigarettes, and calling each other gay slurs. The word “fag” was tossed around by my friends.
“You know,” I started, “they’ll give you the gas chamber for that in California.”
The replies varied.
“You fucking homo.”
“Limp wrist now, huh?”
“Wee bit lavender?” That was a personal highlight.
They were all similar.
I, with most of my friends, still smoked cigarettes. The fumes of their coffin-nails weren’t quite as strong as their disdain for gay people. But one thing I learned early: don’t burn the locals. Plus, they were my friends. So I didn’t say anything.
The next day, when I boarded my flight, I was glad to be going home. Back to San Diego. I never should’ve gone back to Michigan.
First time west of Nebraska
I picked up Lindsay from the airport late at night. This was June 2014. She had vacation days to use and had never been to California. She looked dead-tired. She didn’t feel like talking after spending nine hours traveling to San Diego. We went back to my house in Mira Mesa.
“Dude, take my bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.” She didn’t argue and deposited herself in my room.
This wasn’t only her first time in California, it her first time west of Nebraska. Oh, the times we’d have. I’d taken some time off work. I’d planned to take Lindsay to all the great restaurants: Phil’s, Hodad’s, In-N-Out, etc. I’d show her how Californians did it. I kept telling her that the great whites love to eat tourists.
Lindsay had been officially gay for almost a year at that point. Britney had joined the Army, shipped out, and forgotten about Lindsay. It was a shame. Britney was a damned fine-looking woman. But not so high on sentimentality.
Lindsay wanted to see California. It’s strange — she was experiencing California for the first time, and expectations were for me to show her around, give her a little life lesson, and teach her a thing or two. I ended up learning from her.
Put on the blindfold, Grandma
My brother Matt and I were picking up Grandma Sally from her apartment. She thought we were taking her to Big Boy for a birthday lunch. Matt drove, since I was probably still legally drunk from the night before. We parked, walked up to her apartment, and she answered the door.
“Hey, guys. I’m ready to go.”
“Grandma, put the blindfold on,” I said.
“Okay….are we still going to Big Boy?” She sounded so innocent and sweet as she said this.
“Not quite,” Matt said. He laughed, in a twisted way. Matt was a juvenile delinquent and enjoyed pulling capers in whatever form they came. We walked Grandma down to the car, opened the passenger door, and sat her down inside.
“Wow,” Matt said. “I really hope we don’t see any cops.”
That particular thought had never occurred to me. “Just mind the road,” I snapped, “Straight and narrow.”
He had a point — if any police officer in his right mind had seen us, two young men with a blindfolded old lady in a car, we probably would have been arrested and charged with kidnapping or terrorism. No cop would have believed our protests. Also, Matt was probably in possession of illegal substances. My headache got much, much worse.
Luckily, we made it back to my mom’s house without incident. About 40 people were there waiting, only a couple of blocks away from Grandma’s apartment. I hadn’t seen most of them in years. The party came off well, and Grandma thanked us afterward for the surprise. I was just glad not to be arrested.
Worse than Detroit
Lindsay had been excited to visit L.A. Until we hit traffic on Interstate 5 in Orange County, that is.
“Wow. This is bad,” she remarked.
“Did you think I was lying?” I asked.
“No, but this is horrible.”
I’d spent more time in L.A. than San Diego and had made this same trip dozens of times. When we hit South-Central, Lindsay was convinced.
“Holy shit,” she said, “this is worse than Detroit.”
“Maybe not that bad,” I said. “See the walls? That’s not to drown out the freeway noise for the locals; it’s so the tourists don’t see the neighborhoods and tell everyone how bad it really is out here.”
“I just didn’t think it’d be this…hopeless.”
She was right about that, at least as far as Watts and Compton were concerned. But we weren’t going there; we were headed to Hollywood Boulevard. Lindsay had to do the tourist thing, of course. As we got closer to downtown, I began to have fond memories of partying in Hollywood, drinking underage, and getting kicked out of clubs. Despite the fact that I’d spent over seven years of my life in California, I’d always felt like an outsider. California had never accepted me. I’d run L.A.’s streets, slept with its women, done its drugs — but never felt like I belonged there. I loved the land; the place. But I could take or leave most of the people.
Living in Southern California had been my first exposure to gay people. I hadn’t dealt with it before, so I had no opinions about it. My friends and I always called each other “fag” or “homo” as kids and teenagers without really thinking about what it meant. It was an insult, to be sure, but we didn’t know anyone who was gay. There were the small-town rumors about certain people, but they were usually started by enemies just to see how far it would go.
Michigan wasn’t exactly a bastion for the gay community. I wondered how she felt about being in California.
We went to Griffith Park Observatory first. Looking out on L.A., Hollywood, and Pasadena, I saw a strange look come over Lindsay’s face. How strange it must have been for her to be so far from home, seeing this for the first time.
It occurred to me that it was ironic that I lived in California but was at best lukewarm to the LGBT movement. My sister lived in small-town Michigan and was down with the cause. We should have switched homes.
“Not a bad view, huh?” I asked.
Just then, a beautiful blonde girl walked by. Lindsay and I both rubbernecked at the same time to look. Then we looked at each other and laughed. Maybe there were some things we’d see eye-to-eye on that we hadn’t before.
Shots in Hillcrest
Since I knew Lindsay was gay, I recommended that we go out in Hillcrest. She at least deserved to experience some of a true, honest-to-God gay community while she was here. I, on the other hand, avoided it. I’d only ever been out there once, when an ex-girlfriend had played a trick on me.
About three weeks after I’d moved back, she invited me out. I lived in City Heights and immediately accepted. She gave me an address, and I promised to meet her there. I was greeted by dudes wearing underwear and nothing else. I was in the bar for maybe 30 seconds and excused myself. I stepped outside to wait for the girl. When she came out of the bar, she thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen.
Lindsay was leaving on a Monday morning. Since it’s a San Diego tradition to get full to the gills on Sunday, I suggested that we go out to Hillcrest and get tanked. I invited several friends.
There was Vu, the certifiably insane Vietnamese friend. He’d always had my back and I could trust him in case anyone got out of hand while in Hillcrest. He said he’d come and he’d bring his girlfriend. I hadn’t met the girlfriend yet, though.
Then there was Soup. This girl, I was her manager, and she was the definition of “look but don’t touch.” A dime piece, if ever there was one. Absolutely off-limits. She said she’d meet up with us, too.
Lindsay and I left my house in Mira Mesa at around 1 p.m.
We arrived in Hillcrest and got a table at the bar.
We took turns drinking Washington Apples. Many rounds were had. I began to get cloudy.
Eventually Vu showed up. He’d brought his friends. They were all Asian and were all dancing fools. They seemed to take something from the music; the same thing, it seemed, that I took from the drinks. Lindsay remarked on how well they danced. She especially remarked on how well the Asian girls danced.
“Shots, Linz?” I asked.
“Me, too!” Soup said.
Vu begged off, since his girlfriend was asking him to go home.
“All right, gotcha,” I said and turned toward the bar. I walked up and a female (who looked as if she used the same hair product as me) said, “What can I get you?”
“Well, something with some tequila, so my sister will remember it,” I answered. I thought about her having a good time and how we’d never discussed her new lifestyle change. God, I was stupid. Why couldn’t I just be happy for her? What should my opinion matter to her?
“Okay, then,” she
Just then, an especially well-dressed gentleman came up to the vacant spot next to mine.
“Hey, how you doing?” he asked.
“Um. My sister is visiting for the first time. She’s gay. I’m not.”
“Well, that’s liberating!” he said.
“Maybe it is,” I said, “but please don’t ruin this for her. I’m about to have a cathartic moment and tell her I just want her to be happy. Please don’t be that guy. Don’t ruin this for her. There’ll be others you’ll meet, who actually are gay. Just not me. Thanks for understanding.”
He took it like a champ.
“If it’s for her, then fare thee well,” he said. He ducked his head and walked away.
I got the drinks I’d ordered and brought them back to our table.
After shots, Soup asked me to dance. Never been much of a dancer, but I saw Vu and his Asian friends doing well, listening to house music I’d never understand, feeling beats I’d never feel. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I said no.
I guess there are some things you’ll never understand.
All my exes
I’ve dated some real pieces of work.
There was the girl who cheated on me from the day I left for boot camp, after I’d never cheated on her for over a year.
There was the stripper who was a model for Quiksilver in the early 2000s. Her stage name was “Blaze” or something.
Then we have the girl who left me for a member of a religious cult. She said his name was “Five.”
The girl in high school who dated several of my friends concurrently while dating me. Impressive for a small town.
The girl who came to see me, Maggie, who banged two of my friends while visiting. The logistics of that still boggle me.
My son’s mother, who is best friends with Lindsay. She conceived while she was “separated” from her husband. She and Lindsay are still best friends.
The tall girls, who seemed like playground equipment to me — I’m only 5´6˝.
I’ve had enough relationships for ten lifetimes. But I’ve only ever seriously considered proposing to two. And, by some miracle, if one had accepted? It would have ended in divorce.
Hope for the best
After the Supreme Court decision, social media exploded with the news that gay people suddenly had the right to get married at any time in any place. The court’s ruling was a surprise to many, apparently including the gay community. My phone seemed to only emit rainbows that day.
That day, Lindsay stopped acting like my sister and started acting like an activist. Her posts became militant, almost daring anyone to disagree with her. Many did. They were the more conservative-leaning members of our family.
Her fiancé, Nikki, had been doing the same thing. I didn’t agree with them but kept my opinion to myself.
Only six days after the ruling, Lindsay and Nikki got married. Since I had no notice beforehand (and wasn’t invited), it was impossible to attend. Yet, had I been invited, I would have politely declined to attend the ceremony. I would have gone to the reception, though.
Those of us who don’t agree? We don’t get invited to weddings. But we hope the best for the newlyweds.