My Inheritance

My gay DNA …not really

When I was younger I really loved to dance. I would get lost in the rhythms, moving with the highs and lows of the music. It allowed me to express myself; it still does. Though, I can no longer move at the level of a professional dancer, I can clear the dance floor when I’m really feeling the groove. Dancing through its various forms, helped establish my physical foundation and I’m still hitting the gym 4-5 days a week to maintain my condition. It’s important for me that I remain committed to a healthy lifestyle. I’ve even been told by other gym members that my dedication inspires them. It’s not easy waking up at “o’dark-thirty” and dragging my groggy and tired ass to the gym, but I do it. 

In 2013, just short of my 50th birthday, I started getting these strange and painful headaches. These weren’t the regular tension headaches or migraines I would occasionally experience from life. These headaches seemed to linger longer and even continued on during my sleeping hours. At times, they were bad enough that they would wake me from a sound sleep. Ibuprofen brought only temporary relief and when the morning came, I felt drained of my energy, and extremely on edge. I thought perhaps that it was the stress of my job, the lack of world peace, or climate change; I really didn’t know. 

It was a Wednesday evening and my partner (Eric) and I were invited over to the neighbors for libations. As the evening went one, my face started to tingle. I didn’t really think much of it until we returned home. While looking in the mirror as we were preparing for bed, it looked like the muscles on one side of my face weren’t working. The timing of this anomaly couldn’t have been worse. The following day Eric and I were fIying to San Jose, California to see his cousin and her family. Luckily, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning to hopefully shine light on this mystery. Since my regular doctor was out of the office, I was assigned to another physician. Blood tests revealed nothing and due to the amount of time I’d been experiencing headaches, I was sent to have a CAT scan to ensure there wasn’t any nerve damage or even a stroke. It was about two hours before our flight when I received a call from the doctor’s office; I had Bell’s Palsy.

This day was not going well for me. Later in the evening after our flight landed in San Jose,  I received an email from the doctor with results that caused me to literally do a double-take. Here is a portion of that email. 

“Nothing huge to report although I did note that you have kidney failure. It’s stage 3 which is in the middle of the road. You need to make sure you follow up with your doctor.”

WTF!!!  First of all, this information is far too casual to share as an email to someone who’s not a regular patient, and second, I’d never heard anything about having kidney failure!  Apparently, I had been walking around with an undiagnosed case of prehypertension. But why wasn’t this information disclosed during other visits? The reason why my assigned doctor didn’t tell me about my potential organ failure was because on previous visits, I was being seen for something else. Really? If there was any indication of organ failure most people would want to know regardless of the time? (As you might imagine, I have found another doctor!)

But the story doesn’t end there. Right before Thanksgiving, I was given the news that no man ever wants to hear from a doctor; you have (prostate) cancer. Fortunately, it was discovered early (Stage 1), but getting a cancer diagnosis can be a life changing experience.

So, why am I writing about this? Most men aren’t ever motivated to go to the doctor, but complacency, avoidance, and denial can sometimes be a death sentence. The American Cancer Society recommends prostate checks at age 50. But in reality, men starting at 40 years of age should get their Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels checked twice a year just to make certain their levels are consistently low (4 and under). 

As a gay man, the diagnosis of prostate cancer sent a wave of emotions over me. The one thought that echoed in my head was MY SEX LIFE IS OVER! When the urologist discussed the results and treatment options, he mentioned a procedure called a Prostatectomy , the removal of the prostate. I just wanted the cancer out of my body and decided that the Prostatectomy  was the best course of action. This was a knee jerk reaction. Eric asked about the number of these procedures (300+) the doctor had performed. This was a valid question. We were given a couple of brochures and a DVD detailing the robotic procedure. I was strongly encouraged to take the weekend to think things over; a weekend that was filled with a trip out of town for a family birthday celebration. Celebrating, was the farthest thought from my mind.

I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was happening to me, but it had to be done.  It was difficult enough to say the word, CANCER, aloud so I did something I never thought I’d do,  I shared my news on Facebook. The outpouring of support by friends and the community was beyond anything I could have imagined. Even the local LGBTQI newspaper (PQ Monthly) ran a story on my disclosure. Soon other men disclosed to me that they have either had prostate cancer themselves or knew someone that was currently seeking treatment, which made me feel less alone in my diagnosis. After speaking with others and researching treatment, I was able to think further about my options. Feeling more informed, I decided to forgo an irreversible surgery for external radiation. This treatment option was better suited to my cancer’s progression, my age, and lifestyle to ensure my quality of life.

Man up guys! Prostate cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. Having a conversation within one’s circle of friends can also be a great way to gain peace of mind during a very personal illness. Unfortunately, none of us are immune from health issues that are embedded in our DNA no matter how fit we may appear on the outside. But when we share our stories, we can empower and engage the community in ways no one can imagine. It can be a very humbling experience if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable!

What’s in a Name?

This piece is dedicated to a December without 31 days, a Major without a squadron, and a Doctor who doesn’t practice medicine. For those of us with different names, these designations are real conversation starters! 

What’s in a name? A question penned long ago for the romantic tale Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare. Throughout my life, whenever I either introduce myself or when I’m introduced by someone else, I’m often met with a raised eyebrow, a groan of surprise, or an “Excuse me?” of disbelief as a response. For me, these reactions are sometimes comical, predictable, and slightly irritating when people hear my name for the first time. Judge Wapner, Judge Dread (an awful film), Judge Judy, and Judge Reinhold (real name Edward Ernest, Jr.) are the usual comparison responses I get. Some of the questions are equally obnoxious. Is that your real name? This is probably the most frequent and least popular question. Did your parents want you to be a Judge? If you were a Judge then you’d be Judge Judge. Ha, ha, ha. Ugh!

Don’t get me wrong. Having a name like mine should warrant attention with regard to its association with our American legal system. As a young kid growing up in Virginia and North Carolina, my family actually called me Junior. That’s because my father is named Judge too. Apparently unique names run in my father’s side of the family. My grandfather’s name was Pleasant. I guess you could say that even on his worst days, he was still…Pleasant! I think within the African American and other minority communities, as a way to honor our ancestors, an official (profession), or friend, a parent would name their child after that person. My friend and colleague, who also is a person of color, had a grandfather with the name of Doctor. I can bet that he too had his share of similar experiences when introductions are made. 

I recently asked my mother about why I was named after my father. She said that there was no historical connection other than the convenience of sharing my father’s name.

I really hated my name when I was in grade school. Some kids tend to gravitate towards others or things that are different. I won’t go as far and say that I was bullied, but in terms of the frequency, it was often. I was called whatever could rhyme with Judge; sludge, drudge, and fudge. Sometimes it was even a combination of all things rhyming at once: Judge, fudge the big fat drudge. First of all, I would consider my skin color more like a spiced cinnamon rather than fudge. Secondly, I wasn’t fat although currently my metabolism isn’t my friend. Lastly, drudge? I never even knew what a drudge was until I was in middle school. It made no sense at all. 

When my mother remarried, I had this idea of having my name changed to pay tribute to the new patriarch in the family. My new name was going to be Christopher Odel Hughes. It had a nice sound to it. I would rehearse calling myself Chris in the mirror and even practiced writing my new name so I could get used to it. I just wasn’t aware of the amount of work needed, on my mother’s end, to make a name change happen. In fact, too many steps and forms were required and my mother wasn’t having it. It really didn’t matter anymore, because my mother ended up divorcing my stepfather not too long after they were married. Any future ideas of having a “normal” name ended when that relationship did.

After the divorce, we moved to California (CA). As a teen, I remember taking a trip with my mother and sisters to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, CA. After spending a day riding the park’s roller coasters and gorging ourselves on golden fried chicken goodness from Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant, it was time to head back to San Diego. But before we reached the parking lot, I popped into one of the many novelty money-sucking souvenir shops to see if they sold those mini license plates or stickers from the revolving display racks. Maybe, just maybe, I would find my name here. Sadly, in all of the options available, the name closest to mine I came across was the name “Jude”.  

Judger (Judge + Jr.), was a nickname given to me in middle school. Somehow, it also ended up on my student ID card in high school. It was like someone inside the administration at the Poway Unified School District in San Diego was deliberately playing a joke on me with my name. It took more than a full school quarter before my name on my scholastic records were corrected and teachers called by my given name. Surprisingly, some of my classmates actually thought the name Judge was pretty cool. This name, and or this title, that was often compared to courtroom shows and a bad movie, finally made me start smiling with pride. It was this pride that gave me the confidence to step on stage and start dancing in high school. After appearing in several successful productions, I won a Sunny Award! A Sunny Award is named after the high school mascot (Mt. Carmel Sundevils), and awarded to actors for quality performances. 

Here comes the Judge! From my fourth birthday on, this was a saying I heard. In 1968, comedy and soul singer Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham released a single with the same title. During the 70s, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In introduced a comic sketch featuring comic entertainers Flip Wilson and later Sammy Davis Jr. as the shuckin’ and jivin’ Judge. Now that I was living in Los Angeles, as an actor, this was my motto. I even made bumper stickers with the slogan that I would include in my actor’s press kit to agencies. I wanted to make an impression one way or another with my name even though my press kit likely landed in the garbage. Everyone says you have to have a gimmick to stick out and the bumper stickers was my attempt at doing that. 

Though the acting never really took off, my name continued and still does, cause a stir. I previously spent five years working at the Oregon State Capitol for the Governor. During this time, I was frequently addressed as Your Honor and even received mail addressed to The Honorable Judge Kemp. At the gym, I was once chastised and called an “asshole” by an ease-dropper on a conversation for having other gym members address me as my supposed title. It was only after confronting this douche-bag, that he embarrassingly apologized when he learned that Judge was actually my name. I articulate my name when I order my venti blonde latte with two pumps of chai at Buckies (not the real name). When the barista called “Jubie” (pronounced joo-bee), all I could really do is to laugh. 

Our names are more than the labels we carry with us to our deathbeds. They carry with them a sense of power, mystery, and whimsy. They can also instill confidence. Either by nurture or nature, I’ve accepted my name and wear it like a badge of honor. It’s bold, unique, and reflects my quirky charm and personality. My name is Judge Kemp (Jr.).

You’re What?!

By all American standards, my family was pretty was normal. Dad was a Master Sergeant in the US Army and Ma was the obedient wife, cook, and caretaker of my older sister and me; we even had a dog. My father and I did all the stereotypical activities expected with society’s male bonding rituals; fishing, playing sports together, and I even had my first sip of beer. One of my favorite activities however was our time at the base swimming pool. It wasn’t the refreshing waters that I enjoyed most, but viewing all the naked male frames in the locker room. Every size and every shade of man was presented before my young wide eyes.

From a very early age I’ve known that I was gay. I just didn’t know what to call it. Maybe the feeling stemmed from my expulsion from nursery school for biting? This wasn’t my finest of pre-scholastic moments, but it’s true! Was this a future sign of rainbows, glitter, and red dresses? Probably not, but I did have an issue with biting. I chewed on everything from my headboard and footboard of my bed, to the aluminum blinds in my bedroom window. Once, I even bit my mother. This was a HUGE mistake. She bit me back, forever curing me from any future behavioral nibbling…at least as a child.

In grade school I was shy and kind of different. Not outer worldly different like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with his pointed ears and amazing intellect, just different. From all outward appearances, I looked like any other African American boy my age at John Tyler Elementary School in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was only when I was around certain male classmates that I would feel anxious and strangely giddy. Jeff was one of those classmates. He had strawberry red hair, freckles, and an infectious laugh. My little heart ached when we weren’t together. Movie time was my favorite part of class because it gave me a chance to sit next to my favorite classmate. In the dark we felt free and didn’t have to worry about judgment or opinion. I don’t ever remember what films were shown, but I do remember holding hands with my special friend!

With my parents divorced, my mother moved my two sisters and me to San Diego, California. I was a teenager and my feelings for guys remained the same. This wasn’t “just a phase” as some people then and now still might suggest. I attempted to conform to the “norms” of the hetero world and even had a girlfriend but that relationship felt awkward and made me more aware of my sexual identity. I was also now old enough to be aware of the cruelties, and horrific names that were being psychologically branded on guys like me. Being a young black male was difficult enough, and in our conservative suburban neighborhood of Rancho Penãsquitos, this “queer” nuance I was experiencing was something I had to keep to myself for the time being.

My mother was and still is a very social person. She used to love to go dancing and would frequent a gay disco called Dillion’s. Here she made friends with several gay men and women; many would later become family friends. One such friend, Mark B., was in his early 20s and was just adorable. He had blonde hair, pale blue eyes, and a big mustache (think Magnum PI). Mark was always invited over to celebrate birthdays and holiday meals. I don’t think he had any family of his own in town so my mother sort of adopted him into our family. He was a sweetheart and my older sister and I secretly had a crush on him. I think my mother knew it too but then one day Mark stopped coming around. We later found out he moved to San Francisco and was never heard from again.

So at sixteen I decided it was time to come out. It was early in the evening and my mother was in the kitchen doing dishes. I slowly approached her and quietly told her that I thought that I might be gay. In my mind, time stopped and I could hear my heart literally pounding in my chest. She continued to wash dishes and without missing a beat, asked me to explain why I thought I was gay. I think my words to her were something like,’ because I really, really, like guys. That answer wasn’t sufficient enough so she asked me to write her an essay entitled, “Why I Think I’m Gay”. In my essay, I explained to her that I had been aware of my sexuality since I was in grade school and though I had had a girlfriend, it just didn’t feel right and I remained infatuated with guys.

I was the only male in an all-female household. My mother thought the lack of a masculine influence or her gay friends may have contributed to my admission. So she suggested I speak to her church friend Wayne. Wayne was gay and about 15 years older than I. Finally I could speak to someone who could understand my situation. Wayne allowed me to speak freely and in depth about my awareness and the occasional physical confirmations that my dreams would produce; things I couldn’t tell my mother. Wayne confirmed to my mother that I was indeed gay and the rest is history.

I was fortunate to come out to someone that embraced me with love and compassion. Many young gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered children are sometimes abandoned for living or disclosing their truth. Luckily, there are amazing LGBTQ role models such as Michael Sam, Lavern Cox, Ellen Degeneres, and George Takei that have broken down barriers of race, transphobia, and homophobia by living their truth.


It Comes in Threes

This text is dedicated to my mother and all mothers, natural and otherwise, with a special shout out to the daughters: Lisa and Sandy, Deirdre, Danielle and Kimberly. Ladies, thank you for sharing a piece of your hearts.

It’s only a myth that bad things come in threes right? Events of this year have really started to make a believer out of me. Over the last few months, three of my female friends have been confronted by the heartbreaking death of their mothers. These deaths strangely all happened within three weeks of one another too. Due to the regularity and the numbers, my partner reminded me that we are now men of a certain age when loss will again play its hand in our lives. The last time was in the 80s and 90s when we said goodbye to many of our male friends and lovers from a then mysterious and deadly virus.

I was fortunate to have met these mothers at various times during the friendship with their daughters. The first mother I met only briefly at her daughter’s wedding now almost 13 years ago. The second rewarded my partner and me with a gift of cookies from a secret recipe, as thanks for helping her embarrassingly distraught daughter with her exterior home paint colors. The third relationship goes back to a time when I was a young, clumsy, and awkward teen being introduced for the first time by the eldest of two daughters. The oldest was also classmate and childhood sweetheart. The younger sibling still remains a dear friend today who I love as a sister. The above mentioned matriarchs have produced amazingly wonderful and loving offspring; each one compassionate, talented, and philanthropic in their own way.

I feel very blessed that my mother still remains a part in my life. Though we don’t see each other as frequently as she would like, as a good son (at least I think so) I call her weekly to check in. Time thunderously marches on in our lives and she won’t always be there to tell me everything will be alright. This is something, my sisters and I, often forget about. Growing up, our mother was definitely no Wonder Woman with her golden lasso of truth. In contrast, our mother had the “switch of discipline” or the “belt of defiance.” Believe it or not, I was usually on the receiving end! Before anyone passes judgment on my mother, keep in mind this chapter occurred a very long time ago and was a regular part of the environment in which my mother grew up. Nowadays, anytime we adult kids appear to “get too big for our britches”, my mother threatens to throw us over her knee. That image alone makes me laugh! Her spirituality, love, and wisdom have been a source of comfort for me and my sisters; thank you Ma!

Regardless of the timing or the cause, death is never an easy experience to process.

We all are the product of a mother’s love. Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Love

A breath of life and the bond created;

This is a mother’s love.

Soft caresses and tears wiped;

This is a mother’s love.

A void of hunger and an appetite suppressed;

This is a mother’s love.

A voice of hope and confidence learned;

This is a mother’s love.

Memories shared and experience gained;

For this is a mother’s gift.

This is a previously published piece from 2017.

Pulse Check

On March 15th of this year, the country of New Zealand experienced an event that we here in the United States are sadly all too familiar with, a mass shooting.

I work for a small nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. Our staff meets weekly to discuss projects and regular work business. Recently, the topic of ways of improving moral was introduced to the group. This topic produced several odd stares and strange facial expressions. Here’s a bit of background about my office. It is filled with some of the most amazing and diverse colleagues where you often hear gut-busting laughter erupting throughout the day. Hearing this expression of relief is often a blessing when I am rigidly fixated on assembling the pieces for upcoming events. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to smile!

But this shooting, though having occurred more than halfway around the world from the somewhat safe “bubble” here in Portland, sent a violent shockwave through an already troubled continuum. So as we went around the table, each colleague sounding off about the usual and sometimes mundane occurrences, one colleague who is often soft-spoken, shared her current state of mind. As Richa (pronounced Ree-cha) began to speak, she paused as if she was going to change her mind and refrain from saying anything, but she pressed on and began to tear up as she did. We were captivated and seriously concerned as we intensely listened on. Our colleague shared how the shooting made her feel. She professed, though she isn’t Muslim, being of Nepali heritage confuses people and has made her grieve alongside the Muslim community for their, our, global loss. She shared that even if people don’t feel that they are members of a targeted group, we should all be grieving together in solidarity and it often seems that we are too numb to do this.

As a nation, we have become complacent in our reactions, and most certainly our actions when it comes to gun violence. So often do we point a finger at mental illness as the cause for these misdeeds, but in my most global opinion, the true root cause of all of these actions is the fear of difference and of loss. Meaning, we in our American culture are afraid of those who aren’t like us and are afraid that they (People of Color, LGBTQI+, and even Women) have more of what we want than what we actually have. I would also include religion in this category too, but only because worshippers have been victims too; specifically speaking of the Jewish community and the holocaust. In contrast, fear-based radicalism or extremism has been founded by acts of violence; think 9/11 or the bombing of abortion clinics.

Fear has morphed into a grotesquely obscure and violent entity without shape or form yet having one common outcome, the death of the innocent. We have normalized mass shootings and practically all hate- based crimes in this country without real consequences to the perpetrator or groups responsible. Any attempt at corrective action or response is quickly countered by the more conservative folks, and most definitely organizations such as the National Rifle Association, say that it’s a person’s God given right to……(you can fill in the blank). Let’s also not forget the “sacred” doctrines of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that are quickly thrust in our faces when there is mention of gun control. These documents are, and were, designed for the protection and benefit of white people and by white men to remain in control.

My colleague made a valid point in her observation about how we co-workers are frequently caught up in our own projects and are often unaware of how life and its impacts have an affect on each of us. You may say, that feelings are private matters.There is some truth in that, however, when the feelings cross from private to the public realm of the workplace, it is our responsibility to do a pulse check. A pulse check is a way to check in with a colleague on their wellbeing. As I’ve previously mentioned, my work environment is comprised of a small crew. If there is a kink in the chain, it can force you to get it fixed before things get worse. We all respond and react to tragedy differently. Some people choose to advocate for change by working with local/state officials to enact change, others bring their concerns to the streets in protest, and a few of us use our voices in written form to create dialogue and provide food for thought. When I heard of the attack, I thought of my friends in New Zealand and hoped that they were safe. Since this attack occurred at several mosques and the fact that my friends are not Muslim, I was almost certain they were spared any harm. This was later confirmed through Facebook in a “Marked Safe” post. Once seeing their posts, my attentions quickly shifted to something else and life went on.

In my opinion, having conversations create an environment where we (co-workers) can easily and safely assert ourselves to provide some emotional support to one another by simply checking in. This act of empathy may not be able to stop the feelings of sorrow and remorse in the event of tragic loss, but it does and can establish compassion and kindness for a fellow human being when it appears sometimes that no one else cares. We all should want our working relationships to be healthy where we are able to thrive and grow in synergistic harmony. The consequence for allowing a colleague to suffer emotionally is that their work too will suffer. Leaving other colleagues to pick up extra tasks to keep the workflow moving, and in our office this could only contribute to the problem.

On April 9, the New Zealand parliament voted 119 to 1 banning most assault rifles. This announcement by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern was quickly shared across the globe. In less than a month, the New Zealand government and its people have managed to do something for the collective good of a nation; this action was a befitting honor to the slain members of Muslim community, but also taking additional steps to prevent any future incursions by assault rifles from happening again. Yes, I know that violence can happen in any form when hate is strong enough, but building in barriers to protect all citizens was the right and just thing to do.

So why can’t something like this happen here in the United States of America? I have already alluded to a few reasons. But additionally, policies and self-interest groups also prevent change from happening. I also feel that our greatest hurdle for unity in this country lies in our individuality. We as Americans have been raised with the need to be number “One” in all that we do. So much of our culture has been founded in terms of “I”, rather than the collective “we” so that everything outside the scope of our periphery, is less important to me.

So, the next time a tragedy happens in our world, and it likely will, I promise to take a minute to do a pulse check. Try it. It will mean more than you realize!

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Isn’t it time to for US to make a change for our greater good?

A Love Letter – Gurl, We Need to Talk

Dear Rose,

Back in 2000 when we first met you were a stunning beauty in my eyes and I was a confused and newly repatriated admirer moving here for love. I was scared to death of all the newness happening in my life and also because there weren’t a lot of people around you that looked like me. Eric asked me not to be too critical and that things would be alright. He was right, though it hasn’t been without its share of thorns along the way. You met Eric back in 1989 when he moved here from San Diego.

Over these past 18 years, you have become very popular. So many people now want to dine with you in your many favorite restaurants like Mother’s Bistro, and shop in the trendy shops on Northwest 23rd Avenue like William Sonoma to gain your favor. I’m not the jealous type but let’s face it, you have really grown. You’re catching up to your sister in the Evergreen State and your cousin in the Golden State by the bay. You have really blossomed. One downside to your popularity is the cost to your longtime friends. Many of those friends think you’re just too high priced to hang around. You know the friends I’m talking about, people of color, people with disabilities, lower income households, and immigrants. I’ve even heard someone call you racist!

I can’t blame you entirely for everything, but would point at the people that have been providing you advice. For example, allowing people to campout on sidewalks and storefronts? You have a big heart and it’s becoming bad for businesses. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but have you seen your roadways lately? Between the potholes (like the one that dented my rim and busted my hubcap on NE 82nd heading the airport), traffic, and garbage flowing from the hillside encampments, it’s not a pretty site! I’m no expert, but adding a bond measure for property owners to finance everything isn’t the answer. It’s taxing!

You might be stretching yourself to thin too. Have you looked in a mirror? I don’t see crow’s feet when I look at you, I see cranes! Within the past week, several well-known eateries such as the Original Taco House on Southeast Powell, Chinatown’s House of Louie, and a close-to-home favorite, the Overlook Restaurant have closed or will soon close. I fear what will become of these spaces. We don’t need another monolithic Yard building looming overhead casting its constant architectural shadow. I understand time marches on, but these changes are happening too fast. Good thing Minor White captured your image from the earlier days for us to remember.

I love you Rose and as your friend, I can’t see myself being anywhere else. I’m writing out of concern for your wellbeing. I just don’t want you to lose sight of what makes you special. Once that’s gone, nothing that can be done to reverse the damage to our relationship.

Affectionately yours,

Heartache, Heartbreak, and Healing

This is a red drawn heart border in black that is torn 3/4 through the middle and has an adhesive bandage diagonally in the middle.
Assembly definitely required

I hate my heart. Not the physical blood-surging-life-giving muscle we all need to efficiently function, but the symbolic love-giving vessel that connects with our brains.

To my surprise, I have grown into a sensitive flower. When I open my heart to allow people in, they don’t realize how fragile it is. As we age, you would think that our mature hearts would become more rigid and be able to withstand the pain and shock of deception, betrayal, and abandonment. For me, that’s just not the case. In fact as I’ve aged, my heart has made me more emotionally susceptible to the world around me. Those sappy teary-eyed love songs and advertising jingles even pull on my heartstrings. I won’t say that I have a problem, but when a certain television commercial airs that encourages the liberation of Fluffy and Fido from captivity, I quickly change channel to avoid feeling that emotional tug on my heart and financial tug on my wallet.

In our youth, we lack the experience and comprehension to truly understand our emotions. Even in our adulthood, as we learn to love, we truly don’t understand the depth of our feelings. As a young teen living in Hawaii, I didn’t allow anyone to really get to know me because I was afraid of getting hurt. So I played a tough guy on the outside to keep the bullies at bay. Ironically, this is what made me a target. Kids would intentionally do things to prompt me into action. I found myself involved in fights at school for the smallest of offenses. For example, as we cued up for lunch in the cafeteria and if someone pushed me from behind, I would immediately turn around and slug who I believed was the jerk who initiated that pushing; whether the act was one of intention or accident. Luckily, I grew out of that phase and blossomed into the kind-hearted and loving person I am today…provided that I’m well fed!

I am truly a people person. Eric, my partner jokingly and affectionately calls me a social whore! About two years ago I befriended a young man of color who was new to the area. I was excited to have the opportunity of showing him around town. We clicked and became instant friends. I introduced him to Eric and our extended friendship circle (the Posse). Living here in the Great “White” Pacific Northwest can be a challenge when there aren’t a lot of faces that look like your own. Portland, Oregon may be known worldwide for its food scene, but its lack of diversity also gets its share of press. In a 2017 article in the Oregonian, Blacks represented 2.8 percent of 2.4 million people living in the seven-county metro region. Many POC (people of color) arriving to the city have regularly expressed feeling unwelcome and leave shortly after their arrival. I didn’t want this to happen with my new friend. My partner and I opened our home to him for holidays and birthday celebrations. We learned that our friend was also an only child, and that his mother died from a heart attack during his young adulthood; she was the anchor of the home and did everything for him (including cleaning his room). The father, we were told, was often away from home on business leaving mother and son to fill the void with distractions from his absence.

So not so long ago, this friend became distant and wouldn’t respond to invites and text messages. When there was a text exchange, it was usually a random response that never addressed the previous inquiry. I tried to find out what was going on him, but those lips remained tightly shut. At social events where he and I would be present, the avoidance was blatant and intentional, even catching the attention of mutual acquaintances. I had so many questions: Why was I being ghosted? or Was he jealous? Does this explain the “dissed”-connect my partner and I experienced with our friendship? Not likely. My heart ached from the not knowing, but I had to accept that fact that the fun and laughs of this friendship was now over.

I’ve since reached out to this friend but there was no response. I am at peace.

This feeling isn’t unique only to friendships, but family can also contribute and even sustain the effects of a broken heart. You see with family, there is life history; the good, the bad, and the ugly. A history sometimes filled with acts of blame, half-truths, and denial of any personal responsibility that prevents the heart from healing. This leaves all family members feeling exhausted, cautious about moving forward for fear of reopening old wounds. This too causes me heartache. There’s no real cure for this affliction other than a continued effort to move forward. I think it was Rose Kennedy who said that time heals all wounds? It’s hard (for me) to let go when there has been an investment in any relationship.

I blame my mother for my over sensitivity issues.  Not my biological mother, though there may be some connection there too. I really blame Mother Nature. Apparently as men age, we can become more sensitive. I think that it has something to do with men’s bodies producing more estrogen and less testosterone as we get… dare I say it …older (gasp). All I can say is, I pray my pectorals aka “chesticals” remain perky throughout my state of maturity and don’t morph into “moobs” (man boobs). I plan on doing what I can to remain a mantique (older man, slightly banged up but still retains his value and charm)!

Well, for better or worse, through heartache and heartbreak, I will persevere! I just have to think twice about any new friendships and question those existing relationships when they become an emotional vortex! Hating my heart is really a pretty harsh statement, but when compassion and forgiveness are involved, the heart will definitely suffer from its share of bruising.