She’s Come Undone -or- “Life as a SCIF”

When I was a senior in high school, She’s Come Undone was the title of a novel in Oprah’s Book Club. Back then, you could write an essay in order to appear on the show when they talked about the book. My essay made the short list, and I talked to a producer from The Oprah Winfrey Show for about 45 minutes after school one day. You could have knocked me over with a feather, because I thought I was being Punk’d. The essay was all about looking at the book through the lens of being gay, because while the book was about an overweight, white, straight woman, the struggle boiled down to what we would now call “#me #same.” No one ever called me to tell me I didn’t get the gig, so I waited with baited breath until the show aired….. and every single person they picked was an overweight, white, straight woman. There might have been one POC (well, two counting Oprah) but if there was, I didn’t notice. What I did notice is that my rejection wasn’t personal. I just didn’t fit their aesthetic.

However, that’s not what this entry is about. It’s about this morning, and how the title absolutely fit me like a glove. I was moments away from being slumped over on the kitchen floor thinking I was going to die from an anxiety attack.

I was making pancakes and listening to the Fresh Air episode where Terry Gross interviews Cynthia Erivo. Erivo is a UK citizen whose parents immigrated from Nigeria. She was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and right now is playing Aretha Franklin on Hulu (can’t remember the title). So, not only is she a classically trained singer, she can switch hit into traditional gospel. That’s unusual only because each has a different set of habits with breath control and phrasing that conflict with each other. Oh, and she also went to RADA (Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts). I made a beeline for the podcast episode because I learned about her when she played fellow Marylander Harriet Tubman. Therefore, I was just excited about listening to her talk and sing. I did not expect what was coming, which was probably most of the reason I had a full-on panic attack. Speaking of which, I haven’t taken my anxiety medication this morning.

Hold please.

A quick note about anxiety medication. Medication does not stop the anxiety itself, but the physical reaction to it… meaning you still feel all the emotions, but you don’t get shortness of breath and heart/brain race. Meaning you’re still in hell, you’re just not hyperventilating over it.

If you think that I am delaying getting to the actual point, boy are you right. This entry digs deep into my past, the period of age 12 to 36. If you are in my inner circle, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. Overall, I’m better, but there are still huge, huge triggers from which I will never, ever recover. There are sights, sounds, and smells that transport me right back to that place where I feel like a hurt little girl, particularly music. And I was listening to a podcast with a musician, a soprano, in fact.

About seven years ago, I posted a recording of me singing John Rutter’s “The Lord is My Shepard” movement from his “Requiem” on my SoundCloud account. But few people know it’s not the only movement I’ve ever sung. I’m not sure exactly what year it was, but I sang the “Pie Jesu” movement with a community orchestra in Portland, Oregon. I was so good that even I thought so, and that’s unusual. However, the recording of it was a super unusual video format, and I never had it converted. I think Dana (my then best friend, later wife, now ex) might have the original, but I don’t know and I really, really don’t want to hear it now. This is because at the dress rehearsal, the woman who abused me most of my life stood up in front of the entire choir and orchestra and told them that she’d known me since I was 12, and that hearing me sing today was akin to watching her little girl grow up. Everyone was touched by her tears and fake sincerity, because most of the time I couldn’t even get her on the phone. She would tell everyone (including me) that we were family, but her actions never matched up to her words, thus the conundrum I live with.

Pie Jesu is one of the most famous soprano solos in the world, so the best memory of it for me is that one of my best friends called my mom in Houston during the dress rehearsal and held up her phone so that my mother could hear me, and I made her cry (in a good way) from 1800 miles away. Because my mother was a church musician herself, she could never make it to my solos, and I am quite sure that she didn’t know how hard I’d been working on my vocal technique. I had finally gotten to the place where high notes came from deep within me and felt like flying over the mountains. My mother getting to experience that with me is something I will never forget. For my Bridgeport people, the friend who held up her phone was Karen Miller, who has my eternal thanks. My mother is dead now, which makes this memory even more special now.

And now we’ve arrived at the worst part, which is only the worst part in retrospect because back then, I was totally sucked into a relationship that didn’t exist. It was all in my head by design, and the person who designed it just happened to be my choir director, and the person who gave me that solo in the first place.

Clearly, there were genuine moments, but on the whole, “there was no there there.” It started, like I said, when I was 12 years old, and ended for good when I was 36. I was totally and completely obsessed with trying to figure out why this relationship made me feel so good and so bad at the same time. I couldn’t let it go, because when it was good, I felt like I was a truly important person, sunlight raining down on me. When I was in shadow, I felt utterly and entirely worthless.

Again, that was all by design. It’s what abusers do, whether it’s physical or emotional. I didn’t realize until I was 36 that I had been lovebombed into submission, and once that had taken place, anything could be done to me. Good or bad, right or wrong. Nothing was ever her fault. I was wholly responsible for whether the relationship was thriving or not. Some abusers are so good they can make it happen with fully functioning adults, but it’s easier to get them in childhood, because they don’t know any better. Our first conversation was between the summer of my sixth and seventh grade. It happened so fast that my head spun, and people who knew me at that time in my life were all concerned. All of them. Everyone but me suspected that I was being molested, but I wasn’t. It’s just that people who are being emotionally or sexually abused react in much the same way….. to the point that my dad asked Dana if I’d told her that I was being sexually abused, and had been lying about it to everyone else for the last 20-odd years.

Again, it is 100% true that I was never sexually abused. Not once. But having someone fuck with your head is equally traumatic, and in one way, and one way only, worse. That one way is that there is no clear dividing line that you can point to and say “this is where something wrong occurred.” Everything is gray area, where it could have been genuine friendship or it could have been grooming. I never knew, and I will never know. Until I take my last breath, I will be dealing with this on my own, because there has been no indication that I will ever get resolution or an apology externally. All of my validation, all of my forgiveness, has to come from me. I have forgiven her for two reasons. The first is that I was emotionally abused by a sexually abused person who was barely out of college at the time. As a 36 year old person, I was able to see how young that was, relatively speaking. The second is that forgiving her was a lot easier than carrying around all my anger and frustration.

That being said, I am almost finished forgiving myself, but I’m still not there yet. It’s not a matter of knowing whether I had culpability or not. It’s that I still haven’t put down the axiom that I was a really bright kid, made smarter by books and life experience. How in the hell did it take me so long to start processing everything? Seeing my experiences with unclouded eyes? Having someone that wasn’t close to the situation look at the facts and call it rather than being able to figure it out on my own? I haven’t forgiven myself because I just, in this one area, feel so incredibly stupid.

The cognitive dissonance truly began after we stopped seeing each other in person the first time around. During the summer between my eighth and ninth grade years, she moved to a city about four hours away. That meant letters, and in those days, extremely expensive phone calls. EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE.

And then, when I was a junior in high school, she moved even further away, to Portland, Oregon. She encouraged me to move out there to get out of the Bible Belt, and I eventually did after visiting for several summers in a row to make sure I liked it.

The thing was, though, she could keep up the lovebombing for a week or two at a time. Living there was a new level of twisted.

I should back up far enough to say that it’s not that the abuse began when I was an adult. By the time I moved to Portland, she had already handed me enough adult information to blow my little girl mind to bits. I didn’t fit in with my friends anymore, because they were interested in boys their own age, makeup, school, etc. Even being around people my own age was irritating, because I couldn’t talk about what was happening with me to them. Even then, I knew that to share my secrets with them would age them further than they needed to be, so I was in the position of having to protect them from me.

For instance, what healthy adult do you know uses a child to verbally process things like “my partner is an alcoholic and deals weed?” “I’m afraid for my job, both because they’ll fire me if they found out I was gay OR if they found out my partner was in possession of an entire pound of weed and kept it in our house?” I actually needed to know about the “getting fired because you’re gay” thing because I could cross “teacher” off my list of career options, but everything else was just cruel. I call it “cruel” because not only could I not process my emotions with my friends, our dance of intimacy revolved around her telling me things that were inappropriate for my age and then taking away my ability to talk to her about them, so I couldn’t process anything anywhere. I just had to carry around this horrible shit for years on end.

The huge “she’s come undone” came from a likely source… someone who for all practical intents and purposes didn’t know me or the situation at all. Why is that likely? I never would have believed something was amiss unless someone was reading the situation blind. We had very few friends who weren’t mutual, so the person I was talking to was only looking at facts, not invested in anyone in the situation except me. Everyone needs that friend, and if you don’t have him/her, where you’re having a problem with someone in your friend group so tight you don’t have an objective eye, get a therapist. Free advice from me to you. Free.

So, when this friend started unpacking everything I was telling her, I saw things in a different light and I just started vomiting emotions all over the place. For the first time, I could see all the way down into the core of my personality, because I couldn’t remember a whole lot of my childhood before the emotional abuse happened.

I finally got smart enough to get myself to a hospital so that I could have both medication checks and a cohort for intensive group therapy every day. I think the hospitalization only lasted three or three and a half days, but it was enough to get me started on the right track. However, I went another two years without a therapist because I had two therapy experiences that went sour almost immediately.

Therapist number one told me in my evaluation that I wouldn’t be able to work this out in a short period of time, that I would probably need continual therapy for five to ten years in order to truly be healed, and she felt she was too old to take me on. Her words wrestled me to the ground, because I was caught between her saying (in not so many words) “man, you are way too fucked up for me to help you” and grateful that she was honest with me about what it would take.

Therapist number two and I had a successful intake evaluation, and then after our second session, I never went back. This is because she said that I was so interesting she was telling all her therapist friends and patients about me. Ok, I get it. You need to unwind. But for the love of God, don’t tell me about it. Also, I get telling all your colleagues about interesting cases. If I was a doctor or a therapist, I’d do the same thing. But other patients? Are you kidding me?

So, after having been through all of this and still dealing with it occasionally when triggered, I was in front of the stove and had ADHD mind-blanked for a second (there’s a window in the kitchen…. “Danger, Will Robinson…) when Cynthia Erivo’s voice cut through the fog, singing an absolutely gorgeous a capella rendition of “Pie Jesu” from the Rutter “Requiem.” I was in awe of her voice and doubled over in pain. Like I said earlier, I hadn’t taken my anxiety medication, so the trigger went off like a bomb. When I say I was in pain, I mean emotionally and physically. I couldn’t breathe, my head was pounding, I got nauseous, and since I was doubled over, I couldn’t reach my phone to hit “pause.” So, not only was there the initial impact, little pieces of shrapnel bounced off the walls and headed straight back into my skin.

Again, I would have felt the emotional trigger even if I’d taken my anxiety medication before the podcast began, but I think that without the physical component, I would have been able to handle myself a lot better than I actually did.

My first reaction was to remember that I was not the only one in the world who wrestled with demons. I have been putting off watching the documentary about Anthony Bourdain, Roadrunner, since it came out because I just wasn’t ready to feel that vulnerable. But as soon as I recovered physically and finished cooking, I bought a digital copy so that it could sit in my library. I might watch it tonight so that I can get some of my emotions out, because it takes a lot to make me cry. As the old saying goes, “what do you do to vent your emotions?” “You’re supposed to vent them?” Most of the time, I walk through life as a SCIF, generally only choosing to have one or two close friends at a time, because sharing my life with more people than that seems frightening. I am positive that this entire mess is a component to why I don’t date.

There’s no one big, huge red flag for me and dating. It’s about fifty tiny ones that add up. For instance, my exes have all known about the abuse I suffered, and have met that person on several occasions. Thinking about having to retell that story outside my writing is enormously unsettling. I can hear you from there….. “why not just move on and leave that story out of your life now?” That’s easy. If there’s a trigger and a physical reaction, those don’t come out of nowhere, and I am done covering up the truth. DONE. One of the reasons my emotional abuse was so “successful” is that I was never told to keep my mouth shut, it just seemed like the information being shared was intimate and to share it was to betray a confidence. I should have told a lot of things, but I didn’t want to seem untrustworthy…. to her…. I lied my ass off to everyone around me because I had to protect the trail. “You always have to think about the trail.” For me, that was my eighth grade history teacher (who is now dead) was friends with this person’s surrogate parents, so there was no way in hell that I was going to tell someone who suspected that I was being abused who, what, and how. For the longest time, she suspected that I was being abused at home, but she didn’t tell me that until I was in my 30s. It wasn’t that she had any proof, it’s that when kids are being abused, the first and most likely suspects are someone in the kid’s family.

I thought I had made family of choice, and in some ways I did, which is what kept me in the relationship for so long. But too much came out from other people. For instance, to me she was saying “I want you to come to Portland and live with me for college, because you need to get out of Texas.” To her partner, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) “this kid has been obsessed with me since she was 12 and I thought that when she was 18, she would just go away.” When I first moved to Portland, some of her friends tried to get into a pissing match with me over who knew her better. I didn’t want to play, and I said as much, because even then I realized that they knew way more about her present, and they didn’t know jack shit about her past. I told her about this conversation, and then months later her partner got mad at me for something or another and said that she was tired of me getting into pissing matches with all their friends because it was just creating a problem that didn’t exist. As in, the conversation that I had with her and the conversation I had with her partner were completely opposite because she’d tried to make me look bad. And here was the kicker, the thing that made me so mad that I went nuclear inside my own head, when I should have gone and screamed in her face.

I had a friend with a 12 year old daughter. Well, I still have the friend, but the daughter is much older now. 😛 Anywho, I became friends appropriately with the daughter, the kind of friendship that an adult is supposed to have with a kid. When we hung out, I told her mom what we’d done, and most of what she said unless the kid asked me to keep a secret. And I wouldn’t have kept any secrets that were dangerous. All of the secrets I kept were classic “basic tween” problems, as well as helping her with her homework (the subjects I could manage, anyway….). Once or twice, her mom asked me to keep an eye out while she wasn’t home, because the kid was old enough not to need a babysitter, but too young to be the only one home if something egregious happened. And let’s go back to the keeping “basic tween secrets” part. What I’ve learned over time is that sometimes people need a sounding board, especially kids, because they don’t know whether they can talk to their parents about said problem or not. You’re just that adult in their lives they can open up to, and if you steer the conversation toward talking to their moms and dads, nine times out of 10, they totally will. You just have to prove to them that their parents aren’t as lame as advertised. I’ve been babysitting on some level since Lindsay, my little sister (five and a half years younger) was born, so I am very, very good with kids…. and I didn’t doubt myself on this until……..

My so-called friend called up the parent of the 12 year old and said she thought our relationship was predatory. That was before I was taking anti-anxiety medication, and I had a panic attack so severe it was like the ones you see on hospital television shows where the patient thinks they’re having a heart attack and dying. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because it wasn’t like my friend came to me first and asked me what was actually going on. She went to the parent first, and I was confronted. Luckily, it wasn’t an angry one, and the three of us stayed intact as per our normal. But you don’t get suspected of being “predatory” and get over it. After so many years to think about it, I’ve realized that even my so-called friend knew I wasn’t being predatory. She was just trying to meddle.

Because she did what most emotional abusers do. She wanted to be the center of my universe, but she also didn’t want anyone to know that. It was a constant battle of “I don’t want you, but no one else can have you, either.” She hit her limit when I married Dana without telling her first. God knows why I felt I had to keep it close, especially because at the time we were closer than I was to my mother and father (but only because of proximity). I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it because I wasn’t doing it for religious reasons. I was doing it because my entire family lived in Texas, save for one uncle who lived in Arkansas and worked in Alaska. Her parents lived in Virginia, and even though her sister was in California, she was still a 10-12 hour drive from us. We needed to be next-of-kin as immediately as possible, because we both realized that in the absence of family, we each wanted our best friend to make those decisions. And back then, it wasn’t federal marriage. It was an Oregon domestic partnership, so if we left the state, we would give up all our rights.

This is not to say that I didn’t want to have a religious ceremony or that I only married Dana for emergency reasons. I had never loved anyone more before or since. She was the other half of my heart and brain. For a long time after we parted, I had phantom limb syndrome. Pain filled all the places I was empty. I can’t remember how and when my so-called friend found out, but it led to her sobbing in the middle of a sushi restaurant…. and I suppose that is as vulnerable as I’ve ever seen her, the biggest indication that it wasn’t all bullshit….. but it wasn’t all on the up and up, either. In retrospect, it seemed way more about her than it was about me. She wanted to give me away. She wanted to sing at my wedding. In short, she wanted to pull the exact same act she pulled when she got up in front of the choir and orchestra and gave her touching little speech…. to make other people believe the story she was telling herself.

I could also tell that she didn’t think Dana was good enough for me, because what she saw was someone who worked in a grocery store, not a Cordon Bleu trained chef and someone with a Bachelor’s in technical theater who could run circles around Shakespearean scholars. She had direction. I had distraction. Also, she was, and I imagine still is, much nicer than I am. If anything, I wasn’t good enough for her, and if my so-called friend really wanted to screw me to the wall, that’s what she would have said, because I would have had an easy time believing it. I was lucky enough in that moment to see through mud. And even though our approaches to life were extraordinarily different, in other ways, we were exactly the same. For instance, I can’t speak to who Dana is now, because we haven’t spoken in so long, but back then we were both extreme introverts. I liked to spend my time alone, Dana liked to cover up her introversion with a mask, one so good Jonna Mendez could have made it. I called that part of her “The Dana Lanagan Show.” I knew that much to be true because growing up as a preacher’s kid, I was “The Leslie Lanagan Show.” Like recognizes like. It’s just by that point, I had been away from the church in the capacity of preacher’s kid for long enough that the mask had melted. I couldn’t make it fit, and I stopped trying…. for better or for worse. Therefore, I didn’t just know Dana, I could feel her, the essence of a Robert Heinlein “grok.”

This is not to say that I will never find that kind of love again, only that it hasn’t happened- mostly due to the fact that I haven’t put myself in any situations to meet someone. I still have a lot of processing to do, because as Sandra Cisneros has said, it takes about 10 years before you can make yourself the protagonist in a story, because you have to be able to see that time in your life as happening to a different person.

Editor’s Note: I’m lying. I did once, but it was too soon. It was maybe six months after I moved to DC, maybe eight or nine months after the breakup, and she was so incredibly amazing that I knew I’d become completely enamored quickly- and that the timing would undo any changes I was trying to make within myself. I would get that dopamine hit of the newly “in like” and put off resolving my grief and responsibility as to the relationship’s end. I didn’t want to drag old patterns into a new relationship, and it hurt to run away, but that’s exactly what I did. The lesson I did take from that experience, though, is that my lust for life wasn’t dead, and eventually the timing would be right to be in a relationship again….. but that wasn’t it.

The one good thing about figuring it all out was that I did it before my mother died. She got the resolution and relief she needed, because she’d felt something was off all those years, but couldn’t prove it because I was such an excellent magician, making the entire relationship sleight of hand. To her, it was Schrödinger’s relationship, something that both existed and didn’t until I moved to Portland. This is because I knew that if she got to the mail before me, she’d hide my letters. She was trying to protect me, and I just wouldn’t let her.

I chose to leave myself wide open to emotional manipulation, living life as a SCIF…. until I eventually came undone. For the first couple of years, it was hard to tell how much of me was breaking apart and how much was finally coming together, because I could stop mulling over the problem and start mulling solutions…. except in those tiny moments, when triggers put me on the ground and I have to work my way back up.

Sermon for Pride Sunday 2021

When Tara asked me to speak on “What Pride Means to Me,” I said yes… Then, I sat down at my desk and e-mailed a friend. In that moment, all I was feeling was that I wasn’t particularly proud of being gay. It seemed like taking pride in brown hair… or brown eyes… or being able to eat a medium pizza all by myself. These things weren’t unique, just intrinsic to me.

As I wrote, that feeling lasted for five minutes. For five whole minutes, I forgot the rest of the world exists. It came crashing back, bringing me a sermon seed. From the riots at the Stonewall in to the foreseeable future, pride isn’t about being gay. Pride is about your reaction to others’ disappointment, fear, and anger at something that doesn’t need an opinion.

In fact, homophobia, transphobia, and acts against the queer community fueled by hatred conspire to form the perfect storm. Lightning bolts come at us through major events. Sodomy laws weren’t completely abolished until 2003. Gay marriage wasn’t legal until 2008. AIDS has been a never ending struggle because it has been the proof that conservative Christians needed that being gay was a sin and we could die from it. Conservative Christians are still struggling with the sin aspect, when other scientific progress has been institutionalized. For instance, we no longer think of the left-handed or the divorced as morally bankrupt.

Hypocrisy echoes like thunder all around us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the Disciples are out on a boat in what is now Lake Kinnaret, then called the Sea of Galilee. Mark writes that it is storming, and Jesus is asleep in the boat. The Disciples are scared, and wake Jesus up. They say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” In short, what they want is for Jesus to wake up and help bail water.

Biblical stories are often told in parables. This one is not spoken by Jesus, but imparts a lesson all the same. In the Bible, storms are often used to represent chaos. The Disciples internalize it by saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” Jesus isn’t having it. Instead of working through the storm, he yells at it.

It obeys.

The AIDS crisis begat the slogan “silence equals death.” To me, that plays right into our gospel, because as all these messages of fear and hatred are coming at our community, progress is not measured in how well we go along, but how well we stand out.

We dismantle chaos when we yell at it. We dismantle chaos when we refuse to take it in. The storm is not of us, it is around us.

What pride means to me is not pride in the fact that I’m gay. It’s pride in yelling at the storm, even when my voice was shaking.

Amen.

Muted Sadness

It is one of the darkest days we’ve had in a while. It is not currently raining, but the storm has started and stopped multiple times, and the sky still looks threatening. I have my Carrot Weather app set to “homicidal personality,” and she says I should stay home today because no one likes me and she blames me for the bad weather.

That’s my girl.

Today is both my mother’s and my ex-wife’s birthday. They’re both on my mind today, but it’s only about remembering joy where Dana is concerned and muted sadness regarding my mom.

In terms of my relationship with Dana, the reason I now choose to remember good things is that I tortured myself for a long time. Anything and everything I could possibly do to blame myself, I did in spades. It’s been six years, so about a year ago I decided to let myself off the hook… not in terms of no longer bearing responsibility, but that the time for self-recrimination had passed. It was only making me miserable to remind myself of all that went wrong. The flip side of the coin is not mistaking the part for the whole. The overwhelming majority of our story is hilarious.

The only thing that’s still hard is seeing her picture come up in my Facebook memories, because I alternate between thinking they’re adorable and feeling like I’ve been stabbed. It’s not that I haven’t moved on, it’s just a trigger, and tiny moments like that take the longest to fade.

My sister went out to the cemetery and gave me an update on Fred, the one silver lining in the absolute shitshow that is grief over the loss of a parent. Fred was the seedling that was planted next to the foot of my mother’s grave… not in memory of her, it’s just that her death and his planting happened simultaneously. It was the birth and death life cycle in front of our eyes. He gets stronger every time we visit. Whereas he used to only have “kid-sized” branches and leaves, now he spreads out over a granite bench and Lindsay got to sit in the shade. The shade. We were joking that our little boy has grown up.

I think the reason we gave him a human personality is that my thought was that I couldn’t hug my mother, but I could hug Fred so tightly that you’d think I went to Berkeley. It will be a sad and proud day when my arms no longer wrap all the way around.

There are some commonalities in both types of grief. If I mention either my mother’s death or Dana, the conversation looks like gravity’s rainbow, the image so loud I can almost hear the whistle. It is as if both of them have turned into “she who must not be named” as it makes other people feel awkward to the point of onomatopoeia. For me, it’s the old trope of losing someone and they’ve just slipped into another room. Their ends of the conversation are over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone all “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.” I got divorced and my mom died in relatively quick succession. One loss compounded the other as I wasn’t really done mourning the first when the second one started.

There are good things I remember in the wake of my mother’s death, though, because I must. It doesn’t heal anything- it sort of helps. For instance, I remember being on the business side of death for the first time, and how it was comforting to pick out her casket. I know it sounds weird, but it was literally the last time we’d ever shop for her, and we wanted it to be something that if she saw it, she would have been pleased. The fact that I know her casket is her favorite color and has stenciled birds on the inside is enough for me.

The difference between losing people close to me is night and day from being a preacher’s kid and attending funerals of parishioners. This is because so much time and energy were poured into my mother and Dana that I didn’t know what to do with it afterward. I also locked down my emotions, even now but especially in the beginning. In the aftermath, I couldn’t manage to be the appropriate amount of emotional in public, so I just chose not to have them at all unless I was home alone. It was either resting bitch face silence or complete hysteria with no middle ground.

It’s just that no one knew about it unless I was willing to let them in, and at first “them” added up to exactly zero persons. I branched out to people who had also lost parents, because no matter how hard people who haven’t lost parents try, they cannot grasp the enormity of the situation.

It is because of this that I know my divorce and my mother’s death happened in the right order. The people closest to me had the ability to wound me with stunning accuracy, because if I didn’t know them that well, I could either write it off or decide to end the relationship altogether.

There’s also a special list in my head of all the people that claimed to be my close friends and didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I don’t want to keep track, but I do it anyway. I feel that the friends who don’t show up when you are in crisis are claiming to be better friends than they actually are. I’m sorry if you feel slapped by that statement, but emotions are emotions and logic is logic. Never the twain shall meet. Even if it’s irrational, it’s my truth. My brain just isn’t capable of telling my heart what to do. However, I am not unreasonable. I did not expect my DC friends to fly to Houston with me.

I think the reason that I’ve described today as “muted sadness” is that it’s not only grief over my mother and Dana, but grief over the pieces of me that died inside at their departure. I am no longer person I was six years ago, and it doesn’t matter whether some of the pieces lost are good. Trying to get them back is futile. A dead end, as it were.

In the meantime, I have turned to books. This blog has become a bit bipolar, because I used to post quite frequently. Now, it’s hit or miss. This is because I have a binge and purge relationship with reading vs. writing. I noticed a long time ago that when I read and wrote at the same time, the tone would sound just like the last author I read. I’m not a great writer, by any means, but I do know myself well enough to know when the “voice” I’m using belongs to me. For instance, when I first started blogging in 2003, I am sure I sounded like Dooce for at least a year.

Speaking of which, I had a friend tell me that Dooce used to be good, but she’s not as good a writer as she used to be. I told her she needed to send me an e-mail when I got to that point. It was her job to tell me to retire. I haven’t gotten it yet, so unless she got bored and stopped reading altogether, I’m probably doing ok. Thanks for asking.

I have read so many books in different genres lately. Last night it was a novel in which a woman gets into a car accident, hit by a drunk driver (“A Curve in the Road”). In the emergency room, she finds out that the drunk driver is her husband. Everything unravels from that point forward, and it’s masterful.

I’m also taking my time with a non-fiction book about one of the first same-sex marriages to be recognized in the United States (“Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”). The two women met in the late 1700s. As I quipped to a friend, “that’s impossible! Lesbians weren’t invented until 1805!” I admire the couple a great deal, because in order to stay safe, they basically gave generously to the town. It meant that the mayor and council literally couldn’t afford to piss them off. If there’s anything I adore, it’s a clever “scheme.” I’m not sure they even realized they were running that game, only that the results paid off. They managed to be together until one of them died, so I think it was 40 or 50 years…. impressive by any and all standards. The prose is a bit dry, but the subject is fascinating. I would absolutely love to teach a high school history class with it, because it’s not just focused on the couple, but the war around them. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes or violence, so it would be an important alternative perspective while also being suitable for teens.

If there’s been anything good about my silence, it has been the addition of hundreds of unique voices that let me travel all over the world. If there’s a scene from a book that transported me to the point where everything else fell away, it’s from John Brennan’s “Undaunted.” When he was in college, he went to the University of Cairo. His experiences there are humorous and convey the beauty of Egypt. Plus, it’s fun to picture a White House staffer that used to be a kind of rebel, pierced ear and all.

I’ve read those passages multiple times, because sometimes I just need to lift myself out of what I’m describing as “muted sadness.”

The One That’s Mostly About My Sister

It’s the middle of the night and I just randomly woke up. I can’t get back to sleep, so I’m going to tell you about a funny conversation I had with Sam and then start reading. If I’m not hooked, I’ll go back to bed. If I am, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than blissed out on the dopamine of a good book.

So, Sam wished me a happy Pride. We were talking about the events, and I asked her when the parade was. Then, I said, “I used to feel embarrassed about having to ask straight people when the parade was, but then I realized that no introvert willingly knows when events this size happen. We know it’s coming up, but we’ll wait until we know the approximate date and time before asking the exactly details.” I think it’s because we’ll spend time being anxious about the crowd- it’s sensory overload on every level imaginable. I like to be surprised with answers like “it’s tomorrow” or “it’s three days from now.” I do not want to know that the Pride parade is in three months. That’s three months of worrying about how to participate in the smallest increment of time possible.

She replied by telling me when it was (I don’t remember now…. I’ll have to look it up….. again), and then said that straight people like to be asked when the Pride parade is because they like proving they’re in the know. They like being thought of as “hip.”

Fine with me. I am not hip. I am the worst gay who ever gayed.

I’ve really only had one Pride parade that was so fun I never wanted the night to end. My sister marched with me, and we were both really young. I think she was 15-16, so that would have made me 20 or 21. There is nothing better than seeing the Pride parade through a kid’s eyes, because they notice everything and their perspective is just, well….. It’s better. They’re blown away by the floats, beads, flags, etc. and they just want to love you up and make you feel appreciated. They GET IT. Kids understand better than most adults, because they don’t like it when they feel like their loved ones are being attacked for something they can’t change, and the idea of one night to celebrate with a big party in the middle of the streets is catnip to a teenager. I think the meaningful parts of Pride move her differently than me, and I can tell you exactly why. If someone’s going to hate their sibling, it has to be them. Anyone else is just asking for a knock-down drag-out. Earrings will be taken out. Ponytails will be hastily made.

It’s not just the neighborhood block aspect. It’s also that my sister isn’t gay. She hasn’t had years and years and years of being picked on, so she has no immunity to it. We’ve never had this conversation, but I think it’s a tiny bit like Quentin Tarantino being worried that Jamie Foxx would recoil at saying the n-word while filming “Django Unchained.” Foxx said not to worry. It was Tarantino that was going to be uncomfortable, because for him, it was just Tuesday. If you are queer, homophobia and transphobia are just the iocaine powder to which we’ve built up immunity.

The struggle did not go unnoticed. The Pride parade impacted my sister’s life just as much as it did mine. She gave me so much self-confidence and love. I gave her the will to take on state and federal legislators who want to outlaw trans medicine by exposing her to what was going on in my community early and often.

My sister is pretty much the straightest straight woman I know, but at the same time, I’ve “raised her” to be a better gay person than I’ll ever be. Like, there’s no contest.

She’s a lobbyist for a federally funded health clinic that serves the queer community, working in Austin and DC. She knows more about queer issues than I’ve forgotten, and if I have questions about trans medicine, she’s the person I ask first (I’m not trans, I just always have questions about medicine). She was one of the people fighting prohibition of giving teenagers puberty blockers and the ban on trans girls in sports.

I don’t have the desire, will, or stamina to talk to Texas Republicans about that, because the fact that puberty blockers would alleviate their concerns was beyond them. Puberty blockers are a non-permanent way to treat gender dysphoria in children while giving them plenty of time to see a therapist and decide if they’re happy with their bodies as is, or whether they’d like to have surgery. It also gives them an “out” if they decide not to transition at all. As soon as you stop taking the pills, puberty resumes. I can’t imagine the disgust I would feel for my body if my entire brain was wired as male and I started seeing breasts grow in. By keeping trans people’s bodies immature, it also makes surgical transition easier later, because your face hasn’t grown into the appearance of your assigned gender- the one people decided for you because you’d just been evicted from your first apartment and measured on the Apgar scale.

For trans women, this could mean that their Adam’s Apples aren’t as pronounced and their facial features stay soft. For trans men, this could mean that their hips don’t widen in preparation for childbirth, they don’t start menstruating, and they only have to have bottom surgery later on.

It’s also misogynistic that this stuff is being targeted at trans girls, because I’ve never heard a legislator talking about males assigned female at birth and how that would affect boys’ teams. No one brought up trans men during the bathroom bill debate. It’s almost as if being female is the problem.

I don’t have the chutzpah to even read this blog entry to legislators, but my sister will keep knocking down obstacles on my behalf.

She is my Pride.

Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.

Love,

Leslie

War Stories

Pandemic fatigue is real. I have had no motivation in terms of writing, because nothing has really sparked my imagination…. well, technically, a million things do, but they tend to come out in short Facebook bursts. You know, those things you have to say that aren’t short enough for a Tweet? Today was different. I got together with my housemate, Maria, and she’s always good for a blog entry because she’s a cook at a local hospital who has also worked in restaurants…. therefore, we always end up talking about war stories. We all have them.

However, we weren’t just sitting there talking. I told her that I got both of us a present. I bought myself a new chef’s knife because my old one was getting dull, and buying a new knife was cheaper than getting it sharpened. Her present was that there’s now a real chef’s knife in our block, and there hasn’t been for all the years I’ve lived here. That is because I’ve always been deathly afraid that someone was going to put it in the dishwasher, so I hid it among the candy and snacks in my food junk drawer.

So now I have two new war stories, one from two years ago and one from today. When I bought my old knife, it did not come with a sheath. I wrapped it in rags every day before I put it away, except one day I forgot, and now there is a sizable cut in the back of the drawer. Today, when I told Maria that my chef’s knife had dulled to nothing, she comes downstairs with a full set of stones. I have never face-palmed harder. Why did I not think to ask A COOK if they had a real knife sharpener?

Side note: you can buy an electric knife sharpener, but caveat emptor. I have heard so many horror stories of them chewing up expensive knives that I’ve never used one.

But before we get to the war stories, (mine, of course, because hers aren’t my stories to tell), I have to tell you something I learned this week, and it ties back to a conversation Dan and I had. She said, “you have such a great blog- why don’t you put recipes on it?” I said, “that would be great, but I don’t have any. I understand the principles of cooking, so I just look in the pantry and throw things together.” A good example of this is “Lanagan’s Pub Chili.” At Biddy McGraw’s, the pub where I used to work in Portland, we used to make a soup of the day. I made a variation on a Texas Red, using beans to make the ground beef stretch. It was so popular that they decided to add it to the menu permanently….. probably because I have an Irish last name. I don’t think I would have been so lucky had my last name been “Smith.”

My boss asked me to write down the recipe so that all the cooks could make it the same way, and I swear to God, it took me at least a month to do it. That’s because when I was making it, I never made it exactly the same way twice. I changed up the beer, I changed up the ratios of the spices, and most importantly, I tasted as I went, because I can tell when a dish “needs something” and what that something might be.

Trying to encapsulate that into a half cup of cumin, etc. was murder on my brain. It doesn’t work that way. But, it had to be done because I wasn’t always going to be there when we ran out.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I put words to that story that need to be said: cooking is all about trust and confidence. Trust comes in just knowing when a piece of meat or a pancake needs to be turned. Confidence comes in when you’ve made a mistake, but you’re sure you know how to fix it. I make pancakes every weekend, so that’s how the idea popped into my head.

I know how to respect first contact, only flip once, and have it turn out perfectly. I never have to make a “tester pancake” because I’ve used my stove enough to know what temperature I need every time. I trust it. For instance, I know that the pans we have are all uneven and there’s only one hot spot in each of them, so I have to make the pancakes one at a time. I know I need lower heat for thick pancakes, higher for thin, because the thick ones take longer to rise and “bake through.” I know that I need a little more soy milk than the Bisquick package says, because if I do them that way, the pancakes will be miniature biscuits. I trust that I know what I’m doing, and I’m confident about it….. but not arrogant. I’ve crashed and burned in the kitchen before, but at home it’s not a big deal. I can either fix it or start over. In a professional setting, you can fix it or start over, and people will talk shit about “that one time” every day until it gets old and someone else does something dumb, but they also won’t forget to tell new people what you did after you’ve left.

My biggest war story comes from the same pub, the aforementioned Biddy McGraw’s…. or at least, it’s the one that hurt the worst. I’ve been taken to the ER twice, once as a waiter and once as a cook.

When I was a waiter, I was working at Chili’s, who used to serve their sodas and beers in these extraordinarily heavy glass mugs. One of the other waiters somehow broke the bottom off of one of them, and instead of removing it, just stuck it back down in the rack. The manager made an announcement about the broken mug, but none of the people who were out at their tables heard it. I come around the corner and the broken mug is the first thing I touch. It sliced the inside of my pinkie so badly that I needed stitches immediately.

When I was a cook, I took meat slicer to a whole new level when I didn’t see my thumb slip into it.

The reason the one from Biddy’s is so much worse is that both of the times I had to go to the ER, I was cut by something extraordinarily sharp. Clean cuts bleed, but they don’t generally cause pain.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my ex is a cook as well, or at least she used to be. We haven’t spoken in years, but back then we were coworkers during the weekend brunch shift. You’d think having a couple working in the kitchen would be bad juju, but I’ve never had a better coworker in my life. This is because couples can communicate with one look, and in restaurants, every nanosecond matters….. another reason why this was such a bad injury.

Every weekend, I would make bearnaise from scratch and put it in a double boiler on the front burner. On the back burner was a shallow pan for poaching eggs. I noticed that there was a metal spoon with a plastic handle in the egg pan and thought, “that shouldn’t be there.” What I didn’t know was that the plastic wasn’t heat resistant. Pain radiated from my hand up to my shoulder as the plastic fused to my skin. I literally had to rip off the spoon, and my exposed burn was legendary in size. We then threw away the spoon because there was too much Leslie on it.

Being the cook that I am, I went into dry storage and found the first aid kit. I put some silver sulfadiazine on the burn, covered it up with gloves, and went back to work. It hurt so bad I thought I was going to throw up. I think the cream was the only reason I didn’t have permanent scars. I’ve never been through childbirth, so I can safely say that it is the worst pain I’ve ever been in, bar none.

Now, my ex is Cordon Bleu certified. She could have run that kitchen blind whether I was there or not, but it did make her life easier if I stayed. So I did. Luckily, I was able to keep cooking, because if there had been lots of dishes to wash I might have walked out. This is because no matter how tight your gloves are, water seeps in, washing off the only thing keeping me upright.

And honestly, all the dumbass attacks just run together. Just an endless series of “I didn’t see that.” Literally. I have a different field of vision than most people, and it alternates because my eyes don’t track together. In many, many kitchens, that was taken as bullshit and people thought my IQ was too low to be a cook.

What’s actually true, and my last chef said this to me, is that I have the heart of a chef. What I’ve added to that is “but not the body.”

Knowing that has been one of the biggest pieces of grief in my life, but…………

I trust me.

To All the Girls….

I just finished watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” I’ve been waiting for inspiration to write; I needed a memory far enough back in my past that the blowback from myself would be minimal. (I’ve often thought that other people’s opinions stop me from writing- most of the time it’s to keep myself from exploding.) The movie is about Laura and Peter’s senior year of high school, which inevitably made me think of my own. It was so messy and difficult- like many people’s, probably, with the uniqueness of coming out all over again.

I was out at HSPVA, but my mom didn’t want me to come out at Clements. I had the chance to start over, and she wanted that for both of us. Even at HSPVA, I constantly worried that coming out at school would lead to people finding out at church…. but I didn’t have to worry about that. Everyone in my life figured it out before I had the chance to tell them.

I remember fondly the night I came out to my friend Dianne Maurice, who said “if this conversation hadn’t happened, I would have sat you down and told you.” She didn’t have to worry. I’d thought and felt attraction to women my whole life, but didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling until I turned 13. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have my share of boyfriends as well, just that it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and dating Ryan was a mountaintop experience for someone so young. How many middle school couples make it to a year and two months? I’m guessing it had something to do with us as friends being two halves of the same person, and middle school romance is sweet and lingering without the constant peer pressure and internal drive to sleep together. As a result, that friendship has grown more tender over time, because we didn’t have a horrible break-up, either….. although it was strange. I came out to him by telling him all the attraction I was feeling to people that were not him, to which he had the best response ever, which was that I was free to think but not to act.

He eventually found someone else, which was wonderful and terrible all at once. Part of me was relieved for him to find someone whose heart wasn’t tearing them apart. The other parts of me felt his absence like a missing limb, and I didn’t date anyone else until the summer before I was a senior. It was a terrible decision, because six weeks later, I met someone I thought was THE ONE, and had to go through the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, always harder than someone breaking yours. It wasn’t a cheating situation- THE ONE didn’t even know I was alive until Christmas.

But I was her friend from the first day of school, because once my dad left the church, I felt free to be whomever I was going to be that year…. which was wearing pride rings to advertise.

I will never in my entire life forget our first phone call. Dr. Steed, my senior English teacher, told us to get the phone number of someone in our class because the work was going to be difficult. I knocked over two desks to get to her and slipped her my number, because it was easier than asking for hers.

The moment I walked into the house after school, literally 30 seconds in, my phone rang. I said, “hello?” She said, “do you wear those pride rings because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” I said “I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said, “no. I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” It was not a euphemism.

She was dating a hockey player at another school named Mark, a beard she kept up a little too well because it was excruciating watching her basically make out with him on New Year’s Eve. By then, we were together on the down low, even to her closest friends….. because I was out, but she wasn’t. Who would have thought the goalie for the women’s soccer team at my high school was a lesbian? That just doesn’t make sense. 😛

Prom night was also a mess, because we’d sort of gone to Homecoming together- I went with one of her friends so we could be near each other. But by Prom, school was ending and she thought she was ready to be truly seen with me. I bought the perfect dress, and she backed out. She ended up coming over after she was finished at the dance, because I couldn’t just go and watch her. I thought that was crazy. People have asked me many times why I didn’t just break up with her and go out with someone who didn’t have a problem with being out. Listen, it’s not like the lesbian dating pool at my high school was huge. In terms of out lesbian, I was the entire club. It was scary walking in the parade all by myself.

But it wasn’t a lost cause. I made it safe for people in younger classes to come out. By the time my younger sister got to high school, people were putting rainbow flags on their backpacks, and Lindsay asked who started it. They said, “I think it was this kid named Leslie.”

For those who don’t know me in person, the school year was 1995-1996. In that time and place, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by most of the people around me. It wasn’t that they were hateful, just woefully uneducated. Back then, when I was out and about with my girlfriend, we watched our backs constantly, knowing where and when PDA was appropriate.

Thinking something was wrong with us included her parents. We didn’t tell them- they searched her room and found one of my love letters. We were forbidden to see each other, and like with all teenagers, it didn’t work. We were just even more secretive than we were before….. to the tune of making out in her car near some woods and being caught by the cops, who luckily didn’t do anything except tell us to move along.

In the end, she wasn’t THE ONE, a fact that I ignored for at least ten years. She decided to go back to Canada for college, but before she left, she wanted to get married. Why that didn’t set off alarm bells, I’ll never know…. because how did she think it would work? She couldn’t hide me forever. No way was I going to be her roommate at 30…. even 18 was stretching it. But “roommate” was how it was done in those days, so the fact that same-sex couples can get married and is now so accepted is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Like most high school kids, I let the relationship go on too long because I didn’t know how to let go. We were long distance, and I looked into immigrating to Canada, but before I could really start the process, I learned something truly disturbing.

Since I was the internet guru, I looked up all the places gays and lesbians gathered in her city. Well, she went, and she met someone. That wasn’t the problem. If she’d come home that night and said she’d met someone else, it would have been all right. But she didn’t. She dated this person for months, to the point of moving in with her before she was forced to admit what she was doing. I didn’t even find out from her. I found out because her girlfriend e-mailed me, saying that my girlfriend had never told her she was seeing someone when she left Texas and that I should just back out because my girlfriend was hers now. I can still feel that pain as if it was yesterday- not that I live there, it’s just present when I think about that time in my life.

Despite that asshole move on both their parts, every trip my ex-girlfriend made to Texas was filled with fun and flirty dates where it felt like we were our old selves, and then a line would get crossed and we’d have an old fight over again or I would get torched with jealousy.

Eventually, she settled down, got married, and started having kids. It was only then, a decade later, that she said she was sorry we couldn’t have been partners as adults, because she thought we would have been good at it. Her words were sweet, and I knew that’s how she meant them. A compliment didn’t line up to the way I took it. I was burning with rage. She said something to the effect that she’d thought about getting back together, but she knew she’d treated me so badly that how dare she have the right to ask me to try again? I think all the anger I’d stuffed down so that she’d still want to be my friend surfaced in that moment- not only at the way she’d treated the end of our relationship, but that she took away my choice as to whether I’d have forgiven her or not.

As it was, I was so hurt that I didn’t date anyone from the fall of my freshman year of college until I was a junior. I had major trust issues, and it took me three years to work them out enough to be able to open my heart to someone else.

Apparently, it’s a pattern, because I haven’t dated anyone since I broke up with my most recent ex (five years ago, almost six). Probably it’s been twice as long because it hurt twice as much, especially since I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in addition to being hurt by her.

I think it might have been different if a couple of years later, my mom hadn’t died. Though I was screaming for a companion in those days, I didn’t want anyone but her- and not because I was stuck in the place of “she’s THE ONE and there shall be no one else.” It was that I didn’t know anyone as well as I knew her, and the thought of having no history with someone and dragging them into the shitshow of my grief was not appealing in the slightest. I got through by trusting friends, but it wasn’t the same as having someone to hold me at night while I cried.

As I started to come alive again, I realized that going through my grief on my own was a good thing, because I didn’t realize how jealous I was of other people my age who still had their parents. I don’t know how we would have managed that, but my guess is “good, most of the time, but the bad would have been egregious.”

I sometimes think it would have been nice to have a mother-in-law as backup, but she wasn’t completely on board with her daughter marrying a woman, either, so I waffle on that point. What I do know is that waiting so long has been helpful, because I feel much freer than I did three years ago. There’s no lingering emotion from that relationship that would help push a new person away. What I do know, though, is that my next relationship will be completely different, both in my approach and the fact that no one can compare to her- a new person would be in her own class, with her own unique gifts rather than trying to think “she’s better.”

The last piece of the puzzle is that I haven’t met anyone who has swept off my feet with awe and lust. Of course, that is not how all relationships begin, but in order to want to be romantic with someone, you have to feel something. I did have a conversation with someone about dating, but it was one of those things where my interest was piqued, but I didn’t make any declarations of love or anything. It was just “maybe dating each other would be fun and we should try it.” We didn’t, and life quickly moved on because I was never pining.

I really don’t have time for it. My attention is taken up with other things, other people with whom I am not romantic but are such good friends that intimacy happens regardless. A person does not have to be in love with you to see your soul if you make it visible to them. I am lucky to have friends that walk in my inner landscape, and it is surprising how much I value it over finding a partner. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s that I’m perfectly happy to stand back and let them come to me. I don’t have a mad drive that says I’m going to die alone, no matter how many people say that to me because they’re worried. Trust me, that’s a them problem. I will never die alone because I have friends, constantly undervalued in our society because the fairy tale says I need to find one person that completes me and live happily ever after.

For me, the fairy tale is having friends that truly care what I think and feel, the best lesson I’ve learned in the years that have passed since my first high school romance. I don’t have one person that completes me, I have several who oversee different aspects. I don’t want to live in a world where that is seen as deficiency, but celebrated in its abundance. I know love as deep as an ocean because of them. Our shared history has provided ups and downs that stick in my mind, learning and growing every bit as much as I did when I was partnered- perhaps more as each of them show me who I am. They love me as fallible as I am, which is everything I could hope for in a romance, anyway.

To all the girls, all I can say is “thank you.” They are such small words, but the depth behind them is huge. Your love is #relationshipgoals enough for me, and I hope I am half the friend that you have been to me. It has certainly been and will continue to be my honor……

Always and forever.

It’s Gettin’ Real at the Whole Foods

I was stuck with a bad case of writer’s block, so I reached out to a friend and said, “ask me a question about myself. Trying to figure out what to write.” She responded “what’s your favorite place and why?” Spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically, my favorite place is inside my head. It’s like being trapped in a group chat, but at least I know who’s speaking. I’ve always been insular, but especially since the pandemic started, I’ve had a lot of time to argue with myself, and it’s peculiar how often I lose.

My birthday is September 10th, 1977. Therefore, I am a Virgo and completely tied to the land. If we’re talking about an actual location I can show to other people, it’s the Columbia River Gorge. When I lived in Portland and felt emotionally injured, I’d drive to one of the many waterfalls and just hike it out. One particular time I’ll remember for the rest of my life, because it’s the moment I realized I didn’t love Dana, I was in love with her. At the recommendation of another friend, that time when I went out, I was standing knee-deep in freezing cold water, screaming and singing my lungs out. I looked over, and Dana was crying at the simple fact that I was hurt. It touched my heart and I will never be the same from being shown so much kindness.

That being said, these are not my only favorite places. Coming in at number three is Whole Foods Market. I could get my produce anywhere, but WF never runs low on vegan food and I love marketing. I will buy anything that says “new and improved.” It seems like other grocery stores have Quorn and Morningstar Farms, but don’t carry Vegannaise. Regular grocery stores don’t carry the vegan pesto I like, either. It’s got tofu and lemon to replace the parmesan cheese and it’s so good that last night I ate it out of the jar while I was waiting for my vegetables to cook. They also carry “meat powder,” which sounds really gross unless I tell you that it’s texturized vegetable protein (Just Add Water!) that you don’t have to refrigerate. They also carry all the brands of cheese I cannot live without. In terms of vegan food, it’s the same price as anywhere else, so it’s not like I’m doing the whole “pay my 80 bucks for six things and get out.” I still shake my head at some of their prices, but I understand why a relatively small bottle of juice is $8. They have someone in the back whose job it is to squeeze fruit and vegetables all day. Sounds about as exciting as a root canal.

The first time I went to a Whole Foods (I must have been 14 or 15), my sister and I cleaned the place out. You know that aisle where you have to put the baggies under the plastic canisters and if you pull too fast, the items end up in a tray? Well, my sister and I figured out that you could lift up the tray and we ate everything on the entire rail (both sides of the aisle) while my parents were shopping (sorry, Dad). I decided that if we got caught, I’d just hide and let Lindsay take the fall (sorry, Lindsay) because she’s so much younger than me that she’d be less likely to get send to kiddo jail. We did not get caught. But we did get what amounts to a couple of pounds of trail mix. It was hard to tell as we were shoveling it in. I’m sure it’s the most sanitary thing we’ve ever done.

Whole Foods also has an entire aisle’s worth of dried fruit, and my current obsession is pancakes (Just Add Water!). In my pantry, I have strawberries, goji berries, and bananas. Not only do they take your pancakes to 11, I eat the strawberries and bananas with sandwiches as a replacement for chips.

My one gripe with them is that they don’t make my favorite candy, which is chocolate covered pretzels. I mean, they do make them. But they don’t have a vegan chocolate except in bars from other companies. It’s also a no-go on the yogurt, because well, yogurt. I just have to hope that one day, I’ll be at someone’s house and they’ll offer me some chocolate covered pretzels, because turning down other people’s hospitality is just rude.

In terms of vacation, I’m lucky that I already live in my favorite place. I can’t wait until I get vaccinated for COVID, because I can resume my very busy schedule of walking around and looking at stuff. It takes a lot of fortitude to get on public transportation and not worry myself into a migraine. By next year, I’m hoping to go back to all the monuments I’ve seen and all the ones I haven’t discovered. I found a new one to me when I was walking to the Metro from the Kennedy Center in a roundabout way. It was the WWII memorial, and at the time, I didn’t even know what it was except beautiful. It hadn’t been built until after I’d left the DC area in 2002, so taking that walk was fortuitous. I could have gotten on the Metro closer to the KenCen, but I find that DC is best experienced when you make an effort to walk as long as you can before you find a station. There’s history around every corner.

I mean, the Whole Foods where George Washington used to shop is in Alexandria.

The Princess and The Crown

The rest of the house was quiet. There was no one with whom to talk, or cry, except her. I think it worked. There was something about that tiny little body, with its heat concentrated and radiating, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been alone in the dark with the television blaring.

It was Saturday, 30 Aug., 1997, shortly before 6:00 PM Central. Princess Diana was rushed to Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpétrière. The news reported that she had been in an accident due to her driver trying to elude the paparazzi (while drunk and speeding). At this point, she had not died. Early reports said that Diana was suffering from a concussion, a broken arm, and a cut thigh. From that moment forward, I was glued to the TV. The tears didn’t fall immediately, but when they did, our family cat, the aptly named “Princess,” wandered into my room. I was lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows, and as per her normal, laid on my chest so that she was in a perfect position to knead my shoulder and slobber. Turnabout is fair play. My tears began to land on the top of her head, and when she heard me, she didn’t move for almost eight hours. There was something about her tiny little body with its heat concentrated and radiating outward, that made me feel so much safer than if I had been completely alone. By 11:53 PM, Diana was dead.

Because of the images coming from Britain and France, and keeping my own lights off, I had to look up what time it was in Houston. In my memory, these events were also in the middle of the night, because the times reported were midnight to 6:00 AM.

In doing research for this entry, I learned something else heartbreaking:

In 2019, Dr. Richard Shepherd, Britain’s top forensic pathologist, concluded that Diana died of a tiny, badly placed tear in the vein of her lung. ‘Her specific injury is so rare that in my entire career I don’t believe I’ve seen another,’ Shepherd wrote in his book, Unnatural Causes. Shepherd believes Diana’s death could have been prevented by one small change- a seatbelt. ‘Had she been restrained, she would probably have appeared in public two days later with a black eye, perhaps a bit breathless from the fractured ribs and with a broken arm in a sling,’ Shepherd wrote.

I am certain that the public will never know why Diana got into a car with a drunk driver, or why she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The questions, especially so long after the fact, are irrelevant. It smacks of victim blaming, when Diana was hounded by paparazzi from the moment she started dating Prince Charles, even speculation before it was announced led people to camp outside her house.

Though The Crown on Netflix did not make me weepy (much), it is a very different experience watching a story when you already know how it ends. I imagine countries full of people in their collective mourning, watching Diana come into herself, starting to live the life she wanted, rather than caught in a mouse trap, and why her tragedy looms so large.

And in a small way, this entry memorializes my Princess as well. She is long, long dead, and that is the memory I most associate with her- the quiet determination she showed in trying to make me feel better as the people’s princess slipped away.

During the funeral, I was away on a choir retreat with about 50 other people. It was in Galveston, surrounded by the warm beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. When the march of the casket toward Westminster started, we were all gathered together, watching on the world’s smallest TV. You could have heard a pin drop for hours.

And yet, as much as I enjoyed having 49 other people with whom to grieve, I knew exactly where I wanted to be….. lying on my bed, propped up with three pillows.

Tea and Sympathy

I only have Tums chewables today (usually have omeprazole), so I have forgone my midday caffeine blast in favor of a tame(r) Irish Black Tea with Splenda and soy milk.

I have gone back to my ridiculously strict vegan diet, because I am one of those people that gets involved in a project and forgets to eat. The connection is that I eat rarely enough that when I do, it needs to be superfood. I have cheated a lot in the past few months, but that didn’t bother me until I started noticing it wasn’t upping my game any.

I think a lot of ADHD people do the not eating thing- let me know if I’m wrong in the comments. It’s my opinion that truly focused “zones” only come around so often, and you have to take advantage of them when they arrive. I know that this introductory paragraph isn’t exactly spilling my guts, but we might get there. I’m in the zone. Stay tuned. We will interrupt this post as emotions develop.

I am also trying to be the type vegan that focuses on actual vegetables. I am not trying to get by on vegan protein shaped like meat…. with one exception. There would be two if I could find them. Gardein used to make incredible vegan crab cakes and fish filets, but I can’t find them anywhere. I should have known something was up besides the expiration date when they went on sale by so much that I bought four packages of each……. Now, I’ve found fish sticks that are so damn good they remind me of my childhood in northeast Texas…. the only difference being yellow cornmeal instead of white. Now that’s a debate I’m not even trying to hear. It gets vicious.

Last night I made macaroni and cheese out of a box- vegan, expensive, and worth it. The only thing I didn’t have was margarine for the roux, but I used olive oil and it turned out fine, especially after I added small dice Daiya provolone and stirred like mad until it resembled homemade. The thing that put it over the top is that I put dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water while it was still cold. By the time the pasta was cooked, they were perfectly rehydrated. It was all I could do not to eat the whole box, but I decided to eat the whole box of fish sticks instead.

I hope all my readers know that I’m just talking about my life, and I have no need to convert others. In fact, I don’t even tell people I’m vegan when I eat at other people’s houses, because I hate the thought that they’d cater to me specifically and possibly hate what they were eating. Additionally, Tony Bourdain raised me right. He said that “food is hospitality, and if you reject someone’s food, you reject them.” When I go to someone else’s house, what we’re having is what we’re having. I would eat face bacon with a smile.

There’s not a one size fits all diet for everyone, vegan is just what works for me.

Being vegan is something I never would have discovered without getting divorced, because Dana worked in the meat department at a high-end grocery store in Portland for most of the years we were friends/married. She never would have agreed to an all-vegan diet, but she was okay with the occasional vegan meal, like going out for Mexican. And yes, I realize that I could have been vegan on my own, but either one of us cooking two different meals every night was not going to happen. But I did kid her about it. One time I cracked an egg into a bowl and there was blood in it. I asked Dana what it was and she said, “THAT is a chicken abortion.” I said, “if you say chicken abortion to me ever again I will make you a vegan for the rest of your life.” To her credit, she never did, except when telling this story.

Invariably, one story about Dana leads to another, because right now it has a very real hold on my life.

When Dana and I first started hanging out, I had just broken up with a woman that consumed my thoughts, the kind of woman that you can’t help but smile around and dream about. Though she was older than me by quite a bit, in that nebulous adult age where you experience transition over and over, we were in similar places emotionally.

Because of our age difference, every day I wondered if it was the day we’d confess we couldn’t do without each other, or the day we’d break up…. made more complicated by the fact that my friends thought she was really cool and her friends thought I was a girl toy/midlife crisis (in the worst of ways). Their fears were unrealized, but made for excellent gossip. In the three months that we were actually, solidly together, it was like every other relationship I’d ever had, intense and beautiful. I always like dating women who are smarter than me, and if I am the Chevy, she was the Rolls. In the traditional sense of the May-December fling, people think that the younger person is being led on. In this case, I was pretty good about standing up for myself. It was, up to that point, the relationship that, for me, had the most equality.

After over a decade to think about it, I believe that just because a relationship wasn’t meant to last doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful.

The biggest mistake I made was that when we agreed it was over, we were so drawn to each other that we dated in secret for another year. For her, I am positive that it was pure attraction, while I continued to hold out hope that she’d eventually change her mind. You could see it written all over my face.

The hammer absolutely dropped when she said something that really made me angry. I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember the way it made me feel. I said something to the effect of “you don’t get to say things like that and date me (euphemism) at the same time.”

And I left.

I was also tired of making excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that as I craved and loathed being someone’s “dirty little secret.”

Because our down-low relationship only prolonged the inevitable, I felt as if my heart had been handed to me after being put through a blender. I should have accepted being single and moved on with my life immediately.

It was in this terrible, painful emotional place I realized that I needed a friend, and most of the ones I had currently were mutual with said ex. I had no idea how to manage something like that. Introverts make friends when extroverts adopt them and drag them out of their houses.

Enter Dana, the loud, obnoxious blonde woman that I’d met a few times at church, but didn’t feel one way or the other about until we actually got to know each other.

Our first lunch date was with her then-partner and their friends for Easter lunch. She said later that the only reason I got an invitation was that I looked so incredibly sad.

I was actually miserable about quite a few things at the time, so it was not untrue……… and over time, I told her about all of them.

I even let her into my apartment after telling her that I was tired of living like “dumped girl.” When I think about her response, I still get tears in my eyes. She said, “well, we’ll go clean it up.” That “we’ll” was everything. Everything.

I decided that the best way to say thank you was to change my behavior, so I became absolutely OCD about keeping my apartment spotless. Most days, you could eat off the floor, and every day off the counters. It was organized to a fault.

To get back to the hold that this story has on my current life is that I’ve been living like “grief girl.” When my mother died, I went into such a state of apathy that absolutely nothing mattered, along with the fact that I didn’t want to remove anything she’d touched….. which slowly became not wanting to remove anything at all.

In the immediate aftermath, life wasn’t worth living. I don’t mean that I wanted to kill myself in turn. It was never that severe. It was more a case of “why should I even take care of myself…. do more than just survive, when my mother isn’t here to see it?”

It didn’t make sense. She was never here (at my house in DC), except for one visit. Mostly our relationship consisted of marathon phone calls. But grief doesn’t make sense.

After the initial thunderstorm, all of this emotion just drops out of you. You’ve invested so much in a relationship that’s not coming back, and there’s what I call “the in-between.” As you heal, you find other relationships to fill your huge emotional needs, and you slowly find stuff to do that replaces the swaths of time you spent together- in my case, 3-6 hours a week on the phone. “The in-between” is the first few months to a year after you lose someone important- a partner, a parent, a child- where there’s just nothing. There’s no time, there’s no reason, there’s no logic, there’s no structure. You’re just completely and totally empty, a shell of yourself.

My AA friends have often told me that when they first stopped using, there was a brain haze where most things were mindless and fuzzy. It took at least a year to clear out. A similar thing happened to me when my mother died. For a while, everything I did was completely mindless and fuzzy, even when I was being productive. I’d get to the end of a day and have absolutely no idea what I’d done or what I’d said. Because of this, I secluded myself all the time, save talking to people also in deep grief.

This is because I was afraid of people who didn’t have the same frame of reference as me- didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of trying to explain my point of view.

People can nod and smile and think they’ve been through something equally life-changing, but they haven’t. Losing a partner, parent, or child is something you don’t understand until you get there. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It literally rewires you down to the neurons. Your mind makes connections it never did before, some of them good, some of them bad. It depends on the day.

In my own life, I found that people who said truly insensitive things or made dark jokes were the only times I felt anything, because it took that level of emotion to cut through the fog. I never got mad at dark humor, because it’s also part of my basic diet. But with people who said truly insensitive things, I’d obsess over them for days. The worst, and there were many, were the ones who said “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when my mother dies.” I’d take it and stuff it down, but want to scream. “IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOING THROUGH IT AND NOT YOU!” Those remarks are things you have to stuff down, because no one ever means any harm, and if you pop off at them, you’re basically just getting grief-driven crazy spatter all over someone who really has no idea what they’re saying/implying.

Now that time has passed (not enough for me to say “it was a long time ago”), I am again ready to rejoin the people who are truly living. I’ve been surviving for a long time. I now have enough people to lean on who have filled the time and emotion I used to pour into my mother, as well as a clear mind. I don’t want to be one of those people that focuses on grief forever. It would wreck my mother to know that when she died, time just stopped for me, and I stayed there, in the “in-between.”

I’ve started with superfood, and a desire to start taking care of all areas of my life. Eventually, I’d like to be in another relationship, even if it still makes me sad that my mother won’t meet her.

Whether that person comes into my life is not up to me, but if I continue surviving and not really living, there’s no hope we’ll ever meet. I won’t have allowed the chance for it to happen.

And now, the zone is coming to completion, and I need to go eat the rest of my macaroni and cheese.