Sunday, December 13, 2015

Young Adults... Great Models for Moving Literature

 This is the beautiful face of my favorite young adult. She lives near me, visiting when she can. Smart, suspicious, silly, sensitive, and strong... and that's just the S's. Of course I love her, who wouldn't? But I'm also, in the interest of full disclosure, her nana. My wife is her maternal grandmother.

But I'm not only impressed with who she is as a young adult, after all I've known the special person, "M", since she was born, and she was a freakin' awesome baby/toddler/big girl/pre-teen before. No, I'm also impressed by her group of friends, and so many like them around the world.

Young adults these days are rockin'. They embody many ideals, tempered with a world-weary acknowledgement of the commercialism of their learning environments. They know social media is self-serving, and have learned the hard way that many messages are commercials disguised as truth. Young adult these days, however, are savvy. They question, not just values, but power. They are demanding answers, and when those aren't forthcoming they dive headlong into research.

World-wide, nearly instant research. The world is much smaller than it's ever been before. With the proliferation of videos, kids are finding out that people are much more the same, than they are different.

Which is great, because the next older generation is getting that all wrong, accepting wide divides between people and being prodded into conflicts which settle nothing, but greatly stir dissatisfaction and inflame passions.

Personally - and remember you heard it here first, folks - I believe that a new '60's type revolution is on the brink of exploding. I think today's young adults are watching the posturing and posing of their elders, and are about to do what another group of young adults, who have been neatly categorized and dismissively labeled as 'hippies', did fifty years ago.

Their music tells stories of rebels, and vigilantes. The depths of despair are appearing in their art work across genres, as are the heights offered by hope. They are demanding better educations, and holding their educators to ever rising standards. They are remembering what so many of their elders have forgotten:

Love Conquers All.

Yep, young adults these days totally rock. "M" and her friends - here's to you! Go get 'em, kiddos.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Moment of Truth

I'll use this for my before picture. It was taken in early 2015, after I'd begun the journey to get to this point. An interesting thing was happening to me at the time. I'd begun to say good-bye to foods, as if I'd never see them again. I binged on pizza, chocolate, and french fries. This photo was actually taken at a local pizza parlor!

Okay - let's get down to it: I started this journey because the last straw was heaped on the donkey's back. Yes, I'm borderline diabetic, have high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. My health has been going downhill even though I try to stay healthy. Yes, my back, legs, and feet were no longer willingly supporting my body. I hobbled places, or worse, waddled. That happened only once, and after that I walked as slowly as it took to never again sway side to side.

But if I'm honest, there were other reasons, ones involving self-esteem and issues of embarrassment. I had an experience that showed me if I fell and couldn't get up, my loved ones would need help to get me up. I'm tired of being squeezed from all sides when traveling on a plane, and dealing with people who fat shame with glances. My feelings get hurt when my family discusses my size/eating habits/weight in normal everyday conversation. And I avoid looking at my own reflection in a mirror, narrowing my vision to a single area that needs work, teeth, hair, and more and more recently, my neck.

I've managed to be a normal weight at least six times in my life. None of those experiences lasted. I blew past 100 pounds sometime during 4th grade and never saw it again. I don't know any other way to be than overweight, or losing weight. Maintaining a normal body weight will be a whole new experience for me.

And I'm afraid of failing. Again. A failure. Again.

But then again, everything good that's ever happened to me started with me taking a chance. I've managed to do some relatively extraordinary things: travel the US in an RV, write an award-winning novel, performed before large audiences AND received standing ovations. So if the woman who achieved all that decides to put her effort into creating a new food/eating reality, she'll make it.

I'll make it. I can do it. I've done hard things before and succeeded. I've got this. It's extreme - but then, I can be extreme. *deep breath* I will do this!
And I've still got two days more to change my mind and run back to the world of comfort I know so well if I chicken out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fist Pump - Throat Lump

The fist pump! Yeah! I've done it, did it just the other week. Will probably do it again.


When I started out on this journey over a year ago, I wasn't sure it was going to end up on the surgeon's table. I went to an info meeting, but still wasn't convinced. This is a really big, irrevocable decision, and I had failed so many times before I no longer had faith in the weight loss process.

I have some issues with the way the bariatric surgery group I'm with handled things. I was made to jump through innumerable hoops to get here, including many medical procedures and exams. I've been sleep studied, x-rayed, EKGed, palpated, weighed, measured, and charted. I have listened, asked, been handed numerous handouts and a 3-ring binder to hold them all, and support grouped along. And I was forced to lose weight to continue the process. Without going into actual numbers (which are not for publication) from my first weigh-in until the pre-op two week liquid diet started, in seven months I'd lost a grand total of eight pounds. yippee 

Then I started the liquid diet and stayed on it. A few days in I got sick. Because of med changes I dealt with dizziness. But I stayed on the diet, and it's now less than a week away from the surgery. I weighed myself on my bathroom scale, which is probably at least several pounds off of the bariatric one, and to my shock found in the first week I'd lost another nine pounds. (BTW - I only weigh once a week at most. I learned that lesson the hard way during my first twenty diets...) That's a total of seventeen pounds, and there's already a change in the way my clothes fit. FIST PUMP!

But there's also this lump in my throat, a recognition of all the times in the past when I've successfully lost weight, and ALWAYS gained it back again. The fear is there, the ever present anxiety of failure. After all, I've successfully fought the battle many, many times, but never won the war of sustained weight loss.

Apparently I've dieted and then regained the weight so many times I've created a Pavlovian response in myself. Feelings of success are immediately damped by forebodings of failure. I'm my own psychological lab rat. My conditioned response is excitement tempered with sorrow. And the really bitter taste to it all is that it's become a very familiar response. How many times have I started diets, knowing that the results of all that pain and hard work would never last?

I'm trying to let myself feel successful, recognizing and paying respect to the times I've failed before, but this time won't be the same (already I hear the razzberry being given by my own psyche), because this time I'm changing the circumstances. This weight loss journey is different than any other I've taken. I'm changing the rules. After the hard work of losing weight has gotten me where I'm going, my stomach will have healed into a much smaller pouch, and the craving centers will have been excised. I hope that the desire for food will never again supplant my need for nourishment.

Here is my promise to my future self:  I will still enjoy food, in moderation the way it was meant to be. I will savor the flavor, and feel the heal. No longer will I waste the taste, or need the greed. I will be an informed, and intelligent consumer. And I will be healthier for it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When the Schmecken Beckons...

GUILTY PLEASURES     Day 8 of the liquid pre-op diet started out with thoughts of watching television cooking shows. What? Talk about putting temptation in your own way. But I enjoy watching the Christmas cooking competitions every year, and I guess I'm missing that.

And, I won't lie, I feel a little sad as I move through the stores and see the plenty - all the deliciousness I'm turning away from this season. Gingerbread cookies stand up on the bakery shelves and shout my name, as I wander past trying not to look them in the eye. Yule Log cakes with their promises of rolled up jelly cakes beckon with their frosting covered branches. Pies of many flavors try to toss themselves, like fattening frisbees, into my artfully dodging cart. Eggnog cartons line up like soldiers in the dairy aisle, saluting my resolute determination not to blow my chances for surgery a week from today. Although weight gain (or lack of loss) might be the least of my worries now.

I'm still dizzy. This is day five of being dizzy and I've been in contact with both the bariatric center and my primary care physician about possible reasons. I stopped in at our local fire station for a blood pressure check yesterday, and my numbers were 140 over 114. Not good. My blood pressure meds have been changed a couple of times lately, and clearly the new combination wasn't making it. So I contacted my primary care physician, who added another med to the mix. Last night I wasn't dizzy at all, and I was so hopeful. But today I'm once again swaying on my feet. I will have my blood pressure checked on Friday morning, and hopefully by then all this dizziness will be over once and for all. The irony is, of course, that after I've lost some weight, my blood pressure should regain normal levels without medication.

I'm still ignoring the big question - and I am stating it in words here because I want to commit myself to asking it. Am I doing this surgery primarily for my health, or primarily to finally achieve the life-long goal of a slender (i.e. beautiful) body?

Time is getting short - and I need to make absolutely sure that I really want this irreversible change to my body, and all that entails. Thanks for keeping me company as I try to figure it all out, watching snippets of baking competitions and weaving through the shopping with my pre-op blinders on. There is, after all, next year. And hopefully by that time I'll have learned how to handle my new body and new appetite. By then the Gingerbread Man will be my friend once more, although I'll probably never enjoy his company as much as I have in years past.

Oh well, there's always Pumpkin Spice Greek yogurt...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

VERTIGO-GO I'm cruising along on day 3, feeling hungry, but eating what I need to when I need to. I even had some delicious homemade soup to look forward to for dinner. Squash, carrot, and celery soup, pureed into a warm, pumpkiny color. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so grateful to not have to resort to cream of anything...

Unfortunately I got sick about ten minutes after eating. I mean SICK. I was dizzy, nauseated, belching, and began throwing up. This is no small thing for a person with a Nissan fundiplication. Throwing up is not nearly as easy when you have one, but I managed. Six, eight, fourteen times during the following evening and morning. Then I stopped throwing up, but even the thought of water would make me nauseated again.

I crawled into bed and stayed there for 27 hours. If I stayed down, I wasn't as dizzy, which meant I wasn't as nauseated. Every time I belched I'd slow my breathing until it stopped. I existed, floating on a miasma of quashed misery, knowing the moment I sat up I was going to feel horrible once more.

Of course I wondered if this had anything to do with:
  1. the soup
  2. the diet
  3. the flu that has been going around town 
The soup had all fresh ingredients and was prepared by someone who knows how to make great soups. So I ruled food-poisoning out.

The diet, while monotonous and unsatisfying, didn't seem bad enough to make me that sick. I grudgingly put it aside, even as I realized that I didn't want anything to do with a protein shake at that moment, but might have accepted a piece of dried toast. I did not indulge in the toast, but neither would I drink the shake.

So I was left with the idea that it is a flu bug - one that will hopefully disappear on its own by the end of the weekend. However, I wanted medical corroboration and advice. So I phoned the Bariatric surgery center of the hospital.

At 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday only weeks before Christmas.

Not too surprisingly, they were closed. A robo-voice advised me to hang up and dial 911 if it was a real medical emergency, but they also offered a number for 'urgent' situations. I called it.

The secretary asked about my situation, I described it. She went looking for a nurse and apparently found one who felt no need to speak to me directly. She wanted to know if I'd phoned my primary care doctor. I said no, and she suggested I do so. It was now 4:45 and the sun had set.

My doctor's office  was closed, but they had a triage nurse on staff who agreed to phone the doctor on call, who just happened to be my primary care physician. By 6 o'clock I'd been advised that as long as I was able to keep water down I should probably stay home, otherwise I should report to an ER to avoid dehydration. By 9 o'clock I'd gotten 12 oz. of water down, and while still dizzy and lying down, I felt some better. I sat up from 10 to midnight... a victory!

Here it is, day five. I lost a day and a half, more or less, to whatever that was. I obviously feel better because even thinking about this post made me dizzy just hours ago. But I'm still not 100%, so I'm eating a yogurt, drinking 8oz. of water, and going back to bed.

No one takes photos of themselves when they feel this sick... that's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In Vain, or Insane?

So the best part of day 2 on a liquid diet is that day 1 is over.

Although I grazed through the day with
  • 7 8oz cups of water
  • 3 protein drinks, 
  • 2 cups of cream of broccoli soup (eww!), 
  • 1/2 cup of Malt-o-Meal (yeah, they still make it and it still tastes the same...), 
  • one 4oz container of applesauce (no sugar added), 
  • one 4oz container of non-fat pudding, 
  • and one truly bitter container of yogurt, 

somehow I was hungry pretty much every minute of the day.

Okay, in the interest of total disclosure, there were about 10-15 minutes following the protein shakes where I wasn't actively hungry, but it roared back within the hour.

However, I'm one day closer to my goal, and THAT is pretty cool.

So day 2 started off with me wondering if I should take some photos of myself at the beginning of the journey. After I stopped quivering, I tried once more to talk myself into it. Same visceral reaction.

I learned a long time ago that you can't be in the photos if you're the one taking the picture. So I became the family photographer. There are still enough photos of me to make sure I get my face on at least 10 out of 12 months of the Christmas calendar (, but I make sure they're head shots. I shudder whenever someone takes a photo of my whole body, and usually crop it out of the photo as soon as possible.

I also avoid seeing my whole reflection in mirrors, focusing on whatever body part I'm dealing with (usually face, teeth, hair...). When I'm walking by large store windows I focus on the models within, rather than my image reflected from the glass. I never try new clothes on in dressing rooms before buying - I just return them after I've tried them on at home. In that way I have happily maintained my own ignorance of the true size of my body.

Except that's not true. When asked to estimate my own weight I'm usually within 10 pounds, startling the hell out of health professionals who uniformly believe overweight people have no true understanding of their situation. Although I routinely refused to be weighed when being seen by doctors (that public humiliation thing I covered yesterday), I have lived with this body my whole life and am aware of what wearing various sizes mean in terms of total weight.

In other words, I know how big I am but avoid like the plague seeing the proof of the pudding, as it were, with my own two eyes. Kind of the way I want the world to deal with me too. You can know I'm a plump (fat), middle-aged (old), charmer (woman), just don't see me that way. I'd rather you 'saw' me as my young, beautiful, healthy self in my eighteen year old body.

Of course, doesn't everybody?

I don't know if I'm going to talk myself into a 'before' photo or not. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vanity, or Sanity?

I used to walk into my doctor's office with my hand raised defensively. "Let's just start with the assumption that I need to lose weight, and move on from there." She would laugh, and we'd begin discussing my reason for being there.

I have long held the opinion that doctor offices psychologically attack patients to ensure a greater adherence to medical advice. They do it by stopping in the hallway, invariably full of foot traffic, to weigh and measure you on a full-sized scale. Textbook perfect Public Humiliation 101.

I've never known what it's like to maintain a healthy weight. It's been a continuing issue for freakin' forever. Diets and exercise programs have been intermittent interruptions throughout my life. Sometimes they are a resounding backdrop to other memories, like when I sucked in my tummy so hard my diaper fell off.

My self-esteem took the expected plummet, relieved only during the most successful stages of dieting episodes. I've never received so many compliments and/or so much praise as I have when I've lost weight. So many, in fact, it made me resentful.

Why didn't I get compliments like that for other achievements? I have been a storyteller for decades, performing before groups large and small, done community theater, been an award winning teacher, written an award winning novel, and yet the only time my friends and family seem proud of me was when I was thinner. Which never lasted long. (By the way, I know this is only my perception and that my friends, and some of my family, are very proud of me and my accomplishments. But knowing, and feeling, can be two vastly different experiences.)

Sometime in the second or third month following a successful weight loss diet an overwhelming craving would crash over me. If you've never felt it you won't understand this, but it is an absolute imperative that you eat. Your mind focuses on food, and only food. You find yourself wandering in and out of the kitchen, grabbing a taste of this, or a handful of that. You hate yourself for losing control, and yet the body grabs you by the throat and screams in your face, "No more starving!" Then it gets your belly to emphasize the point with a lot of uncomfortable roiling and loud rumbling.

I've yo-yo'd up and down so many times I've lost count. I've been a size 11 and I've been a size 26. One time I bought a size 32, but I think that was sheer frustration that I couldn't find anything to make me look attractive and bought something three sizes too big in a flood of self-loathing. I've done Weight Watchers (twice), the egg and grapefruit diet, Phen-phen, low-carb, 7-day diet, oatmeal and apples diet, etc., etc., etc. I counted points, collected cards, and plotted food charts.

Any diet will work, as long as you stick to it fiercely. In my experience that means a combination of severe self-loathing, determination, and acceptance of pain. It takes a lot of hurting to make you turn away from food while you're still hungry. To refuse yourself a feeling of satiation involves embracing discomfort, and to continue that unpleasant feeling for days, weeks, and months requires (from me, at least) a hatred for my fat self. It's not enough to want to be thin - I have to hate to be fat.

I beat myself up (dieted) regularly for the first thirty years of my life, and over the following twenty-eight still do so, but with longer and longer intervals between. The last two diets I started with reluctance,  knowing I would succeed, be happy with myself for a few months at least, and then begin the inevitable regaining of the weight and accompanying self-loathing. I did, two for two.

I've lost all faith in low calorie, nonfat, low self-esteem diets. How many times do I have to repeat the cycle before I admit it doesn't work? Apparently, this many times.

I am scheduled for a Roux en-y operation on December 15th. It's taken me over a year to get to this place, but I've finally arrived at the starting gate. Today I have begun the two week liquid diet required before surgery. I'm already hungry, but hopeful that at the end of this journey I'll be able to lose - and keep off - the baggage I've been lugging around my entire life. I'm ready to cut away more than half my stomach to control my eating.

People say to me, "As long as it's for the right reasons..." meaning it should be a health only decision. Mine is, and isn't, but more about that later. Being me I need to chronicle this journey. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wicked Lover or Death Disguised?


It's the end of September and the seasons are changing. The days of summer are over, and autumn has begun. It's that time of year when I look for my favorite blanket to put on the bed, pull out long sleeve shirts and hoodies, and enjoy the warmth of my favorite socks.

I see bats and skeletons everywhere, and deal with pumpkin-flavored everything. I bake banana bread and chicken pot pie. The last of my wife's garden become fried green tomatoes. Apple Pie and Cinnamon candles fill our living room with the scents of the season.

The biggest sign I've given over to autumn are my favorite pair of earrings, hand painted ceramic pumpkins I bought in Pismo Beach about 30 years ago. I love them. They are pretty, heavy, and large. People comment on them every year, and I love it. I wear them with the brown, wine, and gold colors I only wear during this time of year.

Winding into, through, and around the cities are the scents of dusty leaves, plowed under fields, ripe apple orchards, and chilling lakes. My wife rakes the yard, beds the roses, and cleans out her garage in preparation for the inevitable snow. My granddaughter begins to seriously consider Halloween costumes, which she will decide upon with the help of her best friends so they can coordinate. I pull out my well worn, tattered, and beloved Ray Bradbury classic, The October Country, and Poe's Telltale Heart, and read them aloud in an empty room simply for the love of the words.

The prompts I bring to writing groups take on a decidedly spooky tone.

When people talk about the changing of the seasons they mean weather and over all temperature, but to me it means much more. For my wife, who thrives during spring and summer, it's the inevitable end of good times in the garden and sun. She mourns in autumn. I, on the other hand, come vibrantly alive.

I thrill to the changing colors, encourage the struggle of each leaf to last as long as possible, await the rising of large harvest moons, and watch the night sky for shooting stars. I look forward to preparing for Halloween, NANO, and Thanksgiving. Most of all, I look forward to being cool for the brief time in Minnesota between blistering heat, and freezing snow.

So here's to autumn, and all those who love her.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pretty Weird

Writing books for middle graders, teens, and young adults growing up in families headed by same-sex parents is a wonderful experience. I meet a lot of great people, hear a lot of fantastic stories, and every now and then I get to make a difference in someone's life.

When young people see their own type of families reflected in the literature they read, lives can be changed. It provides a sense of self-esteem that even the most loving, caring, and supportive parents cannot.

We hear about the kids who get bullied because they are, or are perceived to be, LGBTQI themselves. But it's not too often that we hear about the kids being raised by LGBTQI parents being harassed at school and on the internet, which also happens every single day of the year.

These kids often feel especially picked on because if they were growing up with hetero/cisgendered parents they would not be subjected to this type of harassment. Of course, that's not to say that they wouldn't still be bullied. We all know that bullies will identify whatever you are sensitive about to torment you. (And if you didn't know that, take my word for it.)

But when kids see their own rainbow families represented in fiction it validates their homes as being just as normal as anyone else's. Unless, of course, your house has been painted in rainbow colors, because, well, that's pretty weird. Pretty and weird, and wouldn't I love to have one!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Allison, Lee Lynch, and I Walked Into A Ballroom....

I spent last week far away from wife and home in New Orleans, Louisiana. I did it because my book, Riding the Rainbow, was a finalist in the 2015 Golden Crown Literary Award in the YA category.

Due to situations beyond our control, our income is limited. I had not planned on attending when I first found out about Riding making it to the finalist short list. I was disappointed, but what can you do? Kids need feeding, the mortgage needs paying, etc.. ad nauseam. I figure I'd prepare an acceptance speech, just in case, and ask a friend to accept for me if the long shot paid off.

I didn't expect to win. There are some very high profile lesbian authors whose books were also on the finalist list, all of them from publishing companies like Bold Stroke Books, Sapphire Books, Bella Books, and other notable publishers. At the time it was nominated, Riding the Rainbow was self-published. I figured among the glittering lesbian literati my little book would be lost.

Then I was contacted by GCLS and offered a last minute scholarship because someone else had dropped out. I talked it over with my wife, we checked the piggy bank, and off I went on a wish and a prayer.

I had a marvelous time attending panels and giving a short reading from A Man's Man, my newest YA release. I was stunned to tears by the power of Dorothy Allison's reading from her classic, Bastard Out of Carolina. I was impressed by the friendliness of the conference board members, and enjoyed meeting and making new friends. One night another author treated me to dinner at Muriel's, a notoriously haunted restaurant, followed by paranormal authors reading from their work. I looked for ghosties, but couldn't find any. I was so entertained I didn't worry about the award, at least until Friday night.

That night I tossed and turned, fighting off an unnamed fear. I couldn't sleep, and dragged my way through the morning, fighting off tears I couldn't explain. I was afraid of losing, sure. But I also seemed to be afraid of winning. Friends tried to buck me up, but no matter what words they used, how hard or long they hugged me, I couldn't shake a feeling of paralyzing fear. I was so tense, that only an hour and a half before the Awards Presentation began I lifted something too heavy for me and twisted my back.

I struggled through a shower I couldn't stand straight in, and lay down on the bed to wait for the Advil I took to kick in. I phoned my wife, who soothed my ragged nerves and reminded me that in her eyes I've always been a winner. By the time I hung up my back was looser, I was calmer, and I could dress in my special outfit carefully chosen for the occasion.

I sat at a table with new friends, enjoying the festivities. My heart beat loudly in my chest as the YA category neared, but I'd prepared myself to graciously lose. I drank a glass of wine, prepped my cell phone's camera to capture the screen shot of my book's cover when it was announced, and surreptitiously crossed my fingers under the table.

When the presenters in my category announced, "...Riding the Rainbow by Genta Sebastian!" my table erupted with cheers and everyone jumped up from their seats. I stumbled up to the stage and realized that seated directly in front of me sat - are you ready for this? RITA MAE BROWN, DOROTHY ALLISON, and LEE LYNCH. If I hadn't already been as nervous as it is possible for me to be short of fainting, I would have lost my voice then and there. Thank goodness I didn't.

I gave my acceptance speech, stumbled off stage with my very heavy award, and made my way back to my table of friends. The rest of the evening was a surreal experience.

It was a night I will never forget. And I learned some very important things from all of this:

1.  My wife is my rock, my center, and my strength, no matter how many miles separate us.
2.  The fear of winning is almost as powerful as the fear of losing.

and 3. Winning awards is totally addicting.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Very First Time

Everyone has a first time. The nervous anticipation, the gnawing fear, the worry that you won't be up to standards, much less excel. Let's face it folks, virginity can be a problem. Arggh! It's enough to make you speak like a pirate! (Which would be another first time, but I digress...)

This week I set off on one of the grand adventures of my life. I recognize it for what it is, even before it's begun. This will be something I will remember for a long time, and hopefully bring memories to cherish.

On Monday I set off on a cross country road trip with two other women, both also virgins. On Tuesday we will arrive in New Orleans, a big first for me right there, but no, that's not the culmination of the grand adventure. Although it's on my Bucket List, and therefore significant to me, The Big Easy is only the first leg of this fantastic journey.

I'm going to take you with me. We'll barge the gates of the GCLS (Golden Crown Literary Society) Convention 2015. I will take pictures and share them here, first covering the country from Wisconsin to Louisiana, and then the convention itself. I will share some of my fabulous experiences, in and out of the Hilton hotel, through various panels, hopefully to a haunted reading, a masquerade karaoke party, and the grand finale: the Awards dinner where my Riding the Rainbow might just win a coveted Goldie.

So c'mon along on my magic carpet ride. I'll take you, koo koo ka-choo, through the looking glass of a GCLS Con Virgin, and safely out the other side... maybe.

There is that haunted house in the French Quarter... buwahahahaha!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rainbow Families - What Are They?

Mine is a Rainbow Family, which means that my wife and I have children and grandchildren who grew up with same-sex (grand)parents. Since writing The Boxer Shorts Rebellion, I have expanded my definition of Rainbow Families to include straight parents who love and support their gay children as they grow up.

When my granddaughter was born, and my grandsons were young, I was happy to have And Tango Makes Three and King and King. Soon there were a whole slew of picture books but as the kids grew older and began reading for pleasure the literature reflecting their family grew fewer.

One day I was watching Rosie O'Donnell on television talking about her then ten-year-old son and the questions he was asking about living in a same-sex parented family. Why are you gay? Does that mean I'm gay? Do you have to be gay?

My personal muse lit a fire and I began to write.

For the better part of the last ten years my writing has involved certain types of families - what I call Rainbow Families. First I wrote Riding the Rainbow (for ages 8-12) quickly followed by A Man's Man (for ages 12-16). I compare the two to each other in much the same way Mark Twain did his Tom Sawyer to his Huckleberry Finn. They both tell basically the same story, that of fitting in to a family that isn't like other people's families. Riding the Rainbow is more innocent and sweet, while A Man's Man deals with more adult issues.

Of course, those two were followed up with The Boxer Shorts Rebellion, a read for much more mature teens. Loosely based on the suicide contagion zone that tragically occurred in Minnesota a few years back, it centers around a family struggling to come to grips with a son who may, or may not, be gay and the bullying that surrounds him. The language is crude and the story blunt, without apology as it treats the subject as brutally in fiction as it is in real life.

So when people ask me what a Rainbow Family is, I answer that it's any family with one or more gay members. It is that simple.

So, are you in a Rainbow Family?

Friday, June 26, 2015


Congratulations, America!

I've worked a long time for this, and it's been a bumpy ride along the way.

I remember the very first time I heard the phrase, "Gay Marriage". It was the last weekend in June 2002, and I was registering voters for a mid-term election at Twin Cities Pride. It was a good crowd that year, full of high spirits. As I was cajoling passersby to sign up, a young woman shook me off because she was already registered, then turned around and said, "But I won't vote for anyone who won't vote for gay marriage."

It was one of those moments when time changed, everything slowed down as I tried to reconcile her words to the world I knew. Her companion, who I don't remember clearly at all, added something to the effect that until we could marry, we'd never be equal.

My mind went blank. It was a true paradigm shift. My world tilted to the side and shook cobwebs from my brain. I had never thought of it before, why would I? We were barely tolerated as couples. The idea of gay marriage was completely out of my realm of conscious thought. But the seed was planted.

It took root because my sweetheart/partner/special friend (as we were labeled) had developed heart disease earlier that year in a medical event that included a smug clerk safe behind a shield of glass telling me that since I wasn't 'family' I would not be allowed to see her in the ER. Once I knew my sweetheart was going to survive I realized the depth of anger in my heart towards my own country. I'd been terrified, and the witch behind the counter had taken a cruel delight in adding to my torture. That was one reason I was so politically active at Pride that year, an event I'd always enjoyed as a casual participant.

We also had a beautiful granddaughter born that year who quickly became the light of our lives. The idea she might know me not as her grandmother's 'special friend' but rather her wife filled me with hope. The idea wouldn't stop playing in my mind. What if? What if?

On Thursday, February 12, 2004 I turned 47. (I see you doing the math, there.) My Beloved and I were in Fresno, CA visiting my mother. During the news that night we saw the funniest thing; a beautiful couple of elderly women had been legally married in San Francisco. How quixotic I thought. Talk about tilting at windmills.

When the marriages were still taking place two days later we looked at each other and said, "Let's do it." It was Valentine's Day after all. So we quickly packed an overnight bag with the nicest clothes we'd brought with us and took off.

A very long story later (ask me nicely and I'll tell you all about it) we'd weathered the Phelpsians, two days of waiting in lines, a nasty night outside in a raging Pacific storm, and stood on the San Francisco Courthouse steps, waving our brand new marriage certificate at a crowd of cheering strangers.

They invalidated us six months later (not even the dignity of an annulment), but we'd known the thrill of being legitimately married in one place in our country, if only for a handful of days. When our home state of Minnesota legalized Gay Marriage, followed swiftly by recognition by the Federal government, we were finally married in 2013, surrounded by our daughters and grandchildren. It a transcendental day.

But the fear of finding ourselves facing an emergency in a hostile state that would not recognize our marriage haunted us. We travel a lot, and some of the local governments of some of our favorite places would have happily added to our anxiety and grief during an emergency. I carried a photo copy of our marriage certificate with us everywhere.

Today I finally took it out of my purse. I won't need it anymore. My family is now recognized in every state in the Union, and I'm no longer at war with my own country.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Whole New Form of Literature

I am proud to announce the publication of A Man's Man, the second of my Rainbow Family novels for kids being raised in same-sex families. Except for picture books for the pre-reader, and YA novels for teens and older students, there are no (correct me if I'm wrong, but I've looked long and hard) books written about growing up with same-sex parents for middle readers. 

If you are a Rainbow parent or grandparent, this book is for your kid. If you know Rainbow parents, this book would make an excellent present for their kid. If you don't know any Rainbow parents or their kids, buy a copy and donate it to your local library. These kids deserve to see themselves represented in fiction.

After the sudden death of his mother, RJ, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader must go live with his gay father and his boyfriend Stephen. RJ longs for the days when his father was living with him and his mom, so he devises a complicated plan to change his father from gay to straight. The resulting scandal has unintended consequences, forcing RJ to come to grips with just what makes A Man's Man.

Read the first chapter here, then follow the link to buy your very own copy. 


Chapter 1 - On The Farm

It’s like this, see. My dad’s a fag, his boyfriend’s queer, and I think I might be gay. I mean, I think it’s catching or something. 

I never used to think about it back when I lived with Mom. But now she’s dead and I have no one to live with except Dad and Stephen. Everyone knows that kids raised in faggot families turn out all messed up. I figure it’s just a matter of time before I start prancing around, or my wrist goes limp, or I start speaking with a lisp. 

I tried to talk to my Dad about it once but all he said was, “RJ! Those things don’t really happen!” and then he changed the subject. I guess he doesn’t see it as a problem if I grow up to be a homo, but to me it’s a death sentence. I think I’ll have to kill myself if I start liking guys. 

Back when Mom was alive things were easier. She could talk to me about anything and I’d understand. If I didn’t understand at first, she’d take her time and talk it out with me until I did. Now I don’t understand anything. 

Damned drunk driver! How come he’s still walking around right as rain, and she’s in a box six feet under? Explain that to me. 

Mom never liked it when I swear, but now she’s not around to remind me, words slip out without my even knowing I’ve said them, mostly. She never liked it when I called Dad a fag, or queer, or homo, but that’s what he is, so what’s wrong with saying so? It’s not my fault he’s not normal. But it’ll be his fault if I’m not. 

“It’s rude,” Mom would tell me. She said I should just think of him as Dad, which I did. My faggot father. My queer dad. My homo pop. Ha, ha. 

It’s been two months since we buried Mom, and school is starting next Monday after Labor Day. I’m so not looking forward to it. As if it’s not bad enough to be known as the new kid in school, I’m also the kid who’s Mom died. And when they find out, I’ll be the new motherless boy with two dads, which is totally untrue because Stephen is not, and never will be, a father to me. But once the kids know, the damage will be done. Eighth grade is so going to suck. 

Which is totally unfair, too, because I was way popular back in my old school in San Diego. I was good at sports, I got good grades, and I had lots of friends. They’d come over to my place to play, or I’d head over to one of their apartments. It was fun. We’d play outside almost all year long, and swimming at the public pool was my favorite thing to do. 

Out here in Minnesota no one knows me, and there’s no one to hang with nearby. I live on a farm, now, of all things. Can you believe it? I left sunny, warm San Diego and now I’m stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, with only two other farms in sight. I miss the sounds of traffic in the night. I miss the sound of voices everywhere. I miss Mom’s voice.  

I’m afraid I’m forgetting it, but once in a while I think I hear her call my name. I always look around before I remember she’s dead. Dead, it’s an ugly word. I didn’t know what it meant before. It’s being alone, all the time. It’s never seeing her again, or talking to her about things that matter, and things that don’t. I’ll never hear her voice again. Never hear her call, “RJ!” in just that way.

I’m forgetting what she sounded like, and even sometimes what she looked like. When that happens, I panic. I get out my pictures, and a CD she made of stories to put me to sleep from when I was little and visited Dad in the summers. I listen to it as I look at all the pictures of Mom and me. I’ll remember her always, even if I have to look at them every single day for the rest of my life. 

Dad grows corn and milks all the cows twice a day, and Stephen cares for the rest of the stock and takes care of the house and garden. They think I’m going to do some healing or some such, just by helping out with the animals. Well I’ve got news for them. I’m not a farmer, and I’m never going to be. They can milk their own cows and feed their own chickens, and don't even start with me on the goat. As soon as I’m old enough, I’m lighting out of here. I’ve got plans, and they don’t include Minnesota. 

Being thirteen is better than being twelve, but only by a little. I’ve still got eighth grade ahead of me, before I’ll finally be in High School, where you start to grow up. Everyone still treats me like a little kid, and now that Mom’s gone there’s no one who really understands me. I feel like a desert island, and I’m the only survivor. I want her. 

She was like sunlight. I know I’m remembering her maybe better than she really was, but so what? She’s gone, and I’ll never have her again, and if I want to remember her as wonderful, what’s wrong with that? And she was like sunlight, all blond and fair. Her blue eyes were the color of a cloudless sky, and she had tiny little freckles sprinkled all over her nose and her knees, which probably no one ever noticed but me. When she smiled, the whole world smiled with her, me most of all. She could always make me feel better, no matter what the trouble. But she can’t help me with the trouble I have now, ‘cause she left me. 

I get so angry at her sometimes, I just want to hit something, or yell until I don’t have a voice anymore, or just lie down and die myself. She promised me once, when I was real little and scared by a storm or something that she’d never die. She lied. She might not have meant to die, but she did, and now I’m alone. It’s not fair, and I want to yell at her and call her a liar, and then she’ll apologize and call me Little Man like she used to, and I’d do anything to see her smile once more. 

But instead I’m imprisoned out on some cow palace in the middle of nowhere, with no kids in sight, much less any boys my age. I’m hoping to meet some guys to play sports with when school starts, but you never know. I’ve never been the new kid in school before, though I’ve seen plenty of them. Never looked like much fun to me. 

I don’t think I’ll have trouble with the school work. If I was at the top of my class in San Diego, I doubt if these country bumpkins will be able to keep up with me. The teachers better be decent.  

I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up. Mom and me, I mean I, planned it all out, and I’m going to make it happen. The first step is getting all A's on my report cards. That I’ve been doing since first grade. The second step is playing team sports, so I can earn a scholarship. This was going to be the year that Mom signed me up for every sport, starting with football in the fall. She promised she’d be at every game and every practice too. 

Yeah. Well. She lied. 

I’ve already told Dad that I want to go for sports, and he sees nothing wrong with it. Good thing, because I would have done it anyway. I mean, imagine me letting a pansy stop me from doing sports? No way. Good thing he didn’t push me on it. 

I guess I get my height from my Dad, because he seems kind of short to me. Stephen is at least a head taller, and with blond hair and blue eyes, a lot better looking, too. Dad looks like me, a homely little guy with dark brown hair and gray eyes. He’s not handsome and never will be. That’s all you can say for him, with his deep lined face and eyes all squinted up from working in the sun. But even if he is small, he’s got some pretty good muscle on him. I watched him slinging hay around in the barn one day, and later when no one was around I tried it. Boy, it was a lot heavier than it looked! 

Now Stephen, he’s just a fairy, a tinker bell, a poof. He waltzes around here like he’s dancing everywhere. I had to look, one time, to make sure his feet were still on the floor and he hadn’t started flying. He’s very excitable, and it doesn’t take much for him to raise his voice, unlike Dad who hardly speaks at all. 

I gotta hand it to Stephen, though. For a poof, he’s pretty handy to have around. Since I’ve been here he’s already done a tune up on the tractor, delivered a litter of puppies, and made a batch of strawberry preserves, which he put up in glass jars now lining the pantry shelf. Pretty tasty, too. He’s repairing a window pane I accidentally busted when practicing my throwing yesterday. He said I could help him this morning, if I want to. 

So I wander over to the front yard, and sure enough, there’s Stephen, shirtless in a pair of old overalls, wearing thick gloves and pulling the broken shards free from the window pane. He’s slender, but with his shirt off you can see he’s got some muscle. It looks strange on him. I keep expecting to see him in an apron or something. He looks up and sees me, then waves for me to come join him. I walk up closer, but keep my distance. 

“Want to hand me that hair dryer, RJ?” he asks, and since it’s close to hand, I do it. I laugh. 

“What you gonna do with that, Stephen?” I ask, all cocky. “Your inner hairdresser straining to come out?” I put my hand to my ear, pretending to hear someone. “Oh, there’s RuPaul’s Drag Race phoning.” 

He just laughs at me, and plugs the hair dryer in to a thick extension cord he’s got coming through the window from inside. Then he aims it at the window pane and turns it on. “This’ll heat up the putty,” he explains. “Soften it up so it’s easier to take out.” 

Well this I’ve got to see, so I wander on over to take a better look. Sure enough, that cracked old putty is loosening up and we start to work it with our fingers. Pretty soon we’re pulling most of it down.

“Now we scrape,” says Stephen, and picks up something that looks kind of like a really wide, flat screw driver. “This is a putty knife,” he says, and starts shoving it gently against the putty that hasn’t pulled free. It scrapes up nice and clean. 

“Now hand me some of that linseed oil, and we’ll prepare the wood for our new pane,” he says to me. I cast around looking and find a tin can on the ground with a clean rag sitting on top of it. Stephen pours some smelly oil on the rag, and begins wiping down the wood of the window pane. 

When that’s done he has me look the new pane over to decide which side is the “out” side, beveled he calls it. Then he gives me a piece of fresh putty and I roll it in my hands until it’s a little thinner than a pencil. He takes it from me and shows me how to fit it into the bare window pane. 

He takes the glass and sets it in real careful, making sure the beveled part is facing outside. Stephen hands me these pieces of metal, kind of like large staples, and tells me to wedge them into the putty every few inches, tapping them in gently with the butt of the screwdriver. Those will help hold the glass in place while it dries. Then we take a little extra putty and press it around the corners. Finally he shows me how to use the edge of the knife to wipe away the extra. When it’s all done it looks just like the other panes of glass except for the color of the wood. Stephen says it will dry for a couple of days before we paint it real carefully so it’ll match. 

“Good job, RJ,” says Stephen, but I try not to take it too much to heart. After all, what a poof thinks of you doesn’t count for much. But I tell him thanks anyway, then go sit on a big tractor tire they’ve got hanging from a tree in the front yard, missing Mom again. 

“Why don’t you go down to the lake, and see if you can catch yourself a turtle for a pet?” calls Stephen as he gathers up the stuff to put away. More of a command than a suggestion, but it sounds like as good a plan as any, so I thrust my hands deep in my jeans pockets and start walking down the road.

It’s hot, already August, and there’re millions of gnats singing in the air. They swarm around my head, and I bat at them, but it only drives them away for a minute and then they’re right back at me. I remember something Dad told me a long time ago, and I start humming with as deep a voice as I can muster. Sure enough, those gnats must not like my singing, because they float away and decide to go bedevil something else, most likely the cows. 

I can smell the manure just hanging on the hot air as I pass the holding pen outside the milking barn. Dad’s out there shoveling away what’s left from this morning’s crowd of milling cows, and he looks up and waves as I go by. I pretend not to see him, kicking up dirt clods like it was the most important thing on the Earth to accomplish. 

I don’t know why I’m so mad at him, besides the fact that he’s a queer and ruining my life, I mean. It’s not like they kept it a secret from me. After all I came here to visit for a month every summer, back in first and second grade. But he wasn’t really gay because he didn’t have a boyfriend. It was just us, then, and he was just my Dad. 

Then he wrote Mom a letter and told her about Stephen, and she decided I shouldn’t go out to visit anymore. Probably didn’t want me seeing them kissing and stuff. Not that they do that around me, but still, it would gross me out, make me hurl. So I haven’t been up here on the farm since I started third grade. I guess that’s too long, because everything seems different to me now. 

I used to enjoy feeding the chickens, but now I just want to kick them in the face. I hate the way they crowd around me, trying to get the food before I toss it to the ground. Greedy guts, that’s what they are. I told Stephen I don’t want to do it anymore, and he said that’s all right, he’s used to doing it. So good, I figure. Let him. 

I remember how big everything used to be, but I guess that was just because I was so little. It seems to me Dad looked so tall once, he could reach up and touch the sky with his bare hand, but now I just see him as short. And the corn used to taste so sweet it was almost like candy. Now it tastes like the dust covering my shoes. 

I get to the big tree sitting at the corner of the dirt path that will take me down to Silver Lake. Our land butts up to it, but it’s a lot quicker to go by this worn down path, probably first walked by Indians a thousand years ago, and maybe even cavemen thousands of years before that. 

Stepping off into the woods it’s easy to feel like I’m traveling back in time. Everything is so dark and cool beneath the heavy headed trees nodding in the summer breeze. Huge mosquitoes buzz around my ears, and I know I’ll be covered in itchy bites, but I just don’t care. In here, where no one can see me, is where I cry what tears I’ve got left. 

This morning I wait for some to come squeezing out, but there doesn’t seem to be any need, so I just stomp on down the path. When it suddenly opens onto Silver Lake I stop and stare, just like the first time I saw it all those years ago. This is the one thing that hasn’t changed. The lake is always beautiful, ringed with tall trees and grasses, about a hundred different greens. Even now, when the nights are starting to cool, the leaves are still green. In a few weeks they’ll turn red, gold, orange, all the colors of autumn. But right now, everything is its own shade of green. 

When Dad first left us, I was only four years old, too young even for school. He and Mom gave me some lie; I don’t even remember what it was now, about why he had to go to a place called Minnesota. When I asked where the mini soda was, he’d burst out laughing and crying at the same time and told me it was far away from San Diego, but that he’d visit me, and I’d visit him. I don’t think he knew he was lying about visiting me, I just don’t think he figured how much work goes into a farm, though he should have, having been raised on one. 

When Dad was married to Mom, he was a banker, and we had a big house, with a lawn and a backyard to play in. Then there was some trouble, it had something to do with him finding out he was queer. Someone else found out too, and made trouble for him at his bank. Mom always said it wasn’t fair that they fired him. Anyway, we had to move into a small apartment, and suddenly Dad wasn’t a banker anymore. He wasn’t anything at all for a while. Except sad, maybe. 

Then Grandpa died and left him the farm and that’s when he decided he didn’t want to live in a city anymore, or be married to Mom and me anymore. He divorced us, and went back to his roots. When I was young and dumb, I thought that meant the roots of his corn but I found out it meant he wanted to go back to where he grew up. So my roots are in San Diego, where I lived with Mom. 

Dad might have thought he was going back to something, but from where I stood in San Diego, it sure looked a lot like running away to me. 

I kick off my shoes and settle my hot feet in the cool water lapping up on the shore. Away off in the distance I can see a motor boat, but it’s not moving so I figure someone’s out there fishing, probably some straight dad who took the time to show his boy the manly arts. Dad and I used to go out on a rented boat to fish, before Stephen. I enjoyed it, even if we didn’t catch enough to eat. Just being out on the lake alone with Dad was enough. We don’t fish anymore. Stephen. 

I search the bank for baby turtles, but don’t find any. They’re probably almost grown by now, or waiting to start school, like me. Maybe they feel the same way about it I do, partly wanting to go just to have something to do, and also wanting not to go, because I know there’s going to be trouble. If I had a shell maybe I’d just crawl inside and wait everyone out until I was grown up and could make up my own mind about stuff. 

The coolness of the water feels good against my hot dry skin, and I think about jumping in to swim. But besides the harmless box kind you can keep for pets, there are snapping turtles in that water, and I’m a little afraid of getting chomped. Dad showed me once how they latch on to what they bite, and won’t let go, by teasing one with a broomstick. We finally had to throw the whole thing in the lake for the snapper to let go, and wait for the broom to float back to shore. The bite mark it left on the broom handle convinced me I don’t want one fastened on any part of me. No way, I’m not that stupid. 

No sense in getting myself bit. Best to stay as far away from unseen dangers as possible. You never can tell what’s out there, going bump in the night, or hiding below the surface to bite. Or driving drunk on a dark and lonely street.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


After the sudden death of his mother, RJ, a thirteen-year-old eighth grader must go live with his gay father and his boyfriend Stephen. RJ longs for the days when his father was living with him and his mom, so he devises a complicated plan to change his father from gay to straight. The resulting scandal has unintended consequences, forcing RJ to come to grips with just what makes A Man's Man.

Read an excerpt below the line.

It’s like this, see. My dad’s a fag, his boyfriend’s queer, and I think I might be gay. I mean, I think it’s catching or something.

I never used to think about it, back when I lived with Mom. But now she’s dead and I have no one to live with except Dad and Stephen. Everyone knows that kids raised in faggot families turn out all messed up. I figure it’s just a matter of time before I start prancing around, or my wrist goes limp, or I start speaking with a lisp. 

I tried to talk to my Dad about it once, but all he said was, “RJ! Those things don’t really happen!” and then he changed the subject. I guess he doesn’t see it as a problem if I grow up to be a homo, but to me it’s a death sentence. I think I’ll have to kill myself if I start liking guys. 

Back when Mom was alive, things were easier. She could talk to me about anything and I’d understand. If I didn’t understand at first, she’d take her time and talk it out with me until I did. Now I don’t understand anything. 

Damned drunk driver! How come he’s still walking around right as rain, and she’s in a box six feet under? Explain that to me. 

Mom never liked it when I swear, but now she’s not around to remind me, words slip out without my even knowing I’ve said them, mostly. She never liked it when I called Dad a fag, or queer, or homo, but that’s what he is, so what’s wrong with saying so? It’s not my fault he’s not normal. But it’ll be his fault if I’m not. 

“It’s rude,” Mom would tell me. She said I should just think of him as Dad, which I did. My faggot father. My queer dad. My homo pop. Ha, ha. 

It’s been two months since we buried Mom, and school is starting next Monday after Labor Day. I’m so not looking forward to it. As if it’s not bad enough to be known as the new kid in school, I’m also the kid who’s Mom died. And when they find out, I’ll be the new motherless boy with two dads, which is totally untrue because Stephen is not, and never will be, a father to me. But once the kids know, the damage will be done. Eighth grade is so going to suck. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Sneak Peek at A Man's Man

 I needed to expand my YA novel, A Man's Man,  to 50,000 words. So today I wrote a dream sequence for the protagonist, RJ, who is determined to turn his gay father straight by driving away his boyfriend. In honor of the novel's near release, I'm sharing the chapter with you.


To Sleep, To Dream

Sometimes I think of Mom. I talk to her picture, but it’s not the same. When I talk she never answers but once in a while I hear her speaking in my head, mostly when I’m just drifting off or beginning to wake up.

Of course, her voice is only a memory now and I’m not even sure it really is hers. Maybe I’m just pretending I remember what she sounded like. I’m glad I have that one old tape though, because without those bedtime stories I’d forget the sound of her.

The tape has just clicked off and I’m lying in bed watching the moon move across the sky through my window when I see her clear as day.

“RJ,” she says, and I recognize her voice right away. I’m flooded with happiness that she’s back, that it was all some terrible mix up, a horrible joke.

“Mom,” I shout, jumping through the window and landing on a cloud beside her. I grab her and hug her so tight she’ll never get loose. She doesn’t try to, just stands still and hugs me back. Finally, I let go of her. Then I look down and shriek. Our farm is far beneath me, a swatch of white outlined by the roads that surround it.

“No worries, Little Man. You won’t fall.” She takes my hand and we stroll through the clouds which feel oddly like the sand dunes on the beach in San Diego. We climb up to the top where the moon is shining brightly. His old face beams, just as glad to see me with my mom as I am to be with her.

“Why did you leave?” I ask her the one question I really want answered. “Why didn’t you live?”

“Well, it wasn’t my choice, baby. There are some things you cannot control,” she says conversationally, pulling me down to sit beside her on the cloud. A shooting star falls in the distance. She wraps an arm around me, hugging me close. “That’s something you will have to understand sometime, soon I hope.”

“If it had been your choice you’d have stayed, right Mom?”

She kisses my forehead, leaving a warm spot like the imprint of lipstick. “I wouldn’t part with you for anything in heaven or hell,” she reassures me. “Nothing could have split us apart short of death. I’m so sorry, RJ, so very sorry I’m not there with you now. But I left you in very good hands. Your father loves you every bit as much as I do. I’m so very glad you love him back and want him to be happy.”

I suddenly feel disloyal. “Yeah, I do Mom, but not in the same way I loved you.” I’m trying not to cry but first one tear escapes, and then another. They float off into space to become twinkling stars.

“That’s the wonder of love, Little Man. You can love more than one person with all you’ve got because your heart will always make room. You can never love too many, or too deeply. Of course,” she says using her mommy voice, “you marry only one at a time and you bring respect and trust to that union as well as love. That’s what makes a family. Like you, your dad, and Stephen.”

“You know about him?”

“Oh sure, honey. Your dad and I talked and texted back and forth every week. I always consulted him when making big decisions about you and often took his advice. If it’d been up to me, you’d have been studying music rather than playing sports to earn a scholarship.”

“That was Dad?”

“Yes it was. He needed to be part of your life even if he didn’t want to shock you with his lifestyle.  I sent him pictures of you as you grew, and he sent me photos of life here on the farm.

“When he found Stephen something changed. He’d always loved you, and me, but a part of his heart he’d always kept closed opened up. We had decided you were old enough to deal with his having a boyfriend and were going to start sending you back to the farm more often so you could meet Stephen and see how happy they are together, but then fate took a hand. I understand they’re going to get married. They must be very happy.”

I focus on the face of the moon rather than look at Mom directly. “They were,” I answer, “but I fixed that. I helped Dad see the light.” The moon in front of me dims. “He’s straight again now.”

“Oh no, I thought you wanted him to be happy?” Her voice and body fade away and I’m left sitting on a cloud all alone.

“What do you mean, Mom?” She doesn’t answer. The moon goes dark like a total eclipse, and the cloud beneath me starts to shift like drifting sand. “Mom!” I call for her as loud as I can but she’s gone. Again.

What did Mom mean when she said she thought I wanted Dad to be happy? I do want him to be happy. Happy and straight. No one who is gay can be happy. She must not understand, I think, and then laugh at myself because she’s nothing but dust to dust, ashes to ashes. She can’t understand, or misunderstand, anything now.

The cloud sand beneath me opens up and I start falling back to Earth. I try to scream, but suddenly my mouth seals shut. It won’t open, so I try flapping my arms like I’m a bird. I know it’s foolish but I’m desperate. And it works.

My pajama sleeves turn in to wings and I find I can soar. It’s a joyous feeling, better than Christmas or sinking the winning ball in a game, even better than getting straight A’s. I fly high, high, as high as I can go to see if I can find Mom among the clouds again.

This time the clouds feel like spider webs, sticky, light, and creepy. They clutch at my wing sleeves, slowing me down, but I shake them off and continue upward.

It’s not the moon that greets me because the sun has risen. Golden rays spread out from its surface to warm my face. When I look straight at it I’m blinded for a moment and lose control. I’m falling and my sleeve wings burn away, but a huge hand catches me in its palm. I try to follow the hand to the arm and up to the face of my rescuer, but the light is too bright. I’m blinded by its brilliance, so I focus on the hand.

Standing beside me is a boy about my age. His clothes are strange to me, a swirling cloak of many colors. He’s playing a stringed instrument I’ve never seen before and starts to sing:

“There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy,
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, This he said to me:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love, and be loved in return.”

Listening to him fills me with a feeling of safety. When he finishes, I say, “My mom used to play that song on the piano. Do you know where she is? Who are you?”

“Yes, I know where she is and she’s safe. As for who I am, I have a million names. The one I want you to use is Friend.” His eyes, dark with understanding, gaze into mine.

“How did I get here? How will I get home?” I ask him.

“You came here searching for something. You’ll go home when you find it.”

I think that over and say, “Sounds like a lot of books and movies, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, A Wrinkle in Time. Can’t you give me a bigger hint than that?”

His face lights up with mischief. “Ultimately we all search for the truth.”

“But that’s as vague as the first hint.” He shrugs. “Listen, Friend,” I try, “how about if I ask questions? Will you answer them?”

Suddenly he’s standing in front of a large and colorful game board. On it are ten spaces leading from the first one, marked Confusion, to the last one, labeled Understanding. Above it hangs a flashing sign that reads: WHAT AM I SEARCHING FOR? A marker with my face on it stands smack in the middle of Confusion, ready to go.

I’m standing behind a contestant’s pulpit with bright lights in my eyes, and somewhere behind them is an unseen audience applauding. They quiet down and Friend says to them, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the game of…”

 He pauses and the audience shouts back, “…What Am I Searching For?”

His teeth gleam white in the spotlights. “That’s right. Our contestant today is RJ, age thirteen. He loves sports and academics, any competition really, but as we all know his only opponent today is himself.”

Friend turns to me. “Good luck, RJ. You may ask me any question you’d like but I’ll only answer with one word, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Partially’ so consider your questions carefully.” Among fresh applause he calls out, “So if you’re ready we’ll let the game begin.”

My first question is easy. “Am I searching for something I can touch?”

“No.” Friend moves my image one step along the path of the game board.

“Am I searching for myself?” I realize it’s a throwaway question as soon as I say it.

“Yes.” He turns around and raises his arms as if conducting an orchestra. As his hands fall the invisible audience choruses with one voice, “We all are.” My icon moves another step.

Twenty percent of the way across already. I’ve got to think of better questions. I take a moment before asking the third. “Okay, it’s not something I can touch, but it is, in some way, a search for myself. Am I searching for love?” It seems to me that’s a crazy question, but so many people online post about looking for love I think it’s worth a shot.

“Partially.” That mischievous look is back on Friend’s face. That makes me think of Jessica.
Uh, why? Where did that come from? But it does make me think of another question. “Am I searching for ability?” Like in sports, or medicine…

“Partially,” but this time as my piece moves Friend’s face darkens, and the unseen audience shifts nervously in their seats.

Question number five will take me half way across the board and I am no closer to finding out what I was searching for than I was before the game. I plan my words before I speak. “Will I be a better person when I’ve found it?”

The audience breaks into spontaneous applause, my piece jumps happily to the next spot on the board, and Friend looks relieved as he answers, “Yes.”

As the applause fades the lights dim and a team of people come flocking out of the dark. They swarm Friend blanketing him from sight and I hear him protest good-naturedly. One woman pulls herself away from the pile and looks at me standing behind my podium.  She walks over to me with a smile jumping from her lips to her eyes.

Taking a towel from a pocket she begins dabbing at my face. I realize I’ve been sweating heavily, but she pats me dry quickly and applies a little clear powder too my face. “You’re doing just fine, honey,” she says as she works. “Most of ‘em give up by this point, but you scored a big one just now.” She looks around and leans in conspiratorially. “Figure out the difference between that question and the ones before. It’ll make things clearer.”

I refresh my memory. “My last question started with ‘will I’ rather than an ‘am I’. Does that make a difference?”

She dips into another pocket and produces a glass of cold water, which she hands me. The lights come back up and she along with the other flock of people begin streaming out. But she pauses long enough to look over her shoulder and nod before disappearing with the others back into the dark.

Friend is standing in front of the game board just where I’d seen him last. He’s spruced up and looking good, his robe is cleaned and adjusted, his face patted and powdered. Even his smile seems brighter. He turns to face the unseen audience.

“Welcome back to the second half of our game. As you will remember, RJ has made it halfway across the board and has five more questions to ask to discover…” He raises one eyebrow expectantly.

“What He’s Searching For,” answers the audience on cue.

Turning back to me Friend asks, “Are you ready, Friend?”

I know he’s speaking to me, but I can’t help asking the obvious. “You told me to call you Friend and now you’re calling me Friend?”

“I call lots of people Friend, with a capital letter and without,” he says. “I’ve always found it a nice way to keep relationships peaceful. It’s hard to get mad at someone you call friend.” The audience applauds. “Now,” he says to me again, “are you ready?

When I nod my head he asks, “What is your sixth question?”

“As it’s something that will make me a better person when I find it,” I muse aloud, “involving love and ability, I think I’ll ask this: “Is it difficult to find?”

The mischievous light is back in Friend’s eyes as he says succinctly, “Yes.”

Watching my game piece move another step forward I say, “Mom always used to tell me that the hardest things to achieve are the most rewarding.”

Friend’s compassionate gaze doesn’t irritate me as so many others have. He says, “She said many wise things during her short life on Earth.”

“Is there any way I can bring her back?” I cross my fingers hoping he’ll say ‘Yes’. If there is, I’ll do anything and everything it takes.

I hear the audience’s collective sigh of disappointment. “No,” says Friend with a touch of sadness, “which you knew already but couldn’t stop yourself from asking, huh?” He knows me pretty well for meeting so short a time ago. My icon moves forward and there are only three spaces left. I have to make them count.

Which is why I’m shocked to hear myself blurt out, “Is it something I have to learn the hard way?”
“Yes,” nods Friend firmly. The game piece with my face on it moves forward on the board.

Well, now I have some clues with which to work. A difficult to find lesson I have to learn the hard way which will make me a better person, involving ability, and love. Lots of wriggle room there. I’ve got to narrow the field.

“Only two questions left,” announces Friend to the audience as he holds up two fingers. “Will RJ finally get his answer to the question...,” He waits.

“What Am I Searching For?” This time my voice alone can be heard. The audience is silent.

“Okay, RJ. What is your ninth question?” I see hope on his face and realize he’s been rooting for me all along.

“Does this have anything to do with my plan, Courageous Change?” I ask.

“YES,” Friend shouts, and again my game marker skips happily to the next space. “You’ve got one more question. Can you figure it out, RJ?” He’s nearly jumping up and down he’s so excited for me. I hear a chattering among the unseen audience. They’re pulling for me too, I can feel it.

A lesson learned the hard way involving Courageous Change. It will be difficult to find but will make me a better person. Ability and love will play a role. And suddenly I know.

“I am searching for something that will make my dad happy and straight!” I announce. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Just as Friend opens his mouth to answer a loud bell interrupts him. The huge golden hand in which this has all taken place tilts. While I slide down Friend floats up. He shouts the answer to me but the bright light of the sun shining through my bedroom window distracts me and the ringing alarm clock blocks my hearing. It’s time to get up. I have to feed the dogs, chickens, and Nanny before the school bus gets here.

As I stumble to the bathroom I hear Dad going out through the mud porch. Morning starts pretty early for a farmer working a piece of land the size of ours, and his workload has doubled. When I finish my chores and get to the kitchen for my own breakfast I find only a cold cup of coffee at his place.

I’m not stupid, I watch TV. I can see Dad is suffering from a broken heart but the afternoon talk show hosts say those eventually mend. A lost soul is a lot harder to fix. I have to stick to the plan.

Courageous Change is for the greater good and soon Dad and I will be happy, living as a straight family like everyone else.

Still, I watch Dad moping around here when he thinks I’m not looking and wonder when the happy part is going to kick in. Maybe he needs to date a woman.

I set about figuring out who that should be.