My son Max's girlfriend June took Alice shopping earlier in the week and she skipped out of the house on this particular 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 a bowler, a natty vest and oddly enough, a raccoon tail. On our way out of town, we pick up Samir, a Persian boy who is in Alice's trans-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.
My slouchy gray t-shirt and jeans are frowned upon by all.
Alice rides shotgun and therefore 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 moved away more than a year ago, 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 we get into the parade?” She calls out, stumbling momentarily in her tall shoes.
“Go down to the end of Pacific Avenue and find a group that'll let you join in.”
She grabs Samir's hand and they're off. Max and June head up Cooper St., her parasol bobbing above their heads and his raccoon tail bouncing 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 churches take the street, another entrance which makes me teary year after year. We're just a few months out from the 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.
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 Radical Faeries' grand finale, but it is so rare these days to see her this happy and free of self-consciousness that I want to capture every moment of it in my memory. I'm up near Bookshop Santa Cruz when I run headlong into another spectator.
“Whoa!” he grabs me by the shoulders and steps back. The friend and former co-worker into whose arms I've tumbled is one of those people who exudes kindness and light like few people I've ever known. With his ginger beard and wide smile, he shines there in the midst of the crowd.
“Jorge!” I hug him fiercely as a blast of music announces the arrival of The AIDS Project's group. He turns to watch our them and I tug on his sleeve.
“You remember my youngest, right?” I shout 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 in the middle of the street. She spots us at the edge of the crowd, and waves in our direction.
“My god, “ Jorge says, somehow more delighted than surprised, “She's blooming!”
With his arm over my shoulder, we soak in the beauty of them, Mikey dancing circles around Alice and Samir while the volunteers work the crowd. It strikes me suddenly that Jorge sees what I see, a happy girl dancing in the street with a cute pirate. Nothing more. Nothing less. Even with my husband Jay and Max, I never know if they see through the Boy Suit like I do. But he does and I love him for that. I know the day is coming when she will pass well enough that I won't have to think of such things, but for the moment, I bask in the company of someone who doesn't have to be convinced, who sees her and appreciates her as she is.
They spill out of formation at the clock-tower and head for the park one block over where festival booths and a stage show are waiting. I don't follow until the Radical Faeries come through with their bright frocks, streamers and all things fabulous. Then I make my way to the park accompanied by an elderly gentleman sporting a woolly beard and a sea-foam gown. We talk about how beautiful days like this one are as small children zoom past us with balloons and strings of beads. As we leave one another at the mouth of the bridge where it opens 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 once 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 asks excitedly, glancing across the park to the Ribbon-covered shelter the Faeries have erected and are now lounging in the shade of.
“I just walked over with 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 Jorge 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 whom she will someday become, but who she is right now, flouncing through the park arm in arm with Jorge, towards a group of men in fancy frocks. And when I look back, this will be one of those moments when I could see her future so bright and so beautiful that I believed anything was possible.
[Note: The final year of my daughter's life was a revelation and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I tell her story in bits and pieces as part of my own therapy, but also to let others who may travel some piece of the same path; You are not alone. This piece and previous diaries about Alice are cross-posted at Laurustina.com.]