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.

Wrong Sides of History

I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I believe that even when people act in a sense of self-preservation for self or family, that they believe they are doing the right thing. I also know that there are individuals and organizations in the world that are fundamentally evil, that are willing to exploit, corrupt, steal, and murder to gain power. I recognize that all individuals are not part of these organizations, yet that these organizations, at times in history, influence public opinion in such dangerous and terrible ways.

As an American citizen in 2016, I sit with a sense of panic about the days ahead. This week, Donald Trump was officially put in place as the President Elect by the Electoral College of the United States. I am not the only person to be outraged and saddened by an election. I am not the first person to see progress seemingly stunted or halted temporarily. I look backwards at some of my heroes, like Gloria Steinem, who fought for the perfectly reasonable Equal Rights Amendment, tirelessly and for years, only to see it ultimately fail. (It still hasn’t passed). Abraham Lincoln had to take the country to war to end slavery, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, yet racism still exists in many forms. Malala Yousafzai only recently became an icon after being shot in the head for being a Muslim girl who wanted the right to learn, yet many Middle Eastern girls are still denied access to education.

Ultimately, we only dwell in the present. In the present moment, we experience and feel, looking backward to the past, while fearing and hoping for the future. And in the present, we justify our actions, our votes, our decisions with our present reality, and can only look back later with hindsight.

We sometimes throw around the phrase “the wrong side of history”. What that fundamentally means is there are a lot of people, looking backwards, who made decisions in their present realities, things that with a slight amount of historical perspective can no longer be understood.

Overlooking for a moment the corrupt organizations referenced above, let’s look at the individuals along the way who have been fundamentally good, who were only dwelling in their present and wanting to do so with as much ease and grace as possible, but who ended up on the wrong side of history.

Look at the bus driver who told Rosa Parks to give up her seat at the back of the bus to a white person, and called the police when she refused to.

Look at the first President of our country, George Washington, who made sure to move his group of slaves South every so often, to make sure they didn’t qualify for freedom by staying the North for too long.

Look at the county clerk in Kentucky who simply refused to give a marriage license to a gay couple, choosing jail over compromising her personal principles.

Look at the German family who turned in their neighbors for harboring a Jewish couple in their basement, afraid for their own lives if they didn’t speak up and were thus held as complicit.

Look at the young black female who turned in her older brother to the plantation owner after hearing her brother’s plans to run away, knowing that her brother would be punished, but not wanting the rest of her family to be punished after he fled.

Look at the early American settler who believed it was more humane to sterilize the Native American population, to force them to become Christians, in an attempt to save them from their own savagery.

Look at the house wife who scoffed at the Suffragettes for fighting for female equality, chanting that these women should know men were better suited for the work outside the home, that women should know their proper place.

Look at the judge who found the young man innocent of savagely stabbing a gay man who had flirted with him, believing that the gay man should have known better and not wanting to ruin a young man’s life for one moment of insane and violent passion.

Look at the woman who served lemonade to her friends and neighbors, smiling and laughing at jokes while the tree branches strained to hold the bodies of two lynched black men above them.

Look at the schoolteacher who told her students to never shake hands with a gay man or they would get AIDS, the disease God sent to punish sinners on Earth.

Look at the father who dropped his pregnant teenage daughter off at the nunnery, crying as he hugged her goodbye forever, unable to forgive her for the unpardonable sin of premarital sex.

Look at the nurse who performed her twentieth clitorectomy of the day on a five year old African child, mutilating her genitals, knowing the girl would heal and develop scar tissue and then save herself for her husband, never enjoying sex as the custom dictated, the same procedure the nurse had undergone as a child.

Look at the young small town man who stood guard at the gates of the internment camp, making sure no Japanese American citizen could escape as they might be a spy and could forever endanger American lives.

Look at the proud father who refused to share his wife’s bed after she had given birth to a third female child, forever shaming him in the eyes of the community around him, now seeking a new and worthier wife who would deign to give him a son.

Look at the teenage girl who carefully watched her classmates for signs they might be a Communist, looking over the checklist of signs given out by her school, scared that one of them might be among her.

 

My politics are not the politics of all good and decent people, I know this. Nor are my morals, my values, my ethics, my beliefs. I will not vilify someone for not wanting change, for wanting peace and security for their family, for voting for someone who stands against the things I hold dear.

But I will dwell in my present and stand firm. I will look backwards at those who sought the easy way for themselves and their families and who ended up being on the wrong side of history. I will learn from them as I view the world around me.

And I will look forward with hope, knowing that the future has yet to be written.

history

Sweet, Sweet Seattle

Seattle

The second, I step off the plane, I feel at home. I’m not sure why that surprises me. I love this city. It represents a lot to me: diversity and temperance, culture and fulfillment. But the change is suddenly present, not dramatic just there and all-encompassing. Home.

As I walk through the airport, I wonder what it was. I have a home in Salt Lake City. It’s furnished, it contains my things, it has space and I spend a lot of time there. My friends come to visit. My children’s toys fill their room and we play together. But my home doesn’t feel like home, and this, this stretch of airport, does.

I take a moment to stop and sit and think and breathe. The air is different, the very atmosphere. It smells of ocean and green and freshness. A few minutes later, when I step outside, I can feel the breeze. I left Salt Lake this morning, already dry and heating up, my hands and lips uncomfortable. The air here makes me hungry.

I walk and the ground beneath my feet feels different. In time, I’m on the train and looking at the rolling green hills, the air filled with a light drizzle. People of every size and color sit around me, and I feel alive with wonder.

I watch the scenery flying by the window and I think of Utah, and all the effort I have put in there to make it feel like Seattle feels to me. I tried living downtown and walking the streets like I do here. I tried losing myself in coffee shops and writing about my experiences like I do here. I found some favorite places, divey pastry shops and indie movie theaters with sticky floors like I do here. But nothing sticks there for me.

Soon, I’m back on the sidewalks and I’m navigating an impossible hill as I tug my suitcase behind me, and I’m smiling. And it’s not just an inside smile, it’s one that I feel in my insides. I’m breathing deep and I’m smiling and my feet fall firmly with each step.

It isn’t as if my every memory in Seattle is a happy one. I struggled professionally here in a job that had impossible requirements. I missed my sons every day. I struggled to find friends. But that sense of wonder as I wandered the streets and the lakeshores and the rainforests never left me. I find it in small doses in other places, but it fills my being here.

My thoughts wander back to my sons again, their hugs and their antics, their daily routines. Being an active part of their lives is my highest priority, raising them to know they are loved, strongly and securely, by both of their parents, raising them into men who have full potential to lead happy and healthy lives. Providing for them with ample love and attention keeps me going every day. They fulfill me in a very different way. They make me happy.

As I walk, my eyes dart to familiar places. Conversations with friends in that book store, seeing a play in that theater, writing a poem in that coffee shop. This city is full of memories for me.

I stop again, breathing, and wonder how to find this sense of wonder in Utah, if that is even possible for me. And if not, how I can shape my career and financial future so that I can be there for them, and still keep this feeling for me.

I arrive at my destination, the place where I lived while I was here. I find my familiar park bench, looking out over Lake Washington. The water is choppy in the breeze. It’s 60 degrees and my skin feels cool and my heart feels warm and my hair is blowing back and I inhale until my lungs are full, and I whisper.

“Hey, Seattle. I’m home. Just for the weekend, but I’m home.”

Poisoned Peas: Strange Facts about Washington

washington_portrait-P

32 things you didn’t know about George Washington:

  1. George Washington received an unanimous 69 electoral votes for the office of president.
  2. He was not inaugurated until 1789, several years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  3. The colonies initially wanted to elect him King before creating the office of president.
  4. He did not get along with his vice president, John Adams, and gave him only minor duties. This trend has continued with vice presidents right up until modern history.
  5. George was 6 feet, 2 inches tall, much taller than the average at the time.
  6. George was a 4th generation American settler, in that his great-grandparents had settled here.
  7. While pregnant with George, his mother, Mary Ball, saw a young woman violently killed by a lightning strike while sitting at a dinner table.
  8. Remember that cherry tree story? “I can not tell a lie?” Never happened. Made up by a future biographer.
  9. George’s father, Augustine, died when George was 11. He also saw siblings die and had a house burn down.
  10. In his will, Augustine left George a plot of land and ten slaves. George owned slaves his entire life and saw them as a sign of wealth and prosperity.
  11. George worked as a land surveyor in his youth before becoming a military man.
  12. At age 16, George was swimming nude. Two teenage girls stole his clothes as a prank, but he was not amused and had them arrested. One girl blamed the other, who received the full punishment, 15 lashes on her bare back.
  13. As a young man, George contracted small pox, which left his face covered in pockmark scars his entire life.
  14. In the military, in one battle, four bullets went through George’s coat without hitting his flesh. He later said, “I have heard the bullets whistle and there is something charming in the sound.”
  15. Martha Dandridge (who grew up on a plantation) married Daniel Custis (two decades her senion) and had four children, though two died as children. Custis made a fortune before he died young, then Martha married George Washington, who inherited all of Daniel’s lands, riches, and slaves, starting him off wealthy (over 17,000 acres of land and 300 slaves).
  16. George never had biological children. He raised his two step-children, and later helped raise his grandchildren, adopting some as his own. George may have been infertile.
  17. George once wrote, “I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery.”
  18. George was often known for being cruel to his slaves, keeping them in shacks with dirt floors and buying no clothes for the children, though this was common practice at the time. Toward the end of his life, his heart softened and he worked to keep his slave’s families together, not dividing by selling.
  19. During the War, Thomas Hickey once tried to kill George by poisoning his peas, but the housekeeper grew suspicious and instead fed the peas to the chickens. The chickens died, and Hickey was hanged.
  20. As a military leader, George often wished he was a soldier instead. He once said, “I beg it should be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that I do this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”
  21. George’s stepson, Jacky Custis, died at age 28 of dysentry, leaving behind four young children. George adopted the younger two. His stepdaughter, Patsy, died as a teenager.
  22. After their victory in the War, George’s men went to taunt the British, but he stopped them, saying “It is sufficient for us that we witness their humiliation. Posterity will huzza for us.”
  23. After the war ended, George repaid his salary and expenses to the colonies without being asked, a sum totally $50,000. He was always exacting in paying and collecting debts.
  24. George had several farms, one called Muddy Hole, and a favorite nephew named Bushrod. In his will, he left Bushrod a famous cane that belonged to Ben Franklin.
  25. George posed for many paintings and sculptures during his life, holding still for hours at a time. He once said, “I am now altogether at their beck, and sit like patience on a monument whilst they are delineating the lines on my face.”
  26. George suffered from toothaches beginning in his 20s, and had all his teeth removed over the years. He eventually wore a set of false teeth, made out of a mix of hippopotamus tusks, gold, and human teeth.
  27. George and Martha had a dog named Frisk and a parrot named Snipe.
  28. A few years before his death, George had a large tumor in his leg that had to be cut out without painkillers. He was bedridden for six weeks.
  29. In 1791, George and Martha briefly moved to Philadelphia with 8 of their slaves. At the time, a law had been passed that any slaves who remained in the city for 6 months were automatically set free. George had the slaves sent back to Virginia just before the time limit was up to keep his property.
  30. In his final will, George stated that all his slaves should be set free after both he and Martha died.
  31. George died in 1799 at the age of 67. Martha died 2.5 years later in 1802 at the age of 70.
  32. In France, Napolean said of George’s death, “This great man has fought against tyranny. He established the liberty of his country. His memory will always be dear to the French people.