Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Miami Wasn't Traumatic For Just Us

So I've made no secret about our disdain for Miami.  It's now the place we love to hate.  We are reaching that point where we can look at each other and jokingly ask, "Can you believe we did that?"
In the grand scheme of our life together, Miami will be a mere blip on the radar.  And to our credit, we came back stronger than when we left.  So in retrospect, leaving Chicago to go anywhere for that year was a good thing for us to do, both personally and professionally.  Admittedly, it was a hard year, but WE weren't the only ones who suffered.

Since professional movers boxed up our things to move to Miami, we couldn't take house plants.  Our belongings would sit in storage for almost three weeks and any house plant was guaranteed to not survive the experience.  So we left them behind in the care of our renter, who assured us he would look after them.  Otherwise, we would have given them to friends.  So you can imagine my surprise a year later when I moved back into our condo and saw our ficus tree.  I almost cried:

March 2014
There stood the physical manifestation of our Miami experience:  worn, sparse, sad, defeated.  In order for the tree to look like this, the renter would have had to completely ignore it - in other words, never water it.  Before I even unpacked a box from the moving van, I went to the tree and apologized to it.  I brushed a year's worth of dust from its leaves and told it that good and positive energy was back in the condo and I promised we would never leave it again.  

Fast forward 9 months and the tree looked like this:

December 2014
Seriously, all I did was water it once a week.  But I believe it fed off our energy.  It stood silently by as Kevin proposed to me, as we welcomed friends into our home, as we planned our wedding, and as we geared up to buy a new home for all of us.  All the while, it got healthier and fuller.

And now we are in our new home.  Ficus trees can be temperamental; they don't like to change their environment.  We were afraid we might lose it when we relocated from the condo to the house in March.  But again, I made a promise to it, professed my love for it, and here's the tree today:

July 2015

Just 16 months after the first picture up top, I took the above picture this morning.  The tree is healthier and more vibrant that it's ever been.  Just like us, it came back stronger after the Miami experience as well.  Kevin always calls me a "dog whisperer" because dogs seem to be attracted to me.  But I've also never lost a plant (with the exception of an orchid here and there) and our house plants, even the temperamental ones, just seem to thrive.

Trees and plants are living things.  I think they feed off of us, our emotions, our happiness.  I'll let the ficus tree be the symbol of my life's happiness.  Love your children, love your pets, and love your plants.  Because all of them are living representations of you.  Take a look at your plants, because they will be a window into your life.

And tell them you love them now and then.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2005 - 2015: A Gratifying Day For Dad

Ten years ago, I was introduced to my Dad - not my Dad, the man, but my Dad, the boy.  I wrote about it 10 years ago, and it's important to me to remember that day.

Deal, PA
On Saturday, July 23, 2005, Dad, Mom, my sister, Kim and I spent the day in Mom and Dad's minivan, driving to the place my father was born in 1939, and locating the cemetery where his grandfather was buried with two of his daughters: aunts Dad didn't know he had.

This memory is significant for me because it's one of the last few experiences I had with my Dad while he was 100% lucid (two others being the two times he and Mom visited me in Chicago).  What's more significant for me is that at the end of that day, my Dad recalled that it was one of the most gratifying of his life.  I never asked him to explain what he meant by that.  Gratifying because he was able to see these places again?  Gratifying because he got to share these things about himself with his wife and children?  Gratifying because, simply, it was a beautiful day with his family, recalling memories he'd probably long forgotten or possibly suppressed?  Perhaps it's all three of those, or perhaps none of those.  I should have asked him then.

The important thing here is that I was part of that day, that experience he had that resulted in him recounting it as such a memorable day for him.

I saw Dad a few weeks ago.  I returned home to help my mother through cataract surgery and since she couldn't do her usual evening visit to Dad in the nursing home, I went to visit him on my own.  Since Dad has been in the nursing facility, I've not had the chance to be with him alone - just him and me.  At first, it was awkward with him.  I didn't really know what to say.  We mostly believe that Dad hears everything but just can't find the motor skills to join the conversation.  So I decided to just talk to Dad as I always had.

I said, "Hey, did Mom tell you we bought a house?"
"You did?" he asked me, suddenly appearing alert and engaged.
"Yeah, well, Kevin and I bought one.  It's cute Dad, it's a little 2-bed, 2-bath house with a garage."
"Where?" he asked.
"In Chicago."
He leaned toward me.  "Where?" he asked again.  I took this to mean that he wanted to know where in Chicago the house was.  Dad had some familiarity with the city from his two visits, so it struck me that he wanted to know where in Chicago I was now living.
"Lincoln Square neighborhood.  Remember when you came out and we had dinner at that German restaurant where the band played?" I asked excitedly.
And just like that, he faded away.  No response.  But I kept on talking anyway.  I told him about how we had cleaned up the back yard, replanted flowers, painted the front porch, bought some furniture, fixed the garage doors.  I even told him about the plumbing problem we had fixed and all that went into that.  I talked for about 15 minutes straight.  And through it all, Dad sat silent, but never took his eyes off of me.

I've always believed that Dad thinks of me more than the others.  Not that he loves me more, but that he thinks of me more because he's used to not seeing me as often.  I think he wonders about me a lot, as any parent wonders about a child who no longer lives nearby.  I think he's used to thinking about me.  At least this is what I like to believe - that I am clear in his brain and in his memory because he's used to me being there.

The Troutmans in 2005
I hope he can still recall the days in his life that meant something to him:  the day he met mom, the day they married, the days each of his children wore born, the day his first grandchild was born, the day his first great-grandchild was born.  And I hope he can remember those days when nothing all that special happened, like the day he, his wife, and 2 of  his 4 kids drove around southwest Pennsylvania in a minivan looking at open fields and cemeteries.

Days like that will stay with me forever, too.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2005 - 2015: My Next Best Friend

Little did I know how pivotal Monday, July 18, 2005 would be for me.  But during my second trip out to Chicago from DC, prior to moving in September, I met Jessica for the first time.  And life has been changed for the better ever since.

It was technically, no actually, my and Kevin's 2nd date.  I had come out to Chicago to interview for some jobs and with the afternoon free, Kevin chose to take me to see The Field Museum, Buckingham Fountain, and Millennium Park.  First stop was The Field.  And Jessica, who was working there at the time, volunteered to be our tour guide.  We've joked that Jessica has been the third person in our relationship.  But that's not really a joke.  She's been there from the start, even before Kevin and I knew what we were going to become.

July 18, 2005
The first picture Jessica and I have of us (left) was taken just a few minutes after the first picture of Kevin and me.  How appropriate.

Those who attended our wedding heard Jessica give a heartfelt speech during the reception about the first time she and I met and her nervousness about whether I thought her posing for a picture where she's pointing to a hieroglyph of a monkey penis would be funny. But I freely admit that I loved her immediately - long before she pointed to that monkey peen. She's just that person.  Jessica doesn't know a stranger, and although we tease her about it ad nauseam, I quietly marvel at her ability to strike up/insert herself into conversations with complete strangers.

Since that first meeting, Jessica has proven to be the most loyal, the most trusted, the most devoted friend a person could have.  She'll be the person by your side to cheer your boyfriend through 4 Chicago Marathons, 1 Minneapolis Marathon, and 1 Chicago Half-Iron Man.  She's your partner when you want to eat Long John Silver's, but everyone else wants a salad.  She'll go see a movie with you that she's already seen because the experience for her will only be made better if she's with you.  She'll dress up in the most ridiculous costumes for Hallowe'en (or anytime, really) because she gets the gag.  She'll show up early to help you prepare, and she'll be the last one to leave to make sure everything is cleaned up.  And she'll be the one to prevent you from walking down the aisle to be married with a beer in your hand because she knows that while you might think it's funny now, you'll look back on it years from now and wish you hadn't done it.

October 12, 2013 - when life got better.
When we moved to Miami in 2013, Jessica was the one we wanted to tell last; indeed, she was the last person in Chicago we saw before our plane took off the next morning.  But when we had made the decision to move back to Chicago, she was the first person we wanted to tell.  We told her on the People Mover Ride in Disney World's Tomorrowland.

Jessica's reaction was exactly as hoped (right).

And that's another great thing about Jessica:  you can always count on her for the reaction you're hoping for.  If you want someone to be excited for you, no one cheers louder than Jessica.  If you're looking for compassion and understanding, she will sit and cry along with you.  If you want someone to confirm that your boss/the cab driver/the check-out person at Jewel is an asshole, she's the first to show up with toilet paper ready to trash a house.  She's up for anything, whether it's a quick lunch, a shopping trip, a weekend getaway, or a "suburban adventure" to Red Lobster and glow-in-the-dark miniature golf.  She's always game.  And I can't imagine attending a wedding without her.

Books are written about friends like her.  Movies have been made about her kind of friendship.  She is the kind of friend we all hope to have, and all strive to be.  But even on our best days at this, we could never come close.  July 18, 2005 introduced me to the meaning of real friendship.  How on earth could I ever forget that day?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Marriage and The Bible

As of last month, EVERYBODY can get legally married to the person they love, regardless of age, gender, race, and religious beliefs.  "We, the people," have "formed a more perfect union" by securing "the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity".  This country, which was originally sought out by oppressed people, took another step towards ensuring that its inhabitants were all seen as equals under the eyes of the law of the land.  A country that was founded on religious freedom, i.e. the right to practice or not practice the worship of God as you see fit, echoed our Founding Fathers' beliefs that government and religion can co-exist but not combine.  The principle of Separation of Church and State (on which our democracy was founded) was upheld.

We should now know that marriage is not a religious institution and certainly didn't start out that way.  Marriage is, actually, a covenant between two people.  Christians like to think God is involved.  So do Jews.  So do Muslims.  So do Buddhists.  So, even, do Scientologists.  The definitions of God might be different for all these groups, but to have your life based in a religion - any religion - is to believe that your God must bless your marriage.  But the fact is, we all don't truly believe that, not really.

How many couples married in a church eventually ended the marriage through divorce?  Religions don't divorce couples, the county government does.  How many weddings have been held in places that are not houses of worship?  Is a wedding in a church, synagogue, or temple somehow more sacred than a wedding at a country club, cruise ship, or castle?  One could argue that the eyes of God are everywhere, so it doesn't matter where a marriage ceremony is held.  But the truth is, God (in whatever form you view God) does not preside over a marriage, a legal representative does - a representative who is far from being ordained by God.  I happen to be one of those representatives and God has not mentioned anything to me about it.

But the Evangelical Christians in America are demanding that marriage be as their God ordained it - between one man and one woman.  They want traditional marriage as God intended, as dictated in The Bible.  So let's look at that for just a minute:
"First of all, marriage in The Bible is not defined as being between one man and one woman, but rather one man and several women.  It's basically polygamist.  Abraham had 3 wives (or at least 2 wives and a slave he had sex with), Caleb had 5 wives, David had 18 wives, Moses only had 2, but King Solomon had 1,000 wives (300 of which were concubines). 
"The Bibles rules about marriage are very clear: rape victims must marry their rapists; if a woman's husband dies, she has to marry his brother (even if he is already married to someone else); interracial marriage is strictly forbidden; and if you marry a woman who turns out not to be a virgin, you have to stone her to death.
The Church didn't even get involved in marriage until sometime around the 13th century when the Catholics got into the wedding business and made marriage a sacrament.  Pope Alexander changed marriage to be an agreement between spouses instead of an arrangement between their parents.

Up until the 1700's, marriage was never about doing something with someone you love.  The advice in the 18th century was to marry someone you could learn to "tolerate".  In colonial America, if you wanted to get married, all you had to do was simply say you were married.  Black people were finally allowed to get married after the Civil War, and in the late 1800's, South Carolina became the first state to declare that men were no longer permitted to beat their wives.  Wife-beating was finally outlawed nationwide in 1920."  NINETEEN TWENTY.  A big year for married women - they could vote and not get beaten for it.  Ah, tradition.

Also during the 1920's, the concept of "Love Marriage" fascinated America.  People were engaging in a new practice of marrying someone they actually loved (and couldn't beat up).  Conservatives at the time said that this new look at marriage would completely destroy the institution by the end of the 20th Century.

In 1967, bans on interracial marriage were lifted.  It wasn't until 1979 that the States eliminated the Master Laws, which stated that a man could do whatever he wanted with his wife's property.  And up until 1993, it was legal for a man to rape his wife in some states."

Here's a handy visual to help understand marriage as defined in The Bible which the Christians believe is the word of God:

A little scary for the ladies, isn't it?

So if you are married today to just one spouse whom you love and treat as your equal, then you have already accepted experimental changes to the traditional marriage, as written and defined in The Bible.  It wasn't that long ago that women were treated as property and people of color weren't even considered human.  As society learned from those mistakes, PEOPLE updated the rules of marriage.  And not because they HAD to, but because the times and society's views about marriage (what's fair, what's right and wrong) had changed over time.

So at its core, marriage is just an agreement between people.  That's it.  So please don't preach to me that your marriage is sacred and that my marriage somehow ruins your marriage(s)...

How many have you had again?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

2005 - 2015: Goodbye to the Old Life

It's safe to say that today, I am not the same person I was 10-15 years ago.  At the turn of the century, I joined a gym for the first time and rather quickly developed a rockin' bod.  The muscles grew as did the attraction and attention I was suddenly getting from other guys - guys I would have heretofore put beyond my grasp.  This led to a huge boost in my confidence which allowed me go places and meet people I previously would not have dared.  I still had the same personality, it's just that it was now easier for me to make friends.  Shallow as it sounds, the muscles gave me a social life.  For a period of about 3-4 years, I traveled all over the country to dance clubs and dance parties, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.  I met people all over the place, some of whom I am still in touch with today.

Me and Poodle, July 9, 2005
My last big night out like this was Saturday, July 9, 2005.  I had traveled to NYC to see my friend Poodle and his partner Jeff.  At this point, I knew I would be moving to Chicago soon and I wanted to see Poodle before relocating, since NYC is much easier to get to from DC than Chicago.

Poodle and I met a few years earlier on AOL.  I was living in DC and he was in Jersey City, NJ.  It was November 2001, just two months after the attacks.  People still weren't going out much at that point, rather using AOL as a social outlet.  Now and then in life, you'll meet someone who you just instantly connect with, and that was Poodle for me.  His real name is Michael, but I gave him the nickname Poodle.  I have no idea why.  But it stuck.

We eventually met in person 4 months later at the White Party in February 2002 in NYC at the Roseland Ballroom.  It was love at first sight.  He was the best friend I'd apparently had all my life without knowing it.

So back to 2005, I had taken the train to NYC the day before, arriving on Friday, July 8th.  I had spent the remainder of that day just shuffling around Times Square.  The following day (Saturday), I reconnected with Ex#2 who was living in NYC at the time.  We went flea market shopping in Chelsea and had (read:drank) lunch in some little bar on 8th Avenue.  That evening, though, I met Poodle and Jeff for a night of dancing at Roxy.  A Saturday summer night in an NYC danceclub was not the most hopping place, and we expected that.  Most of the dance crowd was out on Fire Island, Montauk, or The Hamptons.  But I remember we had a very fun night.  The music was great and we really enjoyed dancing with each other and inviting in strangers to join us.

During the night, Poodle and Jeff got separated from me and we couldn't seem to reconnect.  At some point they went home and I stayed and talked to some people.  At around 4AM, I walked back to my hotel.  I knew then that life was going to be different.  This was not the life I wanted to continue to live.  In fact, it was one of the reasons I wanted to leave DC altogether.  The party scene had lost its fascination for me and I wanted to give it one last hurrah with my closest friend before bidding that part of my life good-bye.  I was 39 years old and looking forward to a quieter life in a new city.  Having been involved with several someones through the previous 8 or 9 years, my goal was to move to Chicago and spend my entire 40's as a single man.

And we all know how that turned out.