Monday, April 25, 2011

Dallas & Chris

Nineteen years old.  Not a lot of reasoning during that time of my life.  Almost nil foresight.  And in hindsight, everything turned out o.k.

But let’s rewind just three years from then. She and I came together at a weekend teen church retreat.  She was a beauty.  Hair – long, soft, dark.  Almond-shaped eyes with ebony-colored irises.  A soft laugh that she hid behind her hand.   I made up my mind that she should fall in love with me.  So I played piano for her.  I sang to her.  I clowned around on the basketball court for her amusement.  I invited her for walks along the red-dirt roads under the tall pines in the campgrounds.  It all worked.

And we dated.  Over the course of three years, she became like part of my family, and I of hers.  And then carelessness made the theoretical bond real.  A positive pregnancy test.  We broke the news to her parents to receive uncomfortable and unexpected laughter.  We broke the news to my mom and received an exasperated scolding (“Don’t ya’ll know how to use condoms?!”).  I broke the news to my father separately.  I’ll just say it was not pretty and leave it there.

I went from college to construction work, from walking across the green university campus lawns to inching my way across iron beams hundreds of feet above concrete.  She went from high school to housewife, home ec to home making. 

About six and a half months into her pregnancy, she woke me in the middle of the night.  “I think my water just broke…”  We headed to the charity hospital in Shreveport.  She and I, just kids, had  no money and no insurance.

At her initial examination, the doctor said, “I believe I hear two heartbeats.”  An X-Ray tech was brought in.  When the images came back, there they were:  curled like yin and yang.  We were excited.  Twins!  “This is not good news.” the doctor warned.  “This is much too early to deliver.  We need to keep the babies in the womb as long as possible.  Every minute counts at this stage.  It will be especially difficult with twins inside.”
There was the risk of infection since there was no longer any amniotic fluid.  But that danger was not realized; she only lasted a couple of days before going into labor.  I was banned from the delivery room and was upset about that.  I understand now the doctors knew best.

October 25, 1984.  And they were there.  Both indescribably tiny.  Dallas – 2 lbs 3 oz.  Christian – 2 lbs 1 oz.  My heart swelled and burst at the same time.  Dallas was on his stomach with his eyes open.  Chris, on his back with closed eyes. Both of the boys were on ventilators.  They were bruised, but beautiful.  The doctors did not sugarcoat the truth.  “It does not look good for either of the babies.  The smaller one sustained serious damage during the birth.  Survival for either is slim at best.”  Chris lasted for only 19 hours.  Dallas slugged it out and held on.

A hearse took our second-born son to the funeral home.  My sister’s boyfriend greeted us there.  This hardened police officer was a pool of tears.  “I don’t think you want to see the baby.”  We couldn’t listen.  We had to see Chris.  And I found out something that I never wanted to know:  one of the worst experiences in life is selecting a headstone for your child.  But Chris’ brother was in Shreveport.  We had to keep pushing.

My weekdays through this time went something like this: 
Up at 5:30 AM
30 miles to work until 4:00 PM
30 miles home
70 miles to Shreveport
Stay with Dallas until visiting hours were over at 10 PM
70 miles home
Bed at Midnight.
Suddenly I was all the adult that I never wanted to be.

One beautiful Saturday in early January, we arrived at the hospital to smiling nurses.  “He’s off the ventilator and under an oxygen tent!”  And there he was:  the first time that we had seen his face without a breathing tube and medical tape obstructing the view.  He looked so tough!  You could see that he was a fighter.  He even smiled a couple of times.  To this day, that smile is one of the most beautiful images that I’ve ever seen.

We returned the next day, and he was on the ventilator once more.  When my wife saw him, she started weeping uncontrollably.  I could do nothing but hold her.

A couple of weekends after that, even the ventilator was not working.  At the doctor’s recommendation, we shut everything down.  The nurses handed him to us and led us to a room right off the neonatal unit.  He took his last breaths as my wife held him close to her and I rubbed his little hand.

Against state law, the hospital allowed us to take him in the truck with us to the funeral home in our city.  The drive was long and silent.  For both her and me, the deaths of Chris and Dallas were our first experience with the loss of a close family member.  And these losses were of our sons.  It was painful beyond expression.  I remember that it rained on the day of Dallas’ funeral, and still the cemetery was filled with family and friends as we laid him to rest next to his brother.

We both stumbled through a fog for the next couple of months.

The doctor told us to wait for a year until trying for another child.  One year and nine months later, our third son was born.  Full-term. 7 lbs, 8 oz.  Spitting image of his brothers (only larger).   He was perfectly perfect.  After the loss of the twins, his mom and I knew how precious he was and how fortunate we were.

And here we are.  27 years later.   I still call the boys’ mom each October 25th.  With the passage of time, the memories we share are bittersweet.  She and I are no longer kids.  We’re no longer irresponsible.  Shoot, we’re no longer married.  But together we went through a heartbreaking experience.  Plus she still loves me (and I, her).  So everything is o.k.

Support the March of Dimes for stronger , healthier babies
(Photo credit - Enrico/One from RM)

Monday, April 18, 2011

“The Prize Is Always Worth the Rocky Ride”

My muse punked out on me.  So, I decided to visit to see if could get a bit of inspiration.  This site offers up a random word.  In theory, you are to write for 60 seconds about the word, and then submit it to the site where others can view your writing.  When grasping for straws, I’d rather post my work to a smaller audience:  my blog.

The word that appeared on the site tonight was “Acoustic.”   So off to my iTunes library I ran for additional motivation.  I found an acoustic rendering of “The Wood Song” by the Indigo Girls and set that bad boy on repeat.

I’d seen the Indigo Girls twice on the Swamp Ophelia tour:  in the Woodlands north of Houston and at Texas A&M.  I worked with four Indigo Girls fans at the time:  a straight couple and two lesbians.  We all caravanned (along with the girlfriend of one of the lesbians) to College Station for the A&M show.  It was a weird wonderful trip: 

§  We drank lots of Shiner beer and ate lots of Whataburger taquitos
§  We passed time before the concert at an apartment shared by four guy students:  the features of the residence included a drum kit, a mountain of empty toilet paper rolls in the bathroom and pin-ups of half-dressed skatepunk girls on the walls.
§  We played a lot of Frisbee
§  The single lesbian put the moves on the girlfriend of our co-worker and successfully stole her away, unbeknownst to us.  (You can imagine the drama that followed).

Back to the song.  “The Wood Song” is a civil rights tune.  You can use the theme of song for any cause you’d like.  Of course, since I am gay and since the Indigo Girls are lesbians, let’s just say that this one is for equal rights.  The lyrics do not come out and say that.  Nor do they need to.  Any good inspiring song should be universal.

“We'll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds
Then we'll have missed the point
That's where I need to go”

We’re not quite to the point, but we will make it eventually, through storms or shine … with bock beer and greasy fast food, with a snare and a high hat, with a stolen girlfriend … with or without my muse.

"The Wood Song"  Indigo Girls

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Morning at the Empire

This morning our breakfast group went to a new restaurant, the Empire CaféAs I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of eating establishments that do not offer table service.  But I promised the gang that I would go along and not pout.  I’d eaten at the Empire Café about 10 years back.  The food was quite good then, so I expected that the food would be appetizing this morning.

As The Man and I were standing at the counter line with our seven friends, he turned to me and said “This place reminds me of Onion Creek.”
“You know what this place reminds me of?”  I asked.
His eyebrows went up, his mouth to the side.

Then I said quickly.  “Sorry…I had to get just one in.”

During the course of breakfast, no less than four of my friends offered to get coffee for me.  I thanked them but got it myself.

While we were there:

Music :
·         “(Don’t’ Go Back to) Rockville” R.E.M.
·         “Serpentine Fire” Earth, Wire & Fire
·         “Tumbling Dice” The Rolling Stones
·         “Veronica” Elvis Costello
·         “Rhiannon” Fleetwood Mac
·         “Don’t Get Me Wrong” The Pretenders
·         “Life in a Northern Town” The Dream Academy

o   A young man in his mid 20s was seated next to us with what were obviously his parents, perhaps visiting from out of town.  The mom held up a cookie that was served with her coffee “Well, at least I like this…” (maybe she'd have preferred an Egg McMuffin?)

Ø  The Man and one of our friends, seated on opposite ends of the table, texted each other bad jokes.  Example:
v  Q – What do you get when you cross a Rottweiler with a Collie?
v  A – A dog that bites off your arm and then goes for help.

§  One of my single friends was thrilled with all the eye candy, indiscreetly pointing out all the cute guys in the room.
So ... Empire Cafe?  Great food (the Bella Frittata with its portabella mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese was superb); Good coffee (rich full Peruvian blend).  Good ambiance (saffron-colored walls with cheesetastic paintings of burlesque ladies in various national themes - Dutch, Spanish, Indian).  Nice Crowd (good mix of hipsters, glamorpusses and regular joes).  

All in all, it was a fun time that I would have not experienced had I exercised a prima-donna boycott.  OK…maybe for once a week I’ll act like I’m not a brat.

Play "Life in a Northern Town" The Dream Academy

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Let Us Strive to Find a Way to Make All Hatred Cease"

In the wake of the Kobe Bryant incident earlier this week where the basketball player yelled a gay slur at an NBA referee, I wrote a brief post here on the blog that said something along the lines of 
“Kobe, I’m not directing any of these comments toward you; I really wasn’t offended.  But this is how you could have done it.  In retrospect, I think you’ll agree that your insult was a bit weak.”
I then included a 10-minute clip from YouTube of a 100 Great Movie Insults (not one of these including any type of gay slur).  I put in a disclaimer above the video, because you can imagine that the language was a bit rough.

I published the post.

I tweeted the link to the post on Twitter as I always do.

Then I stopped…

I deleted the tweet.

I deleted the post.

The video that I had included in the post did not fit the style of my site.  I’m not a prude, but some of the language made even me cringe a bit.  But the real reason that I deleted the post was that I had lied:  I was offended by Kobe’s action.

In the heat of the moment, Kobe Bryant had used the worst word in his measure to sling at the ref.  This tells me a lot about Kobe and about society in general.  Not to whine or take a victim stance, but just when I think that we gays and lesbians are making strides in equality …

Kobe apologized for his words, albeit in an offhanded manner.  But this morning, I read a piece about how Kobe is appealing the fine that was imposed for the outburst.    

Which is it, Kobe?  “I’m sorry” or “It was no big deal”?

I know that I refer to myself as “The Queer” on this site.  After having that word thrown at me so much in my youth, I decided to grab it and make it mine.  I would guess that this self-reference can make some people uncomfortable.  I know that I intend no malice toward myself or any lesbian or gay man.  What's more, I would never call a straight friend “breeder,” refer to a child as a “rugrat” or ridicule a mom for driving a “sproggenwagon.”  At least not without love in my voice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"I Really Don't Wanna Go" AKA Magic Happens

Mid-March 2010.  And I had dreaded it all week.  I did not want to visit my family.  I wanted to stay home.

It had been since Christmas that The Man and I had been for a visit.  Typically we visited the family back in Louisiana once each month.  This was the longest stretch that I can remember with my going without a visit since I lived in Los Angeles almost seven years ago.  But still ... I didn't want to go.  I wanted to hang out at the house, listening to music and working in my yard. 

But I knew we had to go.  My son had increased the frequency of his "when-am-I-going-to-see-you" calls.  My step-mom had posted "Hey ... when are ya'll coming in" on her own Facebook page (she’ll get the hang of it one day).

Saturday morning, we were packing the truck.  I turned to The Man and sighed, "I really don't wanna go..."

"We don't have to, baby." He smiled.  (He is so perfect).  "We can unload the truck and call your family.  We'll just tell them that we need to stay home this weekend."

"No."  I said.  "We have to go."

So we headed out.  Our normal trip routine.  Gas up.  Breakfast at Whataburger.  Rock tunes on the radio.  And we're off.

Now here's where you can add a tally mark in the "Dork" column on the Queer's sheet.  We were listening to a mixtape that I had made from downloads of last season’s American Idol performances ... yes, yes ... I know...  But anyway, Lee Dewyze's version of Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" came on.  And I started singing to The Man.  Total cheeseball... yes, I know.  But he got all teary-eyed (he's apt to do that often).  But it was beautiful.  After the song, he grabbed my hand and said, "I'm so lucky!"

I just agreed.

We arrived in my hometown and checked in at my sister's house (always the first stop), and then we headed out for something to eat.  We called my son to see if he and his fiancée wanted to join us.  He had just eaten and his fiancée was at a family party, so he asked us to just stop by after our meal.

We got to my son's place and hung out, just watching movies, laughing and shooting the breeze.  It was a blast.  One of our cousins showed up, so we made a beer run.  As the evening moved along, my son suggested that we crash at his place.  We were going to get a motel room.  But this would be the first time that The Man and I would stay with my son.  So we took him up on the offer.  It was an ideal evening.

Later that evening, The Man and I headed to the local pizza joint to pick up some grub.  As he was waiting at the counter, I ambled over to the juke box.  I checked out the tunes, not at all surprised that Shania Twain’s greatest hits CD was in the machine.  I paid my money.  I made my selection. And then I stepped slowly and silently to the far side of the room.


As the music came in, I watched as The Man began to reflexively tap his toe to the rhythm.  Then as he started to recognize the tune, his head turned back and forth a bit like a puzzled pup.  When he fully realized what song was playing, he began to look for me.  When we finally met eyes across the room, he smiled broadly. I waved.

I’m glad we visited the family that month.  I got a magic moment out of it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Onions Are Watching the Kings on Pluto!

Surfing the web to cure my boredom, I came across a site that generates random sentences.  I had to refresh the page about eleven times before I came across something that was somewhat amusing.  And even "The Onions Are Watching the Kings on Pluto!" barely qualifies.

I then surfed on to another site where a random question was posted:  “Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, and find line 4.”  The book?  The Dhammapada.  The line?

        We are what our deep, driving desire is.

What are the chances...? (My fight with fatalism continues).

My deep, driving desire?  I achieved it simply by becoming a father.  Doesn’t sound like much of an impressive goal, does it?  Oh, but it was and is.  What I wanted most in life was to be a dad (I can only imagine that many other guys feel the same). But when I realized long ago that I was gay (in those days when gays and lesbians were not allowed to adopt),  the thought of having children of my own seemed far-fetched.

So some may laugh and say, “You can’t build a life on being a father.”  Well, maybe.  It’s a lot of fun to try.  I know enough not to crowd my adult son.  I mostly leave him be and let him initiate contact.  I’ll call if I haven’t heard from him in a week or so.  But the best way to get his attention?  Random texts.  For example: 

I knew he was excited about seeing an upcoming film.  I was at the gym and saw an ad for the movie on the TV.  I sent him a two-word text. 
He sent back:
“LOL.  Ur weird, Dad.”

Yesterday, apropos of nothing, I sent:
This morning I got: 
“You rock :-P”
To which I replied,
“I’m lining ‘em up like ass cracks.”
He just came back with
“Ur bizarre, LOL.  Good morning, Dad.”
Surprisingly, in the midst of all this mature modeling that I provide, he’s turned into quite a responsible adult.  In the future, I hope Random-Gramps doesn’t scare his children.

(but I'm not the only one who does it...)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Promise of Nothing, or “Me vs. My Plum Tree”

About six weeks ago, I took the following photo of the plum tree in our backyard:

As you can see, the small tree was crazy with tiny flowers.  In the weeks to come, I expected that at least a couple of plums would form and reach a light-green shade before the birds or the squirrels took them.  But yesterday when I was mowing, I checked the progress:  after all those blossoms, nothing. 

I wasn’t aggravated.  Outside of the jelly made from the fruit, I’m not much of a plum fan anyway.  But still… 

I’d predicted the outcome when I initially took the photo and remarked to friends that the tree was just showing off and trying to fool me.  Yesterday, I sighed when I saw the tree bare of fruit.  Then inexplicably, I imagined a conversation between me and the tree:

Me:  You did it to me again.
Tree:  I’m not sure why you are bothered.  You don’t like my fruit anyhow.
Me:  I might eat one if you’d just produce
Tree:  You didn’t plant me, you know.  I was here before you were.
Me:  I understand that.  I wouldn’t have planted a plum tree.  I would have went with a lemon tree
Tree:  No need to be bitter…
Me:  Ha, ha.
Tree:  You do realize that you’re talking to a tree, right?
Me:  Yes.  I’m tree-lingual.
Tree:  OK, I got in a bad one.  You got in a bad one.  We’re even.
Me:  Yep.  Well, I should get back to mowing.
Tree:  If you want to visit again, you know where I’ll be.
Me:  Sure.
Tree:  Oh, by the way.  My blossoms weren’t a guarantee of fruit.
Me:  Yes, I realize that.
Tree:  You don’t really want plums.  Did you enjoy the flowers?
Me:  Well…yes.  They were quite pretty.
Tree:  Thanks.  I’ll do it again for you next year.

The tree had not promised anything (I’ve been living in the house for six years and have yet to harvest a plum).  My own expectation at the appearance of the blossoms was the root of my disappointment. 

In getting to a deeper meaning, people in our lives offer the best that they have to give.  And in that giving, they may best know what we’ll enjoy most.  And the beauty in that is invaluable.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

...and how was your weekend?

 Here was mine:

240 miles: Saturday morning – Houston, Texas to hometown Natchitoches, Louisiana.

40 miles:  Natchitoches to Kisatchie Bayou Campground, where son, nephew and friends are staying the night.

Son’s car – Flat tire. No spare. No jack. No lug wrench. No air pump.  No joke.

Son’s friend – “Leesville is only about 12 to 15 miles south.”

Me – “Oh, ok.  We’ll just run to the Wal-mart there and get what we need.”  The Man, my son’s fiancée and I jump in my truck.

40 miles later.  Wal-mart.

Leesville, Louisiana.  Picture?  Ok.  Leesville is a small city in east-Jesus, Louisiana.  It is known for its close proximity to army base Fort Polk.  Bible belt meets Military brass.  Imagine the weirdness. 

40 miles back to the camp.  Somewhat quicker.  At least seeming that way from the familiarity of the route.  And furthermore, by a moment of levity. 
Me:  “I hope we are getting close to the turn-off at the ranger station.”
The Man:  “Oh, we are.  I saw that “moderate” sign on the way south.”
Me:  “That ‘what’ sign?”
The Man:  “Moderāte”
Me:  “That’s ‘moderăte’ as in ‘Moderăte Fire Danger.’"  The fiancée and I got a good snicker. 
A bit further down the road.  The fiancée:  “I’m a bit chilly.  Do ya’ll feel that?”  Beat.  “It’s moderătely cold in here.”

Flat tire problem solved.  Hung out for a couple of hours.

40 miles back to Natchitoches.  Watched “Juno” with The Man and the fiancée.  Crashed.

10 miles to my sister’s house.  Hung out for an hour.  Nap.  Hung out for another hour.

2 miles to my father’s house.  Coffee.  Wonderful cake, compliments of my stepmom. Sat outside.  Weather, perfect.

240 miles:  Natchitoches to our front door (where our dogs were mega-excited to see us; our cats were completely apathetic).

Simply adding the miles:  612 miles.
We could have driven to Destin, Florida to some breathtaking beach.  We could have driven to Memphis and listened to some amazing blues.   We could have driven to Wichita to see the The Old Cowtown Museum (a replica of an 1870s Midwestern cattle town, complete with a blacksmith, dance-hall girls and sarsaparilla).

We could have done all of those things.  I would have missed my family.

For the record, from the Pendleton Bridge that passes over Toledo Bend Reservoir at the Texas-Louisiana state line to our front door - 188.7 miles.  This is of no interest to anyone but me, but after this weekend you’ll indulge me.  Please?