Seattle Part 8: Hymns on a Houseboat

November, 2014

Ironically, it was the Mormons who provided safety.

With my hour commute to work and my hour commute home, and with the long and very exhausting days of doing therapy, I had very little energy in the evenings. Often I would exercise, or walk along the lake and read, or go jogging. But after a period of time, I didn’t put much effort into dating any longer. I grew weary of getting stood up, endless chats, or misaligned intentions, and I got tired of the gay club scene very quickly. I was traveling back to Utah one weekend per month to see my children. That left three weekends to explore.

Seattle never lost its magic. I could see plays, live music, public readings by authors, art galleries, shopping districts, and restaurants any time I wanted. Then again, after a few months of that, I realized that Salt Lake City had all of the same things to offer. It only felt differently here because I had more free time.

I needed friends.

My roommates were busy and aloof, rarely keeping any commitments to hang out or do anything together. I worked on building casual friendships with a few guys I met in the city and their friend groups, but some were only looking for sex, some enjoyed drinking and partying far too much, and others just already had active groups of friends, and didn’t seem to have a lot of room for one more. On top of that, overwhelmingly, they had far more disposable money than I did. Child support, rent, travel to and from Utah, insurance, gas, and occasional leisure left me very strapped, and things like eating out were a huge luxury. Ironically, despite my years away from my own origins, I felt like I was too Mormon for the men I was meeting in Seattle.

Then again, I was far too ex-Mormon for the Mormons I was meeting. Still, they were the most welcoming. Although Seattle wasn’t drowning with gay and ex-gay Mormons like Utah was, there was still a healthy and active friend group of gay Mormon guys and girls here, some of them transplants from Utah itself. Most of them still went to church every week, in a ward where the bishop lovingly embraced them for being gay, and they had social activities outside of that often: game nights, pot lucks, birthday celebrations. I was invited to a few of the parties, and I started making friends.

There was the architect, the engineer, the chef, the model, the design specialist, the government agent. There were couples and single individuals. I was one of the few fathers in the bunch. I was part of them, and yet separate, but around them I felt safe in a strange way. I could laugh, relax. It felt like my youth, with my Mormon friends playing board games and watching movies yet without alcohol or cursing.

The group even convinced me to attend church with them on a few Sundays. After coming out of the closet, going to church felt dangerous, threatening, like I was entering a space where I couldn’t breathe. The long suffocating three-hour blocks of church, with six prayers, the hymns, the testimonies, the lessons about obedience and sacrifice. I was back in church, yet I was sitting among other gay Mormons, ones who wanted to be my friends. Among them, I was the only one who had officially left the church, my name off the records, yet among them I found just a touch of safety.

Over a period of weeks, I felt my old demons start to quiet, the ones that resented Mormonism, that raged at my upbringing. I began to find a space of healing within me, a place where the parts of my upbringing that I loved could dwell. The pain, the rage, the hurt, they were all still there, but I could separate all of those out from the parts that I loved. I hated the lies, the impossible expectations, the homophobia and misogyny and racism of Mormonism. But I began to realize that I loved the community it provided, the consistency, the music, the safety, the heritage.

I started to wonder if maybe I could own the word Mormon again. I would never be part of the Mormon church again. But could I use the word Mormon, as an adjective, as a bookend for myself, honoring my roots and my upbringing. I am gay, I am Mormon, I am a dad. I’m a writer, a helper, a teacher. It’s one word among many that can fit in my being and simply dwell there. I could redefine the word that had hurt me so much and make it part of me. I was Mormon, but on my terms. Everything to do with heritage, and nothing to do with religion.

My greatest healing took place on the houseboat, the one where my dear friend Mary lived. When people asked how we knew each other, I gave the simplest answer I could. “Mary is my ex-step-sister-in-law.” Or, the slightly more detailed answer. “My mother used to be married to her ex-husband’s father.” I grew up looking up to Mary, who had a sense of style and social justice about her. She styled herself after Clara Bow and silent film stars, and she exuded love and confidence as she sang sweet melodies as her fingers moved up and down the piano keys. My sister Sheri grew up playing her music on repeat, songs over and over again, till they became familiar parts of my adolescence.

Mary was remarried now, and her sons were teenagers. She lived on a houseboat with her British husband. And she was, of course, allied to the LGBT Mormons that she knew and loved. She began to host monthly singing nights on her houseboat. As the structure rocked back and forth, the gay Mormons sat in circles, on chairs and couches or on the floor, and we sang the hymns. The songs that had touched me so much as a youth took on new meanings for me now in this circle.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee, lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled. 

Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. 

Though hard to you this journey may appear, grace shall be as your day. 

Sweet hour of prayer, they wings shell my petition bear. 

Peace and plenty here abide, smiling sweet on every side, time doth softly sweetly glide. 

Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing. 

I was singing again. I was getting in touch with those parts of me that I’d left behind after coming out. I was beginning to realize that the me then, the one that had hurt so bad for so long, he wasn’t something that I had to escape from. I didn’t need to completely redefine myself. I didn’t need to be someone new. I just needed to be someone who loved himself. I could leave the painful parts there, and reclaim the parts of me that I loved.

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Seattle Part 7: Halloween in the Big Gay House

November, 2014

After a little over a month in my new city, I accepted an invitation to live with a couple of new friends in their large home. They had a spare room open, and the rent was affordable. It was a brand new beginning once again.

I moved in at the beginning of November, on a week end day, and as I unloaded boxes, I had this sense that I was being given another chance to do things right. This could be my college years, those I had missed out on the first time around. I’d been so caught up in Mormonism that I had drowned myself in church, missionary service, school, and work. In college, I had never dated, never sat around with friends on the couch getting high and laughing at movies, never cuddled with a guy who stayed over late. I’d had roommates, but I’d been deep in the closet then, inauthentic. And here, a house of young attractive professionals, who seemed to live the very life I’d been looking for. There was a hot tub, and a big kitchen, and everyone seemed confident and fun. They called it the Big Gay House.

I’d only been there for a few hours and was barely settling in when I learned the roommates planned to go out for the evening to the local gay bars to celebrate Halloween. It was a few days after the holiday, but they assured me everyone would be dressed up and ready for a very fun evening of drinking and dancing. I’d been out to the clubs a few times since I’d moved here, but never with a group of friends like this. I had very fond memories of dancing with my friends in Utah, and this sounded delightful.

So that evening, after it got dark, I put on my slightly scandalous boxer costume: red silky shorts, boxing gloves, a red cape over my shoulders, and a black stripe drawn over my nose. I was shirtless, and wore tennis shoes, and it was cold outside, but I was working hard at becoming more comfortable in my body, and this seemed like a nice chance to celebrate.

The roommates offered to drive to the club, knowing a good place to park, and as we headed outside I realized how briskly chilly it was, and how little I was wearing. We laughed together and soon arrived at the club. I reminded the guys that I didn’t have a house key yet, and asked how late they wanted to stay out, and they said they would play it by ear.

An hour later, I was on the dance floor, slowly sipping a vodka cranberry and dancing with a very cute guy, when I looked up and realized I couldn’t see my new friends anywhere. I kept dancing for another 30 minutes or so before excusing myself. I scanned the dance floor, the patio, the bar, and the sidewalk outside the club and couldn’t find them anywhere. I sent a text, asking where they were, and thirty minutes later I got the answer that they had decided to walk to another club, Neighbors, one about a half mile away. “Sorry we didn’t tell you! Must have forgot!”

Frustrated, I clutched my arms around myself in the cold and briskly walked to the next club, where I paid a cover fee to get in. This club was packed full, but mostly with straight couples, I realized. I saw the roommates out on the dance floor, dancing and drinking, clearly enjoying themselves. They saw me and gave me huge enthusiastic hugs, and the evening went on from there. I danced, had a second drink, and relaxed into the evening, as I watched the predatory behavior of a few straight college guys chasing girls around the dance floor, the girls pretending to be demure. I’d never been in a club like this, gays openly dancing among the straight guys, the music blaring, the drinks strong, and most of the room in costume. It was magical in its way. But as 2 am rolled around, this being much much later than I normally stay out, I began to get very tired. I looked around and realized that, once again, the roommates were gone.

Over the next 30 minutes, multiple text messages went unanswered. They were gone. I walked back to where we had parked the car, and it too was gone. They’d left me there. Simply forgotten me.

It was now past freezing outside, and I began to realize I didn’t have a key. I opened my phone up and got an Uber, barely remembering my  new address to get home. A few minutes later, I was at my new home, the roommate’s car in the driveway. The house was dark. I walked up to the front door, where I could see one of the roommates passed out on the couch. The other must be asleep in his room upstairs. It was nearly 3 am now.

I knocked. I rang the doorbell. I knocked again. Then on the window. I shouted through the window. More doorbell. I called both of their phones and could hear them ringing. More doorbell. More knocking. Finally, the roommate on the couch looked up, stumbled to the door to unlock it and let me in, and then walked, without a word, up the stairs to sleep.

I entered the house, shivering, and closed the door to my new home behind me. This was my first night here. I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase. I’d been forgotten, left outside. I’d wanted the adventures of a college student, and, well, I guess this is what it was going to be like. Drunken dancing until 3 am? Left behind by friends? Shivering on a front porch in only a pair of shorts in the middle of the night? Is this what I had been after?

In my new room, I pulled the covers up over myself. I was simmering with self-shame, with anger. I was 35 years old. I’d given up most everything to come here, to find myself. A thousand miles away, my sons slept in their small beds. I missed them so much that I physically ached. And what had it all been for? This?

I closed my eyes, exhausted. But before I fell asleep, I vowed to myself anew that I would become healthy. Strong. I would do it on my terms. For me. For them.

 

Seattle Part 6: the HMO

October, 2014

On my first day, it took me nearly an hour to get to my new job, though it was only about 8 miles distance from my residence. I had to drive down a long, narrow, busy Seattle street through traffic and stoplights, then get on a congested freeway. Traffic moved very slowly across the lake, and there was no other way to get there.

I worked on the top floor of a medical clinic, the local face of a busy HMO (Health Maintenance Organization). The mental health clinic employed around ten therapists, and we were all kept significantly busy. Clients who held a particular insurance were given good rates to see a doctor or a counselor at the HMO, and they were charged a lot of out-of-pocket expenses to see anyone else, thus we always had a long list of people waiting to be seen by a provider. Someone might call in in some sort of crisis and then not be able to see a counselor for six weeks afterward, based on current openings.

I had worked at community health centers before, so I understood the medical model of therapy. I was a clinical social worker, or LCSW, meaning I could get higher than standard reimbursement rates through various insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid, and the company seemed happy to have me there. But this place worked at a much higher pace than anything I had ever experienced before.

First of all, consider therapy itself. A counseling session requires the therapist’s all. There can be no distractions, no phones or music or computers. It’s just the therapist and the patient. There can’t be errant thoughts, or outside stressors, or headaches, or upset stomachs, or sleepiness. The therapist can’t yawn, or stretch, or eat a snack. The client requires one hundred per cent of the therapist’s focus, as well as their clear memories of past therapy sessions, like names of loved ones and therapeutic goals. On top of that, therapists are often dealing with clients who have extreme trauma issues. They hear stories about combat, suicide, rape, abuse, grief, and pain. And when one client leaves, the next is generally waiting, and the therapist can’t still be thinking about the first or she won’t be able to focus on the second.

Doing three or four therapy sessions in a row requires a tremendous effort; doing seven or eight becomes downright exhausting if not impossible. The HMO required more. And doing that day after day, well, it’s not for the faint-hearted. In standard clinics, even busy ones, I became accustomed to doing four therapy sessions, having an hour lunch, then doing three more, with the last hour of the day being reserved for case and progress notes, treatment plans, and correspondence. It was already at a taxing schedule.

But at the HMO, the expectations were much higher. They had competitive wages (about 45 dollars per hour, consistently, on salary) and a great benefits package. But they had their therapists on a very rigid schedule, seeing a patient basically every forty minutes with no time for case notes built in.

A standard schedule might go like this, for one day:

8 am: ten minute staff check-in

8:15: first patient (let’s say an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s whose husband just died)

9: second patient (a teenage girl who recently attempted suicide)

9:45 third patient (a refugee worried about her loved ones in her home country)

10:30: fourth patient (a couple going through extreme marital issues)

11:15: fifth patient (a veteran struggling with PTSD issues)

12: thirty minutes for lunch

12:30: sixth patient (a single mother of four processing stress)

1:15: seventh patient (a woman with a new baby, struggling with postpartum)

2: eighth patient (a mother processing stress over her son coming out of the closet)

2:45: ninth patient (a man referred by his boss for losing his temper at work)

3:30: tenth patient (a ten-year old boy whose parents recently divorced)

4:15: eleventh patient (a woman with borderline personality disorder, recently out of the state hospital following a suicide attempt).

Then, after that, once your notes were finished, you could go home for the day. Every other week or so, there would be a staff meeting of some kind. And every second or third day, a client might cancel or not show up, giving a chance to catch up. But that many patients per day, every day, four days per week, generally meant between 36 and 45 people seen per week. Sessions had to be shorter and more goal-directed, and a failure to adhere to the schedule meant knocking multiple clients back. If a client came in in crisis, very little could be done to manage it without having to cancel another session afterwards completely, and openings after that became hard to find.

I came into the job with boundless enthusiasm. The team of people I worked with were amazing, funny, friendly, and supportive. The agency had great diversity representation, several gay therapists, and a good camaraderie. But as I finished my first week of work, beaten down, grey, and bitter, I began to realize how tired everyone was. It was like working in an emergency room, without breaks, day after day, every day. With an hour’s drive each way.

In Utah, my therapy work had almost exclusively been with LGBT people who were struggling to align their sexuality with their Mormonism. Here, I was seeing people from every walk of life, all struggling with their own sets of problems. The word Mormon wasn’t being brought up anymore, but there was constant depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and emotional pain. And within two weeks, I found myself unable to offer my client’s my all any longer. Instead of being an incredible therapist, I was becoming a mediocre one, simply to survive the rigorous page.

And with the reality of the new job settling in, Seattle didn’t feel quite so magical. It felt wearying, and expensive. Some cracks in the foundation of my dream life began to show.

And every night, there was the phone call to my sons, who remained far away, and who I missed very, very much.

Seattle Part 5: the Dream

September, 2014

I waited until I had a job before moving to Seattle, but once I arrived, they had me wait a few weeks before I could start. My social work license had to transfer, and my background check had to clear. So I ended up with a few weeks to play tourist.

I had first come to Seattle when I was 15, back when my mom was married to Kent, the man who used words and fists to prove his points. (They had divorced when I was 17). The trip had been a whirlwind, lots of time spent with Kent’s family, very little time in Seattle, and then a trip up north, to British Columbia and Vancouver Island. And I had also come to Seattle a few times as an adult, when I was married, and once after coming out. I had a good sense of the city’s most tourist-y spaces, the Space Needle and Pike Market, a few of the gay clubs. But overall, it was brand new to me.

The idea of Seattle was so romantic to me when I first arrived. The way the streets laid out into different neighborhoods. The idea of an entire city with its own history and its own people, one that didn’t revolve around Mormonism. The rich and vibrant gay community. The tech industry. The theaters, the markets, the coffee shops, the restaurants. The delicious cool ocean climate. The rain. The lakes. The nightlife.

I spent a few days exploring different parts of the city, wandering the streets, always with a book in hand. I found quirky street art, wandered through book stores, and drank delicious coffee. I wandered through the university campuses, took a few city tours, and learned as much history as I could. I got a library card, perhaps my prize possession in any city, and felt more legitimate. I was a resident. I had moved here. I’d done something just for me.

My first Saturday in the city, I took the bus down to Pike Market with the plan of spending the entire day. I got there early and watched the shopkeepers arrive with their various wares: carved walking sticks, hand-drawn cityscapes, feather jewelry, fresh-squeezed lime juice, home-grown mushrooms, huge bouquets of flowers. As I listened to conversations, I began to realize the organics of this place. Store front spaces were highly competitive, and very expensive. Rent for a space had to be paid in advance, and was expected in full regardless of sales. Some store fronts were permanent, and others changed hands every few days. The stations that were farthest out were basically just a section of concrete wall, not even a chair or an electrical outlet included, and the peddlers just set up station. Parking was supremely expensive, so most people were just dropped off for the day, and they were expected to be there for the entire day, from early morning until late afternoon. The early morning was a mess of delivery trucks and patrons unloading their supplies and setting up shop.

As the market opened, it was quiet. Everyone clutched cups of coffee and wore jackets. I casually strolled through the place, looking at ornate African cloths, jars of exotic spices and small shelves of kitschy figurines. I was tempted and assaulted by every aroma: freshly fried doughnuts, grilled onions, lines of frozen fish, juicy peaches, burnt sugar, homemade bread, barbecued ribs. And there was a sea of diverse humanity working there, people of every color, age, height, nationality, and style. I watched and listened, losing myself in it all, forgetting it all.

By late morning, the tourists arrived, and as mid-afternoon approached, even more. The empty hallways and passages swarmed with people. Street musicians played violins and guitars and saxophones, entertaining and hoping for tips. The crowd became so dense that I couldn’t move through it without careful navigation, bypassing backpacks, strollers, and families as I worked my way from one end of the market and back, wanting to see how fast I could do it.

Finally, tired and needing sustenance, I bought some delicious items from a few vendors, then made my way to the entrance of Pike, where I sat on a bench and faced the ocean. No one knew me here. No one asked any questions. No one cared that I was gay, or where I was from. No one knew anything about Mormons, or my failed marriage, or those years I spent hiding in my own skin. I could breathe here. I could get lost, and I could breathe.

As I walked away, blocks from Pike Market, I passed through Belltown. And I sat on another bench, seeing a ‘for sale’ sign, advertising a high-rise condo inside. It was a large beautiful building full of condos. Men in suits and women in professional dress walked around me. The building overlooked the ocean. And for just a moment, I let myself dream.

Maybe I would meet an architect, or an engineer, or a lawyer. Maybe I would fall madly in love with someone handsome and kind, and we would spend evenings sipping wine, weekends going on hikes. Maybe he would cook for me and I would write him poems and we would fall in love, suddenly and slowly. Maybe we would buy this little condo in Belltown, where we could have friends over, where we could walk along the ocean front and talk while holding hands. Maybe on Saturday mornings, I would walk down to Pike Market and buy fresh vegetables and flowers, and I would come back to the condo and put things away. Maybe my future was here. Maybe my sons would come down on holiday breaks, or for full summers, and I would show them this miraculous city, and they would both feel loved and important and also know that I was happy. Maybe I would open a little corner office where I would see clients a few days a week and I would write the rest of the time. Maybe I would end up feeling like this was my path all along, and I wouldn’t grieve my past anymore. Maybe this was how it was always meant to be, with Mormonism, and self-shame, far far away.

Maybe this would be my new life. Maybe this was my future. Maybe… maybe I could be happy here. Maybe I had possibility.

Seattle Part 4: First Date

September, 2014

With enthusiasm, I downloaded all of the dating apps when I arrived in Seattle. I wasn’t in a hurry, but I was enthusiastic. Utah had felt so full of men who had the exact same origin story I did, all former Mormons who had grown up ashamed of themselves and were now trying to find their way in the world. So many were still struggling with depression, anxiety, self-loathing, and major family and religious issues that in ways, dates in Utah felt the same, over and over again. I longed for something new.

I had a few good friends in Seattle before I moved there, but, not surprisingly, they were all former Mormons also, given my social circles. In fact, a lot of them still went to church, to a local ward that was very gay friendly and welcomed gay couples into the weekly meetings with open arms. I’d been invited to go to church several times, but I had very little interest, at least for now. I wanted a fresh beginning, something new. I wanted movie nights with friends, and a local bar where they knew my name, and new routines. I’d been craving that ‘brand new’ feeling my entire life.

I immediately found a small corner coffee shop, close to where I was staying, one that opened ridiculously early. It was there I could wile away the morning hours and make plans for the future. And it was there I first starting chatting with Devon.

When we first matched on Tinder, my stomach fluttered with excitement. That we matched at all had meant there was mutual attraction, a swipe in the right direction that indicated there was interest. In his photos, he was absolutely stunning. Deep brown eyes, rich cocoa skin, a huge brilliant smile. He was an impeccable dresser, in amazing shape, and I could tell he chose his words carefully.

Devon and I spent a few days chatting. He knew I was a father, one who had recently relocated to Washington, “for work” I had said. And he told me about his upbringing in central Washington, his career in the financial industry, and his love for Seattle. He talked about coming out to his family as a teenager, and having a loving and strong relationship with them, and I couldn’t help but wonder how differently my story would have been if I could say the same. We exchanged ‘good night’ and ‘good morning’ messages and called each other ‘handsome’, and then he asked me on an evening date to his favorite restaurant, and my stomach filled with butterflies.

And so, Thursday night, less than a week after I had arrived in my new city, I found my way to Pioneer Square for a date. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore at the start of her show, taking a big risk by moving to Minneapolis and throwing her hat into the air, as the singer proclaimed, “You can have a town, why don’t you take it? You might just make it after all.”

Devon was even more handsome in person. He wore a snug white shirt, a dark blue jacket, form-fitting slacks and black shoes. His smile was amazing. I was in a baggy yellow button-down shirt, tucked in, and dark slacks. (I’d never been a great dresser). I felt out of my league, with my crooked smile and slightly out-of-shape body, but he seemed interested. He had a genuineness about him, but a directness as well. He was the kind of guy who could make you feel welcome, and then order for you and get it exactly right.

We ordered some delicious food and drinks (a rum-and-coke for me, a hard lemonade for him), and we talked about my first impressions of Seattle, my upcoming job, and my fresh start in the city. But there was something on Devon’s mind, something bothering him. He leaned in and touched my hand briefly over the table.

“I’ve really enjoyed our connection over the past few days, Chad. But I want to get something out of the way quick. You have sons, and I love that about you, but why aren’t they here with you?”

I smiled and sighed. Part of me wanted to make up some alternate version of my story, something that would allow me to escape from my roots. Besides, I was tired of crying.

“They are back in Utah, with their mother. I was married before coming out.”

“Oh!” He was genuinely surprised. He took a sip of his lemonade, then continued. “And Utah. Why are you here, and not there?”

I felt my defenses rise a bit, and I used a few too many words to explain myself. Even as I spoke, I was aware that I sounded defensive and anxious.

“I, well, I needed a fresh start. I came out later in life, and I wanted a chance to figure me out in a new place. My sons, they are 5 and 2, and they are amazing, we talk every day, and I’ll see them monthly and send them lots of things. I’m a great dad, and their mom is working with me on this. I just, I grew up Mormon, not in Utah but in Missouri, and it was only a few years ago that I stopped being Mormon, and everything in Utah is Mormon. Everything. Even the gay population. I just wanted to find me away from all of that, see how things can be when I’m not bogged down by all of that religious shit. It’s just, it was more than I can take. I know that is a lot to hear, first meeting someone, but I want to be honest with you. This is for me, my journey here, but it is also for my kids.”

I watched Devon’s smile fade and his expression go stern. He pulled back from me and settled back into his chair. As I spoke, his arms folded in a defensive position over his chest. He stayed silent for several seconds after I finished. And as he spoke, it was my turn to go pale.

“We don’t know each other well yet, but let me tell you something about me. A few years ago, I went through a bad break-up, and I was really struggling spiritually. After a long search, I found a religion I wanted to be a part of. I joined the Mormon church and I go every week faithfully. Obviously, I’m not overly strict about the rules, I drink and date men, but I believe in it. And you left all that behind, plus your children. I don’t think this is going to work between us.”

The waiter brought our food, and we made casual and very uncomfortable conversation as we ate swiftly. And then Devon was gone, with a handshake and the bill still on the table.

I drove home and cried my eyes out, yet again. But I couldn’t help but laugh. How could it be that in one of the biggest cities in America, one with an enormous gay population, that I had connected to a gay black man who had converted to Mormonism? How could that possibly be? Was the universe trying to teach me some grand, painful lesson? Ugh, how was this possible? This was the kind of plot twist in television shows that was simply unbelievable.

I didn’t message Devon again, and it would be several weeks before I ran into him again, on a Sunday when I would try church out with some gay Mormon friends. But that night, I had a good cry, then a good laugh, and then I logged back in to Tinder to see who else might be out there.

Seattle Part 3: Lake Washington

Everyone warned me about the rain in Seattle. They spoke of it with such drama in their voices, telling me how it would be so depressing, wet, and cold there constantly. One friend warned me that people get suicidal in the winter there.

Me, though, I loved the weather there. The temperature there seemed to hover between 60 and 70 in September when I arrived, and when it rained it was a light, wet, drizzle. It was sometimes grey with clouds, and sometimes bright, delicious with sunshine and a light breeze. Every day felt like how I felt on the inside, or how I was working to feel: temperate, consistent, pleasant, calm.

I rented a bedroom in my step-brother’s condo. I hadn’t seen him in years. When I was 13, Bob had been married with children, and when he came out of the closet, my family reacted very poorly. My mother was married to his father back then, though they didn’t stay that way for long. Now I was in my mid-30s, and we had only recently established contact again. He lived in a lovely condo in the Madison Beach area of Seattle, nestled in between expensive homes on the beautiful edges of Lake Washington.

The beaches along the lake were grass, not sand, and I never once got in the water, but I grew to love watching the sun rise and set over the lake. The clouds moved languidly, and broke open to let sunshine spill through. In the early mornings, I could clutch my coffee and drink in the bright pinks and yellows of the rising sun. It filled my soul with hope, joy, and love. It felt like the God I should have grown up believing in, one full of opportunity, change, and love, constant every day. It was different every time, nature’s perfect show, there just for me.

My first week in Seattle, I walked along the edges of the lake, through unfamiliar neighborhoods, nestled on unfamiliar streets. Everyone was a stranger here. I could start fresh. No one knew me. I wasn’t the Mormon kid who made the colossal mistake of marrying and having children before coming out, I was just some guy that smiled and waved as they walked past. I had an anonymity that proved to be the perfect backdrop for the beginnings of my healing.

Years before, I had come out of the closet with such a fierce determination. I was going to live life on my terms, finally. I was going to show everyone what I was capable of, that I could be happy, that being gay wasn’t a choice, and one that didn’t have to result in doom, excommunication, and unhappiness. I could be happy! I could show them all! I could work, and write, and raise my kids, and pay my bills, and date, and start a new life, with energy, happiness, and no problems at all! I could do this! It would be perfect and wonderful, they would all see! That’s how I’d felt at the start.

But in Seattle, I let myself grieve, finally. I let myself feel all the things I had been holding back. I cried, oh how I cried. I cried in the sunshine, I cried in the rain. The tears were soft and silent sometimes, with easy breath, and they brought a calm. But sometimes they were jagged and came from that deep place within me where I had been storing them for so long, a bottomless bucket of painful tears that threatened to rip me open as I gasped for breath. At times, I cried so hard that my head ached and my stomach seized up, and I would sit on the park bench, facing the lake, as I clutched my stomach and squished my face up into painful shapes to try and avoid wailing out loud.

I cried with ache for missing my sons. I cried for all of my lost years. I cried because I hadn’t gotten to fall in love as a teenager, because I had wasted two years as a Mormon missionary, because I had spent nearly 20 years feeling lonely and isolated. I cried because my father left, because my God had forgotten me, because I had given so much time and love and money and obedience to an organization that told me I didn’t belong. I cried over those who disowned me when I came out. I cried over my divorce and the broken heart of my ex-wife. I cried because I had thought coming out would be easier, that I would find love and settle down and life would finally be simple, and I cried because it was the opposite of that in many ways. I cried over financial debts, emotional burdens, and family traumas. I cried, and I cried, and I cried.

Yet each time I cried, I noticed that the clouds over the lake continued to move. The water continued to ripple, and the wind continued to blow. The sun went down, and it came up, whether I was crying or not. The world continued, indifferent to my tears, and I realized I didn’t have to continue crying. I could; I could cry as much as I needed to. But I could also not cry, I could be happy, I could spend the days living instead of crying, and that would be okay too.

And each time I cried, I would stop crying, at least for a while. And I would stand up, and I would walk the lake edge. I would hold myself together and stand up, and live. Once the tears weren’t there, the pieces of me that held me together, they were still there. I was still me. And I was starting to heal.

Gradually, along the edges of that lake, my tears began to leave, and my grieving started to end. It remained part of me, as it always would, but I found that I was okay with that.

Each day brought new determination, a quieter one this time. Each day brought peace.

And over the lake, the sun would rise yet again. As would I.

Seattle Part 2: “Don’t Go, Daddy.”

September, 2014

Before I left Salt Lake City, I sold most everything. I put out furniture adds on Craigslist, and people paid small amounts of cash as they picked up the items one by one. The kitchen table and chairs, the couches, the beds. I’d built this little home in this small apartment for my children and I over the past few years, and now I was ready to leave it all behind in order to take a great chance on myself.

What I couldn’t sell, I either gave away, or gave to friends for safe-keeping. I was tired of moving, and little things didn’t matter all that much anymore. The boxes of comic books I’d been keeping since I was in high school, I gave to a former student to sell or give away. My kitchen dishes went to the local thrift store. I boiled it all down to non-essentials, giving the remainder of my children’s toys and clothes to their mother to hold on to. And when I was all done, I packed my few remaining items in my car: clothes, blankets, pictures, toiletries, a few electronics (including my television). It was enough to fill the car up, but overall, it wasn’t much at all. A human life in those few boxes. It all fit in a small four door car.

I felt miniscule. And free.

And then came the goodbyes. My best friend Kurt hosted a goodbye party, and I invited many of the friends I’d made in Salt Lake City. Friends from the gay swim team, friends from the support group of local gay fathers, and a few of the guys I dated who had remained friends. We ate barbecued food in Kurt’s beautiful backyard, sat in the shade and shared drinks and memories. It was the perfect conclusion to a dramatic and wonderful chapter in my life. Utah had brought so much joy and freedom, and so many harsh life lessons after coming out.

Saying goodbye to my sons was harder than I ever thought it would be. Of course it was. They were five and two, such amazing, inquisitive, happy little creatures. The thought of not seeing them every day broke me into pieces on the inside. How could I be doing this? But I reminded myself that the quality of my connection to them, even from far away, could remain with a lot of effort and consistency. I owed it to myself to try this, to take a big risk for me. Best case scenario, I told myself, I became deliriously happy and spent a lot of time coming back and forth to see them, with them coming up on holidays and in the summertime. Worst case scenario, I spent a few months in Seattle, realized I was unhappy, and came back, and my kids grew up remembering that I was only gone for a while once when they were very small. My decision felt selfish, but it also felt doable, liberating. I was allowed to do something for me.

When I sat down to tell the boys, I made the news happy, despite my broken heart. I showed them pictures of beautiful Seattle, and talked about going to have some adventures there. We talked about the animals that lived there, and the ocean, and I shared some of my plans to send them letters and to call every night. I’d be back to see them every month, I explained, and we would keep having dad and son adventures. My voice had forced enthusiasm, joy, and wonder in it. We spent that last evening before I left playing together, building a blanket fort and having a dance party while singing silly songs. We looked at family pictures, colored, and ate their favorite foods. Then, I put them in their pajamas, snuggled up to them, and sang lullabies. It was our typical magical evening together.

And then J, my magical little five-year old, gave me a huge hug. He spoke only three words. There was no drama in his voice, no need, no pain, no hurt. Just three, simple, matter-of-fact words during a brief squeeze. Words that would haunt me to no end in the coming weeks.

“Don’t go, Daddy.”

Driving to Seattle would take an entire day. I had a few hundred dollars in my bank account, a couple of credit cards, and a job waiting for me once I got there. A couple of tanks of gas, some music, and a few pit stops, and I would be there, exhausted and ready to start life again.

“Don’t go, Daddy.”

A few hours outside of Utah, I had to pull the car over. My tears started small and silent, then they grew in size and intensity. I had to get out of the car at the rest stop, and sit in the grass to cry more. It was early morning and I didn’t see anyone else there. My cries turned to gasps, and then to choking sobs. “Don’t go, Daddy.”

I cried until I was done crying, then I climbed back in the car, turning toward Seattle. I spoke aloud to my sons, from far away.

“I’m not leaving you. I would never leave you. I’m here. I’m here, and I’m going to find me. I’m not leaving like my dad left. I’m going to be here. I need to find me! I need to find my happy so I can be a better dad for you! I’m going to be here, right here, for you both, for your whole lives! You’ll see. You’ll see, buddies. You’ll both see. I’m gonna be the best dad ever. And I’ll be back here, right with you, in just four weeks, I’ve already got the plane tickets. I’ll be right back here. I’m coming back!”

And as tears rolled down my face anew, the sense of hope returned. I rolled the windows down and drove forward. My sons behind me, yet right there in my heart. Now I needed to find space for me there, too.