A Deeper Struggle

Christmas morning… actually when I finished writing last night it was already Christmas morning (4:30 AM). My friend called back on her way home from Huntington Beach and we talked about everything until about two-thirty. I was still working on mom’s computer until 4:30 when I decided I needed to lie down for a bit. That’s how I spent my Christmas eve (after the siblings left).

So now that it’s Christmas day and I’ve had breakfast (scrambled eggs and enchiladas!), I’ve returned to the scene of the crime and was hoping to blow through the rest of the Windows XP reinstall. Ha! Alas, even as I was just checking to see if I can figure out the sequence the 14 updates need to be installed I got the original RPC error message that started me on this damn XP-reinstall path in the first place (it flashes on the screen from NT/Authority that there’s been an RPC failure and that the machine has to reboot in 60 seconds). Ack! Damn. Return to square one! It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to just finish up here and run off. Damn computers! For all the time and effort I put into this damn thing I should just break down and get mom an eMac or something. Ugh. My mistake last night is that in my eagerness to run through the reinstall I didn’t set up the firewalls and updates that I had on hand before connecting to the Internet to get the other updates and … blah, blah, blah. Here I am 12-hours later reformatting the hard drive again and starting over. Ugh!

In other news… I’ve had this theory for some time that part of the reason there seems to have been a number of successful American writers in places like Maine and New England versus places like Los Angeles is that the New England seasons (particularly the winters) tend to force people indoors and offer fewer distractions than a basic Southern California existence. Well, I seem to be strapped to mom’s computer today (I’m writing these journals… today’s and last night’s on my Sony laptop, which is destined to have it’s own meager 30GB hard drive upgraded to 80GBs as soon as I finish here… if I ever finish here), so I might as well take “advantage” of the situation and put thoughts to journal. Ack. Besides pining after my lover and second-guessing myself about how to begin communication with my son, I’ve had the situation with my former best friend to contend with ever since his girlfriend ended our friendship two weeks ago. Wonderful timing there. Here I was heading for holiday crunch time, wanting to be with my love, wanting to connect with son and just at that moment my former best-friend decides that it’s time to question what kind of person I am and made enough noise to pull his girlfriend (who had been one of my closest confidantes over the past two years) into the fray, effectively isolating me from two close friends in one swift action at just the time when I knew communication with my lover would become even more problematic. But even all this would be “doable” on it’s own. What makes this all the more difficult is that I have been reaching that point where I feel compelled to drive even deeper in my exploration of what it means to me to be a Christian.

As we approach a time when I’m hoping that my love will be a part of my life beyond just a loving (and sometimes distracted) voice on the phone I find that I need to re-examine the person I’ve been for the past fifteen years and how all of this fits together. In particular there’s a part of my life that has been friend and foe and some might say has played too much of a role in my life for it to be a “healthy” thing. I’m referring to my old friend P0rnography (“I don’t know anything about Pornography? I don’t even own a Pornograph!” Groucho Marx). Working under the illusion that there may actually be someone beyond yours truly reading these words, I have to caution said valiant reader that the following narrative and exploration may be difficult and uncomfortable to wade through. But, as a friend recently reminded me, the purpose of these journals (counseling) is to take everything out of ones closet, mull and examine everything, keeping what one values and tossing the destructive bits. Thus far in the past 11-months I’ve endeavored to reveal the depths of my soul and lay bare the torments and passions that drive me. This is just another piece of the puzzle, another layer of the onion (thanks Shrek) that I’m compelled to open up.

It’s actually a very old part of this whole story, one might venture that it’s one of the first parts of the story, the struggle that I faced as an adolescent between what I wanted to do (my emerging sexual self) and the moral/religious call in my life. Let’s just say that the bar was set incredibly high and there was really no balancing what my body was telling me it wanted to do with all that I had been taught and believed for the first fifteen years of my life. I’d venture to guess that many of my contemporaries, when faced with this common human dilemma, probably chose to walk away from the moral/religious teachings because what the body says seems to be so much more real.

Fortunately for me, however, a third option presented itself. At the time it seemed like a validation and empowering of the moral/religious choice and that’s how I defined myself and lived my life for the fifteen years after that. In a nutshell I was your basic normal teenage boy who was very interested in girls and all things physical but was convinced that this was completely wrong outside of marriage. It was pretty black and white. The rescue from the dilemma came in the first message that still burns in my heart, the first thing that someone told me during one of those early prayer meetings was that God loves me just as I am and has an amazing gift for me. That was like a lifeline to me and a call that strengthened me but in reality the struggle remained. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t really hear the message and the gift in it, but I saw it as a way to walk away from the struggle with the flesh and give myself over to a higher calling. I guess as a teenager things have to be very black and white and that’s one of the ways that we survive those turbulent years. So, whereas my fellows were swiftly entering into the beginnings of their sexual existence and experimentation, I gave myself over to Jesus and delayed crossing over into that part of my life for a good 6 or 8 years. That isn’t to say that I didn’t try to get into my girlfriends’ pants, it’s just that the struggle tended to not be continuous, would terminate with a simple “no” on her part and never got past a little clumsy fondling.

It’s almost funny now that I think about it, but I certainly didn’t think so at the time. And actually the sad part is that I really wasn’t dealing with any of it, I was just deferring it for another time. Sadly my first girlfriend, Lynn, and most definitely my second girlfriend, Peggy, suffered under the most schizophrenic make-out/feel guilty behavior from yours truly. The role of pornography during these years was pretty miniscule because… well, I was too cheap to buy any and too guilty and/or scared to actually venture into a store to make the purchase in the first place. There was the occasion lascivious underwear ad in a newspaper, or woman’s catalogue, and some art books were always good for a confused voyeuristic thrill. Oh yeah, there’s also that other part of pornography, in terms of what one does during and after exposing oneself to sensual images, good ol’ Mr. masturbation, universal in its employment and universal in the denial of its existence. As a healthy teenager it certainly didn’t take much to get the motor running and in that I wasn’t actually having sex with anyone there was only one thing to do with all of this “energy.” I do smile at the memory, but truthfully, while I was dispensing with an overwhelming sexual energy, I was storing up an equally destructive guilt about what all of this meant and what kind of person this made me out to be.

So, while on the outside I expressed myself and understood what I believed in in one particular way (Christian), all along there were different forces at work inside. One thing that I believed early on and determined to maintain was the connection between sexuality and emotions. I don’t know if that’s my feminine side (as some might joke) or just an adaptation to my beliefs and the power of sexual expression, but I have never been one to fully disconnect what my body does with what my heart wants. When one adds Biblical guilt to this mixture it can easily overwhelm one and that fog remained a constant intrusion into any relationship that I had from my 15th birthday and through to the end of my marriage to my ex-wife in 1987.

Actually it’s when I was married, when sex was permitted, that pornography went from being completely forbidden to occasionally tolerated, to a needed sex-aid, but not for me. There’s more than a little irony that my wife, the former-street smart kid, was never able to get past her feelings of guilt about us having had sex before we got married and it seemed to effect a lot over the course of our short marriage. One of the surprising things is that when we experimented with a little bit of pornography (remember, this was in the early 80s so the stuff was still pretty smutty and bordered on misogynistic) eventually my wife was the one who felt the need to watch a little video fling before we could get it on. I remember scratching my head but being more than willing to do whatever it took for us to get a little. Alas, even the occasional video didn’t get it done because she was just plain unhappy and no one was going to get any as long as she felt this way. Well, being the healthy guy that I was, facing an ever decreasing possibility that bedtime was going to be “fun time,” eventually I just started to take care of business for myself in the bathroom before going to bed. It was only a matter of time before my wife figured out what I was doing, and for her that only added insult to injury. And because no one said anything to the other, that part of our relationship more or less died. Not even 28-years old and I faced the possibility that my wife didn’t want anything to do with me sexually even though I wasn’t quite ready to retire just yet.

So, I remember she’d occasional go to work a weekend with her mom and step-dad and I’d be alone for the weekend. I’d walk down the block to the local AM/PM mini-mart and get a Penthouse or Playboy magazine and have my way with the photographic images when I got home. Then when the guilt set in I’d toss the magazine. Eventually I got tired of buying the stupid magazine only to throw it away thirty-minutes later so I started to stash them in my filing cabinet, behind all the other piles of papers. At one point she must have confronted me about something and I ended up sharing my stash with her. That must have been around the time when it became clear that she needed something else to get her off because she was so emotionally unhappy. For my part I had no understanding or means to appreciate her frustration because I was just trying to do the “right” thing (and clearly not doing it). I knew that she was frustrated. I sure as hell was frustrated but any discussion seem to put the problem in her court and that didn’t work. It wasn’t sex, but sex was a part of it. It wasn’t pornography but both of us used it to take the edge off even as the wheels continued to come off our little marital wagon.

When the marriage finally expired from a lack of any kind of energy, I more or less decided to start over and throw out everything that didn’t work. Alas, my relationship with the Lord was one of the victims, and as my adolescent friends 15-years earlier had done, I decided to just do what came naturally. When I moved into my apartment I got a subscription to Penthouse and one to Playboy and decided that it just wasn’t a big fucking deal (I only kept the Penthouse subscription for a year because it was just too gynecological for my tastes). This was a part of myself that I’d denied, ignored and felt bad about and I was just plain tired of that and I was going to let it be a normal part of my existence. I never really loss my connection between what my body wanted and what my heart needed, but I wasn’t going to confuse the process by sticking God in the middle of it, when it really was more a matter to be taken care of between myself and my partner. That was the theory, anyway. And in an era of casual relationships it worked out for the most part. And whenever I needed to blow off some sexual tension (or just tension in general) there was always another pretty face and unbelievable body available on the pile of magazines stored some where in the apartment. No one was hurt, no one was imposed upon and for the most part no one cared.

Alas, life rarely stays in these idyllic stations for very long and as I continued to push myself and faced numerous unknowns my little pile of magazines became the sexual equivalent to a kind of comfort food. I never lost sight that this was fiction and just something to take the edge off. And for a very long time no one really cared. Well, that was true until my girlfriend Denise, she cared a great deal about this subject. In a word, feisty little Denise hated anything related to any “men’s” magazines, period. We’d had a brief but remarkable friendship before we started dating and the dating pretty much began sexually from the first date. Then quite rapidly after only a couple of months we moved into a new place together.

Now, I had been briefed on her disposition about magazines with pictures of naked women so I thought at first I should just give her the verbal run-down on what happens when the magazine comes in the mailbox, that it’s not a big deal. I mistakenly assumed that if I was upfront about this that she’d understand that it was no big deal. Amazingly, that kind of worked… for a while. Oh yeah, not long before this I’d graduated from the magazine subscription to purchasing the Playboy video tapes. Nothing hard core, mind you, reasonable quality, somewhat artistic, but obviously they were completely designed essentially to get the viewer aroused and “done.” I was also working nights and she worked during the day and I was going to school (CSUF) so the apartment was in continual motion. So there were those days when the pressure of school and work and life in general was just too much and given the often empty apartment it was a simple thing to slip in a video tape or take out Miss March and forget about life for about 30 minutes. That’s how I felt about it and “taking the edge off” for myself didn’t effect my eagerness or desire to be with Denise when she came home. But that is not at all how she felt about it. Ugh.

At one point the collection was relegated to several boxes in the garage. When that wasn’t enough for her, I decided that I was going to do away with the collection but I wanted to cut out the interviews first (as a journalism major and wanna-be writer I actually did appreciate that this was one of the few magazines that would commit so much space to long interviews). Funny thing, however, as I was cutting out the interviews I’d stumble upon some particular pictorial that I thought was incredible and I’d cut out those pages too and set them aside. It wasn’t very long until the pictorial pile was not much smaller than the interview pile and the entire process just demonstrated for Denise my unwillingness to toss this stuff. In the end she wasn’t too happy with my effort and I wasn’t very happy with what I’d done because all I’d accomplished was to chop up a bunch of perfectly good magazines. Shit. That didn’t go as planned and I still continued to get the magazines in the mail.

The relationship with the Denise was the first relationship where I felt that I put everything into it. It was really for me my first real adult relationship. I do not believe that I was ever as emotionally awake (up to that time) as I was in that relationship. All the things that I’d learned in the course of my marriage and divorce and following years came to bare in that relationship. We communicated, we were emotional, we had a great sex life, and there were a lot of similarities in our background and conservative upbringing. I think we both understood that we both had to be completely ourselves for our relationship to work. Alas, the magazines meant something to her that had nothing to do with me or my feelings or behaviors towards her but neither one of us wanted to give ground.

I had no doubt in my mind that I loved her, but I wasn’t going to give this to her because I recognized that I wanted to keep something for myself. I wasn’t going to lose myself in this relationship and, for me, the stupid little collection of magazines represented something that completely belonged to me. There was something about the dynamic of our relationship and her strength of character that compelled me to be adamant about this. I had hated this part of myself before and I wasn’t going to do that again. And I recognized that her discomfort over the magazines had nothing to do with me. In fact I felt that the wonderful sex that she enjoyed was because of things and ideas I brought to our lovemaking from these stupid little videos and magazines. It was never a matter of respecting women or forgetting that these things are fictional fantasies. And it was never a matter of trying to bolster a flagging interest in sex with her with remember bits of some video. Having both been married before this, we joked when things didn’t “perform” as we wanted and would say to one another, “Hang on a second and let me think about someone.” The fact was that I felt that my sexual relationship with her was very much a fantasy come to life.

But deep down I knew that a lot of her hatred towards these things were more about the unfairness and double-standard that she felt growing up and as a young adult about what men could get away with and what women weren’t permitted to do. One of the reasons she disliked my now-former best friend so much, this being during his “wild” DJ days, was because he was living the carefree sexual adventure that she wanted to have. She was the one who was more emotionally disconnected from what sex meant to her than I. Her contention was that “reading” the magazines would naturally lead to other behaviors. Getting into the video tapes was just evidence of that belief. She was convinced that it was only a matter of time before I would start to go to strip clubs and then eventually either have an outside affair or turn to hookers. None of that happened. I just wanted the freedom to have my own occasional fantasy. Basically she was jealous of the freedom she saw men having and projected all of that on me and my stupid little collection of magazines. As sad and stupid as it might seem, that relationship ended because I would not give up my stupid little pile. It wasn’t the magazines but what they represented to both of us. I wasn’t going to change for her and in the end she couldn’t see me for who I was because of what the magazines meant to her. That was a very difficult thing to grasp and it would have ramifications for me for years to come.

Following Denise I went through three very brief relationships that didn’t last much more than a month or two (each) and then drifted off into an extended period of almost five years without any intimate relationships in my life. I’d begun teaching and saw this as the call of my life and decided that this was going to take all the emotional energy that I could muster if I was going to survive, much less succeed. I know that it looked like to others that I had given up on relationships but I hadn’t, I’d just decided that I wasn’t going to spend any time in pursuit of getting a girlfriend. Besides I still had my buddy, Pornography, to get me through the rough, confusing times. I know that sounds pretty shitty and shallow but I didn’t have very much of anything left at the end of the day when I first started out in the classroom. Occasionally I’d stick my head up and see what was around but there were numerous times when it seemed like I couldn’t pay anyone to take my love but at the same time I knew that my love was worth something. So I stayed busy and let Mr. Porno take the edge off whenever I needed it. It was not my intension that this be a permanent arrangement but until something better came up I wasn’t going to kill myself searching. Interestingly, I eventually just let the Playboy subscription pass into history, partly because I was finding the lifestyle of a 70-plus year old man having multiple 20-something girlfriends kind of sad. Also there was this new thing called the Internet that made magazines seem silly.

So here I’d been for years trying to maintain the belief that my love was worth something but finding no takers and I used Pornography to take the edge and urgency off. One painful thing that spurned me along was an unintended comment from a female best-friend when I was complaining that I couldn’t get anything going with anyone and she assumed that part of my problem was that I wouldn’t give any woman who didn’t look like a Playboy bunny the time of day. She said more or less, “Face it, all the good ones are taken.” Being one of the “untaken” ones I was left to assume that I must not be one of the “good ones.” Funny how, in the face of such comments I still managed to fall in love with her… several times. Ack! Fortunately the relationship draught ended in 1998 when MH sent a card to me to contact her thus beginning a relationship that would last off and on over the next three years.

Again I was blessed to have the most incredibly fulfilling sexual relationship with this beautiful woman who was so absolutely beautiful both inside and out. It was during this relationship that I first noticed that even with the wonderful sex there still seemed to be some role for the Pornography in my life. It had been my lifeboat before during the famine years but I didn’t need the lifeboat now. It’s not that we were in a continual state of sexual ecstasy, there were certainly some extended gaps because of schedules and the complicating issues that eventually brought the relationship to an end, but I hardly needed the Pornography at this stage in the game. But it was still there. Part of the thing was that she didn’t have an issue with the stuff, and later I realized, sadly after the demise of the relationship, that she accepted me for who I was and made no demands on me to be anything other than the person I was. This gave me the most incredible freedom and appreciation of her, but even that was not enough to keep things afloat.

Prior to this I’d used Pornograph as a buffer to keep myself of feeling cut-off from others when there was no other in my life. But when I was with MH I realized that I was using Pornography to keep myself from giving too much of myself to the relationship. There was something there in this relationship that caused me to hold back just a little bit. As much as we both wanted to be together we were both aware that there were circumstances in her life that prevented her from being completely available to build a life with me. And in as much as I allowed myself to connect my love for her with our incredible physical intimacy, I also allowed some of that to be shunted off into some meaningless pornography so that I wouldn’t completely lose myself in the relationship. This concerned me and I made a mental note of it. When the relationship did finally bottom out, I more fully realized what I was doing, though I wondered whether I was sabotaging things by holding this part back. In this case Pornography didn’t play any role as to whether the relationship survived or not, but it still played a role and that bothered me.

The last part of my relationship with MH was horribly confused and compromised in that this second half began after my disastrous attempt to get together with “all the good ones are taken” friend. After that I more or less didn’t give a shit about anything and drifted back together with MH while I was still seeing someone else. Quite frankly I don’t remember what role Pornography played in this little scenario because things were so completely fucked up I didn’t need porno to fuck this one up. Ack.

Then two months following the disappearance of my relationship with MH, I took up with another of my former best-friend’s former girlfriends then thereafter managed to get together with my current love. Porno was there, but I think it was just as confused as I was through most of this period in my life. It was again a bit of an escape from the rest of the shit that was coming down all the time. I had buffer zones in other buffer zones and I’m surprised that I survived any of it, with or without Mr. Pornography in tow…

(To be continued…)

music: I want you – Mark Heard – Mosaics

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