One day before Alice’s sixteenth birthday, Max, June, Alice and I pile into the car and head West for the promised excursion to the Gay Pride Parade in Santa Cruz. Earlier in the week, June took Alice shopping for the perfect outfit, and she skips out of the house this morning in a flouncy black mini, tall shoes and striped stockings. A little black tank, her favorite hoodie and a smattering of chunky candy jewelry completes the outfit.
Max and June are equally splendid in their attire, June having donned a red party dress with a matching parasol and Max sporting his favorite bowler, a natty vest and, oddly enough, a raccoon tail. My slouchy gray t-shirt and jeans are frowned upon by all.
On our way out of town, we pick up Samir, the Persian boy from Alice’s support group. He is inexplicably dressed like a pirate and wearing a delicately pasted beard that fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride Parade, and he’s stoked.
With Alice riding shotgun, Gwen Stefani sings us through the Valley, over the mountains and down Highway 17, which dumps us into downtown Santa Cruz with twenty minutes to spare. We may have been gone for a year, but Santa Cruz is still my town, and I prove it by scoring one of the few unregulated parking spaces downtown. The kids spill out of the car and are rushing towards the commotion a block away when Alice turns back.
“How do I find Davey so we can get into the parade?” she asks, stumbling momentarily in her tall shoes.
“Down to the end of Pacific.” I point west. “Look for someone with a clipboard, and ask where the AIDS Project group is staged.”
She grabs Samir’s hand, and they’re off. Max and June are already across the street, heading in the opposite direction, towards the clock tower. Her parasol is bobbing behind their heads, and his raccoon tail bounces along behind them.
I catch up to them near the Del Mar Theater just as the Dykes on Bikes roll out onto the street to clear the parade route. The sound of their engines makes me tear up; it always has.
The motorcycles are followed by the Grand Marshall, roller-derby girls and a pair of seven-foot-tall drag queens. A group of Latin dancers from up at the college puts on a hell of a show, and then The Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (a huge support system for local cancer patients and those living with HIV) rolls onto the scene with my old friend Mario atop the float, shaking his Salvadoran ass in short shorts and sporting a giant platinum afro wig. I squeal like a delighted child as he throws a string of glittery beads my way.
Things mellow out a bit when the local gay-friendly churches take the street, another entrance that makes me emotional year after year. Having grown up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical church, it is still a pleasant surprise to see open and affirming churches practicing what Jesus preached. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8, banning gay marriage, is on the table, so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big, graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friend Trace and his husband Gage pass our corner. The king of serenity, Trace smiles and waves his God Is Still Speaking sign in my direction.
The churches are followed by stilt-walkers, the San Francisco Cheer Team and a smattering of state and local politicians, including the Mayor in a beautifully restored Woody surf wagon. A random group of boys in tutus and girls with tiny dogs follow the political crowd, and then I hear a blaring bass and look up the street to see an approaching contingent dressed all in red with the exception of one bright green pirate and a girl in a flouncing black mini and striped tights.
I punch Max in the arm. “They’re coming!”
“I can see, mom.”
It’s this point at which Davey spots Max and me. He jumps out of the parade to grace me with a bear hug and a second set of shiny beads. Then, like a flash, he’s back in, and the whole AIDS Project group stops in front of us. Volunteers from the Org run to the edges of the crowd with buckets for donations and to hand out condoms, little red ribbons and more Mardi Gras beads. The music blaring from the flatbed that precedes them is obscenely danceable, and those who aren’t working the crowd put on their own impromptu dance show. Right in the middle of them are Alice, Samir and Davey having a grand old time.
When the procession starts up again, I leave Max and June at the corner, moving through the throng to keep pace with Alice. I don’t want to miss out on the grand finale—the Radical Faeries—but it is so rare these days to see her this happy that I want to capture every second of it.
I pass a number of friends, acquaintances and familiar faces along the way, but I don’t stop long in any one place, following the thrumming beat as it heads towards the clock tower at the end of Pacific Avenue. I’m up near Bookshop Santa Cruz when I run headlong into another spectator.
“Whoa!” He grabs me by the shoulders and steps back. “Jules!”
With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd. I hug him fiercely as a blast of music announces the arrival of The AIDS Project’s group. Jesús turns to see them, and I tug on his sleeve.
I practically shout over the music, “You remember my youngest, right?”
“The soldier boy? Of course,” he says, still looking towards the dancers.
I stretch out my arm in front of him and point to Alice who is currently twirling and laughing in the middle of the street. She spots us there at the edge of the crowd and waves in our direction.
“My god,” he says, more delighted than surprised, “she’s blooming!”
With his arm over my shoulder, we stand and watch them. Davey dances circles around Alice and Samir while the volunteers with the buckets work the crowd. It strikes me suddenly that Jesús sees what I see: a happy girl dancing in the street with a cute pirate. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I hope for the day when she passes well enough that we won’t have to think of such things, but I bask in the company of someone who doesn’t have to be convinced, someone who also sees her blooming. I love him dearly for that.
Jesús and I walk to the end of the street, watching as the groups begin to disperse. Trace and Gage find us, then Max and June come past, arm-in-arm with an elderly man sporting a wooly beard and a seafoam green frock. They’re moving on to the park with Samir where a festival is waiting when I spot Alice, skipping towards us, trailed by her old friend Dante in full soldier garb.
“Can I stay with Dante for the weekend?” she asks when she reaches us.
“Can you what?”
“I don’t – “
“Don’t trip, Mom. Dante’s cool. His mom and sister are cool. It’s all chill.”
From somewhere behind us comes Dante’s mom, a small Hispanic woman with soft features. She steps right up to Alice and examines her. “Sweet Mother Mary, look at you! You’re skin and bones.”
“She shot up six inches,” I say, “and only eats chicken sandwiches.”
Dante’s mother laughs. “Then you must let her visit so I can feed her.”
I laugh too. I also worry and wonder if they’ll get along the same, but then I think how that’s exactly what I told Helen—that her boys would get that Jordan and Alice are one and the same.
“All my finals are over,” Alice says, “and my birthday is tomorrow. What better way to spend it than here with my brotha from another motha?” Alice strikes a gangster pose and bumps fists with Dante. They grin at me hopefully.
“They’re not going to take no for an answer, are they?” I say to Dante’s mom.
“They’re young. It’s summer. Let them have their fun. “
“Ok then, but…”
Nobody hears my conditions, though, because the Radical Faeries are rounding the last block, and pandemonium has broken out. Also, Davey has dashed up the street and caught me in a bear hug. I walk to the park with my Santa Cruz boys. Small children whiz past with bright balloons. Once we cross the bridge into the park, I spot the kids near the playground and head towards them. Max is up a tree, and Samir is navigating the lower branches, intent on joining him. Dante leans against the tree as if holding it up for the others. June and Alice stand off to the side beneath the red parasol. Alice clomps over when she sees me, wincing with each step but looking ridiculously happy nonetheless.
“Did you see the faeries?” Alice asks when I reach them.
“They’re always awesome. I think Jesús knows some of them.”
We glance across the park to the Faeries lounging in the shade of the ribbon-covered shelter they have erected.
“Would he introduce me?” she asks.
“Maybe. Get your brother out of the tree, and we’ll find out.”
We order a mix of Greek and Indian food, staking out a spot beneath a generous tree to eat. As we’re finishing up, I spot Jesús heading towards a dance tent throbbing with trance music. I grab him just before he goes in, and he consents to take Alice over to mingle with the Faeries. I flop down in the grass near the other kids and watch them go.
I will always love this place where my child is accepted for who she is, not for who she once was or even who she will someday become, but who she is right now, flouncing through the park, arm-in-arm with Jesús, towards a group of men in fancy frocks.
(Twitch is an excerpt from Jules Vilmur’s upcoming memoir “The Complicated Geography of Alice” due out in Dec 2014.)