An Anniversary Celebration, Milk’d

They came down to San Francisco for a change in the monotony. To do something “festive.” It was November 27th, their second anniversary. After being married (a modest ceremony) in Santa Rosa, where they also lived, they had spent the next couple years scrimping and saving just to get by. Sometimes Adrian felt they had rushed into marriage too quickly, and that they ought to have gotten their finances in order before succumbing to l’amour. But things were starting to get on track. Between Adrian’s promotion and Betsey getting a job with the state, they finally had the sense that it was okay to breathe again. Taking the time to celebrate their anniversary in a slightly lavish way that they hadn’t dared to after year one was part of their sudden sense of calm. 

That calm seemed to instantaneously evaporate upon arriving in the city. Signs of something being amiss first presented themselves when they parked in a lot in the Mission, right on the border of the Castro. There was no attendant in sight. After a few minutes, they decided to simply leave the car and explain what happened to the attendant later. Further exploration of the city found that it was either totally empty or abuzz with raging crowds. Adrian and Betsey were never quite sure what was going to lie around the next corner. They soon saw it was the body of someone who had just been trampled in the midst of one of these emotionally-charged “outpourings.”

Adrian took Betsey into his arms and led her into the nearest open restaurant (for many they had arbitrarily encountered were closed, no explanation). It was called the True Love Diner. Appropriately. But Adrian and Betsey scarcely had time to acknowledge the love they were supposed to be celebrating as the city’s aura of fear and anger radiated toward them and infected their psyches.

Betsey demanded of the surly, middle-aged waitress, whose name tag read: Susan, a black coffee with a short stack of pancakes. It was three p.m. She was going to spoil any sumptuous dinner they might have enjoyed, and Adrian opted to do the same by ordering French toast. They sat there in a sort of stupor, chewing their food like cud and saying nothing. Is this what happened when one tried to come to the big city now? Had things degenerated so quickly, or were they simply out of touch after living in their Santa Rosa bubble for so long? Susan, coming up to pour another cup of coffee, regarded them with a kind of bemusement until at last asking, “Guess you folks haven’t heard…”

Adrian looked up at her and asked, a tinge of regret in his voice for doing so, “What?” 

Susan sighed and walked back around the counter where she turned on the small, sputtering TV (complete with mangled antennae). On it, a news reporter somberly discussed the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk at the hands of ex-Supervisor Dan White. His cop ties added a further divide between the city and its homosexual population that would escalate the following year, on the day of the verdict that let “Danny Boy” off with an easy sentence. The gay contempt over the verdict and toward the SFPD in general would come to be known as the White Night riots. But here, today, there were just “normal” ones in reaction to the death of a beloved martyr. 

Adrian and Betsey had heard of Milk, sure. It was impossible not to, what with him being the first openly gay man to serve in California government. It was major news both statewide and nationally. Just another reason for outsiders to call the Golden State “the land of fruits and nuts.” Betsey didn’t think much about it and neither did Adrian. That is to say, they weren’t bothered. Like many, they would likely not have given it another thought if it weren’t for this monumental tragedy. That was now clouding the first and perhaps last time they decided to “do it up” in honor of their wedding anniversary. Both were thinking, without saying it out loud to one another, that this was Fate’s way of telling them they were getting ahead of themselves. They weren’t yet secure enough to be acting so profligately under the guise of “deserving it.” That was their takeaway. And when Susan brought the check (a brutal twenty dollars and fifty-two cents) to their table, they already felt as though they had spent too much. Going to dinner now was out of the question. 

Outside of the diner, Betsey stared at a small crowd with homemade signs headed toward city hall. The symbols of chaos were everywhere–the scuttling, the urgency, the arbitrary wails of gloom and infuriation that could be heard from every street. San Francisco was in deep mourning. The spirit was the very antithesis of “celebrating.” Betsey and Adrian felt like fools, and the mood had dampened any of the levity they possessed prior to arriving in town. So, without even announcing it, they both angled back toward the direction of the parking lot, where the booth was still devoid of an employee that might enforce paying their ticket for the roughly one and a half hours they were there. One small amount of savings that relieved both of them.   

As they took the Bay Bridge to get back to their sequestered, middle-class one-story home, it occurred to Betsey that having their anniversary “rained on” and acting distressed about it rather than the loss of two lives–particularly one that was always going to be put at risk for his sexuality–made her understand that she really was overindulged and sheltered. Her “inconvenience” was nothing compared to what had happened that November 27th. This was the kind of trauma that the gay community dealt with on a daily basis. And here she was with her heteronormative concern about not getting the chance to delight in something blasély bourgeois like tiramisu at a restaurant. She felt endlessly ashamed. 

Eventually, she was drawn back to San Francisco for this very reason: the coagulation of feelings she experienced on their second anniversary in 1978. She ande Adrian ended up getting a divorce in 1981 over their constant squabbles about money. In truth, Betsey was itching to break out on her own ever since that day they dared to do something “decadent.” It was only then, because of that surreal experience, she realized she knew nothing of what it meant to feel pain. And she wanted to know. She wanted to be constantly exposed to that perspective so that she would never be shocked or disappointed again.

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