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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Goodbye Grandma

It goes without saying that it has been far too long since my last cathartic moments of writing a few willingly read. There is definitely a need to write more, but time always seems so limiting. After moving back to SLC it has become ever apparent that I need to return to some of the basics after the adventure of the last two years chasing love.

Time is still limited so this will be a no frills post. No multimedia, videos, pictures, just words on a page about two lives that intersected across two different generations.

Just shy of 95 years Grandma Visser passed on. For those who have read the past or know me personally, you know I am not a religious man anymore. I choose a more humanistic approach to life. I believe that we have this life to lead and we should live it to the fullest. Enjoy each moment. That is easier said than done. Yet, we should push for it. As I work in a less-than-fulfilling job I see the need to change. I join the ranks who believe you should do what you love. Hopefully the groundwork I am preparing is the foundation of my pursuit of the ideal. I see what challenges my grandmother faced and I am grateful for the example of endurance and perseverance.

Back to the issue of religion, not directly, but as it influenced the happenings of today. Grandma has been preparing to die for years. It isn't that she had no interest in living or decidedly did not live, it is that she was ready for the day she hoped leave behind the trials of this life. She was a convert to the LDS church and I believe she had Christian-based faith. I do think she hoped for peace in death, whether she bought the whole eternal life concept or believed otherwise, I cannot fully attest.

She was the product of the Great Depression. When she owned her own home she lived frugally. She enjoyed a great garden, good food, proper kitchen tools, and comfortable furnishings. She didn't live extravagantly. She often commented on the waste of modern society. She used, re-used, and re-purposed anything she could. Who needed Tupperware when there were perfectly good empty sour cream containers? She re-purposed pots, wire hangers, and all sort of things. It wasn't hoarding and she kept a spotless house, but she also didn't just throw things out or buy stuff just to have stuff.

She had a flashlight from my grandfather that she kept for 40 years. She saw no sense in new-fangled LED lights. Many have told me I need to just get rid of my dad's truck. Its old, needs some dents fixed, is out of style, and lacking shiny "curb appeal." Aside from the sentimental value, I simply see no reason to replace something or waste a perfectly good working truck. This is one of the great lessons passed on to me by generations. The truck, like the flashlight worked and there was no reason to fix something that wasn't broken. In her later years she also practiced such ideology with people, especially me.

I dreaded the events of today. My ex-wife had voiced her plans to meddle and attend all family events surrounding the funeral. Boundaries and respect seem to be lacking. Then, of course, there would be my family. Family is a loose term these days. With the few conversations I had with Grandma while away in Tijuana/California, it was obvious I was as necessary to my family as a smoke detector in a smoker's lounge. She had been told that I was in Texas or wherever. With her failing memory I didn't blame her for being confused at my correction and the families misguided gossip of what I was doing. I knew today would be a day where my family would put on the great, fake Mormon smile that my mom had perfected and show superficial interest in my life. It would either be that or simply pretending I wasn't in the room. I have given up the Mormon smile with my family. I wasn't there to fight, but I was not there to divulge details of my life there otherwise had no interest in. I had no reason to actively add to the gossip. Yes, it is cathartic to vent, even if it all seems negative. I had wondered if I might have just had a bad attitude in the past, but, as with the last several times Iv'e attempted re-join the family, I was once again reminded of how unnecessary and how unhealthy that could be.

We followed the usual Mormon menu of funerals. Prayers, sacred metaphors, etc.

The funeral began and my brother-in-law conducted. He read the obituary that was well written, when I read it online. He read the survivors names and their spouses as husband or wife. When it came to my name he apparently forgot how to say husband when it came to Endhi's name. "Partner" was all he could muster. It was only the pronounced, public reassurance that I didn't fit with these people, regardless of how biologically connected we might be. I had been asked to be a pall bearer, but that is all they could risk. There would be no other form of participation for this "black sheep." I wasn't shocked. I was to be seen and not heard. I showed up for the funeral out of respect for my grandma and her alone. I knew the service would hold little for me in the words said or the rites done.

I heard the words uttered, but I took the time to also hold my own private service. I took time to internally reflect on the life of the lady I called grandma. We didn't always see eye to eye and I steered very clear of engaging in any political discussion. When she needed say her peace I just let her before trying to re-direct to a recipe or memory of her life. In my teenage years and young adult life we butted heads on various family topics. She had her moments of bitterness and I had my moments of inherited bull-headedness. I heard my brother and sister sugar coat aspects of her life. I heard claims a life lived without complaints or showing weakness. It was a lie. I had heard occasionally of her suffering. There were times that she cried.

So what? Big deal? Why have we become a society where showing no emotion, unless it is happiness (real or otherwise), is the only thing acceptable? What courage is there in hiding the reality that life isn't always easy? Why is it admirable that someone not show humanity when enduring or remembering tough times in life? Unfortunately Mormon culture is all to often the culture of "smile like you mean it (and take Prozac if you don't)." It doesn't address the here and now because in some unknown future Jesus will make it all OK. Screw that idea. Live for the here and now. Sure, don't wallow in sorrows forever, but feel the pain, and the triumph, in life. Seize the day!

My grandmother survived her husband and all 3 of her children, not by mere years, but decades. She was widowed far longer than married. Life was lonely and rough. And she didn't just grin and bare it. She worked hard and was engaged in life. She made the most of what she had. She didn't let go until she was ready to. She was a stubborn, opinionated, sometimes prejudiced, sometimes bitter, tough old bird. And then there were the other times, more recently in the years closer to her death.

There were the quiet moments where she expressed how she saw no reason to love me differently even if she didn't quite grasp it all. Moments of surprise when she took my first boyfriend aside and said "be good to my grandson." And the talk about 2 years ago when I asked her directly about whether she knew of any other gay people in the Visser or Oliger line. She didn't, but it led to a frank discussion on her views. They were surprisingly progressive. They were views of love and desire for my happiness. They were everything I had hoped to hear, but didn't expect. The icing on the cake during this unexpectedly honest and frank discussion between two very different generations was the re-assurance that her son, my father, wouldn't have loved me any different had he known before his death. There was her admittance that she had no idea where my brothers and sisters had gotten the idea that their behavior was acceptable. We both agreed that Dad simply would not have stood for it.

She was my unexpected ally and only connection remaining with my family. I imagine funerals will be about the only time I see them. Sure, I wish that they would have reacted differently. I miss the times that were good. Today was a reminder that those times had passed and now may not ever return. Even with the memories of better family times, I accept life as it is and choose not to subject myself to future brow beatings at other family events. I have more self worth than that. I have my grandmother's example of courage and hard work to push me forward.

While there was much public display of sorrows and memories tinted with the overarching Mormon theme, I had those quiet moments to mourn and feel the pain of losing a woman I loved and respected. I lingered a bit longer at the graveside. After my family had left it was time to bring a close to the formal mourning as I broke down spontaneously in my husband's arms. There is a necessary cleansing that happens with tears. Genuine tears, not the public displays for sympathy, but the deep release within your soul, shoulder shuddering type of tears.

I will miss her. I will miss the hours and hours of conversations, many times repeating the same stories. I will miss talking to her about food and some new recipe I tried. I will miss hearing her say "I love you" and know it held no preconditions or social expectations. I will miss the connection to my father that she represented.

I'm not sure I have fully accepted it. It will take time. I have already had moments today when I thought of something I would share with her next time we talked. While not unexpected, it is strange to think of her being gone. At nearly 95 she has just simply always been there. She was a pillar in everyday life, even if we didn't talk often enough.

I will hold dear the memories, good and bad, of life with Grandma. I will work to honor the example of frugality and hard work she gave me. I will celebrate the peace I feel she has found in a life well lived and a passing accepted.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Today Is The Day

A little under 4.5 hours from now we, Endhi and I, will be standing at a counter together at the US Embassy in Jakarta seeking final approval of his fiance visa. Excitement is all I am filled with. It feels like it is finally our chance.

I've thought this morning how historic this moment really is. 10 years ago I doubt there was much hope that couples like Endhi and I would ever have the chance at equality. I am indebted to those who forged ahead before us that never saw the opportunity we have been given.

Even a month ago I didn't think I would be able to be here today. I was preparing paperwork and wrothe the letter written below as a supplement. Luckily I was able to be here today. Today is ours.

The letter I began writing (still in draft form) for Endhi to take with him:

"Its hard to believe the day has come that someone at a US  embassy would read a letter such as this and have the legal ability to unite a couple such as Battiyono's and I. It is even more amazing to me that I have met a man like Endhi and our day has finally arrived to ask that our family be united in our own pursuit of happiness as was fought for so many years ago. There is a range of emotions as I think of the day this letter will be presented.
While the journey for us has been a trial of endurance, I can't help but think of the generations of couples and individuals before us that have fought and endured so that this day might finally come for us. I think of all those before that have been denied the opportunity of "life, liberty,  and the pursuit of happiness." I would be truly ungrateful if those who fought before me didn't cross my mind. Endhi and I are truly lucky that we have seen equality come so far in our lifetime.
I grew up in a world where inequality was still a force in our culture.  I've tasted the bitterness of feeling the need to conform to social and religious norms. I followed the path set out for me by others who felt it was the only way. For last 6 years I have chosen to forge my own way through life following my heart. It has been a path seeking forgiveness for the mistakes of the past. A path learning forgive myself as well; learning not only to accept who I am, but also to love who I am. Its been a path that has taught me much about what is important in life and what is important in love. It has also taught me that love isn't a final stopping point; it is a companion you choose on the road of life. It is something that gives and takes, but even when taking true love somehow is still giving.
By divine intervention or simple luck we found each other. Endhi and I have chosen each other to walk the road of life with. There will be hills and valleys, rough roads and smooth sailing. It will always be together. I love this man beyond the explanation of words. He has brought a peace and happiness beyond what I believed was possible in this life. As our time difference, and signal strength on his island, allowed we have talked over Skype. I love to hear his voice, but simply seeing this man brings a smile to my face and calms the stress our distance causes. The time differences has caused there to be some days where “good morning” and “good night, sweet dreams” have been the only conversations we have been able to have. We anxiously await the approaching day where the distance from work to home is all that separates us.
I write this letter to supplement all the other papers sent. Unfortunately I won’t be able to be in Jakarta as he interviews. I had hoped to be there, but with plane tickets to buy and a trip to Seattle to marry in an equality state, it is better we keep savings in tact for anything unexpected. My sons are anxious to get to Disneyland as promised once Endhi can join us.
As far as specifics of getting married, we will within the 90 days from entering the US. We are looking at late March or April in Seattle where I have friends that will celebrate reaching this landmark on our journey together. We do intend to move back to Salt Lake once jobs are secured. Endhi has been unofficially offered a job once he is in Utah and has his legal permits to work. After 2 years of working to be together, we are excited to start building our life together.
The process of waiting for equality and being spread across three countries has been a challenge for my family. I truly hope that this final interview and visa issuance will happen quickly so there is no more time spent apart.
Trying to sum up our love in a letter is an impossible task. There is no way to put into words the gentleness and peace I feel as I look into his eyes or hold his hand. There is a joy that comes from hearing him talk with my sons. There is a comfort knowing he is mine and I am his. There is a peace that comes from knowing my sons will grow up seeing an example of what love is and should be. There is so much we look forward to.

I love this man completely and he loves me. I urge you to take this application very seriously and finally allow my family the chance to be together in one place."

Friday, January 31, 2014


After 14 hours flying I was finally tired enough to fall asleep on the middle leg of my journey. I woke up with an ache in my arms. Not a physical ailment but a longing. I woke to this ache realizing it would soon be over. Soon I would have the man I love within arms grasp. Over the past 20 months since first meeting Endhi this ache has been an ongoing part of my life.

It hasn't been merely an ache in my arms as I look at the empty pillow in my bed. Its been a heartache when simply driving and looking at the empty passenger seat; imagining him sitting there even if it was just a grocery run.

There were many times I would imagine him there. So many holidays and family events I would picture him with us laughing. I would picture his addictive smile. There were so many moments I wish he was sharing with my family; OUR family.  As I woke on the plane tonight there was another moment of pain in my arms. If only he could be seated next to me.....soon. Soon these moments apart will be just a brief chapter in the story of our life together.

I look out the window at the black of the night. Only the light on the wing and a few dots off in the distance break through the darkness. I sit and reflect on the road that includes this 3rd trip to SE Asia. I'm grateful its dark as I fight back a combination of tears. Tears of missing him, tears of joy that our days apart are drawing to a close, tears of excitement as I picture my family finally all together and whole, and finally tears of relief. Seeing the lights of Singapore as we approached hit me powerfully. I was finally really close to him. Finally in the same time zone. I've not visited Singapore other than as a transfer hub. Last time was to a ferry to go to an island to meet a man that captured my full attention. Now it is the place I transfer through on my way to claim my equality and bring him home. 

I've reflected a lot recently as you might imagine.  What a journey. Job changes, multiple visa attempts,  embassy visits, marriage equality, Mexico and one more plane ride; hopefully my last alone.

Hopefully these are the last few hours away from the man I am so lucky to have love me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thoughts On Obstacles In Happiness

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
It is hard living in another country and not telling at least part of the story when people on either side of the border ask what brought me to Tijuana. Those who will continue to be a part of my life, either here or Utah, generally get some explanation while those only in passing are given a simple and ambiguous reason("work" or "family"). It isn't a story that truly can be summed up in a paragraph,  let alone one blog post. There will be others, hopefully soon, on love and Tijuana.

Even for those who get a longer explanation tend to look at me quizzically. "Quizzically", that's a nice way of putting it. Most look at me in unbelief as they wonder why I haven't given up. Many have said that after a month or two or a one visa rejection, they would have given up.

There are those who continue on and then call me crazy or "too trusting" or ridiculous. Unfortunately there are those who also call me a deadbeat or misguided father, a deserter, etc.

It has been an interesting and sometimes personally painful path. I related some of these feelings recently on a separate post that can be found here. People I once considered friends have disappeared. Others who were only acquaintances have chosen to chime in on gossip or ignorant judgement.I get it, sort of. I had become fairly cynical myself before meeting Endhi. Hopefully I haven pushed others as hard as some have with me.

"How could I love someone so quickly? Why would I sacrifice so much for someone? Why not find someone closer to home? What about your kids? What about you?"

My answer to most of the "why" questions is simply "why not?"

I don't write this blog in hopes of changing anyone's mind or attempting to justify or explain my actions. I have had to learn in a rather painful fashion that my choices are mine. My life is mine. My happiness is mine. Who I am or how I live isn't up for a vote. It is not a choose-your-own-adventure life for others to select my path and it simply can't be lived based on what others think.

After being verbally assaulted as a deadbeat dad, fool, dreamer, etc. I took a moment, a very, very brief moment and visualized living life according to the polling numbers and outspoken opinions shared with me. It wasn't a life I wanted and it wouldn't have made me happy. After leaving 28 years of Mormonism & feelings of guilt for simply loving other men, I have had to unlearn the need for approval of others; the need to check in with those who had "authority" over my life and worthiness. This experience has tested how well I have unlearned the need for outside validation.

As I was reading the facebook posts berating my choices and life there was a reaction in me to immediately try to explain it all andvalidate the choices I made. However, something amazing happened. I realized that I simply didn't care. These weren't people directly impacted by my choices. They weren't even really close friends. I shut down the PR department in my head that was busily writing explanations and rebuttals. I stopped wasting energy worrying what others thought. I knew what I wanted in life and I knew I was making the right choices for myself and family. Did it still sting, of course, but not like it might have before.

I share my thoughts, not as a justification, but hopefully more as a perspective for others. Maybe something I write will click with others like me who have felt the pressure to conform to a society over-filled with selfish views on life and love. Maybe someone will see that their opinion is their own and isn't necessary to be shared and pushed on others where there is no personal impact or danger.

There have been some rough bumps on this road; bumps that have come from every angle. Evaluating and re-evaluating friendships has been an unexpected part of this journey. To be honest, were it not for my sons, I would feel less inclined to return to Utah after this experience. I know it’s a feeling that covers over some good friendships I have. I do sometimes wonder what life in Utah will hold as my soon-to-be-husband return and begin life. I think for now it will be a little quieter. For now it will be about making a home and a life. While I have a passion for being involved with the GLBTQ community and the coming out process, I may just take that on a case-by-case basis. I say that now…but don’t make any bets on that just yet.

We interview in Jakarta for his fiancĂ© visa in 15 days. It’s really hitting me now that my Tijuana adventure is coming to a close. I drove through the part of town where I first landed. It was slightly nostalgic. Not because I loved it there, but because I remember the scared little boy who moved to Tijuana blindly. I remembered the challenges of a foreign land that first few weeks. As I drove through this time there was no fear. I saw life and a different culture. There was a sense of accomplishment that I had lived through those fears and the unknown. A new confidence in myself was seen in those reflected memories. I feel optimistic that this visa will work. It is our time and it seems like the sun is finally rising on a new chapter in life.  

Would I recommend this path to anyone else? For the path’s sake, no. For love? Absolutely. As you have seen samples above, I have had plenty of bad with the good. Am I more cynical about friendship? Maybe. There is some bitter taste from those I once thought at least allied with me. There is some hesitation in moving to Utah and having these people inevitably in touch with one part of my life or another. We are a smaller community after all. There is no sense in worry about that now. That is a road we will travel later.

I have met some great people here in Tijuana. I don’t think it is necessarily geography, but maybe it is a little. There are parts of this culture I greatly admire. All in all, I think it is more about me than anything. More about separating lines of those that are acquaintances and those who are friends; letting those who lift you up stay close and others  move to arms length.

It is much more than just who you choose to surround yourself with. It is about self-assuredness; knowing what you are made of. Life shouldn't be lived alone on an island, but it is good to know a few days on a deserted island won’t kill you.

There are still opinions awash about my choices. Still those who find it necessary to vote or hop on a bandwagon about other’s lives. There will be more said to me as I return to Utah. But I have learned to believe in myself. Hopefully I have learned more patience and willingness to hope for others who do seemingly crazy things. So to those dreamers and those faced with challenges on the path of your own personal happiness. Push on. Don’t give up. Follow your heart. Take control of your life. We truly are the largest obstacle to our happiness.

A favorite quote I have held on to for years.

Robert Kennedy:

 “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

So I simply say “why not?”