Happy Birthday to Joel (a day late)

In early 2003, I spent a long car ride taking heckling from an Indian version of Paris and Nicole. The topic? My not dating despite my divorce finalization for an entire two months. I said little in response to this, realizing that their cultural arrogance was not my problem and also realizing said arrogance made the conversation a brick wall. We stopped at an occult shop I frequented those days to pick up things for a “fix my  love life” spell or somesuch. The girls stared in amazement as I walked into the shop – and immediately into the arms of a man standing in the middle of the shop.

The girls were shocked. “He was cute,” one said to me, fishing for information.
I smirked to myself, and considered not telling them. I decided for my own sake, however, it was best to. “His name is Joel. He’s gay.”

Joel and I attended Mankato State in the years before, and met through MSU Pagan. We were friends almost right away: I did not ask him about his orientation, and he did not divulge it until one day as we walked back from an outdoor ritual.

“I came out to my parents last weekend,” he said to me.
“How did that go?”
“Not well. They said absolutely nothing.”

After a pause, I fessed up too. “I bought the dissolution papers this week.”
“Are you going to go through with it?”
“I don’t know. I kind of don’t want to, but I can’t keep going on like this.”
“What’s your family think of the Wicca thing?”
“Mostly they’re horrified at what everybody else may or may not think.”

The raw honesty was with us from the beginning. Eventually I signed over the presidency of MSU Pagan to Joel, as grad school and my fraying marriage took its toll. Then Joel withdrew from school, an illness getting the better of him. My divorce did happen. We lost touch.

Then came that day in the occult shop. We gave each other our phone numbers, and I called him to movies and other things, especially when going out with the target of my addled and low self-esteem. This guy was an idiot. After meeting Joel the first time, he leaned across a movie theater seat and asked me, “Are you sure he’s gay? He doesn’t shake hands like he’s gay.”

I told Joel this after, much to his amusement and mine.It took me another full year to recognize that this other guy was an idiot, but Joel sensed it right away and took pleasure in holding my hand or walking with his arm around my waist when around the idiot just to confuse the living hell out of the guy.

After awhile, though, I got sicker and had to move and Joel had his own stuff and we receded from each other again.

Then I began working from home, and Joel, whose work schedule left him days off in the middle of the week, began taking me out for what we call “play dates.” One day during the holiday season we walked a good portion of the length of Grand. At the end of the day, he looked at me, his eyes shining. “That was so fun!” That night he was going out with a group of gay men, some of his closest friends. I whipped up a perfume called “Oh So Very,” since they referred to themselves as “The Beckies” and it was a subvert reference to the movie Heathers.

Since then there have been play dates, rituals, gardening. Joel moved out of his family’s house to his first apartment; from there he bought his house in Northeast. I’ve gotten him hooked on quality television, and we bond over Michael C. Hall shirtless, the cast of True Blood shirtless, various TV personalities that job around Lake Calhoun, shirtless. I started the Artist’s Way. He called me on it when I started to drift.

When Joel’s grandfather died, I took him to a man-made stream in Uptown where we sat a candle on the water and sang to it. The candle bounced along whenever we sang, and he told me about his grandfather, a man who would jump up on park benches and start singing.

The following winter, he joined the “walk the halls” club at Northeast Junior High. We walked around the building three nights a week. His job situation was difficult; my father was dying. We talked about it at length, three nights a week. He would sometimes invite himself over for TV late at night if he knew I was cooking.

When my father passed away, I asked Joel to stand in for him at my wedding. Joel said yes immediately, without a second thought. I am eternally grateful for that. I was asked once if I wished Joel weren’t gay.

No. It never crossed my mind to love him any other way than I already do.

Joel’s birthday was yesterday. I know he’s in his 30s and younger than me, but I don’t count. A few years ago we were out, and he mentioned “It’s my birthday.” We’d already split up the bill. I damn near dropped my fork. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I was also very surprised that someone as generous-spirited as Joel is a Leo. I’ve since discovered that I know multiple Leos born on Aug 12th and no matter what age, they all share that generosity of spirit.

I promised him at some point in the last two years that for his birthday, I would cook him a lime-themed meal, since he adores all things lime. I planned the menu last year, but never got a chance to execute it. So this year I teamed up with his roommate. I spent until 3 am cooking on Wednesday night: lime chicken curry, cous cous in lime and spearmint, a lime vinaigrette dressing on a fresh salad, a lime-avocado gazpacho.

Last night around thirty people gathered into Joel’s living room as his boyfriend led him in with a sleep mask. The smiling surprise on Joel’s face was truly beautiful. And once again, I walked across the room and straight into his arms. “Happy birthday,” I said. I led him through the kitchen to what I’d cooked, and on to his roommate who did all the social engineering. He mentioned he’d wondered why I’d been so quiet; he was missing our play dates as much as I was.

As I told him later that evening, and as I have told him before: “I will always love you, exactly as you are, however that may be.”

I consider Joel one of the most miraculous blessings in my life, and I am so grateful that I could give him this small act of love.