Excerpt: Failure To Appear By Emily L. Quint Freeman

failure to appear

Failure To Appear is a fierce coming of age story of a political activist, a young woman and of a generation.

When it becomes as clear to the reader as it does to Emily Freeman that “In a mad country, it’s sane to be insane” the urgency of being a part of progressive change is a body slam that takes your breath away. That visceral response is even stronger when we understand that this truth is as crucial today as it was in our country’s past. This book takes its place alongside the searing and sensitive memoirs of other moral dissenters who’ve helped change the course our history –Jewellz, Author of the Gomee Gilda Stories

In this vivid, no holds barred page turner Failure to Appear: Resistance, Identity and Loss is a memoir about a lesbian of conscience who became a fugitive, on the run for over nineteen years using several identities. A gripping story about finding your true self and your sexual truth during the turbulent late sixties through the late eighties, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Nixon and Reagan years, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and the AIDS crisis.

Emily’s story delves into family rejection based on sexuality, the price of ideals, lost love, the agony of an underground existence, and personal renewal. As a university student, she became an activist for peace and social justice. One May night in 1969, Emily and seventeen others hauled somewhere around 40,000 records of draft-eligible men from the draft board office on the South Side of Chicago and burned them, as an act of non-violent civil disobedience against the Vietnam War and racism. The group waited at the scene, singing “We Shall Overcome”, and were arrested.


I thread my way to a booth, as spotlights illuminate the stage in alternating red, white, and blue. Three drag queens strut onto the stage as confetti falls from the ceiling, the crowd roaring its approval. The DJ puts on “Lola” by the Kinks at full blast. Everyone sings in raucous unison. A room of sexual outlaws with its own secret dialect, infectious and liberating to every desolate cell in my body.

When the first show’s over, I head back to the bar where Chena is waiting. We just met earlier this evening. She offered a lift home when her bartending shift was over. We walk outside to a still, chilly night. She opens the passenger door of a tumble-down Ford pickup, and I climb in.

She switches the radio on, then leans over and kisses me. Her lips are soft and smoky. We listen to soul music as we drive to her place, as if we never needed to say that’s where we were headed all along.

Her apartment building has the look of a roadside motel. I follow Chena up a wrought iron staircase. Once inside, she throws her keys down on the coffee table and turns to face me, clasping my neck. “My Haitian blood senses some bad shit inside you, which is your own business. I’d like to give you a massage.”

“I haven’t had a massage…” I halt at the next words, but they come, “since Catlin.”

“Mi sol, you like scented oils?”

“Anything but hippy patchouli,” I reply.

Chena walks in front of me, opening the door. “Bedroom.” I notice her clothes are folded in an open suitcase on the floor. She walks over to a stack of records on her dresser, finds one, and sets it on a turntable. I recognize Laura Nyro’s slow, sulky voice, a hybrid of so many influences from classical to gospel, rock, and soul.

While she’s in the bathroom, I take my clothes off, hanging them on a door hook. The late hour, the gin, the dreamlike surroundings makes everything slow to a crawl. I lie across her bed on my stomach, listening with my eyes closed to “Gonna Take a Miracle”, Nyro’s duet with Patti LaBelle. It’s a song of blind alley passion. I think of Catlin, a name I can’t forget, even if I curse her memory sometimes.

I hear footsteps, followed by creaking bed springs. A firm, buttery touch starts at my shoulders, kneading my tense muscles, releasing their secrets, following the ridge of my spine, working across my waist. Chena’s hands feel familiar, beyond reach. That in itself makes me long to have sex with her.

“You’ve been to bed with a woman before. Was that Catlin? Tell me about the first time with her.” I don’t reply. She burrows into the hardened ropes of my neck. “Well?” Chena rolls me over on my back, looking down at me, squeezing more massage oil on her hands, working my shoulders, down my arms. I’m finding it hard to speak as my breath gets shallower and quicker, as I read her body, her small, tight breasts, the stud in her belly button.

“I had no clue what was going to happen, Chena.”

Catlin and I were dorm roommates at UC Berkeley for barely a month. She sneaked back in after curfew, sometime in the early morning. Her boyfriend played Latin Jazz at a local bar. I was asleep in one of the twin beds. She turned on the desk lamp. I crawled upward from sleep, turning over. When I sat up a little, I saw she was naked, strumming her guitar, humming softly.

I didn’t breathe, just gazed at her, stunned by the grace of her pale body. No, I wasn’t having one of my erotic daydreams. She stood up, walked over and sat down on the edge of my bed. ‘Move over so I can get in.’ She leaned over and gave me a long kiss, exploring my mouth. It was impossible after that night of tender and wild desire to condemn myself to complaisant heterosexuality. After dawn, she said, ‘I only have sex with those I really dig, like you. Hang loose and don’t get jealous, OK?’ I said I understood, but I didn’t really.

Chena interrupts my silent memories. “You think either of you came that night?”

“I didn’t know what coming was, and she never said.”

Laying fully against my body, she laughs. “Well, mi sol, you’ll know what coming is tonight.”