Thursday, August 26, 2004

"Well me and the Lord. We got an understanding..."

It has taken me a long time to fall asleep as long as I can remember. Typically these days it's 1 to 2 hours. Once I am asleep, I tend to sleep well and I love to sleep in (especially as I can't fall asleep quickly). But something about turning off the light and setting the book down...suddenly no matter how close to sleep I was my mind begins racing, and racing over thigns which are not sleep-friendly. Worries, anxieties, things which bring up strong emotion for me of all kinds. Martial arts, lifting, sex.

My therapist tells me this is because my mind is hauling butt so much of the time, spinning the ocd spin above the anxiety and dread beneath (and the emotion below that), that when I lay down without stimulus of any kind, wham-o, my mind doesn't want to slow down or shut off. A lot like a kid who doesn't want to go to bed. My brain keeps getting up for a glass of water and a pee. Usually, this is not too bad, as even when I take Mikey to school at seven puking thirty I am able to come home and, after an hour or so, fall asleep again for maybe an hour. I'm up by 9, the time I like to get up, not too the worse for the wear.

Lifting and exercise of all kinds do help. Alcohol doesn't work because I wake up later in the night, my throat and brain dust dry, truly unable to sleep well. No, the older I get the more true it is: alcohol doesn't help me sleep. I have a med called ambien which works remarkably well; one minute I'm chatting with my wife or reading and the next I'm waking up the next morning, but I believe it makes me snore which of course disturbs my poor wife, and I'm actually very stringent with a med like that. It's for rare, precious use only.

So what to do? Right now I got up and began blogging about it which feels constructive. It's only 11:30. Not bad. Last night I went into the kitchen and read about four of Paul's epistles while lying on the floor. That was very enjoyable, but I was up till 2.

The fact is that recovery from a disease like ocd is a long road. I am supposed to make a relaxation tape for myself, the kind of exercise I've learned to do in therapy, and listen to it when I go to bed. That's been my homework for a month at least and I keep not doing it. But I know that I will; it's a good goal for this weekend. Then, as long as I can play it without bothering my wife, maybe I can get into deep relaxation, right at the edge of sleep, pop off the headphones and go down. That would be a true treat, a great wonder for me, to take charge of my falling asleep. Some nights I get plenty of sleep, but not all. And for someone as emotionally intense as me (who also lifts weights) sleep is critical for mental and physical recovery.

I love this blog. What a gift, to be able to share at nearly midnight and know I will be heard by friends. Hi wife, Mike, Karen, Dave, Scott, Ian, maybe Romy or Sheri or Steve. Think that covers my audience.

I will say that the last few days my anxiety has been much lower; I've really been doing well. Why? Uh, the exposure work with my therapist on Monday most likely. I'll do more of that myself this weekend. Times like this give me such hope that I will lead a happy, even 'normal' and loving life. I can't describe the crap ocd puts me through. It's a constant sense that something really bad is happening somewhere in/around me and I need to think obsessively to assuage it. It's the manufactured catastrophe. Things that would hardly bother someone else become the focus of my mental being, burning, dragging...the ring on Frodo's neck as he climbs into Mordor. It is exahusting and relentless and worst of all, powerfully insidious. It is very hard to know I am obsessing when I am. Like schizophrenia, only on a tiny scale. That probably really doesn't make sense. Think of Monk again, the cheesy tv show with thin plots and Tony Shalhoub walking around the set nailing the ocd phenom/affect. Monk sees something crooked and just knows it has to be fixed. He can feel that something is disastrous when really it isn't. Like that.

I know that my mind is special. That I can think critically on a scale and with a speed that most people can't (though there are many people quicker than me). Like Monk in a person's living room, I can walk into a set of ideas and see the tiny details in a problem in a way not everyone can, or perhaps simply more quickly than others can. But when that critical prowess is turned elsewhere...it burns me like fire. That speed and exactitude is hard to turn down or turn off, and hence, it takes me two hours to fall asleep. That incidentally is maybe the least bothersome symptom.

I do have hope though. And here's where I will share something I think I've only told my brother and P. Dave.

I am extremely skeptical of anyone who tells me God told them anything. My parents were pentecostals to a superstitious degree, and I can't tell you how many times my mom told me God told her to do this or that to solve some problem and nothing happened. I guess one time my dad did tell me something would work out which did, but you get the idea. And then there's my own life story, which I've just begun to tell. So many other Christians have seen God's hand here or there, felt God's will or call in this or that, and been flattened. Okay, maybe I can't actually think of many, but I can think of a few. Hence when someone feels 'led' or 'called' or says 'the lord told me' my skeptical apparatus (see above) goes into full swing; it whirs on like a gyroscope.

So I've never really looked for God to tell me anything directly, and I'm not saying he did, but here goes:

I was praying hard about my obsessions a few months ago. I had been seeing my therapist for two whole years, doing conventional therapy, and while it was helping a little, it felt more like I was getting support for the suffering in my life than directly changing the anxious mental pattern. But, around March, I was driving home and sincerely asking God for help. I'm not a big prayer-guy; while this surely wasn't the first time I'd asked, I seem to remember getting serious about asking for help from Jesus. And as I pulled up to a stopsign, praying out loud about this, the idea came to me, the impression, just a thought, really, 'use your gifts.'

Now I had been thinking about this already. I had been a Christian for four years, I knew God had given me some abilities though I wasn't sure what they were. I thought maybe I could write an article for a magazine or something, perhaps teach some day, both things I had done in my profession. But I didn't see much opportunity living where I do and frankly, being in a church as structured and small as the one I'm in. Right away, of course, I was skeptical about this thought, and I tried to self-analyze and see where it might have come from inside me. No luck. So my response to this idea was, 'how will I do anything where I live, and what will I do? but okay, if an opportunity comes, I'll take it.' That was it. I won't seek anything out, but if something comes up, I'll say yes.

I don't know if my friend Alan had already asked me to be on vestry. I think that he had (over scotch to ply me as I recall) and I'd said sure, okay. But it was not long after that day I prayed that I actually was elected and accepted the position, stood up and said sure, I'll do this, not really knowing what I'd do but willing to use my organizational skills in my parish. And I swear to you it was almost to the day, I know it was the same week (and I really wasn't thinking about my 'deal' with God) that I pulled a book off my bookshelf I'd had for months and never looked at. It had been recommended by a psychiatrist I saw more than a year before. It was called Stop Obsessing, and it was written by an expert on ocd.

As I began to read it, I somehow knew that the cognitive therapy the book describes, which I had known about but poo-pooed for years, was going to work for me. I took it to my therapist; she seemed a little surprised but agreed to read it. And once she did, there was no stopping her. She told me right then we were going to begin doing these kinds of exercises (which she had talked about with me before but I had no interest in doing). From the first time I did exposure, I felt something shift in my head. It really felt like that. As if I had been hit and hit and hit in the same sore place and now I could deflect the punch, as if its force was reversed.

It has been no magical cure, but exposure work is reducing my obessions and anxiety in a way nothing (besides booze, temporarily) ever could. I have had obsessions of one kind or another since I was abut 8, and chronically since I was a teenager. And it strikes me that I would be a damned fool not to thank God for dropping that book in my lap and changing my heart so that I would read it with an open mind. It was published in 1991; I was in therapy for years during the 90's down south and never heard of exposure work. The answer had been siting on my shelf for months, maybe a year. Unread. Unread! And you guys know me and books.

And then Scott told me he was going to start blogging, and here I am; I believe this is another unexpected opportunity to use my gifts and one I said yes to; the great thing is I could never burn out in the blog because it's as much for me as for anyone else! It's no-pressure. It actually nurtues and settles me! Yet whenever I write about my faith here, I consider that I am keeping my end of the bargain.

Am I afraid I was mistaken, that my ocd will come roaring back, that the blog and/or vestry will somehow be a disaster, that I'll lose my faith, that aliens will land who have never heard of Jesus, that any one of a number of things will happen to assure me that I am deluded in believing God (may?) have spoken to me? Yes. But I'll tell you what, I've been given assistance I never had before, and I prayed for it, and as long as I remember that you'll see me up here, or somewhere, talking about Christ when I have something to say. If I don't argue myself out of my belief, of course! (I admit that does seem unlikely at this point).

As I've said, this blog meets my needs; it doesn't feel like 'ministry.' I'm working my salvation out in fear and trembling, as Karen said. But I also try to apply whatever gifts I have, when I can, to issues in the faith and put them here. If I make an impact, it's pretty limited, but so what? I'm just taking the opportunity presented.

Now it's 12:30 and I am tired. Peace to all. Sleep can't be too far off.

t

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Knowing Just a Tiny Bit About Emergent, Here I Go...

The following is a blog I posted yesterday; I want to add a couple things at the beginning, a prequel, like George Lucas. I want to say that if St. Paul can be glad the gospel was being preached with poor intentions just as long as the gospel was being preached, I certainly can be glad the gospel is being preached regardless of the flavor. Emergent does not have to be a divisive movement, nor a proud we're-better-than-you movement; for Pastor Dave it certainly isn't. Think of the Jesus people of the 60's, 'looking past the hair and into the eyes;' the Christian coffeeshop movement not long after that, the whole non-denominational explosion, the guitar masses of the 70's and 80's. These all led people to Christ and gave them a place to grow where they felt their generation could be understood; a place to worship and pray on their own cultural terms. I do not want to come across like some bigot who is opposing the next generation's vision of what church should be. Nor do I want to discourage anyone from exploring new vistas.

And Dave told me when I saw him that lots of church plantings happen because someone is frustrated with the status quo at the home church. Fair enough. I would like to see the positive work being done at the 'modern' church still honored, but perhaps this is because I turn 40 next month and have lost my edge. I want this blog to be about discussion, but also unity and love. I need it to be. That's why I call this 'my blog family.' It is. Peace to all.



I've read the posts at Dave's site about emergent, and Mike M.'s excellent response, and I thought I'd throw in my two cents here; the other name for my blog: the shiny lincolns.

The first thing I'll say is I'm trying so hard right now to act like a Christian and marginally succeeding/half-failing I don't have much time to worry about emergent, postmodern, post-colonial anything. I'm also teaching the Genesis account in my myth class and thinking hard about Christianity in a post-literalist Eve ate the apple six thousand years ago culture; this problem is quite challenging for me. But I'm stuck in my office hour with nothing else I really want to do...blog's away! Hey, this is the first time I've been paid to blog.

Admittedly, I know very little about this amorphous movement. But from what I can see this is coming out of the western evangelical ('modern') churches. It must be noted, of course, that Christianity is widespread in places such as Africa and the Phillipines and has been for some time, and that it exists in many denominations of various hue; I'm not sure those churches fit the assumptions emergent seems to want to emerge from. So I'll assume this is an offshoot/reaction to the evangelical, fundamental church of the last thirty five years or so, which of course built itself out of the Christian culture previous to itself. If the big evangelical churches look dated and constrained to the emergent culture now...oh man, try attending church in my mother's day, or my grandmother's. I'd wager it wouldn't feel like the same religion.

Some complaints should be levelled against American evangelicalism, in my admittedly not humble enough opinion, but these issues precede emergent. Doctrinal conformity, even rigidity, seems a hallmark of these 'belief statement' churches (who say they respect only scripture and not the historical creeds as authoritative, then write/copy their own, and quite detailed, belief statements). I've said before I think there are things we cannot know with surety. And things the denominations disagree on which are secondary to the message and mission of Christ. So what? There is, as Mike notes, a true need for orthodoxy, but I'm going to ask for a flexible and tolerant orthodoxy; an open-minded and rational orthodoxy. Emergent seems (stress seems) to want more flexibility in pondering the mysteries of the faith; good for them. Presbyterians have been doing that for 100 years, as have Methodists and Episcopalians and others. In fact someone in Christianity has always been doing it.

I will say that Clark's statement about the 'modern' growth churches being overly focused on getting people to pray the prayer so they can go to heaven is not accurate in my experience. I was in Crusade, the bastion of cold turkey e, during the 'modern' era and watched that culture develop in a large evangelical church, more than one really, and generally I found just as much emphasis, more, on discipleship materials, on continued study and communion with God, on genuine pastoring, as I did 'pray this prayer' evangelism. Should we abandon calls to the faith? And in those groups I heard faith in Christ described in specific terms: it ain't just praying the prayer to get to heaven. Clark declares the 'modern' churches as having a myopic vision, and it would be, but it wasn't what I remember.

The silly 20th-century American prohibitions against alcohol and tobacco and movies and cards and dancing and washing one's wee-wee seem to be taking a hit in emergent, and there I have to agree. I also think those things have been de-criminalized in many of the 'modern' churches for some time. Since the mid-80's. At least those old prohibitions have been under vigorous attack. Of course C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and many other European believers were drinking (sometimes too much) and smoking tobacco (at times addicted) in the 1930's. I don't know if most American evangelicals, and those who rail against them, realize how their Christian life-vision is just one of many. As the saying goes, where there's four Episcopalians, there's a fifth.

Clark does note that part of emergent is redisovering liturgy and other traditions; cool. The reformers, some of them, threw out anything which even smelled Catholic and much beauty was lost in the process. But of course, that liturgy and those traditions have been active all over the world for centuries since and remain so.

Am I really saying anything new about emergent? Probably not. But I have fifteen more minutes of office time to go....

Michael says he wants to hear more about Jesus in the emergent, and that I must echo.

The true needs of the church have really never changed; how we meet them shifts a little from generation to generation, but mostly it's been a comedy, or tragedy, of errors. So many denominations tell you they are first-century, from Church of Christ to the Pentecostals to the Emergents. But what is special about first-century? We don't really know enough about those churches to describe them, though I have read Galatians and Corinithians, and those were first-century churches. There was no Golden Era of Christianity when everything was great and then the pagans or the Romans or Constantine or the gnostics or whoever came in and mucked it up. When Jesus was here, it was mucked up. It surely was when the apostles were struggling with the truly serious issues of their day, like circumcision and the Jewish code. There is evidence of in-fighting and doctrinal divisions and what Paul describes as personal abandonment in his letters from the 50's. What the church needs now is what it needed then: reliance on Christ, personal responsibility, and active charity regarding need and doctrinal differences.

One thing I don't like is anyone criticizing other Christians over stupid things, uh, like worship style, church music preference, or dress. In many ways emergent may be simply depeche mode, the new fashion. Cool. Rock on. Sick. Misplaced teenage rage is one thing, but reality is what reality is; respect that others grow in Christ in their own way. Half the shit people blast away at the church about is actually unresolved conflict inside themselves. I should know. The other, much less important thing I don't like is the way I keep seeing the terms modern and postmodern used; these are of course used in literary studies and in philosophy, and what emergent is saying about postmodern is not what the postmodern philsophers are saying. But this is my own confusion and is really not an issue; words deserve to be used all sorts of ways.

And I'll offer my brief church vision to close; Dave tells me I am more post-this/that/the other than I know, so perhaps this will end up being one more emergent suggestion. I toss this out from the throes of my own sin-nature (and I really am not kidding): the church needs educated leaders, but it also needs tolerant leaders who understand the limits of human awareness in the presence of the vastness of God and who encourage individual theological speculation; the church needs to draw on the soul-bared lessons of the recovery community, where honest sharing and simple reliance on God have healed millions of lives with budgets of nearly zero and no publicity of any kind; the church needs to remember Jesus' compassion when he saw the weak and the sick and the sinful, and become active in programs in the community that may not grow the church, but will feed the hungry and assist those who are suffering; the church needs to be focused on the people present and not just those it wants to attract so that those who attend may grow in Christ throughout their lives. Quite simply, Christians need to strive to be more like Jesus. That is no new message. There is nothing fresh about it. It's 2000 years old and has been repeated by saints and sages for centuries. Really it's not my vision at all.

And as much as emergent wants to do that, great. The 'modern' church wanted the same thing. Awesome. We should be open-minded enough that we can all work together. Otherwise we waste precious, irreplacable time.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Much Ado About Something

why my college begins in the middle of August, I don't know, but last week was the first week of school and I'm buried. I'm working on a longer article on the Sacraments, but it will be a while before I post it.

I did see Much Ado About Nothing (an old fave of Scooter's and mine) at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare festival last night. Shakespeare right on the lake, with the moon setting behind the stage. It's stunningly beautiful there. And the play made me think of many things: one is how much Shakespeare draws on Christian mythos. Of course he was writing in a Christian culture and there are overt references to God (serve God, love me, and mend) throughout. But on a deeper level...Hero is resurrected as a bride, her shame removed forever; Claudio gives up all his rights as a man by agreeing to marry a stranger he does not know is the woman he loves (echoes of the old story where the knight is offered the choice: do you want your new witch-wife to be beautiful by day or night, while she is hag the rest of the time. The right answer is 'you choose'; knight gets 24 hour beauty).

This willingness on Claudio's part to forfeit his own desire and his subsequent reward at the request of the father he has wronged feels very Christian ('thy will be done'). The reconciliation of Benedick to Claudio once all the truth is known is likewise beautiful and resonates of the peace described in Isaiah. This all reminds me of what Lewis, writing about Tolkien, called the eucastrophe: instead of disaster, the amazing happens; the ring is destroyed and the captains of middle earth 'gathered in a foundering sea,' survive. Instead of Claudio mourning the death of a woman he has unwittingly wronged, he lifts her veil to find her very much alive, a 'second Hero,' I think it said. This kind of absolution and removal of consequence: it touches us as deep as anything can. It is the resurrection of the dead. And Shakespeare knew it, or so I imagine. A true critical article in this direction would have to look much closer at the play, at sources Shakespeare used, etc. Still, aware of it or not, he presented a play full of Christian hope.

Benedick and Beatrice have their character flaws, their enraged fears of intimacy, removed and fall in love, or realize they are in love, because they believe the other loves them. Perfect love casts out fear. We love him because he first loved us. What happens to them is against the part of their wills that is destructive to their needs, yet in compliance with their innermost desires and genuine needs; and their change in attitude towards each other brings them into life.

If I had more time, I'd do a more pro job on this, but I don't have the time. Three online classes call! This be quickie blog. Hammered out from the frontlines of the Sierra Nevada. Be well all.

t



Thursday, August 19, 2004

Faith and the Host

I would like to write more on the Eucharist at another time, but I saw this article and had to point it out: what would St. Paul have said, for whom sacrament depended on faith and not form? I hope this situation is resolved speedily; I think the church is in error.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5762478/

t

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I was watching Olympics with Mikey

and I couldn't believe the bodies; I'm talking about the guys. The first event we saw was the male synchronized diving; I had forgotten what obliques actually look like on a man. Mikey thought that the swimmers would have more body fat so they could float better in the water and hence move faster, but alas, no, those guys were also ripped and lean. It's a whole different look from the bodybuilder ideal, and it reminds me of just how long ago my early 20's were. Truly beautiful men.

t

Sunday, August 15, 2004

July Film/Fiction Recommendations

So it's August. Bear with me.

The book of the month is Anna Karenina. I know the Russian names are a pain in the butt (Stepan, Stiva, Oblonsky, and Stepan Arkadyich are all the same guy) but it's worth wading through the first 100 pages until you figure out who the major characters are. It's beautiful. Its great strength is its realism, especially internal realism, the interpersonal emotional details Tolstoy chronicles. Highly recommended.

And in film:

I'm only going to name films I think are worth renting: Divided We Fall is a remarkable movie about the Nazi occupation; Happy Times is a very original Chinese film about all kinds of things, human kindness foremost; and Little House on the Prairie. We began with the first season of LH and are somewhere near the end of season three. I never watched these as a kid, but they are excellent television, an attempt to portray a truly loving family, and sometimes they actually preach the gospel. Worth your time if you haven't been watching re-runs since the 70's.

And if you never saw Royal Tenenbaums you should. Life as a House is also good. My final selection I saw years ago, but I'd see it again: Requiem for a Dream. Another intense and fairly adult drug movie, but worth the time if you can handle the darkness.

The thing is I'm so sick of Hollywood tripe I don't even go the theater much anymore (though I'm a Bourne fan; the first was better). Hence many of the films I pick here are foreign or simply different in some way. At my age, you look for new vision when you can find it. And my wife is the netflix guru in our house; almost all of these she found.

t

Great Expectations (Estella's Story 1.0)

It's late; I read my wife to sleep; Eudora Welty. A beautiful start of a story about an abandoned albino woman and her twins. King MacLain was her husband's name I think. A Golden Shower. (Yeah, it's an odd title. See what has happened to us gen xer's?)

The night is warm, and the crickets are throbbing in the wood. There are so many of them. My mood is starting to lift a little; my anxiety dropping. It's been a shitty weekend. My wife is working four straight twelves in a row, and it's nice to have Mikey back, but school is starting, I'm already preparing, and I miss vacation and the constant company it brought. I was alone so much as a child. I sometimes isolate now, but I don't like it. When I can get it, I prefer company.

And truthfully, this is the first time I've started blogging with no idea what I'll say.

Fact is I'm used to support groups where nothing gets held back. I haven't been in one since I moved north, so saying I'm used to them is probably no longer true, but I spent almost a decade in groups like that. And I just can't go that raw in the blog. It's not a pure recovery environment and I mean no offense by that at all, but I tend to share only the issues I know will resonate, which is most of them incidentally, including my spiritual doubts. Plus this is co-ed. Everyone reading understands that. And I've written about my faith here, though I'm not sure why that should hold me back. Finally, my wife may read this, though I still don't know if she ever has and I'm chicken to ask. Not to mention lurkers.

I want to believe Jesus hears me and will help me, and with some things he seems to have helped me. But go to Dave's page and check out The Palmer Journal. Click back, if you can stand the slow load times, and read the blog in March, April, through the summer of 2003. He writes very short posts; the reading is quick, but his story, watching his 26 year old wife and mother of his one year old son die of stomach cancer, while she is prayed over continously, is chilling. Sure, it's one thing when Joy Davidman dies of cancer, in her sixties, with a long history. But what this guy went through...it makes me sick and angry. And it happens every day.

My wife works in a hospital as a respiratory therapist; she works trauma codes all the time. Can you imagine that? Coming home sore from compressing some dying person's ribcage; sometimes they do that for almost an hour? I've seen one dead body in my life and that was my grandma at her funeral and it sure wasn't her any more. But Steph sees it every week, from auto accidents to cancer.

And she had a woman in there recently who died; the husband had his hand on her foot and was praying in tonges while they were trying to bring her back. Her whole family was in there praying. And she died and she wasn't much older than me.

Why am I getting so dark? Why am I always so pissed off? When will the well of hurt and rage and doubt finally disappear? Will it ever? I used to feel like my entire body was full, like an overinflated balloon, with anger and pain and feelings of all kinds. Now that's not normally so. But still, so much remains. And though I know better, I'm afraid I'm becoming the dark and depressed guy in our blog family. (We should name this family btw, like Romy's). Well, better to be honest than lie. A couple of you I know well enough to know you'll read on no matter what I say.

I suppose events like the death of Palmer's wife remind me of things in my own life I'm still stunned/hurt/angry over. Things that went wrong that should not have gone wrong. Times I came around a corner and found a demon when I expected grace. And there is no time more like that than the story of my first marriage. I have had only five real relationships in my life, each with its own narrative, but my ex, who I'll call Estella here...ah, now there is a dark tale. And though some of you know it, I feel it's time to tell it. So sit back; I apologize for these narrow margins;t his will be one long and skinny post.

***

I met Estella when she was 18 and I was 19 at an AGO square dance. I looked across the square, and there she was. I saw her name on the little white paper cowboy hat name tag she had pinned to her blouse, and I thought she was far too pretty for me. Blonde hair, Irish smile, brilliant blue eyes. The milk complexion of an 18 year old girl. I thought, 'she's beyond me, out of my league.' God if only I had been right. How much one chance event changes an entire life.

I didn't talk to her that night, but a night later (I was rushing and there were events all week) some AGO active brought her in and told her to hit me with a pillow. Why, I don't recall; I think he had a crush on her and I was a handy almost-pledge. She wouldn't do it of course, but it was how we met. That night was the skate party, and I think we might have held hands during a slow skate or two. But we went back to the AGO house and stayed up talking until nearly dawn. And that was the way of it. E and I just couldn't be pulled apart; if we got together, we talked until three in the morning. I must have been happy and scared at the same time: the golden girl, Athena, was clicking with me. I guess you could say we became best friends, or close, that semester. I dumped my outside the fraternity girlfriend who probably really did love me, though she was older and there were many differences, and started seeing Estella, the pedestal ideal, all I could.

But not dating. No, not dating. Soon after we met I told an AGO buddy of mine I dug her and I got to ride with the two of them to our beach camp out in his convertible vw bug (Hodgie, I miss you man). And that's when I got the 'talk' at a pizza parlor, sitting right next to Hodgie with E across the table. I was so inane as to tell her, 'I want to kiss as many girls as I can before I die;' and Estella distanced herself right away, and began to talk about 'physical affection' and how special it was and how kissing should be reserved for committed relationships. I was hooked even deeper. Something about unacquired beauty, the tension of waiting, the ivory object kept at a distance.

And that night, at retreat, we stayed up and talked to nearly dawn again, on the beach, with the mist and the waves rolling in below the cliffs at San Onofre. Still, no physical contact beyond leaning on each other, but a strange, and inexplicable, magnetism. A need just to talk and do nothing else. Perhaps a friendship I knew at some level could not involve closeness? It's been twenty years; I don't actually know what drew us to each other with such stifling intensity, but I felt that draw for a decade longer. I requested her as a big sister, every pledge gets one from among the little sisters, and she 'revealed' by showing up at my mom's house wearing a trench coat I could never have afforded. We ended up at her parent's place that weekend, staying up until nearly dawn in their decorated living room (and she pointed that out, then or soon after, that their room had been done by a designer) and then she went to her room and I heard the lock click decisively as I lay on the couch and tried to sleep as their pet doves begain cooing; I think she wanted me to hear that click, it was coy, even for a girl her age. If I had known that one evening would be a metaphor for eight entire years, I would have drive away before light.

The first sign of real trouble came near the end of that first semester. By now we were best friends, a hot item around the house, but still not technically dating and certainly not kissing or doing anything else remotely sexual. That spring, the spring of 1984, I asked her to formal, the dress-up banquet/dance at the end of each semester. And she thought about it. And she said no. She was going with some 26 year old guy no one even knew.

This was almost like having your girlfriend say no to the prom. We weren't truly dating, no, but we spent all our time together. I had met her upper middle-class parents; but still, she didn't go, though I asked her some cute way by writing it on a cake. Still I made the best of that night: I took another girl, a girl named Stephanie F., and I should have kept taking her places. We had a limo because her dad drove one part time; she and my buddy's date came down a staircase together in formal gowns like something out of a film. I had just received my active pin. I was double-dating with the president of the fraternity and his gorgeous Alpha Phi girlfriend. The truth is it was perhaps the best day of my life then and still may be one of the best. Why didn't I begin seeing Stephanie? She was beautiful, but not classicly so, and she actually liked me perhaps for a brief time, a sure shoot down; I wanted drama, chaos, uncertainty, and the purity of having a girlfriend I never touched. I do remember that at the after party, after Stephanie and I had been dancing to 'what I like about you' and various songs where I could show off my eighties terminator tech-noir moves, Estella came up to me and said, 'I wish I'd come here with you.' Guess her older guy wasn't working out. And I was a damned fool for hearing that.

Because the next day a bunch of us went to Palm Springs; someone had a condo out there. And Stephanie F. didn't go, but Estella did. And sure enough, we spent that entire first night walking around talking, in the gorgeous desert air, and at the end of it as the sun was coming up she sat down on the curb in her shorts and sweatshirt, curled those little thin legs, and started crying. I had never seen her express emotion like that before though she was barely 19; her feelings were completely controlled until much later. And I asked her, 'why are you crying?' And she managed to choke out something I think I didn't want to hear and can't remember verbatim, but the gist was that she was sad for us because we were coming closer together and she had never been able to make a relationship work and somehow she sensed disaster for us; she knew we were doomed, though we were teenagers still. And we were doomed, and I should have listened, but I don't think either of us really did. Her hair was so light and beautiful, and her crying face, and the vulnerability of that feeling. I was swept away. You know how precious physical touch, closeness, proximity with a woman is when you aren't experiencing it, even her scent? Why I didn't kiss her then I don't know. Before her I had had two previous relationships that were orgasmic, both had not ended well, and I still felt guilt in my bones; truly was probably still in love with my high school sweetheart, who was engaged to another guy by then. But one look from Estella, one movement towards me, and I would have taken her as far as she would have gone. Certainly kissed those white teeth and that child's mouth. Yet I didn't. She cried, and I must have said something to contradict what she was saying. The truth is I don't remember.

And so things went on in pretty much the same friend/date limbo. We kept hanging out, not dating, whenever we got close my anger/fear would seethe up and I'd get distant or she'd pull away or both. There was something not natural about what we were doing, and not doing. There was no committment of any kind. But if one of us had another date...oh, Estella was right there on more than one occasion and I probably was too; I remember showing up at her apartment when another guy was there trying to get to know her more than once. And also being on a crusade conferernce in San Jose and some stunning UCLA girl trying to talk to me, the kind of girl who forty years ago would be wearing pearls and a kilt-dress, and Estella was suddenly standing there interrupting. She was depressed, and so was I, though we were both in denial about our depressions. I suppose we sensed we both stood out in that way. In some sense we had a lot, in another we had almost nothing, but we clung to our little buddy-raft with all we had.

Most strangely, while we wouldn't mouth kiss, we'd do wierd things like kiss on the neck only, or the hands, even the navel (well, I kissed her navel) as if we were avoiding some kind of no-no mouth barrier; we were avoiding it. Why? I guess we still hadn't said we wanted to actually be with each other, we wouldn't allow us to draw close, even as years, more than three, ticked by. I think now what we were avoiding was love. Love and intimacy and risk and beauty. What we had togehter was worse than a drug and was hurting us both, but it was all we had, all I had. Though in our defense, somehow we probably knew if we got close our rage and fear would drive us violently apart, as it eventually did. It was like knowing you had to eventually jump in the cold water, knowing it would kill you, and putting it off as ridiculously long as you could, having a conversation with someone on the dock in the same situation as yourself. Of course, at the time we told each other we were being good Christian young persons, busy in Crusade and saving the world and not getting wet together, while I at least had a prodigous, and unsatisfying, solo career.

And god I was dependent on her. Once she went to Palm Springs with crusade when I had dropped out of college and I drove all the way there with grasshopper and surprised her at an outdoor concert. Lots of things like that. When I found out she was going on a summer project to Japan I went into a serious anxious depression, nearly a breakdown. I remember just laying on the couch at my mom's and holding her, in terror, for three hours, sweating and afraid to let go, listening to the tick of the clock; and that was nine months before she was due to leave. Things got so bad I had to drop out of college that same month and take xanax for more than a year (ah, xanax, the cure no one will give you anymore and you probably don't want). So Estella stayed connected to me, but I went from being a campus leader and fraternity guy to terror-ridden and depressed, completely consumed by obsessions and sleeping on the fold-out in my mother's house in Bellflower and not working at all. I was 20 then. And she'd come by and sometimes sleep with me, right next to me, on that crappy fold out couch; we did that many times. But still...no kissing, no lovemaking at all (but steam building in me like midwest rain in summer, hanging heavy in dark clouds, ready to drop.)

She went to Japan the summer of 1986, and I survived. In fact I was preaching the gospel all around my apartment building. There was another girl that summer, Michelle, who I also did nothing but sleep in the same bed with, but she really is another story. I wonder where she is. She was in Hustler magazine when she was underage; I actually went with her once to Larry Flynt's office in Century City though I didn't see him. Anyway, Michelle started dating a guitarist named Ariel; Estella came back and we picked right up.

And then I started working at a Calvinist bookstore, my anxieties in marginal check from 3 milligrams of xanax a day, and Estella she was still there. When I got into an argument which nearly became a fist fight with some idiot who worked there (and last I heard, years ago, had lost his faith) over the extent of the atonement (did Jesus die for everyone or just the elect) she was standing right there bringing me lunch. And so it went, for more than three years. We were together, not dating anyone else, but not a couple and still not kissing. I was seeing a therapist a little who might have been able to help me, but I'm trying to keep my mental illness story separate as much as I can from E's story. Then one day E and I ended up at First Baptist Lakewood and heard Matt Hannan.

Actually, we may have heard him in Palm Springs also. But if you know the guy, you know his speaking power. We followed him back to Bethany (started attending the church) and somehow ended up talking to him. I think I had scared E with my newfound predestination calvinist freak-power system and she had gone to Matt, crying, to find out what the heck I was talking about. And he wanted to talk to me. And for some reason, Matt recommended I see a different therapist. I don't know why, but he did. This was how I met Keith Pust. But he's another story also, though he will come into this one later.

Most importantly, Matt also recommended we actually try dating each other, kissing included. Why not? It seems a rational thing now looking back. Three and a half years had gone by without so much as one mouth kiss, without the boyfriend/girlfriend status we should have had all along. And so we kissed not long after, the first time lying on her bed in the little apartment she now rented in Long Beach; it was of course a little anti-climactic after so long. But fun enough, and finally, we became a real couple. Forty months we had been building, waiting, for something huge. And it lasted about four months.

I really don't remember what went wrong. Physical affection perhaps? And I don't want to go and read my old journals to remember. The last time I did that, about a year ago, I came away in crushing pain, acutely aware of how much we had been hurting each other all that time, how insecure and unstable and dependent the relationship really was and how deeply I was in denial about its flaws. And frankly, how batty she was also, how many signs came earlier on that something was very wrong in that small blonde head and heart. A girl with those issues would send me running now, but I was of course very wounded myself. I know we broke up over the phone, and I think it was her that did it, and I called up John Banman and told him what happened and he came and picked me up (I didn't have a car anymore, and that bothered her, taking me to church was one of the problems) and John took me to what we then called the dude pad. Four guys who went to Bethany, a bit older, and (allegedly) all into recovery. I spent the night there, and the next day one of the dudes took me to his mom's for easter, and I fell asleep on the couch listening to baseball and feeling safe. I felt like I had really taken care of myself; I had reached out, something I never ever did, and had found a warm and sure world. The truth is that's the last time I remember doing that: falling asleep with the tv on and feeling relaxed and safe.

Because E really was, in the immortal words of Lance Clarke, the gift that keeps on giving. I was at her place, as usual, a week or so later, and she told me the guy who had taken me to his mom's had hit on her, even taken her out, that week (no, none of this was John Banman) and I found out later they had actually made out. Made out. I waited forty months like Noah for that man. I was so, so, naive. When I tried to talk to the guy about it he just kept saying, with this stupid wince look on his face, 'what did I do wrong?' Looking back, I don't know. Maybe you were a fucking asshole? But I wanted to feel close to him and distance her, and somehow the opposite happened. My first reach out into space had brought me pain, betrayal, and it wasn't the last time. During the short time E and I had been a couple we had started going to a support group (with the almighty Karnafel's) and one of the guys, a guy who was like 50 and who I had been reaching out to and who had been reaching out to me, called E and asked her out. How did she attract such poison? And why did she tell me?

But change was coming: Estella began to change that year after we broke up. She had always underdressed, had just a few extra pounds (looking back not really but I've always had a problem in this area, try using porn instead of real women for a few years). She colored her hair, began dressing to suit her figure, and lost weight. She was stunning, more so than ever. And I was madly in love/lust with her still. She too was seeing Keith Pust for therapy, and I remember talking to him about the break-up; I compared it to being in a horse race, and he said, 'she really gets you chomping at the bit, doesn't she?'

Incidentally, it was awful, us seeing the same therapist with her bailing out on me, but it wasn't the last or worst time. Horror followed us like dark weather.

Digression: I can't tell stories like Scott or Romy or even come close; and of course I have a wife who could read this and I want to be respectful of that relationship also. But back to the narrative. I should end part one by now but it's late, I can't sleep, and I'm on a roll:

That summer, the summer of 1987, Estella got a boyfriend. I remember sitting up at night with her at the college church retreat that summer, and then kissing her neck, and she freaked out. She told me later how disappointed she was, how sorry she was it happened. Whatever. I probably was not very good at emotional closeness (probably?) and the way E and I had gone about it: by denying ourselves for so many years I had developed a lot of latent anger; I was very sexually repressed being good for her all those years and kissing her neck felt so nice. I may have been hot, but I was no mauler. But whatever, that night made her both angry and scared. I remember she went to her tent and I actually slept on the ground, on the cement, by the firepit, with only my brother's letterman jacket for a sleeping bag. The next day John B. was just looking at me; I had dirt on my face like a street person and thought nothing of it. He felt my self-neglect, somehow saw the made dash I was in, and my self-neglect was enormous those days as I chased E like Daisy from Gatsby or Judy Jones from Winter Dreams. And did I. (Or like Pip and Estella, my ex-wife's psuedonym namesake.) The entire time I dated her and even was married to her my needs were crushed into a small ball in the corner of my soul as I struggled to keep up with her caprice and hate and need to be cared for. Anyway, around the time of the beach retreat she met another guy, this truck driver who looked like Hermes, was new to the church and was a huge caretaker (at least to me, perhaps he felt guilty) and for four months or so E and I had almost no contact.

Oh I tried at the beginning. I could not believe I could be replaced. I came to her place, I gave her cards, I strained to bring her back; but the first day she sat in church with him I sat on the front steps of Bethany in total shock. And it was Brent S. who came up to me and asked me how I was doing, and I genuinley asked if he was taking a survey or really wanted to know, and he said he really wanted to know, and I began sobbing and he took me to his office and I cried and cried. I don't know what he was thinking: thank god their wierdness is over maybe? But for four months I lived on an anxious edge, craving information about her and her guy, not sleeping well and obsessed with her still. I began dating other girls, a little, not enough. I had just started to see (though I hadn't kissed!) a girl who lived in Palos Verdes and seemed very sweet; she used to be a little sister. And one or two girls from church I also saw casually. But none of those little loves got a chance.

Estella and Hermes got together at the end of summer. I remember she took him with her family to Yosemite at Thanksgiving, which they did every year, and which she hadn't wanted me to go to before: I had asked and been refused. And right around New Year's, almost exactly, E was literally on my doorstep, or maybe standing at my car, with her smile and all the power she knew she had behind it. She had dropped Hermes; she began looking for me almost the same day. And like a fool, I fell right into it, though it killed me, it was such self-denying horror, for me to be with her so soon after her relationship, the one she had jilted me for. I remember her driving us to Lighthouse bookstore around that time and I was just crying in the car, crying because this all felt so wrong, because I had found out they began kissing right away (normal, yes?) and even fdone a little more at the end. And still, I took her back like a drug, like my only salvation, like a wife who has wandered, god again like Jay Gatsby peering into the kitchen.

And now I am almost done with part one. My fingers are tired. I'll end with our engagement.

We began dating in the spring of that same year, dating as in kissing, as we'd been hanging out since January though it took her time to get over her ex. I remember he called her house once when I was there and she got off the phone and told me he was crying. Oh man. I said something about how he had choices in his life, whatever, to assuage her guilt, if guilt it really was. There's no rule against breaking up I guess, and I had even warned the guy about our turbulent and tenacious history.

We began kissing, as I've said, and actually really fell into it. We didn't go much beyond that, but I can remember sitting in Brent's office and talking about how far is too far; I even remember her getting up once and refusing to take communion because she felt guilty though I know we were never genital and certainly not orgasmic before marriage. And I guess I've said enough about that. But I felt so pulled in, used really. We'd make out in her room until 3 (no release), I'd ride my motorcycle home in the wet beach air, and I'd barely make it to work the next day. My self-neglect became extreme as I immersed myself, or was immersed. in the warm bath of kissing for hours (I remember her taking my hand and leading me to her bedroom more than once when I really needed to go home).

The kickstart on my bike broke and instead of fixing it I push started that thing for more than a year. Push started it every time. And just kept making out. I guess it kept us from talking, from getting close. Where a few years before we had used total abstinence as a tool to maintain distance, we now used long nights of kissing and holding each other and kissing some more. It was great, but too much also. If I had had sexual expectations earlier, now I really had them. We were moving toward marriage, and I was 24, and ready as only a guy that age who has never had sex and who hasn't had an orgasm with a woman in years can be.

I think it was that fall she began talking about marriage. We were hanging out in my room at the AGO house (I had reentered college and was living at the fraternity) and we had the door open of course, and one of the guys was trying to get us out of there and into a group boardgame, which was being held in the very same room where E and I had stayed up late that first night of the skate. We were reeking unrequited sensuality and I think the brothers were worried about me in there. She just began talking about it, so slowly, calmly, as if she was predicting or foreseeing the event. I think she picked the month and maybe the date right that night. I got a ring on credit, asked her to marry me in her backyard a few weeks later, and we were official. I was 24, she was 23. The whole world was before me. She had matured into a young woman of astonishing, Arquette-like beauty. I had known her for nearly five years; we had been best friends for most of that time. We were kissing now and enjoying it. What could possibly go wrong? Yes I was drugged by her indolent beauty and sexuality, withheld as it was still; I drank in her scent, the feel of her hair and shape, and awaited the final release, the sacramental nest, the consummation, my great expectation. I think I believed sex would fix everything wrong inside me. I'd finally 'get it' and be okay. Oh man. My anxieties were dormant, I was leading a bible study, all looked promising. What the angels must say, watching us in their spare time, if they have any. Or to quote the Romans, 'the gods in their kindness hide the future from men.' I wish in his kindness he had shown me mine.

And looking back, I wonder how well I really even knew her or she knew me or we knew ourselves, even after five years. But all that is for part two.

Thanks for the patience, those of you who got to the end. I know I don't do details and dialogue as I should, and it's hard to say if this story has any interest out there after all these years, but for me it's important to write it, to remember and heal my wounded roots as I strive to draw close in my current relationship (which is what's sending me back here as much as anything).

Love,

t

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Avalon Revisited

Many thanks for the positive comments on my poop post. What Karen said, that she sees hope even in my 'outside' posts, is very encouraging; and what Ian said, about the most powerful thing he could have said, 'you're not alone.' Dude. How true. How quickly I forget that fact. Belief that I suffer in isolation or that my pains are unique is one of the great delusions of the human condition.

I have lots to say. I'll try to get out what I can.

First of all, Avalon in August is different from other times of the year; and now there are three cruise ships a week docking off that tiny harbor. The big kind of cruise ship. Like Kathy Lee used to sing on. It's like adding three enormous hotels to the tiny island while they're there.

My advice: avoid town on Tuesdays or Wednesdays (cruise days) and on weekends in summer. Descanso was like spring break. I did not dig. On days like that the only cure is to get into the interior, or head to Buffalo Nickel for eats and pebbly beach to hang out (unless you're looking for/at hundreds of college kids). Other places to beat the crowd: the barber shop (Lolo and Frank still rock, and yes I got a shave, one of the highlights of my trip) and Pete's cafe in the square right behind Lolo's. Or the Botanical gardens. Or get under the water. Even with stacks of divers at the point, you might see two the whole time you're diving; also Dockside cafe at Casino Point is also usually just divers and locals and not crowded. But yeah, things change in August.

Many thanks to Waylan, Clint, Will, Desi and his family, for hosting me once again in even grander style. We actually slept indoors! And the diving was good, though viz was a little low. Mikey did great underwater. Steph did great. And Clint and I got in one slightly deeper dive to the bow of the Sue-Jac. I didn't break quite 80 feet, but it was my second dive of the day and my first dive had been shallower...the first time I've felt the narc. Not a good thing really, but an amazing dive. I cannot stress how awesome scuba is for me.

Then the long drive up the coast, and Big Sur and the pure air or Ragged Point. I don't think I know anyplace more beautiful. We finished in Monterey Bay (also tourist-packed in August, like, uh, sardines) and the Aquarium and then home.

So as Samwise said, 'I'm back.'

While I don't go into detail here about my anxieties (though I'm considering a shadow blog where I do just that) I will say it was a tough two weeks. I didn't bring the tape recorder I use to practice my exposure work. And I didn't get any time alone to do relaxation, or didn't make any (and margaritas really are a temporary cure). Whatever, while the last vacation was better, this one was hard. I've felt real hope this summer, but not the last two weeks. And now I'm sitting here with my tape recorder in front of me, scared and putting it off. I suffered enough lately to know I'll do it. It's just very hard to do this kind of work; probably the only thing harder is actually obsessing and catastrophizing and living in dark anxiety. I began to get some results this spring with this new kind of therapy and kind of kicked back, before and during the vacation. I guess most people would have. To do the exposure work correctly takes strong focus and lots of energy.

So things between S and I are okay but not the way they are when I'm feeling better. As I recall, we didn't have much conflict on the trip. We didn't have as much time to ourselves as I would have liked either.

And speaking of the trip! I cannot say thanks enough to Dave and Mike for meeting with me. Blogbudddies are even better f2f. Dave has such a nurturing energy, and such genuine faith and beauty of soul; and Mike reminds me of myself, intellectually restless, intense, having suffered yet actively reaching past that to support guys like me. I'm looking forward to seeing them both again, and hope they took something from our times together also.

Yes, seeing them both was very cool. In the old days I couldn't have made that happen. This time I made sure I called and it did.

I have, of course, lots of stories from the trip: the drunk guy in the cowboy hat at the bar who tried to get me to fight him; the fools banging on the motel door down the corridor at 2 in the morning for twenty minutes (till my wife opened the door and told them they were being rude and they quit); the barbecue at Desi's, the amazing view from his balcony and his delightful, 14 year old daughter who showed me one of her short stories as she wants to be a writer; Desi's gentle massuese-wife Lavina (sp?) who gave us all backrubs; Waylon's cool hippy energy and true hospitality; Clint drinking beer and cranking the punk and dancing around the house at nine in the morning; the walk up the canyon to the campground (always glorious); seeing Janelle; dancing with locals at Dockside in my Grateful Dead t-shirt (I requested 'smoke two joints'); and of course the diving, the best part of all. These are just vignettes, and not stories, but they'll have to do for now. School is starting, and I have stuff to do, including my tape recorder.

Once again, I love having the blog. And I have to remark once more on what Karen says below. I have an eye for detail only an obsessive-compulsive could have, and this makes my faith very complex. But I guess I am 'working it out.' Certainly in fear and trembling! I prayed (again) last night to Jesus for help with my obsessions, and I'm praying right now in the blog. The idea that he could hear me and would help me in a universe like this is almost unbelievable, but he said he would, he said the paraclete would be with me. I surely need them both.

Love to all,

t


Monday, August 02, 2004

Poop Floats

I'm hanging around, packing for the trip, and I feel my anxieties creeping back in. They are so hypnotic, so troubling, a constant state of disaster/distress. I've kept things from really blowing up, and I can't talk about my obsessions in detail here, but suffice to say THEY SUCK.

I see my therapist today for the first time in three weeks because of vacations, and I'm looking forward to it. No doubt, much of the time I was away was good, some hard but some of it very good, and I've felt more hope this summer than ever because of the new kind of therapy I started doing in March. But just when I think it's safe to go back in the water...kind of like that. I've come so far, and what I want is a normal life and marriage, though I admit I'm not sure what normal means. Certainly my obsessions/anxieties are not normal, or healthy.

S and I have actually been getting along well lately. I've finally realized anger is okay. Fights and conflict are okay. I used to cringe when she was upset, obsess about her mood, and while I still struggle, I'm more my own person and present my own point of view better than I ever have. And we've had some out and out arguments lately, where we were both clearly angry, and the sky didn't crash down, she didn't pack up and bail; I could tell she was hearing my side. My own father could never get angry, never stick up for himself, did whatever my mother or stepmother wanted or he thought they wanted. It was terrible to watch, like the scene in Rebel Without a Cause where the dad is wearing the apron, picking up the broken dishes, telling his son to be quiet so he doesn't disturb the mother. Yeah, that was dad, only worse. And all the while my mother berated him for his weakness.

So I never learned that I could express my anger or even discomfort. I'd hold it in and then blow up as a young guy (as a really young guy, a teenager, I was in complete denial I had any pain or anger at all); since meeting Steph, I've held it in more, or tried to release it constructively outside the relationship. I think IO do this largely because of how my first marriage ended: my therapist (and oh, wait till I get the guts to tell this story) was pushing me to express my anger, and that expression, which was never abusive (contrary to rumor; if I'd ever laid a finger on her I'd confess it here) was one of the things which drove my first wife away, or at least so she said. Freak show, freak shows all around, step right up. So the next time I had a serious thing I kept my mouth shut, tried to work out things that irritate me on my own.

That's fine, but there's something about an out and out conflict, where both sides are really laying out their perspectives and blowing off steam, that actually seems to bring me closer to my wife (after a cooling off period of course). Maybe fights like that aren't ideal, and they don't happen very often for us, but it's better than just sucking it up and feeling like a scared, resentful victim.

I remember hearing that verse, don't let the sun go down on your anger, and thinking, man, I just can't do that, I wish I could, only she'll get angry too, we'll fight, and conflict terrifies me. My brother and his wife would have these small, and very civil, disagreements while driving some place when S and I were visiting them, and I'd be freaking out in the back seat waiting for the planet to implode. For someone to start screaming at the top of their lungs and banging their head against the dash (excuse the pl prounouns English types). Why? I don't know. I do know both my parents had trouble with rage, and were abusive verbally (especially my mother)and at times physically. There I said it. Neither of them will ever read this. That's why I have no last name, no city I live in, on the blog. Google could bring me up in .32 seconds.

So all this is good, but challenges remain. I think I'm one of those people who just doesn't quit, who has long looked at life as a process toward contentment. "Slightly less difficult times ahead" as the slogan says. I knew how long it took me to get through my depressions, and when challenges arose early on for S and I (eight years we've been together now) I assumed my relationship would be the same; it would get to where I wanted it to be over time. This seems to be true, but sometimes I lose my assurance. The fact is she's a special person, wholesome at the core, honest, loyal, smart. Not perfect, but nevertheless amazing, and surely the woman I love.

Maybe I'm wigged about going down south. I often get triggered being back in long beach, smelling the sea, driving down the same streets where so much of my history went down. Lots of painful memories. But going seems to get easier each time. And it was my dad's birthday this weekend and I need to call him. That's usually tough also. Like talking to a vacant lot who is still astonishingly fragile: can't make a mistake in anything I say. Shit. No wonder I didn't talk to him for twenty years.

Whatever, I appreciate the support of this board. I'll fill you all in on return.

In Christ's hope,

t