No. 7 – Goodbye, Mile High
I watched tv as a child from our Alabama home, with envy. Anyone who did not live in a place with sweltering humidity, and heat stroke warnings from July-August, seemed….privileged. I would daydream of living in a place where snow was common, and you could sit by a wood burning fireplace, reading your favorite story taking place some other place in the world.
We headed for Denver for a simple weekend break, and free travel. I can’t remember where we stayed that weekend, but I remember hiking. I remember a subtle chill in the spring air. I remember something awaking inside of me. All weekend I felt these bursts of something very real. Something from my deepest self was moving and responding to the beauty I was connecting with. The mountains were capped with snow. The air was crisp. The architecture was heavy, woodsy, aesthetically pleasing, and welcoming. The people were graceful.
It was surprising to find myself saying “I think I want to live here someday.” I put that on an inner dialogue with myself and trusted that if that were something I could make happen, I would. I had lived in Nashville less than a year, and another move did not make sense.
Every time something went wrong in my life, I took it as a sign that I was supposed to move to Denver.
My car got broken into: “I bet this would not happen in Denver.”
The church I attended would have a meltdown and I would lose interest: “I bet churches in Denver NEVER have this kind of conflict.”
Relationships are not panning out: “If only I were with my future best friends in Denver.”
You see where this is going?
I fantasized that somehow, moving to the mile high city would resolve much of my inner conflict.
I had planned on Denver being my forever home. Other than the trip in 2000, I had only been back once. But, I knew. I knew I wanted it to be my permanent place of residence. At the time, I assumed it is where I would find my wife, have kids and establish new roots (I most likely assumed that my wife would come from my church hopping, and also that I was no longer going to be gay. Lucky her, right?). So, Denver was being held captive with a lot of pressure.
During my last chapter in Nashville, I was in rough shape. I had just began recovery from a year long battle with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and although I was ready for a change, I held Denver with high esteem and felt it would be there when I was done exploring other options and potential places to live. It was going to be my final stop. Again, my place to establish my name, roots, family and place to build a notable life.
The original plan to move was in the spring of 2013. The more I fantasized about fall weather with orange and red leaves, day hikes, crisp air and new beginnings, the more I realized, that I could not wait until Spring.
I planned a road trip with a friend and in the fall of 2012, off I went to Denver…”for good.” I stopped in Vegas for two nights. Lost several hundred dollars. Tried to pretend (in front of my friend), that I was not bothered by the loss. As if, “Oh, I planned on losing that money” while cringing. After Vegas, we headed over to the Grand Canyon. The views, the air, and the overwhelming since that change was coming, captivated every part of me. I was headed for home.
My last stop was an overnight in a historic hotel in downtown Durango. We popped in for a quick bite to eat, settled in to the hotel, and once again I began to allow my heart and mind to flow away from me. They both had an agenda, and were spurring with anticipation, excited about what was to come.
On my first day, I unpacked what little remaining items I owned that were in my car. We grabbed a quick dinner, and I dropped my friend off at the airport for him to head back home. I headed to my my new spot, and realized Denver was expecting snow the next morning: October 2, 2012.
I woke the next morning, greeted by a beautiful white dusting covering the ground, helping my daydreams become a reality.
Over the next several weeks, I made many decisions in an instant that ended up having a large impact on the rest of my time in Denver. I turned down the job I moved to Denver for, in order to start selling real estate again. I got my own place right away, (wood-burning fireplace and stellar views included). I made my social calendar a priority and began connecting with others to build community. I hit the outdoors as often as possible. I laid the very foundation I had longed to stand on… And became the person I had always wanted to be.
I quickly began to share with loved ones who wanted to hear about my adjustment to Denver: “The only way I will ever leave here is if I am going to another country. This is my home.”
The first time I went to ski, I remember my first encounter with Eisenhower Tunnel. We approached the tunnel surrounded by lush green, and dry ground. When you are almost to the end of the one mile stretch, you see bright white on the other side. As you get closer, you realize in that one quick mile your entire view changes from small-town Colorado, to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Ah inspiring, drenched with white, sun beaming down and anticipation in the air.
That was the introduction to many, many ski days where I eventually became comfortable skiing black runs. But first, there was ski school. On my first day, my three mid-western friends took to the slopes like they were part of the Olympic Gold team, and I said “Yeah, no problem, I will just learn the ropes here at ski school…with all the other 8 year olds .”
There is no greater feeling than skiing a full day, and getting back to your car, removing your tight ski boots from your tired feet. It’s like walking on air. Then, we would end up at the nearest lodge restaurant and refill our emptied bellies on stew, fried foods, and bourbon. It has become one of my favorite CO traditions.
Life quickly became established for me in Denver. There was a natural trajectory of me becoming comfortable in my own skin for the first time. I found myself surrounded by folks from Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, and also the Colorado locals. They all made it easy to feel at home. It was natural for them to have a genuine curiosity about others, and to welcome them along their own path.
Over the course of the next several years, all of the initial and instant decisions I had made, came to map out an incredible six year chapter in Denver.
That job I turned down to sell real estate again: I became the #1 broker for my brokerage.
That place I decided to snag to live alone: Hosted over 12 parties and fundraisers for the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve raising as much as $12,000 in one night for local non-profits!
That social calendar I worked to build: Were the very people who supported every endeavor I explored while in Denver. These people eventually became the intimate audience there to embrace me with each new chapter unfolding.
All that time outdoors: Welcomed me to explore parts of me that billowed over daily life and into the unknown. It was wild. It was clean. It was free.
Life was amazing in Denver. More than I had ever anticipated.
I believe there was a very sincere, part of my soul that recognized, 18 years ago, that the city was a safe place for me to live, heal and most importantly, resolve.
On a crisp spring night earlier this year, after a dinner at Union Station, a dear friend tucked her arm in to mine, and gently said “Nate, I think your time in Denver is coming to a close. You are going to see the world, and going to share your story with that world. You have had a good run, but I think you need to say goodbye.”
I gently dismissed any attachment to her statement and let it roll loosely off my conscience. So, I thought. A quick 24 hours later, I had a moment with my past. I remembered a clear connection to a scenario when I was 18 years old. It was shortly after I had confided in someone, much of my secrets (specifically of sexual abuse during puberty). It was a relief to have shared the primary subject line that was crushing the narrative that told my story.
The next morning, after sharing this information, I woke early to watch the sunrise. My soul had what I consider it’s first encounter with God. A nudge, presence, a profound key that unlocked a message: “If you stick with this, I will use your story in ways you can not imagine.” I embraced this message, and tucked it away into a sacred spot in me.
That encounter has kept me from making many harsh decisions. That moment has guided much of my path to continue to seek help, and trust that there was peace on the other side of pain.
So, fast forward to 24 hours after my friend has shared that she senses my time in the mile high city is coming to a close. The city where I found a sense of myself that had longed to be welcomed to this world for decades. A place where I found relationships that speak my language, and see my heart… I can not say goodbye. I can not utter farewell. I can not let go. I can’t not know the plan.
But, I must. I was folding clothes by my bed, and hearing her voice again “Your time in Denver is coming to a close,” merging with “I will use this in ways you can not imagine” and suddenly my emotions are a mix of gratitude (for that beautiful presence and voice to have once again returned) and deeply sad (that, by faith, I must trust that it is time for me to find a new home).
My friends attempted to put together a going away party for me, and I shut it down. I explained that I was officially partied out, and I wanted to make sure I spent one-on-one time with each of my friends before take off. Beginning the last week of July, I had 3-4 dinners per week scheduled before take off. The earnest sentiment was there, but that was one of the most underestimated decisions I have ever made. By week two, I was drained from the goodbyes, and had also just launched this very blog and podcast. Now that I am a professional traveler, let me share: When leaving the country, have ONE big party, and say your goodbyes in one night.
My last night, I gathered a small group of friends to say goodbye. All night, I was flat. I had been in go mode and prepping for a year away, with no plan b. I began to process my connecting flights, and packing, and did not trust my heart to feel the pangs of grief over saying goodbye to these people. This town. These mountains. This sacred place that has held some of the most holy conversations I have had. But, I had to say goodbye. So, I did.
The next morning, my best friend drove me to the airport (the very friend that I first came out to). I spoke quickly to fill the space and gaps… By far the hardest goodbye. He is a new father, and his son recognizes “Uncle Nane.” My investment in their small, beautiful family has me questioning how to explore a life where we are going in different directions. Damn this heart of mine, for feeling this depth. Again, I speak quickly for the entire 40 minute drive to our terribly misplaced and awkward airport. We wrap up our time together, say our goodbyes, and embrace. I am now leaving Denver. This is my exit. But, more importantly, it is my entrance.
My life has had much uncertainty. When you have to address trauma, you build as much security as you can to feel safe, normal, or even removed from the very things that scare you the most. My greatest fear is coming in touch with my full self.
I have been through hell and back on multiple occasions.
I have had to fight for my life through several dark chapters.
I have gone back to the places that have caused the most harm, and addressed them by ripping the root out of the foundation.
I have quietly suffered with suppressed sexuality, and removed most of the desires to be connected in intimate ways.
I have felt alone while in crowds of people.
I have grieved over much loss. I have celebrated over much redemption.
And with this mixture of experience, I have always kept my heart at bay.
I have done the bare minimum, in embracing my heart being set free (to roam). My sensitivity for people has caused great harm. My naïveté has left me empty.
But, my heart. My soul. It is wild. It is resilient. It is unstoppable.
It gives me these clear visions when I am judging others and says “They are going through their own process that has nothing to do with you. Let them go.”
When I am most angry at others who have placed their vengeance on me, my heart says “But, you have the power to see past this wound, and place an even greater statement of grace around this story.”
My heart says “Let me be free.” “Let me roam wild.” “Nurture me, so I can land you in the most sacred arms.”
I have left what I felt was my home. It remains what I would consider my safest city. The place, where I beam with pride. But, now I see the role of a city. Much like a parent, it provides a place for you to grow, find yourself, stumble, get back up, and then launch yourself to your new world.
I am currently sitting in my living room in my first stop of my year of travel. I am in Split, Croatia. The breeze from the Adriatic Sea is serenading my senses, and I feel at home.
The most important reality is that no foreign country, ocean, sea, or love affair will provide me the resolve I am seeking. It will come from a place deep within myself that requires exploration and a calm and steady hand. The hand will guide the heart. The heart will roam. I will roam with it, and with fear and admiration, let it roam free…. The greatest wounds have pierced its nature and now I make my home wherever I am with my heart. For now, that is through a year of travel and exploration of foreign lands. None of that will ever compare to the vast avenues of racing through every detail of all the love, peace and security that happens, when I am with myself.
Roam free. No matter where. No matter what. Be afraid of your very wild heart, and it’s ability…to roam free.
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