Monday, April 8, 2024

THE BIG SEND-OFF


As I stepped into the hallway, a small package toppled after resting against my door. First assumption: delivered to wrong unit. I don’t order things. I don’t have an insatiable need for more stuff. I picked it up, stepped back in my condo and saw my name and address slapped on the front. Second assumption: shirts. I had, in fact, strayed from “I don’t order things” last week—it’s not a hard rule—and bought two Japanese-style linen shirts online. I may have gotten a little too caught in Vancouver’s cherry blossom season. It was a rash purchase that had me fretting over cultural appropriation. Nothing like Gwen Stefani’s 
Harajuku Girls

period but, if I wore one of the shirts in public, would I be shamed, spat on and told to stick to tartan tam-o’-shanters and kilts? The Vancouver Japanese Hall National Historic Site is two blocks from me. Risky buy. 

 

“I don’t order things” should become a harder rule. 

 

It was a very small package. How could one shirt, much less two, fit? Being linen, they’d be wrinkled messes. Cultural appropriation karma: a dry cleaning bill preceding the pending shaming/spitting incident. One shirt at most. Let guilt build as I awaited the arrival of my second violation.

 

I opened. No shirt(s). A white envelope, familiar penmanship. Oh, yes. The keys to my place. Six weeks after my ex dumped me, I got them back. Giving them to him as I moved into this condo had been a big deal. I even took a picture at the time. (Not going to scroll back to find that now.) Getting them back is most definitely not a photo op.

 

Breakups are awkward. Dilemmas pop up. How badly do you want that hair dryer back? Or that pricey salon pomade? There’s that fun pair of Chuck Taylors but the soles were showing wear and tear, right? When the ex’s place is across town, it comes down to arranging a half hour some Saturday afternoon and asking that he not be there. No drama, which is in itself dramatic. He can’t even look at me?! 

 

It's trickier when the breakup involves two people living in different cities, even different countries. In this instance, however, the property retrieval, like the breakup itself, was one-sided. I didn’t have shoes or hair product or even a bottle of Stumptown cold brew coffee that required a list of pros and cons about bothering to get them back. As much as the breakup TOTALLY SUCKED[1], it was convenient that my ex had just moved from Seattle to Denver and I’d cleared everything that was mine from his Seattle apartment. I’d figured I’d gradually add new objects to the Denver closet he kept saying he’d set aside for me. All his now. 

 


But he’d still had a number of items in my Vancouver condo. I wasn’t quick to return them. It wasn’t that I was trying to be mean, holding his road bike or hiking boots hostage. For a while, I couldn’t face the task. Even in the best of times, I’m terrible about this kind of thing. I procrastinate. My self-doubt is a core personality trait. My reflex response to any such minor chore is that I won’t do it right. That expression, “he can’t find his way out of a wet paper bag”? It came from people who know me. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Brian and Sue and Ali and that other ex and the ex before that. I automatically think I’ll buy the wrong sized box, the wrong kind of tape and maybe even make a transcription error in writing the street address. I’ll swear I sent the parcel, my ex will say nothing but tell all his friends I’m a vindictive liar and then eighteen months later he’ll pass a guy who lives three blocks away wearing his hiking boots. Same shoe size…uncanny. 

 


But the first weeks of delay were about denial rather than doubt. That whole dumping drama was accidental. Low blood sugar. A wonky adjustment to Colorado’s higher altitudes. Too much reading about conspiracy theories and wrongfully concluding I was directly involved in the demise of Ricky Martin’s career. (As if “She Bangs” wasn’t the obvious undoing.) It feels more embarrassing with each passing week, but I honestly thought we’d get back together. Like Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello. (Bad example.) Like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. (Another bad example.) Like Bert and Ernie. (Let’s just say they had a trial separation and the Sesame Street Workshop crew kicked into high gear keeping it under wraps. Just wait for Big Bird’s memoir, forthcoming 2026.)

 


Nope. The remorseful what-have-I-done call from my ex never came. No delivery of several dozen roses to take up all my counter space. Not even a text with a “Hey” and a smiley face emoji. Instead of shared bathtub adventures with Ernie and his rubber duckie, I was still a discard, my Muppet place coming closer to Oscar the Grouch’s abode.

 

I can’t explain why I couldn’t send everything all at once. Was it too many items of different sizes that overwhelmed me? Or was it the significance of sending off the parts of him I’d loved having in my home, the reminder of him while we were apart? I’m far too sentimental.

 

The first package was a shoebox. A piece of pottery was the main item. I used clothes and biking gloves to protect it from breaking. Smart packing, I thought. No wastage in buying bubble wrap or other packing materials. I worried about the pot. I had to prove I could do it right. It had to arrive unbroken. To minimize problems, I drove across the border and mailed it from Blaine, Washington so customs officials wouldn’t open up the box and then send it on with the pot less protected. 

 


The little trip was a hassle. A chunk of my day lost, worsened by an uncomfortable exchange with an American border agent who said I wasn’t supposed to be transporting somebody else’s belongings across an international border. When I blurted, “It’s my ex’s stuff. He dumped me on Valentine’s Day,” Mr. Tough Guy took pity, waving me through with a verbal warning, a silver star of sorts awarded for being pathetic. 

 

It didn’t even bother me that I had to highlight my rejection to a stranger in uniform. I’d already gone through a lot from how things ended. A good friend of mine, the epitome of Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky, was incensed with me. “Why are you doing anything? Why aren’t you chucking it all? You owe him nothing!” 

 

I quoted Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.” And, sure enough, as I walked out of that post office, first parcel out of my hands, I felt elated. He got rid of me; I had to unload what I still had of him. I was doing it right, but I was also helping myself, feeling power, relief and the tiniest bit of accomplishment. 

 

I still needed a bigger box for bigger possessions plus a bike box for his road bike that had become a menacing reminder of a love lost, still propped against my fireplace as it had been for most of our relationship. The first box was easy. I bought one that turned out to be larger than needed and then searched for extra items to stuff in it. When it arrived, my ex reacted to the fact I’d included his half-used bar of soap. Like I’d been petty. It’s possible. But, really, if he knew me at all in our two years together, he’d know I don’t throw anything away. Not soap, not coffee grounds (compostable), not a relationship.

 

Oops, did I go low in that last sentence? Truth!

 

The bike box took more effort. I Googled it, came upon dead ends. The box store had nothing but sent me to a U-Haul center on the other side of Vancouver. Nothing there either. I finally came upon the bike box at the UPS store where I mailed the second box. (No driving back over the border to send things. No more dealing with customs officers. My level of care had dropped. It would get there or not.) The bike box wouldn’t fit into my Mini Cooper so I decided I’d return after Canada’s four-day long weekend for Easter, pack the box while in the store and be done with it. 

 


Didn’t happen. As luck would have it, my ex’s best friend was in Vancouver for some sort of gay Easter parties which I had no clue about. He came by and we loaded the bike in the back of his SUV, Seattle-bound. If or how it gets to Denver is not my concern. I can see my fireplace again. (Admittedly, it looks underwhelming.)

 

And now the returning of possessions is complete. There’s still an oversized lamp of his in my living room that I have no use for. I never turn it on. It fills an empty space atop my hutch. It can stay for now. Tonight I’ll clear his things from the fridge and chuck the alcohol I will never drink from a cupboard by the sink. His new Denver home never had any trace of me. I walked in it, right after being dumped, and he weirdly gave me a tour that I had zero interest in and can’t explain any more than the breakup itself. So technically my presence was there for ten minutes, easily aired out by an open window. 

 

Lamp excepted, his possessions are gone from my condo. The harder part is that the memories are everywhere. He was with me as we furnished much of the space. (It was much appreciated to have a designer’s input!) Maybe I’ll buy that green chair from a warehouse he took me to in Seattle. I loved it. “It’s fun!” I said. 

 

“Furniture isn’t supposed to be fun,” he replied.

 

So he says. It’s time to define fun for myself again.

 

 



[1] I refrain from writing anything in all caps. It’s too Trumpian and, basically, too much. It’s a slippery slope from all caps to overusing exclamation marks and then—gasp—typing multiple exclamation marks in succession. By waiting two or three years since the last time I typed anything other than a title in all caps, it underscores how much the breakup, in fact, TOTALLY SUCKED. Click here if you want the backstory.  

Monday, April 1, 2024

PRESSING PAUSE


I’m a rejection warrior. How many coffee dates have I gone on that ended with, “Nice to meet you,” “Let’s do this again,” and then nothing? 

 

He got hit by a bus. 

 

Abducted and dumped in the Amazonian jungle.

 

Boyfriend announced their open relationship wasn’t working for him.

 

Shit happens. Maybe Matt Bomer messaged him. Not everything is about me. 

 

But, sigh, sometimes it is. That crooked tooth I have. Maybe it was the flowery Converse shoes. Did I blurt I was a vegetarian? 

 


Okay, so a guy passed. And another. And a hundred others. Have I passed two hundred yet? The numbers get even more depressing when the thought pops in my head that My Guy is one in a million. How can I even schedule 999,800 more coffee dates? That crooked tooth of mine—and all its companions—will be woefully yellow by then. Mr. Million might pass, too.

 


My rejections aren’t limited to dating. I have this crazy dream I will get a book published. A New York Timesbestseller. Oprah rhapsodizes about it. Reese features it as a book club pick. Giller Prize. Booker. Pulitzer. Movie deal. I write the screenplay. Spielberg and the studio say, “Love it! Don’t change a thing.” And the Oscar goes to…

 

Dream big, right?

 

I’ve sent query letters to countless agents and editors. The response has been unanimous: No. 

 


Generally speaking, all this rejection has strengthened me. I’m adept at shrugging off a bad date. I’m quick to update my submissions spreadsheet and move on after the latest form rejection for my manuscript. Even when a date seems to sparkle or an agent reads like a perfect match, I limit wallowing when they “pull a Lucy,” yanking the elusive football away, cementing my Charlie Brown status: ever hopeful, ever duped. 

 

Rejected again. There will be (many) more instances to come. Life is meant to humiliate. Or, wait…I think it’s supposed to keep us humble. I’ve just exceeded expectations. 

 

Rejection ace. It’s listed as a skill on my LinkedIn profile.

 


But my skill weakened when a first date led to another and another and warped into a two-year relationship. It ended. I had a closure call. I’ve waited for the guy to come to his senses and beg me to have him back with some irresistible speech like Billy Crystal’s in When Harry Met Sally or whatever Ben Affleck said to JLo. 

 

Hasn’t happened. Won’t happen. Apparently, the guy’s still doing his happy dance. Fitter than ever with a marathon like that.

 

REJECTED.

 

No mistake.

 


All righty then. I know the drill. Shake, shrug, play Adele, summon my inner Wile E. Coyote, resurrected after umpteen catastrophes involving falling anvils and mistimed dynamite explosions.  

 

I moved on. I got on four dating profiles. I fled to Venice Beach. I bought new shirts. (Maybe too many.) 

 

And then I had a coffee date. 

 

“Nice to meet you.”

 

“Let’s do this again.”

 

We actually meant it! We showed up again. And again. Four dates in eight days.

 

On paper, I could check all the boxes. Every. Single. One. 

 

Mr. Million, is that you?

 

He invited me for a homemade dinner. Makes everything from scratch, all of it vegetarian. I messaged him: “Hey. Can we have a FaceTime?”

 

I put my foot on the brakes. Didn’t end it per se. Officially, I pressed pause. 

 

Five days earlier, he’d asked, “Is it too soon?”

 

I answered honestly: “I don’t know.” 

 

It’s become a cliché that the person you date after being dumped is Transition Guy. He provides a much-needed dose of affirmation, he helps you see the value of shaving and showering again, he proves that the text-message function on your iPhone still works. These are very good things. But he can’t actually become something more, right? Not even with all those checked boxes.

 

I told myself I didn’t need a Transition Guy. I would bypass that and proceed to the next relationship. Something significant. Something with so much potential. After all, I had never wanted OUT of a relationship. My entire being had been invested. 

 


Alas, this was not a case of pulling a simple switcheroo. Like second Steven Carrington on Dynasty. Or second Fallon on Dynasty. I may have even preferred Sammy Hagar to David Lee Roth in Van Halen. But it says something that I’m having to dig up Van Halen. 

 

It was a belated answer but, yes, I’d realized it was indeed too soon. As nice as New Guy was and as wonderful as it felt to be wanted, I couldn’t jump into this new something. “If we proceed with this right now,” I said, “it won’t last. I will mess it up and I don’t want to do that. I like you. I want there to be a chance. I need a month.”  

 

Lovely man that he is, he didn’t mark anything in his calendar. A month-ish. 

 


It upsets me that getting dumped has caused residual damage. I want to be past it. I want to set that two-year commitment aside. Shove it in a drawer, block it, conduct some little ceremony involving screaming in the woods or tossing items in a dumpster or boiling water in a pot, a stand-in for a cauldron, and making up hocus-pocus jargon as I toss items in. No eyes of newts or live crickets. Horrors! My first vision is oatmeal. 

 

Witches would reject me, too.  

 

A budding relationship now would be mired in unfair comparisons, sabotaged by lingering questions about my unworthiness and muted by inability to process what I did wrong and the depression I feel lurking, eager to step right up and consume me.

 

Will a month make a difference? A month-ish? Despite a résumé chock full of rejection and commendable resilience, I can’t seem to draw from all that experience. 

 

Not yet, dammit.   

 

 

Friday, March 29, 2024

OH, FARRELL (Part 2 - A Chance for a Friendship to Deepen)



This is Part 2 of my memories about a gentle man, Farrell Cain, with whom I became good friends while I was still hiding in the closet as a gay man in Texas. (I encourage you to read Part 1 first. I split them up because, as a single piece, it runs a tad long.) 

Farrell had his own closet. Both of us had grown up with the church as an influence and, in '80s Texas, the closet felt safe, if a little smothering. It took me moving to California for us to finally come out to one another, not via conversation--somehow too risky--but by an exchange of letters. Whew! Not we could grow together, a lifetime ahead of us to build on our friendship.


 



When you have a friendship you know will last, there is always time. Another conversation, another visit. The gaps don’t matter. You pick up right where you left off. Farrell and I had that foundation. After law school, I moved to Vancouver. We continued to keep in touch, mostly by mail.

 

In March 1996, I called on his birthday. A woman with a thick drawl answered. Sorry, no Farrell. She’d had the number a few months. I figured Farrell had moved. Back then, most people didn’t have cell phones, Farrell (and me) included, and phone numbers didn’t transfer to a new home. I knew he’d lost his job which hadn’t made sense since he was smart, loyal and conscientious…a model employee. Maybe he found a roommate or got a cheaper apartment. He’d mentioned keeping busy by volunteering at the Dallas AIDS Resource Center to do their bookkeeping.  

 

Three days after his birthday, I sent him a card knowing the post office would forward it. I ended my note with:

Write me a quick note when you receive this so I know how to contact you.

Take care & please keep in touch.

 

Two months later, as I checked my mail after a gym workout, on my way to join my new Vancouver friends for coffee, the card sat in my post office box, stamped twice in red: RETURNED TO SENDER. My heart sank. Reconnecting with Farrell would require more effort. Calling directory assistance would hopefully do the trick.

 


But then, as I sat with my coffee, waiting for friends to get their lattes, I looked again at the envelope. I gripped the edge of the table. I felt the breath knocked out of me. Above where I’d written Farrell’s address in blue ink was a note in a lighter blue ink on one of five red lines from the return to sender stamp: “deceased.” I needed a friend to confirm I was reading things right.

 

It still stuns me when I look at the notation. How often did mail processors write this? Did they think anything of it? Did they wonder even for a second how the “sender”—that’s all I was as far as they were concerned—would react upon receiving it? Did they assume the addressee was someone far older than thirty-seven? They were just doing their job, working through stacks of mail.

 

In the spring of ’96, it was common to grab coffee with my gym friends and have AIDS come up in conversation. Several friends and acquaintances from Denman Fitness were HIV+ or had AIDS. Some appeared visibly frailer by the week. Some died. Our regular coffee spot in Vancouver’s West End was THE place for gays to congregate. We jockeyed for outside seating or stools by the window so we could cast our eyes on the men filing in and out or strolling by on the sidewalk. Not a coffee passed without the vestiges of AIDS in view—KS lesions; gaunt eyes; rough, discolored skin; canes for assistance; wheelchairs pushed by a friend or lover. My shock over Farrell’s death didn’t land with my friends. There was a certain numbness by then. So much death required some degree of emotional distancing to carry on, to not succumb to anger and despair.    

 


I can only deduct that Farrell died of AIDS. It was, after all, going around. It’s what gay thirty-somethings died of. It’s likely the reason he lost his job in conservative, God-fearing Dallas. (Did he lose it or was he too unwell?) It’s why he connected with the AIDS Resource Center. His cards mentioned being restless, wishing he could find a job and feeling financial strain. It shatters me every time I think about what he kept from me. Did he think I was too busy? He'd known I’d volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles. Why the barrier? Had self-hate and shame kicked back in?

 

I don’t know how he died, whether it was at home, in hospice or in hospital. I don’t know if he was alone or had a friend, maybe more, by his side, checking in on him, holding his hand at the end, gently telling him it was okay to let go. 

 

I have quietly lived with mourning and missing Farrell. As with many of my friends, we always socialized one to one. That’s common among introverts which we both were. The conversations are better, the attention undivided. There was no one to call for answers or to mutually console. 

 


For years now, I’ve wanted to make a panel to honor and remember him as part of the AIDS Quilt. I’ve researched it, I’ve planned what to put on it: symbols for tennis, the symphony, accounting, the University of Dallas and New Orleans Mardi Gras. I went to a quilting store on Granville Island to get a particular hardy tarp-like fabric for the panel, but they didn’t carry it. That one stumbling block was enough to let a simmering doubt boil over. I have a large button I can’t sew back on my jacket. I have jean pockets with unseen holes that need to be stitched. These tasks are not in my wheelhouse. I’m challenged with even threading a needle. How would I ever create a quilt that looked better crafted than a third-grade friendship bracelet? Anything I stitched together would dishonor rather than honor. Noble idea, but nothing I could execute. Alas, my plans remain pinned by a magnet to the filing cabinet in my office. Seeing his name makes me smile. I honor him, just more privately. Maybe that’s all he’d have wanted.

 

Every so often, I’d Google “Farrell Cahn” again, as if the greater passage of time would turn up some pre-Internet treasure. Sometimes I’d narrow the search, counterintuitively adding “Louisiana” or “Dallas” or “University of Dallas.” I had to do it. I had to feel like I was doing what I could to confirm the life of someone whose memory I seemed wholly responsible for holding. Maybe an obituary would provide closure. So that’s when he died. Maybe it would mention donating to an AIDS hospice. Maybe friends, family or even a longtime companion would be included. Would I reach out to his estranged sister a quarter of a century later? 

 

After each fruitless Google, I was left with one frustrating conclusion: ordinary people whose entire lives were BGE (Before Google Era) disappear without a trace. 

 

The only Farrell Cahn to be found on the worldwide web was a physician’s assistant in Burbank, California with a different first name but for whom Farrell was the middle name. But then a Facebook page came up for the University of Dallas. 

 

My Farrell! Apparently, the one and only Farrell Cahn. 

 

It took a fraction of a second to glimpse the picture, for it to register that it was a really bad photo and then to realize how precious it was. I burst into tears, an uncontrollable wail, something guttural surging from emotions I hadn’t fully processed over a quarter century. I was inconsolable, overwhelmed by grief, pain, sadness mixed with joy and relief. I found you, Farrell. I found something that goes beyond my personal memories of you. Twenty-first century, this is Farrell Cahn, an extraordinary ordinary man. Look at him bent over, looking up at an unseen photographer as he puts something in a trash bag.  

 


The Facebook post was from April 29, 2021: 

#fromthearchives Earth Day was last week. Did you help make our campus more beautiful? Farrell Cahn (BA ’80) definitely helped clean up campus in this picture from 1979. Follow in his footsteps and help make our campus a better place.

 

Farrell the activist? Farrell the environmentalist? Farrell the good guy. That’s something. That’s everything.

 

Monday, March 25, 2024

OH, FARRELL (Part 1 - Two Gays in the Closet)

 


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. 

 

This one is worth so much more. I could say there are no words, which would also be true. I could quantify it higher—ten thousand words, one hundred thousand words. Whatever. That would make a point, but it would only assign value in a competitive sense. I’m not competing with anyone.

 

This is a photo of Farrell Cahn.

 

If I’m being honest, it’s a terrible shot. He’s bent over. It’s black and white. The hairline at the neck appears to blend with something in the background so it looks like he’s got a mullet. Farrell would never have a mullet.

 

This is the only photo I have of Farrell Cahn. I discovered it when I Google-searched his name. Easy, right?

 

No. Over the years, I’d Googled his name so many times. Nothing ever came up. Google was established as a search engine in 1998. Farrell Cahn died three years before that. 

 


I have no personal photos of Farrell. We didn’t snap pictures then the way we do now. The first cell phone with a camera came out in 2000. During the time I knew Farrell, most people who weren’t professional photographers didn’t carry cameras. Taking pictures required buying film. It also meant paying for the shots to be developed. Few of us would have thought of snapping a pic of the soft tacos at Chili’s or the person across the table from you at Chili’s or, god forbid, turning the lens on yourself at Chili’s. During the time I knew Farrell in Texas, Chili’s was a thing, at least for me and “selfie” wasn’t even a word. Sometimes the good old days were truly that. 

 

Back then, a camera came out for special occasions. It was for a trip to Puerto Vallarta though I have no pics from my one vacation there because I got so sick I only learned after the fact that a maid was giving me sponge baths in lieu of changing the sheets. No parasailing, no snorkeling, but I lost ten pounds in a week. A camera was for Halloween parties like the massive gay one I went to in 1995, my first in Vancouver when friends and I dressed as a pack of crayons because none of us could carry off the typical gay Halloween dress code as shirtless firemen, gold-painted Adonises or Greg Louganis’s body double. (No partygoer stated that divers don’t have body doubles; that was not the point.) A camera was for my grandfather’s last Christmas when he gamely participated in a photoshoot, posing in each baseball cap I bought for him to cover his familiar bald head, suddenly ravaged by melanoma.  

 

Farrell and I didn’t travel anywhere. We didn’t go to parties. We didn’t spend Christmas together. Ordinary events weren’t photo-worthy. And all my interactions with Farrell were ordinary. 

 


We met in the spring of 1987 as part of a group of strangers who’d signed up for an evening tennis class, a course listed in the continuing education catalog for a community college in Irving, Texas. I’ve always loved tennis, but I’ve never been very good at it. Eight consecutive Wednesday nights of “lite” instruction and tedious drills didn’t make me Stefan Edberg, but Farrell’s skill level seemed to suck on a par with mine so we’d stick around to hit a few balls after class. We agreed to meet outside of class to get more tennis time without those time-wasting drills. 

 

We managed to get the ball over the net enough times to get in a workout. Retrieving balls that soared over the fence helped, too. We found enough to talk about during the water breaks necessitated by the Texas heat. Soon we started lingering after play, chatting on a bench or while standing by our cars. 

 


Farrell was a quiet, contemplative soul, as was I, although he didn’t always see that side of me. Tennis made me hyper. Someone once described me as the Energizer bunny, racing to track down every ball, regardless of whether it was in or out. I’d found a handful of regulars to hit with and I could fit in five hours of tennis in a day, even on hundred-degree summer days in Dallas. I was never the one to say, “Let’s stop.” Even when my opponent was worn out or tired of my errant forehand, I struggled to wind down. During off-court conversations with Farrell, I was less guarded, openly self-deprecating and plain silly. This amused Farrell, snapping him out of the disappointment he often felt about his play. On court, he was always saying, “Oh, Farrell” after a volley into the net or a mistimed overhead. Not exactly a John McEnroe meltdown but no one would aspire to that anyway. 

 


One Friday evening, I showed up on court after going to happy hour with nuns. Friday happy hours were huge in the late ’80s in Texas or, at the very least, among my circle of nuns. I taught at a special education school operated by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas so half of my colleagues resided at the convent on campus. Those nuns longed for time away. Happy hour evolved into hours, not all of them “happy,” but it was a must-see reality before reality TV became a thing. They bitched about the other nuns whom they were with 24/7. Booze and cigarettes made the bitching escalate. 

 

On that particular Friday, I suppose I’d had a drink or two too many. Maybe I shouldn’t have driven to the tennis courts, but there I was, returning every ball Farrell didn’t hit into the net. (“Oh, Farrell.”) Spinach may have given Popeye extra strength but, for me, it seemed to come from frozen lime margaritas. I hit everything out, more balls than usual soaring over the fence, Babe Ruth-calibre home runs. As I raced off the court to do my springer spaniel impression, retrieving another handful of balls, Farrell met me at the gate and said, “How ’bout let’s stop?” Turns out you had to have been at happy hour for the happiness to linger. We sat on the grass and chatted, his annoyance quickly going away. Eventually we grabbed dinner. Chili’s, of course; iced tea to drink. 

 

Tennis outings—never again following my rollicking times with nuns—became tennis and dinners. Sometimes it was just dinner. We grew from court mates to friends. 

 

Farrell was reserved about his past. He’d been the result of an unwanted pregnancy, a Black baby placed in an orphanage in Louisiana. He was adopted by a woman and raised with a sister. From what I recall, his adopted mother had died and his sister, well, Farrell would just shake his head. It wasn’t an active relationship. He had no other family. 

 


He worked as an accountant, spoke vaguely of a few friends and regularly attended the Dallas Symphony. The convent and school where I worked as a teacher were adjacent to the University of Dallas where he earned his degree. He happily talked about the present but often turned the conversation to me. I talked passionately about my job and self-deprecatingly about my daily bumblings. I was 21, he was 28. I was still too egocentric, everything about post-university life new and exciting, every experience told as if lived for the first time…by anyone. As insufferable as I must have been, Farrell always seemed amused. 

 


In August 1989, I left Texas to attend law school at Pepperdine in California. Malibu! We kept in touch in those old-fashioned ways that were the norm of the time: phone calls and letters. Too few of both, I suppose. There’s something about academic environments where students feed off one another in portraying classes, homework and papers as heavy burdens, teetering on impossible. Yes, law school was intense, but I found time for the beach, my casebooks usually in tow, grains of sand spilling from them on my desk when I’d reopen them in the lecture hall during Civil Procedure. On weekend evenings, I’d grab dinner with classmates before dashing off, secretly, to the gay bars in West Hollywood, dancing to “Vogue” and tracks by Bananarama, making friends with a struggling drag queen and desperately hoping some cute guy in the crowd might look my way. He rarely did and, if it happened, I took the moment to suddenly check my shoelaces, a highly ineffectual stab at flirting. All this is to say I was consumed by my new, if temporary, life in L.A. 

 


Farrell came to visit at some point while I was still in law school. In the letter he sent me to say he was coming, there’s a phrase that now seems so inapplicable to me. He’d sent me a Calvin & Hobbes book and said, “I hope it gets you through those long Sundays when the sun isn’t shining, your body isn’t tanning and the women are not pawing off your clothes.” 

 

Um…clearly this pasty dude doesn’t tan. 

 

He stayed with some other friends who lived somewhere in Greater Los Angeles and we spent an afternoon in Santa Monica. It was wonderful to see him and I felt honored he’d made time for me, but shortly after the visit, I received a card. His normally light, cheeky tone was absent. He’d sensed coldness from me during the visit and concluded I’d figured out he was gay and I was “repulsed.”

 

Thirty years ago, self-hate was well-fed by a pervasive homophobic environment in the Bible Belt of the southern United States, including both Louisiana where he’d been raised and Texas where he lived. Despite having known one another for four years and having formed a close friendship, neither of us had ever talked about our sexual orientation. Neither of us had ever mentioned dating. Neither of us had a military background but we ascribed to our own don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Had I been so convincing he could envision women pawing off my clothes? And what women, pray tell?  

 

I wrote back—STAT!—because I couldn’t let a perceived rejection fester. I didn’t phone because I still wasn’t used to talking about being gay, even to a friend who had outed himself. Internalized homophobia can be a savage, illogical beast.

 


I remember smiling as I wrote him, assuring him that, “There is no possible way I’m repulsed by you. I’m gay, too.” And yet, we still didn’t talk about being gay beyond that card exchange. I always assumed it would wait for our next in-person conversation, a cherished heart-to-heart. We’d do a lot of nodding, even more laughing, a bit of head shaking and wrap with a warm hug, maybe a new component of our friendship. 

 

Curses to lost time, gaydar malfunctions and stupid Texas. Yes, Farrell. That’s why I fled the state.


Click here to read Part 2.

Monday, March 18, 2024

DIVING IN AGAIN


It’s been a month since I was dumped. Harsh verb but fits perfectly. I held my breath and hoped he’d come to his senses. I thought he’d realize that, however disappointed he’d been in me, he could express that and then rejoin me in getting us back on track. I was sure we’d been a solid two-year investment. In stock market terms, you hold on, ride through the low, have confidence in its inherent value and wait for the momentum to surge again. But he got out. A complete selloff. I had become a bad investment.

 


The stock market analogy is perfect. My dabbling has had dismal results. Same for relationships.

 

Our closure call helped me clearly see he was not going to reinvest. In the days that followed, I went back on apps for single gay men…and apparently for gay men in “open” relationships. Based on the number of faceless profiles, I wonder if their partners know it’s open. Not my business. Call me old-fashioned, but I like faces.

 

I told myself I wasn’t ready for anything anywhere on the casual-to-serious spectrum. Still in shock. Still feeling the bruises from being rejected. Too embarrassed and humiliated to even mention the breakup to friends. (But blog about it? No problem! Weird, I know. This is how this particular writer processes life.) Getting on the apps was symbolic. Must move forward. The future isn’t to be found in the past; alas, but especially not the recent past. That’s gone. He’s gone.

 

A couple years away from apps and it’s been jarring to lurk again to see what’s there…and what’s not. I’ve taken to laughing at things I’ve observed and experienced so far. Like every form of social media, people can be their worst selves online. Decorum? If I were to mention the word, the reply would be: WTF? (Actually, there wouldn’t be a question mark. I just need to see it for my own sanity. Breathe. The world is not coming to an end.)

 

When I say I’ve been laughing, I truly have and not in that meaningless LOL sense. (We seem to have phased that expression out, thankfully.) Men have devolved to boys, young teens with urges but not enough words. This is a reminder of why I never wanted to teach ninth grade. Funny. Not funny.

 


This morning I glanced at Grindr. The worst. I never ever thought I’d be there. A guy who identified himself as a swimmer had viewed me. Same age. Fit. His tags included hiking, reading, writing and travel. And his profile concluded with a refreshing remark: “Not your daddy.” I despise when gay men use daddy to describe themselves or others. That comment alone was worth sending this guy a message. The matching interests were a big bonus. So, yes, message sent.

 

What I hadn’t realized because, either I don’t understand technology or there was a glitch, was that he’d already messaged me. So we had basically first-messaged one another in parallel universes. That’s something. I might use it in a gay romance I write.

 

What I’ve already come to realize—or remember—on these apps is most message exchanges go nowhere. Example (not a real exchange): 

Hey.

 

Hi! Thanks for the message. How are you? Looks like the sun may finally come out later today.

 

Good.

 


You can guess which person I am in the sample exchange. I like words. These “teens”? As previously noted, not so much. Granted, I basically said nothing. Inane chitchat, the sort of stuff I abhor as an introvert, but I understand I shouldn’t open with my mental health history or that tragic tale about getting dumped by my ex. 

 

Good. Was he answering how he was doing or was he happy about my sunny forecast? Did it matter? Nothing to go on. Did I really have any further interest in a monosyllabic creature, albeit one with nice biceps?

 

Let me answer that monosyllabically (when in Rome…): Nah.

 

End of hypothetical exchange. 

 

Back to this morning’s not-your-daddy swimmer guy who reads/writes/hikes/travels. He stood out. His profile said he liked meeting for coffee so I’d suggested we do that. He replied immediately:

 

Yes please

 


No punctuation but at least he had manners. Wowza. (Sad, yes, but that’s all it takes to get a wowza online. I’m working on my very own little emoji for that.)

 

Ninety minutes later, we were sitting across from one another at a café in Chinatown. I walked; he took the Skytrain and then biked over. Wowza. Wowza. (Double emojis would be so useful right now.) I LOVE mass transit! I’m that geek. I actually say, “I love mass transit!” Frequently. He’s never owned a car. Kudos! And biking? I love cycling, too! Everywhere I can.

 

Because that
Valentine's Day stunt
is so last month...

Cupid was clearly messing with me. Let’s take this total sad-sack, dangle a carrot and then watch him fall again. Hysterical!

 

Attraction? Definitely! 

 

Mutual? He said so right away.

 

A clear, direct communicator. Emoji.

 

He runs his own business, working with schools and other entities throughout the world on empowering collaborative action to respond to climate change and to process mental health impacts related to it.

 

Okay, Cupid. Enough. You’ve had your fun. Now you’re just being mean.

 

There was so much more. An hour of engaging conversation. I had to work hard to keep my smile from crossing a line to goofy and/or gaga.

 

A hug goodbye. “Can I kiss you?” he asked. My turn to say, “Yes, please!” 

 

One hour. One date. That’s all. 

 

Easy. Breathe. 

 

A follow-up message pinged on my phone the moment I walked in my place. (Off Grindr, on my regular message stream, thank god!):


What a treat to meet you—I have to admit that it was just a bit surreal as you seem so very much worth getting to know. I look forward to our next coffee date.

 

Words! Meaningful ones! Emoji, emoji, emoji.

 

More messages exchanged. We’re chatting again tonight after my bike ride.

 

The sun can come out today or not. I’m already basking in something. A lovely start.

 

You better not be playing me, Cupid. But, if you are…well played. Wowza!