Monday, July 30, 2007


July 22, 2006:

Last week a friend from Germany suddenly e-mailed me to ask if he could come visit on his way to pick up his kids from a summer camp in the Adirondacks. After a certain amount of remedial American geography training, we agreed that it would be better for him not to drive all the way across Vermont and back from NY state to spend one night in New Hampshire. A visit might also have been the straw that broke the camel's back here, so we reconnoitered at my mother's place.

"O" was his usual charming self, and showed up as if his last visit twenty years ago had ended yesterday; his wife, "B", was her usual not-so-charming self, and their little girl was charming if a little relentless [even her mother looked a little weary]. A good time was had by all, but it wasn't until they had left that I could even begin to find a time to talk to my mother about TGT.

She took the bad news rather well, with a compassion for my wife -- and a complete alignment with all her reactions -- that made me happy, if not exactly cheerful. She suggested that I ask my eldest brother, who lives just up the road, down to break it to him before I send the letter out to my siblings, who are otherwise scattered far and wide. OK. We are, or rather, have been close, and I had planned to do it, but maybe not just then -- we had missed his cocktail hour, and knew we couldn't interrupt his dinner preparations with a phone call, but thought 8:15 might be safe...

So I called and said that I had something I wanted to discuss with him, would he be willing to come down and talk? No, he said, he was watching a movie. He could come down tomorrow before lunch -- no, I said, let's just let it drop then. So for a while I ranted and raved in the kitchen about how his stupid movie was more important than a rare request from me, while my mother urged me to relax. The phone rings. He apologizes; he is coming down. I relax. OK, so far, so good. My mother decides to leave us alone and heads upstairs.

Big Brother arrives and takes a seat. I launch into my story: M and I have separated, and this is the reason: it turns out that I am in fact as gay I was 35 years ago. I am planning to move to D___ in the fall after the children go off to college. There is a moment of silence, and a few moments of confused conversation, in which he alludes to the fact that his marriage had also gone through some travails, as though my wife and I were just going through a rough patch.

And then we are really and truly off to Kafka-land:

"Where we part company on the gay thing," are his opening words, as if this were something I merely had an opinion on, as though I had not just told him I was gay and was leaving my family. Then he launches into a diatribe about how there are too many lesbians living in O____ County in general, and on his road in particular, as it is. It's a known fact that once one couple moves into an area, others do, too, he says.

Just like Jews, I remark. Or blacks.

I can't escape the feeling, quite aside from the fact that his response to my telling him that my life as I have known it is coming to an end forever is to lecture me about lesbian real estate investment, that I am now trapped in the Twilight Zone. He proceeds to tell me how upset HE is that we didn't invite him into the house when he was one of twenty-five people attending a meeting at our house, and I had particularly asked those attending to leave my family in peace while they were there...

With which he storms out of the house.

This is where my wife would say: am I taking crazy pills? If it didn't hurt so much, it would be funny. He's right, of course, I'm sure it did hurt him to be included in the e-mail list that asked people to leave those who wanted nothing to do with our meeting alone, but it was an e-mail to twenty-five people, not to him personally... And why the need to trump my sorrow with his?

My mother talks me down off my crying jag, quietly remarking that he probably hadn't come down to listen to me in the first place, but to tell me what HE had to say, and that he wouldn't take on board what I had told him until he got home and thought about it. OK. My mother asks if she should cancel the lunch invitation she had issued for the next day. Oh, no, I said, I'm going to have to see him again some day, it may as well be tomorrow.

Lunch today was great, but here's the weird bit. Well, the first weird bit was that he came, but had just gone on a diet, came with his own food and wouldn't eat anything we had made, including the salad... That was a LITTLE weird. But then he says NOTHING to me about last night, let alone apologizing, so I can't figure out whether or not he has told his wife, or his teen-age children, who are also present, though I suspect he has done both. My sister-in-law hugs me tight as I leave, which makes me doubly sure they know. BUT NOBODY ACKNOWLEDGES IT. I want to scream at them, but instead just pack up and head for home once they launch into the ice cream course.

I get home, or rather, return my wife's car to what USED to be my home, and my car is gone [as the more fuel-efficient car, it had headed off to Boston before I left], and there is no indication when it's coming back. The laundry that I left on the line to dry on Thursday is still on the line, and now sopping wet, as it's been raining cats and dogs today -- it wasn't even all mine, so it seems to me that SOMEBODY could have taken it in once it dried... So I go out in the pouring rain and drag the laundry back off the line; I take it into the house, spin it, and put it in the dryer...


My son is in D____ at a concert/beer fest. My wife and daughter come home, see the car, and sit there for a while in the driveway with the brake lights on... Then they go into the house. No one stops by at the studio... When I go in to pick up the laundry, now dry, there is some small chat about DVDs and laundry, though no word as to why it stayed on the line for three days... She has cooked for two and I am de trop. I could be a complete stranger...

and I have to live with the fact that this is what I chose...

Well, tonight I am just in a raw place.

And it will be my first night in the little apartment. I will miss sleeping in my oldest son's room almost as much as sleeping in my own. I had gotten used to all the little quirky left-overs of his high-school and college days that still clutter the place up -- it was somehow reassuring. But tonight is the beginning of the end of something, the arrival of a new set of realities I have been holding at arm's length. God help me.

Stay with me.
This road is not going anywhere pretty in the short run, and we are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

July 23, 2006:

I have some sad news, and I am not sure how best to tell you. It doesn’t seem appropriate to wait until I can see you in person, but it also doesn’t seem appropriate to tell you over the phone. I hope you will forgive me the formality of this letter.

M and I have separated. Neither of us can see how I can live up to the vows I made almost twenty-seven years ago. The reason is that I have ended a long struggle to come to terms with my sexuality by admitting my need first and foremost to be open about who and what I am. And that includes the part of me that is still attracted to men. I don’t want to tell anyone more than they want to know. But I would be happy to answer any questions you have now or to talk about it later.

This has not been an easy decision to make, and even having made it, it remains intensely painful. As you can imagine, it is also intensely painful to M and to the children, so I ask that you keep them in your thoughts in the months, and years, ahead.

I do not regret anything except the necessity of ending my marriage. The last twenty-seven years of my life have been filled with enough happiness for a lifetime, indeed it has been half my life-time, and I continue to love M and our children, as I always will. I hope you will also.

In the short term I will be moving to Dad’s room at G____'s house, and can be reached there in the evenings. You can still reach me during the day in my studio in the barn, for the time being at least.

I am conducting a job search and my long-term plans are entirely up in the air.

Thank you for your understanding.

July 30, 2006:

So the letters went out, and there have been a few responses. One of my younger brothers called and asked to talk to my wife, my cousin who works for the local college sent a valentine of a note offering a spontaneous evening out, a friend in Massachusetts called – in fact was the only call I have ever received while actually IN the apartment – only to have the answering machine AND fax both chime in while he was trying to talk. And I got a call from my local sister inviting me to a late dinner last night. I gratefully accepted.

When I arrived, she was whipping together something bright orange in the kitchen, and offered me a beer. Things went “well enough”, I suppose, but somehow we segued from concern for the changes I would be facing to the remarkable statement: “you certainly managed to fake it for long enough.” That was unpleasant, but worse [maybe] was that along the way she casually admitted that the summer before we got married, she had called my oldest brother and sister to get their help persuading me to call it off. Because, apparently, we weren’t overtly physical enough with each other.

It is to be expected, I suppose, that when you set off a stink bomb in people’s lives, they will return the favor by making you similar offerings in turn. As I lay in bed afterwards, I wondered why I hadn’t gone after her for the “faking it” remark instead of merely politely explaining that there had been particular reasons why we were holding ourselves back while traveling in Europe with the entire family. Because in retrospect, I wanted to tell her [a] what a ghastly thing that was to say, and [b] how hurtful it was, both in no uncertain terms. Maybe verging on “drop dead” or “and what the @#$%& do YOU know?” Because I was not faking it, and never have faked it. There were times when I didn’t feel that our relationship had a future, but what there was, which only two of us can know, was real. But my protestation only brought me the remark that if I was bi, she didn’t see how I was ever going to find one person to satisfy me. Thank you so much.

But it is still curious, how many women now claim to “have seen it all” at the time. My mother worried because my oldest sister and her fiancé let me hang out with them so much the summer they were married, and in fact he DID turn out to be gay. So some women have as much “gaydar” as gay men. And maybe some straight men do as well: my grandfather used to say he could “smell it.” I would still prefer not to hear how many other people knew it would never work, or couldn’t believe it would last as long as it did, or whatever they have kept under their hats for a quarter of a century. There is a grisly joy in the way they unpack it all now.

Well, it wasn’t all bad. We talked and joked and she talked about her three conversational topics: her business, opera, and chocolate. My brother-in-law, who stopped his car in the street to give me a hug when he first saw me after hearing that we were separating, was his usual genial self, though still an engineer with the breed’s somewhat mechanistic view of life. It was an honest attempt to reach out and let me know things were unchanged between us [i.e., no better, but no worse] and that is something to be grateful for.

Here’s the thing. People mean well, they just don’t think about how what they say sounds like to other people. I know they just don’t think. Because I don’t, either.

My eldest sister called in this morning, and reminded me of something that I had completely forgotten about. I went to visit her my senior year in college; she had just moved off a rock-band commune in the North Carolina woods into the worn-down city nearby, where she got a job on the local newspaper. She was living in a second-floor apartment with a rather off-putting cat named Ralph. I remember the visit well. What I had [conveniently?] forgotten, or she has since [conveniently?] invented, was that I had come all the way south to ask her advice about coming out to my parents. She claims to have advised me against it. I certainly don’t remember doing so, but I definitely remembering outing myself to all sorts of other people the summer after my senior year. Like so many things in my life, it seems I have to do this twice to get it right...

Well, it gets weirder. My mother now claims that I spoke to my father then or around then about it, because years later, probably [SURPRISE!] around the time of our wedding, he told her that I had mentioned to him that I wasn’t really sure about myself. Now it seems like the big deal is that I spoke to him and not to her. But as my sister said, she probably couldn’t have dealt with it then. Now she can, in so far as anybody can. Most people seem more upset about the end of our marriage than they are about the reason, which I think shows an unusual degree of sense in the family. OK, aside from a couple of people who are not exhibiting much grace. But then, they never have.

And on the whole, I think we are doing OK. If I can just remember to roll with the punches when they come, and not break down and cry when I find out what people have been saying behind my back for so long, or just saying to me now.

On a more cheerful note:

A couple of months back I decided that my license plate was so close to illegible that I should have it replaced. I had made a special application to have the plates moved to the new car last year, so it seemed sad to give up the plate. So I sent the state $20 and got two brand new plates for it. And I immediately started thinking of them as the “gay” plates, even though the letters and numbers were the same, and had no particular value in and of themselves. I mean, it’s not like they said “GBLT” or “666” or “ANTCHRST” or anything.

And now I have my cropped hair, which everyone seems to recognize as a gay hairdo. Even though it looks more like I had a dog chew it off than some fabulous pair of hands sculpt it into the perfect crewcut. The question is, what’s next? Maybe the fact that I find Augusten Burroughs’ books impossibly romantic. That has to be gay, and I don’t care that my writing buddy Mary is the one who told me how much she loved him.

Anyway, I guess this is the place for a shameless plug for:


DRY and

Whatever comes next, but stay away from MAGICAL THINKING unless you like recycled magazine pieces.

He's funny. I would like to be able to write like that. No, that’s not quite right; I know I could write like that. I wish I could write with that kind of facility, but without the glistening surface of self-deprecating sarcasm. That seems somehow to mark it as “gay” for all its heart-felt humanity.

Well, I’d really just like to write better than I do... and be able to keep at it better.

July 30, 2006:

My Florida sister sent me an e-mail yesterday, and said the nicest thing anyone has said yet:

"I know you would not do this unless you saw no other way."

It was so wonderful to have someone finally understand something all on their own, without elaborate hints, hand signals, mime acts or explanations. Actually, both of my oldest sisters, the Southern ones, were wonderful about it, in their different ways. And my local sister did her best -- she did invite me over and feed me, after all, even if she proceeded to kick me when I was down. She just didn't think. Just the way I don't think. But then, I'm repeating myself. Again.

This is a slow road, and I think I need more funny books. I have Mr. Burroughs' Possible Side-effects on hold at the library, and to be perfectly honest, I can't wait.

It's the mighty faggot in me, I know.

Thanks for all the words of support.
As my friend Mr. Flip says: "one day at a time".

Oh, FlipMan, maybe you should take a look at DRY.
Go ahead, click on it.

July 31, 2006:

Last night I told my adopted grandmother how much my local sister had hurt me with her remarks, and she looked at me with wide eyes and said she could scarcely believe it. My sister had come over to speak to her as soon as she heard the news; she herself wasn't home, so my sister had gone to the new widow next door, sat with her, and cried and cried over our break-up.

That wasn't someone who didn't think. She just wasn't paying attention to my feelings when she made dinner... perhaps because her own were deep enough.

And maybe, like my oldest sister, she found that the collapse of something that has lasted so long and seemed so good -- as indeed it was -- brought doubts about her own marriage, her own mortality. Because it is a death, much as my neighbor widow hates the thought, and our saying it. It's different, but we too bury our hopes and dreams of the future, we bury our selves as we thought we were, we suddenly have to think about who we are if we are alone -- and everyone tells us a new life is waiting for us. But we can't get there without walking over the grave of the old one.

And that, my friends, is no picnic. Necessary, in our case, but not nice.

August 1, 2006:

Today I finally sent off the first coming-out letters to my further-flung Friends and Relations, including the Germans. It was really hard to write to a couple of them, which shows how much closer I feel to them than to many other people who are in theory more closely related. Blood is in fact thinner than water, some of the time.

My eldest sister continues to gnaw at our separation, and is slowly driving us mad with her e-mails. But she does mean well, and is trying to understand. All of which is a good thing. It just doesn't make it any easier for me to hear how upset SHE is that we are breaking up. And around here I then get accused of not making things clear enough to her.

There are things that each of us chooses to overlook in the mess I have made of our lives: I hear that the children are suffering, but neither of them will talk to me about it, or indeed about much of anything, though they are both perfectly pleasant.

They are all off this week to go camping [no tragedy there] and to visit some of the wonderful relatives I acquired by marriage and have now lost by ending my marriage. That really does sting. It has been made quite clear that I am not the one to tell them anything, but perhaps I will go so far as to say how much I will miss not making this trip, and trips in the future, anyway.

August 11, 2006:

The great New York Times weighed in with this last week, admittedly in the Style section [is that the only place gay men are "fit to print"???]:

Men who are forthcoming with their wives, and then divorce or separate, report surprise that what happens afterward is often vastly harder than the process of ending the marriage. Scott W., 64, a retired school teacher and real estate agent, relieved his occasional need for homosexual sex with anonymous encounters on East Hampton Beach without quite labeling himself as gay or bisexual. Only when he fell for someone, who rejected him because he was married, did Scott conclude he had to divorce a woman he loved and had been with for 24 years. That process, as these things go, was without acrimony, said Scott, a former member of Mr. McFadden's support group, and he remains close to her and his two grown sons.

But looking for love in late middle age, Scott said, is a frustrating ordeal. After a brief "slut phase,'' he had "the naïve idea I'd find someone right away.'' Instead, he has learned he is ill-suited, or too old, for gay night life. "They want to go out at 11 o'clock,'' Scott said, "and I want to go to sleep at 11 o'clock. Plus, in those places, there's too much noise and confusion.'' He eats dinner most nights at the bar of an East Side restaurant that attracts an older gay clientele. The conversation is lively, Scott said, but he hasn't found anyone to date. Recently, a married gay man left his business card but Scott threw it away. He is not looking for a one-night stand.

And here is what Dr. Isay, the original cheerleader for leaving your marriage to come out as gay, had to say to the Times. Without a breath of apology, without the quietest "oops," just shooting from the lip:

Scott's loneliness after divorce is common among middle-aged men, according to Dr. Richard A. Isay, 69, the first openly gay member of the American Psychoanalytic Association who himself left a heterosexual marriage about 20 years ago, when he was already in a gay relationship that he remains in today. Dr. Isay said he came slowly to understand his patients' sense of isolation during three decades of practice, and therefore has modified his advice to gay married men.

"I beg them to take it slow because it's difficult to find the substitute for the love and companionship of a longtime spouse,'' said Dr. Isay, author of "Commitment and Healing: Gay Men and the Need for Romantic Love" (Wiley, 2006). "They must take that loss into consideration.''

Thank you, thank you, Dr. Isay.

Isn't it interesting how the piece not only glosses over his complete change of mind, but also manages to prominently plug his latest book? So much for the Gray Lady's sense of tact... Well, at least the piece went on to draw on Chris P, so the Blog Brothers got a point or two.

Closer to home, figuratively at least, my NC sister weighed in with this the other day:

I wonder if you've thought all this through [not a good opener...]. As I understand it [based on extensive research, apparently], the "gay scene" in D_______ is sort of a meat market, composed largely of very young beautiful men who have sex out of lust, not love. The older men are likely to find a partner among these men only if they are opportunistic, looking for a sugar daddy who can take care of them. Obviously, you're not in a position to fill that role. [Oh???]

It seems to me that the chances of finding the love of your life among either group is pretty slim. I'm afraid you'll be terribly lonely, and that not a day will pass without your regretting the move. Of course, I feel terribly sad for M as well as for you, and I worry about finances for both of you. I still hope, unrealistically I'm sure, that this can be turned around and your marriage can be saved. Much of this is selfish on my part -- it hurts to think of your family being rent asunder. It's going to hurt a lot of people, and I can't see it making you happy, either.

Sometimes I wonder if the world is going mad, or whether I am just seeing more of its madness. Because it seems that some things go from bad to worse, and nobody seems to think before running off at the mouth.
Yours Truly
the Troll at Sea

August 15, 2006:

My eighty-plus-year-old uncle asked me over to take a walk with him yesterday afternoon. We had been together briefly at the reception after the funeral my mother came over for, and I had told him that M and I had separated, but left the reasons for the copy of my letter to my siblings I was about to send him; then, during a phone call a few days later, my mother told me in passing that she had told him.

Sometimes other people's good intentions can be as troublesome as their bad ones... Why, for instance, does everyone suddenly want to introduce me to their one gay friend? Why, we must have so much in common...

In any case, I spent almost two hours with my uncle, who was really struggling to come to terms with events, and seemed to be losing the battle. (My aunt having conspicuously absented herself...) He started out offering generously to be available any time I needed an ear; I did appreciate the offer, though my uncle is better known for filling others' ears than for offering his own.

But he then proceeded to let me know that he knew of my depression, that he had suffered from it himself -- and all of this in the lengthy, painful, incremental way that has always marked him. I began to wonder where this was all going. It should have been clear enough, but by the time it became so, it was too late to forestall him. Not once but several times he returned to the question:

was I sure that the decision was not one taken because of my depression?

I have become somewhat allergic to many things now, having been presented with them at moments of stress or weakness, and the idea that I would cut off my arms and legs on a whim, or in a moment of blindness brought on by depression, is certainly one of them. In this case my allergy is probably based on the experience of parrying with M on this issue for months now. Over and over again.

I have, thank God, the opinion of a perfectly sane psychiatrist [a rare bird, I know] and a completely competent if under-age therapist, that I am NOT acting out of depression, but dealing with some major, potentially devastating as well as depressing, issues in a relatively mature way. As I said to Dr. Feelgood at our last meeting, I am certainly depressed, but then, I am watching my life, in John Patrick Shanley's immortal words, "going down the toilet", which makes a pretty good case for melancholy -- especially when the "liberation" I am marching toward is bound to be as oppressive as what I leave behind supposedly has been. And has not been.

I am split down the middle: my life has been given meaning by the events of the last twenty-seven years; on the other hand, I can no longer keep silent about the half of me that I have tried so very unsuccessfully to suppress for over thirty years...

I did manage to state something resembling this calmly, and more concisely. His rejoinder to that was to launch into two speeches, one to marvel at my having accomplished anything in the last six months if I were indeed depressed -- and to count off at some admiring length what he regarded as my accomplishments -- and on the other, to restate his concern that I might wake up tomorrow and find it had all been a bad dream: better not to take any hasty steps now. He seems not to have noticed that the two positions tend to cancel each other out...

And I could only respond first, that none of my achievements or skills would suddenly vanish because I admitted my attraction to men, or even found one to live with, and second, that while I certainly harbor the fantasy that I will wake up someday and find out that none of this has happened, has had to happen, I also do recognize it as a fantasy. And while I feel I have the right to this fantasy myself, I feel it is dangerous to others, and have been doing my utmost to root it out.

I have been told only too clearly that I have screwed up and burned my bridges and said things that could never be unsaid, done things that could never be undone. I have sinned, in short, in thought, word, and deed, in what I have done and in what I have left undone. Fortunately, I now attend a church where we say this every week, so I can accept it pretty easily. And I have the assurance that in reality I had no choice. An assurance that occasionally wobbles on its feet of clay, but generally manages to be a credible monolith...

So here was the long and short of it: please don't do this; you might be wrong, this might be the persuasion of a moment. How I wish this were true. How I wish none of this had happened. But the last eight months have a reality to them that is impossible to shake. And M's reading this blog has put the last nail in the coffin I have unwittingly been fashioning for the shards of her poor heart.

Who could blame her? Not I.

How I wish I were a better person, and had found a way to manage all of this without breaking any other hearts, or even just without breaking mine. But I am not that person; I was not born to take secrets to the grave -- or I would not have started this blog, for instance -- and I had carried what I carried within myself like a grotesque pregnancy as long as I could. It is over.

I am willing to admit that my suffering is less than others' because it comes to me by my own choice. I am willing to admit that my suffering is less for any of the manifold reasons set out before me. But I can only repeat that my suffering is all that I can bear and more, all the more so because I so clearly see the suffering of others in their faces, and have to admit that I set it there. No, there is no point in weighing suffering, even if mine were to trump all...

I can only say again, with apologies to all who tire of it, that there is a reason that Christians proclaim the cross: there is a deep knowledge there, that suffering is at the center of human existence and that God himself not only sees it, but came to take it upon himself, so that we could see that he will always be there with us when we are in suffering and hell. Now it is one thing to proclaim it, which I do, and another to feel it, which I often do not.

But there is nothing like an empty room, an empty bed, an empty heart, to remind us of what we lack: not just another person, though God knows that would help; I have no strength to live alone, and I know it.

But beyond the immediate lack of human love, there is a wider, deeper longing. A longing for a presence beyond the material, what Augustine called the God-shaped hole in our hearts, the knowledge that we can find no peace until our deepest longing is filled -- the longing for meaning in our suffering, the assurance that it has all mattered, all been part perhaps of some vast, unseen plan that will redound in some way to someone's good.

And we can only hope.
"All men, I hope, live so."

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