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.

IMG_2487

Settling

The dust has started to settle with my move into Ray’s place.  We hit the grocery stores pretty hard yesterday, spending quite a bit of money to procure food for us both.  I’ve done a number of laundry loads so that, as of right now, we are all caught up (Ray is terrible with laundry upkeep).  My things have made their way out of the living room and into the bedroom, which was quite a feat, but there’s plenty of room to store my stuff, and room to still move around in the space, surprisingly.  I’ve paid my share of the rent, updated all of my addresses and such with all the various entities who need to know (thank you internet), and I’ve begun cooking my own food and adjusting to this new place.

It’s a lot quieter here, for some reason.  I think it’s because there are no pets.  I do miss Dougan and Punkass.  I miss my conversations with Bil throughout the day.

For some reason, I have a lot more time on my days off than before.  Maybe it’s the art of actually relaxing again, of not feeling like I’m in transition anymore, and not having to go-go-go in order to keep my nerves in check, that has suddenly opened up the feeling of more time in a day for me.

I’m feeling a lot more in control of my own life, and functioning at a level akin to where I was when I first moved here.  I did things and put energy into making a home and a space in Caleb’s house, and felt more invested, more connected.  My time with the fellas, after Caleb and I split, was really an interlude.  I felt comfortable there, and they were so instrumental in helping me find a center of gravity that was sorely missed after things with Caleb and I fell apart.  Having moved beyond that now, though, I do feel different.  It’s not better or worse, just different.  More engaged.  More aware.  More myself, perhaps?

I’m glad I took Ray up on his offer to live with him.  I’m having those quiet moments in my head when I realize I’m doing the things I have done before with other boyfriends that I’ve lived with, except this time around, he’s an active participant in them.  Cooking, cleaning, organizing, planning, scheming, conversing, loving – all of these rudiments of daily life I can now, once again, share with someone who matters to me.  I draw great fulfillment from this.

Shared Space Anxiety: An Understanding

Tomorrow, I begin the process of bringing stuff to my next address.  I will be officially moving in with Ray, and as of July 1, 2015, we will begin sharing a habitation together.  I have to say, though, the last month or so has been fraught with emotions, and I’ve not been able to pin down just why, until today.

I was out on a walk, a seven-mile journey around my side of town.  Over the last week, I’ve taken multiple multi-mile walks, and used the time both as a means to focus on myself and my body in motion, but also to avoid the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and nerves that this upcoming move has brought up in me.  It’s been nice to feel my muscles flex, to feel blood rushing through my veins and arteries, to focus on my breath, my pulse, my footfalls.  It’s been nice to take some of the mental machinations and let them flow through the rest of my body.  I’m built to deal with anxiety by taking out on the entirety of my body. It’s what I’ve always done. Still, I had no idea why I have been feeling so damned uptight. Moving in with my boyfriend has never been this hard.

As I shot a text to a friend, though, after I’d explained how I had a meltdown last night, and a little disagreement with Ray, and a few tears, it all came into focus. The reason I am so wound up about this new chapter in my life, and in my life with Ray, is because, for the first time ever, I’m able to do this kind of thing without compromising myself in the process.  What I mean is that, unlike every other time I’ve given up my independence and moved in under the same roof as the man who held my heart, this time I don’t have to give up a thing.  Ray has never, and will never, ask me to compromise myself for the sake of him or our relationship.  This was a foundational element when he and I started dating over a year ago, and in that time, it’s been underscored and underlined over and over again by him. He’s never required me to stop behaving in a certain way, or doing the things I like to do, or talking to the people I care for. He’s never required me to live in his shadows. Because of this, I get to walk into this new living arrangement with my eyes wide open. I get to experience this not just as an attachment and accessory to Ray’s life, but as moment in my own life, under my own steam, and in my own way. I get to feel and be and see thing through my own emotions and eyes unlike ever before.

My mother warned me, as she scooped me up out of Boston and brought me back to Maine after Nathaniel and I split, that, like her, I have a tendency to lose myself in the relationships I make. Whenever I’ve given over my heart to anyone, it came at a price – my identity. Suddenly, my needs and desires and thoughts took second place, or remained completely off-stage. I did this out of my own free will because it always meant that, as an exchange for my love and support, the person I was giving it up to would be in my life for as long as I could imagine. Or, so I thought. In every moment when this happened, when this dark and wordless exchange of self for something else occurred, I spent so much time and energy and effort justifying it. It was as if I knew what I was giving up, but had no words to express it.  Perhaps I found the entire idea of subjugating myself to the whims and needs of another so abhorrent that I flat-out refused to believe it was actually happening. In the end, with Thomas, Nathaniel, and Caleb, I always ended up on the losing end of things. Whenever I would step up and use my voice, or express a thing that would identify me as Thom and not just whoever’s boyfriend, I would be scolded, told to leave, and ended up hurt.  Every damned time.

Part of me is terrified of this happening again with regards to Ray, even though he has been adamant and forceful about me remaining the man he fell for, and not changing who I am to meet his needs.  Being who I am right now, and who I might change into in the future as a result of my own choices and activities, is exactly the man he wants me to be.  He’s never intoned or suggested otherwise.  When I feel frozen with fear about this next phase of my life, I need to remember this covenant between him and I that defines the kinds of boundaries we both require.  It is possible to remain true to who I am and still have infinite love for Ray – how he was when I met him, how he is today, and who he will become in the future.

I want to think that this anxiety, shared by both him and I, has come about because we are both present and accounted for while it’s occurring. It also, for me, gives a certain amount of gravity and weight to the entire process – something that never was there before. It’s intense, for certain, but perhaps that also comes from the fact that this is actually one of the most important choices we’ve made as a couple.  I have to respect that, all the while taking care of myself, and still remaining open to Ray’s needs and anxieties as well.  He’s never done this before, and I’ve always had a rotten experience when I’ve undertaken the act of sharing space. This time, though, is so much better, so much more energizing, so much more fulfilling.

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.

On a Break

Today, I attempted to sign up for my summer schedule. It didn’t go as I’d hoped, but I still have a chance at mapping out a summer that will allow for loads of time off. Like last summer, Ray and I want to do so much camping and adventuring. There’s still so much of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that we both want to see, and as I am able to align my schedule with his, we should be able to scheme and plot and plan to go just about anywhere.

I just competed a book called Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty by Jennifer M. Silva. This book, a read I highly recommend, touched on so many things that are relevant to my life and experiences. From avoiding adulthood through constant education, realizing my degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, having to reconcile my past with my present, and redefining stages of adulthood that are unlike any measurements that generations before me have ever used, this book really got my head spinning.

I’ve been struggling to accept that I’m a blue-collar worker. I know that sounds classist, but the fact is, I was led to believe that a degree (or two) would be my pathway to living a class better than my parents. I mortgaged my brain with student loans, but have not been able to reap the expected benefits of doing so. While I don’t regret the college and graduate school experiences I’ve had, I still feel as though I’ve been slighted. All of this has come into even stronger relief as I watch Ray go through the same adjustment in his life. While he managed to skirt around taking out too many student loans, and is a little better off than I am, fiscally-speaking, he still feels like his life was short-changed because of forces outside of his control, namely the 2008 recession and its prolonged drag on the creative economy he once belonged to. For him, it’s become clear that to be a member of the creative class means having fiscal support from a benefactor, whether it’s a parent paying rent, or a partner with deep pockets. It’s frustrating not being able to provide enough for both of us in a way that would enable him to achieve his goals, and given my current station in life, I’m not sure it will ever be possible.

While we are leading a pretty amazing life as a couple, and as individuals, money and such seems to be a constant worry and concern. I only hope it can improve. I want him to find a path forward that appeases him and leaves him feeling good at the end of the day. I want to be able to share in this sense of happiness knowing I’ve done my part to support him. I’m not certain, though, that this will ever materialize.

We will persevere. It’s going to be a series of conversations and concessions on both our parts to make this all work out. As touched upon in the book, our relationship isn’t a matter of set roles and expectations that have been mapped out for us. Instead, it’s a situation that is constantly in flux, and remembering to remain flexible is at the heart of what keeps us going strong. It’s not always easy, and it does require work, but it is fulfilling. So long as we remain open and honest with our individual needs and keep making incremental progress towards shared and individual goals, we will last.

 

 

 

Summertime Scheming

The night before last, as I was getting ready for bed, I got some text messages from Ray as he finished up his shift.  They were the typical things we talk about after work, but then, he asked me when I was going to get my summer schedule figured out.  That doesn’t happen until early April, but for him, the penultimate planner, he cannot wait.  He has already started scheming for our Summer 2015 camping plans, and as he told me what he intended on doing, depending on my schedule, I just sat there and grinned.  I had one of those pauses, where I just looked up from my phone and smiled, realizing just what was going on.

We’ve been together now for about a year and four months.  Last summer, it was utterly clear to me that this man, my Raymond, came into my life at just the right moment.  I had all but given up on dating anyone.  I was prepared to go it alone for a while, especially after the struggle I’d had at the end of my last relationship, feeling very alone, very destitute, and doubting myself and my abilities to the core.  Finding a job, finding a new home, and then meeting Ray – well, it all seemed like too much of a good thing all at once.  Surely, one of those three things were going to come apart at the seams, and I needed to prepare myself for that.  I needed to constantly remind myself that I am my own person, undefined by another, and that I needed to be self-sufficient.  I needed to make peace with myself, as I was going to be by myself for a long time.  Just when I’d come to a sense of being, just when I felt like my old demon were in hiding or dead, that’s when this man, Raymond, appeared in my life.  For at least six months, I was very unsure about the longevity of us.  I forced myself to remain in the moment, and present, not making too many plans and hopes for the future because, as I’d always done before – up to and including marriage – it had blown up in my face.  Rather than pin my happiness on the future-tense, I remained as solidly in the moment as I could.

Whenever I strayed too much into the planning of my future, Raymond reminded me, subtly, that he was just feeling things out with us as well, and that things could change for him, or for me, and that we needed to keep ourselves grounded.  Time, though, has been the thing that has eased this pressure on us.  Patience with him, along with patience in and for myself, has allowed us to now start making real plans for the months and weeks ahead of us.  Now, it’s him who’s making plans four and six months out.  He knows my scheduled vacations.  He knows of my love of travel.  He knows that I’m committed to him, and to us, and that I want to continue on this shared path with him.  He trusts me.

If all goes as planned, I will land a schedule at work that will allow for some quality summertime adventures. One of the options given to part-time drivers is to work three 10-hour shifts a week.  Some of those include driving Saturday, Sunday, and Monday or Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – which would afford us four days off in a row every week for twelve weeks.  This schedule would work out great for him, as well, because he does the bulk of his shifts on the weekends too.  Ultimately, if I can land a Fri-Sat-Sun work week, he wants to go camping every other week for the entirety of our summer.  Four days away, every two weeks, for twelve whole weeks.  This is definitely something I want to do.  Given our experiences last summer, I know this will be amazing.

I still have a great place to call home.  I still have a job that allows me to have a life and pay my bills.  I still have this amazing man in my life who brings such sunshine and goodness that it’s almost too much to handle.

After Hawaii

Today was the first day back from our vacation to Hawaii.

I’m still decompressing.

Ray spent last night with me in my bed, as we had both agreed that my bed out of the two we own is the most comfortable, and after over a week spent on a tired mattress on Oahu, it would be the most restorative sleeping arrangement.  Truth be told, I needed him to spend last night with me.  I needed him to be in my bed because I have grown very used to having him by my side at night.  I have grown accustomed to the contours of his body, the pulse of his heart, the inhale and exhale, the unconscious reach of his arm around my torso.  I needed all of this last night as my body resumed it’s place back in Portland, back in reality.

We had some of the most extraordinary experiences on Oahu.  From sunrises on the terrace of our hotel, to sunsets on Waikiki, to the northwest point, to the north shore waves, to the eastern bays, and western desolation, the island gave us so much to take in; too much, almost, for any person to absorb in eight short days.  We gave it our best shot, though, and with the top down on the rented Mustang, and a million billion stars sparkling overhead, swooping around corners and through fields and skirting around jagged volcanic edges, we both found something that we could embrace and take home with us.  For me, having these existential moments was made even sweeter by the squeeze of his hand, the stroke of his fingers on my knee, the reflection of his smile in the rear-view mirror.  The smile lines on his face seemed deeper, fuller than I’d seen in a long, long time.  He needed this break in reality and so did I.

None of this would have been possible if it were not for him.  The air fare, the car rental, all of the food, the room, the planning, the details, the investigation – all of these things were brought to the table by him.  I still wonder what I brought, though.  I am paying him back, over time, with my meager income.  I will help him pay down the credit card bill, as is my duty.  Still, though, I wonder why I was there, in those moments, with him.

Perhaps the answer is caught in the photos I took.  The smile on his face, the wonderment I witnessed as he rose up out of the surf, gleeful, telling me all about the sea life he swam and snorkeled with.  The group of sea turtles, the hundreds of fish, acres of coral, and miles of soft sand all gave him such wonderment and joy.  His giggle, as he watched me revert into a young boy rolling around in surf too high to go swimming in and powerful enough to inspire awe with each rumble and roar of the waves, might hold the key as to why I was allowed to join him on this adventure.  His hand grasped mine as the sun sank below the western horizon, while giant waves broke along the golden ragged shore, grinding away at the ancient lava floes, reshaping the island with each massive stroke and swath of water.  I could hear his sigh as he paused to take it all in beside me, those two blessed minutes between the sun touching the surface of the water and when it disappeared beneath the waves.  I witnessed the man I love falling back in love with the world around him, and it left me breathless.

I am forever changed by this experience, and I know it.  I have been able to see and take part in a world that is not my own, but that I am a part of, and want to know more about.  It was fleeting, and somewhat filtered, but it was real.  We put down the guide book and stayed away from the places that the tourists were herded like mindless sheep, and set off to find our own way, find our own path on those distant shores, and that made all of the difference.  Knowing that Ray operates in this manner, that he seeks the road not over-tread, not shaped and forced so as to be a marketable (and profit-driven) entity, is one of the thousand reasons I love him.  He, like me, wants to live an authentic life, and be present in both moments of his own creation and moments that are presented to him.

I think the biggest take-away from the trip, along with the bits of sand in my suitcase that I am hesitant to dump out, is the lesson in being in the here-and-now of our lives.  From the start of this relationship, Ray has insisted that we remain present-tense.  At first, I thought this was a fear of the future, of putting pressure on tomorrow at the expense of overlooking today.  In some way, that is true, and adding the existence of separate pasts that haunt us both and have an effect on how we perceive both the present and future, we have both had to work really hard at keeping ourselves from being caught up in the planning and hope of tomorrow.  I continue to struggle with it, and from time to time, I get caught up in pinning my happiness on what is to come, rather than finding the pleasure in now.  Ray has been teaching me to get better with this, and when he makes me look upward, outward, and all around me from a very pinpoint place (geographical, emotional, or otherwise), I can’t help but take this as yet another lesson in how to actually live.

I have so much more to learn, but through it all, I remain humbled, fortunate, and madly in love with Raymond.  This is far more than I ever thought possible in my life, and sometimes I can’t quite fathom how I got so lucky.  I am beyond thankful.  I am simply rendered speechless.