Today we took a stroll through our neighborhood. It is wonderful living in an area with sidewalks; we can even walk to the local grocery store and back without worrying about the passing cars, which is nice to say when living in a very suburban area. Fall is the best time for an afternoon jaunt. The temperature was just right for a jacket with a deep blue sky studded in thick white clouds that played hide and seek with the sun. People were out mowing their lawns and kids were chasing each other across the yards. The wind tugged on tree branches whose leaves were just beginning to show their autumnal shades.
We love to chat while we walk and today’s conversation centered around the friends in our lives. People have come and gone throughout our relationship, but both Jim and I agree that the friends we have now are the best that have ever come around. Nick came up on Friday and stayed the evening. I enjoy spending time with him. He enriches our life and helps me remember what it is like to have someone other than Jim in my life to care about. On Saturday evening we went to Dan and Vicki’s home for a wonderful dinner of Beef Stefano (I think I have that right) and a night of games afterward. Dan and Vicki are an anomaly for us; I can’t remember the last time we had friends that were not gay. Next weekend is another naked party and hopefully Jack and Ric will be there.
I love where we live and I love our life. Walking past all the homes with their beautifully landscaped yards and pristine grass makes me realize how far we come. Fifteen years ago we were living in the ghetto, a place that could be described in monopoly terms as Baltic Avenue. Since then we’ve moved from there to Saint James Place, Kentucky Avenue, and now to Marvin Gardens. I don’t need Pacific or Park Place. This is where I feel the most comfortable, both in place and in time. I don’t need to think about the future; the present is enough for me.
Around the time that BC was turning to AD, the Roman Empire entered a period of peace and prosperity lasting over two hundred years. Caesar had ascended to the newly crafted job of Emperor and he brought with him some fresh ideas. War had always been a way of life for the Romans, but he set out to convince them that they didn’t always have to be fighting, that life could be good without continually having to bash in heads. His concept must have caught on, because beginning with his rule, the Romans were pretty content to leave things ‘as is’ for a period of time that roughly equaled our entire span as an independent country. Scholars later coined the phrase the ‘Pax Romana’, or the ‘Roman Peace’, to describe this golden age. And since its origination, the concept has been frequently used to denote any period of peace for a country, such as the Pax Britannica or the Pax Americana.
Yesterday marked five years since I left the mental health ward of the westmoreland regional hospital. I distinctly remember that ride home with Jim, like the first sunny day after a long and tiresome storm. I felt new and hopeful. For the first few months afterward, life was very different. Jim worried that I had become too quiet; I hardly talked. He mistook my silence for an internal struggle too profound for me too verbalize. On the contrary, I had been savoring the delicious absense of the bad voices inside my head, the ones that continually worried; the suspicious ones; the ones constantly telling me that whatever I did, it was never good enough. Suddenly I could process my thoughts without the filters of uselessness, frustration, and depression.
As the years progressed and this novel way of thinking became familiar, I gradually opened up and living became a grand thing. No longer was it an endless series of highs and lows, but a nice steady, happy medium. When the later days of September arrive, I find myself thinking often about the week I spent committed and all the wonderful things that came about because of it. Last year I internally christened this period of peace and prosperity in my life as the Pax Scotana. I’ve never known such a happy, hopeful time in my life as I have been during the past few years. I am committed to keeping this peace as long as I can.
I know that nothing lasts forever and that is ok. It makes me appreciate this golden age of my life that much more.
Today we hung a keepsake we bought in Key West this past July. We placed it over of a phone jack in the kitchen, one we had never used. When we moved in we hung our phone there, but because we both had mobile phones we decided not to purchase the local phone service. I was glad to replace it; it always bothered me having something hang there that had no utility other than to look nice, which it failed at. The combination sun and moon that took its place is much more pleasing to the eye.
It has been a wonderful weekend. On Friday we went with Nick to Cafe Sam’s, a restaurant down in the city. They were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary with the same menu from their opening day along with the same prices. Then we stopped at the local grocery store, picked up some dessert and went back to Nick’s house, playing games late into the night. His new roommate came home and visited with us until bedtime. He is in his last semester of grad school. His life is the organ and in November we are going to hear his graduate recital. I love the organ, it’s one of the largest musical instruments in the world and when I hear it played in a church it feels as if I am in the middle of the music.
I did make the stuffed peppers on Saturday. Nick came up for dinner and afterwards we played games. It felt like old times, before summer interrupted and we all had different things to do. It makes me look forward to fall’s arrival and the time we will spend together. Last night after Nick left, I stepped outside in the cool midnight air to look at the stars. The square of Pegasus was high in the south and the Pleadies had just cleared the trees to the east. The seasons are quickly changing.
Sunday has been a relaxed day. I made a casserole in anticipation of a busy work week. Jim puttered around the house, getting it ready for the dark of the year. Both Saturday and Sunday have been classic late summer days, not too hot or cool, covered by a pale blue sky peppered with innocuous dirty white clouds. These are the days that could live on forever; beautiful, temperate, and seemingly without a care. But the seasons won’t be denied, so I am enjoying this summertime coda before Autumn starts its symphony in a minor key.
I bought some lovely red peppers last night. They were long and deep red and as I put them into our grocery cart, I imagined them sliced in half, blanched, and stuffed for dinner on Saturday. When I think of things like this, I actually feel a spark of excitement. I love to cook. Fall really intensifies my culinary tendencies. The dry, dusty days and long cool nights that make me think about heartier food.
My interest in cooking started at a very early age. I loved to follow my mother around the kitchen and watch her cook. She wasn’t very good at it though, not having the patience and attention to detail that preparing a meal requires. Often dinner would be over or under cooked. My father though was an excellent cook. After my mother died, he took over the kitchen. Sometimes on weekend mornings he would rise early and make cinammon rolls and buns from scratch. The entire house would smell like bakery. He taught me a few things as well. When we had picnics at our house I was always in charge of making the pies and the potato salad. I never balked at the responsibility, the challenge of taking basic ingredients and making them into something always gave me a profound sense of accomplishment. It still does.
I remember the first time I ever had guests over for dinner during the summer after my first and only year at Geneva College. I had decided to stay on after the second semester and make up two classes I had previously failed. A friend of a friend had rented a two bedroom apartment in the little town surrounding the school and asked me to move in to help with the expenses. One evening two of my college friends came in to visit and I made them a meal. The only thing I can remember about it is that I bought a canned turkey for the main course and it tasted like spam.
The first time I cooked for Jim, I think I made spaghetti. I made it in the tiny apartment I shared with my first partner. He was out of town and I wanted to impress Jim. The oven was little and I had nearly no counter space. I had to be careful about spills; old shaggy carpeting covered the entire floor. I think it turned out well. I can somewhat recall Jim complimenting me on the meal. Of course he was likely being polite, or really didn’t care about what was on his plate, but concentrating on the activites planned after dinner.
That was over twenty three years ago. I’ve learned alot about cooking since then, especially dealing with a picky eater like my partner. But I have never lost my love of cooking nor do I ever think it’s a chore. It is always a labor of love.
This past Saturday we went out to an outlet mall with our friends. It’s been some time since we’ve been to one. We are not ones to do much undirected shopping; when we go out to the stores, it is because we have something we need or want to buy. The trip also gave us a chance to visit a friend at work. I’ve had a few brief forays into working retail and it fascinates me that he has spent most of his life employed in that milieu. We surprised him with our visit and since it coincided with his break, we went and had some hot beverages in the food court. The day was unusually wet and cold; the drinks and the dull weather put me in an autumnal frame of mind. Summer is getting old and I’m ready for crisp days and colored leaves.
The next day the sun appeared again and I spent some time tidying our backyard garden. There was vegetation to trim, dead flower stalks to remove, weeds to wrestle, and I also took time to mark out with river rock the spots where I eventually will plant some bulbs in another two months. I have to punctuate the locations now before the last remnants of the spring plants vanish and I have no idea where it is safe to dig. The garden did look somewhat refreshed after my efforts, but I couldn’t completely erase the defeated look of most of the plants. It’s August and most of them have produced their flowers and have eased into a long and lasting decline. The Autumn Sedum is the only exception; it is still has a youthful verdant glow. It won’t bloom until September.
On Friday evening we went to a naked party back at the mansion on Mount Washington. I always enjoy lounging around and checking out all the bare flesh. I find it interesting that as the years pass, the more out of touch I become with gay society in our town. When I worked at the bathhouse I knew most of the bar owners and many of the people who frequented their establishments. I was always keyed into the happenings of the alternative lifestyle in Pittsburgh. Now all these years of working a ‘respectable’ job and living in deep suburbia have left me quite out of touch. This doesn’t bother me at all. I never felt comfortable being surrounded by so many people. I’m much happier with my small circle of friends and my quiet life spent with my partner.
So that was the weekend. Nothing very spectacular. But I enjoyed it immensely.
Summer is nearing its golden age and the sun is in decline. A month ago it hung high above the horizon in the morning as I jogged through my neighborhood, but yesterday I watched it rise during my run. The long bright evenings are once again slowly deflating with the stars poking through the firmament before bedtime. But the days are still hot and life is still vibrant and it is nearly impossible to feel that the time of light is rapidly slipping away.
These are the days that I think about what might have been in my life and things that I had wanted when I was younger. Looking back on those desires, the list seems strange to me today. I was a much different creature back in my twenties, full of undirected energy, pouring from me like an unattended fire hose. I wanted to go everywhere at once and wanted it all right now, so I ended up staying in once place and never doing anything I thought of as substantive. My life seemed a waste and I felt unproven. I think it is a hallmark of our youth to think that life has some overarching meaning and that we must strive to grab that brass ring and uncover the meaning of our life.
Now I am older and I know that my earlier years were not a waste. I took the uncommon road and held jobs that I found interesting and my life was more rewarding for them. I am no longer waiting for the next big thing. I live my life from day to day and find joy in the routine. I’ve been there and done that and now just living brings me deep satisfaction. People like to talk about destiny and the overall meaning to life. Some spend their entire life searching for those elusive ideas. I stopped looking for any meaning some time ago. This universe is constructed from a complex set of laws that we think we understand. We are a manifestation of those laws, having reached a level of self-awareness that makes us question our own existence.
But what if there are no answers to the questions we ask? Or what if we are asking the wrong questions? Life is uncertain and we have less control over it than we’d like to admit. It’s good to appreciate what you have in life at this time. I watch the days expand, contract and then the entire cycle starts over again, leaving me a little bit older and closer to my demise. I don’t need to think that my life has some extraneous purpose, I am the one who gives it meaning by what I do and what I think. I am so happy with the things that make my life meaningful and even more so that I am the one to give them meaning.
We are on the move. Yesterday we made it all the way to Saint Augustine and found a place to lay our heads for the night. The drive was mainly uneventful. It rained the entire morning as we drove through West Virginia and we had some liquid outbursts throughout the afternoon. But by the time reached Georgia and its endless marshes the sky had cleared and I could watch the sun slip beneath the channels of grass and water.
After darkness descended I noticed a pair of strange stars sparkling through the windshield. I pride myself on knowing the night sky and its constellations throughout the seasons, but these two momentarily stumped me. I leaned forward to find more points of reference and realized it was the tail of Scorpio. It was the positioning that threw me off. I am used to it just scraping the southern horizon at home, but this far south it begins to become more prominent in the sky. I remember when we travelled to Key West and I watched the scorpion sailing high in the south.
The constellation is a talisman of warm weather: it pokes its head over the south-east in early June and by September it is falling into the autumn sunset. I remember myself as a child dragging my sleeping bag out into the back yard on sultry July nights and falling alseep watching lightning bugs dancing around Scorpio’s twisty outline. I’ve come so far since then, but seeing the tail of Scorpio and remembering how it makes me feel makes me realize that some things will never change.