“It’s not your problem that people see things in black and white. Remember that they’re missing out on everything in-between. Have compassion on those people. You’re proof that there is something in-between, and it is good. It’s really good.” -Charlie
Setting the stage: Wednesday, 1/27/2016, 7:48 PM.
Me: “Hey guys! My name is Jace.”
Audience: “Heyyyyy Jaaaaaaaayyce!”
Me, smiling a little: “I’ve been uhhhh.. holed up in the house for a few months now. This is actually my first open mic in nine months.” (Loud cheering from the crowd. I smile again.) “Thanks! I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who on Netflix, eating tons of Chipotle burritos — anyways. Yeah. I’ve been depressed; I got divorced a few months ago and I wrote this song about the person and.. the song is about how I still love them and how I truly just want them to be happy. Really, honestly happy.”
You did it again. You said too much, Jace. Just start PLAYING.
“Kay, sooooo this song is called Paradise. Here we go.”
I plugged my guitar into the PA and strummed/sang a few original songs at Saturn’s open mic about two weeks ago (it’s a local, outer-space themed music venue), and it was a great experience for me. I anticipated the event with dread and nausea all.day.long (due to a combination of stage fright and performance anxiety) but, as expected, once I actually started strumming and singing, the nervousness and anxiety dissipated entirely. After just 10 minutes, I was already descending the stage — the scary performance, all over with — and I didn’t just feel relieved; I also felt happy. I had re-faced a fear that never seems to go away: performing publicly.
I had also told yet another partial truth to the crowd. We’re getting there.. just hang with me for a while.
The MC patted me on the back and whispered “Awesome job!” into my ear as he crossed the stage. The audience continued to clap their hands as I quickly descended the steps and hurried over to my guitar case, and then I listened along with crowd as the MC’s voice bellowed into the mic, commanding everyone’s attention:
“Annnnnnnnnd NO ONE’S getting laid tonight. WHO COULD after listening to such SAD SONGS?” (Laughs from the audience.) “But I mean,” he continued warmly, gesturing towards me, the stage lights throwing strange shadows across his face, “you’ve gotta have those songs. Right? It’s all a part of it. Life.”
Yes sir, it is.
Saturday, January 30th: “Nah man.. we’re chill here.”
There’s this hip record store near downtown Birmingham — Seasick Records — and both young people and the elderly alike visit this shop to peruse the old and new vinyl, to examine the store’s small selection of books, to purchase promotional t-shirts and even to step up and play the “Back to the Future” arcade game that the store showcases in a corner by the front window. Light streams in through the store’s front doors, which are made of glass, and spills onto the industrial concrete floor, highlighting the subtle cracks and speckled imperfections that etch such character into the them. The front counter is constructed of scratchy wooden planks, and the back of the store features a simple and drab carpeted stage for musical performances, spoken word events, and comedic acts. Oh — and this locally famous record store also doubles as a mens’ barber shop.
It might have happened a few weeks ago, but – for the best effect – I’m going to relate this story using the present tense.
I’ve been toying with the idea of getting my hair cut here at Seasick Records for months now, and I’m currently standing in a room with 12 other men, 2 boys, and a single woman who I doubt is actually single (she’s texting on her phone, currently, and I noticed that she arrived with a man and small child who both signed up for haircuts; presumably, she’s his wife and his mother). When I first walked in the door twenty minutes ago, I very hesitantly approached the front counter, feeling my heartbeat accelerate so quickly that I swear I could even hear it.
“Hey,” a bearded guy wearing rectangular-rimmed glasses greeted me with a real smile. “Something I can help you with?”
“Yeah! I’m actually here for (whispers) a hair cut.”
“Cool; just sign in here,” he responded simply, gesturing towards a sign-in sheet lying on the counter and then returning his attention to the Mac Book lying open in front of him.
“Awesome! Smooth sailing so far,” I commented to myself (internally) as I penned my name, date, and “arrival time” into the rectangular boxes on the page. “Just keep playing it cool. It’s not weird that you’re here. Not at all. And please; for the love of burritos, DON’T APOLOGIZE for being in here when they DO call your name and you’re suddenly sitting in the styling seat and they’re tugging a black apron on over you and someone’s asking what you’re wanting to have done to your hair today.”
I signed myself in and then spent the following 25 minutes perusing the vinyl, lazily keeping an eye out for records by Odesza, 21 Pilots, and The Spice Girls (I did this, mostly, to kill the time, but I was also desperately seeking to distract myself from my intense social anxiety; staring at and sifting through miles of records means you don’t have to look at or make eye contact with people). I went to the bathroom once, responded to a few emails and text messages, and now I’m just sitting here, plopped down onto the carpeted stage in the back of the room and waiting to hear them call for Jace. I feel like vomiting. I could just leave this place and never, ever come back. Honestly; why not? I could purchase a record online if I ever really wanted to, and I could easily go to some random, cheaply-priced hair salon for my hair-trimming needs. “But I’ve wanted to come here for a haircut for the last three months,” I argued with myself, “and today is the first day that I’ve actually had the guts to drive all the way over to Crestwood, walk in through the shop’s transparent glass door, look over at the barber station (which, I’d like to point out, is totally out in the open, a mere four feet away from where music-seeking customers enter the store’s front door), see men getting their hair cut and having their beards shaved, and still write my name down onto the waiting list. That list. Their list. I’m doing it. It has to happen today. It’s either going to happen today or it’s NEVER going to happen, so just QUIT being stupid and DEAL WITH IT.”
A friend who knows how strongly I want to own a men’s suit offered to go suit shopping with me later on in the afternoon today. “You can at least get fitted; figure out what your measurements are and then go from there,” she had suggested in a text message earlier that week. I agreed to the idea all week, but I just canceled the outing (also via text message) a few minutes ago. It would be too much in one day. Baby steps.
I just considered the option of leaving again.
“You’ll hate yourself if you do.”
Right. So I’m still sitting here. Still waiting. Still feeling like throwing up. Suddenly:
“Jaaaaaaace?” I spring upwards immediately, hop off of the stage, begin waving my left hand enthusiastically (to identify myself), and – to further prove my identity – call out in response: “Hey, that’s me! Jace! Hey. I’m here.” More quietly, “I’m walking over to you now.” God. Can you at least try to act normal?
My stylist’s name was AP. “What are you wanting to have done today, Jace?” (See? I knew they’d ask me that question!) He smiled very genuinely, gesturing for me to take a seat as he finished sweeping up tiny little locks of jet-black hair from the metallic-gray concrete floor.
“Yeah! I just want the back shaved and tapered — starting with a 1, maybe, or even a 0, if you think that would look okay — and this natural fo-hawk thing I have going on up here? I’ve actually grown to like it, so I’ll just want to take a little bit of that length off.”
“Love it; let’s do it.”
He tied what felt like a cotton choker around my neck (loosely enough), dressed me with a black styling cape and asked if it was my first time coming into the shop.
“For records, no,” I responded, “but for a hair cut — yes.” I nodded encouragingly to myself and watched as he inserted a guard into the shaving device that he was holding in his right hand. “I’ve actually wanted to drop in here for a hair cut for MONTHS now but I just haven’t had the guts to do it.”
“WHY?!” He asked, looking honestly puzzled and pausing what he was doing. I shrugged without saying anything, and he saw it.
“Naw man. We’re chill here.”
I smiled over at him, loosening up a little more. “Yeah — you guys really are.”
Moments later, he asked if I’d always donned such a short cut.
“Nope!” I shook my head cautiously, left to right, while he changed guards. “About a year and a half ago, my hair actually fell ALL the way down my back, just a couple of inches up from my hips. I cut it all off in the summer and donated my hair.”
“Whoaaaaaa,” he murmured in a low voice, “that’s pretty drastic. Were your people shocked?”
“Yeah…” I processed his question a little more. “They were, at first.. but I think it made more sense for them – for everyone – once I came out.”
I searched for his face in the mirror and found it, seeing a smile playing on his lips. “Ahhh.. good for you, man. That’s awesome. You do you.”
His comment made me feel good.. accepted. Supported. But it also shone a painfully brilliant light onto a very strange, dark mist existing inside of me. I instantly felt chills from that mist creeping along the insides of my stomach, touching the tenderest parts of my insides, and inching their way up my spine. I trembled. Stay with me.
“You mentioned,” he said a few minutes later, “that the first time you cut your hair short, the lady gave you a feminine cut and you didn’t like it. I feel like I’m cheating you out of a guy’s haircut right now, so I’m going to take this a little shorter. I’d like to use a straight-edged razor. Is that okay with you?”
Honestly? As far as visiting the barber shop is concerned, that’s all that I have to report. There was no awkwardness, and there were no rude stares.. all I got was a really kickass haircut in the company of other men. We talked about tattoos and records and San Diego, California, and I felt perfectly at home. I’ll definitely be heading back in about 5 weeks or so, as soon as the back of my head has lost that delicious, scratchy, sandpaper feel, and I’m already looking forward to the next visit. Thanks for being so welcoming and so chill, AP!
Thursday, January 21st.
A close friend invited me to have coffee with her after work a few weeks ago. We both arrived at the cafe around 6, ordered our drinks, and then settled ourselves into comfortable chairs with warm and matching white chocolate mochas cupped in our cool hands and a random, accidentally-ordered cannoli sitting decadently on the table between us. We spent a few minutes engaging in “icebreaker” small chat and then she leaned forward, her face taking on a definitively somber expression. “So — I’m just going to cut to the chase here. Can we go ahead and talk about the ‘deep stuff’?”
I knew that that was why we were both here. “Go for it,” I nodded, cautiously taking my first sip from an edge on the cup. The temperature of the white mocha was absolutely perfect.
We proceeded to discuss what I’ll fondly refer to as my depression.
“Do you think it’s situational, or could it be chemical?” She queried. “Aka, do you feel like this is something that you’ll be able to work past and out of, or does it seem to be something that you’ve always had to deal with — you know, on and off over the years?”
“That’s a really great question,” I responded. “I’m not sure yet. I’ve always written sad songs, sure, and carried a certain amount of melancholy around with me, but not overly so. It – the sadness, the mysterious darkness – has never.. consumed me. Generally speaking, my ‘default’ mood has always been me being happy. But when Bobby passed away in 2012, I definitely experienced a profound.. shift in my personality.” I paused and traced my finger around the upper rim of my cardboard cup. “I really don’t know. I’m not sure. Chemical, situational; it could be either or both. Who knows.”
We moved on to discuss how often I contemplate suicide.
“I do think about it sometimes, but not seriously,” I assured her. “I recognize when those thoughts – when that idea – come(s) to me, and I always decide that it’s not the answer. It would be an incredibly selfish move to make, and I realize that. I couldn’t do that to family members and friends. Also, why kill myself when burritos exist?” We laughed a little.. as much as you can laugh at the idea of burritos being the strongest deterrent against a person committing suicide.
Then, she asked me, for what felt like the thirty-thousandth time, why I seem to hold females in such low esteem and why, in that same vein, I’m not able to love myself (being one).
“It’s not that I don’t RESPECT females — I do! They’re strong, they’re beautiful, and they’re amazing,” I stated very seriously.
She playfully rolled her eyes. “That’s just your usual spiel,” she smiled with amusement after taking a sip from her mug. “You do NOT respect females. Anyways.”
“Anyways,” I continued, lowering my voice a little, “I guess I resent being a female because.. I just don’t feel like one. My behavior, my persona, my personality.. my intrinsic soul has ALWAYS felt SEPARATE from, and foreign to, women. Truly. It’s not as simple a matter as preferring a man’s style of dress, enjoying sports over shopping, or carrying a wallet instead of a purse.. it’s so much deeper than that, and that’s something that people just aren’t able to understand. And being falsely portrayed on the outside hurts. You know? It really hurts. It would be the same kind of insult as.. you accidentally putting on an Auburn fan shirt when you’re actually an Alabama fan. It’s just.. wrong. It’s stupid. And then when you find out that people are seeing that dumbass Auburn shirt on you and thinking something that is opposite of the truth about you, it pisses you off. Right? I know it does. It has to. And it’s like that for me, but on a much deeper and more critical and frustrating level.” I didn’t say this exactly, but I did say this (in essence).
“Okay,” she shook her head, looking away, “I get that, but what are you going to do, then – since you have decided to not transition with surgeries, hormones, etc – to make peace with yourself? To love yourself, AS a woman? Can you love yourself as a woman, Jace? People really love and respect certain aspects of you — I know that you know that.. so how can you come to appreciate those aspects, too? Will you be able to?”
I paused again. “I’ll work on it,” I concluded bleakly.
The “therapy option” came up a few times during our conversation, and I’m still toying with the idea. I don’t feel like I need it per se, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to speak with a therapist, and it would be an incredibly interesting experience at the very least. I promise to blog about every detail of the therapy journey if I end up doing the damn thing.
So why am I so depressed? Is it that I hate that I’m transgender/gay? Do I hate myself for being a woman? For divorcing my best friend and hurting him? Do I hate who I am as a person on the inside AND the outside? Are burritos the answer to all of life’s mysteries?
Let me tell you the truths that I haven’t had the courage to tell you before. It’s hard to portray your own self as a villain, but I can’t tell the truth without doing so. I’ve intentionally kept the darker “parts” of my “coming out” chapter to myself until right now, but doing so was, by omission, a lie. Here’s the whole truth.
July 24th, 2015: When things really shifted.
It was one of the worst mornings of my life.
I had come out a few weeks before (falsely — as bisexual; I’m not – I’m a non-transitioning and, thereby, GAY transgender person) and was still reeling from the overwhelming disappointment of family members and the unexpected support from friends. Life felt like a wildly spinning merry-go-round, creating one great, distinct blur. I can vividly remember walking along the windy golf course down the road and talking on the phone with Chris (my husband) while Bruster, our German Shepherd, frolicked about happily in the field beside me.
“Some guys will be coming over to play poker at the house tonight,” he mentioned through the phone.
“Dude, yes! That is going to be so FUN! I’ve never played poker before!”
There was a quick silence. Then:
“Well I mean, it’s really just, like, a guy’s night..” his voice trailed off. My heart sank – literally – into my stomach. I felt it spasm and then slowly slither down. I had never felt anything like the sensation that I felt in that moment, and I can only describe that feeling, that sensation, that impression as devastation.
“Oh — duh! Guys’ night. That’s totally cool! I have a song to work on, anyways, so I’ll just hang out upstairs.” I forced a smile into my voice and, as quickly as possible, ended the conversation, mentioning that Bruster probably wanted me to throw a stick for him. We got off of the phone and I began crying. My body started convulsing as crying soft, warm tears turned into wailing, and I actually had to stop walking because I couldn’t see straight. I had to calm the dog down, blindly, crouching down and finding his form with my arms, because I think that he thought that I was dying (he was also very distressed that I was not throwing the stick at this time).
I can honestly say, without exaggerating, that that was one of the worst hours of my life. It was then that I realized: “This is it. This is my destiny. Sure; you can come out as bisexual, and then you’re closer to living the truth than you were before, but people still don’t know. They still don’t know how off you feel in your mind; how incorrect and inhospitable this body feels to you. You will always be a woman to them – Chris’s wife – and you will never be a part of guys’ poker night. It’s just not in the cards for you.”
So I went out that afternoon and purchased a motorcycle. Napoleon complex? Maybe.. a little. I’d wanted one for years. That was just the perfect day for it to happen.
Guys began streaming into the house around 6 that night, toting 6-packs with their fingers and doling five and ten dollar bills out from their wallets (they would be phoning in an order for pizzas shortly). After introducing myself to everyone and pouring a glass of water, I began to trek up the stairs. One of the guys (a bearded and jovial gentleman named Kevin) called after me: “Hey, wait! You aren’t going to play poker with us?”
I smiled at his thoughtfulness and turned around on the stairs. “Nahhhh.. I know it’s a guys’ thing; I’m just going to hang upstairs and work on some other stuff. But I really appreciate you asking!”
“Dude, no!” He raised his glass of beer in protest. “You should totally play with us, Rose. Have you ever played poker before?”
He talked me into it. I settled down into a chair at the head of the table and learned the rules of poker. Kevin poured me a shot of whiskey and, while I failed at draining it all in one fail swoop, I loved the way it burned the bottom of my tongue and the back of my throat. He poured another shot of whiskey for me later on that evening and I ended up spitting half of it out into the palm of my hand. Whiskey pooled together inside of my hand quickly and then tipped itself over the edges, dripping droplets onto the floor. “Nope; my body’s saying I’ve had enough,” I laughed along with the table, wiping my face with the back of my other hand. I won my first game.
One of the guys there, who was also playing poker, was very quiet. I noticed that he wasn’t taking shots with the rest of us; he was drinking water instead. A gas station pastry (some kind of ethnic-looking cake) sat on a napkin beside his hand of cards, and he nibbled on it slowly, between hands. He was wearing a tropical shirt, knee-length shorts, and brown and green tennis shoes. He had prescription glasses on and his head was practically shaved. I made eye contact with him a few times during the game and noted to myself how quiet and gentle his demeanor was.
We all meandered upstairs around 11:00 PM and headed into the music room, where Drunk Chris (my husband) hammered loudly on the keyboard and insisted that I strum the guitar along with him while Kevin finger-picked on an acoustic. The quiet guy – whose name I learned was Charlie – listened to us, and then he joined in, playing keyboard drums. I complimented that he was able to keep tempo very nicely, and he mentioned that he wrote original music. He pulled a song up on the Mac and shared it with our small group. I closed my eyes and listened to it, taking it in. Beautiful. Lovely voice, perfect chords, great melody.
Chris disappeared into the bathroom at some point (where he spent the following three hours curled around the porcelain bowl, vomiting in-between short bouts of sleep) and, eventually, everyone left. Kevin and Charlie were the last to leave. Charlie and I both agreed, as we descended the stairs and headed for the front door, that we should play music together sometime, and then, with the front door closed and locked and the porch light turned out, I went to bed, tired, and worried about Chris.
The following evening, Chris and I were talking about how fun poker night had been and how we should really have friends over more often. “Can you believe that Charlie is transgender?” He asked casually.
I was getting ready for bed, plugging my phone charger into the wall. I paused immediately. “WHAT? Are you KIDDING ME?“
Chris laughed, shaking his head. “Nope — dude’s transgender. He started transitioning a couple of years ago.”
I couldn’t believe it; I had met another transgender person and hadn’t even REALIZED it. “So you’re saying,” I shook my head in disbelief, “that Charlie was born as a girl — right?”
Incredible. The timing was.. impeccable. I had just come out that month, had just identified that I was transgender, and then here was this other person, this other human being who was sharing the exact same experience as me, right here in my small world. Chris saw Charlie at work the next day and gave him my number, thinking we’d probably enjoy hanging out more and getting to know each other, and Charlie came over the following weekend so that we could begin playing music together.
I’m pretty socially awkward, so after cleaning thoroughly and making the house look “presentable” that Saturday morning, I dreaded seeing Charlie’s car pull into the driveway. “I don’t even know how I’m going to greet the dude. DUDE! I can’t believe he’s a DUDE. ‘Hey, dude! Thanks for coming to hang out!’ Do you THANK someone for coming over to hang out? Do you even say ‘Hey’ at all? Should I just leave the door open and text that the door is open and that I’ll be playing the guitar upstairs? Or should I walk outside once he pulls up, meet him at his car, and then escort him into the house? God.. Bruster is going to be such an asshole. Maybe he’ll just cancel.” I finished tuning my guitar and heard a car ignition turning off on the street outside my house. “Okay — so it’s happening.”
I ran downstairs, grabbed a bottle Kombucha out of the fridge (thinking that holding something in my hand might make me feel less awkward) and opened the front door, feigning surprise. “Oh, hey! Good to see you!” He walked in quietly, not really saying anything, carrying a guitar case in his left hand and holding a beverage with his right one (an energy drink of some kind). He was wearing a green backpack.
We walked upstairs together, talked a little, and then he suggested printing off the chords and lyrics for some songs that we could practice together. I agreed and then watched from across the room, sitting cross-legged on the floor, as the printer began dispensing pages that sashayed directly onto the floor. “Oh, I’m sorry!” I apologized quickly, removing the guitar from my lap so I could help him gather them. “I forgot to pull the tray out earlier –“
“No, it’s fine,” he interrupted me kindly, smiling. “This is exactly what I want to have happen right now.” We then watched, together, in silence, as page after page joined the senseless pile on the floor. I felt something, but I couldn’t quite tell you what it was. Not yet.
We talked about me coming out that morning. Charlie shared that he was transgender (I voiced that Chris had already revealed the shocking news), and then he related certain aspects and milestones from his “experience” with transitioning.
“So,” he asked softly, “do you have a name picked out for yourself?”
I looked up at him, surprised. I honestly hadn’t even considered the matter before (answering to a different name), but instantly, I knew the name. “Yes, I do, actually,” I answered him… “it’s Jace.”
Quick sidebar: I had read The Mortal Instruments series the year before and had fallen in love with the lead male character of the series — Jace. He was loving, selfless, and brave. I had, subsequently, named both my Ibanez (acoustic-electric guitar) and Suzuki (motorcycle) Jace. My mother asked me once, in a message over Facebook, “Why do you name EVERYTHING ‘Jace’?”
“Because it’s the most beautiful name in the world,” I answered.
“Yep,” I nodded, genuinely amused at this sudden revelation — how naturally and fluidly it had come to me; how perfect and right it sounded. “My name would be Jace.”
Charlie fumbled with his phone for a minute and then turned it around so that I could see it.
I smiled. There wasn’t a Rose in his contact list; there was only a Jace.
Charlie and I continued playing music together as the weeks went by. Chris played with us sometimes. I would go skateboarding at the park, and Charlie would make special trips to meet me there. I would, off and on, experience depressing lows relating to my transition, and we’d talk it out together. We went on lots of walks together, and when I took a morning off of work one day to go to the courthouse and petition for my legal name change, Charlie texted me on Hangouts, offering to go with me… saying that he’d love to be there for moral support.
“Seriously?!” I texted back. “I’d LOVE to have you there!”
A few weeks after this, the three of us (Charlie, Chris and I) finally performed our first public gig together: a PB&J (Pizza, Brews and Jams) event at Whole Foods. At the end of our three-hour set, we packed up all of our gear, loaded it into two separate cars and then perused the store for a late dinner. After sitting at a booth inside the store and munching on chips, guacamole and black bean salsa, we all got up to leave. Chris had his head turned and was chatting with a co-worker, and Charlie and I were looking at each other. At this precise moment, I still didn’t realize it.. I didn’t know what it was. But within the next minute, I realized.
I made a small comment.. something simple like “SO! Did you love it? Did you have a blast? Want to be a permanent part of the band?” when it hit me. Charlie looked me in the eye, said nothing for a few seconds, and then titled his head to the side. “What?” he responded softly, as in, “Can you please repeat what you just said? Because I was too lost in your eyes to hear it the first time you said it.”
I rode home on my motorcycle that night, slicing through the dark, and I felt very, very confused.
A day or so later, he confirmed my suspicions via a text message on Google Hangouts. “I love you, Jace, and I don’t know what to do with that.”
“I love you too, Charlie. I don’t know what to do with that either.”
Neither of us were looking for it.. for love. Since coming out, I had – truthfully – been in a place in my marriage where, for months, I couldn’t handle intimacy and was longing to find a way of becoming just friends with the person who I loved more than anyone else in the world. I just hadn’t figured out how to make that happen yet. I had been having dreams of single-hood.. of living with Chris as a best friend and roommate and keeping love and love interests out of my life until I made sense as a person again. And then, here it came.. love. I fell in love with another left-handed musician, writer, and transgender person. Someone so strikingly similar to me, so perfectly able to relate to me, so whimsical and compassionate and thoughtful, and someone whose company I enjoyed so incredibly much. I hated myself for loving Charlie. I hated myself for letting him fall in love with me, because now, two hearts were beating delicately in my trembling hands.. and I didn’t know what to do with either of them.
Some would say that it was unwise, but Charlie and I continued to see each other. We would verbalize our feelings — affirm, every few days (eventually, every few hours) that we still loved each other and wanted to be together, of course, but that we knew, under present circumstances and, in this life, that we couldn’t be — and we decided to remain friends. We kept playing music. We met up at Railroad Park every weekend and went on walks together. We chatted on Hangouts. I sent him a picture of my wallet (the first I’d ever owned) and he celebrated with me. I constantly tried to make myself love Charlie less and to, simultaneously, fall back in love with Chris – my husband – a man.. and I cried constantly, because I realized: “This isn’t working. Everything is so fucked up. Dying would be easier than handling this situation. Really — it would. It would much less painful for Chris to discover that his wife died in a random car wreck one Tuesday afternoon instead of discovering that she had fallen out of love with him and in love with his friend.. his co-worker. Charlie.”
Charlie and I were walking together at the park one afternoon when he reached down and took my hand. We both agreed that friends held hands with each other, so that became okay.
Charlie and I were saying goodbye outside of a friend’s apartment one evening when I went to hug him goodbye. We wrapped our arms around each other and couldn’t let go. Our embrace lasted twenty seven minutes (to be exact), and I cried as he drove away.
Meanwhile, at home, Chris would go to kiss me, and I would flinch. I would wait to go to bed until late at night, after he’d already fallen asleep, and I’d stay gone late into the evenings — skateboarding in the dark, attending meditation meetings, meeting up with friends.. whatever; anything to keep myself away from him. Why? It hurt being around him. He wanted to be close. I couldn’t be. I wanted to stay away from him so that he wouldn’t realize that there was a problem – an open rift – between us.. hoping that, during this strange time period, I would be able to collect my thoughts, gather my wits about me and could sort shit out, and that everything would go back to being perfectly normal. I would reappear in his life, our joined life, at some point, weeks or months down the road, fully there for him. It could happen somehow. I just needed time.
Except time wasn’t the problem, so I didn’t need more time. I was gay — THAT was the problem — and after realizing and accepting that truth about myself, I couldn’t simply go back to NOT being gay. It just wasn’t possible.
Chris and I were cleaning the rabbits’ play area in the garage one weekend morning when he made an unexpected comment. “That song you wrote – Keep Going – was very sexy. I wish you felt that way about me.” I was sweeping; I froze for a second and then kept going. “What the hell am I supposed to say in response to that?!” I thought frantically. So I just laughed a little, hoping he’d change the subject.
“You don’t love me anymore.”
Yeah, YOU called it — he definitely changed the subject. He had said it. He knew. I looked up slowly; he was holding the rabbits’ litter pan in one hand, and grasping a bottle of disinfectant tightly with the other. “I know you don’t. You don’t love me anymore.”
I felt like I was going to pass out. My mind signaled the alarm and my body immediately started going into panic mode. I wanted to run away. I wanted, desperately, to go back to a minute ago, just a single minute ago, before he had said anything.. I could have made a comment about anything; a TV show, dinner plans,asked him a question about work.. something that could have redirected the conversation and prevented him from saying (from asking) this. I hadn’t figured shit out yet. I didn’t know what the fuck to say.
“I DO love you, Chris!” This was true. I loved him more than life; that hadn’t changed at all.
“Yeah — but you aren’t IN LOVE with me. I know you aren’t.”
I took a deep breath. “Chris, I DO love you. I promise I do. You KNOW that I love you.” Please believe me.
He shook his head, dropped the rabbits’ litter pan onto the garage’s concrete floor with a startling thud and spilling aspen wood chips everywhere. “Sure you do.”
He disappeared into the house and I just stood there, gripping the broom so tightly in my left hand that callouses appeared.
Things, surprisingly, continued on as they were before. We cooked dinner that night and it was like the conversation had never even happened. I felt relieved.
But then we were lying in bed together one night (about a week later) when it came up again.
“Is there someone else?” He whispered in the dark.
My heart seized with terror. Terror. “You CANNOT tell him, Jace!” I screamed at myself. “YOU CAN’T! Remember — you CAN fall out of love with Charlie. Somehow. You just need more time to figure out how!”
“Yeah, but I can’t LIE!” I answered myself, my heart racing. “There is someone else.. there is NO denying that. I need to say something, though. Fast. This is taking too long.”
Quickly, I responded: “Christopher, I love you.”
He didn’t let up. “Rose. Is there someone else?”
Oh my god.. it’s happening. This conversation is about to happen. I’m not ready; I can change — it still isn’t too late to fix everything.
“Chris! I LOVE you!” I was crying now.
“Rose. Tell me. Who is it.”
I told him. Another awful week passed, and I told him that I didn’t mean it.. that I didn’t love Charlie; I was just confused. I would stop talking with Charlie and Chris and I would stay together and be okay. Chris was, like me, hopeful; he agreed. I told Charlie that it was over; we couldn’t be friends anymore. It was hurting us both too much and making Chris uncomfortable. My resolve lasted days. Charlie and I began talking again and I didn’t want to keep it from Chris, so I told him.
“He’s too good of a support system, Chris,” I defended myself. “No one gets what I’m going through — Charlie COMPLETELY understands. You can even read our messages if you want to; I just NEED to have him in my life. I don’t expect that you’ll be okay with us spending time in-person, but I at least need to be able to communicate with him. I know that’s not a fair request to make (it sure as hell wasn’t), but I can’t cut him off entirely.”
Chris hated this, but he accepted it, and he never did read our messages. I’m glad he didn’t. Very quickly, Charlie and I fell back into telling the truth again — affirming that we still loved each other, that we longed to be together, but that we couldn’t because I was intent on staying with the person that I had married and who I still loved very dearly. I just couldn’t hurt Chris like that. We had gone through and accomplished so much together.. grieving his father and my brother passing; enrolling in and graduating college; adopting our first dog and purchasing our first home together.. eventually, I could learn to love him again. I was sure of it. Charlie and I just needed to take comfort in knowing that we both loved each other. That’s all we’d ever have, and it would have to be enough.
It didn’t last. None of it.
Chris and I made it for a few more weeks. He would go to kiss me and I’d, without thinking, cringe; I had lost the ability to hide or control it. He’d try to have conversations with me and I’d shut down. I felt my emotional and mental stability slipping away from me as I tried to function at work and hide from Chris at home. One morning, as Chris was getting ready to leave for his shift at about 4 am, his voice spoke to me from the other side of the room.
“What are we doing, Jace?”
I stirred out of sleep. “Huh?”
I looked over, squinting my eyes; he was leaning up against the doorway. The light from the hallway illuminated his form. I’ll never forget it.
“You’re out all the time. We never talk. You don’t want to talk to me anymore, or even hug me. What are we doing?”
I sat up slowly. “Chris.. I don’t think now’s a good time to –“
“STOP. Just stop. I’m so sick of sitting around and waiting for you to leave me. Do you know what this is doing to me, mentally? I am miserable. Completely miserable. I’m depressed. I don’t know what’s going on or what’s going to happen, and it’s driving me insane. I NEED you to tell me.”
I took a deep breath. His work day is about to really fucking suck, I thought to myself sadly, but I knew that things weren’t going to change — that I literally could not change — and that Chris wasn’t going to leave until I answered him honestly.
“Chris.. I can’t be intimate with you anymore. I just can’t. Emotionally, psychologically.. it just doesn’t feel right for me to be with a man that way. It never really did, but, I just didn’t realize, before, why. Now I.. do. I’m so sorry. I am so, so, so sorry.”
“We’re over. I’m done.”
He walked out of the room, and Charlie drove over to the house that morning. We sat outside, in the backseat of his car (because it didn’t feel right for him to come into the house), and he put his arm around me while I cried until it was time to walk back into the house, alone, and get ready for work.
From previous entries, you pretty much know the rest. We filed for a divorce, we didn’t talk for a while, and now, we’re talking again, Chris and I. He’s living with a roommate (and a 3-legged dog that he rescued from off of the side of the road). We’re waiting for the house to sell, and we’re going to split the profit when it does. We met at 5 Guys for lunch last Wednesday, and it was difficult. It was the first time we’d spent a substantial amount of time together since the divorce.
I walked inside the restaurant at 2:15 and he had already sat down at a table. “Did you order fries?” I asked. “Yep; I got here first.”
“I was going to buy them, Chris!”
“Don’t worry about it.”
I pulled up a chair and sat down across from him. He was wearing a graphic tee, khakis, and blue/yellow Adidas. His eyes – a startling bluish green – were shining. His beard was trimmed, and he was still donning a 50’s looking haircut. He looked gorgeous. We talked about his new guitar and delay pedal, briefly.. he shared an annoying conversation he’d had with a co-worker and gushed about an upcoming concert he planned on attending at Saturn.. and then he got real with me.
“You know, Jace.. people don’t know the whole story about us. Just this facade that you show them.” He shook his head. “They don’t know that you cheated on me — that you fell in love with someone else WHILE we were STILL married — and that you betrayed me. All they know is that you’re gay. Everyone thinks that it’s so wonderful that you’ve found yourself, and that you’re finally “living as the person you are,” and that IS great — I AM honestly happy for you and proud of you.. but you’ve taken so much joy and happiness away from me. I live and move in and out of darkness now, Jace, and I carry this darkness around with me everywhere, all of the time.. and all because of you.”
Tears spilled onto the french fries. I pushed them away. I couldn’t speak, so I applied plastic caps to the tiny little containers of ketchup lined up on the table in front of me.
We continued talking. He was very honest, and I was very apologetic, and when I apologized, I meant it with all of my heart.
“Chris.. you do know that I love you more than anyone in this world, right? I mean that — more than anyone.”
He looked at me. “I know you do.”
“And you know that I always will, right?” I could hardly breathe. He has to know that I mean it.
“Of course you will.”
The moments passed too quickly; I checked my phone, and it was time for me to clock back in. I walked him out to his car. He opened the door and then turned around, sticking his fist out; I bumped mine against his, but it felt stupid.
“Can I please hug you?” I asked quietly.
“Sureeeeee,” he smiled slightly.
“You know I’ll always love you more than anyone, Chris,” I breathed onto his shoulder. He put his arm around me for just a few seconds, and I tried to memorize exactly how it felt.
“I knowwwwwwwww you will,” he sang into my ear. It sounded sad.
I’m crying now as I’m relating all of this; crying in front of a random-ass group of people inside of this damn coffee shop, simply by remembering our time together.
When I think of us – Christopher and me – I get the same feeling as I do when I’m rereading the last few chapters of my favorite book. You can probably imagine it yourself. It’s a sinking, queasy feeling at the bottom your stomach; it manifests at the beginning of the last chapter and then intensifies as you flip through the pages, eventually landing on the very last one, where you’re supposed to simply let go of the characters you’ve grown to love. Your eyes scan the page quickly and move greedily across the lines and, you follow them, these characters, to this certain place, this particular spot, at this certain time of day, and then, as the final words on the page reverberate with a ghostly echo in your mind, you leave them — the characters — and they carry on, or stay right there, sadly or happily, without you. But you never know which. Your journey with them is over now. You wanted to keep them forever, but all you can really have is the memories. That’s the only piece of them that belongs to you.
Charlie and I are dating now. We are very compatible; we’re best friends, we’re kind to each other, and we complement each other (I plan obsessively and Charlie relishes living in the moment). We were actually contestants on a dating game show last Wednesday (hosted by Saturn), and we had a blast answering awkward relationship questions and mingling with other couples.
So there it is. The whole truth. I’m (sure as hell) NOT a saint for coming out. I’m not a hero, I’m not special, and I’m not at all exceptional or admirable. People have treated me incredibly kindly and have been so embracive towards and supportive of me that it – coming out – turned out to be one of the most positive and liberating experiences I’ve ever passed through, but there’s no denying that my act of coming out, and the subsequent choices that I made, caused a great deal of stress, hurt, and devastation. Some of the damage I caused is irreparable, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Everything is all hopelessly jumbled together now — the innocent and necessary actions as well as the selfish and unwise ones — and it’s all just like this great big forest fire that, supposedly, first ignited due to natural causes but was then further fueled along and manipulated by gusty winds, man-supplied timber and drops of gasoline poured haplessly from the sky.
One of my deepest life regrets is hurting Chris the way that I did, and while I firmly believe that our marriage would have ended regardless of whether or not I had developed feelings for Charlie, I just as firmly believe and know that I definitely could have handled myself better during the last few months of our marriage. I shouldn’t have let my feelings steer and influence my decision-making. But I did. Without question. And I’ve determined to learn and grow from my mistakes. I want to be nothing but kind towards others; causing pain or sadness is the last thing on earth that I want to do, ESPECIALLY when the person on the receiving end of that pain and/or sadness is someone that I care for so deeply, and I intend to be more mindful than ever of my thoughts and actions and their affect on others. I’m also viewing relationships in a different light. Some would say that I have trust issues now, but I call it safeguarding the future. I will never be so reliant on a person that I feel as though I can’t live without them.. that my happiness is entirely dependent upon them and their presence in my life. I adore Charlie,yes, and I already hope that we’ll always be together.. but I also know that I am fine on my own, just as he is fine on his own. A relationship isn’t intended to fuse two persons, and it certainly shouldn’t rob you of your own personal identity. I put an unhealthy emphasis on relationships in the past. Now, I’m more cautious, realistic, and independently-minded. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s subject to change. It probably will change. I’m still learning, you guys.
This has been some uncharacteristically heavy reading (and writing — I actually had to take multiple emotional breaks from this post while drafting) material, so I’d like to end a little more lightly. Here are three “happy moments” that occurred during the last few weeks:
Numero uno: I’m at work on a typical weekday afternoon, training new hires at one of our credit union branches, when a gentleman walks up to the Teller line, asks a question, and I answer him. “Thank you, sir,” he nodded softly, looking up at me, and then – very quickly – he shook his head and amended his statement. “I’m so sorry — thank you, ma’am!”
“Oh —- you’re totally fine,” I beamed.
“He almost thought that I was a dude!” I thought to myself. “A DUDE! For just a SECOND there, he saw me as I truly am. That is AMAZING.
Numero dos: That SAME DAY, a member phoned into the Credit Union and, during their conversation, they remarked that they thought they had seen a “little boy wandering around in the drive-thru.” And guess what? There was a little boy working in the drive-thru that afternoon. And it was definitely me.
Numero tres (my favorite): I went to lunch with a coworker and her son three weeks ago. We visited a Steak and Shake where I ordered a grilled cheese with pickles (along with a side order of french fries) and the mother and son both got burgers, fries, and a single birthday cake-flavored milkshake. During the meal, I made a comment of some kind to my coworker and referred to her as ‘dude’ (something along the lines of: “Yeah, dude! Isn’t that crazy?”). Her son piped up quickly and corrected me: “Hey! You can’t call her a dude. She’s a girl.”
The mother responded: “Well okay. But what about Jace? Is Jace a dude?”
The boy: “Um yeah. He’s a dude because he’s a boy. We’re both boys.. right, Jace?”
!!! Can I please take this kid home?
“Yeah dude. We sure are.”
To conclude this ridiculously lengthy post, I’d just like to say.. I’m feeling good. I’m honestly doing well, MUCH better than I have been doing. A huge part of that is knowing that Chris is healing and that he’s happy now. I’m keeping buoyant and, when dark spells and negative thoughts do come around, I distract myself long enough to let them pass by without really affecting me. I am getting out more and kindling friendships where, in the past, I made excuses to avoid relationships, and I’m also eating lots of freaking burritos. I even decided two Saturdays ago, as I passed by a Mexican restaurant with a friend and thought to myself “DAMN I love those things,” to get a token of my love permanently inked on my ankle. I’m not kidding. Check it out.
Still here, still searching, still experiencing, still learning, still trying to be a good person and VERY happy to be alive and eating burritos,