Tonight I had dinner with my friends Amber and Kara. The three of us have known each other since high school, but we’ve really connected since graduation. We all live in different cities, but a few times a year we travel to see each other, eat something delicious, and catch up. We’re all talkers, all listeners, so we always warn our waiter or waitress–we’re going to be here a while. Honestly, it’s usually a tour of emotions–we laugh, we cry, we make each other think.
Tonight we talked about high school more than usual. Never afraid to dive right in, Kara asked if I went to school the day after my dad was arrested, or maybe she said after he went to prison. Either way, I said, “I can’t remember. I think it was on a weekend.” Anyway, the question made me realize that there are definitely gaps in my memory during that period of time. I was a teenager. Looking back, it seems crazy that I would simply continue going to school, studying for tests, and making good grades as if my world wasn’t falling apart, since it was. My therapist says it’s a wonder I didn’t become a juvenile delinquent. My guess is that all the emotions just got shut down, along with my sexuality. At the time, it was all too much–too much stress, too much grief, too much religion–to handle consciously. As I think about it now, there were simply too many broken pieces to even try to put them back in place.
As the conversation continued, Kara asked if any of our teachers directly addressed the issue of my father, if any of them “stepped in.” I said, “Well, Mr. Saulsbery did.” Mr. Saulsbery was our Bible teacher, and I remember he’d specifically ask about Dad, even joke with me about the situation. He had a great laugh, and there was something about it that always put me at ease and made the world seem like a lighter place. Only recently have I realized what a mentor he was, as that was a word I didn’t understand when I was younger. Even after we graduated, “Saulz” and I would get together for lunch, and he’s the one who introduced me to Toastmasters, which is a community practice group of sorts for public speakers. He didn’t specifically say it at the time, but I can see now that he was saying by his actions, “I believe in you.”
This, of course, is not a little thing.
The last time I remember spending much time with Saulz, we were in a life-coach training seminar taught by my former life coach, Barbie. We were supposed to write a positive statement about someone in the class, and Saulz handed me a slip of paper that said, “Plays well with others,” except I thought it said, “Plays well with OTTERS,” so we laughed about that too.
A few months ago, Saulz passed away. I was going to his funeral when I had the car accident that totaled my Honda Civic. Well, I was late to the service and left early to begin self-care, but I later watched the whole thing online. Not surprisingly, everyone who spoke of him had similar stories to mine. Saulz had the mentor thing down. I guess he used to say, “You can’t speak into someone’s life if you don’t have a relationship with them.”
Amber, Kara, and I also talked about another Bible teacher of ours, Mr. Herrington. Mr. Herrington used to walk around with a straight back and a yard stick. Sometimes he would shout, “Amen!” if someone fell asleep in class. Kara reminded us that he made a big deal about mind, body, and spirit, and he was always drawing three circles to represent them. But the thing I remember is that he came over to our house one weekend to teach me and my sister how to change a flat tire, since Dad was gone (and probably could have used the lesson himself anyway). I don’t think I’ve spoken to Mr. Herrington since I was a teenager, but I wish I could tell him how handy that knowledge has been. It’s gotten me back on the road more times that I can count.
Getting comfortable in your own skin takes time.
No one in high school ever brought up my sexuality, at least directly. Like, no one said, “It’s okay. Guys who wear high heels are welcome in heaven.” I mean, it was a Christian school, in the Bible Belt no less, so that’s to be expected. Unfortunately. Even if someone had said something, I probably would have lied. Regardless, those conversations and those role models would come much later. Getting comfortable in your own skin, it seems, takes time. Honestly, one of the biggest benefits I’ve realized from having both a life coach and a therapist has been being the recipient of what’s sometimes called “unconditional positive regard,” or simply, acceptance. In my experience, healing isn’t a straight line, but if there’s a starting point, I think it looks like being totally yourself in front of someone who doesn’t flinch when you share your secrets and still wants to see you again the next day.
Just to break things up a bit, here’s a card I received today from someone who “gets me.” My hope is that you have someone like this in your life too.
After dinner with Amber and Kara, I went to the last hour of a swing dance on the U of A campus, even though the shoes I was wearing didn’t have any laces and that makes dancing a challenge. We’ll see how my feet and body feel tomorrow, but I’m currently glad I went because I love (love) swing dancing. My friend Sydnie was there, and we probably danced together ten times. When everything was over, I was out of breath, a big ball of sweat, and–most importantly–happier than when I walked in. Like meeting up with my old friends from high school, I guess it was just another way to connect with someone, to accept each other in the moment.
Tonight Kara introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before–FOMO. (Rhymes with Homo.) Anyway, it stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and I think that when I look back at high school, I often feel as if something important wasn’t there or that my life would have been better if. But when I left the dance, I saw a statue I hadn’t noticed before. Immediately, I thought it looked like a dancer, this brass lady with her head up and arms back, lit from the front by spotlights and behind by the moon. Then the word “surrender” came to mind. As I think about it now, I realize you can’t do anything about your past. It’s simply something you have to give up. But surely when you accept your entire life for what it’s been so far, this is healing and this is putting your broken pieces back in place. What’s more, those who play well with otters seem to be the glue that brings us back together, for no one is who they are today without the help of many compassionate hearts, those who believe in us and get us back on the road to ourselves.
Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)
"There is a force, a momentum that dances with all of us, sometimes lifting us up in the air, sometimes bringing us back down in a great mystery of starts and stops."