Introduction: This is a recounting of the two years of my life prior to transition. The first part of this piece comes from about a year and a half before I reached full self acceptance of myself as a transwoman. I had come out as asexual and self published a memoir on the subject. Although I was starting to feel more confident in myself my gender confusion was growing. I was still in denial but my struggle for self awareness was beginning to reveal truths and I was beginning to accept them. I began writing this as a book, as a follow up to my memoir. It was to be about walking, my hobby at the time. It ends where my focus on walking ends. It is the last major piece of writing I did while still in deep denial. Part two will unravel the rest of my last year building up to transition.
Walking is a serious occupation, or preoccupation, but it is also the most casual of existences and the most relaxed of transportation methods. It is the most natural way for a human being to get from one place to another. It isn’t about getting fit, it’s about staying healthy. It isn’t about speed or aggression, at no point in a walk does the walker exude pomposity. A walker is humble and in today’s society, often seen through disapproving eyes. Automobiles are symbols of status. Not just where you stand in American society, but they are also proof of mature adulthood. One can drive a shit-box but one is considered a fully paid up member of society for owning said shit-box. The more money, or debt one has put into a vehicle, the more status one is awarded. When folks see a pedestrian on the side of the road, it is assumed that if that person is not a juvenile they must either be an illegal immigrant, a felon, an alcoholic who has lost their license or someone who is so unstable or poor as to not be able to afford the proper transportation. The walker is low, possibly the lowest person in the American social caste system. In my life, I have chosen to be a walker. I also think that, as Thoreau once asserted, one is born a walker. I have merely chosen to be what I was born to be.
I was raised in a family where being a walker was a good thing. And not just walking on trails, sightseeing. Walking on roads for transportation was there too. In the first year of my twenties I elected to give up my car, the third one I had owned in my four year career as a diver. As I headed through my mid thirties I still hadn’t owned one again. I had only been a grudging participant in the affairs of a small number of cars thanks to my relationships with others. My primary transportation, for fifteen years, was my feet. At times those feet were admittedly planted on bicycle peddles but that time in my life had begun to subside by the settling of my thirties. I went through allot of wildness in my youth that I won’t go into here.
I have been walking roads for most of my life. I walked to and from school as a boy and roamed my home town’s streets in my spare time. In my twenties I moved to Boston and began to explore its urban streets in distances under ten miles. At the beginning of my thirties I came to the end of an ugly period in my life and quit consuming mind altering, body destroying substances. I began instead to truly explore the roads that surrounded me. It was during those explorations that I came to understand and accept my true nature in greater detail than I ever had in the past. So, I’m an ex-alcoholic, atheistic, anarchistic, apolitical and aromantic asexual. I didn’t plan for such a string of alliteration, it just happened that way. This world view of mine, some of which is inborn and unchangeable, has given me the freedom and therefore, the time to explore the roads at will and in greater depth.
Walking is as much about existing as it is about transportation of any kind. It is our most natural action, one that we must be conscious to start but one that is also easily controlled by our subconscious. Footfalls are like heart beats, like the rhythm of the breaths that sustain them.
One of my favorite walks during the year of twenty twelve was a small neighborhood jaunt. A simple circumambulation of the area of Boston that I was living in at the time. Lower Allston sits between the Mass Pike and the Charles River. Squeezed between Brighton and the Harvard business school. It is a small community separated from the rest of Allston by these huge barriers but accessible by a footbridge on one side and five bridges that run over the Charles in from Cambridge and Watertown. It is home to the quieter side of Allston life, where families and artists live in greater numbers than the student population. The students control the other side of Allston which is decidedly more dorm like. Lower Allston is a place to be passed through rather than descended upon. Allston on the whole, is a late night place. A den of bars, clubs, parties and underground music venues. Some of the shows in the neighborhood are listed on fliers only by the name of the house. Places like Gay Gardens, The Butcher Shop, Problem House, and Wacky Castle. If you don’t know the address for the house, or know anyone who does, then you won’t be able to find the show with any ease. It is a place for drunken and stoned strolling. It was in that spirit that I moved there. While living in this den of disorder I came to terms with my problems with substances and I endeavored to end those problems. I elected to begin a sober life. It was with that in mind that I began my circumambulation of that place. I called it the footbridge to footbridge loop and I would walk it at three or four in the morning when the rest of Allston had gone off to bed. It was around four miles and again, it was about thought.
It was certainly a peaceful walk, in the lamplit darkness only the park along the river offered any consistent pools of shadow. A city night is a haunted time of baron streets lit up on all corners and thoroughfares. The process was so brief, only an hour or so of walking but so airy too, that it would swallow me. I began to walk it very quickly. There were staircases on some of the footbridges, the one by the business school was my favorite. A gentle arch over the highway topped by a Y of four foot wide steps. I’d run up one side and bound down the next, skipping from stair to stair. I love to let gravity cary me down a set of stairs.
Any time I needed to center myself during that period of healing I would do one of my walks. At the end of that period my walks included many that were over twenty miles and some that stretched as far as thirty two. In the spring of twenty thirteen I set out to walk a section of the Appalachian Trail and failed three days in. I then set myself a goal of walking from my Mother’s house in New Jersey to my friend Nesto’s house in Somerville Mass. where I’d be staying for a month while I was working. It was to be two hundred and thirty miles on roads and it was a walk I had wanted to do for a long time, a decade or more. I had communicated my intent on social media and garnered the support of friends and acquaintances. My brother Jack had called me from his home in Maine to cheer me on too. But something kept bugging me about it, it wasn’t just the heat wave the region was in the grips of either, so at the last moment, and I mean within minutes of time to go with a hotel booked twenty eight miles away, I called it off. It didn’t feel right. My Mother, with whom I was staying, remarked that I looked instantly happier, relieved. I felt it too. The more I have walked, the more I have realized that when a walk happens can be as important as the walk happening at all.
The walk called off, I got my Mom to indulge her own traveling hobby and drive me back to Boston. She dropped me back at Nesto’s where I was immediately confronted with weed decisions. Should I smoke it and buy it type decisions. I had spent part of the previous two months quitting both weed and tobacco. On my return to Greater Boston I folded on the pot front but stayed strong on the nicotine. Over the past two years I had learned a lot about getting sober and knew to just be patient. Fall as I must but stay focussed on the goal of sobriety. One addiction at a time and my time with tobacco had come to an end. I did get my night walks back. That was something that had been absent from my life when I was at my Mom’s house. She lives in bear country in rural North Jersey and it just isn’t safe on the roads in general after dark. My first night back in Boston I went on a little three or four mile stroll. It brought me home to Boston but it also made me aware of what had to be done. I needed to do a walk of no small miles. I had injured myself on a twenty miler in New Jersey so I decided on working up to greater mileage. The next walk I would do would be in the ten mile range.
The weather was not early summer cool, no, it had reached heatwave levels, so I opted to continue walking at night. It seemed appropriate too. I headed off, stoned with a joint or two on my person at two forty seven in the morning. The streets would be getting seriously empty and they were sure to be mine alone. I headed for the business school footbridge, a meandering back way through the hidden side streets of Cambridge. Long safe grids give way to short one ways going every which way after crossing Mass Ave. I wound my way toward Western Ave. a thoroughfare that shoots straight through Cambridge, Allston and into Watertown. Doubling back at the last moment I wound my way up toward some Harvard student housing with its short and well lit brick foot path. I hopped briskly down the short set of broad stairs in the middle of the foot path. Normally I would have leaped down it but I still feared exacerbating my ankle injury. I entered the darkness of Memorial Drive and took off in a light trot across it, rounding my way onto the compacted dirt jogger’s path a bit of a ways down from the bike path and well into the shadows. I stopped to piss in a clump of bushes at the head of the pathway. I zipped up and rushed my way onward toward the pair of footbridges. There is a bridge over the Charles just before the Y shaped one over the road. I rushed up and over them both and back down into the darkness. When I came to the head of the Allston leg of Western I crossed the intersection and moved back to the river’s side taking up the Dudley Bike Path. It was all so familiar. I lallygagged in a daze, smoking one of the joints in my possession. I hoofed it down to Mass Ave. and the long flat bridge that crosses the now much wider Charles at that point. It felt truly good to take a little tour of my city and get a sense of my new ten mile radius. On the Cambridge side of the bridge I headed for the locks by the Museum of Science. I figured that ought to give me just the right amount of miles and I was right. As I mounted the hump where the Cardinal O’Brian Highway becomes the McGrath Heading into Somerville it was truly dawn. The sun at my back I strode onward toward bed. Part of the way home I came across my old friend and current nemesis, a pint of my old brand of rot gut vodka. It looked full. At first I walked on but after just twelve more steps I turned around and went back to it. Sure enough it was full and un-opened. I picked it up to check, it had never been cracked, it was still distillery sealed. I was just shy of two years dry. I saw that here was an opportunity. But what was my gut feeling? That’s what I asked myself and the answer didn’t take long to come to me. I cracked the bottle and quite easily and happily poured it into a murky puddle at the side of the road. In the gutter. The last drop gone I dropped the bottle in the muck and walked off. Not only had I won against my enemy, I had saved another addict coming up behind me the trouble of succumbing to its wiles. When I got back to Nesto and Susan’s I hit the hay fast, feeling pretty damn satisfied with myself. I could see too that weed would have to go the way of booze in my life. But I was working on cigarettes and doing well. It was five thirty four and I had covered ten and a half miles, I slept very soundly that night.
I got up at like one or two in the afternoon the next day. I got stoned and thought a bit, watched some TV. That’s how I spent most of that day, but I wanted to keep walking. By seven thirty in the evening I was off, headed for Revere Beach. When I lived in Allston that same trip had been one of my twenty mile treks. Starting it in Somerville took six miles off my total, it was only like fourteen and a half miles round trip. It was an easy and fun walk, I knew it like the thoughts at the back of my mind. It was just getting dark when I arrived at the beach and I decided to walk up the sand for a while. I walked out to the edge of the low tide surf, on the edge of darkness. There weren’t many people and most of those that were around were on the boardwalk. I followed the hard sand where the tide was breaking. When I got to the wider expanses of sand by a well regarded roast beef shop about a mile down, I turned and headed back.
I was confident that I was deep in shadow and that I was a mere speck to everyone I could see. The wind was at my back so I lit a joint and began the stroll back to the roads that would carry me back to Somerville. That walk was pretty peaceful. A thick fog descended on me near the end of it, to add a touch of beauty. I was also the intended victim of an egging. While walking down Revere Beach Boulevard someone hurled an egg at me. It broke across the ground in front of me a small brown sedan toddled off in its wake, two young male heads were visible in the front of it. It was odd and kind of funny. No one had ever thrown anything but insults at me before, let alone food, on a calm Wednesday night. I got back to Nesto and Susan’s at like midnight and hung out for another hour or two. When I finally hit the sack I had a deep and restful sleep.
I knew the next walk would have to be bigger yet, in the twenty to thirty range. I figured I should keep up the night walking as that had been saving me a lot of guff. I began to think about bodies of water too. On the first night I had gone to the Charles River and to the Atlantic Ocean on the second. So, I thought Walden Pond would be a good candidate for my third destination. The rivers, seasides and lakes of the place I call home served as my meditations. My internet map application figured out a walking route to Walden from Nesto and Susan’s that was fourteen miles. I decided to round it up to thirty by walking the three miles to Allston first and then the thirteen miles the trip had been when I departed from there. My buddy and recent former roommate Craig had some of my mail that had found its way to my old address. This walk seemed like a good way to go and retrieve it. I decided to leave at five thirty in the evening. There was rain lurking in the skies and I felt a bit excited at the prospect. It was interesting to take the short walk between Nesto’s and Craig’s. I had done it in the opposite fashion so many times but now the place I had called home for almost three years was the destination, it was also the place I would depart after mere minutes. It represented so much of what I was trying to leave behind in my life. The drinking, the pot and the cigarette smoking, and the shitty food consuming. When I got there a couple of my other ex-roommates were there. The new guy and the longest standing roomie, my friend Maggie. Craig was nowhere to be found but my mail was where he said it would be. Maggie had some mail for me too and ran up to her room and got it. She said Craig was up in his room but I didn’t want to bother him. I caught up with Maggie briefly and then I just took off back into the night. The first part of the walk was going to be easy as I had done it many times before. I didn’t need directions to tell me the way. Most of the route is one long straight shot. It changes names here and there but mostly its the Trapelo Road. It is the largest foot accessible road down from the suburbs of Lincoln and Concord. The first time I had walked it, a little over a year before when I had taken my first trip to Walden, it had been my favorite part. I kept picturing Thoreau himself striding up or down those same hillsides.
Just as things started getting really rural, about an hour (or four miles) from my destination, the light failed me and the long slow cloak of darkness blackened the world around me. I felt a bit on edge because I was dressed in scruffy black clothes, unshaven and carrying a flashlight whilst walking on dark streets in a wealthy neighborhood. The air was thickly humid and it felt like the blackness all around me. The historic colonial period homes of Concord stood on the edge of shadows, taking me to another time that the place I was passing through had been such a part of. As I lost the sidewalk to the non-walking suburban way of being my mood took on a sense of urgent fun. In that kind of place I do sometimes have to remind myself that everything is exactly as it is when the sun is up. As I moved toward fields and away from homes I periodically shone my light into the woods that flanked me. I wasn’t sure if there were black bear in those woods but I was certain there were deer and skunk. I did illuminate the peepers of many deer that night, staring from just beyond the road, I didn’t want to run into one up close by surprise.
When I entered the Walden reservation, though I was on a curvy and dangerous road, I chuckled at the thought of being the only soul around in the woods that night. I felt that communion with the related experiences of Thoreau again. That’s when a set of headlights would come whipping out of the darkness and remind me of the world that I lived in. Of the vast sea of difference between my time and my idol’s. It wasn’t long after one such moment that I arrived at the manicured and gated entrance way to the pond Thoreau had spent so much time with. I walked across the empty and invisible grassy stretch beyond the gate to the edge of the slope that fell away to the shore of the pond and sat down at a picnic table. I dropped my bag and took out some crackers and dried apricots which I munched and washed down with water. I was enjoying my first real taste of solitude at the pond. I was also in such a mood that I decided to get high. I had brought along a joint for the occasion. After about thirty minutes of smoking and just generally enjoying the place the mosquitos began to find me. That being the case, I took out my phone and asked it for the directions back to Somerville. It obliged, sending me back to Trapelo Road for most of my return journey.
It was damn near midnight by the time I hit Trapelo but that too, was perfect. The houses in that part of Lincoln are still quite nice but they’re newer and set back from the road. The best part is the twisting path of a sidewalk they have. Raised above the road by four or five feet and separated by as much or more it created a serpentine enclave for me. There was still too much tree cover for me to walk without a light source but I turned off my flashlight and moved by my head lamp’s dimmer light. The best part of the reduced world experience of night walking, where my world is either described in feet or sometimes mere inches, is the meditative focus and clarity it gives my mind. If I need to know what my core dilemma is at any given moment in my life I need only begin to walk and it will reveal itself. On that night in Massachusetts I was experiencing heightened awareness of my sense of gender. During all three of the bodies of water walks I had taken this had been the primary awakening concern.
As I walked I felt the ebb and flow of what I experienced as “gender” almost as distinctly as a change in thought and certainly as clearly as a change in mood or attitude, perhaps more so. Moment by moment I felt feminine, then masculine, then neither, then both and back and forth and all over. I never do feel quite fully male or female, “tomboy” feels the most apt description of how I feel. My body, what people see and respond to is one thing and that is decidedly male. But my mind is genderqueer, agendered and undetermined when it comes to roles and preconceptions. Gender roles have always been difficult for me to manage. I seem to exhibit traits from both sides of the spectrum, and I believe gender to be a spectrum and not a coin with only two sides. For instance, I’ve been told time and again that I navigate like a woman. I suppose it’s true. My favorite thing about internet satellite maps is that I can zoom in and see the size and shape of landmarks that I’ll be passing. I’ll take note of some buildings and fields. That eases a lot of the anxiety I occasionally feel about heading off blindly to places new to my realm of experience. But, it is those same walks, full of intense physical exertion, grit and sweat that society tells me are explicitly male. And it was on that walk away from Walden that I began to wonder if my gender ambivalence stemmed from society’s preconceived notions of gender and not from my own internal experiences. Perhaps my internal experience was merely a response to a system that I had always had trouble participating in, never quite defining my role.
It was just as I was looking for my turn off of Trapelo towards Somerville. I was counting minutes to tell me how far I had travelled and peering at my phone’s screen scanning for landmarks. It was there in that mindset and place that the rain began to splatter. It got heavy fast, with lightning and thunder playing in the near distance. I slowly put on my rain gear and strode onward as the clouds opened up and it began to truly pour. To check my progress down the new route I was on the lookout for eaves and such to rush under. I crouched under a parked truck at one point and took solace under a roof in the open stink of a gas station at another. I began to return to familiar places. I was simply seeing them from new vantage points. I decided to stick to the determined route set by my phone instead of taking my own initiative. I did manage to wander a quarter mile off in the wrong direction though but I corrected. The rain began to die off and I slowly pulled my rain layers back. Despite the summer heat I hadn’t sweated that much and had remained relatively dry. I got back to Somerville around four twenty in the morning. The walk had taken me two hours longer than I had thought it would but I had lollygagged quite a bit so I paid that fact little mind. For the second time that week I watched the sun begin to creep into the sky as I crept off to sleep
I spent the next week or so walking much smaller circuits. I was sticking primarily to my new neighborhood. Walking in and out of side streets inside a mile and a half long loop framed by Somerville Ave. and Summer St. It was one sunny afternoon on Somerville that I stepped in front of a large SUV that cut off the sidewalk as it exited a parking lot. I could have gone behind, but I chose instead to compete with the bully. As I passed I said “yield to pedestrians motherfucker” and strode onward. The driver, a young man in a suit started saying things like “yeah walk away” so I continued to do so. He pulled out into the street, turned and drove in the direction I was heading, pulled into the next lot down, parked and got out. I had apparently provoked the wrong guy. He came swaggering up to me. He was much younger, shorter and scrawnier than me. He asked me what I had said so I repeated the important part, that he was required by law to yield to pedestrians. He said “No, but what was the other thing you said?” I responded “Oh? Do you mean the expletive? You’re upset because I called you a motherfucker? Sensitive huh? Ok, sorry I called you a motherfucker.” And I meant it. He reacted victoriously but confusedly and retreated pretty quickly after saying “Yeah, you apologize. Why you acting so tough?” I have never seen exchanging blows as a sign of strength. I see resolving arguments and confrontations with honest words as the tougher route. I laughed lightly as he walked back to his truck asking “What’s your problem?” They are only bad words after all and I’ll never understand why some folks take them so personally. I wasn’t accusing him of having sex with his mother, it was just a bit of name calling.
As I walked away from that altercation I thought of all the times I had run afoul of some hyper-aggressive person because I had attempted to play their game. I thought of the woman who’s car I had bumped for cutting me off in the crosswalk who flew into a rage, chasing me down a sidewalk yelling and throwing things. I thought of the man who had hunted me down and jumped me from behind for spitting on his car in the rain. I thought about the young cop I had called an asshole who, after checking me for warrants, told me to “wise up”. Outwardly rude behavior like that is not part of who I am most of the time. To be honest, when I have acted that way it has always made me very uncomfortable. As a man, it is expected of me, part of why tough guys come at me is because they see my physical self. They are totally un-aware of my true nature, the book they see is a five ten white hetero male with a shaved head who needs to be competed with. I never raise my fists in anger, only twice in my life have I done so and I have very negative memories of what were only minor disagreements. So I began to realize that I acted that way as part of my old, closeted attempts to act more straight, to be one of the guys. I saw too that I didn’t have to, nor did I want to act like that any more, that I could just let it go. Toss it like chaff to be dispersed by my new prevailing wind.
My birthday was coming up that week and I hadn’t had a home since the first of May or two months. Over the previous years I had begun on a path of self examination and had discovered that there were parts of myself that I did not care for. That were parts of adopted disguises that had no bearing on my true self. That period’s first major yield had been accepting myself as asexual. After the ecstatic and nearly giddy first few months of that realization I began to see that there were some things I had simply stopped doing without even noticing. I was feeling more in tune with all the sides of my personality. I began to actively question the things I listened to and watched for entertainment, and the things I said and did too. I saw how many were adopted in the vain hope that I would find myself heterosexual, more manly. Here again was another, I’ll never be a pushover, I don’t believe anything good comes from simply giving in, submitting to those who would dominate. But perhaps the outwardly lippy, mouthy jerk I pretended to be could simply ease away. And it wasn’t hard, I discovered that unlike things I enjoyed doing, quitting these false poses was easy. If I tried to quit being polite or considerate, that would be a real struggle. There have been days where I’ve woken up in very bad moods. As soon as I get around people I know, or even strangers, I start to smile and hold open doors and say please and thank you. So why was I acting so damn tough? I didn’t know… So fuck it, that motherfucker in the suit was right. I didn’t mean to compete with him, in fact, I never intentionally compete with anyone.
It had been a week and I hadn’t gone on a large walk, a true multi mile jaunt. I was still locked into some behaviors that I wanted to shake but couldn’t because I enjoyed them, they brought me pleasure. I was consuming too much sugar and still smoking pot. I did remain free of tobacco and I was quite proud of that. Work would be starting the next week, so I was running out of free time. I decided at just before eight p.m. on that July fourth, to head off down the Minute Man Trail. I could do a short walk or a marathon, I decided to leave it open, I’d see how I felt as I walked. Removing strict goals felt right.
It got dark after the first hour, I had just passed Arlington center. The path has no lights on it out in that section, just the ambient light from streets and houses. Some parts of the path become nearly black tunnels of trees on even well moonlit nights. There was nearly no one else out on the path with me that night. Just the occasional bicyclist or group of teenagers. The fireworks displays of a dozen towns and neighborhoods reverberated in low rumbles all around me in the darkness. The path becomes a long straight shot in the Arlington to Bedford stretch, it is an old railroad line after all. I was walking without lights to see by. I kept a red clip light on the back of my belt though, I did not want to be run into by a bike from behind. At just before ten I arrived at Arlington’s Great Meadow. The dim moonlight traced across it and gave me a sense of distance that I had been missing for the previous two hours. The skeeters hummed away at my visible skin and I swatted at them. Lightning bugs danced away on the meadow. It was beautiful, a perfect summer night, and a moment that was mine alone. I scribbled down the time and a description of the point on the path I had reached in my ever present pocket notebook. The skeeters started getting real nasty and I was having to kill quite a few, it was time to go. On the way back I decided to bring one rule back to the proceedings. I elected to do a test over the next three days. I would be walking for four hours each of the three evenings. Two hours out, trying to get further down the Minuteman than I had the night before. Then trying to get back inside that same two hour time frame. I figured four hours to be between fourteen and sixteen miles because I walk at roughly, sometimes just bellow, four miles an hour. I strode along, happy in the familiar darkness. I don’t like to compete with others but I do like to see if I can do something strenuous and then try to best myself. Hell, I just like to learn how to do difficult and intense things, I suppose that’s what I get my kicks from. I work with my hands to earn my living and I truly enjoyed both the physical and mental challenges that my vocation affords me on a regular basis. I especially enjoy challenges of endurance, that’s one of the reasons walking appealed so much. It has both intense repetition and lengthy duration. It can get quite physical. There is also no real competition in walking. The human being can only walk so fast. There is a limit and it is easily reached by the dedicated athlete. Any goals in walking are about duration, distance, terrain, and environmental conditions. I had picked the four hour number for my Minuteman challenge because of Thoreau and Charles Dickens. Their respective daily walking habits were supposedly in that range so it seemed an attainable goal. If it has been done before, it can be done yet again. I had been trying to get up to that as a daily number for myself to achieve but had failed to do so for some time. When I was working I came close but finding the motivation outside of the necessity of getting to and from work was proving difficult. I got back to Davis Square like ten minutes before I had to be according to my arbitrary and recently applied restriction. I decided to stop in a convenience store for a pint of celebratory ice cream. I swung back out of the store and up the hill that is Summer street for the last mile of the walk. I got home with two minutes to spare. I sat down on the stoop of Nesto and Susan’s and drank some water. I made note in my book of the time and sat there bemused at the prospect of the challenge I had set for myself. It would be good.
Since I was keeping the walks as a sundown activity I was spending my days with Nesto, Susan and their cat Hellen. Hellen and I had been close friends for years, Nesto and Susan don’t leave the door to their bedroom open when they sleep and Helen isn’t allowed in. Whenever I’ve lived with them I have tended to leave my door open for Hellen and she always comes right in. My Mom’s cats are like that too, the female ones are all over me. Male cats tend to fear and distrust me until I demonstrate how chill I am and then they start to take advantage.
At a quarter to eight on the fifth I set out for the second Minuteman attempt. This time I was stoned as I left the house but I decided to not bring any weed with me. I knew I had to quit pot but staying off cigarettes seemed to still be the most important thing. It was a Friday night so although most of the ambient explosions of the night before had ceased to resound a few continued to burst here and there through the night of the fifth too. And a few more people were strolling in the darkness with me too.
I had set out about five minutes earlier and the light stayed with me for so much longer. Perhaps everything was just already that much more familiar. I had the feeling that everything was right in what I was doing. The dusk closed in around me and the meadow was not that much further off. Part of what I had been learning in the prior months was how to better recognize and trust my own feelings. How to stand up for myself. Before I had been able to accept myself as being a complete and valid human being. Before I had the knowledge that my asexuality did not mean that I was broken. I more easily did things for other people. That is, my motivations were not my own. I had stopped doing things for myself because I had stopped valuing myself. When my friends and family supported me in some task I had undertaken, I felt as though I had to achieve that goal so that I could have value in their eyes. I did not want to lie to them by failing to attain what I had set out to do.
I arrived at the Great Meadows right on queue and I managed to go about a hundred yards further to boot. I stopped and took note of my location in the darkness and headed back towards Somerville right on schedule. I got back to Nesto and Susan’s five minutes early and quite happy with what I achieved.
The third night was quieter still and I got that little bit further and I finished a few minutes early. I was feeling centered and satisfied and had begun to look forward to the weeks of work I had ahead of me. I was also looking forward to the regular daily walks that that situation required of me. I do the grunt work that is required to change exhibits at a local museum. I had chosen, way back in high school to not attend college my maternal grandfather had been self educated and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. The path I had followed led me through the standard retail jobs, to maintenance jobs, to museum security and finally to the position of art handler. Working with my hands had supplied me with the money I needed to live independently but it also afforded me the free time to exercise that independence. It was always a bit of an internal struggle for me to relinquish my freedom so that I could return to work to get the money that created that freedom. I was thankful none the less, for every day that I did not have to deal with that internal struggle, um, every day. I was also pretty thankful to have a job where I could express some of my more male attributes but also some of my more feminine ways. It reminded me regularly that what we traditionally consider as male and female are not what we say they are. The only clear distinctions I knew of were those of physical sex, body parts and hormones. Most so called gender roles are just that, and they can be played by anyone of any gender or sex.
My walk to work in particular, had become important as well as necessary to maintaining my sanity during the workweek a long time ago. In that morning walk, I would get up at six a.m. and leave before seven thirty. In that hour or so of walking I got to be perfectly balanced and at peace. Although I was usually early for work when I left the house, I tended to hoof it as hard as I could on that morning walk, I was not always so fast in the evenings. I began this new stint at work on a strong note of an hour ten for a four point two mile walk. So, just bellow four miles an hour. That gave me my goal, getting that travel time as close to an hour as I could get it. There was one set back however.
I was beginning to try and be more social again. I had segregated myself for a long time, from the company of others. Getting sober and accepting my asexuality took a lot of introspection and time. I also just couldn’t be around booze or old routines. One of my mentors in my job was an aging anarchist of the truest sense. Jim was a larger than life self definer and self directed individualist in his late forties. Jim also owned a van and was quite generous with it. He drove one of my bosses and two other coworkers back to Somerville, in exactly my direction. I worried that it would be rude for me to refuse the trip. I figured it would be a good situation for me to be able to socialize outside of work. And it was, the other two art handlers were a fun young hetero married couple of talented pros. Ellen and Bradford were film geeks from the midwest by way of Connecticut. They were both gifted conversationalists and quite charming in their ways. The three of us would sit in the back of the van, on the floor or on coolers and storage bins. Jim was always prepared to live in his van, and did from time to time. Jim sat up front with my boss, Shen a burly Japanese born man who had also taught me a lot about my trade as well as giving me greater and greater responsibility. Working for Shen was like going to trade school. I was surrounded by the hetero world as it were, in that van. There was a heat wave on during those early weeks of July and it occasionally got quite oppressive in that dark, graffiti bombed van. But the mood, even when Jim was tense behind the wheel, was always light. I guess you could say that it was a conscious experience of my differences in a purely positive way. Two hetero and single men that I looked up to, driving us, leading us. A hetero couple by my side. And then there was me, the ace on the floor, sitting happily on the rugs and swaying with the van. Bradford is the kind of person to be up on the social media sites all the time, as is Shen. I was friends with them on one such site where I posted my coming out video. So I was in the position of not knowing whether they knew I was asexual or not. It felt good. I liked that social media had made that possible, to make it up to the people I knew to bring it up to me if they wanted instead of having to announce it like some kind of proclamation. And so I don’t come off as all humble, my coming out video was a rap video that I wrote, recorded and shot. I trusted the people I knew, my friends and acquaintances and especially my family, to take it well, to do research on their own or ask me questions if they needed to. And thus far, that’s how it had gone. I had spent so much of my life trying to accept what was wrong with me that I looked into every quirk and weirdness. By the time I had reached the point of coming to terms with my asexuality I had been through celebrating or exploiting almost every other attribute in my make up. And it did dumbfound me when I finally did accept it, how long it had taken me. The hints had always been there. But I knew the answer why, when it seemed that everything else about me was different. When all the facets of my personality were so outside the norm I desperately needed to belong in one way or another. And it seemed that everyone, even the celibate people, wanted sex. But I didn’t. And it seemed that no one else around me felt that way. Or was allowed to.
So, I was technically walking only four or so miles a day, but I was doing those miles at steadily faster and faster paces. Coworkers have measured their walking at work with pedometers and come up with figures between six and ten miles per day. So that’s something I do take into account. My job is very physical and when I got home on work nights I would basically just crash. Eat a little dinner by seven or eight. Smoke a bowl with Nesto and by ten I’d be in my sleeping bag getting ready to go around again the next day.
What I did at work varied from day to day, and sometimes hour by hour or less. When we turned up at the start of the work period we’d pack up the standing show. There were six to ten or more men and women working eight hours a day. Then we’d tear down the walls we wouldn’t need for the next show. Then new walls went up, old walls got moved around. Things got patched and sanded and we would paint the place for a few days, huge fourteen foot high walls. Then the new art came in and we’d spend a day or so unpacking it and load those crates back out. Then the art went up, and at the CCA that could mean anything from tons, literally, of petroleum jelly to thousands of cups, to whole cars hung from the ceiling to paintings, to photos and video. Then there is the opening and we’d start getting ready to do it again in a month or two. I was lucky enough to work with both of the major genders and sexualities. Even the straight guys weren’t super macho. We build walls but we’re all artists or musicians or what have you. I remember a trucker once, on the loading dock, asked us what some sports team had scored in some recent game. We all looked at each other and shrugged, told him “wrong group to ask “. I suppose if I had worked actual construction sites it’d be a bit harder for me to fit in. But not much. Thanks to a couple friends and my habit of sitting in bars in my twenties, I did have a working knowledge of the major sports and their teams, some of the current players, the big contests. I enjoyed playing sports so I had probably played every major exemplar, and some of the more minor sports, in some capacity at least. And I loved working with my body, building walls or even better, destroying them, All manner of carpentry I loved to create. Willingness to work hard, fast and skillfully can take a person a lot of places. I felt I could always rely on my enthusiasm at least as much as my intelligence and ability.
I’ve always been kind of, body curious. I live in a sort of detachment, where my body isn’t quite me, but I couldn’t exist without it. The experience of having a body but also being a body. I love physical activity of all kinds, from hard labour and sport to the crafts. Sewing, painting, drawing, sculpting and all the other tactile things. I love pattern, repetition and endurance. My walks to work, in the first week or so were also in the heat wave. I was having to do what I so rarely do and bring an extra shirt to work. I am not a heavy sweater but, I was soaking my shirts in those four miles. I had gotten the time down to an hour and seven minutes. When the heat broke and the rain came in I got my first chances to walk home as well. Then my speed started to really pick up. As things continued to cool off I got down to an hour and three minutes, now that was four miles an hour. Every walk after that was about maintaining that level. I cut down on the number of places I’d sprint, intersections mostly, and tried to do the same time with just a furious pace.
When I worked one Saturday and got out at one in the afternoon I found myself in the tourist hell that the far end of Atlantic Ave. becomes. My walk went through the North End and along the Freedom Trail. To keep pace on the now crowded North Washington bridge I had to hop up on the concrete wall between the sidewalk and traffic. I walked along it like it was a balance beam, and I still passed large herds of suburban sight seers. I suppose I started walking briskly back in school winding my alienated way through the halls past my peers. I didn’t like to walk with others, and still don’t much, the slaloming habit stuck with me. I also didn’t like looking at the same back for the whole trip or having to smell other people and their perfume choices, so I walked past everyone.
And so I was just caught up in the rhythms of my minute to minute life for three and a half weeks. Walk, work, home again, hangout, sleep and repeat. When it came to an end and work began to peter out in the last week or so I began to find my place again. I had made some pretty major plans for August. My Mom needed me to go to Florida to retrieve a few pieces of furniture that were her inheritance from her Father who had passed. I was already looking forward to talking with Steve, my Granddad’s partner. We had begun talking more often in the months that followed my Granddad’s death and we had more to say to each other still. The added bonus was that not only would I be borrowing my father’s brother’s car, but my uncle Bill would be coming along with me. Since my Dad’s Father’s death that spring, my uncle Bill had begun to claim his own life. My uncle had lived a sheltered existence in his sixty years. Never leaving home. He had two out dated master’s degrees but had had the same job at a vacuum repair place his whole life. Until social media came along, he had never really socialized. That spring my uncle Bill began to question whether he might have Aspergers syndrome, something my side of the family had wondered for years. I’d always said that when the time came, if he wanted to go for more independence then I would do what I could for him. I had always had a connection with him around art making. He showed me the work that no body else in the family got to see, and they were very good. When my Mom suggested he come along on the trip I felt I had to say yes. I couldn’t deny the man this step, should he chose to take it. I felt it could be good for both of us. The only time he had left home before, besides going to college during the day, was with his parents. He’d barely traveled in his life, I hadn’t traveled much either but I was widely experienced compared to Bill. The other thing we shared was what his mother, my grandmother passed down to both of us, a love of walking. Apparently, according to my folks, all Bill wants to talk about is walking, and no one else wants to hear it. Well I do. That’s been one of my best traits in life. I’m always willing to listen to anyone, I like most people and it enriches my life to get to hear what it is like to be all kinds of people. And that’s what can be gotten from listening.
I’ve always been drawn to the people that no one wants to talk to. When I was young, perhaps it was due to the searching I was always doing, looking for someone like me, I always found the outcasts or it seemed like the misfits always found me too. And they’d tell me their problems, and I’d listen, I didn’t necessarily give advice, sometimes folks just need to be heard. I learned that doing outreach to the homeless of New York City in my teens in the nineteen nineties. Some folks weren’t there for just food and clothing, they were there to be heard, listened to, and to be treated as equals. When I listened to someone tell me about how they are, I’d do everything I could not to judge them at all, I’d just try to hear them.
My uncle Bill was claiming his own life finally and it seemed he was excited to go on the trip. Out of nowhere, I received an email from him on August first saying that he had two doctor’s appointments early in the month but that he had checked the oil in his car and we were good to go. I hadn’t had an answer as to whether it was on or not at that point but it was clear I needn’t wait any longer. Bill and I were going on a road trip.
The other question on my mind that still wasn’t resolved was how I would get to New Jersey. I was thinking about walking, and just not telling anyone that was what was happening. I’d just leave Somerville one day. I had a day or two of work left in the first week of August. I had some errands to run and some things to sew up. But, it seemed plausible, and if I bailed yet again, at least this time no one would know. The weather was perfect, in the seventies and eighties. I decided not to even tell myself if I was going. I’d just wait out work, talk to my Mom and Uncle Bill see when we’d be going. And if there was time, just wake up and leave one morning. If not, perhaps it could be done on the way back. I realized that I had to start understanding big mileages, and here was another opportunity a second chance to begin the road to that kind of knowledge. I was on the cusp, and I was tense, but patience rewards even though the strain of waiting is no fun at all. I stayed in mostly that weekend and rested up from work. The all body workout was over for another month, it was time to think about other things.
That spring and summer had almost felt like a second puberty. I was shedding old, stressful misconceptions and finding myself happy with the thoughts that once bewildered me. The comfort and stability I gained in learning that there are millions who see the world the way I do cannot be understated. I was literally learning what it was like to be more confident in who I was and how to listen to and assert what I wanted. I’d finally gotten what I’d always wanted but couldn’t say out loud, life alone but with my connections with friends and family firmly intact. I’m no hermit, there are many reasons I live in a city, my love of society and people is one of the main ones. Whenever I’ve pictured my future self, I’ve pictured myself alone having wild adventures. That’s my fantasy life and it haunted me when I thought my only option was being in a relationship. Now I could openly pursue my dreams. I saw the doors of that world opening up to me at last. Self doubt is a terrible thing and before I was able to start slowing that way of thinking it seemed the slightest breeze could hold me back from doing as I pleased. When that wall of denial that said I was a broken human being collapsed I began to learn how to stand into that wind that held me down. It was still holding me back but I was getting stronger slowly, and advancing at a crawl. My semi-cousin once told me, when we were in our teens, that he would teach me “how to be a man someday”. When he said it, it confused me because I had never thought of myself as heading that way. It haunted me though, because I never really do feel male but not female either, I’m like fifty fifty, or some figure close to there. So much of who I was made me feel less than that I never felt like an adult, and that’s what I wanted to achieve. After the milestones in my twenties I’ve never felt like celebrating my birthday because it isn’t that important an event but also because I felt like I hadn’t achieved anything. I had no value in myself. As my birthday came and went that July I actually felt like a grownup, an adult. I had been a “man” for years, my brother and father confirmed that for me. Now I was fully realized and fresh. I suppose I was a late bloomer in a way, it took me to my thirties to fully accept my sexuality. The benefit of which was the decades of knowledge I possessed with which I could tackle the task of structuring myself a life that could support me right through to the end. My grandfathers that had just passed that year were in their mid eighties and mid nineties respectively. I had many ancestors with very long lives. I was finally happy saying that I didn’t ever want kids, I had never been able to imagine that. So I was having to accept the repercussions of that reality. There won’t be anyone to put me in a home. No one will be there to take care of me as I age. No one is going to squabble over my estate, I’d probably just leave it to Jack, my brother. That way, the family heirlooms that I possess will re-enter the family, Jack’s kids can figure out what to do with my Grandpa’s coronet.
I really was resting up that weekend in the first days of August. As a sort of penultimate act, I rode my bike to work on the Thursday that was my last day that week. It was glorious. I also realized that perhaps it is the most macho thing I do, as my Mother had suggested a month or two before. It’s when I feel the most aggressive and in tune with my body in harmony with a machine. So, I suppose you could say its when I feel the most male. I was definitely able to hold my own still, despite being in my mid thirties nobody passed me. I bobbed and wove on the dotted white line like I was in my twenties but with the ease and calm that comes with experience. The morning air was cool and I barely broke a sweat on the way in. The way back the traffic was a touch heavier and so were the heat and the wind. The latter of which was a headwind, light but steady and insistent. I took on all comers and had a great time going around the Sullivan Square rotary. I dove right for the center and sling shotted around to the far side to the tip of the square. Exits fanned toward that side and I leaned out for mine, most of the cars take an earlier one. Its safer than it sounds or looks to do, its all in the timing and the presence. That’s what I love about urban biking. Its not that I’m besting the cars, its that I’m besting the odds. That’s why I don’t ride so often anymore, the more time passes the more the odds are stacked against me. If I don’t ride as much I can put off that one really bad accident that is on its way.
That was something that I noticed on that ride though too, I didn’t feel like taking certain risks and did stop at a couple places on both legs of the ride. In my more self destructive years I had decided that I didn’t mind the idea of getting killed while riding my bike. I actively courted the mishap at times. I was getting hit by cars at least once a year, usually two or three times. That morning I didn’t feel that urge. I did dangerous things that I knew how to do safely. But when a stupid risk presented its head, I looked for other ways to meet the challenge. I still wouldn’t mind dying doing something I love, but I’d like it to be a good many years down the road. On the ride home I realized that I needed to go and buy a helmet if I wanted to ride again.
I had one more day of work, sorting out the storage situation in the workshop of the CCA. On the way in on that last day I pushed myself extra hard and made it there faster than I ever had. On the far side of the Northern Avenue footbridge I aimed for the knee high wall that separated part of the path from the sidewalk adjacent. I was in the habit of doing a little fancy footwork hop, skip and jump over the wall in an effort to follow the most direct line forward. I had done it a thousand times and more. That day a young man was walking close to the wall and didn’t seem to care or perhaps notice where I wanted to be. According to the rules of the road he had the right of way. I bullied my way in front of him anyway. As I hopped over the wall my foot caught it, then I scraped my shin and I fell on my hands. Popping back up I was embarrassed, the young man asked if I was ok, I was humiliated. I had seen once again that the way of macho aggression was no longer a path that I could easily follow in good conscience. I had to take the path of least resistance, confidence in myself was one thing, forcing my will on others was another, more terrible beast entirely. I was torn between my desire to go do my own thing and the obligations of my position at the CCA. The money I stood to earn was the only incentive for me to keep doing whatever was asked of me. I had lapsed slightly in my efforts to save, probably due to pot purchasing. I still had savings, just not what I should have had. I figured I had plenty to live on for the next month, have a couple adventures and still have a thousand bucks at the start of work in September. I was going to be sober the entire time I was away from Massachusetts so my spending was sure to drop. I was trying to tell myself that I wasn’t going to smoke when I got back. September was a full month of work, if I could stay sober while I earned that money and didn’t smoke it, I’d be well on my way to getting my own place. To owning my place. In the past I didn’t think I deserved to succeed so I learned how to undermine myself. I was trying to learn to do the opposite. Failure is easy to accept if you think that is all you deserve. It’s a self loather’s goal to fail again, that affirms the identity. Success is confusing and frightening. I had decades of damage and learned behavior, flagellations to unwind from my psyche. It was like when I’d be working on a carpentry problem at work. A project that had been going well that reached a cross road and I just couldn’t solve it. I’d get more and more frustrated and angry, trying solution after solution to the point of agitated rage. The best thing to do is go on break, take twenty minutes to breathe and relax. Whenever I’d come back to such a situation, it would be like a breath of fresh air, I’d know instinctually what to do. Its like I had a new mind. But for me, in that situation, that time in my life, I could see that it was an old mind that I was still using. I was reunited with the me from before all the confusion, made a link with my oldest past self. The me that was just before. I had felt compelled to deny so much of my day to day mind that those experiences were being locked away in memory too. My mind was free though, at last, to feel everything that had happened and to just accept it. I didn’t have to worry any more,
Even though I had less work than normal and had no more living grandparents, twenty thirteen had been a wonderful year thus far. Perhaps the most exiting, joyful and even pleasant of my life at that point. I had felt it when I decided to leave my apartment in Allston behind and start bouncing around, that this would be a year of motion for me. I felt that as long as I stayed freely able to follow that movement everything would go my way.
I did have one last week or so in Boston before I had to go anywhere and I spent the first bit of it mucking around, the next bit planning. I decided that I would take up the walk to New Jersey again. My attempt in June had failed before it started, in part because of an intense early summer heatwave. Oddly, that August was much cooler so I felt that it was worth making attempt number two. I headed out on the tenth day of that month, a Saturday, at ten in the morning. It was a gorgeous day, so I was not going to be able to use poor weather as an excuse for stopping. I felt good, laughingly unsure but caught in an inescapable forward motion. I wound my way out of the greater Boston area. Through Somerville and into the Harvard end of Cambridge. I got lost there briefly, the internet map I used falters at describing directions in a coherent way. Telling you to turn left or right towards something you have no idea of the location of. I know most of Greater Boston by heart but the Harvard area is a bit of an enigma, I never have a reason to go through there. I see it as a place for students not residents. So I got a tad turned around until I found my way by accident and landed right where I needed to be. The rest was easy. I clomped on through Watertown and Newton and out of the reach of Boston. It was one long straight road for many miles. The sun shown bright and high and as I mentioned the weather was perfect. By noon it had reached eighty or so degrees and just hung there, with the low humidity I had very few complaints. I rested here and there during that day’s walking, but not for very long. Never more than fifteen minutes for each break. Probably an hour or so of rest in total for the day.
As I cruised into the home stretch that day, at around mile thirty one, the sun was setting and the cool of night returned. I was starved and tired but feeling good. I had been out for nine hours, eight of them were walking hours. I reached the motel on the edge of Northboro that I had made my goal and got a room. I discovered however that there was no food to be had anywhere near that hotel. Luckily I had brought some instant ramen with me and managed to heat that up in the microwave oven provided in my room. I also discovered that I had been sunburned by my activities, but only on one side of my body. My right side was pale as ever, the left had gone pink under the glare of the sun as it moved west along side and ahead of me. I laughed at my own stupidity and tried to remember to go and buy some sunblock when I had a chance.
I awoke the next day a bit stiff but excited to be walking in to Worcester Mass for the first time in my walking life. It seemed like such a distant city but here I was strolling down a stripmalled hill toward it. After re-upping on flavored seltzer, and buying and applying some sun block I strode across a reservoir bridge. I idled there briefly but not for too long. I still had twenty plus miles to go that day. When my feet landed inside the border of Worcester I got a real kick, it made me giggle out loud. I marched on but with some mild reservations. I had not been able to locate a motel to head towards for my next stop. I had a backpacking tent with me but I was not keen to use it. I enjoyed the comfort and the convenience of my motel room the night before. After thirty miles of walking on black-top and concrete it was nice to lay out on a soft bed and stare at the idiot box. I was not looking forward to finishing my day. Never the less, I continued onward.
When I reached the center of town I discovered the train station. I saw that there was a commuter rail train waiting to take people to Boston and all points in between. That sight stalled me out. I hopped into the shade offered in a park across from the station. I looked at my prospects for that evening and thought about bailing. I decided to motor on. I may not have been thrilled but I still had loads of energy.
Main Street in Worcester proved to be the smokiest street I had ever walked down. Every couple feet there was a cigarette burning. It seemed absurd and it did make me crave a but, it also drove me forward. Outside the city I was bound to be the only pedestrian. As I pushed toward the outskirts I found myself stalling. I sat on park benches and lollygagged in a grocery store. All I could think was “why am I doing this? Do I even care?”
The foot traffic did eventually thin out to the point where I was once again alone. The only people I saw were coming out of stores, hanging out their car windows or mucking about in their yards. I was invisible again and it motivated me. Most of the way through Worcester had been a slow decent, now I was climbing and it seemed like it was not going to stop. The fact is, it didn’t. Oh sure, there was the occasional dip or level crossing but those were never very long and they were always followed by more ascent. I was beginning to get weary.
As I climbed Stafford street, a ten mile stretch that felt like twenty, I got more and more fed up. I was approaching the town of Charlton and I spotted a historical marker on the other side of the road. In need of yet another break I limped over to it. It labeled the incline I was on “Dead Horse Hill” and that gave me serious pause. I laughed to my self thinking, “no shit!” Apparently, the long steep gradient that I had set myself on was once famous for killing horses when they were the primary mode of transport. When cars first came around the folks in the area took to trying to race up the hill. There were very few that could make the climb. My motivation was fizzling. By the time I reached one eight seven Stafford in Charlton it was about four in the afternoon. I was bushed and exhausted and almost totally unmotivated. I crouched by the side of the road, looking quite sketchy I’m sure. It was a very suburban neighborhood. I looked at my map on my smartphone and confirmed that I had no options for that night other than slipping into the woods somewhere in Sturbridge. I was ten miles, or three hours from that option. I was the same distance from the train station back in the heart of Worcester. One was uphill the other down. One meant I was committed to another five days of walking with quite a lot of climbing. The other meant quitting but no more hills. I wanted to be able to do the walk tallying at least thirty miles in a day, but I realized that the way I had plotted my trip was not conducive to such an endeavor. I made my decision fairly quickly at that thought. After all, I could always try again. I strode back down the way I had come as happy, confident and energized as I had been leaving Somerville and greater Boston the day before. I realized too that I had reached a new personal best that weekend as well. When I reached home I was going to have covered another thirty some odd miles in a day. That was sixty plus miles in two days.
By quarter to eight that evening I was back at Union Station and a train was waiting for me. Dusk was falling and the heat of the day lifted from my shoulders. After some befuddlement, I boarded a commuter rail train bound for Boston and settled in. I was bemused and happy. Next time, I would go farther but in my mind, I had gone far enough. After a couple days of rest back in Somerville, my Mom drove up to get me. I found myself looking out the windows at the scenery around me. I thought about walking through it and was perfectly happy about not being there. I was amazed at how long it took us to reach where I had walked to whilst driving on the highway. It was nearly forty minutes of driving. Perhaps more.
Down in Jersey I settled in to my Mom’s house, joining her routine. I did some writing and social networking, watched TV and set about hammering in the final details of this trip to Florida I was meant to be taking. This meant purchasing a new piece of technology. My laptop was hopelessly outdated and I could no longer view my email account. I also had trouble with that with my phone so there was nothing to it, I bought a tablet. I got in contact with Steve, my Grandad Paul’s partner and picked out a good day for me and Bill to drop by. That in hand I emailed Bill and set the whole plan in stone.
The night before we left Bill, my Mom and I went out for dinner. She wanted to say a thanks and go through the plan a bit. I had made the drive before so I wasn’t worried and I was confident that Bill was good to go as well. I spent that night at Bill’s house. I slept in my father’s old room, the one he had grown up in. I hadn’t been in there for decades, not since I was a tyke visiting from Massachusetts. And there I was again. I was a little too exited and I couldn’t sleep. The room as small and odd shaped, fitted in amongst the dormers. It was clad in wood paneling and linoleum flooring. It stank of the nineteen fifties still, and I thought, always would. I had gotten a book reading app on my tablet and purchased Anthony Bogaert’s Understanding Asexuality. It was almost warming to read an entire book that seemed to know so manny of my private thought processes. It also helped expand my conception of how sexual people think, and why they behave in certain ways. One of the hardest things about pretending to be straight was that I never have been able to understand the motivations for so much straight behavior. Accepting my own sexuality had made it so that I could more easily comprehend other people’s. It humanized my view.
As I lay there in the dark of Wyckoff, on the land that so much of my family had lived on, I laughed to myself. I was laughing at this lineage that Bill and I sat at one end of. We were of two generations who’s arms proved to be genetic dead ends. Bill had never dated and I never wanted to and here we were setting off on an errand for family. Because we were available. But to me it seemed we were happy, I certainly was. I was also looking, almost gleefully, ahead to the days that stretched out before me.
The next day I finally gleaned how excited Bill was about the trip. We left his house around nine that morning and he took the first leg of the driving, we had agreed to split all the burdens equally. We headed off at around eight thirty on a Saturday morning in late August. I poked and prodded until we got a nice rhythm of conversation going. A nice mix with silence and private enjoyment of the shared experience of the road. Every moment that passed was the longest amount of time that I had ever spent alone with my uncle. As I was marveling at this yet again we crossed the Masson Dixon line. That’s when Bill stated that that was the farthest he had ever driven continuously from his front door. That was for me, one of those moments that you don’t get to share with many folks. And I felt very lucky that he wanted to share that with me. We were bonding. I had always felt close to my uncle Bill but I never really had, or perhaps taken, the time. The road smiled on me. Not long after we decided we were ready for lunch and fuel. We’d been going for four hours and had reached Hagerstown, Maryland. We found the fuels we needed and also decided to switch places for the remainder of the day. I’d get to drive us into the Carolinas. The last time I had driven a car through that way I’d been headed north from my Grandma Kellam’s wake. I had my brother Jack as my passenger then. My sedan had died in North Carolina. Bill’s crossover SUV was the same make as my sedan but far newer than that car had been and with much lower mileage. We didn’t make it to the border though, we decided to stop about twenty miles shy in a town called Hillsville in Virginia. We ate at a Southern chain that specializes in buffet style food. Other than that the night was relatively quiet, we read quietly until turning in. I don’t know if my uncle had ever shared a room with anyone before. I had certainly never shared one with him. I’m a sound sleeper though and the night was uneventful.
We got up just as early as we had the day before. It was nice being able to have a biscuit with gravy for breakfast. Bill hadn’t even noticed the gravy, he didn’t know what to make of it. We just kept hauling ass too. We drove straight through the Carolinas and Georgia and landed in Florida with plenty of daylight stretching out before us. We crept into Melbourne, about halfway down the Atlantic coast, just as dusk was falling. I just wanted to get to the end and figured we could go back out for dinner. I pushed Bill onward, I was driving so that was fairly easy. We got in around nine p.m. and found Steve in good spirits and sure enough he had already eaten. So Bill and I hopped back in the car for another ride. We surveyed the chain restaurants and fast food joints in Melbourne’s down town. We weren’t feeling too enthused with any of the options and I think Bill was getting a touch impatient. He snapped when he saw an outpost of the world’s largest fast food hole. And as we entered I could see that this one really was a nasty pit. Just slightly dingy, of the sort that screams disregard. There were three absurdly tan redneck kids having a hard time ordering before us in line. When they finally got their shit straightened out I bounced to the front and stated my order, Bill laid his out quickly too. After what seemed like an awful wait our order was up and we sat down to consume it. I noted that we were flipping who had a burger and who got the chicken at every restaurant. That was when Bill stated that he actually didn’t care for fast food. I laughed, glad to hear that I wasn’t alone in that. I told him we’d try for something more restauranty next.
The stay with Steve was brief but very good. I think he got to do some of the talking about my Grandad that he had needed to do. We sat on his couch chatting intently as a football game played in the background. Bill was a bit lost on some of the subjects but we all had a good talk about grief. I’d lost both grandfathers, Bill had lost his father and Steve had lost his partner. Here we all were too, the oddballs of my weird little family. Me the asexual, Steve the homosexual and Bill who had begun to question as to whether he might have Aspergers syndrome. I didn’t want to point my observation out to the other two. They probably noticed it too, bringing it up might have spoiled the moment. We retired to the safety of sleep quite cordially. Bill took the spare room and I camped out in a sleeping bag I had brought.
The morning was like so many I had spent in that house before. Someone came walking purposefully toward me quite early in the morning, beckoning a greeting and salutation. I awoke happy and surrounded by the sights and sounds of a familiar place turned odd by my company, not having my folks or maternal grandparents there that is. It was made all the more warming too though, a good answer to death, signs of life and new beginnings. I felt so lucky to be getting to know both Bill and Steve better. I had never had or perhaps taken the opportunity to do so. We spent that morning around the breakfast table eating sugar flakes and sipping on coffee or in Bill’s case, milk. We also chatted and laughed quite warmly. Less than twelve hours before we felt more like strangers than family. By dawn, I felt that had changed. And what’s more we felt like friends too. As morning crept forward Bill and I could see that we had to get moving, so we set about the task we were there to complete. We moved the furniture my Mom had inherited into Bill’s SUV, filling the back of it with only just enough room for our bags. It was some sweaty, dirty fun. Getting the order of objects wrong, pulling them out, discussing, trying again until we finally got it.
We were on the road by ten, stopping for lunch before we left Florida but motoring. We were hoping to get back to Hillsville. We needed to give ourselves a lot of time the next day. Bill’s one stipulation for the trip had been a desire to swing through the Shenandoah National Forest, to drive up the hundred or so miles that ran through the middle of the park. We fell about fifty miles shy of our goal and ended up in a tiny town in North Carolina called Elkin. We got in around nine pm, both of us getting a tad cranky and road weary. We hit the hay pretty quickly and as I drifted off I began to marvel at how much fun I had been having over the course of the trip. I found myself genuinely enjoying the long stretches of highway driving. I took the first leg of the trip the next morning. Bill had lamented not getting to take pictures and video when we had come through Virginia on the way down. I didn’t want him to suffer the same regrets from our trip north. I said I would man the wheel through the park too for similar reasons. I also secretly wanted to drive that stretch of road in particular. I had been a passenger on that road so many times before that it would enrich my experience to be at the helm this time. Bill seemed thankful to be given the chance to sightsee. I was also still considering my newly rediscovered joy in driving. I hadn’t found such pleasure in the act since first acquiring my license as a New Jersey teen. I began fantasizing about being out on the highway systems on my own. Perhaps I could buy a car, a station wagon or crossover SUV. I could sleep in the back and crisscross the nation, going from park to park, hiking in the woods but also visiting towns and cities and exploring new streets in that way. I began to think it might work, I can be very fickle and even flaky, I was letting my desire to get on with the traveling I had felt welling up in me over the past year run away with me. My excitable soul had latched on to the moment again and I was having trouble seeing my life without the lens of the automobile.
We pulled in to the Shenandoah National Forest not long before noon. The day had been sunny and warm but upon our approach the haze and fog that so often shrouded the peaks of the park descended on us. We were creeping along at the thirty plus mile an hour speed limit, even if we didn’t stop along the route it was going to take us three hours to go the length. We did stop quite often, Bill was enthralled and began insisting that we stop at every overlook. At first I obliged as the beauty of those vistas is not something to miss. The Shenandoah valley swept out before us, low peaceful, lush and sunny in the distance the clouds corralled around us there occasionally spitting mist and rain. We wound steadily if slowly onward. As I grew less enraptured of the vistas and more aware of the time I took more control over our stops. I laid out a system wherein we would stop at not quite every other one with the stipulation that if we saw something that really pulled us we would stop. All in all we were in the park for four and a half to five hours, including our breaks for gas and lunch. I was stiff from being at the wheel but pleasantly happy if a tad impatient.
When we stopped for gas in Pennsylvania Bill took over the driving duties he would lead us back to New Jersey just as he had taken us out of it. We didn’t get in to my Mother’s until very late, so late that Bill didn’t want to drive the final thirty back to his house. We had both gotten very cranky at the end of the trip snapping at each other here and there. We hit the first traffic of our trip only forty miles or so from the New Jersey border. I got car sick, not to the point of vomiting but queazy. Our directions took us on a winding path through the back roads of rural north west Jersey and we struggled to see roadsigns as our patience wore thin. We hit my Mom’s at about midnight and I brought her furniture in in a huff. When Bill said he’d go no further I offered him my spot on the day bed, the only other bed in the house beyond my Mom’s. I went down to her small kitchen and pushed the two easy chairs together and settled in for a brief if uncomfortable rest. We woke early yet again and rousted my Mom, she took us out for breakfast at a favorite local diner. It was nice to finish the trip in the same manner we had initiated it. We bade Bill farewell, sending him off with directions home. I had truly valued getting to know my uncle better, getting the chance to see eye to eye with him. But just as with any companion, I was also glad to see him off. I didn’t have more than a few days left in Jersey, I was due back for work in Boston on the third of September. That coming Monday was also going to be Labour Day so my Mother and I elected to head back that Sunday, the first. We assumed there would be little traffic on the hump day of a three day weekend. Through New York and most of Connecticut traffic was light and calm. As we approached the border with Massachusetts I started to notice more and more rented small box trucks driven by young folks and cars jammed with luggage driven by the same or accompanied by a parent. As traffic snarled and got thicker it dawned on me that here I was, a student hater from Boston, and I had agreed to travel home on the student’s move in day, the worst traffic day of the year. All in all the traffic wasn’t that bad really and we had a good time sharing the delay time up with conversation.
I was at Susan and Nesto’s by the early evening and I went for a walk shortly after arriving. It was a wonderful late summer evening, just at sunset and not so hot you sweat or so cool that you need more than shorts and a t shirt. I strolled up to Harvard Street, one of my favorite little streets in the neighborhood. Its short but very steep and pretty, fun to walk in both directions. Halfway down the hill it ends and I turned left toward Beech Street and the centerpiece of the stroll, the round house on the corner of Beech. A castle turret of a house lopped off it’s perch, covered in siding and plunked halfway up this Somerville hill. The yard was barren and unkempt and all the windows and doors were boarded up. It had a charming if ominous air and I delighted in walking past it as I descended around the corner and the little slope that is Beech. I got dinner at my favorite local take out place on Somerville Ave. there at the terminus of Beech. They make a nice rare burger which I got with mayo, a soft sunny side up fried egg and American cheese. I carried my prize on down Somerville to a pharmacy to buy a soda and some chips. Then it was back out into the waining sunlight and over to Laurel, a quiet and shaded one way. Half gentle slope and half jogging hill it is a pleasure of mine, but I think I prefer walking up it. The next day was more of the same, just more walks to different parts of the neighborhood, no further than a mile in each direction. A morning stroll to have coffee and a pastry at a cafe’ and another later in the day to get groceries.
Of course I walked to work again. Taking the longer route, past Charlestown and the community college. It was one long and windy stretch of almost barren sidewalk. It was my peace and quiet every day. There were other lessons too. I tripped on a curb in the North End one morning. I had been hurrying myself to pass a fellow pedestrian that I passed most every day. I was just caught up in my foolishness and didn’t lift my one foot high enough. I slammed down onto my knees and slapped my palms on the bricks. I popped up as quickly as I could and sped on, laughing to myself about the justice finally served to my fellow walker. I hope he got a good laugh at my expense. That was a good humbling reminder but I suppose it hadn’t taken root yet. I find myself such an aggressive person when I’m in transit anywhere and by any means. I try not to be but there is a voice in my brain that hurries me up when I’m traveling. That’s why I don’t drive much, why I prefer not to drive. Because I speed and somebody is bound to get hurt. So I walk and ride bikes. That way the person who gets hurt is most likely gonna be me. But the guy who likes to bob and weave comes out no matter what and I’m still trying to resolve him with the person who wants to have only positive impacts on others. Heck, was it even my responsibility to be so concerned? Or was there some level of rudeness that could and should be expected as just part of the learning curve resulting from the chaotic nature of existence? As long as I’m the only chump who gets hurt, have I really done anyone real harm?
I kept taking rides with Jim too, and thinking about cars. The trip to Florida had stuck with me and the idea of driving all over the states when I wasn’t working had reached reasonably romanticized proportions. Before leaving Jersey I had begun my search for possible vehicles and I followed up in Somerville. There was even a used car dealer on my way to work that was selling a smaller black van. The question haunted me.
But back to my point, if you get me going in any kind of labour situation, I tend to go faster and faster like a self winding top. I honestly love physical labour and the heavier, the more repetitive and the more menial the more fun it is likely to be. One of my favorite seasonal chores is snow shoveling. Spending an hour on a brisk winter morning heaving load after load of the stuff at some berm of your own creation. That joy too that comes from the satisfaction of doing, from turning around sweaty and tired to look at what has been wrought. I had grown up doing yard work and other chores. Heck, as soon as my brother and I could reach the controls our folks had us doing our own laundry and cooking our own food. Although there were times that I bucked against such tasks, in the end I grew to love each one. There is a true simple pleasure in doing that is akin to creativity and often a great sense of destruction. In yard work for example, when it is time to kill all of one plant that you as the gardener have decided is a pest or what have you. It all feels so essential. Even in my alcoholic years I would work for pleasure in my spare time. One of my favorite activities for some years was to go to the liquor store around noon on a summer day. Buy six forty ouncers ranging from beer through malt liquor and a couple nips. I’d then head to my yard and begin to drink and simultaneously clean the yard. By dusk the yard would be perfect and I’d be hammered, ready for dinner and a nap. That’s how I spent that September, not drunk of course, but working hard, embroiled in my labour. All for the sake of art.
In the middle of all of that, near the end of the month, was a meeting that I wanted to attend. I couldn’t have been more nervous about it either… I was both elated and shitting myself. My social phobias were trying to get the better of me. I had promised some online friends that I would be there, so I could not back out. It was in fact totally arranged online, that is, folks could get together through this website for almost any reason. This group gathered to help build the asexual community outside of the internet, in real life as they say.
The day was one of those warm and sunny September days that New England does so well. The sun shone brightly with a few fluffy clouds floating by above the drying, changing leaves that still clung tightly to the trees. I left Nesto and Susan’s place with plenty of time to get where I was meant to be. Funnily enough the meeting was to be at a cafe in Cambridge that I used to go to for its weekly poetry reading. That did help to ease some of my nerves. It was just a short two mile stroll but I could feel myself slowing down as I advanced. I don’t like meeting new people, especially in large groups, but I felt this was something that I needed to do.
When I got there I was sweating far more than I should’ve been. I paced around the entrance, quaking with phobic fear fighting the urge to go hide back at Nesto’s. I wished I hadn’t quit smoking because a cigarette would’ve been wonderful. But alas, I had none so up the stairs I went. Inside the bustling cafe were plenty of people but no large groups. A friendly barista directed me down a set of stairs. I hopped down the set, now more anticipatory than anxious in mood. Spied the group sitting in a large U shaped area near the back of the room and went over. I timidly began to ask if…and they waved me in before I could finish.
During the three or so hours I was there I didn’t say much of anything but I also had no idea how much time had passed. I just listened. It wasn’t even that I was so enraptured with what the motley collection of individuals had to say, I wasn’t. I didn’t seem to have a whole lot in common with most of them. Everyone tended to the collegiate activist and science minded end of the Boston spectrum, kinda out of my frame of reference. But for the first time in my memory that really didn’t matter. I was surrounded by un judging eyes. No one was looking me up and down thinking sexual thoughts. There were no leering, prying gazes. I felt safe and at home. I had only felt more at peace when I came to terms with being asexual. When I learned that folks like these really did exist. Now I had my real world confirmation.
Later, back at work and in my life, the confidence that that brewed in me was beginning to spill out. I was having an easier time accepting leadership roles when I was asked to do so. That carried over yet again when work was over. Although my body was in semi collapsed mode I decided I wanted to take another shot at a multi day walking journey. I did not feel that I wanted to even consider the trip to Jersey though. Trying to cover thirty to forty miles a day still seemed unattainable and I was beginning to seriously doubt my motivations for even wanting to attempt such a thing. I knew though that walking twenty miles a day would be relatively easy. But where would I go?
It occurred to me that I had not been back to the first town I remembered living in. The town before the town I lived in before my family had packed up and moved to New Jersey. If walking to Jersey was about a sort of homecoming then this walk, to Newburyport, Massachusetts would be the place to begin such journeys. As an added bonus the town was just a day’s walk beyond Salem, the destination of my first multi-day walk. It was approximately forty some odd miles to the north with a motel about halfway. So I booked three nights at two hotels for my four day walk. I was going to visit the site of all my earliest memories. The only major obstacle was my work destroyed body, so I gave myself a week to heal up. The trouble wasn’t just exhaustion or sore muscles, though that was part of it. My digestion was all screwy, that is I had developed a case of the runs that came along after every recent heavy work period. It was a major concern because long distance walking means one can’t always find a restroom when it is needed. I would be passing through commercial, industrial, residential and rural areas. Some of which are bathroom deserts. My one backup plan was a roll of toilet paper and a backpacker’s shovel. I hoped that they wouldn’t be necessary. I counted on rest and good diet to pull my wavering body back into working order.