Sunday, August 31, 2014

MY PRISON FANTASY

Until three weeks ago, I did not have a prison fantasy. I can’t get past the idea of an open toilet in a cell. There’s nothing sexual about that. Not for me, at least. I hold onto my soap. Tightly.

But then on one of my flights in August, I came across an airline magazine article about swim vacations. Not the bake-by-the-pool-and-drink-bottomless-margaritas sort. Can’t do that. I get antsy. And I burn. Sitting by the pool is not swimming. Neither is taking a quick dip—don’t mess the hair!—and reapplying baby oil. No, this article featured ocean swim tours. And, suddenly from 30,000 feet in the sky, I wanted to take the plunge. Well, in due time.

Alcatraz offers the prison element. There are monthly swims from Alcatraz to shore. 1.25 miles. Piece of cake, I thought. My regular swim exceeds that at 3K and I’ve been swimming 4-5K all summer. This is the kind of unique travel adventure that I must do. We don’t actually tour the prison, we might not even touch foot on the island. I think we just jump out of a boat and make our getaway. Good enough. I want to say, “I escaped from Alcatraz.” Yeah, I’d throw away thirty bucks on the silly t-shirt, maybe buy a license plate frame with that phrase just to put the Mounties on alert. (I may have a police officer fantasy. Oh, who am I kidding? My big fantasy involves the pizza boy. He delivers the pizza and leaves. I don’t like sharing. Not even the crust.)

The next Alcatraz swim is in two weeks. Just do it, my mind says. Otherwise, it may never happen. My brain knows how sidetracked I get. (E.g., See above paragraph.) And so, to increase the likelihood of going, I mentioned the idea to a colleague of mine, Nora.

Everyone needs a Nora. She’s a sixty-year-old go-getter. Mention something and she’ll see that it is done. “You must go!” she enthused. And that’s when I found myself backtracking. I’ve never done an ocean swim. Sure, a little body surfing in Malibu, but I stopped that after getting all that sand in my shorts. And I have a fear of sharks. I’ve never seen a certain movie. Just knowing it’s out there is enough. Forget the “no sharks in these waters” reassurances. Great white sharks can wander off course, can’t they? Heck, it’s not just sharks. I’m afraid of seaweed. That kelp can wrap around you and drown you, right?  Maybe I’m not an ocean swimmer at all. And didn’t a lot of people die trying to escape from Alcatraz?!

“I’m outrigging Saturday morning,” Nora said. “You come. We’ll paddle out and then you jump out and swim. We’ll be your escort. How long you want to be in the water?”

Uh, well, umm…

Nora was already texting her paddle mates. Done.

I tossed and turned the night before. (Incidentally, I sleep in freestyle formation, on my stomach, arms and legs shifting from side to side, stroke to stroke. Guess I was a born swimmer.) I was so excited about the inaugural ocean swim. But also worried. What if I freaked out? What if I’d overdone my Friday night exercise? (The 24K bike ride got cut in half when I turned around and the tires gave out. I’d had to hide the bicycle in the blackberry bushes, jog home and retrieve it with my car. So much for fresh legs.) If there weren’t any sharks, what about crocodiles? Piranhas? And that seaweed?!

The outrigging voyage was wonderful. This is enough, right? It’s unseasonably chilly. Why not stay in the boat? But I knew Nora would have told other colleagues what we were doing. Expectations were set. And no one would accept a bunch of gibberish about restless sleeps and piranhas.




Once we cleared the point of the nearest island, Nora, Inga and Diana stopped paddling. “Jump in.”

“Is this it?” Aloud, it sounded innocuous, but in my head it came off as ominous. Is this IT?

No answer. The only satisfactory response had to come through action. I took the plunge.

Wow. While the water had felt fine—even warm—each time I’d dipped my hand in while paddling, it proved far colder as a full-body experience. I’d thought I’d immediately start swimming, but my body was startled, if not shocked. I waded around, wondering if I should say, “I made a mistake.”

But they stared at me. Three hardy women, each with that look of anticipation and expectation. It was a good kind of pressure. What I needed. I swam under the boat, readjusted my goggles and swam. And swam. And swam. No freaky, prehistoric creatures approached my face. No sharks. No crocs or piranhas. No seaweed. Just one piece of flotsam, a teensy piece of bark.

The outrigger escort proved essential. Due to the currents, I apparently kept swimming out to sea. The boat presented a visual block to right my course. We reached the turn-around for my 1.5 mile swim in twenty-three minutes. But then Diana decided to jump out and take a dip. Apparently, she does this at least once every month of the year. Silly woman.

I had to wait.

I’m not good at stopping during any kind of workout. It throws my rhythm. It makes me think I’m done. And I don’t like the idea of my toes dangling in one place as fish food. “Your lips are blue,” Inga said. “Really blue.” I’d suspected as much. I was shivering, too. I grew colder waiting.

Finally, I spoke up. Must swim now. Too cold to wait. They summoned Diana back in the outrigger and I resumed the swim. I only got in another fifteen minutes, but due to the change in the current, I covered more distance. (Huge difference!) I stopped and, swallowing my pride along with a mouthful of salt water, declared an end to the day’s swim. I am no Diana Nyad.

The ocean swim was exhilarating, yet humbling. No fatigue, no cramps, just menacing chills. I raced home for a hot shower and a full pot of coffee. Once recovered, I wondered if open water swimming was for more foolhardy folks. Why did I need a prison fantasy anyway? Couldn’t I just order a pizza?

But I am undeterred. I must make my jailbreak. Today, I headed to Vancouver and bought a wetsuit. It looks like I may just do this.

Alcatraz awaits.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

MEANT TO BE

One final post-dump post. But this one isn’t about Tim at all. It’s bigger than that. And it’s all me.

When dating starts out so promising, it’s hard to contain the exhilaration. It’s that shout-from-the-rooftops feeling. Only if I climbed the ladder, I just know I’d slip and break my leg. And hobbling around on crutches again would have quickly lost its endearing quality. Even with a compassionate hot guy. So I stayed on the ground. I didn’t even strain my vocal cords. But I told people.

“It’s good,” I’d say. “Really good.” My face would redden. I’d beam while looking at the ground. (I can be Bashful even amongst friends. I’m not used to openly gushing.)

The closer friends know about April. That’s what we call it now. It’s so much softer than My Hospitalization or When I Was Suicidal. Yep, “April”. Showers, indeed. There was a direct chain of events from “April” to dating Tim. Immediately after being released from St. Paul’s, I went to the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. And there I ran into my first Vancouver friend whom I met twenty-two years ago on my first visit to the city. We hadn’t had a falling out, but our lives hadn’t intersected much in the last decade. He asked the standard, “How are you?” and I skipped the “Fine.” I gave him the real answer. I’d been through hell. F*#k the façade.

We connected and reconnected over the next two months before he headed out to spend the next year seeing the world. We commiserated on being single and old(er). (He’s hitting sixty, me fifty.) I showed him Tim’s profile and mentioned wanting to send a message. “Do it. He’s single, too. I see him wandering around the West End on his own all the time.” I shook my head. Too risky. “Stop stopping yourself. F*#k that.”

Profanity has its place. And so I f*#cked that. Message sent. Cue exhilaration.

From “April” to Tim. So good to feel again. And not just anything—joy. Astonishing.

My friends gathered up their pompoms. “Wow! It’s meant to be!”

True enough. At the time, I was thinking—they were thinking—true love. A Destiny sort of thing.

But we know how that turned out. Meant to be turned out to be bigger than Tim. It was all about me. I am meant to be. And I didn’t feel an ounce of that back in April. I was done. I was desperately trying to hang on, trying to buy some time to find something. Anything.

Tim?

Nope.

I needed that temporary glee. It affirmed there were positive things out there. It filled that tenuous period between April and L.A. I always knew if I could last until Los Angeles (aka “July”), I’d be all right. At least for the summer. I’m not at the point where I can look too far ahead.

I reached out to friends. I had things to share—and not all doom and gloom. We smiled, we laughed. I thought I’d lost that mindset. The glee helped me bulldoze through the darkness. I allowed positive thought. And not just with safe, familiar long-established friends. I was a magnet of sorts in Los Angeles. People I’d just met wanted to hang with me. Again and again. They said, “You’re such a sweet man.” Again and again. I’d stopped containing myself. F*#k that.

Even the dumping seems to have been necessary. Once I’d pulled myself through, I needed a big test. Was it all just Tim? Would I crash? Would “April” return? That was certainly the fear. It reflected back to me in friends’ faces and in family emails. I wallowed, sure, but it was the garden variety going-to-the-garden-to-eat-worms sort. When someone you really really like rejects you, it stings. But it never got darker. And that is empowering. I felt it this week as I went for my counselling session—a remnant from April. I felt strong. I tried not to beam. (My employer-covered sessions are about to end again and I need more in order to work through some bigger issues. That only happens if my psychologist makes a case for an acute need. Goofy smiles and epiphanies negate the acuteness.)

We were not meant to be. Okay. Got it.

I am meant to be. For the next while, at least. Still can’t look too far ahead. That is as good as it gets—and far better than I’d have imagined.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WORTH IT?

Okay, so my latest relationship didn’t even get through summer. I invested lots of time and thought in it. The result is nothing to cheer about. At face value, it’s a failure. So was it worth the bother?

Yes.

I purposely posted the Poor, Poor Pitiful Me pieces because those of us still involved with the dating scene know the process of working through the rejection. It includes a generous wallop of wallowing before we get so fed up with our woeful state that we decide it’s best to move on. And I’m almost there.

It was worth it to go out with Tim. Eighteen years ago, when I first saw him, I’d have never had the guts to ask him out. (Online dating sites weren’t a standard form of interaction back then. Admittedly, sending a message is easier, but I’d have never done that. I wouldn’t have done it six months ago.) On our first date, Tim said that the people we seek reflect our own self-worth. I found myself nodding. It’s probably why I stayed in a relationship with an alcoholic and followed that up with an abusive man. I didn’t feel good about myself. But I also found myself smiling. I’ve come a long way. The past is not my present. I viewed Tim highly and I knew I was worthy. I stand by that, even if there are a few ego bruises that I need to attend to. In short, my initiating a relationship with Tim reflected a more positive sense of self. I am fully confident of the qualities I have to offer. I know I am right up there with the best of them. That’s something I wouldn’t say before—not without a self-deprecating side remark. I am a quality guy. No asterisk.

I discovered early on—okay, there wasn’t technically a later on—that I could communicate clearly with Tim. I was expressive and complimentary, speaking without filters. I gained a sense of empowerment. Any failure would not be the result of things I left unsaid.

I also got a glimpse of what I want in a relationship. The playful banter between us proved to be the most electric part of the dating experience. It was natural and my part in it came from a confidence I didn’t realize I could draw upon at an early stage. My robust laugh triggered on the first date and never waned. I acted myself without a multi-date warm-up. That’s huge progress.

Where did I falter? I continue to lack confidence with my exterior. I have overplayed the Bashful card. Tim said he’s never met a shyer person regarding physical interaction. My knees shook on our first kiss and several after that. Yes, literally. My head glanced at the ground, pre- and post-kiss. That takes away from the chemistry that comes from looking in each other’s eyes. Surely, his face was more interesting than my shoelaces. I must conquer this quirk.

Body image has been a struggle for forty years. I still need work. The difference now is that I no longer think the work needs to come from working out. As a new friend and I made dinner this weekend, I said that my body wasn’t perfect but it was exemplary. I’ve never said anything so positive about my looks. And I didn’t water it down. I think the situation is like an obese person who sheds a hundred or more pounds: it takes time to grow into our new bodies. We have perceived ourselves in a particular way for so long that the adjustment into a new image requires some work as well. Yes, this is really me.

I am getting there. While dating Tim, I had no hesitation in wearing shirts that showed off my physique. (Normally, I’d wear something baggy and just focus on matching the shirt with my eyes.) Tim noticed—and squeezed—my “guns”. (No one was ever linked guns and me in the same sentence! But he was not the only one to comment on my biceps this summer.) He mentioned my chest, he talked of imagining what my abs looked like under my shirt. I accepted the compliments instead of reverting to my lifelong habit of brushing off any flattering remark. I am coming closer to seeing what others see. Not entirely there, but closer represents astonishing progress. Only four months ago, despair and low self-esteem sent me to hospital.

All this talk about the physical me is, in itself, superficial. Oh, how I know that! Yes, indeed it’s what’s inside that counts. I’ve noted that I am quite content with that inside. My feelings about my appearance created a barrier. I am not worthy. I am the guy who used to drive out of his way so as not to swim in a pool where I might run into an acquaintance—gay or straight. Must not be seen in a swimsuit! And now I am okay. I am comfortable, even proud of how I look.

Never ever thought I’d get there.

I have regained a confidence and a commitment to going through the dating process. An hour before my first date with Tim, I was wrapping up a session with my psychologist. “I’d be surprised if anything happens,” I said, recalling another classic cartoon character, Eeyore. “He’s way above me. He’s never even noticed me.” She stopped me and asked why I would even bother meeting up with him. Why bother, indeed! Together, we shifted my thinking. It may be a sign of weakness but I did need some validation. I rode with it instead of dismissing it. I walked into the café determined to put my best foot forward, (semi) convinced that I deserved to share a table with Tim. His warm hello hug certainly helped but we clicked from the first sentence. I realized that dates over the past year in particular had gone flat. I’d gone flat. I was content to sit down to an interview instead of putting myself into a genuine conversation. I think I can carry forth from this point. I look forward to testing this out.

It is hokey but I need to start thinking about some daily affirmations. It makes me think of those silly Stuart Smalley affirmations on “Saturday Night Live”, but that’s okay because, by golly, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! I can find the process amusing even as I go through it, knowing it is necessary, knowing that I need to consciously and consistently think positively in order for such thoughts to sink in.

Have I grown from this? Absolutely. I realize that I am worthy of a good man. I am worth it. And I’d say that makes a washed-out summer and a few days of wallowing entirely worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TIME OUT

We’ve all been around someone who was in the midst of processing a breakup. These people are not fun. They’re insufferable. The exit doors seem so far out of reach. Being as I live in a rural area, cut off from most social contacts, I had three full days on my own to work things out before unloading my I’ve Been Dumped sentiments on someone else. I succinctly responded to a few text messages and emails from friends and relatives who wanted updates on my getting reacquainted with Tim but I wisely refrained from phoning anyone. (Unfortunately, blog readers were not spared but they had that handy Back button as a handy exit door. So close, so easy to press!)

Sweaty & exhilarated.                                            
My mind needed to find its own exit. Despair is best in small doses. I found many healthy forms of escape. On Friday, Dumping Day, I had one of the best runs of my life. So much energy! I had to force myself at some points to slow down for fear that I’d wear myself out and have to hobble home in darkness. But I remained the Energizer Bunny the entire way. I smiled through the sweat and amassed a photo essay as I stopped at various locations to snap shots of pristine scenery. For the first time all summer, my sneakers even had mercy. No new blisters. Bonus!

I swam 5K on Saturday, 3K on Sunday. Nonstop. Why take a break? I needed to swim. I wanted to swim. Nothing to do but rote stroke work. Some people are lulled by counting sheep; I count laps.

I bought hundreds of dollars of plants to restore my neglected back deck. I yanked a summer’s worth of invasive vines. I picked blackberries from the backyard and then set out on a short road trip to pick more over a span of ninety minutes. Sorry, bears. Cobbler calls. And I made that blackberry cobbler, serving it up with a few scoops of Haagen-Dazs limoncello gelato. (Oh, what a combination!)

When I finally met up with a friend, it was to shop for and create a vegan meal together. Sure, we talked some about my disappointment, but his news was far more interesting. He’d just met a guy online from Sausalito and they plan to meet next week in Seattle. So many uncanny coincidences and life parallels between them. I got goosebumps listening to his optimism, his certainty that this was, as he put it, his next “forever love.” I truly hope all his intuition proves accurate. The camaraderie ended the weekend on a high note.

The distractions were most welcome. By the time I woke up Monday morning, I was done with disappointment. Sometimes the quickest healing occurs when we smack a bandage on the open wound and get on with life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

WHAT NOW?

This all comes as a surprise. Suddenly I have blog fodder. Not that I want it.

I had decided not to write anything more about my relationship with Tim. First dates—awesome ones at that—made for a welcome, happier tone in my posts. I felt there was also a unique story to be told in having a budding romance put on hold by a pre-planned six-week escape from my rural home. Returning to British Columbia, I wanted to keep the rest of the relationship private. Let it grow and blossom in private.

But then he snipped that beautiful blossom, stomped on it, picked it up and yanked off each colorful petal, all the way down to He loves me not. Some of the most stunning flowers have tragically short growing seasons. Getting dumped sucks.

And so I’m back to blogging. My site has a long track record of chronicling isolation and dating woes. Aren’t you tired of it? Have you really ogled every cat video on YouTube? (If so, may I suggest this clip with talking nachos? It garnered repeated viewings and hearty laughter from my cousins at the cottage last week. But then, my aunt was generously refilling everyone’s wine glasses.)

I could be hateful. I’ll leave that to my comrades on Twitter. They’ve endearingly shown their support by referring to Tim as a douche, an a**hole and a cognitively and visually challenged bat. Dan made me laugh out loud—no, I will never opt for the overused, now meaningless “LOL”—when he tweeted, “I say we destroy him.” We need people like that. I think of Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi in “About Last Night”. (The original movie, adapted from what is likely a superior David Mamet play.) Removed from the immediacy of the situation, they diffuse things and ensure that negativity doesn’t fester within. If things take a comical bent, all the better.

Truth is, I don’t have a drop of anger for Tim. I am deeply frustrated, disappointed, disheartened and just plain sad. (Sorry, anger. There’s no room for you!) Dumping happens. I get that. I am not immune. (I never get a flu shot as I have a faint-inducing aversion to needles, but if someone created a dumping shot, I’d be first in line. Both arms for safe measure. Let me just lie here on the floor first.) Before I left for the summer, Tim and I could not have had better dates. Even this week, Tim talked about the second date that didn’t seem to end. He referred to us being in a bubble. He talked of the sparks from the date before I headed to L.A. It was not a one-sided feeling. I had every reason to believe in our potential.

Had I stuck around this summer, I doubt I’d be blogging about Tim. The momentum would not have been interrupted. But I had made a commitment to be in Los Angeles for five weeks. I served as dogsitter/housesitter for a very close friend. And, really, before Tim popped up, there was nothing I needed more than a long vacation in La-la Land. After my darkest spring ever, I needed the summer retreat.

L.A. served me well, but it created too much distance much too soon. We never got back on track. Our last date showed glimmers of what we’d had. The conversation was inquisitive, an exchange of sharing our perspectives which continued to feel in sync. It was playful, punctuated by at least one long, glorious laugh. I never thought a nudging conversation about progressing physically would kill it all.

The disappointing end to something that had such a promising start leaves me where I was pre-Tim. I am profoundly bewildered. After getting a glimpse at something great, the state of bewilderment is even greater. Didn’t think that was possible.

When people don’t go the “He’s a douche” route, they show support with empty, hopeful statements.

“He wasn’t the one.”

“The right guy will come when you least expect it.”

“You will find love. Be open and he will come.”

Fortune cookie sentiments. How do I remain hopeful after nine years of hopelessness? If he is out there, what the hell is he waiting for? Where is he hiding? And why is he hiding? It is cruel to continue to dangle the thought of him in front of me all this time. This is the slowest form of torture.

This one did not work out. He was not The One. Fine. His quick exit affirms that. Okay. But I need something more substantial than a fortune cookie for sustenance. (Does anybody even eat those dang things?) I need real hope. I need a sign. Hell, I need The One. Sooner rather than later. This week would be dandy. Next week will do.

Please let the waiting be over.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

DENIAL & DELUSION

Day after the dumping. Time for denial and delusion.

I’ve checked my phone and Facebook—oh, let’s leave just say too many times. I anticipate his message. He needs to talk. Yep. He realizes he’s made a mistake. Biggest of his life, no doubt.

And in that odd little fantasy, I suddenly have power. So I spend chunks of the day thinking what I will say. How much should he have to beg? And, with me in control, what will I decide? It’s the same kind of imagined conversation you have when you plan to confront your boss or a difficult neighbor. Or even that person ahead of you in the Express checkout line at the grocery store who thinks nothing of unloading thirty items…and running back to grab a carton of milk.

These talks never happen.

We play them out perhaps as a form of release and maybe to affirm how ultimately wimpy we are.

I don’t want power over Tim. I just want to talk. And, yes, convince him that I am worth it. We are worth it. Still delusional.

If nothing else, I do have a few things to say. I delayed hanging up after Tim indicated he was done with me. I wanted to think things through. Make sure I said and asked what I needed to. Get that closure. But there are always thoughts and questions that only arise after the conversation. It’s hard to think clearly when someone you’re smitten with says he’s not sexually attracted to you. What about all the messages that opened with “Hey, handsome”? What about those wanting looks? What about all the flirtation? What about the comments about my body? What about the kisses and the commanding hugs?

Without closure, I’m left to draw my own conclusions. I don’t believe him. I think I scared him. That’s far more plausible. I like to know where I’m going. I ask. It’s not meant to be intimidating. I don’t understand how it can be interpreted that way. Tim said he waited more than a day to get back to me because he wanted to reflect. He acknowledged he has a tendency to be reactive. And yet I don’t think anything changed with the extra time. I think he stuck with the same reactive thought: Run.

But what do I know? Nothing really. Except it is over. And that message from Tim won’t come. I have to move on. To what, I wonder. Again, what do I know? Again, nothing really.

I bought some Häagen-Dazs. The real stuff, not the Half the Fat option. It’s that kind of night.

Friday, August 22, 2014

BEFORE AND AFTER

The following entry is an unfiltered before and after account of an experience that many of us face all too often. I wanted to capture the thoughts and feelings as they occurred. They don’t put me in the best light, but I think it is important for others to read something relatable. We can’t always simply put on a happy face.

Before:

My heart races. I am sitting in a café in town, trying to get back into my regular writing routine after being in Los Angeles and Ontario for the past six weeks. It’s been a summer of distraction. That can be a good thing.

But Tim just texted. “If you’re around today, what time would be good to call you?”

I immediately feel panic. He’s done. At least he has the dignity to dump me on the phone instead of with a text.

A few days ago, I pushed the conversation. Maybe too much. “Where are we at?” It had been our second time seeing each other since I returned from my travels and we hadn’t managed to close in the distance. The physical connection, in particular, wasn’t there. Craving something physical, yet too timid to initiate, I needed to know Tim still felt something. I made it clear that I certainly did. Tim seemed startled and defensive. We seemed to work it through and ended the evening with one of his strong, warm hugs and a welcome kiss. I felt reassured, but I think he felt unsettled. How does one conversation take two people in opposite directions?

So now I am worried. I want us to move forward. There is great potential. But why the Friday morning phone call? Doubt has a nasty habit of popping into my head and spreading like an invasive vine, winding around and strangling all other thoughts.

My hands are shaking as I type. It’s the caffeine. They make strong coffee here. I feel it more as I haven’t had this blend all summer. And this is my second cup. It can’t be nerves. That explains the rapid heart rate, too.

Right?

After our Tuesday date, I called the following day and left him a message. He immediately texted to say he was visiting with a friend. “Let’s connect in a day or so.” The following day passed. We’re into the “or so” part. I suck at waiting. That’s when Doubt sees opportunity.

The unknown of a new relationship can be exhilarating. It can also be maddening. You can’t take anything for granted. How do you know what the other person is thinking and feeling? Or not feeling?

And so I wait. I text back that we should talk in half an hour. That gives me time to calm the nerves and to get out of the coffee shop. I decide to burn off this hyped up energy with a walk along some forest trails. Nature soothes me. Usually.

I want to get the call over with—whether it’s good or bad. I need to know. If I wait until after work, I’ll just obsess and Doubt will get the best of me.

Yes, good or bad. Tell me.

But please be good. Please let the call be about when we can get together this weekend. Let’s move forward. If I say “please” enough, can I will good things to happen? Can I shake this doubt?

 

After:

I want my limo ride.

Yes, this is proof that reality TV has impacted reality. Mine, at least.

On “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”, when you get rejected, you are hauled off in a limousine and your immediate thoughts (and tears) are recorded for the amusement of millions of viewers.

In my defense, I shed no tears. I just felt a profound frustration. I let a possible relationship linger over the summer. It felt good to think that something might continue once my days in L.A. ended. And, for a few days, they did. Tim and I reconnected twice in the days since my return.

All good. And yet not as connected as pre-L.A. I knew the first coffee felt flat. The second get together was comfortable but that was all. Give it some time, I thought. But the evening ended abruptly. Tim wasn’t checking the time—usually a good sign—and didn’t realize there was no time for dinner. We hadn’t kissed beyond the “hello” peck. He hadn’t grabbed me and wrapped me in his arms. I needed clarification. Are we on track?

This startled him. He seemed to think everything was progressing nicely. My asking made him get defensive. And that’s when I sensed I had erred. Sometimes I can be too communicative.

I got dumped. Tim said that my question made him reflect. He’d thought things were fine and then realized he wasn’t as affectionate. “You needed to initiate, too,” he said. I’d indicated I was ready, but I knew it was too late. That monkey on my back—fifteen years without physical intimacy--has made this shy guy fearful. I don’t want to get shot down. And yet it happened anyway.

When people break up, they throw out so many explanations in search of something that will stick. Anything to finish the conversation. Unfortunately, it all sticks with me. He went on to say he could see us as friends, he didn’t want to be physical with me, he didn’t feel attracted.

Oh, my god, I have heard this over and over again. This is why I spent the summer rationing my food, repenting when I’d have a margarita and working out my body beyond the point of fatigue. Must seem attractive. Tim had been so clearly drawn to me in June. Must maintain until he is drawn to the attractive inner me.

So much sacrifice. No gain.

Five dates. Best run in years. (How sad.) Best prospect. Same result.

No tears. Just more bewilderment.

I thought things would be different this time. What now?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

OUT OF LINE,...AT LAST

I remember it clearly. From grade to grade, it was the established routine. The teacher announced the group game for gym class, picked two students to be captains and then instructed the rest of us to line up against a wall.

It always felt like a firing squad proceeding.

One by one, we’d be pardoned from imminent execution. Steven M., Stephen P., Kevin, Cam, Tim G., Jeff, Becky.

When the first girl’s name got called, I’d start to sweat. We were nearing that shifting point, going from optimal draft picks to making the most of The Leftovers. Still, I knew I had plenty more time to lean on the wall. If I’d wanted to say a prayer, I could have mumbled it in English and in Latin. After learning the language with a handy Rosetta Stone kit.

But my prayer was simple. Even without words—in whatever language—the message was clear. Please don’t let me be last. This time, let it be Mary Novakovic. Yes, hail Mary. This was a brutal game of survival of the unfittest. She was my only hope. I never figured out the logic over which of us got the begrudging last nod. Hell, it wasn’t even a nod. When you ended up last, no one even called your name. You just knew which team you were on by default…and by the grumbles of your “teammates.” Really, you were the enemy.

And then, when it was game on, the playbook was simple. Whatever it takes, don’t let him get the ball. Ever.

I should have been happy when my grade nine P.E. teacher introduced an individual sport. No more letting the team down. But wrestling? Really?! That was worse. As we’d practice with a partner on mats spread around the gym, I’d always get the guy who wasn’t quick enough to find someone—anyone!—else. “Don’t you dare touch me, faggot.” He never attempted to whisper, but the teacher never seemed to hear. And then, after an awkward thirty minutes of being repeatedly pinned to the mat, the teacher would call us all to gather around a center mat for impromptu wrestling matches, viewed by all. Watch how fast the wimp surrenders. I was the unwilling participant in a comedy routine. Unbeknownst to me, I was a master at physical comedy, feebly flailing about for all but a few seconds. Snickers all around. If I had even a shred of masculinity in me, I was stripped of it then and there.

When my family moved to Texas at the start of tenth grade, I knew the misery would somehow increase. Football ruled. And I always found the ball too large for my hand. I didn’t like stretching my palm so much. I always felt like the football had a glaring design defect, but no one else seemed to notice. Somehow I stumbled upon the swim team and, though I was clearly among the worst, I never let people down as long as my coach kept me off the relays. The swim team became a place of refuge. It’s what helped me survive high school, at least until my two best friends on the team started a rumor in twelfth grade that I was gay. Mortified, I quit. They’d outed me before I’d figured things out for myself. That’s when I first thought of suicide.

I could go on and on with tortuous stories of how much my lack of athleticism shattered my self-esteem. It didn’t help that I was two years younger than my classmates, but I knew my coordination challenges were about more than age. I’d never catch up.

That’s why it astounds me to think of where I am, only a couple of month shy of fifty. I’m no jock, but I am athletic. Sort of. Now, when I swim up to one hundred minutes nonstop in lap pools, I consistently take the Fast lane. It stuns me that, as I go from city to city during my travels, I belong in the same lane. It’s not just that people in my community are freakishly slow swimmers with an affinity for the dog paddle. I am a swimmer.

I’m also a runner. All summer, as I ran in groups, I always finished first. I’d run the six miles at a comfortable pace, plenty sweaty but never out of breath and never sore (other than the pesky foot blisters that grew so large I named them. Ernie. Howard. Clarence was particularly menacing). I’d finish several minutes ahead of the next runner. Minutes! Ample time to cool off and take in the ocean views before dinner.

I no longer have to give myself pep talks before going to an out of town gym. Wimps have just as much of a right to use the gym. Even greater. You need it. Who cares if you have to share your weights with women. (Say, is that Mary Novakovic?!) I’ve made progress. I am not one of those steroid oddities with puffy muscles who sounds like he’s giving birth as he lets a monstrously weighted barbell crash to the floor. I don’t think I have the right demeanor to be a barbarian anyway. But I do find myself regularly lowering the weight pin when I hop on a machine after another guy. And I don’t gravitate to the low-lit corner of the weight room to complete a set of bicep curls. If I peek in the mirror, I can even see a bicep muscle finally adhering my plea: come out, come out, wherever you are. I fit because I’m fit.

I survived that prolonged humiliating boot camp known as Physical Education. Thankfully, most of us do. What amazes me is I found a way to escape the Wimpy Kid label. Without all those horrid group games and beyond the mocking scrutiny of classmates, I actually transformed my identity. The self-esteem issues have never been fully repaired, but I am athletic. I actually look forward to heading to the gym right after I post this. I won’t flee after ten minutes. Most likely, I’ll extend my workout. Tack on more ab crunches. They seem to finally make a difference.

It’s astonishing. Back in third grade when there was something about Mary and me, I’d have never imagined a day when I craved exercise, when I found it rewarding. I never thought I’d belong. Seems I faced the firing squad hundreds of times and lived to tell about it.

Remarkable, indeed.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

THE COLD WAR

“You know,” the cashier said, “so many people are coming through with cold medicine. I just started getting the sniffles myself.”

And I’m getting a big ol’ lump in my throat.

I have three days to conquer the cold. And I’m the type who usually takes six weeks to work through the common cold and its evolving symptoms. Currently, it’s a sore throat, stuffy nose and plenty of achoos to make me a too-tall Sneezy.

But, really, I’m a colossal Grumpy. After a six-week absence, the last thing I envisioned in seeing Tim back in Vancouver is me offering a dainty right-handed wave while the left hand gestures the STOP signal. “Stay back. I’m contagious.” How romantic.

That’s not how it’s supposed to go. I’ve seen every romantic movie ever made—or at least ever featuring Meg Ryan—and not once does the partner get off the plane cradling an oversized box of Kleenex.

Until the counter lady at the drugstore mentioned the parade of cold medicine shoppers, I was trying to convince myself that I’d developed a sudden allergy to Ontario and our family cottage. If only. I could adjust to staying away from that. Fifty years of cottage life. It was a good run. But Tim? Really?!

I want to leave the cold symptoms behind at the Ottawa airport. Abandon them like whatever lotion I forget is buried at the bottom of my backpack. “I’m sorry, sir. You’ll can’t take the hair gel with you. And you’ll have to dump your nasal congestion, too.”

No problem.

For now, I’m spending extra hours lying in a very uncomfortable cottage cot, trying to sleep, but really just tossing about as I seek to clear an airway and defend myself from a mosquito I can hear but can’t see. Supine and vulnerable. He’ll get me. He’s just messing with me, having a little fun first.

It’s become that kind of visit.

I’m popping Sudafed and lozenges. I’m blowing out an endless stream of phlegmy mucous—four or five pounds? Do I look slimmer?

In truth, the sore throat is on the way out. Apparently I managed to drown it in orange juice. The sneaky sneeze attacks are less frequent, but still ominous. The heart of the matter rests in my nose. Time is ticking and it’s still running.

So what’s the most romantic way to hand-wave anyway? Just in case I lose this battle.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

UNSAID

Some of us conquer depression, or at least find ways to cope; some of us don’t.

Oscar-winning comic actor Robin Williams tried the coping thing. Apparently, it didn’t work. Reports are that he committed suicide yesterday. My mother mentioned Williams’ death after she watched one of those morning shows where the hosts have a coffee mug Superglued to their hands. (Are they sponsored by Folger’s?)

“Robin Williams died.” That was it. She went back to sipping her own cup of coffee.

That left me to surmise the cause of death. And, sadly, I made the assumption that most of us make when a celebrity who isn’t particularly old dies. “He’d gone back to rehab recently,” I said.

“Yes.” Again, that was it. My endlessly chatty mother had gone tight-lipped. A first. No rambling Girl Guide speech about the evils of drugs, no judgment about fame and all the bad in liberal Hollywood, no wistful statement like, “He seemed like such a nice young man when he was Mork.”

She let the drugs assumption stand. My mother held back. Depression is still a hush-hush word.

And I know what she was thinking. Robin Williams had depression and killed himself. My son doesn’t need to hear that. Don’t put those thoughts back in his head.

Because if I suddenly want to revisit a childhood game, let it be a round of Follow the Leader with Robin Williams. The man and I were never united in some sort of Jonestown pact. I couldn’t even sit through a full episode of his last sitcom, the unfortunately named The Crazy Ones.

There is no connection.

Except in my mother’s mind.

 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A FINAL LINGER


It’s winding down. This is my last day in L.A. During the past five weeks, I got to do so much and yet the summer bucket list includes many excursions that did not come to be. There’s always a reason to return.

In the past few days I’ve been asked, What is the draw for you? This from Los Angeles residents perhaps needing a reminder themselves of the good that exists when you can finally pull off the 405 and ignore the filmy layer of smog that dulls the view on the horizon.

At one point the draw had dried up. This is the place I left twenty years ago, feeling a sense of elation in escaping what I’d come to see as a hostile, flaky city. I left a budding law career behind as well. At thirty, it was time to return to Canada and find a new path.

To my surprise, L.A. pulled me back, again and again. I returned once every few years and that evolved into a few times each year. For the past two summers, I’ve immersed myself in Southern California’s warped sense of reality. And I’ve loved it all the more.

This has become a place of comfort. I think much of it has to do with Los Angeles being where I fully came out and where I lived most openly as a gay man. I had an earring in the left or right lobe—can’t tell anymore—and a pink triangle bumper sticker on my Accord. I felt empowerment marching in the streets in protest of Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of AB 101 and volunteering with AIDS Project Los Angeles. This is where I fell in love. Twice.

I found myself in L.A.

Somehow I left this place beaten down and taking for granted the freedoms that had come. A generation later, I am lost again. I’d like to think I have pulled myself up from the darkest times of this past spring, but all this California sunshine can offer a false sense of enlightenment. At worst, the past five weeks have served as a reprieve. The shopping, the dining, the socializing and the writing while sipping $6 cold brew and pour-over coffees have fused into a wonderful vacation—temporary invigoration and inspiration. Still, I’d like to think more positively. Maybe I can ride this high a while until I am able to genuinely fortify myself with a stronger, healthier outlook. It helps that I have a couple of things to look forward to, but I also have a great deal of work ahead of me.

I feel refreshed but it’s also scary to leave again. Today, I will drive by the yoga studios and car washes, gazing up at the palm trees and blue skies while idling at the stubbornly long red lights on Lincoln Boulevard. I will enjoy a final vegan/vegetarian dinner out. I will work out at a local gym alongside a few model/actor/caterers. I will slowly breathe in the smoggy, marine air as I walk on the beach once more. I’m going to stay here as long as I can. In the moment.

Tomorrow will have to wait.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

VEGGING OUT

One of the things I love about Los Angeles is the food. I realize that a recent post talked about my food issues, but things are easier here. I can eat out and not feel like I must do penance with an extra 500 sit-ups at the gym.

Just as I discovered last year, vegan is still the “in” thing. In another city, at least half these restaurants would have FOR LEASE signs plastered on their windows after a twelve-month experiment. But Los Angelinos are different. (You knew that.) They don’t seem to cringe over words like kale, quinoa and miso. In fact, they embrace them. As I enjoy my Seasonal Harvest salad at Veggie Grill—vegetarian fast food—, I peruse the menu where the healthy ingredients are adorned with enticing adjectives—infused quinoa, agave-roasted walnuts, shaved beets. (Okay, the descriptors could use revision. I don’t like the image of the cook in the back lathering the beets up with lotion and taking a Gillette blade to them. Savage and unappetizing.)

There is even a line at Veggie Grill. The lunch crowd really is a crowd. It’s nothing like the out-the-door queue I find myself in every time I go to one of the multiple locations of Tender Greens, but this is still quite a spectacle, with so many non-vegetarians feasting on veggie fast food. My friend Rich used to say you can spot the vegetarian—women, at least. “They have bad hair. Always.” That was many years ago as we ate at one of L.A.’s veteran vegetarian restaurants, Real Food Daily. At the time, I had an urge to defend veg women. I looked around, indignant, intent on presenting evidence to the contrary. Bad hair all around. Slam. But now as I look around, I can’t win a round of Spot the Vegetarian. Not if bad hair is the clue. Everyone has decent hair. Maybe it has something to do with kale. I don’t think we did much with it back then.

As someone who typically scans a menu for the one and only meal choice—veggie primavera, again?!—it is refreshing to have so many options. There are past favorites like RFD and Sun Café (Sweet Kale Shake!) and then there are the names of other restaurants that omnivores I meet freely spout off with specific menu choice recommendations—Raw, Native Foods and Café Gratitude, the buzzy vegan destination in Venice (and multiple locations), co-owned by vegan folk-rock singer Jason Mraz. There are so many choices that I can pass on the non-dairy ice cream shop in Santa Monica and the vegan bakery in a part of Venice where parking is next to impossible. I don’t need to get desperate. Heck, I even have choices in “regular” restaurants. Waiters are familiar with questions about rennet. They don’t just squint their eyes and make up an answer. I can fully enjoy the dining experience.

I realize my eating issues are extremely complex. But I wonder if living year-round in a place where vegetarian/vegan habits are so normalized might steer me, to borrow a favorite Indigo Girls song, Closer to Fine.  I can ponder that as I get back in line and order a side of the orange-glazed Crispy Cauliflower to go.
 
Why not treat myself?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

TWO FOR ONE

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, it should be clear: I would love another crack at becoming a member of the Couple Club. But over these past nine years of being single, I’ve established many habits of independence that I can’t imagine giving up if ever Tweedledee wants to join my Tweedledum. I don’t want one of those codependent relationships. Been there, left that.

A friend of mine truly lives the life I strive for. She’s an artist, vegetarian, teacher, Earth mother and a gifted travel writer. She’s married but retains her given family name along with a gentle “Ms.” {She’s not in-your-face about anything.) One of the things I admire about Ana is that she and Matt take every fifth year off from teaching so they can explore the world. That hasn’t changed, even after they had Becca. It’s a way of life. What intrigues me so much about their travels is that they spend months apart. When Ana explored India, Matt went to Morocco. She climbed Kilimanjaro while he trekked through the Alps. Later, they met up in Guatemala. Their travels exemplify their relationship—they have maintained their individuality while deepening their bond.

Spending months apart may seem extreme. It works for them. I’m not sure I’d want to go that far. I’d like to have a partner with me as I take in Machu Picchu or Kathmandu. But I think spending dinner apart is perfectly healthy.

Yes, dinner. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

But whenever I come to L.A., I get two for one meals. Ellie and Tom. Benny and Ted. Susan and Tim. I truly enjoy the company of Ellie, Benny and Susan’s husbands. Nice guys, thank goodness. And they seem to enjoy time with me. Conversation flows well enough. But I’m a one-on-one guy. There is nothing more intimate than a two-person conversation. Back in the old days, there were plenty of group outings with Ellie, with Benny and with Susan, but these relationships deepened and became lifelong friendships through the one on ones. The performance element gave way to probing questions and a disclosure of vulnerabilities.

I miss those moments. Sometimes three really is a crowd. Just once a year, it would be nice to go out and not have to accept the package deal. These are couples that have been together 40, 15 and 25 years. Have they lost all individuality? Is it unthinkable for one to heat up a can of tomato soup alone at home while the other catches up with an old friend? Alone time is healthy—when it doesn’t drag on for nine years.

Or why not catch up with your own old friend? Someone you know from work or from the Before era. Go on a walk with the dog, if you must. Yes, strengthen your Alpha status with Fido. Ensure you’re the one he greets more robustly. (That always feels good.)

Once a year. Call it Independence Day. The three of us can get together for the next meal. I’m always game for another dining out experience. The options in L.A. seem limitless.

A little time away from the spouse, every now and then. Dinner. Or make it lunch. Just coffee? Anything wrong with that?     

Monday, August 4, 2014

TEXTUAL HEALING

I did not plan to be dazzled by a Vancouver man right before leaving town for more than five weeks. After nine years of nothingness, why would I have held off on travel plans based on a desperate hope that something good should suddenly come up? Tim and I squeezed in three dates before I headed to Los Angeles. There was a spark in each date.

This could be something.

No, really. I mean it this time.

But it’s hard to know what is happening after three dates, no matter how lovely they may be, no matter how lovely he may be. And a sudden hiatus can siphon away all the momentum. As my dear friend Benny said over dinner in West Hollywood, “Oh, he’ll forget you.”

Yes, Benny can fall into that bitchy humor. I genuinely laughed. It seemed like a reality check. Just look at my track record. But I still feel the sting. Why would Tim wait around? Guys like him get noticed all the time. My gut said he’d wait. After all, things had gotten off to an incredible start. And Tim is that kind of man. Still, Benny’s words poked at my fragile self-esteem. Could I have made an equally strong impression? Was there a mutuality of dazzling?

This is not foreign territory. The first time I feel in love, I lived in L.A. and we dated for a month before I flew to Ontario for a two-week cottage stay. Again, we weren’t in love yet. But it was a strong start. Being closeted with family, phone conversations weren’t an option so I mailed John a postcard every day. Silly, random notes. He waited. (Shorter period, of course.) Our relationship continued to develop when I returned.

Times have changed. The mailbox is for credit card offers and grocery ads. Phone calls are antiquated, too. “We’ll text,” Tim said. “We’ll try FaceTime. We’ll Skype.”

We’ll see, I thought.

I sent my first text on the train from Vancouver to Seattle. And so began the first exchange—back and forth and back and forth and back.

No forth. Hmm.

See, that’s one of my problems with texting. On the phone, you say goodbye. You don’t just hang up. With emails, you type your name at the end or type a sentence that makes the ending clear. Texts aren’t always like that. Even when I feel like a text exchange has run its course, I continue to reply until there’s a goodbye. But then I’m also the guy who proofreads his texts before sending. And I never EVER use “LOL” or some other tired abbreviation that saves me the bother of typing a full word or phrase. I happen to like words and phrases. In their entirety. I’ve been forced into the Text Era, but I’m an old-fashioned letter writer at heart.

Once I’d flown to L.A., I texted anew. Back and forth and back and forth and back.

Forth wasn’t coming. And so the pattern continued. It was unsettling. What just happened back in Vancouver? Acute hangnail accident while texting? Dog vomit on the living room carpet? Earthquake? No telling. We’d lost communication.

And then the next morning, a text from Tim. “Morning, handsome.” Cue the warm fuzzies. All was good again.

Nothing is an adequate substitute for person-to-person, in-the-same-room interaction. But my insecure self, still thinking of Benny’s comment, didn’t feel like text messages would keep things on track. And so we opted for FaceTime on our iPhones. In trying to begin the process, I got a look at myself on the phone screen. Scary. Like holding a spoon up to my face and watching everything in Funhouse Mirror mode. Uh, no thanks. This was not how I wanted Tim to see me.

FaceTime aborted.

Next came Skype. I was highly apprehensive. We’d set a time and I worried that I’d fumble in the process. I am technologically challenged. Yes, I am aware that grandmas Skype. I bow to the grandmas. They out-knit me, out-bake me and, yes, I am prepared to admit that they out-tech me. Clearly, I went in with a defeatist attitude. I even grabbed a large towel to place beside the laptop prior to Skype time.

Call failed.

Failed.

Failed.

Through texting, I knew we were both on our laptops. Failed. Failed. Failed. I grabbed my towel. In the olden days, I would keep a towel by the phone on the rare occasion I’d call a guy and ask him out. It was always such an excruciatingly awkward call, that my sweat glands would go into overdrive and the towel prevented me from being electrocuted. (Or so I thought. I was tech-challenged back then, too, but it had mostly to do with getting tangled in phone cords.)

After toweling off, I tried to Skype again. Failed. I was too fried and clammy to try again. I picked up my iPhone and called, roaming charges be damned.

And there it was: contact. No picture, but by now that was a good thing. Tim’s voice calmed me. He had me laughing in less than a minute. This was what I needed—a renewed connection, a reminder of what dazzles me, a little Tim to pass the time.

So what if it had to happen great-grandma style? For the time being, it was the right way to communicate.