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Entries in relationship (34)

Wednesday
Feb272013

The Beginnings of Things +20

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...

Friday
Feb222013

The Ending of Things +20

This is part one of a 10,000+ word story. Part two is the next entry called The Beginnings of Things.

Some months ago I wrote about my first relationship with Melissa. As much as the 19 year old me would like to report that we rode off into the sunset together, the reality was that the mismatch between her just being a 16 year old with those fluffy pink teenage visions of romance and my emerging troubled soul began to draw us apart. Oh, you can bet I stuck around the best I could for any further carnal experience that might come. And in perusing my journals from the period there was an interesting push and pull from one week to another that charted some "progress" and then regression from that. We never really closed the deal, and it was perhaps that see-sawing action that made me impatient and frustrated even as things unraveled for us as we closed in on eight months together.

Said another way, I was a 19 year old boy who wanted to get laid. And she wasn't giving in to it.

But she was sorting it out at her own pace, aided by her mom, auntie, and her one-year-her-senior cousin Chrissy. I did try to be patient because it seemed like it took so long before Melissa appeared on the scene in mid 1992. But it wasn't that we had just met like many other kids meet at school or just hanging out in some scene. No, we went back many years before. In fact, our parents used to be in some kind of scene before I was born. In some ways, Melissa was almost like a cousin to me because she appeared periodically when it was social time for the folks. Years after that when we started dating, she'd tell me she had her eye on me since she was eight years old! Our dads eventually both worked at the same company, one helping the other into the position. That bit about the old men knowing each other eventually proved unflattering to me when Mark, Melissa's dad, knew well enough what my old man was like and used it as a pretty harsh harpoon to jab me with when finally I crossed the line with Melissa in February 1993 during the eighth month we were together. We didn't quite make it a complete eight months though.

ASB? Ballsy!

The sharpest turn downward came when as the boyfriend, I was automatically assumed to be a date for the ASB ball at her school. I guess I still phrase it that way even all this time later because I have an instinctive reaction against doing stuff like that, and I guess the fact that this all happened means that events like that are marked forever. Given the background situation of being a rather manipulative punk wrapped in a cute loverboy, it was perfectly in character to say and do some of the dumb shit that brought a close to this relationship faster than the Harlem Shake spread on YouTube this month. Even I have to admit it took a lot of gall to pronounce to Melissa that I would go—but on my terms. (I guess there are folks who don't find that surprising even today.) Of course, that's not bound to endear me to the girl with whom I was seeking still-ungained carnal knowledge. And frankly, the week or so leading up to the ball was just one really rotten time, thanks to me.

The ball was held on a Saturday night, February 20. By then I'd been an ass the previous week at a pre-Ball casual dinner with a group of friends going together. (Or maybe it was just one more couple.) The day following that was Valentine's Day and my journal reports that was kind of a mixed day. I suppose now it should be evidently a "DUH!" that Valentine's Day was so strained since only the day before was so mishandled. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day was the last date and day of general good will toward each other. The following day, maybe attempting to make right or further complicate things (the two were hard to discern then), there was a kind of a comical episode when, while at her house, she was directed by her dad to go to the yard and pick up dog shit. The job shouldn't have lasted long. But it did. And then after some time, Mark and I heard the shower running and Melissa emerged freshly showered for, um, no apparent reason. Of course, it was perfectly apparent and she wasn't into the unintentionally mocking smirks that we both had on our faces. She took immediate offense and declared if I was gonna laugh then I could just kiss off and leave. Because things were so testy I retorted that might just be a good idea since I wasn't getting anything done there. I marched out and drove off in a huff. So that day, a rather random Monday at her house on President's Day with no school, was another that cost me some points. Okay, it wasn't my finest moment. It wasn't even my worst moment, either. That was yet to come.

By the end of the week, at the last minute I skipped out on the Ball after some hemming and hawing, even as late as Thursday when I finally said I wasn't going. She was able to get a date to go along at the last minute, but probably not so well dressed as I might have been. I seem to recall that the expense of the tux was something I decided not to incur, but also that the cancellation fee was rather notable and so the financial motive backfired for me, probably as justly as anyone could say. (Interestingly, now that I actually glanced at the correspondence from the period, it was mighty nice of Marie to actually refund the ticket price to the ASB Ball. I totally forgot about that. How totallyuncalled for that was, given my handling of the matter. I believe I had to eat it on the tux rental cancellation fee.)

The night of the ball, I was having second thoughts. After a real troubled week trying to talk on the phone and this particular day being quite silent because she was running around in last minute preparations, I drove up to her friend's place some mile away from her house, where they were gathering. I got there earlier than the others and must have caused some puzzlement for the hosting family when I appeared there, unshaven and without a tux. At first they didn't know I'd cancelled out. They seemed to be confused enough that a call was made to Mark, who directed them to have me leave right then. I sat in the car for a bit, hoping for any glimpse of Melissa in her dress. She didn't appear or was parked out of view. Not long later, her friend came out and saw me and reported to her dad that I was there. He came out and told me again to leave, and if I had a problem with that, Mark would entertain my complaint.

Rebel Without A Case

So I stormed out of there in the car, driving madly in a fit of rage as if I was in some teenage flick from the 80s. It must come naturally to a teenage boy to storm away in his car, even if it's not his own car and it's just a front wheel drive Ford Escort wagon. (But it was red so that makes it edgy and daring and James Dean-approved, doesn't it?) At that point, I was a raging, sobbing, mixed up dude. For the first time ever, I was confronted with the fact that my girlfriend was in the company of another dude. Okay, he was a pretty decent dude. But he was... not me. And to tell the truth, that wasn't anything I obsessed over. After such a passive time, Melissa was actually standing up for her own good. That throws dudes off.

Still, I was not ready to let go. After some settling down at the shopping center, I went to the park that adjoins her subdivision. It was cold as you'd expect in mid February. But somehow I sat there, trying to sort out the mess I made. I had a marker with me and upon the picnic table where I sat, I wrote some long, trite screed that strung together a range of cliches I was only then beginning to understand from the inside. I suppose it isn't so bad, but given my attachment to the events and the knowledge that some of these things have been cheapened by chain letters and other meme activity, I find it almost unbearably embarrassing to read now. I'll grant that there was a kid there that night trying to make sense of stuff and grabbing at any straw that might help build a house in which to hide my head. I guess I just gave myself the present of realization that you don't know what you have till you lose it. After having scrawled that, I copied it down for myself and not too long after that sent in a copy to the radio station that Melissa and I used to listen to for the dedications we used to pass back and forth to each other, usually for monthly anniversary dates. I gave it the title, "Inspirational Graffiti." It was read over the air in a slightly redacted version and for some years to follow I had a recording that I suppose is lost to time now.

Mother Marie Gives Comfort?

Later on once the dance party was definitely at the school, I drove around the block to her place and saw that mother Marie's van was not there. I sat it out and when she drove in, I went to the door and was welcomed in. I didn't know what to expect for an angry Mark. I got that much for certain. Her dad—who most certainly was pissed—unabashedly told me so, offering that "you have a lot of balls coming around here after what you did to my daughter, two of which you're about to be fed." (He had a workingman's approach to interpersonal relations and diplomacy, you see?) He continued to lecture me for a bit on the matter of playing head games and not respecting Melissa's feelings. It was during this talk when he produced a pound of kryptonite when he said I was just like my dad. Ouch. Take the balls first, dude!

My sack was left untouched for the evening, by both father and daughter. Mark did the heavy work and left Marie to do the more nuanced work. She and I spent about an hour and a half talking in the front room. Since we already had some rapport, I was able to settle down some and listen to her. I think she would like things to work out but she seemed to realize that Melissa was already moving on. Still the talk was good because instead of the lessons coming strictly from the angst and tension of the decaying relationship, at least part of the whole experience was enlightened by Marie's considered perspective. Of course, since she was Melissa's advocate, much of what she was about to say was going to sting in one way or another. One stark observation was that she said we didn't seem to have a relationship. This was new talk. It provoked a question in me that wondered what those last seven months and more amounted to. She said we'd not really know what we wanted in a relationship until we'd probably had a few different partners. This was pretty outlandish talk at that time. What about that puppy love, radio dedication fluff about staying together for ever and ever? Man... this was turning into a crazier weekend than when we started.

Needs Gone Unmet

Reading my journal written hours after that talk I'm pretty struck with the fact I put my finger on an issue that keeps recurring and showing its ugly head over and over: the lack of a cohesive family unit with some sense of rootedness and maybe traditions that anchor one in something larger than self. At the time I admitted there wasn't much of that fundamental relationship practice but tried to save face by saying I'd done okay. The more time passes now, the less I am sure of that, especially after all the drama of the last dozen years or so that this blog chronicles so well. But there it was, dated February 21, 1993, in my own hand.

Since the ache for a girlfriend was saved up until a few months prior to my 19th birthday, Melissa was the unwitting target for loads of expectations of what a relationship would be like. At 16, there's no way she could ever amount to what I had in my head. And as my adolescence gave way to young adulthood, the nearly three year gap in age put me into another life space by default. But the stuff I was grappling with was serious stuff and she had no way to deal with it. Even now I feel I load up too much on Kelli, but in our late 30s that can be processed a whole other way than twenty years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago, Kelli, a few months younger than Melissa, was better equipped to deal with life's heaviness. More later.

There was a theme that is rooted in my neediness because of that lack of relationship I feel plagues me. Somehow I adopted a very materialistic value system about the time Melissa and I spent together. Each visit was counted and marked on my calendar. Even after we split up I somehow decided it was worth the exercise of adding it up. Worse, I thought she'd be interested and so I reported my findings. I think it was somewhere like 800 hours over about eight months. That kind of itemization of things was an odd thing meant I guess to do some good to remind me how many good times we had, but on the troubled days like in the last weeks, it ended up showing some shorter times and reflecting trouble more than joy. Because Melissa and I were already at odds about how she watched TV so much, and I felt like when I was at her place I should be worth the attention instead of the box of glass and plastic and wires. She lived ten miles away (a pretty big distance then), requiring the use of my grandfather's car, gotten by riding my bike three miles in the other direction on Fridays and then back after the weekend wrapped up on Sunday night. Doing that routine each weekend, trying to wedge as much time in with her as possible, I got protective of time together and sometimes declared time a waste if we weren't pretty much together. There were plenty of times when I had to take second place to her school marching band activities, but for the rest of the time, when, say, the TV was an issue, I got frustrated. (That too has kept on as an issue, even being the last straw that drove me out of Robin's place a few years later. I still am pretty adamant that most TV viewing is pretty dumb. But I go easier on people and their motivations for doing so. I swore off TV in 1997 and never turn one on for my own gratification. Never follow any shows, don't really worry about if I'll get the news.)

Trying to argue my point about time being a waste was not something Marie agreed with. She knew I'd been keen to not work weekends at my job at Jack In The Box so that I could be with Melissa. She thought that was misguided and that I should just work when I need to and let the relationship fall in around it. It's not that she didn't want me around, but she picked up on how the counting of time made me rather expectant of results that would not always follow. She encouraged me to just take the work and earn some money and enjoy the relationship more because of the scarcity instead of placing so many expectations on it. This was a strange, early lesson in the economics of time.

Marie and I talked for an hour and a half or so. It was kind of a bitter pill but since she was so momlike I could receive it better than if the same job was done by a friend who didn't have the longstanding relationship. She gave me a card to write some words of apology and pathetic appeals to call as soon as possible.

Marie had said Melissa was mad enough that I shouldn't expect to see her that weekend. That was scary because the week prior had been really testy trying to work things out at all over the phone. I dreaded another week passing if it was going to be like that. Rhythmic Catharsis buddy Matt lived within walking distance of Melissa's. I asked him to go over and see if he could persuade her to call me on Sunday. I called Melissa's cousin trying to accomplish the same. The day after the ball was an agonizing time, for sure. She did call by early afternoon but things weren't rosy yet. I told her about the picnic table, and suggested maybe she read it. I told her I wanted to not let all this go on for a week, so she agreed to meet the next day (Monday).

Jerry to the Rescue, Again

Needing some counsel, I decided to head down to church where that afternoon there was a meeting of the Shalom Group, a group that I helped to co-found in 1989, intended to help provide teenagers with a safe place to talk to a few trusted adults and peers. It was set aside even from the default youth group. It's interesting that I'd choose to go there that very day since I had largely been out of church life for some time by then, maybe even counting back to 1991. And certainly with such a regular schedule with Melissa, crafted to fill as much weekend time as possible, there was little time for stuff like church. These days I wish I had made more time for it; for balance; for some scheduled adult perspective before the shit hit the fan. As such, I made what I could of it and got down to church and found that the meeting was going to be sparsely attended. It got called off. As long as we were both there, I asked my pastor, Jerry, if I could have some time to talk. By that point, he already had a few years' track record of giving me some life changing perspective. Just two months before he was responsible for talking me off my ledge during my first period of suicidal ideation

We spent a good while talking outside the church building, even on a rather cool day in the winter and agreed to meet Wednesday. At that moment, it didn't seem like that would be two days too late. I can't complain though. Jerry's insight has always had a long shelf life. For that troubled Sunday, I took what I could from the exchange and went on my way. What followed doesn't exactly make sense and I'm not sure I did it right, but at the time, somehow, like these things go, it was all I could do to get out of my head for a bit.

Intermission: Wayne and Pops

I drove from the church in Pacific Beach, headed down to one of the shopping centers there and parked. Only this wasn't like the day before. I walked to the Presbyterian church across the street. I met a couple of homeless fellows. Wayne was 52, and his buddy Pops, 62. Both had been in construction and trades. If anything, I think Shelby had put me up to this, or something like it. Shelby, while sometimes fire and sometimes ice, was kind of a scout for my consciousness in the world. I think I'd heard enough tales from her and had a few conscience-tipped arrows shot into me over the few years we'd been friends by then to know that I needed to take myself from the center of the universe once in a while. So here I was. I talked to the guys for a while then offered to get them dinner (at Subway, the actual center of the universe back in that era of the early 90s). They counteroffered. The church was about to serve dinner coming up pretty soon. Their treat! Their "normal" was parking their carts in the church hall and making their way to the serving table. Of course I was the fish out of water here, dressed decently and looking pretty much ready to head to school or on a date. Sure, I felt a little weird and one comment from one of the servers sort of put me on the spot, though not in a bad way. I just stopped into to see how others live, I said.

These days, after encountering Jubilee Economics and related bodies that are sympathetic to those who don't have, or encourage those who do have to live more simply, I'm pretty surprised at how Wayne and Pops were some of the first encounters I had with that kind of worldview. They lived simply not of their own accord but it seems they had made their peace with the reality and knew how to live on about $5 a day that they could earn recycling. They were a bit less generous in their political positions, with Pops chafing at the gubmint's practice of giving out loans to foreigners to start businesses here. The whole experience put a face on homelessness that I would not have had. It was petty of me to say I had to go because it was cold, but they knew well enough what I was talking about after a couple hours of talk and dinner. On parting, I realized I had a pretty good blanket that might help them out and donated that. All in all the experience was something that I sometimes revisit. For that day, it did prove to be a worthwhile diversion from the woe-is-me party I threw myself. It sort of had the effect of making me more ready to hear the news about to come the next day.

I headed back to my grandparents' place and attempted to keep up with my piano class homework for a bit.

Somebody Has a Case of the Mondays

Monday deservedly is much maligned. But not every Monday is so heavy as this one was. I started it though with new resolve to work weekends if that was called for. Okay, it might mess with Melissa time but that was now something to put on the back burner. I drove to Mira Mesa where she lived and dropped in at the Subway that was one of the remaining stores belonging to Chuck Perrecone after he sold the one where I worked about a year before. He and I were on good terms so I paid him a visit and inquired about work opportunities. I'd already been at Jack In The Box but at the moment was about 2/3 of the way through an indefinite layoff from that job since the whole corporation was in major damage control mode following the e.coli outbreak in January. Not knowing when that would end, and having been given the freedom to live a life I didn't really want to live, I thought it was worth asking. Chuck didn't have anything but it was good to see him again.

I got to her house at 3 pm after she got home from school and collected herself. The terrible uncertainty of the day let me really only say that I'd like to leave here on better terms than last Monday (dogshit day). She didn't think that was possible. She retreated to another room. I had my sandwich with me and was munching away, finished, and joined her. She gave me two pieces of paper, each with a poem. One was from her. Another from her ASB ball friend. She sat down and looked away as I read them and began to start feeling the poison arrows working their magic. She'd made up her mind. We were done.

It was one of those times when you think you're in a bad dream. Can this be happening? I can't believe it's her doing this. It was surreal, for sure. It wasn't of much use to sit on the couch and ask her to sit next to me. Those days were history now even if that was just last week. Suggesting we go outside, she accepted but we just stood in the yard with that awkward inability to look into each others' eyes, and for the moments when we did, the flashes of pain and confusion just singed the soul. I couldn't believe she really called it herself. I mean, sure I'd pushed a lot of buttons, but after so long a time knowing how passive she tended to be, this was out of character, especially given all the fluffy talk of the early days, professing undying love forever. But of course, she had many people in her corner who helped her clarify what was going on. I think I entered the denial and bargaining phase in one swift movement, making some plea to try having a nice long talk to hash everything out and maybe involving a mediating party. She wasn't too worried about the dance debacle. That was past now. Then I started hearing a familiar phrase from two days before.

The echo of Marie's talk was ringing in Melissa's talk. The matter of being in a steady relationship that was too steady had to be dealt with. The litany of things that our time together was blocking from happening normatively was offered. Too little time with friends. Too little time keeping at piano practice. Faltering grades. Even the TV wasn't being watched as much as she would have. It seems like she'd been thinking about it for a while but was afraid of making waves. Finally the dance proved to be the breaking point. She did say she didn't want to come to the decision but felt she had to.

The attempts to win her back fell flat. Funny, it was really her who initiated the whole relationship by calling me sometime in early 1991 and telling me she'd rummaged through her folks' address book and found my number. She made attempts to pursue me for over a year before I finally awoke one day from a dream of her and resolved to call her and ask her out in late June 1992. Of course she jumped at the chance. Her outer appearance on that first day belied the inner cartwheels she reported once she got her senses back. And almost immediately, we were off and running. The excitement was paused by my already-planned trip to Germany, but she didn't let that stop her from writing inordinate amounts of mail while I was there. I wrote back, and upon return we basically started the relationship off at about our second month "together." While puppy love seemed foreign to me, I bought into it and by the end was perhaps more into it than she was, yet as I said, the mismatch between my growing existential issues and their ripples out into the rest of life and her feeling of overwhelm was starting to make things difficult. I always had a knack for trying to unpack matters of relationship and the inner life, and she was almost unable to access that for the whole time. It might have been too ambitious for our age. Or maybe she was living in fear of her dad. And some people just don't even go there. But at any rate, it was always my modus opperandi to egg her on to get out of that box. Then she did.

She went inside and retreated to her room to talk to her mom. I sat around for some ten minutes before I thought it time to leave. I wanted to ask for a few things. First, I just wanted to collect stuff that was mine that she'd not need anymore. Maybe a bit of clothing or stuff like that. The second was coming from still not wanting to let go. Could we go out to the car and do one more of those prolonged farewells that we always did? Coincidentally the car was parked in the same spot as the day we started off in June the year before. Third, I wanted to ask for a hug and a kiss.

I read the poems again, still kind of in shock. I didn't like them any better the second time. I wrote a note, operating out of a fierce denial and willful cluelessness about what her words meant that day. It read, "When you want me back, you know the number. I love you..." Then I posted it where she'd be sure to see it. On the TV. 

I made my way down to her bedroom where she and her mom were. They let me in. Once again, for an hour and a half, Marie helped us navigate the troubled waters. Since Marie was already so versed in Melissa's thoughts, most of the time it was Marie and I talking, with her interpreting for Melissa, probably too choked to speak. Yeah, the new era was upon us. We'd have to settle on being friends unless some great unknown hand of fate moved us close to one another at some indeterminate time. Basically, don't hold your breath, kid. I put in my two cents about how and why things played the way they did in the last week, but that was neither here nor there now. At least Marie was there to soften the blow and help make the whole thing a learning experience with a dose of tenderness, looking out for her daughter, yes, but also knowing I needed a softer landing too. I've always appreciated the way she handled things.

Freedom Isn't Free...of Hurt

So there it was. The end of that era. By then, it was about 5:30 and there was a weeknight curfew of 6 pm. Okay, I didn't have to wait that extra week or struggle to work things out over the phone. I was free. It's not what I had in mind.

We went back out to the front room. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky. Clouds were spotty but the sun that did peek through was golden and shimmering. It was cold outside. The emotional situation made it cold inside too. Looking at Melissa then, knowing that there was an invisbile boundary fence around her, was surreal. In some ways, she was now back to that girl who used to appear now and then at picnics and bay days or just hanging out at the house. But she couldn't be that. Even that girl had an eye trained on me and that didn't apply anymore. Okay, she wasn't a girlfriend now. Nor a cousin figure. I guess for a bit, with a new hands-off policy enacted but with some feeling of love for her, she was now almost sister like. (I don't want to make too much of that because in a little over a year, we had a little fling that blew that out of the water.) If I didn't know what to make of our new relationship then, I'd have the time to think about it. The seven months and 24 days were over. I did ask her for a big hug to send us off. She obliged. She even let me give a few pecks on the cheek and forehead. Even a moment of rubbing noses. A few more hugs and tears. Then off into that scary world of the unknown. It was 6 pm.

Things unraveled pretty fast but the roots of the matter went back for some time. She wrote a letter on February 15, one week and a day before this final Monday. It was a mix of calling me on things that she finally knew she'd have to put her foot down about, and a bunch of the familar puppy love statements. She mailed it on the 17th and I presume it arrived on the 18th—the day I gave my final no to the ASB Ball. The letter was gentle but firm. Confused but optimistic. She hadn't yet really closed the deal. She still fretted over things getting worse. It's interesting how those moments of confusion really snowball. I guess my Saturday night appearance pushed things over. But it was clear she was chafing at my Ed-isms like TV, doing stuff I wanted to do, etc.

And that's the tale about a girl three years my junior who I happened to know from childhood. Wait until the next installment when you can read about another girl three years my junior who I happened to know since childhood. Yup. Kelli. It's the greatest story ever told, man...

Friday
Jun292012

So Ed, Didja Pork Her? +20

The Mysterious Matthew

...So said Matt Zuniga on the day when I admitted to having gone out with a girl. It was the first such instance in the seven months or so that we had been hanging out as co-workers and frustrated, exiled drummer wannabes. But really, it was more the first time in my nearly 19 years that I had gone out with a girl, with any hope of it turning into anything of a relationship.

Matt had a very unfiltered manner of speech. By the time I met him, he was already 20 and I was a newly minted 18 year old. He came on like a total character. Since I never saw him as a younger fellow who might have been tempered by the presence of his folks, he came out of nowhere and blindsided me with some of his outrageous comments and behavior. I think I've told some of those stories on this journal, and you might do a search for Matt Zuniga if your curiosity is so perverse.

Slippery Shelby

Being a pretty uptight kid myself, and being hopelessly optimistic about my um, prospects with Shelby Duncan starting on December 18th, 1988, I didn't really look long at other girls. She too exploded on the scene for me that evening and by the time of this date in 1992, the essential parts of our 12-year drama were written, rehearsed, and nearly mastered. We were never an item; rather she kept me at some distance and we never did so much as a kiss. That is, outside of my imagination. But make no mistake, I was as committed to her as anything, particularly during the period shortly after our graduation from high school in 1991. (She was at Mission Bay and I was at Madison. We were also peers separated by just nine days in October—me on the 12th and her on the inverse of those numbers, the 21st, so that lent some poetic air of closeness too, possibly in lieu of the real important stuff.)

Melissa, the Patient One

In the background, there was Melissa. She's the daughter of Mark, a younger friend of my old man's from the days before either Melissa or I were born. Mark and my old man worked in the same factory at Solar Turbines and the social times carried on for some years. They used to live in Clairemont and I do recall faintly some times when we were at their house. They moved to the suburban tract of Mira Mesa in 1984. At the time that was on the fringe of civilization, or so it seemed. Melissa, about two and a half years my junior, was a play pal on some occasions when our dads got together to kill time, nothing more. Because Mira Mesa, just nine miles away, but about a world away to those of us growing up in our little suburban zones, was so far out, I basically forgot about Melissa for years.

Then sometime in early 1991 she called me at home, apparently having raided her folks' address book (that piece of technology preceded such items as we now take for granted, like smart phones and iPads. It was made of paper.) I guess that as a 14 year old, she was just curious and excited when she recalled I was a sometimes playmate. At the time, I was about to play a talent show at school and I might have mentioned it. She might have come down. At any rate, she did manage to notify me of a time when her grandmother, a singer in the Sweet Adelines (a barbershop style singing group for women) was to be singing at some flag waving rah-rah fest at the school football field not long after the first Gulf War came to a close. It was one of those times when she wanted to sneak around the back side of the bungalow where no one was looking. I don't know if she really had an agenda. She was way too young and even a year or two later did not seem ready to act on that kind of impulse. But it was clear she wanted to get closer somehow. And that kind of weirded me out.

First off, there really wasn't anyone but Shelby on my mind at that time, and nothing was going to pry me away. Shelby was a contemporary of mine and a far deeper personality that even I was intimidated by. She was also impossible to get close to, even at half the distance of Melissa's place in Mira Mesa. I can't say I ran from this attention but I brushed it off as a little misguided. I guess she dropped it. I don't recall hearing from her for over a year.

The Dream

And then, one Sunday morning at the end of June 1992, I awoke to a thunderous earthquake timed in such a way as to interact with a rather stirring dream of Melissa beckoning me to join her. It was one of those odd dreams when external stimuli (the earthquake) gets integrated into the dream. I shot up bolt upright. It was something of a revelation. At the age of 18, not having closed any deals with the opposite sex—and really, not even dating, it must have been rumbling in the subconscious that something had to change. Was this some kind of advertisement for Melissa being easy? Or was it some message that I need to stop with the Shelby illusion, er, delusion? That day I had to think on what it meant. I guess there was just one thing to do since the message did not seem to leave me to my own devices. I called Melissa. I offered to pick her up and go to the University Town Center mall, a place about equidistant from both our places. I'd pick her up around 11 the next day. I gather she did some kind of happy dance finally.

Was I just acting because this was all available to me? Was I really interested in her? Was I just curious? Yeah, probably all that. Melissa was a slightly rounded girl-next-door type who was into all the girly stuff. She was into fantasy fluff. Endless Disney movies. Radio dedications on the soft rock station. Who knows. Aside from being B students with dads who worked in the same company, I don't feel there was all that much glue between us. Sometimes you have to just leap into the river and see where it takes you.

I had to ride my bike to my grandparents' place about three miles in the other direction so that I could borrow my grandfather's Ford Escort. Their cars were somewhat available, but because I had a car accident at the close of the first month after I got my license, they were a bit shy of letting me drive too much. Well, that was nearly two years before and the caution had faded. Good luck for me because I had a date with destiny. 

That week I had some interesting gastronomic issues. My journal is put away nice and good at the moment but it caused me some distress. Eating was not all that rewarding. So I went up to Melissa's place to pick her up, feeling queasy. Or was it just the anticipation for the experience about to unfold? We drove to UTC, about halfway back to my house, and I suppose we strolled the place, ducking in and out of shops like people are programmed to do. I do recall we got to Sears (the one errand I had to make so I could get some new ribbons for my word processing typewriter that was recently worked hard with the production of my first fanzine, the Rhythmic Catharsette.) We were looking about and in some rather unfortunate coincidence, she twirled around with her purse just as some kid went whizzing by. Her arm and purse put a pretty quick halt to his running around. She was profusely embarrassed and apologetic, no doubt because she was putting on her best face for the day, no doubt a long time in the making.

At some point we got to the food court and set about having lunch. Was it a gyro sandwich? A hot dog on a stick? A slice of pizza? Taco Hell? Probably a gyro since that was where I first learned to enjoy the spiced meat and fluffy pita and veggies and creamy tzatziki sauce. We were sitting across the table from one another, chatting the small talk. It was never very deep with Melissa. I mean, she was 16 at that time and still very much under the sway of her father, a rather stern guy who could be loving, but always in control. I suppose he let her go out with me because of our history and he felt he could keep me accountable somehow. But then in a moment, somewhere as we're finding our eyes locking up more, I reached out and grabbed her hands and spent a good while holding them. It was electric. I don't know that it was because I was enthralled with this one girl. It was just one of those threshold moments that would have to happen sooner or later. But it was happening now. It was happening at last. Of course, she was receptive to it all, and I guess the world did get all soft and blurry and slow motion around us. The moment did seem to distort time for a while.

Boys Might Be Boys

I never really obsessed about being in any competition with guy friends about who'd get with a girl first. I never really was part of a crew where that was talked about much. Not until I met Matt, and even then it was more of a one sided thing where he regaled me with his tall tales. I was too uptight to engage in that, even as a matter of fiction. Still am, I guess. But after high school sent me on my way, and after one year taking my community college courses, and having spent time at Subway for about eight months, the sense that time was forgetting that I might need some companionship was upon me. I mean, here I was, nearly 19 and nothing but a few casual times out with a girl or two during high school (that led no where else) was all I had to show for anything of a love life. I was quite aware of it all. That year after high school was one of great alienation. A loss of the barely existent social life I had in school was acute; the distance between me and Shelby (who was by then in Northern California attending school, hosted by her step dad) and Steve Rau (back at home in Germany, where I was set to visit in just about two weeks from this first day with Melissa) was all too much at times. Having Matt around was small comfort. We had no history. He was not even nice to me sometimes. He was so contrary to my sensibilities that I was sort of embarrassed to be seen with him but glad that we spent any time together, else it would be a pretty desolate existence. 

One thing that would have been on my mind that season was the insane anticipation leading up to my trip toe Europe on July 14th. It was to be my second trip, and this time around, it was the trip that was by far my own initiative. It drove me to slave away at Subway, and to put up with Matt. In fact, it was one of those things that could well have been the end of all history. I had no plans of what to do upon my return except the vague knowledge that I'd start another school semester, look for work, and go out and play drums with Matt. My trip to Germany was so big a deal that I could have died after that. (I'll have to tell that story in another entry soon.)

Maybe my gray void following the trip was something recognized by the universal powers that be and maybe I was rewarded with Melissa's arrival on the scene. Telling her about plans to fly on the 14th elicited a plea to not go. Ah... the drama mounts. My heart began to know conflicting desires. But really it was a no brainer. I had already paid for my trip. I had spent a year in agonizing anticipation, hurting at all the experiences on the path to Germany. Sorry, but no girl was going to talk me out of it. The ball was already in play. Melissa's arrival on my scene did of course create a cause to become homesick where for that dark year, all I wanted was to escape San Diego and to get on my big adventure, my first solo trip—to Germany! Of course, it was more important to connect with Steve Rau, who had become perhaps my best friend to that date, doubly notable because he was male. The six weeks that we could spend together on untold adventures had all the gravitational pull of Jupiter.

Eventually our little moment at the food court returned us to real time with crisp colors. But walking out of there, hand in hand, and with a heart racing, was surreal. Driving back in the Ford Escort, it was a good thing I did not have to drive stick, or else the hand holding would have to come to an end. I don't recall if the first day at the mall ended in what became one of our signature half hour goodbyes out by the car in front of her house, but that was soon enough to come. After I left, I went home, no doubt buzzing with adrenaline and hormones. I had a date with Matt and Shelby that evening.

Dangerous Mixing of the Elements

The day before, I took a small drumset out to a commercial area in town called Kearny Mesa. Light industry, warehouses, offices, and all that. I was making early explorations into finding a place to play drums. This building, the Volt building, was the first that held promise and set the standard for places we'd use for a couple years to come. Slightly hidden area to play; AC power outlets for plugging in music to play to; hidden from weather, and unoccupied at nights and weekends. Having found it to my liking on Sunday, I told Matt we should go there together and do some Rhythmic Catharsis jamming on Monday the 29th. I may have only mentioned to him—sheepishly so—that I was about to go out with Melissa.

It was the news of the day when Matt and Shelby and I convened on this Volt building, and before or during some break, in the long daylight of the post-solstice summer days, we were eating some of Shelby's weird vegetarian concoctions and I was expected to give a debrief on the day's events. Matt, ever Matt, decided that my coy answers were not cutting it. How could I kiss and tell anything when we'd not even kissed?  So Matt just barged in with the question, "So Ed, didja PORK her?"

Uhhh...

That might have been a bold enough question in the company of each other at work or playing drums together, but man...that was a loaded question for me, especially in front of Shelby. I mean, Melissa was just a diversion from my longing for Shelby. And I had not even had my desired experiences with Shelby yet. (Nor was I ever to have them.) Part of me wanted to run from the question. Part of me wanted to smack Matt pretty good. So I gave the only answer I could give: an embarrassed and squeamish "NOOOO." I guess now was not the time to bring up that I was saving myself for Shelby. Meanwhile, Shelby, who never wanted anything of the sort with me, probably saw this as the golden opportunity to offload me onto someone else. I'm pretty sure she encouraged me that way, asking the kinds of questions that would cause me to hear my own voice speaking words of praise and fondness for Melissa, even protecting her dignity in my response to Matt's stunning question. It was almost a trap.

Shelby stayed a while, pretending some interest in what Matt and I played on drums and screamed at the tops of our lungs. Then she left. At least it was guy time again. Time to smack the drums with a newfound energy and passion. Aside from the obvious drama of the day, it was also one of the last times I was to play drums before leaving on my trip and I was channeling that energy. But the thought started to dawn on me that day: there might be a life after Germany after all.

There will be more tales from that summer. Melissa certainly held down the fort in terms of correspondence. I don't know if it's of any value to me anymore but I still have a box of letters she sent me, and a journal she wrote during my trip. I guess I can't complain about having an utterly unambiguous awareness that someone was thinking of me, wanted me, and couldn't sleep at night while I was gone. Coming out of the depressing and alienating year preceding our new time together, that was like fresh air and sunshine in my dark cave. These days I can barely stand to look at the words within (out of some kind of embarrassment that someone's looking over my shoulder, even Matt), or even how they're presented to me in the pen of a 16 year old girl, but there's something so remarkably pure and innocent and renewing in the message. I suppose I could do as I have done with a number of other documents and artifacts of my life, that is to burn it all. The day might come. But maybe in the overall record that has many troubled parts to it, I deserve to maintain some counterbalancing evidence that I was worthy of someone's devotion, particularly at that age, and even if I didn't pork her.

You gotta start somewhere.

Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed as I embark upon some attempt to put down some thoughts on so many anniversary dates that are rolling around and evoking memories of 5-, 10-, and more such yearly intervals. One I'd be remiss to not reflect upon is my return to church life this time ten years ago. After a decade or so of nearly perfect non-attendance, all that reversed itself in the same weeks as it became apparent Kelli and I were finding ourselves a couple. It was a magical time, whether or not I believed in the magic in which I was immersed.

Continuing from the posts preceding this, after the New Year's events that brought Kelli and I into a relationship, it was barely a week into all that when I decided to head to church with her, and to show my face at a worship service for the first time since I don't know when. That is, if you exclude my quite regular attendance at Christmas, a service that I recall making an attempt to get to even during that otherwise distant period. Aside from that, for those years I just don't think I got to church except for attending my grandmother's memorial in June of 2001.

You see, for a long time I used to tell myself that there was no church but CCCPB, where I was essentially born and raised, and where I had some good experiences during my teen years. It would be wrong to characterize myself as a nice church boy, except maybe in my teen years, especially during a bright spell in 1988-1990. That my grandmother Virginia was a founding member might carry some weight, but I wasn't making such a claim because of that. I had a few other church experiences and never liked them much. I got in trouble or was just a distraction at other churches that the old man and Eda took me to in the late 70s/early 80s as Eda in particular was feeling a call in life to get some religion and therefore was experimenting with all sorts of stuff. CCCPB was at least a place I was linked to in a deep enough way to feel it was somewhat an extension of the family. Not so at a scattered bunch of other churches and services at whatever other congregations—Church of Christ, megachurch stuff, other things that now give me the creeps in their conservative and other aspects that can be offputting if you don't totally buy into it all. Usually, all the roads led back to CCCPB.

High School Era

In other journals I've told of my pastor Jerry Lawritson, who, even by the time I'd entered high school had turned my life around for the better. He and his associate pastor Judy Slaughter were my best advocates for me during my teens, particularly when I was there in church, affording them a chance to play such roles in my life. They both arrived on the scene in 1985-86 and so were among the first adults I trusted in those middle and high school years. My motives for getting to church were rather flimsy for a while. I was never a believer. While my grandmother Virginia was molding me to be pious, I never really subscribed to miracles and resurrection and all that. It was all fantasy stuff because, as these things go, it's not true until you live it. My cynical streak was already alive and well. For various reasons I went to church, but not to really get with God. Maybe I went to the summer vacation bible school for a week, but was fickle about going at other times. Maybe there was a special gathering, or maybe I just felt like going one week and not the other. I was a regular at summer picnics on the bay every Wednesday, but I tended to talk to adults and try to get into their world. I wasn't too deeply into my peer group; I didn't go to school with them for geographical reasons. Even at CCCPB I got into some trouble, being rather careless and a bit of a go-it-alone soul. But it was the church that persisted for me, and with Jerry and Judy's advocacy and their creation of cirriculum to support people of my age (most specifically the Shalom Group), I was shaped into something better than I started with. Despite her general agnostic and often antagonistic manner, I met Shelby Duncan in the midst of this period. I can't lie that in the very end of 1988 and for several weeks into 1989, my main motivation to get to church was to be around her. In those early days, seeing her on Christmas Day in 1988, or for a few weeks afterward was as much an encounter as I ever had with an angel, or as much as I knew about salvation. Of course, as loyal TAPKAE.com readers know, that all changed!

And then in August 1990, some young girl named Kelli came to the church with her mom Kay and started in on all sorts of church life like they had been there all along. Kelli was only 14 then but had an old soul to her, and even though she had been gone for seven years in Florida, she knew people at church from before that when she and mama Kay were there in Kelli's earliest years. Kay reported that she was my Sunday school teacher back then. I didn't remember such a thing, but they both joined in on the church life and since Kelli was not particularly part of the familiar faces in the youth group, I took to her a bit more, and with less prejudice. She had an outgoing manner about her, and was pretty intense for that age. And she was willing to talk to me after I professed a love for Jethro Tull—something so notable it was worthy of telling at our wedding as part of the back story. Our church musical cliques were pretty much divided along the lines of the two major radio stations playing classic cock rock or alternative rock. KGB played the former and 91X the latter. It seemed never the twain would meet. Most of the church kids were listening to 91X and could be found gathering around the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrisey, et al. When Kelli arrived and was talking about Bob Dylan, CSNY, and other old acts, I felt safe to talk Tull with her. During our time in the Shalom Group (a covenantal, highly personal small group mostly comprised of high school age group with some adults including Jerry and Judy), Kelli and I got to know each other at some level. It paved the way for our later conversations outside of church during the dark and silent years during the 90s.

I had an intense spell of church life from late June 1989 and into early 1991. I took part in all the activities I could, given my school schedule and age. I was consulted during the summer of 1989 about what I thought could be done for those of us in high school. Those ideas helped shape the Shalom Group. I went to Jerry's class on Martin Buber and pretended to understand it. More than anything it was a chance to be among seemingly responsible adults who egged me on in positive ways. I was the first 16 year old deacon, probably because of some shared effort to help me move toward a place of responsibility and investment in the community. The Deacons there are the body that take responsibility for the spiritual care there, usually visiting people and making calls and otherwise supplying the spiritual needs of the congregation. I was honored and took on the role but left the board after about eight months when I returned to school for my senior year, but also as I was facing my first experience with depression and the confusion that goes with that. The Shalom Group was founded to aid in navigating the Scylla and Charibdys of that age, and in there I would have opened up in the way I thought I could, as did the others. Maybe I sold myself short, but compared to others' stories, I felt like I was living a tame life, so maybe I missed the chance to really let the group do its magic. My mounting depression during the summer of 1990 was something that went under-reported. So it was years later in 2003 when I smiled my way through painful weeks, trying to look the part of being well adjusted and happy while at church. Church is supposed to make people happy, isn't it?

In the earlier days, I never much liked being in church worship service. Being a teen, we had our Sunday school group prior to the service, so we were in the sanctuary with the rest of the folks. But we usually sat in our little row, together. I was sort of in the null space between two worlds for much of that time. I neither identified with my peers (I fancied them more hip than I) nor did I really understand the nature of the worship service. Jerry's sermons would challenge people three times my age and more, so I was doomed as a teen. What did I know about his favorite topics and personalities? I was far, far, from learning anything about (and certainly absorbing) Wiesel, Heschel, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Buber, Einstein, and others who for him embodied the resisting power of the gospel in that century. All along, Jerry was pointing the way at a cross section of figures who brought a human image into the most inhumane circumstances of the 19th/20th centuries. His sermons were unabashedly challenging. Still are. I knew he was different. But I didn't appreciate that from his sermons, or his special event lectures he'd do once a year. I sort of tolerated being in worship but I loved being a student at his side. I'd be seen to lurk near him to sort of absorb whatever I could of what he said, or more selfishly, any praise he'd heap upon me. In some ways he was father like to me in ways my old man never could be, and as my 2003 experience at Halcyon showed, to accomplish that, he had to put my old man in his place directly sometimes. Jerry went to bat for me a lot of times. I never forgot that.

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

In early 1991 though I was fading. I was quite enjoying my senior year at school. In fact, it was the only year I actually enjoyed. So I dared to live in that world instead of church. I was getting to know my German classmate Stephan Rau. Despite going to Madison, he lived some miles away, and so during that 1990-91 period, our best shot at spending time together outside of school was over the weekends. In early 1991, feeling a call to some new adventure and feeling like time was a-wastin', I opted for hanging out with him for much of the remainder of the school year. The resulting distance from church got a little testy for me. I started to see it more objectively after that intense year and a half period and got more touchy and contrarian at anything on the weeks I did visit, even when I didn't need to be. But after graduation Steve left and it was back to regular life during the summer. Upon my return to school, this time at Mesa College, I found myself relenting and falling back into church life somewhat. It never felt so important to me as it did in 11th grade but I soldiered on for a while. Eventually I let my work life at Subway get in the way. The late Saturday nights and the early Sunday mornings clashed long enough to break down whatever drive I did have to participate in church life. In March 1992, Judy had a party upon her departure to serve another church and after that, it was never the same and I didn't make it a priority to get to church. I do recall meeting with Jerry in the period surrounding the Subway crisis in the spring, seeking some counsel. Starting up a relationship with Melissa in the middle of that year, and getting to Europe for the summer was more stuff to keep me at a distance. Finally, I don't think I had anything going on at church after early 1993. But the future was laid out for me when, during the breakup phase with Melissa, I called upon Jerry for some perspective, and around the same time I was talking to Kelli like we were old friends even by then. Church life was done.

Time off for Bad Behavior

The intervening years were dotted with Kelli encounters that sometimes kept me in touch with what was going on. I was rather stunned to hear a couple of key families—Calabrese and Prince—had both divorced during the 90s. Both were key parts of what made church seem thriving for so long. Kids from each family were Kelli's best friends and our peers in Shalom. One friend got into some trouble with some cult. Daniel was selling drugs and eventually was murdered in 2001. (I had told Kelli about a chance run in with him as I was selling my CD in 1998. He paid me all I asked but I reported to her that he whipped out an astounding wad of cash to pay me my $10.) Kelli's tales were titillating. I must have told her about dark times, and she told me of hers too. Considering we weren't exactly first-call friends for daily life, we were ready to pick up and be quite available to each other after some prolonged spells. We worked on a recording in 1998-99. She was gone for a couple years to school in Oakland. I got way depressed a time or two because of girls or family life. Life happened. Even though she reported to me something about the dark side of church, I was intrigued but not dissuaded from eventually getting back there...someday.

2001

Then, as I've reported many times here, when she returned in 2001, we got closer during a period when life's challenge was mounting. Sister Chris reported molestation. Grandma Virginia died. Daniel's murder hit both Kelli and I but was particularly jarring for her; Daniel was like a brother to her in a lot of ways. September 11 happened and changed how I saw the world. I helped Kelli move house. Parties involved alcohol. Family disaster. Holidays. The pace was picking up and moving us closer together. Life's pathos was becoming more overwhelming for me, while after those couple college years at Mills, Kelli was also morphing too. Having attended Christmas service just a week before our big date on January 1, followed by a warm and inviting party afterward at Cheryl's house (one of the divorcees mentioned above), I felt like the church family was where I needed to be. (It didn't hurt to discover that the former organist, Connie, was mother of a drummer I had worked with during the dark years and had come to like: Cliff Almond.) You gotta understand that CCCPB, being a more liberal church, was a place that was inclined to like their wine. Kelli has held them to task on other occasions when that was inappropriate (around the kids at official engagements), but the adults? Oh, watch out! Anyhow, that party helped me feel comfortable again as I was reminded of a chemistry and conviviality that I was sorely lacking and was never able to find elsewhere. (As long as elsewhere was in my world of audio jobs and a social circle that basically had a 50% overlap with many of the people I worked around.) That there was some wine flowing wasn't cause for concern. It made the place more real. Being in Jerry's universe again held promise.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

So just a couple weeks after that Christmas Eve party, I went to church with Kelli. I don't recall making any big pronouncement in advance, not even to Kelli. I was testing the waters. It was a sunny day. I was welcomed. People asked how I was. They missed me. In a lot of ways it seemed like I finally reached the oasis after years of going it alone in the desert. After five years of being without a partner, and perhaps nine or ten years of being out of church, that life was getting old. And then, almost at once, both of those were reversed in almost a single gesture. After family breakdown, death, and growing existential angst, it was time for answers to come from beyond my own mind. A year after Shelby was driven from the scene, I was feeling like if I went to church, I wouldn't need to hear her agnostic and doubting voice like I did back in the early days. Seeing a return to church as some admission it was time to grow up, I was beginning to entertain how I'd contribute in my way. Of course, it concerned how I might install a sound system. But that was far off. Reconnection was the order of the day. I also felt that maybe after some time I might finally understand something about Jerry's preaching!

In those early weeks and months, Kelli and I probably were fooling no one as we both arrived around the same time, and both with equally wet hair, but for a while we were not yet able to admit that we were a couple, if we knew it ourselves! Still, there was something so right feeling, so proper about how this was unfolding. I had a feeling that I was floating above life, as if in a dream. This went on for much of 2002, it seemed. It seemed too good to be true. Yet, it wasn't that we were all romantic, doing that dating stuff that you'd do if you had just met. We had already established a rootedness from all those years of church and friendship that followed. It was definitely fate-filled. It had some kind of pre-ordained feeling about it. Life was just developing organically, it seemed.

I went to church the next week. After that, we drove down to the tidepools in Point Loma. I'd never been there. This was all new to me. It was most likely January 13th—still very much a winter day, but it was a Santa Ana day here where it is warm, sunny, and clear as the desert air is basically swept backward over to the ocean. The sun was low in the clear sky (barring only the layer of smog that settles near sea level in a brown coat during a Santa Ana). The clouds were thin and wispy. The water was exciting as it crashed the cliffs at the boundary between the terrestrial world and the world of Neptune. There was a feeling of newness. It was like I had new eyes to see the world. And it was beautiful again. Kelli might be a pretty serious student or activist or now clergy person, but don't be fooled! She has a goofy, childlike streak in her too, and frankly it's infectious. She is in touch with a joy that I remembered was that of childhood. And it was already dawning on me in those first couple weeks that the part of me that had forgotten about that kind of wonder and joy was only in a freeze. It wasn't lost forever. It was ready to come back, and as we were looking at the tidepools, it was an apophatic spiritual experience to sense that I could reconnect with that part of me that seemed so lost. That realization stifled words and demanded my presence. Maybe this is why Kelli and I almost never trade letters to each other. I did try to write letter to Kelli in the early years. It was rarely doable in the same way that one can't catch lightning in a bottle. When people sort through all my stuff, don't look for letters addressed to Kelli. So far, there are hardly a few that exist.

Fitting in: 2002-2007

Returning to church that January was the start of a nearly unbroken period of church attendance for just over five years at CCCPB. Right away I realized it was not the same place. We weren't the kids anymore. Our peers were gone and visited only when in town. A couple key families were gone, or after divorces, there was just one partner still regularly attending. A few activities from the old days remained, but it was different as everyone was ten years older and for the most part, there weren't too many new faces. The congregation was smaller by a noticable number. Sure, it wasn't going to be the same. I did meet up with a couple folks who were new and found that it was easier to relate to them as a young adult rather than as a teen. A couple of them are still guests at our house today. For all the rest of the time I stayed there until five years ago, I felt that that dynamic was at work. I felt like I was somehow in my grandmother's shadow. Or that I'd always be the teen kid there. I did make effort to contribute my time primarily. The biggest time donation was recording the audio every week, starting around Thanksgiving 2002. It kept me coming all the time, and listening. And since I found that Jerry was far more understandable now that I was an adult who was hungry, hungry, and hungry again, it was never really work to get to church to hear him and record him. I rebuilt the church website twice (that was testy because the woman who did the work before had some big insecurity issues). I aided the sound system's design and installation, and ran it for six months before it and all the other "work" drove me nuts, as I was shifting into a place where I needed to establish personal relations at church, not be doing unpaid technical and media work. But for about four and a half of the five years I was there, it was a good place for me. I never seemed to connect with it like when I was a teen, but it did give Kelli a new family to interact with together. Of course, that was highlighted at our wedding, as we tied the knot, perhaps the first couple of our sort there.

I came back to church only willing to roll with the questions. I knew the world got to be far more challenging a place in September 2001. But my world was already overwhelming. It's not like I got there and ran up to the altar and prostrated myself. No. I'm not so expressive. But returning made the way safe to plug away at the big issues. It gave me a lens for seeing things anew. I was introduced to the people and the stories that spoke to my situation. Jerry was a personal hero a few times over, but particularly during my Halcyon stay and for a couple years following that when he directly helped me get to ongoing therapy. Such was his personal commitment. During that period, instead of working according to my faulty plan of suicide, where he would be the pastor to say a few words over me before a final rest, he was the pastor who presided at my wedding not quite a year after that, and who knew in a very real way what a victory that was. All the more victorious that I'd marry a nice church girl who he'd also participated in forming at so many levels, and who he has since seen to ordination at that same altar.

Bittersweet Realizations

I used to say that CCCPB was the only church for me. Not so. It might be more right to say that it was right for me to land back there. For years I avoided any church the best I could. Most of my encounters with church were doing sound for slick, high budget megachurches or other evangelical groups that rubbed me the wrong way with their theology and smarm (and still do). I was unable to understand religion. It was all jibberish. At least I didn't let those more conservative churches provide the interpretations about all this. I held out until I was able to return to CCCPB where I could finally learn at least the academic parts in a more responsible manner with interpreters that helped bring out the messages not of condemnation but of liberation. My church at CCCPB was a community—dysfunctional as Kelli reported, and more so as I spent my time there—but one that I could relate to. And one where at least a couple people were true allies. The theology is bold and daring. It's liberating. But it isn't a warm and fuzzy place. Unfortunately, while the congregation has a liberal theology that I totally dig for myriad reasons, there isn't a framework like the Shalom Group to connect people now. I've been gone for five years, and hearing directly from Jerry that such a group would not happen there in 2006 was a deal breaker. That's when it started to feel less a fit. It coincided with the matter of how to recognize my tech/media contributions, and when I got ideas from my newfound friendship with Lee Van Ham, but if I knew there was a community life, or a close encounter group like Shalom, I might have stuck it out longer. For me, that is more important than the details of any theology. Why Jerry was led to tell me there'd be no such group is still a tragic mystery to me. Okay, he knows people at another level. But he knew what it meant to have Shalom Group before. I felt let down. And since, I've seen all sorts of other inexplicable things as I watch from a distance but otherwise know what's going on through Kelli and others. It makes me sad. And sometimes I feel like I abandoned the ship. Maybe I should have been bailing some water too? I don't know. I know I made my contribution of time and felt at the end of it wasn't sure what was accomplished. These days I watch from afar and see how the things I used to contribute are all neglected at best (the audio system is woefully underused, and the recording archive is a shadow of what I kept) and reverted at worst. (The website is dismally bad now compared to what I left behind.) I've been back for some special services, usually related to Kelli preaching or during the period surrounding her ordination. I did get back to CCCPB for Christmas a few weeks ago. The sermon was good, as ever. But the congregation was thin and just a shadow of what it was before. Still, upon going outside for a candlelight singing of Silent Night in the chilly winter air, I did get a bit of emotion as that still to me is an essential part of Christmas, and was so during the dark years. I did get a feeling of it all being good at some level. All good maybe, but not all for me.

After 2007

These days my faith walk is mainly done in the context of Mission Hills UCC, but is shaped in a big way by two other major forces: Jubilee Economics and Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Taken together, they reflect a range of concerns both practical and abstract, with areas of individual work and community life; with a chance to examine a man's place in the cosmos and in the human economy on Earth, but even more so to realize the connection between them. Justice is a thread that runs through all this. I even get to do audio and web work for JEM since that part of me seems to be a persistent and vital part of what I bring to these things. As I think of that early time ten years ago, particularly at the tidepools, it makes sense that a moment like that was a very spiritual one, and one that now I have MHUCC, JEM, and CAC to help me interpret as such, and to see how such times are what life is really all about: seeing and feeling connection at a mystical level. And moreso, each in its own way helps cultivate the soil where such encounters might take place. I didn't sense a lot of that at CCCPB. At least not within official functions and even in worship. There is a lot of good information there, but as Richard Rohr cautions, good religion is about transformation. Still, I can't slight Jerry for introducing me to figures who I have not really even begun to appreciate at a deep level: Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, King; Tillich, Wiesel, Solzhenitsyn, and several others who in Jerry's telling have made real the honest human struggles in our age. It's not that Jerry didn't teach the Bible; he showed how wonder and grace is alive in the world, even in the gulags and the concentration camps—those being the examples of the radical resistance that show the true cost of discipleship for those who would be followers of truth. (I often think he was talking over the heads of the congregation.) 

CCCPB's weak point has been that there isn't a church structure to keep people connected at the level like I now find at MHUCC. In 2006, I desperately needed that. After almost a year out of church in 2007, I needed the community of a good church, just so I could be a human again. Not a favorite son of the congregation. Not a webmaster or audio man. Just a human who was grasping at some big questions of existence. Mission Hills slowly became that for me as I warmed to that congregation. I had to get over my old idea that there was no church for me but CCCPB. In one of those God upsets that life deals to a guy like me with a cocky attitude like that, I found that CCCPB was but a stepping stone to a far richer life in a church setting. When blood family and my first church family were all things I felt I had lost, Mission Hills started me on a road to seeing it another way. It isn't perfect but there are a great many layers to it that help keep things in perspective. I've gotten to know a range of people in different contexts. I've mostly stayed clear of technical involvements. I've concentrated on relationships, which for me is where it's at. In that regard I've been both giver and receiver, both as a pew sitter/small group participant and in some capacity of leadership on the Christian Education commission and as facilitator for the young adults group. While Kelli appears at young adults gatherings, and sometimes at worship and other occasions, she is still rooted to CCCPB and causes me to shake my head at her persistence there. It's family to her. I count Mission Hills as family for me now. Even a couple weeks ago Scott preached on the family of water being stronger than the family of blood. Kelli and I live a somewhat divided church life now. But for her to let me be at MHUCC with an all new setting has been good. I've had a chance to relate to church on my own terms for the first time ever. I'm not going because it's my family's church. And I'm not going because my wife is the pastor. I'm not going for the sake of momentum, or association, or even coercion. I rather like it that way. At MHUCC people are connected. There is information but there is transformation too. It just feels right. It feels right because I am free to go there and be authentic and present far more than I felt able at CCCPB. On days when I hurt, I can say so. On days when I am happy, I might be glowing and ready to just sit down with anyone and trade stories. This is all stuff I wasn't able to do easily at CCCPB. I wasn't that person there. Or I felt like I had to be the guy who finished the recording before talking to people. And then half of them had left. 

The last decade has been quite a transformational one. I was just on the threshold of realizing things had to change back in 2002. At that time, I had no idea that Kelli felt called to ministry. I didn't know she'd go to seminary and get into ministry work, or that I'd read a few books of hers and develop my own parallel knowledge of some of the same things, or that I'd be swept up like I was. In some ways, early 2002 was a birthday. It wasn't just a 28th birthday. In some ways it was a rebirth day. And as you can see, it was just one of a chain of such times. I've had even more rebirthdays: emerging from Halcyon in September 2003 was one. Wedding day was another. Maybe even getting evicted was another, though it was agonizing and prolonged labor. And again I'd say that that devilish December 14, 2006 was one more still. They keep coming. The soul keeps having chances to be reinvented anew; to see the world with new lenses just like that day at the tidepools with Kelli. A decade ago I would have thought it jibberish if someone told me this story. How soon could my doubting Thomas side come up to challenge it all. Yet the cracks in that wall got bigger and bigger until the facade burst and collapsed with the help of a mix of personal and national tragedy, family loss, economic downturn, an old friend morphing into a bride, and the shimmering sun and waves at the tidepools that day. It isn't that God started working in my life that time ten years ago. I just was ready to admit that was the case all along. And that it was easier to fall into the river and go with it than to fight it. In actual water terms, I can't swim to save my life. Not so different in the God river, but then again, in the God river, one doesn't save one's own life.

Saturday
Jan072012

The Return of Eda +20

My old man and my step mom Eda separated on July 19, 1983. That was the first I knew of anything wrong, and by that time it was so wrong she had already left the house, in favor of staying down the street at a friend's place until other plans could be made. By that time Eda had been in my life since sometime in 1974; most of my nearly ten years on this earth. I called her mom. Even when she left in 1983 I was just over three years away from meeting my own mom for what functionally was the first time in my life. The animosity was not directly between them. I don't know of any time when they actually met. But as the story has come down to me, Eda was feeling threatened by my old man. She isn't a person of deceit nor even of exaggeration and hyperbole, and when she tells me the story, I believe her. And I've heard it a few times and every time it's the same: a threat from my old man that he'd hit her in the mouth so hard that no dentist could fix the damage. As she tells the story, she would quote my grandmother Virginia, a dear friend, who used to tell her "God got [her] out of there just in time."

Eda was 22 years older than my old man. She could have been his own mom if we are to consider age and biology alone. By the time she and my old man got together (they had known of each other for some time before), he was 29 and she was already in her early 50s; she was a menopausal woman who posed no risk for him as he no doubt felt quite upset about the fact he had a child with the "wrong" woman—my mom. Eda was not about to get pregnant, and she liked riding BMW motorcycles. She didn't own property or much of anything. She was mature but still able to enjoy some fun at travel and recreation. And she took to me well enough. Sometime in those early years for me, not knowing any differently (at least consciously speaking), I began calling Eda "mommy." She didn't want to take that for granted. I was not her own. So she reported this development and the old man went with it.

It was all rather a workable arrangement for my old man. He was in and out of jobs in their early years, but he had a house (have you heard about his house, yet? LOL!) In some ways, having greased the appropriate palms in the legal system he had me, he had his BMW-enjoying partner, and he had his house. It must have seemed like a big time in the mid 70s when they got married (Halloween 1977). Just that year he got a real job at Solar Turbines where he worked for 16 years. That was the life I knew him to lead for a lot of years. That was normal to me.

Breakup

Their breakup was rather surprising for me, but it fell into the shadows and was very much something I was sheltered from. Since I was uncontestably under his custody, there was no custody battle this time around. I slept in my bed the same as always. Whatever legal machinations that took place were behind the curtain, I just knew she was gone, and in her place I was given a little white hamster that supposedly was found on the sidewalk near the house. I called him (sorry, this is a very young 1980s suburban child's consciousness speaking) Whitey. He was an albino with beaty red eyes. Somehow this new critter was supposed to be a distraction, and maybe he was. I think I've written that my earliest days in drumming came from lessons that would be just the thing to keep my mind on things other than family matters.

a pencil written letter to the divorce judge that didn't seem to grasp the matter of divorce. I was 10 year old then.A note to the divorce judge, 1984I don't recall much emotion or drama around that time, at least not at home. I wasn't really offered the latest news nor did I seem to go in search of it. It was pretty much a cut and dried thing. Eda was just gone and I suspect I was given enough cause to believe she had left us for no real clear reason. It is hard for me to tell now that in response to her leaving, I attached to my old man in a big way. I guess I couldn't be expected to do otherwise. If there was more to it, I never knew much, and there wasn't the kind of pain and the displays thereof that you might expect from a kid. But you gotta remember, I already knew the loss of one mom. Here went one more. I wonder if I was in some kind of shutdown mode? Was this becoming something I ought to get used to?

I do recall the kids at my new school in fifth grade, with their confidence-eroding taunts that my mom left me because of something I did. Harsh. I do recall some school drama associated with that, as I do recall being in some fights that year. I also had a very cool male teacher named Clayt Wright who used to intervene for me and put those kids in their places. He seemed to understand what was at work for me and he offered some male presence both stern and compassionate.

Mostly Momless

What can be said is that Eda was gone physically from the middle of 1983 until January 6, 1992. But she wasn't totally gone from my life, thanks to a rather clandestine letter writing campaign of hers in the intervening years. I do recall some letters being handed to me from school administrators in the first couple years while I was at Longfellow elementary in 1983-85. I might have them still. I recall one Sunday in February 1986 when on one of our rather ordinary afternoons at Seaport Village on the harbor, I happened upon Eda and gleefully greeted her. It had been about two and a half years since I'd seen her. I did something maybe I shouldn't have and ran to announce her to my old man. I guess somehow I didn't realize what mixed feelings would be present. To me, it was just a matter of seeing my mom again. But the old man went over to her, banished me to one of the shops and gave her some kind of "get lost and don't talk to Ed anymore" kind of talk. After that, there were maybe two years before I got in touch with her nephew, Eddie. I always fancied him a cousin and he was happy to hear from me but somehow thought that I was tight with the old man. But I was trying to get in touch so I could do what felt I needed to do around that time of the end of the first big period of relations with my birth mother (the 1986-88 period). Reasserting that Eda was my mom was my effort to get back to "normal." Eddie somehow got me in touch with Eda once again, and during that time from about 1988-1991 my pastor Jerry allowed us to use his mailbox as a front. I have a lot of her letters from that era with the postmark and her address cut out, but they're clearly mailed to my pastor's address not too far from my own house.

Eda lived in the interior of Mexico for several years. In the time since her departure she had embraced a Baptist style fundamentalism and had lived with her son Rene in a town where she could do some ministering to alcoholics on the recovery path. When she was here during my childhood, she was not really religious but she was dabbling with more and more new age and alternative paths toward enlightenment. I'm sort of bummed she settled on what she settled on, but hey. All her letters were filled with love and a gushing heart for me. It wasn't hard for me to remember she loved me. There was a kind of warmth that emanated from her letters while she was gone and especially once I was essentially declaring relations with my own mom null and void. In fact, in my senior yearbook, I have a "senior memories" entry that openly declares (in limited characters like txt spk now) "EdaIsMyMum." Eda was indeed the one who should be there in my life. I even offered her an invitation to come to my graduation in 1991. She took it half seriously but decided it was not time yet. Not there. Not then. Not with so much chance to really mix up the event with drama. Okay.

Reunion

Easter sunday 2001 when I last saw Virginia alive. Eda and Rene were there though.Rene, Virginia, Eda, and me, Easter 2001, a week before Virginia diedI turned 18 some months after graduation and I was increasingly anxious for a chance to move beyond just writing to her. Being emancipated from my old man, at least legally speaking, I was chomping at the bit to see her again. I was still rather sure that he'd be opposed, so this was still an underground effort. My journal from February 6, 1992 indicates that I was bracing for a conflict should he find out that I'd been seeing Eda for a month up to that point.

Alright. Epiphany Day, 1992 was the day that finally brought us into the same room. Since my journals were being written and kept in the house where the old man might find them, I have to say I did myself a big disservice by being pretty vague and conciliatory. What I do recall is getting a call either at home or at my grandparents' place and being told to come down about a mile from their house to where Eda's friend Haydie lived. Haydie was a Cuban who I recalled from time before so it was like a reunion just seeing her and her daughter Amanda. I talked for a bit on the phone and then blew on down the hill on my bike to see Eda at long last. I got there in the late afternoon. It was darkening as I stayed there. We talked for some time, I guess. It was an odd experience though. Or as I said in my journal, which records the impressions I got from that first month back in contact:

Meeting with her was odd. Nine years changes us all, and somehow the change mystified me. Sometimes she was entertaining and told old stories that were still effective but other time she talks about which she is profoundly familiar but seems in a trance and glances around distractedly. I didn't speak much partly because she talked a lot, and partly because I had said so much through my letters, and she knew so much about so little that goes on in my life. She was well informed, but you aren't going to be because I'm not going any further. I don't know what direction I'll take with her from here.

Eda and me the saturday before the county was burned to the ground, 2003Eda and me the day before the 2003 wildfires in San Diego CountyThat is how it got back on track for us. In some ways, it was anticlimactic. That first week back in touch my calendar has coded marks that indicate five separate encounters. I guess that means she was staying at Haydie's place where it was rather easy to get to. I also have evidence I didn't even have to work those few weeks in early January, so I had the time to bike down and spend time, or however it went. Maybe we went out with my grandmother, or maybe Eda came up to see us at Quapaw. At any rate, that week ushered in a new era, and in some ways I got my mom back after all those years. In other ways I didn't really recognize her. All her God talk put me off a lot of the time. I'd just have to sort of zone out to get through it. But then sometimes she'd be telling earthy tales and we'd be laughing in hysterics, or wondering about life's mysteries and the weird winding paths we find ourselves on. More or less, this first week was the model for how our visits would unfold in most of the years to the present. Usually I would feel I could meet with her a handful of times each year, because each usually had this pattern and in some of the heavier years of other family drama, she'd indulge me my stories of angst which would often be met with God talk that I wasn't really interested in. After each meeting, she'd write a letter or send a card and some pictures that she invariably had taken; some posed too carefully and some rather embarrassingly candid after a meal at a restaurant. Conversations were meandering as she often made interjections and drew things in different directions or needed more backstory, etc. The times I introduced her to any girl friends (even a couple that weren't my dates, she sometimes made me rather embarrassed when she asked when we were getting married. Okay, typical mom stuff, but I was momless for a lot of years and so this was a bit stranger than if it had been an unbroken relationship.

Up Till Yesterday

This year, I have this Eda story to tell you, in addition to the story of another woman who changed the picture again for me ten years ago now: Kelli. (I just got done telling that one a few posts back.) It is interesting to note that each goes back a long way in my life. Each has been a beacon for me. These days though, Eda and I are rather unable to carry on a conversation for too long like we typically have over the years since 1992. It's been a little over two years since we were in the same place, and it has been testier. It used to be I just tolerated Eda's God talk. Heavenly Father this, God in Heaven that... But since about 2004-05, with our wedding and Kelli's professional advancement, it has gotten harder and harder to talk with Eda. Kelli and I are a bit unconventional you know. When Eda returned to the scene in 1992, she was nearly 70 years old. Now she's nearly 90. And as cousin Eddie has explained to me, she was really close to her mom, a Franco-American woman with a very Old World sensibility about roles for men and women. And if that wasn't enough, Eda has pretty much thoughtlessly adopted patriarchy's trophy bride: a narrow minded reading of Christianity. Having a wife that is educated like Kelli is a bit much; having her schooling come at the expense of "normal" marriage relations and family planning is a bit more concerning to her; being uppity enough to think that women belong in the pulpit? Now that's pushing it. But even since we met up last, Eda probably doesn't know that Kelli was ordained. It's all rather much for Eda.

Don't get me wrong. Eda is still sweet. But she doesn't have a critical mind for religion or politics and certainly Kelli and I have been keen on those things. Eda takes the right wing radio at its word. She laments the dire state of the national scene but doesn't see how her vote for a Republican ticket works to get us there and keep us there. She's into personal salvation and saving people in the standard conservative way; Kelli and I see that salvation is a social thing to work toward, working on the structural matters, and not just at the individual level. But this is all esoteric and nuanced beyond Eda's ability or willingness to grasp. And it isn't just her; the paradigm that is normal to Kelli and me is one that the more conservative churches really love to smear and disregard. But our background is firmly in the prophetic and social gospel tradition.

Similarly, in 2008 when all of California was in an uproar over Prop 8 and the "proper," so-called "biblical" family was a topic that seemed to be on everyone's lips, Eda chimed in thinking I'd be easy bait. She didn't realize I'd be on the "wrong" side of the issue. She rattled off her right wing anti-gay talking points that she adopted but that are really probably not her own. She quoted Genesis and the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bit. She did all that. I dared her to consider that I had heterosexual parents who couldn't make a marriage work and proceeded to make my life a battleground and left me on the field almost to die. I dared Eda to see that this silly notion of ideal and proper family is stupid and damaging. She hung up the phone after the discussion turned to matters of my reading the "wrong" Bible—anything but the King James Version. That day of her hanging up the phone put us in new territory altogether. I didn't talk to her for many months and even when I did come back around to tell her about how that made me feel, we ended up being at some odds. For a woman who can rattle off bible verses better than Kelli, she is like so many others: woefully unable to know what it all means. Sure, she might be able to recall Acts 2 verbatim, but she doesn't know what those words mean. And she doesn't know when her failure to know that does some hurt to someone sitting at the table with her. She can tell the story of the raging Spirit wind at Pentecost, but she isn't prepared to recognize that that raging, unbridled spirit of God might land upon her dinner guest, her son's wife, who has accepted a call to work for God and God's goals in the world. It's a shame. It's a waste of all that time reading the Bible if it doesn't open one's mind and heart. How can you read that book and come away with a smaller mind and heart? People do.

I am rather mixed of mind about how to go about talking to Eda. I did try to pay her a visit in the summer last year, to no avail. I didn't give her my present house address because I think she might have leaked the one prior to this. She tried to weasel out of coming to our wedding, and it took an emotional plea to get her to come. I have a hard time knowing if she's got my back anymore. She could say she has, but in another sentence she'd be denying Kelli's role as an ordained clergywoman. Or she'd be puzzling over our unconventional marriage roles. Who knows. I just don't feel as close to her as I once did. What I described in 1992 has become a pattern that makes it so that even when I do see her, it's for one day every several months. I have to get in the mood to do a day with Eda. It's all patterned on that kind of thing. At least until this matter with Kelli emerged a few years back. So now it's really nothing. I'm not happy with it. I'm not even happy without it.

I reviewed my last journal from when Eda and I talked in on the phone on September 27, 2009. It pretty much sums up how far things had come. Remember this is a year after the big phone hang up thing with talk about gay marriage and normal families. When this transpired, it was the final straw in the dying family chain of events after December 2006's epic time at the Calabrese Compound, and about a year later having things fall apart with mom once more. Seeing this unravel with Eda was crushing. At this point, essentially anyone once known as family to me was now such an overwhelming challenge to relate to, I had to tell myself they were all dead and gone.

Oh fuck this. I call to find out what this Willy card and email campaign is about and she tells me never to call again and that I am the one who needs help. Fuck that. I'm done with her now. She wants to talk about my not wanting to be a father because I am scared. I don't want to be a politician or a businessman or an astronaut and no one holds it against me. But as soon as I talk about not wanting to be a parent, people turn on me somehow. Call it freedom that the last of these crazy fucking people have fallen from my life.

Today

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, actually. While Kelli and I have periodically made talk about getting back in touch with Eda and chalking up her little -isms to the onset of confusion associated with her age, today was the first that we set a course for her place in La Mesa, took the dog (our other mission was a walk at the lake) and got out there to see her. Certainly on my mind was the 20 year date now upon us. She was still at the same complex but in a new apartment, now living with her son Rene and his partner Penny whom I'd never met. We spent a couple hours reconnecting after over two years. It comes back pretty naturally, but the obvious elephant in the room is the old man, so after we got through the pleasantries, we talked about him for a bit, and frankly why I've been out of that picture for five years. Apparently Eda and Co. have a bit more perspective on things from during those years, but my boundary still stands.

Time with Eda might not be all that much more. She's having problems at last with her hearing and sight, and worse, her ability to walk. As a person who never drove and always kept connected with people in person in the village a couple blocks away, that's going to be a game changer. But living with Rene and Penny will help smooth over the loss somewhat. After living alone for nearly 20 years, this is a new adventure. I want to make clear that I don't like estrangment. I don't like having to do all this divisive stuff. Eda in particular has been far better to me over the years than anyone else but maybe Virginia, and even that could be contested somewhat. So of course it was shocking to get to such a point as 2008-09. After years of her generally accepting my life and decisions but nudging a bit for the God program, those conversations were barbed and turned into black and white matters.

A mixed message I have always gotten from Eda is that she tells me not to live in the past. And yet, ever and always we've drawn a lot of material from it. Even today she had bought out a well kept photo album from my youth, and since she'd not need it anymore, with eyes clouding and all, she gave it to me. It is mostly redundant next to the other albums she made and that I've had all these years, but there were some things I'd not seen in ages. She and I had a overwhelmingly good past that was affected by other players. She and I never had drama to speak of until just a couple years ago, and that seems more like a matter related to my married life seeming quite at odds with the national right wing rhetoric than anything else. But that is the new reality. That is the present. That is what everyone says I should live in. The present includes that I am married to a "nice church girl" who happens to be qualified to preach in the pulpit. The present is that I've found my own way to relate to God and to understand Jesus and all that, but I don't obsess about it being my own salvation project. The present is that I don't want to have kids. It just happens to be the same as my past. But my conviction about it isn't the same as it once was. There are new ideas and insights grafted onto that.

Eda has always been a simple person, really. Advancing age is making her simpler still. I've had enough reunions with people not to think that one conversation puts it all right after some time away. And as she comes closer and closer to her own end, the conversations probably won't be so heavy as ones we've had. The irony is that the safe stuff to talk about is the good old days. The past. The old patterns. I might wonder aloud if she'd really want me to take her advice not to live in the past. Not doing the memory lane stuff would cut out a vast amount of conversational fodder. To discuss the present and who I am and what I stand for now would easily take us into past talk and controversial talk about my views on family, relationship, community, and more. Unless we agree only to talk about pink fluffy things, we're in a patterned relationship. I guess the irony is that in order to avoid our usual business, it helps to have Kelli in the room.

me and eda for the first time in two and a quarter years.

Sunday
Jan012012

Kelli's Grand Entrance +10

kelli in high schoolKelli in high school

As I've written on this blog before there are many ways to count my time with Kelli. Sunday school as kids? Maybe. Youth group at church, starting in 1990? Good start that we can both agree on. But this day ten years ago is a pivotal one where we essentially crossed the Rubicon into our present relationship. Prior postings have detailed the scene that led us toward this. Kelli has always been a person that I trusted in with my inner life. That part always felt safe to let out, even as she has been my crying shoulder or my venting ear over the years, telling tales of lost love, lost relations, hurt and dysfunction of one sort or another. I can't say I've done so well for her, but there has usually been some flow between us in the conversations we've had as we figured out what it was to grow up in a screwed up culture with families that weren't what we thought we were entitled to, and to be linked up with partners that didn't work out for whatever reasons. Over eleven and a half years, we were friendly in this way, even though there were sometimes rather notable periods of silence or physical distance due to life happening. But when that broke, we'd be telling our stories to each other, catching up on all the vital turmoil, and rediscovering each other yet again.

But as 2001 closed, we got closer in all ways, even as we'd sort of dabbled in on a couple of occasions in the years prior. After the surreal December night that brought the Blue Light Special written about just a couple posts back, Kelli must have been warming to me even more than I was warming to her.

Out With The Old...

On the 31st of December, 2001 I was returning from a rave concert in Las Vegas where Phil Cole and I were supplying part of the audio system for a sports arena show. We were using a 24' truck that I got to drive most of the way home during the morning and early afternoon on New Year's Eve. Since the show went on till about 4 am, we didn't get out till about 7 am. I had gotten some rest earlier on and was back in the concert arena by about 4 am, but Phil was up all night or something. At any rate, we got back here in the early afternoon and my "proper" night's sleep was had from about 2-10 pm! I was two hours from having missed the NYE turnover. I got up and scrambled to get ready for... something. Anything? I had a vague idea that Kelli would be with her lush friend Amy, an effervescent Irish lass who could drink like a fish. I got the okay that they'd be at her place and I could come along. I had the hots for Amy, and maybe or maybe not I stood a chance with her? I wasn't sure, but I was willing to show up. At that point, after almost a perfect five years (just two days away) from my breakup with Robin (and minimal encounters since), I was quite lapping at the chance to be with a girl again. Of course, there was no real substance to any such encounter Amy, but at that time, that was the appeal. Still, I went to her place where Kelli was and that was good enough. At least New Years Eve would not be a total throwaway occasion. Something interesting might happen, right?

The hour or so we had before midnight was one of a bit of preparing and debating whether to hit the bar across the street (the Lancer), or to hit up another joint. So Amy, Kelli, me, and some guy who later turned out to be the reason I wasn't gonna be with Amy that night all got into the car and we zipped along Park Blvd. and El Cajon Blvd. looking for an appropriate place to slurp some booze for the night. That was kind of silly and after one or two stops and some amusing attempts to decide what to do, we ended up back at the Lancer, just across from Amy's place. Late. Yup, the ball dropped while we were in the car! Oh well. Finally it was easier to just embrace our place at the Lancer. There I did get to feeling a bit rosy with a few beers, and Amy was looking rather nice herself—to this other guy. As the beers were imbibed, he told me he was her ex, or in some uncertain state with her. Well, that was a bit of a bummer but I was content to still be rather flirtatious with Amy. It might have been a useless pursuit at that point but it was fun and maybe I'd never see her again anyway.

Around closing time we headed back to Amy's place and were joined by some other mysterious dude who walked in from down the street. Amy and her guy knew him but Kelli and I didn't. At first he seemed like a bit of an eccentric, bohemian kind of guy who added a bit of interest to the talk, and for a while we were all on the upstairs porch, carrying on. Then eventually Amy got tired and slipped to bed. Kelli slipped away too, not being a true party animal or anything. Or maybe she had another agenda. But however all that worked, what happened was that we three guys were left there on the porch, and the conversation turned to something about a black market in lampshades made of the skins of Holocaust Jews. I forget who was repulsed by it totally and who was offering that he'd buy one just to take it off the market. The other then said that was supporting it and was accusing the guy that his purchase would drive up demand and turn it into a desirable item. It got real circular and started to lose me. These guys obviously had enough history to allow this kind of conversation. Eventually Amy's dude called it a night and went to bed with Amy and I was left on the porch with the one guy, trying to figure out what in the world we might talk about next, considering it was 3 am on New Year's morning and I didn't know this guy at all, and we were at the house of a girl I'd like to get with, and she was laying with her ex in the other room.

The thing was, Kelli was asleep on the bed, and Amy and her guy were getting it on while on the floor right beneath her! And I was stuck with this strange dude and his odd talk. Kelli was asleep so there was really nothing to do but finally shake off this guy and head home at about 3:30 am. What a start to the year!

In With The New...

The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically early, around 10 am, and was prompted to pick up my guitar and plug into my smaller Mesa amp in my bedroom. Out of nowhere came the riff to what became Return To Zero, a rocking little number with shifting meters and a strange mode in a harmonic minor scale. As I was bracing for making music suitable for a trio or quartet, it was a pleasantly Tool or Led Zep influenced thing that excited me a great deal after having not made much music during 2001. Within some weeks, the trio of Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington made the recording offered above. It was a great thing to start the year with. But it was to be quite upstaged by the history making day that followed.

Realizing the night before left some unfinished business, I called Kelli to see how things played out after I left. She was able to remember something about the lampshade talk but nothing much after that. She drove home in the morning but I think she had in mind that maybe I should have taken her home myself. Hmm, that was a new way to do things with her. We talked about getting together in the evening for a movie. After being cockblocked by Amy's man, and realizing Amy wasn't really anything I needed to pursue further, it started to make better sense to just forget it. The here and now was here and Kelli was timidly making her way over to me. So we got together for a movie, The Majestic with Jim Carey, and that's how we got our year off to a start. And, as things followed that night, the decade to come.

I know it sounds odd to tell this as though Kelli was second choice for me. It's just that for all the time prior to this date, I never thought of her seriously as partner material. In some ways that could be taken as a negative, but really, given our history, and certainly my own sense of readiness, and in some ways her own, it was safer for us to carry on as friends, initially linked up through church but more so away from there. For a lot of years, Kelli was a bit like a sister but obviously that simile runs into a dead end as our relationship got more physical. (But I think a discerning mind can figure out what I'm talking about.) In some ways, since Kelli had been my oasis and a person of refuge for me, I sort of shied away from the idea of ever pairing up with her. She seemed too important, and during a few years of some line-blurring encounters between friends and partners, I always had in my mind the question, 'where would I go and what would I do if things bombed out with Kelli?' Knowing myself, I was plenty aware that she'd be a better friend to keep than a lover to lose, so for some years, I was not keen on really going forward, even though back in 1998, none other than her own mom made some talk that maybe I should ask Kelli out, and that "she really liked" me. In 1998 that seemed a little forward and off-putting, even as it was a bit flattering. Finally, three years later, it was something that made better sense.

The five years between the end of Robin and the start of the Kelli era was, aside from being a pretty vast "dry spell," was filled with some awful times on the personal front. What I had to face was that things wouldn't have to be that way with Kelli, and that Kelli is far more mature than all that, and has demonstrated herself as someone I've trusted for a long time. And so the first of January, 2002 was the start of letting myself go with that, and Kelli having been ready to do so as well.

Friends With Benefits

Usually people use that term to say that they are blurring a line between their "platonic" friends and their sexualized relations. I never felt comfortable with that term, especially with Kelli, because it would suggest an agreement or a pattern that we never really kept. It would also suggest something that could be taken for granted. And that I didn't do. But having moved into a new type of relationship with Kelli in late 2001/early 2002, what unfolded from that was a bit unexpected.

Daniel and Kelli at her promDaniel and Kelli at her prom

I Married a Nice Church Girl

Only about a week or two after we kicked off this new thing at the start of the year, I found myself ready to return to church after something like a decade. I suppose it was prompted by the Christmas Eve gathering at a church member's house after worship that night; an event that made my old church scene safe for me again. It was a welcome relief from all the weight that the decade before had piled upon me, and that I had not really been able to offload. But it was more than that. In the post-9/11 world, and after Daniel's murder a month before that, and a year of family drama and death, I was beyond my means to process any of it without resorting to a larger paradigm of understanding. I was 28, and in the way that spiritual paradox works, the world was simultaneously falling apart and coming together for me.

Kelli had long been my lifeline to the church community that I left sometime during 1991-1992. She kept me informed on who was doing what, and in some cases it was alarming to hear who had divorced, or who had gotten swept up in some underworld stuff, or who was essentially something vastly different than I thought I knew. She had a mind for politics, theology, and spirituality that was intriguing and intimidating. I guess I was feeling ready to return after my own decade of wandering the strange avenues of life. Whatever thought system I had to that point was on the verge of collapse and it was clearly time to do something new. I recalled that Jerry, pastor and friend of some years prior to my departure, was able to talk big ideas that had some persuasive appeal to me now.

In one of the first two weeks we were together, I decided to get back to church after something like a decade. For some months though, we didn't carry on as a couple. At least not openly. But we didn't seem to have people fooled. By the time we did "come out" as a couple, people had already put two and two together. Oh, was it that we both appeared on the same days and with wet hair and within minutes of each other? The church community was different. Our peers were gone but that might have been okay since I was always a bit removed from them anyway, and typically favored the company and support of adults there. Their parents might have been divorced, or maybe not attending the same as before. I met some new faces and befriended them. Some of the old faces were there and friendly but somehow I didn't connect with them. But I was glad to be back in the fold. Jerry's sermons, things that I once could not understand, started to shine like beacons for me. There was some feeling of homecoming and wholeness. My name carried some cache there since Virginia Lucas, my grandmother, was among the founding members, and the last of that bunch to pass away less than a year before my return. In some ways, I guess I was trying to reclaim a small bit of family life by getting back to church. It was something with some anchoring potential, and I was feeling it was my time to particpate with some adult conviction.

Kelli at the tidepoolsKelli at the tidepools

But even more so, what I have to report on is how Kelli in this new role was cause for turning me toward life at a whole different level than ever. I remember that on the second week we went to church together, we went to the tidepools in Point Loma. It was mid January when the sun is low in the sky, and it's bright on the water and with the Santa Ana weather, it's rather warm and clear. I still have a memory of knowing life was going to be different with Kelli. As we were looking at the cliffs and the critters in the pools, a world of wonder opened up to me. The whole scene conspired to change me. Kelli's goofy and playful manner, childlike and wonder-filled, was available to me like water at a desert oasis. And I drank of it. The sense of togetherness I felt with her was rich. It wasn't that I just got a new girlfriend. In fact, I think I refrained from calling her that for many months. It was far more than that. It was like being connected to life again. It was the safe space that let me move away little by little from the jaded and overly cynical self I had come to embrace as if it was something worth claiming as myself. Something about her disarmed me and made me human again. What can one say? When the time comes to tell the short story about us, that is it.

Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004Phil walks Kelli down the aisle, 2004. Despite a general loathing of patriarchal practice, Kelli by this point had lost her father and step father, and Phil has taken both of us in like family, particularly after his son Daniel was murdered in 2001.

Proper

Another way that I felt reconnected to life was that along with Kelli came her mom Kay, and for the first ten months of 2002, her partner Rod. For Kelli and I there was none of the formality of taking me home to meet her family; her mom had already prodded us toward each other and was delighted at our joining forces. In that early part of 2002, Kay and Rod were living at a ranch up in Descanso, in a tiny, tiny cabin. (I mean, tiny). Kelli and I made a number of trips up to their place in those months, and our Friday night road trips there were great fun. There was a town hall movie showing in a funky wooden town hall that I fantasized about recording my new trio in; pizza at a funky place that served insanely oily pizza; a super intimate bit of storytelling and hot drinks in the cabin while the fire was lit in a defense against the winter mountain air; and a generally happy feeling of togetherness. Kelli unlocked a part of me that was looking for a chance to be set free. With her and her mom, that side has a chance to open up and breathe. The times early that year were exciting. This was before Kelli's car accident in March, and before Kay and Rod made their way east to Florida in a fateful trip that revealed his cancer, a trip that turned into one of their last adventures together before Rod died in October and left Kay a wreck. And, from Kelli's perspective, she lost her second father figure.

ed and kelli at home, 2003, kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders in the office room2002-2003

The benefits were greater than just having an old friend become my new girlfriend. Even though we ostensibly were "dating," I never really though of it that way. In so many regards, it never seemed that way. It was a holistic thing from the start. To the extent that one might use the D-word, it was approximately suitable in that it was over two years before we got engaged and before she moved in with me. But dating it was not. We already knew a lot about each other. I remember telling my roommate one night that Kelli was marriage material, and I think this was only a couple months in. Somehow I knew. I thought of it as feeling "proper." Even though it wasn't love at first sight, it was grounded in reality in a way that nothing else was, in a way that no one else ever approximated. It was as comfortable as an old coat. I can't say we've ever been a wine/roses/chocolates/love letters couple either; not to say none of that applies, but it just isn't what others make it out to be. What moves between us is far greater than all that. Those things seem like distractions that only point to and aspire to what we have. Some of those things I used to feel were needed if I were to get anywhere with one partner or the other; but with Kelli, it seems that we're tapped in at some other level. It might not come to anyone's surprise who reads this blog, but words flowed in letters to any of my prior interests, maybe because I was constructing the relationship in that form since in some ways the actual living relationship could not reach that far, at least at the ages involved. But with Kelli I have barely written anything. I feel I can't do so lest it seem hopelessly contrived and quite unnecessary. Things between us don't warrant it, and the lines of communication have generally been open enough to work for us in daily life. All the former investment of time and imagination spent writing in years past has generally been able to be channeled directly to the relationship itself.

ed on kelli's shoulder, all loving and velvety focused in 2004, not long before our wedding2004, not long before our wedding

It's hard to indicate how much the world changed in January 2002. It was a new year among new years. A life of hurt didn't go away, but it was met with its opposite. But what was turning out to be clear was that my first true partner was alongside me, and where it was safe to be myself at so many intersecting and sometimes conflicting places. Kelli's been versatile in so many ways when it comes to that. I could just call her my wife now but it's better to think of her as partner. In the early months of the Kelli era, I was not working that much, thanks to a bruising economic downturn in the wake of 9/11. But even some offers were not worth taking if I had already gotten a plan together with Kelli for a given evening. Or even with the band. I was tired of being a whore for the music industry that never really inspired greatness in me. Finally, Kelli's arrival on the scene gave me an out. All the years I was in the biz, I never had a relationship that sustained me like this. I was burnt on it, and it was so much more important to feed this part of my life. So I turned down gigs even though sometimes it was a bit troubling. But the feeling of assertiveness was a welcome change.

ed and kelli at mt. san jacinto forest with big look at each other. real cute.Mt. San Jacinto Park, 2011

Ten years is a big time when you look around you and see the wreckage I've seen. We've surpassed the durations of prior relationships of our own, and even those of our parents and their partners. But time alone doesn't mean much. Being rooted in deeper stuff does, and I think we both are equipped to wonder and marvel at what it means that we're together. One thing that has always accompanied this is a feeling that Kelli and I, as a unit, is a larger entity than either Kelli or me. Seeing things this way is liberating. The fact that she's into theology and spirituality like she is has made it safe to embrace the vocabulary from those disciplines and to get out of the smaller left brain way of seeing things. I've said it before: our head start of about eleven years was helpful but not even that is grounds for keeping us together. Both feeling battered and bruised by the level of hurt and dysfunction in family life and as citizens of the empire has left us wanting for more and wanting for better. We see each other as allies in the fight. That took some doing. That took some overcoming since both of us came from our respective places of a lot of broken trust. Our relationship isn't successful because we've been together for ten years. It's successful because each day we keep at it and are helped along by grace in equal or greater measure by a forgiving and loving presence in our lives that feeds our sense of wonder each day.

Friday
Aug122011

Meeting Mom Again for the First Time—25 years On

I was born nearly 38 years ago. But for all intents and purposes, I met my mom as a 12 year old on this day 25 years ago. It was rather unceremonious, and linked to a newly reheated battle between parent-figures who wanted to play games with me as the ball to be hogged as often as either of them were able to get it. 

One day in August 1986, after returning from the day care for us pre-teen kids (at Patty Hurt's place), I was told to make ready to go meet someone. He and I got on the motorcycle and rode over to the Bob's Big Boy across from the Superior court on Clairemont Mesa Blvd where my mom and her mom were there to greet me for the first time in my memory. There had been times before when I was rather young but those left no lasting impressions on me. Pictures of the gifts they gave me were keen to not feature mom or others who visited my grandparents' place. 

That day in Bob's Big Boy I was introduced (by notes on napkins and some pictures I still have) to two sisters, three brothers, two nephews, an aunt and uncle, all of which I pretty much didn't know I had. It ushered in a period of a lot of newness, promise, and adjustment. My old man feigned being interested. Everything else I know about his exchanges with this family suggests to me that on this occasion in 1986, he knew that he got got. The con got conned.

There is no empirical evidence for this but it was pretty clear that this is the case. Since I was raised apart from that side of the family, the tales I got over here were always portraying them as as fault, or that somehow mom wasn't fit or stable to take care of me, and that quite frankly, the Lucas people were all so much better at this. So it was for most of the time till this reunion. Then, from what I can tell, in late 1985 or early 1986, my old man went to court to stick the knife in just a bit deeper, by claiming that mom should pay child support. In March 1986, he took me to a scenic viewpoint near Julian, CA near where he and my grandfather were buying a house for vacation/leisure use, and in one of those kind of saccharine father-son moments, he asked me what I would like to wish for while staring out over the desert and Salton Sea. He planted some answers that I might hope for, to get the ball rolling, and the one of interest now is "fifty dollars a month." 

My bank deposit book leading up to my trip to Europe in 1991That was in March. Accounting for a bit of administrative lag through the courts, I could understand now how in May I got the first check from a mystery woman named Christina Weiss. Fifty bucks, sure as anything. I began to get a story about how she needed to be reminded she had a son she left, and this was for that reason. Checks would be arriving each month. They continued to arrive until my 18th birthday, though somewhere in the span of time the payments were reduced to $25 a month. This was the old man's great job of sticking the knife in and giving it a bit more of a twist than his original legal custodial victories when I was a tot. Those victories are said by my mom to be the results of three way collusion with my grandfather and the lawyers. So she says. I don't know for sure but it does fit the "boys club" dealmaking model that I do know of. 

But his strategy probably backfired. I think his goal was to extract some money from mom so that I'd have some sign that she was contributing to my life. She resented it all along, and was always suspect that the money went to him and not to me. Not so. It did go to a bank account for the remainder of my juvenile days. It paid my way to Europe in 1991. She was relieved in 1994 when we had a second major reunion period, and I told her that the money did get to me but that I was only able to make deposits, and finally that the Europe trip was a worthy way to use it. But I am ahead of things here.

I suspect that the May-August lag was another court scheduling matter, but I'd guess that her resentment at having to pay for a child she couldn't see took her to the court to contest that, and to demand some share in my upbringing. This seems to me to be why she'd be in San Diego, about 110 miles from her usual life in San Pedro. It seems that she got a victory to see me and to have me up to her place on a fairly regular basis. The old man knew where that could lead and he never liked it. So I have to think that this was rather humiliating for him. Everything else I know about him is vehemently opposed to my relationship with mom and that family.

After the first Bob's Big Boy day, we had a couple reunions here in San Diego in the couple weeks before school started. We met at Mission Bay a time or two, and Lindberg Park once on the day before school. After that, I began a period of biweekly trips up to her place in San Pedro, spending weekends up there with my younger brother Steve and his full sister Nikki. Also around was our older sister Christie, the one who has really turned my life inside out, and her kids. Some day I'll get some of those pix up. At that time, things were optimistic, but you can see the look on my old man's face that he wasn't digging it. For my part, I was delighted to have siblings to play with.

Mom wrote in a birthday card a couple months after the initial reunion:

Our family is whole again having you with us. We have a lot of time to make up for and the future holds great promise for us all. God Bless you Eddie.

Two report cards a year apart: end of 8th grade and the end of 9thStarting school in 1986, I was so distracted by the newness of the family dynamics, I had miserable grades and my old man made me pay for it by some draconian restrictions for the second year running. Two years in a row I had gotten to my birthday on October 12th, given new toys or models to build, and then to get a school six-week progress report card and/or call home that doomed me. He took all my models and supplies, and all my toys and put them into a locked trailer out in front of the house where they stayed for the whole school year or till the grades were elevated. The idea was to make me focus on schoolwork, and to somehow pretend I was not a kid who had to play and be creative. The loophole was that I could engage in such a life at anyone else's house, but that's no way to build models. What his method did, if anything, was to embitter me. It was bad enough in 7th grade when there was none of this family drama going on. The second year was devastating, and in its way made me cling more to my mom, who at that time in early 8th grade, was seen as the good cop.

She was heroic and played a kind of political game with my old man. I still recall the day I got the devastating D report card and called her at work. It was a new thing to do something that kids probably take for granted. Eda, my step mom, never worked and was almost always reliably at home when I came home. But she had been gone for just over three years by the time this 8th grade story was unfolding. Calling my own mom for counsel on how to deal with this was something new to me. It wasn't always so, but at that moment, she did provide some refuge. (My tune 8th Grade Report Card is a reference to this period, and that one report card when I got a 1.0 GPA, otherwise known as all D's, or something equivalent. The opening part of it is drenched in D power chords and octaves, hence the title.) 

The other major thing I have to give her props for was from the following year when she bypassed the old man's specific request to not buy me jeans I wanted—specifically Levi's, and more specifically the shrink to fit 501s. She did an end run around that and took me to Mervyn's with Steve and Nikki for back-to-school shopping. I got exactly the pants I wanted and for years, I was as loyal to Levi's as I could be. I even recall telling a school counselor early in 9th grade about this very thing as he was trying to get some basics on my motivations and personality. I recall telling him what utter hell it was to go shopping with the old man, who was always ready to give me a range of lame choices and told to pick five from that selection. And Levi's never made the cut. He'd get me other jeans, or he'd make poor attempts at something more classy, but it was garbage. My grandmother was the alternative who might at least let me make my own decisions about the kinds of conservative, quasi-preppy stuff I'd wear. Until my mom came on the scene, it was looking hopeless in that regard. She blew the roof off with that one purchase of 501s.

The thing that I didn't appreciate so well as it was happening is that those earlier reunion days of late 1986 and into 1987 were times when mom took time off her second job some weekends to spend time with me, to make the place a bit more social, and to generally make me welcome. There were plenty of times when the weekend was spent with a trip to a major mall, out getting stuff, or hair cuts, or seeing movies or whatever. I think she was paying in plastic. Eventually she had to wind that down, and as she did so, the weekends that I visited were spent more at the house and sometimes even going with Steve and Nikki to work with her overnight at the answering service where she worked. It was a dingy place in Harbor City. It wasn't quite as much fun. I recall that taking a few rolls of toilet paper was either okay or necessary. She worked that job overnight on Friday and Saturday nights, in addition to being at a major commercial glass factory during the regular workweek.

I was always clear that they lived a different life than I. Their house in San Pedro was about the same age as mine but it was dingy, brown from smoke (I came home hacking hard, and one day went to the school nurse for it), dirty from children, messy from carelessness and the need for rest when it was attainable. It was different for sure. There were essentially two families there with single moms and their children: mom with Steve and Nikki, who all slept in one giant bed, and Chris who had her kids in the other room on a bunk bed. Six people in two rooms. And they were a volatile set. Mom and Chris have a knack for flying off the handle. Chris smacked Steve with kitchen implements, one time breaking a big wooden spoon on his back. Another time it was a carrot. Another time still it was flying high heel shoes. This was all new to me. Shocking, even. It might be that for the simple reason that I didn't have other kids to share my space with, which, in the absence of Eda was bigger than ever. A three bedroom place for a father and son? Spare room? It was this difference that was always used as a device to guide me to seeing how "good" I had it. To this day, the old man will level a case against the life they led. It isn't that he's wrong. It's also that he's not completely right. Returning to my house in San Diego was usually a downer when considering the trips to the mall, or watching TV together or having a big feast was not going to happen for a few weeks. But when it came to relative calm, space, and a pretty tidy house, it was nice to be home, excepting of course, the business of having my toys taken away for seven or eight months at once! As mentioned before, this two world stuff was very disrupting academically. 

The romance was over after Easter of 1987. That was the first major crack in the wall that brought the seemingly festive and permissive early days to a close. The first period, as I call it, sputtered out over 1987-1988. I didn't expect it was going to come back, but there have been the subsequent reunions that start rather bright and then burn out. It's been a pattern. More recently, I've taken to doing clandestine correspondence to communicate something, but that falls on its face too. 

Many more images are available at the family gallery and are captioned with generous notes.

Tuesday
Oct122010

Ed’s Saturn-plus-Sabbath Saguaro and Smores Shindig

This is a bit of text I wrote on the 10/9 to attempt to make my 37th birthday one of significance since it falls between the more notorious 30th and 4oth birthdays. I uttered a shortened version of it at my party on Sunday the 10th. There were several people from a few strands of life:  from my present church, past church, from work, from extended home life and from the "pre-Saturn" period discussed below. Interestingly, a couple people already commented on the mix of folks there that night—from a couple guests and their young young kiddies to some of my folks who are entitled to discounts at restaurants! The whole time was special. I spent the day cooking a few dishes, and everyone brought more. I ended up sending a number of folks out with arms full of food. For my birthday, I was pleased to be so generous.

birthday poster for ed's 37th: a collage of the dead saguaro and other oddness.Happy birthday to me!

The last decade has been one of considerable change for me. In some ways even I don’t recognize the Ed who once walked the earth then. In a lot of ways, that is a good thing!

In late 2000 and about the age of 27, I heard about something called “Saturn Return” for the first time from Bryan Beller, bass player in Mike Keneally’s band (with whom I worked off and on, and that I was a drooling fanboy of). Saturn Return is an astrological way to understand a life cycle of 27-30 years, the interval approximating the namesake planet’s full revolution around the sun. I don’t put a lot of stock in the astrological idea but Bryan’s tales of life upheaval around that age, reevaluating old roles and methods, was something that I knew awaited me. I felt it. A lot of life needed reevaluation since so much of my life then was unfulfilling and dead feeling. I was depressed and sometimes entertained suicide, and was only then making first steps to dig out of that hole.

One thing to address was my broken family. I took on the task of starting a new period of relations with my mother—the third such period following earlier times around the ages of 12-14 and later at 20-21. This caused upset with my father which still has not resolved itself. My grandmother on my father’s side was in her last months at the age of 91, and I don’t know that we closed the gap between us, but it was shrunk some in the months we had to talk before she was overtaken by dementia and then died, leaving me to find my way out of the crossfire between parents who hated each other and used me as the rag doll to be ignited and tossed between camps.

Maybe astrology is crap but there certainly was something to this 27 year thing!

The years from my 27th birthday till my 30th were indeed times of the strife and upheaval that the Saturn Return idea predicted. They were a time of death and of life revealing itself to me in the paradoxical way that these things happen. By the end of age 29, I was feeling more suicidal than ever, but never really let on to more than a couple people. It isn’t that I wanted to do it. I just wanted another life, and the life that needed living was not yet claimed. But weeks before my 30th birthday in 2003, I spent 11 days in a place called Halcyon House, a residential facility meant to address people in crisis, and to get a shot of new information and perspective with an aim to return to life better able to cope. One of the therapists was excellent at recognizing I had an existential crisis of intersecting life circumstances that just overwhelmed at the core. So he addressed me at that level.

Halcyon was one of the greatest things that happened to me, reorienting my compass in a way that nothing else had done until then. The quasi-monastic pace and order of things provided boundaries, and the lessons and therapy sessions got me off to a start in an examined life. Following that experience, I kept on with solo therapy for three years or more, couples therapy when Kelli and I were planning to get married and for a good while afterward. Visits with pastors, mentors, spiritual directors, and friends have all helped maintain that discipline through times that kept on being tough, often as a result of the shattered family experience.

It was just around that time when I also happened to get a first affinity for Jesus of Nazareth, the human man who became more and more appealing to me when by some divine and serendipitous circumstances, was presented to me as the quintessential human. He slowly became my hero as I found him to be quite countercultural, always seeming to turn conventional wisdom on its head. As I found myself in existential strife at both the personal level (family and home issues, feeling a failure, etc.) and the world level (peak oil, Bush-era political shenanigans, consumerism), the mind of Jesus seemed to have something that could address my concerns at both levels. It was the beginning of putting the pieces back together.

Okay, so that explains the first thirty years, and the whole Saturn description of things. Now, that Sabbath part, which, when added to the 30 years already discussed, gives me some reason to think that 37 is a birthday worth some reflection.

The Sabbath is not just a day off every week. It is a way of conceptualizing what is important, setting boundaries, framing time, and even economic relationships. A sabbath cycle, as mapped out in the book of Leviticus, is in sevens; a weekly cycle where people rest intentionally and participate in community life together; a yearly cycle where land is let to rest so it will remain vital; and a cycle of seven of those seven year cycles, ending in a year called the Jubilee. The Jubilee is the 50th year when debts are canceled and society is allowed to reset to maintain just relationships, and to reinstate people to the community who have been imprisoned or fallen through the cracks.

The idea of Sabbath is to organize relief and renewal opportunities into daily life; to place a boundary around work for human, animal, land, and social institutions so that the vitality is not sucked out of same, and so that justice can be done. Right relationship will prevail, says the logic underlying the Sabbath, and it will be done with intent to provide the space and a dose of God's grace to fill it.

My existential dilemma began with a relational crisis and is slowly being mended by equal and opposite effort and a lot of grace. Days of lonely agonizing in the pre-Saturn era have given way to more in-person relationships in the Sabbath era. Loss of the ever-troubling relationships with my parents have given way to many more father and mother figures than I ever had at once, some playing a role in practical ways, and others filling a massive gap in cultivating a spiritual life that my parents could not possibly fulfill under the best of conditions. Brothers and sisters that aren’t in the picture any longer are fading memories as people emerge to take part in shared life, vital conversations, and mutual assistance, in some ways filling the holes left by my family of origin. Grandparents, the keepers of the accumulated wisdom and they who delight in my progress as a person, well, they keep coming out of the woodwork! A time like tonight, a festive time to celebrate milestones in life, have been far richer than any I can remember with my family of origin, at least since before the age of ten or so.

Sabbath, a way of framing time to ensure renewal for all species, a way of ensuring that life is given a moment to just be, is something that I turn to when today (I was even asked to work this Sunday [when I had my party], of all days!) I need to prioritize one sacred day a week to make room for church, family, community and personal time. It wasn’t always so; the pre-Saturn days were times when I worked anytime and had no life, and used it as an excuse to remain at a distance from people. That of course was death for me, so by tenacity of will, I buck the occasional push to work on Sundays so that I can purposely maintain relationships with the people who have stepped in to be my new family.

(Now I have been greatly indebted to Lee Van Ham of Jubilee Economics Ministries for being one of the heroes of the last several years. He introduced me to biblical economics, Sabbath, and a vastly liberating thought system that helps me reach for the root of things. He’s in Chicago right now, opening other people’s minds at a mens’ retreat.)

So now I’ve explained the time part of this account, the 27+3+7 kind of math that gets me to the present at the big 3-7. And about that Saguaro?

My week in the Arizona desert for my Mens Rites of Passage was in a splendid canyon in central Arizona, the heart of the Sonoran desert where the saguaro cactus grow to be 20’ tall, like lampposts or telephone poles. Arizona state pretty miserably fails the welcome to immigrants test but it at least makes a felony of damaging or destroying these elegant towers that dot the landscape for hundreds of miles. (There is a case of some fool who shot one down, only to have it crush him to death as it fell on his dumb ass.) Saguaro with just a vertical tower are the young ones. It takes about 80 years to grow an arm. Hah! Thinking of it from my age perspective, it takes twice my age to mature enough to grow another stage. Maybe I am blessed to be on my path already. A couple hikes in the desert brought me face to face (figuratively speaking) with these things, which from ground level, are mighty. They stand like disciplined sages who have seen it all. That alone is a spiritual lesson, whether or not my teachers said a word.

dead saguaro cactus with its ribs looking like a cross and crucified man at onceDead saguaro cactus in ArizonaUpon return, I did a bit of research and found  of a Saguaro skeleton—ribs that drooped on a horizontal axis in a way that looked rather like the arms of a crucified man. That image of course is one of the most central images in human history. The picture I am referencing somehow looks like it is both the cross and the crucified in one form. The cross is a paradoxical symbol of the worst pain that humans can inflict and the place at which one can find God’s greatest love. Or, put this way, the intersection of the opposites of life is on the cross. My take on that is in my sense of relationship with others. That which was killing me was also the thing to save me. So goes spiritual paradox!

In 2003, I sort of articulated my feeling of being crucified by my womenfolk in a piece of photo collage art that I made that summer. The world was turned upside down, framed in by the female biological symbol which doubled as a cross, all perched on something indicating Golgotha. I was pretty torn up then.

I don’t recall any art that conveyed the equally shattered relationship with my father, but my blog poured all that out as the drama ensued for years to come. I spilled a lot of pixels processing that.

All of which is to convey a picture of how shattered things were. By the start of 2008, and one more attempt to relate to my mother alone (that lasted about three weeks at best), and after a solid year of staying clear of my father, I was making half serious talk about having a mock memorial service to make it possible to move on, to find new energy to live a life not so dragged down by all the toxic personalities I happened to be related to. Obviously we didn’t do that, but even framing my situation in those terms helped clarify what must be done.

Later that year I found myself drawing closer to my new church and the life there, which included small groups around spiritual development, young adults, and some book study interests. By later in the year, I was connecting with a new church in a way that felt my own, venturing into new relationships as a person with greater clarity and optimism. I joined that congregation in 2009 after a year or more of feeling it out, and feeling it was my time to step into community life, to throw my lot in.

The cross of broken relationships led to the resurrection of relationship itself. This makes resurrection undeniably real for me, and something not limited to a historical event of 2000 years ago. It may be that but I am here to say it is this too. Many among us might chafe at the language of being born again, but I don’t refute the spiritual truth underlying that. I put a finer point on it though, without even distorting the phenomenon of the transformation that takes place. If one is reborn at all, it is to be reborn for others. Reborn not for the sake of oneself, but for the sake of others, for community. My rebirth has been pretty agonizing for me, but one thing after another points to moving toward filling a role in the lives around me. I find it nigh impossible to even do some of the stuff I used to do for myself, like the endless hours in the recording studio, isolated, often angry and hurt, and all that stuff. That seems inaccessible to me now, even for trying to do so. Just as well. These days I find myself cooking for guests, opening my house, enjoying married life, doing digital media work pro bono for JEM, facilitating the young adults group, or sort of mentoring some of the younger guys at work—all stuff that had no precedent in the pre-Saturn time, but seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing now. It all flows so much better than the attempts a musicking a decade ago.  Maybe the idea of being born again would be less irritating if more people understood it as being reborn for the good of others. It would be a shame to endure all that mess of a life like I had in those years, only to come back as myself!

Saturn, Sabbath, Saguaro. Oh, it is fun alliteration, but each has had some value in framing my experience in this last decade of reinvention. Now, the Smores… that should be self explanatory!

Friday
Sep242010

Facing the Book

Dammit, I am getting drawn into the world of Facebook. Oy! Between JEM and the young adults group at church, I've had to face the business of FB being the de facto tool for making things known today. I find it rather confusing, really. I mean, the wall, the profile, the additional page for JEM, or groups, etc. I prefer to know when I am clearly in "my" space, or in JEM's or in the YA world, but I swear, the lines are rather blurred in how things interact with my own account.

I have found it a bit more suitable for the short form stuff that comes to mind, but as you know, I don't do short form much. Not here anyway. Not on TAPKAE.com! I do reckon more people will stumble past the FB site than this site. Kind of a bummer because this has been the center of my work for a long time now—nine years on TAPKAE.com. Now that I got the JEM site happening on the SquareSpace platform, I am getting really restless with TAPKAE.com, notably so with the sluggishness that must be a problem of web hosting. I don't know for sure, but on the JEM site, the thing is pretty quick both as user and as author (all the site editing work is done in browser interfaces). I am entertaining jumping ship from my host that I have had for over six years now. But SS is rather expensive and don't have email hosting, maybe necessitating Google Apps or some other hosting. So...

My main task as a web author at any level, at this time in life, is to try not to be subsumed into the technology. I still prefer the in-person contacts that have been a defining element of relationships at church. My own history with digital communication has been a rocky one, so it is timidly that I embrace using it for keeping connected with people who I have been close to in person. Part of it is the usual stuff like the lack of body language and such nuanced expression, but frankly, FB is more convenient than getting dressed and riding off to see someone in person. But I noticed immediately that FB also made me feel like a voyeur as I looked at the lives of people who I knew in person, but apparently in a limited way! The surprise at that is something you can bargain for with people from your party/school/rock band past, but it does feel odd when they're people from church! Also, the real clipped form of FB communication is handy for planning or collaborating, but not for saying anything of any real worth. So I still long for in-person contact, even as it takes more time and effort. But I have to admit to being drawn in to the whole digital scene this summer. I shall strive for some more balance now that that hot few months of new computer/new JEM site (in two main builds)/Kunstler site/podcasting/new audio setup has all subsided into something manageable.

Sunday
Aug222010

Anniversaries

The month of August is rich with anniversaries for me. Happy and sad, the notable days seem to pile up in this month of the year. Here are the ones that matter most to me right now.

Buber the DogFirst, the 23rd marks three years since Buber the Dog came to join our home. He came to us as a pretty mature dog of about nine years old, and has since mellowed even more, probably just due to the advancing years. Never a digger or barker or chewer, he just is content to sleep or sit in my presence, and ever when Kelli comes home, he comes to life, doing his doggy dance, petitioning her for treats and love. He is totally in love with her. The scenes I'm privy to are beyond cute. He knows when walk time is, but we can't say the word, so we have moved from one code word to another, and he gets to understanding certain tones of voice if uttered at certain times of day. We usually go for walks after 9 pm, and that is the featured highlight of his day after a day of being indoors while we're both gone. So he gets as cute as can be, as excited as can be, when we sort of get the dishes cleaned, or leave the computer, or put on a shirt or coat at about that time. He doesn't pull like a tractor anymore, and he has mellowed a lot on walks, often seeming out of breath (he is pretty fat) in a noticeably shorter time. We usually walk him off leash to give him a bit more freedom. Kelli likes to take him to the dog parks and give him a good half hour of being a dog, but he usually likes to come sit by her, or other people, and ultimately wants to get back on the couch with her, reclined like a lover on her lap.

And speaking of Kelli, we have an anniversary this coming weekend, on the 28th. That particular one is the one I have to remember—this year, our sixth wedding anniversary—but this year, something even bigger looms, and that is that we've known each other for 20 years now.

Yes sir-eee. Twenty years. If I do my math correctly, she was 13 and I was 16 that summer when she came strolling into church with her mom and immediately seemed like part of the family there. That is because they actually were, but a part that I guess I had forgotten about, or never realized. They had been in Florida for about seven years prior to this, their return to San Diego. The story goes that her mom Kay was my Sunday School teacher when I was younger still, and that Kelli and I would have been perhaps in a different class then before they left for Florida. I just don't remember that part, so I pretty much start the clock from August 1990. And here we are, 20 years later.

She and Kay cut an interesting image then, at least compared to the people I knew and understood in that setting. Coming in with jeans and tie-dye, listening to and singing folk music, doing their clowning routine (for real, even if less so here in SD), and generally seeming like old friends I had never met, they were a blast of fresh air on that scene, just as I was reaching a point of feeling spread too thin in church life, from doing so many things there for a year straight. Kelli, a pretty thin, long haired, tie-dye and overalls wearing, classic rock listening and animated figure, was so different from the rest of our youth group pack, most of whom congregated around the new wave and alternative music from the period, or as it was, the "91X" music, after the FM station. Kelli was the first person to make it safe for me to profess my love for Jethro Tull, and the first to accept mix tapes and copied CDs. This was big stuff then.

Of course it's not like I had designs on her then. We were church kids, both born into that congregation, both in the youth group and its associated covenantal group, the Shalom Community. In that setting we got to know each other by the safe space it created. That clearly paved the way for that kind of exchange in future episodes. She was the one I went to talk to about my first breakup; we talked and met randomly during the years when I was away from church; we produced a CD of her spoken word and my sound design; she remained a go-to contact during rough times; she called me to vent when we heard of Daniel's murder (he was a member of the Shalom group); we spent the night together sometimes just as friends who liked to be in touch.

Ed and Kelli at the wedding, on the way out of the church.All that paved the way for what we have now. Still a lot of hard work came after we found ourselves in a relationship preceding our engagement and marriage. The 11-12 years before we got together in this relationship were helpful but not able to waive the work of figuring out how to be in this relationship, at this time. What they did do was to lay a foundation of trust and a sense that we had an ally. Now we've been married for six years and together for over eight and a half. That is quite something that I am proud of, though obviously I can't credit myself alone, nor even her. That takes grace too. We've done a share of work, but lots of people do that and still don't have the grace that somehow zippers up the two components into a whole. Something about our lifelong history (20 years, anyway), indicates that we're on a path, longer and more twisting, than just as two people who happen to share a house together. I keep feeling compelled, drawn, to her as someone who inspires a kind of life in me that otherwise would not be lived. I can't help but feel we need to walk this shared path together. Maybe that is why I never even really "asked the question" of her when we got engaged. I just felt like the old familiar coat that you'd reach for, when nothing else will do.

After a decade of no-go relationships with people I thought I wanted to be with, or bombed out relationships that did seem to show promise for a while, I was in a time to receive someone like Kelli about nine years ago. Not that that was all smooth; the early years took some work, but the compulsion was that it was worth it. I really savor this married life, for all the heartache that visited us at times, we still find in each other an ally for a larger journey. I don't think it trite to say that the presence of Kelli in my life makes clear the presence of God in my life too.

And of course, the presence of Buber in my life makes clear the presence of Dog in my life.