Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Family Reunions... well, sorta

As you know from my past posts or from personal conversations with me, my family has no contact with me because I decided to leave their fundamentalist religion, the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs). Anytime someone decides to leave or is forced to leave for behavior they do not tolerate (like being gay), all JWs are instructed to cut off association with that person, even family members. Further, they tell members that anyone who leaves or gets kicked out will certainly wind up living an empty, loveless life, without God's spirit or assistance. (I remember being taught that those who left were certain to become drug addicts, alcoholics, and tramps who would never have any 'real' friends. They may have toned that down in recent years, I don't know.) Sounds kind of harsh, but that is how they emotionally blackmail members who may be 'on the fence' to stay in the religion. It didn't work for me, as I left 12 years ago, and do not have contact with my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and other extended relatives who are also JWs.

About 2 weeks ago my cousin Inez (Nez) who is not and never was a JW IM'd me at work, telling me that my 15-year old niece Leslie had been asking her about me. Apparently Leslie does not wish to be a JW anymore, but is fearful of her parent's reaction. Leslie was curious about me and wanted Nez to put her in contact with me. Nez decided she would not do so unless Leslie could get approval from her parents. After all, Nez is a mother too, and would not appreciate someone assisting her children to do something they know is against their parent's wishes.

A few days later, Nez told me that not only does Leslie not want to be a JW anymore, but her 18-year old sister Lauren doesn't either. Lauren also began asking Nez (via IM) about getting in contact with me. Nez gave her the same answer: as long as they lived under their parent's roof, she couldn't help them contact me since she knew their parents didn't approve.

Just before leaving on vacation, I got another IM from Nez telling me that Lauren had told her parents she was no longer going to be a JW or attend their religious meetings. Apparently it was an emotional and heated discussion which resulted in Lauren being told to leave the house for good. That's right - my sister and her husband kicked their 18-year old daughter out of the house for having different religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). I was rather shocked, as the JW religion does not require parents to kick their kids out if they are living at home. But apparently Lauren was rather adamant about no longer going to church with them or living under all of the religion's strict prohibitions.

When I returned from vacation I confirmed with Nez that Lauren had left her parents' home and was staying with some friends in a nearby town. My sister had called Lauren and pleaded with her to reconsider her decision and to come back home, but Lauren said no. She was unwilling to live under those conditions. Since Lauren was no longer under her parent's rood, I asked Nez for Lauren's IM screen name, and when I saw her online, I IM'd her.

After introducing myself I was pleased at her excited reaction. I explained that the main thing I felt was important for her to know was that all that stuff they said about those who leave or get kicked out was CRAP. I was pleased to find that she was aware of that and understood the manipulation behind it. We then went on to catch up on what was going on with her, I checked to make sure she had a safe place to stay, and she asked questions about my life. She was only 6 years old the last time we had seen each other.

Since then we have IM'd on several occasions, and I've been able to help her understand some of the unknown/scary/unsure feelings she's beginning to have. As I explained to her, she's in the biggest transitional period of her life right now, and it is understandable to have such feelings. I shared with her some of my feelings from that period as well as my coping strategies. Part of what she's going through is the realization that her actions have separated her from her family - the main people she's grown up with and trusted. So I'm helping her to know that she can trust others too, like me, to understand her and help her through this time.

So far she's not requested to see me in person yet, but my guess is that that is coming soon. She knows I'm gay, she knows about my life with Joe, and she's totally fine with it. She told me one of her best friends is an 18-year old young man named Ryan who is gay and who is also trying to deal with his parents and the issue of not being a JW anymore. I'm glad she's cool with the gay topic because I definitely had no plans to hide it from her, or anyone else.

I asked her about her sister, Leslie. She said Leslie is pretty much miserable because she's being forced to continue going to church with her parents even though she's told them she does not believe in it. But being only 15 it is illegal for her parents to kick her out, so I guess that house is going to have some stress for the next 3 years. Lord help them.

Two days after initially making contact with Lauren, I received an email from my cousin Hilleary. Being the oldest of the cousins, Hilleary decided a long, long time ago that the JW religion was not for him, and stopped participating. Since his father was not a JW (only his mother and siblings were) there was never any question of him being kicked out of the house. His father was probably glad about it! But Hilleary moved to California a long time ago and I only remember seeing him a few times here and there, when someone in the family got married or had a baby. Even then those of us who were 'good JWs' treated Hilleary coolly, since we knew he was not a JW anymore.

Hilleary explained in his email that he had thought of me many times over the years, especially after hearing that I was no longer a JW, and wondered how I was doing. He finally found a way to contact me by asking my non-JW cousin, Nez.

I was thrilled to hear from my cousin, and happy he took the time to tell me a bit about his life and family. He and his female 'partner' Mindy are not legally married, but they live as married people, like me and Joe. They have 3 sons together, and live in Mendocino. He works for a music company, out of his home office, and volunteers at his youngest son's school. The older two boys are in college. He told me he'd like to know about my life if I cared to share.

When I wrote back I thanked him for his email and told him briefly about the circumstances that surrounded my leaving the JWs. I told him about my life with Joe for the last 9+ years, and about my work and interests. I told him I was sorry I missed his recent visit to the east coast (4 months ago) for his nephew's wedding, but offered to meet him the next time he comes out here. I also told him I hoped our dialog could continue so that we could catch up on all the lost years.

These two recent cyber reunions have made me happy. It's ironic: For many years after leaving the JWs (which resulted in loosing my family) I believe I really grieved that great loss. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to find family enrichment elsewhere. Joe's family came to the rescue, and I was so, so blessed to have them fill the family void that used to exist in my life. Feeling that that was enough, I was content. And then, Lauren and Hilleary contact me in the same week, and I am now getting reacquainted with them. How lucky can a guy get?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wedding in the Berkshires

Thurs morning Joe & I loaded the trunk of my convertible and set off on our second trip this week. The purpose of this trip was to attend the wedding of our friends Michael & Jamie, in the Berkshires. And since our directions took us within a short distance of Albany NY, we decided to leave a day early to see could incorporate a visit with our friend Rachel.

The drive to Albany was beautiful and easy, for the most part. Rather than taking the NJ Turnpike through NJ and NY, we followed the suggestion of Michael & Jamie to take the western route through PA instead. Although the NJ/NY route is likely shorter, it is much more hectic, trafficky, and stressful to drive. (We knew that from our trip to Vermont in Jan.) The route through PA was beautiful, not trafficky at all, and was a pleasure to drive.

We headed north with the roof down, our sunglasses and visors on, and the CD wallets full of good music for the drive. The weather was quite pleasant through MD and PA, with large periods of alternating sun and clouds. Several miles before approaching Frackville PA (yes, that's really the name of the town), we saw a huge billboard sign for "Dutch Kitchen - Voted Best Roadfood". Joe & I got a chuckle out of this, wondering what exactly was "roadfood". Was that something like roadkill? Who votes on that? We decided they likely meant road-side food, since the sign was on a major highway. Intrigued, we decided to stop there for lunch.

Since it was about 2:30 on a Thurs, there were only folks at a few tables. Our waiter was this 60-something looking many with impeccably styled hair. After taking our order, we overheard him talking to another employee, lamenting that he was the only server that day, and that if there were a rush, he'd be all alone to handle all the tables. Then he added that he was simply not having a good week. Just the previous day he had done a perm and had forgotten to mix up the perm solution, so he wound up having to do the whole thing over again. We didn't realize this lunch would include entertainment!

Back on the road again, the periods of sun were becoming fewer and fewer, and the clouds were getting darker. Joe asked me if I thought we should stop and put the roof up. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I said no and that I thought we'd be fine. We'd crossed the NY state line and I figured we'd be in Albany soon. A good while later as we were sailing east on I-84, we drove right into an absolute deluge of rain! Neither of us saw it ahead of us, and there were no tell-tale drips or drizzles on the windshield to warn us. Before we knew it, we had driven into the pouring rain. I immediately pulled over to the shoulder and pushed the button that automatically opens the 'boot' and raises the convertible roof, but it just wasn't fast enough. It takes 14 seconds to open or close the roof, but when you're sitting in the pouring rain, 14 seconds feels like 14 minutes. We were both soaked. There was only like 2 fast food napkins in the glove box with which we could attempt to wipe the streams of water from our faces. It was really shocking how fast we drove into that. About 15 minutes later the rain stopped and the sun came back out. We stopped for gas and while I was fueling up, Joe went inside and got some napkins to wipe off the inside of the car. Confident that the shower was over, I pushed the button and sent the convertible roof back to its resting spot and headed back out.

Not even an hour later, as we were heading north on I-87, we saw the first of a few drips on the windshield this time, so I immediately pulled over so we could get the roof up again. Just as we merged from the shoulder back onto the highway, it began to pour again. We decided the roof was going to stay up this time, even if the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

We reached Albany and met up with Rachel. She used to work with Joe, but took a better paying job in Albany back in July. She'd lived in Albany before and has several close friends and relatives there. We walked from her apartment in a gorgeous old Victorian a few blocks to Sadie's, where we had to yell to compete with the loud music from the bar next door, as we ate pizza, chicken tenders, and an assortment of fried foods. Good times! It was nice to visit with Rachel. We stayed at an inexpensive hotel near the highway.

Fri morning, after breakfast at IHOP, we headed over to a cute, 'up-and-coming' neighborhood where we'd seen some cute stores the night before. Much of Albany looks to be in a state of disrepair. What were once gorgous Victorian houses are now apartment buildings needing lots of care. Its such a shame, since Albany is the capitol of NY, and since the city has such potential to look like San Francisco. We did a little browsing and then decided to head on over to MA. From Albany we took I-90 and got to Lee, MA in less than an hour.

Michael & Jamie had sent us this wonderful and invaluable map of The Berkshires, which includes several little tiny towns, one of which was Lee, the location of our hotel. We checked into our room, and called Michael & Jamie to let them know we were in town, then set off to explore the quaint little villages that make up the Berkshires. We had dinner at a Greek restaurant, then headed over to meet up with Michael & Jamie, their families, and other guests who had already arrived for the wedding. They both seemed a little nervous, likely because their ceremony was scheduled to be outdoors the next day, and it had rained earlier, and the forecast called for scattered showers on their wedding day. But it was nice to see some familiar faces of the guests we'd met before.

Sat morning, we had breakfast at a coffee shop/smoothie place/bagel shop, then headed out for some more exploring. We stopped at a tag sale (yard sale) and as we were leaving, Jamie and his two friends Amy and Caryn pulled up! Apparently Michael & Jamie had planned a little time on their wedding day for each of them to spend with the two friends who were 'standing up for them' at their wedding, and being the consummate bargain hunter, this was Jamie's idea of quality time with his friends.

Michael called 45 minutes before the wedding was to start to let me know they had decided to move the ceremony indoors, due to the threat of rain. We arrive a few minutes before it was to begin and took our seats. Michael & Jamie each had a sibling give a reading, and then the officiant gave the sermon. I took pictures as discreetly as possible.

Then we had a cocktail hour, followed by a sit-down dinner, followed by dancing, the cutting and serving of the wedding cake, and an open bar. It was a wonderful event.

We got the opportunity to meet all of Jamie & Michael's parents. I say 'all' because both guys' parents are divorced and remarried, so there were 4 sets of parents. There were also many relatives, friends, former co-workers, and college roommates/friends. We really enjoyed talking to many of them and seeing how wonderfully supportive everyone was for these two guys who decided to get married in the only state in the United States where gays can marry.

We left this morning at 9:30, stopped once for lunch and gas, and got home at 5:30. We logged over 1,100 miles. I'm really not looking forward to returning to work tomorrow.

Las Vegas, Baby!!

I had good intentions of writing again before leaving on vacation, but things got pretty crazy at work. Instead of writing my last night before leaving, I was in the office until 8pm.

Joe's mom Evelyn & I left early Fri morning for the airport, where we met up with Kelly, George, and Zelinda for our fabulous trip to Las Vegas to celebrate Kelly's 40th birthday. Joe had an important meeting, so he left Fri evening and joined us later that night.

We stayed at the Luxor, the giant black Pyramid. Joe & I stayed there the last time we were in Vegas (for my 40th birthday) and loved it. They've interwoven the Egyptian theme everywhere you can imagine, from the hotel/casino decor to the pyramid shaped box that hold the shower cap. The slanted wall of one-way glass in our 14th floor guest room offered us fantastic views of the desert mountains and the sparkling pools.

Friday after checking in, we ate and talked about the shows we wanted to see. Then some of us went to the pool, others to the spa, and others to the casino. Joe joined us as we were eating our late dinner.

Sat we picked up our mini-van from the car rental desk inside the Luxor (how convenient is that?) and headed out to Red Rocks Canyon. It is a beautiful state park about 40 minutes outside Las Vegas, with a driving trail and many places to stop and get out. You are also permitted to climb the beautiful rusty-red colored rock formations if you want, but none in our group was that adventurous. On our way back into town we stopped for lunch. Once back at the Luxor it was time for more pool-side relaxing, mango body scrubs at the spa, and of course, slot machine action.

Sat night Evelyn, Joe & I went to see Gladys Knight at the Flamingo. What a fantastic performance! She really exceeded our expectations. For being over 60 years old and being in show business for over 40 years, she looked and sounded great! She sang all of her hits, and the audience responded appreciatively. Then the three of us decided to have a late dinner at the Venetian. We walked along the Grand Canal, ducked into a few shops, and watched the gondaliers as they guided their boats up and down the indoor canal while serenading their passengers. We ate a late, light supper at a little Italian trattoria.

Sun found some of us at the pool again, others at the spa, and others at the slot machines. Sun night Kelly, George, and Zelinda went to see the Cirque du Soleil production called 'O' at the Bellagio. All 6 of us left together, and after dropping the show folks off Evelyn, Joe & I went outside to watch the spectacular Bellagio Fountains show. (Its about 4-5 minutes long and happens every 1/2 hour, with different fountain shows.) Afterward we took a tour through the beautiful Bellagio, taking note of where the group of us would dine after the Cirque show ended. Then we took the skybridge over to Caesar's Palace and toured it. On our way back to the Bellagio it was time for the fountain show again, so we stopped to see another beautiful selection.

When we rejoined the others we found that everyone was still full from our buffet lunch several hours prior, so we scrapped the idea of a late dinner at the Bellagio. Some retreated to their rooms for rest, others went back to the slot machines, and Kelly & I went to the lounge to have a few birthday drinks and listen to the band. (Kelly's birthday was Sun Sept 11.)

The first part of Mon was much like the first part of Sun. Mon evening we all rode over to the New York, New York hotel/casino to see the Cirque du Soleil show called 'Zumanity'. Billed as "the other side of Cirque du Soleil", it has a 18 year old age limit due to some nudity and graphic sexual language. We all enjoyed the show, but I didn't find it much different than most Cirque shows. It seemed like pretty much the same kind of trapeze/acrobatic stuff, only with far less costumes. But it was still enjoyable. Mon was Zelinda's birthday.

The weather couldn't have been better: around 84 degrees during the day, with no discernible humidity, and about 76 degrees at night. The locals said it was unseasonably cool for that time of year, but we certainly weren't complaining!

Although we often split up so everyone could 'do our own thing' (ie: slot machines, spa treatments, sunning/swimming, etc) we always checked in with each other and made arrangements to share almost every meal as a group. It really worked out well, allowing everyone time together and time apart.

Tues morning the shuttle picked us up at 10:30 to get us to the airport. But before that, my longtime friend Cliff and his partner Steve (whom I'd not met before) joined Joe & me for breakfast at the Luxor at 9. Cliff and I had been friends back in the 80s when we were both still JWs. Cliff had moved away, then left the JWs so we lost touch. Then I left the JWs and the years began to fly by. About a year ago, out of the blue I got an email from Cliff, saying he'd found me on the internet. So, of course we had to see each other after all these years. I was glad Steve was able to come so I could meet him. It was the perfect way to end our trip in Vegas.

Tues night we got back home at about 10pm (local time), but since there were no meals on the flight, we were hungry. Evelyn, Joe & I went to the Silver Diner and then went directly to bed. Flying seems to make everyone tired.

Wed Joe took his mom home and I started on the laundry. EVERYTHING had to be washed, whether we had worn it or not, due to the cigarette smoke. I ran a few errands, and then when Joe returned, we began packing for our next adventure...

Friday, September 02, 2005

What a different humidity makes

About 2 weeks ago it was 77 degrees one morning, but it was so stinkin' humid it felt like I was in a rainforest. It was so gross that I kept the roof on my car closed and drove to work with the a/c on.

This week the temperatures have been in the mid- to upper-80s, but the humidity has been so low that it feels great! I haven't closed the roof on my car all week. Its amazing what a difference humidity makes.

We're heading to the beach tonight for the 3-day Labor Day weekend... roof open, music blaring, mouth smiling. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday weekend.