The summer before I started high school, when I was fourteen, my mother planned a trip that—unbeknownst to me but not to her—was less a vacation than a pilgrimage. As with similar missions, Mom expected ours would bring about an awakening in me, although not one of the more typical spiritual or religious variety but, rather, the sexual type. Ergo, our destination wasn't Nazareth or Bethlehem or the remote burial site of some obscure Christian martyr, but the grand sepulchre of all sexual inhibitions, the mausoleum of many a Midwestern boy's feigned interest in the NFL, that enormous tomb of all formerly closeted selves: the Great Gay Motherland of West Hollywood, Los Angeles. Mom was taking me to visit a living relic, otherwise known as her only lesbian friend, to see if basking in this friend's lavender light might make me realize what Mom had long since guessed was true: that I was one, too.
I had heard this friend's name mentioned over the years, but it wasn't until we were on the plane that she told me anything more substantial. It was Mom's freshman year at St. Joseph's College back in Brooklyn when she first met her—a sharp, rebellious, alcoholic, soon-to-be-heroin-addict, giant butch built of tough Rockaway Irish stock named, of all things, Rosemary. (That is not exactly how Mom described her, but that is exactly what she was. I know because, well, it takes one to know one, but—more blatantly—that's how she described herself. In fact, soon after we met, Rosemary told me that even being seen with an out butch lesbian in a Catholic school in 1960s Brooklyn was something none of the other girls was willing to do—Mom was her first, and only, college friend.)
As it turns out, my dad had met Rosemary in the Rockaway bar scene years before either of them met my mom, and Rosemary was the matchmaker on that fateful night at McNulty's. (Back then, as was the case years later, when Dad started hanging out with those few gay guy couples at Gregory's, the only qualification you needed for his friendship was the ability to handle your drinks and his jokes.)
By 1994, the year we flew across the country for a visit, Mom and Rosemary had been friends for over two decades. At some point in the last half of those twenty-plus years, Rosemary had sobered up and moved to L.A. . . . though I doubt in that order. She now had a job at "a shop." That seemingly inconsequential, but truly pivotal, tidbit was the last thing Mom said to me as we were de-boarding the plane. She mentioned it in passing, as in, "Dolly, Rosemary has to work today—and she works at a shop—so after we land, we'll go straight there and hang out till she gets off work. Okay?" I barely recall this detail registering with me, until, that is, our airport taxi pulled up in front of said "shop." After that point, I would never, ever forget it.
As Mom fiddled around in her purse to pay the cab driver, I just kept reading and rereading the shop sign, flashing back to Mom referencing "a shop," then rereading it again. I didn't entirely grasp what the words meant, but even so, I was pretty damn sure that whatever happened in the next ten minutes would be more interesting than anything that had happened in my fourteen years leading up to it. I blinked one more time to make sure I had it right. Yup, the sign read: 665: one stop from hell.
I recall the next five seconds like an out-of-body-experience, as if I were hovering over myself on Sunset Boulevard looking down on it all: there I am, looking every bit the 1990s Queens teenage baby butch in my baggy jeans, all-black Raiders Starter jacket, and fresh Nike Air Trainer Huarache high-tops, feet frozen to the sidewalk, eyes like saucers. Then there's Mom, in her fanny pack and travel sweat suit, breaking into a run and jumping into the arms of this huge woman with a tattoo of a hypodermic needle and a metal spoon on her forearm with an X over it. "Rosemary!" Mom confirms.