Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Traveling Directions

There ought to be a word
for the way you know how to get some place
but don't remember the names of streets
the number of turns and blinking yellow lights
so that if someone asked
you really couldn't say
except you know the road starts out straight
and when it's sunny the branches blink across
the windshield making you want to rub your eyes
then the road turns sharply uphill past a red barn
where a black dog jumps out to race you for a quarter mile
and finally recedes in the mirror like a disappointment
and you remember the road dips downhill
into the shadows of the morning
where you hear Bach's unaccompanied 'cello
and understand what a good fit the 'cello makes
in the hollow of the body
where grief begins and for an indeterminate time
the road winds vaguely past
houses people road signs
while time hums in your ear and you remember
the dream you left behind that morning
which had nothing
to do with where
you are going

"Travel Directions" by Joan I. Siegel, from Hyacinth for the Soul.

On Monday, my therapist asked me to come up with a word or words that describes how I felt during the attack. Not before when I knew things were about to go to shit, not after when I could look back on what happened to Daphne or all the other consequences. But during. What did I feel?

And I know I know. I live next to those feelings every day. They often pass through my head, unbidden. Or sometimes, when I want to punish myself or wallow in guilt or self pity, I take myself there. I know the way by heart.

But now that someone has asked, I really can’t say. I have yet to come up with words. It’s really hard to describe. Or, more honestly, maybe I don’t want to. Maybe its just too private a space to share.

What would it mean to take someone else there? I don’t know. Today I have more questions than answers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Capitol Idea

In the wee hours of Friday morning, Peachie left for a school field trip to Washington, DC. We had received texts every few hours - arrived here safely, nice weather - ate lunch at a ghetto McDonalds - went to see Congress, boring - dinner at HardRock, having a blast.

And then last night she called us quite upset. Seems there is an openly gay boy on the trip and when they got to the hotel his two roommates refused to bunk with him. (Why they didn’t bring this up when they first assigned rooms weeks earlier, I have no idea) Anyway, Peachie put her teacher/chaperone on the phone -

Teacher: Peachie offered to let him sleep in with her. She said her moms would understand.

Me: It is fine with me as long as you don’t have a problem as a chaperone.

Teacher: Well, there are no other rooms, I don’t have a lot of choices here.

Peachie called this morning with this report -

“Ryan woke me this morning with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. He gave me the weather report and had already picked out an outfit for me and ironed it. I think I want to marry a gay man.”

Don’t we all . . .

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Returning to the scene of the crime

Earlier this week I went to an awards ceremony for a community organization I volunteer with. The ceremony was held at the communal room of my former church. I had not been on that church property since . . . since . . . actually its been so long now I don’t remember now long its been.

Some folks, still assuming I was an active member there, asked if I could get some serving spoons from the kitchen. But when I went in the kitchen, I felt like I was trespassing. I think they have now installed security cameras in the church so I was half expecting them to call the police on me -

- 911 what is your emergency?

- there's a gay person in the church

- I’ll send an officer right over

Anyway, it was a very strange feeling. There is a large quilt hanging where each family contributed a panel representing something about their family. There was ours - a beach scene with various sports equipment scattered around. It was like looking through a window onto a past life, but feeling like it was someone else’s life.

I went into the sanctuary. No longer was there that enveloping feeling of warmth and calm I used to feel. I sat in the pew I used to frequent - on an aisle, close to the door, of course - and looked up to the stained windows that circle the upper sanctuary. There is no apparent design yet they always reminded me of Georgia O’Keefe paintings in that subliminal sexual way, which always made me smile to myself, like it was some kind of inside joke.

And in the middle of all these swirls, there is a design that always reminded me of a bear-like figure sitting against a tree. Well, more like a human with a bear head, or a mascot figure.

Anyway, no matter how sad I was feeling or how off balance, I would sit in that sanctuary and look up at this figure and feel better. And as cold and un-welcoming as the sanctuary now felt, that little bear still made me smile. Like, just as he was so out of place in those windows, so was I totally out of place in this church.

Yet I was surprised at how much the wound still hurts . . .

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday meme

I have so many things I would like to write about. Things I need to write about. Things that are half written, but not finished. But I can’t seem to get it together right now. And so when a friend sent me this list of questions, I thought it would be a great way to procrastinate. . . Please keep it going if you are so inclined, I would love to read your answers.

My favorite moment of the day is ...
Definitely the morning, waking up. I say my grateful prayers, wake Martha . . . slowly, and get my marching orders for the day. Morning is sometimes the only time we see each other and we try to have a few moments of intimacy before the world comes and demands our attention.

If I could say one thing to myself 20 years ago . . .
I would tell myself that life does go on and it’s okay to love again.

The lesson I keep learning over and over . . .
Some people truly don’t care if they hurt others. I will never understand it but I am forced to keep learning it.

What scares me most is . . .
something bad happening to my daughters.

No one knows I . . .
Can’t stand to have my feet touched. Well, a few people do know that actually.

Unhealthiest meal . . .
Chocolate, chips, and ice cream for dessert. Yum.

Personal philosophy . . .
Life is basically a series of daily choices. Always choose love - love of self, love of others, love of creation, love of God.

I feel healthy when I . . .
Have a good workout at the gym.

I unwind by . . .
Sharing a meal with friends and/or family.

Proudest moment of my career . . .
Losing my job for standing up for my principles.

My father always told me . . .
You can only do the best you can do.

My mother was right about . . .
Just about everything - eating breakfast, clean underwear, being nice to my sister, working hard, doing the right thing, flossing, healing broken relationships, a good night’s sleep . . .

My mother was wrong about . . .
Telling me I would learn how to cook when I had a family to cook for.

The movie I watch when I want to laugh is . . .
Young Frankenstein. Which is actually Martha’s favorite movie. I am not a big Mel Brooks fan but whenever I see the movie, I think about how hard Martha laughs at it, and that makes me laugh. “Put the candle back!” has become a punch line for almost everything in our house.

I always feel saner when I . . .
Walk at the beach, take a sauna, sit in an empty church, share my problems with a good friend.

Home means . .
Being with the people I love, wherever that is.

Whole living means . . .
Doing the right thing, being honest and authentic and taking care of myself morally, ethically, health wise, and spiritually.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meditation Therapy

For most of my adult life I have tried to practice meditation and have never been successful. You know those instructions - just concentrate on your breathing - in, out, in out - and if other thoughts enter your mind, just acknowledge them and let them go. My problem is always that when the errant thoughts enter, I can’t just let them go. Or I think too much about letting them go. Or I get so frustrated with myself, then all these other thoughts creep in, and well, by now my meditation time is up, my head is filled with a thousand other thoughts and I just feel like a failure.

A big part of my therapy goal was to be able to talk/think about Daphne without my thoughts immediately going to the nightmare memories. And so I started with writing about some of my memories, which was incredibly difficult to do. It actually took me weeks because whatever I wrote sent me ricocheting through hours of horror. But with each thing I wrote, it got easier. (easier being a relative term.) Then my therapist asked me to read it out loud. Another thing I had a huge problem with. But I did it. And through that we discovered that some things were much easier to talk about than others.

Monday found me sitting once again in therapist’s office. Extremely tired from being sick these last couple of weeks, I began the session by begging for mercy -

Me: Let’s do something easy today, I am so friggin tired . . .

Therapist: Best time to poke around, when the censors are asleep . . .

Me: Seriously, I’ll pay you the $150 just to lay down and take a nap . . .

Therapist: Tempting . . . but no.

And so we explored why some things were easier to talk about than others. Memories of things Daphne and I did in a group, with friends, are much easier to talk about than things we experienced alone, or intimate things. Because, therapist tells me, memories that include people who are still in my life are keeping me more grounded in the here and now. And so she kept prompting me to talk about those things. And yes, I was often crying and bouncing back to the horrific. But then I noticed (okay, she pointed out) that I was bouncing, not getting stuck in. Well, that is a tangible and huge improvement. I am feeling like I am making some very good progress.

And then she gave me my homework - “choose one safe memory and think about only that. All the details I can think of - the sights, smells, sounds - but concentrate on that one memory. Try to stay grounded in that one memory. And when the other thoughts enter, just brush them away, let them go”

Oh no. I suck at this. Just like meditation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love in the Time of Cholera

I have been sick. Started with a sore throat that quickly went to my chest. For over a week I have been coughing. A horrible, deep, painful, persistent cough. I have gotten very little sleep and have had no energy. Zip. No batteries whatsoever. And then Martha got it too. For the last week she has been sleeping in the living room, upright in a recliner. Being she also has asthma, it is the only way she can breathe.

On Thursday night we went to see the Billy Joel/Elton John concert. Our daughters had given us tickets for Mother’s Day last year. The concert had been postponed twice and we really didn’t want to miss it. It had been a long time since we had been out for a special evening. So we went armed with our cough drops, water and tissues. The music drowned out our constant hacking. Great concert though.

And then last night both our daughters had plans for the evening and they were sleeping at friends’ houses. It seems that all the kids usually hang out at our house. But we were about to have the house to ourselves. Alone. Martha and I live for nights like that. We have a small house and it is hard to find intimate moments when the girls are home.

And so there we were, alone, wheezing and sniffling. We cuddled up on the couch, wrapped in blankets. Trying for some romance, I got up and made some strawberries with whipped cream and poured NyQuil into wine glasses. We toasted to our future better health. Then we started to fall asleep on each other’s shoulders. I went to bed. She went to her chair. It was 7:55.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gen Silent

From the GenSilent website:

LGBT people who fought the earliest battles for equality now face so much fear about discrimination, or worse, in healthcare/long-term care that they hide their past lives, are afraid to ask for help, and die earlier.

What would you do to survive if you were old, disabled and ill - afraid of discrimination or abuse?
Gen Silent is the new LGBT documentary from award-winning director and documentary filmmaker Stu Maddux (Bob and Jack's 52-Year Adventure, Trip to Hell and Back) that asks six LGBT seniors if they will hide their lives to survive.

They put a face on what experts in the film call an epidemic: gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender seniors so afraid of discrimination, or worse, in long-term/health care that many go back into the closet. And, their surprising decisions are captured through intimate access to their day-to-day lives over the course of a year in Boston, Massachusetts.

Unlike any previous LGBT film about aging, Gen Silent startlingly discovers how oppression in the years before Stonewall now leaves many elders not just afraid but dangerously isolated. Many of our greatest generation are dying prematurely because they don't ask for help and have too few people in their lives to keep an eye on them.

Gen Silent brings these issues into the open for the first time. The film shows the wide range in quality of paid caregivers --from those who are specifically trained to make LGBT seniors feel safe, to the other end of the spectrum, where LGBT elders face discrimination, neglect or abuse. (Who would have expected caregivers to try to religiously convert these elders at their bedside!)
As we journey through the challenges that these men and women face, we also see reasons for hope as each subject crosses paths with a small but growing group of impassioned professionals trying to wake up the long-term and healthcare industries to their plight.

Check out the website. Support the cause if you can.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pass the Tissues, please

It has been a tough emotional week. News stories about the rape and murder of Chelsea King had me triggering all over the place. And my daughter was taking a RAD - rape aggression defense class. She was coming home sharing her new found skills about what to do if attacked, tipping off a series of nightmares about the safety of my daughters while reminding me of the reality that she would be helpless against an attack of multiple men.

It was coming off of these challenges that I went to the therapist yesterday, emotionally weary and to the bone tired. First thing she did was to ask me to read the blog post I had written about Daphne. It was a struggle. I don’t know why it is so difficult to say out loud things I think about, or sometimes write about. But I did it. Tears streaming down my face. Sometimes sobbing. I did it. And it felt good. Tears and all.

I left there, eyes red and swollen to go to my daughter’s high school basketball banquet. A night to wrap up the season and hand out awards. Also, the graduating seniors each get to make a speech. This is part of the speech Beanie gave:

Since the third grade the gym has been my second home. Countless weekends, weekdays and week nights have been spent working on my game and enjoying my teammates. From GBC, Empire Nighthawks, Capitals and High School ball, I have always been surrounded by the court and by my closest friends. Now that basketball has finally come to an end, it is time for me to start a new chapter in my life and forever cherish the memories that I have gained from the sport I love. As I leave I want to thank those who have helped me and been there for me during my 10 years of playing basketball.

She then goes on to thank her coaches and friends and then this:

To my most dedicated fans, my parents. I can’t even think of a way to start and thank you. You guys were always driving me everywhere, whether to the middle school, high school, Massachusetts, Connecticut, wherever my games or practices were you were bringing me everywhere. You were at every game I ever played in and whether I scored 30 points (which I never did) or 0 points (which I often did) I always knew I could look up to you guys in the stands and you would give me the thumbs up and be smiling. I can’t begin thank you enough for all the money you put into me playing. From all the basketball shoes, AAU uniforms, and countless tournaments, I never once had to worry whether I could play or not because of your continuous support. For all the times you would comfort me after a loss, or have food ready for when I had 5 minutes to get to practice, I always knew I was coming home to a warm house filled with love. Lastly, I would like to thank you for all the time you gave up to come watch me. For all the nice sunny summer days that you were trapped in a gym, sitting on hard wooden bleachers or being stuck driving 5 hours in a car, you never once complained. You guys have made my basketball career possible and so enjoyable. I love you both very much, you mean everything to me.

I was reduced to a blubbering fool.

Kahlil Gibran once wrote: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. “


Friday, March 5, 2010

Happiness is . . .

I realize that my last couple of posts have been on the depressing side. Although in real life I am not a depressed person. I have sad times that I have learned it is best to sit with until they pass and then get on with life. And that is what I do. Work, laundry, dinner with friends - all the everyday little things that make up my happy little life.

And I am happy. I do not want to give the impression that I constantly live in the past, or with the ghosts of my past. I love Martha, and together we have created this strange controlled chaos we call our tribe - two remarkable daughters, our friends, their friends, family, neighbors, teams. I have a very abundant life - surrounded by love. Over abundant in love really, if there can be such a thing. And perhaps one of the biggest reasons I appreciate all that I have is because I know how impermanent relationships and life can be. Cherish them while you can.

I had sent my therapist the stuff I wrote about Daphne. She was impressed. And then I sent her the comments you folks left on that piece. She was more than impressed. Happiness is when you lay your heart bare on a blog page and total strangers pick it up and hold it gently together in the palm of their hands. Can’t thank you enough for that. Seriously.

Happiness is when your eldest daughter finally decides were she wants to go to college and seems certain of her choice. Happiness gets a little unsteady when she then gets a letter from the college she didn’t chose saying they would give her $29k a year in academic and leadership scholarships. And we’re saying ‘no’ to that? (And a little happiness to Haizey - yes she has chosen the school that has a female rugby team : )

Happiness is when your younger daughter, who has always lived in the athletic shadow of her big sister, gets a call from a national scout interested in her field hockey talent. And just won a state leadership thing where she is being sent to an all expense paid week of leadership training. Her sister has been a hard act to follow and it makes me smile to see her getting a share of the spotlight.

Happiness is when there is an office discussion on “The Bachelor” and, in front of my ‘born again’ secretary I say that it really bothers me that gays can’t marry because it would destroy the ‘sanctity of marriage’ but no one objects to a man choosing his bride by making out with a series of strangers every week - and my secretary agrees and says that gays should be able to marry. And every jaw in the room drops.

And happiness is just finding out that Cate Blanchett is going to play Maid Marian in a new Robin Hood movie. Can’t get much more happy than that . . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good Morning Heartache

When I first went to my therapist and talked about what I had hoped to accomplish through therapy this time, one of the biggest things was to be able to talk about Daphne, and all the good things we had shared together, without falling apart. I have not, even after all these years, been able to say her name out loud without immediately flashing to the anguish and terror of our last day together, and/or the pitiful hospital scenes of me begging to be able to see her with her father screaming at me that I was to blame and forbidding me to ever see her again. They are not pretty pictures. It was a horrific, hideous ending to a very beautiful relationship. And then she was gone.

My therapist suggested that I try to write about her. What follows has taken me a lot of tears to write. Every memory as painful to remember as it was beautiful to live. But I am very happy now to try to share her with you:

Her name was Daphne. Named after the Alabama town where her mother was born. She grew up in Harlem, New York. The daughter of a college professor and a lawyer. Somewhere around the time that she was owning the full depth and breath of her sexual identity, her parents disowned her. She rose to the challenge.

We met at a university. She was a post graduate student on a fellowship grant. She was incredibly smart. Like rocket scientist smart. An assistant in a bio-neuroscience research study team that involved the piecing and cataloguing of DNA. She tutored other students to make a little extra money. And I was needing a lot of help to get through a advanced statistics course.

I fell in love immediately. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Her skin was the color of Hershey’s milk chocolate and I loved the keyboard our interwined fingers formed. Her eyes reflected all the love and warmth of a person who has known God. She had an infectious smile. She was physically and spiritually strong but had the heart of a child. She was serious about her work, passionate about love and playful in everything else. She loved to laugh.

We lived together in her tiny campus apartment for almost three years. She loved to cook - southern style. Fried everything and collard greens and things with corn meal and bacon fat. I gained weight. She would wake me every morning saying “good morning heartache” with such a big smile it always made me laugh.

I had been with women before but never ever thought it was a lifestyle I would spend my life in. Until her. And then I saw eternity.

She never learned how to drive a car. Growing up in the city there was no need. I tried to teach her. She who could split DNA could not figure out which way to turn the turn signal stick. Every time she would screw up she would just stop the car in the middle of the road and laugh.

One anniversary she filled our bed with rose pedals. But we never got around to making love because the pedals kept sticking to body parts in weird ways and we couldn’t stop laughing. And that was even better.

Once we went to Provincetown with a group of friends, camping. She insisted on putting up the tent, which of course collapsed with the first puff of wind. A city girl, she hated camping. But loved a camp fire and toasting marshmallows. We ordered whole lobsters there and she laughed hysterically when they tied bibs on us, and then disected it as if it were a frog in biology class. I have never ordered it again.

I took her to Ithaca to see the gorges. She made love to me there, under a waterfall. That still stands as the most intensely passionate, breathtakingly beautiful love I have ever experienced.

She was a science geek who loved spicy Korean food, and gender bending. She was a student of 1920s Harlem, jazz and fashion. She loved Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson and the big bands. She loved wearing her lab coat and playing doctor. She loved the beach, but only in winter. She was reduced to tears seeing a full starry sky. She had a fear of birds in flight but loved to hear them sing. She loved to go see the penguins at the Central Park zoo, taking horse drawn carriage rides through the Park, window shopping at Christmas and soul food at Sylvia’s.

She loved to walk in a warm rain and would stomp in every puddle. She loved to wear muscle shirts with suspenders. She loved babies and bubbles and African beaded bracelets. She loved to dance and the word ‘bedazzled’. She loved gospel music and grafitti art and wild cherry cough drops. She loved to make me blush. And she was very good at it. She loved “aha” moments and being surprised. She found life miraculous.

She loved her parents, and God, and Billie. And she loved me.

Happy Birthday Daffy. I will always love you.