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Eighteen years ago tomorrow I melted into the couch trying to disappear while I processed the fact that my mother was dead. I didn’t want everyone gathered around me. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to react in front of anyone. I just wanted to soak into the beige cushions and have my moment, but at 12 years old everyone expected something different, something extravagant and wild that required taming and tending. I didn’t. I absorbed the information and took a shower, because it was the only place I could go and not be followed. I spent the next several days trying to gauge what was expected of me. I helped plan a funeral for the first time. I went with my best friend and her mom to buy something nice to wear with no idea what acceptable mourning attire for someone in my position could possibly be. I settled on a navy blue skirt with flowers on it. My goth stage wouldn’t flood my life with black until a year or so later.
Eighteen years ago today, however, was a very different experience. One of life.
You always remember the last time you heard someone’s voice before they leave your world. I remember her laughter and her words. I remember mine. I have since had to uproot my guilt over not going to visit as I had promised and how nonchalantly I threw in that last “love you, bye” as only adolescence can cast. She was coming home the next day. I was excited, but I didn’t feel any particular need to drag it out over the phone. This would change how I handle phone calls, I-love-yous, and anticipation for the rest of my life, because the next day she simply didn’t come home.
Yesterday I took a walk around the cemetery to clear my head. Eighteen years after the last time I hugged her my mom is still the best friend I go to for guidance, as I’ve developed a habit of laying on the grass under the tree she’s buried near and telling her all the things I can’t articulate anywhere else. It’s the only place I can reach the voice inside me that has answers, because the part of her that lives within me is something I wasn’t capable of recognizing as a preteen.
One of the things I inherited from my mother was her capacity to see the good in people. Whatever she called it, that woman embraced the spirit of Aloha in the very air she breathed. No one was ever turned away from her heart, and to those she gave pieces of it too she gave everything. For a long time I tried to run from that part of myself. I tried to cage it up, wall it in, and silence it for good. I hated it. I hated myself for it. I struggled for years with the very thing that makes me who I am, because I had let it shine only to have it ripped out, held in front of me, and tortured before my very eyes. I had watched something beautiful be eviscerated in the name of love, and I couldn’t fathom anything worth experiencing that again. The lesson from my mother’s last day had not yet sunk in.
So let’s go back to that week.
My mother’s funeral was the first I had ever planned. The first at which I had ever spoken. The first I had ever attended. The first time I had personally shaken Death’s hand had taken from me the most important person in my life, and the seeds of this lesson were planted. Since then I have been to more funerals than I can count, spoken at many of them, and helped plan seven. Family, friends, children. Old, young, unborn. Sick, sudden, at their own hands. Loss. Loss is something you never get used to and something you can never truly plan for no matter how hard you try. Loss is where the seeds Death planted the day my mother said, “if you’re not coming today, don’t bother, because I’m going home tomorrow” and I chose to stay home instead begin to sprout. Loss is where those sprouts blossom into regret and sadness every time one of those last conversations is replayed in the back of my mind. Loss is where I gained the strength and courage to let the part of me which my mother tried so hard to cultivate within me finally be free, because the only thing that can grow taller than Death’s crops in my soul is love.
There are times when I doubt. There are times when I’m told that opening myself up to love this way makes me weak and vulnerable. There are times when I’m told it’s ignorant and ugly to let my heart be naked this way. Not everyone appreciates it. I’m called crazy, overwhelming, and naive every time I put my heart at risk, but to me this risk is far more acceptable that the one that someone I love never knew it. In this lesson my mother’s voice lives on. In this way her heart continues to love. In this way I am showing her every day how much I loved her and how important she was to me, not just as my mother but as the fire that burns within me.
I’ve written about it before, the reasons I love the way I do. What it all boils down to is that love is something you can’t do halfway or there’s no point in doing it at all. It can hurt. It can burn. It can tear you apart when you least expect it, but so can regret, fear, and doubt. At least my way I also run the risk of being happy and loved in return, and that’s the secret my mom knew.
“What would you say,” a friend posed to me as I sat at his table, “to a friend who had just told you what you just told me?” We had been discussing certain decisions coming up in my life and what I should consider when making them. He was right. If I took the sentiment and nostalgia out of the situation the answer I was looking for was right in front of my face. I just didn’t want to accept it. I tried to take what he had said to heart, and in the following days I gained such a powerful sense of clarity that I felt foolish for not having seen it before. I knew what I had to do, but I also knew that this meant fortifying my relationship with myself.
Then there came this night. A night when all the love and support in the world was gone, and everything was quiet. A night when loneliness took over, and my only option was to learn to stand up in the darkness by myself. You know what? In that moment I learned what it was like to become my own best friend, to really trust myself to be available for me when I needed a little extra strength and love, and to actually do so.
Don’t get me wrong, my outer support circle is fantastic, but they can’t be with me all the time. I cannot allow myself to become dependent. I also cannot allow myself to become self-destructive when left to my own devices. I must learn to thrive and enjoy being alone, and this is a very fresh lesson. I must learn to do this myself or it will overpower me. The darkness, the silence, the solitude. It all comes from within, so it is from within that it must be overcome.
What would I say to a friend? Nothing. She already knows the answers. She already has the seeds of change within her. She just needs a friend. It’s up to me to be that friend.
It was the day I saw the internet meme that read expressed to me that love could always save the day, and anything else was giving up. This friends, is a very pretty thought, but untrue. Yes, there are a lot of people who give up on love too soon. There are relationships that end merely because people don’t want to put the effort in to keep it alive. There are also situations where the love exists but the relationship is unhealthy, and there is only so much compromise one can do. This is where serious change needs to occur.
My biggest hurdle in the past week has been the doubt instilled in me by this very concept. For years I have fought. For years I have worked. For years I have sacrificed and compromised. All for love. All with a smile on my face. All knowing my heart was strong and my love was true. That love hasn’t changed. It hasn’t diminished. It hasn’t quieted. I don’t even feel like it’s less mutual. It’s the only reason I am hurt by the idea that maybe even the strongest love in the world can’t fix everything. And maybe worse, that it shouldn’t.
What if this love is what’s holding me in a place that’s unhealthy for the rest of me? What if this love is detrimental? What if it’s taken the place of the love I should have for myself? These are very real things. This is not an abuse situation, friends, but it is unhealthy. If we can’t find a way to change the foundation of what’s wrong in our life together, no amount of love in the world can change that. I can’t let myself feel like I’m giving up or failing, because that’s what has always made me stick around in the past regardless of my mental or emotional health.
Love can conquer many things. Fear, insecurity, doubt. Love cannot conquer all things, because a relationship needs air to breathe and sun to grow. It needs a good balance of calm and passion. It needs the right environment, and if that environment no longer exists between two people, it doesn’t mean we’ve or love has failed. It merely means our landscape has evolved. It’s time to decide if that landscape can still sustain this relationship.
We are the artists, the healers, and the teachers. We are those who feel, and sometimes we don’t know why until we have learned to acknowledge and process them. We are the empaths, and our journey is unique. It’s not always easy, but it can be highly rewarding and fulfilling.
As an empath I am generally at least aware of my environment on a very intimate level. I can get a feel for people pretty quickly in ways they might not even be in touch with themselves. I can tell when people are hurting, sick, or frustrated, but I can also see their capacity for love and joy when they might not be able to. It makes me a caretaker by nature. I am generally that friend answering her phone at some odd hour of the night because I’ve never turned down a request for help I was available to give.
The flip side of all this is that it makes me a lover, which in and of itself is not a negative thing. I’ve expressed before that being vulnerable doesn’t make me weak. It makes me stronger every time it backfires, but when it doesn’t I am reminded why I live and love as openly as I do. It also makes me stubborn and persistent. I can see past all the verbal armor people use on a daily basis, excuses that we think protect us from our own fears and insecurities. I promise you, they protect you from nothing. If anything you become a victim of yourself, and eventually those things become who you are instead of the things inside that actually define you. These are the things I see as an empath.
This also means I can tell when I’m being lied to or set aside. I can tell when a relationship has become about sentimental nostalgia instead of new refreshed emotion. I don’t like it, and at times I’ve tried to fight it, but I can always feel it. It’s at these times where I have a choice, just as I have a choice whether or not to speak up when I see these things affecting others. Do I speak up? Do I keep trying to fool myself with the same sentimentality? Do I force a change or do I wait for the inevitable?
Being an empath has taught me to throw everything I have to the surface, to give all of myself to those I feel won’t abuse it, and to see doors most people would generally walk past. It’s also taught me to identify other empaths, because they are generally the people I can communicate with on an unspoken level. There’s an amazing bond between two people who can feel everything happening in each other. My world is full of them. We laugh together, we hurt together, and we experience love together, and it’s extremely painful when someone starts to distance.
This. This is what I fear. This is my biggest concern coming true. Distance from someone who once knew me so well. So what do I do? This, friends, is where my soul is.
Go now, get in touch with yourself.
Just this last week my home state of Pennsylvania legalized marriage equality, and now that both of the states I call home have done so, I feel the push to chime in with an experience I’ve had in both cases. As someone who identifies as pansexual, and as someone who happens to already be in a legal, heterosexual, open marriage, I have come under a lot of fire for supporting the cause as anything but an ally. Let’s break that down…
Pansexual: Yes, I have love and attraction to anyone, anyone, who catches that attention, no matter how they identify. Why is it that because a cis male is included in that I am devoid of caring about the opportunity to marry any of the other possible pairings? We must stop the labeling, the arguing about labeling, and the snobbery and isolation that arise from that labeling.
Married: Ok, so it’s true. I’m already legally married, and I don’t plan on that changing in my life. Does that mean I couldn’t have wanted to marry someone who didn’t legally apply? I love cookies and cream ice cream, but does that mean I wouldn’t like the opportunity to choose Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which I also happen to love? Why does the fact that my ultimate legal choice was an acceptable one negate this as a victory for my heart?
Poly: This is something I’ve struggled with within the LGBTQ community for years. In the opinion of some people, aligning with the poly community means a step back for all the work the LGBTQ community has done to convince the world that they can be just as committed to each other as heterosexual relationships can. While I understand this very conservative opinion, I have to ask why heterosexual marriages don’t have to prove the same? Why aren’t accepted social norms put to the same litmus tests as alternative lifestyles? Oh right, because it’s more acceptable to cheat on a heterosexual spouse than to be honest and open. I also realize that poly families have a long way to go in that regard, and that our struggle for acceptance over prejudice and mockery is in a very young stage.
The truth is, it shouldn’t matter if this step forward benefits me in any way or not. It shouldn’t even matter that I know people personally who it benefits. The only thing that should matter is that this is the right thing for people. Period. This entire post has been an excuse to say this: Congratulations, people! This is how life should be, and we need to stop worrying about who does and doesn’t have the right to celebrate life.
Go now. Celebrate equality and love!
Way back when I did my Poly-tics series I wrote about The Deep End. Well, it all came back to haunt me recently when I became involved with someone who had just opened a long-time monogamous marriage. The result was a lot of exactly what I cautioned in the second installation of the series. Had I known at the time how deep this deep end really was I might not have ventured into it, but there I was, surrounded by dark waters of insecurity, doubt, mistrust, and miscommunication. I did what I could to be helpful. I offered the same advice I would offer friends or people seeking counsel. I tried to help both parties through what I know can be an extremely tumultuous storm. In the end I was left adrift in a Deep End that was not my own with an overload of red flags and I-told-you-sos.
It was during this time that I began to hear the term Testing the Waters in reference to poly. What struck me immediately was the fact that once you’ve involved another human being and a relationship begins to form you can no longer be “testing” anything. It’s unfair to both members of the new relationship, and it’s a detrimental attitude to the entire situation. Polyamory requires complete commitment and dedication. If you can’t give that to yourself, your partner, and any new partners you bring into your life, you’re better off sunbathing on the shoreline until you can really brave the deep end.
Take it from me.
I briefly mentioned being fluid bound in my Responsible Sex post, but I wanted to talk about it more in-depth and talk about what it means to me. In monogamous relationships a couple reached a point where they stop using condoms because they’ve decided they’re in a monogamous relationship and that there is no risk of one of them bringing something contractible into the equation. The risk of pregnancy is still there, as no birth control is 100% accurate, and a couple either accepts this risk or doesn’t. In any case, it’s a turning point of sorts. It’s each member of that couple saying “I trust this other person not to put me at risk by being dishonest”.
In a poly situation the sentiment behind fluid bonding is very similar, at least to me. I have been fluid bound with very few partners besides my husband. It’s one of the most intimate parts of a sexual relationship, and one I never just trudge into without serious thought and discussion. It requires trust on all sides of the die.
Let’s talk about that trust. When I am fluid bound with someone I have to trust him (I’ll stick to him for this scenario) indelibly. I had a nurse at a clinic once tell me I should use condoms with Hubby because of our lifestyle because “how do you know you can trust him?“. My immediate answer was, “because he wouldn’t be my husband if I couldn’t”.
Being fluid bound means putting the health and safety of my entire family in the hands of my partner. That’s some pretty serious power. In turn he’s telling me that he trusts me and the rest of my family. Any partners fluid bound with me put their health and safety in Hubby’s hands and those of any partners with whom he is bound. Because of this web of trust it’s a conversation that happens within my partnership, then my marriage, then our family, so that everyone is heard and everyone feels comfortable. Then we all get tested and proceed from there.
Fluid bound also means trusting my partner to stand by me through anything. I know plenty of women who can tell you what form of birth control they were on when their children were conceived. It happens, and before I will even put that percentage of a risk in someone’s life I make sure he knows where I stand on the matter. This family is strong and resilient, but anyone unable or unwilling to accept the minute chance of being that deeply a part of it has to accept that it’s a risk I just won’t take.
Remember friends, condoms are cheaper than bad decisions. Don’t be pressured. Don’t be rushed. Being fluid bound with someone is beautiful. The proximity you feel with your partner is unmatched. See this profound experience for what it is, save it for those who really deserve it and cherish it, and use it to bring you closer as a couple. If you view it as something sacred you will protect it. If you view it as something valuable it will take your sexual experiences to new places. Sometimes we use poly to dilute these natural stages of a relationship and their unique blessings. Becoming fluid bound has always been one of those blessings for me. Take your time, and embrace each one in its time and speed. Believe me, it’s worth it.
The last two weeks have been an interesting and rather cathartic game of chutes and ladders through my past. I wasn’t able to address all of them, and there were a few I left out due to private details of people I still consider friends. I know a few of you were looking for your stories, and I assure you that omission from this little experiment was not an indication that you have ever meant any less or more to me than anyone else. Also, for those who like to chase monsters, this was not meant to be a smear campaign. It was meant to give an idea of how one heart has grown and learned from each and every person who still resides within it. You see, I don’t believe that once a person has been loved I ever truly un-love them. I may move on, and it may not be healthy for me to have certain people in my life, but that doesn’t mean what we had wasn’t real. If it was love, it still is. If it wasn’t love, it was still a valuable experience in my growth as a person.
The biggest lesson to come from all of this was that every moment is valuable, and nothing is as bad as it has seemed. I don’t believe that every cloud has a silver lining, because that glorifies the rain cloud. I believe that every battle has some blood. I believe that every blue sky has some rain. I believe that every word worth writing has a little pain behind it, because that’s life. What I do not believe is that a single cloud should ruin the sky. A dear friend, who has been with me through most of these stories, told me recently that most people are morally bankrupt. “Not most,” I responded. “Just the ones most of us remember.” It’s true. I could choose to remember and label any or all of these stories as tragedy, but I don’t. They have simply been opportunity for growth and a chance to shine, even on the darkest nights.
I’m choosing to end this series with the one who has been both the beginning and the end of all my stories, my husband. Again, this is not a new story to many of you, but humour me anyway.
When I met him I had just started a new job. I was seeing a few people, and while I cared for each of them I wasn’t interested in a committed, monogamous relationship. It was on a trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with one of those men that I met the man who would become my husband. He is the cornerstone of our family, our tribe, our Ohana.
He was working for a booth that sold dragon puppets that sat on your shoulder, and he lured me into a conversation using raffle tickets as bait. He was cute, and I was still unaccustomed to being flirted with, so I followed, my confused date following behind us. After convincing me to wave a flag in the parade and using that time to both question me about myself and critique my flag waving, the raffle began, and he was gone. I bought myself a cute little dragon puppet and tried not to look disappointed as we headed for the car. Before we left the gates I stopped off to use the Privvy where I tried desperately to push him from my mind as just another “could have been”, but something just wouldn’t let me leave it that way.
I told my date to wait where he was and took off running towards the puppet booth where I made up some story about losing my debit card. It wasn’t until a year ago that I told him I had gone back just for him. We struck up a conversation. I was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I failed to notice when my bodice stopped functioning. I was essentially topless. “I’m sorry,” he said, eventually unable to focus on the work he was doing, “but it’s really hard to be a gentleman with you like…like that.” After that I couldn’t not take his number. Unfortunately, I took the wrong one, and it took me a week to figure out the problem. On our first date he bought me a pair of blue horns and a bottle of mead, which I had to open with a screw and a hammer because I didn’t have a corkscrew. Within weeks he was spending every night with me, within months we were handfasted. It was eerie how much we had in common, down to some of the same stuff, and how often we had most likely crossed paths in years previous.
When we decided to be poly we knew we were embarking on something big. We both knew it was the right decision, and we both breathed a sigh of relief at finally being able to express ideas we’d each held for years, but we knew there would be growing pains. We knew there would be mistakes on both sides, and we knew it would be the biggest test our relationship had faced to date. We were right. We fought. We exposed fears, insecurities, and emotional roadblocks of every kind, but we kept pushing forward. We fought some more. It strained friendships, relationships, and for a long time we were that couple that brought tension to every social gathering like a side-dish. It cost us more than we could have imagined, and it was almost the end of us. Almost.
Ultimately we came out of the fire more closely bonded than ever. The people who were truly our tribe rallied around us, and our families were able to see us stand tall as a team. Whenever we have issues now it is those moments that we remember, that first victory that inspires us to keep trying, because those were the fires of truth that made us one. No handfasting or legal document could have done that. These new issues are never actually new. They are simply echoes of the first, and they are generally fixed with the same tools. I have learned a lot of lessons from my relationship with Hubby, and I continue to learn from him.
I have learned how to communicate. I have learned better ways to control my emotional responses. It doesn’t always work, but he has learned to try to see why I respond as severely as I do sometimes. I have learned that I am stronger than I ever think I am. Through sickness, money troubles, losing our apartment, and loss, we have thrived as a couple. In times of trial, we have proven to be each other’s strongest ally. Even when we have been against each other, the love we have has inspired us to fight for the life we have built together. I have learned what it means to be humble, what it means to compromise, and what it means to forgive. I have eschewed the I-would-nevers and the expectations of love and marriage that I held onto for so many years. I have learned to accept that I don’t always have the answers and that sometimes we’re just floundering together in the sea of life, and that’s ok. I have learned what it means to lean on each other and how to carry myself knowing it doesn’t mean I’ve been abandoned. I have learned when to let someone I love fail or hurt, because his experience and lessons are not mine to feel. I have learned the definition of unconditional love. I have learned what it means to have someone’s support no matter what. I know that on any path my journey takes I will carry the love and faith of my husband, even if he doesn’t understand or agree with it. I have learned compersion and true happiness for another human being. I have learned to accept that I am a lovable, capable, beautiful human being who deserves to be accepted and cherished by someone who loves her as much as she loves him. I have learned to trust in love, magick, and hope above all other things, and when even those things fail, to trust in myself. I have learned what it means to build a life with someone instead of just living a life with someone.
I have learned what it means to be Ohana.
To my Hubby. Aloha nui loa.
Ralph and I met in a volatile time in both of our lives. It was around Thanksgiving 2002, and my grandparents were visiting. We ignited instantly, and for a week straight I walked him to work, stopping at Dunkin Donuts on my way home. At night we’d discuss writing and theatre, we’d have dinner at the diner where we’d spend hours at a table just talking and goofing off, or we’d explore each other like pioneers blazing new trails.
Then I got the flu. Ralph took care of me and inevitably got sick himself. As a diabetic with no health insurance, I couldn’t afford to catch the same bug I’d given him, so I asked him to go home. He fought me, and I put my foot down a little hard. I came across as ungrateful, but I hadn’t asked him to take care of me. I was perfectly able to take care of myself. From that one incident we began to disintegrate as quickly as we had bonded. Endearments became infuriating. Idiosyncracies we had overlooked became unacceptable. We erupted, parting ways like the grand finale of a fireworks show.
We didn’t speak for a long time, but we did. As soon as we pushed past the ash and debris of the fire of our first relationship we were able to rekindle what had brought us together in the first place. Our lives had changed. Our attitudes had changed. Our passion had not. While we would meet up and catch up when the occasion arose, it would take us almost 11 years to have both the understanding and the opportunity to completely reconnect, and even now we sometimes carefully navigate our way through some emotionally charged waters. The difference now is that we have a better map and the skills to read it and discuss our course before we go barreling over a waterfall.
In the time since we gave it another go, we’ve had a lot of firsts. We’ve taken trips and gone to the movies. We’ve gone to parties, and we’ve put up a Christmas tree. It still amazes me that we never did any of these things before, because we’ve known each other almost my entire life here in Philadelphia. We’re working towards a life together, and he’s become a strong part of our household. We’re learning to communicate our expectations and needs instead of assuming we’re entitled to them. If anyone had told me a decade ago that this would be the person who came back full force into my life, I wouldn’t have believed it.
My lessons from Ralph have been patience and perseverance. It took us a long time to cross paths with the conditions just right to cultivate a relationship, but we never really lost each other. We never stopped trying, and we never stopped learning about each other. We are not the same people we were when we met. In fact, before I would agree to commit to this relationship I asked Ralph for some time to really get to know each other. For someone I’d known for over a decade there was a lot I didn’t know about this man. I couldn’t date who he hadbeen. I had to fall in love with who he was. It hasn’t been easy, but we have managed to take something beautiful but shaky, see its potential, and pull from it something strong and even more beautiful. We’ve still got some work to do, and we’ve still got some old programming to fix, but we’re doing it together this time, and that’s what makes all the difference.