Thursday, September 14, 2017
the story, unfolding, as if told from far away
Welcome to my life story starting from the week before Burning Man, up until the present-ish, as if told from the future. This is really the only way I'll ever be able to bare coming out. As what? A non-denominational all-inclusive Lover. Society may call me "queer". Or "bisexual". Or "polyamorous". I wouldn't disagree with any of those labels. But the fact that we have to label our loving just goes to show how terrified we are of it. And with good reason. It is incredibly potent stuff. This is the story of mine. It's long. I didn't write it to be easily digestible or retweetable or whatever. I wrote it to be art. Full and honest and deep. And I'm sharing it to be of service. In case you want to nestle into a rich story that doesn't cut corners on the details and real context of shedding shame and falling into love.
This is a photograph from early August of 2013, just after I moved all my crap out of Brian's parent's basement. The crap was, more specifically, the contents of a life we had built together over six long beautiful years in union. Love letters, bed sheets, frying pans, mugs. We boxed up the make-shift thrift-store contents of young love, and hauled it all into Bri's parent's basement, as place holder for a normal life we'd never actually return for, then pedaled off onto an eight month bicycle tour around the United States. We were married at the time; full on hope and trust, not yet jaded on love or togetherness.
In the three years time between hauling the crap into the basement, and hauling it out, I watched my life spin out, as if from the perspective of a slow motion tornado. Everything around me swirled and ripped into shreds of people and places, jobs and lovers, hair colors and housemates. Millions of miles later, my core began to watch as the body around it also spun out. Even my casing had to go. Even my body was demolished and rebuilt.
I didn't know it then, on that day the picture was taken, but I was at the end of a particular era of hauling. I was about to let go more massively than I could imagine; move away from my wounded and wanting adolescence, and into my soulful and sensual womanhood.
A week after this photograph was taken, I left Washington DC for Portland, Oregon where my best friend Jodi lived. We were scheduled to go to Black Rock City, Nevada for a week-long radical community and expression immersion festival called Burning Man. Jodi found a guy named Jake through Craig's List who was driving an RV down, and we managed to catch a ride with him for $60 each way, each person. Along for the ride was Jake's new girlfriend Sara, and Benja and Jeff, who were a boy-duo akin to the girl-due of Jodi and I: sweetest mushy gushy friends on earth. There were six of us total bouncing around in the Virgin Voyager, and eight rest stops, two RV dance parties, one dry hump, and 20 hours later, we were like spirit-family arrived to the pearly gates of kink-Heaven.
My first time at Burning Man was so magical that I couldn't bare to photograph, or talk much about it after. But the impact was unmistakable: a glorious devious energy saturated my blood and stayed pulsing in my psyche for months after. All of the sudden, I couldn't erase the love. I couldn't undo the sheer freedom, the shameless expression, the fire in me that society had dampened. The can had exploded. Worms were everywhere. There was no collecting them or putting them back in. I became Medusa, crown made of magic snakes. Except with the opposite effect: everyone I met, I melted. Hearts softened and opened into a magma bed of love.
In the RV on the drive home, we stopped at a biodesiel gas station that carried only organic foods and grew wheatgrass on the roof. It was there, in that anomalous utopian gas station on the side of the highway in Oregon, that I decided I didn't have to go back for the crap I'd been hauling around DC. I didn't belong to that old life anymore. And there was no good reason on God's Glorious Earth to pretend otherwise. It was decided. I would stay in Portland until at least Thanksgiving.
I accidentally relayed this information to my parents in a text message on the day my flight was supposed to arrive home: Rosh Hashana. They didn't talk to me for quite some time, but something about that felt good, too. Like I was old enough and ready enough to break ties, to become my own.
Jodi and Jen's friend Maya had offered me the upstairs playroom of her house as my bedroom, in exchange for watching her daughter about 8 hours a week. It was an excellent deal, considering I was completely penniless and wanted more than anything to stay away from the energetic constipation of Washington DC. Living with Maya meant I'd have the chance to devote myself fully to the art of my work and still be in an environment that felt nurturing. It would also be the second time living with a family in my twenties, and I knew from experience that I liked it. Something about the mixed up ages made me feel like everyone could really exist as themselves--like wherever you were was simply an expression of a stage you were going through, not a mark on your character--and this felt like a strange liberation compared to living with friends. My upbringing happened in a household where divisiveness was the norm. So oddly enough, families felt like a safe place for me to individuate. And that, I did.
I hula hooped alone in my attic-like room almost every day, sometimes to music, sometimes with the dancing trees outside my window baring silent witness to the breeze of my body. I smoked weed a few times a week and wrote poetry or masturbated as if composing a symphony. I read by flashlight at night since the switch to the only light in the room was unreachable if I were to fall asleep while reading. The library was just a 10 minute walk from my house, and my favorite friends at that time were books: The Girl Who Swallowed the Moon, Osho, Miranda July, The Ethical Slut. Besides Jodi, of course. Jodi was my oldest friend--and old, in the context of so much new, felt in some ways more valuable than favorite.
In that time together, Jodi and I grew close like we'd been in the glory days of our youth. We laid together half-naked on my bed eating almonds and drinking coconut water. We talked about my lovers, her heartbreaks, my work, her school, how broke we both were and how one day we'd be living in a whole other paradigm. An abundant one of wild togetherness, infinite love, deep healing, side-stitched laughter. We were spiritual and societal idealists on constant existential benders, falling into the arms of the other when we spiraled out on hope. It was the kind of friendship that made having such huge hearts feel bearable. "Thank God we have each other," we'd say on constant repeat, as if we wouldn't know where to put all the love or all the sorrow, if the other wasn't there to help hold it.
Jodi struggled especially in that time, but not as much as before we were reunited. Jodi was a lesbian, and a tender one, at that. But it had been nearly two years since she'd felt true reciprocal love. It seemed like many times throughout our lives, one of us would go first with a lesson, so she could teach the other how to cope when it was her turn. I had just made it through the fire of incessantly falling in love with people who were unavailable, and it was Jodi's turn to go next. The number of basically straight women Jodi had fallen for was less important then the depth of wound it left her. Each time she'd discover that another one of her loves was straight, it was like a chunk of her heart had been shaved off, chopped up, thrown on the grill and then eaten by a black shadow of loneliness. She'd call me and I'd answer to a mousy quiet on the other end. We knew each other's sounds so well, I could hear which quiet meant tired, which meant hungry and which meant heartbroken. Heartbroken was the worst to hear.
I made it my mission to help break her spell, as so many had helped me break mine. In that time, we were exploring anger like a drug neither of us knew well. Both of us more prone to the stillness of sadness, we vowed, together, to experiment with the movement of rage, the force of being fed up, helping each other run hard and fast in the direction of what we actually wanted, as an act of defiance against all the dead ends we'd been slamming into.
For Jodi, we went to lesbian bars, lesbian dance nights, lesbian film screenings, lesbian everythings. I tweeted the lesbian groups for hat tips on the sweetest events. We threw parties inviting all the lesbians we liked from OK Cupid. "We're in this together, Jo. I'm helping you out of this god damn hole. There's a land of abundance. I swear. And I can't wait for you to get there." She'd tell me I was her biggest advocate. But the thing is, she was mine, too.
One late September afternoon, it was a sunny day after a week straight of rain, so we took ourselves on an adventure to the top of Mt. Tabor. I remember thinking that it looked like the air itself was breathing, shimmering and warping with a mystical sort of life, and that surely the fairies were out at play. We brought along our sacks of magic--glitter and glue and guitars and hula hoops. We made movies and did headstands and took beautiful photographs of each other through blades of grass. Our bodies looked young and strong, primal and playful. With my head on Jo's belly, her arm around my neck, I could taste the smell of slightly burnt skin stirred with the depth of the cool lush ground.
After hours of playing in the sun, we wound up at the Waypost in North Portland--a cafe and bar that had nightly music. We ordered the cherry cider, upon the bartender's recommendation, and it was served in wide 20 ounce mason jars for $3 a pop. Jodi's heart was heavy again with too much love, so I came up with a silly art therapy game and we drew and drew and drew at a patio picnic table for hours. This was the way we were together: a constant split between lover, friend, therapist, muse, and artist. The truth was, we liked it. We wanted it all. All those ups and downs of being human. As long as we had each other to feel through it with.
That day was like the cards aligned perfectly for us to dance our advocacy for each other. I had good vibes about the bartender and found out that he was into Tarot. I had my animal cards with me, so at some point when he came by our table to bus some dishes, Jodi spoke up for me, "Do you want an animal card reading by Rach?" she asked. "I'd love one" he excitedly, and before I could blink or object, he was clearing off a space at the bar, inviting me to sit before him. That man, Antonio Bonilla, became one of the greatest loves of my life.
Later, the opening number for the set had bailed, and Jodi was on the patio strumming her guitar. I asked the band if they wanted her to open for them, and they said yes. Without having the chance to blink or object, I pulled her in from outside, and onto the stage.
We were like everything we didn't have the resources, guts, or permission to be when we were 17--grown-up versions of the seeds we planted as teens: artists, writers, musicians, witches, therapists. There was a secret seed, though, that was also sprouting now--one we didn't realize had been planted, but had clearly been there all along--sex. And right along side it, like it's obvious alter ego sprouted shame.
At 26, we were in that stage of wanting to think we'd shed all the shame about our "othered" identities, but the truth was, we were just beginning. Jodi was further along than I was, traditionally speaking, in terms of being Out. She'd been in conversation with her family since she was about 19. I, on the other hand, had a much more non-conventional approach to my Outness, partially because I was still grappling with what to call all the love I was exploding into, all the boundless label-less amorphous glorious love. And partly because I was enraged that love ever needed explaining at all.
I had fallen in love with and been in relationships with women. I had also been in love with more than one person at a time, and told everyone about everyone else. (Neither of which felt easy to let myself do, initially.) Jodi and I were also in a relationship that confused everyone new who we met. "Best friends don't spoon 3 nights a week," they'd say. "Why not?" I'd retort back. "More love is never bad." But the way I communicated about my love was more or less decided upon, and dependent on my audience. With the actual lover and my close friends, I acted as if nothing was strange about our togetherness (because nothing actually felt strange in my heart). With my parents, I communicated abruptly and abrasively about my relationships (because I didn't want them to have any space to tell me "no"). And in "public" which also meant with most of my extended family, I let the whole thing go silent and invisible (because the truth always felt too vulnerable to reveal). I had a clear act decided upon for each situation. A way to stay safe. A way to guard the love.
But those acts were old suitcases, becoming tattered, and I was new and sick of carrying them.
It felt symbolic that the only clothes I had with me were what I had brought for Burning Man, and whatever donations Jodi and her housemates passed along to me. I was literally draped in a freak-suit of sorts most days for my first month in Portland. Staples to my wardrobe included cheetah spandex, a skin-tight denim vest, and my silk zebra robe. The only two pairs of shoes I had were a tasseled duo of all-white cowgirl boots, and my apple green low-top Chuck Taylors. Glitter and scrolls were my most trusted currency--I carried them with me everywhere I went. And my video camera was constantly capturing the magic. I was totally broke but had everything I needed, and any time my bank account balance got down below $5, I'd take a screen shot of the statement as a strange form of gratitude. As a way of saying, "Look. This is what it feels like to have no money. You are so fucking blissed out it doesn't even matter."
I could taste my riches in every breath. I didn't give a damn about the future.
But one day at the peak of my pennilessness, I came up with a game I could offer out to my clients--a 30 day challenge course centered all around your aligning your core desires and your actions. Long story short, when you teach, it's pretty much required that you go first. So I figured out that what my heart wanted for 30 days was simple: to stay with love.
"Love what you have, and you'll have more love" was the Regina Spektor lyrics I scrolled up on a tiny piece of paper and put inside a small glass capsule I wore around my neck. Every day, when I did something that signified "staying with love", I'd add a little bit of gold glitter to the capsule. It was a beautiful idea, but it wasn't until a session with one of my clients, that I realized what I was really doing.
The client had had gastro intestinal bypass surgery, and thus, an extra flap of skin remained around her belly and had been there for decades. She'd spent much of her life hating that skin, trying get rid of it, shame it, shun it out of existence. In our session, we realized that what her body really wanted was emotional support--to invite all of herself back into her tender embrace. To welcome herself home. To love her whole body, unconditionally.
It may sound strange, but I had closeted part of my heart. And just like my clients' body, every part of my heart was holy. Every part of it was meant to be there, in that upward flowering position, center facing the sun of love, saying, "This pollen is for everyone. This pollen. Come. And. Feast."