The first thing my mother said to me when she called me during my staycation at one of Colorado Springs more middle of the road mental institutions was I love you
You’re normal Irene. I love you and god loves you too. You’re normal sweetie. It’s just a phase. Everyone goes through it. You will make it through it. You’re normal understand. Nooooorrrrrmmmalll.
Since I had just tried to end my own life I assumed that my mother was referring to my temporary and active lapse in my own self preservation as the abnormal occurrence.
I was mistaken.
On the day I was released from the institution, given back my shoelaces and permitted to use razors and what not I found myself surprisingly alone. My relatives had decided to leave my car in the parking lot and the key with the attendant. I thought this was a little odd but I was so hopped up on the correct levels of antidepressants combined with a full night sleep that it didn’t bother me.
I felt like a goddamn Disney princess, it was a whole new world.
I had a plan.
Well a list of to-dos and the top of that list was a visit Bob.
When I got home and into my room ready to say hello to one of my little friends I saw that they had all gone missing. I searched everywhere. It took a few days before I had a very stilted and awkward conversation with my half sister who informed me that they had all been removed since they were implements of self harm and that I should consider going to church to meet some nice boy instead.
I was still reeling from the self harm talk when I received a call from my twin brother and to say he was amused would be an understatement.
You should write for Harlequin, he said.
You should write for Harlequin. You know, the romance novels.
What are you talking about?
Seriously if you don’t publish this I will. You better make that money.
You don’t know!?
He then proceeds to read verbatim something I had written into my journal over a year ago. It was a very detailed, flowery, lust ladden account of my involvement with my first girlfriend —–.
He then informs me that during the first week of lock up my older half sister who I was staying with at the time had found my journal, photocopied it and mailed it to the entire family.
I was relived. I know that sounds like a hell of a thing to be at a time like that but I was very relieved. I actually laughed about it. See I am from the south. New Orleans to be specific. My family is very southern. We say things like bless your heart, that was a brave choice, or I find that look to be interesting.
We just don’t “talk” about certain things. “Gay” might as well have been a curse world “Queer” was nonexistent. It was all things that you just needed to take care of by sprinkling a little bit of white Jesus on top with a side dish of Hail Mary’s if you’re of the Catholic persuasion. Which I was. Kinda.
I was Catholic by default, I was Catholic by convenience. My mother wanted my brother and I to have every opportunity possible and being black in the south that meant the best education and the best schools were the private ones and a majority of those were held by the parish. My mother went a step further to ensure that I would be seen, nurtured and uplifted as a young black woman…
In 1995, at the age of 13, I was enrolled into a traditionally segregated, same sex college prep school reigned over by the of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. I attended church once a week, sang in the choir, marched in the band and took extra pride in the crisply iron pleats of my horrendously bright yellow and white school skirt.
Outside of school I had a friend who I loved very much and when people accused us of being lesbians we denied it vehemently. I mean us! We were proper Catholic girls. How dare they say such things.
She and I laughed about this years ago.
While she laid in my arms. Skin against skin. Her face pressed against my chest, my fingers combing through her hair, both of our heartbeats calming into a shared rhythm.
I had no idea then, when were were confronted by our peers that how I felt about her, that my love for her was something “abnormal”. To me it was the most normal thing in the world because it felt so right.
I mean every girl feels this way about other girls right?
At least that is what I said to —–.
—– didn’t like lipgloss and she never drank enough water so sometimes her lips had the appearance of being chapped. Whenever I saw hers I automatically licked mine. She sunburned easy. She inherited her eyes and shoulders from her father, her high cheekbones from her mother.
She often smelled of Victoria Secret Vanilla. A scent I detested until I smelled it on her.
Feb 14th 1999 while the rest of the world was celebrating Valentines day —– and I were Mardi Gras royalty. Her cousin had secured tickets to the platform stand of the coolest radio station in the city. We were jamming while the floats passed us by and the boys called up to us begging for beads or a smile.
I had marched two parades the day before and my body was exhausted. About an hour into the celebration my legs gave out and she wrapped her arms around me bringing me to the ground and giving me her shoulder to rest my head on. She smelled like lilac and tommy girl that day, sweat, split beer and heat.
Whenever she touched my head the pain eased. When her fingers brushed my shoulder it was as if she wrapped my entire self in her grasp. When I was well enough to stand she insisted that we go into a nearby hotel to cool off.
The feeling of the cold bathroom mirror against my back… my body sucking at the coolness like it was a drink. I felt her hands on my knees and opened my eyes to see her in front of me. She had taken down her hair.
She pushed my thighs apart and stood between them.
I was shattered
If I was not already sun drunk and flushed I would have blushed.
“You should not wear that shirt Irene” She said as she tried to make my windblow hair look more like civil and less like some feral thing. “It shows off too much”
“Like you can talk” I whispered looking away
“Those guys were talking. What would your mother say if she heard them talking?”
“My mother brought me this shirt”
“Oh… well they were saying other things too”
“Oh yeah?” I looked at her directly. She smiled again. She had the whitest teeth.
“They were saying we were lovers”
“What! Ridiculous. Who even uses that word.”
“Truth or dare”
I thought long and hard before saying “Truth”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“What! I.. What!?” Stuttering… like all the stuttering
like the San Andreas had opened up in my mouth.
She laughed. I felt faint. “Okay okay god don’t freak out. You’ll have to do the dare then”
“Kiss me Irene. I dare you to kiss me.”
And I did
and we did
—– earned the deluxe toaster that day.
I was in love and I could not tell not one damn person. Well one, my twin brother but it was mostly boasting since I managed to get a girlfriend before he could.
We made promises to eachother. We were gonna go full out Tracy Chapman with a fast car and head north and as far east or west as we could. We were going to disappear in the night so we could walk down the street holding hands in San Francisco or dance a tango in a crowded bar in New York.
We were going to kiss in public!
It ended like most first relationships do. Frantically, dramatically and in flames. It was impressive for two people so young.
It had shoulder pads.
It was Dynasty.
I went to college.
I ended up dating a boy.
My mom who hinted that she knew something was going on with —– but would never come out about it was not so secretly relieved.
I told the boy about —–.
He told me I was bisexual.
I protested! I was straight. Duh I was with a guy. I was with him!
He asked me if I would be with him if he were a girl.
When I said yes he responded: Trust me. You’re bisexual. I know, I’m from California.
I was confused.
The boy told me to write about it. He actually brought me a journal and told me to write about it to figure it all out. So I did. Every single detail that my sister would later take and photo copy and send to my family…my mother who would in turn call to tell me I’m normal…
It’s a phase. Everyone goes through it. You’re normal. I love you.
My sister had outed me and I was relieved because one of the reasons I had tried to kill myself is that I was so worn out on living a lie and trying to conform to what I was “supposed” to be. I made a decision in that moment while my brother loled his ass off.
I made the decision to move to California
To be everything I was a fat , black, queer, pagan, femme… relentlessly! I called my mother to warn her that she was likely going to hear some bizarre things about me because social media is a bitch and my family is like every other (nosey as all get out). I promised to always stay ahead of the wave with her.
I insisted on total radical honesty and 13 years later I still maintain this with her.
She haaaated this! She swore I was trying to put a tag on her toe when I was actually just trying to keep one off of mine. She used to keep a spray bottle with holy water by the front door and insisted on spritzing me down before I came into the house like some sort of errant demon cat. But I was non-fucking-plussed.
When I started dancing burlesque I called her
When I started speaking at colleges about pansexuality, the invisibility of the femme and the intersectionalism of blackness and queerness I called her.
When I went though my most recent break up I called her.
I was a sobbing mess. I was convinced that I was going to be alone because who was going to love all of this. All of me. I’m too weird. I’m abnormal.
My mother told me that I was incorrect.
There is nothing wrong with you, this hurt will pass, this pain is just a phase.
I love you and God loves you too.
You’re perfectly normal child. Some one will always love you.
You are perfectly normal my child.