When were you happiest?
What moments in your life filled you with total joy?
You’ve had enough time to think about it.
Now, in ascending order tell me, what’s your Top 10?
Go on. I’m waiting!
What? You don’t have a Top 10? Well, I do.
With all the negativity and anger dominating the news, conversations, and social media, I recently found myself thinking about happier times. When, I thought, was I my happiest? What events, which days filled me with total glee? I began making a mental list. It didn’t take me long to realize it probably was not like other people’s lists; I never married, had children, became a grandparent, or bought a house, all milestone moments in people’s lives. Other events many people might include that I did experience, like graduation from high school and college or retirement, were met by me with mixed emotions, not pure happiness, and, therefore, were not considered.
What, then, were my happiest experiences, moments, and days? Like I said, in true Tom fashion, I made a Top 10 List. But, alas, there is a problem; WordPress, apparently, does not allow numbering in reverse order. When I assign the first moment “10,” the system automatically assumes the remainder of the list is 11-20. Therefore, the list is not numbered. Remember, the first moment is #10 and the final one, the last one at the bottom, is #1.
Tom’s Top 10 Happiest Moments
*OK. I’m going to start by cheating. In 10th place are three related events, three sports championships. One probably was the first time I experienced post-childhood total happiness. I was 17 and my high school’s football team won the city championship. I played no role in their achievement other than holding a megaphone, donning saddle shoes, and jumping around a lot. But in the small world of a 1960s teenager, that championship was a big fucking deal! That level of joy was repeated years later when, in 1978, the Seattle Sonics won the NBA title, and, more recently, when the Sea Hawks won the Super Bowl. I celebrated those professional sports titles in the streets with the masses, acting as if championships create world peace, cure the common cold, or end world hunger.
*My first novel, Completing The Course, was published in October 1997. My heart raced and soared when I, for the first time, held a copy of the book in my hands. I remember swallowing hard, fighting back tears, and thinking, “I’ve waited 25 years for this moment.” It was the closest I have come to experiencing fatherhood.
*The day I was hired by the Seattle School District was a happy one. My joy was blended with excitement as I sensed this was a life-changing moment, which it turned out to be. I had innumerable positive experiences and developed countless memorable relationships during my 22 year career, but, in hindsight, I believe the happiest moment occurred when a well-liked special needs high school student with severe cerebral palsy was elected Nathan Hale High student body vice-president. It had been a five-person race with several popular, qualified, experienced candidates running, and I worried Sean would be painfully disappointed and hurt by the outcome. But he won in a landslide. When he was named victor—it was done in an assembly—his uncontrolled joy, the prolonged roar of the students, and my happiness surged to 11 on a scale of 10, as did my pride in those Hale students.
*AIDS brought enough sorrow to my life to drown the Pacific Ocean in broken-hearted tears. The 1980s and 1990s were a sad, difficult time. Friend after friend disappeared from sight, then the world, but not the memory. One friend from the 1970s moved to Chicago for work. I saw him once shortly after that. Then, as AIDS spread, our communication ended. I asked others if they had been in contact with him or knew if he was still in Chicago. No one had heard from him. No one could verify his existence. I eventually obtained a computer and searched for him, countless times, countless unsuccessful times. Greg had disappeared, perhaps died. Years went by, 10-15, and it dawned on me I had always searched for “Greg,” never “Gregory.” I typed his full name into the computer and, voila, there was the public record of his recently purchased condo. In Chicago! The address and his phone number were listed. I dialed his number faster than Usain Bolt runs to the 7-Eleven for cigarettes. Hearing Greg’s voice, knowing he was alive, and finding a friend from the past brought more joy to my heart than I had felt since the first reports of a mystery illness plaguing the gay community, my community, began.
*November 4, 2008. The night Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. I never had thought I would see an African-American, a Jew, a woman, or a gay American achieve that office in my lifetime. I watched in ecstatic disbelief. Even though I had long before decided I, because of anger and frustration with US politics, would leave the US upon retirement in 2014, a flicker of hope was kindled.
*I met David Voyles in September 1993, my first day of a five-year stay at Ballard High where he was the student body president. A friendship was born that has lasted to the present. I’ve followed his life through his college years, his time as an officer in the Marine Corps, his wedding, the birth of his son, and into his career as a lawyer; he is now my Seattle lawyer. But the single happiest moment in my relationship with David occurred when he called me upon his return from Kuwait on the eve of the Second Gulf War. My months of worrying about his safety were over; he was home safe. Hearing his voice on the phone turned my legs into limp overcooked asparagus spears. My knees quivered like aspens in a winter wind and I fell into a chair mumbling, “Oh, my God, you’re home. Thank God you’re OK.” And then I couldn’t speak anymore. My Adam’s Apple was drowning. “Give me a second, David,” I managed to gulp out. Happiness is knowing a loved one is home safe from a war zone.
*We learned a bit about Mexican history in the fifth grade. Our book included pictures of ancient Aztec pyramids. I studied them in awe, but never imagined seeing them in person. Fifty plus years later, I found myself north of Mexico City dashing helter-skelter around the ancient city of Teotihuacan. I was like a toddler in a toy store. It was my first time at a world famous archaeological site and I was stoked. But my excitement and happiness did not reach its zenith until I stood atop the Pyramid of the Sun. It was an arduous climb in a single-file line forming a human millipede. And when each person reached the summit, he or she had but moments to remain and take pictures. But that moment, oh that moment for which I had waited more than five decades, was thrilling. The picture of me atop the Pyramid of the Sun captures my happiness better than any words.
*It was the 1970s. Numerous cities and counties, through legislation enacted by city councils or other governing boards, enacted laws protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from discrimination. The opposition, led by the Religious Right, immediately went to work to have the laws repealed by placing them on the ballot; they knew that at that point in time they could win a public vote on the controversial issue. First Dade County Florida fell. Then Mid-Western metropolises Wichita and St. Paul voters repealed their Gay Rights laws. Next was Eugene, Oregon. Each defeat was decisive. Then came Seattle. Initiative 13 was intended to repeal Gay Rights protections enacted by the city council. But the tide had turned; No on 13, rejecting the initiative instead of civil rights, was defeated by a nearly 2-1 margin. That election became the first public-vote victory in the Gay Rights Movement. With the first results announced on television, Seattle’s gays and lesbians and their allies sensed unexpected victory. I was at the campaign’s election night party. I felt the excitement, the disbelief. As up-dated results were announced, the happiness swelled like a Jiffy-Pop dome. The moment our victory became official was ear-splitting and redefined joy. But the single moment I remember from that night occurred as I was heading to the bathroom. I spotted two older men probably in their 60s or 70s, veterans of, survivors of pre-Stonewall, pre-liberation life. They were hugging and crying. Their faces mirrored each other’s disbelief, reflecting the ecstatic joy of the moment, of that historic, surprising moment. Those two men encapsulated the feelings everyone there was feeling. They captured the total happiness I felt. I continued to the bathroom and when I returned they were gone; I looked for them but could not find them in the crowd. I do not know who they were; I do not remember their faces. But I will never forget them. I will never forget their joy. Or my happiness.
*The War in Vietnam raged while I was in college. A draft lottery based on birthdays had been established to feed the killing machine. My number was—OK, here come the jokes—69. As a result, even though I was safe from the draft as an undergraduate, come June 1970 I was an extremely likely draftee. I, however, did not feel overwhelmingly threatened; about six months prior to graduation, I suffered a serious herniated disc in my back, an event that has continued to impact my life to this day. That legitimate, fateful injury, I believed would be my ticket to safety. One would think that being unable to bend over or run would free one from service. But, initially it did not. Medical exams failed to prove anything; the technology of the time couldn’t verify my claims. I was perceived as a lying leftist peace-nik, which I was sans the “lying.” Therefore, to avoid being drafted, I took control of the situation as best I could, hoping to buy time. I signed up for the Army Reserves and spent one weekend a month between June and October 1970 in pre-Boot Camp service. Eventually I learned I was to report to Fort Ord, California for Boot Camp on October 13. Meanwhile, I, my father, and a diligent lawyer worked desperately to get me discharged before Boot Camp began. If, I was told, I wasn’t discharged before arriving at Ord, it would be too late. Once there, the investigation and process would take longer than Boot Camp itself. I was working against a clock, ticking like a time bomb. On October 10, three days before I was to report, I met a military doctor at Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Hospital. Upon examining me, he looked my directly in the eyes and said, “Son, you have no business being in the Army.” Contained, restrained happiness surged through my innards. But I had to wait for forms to be completed and my return to my car before I could release my pent up joy. Once in my car, I fell apart. I cried uncontrollably. When I finally got my shit together and drove off, I had to fight off frequent bouts of vision-blurring tears while driving on I-5. I knew it wasn’t wise driving under those conditions, but 1970 mid-day traffic was thinner than Donaldt Rump’s orange hair. Besides, I didn’t care about my blurry vision or the number of cars around me. I was free of the fear of dying in a pointless war. And I was HAPPY!
*January 29, 2012. Vancouver, B.C. I sat in the 20th row at a concert. I had waited since I was 14-years-old for that moment. As a Jomo, a Jewish homo, I was in music-pop culture-show biz heaven with my goddess. Barbra. I was seeing her. In person. I was hearing her voice. LIVE. Barbra Streisand. For two hours, nothing else mattered. Everything in life, in the world, was perfect. Can anything top that level of extreme rapture? I doubt it. That was my happiest moment.