Lana del Rey’s new single “Looking for America,” brings me to tears on first listen. Like her, the America I once naively believed in was only a myth. Patriotism shattered now beyond repair. It is good to see with clear eyes. For all that it hurts. Like bright sunlight emerging from a cave.
High school in the nineties taught whitewashed Manifest Destiny fanfic. A rewritten legend of white Christian “good guy” Americana. Trump and evangelicals push regression to this fantasy that never was. Where a mad queer Mexican witch such as I would be locked away forever. The gay electroshocked away. I am so far out of all the closets I’m in the backyard fumbling through blackberry brambles. Stay wild. Feral. Alway prey.
The reality of wrongs upon the other. I am the other to a degree. I see America’s vile rot I cannot condone. Blood I benefit unjustly from. Blood that damns and condemns me blended. America always was this way. I only used to dream the delusion. Of a middle class. White passing. Cis woman. Under Obama. In Los Angeles. Where all was kale juice and Adidas.
I awake heiress in Reno. The other America emerges in the Wild West’s barren sprawl. Consciousness raising? Paying attention? Veils lifted. Gloves off. Everything changes. Reprioritizes from pipe dreams of art to long haul sustainability.
July 2019. Jasper and I are living together. Engaged. Sitting close together on the couch, we have a serious talk. Reality sets in. We are both chronically ill. Could die at any time. Climate change approaches end times. Sun scalds. Tornados ravage. Jasper and I don’t know how much longer we have together. Until one or both are dragged off to the concentration camps being erected along the border. Both of our multiple stigmatized identities place us on the undesirables list. America as I knew it transformed while I cocooned.
In the wake of mass shootings, Trump calls for my people to be involuntarily institutionalized. All facts, logic and statistics point out that the majority of mentally ill people are harmless victims. A tiny fraction violent. Few accept the truth. Their Baby Boomer “common sense,” implacable. Scapegoating the crazies and brown? The right will find rapture.
I weary of fighting. Health fading. Mind scrambled eggs. Trump himself calls for Mexican immigrants to be shot. My kind hunted. By armed gunmen. Encouraging by the dictator in chief. Shadow civil war escalating dangerously. I must disappear.
“Luck be a Lady Tonight,” Frank Sinatra sing from old Las Vegas stages. Gambling is about luck and calculated risk, not that I would know. It is a risky gamble for me to exist in the world. Gritty casino neon backgrounds downtown Reno. Wild Orchid strip club dominates the main drag of California Street.
Together, Jasper and I find private joy. Decide get courthouse married while we still can. My parents are conveniently in town. I’ve had the privilege of gay marriage revoked before by capricious courts. Our love so strong. I want to lock this down. I google how to get gay married in Reno. Go from there. With luck. Pluck. Persistence. Will. Mania. Desire. Throw our wedding together in two weeks.
“A domestic partnership is not a marriage,” the county clerk tells me on the phone. “This is your first marriage. Mark first on the application.” I eat my cognitive dissonance in Mint It’s it’s.
A long Saturday of vital bridal errands. Jasper finds a gray suit at Burlington. I am impressed by her knowledge of haberdashery as we shop. She knows exactly how to find a suit for a nonbinary person of her shape and size. Swirls of silver on her black tie and pocket square. Smells of Cedar and her Abercrombie cologne on her neck. I can’t wait to take that suit off of her.
At eleven pm we pull up to the Washoe County Clerk to file for our Marriage License. This office is open at all hours like the Black Bear Diner. Jasper and I figure that if we can get a marriage license in the middle of the night? We absolutely should. The Super 8 motel on the opposite block flashes red and white with fire trucks and police cars. Don’t look back. We’re not going that way. Hand in hand in the dark we approach the light over a steel and glass door. We are not the only couple present. Reno runs on Vegas vampire time.
July 26, 2019 is the big day. Jasper’s best friend from work and her husband come over beforehand to help us get ready. Non-binary, masculine presenting Jasper turns out to be a bridezilla. Needs pep talks and help. Her work wife Laurie saves the day. Tying her tie. Folding her pocket square. Laurie has three teenage sons, so knows how to coax nervous colts into a suit. One of her sons is gay.
“You two give me hope. You give me hope for him,” Laurie says. I want to weep that real same sex marriage is finally possible. For that young man. For us. For me. This feels like history rising from an unjust past. Gay marriage became legal in California years after my domestic partner committed suicide. This story I retell in print and performance so many times. Until no one will listen. The time to stop is now.
The coroner did not at first believe I was Katie’s next of kin. I pitched a fit in the morgue. Wept. Pulled up my sleeve to show her our matching anatomical heart tattoos. She recognized them from her corpse. Handed me a sealed box of cremains in a blue Hollywood Forever bag. Her silver and diamond wedding band. Lip piercing.
I will never forget how that felt. All the tears I cried. For seven long years of pining. Failing to find love again with an an emotionally abusive man. A married woman. A rehab fling. In Nevada isolation? I shut myself in for three years of cleansing celibacy. Martyr to her memory. Skewered what remained of my life on the spire of tragedy. Until I was ready to live again.
January 2, 2019: I meet Jasper. Fall in love. The memory of waking to Katie’s stiffened corpse beside me blocks itself out with all the other cruelties of the past. Recedes to a dark vault deep in my subconscious. I have a new future now. As a living, loving, lesbian housewife.
“The fire’s out anyway,” the HIV+ guitarist sings in Rent. I have been emerging for twenty years. Playing a long game of posthumous maybes. As the decade shifts, I hit a wall. Reach the capacity of my education. Legally and psychiatrically can never work or go to school again.
My tropes tire. Stories wear thin.
I will never publish another book. The people I’m around don’t read books. We binge watch television. Following modernity, I play with iMovie. A new medium opens with more freedom. Less gatekeeping. Being read is a priority over being paid. Impossible when on Disability. I DIY film serialize that backlog of manuscripts for free. Give them to my established niche audience. Last resort, yet more satisfying and accessible than beating my head against closed doors. In a broken system of idealistic, impoverished small presses. An unsustainable business model I know all too well.
Wise elder writers say “You don’t owe anyone your pain.” I have become so accustomed to coughing up a lung on command. Muscle memory of who I was supposed to be. I don’t have to strive against the tide of newer, younger, faster, smarter writers anymore. Or take their tweeted snark. I’m burnt out. My hunger for validation sated. Fifteen minutes expired. I’m tired.
“It’s a nice day for a white wedding. It’s a nice day to start again.” Billy Idol sings in black vinyl. Sunday morning of the wedding, I am dressed and ready by nine am. Sitting delicately on the green velvet couch not to muss anything up. Sipping a tall orange can of Rockstar Rehab energy and hydration.
Nibbling on the last few Mix Bakeshop cupcakes. I ordered this dozen incognito a few days the wedding before for us to enjoy. Why bother with battling for a gay wedding cake? This is an intimate affair. I munch Vanilla cake. Rosettes of pure white frosting. Dark chocolate cake. Crumbled health bar on chocolate frosting.
I dabb my lips with a paper towel. Reapply layer after layer of Revlon Top Tomato lip stain. The lipstick that jasper loves. Ordered in four packs from Amazon. I wear it constantly. Bright red long wear vamp. It dries matte on my lips. I wake up still made up. Jasper and I exchange kiss after sweet kiss, sans scarlet mess.
I wear a white Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch dress. Underboob pop. Black lapeled white suit jacket. From my domestic partner’s butch collection. Net veil from our lavish illegitimate wedding. A bejeweled copper and opal crown ordered from some obscure corner of the Internet. My recently deceased grandmother’s blue and gold broach on my lapel. Blue Loteria card earrings of La Estrella from Echo Park. Blue bracelet from mother blessed by Chinese monks. Blush fishnets. Gold heels.
In my blue beaded purse are two tarot cards: The Lovers and the Two of Cups. A burlap mojo bag with red rose petals. A day of the dead bride gifted from my first union. Oval of blown glass Laurie lent me. Hummingbird talisman my mother gave me when I left Hollywood forever.
Old men taking in the sun cheer as we march up the concrete steps to the Washoe County Senior Center. Beaming. Arm in arm. My other hand clutched a nosegay of pea blossoms from the backyard wrapped in violet ribbon. Jasper sports a matching boutonnière. We check in at the Washoe County Civil Commissioner of Marriages office. Wait. Chattering joyfully on grey folding chairs.
The officiant wears a black judge’s robe with tennis shoes underneath. Long black hair. She seems utterly onboard with gay marriage. No Kim Davis here. Asks our preferred pronouns. Treats us with kind respect.
“I do” I say as Jasper slides the silver band upon my finger. ‘I do, until death do us part.”
We check into the Silver Legacy Casino for out staycation Honeymoon. Jasper picked out a suite with a big whirlpool tub. We don’t leave the room for two days. Scissoring in the hot water and bubbles. Sleeping off our frenzied labor towards this goal of legal union. Sealing it with flesh. Hot with desire.
Jasper orders us room service. A man wheels a table in. White tablecloth. I sit across from her in her wedding dress shirt and fishnet thigh highs. A metal cover reveals yogurt with granola and berries. Oats crunch and refresh with each bite. Bacon like grandma used to make. Buttered toast. I drink cup after cup of black coffee from the fluted plastic coffee pot. Smile joyfully at Jasper. She wolfs down biscuits and gravy. Hash browns by the plate.
We eat hungrily. Until we are sated. In the last sip of coffee. I let go. Pass the torch. Lay my burden down. I have created a substantial body of work. It is enough to know the goals of my youth are achieved. I can move on.
I look at Jasper and see the golden soul I’ve sought for so long. Unconditional love. Stability. A mutual desire to build a life together. I lived on a fading dream before. Writing frantically into the abyss of the Internet to find mass love in strangers. Always a mirage. What is between my wife and I is ours alone. I do not seek to make a public spectacle of whatever marital woes we may encounter. I settle into my new life. Sit outside in morning sun on the patio furniture. Drink fresh brewed coffee. Watch the sun rise and set.
This is a new beginning. This is also the end.