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IMG_4288There’s always that moment of panic as I’m walking down the steps at the Austin airport, and I see my parents standing, anxiously awaiting my arrival, where I have the overwhelming desire to turn around and get back on the plane.

This trip was no different. In the airport bathroom I’d changed from the dapper hat that my parents hate, to the baseball cap that they find acceptable. My mother, for one, still hasn’t forgiven me for going bald, despite the fact that it was her family’s genetic legacy that has left my scalp bereft of natural covering. The hat is one of the many ways I feel I have to change myself to make myself acceptable to them. I lower my voice. I dress like a frat boy. I limit my conversation to my job and the weather.

On the plane, I’d sat next to a woman who apologized for smelling strongly of lavender. The scent reminded me of C who is always diffusing some concoction of essential oils in our bedroom. I decided the woman was probably a yoga instructor and wasn’t sure whether this revelation should make me like or dislike her.

We sat on an exit row. The flight attendant reminded us of our responsibility to help other passengers out in case of an emergency.

“We paid more for these seats, but in an emergency we’d be the last ones off the plane,” the woman said.

“In an actual emergency, I’d be the first one out of the plane.” I said. “The rest of these jerks can fend for themselves.”

“Who am I sitting by?” The woman asked, before adding, “Of course if the plane really crashed, it wouldn’t matter because we’d all be dead.”

After that I put in my headphones, even though they’d stopped working, and pretended to listen to music to discourage further conversation. I just wanted some time during the course of the flight to try and sort my life out before I was thrust into my family’s quiet chaos.

The first thing my mother said when she saw that I’d grown a beard was, “What’s that on your face? I don’t like it!”

That set the tone for the rest of the car ride home. I sat in the backseat of my mother’s car, and stared out of the window at silos, yellowed pastures with hay bales, grazing cattle…while my parents sat up front bickering about how fast to go, what lane to be in, and where to stop for gas.

My father is losing his hearing, and so every time he asked me a question, I had to shout back at him. My answer to nearly every question was the same. “I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

“I DON’T KNOW.”

What are you going to do in New Orleans? What is your roommate going to do? How are you going to afford the move? When are you going to start saving for your retirement? When are you going to settle down and stay in one place?

The two and a half hour drive from the airport to my parent’s house out in the country was longer than the flight from Chicago to Austin. We stopped on the way and had Mexican food for lunch. When I lived in Texas I never wanted Mexican food, but in the nearly 15 years that I’ve lived in various northern towns, after having been deprived of actual Tex-Mex, it’s suddenly something I crave in much the same way I imagine that junkies crave smack.

Once at my parent’s house, things mellowed. My dad puttered around outside, and my mom sat at the kitchen table reading a romance novel. I sat in my old bedroom, now home to my father’s guns and hunting trophies and my mother’s library and extended closet. The past and present were superimposed over one another. Two rooms overlapped when I closed my eyes. The current one that my parents have repurposed, and the former one with my posters of Trent Reznor and Kurt Cobain, Lego blocks, and Super Metroid.

The next day my dad had to drive back to West Texas for work. I was relieved when he left, because the dynamic is always more relaxed when it is just my mother and I. We watch shows where people renovate houses, and then we retire to separate rooms to read until it’s time to eat something.

Most of the trip we spent at my grandmother’s. My grandmother’s house is small with wood paneling, and is cluttered with pictures of her children, grand children, and great grandchildren. In the guest room there are two pictures on the wall. Jesus and John Wayne. Two snarling bob cats are mounted on either side of the entertainment center, decaying gifts from my uncle, the amateur taxidermist.

One of my aunts recently left her boyfriend and has moved a travel trailer next to my grandmother’s house where she lives with her four chihuahuas. My aunts and my mother all take turns taking care of my grandmother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“Let’s go out and sit in the swing.” My grandmother says.

“Mama, it’s too hot right now. We’ll go out this evening when it cools off.” My mother says. It’s disturbing to see their roles reversed. My mother making my grandmother dinner, bathing her, dressing her, giving her her medicine and telling her when she can and can’t go outside.

“I can go out if I want to!” My grandmother says.

“Alright, old woman.” My mother says. “Go outside then.”

My grandmother and I go outside and sit in the swing. We’re there for less than 5 seconds before my grandmother says, “Oh lordy, it’s hot out here! What are we sitting out here for?”

“I don’t know, Maw Maw.” I say.

We sit for a little while in the shade, sweat dripping down my back. The still air is unmoved by even a hint of breeze. A gold and black butterfly skitters out of the sky and dies at my feet. We get up to go back inside, and, once there, my grandmother says, “Why don’t we go out and sit in the swing?”

She’s like a cat who can’t decide to stay or go.

She has too much money and too many assets to qualify for any kind of assistance, but is too poor to hire someone to care for her, so my aunts take turns spending the night and staying with her during the day.

When she turns 91, they throw a party to celebrate, but my grandmother keeps thinking it’s Thanksgiving.

“Are you making the stuffing?” She asks my mother.

“It’s not Thanksgiving, Mama,” my mother says for the 15th time. “It’s your birthday tomorrow.”

“My birthday?” My grandmother says. “How old will I be?”

“Ninety one.” My mother says.

“Oh lordy!” My grandmother says.

The change in routine confuses her. “What am I supposed to do?” She asks. She is red faced and confused, and shuffles back and forth, clutching her wrinkled hands.

She and I are watching the Ellen show. She keeps getting up and walking over to a picture of my cousin from his high school graduation. She reads and re-reads the graduation program. She sits down and she stands back up.

“You’re not supposed to do anything, Maw Maw.” I say. “Just sit here and talk to me.”

She becomes more and more agitated. “Should I take the pictures with me when I go?” She asks.

“When you go where, Maw Maw?” I ask.

“When I go home.” She says.

“Mama, you are home.” My mother says. “You’ve lived in this house for 40 years.”

“I’m staying here?” My grandmother asks.

“Yes.” My mother says. “You’re staying here.

My grandmother laughs and throws up here hands and says, “I guess I’ll just camp out here then.” She reads and re-reads the high school graduation program. “I just can’t make any sense of this.” She says. “Everything’s all mixed up.”

I stay for five days. We go back and forth between my mother’s empty house with it’s immaculate furniture, to my grandmother’s where everything is worn and cluttered. At my grandmother’s I sit in a chair in front of the TV while my mother and aunt put a puzzle together.

One night my mother spends the night with my grandmother, and I stay home alone. I feel giddy like a teenager who has been left alone again. I take pictures of myself in my underwear and post them on Instagram. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I took one picture of myself with no shirt on and it was strangely liberating. Now I’m addicted to exhibitionism. Me, the prude, who sleeps in pajamas, who is barely naked in the shower, the scrawny boy who was always too embarrassed to get undressed in the locker room, is suddenly taking pictures of himself nearly naked and posting them online for strangers to gawk at. I don’t even recognize myself sometimes.

The time passes by quickly, and before I know it, it’s time to leave. Despite the fact that I can’t really be myself, that I feel like a complete alien around my born-again, open carry, registered republican extended family, these people and this place will always be part of me. No matter how many cities I live in, the other countries I visit, the skyscrapers I work in and taxi cabs I ride in, a fundamental part of me will always be most content among dirt roads, cicadas, with country music playing on  an AM radio.

My mother drives me back to the airport. We pass double-wide mobile homes, cars on cinder blocks, horses in fields, churches, John Deer Tractors. We pass yards with Trump signs prominently displayed. Trucks with gun racks and confederate flag decals.

“Why don’t you stay here?” My mother says when it’s time for me to go. But I can’t even imagine staying. I’ve become a city boy. Accustomed to the hustle and bustle. The excitement of strangers and possibility.

She starts to cry as I get my bags from the backseat of her car.

I tell her that I love her as I rush to get my boarding pass for the return flight.

On the way back to Chicago, Dan Rather is on my flight. He looks old and frail in a suit with a hearing aid. A young, Asian woman travels with him. I resist the urge to take a picture of him. On the flight he is in first class, of course, and I’m at the back. The flight isn’t full, and there is an empty seat between me and the pretty, blonde woman beside me.

At first I’m reassured by Dan Rather’s presence on the plane, because what are the chances that a plane carrying Dan Rather will crash? Then I become anxious as I imagine the headline, “Beloved  veteran news anchor killed in crash, along with a hundred nobodies.”

The plane doesn’t crash. I change back from my baseball cap to my weathered, gray ascot. I catch a taxi back to my apartment. Because of rush hour traffic and lane closures, the 20 minute ride takes over an hour.

Back home C kisses me and takes my bags. I can tell there’s something on his mind before he says anything. His long, black hair is pushed behind his ears. His fuzzy beard tickles against my fuzzy beard as we kiss.

“So I’ve been thinking,” he says. “Since you can’t work from home anyway, why don’t we just move to Santa Barbara?”

He goes on to tell me that he misses his family. He wants to be close to them. He wants a support network. He thinks we’ll be happier there with the beach on one side of us and mountains on the other. His family is already working to find us an apartment and jobs. They’re so excited for us to move back.

The thought of moving again fills me with anxiety. Since we’ve been together we’ve lived in 5 different states. Every couple of years we’ve moved to a new city. We’ve exhausted our savings, and I have to find some new job and start all over in a new town. We never stay long enough to make friends, or put down roots. I feel as if for the past 7 years we’ve only been squatters, moving from place to place.

I want some stability. I want to stay in one place. To buy a house. To have people over for dinner. To have longevity in a career. To not have to start a new entry level job again. I don’t want to max out my credit card to pay to move our belongings to a place where neither of us will have jobs.

I tell C that I want to stay in Chicago for a couple more years.

C says that he absolutely will not spend another winter in Chicago.

“You’ll love Santa Barbara.” He says.

I’m unconvinced, and suddenly no place feels like home.

Home.

You can’t go home again.

There’s no place like home.

Home is where the heart is.

But right now my heart is torn between the past and future. Between what feels like home to me, and what feels like home to him. I try to imagine myself on sandy beaches, with palm tree moonlight, and clay tile rooftops. Bright smiled Californians and avocados.

Try as I might, I just can’t picture it. Home is just a word on Lifetime specials, and holiday greeting cards. I thought the two of us could make a home anywhere, with second hand furniture and thrift-store prints. But home for him will always be the Pacific Ocean, landslides, and tennis courts, and home for me will always be a Texas thicket, an overgrown pasture, and dirt roads, always winding into the distance.

Always leading me back home.

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Hot Chocolate – Chicago 2015

hot chocolate

The morning of our anniversary, I wake up before he does, shivering. During the night he’d managed to wrap himself up in the blankets, leaving me uncovered and cold. Six years ago I’d have just quietly suffered rather than wake him, but at this point in our relationship I feel comfortable enough to yank the blankets back over to my side of the bed.

He rolls over toward me and I feel his beard on the back of my neck, his arm around me.

When my alarm goes off, I roll over toward him and kiss his bushy face.

“Happy anniversary.” I say.

He stays in bed while I get dressed in the dark. In the dim light I can’t tell if my socks match, and stare at them for a long, sleepy moment before deciding that it doesn’t actually matter whether they match or not. As I shrug into a blue, wool sweater and spray on some cologne, he sits up in bed and says, “I got us reservations tonight.”

“Where?” I ask.

“It’s a surprise.” He says. He’ll tell me no more, other than to instruct me to catch the blue line after work and take it to Wicker Park.

The train to work is packed. I stand, crushed between an Indian man in loafers with a mothball jacket and two talkative, older women who spend the entire trek speaking animatedly in Spanish. A homeless man is splayed across five seats with a newspaper over his face. In NYC someone would have yelled at him to sit up so that other people could sit down, but in the midwest no one acknowledges his existence. I don’t acknowledge his existence other than to quietly resent him for smelling like moldy garbage and taking up so much space.

As I leave the subway, the stairwell smells like vomit. I hold my breath and rush upstairs, relieved when I feel the cold, bracing wind against my face.

I walk from the train to my job up Michigan Avenue. In the courtyard some representatives of Quaker Oats are aggressively trying to give passersby free packets of instant oatmeal. I just keep walking past them, past the fountains that have been covered now that the weather is growing cold, past the newly leafless trees lining the walkway to the tower where I work.

The days are getting shorter. The sun is just coming up, pale and yellow between two gray skyscrapers. I sit in my cubicle and eat a banana and a granola bar for breakfast as I start my computer. I can’t stop yawning. I spend the entire morning working on a project only to discover that the account manager has sent me the wrong spreadsheet, so I spend the entire afternoon correcting the mistakes I made in the morning. My job is pointless, but I try not to dwell on it, lest I spiral into yet another bout of existential angst.

At four thirty I shut off my computer and push through the throngs of downtown shoppers to the Blue Line to catch the train to Wicker Park.

The evening train is even more crowded than the morning one. After two trains go by that are too full to board, I finally manage to catch one and squeeze in beside a woman going to the airport with an oversized suitcase. She spends the entire train ride on the phone talking about the clubs she wants to go to and the friends she does and doesn’t want to spend time with once she arrives in Atlanta.

C meets me at the Damen stop.

“Wicker Park reminds me of everything I hated about SoHo.” He says.

We walk past crowds of hipsters in scarves and ironic t-shirts going in and out of trendy bars.

“Chicago is so quiet.” He says. Compared to the constant noise pollution of NYC, Chicago does seem duller, more subdued.

“Only because you can’t hear cholesterol.” I say.

We walk past upscale perfume shops, boutiques and restaurants.

“Here we are.” He says when we’ve arrived at our destination.

We walk into a quaint looking, dimly lit place called Hot Chocolate. The wall is plastered with James Beard award nominations for pastry chef. Because we are early we sit by the door as the servers stand at the bar, getting prepped for the night’s service.

The two of us had gotten hot chocolate on our first date, six years ago back in Seattle. I’d taken a long lunch, and the two of us sat at a table at Peet’s sipping on hot chocolate and talking about our previous lives, both having lived in Southern California, and both eager to leave the gray, Pacific Northwest.

At the time I’d already had two phenomenally failed romances that year, and was skittish to get involved with someone else. But he was cute and funny, and what I thought was going to be a fling stretched out into a full fledged relationship with a joint bank account, and multiple cross country moves.

The waitress gives us a table by the window. We sit across from one another, looking out at the yuppies walking by with double strollers. A little girl wearing a fur coat and her overbearing mother sit at a table behind us. C orders the fish, and I get the pork chop with a sweet potato puree. The waitress dissuades me from getting hot chocolate until after dinner because it’s so rich.

We talk about work, and where we want to move after Chicago. The east coast seems to beckon once again. We finish our entrees and have the most amazing hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. I concede that the waitress was right in counseling me against having it with dinner. The chocolate is so rich I can’t even finish it.

After dinner, we take the bus back to our apartment to snuggle on the couch with a scary movie. Six years ago, watching a movie was a flimsy pretext to start snogging, but at this point in our relationship, we actually watch the movie. It’s nice, being curled up beneath a blanket, his legs across my lap holding his hand while we watch a horde of zombies messily devour a group of annoying teenagers.

In bed, we fall asleep talking, making jokes. No one in the world can make me laugh the way that he does. We both drift off to sleep beside each other, for the moment both covered in a warm, maroon blanket. Our future spreads out before us across the sky as we mark another of an undetermined but growing number of years together.

lanceandcarlos

 

 

The Time I Went to the Ballet

IMG_1092On Wednesday I didn’t go home directly after work. I got off the R train at 59th and 5th Avenue by the designer boutiques, walked toward Columbus Circle, skirting Central Park where the smell of horse manure from the tourist carriages was overwhelming, then made my way up 64th to Lincoln Center.

The horses’ breath was misty as they snorted and stomped, waiting for some adventurous tourists to take them on a lap around the park. Everyone in Manhattan is smartly dressed in long, black coats and wool scarves. Even I am smartly dressed, ill at ease in a lime green, cashmere sweater and a powder blue, button up shirt beneath my own black jacket and wool scarf, my gray slacks and black, designer dress shoes.

An advertisement on the subway reads, “NYC: Tolerant of your beliefs, judgmental of your shoes.” I’ve taken this slogan to heart.

At Lincoln Center he was waiting for me with our tickets. We were seeing a ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

He was starving, and we were early, so we walked up Broadway and grabbed some hotdogs from Gray’s Papaya. A man with an indecipherable accent stood across the counter from me asking me questions I couldn’t understand. After saying, “Sorry?” He repeated himself, but I still didn’t understand, so I stared back blankly, smiling, and said, “I’d like relish, please.”

We stood at the counter in our jackets and ate our dogs, paranoid of spilling or dripping or smearing chili, cheese, and relish on our nice coats. Outside the street was thronged with people, tourists, and city folk darting to shops, or to the theater, or apartments uptown.

“I wish every night was like this,” I said. The two of us in Manhattan, dressed up, going to the ballet. Carlos nodded, and I wasn’t sure if he knew I was referring to the city and not the hot dogs.

I usually only see Manhattan winking at me from across the water from our apartment on Staten Island or experience it underground as the subway hurtles me from the ferry, to my job in Queens. Manhattan, at night, with the lights and skyscrapers, the horses, and the yellow taxis never ceases to feel magical.

Back at Lincoln Center, Carlos took our picture on the second floor in front of an art installation comprised of overlapping, vintage-looking posters. The first attempt I was making a face. The second attempt his hair was wrong. The third attempt he was satisfied. “That’s cute.” He said.

We took our seats in the balcony, the cheap seats we can afford, and waited for the music and dancing to begin. Carlos was excited, leaning forward in his seat. He still harbors some resentment toward his father for discouraging him from dancing when he was a child, and now lives vicariously though the dancers on the stage. I was excited too, to be out in the city, to be well dressed and feel sophisticated, despite my predilection for hotdogs and discomfort when confronted by “art.”

The lights dimmed. The music started, and immediately my mind began to wander.

A week before a classmate of mine had died. We’d been friends in junior high by default. The last ones chosen to be on any team. Him because he was fat, and me because I was short, and frail, and not athletically inclined. During gym the two of us would just walk around the football field and talk about music, or video games, or whatever kids that age talk about.

He moved sometime during high school, and I’d be lying if I said I’d thought of him much in the intervening years. Up until a couple of weeks ago he was a firefighter back in Texas. The roof of a burning building had fallen on him, leaving his wife a widow, and his five children half-way orphaned. I don’t know why I thought of him at that particular moment, other than the strange idea that I was living in New York City, watching the ballet, and he no longer existed at all.

That someone my age could die.

That I could die.

I shivered in my seat. Carlos looked over to me and smiled. I smiled back. On stage the dancer’s danced. I marveled at the athleticism, the grace, the gorgeous set pieces, and the delicate stitching of the costumes. But the whole time I couldn’t shake the thought that the entire production would be vastly improved if only there’d been words to accompany the dancing.

At intermission people stood around drinking champagne from fluted glasses. Carlos looked, unsuccessfully, for a water fountain. The theater was too warm, and I could feel myself sweating beneath the layers of my new, stylish clothes. I used the program as a makeshift fan. Carlos stretched his legs and I imagined what would happen if the giant chandelier across form us crashed down on the people seated in the theater below.

The lights dimmed a second time. The music started. In front of me a little girl leaned against her father, both of them looking sleepy and bored. The repetitive movements of the dancers became hypnotic. I imagined everyone in the theater falling asleep from some witch’s spell like in the story. To be kissed awake by our respective Prince Charmings.

The ballet ended the curtain calls and the applause faded and we put back on our coats and scarves. We made our way outside where the cold air felt wonderful on our warm skin. We sat in the train with our knees touching. Exhilarated by a night in the city, by the music and movements. We ran to catch the ferry, lolled home by the rocking of waves. We danced from our doorway to the bedroom, the golden glow of the salt lamp, my grandmother’s patchwork quilt, our inviting bed.

I was exhausted and wired.

Thankful to be in this amazing city.

To be with him.

To be alive.

Across the water my future danced among the white capped waves, uptown through rainswept streets, beneath neon signs, past hot dog carts and shops, climbing up skyscrapers, and spreading out over the city of Manhattan. The promise of a city, of a continuing dance, the music and the steps an overlapping patchwork of inverted constellations rocking on celestial waves, and all the amazing possibilities of existence.

 

 

Rain and Trains/Jews/Father’s Day/Drinks

IMG_1184The night before the interview he cut my hair. I sat in front of the open window as he gave me a buzz. He gently turned my head from side to side, and I watched the tiny blond hairs fall into my lap. Outside the rain obscured our view of Manhattan.

We’d just had our first fight. It wasn’t exactly a fight. I’d done something thoughtless that upset him. He assured me repeatedly that he wasn’t mad at me, while I repeatedly apologized. Because we rent a room in someone else’s apartment, there were no other rooms for us to retreat to. So he cut my hair, and then we watched a movie.

The next day I had an interview in Plainview, NY. The commute from Brooklyn was two and a half hours, two subway lines, a train, a bus, and a very long walk. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but they were the only company (aside from some staffing agencies) to call me in for an interview. After my subway transfer, I caught the Long Island Rail Road to a town called Hicksville, NY. I sat on the empty train and watched the rain over the green, New York countryside. At the train station I caught a bus to the office.

The bus stopped over a mile from the building, so I walked in the rain. When the sidewalk ended, I walked in wet grass. A truck sped past me and splattered me with mud.

In the interview a small, rotund woman with a thick, Long Island accent asked me about the trip. “The last person we hired from the city quit because the commute was too much.” She said.

“It was fine.” I assured her, smiling too broadly, inwardly wondering if I really would be willing to travel that far every day for a job I knew I wouldn’t like.

On Friday I had a temporary assignment as a receptionist for a staffing agency. After working from home for the past two and a half years, it was very strange to put on nice clothes and go into an office. I walked through the Financial District in the early morning past a group of kids protesting at a corner church. They were curled up in sleeping bags on the sidewalk with signs about taxing religious institutions with anonymous masks and New Kids on the Block blankets. Down the street from them, a real homeless person was rummaging through a garbage bin for the remains of someone’s discarded water bottle.

For most of my work day I sat in front of a phone that didn’t ring. I doodled nine squares on a notepad, and with each passing hour I marked out a square. When people did call, it was mostly other job seekers wanting to talk to a recruiter. I marveled at how unprofessional they all sounded and wondered if they were going to get a job before I do.

***

“They could kill us, and no one would say anything.” Carlos said as we walked through Williamsburg. We’d walked across the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. In Williamsburg we found ourselves surrounded by orthodox Jews in long, black coats with their glasses, ringlets, and large, round, furry hats. We walked for blocks and blocks without seeing any other people who weren’t thus bedecked. Even the parking signs were written in Hebrew. It felt as if we’d suddenly entered another country.

The surreal feeling didn’t end until some kids riding bikes past us said, “These people are crazy!”

***

On Father’s Day I dutifully called my dad for the second of our bi-annual conversations that occur on his birthday and on Father’s day. I didn’t want to call, but figured calling would be easier on me than dealing with the drama that would ensue from not calling.

My dad was at work near Laredo, TX, servicing construction equipment. He’s been working 90 hours a week in places like Louisiana and Laredo, despite the fact that they own their home, have no debt, and have enough in the bank to retire. Obviously I did not inherit his work ethic.

Like all of our conversations, this one was awkward, and I suspect, painful for both of us.

“Have you found a woman in New York, yet?” He asked.

“No.” I said, exasperated that he was at this again.

“Well, we want some grandkids.” He said.

“Don’t hold your breath.” I told him.

His consistent refusal to acknowledge that I’m gay is something that once upset me greatly, but is now merely another annoyance. I feel nothing for him, really. If my mother wasn’t alive, I probably wouldn’t bother continuing to talk to him at all.

We spoke briefly before he had to get back to work. He asked if I’d gotten mugged yet, and if I was ready to move again. I wished him happy Father’s day, and was relieved to have gotten out of the way so that Carlos and I could enjoy the rest of our day.

***

“See, we don’t need money.” Carlos said when we were walking home. “We just need friends with money.”

We’d spent the day with some friends of his who were visiting from San Francisco. They were a generation and a class removed from us, well dressed gay men who cattily referred to one another as “she,” who go to Patty Lupone concerts, and take vacations in Cambodia.  We spent the day going from bar to cafe to bar to bar to bar to restaurant. I don’t often drink alcohol, in fact, it had been more than a year since I’d had an alcoholic beverage, but they were buying, and a gin and tonic or four seemed in order.

I mostly sat by Ali who has his own fragrance and maintains apartments in San Francisco and New York. We all laughed and joked with one another. An event called Folsom East was going on, and I found myself in the midst of a throng of scantily clad, overweight, hirsute men in leather thongs. In a bar called The Eagle, we sat in a back corner watching a strange man dance on a platform with a bulky, black sweater, a red neck kerchief, a hiked up pink miniskirt, and black stockings. Beside him a large black man was getting head from a small white man, as people casually walked by with drinks.

On the rooftop bar of a hotel in Chelsea, we took in the view of the Empire State building. I asked some lesbians if they were from Scotland, and they were incensed and insisted they were from England.

Before going to a charity event, the guys bought us gluten free pizza at a semi-fancy Italian place in Hell’s Kitchen. Slightly inebriated we took the subway back to Brooklyn. Our knees touched. Carlos made faces at me while I giggled. We walked back up to our room and took our clothes off, lying in front of a fan on a warm night, in front of an open window with all of Manhattan spread out before us.

A Room of One’s Own

Before she rented us the room, Satyama asked us our astrological signs. Uncertainly I answered, “Cancer?” While Carlos confidently said, “Sagittarius.”  Apparently this answer was satisfactory because she smiled and nodded, and said “I’m an Aries, so we’ll get along fine.” Carlos and I smiled too, eager to appease her.   Having unsuccessfully attempted to rent two apartments in Manhattan, we were desperate enough to agree with nearly anything, including paying $1,000 a month to rent a room in the cheaper, but slightly less desirable borough of Brooklyn.

“This is a meat-free kitchen,” she said to us as she gave us a brief tour of the apartment. I try to imagine what my mother back in Iola, Texas would think about me renting a room from an older, African American, lesbian vegetarian, but find it impossible to do so. New York in general is far beyond her ability to comprehend. It’s all I can do not to trip over my own jaw 99% of the time.

We agree to her terms, though not without some reservations on my part. It makes me uneasy that we didn’t sign anything, so that if anything goes wrong, we have no recourse, and she has our $2,000, first and last month’s rent. It makes me uneasy that she seems very particular about the cleanliness of the bathroom and kitchen to the point where I don’t feel comfortable venturing into either. Carlos doesn’t seem to share my concern, so I put on a brave front, for his sake.

Carlos believes in staying positive and optimistic, because what you put out into the universe is what you get back from it. While I like this thought, and try my best to think in terms of the affirmative, my pessimistic (nihilistic) nature can’t help formulating a Plan B.  A “What will we do if she kicks us out and doesn’t give our money back?” A “What happens if I can’t get a job before the three months we’ve agreed to sublet the room is up?”  I try not to think about it, but in the back of my mind, I’m somewhat comforted to know that I have enough funds on my emergency credit card for a ticket back to Texas, if need be.

For now, we have two more months, at least, with a roof over our heads. The room itself is big, and bright, and comes furnished with a a small bed, that, though springy, is better than the floor I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on. There is a window that lets in a cool breeze, and harbors a view of the Manhattan skyline that is enviable. We have a door that shuts, and for the first time in over a month we have something I’d taken for granted in Seattle, privacy. We’re only a couple of subway stops away from Manhattan, and centrally located so that we’re close to everything. A few blocks away there is a park and a farmer’s market.

The building itself is a tall, brick one in a historic district full of beautiful, old buildings.  The streets are tree-lined and full of families with strollers. The building has a security guard on staff at all times, so I feel safe. The building itself is very quiet, but the same can’t be said for the street below. In the place we left, out in Queens, all we could hear, most of the time, was the sound of the ocean, of water and waves, occasionally broken by the shrill screeching of the woman next door. Now we hear sirens, people yelling, dogs barking. City sounds.

“We’re going to have to get used to it.” Carlos says, and I agree.

We’ve only been there a couple of days, and things are working out as well as can be expected. It’s a three bedroom apartment, but the other tenant, a gay man in his late twenties, has been absent since we’ve been there, and our host, is scarcely seen. She said when we rented the place that she’s very private, and even her friends rarely visit her. She mostly stays in her rooms which are closed off, with only the faint smell of incense indicating a richer life beyond the curtained walls.

For the most part we stay out until it’s time to unwind and go to bed.

“We didn’t come to New York to stay inside!” Carlos says. Instead we explore the neighborhood. Last night we walked across the Manhattan bridge (that has a better view than it’s more famous Brooklyn cousin) and walked down to Hell’s Kitchen where we had dinner at a trendy eatery called Vynl. The restaurant had four bathrooms, each dedicated to a famous musician, Elvis, Dolly Parten, Cher, and for reasons unknown, Nelly. Rather than use the bathroom in our apartment, I utilized the “Dolly” bathroom and took a picture of the Dolly mosaic inside as “9 to 5” played overhead. When the check came I checked my own anxiety that we’re just hemorrhaging money.

Today Carlos is at work, and, because I didn’t feel comfortable in the room without him, I came along too. I walk through Battery Park where women push babies on strollers, and shirtless men throw a football back and forth, and joggers heave, red faced and breathless on the path as they pass me. I get an unnecessary ice cream and pretend, for the moment, that I’m only on vacation, that tomorrow I’ll go back to work, to a real life. Maybe Carlos is right, and if I keep thinking that tomorrow I’m going to get  a job, and that the two of us will get an apartment of our own in the city, then maybe it will become true.

For now I’m content to enjoy the unaccustomed sunshine, an unnecessary ice cream, and a room of our own.

 

The Subway

IMG_1193Every day I ride the subway. Descend the worn steps down into the bowels of the city. The carved out antiquated tunnels that have never seen sunlight. Past the more modern turnstiles with their automated ticket readers, down more steps to wait on platforms. To squeeze into crowded cars, packed tightly, hip to shoulder with a bunch of strangers. Eyes focused diligently on books, cell phones or e-readers. Old women with bags of groceries, tired tourists with overstuffed suitcases headed to the airport, fashionable young men with scruffy beards, eyeing every stranger who gets on.

When Carlos points out that the subway is over 100 years old, I am amazed. In places like Grand Central or Penn Station you can see the decaying grandeur and imagine how splendid it must have been when it was new. Even in it’s current, crumbling sprawl it is amazing. A modern marvel of ingenuity funneling millions of locals and tourists all over the metropolis every day. I’ve never lived in a city where traveling was so convenient and reliable.

I cling, ape-like, with one hand on the overhead bar, going to shops, museums, or more lately job interviews. Shouldering my messenger bag with a portfolio containing copies of my resume. I dutifully put on a tie and fake a smile and firm handshake for temp agencies. Selling myself as a “people person” and “outgoing” to get some entry level job that pays half of what I was making in Seattle.

I’ve applied with every staffing agency listed online. Most recently I found myself at a staffing agency that was designed to help people with disabilities “live and work with dignity.” When I submitted my resume, I didn’t notice their mission statement, so I had an awkward interview with a woman who no doubt wondered what an able bodied person like me was doing there. For me it was another demoralizing blow in an already humiliating search for a source of income.

Sometimes, after these interviews, after taking tests to prove that I can file, or type, or use a web browser, I don’t want to get back on the subway right away. To go back to the coastal neighborhood with the thick, Queens accents and weathered boardwalk. Sometimes I find myself sitting in a park, watching the hustle and bustle of the city. The people in newer, more stylish clothing walking with purpose from high rise office buildings to wait in line at Starbucks or a hot dog cart. Sometimes I find myself reluctant to walk down those steps again, and join the other runners in the race.

At first the well mannered, southern man in me felt compelled to relinquish my seat to every woman standing. But this sentiment quickly faded to cynical feminism after a few weeks of being on my feet all day and having an hour and a half commute out to Rockaway Park where we are staying. Now pregnant women and the elderly are the only people I’d even consider giving up a seat for.

Some of the subway platforms are well lit, spotless. Most are dank, trash strewn, and crawling with rats who scurry through the debris oblivious to, or completely unafraid of, their human observers. Carlos, who has a misplaced fondness for rats, will inevitably exclaim, “Oh look, a baby!”  I’ll turn, to see a mouse scurrying between the tracks.  All I can think about are germs, and I find myself holding my breath and hesitant to touch anything.

Sometimes it is hot and humid, the air heavy and hard to breathe. The musky stench of sweat and stale breathing. Sometimes it’s freezing, and people huddle together or shiver in winter coats. Sometimes we’ll walk into an auspiciously empty car, amazed at our luck in finding a place to sit when the other cars are full, only to be confronted with a homeless person reeking of a year old sour milk smell, or a schizophrenic prostitute pacing the length of the car swearing that she’s going to have the President impeached. We sit, not making eye contact, and quickly change cars at the next stop.

Often people are selling things. A kid who calls himself “The Candyman” sells cookies and candy for $1. A pair of gentleman have a whole, polished comedy routine as they sell pirated DVDs of movies that aren’t even out in theaters yet. Other times musicians, a family who plays the accordion, a man in a wheelchair who plays the electric guitar, or pan flute players will get on, play some tune in varying degrees of incompetence, then walk (or roll) through to collect change. There is a group of women (at least three distinct ones) that get on carrying a toddler with a sign saying they are homeless, and asking for money. But they all have the same accent, nice clothes, and the exact same sign that makes me think that it’s a scam and they’re going back to some nice apartment with their plunder.

Occasionally the person next to me will speak about the weather, or the delays when they happen. Once a signal problem held up all the trains going through one station for over an hour and it took us three hours to get home. But most of the time the trains are running on schedule. I’ll answer politely, pleased with the unexpected human interaction, and then look at my hands again.

We usually ride the A train because it’s the only one that goes to Rockaway Park. For reasons unknown to me, there are two A trains, and a couple of times I’ve gotten on the wrong one, and had to transfer to get back to where I was going. Sometimes I look up to realize that I’m the only white person on the A train, which is an odd sensation, especially moving from Seattle where the lack of diversity sometimes made it feel like a city of Aryans. As odd as that situation seems at time, I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the train. Sometimes I find myself riding just to ride. To go somewhere. Anywhere.

Tomorrow we’re moving to Brooklyn. The A train will be replaced with a hub, a slew of options. There is a new neighborhood to explore in our second-choice borough, having been denied the apartment we were applying for in Manhattan.

Right now Carlos is at work, and I’m sitting in a coffeehouse in TriBeCa with free wifi. I’m wearing a shirt and tie and my nice shoes on the off chance that a temp agency wants me to come in for a last minute assignment in midtown. But as the day wears on, even this hope fades, and I look at my overpriced cup of hot chocolate, thinking better of having spent the money on something nonessential.

He gets off at 10:30, and we’ll go, one last time to the old haunt in Queens, to pack up our things and take it to our new room in Brooklyn. We’ll sit side by side on the orange, or yellow seats that haven’t been refurbished since the 70s it seems. I’ll hold the bag of groceries for him. His knee will press my knee, and I’ll look at him and smile. This familiarity in a strange city, a bit of warmth as we take the long subway ride home.

I <3 NYC!

 Barnes and Noble is a strange place to have an epiphany, but that’s where it happened.  I was sitting upstairs at the store in TriBeCa watching the taxis drive down Warren St, waiting for Carlos who was interviewing for a job at a company nearby.  (He got the job, by the way!) I was feeling exhausted from all the walking we’d been doing, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people going briskly about their day on the street below, oblivious to me and my splashless arrival; sharp looking men in three piece suits, fashionable women in skirts and $500 pumps, kids in tight jackets and scarves.  And me, the newest addition feeling shabby and wrecked in a pair of worn jeans and a discount hoodie.  There was something about the flow of people on the street below, how they walked with purpose and made way for one another, that instilled in me the first feeling of calm I’d had since arriving. A sense of movement after a long bout of stagnation.

Carlos met me at the airport.  He didn’t have much confidence that I’d be able to navigate the subway on my own.  (A fair assessment given the fact that I’ve done nothing but ride the subway for five days and can still make heads nor tails of it.) We lugged my suitcase and bags (containing everything I own in the world) to the subway and back to our temporary residence in Queens.

The apartment is a nice one, with a view of Manhattan from the bedroom and a view of the ocean from the living room. (The beach literally begins as you step out the front door.) We share it with our host, Ken, who was gracious enough to let us stay with him until we have jobs and an apartment of our own, and two cats named June and Truffaut who mostly ignore us until they’re hungry or want to be rubbed.

Mostly we’ve been out.  The past few days have been a blur.  Sushi in Chelsea.  Hot chocolate at Rockefeller Center.  Walking past Madison Square Gardens and The World Trade Center.  Tourists in Times Square.  Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  Seeing the Statue of Liberty.  Getting a key chain in China Town that says, I ❤ NY.  Shopping in Soho.  Going to the Metropolitan Museum.  Eating from food carts and walking through Central Park.

Every corner of the vast city seems to be a landmark that I’d only read about or seen in movies or on TV. Ken is amazed that I was willing to pack up and move to the city, sight unseen.  But New York has always been my dream city.  It just took Carlos’s optimism to convince me that it didn’t have to remain a dream.  So together we decided to make it a reality.

Now we’re checking out neighborhoods we want to live in.  We really like Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, and it’s the most affordable.  There’s also Park Slope and Williamsburg in Brooklyn that are still possibilities.  We liked Astoria in Queens, but didn’t love it.  And Chelsea is beyond our means.

Of course all of this is dependent upon me getting a job as soon as possible.  The idea that my last paycheck next Friday will be my last paycheck is more than a little terrifying.  We’ve done a good job of saving the past year or so, but this won’t last forever.  I’m relieved that Carlos was able to get a job so quickly, and hope that I’ll have the same luck.

Right now I’m still growing accustomed to the quick pace of my new city.  The Queens accents.  (I’ve already heard someone say “Yous guys!”)  How expensive apartments are and eating out is (except for the hot dog carts and pizza stands that are ridiculously cheap.  $.89 for a hot dog, a dollar for a slice of pizza!)  But every day I feel more and more at home, and I’m really looking forward to the day that Carlos and I get to set up shop in a place that’s entirely our own.

7 Days

 Today, snow. Enough to turn the driveway to slush, to coat the sidewalk and dust the cars, the trees, and rooftops.  On my daily trek to 7-11 for my morning Big Gulp it’s all the cashier can talk about. Officially it’s spring, but the Pacific Northwest hasn’t gotten the memo.

In New York Carlos is in short sleeves with all the windows open.

This time next week I’ll be living there.  With him.

Not just him.

We’ll be staying in Queens with his frequently absent, flight attendant friend, two cats, and a mysterious actor who left his wife for an abusive, Asian woman.  At least until we have jobs and an apartment of our own.  It’s far from ideal, but after a year in redneck, suburban hell, it seems like a dream.

Still, I’m in a constant state of panic.  I wake up in the middle of the night, my mind racing, and find it impossible to go back to sleep.  My big fear isn’t so much that I won’t be able to find a job quickly.  It’s that will find a job, and it will corrode my soul and make me long for death.

There are precedents.

I’ve been spoiled by my current job that lets me work from home, is completely devoid of stress, and pays fairly well.  I fear that the days of pajamas, irresponsible hygiene, and all day horror movie marathons will soon be replaced with button up shirts, cubicles, and long commutes.  Even though I’m not incredibly attached to the job, it’s much harder, I’m discovering, to irresponsibly quit and uproot my life now that I’m in my 30s than it was in my 20s.

Also stressful is the fact that I’ve never even been to New York (having glimpsed it only once from the Newark, NJ airport).  Carlos will be the only thing familiar.  I feel like once I see him, I’ll be fine.  The panic will subside.

Until then I make lists of things that need to be accomplished before I leave.  Finishing up work.  Having Salvation Army pick up my furniture for donation.  Packing.  Cleaning.  Nothing gets crossed out, and instead I watch episodes of MonsterQuest on Netflix and binge eat.

Another thing I keep putting off is telling my mother that I’m moving.  Every time we talk I set out to tell her, but then I always find a reason to put it off.  Today, for instance, she was trying to help my cousin retrieve my grandmother’s hearing aid which had accidentally fallen down the drain in the kitchen.  She was stressed and busy, so it didn’t seem like the best time.

She makes such a big deal out of the smallest things that I’m afraid telling her I’m moving to New York could result in an aneurysm.  She’s terrified of cities, and New York, I imagine is her greatest nightmare.  Full of everything she’s afraid of.  Terrorists.  Dope heads.  Devil worshippers.  “There’s so much meanness in the world.”  She says.  Frequently.

Carlos suggests just not telling her at all.  “It’s not like she’ll ever visit.”  He says.  Which is true enough.  I just don’t want it to be a surprise to her if my plane crashes somewhere over Kansas, and they notify my next of kin.

So I add “tell mom” to my list of things that don’t get crossed out.

7 days.  Less now.  I’m mostly more excited than terrified. New York is the city of my dreams.  I never had the courage to go before now. Imagine Carlos and I on the subway.  Shopping in Soho.  Sitting in an art cafe in Williamsburg.  The two of us on a bubble bath Sunday morning.  Holding hands in Central Park.  Cozy in a tiny apartment 7 flights up.  Living the life I’ve always dreamed of, if not exactly the way that I dreamed it.  But better. Because it’s real.  In seven short days.

Lance’s Annual Holiday Special!

The morning of our departure.  Puffy eyed and exhausted.  My plane was boarding at gate C24 and his at gate E16.  A, B, and C gates have a different security checkpoint than D and E gates, so we reluctantly split up.

I take off my shoes and hat and go through the full body scanner.  Unnecessary radiation.  A strange TSA agent looks at my junk.  But I am too tired to care about these things.

A text from him, “I don’t think I’ll see you after the checkpoint.”  A sad face emoticon.

His plane is starting to board and mine is about to.  I reply, “Have a safe trip baby.  I love you.”  Disappointed that we didn’t get to say goodbye in person.

Then my phone rings and he says, “I can’t leave without a proper goodbye.”

So we run toward each other through the terminal.  Me from the C gates and he from the E gates.  We run, shouldering our suitcases, past families with strollers, security guards, old people in wheelchairs.  We meet in the D area, breathless and sweating in our winter coats.  Wrap our arms around one another and kiss goodbye.

He says, “I love you.”  I say, “I love you too.”  We run back to our respective gates to board our respective planes.  Him to Santa Barbara and me to Austin.

6 am.  The Estée Lauder flight attendants smile as I board.  Blue skirts and red lipstick.  I sleepwalk to my seat.  Behind me a baby begins to cry and is soon joined by other babies so that they are shrieking in surround sound for the duration of the flight.

I change planes in Denver.  The flight is delayed.  We sit on the tarmac for nearly an hour because the lavatory is being serviced.  The captain says over the intercom that the toilet will only flush while the plane is in the air.  I guess I am the only one that realizes the simple solution would be to fly the plane.

My parents pick me up from the airport in Austin.  See them standing at the bottom of the stairs.  Hair grayer than I remember.  My father’s arm around my momther’s shoulder.  I breathe in deeply and brace myself for the criticism I’ve come to expect.

“You look ridiculous.”

“You look awful.”

“You look like a refugee.”

These are some of the phrases I’ve been greeted with in seasons past.  But this year, a Christmas Miracle.  They only hug me, and my dad asks if he can carry anything. So I hand him the heavy bag, and we walk to his truck.

Admittedly, I’ve gone out of my way to do nothing that might elicit a critique.  I’m wearing blue jeans that are neither too tight, nor too baggy.  A dark green sweater.  A baseball cap.  My closest approximation of traditional masculinity. Being home means being unable to be myself.  I try to project the least disappointing image of myself that I can muster.

“Where can you eat?”  My mother asks sometime during the two and a half hour drive from the airport to my childhood home.

“Anywhere.”  I say.

“A steakhouse?”  My dad asks.  Every year it’s the same.  For eight years I was a vegetarian, and my dad is such a jerk about it, that I’ve vowed I’ll never tell them that I started eating meat again.  Two years ago.  We end up eating at a Pizza Hut in Caldwell, TX.  My dad stares at my mushroom and black olive pizza in disgust, and asks how I can live without meat.

My mom, who knows about my recent forays into sushi says, “Fish aren’t vegetables.”

“What did you get your girlfriend for Christmas?”  My dad asks as we’re waiting for the check.  This is a new thing.  I came out to them as a teenager, and in previous years he’s asked if I had a boyfriend, but in the past two years, he’s started to ask about girlfriends.

For Christmas I got Carlos a fancy kitchen knife, and he got me a nice coat to wear in NYC.  We both got new iPhones and signed up for a family plan.  A two year commitment.  We’re now contractually linked.

In lieu of an answer, I just stare back at my father blankly and my mother immediately changes the subject.  We’re all relieved when the check arrives and we can leave.

That night I’m lying in my teenage bed.  The rockstar posters of my youth have been replaced with racks of my mother’s clothes and my dad’s old hunting trophies.  Her growing shoe collection and his growing arsenal.  Lightning flashes, bright and blue through the bedroom windown.  Then thunder, so loud it rattles the window panes and sets off car alarms down the street.

My mom creeps through the dark house unplugging appliances.  I lay in bed counting the time between when the lightning flahses before the thunder rumbles to gauge how far away the storm is.  The Pacific Northwest doesn’t have storms like this.  I count the time between the lightning and the thunder.  The thunder and lightning is followed by rain that lulls me into the deepest sleep I’ve had in months.

It rains the whole time I’m in Texas.  My mom complained all summer about the long, lingering drought, and she complains all week about the rain.

We spend the days shopping and eating.  The mall.  Two different Super Wal-Marts.  Morbidly obese people ride around on Weasels trailing their sausage toed children.  We eat at Olive Garden, Taste of China, and Casa Olé.

If I was drugged and dropped off in Texas, I’d immediately know exactly where I was just from looking at the old ladies with their football helmet hair and welded on make up.  The Wrangler jeans, and chain restaurants.

We buy groceries for my grandmother.  The next day she sends us out again for things that she forgot to add to her list.  “She’s driving me crazy.”  My mom says.  My grandmother is 86 and forgets things more and more often.  When she can’t balance her check book, or remember if she took her pills, or find the television remote she calls my mom, sometimes at 4 am.  I wonder, when my mom is in her dotage, will I be there for her?

Christmas Eve I’m surrounded by blond toddlers.  My cousins are all now married with children.  There are too many of them for me to distinguish among them, or to learn their names.  My mother is the only one of her sisters who is not a grandmother.  She dotes on her sister’s grandchildren.  I feel guilty that she is unlikely to have any grandchildren of her own.  I gorge myself on pie to make up for my inability to please my parents.  The pie loves me just the way I am.

My father had already opened his big Xmas gift, a deer blind to aid and abet him in the stalking and murdering of Bambi.  So my mom and I got him a giant toolbox for the back of his truck.  We’d hidden it in my grandmother’s barn, and on Christmas Eve we loaded it ourselves into the back of his pickup.  My mom put a big, green bow on it.

On Xmas morning he got a card that said, “Go look in your truck.”  We all walked out together in the cold, and all he said was, “You wasted your money.”

My mom and I made out a little better.  She liked (or pretended to like) her camera, perfume and bathrobe.  I liked (or pretended to like) my money, sweater, gloves and gift cards.

Then it was back to my grandmother’s for Christmas lunch.  My mom made turkey and stuffing and vegetarian stuffing for me.  I sat in a corner beneath a picture of a blond Jesus and listened to my family with growing horror.  My uncle was bemoaning the fact that the American Kennel Club wouldn’t let him register his dog under the name “Osama Bin Laden.”  My closeted cousin made an awkward comment about how hot some chick was, despite the fact that he’s nearly forty, has never had a girlfriend and collects antiques.  Then they engaged in our favorite family pasttime:  Telling racist jokes.

Sometimes someone would ask me where I’m living now, and what the weather is like up here.  The conversations never deviate from work or weather.  Don’t ask, Don’t tell is still in full force at family gatherings.

After Christmas we shop some more.  Eat at other chain restaurants.  We visit my grandmother.  But mostly we sit in different rooms watching different TV shows.  As the week progresses, I find myself watching P90x infomercials for all the wrong reasons.  I feel like a teenager again.  Staying up late, hoping for a random Bowflex commercial.  Long, aching nights.  The barking of dogs.  The constant rain.

In the days leading up to my departure, my mom starts saying things like, “Why don’t you move back to Texas?”  Or, “Don’t leave.  Just stay here.”   I don’t know how to respond.  I cannot wait to get out of there, and back to my real life.  To sleep in my own bed.  To be surrounded by my things.  To be able to be myself.  To be with him.

When I call him he is going to the beach.  He is having a great time with his own family.  I try to imagine a time in the future where I bring him home with me to celebrate the holiday together, but find it impossible to merge my life with him and my life with my family.   The two are magnets that repel one another.

Driving back to the airport on my last day, I stare out at the central Texas landscape.  Flat, barren horizon.  Short, scrubby, leafless trees.  Brown fields, dotted with grazing cows or blackened from summer fires.  Wonder, what is it about this place that my parents love so much?

The whole trip I keep waiting for the right time to tell them I’m moving to New York, but the time never arises.

When they drop me off at the airport, my mother begins to cry.  I hug her, and walk briskly inside before I start to cry too.  If I were to describe our relationship in Facebook parlance, it would be “It’s complicated.”  I love her.  I wish I was able to be closer to her.  I wish I was able to be the child she’d hoped for, and not the one she ended up with.

Flight back to Portland.  I’m sitting between two middle aged women who spend the entire flight grilling me about every aspect of my life.  They ask me all the questions that my own family is afraid to ask.  And I tell them everything about Carlos, and New York, and my growing excitement and nervousness about the futre.  They tell me they are envious of my adventures.  Wish me a Happy New Year.

Strangers know more about me than my family.

Carlos comes home the same night.  Our clothes are coming off before I can set my bag down.  Afterward we lay in his bed and watch Pee Wee’s Christmas Special and Garfield’s Christmas Special.  We watch the Goonies, and he falls asleep holding my hand.

His mother got me a hat for Christmas.  My mother doesn’t acknowledge his existence.

On New Year’s Eve we debate going out somewhere, but can’t rationalize spending $20 on cover to a club we wouldn’t ordinarily want to go to for free.  So we meet at the grocery store and pick up some food for a dinner at home.  He cooks and I mostly try to stay out of his way.  Red wine and laughter.  French pop songs.

We try to stay up until midnight, but by 11:30 we’re both exhausted, and decide to go to bed.  He says, “It will still be a New Year whether we’re awake or not.”  This is all the rationale I need to cuddle up with him in bed.

Maybe next year when we live in New York we’ll be able to make it all the way to midnight.  But for three years running, we’re at home in bed before the fireworks go off.  And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Anniversary

Last night we celebrated our two year anniversary.  In retrospect “celebrated” may not be the most appropriate description of our night together, unless your conception of the term celebration is broad enough to include explosive diarrhea.  In that case, it would be a fairly accurate account of our evening.

Had we stuck to our original plan of going to the fancy sushi place downtown, the tragedy might have been averted.  But after a day of shopping and walking along the waterfront, we both found ourselves with a hankering for a hamburger, and it was our night after all, so we could eat whatever we wanted, gosh darn it!

So we ended up at a burger place in Belmont called Dick’s (no joke!).  This is not to be confused with the chain of burger joints in Seattle of the same name, which, despite it’s ghetto perception, and being the favored late night eatery of Capitol Hill drunks, never gave me food poisoning.

This Dick’s is a gourmet burger joint featuring pictures of famous men named Richard,  from Nixon to Montalban.  The burgers spotlighted last night were the lamb, which Carlos had, and wild boar from the Texas badlands (redundant?).

I decided to play it safe and ordered the buffalo burger, with some yam fries, and a chipotle aioli dipping sauce.  I don’t know if it was the burger being undercooked, or the aioli being “off” but before I was two thirds the way through my burger, my stomach began cramping with an urgency that made my brow sweat as I prayed to the Invisible Pink Unicorn that I made it to the restaurant bathroom before ruining a perfectly nice pair of American Apparel undies.

I returned sheepishly from the restroom, quietly mortified by the thought that if I could hear the conversation of the couple at the table nearby, then there was every probability that they could also hear me messily evacuating my bowels.  Not to be too graphic, (at this point, I assume readers of my blog are prepared for TMI), but I’ve never experienced the expulsion of anything from inside me with such force that I was reminded of a movie where a car hits a fire hydrant, and the water explodes upwards in a never-ending, forceful geyser.   Because that’s what it was like.

Carlos ordered dessert to go as I went back to the restroom a second time, after which I made him flee as if we were getting away from a crime scene where we were the culprits.  Needless to say, it was a very long bus ride back to his apartment.  We cuddled on the couch watching the Garfield Halloween Special, followed by Trick R’ Treat, punctuated by intermittent trips to the bathroom every 20 minutes or so.

Last year on our first anniversary we wandered around the waterfront in Seattle before ending up in an overrated steakhouse that still had Halloween decorations up.  I’d given him a card with a picture of two chimpanzees on rollerskates with their arms around each other.  On the inside it read, “I like the way you roll.”   Underneath I wrote some heartfelt, personal note, ending in the words, “I love you, monkey,” because I was too afraid to say the words out loud.  He pointed out that chimpanzees were apes.

Who could have predicted that two years after meeting on a sleazy, gay hook-up site, we’d still be together?  My journal entry from the day we met was, “Met Carlos at Peet’s on Broadway.  He’s totally cute.  Turns out he’s a massage therapist!  He’s one of those “natural medicine” people that I can’t seem to avoid.  Don’t know if we have much in common, or will “date.”  But we had a lovely chat (despite the fact that I was supposed to be working) and we’ve made a date to see each other on Friday when I’m done running.  My goal is to either fuck him, or at the very least, weedle a free massage from him.”

Despite my initial cynicism, I was quickly smitten.  One date led naturally to another, until spending our days off with one another was just a given.  In many ways we’re completely different.  Despite my avowed atheism and total devotion to the scientific method, and his general open mindedness and affinity for alternative medicine, he’s the logical one with his feet planted firmly on the ground, while I wander around with my head in the clouds.  But we complement each other.  I think.

We have enough differences to keep us (well me, because I guess I can only speak for myself, here) fascinated with one another, and just enough in common for a firm foundation to build on.  (Mostly comprised of all the things we both hate.)  Every time I see him I tbink that he’s more beautiful than he was the time before (if that’s possible!), his sharp wit always keeps me on my toes, and he can always crack me up.

I think that’s what I love most about him.  He always makes me laugh, and even during the times when outside factors conspire against us, specifically when food poisoning completely lays waste to my bowels…I always manage to enjoy myself when we’re together.   Pluse, even though I was sick to my stomach all night, he pretended not to have heard a thing. For a pessimist like me, that’s a real testament to how we feel about one another.

So, thanks for sticking it out with me another year, Monkey.   I love you!