Komodo Dragon, Straight Up

I am a huge fan of independent coffee shops, and spend my own money there. However, there are lots of people who send me Starbucks gift certificates, so I don’t think I’ve spent my own money there in years. This is because I buy the beans and drink the coffee at home, and the stars add up.komodo-dragon-blend231ac7452d2168f58d66ff0000024ad1 I bought two bags of Komodo Dragon yesterday. That means I can stop by Starbucks and get my free reward coffee for quite a while.

But just because I love independent coffee shops doesn’t mean that I don’t like Starbucks beans. Komodo Dragon is so good that if I could, I’d just snort it. It is best black, because for a dark roast, it’s quite sweet and fruity, just like me.

And, of course, I have a friend who I’ve called “my dragon” for years, so the label doesn’t suck, either…. it’s just that in my head, my friend is not gold. She’s blue and green…. although I suppose they’re a little gold. There are bright spots on the end of their tail. Rubeus Hagrid would fall all over himself….. and love them and squeeze them and call them “George.” (If you get both of those references, you win a prize. And the prize is you’re old.) But let’s be clear- the label is just an added bonus. If I had to pick one coffee that I’d drink every day for the rest of my life, this would be it…. and not for lack of searching for something from a coffee shop that actually needs the money. I will keep looking, but I am terribly picky.

I made a pot this morning and all my housemates liked it as well, which is good since I have two pounds of it.

But I didn’t start this entry just to talk about coffee. It’s just that most of the time, I begin by telling you what I’m drinking. This entry is actually about a realization that knocked me on my ass, and led me to make some life changes that I hope will pan out.

I worked through all my issues surrounding dating and why it’s been five years. Why I haven’t wanted to put myself out there, why I was more nervous about things working out than not, why it was just too much bother.

After I came to those conclusions, I used a friend as a sounding board and it was good. I told her that my knee-jerk response to figuring all of this out was to get on dating apps and try to match with anyone I thought was remotely attractive and had a good line in their profile that made me laugh.

Me being me, though, I don’t know how I came across. Not a whole lot of feedback yet, except one woman I definitely asked out. I told her that I just wanted it to be easy and comfortable, to meet each other instead of only knowing a fourth of us through text.

She said yes.

If things go the way I think they will, this is someone I can picture having long conversations with. In her profile, she said she was a chef. So, of course, I had to ask if she was a line cook or an actual chef, because there can be only one. She told me she had her stripes, where she’d been executive chef, etc.

Having been married to a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, I had to overthink about why this woman being a chef was important to me. My immediate thought was that I had taken ownership of my love of cooking and working in restaurants long ago, and therefore it didn’t have anything to do with my old life/relationship. It was a good talk to have with myself, though, just to make sure. I have also told her why I don’t work in restaurants anymore, and her immediate reaction was understanding.

Am I ready for a relationship? I don’t know. Waiting five years was probably the right choice, because I have no lingering thoughts or jealous exes that would try to make an appearance.

What I do know is that unless I marry the woman who delivers pizza to my house, I’m not going to get anywhere hiding from the world. Although, as I have said before, there are three pluses to dating the pizza woman, because up front, I know three things:

  • she is employed
  • she has a vehicle
  • she already knows where I live

There are galaxies of possibilities to that “yes,” and I’m looking forward to finding out what they might be. Whether they are positive or negative is of no consequence, because this isn’t about trying to find my forever love. This is about me, and why I’ve been scared to interact at all, especially on the dating level.

As my personality type (INFJ) dictates, I have maybe one or two friends at a time, but I know them all as intimately as friends do- walking around in each other’s inner landscapes, calling each other on our own bullshit, mutual respect and happiness between us. I am not very good at small talk, so I prefer to be able to have friends in which I can just be myself and say anything, because I know that my friends accept me whether I’m wrong or right. Most of the time, my friends have to call me out on logic, because when I think with my emotions, it’s often upside down and backwards. Creative basket cases are where logic dissipates into the ether.

And because I have such close friends, I have never been able to say I was a lonely person looking for someone to complete me. I don’t have need of the fairy tale true love. At this point in life (late 30s-early 40s), we all have our own quirks, are a bit set in our ways, and we just have to hope all of it lines up.

When I said that I just wanted to hang out- make it easy and comfortable, she said, “I feel you- it seems like nobody goes on romantic dates anymore.” I want to meet her in person first, to see what I need to see in terms of spark, but I did file it away under note to self.

Right now, I’m just feeling grateful for the coffee, and the light bulb I finally realized needed changing, because it just wasn’t helping to sit in the dark.

Shared

…there’s a ghost in this house,
When he sings it sounds just like you,
When he falls it brings me down too.

Does it get easier to do?

-Robyn Dell’Unto

When I listen to this song, I can’t decide if the ghost is internal or external. Are the people I’ve loved and lost following me, or is it the feelings I have about them? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if I could go back in time and not move to DC, would I do it?

I have many regrets, and this is one of them, but not because it isn’t wonderful, and I wouldn’t even think about it if my mother hadn’t died so relatively shortly after I did.

Dana made it clear that she did not want to work on our relationship, and I could not live in the same city with her and not obsess over whether I could abide by that decision and how and when to leave her alone.

Moving was a way to give her space to figure out her own shit while I figured out mine, without the need to check in with her every damn minute to take an emotional temperature. I don’t know if it was ever in her plan, but I thought that with time and distance, things would look different, that we might ultimately find our paths back to each other after an enormous amount of therapy on our own, because what we had together was spectacular.

I couldn’t imagine a lifetime of it just being over. I held on to that hope for about six months, and then I began to grieve in earnest. During that time, directly after I moved, we talked a few times, and then never again. And even in our discussions, it was never about how we were really doing, just catching up like ladies who lunch. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was an adjustment.

I remember thinking, “this is not the Dana that I know… and that’s the point.”

I think the feeling of the rubber meeting the road in six months is relatively quick. At the time it felt interminable, but it wasn’t. Just a small part of the process in taking her from my reality to my past. The ghost that lives in my house, because I don’t lock her away and don’t care that she’s here. In a lot of ways, it’s comforting, because the memories that come up for me are of laughter and not of strife. I choose to block the bad parts and focus on the good.

And does it matter that these are the feelings I have when I’m alone, closed off to being with anyone else, because I just don’t want it? I don’t see it? That I am incredibly happy with having friends and family who love me, and that being the extent of my support system?

I am not over the way I treated her, and though I have made progress, I am not forgiven. It feels like letting myself off the hook too quickly, because I don’t want a repeat of this pattern ever again.

Also, I’ve never lived my life without a ghost that played tapes in my head, and I have work to do where that is concerned, as well. I’ve never had a mind free of wandering off into the past, reliving conversations of happier times and wondering why things went wrong… and two of them weren’t even romantic relationships, unless you count the complete mindfuck that went along with them. Although the second is self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be complicated, and I made it so.

But there’s a new truth in my life that is here to stay. Dana and I shared some incredibly privileged information that I won’t be able to bring up with anyone else, and I mean this on the serious. No one can ever know, and not because it’s dirty or bad or wrong, it just is. So part of my willingness to work on our relationship, no matter how bad things got, was the reminder that if I lost her safe space, there was no replacement, and never would be.

In that one way, our lives are connected as permanently as our matching tattoos. When I left, I made a point of calling them our honing beacons, but I wouldn’t use it now. It’s just another thing that is.

We were smart enough to be aware of the fact that we could break up when we got them, so we choose something that was meaningful to both of us severally and jointly. It’s not like I have a huge back piece that says “I love Dana.”

But in my worst moments, sometimes it feels that way.

I’m also not stupid enough to believe that her friends won’t read this, so let me assure them that I have no intention of moving backwards, of reaching out, of doing anything to endanger the peaceful silence we have achieved. My stuff to work out is owned, and I have no need for closure.

It’s been too long, it hurts too much to envision those conversations, and the ponderings of my heart are not to be shared… and by that, I mean that I don’t care if she reads my blog. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. I’ll never know or care. What I mean is that it’s not her job to care about what I think or even affect her life in any way. My thoughts, again, aren’t meant to be shared.

They’re just brain droppings, and maybe not even healthy ones. They just are. It’s not my job to judge their merit, just to let them come and go, talking about them with myself and probably my therapist.

I’m not stupid enough to think that any of my ghosts aren’t secretly reading, and I can’t care about that, either, because then this space ceases to be my own and starts to be a reflection of what I think their opinions might be.

My thoughts aren’t meant to be shared, leading to common ground.

It’s my weight to carry, and they don’t deserve (in good ways or bad) to take off a few pounds.

I am a product of my own inner landscape, sharing common ground with strangers who have had similar experiences… perhaps learning about the ghosts that walk in their houses. Reaching out, but not to anyone in particular.

I remember explaining this phenomenon to Argo, when she wasn’t a ghost, but very, very present, talking about someone else. That when I found out a piece of my past was lurking, she thought I was writing to it on purpose. I told her that quite frankly, when I found out the blood drained from my face and I nearly threw up. She got it, and we didn’t have to discuss it again. Once was enough, and I love her for that. She believed me the first time, and I didn’t have to convince her. It just was. She let it be, and it was the right thing to do. I don’t think I would have been willing to continue our unusual kinship if it had become a thing.

I could easily have let Argo become a ghost, listening to our made up whispers in my dreams instead of grabbing onto reality. The truth is that she is very present in my life. But those conversations happen in daylight, steeped in what is really right in front of me and not pipe dreams.

Probably because we didn’t have as many connections as Dana and me. I never shook her hand, thought her hugs would be memorable but never experienced it firsthand. A virtual x had to do. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if virtual became real, but only from the standpoint that it would have changed operatic swells of emotion into daily normality, letting minutiae temper the page. On paper, it’s easy to run off into flights of fancy. When someone is right in front of you, it isn’t. Reading when I was making her eyes glaze over or her temper flare was different than seeing it. It would have changed my direction and my distraction.

But what I know for sure is that I achieved my own peace with it not happening, it not being likely to happen, and just smiling like an idiot that I got to meet a piece of her at all. That for a short time, we walked in each other’s inner landscapes and it adding galaxies to me that I didn’t know I needed.

Still need, but okay with it being a long time ago and far, far away.

If I could go back and change anything, I would. In a hot second. But that’s not how life works. I got on the “think it, say it” plan without realizing its consequences, which were devastating in their scope. Knowing it was all at my own hand is the worst part, and something that 25 years from now, I will still look upon with regret and shame. Not being in my right mind doesn’t erase or excuse any of it.

But because I’ve seen her picture, her face does cross my mind, choosing to ignore the raw parts and focusing on the joy she brings me now. Memories are powerful, as is happiness surrounding them.

The one that makes me laugh all the goddamn time is, “you like to rap to Eminem? Explain to me exactly how I’m not going to fall in love with you. USE BIG WORDS.” Because of course, I was kidding, but she took it seriously and said, “you might fall in love with honesty coming through our chord, but you won’t fall in love with me, as adorable as I might be.” And that makes me laugh just as much, because it is so undeniably true (both that she was right about misreading falling in love with honesty and falling in love with her as a person, AND that she is, in fact, adorable- she’s so much funnier than me, and the degree is annoying. As an aside, there was one joke between us in which I came in kings full over aces, and though I don’t remember which one it was, I do remember feeling like I’d checkmated the king using just a pawn and a knight, when every day previously had felt like grasshopper would never reach satori).

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people may forget your words, but they will never forget the way they felt. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t like the actual quote, which is that “people will never forget the way you made them feel.” No one can make you feel anything. Your response is your response, and not anyone else’s to own. What is yours to own is either the laughter or the fallout.

I feel like that is what I do on this blog to a tremendous degree. I deal with my own responses, and their consequences. I can’t take responsibility for anyone else’s. What I can do is learn from the fallout, and try to make new mistakes. To think that everything will one day go perfectly is its own delusion.

What I do reflect on is interconnectedness, how my every response creates consequence, and how I live with it.

Because my thoughts aren’t meant to be shared.

Crazy on a Cracker

Tonight I am going to meet a new friend who I hope will one day become my old friend… a great pen pal becoming real. Religion major in college, writes, and reads more in a day than I do in a week… which is very hard.

Speaking of which, I am engrossed in a new novel for review called The 11:05 Murders, by Brian O’Hare. It’s another one I thought was deserving of more than a few words written about it, and again e-mailed it to my editor… and not even selfishly because reviews might be easier when she’s also read it. Just because the book was so great I wanted to share. It is a very, very cheap way to show someone you care- and are genuinely excited to be able to provide great entertainment through e-books even when the person lives thousands of miles away.

It’s also nice to get a book that I’m genuinely jazzed to review by a polished author. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m also glad that when I’m finished with this novel, there are two others.

It’s also a nice thing that when I shop at Amazon, a small percentage of my purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders, my charity through Smile. I try to donate to them personally when I have a chance, but it’s not always possible. It makes me feel good that I can get my needs met and contribute to theirs. So much is going on in the world today that’s negative… cheering on their efforts is just one way I hope to combat it.

Not only am I thinking globally about negativity, but personally. I am still messed up over the last four years, and in some ways, I think that loss will never get better. It will become a shallower well of injury, or something that hurts more and more sporadically, but nothing will ever be the same. This is because dealing with grief over the alive and well is different than grieving the dead. Each hurts in its own special way. I am struck by the fact that other people’s lives will go on without me, and brought to my knees that I will never see my mother again.

If in saying that Barbara Bush’s death wasn’t that sad, I didn’t mean to be callous. It’s just a whole other thing when someone dies naturally after living an incredible amount of time vs. the shock of losing someone in the blink of an eye when their lives were cut short by at least 15-20 years. Some days I actually forget time has passed and am just struck dumb with the immediacy of it all. A parent dying suddenly and younger than you thought is like being in a car accident repeatedly, with the same amount of haze-inducing shock. The worst part is that I didn’t agree to this (as if one would, but stay with me, Jimbo). It just happens unexpectedly, a truly unwanted side effect. I am just blindsided all the time. I go into a space where I can’t remember anything, I can’t move, I can’t think clearly. I am just walking through life trying to nail Jell-o to a tree.

What is truly heartbreaking is knowing that my mother would never have wanted this for me. She was always so self-sacrificing that she would have done anything not to die if she could help it, and not out of self-preservation. What keeps my heart from stitching is that for most of my adult life, I lived out of state… so there are days when I regret that fact and others where I completely forget she’s dead because I’m not used to talking to her every day, anyway. I’ll reach for the phone to call her and absolutely freak. Grief then becomes extremely loud and incredibly close. What helps is not thinking about my own situation, but the thousands of other people that have also had this experience and that even when I feel like it, I am never alone. Someone on earth has felt what I’m feeling at any given moment.

There’s also the two-sided coin of losing someone suddenly. It is the combined feeling of joy that they felt no pain and the anger that comes with not being able to say goodbye. Let me be clear, though. I am not angry at her. I am angry at the situation.

It is the same with divorce… more angry at the situation and myself than I ever will be at Dana. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’m not angry with Dana at all. Everything is forgiven on that end. It’s me that needs work. I got started praying for her health and happiness early and often. It gives me something to give to her, even when it’s just sending energy into the universe. Because we’re not in contact, the chord between us (as I’ve said before) becomes a loopback, feeding me. It gives me the feeling of peace and calm that I’m somehow contributing, I guess. At this point, guessing regarding the nature of karma and the universe is about as much control as I’m allowed to have. Surprisingly, it is more than enough.

I feel like I should get into that space quickly, the one of sending good thoughts into the universe, because I am more downcast today than usual. It’s grey and awful outside, which only contributes to the storm within. Everything is making me sad, and I just feel like a disappointing excuse for a human being. Now, logically I know this is not true. I just can’t seem to make it happen emotionally. I am sure that things will look different 30 minutes after I take my anxiety medication, for which I need to make a pharmacy run. I don’t want to show up to a first impression feeling like crazy on a cracker.

Because unfortunately, that’s what grief does. It causes anxiety about just damn everything, even the things you never thought about before said loved one died. There’s so many new depths to plumb. Even the fact that people die young is something you used to know and now smacks you in the face. It’s one thing to know it, quite another to feel.

As far as I know, besides Dan, I am the first of my friends to lose their mothers. It is a comfort you would not believe that although I am incredibly sad for her, I have a person who understands implicitly the hand that I’ve been dealt. I have someone who can tell with one look that I need a hug or an arm around my shoulder. Not only am I perpetually bereft in some respects, single people do not get nearly enough contact comfort. It is such a blessing to have someone in my life who gives really great hugs without a hint of romance, because it’s not about that and never will be. I just give friendship its full due, that chosen family is everything.

The reason I believe in chosen family so wholeheartedly is that I don’t think it’s fair to the person I would date to drag them into the sideshow that is my current life. I would much rather wait until things calm down, when I am much less angry at me for the way I treated Dana and much less overwhelmed at the state of my world. The one good thing I remember about being divorced is that not only did I behave badly then and am grateful I don’t now hurt her repeatedly, I never would have wanted to subject Dana to the person I’ve become in the aftermath of grief…. and not because I think she couldn’t have handled it. I just think that it’s a pain for which she would have no frame of reference, and therefore, would not have been impressed with my need to isolate, to the point that I would have isolated myself from her, too. I can’t imagine how short I would have become with her, snippy not because she did anything wrong but because her mother is still alive. It’s a helpless place when someone is mad at you for seemingly no reason, unable to take it in that you shouldn’t take it personally- that person is mad at the whole damn world. For me, it was a lucky thing to be on my own, so that when I was literally unable to function, no one had to deal with me. I’m so much better now, but it was a long row to hoe. My entire garden just died.

And though most of the plants are still dead, at least I see shoots of green.

Living Water

I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to figure out what to do with my life, because I can see where it is I want to go with such clarity… but there’s a deep chasm between here and there. The staircase has cracks and is, in some places, completely broken. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to work with the homeless, to be pastor of my own church, to be a writer tagged as more theologian than blogger, to help others heal themselves by laying out my own broken pieces and hoping that something I’ve said will trigger an “A-ha!” moment. I am thankful that I’ve done at least a small bit of the latter with this web site; the rest of me wonders constantly if I am healthy enough to work with other people in 3D.

It’s a question that not enough people ask themselves when considering careers as pastors, social workers, therapists, etc. Three years ago, I was in the psych ward at Methodist hospital… but I have trouble deciding how much of my depressed and anxious state was current and how much of it was a delayed reaction. While it was great to find an anti-anxiety medication that worked, and indeed, to learn I needed to add it to my already-established protocol, that was just psychiatry. Once my brain chemicals were sorted, that didn’t mean anything in terms of correcting behaviors that began as unhealthy in childhood, and proceeded to self-destructive as an adult. The difference, of course, being depth. When those behaviors were new, they would have been a hell of a lot easier to fix. And then I got old…. er.

I thought I was doing fine, and then the dam broke. All of the lies I’d used to convince myself that I was fine stopped working, and as I have said before, I just started emotionally vomiting trauma. I was a grand total of 36 years old, and I still felt like an arrested teenager, especially in my smallest moments. 36 should be old enough to know better, do better. I’d simply folded most of my hands as I watched my same-age friends come in Kings full over Aces.

I’ve never been in doubt about the fact that I was bright, had talent in multiple areas, etc. I just haven’t known how to collate that into success… and when I’ve achieved it, how to learn to live there. Every time I’ve had money and nice houses and retirement accounts and the whole nine yards, I have sabotaged myself in so many ways, torching it all to the ground.

I know how to live on no money and self-worth. I don’t yet know how to rise above it… but I’m learning. It’s probably why I made terrible marriage material… for which I owe two women an apology for being married to them and one other (okay, two… but we don’t talk about two) for thinking I could. So many of my absolutely brilliant ideas live on hope, which is why therapy is so important. It helps me to turn the abstract into logic. As a spazzbasket of creative diva energy, being logical is not my forté. Dana was right in that I tend to jump from one great idea to the next without finishing any of them, except for one. I have been faithful to a fault about cataloging everything I feel on this web site, and to me, 6.13.1_Pensieve_merged_blackthat’s the dependency I’ve needed to see up close & personal where all my flaws and failures lie. It has been a life-changing experience on so many levels to be able to go back over what I’ve written and see where I’ve changed and what still needs work. My friend Kristie calls it my “pensieve.”

She is not wrong.

I have said from the very beginning that I write for me, and you’re invited. It is so true you can take those words to the bank and cash them. Nothing I’ve ever written was meant more for an audience than it was for me, even the marriage article that got more shares and retweets than I ever expected. I wrote it when my own marriage was sometimes doing really well, and sometimes crumbling into pieces. I couched it in sharing common ground with Evangelical Christians, but in reality it was to remind myself of the things I could control in my own life, and what I couldn’t. I couldn’t make my partners do anything, but I could improve myself and hope that they followed suit… and if they didn’t, I was probably in the wrong relationship and trying to make it fit.

I cannot say that the relationship with Dana was wrong for me, only that it became so. Neither one of us really got the short end of the stick. We both participated in our own destruction, not really one person’s fault or the other, just a mishmash of problems that we thought we could solve and didn’t.

If I had it all to do over again, there would have been professional help involved. It also would have been good to either go and visit Argo or have her come and visit us, so that there was relationship on the ground between all three of us, and not a secluded bubble with swells of operatic emotion on the page. My writer personality is so different than the one I have on the ground, and it would have been good for all three of us to make that connection. Had Argo been a part of our daily lives, she would have ceased to be my “Raggedy Man.” My friends would have ceased to call her “The Doctor,” because she would have been real to them instead of seemingly this person I made up. It also would have made her concrete in my own mind, because speaking of self-destruction, the wall of anonymity between us kept even me from really seeing her in three dimensions. My lips were too loose, always. It is not lost on me that because we didn’t know each other on the ground, I was capable of more love and anger with her than anyone in my life, before or since.

That’s probably the biggest take-home message I’ve gotten from this web site…. that I need tighter boundaries with emotions all the way around. I don’t always need to be a loose cannon jackass who spouts off and regrets… or in the case of love, spouts off without really thinking of the consequences my words will inevitably bring. At this point, my life has to be all about learning to think critically while leaving my emotions on the back burner.

It’s a back and forth sort of process… one step forward and two steps back sometimes, a giant leap for mankind at others. I find myself watching TED Talks on motivation, and I haven’t found anything better for thinking while mobile than Tim Ferris’ podcast. Both deal with great thinkers- TED Talks are presentations, Tim Ferris interviews industry giants on how they do what they do. I feel stronger and more strident after listening to them, which is something I desperately need. Most of the time, I feel about thisbig, because depression and anxiety whisper, let’s think about everything you’ve ever done wrong in your whole life. My coping mechanism is to, most of the time, have something going in my headphones to drown out what my AA friends call “The Committee.” The Committee is the collection of tapes in your head that stop you from moving forward because it continually drags you into the past. Instead of how do I get there from here? it’s you’ll never get there because we won’t let you. It is the well of worthlessness from which The Committee continually tries to get you to drink.

There are better sources of living water out there, and my goal is to find them. At this point, there’s no other choice.

#prayingonthespaces

Rats.

I am going (more) crazy trying to find my phone. “Find My Device” says it’s here, but the last ping was 18 hours ago, so I could have left it pretty much anywhere since then. Trying to decide how long I’m going to search frantically before I give up the ghost and activate my old iPhone… because of course the minute I get home from AT&T is the moment I’ll find it. I wouldn’t be so quick on the draw to give up except that my sister is coming to town tonight and we need to be able to communicate.

My sister being in politics is the best thing that has ever happened to me, because I see her almost as much now as I did when I lived in Texas. She makes enough money that she could come visit whenever she wanted, but it’s nice that her trips are already paid for by someone else. Getting to see me is just icing on an already pretty great cake. She says she wants to go back to that ramen restaurant we found on H St. At the moment, I don’t remember what it’s called, but they have tsukemen and I’m all about it. Tsukemen is a different style of soup, where the ingredients are served separately from the broth. That way, the noodles don’t continue to cook, and you just dip. I learned about it from David Chang on The Mind of a Chef. It was exciting to taste it because I thought the dish was exclusive to Japan.

I don’t know whether that’s actually where we’ll end up, but it’s a good place to start. Eventually, I want to take her to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution that’s been serving up the “half-smoke” for over fifty years. I’ve never been there, either, so it would be nice to have a new experience for both of us.

At some point, perhaps not this trip, I want to recreate a picture taken of us at the Jefferson Memorial that I don’t have anymore. We’re standing between the columns, holding hands and pushing on the stone so that it looks like we’re holding it up. She flew into DCA the weekend that my mother was performing with her choir at Carnegie Hall so that we could road trip up together. I will never forget cruising down West Side Highway, looking out over the water.

One of the reasons that I wanted to get back to the mid-Atlantic in the first place is that the cities are so concentrated. It takes about four hours to get to New York City, about seven to get to Boston. Both are incredible experiences. I’ve seen the hole where the World Trade Center used to be, but not what has been built in its absence. Interestingly enough, Kathleen and I had tickets to see Rent on Broadway that weekend, and unsurprisingly, the show was canceled, so we went to Boston instead as a stopover for Vermont when we got our civil union. Man, that was one of the best and worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. We were together for three years before we got married, and after that, it all went to hell in a handbasket. But we were the first gay couple to get joint health insurance at ExxonMobil, because a PR guy said in the Washington Blade that XOM would recognize officially married couples. We sent our certificate to HR, and they freaked out a little bit, because they didn’t know that PR had said it. They literally had to create a policy for us overnight…. they either didn’t think anyone would take them up on it, or perhaps the PR person was speaking off the cuff and didn’t really have the authority to promise something like that. However, domestic partner benefits were published in the newspaper and it wasn’t something they were going to be able to ignore. We were legit heroes to other XOM employees, but what would have been even sweeter was the marriage lasting more than 11 mos. Sigh.

That being said, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on being with Dana for anything in the world. The old saying about not crying because it’s over, smile because it happened is one of the truest statements I know. When I left for DC, I was also incredibly happy because I didn’t think of it so much as an ending, but two new beginnings. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do think about what I could have done to be a better partner to Dana all the time. This is not because I’m scheming to get her back, only what I will have to bring to the table in my next relationship so that it goes even more smoothly.

But that is for later- not now. I made jokes about getting a new girlfriend right away, but my actions have proved them to be only that. I love my independence, and I am not willing to give it up, as well as working on myself to be my best before the next great love of my life shows up. I have a great gaggle of friends for companionship, and that is enough. More than enough, actually. I wish I could say that I missed romance, but I don’t. It’s just not a priority right now. Too many things up in the air for me to commit to it. I’ve been on a few first dates that never amounted to anything because they were more akin to job interviews, and that’s when I realized I was done.

But wait, that’s not entirely true. One of my friends got under my skin, and when I told her that, she didn’t blink. It was not entirely unwelcome news. But we had different priorities and nothing came of that, either. We laughed about it, but never took any actions to further the cause. Laughing about it was enough for both of us.

And then my mother died, and my world tilted so that I couldn’t even go out with myself, much less anyone else. When I was in Houston for the funeral, I invited Dana just to say that she wasn’t unwelcome, that it was her mother-in-law for seven years and change and I was not insensitive to that fact. But she didn’t show, and that was fine, too. I had plenty of other people around me in person, by phone & text, and by e-mail to worry about anyone in particular. In fact, the shock of losing her suddenly rendered me pretty much under anesthesia. It was akin to the twilight after surgery.

I would say that the aftermath, when reality truly set in, has been much, much worse than those first few days…. although I am still susceptible to shock that renders me unable to remember where I’m going, or where a particular item might be after I’ve put it down and started thinking about other things.

Like my phone.

 

Twisted Mango Diet Coke

It works. I don’t know how it works, but it does. These are not two flavors that would seemingly go together. Perhaps it’s the fruit and the cinnamon/ginger combo of cola. Maybe I’m just high on antihistamines and decongestants. Whatever it may be, I would definitely buy it again. Keep in mind, though, that my palate is different than most and I like a wide variety of weird sodas no one else will drink. You have been warned, so don’t @ me, bro.

Speaking of drugs, I’m not sick, per se. I just have to take Zyrtec and Sudafed every day because my allergies are that terrible. It seems as if no matter where I live, it’s the worst possible place I could’ve moved in terms of ever-present spring fever, even in the dead of winter. Maybe one day I’ll move to Vegas or Phoenix to settle my “stuffed up doze” (no, I won’t).

Tino, our handyman, is painting the bathroom and the bedroom next to mine, so perhaps I should splash water on my face in the kitchen. Water is the absolute best home remedy for allergic reactions, because it at least removes what’s bothering me from my skin, even without soap. I also take ibuprofen to relieve the pressure in my “mask,” although it probably wouldn’t hurt to get allergy shots and eat local honey. The honey trick is that your body naturally builds up antihistamines over time to whatever pollen is used to make it. Of course, the real miracle is finding someone who has local honey for sale.

A new person is coming to look at the bedroom we have for rent this evening, so I’m hoping for good things. Between the pathological liar, the heroin addict who overdosed (and is fine now), and the psychological torture of hearing The Beatles sung loudly and off-key at all hours of the night, I am looking forward to pretty much anyone else. Actually, it wasn’t just The Beatles, it was screaming obscenities and having my other roommate record it. The .mp3 was as clear as a bell, and the recording was made from the room next to mine on the other side of the hallway. All this is to say that finding roommates who are relatively normal has been rough going. Anyone can put on a good face for an hour, so an interview isn’t necessarily the best indication… but it’s what we’ve got.

I’ve lived here for almost three years now, and it’s becoming amazing how many people I’ve seen come and go in that short a time. I feel very lucky that I’ve seriously found a home and fit in very well. I’d like to continue living here as long as my landlords will have me, because it truly is like having a second family. As Sam has said, I’ve been upgraded.

My living situation is absolutely a miracle. The Nassers were the first people I called after doing some research on where I wanted to live, and I took the room sight unseen after talking to my landlord for an hour and a half on the phone from Houston. I figured that I could live anywhere for a month if it didn’t work out, so I wasn’t terribly worried about showing up at the Metro station in a new city and just rolling with the punches. DC wasn’t new to me, but Maryland certainly was. Alexandria felt like I’d never left Houston- roughly the same politics… city is liberal, state is conservative. Maryland is overwhelmingly blue. Even the conservatives aren’t that conservative. They might have fiscal responsibility issues, but they’ve moved past the politics of kindness. There is much more in the way of statewide health care, both mentally and physically. Being able to get health insurance the moment I moved here without a job was a hug from Jesus. Though I didn’t move here to sponge off the state, having a safety net until I landed on my feet was legit #blessed.

That being said, when I switched to insurance through my employer, my deductible and copays went up dramatically. Anything would be from all free, all the time and drugs at a dollar a bottle. It has just reinforced my belief that universal health care does indeed work, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than thinking about the millions of people bitching about government insurance while on Medicare. Seriously, people. Connect the dots. Not realizing this makes you look one French fry short of a Happy Meal.

In terms of needing insurance, I keep myself healthy, albeit in horrible shape. My weight is under control, but I couldn’t run up two flights of stairs at gunpoint. I’m getting better through walking everywhere, but it’s not enough. I’m not getting my heart rate high enough for true cardio, and I’m not lifting weights to strengthen my muscles….. and everyone knows by now that cardio is rule number one. 😛

However, I do need to go to the doctor once a month for psych med checks and to a therapist four or five times a month. With state-run health care, all of that is free. Private insurance has a copay for drugs and generally offers 13 therapy sessions a year. I am steadily making progress on old trauma, but still need help with visioning, values, and coping mechanisms. It’s not just about where I’ve been, but making sure I get where I want to go. Everyone needs that to some degree. Most people don’t think of therapy when it comes to reaching out for more than they’re currently achieving, but I liken it to sports psychology. Ambition and drive go by the wayside when I feel terrible about myself, because I am a perfectionist to a crippling degree. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time around, obviously I am a straight up failure, no matter how many people I love provide evidence to the contrary. I hear it, but it doesn’t sink in…. I think to myself that they’re just being nice. I know how and what I truly am, which is a disaster. Therapy helps keep things in perspective, that my disorder knows the very best lies to use against me so that they are incredibly vivid and believable. Every negative thing that has ever been said about me is my true nature; everything positive is just humoring me.

Anxiety, especially socially, has a huge impact on my life. I know from past experience that if I am not paying attention, I could really hurt somebody emotionally, so I hide. I only get together with the people I love when I’m feeling up to it, which is always a quarter to sometimes. The hardest is social contact needed to maintain isolation, like shopping. I’m not even friends with these people and won’t have in-depth conversations, anyway, but cocooning in this one is strong. I have taken self-reliance to an extreme, whereas previously, I was entirely too dependent on what everyone else thought. Because I still can be, I just avoid those situations so that I am always listening to my inner landscape of thoughts and feelings. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but no man is an island… from what I’ve heard.

When I am in my right mind about things, I know that I have incredible gifts to offer the world, and indeed, have. But there are days when I just need to back off the nerve that says I’m worthless and just have a Diet Coke and a smile.

Forward (and Backward) Through the Ages

I’m starting to wonder when I decided I was old… not in words, but actions. I don’t look in the mirror very often, and my mind’s eye stopped adding years long ago. For instance, high school and early college don’t seem like they’re that far away, but 2016 was my 20 year high school reunion (I didn’t go, but I did note its passing). The past few years have slipped by quietly without fanfare, as I have become extremely introverted…. have always been, and yet compounds yearly. It takes more energy than I’ve got most days to get out and play. I prefer to read, write, and watch streaming video… in that order. No longer do I plan outings on a daily or even weekly basis. I plan outings around how lonely I feel, and solitude is addictive.

Alone, I do not wonder if I have said the wrong thing. Alone, I do not worry if I’m wearing the right outfit. Alone, I do not have to compromise. Alone, I do not have to share.

To paraphrase Hafiz, I don’t surrender my loneliness quickly, letting it cut more deeply to ferment and season me as few human or even divine ingredients can. It has been the only solution to overcoming emotional instability, and not because I don’t like people. Like most introverts, I’m hilarious at a party. I just need absolute quiet to recharge. What has been different over the last three or four years is that behaviors once acceptable to me aren’t, and I only truly enjoy being around people when I feel strong enough to uphold my own standards of excellence.

Wow. I just reread that and thought, so you’re curating your real life existence like a Facebook page? Shudder. And yet, it’s true. In no way am I ready to let anyone past the walls I’ve put up to avoid talking about all manners of grief. When I go out, I want to experience pleasure, which invariably means putting away all the things that have caused me to recede from interaction in the first place.

However, there is no barbed wire around my heart, no need to sting anyone if they try to jump the fence. If I feel like one of my boundaries is coming down, I question myself.

  • Do I want a deeper friendship with this person?
  • Does what I’m about to say improve on the silence?
  • How much do I care if this private thought becomes known to another person?
  • How much am I hurting myself if I don’t share my thoughts? No risk, no reward.
  • Is the idea I want to share appropriate for this friendship?

They are questions I can answer fairly quickly in my head before beginning to speak, and I believe that is the difference between the me of a few years ago and the me of now. I have always been intense; I have not always been the type to think deeply before I speak. The “think it, say it” plan wore itself out.

I am infinitely more measured than I used to be, because it took emotional disaster to make me realize that I could have avoided hurting friends and family alike by taking in everything they’re saying, and letting silence hang in the air until I have a chance to respond thoughtfully.

I don’t crave solitude because I’m afraid of getting hurt; I crave solitude because in it, I cannot hurt others. I feel I have done enough of that for a lifetime, and though of course conflict is unavoidable in life, there are certainly good and bad responses to it. It is my work to do to learn healthy coping mechanisms and implement them, lest I have a repeat of the end of vitally important relationships.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to ask me why I don’t date, that it’s certainly been long enough since my divorce, etc. I don’t want to start dating just because it’s socially acceptable for me to do so. I want to start dating when I feel I’ve learned the lessons that the universe wanted me to learn before making any committment besides friendship. I find that I am learning plenty in how to be a responsible and responsive friend, and that is enough… mostly because in my struggle with grief, responsible is easy and responsive is hard.

If being responsive to friends is hard, I do not want to even think about romantic interests feeling ignored…. because, of course, nothing says I care about you like unanswered texts and cancelled plans. It is a morass in which I’m unwilling to engage.

This has much less to do with my divorce and much more to do with my deceased mother. While Dana is the greatest love of my life up to this point, I am and have been ready to leave the past there. I just can’t see inviting someone else into the deep grey haze my life has become. My friendships are helping it lift, but not enough. Not yet. My thinking is that you have to walk before you can run, and being a good friend is several steps in the right direction. A lot of people don’t give friendship its full due. I didn’t until relatively recently, and I will never make that mistake again. That warning is etched deeply into my bones.

My friendships are what remind me that I am indeed not as old as I feel, because laughter makes me lighter.

For instance, tonight I went with Dan & Co. to see Pitch Perfect 3. Fat Amy finds out that she has money, and wants to create more shows. I lost it at Fat Amy Grant…. oh, that’d be so good for Christmas. Now, most people would laugh at this joke. I howled so loud that I think everyone in the theatre heard me. For most people, they’ve heard of Amy Grant. Preachers’ kids of my age are STEEPED in her. I laughed for me and my mother alike. We would have run that line into the ground, and it would have provided us entertainment for years.

That moment felt like metaphorical communion….. a moment just for us, without letting anyone else in. I could feel her laughing inside me….. and for a few seconds, I felt….. young.