Belonging(s)

It all started when Michael and I decided to move to Mexico in the summer of 2019. After years of research, we knew that we had to downsize in order to live in a furnished rental, our primary housing option since we didn’t want to buy.

Suddenly, it was my job to reduce twenty years, worth of stuff to seventy moving boxes, a couple of end tables, and a teak bed frame Mike insisted on taking even though it weighed about a thousand pounds, and we were paying the moving company by the pound.

A couple of weeks later, two men loaded our things onto a huge moving van. Even though the folks at Bekins assured us that this would take about three days, we ended up camping out at the La Quinta Inn for a week because it took them that long to get around to weighing our things.

After a twelve-day odyssey involving a discouraging lack of documentation at the border and running out of gas just outside Mazatlan, my husband and I drove down a palm-flanked lane to the compact red house in the tiny village of San Juan Cosala. We managed to settle in with the few things I’d packed in the car and what was in the cupboards and closets of our new home with its floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views of Lake Chapala.

Despite telling us that it could take as much as six weeks for our things to arrive in Mexico, a Bekins truck rolled down the cobblestone road to our front door ten weeks after its promised arrival.

Michael died at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, December 3, and I found myself alone in a place I’d lived in only ninety days. I felt a desperate need to be near people who knew and loved us both. So, I bought a plane ticket for home and hired our Uber driver Ramon and housekeeper Johanna to help me pack up our possessions, giving away Michael’s clothes and leaving the rest in a local storage unit.

Twelve days later, I landed in Portland with two suitcases weighing less than fifty pounds each and my six-year-old Pomchi in her carrier. Anxious to take bits and pieces of Mike’s and my life with me, I managed to stow a wooden egg painted in lapis and edged in gold leaf we brought back with us from a trip to Russia, a framed copy of the wedding vows I’d said to Michael fourteen years before and a crystal candle holder that we got in Finland among my underwear, pants, and shirts.

My sister-in-law and her husband graciously allowed me to stay on the McManus family farm in Sandy, Oregon, and I moved my things into the guest room. During these days, I planned Michael’s memorial service and tried to get my bearings, ending up living there until the following summer due to Covid. In June of 2020, I rented a guest suite in the home of my friends Jenny and Derek, where I spent my days writing and working as an amateur personal chef for the next year and a half.

I also accumulated more stuff, of course. I bought shirts and pants to wear during the seasons I hadn’t packed for when I left Mexico. Jenny and Derek gave me a 1930s-style combination radio, turntable and CD player that looked like it could’ve been on the set of The Waltons, and I began collecting vinyl again. I bought an exercise bike and rode it with a vengeance. Without realizing it, I was putting together the artifacts I needed to create a new life.

Coming out of the overwhelming sadness that was my constant companion for the last year, I wanted to connect with other gay men who’d gone through a loss like mine, and, since I didn’t find any support groups, joined a couple of dating sites where I messaged a few who understood and a lot more who were either after an open relationship or on the make.

By this time, I felt ready to take the plunge where a new relationship was concerned but had just about given up hope when I joined eHarmony, and Marty was the first to respond to my profile.

We started exchanging messages in August of 2021, and nine months later, found ourselves standing in my Portland bedroom surrounded by boxes loaded with my things. I was smoothing on a piece of packing tape when Marty took me in his arms and kissed me. Surprised to see tears in his eyes, for a moment, I wondered why. Then I realized that what we were doing—the packing up of my belongings—made it real. We’d taken the first permanent step toward a new life together, and that after four years and as many moves, I belonged.

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