Don’t Kiss the Cook Feature #2: Tracy Chabala

How long have you been cooking/baking?

I started cooking professionally in 2011. Prior to this I never did much cooking, although I did like to bake and come up with clever dessert ideas. I’ve worked for a total of four years in the business, and have taken time off to write at various times.

How many restaurants have cooked/baked in?

I’ve worked in a total of seven kitchens.

At present, how many female cooks/chefs/bakers do you work with?

I’ve just left the kitchen again to focus on my writing. At my last job at Little Dom’s, my direct boss was female (she’s the head pastry chef), and I worked with two other females. There are way more females on pastry in any given kitchen. Outside of the pastry team, there were no girls cooking in the kitchen.

When was the first time you remember being treated differently than your male coworkers?

I think from the first day at my first kitchen at Whole Foods I noticed that men treated me differently. The first guy who trained me spoke down to me in a way that both surprised me and pissed me off. Another guy did the same on the same day, and I found myself getting very stubborn and refusing to be bossed around by dudes who weren’t my boss. I became bitchy, which I normally never have to do on the job. I grew determined to kick ass just to show them who’s boss, that I could hold my own.

Has anyone spoken to you or about you in a derogatory way?

Yes. One time at Water Grill, the most male kitchen I’ve ever worked in, I asked the chef if I could be transferred to the hot line (I started on prep, then worked pantry, and he put me on pastry, definitely because I’m a chick), and the entire kitchen burst into laughter. I was infuriated. There were no women on hot line.

What’s the worst thing someone has ever said or done to you in the kitchen?

One cook asked me in the walk-in how often I fuck my boyfriend, and another one told me he was going to “tear my ass up” when he got mad at me. The same dude smacked my ass with a vacuum-sealed rib eye, right in front of the head chef who did nothing. Another time, at Spago, the pastry sous told me I needed to use my brain because I wasn’t. She was female, but as I detail below, the culture of that place is very toxic and this comes from the old-school leadership of Wolfgang Puck.

When and how do you feel valued as a woman in the kitchen?

I didn’t start feeling valued by the entire kitchen until I moved from Water Grill to Suzanne Goin’s Lucques. That restaurant is owned by a James Beard winning chef, and her business partner is also a woman. I found the entire place had a softer energy. It was still a very demanding workplace, but I felt respected as a woman. There were no instances I can recall where I felt sexually harassed. Of course, the cooks would draw dicks and balls on stuff at times, but that is very mild bad behavior, and totally typical.

Do you perceive differences in how men and women cook?

I don’t think I see differences in how men and women cook as much as I see differences in how they treat fellow cooks and subordinates. At the same time, restaurants under younger chefs or female chefs have a totally different vibe. Water Grill’s kitchen, which had a Michelin star at one point, historically operated under head chefs who were very old school, all brigade de cuisine, and they opened in the early 1990’s. The same holds for Spago, where I worked for a brief spell, and it was so toxic. Though the head pastry chef was female, the culture ran as Wolfgang Puck wanted it to run. It was a brutal job with lots of talking down to one another. There is a big contrast between these spots and newer spots with younger millennial chefs, even if they’re male. The chefs and owners set the tone. I have heard gnarly stuff about the kitchen of Jon and Vinny—the guys from Animal and Son of a Gun—from a female chef, though. I think the way both women and men behave has to do with their training and the kitchens they are “raised” in. I always resisted the militarism and the mean way of speaking to people. It seemed senseless. I have found that those with higher education are kinder and have a much greater understanding of how people learn differently and how yelling at people doesn’t always get the job done. At my last job the head chef who was male was far more mean than my pastry chef boss. So there does seem to be a difference there. Women seem to have an easier time admitting mistakes and asking for help as well.

Why do you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen?

If we’re talking about the kitchen in the home, that is just due to the need to break up tasks. Historically, men have been the breadwinners so women had the task of buying food and preparing the meals.

As far as the professional kitchen goes, it’s so ironic that women have to work twice as hard (in my experience in male-dominated kitchens) to get rewarded as opposed to women, given women are the ones who have done all the domestic cooking over the years, that this has historically been their job. It makes zero sense. So, I think women make great chefs, even though they’re rarely acknowledged in the media, because they are effective leaders who don’t seem to need to “break people” to motivate them to put out good food and do their best. Again, it comes down to the vibe of each kitchen, and I think the brigade de cuisine is a perfect example of an antiquated patriarchal hierarchy that is not necessary in 2018. It was formulated after the French military, and has no place in modern businesses. I’d say women are quicker to spot out the myopia of sticking to this old school think.

Please share your worst/best story as a woman working in back of the house.

I was super pissed when my two buddies at Water Grill got raises and I didn’t. We all started work around the same time, and I threw an absolute fit about it. Not only did they not give me a raise, they had actually increased my responsibilities by moving me to pastry and pantry (up from prep) with no compensation. The managers and chef immediately gave me a raise when I confronted them about it.

The best story was when, during a busy Friday night, on hot apps, I absolutely killed it despite all the guys thinking I’d go down at Water Grill. I was talked down to and patronized loads there, and it really grated me, so I was extra determined to “show them”. This meant that when we had ten or twelve tops come in for fixed menu parties, we had to bust out stuff fast. I remember pleasing the chef when I got everything out right on time. I felt vindicated. The head chef was definitely not a problem for me there, despite him coming from the same lineage as Gordon Ramsey (he worked under Marco Pierre White). It was the younger guys that gave me so much shit.

 

Tracy is a freelance writer for various publications including Broadly, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and The AfterParty Group 

Don’t Kiss the Cook Feature #1: Theresa Headen

How long have you been cooking/baking?

Catering officially since 2016

How many restaurants have cooked/baked in?

I never worked in restaurants prior to opening my business with my husband, Charles Headen. I learned how to do this myself. I read a lot of books about plating, how to run a restaurant, how best to be efficient and good business practices. Cooking is not in my background. My mom remembers me playing “restaurant” with my sisters, pretending to charge them for the food that I cooked!

Do you own your own restaurant?

We own our own catering business: Elegant Cuizines (Don’t forget it’s spelled with a “z”!). Right now, we cook out of a commercial kitchen. Soon we will be opening up a new business location at 1110 West Broad Street (off of Patterson), where it will be primarily take-out.

When was the first time you remember being treated differently than your male coworkers?

People always assume Charles is the chef. When clients introduce themselves to us, they shake Charles’ hand and pay their compliments to the chef. I let them know that I am the chef—Charles is more the Front of the House person. That’s a HUGE assumption!

Has anyone spoken to you or about you in a derogatory way?

Not really. But customers can be rude in retail services in general.

When and how do you feel valued as a woman in the kitchen?

I always feel valued at work. It’s because I love and enjoy it. I create spontaneous recipes and always bring God into my work. I say to him, “Ok God, what are we gonna cook today?” I make my own jerk spices, which is cost-effective. I merge American food flavors with African flavor influences.

Do you perceive differences in how men and women cook?

Women maybe cook with a little more passion.

Why do you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen?

A woman’s place isn’t just in the back of the house–it’s all over. We have two girls who I am raising to be strong. Being a chef and a mom is not easy but being a chef with kids is really hard. Compared to the family structure of the 50’s, I am considered a “bad wife” because things get messy and I can’t always have the house clean and have the kids ready for school or bed. But we know we can’t do any of this without God. Charles and I both have chef’s coats with bible verses on the backs, reminding us to keep God at the center of our business and our lives. The bible verse on the back of my chef’s coat is 1 Corinthians 2:9 “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Charles has 1 Corinthians 16:13 on his coat: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous and be strong.”

Theresa and Charles Headen own and operate

Elegant Cuizines @ Henrico, VA 23229 // For service:1-804-241-6695

Don’t Kiss The Cook

I grew up watching my father cook. He used to wear this apron that said, “Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?” But I could have sworn he had one that also said, “Kiss the Cook.” Either way, he got plenty of hugs and kisses from his daughters and wife.

The history behind our culture’s blend of romanticism and wit using this phrase dates back to the 1800’s. In fact, the Italians may have coined the original verbiage. True to form, there is drama and intrigue at its core:

The first written evidence of the phrase “kiss the cook” is in an Italian-English dictionary by Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, published posthumously in 1813. He translates the phrase Chi tardi arriva male alloggia as, “they that come too late must kiss the cook.”

It took me no time to come up with the title for my new interview series, “Don’t Kiss the Cook.” In fact, I could add onto that sentiment with the following: 1. Don’t touch the cook 2. Don’t leer at the cook 3. Don’t give back-handed compliments to the cook 4. Don’t untie the cook’s apron 5. Don’t condescend to speak to the cook 6. Don’t underestimate the cook. Once I spent roughly 30 minutes in my first prep cook role, I could see that the differences between male and female cooks were staggering. Or should I say, the differences in how women are received in the kitchen bares an acute and vastly different weight than her male counterparts. It might be more accurate to veer away from the sordid love roots of “Kiss the Cook” when describing how it actually feels to be a women in the kitchen:

But what may have had the biggest impact didn’t come until 1989 on Married…With Children when Al Bundy—played by Ed O’Neill— wore an apron that said, “Kiss the Cook – Kill the Wife” during the season four premiere of the popular FOX sitcom.

I have been told in no uncertain terms that I should be handled with Kid Gloves–that I should be treated as though I were someone’s “girlfriend who you don’t have sex with,” in order to keep the peace between males and females in the kitchen. That is but one avenue out of many where I could have accepted the way things have always been done; how “it’s just restaurants.” But I didn’t and I won’t.

That is why I am introducing a new series to this blog. I’d like to keep my Higher Power at the center of all of this, but I’d also like to tell the truth of how things really are. I have sent out the call to countless women who have answered, emphatically. We are but few in professional kitchens, but we are mighty. That said, you’ve heard enough from me for now.

My first featured interview is with a woman I love and respect. She is someone my sister and I went to high school with and continue to keep in touch with today. She is a beautiful person and amazingly talented executive chef. Without further ado, I bring you Theresa…

Featured image (original photo), courtesy of Kate Spade (Rest In Peace)

Surface Tension

I was never “good” at science. With one exception–biology, sophomore year. I think it was something about the exotic vocabulary and pictures that piqued my interest. Ironically, two years ago I became an ad hoc / extemporaneous long-term substitute teacher for the sciences, ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and astronomy.  Thank God it snowed for the first four days I was supposed to start teaching. I played catch-up the entire time I was snowed in. The last time I studied that hard was sixteen years ago. Note: I was 16 years old sixteen years ago. I just got a little faint.

I still have some work saved from High School. On paper and floppy discs! In one big folder, I tucked away several essays from my English AP classes and notes from bio. The diagrams are labeled and colored with such exquisite detail that it almost seems as if a science person drew them. When I moved back home in 2015, I exhumed my notes and found one section totally dedicated to surface tension. Its definition stuck with me then, and continues to float around in my mind now–

Water molecules want to cling to each other. At the surface, however, there are fewer water molecules to cling to since there is air above (thus, no water molecules). This results in a stronger bond between those molecules that actually do come in contact with one another, and a layer of strongly bonded water. This surface layer (held together by surface tension) creates a considerable barrier between the atmosphere and the water. In fact, other than mercury, water has the greatest surface tension of any liquid.

The more you know.

What gets me about the concept of surface tension is that it can be personified, which is probably why so much of bio makes sense to me. We all know the feelings associated with water metaphors: learning to tread water; feeling like your drowning in paperwork; singing in the rain, when it rains it pours. But surface tension never gets its due in our vernacular. Today I felt so many feelings that the “floodgates opened,” which of course means I cried. Again. But what followed, as is always my way, were the thought bubbles. Why is it so upsetting to be seen upset? How is it that in a very stressful work environment, the less I want to lean on other people the more I absolutely must?

How, I often ask myself, is it possible for other people to handle pressure at work? Why is no one else crying? The immediate answer to one of these questions is that dudes and ladies handle stress differently. The quota so far is for every one cry I have in a two week period, there are three nights where any one of my coworkers slams dishes, lashes out at a cook or decides not to show up for work. The odds are in neither party’s favor.

There are so few of us in the kitchen. We work anywhere from 50-80 hours a week, morning noon and night. We kind of have to work well together. It’s like being marooned on an island. We have to try not to cannibalize each other to survive (all due respect to the profession which, thankfully, requires us to know how to cook enough so that we don’t have to resort to such measures–emotionally or otherwise). Like water molecules, we have to stick together. But oh, the tension. God forbid someone walks into work with a sour mood. We all feel it. I often put a voice to this when it happens, which my coworkers do not appreciate. Conversely, when one or more of us is in great spirits, it can uplift the whole crew. I swear it makes the food taste better.

It’s like a pressure cooker. Everyone is exhausted. I have burns and cuts and aches that just keep happening. Yet it’s part of the deal. The physical burdens of the job are nothing compared to what it feels like to be a complete novice in a world where everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Not to mention the fact that I am hyper-sensitive/critical of any sideways glances, comments or insinuations about my femininity. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Recently a male coworker asked me what it felt like to be one of four females out of 20+ people working in the kitchen. I told him I was excited–it meant I had a front row seat to watch the Patriarchy crumble.

My bark is almost always more vicious than my bite.

What it actually feels like is quiet defeat. I can pitch a fit or become spontaneously combustible, but people still need to eat. SOMEONE NEEDS TO DOUBLE-BOIL THE FUCKING crème brûlée. That’s the way it goes.

As embarrassing as it has been to lose my shit on the regular, I am also relieved. Several of my kitchen mates remind me I am in the right place. Remember that guy, what’s his name, GORDON RAMSEY? That guy loses his shit for millions of dollars a year. He doesn’t cry; he yells.

Image result for gordon ramsay memes

He’s straight up abusive to his staff, but at least he has a sense of humor. I won’t even discuss the parity of positive public opinion on women cooks versus male cooks, but I think you can piece it together. Bad behavior gets rewarded. In any other profession, our vastly inappropriate conversations about literally anything would get us fired. But in the kitchen, you better buck up and shut up or someone will show you the door. It’s refreshing. It’s also brutal and infuriating. But in every job I’ve ever had, no one is above the law of proving themselves. And for someone as impatient, perfectionistic, judgmental and sensitive as I am, time is an imperious bully. I want to be good at everything before the oven timer for the bacon goes off first thing in the morning. Not going to happen.

So there is acceptance. And that surface tension. We are all little water molecules buoying each other up. I had a conversation with Bowie today about it. In recovery and otherwise, this is where I’ve been led. These coworkers and friends are my current spiritual teachers. I pray, as I have on many stressful days, to acknowledge to my Higher Power that I’d be crazy not to follow, follow where He leads.

There you have it: spirituality on the fly.

xo

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Biased Cut

Now feels like the time to break with tradition: waiting the painstaking hours-minutes-seconds until the clock strikes 12AM on March 17th to blog something–

Instead, it’s 9:16PM on Thursday, March 15th.

I realize that time is but a construct and the day-counting is more like a superstition at this point than an actual measure of my recovery.

So with the grace and pre-supposition of a power greater than myself carrying me over the line, I will turn four years sober on Saturday. This anniversary means everything to me.

And nothing at all.

Year three created a new paradigm of sobriety for me. I married my favorite person. I discontinued my studies to become a teacher. I moved. I started a new cooking job. Saint Bonaventure beat UCLA despite the shadow of a 48-year heartbreak. Any one of the above entitled items, in and of itself, is life-altering (well, most of them). But stats over time don’t really do it for me. I am accustomed to these types of changes. More to the point, I am comfortable with the chaos that accompanies turmoil. I know what it is for my actions to precipitate reactions in others–to my words and behaviors. I have intimate knowledge of the fallout when my ambivalence toward, say, my career, causes confusion in others and panic in myself. It’s tough stuff, but it’s kind of my wheelhouse.

Time is neither friend nor foe. I am the same person I was last year, except a lot more honest. I forgot to doubt myself.  I am at peace. It has been exactly two months since I felt the familiar pangs of extreme anxiety. My brain is neutral and my heart is full. I am still clumsy in my intimate relationships and messy in my day-to-day planning. My 2018 planner and my station at work are nothing if not a perfect reflection of a hyper-active mind.

*

The process of planning our wedding caused my husband and I stress unlike any other we’ve known. Granted, I (technically) caused this stress–I did say ‘yes,’ but then, so did he–asking me to marry him and all. We signed up for it, enthusiastically.

We found ourselves a newlywed nest, but not without months of searching what seemed like every apartment in the city up for rent. I switched jobs two months later on what felt like a whim, but was really a moment of gumption. As a result, we run on opposite schedules like two tired, creaking ships passing in the night. This break in our routine surprised even me–I’m not certain what came over me. Perhaps a smidge of impulse and a little selfishness. I stopped mid-shift and swiveled my Danskos in the direction of my restaurant’s kitchen manager to switch from Front of the House to Back of the House.

I had a lot of nerve this year.

See also: I am someone’s wife. A wife and a prep cook. A former playgirl turned lush for commitment. I did something I promised myself I would never do: I followed a man’s lead. I came home that night with the overwhelming desire to tell my husband his delight and love for cooking to nourish others inspired me–enough to start all over again, again. From politicking to freelance writing to classroom teaching to oyster shucking–I am dizzy from the trip. I never imagined I’d be elbow-deep in condensed milk or grilled asparagus, yet here I am.

My work mentor (second only to my chef-husband-mentor) taught me some kitchen basics, least of all how to make a biased cut. Visions of celery, onions and jalapenos dance behind my eyes, all reminding me to cut identical sharp angles for continuity. My instinct was to scoff at the peculiarities of this new kitchen jargon, but I held my tongue. I remember all too well entering the rooms of recovery, ambling around the confusing vocabulary of hope in my beloved 12-step program. I am humbled by the temperatures and textures I have yet to learn. I have been here before. I recognize the need to know nothing in order to learn something. My recovery has taught me the precise need to know that I don’t know. Every heartening moment of growth is a direct result of ignorance terminated by experience. My higher power has protected me in more uncertain times than these. I’ve made it this far and I am in the company of some greats.

After all, I am a little biased.

 

Featured image courtesy of Get Inspired Everyday

Cruel Ruby

Anxiety is a cheap trick. I admit I get a high when I feel the wheels in my mind turning, churning and burning for resolution to untold fear. My adrenaline revs up and I feel hyper-aware. However, I don’t usually realize until it’s too late that my body has already decided that the Sky is Falling. I often mindlessly dismiss my “ticks,” like when I start picking at my lips until they bleed or breathing with shallow gulps, that something is very wrong. I wore bright lipstick several times this week without admitting to myself that I was trying to cover my lips, as opposed to showcasing pure fabulousness. This can lead to me internalizing everything until it all comports as anger and I implode (in private), or I just burst out crying (in public). Both scenarios visit me with alarming frequency, especially around the holidays.

All told, I feel sucker-punched every time anxiety attacks.

I know–somehow, someday, someway–I will become a more seasoned mental health practitioner. For now, it is enough to recognize what things trigger my anxiety and alcoholism. If you are like me, you know that this is a major feat. Panic, too, shall pass–

This Song Will (Not) Last Forever.

Alcoholics are highly sensitive people. I, for one, feel like a bruised mango at the bottom of a heavy load of fresh produce–and that’s on a good day. This fact about myself kinda sucks, as I work in customer service. But over-sensitivity has been cruel in every job I’ve ever had. I am not surprised that I used alcohol as a solution. Alcohol bites back, though. Much harder than the sting of rejection, boredom or hurt feelings ever could.

I believe that the spiritual solution to my malady is a Higher Power. I take the 12 steps plain, no sugar and no room for cream. But sometimes it’s hard to admit out loud that I have to follow through on self-care, too. The way I have been taught to feel better is to help other people. Eating regular meals, meditating and exercise are some pretty basic measures that help, too. But sometimes all I can muster is putting on a face–smiling, with contoured cheeks and matte-finished ruby lips. I acknowledge that some of us in recovery and many others of us on a different path need to know that the burden to “feel better” is not ours to carry alone. There are some groovy people out there who are willing to work with you, even though they might not understand exactly how you feel. But it is our responsibility to speak up, sooner rather than later. It can feel embarrassing to show what people might view as “weakness” when we admit that situational depression or overwhelming feelings are getting to us. I can promise you that it is worth speaking on it. People might surprise you. Time and time again, I have found that when I expect no one to understand, someone always shows up to defy my expectations.

The dividends for being honest pay handsome rewards.

Today, I had an anxiety attack at work. This time, it came out in tears rather than anger. My default was to quickly run outside to cry it out. But before I excused myself, I paused to tell someone in the kitchen–albeit through broken sentences–that I was having a panic attack. I don’t know why I did this; I just needed someone to know. To my fear’s dismay, two managers came outside to see if I was okay. It made me feel safe and protected, not judged. Not for one second.  I feel like that was the first/best Christmas gift I’ve gotten this year. Their compassion and kindness grounded me enough that I could finish my shift with a non-bullshit-fueled smile on my face. It is not often that I am humbled enough to be (almost) speechless.

It is a curious thing to be forceably made vulnerable because of mental illness. The -id in me hates that my shit is laid bare like that. But the super-ego of my psyche is straight up grateful. I do not think that I could last more than a few days in any job if it weren’t for people who attempted to understand rather than to be understood. Groovy people, I tell ya.

xo

Featured Image: courtesy of spin.com , photo by Marc Baptiste

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Yesterday, I changed my maiden name to my legal married surname, just like that.  With one simple stroke of a pen, I went from Miss to Missus.

Yesterday, Danica Roem changed the political landscape of our entire country. With one simple election day, she went from Miss to State Assemblywoman.

*

I remember when Danica legally changed her name from Dan Roem to Danica Roem. Her task was not so simple. She encountered loads of leading questions from state offices, misidentifying her gender AND her name. The process took months. Pronouns became paramount–and evidently too difficult for people to manage. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Two summers ago, Danica came to visit me in Petersburg, VA, presenting for the first time (at least in my presence) as female. True to form,  she flashed me almost immediately. I felt an instant pang of jealousy: this bitch was prettier AND bustier than I was. We spent a couple of hours catching up, uncovering the fact that according to my endocrinologist and hers, I actually had more testosterone coursing through my blood than she did. She also joined me for a 12-step meeting to support my recovery. In a predominately conservative crowd, I felt protective of her, yet she was the one who made me feel comforted. She joked that during the circle-up at the end of the meeting, she was wondering if anyone noticed her jangling male parts protruding under her skirt. No one did. Since then, the Serenity Prayer circle-up makes me laugh every time. Throughout our visit, she was more amped to hear about my recovery than she was concerned about touting her own transformation. I guess you could say I was presenting as a sober woman for the first time, and she was THERE. FOR. IT.

*

Danica and I met in college at Saint Bonaventure University. She sat next to me in my junior year (her senior year) Government class. People gave her shit for constantly raising her hand. I thought she was brilliant. At the time, she was Dan. Not many people knew what to do when this metal head vocalist in a band called Cab Ride Home schooled pretentious co-eds about parliamentary procedure. Dan had long hair and a wide range of opinions on literally everything. I’ve never told her this, but I actually took notes on what SHE had to say, not our professor. I felt like Dan knew more about the issues that mattered to me.

I don’t know the exact moment we became friends. I think it was after class one day when I had finally mustered the guts to raise my hand and participate in the discussion. I was, of course, extremely insecure and self-conscious. She approached me after class to tell me she liked what I had to say. I felt so flattered; here was this loquacious and learned journalism student who knew more about legislation than most Congresspeople with paid legislative staff could ever pay to know. How did I catch the attention of such a special person?

We kept in touch after she graduated. We texted each other with a couple of emails sprinkled into our communications. Then Facebook messenger came around, and we became closer. In 2009, a year after I graduated, Danica and I reconnected. We met at a bar in Richmond to share a few beers. She was back from touring with her band in Germany. I will never forget when she sheepishly reported that she had something to tell me: she was gay. I was thrilled to hear this news, as my best and most entertaining experiences in friendship life were almost exclusively with gay men. It was at this bar where she recounted a story I will never forget. She described hooking up with a dude while masterfully inserting the infamous Mortal Combat catchphrase “FINISH HIM!!!” into the anecdote. It had been a long time since I laughed that hard.

*

In 2013, I received a major phonecall. I was visiting with a friend in San Diego. We had just gone swimming while drinking, one of my most favorite ill-advised activities at the time. I saw that “Dan” was calling, so I immediately answered. Dan was on the line to tell me that she would be transitioning to Danica. I remember squealing so loudly that I thought we might get busted for waking up the apartment complex. We talked for over an hour about what this meant for her identity, her livelihood and her politics. She was candid and eloquent about her transition process. Counseling, hormone therapy, gender identification, fears, hopes and ambitions. I felt so lucky. It took me a few fumbles with the pronouns “she” and “her,” yet she made the effort to make me comfortable. Her selflessness has never wavered.

*

On Christmas Eve 2016, I got engaged. Danica was one of the first people I told. She called me almost immediately. She was thrilled, lovely, gracious and adoring. A couple of months passed, and Danica had some news for me, too. She would be running to unseat Bob Marshall. After a few minutes of gushing settled our excited shrieks, she asked me to be her campaign manager. I nearly lost my shit.

But it wasn’t the time.

Danica offered me the most precious of campaign positions, short of being someone’s spouse. She believed in my abilities when I had long since abandoned my political organizer status. Her faith in our friendship was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I gave her proposition a lot of thought, but I realized that finishing school, waitressing and preparing for a wedding had me by the proverbial balls. I would not do her extraordinary candidacy the justice it deserved. She understood–of course she did–and she continued forward.

*

As most of us in the campaign world accept with a blistering resignation, the two weeks before E-day are the hardest of all. With that intimate knowledge, I stood awestruck when I glanced up from my fateful walk down the aisle to see her smiling face among the guests at my wedding ceremony. Danica had battled the rush hour DC Beltway traffic to witness the marriage of me to my husband. In essence, she suspended her campaign for one afternoon–an action considered incomprehensible to campaigners and candidates alike–to watch one of her very own friends have her day. She sacrificed a crucial weekend day on her campaign to be there for my E-day, with her signature rainbow bandanna adorning her head like a crown.

*

Danica, you are one of my very best friends. I am honored to know you, because to know you is to love you. In mine, and now the world’s eyes, you are love.

And with that, I will sign off as Danica always does, reminding us to rock on. Go forth and prosper, my Queen.

 

\m/