Pride Parade, 1995
The deluge falling all day on the D.C. Pride Parade doubles as a wet metaphor. Prigs sit inside, connect dots between emboldened sin and an uncaring god’s vindication. The washing away of swine. A great, unmerciful cleansing. Noah’s flood, writ miniature and specified.
Meanwhile, the queers—boa-laden, chained, laced in leather—kiss hard in the rain, in the street, in the open. Dance to Cher in eight-inch glass-bottomed platforms. Come out with their lips glossed as lurid as hotpants; they glow from inside, so bright their skin radiates Day-Glo. They weave through one another with their arms spread wide, shimmying a little, singing. In love and bold in numbers.
And among them, here is your mother: out of the rain, at a booth beneath an overhang, chatting with an unaccustomed excitement. Out just three years now but already captivated by a woman, the gauzy attraction of a new kind of life. Her hair’s hacked boy-short; styling gel gives it waves. She hands pamphlets to drag queens—safe-sex stuff, the delicate Oh of a condom stapled to the back.
She’s pinned a rainbow to her tank top. One on you, too, standing mute but beaming. White-blonde, eight years old. Everyone magnetized, bending at the waist to coo and raise a palm for high-fives.
All of this is so new—in the way everything is at eight, yes, but bigger. Louder. Echoing and slippery. More flash than a camera going off in an unlit room. Your t-shirt sticks to your tiny frame as water collects to bursting in the tent’s roof, then spills over the sides in great cascades. A man with two nipple rings and bike shorts dance-steps up, greets your mother, grabs your hand to jump in puddles in the street.
Though perhaps it wasn’t like this, really—not so humid and swollen with rain, those years a jumble of calming memories framed in a blurry-edged radiance. Your mother a new mother but still the same. Nothing wrong until you’re old enough to hear of it: the woman kept hidden in the bedroom, her sullen and sorry parents, shouting matches across impossibly long phone lines. Every day a bristling challenger.
And maybe the rain is your own invention, its coming down a metaphor after all. Maybe, beyond memory, there was no parade. Growing up a lesbian’s son the actual celebration—knowing an unfamiliar love, the swollen heart of the underdog, the struggle for rights before right was anything more than a direction. A way to find home in the dark question mark of a new kind of neighborhood.
No matter; I believe it. The rain fell and the District rang, elated. Jefferson in his caverned dome nodded and hummed. The old stone Lincoln tapped his finger on his great marble armrest. A chanting ripple carried the queers across the capital, all smiles. Defiant. Your mother walked among them, and you held her hand, and through numbered streets glimmering wet you sang songs you didn’t know. Unsullied still, and clueless.
Brad Efford was a finalist for Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets in 2012. His work can be found in jmww, Shadowbox, Oxford Magazine, The Fiddleback, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Hollins University and teaches middle-school boys in Richmond, VA. Find him online at http://bradefford.tumblr.com.