Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gabby's Gift: a short story by Noah Moore-Goad

Chapter One: Househunting
               Mike sat in his usual place at the Marigold, a small bar near his home on a cold and windy afternoon in early November. It was a day when the wind was beginning to mature from autumn frostiness to winter bitterness. He ordered his burger and a beer from Kathy, the bartender; a good friend of his since he’d been coming to this bar for the past few years. Mike is from Wisconsin – the land of cheese and brews, and this bar reminded him of his hometown. He moved here to the Tri-State four years ago, and had missed Milwaukee every day of those four years. Marigold felt like a familiar place to Mike, like an old pair of jeans that fit in all the right places – a link to his past while still being in the present. Out of all the things he hated about living here; the lack of jobs, the lack of anything to do but sit, eat, and get fat; this bar gave him something familiar and comforting to remind him of the home he left and was now trying to return. Mike was planning his next move to go back home; sell the house, load up the Ford Explorer and a U-Haul and head back up North.
               Stories abound in places like these; bars are full of people with stories to tell. Rich and beautiful, or sad and tragic; and sometimes they are all of these things. Today Mike is going to hear one of those stories. Like all good stories, they get carried along by word of mouth, translated and convoluted, spun around… but that’s what makes them good – makes them worth telling.
               As Mike waited for his food and sipped his Coor’s Light, a man walked into the bar and said hello to Kathy. He sat down next to Mike and asked Kathy if she was still looking for a place to rent. Kathy was planning to sell her mobile home and move out, but hadn’t found a prospective buyer. She immediately pointed to Mike – “No, but this guy’s lookin’ for a place ta rent ‘til his house sells. Why don’t ya talk to him?” Hearing this, Mike turned around on the bar stool and saw a tall, rather muscular youngish looking guy with short blond hair wearing a brown bomber jacket and a red shirt and slacks. Mike reached out to shake this newcomers’ hand.  “Hey Mike! My name is Brandon Stevens, how ya doin?”
               “I’m doing good when Kathy here isn’t tryin’ to get me drunk,” in his deep Yankee voice. Brandon laughed at the good natured poke at the bartender. Kathy just rolled her eyes and chuckled. “So, Brandon, sit down here and have a drink with me and tell me about this house you got for rent.”
               “Well, it’s a two bedroom, one bathroom single floor house on Kathleen Avenue. It’s small; only 816 square feet, but has a chain link fence around the entire yard with a one car garage and off street parking. “It sounds nice. When can I come by and see it?” Mike asked “Well, how about this Sunday?”
               “I think that’s gonna work for me. Is the property vacant?”  Brandon told Mike that it would be by the end of the month; he was hoping to get it rented for at least the winter. He bought the house next door to him as an investment property when he was married. Mike noticed Brandon had a strange look come over his face as he mentioned that he had been married. The story that came next was a story of betrayal and heartache, but also of renewal and acceptance; and it all started with a reluctant adoption of a dog.

Chapter Two: Cuckolded
               Two and a half years ago, Brandon was sitting in his divorce attorney’s office, signing the final papers that would end his marriage to Gayle. The finality of his last signature on the paperwork seeped into Brandon’s bones and muscles, temporarily robbing him of his ability to speak or move. Only the glitter of tears that wouldn’t fall betrayed his emotions. His lawyer said, “Brandon, that’s all I need from you. It’s over. Do you have any other questions for me?” a barely audible “No.” slipped from his mouth as he slowly rose from his chair; he dared not to stand too fast. His body was shaking internally. This shiver had nothing at all to with the temperature of the office; the end of his marriage was the cauterizing of a wound to his soul – wounds like this usually required the kind of amputation a divorce provided.
               His heart felt like the filament in a light bulb about to break from the heat of her betrayal. Divorce was the only way to stop the burn. Gayle moved out eight months ago – taking her child with her.  It was awful, those words. “HER child. Not mine”. He was a father eight months ago. That was until he found out she had been cheating on him for most of their marriage; she had gotten pregnant with another man’s baby; she had led him to believe he was the father. “How am I going to recover from this? Where would I go on from here, now that I am no longer a husband or a father? How could I have been so blind??” Irreconcilable differences do not begin to cover how he felt leaving the attorney’s office and his old life behind.
               No answers came as he slowly walked out of the attorney’s fifth floor office towards the elevator that would take him to the parking garage. All that was left for him was to go back to his empty house. The house he no longer shared with anyone; all that was left to keep him company at his house were the questions; questions that had no grand answers, no great epiphanies, just tremendous loss.

Chapter Three: Dad to the Rescue
      “You know what you need, son?” Brandon’s father, Glenn offered. “You need a dog. You need something to keep you company. It’s time there was some life in this house again.” Glenn had been worried about his youngest child since the divorce was finalized six months ago; his wife, June had died ten years ago. They’d been man and wife for 35 years until she was killed in a car crash out on Highway 109; a patch of black ice caused her to lose control of her 1992 Toyota Corolla and smash into a guard rail. He was working out in the shop when the police came to the house and told him the news his world had ended. No words made any sense for weeks afterward, but he had to keep going for their children’s sake. Brandon and his sister Mary had lost their mother; they needed their father now more than ever. It was his kids that kept him from sinking into despair… and he knew his son was wading out into that same swamp more and more every day.  Brandon had lost his spark, his lust for life after his divorce from Gayle was finalized. He couldn’t bear to see him like this. A father is a father no matter how old his kids get. He knew from what he went through losing his wife that a man needs something or someone to care for, to come home to.
               “I don’t WANT a dog! Dad, I work all the time… when would I have time to take care of it? No way… No dog! It’s out of the question!” Brandon absolutely was adamant in this… it just seemed way too much responsibility and time he didn’t have to spend on a dog. It had been six months since the divorce became final; he was trying to bury his past with work. Being a firefighter meant long hours away from the house… no, a dog would be an awful injustice for both him and any dog he’d get.
               In spite of Brandon’s protests, Dad had a dog already in mind for him. His co-worker at the machine shop had a litter of mixed breed Australian Shepherd/Alaskan Husky pups that would be ready for good homes in a few weeks. He was going to have a dog, whether he wanted one or not. Sometimes fathers really do know best. The hard part was going to be convincing his son of this fact.

Chapter Four: “Meet me in 15 minutes at your house”
               Glenn picked up his son at the firehouse a week later to take him out for dinner. He was trying to reach out to Brandon; he wanted to find a way to help him out of his depression in the gentlest way possible. But before stopping at the restaurant, Glenn told Brandon he had to make a quick stop at his friend Sal’s place to check on something. “Aw c’mon dad, I’m starving. Can’t it wait?” “Nope! Hold your water kiddo, this won’t take long.” As they pulled up into the driveway a large dog came barking along the fence that was adjacent to Sal’s three car garage. Brandon hadn’t pieced it together yet, but this dog was the sire of what was soon to be his new puppy. Glenn turned the engine off. “Hey, come with me please? You can help me with something.” Brandon gave him a sideways glance but said nothing.
               As they walked up the drive, the male Australian Shepherd named Bongo was bounding along the fence; barking and yipping at them in a friendly, good natured manner. Bongo never knew a stranger, and had energy for days. Glenn typed a code into the garage door keypad, causing it to open. Inside the garage closest to the house by the door leading to the interior of the house was an extra-large dog crate with an Alaskan Husky named Misty. She looked at the two men with gentle white-blue eyes; her fur was white and grey with tufts of black fur making its appearance along the ears and neck. Misty had five pups in the crate with her. The door was off the crate to allow her to drink some water and catch a break from nursing her brood. Misty didn’t get up to approach the men, and wasn’t aggressive in the least. Brandon heard the mewling cries of the nearly weaned pups; at that moment the light bulb clicked on in his head, and the reason for the delay in dinner was revealed. He was none too pleased.
               “Dad! I told you, NO, I don’t want a dog!” Brandon Immediately started to walk back towards the truck. Glenn wasn’t having that. “Son, please don’t be that way. Sal needed me to come by here today to check on lil’ mama here; he’s got to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment outta town. Is this so bad?” Brandon still was apprehensive. He knew his father was trying to convince him he needed to get a dog. But that wasn’t going to happen, dad. Nope. No way. And he had no intention of changing his mind. That’s when Dad pulled the next trick out of his bag.
               “Ok… I know you said you don’t want a dog. But… if there was one you liked for a pet, which one would you get?” Brandon sighed; a look of exasperation crossed his face. “Really, dad? Why are you doing this?” “Come on… which one would you get? A boy dog? A girl dog? One that looked like the mother one that looked like Bongo out there? These aren’t tough questions, and besides… you can’t have these pups anyway; they aren’t fully weaned yet and they’ve already been sold.” This was a tiny white lie wrapped in a big truth; he had already cleared it with Sal to pick one out if he could get his son to commit. We just had to wait one more week til they were ready to leave mom. But Brandon didn’t know that.
               “Well, if I were to get one of these dogs… I would go with a girl with eyes like her mom.” “There!” His father Glenn thought to himself, “This is going better than I’d hoped.”  “Ok… what else?” Brandon began to look in earnest at the litter lying in the crate. There were two mottled pups that were marked like Bongo. One of the pups had a whitish grey coat with a black patch over the left eye and right flank; and the next one was solid white. The smallest of the bunch had mottled grey fur but tan and white flecks all over. The pups were crawling around the crate with their noses and paws poking through the grates; the runt of the litter’s eyes opened and looked straight at Brandon. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth with a big dog smile and she put her left paw up as if she was high fiving him. He pointed at the smallest one – “That one. She looks like she’d be the life of the party.”  “Hmm. She looks awful small. You think that one’s healthy?”
               Brandon’s face puckered up in frustration.  “Dad. You’ve had your fun. But this isn’t going to work, you know. I’m going to the car now.” And without another word, he spun on his heels and left the garage. “Shit.” Glenn thought. “Well, that went better than I thought. At least I was able to get him to look at them.” Glenn then fed and watered the little family for his friend and closed up the garage. “I know now which one I’m getting him, I just have to get his mind right.”
               The next few weeks passed and it was time to get the pup from Sal, who was happy to help his friend. Glenn went back to Sal’s and picked the runt of the litter. He stopped by PetSmart to get some supplies and food for the little bugger. He took her in with him to get her fitted with a collar and to show off the new addition to his son’s family. He settled on a pink collar and leash combination, some stuffed toys and some puppy kibble; all his son would need to buy now was a crate. As he was checking out his stuff, the cashier oohed and ahhhed at the little pup in his arms as he unloaded the cart. “Awww! What a pretty puppy! What’s her name?” “Uhh, I haven’t gotten that far yet. It’s a she, but it’s a gift for my son. He’s been through a rough patch and I wanted to give him something to keep him going.” Glenn saw the name on the cashier’s nametag… Gabrielle. “How about… Gabby? Does she look like a Gabby to you?”
               Gabrielle’s eyes lit up at this suggestion. “That’s a perfect name for her!! She looks just like a Gabby; I should know.” “Gabby it is, then.” If Brandon didn’t like it he could always change it; but Glenn thought the name fit this pup perfectly. “Come on Gabby, let’s get you over to your new home, little girl.” “Good-bye sir! Good-bye Gabby!” the cashier exclaimed as they left the store.
               When he got to Brandon’s place, he saw his son hadn’t made it home yet. He grabbed his cell out of his pocket and called. “Hi son. Where are you?”
               Brandon had decided to stay over and clean the kitchen at the firehouse. He did this a lot. He’d hang over after his shift to give him something to do other than go back to his house. He just couldn’t bear to be there alone more than it was necessary. Too many ghosts, too many memories crept up haunting him; it was hard living in the house they’d shared. Maybe he should sell – it’d crossed his mind more and more here lately. But the “investment property”, as his ex-wife called it, was next door and it was easier to keep an eye on his tenants. So he allowed his own personal inertia to keep him in the house that was less and less a home by the day. For now, he just avoided staying there for any length of time; it seemed like the best idea.
               Brandon’s IPhone rang while he was emptying the garbage; he saw his dad’s wedding picture flash on the screen and answered the call. “Hi dad! What’s up?” Glenn replied, “Where are you, kiddo?” “I’m still at work just taking care of some stuff. What’s going on?”
               “Meet me at your house in fifteen minutes. I’ll be waiting. Hurry up, son. I love you.” “Ok dad; I love you too.” Brandon was alarmed as he hung up the phone; his dad sounded weird. He hadn’t sounded that odd since… oh no. God, don’t let it be bad news. He shuddered at the thought of losing anybody else. He just couldn’t take another loss right now. He jumped into his truck and sped off to his house, dreading what news he was going towards, this cryptic message pulling him to a new day.
               Glenn had a smile creeping under his nose. He knew this was a little underhanded, but he knew that this was going to work out; it had to. Gabby was looking at him from the passenger seat; tongue hanging out and her eyes with budding intelligence. “Ok Gabby, time to meet your new owner. I hope you can work your magic on him. He’s gonna need a little softening at first but I think you’re gonna make all the difference.”

Chapter Five: Gabby Goes for a Ride
               Gabby’s nose was rooting around the carrier on the short trip from the pet store to her new home, and about to meet her new master. Glenn was looking over at the puppy periodically as he would stop at the stop signs and stop lights to get to his son’s house. They were about two blocks from Brandon’s home when Gabby started noticing her new surroundings and Glenn was beginning to notice the intelligence of this runt of the litter. She was pawing at the door of her carrier, whining to be let out. “Do you need to go potty, little girl?” Glenn cooed. “We aren’t far from your new home.” Gabby responded by getting more agitated, so Glenn opened the door of the carrier and out she came. She trotted up to Glenn and started licking his hand. He reached over and picked up the new addition to the family; Gabby made no bones about her feelings about being in the carrier…. She much preferred being catered to and handled than as a captive audience.
               “You’re gonna go on so many car rides Gabby… I know it. My son might act tough, but he doesn’t stand a chance with a cutie like you. He really needs you; but I’ll let you figure out how best to handle him. He took his mom’s death hard and now his ex-wife has him on his back. I’ve been so worried about him, but I know you will bring him around.” Glenn stroked the nape of Gabby’s neck as they had their moment on the corner, the moment of destiny almost upon them both. “Ok, Gabby… let’s get you to your new home.”
               Glenn couldn’t know just how Brandon was going to take this surprise; but it was time for Brandon to meet his new dog, and Gabby to work her magic. He’s always heard that Dog is God spelled backwards – he just hoped this little pup can work some miracles in the lonely house on the corner up ahead.

Chapter Six: Gabby and Brandon
               Brandon pulled in behind his father’s Bronco in his driveway outside his house. Both men got out of their respective vehicles at the same time. Dad had a plastic box of some kind… was it a toolbox? Then he saw the fur and the tongue and the eyes. “Oh no He didn’t! He didn’t get me that dog.” Brandon thought as he exhaled in irritation. Glenn had a wide smile plastered on his face, holding the carrier up as if to say, “Look what I got!” He motioned to go inside the house, and Brandon rolled his eyes. As they went inside the door, Glenn patted his son on the back and said, “Surprise!”
               “Surprise, Hell! I told you I didn’t want a damned dog!! Why don’t you listen? Why are you doing this??” Brandon was both furious with his dad and glad the news wasn’t something awful.  This was just irritating. No telling what he paid for this dog, only to send it back. Glenn wasn’t having any of it. “Hey. Listen to me. I’m still your father. Son, you’ve been out to lunch for a good bit now, and I know you’ve been through hell. But it’s time to rejoin the land of the living now, son. Look at this place!! It looks like a morgue. What single man has white carpeting this clean? It looks like it’s been staged to sell. You need this dog, and she needs you! Gabby is just what the doctor ordered. Now stop all this crap. It’s high time you realized Gayle’s not coming back! You have to move on son. She made her choice and you made yours. Now it’s time to get back into the swing of life.”
               Brandon froze when he mentioned his ex-wife. His eyes swam in tears as the emotion threatened to overwhelm him. He started hitching a sob, then a dam burst. He fell to his knees and allowed himself to feel all the sorrow he’d been fighting against all this time. No words fell from his lips, the heels of his palms buried into his eyes as he bawled in front of his father. Glenn grabbed his son and held him like he did when his mother died; petting his hair and telling him it was going to be alright. “Shh, shh, it’s ok son. Let it out. It’s time you let it out. I’ve got you. I’m here. Daddy’s here.” Two grown men kneeling on white carpeting grieving over what had been, and what ultimately never had been.            All the while, Gabby looked on at these two men in silence. As if on cue, Gabby then let out a shrill little yip sound to let them know she was still there. She wanted out of the carrier, pawing at the grated door.
               “You need this son. You need something to care about again.” Glenn said as he wiped both his and his son’s tears from their eyes. He reached over and let Gabby out of the crate. Gabby trotted over to Brandon and Glen to see what all the fuss was.  This was the beginning of their life together; Brandon was still skeptical about this dog situation. This release of emotion softened his heart enough to allow a little space for Gabby to occupy. For puppies, this small space is all they need.
               Over the next few months, Brandon and the little pup named Gabby had a strange relationship. He would take the dog for short walks, but talked to it like it was a guest and not a family member – no baby talk, no real intimate or kind moments passed between them. It was hard for Brandon to relax for some reason. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was, so he based it solely on the new addition to the family. But as he became more skilled at caring for a dog he realized that maybe dad knew something he didn’t. He still didn’t let the dog have free reign over the house; in fact, he rarely would keep it in the same room with him. A baby gate kept Gabby confined to the kitchen and the mud room, which was not a large room to begin with. Add to that a dog crate and food bowls, and Gabby was confined to a small corner of the house, always looking at Brandon through the gate as he was watching TV or reading. What was to happen next would change the dynamic of their bizarre living arrangement forever.

Final Chapter: Gabby and the Rubber Tree
               “Wow. That’s an amazing story. Did you end up keeping Gabby?” Michael asked. Thinking of his own dogs, Jack, Molly and Dave; he couldn’t imagine anybody getting rid of his or her dog. It would be like getting rid of an arm or leg, or selling off a child; totally unthinkable.
               Brandon smiled. “Oh no; at first we would look at each other across the room and wonder, “What’s next?” I hadn’t had a dog before. I knew I had to learn how to take care of her. That wasn’t so hard. But the real test happened one day was when I left her in the house while I was at work. I must’ve left the crate unlatched or something because she had gotten out. When I got home later that night I found Gabby rolling in dirt and the 6 foot rubber tree that my ex had sitting in the corner shredded all over the white carpeting. I swear there was black dirt everywhere in the living room. She was still only about five months old. She did about three thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the carpeting with her little stunt. It was what my ex-wife had picked out – I hadn’t thought about it; but I realized as I tied Gabby out in the back yard on her run line so I could clean up the mess that I had unthinkingly held on to my ex-wife though home d├ęcor. I hadn’t changed a thing in that house. I had left the decorating up to her; so the ghost of her, her fingerprints were all over, keeping me trapped in the past.”
               “Well, Gabby and her “redecorating” fit made me realize that I had to change my surroundings, not just lie with the bones of my past. After I cleaned up the biggest part of the mess, I went out to Gabby and brought her into the house and I cooked us both a steak, I cracked open a beer and saluted Gabby for making me see that this was our house now. I always hated that carpet anyway; who has white carpet these days? It took me about three weeks to completely redecorate the house, but it was worth every penny.”
               Mike said with a smile, “I guess Gabby was glad you didn’t get rid of her, then.” Brandon looked at Mike and said with great conviction, “Gabby brought me back to life, just as dad said she would. I was frozen inside. I just couldn’t open up my heart to love again. It took Gabby and her special kind of love to make me feel something other than being alone and miserable, just existing. I don’t know what I’d do without her now. She goes everywhere with me. In fact, she’s in the truck right now. She gets a Marigold burger whenever I come here; in fact Kathy should be bringing it out any minute. She knows Gabby’s out there waiting for it. Would you like to see her?” “Of course!” Mike said; dog lovers can’t resist meeting a new dog.
               They exited the bar with the burger in hand. Parked outside was Brandon’s truck with Gabby standing up in the bed of the truck, panting at the smell coming from the bag with her treat inside. Gabby was beautiful; her fur was mottled and flecked with grey and tan with shocks of white and black throughout… but she had her mother’s white blue Husky eyes. She was brilliantly intelligent and Mike could tell by just looking at her that she was a pure light disguised as a mutt. “Hey, Gabby! Look what I got ya!” Brandon couldn’t contain his joy at giving his Gabby the food. He tore it up for her on the tailgate of his Ford f-350. Gabby elegantly devoured the food in short order.
               Brandon said this to Mike before Mike had to leave to go and pick up his husband Noah from school – something that he wouldn’t forget and would tell every time he would tell this story.
               “Gabby was a gift from my dad. She came in on little puppy feet into my house and turned it into a home again, where love lives. She gave me back my heart, which I hadn’t even realized I’d lost; it was that bleak. I had even considered suicide;” Brandon said with tears flowing down, unashamed. “Gabby’s gift was her love. I have the best dog in the world. Not bad in exchange for some dog food and a burger every now and again. You know, once I redecorated the house, Gabby never tore up another thing. No accidents, not one.  “Imagine that,” Mike said. “I guess there was only room for one bitch in that house, and Gabby won out.” Brandon laughed heartily at that, and said, “The house is yours if you want it. Come by and take a look at it and see if it will work for you and this Noah of yours. Who knows, maybe your dogs can meet Gabby. So are we on for Sunday, say, 2:30 in the afternoon?” “Sounds good, Brandon. See you both this Sunday. I can’t wait to tell Noah this story; he’ll get a big kick out of it.” Mike got into his Explorer and drove off leaving Brandon and Gabby in the gravel parking lot, Gabby finishing off her food as the Explorer took off up Weinbach Avenue.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dancing with the Bones of the Past by Noah Moore-Goad

Dancing with the Bones of The Past
 by Noah Moore-Goad
               History could be described as a dance. Each move, every step is made in time with the spirit and music of the times, both literally and figuratively. We as people try to understand our lives within the framework of both our personal histories within the greater context of the world around us by studying what has gone on before. By learning the steps of the people before us, we are better prepared to make our own best moves – moves that take us further down the road where the best and the worst of times are behind us, and the unknown lies before us.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou

               My friend Hilda Creasy is well versed in dancing through life. She is a published author, a painter, a creative force in the lives of her family and friends. Hilda represents to me a great student of history. She has lived through some of the most important and pivotal times in American history in her own inimitable way. Born and raised In Hinton, West Virginia, Hilda is one of fifteen children… all single births. I interviewed her to get her perspective of history through her eyes. She has some good insights on what the past was like for her generation. ”Everything gets used on a pig except the oink!” her father would say when he would slaughter one of the hogs, with nothing to be wasted or left unused.
                This idea that nothing was wasted stemmed from that fact that her family and her neighbors were poor; replacing machinery or other goods wasn’t easy. To combat the poverty around them, they repaired or engineered the things they used. Clothes were handmade and almost all the food was grown or livestock was raised on family owned farmland. The rations of World War II were something that affected everyone, a shared sacrifice that was more annoyance than problem. She grew up in the poverty of Appalachia, so everything in her life was shared and passed down to her 15 siblings and repurposed and recycled. She told me that her mother always said “waste not and want not” and it was something she grew to understand and appreciate more as she became a mother herself.
               She moved to Chicago with her brothers as a young woman during the 1950’s, before the interstates were built between West Virginia and Illinois; her brothers went to find work in the factories; she to find work as a waitress to make money to go to Business College. During her time working there she went to business school, and eventually would get her realtor’s license. She met her husband in Chicago and on June 16, 1955 Hilda and Jay Creasy got married. They started out in an apartment to begin their life together. It would be three and a half years before the first of five children they would have together. She told me that moving away from home at seventeen with her brothers was difficult for her, but her parents knew that there was nothing for a bright girl with a future before her in West Virginia. The title of her memoirs is “Transplanted by Necessity”; she told me that most of her life meant moving to find better jobs, to further her education… and then still moving to find the best place to raise her family.
               They eventually settled down in Marengo, Illinois; they bought 6 acres of land and built the house she still lives in. Jay and Hilda were married for fifty-seven years until Jay’s death in 2012 due to colon cancer. She told me that her greatest achievements were being a mother to her children and to have met and loved Jay. She told me that history is just a big ball of yarn and that we only see one end of the string at the time. It is only when enough time has passed that we see the skein of history and start to understand how it all unravels. We talked the Affordable Care Act and the worries that people have about the economy today. She told me that so much of what is going on now happened in much the same way, the fights over Social Security and Medicare and the  conservatives’ fears of the USA becoming a Welfare state. She asked me if we as a society would ever learn the lessons of the past. The struggles that people she grew up with in Appalachia still go on to this day and she thought that if we could ever get past our political and social preconceptions to fully realize that the most important task at hand, in her opinion, was to care for those who cannot care for themselves and to fight for social justice and fairness.
                I met Hilda when I married my husband Michael four years ago; Michael and Hilda go back thirty-five years when they worked at a realty firm together. They have been fast friends ever since. I’ve read her books, and I have a signed watercolor of her porch swing and trellis outside her kitchen window that hangs near our front door.
               She has touched both of our lives; this woman from the hills of West Virginia… a woman that still has a minute trace of hillbilly accent but a heart as big as the mountains she still calls home. She wrote in her memoirs that when people from up north asked her where her accent came from, she always said, “I got it from drinking from the bottom of a Dixie cup.” She hadn’t drunk from that cup in many years, but small drops of that accent still linger on. 
               She was told just a few months after Jay passed that her doctors found her cancer she had thought beaten had now moved into her bones and she had been given a year, maybe two to go. I think that throughout her life, she has been travelling; moving from her parents’ home in the hills to Chicago, to all the places she’d been to find out that history is made of travelers. We are lucky to meet them on the road and should always entertain them, learn what we can, and when the time comes, we say good-bye and know that the journey doesn’t end; we just keep going. I am not ready to say good-bye to Hilda, but I know that someday I will have to; such is the stuff history is made of – a long string of saying our good-byes to what and who we love.

“I am what time, circumstance, history has made of me, certainly; but I am also much more than that. So are we all.”  James A. Baldwin

               I was born in the autumn of 1969. The year saw the lunar landing and Armstrong taking his small step for man, the end of the Beatles, and riots in the streets of New York City as drag queens hurled bricks at the police during a raid of the Stonewall Inn. This act of defiance and civil disobedience began three days of rioting, and the beginning of the LGBT civil rights movement. Fast forward to what will be soon 2014, with sixteen states with marriage equality passed, and I realize that I am a product of that same struggle. I am one man in a long line of people who have struggled to accept my place in a world that wasn’t ready for change; a change towards fairness and equality.
                I, like millions of gay and lesbian Americans have a history that is rich but largely obscured in mainstream historical discourse. Bob Dylan once sang that “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” Honesty is paramount to realizing one’s place in history, I think. Knowing your place in history is an important part of not making the same mistakes over and over, just as Mya Angelou said – all it takes is courage.
               I’ve been called many nasty things in this life, all forty-four years of it; most of it was undeserved. I’ve had some of my hardest struggles and my biggest fears imposed upon me by the ignorance of those who don’t know the role that gays and lesbians have held throughout history. LGBT history is history, and it is important that this part of history be made more accessible to a larger audience, in my opinion.
                I’ve had to muster the courage that Mrs. Angelou was referring to in order to get past the naysayers and bigots I’ve had to overcome in my personal life. There were moments where I briefly considered ending it all, but I realized rightly that someday things would get better. Now we have sixteen states where my marriage to my husband Michael is legally recognized… a far cry from the religious pamphlets that were shoved down my throat as a teen proselytizing that gay people like me were pedophiles and monsters, people to be shunned and hated.  We all have to dance with the bones of the past; history demands we learn the choreography of our predecessors – thankfully, we have the dance step charts created by historians, poets and musicians to keep us moving in the right direction. In the end, however, I am reminded of La Cage aux Folles, and the song “We Are What We Are”:
“We face life though it's sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter,
Face life, with a little guts and lots of glitter.
Look under our frocks: Girdles and jocks,
Proving we are what we are!”
               We are all what we are, indeed… dancing to our own music, tracing our steps backwards and forwards through our lives; making our own little histories while the dust settles on the bones of the past.

Empty Words: a short story by Noah Moore-Goad

“The danger lies in the emptiness of so many of the words we use.”     Sherwood Anderson                                                                                                                                            

     "I want a divorce,” Mary said quietly, as she wiped down the kitchen counter after the evening meal. John was putting the dishes that were in the dishwasher away in the cupboard, with his back turned away from her when she said the words with such a matter-of-fact tone that he almost didn’t quite believe she had said it. John and Mary had been married for nearly fifteen years at this point; and he had thought everything was fine… their anniversary was coming up and he had planned a big night out to celebrate this milestone in their lives. He had great news to share with her; his hard work and effort was about to pay off... little did he realize that she was etching an epitaph into said milestone.
               “What? Did you just say ‘divorce’, Mary?” John’s bile started to rise through his gut like steam through a radiator; his voice leaped up an octave, and he spun around in the small kitchenette to better understand what she was saying. He had the most startled look upon his face when he stared that the mask of certainty she was wearing – it was clear and focused, with only trace amounts of sadness trickling around her bright brown eyes. “Why? What’s wrong? Mary, where did you get such an idea?”
               Mary said it again, this time with a hint of steely edge to her words. “John, I want a divorce. I’ve given it much thought, and I’m just not happy anymore. I can’t keep telling you “I love you.” and mean it anymore. I’m sorry that this hurts you; I really am… but I can’t live like this anymore.” Mary’s face started to crumple like wrinkled notebook paper, with lines and creases forming across her face. Warring emotions of relief and sadness formed the face John was witnessing. “Mary, honey…” John said as he tried to hug her, even when his mind raced to absorb the shock of Mary’s stunning declaration.
               Mary recoiled from her husband’s attempted embrace like he was suddenly too hot to touch. “NO. No! I don’t want you hugging me! Trying to comfort me… it’s too much! Haven’t you been paying attention?! I just told you I want a divorce. Don’t you get it? I can’t take the stress of this! We are so broke, I’m working non-stop, and trying to make the ends meet, and you… you just keep playing at being a writer. You sit here all day, not helping out, not getting a job or helping with the bills… you won’t listen to me when I tell you how hard it is to get the bills paid! Don’t try to convince me to stay. It won’t work!” Mary was shivering in anger now; her bravery in telling John she was leaving him made itself manifest in physical form with tremors and her right hand clutching her dishrag like a rosary, trying to purge her soul with this announcement.
               John stood facing this woman who was his wife of more than a decade and stared in her resolute eyes, the fury and immolation that burned there in her brown eyes now filled with tears. He loved her so! He had heard her words and felt them puncture his soul, and now his eyes started hazing over with tears of his own. He wanted to open his mouth and try to talk her out of it – to make her understand the feelings he has for her and how much he needed her… but the words dissipated as his lips parted. The words just weren’t there. His heart felt every word but they were as empty as the air that left his body. He just stood there, in the kitchen as she turned on her heels and went upstairs to pack a suitcase.
               His whole world felt as empty as the words he now wished he’d spoken. The acceptance letter for his novel from Random House was on the kitchen counter, the envelope ripped open in excitement and fear and the contents of the letter now laid forgotten… just more empty words. Tonight was supposed to be a celebration of all they had together. Now all he had was the hot coal of failure burning in his gut and the word “divorce” ringing in his heart.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks For All My Blessings:Thanksgiving 2012

     This year is quickly winding down and changing into history.  There has been so much change in the past few years that I wonder what else is ahead of me.  I am about to wind up my first semester in college; now that's a statement that I would have never been able to say 5 years fact it's pretty safe to say that I wouldn't have even written my first blog post!   But that was then, and of course the world changed and I changed even faster.

     My friends and Facebook acquaintances have been counting down to Turkey Day by posting one thing that they are thankful for.  I think that is a lovely sentiment.  I thought about doing this but I just haven't been in the same frame of mind as they have.  With all I have to say grace over, and how grateful I am, I needed to fix that.   But I am very thankful, nonetheless,so tonight at 1am I decided to post what I've come to see as blessings to cherish and realize just how damned lucky I really am.  There are so many people out there that aren't even close to being as happy and content as I am.  I've seen them and read their posts on the Web, I've spied them out and about, I've sat next to them in class... the world is full of people who don't, or can't realize just how amazing life is.  How abundant the joy of life is available to us if we just allow it to come into our hearts, and express it in the way we interact with others.  The Holiday Season is supposed to be full of joy; it's a shame that many people don't feel it.  But why it's this way... well that's a mouthful, but seeing as this has been my least favorite time of year for most of my life, I can field a few thoughts on the subject.  Listen up, because I think this is pretty important stuff, I don't want you to miss this!

      First of all, you have to decide to be happy.  It's a choice.  And sometimes.... it's damned hard to make that choice. Sometimes you have to take your life and shake the shit out of it, tear it all down and rebuild.  Sometimes you have to get rid of EVERYTHING and EVERYONE that is keeping you from finding your happiness.  Or maybe you just need to surround yourself with positive people, wherever they may be.  The world doesn't owe you anything, but you determine your own worth. And I've found out that we all are priceless, valuable and original creations, worthy of happiness and love. You'd be amazed at what's around, once you stop feeling so bad about yourself. And yes, I do get low sometimes and forget this.  It's way easy to do, especially when no one's looking(or so you think, anyway.)  But what does this have to do with being thankful and grateful, even when you don't feel the spirit of the season?  Well the first step is to being happy with yourself.  You are NOT as bad as you seem, and things can always be worse.  So today I am going to give thanks, because I am not as bad as I seem, and things can always be worse.  That simple act of gratitude for having the best life I can have at the moment never fails to make my frown turn upside down.  

     Second, and this is pretty important; in fact RuPaul says it every stinkin' week(for those who DON'T watch RuPauls' Drag Race, get to watching!).  "If you can't love yourself, how in the HELL you gonna love somebody else?"  That's pretty self explanatory, but I would add this:  You are the only YOU that exists.. therefore you deserve all the love you can give you. If you want someone to love you, then let it start with the person in the mirror brushing your teeth in the morning.. I mean, does anybody else do that for you??? That's love honey... I've been married now for almost two years, and Michael hasn't done that for me(although he would if I couldn't I'm sure.. or at least drop some Polident in the bucket for the dentures).  Seriously.  Love is gained or lost simply because you stopped loving the most important person in your life.  Take care of him(or her).  But if you are reading this, you probably already have more people loving you than not, so remember to give Thanks for those people.. they make it easier to love you.  God knows I need them to remind me sometimes what I sometimes forget to remember about love.

     And lastly, Giving thanks isn't something that should be reserved on a date on a calendar.  If you wait 'til the fourth Thursday of November each year to say thanks and express your gratitude, you are really screwing up!   I'm grateful that this Nov. 6th the President was re-elected. I'm grateful that my birthday came around again.  I'm grateful for my loving husband, who is(despite my statements to the contrary) extremely patient and kind.  He's given me the world I didn't even know I could have.  I'm grateful to be going to college! I'm grateful that I have all that I have.  I'm grateful for all that I am(and all that I'm not, apparently..) and even better, I'm grateful for all that I will become in the months and years ahead.  I could write reams and reams of what there is to give thanks for, but for all that I've been blessed with, surely more than I deserve, I have to give Thanks.  It's the least I could do.  

     So with today being Thanksgiving, when you read this do the following:

     Give thanks to those that love you. They are your fuel.
     Give thanks to those that don't.  They are your motivators.
     Give thanks for your friends.  As Michael tells me, they are gifts you give yourself.
     Give thanks that you have what you have.  Some(in fact, many) have far    
     less and they are thankful for what they have.  Follow their lead.
     Love yourself.  Give yourself some credit. It gets better, even when it's 
     hard to see right now.
     God is real... so give Thanks to Him, in whatever way you think is best.
     Give thanks for all that is behind you, it paved the way for what now is   
     But MOST of all... Give thanks that this blog post is OVER! One can get 
     too carried away.  Now go eat that damned turkey!

     Thank you for reading this, for all the love and friendship.  Love to all.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"I am alone... but I can still skate." - Michael's Story.

     Today was a very special day in our house.  Today we relearned something that is easily forgotten... how GOOD people can be, and when that goodness touches you, it makes the lesson that much sweeter than the last lesson was.  I feel compelled to tell this story simply because it needs telling; you can't make this stuff up folks.  First, some background details for you, then it's off to what was so good about this day.

     Long before I ever came into Michael's world, he was at a Barnes & Noble in Milwaukee, WI shopping with his best friend Garrett.  It was a cold November day and he happened to find some of the previous year's Christmas card sets on the discount table.  On the front of the cards was a replica of a painting of Minister Walker Skating. The original oil-on-canvas painting was created in the 1790's and is now one of Scotland's most important works of art.  But Michael's appreciation of the art was more than academic.  He had broken up with his partner not long before this and was still reeling from the end of the relationship.

Before I continue the story, I want to say's amazing when you get a new insight into someone you love so much. You know how important someone is to you, and what you mean to them... but when something new is presented, an extra dimension is layered... you find that you are even more in love with that person by the new discovery.

Michael and I are incredibly close obviously -  we're married for Pete's sake, so that's not to hard to figure out.  But today I saw a look in his beautiful green eyes, reflected by barely constrained tears; a look that  made me fall in love all over again.  He has such a kind heart.  I forget how often, and how much his heart had been hurt in the past.  But the amazing character of Michael, I find, is the tenacity of his spirit and how happy the simple things make him. Finding discounted Christmas cards with this painting on them meant a great deal to him, he told me on the way home.  He bought all of those cards the store had.  He told me he felt the Reverend could have been him in a previous life.  He called his friend Garrett over to the table(he was getting on the escalator) to show him these cards.  He fell in love with the Reverend Walker in that moment... that lone figure, out on Duddingston Loch, skating with his eyes forward and thoughts all his own.  Michael told me that he told Garrett this:  "I am alone... but I can still skate."

That statement struck a chord in me as we drove back to Evansville from Princeton this morning.  We went to The Palace this morning for more than just breakfast.  The main reason was because waiting for him at the restaurant was The Reverend Walker Skating on the Lake.  Our friend Marsha Blanton is a waitress there.  She saw his Facebook post about the painting and how much he loved it's simple elegance; but like me, not knowing the whole story about his admiration of Henry Raeburn's work of art.  She had messaged me privately about the painting and wanted to know if he really liked it.. I told her that he adored the painting so much.  She surprised me when she told me she had ordered it and it would be here this week.  I was so pleased that this wonderful person loved my Michael enough to get for him this replica.  She wanted to surprise him.  I told her that he would be absolutely floored... so much so I didn't think he'd be able to eat his breakfast!  Suffice it to say, he was blown away completely by Marsha's kind-hearted generosity.

My Michael is a beer drinkin', cheese eatin', throw your head back and laugh and bullshit and have a few drinks Wisconsin boy.  He's tall, dark, and handsome.  He is also the most tender and beautiful man I have ever met.  Today in his eyes, as he opened up the box and unrolled the print of The Reverend, I saw a mixture of shock(because he obviously didn't expect this at all), sadness("Why are you showing me this?"), and when he realized it wasn't a prank(she had told him not a minute before that she had bought it for her house and wanted his decorator sense to see what color her walls needed to be), total gratitude and joy over this wondrous gift.  Nothing makes you love your husband more than seeing him cry tears of joy like this. Nothing.

He shared with me the story of the importance of the Reverend Walker's painting to me as we went home.  I was so moved by the story of his being able to skate through the pain of losing love as he was learning to walk alone again.  How many of us have had to learn how to do that in our lives... how to put on our Sunday best and ice skates and get back out on the ice, even when we aren't sure we want to, and even if we don't know if the ice will still support us.  I realized today that my husband is more than just my loving partner... he is a champion, and a survivor, but most of all, he's a teacher.  He has told me on more than one occasion that he feels that he is used as an instrument by The Man Upstairs... after hearing his story about The Reverend Walker, and seeing Marsha's love in action, I can only wonder at the beautiful symmetry of it all.

Marsha, if you ever read this... know that Michael loves your gift, but more than that, he loves you.  He is such a great guy, willing to do anything for anybody... but when people(like yourself) reciprocate, he doesn't understand it's because of him that they do just that... reciprocate.  He's like that... and I hope he never changes.  His selflessness and kindness needs to be acknowledged, and I am so glad you gave me the opportunity to see this side of him outside of the walls of our house.  I'm of the belief that you get what you give in life... Marsha, may blessings come to you and yours like sunlight through a windowpane.  You will never know just how much you have touched us with your gift of friendship and love.  I hope you appreciate this story, Dear Reader, because it's true; no names have been changed to protect anyone.  We might be alone sometimes... but like Michael taught me today, we can still, still skate.  Love to all... Noah