Monday, March 16, 2015

Frightening, Horrible and One of the Worst Things Ever

It's been a terrible week.

On Tuesday, a friend of mine told me about the freak thing that happened to her recently while riding a commuter rail train.

She was sitting there reading, as usual, when suddenly she felt nauseous.  She kept feeling worse and worse and really wanted to get off the train but couldn't because the next stop was still miles away.  She thought about asking for help but soon realized she couldn't speak.  Finally, at her first opportunity, she got off the train with the hope that the evening air would help her feel better.  It didn't.  Instead her arm started tingling and her jaw went numb.  After more than twenty minutes of just sitting and not being able to speak, her symptoms began to fade.  She took the next train to her regular stop and called a co-worker (she lives alone) who picked her up and took her to the emergency room.

After many hours and multiple tests, the emergency room doctor told her she'd had a small stroke.  This was shocking because my friend is 49 and has not had any health problems.  The doctor also told her that if she'd been asleep when the stroke happened she never would have woken up.

After hearing this story, all I could think about was never wanting to sleep again.

On Wednesday, Gabbie told me she just learned that one of her very best high school friends has stage four lung cancer.  The cancer has metastasized and spread into her bones and blood.  No one knows how much longer she'll live.  A few months, at most.

This friend grew up in a nice neighborhood and had a loving, supportive family.  Life was good for her, until Junior year of high school, when a long series of bad things began to happen.  First, her father died from a heart attack.  Then, several years later, her oldest son was born with severe autism.  She was told he'd never be able to care for himself.  A few years after that she had her second son.  He was healthy but the strain of the children was too much for her husband, so he left.  She raised her two boys alone for about five years, then met a new man.  Everything was great between them until she got pregnant.  The boyfriend told her he did not want the baby nor did he want to get married.  Already overwhelmed by having to care for two children on her own, she decided to have an abortion.  She was raised Catholic so it was a very difficult and painful decision.  Shortly after the abortion, the boyfriend left her.

A few more years passed, then she learned that her oldest, then about 10 or 11, had leukemia. Fortunately he recovered but it took years and it was a long, gut-wrenching experience. During that time, her mother was her primary support.  She withdrew from all her friends and didn't date.

So far as Gabbie knows, she hasn't been in a relationship in more than ten years.  Her boys are now 20 and 18.  They are her life's work.  Gabbie will be seeing this friend soon, so I'll hear how those boys are doing, but all I can think about it is how this poor woman's life has been one trauma after another.  It's just so sad.  And what does she have to look forward to?  Dying at 48.

On Thursday, the news came that we most feared.  My 49yo brother-in-law (Gabbie's sister's husband) has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

If you've never known someone with ALS, consider yourself very fortunate.  Gabbie and I have known two people who died from it.  Both were diagnosed in their late 40s, which is when the disease frequently reveals itself.

One of the people we knew was a neighbor.  When we first learned he had ALS, he walked with a limp and his speech has slightly slurred.  But as the months wore on, walking became much more difficult and he became increasingly difficult to understand.  We never saw him in the later stages of the disease.  All we knew was that he wasn't doing well.  I'm not sure exactly, but I believe he died less than three years after diagnosis.

The second person we've known with ALS was the mother of one of our daughter's friends.  She was a nice, happy, outgoing woman.  She lived longer than our neighbor did...maybe as many as five years.  As the disease progressed, seeing her was very difficult.  I ran into her at the grocery store a few times and it was extremely awkward.  She could walk relatively well but her speech was almost unintelligible.  The last time I saw her, long lines of saliva were dripping from her mouth to the floor.

Gabbie's father died in our house at 62.  He had cancer that began in a gland in his face.  Watching him die was a horrible, horrible experience.  But as bad as that was, my brother-in-law's gradual decline will be worse.  His mind will remain completely untouched but his muscles will eventually prevent him from doing anything, including communicate.  Ultimately he'll die by suffocation.  It's a slow, horrific way to go.  You witness your own death as your muscles betray you.

Stephen Hawking has ALS and it's really a miracle that he's alive at 73.  The 5 year survival rate is only 20%.

It's too soon to know how fast my brother-in-law's ALS will progress, but chances are, he'll be lucky to see his now-12yo daughter graduate from high school.  Even if he does make it that long, he'll be a twisted, drooling lump in a wheelchair at the ceremony.

I hope to be wrong, but I doubt he'll see his 11yo son graduate.

It's so fucking depressing.

I haven't seen him since his diagnosis.  When I do, I'll probably be at a total loss for words.  What do you say to someone who's just been given a 5-year torture-then-death sentence?

Why am I sharing these awful stories?

Two reasons -

First, they're a reminder of what I tell my kids all the time, especially as it pertains to their animosity toward their mother: "You should never be mean to someone close to you.  You never know what might happen.  Life is unpredictable. Never say anything you might later regret because, sometimes, you can't take the words back."

Second, for all those people who struggle with the relationships they're in, whether you feel like you're trapped in the closet as a married man, or trapped in the closet with a married man - life is short.  We are mortal.  We are fragile.  Tragedy, I'm sorry to say, is inescapable.  Be kind to others but also be honest and authentic. Live each day as a gift, because that's what it is.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What would you do about these men?

In my last post I wrote about being less attracted to men now than when I was in my 20s.  By "less" I meant that I'm far less motivated to pursue them. I might also be less physically attracted to them, but that's hard to know because lustful memories can easily become a tangled mix of fantasy and reality.

What is certain is that my recent over-the-top attraction to Jon was a big surprise.  Men aren't as impressive as they once were but thoughts of him sure drove me wild. I haven't been that infatuated with a guy since high school.

Trying to figure out if he had any interest in me was a major challenge. Sometimes he'd engage in extended, flirtatious eye contact, but other times he seemed completely indifferent.  I finally gave up on him in early January when he let our first email conversation drop after just one exchange.  I figured if he was interested, he would have kept the conversation going.

Well, shock of all shocks, more than two weeks after I last emailed him, he replied again.

Unlike his first email, this one was much friendlier and more personal.  He began with, "I wanted to check in and say hi.  Thanks for your concern.  I appreciate the friendship."  He went on to explain his silence by saying, "I've been trying to keep things very quiet and steady mentally and emotionally, take care of myself, and not let myself get too worked up over anything." He also (sort of) promised to see me soon: "I'm sure I'll get to one of H's parties soon.  Maybe on the 15th."
 He ended the email by saying, "Feel free to check in anytime you like.  Take care, Jon"
Of course I replied right away (and he hasn't responded) and of course he didn't show up at the party on February 15th.  

On February 17th I forwarded him an invitation to an Oscar party one of our friends was throwing the following Sunday .  Naturally, he didn't respond to my email or attend the party.

I can't figure this guy out....and I'm kind of annoyed that he sent a relatively nice email.  Now the fucker is back in my head again, although not as ubiquitously as he once was.  He's probably not anywhere near ready to handle a relationship with a guy so I would be smart to forget about him.  The thing is, I know I'll see him again some day so I can't help but wonder how that will play out.

Here's another somewhat odd situation -

In May of 2013 I deleted my online dating profile and I haven't been out on an official date since then.  The last guy I met was Hugh, an Englishman of Northern Indian ancestry.  I wrote about him in Six Weird Dates.

A short version of our story is that he texted me the day after our first date to say he was already seeing someone and wanted to be friends.  That was an obvious lie so I assumed he was blowing me off --- only it turned out he wasn't.  At his insistence we ended up meeting four more times in June and July.  During all those "meetings" not once did he say or do anything that made me think he was attracted to me. (Nor did he talk about the guy he was supposedly seeing.)

We continued to meet semi-regularly over the next four months.  I enjoyed spending time with him but eventually I stopped wondering if we were dating.  I was comfortable just being friends.

The last time we met was in January of 2014.  Nothing was different or unusual about that meeting.  I did notice, however, that the very next morning he re-posted his dating profile.  The same profile he had taken down two weeks after we first met.

When I saw that his profile was up again, I felt like I failed a test.  I felt like he'd given me one last chance to prove myself to him, and I hadn't, so he re-posted his profile.  I still believe that's true because after that meeting I didn't hear from him again.  We basically went from meeting every second or third week to never speaking.

At first I didn't take his silence too seriously.  I knew he was busy with work so I figured it wasn't anything personal.  But after six weeks I began to wonder if I'd said or done something to offend him.  I debated whether I should reach out to him but ultimately decided not to.  The reason was that he had previously told me he "cuts people out" when he decides it's no longer healthy to see them.  I assumed I'd been cut out. 

It was weird to have that happen without knowing what I'd done but eventually I decided that the friendship had run its natural course.  If it was his habit to suddenly and inexplicably drop friends, then he probably wasn't someone I'd ever feel 100% comfortable with.  Every meeting would feel like a version of Russian Roulette.  Will it be the last one or not?

Well, get this...

Much to my amazement, Hugh showed up at a Halloween party I attended that was 40 minutes out of his way.  I was so surprised to see him that my jaw literally fell open when I saw him walk in.  "This will be interesting," I thought.

At the party he was polite but not especially friendly. He acted like he was glad to see me, we hugged and then caught up for a few minutes, but that was about it.  I guess that's the best I could have expected after being cut out for nine months.

November is when my obsession with Jon kicked into high gear so I didn't give much thought to seeing Hugh again.  I didn't expect to hear from him and I didn't...but there he was at the Valentine's Day party on February 15th.

This time he seemed genuinely glad to see me.  He was quite friendly and chatty.  At one point he even said, "I made a terrible dinner for you the last time.  I'm a much better cook now, I should invite you over for dinner."

We talked for at least 30 minutes, not alone but with two other people.  Toward the end of the conversation we were standing side by side and he sort of nudged me a few times and touched my arm once.  That kind of subtle flirting drives me wild.  Guys only do it when they're into you so it's really exciting when it first happens.

A short time later another friend came to talk to me so I turned toward him.  Then, as the friend and I were talking, Hugh reached over and gently moved a lock of hair on my forehead.  It was a very strange thing to do but it was also a major turn-on. I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear.

Because I'd just started talking to my friend it would have been rude to suddenly stop and ask Hugh why he was touching my hair.  Instead I just kept talking to my friend.

I forget exactly what happened next.  I think someone started to talk to Hugh and my friend went to say hello to someone else.  I know I ended up being alone and I spent a few minutes wandering through the house looking for people I knew but hadn't really chatted with at the party.  I couldn't find anyone because the party was breaking up so I went back to talk to Hugh but he was gone.

I left a few minutes later, deep in thought about how flirtatious Hugh had been.  Touching someone's face is about as flirtatious as you can get without being sexual.
Hugh has a rock-hard body.  One that I imagine looks like this.

In the days since February 15th, I've found myself frequently thinking about Hugh.  There's no doubt in my mind that he's attracted to me.  I could easily arrange a date with him and "things" could progress quite quickly.  Two years and five months of celibacy might finally end.

So what am I waiting for???

A few things, actually.

First, I expect to see Jon within the next month.  I'd really like to talk to him face-to-face and see what's going on with him.  If he's at all flirty I won't be able to think about anyone else for weeks.  If he's not flirty, I might be able to get over my crush on him and that would be a very good thing.

Second - and this is horribly embarrassing to admit - I'm not sure that if Hugh and I ever got seriously involved I'd want to introduce him to my children.  He's smart, attractive, fit, funny and polite but I don't think my two younger kids would see him as being good enough for me.  Too ethnic.  Too not-pasty-white. Eventually they'd get over it but I'd hate all the awkwardness until that happened.

Third, and by far the most important reason I'm hesitant: I *hate* that Hugh is the kind of person who cuts people out.  How could I ever trust him?  How could I ever let my guard down?  I can't be constantly worried that he'll suddenly drop me.  I'm an extremely loyal person.  When I like someone, even when they do shitty things to me (Gabbie), it doesn't change how I feel about them.  The last thing I want to do is set myself up for another unhealthy relationship.

My fourth and final hesitation is that I'm nearing the point when I'll be ready to date again.  Getting into a consistently positive state of mind hasn't been easy or quick.  I wonder, if I got involved with Hugh, whether I'd later regret not dating more.  I don't expect perfection but it seems to me that there's a reason we mutually decided to be friends in the first place.  I wonder if I just need to start dating anew, with a good attitude, and see what happens from there.

I think I'll do nothing in the month of March.  Hopefully Jon will turn up at some point.  In April, I'll give dating a try, and depending on how that goes, I'll keep Hugh in mind.  I do find him attractive.  I just don't trust his constantly changing demeanor.

What would you do if you were me?