To Rosie

Last week was big for America and big for
Massachusetts.  SCOTUS upheld the
Affordable Care Act and struck down the ban on gay marriage.   In the past couple days the world has been
painted the colors of the rainbow in celebration.  The gay marriage decision was well timed with
Gay Pride day, so when I walked out of my flat on Saturday the streets were
dancing with color and glitter.  There
were eccentric costumes, huge displays of pride, and endless smiles.   

The news of ACA and Gay Marriage have brought warmth to my
soul.  In light of the domestic terrorism
in Charleston, the bombings in Kuwait, and the attack in Tunisia – the good
guys needed a win.  When I heard the news
I was so excited, because it meant my country was acknowledging the civil liberties
of all citizens, their rights to healthcare and their right to love.  Now there is still a long way to go. This
bill will not end discrimination against the LGBT community.  We still have issues of race, class,
sexuality, gender, and disability to deal with.
But for now I want to celebrate this win and remember a friend.  

Rose Marie Hill was my childhood babysitter, friend, and
confidant.  She died in 2008 after a
brutal battle with breast cancer.  One of my lingering regrets in life is that  when
she died I had not seen her in a couple years, because she moved out to Seattle.  Now Rosie had an inextinguishable fire that I
have always struggled to put to words.
Her life, even in pain and suffering, was filled with light.  She was a performance artist, a world
traveler, and a total badass.  The older
I get the more I realize how much Rose influenced me. 

She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was
twenty-one.  She found a lump, the doctor
said she was too young for cancer, and by the time someone believed her it was
too late.  She spent ten years fighting
her disease with grace, strength, and resilience.  She started working with my family when I was
around six years old.  As a “test” I
spent an afternoon at her art studio to see if we were a good match.  I vividly remember sitting with her,
that first day, watching her unwrap Tootsie Pops for her art installment.  She was the kind of person you couldn’t help
but to love.

My afternoons with her were always filled with laughter and
spontaneity.  When she was not
babysitting us, she was traveling the world, trying to see as much as
possible before she died.  From every
trip she brought me a little present, a fan from Spain, an Eskimo doll from
Alaska, an alpaca from somewhere in South America, and so many more. I think
watching her run around the world was, at least in part, my inspiration for
traveling.  

Rosie became a fixture in our lives.  She took my brother and me on an infamous car
camping trip, where a big brown bear ate all of our food.  She was there when I came home from school,
for holidays, and celebrations.  And when
my parents got divorced she was a rock that helped me weather the storm.  Rose blurred the lines between friend,
babysitter, and family.   

My last memory of Rosie is her 50th birthday
party.  I think she was actually turning
28, but she was never one for rules.  She
was about to move to Seattle and she knew she was never going to make it to
fifty so she decided she was going to celebrate her fiftieth birthday with a
fifties themed party.  The party summed
her up so well, she said “fuck it” to the conventions of society and decided to
celebrate in a way that made her happy.  There
were little quiches, a big red velvet cake, karaoke, and Rose decked out in a
big taffeta dress.  At her encouragement
my brother, mother, and I did a karaoke song.
I have never liked being on stage, singing or being the center of
attention, especially when I was ten.  I
was nervously twisting the hem of my dress, muttering into the mic, when I
looked at Rosie.  She looked like she had
front row seats to the Beatles.  She was
so excited to watch us have fun and under her supportive gaze I was able to
belt out the lyrics and forget my inhibitions.

Here’s the other thing about Rosie, she was gay.  Having her in my life, I never questioned gay
rights.  When Massachusetts legalized gay
marriage in 2003, I remember being confused.
I asked my parents why marriage would be illegal, especially between two
people who loved each other.  It never
made sense to me, Rosie was one of the kindest and most deserving people I
knew, why would my country do this to her.
At that point I had been sheltered from all of the discrimination and
hatred, living in a liberal bubble of Cambridge.  As I got older I learned all of the hate and
anger towards the LGBT community, but still it baffled me.  Rose was a person and the gender of the
person she loved did not make her any less deserving of happiness.

When Rosie and her partner moved to Seattle, they could not
get married.  Their state and their
country did not recognize their love.
They went to Canada (I think) to have a small ceremony.  Rose died in 2008.  My mother and I went out to Seattle for her
funeral.  We saw her partner (who should
have been her wife), met her whole family, and mourned.  I felt sick that I hadn’t seen her in a few
years and that maybe she didn’t know how much I cared.  My mother and I got up at the wake to speak
about her.  We were both over come with
tears and could barely get through our eulogy.
Afterwards we went to the bathroom to collect ourselves.  Dozens of people stopped us.  “So you’re the ones from Boston?” We
nodded.  “Thank you for being Rosie’s
other family.  She loved you so dearly.”  

Being gay was only a small part of who Rose was.  In my life she was an unstoppable force.   She taught me to be kind, strong,
spontaneous, forgiving, and relentless.
Watching her travel taught my that a single women is totally
capable of conquering the world on her own.
And now that I am facing my own health challenges with EDS, I am
realizing that Rosie taught me how to see the humor in illness, when to be
strong, when to be weak, and how to face pain with great beauty.  

When I heard the news about SCOTUS I thought of her.  She would have loved the Technicolor
explosion of celebration and she would have been in the thick of it, glitter
and all, celebrating her freedom.  So
here’s the thing, legalizing gay marriage gave all the Rosie’s of the US their
deserved freedom.  Freedom to love.  Freedom to marry.  Freedom to benefits, healthcare, and
taxes.  This decision is monumental for
the LGBT community, but I keep thinking about the microcosm of experiences.  Across the country there are all of these
lives, detailed experiences, and relationships that now have the right to be
celebrated.  

My dad always says, “People are people.  That’s all that matters.”  Being gay is only an aspect of a person’s
identity.  It should not define them, nor
limit their rights in society.  Rosie was
a once-in-a-lifetime kind of a person.
She is my absolute argument for why everyone deserves equal rights.  I miss her.
It’s been years since she passed, but I am reminded of my love for her
when I feel the pangs of her absence.  I
would do anything to see her again.  Id
love to sit down for a beer with her, let her see who I’ve become, and show her
how she helped shape me.  Rose was
abused by faults in the healthcare system and denied her equal rights based on
her sexuality.  When I heard about the
ACA and gay marriage decision my heart was filled with melancholy joy.  This week I am celebrating for the progress
of our country and for my dear friend.

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