Dear People of New York,
Do you feel like you are unable to pursue your dreams? Do you feel oppressed by your regulatory environment? Do you feel like your liberties have been stolen? Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seems to think so. So much so that he invested funds from his growing war chest in a campaign to recruit you to our great state of Texas. To be a bit more specific, Abbott seeks to bring freedom-loving New Yorkers, which in his mind, equates to the gun-toting among you.
A series of online ads began appearing on news sites in New York City and Albany immediately following the passage of far-reaching gun-control legislation by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Signed one month after that earth-shattering day in Newtown, CT, New York now has some of the toughest gun laws in the U.S. In the ads, Abbott cites strong job growth and lack of state income tax as reasons to “Get on down to Texas, y’all.” It’s true that over the past few years Texas has seen a huge influx of people from high-tax states, including large numbers from New York. Mostly high-income earners seeking to stretch those nice salaries with our lower taxes and lower cost of living. It makes perfect sense, really. We love it when newly arrived New Yorkers think our houses are cheap. “What’s that? You said you would like to pay cash?”
Then there is the gun-toting part. Abbott’s headline, “Keep your gun, come to Texas,” is paired with an image of Texas colored completely orange with the line reading, “Each orange dot represents a Texas gun owner.”
A mildly creative way of implying that you won’t be singled out here, because we are all packing heat. He further suggests that your liberty has been stolen along with your gun and makes the case that you can use your new surplus of cash to buy more ammo. I am certainly no expert on the New York state of mind, but I suspect you have a more balanced definition of liberty and much different plans for your money.
Which leads me to my next question. Are you as insulted by Abbott’s simplistic view of your values as I am embarrassed of his characterization of Texas and Texans?
I am Texan, born and bred. Along with the good things like chicken-fried anything and best damn quality of people you’ll ever meet, I have done my best to accept the less savory things that come along with this label. Such as, but not limited to, truck nuts, quarterly secession threats, insular thinking, a pretense that being gay is a choice and the relentless attempt to regulate a woman’s womanly parts by imbecilic, bible-beating politicians. Oh and a rampant, dick-swinging gun culture. Last I checked, we weren’t living on the frontier and I don’t care anything about dreams of an armed insurrection against a mythical and oppressive federal government.
Along with strong job growth and low cost of living are a few less favorable facts of which I should make you aware. Like that 1 in 4 people in Texas are uninsured; the public school system is abhorrent; and the state has one of the nation’s lowest per capita spending in mental health. Texas can sometimes be like a whole other country – a third world one with more money than good sense. Which takes me back to Abbott.
You and I both know that he is poking fun with this campaign. If it isn’t immediately obvious, he ran these ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in New York City and Albany rather than rural areas like Allegany, where his message might be taken seriously. The whole thing was simply a demonstration of Texas-style bravado in an arrogant attempt to gain Abbott a seat at the national political dinner table.
Like when he appeared on Lou Dobbs on January 15, “it is tongue in cheek, but there is a deeper message here,” he said. “Texas really does stand as the last bastion of ultimate freedom in this country. Over the last decade, more than 4 million people moved to this state, and one reason is freedom and one reason is economic opportunity.” He then went on to echo a sentiment I have heard too much of recently, “why can some have armed guards, but not regular people.” And by “some” I can only assume he means “those elitists” who seek to do something over nothing. It takes me miles beyond embarrassment when an elected official from my state chooses to deliver paid-for and politically motivated sarcasm to an audience only a short drive away from a place where twenty tiny graves are still fresh.
Know that we don’t all fit the image that Abbott puts forth and regret that his mildly witty, yet tone-deaf campaign makes us out to be gun-crazed fanatics. And some of us actually embrace what it is to be Texan, but have higher aspirations for this place we call home. Clearly Abbott has aspirations of his own, like perhaps a gubernatorial run in 2014. You can’t always see it, but things are changing down here. Maybe it has to do with the millions of people from elsewhere with their different ideas that are moving here day after day along with the growing cultural diversity of our communities. As the tide shifts, I believe these forces will bring about a broader, more balanced definition of liberty among my fellow statesmen. Voices like Abbott’s will inevitably be drowned out by reason and I hold out hope that his recent tongue-in-cheek exhibition will become his stark reality.
Amber, a Middle-Class White Girl from Texas
I held this letter for weeks, unsure of whether to publish it here or not. Then, I heard that the freshman Senator Ted Cruz (R) from Texas wished to bring a gun to the Senate floor today (for demonstrative purposes), but was unable to do so because assault weapons are banned in the District of Colombia. Upon hearing this, I dug the letter out again. These people may represent me, but they don’t represent my views or my vision for Texas or this country. If I want change, I need to speak up. Starting now.
An Excerpt from 33 Days
by: Amber Curry Gracia
February 2, 2012
Three years ago, I sat alone in a typical coffee shop on an almost sparkling winter’s day. As the sun poured through the smeared glass, there I sat – lost, miserable and desperate for change. I had made up an imaginary commitment so that I might huddle myself away. A day with a pen, spiral notebook and an endless carafe of some locally-roasted variety. I started to write with no idea where it would lead. Since words weren’t really my thing, I started with what I knew – mapping. Soon, the first pages became the mapping of my discontent. Random musings about when I felt happy and when not so much. All organized into neatly drawn charts and graphs, in keeping with my analytical madness.
I didn’t know how else to sort things out.
Equipped with the most infantile self-evaluation techniques, I thought the best way to move forward might just be to work my way backwards from the end. That is of course, the end of my life. I thought perhaps then I could work my way back to this sunny coffee shop in my rubber band town and chart a more fulfilling path forward.
Maybe they are going to need to refill this carafe…
I began to write out a list of things that I hoped would form the story of this life. I then boiled it all down to one simple line. One single accomplishment. To leave my children with one inherent belief.
They can do anything, everything and anywhere. Always.
On that same page, I jotted a small but important note to myself, “place my feet on African soil.”
When I wrote those words, I would have never believed that, a mere three years later, I would find myself making preparations to climb the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Even that word, “Kilimanjaro,” seems like something reserved for the pages of someone else’s story, not mine.
This journal will chronicle how this story pans out. I sit here eleven days away from placing these narrow feet upon the soils of Africa and 33 days away from writing the next chapter of my story. Why 33 days? Well, because I have a maniacal need to do and list things in triplicate. So, here’s how it’s going to go…
Part One – The Lead Up
The eleven days before departure. A time to think about Africa and this challenge in abstraction. A destination filled with anticipation and much expectation.
Part Two – The Experience
The eleven days from take off to landing. A time during which I will stand atop of the roof of Africa. The memories in the making, the misery and shared adventure. The time when I will see first hand what this girl is made of.
Part Three – The Aftermath
The eleven days after return. A time of reflection and reconciliation of the impact made. Perhaps a touch of elegant transformation, perhaps heaps of regret.
That is 33 days divided into three neatly packaged parts. Not two, not four, but three equal parts.
Neatly so, because I like things that way.
In response to a post published by my brother, Tyler Curry, entitled “Reluctant Social Commentary of a Newly HIV-Positive 20-Something”
I have long since traded my urban Sunday brunches filled with mimosas and salacious bedtime stories for Saturday morning soccer games, chilled juice boxes and fairy tales. Although a self-described idiot when it comes to the intricacies of T-cell counts, I do seem to remember a fragment or two. There are, however, a few things I know for sure. Life changes. Things evolve. We evolve. At least I hope so.
We are two siblings living as well-cast bookends in a set of three. You are the baby brother of two headstrong sisters and despite our many similarities and overlapping social circles, there are almost 12 years between us. Separated by a generation, I play one of your three mothers in the theater of the Bible Belt. Which we both know has made for both hilarious tragedy and hurtful comedy.
“I am gay.”
I was a twenty-something, married woman when you shed that first mask and began living your truth. You had courage in the face of a privileged few who cast harsh judgment under the protection of a vengeful God. You had courage as they turned their backs with silent whispers of disapproval. I bore witness to this noxious comedy with its twang-y players, flatbed pickups and cicada song soundtrack. One that left a lasting scar upon your heart.
You have always been bold, never one to wear a mask, at least not for too long and not very well. Often infuriating to those who of us who know you best, your boldness is also a thing of great beauty.
As we sat across the table at that all-organic, locally grown place eating excruciatingly few carbohydrates and drinking iced tea, I had that harried, mother of two, can’t-get-it-all-done look on my face and you were wearing an uncharacteristically small amount of self-tanner. “How is your day?” I asked. “Good,” you said, “but there is something I need to tell you.” You continued, “But I don’t want you to be worried.” Gulp. I nodded sheepishly in affirmation. Then you said them. Those three capital letters and mathematical symbol strung together in such horrific order.
“I am HIV+.”
For a moment, my mind went blank. Then memories came rushing back, like someone had turned on the hydrant of my past. You said, “But I am going to be ok and I am not ready to tell anyone else. Not yet.” I nodded again, accepting this burden of silence. I asked all of the obligatory questions. You were using medical terms I didn’t really understand and trying to reassure me that things were different now. You said, “Just know, this isn’t a death sentence anymore.” You kept talking with that perfect set of white teeth. Something about detectable levels and viral loads and that I should not walk away with fear in my heart. I tried to listen, I saw your lips moving, but the waters were raging inside my head and that hydrant of the past was on full blast.
As you spoke your sugary-sweet words of optimism, you seemed to forget that I am of a different generation. I have seen what happens at the end of the line when those three despicable capital letters and mathematical symbol get involved. I was scared. Scared at the most remote possibility of losing my often artificially tanned, always perfectly-coiffed and pectorally superior opposite bookend. I heard the words intended to soothe my mind and heart. But in that moment, I fell from that bench seat in that well-lit restaurant into a deep, dark well of shock and dated memories. I didn’t show it, but as I got up and walked out the door, I was still down there tangled in despair. All I could think was that this wasn’t how your twenties were supposed to end. And, this wasn’t how your thirties were supposed to begin. Your peregrine words of reassurance kept playing in my head, but “undetectable” and “high T-cell count” simply had no current meaning to me. So, I sat down and got comfortable in the silence of my pitch-dark place. Alone, scared and really pissed off.
Time has a way of changing the way you see things. Life happens and all its bumps and bruises leave their mark on your insides. So, just as I no longer live in your world of Sunday brunches, you were much too young to see parts of mine. You wrote about the scary, outdated images that makeup the horror stories of older gay men. You state that these are images that the gay community is lucky to forget. Well, my dear brother, I’ve lived those images and I haven’t forgotten.
Tyler was the one we lost slowly. Wasting away over years, his youthful face was sunken for much of the time I knew him. I once held his frail body in my arms when the pain was too much and after he had tried to take it away once and for all. That wasn’t his final day, but it came soon after. His family will always bear the scars of his pain and the irony that you share his same name does not go unnoticed.
John was the one we lost suddenly. As I laid there in labor with my first born, he laid hooked to life support at a nearby hospital. He went in for a mild cough and died of pneumonia only days later and within hours of the birth of my son. I sat in a pew holding my newborn and listened to the eulogies about a life taken too soon.
These are the memories that ran through my mind. Memories almost a decade old. Hardly the scale that others have seen and lived, but I can only share what I know. Mimosas notwithstanding, these are the things I remember. These weren’t horror stories. These were real – real fucking hard.
I share these stories so that you may understand my own personal process of rediscovery. We will deal with what you have been dealt. Pick up and get ‘er done, cause that’s one thing we learned from this twang-y place we call home. But I admit, I must be taught what it all means now. I realize that the conversation has changed and the stories are different now, but don’t be angry because I fear. I simply need to put the past behind me and learn how this all plays out today. I promise to dig myself out of this well so that I might fight alongside you – bookend to bookend.
You have taken off the mask once again. This time in a public forum so that your pain might help others too afraid to speak for themselves. Others who need a voice like yours. To say I am proud of your courage would be vast understatement. When I look back on those tragedies and comedies, they seem so insignificant now in the face of your “needle prick.” Those silent whispers are quickly becoming a faded memory as I watch you bring everything into razor-sharp focus and uncover your courage without limits. You are a bold example of someone who is learning to dance in the rain with a fresh wound and a trace of naiveté.
Things have changed. Things have evolved. We are evolving. Although my memories remain firmly intact, have faith that I will overcome this insufferable anger, crawl out of this dark place and dance alongside you in the pouring rain.
But for now let’s talk about that prick. Today, well today I think he is just such a dick.
I talk to myself a lot. Not so much out loud for that would imply that I am bat shit crazy. Sometimes I do it by writing to myself.
Like recently while sitting on a plane somewhere over New York… Read the rest of this entry »
We made the decision to pack up our life and go on an adventure.
When the boxes arrived, they were quickly stuffed full of the stuff that stuffs our life.
Then these stuffed boxes were marked SHORT or LONG.
A local artist came behind us to make simple cardboard containers into individual works.
Before we locked the door, we paused for a moment to reflect and remember.
Then said goodbye to the past.
We have done the hardest part and walk now with a lightened load.
This is our Gypsy Summer. A simple life experiment. One designed to change us.
For now, we will roam a bit. Let new people and places have their affect on us.
Some may think this is living without a plan.
We see it as finding our new plan for living.