An Open Letter to the United States Congress, President, and Vice-President

Dear Members of the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning here in Portland, Oregon.  The sun was shining brightly, there was an anticipation of a gorgeous warmth in the air to cap off what had already been a really stellar weekend.  Though I was up early to go to work, I still felt the sense of optimism and positivity that I greet most of my days with.  It was going to be a good day.

Then, of course, I did what any modern American today does – I checked my phone.  I opened up Facebook, and before I could even swallow my first swig of coffee, I was gut-punched by the news coming out of Orlando, Florida.  Overnight, while I slept soundly and safely in the house I share with my long-term partner and boyfriend, twenty, no thirty, no fifty gay people, mostly men, and mostly younger than I am, were mowed down in a night club in an act of bloodthirsty homophobic hate.

Once again, I found myself clicking through news stories, reading status updates of shock, of grief, of dismay.  It was the same when the AME Church in Charleston was ravaged by hate.  The same when Umpqua Community College in my own state was the killing ground.  San Bernadino, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine…  On and on, and back it goes, back as far as I remember.  Blood and hate and violence when a person with an axe to grind gets their hands upon fully-legal-to-have assault weapons.

Today, after a day full of grief and sadness, where I attended vigils among my GLBT community, while I fought back the tears all day just to get through my day at work – a bus operator here in Portland, and not a space where I can safely be my out-and-proud self – and while my boyfriend and I exchanged words of sadness, rage, and grief, I’m now, once again, reading the headlines in the news.  Of course, like clockwork, it’s full of prayers and thoughts, “it’s not the gun’s fault,” and “it’s a mental health issue” arguments streaming across every news source and place that, just yesterday, mapped out the pain and agony of a ruthless and bloody scene in Orlando.

Today, I’m writing to you, not just as a citizen of Portland, Oregon, but as an active, political, vocal, proud American who has simply had enough with the bloodshed.  I’m tired of thoughts and prayers.  I’m tired of your inaction and inability to shoulder the burden of guilt that rests with you and your defiance with regards to enacting tough, bold gun reform laws.  I refuse to be quiet any longer, and I refuse to be placated with platitudes – “thoughts and prayers,” as you are so quick to call them.

I need you – we need you – to stop the shenanigans.  We, us – the American People – need you to do your job, step up to the plate, take responsibility for what you have not done, and move forward with sensible gun laws.  We need more than your words.  We demand your deeds.  Action.

Don’t you dare quote the Second Amendment to me either.  I know the “well regulated militia” part as well as the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” part.

Change this law.  Change the direction of this country.

Or, face the real possibility that this issue will run you out of office.  It’s not just the Right with their Tea Party who can make real change happen.  Us over here on the left, out here grieving the loss of so many people, GLBT, People of Color, and the others that are not represented well among your halls of Congress, demand this of you.  We’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough.

Please.  Be a human and have some integrity.  Stop taking money and advice from the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby.  Notice the blood on your hands.

Your Fellow American,

Thomas W. Palmer

 

long, open road ahead

Dear Fellow Berners,

I get it.

You’re angry.  You are grasping at anything that might justify the possibility of our candidate winning the nomination from the Democratic Party.  You might be holding tightly onto steep math, or even onto some sort of chaos befalling Hillary Clinton and her campaign.  You are sourcing any and every article you can find that echoes how you’re feeling and posting it all over any social medium you can find.  You and your like-minded people are raging against the machine that you swear up and down has been rigged against us from the start (and maybe it has – my jury is still out on that front).  You’re expending so many keystrokes to cut down, to insult, and to scream at anyone you might know who is expressing any sort of support for HRC.

My real question to you is this:  Are there better ways you could be expending your energy and passion rather than all that rage?

Believe me, I’m not going to belittle that rage.  Living on the edge, or even over the edge, for so damn long has left me feeling jaded, angry, and lost too.  Credit card balances way too high, one check away from being swamped, dreading that rent increase notice, all the while attempting to pay down an education that I was promised would bring me economic stability and a rung up on that damned ladder (and I’m a white guy – I can’t even begin to speak for anyone of color or of another gender identity)…I get it, as far as I can.

I have had the opportunity to live abroad, and have experienced a world where a National Healthcare System existed, under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I got to experience life where the election process involved so many parties, so many different voices, all racing to be first past the pole in order to win, which was both raucous and definitely a challenge to wrangle, but also allowed for so many different voices and options in terms of governance and legislating.  I know we can do better here in America than we already do, especially in terms of governance.  Nearly daily, we all read articles of the things that the new government to the north, under Justin Trudeau, is undertaking, and find ourselves lamenting that we should have something similar here.  Governments all over the world provide healthcare as a human right, provide economic safety nets that really do help to buffer against all of the economic instability out there, and treat their citizens with dignity and a sense of human decency without explicitly needing to call out to all of the various protected classes that we still have to both write into protection laws, and have yet to write into protection laws.  For them, a human is a human in whatever form/shape/color that person exists.  To most of us, HRC represents all that keeps us from having that kind of forward-thinking government to support our lives in a variety of ways.

That, however, is the place where I think we as Bernie supporters need to start pivoting.  If we want to drive our country forward, to join the ranks of other countries that are light-years ahead of us in terms of social stability and human dignity, then we need to coalesce into something beyond the Bernie campaign.  For months, he called for a political revolution, for actual action that demands more than just rants and cross-posts on Facebook.  We need to hit streets, write letters, show up, actually shout using our real voices.  We need to find the way to enact the actual revolution and make ourselves a voting bloc that demands to be heard and considered.

Much like the right has its Tea Party, we can be that demanding of our political representation.  If a member of Congress isn’t pushing hard enough to the left, or is compromising on what we value as those who agreed to Bernie’s campaign platform, and all of its various planks, then we should be able to threaten those representatives with being primaried out of office.  I think, truly, we can do something like this, something powerful that will require the DNC to pay attention.  I think we can do it without the ugliness that the Tea Party has wrapped itself in, though, and provide a voice of reason and liberalness that includes all of us who demand something greater than what we’ve got.  I do think, though, that in order to to that place, we need to do a much better job of organizing, of showing up at *every damn election,* and challenging our politicians at every level, from local school boards and city councils to state and county boards and houses of government, and on up to the federal level.  For years, we’ve been labeled as grassroots, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for our roots to get a little bigger, a little more resilient, and start reaching a bit higher than just grass-height.

If we can put our collective lighting in a jar, I think we really can make a wave of change that would benefit the entire country and bring us truly into the 21st century.

A Lifting Fog

For months now, probably since my knee blew out in early February, I’ve been living in a state of pause.  I stopped going to the gym.  I stopped chasing health goals all around, and found myself looking at my list of things to do and achieve, and simply turning away from them.  Each one of these goals felt insurmountable, unattainable, and requiring way too much focus and effort than I could muster.  I don’t think I realized just how depressed and sanguine I’d become as I spent the month on the couch nursing my injury.

Summer has come, and I’m not any closer to reaching those goals – fitness, fiscal liberation, and the like – but something has snapped and broken inside me, for the better.

Earlier this week, I got news from a dear friend about a situation that has set him back on his heels in terms of his own life-trajectory.  He’s facing a steep challenge over the next few months, possibly years, and while he reached out to me for support, I felt myself reverting into Oldest Sibling mode, planning and scheming and laying out a framework for how to help him move forward.  I listened with intent to how he was feeling, and will continue to do so as he moves forward, but what this has done for me personally has been the gear-shift I’ve been needing.

I found myself able to sit down and go further with a chapter and section of my memoir that has been a huge challenge to face and come to terms with.  I found a pathway forward in my own health journey that, for the first time in a long time, felt deeply close to my heart and something that I could claim as my own, rather than buying into someone else’s system, and ending up poorer and just as out of shape as when I started.  I am seeing myself for what I am, right now, but I’m also once again visualizing where I want to be in a year’s time, when I turn 40, and what kinds of things I can do on a daily and consistent basis that will bring me to that place.  That lamp in the dark, the thing that I am making my way towards, became clear, as though a thick bank of fog finally lifted and blew away.

This has been a good week.

It’s good to be back in my skin again, rather than feeling like an object in orbit around this lump of flesh that seemed to exist without purpose.  I’m looking forward to see where this new-found drive takes me.  Right now, though, I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet Thursday morning.

It should be noted that through all of this, Ray has been a steady rock.  I’ve been able to lament to him about my stasis, and time after time, he reminded me that it’s okay to pause, to stop obsessing, to stop beating myself up for needing a break in all that I’ve got going on.  We took off on a camping trip to Walla Walla, Washington, and even then, while I was dealing with a cold and full of snot and ick, he remained constant and life-affirming, all while I was feeling so dejected for seemingly ruining our trip.  I am reminded daily just how lucky I am to have him in my life.

 

February Was

Last month was a slog.  I didn’t really post much here, or anywhere, that was of any consequence.  For the most part, I was sequestered to sitting down, to remaining still, as my knee was dealt with in due time.  The stir-craze was real, and my thoughts were racing.  As you all know, I tend to deal with my feelings and thoughts through movement, and since that was impeded by my aging and breakable body, it was really hard to get a focus on what I was supposed to be doing.

I did, however, get to spend a great deal of time writing.  Specifically, I got to bust through a few more chapters on this sixth rewrite of my memoir.  My writing group, a fantastic bunch of gals here in Portland, have been super helpful in getting my motivation back to where it should be, and through their cheerleading, I feel like this book has taken on a new and renewed life.  It’s cutting deeper than I’ve ever been brave enough to let it, and I’m getting down the words that I’ve struggled to write for almost two decades.  It’s been good.  I can’t wait to share more about that here, to be honest.

Since the surgery – a mere two weeks ago – I’ve been absolutely astounded by the recovery that has occurred.  Honestly, I thought I’d be lamed up for quite some time, but not two days after the cuts and bandages, I was up and walking around without the use of my crutches or any of the mega-strong pain pills that the doctor prescribed me.  In the past two weeks, I’ve managed to go on some decent walks, get back to the gym (THANK ALL THAT IS HOLY FOR THAT MIRACLE), and actually go out on a short hike with Ray to a part of Oregon we’ve never visited before.  I was still able to take the jeep out for drives while my knee wasn’t up to par, so I was able to get out, technically, but to feel the movement of the ground beneath my feet, the crunch of gravel, or the contours of terra firma beneath the pads of my feet meant the world to me.

I remember back to a strange and lovely poetry/literature class I took in my undergrad, where the professor took us outdoors and had us just walk around in a mindful manner.  Feeling and experience each step on the soft grass of the land surrounding the old brick English department meant slowing down, taking one’s time, and tracing the energy threads and movement of the ground beneath our feet and up through our legs.  It was a lesson in slowing down and noticing details, and for me, that’s what hiking and walking and any other movement of my body has become.  To have that faculty back, to be able to walk again and feel every step, has meant a return to some sort of balance for me.  I’m not feeling broken or trapped, lost or misplaced.  My anxiety about all things has subsided a bit, and the fresh air has been so damn good for me, especially on the rare spring days up here where the sun shines.

February was also a good month for Ray and I to sit and talk about what we actually want to be doing over the next few years.  For his part, he’s decided to make some real steps towards life beyond serving tables.  For my part, I’ve realized that my skills and resume need a brush-up.  I’ve taken a few steps towards getting back into the classroom as a student, and as of just a few days ago, my FAFSA was approved and I’m looking at taking classes at my local community college, with an eye towards learning Computer Information Systems, possibly a degree in Computer Science.  Being adept on the computer, and not just as a user of the technology, has always been a curiosity of mine, and I’d like to see what I can do with that going forward.  Having done a little research online for the kind of pay and positions that exist – especially in the rural areas where we might end up living – I’ve learned that I can make it a thing.  I can make a decent salary while taking onboard the rural life that Ray and I want for ourselves.  What that means, though, is I need to build a bridge from here to there, and that means more education.  It means shaking up my brain a bit, and challenging myself.

First up will be a revisit to math.  I squeaked by in my college math course, but it’s been two decades since I’ve actively sat and did mathematics as homework or to study for an exam.  Beyond that, my first semester would be exploratory.  I kind of know what I want to study, but I don’t know if I’ve got the aptitude to really dive into it the way I should.  I don’t really know where to begin, so I’m hoping that, with an academic advisor’s guidance along with a network of friends who are already in the field I’m considering, that I can figure it out.

Now that March is here, I’m ready for adventure.  I went to the gym last night and was happy to experience a pain-free workout, even with a teeny-tiny bit of running on the treadmill.  My weight and size remain an issue for me, but now that I can get back at the program I was on (and seeing some real results), I plan to stick to it and see where it takes me.  We’re taking off to Seattle, WA next week for a little mini-vacation, and plans are already in play for major summer travels.  Victoria Island, BC is one destination.  I still need to make my way back east, back to see my family.  I do have a week-long vacation coming up around the end of May, and I still only work three days a week, so there are almost limitless possibilities.  Ray is as adventurous as ever, and now that he’s finally looking forward in his own life, the conversations between us while we are out and about have become quite deep and meaningful.  It’s as if our relationship has grown up too, and that, to me, is really exciting and energizing.  I can’t wait to see where we go over the next year or so.

Spring Renewal

Spring is definitely in the air out here in Portland, Oregon, and as is usual, this time of year has spurned a lot of changes and transformations outside and inside.  While I’m still trying to keep up with everything in my own head, I thought it would be a good idea to write some of it down.

I’ve had most of the month of February off, but not intentionally.

On February 1, I decided to lace up and go out for a run.  I’d been feeling a bit panicked, a bit anxious about the fact that the scale hadn’t shifted for me in a while, even while my measurements were going in the right direction otherwise – muscle growth, reduced waistline happening (slowly – but happening).  The sun was bright and the air was cool and damp.  It was a perfect day for a jog.  I set off with a basic idea of where I wanted to go, but because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make a loop or just a straight line to a distant point and need the bus or light rail home, I stuck my bus pass in my pocket alongside my phone.

I stretched for a bit, and then took intentional time warming up with a little bit of brisk walking.  I wanted to activate all of the things needed inside.  My feet felt good, and as my breathing went up, I could feel that drive to move faster building, as it always does.  Soon I was doing a slow lope, kind of a fat-man-running movement that lives just above a walk, but not a full on jog, and about two or three steps beneath a full-out dash.  I am, after all, just getting back into the saddle of putting pavement under my feet again, and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I made a right turn, and proceeded up a street I hadn’t gone running on before.  I love taking side streets that I’ve not been on because it keeps my interest piqued – and keeps me from focusing too much on the pace of my breath or my body’s natural tendency to want to stop.  Up the street, there was a piece of sidewalk that was closed off to foot traffic – a very, very common occurrence here with all of the new construction and rebuilding that our housing market is fueling.  So, like I good pedestrian, I crossed the street, ran up the half of a block or so past the construction, and then went back to my side of the road.  As I hopped back up onto the curb and sidewalk, I also pivoted left.  In that moment, in that act of taking a step and then attempting to turn on the ball of my foot – something we all do unconsciously when we walk – a huge pop sounded off in my knee, followed by a flush of raw agony that spread down to my foot and up my thigh.  Immediately, I stopped, almost falling over.  “Shit!” was my first word.

I could bear a little weight on it, but something was really, really wrong.  I started to panic and called Ray, but I knew he was busy picking up our roommate from the airport.  I remembered my bus pass, thankful that I’d stuck that little jewel in my pocket, and set off towards the nearest bus stop.  About a half-hour later, I was home, on the couch, leg elevated along with my heartbeat and anxiety level, so damn mad at myself.

That started off the medical journey that culminated in yesterday’s arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of torn cartilage in my knee – a corner of the medial meniscus – three weeks after the injury occurred.

In the down-time between the injury and the surgery, I’ve been plagued with frustration, a heightened sense of anxiety, shame, and rage all surrounding the way my body looks and how I still feel like such a blob in my own skin.  I had more than one moment with Ray, crying, admitting how mad I was at myself for pushing myself too hard because I’m so angry at getting so out of shape since he’s come into my life.  I’m mad at getting old.  I’m mad at my wrinkles, baldness, and waistline.  He, being the angel that he is, has more than once reminded me that he’s not with me just because of my looks, and while he still finds me exceedingly handsome, he knows that beneath this messy outside, I am a decent man within.  Him telling me this directly, and holding me close, really has done a number to soothe my nerves.

His support has also led me to using my downtime pretty effectively with regards to my writing.  I have been able to work my way through a redraft of about four chapters of my memoir.  This time around, it’s really up-close-and-personal, first-person, blow-by-blow.  My writing groupies have praised this massive turn around in my words, and I’ve even sent off a couple of query letters to possible agents regarding their interest in my story.  I haven’t felt this confident about any of my writing in a long time.  The words now are coming from an authentic, unhidden place.  I roar onto the page in very detailed and intimate flashbacks coming straight from my point of view.  The act of putting the reader right there, in that moment of time, has such power, and is *exactly* what I wanted to produce for a story.

Now that the surgery on my knee is over and I’m feeling like I can get back on both feet again, things will resume their normal course of events.  At least for a little while.

Ray and I have been also discussing the shifts in his life, especially with regards to his future job plans, and what that means in terms of our living situation.  Later this year, in July, he’s going to be taking his Level 1 Master Sommelier exam up in Victoria, BC.  It’s the kind of test and certification that will bump up his resume, especially as he also starts to transition away from table-side serving of food and wine as he currently does, and moves into tasting room/vineyard work out in wine country.  The Oregon wine industry is growing in leaps and bounds these days, and will continue to do so as the climate shifts and wine production done in central and southern California has to divest of cooler-climate grapes – grapes that will do extraordinarily well up here.  Ray wants in on it, as it is a huge passion of his.  He’s also working to incorporate his skills in design, with an eye to work on label and marketing material for vineyards throughout the Willamette region and around the Pacific Northwest.

All of this, for us as a couple, translates into moments of transition, possibly out of Portland, Oregon.  We both have dreamed about having our little spot somewhere, where we could raise a garden, chickens, and have a dog or two.  Right now, in the current state of Portland proper, those kinds of things are way out of our reach.  The average home price here is up in the $300k range, and rentals on single-bedroom spots (most without any outdoor access or pet options) is over $1500 for anything comfortable.   Given our love for the outdoors and access to the stars and trails and mountains and ocean, we are keeping our eyes out for spaces that would accommodate us both better without being too much of a burden on our wallets.  This year will see us both focusing on getting our credit card debts down, getting our finances in further order, and figuring out our next move forward, as a couple.

The fact that I have him in my life, to share in his exploration of self, watching as he comes into his adult form, is amazing.  I saw great potential in him when we first met, but now, two years in, it’s clear that we’re sliding into a far greater, stronger place as a couple.  His friends have started ribbing him about marriage, and it’s adorable to see him squirm about it a little.  I’m not driving that conversation at all, and have told him it’s all in his court – I’ve been there and done that and I know that if we do get married, it’s going to be unlike anything either of us has ever experience.  He’s making grown-up decisions about his career, and is deliberately seeking a balance between making the money to pay the bills and having a life that brings him joy daily, where he doesn’t always feel like he’s just feeding into a machine, but taking an active role in growing and shaping in cooperation with a team of like-minded people.

So, yeah.  2016 has started with a lot of shake-down, a lot of shifting away from the old and transitioning into the new.  While I loathe that I’m older and can’t beat up on my body like I always have, I know that this month to reflect and change gears has done me a lot of good.  Ray has also had to shake off some of his own doubts and fears and is making some earnest moves towards the life he envisions for himself.  The daffodils are blooming.  The crabapple trees are too.  Spring’s renewal is a welcome thing this time around.

Two Years

We have marked two years together as a couple, capped off by our most recent trip.  We met up in Phoenix, Arizona, where Raymond took me around to the places he grew up, and showed me the geography that shaped his childhood and younger years.

For weeks leading up to the trip, it was clear that he was going through some sort of transformation.  Ray got quiet, was doing a lot of hibernation and introspection, and like a turtle, he retreated into his shell, waiting for the clouds to pass and the way to be clear.  While I don’t know the exact measure and cadence of his thoughts in those weeks leading up to the trip back home, I could tell that he was in deliberation.

Two years is the longest relationship he’s ever been committed to.  Two years, while just a number, was of massive significance to him.

I met his mother.  I got to see the dead mining town where he grew up.  I got to spend some time in the little house, with the muddy yard and all of the animals, that shaped the Raymond that I’ve grown to love and adore.  I saw the skies overhead.  As the miles swept under us and out around us across the vastness of the desert, I found myself wondering what it was like to be eight or ten or twelve years old and having this be the only world you’ve ever known.  What did it mean to not have trees, apart from a few aged cottonwoods, to frame your view of nature?  What was summer like without running water, without a break from the heat?  How many billions of stars twinkled overhead in the deep blackness of unhindered space, and which one was the first that he saw and counted?

His childhood was so different than mine, if only by the way the landscape altered our imaginations.  Still, there are space where we overlap.  We both have a shared awe with the natural world around us.  We both can appreciate both being in the middle of an urban center and the madness that we escape the moment we get beyond the urban boundaries.  We both know how to find Polaris in the night sky.  We both close our eyes and inhale deeply when the ground is freshly dampened by a rain.  We both know how to let go and be honest with ourselves and with each other, holding honest conversations in the strangest of places.  We reach out instinctively for the other’s hand to squeeze when words can’t explain the feelings, or simply fall short.

Two years into this, and I love him even more.  Two years, and he’s coming back out of his shell.

“We’ve both put on a little weight together, and that’s not a bad thing, Thomas.  We’re just happy.  Stop being so worried about it all the time.”

He is right.  We are happy.

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Grief

This is a direct copy-paste from my off-line journal.  It’s fractious and broken.  I offer no apologies for this fact.

___

I got a Facebook message from my brother’s wife, Charlotte.  She let me know that my grandmother Palmer had been moved to hospice care.  I knew just what that meant.  “Hospice” is a nice, padded, sanitary way to say that someone is dying and medical care is at its limit.  “Hospice” is where hope has gone to die, life is fading away like the last flames off a bed of white-hot coals.  “Hospice” was the word that punched me in the gut, caused the clench in my jaw, and I fired off a message to Raymond.

I came home to find Raymond on his laptop.  The airfare website he loves use was up in front of him on the screen.

“I found this,” he said, showing me a flight package.

Flying around the holidays is usually accompanied by Black Out dates on airlines.  This means you can’t use your rewards points, and you need to pay a premium – something that is in direct relation to the volume of people trying to access and take those flights.

Raymond had found a deal in a field of horrifically high numbers.  $400, round trip, from Portland, OR to Boston, MA.  I had told him that getting to Maine from Boston was not an issue – I’ve navigated those roads many, many times before.  The trick with the flight was the dates.  I was to land on a Tuesday, make my way to Maine, and see my grandmother for such a short period of time.  I also wanted to talk to my dad and my aunt, and my mother.  I then had to be up early on that following day, Wednesday, and make my way back to Boston for a 1p flight back to Portland, OR via Atlanta, GA.  In less than forty-eight hours, I needed to fling myself across the lower-forty-eight, and find a way to tell my dying grandmother just how much she means to me, just how influential she’s been in my life, and how much I wish her a sweet, peaceful crossing into the life beyond this one.

Less than forty-eight.

We booked the flight.  Anything else that would have given me more time would have costed double, if not triple.  Fuck you, Christmas.

The flight was at 11p that night.  I told Raymond to book it, and took a deep breath, feeling the rush of suddenly needing to pack and pull myself together wash over me.  It was an adrenaline rush. I’d spent the better part of that day in a state of excitement over the purchase of a new-to-me vehicle.  I’d finally bought the jeep I’ve always wanted, finally crossed a massive adulthood bridge.  I wanted to celebrate.  I wanted to mark the occasion.  Instead, I was trying to figure out how cold it was going to be in Maine in December.  I couldn’t decide, so I packed too much, in a huff and hurry.

Raymond grabbed my hand and helped me keep my cool.  We relaxed for a bit, napped, cuddled.  He held me while my mind raced.  Eventually, though, the clock struck that time, and we needed to get to the airport.  I had an overnight flight that had one plane change in Detroit, MI.  I knew I wasn’t going to sleep, but I assured Ray that I’d try.

I stood in the security line at Portland Airport and realized in full-detail that these lines were how the bad guys won.  I had so much anxiety about what was to greet me on the other end of the flight that to stand in security for thirty minutes, among a throng of holiday travelers who, like me, chose the overnight option as a means of saving money at the expense of sleep and/or sanity, was a herculean effort.

Eventually, I made it to the gate, to the plane, and into my middle-seat at the back of the plane.  I hate the middle seat.

I tried to sleep on the way to Detroit.  The turbulence wasn’t too awful, and the plane was mostly full of adults – no screaming children who hadn’t figured out how to pop their ears at altitude.  I listened to podcasts, music, attempted to play some video games – but what I was really doing was distracting my mind.  I didn’t want to think about death.  I didn’t want to feel grim.  Who wants that?

The plane landed in Detroit.  I took a deep breath and made my way into the terminal.  I flicked over the switch on my phone from airplane mode to normal mode, wanting to check in on social media to alert those that needed to know where I was.  A voicemail came through.

It was my father in what I can only describe as the grimmest voice I’ve ever heard him make.

“Your grandmother passed away around 5:30 this morning.  She doesn’t want a service, so you don’t really need to make the trip back here, if you don’t want to, or cant.”

I texted my friend Andy who works overnights and would be awake.

“She died.  I’m in Detroit and didn’t make it in time.”

I kept my composure, and boarded my next plane.  It was nearly empty, and boarding was quick.  In my row, all by myself, I stared out the window and felt the tremor of a wail surge through my body.  My grandmother Palmer was dead.  I could feel the tears.  I could sense the tremble in my lips.  I called Raymond, woke him up from a deep sleep, and told him.

I shut down my phone and wiped my eyes.  I didn’t want the airline people to see me upset.  I didn’t want to get ejected from the plane.  The bad guys win because we can’t be emotional on airplanes.  I had to keep it together.

I landed back in Boston, back in what used to be my hometown.  I went into complete autopilot for the rest of the journey.  I’d done it so many times before.  Concord Trailways from Logan Airport to the Portland (Maine) Transportation Center.  $29, one way.  Booked and boarded.  I found my seat, made myself as comfortable as possible, and drifted in and out of sleep.  I felt defeated.

My mother and her husband picked me up once I got to Portland.  I remained awake, like some automaton, keeping my voice level, keeping my spirits level.  I wasn’t here for me.  I was here for them, to be supportive, to show them that I can be an adult and be a part of the family at a time of need.

I got to my grandmother’s house.  My father was there.  My aunt was there.  My brother was there.  My mom and dad hugged.  My mom and aunt hugged.  I hugged.  When asked how I was doing, I only replied “fine,” just like my grandmother would have done.  Nobody needed to know just how lost and upset I was on the inside.  I needed to shove that aside and be the good oldest member of my generation.  I had responsibilities.  I had to show strength.

I visited with my dad and aunt and brother.  I recommitted to making more journeys home to see them.  I stayed over with my mom and her husband and their loving dog.  When asked how I was doing, I simply replied, “okay.”  I needed to be strong, be stalwart.

This is how the bad guys win.  We aren’t allowed to be emotional.  It’s a sign of weakness.

___

I’ve carried this grief with me for nearly a week now.  It’ll be a week as of tomorrow.  I’m tired of keeping up the good face.  The fact is, it’s coming out of me, through the cracks.  I’m sad.  I’m really sad.  My grandmother, a pillar of my life, has passed away.

I wish I could have stayed in Maine for a bit longer.  I needed to sit in that house, among her things, for a little while longer.  I wish I could have said my goodbyes on that soil, standing on that ground.

___

I loved you so much, Grammie.  I hope you know this.  I hope you knew this as you drew your last breath.  You made my life livable, and gave me shelter and support in the darkest parts.  You were a voice of reason and gravity when I needed it most.  You were an adventure buddy.  You were a champion of peace and calm.  You were a solid rock in our family.  I will not forget you, nor will I ever stop trying to make you proud.  I loved you.  I still love you.