I spent Sunday just chilling in my apartment. After a neighbor upstairs helped me with the WiFi password for the apartment complex, I was able to get my iPad going and I spent hours surfing the internet and downloading music on iTunes. I even did a little porn watching and the usual related activity, just to pass the time. It felt good for a moment. But two dimensional sex was losing its appeal–I had my heart set on the real deal. Hopefully soon.
I also did a lot of thinking. My mind seldom shuts down, even when I am doing relatively little else. It’s always working on something. Now, it was stuck on the nagging feeling something was missing in my life, beyond the obvious no boyfriend and no sex life. Sure I had money now–more than I could ever spend–but money doesn’t buy everything a man needs. It was a deeper thing and it was nagging at me just beneath the surface.
Like most guys, I can only really focus on one thing at a time. So when I started getting frustrated with the “something’s missing” problem, I shoved it into a mental box and focused instead on something I had wanted to do my whole life but never had the chance to before–travel. It was Sharon’s fault. She planted the idea of a get away. I justified it by telling myself I needed time to myself to process everything that had happened.
I had never seen the ocean in real life–at least not since I was an infant and I’m not sure even then–so a beach held a real attraction for me. Plus I was wanting some sun. Our Chicago winter had been particularly harsh this year with much colder than normal temps and a crap load of snow. They were calling for possibly more tonight. It was the beginning of April, for crying out loud! I was cold and wet and I wanted out of it for a while.
I sat on my bed and opened my iPad again. One of the great things about the internet is you can find pictures of whatever you want with a simple Google search. So I typed in “beach”, “sun” and “sand” and was taken to hundreds of matching images. One in particular leaped off the screen at me–Kailua Beach in Hawaii. It sparked a search for the best beaches of the world, and surprise, Kailua Beach was on the list, though not the top pick. Most of the really high ranked beaches were in other countries and while I had the means to get there, I did not have a passport, so leaving the country was out of the question for now.
I was thinking differently about the money, too–which concerned me a little. It was starting to become almost like Monopoly money to me. If I didn’t watch it, I could see myself doing really stupid, wasteful things with it. There is a thrill you can get when spending it, almost like what you get riding a roller coaster or something similar. There is a rush of pleasure in the purchase. But then it’s over and you’re left with whatever you bought, or worse, nothing tangible to show for it at all. I needed to find the balance between fearful miser and foolish spendthrift.
I didn’t want to break the bank my first week, but I also wanted to live a little, too. So I spent Sunday afternoon researching options for a vacation in Hawaii. It is a tropical paradise, but still in the United States. There were lots of accommodation options, yet the ones which appealed to me the most were, of course, the most expensive–private homes for rent.
Some of them were mansions, exquisitely beautiful with private pools and extraordinary views. A few rented for as high as twenty grand per night! Way too much for just me. The one I really wanted to stay at wasn’t cheap though–it was $2,500 per night. I would have to ask Todd if such an expense was okay, as I wasn’t comfortable with making the decision to spend such large amounts of money on my own. I hoped he would say it was fine because I was craving the privacy you can get with a private house set apart by itself, versus a resort full of people. I needed some time to figure out what my next steps were going to be. And the house I picked out sure looked like a little bit of heaven on earth on the website.
Somewhere in all the travel planning, my “something’s missing” problem jumped back into the frame. I stood up, dropping the iPad on the bed. I started pacing, pinching my lower lip.
Was I changing locations to avoid facing the truth? I sadly realized I had had more fun and excitement and real conversations about real subjects in my two days out in Denver than I had had in Chicago in over two years. Well, maybe it was an exaggeration but things in Chicago had really never happened for me. I was still in the same place I was when I first moved to town—in every area of my life.
Then I had an epiphany–I knew what was missing from my life in Chicago. It was a single, simple thing. Hope. Hope was missing. Hope for a future, hope for a relationship, hope for a career, hope for a real purpose in life.
My life wasn’t bad or totally pointless—it just didn’t have any energy to it anymore. Hope provides the energy and drive to keep moving forward toward the things hoped for. Somewhere along the way, I had surrendered hope altogether and settled for going through the motions to nowhere.
I looked out my bedroom window at the leafless trees reaching into the gray sky. Where do you find hope? I was pretty sure you couldn’t buy it. Was hope hiding somewhere else? Was the problem rooted in my location, my job, or with the people in my life?
Maybe the real issue was family. Finding out the truth about my birth parents stirred up a host of identity issues. I now realized why I never fit in with my adoptive family. I was different. My brother was much more like my cousins and other extended family members. I had almost nothing in common with any of them, and to be honest, I made them uncomfortable. They didn’t know how to interact with me, or me with them.
Differences led to violence because my family couldn’t handle different. Different anything. They all drove the same model trucks. They played football, not baseball. They drank Bud, not Miller. Coolers were for keeping beer cold and fish on ice, not for ambrosia salads and cucumber sandwiches. I remember two of my uncles fighting in my grandmother’s driveway until bloodied over the “family-approved” brand of cigarettes. Insanity.
But I missed my mom. Sort of. Maybe I missed the idea of her. The reality still came up a little short. But maybe that was my fault. I know I blamed her for allowing my brother to torment me for all those years. She couldn’t say no to him. She was his mother. So I said no to her.
I had moved to Chicago to escape the volatility and uncertainty. But it had been two years. Maybe things were different now. Maybe my family was ready to accept me. Maybe it was time to try again.
I found my phone and dialed. My mother answered on the fifth ring.
“Hello?” she shouted.
“Hey, mom. Whatcha doin’?” I said.
“Watching TV. What do you want?” I could hear the TV in the background. The neighbors could probably hear it, too.
“Can you turn it down for a second? I want to talk to you about something.”
“Can it wait? My show’s almost over. It’s got ten minutes left.”
I sighed. “Fine. I’ll call you back.” I hung up without hearing what she said back to me.
While I waited, I watched two ducks swim in the small, muddy retention pond outside my window. They paddled back and forth, going nowhere. Seemed like the story of my life. Going through the motions of living but never getting ahead.
Improving one’s self was frowned upon where I came from. Going to college was considered uppity. Driving a brand new car, the same. Moving to a nicer neighborhood was allowed, so long as it wasn’t too nice. And you didn’t make people smoke outside.
If I moved back to St. Louis, I would have to be very careful to not reveal the extent of my finances. If word got out I had money, I would suddenly become the most popular family member of all time, for all the wrong reasons.
The trick would be to appear to have just enough to live on my own, but still be struggling to make ends meet. That’s how the whole family did it—life on the razor’s edge of sobriety and financial solvency. I was good at pretending. I might pull it off. And it might make my mother happy. I could maybe find ways to help her financially here and there without raising too much suspicion, which is what Amanda said I should do, right?
I checked my watch and called my mother again. This time she was waiting.
“Thanks for letting me finish my show. You were saying?” she said, lighting up a cigarette. I heard her blow out the first big puff of smoke. I swear I could almost smell it through the phone.
“How are things down there?” I said.
“Same as always. Why?”
“No reason. Just checking on you.”
“On me? Since when? I don’t hear from you much unless you want something. What do you want? If it’s money, don’t even ask. I didn’t get the raise my asshole boss has been promisin’ for the last two years. I have half a mind to up and quit tomorrow. Serve his sorry ass right. Let him try to find someone else to put up with his shit.”
“Uh, I don’t need money, Mom. I was...um...well, I was thinking...well, that is to say, I was thinking about coming back home, and...”
“I’m gonna stop you right there, son. I don’t have room for you, plain and simple. Your brother’s here pretty steady these days. They made him foreman at the roofing company. Doin’ very well for hisself. Has a nice girl he brings over once or twice a month for dinner. And your cousin Ronnie is gettin’ married next month. He and his bride are movin’ into your old room until he can get on his feet. Their baby is due in June. Which reminds me, I got to look in the basement for the old crib. I’m sure I never threw it out.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Some things never changed. “I see. Sounds like you’ve got your hands full, then.”
“Always. Since the day your grandmother made me get a job, I’m always takin’ care of someone else. My lot in life, I s’pose.”
“Or you could just say no, and not take on the burdens of someone else’s irresponsibility,” I said, instantly regretting it.
She started coughing, and I had to wait it out. It was getting worse. “I don’t want to hear it, Jack. No one’s ever good enough for you. Not me. Not your brother. Not the rest of the family. We all come up short. That why you haven’t found a girl of your own yet? They don’t have anyone good enough for you up there?”
I sighed again. “No, Mom. It’s not...ugh. Why are you always twisting what I say? I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. Far from it.”
“Then what the hell’s your problem, boy? Don’t tell me you’re one of them queers.”
I stopped breathing. Do it afraid. It was now or never, while I had the safety of three hundred miles separation. “Mom...” I started.
She interrupted me. “No, I mean don’t tell me. I mean really...don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. That would be all I need. Bad enough I gotta deal with your brother’s never ending shit. You bein’ queer would put me in my grave faster than one of my daddy’s shotguns. No, if you come back home, you best have a wife on your arm and your own place to live. Otherwise, you ain’t welcome back here no more.”
I stared at the handset, shocked by her comments. But deep down I was not surprised. “Hey, mom, listen. Um...I gotta go. I’ve got early work tomorrow. Take care of yourself. I’ll call when I can. Good night.”
“That it? I thought you said you had somethin’ you wanted to talk about.” She started coughing again. This time I didn’t wait it out.
“It can wait. Bye.” I hung up.
It would wait forever. There was no acceptance in my past. Certainly no hope, and no easy answers. Hope for me had to be somewhere else, with someone else. My mother and I were done. She had effectively closed the door in my face forever with her ultimatum. So be it.