And just like that, I turned 40.  Just like that, as gentle as the moment a leaf decides to drop from the tree that’s been holding onto it since the bud break of spring, I advanced another year in my life, to a new cycle around the sun, and to a new decade of my time on this planet.

The moments leading up to this fat number, one with a trailing zero, have been fraught with worry and concern about meeting goals I had set for myself.  Let me rephrase that – arbitrary goals that I’d set for myself based on external expectations I’d gotten for what “being 40” really meant.  Turns out, most of those benchmarks, those tic boxes, were horse shit.  It also turns out that, in fact, I hadn’t really considered all that turning forty might even mean.

Ray also has had a recent birthday, on September 24th, which I have to keep writing down in order to emblazon it into my memory.  It’s a strange block of thought that I can’t keep that number set in my mind, but I think, maybe, I’ve finally nailed it.  Maybe.  No promises.  In any regard, I took him on an adventure a couple of weekends ago that celebrated our birthdays at once.  It was a massive five-day excursion into the east, where we ended up at the Gorge Amphitheater to see Above & Beyond, a DJ group that we both thoroughly enjoy.  It also included a couple of overnights in spots along the way, including a wonderful AirBnB rental at a ranch on a mountain in Ellensburg, Washington – a town we’ve both grown fond of for it’s location and geography.  On the road east, we also stopped to enjoy a bit of wine tasting, and took plenty of photos along the way.  The jeep was definitely up to the task, thankfully, as I’ve had the clutch replaced along with a fresh oil change and differential service done on it.  We were able to enjoy taking the top down for most of the journey, and Ray really got to relax in the passenger seat – something he desperately needed after weeks of being on the run between his new job at the vineyard and the wine bar job and home.  The poor guy was way overdue for some time off, and it was my utter pleasure to bring that to him.

It was there, at that show, after a few glasses of wine, and taking in yet another gorgeous sunset among the other show-goers, that I had a bit of an epiphany.  It’s a bit crude, but truly apt:  Fuck it.

I mean it.  Fuck it.

I have spent most of my life worried about the thoughts and concerns of others, either as the sift out their own lives, or make judgements about the way I live mine.  I have let these pressures from the outside effect how I feel about myself on the inside.  I have allowed myself to push my body to extremes in order to fit in with the “it” people.  I’ve used self-loathing to direct my decisions and posture and presence among any and everyone I come into contact with.  I’ve kept my life compartmentalized in such a way as to limit exposure and vulnerability.  I have also always kept the concerns and worries and judgments of others in the foreground as I struggle to draft the story of my life, as though my single and solitary thoughts on any experience shared with any of them was something invalid or less-than.

There are so many moments where my own fear of rejection, especially when my acceptance has been built upon a fragile definition of self –  one that has invoked chameleon-like powers in order to hide and blend – has gotten in the way of me being authentic, and thus unable to make a deeper connection to another.  I regret these moments.  I regret the ease of shape-shifting for others.  I regret how easy it is to cast off these connections now, as they were never built on anything lasting.  Add in the frivolity of social media and the loose definition of “Friendship” these days, and, well, I’m left with a few key connections but only just.  I know hundreds of people, but I can still count on one hand those who I would consider close.  I regret that.

 

Now, though, as I have sauntered over the threshold of a new decade, I have embraced a new mantra.  Rather than change and become something else, instead, I find myself looking in the mirror and saying, “Fuck it.”

Fuck it.  Fuck what they think.  Fuck what they said.  Fuck what those horrible voices in my head keep chiding me for.  Fuck them for dismissing me, for not bothering, for disrespecting me. Fuck it.  I have better things, brighter things, more enriching paths to wander and explore.  I have given my heart to a man who, continuously, exposes me to the true nature of love and vulnerability and emotional connection.  I have my vehicle, something obnoxious and totally unnecessary, but which carries me out and away from the urbanity that strives to stifle and choke me.  Now, I also have a dog.

Fuck it.  I own a dog.

Rather, we own a dog.  His name is Steinbeck, though he doesn’t really know it yet.  He’s a massive Labrador-mix (we think possibly Dane or Mastiff), with an exceptionally patient soul.  He is a bit stubborn, excitable around small furry critters (including our cat, of course), but generally tries to do a good job.  He takes to his crate with little fuss, and only whines a little when we leave him alone.  He’s really thin, coming in at 70 pounds but with ribs and hips popping out all over the place.  He’s got a bit of a cough we are watching, as well, but that I think he’ll pull through without much concern.  He’s goofy and constantly giving me that “don’t leave me” look as a shelter dog learns to do.  As a second-chance rescue from Oklahoma, he’s been in shelters for a while, and then in a plane, and then under the knife for a vasectomy, and now adopted and re-homed all over the last month.  The fact he’s not more neurotic by all of this is a testament to his angelic nature.  I’m gushing over my dog, and while I want to care, I don’t.  He’s my first dog since I was a kid, and right now, he’s totally stolen my heart. So, I’ll gush a bit more.

Raymond, though all of this transition with me, has proven even more just how wonderful of a man he is.  He is overwhelmed by the dog, to be honest, because, well, he’s overwhelmed by a lot right now.  He’s not sure he can sufficiently take care of another beast, even though he’s not alone in the care of the critters.  We left the house last night, off to visit with a former coworker of his, and all day long, he was fretting about Steinbeck and his crate and would he whine and worry while we were gone.  Would he just howl and bark and be obnoxious to our neighbors?  Would he hurt himself?  Well, we did a little test, kind of unexpectedly.  Ray was in the bedroom laying down with the cat, and I decided to take off and get more dog food and stuff for Steinbeck to have while we were out of the house at work.  It wasn’t a big deal, the dog was resting in his crate peacefully, door closed.  Well, apparently, as soon as I left, he barked.

“Tell me when he settles down and don’t go check on him,” I texted to Ray.  We needed to see how he’d behave.  It was a good test run.

“Ok,” Ray replied, though I knew it was killing him to hear this huge dog whining away just one room away.

Five minutes later, I get the text I was hoping for: “He’s quieted down already.”

The dog, a total stranger in a total stranger’s home, in a crate he’s never been in before, wasn’t carrying on like you’d expect a dog to do.  He’d bonded with me only because I’d fed and walked him a few times – and hugged him for probably his first time in a long time.  His worry about my departure was expected.  His recovery time from my departure was not.  Just that fact, that he was able to calm himself down and settle in while we were “not home” gave us both a huge sigh of relief.  Still, it’s a damned miracle.

___

I have a lot more bridges to cross over during this next decade of my life.  I am still on a fitness streak, but it’s not for anyone but myself.  I’m still dealing with some addictions I need to shake off.  I still have my debts to pay and money to worry about.  I’m still hoping to make progress in my job so that I can provide and even more stable living situation for Ray and our little menagerie of animals.  I’m still hoping to keep learning and growing and settling down more roots here in Oregon.  I’m still working on my commitment to Raymond and helping him achieve the goals he’s set for himself as well.  There’s a lot to accomplish.

Fuck it, though.  I ain’t scared.  I’m excited to see where it all goes!

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