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The Kitchen

blue kitchen set

The dream broke suddenly and I was awake. I glanced over at the clock reading 4:30 a.m. I stumbled in the kitchen in my boxers and robe. The coffee maker sat in the same corner it had for 40 years, accompanied by a pair of fiesta ware blue coffee cups. Everywhere I looked, memories flashed and seared back at me.

I’d sat at that same old oak dinette admitting to my parents that I was gay, and that Harold was more than a roommate. She’d responded with cool hardness. I was simply never welcome there again. The worst of it was that Pop and I simply weren’t allowed. I know that sounds terrible, but it was the truth. This was the man who from the earliest age must have understood my view of the world, watching me fall in love with eighth-grade playmates, picking me up from theater rehearsals. I was always Daddy’s good little boy. I’d gone off to school and made a good life for myself.

A few years back, my sister invited Harold and I to her wedding. Harold couldn’t make eye contact with Mom, knowing how much pain her dismissal of us caused me and the rest of the family. Pop looked at me, across the room, trying his best. You could see her reach under the table and touch him 374 when she’d catch him.

I’ve tried not caring. It doesn’t work. I cared anyway.

I tried for a while keeping the lines of communication open by sending notes and cards every holiday and birthday. None were ever responded to, and each day without a response is a new, raw wound. And I felt so utterly stupid and angry with myself after each unrequited outreach. I’d truly given up hope, when one day I came home from a trip, and there was a phone message from the gallery.

“Some guy came in and bought one of your pieces. The big orange one, the streetlight? He wrote something really odd.”

She handed me the check, and reading it, I began to tear up. Written in the memo on the check in my Dad’s immediately recognizable handwriting was, “This is the best yet, boy.”

Pop had figured out a way to contact me. He returned every six months to a year, always demanding to pay a little more than it was offered for, writing “Love this new direction you’re on,” “You keep getting better,” and “Harold must be so proud of you” in the check memo. We kept the checks in an envelope, treasured secret communiques received from behind enemy lines.

My sister admitted that he’d bring the pieces to her, and they’d find somewhere to donate them, some way to send them to Dad’s business contacts or my sister would put them up in her office. She called one evening to let me know Mom had a stroke, and while they had her at the hospital, there wasn’t hope that she’d 375 recover. She died quickly and painlessly.

Just as suddenly, there was the front pew in the church, with my sister, her husband, the twins, and next to Pop, me and Harold. The next few weeks were a blur of helping him get the house set up.

There I was, after all those years, right back in the kitchen at the crack of dawn.

“I betcha still eat bacon with that fancy-dancy, organicky, yoga-y diet of yers,” Pop asked, working over the stove. “Coffee’s on. I got some of that yellow poison you asked for. I figgered we’d go hikin’. Besides, why waste a beautiful day when it’s given to you.”

As I reached for the fridge to get cream, I noticed a photo on the door in a magnetic frame. It was a startlingly sexy, beautiful photo of her. She was in her 20s, laughing in the black and white light of a campfire.

“Yeah, I put away most of ’em, but that one stays,” Pop said, noticing me stop.

“She’s so happy, and beautiful…” I said, letting out a gasp.

“She really was, boy. She really was. But at some point she just forgot how to be happy, and I’m sorry for that, boy. I really am.”

The next few years were an amazing renaissance for him. He embraced the widower patriarch role with gusto, doting on his grandkids and family, quietly rediscovering himself. He spent a lot of time traveling, sometimes taking Harold along as he got old. Harold and my Pop became best friends, and art critic buddies. He’d come and spend long weekends at our place out in the woods hiking, finding beach treasures to send to the grandkids.

Pop’s been gone a while now. I guess it’s part of the heartache of it all. Pop had taught me that being awake at sunrise was a solitary gift to look forward to. I can remember sitting on the front lawn, he had his cup of coffee and cigar, me my cup of cocoa that was more marshmallows than cocoa. We’d sit there and watch everything reveal itself. Particularly when fall comes around, I go out and walk in the darkness, the streetlights illuminating fall colors in the trees and swirls of fog. The harvest moon dancing with fading morning stars.

I reach the coffee shop and I’m soon sitting in the park with the dog, as the first glimmer of dawn begins. It feels like this epic waterfall that’s been filling all night long and when it finally starts to flow over the edge of the world, it grows faster and faster. Through the trees, the bright sun breaks the horizon.

I smile thinking of Pop, who in his quiet gravelly voice would say “Now boy, how could you want to miss this?”

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on our sleeves

lands end luminaries

By 1988, there had been 61,816 deaths in the U.S. alone. I was twenty-one. Two years later, nearly twice as many Americans had died of AIDS as died in the Vietnam War. By the time I was thirty? 234,225 deaths. Forty? Nearly 600,000 deaths.

Just consider that for a second.

Six-hundred thousand dead.

That’s the entire population of Denver or Portland or Seattle or Austin, dead. Twice the population of Minneapolis, three times the population of Madison, Wisconsin, six times the population of Salt Lake City or Boise, dead. By the time I was twenty five, I’d attended more funerals than weddings.

It was so important to remember everyone who lost. Nobody deserved to be a statistic. Nobody was going to be the emotional equivalent of an unmarked forgotten gravestone. Our community lived for remembering. To do otherwise was unthinkable.

We queers became the experts at grief. We wore it openly on our sleeves next to our battered hearts.

Our personal calendars are always full of when friends and lovers lost the battle. Each of them live on through stories like this one. Stories about someone that touched our life in such a direct way, that you mark their passing each year on the calendar as a personal memorial day. When I was in my 20s, I had a couple that I called my ‘gay’ Mom and Dad.

It was the summer of 1988 that I met Mark Spencer. Mark absolutely defined ‘sparkle.’ He was a cabaret singer and local variety show performer. He was always spit-shine polished, and everyone knew who was responsible. Friends used to joke that his partner John was the stage manager for “The Mark Show.” It was never meant with even a hint of disrespect. We were all jealous of the complete adoration that was apparent in both of them every time you were around them. You’d see a slight, gentle touch on Mark’s collar while he was surrounded by boys telling some outrageously rude joke. You’d catch them stealing thick, bourbon-filled kisses in the kitchen at a dinner party full of house guests.

Pictures of them with fabulously feathered ‘70s hairdos, powder blue tuxedos and thick rimmed glasses looking like extras from an extra campy Magnum P.I. episode, adorned the entry way to their home. They would tell beautifully detailed, different versions of the same story depending on who got started. Always on special occasions they’d tell of the night they came home together down the gravel driveway to their woodsy, small home. It was like listening to someone recite the most romantic of all fairy tales. Mark’s little details always making John blush at the right moments. It all seemed perfect.

Watching him that day, he was the personification of celebration and remembrance. Even in Mark’s death, John was the supportive partner, putting on the perfect send-off party, determined to get it absolutely right. It’s crazy how I can remember that evening on the ocean vividly, right down to the most particular detail. Mark’s service was held at the labyrinth at Land’s End. Out on the end of the world, with the setting sun bouncing off the water, lighting up the Golden Gate like a picture postcard. You had to walk down the earthen steps and find your way down to the sea. Once we’d all arrived, John went around the circle as people continued to greet one another. He handed each person a paper lantern. A deep reverent hush fell over all of us as we each realized Mark and John had made these in advance. Written on mine in John’s perfect cursive handwriting was a long paragraph:

“We met you at the baths on a joyous Pride weekend. You had just turned 21. I am so excited to know you’ll finish college and make a real difference in the world,” I read, with tears welling up. “I know you’ll be brilliant. You’ll break through that trademark shyness of yours. I will miss you, bucky boy, but the world is going to get such a gift.”

I looked up around the circle, witnessing how these personal messages were affecting everyone involved. John walked out to the edge near the water and lit the candle in his lantern, passing it around the circle to the next person. The sun started below the horizon as everyone’s lantern bounced with candlelight and started to fill with warm air, making them light in our hands.

John let his go, and it seemed to hover, in fact, hesitate in his hands. He spoke in this incredibly almost unbearable soft voice, “No. No. It’s time for you to go, honeybear.” As if hearing his absolute command, the lantern lit off from his hands and floated up, catching the breeze, which took it up and out to sea, candlelight revealing that the entire surface of his lantern had writing upon it. He looked after it like a parent sending his child off to school on a fall morning. One by one, the lanterns in our hands followed suit, slowly rising into the sky and wandering away.

I’d always meant to keep in better touch with John. But Mark was right, I finished college, went to Africa in the Peace Corps, and my life had taken off like a rocket ship. I had always thought to myself that John had gone quietly and peacefully after his husband without regrets.

Twenty-one years later, there he was on Facebook. It was like a ghost came up on my computer screen. According to his profile, he’d gone on to get a doctorate and was now a counselor in Calgary. He was single, aggressively agnostic, and had a dog named Lucille. He still had that calm smile, like the entire world had become a “Mark” for him to adore from across the room.

The computer beeped, and a message from him came up: “I’ve missed you.”

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f i b e r l i s c i o u s

grocery

"Fiberliscious?," he said tapping the shopping list.

"Fiberliscious." he said matter-of-factly, "The name brand gives me gas so I get the more expensive Fiberliscious."

"Can you tell a big difference?"

"It's not like I drink a fiber supplement drink because it's delicious. Like I'm going to trade out mimosas for delicious orange flavored Fiberlicious. Even champagne nor vodka could turn it into a pleasurable drinking experience. I just care than I'm not turning meetings in the conference room at work into a cruel smelloriffic chamber of horrors. They are betting you'll buy their space age TANG style drink with mystery mulch in exchange for trips to the restroom not resembling something from the La Brea tar pits."

"Well I'm glad you are happy with your BM's boys. Such a relief." the cashier sarcastically chirped, interrupting their not so private TMI session.

"Can I get a price check on Fiberliscious on Checkstand Six," she barked loudly into the speakerphone, "Price check on Fiberliscious on Checkstand Six, please."

A clerk walked up to her and confirmed the price from a handheld computer. He swiped his debit card.

Glancing at the receipt briefly, she announced to them proudly, "You saved 32% with your savers card!"

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Dear John....

typewriter manhattan crumpled papers

"These letters have gotten a LOT more complicated than they used to be.", she thought to herself, letting the Johnny Walker work it's magic on her tongue. -

 

“It’s not you - it’s me”- nope - it is all about him

 

"I want different things now"- like a solid witness protection program

 

"I've grown and well...."- you haven't.

 

“this isn’t the relationship I wanted.”- duh. too simple. -"i really need some space"- several thousand miles of it. buh bye, no.

 

"who in the hell taught you to kiss?"- wow harsh. but it was more like experiencing slimy mouth-to-mouth resuscitation than kissing. really. gross. weird. where does someone learn tha...

 

"i just can't see myself married to you."- leave alone in the same room.

 

"i'll leave the ring at your mothers"- because we both know that's where you'll run crying like a little bitch.

 

"at least I'll save money on all the drinking I've been doing"

 

She laughed out loud at that one and took another glorious deep sip of her triple manhattan.

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fairhaven

leaf

Have you ever witnessed a fall leaf falling - or better yet the first one from a tree that appears on fire? One single brave giant maple leaf of a golden aged colour falls. So delicate - it doesn't fall like a rock into a stream, but more like a extravagant ballerina. If you stop and watch it carefully enough - you can hear Mendelssohn playing in accompaniment. Concentrating on the beauty, her slow last dance until she gently lands on the wet grass of morning.

I catch myself looking out for them now, but so often we miss them, these kinds of quiet events become a blur in the velocity of life.

I was broken out of my trance by a car horn. I had stopped to take in my dancing leaf apparently in the middle of the street. On the worst possible day to do so. I popped out of my fantasy surrounded by the loud hustle of freshman arriving at Fairhaven.

The entire campus had been transported by rail from Massachusetts to new Washington shoreline by rail. Each brick labeled and numbered - each arch recreated.

Mind you - it was something you either found entrancing and charming or a stark reminder of the kind of world you'd moved here to escape in the first place. There didn't seem to be any in between on the matter. What it was for these freshman? It was their first step away from a farm or a factory or the lives their parents were leading. Mothers fretting over how they would eat, how often they'd actually do laundry - and Fathers mostly, glad to have their children off on the next step - well, unless you were talking about their pocketbooks. A liberal arts education was not a inexpensive undertaking.

But! Before we get too carried away about Fairhaven College, and her various goings on - our true story is about "The" Fairhaven. It sat on the fringes of campus, curiously but not deliberately down the winding hill behind the performing arts and writer's school.

This bistro and bar with it's mix of outside and indoor choices - brunch at seemingly every hour of the day, became the off campus home of all variety to storytellers, demagoguery, fiery romance, employment and escape. It became almost better than an internship on the actual campus to score a fabled job in a crimson red starched shirt and the white apron of The Fairhaven.

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