Have you ever watched the narrative of your life fold back upon itself in variations of the same theme, playing itself out in repeating patterns over the years? Most of the time I can’t help but fucking laugh. This time, though, there’s really nothing to laugh at. This time it’s playing itself out in the most blatant and cruel of ways, I have to say…
In this retelling of The Pan, there are Two Captain Hooks. No matter. My words are my dagger.
We were over. At. By. I’m not even sure. But at 3:20 in the morning that Saturday She was. Officially Gone.
Looking back, I can’t even say for sure how long it might have been, three hours? Two? Four? Sitting there in Our living room with the cop in his uniform, watching the news together in silence — my love, my Bird, fallen from the sky against the window in Our bedroom, laying still between Our bed and the outer wall of Our building as he and I sat in silence, together but not, waiting for the Coroner to arrive. I’d switched the television on to MSNBC, the early Saturday broadcast droning on while a litany of thoughts ran through my head…
“ I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this… I can’t call Her father. He’s too fucking frail. Fuck. I don’t want to do this. I can’t talk to her. I don’t want to do this. Buck up, you punk. This is exactly what you signed up for, you’re Her partner. You’re the fucking Pan, remember…”
I’d watched the disintegration of my own family after my own Mother’s death as a child, the same age as Bee is now, eight about to turn nine. I didn’t want to see that happen again here. Myself now a widower as Harry was, two years younger to his forty-seven then, though I’ll never admit this again — I am the Pan, after all.
Tuesday. A week after. I’d spent the morning manning the counter at the store in the stead of my beautiful Bird, nervy in the morning but finally leveling out from my bender the week before as the minutes ticked on. It felt like a way we could help each other — me logging hours, organizing the beautiful mess that She was, maybe help them recoup their investment a bit while I earned some suddenly needed extra on the side. I’d settled into a feeling of easy usefulness by noon, when the bell rang on Her shop’s Dutch door. I looked up to see Her Uncle step in as the door shut behind him. My stomach dropped and my heart began beating hard in my chest.
I’d seen him last the week before at lunch with Her parents, expecting it’d be one of those post-death, familial chats, then realizing the trap laid for me by the end as Her Uncle piped up in urgency about their gaining immediate access to the storage unit We shared, possession of Her personal debit and store credit cards — our class difference clear in his insistence and in the tone of his voice, as if I were about to steal from Her, from them…
I let him tread water in his small talk as he stood in front of the counter with his hands in his pockets, insignificant words floating through the air like nothingness until he arrived at the question he came there to ask me.
“Have you thought about what you’ll say in your eulogy?”
In my head, “Oh, no. Not this.”
The only thing I asked of them was that I eulogize Elizabeth as I know She would have wanted me to.
“Not really. I mean, I was only able to write in my journal for the first time yesterday. I imagine, though, I’ll write about my time with Elizabeth, our family and our life together, who She was to me, that sort of thing…”
“Well, we were thinking you should probably not mention any plans of your marriage. We wouldn’t want to confuse Beatrice, you understand…”
“Confused? She isn’t confused. We were planning on taking her to San Francisco Pride that Sunday.”
My stomach sunk further and my heart beat harder. This was the man She had wanted to marry us.
“You know, Elizabeth would be fucking appalled that you’re saying this to me…”
Photographic flashes of that night through my head as my nerves continue to spin — the way I found Her, boots traipsing through Our House as I sat reckoning with the new reality now before me, the fear of having to be the one to tell Her parents, what I’d say, what their reaction would be, then remembering that moment…
“You’re the fucking Pan, remember…”
“I shouldn’t mention marriage? I shouldn’t mention marriage? You know, that night? I could’ve let the fucking coroner, fucking strangers tell Her parents. But I didn’t. Would you like to know why?”
He didn’t answer.
“Because I was Her fucking PARTNER!! Her SPOUSE.”
“Her mother is crazy, you know that…”
“That’s not my fucking problem. Ya’ll have a choice to make. I’ll either eulogize Elizabeth as She would have wanted me to. Or I just won’t go at all. I’m fucking leaving. Are you gonna stay or what?”
I left the store, shaking, my nerves totally done in by them. This is not how it was supposed to happen. None of this was supposed to happen.
The rest of that week spent soaking in drink, alcohol the tonic to loosen my chest a bit, to allow me to breathe. It wasn’t lost on me — that was something She used to say to me. Soaking in drink and not knowing, not knowing if I’d be allowed to speak, attend, participate in the ritual of Her passing. Of saying goodbye to Her. Her Life. Her Love for me.
I am not the first Queer and I won’t be the last. This is a legacy I was not prepared to bear.
Her mother sent me a text the Friday afternoon before Her memorial,
“We would like to honor Elizabeth’s wishes. Which is to say we would like to like you to speak tomorrow…”
Have you ever watched the narrative of your life fold back upon itself in variations of the same theme, playing itself out in repeating patterns over the years?
Fear and doubt and the Broken Little Girl inside me, my two Hooks, Harry and Her mother, now — testing my strength and resolve. This moment of truth now before me, feeling the weight of the choice I had to make, certain it would reveal the very truth of the person I am and the person I am yet to become.
I walked past the guest book in front of the little church on a corner in Our neighborhood, not knowing — what to expect, what they’d say, what they’d do, trying my best to keep my composure between dry heaves brought on by nerves, drink, grief, chaos, the heaviness of the last fourteen days, Edgar by my side, of course, Huckleberry, he. Someone asked if they could photograph me. I felt bad for saying no.
I sat in the back of the church, surrounded by Our friends. Beatrice, Her parents, Her sister, Her ex-husband, sitting all together in the row up front. I looked down at his last name emblazoned across the front of the program, remembering how She told me She’d always regretted it.
We aren’t the first Queers and We won’t be the last…
And then Her uncle called my name, out of the order in the program. I could feel Her inside of me, in the courage rising in my chest as I strode up the aisle, Edgar by my side, Huckleberry, he. It would not come to be about anyone else but her, revealing the very truth of the person I am and the person I am yet to become.
At the podium I stood, catching briefly the eye of this second Hook, who shuddered slightly. And then I spoke the words I wrote for her, for Her, and for Us.
– these are the things i am certain your mother would want you to know…
– she was born of privilege, but she lived in the underground. she was an outlaw.
– she loved reading sherlock holmes, edgar allen poe, agatha christie and f. scott fitzgerald and i am sure she would have loved to share these works with you when you got older. i hope you will read them.
– she was an artist and a craftsperson and delighted in seeing these same qualities shine within you.
– you share with her both her love of literature and her love of animals. i want you to know this filled her with great joy.
– she was always, always, always looking forward. she was looking forward to seeing her vision for her beautiful store, twig & fig, to fruition — as more than just a store, but a salon, a place for us to showcase beautiful art made by our beautiful friends.
– most importantly, though, what she was most looking forward to was making it possible so we could spend more time with you and to have you in our home more often…
– she would make regular trips to donate items to the houseless folx that camped under the freeway by your house in alameda. she always felt deep, profound compassion for those less fortunate than herself and i hope you will, too.
– i wrote a story for her, titled, “bird with the peter pan eyes.” i hope that you’ll read it one day.
– right before i left to meet her for our first date i told edgar, “i think our lives are about to change.” and it did. for the better.
– i haven’t ever felt so loved as i did as when i was loved by your mother. i hope you feel this, too.
– both of us, she and i, would have loved nothing more than for you to have stood beside us at our wedding as our “best person,” hers & mine, both — this is something we both rejoiced in planning and looking forward to.
– we were building a library together and have quite the collection now. you will always be welcome to browse the titles we selected together.
– i loved that her two favorite tattoos were: “may the bridges i burn light the way” and “i’ve told a million lies and now i’ll start with a single truth…” i have a feeling i’ll be thinking of these two phrases a lot in the coming years…
– and most importantly — we both. were looking to build something new out of the wreckages of our pasts… i hope you’ll always remember that.
— — -
your mother and i never got the chance to say our vows to each other when she was alive. this is my vow to her and you, both, now:
– i will strive to be the person that elizabeth always saw and knew existed deep inside of me.
– i will work to continue building something new and beautiful out of the wreckages of our pasts.
– your mother lives in the stories i wrote while we were together and will continue to live in the stories i have yet to write. trust that i will always tell both her truth and our truth.
she used to say it was me and her against the world. i feel this in my core now more than ever before…
and finally, and most importantly: the door to the house of ellington will always be open to you. to talk, to answer your questions, to testify to the beautiful woman your mother was and to the woman i fell in love with. i will always tell you the truth…
there’s a quote i’d like to leave you with… from paris is burning: a house.. let’s see if we can put it down sharply, they’re families for a lot of people that don’t have families, but this is the new meaning of family. the hippies had families, and no one thought nothing about. it wasn’t a question of a man and a woman and children, which we grew up knowing as a family. it’s a question of a group of human beings in a mutual bond.”
and finally, please know — it was your mother that made the house of ellington a home.