We bought flowers too far from Stonewall. We were lost. Duane Reed, CVS, Duane Reed, a different CVS? Aric’s internal compass is unflappable in the Midwest, but two hours after our arrival in midtown Manhattan, we were fully stuck.
So we bought flowers. Two little bunches of them. These flowers are important; we told the man with our eyes. These are grief flowers, for a very deep grief. Aric fumbled with his wallet. The man wrapped the flowers in heavy paper (SAY IT WITH FLOWERS!) and Aric and I took turns cradling the bouquet like a child for the remaining blocks; two dumb bunches of flowers, lighter and heavier than you can imagine.
Outside Stonewall—we found our way, finally—barricades from the previous night’s vigil had been pushed into bunches. Tonight there were 40 people outside. No barricades necessary. Maybe a few, to keep people from stepping into the street. Police officers in bulletproof vests with very big guns made us feel more protected and more aware of the possibility of danger.
People in the small crowd were taking turns introducing themselves or saying a few words. Name, Borough, tears. Hugs from strangers. The deep joy of being a queer person suddenly surrounded by other queer people. Shame for being joyful, here. That kind of joy comes to an end faster than a life can, or 49 lives.
A boy named Daniel announced that he was from Long Island. He was very drunk. I’ll never, never, never forget the names of the victims, he said. I’ll never say another mean thing about anybody, ever. He was shouting. Everybody wanted to believe him. Everybody wanted him to stop shouting. Cops. Guns. This is a peaceful place tonight.
More introductions. More hugs. A pop-up community fluent in the new vocabulary of trauma. We will never forget, everybody says in turn. Their names, their lives. We are angry and hurt and heartsick with grief. We don’t know where to turn. All of life has become the moment from the Amy Hempel short story where, after an earthquake, a teacher encourages her first grade class to yell “BAD earth!” at a broken playground, “because anger is stronger than fear.”
Before we leave Stonewall, before I toss our flowers onto the pile, Aric gently removes the thick outer paper from the bouquet, rolls it up, and puts it in his backpack.
That flower paper sparked something in me. I decided to spin the pattern of that paper into 49 little pieces of art, each one dedicated to one of the victims in Orlando. It was something to do with my hands when my hands felt so powerless.
As a visual artist, I am an infant, still learning to crawl. Most of these pieces were traced, but I can see my hands becoming more steady. I see smudges and smears and full-blown fingerprints, none intentional. I can see the little moments where I let go of control and was better for it.
I’m excited to share it with you.