Before meeting them halfway between the town in which I’d been born and the place where I’d most recently experienced growth, I lost it at the opening of a butterfly garden I was covering for the local newspaper.
It was my first week back to work after a trip to the West coast with my then girlfriend. The purpose of the journey had been to explore the city we might call home together. When I got back, I knew it was time to tell my family where I’d really been for the past year when avoiding phone calls, offering up generic answers to their questions, and losing my temper over the tiniest things because I didn’t want to face what was really making me angry.
It was June 1, the Lowcountry was a sauna, and the PR director giving me a tour of the butterfly sanctuary ironically and obliviously crushed a monarch under her shoe at the exact moment she began lauding the green space as a haven. I wanted to laugh, but the symbolism felt too close to home, so I remember focusing hard on writing the word “larvae” instead while choking back hot, angry tears.
On the way back from the interview, I had one of those ugly cries behind the steering wheel and called my mom and dad. They agreed to drive two hours to meet me for a late lunch, even though none of us were really hungry.
When the waitress came to the table and asked us if we wanted biscuits or cornbread, I remember feeling unusually affected by the question. I wanted to scream, “Isn’t it OK to like both?!?! IS THAT SO ABNORMAL?!” Instead, I just requested that she bring back some grape jelly.
It’s funny how I don’t remember the specifics of such a heavy conversation, but I remember the feeling. Some people describe it as like a weight being lifted off their shoulders, but to me, it was more like thawing. Slowly, I could feel my fingertips again.
I explained to my parents that I didn’t feel comfortable giving my orientation a label because it seemed to discount the relationships I had leading up to this one. I told them, “I think you love who you love and who I love right now happens to be a woman. Who I love next might very well be a man.” Either way, I knew that as long as my feelings remained unspoken within me, I could not love myself or anyone else properly. Fully.
Since then, I have agonized over the right time or way in which to tell my story and always stopped short because I couldn’t answer why I needed to share it. I’ve made a career out of trying to help others see the value and volume of what their lives have to speak and am only recently beginning to accept and embrace the value of my own chapters.
Last week, I began volunteering for StoryCorps, an organization I’ve followed and obsessively shared with friends for years. Since 2003, the nonprofit has recorded conversations between friends and family members in booths across the nation. It’s one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and the stories that are broadcast on public radio each week have been like a balm to my soul. At the end of the month, StoryCorps will host an event to celebrate stories of love and community from Atlanta’s LGBTQ community, which is what finally prompted me to put this to paper.
When StoryCorps came to Savannah a few years ago, I taped a meaningful conversation with a dear couple who served as mentors to me when I first moved there, but I remember wanting so badly to share that intimate exchange with my girlfriend at the time and being too scared. I wasn’t prepared to say what I felt outloud. I wasn’t ready for the permanency of recording it.
But regret, like fear, is such an unproductive and debilitating emotion and this is my attempt to stop putting it on my toothbrush, mixing it into my cereal, and spelling it out using the cracks in the sidewalk every morning. I’m telling my story now because as generations before me, I finally understand the purpose of this tradition is to learn, to calm ourselves to sleep, to heal and to preserve.