By Tara Brugh
Sitting down at the round table in her office, Alicia LaMagdeleine leaned back in her chair and looked over my head as she reminisced on an incident that left her temporarily blind for 36 hours. She brought her hand to her chin and repeated my question to herself.
“Well, I don’t remember falling off the bike and hitting my head when I was seven, because I blacked out then. But then I remember laying there in the grass and my friend, Jackie Crumb, comes up and was like ‘are you okay?’ and I probably said no or groaned. And then I remember I could see her and then she turns and starts running away, and everything fades like in an old TV set down to one spot and is then black,” LaMagdeleine explained as she slowly brought her hands closer together to mimic the loss of her vision.
Despite the fact that LaMagdeleine was left temporarily blind and passed out “like 13 times” as a result of her severe concussion, the only thing she cared about was homework.
“I supposedly – I don’t remember this – I wake up again and I’m in the CAT scan machine and I can’t see, so I can’t tell where I am. And my dad says I just kept screaming about the teachers giving too much homework and how I didn’t want any homework, really didn’t need any homework.”
“They sedated me and by the time I woke up like a day and a half later I could see again, although I had a giant bruise over a quarter of my head. There you go. That’s my life,” said LaMagdeleine. She looked at me and laughed.
Some good has come out of being the self-proclaimed “world’s clumsiest human being.” She met her wife, Suellen Sharp, after falling over in a Butler University marching band practice.
“I was in the marching band and we had to do this thing my freshman year where we played this song, and I basically had to kneel down on one knee and stand up all while continuously playing. So in practicing and executing this move, I fell over.” LaMagdeleine threw her hands up and shrugged.
“I happened to be next to Suellen when I fell over, and she helped me up, which is, like, this adorable nerdy story.” She acknowledged this cliché by jokingly rolling her eyes and smiling.
LaMagdeleine grew up in a small village just outside of Chicago called South Holland, Illinois. It was South Holland, she claims, that shaped who she is today.
“It was, when I lived there in the 80’s and 90’s, the hot bed of racial tension and white flight from the suburbs as people of color would move out of Chicago into our neighborhood” said LaMagdeleine. “Like, all of my friends from middle school – between middle school and high school – left and went to further out suburbs. So I didn’t really graduate high school with anyone that I had finished 8th grade with. And that, and kind of the way that the neighborhood has changed, really affected me in growing up.” LaMagdeleine ended the sentence as if it was a question and she was unsure of her response. She narrowed her eyes and looked to the side as she paused.
South Holland is located approximately 20 miles outside of Chicago. Immigrants from South Holland, Netherlands first settled the area in the nineteenth century as a general farming community. They later specialized in farming vegetables, especially onion sets. After World War II, developers saw South Holland’s rural land as valuable space for subdivisions. The creation of Highways 57 and 94 leading into Chicago further prompted South Holland’s transformation into a suburb.
South Holland is still a very conservative community even today. The conservative nature of the village originates from its Dutch founders. All businesses, with the exception of travel-based establishments, restaurants, and gas stations, are closed on Sundays, alcohol is not to be sold anywhere within the village limits, and zoning laws prohibit the development of apartment buildings and condominiums. These laws allow South Holland to maintain a religious, family oriented lifestyle.
When the time came for LaMagdeleine to go to college, her high school band director pointed her towards Butler University. LaMagdeleine, thinking Indianapolis would feel similar to Chicago, made the move to Indianapolis.
“I soon had this shocking realization that Indianapolis is not Chicago. I couldn’t even take a bus anywhere,” LaMagdeleine mentioned dismissively with the wave of a hand.
After earning her B.A. in English at Butler, LaMagdeleine and Sharp moved to New Hampshire. LaMagdeleine went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire and earned her M.A. in English.
“Suellen and I moved together to go to New Hampshire when I went to graduate school and that was like what we did after we both graduated college instead of getting married. Most of our friends from that time got married shortly after college. But it was 2002, we had just come out to our parents, and gay marriage was certainly not, in the Midwest, a really popular thing. We thought about getting married then but kind of, I don’t know, chickened out,” LaMagdeleine said.
It was only fitting, then, that LaMagdeleine and Sharp went back to New Hampshire to get married in September.
“When we started to think about how we could get federal benefits for actually getting married, and maybe eventually it’ll be recognized in Indiana, it made sense to go to New Hampshire because that’s what we did when we were younger,” LaMagdeleine explained.
“It was amazing. It is weird to get married after you’ve been in a relationship for 15 years and had a child. I mean, it was right for us. I don’t think we could have done our lives differently based on where we were or where society was, but it was kind of odd,” said LaMagdeleine.
In June of 2013, the federal government overturned DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act. The law previously denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. In overturning this law, the federal government ruled that same-sex couples living in states where gay marriage is legal are entitled to the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
LaMagdeleine and Sharp began finalizing their marriage plans in January of 2014 after attending an HJR-3 rally at the Indianapolis Arts Garden. HJR-3 was a proposed marriage amendment that would have permanently defined marriage in Indiana as the union of one man and one woman. It would have also removed existing protections under law for same-sex and unmarried couples and families. Freedom Indiana organized the rally after The House Judiciary Committee chairman delayed the amendment upon some members’ request of more time to review the testimonies from lawmakers, businesses, and universities across Indiana.
“We were at a rally in January about HJR-3 and [Fox59] interviewed us, and I said something about like, ‘yeah, well we’re going to get married in New Hampshire’ because we had talked about it. So I basically announced it on television. Then it was like, okay, now we can’t just talk about this,” LaMagdeleine said as she lightly tapped the table with the side of her hand to emphasize her words. “We’re actually going to do it.”
LaMagdeleine, Sharp, their daughter Parker, Sharp’s sister, and two close friends attended the ceremony in New Hampshire.
“We got married on September 26th, which was the 15th anniversary of when we started dating,” LaMagdeleine said. “We did it up in the mountains. The weather was perfect – it was fall and clear and sunny. We took wedding pictures on the side of a mountain and really ridiculously, I should have fallen off the side of the mountain to my doom.”
“But I did not, so it was great,” LaMagdeleine quickly added as she laughed.
LaMagdeleine and Sharp had their wedding reception in Indianapolis on October 11th.
“I think my 18-year-old self would probably not have liked the reception. When I was 18, I really wanted to convince myself that I was cooler, or hipper, or more edgy than I actually was. But as far as receptions go, it was a pretty traditional event, aside from the lesbians,” said LaMagdeleine.
Photo by Hannah Norman