It reminded me of one of my favorite games back in grade school. I liked Kickball, Four-Square and Tether Ball, but my all-time favorite was ‘Red Light, Green Light’.
Even now, I can only marvel at what the intensity must have looked like as I focused on getting across the playground as Roger, our school’s best caller, alternated between yelling “Red Light” and “Green Light” – only to catch someone with his patented “Rrrr…Green Light”. Our laughter was as loud as it was predictable as one classmate after another got caught in the snare of Rogers’ tricky cadence. “Go back…you’ve got to start over.”
After all these years, not much has changed except now, I drive down city streets with all the people I used to play with. The light turns green and no one moves. Where’s the ‘go back‘ rule?
It never fails…the first car invariably falls asleep waiting for the light to change. Cars #2 and #3 are ready, but #4 is too busy picking a pesky remnant of breakfast sausage from between his teeth in the rear-view mirror to notice me behind him in #5. You would think since we’re all there, at the same light, on the same stretch of street, everyone would recognize our mutual identity of interests. Something that sounds like, oh I don’t know, Go! Wouldn’t it be cool if just once, the line of traffic moved through a green light like a well-oiled marching band instead of a bunch of Vikings coming over the wall?
As a people, we work out social issues pretty much like we did on the playground…or in traffic.
Take King George and his Red Coats. That would be a Red Light. And George Washington and the Colonial Congress? Whether it was one by land or two by sea, they were ‘Green Lights’. The practice of Slavery was a Red and it took Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War to bring us out Green. Woman not allowed to vote? That’s a Red Light too. It was Elizabeth Cady Stanton joining Susan B. Anthony in 1869 to lead what became the woman’s suffrage movement. That made a real ruckus. You should read the newspapers of the day. But there was a point to the noise when the Nineteenth Amendment (Aug., 1920) granted woman the right to vote. Once again, the nation’s light changed to ‘Green’.
The list goes on and on: Child Labor, World War I, the Great Depression, the Scopes Monkey Trial, WWII, the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s; Kent State college kids, shot to death by National Guard troops for protesting the Vietnam war; inter-racial marriage; Title IX, Roe V. Wade, immigration, gay marriage and the Occupy Movement. In every single one of those instances, we, as a society, lurched forward through each ‘green light’ in fits and starts. And we got there.
But just as truly, red lights have caused us to fall backwards. Who can forget Prohibition or Disco?
But somehow, someway, we Americans figure out a way to get our ‘wagon’ righted and back on track. It has happened that way every single time in our history as a nation. But as Chris Matthews (MSNBC) says, “All politics is local”.
Last Wednesday, my mission was to get Rick to the hospital. Being as stubborn and hard-headed as I am, his date with the surgeon had finally arrived. Up at 4AM and at the hospital by 5:45, we checked in at the appointed desk. With all of his paperwork in order, the admitting nurse went through a litany of questions as is standard protocol in these situations – and God bless’em – they were being the professionals we count on them to be when the problem isn’t something we can fix ourselves.
But for all the care we were afforded, there was one question that kept coming up with each new staffer we talked to; and it went deeper under my skin each time it was asked. “Single, Married or Divorced?” Rick’s response? “None of the above”. And who is this? “That’s Dan. He’s my partner.” The admitting nurse didn’t skip a beat, but there was no box on her computer screen for Partner. So even though we’ll celebrate our 27th anniversary this April, in the eyes of the law (and the hospital forms), Rick was “Single”. But he’s not. When the time came to roll him away from me on their way to the OR, I choked back the tears of relief welling up inside…our long journey to this day was finally over. He was now in the hands of people that could fix his problem.
Now don’t get me wrong, Illinois has civil unions, but it isn’t marriage. We’ll wait for it. Instead, we have taken the necessary legal steps to declare; Durable Powers of Attorney, etc., etc., etc. It’s all covered. But for having done all the work, I look back and remember the hate that comes with being gay…tires slashed (all of them), ‘FAG’ in spray paint, beer bottles being thrown like baseballs – I’ve been there.
For a lot of years, I acted out on all the hatred I’d internalized growing up. If I was all that evil, why hadn’t God punished me for it? If God had been doing His job, I would’ve been wiped from the planet. Since He hadn’t, I acted as if it were up to me to exact the punishment I deserved for being gay. This went on for years in all kinds of destructive ways.
It all culminated one winter afternoon at the Logan Square CTA station. There’s a bend in the track where the transit train comes up out of the ground. I stood there on the one rail, looking at the third rail…the one carrying the electricity that moves the trains when all of the sudden, there was a gust of wind that swayed me forward.
But I didn’t take my long-planned fatal step.
Sobbing, I stumbled home where Rick convinced me to let him take me to a hospital. “You need help.”
Besides Rick, what saved me? One question. It was one of those thoughts I couldn’t seem to quiet. “What if this does get better? What if there is just one summer day where you’re out on the tennis court, wiping the court with your opponents. You like how you look…you like how you played…you like how it feels…what if there’s just that one day and you’re not around to be in it?”
It did get better. I got the help. I claimed my place as a child of god. I came to understand that He does not make mistakes.
I am happy. I am loved as I love others. I have found Purpose and I may just be privileged to see the day when marriage equality becomes reality in America. I simply want to have the same Constitution my fellow citizens enjoy. I long for the day when young ones are perplexed, wondering what all the fuss was about ‘back in the day’.
Stuffing my pen and paper in the back pocket of my jeans, I was ushered into a little square consultation room. A few minutes later – still in his scrubs – Rick’s doctor came in. “He’s fine. We had some surprises, but no issues. He’s going to be fine. You guys will be playing tennis this summer.” Where is he? “Rick’s in recovery now…you can go in and see him. He’s still pretty groggy, but it’d be good for him to know you’re there”. With that, I thanked our doctor and let the nurse lead me through a series of doors and back to the step-down unit in Recovery. Even though he looked like a mile of bad road, he looked great.
The hospital and its staff had been nothing but impressive the whole day. We’d been treated with respect all day. The surgery turned out well and the after-care has been world-class. But one thing kept nagging at me.
How did the hospital know who we were to each other? Unable to let it go, I went up and asked some of the nurses I’d been talking to for most of the day. Turns out, one of the first nurses to see us, in a display of generosity and civil insurrection, had placed an electronic post-it note on Rick’s records about me and who I was to my better-half. In the hospital’s eyes, he wasn’t single at all. I was his family. “Are you Dan?”
Photo Attributions: Traffic Light: http://www.blirk.net/traffic-light-wallpaper/1/1600×1200/; New York Traffic: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-worst-traffic-jams/3; Traffic Lights: http://www.featurepics.com/online/Traffic-Lights-1754192.aspx; Hospital Sign: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hospital_sign.svg; god hates fags: http://theragblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/thorne-dreyer-intelligent-exchange-on.html; SprayPaint: http://bossip.com/335013/georgia-man-thinks-his-room-was-set-on-fire-because-he-was-gay-43081/; Man In Waiting Room: http://getbetterhealth.com/not-enough-psychiatric-beds/2011.02.26; CouplesFour: The Cleveland Plain Dealer Newspaper
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