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My Buddy and Me

I’m inside a refrigerator. 

Caricatured milk bottles and eggs and heads of lettuce stare me in the face. The plastic smell is inescapable.

I’m trapped.

This is my first memory.

***

I’m dressed in a blue sequin two-piece, and watch enviously as Saved By the Bell’s Zack Morris marries some random woman in the ocean. But everything about this moment bleeds into the background, and all I see is Zack’s chiseled form.

This is my first dream journal entry.

***

Laura and I are walking our dog past our old middle school when she stops me.

“Well, I have plenty of straight friends and plenty of gay friends. But I don’t have any bisexual friends.”

“Well, I am.”

“Hmm. Well, whatever. Alright by me.”

This is my turning point.

***

I’m two meters underground — skimming layers of soil with disturbing precision. Amanda is shoveling behind me. We’re talking about guys. I say one is hot. She stops and turns. I stop and stare.

“I like men.”

“I know.”

A snake burrows through the wall and falls into the unit. We scream and jump out.

***

“I. Am. Gay.”

Three words strung together. Superficially, that’s all they are. And yet, they’ve reached into my gut, my heart, my mind and pressed puree. With my mental blender whirring loudly, I watch my mouth sync these words to my reflection.

I’ve known this phrase, but never sculpted it through audible language. Though whispered at first, the words seem to melt into the darkness of my apartment, permeating every atom with the spoken truth.

“Gay,” I murmur louder, my lips contorting a little less than before. The whirring stops.

I look back into the mirror and see myself for the first time.

This is my freedom.

***

He looks like a Russian poet. That’s what I tell him. He finds it endearing. We drink a bottle of wine. He makes lasagna. And the next morning, the sun fills the room, and glances off his torso. I turn over and smile into the sheets.

This is my first time.

***

I stare hard into the antique dining table’s surface, so much so that my vision blurs. Then I look up, right across to Laura. And there she sits: solid, unmoving, protective.

A few tense seconds of silence pass; they seem like months. Mom’s voice shatters them to pieces.

“Well, I hope you know this doesn’t change how much we love you.”

This is acceptance.

***

The air conditioner sputters uselessly. His leg rests on mine. We’re hot and tired and bored. We’re together. He looks up from his book and smiles.

This is love.

***

He’d always been there of course – a passenger of sorts, riding along but never engaging. But he had to be given a voice. My voice.

This is me.

Where memories are made.

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Will Lap Dance for Luxury

I can’t dance.

If I learned anything from being called to the front of my ninth grade Physical Science class by a perverted coach-teacher and made to perform the chicken dance so that my team could earn extra credit on the next test, it was that.

Not that my team cared. After all, my tragic display gave them just enough time to tear apart my notebook whilst copying my homework.

Go team!

Anywho…

Now that Andy and I live in a big city, it’s hard not to have our daydreams of owning a home almost forcibly ripped out of our heads by cray-cray real estate prices.

But I don’t care. One day, we’ll own a cute little house. I just know it.

And I hope it looks something like this Craftsman that we drool over every single time we’re en route to Runyon Canyon.

I LOVE YOU.

It’s the last former rental in a now thriving pocket neighborhood — full of beautiful, insanely well-maintained bungalows and cottages. I mean, I love this house so much that if it was a halfway handsome man, I’m pretty sure we’d have a threesome.

I mean, check out these stone…piers.

I love rocks.

And that wood..work.

Hello, handsome.

Okay, I’ll stop. You get it: I want a house. And I know we’ll have one.

Until then, I’ll be more than happy with our apartment — a fortuitous find on a nice, quiet street in the heart of West Hollywood.

And sure, I’d love it if we had a little outdoor space all to ourselves. Like a lovely balcony that we could flood with light at night to showcase to the envious gays lurking in the darkness listening to us laughing about how rich and wonderful we are.

Romeo, Romeo. Where in the fuck did you get that balcony?

Not that I lurk. *Creepy giggles*

But don’t we always want a little more?

Poor, cute, doomed duplex.

Just one more big ass slice of that American Dream pie that we’ve been forcing down our gullets for so damn long? We always want something bigger and better and generally amazing.

Infilled grossness.

Rather than the simple beauty right in front of us.

Like one of my anthropology professors once said, it’s all about learning to see — and see what’s really important.

It’s looking around at what we have, and what we’ve accomplished — being proud of that.

Home sweet home. For now, it's perfect.

And working toward our own definitions of success and happiness. Be they made of mortar and wood and stone, or paper and ink and fond memories.

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The Wonder Year

The retail clerk looks at me with such horror that I wonder if I momentarily blacked out and smacked a bunch of orphans before running off with their milk money.

“You know, the cute shorts the gays are wearing.”

He straightens his intensely starched suit and pulls his collar to the side, as if he has a puff of cartooned steam to ventilate. Then slides the slim bag across the counter with a “Sorry, no.”

Which is when I realize that I haven’t changed that much since moving to California. That I’m still the most embarrassing person to be around. Ever.

***

Not long after moving here, Andy and I started fielding inquiries from well-meaning family members — specifically about how we shouldn’t let ourselves get sucked into “the scene” and to always “be true to yourselves.” Which translated to “Don’t get hooked on drugs and lose everything and become an asshole who stops talking to your family and friends.”

But I’m already horrible about keeping in touch (sorry, y’all), and the closest I get to drugs is when I walk past one of the bazillion legal pot dispensaries along Santa Monica Blvd. I’m too old to give a damn about the thumpa thumpa going on in West West Hollywood, and I’m much more enthralled with the quiet, in-bed-by-nine East West Hollywood.

It wasn’t until our gay, man-infested destiny was realized that I learned how much people equate such a move — especially to a big city — with going off the rails and absolutely ruining your life. Granted, it does require a little insanity to drop everything and move — but it’s not necessarily symptomatic of a deep-seated issue.

For us, this whole crazy journey has been about self-discovery and starting anew. Of course, we miss our friends and family at the Center and across North Carolina, and the Boys Clubs at The Borough. But we keep ourselves centered here, in our new home. Because everyone shifts from place to place as they make their way in the world and figure out who they are in this moment and who they’re going to be. And each revelation and stride is tinged with a bit of heroism.

***

Getting settled is hard. After almost a year, we’re just now starting to settle down — the dust isn’t quite as thick, and we can breathe again.

But a year ago, we were moving.

Andy had a job. I didn’t.

We had a tiny, closet-sized apartment waiting for us in Koreatown.

And we wondered if we were going to make it.

But we started gaining steam. I got a job.

We started saving and dreaming and working toward our goals.

And then we moved again. To a place we both love.

And adopted our furry son.

And started acknowledging that we need to give ourselves a little slack — that rebuilding a social network isn’t going to be easy. But it’ll happen.

And that our dreams outside the daily grind can be brought to fruition — that they’re still there, regardless of context.

So as we creep up on the anniversary of our move, we’re finding ourselves just as energized and scared and hopeful as we were a year ago.

The roads we travel, the journeys we take.

And just as we were then, we’re charging headlong into it all — reveling in the ambiguity, and cherishing the experiences to come.

The here and now.

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Root (Re)Bound

Lately, life has been a little difficult.

But that’s to be expected. Work is tiring. Keeping the house in order is always an ongoing process, especially if you happen to be incredibly obsessive about how everything looks — not that I’d know. Toby keeps gaining chins at a rapid rate, despite our best efforts.

Oh, Jabba the Pup!

And self-imposed deadlines are creeping up (oh, haaay book-that-should-be-finished-but-isn’t).

Oh, [First World] life.

But every now and then, we get a little kick in the gut that reminds us to check in with ourselves. Make sure everything’s in order. That we’re doing just fine and not slowly retreating from the world and curling into a nice, tight ball of nerves.

Because when that happens, you need a little something called a Mental Health Day.

Now, I was no stranger to taking these at my last job. But given that my depleted work ethic has since rebounded, it’s hard for me to take some me time to decompress. Still, we all have days that start off like this:

Some days, it's hard to get out of bed.

(Yes, that mess Toby’s comforting, who’s sprawled across the bed, is yours truly).

So, for whatever reason, I often fill my mental health days with plant-related tasks.

Whether it’s staving-off an aphid infestation or re-potting plants, there’s something incredibly cathartic about giving a little boost to the quietly alive things making our apartment look that much better. Even if the process is messy. (Like one of my favorite bloggers describes.)

Oh, life can be messy.

And for very obvious reasons, the whole process reminds me of growing up — my roots, and how and where I’ve come into my own.

As a very late bloomer, I didn’t really find my niche, nor my voice, until a lot later in life. And I didn’t really give myself many chances to thrive. Which is probably why I’d always gravitate toward the bedraggled looking plants in the nurseries. Sort of like how, back in college, I’d always “rescue” the beta fish that looked sickly or generally gross. I’d map my own history onto these struggling pieces of existence and hoped to see something in me reignite or take shape. But alas, usually these attempts ended with a toilet flush or a wilted mess.

Now, though, I’m pretty damn sure where I’m going and how to keep myself rooted — even when we keep on the move. And from that has come a new sense of self — of better understanding my own capabilities and my strengths, and how best to use those skills to nurture new life, new opportunities.

And an unexpected byproduct of all of this maturation has been an understanding of how to deal with the future — the unknowns, the certainties, the scary stuff none of us likes to think about. The warts and tears and politics of getting older, and watching our parents start that bizarrely alien, yet natural process of slowing down. And dealing with the outbursts and bruised feelings and hard decisions children have to make when they start assuming the roles of parents and parents start pedaling backward into childhood.

In many ways, we’re all seedlings trying to conquer a massive pot of soil — make it our own, dominate it.

Little by little we grow.

But before we know it, we hit the outer edge.

The outer rim.

And we have to break up our root-bound selves, replenish, and start growing again.

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Surviving Fabulously

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.

I’d just popped in my contacts when it felt like a car crashed into a line of overloaded washing machines over and over and over again. Which is when I ran into the bedroom, grabbed Toby, and stood in our bedroom doorway. Toby farted. The ground kept shaking.

It only lasted five or so seconds, but it was a bizarrely disconcerting feeling to know that the very foundation on which we’ve built our lives was dancing a tectonic jig.

Then, last Thursday, as we watched crazy American Horror Story alien encounters and Jessica Lange’s futile attempts to defeat Satan, the ground rumbled again.

At first, I thought it was the aliens, then Jessica Lange. So only after ruling out aliens and starlets did I make the leap that it was, in fact, another earthquake.

One thing I’ve learned about California is this: if you’re ever in doubt that you experienced an earthquake, just open your windows and listen for the nearly immediate sound of news helicopters thrumming through the skies searching for a story.

So to put my mind at ease, and make use of some of the random crap we’ve hoarded away, I spent the better part of an afternoon assembling our earthquake kits. So, without further ado, here’re some of my recommendations for surviving fabulously (that is, if we’re still alive to take advantage of all of these preparatory measures).

(1) Water. Don’t feel like devoting a shelf of valuable storage space to water jugs? Use those extra decanters you have floating around — fill’em up.

Water water everywhere.

(2) Picnic items. Because every day is a picnic when you don’t have a kitchen anymore. And when else are you going to use that TWA silverware your grandmother apparently stole many moons ago?

Picnic prep!

(3) Knife, scissors, and blunt instruments. These are especially useful if the earthquake coincides with a zombie apocalypse.

(4) Can and wine opener. Because.

(5) Candles. Preferably nicely scented ones. Like ours: cinnamon bun, apple pie, key lime, and ylang ylang. Because there’s nothing that quite reminds you of home like ylang ylang.

Candles of all smells.

(6) Compasses and a map. Not that I’m the best at orienting. But if we’re talking a scenario like The Road, a compass can’t hurt. If nothing else, you can throw it at a crazed cannibal. And get an updated map. Not this cool one I found in a Deco pencil box.

Map it out.

(7) Toiletry bag. Because what else are you going to do with all of those swiped motel soaps and shampoos? And if you forget toilet paper, you’re a dumbass.

(8) Safety pins and Ziploc bags. Those pins kept your JNCO’s up in high school. They may do the same again.

(9) Batteries and cordless iPhone charger. (I bet you thought that charger was a vibrator. Which may also be necessary.)

Charge it!

(10) Record book. For all of the writers out there.

Record it all, y'all.

And don’t forget the puparoos. Even though I stocked Toby’s kit, he also made his own list.

Toby is prepared, y'all.

(1) All stuffd aminals. My Squirrel. Squirrel funny.

(2) Fud.

(3) Tweatz.

(4) Probiotic, so I dont haz explosive poo.

All joking aside (since I always turn to humor when I’m anxious, which is most of the time), the Big One is bound to happen sooner or later. And we may as well be as prepared as we can be.

And face it fabulously.