Today is October 2nd, 2020. My mom spent three weeks of the last month hospitalized and during this time, I have begun to understand what fighting cancer looks like up close and personal.
The hospital stays have been excruciating, watching my mom toss and turn, feeling pain, unable to sleep. My sister and I have been her only visitors since she has been allowed only one guest per 24-hour period due to Covid-19 regulations. When my sister informed me today around 5pm that mom was coming home to begin hospice care, I wanted to fight it. But I know it’s time for her to rest and feel the love of her friends, family, and beloved cats.
How am I doing? I don’t know. Fighting cancer is an exhausting battle. So I guess its safe to say I am very tired.
My mom is sleeping now and this is my first attempt to communicate with the outside world about this. I think I know what to expect in the upcoming week/s. But actually, I don’t know anything except that this is going to hit me like a pound of bricks when it does.
The Other Side of the Door
On July 7th, 2020, I traveled from my LA apartment to my childhood home in Dallas to be with my mom who was diagnosed in May of 2019 with MDS which is a cancer in the marrow that eventually progresses to acute leukemia.
Just over three months ago, her chemo treatments were no longer preventing the cancer’s progression, so I knew it was time to come home to be with my mom, sister, and other family members and friends.
Being that my mom’s immune system put her at huge risk of catching the coronavirus, the goal was to take all necessary precautions. I basically self-quarantined in the guest bedroom of her house and would cross paths with mom and wave to her down the hall.
A week later, I tested positive for Covid-19. Yes I had some symptoms, yes I recovered, and no, by the grace of God, I did not get my mother sick. As soon as I tested positive, my sister showed up like a warrior to protect the family. She turned the guest bedroom in my mom’s house into a fully functioning home for me that included a microwave, mini fridge/freezer, toaster (that I gave back because there wasn’t enough room), coffee maker, water boiler, air purifier, and a table stand for me to set my meals on. She dropped food off at my door, and once the area was clear, I would quickly and carefully open up the door to the outside world and heave in the items she would leave for me daily.
All day long, I would communicate with the outside world through Facebook and Zoom.
At the end of the day, Lara (my sis) would come over with her girlfriend and they would provide dinner for the family. Once everyone was served their meal, we would have a Facetime family dinner. How friggin adorable is that? I loved it because I think it was the first time they had ever listened to me when I would speak at a meal. I would interrupt the conversation with a word or two, then someone would introduce me like I had something important to say. “Jonathan said something”, “What did you say, honey?”, “I said the salmon is good”. I wanted nothing more than to exchange hugs with them. But I was content. I have never felt so much love and protection as I did during that time on the other side of the door.
Every year, around March 28th (the day I got sober), I have the privilege to reflect on how my life was before I got sober and why I so desperately needed to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Today (3/28/19) marks the six-year anniversary of when I went public with my sobriety journey. I reviewed my first entry (from 3/28/13) and I am filled with such gratitude that my perspective has shifted from confusion, fear, and some underlying darkness, to acceptance, faith, love, and light. I promise to continue sharing stories of my past that emulate VC Andrews and Steven King books. But today, I am feeling an extremely powerful God-given gratitude that supersedes reliving the struggles associated with my past.
I had a good day yesterday. I worked, went to the gym, met with my sponsor (a fellow addict that mentors me in sobriety), purchased a few days worth of groceries from Trader Joe’s, then drove myself home to my humble (and cozy) apartment in East, West Hollywood. After unloading my four double-bags of groceries, I heated up some vegetarian burritos and prepared a salad, juiced some ginger, then turned on my Apple TV in my living room, and set the empty Trader Joe’s bags near my front door next to some boxes of items that I need to sort through.
I did my ginger shot (burns so good… ginger is a natural anti-biotic, expectorant, and helps with digestion), brought my plate of food into the living room where I had created a dining space to watch a show on Netflix. I then reached into my pocket and pulled out my iPhone 7 Plus, opened the Netflix app, and clicked on the first episode of the second season of the show, ‘OA’. I then air-played the streaming show to my 60″ TV. The show is about blind faith… how appropriate.
After finishing my dinner, I continued watching and fell asleep on the couch. I woke up after midnight and acknowledged my 14 years of sobriety. I thought to myself, “Thank you God for everything that I have today”.
From an outsider’s point of view, my ‘yesterday’ probably seems relatively “normal”. Now I want you to try on my “sobriety goggles” and see and feel the subtext of yesterday’s journey.
The ability to work is a luxury. I was able to show up for jobs amidst my addiction, but I wasn’t always present and wasn’t capable of doing “my best”. I am grateful today to be accountable. Like everyone else, I make mistakes (not excuses) and I get to correct them.
Working out is an activity that I couldn’t partake in when I was high. I would attempt to work out, but my body became weak and vulnerable. I don’t recommend doing yoga on meth. Cobra pose wasn’t so bad, but try balancing on one leg or breathing into a meditation. Good luck with that.
Today, I am blessed to have a gym membership that I use almost every day. I am not a bodybuilder or “meathead” (nothing wrong with either), just someone that cares about staying in good shape so I can feel good as I grow older. Thank you God for this privilege.
When I was using, I barely connected with anyone. When I did, it was usually from a place of desperation, need, or manipulation.
Today, I still isolate and sometimes act selfishly. However, I am lovable and kind and have the potential to develop strong relationships.
Thank you God for granting me the personality of an empath.
The four bags of groceries included a small arrangement of flowers that I gifted myself because I wanted to reward myself for my sobriety milestone. There was a time in early sobriety when I relied on food stamps and utilizing food banks. I remember going to High Holiday Services where they were accepting bags of food for a food drive. I had brought a few cans of vegetables to donate to “their” drive. I was too ashamed to tell my fellow congregants that I was going to be a recipient of these bags of food in the following days.
Today, I am grateful for each item that I am able to purchase. And every time I see donation bags, I take their inventory. I remember how I felt when I would get home from the food bank. I would see the bags of groceries as mystery gifts. I would take out all of the items and place them on my kitchen table. It was a bittersweet feeling. I was excited to have groceries, but felt that I didn’t deserve the hand-out.
Today, I have groceries in my refrigerator that I was able to pay for with my hard-earned cash. The flowers are perfectly arranged on my kitchen table. I notice each flower and color and think to myself, “Thank you God”.
Why the emphasis on the Trader Joe’s Bags?
The boxes of things to sort through were belongings of my father who passed away about 2 and a half years ago. On my last trip to Dallas, I was determined to help my mom and sister find some closure by going through my dad’s closet and taking what I wanted. I sent myself the boxes that have been sitting by the front door of my apartment for two months. It’s now time for me to find some closure. I am going to use the Trader Joe’s Bags to sort; for keeps, give away, and two bags for undecided items.
Today, I get to practice self care and sort through the boxes. It is time for me to let go of the things I will not use and give them to someone in need.
I remember showing up to a high school reunion with a flip-phone with an antenna and one of my fellow classmates commented “I didn’t think they made those anymore”. Clearly, the guy was an asshole. Even so, the experience left me feeling shameful for not being financially secure enough to upgrade my phone.
Today, I spend way too many hours on my phone. Taking photos and videos, playing casino games, unlimited calls and text, and streaming media consumes a huge portion of my day. It is a guilty pleasure that I get to abuse. Thank God for my materials. I also ask God for help when I am gluttonous with my phone. And I am grateful that my ex hasn’t removed me from his Netflix account. Thank you God for helping me maintain a bridge that easily could have been burned (the friendship and the Netflix).
Today I look at my past as an adventure that has brought me to where I am today. I don’t regret my childhood trauma. It is my story. That’s it. It could have taken me down, but I am resilient. There are times when I get pissed off at the after-affects of molestation. But those times pass and I get to grow stronger each time I get back on my feet. A wise-person said, “Pain is a touchstone of spiritual growth”. Year 14 was my most painful year to date. Thank you God.
I’d be lying if I said that I couldn’t believe it has been two years (today) since my dad passed away. He’s missed two of my birthdays, three of my trips home to Dallas, 1 and ½ boyfriends, a family vacation, and a few phone calls when I really needed to speak with him. It’s real, it’s been two years, and it has taken me this long to publish some of the phases of reluctant acceptance.
Six Months Before
About six months before his death, my dad gifted me 120,000 American Airlines Advantage miles. I had been talking to him about my burning desire to travel to Europe. He asked me if there was any place in particular that I’d like to go. I responded “Paris, France, England, London, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Spain, oh…definitely Italy, and Lithuania.” I think it was quite clear that I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I just wanted to go explore “somewhere/anywhere” that wasn’t here. I booked a flight to Paris and a few weeks before my trip, I had to cancel because work had been very slow and I couldn’t financially justify the trip.
In Retrospect of One Month Before
On October 18, 2016, exactly one month before my dad’s passing, I received a voicemail from my mom asking me to please call her back. I returned the call and she explained that dad had been experiencing shoulder pain and had x-rays taken to find out what was causing the discomfort. The physician informed them that the shoulder issue was secondary and that he was more concerned about the tumor-like mass that showed up on the x-ray of my father’s right lung. About an hour later, I called my dad and there was about a sentence of small talk before I asked him, “How are you doing”? He subtly spoke the words “mom says she told you about the x-rays.” I concurred that she had. I asked him, “Are you scared?” He said, “Yes, I am.” I agreed with my dad that I too was scared and assured him that he wasn’t alone.
I booked my flight home to Dallas for the eve before his surgery; I believed I was coming home to help my mom and sister to aid in my dad’s recovery. I typically play devil’s advocate and attempt to imagine the worst possible outcome. This way, I am prepared to endure, accept, and move forward through any unforeseen yet anticipated situations. However, this time I chose to be superstitious. Ignorance was bliss and I believed that positive thinking would bring a positive outcome.
My flight arrived the night before his surgery at Dallas Love Field Airport just before dinnertime. As always, my dad asked the family where we wanted to eat even though we all knew that there were three restaurants where he liked to dine. Predictably, my recommendation would be somewhere with relatively fast service that served fish because I am an ADHD pescatarian. My sister, Lara would make a recommendation of some place that she liked and had a gut feeling that I would like as well. My mom would indicate that she would try to find something on the menu that she likes. Lara would then explain that she was fine eating anywhere and that everyone else just needs to make a decision. My mom would say she’s fine eating anywhere, followed by a statement indicating that she doesn’t really need to eat. As anticipated, my dad offered one of his three favorite restaurants, Pappadeaux. And we all agreed to go with his recommendation.
I remember sitting at a half-booth table and we all ordered iced tea. I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember the conversation throughout that dinner to be very light. There was no discussion about how we should handle any unusual outcomes from the surgery. It was like we were all playing along with the idea that nothing bad could happen.
God I wish I could go back to that dinner and say Dad, I love you and we need to discuss a few potential outcomes. If you can’t speak, what is the best way for us to communicate with you? If you can’t breathe without a tube down your throat, are you okay with the administration of a tracheotomy? At what point should we turn off your life support?
Unable to write for three months.
Three Months After
At about 7am on November 18, 2016, three months ago today, I was awakened by a phone call from my sister, Lara. She said, “I’m sorry to wake you. I just got a call from the nurse on-call at the hospital… Dad passed away.”
I can barely remember the rest of the call, or how I walked into my mother’s bedroom and listened to my sister delicately break the news to my mom on speakerphone. The look on my mother’s face was of shock and disbelief. The nonsensical questions and conversation that followed between the three of us seemed to be silenced by a high-pitched static. I hung up the phone with my sister after agreeing to meet her at the hospital to say one final goodbye to our dad’s lifeless body. Attempting to comfort my mom, I embraced her and surrendered to a deep cry into her shoulder that lasted about a minute. She responded with a whimper then seemed to go into a state of complete shock. I think I had been emotionally preparing for this outcome for about a week. And in that moment, my mom was faced with the reality that her 50-year companion was not coming home.
At five months, I feel like the dust is beginning to settle from losing my dad. It feels like I am moving away from “What just happened?” to “This just happened.” I had someone come up to me yesterday and say, “I am glad to see that you are seemingly getting better”. It’s true. I am getting better. And frankly, I needed someone to come and tell me that because I need to get better.
The first two months after dad’s death, I had no problem accepting help, phone-calls, coffee dates, meals, etc. But in the third month, I retreated to unhealthy old behavior; isolation, bingeing and purging, acting out sexually, and bingeing on TV/Netflix/Showtime.
I just found myself staring at and into my ceiling and I whispered aloud, “What’s next? Whois next? Is my mom next? Will I go before my sister? Or will she go before me? I don’t want to die but I don’t want to be the last one standing. Did my dad give up on us because we weren’t sufficient? Was I not the man he wanted me to be? Is he looking down on me now insisting that these thoughts are all wrong? Or is he glad that it’s over?
Seven Months and a day
It’s 2:23 am on July 19, 2017 and I have been stirring restlessly in bed. So I decided to surrender and force myself to write something – anything – in an attempt to try to clear these endless thoughts.
At seven months, I still think about my dad’s passing daily. However, the thought process remains above surface level. How often am I supposed to dig in and think about the permanence of his absence? How long should I hold my breath of grief before I start to drown in it?
My birthday is on July 23rdand I will not be receiving a note from him this year telling me how proud he is of my progress. I miss the way my dad would really step into my mind and praise me for not giving up. He really understood my battle with self-hate. I think he could relate to it.
The last few months could be described as my great escape. I have avoided feelings as much as possible. I have lost touch with most of my friends. Some have let me go and some I have pushed away. I don’t rely on anyone and my faith has been limited. Anger is my most familiar emotion. I need to escape my escape and come back to reality. Reality scares me because I don’t know who I am, what I want, or what I do.
I traveled to New York City and stayed in a friend’s apartment for 3 weeks and I wasn’t ready to leave. The city that never sleeps was perfect for my night owl sleeping habit. The energy and the people of the city kept my adrenaline pumping for the entirety of the vacation. Then I met a man two days before I left. I had an ongoing joke with the friend I was staying with that I wanted to meet a guy from Brooklyn. The man turned out to be from Brooklyn. And it was almost like a sign from God that s/he was watching. So after 36 hours of time spent with “Brooklyn,” I was hooked. It was like speed dating. I know it’s premature, but I have started to consider a move to Manhattan. But before I do that, I need to be okay where I am… and I am not okay just yet.
Phew. I am ready for bed.
My friend Josh’s dad is in the hospital with stage 4 cancer. Although we had just met a couple weeks before at a convention while I was in New York, it was somewhat healing to communicate with and try to help someone going through the process of losing his dad.
Ten and ½ Months
Josh’s dad passed away today. I realized tonight that even with the consoling expertise I had developed with my dad’s passing, there is nothing I could say or do that would ease the process for someone in mourning.
“Brooklyn” came to visit for the eleven days leading up to the 11-month- Anniversary of my dad’s death. I picked him up and drove him straight to my happy place, Palm Springs. “Brooks” is a very special man; he understands me, he is kind, and demonstrates a cute form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. We hit a bump in the road halfway through the trip and I was afraid we had reached our potential. I was wrong. We worked through it and it made me like him more. I feel comfortable speaking with him about my dad because he had lost his dad to cancer ten years ago.
11 and ½ Months
AmI supposed to go home and be with my family for my dad’s Yahrzeit (year anniversary of death)? My dad was cremated, so there isn’t an official location for me to return to. As of now, he is sitting on a shelf in my sister’s closet. My mom didn’t know what to do with
it. Dad insisted for many years that he wanted to be cremated. Why would it be so important to him? I never asked. Unfortunately, he never got around to telling us where he wanted his ashes to go. So now we have a ten-pound box wrapped in a green velvet
bag. I have a feeling that he didn’t care where his remains would end up. And that’s fine, but a little selfish. Dad, if you are listening, that was kind of “inconsiderate”.
One Year and Four Months
(WARNING: I have reluctantly decided to leave this month unedited because raw is healthier than sugarcoated)
Denial. I have moved on but I have a phantom parameter around the loss of my dad that is not to be touched. It’s my no fly zone. It’s keeping me away from following my dreams. It’s my excuse to give up. I feel like there are quite a few unresolved “Daddy issues.” My inability to go into my mourning zone is guarded by anger. What the fuck are we supposed to do with your ashes? Where do we go to speak to you? Were you too fucking lazy to snap into reality for a few minutes? And when I asked you if you thought you were going to die, your tears started to well up in your eyes like you suddenly had a deep desire to live. Did you even consider our feelings before you could no longer respond to us? I had to watch you suffocate five times! The family agreed to give you a tracheotomy when you were unconscious. And that fucking doctor that put off my suggestion for a week before he finally did the procedure… right when you were so weak that you couldn’t survive it. Those fucking nurses that had no clue who you were, what was going on, or how to help? It was as if no one in the immediate family was allowed to sleep or dad would die. Every fucking time we left the hospital; somehow he would end up intubated by morning. And the fucking fuck-head nurses that we hired to make sure the local nurses were doing their job properly had no clue what was going on. What the fuck was the criterion for these second-hand nurse-fucking fuck-heads? So many things could have prevented this.
Who am I kidding? Death is the end of all of our stories. There are “better” ways to go, but rarely do we say “wow, that really was an amazing, beautiful death.” I think I might be experiencing an anger phase of mourning… possibly.
“Brooklyn”, if you are the one: I want to be buried in a cemetery next to a family member, friend, or spouse (you). I don’t care too much about the quality or fanciness of the coffin. I like a mahogany brown. Please don’t get the cheapest coffin. I have standards. Get the coffin that is just a little more expensive than the cheapest. If my dad’s ashes are still floating around, please sneak the green velvet box (dad) into my casket so my mom and sister can finally get some closure.
Two Years – Today – 11/18/18
If you are a friend or family member and you are reading this, you haven’t seen me around. And if you have, it was brief and I probably stayed around just long enough to show you that “I’m fine,” “I’m Good.” Our phone calls, voice-mails, and text messages have been lacking depth. I am sorry for not being present and accountable. I am confident that this is my turning point. I wouldn’t be inviting you in if I weren’t ready.
Summary of the Last Year
Two close friends passed away, I chaired an amazing convention, attended and DJ’d the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever seen, went on a cruise to the Carribean with my mom and sister, contributed several new videos to my whoshotinpalmsprings.com YouTube channel, worked a booth at Palm Springs Gay Pride, and had someone take a picture of my ass (before it deflates).
My long distance relationship with “Brooklyn” ended somewhat abruptly. I don’t think I was ready to date. The idea of having a long distance relationship seemed like a good compromise at the time. But distance didn’t make the heart grow fonder. It just made us distant. The day after we broke up, I started seeing another great guy -“Long Beach.” Once again, I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I thought I was ready, but I think I was just filling the void… again. They may not know it (until now), but I am forever grateful for the experiences we shared.
Off to EuropeSouth America
I have been pretty quiet the last five months. And I am starting to feel strength and direction. I feel my dad’s encouragement today. When my dad gave me the 120,000 American Airlines Advantage miles to go to Europe and back, I wasn’t exactly sure where I would stay, what I would do, or why I was going.
A month ago, I met “Sao Paulo” at Triangle Inn resort in Palm Springs. We got along great
for two days and he invited me to come visit him in Brazil. On November 28, 2018, I am flying to South America. The first weekend we will be in Sao Paulo, the second weekend will be in Rio.
Three years ago I met “Lima” on Grindr (a social media dating app predominantly for gay men) and we spent two days together in Los Angeles. He suggested that I come visit him in Lima. After Rio, I will be flying to see “Lima” in Lima. Then I plan on finding my way to Machu Pichu. I have always dreamt of seeing the “Seven Wonders of the World.” Thank you Dad for gifting me tickets to follow my dreams.
Lucky 13? I have to be honest. The thought of turning thirteen years sober was not pleasant. Apparently, I have some internalized superstition about the number “13” meaning bad luck.
Had you asked me 13 years ago what I would be doing today, it is quite likely that I would have said, “Please God, let me be sober”. I was desperate, exhausted, and willing to finally ask for help. I was pretty much agnostic at that time, but my desire to escape survival mode and start living inspired me to seek a power other than myself.
I remember my last line of crystal meth like it was yesterday. I had been pondering the idea of quitting for a few months and didn’t know till a week before the “finish line” that I was ready to quit. My addiction towards all drugs was a juggling act. I smoked weed and bumped K to relax, sleep, eat, laugh, and escape my chaotic thoughts. I did Special K (Ketamine, not the cereal) to fall into a different universe that would sometimes give me hints to what my life’s potential would be. I remember flying over a concert-filled venue looking down at my fans that were cheering for me. Apparently they saw my potential. I think I was singing to them or maybe taking a break from my DJ set to fly by and give a round of hi-fives to the roaring crowd. Regardless of what my skill actually was, a few bumps of K before lying back on my waterbed was the perfect formula for inviting my fans into my trip (K-Hole).
I want to say that I didn’t drink too much. According to Lacie, the cocktail waitress at the bar where I used to DJ three nights a week, I was consuming quite a bit of alcohol. I remember running into her years after I got sober and made a comment that “alcohol wasn’t really a problem. I told her “I would have a couple Corona and a few shots of Patron – and would always finish my last drink before 11pm so I could responsibly drive home.” She looked stunned at my response and replied, “Those were triple shots of Patron”. Either way, my drinking wasn’t so bad compared to the bar regulars that could easily have had their names engraved next to their barstools. I could really take or leave the booze, weed, K, and other drugs. But Crystal or any other form of speed that would keep me up for days had seduced my inner-consciousness into a co-dependent marriage. Thirteen years ago today, that horrific relationship resolutely ended in divorce.
So what does that all mean today? It means that since Monday, March 28, 2005, I have been lucky enough to begin changing my life. How is thirteen years just the beginning? It’s just a gut. I have a strong feeling that the best is yet to come and I am starting to see my potential naturally.
Something that a lot of people don’t understand about the addict mind (and I will refer to my own rather than speak for a group) is that I am addicted to anything that will temporarily relieve me of my harmful thought process that inevitably wants me dead if it goes untreated.
There is nothing anyone can say or do that will fool my natural, “stinking thinking.” For me, desperation was my best friend. It led my seemingly lifeless, skinny, infected corpse to individuals and groups that had figured out different methods of combating my mental “dis-ease (uneasy).” I prefer that word to disease because it’s easier for me to accept my terminal mental state as an inconvenience, handicap, or nuisance rather than a sickness. From them, I learned that my situation was called alcoholism and the sooner that I surrender to this word (that I hated because alcohol wasn’t “my thing”); the quicker I was going to recover.
Since March 28, 2005, I have slowly learned how to better take care of myself. I have sought help from groups, taken direction from an individual that I call my sponsor, and found a therapist that I can be honest with (imagine that- not lying to a therapist). I have learned that it is absolutely essential for me to incorporate people that I trust in my thought process so I don’t hurt myself or someone else. Isolation is not my friend.
Am I happy? Yes, today in this very moment at 1:30 AM on March 29, 2018 I am completely content. Three days ago, I was engaging in a pretty uncomfortable argument with the guy I have been seeing since July. The silver lining is that I feel we learned something about each other. Rather than angry or sad, I felt compassionate, then loved. He lives in Manhattan, about 3000 miles away. But for some reason, my heart wants me to speak with him at the end of every day. How many couples can honestly say they speak for about thirty minutes a day to each other? How many couples can honestly say that they can’t wait to see each other?
I have learned how to live in gratitude. Living in gratitude does not mean I am always happy. It means that I have the ability to acknowledge each day as a gift. On November 18, 2016, my dad passed away a month after an unsuccessful attempt to remove a tumor from his lung. This was the worst month of my life. I felt emotions that I had only partially imagined. But somehow, I was able to reach into my sobriety toolbox and find a few things to be grateful for. My immediate and extended family and friends came together and took care of me. I felt needed when I was able to return a hug and take care of them. The experience turned me into a crier. I can’t even watch an episode of The Voice without crying. I love that my dad has given me the gift of being emotionally fearless.
Months later, I came down with an infection in my lungs, and found myself in the hospital for eleven days. Each day I was there seemed to get longer and it was difficult to feel gratitude at that time. But in retrospect, I spent few days without a visit from a friend. Some visits were from people who barely knew me. The experience taught me to see each day as a gift and every sick friend as an opportunity.
Clearly, there have been some setbacks the last couple of years. Sobriety has taught me that setbacks are only detrimental if you don’t see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. At my celebratory dinner tonight, my friend Paulo and I were discussing my angst of turning 13. He informed me that the number 13 is a holy number in the Jewish faith and that it is the age when a boy has his Bar Mitzvah. Paulo was surprised when I informed him that I had a Bar Mitzvah. Every once in a while, it takes a friend to help me see the silver lining. A Bar Mitzvah is defined as a “son of responsibility”. I like the sound of that and I’m ready to fly towards my potential.
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.
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.
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.
Almost 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.
I 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.
A 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.