One day before Alice’s 16th 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 which fills out one of the few parts of his face not cluttered with piercings. It’s his first Pride parade and he’s stoked.
Alice has elected to spend her birthday tomorrow with her old soldier boy buddy Dante, and I’m scheduled to drop her off at his house in Santa Cruz before the rest of us head back over the mountains. While Dante seems to accept Alice’s transition, I’m nervous about his in-person reaction and that of his family. Still, I tuck that anxiety away for the time being as there is too much excitement and anticipation about the day to enjoy.
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 put 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 El Salvadorian 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 which makes me teary year after year. We’re just a few months out from the upcoming election and California’s Prop 8 vote so there’s a lot of marriage equality support in these groups. I let out a big graceless “Woo Hoo” as my friends Tad and Greg pass our corner. Always calm and collected, Tad 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. 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 I. 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 which 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 which is always the Radical Fairies, 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, trying to keep pace with 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!”
The friend and former co-worker into whose arms I’ve tumbled exudes kindness like few people I’ve ever known. 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.
“You remember my youngest, right?” I’m practically shouting over the music.
“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, somehow 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, and I love him dearly for that.
Davey’s group spills out of formation at the clock-tower and heads for the park one block over where a stage show and festival booths are waiting. I wait though until the Radical Faeries come through with their bright frocks, streamers and all things fabulous. I walk along to the park with an elderly gentleman sporting a woolly beard and a sea-foam gown. We talk about how beautiful days like this are while small children zoom past us with balloons and strings of beads. As we leave one another at the end of the bridge into the park, he nods at me peacefully like an old Rabbi and wishes me a glorious afternoon.
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. 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. “Weren’t they great?”
“See them? I walked over here with one.”
“Really? Can you introduce me?” She glances across the park to the Ribbon-covered shelter the Faeries have erected and in whose shade they now lounge.
“I just met the man, but I know someone who can introduce you. Get your brother out of the tree and we’ll head that way. I’m starving anyway.”
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 never not love this place where my child is accepted as 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.
[In The Name of Love is an excerpt from “The Complicated Geography of Alice“, a memoir currently in search of the perfect publisher. If you would like to read more, you can find Laurustina.com on Facebook and get notification when the blog is updated and the book is released.]