30 March, 2017

Turning a page

Desert spring bursts to life in Tucson. Pink-leafed aloes send yellow spires skyward and brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) explodes into silver and yellow, while the green trunks of palo verde trees are obscured in clouds of canary blooms. Two nights ago a "ten percent chance of rain around midnight" woke me with gusting breezes and lightning. I scrambled from the backyard couch, bundling my sleeping bag, and dashed indoors. My life companion Gary helped move the outdoor furniture to shelter before rain came in earnest. I was too busy sleeping to notice, but he said it was more than a sprinkle. 

I'll save the el Niño digression for another post. Matching firsthand observation of Tucson rainfall patterns with available research on Pacific climate cycles is such comfortable, safe, analytical space. But right now i'm feeling something, and among the many things Gary has taught me, one is that i tend to suppress emotion by analyzing it.

Gary suppresses emotion in his own way. After our initial meeting in Maine, the "frielationship" grew across long distances, in fits and starts: i drove a truck containing his belongings from Maine to Toronto - a trip that included a night spent sleeping in the back of said U-Haul outside Montreal and hitting rush hour, morning and evening, in Canada's two largest cities - and later spent a month in Toronto before moving to Tucson. He spent a month in Tucson between Toronto and a new job in Calgary, and later a week's vacation; then came the phone call that he had been cut loose by his employers and didn't know where to turn. With my sporadic employment it was no trouble to fly to Calgary on short notice, and after a quick side trip to Banff, in yet another U-Haul we trekked from Alberta through Montana, Idaho, and Utah to Baja Arizona. When i returned to Maine for a season, he stewarded my habitat and started seeds in flats. When my father arrived to spend the winter - as i worked to discern what "Honor thy father" means in practice - Gary worked alongside me and shared his experience honoring his own mother as she ages. He noticed little memory fails i missed, and served as a human mindfulness bell when i would get hyperfocused on a creative task at the expense of other needs. His response to life with two cigarette smokers modeled gentleness and patience.

 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Matthew 25:35-36, KJV) 

Gary's hand-me-downs have kept me in snappy threads, and in the rockiest months of my life his generosity kept me fed. His emotional support may have been the difference between life and death, and his spiritual balance beckons me to live and create art in good faith. His commitment to physical fitness models for me the difference between vanity and stewardship of the body, while his intellectual discipline affirms my faith that it is both Christian to question authority and wise to make use of all available knowledge. A week or so ago, as i worked in the garden, he read aloud to me Sara Zarr's 2016 preface to Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, by Madeleine L'Engle. The paperback lay in the bookcase this morning, a parting gift above and beyond all the housewares he jettisoned in the move. 

On the eve of his departure after a year of life together in Arizona, he would get annoyed when i asked what he wanted for our last "family dinner" together here. Gary shares my fondness for Eat, Pray, Love (we've both read the book; he has the film) and introduced me to Julie & Julia. Sharing recipe ideas, shopping and cooking together, or harvesting from the garden ingredients for him to cook with have been a big part of the past year, and it seemed important to me to honor the "last supper" we would be having together for the foreseeable future. But he got annoyed with the question, wanting none of the "finality" he heard in it. (Fallibility of the receiver: the bane of all relationships!) When he tried to emotionally process a final-for-now tea outing with a friend, i distractedly missed the fact that he was trying to process. At dusk, he finally coughed up some parameters: Pasta, sauce, no meat.

"Start now, before i decide to get takeout," he joked.

Thanks, mom: between her training and Gary's, my Italian heritage and time in Turkiye, meals can be miracles of spontaneity. While Gary appreciates the guidance of recipes, i dig the fact that carb + protein + veggies and spices is a global culinary equation, and mastering the art of peasant food (the daily day's food, to borrow a phrase from a Danish chef i once met) is mostly a matter of knowing what a region's go-to ingredients are. Frozen lima beans paired with whole wheat penne we'd trucked all the way from Calgary. Garden carrots and parsley joined purchased bell peppers and onions in a jar of red sauce; shredded parmesan and romano we'd bought melted on top. A salad of baby tuscan kale and five beautifully unique lettuces - from ruffled maroon to speckled tongue to robust romaine -  was accented with fresh dill, green onions, and Tucson-grown sweet oranges from the farmers' market. Gary took his usual place beside me at the stove, minding the pasta as i fervently chopped, diced, washed and tore.

A knock at the door! Jamey and Bill, to me exemplars of both "intergenerational gay couple" and "good neighbors," dropped by to say their regards. Four in my galley kitchen is tight - add an aging collie dog underfoot for grins and giggles - but co-operation makes it work, and Gary and i now have more than a year of practice. As Jamey watched with interest, Gary demonstrated his technique for a balsamic vinaigrette, choosing a mustard and spice blend to accent the local citrus. After abrazos y besos, Bill took his leave, but Jamey stayed for dinner and a rambling, enjoyable conversation.


"If components in binary star systems are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their (stellar) evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain." (Wikipedia)

Gary and i have never really settled on a definition for our "frielationship," content to simply describe it as it unfolds. When the Bishop of his new diocese asked whether he had a partner, his answer was "no;" and i would concur with that answer. Though "domestic partnership" would accurately describe the past year, we have very different ideas of what constitutes a good sleeping environment and thus prefer to have separate rooms, a caricature of some 1950s sitcom couple. Where it once would have made our private behavior illegal, secular jurisprudence now offers us the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges any heterosexual couple already enjoys should we choose marriage - but as a person whose childhood was marred by familial trauma around organized religion, being a Priest's spouse (like my sister, weirdly, my childhood nickname being Jennifer II) is not a choice i can make without a lot more healing. Gary, divorced, and i, never married, have together discovered our own sense of emotional intimacy and mutual support; raising children is not in his plans, but i have yet to rule it out. Would i care for him when he is aging? By the grace of God, absolutely. But like binary stars, or sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, our mutual orbit unfolds in cycles of proximity and distance, warmth and cooling. Emotion, like gravity, can be described as a wave phenomenon. It is, as they say, what it is.

He's airborne by now, off to learn what it means to live into being a Priest, a role he has yet to define for himself, but one he has felt called to since his youth. (The Episcopal flock he is about to serve are a blessed bunch - be gentle and patient with him and his gifts will reveal themselves! Just wanted to let you all know that i'm a part of his support system.) I prepare to charge three new inhabitants with stewardship of the huerta i call home and to begin a new chapter of my own caring for my father in Maine. I drove back from the airport in the bright desert spring, basking in the gravitational mass of the Santa Catalinas. The mountains of Baja Arizona are an emotional anchor to me.

Back at la casa, dad and i have breakfast. "I'm going to miss Gary," i say.

"I'll miss him too," Dad says. I know he means it.

A new day, a new page. Deck chairs on the front of the boat, as Alice would say.


Music is how i process and best communicate emotion. So i want to leave you with four pieces i'm listening to today. The first is a folk hymn performed by the Amidon singers, the second a piece old friend Emeline introduced me to and which i introduced my father to this morning. (I'm looking forward to watching Les Miserables with him soon; the "Epilogue" is to me both a good tear-trigger and an anthem of liberation and healing Creation.) The third is to me a shining example of postmodernism in sacred choral music, the universe of new harmonies that are possible when Orthodox traditions and Western ones are engaged in a global musical conversation. Last, a piece by Vaughan-Williams i had never really encountered until this week. I can't express my gratitude in words, Gary, but maybe you can hear it in the Vaughan-Williams you shared. Thanks be to God for this beautiful, ever-changing life, and for your company on the journey.