Grief first came to me in the fall of 1987. It wasn’t my own. I watched it from afar as my great-aunt Maxine pulled the blankets from her bed and carried them to the laundry room; her head buried in their scent from days—maybe weeks—worth of wear. Her husband had died suddenly that morning. A heart attack they said. It took him out right after breakfast.
Maxine rolled all of the blankets in one big wad and stuffed them into the washer. “Damnit! Damnit!” She kicked at the bottom of the machine and slammed the lid shut. She lay the top half of her body across the washer and hugged the sides as she cried and screamed. Screamed and cried. A cycle of repetition. I watched from the doorway as she reluctantly let go.
I’ve experienced my own grief on multiple occasions since that November evening. It never gets easier. Two days ago I experienced it again. We said goodbye to our Sammy, that gnarly-toothed Lhasa Apso who never left my side. And now, he’s not here. I’ve closed my eyes for minutes at a time and have thought I could feel him nestled between my legs, but I’ve opened my eyes and he’s gone. Then the wind rattled the storm door this morning and I thought it was the tags on his collar clinking together like they used to do when he jumped from the floor to the couch. Eventually, these feelings and sounds will fade away.
I’ve sat here on the couch, in my pajamas, for two days. I want to let go, to move on, but I can’t. My thumb scrolls all of my newsfeeds up and down, down and up. Half the time I’m not even paying attention to what goes by. Once in a while, a funny video will catch my eye and I start to laugh only to have it slapped away by this aching pain in the pit of my stomach.
Tomorrow our housekeeper will come. She texted Cory to make sure it was still okay. “Is it?” he asked me. I nodded. Although I’m not ready for the last remnants of Sammy to be washed away, I know that I can’t go on like this forever.
I’ll shower today and will make it to the gym. I’ll kick the side of the weights as I scream “Damnit! Damnit!” and reluctantly let go.
Partnerships come in all forms, both transactional and transformational. The deepest of these involve a connection and understanding of each other’s stories . . . our likes, our fears, our dreams. In the words of Harper Lee, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Kelsey and I have worked tirelessly over the last six years to develop this type of experience for our storytellers, writers, and actors who have been involved in over 75 different Facing Projects across the country. During this time, we’ve gotten to know each other quite well in our partnership as founders of the organization but also as close friends. And even though we thought we knew everything about each other, even more was revealed this past spring when Kelsey sat down with me to write my story for this Saturday’s Facing LGBTQ+ Pride book launch and theatrical event. This is the first time I’ve told my story in a Facing Project, and it was the first time Kelsey ever interviewed me.
As Kelsey mentioned in a blog post about our collaboration, “. . . I thought I knew a lot of his story, thoughts and feelings, but . . . (I learned when we first met) He was worried that I, like so many people in so many places, would devalue him because of who he loved.”
It was tough to tell Kelsey what my feelings were the day we met, but it opened his eyes to the worry I have any time I meet someone new. And I’m lucky . . . I have a strong support network (and, okay, I’ll admit it, a lot of confidence that can sometimes make me look like an asshole). But imagine those who don’t have anyone to turn to . . . those who, like 43% of homeless youth, were thrown out of their homes for who they love. These are stories so many Americans don’t know about or don’t understand. Here in Muncie we had 23 writers sit down with 23 storytellers from the LGBTQ+ and ally community, and these stories, including mine, will live on as a resource for Muncie (and beyond). They will help you understand our likes, our fears, our dreams. They’ll help you see us as regular old people and as extraordinary people. Just like many of you.
Kelsey and I are no doubt even closer after this experience. Thank you, Mr. Timmerman, for being my partner in so many ways and for becoming the biggest ally I know.
To get a copy of the Facing LGBTQ+ Pride book and to see the theatrical performance on June 30th, reserve your seat online at give.classy.org/facingpride.
After many months of pitching my book, HILLBILLY, QUEER, I’m delighted to finally say that I’ve signed with NYC-based literary agent Julie Stevenson of Massie & McQuilkin. In the end, I received four offers of representation. The final four were all great and had much to offer, but Julie is the one who I feel truly gets me and the book.
When I queried Julie in April, she wrote back within an hour and told me what she loved about the pitch and how it has connections to her own lived experiences. She told me that my dad sounds a lot like her dad and she couldn’t wait to read my book. Then when we first connected by phone, the synergy was immediate. We talked for over an hour. She knew my book inside and out, she understands my career as an author and where I want to go, and she has clear ideas on how to get there.
Julie grew up in a working-class town in Montana and made the big move to New York for college. She has been a literary agent for 10 years. Prior to that, she worked in the editorial departments of Tin House and Publishers Weekly. Over the past 10 years, Julie has signed authors who have gone on to become New York Times Bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize Winners. Her agency, Massie & McQuilkin, represents a strong family of writers including people I admire like Lidia Yuknavitch, Roxane Gay, Sharma Shields, and Ashley C. Ford. I am completely in awe (and shock) that my name will be added to that list.
This is a feeling I never want to forget, and, after months of swimming in the slush pile, I’m allowing the universe to send this my way while remaining humbled by knowing that I am only one of many authors who sign with an agent each year.
There are many people who helped me along this path to getting an agent. But, most namely, I want to give shout outs to my husband, Cory, for believing in me and allowing me the time and space to write and pitch (and for handling my melt downs with grace), and to my best friend and partner-in-crime, Kelsey Timmerman, who gave me kicks in the ass every time I said I was going to quit; and he always gave me sound industry advice when I needed it (even if sometimes I’d argue with him on how I thought he was wrong).
This is just the beginning. The next path forward is finding the right publishing house, and I know this part of the journey will be smooth sailing with my agent, Julie Stevenson, by my side.
Thank you for all of your support, friends.