ESCAPADE BY JORDAN DEGAETANO
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
I grasp Izzy’s hand too tightly as Beatles music encapsulates the crowd. I’ve never wanted to attend a civil rights rally before, and now I’m being shown exactly why. There are approximately zero inches between me and the creatures on my right and left. I say creatures because, while coexisting in such proximity, it is evident to me that these people are inhumanly moist and barbaric. I understand the sweating because I, too have given up fighting off the sun in between these warm bodies. But the obscenities these people are shouting are too much for me.
“Gays should burn in Hell!” “Jesus hates fags!” “Kill the gays! Kill the gays!”
This is a dangerous place. I don’t want to be here surrounded by such filth. I came here for one reason and one reason only—for Izzy. Izzy has been absolutely beseeching me to take her to a rally, any type of rally, supporting gay rights. I dismissed her requests for months because I wasn’t eager to put my political views out in the open where the wrong people would be able to see and castigate me.
Yet, here we are amongst both the most peaceful people I can imagine as well as the most virulent. It’s never just the activists who go to rallies anymore; it’s the protesters and the God Squad and everyone in between. However, I couldn’t resist any longer after what happened to Izzy.
Izzy has known she’s gay for a while now. It never bothered me, and it didn’t faze our parents. Izzy was pretty fortunate in that area of her life. But she was a bit too ambitious about coming out to the public. She posted it online immediately. Normally, I would encourage freedom of expression, especially about identity. Except, Izzy’s lengthy and detailed Facebook post went viral. Days after posting, thousands of people had left hordes of nasty comments debasing Izzy’s moment of self-discovery. The uproar was propelled not necessarily because it was a girl saying she wants to be with another girl. The issue is that my sister immortalized her post at such a controversial time in her life. Izzy is only 9.
I always told my parents that they would regret letting Izzy have a Facebook profile so young. Of course, they didn’t listen to me BEFORE everything spiraled out of control. Sometimes I feel like I’m the responsible one in the house. They don’t do much parenting, more of a hands-off approach. “Your sister is mature beyond her years! It’ll be a great way for her to develop communication skills!” Sounds flawless coming from two adults without any social media exposure.
They significantly changed their minds when the first letter arrived. Then another. And another. And a dozen more. Death threat after death threat from deranged strangers accusing my parents of brainwashing Izzy, of leading her down the path to Satan.
I don’t know how they found us. I don’t know why either. These people don’t even know Izzy but were somehow disturbed enough to scare her into hiding in her room while she was supposed to be at school. She didn’t want to get shot, she said. After weeks of falling asleep next to the sound of her trembling against our mutual wall, I knew I needed to mitigate the situation. I was always the only one who could truly reach her because I understand her. Izzy means so much to me that I would do anything for her.
I spent 3 weeks sleeping in Izzy’s room, singing to her and stroking her hair until I could tell she was dreaming. I stayed with her to ensure that those dreams weren’t nightmares and that if they were nightmares, that at least she wasn’t fighting alone.
Eventually, months after the letters ceased and the police investigation slowed, Izzy eased herself out of solitude and into daylight. Kids are resilient, but she, in particular, has amazing strength for a 9-year-old. She healed back into the vivacious spirit she was before. I knew she was herself again when she slapped onto our kitchen table a pamphlet for a gay rights rally in the neighboring town. I said no before she could even open her mouth to ask.
But after months of collective guilt from both our parents and myself, I succumbed to my sister’s pleas. I needed to make her feel safe in public again. And now I’m here.
I expect Izzy to be anxious as I glance down to make sure it is indeed her hand that is protected inside mine. But her eyes are alive with the fever of being a part of something bigger than herself. It’s just me who’s daunted by the vulgarisms being carelessly flung about. I wish the music was louder so it would drown out the negativity and the threats.
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
I can’t even see the people leading the rally because there are so many rainbow flags and balloons consuming my line of vision. This is ridiculous.
“Derick. Derick! DERICK!” Apparently, Izzy has been trying to get my attention over the music.
“WHAT? Do you want to go home?!” One can only hope.
“I have to go to the bathroom real bad!”
Ugh. This is just what I need. The Porta-Potties are all the way down the street. I pull Izzy through the crowd anyway.
We soon discover that the line for the bathroom is basically a caravan of sweaty drag queens lamenting over their running mascara. I improvise and lead Izzy to a crowded diner next to the bathrooms.
“Just go in here. I’ll wait outside for you.”
“But there are so many people! How are you going to find me when I come out?” I survey our surroundings for some type of paraphernalia to mark her with. I untie a rainbow feather boa from the lamppost next to me and drape it around her neck.
“There you go, Iz. Now I’ll spot you.”
“It’s so pretty!” She beams.
“Anything for you,” I smile, basking in the pride of my good deed.
“Anything?! How ‘bout a Whoopie Pie?”
“Sure thing.” I remember passing a cart with desserts on it near the entrance. “But hurry up and go to the bathroom first. It’s ridiculously hot standing here.”
While waiting for Izzy, I notice how turbulent some areas of the crowd have grown. I can hear at least two different brawls between gay advocates and protestors who have infiltrated the rally. I focus instead on the thought of leaving soon. Groups of people push past me, pushing me further away from where I was standing. I can’t move back closer to the diner because their bodies have now created an obstacle barrier. Great. Now I’m officially freaking out. I try to alleviate my anxiety by convincing myself that Izzy and I will be home soon and that Izzy will be safe and unharmed and that I will have fulfilled my brotherly duty and never be morally obligated to submit myself to such a situation again and that I can relax at home away from these belligerent creatures and—
Phew. Izzy’s finally come out.
I watch the feather boa make its way toward me as I wave my arms and shout Izzy’s name. Although, if I can’t manage to slip through the human barrier, then Izzy won’t be able to reach me either. I forcefully squeeze myself between bodies and the surrounding buildings, scuffing my arms against the sharp brick walls lining the street. “S’cuse me…s’cuse me…IZZY, HEY! S’cuse me…OW…ISABELLA! OVER HERE!”
She doesn’t see me at all. She definitely can’t hear me. I can barely even steal a glimpse of her. Izzy doesn’t even seem slightly nettled by the situation as she stops to get a balloon from a heavyset man wearing a rainbow mustache. From what I can see, he looks greasy and beady-eyed. I don’t like the way he looks at Izzy. He eyes her like she’s a prize. All I can think about are the people online who terrorized my sister, and I realize how vulnerable she really is in this public space full of contention and controversy. I pray that this guy wouldn’t dare lay a finger on my sister in front of all of these people. Through the spaces in between people’s arms and their torsos, I watch Izzy select the last red and white balloon, her favorite colors.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
I’m becoming increasingly impatient now. I am noticeably closer to the speakers, which is mind-numbingly vexatious because they’ve been playing the same Beatles song on a continuous loop the whole time. I force myself to believe that Izzy has gotten distracted by all of the excitement because that is much more innocuous than what I know could happen to her. The crowd in front of me keeps moving closer together as if they are becoming one, completely obstructing my view. The fights are getting more intense, and I swear they’re nearing me. This is unsafe. I need to retrieve my sister and get the hell out of this Jerry Springer show.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds and you’re gone
I plunge myself in between a couple of drag queens, nearly knocking them out of their stilettos. This is followed by cries of “Not my heels, you BITCH!” but at least I can partially see now.
But I don’t see Izzy.
She’s not near the diner; she’s not near the balloon man; she’s not anywhere in my line of sight. This is horrific. This is impossible. I’ve lost an entire person. I’ve lost my goddamn sister.
I race through, over, under, between gays, protestors, adults, children. I dive past people holding signs, “Deport the Gays!” Where could she possibly be? Her legs are so short; she couldn’t have traveled very far.
Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking-horse people eat marshmallow pies
Wait, Izzy said something about wanting a Whoopie Pie. I bolt along the sidewalk to the dessert stand near the entrance. No sign of my sister. The sun is brutal, and my gray shirt is stained with the efforts of my rescue mission. I am panicked yet exhausted. I have lost my capacity for coming up with solutions.
I am cognizant of the fact that I will achieve nothing by standing in the same location, so I hastily decide to retrace my steps because perhaps Izzy will wait for me at the diner because we both know it as a safe landmark amidst all this chaos. The sun is boring into my skin. I pass by a multitude of people smiling and laughing, drunk and dazed. I wish I could ask someone for assistance, but then there would just be more of us blindly searching and being swallowed by the crowd.
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high
This entire time, I have forced my paranoid thoughts to the edges of my mind so I don’t have to address them. Now they are eating at my conscience. The music is suddenly too powerful for my ears. I know Izzy could be in very real danger. I didn’t think my heart could beat this fast without killing me. She has had too many enemies this year for a 9-year-old…too many even for a lifetime. I can feel the sweat dripping into my mouth. I can’t believe I made this asinine mistake and put my sister’s life at risk instead of going into the diner with her. My fingers are shaking like I’m having a seizure. My parents will never forgive me if something happens to her. They put so much pressure on me to be an adult so they don’t have to worry about me. I feel light-headed. I will never forgive myself. I need to focus. I should look for the balloon man.
Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
I’m still circling back to the diner in a frenzy. I have a terrible inclination that I am fighting to ignore that she’s gone. No, she can’t be. I’m just not looking in the correct vicinity maybe. How am I supposed to see anything when I’m this dizzy? I should look towards people’s knees because Izzy is small, and there are spaces between people’s legs. Finally, a logical thought. Izzy’s life is in danger. NO. I have to remind myself to breathe. It’s going to be ok. I’m going to find Izzy waiting by the balloon man, and I’m going to hold on to her and never let her go.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
My foot catches on something, and I stumble over myself onto the ground. My knees scrape the ground, bracing my fall. I can feel my knees bleeding. I don’t have time to concern myself with arbitrary abrasions when my sister’s life is at stake. With heavy hands, I push myself up and see what I tripped on.
A rainbow feather boa.
NO. NO, NO, NO, NO. THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING.
I’ve never moved so swiftly in my life as I stand up and fly through the street, desperately yelling for Isabella.
“ISABELLA! IZZY, PLEASE! WHERE ARE YOU?!”
My face is drenched with sweat and tears, and I’ve made claw marks on my skin from the anxiety of my mistake. I don’t see the balloon man anymore. This is all my fault. I have to find her.
“JESUS HATES FAGS. KILL ALL THE FAGS!”
I don’t remember losing one of my shoes, but I didn’t try to lose my sister either. It doesn’t matter if I step on glass so long as I find her. The pavement burns my foot, but the sensation is dulled by my panic and terror.
I can’t believe I let this happen. This is why I said no when she asked me to take her. I know she feels at peace among people like her, but she is too blinded by the idea of unity to see how dangerous it is.
I cross the street in a daze of anxiety with no idea where to find her. I look up and down the road, across the street, into windows of buildings…nothing. This is killing me. I rest my head against a telephone pole for a few seconds. I turn to look elsewhere when I notice the paper sign posted on the pole: MISSING CHILDREN; SUSPECT AT LARGE. There are three pictures printed on the paper. One is a photo of a young boy; another is a photo of a girl I’ve seen on the news recently. But I stop breathing when I see the third picture. It’s a photograph of the balloon man.
I NEED TO FIND MY SISTER IMMEDIATELY, AND WE NEED TO GO HOME. I remember how that creep looked at her. I should have punched my way through those people and grabbed her. If I can just find a police officer, then I can get this whole thing put on lockdown before something awful happens. Yes, I can do that! It’s only been a few minutes! Izzy is going to be back with me soon, and I will never leave her again! I run around the perimeter of the rally, dodging fights along the way.
The music skips, only for a second, and everyone pauses to look toward the speakers. I look up because I see something moving. I look just in time to see a red and white balloon floating away into the sky.
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone