I always had this mental image of me walking a really cute puppy along West 4th Street in the West Village. The dog was blond and bouncing around adorably. I was tan and in a tank top. It's the perfect New York gay postcard. The very real mental image that I did not expect was lying in bed after a surgery on my tongue and looking over just in time to miss the dog vomit launching at me. It coated the white sheets and seeped down into the mattress pad even making it as far as the mattress itself. The bedding was ruined, and I was in poor shape to deal with much more than figuring out how to eat without the use of my tongue. Perhaps the deepest blow, and the one I never expected, was my revulsion at the look of fear and need in her eyes once the vomiting stopped.
I think it's gotten easier being gay these days in New York. I'm certainly shocked by the outbreak of violence towards gays in the Village, but my day-to-day life is pretty charmed. I have a pack of gay friends who I love and dance and travel with. Though I'm a secretary at an investment bank, I've never once heard a homophobic remark or been treated with anything less than respect. In fact, some of the people from places like Connecticut or New Jersey seem to actually revel in the idea of a gay there. It's a far cry from the constant fear I lived with growing up in Texas, or even the guys I saw in the documentary How to Survive a Plague. Not only do we seem to be safe here today, but we are regularly celebrated. We go to the Hamptons or Fire Island. We wear pastel suits. We work out at that gay temple otherwise known as Greenwich Street Equinox. And, yes, we walk our beautiful dogs.
Their coats are full, shiny and brushed. Their nails are trimmed. They eat organic premium food. Our employers even offer health insurance for them. They're as immaculately groomed and constantly upbeat as their gay fathers. It's a real modern-day gay Norman Rockwell picture.
When I finally decided to get one, I was pretty set on a purebred dog. They just looked great, and you knew, in some ways, exactly what you were getting. My plan was either a French Bulldog, a Dachshund or a Brussels Griffon. All three were cute and would fit in a Filson tote bag on the way to the beach. The problem was that I had this gnawing issue with the idea of breeding. Perhaps it's the deep and general fear that I have of the notion of female anatomy (let alone actual female anatomy). I just couldn't get totally comfortable with mating two living things to make a more perfect living thing. I saw this happening in college when rich kids were put in schools with other rich kids to meet and breed while I sat on the sidelines, stoned and playing Super Mario Brothers. I just know that if it gets too pervasive amongst humans, videos games will no longer be around for those of us who are not Best in Show material.
So I went to an adoption agency and pointed at a dog on their website. Coincidentally, she was coming in from a walk. I sat down on the floor, and she trotted up to me and put her head on my lap. She picked me. She's a 12-pound Chihuahua mix. Her ears are too big for her head, she limps sometimes, and she is not a fan of the dog park. She also passes gas and then looks at me accusingly every time.
Reality has a way of setting in hard. Dogs need us. They need to be fed, walked, taken to the vet and generally prevented from killing themselves by eating rat poison, walking in front of a bus, eating the batteries out of the remote control or any of the other million deadly situations that they seem to gravitate to. Adopted dogs add a whole other layer to this. They haven't been dealt the easiest hand. I don't know Edie's full story. The agency said some people dropped her off while they were closing down for the night and having a glass of wine. They decided to call her Pinot because of this, but as a recovering alcoholic, I thought a change was in order. (We generally enjoy a good renovation.) I named her Lil' Edie, after the style maven in Grey Gardens.
We were both overwhelmed when she came home with me. Hurricane Sandy hit immediately, and I was home alone with her with no power, no neighbors and no friends. Everyone else had smartly decamped uptown. Cop cars patrolled the empty streets with their lights flashing. Tree limbs were strewn everywhere. I remember walking Edie through Astor Place one night and being literally the only person there. It was surreal. She whined a lot. She needed me. She needed help getting up the four flights of stairs to my apartment. She needed to be fed. She needed attention. She needed to be reassured in this new, dark place. She needed time to get used to this totally new life and this crazy man who was completely horrified by having a living thing so totally and completely need him. This was not the gay postcard I envisioned.
People died in that storm. Gay men and women were and are murdered because of who they are. I answer phones at a suicide and crises hotline for LGBTQ youth, and not a day goes by without a call from a young person considering suicide because they're gay. Yet we spend huge swaths of our time and energy constructing these perfect islands. We have the perfect clothes, the abs, the Instagram photos of us with our friends going to Mykonos with just enough of the plane cabin showing to indicate that we're in business class. We put the perfect group of friends together with great jobs and bright, white teeth.
And I sat there in my tank top and nice watch, angry at a small being for needing me; a beautiful lonely island incapable of letting in a little love.
One of the real gifts of giving up drinking is that you're forced to learn to sit through emotions until they pass. You don't have the option of checking out. I sat through the anger. Edie was fed and walked and cared for. I kept showing up for her, because I took the responsibility seriously. Eventually the anger gave way to acceptance. She started sitting next to me on the couch. The acceptance gave way to affection, and she would put her head on my lap at nights. Miracle of miracles, the affection gave way to love. She's curled up at my feet as I write this, and there is nothing that makes me happier than seeing her wiggle with delight when I get home in the evening.
I am not that perfect gay postcard. That image isn't real. I am standing on the shoulders of gay men who cried and died before me to live this normal life. My problems are often petty and inconsequential in the grand scheme of life, but I think I've gotten a glimpse at something really beautiful. I am an island slowly opening up and being shown that true beauty is in vulnerability. It's loving and being loved. It's in the eyes of that little shelter dog who teaches me every day that the meaning of life is in this moment right now.