What’s Lemon?

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Are you lemon? Am I Lemon?
By all counts yes – I am a Lemon!
Have you ever been asked a question in regards to what you wanted to be when you grew up and never had the ability to answer it? I had a dream once – that I had a united family filled with love, a home, a bunch of friends. I even dreamt of being an educated fool with a professional career and hopes in athletics. This was just that…a dream.

Growing Up In Survival Mode
I grew up in a country that at some point was united…and I can still recall most of my memories of my childhood. The country where I was born it self was like any other, or so I thought—that is until the 90s. Conflict emerged…we began a war on people.

Ethnic Cleansing…war zone, conflict (whatever you wish to refer to a crimes committed against humanity) – that killed your loved ones, friends, neighbors, conflict that took lives of innocent children and dignity from most women by being raped…all while traumatizing all of those who survived. This was my childhood and I can’t deny that it was anything but normal or relatable to every day people. It was a devastating place to be during my most vulnerable stage of development—my ability to learn how to build bonds of any kind. Survival mode, these words mean just that—learning how to survive under the most stressful circumstances. There was no room for love, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, or any type of happiness…

80s Kids Are Still Cool
As an 80s child, I was old enough during this conflict to understand that humanity can be cruel and unkind; seeing firsthand that humans are fully capable of brutalizing one another. Conflict never escapes, us but we must escape it.

Survival Mode
You see my family was just small, casually as someone would say. We moved from camp to camp, slept on the cold wet floor next to 40 other misplaced souls, got a single meal in if we were lucky… all while trying to stay alive long enough to make it to safe place.

What’s A Safe Place?
Your family? Wilderness? Crumbling house walls? I had the belief that as long we are in numbers we are safe.We made our way through check points, airstrikes, sniper fire, mine fields, bus raids, and hundreds of freezing miles trucks made through woods to make it to safety. Finally, after months of extreme weather, trucking and sleeping outside in tents (all while wild animals attempted to get in)—we finally made our way far enough to find a shelter. It was a home that I would refer to as “living room of hell.” It was an abandoned home where we took shelter. This should have been a safe place but this was furthest from the truth…I was 9 years old and watching my father trade his soul for a bottle of booze to cope with situation we were in, which turned him into an amateur boxer who challenged anyone in our household to nightly matches. There was nowhere to go but to fight it out every night for a decade. In these nightly matches I was certainly on the losing unless I managed to run fast enough through a door or window. Maybe, just maybe, you had the opportunity to have a cold but peaceful night. I spent many nights outside just looking up to the clear sky filled with all the bright stars and just wondering “what is it like to just be a peace?” I went out of my way to get the skills I needed to defend myself. It took me 10 years to get to this point, and by then I got the opportunity to get on a boat and get fresh new start.

The Boat Ride
“Boat ride” is the reference many use for refugees coming to States. We got that boat ride in the early 2000s. Only it was on plane.

Single Possession
The plane just touched the ground as we were landing. I remember the feeling, smell, and one single item I held onto so tightly—an English dictionary. It was a school book I decided to keep. My English was 3rd language and I was learning under candle light and on my own, by now I had broken English. Thanks to 2 PAC and Coolio, who had something to do with this as well.

Opportunity & Culture Shock
The instantaneous focus would have been to restart by jumping into education, development of work skills and language. While my mother worked multiple jobs, my father continued to prefer bar hopping as a “career” and boxing matches as hobby. There was no law, no social worker, no hope, no willpower left for his soul. He gave up…or at least that’s how I saw it. He gave up on his family and himself. My sister and I focused on school. We adjusted and even made a friend or two in few months. I spent most of my free time running on golf courses—year round, every single day. Running was an escape that gave me feeling of freedom from everything. (Last escape from physical beatdowns).

My Life Changed
One early morning,  I was running up this never-ending hill only to stumble to a water fountain with my tongue dragging behind me. A blond man with bleach blond spiky hair approached me – I was stunned. Oh no not today Mr!! I think my stance changed and my karate arms were up and read, I was ready – please do not come any closer or I will drop you like hot potato with my 105 lb body.  He kept coming at me anyway -dear lord no!! Upon closer look, to my surprise, I saw he was surrounded by a group of ladies. I even recognized one from my basketball team, sigh! I just made a complete jack ass of myself. He asked, “do you want to run cross country?”

My answer was of course “No,” all while I was storming off and away as fast as I could! What a way to make first impression. I have lacked by this point some serious social skills!! This stubborn man called my house for days now and only reluctantly did I agree to show up for practice “in basketball shoes.” Everyone laughed at me as boys and girl JV and Varsity teams were there.

Long Story Short
I got a full athletic scholarship to Brown university all for being able to run and run fast! My dream was about to become reality. I was going to be an athlete and a collage educated human. Wow here it goes, Well not so fast – life had different lessons first in mind and handed me Lemon! That’s how I see this experience at this point of my life. 15 years later and here we are . I still recall day when I left for college only to get calls from home – my family was drowning and they couldn’t swim. Drowning, that is, in life. I made a choice the day I got the call and dropped out of college. I got on a bus and came home and confronted my father  after 10 years and made decisions to get my siblings out of this situation and give them opportunity to live free.

New Life
I came out to my family in my early 20s soon after we relocated out of state. I joined the military, which was a short lived train ride thanks to don’t ask don’t tell. Nowadays that’s long behind us. Everyone welcomed my wife with open arms, everyone is still close by, my second sister and her husband are having their first child, and my baby siblings are (13,15 years younger than me) all grown up and in college. Here I was as our only gay family member, college drop-out, discharged from military…an individual in all of my glory. That is what life has given me—an opportunity to have a partner that loves me, family, and few good friends. I did learn how to be social after all. Family that accepts me for everything I currently am and everything I didn’t become.
Am I a lemon? By social standards and on paper -yes!
But the right question is “who wants margaritas?!”
Because I sure know how to make one hell of a mean margarita from all the lemons.

Moral of the story: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I still endure the pain, only now it’s a different kind of physical pain in the form of Spartan races, and marathons. I’m still learning to love humans, one human at time, and certainly live my life as I dreamt of ..finally free!