chain letter …

I received an internet “chain letter” tonight via Facebook. At first glance I cringed … then I sighed heavily and cringed again. But, since I was sitting on the pot’, I read through it.

It is important to note that this was sent to me by someone who I suspect never sends superfluous things like this to others. I questioned for a moment whether or not her account was hacked, or maybe she was feeling glum or blue, and I was intrigued. So … I read it.

While reading the message, I was flooded with memories of my youth. Memories of opening the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane and reaching in to find an envelope addressed to me. It reminded me of that important and giddy feeling I had on the inside while carefully carrying it to the roll-top desk in my bedroom. Not seeing a return address, I would inspect the cancellation stamp.

“Ooo! From Arizona? Who is this from?”

It could be from Colorado, or somewhere else in California, or somewhere nearby like Cupertino or Campbell. It didn’t matter; it was a mystery that needed to be solved. I slowly would break the envelope’s seal and remove and unfold the letter.

And there it was — a message.

Letters like this always included directions about how many letters the receiver needed to send and by when. Some even contained a list of addresses to send it to. The frantic feeling of having to do what was required within the deadline would build. I would have to do this! Otherwise, the unspeakable could happen — bad luck, sadness, or something else to avoid. If I were to send them in time following the exact directions outlined, something magical could happen. Something like good luck, granted wishes, or some other mystical occurrence.

It was exciting. It was mysterious. It was entertaining. The wonder of it all. IT WAS FUN!

I could see my towheaded-self open the second drawer down on the right side of my roll-top desk to retrieve fresh and clean ruled paper, carefully counting out the number of sheets I needed to complete the task at hand. God forbid I didn’t have enough! I’d search my school binder (a Star Wars Trapper-Keeper) and other drawers in the house until my supply needs were met. I would grab a pencil, sharpen it into a point, and start the task of carefully copying the directions.

If I used a pen, I would be quickly reminded that pencil was a better option, especially considering how I deemed mistakes as a definite reversal of fortune if left uncorrected; or worse, scratched out. If my Eraser-Mate had a good eraser on it, I might use it. But, pencil was safer … it was good decision making.

If all went well, I would be able to complete the letters, fold them neatly in thirds, insert them into envelopes, carefully address them, and seal them – an act that seemed like I was sealing my fate inside each and every envelope. The sealing gum tasted like the misery and doom that would overcome me if I didn’t get them in the mailbox by the deadline.

Then, the hardest task of all had to happen … asking Mom for stamps.

“What on earth do you need twenty-two stamps for?”

She would ask this while at the kitchen counter cutting carrots, or while sitting at her sewing machine, or while unloading groceries.

“For a chain letter.”

“For what?! A chain letter? Do you know how much stamps cost?”

She would be clearly irritated and then follow up with:

“I don’t even know if I have that many stamps. Go get my purse.”

It was a good sign if the stamps were in there; or if some were found in her purse, and some in the catch-all cupboard, or some in the wall basket by the kitchen phone that held mail, address books, and coupons.

Once the stamps were adhered, and the squeaky mailbox lid was closed over the letters that were dropped in, there was a sense of relief. Then a sense of dread. Over the next few days, knowing the letters were out among the thousands of other letters floating through the US Postal Service, there was this sense of expectation.

“I sent them three days ago. That means there are seven more days until I can ask for three wishes. So then, that means that in twenty days, I will get those wishes granted. Wait! No…. Twenty minus three is …”

I count on fingers. Math never was my strong suit.

“… seventeen, so in seventeen days I will get those wishes granted. Awesome!”

Then it gets blurry. Time goes by. The letters would be forgotten along with the anticipation and the hope for whatever the chain letter promised. It would be replaced by other childhood antics, or rehearsals, or playing with friends, or reading, or anything and everything else.

Only to be remembered when, surprisingly, some random day as the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane would be opened to reveal an envelope addressed to me, and that important and giddy feeling would fill my insides while I carried it carefully to the roll-top desk in my bedroom.

So … I thought about it for a minute. And then I did it. I held down my finger on the text bubble in the Facebook message, selected copy, started a new message, held my finger down again, and pasted the message in it. I chose fourteen people as directed (with a sound methodology in an attempt to ensure those who receive it wouldn’t be targets by others in my list), and I clicked send.

As far as the wishes and promises it made, I highly doubt those will ever come to fruition. But I must acknowledge this: if I hadn’t received that cringe and heavy-sigh inducing chain letter, I wouldn’t have had those lovely memories, and I wouldn’t have been inspired to put them into  words that others may read – something I love and enjoy, and something I have deprived myself of.

To those who received my chain letter: my hope is that it inspires you to do something you love. Just for you.

Long time, no see…

Long time no see, no hear, no read, and no write.

And I mean long! I don’t remember the last date of my last post, and I purposefully didn’t look it up to see how long it has been.

During the time of quiet, my life has been anything but. I got married, I started a nonprofit arts organization with my husband, we created and produced 5 original dance musicals and 1 book musical, we had many visitors to our home, I spent sleepless nights worrying about money, I drained my 401k, I had a few days off here and there, I slept a few winks, and I struggled to maintain my sobriety.

All of this I hope to put out here to help me sort it out. I have come to understand that sometimes the best therapy for my active – overly-active – mind, is to write it down.

Something feels different this time around, however. As I write this I feel guarded; I feel very venerable. I feel like I am hiding behind layers upon layers of gauze draperies. I can see light and shapes through them, but can’t make them out fully. And I am aware that those looking at me see the same, which gives me a slight feeling of having an edge over … something.

Over what, I am not sure. Those looking back at me, their view of me? Myself? My truths? My ability to see things clearly or my ability to want to see them as I want to see them? My desire to hide, to be ambiguous, to not explicitly understand or confront the happenings in my life?

I feel a slight breeze blowing the draperies … moving them slightly more and more to where more of the distant landscape can be seen through the folds and ripples.

Maybe it’s time for a hurricane force wind to rip them down. Or maybe I just need to find a pair of good, sharp, scissors to cut my way through the layers. You know, like that one great pair of Fiskers you know were in the junk drawer, but always seem to grow legs and disappear. Instead, I feel like I can only reach far enough to find a pair of blunt-edged plastic kindergarten scissors and just barely chew on the fabric. Maybe my teeth would make a better cut. I could get all mammalian and growl and churn and nash.

Somehow using my arms to part the gauze is not an option. I can’t seem to lift them high enough. The breeze seems to constantly blow the edges away from me as I reach out, making it impossible to find the edges. I am enveloped.

And once it’s parted, what will I have accompished? What will I see? What will you see?

Will I look into your eyes, burroughing deep into your mind and soul, and say out loud and with fully realized clarity, “Long time, no see.”

Only to recognize my face, eyes, mind, and soul looking back at me saying to me with fully realized clarity:

“Long time … no see.”

emotional whoopsie-daisy …

Yesterday I was an emotional wreck: unable to think clearly, escape my sadness, talk or listen without crying, or be present for Kirk and the dogs I had to take a mental health day from work — everything — except texting Thomas and Shannon messages of still feeling survivor’s guilt. All because it was the five year anniversary of Dion’s passing.

Whoops. TODAY is the five year anniversary of 08/09/09.

Today I was outside picking tomatoes, okra, and eggplant; and tending to the latest squash and cucumber plants. I was able to actually enjoy the day today — the real anniversary — after having my breakdown yesterday.

And I thought of baby elephants … just like he told me to do when ever I am sad.

“Because who can be sad when they think of baby elephants?”

five years … a memorium

Five years has passed since Dion C Wade, my partner, lost his courageous battle.

Today I reflect on how much has changed in my life since that day and how it is so radically different. I feel guilty about that, even though I know I shouldn’t. I think about the memorial service that we held for him one month later, on September 12. A ballroom dance studio was turned into a chic event space where family and friends gathered to share their love for him and their grief for the loss of him. I recall how the service started late because we waited and waited for one person (an ex-boyfriend) to arrive who never did; how we left behind platters of catered food that we were unable to eat because of that. I remember that we had a toast at the end of the service, and that the servers popped every bottle from three cases of champagne, and two and half cases of bubbly was wasted.

I remember that the room was filled with people who loved him, lost him, and were still reeling in the fact that he was gone, how we had to do a blitz set up of the space after the last dance class and how I couldn’t wear shoes because my legs had swollen up like tree trunks from a case of edema whose cause was never determined.

I was simultaneously emotionally raw and emotionally numb. I was running on adrenaline. I was angry. I was angry at him for not taking care of his health and for ultimately leaving us all behind to wonder why. I was angry at myself for all the things I said, did, should have said, and should have done. I hated the life I was living and I was in desperate need to escape it all. I was in control, but on the brink of completely losing control of life.

Today, I remember standing in that hot room delivering his eulogy and looking out at those who came to share in the moment, feeling an amazing sense of responsibility for him and his memory. I remember when he was still in the hospital and his brother asked me, “Why are you doing all of this?” And I responded, “Because if I don’t, who will?” And that is how I felt on that day five years ago. If I didn’t do what I did for him, who would have?

I still miss him.

*     *     *     *     *

Eulogy Opening Comments

Hello. My name is Scott Pfeiffer. Thank you for being here to celebrate the life of Dion Wade. Please take a seat wherever you like.

This room is filled with so many people who loved and cared about Dion: Family, lifelong friends, work friends, new friends, Facebook friends, and maybe even some folks who just wandered in off the street. It’s so great to see you all here. I know for some, being here meant traveling a great distance. I chose this date without thinking that you would have to travel on September 11. Whoops! And for those of you who came in on a red eye … thank you. Find an ‘elbow buddy’ just in case you nod off.

I want to be sure that you all meet his parents and brother. This is Dion’s mother, Nancy Wade; his father, Bill Wade; and his brother, Travis Wade. Dion’s extended family is here, too: his cousin Nikki, her husband Mike, and their kids, Brendon and Dillon; his Aunt Jannie, Auntie Em, and Aunt Ola.

Another extended family of Dion’s is also in this room: his family and support system of friends from New York and beyond.

As far as what happens today, the most important thing is being here to celebrate Dion’s life. This is more of a “roast” than a memorial service. It’s what Dion wanted … laughter, fun, music, and stories. Everyone who wants to will have the chance to share thoughts, feelings, and stories about Dion.

I need to do a disclaimer for his immediate family. Be prepared to laugh, blush, cry, gasp, sigh, and take in what Dion’s “New York and beyond” family says about him. There are so many fun — and probably inappropriate — moments to share. This will be a great moment for you to learn about Dion because there is much to tell about the man who we loved; the boy who you raised.

So … I am going start this by sharing with you a story about Dion’s impact on my life.

Eulogy

We met at a bar (believe it or not) in the middle of a March snowstorm. We had both been making googoly eyes at each other all night and we finally talked outside at closing. I lived on 43rd and he lived on 46th and we walked the 20 blocks together back to our neighborhood. During that walk we talked about where we grew up, our family, how long we’ve been in New York, what we did for work, and things like that. The conversation flowed freely, we laughed, and at one point, I said something about how romantic the walk was and he just looked at me, did his little sexy smile, and said “Yeah. It is romantic.”

And then yadda, yadda, yadda, we had breakfast together the next day and talked even more. I phoned my cousin, Shannon, and told her I met this great guy and I think he’s major relationship material. It was like a bunch of butterflies in my heart when I thought of him.

A few days later, we went on our first ‘real’ date. I walked to his house and he was waiting downstairs. He always waited downstairs. I think we were together two years before he let me up to his apartment. As we walked, we asked each other where to go to dinner and we both responded, “I don’t know; where do you want to go?” I said, “There’s something you need to know about me. I don’t eat seafood or mushrooms.” He responded, “Me neither.”

I thought to myself, “This is it. This is the guy!”

That date turned into several dates and soon it was clear that we were ‘together’. He was spending nights at my house and weekends at my house; I started introducing him to my friends. We would cook, go out, or just hang out. He would walk my dog, Victor. WHAT?! He would walk my dog?!

“This is it! This is the guy!”

Although … he would call Victor “The Giant White Rodent” and tell him that he was going to take him the glue factory. But he loved this dog and Victor loved him.

Dion was so stylish. I loved when he’d come over directly from work so I could see what outfit he wore. Always a sport coat and a pocket square. Always the third piece — those in retail should know what this means. And always some kind of cap. There was always Dion in his jaunty cap. I don’t know how many blue with white stripes shirts he owned, but it was a lot! He referred to his outfits as his “costumes.”

His personal style was impeccable. Talk about polish! You would never know that this guy cleaned his shower maybe every three months, ordered meals in most of the time when at home, and rarely cut his toenails. His “day off wardrobe” was very different; beat up t-shirts (some of which I think he had when he lived in Farmington), jeans (always a little tight to show off the package), and cowboy boots. You knew he was dressing for himself, but he was also dressing for others to say, “Mmmm …. Hot!”

Our first two years together were filled with dinners out, cocktails, hosting TONS of dinner parties and other celebrations, and picnics in Central Park with the gang. Dion was in charge of decorations and flower arrangements and I was in charge of cooking.

He loved to travel and loved everything about airports and air travel. He and Stephen flew on the Concorde before she was retired. He traveled to Russia, Greece, the UK, Italy, Germany, Chile, France, Costa Rica, and Mexico to name a few.

Each fall we would drive to Vermont to see the fall foliage. On the way, we would stop in Saratoga and stay at the Saratoga Inn. One time we sat in the bar and chatted up the bartender. After a few cocktails, Dion had her and the other couples in the bar in stitches – he owned the bar that night. He had the bartender invent this cocktail with banana liqueur, which we all drank and were all equally disgusted by. Dion had this way of pulling people into his realm. He could just smile and laugh and capture their attention. From there it was ‘anything goes’ but Dion knew how to be the life of the party.

He loved art and architecture and interior design. He put his talent to work designing window displays for Brooks Brothers. This creative outlet was enjoyable to him, especially because he got to work alongside his best friends, Thomas and Marie. This creative side was expressed in everything he did, from furnishing his apartment, to decorating for parties, arranging flowers, helping others decorate, and hanging pictures for those who just moved into new apartments.

His cousin Nikki and her then fiancé Mike came to town to get married. We decided to surprise them with a wedding dinner. We told them to come over for a quick bite to eat; you know pizza and a movie kind of thing. Well … they had no idea what was in store for them. We planned a fantastic dinner and Dion decorated the apartment and table to look just perfect – blue, sliver, and white was the theme. I made a three-layer cake and topped it with a little bride and groom. While I was frosting the cake, the doorman buzzed to tell us they were on their way up, but I had run out of frosting and the very bottom of the cake was light on frosting. I was freaking out, but Dion calmly had of a creative way out. He pulled some leaves off the greenery in the flower arrangements and laid them around the base of the cake. It was just perfect! The surprise was complete and we had such a wonderful evening. We used to talk about it a lot – how we pulled it off in an afternoon – and it always brought a smile to his face.

cake

Nikki and Mike’s wedding cake.

That brilliant white big smile. Personally, I feel that Dion loved his teeth. If he were a girl, his smile would be his tits. Huge, out there, and you can’t help but stare at them. I nicknamed him Chompers as a joke, but he hated that, so I switched to “Little Sweet D”. And to prove how little he was, he actually fit into these skivvies. But that’s another topic.

underwear

I actually held these up during the eulogy! It was hysterical!

Off and on Dion was sick with something or another or had some other type of ailment. He sprained his ankle on a business trip once and a bellman bought him to the hospital and to the airport. The crutches he was given were for someone 5’10 or taller; he walked in them kind of like this …. It was hysterical to watch. He had pink eye once and had to wear an eye patch. Arg! He was a pirate. It was kinda sexy until you thought about why he had to wear it. Ewwww.

For his 40th birthday party, I rented a house in Mexico for a week. Along with several friends, we celebrated this milestone. We laughed, drank, ate great food, hung out at the beach, went to see ruins, had dinner in a cave where the music was so loud we could hardly hear each other talk, and took a day trip to Cozumel. It was such a fun celebration. Dion and I ended our trip in Cancun, just the two of us at a resort hotel. We found many shells on the beach and we sat by the pool while a storm came in. We spent the next day and half in the hotel room reading magazines, eating room service, and watching TV. It was lovely.

When we came home, it was time for him to address the growths that were getting bigger on his arm and side. He found out that it was Kaposi Sarcoma and started chemotherapy treatments. This is when our relationship started to hit a bumpy stage. Dion was not one to over-share information but I am one who wants to know what is going on, what the doctors said, what’s next, how’re you feeling, when’s your next appointment, etc. He didn’t share details and I wanted them. That made me a nag in his eyes and it made him a brick wall in my eyes.

For both of us resentments grew until being home together was near torture. Although I argued that this was “the ‘worse’ in ‘for better or worse’”, it was clear that this was something we could not overcome. We broke up in September of 2008. In October of 2008, instead of celebrating my 40th birthday (dinner with the boys aside), I moved into a new apartment.

There were a few rough months there. We didn’t talk to each other often and I resented that he was spending so much time with the friends I introduced him to. When we did talk, we would mention ever so briefly that we missed being together, but never talked about reconciliation. He came over to the new apartment for dinner and movies a few times. I missed him and I missed us; the GOOD us, the FUN us, the loving us.

On March 11, he called to tell me he was in St. Vincent’s hospital with a case of pneumonia and that Thomas called 911 to get him there. From that day forward I was at the hospital every day; sometimes going on my lunch break and then again after work. It seemed like his room was always filled with guests. At one point, I think there were 8 of us behind the curtain laughing and talking. On March 19, the hospital called me to tell me they had to sedate Dion and put him on the ventilator.

What?! What does this mean?! OMG. I had no idea how to process that.

The vigil during his sedation was hard and emotional. Talking to him and telling him to fight and be strong, rubbing lotion on his hands and feet and stretching his arms and legs. It was a foreign and scary process to go through and I was charting new territory for myself and for him. I learned a lot in those months … mainly how to decipher Doctor Speak into regular English (no offense to Dr. Bungay and Dr. Rashmani!).

I began a new life routine that revolved completely around Dion. I would wake, feed and walk the dog, get ready for work, go to work; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital at lunch if I had no afternoon meetings; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital after work, talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; come home, feed and walk the dog, eat dinner, and go to bed. Then do it all again the next day. I was also in constant contact with friends and family, sending text messages, calling, sending emails.

Finally, a friend told me about the CaringBridge website, which helped provide better and consistent communication; and save my sanity. These updates and the guest books postings were wonderful to write and to read.

Shannon and I went to read them to Dion while he was sedated. I had underestimated how difficult it would be. I think I got four words out before I was crying with Shannon. We composed ourselves, held hands, and started reading the pages. Those days of uncertainty were challenging, especially when it came to trying to figure out how to get control of his finances. Does anyone here work for Bank of America? Ok, well, don’t tell anyone, but I had to forge two rent checks for him. Yikes.

When he started to come out of sedation it was like a miracle. I could not believe it. He was regaining his personality, his smile, his bright eyes. Since he had the trach, he could not talk. He communicated by forming silent words. I cannot read lips. Shannon is much better at it and did a great job translating what he was trying to say. One time she was convinced he was saying ‘thirsty, thirsty’; I was convinced he was saying ‘help me, help me’. He confirmed later that he was saying he was ‘thirsty’. My lip reading was so bad that once he tried so hard to tell me something and I kept saying, “I don’t get it. I don’t see it. What are you saying?” He finally got so frustrated that I wasn’t able to understand him that he mouthed what I was able to make out exactly: “Go home”. So I did. The only other time it was clear was when I told him how long he’d been in the hospital. He mouthed “Fuck!”

Then he moved to writing in a notebook. One night he wrote the sweetest note. I have it pinned to the corkboard above my desk at home. He wrote: “I love you. With all my heart and soul. You make me want to live on.” And then he wrote, “Bring me my computer.”

One night I walked into the room and he actually said, “Hi!” I nearly fell out. He could talk! It was a completely different world then. Talking and laughing and telling stories. And his progress just kept going. Every day he showed signs of improvement.

It was planned that he would come to my house for his recovery and be there as long as it took him to be independent. As we waiting for his release, an orderly brought his lunch and said, “Ok Mr. Wade, tonight for dinner, your choices are ….” Dion interrupted her and said very strongly, “Oh no! I am not having dinner here tonight. I am being released!”

When we got outside and into the cab, Dion said, “Fresh air. I haven’t smelled fresh air in so long.” Then started crying. He was so happy to be out of the hospital. Then he said, “Everything is moving so fast. The cars, the people, the noise.” It was as if he was experiencing New York for the first time again.

His recovery was going very well. His physical therapist, Michelle, was a godsend and he loved the time that he had with her. Afterward, he would say that she worked him really hard, but he loved her voice and her approach. She was kind, gentle, and genuinely cared about his condition and his improvement. The night before she would come, he would get all prepared and say “Michelle is coming tomorrow!” with a big smile. It was a bright spot in his day.

I was laid off from work one week after his release. What a blessing in disguise! He was at my house – what we started calling our house – for 6 weeks and I was there with him 24 / 7. It was the most fantastic 6 weeks of my life.

We talked about our relationship and why we let it fall apart and reached new heights of communication. We went for walks to Riverside Park to sit on a park bench and watch the world go by, we had a picnic with Thomas one Sunday afternoon, we went to the movies, we went to dinner. He went to lunch on his own, he went shopping on his own. We went to his old apartment to get more clothes and bring some of his things to help make my place his.

Mainly we talked about fears, about wants, and needs, about each other, about how we truly loved each other. One day he came home after a doctor’s appointment with a little gift box and a card. Inside the box was this beautiful orange glass bowl. The card reads …

card from dion

There was true beauty like that in every moment we spent together. Then, he had his downturn. It was fast, and quick, and unreal, and unexpected. Before I called 911, Dion had to get dressed. He was very specific about what he wanted to wear. He wanted his lightweight blue shirt (and he buttoned it up and rolled up the sleeves), his orange paid shorts and a brown belt (not that brown belt the other brown belt), white booty sox, and his tennis shoes. That was his ER costume. In the room in which we were placed, he looked down at his nails and said, “I should have cut my nails.” Then later, “I should have shaved.” And then later, “I wish I took a shower.”

While we sat in the ER room for 15 hours, it became clear that Dion’s body was not responding to the treatments he was being given. The doctor pulled me aside and in hushed tones told me that the KS had continued to grow and was now filling his lungs along with several different bacteria. It was critical, he said, to sedate Dion and put him back on a ventilator. My fear turned into reality. I knew this was something that Dion would not survive. He was tired and weak.

We had – what I can only call — the most amazing and frank discussion I have ever had. We talked about what could happen in real terms, not skirting the issue at all. I told him that that it is clear that he may not make it through this. He said to me, “Ok. I understand. Either way, I’m not scared.” He was so strong and accepting of what was about to happen to him. I was so proud of him. We talked about what he wanted to have happen to him if he died (resuscitation, cremation, this celebration). He had a few specific things of his that he wanted to ensure others received.

His approach to this conversation really put me at peace. It was clear he was ready to go. I had the honor and privilege to thank him for what he meant to me, to tell him I love him more than I could really express, and to say goodbye. He also thanked me for everything that I had done for him and we held hands. When the doctor’s came in, I gave him a kiss on his forehead and said goodbye again. As I was leaving the room, I turned around and he was sitting upright in bed, looked at me, said “thank you” and then “goodbye” and waved a little sweet wave.

That was the last time I saw him alert. I would not trade that Monday for anything in the world. It is a day I will never forget.

But … the point is this. He was ready. He was prepared. And he was not scared. He was very specific about today, too. He said, “I don’t want some priest I don’t know talking about me and I don’t want everyone crying in pews.” He wants us to celebrate his life with smiles, laughter, music and love and stories. It is my hope that today we can accomplish that for him.

For me Dion was smiles, laughter, music, and love. I miss him, and I know I will miss him forever. But … I know he is here with us. He is watching us, critiquing the decorations I am sure, and loving the fact that we are all here for him.

Dion Wade was so much more than the last seven months. He was a lifetime of experiences shared with all of us. From his childhood in Farmington, to his other adventures in cities he lived and countries he visited, to his life here in New York — a city he loved with great passion.

He was a fully realized man, whose talents were great, faults were few, and friends were many.

*     *     *     *     *

Click here to see a slide show that was shown at Dion’s Celebration of His Life that was loving put together and includes a song sung by Dion’s friend and my cousin Shannon Darin and Dion’s friend Patrick Barnes.

Click here to see images from the Celebration

one year …

front porch 2
On this day last year, Kirk and I arrived in our new home town, Charleston, South Carolina. We left New York City packed to the gills with clothes, bedding, the dogs, some food, and a rental truck filled with furniture and items picked up at his parent’s house along the way.

We drove into our subdivision. The dogs and I were in the Jeep, and Kirk behind me in the rental truck. I was anxious to see our house, that I drove a little too fast over the standard suburban community speed hump. So fast, in fact, that little Rhoda (a five month old puppy) bounced from her spot in the backseat into my lap. She was frightened and shaking, and although I felt horrible, I couldn’t help but laugh.

On the drive to the neighborhood, I saw lots of green … “we’re out in the country” green. Marshes and bridges and moss-covered tree canopies. I had no idea what it would be like living here. I was nervous that it would be “too country,” “too republican,” and all about fried food. I struggled with leaving my NBW home group, not having the subway to get around, and moving away from friends, family, and a city I had grown to love after eleven years. I looked forward to a large backyard, growing a garden, full-fledged grocery stores with wide aisles, less traffic, fewer people, and less stress.

We had seen pictures of the house on the internet. We google-mapped the lot and the neighborhood. We rented the house without having been in it before. I was excited and nervous. We parked in the driveway, looked our little yellow house, told the dogs this was our new home, unlocked the door, and walked in.

That first walk through was the beginning of a wonderful year. So much has changed in my life since we walked through that door. We endured a battle for Rhoda’s life, and I was humbled by the outpouring of financial support that our friends showed. She is the $20,000 dog and worth every penny. Victor has become a great friend to her and plays tug-o-war and chase. We went through financial ups and downs while Kirk attempted to secure continual teaching hours. We embarked on a creative journey and produced a successful Christmas production called “Santa’s Naughty & Nice Burlesque”. We formed a business partnership through Sprinkles Productions, transformed our garage into a studio, and Kirk started teaching fulltime here at the house. We established a new non-profit corporation — the Charleston Performing Arts Center — and assembled a board of directors to begin the process of building a cultural hub within Charleston; a performance space and a performing arts conservatory. And, more importantly, we got married. Not here, of course, but on a visit to New York.

Yes, I feel like I live in the country. But there is nothing better than leaving the windows open on a cool rainy night and hearing frogs croaking. Or to see Cardinals eating from the bird feeders hanging from the trees in our backyard. The beach is minutes away, and it has a very “Santa Cruz” vibe to it. Downtown is small and easy to navigate. There are green belts everywhere — we live adjacent to a tidal marsh that, at high tide, spills onto the roadway, and at low tide exposes the sickly pungent smell of pluff mud.

Yes, this town is too republican, but everyone I have met in Charleston has been nothing but accepting of me and Kirk. We have amazing neighbors, who are now friends, many of whom I met while trying to get rid of the many eggplant that I grew in the garden. We feel comfortable walking the dogs holding hands or hugging on the beach; although I will admit that I do look around sometimes … just in case. Kirk was unable to get his ID changed to his married name because South Carolina doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. And trying to get family insurance coverage was like jumping through flaming hoops covered in gasoline.

Yes, it sucks not having the convenience of the subway. Especially since we only have one car. If we’re out of milk, we can’t just run down the block to the Bodega to get it. I have to drive to the grocery store. And since I am going there, I might as well make a list of other things that we need so that I don’t find yourself in the same predicament soon. And then I find that I have spent forty-five minutes in the grocery store filling up the “buggy” (not shopping cart), when all I REALLY needed was milk. It’s also strange to know that many people here are against the installation of bike lanes or building / retrofitting bridges for bikes lanes. Everyone talks on their phone in the car and they FINALLY just banned texting while driving.

Yes, there is too much fatty food here. You can’t swing a cat without hitting something fried. But, the Lowcountry cuisine is fresh, richly textured, and delicious. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t eaten my fair share of biscuits and sausage gravy, y’all. Oh yes! There have been LOTS of biscuits with sausage gravy! There is definitely too much shrimp and fish here, but I can’t hold my distaste for seafood against Charleston.

Yes, there have been challenges and times where I thought — expressed — that we made the wrong decision. There were a few months of feeling landlocked and lonely without friends. But all that is past. A year has gone by and life here has become just that — life here.

I live in Charleston, South Carolina. And life is good.

i’m still here …

I just celebrated my forty-fifth birthday. The day was spent with my fiancé, our dogs, and my sister and her best friend, who were visiting from out of town. It was a quiet day of celebration. The weather was stunning: sunny, warm, and just a slight breeze.

I ate French toast and bacon for breakfast, tacos and street corn for lunch, and a decadent dinner of prime rib, blue cheese smashed potatoes, and the Peninsula Grill’s renowned coconut cake for dessert.

I was touched by the number of people on Facebook that wished me a happy birthday. While some believe it is impersonal, I appreciate how Facebook reminds me of other’s birthdays; without it, I wouldn’t remember anyone’s birthday. Ever. And, as I was going through each post, thanking each friend for their well-wishes, I thought to myself that the mailbox at my curb would never be filled with this many birthday cards. Ever. There’s a great sense of connectedness that comes from Facebook, and is very apparent to me at times like this.

This birthday, forty-five, has also given me cause to reflect deeply on a statement I made in my early twenties. One of pure naïveté and lack of self-worth. The statement was congruent with the way I was behaving and treating myself. I was afraid of so much in life; who I was, what I was doing, what I didn’t know, what I did, the uncertainty of my future, the belief that I wasn’t worthy of meaningful friendships, loving relationships, and self-esteem.

I was unaware at the time just how fear-filled I lived. I thought I was having fun. I wasn’t aware of how manipulative I was. I thought I was trying to fit in. I wasn’t aware of how immature I was behaving. I thought I knew how to navigate this thing called life. I wasn’t fully aware of how poorly I thought of myself, but I did know that I didn’t feel worthy of what I could aspire to or what I could attain. Instead, I thought I was only worthy of what I was being given.

In my early twenties, I lived in San Francisco. I had a great job, a fun group of friends, a good relationship with my family, and nice places to live. I also had a deep rooted need to fit in, to be popular and part of the “in crowd,” and to be an “A Gay.” That meant I did a lot of experimenting, more so than in high school. I started a relationship with crystal meth.

It was a fun club drug at first. It made me chatty, allowed me to be on the dance floor for hours, and made me a part of the “in crowd.” I felt larger than life, desirable, fun, and sophisticated. I felt completely invincible. That fun and social aspect soon turned into the dark and seedy side of drug addiction. I would pause and resume my use, depending on who I was dating or what was happening in my life. Many years later, a time would come when I could find no other way to feel connected, or cope with grief, anger, fear, betrayal, and any other emotion. My use became a daily habit and had complete control over my every action. I lived a dual life: one as a well-paid and respected career-driven executive; and another as a drug addict, who saw no problem with being awake for several days in a row and who did unmentionable things with people that one wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day.

I marvel at how I was so afraid of life, but I was not afraid of putting myself in situations that were gravely dangerous. Drug deals with incredibly sketchy individuals, “parties” in neighborhoods and apartments I wouldn’t even want to walk by, and no fear of the consequence of arrest, overdose, robbery, or murder.

And, so, in my early twenties, when the use of this drug was still new and fun, I said what I now believe shaped how I felt about my life and myself.

I was partying with a guy who I used to hook up with.  He was genuinely a nice person and I enjoyed spending time with him. I believe that we would have been friends outside the party scene if it weren’t for the haze cast by drugs. We’d been up for a few days and were in a chatting phase. We were talking about life goals and dreams. We were fantasizing over winning the lottery, who we wanted to have sex with, who would play us in a movie, and other ridiculous notions. The sun had risen and set, and risen again, and at one point he asked, “How old do you think you will be when you die?”

I thought for a moment, predicting my future accomplishments in my mind, and then replied rather resolutely.

“Forty-five,” I said. “I think by then I will have achieved everything I want to.”

So, on this, my forty-fifth birthday, I can’t help but remember that moment. I look back and I barely know the person who said that, even though it was me. Those words, the conviction, the belief that I would be “done” — this year — it all seems like something that would never come out of my mouth.

I have been blessed beyond belief with the support of family, old friends and new, and the love of a partner that grows each day. I have faced my demons and accepted them as my past, but I do not allow them to define my future. I am on the path of a spiritual journey, and it’s amazing.

For this birthday, my forty-fifth, there was cake, fun, laughs, and memories. There was also a quiet, introspective, and deeply personal celebration. Forty-five years lived. I made it. And I will continue to make it.

I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it. That is one promise that has been granted, and I am forever grateful.

five oh four pee em

I remember being thrown to the floor of The Gap on Pacific Avenue, in Santa Cruz, California.  The lights went out, the sound of glass breaking and masonry rumbled, a car alarms were sounding off. Then silence. Once all customers were out of the store and we were on the street, it was clear what had happened. A huge earthquake had struck, buildings had crumbled, roads had buckled.

People were crying, glass and dust were everywhere, smoke and the smell of fire filled the air. We all gathered in our designated emergency meeting spot and made sure everyone was accounted for.

It was at that point I realized that all of our personal belongings were in the store, upstairs in the employee area. I also realized that emergency closing procedures needed to be followed, like removing the cash from the registers.

Either way, I had to go upstairs. To get there, I had to cross the first floor stockroom to get to the stairwell. When I opened the stockroom door, I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black. All power was out and there were no battery operated safety lights. I could not tell if the floor was buckled, or even if it had opened up into the basement below. We didn’t have any flashlights nearby.

One of our stock guys came with me. He held the door open in the pitch black and stepped into the room. I inched my way a little further by shuffling my feet and tapping my toes before me.

As I got a little further in, he stepped in behind me. The hinged door closed behind him. We jumped when it slammed and found ourselves in complete darkness; any ambient light from having the door open was lost.

My eyes buzzed with blackness. It was so dark I felt blind. It was as if I could feel and hear my pupils dilating, frantically trying to see an inch in front of my face.

I felt his hand on my shoulder and I continued to shuffle and tap forward. Slowly we edged our way across the floor. It was uneven in spots and some steps felt too heavy to be sustained by the give in the floor. After about ten minutes we were almost at what was assumed to be the middle of the stockroom.

We froze when the aftershock hit. It felt as if it lasted an hour. When it stopped, there was no denying that we had to be quick. There was not time to just inch our way … the next aftershock could be damaging. We sped up our shuffle, and finally reached the door that led to the stairs. Once opened, we were blinded by the light from the windows upstairs.

We hurried up the stairs and into the employee stockroom and grabbed all the backpacks, purses, and bags. I opened the safe and grabbed the petty cash fund bag. I stuffed all the register cash into the bag and we headed out of the store.

Everyone left with their belongings. We all talked about how we would come back the next morning to clean up the store and prep for reopening.

Little did any of is know the extent of what had happened. Two people died in buildings that collapsed, many more were injured. Part of Highway 17 had collapsed and would take weeks to clear. A section of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco collapsed, the Marina was on fire, and the upper deck of the Embarcadero Freeway had fallen and crushed the traffic below.

Being less than a mile from the epicenter of a 6.9 magnitude earthquake that lasted fifteen seconds but felt like an hour, was the most frightening experience of my life.

It is something I will never forget as long as a live. The sense of my smallness in the world, the futility for everything that used to seem important, the anger of how something like this could happen, and the hopelessness that it could not have been controlled, filled my days and nights for years to follow.

I’d like to say that it’s all behind me, and most of the time it is, but on this day each year at 5:04PM, I take pause to remember.