Ink Bear's Honey Pot

This is a place for me to get all sticky and shit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

15 Years and the Family We Choose

Fifteen years. One third of my life. Tom's been gone for 15 years now and it seems like just yesterday that we said goodbye to him. In those 15 years, I've mourned, I've fought addiction to meth and a host of other chemicals, I've gained and lost and I've cried. I've also moved from San Francisco, I've gotten clean and sober, I've made new friends, earned my master's degree, bought my first house, and adopted my loving pups.

None of the latter would have been possible without the former. Tom changed my life in ways that, fifteen years later, I am still only beginning to realize. I hear his laughter in so many voices, I see the smile in his eyes in so many faces. When I'm down, I remember the nights sitting in the window of the front room while he rubbed my feet and we watched the lights of SF and the Bay Bridge. I remember telling him of my fears and hopes and dreams. I remember the unwavering support he gave me. I remember the day he died, how I was too late to the hospital to hear his voice one more time.

Tom was the family I chose. In life we have the family we are given and the family we choose. Sometimes the family we are given doesn't accept us for who we are, or only accepts us with conditions. The family we choose accepts us unconditionally for who we really are, and where we are in our journey.

Over the weekend, I got to spend time with some of the family I choose at Gay Days. I met a cool couple, J and M. M had turned 21 the day before I met him and is just the sweetest kid. I hung with these guys over the weekend and we had lots of laughs. We went out to dinner one night and M started to tell me he could never come out. His family would never accept him, so he planned that for the rest of his life he would not come out.

I told him that his journey was just beginning and then even though it might seem now that his family would never accept him, families often surprise us. And then I told him about the family we choose. I told him that he was going to develop friendships that would last his lifetime and those friends would accept him for just who he was. I told him to live his adventure, cuz we get only one, and his was going to be amazing. As we sat there talking, the tears streamed down his face and it was clear that this sweet young guy was getting it. I remembered all the talks I'd had with Tom when I was in my early 20's and he in his late 30's. It took me a while to "get it" but finally I had and was able to actually share it in a meaningful way with another young gay man.

To say that I'm over the loss Tom, would be a lie. I think of him often, and always with gratitude. It's been 15 years, one third of my life. You wouldn't think I'd still cry over him, over the loss, but I do. It took me 3 days to write this, if that is any indication. All I really know is that I am a better man because Tom loved me. I'm not sure anyone will ever love me like that again. Sometimes, I care about that, but mostly, I realize I was very lucky to have that once in my life. If it is never my turn again, I'm ok with that...mostly :-) The family I choose will carry me though.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Goodbye my dark angel...

She was just 8 weeks old when she barged into my life. Little did I know how she would change my life, or how much it would hurt when she left. I was leaving the adult bookstore on New Year's Day, 1999. I had just gotten an awesome blow job and was satisfied and ready to go eat. As I was walking out, a guy walking toward me said "looks like someone is coming home with you". I figured some guy was following me, and I was so NOT down with that. I busted my nut and I was done. I didn't want company.

I turned around and didn't see anyone. I was puzzled. The guy stopped next to me and laughed, looking down. As I looked down, this tiny little pure black puppy came tumbling down the steps to rest at my feet...well actually "on" my feet. She was dirty and I could see that she had chewed off a lot of fur, especially on her tail and legs. The guy who had first noticed her asked "what are you gonna do?" I was like "ummm what do you mean, do?" I told her to go home, to go find her momma. She just sat on my feet with her tail wagging. She wouldn't budge. The guy said "from the looks of her, she doesn't have a home or a momma."

I lived in a small one bedroom apartment that did not allow pets. It had been just over a year since I had gotten clean and sober and moved back to FL. I did not have room in my life for a dog....period. I tried again "Go home, go one...git!" Didn't work. She just looked up at me with her eyes and wagged that chewed up tail of hers. I turned to walk away to head for my truck and she was right behind me. "Like it or not," the guy said, "she's following you home." I stopped and turned and she plopped onto my feet again, panting and tail wagging. What the fuck was I gonna do??

I went back into the bookstore and asked the guy behind the counter what he knew about the puppy outside. He said it had been around for a few weeks and eating junk from around the outside of the dumpster. He never saw a mother or any other puppies. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK, I couldn't leave her there. This was going to be a problem, but I'd figure it out later. I went back outside, and she was gone. OK, off the hook. I started walking toward the truck and I heard a little yelping. I turned and there she was tumbling down the stairs after me. She was going to need to work on the stairs.

I picked her up and put her in the truck. She was shaking and hid herself under the passenger seat. I stopped at Walgreen's and got some dog food and some flea bath as well as a small collar and a leash. The plan was I'd clean her up and feed her and then take her to a local vet the next day and find her a home. Hahahahaha, I was such and idiot. Little did I know that was not HER plan :-)

When we got to my apartment, I snuck her in and gave her 3 flea baths before the water was clear of fleas. She had so many fleas, I could see them in her eyelashes and crawling on her fur. She didn't like the baths that much. When we were done, I wrapped her in a towel and laid her on the floor. She crawled out from the towel, grabbed it with her mouth and pulled it under the dining room table with her...then she slept. She slept like she had never slept before, she was so still I thought she was dead at first. I guess she had to sleep with one eye open until now and finally could relax.

I put bowls of food and water under the table and she woke to scarf both down. Then she went back to sleep. She slept under the table all night. I got up a few times during the night and took her out to walk. She did her thing a few times. In the morning, I took her to the vet down the street. They looked at her and said she was in good shape aside from the damage from the fleas which would clear up now that they were gone. He said, "she's a beautiful puppy, what are you going to do?" There was that question, what was I going to do. I told him I couldn't keep him, but wanted to get her off the street. He told me I could bring her to the pound, but they didn't have a great record for saving every puppy.

Now I was torn. How was I going to rescue her from the street and then assign that fate to her. A few weeks in the pound and if nobody adopted her, she would be put down. Damn, what the fuck was I doing??? I did something that I have learned is my best and worst habit....I said "Fuck it, we'll deal with the consequences later" That meant taking her home and dealing with the fact that I couldn't have a puppy at my apartment. So, I bought her all the stuff a good puppy should have, toys, treats, food, and a crate. I was going to crate train her.

I named her 99 as I had found her on 1/1/99, and I lived Agent 99 on Get Smart when I was a kid. The love affair had already started from the minute I found her. I was smitten and she was my master. The crate training worked, and she was house broken easily. A few months went by and there came a note on the door. Please see Mgmt, we have had complaints of a barking dog in your apartment....uh oh....shit, meet fan :-) The eviction process gave me time to find another place to live, this one with a fenced back yard that accepted dogs.

We had a happy home at our new place and a few months later, we brought Max into our life. They loved each other so much and played all the time when they were younger....years later, I would add Chief to the mix, but that is a story for another day.

Flash forward 12 years to January 2nd (just one day past 12 years since 99 barged into my life). She didn't eat in the evening. Max sometimes goes a day without eating, but never 99. The next day, I went and bought some dog food with gravy. Not the best for her, but I knew she'd eat it...she didn't. The following day I took her in to the vet. She had lost 7 pounds in 3 weeks and the vet took blood tests and urine. She also felt her glands and realized that they were swollen...all over her body. The vet assumed it was Lymphoma but wanted to wait for the result of the tests to be sure. She said that there might be a chance we could start her on prednisone, but that would be a short term solution and if it had gone too far, that would not even work.

I was devastated. It had come on so fast. The vet said that is often the case, but to wait for the tests to come back before getting too upset. The next day she called with the bad news....99's liver and kidneys were fully involved...I had to sit down. I asked if 99 were hers would she think it was time to say goodbye and she didn't hesitate. Yes, it was time.

How do you just say goodbye to a being who has been your constant companion for 12 years? In 12 years, no man had loved me. Yeah, I had friends and family, but no man had loved me as his. 99 loved me every second of every day. When my grandparents died and I cried at home alone, she licked my hand and my face and wiped away my tears. When my Dad died just over a year ago, she sat with me as I cried and put her head on my knee to pat. I had never loved a being like I had her (and Max and Chief). How was I going to say goodbye?

I left work early to spend time with her. I would take her the next morning and hold her as she made her transition to the next leg of her journey. I couldn't sleep. I was awake at 4am and laid with her on the floor. She had eaten the night before and I had some hope, but it was short lived as she vomited it all up. The night hadn't stormed like that in a long time. It was like the universe knew what I must do and wept along with me. At 8am, I called the vet and told them I was on my way.

Typically, when I grabbed her leash, 99 would run circles around me. this time, she just opened one eye, and looked at me, then sighed and closed her was time. I had to stand her up after I got the leash on so we could walk to the car. All the way to the vet, I told her how sorry I was and how much I loved her and thanked her for changing my life. By the time we walked into the vet, I was in tears. They brought us into a room and then the vet came in and told me that they had no solution to euthanize her....WHAT?!?!?! how could they make a bad situation worse? they just had!!!! I had to take my baby home and wait to be called to come back.

She was vomiting bile every 15-30 minutes now and it was clear it was time for her to move on. I sat with her at home and waited for the call which came 4 hours later. We went back to the vet. This time they were prepared. I sat with her as they injected her and told her to run and find Chief. He was already on the other side and would be so happy wot play with her. I asked my Dad to be with her and watch over her until I could join them....and I cried.

I cried like my soul was pouring out through my eyes. My throat was thick with the sobs and the pain was overwhelming. My baby was gone....I was lost. I held her for quite a while and whispered to her. Even after she was gone, I didn't want to let go. When I could cry no more, I lowered her limp body to the floor and said my final goodbye. I was numb.

12 years earlier she had barged into my life. She stole my heart. I was lonely at the time, only clean and sober for just over a year. I was close to using many days. I have always said she rescued me, and she really did. I called her my dark angel. I firmly believe that they universe put her in my path for a reason. I hope I did right by her. I hope that showed her the love she showed me.

It's just Max and me now. We'll go on. He is also over 12 years old. I don't know how much time he has. He's going deaf, and slowing down. I hope he can give me just a little more time. I'm not ready to be alone again....the thought terrifies me...

I went to Jacksonville to see Devin for more ink the day after 99 left me. The trip had been planned for a while. Friends told me to go, it would be good for me. They were right. When I arrived, Devin showed me a design he had done for me in the day since 99 had gone. It was a Fu Dog (a symbol of protection) with a playful slant. Most Fu Dogs look fierce, this one looked like 99, sweet and playful, and devoted to me and my protection. Devin wasn't sure if it was too soon. I welled up with tears as I thanked Devin. It was perfect and I wanted him to ink it on me over the weekend.

I had lots of time to think on the hours long drives back and forth to Jacksonville. I hate that our pets have such short lives. I guess they need less time to "get it right" than we do. All of the spells and chants I knew could not give me more time. I so wish I had more time. But I guess the finite nature of time is what makes it so precious. 12 years went by too fast, but I have 12 years of amazing memories. I will remember 99 every day. I'm sure I'm not done crying for her, but neither am I done smiling and laughing.

When my time comes, I hope I find her and Chief (and maybe Max by then) waiting for me on the other side. What a reunion that will be :-) Until then, I can only than the universe for the gift of 99.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My worst and best Christmas

Christmas 1997 will always be my worst....and my best Christmas. I had been living in San Francisco for just over 5 years. When I started out there, all was great. I loved my job, I loved the city, I made a bunch of great friends. After I lost my first job, I started working at Daddy's Bar. Actually, it wasn't even Daddy's Bar yet. Philip, the owner, did my best friend Tony a favor and let me work as a barback the night he took over the bar from the previous owners. The bar was supposed to close for just a few days, do a little remodelling and open back up....that was not to happen. The remodel ended up going through months of red tape and hassle. During that time, Philip sort of adopted me and I worked for him during the remodel, pretty much doing whatever he needed me to. The money helped, and I liked the people I was meeting.

When Daddy's finally opened, I was the assistant manager, and Tony was the manager. It wasn't long, however, before Tony realized he didn't like the management side of things, so I was promoted to manager of the most popular bar in the Castro...well, most popular for what I'd call "Scruff types", you know, leather, blue collar, bears, etc. My time at Daddy's began my descent into madness. Booze was always a factor. I had a beer in my hand most of the time I was working, and lots of shots every night. It was sort of the culture. Customers buying me drinks, or me buying drinks for customers and joining them in a shot, etc.

If it had just been the booze, I might have made it through, but fate introduced me to "Crystal". Meth was wildly popular in SF, and it was sooo easy as a bar manager to get. I had an office in the back to do my drugs, to have my dealer come back and "deal". My hours at the bar were long, and I was expected to be "On" all the time. There were days when I arrived at 8am and didn't leave until 3am the next morning. Meth seemed like a good way to keep moving... to stay "on". It started as just a little here and a little there, but over a very short time, I pretty much didn't do anything without a "bump".

Crystal was a harsh mistress, however, so I began to indulge in other chemicals to make sure she got an attitude adjustment. Pot took the edge off, Coke and Crack changed the high. Heroin made the whole thing just...well, I'm not sure there are words. I was a regular pharmacy. I got really good at compensating, so it wasn't overt, or at least I thought. I would go for days, and sometimes weeks without sleeping. When I did sleep, I would crash completely. I would sleep for 24 hours on a day off without ever getting out of bed. I was so dehydrated, I didn't need to piss, and my body would just shut down. When I woke, feeling like shit, I'd do a line or 3 or 6 to get things moving again.

When I wasn't at work, life was one constant sex party at my apartment. I had so many different men through the door. I can't even count the number of people who ripped me off. Drug addicts are not nice people...don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Around this time, Tom died, and things just got worse. I only wanted to be numb, and so it was a constant party. I remember sitting in my apartment looking across the street at the college building there. I would see people in the windows, in the doorways, on ledges. I would peek out from behind the curtains for hours every night. Even with a room full of guys naked and fucking, I would stand and stare at "them"

Paranoia was my constant companion. I truly believed every night that "they" were coming to get me. I hid my drugs in the craziest places to make sure "they" didn't find them when they busted in the door. I had bugs growing under my skin...well so I thought. I would pick at my arms all night and swore I was pulling out wings of the bugs that were breeding under my skin. At one point, I even took a baggie of these "wings" to the Dr to show him. Why he didn't commit me, I don't know.

The drugs and sex were a perfect combination to contract HIV. I have no idea who or when it happened, I just know it was about 18 months before I left SF. I never used needles...I hate needles, which is funny if you look at all the ink I have. I think that was one of the factors that saved me, I never mainlined the shit. I just did lines and booty bumps.

My spiral just got worse and worse. I think I left Daddy's when I could no longer cope. I was supposed to be leaving for a free lance web design job, which never panned out. I was spending every cent I had left on drugs. I wasn't eating, or leaving the apartment for days on end. The rent money went to drugs, the phone and electric money....drugs, I sold most of my leather guess it, money for drugs. Well, this type of thing can't go on forever, and by December of 1997, the end was near.

I had not talked to my family for many weeks. They kept calling and I kept avoiding. One night, I remember a frantic message from my mother coming over the machine as I fisted someone in the sling. She was in tears and wondered if I was still alive. I didn't call back for a few more days. I sat in my apartment alone, listening to that message over and over for at least a full day. My parents loved me and wanted me to call them back. They loved me, and I hated me!!

I called my mother and it wasn't long before I broke down. I didn't tell her about the drugs, but just that I was out of money, no job, no prospects. I sobbed for what seemed like hours and my mother said two very simple words..."Come home". I had thought of SF as my home for over 5 years. I didn't want to have another home. I had moved from FL with just a few bags and established a life in SF. Going "home" meant I was admitting I was a complete and utter failure. Going home meant that I would lose all my friends - Of course, that had already happened. People who aren't addicts typically are driven away by the addict. I drove off all of the friends I had come to love and cherish. Tony had already moved to San Diego, and all the rest had moved on and left me in my drug induced madness.

All except for Mark. Mark had been in recovery for many years. I met Mark when I was first in SF, long before the booze and drugs. I would go months without talking to him when the madness was at its worst, and he would always be there when I called. Mark never once said anything about drugs to me. He never once called me out. It was clear by just being in the same room as me, that I was high all the time. The twitches, the stammered speech, the picking and scratching, the sweating. He knew all the signs, I'm sure, and still he never pushed me.

I called Mark and asked to talk to him about flying "home". My Mom and Dad offered to send a one way ticket for me to leave SF. Mark looked me in the eye and said simply, "It's time, Don." Mark helped me box up what few possessions I had left and ship them to my folks. My Mom had wired some money so I could eat and ship stuff. I used a good portion for drugs. The night before I left, I think I did every drug in my I am not dead, I do not know to this day. Mark arrived the next day, Christmas Eve, and took me to the airport. I cried all the way there. Mark left me off and I was alone. I had one line left of meth, and I went into the bathroom at SFO to do that last line. I cried as I did, hating myself, and what I had become. SF had so much promise for me when I arrived, and now, I was being ejected like so much trash. That was the last drug I ever did.

I got on the plane, high, and shook my head most of the way to FL. I had a layover for an hour in Minneapolis which turned into many hours. As is often the case around Christmas, snow gets in the way. I was coming down, HARD, and had no prospect of any drugs ahead. When we finally got back on the plane, about 5 hours later, I was shaking.

My parents picked me up at the airport and took me to their home. When I got there, I jumped out of the car to run in to the bathroom and vomit. The next day, my parents give me a brand new TV for Christmas for my room. They couldn't have been any more supportive. The next few weeks are a blur. I spent most of my time in my room, going through serious withdrawal...for like 6 different things at once. I told my folks it was the flu. I was depressed, so damn depressed.

After a few weeks, I started to look for a job and within 6 weeks from when I arrived, I had my first job working on a Help Desk for GTE. It was a 90 minute drive each way, so my folks gave me their old car and helped me get an apartment close to work. From there it was really a big snowball. I was good at what I did and was recognized and promoted quickly. My first dog adopted me off the street and then my second. They kept me laughing and provided unconditional love. One of the managers at work started bugging me about going for my Masters Degree. Work would pay as long as I kept my grades above a B. I figured, what the hell, and after 2 years, I earned my MBA. I really enjoyed my job at that time as a project manager, so I pursued my Project Management certification. The MBA and the PMP opened doors for me. I bought my own car, I bought my own house. SF started to seem like a bad dream...but I didn't forget.

Today is the 13th anniversary of when I cried in the Men's room at SFO, did my last line, and got on the plane. I'm not crying today. I can't say it has been easy. Every day I fight my demons. Every day, still to this day, I know that once bump, one line would be the end for me. I trust in the Universe. I trust in myself. I have come to realize that each and every moment is precious. Each moment a gift. We are so small, so helpless and so powerful each one of us. I am today grateful for every single second.

I've been blessed. Many of my friends from San Francisco have been gracious and have allowed me to reconnect with them. To a person, not one has shut me out. These are good people.

My health has it's up and downs, HIV remains my least favorite "lovely parting gift" from that time in my life. I have terrible scars on the tattoos on my forearms. People as me all the time if I am going to get them fixed......never! Those scars are part of me, part of who I was and who I am today. To paint over them would be such a huge mistake. I look at them every day, touch them and remember. Those scars are truly a blessing.

13 years ago, and it seems like yesterday and like a lifetime ago. I don't know what tomorrow holds, so I live today...and for me, right now, that is enough.....