Paschendale, by The War Daniel

I am going to be writing about very real experiences that ended tragically in suicide in many, not all, but many cases. Don’t read this if that is going to trigger the darkness to rise within you. We don’t need to lose anyone else.

I listen to Iron Maiden A LOT. Almost obsessively, some would argue. And much of that has to do with a quote I heard a long time ago about how music has the ability to take simple words to places that mere words cant go. When you record a song, it’s chordal movement, melody, inflection, tonality, and most importantly the emotion evoked by going from E minor to C to A minor to D minor. God’s saddest chord progression, I always call it. Obviously I learned it from an Iron Maiden song. And so many of their songs, somehow, capture the aesthetic, the horror and the harsh realities of the things we’re asked to do. Take this verse from “Afraid to Shoot Strangers:”

Trying to justify to ourselves the reasons to go
should we live and let live
forget or forgive
But how can we let them go on this way?
A reign of terror, corruption must end
And we know deep down there’s no other way
No trust, no reasoning no more to say.”
It’s a total “what the fuck are we even doing here anyway?”

From “These Colours Don’t Run:”

Far away from the land of our birth
we fly our flag in some foreign earth
we sailed away like our fathers before
These colours don’t run from cold bloody war.”

“I guess we’re doing it for ‘Murka but I don’t know why I’m mad at these people.”

The one that hits me the hardest goes as follows, it’s called “The Longest Day.”

In the gloom, the gathering storm abates
In the ships, gimlet eyes await
The call to arms to hammer at the gates
To blow them wide, throw evil to its fate

All summers long, the drills to build the machine
To turn men from flesh and blood to steel
From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach
From summer sands to Armageddon´s reach
Overlord, your master, not your God
The enemy coast dawning grey with scud
These wretched souls, puking, shaking fear
To take a bullet for those who sent them here

The world’s alight
The cliffs erupt in flame
No escape, remorseless shrapnel rains
Drowning men, no chance for a warrior’s fate
A choking death, enter Hell’s gates

Sliding we go
Only fear on our side
To the edge of the wire
And we rush with the tide
Oh, the water is red
With the blood of the dead
But I’m still alive
Pray to God I survive


How long, on this longest day
‘Til we finally make it through?

Steve Harris, who is a trusted student of the history of war and observer of the human condition couldn’t have written it better if I was sitting there dictating to him.

The anxiety of the training “all summers long.” I can still see my dumbass Marines fucking with a western diamond back rattlesnake and letting them get bitten because I knew it would be a dry bite and I hoped they would learn to be 5% less stupid.

“From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach…” We’re a volunteer military now. The “paper soldiers” Steve is referring to is those poor sods that were drafted into the War. Our paper soldiers now are a reclamation of the phrase to mean those of us to have the guts to sign the line when we weren’t forced. All our choice. And then “Armageddon’s reach” whatever middle eastern hell fate directed us. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. Somalia. Yemen.


I don’t have the space to do a full analysis of these lyrics and the experiences they capture here, but trust me when I say that Steve captured the raw feelings and fears and resolve that you feel.

And perhaps most poignantly, from Paschendale:

Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still

I stand my ground for the very last time
Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow
Rush of blood and over we go

You can’t understand war unless you’ve lived it. And it isn’t your fault. We are a volunteer force. This isn’t WWII where my grandfather was drafted, and was eventually discharged for telling his higher ups at one of the prisons why he didn’t shoot someone running for freedom by saying “there’s been enough killing.”

And that was during a time when, even if its war, people were playing by the rules.

Now it’s like Fuck Yo Rules. A box of Lindt chocolates could be an IED. In my time on the ground it wasn’t the guys on fireteams that were the most exposed. It was the logistics guys in their vehicles transporting supplies and such from point A to point B. The enemy did everything it could to blow those vehicles and the brothers and sisters in them to oblivion.

We had a POA for every evolution with a dossier of who would be involved from the turret gunner on down the line. And when those guys got to our side of the world it was a party, because we had thwarted the cocksmokers one more time.

Objectively, I had it easy on the ground. I was almost always in the BAS treating nagging things like back strains and hamstring pulls and the sports medicine like injuries that come from carrying almost your own weight hour after hour. And as such, I don’t have many of the “did you see action” stories.

But you know what I did see? The payoff.

I saw what happened when we got back home and knew we were safe and had time to finally process everything that did, didn’t and almost happened.

We went to our post-deployment screenings 3, 6, and 12 months after we got home. Well that is the ones of us that were home that long. Despite rules to the contrary, a lot of guys were sent back with 9 months of coming back home.
And don’t get me wrong, some of these guys didn’t want to be back home. Because the stereotype of the military wife that just waits on her husband to leave so she can cheat—that’s real and fuck those bitches in the very worst way for it. I hope they get a UTI, Herpes and bitten by a copperhead all at the same time.

The names in my phone are funny. If you’re a person I talk to often and are my closest people, the suffix -hausen is added to your name, i.e. Fuckingstirlhausen, Jennyhausen, Mistihausen, mommyhausen. Princesshausen (for my bestie heather). You get the picture. It’s added because my favorite comedy wrestler Donavan Danhausen adds it to the end of almost everything that is deemed to be cool. Also I’m told its an actual German thing.

There’s also a contingency of people in my phone with “Goddammit” in front of their names. They know precisely who they are. Because for a while it was just constant bad news of our guys winning the fight over there only to come back here and lose the war in the most heart breaking way. It got to a point where my lady at the time wanted my buddies to stop calling me because she knew I was going to be crushed to find out that we’d lost someone else. Because she knew I was going to feel like a steaming pile of triceratops shit because I didn’t reach out. I didn’t take that nagging clue to call them to see what was what. I didn’t call when their marriages ultimately failed.

You may say that this is borrowing grief for its own sake. And to that I humbly suggest you do the following in this order:

Leave my yard by taking a right out of the driveway.

Take the curve around to the main street, making sure to stop at said curve and pay the Molly toll by tossing a dog biscuit to an especially, erm, “hefty” Australian Cattle Dog.

When you get to the stop sign, take another right. Go down to hwy 2744 where the turn off is for that cattle sifter.

Go past that pasture about ¾ of a mile until you get to the pasture where the Santa Gertrudis bulls with their horns in tact still are.

Jump the fence.

Smack a bull on its nose.

When the bull goes to toss you, take the horns up the ass and FUCK OFF.

When someone dies in country, or on the ship or even in the hospital, there’s a suddenness that is almost easier to take, because you know their suffering was minimal. When you lose someone to suicide it is the most gut wrenching passing that can befall your brothers and sisters. Because they lost the hardest war of all: the one at home.

And here is something I haven’t told very many people.

Every single time we lose someone to suicide, I start getting the texts and phone calls that “(you’d) better not be next!
And heretofore I have maintained that promise, for here I am, dear reader, laying myself bare for you on this page.
It is no secret I struggle with alcoholism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and probably some mental illnesses that don’t have names yet.

There was a time when I called the veteran’s suicide hotline, because I had tried and failed for over 3 months to find a job and just nothing good was coming of it. Because the harsh reality is that so much of what we do in the military that should 1 to 1 translate just doesn’t. Its like we’re speaking not just a foreign language but a dead language.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced since I came home is the struggle to answer the question “who am I now that I’m not HM2 (FMF) Williams the Grumpy Cat anymore?”

Identity.

HM2 Grumpy always had or could find an answer. HM2 Grumpy could anticipate his Flight Surgeons concerns before they ever happened. HM2 Grumpy made sure no one fucked with his Jr guys for things they couldn’t help. HM2 Grumpy knew that he couldn’t pay them more, give them more leave, but we he could do is give them time. So I’m not saying I ever told someone “You need to go to your squadron RIGHT (insert bug eyed meaningful look here) “Yeah Grumps, I think I need to go talk to my Sgt Major about whether I should get a boxer or a pit bull.”

“Good fuck off and don’t come back until tomorrow.”

Now I, like a lot of you reading, am just a guy trying to navigate a world that isn’t sure what to do with us. Sure there’s a fuck ton of forward facing “support for our troops,” but yo, my snake needs rats and my guitars need strings, and my car needs an oil change—help brothas and sistas out. Because that’s what ends up getting us. It’s not even the trauma endured over seas—you can anticipate that. It’s coming home to a largely insouciant audience that gives lip service to being “veteran friendly” but that doesn’t end up translating into anything tangible. And that’s when it happens. When that last vestige of hope falls away. When that guy that was a cousin of an uncle was going to be hiring preferably a veteran welder. And it just doesn’t happen for long enough that you cant take one more drink, or take one more Ambien. You take ALL of the fentanyl and dilauded and whatever else so that the embarrassment and feelings of being a burden will go quiet.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember my dears, These Colours Don’t Run. If you can do something for just one or two of our siblings, you will earn their love for life and then who knows how far your one act of kindness can go.

Hopefully far enough for the next graduation, prom, drivers license, one act play, football playoff, singing competition—that one more step down the hill that makes life worth living.

Cruelty has a human heart. But kindness does too.

I would love to take a lot more calls lauding the great works of our brothers and sisters than that gut wrenching call to find out we lost someone else.

The Big Yellow House, Part Two: Prologue

In part one, we explored the first people I met when I came to Oregon and told their story. We started at The Little Grey House and ended at The Church That Used to Have Green Carpet. There is a prologue to The Little Grey House that starts in The Austin Stone Cathedral, and predates The Big Yellow House by about 12 years. If you think I don’t know what I’m risking with this subject matter, I’ve already talked it out. The people in the story outside the real issue would never know or even remember everything that happened in those 12 years, because only Bryn is close enough to me to have watched me since 1997, and there are a couple of people who remember from 1990, but I would never trust them and talk about it. The conversation would mostly consist of tears and guilt because I knew they were right and I didn’t care. The big secret of childhood abuse is that we crave it. We hate ourselves because abuse makes us feel so good (physically) until the lovebombing stops. With a narcissist, it generally comes pretty quickly after they realize they can control you easily and well.

In 1997, Bryn’s big brother Matthew was 16 (which I only remember because I was impressed he could drive… I was terrible at it and still am), Bryn must have been in the neighborhood of 14, which would have made younger sister Christy about 11? 12? I don’t remember the kids’ ages in score order, but I do remember each and every way they’ve enriched my life… and every sin I committed out of idiocy or malice or both.

In retrospect, the dark and the light combine into an amazing tapestry, because we were all loved by their parents. The fact that I wasn’t actually born to them is something that none of us have ever noticed, although I did date Matthew for a few months and that was confusing for all of us. Mostly because it was the first time I’d ever been attracted enough to want to date a boy as an adult. However, I will tell you that my experience with having a 7th and 8th grade boyfriend prepared me for some of it. This is only to say that at the time, bisexuality was not as understood by straights who are not okay and queers who aren’t doing any better. If you’re bi, you get it from all sides. No wonder I chose one too early. The two women I’ve mentioned previously took care of my magical thinking on that one. Once you’ve had sex with women, there’s no going back. It changes you. The way the abuse hurt still is that Alpha abuser thought it was a cute quirk and not real. She blabbed to all her friends about me when I wasn’t sure I wanted anything known about me. She knew this. I know she did. She just didn’t think. Now those friends have participated in my sex life as well, because they thought it was funny.

It was about March of 2003 or 4 (I’ve slept since then) that I had a pregnancy scare. It was devastating and exciting, but only a scare because I had no idea where I was in my cycle and whether it was even a real thing. I took a pill anyway, just to be safe. However, the reason I took the pill is that I didn’t want there to be any chance of me being a single mom. I asked Matt to be the boyfriend, and he turned me down, but very sweetly. He said that he didn’t think he was capable of being the boyfriend. I went on to meet someone else and so did he. It was not an ending, but a blessing and releasing.

Also, men are terrible. 😉

Luckily, I never had any of those hang-ups, because men relate to me in a different way. I’m sure that will change if I become another man’s wife, because me being married to a woman shut down their defenses. Most of my male friends are tenderheart bears who would die rather than show it. I know things about them that their wives never will, and it’s because friendship deserves secrecy. I treat all conversations as confessionals so it’s not weird for them to say they hate being married or WTF ever. The things you say to your friends to handle being married… The things you say to a woman who loves you but is not in love with you… The things I say to remind them of that fact. You’re not done, you’re just frustrated. Here’s how I fixed that issue in my own marriage. See if it works for you. No refunds.

Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes it’s “we’ve been talking more in the last two days than we have in the last two years.” After being married for almost eight years, there’s virtually no problem I haven’t dealt with (whether it’s good or bad). I also have excellent recall of those years, so anyone who comes to me and asks for my opinion will get one already fully formed.

The most consistent problem across sexual orientation and gender is communication. Mostly “they don’t treat me the same at home as they do in public.” We’re all guilty of curating our marriages, but it’s dangerous to do that too much.

I have lived in too many fantasies to think that’s untrue. I have loved the curated versions of several people, none more than the first and the last. The first created a Beautiful Memory Picture. The second one took the picture and destroyed it right in front of my eyes. What she did differently is not allow me to live in that bubble. To date, she is the best interrupter of my life. It sounds like a dig, but she uses my ADHD like a superpower. She knows I’m listening, and to turn my attention to something else is a blessing. Just like with everyone else, sometimes I do focus on her minutiae. But it’s not because I’m in love with her. It’s just because I love her. Alpha pretended, and the fantasy lasted as long for her as it did for me.

Here are two differences between real vs. pretend:

  1. Alpha presented as having feelings. She does not. She knows how to imitate feelings. Omega started with a truthbomb and has never wavered because of them. Her behavior and her words match. I have a PowerPoint presentation complete with annotated bibliography (my diaries and letters of the time, all gone now but the words are still in my mind) on how to love both of them. What I did not know was that Alpha was going to destroy me and Omega is still destroying me. One put in flashbacks and triggers. One is taking them out and looking at them with me, setting fires with a blowtorch and gasoline so that I can function again.
  2. Alpha’s friendship started with Schrodinger’s Seduction. I can get her to do whatever I want if I install the trigger that I’m the only one that can meet her needs. That my parents were sus. Omega’s friendship was never dependent on that because she’s not looking for it. Her clinical separation with the way I could fall for Alpha (I thought it was real due to context clues and not her actual words). We were both musicians, both singers, kindred spirits. The problem was that she blamed me for years over a trigger she installed. Omega will have her ass for it if she ever meets her.

It’s good to know a dragon in human form, especially when she lets me hold onto her tail. My hand fits firmly in her claws, which she uses to massage my head when I’m sad or angry. It helps, even in fiction. My ride or die is a muscle mass of fury, and I need it. Her “lead the charge into hell” attitude has saved me from so much trauma because I listen to her and parrot her opinions on a number of subjects, most of them about me.

We are both better people than we think we are. We both tend to give an enormous amount of love without receiving it, even though it is given freely. As I mentioned, if I pick up her coffee, she’ll turn around and do it for me. When it’s something special, she’ll buy me a book she loved and wants to share. She really listens, and picks winners. Everything from Stanley Tucci to Deborah Harkness to Karin Slaughter. We also talk other media, and she’s only given one recommendation that I liked and didn’t love. I was in a bad place when I saw it, and it scared me. I just couldn’t tell her why.

I’d started hanging out at the Spy Museum, practically living there when I had a membership because I was so dedicated to studying the world of intelligence. I am less interested in writing a novel about spies and being able to use that library of images correctly. As a result, I met regular people who used to be spies. The “regular people” put me through the ringer in terms of thinking about what it might be like to actually live that life. I’d love the travel and the worldview. I think if you’re CIA you become a citizen of the world… because maybe your job is at Langley, and maybe it’s in Kandahar with terrorists or drug runners at the Texas border. CIA charter says that they only work overseas, that anything happening is the United States is FBI. The crossover comes in with things like 9/11, where enemy combatants from other countries were arriving here.

My clinical separation was non-existent at that point. I was thinking about these friends being in danger, and the show she recommended was basically as close to a procedural as you’ll get from any US Intelligence Agency. It was called “The Enemy Within.” It didn’t deserve to get canceled, because it was brilliant. I will probably borrow structure from it at some point.

What wasn’t brilliant was all of the actors appearing as my friends if I picked up that telescope. I was zooming in on the feeling that being a spy is not all it’s cracked up to be. You have to lie a lot by necessity, and you have to worry about your personal and professional lives colliding in a very, very bad way. It is not for the faint of heart, and I could have done it given my experience with Alpha. If I was in operations though, I don’t think I would have stayed long. Living that way over time wears you down. I think I would have been very happy as a Feeb, and might check on their psychological requirements. Here’s why. What bothers me the most about military and intelligence is that there’s a very real chance they’re going to die. Most of the time, with intelligence the chances are a million to one. Sometimes they’re not. If you’re in the Armed Services, the percentage of death jumps by a large margin. Spies are able to live in the shadows, but are sometimes also forward deployed. And then you have DIA, which is basically CIA except you’re in the military. And that’s where I think about dying far away from home, like Daniel almost did… and an unlikely hero of mine, Harry Windsor. It was alarming how much I freaked out when I realized that the prince was in Kandahar at the exact same time as Daniel. Both of them could have died because of a terrorist.

I could have been there because I had to cut off my emotions to survive abuse. I could have been a spy because my reality cracked in childhood. I would have been very good. It makes me feel like a monster that I know how to get what I want from nearly anyone as long as I ask it the right way, and I am well practiced in making an ask………………………..

Two things about that. I don’t want a compartmentalized life, even if it comes with trips to amazing places. I also don’t want to be cut off from my emotions, because thinking about all my secrets and lies would undo me pretty quickly.

In short, I want to forget about Alpha, because imitating the way she makes every relationship transactional and tells you she loves you every single day without being willing to do even the smallest thing is toxic. I would not want to be that person, and yet I do have those tendencies. It’s why I work so hard on my relationship with Omega. I need a friendship that is rock solid and real. That if I fall, I will hit the ground. Nothing is bottomless or worth despair over when it was. That’s because Lindsay (younger sister) doesn’t even remember what she looks like. Why should I remember all this? It’s inspiring that I may get there one day.

I would still apologize and regret if I hadn’t figured out that the relationship was a fantasy on both our parts. The story I was telling myself is that I mattered to her. The story she was telling herself is that she was the perfect mothermentorsisterfriend and I was just bipolar and acting out. She used my diagnosis effectively in the destruction of our relationship, and I won’t forget that, either. I thought she was being abused, I wasn’t crazy. I thought she’d signed up for a lifetime of being railroaded into the ground, because patterns don’t come from nowhere. She has convinced a lot of people that she’s been amazing to me, probably hoping to make me look like an ungrateful spoiled brat because she’s “given me so much.”

She loved me when it was convenient for her (read: when she needed something from me; transactional). Her other friends were blind to this fact, and she thought nothing of telling me that she’d made one friend her “pet person.”

Gross.

I’m not trying to tell her story at all. I am saying that in that moment, I figured out what was being done to me, what had been done starting a few months before I turned 13. I don’t think she ever did something like this to other young girls, but I’ve seen the pattern play out with more women than I can count. The one woman before me who was brave enough to call her on it also got dumped as the friend because obviously she was crazy. If you talk to Alpha, she has never done anything wrong in the history of either relationship, and if she has said the opposite, she said it because you had something she wanted.

If her dopamine levels are low, she’ll get a hit any way she can… and in my case, it was reaching out for adoration because she knew I’d never say anything negative. Then, I got mad. So I was discarded for telling the truth and now some of my former friends think that I am mentally ill. It’s true, but not about this. Some of those triggers helped to set up my valley of vulnerability, but no one remembers that, either.

Her reality cracked, and then mine because of it.

In this case, correlation provides all of its causation, but no one looks at it except me in any regular sense. Everyone else has moved on, because she has. Here’s the thing, though. As fake as she was, she also never would have left me. If there is someone on earth that she genuinely loves, it’s me. This is because life hadn’t hit her too hard when we met. I slid in under the wire and disarmed the bomb. My ire is directed at how love was presented. Being seductive while she told me we were family and then treating me like she didn’t know what the hell was happening “must have been confusing and upsetting to you.”

Must have been? No. I deal with all this every day. Every time I talk. Every time I sigh, every time I am looking in the mirror and one of her facial expressions appears. That is the one true fact that I know people can remember. My impersonation is dead accurate.

That’s because I curated it.

Long before we ever went to the The Big Yellow House, love was based on what I could do for her, and not what she could do for me. I would not believe that had I not spent 23 years in the trap.

I said that I was going to borrow structure from Wicked, and that Alpha might not even appear in the series because I wanted to focus on my friends other than her that came to me through the relationship. Then, I realized it was unfair to throw everything out there, only telling one side of the story.

I decided to say explicitly why it was hard, because no one recognized it back then. I was 19, but arrested at 14. Then, when the trauma started resolving, I had to develop coping mechanisms. For me, it’s writing- the lead the charge into hell that Omega exhibits comes in handy when I realize “now is the time I should unleash holy hell because I’m right.” I am being a judgmental bastard right now because here’s what happened.

When I was 36, the relationship ended for good. I was too upset that not only had Alpha done this to me, she had the audacity to tell people that she just didn’t understand why I was so obsessed with her. It’s because she put every single problem we ever had on me, particularly why it was wrong for me to be in love with her because she was an adult and I wasn’t.

…….without ever taking in that I was following her lead, just like in everything else.

The exact reason I went to The Big Yellow House in the first place and even have all these memories. To that I can attribute gratitude. The rest combined malice with idiocy depending on the day. I was sat there listening for days.

It’s just that for me, there are some core memories that are damaged from certain things that have been said or done. For me, it was one of the worst days of my life. For her, it was Wednesday.

Homophonia

When I look at myself on camera, I get flashbacks. They aren’t panicky. They induce rage at the woman I’ve become. I love my personality and my humor. I hate how I present it. If there is any lingering trauma from this whole experience, it is my voice and mannerisms; even my micro aggressions look the same or similar. I have every facial expression that she does in addition to mine because I’ve been doing it for over 32 years. I’ve talked this way since I was 13. I sound just like her, because I’ve spent more time with her than my own mother over the years. My presentation also says (to me, not others) that especially when we were young, I wanted to sound just like her. I craved it because she couldn’t be near me as much as I wanted, so I basically studied her every word so that she’d always sound like herself in my head.

The way that it helped was that I discovered I was a singer, and not a trumpet player who could fake it. She unlocked a piece of me that I didn’t know was there. She forced me to kill my imposter syndrome. I am a soprano. I am very good. I know it, so I don’t talk about it. My soprano attitude comes out in other areas of my life and oh my God… I’m just like her.
She and Dana are my two uploaded consciences, the one where my thinking divides into mine and theirs. We’re happy because we never disagree about anything and I am making up our relationship as I go along. Or at least, that was the case until I got angry. Dana and I are still over the moon about each other, but only in a best friend kind of way. Hearing her responses to everything for so many years helps me to predict what she would say about something else. The last time I really cried was picturing her meeting Daniel for the first time and what that would have been like for her… just how much I wanted to share him with her and to be buddies again. I am not worried that there would be any violence between us ever again.

There’s a reason for that. I wasn’t looking for the biggest motherfucker in skater shoes who is also trained to shoot the nuts off a gnat. He just showed up. I wanted him to be my companion, and then I wanted him to be my husband, because I couldn’t let him protect me without feeling the pull toward him in every single way you can possibly imagine. It’s a new experience, pining for a man and not a woman. I like it. It feels like every “straight” girl has ever felt when she realized “uh oh. These feelings are scary and I don’t know what to do with them.”

I’ve been with men before. It’s not a big deal. I think I’ve said it before, that I didn’t identify as a lesbian because of my sexual behavior in individual instances. It was thinking about who I connected with more emotionally and whether I could picture a relationship that lasted more than a few years. I couldn’t until I realized that I’d thought about Daniel off and on over the years and it was a reconnection, not meeting a stranger. I don’t think I would have been so quick to label myself as a lesbian if it hadn’t been the ‘90s. Lesbians aren’t particularly friendly towards bisexual women at the best of times even now, because there is some kind of dick measuring contest that I don’t understand or want to enter.
Lesbians who have never been with men tend to think they’re better than the rest of us. For every man we’ve been with, points are deducted. My street cred will go down immediately if I marry Daniel because my experiences with women will be put on the back burner, as if marrying him caused amnesia. Women who don’t know me will assume that I am closeted and don’t have a clue that I’m gay, because we’ve heard that story a million times. If this marriage does end up being a thing, I cannot wait for this because it will happen. Someone will try to tell me I’m gay and offer to help me leave because I’m just not being fair to that poor man. He should have someone that is capable of loving him the way he needs to be loved and don’t I understand what I’m doing to him?

I understand exactly what I’m doing to him and what I want to do to him later, okkkkkkkk.

I don’t know if you guys will remember this. Some of you might. When Kathleen and I were partners (common law yet not legally married at that point), we went to a conference on bisexuality. Dr. Fritz Klein and Dr. Carol Queen were the hosts, and they were so fabulous. I learned more about the science of sex than I could from any documentary, and especially not having to draw my own conclusions about large scientific works.

Dr. Klein was especially brilliant. He designed the Klein Grid of Sexual Orientation, which expanded the scale originally posited by Alfred Kinsey. The grid also has you rate how often you socialize and fantasize about each gender as well. Through it, I have come to the conclusion that homosexuality and heterosexuality are subsets of bisexuality. That the spectrum is very wide. For instance, I can think of one friend in particular that our relationship is all white hot fire.
We turn each other on intellectually and deep dive into all kinds of things. What we don’t do is fawn over each other. That package doesn’t come with a combo meal, but I’d rather have it than literally anything else. You can’t buy what’s in it, and if you break it, there’s no replacement.

She is a one on the Kinsey scale, perhaps a two in the Klein grid sense of not being bisexual but understanding how it is a thing that happens for reasons. She loves pictures of beautiful women, but they don’t turn her on. That’s fine. More for me. She is perfectly happy for that to be my department… and yet, if something happens to me that’s negative, she will release the fire of a thousand suns and point it right at the offender. I am her lamb, the one she will always search for if I am lost. It feels good to finally be going so hard for the right person when I’ve given so much to the wrong ones. I am perfectly happy to love her up like Oprah loves Gayle… especially now that we both have found our Stedmans.

What becomes problematic sometimes is my flowery expression vs. her strident, no bullshit personality. I am a gardener, and she is an architect. She’d rather have bullet points. I’d rather spend six pages on a rose bush (that was a joke about Nathaniel Hawthorne). I know she routinely rolls her eyes at the length of my letters while I struggle to understand the bread crumbs I’ve been given. It’s not a bad relationship because of it. She’s just like my sister, 50 times busier than me. It takes her time to read and absorb. What’s worth it are the letters after she’s done so. I recently figured out that she is crazy about me. Just loves me more than I do, and I’m hoping to catch up. It’s a tall order. Because you see, I didn’t understand how straight women love each other when we met. Now, I do.

I just had a flashback to a sweet memory of Dana and me. We used to get married every morning. One of us would lean over and say, “hey baby? I do.” And the other would say, “I do, too.”

So. Now I’m apparently Jay because Silent Bob over there just laid down the truth last week. She’s my hetero lifemate. She loves me. She just couldn’t tell me. Not that she didn’t want to. Words aren’t her love language. There’s no wrong way to be in a relationship, but if you expect someone to respond the way you would have, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I tell her I love her in words, or I did until I realized that her love language was action. So I stopped only telling her and started doing things for her.
Picking up her afternoon coffee on a whim is more important than telling her it broke me open to hear that she took piano lessons as a child. For me, love is hearing her think/emote. For her, love is supported by evidence. I get brownie points this way: when I tell her I love her, she can bank on it. The check will always cash because my words and behavior match. When she tells me she feels something, I listen and respond immediately. What she says goes, because what I say goes, too. It’s a balancing act as to which one of us is more right this time, because both of us are so damn smart that neither one of us are going to be wrong at any time. In fact, we might get to the exact same conclusion and argue over semantics.

It’s tricky, those semantics. Sometimes words get in the way of communication, especially when they’re painful.

Oh my God. My God. I just had a thought that hit me like a ton of bricks and I need to breathe through it. I have serious Internet relationships because when I communicate by typing, I don’t hear myself in my abuser’s voice. I hear myself the way I want to sound. I hear myself without her version of how things sound, because that’s what it is. I cultivated that sound. Now it’s a monster I avoid because it’s not an homage. It’s torture.

I speak by writing to avoid talking altogether. Bryn has no idea what she’s done in a good way. I’ve published vlogs without thinking about hating my voice several times now, and it’s because of her. Forcing me to use FaceTime helped me to Think Different (oh, wow… that was unintentionally clever. I mentioned an Apple product and then tied in Chiat/Day. I’m not impressed with my own writing. I am impressed that I recalled the connection.). This is important because as I’ve been talking to Bryn, more of my expressions and mannerisms that aren’t really mine have shown up and begged to be friends. I will go there with her only, because she was there. She knows that it hurts and why it should. She should know but doesn’t yet that another friend gave me a jump scare by sounding just like her- they’re from the same area of the world. Completely unintentional, and I still panicked. She’s never met any of my friends from Portland, so I can safely say that this friend would never in a million years figure out it’s her. Another person that I love their writing, could do without seeing them in person because it’s painful in a way that cannot be treated quickly or easily. It’s my trigger, it’s my deal. I just have to work through it so I can love her sound because it’s hers. I can love her voice as much as I love the rest of her.

It’s more complicated than it needs to be because I am way more complicated than I need to be. I was born as a visionary, in a traumatic birth experience and recovery, and then emotionally abused so badly that I didn’t have opinions for many years. I am rediscovering what it is like to date people while having them. Having emotions has also been problematic.

There’s no right or wrong answer in a relationship. For me, it seems to work to make one or two friends my primary partners so that if my romantic partner leaves, my entire world doesn’t go with them. It doesn’t make sense to make something that needs to be so permanent a pressure on dating. I have made the executive decision to divide my soul and let a few people have a part. To let more than one person all the way in so that more than one person has that level of understanding of me.
Some marriages aren’t built on romance. Some are built on wanting permanence during a tumultuous time in people’s lives. Some are built on confidentiality so that both people have the freedom to say whatever they want without judgment and get feedback. Some people are asexual but still need to have a person.

I’m still working on that “both people aren’t judgmental” thing.

People being concerned about the gender I marry is ridiculous, and yet the sentiment continues. My deal is that if you care whether it’s real or silicon, that’s fine. I don’t. What matters to me is our shared upbringing and our shared thought processes. They’re virtually identical except for the way we take in information. He’s all brain, I’m all heart…. Or I was, until my heart walked out of my body and back to Texas. I hope Cora and Daniel each get pieces. All they have to do is reach into the chords that run between us and grab them.

Geometry and music combine to make new sounds all the time. Different layers, different directions at which the intersection breaks your emotions out of their military grade prison. Military prison is accurate, because I feel like I have been Lord John Grey my entire life, starting a few months before I turned 13 and ending when I was 36. The unrequited love is over, but I have wondered many times how often John lingered over Jamie’s speech patterns, craving it because he couldn’t be near him as much as he wanted, studying his every word so that he’d always sound like himself in his head.

I wonder how long he cried when he realized that he and Jamie could never be close enough for him, that he was jumping into something the relationship couldn’t sustain……………. And yet, he still sounded just like him.

In Which the Sun Comes Out

Part One in the “Stories from The Big Yellow House” Series

The yellow house is much yellower now, though in my memory it is not so bright because I’m not there. Neither is anyone else I know, but it was so precious while it existed in my world, and now in my memory. I am glad that The Big Yellow House is so entrenched in my core, because it will never fade.

Because when the Big Yellow House goes, so do my memories of a lot of other people. This entry is for them, and starts with a conversation between Bryn and me regarding our “shared childhood.” Now that we’re older, we both think of each other as children back then. I was 19, so I think that makes her 14 or 15 when we met. She would remember. I can remember everything but her age. 😛

Saying Bryn’s name out loud because she’s one of the, like, three people I would entrust with this conversation at all. Anyone who knew I was talking about it with someone and cared could easily guess all three. That’s because neither of us are the main characters. We were the ones that snuck off to be bad girls.

She wasn’t quite old enough to be bad properly, and I was a computer geek. We just sat and talked, and increasingly listened to jam sessions that were mildly interesting as background music and right now I can think of at least five people who are going to read that sentence and hate my guts. And two who will absolutely fall on the floor laughing and go, “she went there.”

I was never into the banjo. I hated it. Just for the record, but no one asked me… whereas I would say that anyone who learned to play the banjo in The Big Yellow House was clearly trying to isolate me. I am certain that was on purpose (one of the only jokes I will make about my time in The Big Yellow House, because it’s a shame that I can’t. Not right now. Even a decade later, it’s still Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

It’s because I have love for some of the people I met there and still have on my friends list, and some others that are a memory. Still alive, certainly, but with no need or want on either side to reconnect. Actually, that is a lie. I do not know for certain about them. I know for certain about me. I am not willing to do anything to help things along in terms of getting closer. I am reaching out to the people at that house when I was there. I feel that my ramblings might give the impression that I mistook the part for the whole and was trying to say that everything was bad.

This series is a way to say thank you for the things that they gave me while I was also in hell. I haven’t forgotten it, and I don’t want to focus on darkness. I want to bring this into the light, because that’s where they brought me. I cannot regret coming to Portland, because I wouldn’t have wanted a chance to meet Dana and then blown it by not coming back.

I definitely would have met some of these people one time, but they would not have raised me the way that they did. I’m kinder because of them. I’m a better person because of them, even though they knew nothing about me.

For the record, some people believe that I am a liar and I am just crazy. I don’t believe that, but they do. I believe that I can express what I’m feeling better than at least half the world, so my faith in my sanity is fairly sound. However, in my tribe, no one is perfect. It’s just that the more of us there are, the more it’s likely that one of us is all right.

The Big Yellow House will look at my experiences in Portland through the lens of one particular backyard… with two particular young girls… and three particular puppy dogs (Bunce, then Barley, then Maisie in score order). We’ll look at history, both personal and American, interestingly enough. We’ll go to church, where I was basically the youth group (what’s new?). We’ll walk up 36th to Division, then 37th up to Hawthorne so we can go to trivia.

We’ll listen to Outpost at the Block Party. We’ll go to Le Pigeon. We’ll invade the kitchen at Tapalaya and drink at Biddy McGraw’s. But we’ll start with a prayer for ablution. Water is washing over me and my tears are stinging my face. We’ll start with 1997, just a snippet of a memory.


Alex

Alex was one of the first people I met in Oreon, predating the yellow house by quite a few years. She had my heart from day one when there was a party at The Little Gray House, and men were bothering her. She asked if she could be my girlfriend for a second to get them away from her. To know how funny this actually was, you’d have to know Alex and me. She’s a diva, the amazing kind that makes you pray to the voice gods before an audition that you don’t have to follow her.  I’m short and I don’t like many people. Enough said about that except to say that “Odd Couple” moment made me think that maybe I had more than one friend in the neighborhood. Alex and her husband have blessed me many times over just by being them. I have told their story before, and was crying so hard in the middle of a Starbucks that my mother thought we should leave so I could calm down. I think she thought I needed Xanax, when in reality it was the best sermon I’ve ever heard, and I will put it up against anyone, anywhere, because the structure ENDS ME to this day. I am sobbing right now just thinking about it.

At Bridgeport, we divided the service up in to different duties. Instead of always having the pastor du jour (our word for having rotating preachers and an alarmingly deep bench- mostly brilliant lesbian preacher’s kids and ordained pastors kicked out of other churches,tbh… theological academician crack) do what we called “the offering pitch,” different people were asked (generally five minutes before… not planned, but useful because people will rarely say no if you don’t give them a chance to think about it).

Greg, Alex’s husband

I’m sorry. This is going to take a minute to get out because I know this story and you don’t. I cannot breathe all the way down, and this happened such a very long time ago. It’s a core memory that is one of my blue orbs hoping to find yellow and avoid red. My emotions are turning inside out.

I can remember about 10 years ago losing my everloving mind with grief as I relayed this story to my mother, where I wailed and she said we should leave Starbucks.

Greg walked to the front of the church and stood in front of the baptismal font. He pointed and he said, “this is where I was baptized.”

Then, he walked to the altar rail and looked toward the windows facing north, and he said, “And this is where I got married.”

This is the part where I am crying so hard I think my heart is going to break. I haven’t been back here in so long, and it was the most traumatic thing that has ever happened in our community. We will never get over it. We had to learn to live with it, our entire church life beginning back over at the Book of Acts, or as I call it, The Gospel of “Holy Shit, What Do We Do Now?”

Greg turned so he was standing behind the Communion table and he said, “this is where I buried my children.”

It was true. Greg and Alex lost their twins, Eleanor and Quinn, to a rare genetic disorder. They were only about two weeks old. 

We’d bought the layette.

Today I learned that grief makes you cry out louder than you thought you could.

He used the resurrection of the Christ to show us how we resurrected ourselves. That the loss of his and Alex’s twins didn’t go unnoticed because it bonded us. Love poured out for them and back into us.

It was a sermon. And I remember it all. I am absolutely sobbing and it was almost 20 years ago.

The people who visited The Big Yellow House were often more important than its residents.

Over time, the color never faded. It just got brighter, especially with the telling of it. “A little brighter than it used to be” was “it BURNS” by dinner.

I assure you, the people who have also been there share this opinion. In fact, it seemed to shine more every year. As we got older, it got smarter. It remembered our secrets and our lies, told to each other in the dark summer nights filled with beer and conversation. 

I was 19 when I met the church at the opera, 20 when I met the church that used to have green carpeting (and is still known that among my crowd… I’m 45), and 21 when I knew that these people were my life.

By 24, I was driving up I-5 feeling like I’d been punked. This had nothing to do with the Big Yellow House and everything to do with the fact that I’d only visited Oregon in the *summer.*

Stay tuned.

The War Daniel in His Own Words

It happens every time.

Well, not every time.  But almost every time.  You’re at a gathering of friends and theres always at least one person that finds out you’re ex-military and you can just see the question forming on their lips but a struggle of “do I ask???”  And usually they can’t help themselves and ask.

 “Did you have to kill anybody.”  I sigh, because I fucking hate that question.  It was one of the harsh realities I had to struggle with spiritually before I joined, knowing that scenario was going to present itself.  You ask yourself day in and out what you think you will do in “that” scenario.

Before you are assigned to a Marine Corps unit as a Corpsman, you go through a 9 week course called Field Medical Training Battalion.  It’s essentially a crash course in being a grunt.  You familiarize yourself with the M4 and 9mm and 50 cal.  You go through what’s called Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain.  And it’s not a video game situation.  Were armed up with paintball guns, and the instructors play the part of the locals/Taliban.

That’s one of the mindfucks about MOUT.  Who is a civilian just trying to make schwarmas, and who wants to kill me?  And heres another mind fuck—these mother fuckers don’t play fair.  They will use “civilians” as explosive devices.

Especially children. 

The kids will come up to the Marines on patrol asking for candy or whatnot but they’re really a lure to get you to drop your guard long enough for them to shoot you from a second story window.  Look up then down then up again was the training mantra…. but MOUT was a humbling experience in just how quickly it could all be over.  I remember one of my guys getting shot in the leg.  I went to pull him behind a wall to kwik clot the wound and I didn’t get down low enough and took a paintball pellet to the neck.  If it was real, I just died.  I didn’t sleep that night.

So to truly answer your question you have to start back behind the wire.  

You could be playing football and grilling hamburgers when your fire team is called to gear up.  A fire team is a group of 5-7 that patrol together.  It consists of either a Sgt or Corporal that’s the Fire Team leader. 

You’ve got a doc, an EOD guy and the rest are gunners.  So you’re playing football and talking shit about how Tony Romo would always break your heart and then the next moment you have to go put all your gear on and get ready to go complete a mission.  As Doc that sucks even worse because you wear everything the Marines wear plus your med bag.  

You’re responsible for making sure your whole fire team has certain things in certain places.  Their tourniquet on the top right; kwik Clot in the right cargo pocket.  Things like that.

Not knowing when your team is going to be called sucks, but knowing 12 hours ahead of time is worse.  All that time waiting around to be under the stress of “is this the last thing Ill ever do?”

Some of my grunts thrived on the anticipation of getting to kill bad guys.  That was part of the mission.  And they had no moral qualms about it at all.  They saw it as a very clearly black/white/them or me, no fuck that these people want to take me from my wife and kids and they can go fuck themselves.  So in that aspect, the boys’ conscience is totally clear and the more people they shoot the better.  I don’t think that makes us sociopaths.  I think it makes us like Dexter [Dexter was a sociopath.].  Vigilante killers of people that need to die, minus the vigilante part.

I am a corpsman, so I am not wired that way.  Every time we went out my prayer was 1 that I come back alive, and 2 that I bring everyone back with me, and 3 not to have to use either of my firearms.

On the shittiest day of my life we went out just like any other one.  The mission was to go into town and give hep A and b, hep c , smallpox and anthrax vaccinations.  My spot in line was last, giving hep a/b. 

I don’t even know why there was a lull in the line.  I think we had run out of smallpox spears or something, so I was looking around.

  Out of the corner of my eye I saw it happening. 

Dipshit wasn’t even trying to be subtle.  So without thinking, safety goes off; I used my marine’s shoulder to balance my weapon on and I shot the fuck stick through his eye.  Then I yelled “FIRE FIRE FIRE” which was the alarm for a bomb.  EOD snatched the kid and worked their magic.  My first trained response was to look for others because they are human hyenas and not averse to sacrificing one for the sake of the many.

At that point the field ex was terminated and it became about securing the town.  No one was hurt, and that’s all I remember of the post action.  We all came back across the wire and that was that [also terrifying that you have to feel like you’re in that much danger to feel comfortable in that much danger].

I can’t tangibly measure what my cortisol levels were.  I know when I came back I was like “holyfuck holyfuck HOLYFUCK.” And I couldn’t get still.  I couldn’t stop shaking.

I cried because now I knew I was capable of taking a life.  Commander Baker, our on site Psychiatrist, talked to me for about two hours about innocuous stuff; the first Van Halen album; why the cowboys can’t win in December; why The White album should have only been one album of 14 songs.  He gave me some Xanax, ambien and dilauded and sent me to a drug induced sleep. The next day they handed me my down chit, which meant I couldn’t go past the line for 6 days.  So all I really had time to do was think.  

And one of the things I thought about the most is that regardless of what we think over here, over there, we’re the heels and they’re the babyfaces.  They are the heroes of their country trying to rid it of these arrogant westerners that think their culture is so superior to their own.  They have families and dogs.  And that family and dog hated me.  I took someone’s dad, husband, favorite uncle, drinking buddy.  

A day doesn’t pass where I don’t think about it at least once.  And that’s part of why I drink like I do.  Because when I’m sober it comes back to haunt me, and when I’m drunk I can let it go and forgive myself for doing what had to be done……………………………………

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here to see The Cubs win their first world series in a century; hear the first new Guns n’ Roses music in 17 years; to get to the point where I played 50 shows a year.  And most importantly to be able to see my kid graduate high school, to make the very brave decision to come out as trans; to develop into this fabulous artist, to see my sister realize her dream of having a goat farm; to be able to help my mom through her post cancer recovery.

And to get to marry you.  

And now im going to go cry.

Editor’s Note: I have been sitting on this for a while, because I thought I had something to say here. I don’t. It’s perfect on its own. I’m still crying.