Sunday, August 13, 2006

The History of John, Part IV (the epic version)

Okay, okay, the previous post may be a bit too bare bones. But it is the only condensed version you will get. From here on out, I plan to ramble and elaborate and clarify and… well, you get the idea.

After a very dramatic exit from the Marine Corps in May 1989, the story of which will be the climactic end of "The History of John, Part III, I made the decision to settle in Hawaii. I was involved with a career sailor, and Hawaii seemed like as good a place as any. I worked first for a home improvement store, but got a job in Waikiki at Crazy Shirts. My job was pretty fun, hanging out at tourist central, selling t-shirts, and partying all the time in Waikiki. Not really a stepping stone to future success, but it was a great way to transition from the Marine Corps to the civilian world.

In January 1990, my partner had orders to San Diego. I transferred with my company to a mall store in Mission Valley. The store was pretty quiet and boring, so it was time to move on. I took a job working downtown at a title company. It was interesting enough, but I stayed less than a year. My partner decided to out himself at work as a gay man, so his Navy career came to an immediate halt. Fourteen years in the Armed Forces, and just like that it was over.

In September 1991, we moved to Mobile, Alabama. In many ways, it was coming home for me. The small town life was exactly what I needed, and I quickly settled in. I worked for an HMO, and I started back to school. (College would be a LONG road for me, but that story ends well.... just much later.)

For now, I was a recently out (and outed) gay man and former Marine. This was before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the battle over gays in the military was raging. As you can imagine, out gay Marines were not all that common in Mobile, so I was a bit of a novelty. When the first reporter came knocking, I had no idea how far the story would go. What started as a single quote in the local newspaper became a follow-up interview, which led to a featured segment on Alabama Public Television's "For The Record" program.

My most public episode was still to come. A reporter for the New York Daily News was back in Alabama for vacation and saw my segment on APT. We talked for hours, the end result of which was a two-day story with a half-dozen pictures of me. The article was good, and she presented my quotes within context. The headlines made me sound a bit more confrontational than I felt was accurate (MARINE TELLS GENERAL "YOU COULDN'T BE MORE WRONG!"), but the overall message was there.

By this point, my being so out and willing to talk to the media was creating far too much tension at home. My partner's whole family still lived in town, and it was a bit more than he or they could deal with. We broke up, and for the first time in my life I was on my own. Oh, I had obviously been single before, but this was my first experience living alone. And I have to say, I liked it.

So I am now single, enjoying the national spotlight, and fielding calls and interview requests from across the country. For me, it was a complete rush. I was enjoying the attention, and I really did feel that I was contributing to a greater cause.

I had moved on professionally, as well. I went to work for a contractor and soon became the general manager. The experience of running a small business was incredible, and I enjoyed the contrast after being a part of the huge company that was the Marine Corps.

It's 1993, and everything is ramping up. I am dating a therapist (no, not my own), working full time during the day, going to school full time in the evening, and becoming more and more involved in community activism. I am also volunteering as a Rape Crisis Counselor and with the Mobile AIDS Support Services. But my finest hour was still to come.

September 18, 1993, finds me in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I am a guest speaker at the first ever gay civil rights march and rally in the state. We are bused to the starting point, and I am amazed at the number of police in the area. I find out later that there were "credible death threats" made, and the state responded with a massive law enforcement presence. We march through the streets of this quiet coast town, and the police have formed a line on either side of the route. There are so many of them that they can, literally, touch hand-to-hand to keep the protestors from attacking us. I flash back to the photos of the black marches in Alabama, and I feel overwhelmed at being part of this moment in history. Then I look to the side of the street and I see an older couple - 60's, maybe? - holding a sign that reads "All God's Children Deserve Love and Respect." And there it was. Just like that. One positive thing I could cling to. I marched the rest of the way with my head held high. Of course, it was a bit scary speaking to the crowd, especially when the last thing I hear from the sheriff on the podium next to me, as I approach the microphone, is a whispered "the snipers on the rooftops across the street are police, so don't be worried." Yikes.

I continue on this path for the next three years. I am involved in so many different things - still volunteering for Rape Crisis, fund raising for AIDS charities, providing clinic escort at the local women's clinic, and working with local and state organizations to make life better for gay men and women in Alabama. I was still in school, working, and writing a regular column for a community magazine in New Orleans. I look back now and wonder how I did it all, but at the time, it seemed like I had all the energy in the world.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before I burnt out. My relationship with the therapist ended badly, and most of it was my fault. I decided it was time to return to San Diego. In August 1996, I packed up a U-Haul and made my way back to the Golden State. I started writing for the Gay & Lesbian Times and working at AIDS Foundation San Diego. It was a nice transition from my life in Mobile, but it was time to focus less on the larger community and more on me. (Hmm... a theme I am sure to revisit!).

In December 1996, I met the love of my life, Ric. It would be May 1997 before we began seeing each other, but I knew right away that he was the one. I will save the story of us for another post, but it's enough to say that this was the start of the best part of my life.

In January 1997, I turned 30. I went to work for a local bank and managed to get back to school. I moved in with Ric in May, and a year later we bought the house we live in now. The bank sold soon after, and I accepted an offer from our software vendor to join their offices in Dallas, Texas. Ric and I packed up and off we went to the Lone Star State. (It was during this transition I was beginning my theatrical career, but that post will come later.)

My job with the software company ended when they sold out to an Atlanta company, but I went to work with IBM. The job sounded great - Customer Operations Manager, Customer Support, IBM North Americas. Unfortunately, it was a lot of hours and a lot of stress. I met some amazing people there, but my heart was just not in it. By December 2000, I was ready to come home to San Diego.

I went to work for an HMO as a customer support supervisor, then was promoted to Reporting Analyst. The work was easy, the offices were nice, and the downtown location was convenient. I was also able to get schoolwork done at the office from time to time, so all and all it was pretty great. But, it just wasn't enough for me. After nearly three years, I was out of there. From there, I went to work at an escrow and title company, LandAmerica, where I am still working today.

And last year, I finally achieved my lifelong goal of graduating from college. I received my Bachelor of Science Business Management degree, and I was the commencement speaker. The ceremony was held at the San Diego Convention Center, and the organizer asked me if I was nervous speaking before 10,000 people. I smiled and said, "I was in the Marine Corps. Nothing makes me nervous."

And so it comes full circle. I left the Marine Corps in a painful, public way. But for the next 18 years, I would draw upon my Marine Corps training to get me through other struggles and challenges. And at this point in my life, nearly 40 and having a great time, I am only grateful for my time as an active duty Marine. I have accomplished much since, but I know that being a Marine has made the difference in my life. I mean, after the Corps, nothing can stand in my way.