When I broke up with my last ex-BF about 12 years ago, it took me a long ass time to get over him. I don’t think I really am; it’s just a feeling I’ve learned to put into a different compartment. But, the concussive effects of that first wave of emotion were very new to me. I never understood why people would lose their shit after a breakup, but I learned quickly. My friend John sent me a mix CD labeled “Music for a Bottle of Merlot and a Razor Blade,” featuring such sad singleton hits as “Alone,” “All By Myself,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” etc. We laughed, but I found myself spiraling out of control shortly after.
I kept this little Moleskin notebook during those first months, which I hid a few years later. It reappeared during my Pandemic-induced decluttering of my home when we shut our office doors until further notice. That was about two years ago. (We’ve reopened them since, by the way.) Finding it was like the surprise you feel when you run into an old school friend’s mother during a Target run where you’re not looking your best, gussied up in chanclas and a chorizo-stained hoodie. Reading and revisiting the version of yourself that penned each entry was like being hit by a car driven by a deranged doctor’s wife from Texas seeking revenge. How do we all turn into Janis Ian or Phoebe Snow when boys break out hearts? I was surprised I even was capable of such maudlin displays in the first place, but how could I not? After years of favoring telenovelas and Douglas Sirk films, turning into Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” shouldn’t be a stretch, right?
So, I am willing to share one choice bit of writing, appropriately titled “Alone.” Put on your favorite heartbreak ballad, wrap yourself up in that warm comforter known as nostalgia, and see if this hits a few emotional notes you recognize!
There’s a strange void in my heart as I look out the window from an empty house. I feel the start of a dream, always the day you first came into my life. I came to you first, though, searching for a gentle man.
You were that dream come true, and I was your saving grace. How did we get to this place?
The first years were unlike any happiness I’d known, yet in the last months, we’ve become strangers, barely able to see face to face. How did we get to this place?
This isn’t about fault. You loved me, then loved another. I can’t believe I’d be so easily replaced. How did we get to this place?
We can count the memories, but that’s just wasted sentiment. We can count our blessings, but that’s just wasted destiny. What I would give to make this day turn a different way. They say time heals everything, but I still can’t stand the thought of losing you.
I didn’t want to tell you how I felt or what I thought I should do. But that won’t stop me from crying an emotion or two.
You walked out the door for the last time. I hope he treats you fine. It isn’t the loss that hurts so much. It’s the silence of this space. How did I get to this place they call “being alone.”
Reading it back now, I think it is safe to say Taylor Swift has nothing to worry about here. (Cue laughter.) But I’m not ashamed about displaying my red scarf in this context. (Swifties will know what I mean by that reference.). If anything, I’m proud of what that experience taught me. I stopped romanticizing the past, choosing to live in the present while respecting the lessons learned from being in a relationship. Whenever that miracle happens again, I’ll be ready.
It was supposed to be a system reboot, a push of the reset button. However, I think my trip to Spain last month may have left me even more unsettled now that I am back home in Los Angeles. It is scary how quickly I fell back into what’s been ailing me this last year and a half. The jet lag may be gone, but that sluggish feeling persists. Don’t EVEN get me started on the election bullshit. I will probably bite your head off. Best to focus on why the journey back to my LA life that is renewing this spiritual “agita.”
I haven’t said much about the Brit (name withheld out of respect), but he’s someone that’s been the most welcome surprise of this challenging year. Our chance online meeting in August flowered into a real friendship, which is why I’ve been purposefully vague about him given the context of how we started out. I might reveal this some day, but not now. It isn’t shame that precludes me, rather, having to explain it to folks who aren’t savvy as to the Gay Way of Meeting and Greeting in 2016. Rest assured, it isn’t some Dateline episode waiting to happen. It’s legit and that’s all that matters.
The Brit is London-based and we’ve spent months doing the whole digital pen pal thing. In some ways, it felt like the plot to “The Shop Around the Corner.” We hadn’t met, but we shared a real kinship with each text that zapped across the globe. Scratch that, it felt like a real life version of “Gavin & Stacey.” (I am sure his eyes would roll with balletic precision over THAT one.)
When we hatched the plan of heading to Spain together, he had just experienced someone breaking his heart in Oslo. It was around the same time I was planning to hit Spain that summer. I surprised even myself when I said, “Join me! Forget about that fool and let’s just have some fun, tapas and whatever else tickles our fancy!” Well, Spain had other plans, interrupting my impending estancia with a rule of having at least 90 validity to my passport. I wasn’t able to board that night and I found myself on the Lyft back to my parents’ house to retrieve my trusty Element and then home with a scowl on my face.
The Brit and I kept talking and we looked for new dates for our Spanish affair, which would now happen in mid-October. As we counted down the days, it was hard not to build any expectations. At least for me. It was such a welcome relief, corresponding with someone who actually COULD communicate with color and guts. What a concept! When the fated day finally did arrive, I wasn’t in the least disappointed.
Having the Brit with me for those nine days in Valencia, Salamanca and Madrid was like a downpour of what I miss about being part of a couple. That constant attention. The great rapport. The banter. The laughter. The warmth that emanates from people who actually care about each other. The looks that say, “I see you, man.” I wasn’t lonely and all that’s troubled me for so many months was falling off in the background. It’s how we compose shots for the interviews I conduct on camera. The subject is sharp and clear while the background is a bit hazy and blurry. All that matters is what is in focus. And focus existed in Spain. Make that focus and inspiration. So, why do I feel so fucking lousy?
Mind you, the Brit and I started this entire venture with a much different agenda in August. When he admitted that he’d started casually dating someone in early October, the trip’s dynamic shifted without warning into the dreaded Friend Zone. He tried to give me an out, saying he’d understand if that changed things for me given the spicier early stages of our interactions. His very British self wasn’t going to allow for any extracurricular activities, even though he’d only been dating said bloke a few weeks. But, as I would discover, the Brit was an “All In” sort of gent. Meaning, his focus and heart were set. I said, “So what? We’ll manage!” I firmly believed the point of the trip was to get away from what ails us. Nothing more.
In a lot of ways, that was indeed the case. But, it was tough to reconcile a clear trajectory of intent. As much as I tried to keep certain feelings at bay, which was quite an effort, imagine my consternation in having the Brit join me in a round of “Why Can’t We Find Someone Who Will Love Us for Us” during one heart to heart we had one late night. That’s why by the end of that week together, I felt nothing but confusion. It stepped up when, by the end of the week, he was texting his new paramour with a fervor that made me feel like an intruder. And when you have had such a stellar time venturing throughout a foreign country without a single fight, imagine how that can complicate more than just your brain.
The rational me knows that my creating anything but a friendship with the Brit would be difficult since he’s in England and I’m in southern California. The whole “Amor de Lejos, Amor de Pendejos” truth of our situation has never been far away from the fantasy of it all. But fuck me. We sparked. At times, it felt so real, this connection. At one point in Valencia, he even said he needed to put blinders on. Why couldn’t this be something more than just two friends having a good time in Spain? I have not wanted to be close to someone like this is such a long time! Six years after I selfishly kicked my bespectacled Ex to the curb, it’s been a mixed bag of really poor choices, cheap sex and a lot of wondering when in the hell the universe is going to take some pity on me! Being with the Brit was so bloody effortless. Was I just being clueless or just deluding myself because of an ideal that has yet to be acheived?
Trust me. I’ve done some work in processing all of this. It was big relief knowing I can be myself with the right sort of gent. He’s a fantastic person with whom to spar, a real intellectual with that classic British wit. Dry as a sherry, but fierce as Thatcher at her peak. More, I felt this incredible calm around him. It remains the one thing I will cherish most about my life with my Ex and it’s the one thing that’s been missing ever since.
As we got closer to the end of the trip, I felt unsteady and possessed by a grim outlook. He’d go home to someone who’d hold him tight. I’d go home to face a new round of the Dating Game. And that just pissed me off. I’d like to squeeze out as much of the Brit’s sincere and warm sentiment into a place that can validate why I am certain I wasn’t misreading the cues. The cold light of a warm LA day suggests otherwise. He was being kind and he needed something different from me. The Brit had been searching for a real friend, someone that understands him and doesn’t possess an ulterior motive that involved hurting him, his one biggest fear. Wouldn’t you know, it’s also a fear that share that with him, among other things.
Ironically, in the weeks since our return, the Brit has reached out in moments of real emotional turmoil as the paramour seems to be on a different page. I understand that very much, the overanalyzing of situations that are never as bad as you think. But it happens and I offer my own support while keeping my true feelings at bay.
I am aware that I keep setting myself up for this these types of situations, though. Prior to the trip, an endless drought of solitude had left me wondering whether I have much to offer anyone anymore. A week in Spain was living proof I did. I wish it was more of a consolation, knowing that I’m not entirely without the means of being with someone on “that” level. Perhaps it was just a practice run? Was it a reminder of what I’ve gained in terms of being an adult when it comes to establishing a healthy relationship? Maybe. But, caught between the lines of lucidity and maturity are slivers of jagged insecurity. I feel the presence of my old nemesis, the one that loves to reiterate: “You lack the total package for him, that’s why it didn’t catch fire.”
I should be content with being the friend, but when that single look caught my eye during our second night in Valencia, I couldn’t help but feel all buzzy inside. A dear friend even noticed it on that following rainy Saturday in Madrid. Her first words were, “How light you look! So handsome! And the beard!” She witnessed the version of me that I’d kept under wraps for the better part of a year. I did feel good as the rain fell over the Plaza del Callao. I felt better than good. I felt not sad.
My powers of imagination are truly reckless at times. In my mind, his time is going to be spent building up a life around his new job and new boundaries with his beau. I’ll be that crazy American who will help lighten the day when things get challenging, like all good friends do. But we’ll always have Spain, and possibly, a chance to storm another group of cities, too.
This is probably a good moment to insert a chorus of: “He lives in another country, dude! What the hell did you expect? Are you loco, ese? He ain’t into you because you live in ANOTHER country and doesn’t want to run the risk of being hurt or worse. It’s easier and safer to stay local for him. Wake the fuck up! Chingao, already.
I know! I know! It isn’t going to do me any good to act like a Charlie Puth song. My reserve of “Better Luck Next Time” is just a wee bit low right now. Trust me, I am focusing on: “Does this mean that someone remains behind Door No. 1504?” It is saner to keep an open mind. But hells bells, I don’t relish the task of having to meet new gents and going through this process. Again. Me da hueva, caray!
I do know that my friendship with the Brit is one I intend to nurture for as long as we both want to share in its possibilities. Truth be told, people like him are rare to find in a world determined to keep us everybody apart from each other. These feelings will abate with time. Of course, this makes it all so damn annoying! To be so close to the prize. Yeah, I feel like I’m about to hold a torch again. At least I can see the upside to that, too. After six years, it is a relief to know that I can finally shift it to the other arm.
So, want to know what a week in Spain can do for anyone? I’ll tell you. It will make you feel so much alive and very much a part the world. Now, the task remains the same as it was during that summer in 2014 when I took that first huge step toward defining my true self in Salamanca. I still have to learn to make Spain happen wherever I go, especially at home. As for the rest? Universe, don’t let me down…but can he wear glasses and make me laugh while watching YouTube clips all night long?
Isn’t it romantic?
Merely to be young on such a night as this?
Isn’t it romantic?
Every note that’s sung is like a lover’s kiss
Sweet symbols in the moonlight
Do you mean that I will fall in love perchance?
“Isn’t It Romantc?” — Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
I hate to break it to Ella or the Messrs. Rodgers & Hart. It isn’t so romantic anymore to be young — or in my case “mature” — on any given day/night when you’re single in LA in 2016. Those “sweet symbols”of yore have been replaced by emojis and the art of flirting has given way to acts of narcissism, sexting, pexting and a strange paranoia that everyone is going to stalk you if you dare to ask for their phone number.
What happened to the fine art of seduction!? I think I can chart the course of our romantic Titanic to this famed opening from one of Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” columns:
“Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence. The glittering lights of Manhattan that served as backdrops for Edith Wharton’s bodice-heaving trysts are still glowing—but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember—instead, we have breakfast at 7 A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess?”
And that was in the 1990s, way before we even reached this intersection of technology and dating that dominates us today.
To be fair, love and sex have always been risky investments and commodities to broker with during any given era. Yet,something changed in us in the 1980s, where we became enthralled with the art of the deal and every relationship could be viewed as a transaction that either paid off (or not) with (or without) financial gain or status upgrades. A pervasive layer of cynicism took root back then and I am starting to think it had an unforeseen consequence on subsequent generations of adults looking for love, sex or whatever passes for intimacy these days.
Behold this lovely message I received on Growlr today:
Yup. You read that right. “Love to be in bondage to you, Sir!”
Let that marinate for a minute.
Have decades of broken marriages, absent parenting and a steady diet of reality TV “courtships for the camera” warped or corrupted our ability to love and be loved? Why is it now okay to reveal your junk in the first 15 minutes of a text exchange, but the second we offer up a little sentiment or vulnerability, you shut us down? “Blocked!” Are we so distrustful of compliments that we confuse them with bullshit hyperbole or read them as code for an ulterior motive ? Again, “Blocked!” And don’t forget the ultimate sin of app dating: never ask for and suggest an exchange of phone numbers.
Now, back to the bondage comment.
Nothing exists in my Growlr profile that even remotely proclaims I have a desire for kink, fetish or any other alternative life style variation thereof. So what endgame did this gentleman even hope to achieve? It caught me so off guard, I didn’t even know how to react. Laughter was first, followed by “What the Fuck!” I mean, that text took balls, which I am sure are wrapped up with strips of leather at the time it was sent. Haha. I don’t begrudge anyone their tastes in terms of sex, but you have to KNOW your audience before sending any such missive.
In the days since that text, I can’t stop thinking about how the art of romance seems to be all but D.O.A. these days. I think of the American Songbook classics that have scored many of my favorite films, counterpointing what romance could look and sound like if given the chance. But love and relationships must live in a different world. And like any transaction, you do get what you pay for. So, why do I shop at the Growlr or Scruff store? Good question.
At times, I find myself at odds with the men I do encounter on these sites. The type of men I’ve engaged with, whether via text or in person, have changed a bit since I grew my beard, if you can believe it. Suddenly, my sexual desirability has manifested into something that is marketable and wanted thanks to my facial hair. Go figure. Some don’t seem to be put off by my observations or way of expressing myself. Others have stayed happily put behind their carefully built fortresses of solitude or indifference. I’ve gotten better about moving on and tapering back any level of persistence. If you’re receiving the most generic of comebacks, cease and desist and no one gets “Blocked!”
It is easy to denigrate the app experience as shallow, lazy and dehumanizing. Why take it at all seriously in the first place? Well, it’s replaced our concept of community, like most social networking sites. Since our lifeblood comes with Apple Care now, we have chosen to allow our dependence on smart phones and other devices to bring the world to us on our terms. Here we live in our shining iTowers, hoping to spare ourselves any indignities, awkward exchanges and diminished expectations from the safety of our own private spaces. It can all be deleted as if it never happened. What a marvel!
What a tragedy.
We will continue to swipe ourselves silly, never sure as to what we want, but darn certain as to who we don’t want to bring into our real time fold. In some ways, app life is like the old days of clubbing, where we would meet and dance with that possible Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now but always kept a close eye on the door should a better option walk in.
It makes me laugh still that we were so willing to take the bigger risk of calling those 900 or 800 number “meeting” lines where your prospective honey was only a voice! Now, your destiny is thumbnail size, for those of us who think nothing of posting our faces. (That people still prefer their own version of a closet reveals a lot of the stigma that still exists today for many men grappling with their sexuality.) The animosity against such “faceless” profiles is something to behold. Vehemence is a good word. So much for #strongertogether.
I don’t know how much longer I will continue sampling the gay buffet offered by the apps. This perpetual state of “speed” dating is exhausting and not very fulfilling. In all honesty, as I begin my journey towards 50 (and we haven’t even touched on the incredible ageism found on the apps, but next time), I think I am finally understanding that actively looking for love is not how it is found. And that’s okay because despite my reservations, something good has come out of all this Growlr-ing around.
I am able to put together my own community of gay men, men that are engaging and interesting to know as friends. It’s been a slow process, but it feels so great to be social with other men who even share some of my sensibilities. In fact, the line “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo” was crafted during one exchange with a supremely genteel and appealing Mexicano who just started his first term at FIDM in Los Angeles.
None of this may be romantic, but it is wonderfully human and real. If I had to answer the query, “Dating apps, friend or foe?” I would probably respond with “frenemy.” Like it or not, as with anything in life, it is all what you make of it. As for my woes about the scarcity of romance, I refuse to let go of my ideals in that regard. I’m just starting to love myself again, that’s one romance that’s been long overdue.
It is affirming to discover in small pockets that romance isn’t dead for all of us. For as long as we as gay men cherish the ideals of being treated with respect and care, romance will never be relegated to being a luxury item for the privileged few. Cynics beware, us new romantics are legion and our numbers can only grow from here.
Something tells me the best is yet to come…take it away, Ella.
At times, I feel like my romantic past is some Spotify playlist I wish I could delete. Bad enough the good, the bad and the ugly of it all gets drudged up with the appropriate cues. Like the Lianne La Havas track, “Good Goodbye,” which I quoted above. It made a train ride last December to see my best college friend a wee bit melancholy, as if the encroaching grey skies weren’t enough proof of my fluctuating emotional state.
Getting over Him has been a less than a good goodbye. Actually, it’s been the longest. hitting its sixth anniversary and threatening to be held over for a seventh. And then I saw that Facebook photo around the time of that train ride south.
Social media is just a Pandora’s Box, really. It’s where memories, the wonderful and painful, fly about with ninja-like precision, triggered to pounce without warning. Hell, NASA should take interest. There they were. Looking so happy, their megawatt grins illuminating what I’ve tried and repeatedly fail to suppress: I’m single. He’s so moved on and I haven’t. That post-holiday tableau, where the Ex (and the Current) were surrounded by three adorable cher enfants, X’s nephews, did catch me off guard. Fuckin’ Facebook ninjas. And without hesitation, they sliced through an already compromised heart.
Every holiday season, I find it too easy to get into this fragile state. I joke that the only thing holding my heart together during Christmas is chewing gum and a prayer. God, it drives me crazy. The rational part of me knows that I’m idealizing the past; that it’s not so much about Him as it is missing being consciously coupled. Instead, I let these moments, like seeing this picture, dictate how this once happy and important part of my past looks so much happier without me.
Sensory elements surrounded that train ride down memory lane, from the music I was listening to the smell of warmed up leftover Chinese food and the cheap scents of fragrance gift sets worn by the passengers. Yet it was all overwhelmed by the stench of morose, self-pity. All I thought then was how it couldn’t it have been me in that pic? Just like the one where we went with his sister and brother in-law on a weekend trip to Napa. It was before that couple grew into a family of five. I was part of their narrative, not the short story titled “The Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Who Refused to Be Satisfied.”
It wasn’t such a short story. It was a five-year chronicle. But I wasn’t satisfied. I’m never satisfied. Something is always lacking. Someone is always disappointing me. It’s never enough. It has to be better. He has to be better.
Tomorrow has always been a big word for me. It’s the catch-all to validate all of my bad behaviors; the extended mixes of all my bad tracks. It’s an archive filled with mantras of wellness and awareness. Tomorrow always arrives, yet I still choose to take another plunge into the deep end of stagnation. In reality, being an Adele song works better for Adele. At least she gets paid for her pain. But, dammit, right on cue, I am thinking, “It’s true. Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.”
Someone like “Him.”
In an era where we are able to register an instant “like” for every post we see, why is it that we can’t seem to hit that button for ourselves? All these years of wanting to court a positive state of perception, of being liked, have yet to wane thanks to social media sites. It’s this perfect storm of shit for people like me. Inflating insecurities as you seek the adoring adulation of your “followers.” And through it all, we obfuscate our self-worth. It’s relentless and dangerous. Yet, what’s the solution? Hide your profiles? Take the news feed of your life into real time by being with the people who don’t enable this precarious state of existence?
It helps to put this down on paper. It helps to see what lurks in my brain on this page. I go back and re-read, changing things every so slightly. Yes, sometimes it does last in love and sometimes it hurts. That happens to all of us. Still, I can’t help but scream to myself, “Where is that someone like You?!”
What will You/he think of all this heavy emoting? You’re/He’s gonna notice a pattern of sameness here. If You’re/he’s not going to be the final chapter, will he instead become another entry in this log of self-reproach?
If I could tell Him anything today it would be to say, “I wish I didn’t lose You somewhere between love and death. And I’m sorry I threw you away, because I did do just that. Sucks. I did like You. I loved You, in fact.”
You’d think after holding this fucking torch so long, I’d have better strength to hold it all together when it comes to Him.
My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?
I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.
We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.
As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)
Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.
In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.
Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”
My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.
“Was it his father?” I thought.
Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.
Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.
Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.
I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:
We are mortal after all.
My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.
I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)
I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:
Tacho’s father, Roberto.
Anne’s son, Matthew.
It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.
This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.
I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.
As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.
I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”
In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.
Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:
Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.
Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.
Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.
Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?
This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.
Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.
My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.
We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.
As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.
But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.
You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.
I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.
SALLY TOMATO: Some day, Mr. Fred, you take this book, turn it into a novel. Everything is there. Just fill in the blanks.
HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: Would be good for some laughs.
ST: No. No, I don’t think so. This is a book would break the heart. (READS ENTRIES) “Mr. Fitzsimmons, powder room, $50. Less $18, repair one black satin dress. Cat food, 27 cents.”
HOLLY: Sally, darling, you’re making me blush. But you’re right about Jack Fitzsimmons. He’s an absolute rat. but I guess, of course, I don’t know anybody but rats. Except, of course, Fred here…”
From the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” adapted from the Truman Capote novella by George Axelrod
It is a story to break the heart, indeed.
Last night, I had a coffee date with a real life Holly Golightly, author Truman Capote’s famed gamine immortalized by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Although, as I wake up to write this recollection, I now see shades Lorelei Lee, the famed blonde mantrap vedette from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Either way, I write this of two minds.
I admired his pluck and honesty when he hurled statements like, “I don’t want to work to sustain myself. I want someone else to take care of me. My mom did that. So did my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.”
I am also saddened by the harsh reality of his worldview. It was disconcerting to see how a darker shade of self was hiding beneath those incredibly green eyes. Yet, moments occurred during our two hour conversation where it was apparent said eyes could turn icy blue with determination.
God, he was beautiful. He had this classic Pepsodent, that all-American, clean cut look reserved for those who are the physical manifestation of manifest destiny. He knew he had the power to pillage and conquer souls and grab all the riches of the land. It would happen without him ever having to do or give anything in return, a fact he made quite clear.
I was never one of those boys. I never had that power. I was the friend. The confidante. The one that went with you shopping. The one that would hold your hand and console you when you would cry or rage over the one you’d rather be with treated you wrong. I don’t know what it’s like to wield a sexual power so strong, that men would become automatic teller machines to sustain even the most tenuous of connections. I was never the boy who looked like a teenage dream.
During the course of our time together, I had visions, strong sexual ones. How could I not? I recognized the signs from day one. His careful banter, always appealing, almost demure, was seductive. But as our conversations, or rather marathon text narratives, evolved, an edge was starting to make itself known. Sitting with him at this Starbucks at Downtown Disney, it became apparent to me he knew what he had to say to draw a man in. Shrewd sincerity always wins in the conquering game.
It was fitting that our meet and greet happened at a place where artificial beauty runs rampant and costly dreams of fun and adventure are sold. This temple of cartoon consumerism only compounded my resolve not to engage with this boy again. Clarity hit as I drove by the 605 freeway on ramp. The role models provided by Holly Golightly and Lorelei Lee haven’t lost one iota of their potency.
But I shouldn’t be surprised.
Madonna’s seductive and telegenic anthem “Material Girl,” itself a variation and homage to these archetypes, has never been more resonant than today, where a generation refuses to do the hard work or take pride in making their own success. It’s about the instant gratification of it all, of getting and wanting all you desire.
Bartering with sex is nothing new. From the moment we learn to covet, we will find the right selfie angle with which to succeed of obtaining our heart’s desire. Yet something else is in the mix when you’re beautiful of face and body. I’d like to think a high cost exists to trade one’s souls to appease a hunger for Vuitton.
Lorelei Lee exalts near the end of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” how “a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”
It does help, Miss Lee. But when all you can do is show your price tag like I was shown last night, I realized the cost would not just be a monetary one. I don’t have the funds to become a sugar daddy for someone who may just walk away when a fuller bank account comes into play. I would never want to pay to make someone love me. I want parity. I want equality. I want to share whatever I have with someone who understands the importance of giving back and not just in a financial way.
Want to know the greatest irony in all of this? He worked at a bank.
It took me a while to fight my way to the middle in this world. I am not going to be a rich man. I’ve pretty much squandered most of the riches of my perceived Hollywood life anyway in a lifetime of unbridled spending. That emotional void I’ve fought most of my life is no closer to being filled, although I recognize the danger of giving it power. It’s a hollow space. Period. What surrounds it, however, is something that keeps me from falling in.
I tire of this app fueled world, where you swipe by thumbnail portraits of the desperate and the damned. It’s a virtual Serengeti. Here, a generation of men, predators and game, roam the space in search of something that can stave off the inevitable, even it’s just for a moment. It’s a network for the anti-social, where you trade innuendo and salacious photos in acts that approximate connection and intimacy. No one ever really wants to go beyond the chat box. Somehow, that’s just inviting the danger and risk of having to actually relate to somebody. (Side note, maybe we ain’t talking, but a lot of us are still fucking the pain away. Which may account why STD and HIV infections are on the rise.)
For a moment, I thought, “Maybe. Just maybe.” He was softening a bit, opening up more and more about his family life, later showing me pictures of his mom and sister on Instagram, which was unexpected. It was the most real aspect of our conversation, the only time I didn’t hear cynicism and contempt. Calculated, perhaps. Yet, an urgency could be heard in his voice, which would fall to a whisper. “This man,” I thought, “is lonely.” Despite the romanticism of a fireworks show in the distance, it was the spark of an iPhone 6 Plus screen that illuminated the truth — and path for my exit strategy.
He joked that he couldn’t live without his phone, a trait that goes beyond generations at this point. And quite a bit of life was happening while we sat together. He’d text and talk, talk and text. I eventually had to sneak a look, only to be rewarded by the sight of a distinguished, smiling gentleman with a beard. Older, like me. Smiling that smile of “Notice me, please,” like me. It was obvious that the Teenage Dream was hedging his bets alright. I was one of a group.
One final boom filled the sky and we began our walk back to our cars. He said he always loses his car in the Disneyland parking lot. Once found, we hugged and he allowed for three tender kisses on the lips. As he turned away, he asked, “Text me” in a voice laden with promise of future heavenly delights. Or maybe it was just polite indifference, the voice we use when we know won’t ever speak again. Either way, I couldn’t really listen anymore.
This “date” cost me $29: $18, parking. $11 for two lattes, one with sugar and one without. But one thing is certain: his story will ultimately break his heart.
Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor on Sunday, December 13.
I’m getting better. In some ways. I’m out of the stroke zone, which means the blood pressure meds are working. My sugar has dropped more than 50% from its high into a region that may mean I won’t need to take insulin. I’m about 17 lbs. lighter. I should be extolling the virtues of this success.
But I’m not.
Now that I’ve reached the half way point of a 10-week program to get my self into a better health, the introspection is reaching a certain plateau, too. And, to be frank, so is my weight loss. If my body is starting to recognize what I’m depriving it, so is my mind. I can’t shake loose some of that which ails me further.
I’m tired of being single.
I’m tired of trolling these apps that only reward those who look airbrushed.
I’m tired of engaging in behavior on these apps that is beneath me.
I’m just tired of being lonely. It’s palpable, this feeling, and it is coloring everything a shade of “pity me” that is so frustrating and self-defeating.
I know how to flush away the sodium that makes me retain water. But how in the hell do I get rid of this moronic self-pity?
I look at this entire experience as a tear down. Something wonderful lurks beneath all this fat and fur. I know it.
It’s interesting. I see examples of my mindset in odd places. Like the Taco Bell on 8th street, one of my favorite haunts. It has been razed to the ground. It will be a long while before I can eat there again, if ever.
Things trigger my mania, to the point I can’t stop feeding this insatiable monster that takes total control.
Today was tough. Tomorrow’s the anniversary of Aunt Susanna’s death. I can’t stop thinking about how much we miss her. How much things still haven’t settled down within the family. All I want to do is consume, to spend and eat, spend and eat until this emptiness feels somewhat filled. But nothing helps. I feel the hunger of that beast growing, even as I bloat myself further and encroach on unnecessary debt.
Woe is the stomach and heart that can’t be placated.
God, how long have I been basking in the glow of hyperbole?
It’s like I don’t know any other way to express myself or view the world. Everything to me is:
It’s all just a cover-up, really. This endless search of non-information that clutters my brain, distracting me from the narrative that I really want to express, not just to the world, but to myself. If there is anything to offer as a resolution for 2015, it is to abandon the hyperbole and focus on what matters in defined terms. Fuck these endless social media streams, I want truth again.
I haven’t been too eager to promote many entries on this blog of late. It’s been a combination burn book and teen girl journal for weeks. “This family member talked so much shit about my me!” or “Those family members had the nerve to make it all about them!” or “This date was just another Harry Houdini! Now you see him! Now you don’t!” I bet even Taylor Swift would go, “Fuck bitch. Get a new theme!”
What happened to self-reflection and understanding, to humor and positivity?
What happened to the last third of 2014?
Well, a lot.
John Kander and Fred Ebb composed a song for Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” called “The World Goes ‘Round.” I’ve had it on a loop these last few weeks. It helped shape what I decided to write today, summing up exactly what sort of year many of us experienced in 2014.
Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad
But the world goes ’round…
And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound…
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins
But the planet spins,
and the world goes ’round….
I thought a lot about what this closing blog entry of the year should contain. But, as I sit here in my bedroom (More teen girl imagery. That has to go in 2015), I find that I don’t want to replay any of it. I want to focus on the reality that the world will continue to spin — and that hope matters.
My boss Alan and I got into a rather revealing discussion about hope, an ideal my friend doesn’t seem to think exists.
But I do. I really do.
Hope, like love, has lost its power. It’s a brand. It is a campaign logo. It has been appropriated by the self-help contingent, those annoying life coaches and magazinespeak spinners. It is that blanket statement too many of us use to cover up our woes, disappointments and our other beautifully weak and frail moments. “Don’t worry. There is always hope.”
Hope, like love and happiness, takes effort. It takes work to NOT let yourself fall prey to the myriad of distractions and stupidities that dominate our daily lives. You can’t use hope blindly. Hope needs to be seen clearly. It isn’t like prayer. “I hope” is not like talking to God. You are talking to yourself. You are being your own source of faith and courage to face the challenges that we face. And the challenges, particularly at this age, will arrive with the efficiency of a high speed train.
Hope, like love, is not for pussies. And hope needs to be taken back from the legion of those wanting to cash in on our gorgeous neuroses for their own gain. Before any of us can begin to understand just how important love is in our lives, we have to reeducate ourselves in the power of hope. Where there is hope, you will find love. You will find them exactly where you left them before you let all the static of modern life cloud your own beliefs and true self.
In a few hours, 2014 will join the album of detritus that is memory. It will be relegated to the tales we tell whenever we reunite. Those who are lost, will be remembered. Those who hurt us will be reviled again, but ultimately forgiven because they just don’t know any better. Those who made us laugh, will make us laugh that much harder. And we will all be glad that we survived to tell the tales again and again.
I also found great comfort in another song, one composed by Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn for the film “Toys,” performed by Wendy & Lisa and Seal. It features this lyric:
This is a Time to be Together
And the Truth is somewhere here
Within our love of People
At the Closing of the Year.
I spent these last months in a state of free fall. I haven’t hit ground yet, but I see it below. I have not lost sight that it is with my family and my family of friends, new and old, here and abroad, where I did find my truth in 2014.
I can’t wait to find out what I will learn in 2015.
Wednesday, December 31. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA.