For You Are With Me

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According to family legend, in the weeks before my father’s mother died, she had a conversation with my mother that changed the course of our lives.  At that time, my parents did not attend church.  I was still a baby so you know how long ago this was.  “Find a church,” my Grandma said, “Any church, I don’t care what denomination, but find a church and become a part of it.”

And in the months after her passing, my parents did just that.  They found a church.  As long as I can remember, church was always a central part of our spiritual and social lives.

When I was in my twenties, I left the church and in my forties, I returned.  A very long in the tooth prodigal son.

Last night I wrote about the events of the last week.  As I published the post and ran out the door to my friend’s party, I felt a lightness.  Eloquent or fumbling, I put into words what I had been feeling.  I tried to approach it with kindness, not always the easiest task when talking about polarizing subjects.

This morning,  I looked forward to church.  I got there early and sat in my pew.  There is a thirty minute organ concert that precedes every Sunday’s worship service.  You can judge me, you probably should judge me, but I tend to spend that time on my phone, checking Instagram, texting and emailing.  As the prelude began it’s final chords and the organ began to swell, I put my phone away.  In the time that I had been looking down on my phone, the sanctuary filled up.  This morning, it wasn’t average Sunday in November full, it was practically Easter full.

We stood to sing the opening hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  The oft-mentioned beauty of my church comforted me and yes, even surprised me a little.  Every Sunday, I can’t believe how at home I feel on my little pew in this grand, old sanctuary.  I was grateful to have a place where I could bring the sadnesses of the last week.

I touched on it in my last blog, this complicated navigation many of us are attempting with family members who did not vote the same way we did.  Like I said, my parents voted for Trump.  I voted for Hillary.  And for the last week, I’ve tried to figure out what these opposing positions mean about our relationship.  How can we see life so differently?

Big surprise, I cried in church.  Believe it or not, it was my first cry this week that was about the election.  Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost, but my tears were not really sad ones.  Well, maybe melancholy.

See, I cried this morning when I realized here I was in church again, after a twenty year break, because my parents showed me the value of it.  That church is a place to bring your heartache.  That church is a place to look at your heart and see what you need to change.  That church is where you have a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for.

I thought about my ailing Grandma Avis who asked my Mom to find a church, any church, 46 years ago.   And maybe the ANY part is what I was thinking about in February, when I attended a worship service solely on the basis that I thought the church looked pretty when I drove by.  And when I walked into the church courtyard, I saw a poster that read, “Inclusive.”

The Scripture reading today was David’s Psalm 23.  When the man read, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” I thought about how, like God, my parents are always with me, even when I feel there is a distance.

On Friday, when I spoke to my parents, my Dad stated that if someone ever asked him to deny Jesus, he would let them kill him.  He would die defending Christ. I assured him that that would never happen.  “You never know,” he insisted.  “If I die tonight, I have no regrets.”

Today was the first day that I prayed for Donald Trump and his impending presidency.  I prayed that God would give him wisdom and compassion and guidance.  With my head bowed and my eyes closed, it struck me that I have more in common with Trump than I’d like to admit.  I sometimes say cruel things. I sometimes make bad decisions. I can be self-serving. I grow my hair longer than what is ideal for my age/weight.

I loved that my church was packed today.  I looked around and saw faces I’d never seen before.  I imagined that maybe, like me, they had grown up in conservative churches in the Midwest or the South.  Maybe they had left the church in a huff or snuck out a side door.  But maybe, this week, this crazy week, affected them in a way that they said to themselves, I’d like to go somewhere to find comfort, healing.  Maybe they thought the church looked pretty.  Maybe they had a Grandma who begged, “Find a church, any church.”

That parable of the prodigal son, maybe it resonates because some of us feel like we’ve squandered riches and long to return home to a father that welcomes us with open arms.  Today, I thought about the time when my own Dad was a prodigal and the events that drove him back to church. Surely there are differences, big differences, but for now, maybe it’s best to hold to what we have in common, to cherish what we share.

Four in the Morning

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At 4:00 a.m., I wake to two big brown eyes staring at me in the dark.  “Are you okay?” I ask, then I rub my dog Millie’s ears.  She doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare.  I’ve written about her seizures before and while (knock wood) she has responded remarkably well to the medicine we have been giving her for the last several months, I’m always a little fearful when she wakes me up in the middle of the night.

She doesn’t seem particularly agitated, she just stares at me.  She really does have the prettiest eyes, even in the dark, even at 4:00 a.m.  I ask her if a treat might help her sleep.  No response, but when I get out of bed and walk into the kitchen, she and her brother Rick clamor into the living room, assuming their treat stances on the couch.

“Thank God you have the stamina to eat, Millie.” I’m kidding, but it’s a prayer too.

The three of us return to the bed, Eric trying to sleep through the commotion.  We are, none of us, quiet souls. Ricky circles twice and settles into his spot between Eric and me.  Millie sits regally, still staring at me from the foot of the bed.  I lie in bed, unsettled, alert.

I hope that Millie will settle like Ricky, but she doesn’t.  I get up, walk into the living room, turn on a lamp, grab the book I am reading.  Almost immediately, I hear someone charging into the room, onto the couch.  Millie plops herself into my lap.  Seconds later, Ricky joins us, gluing himself to my right side.

For several chapters, I read my book, a memoir, another person telling me their story.  Trying to illuminate their journey in a way that will illuminate mine.

I’m not complaining, but it’s not the easiest task, reading a book while petting two dogs at the same time.  Turning pages is a trick and sometimes, one of the dogs actually rests their head on the book. Any port in a storm.  If I pet Millie but not Rick, he glares sadly.  If Ricky moves closer, Millie tends to snarl or even snap at him.  Poor Rick.  So the best thing is just to pet them both at the same time.  Stop petting both when I have to turn the page, resume petting.

No one said life is easy.

I didn’t have to work today.  As I read my memoir, in the middle of the night, hoping to get sleepy enough to return to my slumber, it strikes me that all in all, it isn’t the worst of situations.  These (mostly) sweet puppies keeping me company, this book, my couch, my apartment, the saint in the other room, my life.

I nod off mid page, then jump.  After that happens twice, I get off the couch and return to bed.  Millie and Ricky bounce onto the bed.  Ricky circles twice then settles down.  Millie roots between the blanket and bedspread then burrows herself not far from my feet.

Relieved that Millie is now sleeping, I lie in bed, pondering my life.  I hate my job. Not every aspect of it, but enough.  I do like the people I work with and I’ve been in the work force long enough to know that counts for something.

I guess a few jobs are like this, but I sometimes marvel that my co-workers and me, we often see people at their very worst, their most unkind.  Some days it’s staggering.  I do not see people as intrinsically good anymore and there was a time that I did.  And I wonder if I will ever turn a corner and see the good in people before I see the bad.

Anyway, after some tossing and turning, I get up again and I return to my couch, return to my lamp, return to my book.  This time, only Ricky joins me.  I hope everyone reading this has at least one soul, human or otherwise, who loves them as much as Ricky loves me.

The sun has started to rise by the time I return to bed.  I sleep for a few hours, get up to give Millie her pill then sleep for an hour more.  I get up and drink my coffee, already made.  Besides making the coffee, Eric has also walked and fed the dogs.  Then I go to church.

If I were to ever write a memoir, I don’t think those hours on the couch with a book and two dogs would ever make it past the first edit.  It’s not really a story.  But maybe it is.  Maybe its the story of my life and I don’t even realize it.

 

More Than We Deserve

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Last summer, at a family reunion, my Father was asked to say grace before the evening meal.  Even though it’s my Mom’s side of the family, he is always the one who is called upon to pray.  He is a godly man and a good man. As our heads were bowed in prayer, one of the things he said to God was, “You’ve blessed us.  Some more than others. Some more than we deserve.”

I was glad we all had our eyes closed, so no one could see me crying.

Because I live several states away from them, I only see them a couple of times a year.  When I am in California and they are in Independence, in the house where they raised me, I can imagine them still being the couple in the pictures I have displayed in my home.  I can see them as high school seniors, or a young 1970’s Kansas City family, or the way they  looked when they visited me while I lived in New York and we went to Atlantic City for the day.

And then I go to them or they come to me, or sometimes we meet in the middle.  Within minutes, my Mom will tell me whether my hair is too short or the appropriate length.  And I will be shocked with the reminder of something I manage to forget when we are only talking or texting to each other from 1500 miles away: they are old now.

This weekend, I met my parents in Denver.  After they picked me up at the airport, we went to lunch at a Panera Bread.  And as we sat in a corner and ate our food, they told me about all the doctors’ visits they had made in the last few weeks.  They both retired this summer and now, like so many others, their days are filled with negotiating doctor and dentist and optometrist appointments.  As casually as they could, they shared the news of these visits and I sat there, with concern and sadness, as I gobbled up what might possibly have been the worst turkey club sandwich I’ve ever encountered.

For the rest of the weekend, as we drove around Denver and went to the Museum of Nature and Science and to dinner at my cousin Valerie’s house and services at historic Trinity United Methodist Church downtown, I tried to take as many pictures as possible, to document and memorialize our time together.  I’m not the biggest fan of the way I look in pictures these days, but I tried not to judge my wattled neck or squinty eyes too much.  Each moment together is something to be treasured.

I’ve tried to dissect why my Father’s prayer last summer has stuck with me in these last 14 months.  Part of it, I know, is that he reminded me of all of the challenges we have been through as a family, and the challenges he’s been through and the challenges my Mom has been through, and somehow, we are still here.  They are still here.

Maybe it’s the Kansas in us or the church in us, but I fear that we go through life worrying that we don’t deserve the blessings we have.  Or that suddenly all those good things might go away. I know that I am lucky that I know my Mother and Father love me.  I know that I am lucky that there are still things to laugh about, still things to see.

When I got home on Monday, and I presented Eric with the butter pecan cookies my Mom made for him, it struck me what a gift those cookies were from her.  Even something like making a batch of cookies is not as easy as it used to be.  And it doesn’t means she won’t make them anymore, it just greater reflects the deepness of her love. Also, probably a day will come when she won’t be able to make me cookies and a part of her will wonder, how does he know I still love him?  But I’ll know. In the 48 years I’ve been on this planet, everything she’s ever done for me has revealed that love. I’ll always know my Mother loves me.

I’ll be honest, I have been sad in the days that I’ve been home.  I miss my folks and like a spoiled child, I miss the version of my folks I see when I close my eyes.  And with each step and each breath and each blink, their lives will only become more challenging.  And back to that prayer, but I wrestle with this feeling that my parents deserve more.  I know, deserve is probably the stupidest, most egotistical word in the English language. Nobody deserves anything.  Except my parents, they do.  They deserve every blessing imaginable.

The truth is, God has blessed them.  While aching, weeping, and praying for more for them, I am grateful for every good thing, every good day, every good meal.  And certainly, I must hold to another truth, as I grapple with what our futures hold. If you are lucky enough to know them, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway.  In giving me these two as parents, God has blessed me beyond measure.  More than I deserve.

 

Hold Your Babies

sc009c7364As I lay in bed last night, waiting for the Ambien to kick in, ruminating about my poverty situation, I heard sirens. They sounded close so I looked outside. Something down the street. I went back to bed, more sirens, then also saw helicopter spotlights spilling into our bedroom. 

I looked out the living room window, with a view of the street we live on and suddenly there were over 10 fire trucks about a block from our apartment. Under the street lamps, I could see smoke vapors.  I put on my shoes and went to the fire escape, with a better view of our street. Sure enough, a building was on fire. Which one, I didn’t know. 

I asked Eric if he wanted to go check it out with me. He declined. I put on a t-shirt and grabbed my phone.  Neighbors were spilling out onto our street, it was like a carnival: flashing lights, flurry of activity, confusion.

Once on the street, I saw there were 20, maybe 25, fire trucks, dozens of firemen focused on one task or another.  Probably 100 residents gathered and walked the street, now completely closed off by policeman. I conversed with folks I knew. What happened? I don’t know. Which building is it? 

By the time I was on the street, all flames had been extinguished. There was still residual smoke. Also, it appeared that firemen were continuing to evacuate people from the 3 buildings in close proximity to each other.

The Gladys Kravitz in me was in heaven. So much drama. I took picture after picture. I took pictures of the fire trucks and the helicopter and the people watching.  I felt like Diane Arbus. I am documenting the SHIT out of this, I thought to myself.

The entrance of the building across the street had a high staircase so I climbed to the top to take more pictures. Better view. Two guys stood next to me talking. 

“It looks like the firemen are trying to give CPR to a dog over there,” one said to the other.

“Dog?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, it’s too small to be a person.”

Sure enough, I looked in the direction he pointed. 8 large firemen were huddled over something, what, I could not see, and they pumped away.

I moved to get closer, trying to get a clear view. I could see the men but I couldn’t see what they were working on.   If it is a dog, I probably know this dog, this is my neighborhood, I thought.

They worked for several minutes and finally another fireman brought a white sheet over and covered whatever it was. I was surprised and heartened by how vigilantly they tried to save this creature. 

The high that I experienced when I first stumbled onto the scene was gone. I know this probably is going to sound bad, but if you are a dog person, you might be forgiving: I wondered if I felt worse or better knowing it was a probably a dog instead of a person. (Can I blame this on the Ambien?)

I walked back to the house. Eric and the dogs were sitting on the couch, watching a Guthy-Renker infomercial. I relayed all that I’d witnessed. I hugged the dogs a little extra. 

“It was so sad,” I told Eric. He agreed. Eric went to bed, as did the dogs. For some reason, I felt compelled to Instagram a few pictures I’d taken. (More Diane Arbus illusions.). Eventually I made my way to bed, and finally, to sleep.

This morning my friend Glenny texted to see if the fire she heard about had been near us. She’d heard that a dog had died. I looked up the news and sure enough, it was the fire on my street. A woman was injured and her pet dog was not able to be saved.

I was glad that I knew what happened, how the story ended, but of course, I thought about the woman and her dog all day. Perhaps more details will be revealed, at this moment, I don’t know the name of the woman or her dog. I have concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that the woman was older and that she lived alone. A family of two.

Before Ricky and Millie, and of course, Eric came into my life, for a while anyway, I was a family of two. The first dog I got in my adulthood was a spaniel mix that looked like a caramel sundae. In fact, when I drank, I called her my little caramel sundae. Her name was Lucy. In the years before I adopted Mandy, all we had was each other. We walked to Larchmont Village together almost every morning. We took road trips, she loved visits to the beach. She was something special. I love all my dogs, my boyfriend too, but sometimes I think I might have loved Lucy most of all, because she was my first and the one I needed the most.

If you’re reading this, maybe you had a Lucy. Or a Mandy or a Millie or a Ricky, or even an Eric. (How lucky I am to share my life with a person who takes it as a compliment to be clumped in with a bunch of dogs.) Family is family, whether it’s big or small, human or otherwise. So tonight, I say a prayer for my neighbor, a woman I know little about but can’t help but feel a connection to. I am sorry about the passing of your dog, your Lucy. My prayer for you is peace and that the good memories will be a comfort in the days and weeks and years to come. God bless the beasts and the children and those of us who’ve loved them, too.

Us Vs. Them

tim-tebowIf you’ve met my Mom, you no doubt love her. She is a sweet little lady with a big heart. She is also a Christian and, like most Christians, she makes her decisions by asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” 

Yesterday, my Mom shared on Facebook something that someone named AskDrBrown posted about Caitlyn Jenner. It was a picture of Tim Tebow, in heroic profile, with the caption, “The people who are applauding Bruce Jenner for ‘being himself’ are the same people who condemned Tim Tebow and told him to ‘keep his beliefs to himself.'” 

Let me be clear, this is not about my Mom and me. I don’t think that she posted this comment about someone in the LGBT community to hurt my feelings. I think that as a Christian she probably feels that the Liberal Left is often persecuting and judging the Religious Right. Certainly this kind of contempt that we see on places like Facebook and Twitter and in the media go both ways.  And I see what she posted as her way of saying, “I am a Christian.” I respect that.

Of course, I thought quite a bit about what she posted all day yesterday. I wrote about it in June, but there is a part of me, that when I see people write negative things about Caitlyn Jenner’s identity, I somehow take it personally. (I’m not saying that kind of sensitivity is a good thing.)

An aside here, I like Tim Tebow. I mean, I certainly don’t know as much about him as I know about, say, Bethenny Frankel, but he seems to me like a decent Christian guy, trying to glorify God in the way he lives his life. He does not go out of his way to say homophobic or transphobic things, that I know of, anyway. And, because I AM gay, I have noticed that he is quite handsome, in my humble opinion.

The thing that I found myself really thinking about yesterday was not my Mother, but this AskDrBrown who originally posted the transphobic/Caitlyn-phobic comment in the first place. It’s a classic effort to polarize the world we live in: Liberals vs. Christians, LGBT vs. Conservatives. While I don’t think my Mother had malice in her repost, I do sense that, for AskDrBrown, cruelty was part of his intent. Why else would he refer to Caitlyn as both “Bruce Jenner” and in the male pronoun? Whether AskDrBrown thinks Caitlyn is going to heaven or not, it’s unkind, heartless, petty, judgemental and provincial to not respect a person’s wishes of how they would like to be addressed. 

I know that, in a way, it truly is Us vs. Them. This social dichotomy is one of the themes that runs through my entire blog. I grew up conservative, identify as liberal in adulthood. I have many people close to me that are big cheerleaders on each side.  Sides exist and probably they are necessary. But I also think that this Us. vs. Them pathology has its problems too. And let me be the first to admit my own guilt.

My 30th high school reunion is coming up next summer. I am planning to attend. I think. I enjoyed our 20 year reunion but back then, none of us were on Facebook, we didn’t know exactly how we all landed politically, and spiritually, and socially. No one had seen pictures of Eric and me at pride festivals. I hadn’t seen pictures of classmates with the deer they just shot. By the time next year’s reunion rolls around, I will probably have a clear handle, from each classmate, about who plans to vote for Hillary, who plans to vote for Bernie, who plans to vote for Jeb and also, yikes, who plans to vote for Trump. Can I really spend an evening or a weekend reminiscing with someone wearing a Trump/Cosby ’16 t-shirt and ball cap? Do my classmates really want to see the choreography I do when Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York starts playing? Well, I hope so, because WE ARE THE CLASS OF ’86. And we have history and memories and shared laughs and shared tears. We have our differences, yes, but hopefully, for a weekend anyway, we will only focus on what we share. Right?

I hope that a little good can come out of AskDrBrown’s mean spirited Facebook post, and that is that I can be a little kinder, a little less polarizing. We are all in this together, the conservatives, the liberals, the football players, the decathletes, the doctors, the restaurant hosts, the deer hunters, the Meryl Streep superfans, the Kansas moms, the Real Housewives. It is not Us vs. Them, merely We.

Guest Blogger, Linda Bailey Walsh: There are Many Ways to Save a Life

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This is a picture of my friend Linda when she was in grade school. Cute kid, huh? I asked her to write a guest blog, to expound on something she said on Facebook last week about the Caitlyn Jenner controversy. She wrote this blog and as you will read, she shares some childhood experiences, things that you don’t like to think about your friends having to experience. And yet, Linda survived. Survived and thrived. She is the beautiful adult in the other picture, but it’s the kid pic that I can’t stop thinking about. She tugs at my heart strings. I think we might all have a lot more empathy for folks we disagreed with if we found a picture of them at 6 and looked at that for a few minutes. Just an idea. Anyway, here is Linda’s guest blog, I hope it will touch your heart the way to touched mine.

There are Many Ways to Save a Life

I had the amusing realization this week that if you haven’t spoken with me in a while or if we only know each other from social media most likely you would assume I am gay. The reason why is because I often post about LGBT issues as well as women’s issues. I am unapologetic about this. I am passionate about them. I try not to take the bait and post about straight up politics but when it comes to equality and civil rights. I can’t keep quiet. After all, not speaking up is usually the number one reason that prejudice and discrimination are able to thrive.

For the record, I am not gay so, I’ll never truly know what it feels like to be gay or transgender but, I do know what it’s like to feel an “otherness”. I was a weird kid. Passionate about the arts and performing pretty much from birth. I read Edgar Allen Poe for fun in 3rd grade and stayed in one of 3 characters all day everyday when I was 4 (Barbie, Miss Flowers & Gypsy. I would tell you who I was that day and only answer to that name. ) Later there would be liquid eyeliner drawn in vines around my eyes to compliment my Mohawk. I was lucky enough to be born into an awesome family but still I know that often they didn’t know what to make of me. We are children of longshoreman who play sports and cheer. We do not practice Iambic Pentameter for fun.

I experienced my share of being bullied or just plain ostracized which for me, was worse. Before the punk rock phase I looked like an average kid but what was inside of me always shone through and kids can sniff out someone who’s different like canaries in a coalmine.

Luckily as I got older I found my tribe. The Artists, the Activists, the Fun and the Fierce. There is nothing in the world like realizing you are not alone.

In time the things that made me different became the things I grew to love most about myself. As corny as it may sound I know now that those are the things that make me special.
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I also remember everyone that ever stood up for me when I was down. Christine Angelucci protected me in Elementary school when I had to constantly find a new route home to avoid getting beaten up. Holly Arnold standing up to a cheerleading coach who was bullying me, my future brother in law Sean Smith having a talk with a boy who told me just how ugly he thought I was in front of an entire class. My parents, my sisters, the list goes on and on.

And as an adult I have been fortunate to be surrounded by amazingly loving and inspiring people. This includes the family I was born into and the one that I made out in the world. People (often LGBT) who made me dinner while I nursed a heart that felt irreparably shattered. Those who inspired me to be better in my work and my life. People have saved me on many days and in many ways just by being there, loving me and saying “I understand. I’ve been there. You are not alone.”

So this last week we met Caitlyn Jenner. I’m proud that most of the response I bore witness to was very positive. Of course it wasn’t all positive. I can understand confusion and even fear so long as it is balanced with kindness. After all this is an extraordinarily new situation for most people. What truly puzzled me is the people who felt somehow attacked, that to support Caitlyn in her journey somehow was an insult to others. Most specifically I am speaking of the word Hero. Many revered Caitlyn for sharing her story and immediately there was backlash, a wave of photos of Soldiers, Firefighters & Police with statements proclaiming them the real heroes. I would not for one second assert that they are not heroes. Of course, of course, of course they are heroes. I truly can’t imagine the bravery in their hearts and I am sincerely grateful for it. My question is this: Why can’t two good things exist simultaneously? There are different ways to be heroic. Why does something have to be bad for something else to be good? One does not diminish the other. There are many ways to save a life. There is no limited admission to the “Good”.

I know that Jenner is a very wealthy, privileged person. Trust me, if I am defending anyone who has anything to do with the Kardashian’s I must feel very strongly! However like Ellen DeGeneres who struggled for almost a decade after coming out, she is still putting herself and her livelihood at great personal risk but, these are the people that need to come forward. I can promise you that for every Jenner there are multitudes that do not have the resources or the support that she does. For those people, often living in fear and isolation it can literally mean life or death to know that someone else exists that is like them and better yet, is thriving.

People say Caitlyn’s story is personal. It is but she has chosen to share it and I truly believe in my soul that there is someone out there who will find hope, possibly lifesaving hope in that story and I find that to be heroic.

Again for me, all it took to make this life worth living was finding my people and the ones who stood up for me and stood with me saying…”I understand. I have been there. You are not alone.” True heroes to me.

Indeed, there are many ways to save a life.

Guest Blogger, David Dillon

The Music Man Finale

Families can be a tricky thing.  Ideally, from the time you are little, they should be your first and strongest support system.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

I’ve written often about my time performing in the play Party, it was truly one of the most magical times of my life.  I did the play in Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco, and suffice to say, every city bore its own adventures.   One of the plays many gifts was getting to know funny, talented people, many of whom are still in my life, among them Party‘s playwright, David Dillon.   While we lost touch for a few years, through the magic of Facebook, we are reconnected.  And I am glad, because he always has a perceptive, droll take on just about every topic,  He told me he had a bullying story, this one is about family, and I feel quite honored that he has shared it here.  Thank you, David.

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Way before I was born, my father’s parents purchased some property along the lake on Chicago’s south side. There were two lots … one with a single family home and right next door, a beautiful three story apartment building with one large apartment on each floor and a smaller basement apartment. My father had been one of seven children, so the idea was that the grandparents would live in the house and then inexpensively rent the apartments out to those of their kids and their families who wanted to live nearby.

My mother, father, sister and I lived on the third floor. The apartments were huge by today’s standards and right behind our building was Rainbow Beach. Our yard butted right up to the park and just a few steps beyond was one of the most popular beaches in Chicago. I used to love to sit on our enclosed back porch and listen to the sounds of summer as I watched the sailboats dotting the lake in the distance. Maybe it is the Piscean in me, but I have always been soothed by the sounds of water and the crashing of the Lake Michigan waves were about the most wonderful sounds I have ever heard. It was a paradise for kids and I remember being blissfully happy there in my youngest years.

In the first floor apartment lived a favorite aunt and uncle and a wonderful flock of cousins. My uncle was an art dealer and there was a cultured and civilized manner about both him and my aunt that always attracted me. My parents never needed to find an outside babysitter either; we had a built in roster of sitters all throughout the building. Home was a safe, care free and cheerful place.

My happiness turned to deep sadness, though, when that arm of our family announced that they would be moving to Tacoma, Washington. I couldn’t imagine life without them.

Now, by this time, I had already showed signs of not being interested in typical “boy” stuff. I had no use whatsoever for sports or the roughhousing that was common among my peers.

I had discovered musicals when I was five (what you might call a Dead Giveaway) and was obsessed with “The Music Man.” My bedroom was decorated with photos of Shirley Jones placed in the frames that my sister’s Barbie clothes came in. We somewhere have a small piece of film of me at Christmastime wearing a “Music Man” outfit my maternal Grandmother made for me and singing my little heart out. I was way more interested in escaping to my fantasy world listening to my musical LPs than I was in anything a Normal Boy would do. The world of musicals was always a magic place for me. It still is. And it saved me from what would have otherwise been a completely dark stretch of years.
The Music Man 2
As it turned out, my favorite first floor family was replaced by my least favorite of my father’s brother’s families and paradise soon turned into hell.

This group of cousins had no interest in anything but sports and they took note of my lack of interest early on and with a vengeance. I became the target of ruthless bullying and believe me, the pain of being bullied is made all the worse when it comes from family. They called me a sissy, taunted me and treated me so horribly that the home that used to be my safe place soon became the place I was scared to be. I stayed indoors whenever I could instead of being out in the yard or around the front porch for fear of encountering them. I hated being there and I hated these interlopers for ruining the place I so used to love.

I also began to hate who I was. I wanted desperately to be the kind of boy everyone expected me to be. Not because I craved “boy” things like sports, but because my life would just have been easier. I was made to feel like something was dreadfully wrong with me and I became engulfed by the loneliest kind of sadness.

An interesting thing – this family apparently felt that gender roles only applied to boys. I say that because one of the young girls in that family was a Textbook Tomboy. She behaved more like a boy than I did and she and one of her brothers were the two who were the most mean to me. But I never saw anyone tease her or prod her into putting on a dress and playing with dolls. No one told Textbook Tomboy to put down the baseball bat. Astonishingly, it never occurred to anyone that she was actually the gender skewed “girl” version of me. I wish I had been articulate enough then to have pointed out both the irony and the hypocrisy, but I just suffered in silence.

It may come as no surprise that I still have an extreme aversion to sports. They always represented my oppressors. Even now, fifty years later, I struggle to get past that.

Skip ahead almost forty years. Out of the blue one day, I got an email from the second oldest son of the family I so wished had never come to South Shore Drive. He was actually the best of the bunch, so I welcomed getting back in touch with him. In one of his first emails to me, however, he revealed that Textbook Tomboy had come out as a lesbian in adulthood. (Quelle surprise!) But, he was very quick to add that with the help of therapy and God, she was able to be cured, to rid herself of that existence and become straight.

Unfuckingbelievable.

What he had to say hit the very core of why I despised those cousins and could easily have triggered what my Facebook friends now call a “David rant.” But instead, I let it go. There was simply no point. This family would never “get it” and I would only be beating my head against a wall.

If that had been an end to it, I’d have let it all alone and moved on with the knowledge that some people will just never change and that was just a fact of life.

You can imagine how surprised I was to next get an email from the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin who had been so cruel to me when we were kids. She wanted to apologize for how she treated me growing up and said that she often throughout her life thought about those days and her behavior towards me with regret. She hoped I would forgive her.

I can honestly say that I would have had a different response had one of two things been true. If she had accepted who she really was and was living life as a lesbian, I’d have forgiven her. I understand the psychology of closeted and fearful youth. Or, if she had even simply lived her life as a straight woman (if she truly WAS straight) who looked back at a kind of childhood behavior she was ashamed of, I’d have also forgiven her.

But, this “Former Lesbian” stuff didn’t allow me to be generous. By seeking out ways to be “fixed,” she and her family were once again, decades later, affirming that who gay people are (meaning me) is fundamentally wrong and obviously sick. The conversion therapy she believed in and that her family celebrated as her salvation is a lie. It is a lifeline clung to in desperation by self loathing fags and dykes who despise themselves for who they are.

I felt their judgment again and with the same sting as when we were kids and it enraged me. They had made it clear so many years ago that my not being the kind of boy they thought I should be made me an aberration. Now, she had been “saved” from the Evils of Lesbianism and her family thanked God for delivering her from such a wretched existence.

That did it. I was no longer going to let her or her family off the hook for what they did to me.

So, I wrote her back.

I told her how scarred I still was from her treatment of me. I told her how she took a place I loved and turned it into a place where I lived frightened rather than happy. I told her how she made me hate myself for not being the person she thought I should be and how she robbed me of a beloved part of my childhood. Finally, I told her to look to her God for forgiveness, for she wouldn’t get any from me.

Damn, it felt good.

Now, a number of people in my life have told me that I hold on to things for too long, that I need to learn how to forgive. They tell me this not for the sake of those who have wronged me, but for my sake. They tell me it sets you free. They might have a point. My father committed suicide when I was thirteen and I still have not completely forgiven him and that has colored every moment of my life since. And no betrayal by a friend or lover ever goes forgotten.

So, a couple of years ago, for better or worse I took the High Road. I sent the Former Lesbian a message on Facebook and told her I forgive her. But, no, I didn’t do it for her. I did it because I refuse to let what she did to me so long ago still have a hold on me. As long as I clung to the state of being unforgiving, I was acknowledging her power over me and my life. I had to let it go.

What I know is that I have something she will never have – the knowledge that I am living life truthfully and proudly as the person I am. The miserable little boy who didn’t know who he was and was made to feel “wrong” is an open and out gay man who unapologetically and joyfully embraces his identity. And, the Textbook Tomboy Former Lesbian Bully Cousin is as lost a creature as has ever walked the earth, though she will never see, admit or come to terms with that. She would, in fact, deny that to her dying breath. And so, she will never know the peace of loving and accepting herself in total honestly.

So, I win.

Meeee