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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retrospection: Cancer

So I was sick. When I texted Monique she let me out of our phone call that day. It was too much to take all at once. After I left the doctor’s I bought myself a burger, fries, and a coke. I deserved it, dang it.

That was a Thursday. That weekend I went with Monique to the Festival of Trees, something that I wasn’t feeling too emotionally up to it. The evening went well enough. Monique was sweet to me. And we had a fun time.

I remember that weekend I stayed at my parent’s place. I went to church with them on Sunday, and the few people that knew I was sick came and gave me hugs. Despite their concern, I felt like I still had to be the strong one. Everyone around me was trying to be sensitive, and that just made me feel like I had to bottle everything up. I didn’t need people to be sensitive. I needed them to be real. And to let me be real. And let me sob if I needed to. Or let me laugh if I needed to.

Really, that’s what I’ve needed in regards to my sexuality. Don’t tip toe around me. And don’t treat me like an angry and vicious apostate. Just be real, and let me be real.

I remember sitting in church that weekend. In gospel doctrine class a sister was giving a lesson on the armor of God. As a visual aid she had made cardboard armor and she wanted a volunteer to act as a mannequin for the armor. Gaga only knows why she thought this was a good idea for an adult class.

But because I was the visiting youth who everyone had taught in my teenage years she recruited me. I remember standing there, absolutely humiliated, wondering why I had to be part of that poor excuse for a doctrinal lesson, especially when inside I was completely devastated. I loathed Mormon culture in that moment.

If I were to relive that, I would refuse to go up. And when they pressed me, I would say, “I was diagnosed with cancer this week, and the last thing I want to do is be humiliated by taking part in a childish and demeaning object lesson for all of you.” If only I had the composition to demand my own needs back then.

Monday night my parents and younger brother drove down to Provo. My parents slept in a hotel and my brother slept in the empty bed in my room. Tuesday morning we went into the hospital and I got prepped for surgery.

Once I was ready to go I parted from my family and went with the nurses. I was lying in the bed when the surgeon came in. He gave me a brief summary of how the surgery would be. I asked him about the tumor and about the cancer in general. He said that he believed it was just the one tumor. But he wouldn’t know until after the surgery. I hadn’t considered the idea that this might not be the end of my cancer. I didn’t have much time to dwell on that, because before I knew it I was in the operating room and being hooked up to an iv. And then I was out.

I remember regaining consciousness gradually. Things were foggy, and I gained my thought before I gained my motor functions in full. As I waited for myself to wake up, the last words of the surgeon came to me. And there, with my eyes still closed in the recovery room, I wept. The walls came down, and I was allowed to be weak. I sobbed softly, letting some of the pain of my whole life out. I was aching. Not just as a cancer patient, but as a person. My life felt like it was crumbling around me. And there was no one to listen. No one to care.

I spent all that day in the hospital. The plan was for me to go home that afternoon, but the Percocet they gave me made me absolutely sick. I couldn’t even sit up without the world whirling around me and my stomach preparing to eject its contents. And my blood pressure was extremely low.

One dose of Percocet, which was only supposed to last four hours, lasted eight with me. I never take medication, and so a small dose has a strong effect on me. By early afternoon the nurse told me I needed to stay the night, just until my blood pressure went up.

My brother drove my car to my parent’s place and my folks stayed another night in the hotel. I spent the night on my own in the hospital, using morphine instead of Percocet. I can’t say that I get why people love morphine. I remember feeling pleasant on it, but it never killed the pain in my incision. It only made the ache tolerable.

I don’t know that I slept too much. I chatted with one or two of the gay people I’d met online. I chatted with one of my old mission companions who was a native of Europe. He was pretty supportive, and in a few hours he had spread the news of my surgery to the rest of my fellow missionaries. While my immediate reaction was that he was putting his nose where he had no business, later I realized that I did actually want my fellow missionaries to know. But I didn’t feel I had permission to announce something like that. So this good friend of mine did what I couldn’t. I was grateful for that.

I went home the next day. I spent the week watching movies. Monique came over and made a gingerbread house with me while we watched a bootlegged copy of “2012.”

I chatted a lot online that week. I didn’t have much to do. I found a gay dating site, Connexion, and created a profile. Through this I was able to chat with people in my own area. I actually had a couple invitations to go to parties or out to coffee that week. Of course I turned them down. I was bedridden. But at the same time there was an element of distrust in my interactions with other gay people. I just wasn’t ready to meet them.

Thursday night, a week after my diagnosis, I was online randomly chatting. A guy I’d seen several times popped up. We’d sent messages back and forth, but had never caught each other online. Finally we could talk.

We chatted for a while, and I found that I really got along with this guy. He was funny, but not crude. There was more of a personality to him. As we got to know one another better we gained some mutual trust and he told me his real name. He’d used a pseudonym online. With my expert stalking skills I found him on Facebook. He was pretty freaked out when I knew his last name. “Alex,” I told him, “I’m very good at finding out what I want to know.”

As the rest of the week went on we texted and chatted most of the day. I slowly began to like Alex. He didn’t seem as obsessed with sex as the others I had talked to. And he didn’t seem as cynical either.

As the week drew to a close we agreed to meet when I got back to Provo. Sunday night I packed up, and although I was still a bit sore, I drove down to take my finals, and to meet this new boy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Retrospection: Coming Home, the Inner Battle, and Diagnosis

School started, and I expected to fall back into the perfect slot I had fit in when I left BYU. During my freshman year, BYU was paradise. But now that I was back I found that much of what I had loved before I couldn’t stand. Church meetings were bland and felt hollow, like people were just telling stories. People seemed to be missing the point of the gospel in all their gospel-talk. And the culture was extremely appearance-based. I couldn’t believe this was the same place I had been before.

            In addition to that, my feelings were getting stronger. In the repressed state I was in they manifested themselves in unhealthy ways, often hyper-sexually. I couldn’t talk to anyone, and there were some days I would weep, pleading for help. But God never answered. Not like I expected. He never sent someone to call me when I needed it. He never took my feelings away.

            Finally, I couldn’t take it and I began chatting with other gay youth online. At least there I could gain some sense of connection. In the midst of this I began to feel the weight of the anti-gay position of the church more and more. I feared to talk to people about this, and I felt very alone.

            I made friends with a couple people online that I enjoyed talking with regularly. Looking back, however, I realize how unfulfilling these virtual relationships were.

            In November of 2009 I went with Monique and some of her friends to see New Moon, the new Twilight movie. I went, excited to be with friends. But through the entire movie I found myself drawn to Taylor Lautner. I was a repressed gay boy, and he was a hot guy on the silver screen. It was killing me inside. I couldn’t beat the emotions down, and it was making me sick.

            Monique noticed, and asked if I was okay. I lied and tried to look better, but I’ve always been a bad liar. On the drive home I stared out the window the whole time. For the first and only time in my life I truly honestly wanted to die. I’ve never been able to think seriously about suicide. But in that moment, I wanted the car to crash and I wanted to cease existing.

            A week or so later I was texting with Monique. She asked about that night, and I finally decided to tell her. “Monique, I think I’m gay,” I texted. She was shocked. She had never seen it coming. And she hit me with all the questions that tore at my soul. Did I still believe in God? Was I leaving the church? What did I feel about celestial marriage? Some of the questions hurt, because she was supposed to know me. She was my best friend. And she had to ask so much. I told her that I was the same person, with the same faith, but with this attraction. That seemed to be enough for the time being.

            The next day she wanted to talk on the phone. We set a time, and I endured the texts that came in the meantime. A couple hours before we were going to talk I had a doctor’s appointment. I was having pain in my lower abdomen, and I went to get it checked out. They thought it was an infection, but the meds hadn’t been working. So we went to get an ultrasound. The doctors sat down with me and told me that I had a tumor, and it was malignant. I was 21, and I had cancer.

I handled the news well. I called my parents and even joked about it. We set up a time for the surgery the following week. And then I left.

I sat in my car and bawled. Not only had I failed on my mission, and I was an abomination for liking guys, but now I had cancer. I felt betrayed by God, whom I had tried to serve so diligently. I bent over the steering wheel and wept.

A moment later, there was a tap on my window. Two women, one likely the mother of the other, were at my passenger window. I rolled down the window.

“Are you alright?” one asked. The tears kept coming. I told them about the tumor. I told them how the doctors thought that perhaps the conditions on my mission contributed to it. I just cried. They asked if I had family nearby. I told them no, I was an hour away from home.

They walked over to my door, pulled me out of the car and wrapped their arms around me and wept with me. I ached. I felt so alone, so abandoned by everything I had held dear. But here were two women who I’d never met, loving me, and weeping with me. Never had I had an experience where someone was sent to me at the right time and the right place. To this day I don’t know these women’s names. But that day, God sent me angels and in his own way, wrapped his arms around me.

Retrospection: Mission

This continuation has been a long time coming. I started my retrospection posts a long time ago, and I think it’s time to keep going.

I think where I last left was when I finished my freshman year of college. I had broken up with my one and only girlfriend and left for the MTC a little later.

I went into the MTC planning to be my very best. I think all missionaries do. I said goodbye to my home, my parents, and my life for the next two years.

Things went well in the beginning. I had great experiences in the MTC. But one thing that came back very quickly was the draw good looking guys had on me. There was one missionary in my district that was very attractive to me. Still to this day I think he’s very hot, in a skinny boy way.

But any time I let myself stray I would pick it back up and keep going.

Three months in the MTC is a long time. And packing twelve people in a tiny room for ten hours a day can make a person crazy. I found myself very ready to leave by the time our three months were up.

When I entered the MTC I found myself going slightly numb emotionally. My creativity began to decline sharply. I think I wrote between 3-5 poems in those two years. That is unheard of for me. But I couldn’t access any of the deeper emotions. I couldn’t touch the part of me where all those colors and ideas were kept. It was difficult not to have that outlet for the next couple of years.

Finally, three months ended and we left for Europe. This new culture took me by storm. I think I went into a sort of emotional shock. For the first couple months I didn’t quite know how to relax. I am grateful for the trainer I had, because he was a strong believer that if you weren’t enjoying yourself then you were doing your mission wrong. He really helped me to loosen up and try to find some joy in the mission.

My mission was hard. Few people ever wanted to talk to us. English classes were our sanctuary. That and p-days. Winters were long. Sometimes we didn’t see the sun for a month at a time. It was a grey and lonely place in the winter.

To be quite honest, I spent a lot of my mission feeling like I wasn’t doing well enough. I felt like a failure a lot. And from the first day to the very end of my mission I had to deal with extreme anxiety. Every day as we stood next to the door to pray before going to work I would be physically ill with anxiety.

Because of all this it was difficult to get letters from friends in other missions where they couldn’t get enough of it. Where they loved their missions and never wanted to come home. There were some days that I was absolutely miserable. I didn’t want my mission to last a single day longer than it was supposed to. This added to my feeling of failure, one that still hasn’t completely gone away.

That being said, my mission changed me in ways that I would never regret. I was driven into the ground some days, sent to my knees at the end of the day pleading for peace and for help. I gained a deeper relationship with God than ever before. I am grateful for the things I experienced, the people I met, and the person it helped shape me to become.

As for my attraction to guys, my mission had its difficult points. I had a couple companions that I was attracted to. And I had to constantly battle to keep my emotions in check. It was difficult, but it was also a revolutionary time for me. I had been in the mission for about a year when I finally had to admit to myself that I was attracted to guys. I couldn't deny it anymore. It wasn’t a horrible and devastating. It was much more of “alright, I can’t lie to myself anymore. I like guys.”

Once I admitted it to myself, however, I went to work trying to get rid of it. I felt that if I could gain absolute control over my attractions and impulses it would eventually go away. I even snuck out a copy of the church’s twelve step addiction recovery program from the mission office. I spent much of the next year trying to change myself.

I remember getting the emails about Prop 8 while I was there. I remember being infuriated by the conflict going on. I especially hated the email about the protests at the temple. Looking back, I was definitely more impassioned about everything because of the skeletons in my own closet. But I still feel like the debate was vicious, on both sides. I know the members will say that the adversary was working on the side of gay rights, but in my mind all he wanted was hatred. And both sides gave it to him in abundance. 

Really, I am very grateful that I was out of the country for that awful time. I was much too fragile to be here for that. And I think God knew that. 

Regardless of how I felt about politics or my inner feelings though, I was drawn to certain guys. There was one missionary that I had served with that I thought was cute. Sometime after we had served together we were playing ultimate Frisbee at the park on p-day with a bunch of the other missionaries. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I saw that he had lost his greenie weight and looked pretty good. As we played he and I joked, and if I didn’t know any better he even flirted with me to a degree. This made my blood run hot and I flirted a little back. I think at one point we even touched hands in between plays. Even now the memory grabs at my breathing a bit. Nothing ever happened, but it was definitely a defining moment.

By the time I finished up my mission I felt like I had gained some control over my attractions. In the last couple of weeks I even thought that they were gone. I finished my mission and came home on a high note.

America is wonderful. I love this country and I missed it like crazy. Driving home from the airport was like being thrown back into a world of vibrant colors.

Within a week it was obvious that my feelings hadn’t gone away. But I didn’t have too much time to dwell on it. I got back a week before the new semester, and in a few days I was off to Provo to reunite with happy valley.