December 31, 1996: BRIEF AND BLUNT

To Dominic and “S”,

I have consulted at length with my spiritual advisor, who has instructed me on the truth regarding both of you and your hideously sinful and shameful lives and what my response must be. I was instructed to be “brief and blunt.”

I have reread both Apostolic letters on homosexuality and ______. The eternal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are true, yesterday, today, and always. You were both taught the True Faith. You have both chosen to disobey God and His Church; you are both ipso facto excommunicated. You are both in danger of eternal damnation unless you repent sincerely, totally, and soon.

You have destroyed your own souls, once pure and precious in God’s eyes and ours, but you have both bought all the lies Satan has presented to you. “S”, you have ______*. Dominic, you have fallen lower than the beasts to commit perverted, filthy acts of homosexuality and still have the audacity to think your life “holy”. How dare you! You both break all the Father’s commandments, making yourselves your own gods through your pride, arrogance, and selfishness. You should both be ashamed and on your faces begging His mercy! But I am afraid you will both be crushed by His hand before he will even consider lifting you up (Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal). Your actions are intolerable and beyond normal comprehension until one considers the mystery of iniquity. We will never accept such actions. Although we will always love you both, we will not be like other weakling parents who acquiesce to their children for fear of losing them. Only Jesus Christ can help you now. You will have to go to Him first.

We were willing to help you as long as we thought you were trying to do what was right, but neither of you are. Therefore, we now withdraw all temporal support and will have nothing to do with your immoral lifestyles.

I will pray constantly for the grace you both desperately need to realize the depth and horror of your sins—the grace to humbly repent of those sins and the grace to reform your lives.

Your father, though he does not comprehend the eternal moral necessity of this decision, agrees in principle. If you decide to repent and reform your lives, we will help you—not until then. Your father wishes to leave open the opportunity for you to contact him by telephone; that is between you and him. I, on the other hand, do not. I do not wish to hear your voices again until the day when you repent. If I do not live to see that day, so be it. You have destroyed a family—your father’s and mine—a life’s work. You have brought immeasurable pain and misery to us all. May God have mercy on both of you.

The Truth in Charity,

[My mother signed her full name, middle initial and all]

p.s. If you wish to contact me by letter, I will respond.

* Note: I have omitted my mother’s shaming of my sister, since that is her story and this is mine. She didn’t ask me to help her relive this shaming from our mother; it’s presence here, however, helps demonstrate our mother’s increasing horror at the both of us.

December 2, 1996: HOW FRAGILE LIFE IS

Dear Dominic,

We hope you’re feeling better. How fragile life is!

Just imagine . . . if you hadn’t gotten to the hospital, your appendix could have ruptured and people have been known to die!

Is your soul prepared for the possibility of death? I think not! Thank God you are still alive and there is another chance to repent and reform!

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas,

Mom and Dad

November 24, 1996: MARSHMALLOWING

Dear Mom,

I have spent too much time crying lately. Often a heavy, burdened feeling overwhelms me: I begin to shake inside and out and, tears or not, I cry. Remember I told you once years ago that I would often experience the sensation of—how did describe it?—marshmallowing?* I was young (ten? fourteen?). No images would flash onto my thought’s slate, my consciousness would seem to go all white, and all that surrounded me would seem to balloon, expand, press up against my body as my body itself seemed to expand. The sensation did not hurt, but I could feel it—eventually I could barely see anything. The whole process—uncomfortable, a little terrifying—would take no more than a minute, and then I’d be fine.

This same feeling has returned, but without the blinding marshmallowing effect. Instead, my mind/soul feels burdened, causing my body to feel burdened, causing my breathing to quicken . . . it’s probably just stress. But somehow it’s different.

As much as I detest it in others, I’ve been moody as hell. One minute I’m carefree, excited, my speech full of life. The next, a word or memory or news story or something someone has said will send my into a practically speechless, heavy-hearted mood in which I feel constantly on the edge—of depression, sadness, frustration, or just a painful tearless sobbing in my mind/soul. One minute I’ll be completely focused, the next, a stampede of competing thoughts, memories, excuses, and plans comes crashing in. I don’t know how to describe it. What this has to do with anything I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s meant to demonstrate my almost constant state of mental stress over the things of this life, my life. Perhaps I’ve a restless Augustinian heart, tempered with Keat’s capability to “be in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without the irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Except all the uncertainties seem just as irritable lately.

Maybe I need help.

Love,

Dominic

* Note: I’ve since learned that the word “marshmallow” literally means “mallow that grows near salt marshes.” Marshmallows were originally made from a paste of mallow (Althea officinalis) roots. In Greek, althein means “to heal.”

November 20, 1996: WIE VIEL IST AUFZULEIDEN!

Dominic,

Wie viel ist aufzuleiden! How much suffering there is to get through!”
–-Rilke

Gotcha!*

Mom

* Since I had quoted poet Rainer Maria Rilke in some of my previous letters, my mom thought it would be funny to use a Rilke quote of her own to “get back at me.” One of her favorite phrases was “Gotcha!” (which translated as “I was right!”).

November 19, 1996: SOMETHING WAS QUEER

Dear Mom,

Brace yourself. And remember I love you and dad.

A few weeks before I left for Milwaukee, I had my first date with a man, a teller at Seafirst Bank near the university. I liked his voice and his hands, the way he counted out my cash for me. No matter where I was in line, he always seemed to be my teller. One day, as I was driving down Madison toward campus, I saw him hop a bus (after work?). Emboldened, I followed the bus toward downtown, where it stopped in front of the Sorrento Hotel. He disembarked and seemed to be walking toward the hotel, or maybe the apartment building next to it. I looked up his name (“G”) in the phone book, confirmed he did indeed live in the apartment building, called him, left a message, told him he was my teller and that we should meet for coffee, then didn’t hear from him for a few days. So I called again, he answered, didn’t recognize me so hadn’t returned my call, invited me to stop by the bank the next day, let’s take it from there. I waited nervously in the lobby to ensure I’d get to his window and not someone else’s. I could see him scanning the lobby; our eyes met; I got in line. Enough details.

Suffice it to say that he agreed to accompany me that weekend (remember I told you I was bringing a friend?) to my friends’ wedding reception at the Sorrento Hotel. Nice and neutral first date. No chance of anything happening. Ex-girlfriend was there, a handful of friends from Seattle U. No one asked any questions; no one suspected (or so I thought); everyone talked to him. He was such a sport. We went dancing the next weekend, planned to play tennis the next day. The following Monday, I departed with dad in the moving van.

You suspected something was queer even back then, didn’t you? Remember that night I hung out on campus for awhile, then on Broadway, waiting for a friend of mine? The Seafirst guy and I were going to grab a movie or something. You asked so many questions, as usual: Who is he? How do you know him? Why haven’t you ever mentioned him before? He’s not . . . you know . . .? You warned me, as usual: Be good, be careful, be home at a decent hour. Nothing came of that last date, you’ll be thankful to know. I’m sorry I lied to you.

But I had to go. I needed to know that not only I was attracted to other men, but that other men might be attracted to me. I needed to know that I could make safe choices and good choices, that I could date a guy like I had dated girls. That I could go out for coffee or go dancing and just enjoy someone’s company, eve if it was a man. Maybe I was making a mistake. Maybe I wasn’t. But I had to know. What I knew, if anything, was that when I was in Milwaukee I would be able to explore my developing identity. Like graduate school, this was a definite plan.

Resourceful as I am, meeting people in Milwaukee with my persuasion was a fairly easy task. This time, though, I didn’t have to tail any busses. Cafes, bars, dance clubs—I’ve seen a lot, including the seedy sides of each which I like to avoid. I was luckier than most people, I think, straight or gay. The first person I met fit almost every criteria I had looked for in a woman: intelligent, handsome, religious, compassionate, driven. You’ll recognize the name “M”, the name “S” revealed to you two years ago, the name which I denied meant anything to me. “M”, who I met at a dance club, was as disoriented as I was. He had just come to Milwaukee that August and knew few people. We had noticed each other dancing and I finally got up the nerve to buy him a drink. One of the first things he talked about was Father So-and-So from back home and how he was looking for a good church here in Milwaukee. The point is, I was shocked that a gay man would ever talk about being Catholic in a gay bar. After that, I learned he was a psychologist finishing his PhD and working at the VA hospital in geriatrics. This interested me to no end, and we talked about my work with Alzheimer’s patients while the music boomed above us. I was elated with my good fortune. We had dinner. We started dating: we went to Mass together, saw a Broadway musical, cooked dinner for each other. I was vital in helping him proof and organize his dissertation for publication. He was a beautiful person. We lasted three months. I still miss him.

Soon after, I met “C” at the coffee shop where I worked two summers ago. A chance meeting. “C”, a law student at Marquette, was so full of joy and yet struggled with so much. One of the only important things for him was proving to himself and others that he could get through law school with top honors. The other was companionship. Knowing me gave him confidence, friendship, and an example of “simplicity,” as he liked to call it (“C” became too materialistic for my tastes, which is the main reason why we broke up). The two of us would study for hours together, go dancing, relax. He was a beautiful person, too. We lasted two months, as well. We are still friends, and he’s now engaged to one of our friends.

And then I met Scott. Yes, my “roommate.”

But before I get into more details, let me assure you that I am still the object of many crushes and that I am still attracted to women. I had a lunch date with a secretary, a single mom, from the Speech Therapy Department. “V”, whom you’ve heard a lot about, was infatuated with me for awhile, as was another girls from the English Department. I’m not sure how many of my students have been attracted to me (and have admitted as much), but there have been more than a few. And then there’s “Q”. A beautiful woman, strong, driven, resourceful. A Navy nurse in training who loves it when I sing “Annie’s Song” to her on my guitar. My feelings for “Q”, though intense, are not enough to tear me from Scott. She’s still in semi-active pursuit of me.*

Even as I sit here in the coffee shop, the only barista flirts with me, smiling deeply.

I’ve never found myself terribly attractive, which makes all this so strange to me. What I do know is that I have been dating Scott for over a year and a half now. We met through “C”; after I had dated “C” for a few months, Scott and I realized that we were better suited for each other. At 28, Scott is an accountant for one of the largest accounting firms in the world. But his values lie neither in his job nor his salary. He is devoted to his family, his trust in God, and his friends. His father, mother (who died five years ago), brother, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and me: these are the most important people in his life. One could not wish for a more caring and concerned companion, whether man or woman. His silent trust in God guides him through everything, as does his vocal trust in his friends and those he loves, like me. Scott is the main reason I have stayed in Milwaukee.

Scott and me in 1995.

Scott and me, probably the summer of 1995.  Or 1996?

From our first Friday fish fry, we have done almost everything together. My mercurial personality and manner compliments well his stability, focus, and reserve. Scott sacrifices so much sometimes just to spend time with me, to help me through a particularly crappy day, to accommodate my immediate needs (such as transportation), to let me get things done that I need to do. He motivates me, comforts me, teaches me. Handsome and intelligent, witty and caring, Scott is loved not only by me but by everyone in our circle of friends. It took me a long time to even admit that I loved him, because that meant, I thought, that I’d be stuck, committed to him for the rest of my life, with no chance of ever going back. I’ve gotten over my silliness now, and am content to take each day as it comes.

I am still not completely sure if Scott is the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. It is certainly possible. I certainly could marry a woman, which would make my life a lot simpler. Or would it? I’m just not sure. All this sounds so stupid to me as I write. I’m sure it sounds stupid and foolish to you, too. But at least it no longer sound ambiguous or vague to me. I’m sure that I love Scott.

And I love you,

Dominic

* Looking back, this all seems rather pompous and presumptuous of me.  I guess it was my way of convincing myself that I was lovable.

November 10, 1996: HO-MO-SEC-SHUALS

Dear Mom,

A week ago our phone conversation was marked by frustration on both ends: you expressed it by asking question after question, I by shutting up. You asked: So how could someone with your gifts and your knowledge and your upbringing not have the strength to fight these inclinations which are, according to the Catechism of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, oriented toward evil? It should be so easy, especially knowing that it is wrong. What are you afraid of? Why are you so weak?

How much I hoped I could respond to you then and there. But I hesitated, got stuck, tongue-tied, ossified (but didn’t dig toward you). What you need to know now, though, is that I have not, for a very long time, known or understood or believed that homosexuality was in and of itself evil, even oriented toward evil.

Yes, at various times I would beat myself up, imploring God’s forgiveness, praying for hours for the spiritual weapons I’d need to kill the “evil” thoughts. When I was in a confessional or on the Green Lake docks, kneeling in the rain, crying, looking for some sign of forgiveness—when I was struggling through prayers with “R” or writing songs about being divinely snatched from a torrent of sin by the “Captain of My Heart”*—-at these times I did actually believe that homosexuality was sinful.

But when, for instance, I signed the Students For Life demand that a fellow student organization not be allowed on campus, I did so reluctantly; to avoid the possibility that I would have to defend my position, I signed the petition against the LGBT support group.

Picketing at the court house.  As a teacher years later, I would help establish and facilitate the Gay-Straight Alliance at my Catholic high school, as well as a yearly Day of Conversation to accompany the National Day of Silence.

Picketing at the court house. As a teacher years later, I would help establish and facilitate the Gay-Straight Alliance at my Catholic high school, as well as a yearly Day of Conversation to accompany the National Day of Silence.

When the media would portray time and time again images of flaunted sexuality, angry fists, or sacrilegious romps through churches in New York City, and when you and dad would exclaim “Faggots!” or “Queers!” or “They’re all going to hell” at the dinner table, I would think (know?) that “they” were not all like that. When I began to identify with and befriend a good number of “them,” I could not see their struggle (also my struggle, of course) and their attractions as evil. And when I read still the hate-filled tracts or see Pat Robertson on TV making blanket statements about how all ho-mo-sec-shuals are sheep rapists, when I realize how much more effort could be spent decrying and taking action against actual injustice, I wonder who has more evil in his heart. Once upon a time I might have believed that homosexuality was essentially evil. But not at these times, not now.

The more I think about it, the reason I flagellated my soul with prayers and songs was not because I had actually done anything, committed any “act,” but because I was a hypocrite. Sure, I had lusted after men in magazines and had “abused” myself, two things which directed my energies and my capacity for love down fruitless avenues, but what I most loathed about the state of my soul at those times was the dividedness, the hypocrisy of my thoughts, words, and deeds.

During high school, I spent equal time at the Christian bookstore and the adult bookstore down the road.

During high school, I spent equal time at the Christian bookstore and the adult bookstore down the road.

“Why do I do the things I hate?” (I think this was St. Paul’s question.) What I really hated was becoming more and more ambiguous. During high school, I entered battle as a soldier of Christ while carousing with the enemy in the shadows. During college, I had healthy, fairly chaste heterosexual relationships while I was plagued with feelings that something wasn’t right. I didn’t like feeling this way—betrayer, sneak, Janus.

So, no. I don’t believe homosexuality in and of itself is sinful. Sin involves injustice or failure to live as abundantly as possible the life given us, whether it be by abusing our gifts or misdirecting them or not using them at all. Being attracted to another human being, desiring physical and spiritual intimacy with that person, seeking it, achieving it, and working to make it endure—that is not sin. Physical or psychological abuse, cheating, lust and only lust, promiscuity, selfishness and narcissism—these are all sinful, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual in nature. Murder, abortion, rape, environmental destruction, discrimination—these and other injustices constitute sin.

Lying is also a sin, because it does an injustice to both the lied-to and the liar. In order to keep silent the love that dare not speak its name, many risk lying. Lying, they think, will prevent confrontation and conflict. Lying is a convenient way of denying that part of themselves to themselves. But most of all, it’s to avoid conflict. Whether I am to you a coward, an insensitive son, or an evil pawn of Satan, the fact is, I have lied, therefore I have sinned, and that’s why I am writing.

The poet Rilke (who I’m beginning to love) writes that it is “strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away / in every direction. And being dead is hard work / and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel / a trace of eternity.— Though the living are wrong to believe / in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.” I’m not sure if I’m digging successfully through the stone of “too-sharp distinctions” or if I’m rather digging a maze I’ll never be able to get out of. I fear it’s the latter. I fear becoming hardened to the world, to you. I fear that if I don’t, I’ll never reach you. I fear you don’t understand. Will never understand. Don’t want to understand.

Sincerely,

Dominic

* “Captain of My Heart”

The water, it’s raging around me.
The water, this river of sin.
Now I’m going too far.
This river’s taking me where I don’t want to go.

But you made me, Lord,
a vessel of your Spirit.
So take my hand
and fill me with your love.

Chorus:
You’re the Captain of my Heart,
Captain of my Soul.
Steer me in the right direction.
Captain of my Heart, Captain of my Soul,
The Truth, the Light, the Way.

As a ship charts unknown waters,
this vessel has done the same,
made a wrong turn.
I’ve gone the other way.

Now, the water, it’s flowing through my soul,
the water, this river of life.
The wind of the Spirit has shown me the way.
I shall not drown, I shall not drown, I shall not drown,

But live.

November 2, 1996: WHAT ARE YOU?

Dear Mom,

“I’m just Dominic.” Polyestered, corduroyed, and playing gleefully with the pre-school phone booth. This is what you remember me proclaiming when another kid asked me, “What are you?” While I don’t recall this declaration, I believe in it still.

“I’m just Dominic.” The same Dominic who “fell in love” with a ballerina and coveted a canopied bed from J.C. Penney’s for himself and his future wife, still only in first grade. I kissed her sixty times (we counted by tens) while our friend helped keep track from below. We were straddling a log twenty feet from the playground, reached by climbing a web of thick rope. A couple of years later, when rope-climbing, pecking-by-tens, and dreams of marrying her were old news, I started playing more kickball and soccer.

“I’m just Dominic.” The same Dominic who had a crush on “K”, the third grade asshole, cocky, arrogant, a regular show-off. His hair was already parted and floppy, while most of the rest of the boys’ was still bowl-cut and straight. And he had muscles (or so we thought when we compared our pencilly arms to the tiny bumps of his biceps). My crush was indefinable at the time and was probably mere fascination, a simple appreciation for what I didn’t have at eight. A phase, but a phase nonetheless. Third grade turned into fourth and fifth, and before I graduated from elementary school, I was one of the only students not allowed to go on the Whidbey Island science trip (where “K” would be?) because you were afraid I’d get lost or would drown or was it because you didn’t like my science teacher?

“I’m just Dominic.” Hamilton Middle School, with “X” and her best friend “Y”. Infatuated with both of them, I pledged my undying devotion in letter after letter and phone call after phone call. Spurred on by horrible ‘80s teen romances, I eventually learned what a crock of crap middle school “love” is—especially when sexuality (at least for me) meant two-hour phone calls and pool parties that never happened. Remember me playing that Beatles’ song for “my belle,” or begging you to accompany me (only because that was your rule) on a movie date with that other girl? Remember all the while my pining for “A”? Probably. Remember, too, my pining for that troublemaker “W”? Probably not. Enough said.

The "trying" middle school years: classical guitar, patriotic art, all-around awkwardness.

The “trying” middle school years: classical guitar, patriotic art, all-around awkwardness.

“I’m just Dominic.” High school—same Dominic, same goal: “A”. High school for me, you’ll recall, was also a time for pleasing teachers and counselors and for saving the world for my new-found Protestant-style Jesus. Prayer meetings, Bible studies, plastering the walls with scripture quotations, pissing off the gym teacher with my conservatism, inking my notebooks and three-ring binders with “Jesus Saves” and “Abortion Kills.” It was also a time, you’ll recall, for my interest in (I considered it an “addiction” back then) to porn to grow. Frustrated with two-hour phone calls and just general adolescent lust—as well as assured by Forgiveness and Salvation from both our Catholic confessional and my Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ-—Playboy, Playgirl, Hustler, and worse contended almost daily with my hard core, fundamentalist beliefs.

Me, bucking the system.

Me, bucking the system.

Other girls consumed most of my free-time at Seattle University. Each had her own wonderful peculiarities, whether it was a love for Shakespeare and swing dancing, a Kenyan vocal click and a love for biology, or a red cape, red hair, and a fiery Presbyterian personality. I was doomed, I guess, never to really date my lab partner, “J”, and I foolishly never declared my interest in the woman with whom I shared ciders and orange peel mochas. Boys were out of the question, of course. I was too set on forcing heterosexuality where none existed (“Why are you rubbing there?” one of my girlfriends would ask one night). It was a great masquerade while it lasted, though.

What can I say?  I TRIED being heterosexual…with some beautiful women.

What can I say? I TRIED being heterosexual…with some beautiful women.

I really tried...

I really tried…

But if you think we need to identify and blame and prosecute a particular person, place or thing for my “problem,” then failed attempts with girls or an abundance of pornography weren’t it. Neither was it Desmond Morris’ Naked Ape paperback, the sexual anthropology book on our bookshelves when I was growing up, the one with a naked man and woman in a cage, a backdrop of desolation, being studied, perhaps, by Morris. It was in here that I learned about male monkeys and how they presented their blood-engorged buttocks to potential mates. About the girth of monkey and human penises before and during sex and just before ejaculation. Neither was it the set of four health books you got me for Christmas once, where I learned everything I needed to know about human physiology, puberty, and adolescence. It was in here that I learned that it was okay to touch myself, that everyone had big bushes of pubic hair, and that there were millions of sperm in every tablespoon of semen. Fallopian tubes, eggs, cell division, the size of a fetus at one month. Neither was it my education at Seattle University, although it was during these years that I progressed from my fundamentalist self to my Jesuitical self, from an official and public Ambassador For Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) who knew all the answers to a more contemplative representative of Christ who was trained that doubt was a precursor to belief and even its companion throughout belief, someone who didn’t have all the answers to everything. This change may be responsible for some revisions in my thought, but not for the kinds of attractions to men and women that I had had since grade school.

I was a good son during those years, I think. Every once in a while I would come home later than I had promised (at a pub downtown drinking or on Queen Anne fondling “P”‘s breasts instead of “studying”) or would be up to no good behind your backs (mainly masturbating like crazy) or would express my anger in unhealthy ways (mainly hitting things, including myself, very hard). It’s not as if I never drank or smoked or had phone sex, but I was still a good son, always struggling to achieve the values you had taught me, not only to please you, or God, but also myself. I worked my butt off to earn a lot of my own money to pay for school. I excelled in most of my classes and networked with people from all over campus. I volunteered at the nursing residence’s Alzheimer’s wing and drove to Denver with fellow Christians to see Pope Paul II. I directed a play and served Mass regularly with the Carmelites, sang in the school choir, and performed many guitar recitals. I possessed many gifts and rarely hid them from others, having been encouraged by you and dad ever since I was in elementary school to exceed expectation, to impress, to look “sharp” and to be “sharp.”

Incidentally, it was during a Tennessee Williams skit in my acting class senior year that I learned how to smoke. Like “M” told me once, “You feel”—and she added, judgingly—“wrongly, that you have to experience everything. You’re a regular Dorian Gray.” Characteristically, then, I decided that in order to play Jim’s extroverted character authentically, I would need real cigarettes and would need to bend confidently over the candelabra to light them (no matches for this rascal). I inhaled and practiced that move over and over until I got it just right. Our Glass Menagerie scene was beautiful.

Anyway, my main goal in life was also St. Paul’s: to be all, for all. To identify the particular needs of others, to adapt and respond to them, and to somehow benefit the other or myself. In such a way, I could bring life, as abundantly and authentically as possible, and get life. I no longer needed, necessarily, a Bible in one hand and a bumper-sticker slogan in the other.

At those times in college when I thought I needed a Bible, I found I didn’t. For instance, do you remember “N”? The stocky (and handsome) guy who came to our house that one afternoon (I’d invited him) wearing combat boots and a black leather jacket, while we were doing yard work? You eyes were so full of concern because I was up in my room with him—alone. Something about him didn’t seem right. Something about me probably didn’t seem right, either, even then. But we wrote a song together* that day and played our guitars and I eventually gave him a ride home. “N”, not more than 20 years old, lived alone in nothing more than a large shack in Lynnwood. Rough family life, I seem to remember. Rough past.  So unlike me, except in his faith: and that’s why I was attracted to him. I was attracted to his sometimes dangerous missionary work on Broadway helping to feed homeless teens with food and company and the Word. I learned things from him about God and Jesus and being human—not from the printed page, but from his being.

I’m just Dominic, whatever that means for you.

Love, your son,

Dominic

* “The Turbulences of Life” by Dominic & “N”

The turbulences of life
stir up the fire in my heart,
aching to burn through these walls.
The calling of the Lord
causes me to open my eyes
and take a look around.

Choices that you make
affect the rest of our life
while you’re here on this earth.
The vows that you take
will either strengthen your stand
or weaken you to fall, weaken you to fall.

There are some in this world
who are searching for someone
to have and to hold,
But until that final hour
everything that we choose
must be His will, not ours.

We’re all running this race—
got to keep our eyes on the prize,
keep a steady pace.
If you’re going too fast
you may stumble and fall.
You may come in last.

October 20, 1996: I TOO SHALL PETRIFY

Dear Mom,

Last weekend I came across a poem. Although I knew neither author nor title, what I did know was that I would at some point share it in a letter to you. “So you’ve seen some Gorgon and have turned a very stone” begins the poet’s address to an unidentified listener. The poet addresses one who has encountered a gorgon in his or her life, perhaps many gorgons, and has stiffened, hardened, ossified. The poet maintains that even “Love’s Chemistry” knows not how to penetrate such a stony exterior, how to crack the molecular code that makes it so easy for warm water to melt ice. But so determined is the poet to do so that he declares, “Then I too shall petrify.”

This odd declaration of love is not necessarily romantic love but a love, perhaps, that seeks to know the other person, that seeks to reveal himself to the other, that seeks reconciliation and most of all communication. He says something about how once the two of them are both petrified, they can “dig love’s quarry” between them, dig a path of communication between one stony persona and another. The whole world, he claims, will marvel at their success, at how “Revenge” and “Sympathy” (in this poet’s case) were reconciled. In our case, it may be “mother” and son,” or “right and wrong,” or “heaven” and “hell.”

The poet’s goal, nonetheless, is also mine. I at least want you to know where I stand, the state of my soul. I already know yours (at least what you’ve revealed to me over the phone and in your letters) and it is hard. Hardened, strong, determined, and probably guarded by Michael the Archangel’s sword. Which makes my task all the more difficult and risky. But I too shall petrify. I shall harden any softness or fear or embarrassment, shall stop evading your questions like a frightened weakling child, and shall answer them as thoroughly as possible. I hope that my Confirmation namesake, the Archangel Raphael, who was also a quarry digger, a pathfinder (for Tobias), can lead your Michael to some peaceful understanding of my past and present condition.

Consider, then, the following scenes (true): The 7:15 am Mass patrons (only a handful) had finished their prayers, had glanced one more time at the brilliant stained glass window in the second floor chapel, genuflected, dabbed their foreheads and chests with holy water, and left for morning classes, some to teach, others to learn. We were finally alone, kneeling in our pew, hands folded before our chests, rosaries dangling. Many Paters and Aves later, the mantra of our shared prayer had prepared us for a new day. We hadn’t benefited only from the prayer, though, but also from each others’ presence—the same kind of presence and intimate conversation (this time with God) that we’d had at the coffee shop, on our way to class, in the chapel on other days. I loved this person.

Another wave of people had finally left their tables, strewn with chess boards, crumpled napkins, and coffee-stained cups and saucers. We finally commandeered a table, albeit by the windows through which we could see junkies junking under the too-bright glare of the outdoor lights. Several ciders and orange peel mochas later, we rose from our bench, etched with the names of many lovers real and imagined, and strolled toward the lake. To the south, downtown was still awake, Queen Anne was getting sleepy. Boats still cut through the black water of Lake Union, parading their lights past us as we stood in the middle of Gasworks Park’s human sundial, wary of strangers but not enough that we couldn’t still delight in each others’ jokes, questions, fears, confessions. We took a chance one night and cut a rug under a clear sky. I loved this person.

Learning long division took some time, but like simple division tables the year before, they would eventually become a cinch for me. Dividing, division, divisiveness—all that would come later in life. But one October day our investigations into the nature of whole numbers, decimals, and “carrying” were disrupted by a harsh rapping on our second grade room’s door. A scraggly, hacking hag entered, hunched over just like the witch from Disney’s Snow White. Matted hair, loads of pasty egg-and-flour, makeup, and layers of clothing served to obscure this character’s identity. The hag offered all of us candy and surreptitiously winked at me and the teacher as my classmates gladly divided the sweet spoils, ignoring any Halloween warnings about taking candy from strangers. I loved—-and still love you—-that witch.

And there have been more scenes like this. All significant, lovable, beautiful people. I loved them for their faith in God and human struggle; for their education and their naivete; for their beautiful bodies and those parts of their souls they revealed to me; our confluence of opinions and our disagreements.

What could I give these people in return? My love and friendship—sometimes romantic love, sometimes Platonic, sometimes the love a son has for his parents; sometimes infatuation, sometimes full-fledged I-could-marry-you love.

Half of these people were women, half were men. Hard to tell, though, from the descriptions above, isn’t it? And that is exactly my point.

Never have the consequences of starting, participating in, or ending any of these loves, on a heterosexual or homosexual lever, been anything but life giving. If I am to be judged at all, let me be judged based on my intentions and the results of my desires and actions: I’ve determined to live life and have had it abundantly. No matter if I “once loved Jennifer” (I neither deny it or regret it). I also loved, equally and differently, “R” and “J” and “D” and “E”. I also love you and Dad and “S”, the most important human sources of my abundance.

I know that in your last letter, you asked me to “skip any details” I knew you didn’t want to hear. But this request seemed incongruent with every other request you’ve made in the last two years. Often I’ve regretted not being honest with you and have wondered what it would be like to be in a constant state of ignorance, especially about a son or daughter. I convinced myself many times, though, that your ignorance of my experiences would benefit us both, would give me a chance to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling and would give you one less thing to fear and tremble about. I thought I was doing both of us a favor; it was the easiest way out. I thought we could avoid confrontation, argument, conversation, even genuine thought about “you know what.” Lately, though, I’ve assured myself that your knowing certain things will assuage your constant worried inquisitiveness so that you would at least have concrete information to work with. Thus far, I’ve controlled the board.

I’m thinking out loud as I dig through the stone, mom. I don’t even know where or how to begin. Or even what I’m beginning. The story of my life? Too short so far. A catalog of my sins? For God to know and for everyone else to ignore. An explanation of how I’ve come to be where I am, who I am at this particular juncture? I think so. In any case, please make sure you read my next letter in its entirety and avoid just flipping around looking for what you think you’ve looking for.

Hopefully, your son,

Dominic

October 10, 1996: SKIP ANY DETAILS

Dear Dominic,

It was good to talk to you again. When you write, skip any “details” you know I don’t want to hear. We all make mistakes.

What is important is that you realize now those errors. Repent of them (go to Confession) and reform your life. Come back totally to Our Lord now and soon to us. We will always be united in Him.

Many things are happening and fast. Do not believe anything you may see in the sky. If anything “unnatural” occurs soon, you must come home immediately. I will send more info soon.

Also, we’ll be sending you a birthday present soon. I want to get it in the mail before the holiday rush. We love you. Will call soon—-no more long lapses.

Love always,

Mom

p.s. A little cash for your needs.