Taking The Plunge

Guest Post by Scott Miller

I’ve never been comfortable in my own skin.  I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror.  I was embarrassed to be seen with my shirt off… let alone with my pants off.  Or, at least, that used to be me. 

Something changed about 5-years ago and now, well… now I’m a nudist.  Still the same me.  Still the same body.  But these days I think nothing of hanging out with my husband, my friends, or even total strangers while nude.  So, what changed?

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A bit of background on me: I’m ~6-ft and weigh a sprightly 275-lbs on a good day.  If you wish to flatter me, you might say I have a “football player’s build,” but I’ve always just thought of myself as a big guy.  I’m pretty darn hairy (yes, back included).  I have stretch marks.  It is what it is. 

Oh, and I’ve finally crested my 40’s and I hate those strategically placed surveillance cameras at 7-11 that seem to focus in on the shiniest, baldest spot of the back of my head.  Translation: Playgirl is not going to be calling me to be their next centerfold.

I remember back to a summer in Wisconsin, maybe 8 years ago, when I was camping with my boyfriend and we were the only two people at a secluded campsite.  Nobody was around, just him and me, so we decided we’d strip down and get some sun on our cheeks.  We made a campfire, roasted some weenies, tossed the frisbee around and tried out naked time. 

It was all going well until I had to bend down and pick up a missed frisbee.  He cat-called me as I was bent over, letting me know he appreciated my backside as I reached for the errant disc.  And what did I do?  I YELLED AT HIM.  I got so upset that he checked me out when I was in such a vulnerable position.  I mean how dare he, right? 

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This man had seen me naked before.  We’d had sex.  We were close.  But I was not comfortable with my body and I couldn’t take the good-hearted compliment he intended.  In my head he was making fun of me.  How could someone possibly enjoy the sight of my bare, pasty-white ass?  That’s how self-conscious I was.

But now I love being nude.  It’s comfortable, it’s freeing, it’s liberating, and it’s healthy.  And all the credit for flipping the mental switch goes to my high school buddy Anna who casually mentioned that she went to a hot spring while visiting Colorado.  It was a *whisper* clothing optional */whisper* hot springs at that.  My partner and I got to talking about it, and our interest was piqued.  Let’s check this thing out!

We scoped out the options in Colorado, and there are way more than one might expect.  Dakota Hot Springs, Orvis, Strawberry Hot Springs, Idaho Springs… just to name a few.  We ended up picking a place down near Salida where we could spend an extended weekend camping, soaking, hiking and just seeing what this whole “clothing optional thing” was all about.  It was an experience that changed my life for the better.

After checking in, I was a bit appalled to see people just walking around the park wearing nothing but a hat and hiking shoes.  They had dark, leathery, tanned bodies.  These were true nudists - folks without a fuck to give about who was watching. 

There were families – men, women, and children frolicking and drinking in the summer sun.  There were couples, singles, and then there was us: two unsure homosexuals wondering if we were going to accidentally “pitch a tent” and get ourselves kicked out before we even set up camp.

We started slowly - losing our shirts while we fiddled with tent poles, air mattresses and coolers.  For me, even this was still a huge hurdle – I was the guy who still wore an Under Armour shirt when venturing into a water park after all.  Baby steps, though.  This was allowed.  It was encouraged.  I could do this.

Once we were set up for the night, it was time to check out the springs.  I actually undressed inside of our tent and put on my robe before making the trek to the first pond.  (Sidebar: even today - as a weathered nudist – there’s something about undressing in front of people as opposed to just being socially naked.  Images of strip teases and dollar bills tucked in G-strings still creep into my head.  But I digress… back to camping!) 

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Once we got to the pool, I had to muster up the courage to drop the robe and make the harrowing 2-ft journey from the exposed water’s edge to the submerged, simmering, safety of the springs.  Oh, and there’s moss everywhere and That.  Shit.  Is.  Slippery.  I’m sure my initial plunge was about as graceful as a walrus doing an arabesque.  At least, that’s what it was from my perspective.

Suddenly there I was – nude in a public space and surrounded by a handful of strangers.  They didn’t point.  They didn’t laugh.  Heck, I’m not even sure they looked.  This huge step for me was nothing more than a yawn for those already in the pool. 

Time passed, and I began to relax and enjoy the experience.  The birds were chirping, the sun was setting, and the warm water began to wash away 35 years of pent up self-esteem issues.  I slowly came to realize that this wasn’t a big deal. 

As I became more and more comfortable, I let myself enjoy the random bubbles as they playfully danced across my bare skin on their way to the surface.  If I had known baptisms could be so much fun, I would’ve converted years ago!

People came and went.  I soaked, I chatted with strangers, I stayed hydrated, and I evolved.  By the time the sun started to set I was much more confident as I climbed out of the springs and in the twilight.  Sure, I still quickly bundled back up in the robe, but something had changed.  A seed was planted, and it just needed to be watered to make it grow.

The next day I was a bit bolder.  I still wore the robe, but not tied tightly across my waist.  Then it was draped over my shoulder as I went from pond to pond.  Then it was stuffed in my backpack.  And then it was just… left behind… in a neat little pile in the tent next to my insecurities, my hang-ups and my self-depreciation.

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Who needs all that in the summer, right?  Not this guy!  We even ended up taking a 4-mile round-trip hike completely nude.  It was so liberating.  I was now the careless nudist that the newly arriving campers aspired to be.

A few weeks after that trip, my partner and I got to talking about the experience.  He suggested we investigate other nude events and I LOVED the idea.  I didn’t acquiesce, I didn’t resist… I steered into the skid and got to looking for options.  We found a nudist group on Meetup, applied and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Perhaps that oversimplifies my journey, as I didn’t go from being swaddled in a burqa one day to running around in my birthday suit the next.  We started with smaller events – just a handful of people – to see what nudism felt like in a social situation.  It’s led me on a wonderful journey.  Now I host events with dozens of attendees.  

Clothes are a barrier we hide behind.  Being a snappy dresser can make up for an imperfect body.  Funny T-shirts can draw attention to your wit as opposed to those flaws you’re trying to hide.  And then there’s our cell phones… another barrier to social interaction that, when nude, you simply cannot rely upon.  

At nude events, cell phones get left behind with clothing most of the time.  Why?  1) Photos are pretty much frowned upon; and 2) No pockets! (unless you count your “prison purse” – but who really wants to keep their cell phone in a plastic bag?)  

All that’s left is you.  Nothing to distract, nothing to deflect, nothing to defend.  Conversation is easier when nude, because you make intense eye contact.  Sure, you’ll find some time to check out and be checked out, but when it comes to one-on-one interactions, they’re incredibly real.  You’re vulnerable.  He’s vulnerable.  What a great time to open up and share!  What a great time to listen and learn!  It’s beautiful.  It’s nudism.  And it’s great.

My self confidence and self esteem have skyrocketed in recent years as I’ve embraced nudism.  I’ve never been so happy with who I am as a person.  I’ve never been so proud.  And yet, I feel I’ve been humbled too.   It’s all about the journey.

So, if you’re worried about getting your feet wet: stop.  Stop worrying.  You’ll psyche yourself out.  Make the plunge.  Take that first step and come on in… the water’s fine!

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Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of Scott Miller.  
Copyright © 2019 Scott Miller, All rights reserved.

Embracing Burlesque

You can bet that if I can’t finish a meal due to being scared, then I have so much fear it’s seeping out of every orifice of my body.  I had never been this scared before - that I couldn’t take one more bite of a pretty damn good chicken wrap.  But in less than two hours… I would be on a stage… in front of an entire crowd… dancing… and taking my clothes off.

This all started a year before when I attended an old-school, vaudeville style variety show called “Fuck The Back Row.”  I had just landed my first major gig in social work and didn’t have many friends at the time.  So, when I found this swanky event, I knew I’d be going alone.  

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After a band finished their set, a duo of scantily clad ladies took the stage to perform some burlesque.  I had never seen an actual burlesque act before.  The movie featuring Christina and Cher hadn’t come out yet (this is an older story if you couldn’t tell) and it was just as well.  From what I hear, the movie had hardly anything to do with actual burlesque.

For those who aren’t familiar, burlesque is the old-fashioned form of striptease that brewed up in the 1930s.  It wasn’t like the strippers of today who love to polish poles with boob sweat.  These were more the kind of women who danced while guiding fans along their bodies to tease their male viewers and keep them on the edge of their seat for more.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but burlesque began making a resurgence a couple decades ago.  This old-fashioned sexy art-form somehow offered the modern era something unique and exciting.  Acts could range from classy and elegant to campy and hilarious.  Anyone could participate regarding body type or gender.

Seeing it at the vaudeville show blew my mind.  Granted, I had never been to an actual strip-bar, but I had seen enough portrayals in movies to know this was totally different.  And yet, it was far more entertaining - their outfits, the ways they danced, the playfulness.  

Then it hit me.  Oh my god!  I thought.  I THINK I WORK WITH HER!!!  One of the girls on stage looked exactly like a girl at my new job.  They both had short hair dyed as bright red as a fire truck.  And with the way she popped her hips, she could certainly set the place up in flames.

The moment their act was done, I ran from my seat to go find this mystery woman and see if I did, in fact, work with her.  As soon as we locked eyes, I yelled in her face, “I work with you!!!”

“Oh, yes!” she got just as excited.  “You’re that new guy!”

I met her at work as Casey.  But on this night, I got to meet her again as Honey Touché.  I told her how impressed I was that she did this.  She was also pretty impressed that I was the type to attend such an event.  Although I had long since left my hipster days behind me, shit like this still made me feel pretty cool.

Honey and I developed a solid friendship and after Luke and I started dating, we began going to their burlesque shows at a cabaret downtown.  At our second show, a guy had performed that night and we learned that, during the resurgence of burlesque, they welcomed boys to romp around on stage too - dubbing it as “boylesque.”

“I wanna do this!” I told Luke after we left that show.  

Luke did not like this idea.  “I don’t feel comfortable telling people that my boyfriend is a stripper,” he said.

In his defense, he had lived quite the button down life.  Things were still new for us and he was still getting used to my thirst for the more curiously fringe things in life.  And to be honest, it didn’t really make sense for me anyway.  I had zero stage experience.

Once, when I was a kid, a friend and I tried out for a play at the local community theatre.  As part of the tryouts, we had to stand in a big circle and introduce ourselves in creative and animated ways.  Kids would leap forth and swirl their hands around and say things like, “My name is Gary and I loooooove to be scary!”

When it came my turn, I stepped forward and said, “My name is Scott!”  That’s it.  The end.  I might have tried to do jazz hands.  But if I did, I kept them low at my side so hardly anyone could see.  After that, I never tried out for anything ever again.

About a year after the burlesque discovery, Honey asked if I would ever be interested in performing an act with her.  She’d been developing some fun duo ideas with a male performer in mind.  I kindly told her that I had no background in stage or dance.  Honey didn’t care.  According to her, “burlesque is for everyone.”  She’d teach me everything I needed to know.  

My insides became a battleground of fear versus excitement.  Sure, I said I wanted to do it.  But now push came to shove and, with that brief childhood memory, the fear won the battle.  I didn't want to do something like this unless I could be GREAT at it.  Besides, as I told told Honey, Luke wouldn’t be comfortable with me doing it anyway.

“I think you should do it!” he said when I told him about Honey’s request.

Whaaaaat?!  “But you said you didn’t want a stripper for a boyfriend.”

By this time we had gone to numerous shows and Luke fell in love with it all too.  He fully understood that this was different from modern stripping.  Most of the act is spent slowly removing the layers.  And even in the final reveal, the girls wear pasties on their nipples.  So, technically, by law, they don’t even get naked.  

I wouldn’t have to wear pasties, but I would be covered by a g-string.  By this time in our relationship, Luke had gotten used to me running off to enough nudist events that a g-string would be child’s play.  (Note to self: maybe don’t put the words “g-string” and “child” in the same sentence ever again).

But now that I had his support I no longer had any excuses.  When I got my HIV diagnosis a few years prior, I declared that I would live a life of transparency and facing fears.  If I said “no,” I would be going back on the new person I wanted to be.  So, I had no other choice but to tell Honey “yes,” I would try performing with her.

A video still from the “Tarzan and Jane” act.

A video still from the “Tarzan and Jane” act.

Her first idea was to do a parody of the “Nutcracker” for the holiday show coming up in a few months.  So, not only did I have to do dance, but now I had to do one of the most difficult art-forms of dance.  Honey told me to relax and that she’d make it as easy for me as possible.

For months, we practiced like crazy.  I listened to the “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies” hundreds of times hoping I’d get it memorized (it was only two minutes and fifteen seconds).  I tried learning how to count music - something I still wouldn’t be able to get the hang of for another couple of years.

When the night of the show came, I had the act down.  But I was so damn scared I couldn’t eat my food.  The second we stepped out on stage, my guts nearly exploded all over the audience.  I COULD SEE THEIR FACES LOOKING AT ME!!

The music started and we began doing our cute little dancing.  I could not stop trembling and felt faint nearly the entire time.  My moves were stiff and totally unanimated.  I was definitely still that little boy who couldn’t properly do jazz hands and wanted it to end.

Then, before I knew it, the song was ending and we were about to do our final moves.  I yanked down the rest of my unitard and revealed my feathered g-string to the entire cabaret (Honey had matching feathered pasties).  The audience erupted in applause and the lights went out.

We hurried off stage with the unitard still around my ankles.  When we got to the green room, I was filled with so much adrenaline that my heart wanted to pound its way right out of my chest.  I gasped for air and my mouth was as dry as a turtle.  I know this because I have a terrible habit of licking turtles.  Once you start licking turtles, you really can’t stop.

But turtles were the last thing on my mind.  All I could think was… I want to do that again!  Sure, it had been terrifying and my performance was mediocre at best, but I had gotten the biggest rush I had quite possibly ever felt.  It must be the kind of feeling people get who love going on roller coasters.  

Fortunately, there were holiday shows the whole month of December and we were slotted for all of them.  The same thing would happen for every performance.  I’d get so anxious I’d wanna barf and then afterwards I’d salivate to do it all over again.  When the holiday show came to a close, I was sad to leave the stage behind.

When Honey had more ideas for acts, this meant I had to actually come up with a stage name. Because of my lack of experience, I didn’t know how to choose a name with any kind of character or persona. I just wanted something kinda clever, kinda sexy, kinda funny, and kinda ridiculous. I came up with the name “Circum Simon.”  

Honey would go on to develop a “Dirty Dancing” parody where Luke actually joined us in the act.  Although he didn’t strip, he was a stage natural (of course).  The man I loved joined me in this new thing I loved.  I wanted his stage name to be Randy Gentile which, if translated right, means “horny non-jew” (a shining example of my terrible sense of humor). We tried it out a few times and it confused people more than anything else. After that, Luke decided to just not have a stage name.

We befriended more of the girls and much of the group came to feel like a tight-knit family of love and support and glitter.  Eventually, they urged me to try and develop a solo act.  When they announced an eighties themed show, I knew this would be the time as this was my favorite decade of music.

I auditioned an act to Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” - calling it “Gym Bag Time Machine.”  The idea was that I would come out as a modern workout guy (imagine Rocky) with a gym bag and, since the gym bag was a time machine, I would pull eighties fitness wear out of the bag and slide these pieces on as I slowly stripped out of my modern clothes right up until the final reveal of a jockstrap.  

It was as stupid as it sounds and that’s what I loved about it.  If I was going to do this, I’d rather make myself comical than take it too seriously (something I had done for a majority of my life).  The act made the cut and audiences actually liked it (probably because nobody can ever hate that song - not even Saddam Hussein).

The thing that once scared me so much became my new most favorite life pleasure - something so few people would ever dare step their toes in.  Moving past my fear of taking the stage and dancing in front of people gave me the good fortunate of experiencing the rush and joy of performance.  

The more I took to the stage, the better I got at performing.  I would never go on to become some dynamic performer, but that was okay.  It made me happy, audiences enjoyed what I had come up with, and, as Honey said, “burlesque is for everyone.”  The whole thing taught me that you don’t have to necessarily be great at something in order to enjoy it.  

Unfortunately, once I took up the writer’s lifestyle, burlesque had to take a backseat.  There was just no time to do both and I wouldn’t get much stage time over these last couple years.  However, it has been announced that the eighties show will return in August of 2019.  By then, my book will be out and I won’t worry about writing another for a good while.  Perhaps it’ll be the perfect time for Circus Simon to go back and get his fear-facing-fix.  

A video still from the “Physical” act.

A video still from the “Physical” act.

 

Edited by Glen Trupp
Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.
Photo Copyrights to
Andrea Flanagan and La Photographie as noted.
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Part III: Water Under The Bridge

Since the dawn of humankind, there have been quarrels.  Archeologists had proven this by digging up several skeletal remains in the shape of wagging their fingers at one another.  And when the cavemen (and don’t forget the cave ladies) sat down to settle these quarrels, they had to ask the age old question: who goes first?

This was the question that Brad and I now faced as we tensely sat across from each other at lunch.  He and I had two years of a really close friendship.  Now, who in the hell first shares their side of the story about what we had been through over the last six months?!

I told him I didn’t care, which was really code for I can’t freakin’ decide.  Finally, he decided for me and suggested that I go first.  The moment had come.  I could finally tell him what it was like to suddenly have your closest friend stop talking to you without knowing why.

I went through everything I had previously written in Part I and Part II of this essay: him pulling away from our friendship even after I told him I was lonely and needed him, the way he left me out in favor of his new friends on New Year’s eve, the fact that I never heard from him again when I stopped making all the effort, and finally the bullshit excuse he gave me when I tried to tell him goodbye via text months later.

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“You’re right,” he said when it finally came his time to talk.  “My excuse was bullshit.  I didn’t realize it until I after I wrote it, but I knew it wasn’t the truth.  The reason I distanced myself from you is because you had become so fake.”

What… the… fuck?!  I was fake?  The moment I heard those words, I immediately wanted to scratch some eyes out - preferably his.  But when you’re in a blinding ape rage, any eyes will do. I am happy to say that no eyes were gouged and instead, I asked him to clarify.

“I don’t understand,” I said.  “How was I at all fake?”

“You had just become Instagram plastic,” he told me.  “You became one of those guys who kept posting shirtless or naked photos of yourself.”

“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO TOLD ME TO DO THAT!!!”  I tried to not lose my shit.  “You’re the one who helped me brand myself as a ‘naked writer.’”

“I know.  It just didn’t seem like the Scott I knew.  And part of it was me too.  I kept following all of these hot guys and I thought, what value does this bring to my life?  So, I unfollowed all of them… including you.”

“But Brad, you know me.  You know that I have no fucking clue what I am doing on social media.  And I came to you and told you I was lonely and needed your friendship.  How could you think I had become plastic?”

“Yeah, after you told me that, I invited you to come out with us to the bar for that calendar release party.  But you spent the whole night talking to other people.  It just felt like all Scott cared about was wanting to be seen and recognized.  It was the same thing on New Year’s Eve.  We almost got to the bar and suddenly I get this text from you that you’re leaving to go somewhere else.  It was like, Oh, Scott’s not getting enough attention again.

I couldn’t believe my ears - most likely because they were filling up with blood from hearing all of this (not literally though).  I first went back to the initial bar night before I got to New Year’s Eve.

“Brad, all those people at the calendar release party were my old bar patrons.  Because of them, I was able to pay my bills.  They also support the blog.  If I didn’t go say hello to them, I would have looked like a total dick.  And I WAS super bummed we didn’t get to really hang out that night.  That’s why, after that, I kept suggesting to hang out outside of gay bars.  I invited you to dinner.  I invited you to that concert.  I invited you to come with me to that drawing group.”

He couldn’t argue any of this which made me feel like I was on the right track.

I continued.  “And about New Year’s Eve...Do you know how hard it was for me that day?  I practically begged you to make plans with me and you wouldn’t.  Meanwhile, I go on Instagram and watch you and your friends wearing silly “Fuck2017” glasses.  That was shitty.”

Brad fell silent.  So, I took this as an opportunity to berate him some more.

“We left the bar on New Year’s Eve because YOU left me hanging.  Yeah, I didn’t know anyone there, but it wasn’t for attention.  Luke and I were just standing by ourselves with no one to talk to - waiting to see if you guys MIGHT show up after the dinner you didn’t invite us to.  I felt like a stupid teenager waiting for you and I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

By this time, Brad’s eyes were more focused on the ground than at me - perhaps a sign that hearing all of this was hard for him to digest and he could no longer look me in the face.

“Besides,” I told him.  “The other bar was a bust too.  I ended up going home and fucking crying like an idiot.”

His head popped back up.  “You cried.”

I nodded.

“Scottie, I didn’t know that you were hurting that badly.  If I had known you had cried, I would have left my friends and would have come been with you guys.”

Hearing him say had helped to cool off the flames that had fired up inside me.  This was the friend I had known and loved.  I stopped coming down on him like a hammer and allowed myself to talk from a more vulnerable place - a side of me that felt more weak, than angry.

“Brad, I told you I had been lonely and you responded by pulling away from me.  And for what?  All because you made this assumption that I had become fake?  If you had even bothered to hang out with me, you would have known I was the same Scott.”

At one point, I decided to tell Brad how, after he stopped talking to me completely, I legitimately thought about spitting in his face if I had seen him out.  To be THAT transparent with someone, to tell them something that makes you look like a fucking psycho, was intense.

He laughed, but not out of finding it humorous.  It seemed more like shock.  Most likely due to the fact that, in all of our deep conversations together, he never heard me say something so intense about anyone.  Brad now knew the gravity of his actions.

Suddenly, Brad offered me what so many people in this situation don’t get: an apology.

“Jesus, Scott,” he said.  “I really fucked up.  I feel terrible.  I am so sorry.”

The whole conversation, of course, did not play out this quickly.  If I tried to write a more detailed and accurate version of the two hours we spent talking, it would most likely be a small screenplay that would get thrown in the trash.  What I have written here is the highlights.  And as these highlights came to wrap his apology, there was still one more thing I had to address.

Just a month before this lunch, I had been traveling in California.  In LA, I stayed with this guy, Chris, who I had met at Folsom the previous year.  Chris was kind and genuine and somehow we got into a conversation about a friend of his who similarly slipped away from him.  He said, “I just had to come to terms with the fact that the friendship just didn’t mean as much to him as it did to me.”

This had been a really powerful thing for me to hear and ever since, I wondered if the same thing was true for us.  Had it all just been a matter of the friendship meaning more to me than it did for Brad?  I wanted to say this to Brad and see how he responded.

“In the end,” I told him.  “I think the friendship just meant more to me than it did to you.”

Brad nodded.  “I think that’s true about a lot of the relationships in my life.”

We talked about this for a bit and I began to see a side of my friend that I hadn’t seen before - probably because I chose to ignore it.  Brad didn’t view friendship the same way I did.  Yet, here he was, apologizing for what he had done and asking for a second chance.  I felt more confused than ever.

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By the time he apologized for every stone I refused to leave unturned, it no longer made sense to keep talking about it.  There was no point in beating any dead horses.  We switched to small chit-chat as we waited to pay for the check.  I was slightly annoyed when he didn’t offer to pay for the whole thing.

When we got up from the table and made our way to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, Brad said, “How about we get lunch again next week?”

“No,” I said at the drop of a hat.  This surprised me just as much as it did him.
“Why not?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Brad.  If we just immediately put this behind us and go back to the way things were, then I don’t think we will learn anything from all of this.”

This was true too.  Every time I find myself at a disjuncture in life, I try to own my part in it as much as possible so that I could learn a lesson.  Now, I wanted him to do the same.  Though, I will fully admit, it felt pretty damn good to be the one turning him down this time.

“Let’s just take some time to heal and grow.  When either of us gets to a better place and figured out what we needed to learn, we can reach out then.”

And with that, we gave each other a big farewell hug.

           Over the next few months, I had to face the next classic caveman question: where do I go from here?  Since writing Part I and Part II of this story, I have been flooded with heartfelt messages from people who have gone through the same thing.  It makes me sad to know that this is normal and it makes me happy to know that I am not alone.

           I imagine that the “where do I go from here” question is something we all face when a friend lets us down.  And this question is so deeply personal for our own unique situations.  With Brad wanting reconciliation and to continue our friendship, my question didn’t just involve a “me,” it involved a “we.”

           I didn’t know what in the hell to do.  Did I still want this friendship or not?  And if I didn’t, did that just mean I was holding on to my anger?  Would I be failing to find the grace in order to forgive and forget?  If I didn’t take his olive branch, would I never actually let this whole thing be water under the bridge?

           By the time five months rolled by, neither Brad or I had contacted each other.  And these thoughts continued to weigh on my mind as I still missed him.  It wasn’t until this last fall, when I went to visit my friend, Sinead, in Philadelphia, that I began to think differently about Brad.

Sinead and I have known each other since college and she is truly the only person I could refer to as a “best friend.”  She has always seemed to do well with friends and rarely had quarrels.  During the trip, I asked her how she did this.

“I just meet people where they’re at,” she said.

Sinead then told me a recent story where she felt frustrated with a friend who regularly wasn’t following through with their plans.  By her motto, she realized this woman didn’t offer friendship in the same way that Sinead did.  So, instead of letting it be a source of stress and conflict, she met the friend where the friend was at by not investing as much energy into her.

In Amy Poehler’s book (which has practically become my bible), she does an essay on the awesomeness of getting older.  She talks a bit about friendships and says, “Now that you are starting to have a sense of who you are, you know better what kind of friend you want and need.”

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As Chris in L.A. said, the friendship simply didn’t mean as much to Brad as it did to me.  And although he wanted friendship again, this wasn’t the kind of friendship I wanted or needed.  The time had come for me to meet Brad where he was at.  Like all of us in the situation, my energy could best be spent elsewhere.  I officially made the decision.  I wanted to let Brad go.

But in order to find peace by letting him go, I would have to start by honoring what our friendship once was.  If I let go with all this hurt in my heart, then I wouldn’t truly be letting him go.  I would simply be doing what he did to me: pushing him away via some distorted lens of what he did wrong rather than what he did right. 

The fact of the matter is, Brad was a great friend.  He helped me brand the blog and wrestle with social media (even if I still fucked it up).  When I bartended, he frequently visited me on my shifts.  Whenever I did a burlesque show, he always came even if he had seen the act before.  On a couple occasions, he even helped me record the acts.  And Brad always provided me a safe space to tell some of my deeper secrets.

There is a saying that goes something like “Friends are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  Brad had been in my life for so many reasons - all of which I am so grateful for.  But things changed for him.  Thus, our season had come to an end.  He wasn’t meant to be along my side for a lifetime.

One day, not long after my visit with Sinead, I took my laptop to the park and worked on my book at a picnic table.  After a while, I looked up and saw Brad with a couple of guys.  They were laughing together while they walked their dogs.  Judging by the distance, they would have had to pass fairly close behind me.  Brad didn’t stop to say hello.

Perhaps he felt too awkward to do so.  Or perhaps he didn’t even notice me.  It didn’t matter.  While seeing this made me feel a bit lonely, it reminded me of one simple fact: feeling lonely when you’re with someone is far lonelier than when you are actually alone.

At that moment, my heart gave a tiny smile as I thought, Goodbye my friend.  Brad was a wonderful person.  I loved him very much.  And I hoped he would be well.  The water had finally gone under the bridge.  It just flowed in a different direction than I thought it needed to.

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Part II: Mourning Mayhem

Trying to figure out whether or not a close friend still likes you is a tricky task.  Their slow withdrawing only sends vague messages, which makes the whole thing more confusing.  If you call them out on it, you run the risk of looking crazy and insecure.  If you don’t call them out on it, then the friendship just continues to disappear.

As told in the previous blog post, I now stood in this exact pit of quicksand with my friend Brad.  If you didn’t read it, here’s a quick recap:  He was a great friend with whom I hung out regularly.  He had become distant in the fall of 2017 - unfollowing me on social media and being less and less responsive to texts.  I tried my best to maintain our friendship.  And on New Year’s Eve 2017/2018, he left me feeling truly alone in favor of his other friends.

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After that night, I was left with a massive decision as to what to do next.  Do I keep trying to be friends?  Do I just let go of the friendship?  Do I put on a designer ski mask and go slash his tires?  Or should I simply reach out and try to talk?  What?  Like mature adults?  No.  We couldn’t do that.  Could we?  

Technically, I HAD already tried talking to him about it when I first noticed his distance in the fall.  He said he was merely feeling depressed since the weather changed.  Like a good friend (who has battled depression), I gave him the number of my therapist and offered to help in any other way that I could.  God, was I an idiot.  

In order to make peace with the end of this friendship, I needed more solid evidence that it was actually done.  I decided to stop reaching out to Brad - no more phone calls, no more texts, and no more funny memes over social media.  If I didn’t hear from Brad in any context, then I would have the info to better understand the situation.

I began this experiment on New Year’s Day.  A week passed by.  I hadn’t heard from Brad.  Two weeks passed.  I STILL hadn’t heard from Brad.  A month later, still…nothing.  If action is information, his lack of action was giving me all the info I needed.  My plan was working.

Simultaneously, my plan was backfiring.  I could now visibly see that he no longer had much, if any, regard for our friendship.  His absence was like him sprinkling salt all over the little wounds he’d been jabbing into me over the past months and the pain was making me really, REALLY pissed off.

What had been a milky love for a good friend was now curdling into hate.  My revenge fantasies no longer involved slashing his tires.  Some cutesy vandalism just wouldn’t suffice for how angry I felt.  Instead, I fantasized about how nice it would be to walk right up and punch him in the face.  

Of course, I am NOT a violent guy and would have never physically harmed Brad.  At age 37, I‘ve still never even thrown a punch.  It’s just not in my nature.  But, by week six of not hearing from him, I had succumbed to full-blown rage.

“So, if I were to see Brad in public,” I told Luke one night at dinner, “I‘ve decided I’m gonna spit in his face.”

Seeing as how I said this so matter-of-factly (hence no exclamation point), Luke was concerned.  “Are you serious?” he said.

“Yeah.  I have given this a lot of thought,” I continued.  “I think it would be good for me to spit in his face.  It would show him how much all this really has hurt me, and it would make him feel hurt too.”

Admitting this now, in front of you all and the entire world, makes me feel a bit sick at my stomach.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I had way too much coffee before writing this essay.  Either way, looking back on this, it is not one of my prouder moments.

Luke gently suggested that I should go see my therapist.  I am fortunate to have an incredible therapist.  She helps reframe things more objectively without over-criticizing or over-coddling (coddling is the worst).  I only see her now on an as-needed basis.  And clearly this was needed.

In our session, we went over the reasons why Brad’s actions could have been more about Brad than it was about me.  Then we got to my anger.  She had pegged me as having a problem with anger before and how it was the way I responded when coping (or not coping) with hurt.  And this time, the hurt had gotten severe enough that my anger was out of control.  

 By the end of the session, she talked me down from saliva-fueled desires and helped me understand that, in the end, I have no control over his actions.  But I do have control over mine.  It was not up to Brad to help me find peace.  It was up to me.

She recommended a book called “Anger” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh...again.  She has recommended this a few times.  As much as I try to be proactive about my mental health, I failed to do this homework.  When you’re busy writing your own book, it gets incredibly tough to read other people’s books.

I supposed this time I could see if there is an audiobook that I could listen to in the car.  But listening to an audiobook by a Buddhist monk might put me to sleep at the wheel and crash.  Then I would have to take Brad on Judge Judy for indirectly causing me to wreck my car.  It wouldn’t be worth it - especially because she would yell at me a lot and most likely rule in his favor.  

It might have been Brad who made me feel like a desperate teenager, but I alone was responsible for acting like one.  I came to realize I had actually been going through the mourning process and had no awareness of it.  The stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and acceptance) are, unfortunately, not linear.

Since I failed to recognize this as grief for the loss of our friendship, I kept blindly bouncing between shock, depression, and guilt, always to land back on anger.  It had become a vicious cycle of shame and rage, and none of it was getting me closer to that final stage of acceptance.  It was ‘mourning mayhem.’

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I spent the next couple of weeks working through my grief so that I could stop acting like a child and respond like a mature adult.  I hadn’t handled this well and I didn’t want to be angry and vengeful anymore.  The only soul it was hurting was my own.  I wanted to find grace in my heart so that I could let Brad go peacefully.  

On March 1st (the tenth week of silence) I decided I had gotten as close as I could get and needed to send one last text in order to genuinely put this thing six feet under.  This is what I wrote:

“Hey buddy, I’m sorry for this weird text. But I wanted to let you know that after New Year’s I decided to see what would happen if I stopped reaching out to hang out. And now, two months later, I haven’t heard from you.  And over this time I’ve seen you hang out with your other friends regularly on social media.  I don’t understand if this distance was intentional or accidental.  But it feels lousy on my end and I think the time has come for me to just make my peace with it and let it go.  And I needed to write this in order to do that. I mean all of this with love and grace. You have been one of my favorite people to befriend and I am truly thankful for the friendship that we had. I am also grateful for all the ways that you helped me. And I will always be there for you if you ever need me.  No need to reply.  Love you, Brad. Take care.”

Six hours and nine minutes later, Brad responded:

“Hey Scotty, I’m glad you reached out, it’s been on my mind too. The space was somewhat intentional, the length of time accidental. I’ve felt a shift in our friendship since the blog and brand launched and I haven’t done a great job of letting you know that it’s been bugging me. That’s on me. I started pulling away because I felt that most of our conversation and connection became centered around your brand as opposed to around you or me. I think that’s the nature of this portion of your life being so wrapped up in this goal/pursuit - that’s not a bad thing! It’s just shifted what we bring to the friendship a bit and I felt like our main connection shifted to brand updates and feedback. I hope that makes sense. I guess it’s just getting hard for me to separate Scott the Friend from The Bare InkSlinger. I do want to reconnect at some point and I want you to know I love you so much. The next 2-3 weeks of March are fucked with work travel, but I’d love to hang out when things settle and talk through some of this in person.”

I guess it would not stay six feet under after all.

To clarify what he meant by some of this, Brad had helped me brand The Bare InkSlinger.  He was the one to point out that my writing is very naked and to make the bold move of sometimes getting physically naked with it.  With his line of work, he knew branding and marketing and I relied heavily on his knowledge to help me figure this stuff out.

When someone calls me out on something, I try my best to remain open to it and to own my actions.  I texted back that I think there was truth in what he said and that I would like to get together to share some perspectives and shine some light on this.  I wrote that, when things calm down, he should touch base with me.

Twenty-four hours later, I realized this was utter bullshit.  While I had talked a lot about the blog, I always remained conscious of not letting our friendship become all about that. Therefore, most of our ‘in-person’ conversations circled around the many woes of his self-proclaimed ‘slutty heart’.

My brain fragmented into a hundred pieces.  I tore into my notebook, writing down all the ways we chatted about his life in lieu of the blog: the constant love triangles he found himself in, the falling apart of his last major relationship, and all the other boy-crushes that led to his constant state of unhappiness.  I was able to quickly list off fifteen different things we talked about.  And over a year’s time, since starting the blog, hanging out once a month or less, this felt significant.

At this point, my anger had returned and I was exhausted.  I just wanted to be done with it.  But I also wanted to meet up so I could find out what in the hell happened, let him know how much it hurt me, and make peace.  Well, this might shock you, but Brad did not ever message me back to set up a time.  However, I wasn’t going to give up.  I needed closure and I needed it face-to-face.

On April 13th, I texted, “So when can we get together and chat.” (And yes I failed to put a question mark instead of a period.)

Brad did not respond.

On May 10th, I texted, “I’ll give this another shot.  Do you want to meet up and talk?”

He replied quickly enough that my phone does not distinguish the time the text was received.  He did want to meet up - maybe between May 21-25th.  His life had been so busy.  He looked forward to reconnecting.  He quit his job.  He got a new job.  He started a new relationship.  This new guy lived in Seattle, but was now planning to move here next week.

Maybe I really SHOULD just spit on him, I thought.  No!  No!  I had to stay strong!  What would Thich Nhat Hanh do?  I still hadn’t bought that “Anger” book.  But it was safe to assume that Buddhist monks probably don’t spit on people when they’re upset.  I wanted to be the kind of man who used honest and gracious words, not vengeful and destructive actions.    

Finally, we made lunch plans on May 24th.  Brad picked the restaurant right across the street - a place we had gone to constantly because he didn’t like venturing out more than a five-block radius.  

I arrived first and got a table on the patio.  A few moments later, I saw him crossing the street from his apartment.  Brad walked up to the table and we gave each other a big obligatory hug before taking our seats.  But even the waitress could feel the tension as she poured our waters.

 My heart pounded as I now sat across from my new former best friend.  I was finally about to find out what in the hell happened.  And as it turned out, the bullshit reason Brad mentioned in his text was, indeed, far from the truth.  To be continued.    

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Part I: UnHappy New Years

Every time I get impatient, I pace around my house.  And the longer it took for my friend Brad to text me back, the more I zipped from room to room.  New Year’s Eve had come and by late morning, he still hadn’t gotten back to me about any plans.

New Year’s Eve had typically been one of my favorite nights of the year.  It was the only time I had allowed myself to open the alcohol floodgates (since my early twenties).  We’d gather with friends, I’d get trashed, and it always turned out to be an incredible night of fun, flirtation, celebration and love.

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The previous year had been particularly fun as Brad, our partners and I, had met up with a small group of friends who didn’t yet know each other.  And yet, all of our energies meshed together, right away.  

But things had changed since then.  Brad was no longer with his boyfriend due to some messy love-triangle stuff.  And I had now gone completely sober since I quit bartending the previous July - a decision Brad had helped me make.

I desperately needed to re-harness last year’s energy for this year’s NYE for one simple reason: I was lonely as fuck.  While I had my amazing partner Luke, the writer’s life made it difficult to get out and have social ties.  Brad, who I dubbed as a best friend, had also become my last remaining good friend.

And yet, lately, Brad hadn’t been fully present in our friendship.  He had discovered a new group of outdoorsy guys to hang with.  These fellas were hardcore backpackers.  I tend to be more “outdoorsy light” - I love being in nature, but the second I have to survive in it, I’m out.

I am not really the jealous type and didn’t mind getting left out of their reindeer games.  But it seemed as though I was starting to get left out of Reindeer Brad’s life.  It became increasingly difficult to even grab dinner with him anymore.

When I finally did lock him down for a meal in late fall, the first thing he said to me when we met up was, “I’ve really missed you!”

Without even thinking about it, I blurted out the words, “Are you sure?!”

He laughed.  “Of course, I’m sure.  What does that mean?”

I talked about him being fairly absent.  He talked about his being fairly busy.  I talked about my being fairly lonely.  Our conversations slipped into the usual discussions of my self-deprecating mistakes and the misadventures of his “slutty heart.”  

By the end of dinner, I switched the conversation back and told him I really, REALLY needed his help in staying connected.  Brad responded with an invitation to join him and his new crew to a calendar release party by a local LGBT photographer at a new bar/restaurant.  I accepted this invite and Luke wanted to come along as well. 

The night of the calendar party had gone very differently than I had hoped.  Brad and his friends sat in an oversized booth while we stood to the side.  In my philosophy of being vulnerable and putting myself out there, I tried making small talk with his friends, but they didn’t seem to have much to say to me.  

Then things took an even weirder turn when all of my old bar patrons started showing up.  I hadn’t seen any of these guys since I quit and I had missed a lot of them.  They all wanted to know how things had been since I left the bar and pursued writing full time.  I also ran into a few old friends who I hadn’t gotten to see in a good while either.  

Getting to see people who actually WANTED to see me gave me the wonderful connected feeling I had been longing for in my loneliness as a writer.  The only problem was that I got to be social with everyone but the friend I had come to be social with.  Once Luke and I were able to connect back with Brad’s friends, one of them laughed about how I knew everyone.  I laughed too.

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After that night, Brad seemed even more distant.  Not only did I have trouble getting him to schedule dinner, but he slowed down on responding to my texts.  He no longer liked or commented on any of my stuff on social media and it made me wonder if he had unfollowed me.  

All of this left me confused and hurting.  Did we even have a friendship anymore?  I’d vent my frustrations to Luke, but Luke couldn’t really do anything for me but listen.  Then, a week or so before Christmas, I got an envelope in the mail from Brad.  

It included a handwritten letter telling me how grateful he was and how much he loved seeing me grow in pursuing my dreams of being a writer.  Brad was pivotal in my starting the blog as he helped brand the whole thing. 

The envelope also contained a wallet-sized photo of the two of us laughing together - a shot we had taken when I once wrote a blog post about the unique way we found our friendship.  Then it had more thing - a third little gift.  I pulled it out to find a passport coupon book to bars around the city (also another one for the mountains) for buy-one-get-one on beers and other alcoholic beverages.  

“What the fuck?!” I said slightly disturbed.  Luke leaned over and asked what it was.  I showed it to him and asked the obvious.  “Why would my friend, who helped me decide to get sober, send me a passport book for alcohol?”

My brain immediately spun off in all of the what-does-this-mean and the why-would-he-do-this.  On the one hand, he sent me this incredibly sweet gesture of friendship.  On the other, he included something that insinuated he didn’t know me at all.  As per usual, Luke snapped me out of it.

“Don’t overthink it, my love,” Luke said.  “Yeah, it’s weird he included that.  But everything in there is so thoughtful.  Don’t discount the positive.”

Maybe Luke was right.  Maybe this was a matter of discounting the positive.  I have a tendency to see the bullshit rather than the angel shit.  And maybe the distance between Brad and I had been mostly in my head.  Sure, we hadn’t been hanging out.  But this little package was truly one of the nicest things any friend has done.

So what if Brad had possibly unfollowed me on Instagram?  He and I obviously still had a friendship.  I resumed texting as normal and, right before Christmas, asked him about New Year’s.  I didn’t get a response.  I decided not to read into it.  He’s probably just busy.  A few days after Christmas, I tried again.

Brad finally responded and said he was in the process of making plans with his other friends.  He asked if we wanted to join.  This made me feel second rate - like I was an “afterthought friend” - the person you don’t make plans with, but that you’d invite if they pop and you suddenly remembered they exist.  I didn’t like this.  But what other choice did I have?

On the day of New Year’s Eve, I texted and asked what the plans were.  Like clockwork (or lack thereof), it took him a while to respond.  Finally, he said that he and his friends would be doing dinner at 9:30 pm, and should probably be done around 11 pm and, would meet us at the bar.  But he’d let me know if they decided to go to a different bar instead.

My stomach sank as I read this.  Luke and I weren’t even good enough to be invited to dinner.  But apparently we were just good enough to meet them at a bar they weren’t even sure they were going to.   

Later in the afternoon, my sunken stomach then got punched.  I went on Instagram and saw Brad with his friends celebrating early and wearing silly “FUCK2017” glasses.  Plot twist: this was LAST year’s NYE, not this year’s.  It has taken me over a year to come to a place where I felt comfortable writing this story.  Not since high school had I felt like such a fucking loser. 

Luke could see the overwhelming sadness taking over my whole being and said that we didn’t have to go out - that we could just stay home.  The thought of this made me feel even more like a loser.  Though now, looking back on it, this would have been the better option.  Instead, I said we should still join them at the bar.

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 Luke and I arrived to the bar at 10pm.  We hoped to get there early as to avoid crazy parking or a big line to get in. While the bar was busy, it didn’t quite have the high energy crowd I had hoped for.  While we ran into a few acquaintances, we didn’t really see anyone else we knew.  So, we just stood there…waiting and waiting and waiting.

By 11pm, I hadn’t heard from Brad.  Time had become both excruciating and embarrassing, and I could not remember the last time I had felt like such a dumb doormat. 

I turned to Luke.  “Maybe we should leave,” I said.

This surprised him.  “Yeah?  Why?”

“I feel stupid,” I told him.  “Here we are waiting for Brad and his friends and we don’t even know when or IF they’ll even show up.”

“I gotta be honest with you,” Luke said. “Every time we are around Brad’s friends, I feel invisible.”

The moment he uttered those words, a new sense of truth immediately vibrated through my body.  I hadn’t realized it, but I felt the exact same way: invisible. Not only to my best friend’s new friends, but also to my best friend himself.  And the harder I tried to fit in, to keep my friendship, the more of a fool I had been.

“Yeah,” I made the decision. “I am sick of waiting for them like a desperate teenager.  Let’s go to the other bar.” 

We hopped back in my car, but before jetting off, I texted Brad to let him know.  He asked if the bar was a bust - if it wasn’t busy.  I texted back and said that it wasn’t busy and that the crowd had been kind of strange and that we were headed to the other bar.  I left this open ended to see how he would respond - if maybe he would switch gears and join us at the other bar too.

In being transparently objective, I realize this was a mistake.  It was a passive-aggressive attempt to see if he cared at all.  What I should have texted was the way I had felt.  But that could have been a mistake too.  Confronting someone while we are in an emotional state of mind rarely ever goes well.  Besides, Brad didn’t even respond...again.

The second bar had also been a bust.  Perhaps people just weren’t going out to bars much for NYE anymore.  Either way, I pursued the “ultimate night out” so blindly that I couldn’t see the obvious signs of what would actually end up being the “ultimate disappointment” and the loss of my closest friend - my worst New Year’s Eve ever.

When Luke and I got home, I immediately went and grabbed the alcohol passport book that Brad and had sent, and threw it in the trash.  I thought it would make me feel better.  Instead, I cried.  Fortunately, I had Luke to rub my back and tell me that I would be alright.

I made the decision that I wouldn’t text Brad again.  Part of this was to not feel like such a tool anymore.  But the other part was a test to see if he would ever bother to initiate a text with me again.  As I often say, “action is information.”  And what would happen next would give me far more different information than I expected.  To be continued...

 

Edited by George Paraskeva

Copyright © 2019 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.