Calgary Loft

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I’m on the 17th floor

It’s dark outside

I’m standing in a pair of black briefs

looking at the neon city against a dark sky

as the cars drive on bridges over the river

But mostly I catch my reflection in the glass

I can see through myself and into the city

and that awakens the poetry corners of my brain

I’m only renting this penthouse

but for many this would be the realization of a dream

Hardwood floors, marble counter tops

a grill on the balcony overlooking the river

It’s easy to picture red wine in goblets on coasters

laughter as the sun sets

lentil pasta in steel pans, fresh flowers in vases

and homegrown coffee in the morning

And the vision of all this haunts me in its way

because its all so fleeting, so temporary

Those preconceived ideas

about happiness, joy, success

Because some day, someone else would own this space

and make it theirs

and the landscape would change. 

I can see through myself and into the city

and then the light flicks off

and I can’t. 

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To the One Who Was Cheated On…

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In my therapy office lately, I’ve worked with a lot of clients, both gay men and straight women, who have recently been cheated on by their partners. What follows is my words for them, gathered here in one place.

First off, although you already know this, you are beautiful. You are worthy of love. You are desirable, and worth it, and enough. And an act of betrayal by someone you love and trust does not change that.

You are not a fool for not noticing. Maybe the signs were there and you didn’t see them, or maybe you just felt safe and content. Maybe he acted like everything was normal, or maybe you could feel him pulling farther away. Or maybe you noticed the signs but you didn’t know what they meant. How could you? But whatever it was, whether it was a one time thing or something ongoing, whether it was online or while you were away, you aren’t a fool for not noticing. You found out when you did, and we can only live in this present moment now and figure out what comes next.

Only you can decide what to do now. You can demand therapy, ask to go through his phone, rage and scream, sleep in the guest room for a while, ask him to sleep in the guest room for a while, ask him to leave, or close off for a period of time. He made this choice, not you, and now you have to decide what to do and how to proceed. And that first night, when you found out and you simply lost it, well, that was justified. It was pure pain. Forgive yourself for that. You went there at first, but don’t stay there.

Given the chance, he may realize everything that he stands to lose. He was caught, and that may make him face up to what he has, and what he was willing to gamble with. Maybe he can show up now, maybe he can make all those changes you were hoping he would make. Maybe he will be all in, the way you have been for so long. Maybe he will be the man you always needed him to be. Maybe the sex will get better. Maybe he will make you feel attractive and loved again. Maybe he will hold your hand more, or cuddle you more often. Maybe you will feel safe again.

But maybe you won’t want that. Safe might feel threatening. The last time you felt safe, well, that was when he lied. And that is the biggest betrayal of all. You offered him your vulnerable self, your everything, you pledged your life to him, and these acts, these lies, they feel like a betrayal of the worst kind because he was so close to you. He isn’t your father, or your ex, he is the man you gave yourself to, and that hurts. And then you find yourself wondering if it was this way all along. Was he always cheating, always lying? Was the rest of what you had an absolute farce? Is he manipulative? Was it just this once, or was it many times? If he lied to you this time, did he lie all the others? What does this mean about him, about the man you fell in love with? And what does this mean about you? And if he is showing up now, why wasn’t he before? And is this sustainable, can he last, will the changes be permanent or only for a few weeks?

But maybe he won’t show up, too. Maybe he can’t change. Maybe he’ll yell at you, tell you it is your fault, tell you that if you had been more somehow he never would have cheated in the first place. Maybe he’ll shame your extra five pounds, your late nights at work, or your expectations. Maybe he’ll say it was you all along. And maybe that makes your decision easier.

But maybe he’s right a little bit. Maybe you could have shared how you were feeling more, and let him have more nights off with his friends, and listened a bit more often. You aren’t to blame, but maybe you have some things to work on too.

He cheated. He cheated and it hurts, on a deep level. But you have to remember that the cheating doesn’t negate everything that came before. All those other moments are real. The hot air balloon ride, the candlelight dinner, the sex in the shower, the ‘I love yous’ as the sun set, the way he looks at you over coffee, the time he swept you up in his arms and said you were his everything. Those moments, those experiences, those memories, are real. They are authentic and powerful. And you have to weigh them against the betrayal.

You can leave. You can walk away, and hurt, and take your things with you, and start again, and everyone would understand. You’ll heal. You’ll hurt, and grieve, and then you’ll move on. The ocean is full of fish, as they say.

But maybe you’ll stay. And if you’ve chosen to stay, well, that’s hard too, because everything feels just like it did before, all of the wonderful and all of the problems, but now you feel like a crazy person. You want to pepper him with questions about the night it happened, who was it, how was it, how often, what specifically, and what not, and was he thinking of you during or after, and was the other person better than you, and did he think about what he stood to lose? You want to call him names. You want to go cheat on him back, so he can know how it feels.  You want to check his phone, put a tracker on it, and follow him to work or the doctor or the gym to see if he’s telling the truth. You wonder if he’ll do it again when he leaves early or comes home late, and every time he leaves to run errands, or every time you are late or gone for a day, you wonder if he is going to do it again, and if so, will you catch him, and do you even want to or would you rather not know, and if he does it again will you be able to give him yet another chance. And you hate it, because you don’t want to be that person who is constantly suspicious and on high alert. The questions and wonderings exhaust you, and they make you sad, and they make him sad, and you know he feels bad and you don’t want to keep making me feel bad, but goddamn it, you were hurt.

You were hurt.

And so, whatever comes next, face it with grace. Be kind. Be consistent. Share your feelings in safe places. Keep your boundaries. Take it one week, one day, one hour at a time. You miss him, you need him, you want him, you want to want him and need you, and you want him to hold you, and you’re wary of being hurt again, and you’re not sure what comes next, and all of those things are okay. Create space for them. You are human, you are organic, and you are not in a hurry.

And although you already know this, you are beautiful. You are worthy of love. You are desirable, and worth it, and enough. And an act of betrayal by someone you love and trust does not change that.

Sunday Night Drunks

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The old man grabbed Mike’s shoulder abruptly, then physically turned Mike to face him. “Saaaaaaaaaay! A little longer with me-saaaaaaaay!” He sang nonsense words in an off-key drawl, trying hard to harmonize with the inane music blaring from the overhead speakers. The words didn’t match at all.

“You know a guy like me and that’s over there,” he nodded his head toward the bar as he slapped Mike’s shoulder a few times, then he stumbled toward his bar stool, sat down, and took a swig of beer. He wore a long sleeve pullover and a ball cap over a pair of beige shorts, and he was likely in his late 60s. He immediately conjured images of Bobby Moynihan’s character Drunk Uncle from Saturday Night Live a few years ago.

Working hard to contain my laughter, I leaned in and whispered in my boyfriend Mike’s ear. “So that just happened.”

He turned to me, mock horror on his face. “What was that?”

And I just grinned. “Clearly, he is very interested in you. He tried serenading you! And then a guy like him and that over there!”

Mike fought off laughter. “What does that even mean?”

A feigned look of seriousness crossed my face. “Look, you have a free pass tonight. If you want to go home with that very handsome man, you are certainly allowed for tonight only.”

“No thank you!” Mike pursed his lips and narrowed his eyebrows, staring me down, then we both burst out laughing.

The bartender, a thick barrel of a man with a full beard, whispered an apology to us. “Guys like that, drunk this early on a Sunday night, well, let’s just say I’ve seen him do worse than that.”

We both ordered a gin and tonic, then sat down at an empty table to sip our drinks and chat. The bar was mostly empty. After a long weekend of hanging out with the kids, running errands, and working in the house, we thought we might head down to the local gay bar, the Sun Trapp, for an evening drink. I wanted to go early, Mike wanted to go late. It was a holiday weekend, I reasoned, so maybe it would be busy early, giving that Labor Day was the next day. So we compromised and arrived at the bar at 9:30. He was right, it was dead.

Random conversation between us varied from topic to topic. We discussed guys we used to date, our high school graduations, and what we had looked like as teenagers. We laughed at old family stories and held hands across the table. I watched through the window to where a solo man, clearly very drunk, gyrated on a dance floor all by himself to a techno-version of some song that should never have had a techno-version of it made. All in all, it was a lovely evening. I commented on how this didn’t feel like Salt Lake City, this felt like some small town gay bar in an unfamiliar place on a week night. And we laughed about that as we finished our drinks.

A half hour passed as we chit-chatted, and we decided we could do one more drink before heading home for the night. (I had to work in the morning, but he’d get to sleep in). We went back up to the bar to wait our turn, then heard a man walk up behind us.

He made a clicking sound with his tongue, appraising us uncomfortably, then he walked up to the side and looked us over. “Well, Charlie,” he said to his friend at the bar, “look at these gents. They don’t have an ounce of fat on them! Not that I’m complaining!” Mike gave an awkward laugh and avoided eye contact as the man continued. He clearly hadn’t looked closely, as there is at least one ounce of fat on me. “I mean, I don’t mean to be friendly, but as much as I enjoyed the view from the back, look at the view from over here! I better not be too friendly, Charlie, or the next words to come out of my mouth will be ‘drop your pants!'”

Mike gave me a look that indicated he wanted to roll his eyes. Just then the bartender indicated to the drunk old man that had been singing that his cab had arrived.

“I ain’t gettin’ in no cab!” he slurred. “I know I ordered it, but I ain’t going! And I ain’t cut off, even if you say I am or was!” He struggled to stand up from his stool, clearly outraged in his drunken stupor.

The new man continued speaking, and I finally looked over at him. He looked like a hippie, with a bandana around his head, and a long beard that extended past his rib cage. His face was old and weathered. He wore a baggy t-shirt to hide his ample stomach, and a pair of jean shorts.

“Not that anyone is asking me, but a few years back, I up and quit everything and now I’m driving a truck! I can have anybody I want back there. A while back, my brother-in-law told me he needed to find me a girlfriend, but I just told him, I don’t need no girlfriend, I just need me a sex slave! He called me crass, but I’m not afraid to say it! I’m 63 years old, what do I have to lose! Nobody wants any of this anyway! Now I just gotta find somebody who does!”

My attention went back to the previously singing man. “I’m not going, I say! I want one more!”

By the time I could turn back, the truck driver was hitting on a girl who had lined up behind me at the bar. “Well now, a pretty girl like you needs a drink! What do you want, honey?”

We left shortly after that and headed home. I contemplated all of the little bars in all of the little towns around the world, all with drunks just like these guys, early on a Sunday night, flirting blatantly with whoever walked in front of them. It was entertaining, but heartbreaking also in its way.

Sober and content, I drove toward home, jabbing Mike with my elbow.

“You were very popular this evening!”

He wasn’t flattered. Not at all.

Seattle Conclusion: Homecoming

April, 2015

Outside of a few goodbye dinners with friends, and one last night spent with Zhu, leaving Seattle was relatively anticlimactic. I carried my clothes, pictures, and few supplies down the stairs and loaded them into my car. I went to bed early the night before, woke and had one last cup of coffee on the balcony overlooking Lake Washington (my how I would miss the view over the lake), showered, dressed, and left. I was on the road by 5:30 am, ready for a long day’s worth of driving ahead. I almost immediately realized I wouldn’t miss it. I had taken what I needed, and now I was ready to leave.

I tried to leave the city with the same sense of adventure and hope that I’d arrived in it with. As I got on the busy interstate toward Utah, I contemplated the new reality that awaited me back home. I had taken the biggest risk of my life in moving here, and ultimately I had only lasted six months. I didn’t feel like a failure. I wasn’t coming home to Utah with my head between my legs. Instead, I was returning changed. And I had a long day of driving to figure out what those changes meant for me, and what they were.

The storm within me was quieter now. I was safer in myself. I had left Utah with so much anger and sadness, emotions that came from an unsafe place. But now the feelings were quiet within me. Their expression was more normal. I could get mad, or sad, or scared; I could feel anxious or guilty; I could grieve, or hope, or strive, and the world felt possible and safe. I knew how to feel now, and how to process the feelings. They were gifts now. They didn’t overwhelm or incapacitate me as they once had.

Leaving Utah had allowed me to find myself. It taught me that happiness wasn’t right around the corner, it was already within me. Utah no longer felt like me being shackled in place, instead it was a place where I had friends, where I felt it home. It now represented ground that I could build from, instead of the shattered ruins it had felt like when I left.

My children were six months older now. I’d seen them every month, and spoken with them over video chat daily, but they were older. And so was I. My friends had changed too; some had moved away, some had ended relationships, others had new jobs or homes or boyfriends. And yet Utah would feel exactly the same, just without the sense of threat that it had before.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, my ex-wife, my children’s mother, had evolved as well. She was no longer attending the LDS Church, for her own reasons, and I think that I had proven to her that I was a consistent and involved father, even from farther away. She was kinder now, in a way, and perhaps she blamed me less for the end of our marriage. And maybe that was the most healing thing of all. Maybe I finally could let go of my shame there, and stop living with regrets; maybe I could march forward with my life in peace and with hope now.

Ultimately, my time in Seattle had been… simple. The lessons I learned there were things most people learned in their teenage years and in their twenties. I learned that finding love wasn’t so easy, that family was the most important thing, that loving yourself was crucial before loving others. I learned how to prioritize health and self-compassion. I learned that I didn’t want to live with a bunch of guys in a fraternity setting, and that I didn’t want to make more money if it meant selling my soul and my own mental health. I learned that debt, and struggle, and pain follow you, even if you move to a new horizon. I learned that no one gets to the destination without putting the hard work in first.

Back in Utah, I had secured an apartment downtown. A brand new beginning in a new part of town. I was taking over the lease from some old college students. When I arrived, I found they left just a few things behind: a container of protein powder, a pull-up bar, a box of Stevia packets, two folding chairs, and seven unused condoms. Within days, I would have the place stocked with furniture and bunkbeds for my children. I would need to find work quickly in order to survive. There was a gym in the basement to work out in, and my social work license was still active, so I could launch right back into life. My friends were there. In fact, Kurt, my best friend, was planning a welcome back party for me, even though he had just thrown a going away party for me six months before.

I drove toward my sons, toward my future, having no idea what’s next for me. I had projects in mind, research and writing projects, things that I wanted to do. I wanted to travel, and to get in the best shape of my life, and to achieve financial freedom for the first time. But I was beginning to believe those things were possible. I was free from the shackles of the things that had held me back before, and I was learning that only I could put restrictions on myself. I had just the right ground to build from.

I pulled into my new place and, over a few hours, unloaded my car into the new apartment. Tonight, I would sleep on the floor, with pillows and blankets. In the morning, I would go grocery shopping, and then pick up my sons, and they would come over and play with me while I unpacked. It was a new beginning. Another one.

The next morning, I knocked on the door of my old apartment, the one my ex-wife had moved into when I’d moved to Seattle. My sons were inside waiting for me. The door opened, and my five year old yelled out, “Daddy, you’re home!”

And as I gathered him in my arms, his brother toddling over right behind him, I said “I am home, my boys. I am home.”