Left behind

Briefly as I can tell it, my backstory is that I disappeared for 30 years.

Until then, my life had been fenced in by my upbringing, family rules, and the church I was raised in. I needed to escape what was expected of me, so off I went, and lived a different life instead.

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I've written about the escape and the new life, but today I want to make an observation about coming back.

A couple of years ago, I returned to the place I'd escaped from, much more at peace than when I left.

Now I sometimes see family and a few old friends who've known me all my life (minus my time in exile), and there are moments when it's startlingly clear that I didn't just leave them behind physically and factually. I also left them behind, cosmically

My pal Leon, for example, had breakfast with me a few days ago, and at a lull in the conversation he said, "The gay pride parade is on Sunday."

Leon's not gay, at all. When we were teenagers, same as most straight kids, we rolled our eyes and giggled at anything gay, and saying "gay pride" at breakfast, he raised two fingers of each hand in "air quotes." Meaning, he was saying gay pride, but didn't actually believe it.

To me, gay pride isn't "in quotes." It's a real thing, and important. It's people who've been shat on for who they are, standing up to say they'll be shat on no more. You don't have to be gay to understand it; you only have to stop and think, and have some empathy.

When I insisted that Leon stop and think about it, he did, and understood, or at least said he understood. But until that moment, he'd never stopped and thought about it. 

Which floors me. 

The difference between us is that he's lived life by the rules of his upbringing and family and the church we were raised in, while I have not. He's never known gay or trans or polyamorous people, but I have, which in about five minutes led me to believe that everyone ought to be who they are and do what they want, long as they're not harming someone else. That's radical, I guess.

And it is radical, because there's no downside to people being who they are and doing what they want, so why not carry it further? Open the borders, abortions on request, legalize heroin, commies and orgies and dancing in the street — why not indeed? It's freedom, that's all, and I'm for it.

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My best friend from childhood was a guy named Bruno, and in our early 30s, when I'd decided to leave our home town for no reason except that I wanted to, I invited him to come with me.

Being smart, Bruno asked a few logical questions, like where I'd be settling, but I didn't know. He asked about my plans for this new life I'd be embarking on, but I was winging it and had no plans.

Quite logically, Bruno not only didn't come with me; he tried talking me out of leaving. He couldn't comprehend what I was about to do, and during my many years away he died, so he never comprehended it, and never will. (Miss you still, Bruno.)

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Now that I'm back, I've encountered other acquaintances from my earlier life, and like Leon and Bruno, they seem to be what the church and public schools hoped they'd be.

There's a guy named Robby, never a close friend but in our teens he had some un-ordinary possibilities. We had two conversations long ago, that I specifically remember. In one, he told me that he didn't like kids and hoped to have none in his adult life, and in the other conversation he eliminated a war movie from our matinee options one afternoon, by saying, "I don't get everyone's fascination with war."

48 years later when we shook hands hello again, he was wearing a semper fi t-shirt with matching tattoo, and babysitting his grandchildren.

♦ ♦ ♦

Life is a trajectory. Today and tomorrow, we're who we are because of ten thousand decisions made in ten thousand yesterdays. My decisions and yesterdays have been quite different from Leon and Bruno and Robby's.

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My brothers, Clay and Dick, have never questioned the church, and certainly never left it, as I did. They both married Christian women, raised Christian kids. Clay teaches a Bible class at his retirement community, and Dick is the musical director at his church. When we're together I can't connect with half of what they're talking about. 

Beyond Jesus but because of Jesus, my brothers listen to a very Jesus-narrow range of news and opinion, so they want border walls and cops in schools, more prisons and quicker executions, a manlier military, and restrictions on unions and porn and protests but no restrictions on guns. We're not agreed on any of this, of course.

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And it's not only the big things, it's little things, too. My family and old friends are bored at even the idea of visiting a museum. Leon would rather have KFC than try a Vietnamese sandwich. Dick told me he's never seen a movie with subtitles, and never will.

How straight and narrow and accepting have been their lives. Seems to me they've missed out on so much, but I'm sure they think the same about me. 

I'll never be able to explain it to any of them, so instead I'll say it here: Leaving the ordinary life was the smartest thing I ever did. 

I've seen things they never have, done things they never would, and my only regret is that I didn't see and do more. My trajectory made me who I am, showed me marvelous things, and accidentally but most importantly, it taught me that most of the rules are bullshit.

And finally, "winging it" led back to my home town, to family and old friends again. They're the same and I love 'em all, but it's so much better to be different.


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  1. "Beyond Jesus but because of Jesus, my brothers listen to a very Jesus-narrow range of news and opinion, so they want border walls and cops in schools, more prisons and quicker executions, a manlier military, and restrictions on unions and porn and protests but no restrictions on guns"

    Might be more accurate to say because of *churchianity* or *American Christianity* than because of Jesus. People blame Jesus for America the way people blamed Marx for the Soviet Union.

    1. I have a soft spot the Jesus they taught us in Sunday School. Basically a hippie. If he's God, though, omnipotent and all, then he always knew what would be done in his name, and he's upstairs watching it all right now.

    2. It is the bottom line truth, God is responsible for everything. We are characters in a story, or robots, or programs. We are all Roy Batty. Most people, whether they have been programmed to know their creator or not, are happy with who they are. Even suicides. They just can't cope with the other characters or their setting.

    3. LOL, everything we think of as free will is just part of our story arc!

    4. A truth is something that can be verified, touched, and makes sense. God ain't that.

  2. As that famous line in La Cage Aux Folles goes, I've always "lived life at an angle," but it wasn't until I arrived in SF in my late 20s and stayed for the next two decades that I truly came to embrace the diversity and weirdness of "the other" with open arms. I've now been away from The City for longer than I lived there, but I carried that wonderful technicolor mentality with me, and it saddens me no end to see those who don't—or won't—embrace anything beyond the narrow confines of their upbringing/schooling/churching. Thank you for reminding me just how lucky I've been to experience all that and to still carry it with me to this day.

    1. I didn't say that, but should have, and you're right — it's not just getting out of Seattle that changed me, it's that I landed in San Francisco. The City is still part of me...

  3. This comment is in response to the post of the day and not in response to the two comments above.

    Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Lots has changed since you left home. Women can actually be managers and even CEOs in businesses, Black folks can get a home loan for any address in a city as long as they have the long green, gay men and lesbians and people of alternative genders can now live and work among straight people, generally without ridicule, any business can be open on Sunday, people rarely ask other people what church they attend, etc. I left home briefly for college, but returned fairly soon and ended up buying a house in the same ZIP code as the one I grew up in. My parents as adults, then as elderly people, accepted the changes I opened this comment with.

    My sister and I learned around the dinner table to be open to new ideas and social changes -- not to accept them blindly, but to consider them on their merits.

    I understand why you had to leave town to get to where you wanted to be; had my mother called my place of business for anything but a death in the family, I would have been horrified. But everybody has a different path to change.


    1. Most of those big changes have never come to my family's zip code, and a few of them keep moving farther and farther from the city to postpone any such updates.

      You have an open-minded family, which sounds great. In my family, it's just me and maybe my sister Katrina. Never felt like the Hollands were closed-minded when I was a kid, and Pop was fairly progressive I think, for a Republican of his time. He's gone, though, and the rest of the family is mired pretty much right where they were.


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