I’m not a traveler at heart. I’ve never really dreamed of going fantastic places or doing fantastic things. Well, I did, in a way, but my version of fantastic was always on a much smaller scale.
When I dreamed about a future life as an adult, I dreamed of being out from under the abuse of my father, away from the ridicule of my schoolmates, and somehow shed of my grotesque face and body.
I wanted to be somewhere else – anywhere else. And I wanted to be someone else – anyone else.
Fully aware of my homosexuality at a young age, and the cold embrace of loneliness of feeling utterly alone, my dreams involved safety, anonymity, and security. I dreamed of living alone – no one to abuse, taunt, shame, or hurt me in any way. I dreamed of a home I could maintain a sense of order and cleanliness. I dreamed of food on the table every night and enough money to pay bills and keep a roof over my head. Anything else seemed beyond me. Other states, let alone other countries, were places other people went. Broadway shows, new cars, vacations, restaurants, and anything non-essential were things other people had or could afford.
I thought a college education might be my ticket out of poverty and loneliness, but that fell through and I resigned myself to basement apartments, retail jobs, and wanting no more than enough to get by. I never allowed myself to wish for more, and just assumed this was my lot in life – to struggle.
While I blame no one, I had no guidance. No one to mentor or encourage me, to tell me I could do better, or ever would. I was a scared, lonely little boy who didn’t fit anywhere, know anything, or believe I was worth more than what little I had or could scrape by on. I never stood up for myself, or strived for bigger and better things. I just kind of…got by, quietly. And alone.
As I made friends, it only served to reinforce my feelings of inadequacy. They all had educations, careers, cars, families, relationships, money, goals, experience – maybe not all at the same time, but any one of those was more than I had. I don’t think it’s fair to say I was envious, although surely I was. I was more…saddened to think there was something so wrong with me that I didn’t deserve, or at least would never have, any of those things.
So here I am, on the cusp of turning 50 in a few short months, and I marvel at where I am and the life I have. To be sure, my life has not been a cake walk, and any (all?) of my successes have been tempered with awful genetics that have resulted in medical conditions that keep my grounded and humble. And, while it’s true that, because of those issues, I have developed a fear of traveling too far, for too long (what if I get sick? What if I need a hospital?) if I’m being totally honest, I don’t feel cheated out of more.
Yes, I wish I was healthy. I wish I didn’t have food issues, and I didn’t have to be in pain so much, or have to avoid so many things. I wish my guts worked right, and I had more energy and strength and could be more active. I wish I didn’t have to live with the fear of episodes ruining vacations and holidays and celebrations. I wish my body wasn’t so damn … broken.
BUT…somehow, before all of that medical nonsense hit, I began to look above my station in life and started striving for more. I went on interviews, I took exams, I researched tuition assistance, I talked to people, and I took opportunities as they opened up, even if they weren’t the opportunities I wanted. I went where those opportunities took me, and I made what I could out of my personal life to compensate for the lack of love for my career. I was always grateful for a paycheck. Once I left home at 17, I always took care of myself and never relied on anyone to help me survive, although there were many generous people who offered a place to stay, a warm meal, and a ride when needed, along the way. So any job I worked was good enough for me and I was grateful to have it.
Then I met Jeffrey, which changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. I suddenly had a life partner – someone on my side and in my corner. Someone who supported me, encouraged me, and convinced me I wasn’t worthless or stupid or ugly. He made me feel loved unconditionally, and stood by my side every step of the way, through debt, and doubt, and daunting medical issues. He made me realize I wasn’t alone anymore. And because of him, I found the strength and will and drive to better myself and my life. I interviewed for jobs I never thought I’d get. I tried things I never thought I’d be brave enough to try and went places I’d never have gone on my own. He opened my world to new possibilities, places and things, and he did it all by just promising me to be by my side through it all. (And he has.) everything we have, we built together. There is no mine or his. There is only ours. Not because it had to be that way. Just because it is, and that works for us.
The career path I ultimately chose was a practical one: it came with good (entry level) pay, amazing benefits, union protections, time off with pay, opportunities to advance, and (mostly) compassionate co-workers and supervisors, all allowing me to keep my job even after I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (and then a multitude of other crap) and began my medical decline journey, in and out of hospitals, and home for long periods of recovery. I always strived to do my job to the best of my ability as much as I could and never took time off that wasn’t for medical reasons. I never took a vacation or personal day. All of my time was saved for medical care. And I worked through many days of cramps and gut pain when I could manage it, because I knew there would be days when I couldn’t. And I managed to impress enough people that I promoted over and over again until I found myself here, in management, at the end of my career journey, looking at retirement in a few short years. To be honest, I hate my job, but I endure it, because it has provided for me and my family and allowed me to have food, clothes, a home, a car, medical care, vacations, pets, specialized gluten free foods and protein drinks, clothes, shoes, and even indulge my lifelong collecting habits over the years. Although it seems to grow harder every day, it also grows shorter every day and I keep my eyes on the prize.
I have a life I never even dared to dream of. A home beyond anything I ever imagined, a marriage stronger and more nurturing than I ever thought possible. I have been to places and events I never thought I would. No, our life is neither fancy nor luxurious, although I guess everything depends on your perspective. We live within our means, and we do try to keep ourselves in check. But we certainly have and do things many people can’t, and I still have a hard time believing I can. You can take the boy out of the poverty and struggle….
What’s the point to all my rambling? I’m not sure. It’s Sunday night and I have the pre-Monday morning blues. I’m in the throes of yet another gut episode and I’ve begun to worry, as they get more frequent and last longer, that maybe there’s another big surgery in my future. And that sucks. But while I’m having a poor me pity party for myself, I still can’t help feeling fortunate that I’m on a comfy couch in my warm home in front of a fire, with a caring supportive husband at my side and two dogs that comfort me through my pain. I have the luxury of taking time off if I need to tomorrow, or whenever, without fear of losing my job. If the worst happens, I can go to the hospital without worrying how we will pay for the medical treatment. Although I can’t eat the foods I want, I can afford to get anything I can eat without taxing our budget. And I know, in five years, I will no longer have to worry about working another day through pain. I also enjoy job security and working from home through a worldwide pandemic, never losing a days pay, and will be able to enjoy everything we did before it hit (health and body willing) once it’s all over, because we have not been hurt financially by this pandemic – not one bit.
And I know how very fortunate I am to be able to say all that.
So when I ponder where I want to go and what I want to do when this is “all over” or when I discuss my dreams of places I want to go and things I want to do in life, I often grow quiet. Because the truth is, I already have more than I ever allowed myself to believe I could, and more than I ever allowed myself to dream I would. It may not be anybody else’s dream life…
…but it sure is mine.
Thanks for letting me ramble.