Children were screaming. Bounce houses were deflating. Rain was pouring down. And my hair looked like the sad leavenings of a Chia Pet porn scene.
And then I met him.
With thirty minutes of sleep under my undone belt, I steeled myself for the big day. And convinced myself that, no, I wouldn’t vomit after all.
Sidewalk chalk, a duffle bag stuffed with clothes I knew I’d never change into, and a few water bottles I knew I’d never drink were thrown haphazardly into my car. After all, when the LGBTs overrun one of Raleigh’s busiest downtown streets, there’s no time to do anything. Except do it up right.
Meaning, by the shebang’s end, we’re completely exhausted, dehydrated, and cattier than usual. A year in the making, the festival was the second of its kind in Raleigh’s history. There’d been attempts at other Pride-like events, but this one was different.
Not only was it larger this time around, but it had the fortuitous placement days before a critical vote in the state regarding LGBT rights. Everything had to run smoothly, and every person involved had their liver to remind them just how much vodka-laced logistical mess was involved to pull everything off. Each of us knew there was much more at stake than a few balloons and carnival games. Civil rights, it seemed, hinged upon our ability to garner support in any way that we could. In the eleventh hour. On thirty minutes of sleep.
And I looked fantastic.
My shirt dripped with sweat before the first visitor arrived, and I had Louis Vuitton bags beneath my eyes—minus the classiness. Dried-out contacts demanded tears as tribute for their aggravation at such an hour, while my gut reminded me that Nutella and Salt-n-Vinegar chips contain little nutritive value. An olfactory bouquet of restaurant refuse, cigarettes, and body odor from the previous night seemed to cling to the sidewalks until sweeper crews blew everything into the street and onto me.
So as I crinkled my nose and directed the inflatable bounce house delivery truck to various drop-off points—past the frantic production coordinator slapping paper numbers to the asphalt and crying out “We’re not ready!”—visions of little Gertrude pulling a chicken bone out of her foot skipped through my sleep-addled mind. By the time the puppeteers arrived, I’d come to some realizations: (1) Such sleep-deprivation should only occur if one finds themselves sandwiched between Frank Iero and Sam Trammell; (2) No amount of deodorant will compensate for rotten potato juice splashed on your shirt while moving overflowing garbage cans; (3) Toilet Bowl Basketball is never just like Ring Toss, regardless of whatever the responsible delivery driver emphatically suggests; and (4) No amount of product will tame curly hair when humidity, heat, and the impending presence of hyperactive children conspire against you.
Several hours into the melee, rainbow flags were whipping in the wind, performers were entertaining crowds with their singing and dancing, protestors were reciting our collective sins from behind explicit and color uncoordinated signs, and I was repeatedly convincing parents that, if they tilted their head slightly to the right, the inflatable sea creature crevices out of which their children happily sprung looked less like labias and more like Nessie’s lips.
The wind picked up a bit more, and then the deluge engulfed us—no drippy, misty foreshadowing, just an all-out fallout. While the protestors held their hands aloft and proclaimed the rain to be the work of God, I channeled my inner lifeguard and pulled kids out of the slopping messes the inflatables had become—being the collective buzzkill and nearly inciting riots among the tiny warriors, all the while mentally reciting two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.
Between phoning the rental company and holding up my waterlogged pants, two of the inflatables came down. Sidewalk chalk renderings of families washed with tobacco chew and disintegrating cotton candy into the overwhelmed drains, and I pretended to be elsewhere as I felt my favorite shoes fill with the disturbing soup.
Before long, even God’s wrath became too much for the protesting zealots, and they ran. With wind funneling through the high-rises and whipping the vendors’ tents like spaghetti, OutRaleigh 2012 was called a few hours before its scheduled end time.
But not before my curiosity was piqued. An infinitesimally short amount of time separated the opening showers and the subsequent deluge. But sandwiched within this respite from the maelstrom was a brush with a yet unknown future.
With suspicions of an early close dancing somewhat gleefully in the back of my mind, I relieved a volunteer of his post at the massive Screamer Slide. Kids slicked by rain couldn’t get enough of it, and I steadied myself against its outer edge right as two kids crumpled into a wet, laughing pile at my feet.
More than bedraggled, I glanced up and past them to the opposite side. And there was this guy, whose eye contact was far deeper than the puddle at the bottom of the slide, and whose shoes could’ve easily been paired with a technicolor raincoat. He had a slightly mischievous, ear-to-ear smile plastered across his face, and just nodded his head at the kids descending into a rambunctious welter between us.
And then the sky opened up—not for an apropos rainbow or angelic music, but rather fat drops that splattered across our faces and settled the minor feud unfolding at my feet. Man X and I ushered the kids out, and began deflating the slide. And somewhere along the way, he mentioned his name: Andy.
“I like your shoes. They’re really bright.”
As my inner tween made an “L” sign on his forehead and rolled his eyes, I slipped and fell on my stomach, into the float. Andy looked down with another smile, and raised an eyebrow.
Months later, I’m sitting on a mid-century-modern sofa he’d purchased on one of our antiquing excursions and surveying my pneumonia-clouded mind—retracing how I’ve ended up here. So many details in between that soggy day and this moment have been etched into memory—the hikes, the ice cream, the brunches.
But I wave them away to appreciate this moment: the fleece he brings me to quell my fever-induced chills, and the chocolate-covered pretzels and gummy worms he spreads across the coffee table before me. He clicks on the complete Daria series, presses “Play,” and gingerly rests his hand on my knee, giving it a slight squeeze.
And I know this snarky cynic is finally home.
Warm, fuzzy feelings and all.