I'm not much of a patriot in the traditional sense of the word, but I'm a strong believer in independence. I believe in strength and freedom and self-love and beauty, in self-actualization and figuring out how to be whole instead of fragmented. In an ideal world, I'd be able to apply all of these hopes and dreams to the country as a whole, but for now I take my independence in the forms I can get it and those are generally personal.
As my day job I work as a florist in Andersonville; this past summer I was in the shop a few days before the Fourth of July, very near to closing time after a long tiring seven hours, when a regular customer walked in. I went to greet her; she's a very sweet person, always has a smile for me, but she also usually takes forever to pick something out so I was both happy and full of dread when I saw her. Sad but true: no matter how nice you are, sometimes I wish you'd just pick a flower out already and call it a day. She was getting three flowers for her girlfriend; I believe it was their anniversary. My co-worker and I helped her pick out her blooms, wrapped them in paper, and walked back towards the door with her as we chatted.
Abruptly she turned around and, with a preface I can't recall, told us that she had just come out to her mother. I realized suddenly that she was practically glowing, so happy and excited and relieved that she was finally no longer living with the threat of this moment of self-actualization that the vast majority of queer people go through eventually. She had told her mother, and her mother had been gracious and happy for her, and so we rejoiced with her. My gay male co-worker told his story (his mother broke out in hives) and I did not because I wasn't asked (another side effect of not looking queer) and because there was no opening for me to speak. But we celebrated with her for a minute or two, this stranger who had just revealed a deeply personal moment to us standing in the door of the shop.
My own coming out was both less and more dramatic than I had anticipated. I was twenty-three, and it was the day before I moved to Chicago for grad school. My girlfriend and I had been dating for about eight months at that point, but I had been chickening out of telling my parents; my mom grew up Mormon and is also prone to random bouts of freak-out-edness when I least expect it, so I wasn't sure what kind of reaction she would have. But on this day, the day before I left for nobody knew how long, we were standing in the kitchen crying and yelling at each other for some reason that I can't remember in the slightest now when she suddenly turned to me and said "Your friend A is really nice." It was such a complete non-sequitor that it stopped me in my tracks and left me with no idea how to respond. I stopped crying, and after a moment said that she was not my friend, she was my girlfriend, and my mother looked at me scornfully to let me know that of course she knew that. We hugged, and the fight wound down into a rare moment of intimacy between us.
The next day, I moved to Chicago. I told my father immediately before getting out of the car at the airport (because how awkward would a two-hour car ride be after a revelation like that?) and he told me he just wanted me to be happy. I flew away on wings, relieved that things had gone as relatively well as they had, and we rarely spoke of it until a much more traumatic fight a few years later. But that plane ride, heading towards a new place and a new life where I could start over and be who I really was, felt like freedom.