Our new home

My feet have been firmly planted back on Houston soil.

This weekend went by incredibly fast. I honestly think this is the shortest amount of time that the two of us have ever spent together, and you throw in the whirlwind of looking at this apartment and that townhouse and time got away.

On the bright side, we did find a place. It’s a two bedroom townhouse in the adjoining city where Julie works. It’s across from a pond that has a trail around it and close enough to shops and coffee houses that we could walk if the weather permits.

One thing that has stuck in my head since starting this journey that became glaringly obvious to me… The cost of living.

In Austin, this place would easily garner a rent of $2100 a month. Here in Houston, $1600. There? $950.

I realize the state of Illinois has a State tax that we don’t have here in Texas, but every employer I’ve spoken to has mentioned that my salary would be commensurate taking the tax into account.

When I lived in Austin, a friend of mine from school, who lived in Austin too, once told me, “if we transferred back to Wichita on our current salaries, we could live like royalty!”

She was right. What barely passed for a living wage in A Town was considered a good salary in Wichita Falls.

To put things into perspective, I did look at housing in other areas of Illinois. Chicago, for example, has housing that’s pretty much in line with Houston. But, even the “big” cities in Illinois aren’t nearly as large as Austin and Houston.

Springfield, the states capital, has a population of 120,000. Houston is closer to 4 million.

Obviously, Chicago is the largest with almost 3 million. But the next largest is Aurora with just over 150,000. That’s a huge difference!

The town that we chose our townhouse in only has a population of 70,000.

I guess when you have more people vying for housing, it’s easier to ask higher rates. In these tiny towns, asking for an outrageous sum simply means your property will sit vacant for far too long.

As we were looking at this place, then that, I started to feel that familiar anxiety creeping in.

At one point, the agent went to check on a property and we stopped for lunch. I decided to voice my fears.

“If we sign a twelve month lease, and it does take me a year to move, how will that work out for us?”

My beautiful and logical girl has already got the answers.

“I have to move. We bought the house we are in now because it was the halfway point between her job and mine. Everywhere I look in the house, I’m reminded that it’s not where I want to be. Add in the stress and complications and even if you weren’t in my life, it would be time to move. Regardless of you being here in a week or next Christmas, I need a transition to my next life.”

And that was that.

It will be nice to have our place to be when I go see her. Every time I’m in the house she shared with Milly, I feel like a visitor. Like I’m stepping into their world and it’s an awkward feeling.

The townhouse won’t be available until August. The house goes on the market on June 15th. Our hope is that with closing, inspections and such, we’ll be able to make a relatively smooth transition.

I’ll be back several times between now and then, obviously, I’ll be back for the actual move, and I have worked out a plan with my current firm to assist on the inspections they have in that area. So, that means more time at home with Julie until my final relocation.

The funny thing here is that my boss now, is actually trying to find a way for me to transfer up there and stay with this company. We have an office in Chicago and we have a lot of contracts right now so it’s not that big of a leap to think he can make it happen.

I guess we will see.

Julie is excited. Planning which walls to hang my prints of bridges and where to put this item or that. Talking about how it’s close enough to where Heather lives, that we can actually go running together on a normal basis, rather than having to make plans and scheduling a work out with friends.

I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful. I’m determined to take whatever obstacles come our way and turn them into an opportunity for strength and growth.

Detox, baby!

Yes, I am going to do a full blown detox.

Why, you ask?

Well, I quit smoking using the help of nicotine gum and lozenges. Unfortunately, that cured my desire for cigarettes, it did not cure my cravings for nicotine.

My friend J Will has been a non smoker for over a year now! Yay to her!! Unfortunately, she is now addicted to the patch.

These little aids that help us break the nasty habit of smoking do nothing to eliminate our brains need for that constant, steady stream of stimulating nicotine.

I’ve tried to ween myself to no avail. Instead of chewing 4 pieces of 4 mg gum, I chew 8 pieces of 2 mg. instead of forcing myself to wait until I get home when I run out of my cessation aids, my first instinct is to stop at the store and grab a pack of smokes.

So, today I decided that it’s time I flush this stuff from my body and go cold turkey.

I’ve decided to wait until Monday. The last thing I want is to lash out at Julie because my addicted brain is in full on bitch mode. Plus, I think with my hectic schedule of school, work and work outs, I’ll have less time to allow my mind to drift off to that happy place where the nicotine flows like honey!!

I’ve got stress balls to keep my hands busy, sugar free gum to help with the oral fixation, my herbal teas to help with the necessary flushing and a plan to rid my home of any and all reminders of tobacco. No ashtrays, no empty packs, no butts, no lighters, nada.

I also have spent a lot of time looking at what my triggers are. The biggest? Coffee!! There’s nothing more soothing to me in the morning than a hot mug of joe and a smoke.

So my old friend latte and I will be parting ways.

I don’t know how I’ll do. I may be a raging bitch for the 3-7 days that it takes to get this out of my system but I have to start somewhere!

I am well aware that my cravings will still rear their ugly heads even after the nicotine is out of my system. I’ll deal with the psychological aspect after I’ve dealt with the physical.

One mountain a day, my friends!!

Here we go again

I finally got my school schedule straightened out. No, I didn’t give up.

I decided that quitting isn’t the rational or logical answer to my frustration.

My chem class starts at 10:15 am. I am enrolled in the Honors Program so I have to take at least one class at the campus I originally started at when I was living in another town. Bummer.

If I take the toll road, it’s about a 40 minute drive. If I take the back roads, about 55. Not much of a difference when you consider it’s a cost of 6 bucks a day.

My class is Mon-Thurs from 10:15 am until 2:15 pm (2 hr lecture, 2 hr lab). My current work schedule is 9 pm to 5 am.

Now, factor in drive times, class time, current work schedule and I’m left shaking my head.

If I stay on my current schedule, I’ll get home about 5:30 am. That only gives me about 2 1/2 hours to sleep before class. Then I’d be getting home around 3:30 or 4 which would give me about 4 hours to sleep again.

Splitting my sleep up does not work for me.

Alternative #1. Change my work hours to 11 pm to 7 am. I can come home, shower, eat and then head to class. I’ll have about 1 1/2 hours before I need to start my commute so it gives me time to do my workout before heading to class. Only problem? No time to deal with other stuff like shopping, laundry, etc.

Again, I’d get home (or at least into bed) around 4 pm. That gives me 6 hours straight of sleep.

Scenario #2. Change my work schedule to 7 pm to 3 am. Sleep from 3:30 to 8:30. Head to class. Get home and deal with personal stuff between class and work. I’d get 5 hrs sleep but at a different time when I expect it would be more productive sleep than during the day.

None of these options appeal to me. I’m at the “vampire” stage of working nights and it’s time to flip. I’ll be switching back to days in July so this schedule will only last for 6 weeks. In addition to my chem class, I also have my technical writing that is online. My hope is that I’ll have enough down time at work to tackle it.

Julie is starting to worry that I’m doing too much.

Trying to work full time, go to school full time and maintain my work outs, trips to see her and spend time with friends.

It’s a LOT. This summer will probably be one that I look back on and think, “what the hell did I do?”

I may find myself burnt out and screaming for another vacation away by the end of the term.

Whatever the case, this is where I’m at. I’ve got 3 days to figure it out so I’ll find a way to do just that.

Hell, I’ve worked on less than 4 hours sleep a night before but I was in my 20’s and I didn’t have thousands of dollars in scholarships on the line.

I feel like I’ve come too far. The end is close enough to touch if I just stick with it. I know that it will all be worth the effort but some days…. A beach, a chair and a beer sound sooo much more appealing!

Starting over vs staying put

“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.” Nicole Sobon.

I read this today and thought that it is pretty darn accurate.

I’ve gotten really good at starting over. Actually, I’m not good at it, I’m just used to it. And let me tell you… It sucks!

I have found myself in relationships that I should have left long before I did. All for the simple reason that I didn’t want to start over.

To some, starting over is exhilarating. It gives them an energy and a high like no other. J Will is like that. In fact, she has gotten so good at starting over that she has turned it into an art.

“IKEA is the starting over headquarters! Instead of moving all my shit, I leave it and find the nearest IKEA and get all new stuff!”

While I sometimes envy her wanderlust mentality, I do not envy the notion of EVER having to start over again.

But, that’s exactly what I’m doing. New career, new girl, new home. All of it scary and exciting. That wasn’t the case at the start. I was angry, resentful. Hurt and confused. I had settled into the idea that I was done looking for happily ever after.

Was I happy? Some days. I was content. At my age I’d resigned myself to the idea that contentment was better than being alone.

My mother reconnected with her high school sweetheart when she was 47. They married when she was 48 and sadly, he passed away when she was 52. Just five short years.

After he passed, she stated, “I’m done. I don’t want to start over again!” And she didn’t. She passed away at 78 years old single and alone.

At first I didn’t know why she would make that choice. Why she would rather live life alone than find someone to share it with. Today, I’m right there with her.

I’m not a young pup anymore. I have a career, children and a grandson to think about. I’m in love with a woman that I’ve never stopped dreaming about and life is right on track to be amazing.

If I ever find myself in a position that I have to start over again, I think I’ll opt out the way my mom did.

It’s hard. It’s draining. It gives a person a feeling of not being quite good enough.

I’m getting too old for that shit!

Julie and I sometimes find ourselves on different sides of a situation. There’s never any yelling or anger. There’s no passive aggressive, “fine!” to indicate a counter-strike. There’s just two people picking and choosing what’s worth holding on to and what’s worth letting go of.

That may some day change. I may wake up on day and discover that I’m tired of making compromises. She may wake up and wonder how she felt love for someone as abrasive and rough as me.

For now, though, I’m ok starting this journey. As always, I have a plan B. I have a way to salvage my dignity and self respect should I ever find myself looking at her with anger and resentment the way I have in my past.

I’ll walk away. Go back to being a bachelor and live out the rest of my existence with my dog.

While I will never allow myself to remain in a loveless home again, I refuse to continue to start over when I’m worth hanging on to.

Fears

What is your darkest secret?

Don’t tell me, just think about it.

Have you done something criminal or so damaging that you will take this secret to your grave?

The problem with secrets is what they steal from us. They steal our level of comfort. The steal our independence. They steal our self respect and self worth.

For years, my secret was that I was gay.

I guarded that secret as if it were the nuclear launch codes that would start WWIII. Making up excuses to not attend this function or that. Creating elaborate stories about my life and my “roommate”. Pretending that I was perfectly happy and content being a “single mom”, when in actuality I had a partner.

Even looking back, I realize the word “partner” was misplaced.

She wasn’t allowed to be a part of my world. She wasn’t allowed to attend Christmas parties or happy hours. She wasn’t allowed to make decisions about my health and well being at work.

I remember on one occasion, I was injured at work. We were working in the field and an overly zealous new SGT was giving 10 lbs of crap to a private in his unit. “Get that cap off that tourette, now!!”

The tanks have a steel cap that fits just in side the opening of the barrel (tourette). They have a rubber gasket that keeps them in place and at times the fit is so snug you have to use a sledgehammer to get them off. This was one of those occasions.

This poor guy was being screamed and yelled at while we all looked on. He wasn’t in our platoon, so it wasn’t our place to intervene.

As he was swinging away with this sledge, the cap comes loose and hits me square in the face. Breaking my cheekbone. (The reason why I have one eye that looks larger than the other and I have to force myself to smile straight or my face contorts into a crooked grin)

The medic smacks an ice pack on my face, rushes me into a Hum V and off we go to the hospital.

On the way, I call my “partner”. She arrives at the hospital just as I’m being wheeled in. I feel both panic and relief. I know this woman loves me and is worried. But, I also know that the Army can’t know my secret!!

My face is starting to swell to the point that I tell them I asked my “friend” to come help me with the paperwork since I can’t see. They allow her to stay during this. As soon as I’m in a room and the doctor walks in, he looks at her (btw, my gaydar went off like a tornado siren when I met him so this really pissed me off!) and very coldly says, “you’re not her family. Get out!”

For 3 hours she waits in the lobby wondering what’s going on.

I didn’t protest, complain or interject. That would have meant compromising my secret.

After the Army, I went to work for the State of Texas. While we don’t ride horses or carry side arms, this is still one of the most backwards, conservative states in the country. And TxDOT was the breeding ground of the good ole boys network.

Once again, I was hiding. Lying. Pretending to be someone I’m not. Forcing my partner to live a lie, as well.

There were times that someone I’d work with would walk into her store and she’d let something slip. “I’ll tell her when she gets home.” A simple, harmless sentence that could jeopardize everything. I’d find myself chastising her for the slip. “You can’t say shit like that!” “You have to be more careful!!”

Needless to say, she thought life after Uncle Sam would change. When it didn’t, she decided she was done. Tired of lying and hiding. She hadn’t signed on for this and she was gone.

That was Debbie. She was my partner for over 8 years. Patiently waiting for me as I went from this assignment to that. Dutifully sitting by the phone as she waited for the sporadic calls that the Army would allow. Even after we broke up, I remember the fear in her voice when I told her I had to go to Ft. Sill to prep for deployment to Afghanistan.

After her, I slipped back into my routine. Casually seeing women. Not ever allowing myself to get too attached because that could lead to the discovery of my secret.

I wasn’t very nice to many of them. I acted as if they were disposable and to a certain degree, they were.

This was a pattern. A habit. It started in high school. While I was sneaking out at night to meet with Julie, I was “dating” the pitcher from our baseball team. While I was living with Debbie, I was legally “married” to another soldier (Shemp).

When I was at TxDot I had gay male friends that I would pretend were my “dates”.

For my entire adult life, I lied. It got to the point that lying came easier to me than telling the truth about my personal life.

This secret had to be maintained. At all costs. It could jeopardize my career, mine and my children’s safety, my life.

When I moved to Houston and ventured out into the private sector, I decided I was tired of lying. Pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Forcing the people close to me to lie in order to keep my secret.

It was hard. I had split my world into 2 different realities for so long that I had to “teach” myself to be honest.

Let me tell you something. Addictions are hard to break. Smoking, alcohol, drugs. They can grab a hold of you and force you to become a person you never thought you’d become.

Lying was my addiction. For years I even told myself I wasn’t “lying”. I was simply protecting my family and myself.

The day I decided I was done lying, it felt as if a weight had been taken off of me. I was free to be myself and be honest about my life.

It was scary as hell!!

I didn’t go out and buy a pride sticker to slap on my truck, or tattoo a rainbow flag on my arm. I simply decided that I’d managed to “hide” for so long that I if someone asked me about my personal life, I’d be honest. No more elaborate stories or made up scenarios to justify my “odd” home life.

My first test came just a few months after moving here. I was in the asphalt lab teaching one of my technicians how to test a sample. It was just the two of us and we’d always gotten along. He too had been in the Army and had worked for TxDOT in Houston so we had a common bond.

“Can I ask you something? It’s none of my business so you can tell me to fuck off, but are you gay?”

No one had ever “asked” me before. I’d had that word thrown at me in a negative, accusatory way in the past but no one had ever said it in a way that made it sound “o.k.”.

I was afraid. He was someone I enjoyed talking to at work and all my fears came rushing back.

“Will he tell everyone? Will he look down on me? Will he stop respecting me? Stop being my friend?”

That was the chance I had to take if I wanted to get my monkey off my back.

“Yes, Jay, I am. Why?”

“I was just wondering. You talk about your kids but you never talk about anyone else.”

And that was it. The end of our discussion about it. He didn’t run out of the room screaming, he didn’t call me names. In fact, he and I are still good friends. I helped him through his divorce and his move to South Carolina. I talk to him at least once a week. The world didn’t come to a screeching halt.

I still have those moments of panic. Those moments when fear grabs me and doesn’t want to let go. But, I’m comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life.

I don’t flaunt my orientation. While it’s obvious by my appearance that I’m gay, I don’t discuss my life unless asked. But now, I answer openly and honestly.

I sent an email to someone I knew in school a few months ago. I haven’t talked to this person in years. In the email I actually used the word “girlfriend”.

I thought twice about sending and considered altering my choice of words. Then I decided that it was just fine.

This is who I am.

I hit send and that was that.

I no longer have any secrets. No skeletons lurking in my closet. No fears gripping my soul.

I definitely like this way of living better!

Ouch

“The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow!”

I’m not sure where I originally heard that saying but it’s always stuck out in my mind.

It’s in the same vein as old stand by’s such as “no pain, no gain”, “pain is temporary, pride is forever”.

They all resonate the same sentiment: working out is gonna hurt!

Before our trip to San Fransisco, I’d gotten lazy with regards to my workouts. Only doing the minimum amount of work each day.

My running had almost completely stopped and my daily ritual of abs and push ups slipped to a “when I remember” routine.

Since being back, I’m back on track. And let me tell you… I’m sore!

I don’t use weights very often but when I do it’s to help strengthen my knees. I tend to get too bulky from strength training so I stick to the muscle, strength and endurance workouts I learned in the Army.

This past weekend I’ve increased the intensity of my strength training. More push-ups, more leg lifts, more crunches, more squats.

My legs are feeling fine, which surprises me, but I’ve discovered my lower back and even my lats are screaming at me!

I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve managed to get myself back to the level I was at when I left the Army. 30 push-ups, 50 sit-ups and 2 miles in less than 20 minutes.

It may not seem like much to a person who pushes themselves to an extreme every day, but considering that just 8 months ago I couldn’t squat down on a bridge deck without my inspector helping me get back up? It’s amazing!!

I’ve dropped over 30 lbs and plan to drop at least another 20. Or at least another 4″.

Julie commented on how small I’m getting and when she pulled out old pictures of the two of us from high school, I could easily see that I was a bit on the “pudgy” side compared to her toned physique.

I feel pretty good about my progress.

My former ethics professor, Warren, has recently started running again too. We’ve talked about how we plan to meet up twice a week to run together at the school. They have a terrific trail that goes around the campus which is adorned with gardens, fountains and other landscapes that make a daily jog worth the effort.

I’m enjoying my last week of “vacation”. Classes start back up Monday. My Chem class has been moved from 12:30 to 10:00 am which will cause some serious logistical issues regarding sleep, but as I told Warren, I’ll figure it out.

So far, I’m still on track. I’m in the honors program and have secured a few scholarships. I’ve been offered a position on a research team for the Texas Transportation Institute at A&M, which will help offset the tuition there AND give me the opportunity to be published (a noteworthy accomplishment in any field).

Julie has had 3 offers on the house and it’s not even on the market yet. Because of that, we are looking at a mid June move instead of July.

I head up to Illinois next weekend so we can both look at apartments and lofts.

All in all, life is on track.

As I look at our original time table, I feel like it’s all a million years away: Until I start living it. Then I wake up to discover that time has slipped by and I can’t recall ever experiencing it.

Today, I’m hopeful and optimistic. I’m sore but focused. I’m happy. Happy in a content sort of way that I haven’t been able to experience in a very long time!

Why do you make it so hard?

“I don’t get it. Why don’t you just find someone here?”

These words have been said to me on more than one occasion. Always by a straight friend. Always by someone who is living happily with their “soul mate”.

I try to explain that when Julie and I reconnected, I was under the impression that she was happily married. I knew that continuing to communicate with her could stir up old feelings that I thought I had buried, hence, my distancing myself. When she took the lead and was calling and texting me, that irrational side took over.

I liked feeling as though I was interesting. As though she wanted to reach out to me. It was harmless as long as I never forgot that she was “out of bounds”.

The day she fessed up and told me she was divorced, I still tried to keep my emotional distance. Anyone who has read this blog knows how I tried to always remember this was going to be hard and might fail.

One day, I had to face the reality. I was in love. It was scary, and exciting. It was something that was going to pose more challenges than I thought I was prepared to face. And I had no idea how she felt. If my feelings were one sided.

I’ve always said, “love is easy. Relationships are hard.”

I’m living that every day. I love Julie. It’s effortless and natural. It comes as easily to me as breathing.

The relationship part is what’s kicking my ass. The time apart that feels longer each time we are together.

The highs of what can be, followed by the low of what is.

I’m not making this hard. It just is.

In the end, I will come out with one of two life options: 1. I’ll live happily with Julie and it will have all been worth our sacrifice. 2. We will have seen that our time at a life has passed and our time together was beautiful.

Either way, it’s a win win. Of course my preference is the bigger win!!