The Arc of the Question Mark
He whispered in my ear at the first dress rehearsal. "Act short. Those heels make you too tall." It was 1979, and I had the great good fortune to be cast opposite Fannie Flagg and Susan Flannery, with the fabulously beautiful Nicky Cortland as my love interest, my first on-stage romance, in a dippy little romantic comedy from the '40s. We spent weeks of post-rehearsal wee hours running lines in the Waffle House together. He taught me about astrology, and made it sound plausible. He told me about New York and what fun we'd have when I moved there. He suggested I get stoned to loosen up for our love scenes, and winked with mischievous pleasure when I got flirty with my first real crush, the untouchable and unavailable Susan. He famously bragged that he had slept his way "straight to the middle." We thought that was hilarious. A few short years later, he was dead of AIDS. My first.
Not my last. There were dozens after Nicky, and uncountable hours spent at crisis centers, protests, and hospices in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Houston. Meanwhile, we all went to work each day and waited in dread for someone to (inevitably) ask: "Why aren't you married?" "Do you have a boyfriend?" "What? No children?" "Let me introduce you to my nephew!" "I'm having a party. Bring a date!"
We lived in an alternate universe, and this year it's all come racing back -- like some communal PTSD episode -- how far we've come and how far we have yet to go. How our futures are jeopardized by an angry mob, and how emphatically we must stand our ground.
And how unconditionally we must support our friends. Not who they were in the '80s when nobody who wasn't one of us was with us, but who they are today. We owe it to everything we've done and everyone we've lost not to reengage the pain and isolation that we felt for most of our lives would always be key to our tenuous place in society. It was our honor and our cross to bear that we would be the last generation to sacrifice our imagined but unborn families to a cause we never signed up for. And it was the crystallizing moment of our lives to wake up one recent morning equal, despite never, ever dreaming, never mind believing, it could be. We know who to thank for that.
I don't have a conclusion to this piece, perhaps because we're all living in the arc of the question mark right now. But what I know for sure is I'm not going back. We paid our dues and it wasn't pretty.
But Nicky was beautiful.
(c) 2016 Alice Melott
I don't understand why humans who are unharmed by humans want to treat them as others......