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Sitting in between a Brazilian guy named Giovanni who spoke next to no English and a chick in swim trunks with hair that was both frosted and spiked, I waited for Madonna. It was 7:30 or so and Boston’s TD Garden was gradually filling up with her key fan bases: baby boomers and homosexuals and baby boomer homosexuals. Months before this September show, I’d bought my ticket—stage left on the floor, two seats away from a runway that extended to the back of the arena. No more than five feet separated me from where Madonna would soon perform. And I was disappointed.
“What’s your favorite song of hers?” asked Rebecca, the woman to my left who was prepared to swim the 100-meter backstroke in an NSYNC music video.
Thinking of that time in the seventh grade when I got stitches in my hand after accidentally shattering a martini glass during my solo kitchen performance of “Open Your Heart,” I cocked my head and replied, “I’ve always loved ‘Frozen.’ What’s yours?”
“‘Al Bonitez,’” Rebecca giggled, her barrel-like torso shimmying in its seat.
Though the title she shared sounded more like a Jewish-Cubano love child, I knew she meant “La Isla Bonita.” And I also knew that our conversation was over.
Kristine Burns birthed me but Madonna is my mother. Nine months in my mom’s womb was formative but it’s been the twenty-one years spent in Madge’s universe that molded me into the kind of person I am today. Sneaking into my sister Jillian’s bedroom while she was off at school, I used to steal her Ray of Light CD before I even knew how to read the liner notes. With eight years between us, Jillian exposed me to things I was a generation too young to appreciate on my own: Josh Hartnett, beepers, Dawson’s Creek, Snapple. And, most importantly, the queer constant of my life, Madonna.
I saw her live for the first time my freshman year of high school. I wore turquoise jeans from PacSun to the show and that just about sums up where I was in life. But it was my second time seeing her in concert, my freshman year of college beginning the next day, that I looked into the eyes of God herself. The stage for that tour had a triangle-shaped pit in the middle and—by the grace of all that is good and gay in this world—I managed to win a contest that granted me general admission into it. Exhibiting aggression that my high school swim coach would have paid to see, I high-tailed it across the floor of the arena, digging my elbows into anyone who dared compete with me on this race into the pit, and colonized two spots in the front row. One for me and one for Jillian.
Soaring on stage from inside a suspended confessional booth, Madonna took me to a place no church ever has. For two hours and fifteen minutes, I was someplace else—not aware of my feet touching the ground, not apologetic about being eight feet taller than the suckers standing behind me. Squeezing Jillian’s arm whenever she sang a song we loved, I felt like I was paying my dues, giving her Madonna in the same way that she gave her to me.
Strutting along the length of the stage, Madonna was performing “Holiday” when she stopped short in front of me. Out of the 20,000 people there, she was looking right at me, getting down on her hands and knees and shoving her microphone in my face to sing along. Our exchange was over before it started, 15 seconds of the highest high with an afterglow that kept on burning.
“I sold my TV to be here,” Rebecca yelled into my ear as the opening DJ finished up his set.
“I’m sorry, you’re gonna have to repeat that for me,” I responded, making sure my wallet was still in my back pocket.
“I sold my TV to buy my ticket. I was watching The Price is Right a few weeks ago and a commercial came on advertising the tour. It was a sign!”
Before I could tell Rebecca that she might not have needed to pawn off her television if she wasn’t watching it at 11 in the morning, the lights went down. Fans all around me were screaming and clapping, their anticipatory energy vogueing in the air. But as Madonna descended from the arena rafters in a golden cage, all I could think about was what I should be doing with my hands. Past tours had transcended me to new levels of homosexual within seconds of the show starting but, stage left on the floor, two seats away from the runway, all I felt was grounded.
The show was as good as any other I’d seen. Madonna switched costumes and accents in her usual manner, her face and body continuing to defy decades worth of gravity. She hadn’t changed at all in the three years that had passed since my last show but apparently I had. Singing for Madonna the night before college began, I busted into freshman year with the necessary chutzpah to establish myself as the larger than life personality I wanted so badly to be. As much my identifier as always, I made sure that these new people in my collegiate life came to know me as He Who Loved Madonna. Because if I wasn’t as ballsy as I wanted to seem, at least she was.
I didn’t expect to be singled out again by Madonna or to be given another chance to have my voice heard from the crowd, I was raised Catholic so I know better than to think that great things happen more than once. What I wanted was to feel again like I’d felt that night. To be taken to a place that got harder to reach as college went on, somewhere that was both outside myself and wholly myself. But the woman could only do so much.
As she sang one of the last songs of the night, Madonna was nearer to me than during any other point of the show. Seated on a stool with her back turned, she was close enough that her spotlight casted on me as well. The hot, platinum blond light made it hard for me to see as Madonna became a silhouette of herself, swallowed and enlivened by its blaze. I could have touched the hem of her dress if I reached out far enough but it was the fans in the front row that I paid the closest attention to, watching them lean their weight against the barrier, their eyes never averting from hers as they sang, quien es esa nina, who’s that girl?