Monday, July 21, 2008

Saying Goodbye

I began going to the Kanzeon Zen Center on a regular basis. I would sit meditation on Wednesday nights, attend the Sunday morning Dharma talks, and volunteer every Friday. Volunteering involved painting walls, gardening, cleaning, and any other odd jobs they had for me. I began meeting all sorts of fascinating people from George, the British poet gardener with the body of a 70-year-old but the soul of a teenager, to Christian, the German who up and moved his entire family to Salt Lake City from Germany just to study under the abbot at Kanzeon. Incidentally, the abbot of Kanzeon, Genpo Merzel Roshi, is world famous for the techniques he has developed through his experience with Zen. The technique is called Big Mind and is a form of psychotherapy with the aspect of Buddhism added in. It is amazing to sit in on a Sunday session and watch people just click with enlightenment as he or any of the other teachers lead us in Big Mind.

One Sunday morning I was sitting in Kanzeon with Vee and our friend Corrine as we listened to one of the Sensei’s gave a talk. After the talk, we all gathered downstairs for tea and cookies. Corrine and Vee started talking with a cute young woman and I joined in on the conversation. The young woman’s name was Robin. We all chatted for a while before we left Kanzeon. We were on our way to take Vee to get her first tattoo. We took her to the tattoo parlor and set her up with the artist and her design. The artist got to work and Corrine and I left them to it. Robin had invited us to coffee with a group she attends on a regular basis so Corrine and I took her up on the offer. Arriving at the coffee shop, we saw Robin and a couple other people gathered in the corner so we walked over and sat down. The whole time there, I was engaging Robin in conversation and trying to get any sort of feel about whether she was interested in me or not. After an hour or so of conversation, I still had no idea. We said goodbye then Corrine and I left to check on Vee. After a few more hours of tattooing, the permanent art on her back was complete. A transgender symbol with the words LOVE IS THE MOVEMENT circling within. It was beautifully done and very fitting for Vee.

A couple weeks passed by uneventfully while I occupied my time volunteering at the elementary school still and Kanzeon riding my bike to and from everywhere I went. Then my mom decided to come out to visit. She had heard me talking so much about Kanzeon and the Big Mind process and wanted to check it out for herself. She arrived on Thursday evening and I picked her up at the airport (in a borrowed car, not my bicycle). Over the next couple of days her brother, who lives in Salt Lake City, drove us around and the three of us hung out together. On Sunday morning the three of us went to the Zen Center and listened to a visiting Sensei from France give a talk on loving ourselves completely. Afterwards we had tea and cookies and saw Robin there again. I introduced her to my mom and uncle and invited her on a bike ride the next week. After agreeing to do so we parted ways and my uncle, mom, and I drove out to Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake. While touring the island we saw herds of antelope and buffalo but the second we stepped out of the car we were attacked by no-see-um bugs that ate away at our flesh. Needless to say we spent most of the tour inside the car.

The next day my mom and I attended the Big Mind workshop at Kanzeon and she loved it. She and Genpo Roshi seemed to connect really well and she shared many things I never expected to hear from her. The next day Robin came over and she, my mom and I got on our bikes and made our way to a trail along the Jordan River. About ten miles into the ride my mom was getting tired and decided to head back so Robin and I continued alone. We had a good time riding and talking and did not turn around for another hour or so. When we arrived back at the house I made us all lunch. After lunch, my mom went to rest and Robin and I went out into the back yard. I laid down a blanket and brought out my guitar. I started playing for her and I saw tears start streaming down her face. After playing a few songs I set down my guitar, leaned over, and kissed her and I felt her lips passionately pressing back against mine. We were there on the blanket in the grass holding each other and kissing for what seemed like hours. Then she got up, said goodbye, kissed me, and left. I wouldn’t see her again for another week because she was heading to a conference in Southern California.

The next day I took my mom to the airport and dropped her off for her plane. I couldn’t stop thinking of Robin. While she was in California she called me and we talked on the phone for a long time. I figured out she was thinking a lot about me too. When she returned we started spending more and more time together. She would bring her Greyhound, Gyro, over and we would baby sit the boys together. Gyro is a four-year-old retired racer who is more afraid of two-year-old Casey than anything else in the world. It almost seemed as though Robin was torturing him by bringing him over to see the child. The more time Robin and I spent together the more we realized that this was the relationship we had both been looking for. The only problem was that I was leaving Salt Lake City at the end of June so we knew this was a long-term thing.

Robin took a trip to meet her family in Florida to watch a shuttle launch. While there, she let me use her car back in SLC. One morning I strapped my bike to the back of her car and made my way to the south side of Immigration Pass. I hopped on my bicycle and started heading up. Immigration Pass is so named because it was where the Mormons entered the Salt Lake City Valley. I climbed and climbed and climbed as the mountain became steeper and steeper. About two and a half hours later, I reached the peak of White Mountain. I stopped to take in the view and eat a sandwich I had prepared earlier then started down. Approximately twenty minutes later I found myself at the bottom. I have been riding around so much and pushing myself hard in order to prepare for my next adventure. In September, I am going to ride my bicycle to South America. This is the reason why I was leaving SLC in June. I wanted to spend a couple months in Colorado before heading out.

When Robin retuned from Florida we started preparing for a camping trip we would take the next week, right after Pride Weekend. Being intimately involved with a lesbian couple and their boys as well as having several homosexual friends Pride is almost as big an event for me as it is for them. Friends came into town that I had not seen in a few years, some not since I graduated from college. On Friday, Robin and I went for a hike in Little Cottonwood Canyon with my friend Michael. I hadn’t seen Michael in about two years and he and I were best friends in college. Saturday evening we went to the Pride grounds and danced to some great music. Sunday morning Robin and I went to Kanzeon together and the topic of the Dharma speech was impermanence. The facilitator asked to speak with our self that was going to die in three years. Speaking as the self that has three years to live puts many things into perspective. It shows what matters in your life and what you would accomplish if you knew you only had that long to live. He then asked to speak to the self that would die in three months followed by the one that would die in three weeks. When we came to that point I realized that I only had about three weeks left in SLC and that meant I had three weeks left with Robin. Therefore, this relationship was going to die in three weeks time. I started pouring my heart out and telling Robin how much I loved and cherished her. When I had finished the facilitator looked at us and said, “Wow, I know pronounce you husband and wife.” In true Zen fashion, it was completely unexpected.

After the talk, Robin and I joined up with the Hackford-Peers at Pride. As Casey napped Robin and I took Riley for a walk around the festivities and telling everyone we knew that we had been married that morning. We said that had we known before hand, we would have invited them. My mom completely flipped when I told her the news. Of course, she calmed down after I told her the whole story. The next day, Robin and I left on our “honeymoon”. We were dog sitting for a friend and took her black lab with us as Robin, Gyro, Jack (the lab), and I drove down to Southern Utah to go camping. We found a beautiful, remote camping spot about halfway between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. We stayed in a park called Deer Haven and it was gorgeous. We hiked around the area through groves of aspen trees and meadows of wildflowers before settling in for the night back at the campground. The next day we left the dogs at the campsite and drove to Bryce Canyon. We spent the day hiking in the exhausting heat around the many hoodoos and rock formations of Bryce.

We returned to the campsite, got the dogs, and drove further down the road to find a beautiful little lake where the dogs and we took a little swim. Returning to the campgrounds, I took the dogs to play fetch. Jack would run mercilessly back and forth after the tennis ball only too excited to have me throw it again. Gyro on the other hand had no interest in chasing inanimate objects. He was definitely happy chasing Jack though. Jack would take off running for the ball with Gyro following close behind then Gyro would kick in his speed and pass Jack as if he were standing still. He would run all the way back to me before Jack had even reached the ball. Then he would be exhausted and just stand there as I threw the ball for Jack another twenty to thirty times. The following morning Robin and I left the dogs again and made out way to Zion. We hiked up the most thrilling hike there called Angel’s Landing. It is five miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1,488 feet up sheer cliffs with steep drop-offs. It was an amazing climb with a gorgeous view of the entire park from the top. After checking out the Weeping Wall and other sites along the Virgin River, we left Zion and had a romantic at a restaurant surrounded by the red cliffs of Southern Utah. The next day we packed up the car and the dogs and headed home.

Riley was out of school by this point and we spent most of the next two weeks together. We rode bicycles almost everyday, played with Lego’s, fought each other with light sabers as Jedi’s, and swam at the swimming pool; you know, a typical boy’s summer day. Robin and I also took Riley camping during this time, which was his first-ever camping trip. It took a lot of work to convince his moms to let him go. We took him to American Fork Canyon, just south of Salt Lake City. We did all the usual camping activities including hiking, building a fire, roasting marshmallows, and playing the wooden flute. He loved it. By the end of that week it was time for me to leave Salt Lake City. Robin was actually heading east on a long road trip so she was going to take me to Colorado. Saying goodbye to the Hackford-Peers was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. Riley was bawling the entire night but managed to choke back enough tears to give me a gift. Out of his pocket, he drew two rocks, one with the word LOVE written on it and the other with the word FAMILY. He told me to chose one and the one I chose I would take with me on my travels. He would keep the other and whenever either of us missed the other we would squeeze the rock and remember all the fun we had together. As he went to bed, I laid there with him until he fell asleep, then I went and said my goodbyes to the rest of the family. We all cried together and gave each other big hugs. Vee and Corrine were there as well so they were witness to the entire event.

Driving back to Robin’s place with her that night I couldn’t stop crying. I can’t believe how much heartache I caused a six year-old boy and how much I hurt from leaving him. That night Robin and I talked and cried in each other’s arms. The next morning we got in the car and made our way to Colorado. We made it to my parent’s house late that evening and crashed, completely exhausted. Gyro loved being at my parent’s place. There was enough space to run while dodging the trees spotted all around. We spent the weekend with my parents and other family members who were in town visiting. The day before Robin left to continue her road trip she asked if I would come along. She was going to the Lake of the Ozarks to spend the 4th of July with some friends before she drove up to Wisconsin to see her folks. I thought that since she had met my parents it was only fitting that I met hers so I agreed to join her.

We drove east from Colorado Springs into Kansas and spent the night at a campground along a lake. I never knew Kansas could be pretty but we managed to find some beauty. Continuing on we made our way to Missouri and wound up at the Lake of the Ozarks. Arriving at the lake, we were given a glimpse into a present day version of the movie Wall-E which we had seen just before we left. The shore of the lake was littered with houses right up against the shore and right next to one another. Each had its own little boathouse with a big speedboat inside. The campground consisted of RV after RV, each one bigger than the next. Each RV came equipped with its own pink flamingos and Wal-Mart porch furniture. Every person there also had his or her own golf cart in which to roll around. Although the campsite was only about a half mile long we hardly saw anyone walking or riding bikes but we saw countless people in their own little golf carts. I am sure they were working up their appetite for the meal-in-a-cup they would have later that evening. We met up with Robin’s friends and hung out on the lake with them amidst the other hundreds of boaters. We watched the fireworks above the lake from the boat with the reflections bouncing off the water as each exploded.

The day following the celebration Robin and I got Gyro back in the car and we made our way north to Wisconsin to visit her parents. Robin’s parents have a house on a lake there, which was night and day different from the Lake of the Ozarks. The lake was very calm and placid with little activity. Most of the houses were built off the shoreline so the shore was still beautiful and untouched. The morning after we arrived Robin’s dad took us up in his seaplane and we did a few passes on the lake scaring the hell out of the anglers in their little boat. When we returned to the house, we got out the sailboat, a full-mast Laser, and I took it out onto the lake. Being an inexperienced sailor on a one-man boat with an inconsistent wind was quite challenging. I spent more time in the water than on the boat. Almost as soon as I got it turned upright and got in it, the boat tipped over again. This continued until Robin and her dad came to my rescue with the pontoon boat. Her dad hopped into the sailboat as I took a rest on the pontoon. He made his way up and down the lake with no problems making it look so easy. He invited me back into the boat and we sailed for a little while together.

Later, Robin and I got into the canoe and paddled our way to a lagoon on one side of the lake. Countless lily pads were spread out within the lagoon. We returned home and the next day her parents took us into Minneapolis to the science museum for the Star Wars exhibit. It was very difficult for me to stop making light saber noises but then Robin gave me one of those looks that told me if I did not quit she would pretend she didn’t know me for at least a week. While in Wisconsin, we also took Robin’s grandma to a bald eagle preserve. We saw an eagle munching down on a rat and learned a lot about these symbols of American pride. About four days after we had arrived in Wisconsin we got back in the car and made our way west again. We stopped to spend the night in Nebraska and shortly after we had set up the tent large clouds formed on the horizon. An hour later we were hit by a massive thunderstorm. The sides of the tent were folding completely on top of us as the wind blew strong. Lightning lit up the tent at such a constant pace it seemed almost like daylight as thunder clapped all around us. Robin, Gyro, and I huddled as close together as humanly (and dogly) as possible. Eventually the storm passed and we were able to sleep, fortunate enough to have the tent still standing and internally dry.

We arrived the next day back in Colorado but stayed in the Denver area with my friend Nieve and her fiancĂ© Michael. The next day we went back to my parents’ house in Colorado Springs. We spent the next couple of days there while I bought supplies for my South America trip, then we left the Springs and drove to Gunnison, Colorado, where my sister lives. We rode our bicycles around the north rim of Black Canyon and hiked around the Crested Butte area to Emerald Lake. While hiking we were caught in a huge storm that poured down rain and hailed. This day was actually our last together as Robin was leaving me the next day to return to Salt Lake City so it was fitting that we were soaked by the rain. The next day we packed up her car and said our goodbyes. We hugged, kissed, and cried not knowing when we would see each other again. I was devastated as I watched her drive away. We had only known each other for two and a half months but it seemed as though we packed six months worth of a relationship into those.

I had never been in a relationship like the one I had with Robin. We were so open and honest with each other that things were revealed that I would have never told anyone else. It was just so easy to open up to her when I knew she would not judge me for the way I felt or the things I thought. Had I not made up my mind to travel to South America I would have found it so easy to return with her to SLC. Unfortunately, this was it. The best relationship I’ve ever had I gave up for the pursuit of my own fantasy. As much as I hope to be with her again when I return, I have absolutely no idea what will be there when I get back. I have spent the last couple of days since she left in what feels like a state of shock. It is almost as though my brain doesn’t quite comprehend what I have given up. I do miss her but this is what we knew was going to happen. That doesn’t make it any easier though. I feel as though Colorado Springs has been my home for so long that I didn’t realize I was looking for a new home. I made a place for myself in Salt Lake City with friends and an amazing relationship. I can only hope and dream that someday I will return and rebuild that home for myself, whether in SLC or somewhere else. Until then I will continue my adventure.

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