It’s Just A Life.4

4. Mendocino, My Own Private Oz

Mendocino, my own private Oz, is the place I go to feel like I’m “not in Kansas anymore”.

Yes, you are likely to hear me tell you that Hawaii, specifically Kauai, is my happy place. And that is absolutely true. It’s the place I go – figuratively and literally – that is immediately relaxing. It’s a place my husband Pete and I discovered, that’s totally free from childhood memories, or any of the daily stress of modern life. Honestly, I can walk off the plane at the Honolulu airport and feel instant rejuvenation. I’m relaxed, and ready for adventure.

But Mendocino? Mendocino is particularly special to me because it’s where I met the men I consider to be my gay role models. They owned a house in the hills above Mendocino. It was a beautiful redwood coastal house, with modern lines and a totally fabulous kitschy and laid back vibe, and they were fabulous, and seemed to be genuinely happy with each other. I had never (knowingly) even seen a gay couple before, and to be staying with one, at their house, near the beach?! They were who I wanted to be, but was absolutely terrified to allow myself to become.

It was the summer, and I was there with my mother and two of her friends. I’m amazed I was allowed to tag along, but I was always precocious for my age, and my mother didn’t have a lot of options for babysitting. At 14, I was too young to stay home alone, but too old for a “babysitter”. It became one of the most important trips of my life.

It was a revelation to me, seeing this happily adjusted – and apparently well-off – couple. Before this time, I assumed that if I followed my heart, and admitted I was gay, I would end up a lonely old man with no family or friends. Little did I know, what true love brings into your life can’t ever be taken away. These men showed me that. They were happy in their skin, and totally honest and comfortable with who they were.

It’s been too many years now for me to remember them very clearly. They seemed to be a much older couple, which of course to a 14 year old must mean they were in their late 40s. They were funny, accomplished cooks, their house was beautifully decorated in a California coastal style of the early 80s, and most of all they just seemed to enjoy being together.

My favorite evening of our visit was the night we all settled in front of the television and watched “The Wizard Of Oz” on VHS. Honest. To. God. It was already the favorite movie of my 14 years of life, and this made it even more amazing because they didn’t think it was stupid to watch it! They loved it as much as I did. And that was the seed that gave me the courage to admit to myself what I was.

Oh it’s not like I had a major epiphany and came screaming out of the closet that weekend. No, I would go on to make the mistakes that all young people make. Believing I could make something obviously wrong for me become the right fit. Hoping to make my parents and friends happy in the life I thought they wanted me to live. But they lit a spark that would take hold around 10 years later and remind me that I could be happy with the hand life dealt me if I truly chose to.

I love to go to Mendocino with Pete. He doesn’t like the drive, but I would happily drive there myself. That’s really saying something, because I hate driving. Pete and I wanted to be married there, but in the end we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a ceremony that would be just as meaningful in our own home. Maybe we’ll renew our vows there in 20 years.

I love the streets of downtown Mendocino. Pete and I have spent Christmas Day strolling, window shopping, and looking for the one restaurant that’s open (Mendocino has a charming tradition of rotating which restaurant’s open on holidays). I love the cool winter evenings, sitting in the window of the Mendocino Hotel & Garden Suites in town, having a drink, and staring at the sea illuminated by the moonlight, or even just staring out into a moonless night. We like to travel to the botanical gardens in Fort Brag, Glass Beach – or really any beach – to lie on a blanket in the sand, reading a book or taking a nap.

I love the art shops. These are the few times I wish I was a millionaire, just to be able to buy some of the fabulous art found in the dozens of art galleries. I love walking the dogs through town, stopping at a coffee shop on the corner, climbing the staircase in whatever business currently resides in the water tower on Albion Street. It was a garden shop the first time we visited, then an art gallery, or maybe a gift shop. But it will always be a garden shop in my mind. Our china was purchased in an antique shop down the street. And though I rarely do, I am always tempted to splurge on some designer clothing at one of the ridiculously expensive clothing shops in town.

None of these memories can compete, however, with sitting on an amazing deck overlooking a lush Northern California coastal valley, eating a homemade trifle. It was prepared for us by the perfect couple that welcomed (an obviously gay) boy into their home, and hearts. The grand finale? I took home a kitten. You really couldn’t top that trip if you tried.

In my many returns, I’ve tried several times to find their house, wandering the streets above Mendocino with my ever-accommodating husband, but no luck. It’s almost like my fairy godfathers didn’t leave a trace. They came into the life of a scared little 14 year old, and then disappeared without a trace. The hard part of that trip, and those following and yet to come, is returning home, over the rainbow, to everyday life.

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