Casualty: Psalms 91 – 100

(This is the final part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first, second, third, and fourth entries)

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalms 94:19 (NIV)

A little less than a year later, Ansley agreed to meet with me in order to go over the “whole situation.” After that passionate evening – the kissing, tree climbing, the frigid wish-wash – was a month of dating, two of confusion, and then a half dozen in anger. It had become clear to her after some time that I was using my relationship with her in order to figure out my own sexual identity. She felt betrayed – rightfully so. I had taken her side against me shortly after we had given up talking and separated. She was the first woman to ever call me out on this behavior – on the knowing deceit I participated in. Confusion on my part was allowed – there isn’t a clear-minded soul out there – but I could not manipulative the feelings of others in the process of figuring out myself. I regretted all of it.

So we met on the porch of a Fellini’s Pizza but didn’t order anything except a pint of beer each. The conversation began with a prolonged silence. We slouched in our chairs.

She spoke first. She wanted to say her piece. That was fair. I let her.

She did not ask for an explanation – I think she had prepped herself not to expect one, or perhaps, to not expect a satisfying one.

I said I was sorry.
She said okay.
I explained my thought process, my headspace, where I was coming from, my confusion.
She said okay.

I had not prepared anything to say, so I started to improvise. No, I did not lie, but I had taught myself for so long not to analyze that I had not yet thought the whole situation through. I knew my fault, yes, and I knew why, yes – but I had not yet figured out the next step – how I would take this experience and… move forward.

I told her I would not do this again.
She looked dissatisfied.
I guaranteed her that I would not do this again.
She said okay.

Was that a promise I could keep? I didn’t know.

So where did that leave us now, we thought, or maybe we said out loud.

I realized then that I had won this situation, if a winner could have been chosen. I was the arbiter, the one who had inflicted the damage, and then, a year later, she absolved me of my sin. I witnessed the potential damage I could do by using others as taste tests for my sexuality. And what had she gotten from it? What lesson did she learn?

So I told her.

You don’t get anything from this situation.
You are a casualty of my growth.

The Parts: Psalms 81 – 90

(This is the fourth part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first, second, and third entries)

[God said:]
“I will not violate my covenant
    or alter what my lips have uttered…”
But you have rejected, you have spurned…
You have renounced the covenant with your servant…

Psalms 89:34, 38-39 (NIV)

We kissed immediately. It was expected – Ansley and I had just announced a mutual affection for one another, and some next step was required. The first thing I had noticed about her (the third time I had met her) was how she dressed. Southern patterns – floral, block – with a smooth feminine silhouette; boots that came up mid-calf with a small heel that boosted her an extra inch-and-a-half; muted leggings that covered the rest of her legs. This day, as we moved in on one another in the frigid interior of my handed-down golden Camry, she was covered head to toe, knitted cap on top, fluffed mittens, with a sleek pea-coat that landed somewhere around her knees. Her cheeks shown through, rosy with stilled blood underneath, accented by a fleece scarf she had just bought from Rag-a-Rama up the street.

We kissed.

In terms of her personality, she was opinionated and bold. When she spoke, she had something to say – about the rights of gay individuals, the need to educate our children properly. When she listened, she made eye contact that never broke, even as she started to speak. And when she spoke, it was always relevant. She was not one of those people who just stared, waiting for her turn to speak her slightly related nonsense. She touched when listening, her hand on top of mine. She hugged and said “I love you” – no, not too soon, not an “I’m in love with you” “I love you” – no, she just loved others and wanted to let them know. She encouraged.

We moved outside and shuddered underneath a twisted oak tree. Our warmth came from our close proximity; it came from dependence.

We kissed.

More than anything, she wanted kids and to be a mom. When I asked her about her career goals and plans, she mentioned singing and acting, perhaps teaching and nannying, but none of that mattered without a family to go home to and kids to raise, a place to call her own. She still lived at home – yes out of comfort, yes out of a slight fear of the unknown, yes out of fiscal sense – but no, it was her parents, handicapped with Parkinson’s and RA respectively, and so she worried, she worried that if she left, no one would be there, and they would wither as a result. She cared about and cared for. It was just her nature to nurture.

I looked above us at the gnarled branches of the tree above and wanted to climb. Slowly, I disengaged from her and reached for the first branch. She hopped up, discouraging it – yes we had drank alcohol, yes the passion had deadened my senses along with the cold, yes it was rash – but no, I wanted to climb, and fuck if I want to climb then let me climb damn it. I wondered how high I could get before the tree limbs gave way and dropped me.

My throat clenched shut with anxiety. Look at Ansley. Look at the parts, I thought, she has it allthe empathy, the sense, the honesty, the future. Fall in love with those parts. Ansley did not want me to climb the tree and begged me to stop. She said I would hurt myself – it was such a stupid idea. The concern, the hospitality. Fall in love with those parts. She shouted for me to come down, but I told her I wanted to climb. She’s shouting for you, she cares that much. Fall in love with those parts.

I felt more nauseous with each step – yes the height, yes the dizziness of whiskey mixed with movement, yes the shattering cold that crept in – but no, it was the parts. The parts that Ansley did not have that I desired. Why did I desire a man, when a woman was just as good? What was wrong with me that I would kiss Ansley, when I knew that all the parts she had would never equal the desire of the fleeting momentary attention from an unknown man?

Ansley shouted to me again. She noticed my heavy breathing. She sensed the panic and told me one final time to come down. I acquiesced. I took each step carefully as I made my way down the way I had come.

And with both feet back on the ground, I told her that I needed to go home.

The Self-Parable: Psalms 71 – 80

(This is the third part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first and second parts)

My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things…

Psalms 78:1-2 (NIV)

Jesus is known for his use of parables to bestow lessons, but centuries before his arrival on Earth, Psalms drops us one right in the middle of its narrative. In the 78th chapter, a narrator tells the story of a group of Israelites brought out of Egypt by the use of miracles – pillars of fire, manna raining from the sky, and parted seas – only for them to reject God’s word for their own selfish desires. They put God to the test; they complained; they made idols and worshipped them with full and vengeful hearts. And so, God rejected them.

This sounds familiar…

I always thought parables were made up stories, not true reflections from the past – not by assumption, but rather, by design. It is probably most advantageous for the author to make up a story with all the correct elements in order to hammer home a point. I believe this because life does not usually fall within such parameters of clear right and wrong. True recollection can easily muffle a message, especially such a dramatically stringent one. But nonetheless, the author reminds us of the sin of the Israelites in order to emphasize a base value:

Learn from your mistakes!

This thought kept rolling through my head as I read vast sections of the Old Testaments history. How is it possible that generation after generation of God’s people could keep returning to sin, especially with the stakes so high?

Many wonder that about gay Christians who choose to live “in the lifestyle.” How can they defy God so knowingly?

When I moved to Georgia, I had my own self-parable bouncing between my ears. Once upon a time, a young man had conflicting feelings about his own sexuality. So he made a decision to defy his nature in order to maintain loyalty to God and proceeded to pursue women. But the decision caused anxiety and despair, as he knew that these relationships would not last. Then, once taking the pressure off of himself, he fell for a woman in spite of himself. But he would not make the same mistake twice; he would not lie or misrepresent himself. He had learned from his mistakes.

After joining the cast of The Laramie Project, I learned about a different Ansley, one worthy of a profound friendship. Sure, she was still the girl that scoffed at my sexuality, chastised me for drinking her wine, and then guilted me for not recognizing her. But my initial impressions (or lack of them rather) faded the more I got to know her. She was thoughtful and encouraging throughout the rehearsal process and a faithful sound board for the director. Beyond her professional abilities, she also took a staggering interest in the problems and concerns of others. We hit it off, against all odds. Once the show wrapped, we caught wind of a cast member’s comedy show, and decided to go together to show our support.

We parked the car and wandered the streets of Atlanta with our hands in our pockets. The transition from acquaintance to friend always requires some intentional energy by making the decision that “yes, this will be awkward and a bit contrived at the start, but that will eventually wear off.” The conversation was stiff but loosened. Eventually, we abandoned the comfort of our pockets and let our hands dangle out – a sign of inner comfort.

Once back at the car, with the comedy show passed and the structure for the evening lost, we struggled to make natural conversation. We argued about sexuality – she thought men couldn’t truly be bisexual, that only women could do that. It was an interesting notion. More often than not, men used the term “bisexual” as a transitory term. It felt safer than saying “gay” – less final and damning. I argued against it. We never agreed, but we still laughed.

And then she said she made a confession. She had romantic feelings for me but knew it would never work.

But I looked her in the eye and said, “It could work. I like you too.”

And I smiled, knowing full well the mistake I was making.

The Boisterous Young Woman: Psalms 61 – 70

(This is the second part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first part)

One thing God has spoken,
    two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
    and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
    according to what they have done.”
Psalms 62:11-12 (NIV)

The boisterous young woman from my first Georgian party had a name: Ansley.
And she had a little not-so-secret surprise too: she was also bisexual.

I met Ansley for the first time three times, because after each of the first two instances, I immediately forgot who she was. I mentioned the first interaction previously, but for those of you in need of a refresher:

[I pour a glass of what I thought was “communal” wine at a party]
ANSLEY: Are you drinking my wine?
ME: I’m sorry… [blah blah etc]
ANSLEY: Are you gay or what?
ME: Um… [blah blah dodge whatever]
ANSLEY: Ugh.

Suffice to say, this aforementioned party (and odd interaction) did not satisfy my making-friends needs, but it did provide the catalyst towards some of my first friendships in the South. I didn’t learn Ansley’s name that night, and why should I have? In my mind, I had deemed her the boisterous, young woman, who – among other things – announced quite angrily at the end of the party “I’m leaving, it’s gross in here!” Memorable, sure, but not something I logged away for future interactions. I sincerely thought that our little story would begin and end there.

Then an outdoor Shakespeare event brought us back together. Through a series of handshakes and handoffs, I became friends with this devilish twosome – Wendy and Tyler. He was the confident, sassy petite gay guy, and she was his equally witty cohort – peas in a pod, looking for their new plaything. I liked her and liked him, so when they offered some drinking on the lawn of a park while watching community theater actors “try their best” at Taming of the Shrew, I replied, “of course I want to go.” We laid a blanket down on the thirsty weeds and cracked the wine. We all spooned under a comforter. Others joined us after a while. A woman who had joined the group said, “Hi,” to me. We all chatted a bit. I fell asleep, because apparently the actors’ “best” was not engaging enough. Sobered and sleepy, I drove home afterward.

Yeah, that woman who said “hi” to me? That was also Ansley. I still did not know her name, nor did I connect her to being the same wine protector from weeks prior.

The third instance brought the other two into a snapped focus. Eager to keep my energies moving in an unknown city, I decided to audition for a local theater’s production of The Laramie Project. It seemed completely benign – I had been in the play in college and knew the material – plus it would keep me busy and I would meet new people. Perfect. They called my name and I walked up to the audition table to meet the director and stage manager.

“Nice to meet you,” I cheerfully said, reaching out my hand for an equally cheerful handshake.

“Yeah… we’ve actually met before. Twice.The stage manager quipped back immediately.Don’t you remember me?”

Nope, not even a –
Wait… female stage manager… the woman… the young woman… boisterous young… shit.

“Oh yes!” I overcompensated. “Of course I remember you!”

I walked away convinced that my faux pas would mean certain failure, and that I would not be cast. Take it in stride and learn, I supposed.

But then I got a call. From the boisterous wine Shakespeare blanket stage manager woman named Ansley. They wanted me to join the cast.

And that last introduction ended up sticking.