Are you going to the White Party?

Are you going to the White Party?  There are quite a few ways to ask and interpret this question.  Some would lean towards “I wouldn’t be caught dead there” while others might say, “Of course I’m G…

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Are you going to the White Party?

IMG_0861-e1495328249335-715x400Are you going to the White Party?  There are quite a few ways to ask and interpret this question.  Some would lean towards “I wouldn’t be caught dead there” while others might say, “Of course I’m Going”.  Regardless of your love it or hate it relationship with the monster of a circuit party, you have certainly heard about it if Weho is one of your stomping grounds… and I honor your opinion.

 I attended my first White Party in the spring of 1999 (Eighteen years ago (I was seven-years-old)).    I have a faint memory of purchasing some over-priced mesh, white sweatpants, a white t-shirt, white tennis shoes, and an assortment of drugs that would ensure my good time. 

 FullSizeRender-19My friend Scott had purchased baseball caps for a handful of his friends that read “XKG”.  If you were, a partier, you wouldn’t need an interpreter to explain that the letters meant I was doing Ecstasy, Special K, and GHB (in that order).  If I am dating myself with my old-hat substance use; the Ecstasy pill (when good) was a soothing roll of dynamic happiness that felt awesome like the peak of a good yawn, then a few bumps (sniffed powder) of Special K (Ketamine- a drug used to tranquilize large animals) would ease the downward roll of the ecstasy and lift me into another dimension, and a water-bottle-cap of GHB was added to the drug cocktail when I was ready to mellow out, cuddle, and possibly get date-raped.

 I didn’t wear the “XKG” hat.  But the rest of the outfit, dosed with some substances, awesome music, visual ambience, live performers, and half-naked men… I was in Heaven.  I didn’t think it could get any better, but I was proved wrong when Erin Hamilton took to the Splash Pool Party stage and performed her peaking dance-club single remake of “Dream Weaver”.  I remember asking nearby strangers if that was really Erin, and they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  I am sure they would have understood the question if I too had taken the GHB.FullSizeRender-18

Looking back at photos I have in my photo album, I am reminded of the alleged awesome white outfit, the laughs, music, sex (with a friend I promised myself I would never have sex with and I thought he was a woman in that moment), and old friends that I used to hang with.  Of the recognizable seven friends, three of them are dead.  Scott shot up Special K and drowned in a pool.  Troy was so sweet and overdosed on GHB.  Ron… well, I don’t know how Ron passed, but I am sure it was drug related.  I am grateful to be alive and thank my Higher Power daily for the gift of sobriety that I have nurtured for twelve years.

 Clearly, this is not everyone’s path.  The White Party is not evil.  In fact, it is a brilliant, elaborately executed Rainbow (sounds better than LGBTQ) party.  I was fortunate enough to attend this year with an all-access media pass and I was able to witness up close and personal how well organized the event actually is.

 Behind the scenes, you have the PR Team (thank you Phil & Kyle), and the king himself, Jeffrey Sanker who flag shipped this party 28-years ago.  These guys have re-invented the White Party annually and kept it interesting for nearly three decades and reeled in 30,000 attendees this year. 

 I have worked in and promoted clubs for many years and it is not easy maintaining a club-night or yearly event.  I attempted to speak with Jeffrey Sanker at the party to ask him his secret… and he held up the “hold on for a moment finger” that lasted fifteen minutes, so I moved on.  Note to self, do not try to strike up a conversation with someone who sees you as a stranger while they are entertaining a party of 30,000.  Jeffrey… I’ll be following up with you soon.

 I drove in on Thursday evening (5/4/17) and returned to my Weho home on Tuesday.   A week later, I am still recovering.   I lost some of my voice in Palm Springs and still feel the vibration of pounding, thumping house music in my head. 

 IMG_1014The White Party boasts about incorporating eight parties over the four-day duration.  I was only able to attend four and I think that’s a pretty valiant effort.  There were so many jaw-dropping, show-stopping moments that I think I am better off suggesting you check it out… maybe see it as a Las Vegas show…your bucket list?

 One of my not-sober friends approached me and asked me, “Why are you here?”, indicating that this was no place for a person in recovery from drug addiction.  I replied, “Why are you here? To have Fun? Right?”  I don’t think either of us was satisfied with my answer.  I made him feel like an asshole.  And I asked myself “What the hell am I doing in this potentially harmful, triggering environment.  I carried on with taking pictures and getting video footage of what I found to be quite fantastic.

 I have to say that my friend did have a point.  This environment has the potential to take some people down.  And rather than ignoring this fact, The White Party has taken action to provide risk reduction.  I was delightfully shocked when I saw the recovery meetings listed on the White Party’s website.  Not only did they offer meetings at the host hotel, but they incorporated ImpulseLA into all of the events.  I felt a sense of relief every time I came upon the ImpulseLA sponsored room. ImpulseLA describes themselves on Twitter as “Just a group of young guys educating our peers about sexual health”.   Yes, they had onsite testing, brochures, etc., but they also provided a safe place for people who were sober… or needing a break.  I am grateful for these guys.

IMG_4583-768x576There was incredible line-up of DJs who’s names I can’t remember … so I won’t name them, but they were brilliant.  The laser light shows were orgasmic to watch, and the performances that I was able to witness were pretty phenomenal.  The first performers to catch everyone’s eyes were The White Party’s Go-Go Dancer Men.  Had you asked me at the time of the party, I would have described them as good looking men in underwear, socks, and tennis shoes doing their own interpretative dance to the DJ’s tunes.  After reviewing my video, I am resenting myself for not getting a closer look.  These guys were physically, insanely, beautiful.  And I hate them.  And I am single… in case they are reading this.  “Hi, guys.”image_6483441-1024x576

 I am by no means a judge when it comes to drag.  But when I see talent, it is clear as day.  When Shangela pranced down the runway lip-syncing to a dance remix of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (Melanie Amaro’s version) I was like “yaaaas”… and I don’t even say, “yes” like that.

 The highlight of the actual White Party on Saturday night was a late night performance by Maya Simantov of the song “Everybody Needs a Man”.  I looked at the crowd through sober eyes and realized that this performance was probably someone out there’s “Erin Hamilton, “Dreamweaver” moment. 

 My favorite party of the four I attended has to be the Sunday T-Dance, which happens to be the finale of the eight parties.  The weather was perfect, the DJ’s once again killed it, the immense Ferris wheel made the party feel expensive.  The night concluded with this year’s Queen of the White Party, Kyle Richards, addressing Jeffrey and the partiers with some gratitude.  She then shared a heartfelt introduction of the 80’s Icon, Belinda Carlisle, who then glided onto the stage singing “Mad About You.”

Screen-Shot-2017-05-16-at-11.11.55-PM-768x501I have always been a GoGos and Belinda fan, but I have to say the moment that she took down the house was when she made a shout-out to her gay son in the audience.  It was nice to see Belinda as a mother who supported her gay son and shouted it with pride.  I have suffered from a degree of self-hate and internalized homophobia for liking some of the things I do and to hear a mother acknowledging her son in the crowd of “Shenanigans” made this a sweet experience.  The T-Dance literally concluded with a bang of fireworks that lit up Palm Springs and once again made the event feel expensive… and I liked that because I had a media pass.

 Will you be going to the White Party 2018?  I hope so… and I hope to see you there, having fun, dancing, and celebrating your rainbow life.

The Club – 06/12/16

The Club – 06/12/16

On September 11th 2001, I remember distinctly what I was doing when I found out that a plane had flown through one of the World Trade Center Towers.  My boyfriend Matt and I were awakened in our apartment in West Hollywood by a distraught call from his best friend Susan who lived in a high-rise not far from the towers in New York City.  Susan frantically told Matt to turn on the news and within minutes, the second plane had flown into the second tower.  While Susan and her boyfriend Patrick watched and photographed the attacks as they played out live, Matt and I stood by and watched the televised live broadcast on CNN.  Hours passed as more breaking news unspooled of the attack on the Pentagon and the fourth plane that was taken down in Pennsylvania.  I remember feeling disbelief, fear, anger, and sadness.  I feel confident to say that most people who were cognitive at that time remember where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with on 9/11/2001.

On the morning of 6/12/2016, I woke up alone reminiscing about my DJ set that I had played the day before at LA Gay Pride.  My laptop hadn’t synced up properly with the DJ equipment that was provided for me and I basically had to rig up the system to work.  Although my set was compromised by the malfunction, nobody seemed to notice my “broken set.”  “Oh well, next year will be better,” I thought to myself.

I could hear the rumbling of LA Pride through the window in my bedroom and it motivated me to get up and get ready for the parade.  I have lived in the same apartment where I share an alley with Santa Monica Boulevard for twenty years and a rush of adrenaline hits me when I hear the familiar laughter, floats, cheers, and helicopters associated with the annual LA LGBT Pride Parade.  The sound of pride triggers a learned instinct, similar to the Pavlovian dog theory, that guides me to put together a comfortable outfit for the day that incorporates a rainbow flag or something representative of the love for our LGBT community.

I love Gay Pride celebrations.  Always have, always will.  Like most cultures, the LGBT community is broken down by subcultures.   The obvious differences within the group allow us to mock ourselves and poke fun at each other.  Some of the more apparent differences are; Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Trans-Genders.  Then we are broken down even deeper as ethnic groups, twinks, bears (and other animals associated with looks and roles in the community), butches, fems, drag queens, drag kings, straight-acting, daddies, sons, activists, circuit boys, sobers, religious affiliates, singers, dancers, athletes, leather, and kink.  At times, our subcultures separate us.  The Rainbow Flag represents a community of people united together.  I like to refer to us as the Rainbow people.  A rainbow is literally defined as a bow or arc of prismatic colors.  This year, I attached a rainbow flag handkerchief to my backpack as a miniature cape.

My tradition was interrupted this year when I participated in my morning ritual of checking my phone for messages and Facebook notifications.  My news feed was filled with bits and pieces of a story about a bar where a gunman shot and killed around fifty people and injured another fifty.  My roommate was in the living room and I asked him if he had heard about the tragedy.  Both of us had been out late celebrating pride the night before and were blind to what had happened while we were out having a good time.

At first, we both felt a jolt of shock, sadness, and disbelief.  Really… who wants to entertain the possibility or reality of this sort of tragedy?   I read a few articles online and had CNN Breaking News coverage streaming in the background on my living room television.  I was shocked again when I heard that it was a terrorist attack.

Another story surfaced as we stared uncomfortably at the live coverage.  In Santa Monica, a tip was reported to local authorities by a resident describing a suspicious man hanging out in his car.  Police arrived and searched his vehicle and found a massive amount of ammunition and chemicals that were described as a recipe for making bombs.  When asked by cops what he was planning on doing with the explosives, he indicated that he was heading to LA Pride.

WTF???!!!???

The Orlando story was inching its way closer to my personal space as the details unfolded.  It was a dance-club in Orlando.  Though I had never been to a dance club in Orlando, I have been to dance clubs in most cities that I had visited.  And having been a club DJ for about two decades, I have certainly spent a good portion of my life in these venues.  This can’t be real.  How?  Who? Why?  No, I didn’t ask myself these questions… I wasn’t ready.

Then I came across another article that offered the detail that completely detached me from my emotions.  The dance club was a bar called “Pulse” that catered to the LGBTQ Community.  That did it.  I couldn’t read or hear any more.

Many people outside of the gay community don’t realize the symbolic nature what it means when Gay people say “We’re going out to the Club.”  The Club represents much more than a place to go drink and get laid.  To me, The Club represents a “space” where I danced with another man for the first time.  In fact, I came to realize that it was okay to be gay at The Club by speaking with others about sexual orientation and what it is like to be different.  I had my first gay kiss at a night club, met the man that I had sex with for the first time, and met my first boyfriend (not the same guy).  The Club is where I heard music that lifted me to a spiritual high that I never felt when I attended my synagogue.  It was a place to congregate, be myself to the best of my ability, flirt with other men like straight kids have the privilege to do with each other in grade school, sing the lyrics to the songs we know all the words to, and dance.  When I came out of the closet, I loved to get on the dance floor, feel the music, and let it speak through me with my homemade dance moves.  I could easily feel like I was on ecstasy (even when I wasn’t).  It was my safety zone, place of worship, community, fellowship, party, and dating life rolled up into one.   I loved the feeling of inclusivity I found at a gay dance club so much that I trained myself to DJ so I could share the feeling with others.

Therefore, the attack at “Pulse” in Orlando struck a deep chord within me and it horrifies me to think of the beautiful souls that were taken.

It was time to walk down the street and join in the parade.  The parade was bittersweet.  As I walked down Santa Monica Boulevard, my heart was warmed as I passed by the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gays) float, local bar floats, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center float led by 7 individuals carrying large posters of the letters O R L A N D O.  At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t the only one attending pride with the victims of the Florida shootings in my heart.  It set my mind at ease to keep walking rather than retreating back home to watch more unfolding breaking news.  The news was unfolding live at LA Pride where many, like myself, were trying to grasp the mind-baffling attack on our brothers and sisters.

I continued to walk down the strip feeling slightly euphoric as I exchanged hugs with friends that I have met over the years, witnessed gatherings of prideful celebrations in loft balconies, and listened to the thumping music and celebratory cheers from the patios of supporting local businesses.  As I neared the entrance to the Festival, I passed by a more personal landmark… the crosswalk between Revolver Bar and Flaming Saddles at Larrabee Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.

At this crosswalk, about fifteen years ago, my boyfriend Matt & I were attacked – gay-bashed.  A gold-colored van came to a quick stop to us as we were crossing the street.  Matt responded with an arm gesture implying “Don’t you see the crosswalk?”.  One of the four guys spat out, “What are you looking at, faggot?”  Within a minute, three of the guys managed to get out of the vehicle, attack us with fists and a beer bottle over my head, then drove off.  My first instinct was to blame Matt for acknowledging the strangers’ dangerous driving with his arm gesture.  It was hard for me to see at that time that we were the victims of a hate-crime who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ironically, the West Hollywood Sheriff Department was located across the street from this intersection, and I chose to walk across to the station and report the incident.  Matt was barely out of the closet at the time and he insisted that we just go home.  But I was adamant that we make the report so the city would be aware of these dangerous men who were likely going to attack again.

I uncomfortably entered the building with a false sense of confidence with a beer-bottle-induced bump on my head and approached the deputies at the reception desk.  I explained what had happened and asked how to file a report.  Being a victim who was still in shock from a bashing that had occurred within the hour, it was difficult for me to articulate what had just happened.  All I had was my story, a boyfriend that reluctantly shared his story, a few digits of the California license plate of the gold van, and a basic description of the assailants.  The Sheriff seemed more concerned about filing the paperwork when he asked us, “Are you sure you would like to file a report”?  We didn’t have the full license plate and names of our attackers, and it seemed as if he was ready to call this a cold case.  Reluctantly, the deputies obliged and filed away the report.

Although Matt and I quickly recovered physically from the attack, I have relived the attack numerous times over the years when I have crossed this street or when I hear of another attack on our community.  Reflecting on my personal incident fifteen years ago and feeling the sadness of the Orlando attack highlighted the relevance and my purpose for celebrating Gay Pride each year.

As I entered the gates of Pride, I felt safe and at home.  I was surrounded by people who wore rainbows and gleamed of a communal high… a similar feeling to how I described The Club.  Strangers were family and nothing more needed to be spoken other than “Happy Pride”.  The response, “Thank you, Happy Pride”.  The 2016 LA Pride Music Festival was a conglomeration of entertainment stages, food vendors, retail vendors, Non-Profit Organization booths related to the LGBT Community, and recreational areas.  A large portion of those who attend the parade (400,000) also enter the festival.

IMG_0336

At LA Pride on 06/12/2016, there was dancing, singing, warm embraces, and a common feeling of heartfelt prayers for our Orlando family,  and for all of those who were affected by the incident.

A couple weeks have passed since the Orlando tragedy and I continue to feel mixed emotions.  I am grateful to have been able to witness the outpouring of support from so many different people, organizations, and countries around the globe.  It saddens and angers me to see the pop-up groups that continue to demonstrate hate towards the LGBT Community.  It frustrates me that I am still a moving target that needs to constantly be on-alert because of my sexual orientation.

Every One of the forty-nine lives lost in Orlando has a story.  At first, I was in denial.  But now, I feel the need to observe each individual face.  The closer I look, the faces become people I know.  My heart sadly and reluctantly insists that I have crossed paths with each of them at The Club.

the club pic

 

Remembering DC

DC.jpgAlmost ten years ago in 2005, I arrived at a convention for people who have a desire to stop using crystal meth: this after a 6-day run of using that drug, having no sleep, and barely having had any food or water.  I was confused, slap-happy, and run down.  All I can really recall is feeling awkward as I watched people laugh, share stories, and speak a language I didn’t understand.  It makes sense now as I reflect on my own experience growing with this group.  I remember curling into fetal position next to a cool window in a rec room and falling into a nap as different individuals were murmuring something about gratitude.

Last year,  in March of 2015, I showed up to this same convention in a similar state of mind even though I was now ten years clean and sober.  I felt sleepy, hungry, and anxious.  I was sleepy because I had woken up early after staying up a bit too late watching House of Cards on Netflix.  I was hungry because I didn’t allow myself to grab a bite during my long work day.  And I was anxious because I have learned that my insecurities creep up on me naturally when I attend large functions of any sort.

Upon arrival, I mentally prepared myself in my car then walked towards the entrance of the venue where I was met by the greeters.  “Greeters” are volunteers who welcome you, then direct you to registration.  I proceeded to register, hugging and acknowledging friends I have made over the years, and picked up my name badge and weekend itinerary.  Although I was surrounded by bright and shiny familiar faces and others who seemed as uncomfortable as myself, I felt the need to flee the scene.  I made my way back to my car where I proceeded to collect myself.  I convinced myself that since I was early, I should leave and come back a bit later when most others had registered.  This way, I would be able to blend in and go unnoticed.  But my gut was feeling queasy about this decision.

If I were to leave (probably go home and shower, then return), I would likely return a bit tardy, enter the convention alone, and would likely convince myself to leave before the welcoming ceremony ended- because I would be alone amongst the hundreds in attendance.

Bearing this in mind, I fought my impulse to flee the premises, exited my car once again, and found my way to the entrance of the convention- and was re-welcomed by “greeters”.  I encountered a close friend of mine and secured a reservation to sit with him at the welcoming meeting.

I found myself actively engaging in conversation with others as we nibbled on fruit and cake that was supplied for people like me that needed sustenance.   I noticed a friend of mine, David, sitting alone and seeming deep in thought.  This was not an extraordinary circumstance being that I had known he had just undergone his third of fourth chemotherapy treatments.  I cautiously approached him, offered our traditional hug and let him know I was happy to see him.

39844_134030733307442_6132484_n.jpgI met David nine years ago, just a small amount of time after I had reached my one-year sobriety milestone.  At that first meeting, David appeared lost and extremely worn down.  His story would prove to be jaw-dropping, and it included many years of surviving homeless on Los Angeles’ notorious skid row.  He shared vividly his experience of sleeping on the streets and how uncomfortable it was to sleep pressed against cool concrete.  As much as I wanted to help, my instincts told me that I should keep some distance and that this poor man was a lost cause.

Month after month, David continued to show up and participate in the group’s fellowship.  His gaunt, distant eyes and muffled incoherent speech evolved to focused and articulate.  I witnessed this brave man crawl into sobriety from the streets, get on his feet, graduate school, and become a huge inspiration for other recovering alcoholics and addicts. When the cancer card was placed in his path eight  years into his sobriety,  I couldn’t help but think that this man had beat odds on many levels and that this was just another challenge.

I have learned from experience that asking someone who has been struggling with cancer, “How are you feeling?” is not the best approach.  To me, the logical answer would be “I have cancer, how do you think I am feeling?”  But after a few moments of engaging in general conversation, I popped the question … “How are you feeling, David?”  

I was humbled by his response.

David explained that he was doing great.  He was preparing for his final chemo treatment and was in a very positive space.  He had been using the tools acquired from his nine years of sobriety and was able to acknowledge that he had recently overcome an obstacle with his battle with cancer.  Initially, about five months before, when his tumors had grown to overwhelming sizes, he began to feel that he was becoming the cancer, or a visitor in his own cancer-stricken body.  But David demonstrated his confidence through a God-filled smile that this cancer battle was almost behind him.  He said that he had been following his doctor’s direction religiously while simultaneously showing up for other recovering addicts and working his program.  

Now, David looked me in the eyes and shared that he was no longer a guest in his own body and that his tumors were significantly smaller.  It was clear that David was not about to listen or surrender to cancer.  I told David that I admired him for all that he has experienced and asked if it were okay that I share his story in detail on my blog.  David’s eyes lit up like he had just been chosen from the audience to be a contestant on Price Is Right.  He nodded eagerly and said that he was looking forward to reading it.

The convention evening continued to surprise me with small miracles: hugs, smiles, and meaningful moments.  My night concluded with a late night dinner with a group of friends.  The anxiety had passed and so had my ninth year.  The clock struck midnight as I drove home, and I was officially one decade sober.  When I entered my apartment, my cat Kiki greeted me at the door with a snarled “meow” implying that I was a bit late for his tastes.  He forgave me when I rewarded him with some catnip, tuna, and his second half of a can of Fancy Feast.

I washed my face, took my evening medications, brushed my teeth with my Sonicare toothbrush, put moisturizer on my face, picked out my clothes for the next morning, got into bed, snuggled with Kiki, and meditated.  I fell asleep filled with gratitude that my life is no longer an experiment.  I am no longer a self-proclaimed guinea pig for street chemists.  I’m certainly not morally perfect, but do care about myself and those around me.  I am grateful for what I have and anticipate more obstacles and accomplishments along the way.

A few months later, my friend David (DC) took a turn for the worse.  I ran into him at a meeting and almost didn’t recognize him.  I approached him slowly and attempted our usual, friendly embrace.  When my arms wrapped around him with a very slightly squeeze, he snapped back and quickly retreated with an “ouch.” David was clearly in a lot of pain and his speech was unclear and barely lucid.  I sat down beside him and he began to share with me that he had not been well.  I noticed the tumor on the side of his neck had returned and was now the size and shape of a squished baseball.  Although slightly unclear, David expressed to me that he had been isolating in his apartment and unable to get out or ask for help.  He said that my coming to him had motivated him to show up for the meeting and be with his (sober) people.  I asked “So I came to you in your dream?”  David said to me with clarity, “No, you were in my apartment.”  Being that I did not know the exact location of David’s residence, it was highly unlikely that I was physically there.  But I am a firm believer that if something is real to someone, it doesn’t matter if it was a dream or vision because it is their truth.  He said that the words I had shared with him at convention months ago were reiterated to him when he saw me at his apartment.  And that was enough to get him out of his apartment and seek the help of the group.  David then asked if he could read my blog that I told him about months back.  “I really would like to read it,”  he said.  I hesitantly assured him again that I would be posting it soon and promised to tell the story of his journey. I gave David a ride after the meeting and it was difficult to see him struggle to get into my car.  I had to carefully pull and fasten the seatbelt around his aching body.  When he exited the car, I had a suspicion that this might be our last ride together.

I received a message from David’s Facebook account a couple months later.  It was sent from David’s dearest friend, Mark.  Mark had taken on the messenger role for David as well as many other roles.  The message stated that DC’s decline had escalated and he was hospitalized.  Another message was sent to David’s friends expressing urgency,  and  that if we wanted to say goodbye to David, to come to the hospital as soon as possible.  Many of the friends that David and I have in common were away at a weekend retreat.  It would be stretching the truth to say that David and I were the best of friends.  However, it is absolutely the truth that we had been significant in each other’s lives.  The decision for me to go to the hospital was simple because I have learned to do whatever I can, when I can.  I needed to go for David, Mark, myself, and as a representative for all of our friends who couldn’t be there.

Before leaving for the hospital, I forwarded Mark’s post on my Facebook page to other mutual friends of mine and David’s who may not have been aware of the situation.  I quickly received a message from an acquaintance, Jimmy, that he had no way of getting to the hospital and he asked for a ride.  Although Jimmy was more stranger than friend, the company was certainly appreciated.  I couldn’t ignore my conscience that was telling me to print the rough copy of the blog I had started months before.  I had promised DC that I would share it with him, yet my finalizing of it had been curtailed by a highly stressful event in my life. Even so, my plan was to read it to DC in his hospital room.

I picked up Jimmy and we became acquainted as we shared feelings and stories about our departing friend.  I told him about the blog and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate that I read it to David.  Jimmy asked if he could read it.  I hesitated since it still seemed premature for public perusal.  As Jimmy read, I kept telling myself “It isn’t ready.”  His response, though positive, reaffirmed my decision to leave the blog in the car once we arrived at the hospital.

Jimmy and I were greeted by other friends who had just arrived moments before and we followed them to the elevator and up to the third floor.  More friends were clustered together upstairs and guided the new arrivals to David’s room.  Because of the small space, we took turns filtering in and out of David’s room to say goodbye.  There was quite a bit of tension in the air.  Sickness and death had brought out a large range of emotions from the 15-20 people that were needing to find some sort of closure.

When it was my turn, I walked up to find David on the hospital bed with tubes down his throat and a machine to his side that was acting as his lungs because they no longer functioned on their own.  I struggled to find the right words.  I found it difficult to speak to David, who may or may not have been able to hear what I was saying.  It was especially hard for me to express myself while I felt my friends and some strangers critiquing my one-sided conversation.  I tuned everyone out and spoke directly to David, “David, it’s Jonathan and I am here to be with you.  And I am going to help guide you to your next home.  I promise DC, that I will share your story as long as I am able.”  Others in the group took their turns having one on ones with David and then the  announcement was made by Mark that we had an hour before David would be taken off life support.

I stepped outside of the room and decided to post something about David on my Facebook wall.  It read, “If anyone would like me to pass on a message to DC, please message me or post here. He is surrounded by friends who love him… And will be taken off life support within the hour.”  Of course, this is a touchy subject- making a public notice about our friend whose physical life was coming to an end.  I took it a step further and asked DC’s friends if it would be okay to take a couple group photos of us surrounding David.  Everyone present agreed that it was appropriate.  No one was forced to be in the pictures.  Many of us were total strangers to one another and the only thing we had in common was that not one of us was a blood-relative of David’s.  The majority of the group had met David during his last nine years when he became clean and sober.   We were his family.

The next hour was spent reading to David the constant flow of messages coming from several of our Facebook pages. Each time a message was read into David’s ear, his heart rate would increase, which lead us to believe that he was hearing the words of love and support we were sharing with him. We literally had hundreds of messages that continued to collect even after DC’s final hour had passed.  The group joined hands,  participated in group prayer, shared final thoughts, and prayed out one last time.  Once the life support machines were shut down, our friend was gone within a minute.  There was no struggle to be seen, just an eerie sense of emptiness.   We all took our last looks at DC’s body and said our last goodbyes, parted, and went our own ways.

20160401_011637_001-1.jpgA week later, Mark requested that I join him and  a small group of DC’s friends to go through David’s belongings.  I said yes because, as I mentioned before,  I do what I can when I can… and I could.  We sorted his items in different piles: items to be donated, items to be on display at his memorial, stuff to be given to friends, and trash.  I was sorting through a box of random items and came across a cd that was labeled “Adventures In Sobriety, 10/20/14, DC”.  I asked Mark if I could take it with me and find out what was on the cd.  I promised if it was of value, that I would make sure he got it back.

When I got home, I inserted the cd in my laptop, and realized I had struck gold.  The cd was a 37 minute audio file of DC sharing his life experience, strength, and hope.  I transfered the file to my computer, uploaded it to my Google Drive, then shared it with DC’s friends.  A path was now cleared for me to help spread his message just as I had promised him.  DC’s story is so inspirational and he was a survivor on so many levels.  Cancer may have taken him in the end, but miraculously, he beat the odds and died a sober man.

A month later, I attended DC’s funeral and made my personal contribution of handing out copies of the cd I had found.  Each person who took a copy expressed immense gratitude because they desired to once again hear his powerful message.  Some had only seen David around and were curious to hear his story.

I sat towards the front of the memorial at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The church was gorgeous, the sermons and stories shared by David’s closer friends were nice, but I found the service to be unsettling.  I chose not to volunteer to speak up and say a few words because I didn’t want to seem intrusive.  The friends who spoke had more experience one on one with David.  I had some slight regret afterwards because I believe what I had to say would shed some light on the other side of David.  The missing voice of his extended friendships that may not have always been by his side.  David’s voice was heard by people who witnessed him from afar, across the room, in the nosebleed section of the auditorium.  David was seen and heard… he was kind of a legend, even to those who hadn’t actually known him on a one-to-one basis.

When I got home from the memorial, once again I uploaded David’s share on his Memorial Facebook Page.  Sharing it helped me feel better about not speaking up at the service.  

And I also believe that David would have appreciated the gesture.

Like clockwork, this year, on March 25, 2016, I attended the annual convention again.  This year, I wasn’t nervous as I was greeted, registered and welcomed into the celebration.  Maybe I was less distracted, maybe I was in a better, mental place, maybe I woke up on the right side of the bed, maybe the location of the convention had something to do with it.  The convention was held on the grounds of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the same location as DC’s memorial service.

Time had mended the discombobulated feelings associated with the loss my friend.  I was celebrating my 11-year Anniversary of committing to sobriety, and was proud to finally be in a place where I felt comfortable sharing my story:  The story of a guy who was addicted to Crystal Methamphetamine, came to believe he needed help to fight his disease, surrendered to sobriety, achieved eleven years sober one day at a time, and learned that life isn’t easy- with or without drugs.

Though DC never had the opportunity to read this blog himself, I hope that by finally posting this I am fulfilling at least part of the promise I made to him.  He was a good man, he was a brave man, but most of all he was a sober man who spent the final 8 years of his life inspiring others to overcome addiction. I hope that this blog entry, and the audio below of DC sharing his experience strength and hope might help inspire others who are struggling with achieving sobriety, and further inspire those who already have.  

DC, you were loved.

I Love You, Mom and Dad

I just returned home to Los Angeles from a week-long vacation to my birth-home, Dallas, Texas.  Although I have lived in LA longer than I lived in Texas, I still consider Dallas to be my home.  I can’t exactly describe why.  Part of it may be my buying into the idea of the Big Texas Ego, but the softer, mushier, part of my heart tells me that it’s because my home is where my birth family lives.  It certainly helps that my parents still live in the home where I grew up.12313602_10153294889491547_5708110910846136622_n.jpgAt my farewell dinner with my folks last night, I sat in gratitude, comfortably stuffed from an amazing meal, and then a curveball was thrown at me.  It was almost as if the TV show Intervention had set up at Kobe Steakhouse in Addison and the camera had begun to roll.  My mother spoke to me on behalf of herself and my dad, expressing how disappointing it is to them that I don’t seem to remember being happy during my childhood…ever.

I emphatically retorted that I do remember times of happiness.  I listed a few great memories, though adding a caveat that basically reiterated my mother’s claim. 

When we exited the restaurant, I pulled my dad aside, knowing he possesses a much better ability to understand me when I speak directly. I told him that no matter what mom said at dinner, he has been a great dad.  Noticing the exchange I was having with my dad, my mom enquired about what we were saying, and I quickly changed the subject because I innately knew that there was a better way to communicate to my mom how much I appreciate her.

I dedicate the next section to my parents and any other parents out there that I may reach who haven’t been honored for their sacrifices and attempts to be good parents.

Mom & Dad,

My first memories of you two are so faint, but inarguably true.  It is more of a feeling than a memory: You were my warm, cozy emotional blanket.  I remember being smothered in hugs and kisses.  It was like I was ready to say “enough already” but quickly flipped to the feeling of “give me more”.  I remember you playing “peek a boo” with me.  It was so exciting to be scared and entertained at the same time.  I remember laughing and smiling … a lot.  It stimulated the incipient actor in me.  I knew if I smiled and laughed, you would return the smiles and giggles and the game was completely addictive and contagious.  Until of course I got tired of it and would suddenly start to cry… and then the kisses and warm embraces calmed me down… at which point I probably crapped in my diaper.

I remember being carried in the air.  You made me fly like a bird and I felt great.  I trusted you. I didn’t question the possibility of being dropped.  Why should I?  You had never let me down. And as the years went by, I continued to have faith that you would be there for me… as you have been.

The following thoughts and memories are in no particular order, just a compilation of spontaneous memories. 

I remember always having your blessings and your praise for every Birthday.  There was never a question that I would receive gifts and a party. 

You trusted me to watch our home with Lara (my sister) when you went out of town. 

You offered your home to me and my friends as a host meeting spot and hangout hub.

I remember the time when I insisted that you let me try out for the play “Grease” at the Dallas Jewish Community Center.  Mom took me to the audition knowing that I like to sing, but I think she may have been a little nervous for me because it was my first audition.  Most of the casting call consisted of people from 16 to about 35 years-old.  I must have been about 13 and the others towered over me.  They all seemed to have brought their music with them.  But I was off-book.  Meaning I didn’t know you were supposed to prepare something to sing.  The director smiled at me with that “how cute” look.  I nervously fumbled through my introduction, then stepped over to have a sidebar discussion with the accompanist lady at the piano.  She asked, “Would you like to sing Happy Birthday”?  I debated to myself for a moment who I would sing “Happy Birthday” to and then noticed the “Annie” score on the piano stand.  Piano lady noticed and reluctantly asked if I knew some “Annie”.  I said, “Maybe.”   It took her a moment to figure out I was referring to the song “Maybe.” “Are you ready Dear?” she asked.  I nodded my head, opened my mouth, and the magic happened.  I not only sang “Maybe,”  but I practically transformed into Annie.  Had my mom not been with me, I surely would have been inundated with adoption offers after the standing ovation.  My mom stood proud, cheering me on with cheerful tears.  I will never forget the look on my mom’s face or the natural high I felt as I shook the room.

I remember the time you guys brought home a ton of jars and cucumbers and said you were going to make pickles.  I was fascinated by the concept that pickles at one time were actually cucumbers- who knew?  I just figured pickles looked a lot like cucumbers.  It was interesting watching you guys adding to the jars the dill weed, pepper, vinegar, and all that other stuff that apparently turns cucumbers into pickles.  I remember being eager to try one.  But I was quickly taught by mom that they needed to absorb the juice for three weeks (or some other incredibly long amount of time.) I remember observing the jars of gestating pickles until I just about forgot that they were there.  And then finally, that day came and we brought a jar into the kitchen, and dad unscrewed the lid off the air-tight jar. The pickles were crispy, perfectly seasoned, and better than any other pickle I had ever tried.  There were still about twenty-nine additional jars in the garage, and they must have lasted us about a year.  The ensuing pickle-bingeing during that time is a faint memory.  However, I will always remember that first jar, and the sadness I felt when we finally shared the last of them.

Mom made the best chocolate-chip cookies and chocolate cake on a regular basis so my friends and I could raid the kitchen when we had sweet-tooth munchies. 

Whenever I would come visit from college, mom always threw together a batch of her homemade Gazpacho – still my favorite food.

I remember feeling jealous that my friends would sit and talk to both of you for great lengths of time.   The initial taint of envy would quickly blossom into pride.  How amazing is it that my friends felt comfortable chatting with you as they did with their own peers?

Then there are the things I took for granted.  I wore the t-shirt you gave me that read “Spoiled Rotten” with pride and didn’t even understand what it meant.  When I turned sixteen, you gave me your navy blue Cadillac, “The Blue Bomber.”  I drove that monster till the wheels practically fell off.  I have great memories of driving my friends around in it,  and we had plenty of laughs about how I had to pin up the lining of the car’s roof with safety pins to keep it from draping below eye-level. 

Then you bought me my first brand new car… a red Chrysler LeBaron convertible.  I was so excited when I finally convinced you to get it for me.  You were both hesitant because you were afraid that a convertible was too dangerous.  Dad was afraid that I would be more likely to get caught speeding in a flashy red car.  I am so grateful you trusted me to drive safely.  I still swear to this day that I only had my arms flapping in the air like wings for about 4 seconds before I was caught by our family friend who reported me.  And dad was right, I did get pulled over quite a bit in that red, flashy car.   

When I came out to you about being gay, I was terrified about letting you down.  You both immediately told me that you loved me… and I believed you.  But your love wasn’t enough to make me love myself.  I chose to share with you my secret and you chose to embrace me regardless of the loss you felt inside.  I thought I was okay with exposing myself to you, Lara, the rest of our network of friends and family… then the entire world.  But I wasn’t okay with myself.  I was scared, lonely, and wanted to escape.  Frankly, I didn’t want to live, but I would have settled for a deep sleep.

So I left you guys while you were there for me.  I chose a path that led somewhere between being a role model and a near-death tunnel of addiction.  Some would say I lived two lives.  I would say I lived many.  The only life I chose to avoid was my own.

This is where I halt the growing sadness of this letter and redirect to the point I’m trying to make.

You never left me, I left you.  While I was off living my life (or lives),  you and dad joined PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays.) You called to inform me that you were meeting many other people that were experiencing similar situations with their own families.  You would tell me the stories of people in your group and how great it felt to reach out to others as they had offered their hearts to you.

I remember coming home and going to services at our temple and not feeling a part of our Jewish community because they only honored heterosexual couples when they became engaged.  I turned to mom and whispered to her “I don’t belong here.”  I saw a side of my mom that night that I had never seen before.  She looked directly into my eyes and said (without whispering) “We are going to change that.” By the next time I came home to Dallas, my parents had started a Jewish PFLAG group at our temple.  Yes, my parents started that! 

Months later, mom sent me a sermon that she heard a Rabbi share in services about the importance of accepting our Jewish LGBT friends and family.  You read it to me over the phone just to make sure I heard the message that you were hearing.  I read the sermon myself years later… Which is when I probably really heard it for the first time.  And I am so proud that my parents were so forward-thinking for that time. 

Seventeen years after I came out, I insisted that you help me mark history by doing an interview with me and allow me post it to youtube.   I wanted to demonstrate four perspectives in our family of my “Coming Out” story.  I think I had put you through the proverbial ringer long enough for you to know that I wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.  I first interviewed dad, who said something that makes me tear up every time I watch it.  “I just don’t understand how parents can just throw their kids away like a piece of tissue.”  It’s extremely powerful to hear and see you say that with rage and tears in your eyes.  Mom baffled me when she said how difficult it is at times knowing that she most likely won’t have grand-children.  Yes mom, it hurts to hear you say that.  But it is honest and it is 100% real. There is no way I would want to trade your painful truth for a fake reality.  Life is too short to pretend and sometimes the truth hurts… but it also sets us free.  And Lara’s interview… there is no one in the world that I love more than my sister.  We are twins that were born two years apart (she’s older.) Thank you mom and dad for giving me my big sis.  The one person that loves me unconditionally, understands me, knows me, and detests me (lovingly, of course.) In the fourth interview, Lara interviewed me… what it was like for me to come out to myself.  Interestingly, I was extremely uncomfortable with my interview.  It is clear now, that I continue to think I know who I am.  But it is even clearer now that there is still plenty of work to do.

Sometimes I think God granted you two gaybies because he knew you would be able to handle it. 

Mom and dad… you have been dealt a difficult hand and turned it into a full house.

Please know that you did a great job raising me and that I will always love and appreciate you. I will continue to be your strongest critic when necessary, and also your most ardent defender. I will continue to do my best to change you, while simultaneously loving you just the way you are.  As long as there are obstacles in my life, I may continue to blame you for some of them. But I will also come running back to you for help when I need it.

When I share about my difficulties publicly, I am honoring the gratitude of my ongoing recovery, and the strength you both instilled in me that has allowed me survive and move through life with a sense of purpose.

Sincerely and Grateful,

Jonathan

The Shoe and the Doormat

ishot-62I think obsessively.

I wish I didn’t, but I do. I offer my heart and time to pretty much anyone. And I like that about myself. I eagerly empathize with souls around me – even if it takes me to dark places – simply because I care, and because I have probably been there or nearby.

I don’t know when to stop and have a tendency to overstay my welcome, and this hurts me. I need to break the cycle because I have been focusing on a soul that sucks in my energy like a black hole and leaves me with little energy to take care of myself.

It has been my choice to feed this soul and I am left starving for reciprocation that most likely will never happen.

I am angry because I am sad.

I have a choice to make: do I linger in purgatory or do I step into the pain of freedom?

I reluctantly choose to block this soul on Facebook.

I reluctantly choose to delete this soul from my contacts on my phone.

My choices are not ones of spite or detest for this soul.

It is an act of love for myself that has gone buried in petty thoughts.