It’s the final countdown!

A year ago we were sitting on a root top in San Miguel de Allende preparing to welcome the new year in surrounded by friends. Days earlier we had decided that it was time to take a leap into the unknown and prepare to move across the world.

Now, a year on, we are a little over two weeks away from the big move to Mexico. It’s been a long year of preparation – getting our home in the UK ready to rent, sorting through 15 years of clutter and packing up our lives. It’s been a year of letting go and embracing the new.

We’re ready for the next step and excited to see what unfolds. Each step of the way thus far as unfolded at the right time and often in ways we hadn’t imagined. Our Christmas and New Year holidays have involved a packing and house painting frenzy but we’re now in the final few days. The rooms in the house echo and we’re gradually finishing clearing out most of the rooms.

I can’t wait to sit on the roof of our new home in San Miguel de Allende in a few weeks time, to breathe, to rest and to renew! Bring on the new adventure!

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The Back Story

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Reprinted from The San Angelo Standard Times, December 2013. Photo by Patrick Dove

Republished from a post in 2013…so it’s a little old but it explains the back story about part of our new adventures in Mexico! It’s amazing how our friends ended up in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and after spending so much time there over the last few years, it’s time for us to join them. And while this story has all the makings of a soap opera…it is actually fact!

“I want a divorce.” With those words two lives – four lives – were irrevocably changed forever. It began journeys on three continents, which would break lives apart and bring others back together over a number of years. It is a journey of love and the power of friendship.

Jump back several years to when two college friends first met and so began the journey. Our friendship grew over a shared love of theatre, awful Steak n Shake coffee and late night studying. We met at college while stage-managing a production of ‘Twelfth Night.’ We were instant best friends and I quickly couldn’t imagine college without Joseph around.

The friendship grew into love over time and in hindsight our relationship was too immature to be a marriage. Nevertheless I fell in love. But my love was blind. Of course, I didn’t see the warning signs that a heterosexual relationship wasn’t right for one of us. That would reveal itself years later and after much heartache.

At the end of his senior year, Joseph joined the Peace Corps and flew off to Bolivia for a two-year term. I had one more year of school left and threw myself into finishing my studies. We corresponded by email almost daily and grew closer through the written word rather than speaking. I was so proud of Joseph’s work in Bolivia and looked forward to hopefully joining him there after I graduated. It was lonely without him, but at the same time I made some of the best friendships of my life that year – those still last today.  Later that Fall, Joseph proposed by email. Sure he didn’t get down on one knee but then nothing about our relationship had ever been conventional!

I began preparing for our wedding the following Spring while he continued to do some amazing work with poverty stricken women and children in Bolivia. We were married in early June, the day after I graduated from college (boy it all sounds so cliched now!). A couple of weeks later we found ourselves in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and set about creating a life for ourselves.

I have to admit that I found life in Bolivia difficult. While I was exhausted at the end of 4 years of college and enjoyed taking it easy for a time, I struggled to find my niche, and a passion for community work again. My poor commandment of Spanish didn’t help. I rarely ventured out of the apartment on my own. This was so unlike me! Normally I’m the intrepid one. I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem might be. It wasn’t until a dear friend and mentor visited that I became more aware that there was a cloud hanging over us. Our friend became quite sick while he was staying with us. I put it down to the environment we were living in – so foreign and daunting. Never for a minute did I consider that it was something deeper in the household. I stupidly thought that as long as Joseph was by my side I knew I could get through this challenge.

I was left heartbroken when Joseph asked for a divorce just a few months into our young marriage and completely out of the blue. At the time I was visiting family on the other side of the world. Not only was I stunned by his request, but I felt cheated when he ‘did the deed’ by phone…that hurt and it was cowardly but I guess he did the best he could under the circumstances. Nevertheless I was angry, dejected and fearful. My family seemed even angrier.

I quickly realized that his request was genuine and that there would be no hope to saving a marriage, a friendship and the great love of my life. Neither did I fully understand why he wanted a divorce. In fact, I remember thinking at the time – ‘It would be so much easier if he was gay!’ I could walk away from our relationship AND still be supportive. Unfortunately, for years I thought that it was my all fault, that I wasn’t worthy and would never experience love again.

My life quickly spiraled out of control. I was left back home in a country I barely recognized, felt a stranger in my own home, a family I had grown apart from and my closest friends an ocean away, and wondering whether it really was all worth it. For months my life seemed to be nothing but increasingly negative and it was easy to blame every problem on him. There were weeks when all I would do was lie on my bed counting the petals on the flowers wallpapered on the wall. Concerned family would try their best to help me snap out of the depression and time after time I’d push them away. Looking back, there is little I remember about this desperately sad time – I blocked out the pain.

Several months later I began to come to my senses. Despite battling feelings of rejection and anger, I had to get out and rediscover my identity.Only I had the power to forge ahead and move on as difficult as it might be. I took a couple of part time jobs – first as a Project Worker in a homeless shelter and the other as a carer to a woman who taught me that there was more to life.

However much as I loved the people in the homeless shelter, I realised that I couldn’t effectively counsel them about their problems when there was still this heavy weight over my head. Not only was I incapable of being and effective social worker while battling depression, but it became apparent that most of my social worker friends in the UK were doing nothing but push paper rather than being out in the field. This is not the career I signed up for. So there was a new challenge – what career should I choose and how on earth was I going to pay the bills in the meantime? And yet I knew I’d turned a corner the day I decided to stop counting the petals and paint over the wallpaper in my room!

Early in 2001 I returned to Texas to pack up all my belongings and prepare to ship them home. This was not an easy task. Returning to the place that held so many memories was more than a little daunting. Fortunately four of my dear friends came with me. I will never forget their kindness. They each took a week off work and drove with me from the Midwest to Texas and back. The day we sorted out all my junk turned out to be relatively happy and whenever I felt a twinge of sadness, they were there to wipe away the tears, pull me back on my feet and push me forward. Dear friends in town joined us for dinner and helped focus me for the task ahead. That day was the last time I had been to San Angelo, a town I once thought would become my home.  It would take another year before I found a new home to ship my belongings home to.

On my return to the UK it was clear that I needed to find somewhere to live, move to a new town and find a job. I found a job working as a PA for a director of a large multinational corporation. Not where I envisaged my career would begin but the necessity to pay the bills was too great. So I moved to North London and shared a flat with a girlfriend from college who was seconded to a company in the UK at the time. I worked with a great team but our boss was a nightmare and within months people began to leave – the bullying and blackmail was too much. I found work in another branch office in London and began working for a fantastic boss who was very aware of the challenges I’d faced in my previous position and had completely the opposite demeanor. She helped me to find my confidence again and at last I felt as if I was beginning to find my stride. For the first time I felt as if England was becoming home again. Looking back I can’t say that my first experience working for the company was a happy one, but little was I to know that it would lead me to meet my now husband, so it wasn’t all bad!

Matt came on the scene just as I was beginning to realise that I liked being single and didn’t need another to make me feel happy. Interesting how love happens just when you’re not looking! It took me a long time to trust him but he is such a dear sweet soul that it was impossible not to fall in love again and build a life together on strong, honest foundations. Friends say he’s the frame to my picture. He’s the most patient husband, puts up with my silliness and never leaves my side and is 100% supportive of anything I put my mind to. It’s a marriage of equals and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I said and did things in those months and years following the divorce from Joseph that I’m not proud of. The only explanation he gave for the end of our marriage was that he had made a mistake which left the way wide open for me to question what that mistake was and blame myself for not being attractive enough, kind enough, attentive of his needs and too fat etc during those few months together. I internalized everything into such a rage, depression and overwhelming sense of grief that manifested itself in numerous ways. Despite being around some of the best friends in the world, I had never felt so alone and stuck in ‘poor little me syndrome.’ Selfish to say the least. I even blocked out so many memories of our time together and wonder if they will ever return. Only last month he reminded me of a trip we took in New England the summer after he graduated – I remember very little (if anything) about it now.

Over time I came to realize that Joseph probably was gay but I needed to hear it from him before I could really accept it. That would take years to come. We attended a college (Principia in Illinois) where there was (at the time) a discriminatory anti-gay policy and any student, faculty or staff member who was gay or questioning probably would have been expelled if they were open about their sexuality so it’s not surprising that so many hid their true selves – including Joseph.

Should I be surprised that I married a gay man? No, given my upbringing amongst many gay ‘uncles.’ As a friend commented a few years ago – “Well Miranda, either you or your mother were bound to fall in love with a gay man and marry!” My fondest childhood memories are of weekends spent in the company of my many ‘uncles’ and they are the strongest male role models in my life.

Forgiveness didn’t come easy but I knew that I couldn’t fully move on with my life until I learnt to forgive Joseph and by doing so I began to discover more about my self worth and about deep unconditional love too. There was a great sense of release, but I still hadn’t fully let go and I couldn’t figure out why. In fact, my family and closest friends found it much harder to forgive. Time and time again over the years I’d have to remind them to let go of the past, not bear grudges and move on too.

When I thought about it, the thing I missed the most about our relationship was the friendship. We were best friends and that’s what I grieved for above all else. Sometimes best friends are supposed to be just that – friends and it’s all too easy to confuse that deep friendship with something more. Nevertheless it was painful coming to terms with the fact that he could never love me in the way that I had wanted and nor could I give him what he really wanted – after all, I was the wrong gender!

Years later I can now safely say that Joseph gave me the greatest of gifts. When you love someone, sometimes you have to set him or her free despite all the heartache. He did just that and what I know now is that he gave me the opportunity to grow up in ways that I never imagined. He gave me the chance to experience a new love and marriage that is strong, kind and nurturing. By releasing me from a marriage that was destined to fail, Joseph paved the way for each of us to discover our true potential and greater love. For that I will always be grateful.

Fast forward nine years and in May 2009 I got a short email from Joseph. After no contact for many years I was dumbfounded and even wondered if it was genuine. Neither could I understand why he was emailing me – he was the last person I expected to hear from again. For a long time I had hoped that there might be a friendship to resurrect but after nine years with little contact from him, I’d given up hope. I remember sharing the email with Matt and thinking – what on earth was he going to think about all of this?!

 

In the years since we were last in touch, Joseph had become mayor of the city of San Angelo in Texas. He had managed to take on the ‘old boy network’ and turn so many things around in his hometown – a place that is very very close to his heart and which makes the next stage of his journey all the more poignant. In May 2009, he had just been voted in for a 4th term with 89% of the vote. But on the morning of his swearing in, he didn’t turn up for the ceremony. Instead, he resigned and fled across the border into Mexico with his partner to begin a new life and follow the proper process to re-enter the US legally which will take years.

Once you know the full extent of Joseph and his partners story you can’t help but feel compassion for them. It must have been the most difficult decision both have ever had to make – giving up a life and career in San Angelo and going back across a border they may never have wanted to go across again. Having come into the USA illegally five years before, it must have been painful to have to cross that place again. I can’t begin to imagine how tough a decision it was for both of them.

Taking a stand for the one you love in the face of so much seeming opposition is probably the biggest decision one has to make in life. But Joseph has shown honesty and integrity – qualities that are rare in our leaders today and put him far above the rest. One of my favourite spiritual leaders says something about honesty being spiritual power – well he’s certainly got that. The world needs more leaders of his caliber. I always knew he would do something spectacular with his life. Sure the timing wasn’t great, but hey, that’s life. I think he will find that he has endeared himself to even more supporters. Need I say – ‘Milk.’ Heck, he gave six years of his life to his city. I hope people will appreciate that and give him a break. He deserves to fall head over heels in love and build a life.

As I read the news, it was as if a wave of emotions washed over me from relief to joy to concern for my old friend and whilst sitting at my computer in the office in front of my colleagues I wept before running into the bathroom in tears. It was – for a moment – all too much. I was vindicated and finally truly realised that I didn’t drive him away as I had always thought – irrational thoughts I know! It’s also validated my marriage to Matt too – now I really truly know that our marriage is solid and I have no need to fear the future. And that is hugely liberating. In fact, I love Matt more than ever now.

For years Joseph haunted my dreams. Initially they were nightmares, which lessened after a few years, but a week didn’t go by without having some sort of a weird dream which included him. It was as if my subconscious was telling me that there was still unfinished business. Interestingly, the dreams stopped within days of his contact and move to Mexico. I also had a physical reaction to the news of his coming out and leaving Texas. And, the moment I finished reading the news report, I literally felt as if a mass was falling free of my body. I had total clarity and freedom at last.

Clearly he had a need to reconcile after all these years. Perhaps that’s the power of our friendship – after being estranged for so many years he finally figured out that I’d always be there for him. That said, before responding to his email I asked myself whether reestablishing contact was the right thing to do. To be honest, I’d rather have him in my life as a friend than not at all. It took me time to respond to Joseph once I’d discovered the full extent of what had occurred. Reaching out to him after so long instinctively felt like the right thing to do – he needed a friend and that’s why he got in touch. For days I remember swinging between emotions and hoping that our friendship may have a chance to be renewed. Matt embraced this new chapter in our lives and kept encouraging me to be positive, hang on and patiently wait to see what unfolded.

And so began months of correspondence back and forth across the world as Joseph and his partner set up their new home, and began their new life in Mexico. After a time, it was Matt who suggested that we invite them to come to Europe for a holiday and stay with us. The day they stepped off the plane I was more than a little nervous but had no need to be – we hit it off all over again. I vividly remember the waking up the morning after they arrived – everyone was still fast asleep – so I pulled on workout clothes and went for a hike up the hill in front of our home – for the first time I was acutely aware of fresh air filling my lungs – filling every part of my body..followed by a massive exhale. It had taken 9 years of patient waiting to exhale! My friend was back…stronger than ever.

It was a trip of firsts for all – we took them to their first Pride parade in London. And my heart could have burst with pride (pardon the pun) at being their to witness their joy amongst thousands of accepting people from around the world. We wandered together through Soho – me with my pride t-shirt on, and them hand in hand.

The following year my mother passed away after falling from a ladder at her home in France – I was with her. There are no words. In the time between our divorce and that summer, Mum and I had grown very close indeed. She was looking forward to a new life back in England closer to her family. I asked Joseph if he would come to England to be with me – since Matt had to go back to work at some point, I wasn’t sleeping well- kept having flashbacks – and didn’t want to be home alone. Joseph jumped on a plane, no questions asked. That action meant more than anything. Nothing can replace a mother’s love, but friends certainly help to stand by your side in those initial weeks and months. It was then that I realised just how much of a friend Joseph (and his partner) really are to us.

As a coping mechanism following the pain of the divorce all those years ago, I had blocked out so many memories of our time together from the moment we met at college through the first couple of years after we broke up. I threw alway all his letters and emails written from afar and ripped up photos. Too angry to think rationally I attempted to stamp him out of my life. Now that our friendship is renewed he’s gradually helping me to fill in the gaps of our travels together and we’re making new memories.

I’m more proud of Joseph than ever before. He’s living life openly and honestly and embracing every new experience that comes his way. Eduardo is certainly the one for him and when I see them together it’s clear how deeply in love they are and how very right their relationship is. They share an innocence that is rare in human beings together….coupled with maturity borne by both losing parents at a young age, having to grow up and fend for themselves.

Things are as they should be. We both needed time to grow up, discover our self worth and find our niche in life. Our friendship is deeper now than ever before – there is a connection that seems to have lasted lifetimes. My hope is that he doesn’t carry any sense of guilt for our past – he did the right thing. The Universe has a way of bringing experiences to us in order for us to learn, grow and flourish. Love and friendship matter above all else. If anything, I love him more now because he acted with his highest sense of right with courage and determination – qualities he has in abundance. Thanks to Love we’ve been able to reaffirm our friendship on deep foundations.

Much has been written about Joseph and Eduardo’s story. They have courageously decided to step out of the shadows and highlight the importance of equality – equality in marriage and equality in immigration. There will be more to come in several weeks. We are both proud to stand by their side in solidarity.

And the icing on the cake? We just got home from two wonderful weeks in Mexico where we were part of a handful of family and friends to witness Joseph’s marriage. It was a beautiful, simple and sweet afternoon which truly affirmed their relationship. It meant so much for us to be able to be there to see my best friend marry his great love. They’re a great couple and we couldn’t be happier or more proud of the steps they have taken to show the world why EQUAL marriage is important and basic human right.

Celebrating Joseph and Eduardo’s Wedding in San Miguel de Allende, November 2013.