Commitment

The past few weeks have been, well, transitional.  It all started with me going full time at the bus driving gig.  No, actually, it started after I got my first paycheck from having gone full-time at the bus driving gig.  Money, of course, can be the motivation for a great deal of change.

For weeks, we’d been really struggling with the current living situation, especially with having a roommate.  Just little things, like housework, like the sounds of someone else in a space that we have to share, like the expanse of our lives coming up against the walls of our current reality, all started to pile up.  One little thing after another, really.  We’d constantly talked about the kind of life we wanted to have – and the kind of home we’d like to build together – but our finances had always stymied us, not to mention the insanity that is the housing market here in Portland.  We wanted a change, but really saw no way forward in the immediate future.

Then, of course, the money started coming in.

Then, of course, my mind started to ramp up in it’s imaginations.

I have had it in my head that I want to buy a piece of land, preferably with a farmhouse on it.  I wanted a little spot of my very own that I could do with as I please.  I wanted to be a steward to the life upon that soil, and create a space that was a tiny microcosm of what could happen if a person didn’t see the dirt and creatures living on it as only a means for income.  Yeah, pipe dreams like that happen when you’re as much of a dirty hippie as I can be, really.  So, I started looking.  I hit up the land-for-sale websites, scoured the real estate pages, and even found myself daydreaming about a couple of choice spots that might suit me, might suit us.  Before I could make a move though, I needed to see where I stood at the bank.

Well, everything was fine and dandy at the bank, that is, until the question of my student loans was broached.  Turns out, of course, that my investment in my education – all $157,000 of it – was a detriment to my ability to afford a home.  And, of course, this wouldn’t have been a factor had I been seeking to purchase something before the crash of 2008.  Back then, it was assumed that I’d managed my student loans through the proper channels, placing my housing costs at the top of the pile of bills, which is the only way I’ve ever dealt with my student loans, to be honest, but because so many people got into homes and neglected to also consider how to manage their student loan debt in the process, it all came tumbling down and left the banks on the hook for mortgages that had gone belly-up.  So, in the end, student loan debt is now a factor in qualifying for a home loan, and because of my debt load, and the income I’m making, I’m not qualified.  Not yet, at least.

Still, Ray and I wanted a new spot, so gears shifted, and wheels turned even more.

I started looking at the rentals in our town, and had to take about a week or so to deal with the sticker shock.  $1500/month for something akin to a run-down box was not unheard of.  Or, that kind of money came with a ton of caveats.  I knew Ray and I were really interested in finding a pet, so finding a space that allowed for pets was on the top of the list.  If we can’t have land and a small farm, the least we could get was a dog and/or cat, right?  Page after page after page of listings that offered such things as “easy access to public transport” but no actual parking for our vehicles, or “cats only/no dogs,” or “You’re asking me to pay $2000/mo for what???” kept being my experience.  It was frustrating, to put it mildly.

Also, it should be noted, that I really struggled with the idea of accepting that any space we were going to get was at a price that displaced someone else.  Especially knowing that that same space five years ago was much more affordable.

Still, I kept looking, and eventually, I found something that was doable.

$1245/mo, one bedroom, established community (not a new construction), a good deal of room in the unit, and very pet friendly.  It was also only about a mile away from where we currently live, so not much change with regards to commute time or access to the stores and places we’ve become accustomed to.

Ray and I went and looked at the place, and that day, made the move.  We put down a small deposit to hold the space, and just like that, we’ve begun the process of moving into our own apartment.  Just like that, our relationship has taken a leap forward, and now, as I’m typing this, I’m about a week out from getting the keys and starting the actual process of resettling.

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I’m not going to lie – I’m nervous as hell about all of this.  I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I can actually afford a space like this, at this cost.  Memories of carrying the rent on a spot that Nathaniel and I rented in Boston back in 2009 ($1100/mo, in the North End), have been flooding back, and the level of anxiety surrounding that much commitment is a reality.  Still, as I constantly check my budget worksheet, all the numbers say, yes, in fact, I can do this.  I can afford the rent, to feed myself, and keep all of my other bills paid up in full, and still stash money away.  I’ve never trusted math (or my ability to do it), but there it is, in black and white, to remind me.

Ray and I have started the process of furniture shopping, getting a feeling for what each other likes and doesn’t like with regards to design.  Some things we agree on, a lot we don’t, so we’ll have to find compromise.  The fact is, Ray already owns a one-bedroom-apartment’s about of stuff, so I won’t be starting from absolute zero.  Still, I want to have a little say-so in what kinds of things we have in our home.  Like the bed.  Like the sofa.  Like the bookshelves.  We’re figuring it out.

We’ve also started the process of finding a pet, and it seems everywhere we look, there’s some gorgeous and lovely creature who would fit really well into our home.  It may be a while yet, as we get settled into our new space and figure out new patterns and rhythms, before we adopt a four-legged friend, but crossing that bridge is also happening.  It’s a lot to take in, really, and I need to keep pinching myself about it, especially given where I was in my life not very long ago at all.

I still remember the feeling of being trapped in an awful back room of a house I didn’t belong in anymore, jobless, penniless, and starving.  I *know* I’m not there anymore, but the idea of all of this newness crashing down around me is still present.  It’ll take time, patience, and trust, but I can get used to this.  I know I can.

In a week’s time, I’ll have a new home, in my name.  I’ll be providing space for us, and not having to rely on Raymond for a roof over my head.  I’ll also be able to give him the fiscal room to get his career moving forward and make the changes necessary to facilitate his own growth and development.  He’s not used to having someone be generous to him like this, and I fully understand and appreciate that about him.  I’m trying to do things that aren’t overt so that he still feels like he’s both contributing equitably to our life, but also doesn’t have to carry the anxiety that comes with monetary commitments.  He’s been held back in his life because of his fiscal obligations, and I want to ease that burden for him in any way I can.  At last, with this new move, I feel like I can start to do that.

Stay tuned for plenty of photos as we make this mighty leap!

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.

 

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.

Grief

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

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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.

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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.

A Little Catch Up

I don’t even know where to begin here.  There’s so much going on these days that it seems hardly possible to keep up with it all.  It has been a bit since I posted, but really I blame my friend Kevin for this.  He was able to crank out a post over at his site, so I thought I ought to do something similar.  Thanks, Kev. 😉

I’ve been quite successful with the non-smoking efforts here.  I had a moment, though, as I transitioned down from Step 1 to Step 2 of the Nicoderm patches, that pretty much underlined in as thick of a marker as you can find why I need to be done and over all of this malarky already.  I turned into a humongous monster towards Ray for about two days, being absolutely snarky, emotional, cranky, and all the rest, while my body adjusted to the new level of nicotine the patches were delivering to me.  I woke up mad for three days straight, and no matter what I did, nothing seemed to make me feel any better.  Well, except distraction, which, thankfully, Ray was able to help me find.  I couldn’t focus on anything for too long, but I could at least let my mind calm down for a minute and let my jaw relax.

It needs to be restated here:  I will never, ever, never go back to smoking again.  This quitting shit is for the birds.  I never, ever, never want to go through this again.

Now that some time has passed, and I’m about one week into my new level of drug delivery, I’ve been able to get on with my days.  Work is work, which is neither here nor there.  We start our Winter runs in a few weeks, and for me, that means I’ll be working a fixed schedule (Fri-Sat-Sun) for the first time in a number of months.  I’ll have “regulars” again, and I’ll have to get used to the quirks and needs of a set amount of people whose schedules align with my route.  It’ll be fine, if not a little boring on some level.  What it also means, though, is that I’m guaranteed set days off for twelve weeks straight, which are Mon-Thurs each week.  I can schedule workouts, writing, trips away from home, errand completion, and all of that, without needing to consult my calendar too much.

Speaking of the calendar, we’ve got a few things coming up that are pretty exciting.  First, we are starting the new year with a trip to Arizona together.  I’m meeting his mother and step-father in Prescott, AZ, and we are also taking time to explore his home state.  He’s going to show me some of the highlights, as well as some of the places he always wanted to visit as a kid, but either didn’t, or didn’t appreciate enough in his younger days.  Tucson, Flagstaff, and Sedona are all on the list, and maybe a view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, depending on things.

After that trip, we are also planning a little adventure back east, with plans on seeing Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, and of course, Maine.  It’ll be my turn to show him where I’m from, what I grew up in and around, and explore the courses of my life when I was younger.  I’m not as nervous about doing this with him – I’ve done this before with other boyfriends, so I’ve had practice – but I am interested to hear his thoughts about New England specifically.  He’s never been there, and while it’s going to be a really, really cold time of year to visit, he will certainly have a better understanding of the kinds of things that shaped me.  Especially in the cold and dark of early March.  My only hope is that winter this year isn’t as awful as it was last year.  If it’s looking like another wallop of snow for the east/northeast, we will have to re-align our plans some.  Still, it’s important to show him where I’m from, especially as he and I get closer.

Creatively, I’m really, really enjoying my new writing group.  After being cyber-introduced by my good friend Ren to this cadre of other writers here in Portland, I’ve met up with them a few times now, and am actually redrafting that damn memoir again.  It’s taken on a lot more life, gotten a lot more colorful and engaging as the editing has been happening.  The feedback has been really, really good, and it feels good to be putting down words that matter again.  I also get to read their work, and critique and edit their stories, which has also kept my brain moving in the right wavelengths.  It’s amazing how much I missed the interactivity that Goddard gave me with other writers.

Life is still pretty good here in Portland, OR for me, and I am truly thankful for it all. The beard is bushy, the rain has returned, and I’m finally feeling like my life is spinning in the right direction.  I’m ready for the demands of the holidays.  I’m ready to tuck in for a nice, dark winter, sink my teeth further into more books, and enjoy breathing.

Control: Money

Any of you who know me personally, and have known me for quite some time, know that I’ve never, ever been good with money.  I usually am broke, and usually am struggling to make ends meet.  For years, especially during my twenties, I maxed out and over-extended myself time and time again in order to acquire things, and what I thought was status, among my peers.  I used money as a means of escape through spending way too much at the bars and clubs, or on clothing and dining out, in order to add meaning and value to my life.

When I was with Nathaniel, I basically turned over all of my income into his hands, and relied on him to pay the bills and tend to the responsibility of making on-time payments to all of our mutual debts, including rent and the utilities, along with groceries and everyday living costs.  I used to just ask him, “Can we afford it?” and he’d tell me yes or no.  I never questioned him or his judgement, but in doing so, I actively removed myself from any fiscal acuity in our relationship, and simply assumed everything was going along smoothly.  For the most part, it did, though I recognize that this meant I lost touch with the cost of things, and how much it really took to sustain a life that was worth living.

After he and I split, suddenly, I was left holding the reins to my own fiscal life.  I had no checking account.  I had no debit card or credit card.  I didn’t even have a phone.  I had a paycheck, but nowhere to put it.  At first, I turned to check-cashing store fronts to convert my income into a form of money accepted everywhere.  It turned out that I had some old bank accounts that had gone into overdraft years ago, and until those were paid off, I couldn’t open another account.  I managed to do that, and for the first time in years, marched my butt into a local bank and opened my first account.  It was a basic checking account.  I got my first debit card, set up my direct deposit from work, and suddenly found myself staring at the requirement to keep myself in check.  It was up to me to pay my own bills, buy my own groceries, keep a roof over my head, and obtain and activate a means of communication.  At the time, it felt like learning to ride a bike again.

Along those first few months, I had a few hiccups.  I overdrew a couple of checks due to my bad math, and quickly learned that $32 in fees per check added up quickly.  I had to come up with a means of organizing my finances that would work for me, and it was then that I first learned the art of creating a budget.  For me, after the debilitating crush of a destroyed relationship, a relocation, and having to find my feet again, gaining some sort of control over an aspect of my life back meant the world to me.  Once I’d set up a plan and could see both how my money was being spent, and how I should be spending it going forward, that rush of adrenaline from a surge of confidence became addictive.  I wasn’t perfect, but I made it work, and over time, it all became natural to me again.

When I moved to Denver, though, it all fell apart.  Suddenly, I was back to my old habits of spending too much on going out and keeping myself distracted, that bills began to pile up again.  I was borrowing – this time, from payday loan lenders – at a rate that was unsustainable.  I fell into the trap of having to borrow from one place to pay off the debts of another.  This went on for a few months, and all I can really recall from that period of my life was a never-ending surge of anxiety that wouldn’t go away.  While, at the time, I saw the necessity of having access to quick money to pay the rent so that I could have a roof over my head, the amount of time – some up to six months – it took to pay off that small debt, was insufferable.  It got to the point where I had to finally just stop, say no more, and reel myself back in.  Phone calls from collectors, setting up payment plans, and the like, was something that became a constant problem in my life, but eventually, I managed to find my way out of that hole, with a vow never to return.  It was ugly, and it was dark, and it was not how I wanted to define myself.

It was a move in with my bestie, Amanda, that helped me come to terms with a lot of that anxiousness.  With her, I was comfortable in the home we shared, and didn’t feel the pressures to go out as much and spend money I really didn’t have just to escape the darkness that was at my previous home.  I also got to have grown-up conversations with her about finances, and it was with her as a guide, that I managed to get back on a budget and get myself back in order.  My credit score had been obliterated, but I still had a bank account, I still had my cell phone, and I still had an income.  I had a means to move forward, and that is what I did.

Being jobless for eight months upon landing here in Portland, Oregon was almost a complete setback for me and my finances.  I’d cashed in a retirement plan from my previous employer, and even though it seemed like more than enough to sustain me, inevitably, it wasn’t.  This time, though, money wasn’t being spent on going out and being dumb.  It was spent on groceries, on home improvement projects that my ex-boyfriend and I were working on.  I bought a bike.  I spent money on some workout clothing.  I did take myself out from time to time for a drink, though rarely, and I did spent an inordinate amount of money on coffee in cafes as a means to not have to be tied to the house so much.  It was a slow drain that, by the time I landed my current job, had wiped me dry.  Somehow, and through the generosity of others around me, I managed to pay my bills, and keep up with most things.  Still, some things slipped, and once again, my credit score took a pummeling.

When I finally did start work again, and secured a very reasonable place to live with Bil and his partner Brandon, things finally were able to turn around again.  Though I was making very little to start (and had just met Ray at that same time), I still was able to pay the rent, and pay my student loans.  Slowly, and over time, I was able to start to feel those glowing embers of satisfaction one gets when stuff gets paid on time.  I relished making payments to my debts, and once again, was able to set up a budget that worked, and that I could see grow and change over time.  I secured a credit card in order to help me rebuild my credit, which has been helping immensely.  Occasionally, I can take Ray out on a date and drop a few coins in that fountain, but not often.  He, for his part, has been super supportive and really patient, as I get my finances back in order.  Now that I’m almost two years into my job, my pay has reached a level where the budget is really starting to look very rosy.

I’m terrible at spreadsheets, but being able to build one that helps me see into the future, including when things get paid off, how much my savings will be able to grow, and how a “snowball” payment plan towards the debts I do have is working, makes me feel insurmountable.  Confidence is oozing through the columns and rows, and for the first time in my life, really, I feel like I have this.  Like, totally, utterly, have this.  I’ve figured it out, and I’m making progress.  I recognize where I’m spending silly still, but I also know how to prioritize my spending in a way that at least ensures all of my obligations are tended to.  It feels good.  It feels grown-up.  It feels like I can trust myself to make the right decision and stick to a promise to myself (at least in the fiscal arena).  It feels like pride and increased self-worth. By the end of the year, my two credit cards will be paid off.  By the end of the year, I will have a savings account for us that should contain at least $1,500 (downpayment on a new apartment).  By the middle of next year, I should be sitting quite nicely on a sum of money that will help me buy something that I’ve always wanted (more on that later).  I’m really, really excited to see this all unfolding before me.

Another Step

As of July 1, 2015, I will no longer be living where I currently am.

Since the beginning of last year, I’ve been renting a room from Bil and Brandon, a couple who I got to know in my early days here in Portland.  Bil and I had become connected in Denver, and went hiking and hung out a few times, prior to my departure from there to here, and then their subsequent move to Portland shortly after.  When things blew up between Caleb and myself, and I was stuck in a precarious living situation, Bil and Brandon opened up their home to me for a very reasonable rental rate, and gave me shelter and a place to call home while I got back on my feet and began my job as a bus operator.  Immediately following my move-in, I met Raymond, and for the last year and a half, I’ve been splitting my time between the place with all of my stuff and at Raymond’s house. It has been a truly wonderful period in my life, with lots of personal growth, a better understanding of what it means to be in love with another man, and lots of roots have been planted here in Portland.  Due to circumstances out of their control for the boys, and the shift in plans about turning their basement into a full-fledged apartment for me to rent, the time has come for me to find another place to hang my hat.

Raymond, being the angel that he is, immediately told me, upon my need to shift addresses, “We will figure it out.”  What I didn’t know was that, also immediately, he had sent word to his current roommate that I was looking for a new address, and that if I moved in with them for a while, we could all save money and find a larger place to share in the very near future.  The two of them are currently not on a lease, and are living month-to-month where they are.  While it’s a little apartment with almost no back yard or an allowance for pets such as the dog we both want, it does have a proximity to the MAX line and major bus lines that is super convenient.  Having spent a great deal of time there, I’ve come to learn the quirks of their apartment, including the way that the neighbors are, what his roommate is like, and their living habits.  While it’s not ideal, as the space will be tight, I accepted their offer to come live with them.

For the first time, in a long time, I am going to be living with my boyfriend.

For the last month or so, while I’ve been wrapping my head around this upcoming movement, I’ve been paying particular attention to Raymond’s emotional status about it all.  He’s never lived with a boyfriend before.  He doesn’t know what it’s going to be like having his beau in his bed every night.  Already I’m aware that I’ll need to be vigilant about giving him his own space and time, even within the small confines of what will be our little home.  I’m worried about being a burden on him, and that we will have some inevitable friction from time to time because of the space.  Given our track record, though – only one major fight in the year and a half we’ve been together – I think we will be able to manage.  As long as he’s honest with me about how he’s feeling, and I am reciprocating, we should be okay.  I mean, who knows, it could work out really, really well.

I’m also really apprehensive because of my past.  Once again, my past experiences are dictating my emotions about a current situation, and I need to recognize that.  I gave up my life and lived with Thomas.  I gave up my life and lived with Nathaniel.  I’ve always been a roommate, and only very infrequently lived on my own. I was a roommate in Lakewood, CO.  I was a roommate in Denver, CO.  I was a live-in lover and houseboy when I first moved here to Portland, OR.  I have been a housemate in a tiny two-bedroom home for the last year and a half.  Now, I’m going to be, once again, sharing space with two other people.  While I’m very okay with being a roommate, I’m also keenly aware that this is not how a typical 37-year-old lives.  I mean, maybe it’s the new age and new economy that we are in, but at this point, I should have at least my own apartment, my own set of keys, my own utility bills.  Because of circumstance and life choices, though, I do not have these things, and I’ve been trying to find a way to resolve these emotions inside myself.

I’ve also been deeply worried about my past repeating itself in terms of relationships going awry when we live together.  This has happened every time I’ve lived with the man who held my heart, and I do not want it to happen with Raymond.  I need to be reminded that my past is not my present or future, and a recent adventure that he and I took helped to underscore this for me.

This past week, Ray and I flew back to Denver together.  I had wanted to take him on a trip to the Mile High City with me after we got back from Hawaii last January.  I wanted to show him my old haunts and introduce him to some of my old friends up there.  We ended up staying with my friend Amanda, a dear friend of mine that I’ve known for nearly thirty years.  She is my age, and while our paths have been shared quite a few times over the course of three decades, she seemingly has her life more together than I do.  She has a home of her own.  She has a decent credit score.  She owns her car.  She has a stable, normal, adult life, with stable, normal, adult issues (though she’d never attest to that fact).  I am envious of her for these things, and while she sees what Ray and I have as relationship goals for herself, I see her life and her world and think that, perhaps, I truly am a mess and need to get myself together and grow up along those same lines.

It was good to show him where I had lived, and the places that I had hung out when I lived in Denver.  Truth be told, I kept peeking around corners to see if I’d run into any old ghosts, old emotions, and old regrets while we were there.  I had been thinner, a little more crazy, and a lot more loose and fast with myself and the fellas I’d hung out with when I lived there.  At that point in my life,  I was still very much running from my past.  I’d slingshot myself into Denver in a mad and furious drive across the country from Maine, trying to escape the depression and anxiety that my life back there had dealt me.  I was not facing down the darkness of my early gay years.  I was not facing the implosion that my marriage to Nathaniel had become.  I was not facing the fears of growing older, of being in control of my life, or of taking responsibility for my actions.  I simply kept running.  Denver, with its explosive nighttime thunderstorms, dry and oppressive heat, and hundreds of miles of mountain trails to disappear on, gave me ample spaces and corners to avoid being Thomas as much as I wanted to.

I didn’t really run into any of the shadows that I was expecting on this last trip.  What I did find, however, was a group of friends and acquaintances that I’d drawn close to in my time in Denver who not only were very happy to see me again, but were also quick to point out just how happy I was.  They all loved Ray, as I thought they might, but what truly stuck with me was how much they simply wanted to know I was okay.  I was moved by their excitement for us, especially when we talked about this upcoming shared living experience.  Every single one of my friends who I got to see were genuinely happy for me, and thought that Ray and I made a really great couple.  I found myself full of pride in both Raymond and my decision to let him into my life.

It was also exponentially clear to me just how much I’d changed since I’d left Denver.  I have grown up, and I have come into myself in ways that I would have never thought possible when I was there.  Portland has been transformative for me, and continues to be.  While I am still a little apprehensive about this next step that Ray and I are taking, I do remain optimistic.  I’ve learned how to speak with a truth and power that I’ve never had before now.  I am thankful and full of gratitude in ways that resonate deep within me.  I remain humbled and awestruck by the ways that this relationship with Raymond keeps redefining what it means to be in Love.