“This isn’t Charleys.”

This letter is for my wife and kids… and even for myself. So that we may know that despite the ups and downs. Pushing aside all the victories, the disagreements, the pure moments of happiness, the discontent, the fulfillment, and the struggle…  I love your Mom, my wife, the moment I laid eyes on her… and my love always remains.

It never fails, whenever I’m in a non-Native setting, inevitably someone will come up to me and say, “Oh hey, I saw your hair, and um… are you Native?” I guess I have it coming, so I can’t get to upset. But it’s not like I go up to them and say, “Umm, hey I saw your pasty skin, and ummm… are you White?” I’m patient though, and if they’re respectful, I use it as a time to educate them on Natives. Occasionally, you get a really obnoxious person. They use the encounter they had with me to tell everyone about their conversation with a 21st century Native. Or that non-Native will want to tell you about their one Native friend back home or their great Grandma who was a Cherokee princess, and then they’ll ask if I know their one Native friend. Those are the ones I roll my eyes at. Or at least that was until I did it… with my gay friends. Someone would open up, and let me know they were gay, and I would almost get excited and tell them about all the gay people I knew. It wasn’t til recently that I realized I was doing the same thing that non-Natives do to me, just to my gay friends.

It all goes back to my love story.

It was the summer of 2009 and I was home on leave after a year of military training. I came home with a razor fade, six-pack abs (or at least close to it), and pure happiness to be with friends and family. A high school friend and I had remained in contact, and she invited me out to dance and said, “we can go to a girl bar.” Quite honestly, up to this point I didn’t know any openly gay people. I was like what’s a girl bar, and I soon found out it meant lesbian bar. So, on a semi- warm evening I sat in my silver 4unner waiting to meet up with a friend to dance at a lesbian bar. I was a little nervous going into a gay bar, given at the time I was still somewhat naive despite being in the Army the past year. Finally, my friend showed up and we headed inside. The place seemed loud and exciting. I walked in wearing jeans, one of my signature Aladdin vests, and rolled up sleeves. Not being one to head straight for a dance floor, or even mingle with what I considered a wild bunch, I headed toward the desktop videogames. Eventually my friend would peel me away from the games, and get me to dance. I mean, that is why we were there. We danced a few songs, and eventually there she was….

A gorgeous dark-skinned brown girl wearing a black shirt and shorts approached me and my friend. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t help notice the crinkle in her nose when she smiled, and the glimmer coming from the glistening sweat from dancing, and most obviously her long black hair, and skin. She was amazing. Surely, I didn’t think a beautiful Persian knockout (I thought she was Persian, but she is “just Mexican,” in her words) would be interested in a goofy Native kid from the city. I had a laundry list of insecurities that would have kept me from talking to a girl this ridiculously beautiful, in the past. However, that night I felt it. I felt like I could dance better than anybody, and talk smoother than butter. And it worked. We gazed at each other all night, we talked outside by the smokers, and at one point were the only ones dancing in the bar. Lights began to appear blurry, people faded from my vision, and all I could focus on was the fast beating of my heart when she occasionally touched my hands. Eventually it was 2am and the bar was closing. I found my friend and was worried the night would end abruptly without any closure from my mysterious new friend…. I mean, she told me her name by now, but the music was so loud I couldn’t hear what she told me. And I was too embarrassed to ruin our evening to ask her name. For goodness sake, she touched my hand occasionally and gave me eyes for the last few hours. I couldn’t chance the possibility of her dismissing me for such a minor flaw of mishearing her name. I knew I couldn’t leave without knowing her name, so I quietly whispered in my friend’s ear and asked, “What’s her name.” My friend smiled and whispered back, “Vanessa.”

Vanessa, in that moment the name Vanessa never felt more heartwarming. Well, I thought the night was over, and I figured I at least got her name. If anything I assumed I would Facebook stalk my friend and hopefully find a girl named Vanessa on her profile. But luckily I didn’t have too. My friend brilliantly proposed that we go get food at Charley’s… or so I thought. Charley’s is a grill that serves spectacular subs and philly cheesesteaks. However, my friend meant Charlie’s… which is easily the gayest male club in the Valley of Phoenix (not my words). Something that I wasn’t aware of, and was soon to find out. We drove a few miles down the road from the lesbian bar, and turned into a dark lit parking lot to a place that resembled a small town dance hall. I thought to myself, “This isn’t Charleys.” But, I wasn’t going to ruin the chances of spending a few more hours with Vanessa. The girl who made my heart race. So I reluctantly, but happily walked through the threshold to the laser beaming, chap wearing dance club. Immediately I felt eyes drawn toward me, because obviously I stood out arriving with a girl in hand. I think Vanessa felt my level of uncomfortableness, and she quickly slid her arm to mine and escorted me through the abyss of male dancers. We made our way toward the back, and come to find out Charlie’s had a taco place to eat. And that’s where everyone began to eat. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I took a few bites of my friend’s super nachos, and all that was around me. Vanessa eventually asked me to dance, and I couldn’t pass it up. Soon we ended up where we left off on the dance floor, or at least it felt like, where everything was blurry and the only people in focus was Vanessa and her smile. We held each other, and in the middle of our dance, in the middle of the buttless chaps, we had the most magical kiss of my life. I knew at that moment, we had something special.

So now, we’ve been married for 8 years and because of that first encounter I had with Vanessa, I’ve made friends who have a different sexual orientation than myself. At first, when people would open up and tell me they were, “gay,” I would say, “oh cool, I know some gay people.” But I realized it was the same as people coming up to me and saying, “hey, I know some Native people… do you know them?” Now when people ask me if I’m Native, I kindly respond yes and answer questions. And when I talk about my friends, who happen to be gay, I just call them my friends.

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