Gun Shots in the Woods

 

The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.

 

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I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973

I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.

As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.

Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

We had a pleasant enough first few days:  hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.

My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.

Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.

With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”

My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”

We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.

Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”

This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.

“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”

My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.

When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.

My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”

He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.

“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”

We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.

They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.

The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.

Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.

 

Alternative fact:  A different version of the story . . .

This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)

Breakfast included each day

Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner) 

Lunch:  Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

3 People (extra bed in the room) – 840€

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

The Most Frightening Experience of My Life

Our memory is a powerful tool that assists in our pursuit of happiness; preventing accidents, mistakes and reminding us daily, that we are human. Memory can also be a rehashing of the most horrendous experience of our lives, relentlessly replayed, over and over again.

It was 1:15 a.m. and I was standing at a bus stop in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I was 17 years old, naive and immature. I had just come from my first disco roller skating party.  Happy and dreaming about my future as I waited for the bus. I had been longing for freedom and finally had it. I was living on my own and earning money and I could do just about anything I wanted. I had signed a month-to-month lease in a single occupant border house near Brooklyn College and I was struggling through my first semester. That night, the disco party I attended was everything I hoped it would be.

Standing by myself, I reflected upon what I had experienced at the rink. I met new people — possibly new friends, and I skated, I laughed and I had a blast. Waiting for the bus was routine; I must have done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times before; however, never at that hour. So there I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and before I knew it, it was 2:15 a.m. I was aware that buses do not run as frequently in the late evening; however, I assumed they ran all night. I was beginning to think that I might have to walk home — I was about 3 miles away. It was right about that time that a car pulled up to the bus stop. A guy got out of the car and asked me if I was waiting for the bus. For a second I thought that it might have been someone I had met that evening and that perhaps he was going to offer me a ride. Unfortunately, that is how my mind works. As he moved closer to me, I told him that I had been waiting for the bus for a long time. Don’t ask me the color, make or model of the car, that I cannot tell you.

The next part happened very quickly and years later, the details are still fuzzy. The guy who had gotten out of the car, continued walking toward me.  I recall seeing two or three of them, all around 18 to 20 years old, getting out of the car as the first guy approached me. The guy almost in front of me, turned and yelled something to his buddies and I knew I was in trouble, in fact, I feared for my life; it was a feeling in my gut that I cannot explain. I turned and started running as fast I could. I looked back and noticed the guys started to disperse in different directions; I knew they would try to cut me off. I turned back around to see where I was going and I was met with a fist to my face. I started yelling, “Help, please help me.” One of the guys put his hand over my mouth and they all started grabbing my arms and legs. I thought that they were going to try to carry me to the car, so I began kicking and flailing my arms. I was somehow able to break free and I once again started running for my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming down Coney Island Avenue; I ran out in front of the car waving it down. The car stopped and I had a brief moment of relief.

I shouted, “That group of guys is trying to kill me,” pointing behind me.

The next part was truly frightening and I still feel the intense fear I felt over 40 years ago. The car doors opened, another group of guys got out of the car and then they were all chasing me. It only took seconds for them to catch me and what I felt and heard is as clear today as if I’d heard it yesterday.

“Fucking faggot.”

“Grab his watch.”

“Make him bleed.”

“Mess him up and teach him a lesson.”

Other instructions and comments were shouted out and I’m not sure how much time went by, but sometime later . . .

“Okay, okay, I think that’s enough, leave him alone.”

I didn’t see the guy who said it, but I was grateful that one of these barbarians had an ounce of compassion.

In a second they were gone and the quiet on the streets of Brooklyn was deafening. I recall the concrete under my face being warm, the street lights were blinding, and I had no idea where I was. I put my hand in my back pocket and my wallet was still there; I remember thinking that was odd. I could also feel my gold cross was still around my neck. Blood was dripping from my forehead and every part of me ached. All I wanted to do was sleep. I’m not sure how long I lied on the curb before hearing a voice and feeling a hand grab my arm.

“Are you okay?” It was a foreigners voice; Syrian or Pakistani, definitely Middle Eastern.

I told the stranger that I was badly hurt and needed to get home. The exchange we had is not completely clear in my memory, but I do recall that he insisted that I go to a hospital. He said that we were not far from Coney Island Hospital and that he would take me. I told him that I was beaten and robbed and that they’d probably taken my cash (I’ve never kept my cash in my wallet). He didn’t seem to care about money. To this day I am not sure if he was a car service driver or a citizen who was driving by, saw me lying on the curb, and pulled over. The irony still haunts me; horrific violence and extreme kindness, minutes apart.

I’m not a religious person, but I recall making a deal with God that night as this stranger drove me to hospital, if I made it out, I would never put myself in a dangerous situation again. The man who drove me said very little. At one point he hit a pothole and apologized several times; such compassion.

We were met at the emergency room entrance by an orderly. The driver quickly shared how he’d found me, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I hope you’ll be okay.” A gurney was wheeled outside and I was helped onto it. I was in a lot of pain and bleeding and I just wanted to sleep. I’m pretty certain that I was left in a hallway in the triage area. There was a lot of screaming and crying and I faded in and out of sleep. Occasionally, a nurse would come by to take my vitals and to ask me how I was doing. Time passed very slowly. I remember thinking that I probably wasn’t dying — I assumed they would have taken care of me right away if I was; at least that is what I had seen in the movies. It must have been six or seven in the morning before I finally saw a doctor. He said that I was badly bruised and that the cut on my head was superficial. He told me to put ice on my head and ribs and he gave me some Tylenol to take. Our interaction was brief. It occurred to me that I never spoke to the police that night. An orderly asked me if I wanted to call someone to come and get me.

I remember thinking, who do I want to see right now. It was my mom of course. When a child gets into trouble, who does he usually turn to. I was in trouble and naturally I was blaming myself — and I was my mother’s child. Why was I out in the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t I putting myself in Danger? Didn’t I know better? Was I asking for it? I knew my mom wouldn’t blame me; she’d hold me and let me cry. But alas, she was living in North Carolina with my stepfather and several of my siblings. I had no choice but to call my father. My dad did not usually go to bed until after midnight because he worked late. I knew I was going to have to wake him and I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me. My dad viewed any kind of illness or pain as a weakness; a character flaw. He expected his kids to be strong; the boys didn’t cry and the girls did not whine. I was not a tough teenager, but in front of my father I always appeared confident; a mask I wore for him for many years. I called his home number and he picked up on the third ring.

“What,” is how he answered the phone.

I said, “Dad, it’s Chris.”

“Chris, is everything all right?”

I told him what happened to me, showing no emotion, as if reading from an encyclopedia. He almost let me finish, but he couldn’t help himself and said,

“What the hell were you doing out at 2:30 in the morning?”

I asked my dad if he’d come to get me and he said he’d be there as soon as he could. We both hung up and I sobbed until he got to hospital. The reality of what could have happened on the streets of Brooklyn hit me hard that morning. Had that one guy (probably the leader) not told them to stop beating me, I probably would have been bashed to death.

Two things that stand out for me about that horrible experience:  First, when my dad arrived and saw how badly I had been beaten, he held me while and cried, and second, I’m was not certain of the boys’ motive for beating me and I was left with many questions:  Were they a gang and I just happened to be a warm body they could victimize? Were they out looking for gays to bash and was I hiding my sexuality well enough? Was this an idea one of the boys had and the rest played along with it? Was it just a random act? What came over the one boy who asked the rest to leave me alone?

The biggest question that I have asked myself far too many times, is how has this impacted my life? Have I been blaming myself for this act of violence my entire life and what does this say about my own self-esteem? I’m a fairly guarded individual, is this the reason why? Is this the reason I am against violence of any kind? What kind of adult might I have been had this not happened to me? I’ve also been trying to pay my debt to the stranger who stopped, my entire adult life (no regrets).

The mysteries of this memory will never leave me and what lingers is this:  there is very little in this world I fear and I refuse to spend my life looking over my shoulder.

My heart and respect goes out to Christine Blasey Ford. Your bravery and duty to country, fucking blew me away.

 

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Photo by Michael Foster on Pexels.com

I Was Taught to Keep it All Inside

I’ve been on an honesty kick for a long time and it doesn’t always work for me.

 

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Up against a wall

 

You hear a lot about gay people “coming out” these days. There are many incredible stories; each is unique and compelling. Mine is no different — act straight, marry, keep it from the boss, tell your sister first; she of course tells you she already knew and so it goes. What you don’t hear is that when you’re gay, you don’t only come out once, you come out again and again . . . and again.

Allow me to explain. I’m at a fundraiser sitting at a table with eight strangers. They have no idea who I am, where I am from, and what I do for a living — let alone know about my sexual orientation. To be polite, we all make small talk. If I bring a female friend, she is automatically my wife. I am not being critical mind you, it’s a reasonable assumption. So one of the first comments is, “So how long have you two been together?” or “Do you have any children?” I’m wondering to myself whether or not to tell the truth. If I stay silent or play along with the charade, am I doing a disservice to all gays and lesbians? We fought long and hard to be out and proud; if I stay silent, I am complicit?

When I am honest with people I sometimes get these reactions:

“You don’t look gay.”

“I had no idea.”

“But you act so straight!” (Having worked so hard at acting straight in my teens and 20’s, this is my personal favorite.)

“If you were married to a woman, you must be bisexual.”

“Are you the man or the woman in a relationship?”

I have learned over the years that people can say some fairly stupid and insensitive things without intentionally meaning to offend. I either nervously chuckle or ignore the comment. Either reaction is not very honest, is it? What I would like to say is, “Now that your made your bias clear, tell me what you really think about gay people?”

Let’s put it out there, have some dialogue. But, I don’t say what I’m thinking, I keep my mouth shut, remain silent and hope that the moment passes quickly. I do this because it’s what I was taught to do since I was old enough to comprehend life lessons. Adults teach children to keep the truth inside:

  • to spare the hurt feelings of others
  • to keep them out of trouble
  • to keep them safe
  • to keep children from sharing the truth about their parent’s lives (i.e., what happens in this family, stays with this family)
  • it’s the “norm;” that’s how we’ve always done it

I hid the truth until I was 28 years old; up until that point I worked hard to hide who I was from myself and everyone else.

Being honest, telling the truth, telling the whole truth, speaking your mind, sharing secrets, whistle blowing, and so on. They’re not the same things are they? Everyone seems to define “truth” differently these days. So when someone tells you that they are telling the truth, what exactly does that mean?

 

The Truth Can be Painful and Consequences Can be Real

Having made a conscious effort to be honest has been fairly difficult at times. People say that they want to hear the truth when in fact, they cannot handle the truth. I acknowledge that my truth may not be someone else’s truth — for example, politics:  I may believe that our current administration is corrupt and dangerous and others might believe that it’s the best leadership we’ve had in a long time. This is a difficult debate because one will argue the facts which are fairly skewed these days, depending on the reporting. This kind of truth aside, deciding to share the truth with someone can put both parties in a difficult position. The truth can do irreparable damage and that is something you may have to live with. I don’t believe examples are necessary since most people have experienced what I am referring to.

Many of us make a conscious decision to keep the truth to ourselves in order to keep the peace.  The problem with this decision is that individuals who need to be told they have an alcohol problem, or that they are being psychologically abused or that their severe weight problem is killing them, will continue to talk themselves into a lie. I have a friend who told me that her doctor told her that it is better for her to smoke cigarettes because if she quits she might have a nervous breakdown. She’s told herself this lie so many times, she actually believes that it’s true.

 

Coming to Terms with the Truth you Tell Yourself

A few years ago I found myself in a toxic work environment. Telling ourselves we are no longer happy at work; I believe it is one of the most common truths we may have to tell ourselves. It’s very easy to become comfortable and feel safe in a toxic environment; after all, it’s all you know and the alternative might be too frightening to face.

Once you are able and willing to be honest with yourself about your career or work environment, change needs to happen and the old adage that “change is good” will prove true once again.

There are many truths we keep from ourselves:  failing health, toxic relationships, financial ruin, alcohol or drug abuse, missed opportunities, why having an affair is hurting many people, etc. Facing any and all of these life issues can be challenging; however, failure to do so will only mean future problems that may end up being insurmountable.

 

My Future and How I Intend to Deal with Truth

One of the reasons for moving overseas was to find truth. Life for me was becoming mundane and way too simple; I was choosing the path of least resistance nearly every time. I’m not referring to seeking the truth about our existence, what I’m trying to find is my on truth:  who am I, what am I looking for, and how do I find it?

I am aware that these are big questions and finding the answers is a lifelong journey. I believe the answers lie in self-reflection, self-assessment and shaking things up. Looking in the mirror can be difficult. If you look hard enough, you might see the truth. So many are reluctant to look because they’re afraid of what they might find. I’m not so much afraid as I am concerned. I’m concerned that I will not be able to change what I don’t like. For example, I learned awhile back that I can be unfairly critical. I can hold people to a standard that is unrealistic and unfair. I don’t like this one bit. The question is, can I change it? I’m not sure that I can, but I have made a commitment to try.

Other lies I tell myself:

  • One more cocktail won’t hurt you
  • You can leave your bicycle helmet home this one time
  • It’s better not to put yourself out there because men are all slime buckets
  • Trump will definitely be impeached
  • You don’t have to cover your head from the sun
  • You can eat whatever you want and work it off

Being open about these lies is a good first step; it’s time to face them. My friends and family tell me I’m too hard on myself. I believe it’s an easy out — I don’t want to face my shit so I’d prefer you didn’t face yours. I’ll have none of that:  “the truth shall set me free” (to paraphrase the bible and that may be a first for me).

 

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Tattoo on my forearm is the Chinese word for TRUTH. I had the word tattooed in this location as a constant reminder.

 

 

Disclaimer:  You may find that I repeat myself in a blog by sharing something I have previously shared. I must admit that I do not reread previously published blogs. If I re-introduce a story or topic, it is because I believe it is worth mentioning again. The way I see it, there will only be a problem if my story changes.

 

Friendship and What it Means to be a Friend

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:

  • Friendship with a life partner
  • A close friend
  • A sibling who is also a friend
  • Your parent as friend (I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
  • A co-worker who is a friend

My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.

To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances (see 2.2 below):

acquaintance
əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/
noun
  1. 1.
    knowledge or experience of something.
    “the pupils had little acquaintance with the language”
    synonyms: familiarity, conversance, conversancy, contact, acquaintanceship; More

  2. 2.
    a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.
    “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances”
    synonyms: contactassociateconnectionallycolleague;

    confrère
    “Mr Barnet was no more than a business acquaintance”

I am certain you all have many acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be in big trouble and extremely disappointed.

 

Friendship with a Life Partner

This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.

Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful beliefs about your partner.

Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.

Keep in mind that if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.

 

A Close Friend

Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.

We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.

I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.

Caution:  Be careful to make sure that  sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.

Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.

 

A Sibling

Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were.

A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing.

 

Your Parent as Friend

It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.

Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile,

“Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”

She was a smart lady, my mom.

Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They want your friendship and they deserve it.

“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”

Rebecca Hall

 

A Co-Worker who is a Friend

This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.

Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.

There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.

 

Separation from a Friend

As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you.

Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.

For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.

 

Politics

I could do an entire blog on friendship and today’s political climate, but if I were to dwell on the topic for more than a few minutes, I’d have to make myself a double.

When Trump was elected president, I was angry, upset, terrified, and disappointed, and I still am. I let family members know how I felt and some of them said a version of this:

“Family always comes first and you should never let politics come between you and family.”

And that’s where we disagree.  If I know for a fact that you hated Obama as president because he is African-American, and that you consequently voted for a conservative man because he was going to undo everything the last administration did or that you don’t believe a woman can hold our highest office, then I do not want to be your friend and it is has undoubtedly come between us. Does that mean that I love immigrants and medicare recipients more than I love my family and friends? It does not; however, what it does mean is that I love my fellow human being and when I think about the one percent wealthiest Americans, the biased, the racist and the greed of some politicians, I am always going to be sympathetic to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the unemployed, the drug addict, and the LGBT community (not an exhaustive list).

Acknowledging the doors that were opened for you or the opportunities you have had that others have not had, will help you to be a more empathetic and giving person.

If family know how I feel and still want me in their lives, well then they’re stuck with me.

 

Reconnecting

Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course:  1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?

People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways.

I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.

 

“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”      

Ben Franklin 

 

“The best mirror is an old friend.”     

George Herbert 

 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”     

Thomas Aquinas

Do you have a story to tell or would you like to share some advice? Please add your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you.

 

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Why Portugal, Why the Algarve, & Why Faro

 

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Magnificent architecture in Faro:  Moorish, Roman & Gothic throughout the city.

When you make a big and unexpected decision in your life, people are curious about why you went in a particular direction; it’s a reasonable curiosity. I’ve spent a bit of time on why I moved to Portugal in previous blogs; however, I thought since I am frequently asked this question, I would answer it thoroughly.

One of the most important things I learned throughout my career is to question “why” before you do anything. You want to start a business? Why? You want to get married? Why? You want to move overseas? Why? Asking this important question and answering it thoroughly and honestly, will help to insure that you are doing whatever you are doing for the right reasons — well most of the time.

So when I started to feel that U.S. politics were the cause of a good deal of my anxiety, I asked myself why I was wallowing in pity rather than working to change my situation. I had done some letter writing and personal campaigning for Hilary and then of course, I blamed myself for not doing enough. After a lot of soul-searching, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just that Hilary lost the election, it is the direction politics in general is going in, in the States. I’m not going to do a deep dive into politics; however, the big issues for me are gun control, healthcare, taxation, greed in Washington, and the negative perception Americans have of democratic socialism, www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism. The conclusion that I came to was that I had to move to a country where the values of the government and the people more closely matched my own. In other words, why stay in a country where values will not be changing anytime soon.

Some “Why” Questions:

  1. Why am I leaning in this direction?
  2. Why is now the right time?
  3. Why is my heart telling me to do this?
  4. Why am I struggling with this decision?
  5. Why not?
  6. Why am I questioning the status quo?

 

Why Overseas?

Politics in the U.S. has become more conservative over the past few years. Some say it happens whenever you have a power base in office that leans in a particular direction (surprise, I lean left), the majority will tend to swing in the opposite direction the next election — that certainly is what happened in November 2016. This is likely to occur in any democratic society; however, in many European countries liberal policies and attitudes have a strong foundation, therefore, the bar is set higher.

The other reason I decided to move overseas is that I have never resided outside of the United States. I tend to agree with those who believe that life is not a dress rehearsal; this was an opportunity I may not have had again.

 

Why Portugal?

I have considered many other countries over the past few years. At one point I was certain I’d end up in Concon, Chile. I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the coast and the lifestyle. Well then they had a big earthquake and read that there would be others. Sure enough, a short time later they were hit with a second large earthquake. I thought I had tempted fate far too many times to buy a condo in a high-rise there. I’ve thought about Italy because it is my father’s birthplace. I love visiting Italy; however, the instability of Italy’s government and economy concerns me. The Caribbean is too humid and has those pesky, life-threatening hurricanes; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark make it very difficult to reside there; and frankly other places were too expensive or too risky.

I had read a good deal about Portugal and decided to check it out. I’ve been told that it is dangerous to decide on relocating to a place having only visited once. Knowing that some advice is sound advice, I decided to do my homework. I read articles about retiring in Portugal, I joined a couple of expat groups on Facebook, I had several conversations with individuals who have made the move, and I returned to spend more time here.

 

Why Faro?

Most expats who decide to live in the Algarve DO NOT choose Faro. I discovered on several trips prior to moving to Faro that there are expat communities in many towns all along the coast; however, most people see Faro as a place to land or switch trains. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, so I hope no one takes it that way:  I did not want to be in the center of a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, tourists visit Faro; however, compared to other towns in the Algarve, Faro is not overrun. In fact, there are very few Americans in Faro.

The following are some of the wonderful things that drew me to this beautiful city:

Culture — music (Fado), theatre, festivals, food, ceramic tiles, history and art.

Portuguese — A majority of the people living in Faro are Portuguese or immigrants from struggling countries. I recently learned that when the European Union decided how many migrants each country should take based on their population, Portugal said, “We’ll take double that number.”

Faro is not as much a tourist city as say Lisbon, Porto or other parts of the Algarve. I’m happy about that.

Restaurants — I can find traditional Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Indian and several other ethnic foods and the quality and value is outstanding.

The Market (Mercado Municipal) — in a huge open space (indoor) close to my apartment, it is probably the gift I will never take for granted.

Walking city — I can walk to just about every place I need to go.

Access to everywhere else — Faro is the capital of the Algarve; therefore, the airport, trains, buses, and highways, can get you just about everywhere and quickly.

Architecture — Preserved, historic, eclectic, and beautiful. Everything is understated.

Government offices — all of the Portuguese government offices I need to deal with are here in Faro.

What more can I ask of a city?

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Catholic Cathedral in Old Town — a short walk from my apartment and where the outdoor market is on Sundays (stock photo)

 

I took these photos when I was walking to the ferry yesterday — beside Faro Castle. This is Old Town, Faro and it dates back centuries. It’s a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I come here often to read, walk and eat. Some of the remains are from the 9th century.

And by the way . . . that blue sky is real (no touching up or color added). There is no smog to speak of here.

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.
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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

For the first time in my life, I am not thinking about what’s next. I’m going to enjoy the here and now and see where it takes me.

Às vezes não consigo deixar de pensar se escolhi Portugal ou Portugal me escolheu.

Translation:  Sometimes I can’t help wondering if I chose Portugal or Portugal chose me.

 

Coming to Terms With Aging

 

 

*See note below

 

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

When I made the decision to leave the States:  my friends, my family, and my home; I also made the decision to leave some baggage behind as well. I’m not ashamed to say I have baggage; I’m fairly certain that all adults have baggage and lots of it. Coming to terms with getting older and losing my youth, has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. As with so many other things I write about, I know others, many others, share my angst.

I decided awhile back, that rather than ignore the inner turmoil about aging, I would face those feelings head on. I challenged myself to look in the mirror when I didn’t want to, to tug on that sagging skin under my chin, to grab and hold onto my growing love handles; by doing this, I am fully embracing every imperfection. In truth, they are only imperfections because I identify them as such. I am learning that it is much healthier to just accept my aging body. To admire every line and to see the aches and brown spots as a reminder that I am alive. Not so easy this. Often I take two steps forward and three steps back. I know that it’s a process and I am determined to conquer this challenge. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

 

Men are from Mars . . .

I don’t think it is sexist or stereotyping to state that this aging gracefully challenge is greater for women and gay men. Western society places a great deal of pressure on these two groups to stay young; the goal is to remain desirable. You have an inner desire to walk into a room and be noticed. When this stops happening, and it stopped for me over 20 years ago, you begin to feel less than.

There are things I have done to convince myself that I am still young and vital. One of them is something many men do, gay or straight, and that is to buy a shiny new sports car. I’ve done this more than once and although it does actually help make you believe you are young and fetching, trust me, it doesn’t last. Another thing I have done is to shop and purchase clothing that is suited for a younger customer. I actually wore skinny jeans for a few months last year, a truth I am not proud to admit. Thank goodness I came to my senses by summer. Why didn’t anyone tell me that it was very wrong. I know that my friends and family members are reluctant to share their thoughts in fear of hurting my feelings or facing a defensive me — I assure you that I’d rather be gently slapped into a more appropriate conscious state.

 

When I Started Feeling the Effects of Aging

I’m getting very close to being 60, so it may be difficult to recall when I started to feel the effects of aging. I remember when my hair started thinning and receding in college, I became very concerned about baldness. Although, embracing baldness seems to more prevalent these days, clearly society and the media place a huge emphasis on a full head of hair. When a person is described as someone who is getting older and letting themselves go, “fat and bald” are usually adjectives used in that description. If you yourself are bald, that seems somewhat derogatory. Now I know there are women out there that will say that they find baldness in men attractive. I believe that to be true because woman are much less concerned with physical attractiveness and more concerned with character and other attributes — sorry for the generalization, but that’s been my experience (it’s what women tell me). And you gay men know what I’m talking about. Just go to a gay resort and you’ll see what I mean. Many men cover up their bald heads in shame or surround themselves with eye candy in order to feel better.

Then there is the “fat” part of that “fat and bald” description. We all know that it is more difficult to keep weight off when you’re older. You reach a point in your life when you could afford a nicer bottle of wine and a thick steak and then you find yourself having to cut back on these foods because they negatively affect your health; not just your appearance, but your overall health. I don’t have to tell you about heart attacks rates, stroke, diabetes and other weight related illnesses. At a certain age you begin to think about the future and your quality of life.

 

 

*See note below

 

Dating Sites

I hate dating sites and I refuse to revisit this painful way of meeting people. Not all, but many people on dating sites have no regard whatsoever for your feelings. They send you flattering emails and attractive photos with promises of meeting up for a cocktail and then, poof, they’re gone! You haven’t said or done anything at all to warrant such rude behavior and you’re left wondering if it was you. Why put yourself through that kind of torture. For those of you out there who have been successful . . . good on you!

Of course there is always the meeting someone at a club option; however, in my world, you have to stay awake until 1:00 a.m. and that is no longer even a possibility.

 

Slowing Down or Halting the Process

There are a number of people in my life who believe they have discovered the formula for keeping aging at bay. They take 23 supplements at various times of the day, they eat only fresh vegetables they themselves witnessed being plucked from the ground, no bread, no carbs, no meat, no alcohol, no life! And then of course it is essential that they share their secret with you and convince you that they know better . . . well the experts said so. I have always said that if I learned today that I would live five years longer if I never ate bread again, I would eat bread and die a happier fella. True, I am only 59 years old, if you share the same truth when I’m 80, my answer may be different.

 

Golden Hawn said it best:

“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?”

 

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Pria de Faro this week. I wouldn’t use this photo for a dating site (if I were to ever go on one again). My big nose, double chin, big bald head; show prominently.
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But I might use this one. The graininess makes it even artsier (like a Renoir).

*stock photos

When in Portugal . . .

How a Change in Routine, Can Lead to Greater Self-awareness

Yesterday I misplaced my wallet and today I spilled a cup of coffee; careless and frustrating. These are the things that happen when your daily routine changes and you’re not paying attention. There is danger in trying to recreate your old life in a new environment. It’s like trying to put up a tent when the wind is blowing at 50 mph; it just doesn’t work.

Portugal is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but it is not the United States. It’s land boundaries have not changed since the 13th century (Portugal has a fascinating history); that’s a lot of time to establish yourself. Still, in many ways, it feels like a young country.  I’m sure that has a great deal to do with independence, the European Union, difficult economic times, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, its size, and a host of other considerations.  It is the country I chose to reside in and now it is time embrace its riches.

I have noticed some things about the Portuguese culture that I love and admire (these are generalizations I’m willing to defend):

  • People are extremely quiet in restaurants. A crowded restaurant in the States is loud; very loud. It almost appears as if people are trying to be louder than the next table. The Portuguese people are aware of the volume of their voices and they are very considerate. I’ve also noticed that background music is just that, it’s in the background. Eating in restaurants is very pleasant.
  • Your neighbors are very private and do not try to get in your business. This was something I loved about New York City; however, I did not find it to be true in Maine, North Carolina or South Carolina.
  • Public festivals are very calm, clean and the people are happy to be there.
  • I have been noticing that older people (70 and up) are out and about and that many of them are impeccably dressed. Women wearing skirts and jackets and men in sports coats and often wearing a tie. Lots of smart hats and interesting walking sticks. I guess that I’m paying more attention to the older population as I approach 60 (rapidly).
  • People still use cash!
  • Patience seems to run rampant here.
  • Items are well-priced. I have not seen any price gouging; I don’t think the Portuguese would tolerate it.
  • Whenever you ask, “Fala Inglês? the Portuguese reply, “A little bit,” and then they often speak beautiful English and they are extremely helpful. Very gracious people.
  • The streets are clean wherever I go.
  • I was never exposed to Portuguese olive oil in the States; there are many varieties and it is as good here as it is in Italy and Spain.

The point is, I am adjusting to my new surroundings and I am falling in love with Faro. I have had to abandon some of my old practices and ways of thinking. If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I was going to spend the rest of my life in Maine. Funny how life is, you never, ever know where it’s going to take you. Still, we live our lives as if we know what the future will bring — strange that. I have a better understanding of what was meant (click for more info) by the old adage, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.”

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A food festival in Faro at a beautiful public park. I was struck by how calm it was despite the many people. The food was local, delicious and cheap! Note the tile on the ground — it’s everywhere!
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Beautiful architecture throughout Faro. I would have loved to have seen it in its heyday.

 

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Beautiful and quiet beach in Almancil. A bit of a walk to get there, but very much worth the effort. It’s a short bike and train ride away (20 minutes).

 

A day in the beautiful town of Loulé, where there is a whole lot more worth experiencing than IKEA and an outlet mall.