The men in my life part 2: Greg

Peggy (in photo) and I met Greg in 1987 through a national group marriage organization that was headquartered here in Eugene. He considered me morose and Peggy bitchy, and we were indifferent to him, but since we were all interested in hiking and camping, we started spending time together. Coming as we did from flatland Mississippi, Peggy and I knew nothing about travel in mountainous wilderness areas, and he knew a lot, so he became our unofficial leader and supplier. If one of us needed an extra coat, Greg would pull one out of his pack, and if we became lost, we knew we could rely on him to get us home. He liked taking care of us, and we liked being taken care of.

Greg was charismatic, and most of his friends—other than Peggy and I—were younger than himself and treated him with deference. We liked having a charismatic friend, and we also liked having a friend who made us think he could do anything, anything at all. We felt safe with him while mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, and other activities that we wouldn’t have done on our own. Then Greg got interested in beekeeping, and I like bees, so we became still closer. At one point, I even worked under him when he was shop foreman at British Automotive.

Whereas Peggy and I tried to keep our lives orderly and predictable, Greg was wild and spontaneous. His house was a mess; his Land Rover had moss growing inside the cab; his cat ate from the kitchen table with everyone else; and his yard was junky and overgrown. He was also unlike us in that his generosity was boundless. For example, a year after we met him, Peggy and I moved to Minneapolis to be a part of a group marriage. When the marriage fell apart two years later, Peggy came back to Oregon alone leaving me to move our stuff, and it was a lot of stuff. When I phoned Greg on the day of the move and told him that the friend who was supposed to help me load the truck and drive it to Oregon had backed out of doing either, Greg said he would fly to Minneapolis that afternoon. I reminded him that a last minute plane ticket would cost a hell of a lot of money, and I didn’t want to pay for it. He said he didn’t intend for me to pay for it (I still had to turn him down because it didn’t seem right to accept a gift that exceeded my own generosity).

Over the next ten or twelve years, there were two occasions when Greg and I had arguments and didn’t speak for a couple of years. During these times, he didn’t see Peggy either because he said that a friendship with just one of us wouldn’t work. What he did do when we were apart was to trash me to other people. When I confronted him about this, he sometimes denied it, and other times said that he did it in order to encourage my friends (the ones he was trashing me to) to come to me and work out our issues (issues that wouldn’t have existed had Greg kept his mouth shut).

During the mid-nineties, Greg and Peggy became lovers, and we all discussed him moving in with us as an equal partner. Unfortunately, he was different from Peggy and me in two ways that stopped us cold. One was that if being a total slob regarding your house and yard is a zero, and being a total neat freak is a hundred, then Greg was a 15 and Peggy and I were 85's. The second problem was that Greg spent money as fast as he got it while Peggy and I squirreled it away. His fun-loving spontaneity was great in a friendship, but we couldn’t imagine happily sharing finances in an intimate relationship. Greg assured us that he would change his housekeeping habits, and that our financial differences could be worked out through written agreements.

When we were unmoved, Greg proposed to Peggy that she live at his house part of the time and here part of the time. This suited her and me, and the arrangement continued for a few years until she got tired of living in two places. The next day, Greg dropped off everything the two of them had shared (their "living Christmas tree" is now 20’ tall). Then he didn’t talk to us for a year.

In the late ‘90s, Greg went back to school and got a masters in counseling psychology, but he didn’t work long as a counselor because he needed more money than he could make while he built his practice. Specifically, he had married a welfare mom with two children, and the three of them looked to him for support.

Greg, Peggy, and I were by now reconciled, but we were never close again because he had to work long hours and because his wife disliked Peggy and me—and vice versa. As with all Greg’s women other than Peggy, I suspected that this one suffered from a personality disorder. The final blow to any real intimacy between Greg and me came on the day he said he wouldn’t be reading my blog anymore because he found writing (including personal letters) less interesting than talking on the phone, and he didn’t think much of that. This was a reversal of what he had been telling me for twenty years, and I was speechless.

Then I developed health problems, and had ten surgeries in ten years. Greg was there for me until surgery number eight, which was by far the worst. Peggy was away, and I was in pain, heavily drugged, prone to falling, and only had the use of one arm. Despite two requests for help, Greg never came over. Surgery number nine was even worse because not only was it winter and Peggy was gone again, but one of our dogs—Bonnie—became ill on Christmas Day and nearly died. To keep her alive, I had to find someone to give her steroids and other drugs every twelve hours. I would have found it humiliating to ask Greg, and he never called or visited.

Greg dropped by one night a few months later, and I jumped all over him for having abandoned me after my surgeries. I was such pain the night he was here that I couldn’t sit up straight, and I was so mad that I could scarcely talk. Greg listened for what seemed but a short while before he asked if he could hug me (I said yes), and then he walked out the door. That was two years ago, and I haven’t seen him since.

I knew that Greg and I weren’t going to work this one out, so I had to decide whether to let him go, or whether to put my hurt feelings behind me and try to regain his friendship. I decided I wanted him back, so I emailed him briefly every few months to ask how he was doing. He wrote back occasionally, and two months ago, he asked if he might visit the next week. I said he would be welcome, but he didn’t come. He later emailed an apology and asked if I still wanted him to visit. I replied that of course I did. I haven’t heard from him since.

I can hardly blame Greg for all our problems because my moodiness, my tendency to take things personally, my passive-aggressiveness, and my tendency to go overboard in the other direction and speak too harshly have certainly been hard for him. Greg has told me that I’m the most difficult person he has ever tried to be close to.

If Greg and I had settled for being less intimate, perhaps we would still be friends, but we weren’t willing to do that. I think it's also true that being close friends is harder for men than for women. At least, Peggy and her women friends make friendship look easy as they go year in and year out without a cross word. I’ve never been able to come close to that, at least not with the few people with whom I’ve really tried to share intimacy.

It makes me feel dirty

Barack Obama—the same man who falsely promised to close Guantanamo Prison—now has several times more people locked away without charges than Bush did, and he is planning to expand the capacity of the Parwan Detention Camp from 3,500 to 5,500. How can any of us claim to be moral people when we surrender money to an immoral entity like the United States government so that it won’t treat us with quite the same contempt for human rights that it treats others? If we too support evil, how are we more moral than those who supported Hitler?

In appreciation of my religious/spiritual readers

There aren’t a great many arguments to support the existence of a god, and studious atheists have rejected them all. This makes any attempt to convert such people a waste of time. Few of my religious/spiritual readers who have stayed with me through my attacks on religion have tried to convert me. Their tolerance and kindness has made it increasingly difficult for me to write posts in which I criticize religion, not because my opinions have changed but because I don’t want to wound my friends. Yet, I must continue to write such posts because they are important—to me if to no one else.

I never mean to make it personal. I can’t even imagine attacking one of my readers personally, much less one of my readers whom I value as much as I do Marion in Louisiana; Fodder in the Ukraine; Julie, Corgi, and Robin in California; Marion in British Columbia; Rhymes in Georgia; or Kylie, Nolly, and Natalie in Australia (just to name the first ten who come to mind).

It is certainly possible to find some touching stories and some impressive wisdom in religion, so if you find solace there, then who am I to begrudge you? It is only when religion hurts people that I object to it. As the Wiccans say, “An it harm none, do as ye will.”

When my mother died

My mother would become infuriated when I smoked marijuana, so I did it in front of her every chance I got. I was that way about everything that infuriated my mother. My sister was the opposite. She too did all kinds of things that seriously displeased our mother (our father didn’t care what we did), but she would lie her way out of them whenever she could.

When my mother died—in 1988—they brought the body to the house, and I sat beside her, smoking pot, in a one-person wake. I didn’t think I could bear letting her go, so I hoped I could rise to some plane where she still existed, or at least hallucinate her, but the closest I got was when I heard her gasp for air. At that moment, I thought I had done it. I thought she was going to open her eyes and talk to me, but she just lay there, not really looking much like herself.

Old dogs and old parents

Having old dogs is like having old parents. Sometimes, I just wish they would get it over with and die already. Other times, I feel honored that the universe has made me their guardian.

About Bonnie—the dog in the picture. She’s a blue heeler, 14 years old, blind, arthritic, and going deaf. Even with all this, she still loves to play fetch, only instead of throwing the ball off mountainsides or across rivers like I used to do, I now roll it up against her in the corner of the living room.

1/3 of 1 oz

The nasty looking stuff in the bottle is 190 proof ethyl alcohol in which marijuana leaves steeped for three months. You’re probably thinking, “Hell, son, I could drink a quart of that and race at Talladega,” to which I would respond, “Great! I look forward to seeing you do it, because I find that one third of one ounce propels me into a strong but mellow high that just keeps taking me up and up and up for hours until it dumps me back on earth sickly and depressed. I would even go so far as to say that if any drink ever deserved to be called The Devil’s Brew, this is it, not because it tastes horrible (which it does), but because of its strength per molecule. After a few drops of this stuff, your world will glow, pulse, undulate, radiate, and even transmogrify into a magnificent state like that of a vivid dream of a land in which strange beings dwell.

There are advantages to seeing in oneself the proximity of schizophrenia without actually being schizophrenic, except when on drugs. There is truly a gift here, but there is also the threat of nightmare. If I were unable to return to a normal life, I don’t know how I could bear it, yet I don’t want to rush back from a world that exists so deeply within that I hardly recognize it as being a part of me.

The men in my life part 1: Matt

Matt’s daughter killed herself last week. When I listened to him on the phone today, I felt such terror that I had to monitor my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. My terror came from my awareness that there was next to nothing I could offer that would make things even a tiny bit better.

Matt is my opposite in many ways. Most notably, he’s Christian and ultraconservative. Yet, he’s also a gentle and patient man who is out somewhere, helping someone, everyday.

I had a big tree cut down recently, and I decided to give it to two friends. One of those friends was Matt. He had been splitting wood for hours before he mentioned that he didn’t really want any; he just wanted to help me out by splitting it. I informed him that the ten cords he had in his shed would only last him a couple of years, and so he was jolly well going to take some wood home. He said he would give it to his daughter. She died the next day.

I feel so very small right now, and Matt’s grief is so very big. I haven’t known him that long or that well, but I like and respect him, and I’ve learned from experience that it’s not necessarily our closest friends who stand by us the best through hard times. Also, grief is something that I’ve always felt both honored and honor bound to embrace despite the times I’ve given even less than the little that I had to give.

Given my atheism—and assuming that you know something of the Bible—you might guess that my favorite book is Ecclesiastes. I sometimes wonder how it got into the Bible because the author’s conviction that life lacks objective meaning—that is, a god-given meaning—is completely out of harmony with the rest. This is Chapter 7, Verse 12:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”

Fifty years after I first read Ecclesiastes, it occurred to me that I would like to change that verse to:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for the house of mourning is where you’re most needed.”

If I were to make a list of things that I would like for believers to know about atheists, the first one would be: “To deny god is not to deny the possibility of meaning. Kindness, patience, nobility, a passion for truth, and every other virtue are no less important to atheists than they are to theists. The difference between them is simply that the one attributes our knowledge of right and wrong to god, and the other to the social evolution of the species to which we owe our existence.”