Category Archives: letting go

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.

not mine … not mine … not mine … MINE !

This is no longer my state to which I pay taxes, and whose governor is married to Sandra Lee, the “from a box” chef who has an amazing life story.

This is no longer my city, which hustles and bustles continuously, and fills with tourists who don’t know how to walk properly through a crowd.

This is no longer my county, which has the same name as the island on which I have lived for the last eleven years.

This is no longer my borough, where when traveling to other boroughs feels like it requires packing for a three-day journey.

This is no longer my neighborhood, gentrified, Jewish, and architecturally stunning.

This is no longer my street, whose abbreviation, WEA, can be used as the street name on letters and they will still find their way to my post box.

This is no longer my block, where the doormen next door know my name and the names of my dogs, and where car accidents happen often because cab drivers pay no attention to red lights or limit lines.

This is no longer my building, where my doormen know every intimate detail of my comings and goings (which is sometimes embarrassing and mortifying); where I know the faces of neighbors and their dog’s names; and where I can borrow a 6′ ladder from my Super at the drop of a hat.

This is no longer my floor, with seven quiet units, and where Bunny, the neighboring dog, barks whenever any sound in the hallway occurs, no matter how slight.

This is no longer my apartment, which gave me memories and life experiences; where I could look across the street from my living room window and see into an unknown family’s bathroom; where I have seen the husband, wife, and son relieve themselves; where I have asked myself why they have not purchased a shade or curtain; and where I wrote A Love Letter to 401 WEA, an essay rejected by the New York Times.

This is no longer my living room, empty and echoing, while I type this post before leaving my keys with the super and saying goodbye for good.

BUT …

This is my fucking chandelier and I am hellbent on taking it with me.

chandelier

wanna beer ?

When I visit a restaurant, it is inevitable that I will hear two phrases. If there is a wait, the host/ess will ask, “Would you like to sit in the bar and have a drink while you wait?” and then once seated, the server will ask, “Would you like to start off with a cocktail or some wine tonight?”

These questions used to strike fear in me. I would get nervous and anxious waiting for these questions. I would answer almost apologetically, as if my not having a drink would make them think less of me or cause them great harm. I felt compelled to explain why I would not order a cocktail, a beer, or a glass of wine; otherwise, they would think I was crazy. I would curtly reply, “I don’t drink” and then order something non-alcoholic, never making eye contact. Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Wine glasses would be removed from the table, along with wine and cocktail lists, and my order of iced tea or a soft drink taken. I would feel ashamed. Ashamed of what I knew: That I could not, under any circumstance have a cocktail or glass of wine. You see, with me, one cocktail would turn into two or three; and one glass of wine – Wait, what? One glass of wine? Let’s be honest – one bottle of wine would turn into two, followed by a few ports with dessert, and then drinks at bars on the way home.

That method would bring out the best of my worst characteristics. At first, I would be funny, joking, laughing, and talking. I would progress to talking too loudly (usually about people nearby), slurring, drinking more, feeling compelled to pick up the tab (especially if in a large group), and berating others at their expense. That would evolve into self-consciousness, self-doubt, paranoia, defensiveness, and ultimately anger. I would stumble my way to a cab and either head some place to drink more and hook up, or head home and pass out.

The question “what do you want to drink” also arises in social situations, like dinner parties, cocktail parties, or other events. I had been home from rehab for two weeks when I attended a BBQ at a friend’s Brooklyn apartment. After the door opened, I received a quick apartment tour and then a tour of the booze and mixers. This was a group of friends where drinking together was a pastime. It is what we did. We would eat, drink, talk, laugh, and drink some more. There was confusion and amusement at my response.

“You don’t want a beer? How about wine? A mojito?”

This was my first time in a situation where I had to say no. I was frightened and nervous and felt sick to my stomach. I had not told many people, this group included, that I was in rehab. Saying no felt like a confession of all I had done wrong in my life.

“No. I don’t feel like drinking tonight,” I said.

What it felt like I said:

“I just got out of a 28 day in-patient rehab program in Minneapolis. I have been sober for a little over two months now. I can’t drink or do drugs anymore. I can’t have even one drink. Not wine, not tequila, not gin, not port, not scotch, not rum, not even beer. If I have any of those, I fear that I will fall back into old behaviors of drinking to excess, drugging to excess, and hating myself for every bad decision I have made in my life because I can’t control myself. Now I hate myself even more for having to say no, because I know you think that must be crazy. Who refuses a drink? Only alcoholics. And now you are thinking, ‘Oh my god! You are an alcoholic!’ And now I am thinking that you hate me and I should just go. I am no fun anymore. I am a bore. I can’t even laugh at your jokes. Not only because you are slurring your words, but because I can’t really understand the point of the joke, because I am not drunk. Regardless, I am no longer fun and I will never be or have fun again. I hate myself for not being able to drink.”

And I did.

I was ashamed and afraid that I would no longer fit in. I drank and did drugs to feel comfortable in social situations that made me uncomfortable. Drinking helped eliminate my social anxiety. The recovery community calls it “Social Lubrication.” I could converse, laugh, joke, feel connected, and feel like I fit in when I was drunk. That is, until I no longer fit in. When that happened, things got messy.

I would go out alone to get drunk. I would maybe throw up, maybe not. I would get home and drink some more, or do a few lines, smoke some weed, or hit the pipe. I was alone, a mess in my own apartment and life. What started as a way to be more social became an isolating and lonely necessity to get through a hard week, a rough emotional time, or just a regular Tuesday. When the haze would clear from my head, I would cry. I always loved that moment when the tears started to fall. It confirmed that I actually did have feelings. Ironically, I was using to excess to block out feeling anything at all.

In my first six months of sobriety, I told myself that after one year I would be able to drink again. I would not drug, but I would drink. It was my plan. However, in my journey of self-discovery along the path of sobriety, I re-read all of my journals that date back to eighth grade. I was amazed to find that my behavioral patterns as a drinking adult were the same patterns I had as a drinking teenager. More, more, more. Do it to feel comfortable. Do it to feel connected. Do it to mask fear. Do it to fit in. Do it to have sex. Do it to hide how awkward you feel. Do it to hide shame about being gay. Do it to hide shame about doing it. Do it to excess. Get angry. Shout. Yell. Pass out. Have others tell you about what you did when you were drunk because you don’t remember. Remember these as being funny stories. Laugh about them. Start it all over again.

I learned a lot about myself. More than I anticipated. I started to identify as an addict and an alcoholic in meetings, something I was not willing to do before. I accepted it as fact and surrendered.

Now when asked if I want a drink, I simply say, “Yes. I’ll have a Ginger Ale.” Or a lemonade or Coke. I have asked for mocktails (cocktails without booze. Sometimes I get looks, but now they don’t bother me. I owe my life to my sobriety. I honor my sobriety and I work hard at it. When one lives in a society that is alcohol infused, and one does not imbibe, one must set boundaries and stick by them. I have to feel confident in the decision I have made to not use. I have to remain aware of the consequences that will happen if I do drink. I have to honor the hard work that I have done to achieve my sobriety. I have to understand that while others can, I cannot. It sounds simple enough, but it is not.

I have an “awareness challenge” for those who drink (responsibly or not):

  • Pay attention to the number of beer or booze commercials you see in an evening or afternoon of watching TV.
  • Notice the number of alcohol print ads you see when you flipping through a magazine.
  • See how many cookbooks start with a cocktails section.
  • Notice how many fun events you attend center around drinking.
  • Notice co-worker’s conversations, especially Fridays around 4:00pm or while at work functions.
  • Attend a wedding, house party, a dinner party, a BBQ, a tailgating party, or a day at the beach.
  • Watch TV shows or movies to see how many scenes involve alcohol, are set in a bar, have dialog based around drinking, or show wine, beer, and booze.
  • Notice when you are asked to wait at the bar and have a drink or to have a cocktail or wine with your dinner.

It can be overwhelming for someone like me. I have become comfortable with it. I can be around others who drink, but when it gets messy, or when people start to “melt,” I know it’s time for me to go. I can host people at my house who drink, and I have a decently stocked bar. Drinking just doesn’t interest me anymore. I am more fun when I don’t drink. I am more interesting when I don’t drink. And I love waking up every morning without any trace of a hangover.

But I am smart enough to know that all of that could change at any moment. And that’s what I need to be prepared for. That’s why I attend meetings. That’s why I talk about my addictions. That’s why I am rigorously honest with myself.

As overwhelming as the media and social messaging are, there are unexpected moments of clarity. A friend was visiting from New York City and he, Kirk, and I, went to dinner at a posh Charleston restaurant. The waiter asked if we wanted any wine to start, two of us declined, and one said he would consider it. Two sets of wine glasses were removed. The restaurant manager came to our table offering a complementary bottle of prosecco and noticed only one set of wine glasses.

He looked at me and asked, “You will not be having wine tonight?”

“No sir, I will not.” I replied resolutely, hoping that I had overcome the self-consciousness of declining.

“I’ve been sober for thirty-one years. How long have you been in the program?” he asked.

What followed throughout our dinner and dessert was some of the most scintillating conversation with this stranger about resolve, AA meetings, and sobriety. At dessert, he sat at our table and we all chatted. He shared his story, his love of his business, his love of Charleston, his advice. He hopped up to hug and kiss patrons goodbye. He introduced us to his wife as he left for the evening. He welcomed us into his restaurant and shared with us a slice of his life.

All the while, wine glasses clinked in the background, toasts were made at tables, diners asked about wine pairings, and the hostess asked patrons to wait in the bar and have cocktails. All of this swirled around me, the world rotated on its axis as it always does; life was in motion.

The only thing that was unmovable was my sobriety.

Rhododendron

Our sweet little puppy, Rhoda, unfortunately ate some sego palm root. We have two in our backyard and had moved them from one area to another. They really are a pretty plant, but they are also highly toxic to dogs, cats, and children if ingested. She spent four days in the emergency vet on IV fluids, pain medications, and other antibiotics. She was released and came home with us. We had to continue to administer medications, and feed her baby food via syringe. She was taking milk thistle and special nutrient-rich supplements. Her energy levels would swing from moderate to low in a matter of minutes. Her personality was no longer vibrant.

Two weeks in, Kirk and I were in a mess of tears and sadness. Her stool had been black for five days, indicting internal bleeding; her energy level was nil, all she could do was sleep and look at us with pleading eyes; she was isolating in the closet or as far away from us as possible; she wasn’t eating and want drinking on her own; her personality was gone along with her weight, she was skin and bones; she was urinating almost uncontrollably; she wanted nothing more than to lay in the grass and sniff the air. The vet suspected advanced liver failure — all the signs were there.

She got one last medicinal pain shot to make her comfortable. We took her home to wait for the inevitable. The vet said to call her the following day and that she was hoping something miraculous would happen.

The rest of the day we wept, loud cries against god, tears and snot flowing. Everything was a devastation, an indication that our family was being pulled apart.

She wandered to Victor’s bowl for a drink of water. I tapped on her bowl and said something I’ve said a hundred times, “Rhoda’s bowl. Use Rhoda’s bowl.”

Kirk was cleaning the floor where she had her most recent peeing and I heard him in the hallway gasp and cry. My throat let out a guttural sob as I crouched on the kitchen floor and covered my eyes.

We all sat outside in the grass and under the canopy. Kirk had said that all we wanted to do was provide her a good life. We moved here to do that and look what happened. She’s going to leave us. Our family is breaking apart.

Kirk and Victor went back in the house. Rhoda and I had time alone. I laid down next to her and kissed her face, her ears, her little black lips. I rubbed her paws and felt her toenails. I massaged her neck while her eyes closed and occasionally opened to look back at me. I told her how much I loved her, her little beard of whiskers, her golden eye lashes. My sweet little Rhododendron. Sweet little girl. I cried into her neck, feeling the protrusion of her shoulder bones.

She licked the salty tears from my face.

Back inside, she was upstairs cuddled in bed with Kirk. They had their time together. I sat thinking on our red sofa, the sofa sprinkled with white dog hair, indecipherable from which dog.

Is this really happening? Little Rhoda will be dead in a matter of days? Will it happen tonight? Will we have to put her down tomorrow? Is this really “it”?

These thoughts spun through my brain. My eyes hurt, my head hurt, my nose and throat hurt. My heart shattered into a million pieces and its shards cut into my belief in a higher power.

My higher power, who gave me strength to get sober, leave a demoralize job, grow emotionally and spiritually, and finally be honest enough to love and be loved without fear, was taking away my precious baby.

“How can you exist?” I screamed into the sofa pillows. “How could you do this her? To Victor, who is finally smitten with his little sister?To Kirk who finally decided to get a puppy again after suffering the loss of two that he had to leave behind with his last horrific relationship? And how can you do this to me? What have I done?”

I can’t remember if we ate dinner that night. I do remember crawling into bed. The four of us huddled together in a mass of love and sadness. Rhoda lay between me and Kirk and we both faced her. Victor was curled up in ball in the crook of my bent legs. Pats and coos and quiet tears soon melted into much needed and unrestful sleep.

I woke up around 4:30 am. Rhoda and Victor had long ago left our bed, I was sure. But where was she? My stomach turned. I quietly got out of bed and checked underneath. Not there. In her bed. Not there. In the closet. Not there. I softly padded my way down the stairs and glanced into she living room. She was on the sofa, a tiny curled ball of white on the red cushion.

She lifted her head and looked at me with squinted eyes. Her tail thump-thump-thumped slowly. I curled up next to her, rubber her bunny-soft ears and kissed her nose.

“You lovely beast. You sweet lovely beast. I am so sorry this has happened to you,” I whispered in her ear, my eyes welling up.

“It’s so unfair, I know. And I am so sorry that you are in pain.”

She looked up at me with her little black eyes, her gold eye lashes seemingly more pronounced. I stroked her chin, full of whiskers like a bearded lady in a freak show.

“We love you so much, Rhoadster. You are so loved and are such a part of this family. We will never forget the life and the sense of completion that you brought our family.”

She rolled to her side and I rubbed her belly and buried my face in her soft neck. She strained to sniff and lick at my ear, so I moved purposefully and her sniffs and wet licks filled my ear.

“I want you to know one thing, my sweet baby girl. If you are ready to go, we understand. You should go. If you are in pain and want it to end, we understand. We will be sad and miss you horribly, but we will understand. You deserve to not be in pain. You deserve to romp and play again.”

This conversation ripped me back to August of 2009 in the ICU of Roosevelt Hospital. Dion has been re-intebated and sedated. The day before, his attending doctor discussed deciding when to end his pain — pull the plug, as it were.

I talked to his parents and they agreed it was time; they made plans to arrive in New York the next day with his brother. Since I was Dion’s medical proxy, I had the distinct and soul wrenching task of telling the doctor that it was time. I signed paperwork. I was numb as they explained the process: they would start administering morphine and continually increase it. He would bloat. Once a sufficient does was administered, they would turn off the respirator and let nature take it’s course. I asked for assurance that nothing would end until after his parents and brother came to see him.

The next day, my cousin Shannon and I sat in the ICU lobby together as we had done together for so many days.

I went to see him, held onto his hand, stroked his hair, and told him that his pain would soon be over. He would be free. And a day later he was.

Now, in my living room, I am telling my eighth month old puppy the same thing knowing that either she will leave of her own will before the sun rises, or we will drive to the vet that afternoon.

“You deserve to be free, baby girl. You’ve been such a good puppy, and wonderful dog. You can let go if you want to.”

She continued to lick my face and I let her. I pulled the chenille throw over me and stretched out on the sofa, my face next to her back and my hand stroking her head.

I slept there awhile longer, but left her in a little ball on the sofa. Curled up. Tiny. I crawled back into bed with Kirk before the sun started to cast a pink light in the sky.

Something woke me. A noise? A feeling? A voice? A sixth sense? I sat up and looked over the edge of the bed.

There were two little black eyes staring up at me, brighter than they had been in two weeks. She sat primly with her long front legs in perfect turnout. Her tail wagged.

She looked … better, happy, less pained. I got out of bed and kneeled down next to her. She wiggled and wagged and chewed on my hand. She crawled into my lap and up my chest to give me her signature hug. She licked my face as if to tell me that everything was going to be alright, that it was going to be fine.

That morning, she ate a solid breakfast of kibble and grape nuts mixed in with baby food. She ate her entire bowl full and looked for more.

We went on a morning walk and she had pep in her step and curiously sniffed at plants and the street.

She had energy and life. Yes, life. A gift. A treasure. Kirk and I were mystified. When we talked to our vet, who just the day before was crying with us in her office, she was mystified.

She prescribed to us a pill form of the injection she was getting every other day.

Rhoda has been on a path of recovery ever since. Her stool is no longer black, her belly no longer bloated. She’s been weaned off two of her meds. She wakes in the morning ready to eat. She eagerly goes on walks and uses our newly installed doggie doors to go in and out as she pleases.

She is our little Rhododendron. A Smoky Mountain girl. A blossom among the trees, blooming against the odds of high heat and no water. A fighter.

And she continues to fight, to blossom, to grow. To continues to amaze us with her resilience. She is our little baby girl, who in her 8 months of life has two surgeries and a poisoning under her collar (dogs don’t wear belts, you see).

Hopefully, this will be the last major experience for her. Hopefully her health will continue to improve and she will grow to be an old and wise dog.

For now, we’ll take it one day at a time. Tail wags, gentle licks, click-clack nails on the hardwood floors, night time snuggles, muzzle nuzzles, and a whole lot of hope.

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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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

*      *      *      *      *

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

This was that apartment.

*      *      *      *      *