WELCOME TO ROAMING THE GREENWOOD!

If you would like to read my memoir OUT OF THE BOX–my first major work on ROAMING THE GREENWOOD–from beginning to end, click “Earliest Posts First in the menu above.

Or if you’re returning to the memoir and want to pick up where you left off, choose a year from the categories to the right.

Thank you for visiting RTG!  I’d love to know what you think!

–Dominic

OUT OF THE BOX: Introduction

Mother, you made him small, it was you who started him;
In your sight he was new, over his new eyes you arched
The friendly world and warded off the world that was alien.
Ah, where are the years when you shielded him just by placing
Your slender form between him and the surging abyss?
How much you hid from him then. The room that filled with suspicion
At night: you made it harmless; and out of the refuge of your heart
You mixed a more human space in with his night-space.
And you set down the lamp, not in that darkness, but in
Your own nearer presence, and it glowed at him like a friend.
There wasn’t a creak that your smile could not explain,
As though you had long known just when the floor would do that . . .
And he listened and was soothed. So powerful was your presence
As you tenderly stood by the bed; his fate,
Tall and cloaked, retreated behind the wardrobe, and his restless
Future, delayed for a while, adapted to the folds of the curtain.

I grew up surrounded by beautiful woodcuts like this one, Utamaro's "Mother and Baby under Mosquito Netting."

I grew up surrounded by beautiful woodcuts like this one, Utamaro’s “Mother and Baby under Mosquito Netting”: “Ah, where are the years when you shielded him just by placing / Your slender form between him and the surging abyss?”

And he himself, as he lay there, relieved, with the sweetness
Of the gentle world you had made for him dissolving beneath
His drowsy eyelids, into the foretaste of sleep—:
He seemed protected . . . But inside: who could ward off,
Who could divert, the floods of origin inside him?
Ah, there was no trace of caution in that sleeper; sleeping,
Yes but dreaming, but flushed with what fevers: how he threw himself in.
All at once new, trembling, how he was caught up
And entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event
Already twined into patterns, into strangling undergrowth, prowling
Bestial shapes. How he submitted—. Loved.
. . . . How could he help
Loving what smiled at him. Even before he knew you,
He had loved it, for already while you carried him inside you, it
Was dissolved in the water that makes the embryo weightless.

No, we don’t accomplish our love in a single year
As the flowers do; an immemorial sap
Flows up through our arms when we love.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, III, 1923~

"All at once new, trembling, how he was caught up / And entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event…" (Image: Maurice Sendak, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE)

This was one of my favorite books as a child: “All at once new, trembling, how he was caught up / And entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event…” (Credit: Maurice Sendak)

This memoir was easy—and difficult—to write. My mother, my friends*, and I wrote it together. Between 1994, as I got ready to graduate from Seattle University and went on a Jesuit retreat and got my first lengthy letter from my mother, and about 2004, when the letters ceased coming in the mail with her identifiable handwriting on the envelope, the memoir was writing itself, out of joy and pain and yearning.

It has taken me ten years to share it with a wide audience.

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As the millennium approached and e-mail became more ubiquitous, we still chose the traditional epistolary format, as did my friends. There was always something romantic, at least for me, about actually writing a letter, as we aligned ourselves with letter writers from centuries before (some of the first novels, especially by women, chose the epistolary format), working out our needs and loves and frustrations with paper and pen and sometimes printer ink. Writing letters afforded us more space to write, slowed down the pace of our thoughts, increased the tension as each letter left our part of the world and entered the cavern of the mailbox, allowed us the climactic experience (a climax to the expectation, the waiting) of walking to the front door, slitting open an envelope, unfolding a crisp tri-fold, and drinking in each others’ carefully crafted thoughts, rather than simply opening up a button on our computer screen with one touch, scanning the screen, then deciding whether to hit the reply button or which folder to stick it in.

Writing, folding, addressing, licking, walking, sending, waiting—these are all very personal and active and intimate actions. Therefore, choosing to present this decade in my life as letters instead of writing them as prose narrative was an easy decision.  I want to welcome you into our conversation.

It often amazes people that all these letters still exist. It’s not like they are prehistoric tablets or medieval books bound to be museum artifacts. But it is fortuitous that I’ve kept them, stored them in an office box for over a decade, and even more so a blessing that these people shared their words with me time and time again. I’ve gone back to the box every so often, at least once a year, and read myself and my mother and my friends back to myself, shared them with new friends. I’ve read them to students and colleagues, sometimes in public forum. Now, I hope that this memoir has captured the spirit of those letters in a composite way. I pass them on to you.

As you read or listen, you will begin to recognize from their words and their style the writers’ identities. Their particular ways of expressing themselves will characterize them as much as their emotions and beliefs. You will hear a diversity of opinions and spiritualities and strategies for living; some will resonate with you, others will be more discordant. Some will likely anger, others will likely sadden. Whether you agree or disagree with any viewpoint within these pages, it has been my intention to create no heroes, no villains—only people who are, myself included, sometimes loving, sometimes (always?) selfish, always genuine.

You will get to know us gradually. Details will emerge that will be fleshed out only later. You will have to fill in gaps of sometimes months, but you will also encounter letters written back and forth, simultaneously, within the same week—our needs, loves, and frustrations almost psychically devoted to paper at the same time. One drawback for you, the reader or audience member, is that you will often have to infer or create details and motivations and causes (perhaps based on patterns in your own life), since the letters won’t mention how my mother once punched through a window to grab at her brother; how often she found herself kicked out of the house, with nothing to eat; how she had an affinity for graveyards and a disdain for school nuns; how she excelled in English and science classes at Queen Anne High (and how I majored in English and minored in Biology); how she fell in love with a shy boy from Tokyo who liked cars and drawing; how she found an outlet for her aggressions in judo; how my father went to Vietnam shortly after they were married at the First Congregationalist Church and how she lived with his mother, my ba-chan, while he humped the forest as a radio operator and, as his PTSD would later reveal, killed many people; how he had an affinity later on for war films and battlefield dioramas; how her liberalism morphed into conservatism when she found out about the hot tub in the rectory at Blessed Sacrament; how my mother asked him to remarry her in the Catholic church. The letters won’t reveal how I found my first porn magazine stuffed in the bundles of recycled newspaper from the neighbor across the street; how I borrowed friends’ cars in high school and went to adult bookstores during our lunch hour; how my father took me on a father-son trip to Vancouver and I got my first view of a woman sliding down a pole, then left the club to pray for his soul; how the Infant of Prague statue looking down over my bed made doing anything alone in bed a guilty, dirty thing; how I’ve never had sex with a woman. Some of this stuff you don’t need to know. Some of this “stuff” is just that—stuff from my life, stuff that you might recognize, in variations, in your own lives. Or is it more than just “stuff”? Is it everything?

You will also discover that this memoir has no happy ending. Mother doesn’t join P-FLAG and fight for gay rights, Son doesn’t anticipate a tearful reunion, neither compromises in the end. But both become tired. By the end, we’ve lulled each other to sleep with our epistolary mantras. I do not apologize for the ending. See it rather as the inevitable end to a ten-year lullaby or, if what you read or hear has not the qualities of a lullaby, then a ten-year bedtime story filled with every emotion you can imagine, with gods and goddesses, victories and defeats, lies and passion, angels, demons, and seas red with apocalyptic blood. It is in, perhaps, the constancy and tenacity of the collective letters of each person—my searching, my mother’s constant pleading, my friends’ devotion—that this memoir’s force and, I hope, beauty and humanity lies.

In his autobiography Les Mots (Words), Sartre claims that autobiographical narration is obituary in its nature, allowing the living to create a space where they can reexamine their lives and interpret them for others. This reexamination allows, I suppose, the living writer to recreate, remold, and even reform parts of his life (in the confessional box of the pages) and to highlight that sliver of his existence that has been meaningful and formative for himself, and also potentially meaningful and formative for readers. Again, I do not apologize for the ending: this sliver did not end happily. You will read or hear of happiness and happy times within many of the letters, but the ultimate happiness, change, or triumph a reader or audience might seek will only come in what the reader does with what they’ve read afterward.

This is for the sons and daughters who are trying to figure out who they are. For the mothers who are walking a thin edge between duty and the abyss. It’s what happened to me and what could happen to any of us. In the end, however, were it not for our open line of communication, I wonder what would have happened. If it would have been even worse. Or if it made it worse. The irony of trying to communicate with another human being is that it can lead to miscommunication or, in this case, a complete failure to communicate and a drifting off to sleep. That’s all I know, and all I can tell you. As a son or daughter, a mother, a friend, it’s up to you to decide which route to take when dealing with other human beings. To write or not to write. To talk or not to talk. To try, to risk. Or not to.

Love,

Dominic

* All names other than mine and my partner Scott’s will appear as letters (e.g., “D,” “H,” etc.) to protect the privacy of the authors of these letters and those mentioned in them.  I hope you get to know my letter (pardon the pun) friends by their “letters,” since many of them will appear numerous times.

Epilogue . . .

This post is in process.  This song, “Altar Boy,” is one I wrote somewhere between 2000 and 2004 (I remember I wrote it when I was teaching at a Catholic school and the letters from my mother were still coming).  I may or may not have performed this at one of our Cafe Nights (Friday night band nights).   I may or may not have gotten in a little trouble.  It’s a tad angry.  But that’s not where I am now, so that’s why this is a post in process . . .

ALTAR BOY

Verse 1

I’ve got a cigarette lit and I want to puff it,

Then all I want to do is fucking snuff it.

I know that death is not true liberty,

But the difficult truth that you refuse to see

is that altar boys don’t grow on trees;

I just can’t drop down to my knees.

Saints and martyrs ain’t for me.

Saints and martyrs ain’t for me.

Chorus

I’ve got a thorn in my side

and I just can’t pluck it.

The only thing that I can say

is “Deal with it or fuck it.”

Verse 2

I’ve got a pill in my mouth and I want to swallow,

‘Cause all you ever wanted me to do is follow.

I know that death is not true liberty,

But the difficult truth that you refuse to see

is that sons aren’t sheep and love ain’t cheep.                             

The love you sow is the love you reap.

Bleating, repeating ain’t for me.

Bleating, repeating ain’t for me.

Verse 3

You say I’m standing

between loneliness and heaven,

But that a cross and beads said on my knees

And all will be forgiven.

Well, the more I think of jumping,

the more I think of living.

If loneliness means liberty,

I’ll make a heaven of this hell.

July 8, 2004: I’M TIRED OF THIS REDUNDANCY . . .

I’M TIRED OF THIS REDUNDANCY | July 8, 2004

Dear Dominic,

What a typical, current cop-out!  “Using religion in the name of hate.”  What trash!  Many homosexuals hate because they are in the grip of Satan.  They hate God because he won’t validate their perversions.  If the Church continues to coddle homosexuals, it will collapse.  You are breaking God’s laws and living in mortal sin and that, Dominic, is a reality you won’t accept!  You can not love God and break His laws.  Anyone who condones your sexual activity is a weakling and an accomplice to your sin.

I never wanted to cut the cords.  You have forced me to choose.  I have no hate for you, but I hate the evil of homosexuality that enslaves you.  We are called to emulate and follow Jesus Christ.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father did not go chasing after his errant son; he allowed him to wallow with the pigs.  It was only after the son repented and renounced his filthy lifestyle that the father ran out to meet him.  I intend to do exactly the same.

I’m tired of this redundancy!  I will not allow you or “S” to further hurt us and keep us on an endless roller coaster ride of false hopes.  How evil of you!

Do not send me any of your nonsense memoirs!  You are trying to psychologically and emotionally torture me and I will not allow it.  The past is dead.  You destroyed it long ago  whenever you started on your road to your despicable sexuality.

Oh, yes!  You know I love you!  And you’ve tried to use my love for you to get your own way.  Well, you can stop the crap!  Just like “S”, who says one thing and does another.

Nothing and no one will separate me from my first Love, Jesus!  Absolutely no one.  I’m so ashamed that my own precious son has so offended Our Lord.

My position is final.  Send nothing.  If you ever decide to repent and reform your life, I will battle Satan on his own turf for you, but not before I’m sure you are sincere.

I, too, have kept most of your cards and letters.  But they will all be destroyed when we die if there has been no reunion.  I’m too tired to continue much longer.  I am a well run dry—no love from anyone has replenished me, except for the Lord.  He is all I thirst for now.

I doubt that we will ever see each other again.

Goodbye,

Mom

June 20, 2004: STOR-ALL OFFICE BOX #03325

If you’ve read this memoir from beginning to end, you’ll remember that this is where it started…

Dear Mom,

I am compiling all the correspondence we’ve shared over the years into a memoir. I’m including letters sent and unsent, letters between us and letters to and from my friends, professors, confessors, journal entries never shared—all the writing that reveals who we were and who we’ve become. I’ve been storing everything in a Stor-All office box, stock number 03325.

It’s so strange reading letter after birthday card after Mass card after article filled with your mixture of grief and hate and love.

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These are only the article clippings (and probably only half of them). I had to put in the two extensions for the dining room table to even fit them all here.

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A tiny selection of the letters and cards and Post-It notes.

I know you love me so much. But, as you’ve told me, you’ve cut the cords.

Fortunately (or is it unfortunately?) you will never be able to fully cut the cords. You will never be completely free of me. I will never be completely free of you. Because there is still some fragment of your old self left, I’m sure. The bitterness, the paranoia, the fear, the use of religion in the name of hate, the refusal to face reality—all these things obscure the smile that smiles back at me from one of the last family photos we took, sitting on the brown couch in the living room, hastily arranged with all the dogs, leaving enough room for dad to perch on the side after starting the timer. I like to show people that picture. Invariably, they mistake ba-chan for my mom and think you’re my older sister. You look so young and beautiful in that picture.

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(R-L): Mom, me, grandmother (ba-chan), sister, dad (and three really big dogs–oh, and one of our four cats).

Maybe once I’m done, you can proof it for me. You’ll be able to read yourself back to me, read myself back to me, and see if what I’ve written isn’t true.

How could it not be true? We’ve all written it together.

Love,

Dominic

June 16, 2002: ALL CORDS ARE CUT

Dominic,

We’re so glad to hear how wonderful your life is and what a popular guy you seem to be.  Well, I guess we’ll have to all wait to see what the Lord says about our actions.

No need to worry about any more tapes, articles, letters, etc…You are in God’s hands–I’ve tried my best but I’m too weary to continue.  Enjoy your new family–you won’t have any more reminders of your “polyester past.”

Grow up yourself!  Real parents?!  You had them once.  And the only bullshit is from your camp.  I only regret that I won’t have the opportunity to knock you on your ass just once!

You need not waste $.37 returning this all torn up!  Consider it done.  All “duty” is ended (your’s long ago!).  All cords are cut.  You are completely free of us.

May God have mercy on your soul.

[Again, she signs her full name.]

February 8, 2002: HORSES & SODOMY (or, GLORY TO THE BLOOD OF JESUS)

HORSES AND SODOMY | February 8, 2002

Dear Dominic and “S”,

While the two of you wallow in your selfish, self-indulgent, perverse “lifestyles,” the world has seen the beginning of World War III, i.e., Armageddon.  I’m sure neither of you are doing your homework.  Of course, not—you’re too self-absorbed with horses and sodomy to consider you are both on your way to hell—forever—unless you WAKE UP NOW!

So sorry you were born when you were, but tough!  Satan has you both by the short-hairs—and most of your generation, you pitiful weaklings!

But I am doing my duty according to Scripture, God’s Holy Word—All praises to the Trinity!—by warning your sorry asses.  Get your heads out of the sand.  You must repent now.  We probably will not see each other again.  I hope and pray you will be saved.

Glory to the Blood of Jesus,

Mom

January 1, 2002: THE ONLY ONE TRUE LOVE

Dear Dominic,

We received your pictures.  Please send no more–they only remind us of your betrayal.

I do not believe you.

A son would not abandon his parents (or his God!).

A son would not hurt and grieve us so horribly.

A man would not live the way you do.

You paint your own picture by what you do, not what you say.  Talk, talk, talk.

Miss us?  I doubt it.  A son would not go so far away for so long.  Neither would a daughter.

But then neither of you know what it is really like to care more about someone else than self.  How could you.  You’re not a man.  Discipline; self-control; selflessness.  You have no idea.  I will send you one last gift soon.  It may buy you some time one day to repent.  Take it seriously.

As for me, I hope to be with the only True Love as soon as I can.  I pray God will open your eyes.

Mom

 

December 25, 2001: #1 PRIORITY

Priorities…

Are you your #1 priority?

Does it bother you, ever, that you may never see your parents again?

Does it bother you, ever, that “yes” you can be wrong and are on your way to hell?

Is your only priority your own personal license?

Are you so incapable of self-control and rehabilitation?

Does it matter to you at all how many people you have hurt?

Do you care at all about the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

May Jesus open your eyes to your error and have mercy on your soul.

Love,

Mom and Dad

October 10, 2001: HALF THE WORLD’S POPULATION

Dear Dominic,

Despite the passage of seven years, I still can not comprehend your horrible choice to live in opposition to all of God’s laws and risk eternal damnation.  There is no doubt in my mind that you are not homosexual.  And so, this deadly choice is even more incomprehensible.  I wish you would at least explain to us what happened in your life to lead you into hell.  I do not believe that any part of your upbringing was so terrible as to lead you to live the way you are, negating all your gifts, wasting your life.  I have never believed the psychiatrists: if what they say is true, at least half the world’s population would be queer!  But it is obvious to us now that your “priorities” (as Fr. “Z” called them) include neither God nor family.

War is here and it will get much, much worse.  Get on your knees and ask God’s forgiveness and when you get up ask for help to live chastely.  I can not comprehend how one who is so loved could hurt others so incredibly.  Your punishment scares me!  But maybe you never had the Faith after all.

Oh, what a waste!

May God forgive you,

Mom

September 11, 2001: I WILL STAND IN THE BREECH

Dear Dominic,

In the light (or darkness) of this horrible attack on our country, I feel compelled to once again remind you that the Lord is coming back soon!  This attack on our country is a judgment allowed by God to punish this nation for all the horrible things we really do: exporting and pushing the butchery of abortion here and abroad, allowing paganism and perversity to reign free, especially the abomination of homosexuality!  Open your eyes—you’ve been wallowing in error, you are wrong, you are doing evil.  You must stop and repent now.

This country is going to war.  We could die at any time.  Your soul will be lost forever if you don’t repent and give up this filthy addiction that enslaves you.  We love you too much to lose you forever.  I will stand in the breech as I have been, but I can’t be there forever.  You must repent.  Come home.  Give it all up!  Start over.  If war erupts (and it will) you may be drafted.   Time to get right with the Lord.  Maybe the military will make a man out of you.

Forever loving you,

Mom