The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “relationships”

The Measure of a Man

first published July 2, 2016michelangelo_david

Kev

I was the youngest of four brothers. My father had been a great athlete in his youth and he expected all of us to travel the same path. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were encouraged to run and swim and climb and throw and fight and do all the things that strong, powerful, masculine men do.  There was no sympathy for or indulgence in weakness of any kind.

We were raised to carry on his legend by becoming  the kind of men other men admired. As children,  we were expected to be braver, smarter, and more well-liked than other boys. It was impressed upon us from the time we were very young we must never do anything to tarnish our family name or reputation. There must never be even a whiff of controversy or disagreeability about us. We were raised to be kind to those weaker than ourselves. We defended injustice when we saw it.  We were helpful to those in need.  We were generally peaceful but strong and able enough to win a fight should someone else throw the first punch. We were raised to be real men, good men, admirable men.

I never doubted that my father’s values were well-placed. His moral compass was infallible.  I understood his reasoning in everything.  I lived to make him proud of me. And he was proud of me.  I was handsome, popular, smart, a champion athlete. I didn’t have to be coerced to adopt his values. I did not stay the course merely to please my father.  It was obvious to me that this was the right and proper way to be.  I felt fortunate to have his guidance knowing that others floundered with no beacon to light the way.

When I was about 13 or 14, an uncomfortable stirring began to nag at the back of my mind.  Other boys my age were thinking about girls.  In fact, that’s all they thought about. I kept waiting for that same fascination to arise in me. I expected to wake up one morning and find myself as lust-driven as my classmates. I worried that I did not share this irresistible biological urge. I told myself I was just a late bloomer. Or maybe my glands were afflicted in some way and not producing enough hormones. Perhaps I needed to eat more masculine foods. (I began a diet heavy in red meat, certain that would solve the problem.)

Meanwhile, I kept a low profile. It was not in my nature to lie, so instead I was reticent and shy. I didn’t want anyone to examine me too closely, to ask too many questions. My athletic skills were valuable to the various teams I played on, but I rarely socialized with the boys outside of practice.

When I was 17, I started dating a girl in my class.  This was done for the sake of appearances; to stave off the inevitable questions.  I did not want to have to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend.  The answer was too complex and I didn’t even understand it, myself.  The girl was also shy and from a religious family. Our relationship was respectful and chaste, which was ideal as neither of us were interested in anything sexual, each for our own reasons.

When my friends started bragging about their conquests, I held my tongue. Even if I had been having sex, I still would not have shared my exploits. Such behavior was unseemly. They grudgingly admired me because I didn’t kiss and tell.

Eventually, I went off to university, far from home, away from the inquisitive eyes of anyone who had any preconceived notions about me, where I could start again with no preconceived notions about myself.

I had long harbored suspicions about myself, and they haunted me.  Such thoughts were terrifying and when my mind alighted upon them, I quickly changed the mental subject.  Eventually, however, the feelings, the desires, the need,  were too big to deny.  They screamed and barked and howled.  They would not stop, would not be silenced. They could no longer be ignored.

Here was my dilemma: if I could not face the truth about myself, I was a coward, and that I could not abide.  But if my suspicions were correct, my life was a ruin.

But the truth could no longer be denied, and so it was there that I discovered what I was.

This knowledge ripped my sense of self right out from under me. It went against everything I’d ever believed I was, everything I’d spent my life preparing to be. I’d become that thing that brings shame on the family; that thing that can never be accepted; that thing that made a mockery of my father’s fine lessons in manhood.

I could not be my true self and remain part of my own family. They would never accept me as now knew I was. And now that I knew, I could not pretend to them to be otherwise. By deceit, I already put myself apart from them, even if they didn’t know.

And so, I was cast adrift with no moral anchor. What did it matter if I was brave and strong and true? I was still a mockery of a man.

But then, who could I be? I needed a new identity, a new way of being, a new skin. I tried on quite a few, but nothing felt comfortable. No matter who I tried to be, it all felt like a costume, a pretense, a role that wasn’t at all natural. I had been taught to be a certain kind of man, and now all those lessons were pointless.  What was left?  Who was I?  What was I?  I spent several wasted years adrift, searching but not finding the answers. I did things that, had they known, would have disgraced my family.  I was not always honest nor brave nor true.  Even crying filled me with shame.

I couldn’t be myself anymore and I couldn’t be anyone else, either.  I was nothing.  Nobody.  Nothing about me was true or real. There was no reason for me to exist.

And so, at 24, I hanged myself.  I did not leave a note. I did not reveal my secret. The act of suicide, itself, I knew, would be shameful enough.

The pain was ultimately intolerable but from this side I can appreciate the understanding that has followed from it. This loss of identity, the complete denial of ego, and the accompanying torment provided the most valuable lessons I have ever been shown in any lifetime.

There needs to be a balance between feeling the importance of the self and realizing how unimportant we really are.

 

——————

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Love Me, Love Me Not

First published March 4, 2015

sad marble angel

Agat

I was a disaster at love. My relationships never lasted more than a few years. I fell in love with the notion of love and never saw my partners as they really were.  I was interested in others only as long as they allowed me to feel within a narrow spectrum of emotion; as long as they didn’t force me to consider my own responsibility too closely. When my feelings began to stray beyond those parameters,  I might become angry or demanding or hurt or fed up.

None of my behavior was consistent with truly loving someone. I was never willing to stick around to do the work.

I thought I was doing the work. I thought I was being the mature, sensible one. I believed that what I wanted was within reason, and within my right to ask.  I wanted them to behave in the way which I believed was the correct way to behave. I wanted them to reciprocate my feelings.  To feel as I did. Respond as I did. Desire as I did. Love as I did.

I had lofty concepts of love, which, to my great heartbreak, no one else seemed to share.

When they finally would not or could not live by my standards, they would either leave or gradually stop making any effort until I ceased asking; until I abandoned my feelings and went away. This process was not without drama, which was mainly my own doing. It was, ironically, the very drama they’d been trying to avoid. It was the behavior which always proved them right in the end.

I believed myself to be loving yet tragically unlovable when in fact, I was quite lovable but tragically unloving.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

The Harshing of the Mellow…

first published June 5, 2016

cassandra

Cas

I fancied myself a tragic Cassandra, my warnings to the world ignored and unheeded. I could recognize the birth of a killing wave long before even a ripple fluttered beneath the water. I paid attention when the stone was dropped, and could accurately calculate how long it would take before those waves engulfed the shore, There, the revelers and the workers plowed on, willfully oblivious to impending disaster.

I was not well-liked. Few wanted to be reminded that their own greed and selfishness and laziness and ignorance were contributing to an inevitable crisis.  Nobody wants to be lectured by someone who is in no better a position to stop the juggernaut than they are. The best way to get through life with any measure of happiness is to ignore the sword that hangs over all our heads.  But I could not let anyone forget.  I would not allow them the luxury of denial or ignorance.  They mocked me, condescended to me, ignored me because I could see what they refused to consider.

It didn’t matter that my predictions generally played out as I said they would. I was not sought for my advice.  Instead, I spent my life on the edge of panic, without hope, certain every moment that the end was imminent.

But of course the end is always imminent for everyone. This is the human condition. Each generation eventually dies. Society, technology, mores…they are always changing,  sometimes unrecognizably so in a very short time. What is calamitous to the parent is perfectly normal to the child. As the older generation loses its ability to adapt,  the young easily inhabit the new conditions, having known nothing else.  The human race is resilient, after all.

In the end, the pattern unspools as it was always meant to.  All the millions of moving parts conspire to weave the future in the only way possible.  My dire warnings and fears were for naught.  What did it matter that I could see further than most? There was nothing any of us could have done to have made things turn out differently.  There was nothing to do but wait for another tide.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

The Lure of the Jungle

Original publication date Feb 23, 2015

(This is still one of my favorites)

baby_monkey_2

Ca

I once had a pet monkey.  I loved him but he did not stay long.

He was just a baby when I found him. He was hurt and frightened. He’d been orphaned or perhaps abandoned. People believe that every mother has a biological drive to protect her child, but I can tell you this isn’t always so.  So I took him as my own child. I nurtured him and taught him as best I could.

After some time, he began to run away.    The first time, he was gone for a whole day. I looked for him everywhere! I called his name through the trees until my throat was sore.   I was mad with grief and panic! I was sure I would never see him again. But then, the next morning, there he was in his favorite spot on the porch. He greeted me as always. I was so happy to see him, I forgave him for putting me through all that.

As he got older, he began to run away more often. Each time, he stayed away longer and longer. Each time, I was sure I’d seen the end of him but he always came back. For a long time, each time he ran away, I would cry and worry but after a while, however, he was gone more than he was with me. When he went away, I simply shrugged my shoulders and went about my days, without giving him much thought.  I stopped looking for him.

He would return when he returned.

When he did, I let him inside, but I did not hold him close. I stopped feeding him. He didn’t need that from me anymore. I did nothing to keep him bound to me.  I did not allow my emotions to be stirred. I knew he would be gone again soon.

Until a year passed and I realized he was gone for good.

Eventually I moved away from that place. If he ever returned, he did not find me. He could no more stay with me than I could have lived in the trees in the jungle.

I soon forgot the pain of loving that monkey but I remembered the lesson: no matter how much somebody loves you,  if it suits them better to be elsewhere, they will leave. Sooner or later, everyone seeks to exist in the place where they are most comfortable; to live in their natural habitat.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne</e

Skin Deep

First published February 20, 2015

vintageglam

Gai

I was a great beauty. All my life, I was grateful for this. It opened many doors which never would have opened to me if I’d been born plain.

My mother had been a great beauty herself as a girl, and was still beautiful as I became a young woman. She’d been divorced from my father since I was small. For my entire childhood, she was obsessed about finding a second, wealthy husband. She studied, calculated, plotted. She was singular in this goal.

She was not above telling men that I was her baby sister; that she was raising me alone after our mother died. This, she believed, made her seem saintly and nurturing without the taint of “used merchandise.”   She dated a lot of men, but to her great heartbreak, promise seemed to vanish just as she was feeling most hopeful about permanence.

To the outside world, she remained gay and carefree, but alone at night, while doing her evening beauty regimen, she’d examine herself in the mirror and fret that her looks would run out before she found a suitable man. She had no means of supporting herself. Her only skill was to convince a man to take care of her. If she lost that advantage, she’d have nothing.

She taught me everything she knew. She showed me how to use a coy glance to bring a man to my side. She taught me how to tease a man with promises of his own imagination.  She taught me the trick of giving just enough to make him want more, but not so much as to ever satisfy him. She dressed me to accentuate my natural assets (which were considerable.) She showed me the secrets of maquillage, which, when used skillfully can make a woman appear to be more or less than what she actually is.

When I was sixteen, I fell in love with a sweet young man. We talked about running away together. Mother quickly broke us apart and forbade me to see him again. I was devastated.   A woman’s status, she explained, was completely dependent upon the status of the men in her life. She had great hopes for me. I would use my beauty to marry somebody powerful and wealthy. She would not let me throw myself away on a common boy who would never go very far.  There would be more suitors, she promised, of far higher caliber.

And so there were. Mother made sure of that. She pushed and preened and schooled me; she insinuated me into the right circles. She invented a story for me to tell about myself. I met rich, handsome men. Captains of industry and their sons. Famous entertainers. Influential politicians. Mother married me off to the best prospect. I was elated. I had won the prize! My life was exactly as it was meant to be.

But soon I was no longer happy. We had both conquered each other and had no further need of each other. An unhappy wife makes an unhappy husband. And vice versa. We ended in divorce, but not before I had acquired property and position. I did not want to make the same mistake my mother had made.

I was a divorcee but I was moving in more rarefied circles. I leapfrogged from one man to the next, each more powerful and wealthy than the last. I accumulated status and money. All that was important to me was to rise as high as possible above my standing at birth. I swore I would not end up like my mother.

Over the years, Mother’s fret gave way to worry. The worry eventually blossomed into full panic. By the time she was in her late forties, she was finding it difficult to hold her desperation in check, even though she knew she must — nothing sends a lover fleeing faster than the fetor of desperation.

Eventually, she found a much older man to marry. To my mind, he was a soft and ugly beast, but he was well-off and kind to her,  and she was grateful for him.

I did not want to become a woman who waited for men to choose her. I vowed to always be the one to chose. Even as I got older, I carried myself with confidence. I was an aging beauty but a beauty nonetheless. When I wanted to, I could still be quite charming. But I was selfish; I was vain; I was spoiled (as beautiful woman often are.)   I was perfectly willing to use anyone who could be helpful without a single thought to the consequences for them. I was very practiced at extracting what I wanted from others,  as quickly as possible, with as little emotional investment as possible.

I married three times. I had two children, both of whom met tragic ends, ravaged by the plague of a selfish, vain, spoiled mother. I can’t say I mourned very deeply at the time. We’d never been particularly close.

Few, if any, of my ex-lovers or husbands had much good to say about me. Once my spell on them was broken, all my ugliness became apparent. I made no effort to hide it. I didn’t try to be polite or kind. It mattered not what they thought of me; they were of no use to me any longer.

One evening, when I was in my late 70s, I came home from a gala, went to sleep and never woke up. Some acquaintances might have shed a polite tear or two, but there was nobody to truly mourn me. I’d only grazed the surface of the lives of others.

My mother had convinced me that my beauty was a key that would open doors for me. I understand now that it was not a key at all. It was the padlock. It kept me a prisoner of shallow intentions.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Mastering the Art of Love

first published February 14, 2015

tree_of_love_0_0.preview

Aya (the “love expert” — again)

Lifetime after lifetime, I was trapped in the same not-understanding; unloved without any comprehension of why. In some lifetimes, I simply retreated into myself and didn’t bother with others. In other lifetimes, it pained me deeply to have my feelings reproached. I once threw myself off a bridge to escape the pain of unrequited love.

Eventually, I began to observe and learn. Over more lifetimes, I came to understand that the key to being loved is to remind others what is lovable in themselves.

When this is done as practice, one naturally observes others in a positive way, seeing them in the best possible light. This engenders more love, which radiates outward, contagiously.

To be loved, first you must learn to love properly. The art of love, mastered, is impossible to resist. But still, there will be those who cannot believe the good  you see  in them.  They cannot trust love. This is their  heartbreak, not yours. Each human must discover for him or herself the importance of opening the heart to others. You cannot cajole or threaten or coerce someone to love. Each must come to it in his or her own way, in his or her own time.

Never regret the love you have given another, even one who is not able to return it. Do not blame yourself for staying too long. Do not feel foolish for wishing too fervently. Love, when it deepens your own understanding, is never wasted.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Compound Fracture

Originally published May 9, 2016

Exposición Sistema métrico campo de fútbol de Hisae Ikenaga. Abierto x Obras. MATADERO MADRID. Abril 2011

Kar

It was an accident. I was only a child myself when it happened. It destroyed my family. It destroyed my life.

My little brother was three. I was five.   We were playing together,  as we often did.  Typical boys of that age, we were loud and wild, often disobedient (especially me) and always looking for new ways to get around the rules.

My mother stored some special sweets in a high cabinet far out of our reach,  available only as rewards when we were well-behaved.  One morning, when she was distracted  by other things,  I convinced my brother that we should climb up and retrieve them.   We stacked some chairs, stools,  small tables,  and boxes into a makeshift ladder to enable us to reach the cupboard.

Then, in an instant it was over.  The pile collapsed and we came crashing down, bouncing first off the counter which was crowded with jars, canisters, sharp implements.  Somewhere along the fall,  he hit his head.  There was a lot of broken wood and shards of sharp, smashed ceramic.   I landed hard on top of him.

Mother came running when she heard the noise and found us in a bloody pile. I was hurt — my arm was badly broken – but I was still conscious. My brother was not. He was bleeding so much, it was hard to know exactly from where.

My mother rushed his limp body to the doctor who immediately realized the need for the hospital, where my father joined her. Two days later,  my brother was dead.

From that point on,  my family was irrevocably broken. My father blamed my mother for not taking proper care of us; for leaving us unattended even for five minutes, but she barely heard him.  She  blamed herself even more, and that was a much louder voice in her head. My own guilt and pain were only just beginning.

At the time, I was too scared, and my parents were too distracted,  too inconsolable,  too angry at me and at each other for me to dare mention the pain in my arm.  I never said a word about it.  The break eventually healed unattended and incorrectly, rendering my arm practically useless for the rest of my life,  a physical  reminder of what I’d done; an external symbol of my internal pain.

Over my lifetime, I must have replayed that morning in my head a million times. If only I hadn’t suggested we climb, he would still be here with us.  If only I had landed first and he fell on top of me perhaps he would still be alive.  If only Mother had not been so stingy with the sweets, I would not have spent my life crippled and racked with guilt.

The guilt and blame destroyed my parents’ marriage. They did not divorce, for they were bound forever by this tragedy  but there was no love, no kindness, no compassion for each other’s suffering. They lived together, side by side, going through the motions,  each alone in their unhealed pain

My mother died when I was 15.  My father was never an expressive man.  He had barely said a word to me for most of my life, but while my mother was alive,  there was some semblance of communication as they maintained a semblance of a normal life.   Once my mother was gone, however, he made no secret of ignoring and avoiding me.   He could barely stand to have me around.  His disdain seemed natural and understandable to me.

I left home a few years later and never saw him again. I heard after the fact that he died a few years after I left  but I felt no sorrow. He had been dead to me since my childhood.

I lived the life of a wanderer, doing what I could to make enough money to survive, living hand to mouth. I was often hungry and homeless but I knew life did not owe me more. I had to pay for what I had done.

Although I could not have articulated it then, this was my spiritual debt. If I hadn’t paid it while I was alive, I would have had to pay for it eventually.  I know now, that this was a debt already owed from a lifetime previous, when I committed evil with impunity.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

 

Photo:  ¨Furniture pile¨, 2011, furniture¨ HEIGHT OF ABIERTO X OBRAS SPACE: 102 STACKED UP FURNITURE Photograph by Paco Gómez/NOPHOTO.

The Look of Love

First published April 20, 2016

old-married-couple

Lef

There was a time when just the sound of his voice, the sight of his face, brought me joy.  His presence soothed me; made me calm,  allayed my fear and disquiet.  My heart leapt at his caress.  I slept better with him safe beside me.  He made me feel invincible.

But then, over the  years,  he grew distant.  Perhaps we simply grew apart.  In any case,  we became strangers occupying the same space.

And even though I was no longer pained by the loss of love, for it was gradual and mutual and impossible to get back, I missed the relief of unpacking my troubles to someone who was listening.  I missed how everything could be made right again by touch.  I missed falling asleep feeling protected.

I never took a lover although it was probably would have done me a world of good.  Not even after he died.  I felt too old at that point to even think in that way.

But strangely,  alone,  I started to regain my equilibrium.  Instead of feeling sad that he was not fulfilling my emotional needs, I began to learn how to fulfill them myself.   I was not alone long enough to learn all I needed to learn,  but these are lessons which I will have to learn another time.

——————

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

Friendly Fire

First published January 8, 2014

cowboy2

Pon

From the earliest time I can recall, I hated my father.  He was a mean drunk who sometimes got physically abusive.  I remember him hitting my mother from time to time when I was very young,  but soon my older brother put himself between the two of them and voluntarily took the brunt of the blows upon himself.   I watched that sick theater from the sidelines, rarely finding myself in the middle of it, but hating him all the same.

When I was in my mid-teens, I quit school and started working as a ranch hand on local farms. Whenever possible, I’d sleep in the bunk house to avoid going home.

There were all sorts of men in there, mostly itinerant, rootless farmhands. Some were good men – kind, generous, funny; some were as miserable and ornery as my father. Many were from far away; some from other countries. It was the kind of life which made having a stable romantic relationship or family life impractical, unsustainable. And so, a subculture of homosexuality arose. These men were “homosexuals of convenience” not because of any innate proclivity. They wanted sexual satisfaction, and other men happened to be most proximate. Man-on-man sexual trysts were not discussed openly, but they were alluded to; joked about, judged as nonchalantly as masturbation.   This might have been what they did but it wasn’t who they were, or how they defined themselves.

For a young man my age, with few heterosexual outlets, this kind of easy sexual satisfaction had its appeal.  I felt no shame about it. I had no reason to. Within the limited micro-culture in which I existed, it was perfectly acceptable behavior.

Normalcy is always relative. What feels normal to us is simply what is familiar.  Whether one grows up in a family of straight-laced missionaries or a tribe of flesh-eating zombies,  with little outside reference, this is going to seem perfectly normal.  And so,  touching men and having them touch me felt completely natural.

My brother remained at home,  standing guard over my mother.  By the time he was 22, however, he’d had enough.   He joined the army. It was a time of relative national peace and it provided an easy and expedient remedy for his unhappy and stifling situation. Before he left, he sat me down and told me that I would now have to sleep at home every night and take over the responsibility for my mother’s protection.

I did this with mixed feelings.  Certainly, I wanted my mother protected from my father’s drunken furies. Since she refused to leave him,  the duty fell to me.  By then,  I was big and strong; my physical presence was enough of a deterrent.   He knew he raised his hand to me at his own peril.  I wasn’t worried that I’d ever have to fight him.  I just didn’t want to live under the same roof as him; didn’t want to breath the same air;  didn’t want to be subject to his angry tirades or sullen moods.

I’d been living at home for a year or so, hating every minute, when we got the news. My brother had been killed in a training exercise. We didn’t get many details but it didn’t much matter. He was gone and never coming back.

My mother was inconsolable.   She blamed herself for not standing up to my father,  thus forcing my brother to take the only option he felt he had available to him.  She blamed herself for not having chosen a better father for her children.  She was consumed with grief and guilt and pain until it literally ate her up inside.  She died of cancer within the year.

I stuck around until after the funeral, but had little reason to remain anywhere near my home town. I drifted for a while,  working on ranches, here and there.  It was a comfortable way of life for me.  I was good at what I did and I enjoyed the work and the camaraderie.

Eventually, however, the smallness of my world became claustrophobic. The wide open spaces closed in. I became fascinated with the notion of getting lost in a crowd; of becoming anonymous in a human crush; of leaving my baggage behind and reinventing myself.

I took a bus to the big city, ready to start a new life.

I hadn’t considered that I had no idea how to survive in this alien environment, nor did I know anyone there who could teach me.   I was such an outsider, it was impossible for me to blend in, to vanish inconspicuously into a crowd. I didn’t understand the pace,  the lingo,  the urban mentality. I had a limited education and no practical business skills. I was a naïf in a place that chewed up people like me and spit them out.

I had only one marketable skill: I knew how to give a man sexual pleasure.

Fortunately (so it seemed at the time), there were plenty of men who were willing to pay for this and I quickly I learned where to find them.  For many, an authentic cowboy held a certain appeal. My skill with a rope was in demand and offered an introduction to a more discriminating and higher- paying crowd.

I had arrived just in time for the heyday of gay nightlife. Discos and bathhouses were teeming with horny men.  There was a never-ending supply of drugs which kept us up all night or melted our muscles or enhanced our orgasms or cured the diseases we passed back and forth to each other.

I cultivated some wealthy men friends who were happy to pay for my skill set but I never deluded myself into thinking I was anything more than a toy to them.  They were educated and refined. They read books,  went to the theater,  discussed politics,  understood the nuances of business.  They felt comfortable in expensive restaurants and knew how to order fine wine. They knew where to shop and how to dress.  I did pick up some refinement from them but mostly, these things remained foreign to me.

I didn’t care. I was in it for the fun. For the freedom. For the money. I was grateful to be half a continent away from my father, and having a great time of it, too!

Although I traveled with that crowd, I never thought of myself as gay.  I didn’t love men.  I didn’t have any feelings for them.  I never looked at a man with sexual desire.  To me,  they were merely a means of making a living. If a woman wanted to have sex with me, I was OK with that too.   They would suffice if I were drunk or stoned enough,  but women never wanted to pay for sex (at least not the ones I met)  so ultimately, they were of no use to me. The few times I did sleep with a woman,  things always got complicated in ways I didn’t understand. They weren’t like men.  I could have sex with ten men in a night without knowing any of their names, never see any of them again, and none of them would care.  I preferred it that way.

I suppose eventually I would have found emptiness in this lifestyle too but before then, the sickness came.  At first,  it was mysterious, disturbing. But soon it became terrifying in the way it spread, in its quickness and mercilessness. Friends and acquaintances became ill and died. If I didn’t run into someone for a while, I always suspected the worst and was often right. There was a pall on the scene. The bathhouses were closed.  We were shunned.  People said horrible things about us and perhaps some of them were even a bit true.  For the older men, this was far worse than the early years when they had to live in secret.

And then it was my turn.  When the night sweats started, I knew what was coming.  I’d seen it all too often.

I had no one.  Those older rich men — the ones who were still healthy — wanted no part of someone like me.  I had never been their friend and now I was a pariah.  The sick ones, rich and poor, had their own problems.  I had nobody, no place to go, no money, no way to make a living.

And so,  because I didn’t want to die on the street,  I did the only thing I could.

I went home.

In the years since I’d left, my father had found God.  He’d stopped drinking and, to his credit,  had developed compassion.  He wanted to make amends, to pay penance for the deaths of my brother and mother.  He accepted responsibility for the broken mess my family had become.  He felt it was his duty to take care of me during my final months.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.  I’d come full circle. In the end,  the most significant relationship I had, the only  person I’d ever shown any vulnerability to, was the one person I spent my whole life avoiding.  I couldn’t get far enough away from and yet, in the end, I traveled halfway across a continent to die in his arms.

 

_______

Buy the book

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne

An Uphill Battle, One Step at a Time

First published Nov 18, 2016

rock-uphill

*

Ruf

We were the same age, but she was so much older than I was. She always seemed to to know what she wanted, and what was right for her, and even what was right for others.

She inspired me to be a better man. To do the right thing. To take the high road. To push my limits. To do the things that made me uncomfortable so I could get past my discomfort. She never asked me to do anything that she wouldn’t do, herself. She held herself to a high standard and expected me to hold myself to that same standard.

I knew she was right and for long time, I worked hard.  I wanted to become that man she wanted me to be because I knew it would be an expression of my best self. But I was lazy and fearful and I didn’t trust my own instincts.

Eventually, I had to acknowledge to myself that I was never going to get beyond my limitations.   I was never going to be the kind of man who was truly worthy of her.  Trying and not succeeding made me feel like a failure, although she, herself, never suggested such a thing. For her it was enough that I remained dedicated to trying.

I started to resent her moral and spiritual superiority. I resented her certainty in always knowing right from wrong. I resented the way she was always sure of herself. It made me feel less certain of who I was and who I should be. I felt I was losing myself in her image of who she thought I could be. And so I stopped trying to live in the world as she saw it. That was her world. I needed to live in mine. I didn’t want to have to think about things so deeply. I lost my drive to see how good I could be. I simply wanted to be left alone, unchallenged. And so, eventually she obliged me.

Four years of marriage ended in acrimony. It took me many, many years to understand that love.

We had no children to hold us together and so we went our separate ways. Eventually we both married other people. I heard from mutual acquaintances that she married happily, to a man who saw life as she did. I married a woman who was easy and kind, undemanding and simple in her outlook. She didn’t require much more than casual kindness and some basic respect, which is as much as I gave her. I appreciated her but there was no deep love.  Her most endearing quality was that she let me be.

In the end, that was no good for me, either.  I reverted to my lazy ways; no longer pushed myself uphill.   Instead I remained down at the bottom where no effort was required, surrounded by those who were as lazy as I was.

In my life, I never accomplished anything without being challenged by someone else, yet when challenged, I grew resentful, angry; I backed away so as not to drown in the secret humiliation of inevitable failure.

I understand now that my first wife was right.  She wasn’t pushing so much as encouraging me to create my own challenges.  Positive changes are positive changes, even if they are small and incremental.    It’s the not size of the change but the direction.

____

Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
-Adrienne
*Artist: Janusz Kapusta

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