If I Knew Then
After a pretty tough fourteen days, I am still in a pretty reflective mood. I want to laugh more than I cry and smile more than I currently am capable of, so I'll try to blend my reflective mood with some humor. I'll try to help clear the fog to see the positive side a little more. Your weekly PCT's-Positive CJ Thoughts, revolve around the thought of 'If I knew then what I know now' and will try to see the humor in that simple statement.
We all live with a desire to have perfect vision, that 20/20 your optometrist is constantly adjusting your eyeglass prescription to achieve. Sigh, my incredibly awesome Doc keeps doing that "one or two", "three or four" until she ultimately sighs and tells me we have to up my bifocal strength. God, this getting old sucks.
The 20/20 I'm really talking about is that 'hindsight' and how it's always perfect in what we would have done if we'd only known then, what we know now.
As a kid, I'd have understood my love of The Bionic Woman, Jamie Summers, was more than just me thinking she was so cool. If I'd only known the real reason back when I was eight, that my heart raced every time Jamie swept her hair behind her ear to use her bionic hearing.
(SIDEBAR- was her hair really that big of a barrier to that million-dollar ear?)
When she would use those gorgeous hands to move those blonde locks behind her ear, my eight-year-old stomach felt funny.
Yeah, I'd have saved myself a lot of heartbreak later if I only knew then what I know now- yep, I'm a toaster carrying lesbian on a recruiting mission. (Snicker Snort).
I think I truly did know from a young age that I felt differently. Now I will admit, I went along with what was expected of me-for years. I grew up in a religion where, as it is in many others, being gay was a sin, an abomination that would cost me my everlasting life.
There in lies another one of my 'if I only knew then's'. I spent half my life living up to an expectation that I was never going to achieve. The God I was doing my best to please, was being explained to me as one who would only love me if I did as others said.
That to achieve this 'everlasting life', I would have to live a life denying and suppressing who I was on an elemental level. The 'elder's and the 'society' rules were that being gay was an unforgivable sin not worthy of the love of God or those around me.
What a crock of shit and they shoveled it down my throat for years. I can't say it was all bad. The training I had when I used to knock on your door aT five-years old to talk to you about God, made me be able to in public to almost anyone about anything. I used that skill to talk last night at Chris' celebration of life to get people sharing their stories. I figured, if I could do that at five, then talking to a bunch of people wearing Pittsburgh Pirates gear, drinking beer would be a piece of cake.
That experience served me well for the rest of my life even though I no longer believe I am unworthy of grace because I love another woman. I have no doubt the God that loves me now, loves me for all of me. It's true, there probably is a desire for me to cuss less and drive slower but, grace will not be withheld for that. If I'd only known then what I know now, it wouldn't have taken me years to accept that I am who I am and that God loves me in spite of myself.
If I'd have known it was okay to love those of the same sex back then, I wouldn't have let anyone but the right 'her' talk me into letting them put a diamond ring on my hand. It felt more like a handcuff than a promise of forever and ever amen.
At eighteen, an acceptable young man from the church asked me to marry him. My Dad liked him, they could talk cars. I was so miserable that I did a whole lot of praying after the numerous fights we had.
I think so many things were screaming at me, DON'T DO IT!!! In the end, I didn't. I had to go through a great deal of crap when he tried to ruin my reputation over the broken engagement.
After all that, I decided, maybe God had other plans for me, like….college (which was also not encouraged).
Oh, those college years, some of which I even remember. I was a freshman out on my own for the first time, making decisions on my own as to who I would hang out with, when I would and would not go to 'church' and who I would fall in love with. Wow, what a wake up that was. I was studying journalism and.... Jamie Lee Curtis in a 'Fish Called Wanda'. When she stood there talking to Kevin Kline in the black bra and skimpy briefs with that coral colored silk shirt, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was Jamie Summers...Bionic Woman all over again in spades.
"Bad CJ, down CJ", I'd tell myself, while my internal voice was screaming YOU'RE GAY, DEAL WITH IT. I still think just behind my wife, Jamie Lee Curtis is the sexiest woman on earth.
Then came Fried Green Tomatoes. Talk about a movie and book that stirred my soul to the very deepest part! I will forever hold this movie as one of the reasons I took my first step out of the closet.
It' will always be one of my very favorite movies and the book is even more special to me.
SIDE BAR---That movie was so special that years later, when the love of my life, my beautiful Darla and I said 'I do', we included the verse from the bible that Ruth sent to Idgie indicating she wanted to be with her- in our wedding ceremony.
Unfortunately, this was also about the time I would meet the woman who I THOUGHT was my destiny. Thank the heavens above she wasn't. Wow, what a train wreck. I wish with all my heart I'd have been able to see the future where that was concerned. Let's just say, she was the first person I said 'I do' with, and the cost was damn near catastrophic to both my heart and my bank account.
It was one more time where I wasn't enough, but one of my best friends was when she chose to have an affair and leave me... for her. I lost my then wife and nearly lost everything I owned as she put me so deep in debt, I needed an excavator to dig myself out. Needless to say, it took a while, a lawyer and eventually the sheriffs office to get over that. Losing her was just one of the best things that ever happened to me. It led me to where I am now.
The one area of my life that I've never had any regrets about is my career, at least not the occupation in general. At sixteen, I saw a made for TV movie about the first female firefighter in Los Angeles County. I was hooked. It didn't hurt that Nancy Mckeon played Cindy Fralick. Yeah...I had a crush on 'Jo' back in the day, another clue in the big CJ's gay puzzle.
I've always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
I started riding motorcycles at five- yes I said five. I climbed trees and used the woods around our farm for my adventures, which as I've told you led to many a Scooby Do Band-Aide and ripped jeans. As I was graduating, I took my first emergency medical technician class. I loved the lights, siren and adventure. More than that, I loved using my skills to help someone. Later I began volunteering for a fire department and quickly rose through the ranks. I kept going back to the career dream I'd had at sixteen. After a few tries, I was finally hired for my dream job as a career firefighter.
(Sigh...to be that skinny again.) I broke the glass barrier as there had never been a female on the department. Unfortunately, there hasn't been one since me. If I'd have known back then what I know now, well, I wouldn't have made a different decision at all. I had offers from Virginia Beach, California and several other big name departments to come and take their test as they tried to bring on more women to their department. I've never regretted staying home in West By God Virginia. I guess you could say on that, my vision was 20/20. I'm closer to the end of my career now than the beginning and I offer this advice to young people when I do career day…"Find something you love to do, then find a way to get paid for it and you'll never work a day in your life."
Now I am one of a few career officers in the state of West Virginia and have a program to put working smoke alarms in the hands of first grade children. Part of the reason for that program is one of my greatest moments of "If I knew then what I know now."
In 2014, I was doing a fire safety program for children in conjunction with a program through the Child Advocacy Center.
The goal of the overall program is to identify children that are being abused. There are different sessions on all types of safety, one of which is fire safety. I was doing classes and telling kids to test their smoke alarms, then we'd schedule another school….until Jan 17th, 2015. That was the day one of the kids I taught along with her younger brother and dad, died in a house fire.
There were no working smoke alarms in the home. I was telling little Hanna to check her alarms and had no idea she didn't have a working one to check. Hindsight, let to forethought. I started collecting donations to be able to provide a ten year smoke alarm to every first grade student I did a class for. To honor Hanna, and to never allow this to happen again if I can help it, I've passed out over 3700 smoke alarms in three counties in West Virginia. The very first set I gave out, went into the home of friends of mine.
Their daughter took my message about putting up this alarm and checking the others to heart. As a result, when their was a fire in their home, the sleeping parents were able to escape. The kids were at the grandparents. My hindsight is this. If I would have been giving those smoke alarms out in the first place, maybe Hanna, Josh, and DJ might still be alive. I'll never know and I'll never forget.
My life has taken a lot of back woods, winding roads to get to where I am now. I had a few more not so stellar relationships before I finally ran into "My Reason." I call my wife that because she is the reason for most of the good things in my life. I bless the day Darla came into my life and brought stability I had never had to my world.
If I knew then what I know now, I'd have found her at the Blackwater 100 long before we ever met.
Instead, I was passed out under a truck while she worked the ambulance.
If I could go back with what I know now, I'd have spotted her at that Reba McIntire concert we were both at.
Or maybe I'd have taken a class with her at one of the many emergency service training conferences we both attended. It wasn't our time, we were with other people. It happened when it was supposed to.
How I wish it would have happened sooner. I'd have skipped over the relationship that nearly cost me sanity and almost cost me my life- literally. Abuse is a terrible thing. I never thought it would be me. NEVER! I lived with it as a child and swore I would never get into an abusive relationship- OR if I did, I would walk away. I didn't, it took me three years and a gun to my head. I have so much more empathy for my mother and other abused women because I found myself in that spin I couldn't get out of. In hindsight, I'd have realized that jealousy isn't love and it isn't sexy, it was dangerous. I'd have realized having to show receipts for where I'd been wasn't concern for my welfare, but a way to control me.
So many things I'd do all over again if I knew then what I know now. I will say this, if I had to go through all of it again for a one percent chance that I'd end up with the woman who truly is my soulmate in life, my Darla, I would do it again without question-and more.
She's the real deal and truly the one I am meant to live out my dreams with. She's not perfect, but she's perfect for me.
Thanks to her, I wrote a book that was published, have another that is under contract, and is currently at the editors. My wife has been telling me for years to write her a story.
So I did, several of them in fact. If I knew then what I know now, all those other stories I have stored on my computer would need a lot less edits than they do.
Lastly, if I knew then what I know now, I'd have found my friend Chris' cancer long before he was diagnosed.
By the time it made itself known, he was in stage four colorectal cancer. We were so blessed to have him with us for another almost four years after his diagnosis. For the last two weeks, we've celebrated his life.
At his service, the pastor told a story about an email Chris sent to him after he and Kelly attended their first service there. He said that Chris told him his sermon made a large impact on him. It was about thanksgiving. Chris wrote back to him about how appreciative he was for those words and that it made him see things differently. It made him be thankful for cancer. The pastor said he went back and looked over his sermon and could find nothing that said 'be thankful for cancer'. Chris later explained that it made him live every day with joy in all things. His diagnosis made him spend much more quality time with the people he loved. Cancer made him take adventures that he might never have done if he didn't know his days were going to be cut short. It made him love and appreciate his wife more every day, even when he didn't feel like it.
It made him take the time to tell his friends how much they meant to him.
It made him an advocate for early screenings and preventative check ups. It made thanksgiving, become thanks'living'. Chris' efforts have resulted in at least one person going to get a check up where they found early signs of cancer.
Doctors were able to operate and remove the cancer before it got a chance to move into the next stage. Chris, was a hero to me and I will dearly miss him. I listened to a former Governor, a two star general, and a young lady that Chris started down a career path at fifteen with his mentor-ship and guidance. Every one of them spoke of Chris' dedication and determination.
Chris didn't get a chance to grow old with his wife. He was forty eight when he passed from this world to the next. He taught me a very important lesson, one that I used as incentive to write my second novel. All along the way, Chris has been giving those around me signs that he is okay. During his service, he gave me mine. Our friend Robbie was giving his memories and read from the poem by Linda Ellis called "The Dash." Part of it says this…"the dates on their tombstone from the beginning…to the end. He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years."
This took my breath as I used three of those words in my book that's currently at the editor. I even submitted those three words as an alternative title- "The Dash Between".
Robbie didn't know this, nor did Chris. I'd been trying so hard to finish the book before Chris died. I did, then I got sick and was afraid to visit him out of fear for his weakened immune system. I also had some concerns about content in the book being hard for him, as it discusses the spouse left behind and how they are affected by their loved ones death. The day he died, we were going to see him were I was giving him a framed copy of the dedication along with a picture of Chris, his wife Kelly, my wife Darla and me.
We didn't make it before we got a call saying he'd passed in the night. I'll give this to Kelly at a later date.
Since Chris passed, I'd been watching and listening to people tell me about their message from Chris.
One had just happened on the day before his service. One of Chris' friends sat beside me in church and told me that the scripture we read that day, Pentecost Sunday, was significant to him and Chris. He relayed a hilarious story that had to do the scripture itself and a favorite memory. The scripture was the one about the apostles being given the Holy Spirit and being able to speak in all the different languages. The scripture says…"These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!"
The ironic part was that he and Chris were sitting in church at nine in the morning and yes…you guessed it, they were still drunk from the night before. It was his message from Chris and it made me smile and laugh so hard, just the way Chris always did. Another friend told me of the cardinal that visited her just after she got the news.
There were others, so many it would seem unbelievable if I relayed them all to you. If I'd have known then what I know now, I'd have committed to memory down to the smallest detail of every minute with Chris and there were a lot.
For that, I'm glad my vision was 20/20 on what good friends Chris and Kelly were to become to my wife and me all those years ago.
My positive thoughts for you all are this. You can do nothing about what happened five seconds ago, but you can do something about what will happen five seconds from now. Live THANKS'LIVING', without regrets about what you didn't do.
Live each day with joy and promise. Make and be the change you want to see. Right now, you have the benefit of many years of "What I know now." USE IT WISELY! Our time on this earth if finite. Going back to the poem "The Dash Between", by Ellis…"What matters is how we live and love and how we lived….our dash." Be kind to yourself.