I am publishing this post on my cell phone as I sit in my car in a parking deck less than a block away from the Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and Courthouse in Nashville, TN.
Just a few minutes ago, I was sworn in as a US citizen, among 60 new citizens representing 22 nationalities.
It is difficult to express the enormity of that moment as it now lives in the context of my life and the trajectory it has taken. I can write an entire novel about this. (Honestly, I was skeptical that this would actually happen until I walked into the courthouse this morning. Sigh.)
Right now, I want to acknowledge a few people who have played significant roles in this story. Some of them have contributed financially, but most of all, they all gave me the gift of friendship and of believing in me over many years when I did not even believe in myself. Some of these people did not even know that they were helping to hold me up all along.
Of course, my mom Lu Craighead, my sisters Lette and Lloyda, and my family have stood by me and have given me shelter from the brunt of this storm.
Early on, my dear friends Leigh Miller and her husband Chris Hafner were the biggest torch-bearers. I cannot thank them enough. Leigh, in particular, believed in me when no one else did at the time. To this day, I often ask “ What would Leigh do?” She would find a way to laugh and then do the compassionate thing. The world needs more people like Leigh.
My mentors and friends Tonda Taylor, Tim Koch, and Darrell Hickman (of Time Out Youth and New Life MCC Church in Charlotte, NC) were also instrumental along the way and fed my spirit with so much kindness. Darrell passed away a few years ago. I wish I could give him a big hug right now.
To Corky and the kind folks at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte, NC, who kindly let me play their piano whenever I wanted. Over countless hours and late nights spent alone, you have no idea how much that piano in that space healed me, sustained my spirit, and unleashed a firestorm of creativity.
Special thanks to my bestie Laurel Robison for the 24/7 shoulder to cry on over the soul-crushing muck of this (and the dating heartbreaks) over the years.
This process has been a constant source of stress and depression in my life. Kimberly Dumas-Hodge and Carolyn Deal lifted my spirits up through so much early morning laughter and great conversation.
To my brother in music Andrew Weitze, I do not know if you ever figured out how truly, deeply sad I was all the time, but those late nights playing music and (accidentally) breaking piano strings in that gothic castle was a lifeline to me. I guess all my sad songs gave me away.
My friend Wes Liles taught me, through his own struggles, how to be resilient against so much hardship. He still teaches me to this day.
These days, my friend Spree and the community of queers in my life have been a source of comfort and joy. Life is better when you do not have to live it alone.
My luminous friend Xyla has been such a strong and inspiring force in my life in so many ways. I will emphatically cheer for you now and to the ends of the earth.
The moment I met my eventual husband MaxZine was the tipping point in all of this. He made me feel truly seen and loved. He unknowingly dug me out of a very sad and dark place and changed me. If going through all of this struggle led me to you, then maybe it wasn’t all bad after all.
Can I thank my cat??? I know that I rescued him from a cage at Nashville’s Metro Animal control, but he actually saved me. The love our animals give us is indescribable. Thank you Steinway for all the years of cuddles, protection, and sweetness.
There are other people who extended a word of encouragement or helpful hand along the way. They also conspired to get me through this, and I am so grateful.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing folks at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). I could not have run through this last leg without their help. Thank you for all the ways you empower, educate, and assist immigrants and their families in Tennessee.
My day continues with various gatherings. I will be live updating this post for the rest of the day. Check back HERE to behold all of the merriment.
Now, let the celebrating begin!
As promised, here are more photos from the ensuing festivities:
My friends and family met up at one of my favorite restaurants in Nashville called Bella Napoli. My mom and her husband Jim and my friends Laurel, Andrew, Xyla, and Joe joined us for wood-fired Italian cuisine, desserts, and wine.
I wore a Barong for the oath ceremony. It is a formal button-down shirt worn by men in the Philippines that typically has ornate designs embroidered all across the front and collar.
My friend Xyla threw a big party for me at her house in the evening and a general invitation was distributed throughout my neighborhood. There was plenty of food, drinks, and merrymaking. I danced so much.
Here is a photo of me in my evening wear (which looks very patriotic in this photo, but it has a provocative twist in the back) with Leopard, our esteemed DJ impresario for the night.
I feel like my life was just gifted with a new beginning.
It felt great to start it off with a big celebration.
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Congratulations, Roque !!!!