The Silver Sea

Tonight
The sea turned silver
The boiling sun
Took refuge behind a mass of opaque clouds
As yellow light spilled from its edges
In life-giving tendrils

With only a slight shift in vantage
I stood in a scattered crowd of humans
And saw the earth curve
A long arc across the horizon

Unconquerable ocean rolled forth endlessly
Walls of it smashing
Into the ground beneath me
Slowly and incessantly wearing it down

Rushing water drowned all sound
The guitars, the children,
The motors and tinny radios,
The fragile thumping hearts

And the humans stood as one
Facing west
Looking toward the circular world
As pin-prick stars
And spreading shadows
And salt-soaked wind
And whispering water
Held their weight.

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Ho Chi Minh City

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“It all for her, everything. She lucky girl.”

My Viatnamese Lyft driver, Tuan, beamed as he talked about his daughter, navigating the car through the mild hills of San Diego. I smiled back.

“How old is she?”

“Oh, she 12. Her name Lina.” He indicated a photo of her that he kept nearby of a beautiful young Viatnamese girl, black hair and bright smile. “Her mother and I, we work always just for her, just so she can focus on education, have a different life.”

I commented on how beautiful Lina was, and Tuan asked if I had children. I mentioned I had two sons, ages 8 and 5, and he laughed heartily.

“Oh, two boys! They so busy, I guess! Girls more focused, more emotional. You lucky.”

We both laughed.

When Tuan asked, I told him I was a therapist, and he gave a cooing sound for a moment, seemingly impressed. He went on to explain how he worked as a driver all day long, stopping only to eat and relieve himself, and how his wife worked impossible hours as a nail technician. “We both work hard, too hard, but it good for us, for our family. We take care of Lina.”

I looked surprised, raising my eyebrows slightly as we sat at the stop light. “With you both gone all day, who takes care of Lina?”

“Oh! I should have said,” he laughed again. “My mother and father, they live in home with us. Mother is 84, father is 91, but they in good health. They wake Lina, take to school, pick up and feed. We take care of them, they take care of Lina. Wife parents still back in Viet Nam, but we not visit, too far, 20 hours by plane. Lina want to go to Viet Nam all the time, but we cannot go. We cannot even travel California, too expensive, have to pay bills and raise family. Education what important.”

I found myself asking the obligatory American question, the same question any white person has of any person from another country, before I could stop myself. “Oh, how long have you been in the United States?”

Tuan grinned broadly again, the smile almost constantly on his thin face. “We be here almost 20 year. I met my wife back in Ho Chi Minh City, where we grow up. It hot there, too hot, California nice weather. I meet her on a date with another girl, she was dating my friend, but I like her. We get married and move to San Diego, bring my parents here. Have our daughter. We citizens now. Very happy family now, but we work too hard, I think.”

Tuan asked me where I was from, and I said that I’d grown up in the Midwest but that my current home was in Salt Lake City.

He laughed. “Oh, that place have lot of mountains and lot of Mormons. Big families, lots of kids!”

I found myself laughing back. “Yes, that describes Utah very well.”

We drove through several more lights as Tuan talked about the San Diego weather, the seasons, the tourists, and driving. I muttered a few questions from time to time, but had difficulty slowing my own thoughts. I found myself wanting to ask a hundred questions, but refused to ask any of them, thrilled at Tuan’s narration of his own story. I thought of recent immigration policies, of the vastness and beauty of the world, of the rhetoric and fear spreading through the Hispanic and African and Latino and Middle Eastern people I know in central Utah as they wondered what would happen to their families in today’s America.

We pulled up to my lodging, the little Airbnb I would be staying for the weekend, and Tuan gave me a hearty handshake. “You enjoy those boys of yours,” he smiled.

I grinned back. “Thank you, Tuan, it was a pleasure meeting you. Thank you for telling me about your family.”

“I am lucky man,” he said, “but must go back to work. You enjoy vacation in San Diego. Maybe someday I visit Salt Lake City. And maybe someday you visit Ho Chi Minh City, too.”

“I’d like that,” I said, and closed the door as he drove away. I gave a quick wave, one proud dad to another, and both Americans.

my best friend

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“God, Kurt, I love them so so much.”

“Careful, or you’ll make me cry.”

It is a picture perfect San Diego Saturday morning, spring 2013. I woke up in the hotel room at 5 am, unable to sleep any longer, a heavy burden on my mind. I’d gone downstairs to find a cup of coffee, book in hand, so that my best friend Kurt could continue sleeping upstairs. And within a few minutes, I got a text from him asking where I was. He got dressed, slipped on a pair of shoes, and now we were out walking the streets, the sun just coming up, golden and beautiful.

Kurt had come out here on a business trip and had invited me along. We get along famously, he and I. We had spent the long drive down singing songs, telling stories, gabbing about our families and friends. Kurt is nine years older than me, in his mid-40s, but we have been out of the closet about the same amount of time, just a few years each. Being gay after all those years of being Mormon, being married to women that we loved but weren’t capable of loving fully, hiding in plain sight hoping that no one would notice the fact that we were homosexual in a church that doesn’t welcome gay people. These shared experiences bonded us, pushed us together. A bond had formed between us months before. Not a romantic one, but a brotherly one. Kurt and I weren’t just friends, we were brothers.

“My sons, Kurt. I feel terrible. Every time I leave Salt Lake City, I miss them, of course, but I come alive, I feel at peace and open to the world. When I’m there, I love my time with my sons, but I feel broken, I feel a shell of myself. I sleep on the couch and feel trapped and awful and bitter. I just go through the motions. And I hate it because just being with my sons should be enough to make me happy. That should be all it takes.”

Kurt stops walking. I take a few steps, realize it, and turn back to face him. He has tears in his eyes and he looks so sadly serious. I step back toward him.

“You listen to me, mister. We have lived our entire lives for other people. I raised my stepdaughters and my sons. I took care of my parents and my wife. And you, you took care of your mom and sister, your wife and children. No one ever took time to care for us and so we have to learn to do that ourselves.”

Tears run down my cheeks and tears run down his.

“You know me,” Kurt says. “You know how much I love my children. And it kills me, it literally kills me to live so far away from them. We talk and we text and we video chat, but it isn’t the same until they are with me. The summers, the holidays, I count every moment I’m not with them, and I make the most of every moment they are with me. But I had to leave in order to live. I came out here, I built my business, I bought my house, and I do it. I live my life every day.”

“I know.” I look around to see if anyone sees us, two former Mormon gay dads standing on the street crying, but the streets are empty.

“Now if you have to leave, if you decide to move to Seattle or wherever, that will not make you a terrible father. It makes you a brave man. It means you have courage. It means you are teaching your sons to be bold and strong and authentic. And if you go, know that it will hurt, massively, every day. You will ache for them. Trust me, I know. But if the alternative is staying and being sad and miserable, well, that’s a decision you’ll have to weigh out. You know I have your back either way. If you have to leave, you leave. And when you are ready to come, if that happens, then you come back.”

I give Kurt a massive hug and we stand there for a minute, then we start walking. After several seconds of silence, I jab him in the bicep with a finger. “Stupid jerk, making me cry.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you started this.”

We are laughing as a group of three men jog by, too handsome for words, and our eyes widen. We look at each other with a ‘holy mother of God, did you see that’ look on our faces, then we both burst out laughing again.

“Which one do you want?” I nudge.

“I’m taking all three! Find your own!”

“Greedy,” I mutter.

He smiles. “You probably need it more. How long has it been now?”

I laugh. “Shut up.”

We walk a few blocks. Kurt admires the flowers and plants, like he always does. I watch the people interacting and wonder about their stories, like I always do. We both get coffees and take a seat on a small park bench.

He looks me right in the eyes. “Whatever you decide, you have incredible things in store. You’re going to write a book. You are so talented, Chad, you have no idea. You are going to write a book and you are going to change lives.”

I look down, knowing he believes it, but not sure if I do. “Maybe some day.” I whisper.

“Mark my words. And I’ll be the first in line to congratulate you.”

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This blog is dedicated to the memory of my best friend, my brother, my biggest support, Kurt Peterson, who died in a car accident yesterday afternoon. Kurt, thank you for your amazing and limitless friendship. You changed me. You made me believe in myself. And you will be with me, in my heart, for all of my days. Rest with the angels, my truest friend. I will go on being authentic like you taught me.

Kurtt