Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Life on Delay

Picture it. Paducah, Kentucky. A small city airport. Instead of arriving two hours before my flight (as I’ve pretty much done since 9/11) I arrived just over an hour before take off. I expected people to already be going through security. I tried to stay calm and not let my later-than-usual-arrival bother me. Paducah airport employees are notorious for sending us through security early. I was already checked in and had paid for my bag so there was no reason to fear. Of course Paducah’s airport is so small that they aren’t equipped with the scanning equipment that would allow me to go green and scan my boarding pass on my iPhone. But I digress. I knew I was going to have to turn in the bag and get it tagged as well as get a boarding pass when we got there. Still, no real reason to worry. 

There was a severe thunderstorm heading into the area that evening, but I had checked the weather for my departure time out of Paducah, my departure time out of Chicago and my arrival time in NYC. Each flight seemed to be departing and arriving without major weather interference. Again, trying to maintain calm.

As I stood in the line to get my boarding pass and bag claim ticket, one of the TSA employees noticed my dad. She knew him. She came over to talk to us. Introductions were made. Blah, blah, blah. Then she asked me what flight I was on. A stupid question really considering Paducah was only connecting to Chicago. I told her I was flying to NYC through Chicago and she quickly blurted out, “It’s been delayed.” The words connected with my brain as I was looking at the smile on her face. It was almost as if she was finding some pleasure in this information. I know that she wasn’t, but I couldn’t let go of the feeling. I asked her why. She had no explanation to give me. I was standing there stunned and my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. Seriously, I could not believe that this flight was delayed. And not just delayed a few minutes. Delayed by a couple hours. 

When I finally made it to the front of the line the man I spoke to was very calm and reassuring. He was doing a great job at not letting the frustrations of the travelers get him down. Gold star! The reason for the delay: fog in Chicago. I had a connecting flight in Chicago that was to depart at 6pm. We were pushed from 2:49pm to 4:55pm for our departure. That meant I had no chance of making that connection. The 7pm out of Chicago was already sold out, but the 9pm still had seats. Great! I’m tentatively booked on the 9pm departing O’Hare at the time I was supposed to be arriving home in NYC. Beggars can’t be choosers. I wanted to get home. For no other reason than I just wanted to. 

So, at this point I was still on the 6pm flight in case the pilots decided when the plane arrived from Chicago that they were going to turn right around and fly back, but I was also tentatively booked on the 9pm in the event that we really were delayed. To delay or not to delay. That is the question. Give me some answers. 

As I sat in the airport with my parents I realized that I might be frustrated, but there was no reason to be angry. All of this was out of my control. There was nothing I could do but wait. If for some reason I couldn’t get out of Paducah that evening then I would go back to my parents’ house and spend the night. It really wasn’t that dire a situation. It was merely frustrating. I tried to let go.

Four fifteen and we’re going through security. I have to pause here for a moment of sincere tenderness. I bought my mom The Help before I had even read it myself based on recommendations of others. I then read it and of course loved it. She also loved it. We each saw the film version and I asked for it on DVD for Christmas. I have watched the DVD already, but wanted to take it with me to my parents’ house so that my mom and I could watch it together. I cried just like I have every time. Every time! I love it. Anyway, mom stood in front of me. We were facing each other with a light grip on each others upper arms. She said to me, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” When she started saying the words I joined her and we said them in unison. It reminded me of a time back in the late 90’s when I had taken a Greyhound Bus to Nashville, Tennessee for an extended stay at my parents’ house while I waited for the theatre where I worked to book a new show. At that point Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks was a hugely popular album; the title song a bonafide hit. When the time came for me to actually head back to NYC (two weeks later), she and dad drove me to Nashville. I went though the doors and started to climb the steps of the bus. Mom opened the door and said, “Check the oil,” a lyric from the song "Wide Open Spaces" about a girl getting ready to drive away and begin her own life. It puts a smile on my face any time I think about. The line from The Help now joins the ranks. I’m a sentimental fool. Any thoughts on where I get it?

So learning from each trip through security how to separate my belongings for the X-ray, I grabbed three tubs. One held my boots. One held my coat and scarf. One held my computer and iPhone. I sent my bag through by itself. At LaGuardia on the way to Kentucky they had to send it through a second time on its own, so I started there this time. Everything in its neat little line, feeding through the X-ray machine, I looked at the TSA agent and awaited her motion for me to walk through the metal detector. I beeped. I took off my bracelet and threw it into the tub with my boots which had yet to make it into the black box and the eye of the X-ray. I walked back through. I beeped. I removed my belt and threw it into the tub with my still waiting boots. I never beep. Ever. This was frustrating for me. The delay, the beeps, the frustration. I walked back through. No beep. Not this time. But something new. I got sent to the side for a pat down. A pat down! It was the woman who knew my dad. I’ve never had a pat down in my life. So there I was standing in my sock feet, jeans, no belt, no bracelet and my fading beeps in the air getting a pat down in Paducah, Kentucky. My parents stood just beyond the separating glass watching as I was checked for security issues.

Then the trouble I had taken to send everything through the X-ray so that it could all be examined easily hit a snag. For the second time in a row my Marc Jacobs bag had to be sent through again. The TSA agent asked if it was my bag. I answered affirmatively. She said she needed to open it. I nodded approval. She took out my coin purse, which had my Sugar lip moisturizer inside, and sent the bag through again. At that point I was thinking they might not let me take the Sugar on the plane. It is not inside a 1-quart bag and I guess it could be dangerous. I did get a pat down after all. I must look suspicious. The frustration continued to stew. Sugar lip moisturizer is not cheap. I was already thinking that I would have to control my anger if this Podunk airport wouldn’t let me take it on the plane when it got through security in NYC with no problem. 

Turns out it was the change purse and its contents that were throwing them off. I’m not sure what it looked like on the X-ray machine, but they deemed my bag okay after a second go through. They also didn’t take my Sugar. Crisis averted.
I waved a final goodbye to my parents, redressed myself then headed to the waiting area on that side of security. From one blue seat to another. Separated by glass walls. Sitting and waiting. 

Finally we started boarding the plane. Every one was onboard. The flight attendant had counted, people had changed seats, the flight attendant had counted again, seat belts had been fastened and the flight attendant spiel has been spieled. Then the door was closed and locked. It was at that point that our captain told us that Chicago has cleared us for a 5:30pm departure. Collective groans. See, we’re on the plane for a 5pm departure being told we’re going to be sitting in the closed plane for at least half-an-hour more before departure. In a codicil to the aforementioned announcement, we were told that our departure could be later. There was not only fog in Chicago, but due to the snow they’d received the day before they had limited runways in use. I was thinking that our small plane must be unimportant to the powers-that-be in the tower at O’Hare. 

As we sat their waiting to depart we were informed that due to the fog there was a chance we couldn’t land in Chicago. If this was the case we were going to divert our landing to Cleveland, Ohio. Another groan. Really? There we were trapped in this flying, tin tube, being told we might not even land where our connecting flights are departing. I started pondering why hadn’t the 5:30pm departure been told to us before the door locked us in? Why hadn’t the possibility of a Cleveland landing been disclosed to us? The frustration was building yet again, but then I remembered that all of this was out of my control. There was nothing I could do. I had to - HAD TO - roll with the punches. 

I pulled out my book and started to read. I already knew I was going to miss my 6pm connection to NYC in Chicago so I had been officially rebooked on the 9pm flight. I just had to sit and wait for the plane to roll and the wheels to lift off.

The flight was uneventful. We departed at 5:30pm and we landed in Chicago. No Cleveland. No Betty White. She’s hot in Cleveland, you know. Sigh of relief. Then we sat. On the plane. Waiting. Limited runways meant we landed far enough away from our gate to taxi for a while. Then we waited at the gate for the bags that were to be picked up curbside to be taken off the plane. The man next to me was frustrated. No, I would say angry. When the flight attendant announced the information about us waiting for the bags, my seat mate yelled, “Not everyone has a bag to pick up and some of us have tight connections.” His voice was as arched as my uplifted eyebrows. I’m not sure if it was his yelling or if the arrival of the bag cart coincided with it, but the doors opened almost immediately. We began to exit. I let him off in front of me. I had no where to be. My layover was now 2.5 hours. I was stuck. From one blue seat in a waiting area in Kentucky to a blue seat in a waiting area in Illinois. My ass was tired of those blue seats. I was tired. The waiting sucked.

Gate B8 was my departure gate out of O’Hare. I found its waiting area to be empty and inviting. The gate agents were nice enough. The man was a little snippy, but I’ve been that too at the end of a long day of work. I’m sure the weather knocking out flights didn’t help any agent’s disposition that day. The woman was funny with a sense of humor I recognized as my own. I asked her for an aisle and she obliged with one that put me closer to the front than my already assigned window seat. I thanked her. She told me my request had been an easy one. 

I chose a seat from all the empties and sat. I people watched. I smiled at cute guys. I bemoaned to myself how many of them were straight. I played Hanging With Friends on my iPhone and sent texts. Ah, the ways of passing time while waiting in an airport. 

Soon enough the female gate agent with the sense of humor made the announcement that our gate had changed. Not a big deal. We moved from B8 to B9. Neighboring gates. I made my way to B9 and sat in yet another chair. 

People started to filter into the gate area. I happened to look up at the television screen that was showing our flight number and indicating the names of people eligible for upgrades, etc., when I noticed it said we were delayed to 9:20pm. My heart sank. First flight delayed by 2.5 hours. Missed connection. Second flight delayed by 20 minutes. What could I do? Nothing but wait. I couldn’t allow myself anger. It would have been stupid. I was at the mercy of someone else and the weather. It was out of my control.

The television screen then changed from 9:20pm to a delay of 10pm. That now meant a 2am arrival in NYC. I rolled my eyes. I became droll as I passed on the information to asking passengers. The reason on the screen said: Operations. What did that mean? It didn’t say weather. It didn’t say fog. Operations? Is that mechanical? The arriving flight that would then be restocked and take us to NYC had not arrived yet. I heard a gate agent tell someone else that prized piece of information. Okay, so maybe that was what “Operations” meant. 

Finally the flight arrived. I watched the people deplane. They looked okay. No one looked thankful to just be on the ground. I always check for that as an indication that maybe the flight was turbulent or something. 

More people began arriving in the gate area for the 9pm departure. Reactions were mixed as they discovered the flight’s delay to 10pm. Most just sat to wait. Some wanted to rebook for the morning and go to a hotel. I’m not kidding. It was delayed an hour and a group of seven people contemplated going back to their hotel. Come on! I couldn’t keep the stupid thoughts about them from scrolling across my brain. 

There we were, the passengers and the flight crew, sitting, waiting for our moment to board. It came as a shock to all of us when the voice of the gate agent--the one I had overheard tell of the arriving plane’s lateness--boomed over the speaker that he was sorry to inform those of us on United flight 762 to LaGuardia that our flight had been cancelled. Cancelled! No explanation. Nothing. Just cancelled. Please go to Customer Service. I was defeated. People ran to the Customer Service desk. The line was ridiculously long. It seems more than one flight had been cancelled. I don’t understand what the delay of “Operations” meant and I don’t understand why they didn’t tell us the reason for the cancellation. The frustration was boiling up. I knew I would be doing nothing but hurting myself if I got angry though. I guess that’s growth.

I joined the line and began my wait. Waiting had been the theme of the day. I had packed at my parents’ house and waited to leave for the airport. I had waited for the delayed boarding and departure in Paducah. I had waited through the layover time in Chicago and those delays. Now I was waiting in a cancellation line. My life was existing on delay.

I overheard the man behind me in line talking to an agent on the phone. He was rebooking his flight without the need of talking to one of the very-much-in-the-distance Customer Service people. As his voiced silenced I turned to him. I asked him who he was speaking to. He had called his travel agent. He informed me that the 6am and 7am flights were already full, but there were seats still available on the 6:20am flight. I looked at my place in line and the number of people in front of me. I had no illusions that there would be seats left on that flight by the time I made it to the front of the line. 

I pulled out my iPhone and opened an email from United. I accessed the Contact Us section and called the number. Three minutes later I had an agent on the phone, happy and willing to help rebook me on a flight the next morning. The 6:20am still had seats and in less than five minutes I was on it. I exited the line and went straight to a kiosk where I checked in for that flight and printed my boarding pass. See ya later, suckers waiting for an agent. It’s funny how almost all of us had smartphones, but everyone wasn’t smart enough to use them. Glad my ears perked up to the man’s conversation behind me. Unintentional eaves dropping can pay off sometimes.

Now to get a room. The shittiest part of the entire delayed/cancelled flight day was the fact that it is United’s policy NOT to pay for hotel rooms when flights have been cancelled. I heard the United employee extolling this information to us mention that they do not pay for reasons of weather, but I didn’t hear him mention “Operations.” I would still like to know what the hell “Operations” meant. Anyway, he gave us vouchers for a discount. A discount.

I couldn’t help but think about the industry in which I work--theatre. When Hurricane Irene blew through NYC and shut down our subway system and caused the cancellation of all Broadway and off-Broadway shows for the weekend, the question of refunds was moot. A cancelled show equals automatic refund. That’s just how it is. The show didn’t go on; we can’t keep your money. In the case of a cancelled flight, they keep our money because they rebook us on another flight. I get that. However, United gave us nothing for the inconvenience. They got my money for the flight and then I had to pay extra to spend the night somewhere other than in the airport. I realize that no one can control the weather, but all the theatre owners the weekend of Irene lost money. United lost nothing and the Hilton made bank. There’s something to be said for being connected to the airport. That’s right, there’s a Hilton connected to the airport. Conspiracy theory. 

For $99 I got a room at the Hilton. It was connected by an underground tunnel to the airport. There was no shuttle, no waiting outside. I recognized many people from that cancellation line in the two lines at the Hilton. Yes, the Hilton made bank that night from all of us stranded flyers whom United wouldn’t pay for. I guess the Hilton was going to make bank no matter who paid for the room. I just wish their gain hadn’t been my bank account’s loss.

I was tired when I got to my cute little room on the third floor. I had been sitting and waiting and waiting and sitting and flying and waiting and sitting and standing and grabbing a Clif Bar to eat and waiting and sitting for hours. I mean the day was over. I didn’t even take the time to pick up something for dinner in the sports bar that I could clearly see from the elevator bank. No. I just wanted to get to the room. I called the front desk and requested a wake up call for 4:30am then got into bed with my book.

Thankfully the Hilton staff provided a tooth brush and tooth paste for me for the next morning. All of my toiletries, clean underwear and fresh clothes were packed in a bag that I had checked. I didn’t even know where that bag was other than somewhere inside O’Hare. I didn’t even know when it would get to NYC the next day as I was booked on the 9pm flight that had been cancelled. I was assured by the same man who told me United wouldn’t pay for my room that United had ways we didn’t even know about for getting people’s bags to their destination. Wow, United can’t pay for the rooms of stranded passengers, but they can do magic where your checked bags are concerned. They eased my mind. NOT!

The ringing phone at 4:30am the next morning was too jarring. It was too early. It was too much. I just wanted to get showered, get on that plane and get back home to my life and my routines.

I showered and redressed in the clothes I had chosen to travel home in the night before. I had no deodorant as it was in the checked bag. Thankfully, the shirt I was wearing for the second day in a row didn’t stink and I smelled fresh from the shower. I got dressed, put my iPhone and book back in my Marc Jacobs bag, did an eyeball sweep of the room and headed out the door by 5am. 

I found my terminal easily enough, but the line of people waiting for security that greeted me was something I hadn’t prepared for. I guess I should have had the forethought that there would be many people flying out that morning due to the cancellations from the night before. I was concerned. I wondered if I would make it to the security checkpoint before my flight was to start boarding at 5:50am. Thankfully, what I couldn’t see was that the line branched into several smaller lines once beyond the podiums where two women checked ID’s and boarding passes. 

I began to breathe easier. I could see my departure gate. It was directly through security. No left turn, no right turn, just a straight walk to plant my butt on another blue seat.

So I’d learned what I should do with all of my items that had to scan through X-ray. I used one tub for boots, belt and bracelet. I used one tub for coat and scarf. I used one tub for computer, iPhone and coin purse (removed from my Marc Jacobs bag in the hope that this time the bag would only be sent through once), and then I let the MJ ride flat by itself. Everything was moving forward. No hang-ups. I turned to the TSA agent who indicated I needed to remove my sweater. I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “Seriously?” I knew I didn’t need to draw attention to myself to activate suspicion and another pat down. I was just confused. I had paid attention each time I had had to go through security on this trip. I had made mental notes and purposeful changes so that I could get it right and make my walk through security smooth and easy. The day before in Paducah, where they patted me down, I didn’t have to remove the sweater. I was wearing the exact outfit in the exact way. The sweater wasn’t even buttoned. It was fully open and would have blown in the wind had there been one. My frustration was rigid in my body language. I dropped my license and I nearly ripped my boarding pass in half, but I got the damn sweater off and threw it on the belt and let it go through X-ray.

When the TSA agent called my through I did not beep. I also did not make eye contact with her. She told me to have a nice day. A sentiment not lost on me when people wish me well when they know I’m irritated at them. Again, I made no eye contact. I redressed myself and walked to my gate.

Boarding started. I was in the fourth group of regular flyers. After all premium members and armed forces people and those traveling with children and those needing assistance and those who had not been last-minute-my-flight-was-cancelled-can-I-get-a-seat-on-this-one bookers. I got to my seat, a lovely aisle. I saw many familiar faces from the night before. It didn’t matter. We were all on the plane and our departure was 10 minutes away.

"Good morning from the flight deck, ladies and gentlemen. We're just waiting on a mechanic to come up and take a look at something..." That was not the way I had expected or wanted that flight to begin. There was an audible groan from the many around me who had experienced the cancellation the night before. I saw the mechanic enter the plane eventually. I don’t know how long we waited for him. The captain had told us in his earlier announcement that he thought it would be 15 minutes. There I was sitting again and waiting. I had to laugh. I sat there and smiled to myself as I shook my head. I don’t know what was going on in the Universe. All I know is that I didn’t let any of what it was throwing at me affect me like I would have even a year ago.

Our flight was cleared for take off. We didn’t have to wait in line for departure very long once we’d taxied. Our flight was relatively smooth. We landed without incident. I went straight to baggage claim. I explained about my cancelled flight from the previous night. I was pointed to the office where unclaimed luggage is kept. I could see my bag through the window. United had magicked it to NYC before I even arrived. I felt like Harry Potter when he arrives at Hogwarts each new term and his trunk found its way to his room without him having to take it there. The man with the voucher for my hotel discount was right. United had ways.

Outside in the taxi line, I couldn’t even worry about its length. I was on the ground back in my City. I was a taxi ride away from home. I wanted the line to move, but I was dealing with its turtle speed progression just fine.

When I finally got into my cab I gave the driver my address. He told me he had wanted a passenger bound for Manhattan and instead got one staying in Queens. I laughed and told him I’d been trying to get home since yesterday. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Effie, we all got pain.”

The frustrations I’d been feeling and trying to keep at bay melted away when I walked into my house. I showered and sat my tired ass on my sofa to catch up on the television that was waiting for me on my DVR. When exhaustion finally took over around 8pm, I slept for 14 hours.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Then and Now

High school. Days filled with classes and tests and pop quiz’s. Coach Dreher, Mrs. Cates, Burley. Gossip shared in the hallway. Lunch breaks on the bleachers, or the stage, with a Coke, Mt. Dew or Sun Drop and a bag of some kind of chips. Laughter and tears. Bullies. Homecomings and Proms. Basketball games, national anthems. Senior play rehearsal. Pizza day. Sneaking off the the Pool Room for a Pool Room burger. Rides to and from school with friends, the cassette player blaring Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” George Michael’s “Faith,” or Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly.”

I’ve got a few shoe boxes in a closet at my parents’ house that contains high school memories. Sometimes when I go to Kentucky for a visit I open the boxes. I did so again recently. The picture to the left shows prom memorabilia. Stuff. Junk. Things. They were important to me at the time. That’s why I kept them. I have the prom tickets to all three of the proms I attended. There are framed pictures of me with my date from a couple of those proms. The bow tie's from both of the Homecomings where I was an escort are in there. One even has a partial boutonniere attached to it. I have my Junior and Senior prom books. I have the mugs that went with them. The colors and themes bring it all back. It makes me shake my head, the left corner of my lips curling into the slightest smile, that I still have this stuff. I just can’t bring myself to throw it away.

I’ve written about my high school days in tiny portions here and there. Most of it has been about the bad times, the bullied times, etc. There were good times though.

In recent years I have opened the door to let people back into my life. Let me explain. When I graduated and moved away to college I went as far as I could go. That was three hours away. I applied to two Universities and was accepted to both. I chose Western Kentucky University because it was where I really wanted to go and because it was the farthest of the two from my small town. I wanted to start fresh. I wanted to remove the possibility of coming home every weekend. I wanted to be far enough away that I could explore my life without the prying eyes of my parents, other relatives or family friends.

I was away at school for five years and, aside from holiday visits, I think I came home for a couple of summers to live once again. After that I started performing in summer stock or just staying in Bowling Green. I had no desire live in Arlington. Or as I like to call it - Population 600.

I’ve now been gone from Arlington for more than twenty years. I’ve been living in New York for almost fifteen. When you’ve been gone for that long, friendships and faces slip away. You may never fully forget them, but they don’t hover at the surface anymore. They’re hidden. Filed away. You have to click the spotlight in the upper right corner of your Mac and type a name and find out where you stored it.

With the advent of Facebook, I made the decision to accept friend requests from some of the people I went to high school with. It was a decision I had to weigh before making. You see, I have never hidden my sexual orientation on Facebook and I knew that by saying, “yes” to those particular friend requests I would be officially outing myself. That was a big decision for me to make. Small town gossip and all that Peyton Placeish behavior, you know. It didn’t matter that many of those people had assumed for my entire high school career that I was gay. This access to my information was confirmation of said assumption. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I made the decision to start saying, “yes.”

Slowly I began letting former friends back into my life and in turn I got to be let back into theirs. My fears were not justified. I now have people back in my life who can say, “I knew you when” and who genuinely care about what’s happening with me now. How amazing is that? We can just accept each other as people and be comfortable and happy in each other’s presence.

I was scared of the opening up and letting in. That’s the truth. I started public school as a freshman. My classmates and I had to get to know each other even though we had lived in the same small county together our entire lives. I had not gone to school with them since kindergarten. I might has well have been a new resident from some alien planet. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted friends. I wanted to be popular (who doesn’t). Those things didn’t come easy. High school is a tough crowd. Breaking into years-formed cliques is difficult.

I was never popular, but I did make friends. I made some wonderful friends that I’m fortunate to have in my life again now as adults.

Fifteen months ago, I was in Kentucky visiting my family and gave in to a gathering of some of those friends. I was nervous; I’m not gonna lie. My nerves were quickly soothed when I got the house of the host. There was nothing but smiles and hugs to greet me. I set myself up for failure instead of embracing that reunion as an incredible possibility. Those nerves were stupid yet I didn’t learn from that experience fully.

I recently initiated another of those gatherings. I wanted to see these people, my high school comrades, again. This time I reached out to the friend who hosted us last time and she took it from there. More people were invited. Different people. My wall went up a little. I felt I had to protect myself. Why? Why did I need to do that? These people, like any others who are friends with me on Facebook, no about my life. They have the opportunity to read my status updates and my blog. They can see that I’m gay and where I stand politically. That didn’t stop any of them from coming to hang out with me and each other.

We’re not in high school anymore. We’re all 40-year-olds. There are marriages and divorces and remarriages and re-divorces and children and jobs and growth. We’re not the same people that we were in high school. It has been my great privilege to get reacquainted with these people from my years as a moody teenager. It has been my abundance to receive by opening my heart to them again.

High school memories can make us laugh, cringe, roll our eyes, maybe even cry, but sharing those things with the people who lived it with you is a major coup. There is still gossip. There are new stories mixed with the old. There is still laughter. There is a knowing that comes when you’re from the same small place. There is an excitement to hear about what’s been going on. We’re not walking down those high school hallways anymore. We’re walking down the road of life. We’re sometimes wiser for our choices. Sometimes not, but they’re ours and we can sit around the table and share the experience as adults with only the faint image of ourselves in our baggy sweatshirts and Eastland’s in the background.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Dylan is full of questions and energy. Abbi is reserved and preoccupied.

Dylan asks me why I wear earrings and when I tell him he asks me why again. He doesn’t understand the idea of a guy wearing earrings just because. He constantly asks if it’s his turn while playing Dominoes. He’s full of energy, as a 6-year-old boy is prone to be. He roughhouses with the dog. He stands on his head on the sofa. He flips and jumps. He loves to jump on my back. I had to put an end to that immediately. I don’t mind the horseback ride, but the jumping into the saddle is not my style.

Abbi is constantly on her iPod touch playing games. She lays on the sofa in her own little world of games and reading. She’s engaged me a few times in her riddle game. I hate it. I feel stupid. I’ve never been good at solving riddles and in front of my niece I feel even more lame. If there is an even lower depth to my feeling of lameness it is when my mom hears the riddle once and answers it correctly.

Dylan wants to sit next to me all the time. Or sit in my lap. Or have me hold him. He thinks I am so strong. He cracks me up. He is so taken with me. Or the idea of me. I don’t know. He’s not up in my business enough for it to get annoying, but he wants to be in my presence. Maybe the innocence and pure love of a child just flows from him. He is the sweetest little boy. He’s loving and his face lights up with his front-toothless smile. I can’t believe how big he is. My heart is full at his display of affection for me.

Abbi gets quiet when she doesn’t get what she wants. That’s like looking in a mirror. I am familiar with that demeanor as I do it myself. She battles with her brother over who I’m going to sit next to at dinner. So far I’ve sat between them in the car driving home from the airport and at each meal. How gratifying to be so wanted.

Tuesday night I sat in my bedroom and showed my mom a video of the horse from the play War Horse. It’s a puppet. It is an amazing, beautiful piece of artistry. I saw the play on Christmas Eve and that puppet horse is the only thing that has prevented me from seeing the Steven Spielberg film of the same name. I’m afraid the movie will be too literal. I was always able to see the bones of the puppet while watching the play, but I easily forgot that he wasn’t real. I think the film will be a different experience and I’m not far enough removed from the experience of the play to let those memories be clouded. Anyway, I was showing my mom the video of Joey, that’s the horses name, and Dylan thought it was so cool while Abbi, almost smugly, said, “It looks like a puppet.”

My mom, Dylan and I sat watching the video in fascination. I had already seen it but got so much joy watching the two of them enjoy the illusion. Abbi left the room, a moment not lost on me. When the video ended and Dylan had run from the room - on to another moment in his energetic life - I asked my mom what happened to that little girl that loved Peter Pan on stage. Mom said she was gone. She said she might be hidden someone down deep, but she was no longer present at the surface. “She’s growing up,” was her next statement. That she is. Both of them are. Dylan still has wonder in eyes, while Abbi is a bit harder to captivate.

I remember when I started rolling my eyes and not being so easily enamored anymore. I can’t believe she is entering that phase already. Time has flown. It’s wings must be tired because they have gotten us here at record speed. I’m a different man from the one who heard the voice on my answering machine telling me to wake up that I was an uncle. She is a different little girl than she was even 15 months ago - intelligent, beautiful, pouty, quiet.

I sat on the floor of the room that was once my bedroom and had a conversation with her about social studies. She hates it. Her favorite classes are English and reading. She doesn’t understand why she has to learn about the things of the past. I told her it’s so she can see the mistakes and victories, the things that worked and the things that didn’t. I told her she may never like it but it won’t all be useless knowledge. How is it possible that I was sitting on the floor having a conversation with a little girl when 10 years ago my only desire was for her to let me hold her? How is it possible that she sends me texts now? How is it possible that we talk about books?

Later in the evening I found myself in the recliner flanked on either side by Dylan and Abbi. We were back to the riddle game. So I was feeling pretty stupid. Then the three of us started to play Hanging With Friends. I’m actually playing Hanging With Friends with my niece and nephew. Is this happening?

I can’t help but smile. They are beautiful children. Completely different. I think Abbi’s personality is more closely related to mine, but I see traits of myself in Dylan as well.

I am continually melted by their sweetness and honest-to-goodness love for me. I live behind a wall most of the time. I’ve been trying to take more-and-more bricks out of it, but it’s still there. It’s protection. I know that. Abbi and Dylan don’t care about my wall. They want in. I’m working hard to leave the hidden door open so that they always know they’re welcome and so that I can feel what I often deny myself, love in its purest form.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Jump and a Hug

Never have I been greeted with such affection at the airport. Don’t get me wrong, my family is always happy to see me when I step through the glass doors separating travelers from non, but this was amazing.

My nephew, Dylan ran to me and jumped at me. He threw himself into my arms. My body was the wall that stopped his forward motion. It all becomes a blur after that. I don’t think he literally jumped so that I caught him and lifted him, but he jumped at me nonetheless. Quickly followed by my niece Abbi who had a clear shot at my neck as she threw her arms around me.

I’m not surprised at Abbi’s reaction, I mean she’s 10-years-old and we’ve had more time together. We talk and text and email each other. It’s just different. I’ve established a relationship with her.

Dylan is only six. I hadn’t seen him, or Abbi, in 15 months. I’m told he was giddy with excitement at my pending arrival. I was told that he walked into his mother’s bedroom that morning to announce that it was today. Cue Mame’s first solo “It’s Today” from the musical Mame. I should have worn a red suit because I was most certainly Santa Claus. Scratch that. I outranked Santa Claus. I mean come on. A 6-year-old wakes you up to tell you today is the day that Uncle Michael arrives. I’ve got some kind of power, right?

I was surprised to hear this. I didn’t realize Dylan really cared about me so much. Honestly, I don’t get to see him very often. I live so far away and he’s so young. We haven’t had one-to-one time to build any kind a connection. The fact that he was excited to see me confused me at first then I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I was going to live up to his expectations. Then I realized as I was hugging him there were no expectations. There was only genuine excitement. I had nothing to prove. I merely had to open my arms, and my heart, and let him in.

My surprise must have be writ large across my face for every person standing in that airport to see. As I came up for air I noticed the smiles on all their faces. What a lovely way to return to the place of my birth. Surrounded by two children who love me just because I’m Uncle Michael. Nothing stands in the way of that.

With a jump and a hug, vacation had officially started.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


“I’m gay.”

Not the words you expect to here from your 75-year-old father.

So is the case with Mike Mills’ film Beginners. The film is based on the real life experience of Mike’s father coming out to him after his mother passed away. Paul was 75-years-old and was finally going to live openly the life he had denied himself do to time-period and fear.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to start living openly as a gay man at 75. It was scary enough to come out at 22 and I was surrounded by support. Mike’s father, Paul came out after 44 years of marriage. He started going to gay bars and clubs. He surrounded himself by gay friends. He become very active in the gay community. He even found a boyfriend.

Paul chose to marry Mike’s mother and she chose to be with Paul. There’s a line in the film where “Hal” says to his son “Oliver” that when she asked him to marry her he responded by saying, “You know what I am.” She responded in the affirmative. He said she thought she could change him. That wasn’t the exact wording of the line, but it was the gist. He chose to live the lie. He chose to marry Mike’s mother. He liked his life. He had a good job at the museum that he loved and a comfortable existence. He had a child. He also had trysts in bathrooms with men.

As portrayed in the film, Mike’s mother seemed to be less happy with the situation. She went into it knowing, but it seemed the years took their toll on her. She wanted more than his father could give. I guess that should have been expected, but when you think you can change someone your vision only becomes 20/20 in hindsight. People are who they are. Sexual orientation can’t be changed just because you want it to change. You can’t kiss it away, pray it away or sex it away.

Okay, here’s what I loved. This man was brave. So brave. He made a choice to finally be who he was. He stepped into that gay bar at 75 when I don’t even like to do it at 28, 33 or 40. He is a hero to me. He lived the remaining years of his life as open and honest and truly himself as possible. Wouldn’t it great if all of us just did that every day? Imagine how much happier we would be if we didn’t let society, our parents or what we think we’re supposed to do dictate our lives.

One of the most beautiful moments in the film for me was seeing Hal lying on the floor next to his boyfriend. They were fully clothed, lying on a blanket on the living room floor. Oliver walks into the living room and Hal smiles at him. It was then that Oliver realized his father was finally in love. I can only imagine how important that moment was to Mike. The character based on him smiles back at Hal while in voice over says it’s the first time he’d ever seen his father in love. The first time.

That moment is sad and beautiful at the same time. For 44 years of marriage he wasn’t in love, but finally at the end of his life he found the love of someone who truly made him happy. We waste time. Why do we do that? Why do we let ourselves be pressured into the roles that might not fit us?

The story of Beginners is told through many flashbacks. It is through those memories that Oliver is able to see things about his father. He learns that it took strength to not only remain closeted, but to burst out of it at a time when he could have just maintained his relationship with the coat hangers. Oliver begins to question his own actions and inability to maintain a relationship.

It is my opinion that Oliver was never closer to or more proud of his father than in those last five years of Hal’s life. He learned about his own patterns and made an informed decision to make changes in his own life. Changes that might not have happened had his father not been such an outstanding role model.

How does this apply to me? Well, I couldn’t help but wonder what I could learn from my own father. I also wondered what he’s learned from me over the past three years. As beneficial as some of our recent conversations have been I still don’t reach out to him enough. We’re still not close. We’re closer, but not close. Hal and Oliver weren’t close either, there are apologies made for that, but they loved each other. That is the case with me and dad. We do love each other.

There’s more to learn every day. There are new challenges every day. I don’t always want to learn and sometimes I don’t want to face the challenges. However, there is no limit to what one can accomplish when their mind is put to it. There is no reason to limit happiness (talking to myself here), there is no reason for fear (talking to myself here), there is every reason to live a pure, true, honest life.

Judging from the character based on his life, Paul lived his remaining 5 years more honestly than he could have ever lived the previous 75. Thank you Mike Mills for telling this beautiful story and thank you Paul Mills for showing us that we’re never too old to be ourselves.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Live, Laugh, Love...Every Moment Counts

How do you say goodbye? When you know the end is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, how do you say goodbye? How do you prepare? Do you spend every moment trying to be positive and happy? Do you cherish every breath that you can feel being breathed beside you as you look at photographs together? Do you say all the things you’ve been holding inside? Are the moments full of tears, smiles or both? When you’re waiting for the inevitable to happen, how do you make every moment count?

Mother, Mom, Momma, Mommy, Ma, Mum. My personal favorite is Momma. That’s how it’s listed in the contacts on my iPhone. Although sometimes I say Mom with a hint of “what are you talking about” in my voice. There are the times I say Mother. That one’s usually accompanied by a strident tone. Many different dictionaries define the word Mother as: a female parent. But oh it means so much more than that.

My mother hears all my stories and complaints. She tries to help when I’m sad. She calls just to make sure I’m okay. Sometimes she calls because she just needs to hear my voice because it’s been a while. She’s a touchstone. She started out the most important woman in my life and she still is. As I got older, we got closer; a friendship developed. She started to reach out and open up about her own life. I know she’s just a phone call away. I don’t know what I’d do if she wasn’t. The mere thought of not having her fills my eyes with tears that spill over the lower lid and wet my cheeks. I love and appreciate her so much. I can’t imagine my sister and I not having her. I can’t imagine my niece and nephew not having their Mimi. Hell, I don’t want to imagine it.

My Mom lost her Momma seven years ago. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about my Grandmother. I’m sure my Momma thinks about her everyday. How could you not? She tucked you in at night, she kissed your booboos, she dried your tears, she washed your clothes, she taught you to share, she sent you on your way and always has open arms to welcome you home; for a visit or brief respite from your life.

My Mom's family is full of loving Mothers. Mothers who would do anything for their children. Mother's who produced cousins that would do anything for each other. That would be me, April, Casey, Leah and Whit.

I'm the oldest (cousin and grandchild) so I’ve known them all the longest. I've been present at their weddings. I've seen their children as infants. I am blessed beyond all measures that they not only love me, but their children love me and I them.

I was closest to Janet while growing up. She’s the youngest of my Mom’s sisters. I don't know where that bond came from. Maybe she babysat me the most. I was the ring bearer in her wedding when I was 5. I wore little black shorts and a pair of black shoes that were too small and hurt my feet. I still remember the wet spot my tears left on her jeans when I cried because she was moving away. It was the right leg. Top of the thigh. I was broken hearted. I laid my head on that leg and cried and cried. She and I aren’t as close as we once were, but that happens with time.That doesn’t mean I love her any less. I can say that she is a fierce protector and defender of her child and her grandchild.

My relationship with Cindy (Casey & Whit’s Mom) developed as I got older. I had something in common with her. She wanted to do her own thing and did. She went away to school and left our small town in the glow of her tail lights. I did the same thing. I went away to college knowing I would return for nothing more than visits in the future. Cindy was also the Aunt that I could smoke cigarettes with and access a little bit of the rebel inside of me. I’m not sure she knows that, but it’s how I felt. I remember an instance when I was visiting her in Memphis and the two of us were riding in her car smoking cigarettes and talking. It was the first time as an adult that I remember being alone with her, no buffer. I don’t remember anything we talked about only that I was comfortable. She would move heaven and earth for children.

Janie (Leah’s Mom) was always fun. She's an Aunt by marriage, but retains her status even in divorce. I don’t see her very often and hardly ever talk to her via phone or text, but when I do see her it puts a smile on my face. She was unconventional. Different from the rest of my family. She was loud and rowdy in both speech and clothing. I loved being around her. I have two memories of her that stick in my head. One: I went to see Fatal Attraction with her as in under seventeen year old. When my parents saw it my Mother said she wouldn’t let me see it. Little did she know I already had. This blog entry may be the moment she finds out that bit of information. Hope I don’t get grounded. Two: Leah was guzzling from a sippy cup so fast that she got choked. Janie said, “Well, Piggy.” I found it funny then and I find it funny now. My sister and I still laugh about it more than 20 years later.

One thing I know is that all of these women have had an impact on my life. None more than my own Mother though. I tell her I love her every time I talk to her, but somehow feel it’s never enough. How can a child ever do enough to show his Mother how much she means to him?

Struck by the stark reality of an impending death, I was reduced to tears yesterday. When the treatments stop working and all you can do is wait how do you spend the time? What do you do when she’s no longer there?

I call my Momma to tell her when I’ve finished reading a good book (most recently The Hunger Games). Sometimes I even send her a copy if I think she’ll like it too. I call when travel plans start to firm up (like when I booked my flight to Leah’s wedding and told her I would be on the same flight as my sister and Casey). I call her for deep conversations or silly comedic stories that I know will delight her. She listens to me even when she has no answer. She’s there for me.

My Mom doesn’t have that opportunity anymore. Her Mom, my Grandmother, passed away as I said. She fought for 4 years, but lost the battle. Everyone had time to prepare, but when the inevitable happened, it happened fast. My Momma was there. Cindy was there. Janet was there. Most of the cousins were there.

There was time to say goodbye, but my Grandmother didn’t really want to hear those sentiments. I’m told she didn’t really want all those final words. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because they’re more for the people wanting to say them than the person having to hear them. Maybe it made the end more real for her. I don’t know. I didn’t get to say goodbye because I wasn’t there. The last time I talked to her I was standing on the corner of 47th Street and 8th Avenue. She didn’t really want to talk, but she did. I could hear the pain and tiredness in her voice. I don’t remember what I said to her or she to me, but I remember how she sounded. I prefer to access he voice in my memory as she says my name with the timbre that was my Grandmother. I loved her. I know she knew it.

Does the knowing it’s going to happen help one to prepare and cause less grief when it does happen? I don’t know. Loss is loss. I can’t even fathom it. I’m blessed to still have my Mom. She’s healthy. Cindy and Janet are healthy. Janie isn’t.

Life is for living and while we are still living we have to make sure we say the things we want to say. We have to tell the people we love that we love them. We have to stop stewing on the bullshit that makes us angry and forgive. I’m talking to myself here. I can stew. I eventually drain the pot, but sometimes the bottom has to be scraped clean where I’ve let it simmer too long. I’m getting better at it.

This may seem like the ramblings of an emotional person and I can accept that. I was emotional when I started writing it. I guess the point is I love my Mom. I appreciate her. We cousins of the aforementioned Mothers all appreciate, love and want to protect our Mothers. That’s a nice trait to have. We come from good stock.

Here’s to more laughter and games and talks around the kitchen table. Here’s to more surprise visits home. Here’s to more honest conversations. Here’s to laughter through tears. Here to memories that can’t help but be made. Here’s to making the most of every moment we have left with these women, our beautiful Mothers.

When photographs and memories are all I have left I want there to be no doubt in my mind that my Mother knew she was loved by me.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 5

The first thing Atwood had to do was go to the Delta Sig house. He knew there would be beer in the refrigerator. As he was still underage there was no use trying to buy it anywhere. One of his fraternity brothers would let him have a couple, he was certain.

The frat brother he felt most comfortable around and whose conversation he enjoyed most was at the house.

“Hey, Joe,” said Atwood.

“‘Sup, ‘Wood?” Joe called him by a nickname that he didn’t really care for, but never corrected. If he really stopped to think about it, the nickname put a smile on his face. To him it meant that someone actually liked knowing him a little more personally.

 “You got any beer in the refrigerator?” asked Atwood.

“Yeah. You want one?” 

“I was kind of hoping that I could take a couple with me,” said Atwood. The look on his face of slight embarrassment was working overtime to hide the fear that Joe would ask why he wanted them.

“No problem, ‘Wood,” said Joe. “Take three if you want.”

“Thanks, Joe. Appreciate it, man.” 

Joe was always so nice to Atwood that he had to make himself not tell Joe the reason he wanted the beer. There was no reason for Joe to care why he wanted the beer. 

“You got a backpack?” asked Joe.

It was then that Atwood realized that he had run from Bobby so fast he hadn’t bothered to grab anything other than his coat.

“Shit!” said Atwood. “I left it in my friend Bobby’s room.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Joe. “There are plenty of plastic bags here.”

Joe opened a cabinet door. On the inside was attached a long slender compartment with a hole in the top in which plastic bags were all but spilling out. The holder or container or whatever you call it was stuffed to the gills. Atwood was surprised that a house full of guys, a fraternity house no less, had any such accessory. Maybe it was a California thing. Why was he questioning a plastic bag holder? He was distracted. It took Joe brushing his arm with the plastic bag to free his mind of the question.

“Thanks, Joe,” he said as he accepted the bag.

“No problem, ‘Wood.”

“Alright, I gotta get going,” said Atwood as he made for the door. “I owe you, Joe.”

“I know where to find you, ‘Wood,” laughed Joe. “Enjoy.”

Atwood knew he needed to get his backpack from Bobby’s, but all he could think about was talking to Kinlin. He wanted to so badly that everything else was unimportant.

He started for his dormitory at a brisk walk turning left then right then right again. As his dormitory building came into view he started to run, the bottles clinking in the plastic bag. He held them to his chest to prevent breakage and the inevitable loss of the precious liquid inside; an elixir to relax the senses and loosen the tongue. I must look like a fool he thought. What was he doing? Running. Protecting beer bottles. It was only Kinlin. The desperation to talk to him stemmed from the distance that had cropped up between them; a distance that he blamed on Kinlin. 

He lived on the eleventh floor of his dormitory. He stood in front of the elevator doors pushing the button and pacing, pushing the button and pacing. Over and over he pushed the button and paced knowing it wouldn’t make the elevator come any faster, but unable to stop himself from the compulsive act. 

He was nervous and excited. He just wanted to hear Kinlin’s voice. He wanted to talk to his friend. He wanted to feel that Kinlin actually missed him. He was putting too much pressure on himself and this phone call. He needed to relax and enjoy himself. Maybe the beer would help. He had a small desire for a hit or two from one of Bobby’s joints. He didn’t want to sound too eager. He wanted to merely sound like himself.

I’m home

Instead of calling Kinlin he popped the top on a beer and waited for Kinlin to call him after receiving his text. It was Kinlin’s suggestion that they talk after all. Why should he have to do all the work? He took a couple of sips of his beer and waited. He looked at the phone and waited. The text should have gone through by now he thought to himself. He was fidgety, bouncing his legs up and down almost as if he had to go to the bathroom. He took a long gulp of the beer. He picked up the phone. He didn’t know whether to chuck the damn thing across the room or just dial Kinlin’s number. He was frustrated. He’d been wanting to talk to Kinlin for weeks and finally the time was upon him, but he found himself waiting. What am I waiting for? He thought to himself. 

Then the phone rang. He thought he shouldn’t answer on the first ring. He knew he would appear too eager. Kinlin would think he was holding the phone poised to answer as quickly as one tries to whack-a-mole before its head goes back into hiding. He answered before it could ring again. He couldn’t stop himself.

“Hello,” he said, with as much calm as he could muster in his voice. His heart was fluttering, and he couldn’t keep the smile from his lips. He took a sip of his beer.

“Hey,” said Kinlin, his voice sounding like he was genuinely happy to be talking to Atwood. “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” said Atwood. “I’m just sitting here having a beer waiting for you to call.”

“Wish I had a beer,” said Kinlin.

“You don’t have any beer?” asked Atwood. “It was your idea to have a beer and talk.” He was a little confused but decided to let it go.

“Yeah, I thought I had some in my room, but I didn’t.” Kinlin’s response was very noncommittal. Atwood could almost see him shrugging his shoulders. It was very Kinlin, but didn’t make him feel relaxed. His thought pattern changed from Kinlin is happy to talk to me to Kinlin doesn’t really want to talk to me. He’s just appeasing me and calling because he said he would and has nothing better to do. “So, tell me what’s been going on with you.” Atwood didn’t answer right away. He let the question reverberate around in his head as he stared at the sweating beer bottle in his hand. He took a regular swallow of the golden liquid inside and then asked his own question back.

“Why do you care what’s been going on with me?” He tried to keep the edge from his voice, but he could tell it was still slightly present. “I haven’t heard from you in weeks.”

“Hey, hey,” said Kinlin. “That was hostile.”

Hostile? Atwood hadn’t thought he sounded hostile at all.

“I’ve been busy,” continued Kinlin. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but we’re not in Ryland anymore. This isn’t high school. You’re there and I’m here. We’re following different paths. I’m not your boyfriend and I shouldn’t be responsible for calling you all the time.”

There were so many things in that sentence that punched Atwood like pellets from a paintball gun: not in Ryland, this isn’t high school, different paths, boyfriend. Boyfriend! That struck a blow. He wanted to hang up the phone. Better yet he wanted to throw the phone across the room without hanging up so that its crash into the wall might hurt Kinlin’s ear. 

“Okay, I’m not sure why you just got hostile on me,” said Atwood arching his left eyebrow in defiance. “The intention behind my earlier question had no hostility attached to it. I was merely asking. You haven’t reached out to me in weeks. Not an email, a text, and least of all a phone call.”

“I get the sense that you think I should be calling you every day.” responded Kinlin, his voice sharper than before.

“What? Why?”

“It’s just the tone I read in your texts and emails.”

“If you’re reading a tone into them then that’s your problem. You have no idea what my tone is because you can’t hear me saying the words. Whatever you’re putting behind my words is your own imagination.” Atwood was positively heated with anger. He took another long draw of beer. The conversation was dissolving quickly into a confrontation Atwood had not anticipated. 

“I think you know-”

“-Don’t you tell me what I know, Kinlin.” He was on his feet now, pacing the floor. “You’ve been my best friend for 4 years. More than that really, but I’m only counting our high school days. The last night we’re in town together you touch me. Do you remember that? You reached your hand over and touched me in a way that you had never touched me before.” There was a small hesitation as if to open the door for a response from Kinlin, but Atwood continued. “You kissed me. I sucked your dick. We all but fucked that night in the Ryland Monument and then we left.”

Atwood paused to take a drink of his beer. He knew he should to calm down, but wanted to keep rolling this log down the hill.

“You could hardly look at me that next morning. And since we’ve been at school you won’t talk to me. I didn’t do anything wrong, Kinlin. You started all of it.”

“I know,” Kinlin practically yelled into the phone. “I don’t know why I did it. I’m not gay. I was a little drunk. I wanted to be touched and I took a chance that maybe you’d oblige.” The word ‘oblige’ struck Atwood like a cold blade across the face.

“You thought I might oblige?” responded Atwood, unable to cover the disbelief in his voice. “Ply Atwood with enough Chianti and let’s see what he’ll do?”

“Look, Atwood,” continued Kinlin. “I suspected you might be gay. I mean you hadn’t ever done it with a woman and you didn’t seem to have any interest in doing it. We hardly ever talked about sexual experiences. I just accepted that you would tell me when you were ready. It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t uncomfortable around you. You have to know that. I mean I hung out with you all the time. You’re my best friend.”

“I’m glad you could be comfortable around me,” he responded in an acid tone.

“Don’t be like that.”

“Really, you want me to be nice and understanding to you, Kinlin?” he was shaking now. “You just told me that you thought I was gay and that you used me to get off on our last night in Ryland. Did you think I would just be cool with it?”

There was no answer.

“Did you?” Atwood had taken his icy tone to a new level of smooth.

“I did,” Kinlin responded flatly with no defense in his voice. His voice became the accelerant that propelled the flames of Atwood’s anger and frustration. It happened fast. Too fast.

“You’re an asshole, Kinlin.” Atwood responded. “You didn’t give a shit about my feelings when you reached your hand down my pants and took hold of my cock. You didn’t think about any consequences when you put your mouth to mine. I was scared to think that I might be gay. I was afraid that it would end our friendship if you knew I had been having those feelings. Feelings that were not about you I might add. What I have realized from this is that I am gay. That’s been the easy part. Finally admitting something I was afraid to admit. The hard part is realizing that me being gay is not what destroyed our friendship. It was you. You and your cockiness, toying with my emotions like that for your own benefit.” He took another swig of the beer having realized it was still in his hand. “I can now see that it’s been good for me that you’ve kept your distance. It allowed me to explore my sexuality and to come back and see you for who you are.”

“Atwood-” Kinlin’s voice had and edge of pleading to it.

“-Don’t. I don’t want to hear you say another word. Most certainly if those words contain an apology. I don’t want to talk to you again. For a while. Maybe not ever.”


Before any more words could be said Atwood hung up the phone. He sat down in the chair and killed the remainder of the beer before collapsing into sobs. This wasn’t the way he had expected the conversation to go. He had thought they would catch up on each other’s goings on. He now realized that what he really wanted—had always wanted—was to know if Kinlin had feelings for him. His feelings had been hidden deep just like his desire for men. Hearing Kinlin’s choice of words had pushed him to the boiling point. He hadn’t been able to ease into the conversation because his level of frustration was already resting at the top of the pot ready to boil over.

The realization that he wanted to be wanted by Kinlin came as somewhat of a shock. He wanted Kinlin. He wondered how long he’d had a hidden crush on his best friend. Or had he? Were his feelings all wrapped up in the emotional blanket of sex? He wanted Kinlin more and that was never going to happen. He had opened his heart unwillingly, unknowingly. He was hurt. He felt damaged

He was right about one thing. Kinlin did help him open the door to exploring his sexual desires. He did help him admit that he was gay. 

He went to the bag he’d gotten from Joe and took out another beer. It wasn’t as cold now. He popped the top and began pulling the liquid into his mouth impatiently. He was still crying, his tears mingling with the beer spilling from the sides of his overflowing mouth, running down his neck. He stopped the hard pull long enough to take a breath then continued to gulp the beer. When he had successfully emptied the bottle he threw it into the trash can. He heard in break as it fell inside. Into a million pieces just like my heart he thought. He crawled into his bed and pulled the covers over his head. He willed the tears to stop; the heaving sobs slowed as emotional exhaustion and sadness overtook him. I can’t need you. I don’t want to need you.

Something happened to Atwood after that conversation. The blow up at Kinlin had free'd him of his Kinlin hang up. It had also created a sense of urgency that he couldn't quite place. He didn’t know if he could be friends with Kinlin anymore. Even though he was angry he felt that he would go where ever Kinlin asked him to go. He knew he would kiss Kinlin again and, if asked, sleep with him too. That made him even angrier. How can I want to be with someone who makes me so angry? 

He let the beer and his tears work their magic as he felt his eyelids try to close. He let sleep take over. He knew it was the only way to shut out the words that kept playing over and over on loop in his mind.

His phone vibrated. He opened his eyes. He had slept through the night. It was dreamless and as he realized that, he was thankful. He lay in bed staring at the ceiling. It was a new day. He grabbed his phone from the bedside table. He had a text message from Kinlin. Now he starts reaching out. The message was short, simple.

You’ve got an email.

“Great,” Atwood said out loud. His chest had that achy bubble just over his heart. “I had to fall asleep with your fucking voice in my head and now I have to wake up to your words.” Atwood tried to convince himself he didn’t want to read the email, but that was a lie. He wanted to read the email. He had a grain of hope that Kinlin’s words were the ones he wanted to hear. The ache in his chest moved to the pit of his stomach. Nervous anticipation. The conflicting thoughts made him angry again. He threw the phone to the foot of the bed and pulled the covers over his head in a dramatic flourish that had no audience to applaud. 

Now he lay in grayed darkness staring at the underside of the sheet instead of the ceiling. He could already tell that today was going to be a day of avoidance. He wanted to avoid the email and he wanted to avoid his classes and the spattering of chit chat that would inevitably come from people he’d sat next to for the past two months. Nope. Today was going to be a day of avoiding all of that. The one thing he thought he could handle was seeing Bobby. He needed to get his backpack anyway. He would send a text later. For now it was just him, the underside of the sheet, and the unopened email.

©2011 Michael Rohrer