The Fortress From Love We Make

WSM

I had a standing offer for a complimentary drink at a fancy bar so I went out last night after work. It was a hellish day at the job I hold onto by a thread, part of a hellish week at same, and it was nice to step into the quiet, air-conditioned familiarity of this upscale, local watering hole, even though I had jeans and a t-shirt on. Though there is a dress code there, they don’t care what you wear too much, so long as you conduct yourself properly. And that I do. I started up a conversation with the people next to me. One guy was in town from another state, a high school government teacher in Tennessee and a big fan of Cleveland. He’s been coming to visit the couple he was with for more than 20 years, once or twice a year, and has watched our city grow and change with an outsider’s eyes. He loves what we have become and fears for our safety in the coming week as much as any of the residents. Being a government teacher, they are going downtown to get some pictures of the Republican National Convention decor that’s sprouted up everywhere. They asked for some advice on best/worst spots and restaurants, and, being the amateur tour guide I am, I gave them some pointers. They shook my hand and were glad to meet me and we had a wonderful conversation about world affairs, Cleveland, politics. This is what our city is really like, why I love living here so. It isn’t because of the sweltering summer heat or the frigid, icy winters, though I do enjoy the change in seasons. It’s the people.

I went home and managed to get outside and see another beautiful sunset just before the light disappeared. I’ve been trying to do that more this summer, to connect with nature and feel more grounded as my life is in turmoil and much of what I thought this year would look like is not taking shape as I imagined. It helps me deal with the changes and forces me to take a few minutes and breathe, the air scrubbed clean by the massive amount of nearby trees, and ground on top of the hill warm and rough when I sit down on it to meditate a few moments.

I’ve felt for some time there should be some small role I could play in protesting the hatred and divisiveness that many people coming into my town represent, but hadn’t found the right fit. I applied to be part of an art happening, but wasn’t selected to participate. There is a peace rally on Sunday, but I have my son, and do not feel comfortable taking him downtown – he is reckless and careless and heavy to carry if we have to run somewhere quickly. Many places I know to escape anything bad that might happen will be closed or overrun with people so it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. But now there is an opportunity, albeit a small one, and so I will carve my space out with a friend and we will make a statement together.

I cannot defend my city, I cannot convince large groups of people to change their mind who judge others and have hate in their hearts. But I can stand up for what I believe is right, I can demonstrate love and represent my city proudly, even if only for a short time. I will do so on Wednesday, in front of the Westboro Baptist “Church” representatives.

#chooselove #lovewins

 

 

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Feed Them On Your Dreams

There’s little I can say that would adequately address the unrest in our nation over these past few days. When life and news become overwhelming, many parents turn inward towards their children, trying to make sense of life again. Being with them and being present fully for them seems one way we can do something tangible that feels like we are making a difference. I am also this type of person. And so this is long.

A couple of days ago, the summer camp my son attends handed out a survey at pick-up, asking if we would quickly fill it out. Pick-up is stressful. You’re tired, the kid is tired, the counselors are tired, and you just want to get your kid and go home. I scribbled a few one-word answers and felt unsatisfied. This is a different camp than the one he went to last year, and honestly, I don’t really know how it’s going, other than what I see at pick-up and drop-off. As with school, D is tired at the end of the day and doesn’t want to be grilled about the details of his day. He’ll give brief answers to questions about how this trip went or that activity was, but then gets exasperated, which is fine.

I decided to follow up with a detailed email to the person over the camp, with some specific suggestions and observations, including that I thought they should survey the kids, even if that feedback has to be taken with a grain of salt. They could weed out problematic counselors this way, for example, if several kids noted that Mr. Jerry is mean (or worse), or whatever.

I said honestly, the counselors seem bored, unfriendly, and (understandably) tired at the end of the day. Pick-up is complete chaos, with the kids running and screaming in circles, burning whatever overtired energy they have left to give at the end of the day, and endangering themselves and others. Surely there could be activities each group could be doing in their classrooms – crafts or chalkboard games or handouts to keep their minds fresh on basic reading or math skills. I told them I still remember well select camp counselors from my own camp days, because they had the perfect blend of being friendly and fun while also still maintaining a firm hand of control, which is really what most kids need. Most do better with at least some kind of structure, and being a counselor is more than ticking off names on a chart to make sure everyone is accounted for every half hour, or walking them to this place or that so they can swim or play. They are in charge of the young minds and bodies that will shape our country’s future soon, and entrusted with our most treasured souls that we leave each day, hoping they will be safe and cared for. Their job and duty is to the children, and to the parents, to enthusiastically let parents know their kids are not only ok, but are thriving, that this is a great place for them to be because they are happy, active, safe and engaged. And for the children, to be a place of safety, comfort, intelligence, leadership, guidance, as well as fun. Perhaps the pay should be higher, I suggested, or the interview process more stringent, in order to yield counselors who really want to be there and care about what they do. I remember Miss Connie and Miss Sarah and Miss Gail. They cared. They carried you if you were hurt. They made sure you didn’t drown. They tickled and chased all the kids around. They taught archery and made sure you didn’t fall off the ponies. They taught you about different kinds of trees and how to catch crawfish in the crick. They settled differences and made everyone stay together and sang songs at the top of their voices, and I want that for my child as well, just as one day the counselors will want that for their own children.

They were really grateful for the feedback and said they’d pass it on to the camp directors right away, and that they wished more parents would take the time to give such detailed comments.

Yesterday, at pick-up, there was no screaming at all. All the kids were sitting at tables doing little stamp crafts. A blonde girl came over from another table and asked my son if she could borrow his glue and he said yes, and his eyes followed her back to her table. “Oh?” I said inquisitively? “STOP!” he said, and put his head into my chest, embarrassed because he knew that I knew that he liked her. He had some art to bring home and we left in an orderly fashion. When we got home, I told him he had to read two pages from a book he’s slowly making his way through, and, instead of running around screaming some more like he usually did, he laid down on the carpet and read the book as instructed. Then we had a nice dinner together and I let him veg in front of the TV because that’s all he wanted to do, and I sat with him just so we could be near each other.

I know all kids aren’t this way and it isn’t as easy as I’m making it sound, but sometimes, it is. They need some love and guidance and direction so we can bring them up as decent humans. People need feedback who play a part in this process, and we need to speak up and give it. We sure need to raise up some more decent humans in this world, and everyone has to work at it.

This Must Be My Destination

catching fireflies

The kid and I had an all-American weekend, though it was a lot of work.

I picked him up Sunday and we went downtown to check out the new Public Square. We had to park a couple of blocks away, but even with all the walking and him saying how boring it would be, it wasn’t. It was even better than I imagined, actually, with Mitchell’s giving out free ice cream and some other guy giving out free frisbees. I put my purse down in the middle of the grass and nobody ran away with it while we played hard, but really terrible frisbee for an hour and a half, the sun beating down and making the sweat run down our backs. He got up on a statue and I took some pictures and nobody was passed out or dealing and nobody said hey baby, can I be your boyfriend. So yeah, it’s changed, for the better. It was awesome, honestly. My son has not been there since I took him on his first RTA train ride with me to come downtown for Winterfest that one Christmas season when it was so freakishly warm for winter, like three or four years ago. He was a tiny thing and we got cookies and hot chocolate off a food truck.

We went to the West Side Market, which was too crowded and too many stands were closed, so we left almost as soon as we arrived, and stopped at a store on the way home to get some hummous and pita, which I’d make into pita chips to take to a party we were invited to Saturday afternoon. One of those all afternoon/evening deals with families and little kids, big kids, grandparents, friends. In a cul-de-sac in a lovely suburban enclave in an exurb about 20 minutes from home. I am a whore for these parties, I realize. The well-manicured lawns, the neighbors saying hello to each other, kids playing cornhole on the sidewalk and dogs and babies and children screeching and eating too much watermelon and everyone watching everyone else’s kids and stay out of the road and don’t give that dog a cookie, it has chocolate in it.

I have known some of the people at that party for an embarrassingly long time. Back in the day, we were fiercely debating Beckett and Brecht, wearing layers of costumes in Shakespearean plays, handling snakes (literally) backstage and welding and painting sets, and partying hard in between. We all laughed and loved and played hard back then, and now we are parents and we laugh and love and play hard, but it has changed. I watched the hosts steal kisses again and again when they thought no one was looking and was jealous and filled with joy at their happiness. A little girl decided I was her friend and hugged me and sat on my lap and had me take her to the bathroom, and came to me for advice on dealing with the little boys multiple times throughout the evening. She had a little lisp and sparkly glasses and for some reason, listened to me and I realized I could have been a mom to a girl, too, and done ok, which was nice.

After too much food had been consumed and we were all coated with bug spray, it came time for fireworks, and we crossed the street to the huge pond in the development. There was a joyous and amazing band and party playing across the other side. It reminded me of parties in Topanga back when I lived in California. They were playing the Dead and James Taylor and I saw people of many colors and the air was perfect and the light was amazing. As the sun went down, I encouraged my son to catch a firefly. I promised they wouldn’t bite. He was scared and I showed him a couple of times, how they light up when you hold them gently in your hand, and then release them. He finally caught one, and was then over his fear of them, chasing them all around the lawn near the pond with the other children as the sun set and we waited for the fireworks. There was a row of elderly people in lawn chairs directly behind us, like they knew the best spot to watch the display. I set my blanket on the angle they were watching, and we waited. As the sun set, people around us lit up sparklers and the kids ran around screaming and the band played. I was full of food and joy and couldn’t believe my good fortune to be where I was at that very moment, and tears streamed down my face as I watched my son play in his overtired state.

He joined me on the blanket just before the fireworks started, the sun having gone down and now he was cold. I wrapped it around the two of us and pulled him to me, for I won’t be able to get away with that for that many more years, and I treasure it.

We ooh’d and ahh’d and I didn’t tell him how the fireworks remind me of the night my father died, when my mother took me back to college and I knew, even though no one had told me, that he had already died, each city we passed through shooting off fireworks as we drove by, and each explosion reinforcing to me that what I felt in my heart was true, and that he was gone.

That is my memory. He must make his own memories of these nights. And so I was present and with him and we talked about which was our favorite, and how they make the air smell, and that it must be dangerous for the people below the explosions.

“I am NOT sleeping on the way home,” he insisted, as I buckled him in. “Ok,” I said, and turned the radio on as we inched through the neighborhood traffic, making our way back to the highway. He was asleep before we left the development, and I sang along to the radio, in tears again at my good fortune.

I am still able to carry his 45 pounds inside, and I wrapped him in the blanket he had pulled on top of his car seat and hefted him to me, carrying him in, down the stairs (please don’t fall, thank you), laying him in his bed, ready for the next day, of picnics and grandma and the beach and our life, which we live as hard as we can, since you never know how much more you have.

I’ve Seen The Future And It Will Be

Nick2

Yesterday, I saw the future. It’s pretty much like you think it would be, like they depict it in movies—a little—but it was also surreal. Surreal is also how they depict the future in movies, flashing time and fashion forward, and putting age makeup on the actors, with little pooches under their clothes so that they look like they’ve gained a little weight with their age, thin their hair a little. When you’re dreaming and you step into the future, everything looks a little fuzzy. The light isn’t quite right or the details are a little off, but you get what’s going on. It was like that. Everyone was wearing weird clothes and it was really hot and my feet hurt because wearing heels is uncomfortable as hell when you’re getting older. I remember that part.

It was funny, because when you’re an actor, you see all the makeup and costume things they do to try to make people look older, and all this was done really well. I remember looking around for the trigger that would wake me up, like Chris Reeves in Somewhere In Time.

I am a high school freshman who hasn’t quite yet figured out how bad the world can be. My family is poor. My Mom is on public assistance but she works hard to make sure we have lots of fun and that I have what freedoms she can give me since she doesn’t have much else to give me. Maybe too many freedoms. She and my Dad had a bitter divorce and he has done everything he can to make sure she can’t get ahead here in our small town. I think once I’m out of high school, she’s going to blow this popsicle stand and head for somewhere else where the people don’t glare at her in public or judge her because she got divorced for reasons that aren’t polite to talk about, that she doesn’t tell anyone, that none of us do.

My Dad’s family has disowned me and my sister since we went to live with my Mom after the divorce, but that’s ok. I guess they never really liked us anyway. All those years of birthday parties and holidays and summer picnics together, hello kisses and hugs and pretty dresses and laughter—it was all conditional. That’s been a hard lesson, but not the hardest one I’ll get from them.

I get along really well with my Dad but we don’t see each other that often. He’s not great at keeping to the custody agreement for visitation, and then goes around town blaming my Mom like it was her fault he didn’t pick me up on Friday night when he was supposed to. We never had a lot of money, but now they fight about every dollar. You need $20 to go with the marching band on a trip to Cedar Point? Mom says, I can give you $10, ask your father for the other half. Dad says why should you have to pay if the school is working up there, that’s a bunch of bullshit and it should be free admission. So you borrow the rest from your friend, the one who is taking a C-note there so she has plenty to eat and drink all day, who will help you get the same.

I’m seeing this older guy, roommate of my sister’s boyfriend. She’s in college. Well, they all are. They’re English majors, the lot of them, and the guys deliver pizza so we always have as much pizza as we want for free. I went to stay with her for the weekend at college a couple weeks ago, and we went to a college party one night, and then the next night a big group of us piled into several cars and we drove to Cleveland to go to the U2 concert at The Music Hall. Unforgettable Fire tour, man. I had the flu and was really sick and spent most of the concert laying on the nice cool floor in the bathroom. One of my boyfriend Nick’s friends was hitting on me the whole night, saying Nick shouldn’t be up and dancing in the aisles with his friends, enjoying the concert, but should instead be paying attention to me. I ignore him. It’s *U2!* If I were even a little bit better, I’d be up dancing myself. One of Nick’s friends tells the guy to leave me alone. Everyone looks out for everybody else in a casual and general way.

Nick is nice and very sweet. He’s as innocent about life and the world as I am, even though he’s a few years older. He’s kind of simple, but filled with a happiness about life that’s funny and infectious. He’s really dedicated to becoming a musician. Or a teacher. Maybe both. He spends a LOT of time playing music – singing, keyboards, guitar. I don’t think he’s that good, but that’s ok, none of the other musicians he hangs out with are super fantastic either. When they all get together to practice, it sounds better, and they cover some good old classic rock songs and we hang out and have fun.

All of Nick’s friends dressed up for this futuristic shindig. Well, most of them. Some are still in jeans and t-shirts, but they look a little less like they’ve been drinking for three days straight and at least shaved and combed their hair. His sisters were there, my gosh, and that one female friend of his that never liked me. Derek was there of course, the Ken-doll attractive star of every show, one of Nick’s best friends. Seven feet tall and still great looking in his age makeup, with the hair just a little thinner than it used to be.

I wondered how long the surreal flash into the future would last. My feet really hurt and I longed to get out of there, the scene was starting to look worn and thin around the edges. I talked to a lot of people and we all joked and laughed about how “long ago” things were and talked about stuff that happened “way back when.”

I went to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet and wondered when I would wake up. When Dave N. would have dark hair again and Derek’s hair would be white blonde again and Nick would be laughing really loud and John and Lenny and Dave J. would come over with their instruments to practice. I sat there thinking it was time to wake up. It was the strangest feeling.

Because of course the future is now. And this was Nick’s calling hours. With pictures flashing on the big screen TV of him and our friends from THIRTY TWO years ago.

There’s the one from that time you guys shaved your chests and lifted weights to get buff and took pictures, hoping to be male models. And there’s one from before we all went to U2. And that one big party where the band played at a farm and we all drank too much and were there for too long and someone got their car stuck in a ditch.

My sister and I walked out into the harsh, hot sunlight. I took my shoes off, because those were my costume. My feet hot and burning as I moved quickly across the asphalt in the funeral home’s driveway.

***

Addendum: The last song in many early U2 concerts was “40.” The whole of the audience sang the refrain over and over after they were done, as we all made our exodus out of the theater. As it was at the one I went to, with Nick and his friends way back when. The song’s lyrics are based on Psalm 40 of the Bible.

I waited patiently for the Lord
And He inclined to me and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction
Out of the miry clay
And He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm
He put a new song in my mouth
A song of praise to our God

 

Brighten Up Even Your Darkest Night

Last year around this time, I found out an ex-boyfriend of mine from college had suffered a crippling stroke. He wasn’t really in touch with a lot of our friends from college at the time, and I somehow became charged with contacting  our friends. We all talked online about what happened in a group chat, and got generally caught up as most of us were out of touch. This is what you do now, since everyone is scattered and your “circle” is now only defined by who is online, when. It was scary and sad and a reminder of how we are all aging and changing, and how little problems become big problems as you get to be the age we all are.

Today, my sister called me. She doesn’t call me during the day, and I don’t call her. We text or email occasionally. I had been planning a long road trip to go see her, but was suddenly stricken by a very nasty summer flu, and had to cancel the trip at the last minute. So when she called, it was unusual.

“Hey. Nick’s dead,” she said.

“WHAT?” I shrieked. I was in disbelief and yet as much as we joke about stuff, I knew she wasn’t joking. Her voice was flat and I could hear her controlling it.

“Yeah. Sounds like a heart attack. Nobody knows why yet.”

I was astounded. Another ex of mine, this one from back in my early high school days, now dead. He was only three years older than I am right now. 10 years younger than when the same thing happened to my Dad.

The grim reaper is clearly done fucking around, pulling no more punches, and delivers each cuff with increasingly forceful blows every single year.

My relationship with Nick wasn’t terribly long or famously and deeply romantic. It was, however, the stuff of American youth. He was a pizza delivery guy and a budding musician, and I became the musician’s girlfriend for not the first or last time. I was in high school and loved dating someone in college. I hung out at his college apartment on weekends, and the band came over and practiced for hours. I couldn’t wait to get to college and have the freedom those guys had, coming and going when they wanted, staying up late, drinking beer and having fun. It was a simple time and good fun. They had a pet chameleon and he would show up on people’s shirts sometimes as a surprise. I remember him learning the keyboard intro to “Light My Fire” and thinking how I needed to remember to bring ear plugs when I stayed at his place because man, you can get really sick of hearing the same notes over and over and over.

He was a sweet, simple guy. Childlike in his naiveté about life, always ready to make people laugh. Our relationship was so innocent and old fashioned he gave me his NHS key because he didn’t have a class ring, and wanted me to have something to wear as a symbol of our relationship. He was both carefree and careless, and was prone to reckless spontaneity. After the romantic part of our relationship ended, my family stayed friends with him and his family. His Dad had been one of my sister’s favorite college professors, and, small towns being what they are, we generally kept in touch here and there.

But you lose track of people. Even as we have these online communities and new friendships are born almost daily, as we expand our social circles, at least online, even if we never see the people in real life, old friends we used to know slip away, out of touch, busy living their lives. I heard he had gotten married to some woman in California with a lot of money, and moved out there for awhile—a story I can certainly relate to. Then I heard he came back to Ohio and had a new band. But not much else. Until last week, when my sister sent me a picture of Nick and his old roommate, who she used to date at the same time I dated Nick. They were getting ready to run a really long race and we joked about how bad Nick looked, how he obviously hadn’t kept in good shape like his roommate had. I guess we were more right than we knew.

I thought today  how sad it is that it’s difficult it to stay in touch with people we once used to know so very well, to be so close with. I am friends with people on Facebook who barely spoke to me in high school, and yet people I shared intimate moments with, a lot of them have just slipped out of touch. Maybe there’s no place for these people in your life as you grow and change. Sometimes people get involved with someone who doesn’t like their partner having contact with anyone they used to date, even if it was a long time ago. Whatever the reason, life cuts a curvy and seemingly uncontrollable path about who stays in your circle and who goes. And then tragedy strikes, and you’re reminded of your own mortality and how short our time here is.

Nick was a passive, gentle, funny soul. Most of the musicians I have dated are funny, complicated, creative guys but not prone to violence or machismo. But they will stand up for you if you really need it. I wrote this post three years ago about a time when Nick did such a thing for me (referred to as “Ned” in the post).  I never forgot his kindness that day.

I hope he was not in pain, and that people can soon enjoy happy memories of him, instead of sadness. I close tonight’s post with Nick himself. Thanks for the music and the laughter.

Looking for love in between

rainbow white house

Enraged by two men kissing.

That’s what early reports suggest was the last straw for the monster who perpetrated the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I have been out as a bisexual for a relatively limited amount of time compared to the number of years I’ve been alive, though I have been bi since I became aware of my sexuality, playfully fighting with a male friend at childhood day camp for the attentions and affections of one of our attractive, female counselors, Miss Sarah. I was only 6 or 7 when my friend and I won the Foosball championship at camp, and with our team, all we hoped was to get Miss Sarah’s congrats. We good-naturedly fought for her attention. It all seemed normal.

My first sexual experiences were with females, space that was that safe and not invasive.

I’ve always loved men, of course. Men are the cream in my coffee, the yin to my yang. The posters on my walls growing up were of Shaun and David Cassidy, though I wanted Farrah up there as well. I crushed on Sam Jones as Flash Gordon in 1980, though it was Timothy Dalton’s dark, brooding visage I really wanted. In my life, I’ve gravitated more often than not to men. My place on the Kinsey scale puts me on that side of life. We are all at different places on that spectrum.

I have had amazing girlfriends who wanted to live the rest of their life with me, and have been fortunate to have a number of men who thought I was the bees knees enough to want the same. To have anyone want to pledge the rest of their life to being beside you pretty much every day is an incredible thing, and, as a bisexual, I guess I’ve been blessed with twice the opportunity, ha.

To think that anyone could think me kissing a boyfriend, fiancee or husband would anger them enough in thinking it is so wrong we deserve to be shot to death is something few straight women can understand. They would think it’s crazy and wrong.

It’s as normal feeling to me as it was to my foosball buddy as a kid, who never thought anything of our shared appreciation for Miss Sarah. Hatred is learned. Do not teach your children this hate.

To think that anyone could think me kissing a girlfriend, fiancee or wife would anger them enough in thinking it is so wrong we deserve to die is something that most of us on the LGBTQ spectrum understand, prepare for, anticipate, but never really understand it, either. But there remain some who think it’s crazy and wrong. This is what we have to fix.

How can it be wrong to love someone?

How is love wrong?

It can only be wrong if you have hate in your heart for those who are different. A hate that comes from fear.

If you hate people who are different, we should not be friends. In any way. Please release me from your life, your contact, your sphere. I do not wish to associate with you.

#Orlando
#Love
#LoveWins

You can’t really function

rocks

Driving home from summer camp yesterday, my 7 y.o. son asked if teachers were bosses of parents. No, I said, the principal is the boss of teachers, just like he has a boss, the superintendent over all the schools. Pretty much everyone at work has a boss.

“Who is your boss?” he said. I told him the names of the people I currently report to, and, since he knew a lot more people at my old job, talked about some of the people there who were my boss. I said actually at that job, we all worked for the lawyers, so I had almost 400 bosses, really.

He laughed, derisively, and said, “You’re just like the lowest level. You’re at the bottom, and aren’t even the boss of anyone!”

I hid the sting and explained that not everyone wants to be a boss. Being the boss often involves working a lot of nights and weekends, not being available to do fun stuff with your family, and it’s a lot of responsibility and pressure. Some of us, including your Dad, I added, just want to go to work, come home when the day is over and spend the rest of our time with our friends and family and doing what we love, not on work problems.

I also pointed out that I have had jobs where I manage or train people, and described those positions. I said I’ve actively sought out positions where I don’t have to manage people because my time away from work is really important to me, and I’d rather not have the demands and pressures being in management requires.

For him to challenge me when I’m already fragile – with regards to my job, and, as a result, mentally as well, wasn’t really the best way to start off the evening. I have to say, texting is a great thing when you can do it at home from an easy chair while your kid is watching TV and he doesn’t even know you are freaking out about being a failure. Friends are great.

I tried to talk to him a bit more, about how managers are important but nothing gets done unless workers show up every day to do their jobs. We wouldn’t have electricity if people who were not managers didn’t show up to put the wires on the poles and buildings. Nobody would be around to make our food in restaurants if everyone was a manager. Nobody could fix my car, like the people did a couple of weeks ago who fixed my engine, if everyone was a manager. The world runs on smart, reliable, skilled workers.

I like to think I am smart, reliable, skilled. You know, just in case you are looking for a worker.