Chipping Away at Life Goals, One Piece at a Time

​Nine years ago, when I began writing a personal blog, I could not have imagined that it would lead to dinner with Augusten Burroughs and his husband, Christopher Schelling, at their haunted house in Connecticut, but here we are. Wearing surgical gloves, Augusten places a plate of vegan burritos in front of me and my husband Paul and says, “Connecticut's first murder conviction without a body took place ten miles from here," which strikes me as odd. How can there be a murder without a body?
As if reading my thoughts, Augusten says, “Wood chipper. The pieces found in the river implied that the victim could not have survived."
He sits down at the head of the table, smiles, and says, “Bon appétit!"
My blog was more of an online diary and a poorly written one at that. So I read works by my favorite authors, attempting to learn the magic by studying the construction of each sentence, paragraph, and page. I read Augusten's best-selling memoir, Running With Scissors​ multiple times, and then consumed DryMagical Thinking, and Possible Side Effects.
The meatless burrito is one of the best things I have ever tasted.
“Isn't it wonderful?" Augusten asks.
I am seriously beginning to believe that in addition to being a witch, as he describes in Toil & Trouble,​ that Augusten is also a mind reader until he says, “I mean the murder. Isn't that wonderful?"
It is wonderful in the sense that I am delighted to discover that this is precisely how I expected one of my literary idols to behave. It all began with a hope to publish something other than what I forced my immediate family to read. When The Huffington Post​ picked up one of my essays, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my publishing career.
“A significant percentage of me is Neanderthal," Augusten says, “according to a DNA test."
But here is the thing about dreams, they evolve. After I published the piece, and many others in The Huffington Post​, I set my goal on seeing my words in print and published an essay in The Boston Globe. After that, it grew into a desire to publish a piece in a literary magazine and then finally to write a book.
“A friend of mine, who never reads, told me I should read this book called The LIE," Augusten says.
After I finished writing my memoir, I sent a chapter to Dan Jones, who is the editor of Modern Love at The New York Times. Within 30 minutes of the publication of that essay​, Christopher Schelling, who, is both Augusten's husband AND his agent, contacted me.
I thought when my book was published that all of the hard work had been completed. However, looking back at all of the essays, interviews, podcasts, and readings​ that took place in the year proceeding publication, I can see pieces of me spread all over the globe.  
“This friend said that the writing in your book reminded her of me," Augusten adds.
This is it. I am dead, which is wonderful in the best possible way.
I killed it.​


Coming Out on Live TV

Last summer, I was pruning the boxwoods in our garden in Maine, when my neighbor Irene, a retired schoolteacher, and self-professed book maven walked by and said, “Hey, Edward Scissorhands, I saw your book in the New York Times.” 

I waved the shears at her and said, “Thanks!”

She dropped the hand she was using to shield her eyes from the sun, and scrunched up her face contemplating my reply, Thanks?

“I mean, so what did you think?” I corrected myself.

“You ready to be the poster child for all of this?” she asked.

“Um, sure, yeah,” I replied.

She raised one eyebrow and displayed a closed-lip smile. It’s a look I’ve seen before, typically, when my youngest daughter, Marisa, uses a phrase I don’t understand. Something like, “Ugh, Dad, you’re such a stan.” She’ll give me that look, and I can read the question in her face before she asks, Do you even know what that means?

“Um, sure, yeah.”

I published a book, a memoir about my personal experience. I wasn’t the first person to come out later in life, or as I like to say, Fashionably Late. That always gets an eye-roll from Marisa.  

Irene didn’t say anything, but I could read the question in her facial expression, But really, are you ready?  As she walked off, she shouted, “William Dameron tamps down the tall grass of untold experience,” echoing a sentence from the New York Times Review. That phrase has become somewhat of a joke in our household. We use it any time we try something new, like when I tell my husband, Paul, I tried a new pork chop recipe, and he’ll say, “Tamping down the tall grass, huh?”  

Since that summer day, I’ve received emails almost daily from people who’ve read my book. Most are kind, a few decidedly not, but almost all of them state the same thing: they feel heard. I reply to every single one. It is not something I take lightly. While I may have written one of the first literary memoirs about a person coming out later in life to his spouse and family, I am not the first one to do it. I can joke about many things, but I stand in awe of those who come out, often in environments much more hostile, sometimes life-threatening.

As queer people, we make a decision every day whether to come out or not, to co-workers, new neighbors, a manager, new clients, or even the taxi driver. It gets easier, but there is always that split second thought, is it safe?

Recently Philip Schofield, the host of This Morning, in the UK, came out on live TV. In light of those events, The Times published an excerpt from my book, and the BBC interviewed me on the Victoria Derbyshire program. Because I joined by skype, the studio didn’t want to consume the bandwidth by sending their video back to me. While I was being interviewed, I didn’t get a chance to see what the studio looked like. Maybe that’s a good thing because when they sent me a screen capture later, I certainly looked like the poster child for coming out and also? it reminded me of a scene from the movie Edward Scissorhands when he appears on a TV program.

In that scene, an audience member asks Edward if he has ever considered corrective surgery. “Yes,” he replies quietly. Then, another audience member stands up and says, “But if you had regular hands, you'd be like everyone else.”

That line slays me.


Adorable Little Stories and Great Big Books

Years ago, when I told Paul I was going to start writing this blog, he cocked his head and said, “OK.” I had heard that tone in his voice once before when I told him my attorney suggested he sign a prenup agreement. What he said then was something like, “OK, give me that stupid agreement. I’ll sign it.” It wasn’t indignation or resentment, it was bemusement, like don’t worry, you can keep your Franklin Mint Star Trek plate collection.

I narrowed my eyes and said, “You don’t think I have anything valuable to say?”

“Sure I do, sweetie,” he replied reaching out to finger the top button on my shirt. “But, what are you going to write about?”

“I don’t know,” I said, swatting his hand away and looked up at the ceiling like the answer might be hidden in the rafters. “Stories.”

“You’re going to write adorable little stories?” he asked.

The truth is, I really didn’t know what I was going to write, but after that comment, I was for damn sure going to write something, and whatever it was, it would make the world sit up and take notice. It would make Paul bow down before all of the beautiful words piled up at my feet. It would make the angels weep.

What I wrote was the first crappy blog post that I forced Paul to read and that you can still find here. I will never remove it because it makes me laugh with its oh so noble sense of purpose. And also? It lets me know how far I have come.

After that post, many stories followed and then they jumped onto The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Salon, various other places and then to The New York Times. But this blog is where I fell in love with writing. It has been my proving ground, my laboratory to experiment in until I finally figured out what it was that my stories so desperately needed to convey: It is never too late to become who you were meant to be.  

Lately, the posts on this blog have been few and far between, but don’t worry, dear reader, like Evita Perón, the truth is, I never left you. Early in the mornings and late at night, I have been writing something a bit longer than a blog post. On July 1st, 2019, more than a decade after I came out, my debut memoir, TheLie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out will be published by Little A. It’s not an Adorable Little Story, but I hope you will love it as much as I do, as much as I love Paul.

When I finished writing the book, after my agent said, “Slice your heart open and let it bleed out onto the page. After my editor who is also a poet, coaxed from me the most difficult, and beautifully terrifying words I have ever written, I gave the book—my quote-unquote Star Trek Plate collectionto Paul.

It was the story of my destruction and my creation, the story of Us, my precious. I waited. One day passed without comment, then two, then three freaking days. On the fourth day, I was about a ten on the anger scale and cranking it up to twenty-five. On the fifth day, we boarded a cross-country flight to California together, and I imagined how I would ignore Paul for six and a half hours and flirt shamelessly with the cute flight attendant. And then he pulled out his iPad, sat it on the little folding table and opened up my book.

“You are not seriously going to read this while I sit next to you are you?” I asked.

He clapped his hands like a kid with an adorable little toy. I looked through the window at the clouds below us, stealing sidelong glances at his face and at his finger scrolling through the pages of my life. After six hours, he attempted to swipe left multiple times. We sat in silence, the only sound my beating heart and the hum of the engines.

“The period end period,” I said.

He stared straight ahead.

“WELL?” I asked.

The startled passenger on the other side of Paul shifted uncomfortably in her seat, angling her body away from us. If he didn’t know how much I detested the word, Paul might have told me I sounded a little shrill.  He held up his finger, like give me a minute. I’m about to sneeze.

Look at him, I thought. Look at that same old stupid Maine t-shirt he always wears.

I glanced back through the window at the tiny roads stitched into the landscape, at how they crisscrossed in seemingly senseless patterns. I thought about all of the years invested in this book, all of the pain. When I looked back at Paul, he pulled that stupid old t-shirt up to dab his nose, to wipe his cheeks, to blot his eyes.

Look at that face.

How could I not love that face? That old t-shirt. That old Paul. My husband.

My weeping angel.


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Carolina Girls

Every summer, my family vacationed on Topsail Island, North Carolina for one treasured week. Mom would load the back of the wood paneled station wagon with brown paper grocery bags of food. My three brothers and I laid claim to our space for the four hour drive by karate chopping a boundary line in between us on the vinyl back seat, Hi-yah!

Invariably, someone’s foot, hand or breath would breach the imaginary border.

“Mom, he’s on my side!”

When she tired of playing the role of United Nations, Mom would banish the offending party to the way, way back.

I didn’t mind riding in the back so much. I’d lie down and watch the rows of green tobacco plants flicker by like the spokes of a wheel. When I became hungry, I’d pull out the Honey Combs cereal and have a snack while secretly admiring the picture on the box of Bobby Sherman.

Just when cow poker was about to lose its luster, Mom would sing “Who can see the ocean first?”

We’d train our gaze on the undulating sand dunes, searching the tiny valleys between them for a glimpse of blue. Like baby birds we’d chirp, “I see it! I see it!”

We were drawn to the sea, bobbing like bell buoys in the briny currents, searching for the perfect crest and sometimes getting pummeled by a rogue wave. At night, sunburnt, tired and lying in between the sandy bed sheets, we’d close our eyes and get rocked to sleep by the phantom push and pull, push and pull, push and pull of the tides.

We continued that family tradition for years, even after Dad left us. One moonlit night, there was a party on the deck of the cottage next door and I watched Mom peering through the open kitchen window, elbows resting on the sill. The sounds of “Beach music”—those boppy, Carolina R&B tunes—drifted up from the party below. Mom held her hand to her mouth as she laughed, her feet dancing to the beat. For the first time, I realized there was someone else my mother used to be. She was not actually born a mother. It was then that I realized she was in this alone.

Mom was fiercely protective of us, still is. Breaking into the Dameron family for any girlfriend and later, a boyfriend must have been a daunting task, much like wading into the ocean. There were a few family dinners with significant others that crashed terrifically beneath a sea of tears. I think Mom just got used to protecting our borders.

When I worked up the nerve to tell Mom that Paul was going to become my husband, I was terrified. She wept for many reasons, but happiness certainly bubbled to the top. Mom told me she felt like she had missed that boat—that she never really had “The love of her life.” She had devoted herself to her boys and God help the poor man who came calling at our door on Latham Road. He would have been greeted by a tsunami of rambunctious Dameron boys and the flotsam and jetsam of our pets. As much as Mom protected our borders, we flooded hers.

Like all kids, I pushed Mom and my brothers away at one point or another, attempting to find myself and become the man I am today, but Mom never stopped pulling me back. She starts every conversation with, “When was the last time you talked to your brothers?”

There is a faded photograph of Mom as a pretty, young woman clinging to us on Topsail Island. When I look at it, I can feel the phantom push and pull of the tides. God, we all look so happy. The edges may be a bit tattered, but it’s clear to see, Mom didn’t have one single love of her life. She had four. 


When I Said It

It was a garden level apartment, too far from Boston and too close to nowhere. On the day I moved in, I wrangled a queen sized mattress by myself until a young Latina held the lobby door open with her foot and guided the bed with her hands, using facial expressions and Spanglish to communicate, “Mira, left, left!” That first night, I lay awake on the bare mattress and listened to muffled conversations seep through the walls, too distant from English and not close enough to any language I could comprehend.

I was alone in a way that I had not been for more than twenty years—seven hundred miles and a secret separated me from my family.  It was not a complete break, but more of a fracture that we were attempting to heal, as if giving it a rest could mend the broken bones of our marriage.

I tried setting up rituals to break up the solitude, drinks at the Picadilly Pub with co-workers on Thursday nights, take-out sweet and sour chicken from Chin’s Garden for Friday dinner and a run along the abandoned rail bed of the Assabet River trail on Sunday mornings. But on Saturday nights, when the light faded, loneliness crept into my unfurnished apartment, like the scent of foreign foods being prepared by the unbroken families around me.

The sun would slip below the horizon around 4:30 pm and shortly thereafter, a group of Brazilian men in dark Levis, whooping and hollering, would emerge from the cinder-block apartment building and climb into the back of a pick-up truck, the night stretching out before them like a lubricious promise.

I chose one of those Saturday nights to rent a video, when video stores were still a thing. I walked up and down the aisles surveying the titles, already knowing which DVD I would select, too ashamed to see it alone in a theater and barely brave enough to hold it in my hands. I would rent it and return it through the after-hours slot and then cancel my membership.

I waited until most of the customers left. My heart pounded as I walked up to the cashier, DVD in hand holding it close to my body so no one could see and placed it title side down on the counter.

“Do you want popcorn or candy?” The cashier asked, nodding his head towards the selection.

“No, just this please,” I said without looking up.

He turned the video over, glanced up at me and said “I need your membership card.”

I thought his stare held a certain conviction as I fumbled through my wallet and when I looked up after finding my card, I caught him regarding my wedding band.

When I returned home, I poured a healthy amount of gin into a glass, placed the DVD into my laptop computer and sat in the single chair next to the small, folding kitchen table.

A dusty little town, the longing twang of a guitar chord and the forlorn landscape of Wyoming was all it took for me to know their love was doomed from the start. When it ended, one dirty, blood-stained shirt neatly folded into the other, it ended me too.

Like Ennis del Mar, I’d have to stand in that open space for a while, too afraid to move forward and too changed to go back. Looking into the mirror that night I decided for the first time to try out the foreign words, see how they might fit. It was more of a confession and less of an affirmation and only a whisper.

“Shit, I’m so gay.”


The Turkeys

The turkeys woke me this morning. They roam our Boston neighborhood in a gaggle, like a gang of delinquent teenagers. They are unafraid; defiant even as they strut across the sidewalk daring pedestrians to cross their paths. I’ve witnessed them charging the oblivious passerby, their brown wings extended, red wattles flapping and eyes narrowed. This morning, they are just outside my window.

When I lived in Franklin, MA a lifetime ago, the turkeys hung out on a rural back road next to a restaurant called “Ma Glockner’s,” an establishment famous for their chicken dinners served with a fresh cinnamon bun. It opened on Maple Street in 1937 on Thanksgiving Day, serving the domesticated big breasted, white, dumbed down brethren of the wild turkeys.

The land surrounding the restaurant could have been lifted from the pages of Watership Down; sun-dappled stones walls, birch leaves alternating green and silver as they shudder in the cool breeze and rabbit warrens burrowed among the twigs and russet colored leaves of the forest floor.  

I used to pass the turkeys of Maple Street on my morning and evening commute. I was mostly unaware of the beauty surrounding me. But every once in a while, one of those damned birds would run along the side of the road, hook a left and attempt to become airborne. Their lumbering bodies would tumble mere inches over the hood of my car, more like an awkward long jump across the road than a graceful bird taking flight. Startled, I’d pull my car into the parking lot of Ma Glockners and wait for a minute while my heart stopped pounding.

I sat there once, listening to Al Green on the radio singing “Love and Happiness.” The tune so sweet it made me tear up. A strip of clouds blushed orange in the western sky. Squirrels chattered in the Oak trees, turkeys huddled. I wanted a love that would make me do right and make me do wrong. Next life, I thought.

But here I am.

Each morning, I check the balance of my 401(K). I calculate the years until retirement. I glance at Facebook. I wait for an email from my agent. Perhaps he worked out a deal at two AM with a publisher and sent me a contract. It could happen. I re-read the same essay I have been working on for two months. I delete a comma and then I put it back. I look to see if any of the publications have accepted my submissions.  

How easily we fall into a routine. But this morning the turkeys gathered outside of my window and sang me a song. Gobble, gobble, gobble—“Wake up mother-fucker.”


When I Woke Up

When I was floating between jobs in the 1990’s, I worked as a reader. Breadwinner for my young family, and all I could scratch up were the lousy crumbs from a temporary job scoring high school essays, which were part of Ohio's standardized assessment exam.

I had to score the essays on a scale of zero to five. A zero meant there were no words written. A five was stellar, as if perhaps this should be published in a literary journal. A score of one meant they had written something, a word or two, typically some permutation of “This sucks,” or “Fuck you.” Judging by their essays, teenagers in the urban core of Cleveland, Ohio were brimming with hostility. Like most things in life, it was the essays in the middle that got messy. What was the difference between a two and a three, or a three and a four?

Most of the essays began verbatim, using the writing prompt, “One morning I woke up and discovered that I could fly.” What often followed was a quotidian trip drifting through the neighborhood as jealous friends exclaimed, “Hey, you can fly!!” Many of the girls flew to the mall to go shopping with their friends, or to Hollywood where they employed celebrities in cameo appearances. Brendan Fraser often appeared in a loincloth, fresh from his role in “George of the Jungle.” They would “make out,” but it rarely progressed beyond first base. Even in uncirculated print, teenage girls fretted about being called a slut.

Then there were the essays where girls drifted up to bedroom windows and secretly witnessed stepfathers committing some type of abuse, or boys flew into closets and stole guns. These were unscored and forwarded to my supervisors; middle-aged women, who poured over the words, with knitted brows, as they tugged at their sweaters, pulling them closed.

The essays were read twice by two different scorers. If we wanted to keep our jobs, we had to maintain a high accuracy rate with the tandem reader’s score. As my rate flailed, I worried that my temporary job would become a zero. Many mornings when I woke up, I wished I could fly away.

“Look, if the word ‘Slumbering’ is used in an essay, that’s an automatic four,” one of the readers confided to me in the break room. She was heating up her lunch, a single sweet potato, in the food-splattered microwave. It was the same thing she brought in every day. Karen was thin with stringy brown hair and paper-white skin with a slight blue sheen. She had the unsettling habit of staring at my forehead during our conversations. When she caught me looking down my nose at her shriveled-up potato, she glanced at my ham sandwich and said, “I think meat tastes like dried blood.”

“A four for slumbering?” I asked, patting the hair on my forehead, checking for fly-aways.

“Well, they have to write more than that, but you get the gist. More syllables and better word choices equals a higher score and vice versa.”

As my accuracy rate grew, so did my friendship with Karen. We shared the tidbits of our lives over lunches of sweet potatoes and ham sandwiches. Karen’s dream job was somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming where she could live and work on a ranch while writing and paying down her Grand-Teton sized school debt. Mine was to become employed full-time at a job that offered benefits; it was a three, though at the time I would have scored it a five.

Here is the thing about dreams. When life is a one or a two and you’re just trying to make ends meet, to be like everybody else, a three—somewhere in the middle—sounds pretty damn good. A five is unfathomable.

Every once in a while an essay deemed exemplary would be read aloud by a supervisor, giving us a break from the monotony of kids flying to the ubiquitous mall shopping trip, or drifting above the popular crowd and dropping egg-bombs. The first essay I scored as a five resonated deep in my marrow for reasons I could not then understand. I handed it to my supervisor, chest puffed out, as if I had written it myself.

“This is good,” she said. “Beautiful use of language and imagery, but I’m afraid it’s only a high three, perhaps a four.”

“But, she used the word slumbering,” I protested, “See? Right there.”

“It’s poetry, really, but how did the writer change? What do we discover about the narrator in the end that we did not know in the beginning?” she asked.

In the essay, the girl drifted above a handsome boy she loved, a honey-colored moon in his inky black sky. While he slumbered, she tugged at his tides and painted his face with her moonbeams. She was forever trapped in his orbit.

After I read the essay to Karen, she put down her fork-full of potato and asked, “Have you ever been in love like that?”

“Not yet,” I replied.

Her eyes fluttered for a moment and then her gaze drifted down from the bulls-eye on my forehead to the tears rolling down my cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It was just such a beautiful essay,” I said, waving my hand in the air, brushing it off. But, while I was dreaming about life in the middle, this teenage girl from Sandusky, Ohio burned a hole through my forehead, pulled out a five and held it up for me to see.

On Monday morning, Karen didn’t show up for work. Later in the week, I received an e-mail from her. She woke up Sunday morning and decided to start driving. We shared fat e-mails about the dusty ranch and the colorful characters in her new Wyoming town, how the sky was so big, you could see a storm coming from a hundred miles away and how at night it grew so cold that when she went to the toilet, she was afraid her stream would freeze up.

I became employed full time at a company that offered benefits. I don’t know what happened to Karen. Our lives got busy and somewhere along the way, we lost touch with one another.  I imagine her steely gaze looking up at the windswept clouds racing over the Tetons. I lived in that messy middle for many years, moving up the ladder, hoping each fresh job in every new city would offer a benefit that the previous one did not, authenticity. When I finally figured it out, the storm of divorce kicked up and then it passed. 

Here’s the thing about dreams, you don’t necessarily have to fly away in order to make them come true, but you do have to wake up.    

I got up, brushed off the dust and became an IT Director for a prestigious consulting firm with stellar benefits in Harvard Square. Even so, sometimes at night, I lie awake, worrying about the college debt my children have amassed and wonder how I'll make ends meet. Then I’ll look over at my new husband Paul slumbering, as the full moon paints his face. A sense of lightness tugs at me and pulls me up. I am forever, happily trapped in his orbit. I found my five.

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