I started working at Starbucks three weeks after I graduated from college. I showed up at 7am for my first shift in tight black jeans and a tucked-in polo and sat with Alyssa at a two-top in the lobby on the corner of Rosecrans and Sports Arena. Alyssa was a product of East County San Diego, same as me. She was blond and well-liked, and–most importantly–my new boss. Alyssa told me ours was the busiest store south of L.A. and handed me some papers I needed to sign before I could officially start. I agreed to the pay–$9/hr plus tips–and she gave me my schedule for the week, a smattering of 7-hour blocks and a 4-hour pick-up on Saturday afternoon. I loved my job immediately. Having it meant I wasn’t giving up. I was 21.
I’d recently exploded my life with fantastic gusto. I had been a senior at a college where Jesus was your savior by contractual obligation and where men and women slept in different dorms and could only visit each other on Tuesday and Thursday nights, 7-11pm, doors open. Chapel was mandatory and they fined you for skipping. Drinking and dancing and R-rated movies were prohibited, and sex was grounds for expulsion. My sisters had gone and my mom had gone, too, and here I was, fourth in line, getting a degree in Bible. I worked as a chaplain, and met all my friends there and bought it completely for almost four years. That kind of college. I was a senior there and the plan had been: marriage, then Kansas City for seminary, and Rev. Clayton by 2014, but when I sat with my dad in a hotel room off the bay and said “I’m gay” for the first time that plan turned to garbage. There were only a few months between coming out and graduation to cobble together something different. I had no savings, growing debt, and could not go home. I was in the middle of the ocean, smack dab, no exit. Kaboom. Blamo. Flailing, and taking in water fast. The new plan: graduate, work at Starbucks, and figure out what the hell is going on with my life.
My co-workers were the first floating things I found. I could not have survived without their help. I clung to them that summer in their green aprons and non-slip sneakers, even if they didn’t know I was doing it. They were my proof positive that the world extended beyond what I’d known of it before. They did not know my history, and I told it to them on my own terms, in wee pieces, omitting great swaths. Their reactions to the bad parts helped me understand how bad it really had been.
I said yes to every post-work invitation because I’d spent so long saying no, and in the process discovered a me who had been there all along. I played bocci ball with Stacey and Danielle on Kellogg Beach for the fourth of July. I went to bars in downtown and to Elaine’s apartment in OB where I smelled weed for the first time. I did everything with Katie and made out with her friend Andrew in the back of a cab. I went to my first pride that summer because Kenny invited me. He was engaged to a guy he met in the drive-thru and the two of them were my first glimpse at gay love up-close. I was enchanted. This was my Rumspringa and I knew from day one I was never going back.
I learned the word “oxbow” this weekend while I was in Vermont for the holiday. It came up as a multiple choice question in Cranium and I got it wrong. Correct answer: a u-shaped bend in the course of a river. I’m glad I know it now because the summer after college was exactly that, the first time my river went U without warning and left me scrambling to figure out where I was heading. Full-blown oxbow. Wham. Five prides later I’m living on the other side of the country with my boyfriend-turned-fiance-nearly-husband in Brooklyn. Two weeks ago, I took Friday off work and we slept in, lazy and together. We showered, and after we dressed I got us bagels and coffee from a shop up the street while he put in a load of long-overdue laundry. When I got back with breakfast, we found out that our wedding next spring will be legal in every state. I am indebted to so many for this life I have.
My memory from that first pride is by and large static, but clear as when it happened: we’re driving up University in a convertible Mini Cooper, music blaring, hair askew from the wind, four of us singing and laughing, gay, gay, gay, gay and wanting to be no other way. Our hands are above our heads and my fingers interlock with someone else’s. I am a depth of happy that is without precedent. I am proud and alive and so glad to be free.