Running Away from Home: 1979

I was living with 5 gay friends in a condo, way back in 1979. I was 18 and out on my own for the first time. Going to the Parliament House, the big gay bar in our city, was The Priority in our lives… above eating and, of course, paying our rent.

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So when rent was due and we only had $500 between the 5 of us, 3 of us decided to take our winnings, er… rent money… and head to New York City. Living in Orlando, that was quite ambitious thinking, but we were all young and stupid and believed anything was possible.

We stopped by my dad’s house so I could grab the Oldsmobile Delta 88, an enormous light blue wonder that had one back window that wouldn’t go down, another that wouldn’t go up, a trunk that would not open and a hood tied with metal wire to keep it down. I had to dig around for the keys and license plate, but found those and we were off, in my dad’s now-stolen car.

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It looked about this good, but was a powder blue with a white hard top.

We packed that car with all of our belongings: clothes, shoes, books… and for some reason, several jars of peanut butter and jars of grape jam. (Jars were glass back then, no plastic ruining the environment in the olden days.)

I remember Bobby taking the first shift in the back seat, laying sideways on all the stuff, his shoulder hitting the roof resting on the huge pile. We tried to open the trunk 100 times, to no avail, so finally resigned ourselves that sleeping like the Princess in the Pea was a part of this adventure.

Bobby, a bright-red redhead, curly hair down around his shoulders, ached to be a drag queen, dancing and miming songs at every chance. Even up on his back seat perch, I laughed hysterically, seeing him in the rear view mirror, holding a hairbrush and lip synching to “I Will Survive” on the radio.

Bobby was a liar, telling us, with complete conviction, that the Oscar Meyer little boy was his brother. At first we were awed, then the lies built onto each other and when it took a teasel to figure one truth from another, we just shrugged and laughed no matter what he said.

The other roommate who came with us was Scott, a gay guy I had known since junior high. Scott was so smart and clever, but more of a book nerd than either Bobby or I; he was a good balance for us. Scott found his way into laughing for the sake of laughing on this trip, which makes me so happy since he died of AIDS not 3 years hence. I was very glad to witness his joy. Bobby also died of AIDS a couple of years after Scott.

During our trip of 1979, AIDS was an unknown. Sex was with utter abandon. The worst sexually transmitted disease one could get was herpes and that seemed like a social death sentence. Little did we know then, herpes would be almost benign.

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The first person I knew of who died of the Gay Cancer was Fat Matt. I was fat, too, and Fat Matt and I talked a lot about dieting and trying to lose weight. Being fat as a gay man was not good… being fit and being gorgeous were (and are) a gay thing. So when Matt began losing weight, he was ecstatic. He had no idea what he was doing to lose so fast, but he was thrilled. His sex life picked up, his self-esteem soared… and then he passed through thin, from healthy to gaunt in a few weeks. Matt was gone 6 months after he began losing weight. None of us knew what happened. He was such a dear, fun friend, the bar seemed odd without his flouncing around, showing us his hippo dance from Fantasia.

Then there were others, not fat men, who began losing weight, then their lives. I remember standing in the drag bar, being told two dear club friends had died during the week and reeling with complete confusion about what was happening. It would still be 6 months before the words “Gay Cancer” would be said on the evening news.

Being gay in the late 70’s and early 80’s was still taboo. No “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” no gays in the military, no gay marriage. Homosexuals (and I, the fag hag) clung to each other when our parents changed the locks after throwing our belongings in the front yard. So when our gay friends were dying, we were never invited to the funerals, but held our own memorials at the bar. We would drink to our friends, huddle together, giving each other love and comfort. When there were so many of these bar memorials we’d become numb, we realized we had all run out of tears at the exact same time.

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Snatch with Prompt

This was the Prompt:

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This is what I wrote in 30 minutes (unedited):

When Colors Run

Deep inside my colorless cocoon, I have a vague sense of other lives nearby.

I slither through their reality; where is my own? Surrounding myself with the darkness of my depression.

My mirror’d existence bursts into color, fireworks exploding with energy that drains my body, but never my mind.

Having Bipolar Disorder 1 is, quite literally, opposing colors of my brain. I see auras anyway, but during a manic episode, the colors scream off my body, tsunamis of energy crashing into my brain again and again. Voices screech… or whisper… I, never knowing which will be next… raging about how I look, feel, need to act, need to fly, need to find this or that, things that are elusive even after hours of mentally and physically searching.

Exhaustion never comes.

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When the electricity finally dissipates after months of zapping me, I collapse into that dark world once again, struggling to keep breathing and not smother myself with the thought that this will go on forever.

Reaching outward, always outward, needing several hands to keep me alive, I am fed my medication, waking only to swallow, then sleeping yet another 23 hours.

Writing is my emotional gauge. By how many words I write in a day, I’m able to see where I stand psychologically.

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Not writing for days, weeks, months… I am in that dark place and need help. Too often, because I am alone, I do not recognize the need for many weeks and, by then, am buried by the pain.

However, when I write 20,000 words in a day… several blog posts for me, blog posts and essays for work… long emails to friends and family… run-on sentences with divergent topics… it is they who sense my need for help and their well-rehearsed phone calls are made to see who can get me to the doctor the fastest.

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Walking the tightrope, umbrella in hand, I teeter, side to side, always searching for that inaccessible balance.

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NaNoWriMo Redux

National Novel Writing Month kicks my arse!

After getting off to a blazing start, I petered out a little past mid-month… which, it seems, is pretty common. Instead of the 50,000 word goal, I ended up with 35,111 words, which is, admittedly, about 35,000 more words than I have written in the last 6 months. My goal was not a novel, since I do not write novels, but to do a slew of posts for here. Hey, I did that! I still have 8-10 in drafts, waiting for pictures before popping out whole.

However, around Day 6, a fiction story started pouring out of my fingers. Huh? Where did that come from? I have no idea, but sharing it with my audience of one (another besides myself), it seems to be coming out as a pretty decent story.

Not having written complete fiction before, I knew I was making horrendous mistakes, including with dialogue. A group in Second Life (My NaNoWriMos!) suggested several books and I quickly acquired those. Poring through those, I am able to write more clearly than the earlier pages.

My writer friends also suggested Scrivener, a program specifically for writers.

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I loooooovvvvveeeee Scrivener. I did not start learning it until after midnight on December 1, but, so far, it has helped me so so much with my organization and being able to put things down on paper that I am usually carrying around in my head.

This is the synopsis of what I am writing.

Witness Mistress Lara’s training of Esmé , a natural submissive, to her eventual collaring by her new Owner, Master John. The path is not without its obstacles, Esmé requiring not only gentle guidance, but sometimes harsh punishments… neither of which are what they might seem at first blush. Everyone, from Dominants to submissives, learn what it means to maintain their roles and when it might be necessary to cross the lines.

(Title of Book [still unknown]) exposes the intertwined connections between BDSM, sex and love.

How far would you go to prove your innate worthiness to someone you desire?

Dang, I can write a decent synopsis! Hopefully the book is as yummy.

Re-reading it, I can already see the changes I have made because I learned I needed a Villain or three. A Villain?! Really? So I found her (the first?) and am doing her backstory. She seems so tender and was so hurt in her youth, you can hardly help but care for her. Oooo, until she does naughty things to Esmé.

I’m really having fun watching this story unfold. I have some idea of where it is going, but am much more a Seat-of-the-Pants kind of writer… not much of a planner it seems. I can’t wait to see what, if anything, ends up with what I have written. For all I know, it could be a short story instead of a novel.

We shall see.

Vegetarian Experiences

When the kids were younger, we were all lacto-ovo vegetarians. Except when well-meaning (annoying) friends and family didn’t respect my choices. Once the kids were old enough to make their own choices, they ate veggie at home, but could eat whatever they wanted out of the house.

Choosing Vegetarianism

types of vegetarians

I initially became a vegetarian when I was 18-years old after a beloved friend was killed by a drunk driver. I wanted to do something purposeful that would keep her in my heart and mind as time passed. 15 years later, when I explained it to a Certified Nurse Midwife I was working with at a birth center, she looked at me, smirking, “Was she killed by a cow?” I couldn’t help but laugh, hearing my explanation through another person’s ears. No, no… no cow involved.

Half-Hearted Vegetarianism

As the years passed, I wanted to be a vegetarian because I was fat and saw how thin most vegetarians were. The lacto-ovo got in the way of that, however.

Eating gobs of cheese, meals made with gobs of cheese, cheese and crackers, cheese, cheese, cheese!

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And then there was the delightful change in McDonald’s fries (in 1990) from using beef tallow to using vegetable oil in their fryers. I would eat 2-3 super-sized fries a day far too often. My mind was screwing with me, justifying eating the fries… “But they are vegetarian!”

I also ate a concoction of potatoes, onions, cheese (of course!) and sour cream on almost a daily basis. Now, of course, in the depths of diabetes, I know how incredibly glucose-spiking potatoes are. It’s amazing I didn’t become diabetic before the diagnosis when I was 34-years old.

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Okay, Let’s Be Vegan Then!

Then there was the stint as a vegan. I still did not lose weight (probably those “veggie” fries?), but tried hard to eat as healthy as possible. I discovered the veggie section of the supermarkets (in the refrigerated section? What’s up with that!) and began eating tofu, tempeh, seitan, veggie hot dogs and made vegan burgers from scratch. During that time, (and it lasted about 10 years) I easily had 20+ vegan cookbooks and also checked out vegan books at the library constantly, wanting to be a thin vegan. It never happened.

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Veggie Kidlets

Way back in the day, public schools were baffled about what to feed vegetarians. The kids told me they were eating cookies and drinking milk, sometimes having potatoes or pizza, but that was rare. I was darn tired of hearing these stories so tromped down to the school and talked to the head of the cafeteria. She expressed her confusion about vegetarianism, but said she would find a way to accommodate the kids. What ended up happening was my kidlets got to eat 2 salads and anything else they wanted. (Salads were brought in for the kids.) Blessedly, today, kids have many more food options. (I am sure it drives the cafeteria mad, though… veggie, vegan, food allergies, gluten-free, etc.)

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When the kids went to live with their father, they began eating meat… mostly chicken… but meat appeared in their diets. Interestingly, Tristan and Aimee are vegans and Meghann does not make meat dishes all that often. I smile knowing my weirdness did rub off on them just a little.

And Today?

I eat very very little red meat, no pork, a bit of chicken, fish a couple of times a year (unless I come across catfish!), but still am eating plenty of cheese. Rarely potatoes, though.

I’m glad I had the veggie experiences (and have several more stories that hinge on my being vegetarian), but it was, for me, a fad… a way to stand out in the crowd. It was a fad that lasted a darn long time!

Oh, and even in my vegan years, I had one turkey sandwich with Miracle Whip a year, the day after Thanksgiving. (I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving now, for what it’s worth.) I haven’t had a turkey sandwich in over 3 years now.

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nom nom nom

 

Lest We Forget

My dad bombed Vietnam.

It was decades before I realized that when I said, “My dad works on B-52’s,” that that really meant he flew missions over Vietnam and bombed the country to smithereens. Men, women, children, babies, dogs, goats, high-rise buildings, houses, generations of lives… gone because of my father “working on B-52’s.”

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I never talked to him about it. He did not discuss his missions. Instead, he sent us pictures of himself in lush Guam or Okinawa, lovely girls by his side. Or he and his friends with flowers behind their ears, drinking beer as they grilled a pig outside on the sand. He sent souvenirs back from Iceland, the pelt of an Icelandic sheep, the wool many inches long and a very white white.

He died before I could ask his feelings about bombing a country that would be forever scarred because of his actions.

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Bomb craters 50-years later.

I wonder what he thought as he watched the rain of bombs falling from the enormous plane, seeing them from above, not below where they exploded and killed so, so much life.

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I wonder if he ever had any regrets or was The Mission the most important part. Was his need to follow so great he never even had one nightmare about what he was doing?

My dad was 19 when he went into the Air Force. 19 years old. That is such a baby age! At 19, I was still dancing in the disco, had barely had sex for the first time, was still years from marriage and having kids. And there he was, killing whole villages with one sweep of the carpet.

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Perhaps my dad never talked about these things because he was better able to compartmentalize pain than I. Maybe it really didn’t bother him at all. Maybe he just didn’t think about it once the mission was over and he was back in the barracks playing poker with his buddies. Maybe they didn’t even talk about what they were doing amongst themselves.

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If my dad was still here today, on this Veteran’s Day, I know I would still not bring the topic up. His never speaking of missions gave the clear message that the topic was verboten.

I wonder if I were to bring it up, could I have unleashed a gushing onslaught of hidden pain and anguish? Would I have realized, too late, that this should not be discussed outside of a professional’s therapy room? Might I have alienated my father forever? That I did not and allowed our relationship to stay calm and even is something I am glad about.

And even as I am happy things turned out the way they did with my father, that I never spoke about my growing understanding of the Vietnam War and his role in it, I am comforted only in regards to my dad.

When it comes to the country of Vietnam or the Vietnamese people, I can never erase the shame or hide the sorrow for what my father did to obliterate their lives.

VIETNAM WAR BOMB CRATERS
Water-filled craters after a B52 bombing.

Food Memory: Frozen Orange Daiquiris

When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.

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Back of the 1978 Contemporary Resort. Note the beach on the upper right… this is where I would lay out in the sun.

I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.

These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!

No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.

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One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.

Frozen Orange Daiquiri

But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?

While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.

The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.

I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.

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It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.

It was exquisite.

Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!

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This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.

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I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.

Where Are They Now?

I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.

Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.

I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.

Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!

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Honey Tales

Bee Charmer

Not one person who has seen Fried Green Tomatoes will think of anything else but Idgie’s love for Ruth and how she wanted to impress her by getting a honeycomb directly from the hive.

“You’re just a bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode.

That’s what you are, a bee charmer.”

Honey in Birth

Honey has a great supply of natural sugars and most midwives had honey of some sort on hand, whether in the Honey Bear…

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…or Honey Sticks.

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…or some Honey Lollipops.

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If a woman’s energy was waning, a couple of spoonfuls of honey or 2 or 3 sticks, could perk her back up for awhile more… even if she was unable to eat or drink much else, honey was a great pick-me-up.

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Honey has antimicrobial properties, it is a hydrogen peroxide thing, and there is a lot of research showing honey, Manuka Honey in particular, used on infections can help heal the wound quicker… and without the risk of medication interactions/allergies. Honey is often used on diabetic ulcers, it being more effective than many other treatments.

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New Use for Honey (for me)

So, I kind of knew this, but when I was an intern midwife in San Diego, I got to see the range of what home birth midwives do with honey.

Mind you, by the time I was interning as a midwife in San Diego, I had been in birth for over 20 years and had gone to hundreds of births in hospitals, birth centers and at home. Over the years, I would see things done I had never heard of before, but could usually be shown the research about it.

Honey was often used in the way I mentioned above; for energy.

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So when a woman’s perineum tore at birth and said she did not want to be sutured, I was pretty shocked (every woman who had ever torn in my experience was sutured, it wasn’t ever a consideration not to be). When the midwives acted as if this was a normal thing, choosing no stitches, I was baffled. When they pulled out the plastic Honey Bear and grabbed a spoon from the family utensil drawer, I blinked.

Honey was spread onto the back of the spoon, the woman’s legs opened a bit and the honey “painted” on the tear, all the while the “antibiotic” properties of honey explained. She was instructed to keep her legs together except to put more honey on it.

I’m not kidding.

I still cannot find medical research showing honey’s aid in normal healing of a perineal or vulvar tear; it remains a midwife’s tale that it does anything at all. (This is different than an infected wound, where the research is copious.) Many midwives, myself included, believe it was keeping the legs together that did much more to heal the tear than the honey.

Medical Grade Honey

But, if it did do something, wouldn’t you want Medical Grade Honey (MGH) slathered on your open wound instead of honey the family is using in their morning tea? In fact, research shows that regular table honey has potentially pathogenic organisms compared to MGH.

I mean new parents know to never give their infants honey because they might have spores of a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Wouldn’t that follow that it might not be the best thing for a perineum?

Here is a medical grade honey-gauze that might have been an okay thing for an open wound.

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Or perhaps a tube only used only on your body and no one else’s?

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Honeycombs

I remember when my dad (whom I am missing so very much lately) would bring us miel (honey) in the comb from the Cuban store. I loved biting into the wax, feeling the honey ooze out of the tiny openings, then chewing the wax like gum. I wonder if my kids have ever had that experience.

Miel. One of the best Spanish words in existence.

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A Recent Conversation

“I had some cereal and some honey.”

That’s what he said.

“You put honey in cereal? With milk? That’s pretty gross.”

“No, cereal without milk and honey separate.”

“You were spooning honey into your mouth?”

“No I was using a fork and dipping it into the honey and eating it.”

Now I was really on high alert.

“You are telling me that you put a fork into the honey, suck the honey off… then put the fork back into the honey and do it again?”

“Uh, yeah. Why?”

“You are telling me you double, triple and quadruple dip your fork into a communal honey jar?”

“I never thought of it that way before. It never occurred to me.”

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Maybe, knowing what I do now about honey’s medicinal properties, it might not be the grossest thing after all.

(Happy Birthday!)

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