Kissing Tag and Kate


When I was in first grade, I found myself falling in love with Annie Freestone. As a six year-old, it was new territory. I knew that I didn’t feel towards her like I did my parents or siblings. I was excited to see her and hear her voice and watch her. It was better than playing with the boys or eating ice cream. So it must’ve been love.

In the midst of my admiration for Annie, I learned to love watching her. I watched her in class and on the playground. She was a goddess to me. One afternoon at recess, I was solicited by a friend of hers to join in a clandestine game of kissing tag, beyond the view of the watchful eyes of any adults. I feared the idea of being kissed by anyone but Annie. But the prospect of her kiss was too enticing to not play the odds.

I soon found myself being hotly pursued by the girl of my dreams. She smiled and beamed with joy. She laughed and gave me chase. Driven in part by a competitive desire to win, and in part by fear of actually sharing the intimacy of a kiss with Annie, I ran until she gave up. I never played coy and feigned being the captor, so as to allow a kiss.

It would seem that this pattern of running from intimacy has repeated well into my adult life. And while I’ve had satisfying dating experiences, and others still that have taught me a great deal, the story of running from love has been played out repeatedly by one side or the other in my relationships.

But this year has been different. I’ve found moments where I’ve felt the same discomfort at being intimate that I felt as a six year-old and could never articulate until recently. But in dating Kate, I have found a proverbial Annie Freestone whom I have begun to allow moments of catching me in our ongoing game of kissing tag.

Rock Bottom to Rock Bottom

A couple weeks ago I was hanging out in Eugene, Oregon. If I don’t have people lined up in a particular area to talk to about their lives I tend to get myself to places where there are a lot of people milling about, and I do some people watching. Usually some opportunity will present itself. As I sat in the cafe at the Eugene Library, I sat with a couple people at a little makeshift table and came into a conversation with Dominick.

Dominick talked casually about being a traveler. He sparked my interest with some thoughts he shared about religion and philosophy and how those things can illuminate our individual life paths. He started to talk about how as a wanderer he’s gotten to a point in life that he’s done just about everything and he has no shame about where to sleep, get food or take care of other needs. Admittedly, as I’ve had the audio from our conversation to edit, there’s this part of me that has wondered if it’s worthwhile to share audio from another guy that’s homeless or been homeless. In part I think I was trying to dismiss the poor quality of the audio that I got from talking with him, and avoid editing out his gratuitous swearing. Honestly, the audio wasn’t good for a quality product. However, I do believe everyone’s story is important. And in reality poor audio, or having similar characteristics to someone else I’ve talked to does not diminish the importance of his story.

The clip from our chat that we’re sharing today is Dominick talking about a rock bottom moment devolving into another rock bottom moment. Dominick starts off talking about getting probation for some charges brought up against him and then he goes into his descent into alcohol and drugs and living on the run, and finally being arrested and imprisoned. What is striking about Dominick is that prior to getting into his story, he shared his family background. His mom left when he was young and he found himself with an abusive step-mom. Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse became his life and by the time he was 15 he just wanted to get away. He became a drifter as a young teenager.

Dominick isn’t always articulate and at times the effects of his life with drugs and alcohol seem to come to the surface. Yet there are these moments where a clearly capable mind demonstrates his capacity. He spoke of devouring books while in prison and completing his GED. As he shared his rock bottom moments, he almost blazes past a moment that deeply changed his outlook on life. His story really focuses on the details of getting to those moments of rock bottom. But once there, in prison and isolated, he finds himself doing that devouring of books. “I read probably 5 books a day, dude. On self-help, the mind, religion, philosophy. Right as I needed it. Right as my mind understood one concept, on the book cart would be something pushing me along,” he said.

There was a small part of our conversation after he talked about his rock bottom that was extraordinarily potent. Dominick demonstrated a great deal of self-reflection and honesty that I think is rare. He talked about his ex-wife and love and noted that so much of the issues, the problems, the drugs, alcohol and violence was about love or the lack thereof. As much as his marriage was filled with difficulty, misunderstanding and an inability to satisfy each others’ needs, it did provide the opportunity for love, the hope for love. He noted that to this day, he’s searching for even just a moment of feeling that connection.

Maybe as I talk to people there’s a bit too much of a reflection of myself in my assessment of their stories. Maybe it’s just me that yearns to tell the story of needing to connect. But it does seem undeniable that love and connection is something so important to us generally as humans. While Dominick’s story of finding rock bottom may just be a series of wild episodes in the life of an unstable person, I can’t help but hope we understand that under it all is a hope for love.

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I Love You, From Flip

The other day, I was just hanging out in Willits, CA and thinking about how I need to have more courage to approach strangers to see if they’ll let me talk to them and record our conversation. As I was thinking about this, a homeless man said hello to me as I walked into a store. He followed in shortly after and we both crossed paths at the checkout line. I waited for him outside and asked if we could chat. We went around the corner to get out of the rain and he started to open up his world to me.

In the clips from this clip-isode, you hear a lot about Flip’s desire to love and be loved. We were just talking about various subjects and like a lightning strike of a revelation, he stopped and said, “I’ve got something to say to the world, ‘I love you, from Flip.'” And what better message is there? I love you! Here’s this homeless man, and that’s his message.

I’ve noted in writing about other conversations, that it would be really easy to reduce people to a singular narrative or idea, but reality is always complex. In talking with Flip, I felt like I was being invited into someone’s dreamland. The beauty of a desire to love and be loved was painted as we talked, but vivid nightmarish experiences were talked about as well. Flip spoke of places no person should ever see, of being around tormented souls. He spoke of seeing his own death. I could easily dismiss his stories and wonder what is real, as he sat there drinking, but this was his reality. This is the life, mind, and heart of Flip.

Through the subjects that he didn’t want to talk about and the dark corners of his life that he wouldn’t wish on anyone else, love emerged as his theme. His complexity was honored, but love is what he desires. What was so striking is his acknowledgement of the fact that he’s not perfect and that there would be barriers to having that love, yet in the face of that reality, love is still the desire.

Here’s to hoping that we each give that love. Sometimes those that need it are the last ones we would think to give it to, but how simple it is to show. Love was demonstrated as we sat together and a passerby handed a can of mango juice to Flip without saying a word. He felt connected in that moment. I could see it and feel it as he contemplated the action for a brief moment. Love.