The news over the weekend that Supreme Court Justice Scalia died, has put American politics into a whirligig of absurdity and hypocrisy. Valentine’s Day, on Sunday, can often be viewed as a saccharin example of hetero-normative commercialism. Oh gosh. I’m trying to find some motivation for this day, this week, this month, this year. Trying… super hard. Here’s what I have.
“Be kind to each other.”
Like many a Facebook post, those words were a nice thing to see on a Wednesday, a middle of the week day when you could see the goodness of a three-day weekend ahead of you.
“Be kind to each other.”
Bryn Kelly wrote these words Wednesday, January 13, 2016 at 4:59 p.m. At the time I ticked the “like” icon, I had no idea these would be the last words I would have from Bryn. The next night, a post caught my eye. Someone had a heavy heart about Bryn. The tone of the post read as if Bryn were gone, had been lost, had died. I read the post over and over again and finally when to Bryn’s Facebook page were I saw three dreaded letters– R, I, and P. What? Bryn’s dead? No. What?! Bryn’s dead?! No! It can’t be!
I texted her prom date, a fellow former student who has become one of my dearest friends. “I think Bryn Kelly has died.” Jennifer is sometimes up late and it’s midnight Ohio time. Maybe she’s up now, I told myself. The rest of the night was filled with constant checking to see if the social media overlords had let everyone know that Bryn was in fact very much alive and we’d all been scared for no reason and we can now commence to being pissed off.
It wasn’t to be.
In an ‘apparent suicide’, Bryn Kelly has moved on. From Waterloo to Columbus to Michigan to Brooklyn to a place we’re not allowed admittance. I guess it’s okay. We probably wore her out and she’s finally getting a rest. Selfishly, I wish she’d told us. But perhaps she did and that’s what she was really tired of: telling us she needed a rest and we didn’t help her.
When I first met Bryn, I knew her in her original birth body, as Bryan. He was a junior in high school in Southeast Ohio and I was a first year French and English teacher at the same school. I was hot from Austin, Texas with a Master’s degree in Performance Studies in hand. I knew so much. When I applied for the job I sent my vita and the high school principal admitted, during the interview, that he had to look up what vita meant. My arrogance about my intellect and abilities were probably rank and suffocating to those around me. I didn’t eat in the faculty lunchroom/copy room for months. I was aghast that they had prayers before the football games. And on the second day of classes, I was confronted by parents who were angry I’d given the French II and III students a quiz, to see how much they still remembered from the previous school year. Quelle horreur!
As I wallowed in despair I heard about this really smart kid. He was so smart he was taking classes at the community college nearby. I was so angry he wasn’t in my class. In a school with just over 300 students, failing to have a really bright student in class was indeed a loss. And then somewhere along the line, I decided to create a literary journal. As I write this, I cannot remember when or how I even made it known that I was going to do it. But low and behold, that smart kid named Bryan, came to my room when we held our first meeting. He was really excited about it all. He became one of The Voice‘s editors. He even interviewed me about it all for the yearbook. I can still see his face as we talked about it. I remember saying that “I grooved on poetry” and he looked at me with these eyes, eyes full of excitement and care and, dare I say it, love. I could feel his positivity sitting there in my classroom that looked out onto the state route. When I think of that smart, smart mind and kind, kind soul, I never remember anything less than a smile.
At some point during the second semester, while I was applying for jobs elsewhere, I volunteered to help with the annual theatre production. Bryn told me, when we ‘found’ each other on social media last year, “…your participation in the school plays and whatnot were the first exposure I ever had to a real drama education (improv games, etc, even.) So anyway, I grew up and became a queer writer and performing artist or whatever, in tiny part because of you.”
I teared up when I read those words, again, after the news. She and I had written back and forth about our experiences in that school and how we were so glad to have found folks that ‘got us.’ She and I wrote about the prospect of us collaborating on something, now that we were still ‘together’ in a new place, a new way. I am so angry we don’t get to do that. Yes, the sadness is now moving into anger and I don’t want the anger to take over and change the admiration I have for Bryn… still.
In the past few days, the communities that knew and loved Bryn have been converging on social media. From the friends who knew her in small town Ohio and the marching band, to the queer families that self-create in communities all over the U.S., Bryn’s name has been on the lips and keyboards of thousands of people. Thousands. I keep hearing Jennifer, Bryn’s fellow ‘band geek’ saying, “She was loved.” She was. She is. Unfortunately, she was.
In the midst of all the loving tributes, I’ve also seen so many questions about why. Why did Bryn commit suicide? Some say it doesn’t matter. Some say it does matter because they too have thought of ending their life and they need to understand how to push through what Bryn could not. Some say it’s no one’s business but those close to Bryn. And that’s been the hardest part– the odd commodification of Bryn. Who knew her the most, the best, the longest? It’s an odd and ugly thing, death. In that horrible grief, people claw and grab onto every single thing they can, to hold close and keep themselves warm, in the coldness of death, even if it means others are left numb and chilled by the exclusion.
I don’t need a stranger to tell me ‘what happened’ to know that I knew Bryn. She knew me. We could laugh about that mean English teacher everyone knew, the cute alternative kid that the girls were mad for, and all of the other head-shaking moments of that high school. She and I and hundreds of others, know about the curve in the roads that brought us to school. We know about the stairs and the cafeteria and the smell of damp mimeographs in the hallways. We know. You don’t. And that only means that we all loved Bryn in a myriad of ways, rather than one being better than another.
You were loved, dear Bryn. Loved fiercely and wholly… just as you were.
There used to be a secret sender of motivational messages on the Columbia College campus. Every so often you would see positive messages peppered across the campus bulletin boards. I haven’t seen any in a long time, so maybe I should start posting good messages to help keep me (and others) on track for the new week.
Always remember, flight is a distinct possibility.
So. Yeah. Today. This week. This century. This life. Wow. This is probably going to be a long post, so you may want to go ahead and skip over this. Some of you will read it and I thank you for giving my thoughts a little bit of your time. In the past week, a Southern, conservative Republican Governor said that the battle flag of the Northern Virginia Army should no longer fly in front of the South Carolina State House. I never imagined that would happen. But sweet hell, it took nine people to be killed after a Bible study for it to happen. ‘Confederate’ flags are being removed from flagpoles and store shelves. Y’all, this is–as my Joey B. would say–a big f*cking deal. And then yesterday? The Supreme Court decreed that the Affordable Care Act wasn’t going anywhere. This directly impacts me and it’s so reassuring. There are so many of you that can breathe easier, literally and figuratively, because of that decision. And then came this morning… I couldn’t help but think of Chance Pennington after learning of the news. Chance was the first openly gay person I actually came to know. There were surely folks I went to school with that were gay, but in the 1980s, they were in the closet. Even at Ohio State, I didn’t know anyone who was out. And then I transferred to the college my parents went to, Morehead State University, and in the hills of eastern Kentucky I met Chance. I’ll never know the struggles he had, but I’m glad l learned so much from his mere presence in my life. It wasn’t until I learned about the drive-thru wedding chapels in Las Vegas that I really started to understand my straight privilege. I can be married in a drive-thru. A drive-thru. How’s that for the sanctity of traditional marriage? Now, anyone can get married in a drive-thru. 😉 My facebook feed has been so colorful today and I’ve cried so many happy tears. At this moment, I believe the world isn’t totally screwed up. You know it won’t last long with me, this positivity. But for now, it’s real. As they sang “It is Well with My Soul” in Charleston today, I know that so many hearts and souls are well and full and happy. “Now we see as in a mirror, in an allegory, but then face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I shall know as I am known. For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.” (1 Corinthians 12-13) Love is a really big deal.
I am not a fan of Chick-Fail-A. And I’m really not a fan of people bragging about their fat-fried meals at said establishment, like Kirk Cameron‘s sister.
This evening I read a college acquaintance’s report that she ate at Chick-Fail-A today and while eating she thought of the gay friends she loves but that she also loves traditional marriage. I felt a pang in my heart, literally. How do I support my LGBTQ friends who physically ache years after physical assaults and verbal taunts? How do I support my Christian friends, some of whom, I believe have love in their heart but are narrowly defining marriage to the point of discrimination? Using their bible to support bigotry?
I just keep coming back to a simple question for traditional marriage fans, “Which Biblical definition are you referring to?”
On my way to bed, I thought that this was too good not to share.
“Too many young folk have addiction to superficial things and not enough conviction for substantial things like justice, truth, and love.” Cornel West
Josef Miles gave his mother, Patty Akrouche, an early Mother’s Day present this past weekend. I think he gave us all something quite precious.
For more about Josef you can read this report from NPR.
[Image credit: Patty Akrouche]
Yesterday, North Carolina voters decided to make a constitutional amendment specifying that marriage is to be between a man and a woman only. I can’t help but feel discouraged at the efforts many have gone to, not just in North Carolina, to deny people rights. Shortly after the returns spelled out the ‘victory’ for the amendment, I found this from the folks at The God Article on facebook:
Hate will never be conquered by anger.
Ignorance will never be defeated with judgement.
Love will not prevail until it is practiced relentlessly.