This past Saturday, we pulled up at a sale, and I realized that I recognized the building. I turned to Keith and said, "Honey, it's Dorothy's place!" All of a sudden, we were both lost in memories.
Dorothy passed away about ten years ago, after a life of rabble-rousing and hell-raising. She had lived in an apartment in that building for decades. Back in the days when we were young and idealistic, she was one of the core members of a group called Honesty. We were Southern Baptists. We were gay and gay-friendly. And we were determined to try and change our church.
Dorothy was in her late 70's when I met her, I think. She smoked a couple of packs a day most of her life and had the loud, gravelly smoker's voice and cough to go with it. She spoke her mind, no matter what the circumstances. She also had two cats, a sweet long-hair named Gypsy and a stray tom that she took in and called Clyde. He was huge and not very friendly. Dorothy and Clyde had a running battle to see who would control the household. Those cats were her family, and she turned one room in her apartment over to them.
I met Dorothy when I was in the process of coming out. I was a young, active Southern Baptist raised in church, and I had dated several different women over the years. I struggled for a long time to make the pieces fit together. Eventually, I settled on bisexuality as kind of a temporary stopping point. I identified as bi when I joined the group. Dorothy told me later that she was thinking, "Poor thing. He just doesn't realize he's gay." It took me a few more weeks, but eventually I figured it out.
Dorothy and I kind of clicked right away, but ours was never an easy relationship. I've always been bad with returning phone calls, and she would get mad at me for weeks over that. Eventually, she would forget why she was mad and say something like: "You little shit, I can't remember what you did to make me mad, so I'm not mad anymore. Get over here and give me a hug!"
We liked the same soap operas, so she would save her soap magazines for me. We would look at them and argue about which actor was the cutest. After we got our first cats, we would swap cat tales. I had a few houseplants when we got ours, but could not keep the cats out of them, so I put them all on the porch. I promptly forgot to water them and they died a slow, withering death. One time when she was leaving our apartment after a meeting, Dorothy looked down at the pathetic, withered pots of plants and said, "Eddie, your flowers are looking lovely!"
She was truly a treasure, and we were privileged to know her. Eventually, the group disbanded. Slowly, but surely, we were all leaving the church and didn't see the need to keep fighting to change it. Most of us realized it was a dysfunctional, abusive relationship, and the best thing for us was to get out of it. Dorothy advocated strongly for keeping the group together. I don't think any of us realized that we were her primary source for socialization.
We kept up for a while, but then slowly drifted apart. A few years later, we got a call that she had passed away.
It was kind of odd to buy stuff out of that yard. We ended up telling the kids that were having the sale all about her. It turned out that two of them were living in her old apartment! Yard sales are often about memories, but usually it is the memories of the people selling their stuff. Sometimes, someone shopping will find something that they used to have and remember it. This is the first time I can remember that I've gotten lost in memory over the place having the sale.
We're no longer quite so young. We're no longer quite so idealistic. We're no longer Southern Baptist. We are, however, still gay! One thing we'll always carry with us from those days is the memory of Dorothy and how she touched our lives.