KIDS CHICKEN FINGERS. THREE VODKA SODAS.

Quick recap, in the last column I explained how I am a New Yorker in Delaware for the summer, happily engaged in a monogamous relationship with my new boyfriend – Rehoboth Beach.

It’s been a month and we are still gloriously happy together. Mornings we bike to Rise gym, to get our sweat on – or to sweat out the two or six spiked seltzers consumed during our afternoons at Poodle Beach. Nights we usually chill at home netflixing.

On the rare night out in town (ok, maybe not so rare), I have enjoyed Aqua, The Pines, Arenas, Diegos. Drag Bingo at the Moon was fun and I know the theme was “old lady” but the energy was too low for me. Drag Brunch at 251? Yes! I do love me a drag show. Brunch was OFF THE CHARTS fun. Performances were amaze: “Escapade,” “Part of Your World.” YES! The drinks were flowing, the food was – well, let’s just say I left hungry. Then again, who goes to drag brunch for the food?

As happy as my new BF and I are, it is time to get back out there. Riding out a pandemic, single, in NYC? We need a new word for celibacy.  As the country moves into new phases of opening up, it’s time for Robby to move into phase two. Hooking up! 

A major impediment to this hooking up is cockblock Covid. I am not great at the apps, even though I did set up a Scruff account my first week here. I’m old school. Go to a bar, meet someone, flirt, pick them up, take them home.  No muss no fuss. Covid has all but made that impossible. Stay at your table, no mingling, no socializing with strangers. F U COVID.

I haven’t even been able to use my new pick up line. “My name is Robert, I have the antibodies.” Yes, that is true. Back in February I was pretty sick for a weekend. Felt fluish, in bed for two days, unable to read a book or watch a movie. But it was only two days. The cough did linger for a week. I think I was exposed at a Super Bowl party. When my friend Mike and I are poolside here and I shout, “Don’t worry I have the antibodies,” he loves to counter it with, “The antibodies don’t last forever.” Buzzkill!

Back to the apps, as mentioned, not great on them. It’s hard for me to pull the trigger. I wind up telling people they’re hot and never meeting face-to-face. So, conundrum! Can’t pick up a stranger in a bar, can’t pick them up online. What is Robby to do? I’m youngish, not a troll, I should be hooking up. The other night a housemate knocked on my door asking to borrow lube. I didn’t even have any to give him. And not because I ran out. Because I have no reason to buy any. If that is not the saddest sentence I ever wrote.

Enough is enough. Time to get back on the horse. 

Leaving Poodle beach one afternoon, I decided to bike through town and walk around. Bought a book and decided I was thirsty and hungry. I sat in the Biergarten at Purple Parrot and discovered it’s their happy hour! My favorite hours! I ordered a drink and my bartender asked if I wanted food. I was craving chicken fingers (a Robby fave), so I asked for them and he said they aren’t on the menu but they have them. I then notice another bartender, very cute – well, cute with a mask on – mask cute. 

While the other bartender was taking care of me, “new hot bartender” asked how my day was. He was being nice, personable – a bartender. I, living in my own rom-com, wondered if this was flirting. Throughout my meal,  I needed to get some water so I went up to the bar and he asked me what I was reading. Do I need to go buy lube?

At the end of my meal, with some liquid courage, I felt like I might ask him his name as I asked for my check. “Which table are you at again?” he asked. I point to the table, he brings up my check. “Kid’s chicken fingers, three vodka sodas? Is this you?” 

Yep, that is me. Kid’s chicken fingers. Three vodka sodas. Good title for my memoir.

“Dude. Best check ever,” Hot Bartender laughed and smiled, “Have a good one.”

And with that, dude (me) and my antibodies paid the bill and biked home. No one is hooking up with kid’s chicken fingers. Hey Netflix, you ready for some Robby time tonight?

(this column was edited by Debbie Rech)

REHOBOTH BEACH. MY SUMMER BOYFRIEND.

Driving into Rehoboth Beach on July 15, I was bursting with excitement. There I was arriving in one of my favorite places, a place I have visited a few weekends a year for over 20 years. Actually in 2003, I lived here for the summer. I was teaching high school at the time, and spent my summer lifeguarding, teaching swimming lessons at the Y and bartending at the Renegade. But this time was different. Two months at the beach – a tiny escape from Covids unknown, present and future.

Riding out the Covid lockdown in my Brooklyn apartment from March through June was rough. NYC was a scary place to be. There’s no sugar coating it. I went days, weeks without leaving my apartment. Even as June began and things and bars and restaurants reopened, many friends were not ready to dine out. ‘Social’ life in NYC meant picnics in parks. Blankets, food, drinks, all while socially distancing. Many parks painted large white circles on the grass to show where everyone can sit safely.

Even with Covid still waging war on our country, life for me felt like night and day when I arrived in Rehoboth. Within 30 minutes of getting to the house in Canal Point where I rented a bedroom, I was sitting on Poodle Beach staring out into the glorious Atlantic. Unpacking could wait! Later that first day, I biked out to US1 and joined RISE gym, a massive two story complex that is unlike any gym I have ever been. That first night ended with dinner at Jam. Beach! Gym! Outdoor dining with the mandatory mask requirement! I am going to like it here. Strike that, love it.

The next day, as I was biking home from Poodle Beach, thinking how lucky I am to be here, an SUV driving down the street swerved into my lane. I instinctively pressed my brakes hard, too hard, causing me to flip over the handlebars. Would you believe the SUV driver didn’t even stop to see if I was ok?! Thankfully a few other drivers did and apart from some bad abrasions, bruises and a sprained right wrist, I wasn’t seriously hurt. How is that for a welcome to Rehoboth Beach! 

After taking the night to ice my wrist and get some rest, I woke up Friday ready for my first weekend! All of my friends here are still working from home full time, so once Friday evening comes around, game on! We spent the night sampling flavored crushes on the patio at Aqua Bar and Grill. I already see many of those in my future. Watermelon is my favorite… this week.

Saturday and Sunday afternoon were spent at a friend’s pool catching up with DC and Philly friends I haven’t seen in far too long. It was also spent playing rounds of pool beer Pong! Or, with us gays, pool White Claw Pong. I am happy to report that my teammate Noah and I are undefeated, and humble brag, I was throwing left handed because of the sprained wrist.

Sunday night my friends surprised me by taking me to see Pamela Stanley at The Pines. I have ended many a weekend here singing and dancing along with Pamela Stanley. I was excited to see her at her new venue. I did wonder if I would have fun this time around with the new guidelines restricting seating at your table and only your table. My fears were alleviated in the first few minutes as the sold out crowd cheered when Pamela entered the room. As the show continued and the drinks flowed my adoration for Pamela Stanley might have exceeded normal levels as I repeatedly shouted, “We love you Pam Stan.” My friends have jokingly told me Pam Stan has banned me from all future shows. They are joking, right?

The next day laying out hungover on Poodle Beach, eating a sandwich from Coho’s (my new favorite sandwich shop tied with Lori’s, my first favorite), I reflected on my first days here. It’s hard to put into words how grateful I feel to be healthy and financially stable enough to be in such a beautiful place spending time with friends and making new “friends.” I already have two beach crushes and two gym crushes, one more spot to be filled. Robert’s rule – one can only have five crushes. I am not a crush whore!  

Maybe I will just make Rehoboth my boyfriend this summer. Every day I wake up and decide where I am going to bike, what new restaurant or bar to try out. One night after a few White Claws, if you hear “I love you Rehoboth Beach” you know it’s Robby from Brooklyn 🙂 

PS PAM STAN, I STILL LOVE YOU, TOO.

(this column was originally published in the August 14, 2020 edition of LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH)

“THE THREE RITAS”

GUEST WRITER – VINCENT POMILIO

It’s June 2020, Gay Pride Month. While it’s beautiful outside, the Pandemic looms large. Still. Along with social unrest. 

I have lately been asked to write descriptions of what I have been working on during the lockdown.  I am a visual artist/painter and have used this time to create a new body of work for a couple of upcoming exhibitions.  I am often asked to write about my art and the process of making it but I have other stories to tell.   While cleaning out my studio, I unearthed many photos and paintings from years past, so a trip or two down memory lane was inevitable.  Having read a few coming out stories recently, I have begun to recall my own experiences of coming out.  Was there an official time and place?  Was it some eureka moment of self-revelation or was it a series of moments and events leading up to self-awareness, acceptance and need to tell those who are important in my life?

When was it really? There were moments spent with family that gave me some clues to my own feelings of otherness.  Moments that even as a young boy gave me reason to think I was different and life would be challenging from here on in.

Vincent, 2nd grade.

I think I was about ten years old.  I’m in my Aunt Rita’s kitchen in South Philly.  The three Ritas were there.  My father and two of his brothers married women named Rita. One brother married a Marie.  She was there too.  All of them larger than life Italian-American matriarchs.  All of them knockouts.  There was Bob’s Rita (my mother), John’s Rita, and Stanley’s Rita.  Whenever any of us talked of them we used these names: Bob’s Rita, John’s Rita and Stanley’s Rita.  Uncle Stan’s Rita was also referred to as Blonde Rita.  

Blonde Rita. 1997.

Blonde Rita was a dead ringer for the English actress Julie Christie.  John’s Rita was the baker and looked like Rosalind Russell.  Aunt Marie was a red-haired beauty who resembled Hedy Lamar.  Aunt Marie’s father was the head of the Communist Party in Philadelphia but no one ever talked about that.  Bob’s Rita, my mom, was a cross between Liz Taylor and Anna Magnani, the fabled Italian movie star.  Her personality, however, was more like Phyllis Diller.  My mother, Bob’s Rita, was affectionately referred to as Crazy Rita.  She did have bouts with mental illness; I will save those stories for another time.  At ten, I was very aware of all of these actresses and how fascinating these aunts were. 

So here is the setting:  Back to Aunt Rita’s (John’s Rita’s) kitchen.  Italian women are no strangers to unwanted facial hair.  John’s Rita would have a pot of wax melting on the stove along with espresso and a pizza or two in the oven.  The three Ritas and Marie would take turns applying the hot wax to their unwanted mustaches and sideburns and pull off the unwanted hair amidst screams and laughter.  This was a regular social event that John’s Rita always hosted.  The men would all be in the finished basement watching a game, any game.  If it wasn’t baseball, football or basketball, they would watch golf. These were all really good men, and good looking too, but boring to me compared with the women.  During the hair removal tortures there would be gossip about everything.  Recipes would be exchanged, even stories of who was having an affair.  “Now Vincent, close your ears”, they would say, as the jokes and the stories got dirtier and racier as the night progressed.  Long story short (hard for me to do), is that I knew these women. Loved them and their stories and never wanted to be in the basement watching the game.  This all made me a little different than my other male cousins, although a couple on my mother’s side turned out to be gay.  

Coming out happens later of course but not all at once, at least for me.  While in college, I was outed.  I would frequent a gay bar/restaurant in Reading, Pa. called the Green Door.  A school mate happened to be a waitress there on the night I was there.  I was shocked and embarrassed but the cat was out of the bag.  By Monday morning half the campus of Kutztown State University knew I was at the gay bar.  Friends dropped off.  My college roommate was asked to leave our house we shared by his parents.  Other gay guys on campus started coming on to me.  That was the good part.  I denied nothing and started that long journey to self-acceptance.  

That summer of 1972, between junior and senior year of college, I decided to go to Cape May, NJ to find a summer job.  Having learned to cook from my grandmother and the three Ritas, I got a job as a cook in a restaurant.  That was really the summer of my coming out.  I met a local guy just out of the Navy who I had a brief affair with but became my buddy and gay mentor.  One night he drove us to the bars in Philly.  Wow.  The floodgates opened.  Hundreds of guys under one roof drinking, dancing, and cruising.  I passed these places a million times during the daytime and never knew what was going on inside.   I went from self- loathing to loving my new gay life and the people I met along the way.  

Self portrait. 1972.

During that summer in Cape May I had a cousin who was a lifeguard there. I was very fond of him.  He was older and very hunky.  He looked like a young Tom Selleck.  I would avoid his lifeguard post so he wouldn’t see who I was hanging with but one day I went for a walk with a few of my new gay friends and there he was, on a different lifeguard stand.  He knew the guys I was with were gay.  Soon enough my gayness was leaked to a few cousins, then aunts and uncles.  It was a little weird but I wasn’t shunned.  I knew they knew and took comfort in the fact that it really didn’t matter to them.  That summer I had my first serious love affair with a fellow artist, a bit older, and he lived on the waterfront on the bay of Cape May.  He worked at a candy factory there.  I would ride my bike to his place every night.  Life was wonderful and I was so happy and in love.  In love with Bill, my new life, and this new brotherhood that I felt such a kinship with.  

Several months later I was visiting my parents’ house for my birthday in the Philadelphia suburbs.  It was a Saturday morning and as was a custom in our house, my father would drive to the Jewish Deli in nearby West Philly and buy bagels and lox.  Although Italian, we ate like Jews on Saturday morning.   While my father was gone, my mother looked me square in the eye and said, “I have something to ask you”.  I gulped down my coffee and said, “What?”   She stammered a bit but said, “Are you a little AC/DC?”  Where the hell did she get this expression?  I said, “What do you mean, Mom, am I gay?”  “Yes”, she replied.  With great feelings of self-assuredness I said, enthusiastically, “Yes.”  She pretended to be surprised for a total of three seconds and the next out of her mouth was “Well, at least now I know I won’t have to share you with any other women.”  We laughed, and hugged, and cried a little. As she added, “You can’t tell your father, he can’t handle it”.  “Okay”, I replied.    She then wanted to know who else in the family was gay.   “How about cousin Bobby?”  “Yes, Mom”.  “Cousin Brian?”  “Yes. Mom.”   This went on for a while until the bagels arrived and you could cut the uneasy energy floating around in the room with a knife.   Bagels, lox and coming out to Mom.   By the following summer Mom, Bob’s Rita, would like to go dancing with us at the gay bars in Atlantic City.  We had a summer place in nearby Brigantine.  She was a hit on the dance floor.  “What is everyone sniffing in those little bottles?” she would ask.  She began to make her own gay friends and invite them to have dinner with us at our summer place.  My father was so naïve or wanted to be.  This went on for more years than I care to remember and is a story in itself, but maybe later. Mom blossomed and was more popular with the boys than I.  

Mom and I. Niagra Falls. 1995.

There are so many events that encompass Coming Out.   I have so many of these moments that I could recall while sharing just a few.   One of the Rita’s is still alive and now 90 years old, still gorgeous and still a blonde.

Family portrait at my Dad’s 70th birthday party.

PRIDE IN THE TIME OF CORONA!

GUEST WRITER, CHAUNCEY DANDRIDGE

One of the things heavily lamented by members of the LGBTQ community currently, is that this will be the first time in fifty years that there will actually be no organized Pride March conjured up to light up The Big Apple in rainbow colors. Considering that last year, New York City celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of The Stonewall Riots as well as played gracious host to World Pride festivities, the void left in the wake of coronavirus will be wildly ominous and felt around the world. Pride season in Gotham City promises to be peculiar, painfully anticlimactic and disorienting. It will be a stark contrast to joyous, countless celebrations that stretched throughout every corner and borough of the city that never sleeps. Luckily, some of the positively resounding traits of the LGBTQ community are defiance, ingenuity and resilience. There have been too many successes, too much progress, too much climbing and resisting and reconciliation to stop. Like the members of a church say, from the priest to the parishioner, you don’t have to be in church to experience God, because God is everywhere. This year, we will be reassured that Pride doesn’t need a parade to exist. Pride is everywhere, in everyone and every day. 

Nostalgia is usually reserved as an emotion one feels about moments in their life that happened many years ago. In 2020, we will be forced to feel nostalgic about all the magic and madness that occurred simply one year ago. The entire month of June is usually chock full of events from rallies to fundraisers to circuit parties to outdoor concerts and everything in-between. It is a magical time for tourism, as people from around the world plan to spend their Pride in the city where Pride began and most revelers make sure their itinerary includes a journey to Mecca: The Stonewall Inn. I have the luxury and honor of being one of the resident DJs and event producers at the bar, and when I was hired back in 2013, I had no idea the sheer magnitude of excitement and glory that would reverberate within those walls and outside the front door when the anniversary of the riots grew closer in 2019. 

Fast forward to March of this year, and New York City nightlife has been completely upended, the proverbial rug quickly and carelessly ripped out from under us. The static and chaos of uncertainty has filled the blank space where the music once played and has left dance floors barren and barstools vacant. Remembering their inner divinity, the drag queens, the DJs, the musicians, the dancers, the artists, the activists and the audiences have not stopped creating, fighting, surviving or watching. Instead of the arts and nightlife community going underground, we have simply gone digital! 

Immediately after the initial shutdown, drag shows and talk shows and dj sets popped up everywhere and filled the vacuum. Fans adjusted and assimilated to this new way of experiencing queer art and performance as technophobes learned their way around a Zoom dance party and learned how to Venmo someone a tip. It has been quite remarkable to witness and participate in as well. I have found that I and many fellow artists are finding newer ways to express ourselves while discovering talents we were aware of but had never fostered before. Activists are leading by example, volunteering at food drives and soup kitchens, using the captive audiences glued to their phones to valiantly preach their political messages and somehow, despite the obvious physical and social distance, make stronger connections.

This ‘pause’, as they have dubbed it, has been obviously life changing, revealing much more about ourselves and others than we would have ever expected. It has been accompanied with great loss and death, financial uncertainty, hardship and resounding fear and anxiety, but perhaps it was necessary to stand still and regroup, and reinvent and reclaim our own Pride. We needed to reassess our value and values. We needed to relearn respect. We needed to remember our history and prepare for our future. 

We still do not have any understanding of how and when and if the nightlife community will rebound after this crisis and threat is over. Will our favorite watering holes survive? Will dance floor capacities be cut in half? Will plexiglass stand between you and your bartender? Will your handshakes be rationed out? Will your hugs be looser or tighter? Will you have to find a dark corner in a dive bar to remove your masks and experience your first kiss? So, so many unknowns. This community has won many battles, survived many attacks, climbed many mountains and still continues to morph and master its techniques. And we do it in one of the greatest classrooms in the world, New York City. We have a current administration that is certainly not in our best interest, and as the letters in our acronym multiply so do our enemies. In solidarity, please remember that in November on Election Day. And this June, remember that, like God, Pride is everywhere, in everyone and every day.

Chauncey Dandridge is a DJ, event producer, multidisciplinary artist, author and activist in NYC. Currently enjoying a residency at The Stonewall Inn, Chauncey helps produce the annual Dance Parade and Urban Bear NYC Weekend as well as a weekly radio show and monthly variety show “Freak Out” which showcases local queer talent. He has lent his time and talents to countless fundraisers over the years. Follow him on Instagram @houseofdandridge and @djchaunceyd

THE BIGGEST LOSER!

I am super competitive. I play to win. All. The. Time. It doesn’t matter whether the prize is a lollipop or a thousand dollars. I am in it to win it.

Competition reality shows like “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” “Top Chef,” and “America’s Next Top Model” were made for people like me. Someone goes home at the end of every episode. Thanks for playing. Bye. Sorry not sorry, those are the rules. 

I grew up on game shows like “The Price is Right,” “Card Sharks,” and “Press Your Luck.”  If I was a contestant in the “Miss USA” (ok Mr. USA) pageant and I didnt make the Top 15 there would be HELL. TO. PAY!

Don’t get the wrong idea. Well, get the wrong idea but come peek inside my head for a quick visit.

I am not some crazed hypersensitive sore loser or bad winner. I realize not everyone can win all the time. There is something about the adrenaline during a competition that motivates me. The fastest 5k times I have posted have come during TRIathlons. The run is the final leg of this three part race – AFTER swimming and biking. If you’re hearing the Rocky soundtrack or Chariots of Fire, welcome to my world.

At game night in my apartment, prizes were given to the winners of each game. Think “Cards Against Humanity” and “Taboo.” Teams switched up for each game so essentially one could win 3 prizes in a night. On the flip side, someone could walk away empty-handed. Which has happened. My roommate at the time was adamant we should give Mr. Empty-handed Friend a prize. I asked him if he understood the rules of winning a prize.

Are you feeling sad for Mr. Empty-handed? Calm down. And, before you take out your pitchforks, know that everyone gets a “door prize” for attending. PLUS, we are talking about prizes from the DOLLAR TREE.

BUT, why play the game if not to win?

I’ve never understood those who say, “Let’s just play for fun and not keep score.” SAY WHAT? EXCUSE ME?

Which brings me to this story. 

Last week I attended a Zoom Social Happy Hour. It was a trivia night sponsored by “Gays Against Guns” (GAG) – a group I am proud to be a part of with kind, socially conscious, great people trying to make a difference. As with the climate today, GAG moved their social events to Zoom. An hour of fun, laughs, and prizes. This last trivia event was Mother’s Day themed. Attendees were encouraged to dress as a woman who inspired them.  I threw together a lewk paying homage to a stripper from Tampa named “Bubbles.”  Apparently Bubbles missed the mark because Bubbles was asked if her most inspiring woman was Gilda Radner! A pregame Zoom session with friends beforehand might not have been the best idea. Mistake #1. 

The host of the evening, the lovely and witty Bryce, explained the rules and directions, specifically how to use the app Kahoot. The question would appear on the screen, then the next screen would be the four multiple choice answers. Using another device, Bryce suggested a mobile phone would be easiest, you would choose the answer. Simple, right? Since Bubbles was chatting with friends on her phone, she decided to open another window on her laptop. Mistake #2. 

So, the games begin – and Bubbles’ internal competitive hourglass is now flipped over and counting down to her win… because she wins. Usually.

The first question appears – seeing as the theme was Mother’s Day, all the questions were women centric. Internal thought – does that give the lesbians on the Zoom an unfair advantage, who can really say, ok I say yes!  We’ll put a pin in that for next Mother’s Day. LOL. Bubbles answers correctly AND – importantly – quickly, so we are off to a good start. The players in the top 5 appear on screen, Bubbles sees her name, smiles, and in her head belts out the EYE OF THE TIGER and ROAR!  This would be the first and only time this occurred. 

As the game progressed, the questions got harder AND the spiked seltzers kept flowing. More questions were answered incorrectly than correctly. Sensing this playing out, Bubbles pivoted and began to answer as quickly as she could. New mission! YES! Rack up more points for the quicker response!

BUT, insert deflating helium balloon visual here – the quicker response mission was never realized because Bubbles kept hitting the wrong color button. Ooops. Fucking Spiked Seltzers. Why are you so delicious and easy to drink! We call this Mistake #3

So, now well into this “fun” social evening, we are talking some hard ass questions here, like Nobel Prize winners, Margaret Sanger… not a Jennifer Lawrence, Kelly Clarkson, “Pitch Perfect,” question in the bunch! Be still my (losing) beating heart!

Bryce announced the winner – my friend Antonius dressed as Janet Reno! He was also a contender for “best costume” – some people always winning. I used to be one of them!

Then there is another announcement – “and the prize for LAST PLACE goes to” – wait for it – “Bubbles!” SHUT THE FUCK UP! Are you kidding me? 

Not only did I come in LAST PLACE but it was broadcasted loudly for THE entire Zoom world to hear! Ok maybe just the 25 people playing GAG Trivia heard but still! The scarlet “L” was now burned on my wig forever.

To add serious insult to injury, a few people sensing they were losing started intentionally answering wrong to win the last place prize! Yes… Bubbles unintentionally did worse than people actively competing to come in last. Remember besides being a Tampa stripper Bubbles was also an English teacher!  

Wait a second, did you say prize? I do like prizes. And if I am going to lose, I might as well lose spectacularly. To quote another one of my favorite shows tonight I was in fact THE BIGGEST LOSER!

When all was said and done, it was an epic fun night with people I like and miss. It provided a much needed escape from everything Covid. So even though I came in last place, I had a blast. Besides, I adopted a new life mantra, “Winning isn’t everything!” It’s so true. But if anyone asks about Bubbles my answer is, “I don’t know her.”

Wanna see Bubbles redeem herself at the next GAG social hour? Hint: she probably won’t. But, come to the next event anyway!! – BINGO! Saturday June 13th. Sign up on the “Gays Against Guns NY” Facebook page!

What a fun night! Bubbles is in the top right living her biggest loser life!

“The Biggest Loser” was edited by Debbie Rech.

I’M COMING OUT!

“I’m coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show…” Diana Ross belted out these lyrics in 1980, but when I was a college student and just coming to terms with my sexuality and just realizing that I was gay, I didn’t want the world to know and I definitely did not try to let it show.

My name is Robert and I’m gay. Today I can proudly, comfortably say those words. But 25 years ago things were very different – in the world and in my tiny corner of the world. “Queer Eye,” “Rupaul’s Drag Race” were years away from debuting on television. For a short, Catholic Italian boy growing up in Queens New York, the gay mecca of Chelsea and 8th avenue in Manhattan might as well have been 3,000 miles away.

June 2017. Honoring Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow flag, holding one of the first flags he handmade.

Before I expand on how and when I came out, it needs to be said that I had a very happy childhood. I loved both my Catholic high school and Jesuit college. While I remember once or twice being called “gay” in the hallways, most of, if not all my memories of my teen and young adult years are good ones. That being said, I knew that something was “different,” but I didn’t quite understand what it was and what it meant, let alone how to act on it.

In the early 90s, gay role models were few and far between. Obviously they were there. I just didn’t know how to find them or even where to look for them. There was no one I thought I could confide in, so I just pushed those feelings aside, and tucked away – anywhere but out. I joined the swim team, the Drama Club, volunteered, and went on school trips. Dated a girl, maybe two. Okay, probably just the one.

Many gay people will tell you the different ways they “dealt” with their secret. Some banged every girl they could. Some drank too much, ate too much, smoked too much. Some embraced it and came out as teenagers. I threw myself into every club and sport I could participate in. It also helped that I really enjoyed being a part of all these clubs and didn’t read my participation as a distraction or avoidance of a truth. In high school I won “most school spirit” in the Senior Superlatives. In college I was President of the Senior Class. My housemates would joke I joined all these clubs just for the t-shirts. To this day I still have dozens of event t-shirts from college buried in a closet somewhere. Better than me being the one still buried in the closet!

My “secret” was still there. I buried it and never let it see the light of day, never gave it air to breathe. In college, I definitely started becoming aware of how hot I thought my female friends’ boyfriends were, definitely had a crush on a few of them but that is as far as it went – crushes from afar… not much has changed in 20 years as I still have a few crushes not yet acted upon.

After graduation I moved to Hoboken with three friends from college, and got a job in event planning in Times Square. Now 23, I was working in Manhattan and exposed to people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different lifestyles. When you went to a suburban Jesuit college in Northeast PA, 95% of the students looked just like you. White, middle-class, from NY, NJ or PA. Everyone wore pajamas with a Scranton sweatshirt to 8am classes. Everyone went to Kegs and Eggs on Saturday mornings. It was a safe and sheltered environment. It was the perfect college for me at this time in my life. I don’t know if I would have thrived at a huge state school with 20,000 people and a vibrant gay community. 

In NYC I began living my best life. I worked at a company where most of the men, if not all of them, were gay.  I listened to them tell me stories of their lives, their weekends, their partners, all the time feeling inside that I was just like them. I am certain they knew it too.  They were extremely patient, letting me know that it was ok to be gay but never outright asking or pressuring me. 

Halloween Parade. 2018

Living in Hoboken – with three straight males – and working in an environment of all gay men was quite the culture shock. I felt like 2 different people. The secret weighed inside me more and more, getting heavier day by day. 

This all came to a head one drunken night out with my cousins – twins Monica and Rachel* – a year older than me. Earlier in the evening we watched an episode of “Party of Five” where Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character went on a date with a guy who came out to her and they formed a friendship. Watching the show with them I just knew that tonight was the night. So, after a lot of liquid courage, at 2 am on the floor of their laundry room (I was there because it was cold and I had just vomited, or was about to vomit, the specific details are hazy.), I said the three words. Out Loud. To Them.

When we all got to waking up that day, all of us were hungover and silent. It was awkward, but not for the reason you might think. The two of them silently wondered if I remembered what I had dropped on them. And I, remembering, silently wondered why they were not saying anything.  After breakfast sandwiches and gatorade they gently asked me if I remembered the details of the night.  I told them I remembered everything and they told me they were honored that I confided in them and they were proud of me. Then they went right to the “Do you have a boyfriend” question. Lol.

Now, the secret was out. There was no going back for me. I continued to tell people. I called one of my best friends from college Phoebe*, told her I needed her 911 now. We met at a diner halfway between my house and hers. I told her, there were tears – all mine. And like the twins said hours earlier Phoebe* said she loved and supported me and only wanted me to be happy.

My coming out wasn’t one episode. It was a miniseries. I decided to tell friends one at a time over a span of a few weeks – straight males friends were told last. Again, all were extremely supportive and assured me nothing had changed, and that they had known for a long time. Everyone pretty much knew so my reveal wasn’t as big and grand as I had imagined it was going to be!

NYC Gay Pride. June 2011

Coming out only intensified the double life I was living. Gay in Manhattan. Not gay in Hoboken. Since I was newly out and testing the waters, being gay to me meant going to a gay bar, alone, meeting someone, hooking up and then never seeing or talking to him again. Healthy, said no one ever. I know. I needed gay friends. I just wasn’t having any luck finding them. When I found a gay person I thought could be a friend, I held on tight, even if we didn’t have much in common, even if I didn’t love spending time with them, but they were all I had at the moment. For me any gay friends were better than no gay friends.

It took some time but I did eventually find my “gay group,” and my life became a whole lot more gay. Instead of a shore house in Manasquan, NJ, I took a summer share in Fire Island Pines. I moved from Hoboken to the Upper East Side. While before if it was 90% hanging out with college friends 10% hanging out with gay friends, the numbers had now switched. I was exploring this new identity in every facet of my life.

A year later – after I first came out to my cousins and after essentially coming out to everyone in my life, it was time to tell my parents. They came over often to take my roommates and I out to lunch or dinner. I had told the girls that tonight was the night. They had felt it was beyond time but supported my delay. I wasn’t comfortable lying to my parents anymore. They didn’t really know me anymore, didn’t know my friends and I couldn’t include them in my life like I always had before. On the way to dinner, my mom remarked, “I wonder why the girls aren’t coming with us tonight, they are so sweet and nice. And they drink wine with me.” 

Once I dropped the bomb at dinner, things went downhill from there. My mom cried visibly and loudly at the table – so much so that our waiter came over to make sure we were all ok. Through her tears she expressed that, “We love you no matter what, but I just think that your life is going to be harder, and that breaks my heart.”

Remember this was 2000. Not 2020. After trying to calm her down, my dad felt it was best that I head home and we would talk soon. It did take some time, as things do, but once I included them in my life, introduced them to friends, boyfriends, Mom’s tears stopped. She even joined the local PFLAG chapter! A few years later tipsy at a family wedding I made sure to assuage her fears by letting her know that “being gay is the best thing EVER!” 

Univision Float. NYC Pride. June 2017

My coming out was disjointed, long, messy but it was MINE.  My heart broke for Simon in the 2018 rom-com “Love, Simon,” as he screamed to his blackmailer how he took that away from him, outing him in an email to his whole high school. Gay icon Barry Manilow recently “officially” came out on the cover of People magazine stating he has been out his whole life, everyone who knew him knew he was gay and he didn’t feel the need to officially come out to the public. Same for Anderson Cooper.  Sean Hayes regrets not coming out when “Will and Grace” was on the air, the first time. The list of out celebrities continues to grow – Ellen Page, Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, Gus Kenworthy and their careers for the most part thrived instead of floundered. 

Celebrity or not coming out should be on your terms and when you are ready. No one deserves to be outed or forced to come out. Coming out is still important. Coming out still matters. For me, it felt like a huge weight was lifted. I was essentially lighter. No more secrets, no more shame, no more fear. Being openly gay and proud takes balls and takes guts. Be proud of how far you’ve come and all the great things ahead for you. Congrats and welcome to the team. #rainbowpride

World Pride. June 2020.

Why One Teacher Left the Profession…

In June 2014, I moved back to NYC after my mom passed away the previous November.  Already dealing, or not dealing with that grief, plus ending a relationship was quite a lot to digest. In retrospect it was a traumatic period of transition in my life.  To make matters worse from the very beginning my NYC teaching career seemed to be cursed. 

I sent all my paperwork – certified mail – (fellow teachers know why) to Albany in December, planning on teaching in September. August rolled around and still no certification. (I had been teaching for over 10 years so it wasn’t a question of whether or not I would get certified it was just a question of when.)  Interviewing for jobs, I was told I would be a great hire, but they couldn’t roll the dice hoping I would be certified by Labor Day. After the opening of schools came and went and still no certification my father went to our local Congressman’s office the day after Labor Day; within minutes he left with a piece of paper listing my NY state certifications. Seems I was certified after all, I just hadn’t received the paperwork. 

The damage was done; schools were back in session, and any potential full-time positions had been filled. I needed to work so I decided to become a substitute teacher for this first year back in NYC. But now I had a new level of hurdles and hoops to jump through. I needed a special certification to be a sub. What? But I am already a “real” teacher! This special certification came with another fee.  To add serious insult to injury, I now was required to be fingerprinted a second time in less than 7 months! To teach in NYC public schools one needs to be fingerprinted twice. At the cheap fee of $99 each time. That’s right I had to be fingerprinted by NY state, standard I get it. But separate certification to teach in New York City — FUCK NO! Almost $500 in certifications, fingerprints fees, before even stepping into a classroom. Talk about redundancy and a money maker for the city.

I spent the balance of the school year as a Sub and taking part time teaching jobs when they were available. Not the ideal situation but it was income and this gave me the opportunity to get back into the system with the hope of a full time job the following school year.. Eager to get a full time job I interviewed at a school in Whitestone during the next summer. I did not “connect” with the first person I met with, the Assistant Principal.  She kept repeating the same question, over and over. “Show me what that looks like…” I would then explain, in detail, the lesson plan, which was met with minimal enthusiasm, at best, only to be told again – “Show me what that looks like.” (eye roll.)

In walks the principal. We talked, I modeled a lesson for her. The vibe immediately changed. She was warm, friendly, outgoing, everything the AP wasn’t. She called a few days later offering me a job. I was hesitant – but I needed a job. My gut told me no, but my brain and wallet told me yes. I wish I had listened to my gut.

It was very apparent the AP for whatever reason did not like me. My guess – simple – I was a man. A gay man, yes. But still a man. The only male on my grade level. AP did not seem to interact well with males. This was apparently common knowledge in the school.  I am not soft spoken. I don’t treat the students like they are babies. I was the exact opposite of what she thought a great teacher looked like and sounded like. I didn’t know it then but every day was going to be a dogfight. Every day a new battle.

Her first time in my classroom, the second week or so into the school year, “Mr. Dominic I am so surprised by how impressed I am with what I just saw.” Really? That would be the nicest thing she ever said to me.  It was a constant source of entertainment among the faculty. “Dominic, you know she hates you right?” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.

The entertainment portion ended when a month or so later she started my observations. “Mrs. Show me what that looks like” gave me the LOWEST of the possible scores. This was my 16th year teaching! I am not a novice. To put this in some sort of context, other administrators in the building scored me at the 2 highest possible scores on many of the different quadrants. AP was the only one who ever gave me the lowest ranking, multiple times.  The comments she wrote to justify these scores were laughable – “Johnathan (not his name) was wearing a hoodie during instruction.” (hoodies are not allowed as part of the dress code.) “At one point Mr. Dominic had his back turned from the class for a full minute.” I WAS WRITING ON THE BOARD YOU IMBECILE! Lol.

Every time something like that would happen I would have to go see the school Union Rep.  Towards the beginning she was helpful and understanding. After weeks and months of constantly having to deal with my “issues” she, like many, grew tired and weary of this never ending fight. “What now, Dominic” seemed to be her go-to response when I entered her classroom.

AP decides at one point I needed a mentor teacher, you know to help me become a better teacher. (Year 16 of me teaching btw) Sure. Fine. Whatever. I told her who I wanted to work with in the building. “No I am going to assign you the mentor teacher I think would best help you. SERIOUSLY?!!??! 

Another time, I was pulled aside to discuss my bulletin board. Apparently it “wasn’t pretty enough.” Their words exactly. They got the wrong Gay for that! 

Whether or not you like me personally I could give two shits. But when it seeps into your professional evaluations of me then we have a major problem. To make matters worse, my complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears. After endless meetings with the Administration of me asking, begging for AP not to be the one that observes me…not only did she continue to observe me but she observed me more than any other administrator in the building. She observed me the Friday before Spring Break. (a notoriously low attendance day, and an “educational movie” day.) Guess how many other teachers she observed that day…

Side not, after statewide testing teachers have to grade the papers all day every day for a week. Teachers are sent offsite on a rotating basis. (In the three years I was at this school I was sent once.) The DOE pays for a substitute for your classes all week. 

At the end of the first day at this site, I was “promoted” to team leader by the Administrative Team running this site. At the end of the week these same supervisors sent a letter to my principal for my file, praising my hard work and leadership skills. In less than 5 days these people saw something in me that they took the time to write a letter for my personnel file. Why couldn’t this woman see a little piece of what they saw?

Personally, I did not handle the situation well. Throughout all the ups and downs of my life, teaching was always something I was good at and something that came naturally to me. It was something I didn’t have to worry if I was doing well or not.  I don’t say this to be conceited, I say it to emphasize the fact that during rocky times, breakups, moves, financial struggles I always knew that teaching was the one thing thing I couldn’t fuck up.

Every day I came home dejected, depressed, mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Months went by where I received no positive feedback or reinforcement. Tell me I am wearing a nice tie! ANYTHING! Throw me a bone here. I can laugh about it now but living it was hell. 

How I felt at work naturally spilled over into my private life. I wasn’t sleeping well, was drinking more, was calling out of work more because I hated being there. I was skipping the gym, eating poorly. Everything was falling apart, especially me. 

In hindsight, there are many different ways I could have handled this situation. I wasn’t the only one on her hit list. But I was the only one fighting fire with fire. Other teachers counseled me, “kill her with kindness,” “smile and just do whatever she wants,” they would say. Those suggestions probably would have made my life much easier. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I kept going back to the fact that she inherently didn’t like me, didn’t get me, didn’t like the traits of my personality that make me me! It showed in her critiques of my teaching. She wasn’t necessarily critiquing what I taught but how I taught it. How I spoke, how I moved. Is my teaching style for everyone? Of course not, no one person can be liked by every student every year. But I pride myself on being fair and letting students know they all have the power to succeed in my classroom.

Things could not continue like this. I had to do something. I was at the end of my rope – in every sense of the word. I eventually went out on medical leave (I lied, faking the symptoms with an Academy Award winning performance), and never went back.  Never answered any letters or phone calls from them asking when I was coming back. Basically I ghosted them. Not my finest moment by a long shot.

I had never felt more like a failure professionally as I had at that point. I had been a GREAT teacher. And for all the heartache and stress and low pay, I LOVED being a teacher. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I felt that nothing I did would make any sort of difference in how I was judged, evaluated and scored. I became the teacher that did the bare minimum. I was going to get the lowest possible scores anyway, so why try? One day you wake up and you don’t recognize yourself anymore; it happens slowly over time. I didn’t really like the teacher or person I had become.

Am I without fault here? Of course not. I should have left that school years earlier. In all honesty I should have never taken the job in the first place. I should have played the game and kept my mouth shut. Fighting fire with fire was not the right response. I knew immediately during the first interview the AP and I did not see eye to eye. On anything.  In those first few weeks I promised myself that I would not let her break me. Unfortunately it was a promise I couldn’t keep. When I walked out of the building that last day, I vowed never to go back to teaching. Today, a few years removed from the situation and with a different perspective, I can say that at some point I can see myself back in the classroom. Maybe someday. But not today.

SUPER SMART ALTERNATIVES TO SUPER FOODS!

by Stephan M. Greco, GUEST WRITER

No doubt, one of your resolutions for 2020 was to eat healthier! How’s that going for you? Many people think healthy eating means more expensive, but not if you also eat smarter!  Sure, a fridge full of wild caught salmon, organic fruits and vegetables and acai berry juice sounds amazing but many of us need to make our meal plans budget friendly. The grocery store can be a mine field of nutritional challenges, so I’m here to help you optimize your grocery store choices without breaking the bank.

Superfood” is a nontechnical term for health-boosting cuisine that packs an awesome nutritional punch. Here are some sensible substitutions for hyped-but-pricey foods that frequently show up on superfood summaries.

Instead of salmon: Try tuna for some good fats. Canned tuna in oil has 1 gram of saturated fat but also 2.5 grams of unsaturated good fat. Water-packed tuna is low in calories while offering generous amounts of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D. In addition, canned tuna counts toward the recommended minimum of two servings per week of fish.

Instead of quinoa: Turn to barley, oats and brown rice. All three of these amazing grains are less expensive and often sold in bulk. I love oats and barley because of their special fiber: beta glucan. It’s good for your heart, and new research shows that it helps you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat.

Instead of fresh berries: look for sales on store-brand frozen berries. Believe it or not, some quick frozen foods like wild blueberries can actually be better than fresh bought. They retain their nutritional value longer, and they are preserved at their peak, not before. Some fresh-sold fruits are picked early to ensure they won’t spoil during the long shipping and storage, but not those that are quick frozen.  If you have a farmers market, see if berries are cheaper in season. Or buy inexpensive bananas for your fruit fix; they are high in potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and vitamin C.

Instead of kale:  Kale’s popularity brings with it a higher price tag. Instead, keep your eye out for any dark-green leafy vegetable that your market has on sale such as mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard or turnip greens.

Instead of superfood juices (açai, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.): In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of any store bought juices. You never really know what is in them. Swap out sugar-filled juices (as well as sodas and sports drinks) for water and add some sliced oranges, lemons, cucumbers, watermelon or strawberries to the pitcher for flavor.

Instead of fancy name brand almonds or walnuts: For nuts, shop in bulk and pick a store brand. Also, peanuts can be cheaper, and if they’re unsalted, they are a great nut pick.

Instead of superfood meats (bison, emu, grass-fed beef): Try affordable poultry, such as chicken breasts bought in bulk. Or eat eggs, which are inexpensive yet protein-rich and high in heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Alternative inexpensive proteins include cottage cheese, organ meats such as liver, cheaper cuts of meat (cooked in a slow cooker to make them fork-tender) and tofu.

Dried beans are also budget-friendly.  With both protein and fiber, dried beans can be added to soups, salads or as a side to almost any dish. My favorite is black beans, which have three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty-acids than other legumes. Simmer them in a pot with onion and garlic for extra flavor.

Get your veggies on ice, not in cans. Vegetables are frozen at their peak freshness and retain more nutrients than canned varieties. A bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some lean protein can easily become a stir-fry, served with brown rice for a healthy, low-cost meal.

Become seasoning savvy. Spices can be somewhat expensive, but critical for adding flavor. Some stores allow you to buy spices in bulk, so pick a few and purchase only quarter-ounce quantities and cook with them until they run out. Then shift to a different flavor profile. This will add diversity as well as creativity to your dietary pattern. In addition, rosemary, thyme and basil can be grown in pots on a windowsill.

Cook in a crock.  Lack of time to shop and cook is a huge obstacle to many working people. Slow-cooker meals are a great make-ahead option. They also make less expensive cuts of meat tender and delicious. What’s more, slow cookers themselves are relatively inexpensive starting from $15 for a new, family-sized cooker.

Think outside of the “box.” A loaf of whole grain bread, some peanut butter and bananas can be purchased for about the same as a box of sugary cereal. Serve your kids (and yourself) toast with peanut butter and bananas instead of a bowl of sugar garbage and you’ll have the protein, fiber and potassium you need to stay fueled longer.

Layer your lunch. Add a cup of brown rice to a bowl (good for two servings!), then layer on a variety of fresh or thawed vegetables, and top with protein (poultry strips, nuts, egg, canned fish or beans) for a cheap and easy meal.

Expend oil economically:  Healthful fats (olive oil, flax oil, grass-fed butter) are significantly more expensive than their cheap counterparts. Instead go with canola oil, which has high amounts of unsaturated fat (both mono – and polyunsaturated). But use oil sparingly, and instead of oil consider using beef or chicken broth to sauté food.

Eating healthy is a choice, and it should not have to be an intimidating or difficult one to make! Be sure to check out my website, www.grecofit.com and my Instagram @grecofit, for more great fitness and nutrition guidance to make 2020 your best year yet!

(Stephan Greco is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist who owns and operates Greco Fit in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. You can reach him via his website, through Instagram or at (954) 995.1321

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO (to visit your boyfriend’s family!)

Noah Cohen, Guest Writer

I jolted awake, the incessant noise of my phone startled me, as the sound reverberated through my ears. Feeling groggy and in a haze, I rubbed my eyes with one hand and turned off my phone’s ringer with the other. My alarm had gone off – seemingly too early, as it so often does. I stood beside my bed, eyes glossy and only partially open, staring at the clock that read 3:00 a.m. With a big inhale, and an even bigger and more dramatic exhale, I begrudgingly began what I knew would be a very long travel day. 

Lynden, my boyfriend, and I arrived at the airport at 4:40 a.m. I can only imagine how terrible I must have looked to the lady helping us check our baggage. In addition to the early wake up that morning, I don’t think I slept very well to begin with; thoughts buzzed through my mind like bees within a hive. This was an important day for me. For us. It’s 5:30 a.m. now. Having checked our luggage and made it through security, and with time to spare before our flight, we plopped ourselves down at a generic airport restaurant. Lynden ordered a Bloody Mary. I ordered an IPA. The server’s facial expression changed, as our order took her a little by surprise. She gave us a half-smile as she prepared our drinks, only slightly giving off the impression that she was judging our life choices this morning. The expression is “it’s five o’clock somewhere” but nowhere in that expression does it specify it has to be five in the evening. In fact, I think we were extra responsible for waiting until 5:30. The drinks are placed in front of us and I give a half-smile back. Thanks, Susan.

The tires screeched; a bumpy landing sent everyone shifting in their seats before the pilot announced that we had arrived. We touched down at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to – Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico. “Where is the baggage claim?” I asked Lynden. “This is it” he said. Is he messing with me? I’m looking all around and don’t see any signs or indications that this would be the place our suitcases would arrive to. Suddenly, a metal gate, about the height of a standard suitcase and maybe four times the length, opened upward, and slowly we saw hands pushing the bags through from the other side of the wall. We picked up our bags, got in a car and began our two-hour drive to our destination. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Roswell, there is a history pertaining to the belief by its residents that the small town had been the site for alien and UFO visits. In the late 1940s, a United States military balloon crashed near a ranch in Roswell, and some 30 years later, this balloon crash became quite the topic of speculation and conspiracy, as many believed it was actually a flying disk – a UFO. If I’m being honest, I felt a little like an alien after landing – unfamiliar and feeling out of place, having never been in such a small town before – maybe it was me who had emerged from a flying disk? 

The significance of this trip was enormous for my relationship. This was the first time I would be meeting his family. When I say I was meeting his family, I mean practically everyone in his entire bloodline. This was also my first time ever being “brought home to mom and dad” and meeting a significant other’s family. It was Thanksgiving Day when we arrived at New Mexico. Lynden’s father was the first relative I met. He picked us up from the Roswell airport and the three of us drove several hours to Fort Sumner. He taught me a lot about the different types of animals that inhabit New Mexico, his encounters with rattlesnakes, history of the state, history of the people and much, much more. 

We had discussed animals a lot during that car ride, yet, having been looking out the window for most of it, I really didn’t see many. I knew it was going to be rural before I came, but I was shocked to discover how desolate the land was. As far as the eye could see, and in any direction, was vast. Like the feeling of being on a boat in the middle of the ocean and seeing boundless openness, looking out at the landscape here made me wonder where the next remanence of civilization was hiding. I also kept checking the gauge on how much gas we had, as the other thought that crossed my mind was if we were to break down, how long it would take to receive help and how would we even describe where on this sole road we were located. To put it into perspective, in roughly 100 miles of driving, we passed one other car. 

We arrived at Fort Sumner where I met the next of the relatives: Lynden’s sister and her kids. I should specify that “kids” in my last sentence was referring to children, but there were kids as in baby goats living there as well. In the yard, I got to meet some of the locals – goats, a massive fluffy dog who protected them and some pigs who, when I went to visit them had flung something at me, leaving me to quickly exit their pen and not return. Luckily, there was no visible mark on my sweater. Hey, some people are built for it, and others are not. We spent a couple of hours at the house before the real test: Thanksgiving Dinner. 

I come from a relatively small family and I’m used to very small Thanksgiving celebrations with maybe 6-8 people. This was not that. Stepping inside the house, there were so many people all around, I didn’t even know where to start. Each person I met was so friendly and welcoming. The tension in my shoulders eased a little, and though a bit overwhelming, I felt like I was slowly losing the nervous jittery feeling I had when we were standing outside the front door. After a few hours of self-loathing for eating that third massive plate, even though I was already so full, we all had gone our separate ways. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved because it meant I survived the meeting of my boyfriend’s family and that going to sleep was eminent. Might I remind you that we had been up since 3 a.m., it was now 11 p.m. in New Mexico, which felt like 1 a.m. for us. It had been a day.

Over the course of the next few days, I felt much more at ease, and felt I really got to know everyone on a deeper level. I was able to spend more intimate time with different groups of relatives and family friends. Much of our time was spent helping with the set up and preparations for Lynden’s grandmother’s 100th birthday. From grocery store runs, to making a few hundred cake ball pops, to decorating tables and windowsills and everything in between, we had plenty to do. I enjoy things like that, and to be honest, I appreciated having activities to keep me busy.

The birthday party finally arrived, and if I thought Thanksgiving was a lot of new people to meet…well this party took it to a whole new level. From meeting more relatives to meeting Lynden’s childhood school bus driver, it was a lot of socializing. There must have been 200-300 people, and I’m pretty sure I met almost every single one of them. By the end, I felt so drained and my lung capacity was depleted from expanding and contracting so much while talking. I can only imagine what Lynden’s grandmother felt, as she was the star of the show!

Coming to rural New Mexico was a culture shock, but it was also really fascinating to see an entirely different kind of landscape and lifestyle than anything I’m used to being around. Luckily for me, every person I met was kind, open and didn’t mind explaining and teaching me informative and interesting things about their home. This trip was a gigantic step for me and my relationship, and I feel honored that I was included in Thanksgiving and a 100th birthday celebration. I thank all of Lynden’s family for their hospitality and welcoming me in, and Lynden for sharing the experience and his home town with me. 

From moving to a new city, moving in with a significant other and now meeting his family, the last 10 months have proved to come with lots of surprises, personal advancement and growth. Reflecting on what is new and has changed in my life recently, I’m excited and eager to see what all will happen next.