Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Survivor's Guilt?

Every year Jews across the world have Passover Seders commemorating the Exodus from Egypt many generations ago and at those Seders there is a moment when we remember the ten plagues that God wrought on our enemies and as we recite each of the plagues we dip our pinky in the wine glass and allow a wine droplet to fall on the plate – a reminder that in our time of happiness we remember other’s losses.

Over the last three or four year’s thoughts of relative happiness have been a constant in my brain. How can my happiness – if that is really even the right word – not be tempered by Carrie’s travails? So she remains a constant – a constant with daily phone calls, a constant with almost weekly visits and if not a constant, a comfort when she recently allowed us a full embrace, a throwback to what once was.

And the refrain from the outside has been that we are each responsible for our own lives, that her success or lack thereof in the social world lies on her own shoulders. I do understand this – I am her friend but not her keeper. I also understand that she has taken a series of “hits” that one would not wish on their enemies, no less a best friend. So I have been oft accused of survivor’s guilt.

It’s just that it does not feel that way to me. When I call each day to check in – the mundane things that make a life – I do not feel a sense of obligation, getting something out of the way. I rather enjoy the little updates and banter. And when I arrive for a weekend visit and the kids announce they are off to something else, sitting at the kitchen table with Carrie is not a burden, but on the whole relaxing. Lord knows there is not much pretense left (though I still try to make believe that if my cell rings, it is really not Phil).

As we sat at the kitchen table recently I asked about the future. In less than four years the youngest will be off to college. There will be no need to call daily, the updates will be slim. There will be no need to drive up on a Friday night – the kids will not be there. Does all that end; is there a weaning process like a four year old giving up the teat?

The thing is that while there may be elements of survivor’s guilt, I enjoy my life, limitations accepted, with Carrie and cannot really imagine the day when the spigot gets turned off.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Weekend Update

While not much of a Saturday Night Live person – past my bedtime – I always liked the Weekend Update, essentially real news yet when an errant picture or caption, or even a stutter in the delivery is thrown in, the absurdity becomes evident. That is the way I feel about this story – absurd bordering on self parody.

I have written of Phil’s friend Stan, his last boyfriend and current beach buddy. I have written how the three of us would find the beach or maybe I would just join them for dinner after my day of work. And I have written of Stan turning against me – not that I blame him - and my wondering what this summer would bring. I wondered on these pages would there be resentment on my part, not so much of their days at the beach – I do work – but of the evenings after, dinners presumably absent me.

Of course having fixated on all of the possibilities, I missed the ones that actually came to pass. You see we are not just talking beaches, Phil and Stan are not making sand castles with hoards of children: they are at the gay beaches, a small universe. If one wants to travel – drive a bit, take a ferry, walk a bit, there is Fire Island, more of a weekend than day visit. If one wants to go to the local beach there is Jones and there is Robert Moses. They are quite convenient to each other – one drives to Jones and if the parking lot near the gay section is full, another twenty minutes on a beautiful road and Robert Moses awaits.

The summer comes and things roll along – Phil is busy running to the country, a wedding to make, I have my weekends with the children and we have a surprising number of weekends together. It is quite nice; we work on his house, paint cabinets, blissfully mundane. Phil has some beach days – weekday affairs. I have my work. We meet up on those days, a surreptitious mid-evening rendezvous swooping him from a railroad station, a train not taken. I won’t deny the strangeness but like everything else in life, after a while it starts to feel normal.

The summer is drawing to a close and a weekend day, clear sky, humidity dripping, Phil and I together. Let’s go to the beach! Jones or Robert Moses? What’s that – Jersey shore he suggests, something new. And it all comes together. We cannot go to Jones or Robert Moses. Stan is going to the beach and he may be at Jones or maybe the parking lot will be full and off to Robert Moses. We end up on the beach with the kids. Now as a practical matter, I am actually not upset, these are the beaches I grew up on, where I take my kids, not too crowded, my comfort zone. But that does not change the “why”, the fact that my choices are limited, impacted by choices of another who has no place in my life.

Now I am sure there are comments to be made, conclusions to be reached but ultimately the joy of weekend update is giving the story. The audience gets to make of it what they may. While today looks like summer, it is truly autumn and there is much time before the next visit to the beach.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


There have been many posts lately, just in my head and not on paper, and they are beginning to pile up like one of those chain reaction collisions in the fog. And when there is so much to say the tendency is to say nothing. The summer has drawn to a close – to me yesterday was the official ending – a summer that would normally be considered quite nice – beach and country, family and Phil (though not together). But there were the sub-themes. Of course the overriding one being my daughter Anna celebrating the first anniversary of the pedophile’s (her soon to be ex-husband’s) arrest. The carnage is unimaginable and are a few of the posts littering my brain.

The summer was also marked by yet another choice, another stab at competing values. Saturday was a strange confluence – Phi’s only daughter being married and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The wedding alone would have provided enough of a theme for the summer. Having watched my coming out damage my weddings I realized that the whole topic of Phil’s coming out would need a vacation. A subject dear to my existence – while ultimately his decision and problem I am more than a passing player in this drama – taken off the table until the lucky couple are wed.

When I realized the conflict – the celebration and the holy day – I made an immediate knee jerk decision. If Phil was out to his family I would come – how could I as a member of sorts skip it – and if not, well then should my religion not win out? Of course it is not really about religion, I am not overly wound on such things. No, it is about family, about having celebrated this day with my family – Carrie and kids – for two decades now, and specifically about having had the traditional end of holiday break fast with them each year.

After months of thought, annoying good friends, the angst which once was and still can be my comfort zone, I consult Carrie. She sees it pretty clearly – Phil is my boyfriend, a wedding is hopefully once in a lifetime – I should go. Once again instead of making a decision, I have asked her to make one for me, and once again she has acquiesced. I will have dinner the night the holiday starts with my family, Temple in the morning and then – can you spell awkward – off to the late afternoon wedding.

All in all it is going well, but I did mention the soon to be ex-husband – the pedophile. The divorce is dragging, his parents claiming compassion but squeezing out every clause, every last nickel. A quick early afternoon phone call to go over the “last points” and it all boils over – screaming matches on the phone, particularly Carrie after a year of holding her tongue letting loose. It actually was a good thing, a necessary thing, but now the phone call is over and rather then sitting around for a few hours for the usual combination post-mortem / strategy session, I am off to a wedding. I was steeled for awkward, but this was a different level, a moment where I really did have to go – weddings come with a start time, and really had to stay – the level of distress was great.

I realize I started typing with thoughts of the wedding, but they may have to wait another day. The thing is that Bill, the soon to be ex, is in jail – coming out soon, but in jail. His career lies in tatters and his earning power damaged at best, ruined at worst. Anna is now a single mom – working but with limits based on many factors. Child care is not cheap and Huggies have pretty packages with bar codes that ring up real dollars. So when every nickel is being wrung out, it does matter. And it not only matters to Anna, but to Carrie who is on the front lines every day, World War I style front lines – trenches with hand to hand combat, or so it feels. And it impacts on me, the wage earner in all of this. Clearly the child will have those Huggies, a roof over her head, food to eat. But it all takes a toll.

I check in with Carrie as I drive home from the weekend, the wedding in the rear view, literally and figuratively. She cannot talk to me, the trenches are claustrophobic and the other side is lobbing the canisters of mustard gas. She knows I will foot the bills – as best as I can which is far from perfect at this point – but the trenches she bears alone. And I want to help, want to man the barricades, but at this point I don’t even know where to start.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sad News

Many years ago, when I was an active blogger not only did I write, but I occasionally read and found myself in a community of fellow bi/gay married types all on different portions of their journeys and not all having the same destination. As quickly as it all appeared it faded, as seems strangely appropriate for a special moment in time.

There was one person who stood out for me – Spider. He was years ahead of me in the journey and took the time to reach out to me, not to stroke me but to call me out, provide a reality check in what was, and still seems to be, a time of unreality in my life. When I wrote about living in the basement and staying out late – very late (okay, once returning the next morning) he emailed me, not a public flogging but a private moment. He thought 1 AM was fine, enough time for a drink and a grope, but later than that was an insult to the woman who now occupied the master bedroom. Of course he was right.

And then there were the posts that he did, described in a post of mine from four years ago. To me it was monumental; to him not a big deal. He met some homeless guys in his hometown and took them to his home – a sandwich, a shower, and a washing machine. They did not move in but left there refreshed. Many of us were moved and told him so.

Then a period of silence on his blog followed by the news – he had gone to the Doctor with one complaint and discovered that he had others, a sick man at a young age. Occasionally there would be some update but ultimately quiet. I had tried emailing him a few times at the beginning – some moral support but never really had the opportunity to thank him for his efforts; I can be a bit high maintenance yet he was patient in his support and more importantly in his critiques.

Last night I received an email with a link to another blog:
I was sorry to hear of the passing of Brett. Brett was a local blogger (and dear friend) who wrote “Spider’s Web in Thornton Park.” His health had been failing and apparently he fell, hit his head, and a blood clot formed in his brain. I was told the surgery for removing the blood clot was successful, but he never regained consciousness after the surgery.

A sad day indeed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Out of Words

The writing comes less frequently – easy to blame it on a “lack” – lack of time, lack of angst, lack of words. Time – well that part is true but angst and words: I suspect there is still some left. Maybe there is a feeling that there have been too many words or at least too many of the same ones. I would have thought there would be no new horizons – good and bad – to explore but it seems “plus ca change…” While it could be said the journey started decades ago, and in many ways it did, I am approaching the five year anniversary of the relevant portion so maybe a glance back and look at things today is appropriate.

Glancing back somehow goes to the title of this blog, something which always troubled me – a fleeting idea which somehow stays forever, not unlike our given names. Strangely though it has remained true, I may describe myself in polite conversation as “gay” but have spent enough time in this world to understand that underneath it all there will always be the “bi”. This is not a case of hedging my bets – I am in this new world - all in it appears, but I did enjoy the straight years, the sex with women, the sex with my wife. Which of course brings us to the next part of the name, that first “M” - as in married. Yes, I still am. In part a matter of convenience, a health insurance marriage but in part as a link, a link for both of us. We had the strange event of a twentieth anniversary recently; is it an event or more a nonsequitor? We chose event and had a leisurely two and a half hour dinner. Old friends, a life together but no longer the thought (in my mind) of maybe I’ll get lucky. (The rest of the blog name merits no comment: I am still white and still regret including that initial and am still male, though Carrie would not miss the opportunity to comment on that.)

There is more to be said of the family world but let’s bring in another element. I still have a boyfriend though after three years one might question why Phil has not been elevated: boyfriend seems so temporary, a date that may not make it through the week. This is a tricky subject with many elements, practical and emotional, but one stands out above the rest: Phil is not out to his adult children, nor does it appear to even be in the cards. I have struggled with this – what are my fair expectations, should it (or does it) impact me, does it make a difference? I know the children, they seem to like me, we have broken bread and the daughter warrants a little hug and quick peck on the cheek. My existence and family friendship is not in question.

But as much as I would like to ignore this – such a little thing in another wise good relationship, I no longer can. Strange how something with so little day to day relevance seems to carry so much impact. Of course it is the little things, hearing Phil talk of a trip to Chicago, our trip to Chicago, and not knowing if I was there. If I had pressed the point, an excuse for my being there would have been found, no outing that way, but the fact that one has to consider such geography is strange. The daughter has a wedding date set and I wish her the happiest of weddings – not the time for a family drama, but after that… And of course there is that nice invitation on the parlor table (okay, I don’t have a parlor but it sounds so inviting) with a cute little RSVP card. The day comes with a built in conflict, just the excuse I need. But the card still sits, awaiting my pen.

But let’s get back to the family. I have written of The Trauma, the one next to which being gay and breaking a family asunder pales by, if such a thing is possible: the soon to be ex son-in-law, still in jail, a pedophile, a blot on our landscape. Prior to the wheels coming off last July, things were settling in, Carrie and two children rebuilding, a quiet sort of life but quiet can sometimes be good. Then the arrest, an adult child moving home, a new baby crying for whatever it is they cry for – a bottle, a hug or maybe a diaper. And in a moment the peace shattered.

So you see there are words, many of them, too many for one entry but there you have it, paradise lost.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Chicago 2010

I must confess to writing in a half hearted fashion; without the angst and pain, the writing feels rather pedestrian, particularly writing about being gay. This is not to say that I am unaware of the ongoing issues and still do consider what I may say to someone: Is Phil a friend or my boyfriend – not much different on the surface but so different to the listener.

This past weekend was the annual foray to Chicago, six consecutive years and all of them markers, as it turns out, on my journey from a straight married man to my current gay existence. I will not recount the journey here – feel free to read the prior May postings; suffice to say the changes have been dramatic. Last year was to have been the final Chicago post – attending dinner with Phil as my guest. But looking back I did introduce him as a friend, probably sufficient to most I met, but a tad evasive for my true friends.

This year Phil was to join us again at dinner but due to his work he had to take a later flight – he would be there for the after dinner drinks at best. Towards the end of the dinner, as the table shifted I found myself sitting with two women, two of the three that I sat drinking with years ago, discussing their divorces and my uttering, not that I remember it, that I was lost. They were both there with their new lovers – the live in variety and were glowing with their good fortune. They talked and smiled and then looked at me: “how are you doing”? They know I am separated, we have known each other for a decade and beyond.

The next moment came much more easily then I might have guessed. I announced that I had come to realize that I was gay, had a boyfriend and was happy. “Was he here with you last year?” They do have good memories. “Where is he this year?” They do ask good questions. I explain he will be here in an hour or two.

After dinner our group coordinator has made plans for those who are young at heart: first stop a rooftop bar, tres chic, tres young. We drink a little, the women in our midst dance (my could one of them move) and then discuss the next stop. Where is Phil they ask – slightly delayed but on his way. Next stop it seems is a drag club. One friend asks if that is okay and I laugh – what could be more okay.

We make our way to the club, seven strong with Phil on the way, and it is quite the show. These were not the drag queens of Harvey Fierstein stature; these are beautiful “women”. The men in our group cannot really wrap their arms around the knowledge these were men yet such clear evidence to the contrary. The women in our group, well they are jealous of the bod’s. And so there is movement as members of our group wind our way on occasion to the front, a few dollar bills for this one, a few more for that one. Lots of whooping and laughing, teasing of the friendliest nature, not of us but of themselves.

Really how much better could it be? I imagined what if I had not come out just a few hours earlier. I would be sitting there with Phil, careful not to brush against him, feeling discomfort as to who I was, which role to play in that room. And instead such a pleasant evening, simply just being who I am.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have been thinking of context a lot lately. The same words, same clothing, same look can appear totally different based on the surroundings. If I were to be having a glass of wine with a friend and in a discussion of my job say, referring to my boss, “I want to kill him”, my friend might chuckle and clink my glass. Someone at the next table might whisper to their dinner mate “Must have had a bad day”. If a sullen teenager were to make the same utterance, hopefully minus the wine and likely in some electronic fashion, at best they may find themselves in the guidance office and at worst may have precipitated a lock down. And the thing is that in both cases – the chuckle in the restaurant and the terror in the school – the responses are totally appropriate.

This came to mind in a different realm the other day. I had dinner with Tammy, my thirty something lesbian friend, and we were discussing Phil. Now if this was a real diary I would describe him – slight of frame, “gay” beard…, but this is a public posting so suffice to say a good argument could be made that Phil looks gay. Tammy would change the phrasing from “a good argument” to “are you kidding?” Yet Phil remains to a great degree in that well appointed closet.

The night before my dinner with Tammy, Phil and I went to our favorite informal restaurant – a nice dive in the very gay district. While in the middle of boys’ town, the clientele is pretty mixed – some nights almost fifty percent straight. We are taken to a booth in the back and Phil looks around and does a double take: there is a couple, the wife a friend of forty plus years, a couple I met last month at their holiday party. A table is quickly pulled over and they finish desert while we nurse our beers. Now these are highly intelligent, sophisticated human beings but I suspect later that evening they just commented that Phil’s friend seems nice or boring or whatever they thought; I sort of doubt they had a discussion of Phil’s orientation.

One of Phil’s longest friends dates back to college – four plus decades – and is quite gay. A year or so ago after I had met him once or twice, Phil decided to come out to him. As we sat in his apartment – Phil and his new friend, his accountant, me! - Phil points out we met on Craigslist, a sure giveaway one would think yet a few days later he discovers the friend assumed I was found in the classifieds under tax services. I suspect the same phenomenon also occurs the other way; there are people I work with who surely know I am gay, who I suspect are not particularly gay friendly, yet they are my work friends.

It is hard to separate context from content and maybe that is a good thing because it recognizes that who we really are exists in our own unique spaces: I am a man who happens to be gay (along with a few other attributes) as opposed to being defined primarily as a gay man.

As for the poor teenager, maybe someday we will live in a world where assuming the worst is not required protection.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Night Moves

Relationships are complicated – whether on the basic level of two friends or colleagues and more so when you toss in love and sex. And so it is with Phil despite our mutual mellowness and deep understanding of human imperfections. We are older, not looking to get married or have children and are quite laissez faire when it comes to comings and goings. This fits well into our parallel pathologies.

I still have the weekend wife who I speak with every day, extensively, and he still has the other boyfriend- Carrie and Stan, our bookends. Now Carrie was at an advantage knowing all there is to know and in theory a few weeks ago the imbalance was corrected for Stan as Phil explained to him the facts of life. When it comes to Carrie, there are no mysteries to me but all I know of Stan is through Phil’s eyes, a prism that at times is hard to gauge.

New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday – a strange combination of forced gaiety combined with social pressure. In our society sitting alone on New Years is probably considered worse than a solitary turkey sandwich on Thanksgiving. As Phil put it succinctly, it is fraught with emotional danger. It was not that long ago that as midnight struck, Carrie had a meltdown when faced with kissing what she knew to be her future ex and more recently a little after midnight we held each other – not sexually – taking a moment of comfort in each other’s arms.

For the New Year’s we have known each other, Phil has conveniently been away – convenient for both of us – but not this year. Finally some weeks back we acknowledge that we should spend it together, albeit not really knowing what to do. I struggle with what to say to Carrie, my traditional New Year’s being with her and our children. She solves the problem asking "What are you and Phil doing for New Year’s". Problem solved.

Not so quick: As fraught as things are for me, things are equally fraught for Phil. He did explain the facts of life – his relationship with me – to Stan but I am not sure what was heard. As December quickly is winding down, Phil, a widower, announces he really wants to spend the evening with a group of old friends, friends from his married straight life, friends who know nothing of his present circumstances. He does not want to bring me, a combination of not wanting me to spend yet another evening in the closet I have left behind and also a fear: what happens as the bell tolls. Do we kiss, European cheek thing, or maybe just a handshake and pat on the shoulder. You get the picture.

I am not overly upset – spending the evening with my children is not exactly a punishment and is very much in my comfort zone. It is Anna’s first New Year’s as a mother and being alone under her circumstances is not easy, a fact that becomes clear as the evening and weekend unfolds. It is a good New Year’s as New Year’s goes, albeit not what was originally anticipated. It even was okay when a little after midnight we all hear my cell phone in the distance (no, I do not carry it on my hip like a modern day 38) and Carrie points out I should answer it, say hello to Phil. I would love to claim total comfort at those moments, but I am not there yet, but still I did answer the phone, express my New Year’s wishes to Phil.

Of course I think about everything, there are worse diseases, and come to realize that I could have gone to the party with Phil – it is not as if I have not met many of these people before, as the straight friend, and I have grudgingly accepted my place in his closet. The midnight moment, while potentially strange, was manageable, a guy hug if you would. No, the problem was Stan, or more accurately Phil’s loyalty to Stan. The thought of being disloyal to Stan, even though Stan would have been unaware of the circumstances weighed on Phil, weighed on him to the degree that he was willing to pull the plug that evening on both of us.

We have talked of this since that night and Phil has a little work to do. He needs to define who he is and where he is going. I am his friend and happy to stand by him as he works through this, but am also plain that like anyone I do have limits. The danger is that I, and of course Phil, do not know where these limits lie and unfortunately once the ramparts are breached they will be hard to repair.

So we are back at the parallel pathologies. I have a significant amount of my weekend time booked – appropriately with children and maybe inappropriately with Carrie. Phil gets his time with Stan – once again the appropriateness is a subject of some debate, but it all seems to work. The problem is that as my children continue to grow – it is rather inevitable – my weekends become more available, a trend that is already starting to kick in and with that will be the question of what my Saturday nights will look like, or maybe the question is really what Stan’s will be.

Bob Seger had a monster hit back in 1976 and one line from it has resonated as I have mulled the situation:
I used her she used me

But neither one cared
We were getting our share
Of course we all know that taking parallel pathologies and claiming everything is healthy because both sides are equally damaged is not a great formula. Relationships are tricky and some work lies ahead.