Monday, March 28, 2011

sunlight on leaves

It's the middle of the evening as I'm climbing the steps to the light rail platform for the first time in years, and I gradually begin hearing the sound of arguing voices. A woman's in particular. With a male's getting a few words in edgewise. I call Silas and tell him that I'm nervous. I tell him to tell me that I'm cool, that everything is fine, that a short fifteen minute ride to Mockingbird station is no big deal. Passengers waiting for the train are eying the fighting couple (the woman is now waving her arms all these people even know each other?) wondering what they might say or do next. I stand off to the side, thankful for the distraction. Hanging up the phone as the train pulls up and the doors slide open, I find and take a window seat.

The inside of the train is nice and cool, which is soothing to my hot face. I determinedly start trying to calm myself down with slow, deep breaths and the questioning of my fearful thoughts. My attention shifts back and forth from my line of inner questioning to the sound of a woman behind me speaking loudly in Spanish on her cell phone, to the view out the window and my noticing of all the buildings and construction that's risen up in the time since I last took this train. I do make inner strides at calming down. I tell myself that all is well; yes, it's hard right now; yes, it sucks that I'm not able to relax and enjoy the scenery, but that really, I'm right on schedule, that this is to be expected. Even if I have to do this a million more times, eventually, there will come that one time in which the struggle will cease, and I'll have mastered this anxiety. This thought does bring me comfort.

When I get off at Mockingbird, I walk around the parking lot, waiting for Silas to pick me up. It's Friday night and everyone in the city is out for a good time. The traffic is humming. People exit the buses and come from nearby apartments, etc., heading for the neighboring cluster of restaurants and Angelika theater. Some in groups. Some alone, with seeming confidence. I watch all of them with both admiration and resentful envy. "This used to be me. I used to ride this train downtown every morning to work - and loved it. I used to meet friends here and hang out. I used to have Friday night plans without having to center myself with calming breaths. I didn't have to sit mindfully, while nervous energy coursed through my body. WTF?!" How did I get this way?!" As Silas arrives, I have a good little tantrum going and am on the verge of tears.

Earlier I decided that tonight will be the night I go out with Silas somewhere "among the people." With he being more social and outgoing, much more a part of the "gay scene," I tell myself that I'll follow his lead as best I can. Sweet Silas, so patient with me, and kind. Holding my hand, he gives me a tour of the main strip and points out the different bars and restaurants. I finally summon the courage to enter my first gay bar (and just for clarification, it's not the gayness of it that's alarming to me, it's the people and bar-ness of it that's alarming to me). We take a seat at the bar and I focus on Silas, trying to mellow. He tells me a ghetto-cloaked version of the "The Three Little Pigs" to make me laugh and calm me down. I have a few drinks, convinced that this would be so much more fun for both of us if I could just hurry and loosen up.

After awhile we head to another bar, and this one I take an immediate liking to. We head upstairs to an outdoor patio with a balcony looking down on the street below. I like the music, the smell of cigarette smoke (as a former smoker, in small doses, I still enjoy it's pungent, cancerous scent) the view, the warmth of the night. I feel more comfortable here. I have a few more drinks. As I'm talking to Silas, I ask him something about a friend of his and kind of laughing, he corrects me, telling me that I keep saying his friend's name wrong. I realize now that I'm drunk or quickly on my way. I tell myself, "I should stop; I've had enough; I've loosened up; I can look around the room at everyone and not tense up - mission accomplished. Now just have fun. Just enjoy the moment." And I do - so much so that I decide to celebrate with another drink!

Silas sees someone he knows from before, and soon I find myself in the middle of a lovely conversation. People gather around and I just think they are the nicest people in the world. Some part of me, floating above thinks, "This is so much fun. Here I am at a bar. A place where adults come and socialize. I'm here with them and I'm having a conversation with people that I do not know, but nevertheless are smiling at me and being kind. What is it here that I always imagine ahead of time is so scary?" I find myself walking around the patio, bumming cigarettes from people, giving men lingering stares without hesitation. I'm terribly excited! Effusively, I let them know how I look forward to Silas's friend's birthday party and how much fun I know we'll have when we meet again.

We say our goodbyes to my new best friends and walk across the street to meet up with one of Silas's friends who has texted and said he's nearby. We walk in the door and I head straight for the bartender and Silas asks me to please stop...but I don't. I then head to the restroom before we go to meet his friend, while Silas waits outside for me. After washing my hands, I exit the other door, oblivious to the waiting Silas on the other side. I rush in to the crowd of strangers and mingle. I meet a pretty blonde woman with a cute southern accent. I meet an older man who I learn has a crush on someone he's been eying for months without speaking to, and I excitedly ask him to point him out, intending to step in and play matchmaker. I stop a cute young man in a cowboy hat, and ask him what cologne he's wearing and tell him how brave I think he is for coming here alone and dancing with strangers. I talk with a guy and his killer smile, who tells me that he's in Dallas for business and invites me to come by his group later and say "hi." I enthusiastically agree, knowing that I probably won't. When I make it to the bar, I introduce myself to a young woman and I begin telling her all kinds of personal information that looking back I'll realize, she probably couldn't have cared less about, but who very nicely converses with me anyhow. She gives me words of wisdom and encourages my self-respect, telling me there is nothing I need to be but myself, etc. I'm getting her phone number and thanking her for being so kind, tears of gratitude in my eyes - when all of a sudden a furious Silas shows up demanding to know where I've been and why I just wandered off. He tells me how he's been calling and texting me over and over again. How he's been looking for me, and how worried he's been and how he'd just been about to leave. His anger startles me so much and feeling that everyone must be watching, I start to cry. He walks me out and apologizes to the people I start trying to talk to or bump in to along the way.

We're on the car ride home and he hardly wants to talk to or look at me; he's so upset. I'm crying, ashamed of myself for acting like such a dumbass. I ramble on and on, feeling sorry for myself. As Silas drops me off, I'm convinced that I'll never be seeing him again.

When I get home, I log on to the dating site where I met Silas and I send a message to a guy who has contacted me quite a few times in the past, to see if he was busy and wanted to hook up. Less than an hour later, I'm in a stranger's apartment, drinking and smoking, and in this person's bed.

I got home an hour or two ago and am now freshly showered. The spring sun is out, and today is my aunt's birthday. From the passenger seat of her car on the way to get breakfast, my head leans on the headrest; feeling spent, I look out the window. Morning is here. I watch all the trees as we pass them by and fall in love with the incandescent yellow-green glow of the sunlight shining on, and through. the leaves. They stand so regally. So self-possessed and luminous. So here. right. now. There are no thoughts of storms come and gone. No mention of winter's cold or the darkness of the night before. They're far too busy, in reverence, receiving morning's light.

Seeing these trees reminds me of the state of grace we live in, and the truth of Byron Katie's words when she reminds us that the worst thing that's ever happened in this world has already taken place, and that the pain that we're living is always, always on its way out. I see that all of the disappointing things I did the night before are already gone, and that it's only in the judgment of them and the replaying of them in my mind that keeps them alive. Yes, I went out with the intention of demonstrating my best self, and instead resorted to the same kind of bullshit I pulled when I was 21. But now it's over. It's a new day. I live in this moment, this state of grace, where I'm eternally offered the power to choose again. This doesn't have to define me. The past - and that supposed "me" - live only in images. Angry Silas is nowhere to be found. My cheeks are dry, my nerves are calm. The cigarette smoke and fear have faded.

I'd been so tempted to beat myself up - but that too would have been something my 21-year-old self would have done. He wouldn't have seen the uselessness in that. He wouldn't have seen that the night is always over if we let it be.

But thankfully, I can see it - and this is progress.


  1. your spiritual muscles are getting some seriously intense training! They'll continue to get stronger each time out, but you won't go out unless you stay in a place of compassion with your growing self. Truly, truly well done, Jeff.

  2. Yessssssssssssssss.

    That you that was in the bar having a great time striking up conversations with random, new-to-you people--that's the real you.

    Everyone loves to hang out with our real us.

    We get transition experiences up the emotional scale like this, shifting slowly from one set point to another. Sounds like you've really done some great "work" in order to have the awareness about everything that happened.

    Keep. going.

  3. Thank you both - very, very much. :)

  4. holy crap jeff - you have SUCH a powerful way with words. you just open my heart again and again. I had a similar experience recently - similar in that I intentionally put myself in a situation that I knew had previously triggered poor judgment, and I thought I could handle it this time. I did better than I had before, but I definitely lost my center. It was a great experiment - I would lose myself, notice, come back, and then lose myself again, over and over again. I left knowing that I could be proud of myself for the times I noticed, or down on myself for losing it. I chose to be proud, and to realize that although it wasn't how I had hoped I would be, it was ok. no real harm was done. it was just more grist for the mill. thank you for being such a poignant voice of self-forgiveness and orienting me back to the truth of the moment. you are such a blessing in my life!

  5. Karen, this comment means so much to me, thank you. You really made my day. And I love it - "grist for the mill." That is exactly what it is - good for you! Those moments of noticing should ALWAYS be celebrated. Those are definitely the flames we should be fanning.

  6. Thank you, Jeff, for taking me on such a wonderful excursion into your life!

    I love your style of writing. I found myself thinking back to my own trip to "Boys Town" in West Hollywood when I first moved to Los Angeles. Being "Among the People" was so frightening to me when I first "came out" but it grew into a healthy time that, while it doesn't define me, has brought immense joy to all areas of my life.

    It's amazing how freeing it is to simply choose to be happy in the present moment. I am currently working on making this a habit rather than a rare occurence. The fact is, when I do make that choice, I am always pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and alive I am, as well as my interactions are with others - friends, family and even complete strangers!

    I look forward to reading more of your journey in the weeks and months ahead!

    Be well.

  7. @A More Interesting Life: It's always encouraging to hear that what was once frightening to someone can eventually grow in to something healthy and end up becoming just another joyful part of that person's life. I hear you: it's surprising to me too how ALIVE things are when we actually take the time to look. Strange and amazing. Thank you for your kind words - I'm so glad you came by!

  8. I read this and thought you sounded nothing but lovely at the bar: sweet, social, interesting. Truly. People go to bars to be social, not to stand in a corner with one person. Besides, it is easy and normal to lose track of a friend in a crowded bar. I'm sure you remember THAT from age 21. I know I do. If your friend expected undivided attention then perhaps he should have invited you to a restaurant or a movie?

    I like how you are framing the night in retrospect.

  9. Just for the record, I wasn't the only one that apologized the next day. Silas apologized to me too, feeling he had overreacted. So, we're good.

    Retrospect is a valuable friend. :)

  10. I'm glad to hear it worked out.

    I couldn't get this story out of my mind so I had to come back to it. I want to say that maybe once we start doing the work sometimes we still repeat old patterns, perhaps less often than before. But maybe the big difference is that we are kinder and more forgiving of ourselves for that then in days of old - and that, my friend, is a true sign of progress and self acceptance.

    Great job!

  11. Thanks for the Love, Suzanne! You're right: the patterns may still appear and that's just fine, just as it should be. The important thing is the forgiveness and kindness we give ourselves when they do appear. I don't think the goal is perfection - because even in our imperfection, we already are. That self-acceptance is what's worth going after.