“Like generations before us who lost spaces to raids, AIDS, and gentrification before it had the fancy name, we’re learning just how much these places could feel like a living room, or even bedrooms, and the grief of not saying goodbye to these homes together is painful.” — Leo Herrera, Filmmaker, in response to the announcement that the STUD, a 55-year-old LGBTQ bar in San Francisco, will be officially closing its doors due to the impact of COVID-19.
Every day, with every increase in the total number of human lives lost, layoff announcements, and the closure of some of our most cherished establishments, I am stricken with this feeling of numbness.
My body will shut down like an automatic software update that conveniently knocks you from whatever task you’re invested in at the moment.
Not sure where I go, exactly, but as quickly I zone out, I return to this reality and pick up from where I left off.
Now before I get hit with a barrage of comments from people who think I should consult a physician, I appreciate your concern, but I’m way ahead of you.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression my entire life, although I didn’t realize it until late in my twenties.
It was while earning my MS in Eastern Medicine that a classmate called out the pattern that it became clear. I shut down in response to overwhelm.
Over the past few months, the pattern has changed. The familiar reset has evolved into something new, something I haven’t been able to fully articulate, but it must be grief.
Earlier this week I built up the courage (fueled by an intense frustration negotiating space with my husband in our 600 sq ft San Francisco apartment) and braved the outside world, venturing to Dolores Park.
It was a gorgeous day. The kind you would skip work for (when you had a job) or at least bail out early to enjoy some sunshine, possibly with a beverage in hand.
Instead of anxiety, I felt a sense of liberation, as I was able to stretch out and embrace the freedom that I had grown so hungry for.
As I looked out at the San Francisco skyline, which has changed in so many ways over the past fifteen years, a deep and painful sadness came like a punch to the chest. How on this beautiful day, with all these people joyously embracing the open space, the clean air, and gorgeous view, was I feeling like shit?
Alone, I asked myself: “What was I not doing right?”
What was this feeling I couldn’t carry on my own, but couldn’t share with anyone else?
I understand now it was grief.
There was so much about that moment that looked normal. This was the day before the city painted socially distant circles on the grass to offer a visual guide for park-goers. I had been to this park so many times before and never had the view of San Francisco made me feel so sad. But why?
It wasn’t until yesterday that it began to make sense. A friend that I’ve known since my early SF club days shared a quote on Instagram, that he had recently heard in response to the impact COVID has had on the city.
In reading it I finally felt closer to understanding what I was feeling:
“It’s like the Big One hit, but all the buildings are intact.”
And there it was. Like gospel or wise words from a child or a Joni Mitchell song that brings you to tears.
I pushed my thumb hard onto the screen to prevent the story from advancing so that I could read that quote once more. And then again. And then another time. And one more.
Unlike a devastating earthquake, which jolts us awake to a new reality of fire, smoke and visible devastation, the pandemic isn’t done and we have a ways to go before we start rebuilding. The pandemic is a marathon, testing our endurance on a vaguely familiar road where no one can see the finish line.
We try to maintain a steady pace, each of us in our own lane, focusing on our breath and trying to shut off that voice in our heads that keeps telling us to stop and rest.
We have to keep going while maintaining an appropriate distance from one another. Maybe sometimes our legs give out and we fall to the ground, but we quickly pick ourselves back up and keep driving forward.
I think we’re beginning to realize we will lose people along the way. Some by choice, and others by chance. We’ve lost time, experiences, friendships, lovers, but somehow we’ve maintained hope.
So everyday we keep going because we have to get past the finish line.
On the other side will be victory. We will be able to hug each other and laugh and kiss.
If we could just get across that line together, we can grieve the people and places that didn’t make it. We can cry and feel the pain of all the things we have lost. We can tell stories and dance and not be alone, but for now we keep running. Alone in our clearly defined lane and 6-foot buffer.
As loved ones are dying from a distance, jobs are being lost over Zoom, safe queer spaces are being forced to close their doors after 55 years, we have to grieve alone. Even if for a moment. Even if it looks like we are quietly checking out.
A FUNERAL FOR THE STUD WILL BE HELD ONLINE ON MAY 31 AT 6PM.
Everyone who’s life was touched by the Stud is encouraged to attend. The broadcast link and more information will be available at Studsf.com. Despite it’s closure, the Stud plans to continue bringing people together online until the collective can raise enough money to reopen in a new space that allows for social distancing. In lieu of flowers mourners are asked to donate to the Save the Stud Stabilization Fund at https://www.gofundme.com/f/stud-in-exile to help the Stud finally find it’s new home.