Showing posts with label Paul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul. Show all posts

Don't Say It



He is stirring green beans and butter in a red plastic bowl when I realize that I could watch the way his long fingers grip the fork for the rest of my life.  He scoops the beans out onto two plates, turns and hands me one while raising an eyebrow. 

“What?” he asks.

“Looks good,” I reply.

They are frozen green beans, nothing special.  Eat them and you will grow strong.  But there is a weakness growing inside of me and I can feel the tendrils squeezing my lungs.

“Don’t be the first one to say it,” my brother says.  “You will look silly.”

When we drive along the rocky coast of Maine and watch the green ocean swell like it is a living being larger than eternity I do not say it.  When the snow dances and blankets the back yard in a sea of white and clings to the branches of the pine trees I do not say it. When the foolish moon kisses his sleeping face with horizontal shadows late at night in the stillness of the bedroom I do not say it.

“Has he told you yet?’ My brother asks.

“No,” I say.

“Good. If you tell him you will scare him away.”

Night after night I watch him cook buttered green beans, turkey meatloaf Florentine, buffalo chicken and listen as he pours out gurgling red wine.  I tell him that I am not dating anyone else. I tell him that he makes me laugh.  I tell him that I have never been this happy before, but I do not scare him away because I do not tell him.

“I have to say it.”

“Are you sure?” My brother asks.  “What if he doesn’t feel the same way?”

His question seizes me with doubt. I am a fool.  It is too soon.  I pack up the words and store them away.  The ocean is simply a body of water.  The cold snow is something to shovel and the moon is just a moon.

The alarm has failed me and I am running late for work.

“Have you seen my striped shirt?” I shout.

“It’s hanging up in the closet. It’s ironed,” He shouts up the stairs.

“I don’t have time for breakfast,” I say. “Where are my shoes?”

“They’re by the door,” he says.

I slip on my shoes. He is a smiling sentinel clutching a brown paper lunch bag, the top creased underneath those long perfect fingers. 

“It’s breakfast,” he says.

My lips graze his lips.  

“I love you,” it slips.

“Me too, now get your ass to work before you’re late,” he says.

The vine clutches my heart and squeezes the air out of my lungs as I run down the steps.

“What did he say?” my brother asks.

“I am such a fool,” I say.  

He'd told me long before I told him.



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Merry Christmas Husband


Missy wants us to know that she is going to say Merry Christmas. Damn the torpedoes.  She offers this up like an extra dollop of whip cream snuck from the kitchen for our tutti-frutti breakfast meal. When I pick up the check it is sticky from maple syrup and scribbled across the top is Happy Holidays ya’ll!  a smiley face dots the “i”.

“Corporate’ll see that,” She says by way of explanation and grants us an upside down smile. She wipes the sweat off of her brow with the back of her hand to reveal a plump forearm riddled with blue shaded tattoos of roses, snakes and skulls.   I wonder if corporate has seen that.

I look across the table at Paul and he can see by the slight shift in my expression that I am about to challenge her, so he cuts me off.

“Good for you, Merry Christmas!” He says enthusiastically and hands her his credit card.

We leave the restaurant and begin the continuation of our drive through rural Virginia to my mother’s house in North Carolina.  There are billboards screaming “Choose life!” church signs stating that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and crudely constructed crosses perched atop red clay hills. Mixed among the messages is a sign for a gentleman’s club featuring topless ladies and a bright red hand advertising Miss Gina the palm reader.

“I hope Miss Gina’s first name is Va,” I say to Paul.

There is a long pause before he gets it.

“I don’t mind if someone says Merry Christmas, but why do they have to say it like “fuck you, I’m going to say Merry Christmas? What if we were Jewish?” I ask Paul.

“But we’re not,” he says staring straight ahead.

“She didn’t know that. She didn’t know that we were gay either,” I say and hope that Paul does not try to challenge my fuzzy logic.

“Would you like to go back and tell her this?” Paul asks and then continues “I could lay a big sloppy wet kiss on you in front of her.”

I put a check mark in the naughty list column in front of Paul’s name.

We cross the border from Virginia to North Carolina and my lungs constrict.  A list of all of the sanitized terms that will be used to describe the man sitting next to me flicker through my mind like giant black lettered billboards:  Partner, boyfriend or simply Paul, like some man who has showed up for a day in my life.  

Let Missy pour out her sticky sweet Merry Christmas greetings.  The power is not in the reception of the message but in the ability to define and convey your love through a phrase or a word.  Turning to the man sitting next to me I place a hand on his knee and say “Merry Christmas Husband.”
 



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A Fryeburg Fair Fable


Pigs can see in a 300 degree radius, which increases their panoramic vision but decreases their bifocal vision.  In short, they can see the world around them, but not too far down the road. 

We have come to the Fryeburg agricultural fair, driving through a string of small Maine towns with names plucked from other places; Cornish, Limerick and Hiram.  The towns sprung up at the confluence of the Ossippee and Saco rivers hundreds of years ago and to my eyes appear relatively unchanged. Grassy green hills with white clapboard churches, their crumbling cemeteries filled with original settlers, rest beneath blue skies heavy with the scent of pine and pitch. I can’t help but wonder how they got here or for that matter, how I did. 

By artificially increasing the light--for instance using electric lights in the stable it is possible to begin the breeding season in a mare.  Given the right amount of light, mares become irresistible.

The descendants of those original settlers join us on this bright October day, ambling through dusty hay barns and gravel paths.  Teenage boys, full of swagger, wearing bright green John Deere baseball caps and camo jackets pretend not to notice girls in skinny blue jeans and tank tops running their fingers through long gossamer strands of hair while glancing over their shoulders. I look sideways at Paul and think about that cold November night; our first kiss among the banks of snow under the parking lot light.

The best cows give over twenty five gallons of milk each day.  One gallon of milk weighs over eight pounds.  It takes twelve pounds of milk to make one gallon of ice cream.

The crispy scent of fried dough and the sweet smell of boiled down maple sap from the sugar house mingle in the air.   Paul buys me a sticky, crumbly apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream and offers my stepson Nick a box of fudge.  Beanie opts to eat nothing and I worry.  I still remember the time late at night when her insulin pod malfunctioned.  Paul drove the 180 mile round trip to Boston to retrieve another pod at two AM when the other one malfunctioned, no complaints and nothing but smiles.

A champion racing pigeon can be released 400-600 miles away from its home and still return within the day.  Feral pigeons mate for life

I slow down my pace and drift behind Paul and the kids, watching the dust rise up from their shuffling feet. They move slowly as a group, each one seeming to have the innate sense of where the other one is.  And then like the dust, I find myself floating among the crowd.  If I were to rise up high enough I might look down and see the road we took today and floating higher still I’d see the highway connecting Maine to Boston and beyond that the highways south. 

Nick tugs my shirt, pulling me back to Earth.

“You scared me Billy, I thought we lost you,” he says.

“Not a chance," I say.  

I may not know what lies down the road, but I know which one will bring me home.



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The Marginal Way



When I set up the ironing board and plug in the iron in the two foot margin between our bed and the wall, I turn off the window air conditioning unit in order to avoid tripping the circuit. I gaze through the window at the peeling paint on our neighbor’s building ten feet away and ask Paul “Are you the least bit concerned that your pay cut will affect our standard of living?”

He is not yet fully awake, drifting in between the land of reality and dreams.  He lifts his head, opens one eye and scans the room. 
“Sweetie, I know you’ve become accustomed to the finer things in life, but we may need to make some cuts.  Will you iron my work clothes?” he says and then adds “Oh, I’m wearing them.” 

He steps out of bed, pulls on a pair of boxer underwear, takes one step and sits down at a desk in the corner of the room.
“That was a rough commute,” he says while stretching his arms up over his head.  When I walk past him to fetch my shirt, he reaches out one arm and without looking, gooses me.

“See that? We were meant to be together, my hand naturally falls at the right height,” he says.  Five years in and the fire is still burning.
Being eternal optimists, we are one lottery ticket away from financial freedom and one catastrophe away from destitution.  Many people, art gallery owners for example, see two middle age gay men walk into their chic boutique and think “Ka-ching!”  Those people would be wrong.  They will point out a darling little objet d’art and look at us expectantly. 

“Holy cow, we’d have to sell one of our five children in order to afford that!” Paul will say and I’ll watch the gallery owner totter off on her little broomstick heels in disgust.
When I’m finished ironing my clothes, I fold up the ironing board and carry it outside of our bedroom.  I open the closet door and our youngest child steps out, stumbling over the shoes on the floor.

“Beanie, you could have at least turned on the light while getting dressed in there,” I say.
“That’s OK Willy,” she says and flops back onto the sofa made up as her temporary bed. 

Something happened to my dream of being a millionaire, of having a big home, fast cars and healthy bank accounts and I’m well aware of what occurred. It was consumed by five children, two ex-wives and three college payment plans.  But, we’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Sometimes there aren’t enough beds to go around and someone gets stuck sleeping on the sofa, but Beanie doesn’t seem to mind.
Throughout the day I think about our lives; of our 497 square foot third floor walk-up in a neighborhood on the very edge of the Boston city limits and our even more palatial cottage in Maine, nearly twice the size at 900 square feet, under occupation by two of our children.  It sits behind the Rite-Aid, but we don’t mind.  There at the edge of the tony towns of Kennebunkport and Ogunquit we get a cool ocean breeze and if we ever run out of anything, liquor let’s say, Rite-Aid has it.

We live in the margins and at times, it’s easy to get lost. But, as two gay men we know a thing or two about surviving here.  Sometimes the edges get sharp and I begin to worry. Paul can see it etched into the lines of my forehead when he picks me up from work.  “Turns out my pay will remain the same,” he casually mentions and for a minute the wind escapes my lungs.
We sit down for dinner in our tiny kitchen and I pour Paul a glass of wine, the ten dollar stuff because today’s good news deserves more than our usual seven dollar bottle.   I gaze through the window and see our neighbor sitting alone at his dinner table. 

“He’s always alone.  I wonder if he can see us?” Beanie asks. 
I look at Paul and Beanie, think about our four other children and a hundred pictures flicker through my mind.  It pauses on a picture of Paul and Beanie, lying on a blanket one early June day in the park. I think about her question and that’s when I realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else can see, because there in the margins, I can see us.         

 

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On Turning Fifty


 
As many of you know, I am somewhat of a late bloomer so I often worry that there are not enough days left to enjoy the second half of my life. But, I can always count on Paul to remind me that indeed, there are not.  
"Sweetie, we are from two different generations," He’ll say even though there is only three years difference between our ages.

When we first started dating he would refer to our age difference subtly.  When I joked about an old TV show, The Brady Bunch for example, he would say that he didn’t understand the reference. But as our relationship grew stronger and when he realized that I was too much in love with him to leave he became bolder.  He would no longer say I was in my forties, I was “pre-fifty.”
"But honey, from the neck down you could be in your twenties," he'd add. I could never just accept the first part of that compliment. 

"So, from the neck up you're saying I'm ancient," I’d reply.
"Well, the gray hair and the lines on your forehead," He would raise an eyebrow and start to say before I stopped listening.

This past year he has started to remind me that when I turn 50, my age will be in a different decade.  But he doesn't stop there; he'll count out the years. "When you're 50, I'll be in my 40's and when your 51, I'll still be in my 40's and when your 52.."
I have decided that joking about my age is his way of showing me that he loves me and that he must love me very much.

Lately he has started using a different tactic.  When I step out of the shower or when I'm getting dressed he'll look me up and down and say "There's no way that's 50!"
I’ll reply "It's not."

But then he goes for the jugular and says “Yet," implying that my days are numbered.
So today is the day and I must admit that I have never felt better. I have my health, the love of my life, my beautiful children, a great job and a promising future as a writer and of course wonderful friends.  I also have it on good authority from a fortune teller that Paul, myself and our children have lived many lives together in the past and we will be together in many more after this.  So, I’m not worried about a number in this lifetime.

But, if for some reason the fortune teller was wrong and this is the only life we have then I will still be content.  In my old age, I’ll have my memories and if I ever begin to forget them, I can always count on Paul to be by my side and to lovingly remind me.
Of just how forgetful I am.


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List-O-Mania

There are two types of people in the world:  those that make lists and those that don’t.  If you were to make a list of these two types of people, Paul would be on the “makes a list” list and I would be on the “does not make a list” list. Most people who know us would  put themselves on the “No shit, Sherlock” list because it is a well-known fact that highly organized people make lists, while more creative types shun them.   On rare occasions a creative person may be a list maker but they are genetic mutants, Martha Stewart for example.  If you were to ask her about world hunger while she was chopping up a head of her favorite cabbage, her likely response would be “I just want to focus on making my salad”, which is why there should only be two types of people in the world.

List makers are always trying to convert non-list makers as if it were as easy as moving them from one column to the other.  But you are right handed or left handed, a smoker or a non-smoker, a mommy-blogger or not, a list-maker or non-list maker. My mother was one of the best non-list makers, so as they say in my hometown: “I git it from my Mama.”
Grocery lists, if they were ever created, were hastily scribbled en route to the store on the back of whatever piece of paper happened to be in the car, an envelope, a used napkin, a receipt.  “OK, what do we need?” my mother would ask us at a stoplight, pen in hand like an expectant waitress, looking up in the rear view mirror. 

“Coke! Cheesecake! Ice Cream!”  My brothers would answer as if these were actual Dameron family staples.
“Honey Combs cereal with a Bobby Sherman record on the back!”  I would offer as my brothers narrowed their eyes and punched me in the arm. 

“I’m not buying any of that crap!”  My mother would shoot back and then whisper “Damn” as she tried to write with an inkless pen.  Ironically enough, pens never seemed to make the list.
Invariably, we would end up a few items short of the necessities, but my mother was an expert at extending an item’s life span.  Palmolive dish soap became green tinted water, milk and water were interchangeable and napkins torn in half were both coffee filters and toilet paper, but never at the same time.  Once, my mother made pancakes with just two ingredients.  Proud of herself she put them on the table, stood back with her hands on her hips and said “There, now what do you think about that?”    

My brothers and I took a bite, grimaced and in unison said “These suck!”   If my mother kept a naughty list, we would certainly be on it.
It was somewhat of a revelation when I met Paul.  In his view, lists can solve any problem, probably even world hunger.  There is always some type of list in our house so we never run out of things.  When I shout “There are no more crackers!” from the kitchen Paul will walk to the pantry, pull out the backup box of crackers, hand them to me, swat me on the rear end and say “put them on the list” while looking over his shoulder.  In our list drawer, there are three neatly stacked pads of paper and four pens. 

I remained a non-list maker because when you are married to one, why bother?  But recently my friend Louise challenged me to make a list of things that made life worth living.  I suppose if you were to make only one list, this would be the one.
The list was easy enough to start:  my children, Paul, my family.  But as I started to add more items to the list it became more esoteric:  Sunday morning jazz, the ocean breeze on a Friday evening in Maine, the way a single streetlight illuminated Paul’s face on the first night we met and the wonder on his face as the sunlight danced above a purple fog on the Sonoma coast.  Some items are so bittersweet that they deserve their own list: the way my children’s mother cried when she gave them birth, and my hands underneath my father’s head as he took his last breath.   
There may actually be more than two types of people in the world or it may be more granular than I once believed, but between me and Paul we have it covered:  Those that love to make lists and those that make lists of love.

Linking up with Yeah-Write

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The Perfect Couple


My relationship with Paul is amazing because we never fight. 

That’s not entirely true, we rarely fight. I can count on one hand the number of arguments we have had, if that hand was deformed and if it had more than five fingers and less than forty six. But, nobody is counting here. Our arguments are few and far between.  Actually, we fought today.  Although I can’t really say that we fought today, because today we simply were not speaking to each other.  We fought last night when I told him he should wear a T-shirt with a picture of a crab on it to match his attitude instead of that stupid lobster T-shirt.  It was a cheap shot, I’ll admit, but sometimes a little humor can diffuse a tense situation. 
And sometimes, it does not.

I’m not here to say that we are the perfect family, but we are darn near close!  Sometimes I forget all of the painstaking, meticulous and laboriously detailed plans that Paul recounts ad infinitum and occasionally I can be callous when, oh let’s say, I laugh at his coming out song which happens to be “Reflection” by Christina Aguilera.  Remember Disney’s Mulan?  
And sometimes Paul can be less than enthusiastic about my writing projects and offer criticisms such as “I didn’t get it,” or “Does this one pay anything?”  But all in all we are so compatible it is almost scary. 

For example, he loves cars and I love to ride in them. He loves to cook and I like to eat. He loves to clean and I’m a mess.  I could go on and on, but you get the drift.  I’m the yang to his yin, which I suppose means we’re more opposite than alike, but if you think about it the whole yin/yang thing really ties us nicely back to Mulan, doesn’t it? 
Maybe our success as a couple has more to do with our eerily identical sense of humor.  Just the other day, I pulled a pair of Paul’s shorts out of the dryer, put them on and held the waist band out like I had just lost one hundred pounds and let them drop to the floor, then I encouraged him to try and squeeze into a pair of my jeans. We laughed and laughed!  You know now that I think about it I may have been laughing more than Paul, but he always tells me he’s really laughing on the inside when he reads one of my more humorous blog posts.

We are very secure.  That’s what it is when you get right down to it.  I’ll go out with my friends for a “girl’s night out” as Paul calls it and he’s not the least bit jealous.  He knows that I need some time with my friends Sam and Cary and the occasional validation from some drunken guy at a bar who’ll cop a feel.  I’ll come home and tell him how terribly attractive everyone thought I was and he doesn’t bat an eye!  That’s security right there and we have both got it in spades.
In the end we’re not afraid to admit when one of us is wrong.  I know that when Paul picks me up from work tonight and drives me home he’ll be thinking about how lucky he is to have found me.  I’ll go to the gym while he cooks dinner, and he’ll add a little bit of extra love to that meal as the final ingredient. And when I step out of the shower and sit down to a warm meal? 

He’ll apologize.
 
 

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Turnouts

 
The colors are too vivid, like they vibrate at an undetectable frequency and what we see is something that is at the height of our perception but still less than what is real. We park the car and walk along a gravel road that wanders through the autumn vineyard and we might as well have stepped into a painting. An infinite cerulean blue sky stretched over russet colored grape-vine ridged hills gives way to a luminous chartreuse green carpet of grass. I stretch out my hand to touch the canvassed sky, but this painting moves and dances with the wind.  We can’t help but laugh because the beauty is too much and our hearts might explode from the eternity of it all.
We continue to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway from Bodega Bay towards San Francisco, the road cradled by ocean and fog on our right and wine-soaked rugged mountains to our left pushing our hearts ahead of us. This is California distilled up through the mist and washed by the sun.

The car hugs the road as we climb higher past trees with curling brown cinnamon stick bark and sweet jasmine scented air. Paul does not brake to meet the curves, but shifts the car into a lower gear and it whinnies at the restraint.  With no guard rail between us and the yawning cliff, I close my eyes and lean in towards Paul as if to counter balance the weight of the car should the passenger side wheels suddenly leave the road.
“Have I ever crunched you?” Paul says.

“Not yet,” I reply weakly.
He laughs and continues the climb, sure of himself and of the road.  I manage to open my eyes and peak through the window.  My stomach drops into the ocean below.

I close my eyes again and think about all of the roads we have travelled that crisscross and connect this ocean to the one on the other side of the country. The roads that slip through rows of tobacco fields and corn stalks flickering by like the spokes of a wheel towards Eastern North Carolina and into the dunes of the outer banks; the long road that threads together the lonely pearls of keys off the southern tip of Florida; Mile Road that connects my heart to the rocky beaches of Maine and the gravel road in between two endless vineyards.  All of those roads and Paul has never crunched me.
He pulls the car over onto a rocky outcropping and turns off the ignition.  We step out of the car and stretch tensed muscles, pushing our arms towards the sky.  Paul walks to the edge and peers over the clouds that drift below us. I hang back afraid of the precipitous edge.  I look at his fearless face bathed in the setting sun and slowly step towards him as he holds out his hand.

“I won’t let you go,” he says.
I stand next to him and say “I know you never will.”


  

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Sometimes


Happy Birthday Husband

Sometimes, when I look at him it’s as if I’m already looking at a memory.  The image is soft and faded and tinged at the edges with a honeyed poignancy.  Like I have taken a picture with my eyes and stowed it away for safekeeping in an old box in the attic of my mind to be rummaged through one day. But the signals have become crossed and instead of seeing what is before my eyes, I’ll see what is behind them.
Sometimes, when the filtered moonlight sifts through the blinds painting horizontal shadows on the bedroom wall and I am resting in his warmth I’ll listen to him breathe. In the morning half-light he’ll hold onto me and say “Five more minutes.” And I’ll wish for five hundred more years.

Sometimes, I’ll look back and see the boy I never knew in the face of the man I do.

Sometimes, I’ll look past the curve of the earth into our future.  Two old men, grey and stooped holding hands.  Lying in a hospital bed one curled up like the letter “C” next to the other, vowing to never let go. 
Sometimes, I’ll wish that we had more time together and then I’ll be thankful for every single minute of every single day.  Especially on this day when the sum time of his life is celebrated.

 

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Coffee Name

The first time I heard of a “Coffee name” was when my Irish friend Diarmuid used one while picking up a take-out pizza. When I asked him why he told the cashier his name was David he said no one in America could understand the way he pronounced his real name, so he used a name that people could grasp, a coffee name. “Feckin’ eejits,” he punctuated it.  The idea intrigued me.  Here was the chance to change my name; to change who I was, if only for a complete stranger.
Bill, that’s my name.  It’s simple, compact and entirely common, none of the traits I want to project.  People with more exotic names use Bill for their coffee name. It’s been in my family for generations, although technically it’s William.  But, my mother shortened it to the more common nick-name.  She may have lopped off some of the letters but the number of syllables remained the same; “Bee-uhl” that’s how it’s pronounced in the south.  Like something you might hear at a pig-calling contest.
To be completely honest, this was not the first time I thought of changing my name.  Many men who come out of the closet jettison their nick-names and trot out their fancy, stylish full names to go with their new fancy, stylish selves. Jeff will become Geoffrey, Stu becomes Stewart and Bob becomes Robert or the spicy, salsa version: R-r-r-r-oberto!
But I wanted something more than William. I wanted a name that projected the real me, you know?  When I told my friend Diarmuid this, his suggestion was “How about Precious?”
The Irish have a dark sense of humor.      
I was pondering this while standing in line at a popular lunch spot one day.  The “sandwich engineer” was asking for a name to go with the order. Here was my chance to come up with a new name and try it out. I mentally flipped through a rolodex of names when the young attractive man behind the counter asked me “Can I have your number?”  Flustered, I looked at Diarmuid and then turned back to the young man.  “I mean name, can I have your name?,” he corrected himself, equally flustered. “It’s David,” I stammered. “Feckin’ eejit,” my friend muttered.
I began to think that maybe people became their names and not the other way around. Maybe Jeff was always Geoffrey and Stu was always Stewart, just waiting for the right time in their life to percolate into their real names.  But William seemed too formal and aloof and if I was going to choose a completely foreign name I might as well change my sex, which was my mother’s initial fear when I first told her I was gay.
And then I met Paul; dependable, handsome Paul.  Two months into our relationship he left for a business trip that interrupted our affair.  “I miss my Willy,” he said to me on the phone. Willy. I knew then that this was the name I’d hear for the rest of my life. That’s when it hit me, the key to finding my name was not changing it for a stranger, but for someone I loved.   

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The Patient Gardener

When I finally agreed to live with Paul he packed up my ragtag group of furnishings on a snowy winter day and moved them by himself to surprise me while I was at work one day.  He was too excited to wait for me, or perhaps he understood that my involvement would only prolong the process. Walking through my empty basement apartment one final time, I paused at the bedroom door, took a deep breath and turned off the light. “It’s time to stop saying goodbye,” my friend Nancy advised me tearfully when I told her that I was moving again, and that was the thought in my head as I trudged through the snow towards a warm waiting car. I mentally counted; five homes in four years, each time hoping to find a place that would heal me.  “I want to plant a garden,” I told Paul as we drove to New Hampshire and for the rest of that winter I looked through the window at the banks of silent snow and envisioned a border garden in the backyard at the edge of the forest.

When spring came Paul surprised me again by having two tons of dark organic soil delivered. When I arrived home from work I found him sitting in a lawn chair at the foot of the dirt mound holding a glass of wine and smiling as if he were basking in the view of a majestic mountain range.  Cart by cart we moved the mountain to the edge of the forest framing the yard with a serpentine border of brown loam.  We loaded up the border with perennials, annuals, landscape lighting an irrigation system and a fountain.
One night in midsummer we sat on the back deck and surveyed our kingdom.  “I’m just amazed by the mass of beautiful mounds of white flowers,” Paul joked pointing out the one flaw in my master plan.  The sweet alyssum I planted would not grow. No matter how much love and attention I lavished on them, they remained stunted.  “This garden needs a gardener who cares,” he would say to me while planting a kiss on my head.

Eventually we sold the house in New Hampshire and bought our condo in Boston.  No longer any outdoor space for a garden, I planted Alyssum seedlings again in a box of dirt precipitously perched on the ledge of our kitchen windows.  They flourished all summer and filled our home with a subtle sweet scent. I let them go to seed over the winter and in the spring they surprised me by returning in an even larger mound of sweet white flowers.   
Like humans, plants need water, light and nutrients to survive, but it takes something special for them to thrive.  Who knows when a flower will bloom or a heart will heal, but this is how a garden grows; Learn to say hello instead of goodbye, find a gardener who cares, put them in the right spot and they’ll bloom in the most unlikely spaces.

 

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The Plan

Paul has a plan.

He always has a plan. This is one of the things that I love about him. Without provocation, he says “Huh, that’s a cute idea” as if I can hear the conversation taking place in his head, which is another thing I love about him. He thinks that I can read his mind.

“What?” I say, proving that I cannot indeed, read his thoughts.

“The Powerball lottery is now three hundred million dollars. We’ll pass through eight states on our drive home. Let’s stop and buy a ticket in each one,” he says.

This makes me very happy. We are going to drive seven hundred miles; eleven hours in the car and this plan makes me happy. Perhaps I cannot read his mind, but surely he can read mine.

We have come to Virginia to move my oldest daughter into her off campus apartment. I am such a fool. I thought that because I had already experienced the pain of separation when my ex-wife left with my daughters the first time that this would not be difficult. But last night’s parting loops through my mind like a broken record.

Walking through her apartment, I search for things left undone. The trash needs to be taken out. The nightlights need to be plugged in. “Make sure you keep that window in your bedroom locked.” I tell her. But it is of no use, if I look hard enough I will always find things left undone.

“I will Dad. I don’t want you guys to leave.” She says holding her arms out, signaling that it is time for us to leave. I pull her to me and hold on, inhaling the scent of her. Not the soap she uses, or the shampoo, but the scent that parents love when they smell the top of a baby’s head; because it is a part of themselves.

When I let go and look up, I see Paul’s face. He wears an upside down smile and his eyes answer my question.

“OK, I’m leaving now, goodbye.” I say looking away.

As I walk to the car, a part of me reflexively expects Katherine to follow shouting “Daddy, wait” because this is what would occur when as a child she tarried. I would say the exact words “OK, I’m leaving now, goodbye” and make an exaggerated exit like a vaudevillian actor.

This time, she does not follow.

We wake up early the next morning and begin our trip home. We stop to fill up the car with gas and purchase our first lottery ticket in Virginia. The day is wrapped in promise as the slanted early morning sun shines through the car windows.

“Will we change anything when we win?” I ask as I turn to face Paul in the driver’s seat.

“You know I don’t think that way.” He says looking straight ahead.

But as our cache of lottery tickets grows we begin to discuss what we will do with the winnings. We would most certainly keep working, but just until we get pissed off by some transgression at work, which is estimated to take fifteen minutes, tops. Paul would purchase a Bentley automobile and I would become a full time writer. We begin to mentally cancel upcoming social engagements because we’ll be busy meeting with our financial advisors and accountants.

The evening light is golden as we make our final stop thirty minutes west of Boston to buy our last lottery ticket. In no time at all we are home.

Of course you know that we did not win the lottery. But that was not the plan. Turns out that Paul can read my mind. He knew that eight tickets, a mere sixteen dollars, would be enough to keep my mind occupied during the eleven hour car ride home; to keep me from thinking about things left undone.

Paul had a plan.


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A Maine Romance

If you are looking for love, do not build a house in Maine.

Do not sit on a wide sandy beach under a blue sky painted with wispy white clouds and listen to the romantic sounds of distant bell buoys and laughing gulls. Do not drive along Route one with the car windows down, salty sea air in your hair and marvel at rolling green lawns, craggy ocean side cliffs and white clapboard homes. Do not sip from a glass of wine in a harbor side restaurant at sunset while watching a sailboat’s brilliant white sail bend against the wind.

Above all, do not wander into an open house and talk to a builder about upgrades.  You will fall in love and when he ultimately becomes unavailable? Your heart will be broken.

Our affair began as all affairs do.  We coveted.  We desired.  We had to have it at any cost.

His words were too hard to resist.  “This view?  It’s the best in the development” our builder, Mark said as he winked at us.  He was a burly man with a gruff voice, but he knew exactly what to say. “You want a shower with two heads?  I can give it to you.”  He whispered.

Paul looked at me and he knew in that instant, I was smitten.

The affair continued in a whirl wind of expensive gifts: upgrades and options.  Nothing was too dear for our Maine cottage.  Yes, we must have custom audio visual, anything less than hardwoods, granite, stainless steel and custom tile would cheapen our love, our precious.

We would visit on weekends, intoxicated by the heady elixir of a new romance.  We watched our love grow.  The bare bones of the frame became smooth walls, the glint of the hardwood floors in the afternoon sun flirted with us.

Then one day Mark casually asked “Have you seen the shower?”

It was a thing of beauty.  Smooth glass and marble tile stretched from wall to wall.  Two shower heads on either side beckoned to us.  “Go ahead, step in!”  Mark jokingly ordered us.

There we stood, two men fully clothed standing in a shower looking slightly embarrassed.  Mark laughed at us and said “You are too cute.”  It was the pinnacle of our relationship.

But on the day of consummation, the closing, the love began to sour.  Others were introduced into the relationship.  “This is Hank; he’s going to finish your tile.”  Mark said casually as he hopped into his Corvette and disappeared, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake.

“But today is the closing, will it be completed? And what about the stove, shouldn’t it be in the kitchen instead of on the front deck?”  I asked Hank, trying not to sound jilted.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I’ll be here all next week to finish up that stuff, but I have a court appearance that I’m late for.  I’ll see you in five to ten.”  He laughed manically as he stepped into his truck and drove away.

“He was joking, right?” I asked, searching Paul’s face for answers.

“About going to prison or finishing up our cottage?”  Paul answered my question with a question.  I didn’t know which was more alarming.

We began to find telltale signs of infidelity.  The tile in the shower was unfinished.  There was no refrigerator and the dishwasher was merely for show.  Our home was only a shell.  A pretty shell, but a shell nonetheless.

Over the following days, our time with Mark and Hank began to dwindle.  It was clear they were spending time at other cottages.

“What did we do wrong?” I asked Paul.

“They’ll be back.  They always come back.” He tried to sound re-assuring.

Week after week we would receive empty promises.  “I’ll be by in the morning.”  Hank would say.  I would stand by the window trying not to appear too eager.  Hank would show up sometime late in the afternoon, reeking with the smell of construction materials from another cottage.

“You’ve been working at someone else’s cottage haven’t you?”  I demanded answers.  Little things would get done, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore.

Eventually, we found a support group.  Other cottage owners came forward for a “Get to know you” cook out.  We met Renee and Roger first.  We poured our hearts out as we sipped vodka tonics from our green and blue tumblers.

“Oh honey, we’ve been here for three years. You’re nothing special.”  Renee said as she took a long sip and peered over her sunglasses.

“Are you a top or a bottom?”  She quizzed me.

“Excuse me?”  I thought I misunderstood.

“A top or bottom unit?”  She asked, slightly annoyed.

“Oh, we’re tops.”  I answered.

 “Then the dust from the unpaved street shouldn’t bother you too much.  Do you know how long we have been waiting for this road to be paved?  Don’t worry, it will get done.  But, you’re on Maine time now.  Everything is a little s-l-o-w-e-r here.”  She took another long sip and then barked “Roger, I’m empty!”

Sometimes, I will see Hank’s truck and Mark’s Corvette parked in the development and experience a little thrill.  But, I won’t let myself think about those early days when they couldn’t keep their tools off of our cottage.  I’m in it for the long haul.

They’ll be back.  They always come back.  


read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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The Perfect Arrangement

When I first started writing I would flip through the rolodex of memories in my mind, pluck out a story and transcribe it from beginning to finish: The End. Wham bam, thank you Ma’am. It was an accurate account, but it was hardly inspiring. As my writing skills matured my synapses rewired themselves forcing me to become introspective, preoccupied and dare I say it? somewhat of a diva. Objects became repositories of memories. The chair was no longer just a chair. I would weave two seemingly unrelated stories together and become frustrated when Paul could not see the perfect arrangement.

“So, you understood that the ducks in my post represented a dormant memory taking flight, right?” I would ask Paul impatiently.

He would stare at me blankly and reply “Can we have this discussion with your shirt off?”

“Savage” I would think to myself and then whip off my shirt. “And the symbolism of the snow on the path, tell me you got that?”

Absent mindedly he would say “Nope.” And then ask “Sweetie, where is the kitchen?” Frustrated I would wave my hand without looking up from my notebook and say “Over there” until I felt his puppy eyes boring into my skin. “OK, it’s there!” I would say bending my forearm back towards my shoulder in an exaggerated body building pose.

“Oh yeah, that’s where it is baby!” He would say while grabbing my bicep.

I would roll my eyes and focus my attention back on the computer screen. Clearly we were operating in two different worlds. I became obsessed with the idea that every word had been written and the only thing new I could add was to arrange them in a unique way. But at the same time Paul began to engross himself in planning the furniture for our new cottage in Maine.

We would sit silently on the sofa, me arranging and then re-arranging words on my screen while Paul searched the Internet diligently for the perfect deck table.

“Look at this one. It is perfect!” Paul exclaimed. Lost in my words it took me thirty seconds to process his statement. “Yep, that’s it.” I said flatly.

Our local IKEA store ran out of stock of the Perfect Table before we could purchase one.  Paul was morose and became obsessed with finding a replacement. He created a diagram of the deck on drafting paper complete with all of the door locations and paper cut outs of the Perfect Table and chairs. He would show me how the table’s leaves could open up and the chairs could be arranged to fit all of us around the Perfect Table. There was just enough room for this arrangement.

On weekends we would drive to IKEA and Paul would sadly visit the spot where the Perfect Table once resided in its own little outdoor diorama; replaced by an inferior table. Tempted by the smell of cinnamon buns I guided him towards the exit. “Come on, we’ll get a frozen yogurt and a cinnamon bun. I’m sure we can pick up a table at Target.” I said in my most sympathetic voice. He gave me the “how could you? “ look as if I had just brought a date to his funeral.

“It’s just a table” I said while licking the icing from my fingers. We had spent enough time looking for this table and I wanted to go home and get back to arranging words.

But he never gave up. Then one day he checked the stock at an IKEA in Long Island, New York. There were five tables in stock. In a rare intersection of personal life and business his travels took him to New York and then I received this e-mail:

      Subject: Porch Table

      Purchased and in the car! Great Success!

I refrained from typing a reply asking how the actual business portion of his trip had fared.

We drove up to Maine this weekend to survey the construction progress on our cottage. During the car trip, I sat silently in my world, arranging words in my head and I can only imagine that Paul must have been arranging the Perfect Table in his.

At the construction site, we stood on the deck under a surreal blue sky. The Webhannet River snaked across the marsh and just beyond the pine trees the New England Sea sparkled in the afternoon sun. “This is where the table will go.” Paul said proudly. “It's just the right size for our family. You can sit here with your notebook and a glass of wine as you write, looking out over this view.  That should make Willy happy.  Can you see it?” He asked beaming. At a sudden loss for words, I replied "Perfectly."

Sometimes a chair is just a chair and sometimes words are just words, but sometimes? A table is much more than just a table.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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My Father, Myself

Some men learn by following a father’s example. And some men learn by not following a father’s example. I learned how to be a father by doing both.

My Father-circa 1963

My Dad had one name for all five of his children; son. I’m not sure what he would have done if one of us was a girl, although my brothers often debated the point with me. Who could blame them? While they were busy reading the sports page and farting, I was eagerly helping my mother understand the importance of proper furniture placement to create engaging conversation areas.

“Now see the way this sofa is pushed up against the wall? It says doctor’s office waiting room. If we place it like so and cozy up these chairs then what we’ve got is an arrangement worth talking about!”

My father would stare at me speechless. But thinking about it now, he really didn’t have much to say to any of us. When he came home from work he would plow through dinner in five minutes, gulp down a glass of Scotch and smoke a pack of cigarettes. His quota of words was used during the work day.

“Son” My father would say and all of us would respond “Yes?”

“Get your Dad the newspaper.”

Myself-circa 1983
Starved for his affection we’d punch each other in the arm and run to be the first to get it. At an early age we learned that his quota of affection was also being filled elsewhere. When I was twelve my mother came into the living room sobbing and said “Your father wants you boys, but he doesn’t want me anymore.” I remember feeling devastated, but mostly I remember feeling surprised that he wanted me.

I soon learned that what he truly wanted was women, and lots of them. Something I couldn’t quite grasp. They were blonde, brunette, tall, short, shapely and slim. But there was always one on the side waiting to replace the current one. At my wedding there were two ex-wives, two ex-girlfriends and a current girlfriend on his arm. When I exchanged wedding vows I also vowed never to be like my father.

For twenty years I did what my father could not. I stayed married and never had an affair. Blessed with two daughters I lavished them with affection. It was all going according to plan. But as time wore on, my quota of words began to fill up. Until there was nothing left to say but "I’m gay". When my marriage ended I was broken, like my father.

I picked up the pieces and tried to reassemble them into something attractive. I attended a gay father’s support group and was picked up by a man at the first meeting. The fact that he collected vintage washing machines and proudly displayed them in his basement really should have alarmed me, but I decided to find it cute and quirky. The fact that he attended a gay father’s support group and was not actually a father? Fine by me. What really should have alarmed me was that I was too fucked up to interest even him for very long. It was over within a few weeks.

And then I met Paul. On our first date, he pulled out three perfectly crisp photographs of his children from his wallet and placed them on the table. I opened my wallet, flipped through old receipts, peeled the sticky photographs out and proudly displayed them. It was the first time all of our children would be together in one room. The second would be at our wedding.

The more time I spent with Paul the more I realized that he was the father I wanted to be: self-confident, loving, patient, funny and authoritative. Eventually, I became that father. It was no more evident than the day I received a text from my daughter “I want you to know that you are my hero. Sis and I have been talking and we both want to marry someone like you or Paul”.

This father’s day I’ll reflexively think about giving Dad a call and then remember, oh, he's gone. Deep down, I know he loved me. I just wish he could have learned what Paul taught me. In order to properly love your children, you have to love yourself.


read to be read at yeahwrite.me


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