Santa Fe, are you there?

“We met back in the days of Gay.Com back in the days of America Online, in the early days of the Internet. It changed everything, back then. Gay men had to go places to meet other gay men back then, parks or clubs or events. Before that, the only way to meet gay men from far away was through correspondence of some kind, a phone service or responding to a letter in a magazine. But they launched gay.com, and you could create a profile about yourself and start chatting with men from around the country. It was revolutionary. That was more than 20 years ago now.”

Ed took a sip from his homemade margarita as his partner, Joe, spoke. They were nestled in the corner of their balcony, two chairs pushed up next to each other. There were seven of us out there, chairs arranged in an abstract circle. We all had drinks, and plates full of tortilla chips and homemade guacamole, perfect for this Santa Fe early evening. I turned to look at the view behind me, the skyline stretching over brown rolling hills and brown adobe-style buildings. I could hear birds all of this city, and I loved it.

“It’s quite a view, isn’t it? We retired here earlier this year. And this is basically paradise for us, sitting out here and watching the sun set. It’s the perfect life.”

“So you started chatting online, and then what?” I asked, eager to hear more.

“Well, it was very apparent we were attracted to each other. But life was complicated. I had a wife, children, and a law practice. And Ed had the same, except hundreds of miles away, and he was a pharmacist. But after a few months, we just decided to go for it. We both told our wives we had a work conference and then we started driving. We met in the middle, in a town on the border of Texas and Colorado, and spent three amazing days together. It was just meant to be, I guess. But it took a few years of secret weekend rendezvous times before we could actually come out and be together. And now we’re married. We’re grandfathers. And we’ve retired to Santa Fe, our dream city.”

The other couple there, Wayne and Jason, told a similar story, reminiscing about meeting years before when they both had families. Though they still spent time in different cities as they pursued their own jobs, and both had children and families, they wanted to settle into Santa Fe themselves one day.

I’d connected with this group of men through a random Facebook connection. While I was visiting Santa Fe, a long-time online friend who I had never met had invited me out for drinks with his friends, and I’d eagerly said yes, always happy to make new friends.

“There seems to be a substantial gay community here.”

“Yeah, there is. There has been for years. Gay couples and eccentric artists, that’s Santa Fe. But it isn’t your typical gay community. There aren’t any gay clubs. The town is big enough to have everything you need or want, and there is always something going on, but it’s usually just local restaurants, comfy normal bars, and a show or movie. It’s quiet here.”

The birds chirped louder suddenly, almost seeming to emphasize the point. I’d noticed that over the past few days. Everywhere seemed to have people, every museum or venue that I’d visited, but the streets and shops were quiet. It was a strange combination.

“Years back, Santa Fe had to choose between putting in a university or a prison. The community chose the prison. They liked the jobs it brought, and the tax incentives, and the university would have brought with it a lot of young people, which would change the entire town. Anyway, you can find what you want here, or not. It’s one of the most romantic cities ever.”

“Well, if you are part of a couple, it’s romantic.” The other single guy on the porch, Gary, took a gulp of water. “I moved here three years ago from Europe for a job, and the entire city is idyllic, but it seems everyone here is older and partnered. It’s a difficult city to date in.”

I tuned out for a bit, my attention moving toward the clouds and the horizon. I felt the breeze and got a bit chilly in my tank top and shorts, wrapping my arms around my own chest for warmth. A few minutes passed as I just lost myself there, feeling the internal pressures of the past few weeks just kind of calm. Life could be so simple, or so complicated. It could be kids, bills, projects, and deadlines. Or it could be sipping margaritas and eating chips on a porch while watch the sunset. I needed this.

Ed talked about volunteering a few days per week at the local AIDS clinic, detailing that with the older generation of gay men living here, many who had survived the deadly AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the clinic was crucial for their ongoing health. Some of these men had been living with AIDS for two or three decades, he explained.

I tuned out again, my thoughts going to the history of everyone here, the various paths we had taken. The birds, the roads, the buildings, the hills, all of it coming from somewhere and moving somewhere else. In hours, this patio and this conversation would be part of the past and I’d be on to a new present, and somehow that felt okay right now. It was a strange sensation, one I’d been getting more accustomed to lately, this idea of dwelling only in the present moment.

I turn inward and realize the song Santa Fe from Newsies is playing there on auto-pilot. It’s been playing in the background of my brain ever since I planned my trip here. My brain always works this way, some random song in the background. I hadn’t seen Newsies in years, but I could still remember Christian Bale dancing through the streets as he dreamed of a better life.

Santa Fe are you there
Do you swear you wont forget me
If I found you would you let me come and stay
I aint getting any younger
And before my dying day
I want space not just air
Let them laugh in my face
I don’t care
Sante Fe
I’ll be there

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