I wish I could tell you why I’ve had no energy for writing lately. I’ve written a few things in Word documents meant to be published later, but when I went back and read them, I didn’t like them. They were mostly about the New Year’s Eve party I went to and just meandered off into nothing… not that I haven’t done that before, but looking at it with fresh eyes convinced me that I needed the “Post” button to keep myself from doubting what I was about to put out there. Web sites that remain static do not get traffic, but at this point, I’m not worried about it. I’ve needed time to reorient and get with the program, and you may see more content and you may not. Writing is such a personal thing, and I have to have a life to write about it.
I got invited to two New Year’s Eve parties, actually, but I decided to stay on this side of the river rather than going down to the Alexandria waterfront, because that would have meant a 40 minute trip home with a bunch of drunks wandering down GW Parkway and 495. Besides, not only was it New Year’s Eve, it was also Ingrid’s birthday party. We toasted with sips of champagne at both 8:34 PM AND midnight. It made me feel all warm inside, especially since we were sitting outside by a campfire, just talking and joking. It was the best of both worlds… a huge party raging inside with just a small, intimate group outside. So, even though it was cold, I preferred sitting with the small group and making each other laugh than wandering around the house trying to find people I knew.
One of the people I know from choir told me a little bit about her life in the theater. She was backstage tech before she retired, and her biggest story was meeting James Earl Jones before Star Wars. As you can imagine, I was totally down with that. She really wants to spend some time with me, so I imagine that there will be outings in our future, and I am trying hard not to be the anxious spazzbasket I’ve become in terms of wanting to get out of the house and make friends.
Leslie #1 and her husband, David, were also there (everyone in the choir was invited), which alleviated my party anxiety greatly. Leslie is a judge, and for a while she worked out of town and I was not in the choir. So I sat with David and my nickname became “Substitute Leslie.” They asked me what got me back in the choir, and I said, “the chairs.” I got a big laugh over that one because everyone knows that our pews are hard backed and force you to sit up straight as if you’re attending a service in Amish country.
I have mentioned this before, but I have a corkscrew scoliosis in my back that make it almost impossible for me to sit up straight without pain, both in my back and radiating down the nerves in my legs, especially in those pews because the back of them hits the knot in my spine. Once I get approved for Maryland Health Connection, one of my first orders of business is to see if acupuncture and chiropractic services are covered. If they’re not, I’ll go and hit both of them up once I’m making my own money again. Angela the Med & my dad looked at my back years ago, and told me I’d probably have to have surgery on it in my 60s, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have options if surgery is out of the picture until then…. it’s only 20 years away now. I’ve waited longer for other things. Piece of cake.
I also need to get back to Vesta, because when I transitioned to insurance at DSI, they didn’t take it. I lost Leighton as my nurse practitioner and Sarah as my therapist, who are both probably wondering why I never came back… and not for lack of trying. They were the first people who believed in me, that I didn’t have to explain over and over that I wasn’t being catfished and that Argo was a real person with real feelings that never just tried to fuck with me for the hell of it… probably because I never used her real name in therapy and they thought I didn’t know it… that she was a screen name and not someone with whom I’d actually connected. However, this was in my intake evaluation at Montgomery County, and I can’t help but feel that they might have mixed me up with someone who had schizophrenia or something. They see all sorts of crazy in that place, so I can’t say I blame them. I am sure it was an honest mistake, but I was hacked off that they were listening to reply and not listening to hear me. As far as Bipolar II goes, I have a relatively mild case, my hypomania presenting with insomnia and not much else. However, what I didn’t know is that my anxiety was so bad that I needed medication for it, and once those meds were added to my protocol, it opened me up to a world in which I could function when I wasn’t “on a down.”
Argo and I both got into heated arguments, but there was never a time in which I didn’t feel like I needed her friendship, even though it has never extended past e-mail. As you can imagine, as a writer, words on a page are sacred, and reached me in a lot of ways that in-person conversations never would’ve, because it would have taken so much longer for me to open up. My favorite conversation on the subject happened between Dana and me:
Leslie: One of the reasons that Argo is so sacred to me is that when I’m writing to her, it feels like I am entering my God space, and though I can’t know if God is listening, I know that she is.
Dana, with tears in her eyes: Go tell her. Right now.
Having someone listen to my feelings at a time when I really needed it was a life raft of enormous proportions, and I miss that day-to-day of alternately deep conversation and laughter that made me double over.
That being said, my biggest mistake in that relationship (and I made a metric fuck tonne) was not realizing sooner that although she could listen to me with an unbiased ear, she also wasn’t trained in dealing with mental illness and I needed a professional. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had I had that AHA! moment sooner, but I’ve stopped beating myself up over it (most days- it’s a deep scar).
It also might have calmed Dana’s fears that those teenage butterflies I felt over the dopamine rush of meeting someone too cool for school, because with a professional, it might have happened on her timeline rather than mine. Moreover, it might have stopped the emotional hand grenades she threw at me by using Argo for her own purposes to try and get every fight to devolve from our own problems into the “threat” Argo was to her. Argo was never a threat. It was all my own stuff to deal with after opening the Pandora’s Box of emotional abuse and trying to figure out which end was up.
I literally felt like I was being yanked by my stomach into a different and frightening world, because everything I thought I knew was upended into catastrophe. I couldn’t stop beating myself up for everything I didn’t know, or in my mind, wasn’t smart enough to figure out. I started to forgive myself when I realized I was just a child at the time, reinforced by the fact that my eighth grade history teacher saw it and didn’t know what to do. She told me that she has carried guilt over that fact for over 20 years, and I hope I have done my best to release her from it, because at the time, I never would have talked to her about anything at any time. As the “enabler,” you always protect the path, and she knew members of my congregation at St. Mark’s and even though chances are it never would have made it back to them, I couldn’t bring myself to open up even if the odds were one in a million. So, even though I was a child and Diane was an adult, I still take responsibility for the choice I made not to talk, and it wasn’t and never will be her fault…. because there were plenty of people trying to get me to say something, and I ran away from all of them, not just my teacher…. for two reasons. The first is that because the abuse was psychosexual/emotional and not physical, it didn’t feel real. The second is that because Diane is a lesbian, I just thought that the adults around me were pushing their homophobic agenda and not trying to protect me.
Even leaving the psychosexual abuse part out of it, the emotional abuse was intense and powerful, because she was sharing secrets with me that had no business being passed from an adult to a child.
I also take responsibility for the choices I made once I was an adult, because the statute of limitations had run out and I still didn’t get a therapist and try to resolve both the boiling rage and the intense sadness I felt over the situation. I forgive, but do not forget the e-mail I wrote her detailing what had been done to me, and she offered to come to a therapy session with me, taking it back almost immediately. She wanted me to talk to her partner, Susan, instead.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that Susan was not listening with an unbiased ear, didn’t believe a word I said, and defended Diane to the death. To add insult to injury, I wrote to Diane after the meeting, and she said that Susan’s feelings on the subject were not an accurate representation of hers. My e-mail back only said WHICH IS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE TALKED TO ME YOURSELF. I felt betrayed because I’d known Diane almost twice as long as Susan, and there was no way that Susan ever could have understood the issues between Diane and me because she wasn’t there. Susan had me pegged as this Single White Female character who was just coming to Portland to steal Diane’s life and friends… as if Diane had never written to me and said she thought it was a good idea to move there when I turned 18 so I could get out of the Bible Belt and later, when I came to visit, told me I looked really happy in Portland and perhaps I should look for a job. She introduced me to a whole host of people, some of whom I talk with regularly to this day.
I didn’t just make my own friends, I made my own urban family. The worst part was when we were in the middle of a sushi restaurant, Diane crying her eyes out because I’d made my own choice to marry Dana (or as close as we could get with a domestic partnership), as if making this choice had anything to do with her. She got on board eventually, but it was a rough haul, because I really didn’t understand why she was so upset. If I had to make a guess, it was twofold. The first is that she really didn’t know Dana that well and didn’t see everything I saw in her. The second is that I didn’t have a big church wedding where she was invited.
However, that was never the plan. The plan was to separate out the legal aspects of our relationship and have a holy ceremony later, because our parents were so far away that we wanted to be the people who made life decisions for each other because if something serious happened, there was no way our families could get there in time, especially Dana’s, because IAD to PDX is a long damn flight…. even further than the four hours and 23 minutes it would have taken for my parents to arrive. There was also the possibility that Dana’s parents, because they did not support our relationship, would try to pull rank over me and Dana wouldn’t have gotten what she told me she needed and wanted, so we both felt we needed protection from it.
By the time Dana asked our priest to marry us, it was long after we’d worked out our legal obligations to each other and I wouldn’t have wanted Diane there, anyway. She made it clear that she was free to drop in and out of my life at will, but if I emoted in kind, she ran like a house on fire.
But those feelings aside, I had enormous fears about getting married in a church, because when I was growing up, being gay was still seen as a mental illness all its own, and all that internalized homophobia had to go somewhere. The Episcopal Church USA grew up, and I didn’t necessarily grow with it. My little kid attitude (after having come out to some people at 13 and the rest at 17) has stayed with me, even, in some ways, to this day. After Dana talked to our priest, I wrote to Argo and told her that even though I wanted to marry Dana, my thought process was what if I planned a wedding and nobody came? It wasn’t reality, but it was real to me.
I had to let go of a lot of anger that Dana talked to our priest without me, and it wasn’t a decision we made together…. mostly because Dana didn’t seem to have the internal Southern conservative views of which I was terrified…. or maybe she did, and was just much stronger than I was… a definite possibility.
In Houston, I was affectionate with her, but looked over my shoulder on every street to make sure we were in a safe neighborhood to do so. I, for instance, had no qualms about it in The Montrose, but outside of it, I am ashamed to say that my thought process sometimes where Dana was concerned was could you not be quite so gay? To say that I had a lot of issues that needed to be worked out in that area is an understatement.
It’s one of the reasons I love living in DC/Maryland. While Virginia still has its issues the further you get toward Richmond and beyond, I never have to look over my shoulder here, because the area is overwhelmingly liberal and supportive of gay rights. Even in 2001, before Kathleen and I separated, we thought about moving to Maryland for just that reason. Although, if I’m honest, I didn’t get a civil union in Vermont with Kathleen for love. I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me that I wanted to love her for the rest of my life. I needed a piece of paper because a PR spokesman for ExxonMobil told the Washington Blade that for gay couples who had legal proof of their union, they would honor it in terms of benefits.
I honestly don’t think they expected anyone to take them up on it, because we were the first couple that applied, and even though the PR spokesman had said the thing about benefits on the record, XOM hadn’t actually made a policy for it…. so they wrote one just for us. We worked with HR for about a month before the health insurance went through, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget…. being the “poster children” for a notoriously conservative company and living to tell about it. I have also often wondered if that PR guy got to keep his job, because when we e-mailed a digital copy of our civil union certificate to HR, they had no idea what we were talking about. We did, however, make a ton of friends that way because we didn’t know that XOM had a GLBT group on the downlow and all of the sudden, we were heroes. I can only hope that in the 15 years since I left that it’s not on the downlow anymore.
I did get some blowback from it, though. I was a blogger on a different server, and one of the conservative engineers in my group (I worked for the Marine, Civil, Safety, and Technology division at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering, or EMRE) started leaving these nasty comments on my entries, and my boss read them, always having my back.
I’ve always had plenty of people who’ve had my back, and it’s only now that I’m learning to have my own. I come by it honestly, but that does not mean there isn’t room for growth and improvement, such as becoming the Writer in Residence at Christ Congregational. An e-mail just came through that the bulletin is ready to be published online, so I better get to it. Better living through technology, allowing me to work hard and pray on the spaces all at once…. because as always, it’s not just the words that matter, but the spaces in between.