Forgiveness

Since coming out and fully embracing my attraction to men, I’ve only been able to wonder what kind of reaction it would illicit from the devout Mormon friends I had as a kid. We’re all adults now. Most of my childhood friends are married with children, so says Facebook. In the year since coming out, I caught up rapidly on adulthood, going on upwards of twenty dates, sleeping with a few men, and now on the verge of a full fledged relationship.

Sex and romance are delicately intertwined with adulthood and maturity, as I have observed over the past year. Experiencing it distances us from our parents and mentors, allowing us to see them as human and not unlike ourselves.

I’d always thought I needed the acceptance and embrace of my childhood friends to feel whole. The hateful, exclusive attitudes toward same sex partnership embedded in my friends’ minds by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to life in day to day conversations and constant homophobic aphorisms. Although they were never directed at me personally, as I didn’t come out until the age of 25, they had a long lasting, tragic impact on my psyche. It made me feel like I could not become a respected and enjoyable man without a female partner.

Through close analysis of my deep anxieties, I’ve managed to repair much of the damage I helplessly let occur. Now, as I have done for many years past, I sit and wonder what it would be like to be in the same room as my childhood friends, with all the cards left out on the table. Would I need their acceptance and embrace anymore?

Probably not as much as I needed it in the past. But in these times of rapidly changing social norms and attitudes toward same sex partnership (we were friends during both the Reagan and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ eras), perhaps I would be surprised by their current response. There’s nothing quite like the catharsis provided by forgiveness, whether or not it is preceded by an apology.

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Something Old

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 10 minutes and 3 seconds.

Selected tracks: Regina Spektor “Small Town Moon”, David Byrne & St. Vincent “Who” and Beach House “Myth”

The dry cleaning dangling from my right hand grazed the glass front door of my father’s midtown house-turned-duplex. I turned the key then pushed the door open with my left shoulder. Despite the solstice not being for another two weeks, Sacramento’s summer waited for me in my father’s lower unit. His place was silent, save for the pre-summer wind whistling through the window crevices. My dad was away for the afternoon at a recently deceased colleague’s memorial.

As I walked into the dining room I noticed opened moving boxes on the table. Strewn out beside them were heaps of photographs. Some small, some large. Some were even panoramic. They were a mixture of color and black and white prints. I draped my dry cleaning over a chair. The plastic coating over it purred softly as it came to rest. I sat down, looking over the scattered piles of captured memories.

At first it appeared my father was preparing for my best friend from childhood’s wedding. That was in fact why I was in town for the weekend, Frances’s wedding. On the top of the many piles of pictures was one of me, Frances, and Mitch, her high school sweetheart, and now her husband to be. In the 8×8 color print we stood together outside my childhood suburban home, dressed for junior prom. Our legs were kicked up to the right in unison. We were posed in the can-can dance position. Smiles were spread across our faces. Behind my own was a nervousness more complicated than the picture could possibly show.

I went with a beautiful girl who was a year ahead of me in school. She was my co-anchor on the daily morning announcements. Her intensely curly, blonde highlighted hair, sparkling green eyes, and bubbly personality appealed to droves of other boys. I asked her because I enjoyed being around her infectious positive energy and it seemed the easiest “yes” to get from anyone. She was a friend beyond anything else. Our prom together was enjoyable, but I kept it even tamer than a G rating. I didn’t even to attempt to kiss her at the end of the night. Part of that was a fear of rejection and the other part being a stronger interest in the boys. But at that point, I hadn’t given much thought to dating guys. Asking them to the prom seemed out of the question.

I began flipping through the black and white pictures eventually coming to one of my grandmother in her wedding dress. Her posture was better than I had ever known. Perhaps she was past 5 foot at her wedding. I’ve known her only in her below 5 foot days. She’s seemingly shrunk in height, but not personality, each passing year.

Noticing many pictures of my deceased grandfather, I remembered my father had organized a memorial hike for him in a few weeks time. Maybe this was why he took all the pictures out. To find one to bring to the hike. I stumbled across a picture of my grandfather at my Uncle Steve’s bar mitzvah. He stared stoically into the camera. A tallit was draped over his shoulders and a yamaka rested on his head. His facial expression dictated: “I really don’t know why you have to take this picture, but if you must, go ahead, I’ll play along.” It’s the sort of attitude you want subjects to have in a photograph. A sort of truth comes out when people are just able to be themselves despite the camera’s gaze. So often moments captured on film fail to give a true depiction of a person or time because people adjust themselves to what they think the camera wants: a smile, a weird face, a respectable posture. Once the camera’s off them, they return to their natural state.

Dogs, however, are naturals when it comes to being photographed. They don’t know any better. I flipped through some pictures of Buddy, our old golden retriever. In one photo, he lay in the grass, soaking in the sun. However, in many of the pictures he refuses to face the camera, not knowing what my dad wanted from him. So maybe dogs are not always the most photogenic creatures, but they still know how to properly ignore the camera.

I moved back over to the black and white pictures. I then came across a photograph I had wondered if was in existence: my grandparents’ house as it was being built by my grandfather. I gripped the picture and sat back in my chair, staring at the wooden skeleton. The design was unmistakeable: steep sloping driveway, pointed roof to the left, and a long, ranch style frame to the right. In the distance were the tree laden hills of Marin County. In the 4×4 print the carpenters atop the tiny forest of wooden beams were barely visible.

Setting the picture back down on the table, tears started to form. It was my father’s home. It was my grandfather, the renaissance man, doing the work he loved and was revered for. It was the home I used for months before finding a place to live in San Francisco. It was the home my grandmother had to rent out because she couldn’t live there any longer without full time care. Time stood still as I continued to stare at the picture. I’d known this house in its finished form all my life. It’s the only way I knew it. Which left me taking it for granted, believing it eternally existed. The memory captured in the picture had become immortal. Yet, it was also a stinging reminder that all things in life, and life itself, have a beginning and end.

My dad walked in just as I was moving onto more current photos. “How was the memorial?” I asked him. “Hard,” he responded. “I knew Carol for a very long time. She was a really great person. Wish I had known her better.” He went to the kitchen. His keys jingled as he set them down on the counter.

“Are all these pictures out because you’re picking one to give Frances and Mitch tonight at the wedding, or for grandpa’s memorial hike?” My dad walked back into the dining room with a glass of pineapple juice. “Actually, it’s for your Aunt Shirley’s memorial.” I felt ashamed to have forgotten the most recent in the family’s long list of passings. “Oh, right,” I said somberly. “So you went to Jeremy’s graduation last week.” I reminded him of his nephew’s graduation. “And a memorial earlier and a wedding later today. How does it feel to be involved in such different types of ceremonies?”

My dad gave out a long sigh as he leaned on a chair. “They’re all celebrations of life really. Youthful achievements, unions, and honoring the entire arc of a person’s life. They just celebrate different blocks of life.” My dad shrugged, not knowing what else to say. I nodded in understanding, agreement, and satisfaction over the content and brevity of his answer. He took a sip from his glass and looked thoughtfully out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. With that I peeled back the protective plastic sheet covering my dry cleaning and began to get ready for Frances and Mitch’s wedding.

Appropriate, Inappropriate, Re:appropriate

Incandescent light beaming from a forty-six inch flat screen flickered inside the first of nine penny-sized candle base stations on an empty menorah. Ever so faintly, a whine screeched from an ancient vcr. Within the forty-six inch rectangular window, a family gathered, all members either reclining in bright orange upholstered sofas and chairs, or standing, feet planted to swirled, multi-shaded mocha carpeting. Two toddlers were being passed back and forth between the women. Mountains of curls and bangs distracted the diaper duo from the expressions of adoration gleaming behind softball-circumferenced glasses. Gifts populated the center of the room, which lay invisible to the infants. The obscenely large, skillfully wrapped boxes were, however, the only thing that existed for two small children, ages three and five, who agonizingly waited at the edge of the family circle, leashed only by parental rule.

—–

Beneath the heading Re: (whatever I wrote in the first message) read a call request. Scratching my head, I wondered to myself how I could feel such discomfort doing this. Through all of the dates I’d been on using the website, I had never gone beyond messaging or texting. A first world dilemma. A year 2011 dilemma.

Eventually accepting that only good could come from it, and especially considering it was an upgrade from the previous date who would not give me the day and time, I decided to brave up and dial. We set a call time for late in the evening, after I got off work. Ring back tones unexpectedly led a path to voicemail, where I left a neurotic, yet articulately charming message, I thought. The following morning I found an apology text and a call back guarantee. Skeptically, I went about my day, only half expecting a call in the late afternoon.

——-

Hands blinding my eyes, I shielded myself from the embarrassment I knew my three-year-old self was sure to wreak. Haphazardly ripping open presents, he inquired, “Is there more?” An uncomfortable laugh grew in my belly, lifted up, and regurgitated out. Suddenly a blizzard of static snow flashed over the window.

Laughter emanated from the black leather sectional couch facing the television. My cousin, one of the toddlers in the video, now twenty two, smiled as our shared grandmother quipped and jibed about his diaper change. Observing the empty menorah below the flat screen, I realized we had not even lit the Hannukah candles this year. The importance of the gathering did not depend on religious tradition anymore.

I gazed down to the coffee table, at the gifts I’d received this year. A single envelope could contain everything. I was satisfied with that and grateful for its contents. Next to that piece of stationary comfortably sat a bound presentation booklet with a protective cover. Behind the glossed front page were designs for new innovations my cousin was developing in school. A modernized walker graced the first few pages. Our grandmother had never warmed up to the idea of using a cane, let alone four of them attached to two wheels and two punctured tennis balls. With her in mind, my cousin had designed something that even she could be proud to brandish.

Slipping my hand into my slim, crowded jean pocket, I extracted my Android. As my thumb pressed the home key, the screen flamed on. After noting the time frame to get back to the city from Oakland, I flipped my attention to gmail. Displayed on the first page of emails, the response message from my dating website surfaced the nerves attached to another approaching coffee date.

——

Reva’s feet shifted and glided to the beat of the music. Her chin rested atop her date’s shoulder. Across the dance floor she spotted her best friend, the one who had set her up. Making eye contact with her, Reva subsequently pulled up her arm, allowing her hand to reach her face. Pinching her nose, she put on a “pew” expression. Her date Gordon was a gentleman, a nice Jewish boy, and clearly adored her, but Reva remained unimpressed. All she could think about was the measure of his snout.

——

Vibration filled my pocket. Rotating my head, I made eye contact with my friend in the passenger’s seat. “Shit. They’re calling. I don’t want to deal with this now,” I nervously chirped “Answer it. It’ll be fine,” my friend reassured. I took a deep breath, gripped the grey leather wheel, warmed by my palms, and turned it clockwise to come to a complete stop at Noriega and 27th. I pulled out my phone and answered.

——

I swept my Android up from its perch. I’d left it in the abandoned nook where landlines in San Francisco apartments were formerly located. While arranging my studio four months ago I reappropriated the space as the spiritual center of my apartment, decorating the indented ledge with aura polaroids, the crystal my mother gave me when she moved out of the only childhood home I’ve ever known, folded papers containing scribbled aspirations, and a hanging jade green Buddhist scroll. Out the door I rushed, swiftly moving south down Divisidero to a holiday screening at the Casto Theater.

Jack Torrance pounded away at the keys on his type writer. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” He typed this over and over and over again. His marriage to Wendy had hit the rocks. It was all work and no play. In the dim flicker of the theater, I wondered how Jack and Wendy had first met and how they had first fallen in love. They were an ugly couple now, but had there been truly satisfying times during their romance? Did they fit together only because she desperately needed a reassuring presence and he needed a feeble, weak minded mate to order around? Or were there times where they transcended their codependency?

The phone call from a day prior was on my mind. A place and time was set for a date, and my friend from the navigator’s seat confidently observed our conversation as positively nervous, adorable, and normal. If Wendy had met Jack on a dating website, could she have seen the warning signs more clearly? On one of my dates a conversation came up about the viability of dating websites. Questions about personality and values, they argued, can reveal dealbreakers that in everyday dating and relationships could go unnoticed until after making a monogamous commitment. My date the following afternoon turned out not to be the trifecta I continue to search for. Yet, the website’s match tools proved to be useful in the real world. As the website hinted, they had me on the two most crucial friendship points of the love triangle, heart and mind. Stories told by multiple close friends and family serve as proof that sometimes physical attraction can follow suit when the latter two factors in love are potent. This draws me reluctant to fold in the current situation.

Reapportion comes expectedly at times of work and unexpectedly at times of play. It comes in love, religious traditions, long standing family traditions, societal behaviors, and everyday technological devices. Sometimes the change is bravely welcomed, while in others it faces nervous rejection. Ease is absent from alien embracement. Reapportion, whether stumbled upon or sought out, deserves a chance. Critical evolutions, curving toward infinite bliss, could be right around change’s bend.

——

A week later, Gordon walked over to the indented space inside his San Francisco apartment that housed his phone. He picked it up and turned the wheel until all of Reva’s numbers were keyed in. A second date lead to a third, a fourth, a fifth date. Eventually the relationship became physical. Once his digits pressed the right buttons, my grandmother was, for better or worse, eternally sold.