Once again, five months have gone by since my last post. It's also Sunday-or in the Fernandez-Rich household Super Soul Sunday. On this day we watch OWN all day, usually cook a big breakfast, BBQ with friends and relish in all of the blessings around us. Earlier this year, Sabin and I found ourselves moving into our dream home on Marguerite Street; the house itself had been gutted and rebuilt with a large fenced in yard, garage, 3 bedrooms, and all of the trimmings missing from our cramped apartment, but what makes our new home the best is the fact that it is directly across the street from our best friends. We are taking over the entire neighborhood! The fact that we can walk across the street and visit/cook/watch TV and movies/drink wine and then skip home is extremely gratifying. We've also taken the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" to a whole new level by including everyone in Harper duty-and the fact that we are literally surrounded by loved ones makes things like school (yes, she is now in pre-school) and life with a toddler so much easier. Speaking of the three year old Princess, she continues to blow my mind every single day. She is thoughtful and charismatic and elicits so much joy from any person that she meets. She turned three two weeks ago and was surrounded by friends and family in a barbecue here at our new dream home and it was exciting to watch the outpouring of love that she has. She is now a full fledged "person" who can carry on full conversations, vocalize what she wants and does not want, and overall is extremely easy and carefree. Last Super Soul Sunday, Sabin and I watched an episode about conscious parenting-something I've been unconsciously and unknowingly trying to do since Harper was born- but it was nice to hear it spoken out loud and given a name. The basis is about being more in tune with your child and breaking down the long-culturally-driven-philosophy that our kids are our property or possessions that we have to discipline into conforming into the people we want them to be. Instead, the conscious parent models the right behavior and ideally the child responds by mimicking that, therefore almost eliminating the need for discipline and authority-except in extreme situations of course. I know it sounds new agey and a little out there, but the rest of this post follows this same type of philosophy so if you're already thinking I sound off my rocker or hear yourself thinking, "I'm gonna pray for AJ" I urge you to stop reading here and close your screen.
I've been on a spiritual search for the last five years. It all started when my sister got her cancer diagnosis. On that very day in August of 2009, I will never forget that inner voice who had once been taught to pray for strength or lean on God felt so very much alone. I sat on the sidewalk of the hospital in front of Boise Mountain State Tumor Institute and I was paralyzed, emotionally drained, and wanting to fall back on what I'd always known to do-pray that God fix everything and make it OK. But I also knew that, for me, this simply didn't work. It had been a few years since the big man upstairs and I had a real conversation, and Crystal's cancer was just the icing on the solidarity cupcake. On that very day, my wife was already in India exploring her own spiritual journey and the realization that we were drifting further and further apart had consumed my mind as I made the 9 hour drive from Sacramento to Idaho the day before. From the outside, everything seemed picture perfect, but my insides were screaming for me to listen and start searching. And now this---my rock and one of the only people who knew the real me---may be losing her life. It nearly pushed me to the edge. Somehow, I kept up the charade that everything was OK for another year. Shea returned from India, we made trips to and from Idaho, and kept up with what had become expected of both of us by continuing to prove that the fairy tale story was indeed real when I (and I'm guessing her too) knew it was not. When I look back on this time now, it was all so clear, but as they say hindsight is 20/20. I would come home from a job that did not fulfill me, watch hours of recorded reality television shows and not engage with those around me, and whenever the spotlight hit me, like a broadway star I could turn on the "picture-perfectness" that most expected from me; the production deserved several Tony Awards. I remember being at a ice-cream shop with my Mom in McCall, Idaho on a visit to see my sister and our entire family and in just a moment of alone time with her and I, she grasped my face (her hands were cold) and she said to me, "I wish you could sit back and enjoy this, but your mind seems to be moving faster than your heart."
Finally, I allowed Shea to become the villain and found my way out. Those were some dark days. Most thought that it was because I was so heart broken, but in truth it was because I realized that the gig was up and the real me would be exposed soon enough. I still would not pray and I still felt alone, maybe even more alone than I had ever felt before and I tried running away and hiding in Chicago to prolong the inevitable.
My real spiritual self started to emerge when I got back to Sacramento and started working with a psychologist who had me start the story over from the beginning. It was the first time in my life where I could just get it all out-not just the recent stuff about the dissolution of my marriage or my sisters illness, but all of it. Growing up with all of the luxuries any kid could dream of, then having it all disappear in what seemed like an instant, followed by the loss of my Dad, a childhood where I became keen at "fitting in" with everyone by pretending to be something or someone I wasn't. First loves, first heartbreaks, high school, college and the insatiable desire to please my own ego so that I could prove to everyone how much of the golden child I really was and how I could NEVER stoop as low as my Dad did and be so selfish to take my own life. Truth is, I did battle brief bouts of depression pretty consistently- days where one more drink before driving or one further act of promiscuity could have ended it all, but thankfully I always had the wherewithal to know where to draw the line. It was during these sessions and right before Harper's birth where I finally started to awaken that real voice inside of me that had always been there that begged for authenticity.
Harper's birth changed me as a human-my mind, my spirit and my life's purpose, but my heart was actually changed by the one person who everyone thinks actually broke it---and that was Shea. When we brought Harper home from the hospital we ended up moving back into our home that we owned. On the very first night Harper came home from the hospital, I sat on the back patio drinking a beer and I started crying and trembling and shaking. We had been at the hospital for days and her birth was so dramatic, and my body was shutting down because it had been in overload. I was also depressed because while I was experiencing fatherhood for the first time and no one from my family was there to be a part of this with me (Crystal ended up driving through this night and came the very next day). Shea came outside and we had one of the deepest talks about spirituality and what we wanted for this beautiful baby and that evening was transformative. Also, a few months later when I finally came out, Shea was the first person I told. She, at that moment, held all of the power to say false things like she had always known this about me or how this was her ammunition to get away from me and take Harper with her. Instead she hugged me so tightly, cried and said she was elated for me and wanted me to be happy more than anything. Her reaction was honest and sincere and based on that, I was finally free to start opening up and digging deeper.
On one of our first dates, Sabin and I had the religion talk. He was raised by extremely conservative Christian parents who still are not comfortable with the fact that they have a gay child. I remember as soon as it came up, we both stopped and thought a lot about our answers. The rest of our initial conversations seemed to flow with such ease, but this one was different. When you know you've found the love of your life, you don't want something as important as religion to dismember such a great thing. I think we were both on a similar page. We both have a firm faith in God and an understanding that there is something far bigger than us guiding and directing us. The other thing I've found with him is that my observations of life and the joy that comes everyday by being as blessed as we are is catapulted by the fact that he feels the same way. We are constantly reminding each other of the multiple blessings we share every single day and we are thankful for them. We have had single friends say, "how can I find what you have?" We don't have an answer, but I know that being aligned spiritually and giving thanks for the greatness in our life is a driving force in our deep connection with one another. That mirrored by a mutual respect and immense desire to see the other succeed. We aren't partners in the gay way---we are really and truly life partners in the real-life literal meaning way.
Since Crystal's passing (almost nine months) I still have lots of bad days, but it's more like sad moments. We just celebrated what would have been Crystal's 33rd birthday this month. I hear and see her in almost everything I do. The craziest part of being on this spiritual search is how in tune I am becoming with my surroundings. I can SEE better. I can SMELL better. I don't watch nearly as much television as I used to, instead I sit on my front porch and watch the amazing sunset every night that I can. I play hide and seek with Harper and drink red wine with the love of my life almost every night. I ask more intimate questions of my friends and loved ones and I try to really listen to their answers. I am working harder than I ever have before, but my bosses are noticing and I am feeling more fulfilled by my work than I ever have before.
It's a work in progress and I know I am still so far from even scratching the surface of where this all goes or what any of it means, but the potential excites me and has awakened a new (better) version of me. I'm thrilled to see how everything unfolds, and I'm trying not to project what I want to happen, but instead sit back and relish in what is already happening around me and within me.