Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Dawn of Spring

Streaming Sunlight

Some things have been changing around Southern State.

As recently as two weeks ago, our landscape was a cold, wind-whipped one, covered with snow and locked in ice. Yesterday, though, the only traces of white were the ones in the sky, soft fizzy clouds that floated around in warm blue.


After the Snow Vanishes

As I've already established, the cold makes me miserable, and around here from December to early March you couldn't leave the house without wrapping yourself in layers of heavy clothing.

I hate stepping outside and feeling immediate pain. The air shouldn't be vicious, shouldn't sear you the moment you've left the protective walls of your home. Instead, it should caress you. It should embrace you. It should make you want to fly off into the sun and become a part of it.

It is because this need has been so badly satisfied during the long winter that Wednesday came as such a blessing. Temperatures here soared to 70F, and on the campus of Major University light jackets, jeans, and, for a few, tee-shirts, replaced the bulky coats that have dominated the student landscape since the end of last semester.

I drove home with my car windows down, savoring the heat as I sped down the highway toward Mountain Town.

The first thing I heard upon getting out of my car in front of my house was the sound of children's laughter.

Walking around to my back yard, I found Thomas, Pie, and a friend jumping on the trampoline.

Thomas, Pie, and a Friend on the Trampoline

After speaking with them for a bit, I headed back around to the front yard, where I noticed our magnolia bushes extending their thick, glossy leaves into the warm rays of sunshine, much the way a person would extend their arms toward the sky in summer to absorb as much heat as humanly possible.

Winter has breathed his last in this part of the country. He may resurface briefly, may plague us with a cold day between now and the blazing suns of June, but he will always appear from here on out as a shadow of his former self.

He's fallen from his peak; the spectacular frigidness and powerful ice showers of months past are a mere memory.

It is now that the maiden of Summer approaches young womanhood. I found bits of her surfacing as I walked around our neighborhood the other night, in saplings sprouting pink buds and green grass littered with flower petals that seemed to have materialized from the very ground itself.

Altar of Spring

As the sun rises through the sky, my family has entered its own spring as well.

Following the collapse of Solar Explosion Company, the business in whose employ my father made a six-figure salary from 2006-2008, our family's financial situation followed that of the country on a southward tailspin.

The loss of half our household income coincided, devastatingly, with the loss of half of our net worth, hemorrhaged away in the stock market crash last Fall.

My parents, always frugal, cut back on everything. Last September, with my mother facing the possibility of losing her job as well, they began to make plans for the unimaginable scenario of foreclosure.

"I will not deplete my savings for this house," my mother said at the time. "We'll walk away from it."

When my mother was retained by Major Pharmaceutical Company, we breathed a sigh of relief, but the knife was still tight against us.

In January, after months jumping from place to place, my father found work with Outside Getaways, a company marketing the same luxury decks that Solar Explosion had sold so well before coming under bad management.

While things were initially slow in that seasonal market, my father's new employers have stuck to a time-tested and effective formula: targeting wealthy clientele with salesmen who are given a wide breadth of self-autonomy. My father is excellent at what he does, and his bosses' good sense has paid off.

By specifically marketing their product to the kind of people who can afford to spend even in a deep recession, Outside Getaways has tapped a lucrative demographic.

As the weather improves, my father has begun to sell jobs. Last month, it was a few stretched across several weeks. This month, the number has increased to one or two a week and sometimes more than that. He's always busy now, always on estimates or the phone, and this pace will only accelerate as time goes on, reaching its peak in June or July.

This was the pattern he followed with Solar Explosion; in the spring and summer he'd sell at a very high volume, making so great an amount of money between March and August that for the remainder of the year, when the market slumped, there was no reason for him to work.

There have been several positive consequences of this new job.

First of all, it has made my father feel better about himself as a person. Some of my longtime readers will remember one of my first-ever posts in April of 2008, when I wrote of learning that he had become suicidal. Without gainful employment and with our family's situation growing worse and worse with each passing day, he felt like a failure as a husband, a father, and a man.

Now, he's filling the social role that he feels is required of him. He's still not making as much as he did before, but that could very likely change. What he is bringing in, however, has greatly altered our family's financial outlook for the coming year.

On New Year's Eve, I wrote that I thought 2009 would be a good year for our family but a bad year for the country, and so far that seems to be playing out.

As most Americans hunker down, many wondering how they will make it through the recession with even their homes, we have begun to ponder what we might do to entertain ourselves.

Last week, my father took Pie out to a fair and returned home with a go-cart that likely cost him several hundred dollars.

Pie on the Go-Cart

Several hundred dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but you must understand something about my parents: they are two of the tightest people I know, the type of couple who don't spend a penny they don't have. During my childhood, when we had little, they saved for months to purchase a $400.00 set of bunk-beds for Powell and I.

So when my father casually drops $500.00 on an unnecessary purchase, I take notice.

And with the amount of money they've been spending lately, it's obvious that some dynamic of our financial situation has been dramatically changed.

Last week was the go-cart. Earlier this month, they bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to replace the one sold when we began our monetary descent last year.
Today, I caught them looking at a pool catalogue.

"Are we getting a pool?" I asked in surprise.

The answer: if we can legally install it, it's going in.

Then there's the matter of miscellaneous travel.

Last September, they were to fly to Pacific Paradise State for their fifteenth wedding anniversary, a trip they canceled due to our family's fiscal situation. In order to make up for this missed experience, they're leaving next week for Cancun, Mexico, a trip that I tried to talk them out of in light of the recent violence south of the border. They're going anyway, for four days, but have promised not to leave their resort.

That's not the only vacation planned, though.

This summer, our family will stay for an entire week at Incredible Water Park Resort, a legendary place that I've never seen but have heard fabulous tales of from Thomas.

Better than any of the material avenues opened to us, though, is the sense of security we're finding again. When my father was unemployed, our house felt like a balloon inflated to its greatest extent, its plastic stretched so tight against the helium that it could pop at any second.

Now, it's as if the explosion has occurred, and all of the worry and tension held within has been released, left to float away on the air.
Then, of course, there's my own personal spring.

My 21st birthday is in less than a month, and for that iconic occasion I have three separate parties planned, at least one of which is ditch-proof because friends have already taken off of work to go.

You have no idea what this means to me. For someone who didn't have a single friend-attended birthday party as a teenager, who spent his nineteenth and twentieth birthdays utterly alone, who longed on those bitter April 10ths for a single friend who would remember or even take a walk with him, this is incredible.

Watching other young people's birthdays used to break my heart. I avoided Facebook, because the jubilant pictures from bars, restaurants, and dorm rooms of a single person surrounded by smiling friends filled me with the combined hatred and sadness of those who have nothing but are submerged in plenty.

I believed at that time that I would be forever alone, never loved. At both 19 and 20, I wondered how many more birthdays I would live to see before the weight of my despair became too much and I finally ended the pain.

On Friday, April 10th, I will go out with Black Dress Girl, Mature Girl, Friendly Boy, Peruvian Girl, and Sacagawea to a restaurant in Mountain Town. After that, those of us who are eighteen or older (everyone but Mature Girl) will leave for a strip club, my first time ever going to one.

Normally I wouldn't do something like this. It doesn't sit well with me, both because of personal discomfort (I'm gay) and because the institution of the strip club symbolizes subjugation of women. However, everyone should do something really crazy when they turn 21, so I am.

I recently learned that Black Dress Girl plans to buy me a private lap dance.

"Oh, God," I said, covering my face as she and Assistant Manager laughed connivingly.

The next day, a Saturday, I'll head for Major University, where a small group of us will go to a bar in Central Town. After I drive home Sunday morning, I'll have dinner with my parents.

I don't even like to talk about this, because I'm worried it will be taken away. Having experienced all I did, none of this has progressed beyond the surreal stage for me, and acknowledging that I could possibly have so much happiness seems the surest way to kill it. Could it be? Could it really be true?

One more thing.

Last night, I got a call from Sacagawea, the ex-girlfriend who I came out to over Spring Break.

Weeks ago, she spoke to me of a twenty-year-old who lives in Mountain Town but attends a university several hours away. During the coming-out talk we had, she showed me his pictures on Facebook, and I told her I thought the thin, long-haired youth was good looking.

When my phone rang at 11:30p.m. last night, I was in a movie with Peruvian Girl, and didn't recognize the number that showed up on my screen.

I called back, and Sacagawea, whose voice I didn't place right away, apologized for not giving me her new cell phone number.

She just wanted to tell me that she'd told her friend about me, and that he, seeing my pictures, thought I was "cute."

He's coming here after the school year ends, and she'd like to introduce us.

Naturally, I'm nervous about this, but, as I told her, we wouldn't necessarily have to hook up or anything.

"Even if we were just friends," I said. "It would be so nice to have another gay guy to talk to, to ask questions, to ask, 'How do you do this? How do you meet people? Where do you go?' I'm just going through it alone."

I'm so excited and so scared. I'm about as inexperienced as it's possible to be, what Peruvian Girl calls "innocent," and I hunger for something more.

It's going to be a hot summer.

Glorious Spring

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