I began drafting this post two weeks ago. It initially contained just 1550 words. I never found (slash made) the time to edit, add on to, and make sense of the damn thing, so here we are, about two weeks later, with hours to spare on Christmas day and plenty of news to report. I have my “Christmas lunch” all lined up on the desk in front of me (which lunch consists of a ‘peanut butter pretzel’ Cliff bar, a bag of sprouted, sweet chili-flavored tortilla chips, and a generous cup of chocolate hemp milk) and my “Christmas music” (Odesza, Radiohead, Chet Faker and others) playing in the background, emanating from the speakers in the room, and I’d like to start this whole thing off by saying.. I’m happy, you guys. Truly; I am. Now: To improve the general ‘flow’ of this post, I’d like to institute a loose timeline.
On November 24th, we filed for a divorce.. so the timeline begins. We’ll refer to this as week 1.
Week 1 is terrible. Awful. I cry incessantly and stop eating, and while the laundry piles up, the kitchen stays relatively clean because no one’s cooking in there. The living room also remains spotless because no one’s living in there. That’s really all there is to say about week one. It sucks. Moving on..
Week 2: We list the house for sale. It was a painful choice to make, but it was also an obvious one that had to be made, and before we get into all of that..
At this time (during week two), he still isn’t speaking to me, and – from the inside of this sustained silence – I’m able to observe that a few interesting (and not-so-interesting) things have been happening in my life recently since filing for the divorce.
- I’m remembering to close the bathroom door behind me when I head in to take a shower.
- I’ve suddenly become hyper aware of how leaving a cereal bowl, a spoon with a hint of jam still on it, or an unwashed cup in the sink might upset the other person who’s living in the house with me. The other person: this mysterious, quiet, detached and impersonal entity. So I’ve consequently learned to wash/stick items into the dishwasher immediately after using them. #goodhabits
- I’m picking up a week’s worth of groceries on a Saturday afternoon, right? Reaching – out of habit – for the pumpkin cream cheese muffin that’s sitting on the top shelf in the little cabinet beside the bakery (it’s his favorite) when I stop; wait..
- I remember, one random weekday evening, that we still have a Netflix subscription. It’s been more than two weeks since I last turned on the television. Along with remembering that Netflix still exists, I also realize, in that same moment, that I no longer have someone to marathon-watch SciFi and action/adventure TV shows with. No one who will make fun of the characters with me and listen as I “pretend narrate” where I see the storyline heading. And I also realize, in a deep sense, that I have no one to talk about my day to; no one to share stories with or cook for. No one to go on outings with, and no one to play music, cry, or laugh with. It’s pretty sad. I leave the TV off. Who even cares about Netflix.
So I come home from work early in the evenings, park my car at the foot of the road (near the mailbox), walk up the steep driveway, enter the house through the dull red front door, and tiptoe up the stairs to sit on the guest room bed. The walls are blue. The door is white with chipped edges. The blinds are all-the-way closed. There on the bed, I prop myself up against 2 pillows, tilting my head upward and letting the back of my skull rest against the headboard. At this juncture, it’s “choose your own adventure” time: maybe I read a book, or maybe I power on the laptop; quite possibly, I strum the guitar for a solid hour and twenty five minutes straight, or maybe I just sit there and stare ahead at the dingy closet door — the gold-knobbed, white-washed closet door — that’s right in front of me. A blank canvas. A startling reflection of my imminent future; of the continuity of life.
And then, it’s happening; it’s all becoming very real.
I’m walking down to the mailbox Wednesday morning, and it’s there. Plain as day.
I’m looking out of the dining room window late Thursday afternoon, and it’s really, actually there.
I’m arriving home from work again on Friday, pulling the wheels of my “can’t even” car in towards the edge of the street (where concrete dissolves easily into grassy patches of dirt and pebbles), and I can spot it from the road, from at least 15 yards away.
A bittersweet sign climbing out of my front yard: ‘Coming Soon!’
“Bring a poinsettia home,” the realtor nodded thoughtfully. It was Saturday afternoon, and she was surveying our front doorway — with cobwebs tucked into its corners, and a natural assortment of colorful leaves making a mild, united effort to re-floor the cobblestone porch. “Yes; bring a poinsettia home,” she reiterated. “The red will complement your front door, which really needs to be washed.. and you’ll definitely want to get these leaves off of the ground before the photographer makes his way out here. The very first picture he’ll take will be of the front of the house, and we want it to look inviting. Well-maintained. Pleasant. Homey.”
“Right,” I thought to myself, eyeing her brown, heeled FRYE boots… her tight-fitting brown thermal shirt and, over it, an orange vest with tassels that dangled towards the ground. They were also gazing at the leaves. We all were. She, the realtor, looked like autumn.
My internal dialogue continued:
“Let’s NOT mention to prospective buyers that the walls of this home are containing a depressing energy, and that the entire plot of land is existing underneath a heavy pall of gloom. I’ll also be sure to not describe to them how and why, exactly, the hallways will funnel sadness into their hearts, or how the plumbing is rusting to the point of breaking from tears, and I certainly won’t detail that demons of divorce have cleared out the living and dining rooms and how, now, the bedroom has gay demons in it and”
“Yeah!” I agreed enthusiastically. “A poinsettia really will make the place ‘pop.'”
So I plugged headphones into my ears after she left and began systematically working my way down her list of demands. While toying with some drama here and and a little exaggeration there, I’m honestly not even complaining; realtors know what needs to be done to make a home sale-ready, and they’re sure as hell good at delegating tasks and duties.
Here were just a few of the items on my list:
- Rake the leaves and clean out the gutters
- Sweep and mop and vacuum thoroughly so that it doesn’t look like a dog runs the place
- Scrub the walls (be sure to get the dried-on dog saliva OFF of them)
- Pack away excess (aka all) knick knacks and decorations (including the life-sized rabbit and German Shepherd replicas)
- Clear off those cluttered countertops! Move any pots and pans away, out of view, and utilize any free closet space to relocate your small appliances (like the Mr. Coffee coffee maker, the toaster, the blender, the Vitamix and the rice cooker)
- Move shoes into closets, cords out of sight, and bake a batch of cookies before each showing — chocolate chip cookies, specifically, because anything else would be pointless
The photographer came out two days later, on a Tuesday, and the listing moved to live on Saturday. It all happened very quickly. The process was that simple.
A sentimental sidebar: I honestly thought that we would live in this house forever.. together. That we would always be with each other, and that that we would always be there. It was our home. It held (it housed) so many happy memories. And it was so full of character! Things I’ll miss: the unique architecture; the warm brown laminated hardwood floors; the constant flood of natural light seeping in through each big and beautiful window and all of the colorful living areas (like November Skies Blue in the guest room, Sweet Georgia Brown in the studio, Soft Limoncello Yellow in the living room, and Grass Patch and Grape Leaf Greens existing alongside each other in the master bedroom); the overall pleasant energy of the neighborhood and the artistic, lived-in feel of the home..
But now, I approach this home and, from the outside, it just looks ominous. I walk in, and it just feels cold, and sterile, and haunted. There are ghosts moving around sluggishly in the front yard.. I can see them. Inside of the house, there are ghosts swirling lazily near the ceilings; ghosts apparating, at will, and passing each other in dimly-lit hallways — seeing everything, and saying nothing. They reach out in passing, sometimes, and brush against my elbow. They breathe cool air onto my neck. On occasion, one will pause directly in front of me, daring me to pass, and when I do, nothing happens. Nothing at all. It’s just too dark. It’s all too sad.
Week 3: He told me in a text, yesterday afternoon, that he couldn’t take it anymore. That he’s moving out in January. He’s found a deal he can’t pass up; a reliable roommate, an ideal location. He’s bringing boxes home from work this week. He’ll begin moving his items over there soon. He suggests that we should go ahead and list the couches, the dining room table, the coffee table and the media stands for sale.. and I’ve found a home for the rabbits, right? He’ll still help show the home, of course, and he’ll help fix the plumbing next week.. but other than that, I’m on my own.
I read the texts. It’s roughly 8 in the morning. I feel shock. I feel fear. I begin to feel overwhelmed, panicky, and terrified, so I dip back into shock — it’s safer there, and it’s easier. It acts like a numbing agent, and in this deadened state, I can view and treat his announcement like a total nonevent: “Okay. So you’re moving out. Before the house sells. Alright. I’ll figure it “all” out later.. the technicalities, the fine details, and the full scope of this new financial strain. Okay; thank you for telling me. I’ll prepare for this. Maybe tomorrow. Today, I’m just going to focus on doing laundry. I’ve run out of boxers. Maybe I’ll stop by Chipotle later and grab a burrito. I feel like vomiting right now, which is really weird, because life is so totally normal right now, but maybe I’ll feel like eating later.”
I eat burritos 8 times in a 10-day timespan. I bring granola bars and bananas to work each day. I’m taking vitamins: b12 and zinc. I’m skateboarding. I’m playing the guitar. I’m going to meditation meetings in the evenings after work, and one meeting is particularly impactful; the topic for the night is compassion, and the 25-minute guided meditation centering on the theme of “compassion” changes me. I mean, it changes me. It’s healing.
I’m in the room, sitting cross-legged on a blue floor mat with my eyes closed softly, when the guide says: “Think of someone who has shown you compassion.”
My mind brings a couple of faces to mind (candidates). I choose to think of my best friend, Shae.
“Offer this person the following phrases,” the voice continues. They are:
I hope you learn to recognize compassion.
I hope you meet pain with mercy, empathy and compassion.
I hope your life is full of compassion.
I mentally follow along, repeating the phrases, and visualizing offering them to this person.. my best friend, Shae. My guide continues.
“Now picture a neutral entity.. someone who has neither hurt nor helped you.”
I do. I repeat the exercise. He continues:
“Lastly, call to mind the difficult ones; the ones who have shown you no compassion.. who have maybe even hurt you. Offer them these phrases.”
I pictured three people; the three people who I have sustained the deepest injuries and the most hurt from in this life. I won’t name them.
I repeated the exercise for each of them. With every passing second, I felt a burden lifting off of me. The room (or at least my perception of the room) grew very quiet. My mind had emptied itself; a black stage, velvety black curtains, and soft yellow lights (highlighting the stage’s floor) were all that remained. Suddenly, out of nowhere, movement appeared on the stage as I began walking across my mind.. left to right.
….me? I thought to myself, honestly startled. Why am I seeing me in this place?
And it was then that I realized: I was one of the difficult ones.
I’ve hated myself for months. Not for being gay.. but for being selfish. Late this summer, and early this fall, I quizzed myself so many times, over and OVER again, asking questions like: “But wouldn’t he be happy if you stayed? If you remained married? Remember: because he’s your best friend, you won’t be totally miserable if you do stay, and you staying will definitely make HIM happy.. so doesn’t that mean that you should? Wouldn’t that (his happiness) make it worth it? It would be so selfish to take that happiness, that stability, away from him.. to take yourself away.”
When, after excruciatingly painful deliberation, I finally decided that I had to leave — that I couldn’t stay in a heterosexual relationship and stay sane — I, essentially, spit on myself. “You’re so weak. And you’re so selfish. You are heartless, and cruel, and ugly, and, to top it ALL off, you’re f*cking gay/transgender/WHATEVER. So now, watch and weep as your family, friends and coworkers all start to look down on you. See them lose their respect for you. Feel them abandon you. Worse than abandoning you, check this out; they’ll still see you, maybe they’ll look right at you, but guess what? They’ll see nothing. Nothing will register as ‘familiar’ or good or beautiful to them, in their hearts or minds, because you are nothing.”
Those were my thoughts, and my feelings, towards myself. For months.
But during the final few minutes of the guided meditation at the Moore Institute that evening, as I stepped onto the stage and squarely looked myself in the eye, I forgave myself. I forgave myself for being so unkind to, and for showing no compassion for, myself. “You weren’t being selfish,” I called out to the boy on the stage. “You had reasons. Valid reasons. Staying would have made you miserable and unhealthy, and with you in that kind of state, he would have become miserable and unhappy too, and then you would both just feel smothered and stuck inside of a compromised and unfulfilling marriage. Your identity is unmistakable.. it is undeniable, Jace; it is nonnegotiable. You made – not the easy decision – but the best decision, the necessary decision.. the compassionate one, even — for you AND him. Now, you both have a chance. You are a good person. I know that you mean well.. and you know that, too. It is okay to have mercy on yourself. It is okay to show yourself compassion, and to love yourself.”
So I did. And I do. I left the meeting feeling light, whole, and centered. Those feelings are still with me.
Week 4: The reconciliation.
Oddly enough, I can’t recall how it happened. I don’t even remember the precise date. But I came home one evening, feeling a little melancholy (home is a sad place right now), and he was in the music room. As I was passing ghosts in the hallway, he called out my name and asked a question; I poked my head into the studio to answer him. He then made some kind of statement (small talk), and I commented on it. He shared a thought, and I asked him a few questions. The exchange continued. He laughed, and I laughed. He apologized, and I apologized. He smiled and I started crying.. and, in a nutshell, here’s what he said to me:
“I am not angry with you anymore. I am proud of you for being who you are. I am happy for you, and I am happy. We’ll always be friends, Jace. If and when I get married again someday, you’ll be there, and you’ll be wearing a suit.”
He came home late last night, on Christmas Eve, while I was upstairs, putting the finishing touches on a rough recording of my newest original (you can listen to it here). “Hey, welcome home!” I called out.
“J?” He called up the stairs. “You’re home?”
“Yep,” I responded, “been working on a song. Did you have fun at your aunt’s?”
“Yeah — have you eaten?”
It was about 11:00 PM. “No.”
“Come here then,” he said a little more quietly, “I made a plate for you. We’ll put it in the microwave.”
He had made a plate for me. I felt like crying. Instead, I smiled, tossed my headphones onto the bookcase and hurried down the stairs. He sat on the kitchen counter, dangling his legs, while I tucked my knees under me and sat on the chair beside the little dinette table we had bought for our tiny apartment kitchen back in 2010… our first piece of furniture ever. He recapped the interesting events and conversations he’d had that evening and I told him about mine, with the warm, happy taste of sweet potato casserole alive on my tongue.. feeling at home, treasuring beautiful friendship, and experiencing and witnessing unconditional love.
Today, Christmas: I drove downtown to the Salvation Army this morning to volunteer in the food kitchen. After walking in and registering, I tugged a red apron on over my head and stuck a name tag onto my chest. There was a quick orientation and then I signed up to work as a “table prep” aid, but, in reality, I, along with everyone else, moved between positions, rolling silverware, setting out placemats, taking up empty dishes, refilling white styrofoam cups with sweet tea, and doling out slices of pumpkin pie. There was a news station lady named Bethany covering the event, and she fluttered about the place constantly, toting a camera around and filming scenes from different angles and viewpoints. At one point, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see her standing there behind me.
“Heyyyyyy!” She smiled into my eyes. “Do you have a quick second?”
“Yeah, sure!” Forgetting I was wearing gloves, I nervously wiped my hands down on my black denim jeans and moved a few steps closer to the wall, where she was standing. She pulled out a recorder and a wire.
“Oh dear,” I said automatically, (realizing).
“Oh, you’ll do fine,” she reassured me quickly, moving a few steps closer and connecting the wire to the corner of my hoodie. “I’m just going to slip this into your pocket,” she narrated as she slipped the recorder into the front pocket of my hoodie.
She adjusted the camera. I looked into the lens, curiously, and watched as it twisted, presumably setting my face into focus. “You ready?” She smiled again.
“Yep,” I replied quietly, my heart racing. I’m so not ready for this.
“Okay. First, please state your name into the camera, and spell it.”
She asked me three questions. I can’t remember them, exactly, but I can remember responding very simply, feeling the heat radiating from my palms and sweat collecting on my forehead. I remember feeling self-conscious because of the acne on my face, because of the extreme shortness of my recently buzzed hair cut, and I remember mourning the fact that I couldn’t think on her questions long and thoughtfully enough to craft careful, honest, and impactful answers. At the end of the (informal) interview, she thanked me for my time and mentioned that her piece would be airing on channel 42 at 10 PM this evening. “I was so glad to be able to cover this story,” she murmured absentmindedly as she unclipped the mic from my hoodie and began coiling it around her fingers. “There are so many tragedies happening out there, you know? Those stories are important too, of course, but this.. this was nice. I’m really happy to be here.”
The one thing I can remember saying to her, in answer to her question of how coming to volunteer at the Salvation Army on Christmas — a notoriously materialistic holiday — had affected me, was:
“It shifts the perspectively entirely.”
And by that, I meant this:
I walked in through these doors this morning feeling a little heavy. Personal circumstances; imagined problems. I began rolling silverware around 10:30, and prepping tables at about 10:55, and I could feel myself getting lost in the repetitive motion of those activities. It was nice. Then people began streaming in at around 11:20, sitting down at the tables, in front of the silverware I had rolled but an hour before, and I looked carefully at their faces, their demeanor, and their clothing; wondering, are they comfortable? Are they happy? Are they warm?
I began serving them — smiling at, listening to, and interacting with them — and then, very quickly, I no longer existed. But they did.
And after they had left, and after I had left, I recall feeling happy — happy because they, and the whole experience, had reminded me that what matters most in life is being kind, being you, and being there for people. That’s seriously it.
A few (slightly random) closing notes:
- My adolescence was built upon a solidly religious foundation, and after passing through the entire cycle of loving, hating, and fostering a cool indifference toward it, I’m finally in a place where I can be okay with not subscribing to anything, personally, while still honestly recognizing the very positive impact that having a deep regard for religion and a deep-seated respect for a god-entity made on me. Openly and truly, I respect anyone who intelligently and genuinely commits them self to a creed — so long as they are kind to others and acknowledge the right and freedom that others have in choosing, or not choosing, a creed of their own.
- During the guided compassion meditation, someone in the group said something that put me on cloud 9. First off, you need to understand the demographics of the group; there were, including me, three biological women in the room: me, girl 1 (who spoke), and girl 2 (who was the “one” — you’ll see). Understood? Okay. So here it is.
Girl 1, relating a personal experience, scanned her eyes across the whole room – looking at me, a guy, another guy, at Girl 2, and then another stretch of guys – and said: “… and there’s only one other girl in the room right now, but I’ll say it anyways –”
She said it, whatever it was, but I heard nothing else. There was only one other girl in the room. And it wasn’t me.
- Here’s something I realized about two weeks ago as I was weighing, separately, the pros and cons of living alone and/or dying. Here’s what it all boiled down to: I’m incredibly grateful for animals, nature, music, words, and outer space, because they – collectively – give me hope. There are so few things that are as beautiful, magical, remarkable and astounding as they are, and they really, actually exist. Also: they’re totally free! At the end of the day, you may have no one, and you may even end up having nothing, but how can you be sad or feel truly lonely when outer space, words, music, nature, and animals all exist? That’s enough for me. Also: burritos. Those exist, too. I would honestly continue living – working, moving, sleeping and planning – just so I could have them.
A happy human wishing you the happiest of holidays,