Untying the Knot

Sometime around midnight, I thrashed awake screaming—throwing off what few covers I’d craved amid the heatwave, pillows hitting the walls and startling Joanna awake one room over.

Something heavy lay across my torso, and in my sub-sleep panic, I’d assumed it was either a possum or an anaconda that’d fallen through one of the house’s many rotted sections.

Switching on the bedside lamp, I realized the offending creature was, in fact, my completely numbed arm. Having been contorted at some bizarre angle, it’d reached a painful numbness. I assumed my body had attempted to reopen circulation by flopping it across my midsection, rousing me awake.

I shifted and lifted it onto a supporting pillow, wincing as the blood started rushing back to it, painful pangs thrumming as I lulled myself back to sleep.

***

Hours later, sunlight was beating against the sun porch’s drawn curtains, and I flicked on my fans, turning them to their highest settings. They did very little, but at the very least, they pushed the heavy, heated air around rather than letting it hover, slowly weighing my eyelids down into unwanted naps. Opening the windows, I could feel the air outside was just as still—no hint of a cooling breeze.

While JoJo slurped down her breakfast, I saturated the garden as best as I could—watching rivulets cascade down through the cracking blocks of compost and soil churned up by nocturnal creatures mightily vying for the snow peas and beans dripping from their flowering vines. I surveyed the damage, and mourned the disappearance of three of my four strawberries. I eyed the hovering, bloated squirrels hard—spraying a plume of water tree-ward.

Back inside, I poured myself an iced coffee and lounged at the kitchen table while I chatted with a friend from North Carolina. After ruminating about the state of the country and the daily horrors that unfurl on social media and across embattled news outlets, he described a glorious buffet lunch he’d just had: crispy fatback, creamed corn, thinly-sliced sautéed cabbage, and mounds of mashed potatoes exploding with gravy-saturated centers. He’d avoided the chitlins. I longed for a truly southern breakfast.

The sun wasn’t getting any cooler, and I checked the time, telling my friend I had to get ready for Pride.

“Now, m’dear, go and sink into some tight jeans. Pull on a suffocating tee, and go to that damn parade and find Mr. Right. Or Mr. Overnight.”

We both laughed, knowing full well that I’d do nothing of the sort.

Instead, I dunked my head under the faucet, threw on my clearance Target rainbow shirt, frayed, worn jeans, and a pair of Dollar Store sunglasses. Along with my sash of activist buttons. Having entered a different part of my life, I no longer needed to cling to the false confidence that sprang from not eating breakfast, or tarting up clothes by either shrinking or tattering the life out of them.

I wasn’t going to Pride to find someone. I was going simply to be present, to reaffirm my collective belonging to a community that desperately needs cohesion. And I went because I needed to see that expression of love, compassion, and unity. I needed to see people of all faiths, races, ethnicities, and gender identities mingling and supporting one another. I needed a reminder that we, the people, would be okay—and to see the brave, upcoming youthful faces that’re contributing so much to the fight against our country’s current totalitarian regime. I needed to see that, while it hangs precariously, our democracy has future protectors.

I lasted all of forty-five minutes at the parade before I skittered across the street—past a man dressed in a condom-clad penis costume and sequined Planned Parenthood cape staring longingly at a large floating Chipotle burrito—and wound my way up to Capitol Hill. Since the divorce, I’ve been pushing myself to return to The Hill—to remember the good times, and map on my next chapter alone. Sidestepping into a former bake shop haunt, I ordered two of their savory biscuits and an iced coffee, shoveling it all into my mouth as I surveyed the desolate streets below. It hit me that a bake shop was the perfect place to go for solitude during Pride; the carbs most likely elicited twink terror amongst the most lithe, forcefully thin of the revelers.

Having devoured my brunch, I dusted crumbs off my lap and meandered to a nearby hardware store to pick up eye hooks and a few tubes of caulk for my house-painting project. Ahead of me a man with a tattooed spine dripping down his neck bought a fan, and I lost myself in a momentary daydream—imagining him shirtless, sitting in front of his spinning purchase, sweat dripping from his forehead and down his inked back. I mopped by brow, and watched as he turned the corner, disappearing into the growing foot traffic outside.

On the subway home, a crowd of young women flooded on from the downtown stop, their rainbow bikinis and fake tattoos and glitter glimmering as much as their metallic shoes. One complimented my button sash, and I said I liked all of their shoes—and did my best to quell my internal panic that they might be thinking that I was some deranged, Kiss the Girls-style foot fetishist. But then I realized that they were probably born a solid decade after that movie came out.

The ease with which they held on to one another in public, exchanged intimately friendly pats among their group of black and brown and white faces, gave me a necessary jolt of hope. I could see something similar reflected in the face of a woman standing in front of me, her National Park Service rainbow tattoo flaking slightly at the edges, a rainbow badge on her sleeve reading, “You are safe with me.”

The subway shuddered to a stop in the industrial district, and I hopped off, racing my way to the bus stop. After a solid thirty minutes, I realized the buses were probably all backed up by the parade. So instead of waiting, I walked the four miles back—across the West Seattle bridge, snapping photos along the way, letting the sun kiss my pasty white shoulders.

Every now and then I’d stop and survey the vistas, catalog the swaths of graffiti and street art—some including messages of hope.

Women are Perfect

Others, calls to action.

Rail against

And others, simple reminders that there’re other folks out there.

Hello, World!

I stopped at a rusty chain-link fence, and screwed up my face at a wadded paper towel tied and retied multiple times across various links.

Knotted

Something about it struck me—at once beautiful and unsettlingly ugly, it reminded me of how, last year, I’d knotted myself around my problems so much that my life centered them, normalized them; and it wasn’t until I started wasting away around the tied-up mass that I recognized how severely tattered I’d become.

***

A block from Gay Gardens, I breathed deeply and stared into the cloudless sky. It’d taken almost a year along the road back to find myself in a place where I finally felt emotionally grounded.

I smiled up at the open sky, the promise of it all. And then a bird shit on my sunglasses.

Once I took JoJo out and refilled her water bowl, sprinkling in ice cubes, I walked back outside, pulling a battered chair from my studio along the uneven brick walkway I’d re-laid months before. Atop the chair, I twisted in the eye hooks and hung up my single purchase from the parade. The rainbow flag fluttered in a brief, welcomed wind.

Gay Gardens

I stepped back into the cooling shade of a black cherry tree—its newly formed fruits dangling confidently—and watched the flag undulate along the weathered clapboard.

I smiled, and mopped my brow again. I was home.

When the Ink Dries

Other than a cone of lamplight over my shoulder, the remainder of the sunporch sits in darkness. Occasionally, I hear Joanna pitter-pattering here and there, rediscovering another partially deformed toy plush to pull apart before jumping up on my leg and smacking my sweater with her paw. It’s nearly 9:00, and it’s closing in on her bedtime. She’s anxious to get to dreamland, but I have another page on the application to complete.

With surgical precision, I carefully spell out my name with the ballpoint pen – making certain I’m not bleeding over into a neighboring field, or smearing the ink with my hand. I angle the 2×2″ photo just inside the designated box, and accidentally staple right through the paper and into my index finger.

FUCCCCCK!

Joanna scampers to her bed, poking her head behind a finless Dory doll. Nursing my blighted finger, I finish the stapling exercise, infill a few more fields, and write the check with all the add-ons to get the critical part of my “just in case” plan returned before the white nationalist fascist takes our country’s helm.

I’d imagined reapplying for my passport would be much more enjoyable – with visions of scenic countrysides to explore dancing through my head. But instead, I’m siphoning the necessary funds from my “maybe I can actually save this at the end of the month” account, rationalizing the expenditure as vitally necessary.

While I’m not a catastrophist, I am paying close attention to the growing warning signs that the coming sadistic “administration” plans to act as judge, jury, and executioner – without any care or concern for the Constitution, much less the Bill of Rights, or human morality. I fully intend to fight and defend what I know to be good and true in this country, but I’m also incredibly terrified of what could come to pass, as well as the violence incited along the way.

Every single day when I leave for work, I envision a time in the near future when the final straw becomes dangerously heavy – when I’ll have to race back, scoop up Joanna, vital documents, maybe a keepsake or two, and just go, leaving my mended home and garden to the coming ravages.

I hope beyond hope that sensible, smart, dedicated, compassionate people will unite and push back against this scourge and his minions. And I fully intend to play a part in it – even if the story’s epilogue ends with me and JoJo in my Toyota, speeding north.

***

Rain cascades down in sheets, and a few shingles fly off the dilapidated roof. Boards above in the attic pop from the dry air and sudden moisture co-mingling, and heated air pipes through the vents – resembling the sounds of the open sea.

I sit and watch the moonlit branches dancing in the wind, and listen to the creaking of the makeshift garden fence just outside the windows. I rub my socked foot along the painted floor, recognizing how important this place is to me, and how much I want to grow here.

As I tuck all the documents into the large envelope and seal it tightly, another hearty gust blasts the windows, making the panes shudder.

I stare past the envelope on the tabletop and into JoJo’s marble-like eyes, and quietly murmur.

“We’re in this thing together. And while the storm may rage and weather us, with hope, we’ll still be standing when the sun rises.”

Enough. Enough. Enough.

Everyone at work today remarked about how well I looked – how much more rested and less stressed I appeared. I replied with comments about the curative power of Alabama’s micaceous red clay, gave a fake smile or two, and inwardly rolled my eyes.

The past several days have been exhausting in every way imaginable – in many ways for positive reasons, with one notable exception.

The staggering toll of the Orlando hate crime seeps into the fore of my mind every other moment. The faces of the dead slowly begin to emerge; we learn about their lives, loves, passions, dreams – all cut short by the hands of a disgusting waste of human flesh. His selfied face becomes the one plastered across the subconscious of so many television viewers – not those of his victims. And it makes me ill.

So many of my LGBTQ friends are having a hard time with this one, which is a horrible thing to write – “this one,” as if the other tragic mass shootings are any less horrific. But the fact of the matter is this was a hate crime – a deliberate, calculated attack on the lives of LGBTQ people.

It is different for us.

***

A tiny bar tucked away in the far reaches of Tuscaloosa’s downtown, Michael’s was more than a bar; it was a haven for fledgling LGBTs, each like me – unsure, cautious, exhilarated, terrified. But despite those initial feelings of unease, I felt safe when I passed through the doors; these were my people.

It was one of the first places I felt comfortable in my own skin, and the first place I got groped by a crush and felt alive in a way I’d never felt before. I laughed and screeched along to horrible karaoke and stuffed dollar bills into a drag show performer’s nylons for charity; I started to transform into someone I felt could actually make a life and be happy.

And then my friends and I stepped back outside, into the cool of the deeply late evening.

“FAGS!”

“COCKSUCKERS!”

“ASS-LICKERS!”

A bottle shattered in the gutter.

My mind stopped working; my self-esteem plummeted, and I reverted to my antisocial cocoon – all while humming to myself, “Get back to the car. Just get back to the car.”

The small group of fraternity brothers hovered on the side of the street opposite the bar door; they raised their fists, spat, gave us the finger, and made sudden, aggressive moves toward us.

Just get back to the car, back to the goddamned car…

I was sobering up fast. But then, the unexpected happened.

“OKAY! YOU WANNA ROLL, MOTHERFUCKERS? C’MON, I’LL DRIVE MY FIST SO FAR UP YOUR ASSES…”

Our self-described matriarch began crowing back, which is when I realized a few things.

 We’re not punching bags.

We can fight back.

We’re in much better shape than them.

We can be scary too.

We’re family.

We took up a cacophonous chorus, each of us stitching together our entire repertoire of obscenities, and watched the band of misfits melt back into their beer-soaked truck, disappearing entirely.

For the first time, I felt I had a voice.

I felt alive.

I felt I could make a difference.

I felt right.

***

A decade later, I know there will always be broken glass to dodge. But I do know something for certain: I am right.

And so were all the victims.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Kimberly Morris, 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Amanda Alvear, 25
Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Cory James Connell, 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Frank Hernandez, 27

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Antonio Davon Brown, 29

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27

May they rest in power, their memories kept alive in the fight for justice, compassion, and understanding.

For our humanity.

Pulse

I don’t realize how hard I’m clenching the waded paper towel until I turn from the television to look out the window and lose my balance, my hold loosening as I re-center.

My parents’ dogs have just been bathed, and are rolling around in the sun-bleached grass. I try and lose myself in their simple revelry, but know I can’t. My mind is swirling with the news anchors’ voices, the phrases “domestic terrorism,” “deadliest mass shooting in nation’s history,” “lone wolf,” and, occasionally, “LGBT community.”

I can’t breathe, and start sweating; my chest tightens and face burns. I grab my camera and walk out, up the gravel drive past the dogs – the youngest’s plaintive cries to tag along drifting away as I quicken pace.

Every step on the gravel sounds like a series of crashing cymbals; everything is amplified. I snap a photo of newly bloomed flowers, and try to map on a heartening metaphor, but fall short. A turkey feather catches my eye, and I dissect it through the lens; it’s nothing special, and completely uninteresting – but I have to focus on something, anything other than the rapid-fire thoughts pounding inside my skull.

I wonder how frequently the lives of those lost will be glossed over, their identities stripped and tamed and drained of color to be palatable enough for mass media consumption; how frequently “hate crime” will be disjointed from the narrative of this horrible attack; that “domestic terrorist” will become the coward’s moniker, divorced wholly from his anti-LGBTQ bias and motivation; that the fuel to his sickening fire was never spurred by our own politicians’ hate speech and rhetoric, but rather from “over there,” from “The Enemy,” “Them.”

I worry about our future, and mourn those whose futures were ripped from them – taken in an instant that should’ve been filled with joy and laughter, part of a series of rhythmic vibrations to club music, to living. Each of them should’ve been leaving exhausted and hung-over and sore from dancing, not having their lives become part of a protracted national narrative about hate and guns.

But then I watch the lines to blood banks grow longer, and hear calls to action ring out from more than LGBTQ groups. Where ignorance inspires hateful action, hope springs like seedlings from the earth, ready to grow. We must be constant gardeners.

***

A few feet away, our childhood seesaw hangs broken and rotted, a testament to the passage of time. Behind me, the wind gusts forcefully, nearly blowing me from the molding deer stand’s ladder-like steps.

But instead of bracing against it, I turn and face it. Eyes brimming with tears, I look to the horizon, to the infinite space before me, and murmur, “Keep dancing. Keep living. That’s how we’ll prevail.”

The First Year: Lessons of the Marital Kind

I’m chasing a massive dust bunny across the living room floor when Andy calls for the fourth time in the past minute.

“Hey.”

“Hey. So they need all of our past addresses. This is so fucking stupid. What was our Raleigh address?”

I recite the street number, then quickly look up the zip code. In the background, he repeats everything to the customer service representative, followed by our Koreatown address, and West Hollywood address. The last, it seems, is the ticket. “Hallelujah! Alright. Hold on a minute.”

He mutes her, and then returns to me.

“Alright, thanks. I think that’ll do it.”

“Okay, breathe. Just think, this is the last time we’ll have to do this.”

We hang up, and I close the accordion binder bloated with our 401k paperwork. My mind drifts for a moment before a crunch-snap-crunch from the darkened bedroom pulls me back to the morning.

TOBE!

The noise stops abruptly. With his tail ducked, Toby pitter-patters into the living room, his saucer-like eyes cooing plaintively, “What can I do for you, dear father? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. AND I CERTAINLY WASN’T CHEWING ON MY OVERFILLED TOY BASKET AT ALL. NOT WHEN I HAVE BAZILLIONS OF WONDERFUL TOYS.”

He performs his signature “I’m so cute” wiggle, and then investigates the dust bunny at my feet.

No. That’s mine.”

He snorts, then attacks his Woody doll.

I sweep up the dusty blob, and add one more item to my to-do list. The phone rings again. It’s Andy.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS. I have to write a letter proving my current address. So I can request to change my password. So they can send me a new password. So I can roll this thing over…”

I reopen the binder.

This is our first year.

***

Andy and I met rather unexpectedly on May 5, 2012 – while we both volunteered for OutRaleigh 2012. We never exchanged numbers, only a handful of words and a few smiles; and then the sky opened up, and we parted ways in our respective mad dashes for cover. I didn’t even know his name until I asked a friend about him. A few weeks later, we met again, but still didn’t get anywhere. Only after I Facebook stalked him, messaged him, and waited for a week did we finally connect.

And the rest has become part of our story.

Today is our first anniversary as a married couple. And reflecting on the past year, and the years before, has been an interesting emotional ride.

Lots of people like to pontificate about what it takes to make a marriage work, but they often gloss over the less than lovely bits, making everyone else in a committed relationship wonder if they’re missing something – if their relationship isn’t sparkly-clean. Of course, every relationship has its own quirks from blending life experiences and their associated baggage. But I think there’re common threads for many, especially during the first year – regardless of who you marry. For me, I like to think back to when we first got together – trace our history through various relationship phases, and embody the lessons we’ve learned.

But before I delve into it, in reality, no particular phase was clearly demarcated or bracketed by experiences. Nothing happened in a linear fashion. After all, it’s not like Action 1 led to Action 2 led to Happy Resolution. Life’s not an after school special.

The Honeymoon Phase: Enjoying Each Other, Falling Off Friends’ Radar

Immediately after making it Facebook official, we were inseparable and I was smitten. Because he satisfied all of my major personality requirements:

Smart (we had to be able to have intelligent conversations, so he had to be my intellectual equal or smarter – and yes, I know that sounds snobby, but whatever)

Funny (laughter is wholly necessary to make it through anything)

Mature (emotional age at least equivalent to actual age)

Quietly kind (not all LOOK AT ME, I’M SO SWEET – the little gestures mean more)

Confident (confidence, not overwhelming pride)

So, we were set. And all about the selfies.

Our first movie together.

We did everything together; nothing could go wrong. Everything was popcorn and candy canes and movies and kisses and stubble burn. We were exhausted for all the right reasons.

Our first date...on a trolley pub

But part of being so engrossed with one another – discovering our loves and pet peeves, our interests and dreams – came the necessary reduction in socialization (aka: falling off the friend radar). Friends undoubtedly wondered, “What the fuck? Too good for us now, huh?” But that wasn’t the case. We were learning that maintaining and fine-tuning a relationship took more time and energy than we originally thought. And that came with a price. But that didn’t mean we didn’t love our friends. We were just trying to develop a basis for our relationship. Even if it required a million selfies.

Settling In: Combining Households, Opening Arguments

There’re two schools of thought about moving in together: “Wait until marriage” and “Just get it over with.” For many reasons, we were in the second group. And I’m incredibly glad for it. Don’t get me wrong, there’re plenty of folks I know who didn’t combine households until the rings were exchanged, and they’re just fine. But combining households was a pretty big deal for us, and I know for certain that, had we waited, things would’ve been strained.

Like most people, Andy and I had to reconcile personal tastes, aesthetics, and sentiments in creating a home that reflected us both. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m a hard person to live with because I rarely budge on any of these issues. Thankfully, Andy dove in and we shed furniture, combined DVD collections (major step for two cinephiles), and bought furniture that we felt reflected our synthesized style.

The minute he bought this, I was imagining how great it'd look in the apartment. Our apartment.

But not before we had our very first fight. Over this sideboard:

Oh, sideboard.

We had two sideboards and I was completely vehemently opposed to getting rid of either of them. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to allow his bedroom set into my our apartment. We ended up in silence (which we both hate). And I started filing through my emotions, and then I took stock of Andy. He was clearly upset – laying prone on the floor, staring at the ceiling. And then it happened.

“We can get rid of it.”

I didn’t even realize it was me saying it. But seeing him so upset triggered something, made me realize that a piece of furniture wasn’t worth bruised feelings.

“No, it’s okay. I actually like it. I was just being defensive.”

We listened to one another. We learned. We apologized. And we moved on. This was compromise. But more than that, each of us was putting the other’s feelings ahead of our own – a critical development point for us both.

We the Couple: Everyone Gets It…For Real. Shut Up.

We didn’t mean to do it. I don’t think anyone really does. But after moving in, after resolving the first fight, we began doing things not as Andy or Matt, but as “we.”

We went to the movies.”

We had a great time at so-and-so’s party.”

We love red wine.”

We just think that’s fabulous.”

We even jokingly called ourselves “Mandy.” This phase coincided with reacquainting with our friends – the ones we thought hated us for leaving them temporarily. Everything was no longer a singular, isolated activity. The “we” was peppered through everything, over-seasoning conversations and eliciting actual or internalized eye-rolls from friends.The perpetual "we"

Everyone got it: we were together, in a relationship, bound at the hip, boos. And as annoying as it was for them, it was okay. We were creating a foundation for our relationship – simply by its recognition by the people in our lives who mattered. So this thing we’d started became more real for us and our friends.

Meeting the Mommas-and-Them

When we realized that we were in this thing, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we met each other’s parents and sister. And we did in time. I went up to New York, and he went to Alabama. We were each examined, questioned, and assessed by the parents and our sisters, and we both passed despite the expected foibles and fretting. One thing that made meeting the families easier was having already moved in together; there was no question of “Is this a passing thing?” There was clearly something substantial there, so those questions could be discarded and replaced with more probing, incisive ones. Really, everyone won.

The two sides!

Now, not only was our boyfriendom validated by our friends, but our families were woven into it too. We started commenting on familial inner-workings, and figured out how we were going to fit into it all.

Working and Living: Financials and Healthcare  

After the green lights were lit, we re-assumed business as usual – but as a bona fide unit. We had each other to confide in, and the everyday hubbub wasn’t quite as bad. We could vent to each other, and we felt like we were making something together. What we returned to each night wasn’t an apartment, it was our home. And part of making that home a solvent, self-sustaining thing was addressing financials and maintaining ourselves health-wise. Without addressing those things, we were really just playing house. Andy and I actually combined finances and apartments really early on – some would say absurdly early. But we did. And it worked.

We’re both incredibly detail- and plan- oriented, so we determined what made the most sense (whose healthcare would we use, how much to put into savings…). These were all very necessary, difficult steps. There was a lot of adulting that took place during this phase, and we both grew up quickly. Each of us swelled with pride – we’d taken these steps together. We were legitimizing this life with as much legal protection as we could.

[Finally] the Question: Yes

After being domesticated gays for a while, and moving across the country, we made it official. Planning a wedding is hard, even if it’s tiny. And it frayed our nerves. But both sides of the families met. We said “I do,” and we kept moving.

So many people say, “Marriage changes everything” – even if you’ve already lived together. And yes, there’s a distinct change – you’re officially in this relationship together. You’re no longer free agents – able to do what you want when you want it. There’s a process, a system of emotional checks and balances. The transition can be a little bumpy. Even with everything we’d already experienced, we still had more to learn after the big “M” solidified everything. It was no longer just a partnership, it was a marriage.

Peaks & Valleys: Marriage Ain’t Easy

As exciting as it was to be puttering along together – setting goals and doing our best to bring them to fruition – we had tiffs and spats and hit limits, and questioned ourselves each time.

“Is this argument the end?”

“What will I do?”

“I can do this, right?”

No one is perfect. And we all show ugliness at one point or another. All of those questions bubbled up, and we were forced to answer them. And after every quarrel, after every shouting match, we reconciled. Reconciliation is one thing that any marriage can’t do without. And while we’ve established many tenets for our relationship, one of the main ones is this: Never go to bed angry. No matter how exhausting the conversation has been, we never let the wound scab over without thoroughly cleaning it out. If there’s any shadow of a doubt that there’s still something lurking under the surface, we rip that scab right back off and bleed the grossness out. And then we heal. What I most value in our relationship is the transparency: If either of us is sad or depressed or angry, we address it. There’s no looking the other way.

We all filter our experiences – determining what’s worth getting angry, sad, or frustrated about – and it’s those experiences that matter, those that have an impact, those that’re worth sharing that should be addressed, especially if they’re impacting our moods. Sharing our experiences – the good, bad, horrifically ugly – has helped bind us together, and makes our marriage stronger. Working through the hard shit is totally worth it.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

No matter how much hard shit we’ve both worked through – separately and together – there have come points where we’ve both asked ourselves, “Should I stay?”

This question is scary as fuck.

I’ve been there, and Andy’s been there. It springs from a dark place, or a particularly pointed argument – or some combination thereof. But when I got to that place, I had to disconnect for a moment, and ask some other difficult questions: “What if this ends? Will I be okay? Yes, I’ll be okay. I can manage. I’ll go on. It’ll be indescribably hard, but I won’t crumble. I’ll remain. I’ll live.”

As weirdly horrible as it may seem, this is the healthiest, most reassuring question I’ve ever asked myself. Because I’ve learned that to make our marriage work, I have to constantly maintain myself – I have to be certain that I can be there, that I can be supportive, that I can be my own person outside of being a “husband” or “partner.”

And immediately after that realization, I knew my answer to the overarching question – “Is it worth staying?” – was a resounding “Absolutely.”

Love is complex. Love is hard. And to fully understand it all, I sometimes have to break down my emotions, ask pointed questions of myself (“Am I doing enough?”, “Am I trying my best?”), and rebuild myself to fully realize how much I love Andy, and how much I love our marriage.

Wrinkles in Time: Officially Growing A Year Older Together

Today, we’re officially a year old. Andy and I have traveled across the country three times. We’ve been to the brink and back in every possible meaning of the phrase. We’ve rebuilt and recreated ourselves, and we’ve extended our life together to strengthen the lives of two furry beings.

The dynamic duo

We’ve said painful goodbyes, and heartfelt hellos in the three different cities we’ve called home.

We continue to make peace with ourselves – reconciling our own insecurities, our fears – and share a life, and enjoy everything in our own ways. We’re redefining our individual interests, and are branching out to avoid intense co-dependency – something we’ve experienced, which can lead to smothering and resentment. We’re learning to let go of the past, and embracing what comes with open eyes and minds.

One half...

...and the other half

We’re planning for our future more than ever, and are considering what it’ll mean to extend our lives yet again – this time for a less furry being.

We’re in it completely.

***

Pride was a few days ago, and we ventured out sporadically. The spectrum of life seemed to flood by our building, and we stood there like stones in a stream as Toby did his business. So many people looking for someone special, or looking to be seen – trying to find someone for the night, or for longer.

And there we were, in the middle of it, two veterans with stained tees and a pooping dog. And I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Always look for the beauty...

Mahwage: No Longer the Final Frontier

Y’all know The Princess Bride priest-marriage scene probably got ridiculous play with the SCOTUS ruling regarding marriage, right?

“Mahhhhwage…is wot bwings us togethah todahhh. Mahhwwage…”

Ah, it never gets old.

Speaking of old news, isn’t it nice that marriage is now a non-issue? That our elected officials – or those who fudge the numbers/voting precinct lines/right people to get into office – can now take “gay marriage” off their plates and remove it as the crux of their (re)election platforms? I think I just heard a collective sigh of relief from across the nation. Except from those conservatives heading to that bastion of holiness, that birthplace of traditional values: Canada. Thank the gods Canadians don’t have anything resembling our “socialist healthcare,” and reserve the sacred covenant of matrimony for the majority!

In all seriousness, I’m really excited to see the national lens refocus on much larger, much more important issues than who I love.

Maybe it’s just the thumpa thumpa of Seattle Pride vibrating our windows and walls, or the rainbows veiling social media, but I’m feeling a surge of energy these past few days – like generations are finally coming together to effect meaningful change in this country. But of course, we have a long way to go.

Still, it’s hard not to reflect on these past few days and project forward – and think about all of the great changes we could see in our lifetimes. I mean it was only a few years ago that I was waving an ad hoc canvas-sign with others proclaiming their disgust for North Carolina’s Amendment One at rallies like this one:

Change is coming!

or at marches like this:

Ides of Love

And now, these particular signs are thankfully slipping into artifact territory, but their messages still ring true – harbingers of things to come, of more milestones we may be able to make tomorrow, the next day, and in the coming decades.

It still is!

So, let’s celebrate this victory – hoot and holler and scream, “HOT DAMN! FINALLY!” And play said clip from The Princess Bride until our ears bleed.

And let’s absorb these amazing feelings, and pay them forward through everyday acts so that we can continue shaping a future that’s more complete and a Union that, to quote the President, is “a little more perfect.”

Dream board!

(And yes, our “dream board” – what we want out of life, etc. – is attached to the other protest sign. Fitting, no?)

Same-Sex Marriage? Must Be the Fiery End Times. (But I Don’t Even Have A Sunburn.)

My brain is still a gelatinous blob of nothingness when Andy calls.

“Isn’t the news exciting?!”

With my mental hourglass still turning, waiting for my responses to load, my mind thumbs through options.

Did we have a baby?

Have we adopted another geriatric dog?

Did we win the lottery?

He senses my uncertainty – probably tipped off by the prolonged “Durrrrrr…uhhhh…

“GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL!”

Toby smells himself. I awaken.

“HOLYFUCK…SHIT!”

Of course this would be the morning when I’d convinced myself not to immediately open Facebook. No, cut the cord a little bit. Give yourself some mental space to think. And so I’d stared at the morning light filtering through the windows, thought about my impending phone interview, and watched Toby drag his ass across the floor – ending at his food bowl where he waited expectantly.

So the SCOTUS ruling had been mentally supplanted a bit by my concern that Toby’s anal glands needed to be expressed again.

But now I know. And Andy gives me a minute to collect my thoughts, cry, and call him later.

Online, a giant rainbow cloaks every news page, and I can’t believe this day is actually here. We’d been on pins and needles before with DOMA, and every other time something idiotic was passed down from on high – on both federal and local levels. But now, we were equal in the eyes of the law.

And, most certainly, conservatives are soon to be calling this the END TIMES, what with “post-racial society” statements being tragically disproven, Confederate flags being removed, and LGBTQIAers being able to marry. Surely, society is caving in on itself like a dying star. Only rapture will save the righteous. But we’ve been through the End Times a couple times before, and I don’t even have a sunburn.

The enormity of this decision can’t be overstated. Not only is this a legal victory, it’s a moral victory. Now, rather than being demonized and dehumanized by legislation – by talks from hyper-conservative pundits, by stupid business owners given airtime – we FINALLY have something more substantial than DOMA being stricken down a year ago today. Today, we have the beginnings of a delicately balanced playing field – a harbinger of societal change and restructuration. Now is the time to celebrate, but also to remember there’re so many more fights to wage for fair housing, benefits, and everything in between.

It’s time to reach out and promote peace and understanding across the spectrum of humanity – while there’s this victory, there’s still a long way for this country to go on minority rights, and acknowledging racial tensions, climate change, a living wage, on and on ad nauseum.

We still have a long way to go as a country, but at least now our national whole is a little more colorful.

YASSSSSSSSSSSS.

Call’em Out. The Haters, I Mean.

Y’all. I think it goes without saying that we’re all thrilled for Caitlyn Jenner. And by “we” I mean my friends and family and everyone in my life who matters.

The haters, however, can suck it.

It never takes long for willfully ignorant trash to voice their opinions, concerns, and general lack of social awareness and tout it all as sound, reasonable feedback. Alright, I’ll go ahead and admit it: I let Facebook fools get to me. There you have it. I’m one of the ones who bites when people say dumb shit, and I let my blood boil at their insidiously inflammatory commentary after the fact.

But you know what? I never regret biting. And you know why? Because those idiots need to hear an opposing view. They’re the kind of people who take silence to be passive affirmation – they’re of the ilk to think everyone’s on their side. When, in fact, most of us are laughing at their ignorance, or being the bigger person and letting it roll off us – using it as an example of “not stooping to their level.”

Well, it’s hard for me to let some things go. Especially when I know first-hand the social isolation, fear, anger, and debilitating sadness that can rack a person who’s questioning their identity. And I can only imagine that such feelings are multiplied exponentially for trans individuals, especially youth.

As I’ve said before, the “T” of LGBTQIA often gets lost in the shuffle – trans lives are so often talked about relative to the periphery, rather than in relation to the whole. But I hope that with more education, as more prominent figureheads (like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn) and local leaders speak up and legislation is passed, that being and identifying as trans will no longer have the added social stigma within and outside the LGBTQIA community.

I hope that people will think before they say completely debased, idiotic things that they think are funny or witty or cute, and really register what those callous remarks translate to, and how much damage they can do. It’s no wonder that so many kids are committing suicide – no matter how closely knit their supportive web, it only takes one horrific, monstrous comment to undo so much. Especially when one’s internal dialogue is already so exhaustively ongoing, stress-inducing, and debilitating.

When I was in high school, identifying as gay – much less trans – wasn’t an option. Liking art, or being overly involved in drama, or just being quiet and reserved had a way of casting you in a less than acceptable light. Anything outside the mainstream was never talked about, and if it was, only in hushed tones. There was only one kid in my grade who came out, and his senior year was made a living hell for it. He was even on the front page of the local newspaper.

Years ago, I reached out to him and told him how much his bravery meant to me – and that I was sorry for not being myself back then. By the time I reached out to him, I’d already put myself through my own trials and tribulations, had already pulled myself back from the suicidal brink, and vowed never to let myself sink back into that darkness. So when I see or read or hear people gleefully, playfully pushing anyone around or making intensely insensitive remarks – even virtually, even about celebrities who will always be in a realm all their own – I open my big mouth, or rap away on the keyboard to let them know that they’re not in high school anymore. They can’t bully and not expect resistance.

Haters will always hate – because, really, that’s all they have. That’s the only way they feel relevant. But decent people can always be decent. You can always speak up, you can always push back; you have a voice, so use it – and use it for the right reasons.

Speak up for those who could use a friend. Speak up for those who don’t have the glitz of Hollywood on their side. Do something to help them find their voice, and help them hear it over the ignorant prattle.

And always tell the haters where they can stick it. And remind them that they’re a little fish in a rapidly drying pond.

The Social Construct Wars

Between the news from Baltimore and the Supreme Court, social media consumers are undoubtedly gorged with tragedy, violence, and anxiety. All in all, it’s a horribly normal state of being.

We want answers. We want resolution. We want peace and security.

But above all, we want a quick sound bite that we can use to wave away all of these issues – freeing their cobweb-like hold on our minds and congratulating ourselves that we’ve donated $10 to Nepal relief – so we can go about our day as if nothing has happened. Again, it’s all sadly status quo.

And I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. But today something just snapped. I’m tired of reading all of the erroneously overwrought statements about how “certain people” should act. You know, black people.

Sorry, I should’ve whispered “black” or, at the very least, put it in smaller font. Because that’s how we talk about others, in hushed tones, looking over our shoulder for added emphasis. Just like with “gay” people, or “brown” people or, you know, “the handicapped.” Like the people “over there.”

It’s all about distance, even if what’s happening – who it’s happening to – is writing itself into history right outside your door. Because as long as there’s a mental gulf in place, you don’t really have to think about it.

***

A few weeks ago, on a longer than usual trek up the 405, my stop-and-go journey came to an abrupt stop on La Cienega, just before the Beverly Center.

Goddamn traffic. It’s Friday. I just want to go home.

I leered at the base of the hills, the apartment complexes taunting me like desert mirages. But horrible traffic is par for the course. So I prepared to wait.

And as I turned up a random song from Brand New, I noticed a crowd gathering on one of the intersection’s corners.

Something’s happen…

I didn’t even finish my thought before a tall woman with a long, curly wig cut across the crosswalk and fell prostrate in the middle of the intersection. Then the chants started, and protesters began moving into the street waving handmade posters. I cringed.

Of course this has to fucking happen right now. 

And then I heard it.

“TRANS LIVES MATTER! TRANS LIVES MATTER!”

It was like someone threw a bucket of cold water over my brain. I was immediately incensed by my former thoughts. Of course this matters.

But pretty much everyone around me, save a few taking photos, leaned on their horns and yelled unintelligible gibberish out of their partially cracked windows. I inched up as car after car made a U-turn, adding to the vehicular welter around us. Just a few car lengths from the intersection, I kept my gaze fixed on the woman in the street – she’d draped herself across the intersection like a speed bump; she wasn’t moving anytime soon.

Just then, my phone rang. Andy’s voice came through the car speakers before I realized I’d hit “Answer.”

“Hey, what the fuck is going on? I’m stuck on La Cienega.”

“I must be just ahead of you. It’s a protest – a Trans Lives Matter crowd. We’re not getting through.”

“Goddammit! Why do they have to do this today?”

He quieted, and then, like me, realized what he’d said. “I mean, it’s just inconvenient. They have to know that being this close to WeHo, they’ve got plenty of support.”

We decided to turn around about the time the helicopters started circling, and the fire engines pulled up. But even over the sirens, I could faintly make out the chanting.

***

Weeks later, Andy was trying to counteract a case of insomnia at 3:00 AM, but nothing settled him.

“I’m going on a walk.”

I grumbled something unintelligible about not doing it because it was so early. But I heard the lock click over before I finished, and dozed back off. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang.

“I JUST GOT DETAINED BY THE POLICE!”

I bolted upright. Toby snorted awake beside me.

“Wait, WHAT? Where are you?!”

“I’m on my way home. They thought I was a robber or something and put be in the back of their patrol car and asked me all of these questions.”

Now I was completely awake.

“WHY IN THE HELL WOULD THEY THINK THAT?”

“I’ll tell you when I get back. Apparently, there was a break-in somewhere around here.”

“Did you at least have your license?”

He paused.

“No.”

I facepalmed in the dark. This is something that Andy and I always sparred about – always taking some form of ID with us, even when we’re going out front with Toby.

“Just get home safely.”

A few minutes later, Andy came in and relayed the whole story – clearly shaken, and more awake than ever. Long story short, there was a robbery and apparently someone saw Andy walking around the block in his hoodie, and misidentified him as the suspect.

“Are you fucking KIDDING ME?”

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, “Thank the gods you’re the epitome of a WASP.”

It was horribly true. In that moment, all I could replay was the scenario going wrong, not being able to be in touch with Andy, not knowing where or how he was. And all I kept thinking about was how things would’ve been different if Andy were a racial minority. Had he been black, would the police have suspected him more? Would he have even been able to call me? Would he have been hurt?

This isn’t an illogical jump. West Hollywood is about as racially diverse as Orange County. Had Andy been black or Latino or Indian, he most likely would’ve been detained much longer than he was, and possibly arrested. As much as we’d like to think our police officers are above racial profiling, they’re biased people just like you and me.

But through that uniform, those biases can morph into disturbing behavioral practices if left unchecked.

Now, I’m not saying every law enforcement official is a racist, classist, homophobe, or any of the other horrible things people can be. What I’m saying is that officers are people, and everyone needs to be educated and re-educated on a routine basis. I’m just saying that everyone in a position of power may would benefit from an Anthropology 101 primer. Because by page 10, the differences we use on a daily basis to pigeon-hole and judge people are brought into sharp relief for what they really are: social constructs perpetuated by us, oftentimes through state-sanctioned violence.

Gender? Race? Labels for constructs we’ve developed to try and isolate and explain difference and constrain people.

And while we keep perpetuating these constructed differences, we neglect to see or address the root cause of social upheaval – social fissions and fractures that signal that something in this crazy-ass social structure we’ve developed just isn’t working. Instead, we throw a hashtag on it and dust off our hands.

#blacklivesmatter

#translivesmatter

#alllivesmatter

#lovemustwin

We reduce the work that needs to be done to a few characters on our smartphones. And then we disengage completely.

But you know who can’t disengage? People fighting for their lives – black, white, brown, trans, gay, straight, queer, differently-abled. People who take to the streets because their brains can’t handle another damn hashtag; they crave resolution and demand immediate answers from those in power. And their emotions bubble over. I can’t fault people who’ve had enough – who march and demonstrate and do what they must to be heard. Many of us have been there.

Ides of Love

What I can’t stand is the person who piggybacks on tragedy to satisfy their own endgame, to line their pockets, to cast someone’s livelihood asunder, to divert attention away from the real problem.

We’re fallible beings. We make mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes coalesce into a flashpoint for change. Had the Stonewall Riots and so many protests and marches and non-peaceful demonstrations not happened, would the SCOTUS be hearing Obergefell v. Hodges today? Probably not. So who can say that the protests and volatile confrontations in Baltimore aren’t going to translate into something positive?

It’s certainly (unfortunately) true that violence often begets violence. Or at least that’s what we’ve conditioned ourselves into thinking. But what we often let our minds gloss over is that the same unbridled anger that’s been channeled through violence has also helped propel us forward – through the breaking glass, bloodied fists, and smoking wreckage to today.

And tomorrow.

Marriage, Symbolism, and Farting Dogs

“Honey. HONEY!

I’m paying more attention to my stubble than my side view mirror. And the Prius pays the price.

*Khrrreachhh*

The sound from the pylon-Prius contact makes me cringe.

I get out to assess the damage, but a nearby imbecile distracts me.

“Don’t worry about it!” he hoots, his over-sized Hawaiian shorts billowing in the wind, “I’m sure your parents will just be happy that you’re okay!”

He follows with a har har har, which is when I reach over, grab his head, and slam it into the car hood repeatedly while screaming, “I’M 30 FUCKING YEARS OLD! MY PARENTS ARE THE LEAST OF MY PROBLEMS!”

Or at least that’s what I wish I did. With the sickening scraping noise reverberating between my ears, I scowl, mutter, and get back in.

Then stare out at the steady traffic and sigh.

“Is this day over yet?”

Andy sighs in agreement and pats my leg.

Soon enough, we’re picking up cupcakes and wedding cake and coordinating a shopping trip that goes slightly according to plan, albeit tinged with a modicum of requisite family drama. But hey, with North meeting South on the West coast, I’m just glad we all managed to survive with someone being shanked (my side doesn’t play, y’all).

Kidding!

The two sides!

By go-time, we’re all gathered in our small apartment and sweating slightly. Our friend Amanda rocks an awesome dress, and holds the iPad with the ceremony proceedings as Andy and I step up to our places.

The dogs are milling about underfoot, and the sun is setting, throwing light behind us. We’re all together — both sides finally together and sharing in a symbolic day that so many take for granted.

And as I stare through tear-welled eyes to Andy, I know that all of the stress and exhaustion and traveling and hard work have been worth it. That we’re damn fortunate to be surrounded by our supportive families in a state where our “I Do”‘s stick legally.

“I do.”

“I do.”

We do!

Then, Toby farts.

Gassy sausage

And everyone’s eyes well with tears.

And then it’s over. We’re husbands — as beautifully alien sounding as it is familiar.

Now, it's time to drink.

***

Dust devils twirl along the plains, whipping up bits of trash and desiccated plant life. We pass a deserted, ghoulish mining hamlet dotted with windowless clapboard shacks and decapitated, dead palm trees. An audiobook version of Deception Point plays as Andy dozes. The landscape around us is like that of another planet, which is fitting given our audiobook choice.

With the pups boarded hours ago, their empty crates rattle slightly from the backseat. We pass Palm Springs, and I wonder if we’ve made a mistake as Arizona draws closer. After all, we’re not even heading to Sedona. Phoenix is firmly fixed in our sights – an unlikely destination for a honeymoon. But we’re not exactly accustomed to doing the expected.

Andy nods awake and smiles over at me. And I inhale deeply, knowing we’re going to have a wonderful time rescuing antiques from the hellacious heat and lounging at the historic resort.

Fiesta time!

***

The drunken man slumping down in the overstuffed eat-in movie seat next to Andy wheezes and grunts before deflating into an intoxicated stupor.

“Muhumf. uhuhahhhh.”

Annoyed, Andy stares at me over his milkshake and inches closer to the edge of his seat. The plushy cushions make farting noises every single time I press the button to recline, drawing attention from neighboring viewers slopping quesadillas and nachos down their vodka-lubricated gullets while wiping their hands across the pleathered arms.

As if sensing the question bubbling to my lips, Andy leans over.

“I wonder if they disinfect these seats.”

I nod, then punch the recliner button one more time.

Pffft.

The opening scene of Tammy reminds me of the time a deer slammed into the side of my dad’s truck on his way out to our property to hunt. With no other humane alternative, Dad returned home with a kill without ever having to fire a shot.

The drunk smacks his lips and adjusts himself, and the teenage attendant asks if he wants anything.

“Lotz ah beeeer,” he slurs.

A heated conversation ensues, during which Andy nearly claws his way over the table rest between our seats. With the teenager gone, the man reclines a bit more.

“Oomphah.” Pffft.

Minutes later, he stands up, turns, and lets loose a yowl as he tumbles headlong down the stairs. No one moves to help him. Somewhere from the back, an inebriated woman sums it all up.

“Well, shit.”

He never returns. Andy relaxes, and we watch one character chastise another about hustling and working your ass off to get to be where you are, and how, as lesbians, she and her partner didn’t have anything handed to them. A row back, a man sighs and smacks his lips is dismay. And I’m reminded we’re not honeymooning in a blue state.

***

Pearl and Toby snore loudly on the sofas as we watch Orange is the New Black and unwrap our antiquing spoils. My ring slips on my left ring finger, and I nudge it back with a smile.

And think about the long, long roads we’ve both traveled to get to this point — and how grateful I am to have learned from the past few years and everything that’s come with them.

And how excited I am to embrace and shape what comes next.

Together