There’s a lot to be said for not remembering details. I was 19 still nominally living in my parent’s house. I spent as many nights as I could “else place” as my middle son calls any place which isn’t here. In fact, on many occasions, I let my mind drift else place while I moved the dailiness of life. I wasn’t without direction or purpose. I worked at a number of jobs, went to college, and participated in social justice movements: Feminism, pacifism, the anti-nuclear movement. I marched. I talked. I trained people in non-violent civil disobedience. I hung out with folks in GLYNY (Gay and Lesbian Youth of NY). I hung at the library. I hung out in the Natural History Museum. I hung at the Door (located on 6th Ave in Manhattan it provided, meals, medical care, and a place for teenagers to be together and be out of the cold – physically and metaphorically).
I also walked, a lot. I walked around the Village. I walked up and down Manhattan. I walked in on Eleanor Cooper at the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights. She was filing, or at least she was moving papers from one pile to another. I don’t remember what she said to me. I remember filing. I remember stacks and stacks of papers that needed sorting and organizing. I’m not sure how I convinced her that I could help, or why she decided to let me help. I remember many nights walking with her to her apartment and then continuing uptown to catch the cross-town train at Times Square. She could be abrupt. So could I. I liked her. She was straightforward and easy to interpret. We were on the same team, even if I was more of the activist less of the filing type, not that that slowed down my filing. She introduced me to people, more importantly, she introduced me to ideas. Even though I couldn’t tell you what those ideas were, I know they were important to me then because they made me think. I sat near her in 1986 in the New York City Council Chambers when NYC finally passed the Lesbian and Gay Rights Bill (Local Law 2). It was surreal to me. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting there, at that moment, but I was there and saw Eleanor smile. She really smiled, not the halfway smile she gave when things were going well. It was a full-on smile that tilted her glasses at an odd angle and made me smile full-on back.
I walked in on Larry Kramer going red in the face about AIDS at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center. I went to the first meeting. I kept going. I went to Wall Street. I learned things, about AIDS, and HIV, and human nature. I held people at arm’s length, not because I didn’t like them, but because I did. I wasn’t ready to care because I wasn’t ready to lose. I had already met AIDS, and I didn’t like it at all. I wasn’t about to make friends only to watch them die. The only problem was I made friends there, and then they died. Not all of them. Some of them are still here, but, and it probably isn’t OK for me to say this, they are the ones that I find are hardest to bear. They are the ones who are lucky. They are the ones who are negative or who are positive and got the right drugs at the right times. They are the ones who remind me of all the others. They are the ones who remind me that after all the walking, and writing, and talking, and yelling, and demonstrating I live in a world where the lives of the young aren’t valued if they are being lived by people who aren’t white, middle class, Christian, heterosexual men.
I walked in on myself last night. I walked in on a world I left to its own devices. A place where I was 19. A place where my family couldn’t accept me. A place where being myself made me vulnerable at a time when being vulnerable could be deadly. It was a time when I had to make decisions about who I wanted to become, and I chose to be a Feminist, an activist, an atheist, a pacifist, a socialist, and a non-conformist. I am grateful that I walked in on myself so many times and that the people who I met were eager to step in and show me who I could be. Last night, I saw the moon hanging over the trees as I drove home and I realized that all the times and places I walked in on brought me to this place and that this place is where I wanted to be all along.
If you enjoyed this, please consider donating to me. I would love it if you’d help me to keep creating stories.