My family has driven in from the suburbs. Our Oldsmobile station wagon is traveling down Ponce de Leon Avenue, and we’re in the standard nuclear family seating configuration. My younger sister is leaning forward between the seats to talk to my parents. I’m pressed against the side door with my body turned to the window. Atlanta scenes go by—liquor stores, shops with bars on the windows, and sidewalks with black and white people walking on them. I am fifteen years old.
We stop at the traffic light just past the Sears store. Outside my window is a low building with faded yellow paint, its few windows blacked-out. It’s dusk, and there’s a door with a dim light under the overhang. A person stands to one side of the door, leaning against the wall and smoking. She, I know it is a she, is stocky, muscular, and wears men’s work clothes. I can’t stop staring. I want to go to her, lean up against her, be inside that building. My yearning has no words.
The light changes, and my father drives on.
Another lesbian and I drive along Ponce de Leon Avenue. We’re on our way to an anti-apartheid rally downtown. We pass the old Sears building and stop at the light. She points and says, “A long time ago there was a lesbian bar right there. It was a rough place, the type with fights and police raids.” I turn to look. Through the window I see the new Super Kroger, but, reflected in the glass, my fifteen-year-old face looks back at me. It’s pressed against the window, wanting. I think about that woman. Maybe she saw me staring. Maybe she understood. Whoever she was, I thank her for standing queer on the street.
I’m older than that woman now, much older. The Sears building has been converted into condos. I drive past them and hurry to the freeway. I’ve been in Atlanta to visit my mother and help her with doctor appointments and pills, and now I’m yearning for home. I intersect the street that leads to the fabric store where Ms. Garbo’s used to be. It was my first bar. I walked into it alone and then a woman bought me a drink. Sheba’s and The Sports page are gone as well. After a long drive, I pause at my front door. In the window beside it, my image wavers over a glimpse of desk, warm orange walls, and a flower of stained glass given to me by a lover from a quarter of a century ago. No woman waits on the other side, her hand raised, our images mixing through the layers of reflection. This is not that type of ending. I lean a shoulder against the door and go inside.
Photo By: John Lloyd