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Cross-Country. Sparks of Hope Along the Dark Journey

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In this chapter, L.T. Miller picks up where he left off in “Dark Night,” describing his break with reality and the process of stepping back into the light with the help of his friends.

The two weeks on the road passed slowly, and despite the pain, I look back almost eight years later and remember more good than bad. All along the way I had people on the sidelines, cheering me on, rooting for me, and showering me with their unconditional love and support. Samantha and I arrived in Palm Springs well after the sun had set.

The minute I saw Chris, a sense of well-being flooded my soul. He broke into a heartwarming smile and screamed out into the wee hours of the early morning, “Poodle!”, surely waking neighbors. And before I could utter a word in response, I was yanked into his comforting embrace. It felt good. Then … as my tormented thoughts began to wander in a zillion different directions, Oprah Winfrey came to mind, and I thought about the crazy ass letter I had written to her during my out of control mania. In my unscrewed mind, thinking to myself that she’d actually answer, I had ranted on and on about how wonderful it was to finally “Get it!” Now in this fucked up existence of punishing darkness her words reached out to me and I could almost hear her booming voice, “And I say, ‘Aha! I get it!’ Light bulb … and the little hairs on your arm stand up. That is an aha moment.”

Chris & Sam

Chris & Sam

Hugging Chris elicited an aha moment, one I’ll never forget.

I realize now all these years later that, despite the unrelenting depression that consumed me, a tiny glimmer of hope must have been buried somewhere deep into the recesses of my subconscious, a hope beyond my understanding at the time, some great force that propelled me forward. Within my brokenness, a tiny seed struggled to germinate; and even in the piercing darkness that obscured all the memories of a wonderful life, Jesus’ words comforted me, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

I didn’t sleep that night. After the pleasantries and ‘good nights’ were said and done with, I wandered out to the pool and paced. Chris and Joe’s condo sat perched on a hill not too far from Bob Hope’s palatial desert retreat; and as I gazed out at the sprawling lights of one of the most iconic places in the country I wondered to myself how much water it took to maintain this manmade oasis in the midst of a natural landscape of nothingness. As much as I loved the lush lawns and beautifully manicured golf courses and pools and fountains, there was a small part of me that detested man’s flagrant use of water to create something so unreal. What if the snow someday stopped falling on the Santa Rosa Mountains that overshadowed the city? What would become of the fertile Coachella Valley if Mother Nature decided to be unkind?

Soon after sunrise, Chris brought me coffee. I forced a small laugh, “Dude, you look like shit! I’m glad I don’t have to wake up to that every morning. For God’s sake wipe the boogars from your eyes, and do something with your hair or I’m gonna start callin’ you chicken head.”

He threw his middle finger into the air and smirked, “You’re an ass. And by the way, you’re welcome for the coffee … have you been out here all night?”

“Yep – sleep doesn’t come easily these days. Dude, I’ve experienced some pretty intense depressions in my life. My life has been an emotional roller coaster since as far back as I can remember, up and down … but nothing like this. Even the funks I fell into during our time in the cult never even came close to knocking  me off my ass like this one. Funny, the things we remember. In college I remember one of my friends was taking a psychology class and asked me to be the guinea pig for one of her projects. She gave me this stupid ass diagnostic test in order to determine where I fell on the mood scale. Based on the results, I was labeled clinically depressed. But dude – nothing in my life has EVER compared to this hell. I just wanna die. You ever felt that way? Have you ever just wanted to die?”

Chris just looked at me with tenderness in his eyes, with an empathy that could be felt. Words were not necessary. His presence was enough. After a while, he broke the silence, “Gonna be hot today. We’re thinking about headin’ over to our friends house – Rich and Gordon – you haven’t met them. Anyhow, thinking about having brunch there, hang out by the pool. That okay with you?”

“Sure … yeah – it’s all good. Will they have Bloody Mary’s?”

Chris laughed, “For days and days. It’s a never ending supply at their house. And just wait until you see this place.  Oh my God it’s amazing. An enormous ranch on one of the most prestigious golf courses in town. There’s a sunken bar in the living room, and the pool is unbelievable – saltwater. And you’ll love all the rose bushes. But just gotta say beforehand that Gordon is a lecherous old man, has more money than God, and thinks he can have anybody and anything he wants. Don’t be shocked if he propositions you. Just ignore him. And Rich … well, how do I say this? Rich is much younger, a glorified house boy, I suppose. But oh well, they’re fun, and Gordon and Joe have been friends for years.  And oh yeah …  I should warn you, we don’t generally bother with swim trunks whenever we go over there. You’re okay with that, yah?”

“Oh puhlease, dude, remember the Highlands in Guerneville, the clothing optional gay retreat? If you’ve seen one dick you’ve seen ‘em  all, and truthfully at this point in my life all I care about is the heart … and right now mine seems so dark.  So you know they say I’m Bipolar, right? That’s so fucked up … did you see any signs in the program or during all our years as roommates? Ever suspect?”

“Well, I do remember Jason telling me that he once caught you cleaning the bathroom at two o’clock in the morning singing at the top of your voice, ‘I’ve gotta a river of life flowing through me’ … woke up the entire suite … that seemed a little weird to me. Yah, I guess if I think about it, you kinda were like an emotional yo yo. Actually in retrospect, you were all over the place, lots of highs and lows, and sometimes it was hard to keep up with the pendulum. I just dismissed it as you being hyper, perhaps a little eccentric, and very emotional.  But I never saw you psychotic or anything, and never ever saw you in the shape you’re in now. My heart goes out to ya, man. I wish I had the right words to say, just know I love ya more than my luggage, and I’m here for you always …. So have you seen a psychiatrist? Are you taking anything?”

“Yah, I saw somebody. He prescribed Depakote, but all it did was give me the runs, so I tossed it.  I think the doc was full of shit anyhow. I don’t trust psychiatrists. All they wanna do is push pills and well, they’re just a bunch of quacks. Nah, seriously, man, this dude was weird – a total freak! Honestly, man, I dunno if there’s a pill in the world that can fix this … or HIM!”

***

Joshua TreeThe next morning Sam and I continued our trek eastward, stopping at my friend Gloria’s isolated cabin outside of Joshua Tree. God, I love her! We met in 1993 while working together at a small nonprofit in West Hollywood, and our friendship has been constant ever since. Her face radiates sheer joy, and while there’s a childlike innocence about her, wisdom triumphs.  She is a free spirited, tree huggin’ hippie to the extreme. Her beauty is natural and completely void of makeup or expensive clothes. I doubt she owns a hair dryer or curling iron, and her lovely flaxen blond hair forever dangles in braided pigtails. She shops at thrift stores, wears secondhand clothes, detests malls, and hates consumerism. She lives simply, takes little, and gives much. Her gentle spirit never fails to comfort me. Seeing her was another aha moment.

GLORIA.TREE

Gloria. Yeah.

We spent the afternoon lounging by the pool. After dinner I excused myself, and escaped into the twilight alone. I hiked up into the hills at the end of Gloria’s dirt road, and as the sun continued its descent into the horizon, the endless mounds of rocks became emblazoned with brilliant hues of burnt oranges and fiery reds. Joshua trees dotted the barren landscape with branches outstretched to the heavens, each seemingly lost in a reverent prayer to the universe.  I found a quiet spot underneath one of them, and cursed God. “Why have you damned me to such a pathetic, miserable existence? What the fuck is wrong with you? Is this your idea of a sick joke?” As I made my way back to the cabin in the darkened sky, a profound sense of guilt immediately overcame me and I begged for His mercy, and pleaded with Him to deliver me from the never-ending pain.

After tearful goodbyes the next morning, Sam I and I hopped into the truck and drove to Phoenix. There we spent a few days with my good friend Tobia, her husband Paul, and her mother Jacque. I met Tobia in 1991 while doing a summer internship at a homeless shelter in Los Angeles. Once I met her folks I was taken in as one of their own. I was invited on camping trips to Mount Lassen and Yosemite and Tahoe; and it seemed there was never a holiday gathering where I wasn’t invited. I loved them all, but Jacque and I had a special bond. We could talk for hours and hours and never run out things to say; we both loved the outdoors, perusing antique stores, and hitting up garage sales, and I could go on and on. No doubt, we were kindred spirits.  Jacque was a devout Christian woman, true to her faith, tried and true – yet it didn’t seem to faze her one bit that I was gay. And if it did bother her, she never for a second let on. Not once did she try to convert me. Not once did she attempt to shame me or guilt me into believing that my lifestyle was sinful. I’ll never know how she really felt about it; it just wasn’t something we talked about. All I ever felt from her was unconditional love.

At the time, she was battling the beginning stages of a terminal cancer that would eventually take her life in the fall of 2008. Seeing her joy and unshakeable faith in the midst of her own battle was sobering. By that point, much of her time was spent resting, and I’ll never forget those moments when I sat cross-legged at the foot of her bed, basking in her presence. The precious time we spent hanging out and praying together is forever etched into my memory, and to this day I can still hear her voice clear as day as she recited this verse in Psalms from memory, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” My visit with her was another aha moment on the road to recovery.

***

The next part of the journey is a blur of the red rock canyons of New Mexicolonely Texas roads, Oklahoma’s vast plains, and the gentle rolling hills of Arkansas. At any other time in my life, the experience would have been exhilarating, but now every day was sheer drudgery.  While Sam did most of the driving, I sat in the passenger seat of my green Ford Ranger, trying to lose myself in whatever reading material would capture my attention even slightly – trash tabloids for the most part, but I did manage to read USA TODAY every morning. I suppose there was some tiny part of me that still felt connected to humanity, and needed to know what was happening in the world.  When finally my concentration would wane, I’d initiate Sam in one-sided conversations, ask her open-ended questions, and just sit there and listen, grateful that I didn’t have to exert the energy it would have taken to speak back.

Our time in Tennessee was perhaps one of the highlights of my dark journey. Despite all the angst in my life, the Hog and Hominy state bestowed upon me an abundance of aha moments. As soon as we crossed over the great Mississippi, we stopped in Memphis for lunch. I’ll always hold dear to my heart mine and Sam’s afternoon spent strolling along Beale Street, swaying to the live jazz music, and popping Jell-O shots. Later that day we trekked eastward to Sewanee, a delightful little college town resting atop a two thousand feet peak overlooking the Cumberland Plateau. There we spent a few days with my good friends Lyle and Jerin. I first met Jerin in 2000 when he was still living in San Francisco. The charming little bungalow he and his partner had bought was built in the thirties and was situated on several wooded acres out in the middle of nowhere.  I immediately fell in love with the idyllic setting, grateful that there was a tiny spark of joy buried somewhere deep in the darkness – grateful that there was still within me the ability to recognize and appreciate beauty.

I have bittersweet memories of our time there. As much I remember the pain, I remember also the hidden joy that lingered in the turmoil, and now I smile when I recall the evenings we spent hanging out in their spacious living room with the huge rock fireplace, all of us hovering over a board game or deck of tarot cards. I remember fondly the lazy days we spent leisurely meandering along country roads with no particular destination ever in mind. And I’ll never forget that perfect summer afternoon we spent back in some isolated hollow, hanging out with the Radical Fairies. I chuckle every time I recall the bizarre sight of a bunch of backwoods, overweight men in their flowing dresses, hairy legs, and combat boots.  Our final morning there Lyle was wearing a black t-shirt with white lettering that read:  “I’ve gone to find myself. If I come back before I return, please keep me here.”

“How fitting for my situation,” I remarked.

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

“Oh, the message on your shirt. Kinda sums up where I am in my life right now.”

Right then and there, he removed the shirt and handed it to me. “A little keepsake to remember your visit here with us,” he answered warmly.

I took it to my nose, and jokingly asked, “Would you be offended if I washed it before I wear it?”

He laughed.

“Nah, seriously, dude, thank you! This means a lot. You’re awesome. Thank you.”

The t-shirt is faded now and the white lettering has worn completely away, but I still sleep in it as a reminder of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

—-

photo credit: “Sparks in the Air,” Andrea via Flickr, cc
Other photos by L.T. Miller.

 

Ex-Gay SurvivorL.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man.  L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.

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