I remember when hearty crimson and yellow colors, and those brilliant sharp orange hews, fell meekly into your deep valley. I felt secure, folded between the plump foothills of Appalachia, the wholesome Great Miami River, and glossy eyes of does dipping into the backdrop of corn fields and an azure sky. I hid inside the filaments of your Kelly green grass, rolled on your soft hills, took my time peeling the casings from walnuts, as I laid underneath the canopy of pine trees and birch leaves. Sometimes, I felt light, airy, as if in flight on the wings of your sparrows, clasped in the beaks of your mourning doves, but sometimes I felt suffocated by your smallness and the authority of your churches, stationed prominently in each part of town. I no longer live among you, not since 2010, after my civil ceremony with my now wife. It’s easier on my conscience to remember your topography rather than your religious values holding, in my view, significant dominion over civil rights mentalities.
From religion class, and by reading pamphlets during mass, I learned that the Catholic ruling on LGBT equality was this: A homosexual person is accepted as a Catholic, as long as that person does not act upon their homosexual urges, which would indicate sinful behavior. Though we did not call ourselves girlfriends, I was secretly in love with another Catholic girl, and yes, we kissed and touched and cuddled in the privacy of our bedrooms. I never told the priest of this sin during confession. I kept this secret well hidden, as if inside the folds of my uniform skirt. I did wonder about Chad, my non-heterosexual best friend, whose long curly brown hair, carefully tweezed eye brows, and delicate, feminine sashay down the halls of our Catholic school did not offer him the same security as I felt, even as an abused, delinquent girl from the southside of town participating in an institutionalized system for the privileged. Did he ever confess his homoerotic thoughts (as I presumed he might have) to a power that could absolve him of his supposed wrongness?
When the quiet freeze of winter months formed icicles on our door handles, when we could not move our cars from their overnight resting places, I could not help but feel trapped. I had a lot of time to think about who I really was, outside of the girl who prayed hard on your Catholic Church kneelers, self-made rosary tangled in between sweaty fingers. I never wanted to be like Chad. He was out there. Raw. Exposed as himself. Chad did not welcome judgment, but he seemed unafraid to make himself available to criticism. He was not pretending, not hiding for anyone, priests, nuns, gym teachers, not even his parents. His bravery astounded me, but more than anything, his dedication to authenticity kept me in an elastic tension of co-dependent security. If he could be accepted, even if sometimes only tolerated, then as his loyal friend, I had a chance at breaking open my truthfulness, if only in courageous episodic cracks.
Dozens of candles remained lit on your altars during Midnight Mass, Easter Vigil, or Novena, Springfield, and I was warmed by the hymns carrying mercy and grace, but sometimes it hurt to be held by you. It hurt to be “other” inside my own home. Your winters held me close in meditative whispers of snow, slow, silent newness layered on top of one another during your blinding blizzards, but it felt too easy to whitewash my truth, my differences, like a white lie that throbbed underneath my plaid jumper.
I made a tacit social contract with you, maybe much like one that Chad could have secretly made. I’d feed your Pekins and Mallards in Snyder Park, climb jungle gyms at peanut pond, and drench myself in murky reservoir water, as long as I was not gay. I would suck in frankincense on Sundays, take oil and ashes to my forehead, and pretend I did not hear a co-worker when he whispered in my ear “I think I’m gay,” as if it were illegal. The golden brown sand of your lake embankments would exfoliate my dry, calloused skin from all that time my feet spent in toe shoes when I danced for Fancy Dancer and Dayton Ballet, and I’d swing on the stage at Veterans Park for performances of Brigadoon, as long as I wasn’t gay. I’d stay out of trouble, out of your way, give and receive goodness, and never feel underprivileged; I could enjoy your luxurious landscapes in my jelly shoes or snow boots, feel as free as your birds, as long as I denied who I really was.
You let me drink from the crisp waterfalls in Glen Helen so many times, I can still taste the coppery flavor on my lips. When I come back home, I open my eyes to a pastoral beauty in rainbow colors outsiders can only imagine. I want you to feel as proud of me as I feel of you, but I don’t feel as welcome anymore, not since I came out as a lesbian in 2008. I sensed then that telling the truth could cost me my job. And even though I did work for a very tolerant organization, one whose policies listed sexual orientation within the protected qualities of employees, every time I saw my boss, the CEO, I remembered that boy, with fear and a crack in his whisper, pulling me aside to confess his sexual identity. I remembered Chad, who brought his My Little Pony to show-n-tell in Kindergarten, while I was proud to show off my umbrella and the turtle I accidentally caught while fishing at Old Reid Park. I remembered how it just didn’t seem okay to beat boys in a game of backyard football or floor hockey, and it felt weird when Chad wore slacks and a tie to our Homecoming dance together. I remembered staring at butch looking women, thinking, “Thank God that’s not me.”
I also remembered reading that Clark County’s employment laws do not protect gay people from discrimination, which corresponded with the occasion when a fellow employee, behind the closed office door, leaned in, looked me in the eye, and calmly, carefully, asked, “Are you family?”
Of course I was family. As a lesbian, I was in her LGBT family, but I still did not want to lose my privileges as a member of the organizational family or the Springfield family. Losing my job, due to exposure as a lesbian, meant that I really would have to move out of the city, where I had just recently bought a house. Employment opportunities in Springfield and Clark County were rare, as I discovered during research.
I still wanted to feel at home, enjoying comforts of my heterosexual life, like Schuler’s cream-filled donuts, and the cool sweetness of Young’s cow patty flavored ice cream, amenities which everyone in Springfield works hard to afford. I still wanted to be a Springfielder, even if Chad and I had to make secret trips to the local gay bar, or I had to drive to Columbus to meet women at Wallstreet. I wanted, always, to be a member of the Springfield family, but I also did not ever want to be a liar, because that’s a sin too. Betraying Springfield meant honoring myself, but honoring Springfield, meant cowardice and closed door sinfulness.
Springfielders are fiercely proud, yet equally humble. We work for what we want, whether at Dole, in the freezing chambers, the hot kitchen of the local Texas Roadhouse, or in the bright corridors of City Hall, our integrity is upheld by the ethics we display in our work. And I worked for you, Springfield, because I felt lucky enough to be born to the richness of your beauty.
Even when I was homeless, I felt full of life, cared for by your homeless shelter, a landlord who gave me her old bed when I finally got a small apartment, strangers gifting me with food and cushiony couches, kitchen tables and toothpaste. All neighbors were generous with their thoughtfulness. There is always someone willing to give you a cup of sugar, a phone call when your dog gets loose from the backyard, or a hug and a thank you after it was discovered that you called the police at three o’clock in the morning because you heard screaming from next door, and as it turns out, the neighbor was being attacked and kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend — your phone call saved her life. We look out for each other, like good Midwesterners should.
In fact, Springfield, you are friendly. Say I am stranded on the southside because my car broke down. In just a few minutes, someone there or nearby, even a complete stranger – let’s face it, no Springfield native is a complete stranger – would offer me a ride ten minutes out of their way to the northside, and wouldn’t even think about asking for gas money, or hand me their cell phone to call a friend for help. In Springfield, we smile and say hello, or at least look up and nod at one another when we pass by in the aisles at Kroger’s. If one of us is crying, we ask, “What’s wrong?” We ask, “What happened?” We take care of each other, serve each other, like we want to be served.
I served your people, Springfield. I handed out Taco Bell burritos to my peers when I worked in the kitchen at Catholic Central. I played varsity soccer on your fields, like I danced and sang on your stages, for your entertainment. I cleaned your kitchen floors when I waited tables, tended bar, helped your people imbibe, let loose after long, hard day’s work in the steel wool factory, where my mother once worked. I fed them, the blue collar and white collar both, as a banquet server and dining room waitress at Holiday Inn. The early morning hours were difficult to get used to, especially when I was a full-time student at Wittenberg University, where I was on scholarship.
I volunteered in the ice cream shop at Masonic Home. I was grateful for the opportunity to scrub counters at Dairy Queen on Bechtle Avenue, wipe babies’ mouths at a child care center, and I taught “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” in your classrooms. I served your youth as a child care worker and tutor while employed at two of your treatment facilities for at-risk youth, all while being cussed at and threatened with bodily harm by angry, lonely, desperate kids, like I once was. I wanted them to know your fairness, your good judgment, your kindness and equality, when it came to educational opportunities, social class, gender or race. I wanted them to know that even if they were considered at-risk, they were always at home in Springfield.
I was once a family member serving my family with the same respect and decency as I expected for myself, but when I came out of the closet, I feared, for the first time, wintry isolation and exclusion. I was scared of the collapse of the valley walls, and I should have been. You have to work for what you earn in Springfield. Exposing my sexual orientation caused me to feel vulnerable, because I felt unemployable. And if I cannot work, Springfield, then I must, at least, be a good Catholic. If I cannot be a good Catholic, nor work for you, then I am as invisible as a white dove in your fresh snow.
Your laws are meaningful to your citizens, who consider themselves a part of a working family, even when good paying jobs are scarce, crime rates make us the 4th most dangerous place to live in Ohio, and there is increased drug addiction, as evidenced by the 39 cases of heroin overdoses in February, 2015 (Web). Your laws are especially meaningful to those who suffer because of them. Even still, I want you to be proud of me, my academic degrees, my employment status as a writer, editor, publisher and professor, my strong commitment to community service, my loyalty as a friend and co-worker, and my accomplishments as a mother and wife. I don’t want to think of you as bitter, oppressive, obstinate, lacking empathy for your family members, your constituents.
I want to visit you, listen to blue grass music while lounging with a beer between my legs and a hand-made quilt beneath me. I want to taste your spring water and fly with your birds, because I belong in the comfort and safety of your laws, and so does everyone else. I might consider moving back, but your quality job opportunities are minimal and your city’s intolerance for my sexual orientation does not welcome me.
I am out in the open now, unafraid of hell or purgatory, judgment, criticism, or even being fired simply because of my sexual orientation. My honesty broke free in spurts, over many years, once mentally detached from allegiance to subjugating systems and laws, which stimulated a sense of personal and communal repression. Still, I long to return to your sudden cracks of splendor anytime of year. I miss the warmth of my friends’ hugs, the joyfulness we feel when we’re together again. I want to wrap my arms around my beloved friend, Chad, kiss him on the lips, tell him, “I think you saved me from invisibility.”
I love the sense of belonging that only occurs when with people who’ve known me for most of my life. I long to rejoin you, hold your hand, ask you what’s wrong, pass you a cup of sugar or give you a ride to the other side of town, but I no longer trust you. More often than feeling free and comforted, the feeling of being home, I feel rejected, silenced, unwanted. Because you refuse to protect me, I feel less pride and more pain, crumpled and beaten, like a summer flower bedding underneath trees shedding a lifetime of fall leaves.
“14 Most Dangerous Cities in Ohio.” Home Security Shield News Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2015. http://www.homesecurityshield.org/news/most-dangerous-cities-in-ohio/
“Heroin Deaths Reach Record Numbers in Clark County – WKEF-TV ABC 22 News :: News – Top Stories.” WKEF-TV ABC 22 News. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2015.