I remember when Khrysso asked me to marry him on Thanksgiving Day last year. Our relationship took off like a rocket after we started dating in August, so he might have asked me before that, too, but that’s the one that sticks as official. He understood the complex circumstances around my separation from Sheri, and we started planning a wedding for “as soon as possible,” pending my again becoming a single man when Sheri’s disability benefits were settled. We never dreamed I would become a widower instead of a divorcee. We considered how long to wait before moving ahead with the wedding, what would seem respectful, but practically, I was already in transition. Ending my life with Sheri had never been a consideration, only ending our relationship as a married couple. Saying goodbye and letting go was grief enough, without delaying the joy of moving on. One of the plagues of my life to date has been living with a spirit of procrastination, dragging feet, and putting off things that desperately need doing before the opportunity is lost. No more. So we set the date and are forging ahead.
Khrysso and I wrote the following for our wedding listing on withjoy.com. I thought I’d share it here as well. It’s just so remarkable to me that a whole new life became possible so abruptly last August with one date for coffee. Just goes to show, one should never lose hope, and that when you get on with the business of living authentically, happiness sneaks in and slugs you with a brick. Read the rest of this entry →
My last post was celebrating another Spring, another year of Sheri surviving and seeing things turn green since her first serious medical trial 20 years ago. I highlighted the truly ridiculous list of physical challenges she had overcome in those 20 years, and 16 days after that post, she was gone, having finally succumbed to the infection she had fought for so long. It’s inconceivable that the warrior I know so well has fallen. But that word may not mean what I think it means.
People read that post of her amazing strength and spirit and were inspired, and I wish she had told her own story. The fullness of it, the unsanitized version, is even more amazing, because a story fraught with such triumph is not all pretty and clean and shiny. It’s bloody and broken and mucked with nasty bodily fluids, and washed in tears. I’ve never spoken much of those times except to a few confidantes, and as my sister avows, I never will, because it’s my job to keep the pedestal gleaming.
The venerated Mr. Rogers often told the story of when he was young and afraid, his mother advised him to look for the helpers: In time of crisis there are always helpers. And over the last 20 years, our helpers have abounded: foremost Sheri’s Mum, the formidable Arlajean. With incredible strength and devotion, she did all those things only a mother can do. Her life of service provided an anchor in every storm, and she was always my greatest ally in Sheri’s care, making sure our girls and I were looked after as well as Sheri. My mom, Bernie, of unmatched faith and charity, loved and prayed and gave without ceasing. My sister, Norlene, always managed to be there when we needed her and made sure I wasn’t too often alone. Glenda made herself available to chauffeur our girls so many times; Kitty made sure I was fed when I was holding vigil at Cleveland Clinic; all the family and friends and nurses and aides and doctors and therapists and clerical people, countless people with such good hearts, it’s impossible to name them or thank them.
But the chief helper through all of that crisis was… me. I dried tears, I bandaged tunneled wounds, I scrubbed unthinkable spills from carpets and couches, I signed papers and argued with doctors and threatened to raise truly ugly hell with incompetent nurses. I soothed fears, I researched medicines and hospitals and treatments, I built and hauled the portable ramp for the wheelchair, I picked up dead weight when knees gave out until my back was shot, and I sat attendant on the pavement in the parking lot waiting for assistance when I could no longer lift. I made sure our girls had birthdays and Christmases and Easters and feminine products and deodorant. And I don’t tell any of this because I want anyone to applaud the magic that is Doug. No, I tell it because, at this point in the story, there are people who think I’m despicable.
See, our marriage finally couldn’t withstand the stress and damage of the roller coaster of ceaseless crisis, the steps we took to try and succeed that others didn’t comprehend. Eventually, I realized I had stopped being a spouse and become solely a caregiver. And all the challenges created too many toxic situations in which we couldn’t agree on solutions or courses of action, and the need became overwhelming. All the details are unnecessary, but on my doctors’ advice I began over several years to pull away and create space. We finally officially separated in August last year. We agreed to wait to divorce until Sheri’s benefits were settled, but that was postponed and delayed time and again.
Well, some people feel I’m despicable for abandoning the crippled woman, even when I continued to spend most of my days taking care of her. Some people feel I’m despicable for finally meeting someone else after nearly 2 decades of faithful loneliness. A relative said to Sheri in November, “I knew you should never have taken him back when you left him in 1989.” Excuse me, I took her back. And that’s assuming someone else, then, would have kept vigil and scrubbed carpets and bandaged and encouraged and dried tears and prayed. Yes, this part rankles me a bit, and for the record, our marriage was over years ago except for the decree. But you know, without that decree I have the responsibility of tending to her remains and tying up her loose ends, and the term “husband” has been bandied about a lot. I got tired of trying to explain something that was nobody’s business anyway, and I’m honored to carry out these last tasks.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of, Sheri loved me. I have a gift from one of her therapists, who said in their last visit that Sheri spoke of wishing me well and wanting me to be happy, and our enduring friendship. I have a great gift from Sheri: When I offered to undergo pointless and ineffective conversion therapy 15 years ago her answer was, “No. If being gay is part of what makes you the man you are, then I don’t want to change that.” For whatever reason not even I understand, Sheri was the only woman I ever loved, and I was true to her for 35 years.
Matthew 7:16 speaks of how a good tree is known by the fruit it bears, and my love was shown by the years I spent faithfully taking care of my best friend in ways that most people can’t imagine, long after romance and marriage and even companionship faded. I’m still that person who demonstrated his love all those years. You think you know enough of the story, have the unblemished right to judge and call me despicable? Look at my fruit, and kiss my ass. And yes, Sheri did her share of bandaging and drying tears and praying, and learning to cook gluten free. She wasn’t perfect but the fruit her tree bore was golden. And mine was all about the colors, baby.
Her name was Sheri, and I loved her, and our story is extraordinary, and someday I may tell it more completely. But my inexplicable friend is gone. Moving on, life to live: Doug’s world, meet Khrysso LeFey, a man of incredible character, talent, integrity, and intelligence who has become a pillar in my life. Khrysso, my man, meet Doug’s world.
I know I’ve told this story to a number of people before, but here it is again for the uninitiated. In October of 1996, Sheri and I celebrated our 14th anniversary, and she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. It was an incredibly scary time for us. Just heading into Fall, with all the Ohio landscape turning brown and dying, Sheri prayed that she would see Spring again, with its warmth and colors, and most of all teeming with signs of green life bursting everywhere. With surgery and radiation, she did indeed see the world turn green again, and we celebrated. And so began a special ritual for us, every Spring, welcoming the Green.
I don’t believe in the doctrine of predestination, that God has an absolute plan for every moment of your life down to what necktie you’ll choose to wear today. I’m an artist. I know that God sculpted into me that spark of creativity that is an adventure of exploring possibilities, and I have no doubt, that is a reflection of his own image. She’s not going to tell me someday, “Nope, it was a farce, I was pulling your strings the whole time. And you thought you had free will!”
However, I do believe that God may on occasion call you to a particular task for which you are well-suited, even if you don’t know you have the required skill. God says, “One day, there’s going to be this kid from Wapokeneta who is destined for great things, but he’s going to need a bit of inspiration. Who do I have available, let’s see… Yeah, Jamie, that’s it, and you’re going to convey that inspiration in a graphic novel. Ha, and your teacher thinks you drawing funny pictures is a bad thing…” Read the rest of this entry →
As I was visiting mom in rehab this evening an old familiar Rankin/Bass favorite came on the telly. Yes, it is that time of year again: ho, ho, ho, and I am compelled to share with you a story, a tale, a reckoning.
All my failures in life can be directly attributed to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. It’s true. I was a very impressionable age in the sixties when Rudolph was new and magical, and I was a sucker for those claymation messages which seemed so benevolent on the surface.
The first misconception– Misconception? No, it really is an outright lie. If we’re going to be frank about the devastation caused by this innocuous children’s holiday entertainment delight, then let’s call it what it is. The first LIE is that it’s okay to be a misfit. This is not true. Rudy and his new best friend Hermey actually become heroes because of the quirks that make them different, and everybody loves them. And we know this is not how real life operates.
The message about friendship that really stuck with my 6 year old self after watching Rudolph is that your best friends will betray you and call you names if you make any startling revelations about yourself, so it’s better to keep your piehole shut! I mean, come on, Hermey wasn’t an outcast because he wanted to be a dentist. Hermey was an outcast because he preferred to wear his hair with that stylish and rather attractive extreme half-bang, which swooped sharply over one eye, rakish and defiant, with a pointy edge that could lacerate the unwary if he wasn’t careful. In my first career as a hairdresser I emulated that bang on many old ladies, many, many old ladies. And of course it was impossible for Hermey to NOT like Rudolph when that lucky buck was styling bling like a neon beezer. We all know that Hermey’s real problem had everything to do with being a fussy little pansy, but nothing to do with teeth, and that Hermey found screen life later in the person of David Hyde Pierce.
I believed that one day I too would be rescued from my solitary melancholia by a similarly outcast fellow who would join me in a compulsively affirming choreographed song about embracing our nebbishy selves and spitting in the world’s eye! My constant efforts to engage others thusly reinforced my own image as weirdo and a person who fails to recognize personal space.
The next lie that was perpetuated by Rudolph and taken to heart by untold thousands was that there is always tomorrow. How many of us became a little deer named Clarice in our dreams, with those huge, impossibly soft deer eyes (which were probably so deer-like because she was a deer) singing sweetly about how you should believe in your dreams come what may. Yeah, just what my father wanted me to believe! The man is telling me at 8 years old to learn a trade, become a mechanic, and I’m pretending I’m Clarice wafting through frozen crystal landscapes like doe-colored chiffon. I clung to that belief through all the angst of my growing-up years, telling myself when the chips were down that “tomorrow is NOT far away!” Isn’t that just another way of saying, “I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day!” Clarice was a beautiful dreamer, Scarlett was queen of denial. What a fine line between vixen and venison. Get your head out of the snow belt, Clarice! Tomorrow is TOMORROW, it’s always 24 hours away, and you’re not getting any younger waiting around for it. Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, and one of these days your fluffy white tail will be droopy dried out jerky. Ditch that bubblegum bow on your head and SEIZE THE DAY, dear! And when you run away from that bully buck dad of yours, don’t go looking for Rudolph. You run and don’t stop until your little hooves hit Berkeley where you can learn to be a dissident and overthrow the tyrant Claus! (OK, it WAS the 60s, after all)
The third Rudolph lie cloaked in charming childhood innocence is that when you’ve run away from home and are lost in the wilderness, a kindly and forgivingly eccentric woolly wildman will come along to escort you to safety. You can excuse his oral fixation with his pickaxe and climb into bed with him, but stay alert long enough to beat feet when the Sandman claims your best friend the pansy who is obviously okay with the situation. Douse the light indeed!
And while we’re visiting the Island of Misfit Toys, I have to ask, because I’ve never been able to figure it out. What the heck is up with that King Dawntreader. Or Muckraker. Moonraiser. Whatever. That lion king, he wouldn’t let Rudolph and his friends stay on the island because it wasn’t a place for living creatures. So what was HE doing there? Hello! Was he some kind of Zombie master or something? Were the misfit toys DEAD? Is that why that little ragdoll was there on the island? It didn’t look like there was anything wrong with her craftsmanship. She looked normal. She didn’t have square wheels, or polka-dots, or even a wacko name like Charlie. They didn’t allude to any defect like an over-active betsy wetsy. So I think she must have been a lesbian.
And finally, we discuss the true villain of the Rudolph Holiday Hoax: Mrs. Claus. Beware hatchet-faced old women who deride others for their looks and encourage unhealthy choices. Sure, “Who wants to see a skinny Santa?” and “Eat, Santa, eat!” are the words of a harpy who is obviously so crippled with self-loathing that she must sabotage any self-esteem in the castle. It is my personal theory that Rudolph’s Mrs. C is actually Santa’s second wife, a harridan who befriended the lovely Jessica from Santa Claus is Coming to Town and then murdered her and took her place, feeding Santa’s eggnog addiction and terrorizing the North Pole. She is probably the sister of Miss Almira Gulch.
And in the end what we can take from Rudolph is that when faced with fanged annihilation, the best thing to do is be a pig and resort to violence. These lessons I embraced in my youth continued to loom as markers on my emotional landscape until years of intense therapy wore them grudgingly away. Happy day for me! and yet for generations of holiday viewers, the lessons still deceive. How else can we explain Honey Boo Boo?