Category Archives: gay relationships

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?”

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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

i am doing my best …

I admire my fiancé’s relationship with his father. Simply put, Kirk and his father have a relationship, one that from my perspective seems ideal. It is completely unlike my relationship with my father.

He and I don’t have a relationship and haven’t for years. I usually describe ours as “strained.” Recently, and with the help of my therapist, I have come to terms with the way our relationship works. But I sometimes wish that it was a strong as Kirk’s is with his father; you can see the influence he has had on Kirk.

When I look back on my childhood, I can honestly say that my dad was a good dad. We did fun family things together, like camping trips to Mount Shasta, or exploring the Bodie Ghost Town. Christmas morning’s would bring presents with riddles written on tags that hinted to its contents. My sisters and I would read the riddles to try and figure out what was inside. There were family dinners around the table, where we would pass the Wol Taf Klim (low fat milk) and soccer games for the teams we played on, usually coached by him.

Once, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was in the front yard playing a game I invented called “Dorothy Gale from Kansas.” I would fill a bucket with water and pretend to be heading to slop the pigs or to be coming from the barn with a bucket of fresh milk. Then … all of sudden … without warning … I would be caught in the middle of a horrific twister! I would scream and spin around in circles holding the bucket in both hands. The centrifugal force would keep me spinning faster and faster, my arms stretching. I would spin until I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand any longer. The twister would rip the bucket from my hands and I would tumble down to the ground and find myself laying in the green grass of a far off land.

During one very rousing game, my dad came out of the garage with a football.

“Scott, let’s go in the street and toss the football,” he said cheerfully.

I looked at him, completely puzzled.

“Why?” I asked, with all the snark that a pre-pubescent child can muster.

He looked at me blankly.

 “Oh forget it,” he said as he walked back into the garage.

He and I went to a local amusement park together, I assume at the insistence of my mom, which I am sure was meant to be “bonding time.” All I remember from that adventure, was feeling completely out of place with him, sitting on rides alone while he watched, and walking around embarrassed to be with him. The only sense of connection I got that day, was through keeping secret that he got a speeding ticket on the way there.

As I grew older, nearing and clearing puberty, our relationship became different. I see it now for what it was: my father was not equipped to have a gay son. He didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t know how to talk to me. He didn’t know how to be the father of a gay boy. He did the best he could.

My mom and dad got divorced, he moved to Santa Cruz, and when I was twenty I went to live with him and his wife. I had already been through my rebellious high school years, and was now in the workforce. They lived in Aptos, California two streets up from the beach. The location was amazing, but our relationship was very surface. We would talk about work, the weather, and general topics, but nothing deep and meaningful. And definitely never about dating or relationships. He was starting to get back into his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, which I feel caused more strain on our relationship, being that the flames of hell were licking at my heels for being a heathen homo.

I’d like to think he is proud of my accomplishments. I’d like to think that he knows I am a good person and have tried to be a good son. I just don’t know for certain that he does and I doubt I ever will. We have a sort of “don’t ask/don’t tell” communication policy. I share updates with him mainly via emails sent to my entire my family. I have never received a response. I have sent links to my blog posts, but I have never received a response.

We’ve always been cordial, don’t get me wrong. When I do see him at family functions, once or twice a year, we hug hello and goodbye, we discuss work or no work, or we talk about the weather. He has met past boyfriends, but has never attempted to get to know them, and he doesn’t really seem comfortable acknowledging any of my relationships. Again, I think he doesn’t know how.
When Kirk and I were in California for my niece’s high school graduation, he showed the most compassion I have seen in years. As we were leaving, he actually hugged Kirk and told him it was very nice to meet him. I’d like to think that he saw how happy I am, how happy Kirk makes me, and that he can see how I am changed person, a grown man.

All of this, to some, might sound sad, which it is sometimes. But I look at it as both of us are trying our best. I have to believe that he tried to do his best when I was young, and that what he does today is him trying his best. I have to feel confident that I am doing my best in my actions. If I send emails to keep him in the loop, I must see that as me doing my best. If I remind him of our plans to be married next October, and get nothing but a nod and blank stare, I need to see that as me doing my best in keeping him informed. If he hugs me hello and good bye the few times that I see him each year, then I need to see that as him doing his best to demonstrate paternal love. I don’t blame him for any of my issues. He was only doing his best.

But I do think about the inevitable day when he passes away and how I might feel. I will have to gather the strength to truly feel that I had done my best. I don’t want regrets or feelings of what could have been “if only I did something different.” I can’t expect him to respond to email messages, to discuss how my relationship with Kirk is progressing, to ask questions about my sobriety or the challenges I face as a gay man in a straight man’s world. I can’t expect him to change, otherwise I am setting myself up for major disappointment.

All I can do is tell myself that I am doing my best. Every day, every interaction, every un-replied to email, every “how’s the weather conversation,” every so often I see him.

I am doing my best.

drive to charleston …

One month ago, my fiancé and I moved from Manhattan, New York to Charleston, South Carolina, a city where I never planned to live. It never occurred to me to live anywhere in the South, except maybe Florida in my golden years. Nevertheless, here I am with Kirk and our two dogs, Victor and Rhoda, enjoying our suburban life. When I announced the move, my friends and family seemed shocked.

“You are leaving New York?” they would ask, almost daring me to explain how I would survive outside the city. “What are you going to do? Won’t you be bored? How will you meet people? How will you get around?”

Popular thought had me incapable of living in a suburban environment, even though I grew up in one. I agree that life in the ‘burbs is vastly different from life in a city. In the suburbs, you can’t call a building superintendent to fix broken things. You can’t walk to the corner drug store when you need a new loofah. You can’t get meals delivered from any restaurant you desire. You can’t rely on public transportation to get you where you need to go. And – oh emm gee – you have to drive to the grocery store.

“Wait a minute … do you even know how to drive?” they’d asked.

“Yes,” I would reply, “I am a native Californian; we are born with car keys in our hands.”

I must admit that I was shocked to say that I was moving from New York. The eleven years that I lived in its hustle and bustle were spectacular. I loved the grit, the heat, and the snow. I loved that the West Side Market cashiers barely acknowledged my presence, but scanned my items so quickly that I could not complete the delivery receipt before they drummed their long finger nails on the produce scale. Yes, I loved that everywhere in New York would deliver – even McDonald’s – but it should not be shocking that I chose to leave. After eleven years, it was time to go.

*      *      *     *     *

I moved to New York City with a boyfriend one year after we moved from San Francisco to Irvine, California. He worked in Los Angeles and I worked at the Pottery Barn store in Brea Mall. I continued to seek employment in the corporate environment, but that was challenging in the months following 9/11. I interviewed with a New York based premier lifestyle brand with a colleague from a prior company and was offered the job. I had to decline the offer, because my boyfriend had no job opportunities in New York. Since I could not earn his salary, I could not accept the job. This was his stipulation, which was his typical controlling and manipulative approach. He made more money. He had the power in the relationship. Everything was a contest with him, and he had to win.

A few weeks later, he was offered and accepted a job in his company’s New York office. Luckily, the position I declined was still open. We spent one weekend apartment hunting and signed a lease in a new building in Chelsea. I had final interviews and signed new hire paperwork. I returned to Irvine to start packing and he stayed in New York to start work. I hired movers, packed our belongings, most of which were his. He had a very specific list of what would go to NYC and what would not. Most of the items that would not make the move were mine. I gave away or loaned items to family and friends. Luckily, my piano was on the “approved item” list.

I also planned a five-day across country journey with the thought that it is not often one has the opportunity to drive across country. I thought it would be a fun experience to take time to see sights along the way. I was especially looking forward to seeing the statue of my great-great-great grandfather in Oklahoma City.

“We are doing this drive in three days — tops. No unnecessary stops or sightseeing. You’ll see things from the road. We just need to get to New York City,” he said over the phone when I reviewed the itinerary with him.

There was no discussion or debate. He had a goal in mind and would do anything to achieve it. Once again, everything was a contest. If it were his idea, we would have taken a leisurely trip. Instead, we drove Mad Max style and arrived 70 hours after leaving California. We stopped only for lunches, dinners, late night check-ins at motels, and to let Victor out to pee and walk.

As we got closer to New York State, I asked if I could drive into the city. I wanted that moment for me, a moment of growth in an otherwise oppressive relationship; no longer a passenger, the powerless partner watching state lines quickly pass, but instead, the driver taking the helm and guiding us through the waves of traffic. He said no, of course, he would drive and I would navigate us to our hotel with our MapQuest directions.

We neared the Holland Tunnel and the tall towers of New York City grew larger and larger. The sun was setting behind us when I glimpsed Lady Liberty and her glowing torch in the harbor. Like so many immigrants before us, we had arrived. Like them, I was unsure how to survive in the machine of New York City. It could chew me up and spit me out, unless I learned its intricacies and rhythms and became one with its madness.

The movers came and went, we settled into our new life, I started working again, and our relationship began to change. When we met, I was unemployed. He was in essence my rescuer. His job relocated us, not mine. He made the big bucks and he had the power in the relationship. He thrived on the power and the control it gave him. There were no ideas but his ideas and no solutions but his solutions. There was no life in New York, but life on his terms in New York. I was too insecure and meek to stand up for myself.

Regardless, I started to blossom in New York, which I believe irritated him. I loved the city and he hated it. I loved my job and he hated his. I was meeting people and making friends and he wasn’t. The city smelled, was dirty and loud. The subway was always crowded, the streets were noisy day and night, restaurants were always busy, there were too many people in line at Starbucks, the snow turned to brown slush after being plowed, the traffic was horrible, cabs were expensive, and people were everywhere. His list of dislikes was never-ending. I tried to explain that is what makes New York, well, New York. One has to learn to love them or cope with them. I was falling in love with New York more each day almost as equally as I was falling out of love with him. He seemed unable to bear that my life was turning around, that I could be happy, that I might not have to rely on him for everything. In some respects, the power paradigm was shifting, the contest rules changing.

He started to isolate, spending late nights at the office or traveling back to California for work. He yelled and complained that what I did, what I contributed, was not enough. I didn’t walk Victor enough, I didn’t water the plants the right way, I traveled too much for work, or I didn’t wash the car properly. When we were dating, he told me he was a recovering alcoholic. I had no idea what true alcoholic behaviors looked liked, or the depth of an alcoholic’s insanity, until it unfolded before my eyes when he began drinking again. It started innocently enough; we would be out to dinner and he would order a glass of wine. I would glance up at him, but not question his decision. I had learned not to do that.

“I just need to take the edge off,” he would say. “This city just makes me crazy. I need to relax.”

*     *     *     *     *

The concept of “one is too many, one thousand never enough,” was unknown to me at the time. I now understand this concept after facing my own drinking and drug dependencies to become sober. I would often go to bed and he had yet to come home, had not called, and had not responded to voice mails. I would wake up to a lumbering, clumsy, mumbling man who would snuggle against me with breath that could light a fire, or I would find him asleep on the couch when I’d wake in the morning. Once, in pre-dawn darkness, I found him passed out in the entry hall, face down, front door ajar, his body partially hanging down the step to the living room. I closed the door and went back to bed.

The last straw came when his twenty-something niece visited. He and I had separate plans one evening: I would meet a long-lost friend for dinner and he would get a haircut. I walked him to the barber and mentioned that I would be home around 11:00pm. My friend and I wanted to continue catching up. My multiple calls to seek permission to come home later went unanswered. Finally, I left a voice mail telling him that I would be home when I got home. I felt a tinge of self-worth after hanging up. I called his niece to ask her to feed and walk Victor. I discussed my horrible relationship over cocktails the rest of the night. I returned home, well after 2:00 AM, to his niece in a panic.

“Where is my Uncle?” she asked, pleadingly.

“I have no idea. He hasn’t been returning my calls,” I coolly responded.

“I am worried. He hasn’t returned my calls either. Where is he?”

“I don’t know and I don’t really care. He has been doing this a lot. He goes out alone, he gets drunk, and he doesn’t come home until very late. I am sick of it and I don’t care where he is,” I said, feeling a small sense of freedom and power having said the words ‘I don’t care’ to the universe.

“I’m going to bed.”

As time passed, her panic increased. She was crying at the bedroom door, horribly worried, and wanting to phone people. The sun was coming up and my worry increased, too. Maybe he fell down, was hit by a car, was mugged, or arrested. I got up and we brainstormed whom to call.

I accessed his email and contacts list. I called his friends whose names I heard but never met, some in California, to see if they had heard from him. I called hospitals and police stations. No one knew a thing. The day went on and he did not come home. Calls and panic continued. The sun set and night began. I went to bed emotionally drained and tired. Later, he stumbled in and a commotion between he and his niece started. Apologies, tears, slurred words. He crawled into bed next to me and put his arm around me, whispering that he was sorry he was so late.

“Where were you?” I asked.

Fury boiled in my blood like lava inside a volcano. My ears were hot, my eyes stung from crying myself to sleep, my pulse pounded in my temples. He didn’t answer. I sat up and looked blankly into his glazed eyes.

“Where the fuck where you, you asshole,” I yelled.

“Fuck you, Scott!” he yelled back.

“You fucking drunk! Where the hell were you? She was so fucking worried. I had to deal with her panic. It’s fine to do this to me, but not to her. We called all over looking for you. Hospitals, police stations, friends. Everyone is worried. We thought you were dead.”

“You called … you called … my friends? Who the fuck did you call and what gives you the right to call anyone?”

“What gives me the right? What gives you the right not to come home? You are such an asshole, you selfish mother fucker! I fucking hate you. I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!”

I was beating my fists on my pillows and on the side of his arm. I was weeping. I was lost. I was completely alone in that moment. Rage had filled my brain and hate had filled my heart. All the days of feeling less than, of being told what do and how to do it, and hearing apology after apology after apology, came to the surface. A wave of pain and suffering came over me and I continued to shout at the top of my lungs how much I hated him.

Then, POP!

My head buzzed, blinding white light filled my eyes, and my ears rang. I no longer heard anything but the humming in my head. The light dimmed and my eyes focused. I was facing the floor, as if having been pushed over the bed. I leaned up, head throbbing, blood falling to the floor. It seemed to be coming from me. I touched my face. I stared at my bright crimson fingers and watched as slow motion drops hit the floor.

Is that blood? Is that my blood?

I righted myself and saw red spatters on the mirrored closet doors and wall behind the bed. My head pounded and I was dizzy. I touched my tender and quickly swelling face. He sat there in shock, eyes wide open with horror, remorse, and disbelief over what he had just done.

“Oh my God,” I said calmly, “This is what we’ve come to? You are now and forever that boyfriend … the one who hit me?”

Sounds around me became more audible. His niece was at the bedroom door shouting that I had started it, she heard it all, and that it was my fault. He was trying to calm her down and get her back to the living room. Her tears, his tears, my tears, her fear, his shock, my pain, my blood, my face. My God.

Instantly sobered by his brutal action, he showed kindness by helping to clean my face with a washcloth and by bringing me an ice pack. He apologized profusely. He wanted to talk about what had happened, where he was, how bad our relationship had been lately.

“I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to see you. Get out of here. Get out of this house. Go away.” I repeated.

He did.

*      *      *      *     *

The next morning I called in sick to work.

“What’s wrong?” my newly promoted boss asked me.

“There’s something wrong with my face. I need to go to the doctor.” I had not thought of a good excuse. I returned to work days later with a black eye and bruised and swollen cheekbone and nose. I told co-workers that I was mugged in the East Village after dinner with a friend. I am sure that no one believed me, but I have never told the truth – until now.

I called my sister to explain what happened and asked her to come to New York to help me.

“I have kids in school. I can’t. I am sorry.”

I felt completely alone. But I also felt able to live through and handle a very adult situation on my own. We broke up, he moved back to San Francisco, and I stayed in New York City. I have not held grudges against his niece or my sister, but I do hold him accountable for his actions. I also hold myself accountable for my part in all that transpired.

In the years since, I thrived in my career and personal life. I made new friendships, dated, had relationships, was brought to my knees by depression and insecurities, and crawled out of a personal hell to the clarity and lightness that now is my life. The beauty of my life now is that there is no contest. There is no fear. I am completely honest with Kirk; he knows about all my past relationships, their issues, my personal issues and struggles.

We have a life filled with love, laughter, honesty and communication. Our family (Kirk, me, and Victor and Rhoda) moved south on a new adventure. We have a lovely three-bedroom home with a large backyard and a vegetable garden. We are minutes from the beach. We have a car, garden tools, and a lawn mower. We put out the trash each Wednesday and the recycling every other Monday. We water the lawn, pull weeds, and soak the magnolia tree. We drive to Lowes, HomeDepot, Homegoods, and to the grocery store. We wave at our neighbors on our quiet streets. We eat in our screened in porch, listening to our wind chime and fountain. We look up at the stars. We sleep peacefully in the quiet of the suburbs.

While planning our drive for the move, we talked about stopping at his parent’s house in High Point, North Carolina for a few days, then continuing on to Charleston.

“May I ask a favor about when we leave?” I asked, thinking I was that needy, or that my request would be trivial to someone living outside my head.

“Of course. But you don’t have to ask,” he said. “You will drive out of New York.”

And I did. I drove across the George Washington Bridge while the lovely West Side of Manhattan, where I spent eleven years, grew smaller and smaller in the distance until it was no longer visible.

He remembered the story of my arrival. My desire required no debate, no whining or silent treatment, no feeling rejected or less than, powerless, a non-equal. Instead, what was required was true love. Deep love where there is no contest and where scores aren’t kept.

But, if it were a contest and scores were kept, when he acknowledged my need it was as if the stadium lights were blown out and a shower of sparks rained down on my life’s field of green. And, since he has joined my team, I definitely feel as if – no, I know – I have won.

rejection …

Today, I received my very first — very, very, very first — rejection letter. It came from the editor of the Modern Love section of the New York Times. They accept and review essays about everyday life situations that tug heartstrings, epitomize personal growth, and are of relatable situations.

Their mission is stated as follows: “The editors of Modern Love are interested in receiving deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, parenthood…any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love.”

In my opinion, “A Love Letter to 401 WEA” was exactly that. It was a personal essay about a relationship I had with my apartment, its importance to me, how I stumbled upon it and fell in love, how it enhanced my life, how it was there for me in goods times and bad, how I finally had to make the decision to leave it, and how all of that affected me emotionally. I thought it was a perfect fit. Boy meets apartment, boy falls in love with apartment, boy has life experience in apartment, boy leaves apartment. (Cue sappy and swelling violin music here.) If ones love of their New York City apartment doesn’t “reasonably fit under the heading “Modern Love,” then I don’t know what does.

A dear friend of mine thought my essay a perfect fit and encouraged my submission:

“This is the most beautiful piece of writing you’ve ever completed. You must publish this piece. Send immediately to … Modern Love – which is the Sunday Style section feature where this piece belongs. Please read the requirements below. LMK if you need my help to shorten. I didn’t count your words.

SEND before you leave. I’m begging you.”

She gave me the courage and confidence to hit the send button to the Modern Love Department. I was nervous and excited and I really, really, really wanted to hear that it would be used. I really wanted to see it in print. I really wanted to see a link to it on their website. I really wanted to be able to say that I was published in The New York Times. I really wanted to feel that weekly subcribers — to either the traditional paper, the online paper, or those that choose only “the weekender” — would read my essay and heave a collective sigh of understanding and remorse, yet deeply breath in the anticipation of starting a new adventure. Maybe even some of them would nod their head and wipe empathic tears from their cheeks, while they reached again for thier cup of coffee. A few might even tear the page out and keep it, neatly folded and placed in thier journal, or showcased on their refrigerator held by Duane-Reade magnets. But, alas, none of that will happen.

My original essay included 2068 words. The submission requirements say that essays are to be between 1500 and 1700 words. How on earth was I going to ever reduce my word count between 568 and 368 words? I was stumped. I re-read my essay twice and considered what content could come out. I was reluctant to remove anything. Then, inspiration hit. Maybe I didn’t have to remove anything. Maybe I only needed to re-word sentences to reduce word count, which is something I am quite adept at after being a techincal writer in my professional career. I started editing.

My friend also edited for me and gave me excellent ideas and feedback. We collaborated on sections. In her edits, she removed a part that was very important to me. It was the “visual GPS” of my move that I included in change of address cards that I made.

USA – NYC – UWS – WEA

She helped rephrase a section that I had tried many times over to rewrite to no success. What was a chunky sentence that I used out of frustration and lack of passion to try anymore, ended up crisply articulating my thought.

I wrote: “I met with a broker and asked him to show me apartments in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side. I wanted to be where the men were since I was single again.”

She wrote: “Now that I was single again, it was time to look at apartments. I wanted a place in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, or the Lower East Side – a neighborhood where I would find men to date.”

There were three drafts that passed between us. Each frought with its own set of cuts and edits, restructuring, and elimiations, additions and deletions. Finally, I achieved succuss. 1693 words! Seven words less than the highest threshold. I DID IT! I maintained the integrity of my essay without compromising the content that is deeply personal to me: my relationship ending with Dion; his hospitalization, recouperation, and eventual death; my expression of adulthood by furnishing the apartment, hosting dinner partiess and holiday meals, and having many guests for extended stays; through my drug and drink issues and my new found sobriety; to meeting my fiance Kirk.

The latter expressed passionately and from the heart as follows:

“This was the apartment where a friend and I organized packs of freeze-dried food in preparation to backpack the Appalachian Trail. This was the apartment where that friend became my boyfriend, and where that boyfriend eventually moved. This was where we set up Christmas early and our parents met for the first time at Thanksgiving. This was where a puppy, Rhoda, was adopted to keep Victor company and round-out our family. Where I left for a Broadway show and dinner with my boyfriend, and came home with my fiancé. This was the apartment where we decided to move to Charleston, South Carolina; the one I would leave and watch shrink smaller in the rerview mirror.”

I wrote using current feelings about my my apartment and flashbacks to how I ended up living in it, loathing it, loving it, and then eventually leaving it. I started each paragraph with “this was the apartment” where something happened of emotional sigfinicance to me. Then, I’d flashback to working with a broker to find an apartment. This was that apartment; the one I didn’t want to see.

He took me to several places in the neighborhoods that interested me. None of them fit my “wants”. They were too small, too dark, too low, too creepy, too smelly, too boring. Too … too … too … too. They were too little and I was too much.

* * * * *

This was the apartment where I spent nine hours fastidiously measuring and taping the hallway in order to paint vertical stripes. The smell of blue painter’s tape lingered on my hands, in my hair, on my clothes; the taste of it in my mouth. A once cream and overly bright hallway became a rich and luxurious walk from the living room to the kitchen. The dark green stripes with a base of a deep brick red evoked a masculine men’s club. This was the apartment where I explained to guests that the stripes were not black, but a deep green, secretly relishing in the fact that the stripes were so rich and dark they were almost an enigma.

And now I am faced with a different set of present feelings and flashbacks. Present feelings of slight failure (Why didn’t they choose my essay?), embarassment (I can’t believe I actually thought it was that good.), and confusion (He read it, can’t he at least tell me why it wasn’t chosen?). Flashbacks to my being frustrated by the editing process, the spark of creativity that came to bouy my confidence, and the anticipation of looking for it published each week, since, of course, they had too many submissions to even say it would be published. I would just see it print, of course!

But instead I read in my email today, the following:

Dear Scott Pfeiffer,

Thank you for sending your writing to Modern Love. Although we have decided not to use your essay, we are grateful for the opportunity to consider it. I regret that the volume of submissions we receive makes it impractical for me to offer editorial feedback.

Best wishes,

Daniel Jones
Modern Love editor
The New York Times

My friend, who was equally upset said mine was not chosen was because I am not a lesbian. Modern Love loves their lesbians. It might have something to do with that. Or it might have something to do with structure, content, relatability, or arc. I will never know. What I do know is that this essay is the first that was rejected.

This was that essay.

 

moving day … not leaving day …

The movers arrived. I joked that they “would get here sometime between now and when they arrive.” They would take away furniture that was emptied of all contents and left undusted for nearly two weeks. They would box up mirrors and artwork; wrap up glass shelves; and stuff mattresses and a memory foam topper into bedbug-proof mattress bags. They would roll up and bag rugs that were vacuumed a week ago. They would do this twice: once at 401 West End and once again at The Hobbit House in Astoria.

In total, they would dolly out exactly 148 boxes and totes and 58 pieces of furniture. Each box and tote was meticulously packed and contained similar items; books were boxed with books, sweaters with sweaters, vases with vases. Some, especially those packed towards the end of the process, were a hodge-podge of items: power cords and extension cords, a washcloth, a fork left in the dishwasher, a box of envelopes, three coffee mugs, etc.

Each carton had a label showing its carton number and final room destination in Charleston, South Carolina. This would help make unloading and unpacking easy. Everything anticipated to be placed in the living room would be found in a box labeled “LIVING ROOM,” like boxes of books to go on bookshelves, or throw pillows to be tossed on the sofa. Everything expected to be with the desk would be in boxes labeled “BEDROOM 2,” like computer cords and cables, tax files, and desk supplies. “MASTER BEDROOM” boxes would be filled with clothes or shoes. Boxes labeled “GARAGE” would include items like Christmas ornaments, toolboxes and hiking backpacks.

A Master Manifest was created to catalog each carton number, the destination room, its exact contents, and the box size. It would be used to verify receipt of each carton when the truck is unloaded. The contents of any missing cartons (God forbid) could be easily identifiable and claims easily made.

Master Manifest Picture 1

Each box and each piece of furniture was measured to determine the cubic feet of space that these belongings would require. This was done because we initially planned to rent and drive a truck. We would hire NYC loaders and Charleston unloaders. Thankfully, we went a different direction. Movers were hired to do it.

Master Manifest Picture

It has been years since I have moved myself. As an adult, I feel that it’s worth hiring others to do the “heavy lifting.”  The act of moving is stressful enough. Besides, the days of milk crates, cinder blocks, and twin mattresses are far behind me, as are the days of asking “that friend with a truck” and others to help me move for a few slices of pizza and couple of cases of beer.

The movers are doing it all. Except the packing. I do the packing. I do the packing the way packing should be done. Practically perfect. It took one month to organize and pack up the two apartments. It was done at a relaxed pace, not an “Oh shit! The movers are here!” frantic pace.

When the movers arrived, I walked through the apartment with the Team Leader.

“Whoa! Who did your packing?” he asked and he looked around at the neat stacks and clean white labels.

“I did,” I replied, seeing the glint of amazement in his eyes.

“You’re good, man. You are goooood!”

“Yes. Yes I am,” I said.

When one of the workers asked what was in a particularly heavy box, I asked him what was on the label.

“Master Bedroom … one eleven.”

“Clothes. Mostly shoes, which is why it’s so heavy. I have lots of shoes. There are thirty-five woven shirts in there, too,” I said without missing a beat. I didn’t even need to reference my Master Manifest.

He stared blankly back at me, continued to pull the box onto his dolly, and then backed away. I almost wanted to dare him to ask me about another box.

Just ask! ASK! Ask me about any box! Do you want to know what’s inside the tote labeled 127? I can tell you if you want! I can tell you exactly what is inside. ASK! Look at my fucking awesome Master Manifest! Look at it, man! LOOK! LOOK DAMMIT!

Some will say that I have too much time on my hands, or that I am an anal retentive control freak. To that, I would say, “Yes sir. I am.” But, I would also say that when you have moved as many times as I have, and when you have lost boxes or totes with things that you really wanted to keep, or if you ever held a corporate position when you were responsible for directing the operational processes of hundreds, or thousands of stores, you would understand.

Once 401 West End was loaded, off we all went to Astoria to The Hobbit House, Kirk’s apartment. (I can hear his correction, “It’s a house.” A house sits behind another house like a Mother in Law Apartment.)

Out of the basement came more labeled totes and boxes. Mirrors were wrapped, our backpacks packed up, and an extremely heavy headboard was lowered down a 4” gap between the banister and downstairs ceiling. There was extreme concern that the truck wouldn’t ft everything, but everything of importance did fit. We filled every square inch of the truck. We did leave behind a small and old ShopVac, a hand truck, rusty handsaw, and some planters with dirt in them.

The team leader reviewed paperwork and cost with me, which increased due to the projection of cubic feet not matching the actual cubic feet. (I bristle at even admitting that.) I wanted to know what went wrong in my calculation. Basically, if all the items fit perfectly together, like a well-played game of Tetris, it would create perfect stacks and rows. But, oddly shaped items create “dead space,” which has to be worked around, and which increases needed cubic feet.

The truck’s gate was closed and locked and payment was made, including a hefty tip. The Team Leader thanked me profusely for the tip and said that we were the best clients he had worked with. Most clients hover, complain, nitpick, and even argue about every step they take. We were good clients. We were good.

To that I say, “Yes, my good sir, I am good. I am damn good.”

Love Letter to 401 WEA

I write this from the dining room of my Upper West Side apartment, the one where I have lived for nearly five years; the one that brought me from Hell’s Kitchen, where I lived for six years. The one where I felt I was providing a better life for my dog, Victor, by being steps away from Riverside Park. The one where I cried in the hallway the day I moved in, a lump of heaves and snorts, a wet mess from tears and snot, sitting on the floor with my back against its cream wall, feeling completely alone after breaking up with my boyfriend of four years. This was the apartment I did not want the broker to show me.

*      *       *       *      *

My relationship with Dion crumbled due to mutual infidelity fueled by anger and resentments, insecurities and self-doubts, booze and drugs. I met with a broker and asked him to show me apartments in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side. I wanted to be where the men were since I was single again. He asked what I wanted in an apartment: one bedroom, character, near transport, not too noisy, elevator, doorman, dishwasher, large kitchen, etc. The list went on. I wanted to treat myself after living one year in a 300 square foot studio on the fifth-floor of a walk up building. A studio where the shower was next to the refrigerator in the almost non-existent kitchen where two men and a large dog tripped over one another while getting ready for work, dinner, or to go out.

“You’ve said that you often walk to Central Park with your dog. Why not look in the Upper West Side?” he asked.

“Not interested,” I replied while thinking he was insane.

Why would I ever want to live in the Upper West Side?! It’s the ‘burbs of Manhattan. Strollers everywhere. Kids. Parents. Entitled mothers with their five children in polo shirts and crocs. Ick.

He took me to several places in the neighborhoods that interested me. None of them fit my “wants”. They were too small, too dark, too low, too creepy, too smelly, too boring. Too … too … too … too. They were too little and I was too much.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment where I spent nine hours fastidiously measuring and taping the hallway in order to paint vertical stripes. The smell of blue painter’s tape lingered on my hands, in my hair, on my clothes; the taste of it in my mouth. A once cream and overly bright hallway became a rich and luxurious walk from the living room to the kitchen. The dark green stripes with a base of a deep brick red evoked a masculine men’s club. This was the apartment where I explained to guests that the stripes were not black, but a deep green, secretly relishing in the fact that the stripes were so rich and dark they were almost an enigma.

*      *      *      *      *

“There are some great properties in the Upper West Side and there is a lot of inventory right now,” my broker mentioned. “And you’ll be closer to Central Park where you go every weekend.”

I sighed.

“Let me just show you three and if you don’t like them, we’ll come back to Hell’s Kitchen and continue your search,” he continued.

I reluctantly agreed and resented him for even thinking I would be interested in that neighborhood. We looked at two apartments near Central Park. Both were awkward and interior apartments with no light.

He does not get it. He has no idea what I want and cannot deliver. This is not going to work. I need a new broker.

“This isn’t working for me,” I said as we looked around an apartment where you took three steps down inside the door to get to the living; where you took three steps up to the closet-kitchen outfitted with a dorm-sized fridge and two-burner hot plate; where four steps up and a turn took you to the windowless bedroom. “Let’s go back to Hell’s Kitchen.”

“I have one more place to show you near Riverside Park,” he smiled. “It’s a little more than your budget, but I think you can make it work. Take a look at this one – humor me – and then we’ll go back to Hell’s Kitchen.”

We entered the building and we were greeted by the doorman. We went up the elevator to the fourth floor. On either side of the landing were sets of closed double doors, something I judged as creepy and strange. We passed through one set, walked a short carpeted hallway (This must smell rank in wintertime!) and he unlocked and opened the door.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment where I bought “grown up” furniture. Metal and glass bookcases from Room and Board that held books that I read, and aspired to read. Books of architecture and art. Books to laugh through and cry through held tight by interesting bookends or stacked in a pleasing way. A dining table with a leaf and six chairs, where dinner parties were held, board games played, and Thanksgiving feasts enjoyed. A nice wooden desk, where I would write letters in order to keep the US Post Office from going bankrupt and ensure that letters did not become a dying breed. A Crate&Barrel bar replete with all types of barware and liquors. A six-drawer dresser housing funky socks, American Apparel T-Shirts, and Tom of Finland Toile pajama bottoms. A wooden credenza that held my new 54″ flat panel television, bought after a drunken brunch, and where I was surprised by its size when it was delivered.

This was the apartment where I could host visitors for extended stays. My mom, my sister, friends in for business and friends in for pleasure. Where I would have work team meetings to brainstorm, away from the office’s chaos. Where I would know my neighbors and their dogs, but only remember their dog’s names. Where I would see the adjacent apartments turn over three times in the course of four years, feeling pleased that I had stayed put and was the “long-term tenant. This was the apartment where I felt comfortable leaving my door unlocked when I left, whether for an hour or the day.

*      *      *      *      *

The door opened and I saw sunlight bouncing off the gleaming hardwood floors. I saw a large living room flanked by what could be a dining area accentuated by a trio of windows in a rounded turret. I saw a large bedroom with two large windows and a door into the bathroom. The bathroom also had a door into the hallway, the long hallway that led from the living room at the front of the apartment to the kitchen in the back. I saw the kitchen with a large window, a dishwasher, double ovens, cupboards and more cupboards. I saw counter space. Lots of counter space.

I saw charm, character, and pre-war details. I saw history and felt memories of lives lived in this building and these rooms since its opening in 1900. I saw ghosts of the past and I saw my future. I would be happy here.

“I have to have this place,” I told my broker, not knowing what was in store for me.

One week later, I moved in and I was on the hallway floor crying in rage that I made the wrong decision, that my life was going nowhere, that I was alone. My relationship ended, my life was once again in flux, and I wondered why the hell I was now living in the Upper West Side. Was I crazy? I knew I would never see a gay man again. Not here. Not in the ‘burbs. The smell of H&H onion bagels wafted through the open windows and Victor licked my face.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment on the fourth floor corner of a pre-war building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan on West End Avenue. This was the apartment from where I sent cleaver change of address cards that cryptically told where to find me.

USA – NYC – UWS – WEA – SCP

This was the apartment where Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving dinners were held. Where brunches were enjoyed with much champagne. Where I would come after a long workday, be greeted by my ever-loving dog, walk to Riverside Park, and watch the mighty Hudson flowing. Where I would take long baths in the big and deep tub, immersed to my chin in hot water. Where I would read books before going to bed. Where I would shower in the morning and dress in the bedroom with the curtains open, not caring if the neighbors could see, since that is what you do in New York. This was the apartment where I caught two neighbor girls, no older than 10, watching “The Incredibles” on my giant TV with me, as they perched themselves in their neighboring window. This was the apartment where I would sit by the windows that faced West End Avenue to watch thunderstorms of lighting and pouring rain, where first snows would fall and quiet all traffic and gently whisper onto the tree branches below.

This was the apartment where Dion came to recuperate after his three-month hospitalization. This was where “The Last Supper” was held, a hindsight reference to a dinner party held three days before he went back into the hospital. This was the apartment where he lived the last six weeks of his life before succumbing to AIDS. This was that apartment.

Eventually, this was the apartment where I came to hide from my emotions and seek escape from the madness that was my life. This was where I built a facade of a perfect life, with the perfect job and the perfect dog, and the perfect clothes, and the perfect perfection of a perfectly clean and orderly perfect apartment. This was where I would run after work to seek safety from its CEO’s daily torture. This was where I would run to hide from my self-doubts, low self-esteem, my loneliness, and fear. This was where I was seeking solitude in order to get clarity, without realizing that I was isolating into a lonelier and smaller life. The bar became less useful for cocktail parties than for my own personal binge drinking. The desk I thought I would write from became most useful for doing lines of drugs. The bed became more a place to sleep with many than a place to sleep peacefully alone. My life unraveled before my eyes, and by my hands, within this apartment.

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This was the apartment where I had a vision. A vision that the life I was living was not worth it. Where I backed myself into an emotional corner and had a breakdown. This was where I came after rehab to put the pieces of my life back together. This was that apartment. This was where I learned how to have fun sober while playing board games with sober friends. This was the apartment that I left each morning to attend meetings and outpatient care; where I would return filled with feelings that I could now work through. This was the apartment where I could now look in the mirror, into my reflected eyes, and feel proud of me. This was that apartment.

This was the apartment where a friend and I organized and packed bags of freeze-dried food in preparation to backpack a portion of the Appalachian Trail. This was the apartment where that friend became my boyfriend, and where that boyfriend eventually moved. This was where we set up Christmas early and where our parents met for the first time during a Thanksgiving feast. This was where I left to see a Broadway show and have an anniversary dinner with my boyfriend, and came home with my fiancé. This was the apartment where a puppy, Rhoda, was brought to keep Victor company and to round-out our family. This was the apartment where we decided to move to Charleston, South Carolina.

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“I have to have this place,” I told my broker, not knowing what was in store for me.

This was that apartment.

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