From Walmart with Love

I never would have guessed Walmart would give me hope. I never really expected it from one of the saddest shopping places I know. A designer boutique, perhaps, or one of those specialty shops with a focus. Yeah. They could give a guy hope. But Walmart? That place we go because it’s cheap, not stylish, with the smelly bathrooms and scuffed-up floors?

Well. I guess it happens sometimes.

I was out with my man last night. He came over for dinner and a movie–all at home, very sweet. A third date. So smooth already. In any case, dinner was turning up a little later than expected, so we ventured to the store to grab our movies first. While perusing new releases, I got a call asking for Italian bread. So after we had two feature films (one for the family and one for us), we drove a little further down the street to Walmart.

Ah. Walmart.

When we’re out in public, we wrap our arms around each other: Draped across his shoulder, or around his waist, or my waist. We hold hands. I don’t know if either of us are truly comfortable–there are eyes watching. Many eyes. Even the clothes racks have eyes. And the potatoes have eyes. Nasty tubers. And we’re in the south. How south? Deep south. Yeah, I’m out, but I wear it sewn neither on my skin nor my sleeve. And he’s not out–not out to a lot of people, at least. But that contact, that little bit of warmth beneath my palm, woven between my fingers, that ties me to this earth, to my God, to all the good things life have given me that has brought me to him.

And that comfort makes all those eyes mean nothing.

We were walking down the front aisle, just inside the registers (if you’ve ever been in any Walmart, you know precisely what I’m talking about) and there’s this woman pushing a shopping cart, maybe around our age, a little big, with a round, happy-looking face. And she smiled in a funny way, brimming you might say, and there came a sparkle to her eyes, and as she pushed her cart past us, she said, “Thanks.”

She said, “Thanks.” And not like “thanks for being hell-whoring homosexuals,” but thanks like “thanks for standing up for humanity, diversity, love and integrity, for equality everywhere” thanks.

It was random. Really random. But it gave me hope. Here was this stranger, shopping at Walmart, reduced to one-size-fits-all we-go-there-because-we-can-go-nowhere-else Walmart, and she was telling us, telling me, “Hey, you’re okay.” Or maybe she wasn’t even saying that–she was saying, “I know you’re okay, and I’m okay, too.”

Gives me hope. All I’m saying.

I just want to be ok, be ok, be ok
I just want to be ok today
I just want to feel today, feel today, feel today
I just want to feel something today

I’ve loved Ingrid Michaelson since she loved me “The Way I Am” and one of her happiest, lightest songs is her single “Be OK.” I’ve got it on replay as I write this. It’s on its ninth roll-around at this very moment. I suspect another nine before I turn it off. It just feels right. To be OK.

In the middle of Randolph county, one of the southest of the south, there was a woman who cared. Who had heart and sense–a mind for the future. She saw love. Emotion. Trust. Budding commitment and she gave us compassion. We passed families that didn’t bat an eyelash or make their children look away. We passed people who smiled, a couple teenagers who laughed, a lot of people that ignored us completely–because we were as much an expectation of normalcy as every other couple walking through Walmart on a summery Monday afternoon.

It gave me hope. Hope that discrimination could be defeated.

But it wasn’t.

As I write this, not all precincts are reporting, but even if all them remaining had voted unanimously against NC Amendment 1, it’s unlikely the votes would be enough to curb the tide against the hatred and misinformation that has spoiled our constitution. Our constitution that has withstood change for one hundred and twenty-seven years. Will it be worth it? The loss of rights for straight men and girls not married? Kids who’ll lose their health coverage? All those broken hearts, souls, harmed by this cruel command? Will it all be worth it?

The courts will decided. In trying to thwart so-called “activist judges,” the North Carolinian people have pushed laws concerning health care, pensions, social security, domestic violence protections, and more into the hands of judges who will either have to take away what’s owed or change the rule book. Yeah. That was smart.

The song’s started over again. Maybe I should play “Keep Breathing” instead. A general air of depression, exasperation, asphyxiation. But then I sing along with her words, “I just want to be ok today…”

Open me up and you will see
I’m a gallery of broken hearts
I’m beyond repair, let me be
And give me back my broken parts

This is only a minor setback. Like in Candyland when you draw “go back two spaces” but still manage to win the game. This is not a partisan issue. This is a generational issue. Like interracial marriage. Like slavery. As the unchanging old folks wither and fade, the enlightened young will replace them. This amendment will be repealed. DOMA will be undone. Love truly will reign. The pendulum has swung.

Though disappointed, I am okay. I know tomorrow I will be presented a scholarship that will help me at NC State. I know that I’ve got the classes I need, if not all the classes I want, for my first semester. On Thursday I will walk and get my degree and proudly wear my nearly-completed newly-decorated cap. On Friday I will relax with a day of nothing to do. Saturday my brother will have his confirmation. Sunday, mother’s day. And Monday I’ll be at the beach with my man, my lovely little bear, and there, in the sun, this all will be history.

For once, I guess, the losers will write history. But by then, we’ll be the winners, won’t we? When I’m president, this will be a forgotten crusade. My husband will be my husband. He’ll stand beside me and even kiss me when the polls return not with defeat, but with victory.

Just give me back my pieces
Just give them back to me please
Just give me back my pieces
And let me hold my broken parts

It was Friedrich Nietzsche, that German nihilist whom declared proudly, “God is dead,” who first said in 1888 the saying-now-turned-smash-hit-by-Kelly-Clarkson “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” And although it’s in part taken out of context, and although it’s in part only myth, in a greater whole it can be taken as true–if only for the hope it brings us, and did not Harvey Milk, in his own fight decades ago, tell us that “I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living”?

The war is long. The war isn’t even a war–but a classroom. For we must not fight or brandish our weapons or intimidate, infuriate, scare, terrorize, or otherwise bring harm upon those who do not understand–we must instead help them them to understand. We must educate them about what it means to be a family, what it means to be in love and committed. We must show them examples. We must show them it’s okay to be gay. It’s okay for two men to be in love and to kiss, and to kiss, and it feels so good, this thing called love, can’t they see it’s okay? There will be no attendance credit given. No absences or out-of-class assignments. In this class of teaching we must bring all to enroll in, we must merely prepare them for that final test: When they smile and realize we’re all the same.

Just like that woman in Walmart. Randolph county. Deep south.

Because, as Ms. Michaelson says it, “Know that maybe I will be ok.”


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