My Forever Came Today would describe what I felt when I met Greg, a sexy flight attendant, in April of 2004. Greg captured my heart and I was flying high on cloud nine. Who would have thought that our brief internet conversation would lead to a two-year relationship, filled with all the highs and lows of a twenty-year marriage? Gregory Wayne Jackson, Jr. and I initially met online and, after a few days of chatting and against my better judgment, I gave him my phone number. This is not to say I am a prude; I have met guys online before and have made lots of hook ups off the internet. But I generally don’t pursue men from out of town and Greg lived in Detroit. My buddies often told me that trying to do a long distance relationship is way too much work. My other hesitation in establishing anything serious with Greg was his age. He was seventeen years my junior. My God – there was only a three-year age difference between his mother and me!
Before meeting in person, Gregory and I spoke several times on the phone and had really great conversations. I found him warm, funny, and intelligent, way beyond his years. And his voice was so deep that it made me melt. I learned that he was originally from Los Angeles and that his family still lived in California. He had an eight-year-old son named Justice who lived near Greg’s hometown of San Bernardino. Justice was the Love Child Greg had conceived with a former high school sweetheart. Around our fourth phone conversation, Greg told me he would soon be traveling to Los Angeles for his son’s birthday, so we could arrange to meet then. The meeting did not happen, however, due to “baby mama drama.” Instead, we spoke on the phone again, and I tried to be a good listening ear as he explained the miscommunication that had occurred with his son’s mother.
I got a pleasant surprise the following week -- Gregory had a lay over in Los Angeles and could meet me before he had to fly out again. He was staying at a nearby hotel, so I drove there with anticipation. When I saw him, I was immediately impressed. He had previously sent me a photo of himself online, so I already had an idea of what he looked like. He was definitely cute, and I was secretly relieved that he was not as thin as he had appeared in his picture. Like I said before, I like a little thickness around the waist, and I found his thickness very sexy. There was no awkwardness when we saw each other. We fell right into a natural groove as I relaxed across the bed in his hotel room and watched television. Like Eddie Murphy’s character in the film Boomerang, I glanced down at Greg’s wide, flat feet to make a final evaluation and thought, “Hmm. Never found flat feet attractive, but this guy might be the exception.”
Greg had many traits of my previous lovers. He was freckle-faced, short, balding, and bowlegged, like Eddie. He was bossy, sang like a soul crooner, and enjoyed material things, like Andre. He was very discreet and not comfortable as an out gay man, like Larry. Just like Frizell, he was going to school and making a better life for himself. Also, he had a child, like the children I’d wanted with Judy.
I was not looking for a relationship when I met Greg. There were too many variables at play, namely the distance and the age difference. I was very logical in my thought process, but love doesn’t work by logic. Somewhere around his second or third visit, I stopped talking to any other interesting guys I’d found in the Los Angeles area. My days centered around phone calls to Greg, scheduled on east coast time. I guess what made our romance so passionate was that every time we’d see each other, it was like he had just come back from a long trip. In reality, that is exactly what it was. Greg was always coming back from a long trip. Absence is what makes the heart grow fonder, and we grew fonder of each other.
Greg loved yoga and swimming. We had a pool at my apartment building but I never used it -- I didn’t know how to swim. Greg taught me how to swim and how to stretch my body in the warm water, as we basked in the Los Angeles sun. We loved the water and it became very erotic for us. We could shower together for hours. We would often laugh about how long we spent in the shower the first night we made love; I was expecting the hotel manager to knock on the door to find out if we had drowned!
Another love we shared revealed itself in an interesting way, one cozy evening at my apartment. Gregory saw a poster in my bedroom for the movie Sparkle, and I told him it was my favorite film.
“Your big sister can't fly on one wing,” he said, deadpan, quoting actress Lonette McKee from the 1976 movie.
I was ecstatic that he had gone right into character. I responded with Irene Cara’s line.
“It's funny -- one brain in this room, thinking for two people.”
He laughed, seeing he had met his match.
“Sister, baby,” he returned, with all the passion and drama of Mary Alice’s character, “He’s just gonna drag you to the gutter with him.”
I lay across the bed and unzipped my pants. “I want you to crawl for me,” I commanded, giving my best bad boy impersonation of the Satin character, played by Tony King.
Greg crawled on top of my chest and quoted, “I didn’t drop a dime on you, but I wish I had.” He started licking inside my ear and it was about to be on. I moaned, “Dayemm -- you sound just like Philip Michael Thomas.”
Greg just smiled and said, “I should -- he is my uncle.”
If I hadn’t been lying down, I would have fallen down. Philip Michael Thomas played the character Stix in Sparkle, but was most famous for his character Tubbs on the television series Miami Vice. I will never forget his love scene with Pam Grier on that series, or his love scene with Freda Payne in the 1973 movie Book of Numbers. I had fantasized about that man when I was a teenager.
Fulfilling one of my long time romantic fantasies, Greg was the first man ever to sing to me. For a short time, he had been a background singer for Teena Marie, and he had a gritty, soulful voice that always reminded me of John Legend or David Ruffin. I used to beg my former lover, Andre, to sing to me, and he always refused. Unlike Andre, Greg had confidence in his talents. He had so much passion and a drive to succeed at all things in life. Sometimes he had issues around his self-image, but I always reminded him how attractive he was, inside and out.
Gregory was sexy. He was smart. He had tattoos and piercings, like me. He had a son who I adored. He could kick back and have a drink or smoke a blunt like a homeboy, and not go overboard with it. With him I felt chemistry and passion. I felt like I was with a man who wanted me just as much as I wanted him. Would I learn from all my past mistakes? Could I make it work where I had failed in all other relationships? With the exceptions of Judy and Eddie, all of my other lovers had been older than me. There I was, embarking on a relationship with a man almost two decades younger! I knew it was a risk, but I had to take it.
Greg did have one piece of information that he waited to share with me, something he had held back. We were sitting in the parking lot of a drug store when he looked at me and said, “I need to tell you something.”
I prepared myself for the worst. My heart was already involved, so I hoped that whatever he had to tell me would not be too devastating. I thought, “What could it be? AIDS?” At that point, I did not care if it were AIDS.
He slowly continued. “Dale, remember when I told you I was involved with the church?”
“Sure,” I responded. “You told me you went to New York last week to hear a friend preach.”
“Well, the part I left out was that I also preached in New York.”
“As in, you are a minister?” I asked.
“I usually don’t tell guys up front ‘cause it can be kind of a turn off,” he explained.
My mind flashed to all the negative experiences I’d had in my past with men of the cloth. (Most of them I purposely left out of these memoirs and saved for my next book on one-night erotic encounters.) I turned back to Greg.
“I need to know one thing,” I said.
“Does your love of God make you feel any less of a gay man? Will it impact how you relate to us as a couple?”
“Absolutely not,” he responded with confidence.
“So, you aren’t one of those gay ministers who preaches against homosexuality, then tries to have the choir director after service?”
He laughed. “Those are a lot of questions. You only get to ask one.” He leaned over and kissed me. “I am the same man you see in or out of the pulpit. But I would like to know -- when was the last time you went to church?”
I told Greg about my experiences with religion and how I had visited Unity Church. Surprisingly, Greg gradually stopped going to church shortly after that conversation. In fact, he started putting down the concept of church. Ironically, around that time, I found a church home that made me very happy. It was a non-denominational church in Los Angeles called Agape, and it welcomed and embraced all people of any religion, gay or straight. I felt at home at Agape. I took Greg to visit and he made an odd facial expression during service, saying it was a “bit much” of everything. There were times when I felt his immaturity made him judgmental.
While visiting Greg in Detroit, I ran across a video of him preaching a sermon, and decided to take it back to Los Angeles with me to watch. When Greg found the tape in my bag, he refused to let me watch it. I thought it was odd, but I honored his request. I knew he had some religious demons he was fighting, but I also believed that in time he would work through them. He explained to me that his struggle wasn’t with his relationship with God; it was with a pastor who had driven a wedge between him and his mother, one that had taken years to repair. It was then that I learned that Greg’s anger could cause him to hold a grudge for a very long time.
Overall, I felt I had finally found a healthy relationship. Greg inspired me in so many ways. I embraced the church again, after having had so many disappointments with religion. Through Greg, I also grew closer to my family. His commitment to staying close to his own made me realize that I did not keep in touch with mine as often as I should. I had become very distant from them after I moved to Los Angeles, not because I did not love them, but simply because I had become lazy about making an effort to stay in communication with them. In fact, it was during my relationship with Greg that I grew closer to my mother. She ended up in the hospital with her health at risk due to a blood clot, and Greg flew me out to Delaware to visit her. Greg himself kept in touch with my brother and sister, via emails and texts.
Visits to various members of his own family often filled Greg’s trips to Los Angeles. All of them treated me like I was one of their own. The fact that his mother and stepfather were also ministers never seemed to be a problem, and it never stopped them from embracing me. On one trip, we visited his grandmother and I saw family pictures of Philip Michael Thomas as a child. Everyone in his family teased his grandmother and me, because we both shared a love of all things leopard print. Holidays became fun family times. I think I even brought Greg out of the closet some, too. One Christmas at a crowded family gathering, he called for all of his brothers and sisters and their spouses to gather for a family portrait. Although he didn’t have to, he included me and his sister’s lesbian lover in the picture. His stepfather’s mother was shocked, but it did not bother anyone else. I was proud. I loved him so much and my heart ached every time we had to part at an airport.
I took Greg to his first Diana Ross concert and he fell in love with her when she sang “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” He got me into watching the Detroit Pistons and, although I knew nothing about basketball, I learned the players’ names and could soon give Greg a play-by-play over the phone. It became my job to describe the outcomes of games he had to miss due to his work schedule. The creative things you learn to do when you have a lover who lives two thousand miles away -- thank God for web cams and Verizon person-to-person free minutes!
Whenever we could get away together, we did. We took lots of trips, including overseas, and he showed me Amsterdam where we sailed on the canals and visited the Sexmuseum. We had fun purchasing weed from the “little coffee houses,” and we walked the red light district and waved to the prostitutes in the windows. Greg also loved taking cruises and our first cruise was to Nassau. Later on we sailed to Mexico, and included our family and friends on that trip.
The first time I visited Greg in Detroit, home of the “Motown Sound,” I had romantic expectations of a city filled with “doo-wop” tunes coming from guy groups hudled under street lamps. One night, Greg drove me to “Hitsville,” the building where Motown originated. It was late and with the building closed, I walked the yard where some of my favorite Motown artists had hung out decades before. I peeked into the windows where Diana, Mary, and Florence had become stars. However, my dreams were of a Motown that no longer existed. What I actually saw was the city of the movie 8 Mile, an economically depressed war zone where thousands of people were losing their jobs due to a shrinking automobile industry. What I found most amazing while driving through certain neighborhoods was that I would see a perfectly new home sitting right next to a house that appeared as if it had burned down during the 1967 riots.
There were times when I really felt like my relationship with Greg would last forever. Those moments were strongest when Greg’s son, Justice, was with us. At those times, I felt paternal and maternal. A huge highlight was when all three of us attended the At The Beach festival (ATB) in 2005. ATB is the annual Los Angeles black gay pride event, and it takes place over the Fourth of July weekend. I was working a booth for the LOGO network, getting the word out about the first all gay cable channel. Greg had brought Justice to L.A. to stay with us that week, and because Greg would be gone for a few days on a flight, Justice and I would have some time to bond. Justice had his moments that week, as most kids do, testing to see how far he could get away with things. Despite that, we had a good week together. Being that Justice was an Aries like myself, I understood him. We had a wonderful time shopping for a beach tent, and I let him pick out swimming trunks for his dad.
Going to gay pride with your lover is one thing, but going to gay pride with your lover and his son is the most amazing experience I’ve ever known. I felt like I was at a gay family reunion. Justice immediately made friends with the kids of a lesbian couple camped out next to our tent and Greg helped judge the sexy body contest. Even though I was required to work at the LOGO booth all day, all three of us still found time to have fun moments together throughout the event.
That night, Greg and I shook the last of the sand off of Justice’s clothes, exhausted and exhilarated from the day. After he took his bath and we tucked him in, I grabbed Greg, held on to him, and cried. I wanted to remember that day forever, because life couldn’t get any more magical than that. I had the man I loved, his beautiful love child, and I knew that together we could make such sweet music.
When we first met, Greg was in the middle of buying a new townhome in Taylor, Michigan, just outside the city of Detroit. I was moving into a beautiful single family home in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. He was there for me when I moved into my place, and he even helped me paint the walls. In turn, I flew to Detroit during a snowstorm and helped him move his belongings out of storage and into his new townhouse. He was determined to move into his new place, come hell or high water. It was a personal achievement for him and I shall always treasure that I was there to experience it with him.
We were very different in how we decorated our homes. I had photos of loved ones in every room. Besides my Supremes collection, which covered the entire living room, I had other framed posters and paintings on the rest of my walls. There was a different color for each room, and my bedroom had leopard wallpaper trim around its edges. Greg, on the other hand, had his house painted grey. He kept everything monochromatic and each room was the same color. He kept a few framed portraits on his desk, but hung no pictures on his walls. I was curious as to what decorative compromises we would have made had we lived together. However, with Greg still living in Michigan and me still in California, it was fine that our tastes were like night and day.
On the date of our first anniversary, even though we still lived in different cities, we filed for domestic partnership. I thought of it as a big deal. I framed the certificate and proudly displayed it in my, which I started to think of as “our”, home. That was a big step for me, since it was like making a total commitment to one person. Greg did not see it the same way. Although he supported the view that gay people should have the right to marry, he personally did not believe in marriage for himself. To him, our partnership certificate was simply a piece of paper that allowed me to share in his employee health benefits and also granted me flight privileges on Northwest Airlines.
We led very busy lives. He flew many domestic and international flights and was also going back to college. I was working for Paramount Pictures in marketing and promotions, but was still auditioning for projects on the side. In the beginning, Greg did not push the issue of me moving to Detroit because he knew how much I loved working for Paramount. Moreover, he was able to take advantage of certain perks that came with me being in the Hollywood loop. I remember how thrilled he was when I took him to the premiere of the movie Ray, starring Jamie Foxx. We ran into Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King, and Greg chatted with them as if they were old girlfriends.
At Paramount Pictures, I was the executive assistant to the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Promotions. One day I got the news that she was being “retired” after twenty years. As is typical in business environments, when one executive is let go and another is brought in, the new one usually brings their own staff. Such was the case in this situation. However, the new Senior Vice President was gracious and allowed me to stay for a month to look for other work before she let me go.
When he discovered my pending lay off, Greg naturally assumed that I would want to move to Detroit since I had no real ties to L.A. To be honest, I had considered it. The problem was that during the time I spent in Detroit looking into job possibilities there, I found that the opportunities for people with my kind of experience were little to none.
As my final days at Paramount approached, I resumed looking for “extra” work to make sure I had some source of income. On my very last day of work, I got a call from Christopher Gray Casting regarding background work for the television series Barbershop, which filmed on the Paramount lot. They hired me to appear in a flashback scene with a child, to be photographed from the waist down. “NO problem!” I said. Well, I arrived early the next day, and instead of entering the gate reserved for the office workers, I entered the gate designated for production workers and headed to the sound stages. “Isn’t life ironic?” I thought. “Of all places, I am here, back at the Paramount lot to work on a production, when just yesterday I was taking phone messages in an office on the third floor business building!”
I arrived on set and met the director of the episode, a sweet little woman named Lee Shallat Chemel. In my scene, my job was to stand in front of the television and block the little kid from seeing it. Lee apologized for my having to stand there, still, while the camera framed the kid's face. I joked with her and explained my days of having to stand still as a nude model. Lee found that funny, and asked me to read the lines of the kid’s father off camera, so that the child would have someone to bounce lines off of.
Before I knew it, Lee had contracted me to be a guest star in the episode. She loved my voice! She introduced me to one of the executive producers of the show, John Ridley, who added lines for me into the script. When they shot my close up that next hour, I recited my lines and received a standing ovation by the crew. Lee gave me a big hug and thanked me for being so professional.
That job was such an amazing experience and it taught me a lesson about myself. So many times, I don't give myself enough credit. I always shrug off compliments about my voice from friends. I’ve always felt that they, like my mom, are biased, so naturally they are going to say that I have talent. But this lady had never met me, and she saw the same thing in me that people had been telling me was there all along. And she gave me a chance.
That following week, I was booked as Laurence Fishburne’s photo double for the movie Mission: Impossible III. Then I was selected to appear on a reality show for the Travel Channel. I called Greg from the make-up trailer while on Mission: Impossible III and said, “Baby, can you believe it? I got laid off on Friday, then I turn around and book three gigs in a row!”
“That’s wonderful,” he said, with a lack of enthusiasm. He was trying to be happy for me, but his disappointment showed through. In his mind, a steady stream of work in Los Angeles would push me further away from Detroit.
I felt his pain and asked him, “What kind of mate would I be if I moved to Detroit with no means of taking care of myself?”
“We are a couple,” he insisted. “If I had to take care of you until you found something, at least we would be in the same city.”
“I am not going to put that kind of strain on you,” I said. “Especially since Justice will be moving in with you soon. It is not fair to you.”
After that conversation, although we had made a commitment to speak with each other every day, the issue of where I was going to live made our talks cold and brief. Things grew tense between us and our relationship quickly approached “crisis” mode. We took a few days off from each other, to think about whether or not we would be moving forward in our journey together. I began writing my thoughts about us in my journal, the journal that would later become the basis for this memoir:
March 26, 2006
He sends me an email. Then he calls. He is willing to give me more time to think, but when I ask him about flying to Detroit to talk in person, he questions why a phone call or email isn’t sufficient. My blood starts boiling and I take a breath to explain that we deserve the opportunity to speak in person. There are times I feel like I am talking to a brick wall. Yesterday it was hard not picking up the phone to call him. He has become such an ingrained part of my everyday pattern.
I am feeling the entire gamut of emotions right now: failure, anger, depression, relief, fear, emptiness. I put everything into these last two years. When we last spoke, I reminded him of all the things I loved in him. I also reminded him of all the things I know are against the success of our relationship. Greg is a physical gambler -- he likes the casinos. But in life, he plays it safe. That’s where I gamble. I gamble with life. I gambled on this relationship working. I knew the odds were against us. I know there is a seventeen-year age difference. I know he is a Cancer and I am an Aries. Every astrology book, gay and straight, said that our relationship would be an uphill climb. I know we live two thousand miles apart, but I let my heart guide me. That’s the inner gambler in me.
I gambled that he would not wake up unhappy and want to end it all. Greg tries to be mature, God bless him. He wants to be grown up, like all his older friends. He sees all the things that grown ups have and wants them for himself. He wants a house, a great job that makes lots of money, and he wants to settle down in a relationship. Only problem is, he doesn’t want to make all the sacrifices that come with having what he wants. He doesn’t want to have to work a job he hates, or live through hard times for long. He doesn’t want to deal with too much stress, or take criticism and learn to grow with a person. He doesn’t have patience. In many ways, he’s like a kid.
If you knew all these things, Dale, why did you let your heart open up? I guess it was because I really thought he was as mature as he appeared.
In an effort to strengthen our relationship, I decided to go back to school to make myself attractive to the general job market. I felt that if I had some marketing and business credentials, I could improve my chances of getting work outside of Los Angeles and outside of the entertainment industry. I set out a long-range plan and proposed that I work on my associate’s degree while Greg finished his master’s. Meanwhile, we’d do research to find a mutual city in which to live, where both of us would have good work opportunities. Greg’s response to my proposal was less than favorable. “That would mean at least another two years of this long distance relationship!” he complained.
A few days later, the shit finally hit the fan. Greg sent me a text message, saying that he was finished with our relationship and that I needed to move on and find someone who could satisfy my needs.
The way Greg had handled things kind of left me in shock for the rest of the day. I was in a state of denial at first, not believing that I would get dismissed through a TEXT message. Nevertheless, I had to admit -- everything leading up to that moment had told me to let things end.
As we approached the eve of our second anniversary, instead of celebrating, we started the process of dissolving our domestic partnership. It was more painful than my divorce from my ex-wife, Judy. I would miss Greg and also his son, who I had come to love like my very own child. Justice’s mother used to say that Justice had “two gay dads,” and she always welcomed me whenever I went to pick him up. That little boy loved unconditionally. He would wake up early on Saturday mornings and snuggle between Greg and me and watch cartoons. I loved having my little gay family. Justice asked Greg if he was still allowed to keep in contact with me, and I felt like someone had ripped my soul open.
The day I filed for dissolution of our domestic partnership, I went to the bank to remove Greg’s name from my account. While there, I ran across an interesting post tacked up at the teller’s workstation. When I read it, I cried uncontrollably. The teller consoled me, and gave me a copy to keep on my wall at home. I still refer to it whenever I feel hurt. It read:
“Sometimes, God lets you go through pain so you can withstand the weather when the storm comes. Don’t be angry ‘cause that person cheated on you. It can be for the best.”
“Sometimes, one might be too busy for you. Don’t be angry. It’s just God’s plan preparing you to learn how to be alone and love yourself. When one dies and she or he did not deserve to, don’t be angry. It’s just God’s plan to bring that person to heaven.”
I think Greg and I both saw that, no matter how we tried to tweak it, the distance was wearing on us. We wanted too many different things out of life to make our relationship work in the same year or in the same time zone. We both knew, deep down, that we meant the other no harm.
Our separation was difficult and it took Greg and me a minute to pull it together. But he and his family made a conscious effort to keep me involved in their lives. I was slow coming around, but Greg’s mom kept calling and emailing me, until I finally spoke to her. She told me, “Just because you and Greg broke up don’t mean you are not a part of this family. Do you understand me, Mop Bucket?” Greg’s mom had created her own nickname just for me.
Justice moved to Detroit that year to live with Greg, but on Father’s Day, Greg flew to Los Angeles and left Justice with me for the weekend. It was the greatest gift I had ever been given. In most of my gay relationships, when it was over, all contact ended. It was as if the other person never existed. I was so proud to have had a healthy relationship where I survived the breakup without making the other person completely disappear.