Safe Space


"Be careful if you're going to keep it by your laptop," Amy said as she put the soy latte down on my table. "You don't want that to spill and ruin it."

I have never forgotten Amy Vanderbeck's words of wisdom. But I didn't know they were Amy's. I never knew the cool, hip owner of Watertown - not personally. I just knew she was awesome and she hired awesome staff. (Once Sera Cahoone made me a latte there.)  

The first time I went to Watertown was with my friend Adam. He was "in" with Amy and the staff there. He teased and wordsmithed and charmed them; they, in return, teased and wordsmithed and charmed him back. 

I was an outsider, scared and struggling, just off of a very tumultuous experience, not least of which included coming out a few months before. 

And here was my charming, cerebral, poetic, gay friend who flitted about the large restaurant space with a carefree ease as if he were in his own home. 

I could only admire the interaction; I was not introduced, certainly not noticed. But I didn't really want to be noticed. I was hurting too much. I lived in a stasis of fear, rather than excitement, witnessing all of the queers and lesbians coming and going out of Watertown with the same dappled ease as Adam. 

But even in my fear, I craved the space. Just being close to strong women and strong gender queers was something I wanted and needed. So I went back.


And again.

In the Spring of 2010, I returned after days of gardening; I'd race to change out of my work clothes and drive up to the Hill, often in rush hour traffic.

I'd write poems, bleeding out my pain into my MacBookPro, sitting alone at a table while Seattle University kids were too loud and studied (not enough) at a long table next to me. 

I'd order nachos. Soy lattes. Sandwiches. Sweets. Beer. I'd go to a concert there one night with friends and get tipsy and then ask Sera Cahoone if she knew anyone who would teach me the drums (yeah, I know).

I admired the way curly haired queers wore their flannel shirts and held hands with their significant other. I studied their smiles and the way Amy would chat with so many of them with such familiarity, it was as if they were all one big family. I wanted that; that closeness and teasing. I settled for the outskirts.

It's funny how much I do remember, and how little I remember at the same time. It's hard to believe this was seven years ago. In some ways it still feels like yesterday. I'm still nervous around groups of strong queer women, even though I am one. I still get shy and flustered, like I somehow don't belong.

But Amy and Watertown never made me feel like I didn't belong. It was a safe space. A safe space for a fledgling me. A space that was my "in," if only on the periphery, barely through the door. 

One day I went back and it was closed. Just. Closed. My brain swirled around a bit -- this was a haven and now shuttered permanently. 

Amy Vanderbeck died just a couple of days ago. Her body was found in the pond in Volunteer Park. I don't know how she died.

Adam died nearly a year ago. His body was never found. He jumped off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

I am grateful for Amy and Watertown. Grateful that Adam chose Watertown for our friend date. I'm sure he didn't know it would become a beacon of light for me during the cold, wet spring that would follow.

I'm saddened and perplexed by these three losses: of Amy, of Adam, and of this safe place. I can only hope that we, as a community, can continue to invite each other in, create safety and openness, good food, and good cheer. We need it. 

We need it for everybody.