Wilbur and I are in Plainfield Illinois, our old hometown, for a really quick visit. I apologize for not seeing people but we are here to celebrate the birthday of her niece Emma and then go visit my niece in Champaign who just gave birth to little Josephine...what to go Maggie and Sam!
Wilbur and I went out to dinner last night at a fancy little Asian fusion restaurant in downtown Plainfield. It is in the old police department, back when there was one cop and a jail cell. In the bathroom, where the bars from the cell were still installed, I pondered all the drunks that sat in there. Maybe quite a few of my former classmates from high school.
It is a real fancy and even fanciful place called MORA. Wilbur and I had an amazing meal. The waitstaff is a fantastically diverse group of ethnicities and gender identities. They contributed to a wonderful, homey vibe that we enjoyed.
The Plainfield that Wilbur and I grew up in was unambiguously white. It was also racist. Stories were always told of Black families trying to move in and either being run out or their houses were set on fire. I never witnessed these sorts of things but I did witness a great deal of talk.
Then there was Billy. Billy was the son of good friends of my parents. He and I were also friends. When our parents would visit each other he and I would hang out and listen to music. We talked a lot and shared a lot of ideas about art and music. He was also gay before anyone knew what that was. Billy was absolutely tortured at school. It was obvious why, he looked and behaved a lot like a girl and so he was a target for the particular kind of cruelty that so many people have had to endure. Did I do anything? No. To my own shame I could not speak out for Billy. I didn't have the courage, language or understanding of what was going on. I was just happy to not be the target. This is the usual story, isn't it? It does cause me sadness.
Billy eventually moved to New York city. I never saw him again. He lived there until his death at a very young age. I never knew why or how but I hope he found himself.
So, sitting at this restaurant in my old hometown- a town I worked so hard to leave-pondering Billy and his dreams. I sat pondering another person, a person in my own family who also has suffered from our American dream, I felt pride at how this person has fought and overcome incredible obstacles to achieve their dreams.
I couldn't help but think about change and love and how we can grow. How there is hope in dark times. How there is still good food and the company of people we care about. How we can work on our art on our purpose, on the stuff we really love to do and that alone can bring powerful change. The kind folks at MORA were working hard to make us feel welcome. They just wanted to serve us and bring a bit of warmth into our lives. They had no idea that they were part of a revolution.
As we left MORA I was telling everyone how it was in Plainfield. I told them to see all of them working here, serving incredible food in the old jailhouse was almost like a miracle. I told Jacob the young man at the door about the Plainfield I knew…he just laughed and said, “Really?? No way!!”