Like so many other commuters last Friday morning, I navigated my way toward work barely able to see the road through the rush of my tears. I am getting ever more accustomed to my morning cry-drive, what with the dispatches from North Charleston and Baltimore. McKinney and Fairfield. Spokane and Charleston, again. Good God, Charleston. Have you seen the pictures of the little girls who lost their father to the vilest kind of hate? The grief on their faces will break you.
The heaviness of the last few weeks has been overwhelming for me, so it was a relief to let the mascara run, not because of injustice but because of its opposite. I steered my car down Montezuma Road to the news that gay marriage would be the law of all the great states of our nation, and even the less great ones, too. I cruised through nothing but green lights, to the cheers on the radio of thousands of revelers gathered outside of the Supreme Court.
The jubilant sounds were not unlike those of Valentine's weekend 2004, when my husband and I flew to San Francisco on a whim. News that then-mayor Gavin Newsom had gone rogue (Sarah Palin was still parsing out the syllables in the word) and opened City Hall for gay-wedding business, had inspired our closest friends to get married.
It was a Sunday and given the national attention to the ceremonies taking place all weekend, the crowds were huge. The line of thousands wound all the way around City Hall and if you've ever been to San Francisco's City Hall, you know this is a huge swath of land. There was an A-line for people who had tickets to be married that day; a B-line for those who might get in before closing time; and a C-line—or the "hopeful overflow line" as they were calling it—for those late arrivals who didn't have tickets and had terrible odds for getting them. We were in that line.
As it happened, our friends had a hook up in the district attorney's office. That hook up had begun quiet negotiations for our little group to be spirited through a side door and into a shorter line where marriage licenses were being dispensed. The women in front of us, though, a couple in their mid-sixties, weren't as connected.
They had arrived that morning from Florida and stood despondent, their suitcases at their feet, as a man with a bullhorn paced the length of the line and dashed the hopes of the hopefuls. He announced with great regret that nobody from the C-line would be getting married that day. "You're welcome to come back in the morning and take your chances then," he said.
"But what about us?" one of the women asked him. "We just flew in this morning. We've waited for this day for 32 years."
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I don't know what to tell you except that maybe someone in the A-line might be willing to give you their ticket."
So the shorter of the two women kissed her partner good-bye, leveraged herself over a retaining wall onto the sprawling green lawn and made her way toward those lucky A-liners in possession of tickets.
Forty minutes later, as we were still waiting, the woman came running across the lawn, her hand raised high above her head. In it, was a little piece of paper and she was waving it in the air.
"We're getting married! We're getting married!" She said, weeping. The hopeful overflow-ers erupted into cheers and applause. Strangers were hugging each other. Several line-waiters helped the women heave their suitcases up and over the wall and we watched them disappear across the grass from the C-Line to the A-Line, their hearts buoyant and full. Love was winning. Later, we stood on a balcony in the rotunda and witnessed our friends exchange marriage vows along with dozens of other couples. All throughout the giant foyer, echos of laughter, clapping and cheers rose up each time a ceremony was completed. It was the happiest day of my life.
I was contemplating the purity of that moment as I drove along Mission Gorge Road, listening to President Obama address the nation in the first of two epic speeches that day, this one of joy juxtaposed with the latter one of pain. I wondered how it's possible that we hold both things at once, how we exist in the world with such discord and still function, when I came up behind a car with the vanity plate to end all vanity plates: SAVE 8, it read.
This really happened. Of all the cars on the road, I found myself in that moment behind the guy who was probably considering driving into a concrete median over the very same news that gave me a sliver of hope for humanity. Yes. I thought. Save 8, why don't you? What an excellent use of your time here on Earth.
I offered the driver a smile and thumbs-up as I passed, reveling in the glorious victory for the LGBTQAI community, when the radio reporter moved onto the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. My tears turned again to grief.