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When it feels authentic…
You love forever…
Before coming out of Indiana I knew absolutely nothing about gay life or relationships. I remembered hearing how gay people were incapable of commitment and incapable of being with one person. And I remember thinking “Am I incapable of that? Because that’s what I really want.”
Never let others define your capabilities…
We always project into the future or reflect in the past, but we are so little in the present-
A photo shoot I worked on with Marina and the incredibly talented photographer Dusan Reljin. I thought there was something so beautifully mysterious about this shot from behind. And I love her hands…
I finally understood that it was time to live and love in the moment. One day at a time. Because that was all we had. And because when we love, there didn’t have to be a goodbye…
It was mid-morning and I was having one of those magical writing moments that don’t seem to come nearly enough when I noticed Alex staring intensely. My first reaction was to ignore her, so as not to disturb my fingers on the keyboard. However, she wasn’t having it. Planting herself firmly in front of my brown club chair, she continued to stare without blinking or budging. Looking over the top of my computer screen into her soulful brown eyes, I was reminded of a comment a visiting friend had made a few months prior. “Alex, looks so beautiful you’d never guess her age except for her cloudy eyes.” The comment caught me off guard, and I now found myself looking deep into those eyes. Why hadn’t I noticed? Alex was my ageless baby girl and thirteen years had passed by and I had not given thought to her longevity. Poodles are eternal puppies – such was the case with our Alex.
Jeff and I had lovingly dubbed her “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’.
It was a busy and exciting time. Marriage equality had come to our beloved NYC, and Jeff and I were ecstatically planning our upcoming wedding. It was the happiest time of my life. During this period, my writing seemed almost magical – taking on this life of it’s own. Putting time aside each day to write in that brown club chair became an integral part of my writing process. I determined that Farm Stories would become more than just something I’d talked about for the past 25 years. Staying focused was something I’d long battled to be, and suddenly, somehow through my writing I finally was. Hours would seamlessly pass.
Today, however, Alex wasn’t going to indulge me in my writing time. I asked if she needed to go out? Instead of her typical turning and making her trademark slow saunter to our apartment door, she didn’t move or break her stare. Putting my computer aside, I reached with outstretched arms. Alex gingerly climbed into my lap, resting her chin on my shoulder and pushing her face against mine. At that very moment I knew. Nestled together in that brown club chair for what could have been minutes or perhaps hours, I didn’t want to let her go. We both knew. Alex was sick.
Having shared secrets with girls had been a lifelong practice. Besides what was I going to tell Jeff? That I’d had this epiphany of impending doom for our little girl? I’ve never been one to shy away from confrontation, but this I simply couldn’t bear. Perhaps if we didn’t speak it, IT would simply go away. Perhaps if I kept it secret, it wouldn’t be true. As the weeks passed, it became clear something was indeed wrong and when our doctor called, her words slapped across my ear, disorienting me. Alex had a malignant tumor in her jaw.
A haze fell over us for the next few months. Jeff’s resolve kicked in as it always had throughout the past 24 years whenever we faced adversity. He promised we would make it through this. I had to believe him but I simply couldn’t understand how you can be pulled from having the happiest time of your life into such despair and helplessness. Everything changed and finding a new normal seemed impossible. There would no trying to gain control of the situation, or of our thoughts. Would it be next week? Maybe months? I wanted to spend every moment I could with Alex, and make everything seem okay. She deserved to be calm. Burning my candles and incense was a daily ritual and had to be continued. I always had music playing, only now Alex had become particular-sensitive to sound. Even the softest music would disturb and annoy, and she would make her way into the bedroom to escape.
Until the morning I noticed Barbara Streisand come on. Was it my imagination or did it seem to soothe her? Not being a huge Barbara music fan I quickly downloaded everything I thought calming and created a playlist. Names ‘Alex & Babs’ it played non-stop morning, noon and night for the next several months. Holding The Most Beautiful Girl In The World in my lap in that brown club chair we would listen to that play list over and over. One song in particular that I’d remembered from long ago. It was Alan and Marilyn Bergman lovely lyrics:
When I say always,
I mean forever.
I trust tomorrow as much as today.
I’m not afraid to say,
I love you.
And I promise you,
I’ll never say goodbye…
I finally understood that it was time to live and love in the moment. One day at a time. Because that was all we had. And because when we love, there didn’t have to be a goodbye.
What is it we see when we look in the mirror?
As a boy, in the aftermath of outpourings of disapproval from my father, I would find myself staring into the bathroom mirror. Concentrating on the picture in front of me it began to look distorted, the way most any word recited over and over again loses it’s meaning. I became repulsed by my own reflection. I decided this was the image my father saw and why my presence sickened him.
As a young adult my quest for perfection continued. I found myself becoming addicted to social approval. My self- image was constantly changing, always overemphasizing what I considered imperfections. Showing a different face to everyone; not a representation of who my authentic self was but who I thought they wanted me to be.
Disapproval not only hurt it also continued to be a sure sign something was wrong with me. As much as being judged hurt I found myself being most judgmental of others. That “feeling” of harsh disapproval was returned with similar harshness. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one dissatisfied with their reflection?
Only after I began to embrace what was unique in me, did I become stronger. The need for approval began to disappear. My judgment turned to acceptance. And as I revealed my journey with each Farm Story my shame was replaced with a newfound sense of worth.
Today I’m not always pleased when looking in the mirror. Yet, on occasion I’ll smile wondering exactly when this much older man arrived.
And sometimes when I least expect it.
I’ll see that little boy from the Midwest, still desperate for perfection- Smiling back at me.
I’m beginning to really love that little boy.
In my Coming out of Indiana in 1984, I was in pursuit of a life that truly reflected who I was. I had spent more than twenty years trying to wedge myself into a mold that didn’t fit.
Abandoning that mold altogether didn’t seem a possibility. But I wanted to leave behind the perfect boy expectations for a true and authentic Eddie. Washington DC gave me hope – a major city far away from the shame, disappointment and heartache that I had created…
“It’s about freedom, isn’t it, when you get down to it? Imagine the courage it took her to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.”
In my Coming out of Indiana in 1984, I was in pursuit of a life that truly reflected who I was. I had spent more than twenty years trying to wedge myself into a mold that didn’t fit. Abandoning that mold altogether didn’t seem a possibility. But I wanted to leave behind the perfect boy expectations for a true and authentic Eddie. Washington DC gave me hope – a major city far away from the shame, disappointment and heartache that I had created.
I vividly remember the morning ‘Destiny’ walked into our salon. With the gleaming chrome and mirrors, her reflection seemed to take-over the entire room. I was keeping my back to her so I could watch from the safety of the floor to ceiling workstation mirror. There are many uses for a mirror in a hair salon. Vanity plays but a small part. For all hairdressers it makes for an excellent cutting tool. Most haircuts are actually done with painstaking precision from the mirror’s reflection. And for someone like me- Direct eye contact is not only at times too personal but also painful. Looking at someone directly in the eye without any cover distraction was like being naked for me. I found a sense of control in having a conversation through the refection in my mirror. That mirror became part of my armor.
Destiny wasn’t young, though it was difficult to determine what her age category might actually be. Dressed in a white off the shoulder peasant blouse, short denim skirt, suntanned hose, Destiny was also wearing the biggest white tennis shoes I’d ever seen. Everything about Destiny was large. Not just her feet but hands, her shoulders, her back. She was taller than me and I’m over 6 feet. There was no mistaking Destiny was a man.
From the safety of the mirror’s reflection, I watched Destiny being shampooed and my eyes silently followed Marlene setting her hair in rollers then putting her under the dryer. An inexplicable anger seemed to encircle me. My inner voice was telling me who Destiny really was – did she honestly believe anyone is fooled by this charade? I was used to ‘Drag Queens’ but that was camp and theatre. My first encounter in a gay bar back home at the ‘Swinging Door’ had been with Tank and LaLa. I adored them, but this was different.
Or was it? Thinking back I couldn’t recall ever asking them about their lives outside the shadows of the gay bar. As soon as Destiny left I marched up to the receptionist desk and informed our manager Lenny that under no circumstances was she ever to be put on my book. I simply wouldn’t stand for it. When Lenny pushed back – questioning my obvious irritation and why I would feel so strongly towards a salon client I’d never even met – I couldn’t give him an answer. I didn’t have one.
As the months past Destiny continued to come in every Saturday for her standing appointment. She laughed and talked to staff and customers with complete ease. From my mirror I watched as Miss Anne brought out the silver tray with the white linen napkins and fresh tea and coffee. “Would you like lemon with your tea, Love?” Miss Anne asked Destiny. It appeared I seemed to be the only one taking issue with Destiny’s presence. Finally the inevitable happened. As I slipped my client under the empty dryer Destiny raised hers. “Eddie… when you have a second can I ask you a question?”
She knew my name. For the first time we locked eyes, and without my armor I felt my anger begin to slip away. Destiny wondered if it was okay, could I choose a red lipstick that would work with her skin and hair color? I found myself smiling and brought back a tester – blue red to enhance her silver hair. Waving the tester away she smiled saying whatever I selected would no doubt be perfect. From that encounter on, Destiny never was without her blue red lipstick when she came in for her Saturday standings. And when she asked me weeks later for blush, I told her she would need to sit in my chair and we’d try a few. After teaching her to feather her blush with a light hand, I stepped back behind my chair and we locked eyes in my mirror.
It’s been over 30 years since I came out of Indiana. Washington DC provided much more than an escape from my former self. I quickly discovered the person I most wanted to run from was right there inside me. As much as I craved diversity, I was still unprepared for what walking into the unknown might actually be like. Breaking the mold wasn’t reserved for just certain people who looked, acted, or believed like me. Learning to give people, like myself, time to learn, process and adjust takes time. Being authentic, embracing who we are and born to be is essential for inner peace, growth and happiness. Even I had to learn about acceptance from both sides of the mirror.
Sometimes we simply have no other choice than to come out from behind the armor.
Today whenever I visit my favorite makeup counter to buy a few ‘I think I can’t live without beauty products’ I look for the adorable young boy who has helped me over the past 7 years. Sometimes I forget because it’s still kind of new – He’s now a She. And as she rushes over smiling asking how I’ve been, we lock eyes, no armor needed. I can’t help but think about Destiny and smile…