This essay is part of a series that explores my personal history of queerness through the songs of the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers. For details on the project and links to all of the essays, check out this introduction: “My Queer History: Me and the Indigo Girls.”
I swear I heard him* say it. Or maybe my father told me that he said it. “Your daughter is going to be lonely,” he told my parents. We were at a Christmas party at his house, standing shoulder to shoulder in the basement den, where his wife had taught me how to sew when I was a young teenager.
Home from college, I had tagged along with my parents to the holiday event, the youngest person in the room. I wanted to go, because of all the things I’d done in my couple of years away: I had studied the Bible as literature, read philosophy and great American novels, and taken a half-dozen mathematics classes that made me reconsider the world. I had also left the man I had expected to marry and fallen in love again, this time with a woman. I thought I was keeping that secret but probably wasn’t. Love is like that, surreptitiously signaling with words and gestures.
I sensed he was an outsider, like me. He was a philosophy teacher and a Lutheran minister, an activist against mountain-top removal and for better conditions in coal mines. He had always treated me like an adult, never talked down to me. He had a looming presence, a kind Churchill or Southern Woodrow Wilson. Congenial gravitas. When he entered the room, I felt it go silent, all of us waiting for him to speak, to say something irreverent and sage. Or maybe that was just me, waiting for him to notice my thinking, notice my ideas. I’m exaggerating in my memories, was even then. People grow larger, more important in your mind as you wander farther from them. But even now, six years after his death, his activism connects me to him. Could it be true that between generations, we can recognize ourselves in another, that a near stranger can feel like someone we know like a brother or sister?
“She’s going to be lonely,” he said. And when I heard it — from his mouth or my father’s — I understood it as approval, without sadness or disappointment. I understood that he was also lonely, that to be someone willing to speak the truth, loneliness was to be expected. This loneliness wasn’t merely an affect but necessary for the work of pushing against power, even with help, even in a crowd. This wasn’t a matter of pride but a statement of being.
Whatever he meant, he was right. I was told I’d end up alone,** and I have felt that way, even in a 32-year love affair with that same woman, even among millions in pink pussy hats in Washington D.C., even among hundreds of men dying of AIDS in Norfolk, Virginia, before the cocktail. I haven’t been abandoned. I am happiest when in the company of my thoughts, whether hiding myself and my love or speaking about it to legislators or writing words on the internet.
Feeding the fire** is lonely, and for some of us, there is no other choice, because not fighting is giving up, giving in. There is no request for pity in that statement. I do not need anyone to feel sorry for me. In fact, please don’t. I do not enter any space with the assumption that I belong. Loneliness is a human condition. I like to think that he saw that in me, not as something that should be fixed but appreciated, understood. I can’t do anything but GO, GO, GO.** I don’t know how else to be, lonely or not.
*The Reverend Caroll Wessinger was 83 years old when he died in 2014. I wish I could talk to him today.
**Lyrics from The Indigo Girls’ “Go,” Come on Now Social, 1999, by Amy Ray
More from this series: