Image: Elleni Toumpas www.ellenitoumpas.com.au
“…So I panicked, threw her in a taxi and we sped to the hospital…” I paused for effect as my friend Juliet and I told our favourite anecdote to Frankie over brunch.
“What was wrong?” Frankie asked, looking up from her eggs and displaying only mild interest in the medical emergency.
Juliet and I burst into fits of giggles as Frankie stared at us, bemused. “After a full night in the emergency room and a barrage of tests, the doctors diagnosed Jules with a severe case of…”
“CONSTIPATION!” Juliet howled.
Tears of laughter streamed down both of our faces whilst Frankie calmly ate her eggs, waiting for the hysteria to stop but knowing from experience that it wouldn’t.
“And we laughed so hard we fell out of the taxi...” Juliet spluttered as we doubled over, gasping for air.
“Ready for your big day?” Frankie interrupted.
Juliet composed herself before replying. ‘Well you know… I’m not getting overly excited… It’s just a day...” She shrugged nonchalantly.
“A day you’re free to choose to have,” a visibly angry Frankie shot back.
“I know… I’m sorry guys... I didn’t mean... Abbott’s an asshole. Thank you for coming to my engagement-slash-surprise wedding. To show my gratitude I got you a lesbian wedding planner!”
“What does she look like?” Frankie asked, suddenly perking up.
“Short cool hair, kind of androgynous…”
“Aha! My type! I win! I get to flirt at the engagement-slash-wedding!” I gloated.
“She could be my type!” Frankie objected, clearly up for a contest.
“Guys, she’ll be busy organising my wedding…”
On the way home from brunch we picked my dress up from the alterationist and I questioned Frankie about her harshness with Juliet.
“It’s just so unfair!” Frankie exploded. “It’s her second marriage. She has a kid. No one objects to her and Mark celebrating their love. It’s just a day for her! A day we have to fly to New Zealand to have!”
I understood exactly how Frankie felt. We were both struggling to process our deep disappointment and anger at the absence of a free vote on marriage equality. We were struggling with the homophobic attacks we’d seen and read in the media, the hate masquerading as religious freedom and free speech. We were exhausted, sad and appalled that our human rights were to be subjected to a public vote. We craved a return to the days after the Ireland vote and the US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, when we felt excited to live through this.
We craved a return to compassion. A return to hope.
“It’s Abbott’s government and their politics of hate. We can’t take it out on Juliet!” I implored Frankie. “She’s so LGBTIQ inclusive she once drunkenly kissed me.” I tried to launch into another hilarious anecdote but Frankie lunged at her ringing phone, ran off to the bedroom and slammed the door.
A few minutes later she emerged, her face etched with pain. The father of her close friend Stefano had died and the family was devastated. She ushered me silently to the car and we headed to the family home to pay our respects.
When we arrived, people I’d never met were spilling out from the kitchen and lining the hallway. Feeling instantly overwhelmed, I mumbled words of consolation and blushed furiously as Frankie introduced me to people as her partner. Strangers hugged me warmly, kissed me and thanked me for my presence, like my attendance meant something to them.
I felt so moved by this kindness and acceptance that I burst into tears. I continued crying as we consoled a devastated Stefano and comforted his shattered sister. Frankie looked relieved as I finally pulled it together to offer my condolences to the indomitable Mrs D’Onofrio.
“What is wrong with you?” She asked on the way home. “I thought the poor family was going to start comforting you in your time of need.”
“I’m sorry,” I spluttered, mortified by my behaviour. “They made me cry. They’re so loving and kind, even in their grief. I wish everyone could be like that.” “I know. They’re a beautiful family.”
The following morning we prepared to go to Juliet’s wedding. Frankie fought a losing battle with the sticky tape and wrapping paper while I tried on my dress.
“IT DOESN’T FIT!” I screeched from the bedroom as I tugged at the flimsy silk, attempting to pull it over my hips.
I’d asked the alterationist to take the hem up and the dress slightly in from the thigh, so I couldn’t understand how it was now too small to fit over my hips.
“You have hundreds of dresses. Wear one of them!” Frankie snapped as she attempted to use a piece of sticky tape to cover the gaping hole she’d left when wrapping the present.
“No. I’m wearing this dress!” I searched through my drawers to find my only-in-an-emergency-stomach-holding-in-pants.
With my dress stuck around my waist, I wiggled and twisted and pulled, slowly inching the tiny spandex pants over my thighs.
I still couldn’t get my dress over my hips.
I grabbed for my second pair of only-in-an-extreme -emergency-stomach-holding-in-pants, lay on the bed and gradually manoeuvred the Spanx over my ass.
“Present wrapped!” Frankie announced as she stood in the doorway. “WTF are you doing?”
“Fitting. Into. My. Dress,” I puffed, rolling onto my side and off the bed.
“I shouldn’t be watching this.”
I eased my dress down and shuffled to the mirror.
“SUCCESS! Now where the hell are my shoes?”
“How do I forget what I just witnessed?”
Frankie carried the worst-wrapped-present-in-wedding-history into the reception as I trotted uncomfortably behind, unable to breathe in my dress or walk in my heels. As we entered the room, a hyperventilating Juliet grabbed me and hugged me tight.
“The desserts are a disaster ! The hairdresser turned up to the wrong address ! Where’s Mark? There’s the wedding planner, enjoy.” Juliet pointed at the Julie Bishop clone standing by the door and rushed off.
“She’s not gay.” Frankie announced as we stared at the wedding planner.
“Don’t tell Jules.” I pleaded. “She’s so proud of her gaydar.”
“But she’s not gay.”
“They never are.”
After the surprise wedding was announced, we watched proudly as a radiant and calm looking Juliet was escorted down the aisle by her daughter. The celebrant spoke sweetly about Juliet and Mark and their journey to love, before calmly declaring that “…marriage is between a man and a woman, excluding all others…”
Anxiety washed over me as Frankie placed her hand protectively around my back, squeezed my shoulder and whispered in my ear. “Will you New Zealand me?”
I cracked up laughing and snuggled gratefully into the woman I love, pushed aside my pain and shared in the joy of watching two people commit their lives to each other.
The following Friday we headed to Mr D’Onofrio’s funeral. We wept as this close-knit family said goodbye to the man they loved. We smiled as Stefano’s partner joined the family at the pulpit and spoke during the eulogy. Our hearts opened as the oldest son described his father as accepting of everyone, regardless of their faith, race or orientation.
Tears welled in my eyes as I remembered last New Year’s Eve with Mr D’Onofrio and his family. This loving man, educated to year three, an immigrant who’d suffered the worst our country had to offer - the racism, discrimination and marginalisation - had welcomed a bunch of Stefano’s friends with open arms.
And what a bunch we were: the Grindr obsessed gym junkie sharing photos from his drag days, the suave air hostie obsessing about his new crush and the lesbian couples, passionately kissing at midnight.
This same bunch of friends gathered outside the church after the service.
“It was beautiful to see you included.” Frankie whispered to Stefano’s partner, James, as she hugged him tight.
The very English James lost his composure and his eyes filled with tears. “I knew they were going to say that but I didn’t realise how it would affect me… how much it would mean.”
“How healing it would feel,” I added softly.
A few nights later, Frankie and I sat on the sofa watching the coverage of the leadership challenge.
“You know what I learnt from this week?” I asked Frankie as we stared impatiently at the eye-rollingly boring commentary.
“The power of elastic pants?”
“No. I already knew that. We’ve been so focused on our anger and sadness and what we think this country lacks, but Mr D’Onofrio focused on what he had. He focused on the love and turned his pain into compassion. We have to trust that love is more powerful than hate. We have to believe that eventually, love wins.”
“Thank you Oprah.”
We waited anxiously as the results of the ballot were read out, not sure what any of it would mean.
“Woohoo! Finally a return to sanity!” messaged my friend Erin from New York.
“We don’t know that he’ll be any different...” Frankie cautioned as we watched Malcolm Turnbull’s speech.
“No. But in this moment it feels much better to return to hope.”
First published on www.lotl.com