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I went back to New York for the holidays. I do it every year (or have since I stopped being a New York resident,) and my winter “vacation” of 2012 wound up lasting a little longer than usual. Counting the two days I spent in Connecticut with my dear friends Michael (of the Blerd Radio podcast) and Christine Parr, I was gone for 8 full days.

Before I left, I was dreading the trip. First off, I don’t like being away from my house for long periods of time, and visiting New York tends to bring my anxiety levels way up. I was nervous for a lot of reasons-work reasons, family reasons, time management reasons, not getting much time to write reasons. Of course, as these things tend to work out, the trip turned out to be quite possibly the best visit “home” I’ve ever made.

That word “home” is loaded, huh? I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately. I must admit, I’m still not 100% sure where “home” is for me these days. I lived in New York for 29 years, and the Big Apple will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the city that raised me, the city that made me the man that I am today. There’s a certain intensity, pride and tenacity that born and bred New Yorkers have, and that bite will never leave me. As far as Boston, I’m still getting used to certain things-even five years later. It feels more like home with each passing day, but I don’t know that I’m there yet. I think I’d like to get there, though.

Whatever. I digress. There were two main reasons why this trip meant so much to me and ended up being so memorable.

One was that it ended up being sort of a “real-time” version of “This Is Your Life.” I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, less than a mile from the house where I grew up. I spent an afternoon in some Union Square bar with my friends Dwight and Patrick, two of my first “big brother/mentor”-types. When I started working at Tower Records in September ’93 (my first full-time job,) Dwight was the guy who trained me. Meanwhile, I’d met Patrick a year before while interning at Newsday. It was the summer before my senior year in high school, the summer my grandfather died, and Pat radiated warmth and friendship from the moment I met him. He was the very first person I came out to, and he’s been a near constant presence in my life for twenty years now. Combined-we’ve been friends for 39 years. Not too shabby.

I also had a dinner with my co-workers from The Wiz, where I worked from 1996-2003. You can read more about that in June’s last Songs in the Key of Life column-he and I came away with pretty much the same thoughts. I spent Christmas Eve with my friend and former co-worker Lauren, her new husband Jed, and a few of their friends, and in between all of that, managed to sneak in visits with a few more recent friends. It was really interesting to access pretty much every part of my life up to the present and see how much I’ve grown-how much each of us has grown-since we all initially came into contact. It reminded me of the fact that I’ve always had people in my corner, and right when things started to darken, there were people around to keep me standing upright, even if they weren’t consciously doing it and I wasn’t consciously aware of them doing it at the time. If nothing else, this visit was a chance to show my appreciation. I’m a big proponent of letting people know how much they mean to you, and I hope that everyone I got the chance to spend time with is aware of the importance of the value they have had-and still have-to me.

The second reason this trip had a lot of meaning to me was the fact that I finally had an honest discussion about my sexuality with my aunt and uncle. Again, these are the people who raised me for the most important part of my childhood (from the age of 11 until I was 16 or so,) so I’d equate this to the average person coming out to their parents. Not to say my folks weren’t previously aware of my sexuality. First off, they’re not stupid. I’m 36 years old and single (not that that automatically makes you gay, but it does raise questions…). Second, it’s been probably 18 years since I even mentioned having a girlfriend. Third, I’d dropped all kinds of hints over the years (most of which were dropped unintentionally.)

Things were kinda “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the house. To myself, I always said that until I needed to bring it up, I was pretty comfortable not talking about it. I don’t know if that was really the case these last few years-at least in reference to these particular relatives. I’d always been straight (pardon the pun) with them. This half-ass hiding seemed like a completely unnecessary elephant in the room whenever we’d speak or get together. As far as the rest of my family goes-most of my younger relatives know (and have known for quite some time) while other members of my family don’t really deserve an explanation-they’re not present enough in my life for me to offer one. There’s also the fact that they would likely be much more judgmental, but it’s not a conversation I think it’s necessary to have with them, at least for now.

At any rate, it was a few days before Christmas, we were sitting around talking about nothing in particular, when my uncle asked if I was seeing someone. Any other Christmas (at least if memory serves,) the answer would have been “no.” This year, I’m in…well, as Facebook would say, “it’s complicated.” Actually, that’s not true. I know where I stand. I just have to figure out where the other person stands (or maybe he does know where he stands. Either way-it’s a work in progress.) Regardless, we played the gender-unspecific game for a few rounds and then he asked “so what’s this person’s name.” I answered, we both paused for a beat, and then the conversation continued as it had gone before. It was so silly, in a way. I’m not a big fan of playing games, and there was a sense that I was kinda beating myself up for not being totally upfront. Despite it being a minuscule part of a conversation, it felt like a legitimately huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Know the saying “the truth will set you free?” Even though I wasn’t outright lying, having had the conversation was such a relief, and it set the tone for me to relax completely for the remainder of my stay.

I wrote all of this several days ago, and have been thinking about it quite a bit since. Growing up is an ongoing process. It doesn’t end when you’re 18, or 21, or 25. I don’t know that it ever ends. Every day, we’re faced with new problems, and new ways to solve old problems. Some of us seek out ways to deal with challenges that life throws us. Some of us feel as though it’s better to attack those challenges the same way that we always have. I’m not sure I agree with that-I believe that enlightenment and peace is acquired not only by acceptance of our current situations, but by figuring out which elements of those situations can be changed. And then working to change them. Even the effort you put forth, whether it ultimately winds up successful or not, will change things somewhat.

These changes don’t need to always be big, sweeping changes, either. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact-simple gestures, plain sentences, random thoughts. It’s pretty awesome when you look back on all those little things and realize how much they added-and continue to add-up to.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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