Wake up at 4 a.m., cool morning, throw on some clothes, head to the airport. It’s a short flight to Sacramento, then on to San Diego. I rent a white Thrifty car and drive north, past coastal towns of strip malls and palm trees, then inland to Fallbrook, Avocado capital of the world tucked dearly on the eastern boundary of Camp Pendleton and the Naval Ordinance Station.
It seems to me that for such a small town, there are an awful lot of churches. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve made a right onto church row. I’m looking for the Presbyterian one. It’s hot and I’m early and I should have dressed up.
The girlmoms are already gathered in the parking lot, smoking teary-eyed. They offer me a pin-on picture of Alli with baby, a quote:
Girls like me have raised presidents. We’ve raised messiahs and musicians, writers and settlers. Girls like me won’t compromise and we won’t fail.
In the lobby–is it called a lobby?–that space between double glass doors and the the church itself–there are childhood pictures and teenage pictures and new mama pictures and family pictures–Julie, Cade, and Dylan. There are beach pictures and a paragraph from Alli about all the love and activism she and Julie have planned.
I find Alli’s mom inside, wrap my arms around her because I can’t imagine. Flowers are being arranged. The casket. And suddenly it’s open. A quick inhale. I wasn’t expecting it to be open and maybe it’s not the kind of thing where it matters whether or not you are expecting it to be open. “Do you want to see her?” Cherrygirl whispers. I sort of nod and she leads me down and here’s Alli, all made up and wearing berry-colored lipstick and the crazy thing is that through my tears I swear I can see the rise and fall of her chest.
Alli’s parents are good people. Still, there is a culture clash. Of course there is a culture clash. The funeral sermon is all Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and waiting for the resurrection. The minister talks about Alli’s work, but to listen to him you’d almost think girlmom was an evangelical Christian website. I get that he’s trying to put her work in a context the church people can understand–that Alli ministered to a vast congregation of socially excluded moms–but he stumbles over the words “reproductive freedom” like he’s never uttered them before and Cherrygirl points out that when he quotes her, he does some creative editing.
It’s time for tributes. Alli’s son Cade takes the mic and our hearts swell for him. “I didn’t want her to die.” It’s too much. It’s way too much.
The eulogies continue and I guess I can’t blame the minister for his creative editing because there are some things I just can’t hear.
The girlmoms rise and take the pulpit in front of a giant stained-glass Jesus. This is her congregation, then. I go to the center, but my throat isn’t cooperating. What did I want to say, anyway? I tell them about the first time I met Alli, genius 11th grader on The Mother Trip book tour. I babble something about choice–about making our true choices. I speak generally about domestic violence. About going back to school. And about the conflict that arises when your lifework is all about advocacy and service to others, the way you can let your true genius shine and then turn, only to discover that you’ve been placed on some high pedestal, seen suddenly as stronger-than, and the way it’s so hard for people to see that in that bright light there is also vulnerable humanity, also someone who needs advocacy, support.
The girlmoms speak eloquent-shaky about all the ways in which Alli empowered them, made them the mothers they are now. We are maybe two dozen, but we represent thousands.
Finally Julie takes the mic. Girlfriend, partner, wife. I love you, Alli.
Redemption Song and it’s over.
The elephant in the courtyard is What happened? The day Alli died there was talk of suicide, but that idea was backed-away-from almost immediately. Righteous writer mamas do not suicide without leaving a note. But toxicology reports take a long time and there are no answers now.
Alli’s sister finds me outside. She’s tall, beautiful, just graduated from high school. She wants to talk about the book Alli was working on. It’s in a box. She will find it.
At the graveside service there is more scripture. Dorie and I flip madly through Audre Lorde, looking for another psalm, but we are too slow. We will have to read it later.
Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.
I’m standing back in the crowd. I do not see Alli’s coffin being lowered into the ground.
At the reception, Alli’s dad sits at the girlmom table, tells stories. He tells us about the $1,500 cell phone bill and Alli’s explanation: “It’s expensive to start the revolution, Dad.” And what he wouldn’t give for another $1,500 cell phone bill. He knows the difference now between sorrow and grief, he tells us. And this is grief. There is no culture clash now. He’s not a Christian. He’s not a man with politics or judgments or affiliations. He’s just a father and a grandfather. And this is grief.
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The Girl-Mom moderators are collecting money to be used to help Alli’s young family in this profoundly sad time. If you would like to contribute, please send a donation via paypal to: email@example.com or send a check made out to Hip Mama with “Alli’s fund” in the memo to: Alli’s Fund c/o Hip Mama, P.O. Box 12525, Portland, OR 97212
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Link to articles by Allison Crews:
When I was Garbage
And So I Choose
Your Government, Your Rights
The Reproductive Rights of Minors
Ten Things You Can Do to Protect Reproductive Freedom