Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Coming Out Year, Part 8: Forest Glade.

It was November.  Deva and Carpenter were moving to Oregon.  I went down to help.

They were moving to a place called Forest Glade.  I had stopped by Forest Glade some years before.  I had been hitchhiking down I-5 with my friend Jane, and she knew people there, so we stopped and spent the night.

It was magical to me.  It was a for-real commune.  There was a big house, where they cooked a communal meal, and all these people lived together.  After dinner, there was music and people played guitar.  They had gardens and grew their own food.  It was out in the country, in the misty mountains of coastal Oregon.

Forest Glade had lived in my memory for at least three or four years now.  I was fascinated by everything about it.  Parts of the place had become settings in stories I wrote.  It was enshrined in my mind with numinous awe.

Now, my friends were moving there.  Would I help?  There was no question!

Some time later, Carpenter described it like a science fiction movie:  The explorers have landed on a planet where everyone is dead.  They need to figure out what doom stalked the first colonists, to keep it from happening to themselves!

I only gradually became aware or the greater picture of Forest Glade, and its recent history.  It was a spiritual community.  The community had started somewhere in California, convened of people who were devotees of an Indian mystic.  It was called something like “Pacific Glade”.  At one point, they had put into motion to buy land somewhere else too, and that had ended up being in Oregon, and became “Forest Glade”.  I don’t know if the community budded off, or what, but so Forest Glade came into being.

The hazy part of the picture was explained like this:  The community at Forest Glade had internal strife.  They worked on it and worked on it, but could not resolve their difficulties.  Finally, a “board of directors” or something, who had been purely titular while the Forest Glade community was running itself, was re-activated.  The board got involved in trying to help resolve the conflicts.  Everybody tried and tried, over and over.  But it could not be done.  Finally the board decided; everybody would have to leave.  Forest Glade would start again with new people.

Wholeness, Deva and Carpenter, were the first of the new people.  They and their family, their adopted and foster kids who now numbered about seven, were the first “project” accepted to be on the land.

I helped them move there.  I jumped at the chance to poke around memory lane.

By the usual measure of the world, my life was a shambles.  I had no job, and no prospects of any income.  I was in love with a man on the opposite side of the continent, and the tumultuous consequences of that whole coming out process were a continual distraction.  I had no real place to go, and not much impetus to get there.  But somehow, when you’re young, you can just do all that.

The one clarity I had in my life was I wanted to become an Emergency Medical Technician.  I have very little idea where this strong ambition came from.  I remember I had read a book somewhere in there on Wilderness Search and Rescue.  Maybe that set the spark.  While all the rest of my life was crumbling and being rebuilt on almost unrecognizable foundation lines, I had this one crystal seed I was sure of.  I wanted to be an EMT.

I was hanging around Forest Glade a few days, helping Deva and Carpenter settle in.  They rented a post office box in the little nearby town of Peavine, and mail started to come.  There was a catalog from the local community college.  I leafed through it.  There was an EMT course, but it was something like $85 — an incomprehensible sum for me at the time.  Plus, it was 42 miles away, an impossible commute.

One morning, I was in Peavine, which consists of two or three streets in one direction, maybe eight or nine the other.  I saw a woman with an EMT patch on her shoulder.  I am naturally shy and reticent, but this EMT idea was such a driving force in my life I asked her about it.  “How do you become and EMT?”

“Well, you take an 80 hour course,” she considered, “Actually, we just started a class here in Peavine.  It’s been going on a few weeks, but if you’re interested maybe you could catch up.”  Costs?  They’d written a small grant to cover books and materials.

I went back out to Forest Glade.  I was glowing with excitement.  I at least wanted to give this a try!  Deva met me.  “I talked to Barbara, on the board,” Deva said, “They offered, if you wanted to stay awhile, that you could be the interim caretaker here at Forest Glade.”

In one day, my kaleidoscope of shifting fragments tumbled into place. A whole life had laid itself out for me. A door opened out of thin air, and I stepped through. I had a place to live, and a purpose.

I did do the EMT course.  I made it to every class, though sometime it felt like a trapeze act getting there.  For example, a guy who was interested for awhile, who I’d been getting a ride with, decided to drop out.  But by next week, another way had opened.

I did very well in the class.  The woman I’d first met, Alice, was a shaker and mover in that little town.  Her husband owned a big logging company.  About a decade before, her pre-teenage son had got killed in a motor scooter accident, and she had been devastated.  She finally rebuilt her life around dedication to improving emergency services in that rural part of the county.

Over the following months, I was involved in the life of Peavine.  Something blossomed without me ever having planned it.  I became a bridge between Forest Glade and the town.  As the other emergency services people got to know me, it put a human face on “that weird hippie commune” for them.

For me, it was eye-opening too.  In a town that small, all the services — ambulance, fire, and police — had a lot of overlap in personnel.  For the first time in my life, I got to know cops as people, to understand their perspective, and see what they were up to.  I finally got over my teenage paranoia about police.

My life was entwined in Forest Glade for about eight months.  Part of my role as interim caretaker was to be the first line of defense against, well, against people like me when I’d dropped in there with Jane on our hitching trip.

I ended up meeting and talking to a lot of people.  A good number of former community members were still in the area, some renting spaces on that same land.  I spent time with them, heard their stories; but, you know, I never did get a clear picture of what the troubles were that had brought the old Forest Glade to an end.

Well, this is supposed to be about my coming out.  I’ve sketched in the background, so here’s what was going on for me.

I was still thinking about Adrian every minute of every day.  Deva told me a story of when she and Carpenter were first together.  They had gotten engaged, then he had been drafted and gone off to Vietnam.  She said she’d thought about him every minute of every day.

One time, both on the same day, they had both got the idea of blowing up balloons, and writing letters on them, and then letting the air out and mailing the balloon.  She in Tennessee, and he in the jungle of Southeast Asia.

I asked Carpenter about that time in their lives.  He admitted he had not thought of her every minute of every day.  But he was, after all, in the Vietnam War.

On the rare occasions when I could get to a phone, I would sometimes call Adrian.  This was before long distance was dirt cheap, so money was always an issue.  Later, I guess we had a phone; but, starting out, things were pretty bare-bones.

I remember in the early days, walking out the drive, and there was a pay phone along the road.  It glowed in the early dusk, like a beacon through the rain.  I thought, I could call Adrian.  I would love so much to hear his voice.  But I only had a few dollars to my name, and I figured I’d better save it for more immediate needs.

Therefore, it was mostly letters.  I would typically write pages and pages, very tiny script, covering lined yellow legal pad paper.  I probably have copies of some of them somewhere still.

Once, I sent one off, without making a copy first.  I was really upset.  Deva said, understandingly, “Yes, because you’re also writing to yourself as well.”

Certain tunes were like my theme songs.  These would come to mind often.  One was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  Another was “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”.  Sweet songs of longing.  I wanted so much to be with Adrian.

Deva and Carpenter talked about the concept of “The Akashic Record”, the idea that every thought, every word and every deed is impressed somehow on the ether.  Further, that this information will then be available to others who need it, like checking out books from the library.

In this vein they were supportive of all the stuff I was going through.  I guess it gave me some comfort.  I felt a little less alone in all my turmoil, thinking it might help somebody else some day.  If nothing else, I hope it allows someone to avoid at least a little of the embarrassment I still feel, thinking back on some of the fool letters I wrote.

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Coming Out Year, Part 7: Blue Heaven.

It was October in the Northwest.  Rain was a fact of life.  This Sunday, or “First Day” as Quakers call it, I was in Seattle and had gone to Friends Meeting.

University Meeting has a very nice location, perched near the north end of the University Bridge, overlooking Lake Union.  Most of the meetings I had been involved with were more modest.  Rather than having their own meeting house, they would convene for worship in community centers, buildings on college campuses, or people’s homes.

By comparison, University Meeting was luxuriant.  No crystal chandeliers, or outward ostentation.  Rather, the little touches appreciated by people whose chosen form of worship is silent meditation.

The landscaping around the building was restful, reminiscent of a Japanese garden.  The halls inside were decorated tastefully and spare.  The doors into the meeting room opened and closed with absolutely silence.  No squeaks or clicks called attention to late arrivals.  The carpet muffled any footfalls.  The benches, when you sat, never creaked.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls were acoustically engineered to further absorb sound.

I don’t know why I like Quaker worship.  I never could stand any sort of Eastern meditation.  It was a Jewish college roommate, of all people, who said to me, one time about 1977, “I’m going to Quaker Meeting.  You want to come?”

It clicked.  The hour sitting silent with the other people was — well, I don’t know what it was.  But it worked.  It fit me.

I have been going ever since.  As I gradually learned more about Quakers, I liked that too.  The peace testimony.  The attitude of practice-what-you-believe.  The acceptance of each person for who they are.

Over the years I have been appalled to meet many, many men who were very involved in their church, but who were also struggling to come out as gay.  Typically, it was a bible-thumping church.  The poor saps were really stuck.  Their church was their entire community and support system.  But there was no chance in hell all that Christian love was going to continue to flow to a man who wanted other men.

I was so lucky to have been involved in Quakerism for nearly a decade before I came out.  Quakers worked through all that dialog a couple of decades ago, which many religions are just getting into now.  Accepting their gay members.  Accepting gay ministers.  Accepting gay marriage.  And then quietly getting on with more important things.  I can not imagine a better religion to come out in.

That First Day, late in October, I sat in the back circle of benches.  From time to time, I would come up from meditation, open my eyes, and have a look around.  There were a couple of nice looking guys.  One in particular was in a bench a few rows in front of me.  He was turned sideways some of the time, looking back.

When someone is turned sideways looking back, it’s not so obvious what they’re looking at.  I assumed he was glancing out the window, or at someone over a ways.  Gradually, I put it together.  His blue eye was pointed right at me.

After Meeting, we got talking.  His name was Samuel.  He had long, beautiful blonde hair, and a full golden-brown beard.  He was dressed in a sort of Asian looking smock, something quilted, clothes just a bit unusual.  He had made them himself.

It turned out he was gay.  A kindred spirit.  We talked on and on.  We went for a walk.  I was not in a hurry to get anywhere.  We must have walked for hours because I remember being in the part of town where the new REI store is now.  Under gray skies, in the drizzling rain.

There were so many things to talk about.  I asked him about gay bars.  I was kind of put off by bars because I didn’t drink.  He said, when he would occasionally go.  He would just have milk.  He didn’t drink either.

We talked about men, and how appealing they are to look at.  He said, sometimes when he goes by them, he almost feels like he can smell men.

It turned out he even knew Adrian.  They had lived in a communal house together in Boston.  He said they called him “Tanta Adrian”, Aunt Adrian.  I didn’t get it at the time, that Adrian, in his natural surroundings, was more campy than I had seen him.

Samuel and I walked, and talked, literally, all day.  Finally, towards evening, he invited me to his apartment.  He owned a share in a co-op on Capitol Hill.  We climbed the stairs to the third floor.

The interior had a cared-for and comfortable feel.  There were large potted plants in the building’s hallways, under a skylight.  His rooms were bright, open, and spare; or at least as bright as can be in the Seattle gray.

We talked for more hours.  He showed me fabric and patterns, and clothes he had sewn.  This was somewhat of an interest of mine.  I had made clothes too.  I had duplicated a comfortable old pair of blue jeans, to where people would not even believe I had made them.  The proof was, I had used green thread instead of yellow.

Samuel served me tea, and scones, and crystallized ginger covered in chocolate.  I kept feeling like I should not outstay my welcome, that I should leave; but something kept pulling me back.  This was very special, to have another gay man to talk to.

Finally, I was going out the door.  I opened my arms for a goodbye hug.  Samuel melted against me.  He breathed, and it was almost a sigh.  The hug went on and on.  It was very nice.

Something in me took over.  I lifted him in my arms, the way you see Superman posing with a damsel he’s rescued.  I held Samuel in the air, one of my arms lifting his knees, the other supporting his back.  I carried him over to his bed.

There followed three days of deep, sweet, dreamlike love making.  Somewhere in there, we were out on the streets briefly, I guess to get provisions.  Costumed trick-or-treaters were abroad.  The rain-slick sidewalks were shiny under street lights.  It was Halloween Night in Seattle.

For those days, that timeless time, Samuel and I were in tune.  If there is anything to astrology, maybe it was because we are the same water sign.  Our birthdays are just a few days apart on the calendar, though he is a couple of years older than me.  Intuitive.  Creative.  Spiritual.  I think that’s what our sign is supposed to be.

This is how making love with Samuel was for me:

An impression would come up, of something I wanted to do with his body.  I would move towards doing it.  If there were some reason the action did not complete, such as if it were not safe, or my endurance gave out, or Samuel wanted to do something different; it was no matter.  It would still be nice.  And another impression would arise, guiding me on to new pleasures.  Samuel was in the same flow.

We would cuddle and play for awhile, then drift to sleep.  We would awake and continue.  Day or night, it went on and on.  Finally, we would rise, get something to eat, satisfy other bodily needs.  Then we would get back into bed and go on.

We worked without agenda.  Just like doors opening, and opening into new terrain.  There was no focus on orgasm.  Yet, when orgasm came, somewhere around the second or third day, it was like being assumed into heaven.

Finally, I said goodbye.  I left and went on to wherever I thought I needed to go next.

Shortly, within a day or two, my obsession with Adrian returned.

It was very strange to realize I had completely forgotten Adrian for that time. It was very strange that all that magic with Samuel faded like a dream.

I had been sending Adrian long, long letters, written in tiny script on legal-size lined yellow paper.  Adrian would write back.  Sometimes we would talk on the phone.  I finally understood that euphemism “to whisper sweet nothings”.  Adrian and I would waste whole minutes of long distance, barely exchanging more than sighs.

I kept in touch with Samuel, mostly by postcard.  I remember thinking I would feel really insulted if he referred to what we’d done together as a “trick”.  That was a gay term I had heard.  It meant a quick hook-up for casual sex.

It seems ridiculous now.  From the vantage of these decades, I now know that neither Samuel nor myself are psychologically capable of “turning tricks”.  We both take sex and love way too seriously.

Over the next several months, I met up with Samuel again.  But somehow we did not get in tune.

I remember, it must have been the following spring, or maybe a year later.  I was in Seattle, visiting college friends in the University District.  They were living communally in a big old house, virtually a mansion, they’d rented on Ravenna.

Samuel met me there.  The room where we found privacy had old-fashioned leaded windows.  The small pane sections were diamond shaped, and the window was open to the warm spring breeze.

It didn’t work like it had.  At the end of that session, Samuel said something to the effect of he didn’t think he’d make love with me again.  I had come to feel the same.

Our paths crossed not rarely over the years, through Quaker connections and gay connections.  Once, at a gay Quaker camp, we took a long walk around the lake.  He had cut his hair into something like a mullet.  He was getting fat, which I have no problem with on principle, but he did not carry the weight well.  We sat on the bank talking.  He reached over and took my arms, and put them around himself.  I did not object, but it had not occurred to me to do so.

Nearly fifteen years later, he was living in Grayson Harbor, the same town as me, for awhile.  We would take walks on the beach.  He was learning to identify the shore birds.  He was making quilts now, and some of his work was in galleries.

One time, in his apartment, he showed me a funny little art project he had done.  He had taken clippings of women’s dresses from some bridal publication, and combined them with clippings of buff, glistening muscled, body builders.  It was like the brides had sprouted bodybuilder heads, or the bodybuilders were dressed as brides.

By then, I was used to gender-bending, drag, and camp.  I guess that’s what it was.  I still don’t understand camp, but I can sometimes tell it’s going on.  Anyway, I appreciated Samuel’s creativity and imagination, though the works themselves were rather macabre.  He himself remarked that brides were “scary”.

Then I suddenly got this summer job in Colorado.  I disappeared from Grayson Harbor the first of June in 1999.  By fall, the job had promise of being more than a season’s work, and I had decided to give it a try.  In November, I was back in Grayson Harbor shipping my stuff off to Colorado.  It was great seeing everybody, but my visit in the Northwest would be brief.

I ran into Samuel at the co-op.  I greeted him warmly.  I was really glad to see him.  But he snapped at me.  I was taken aback.

“You could have kept in touch,” he complained, “All it would have taken was a post card.”

Truly, Colorado had been such a whirlwind, I had not kept up with anybody.  Samuel went on, “I don’t consider that we are friends any more.”

I was floored.  Everybody else I knew in the northwest was well aware that I always came and went.  Sometimes for months.  Sometimes, like to grad school in Bellingham, gone for years.  I would always come back and reconnect.  What was different?  Why did Samuel want to break things off with me?

But later I thought about it.  There was something about Samuel’s and my connection, a different balance.

I remembered the winter before, when I had had a very bad flu.  I was down for days.  Then, one evening I awoke, and realized I was dangerously ill.  I was close to the point of weakness beyond which a person cannot help himself.

I was all alone in the little travel trailer on the alley.  Nobody was going to check in on me.  I needed to do something, fast, while I still could.

I stumbled down to the co-op, a few blocks away.  I talked to a woman I only casually knew, and got her to take me to the emergency room.  Home later, with prescriptions filled, I started on the road to recovery.

Now I realized, on the way to the co-op, I had gone right past Samuel’s door.  I had not thought to knock, or try calling him on the phone.  He had never been quite a reality to me.  He was a sunshine friend, someone I had to do with only when I stepped outside the normal circle of my life. To my shame, something in me never took him seriously.

Years later still, it dawned on me. Why had Samuel moved to Grayson Harbor?  He’d remarked that he’d “wanted to get out of the city”. Yet, of all the little towns outside Seattle, why that one?  And how could it be coincidence he’d ended up scarcely a block down the street from me?

I can be so dense some times. I think Samuel was burning a little flame for me all those years. He had the courage to go for it, or at least to take the chance. I never picked up on it, even once. I was oblivious, and I think I broke his heart.

By now, I have been on both sides of that hard lesson many times. “On paper”, it made all sorts of sense that Samuel and I should get together. I am not smug, or even resigned. Instead, I am in humble awe of the towering impossibility of it. You can’t be in love with someone just because you think it’s a good idea. If it’s just not there, it’s just not there.