As if warm sunshine, flaming sunsets and the welcoming arms of a saguaro cactus were not compelling enough to go to Arizona, our Christmas trip to Tucson was also about John and I spending time with family.
We’re not related by blood or biology. But the bond of what started almost three decades ago as acquaintances has evolved from friendship to best friendship and now family.
I first met Eileen in 1986 at an AIDS Project New Haven volunteer meeting when we both lived in Connecticut. We exchanged names and numbers as part of joining a subcommittee, but nothing about that first interaction would give me a clue that our life journeys would be intertwined for the next 30 years.
John and I moved to Washington a couple years later, and I lost what contact I had with Eileen. That could have been the end of the story, but a mutual friend from Connecticut invited us to join him to visit an old friend he knew in Portland. That old friend turned out to be Eileen, and we officially became friends in our own right when we helped her move to Seattle the next year to join her partner, Cindy.
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The four of us did the things friends do for a while — meet for occasional dinners, catch a movie, talk by phone — but it was the holidays that drew us closer together. With all of our parents and siblings living outside Washington, we started to invent our own family traditions.
At some point, we started checking to see what the other had in mind as each birthday or holiday came up. It never felt like an obligation if one of the couples had something else to do, more like a natural consideration.
New Year’s became our special holiday early on. For over 25 years we spent most them together sharing a meal, laughing about the fun we had together, and occasionally using tarot cards to try to predict our individual and collective adventures in the new year.
Most of the time we were able to stay awake to watch fireworks erupt from the Space Needle on TV, and we always ensured the next year’s good fortune by eating black-eyed peas for luck and cabbage for money on New Year’s Day.
Through all our life changes of building careers, creating homes and dealing with the loss of our parents, we learned to define chosen family.
Armistead Maupin’s new memoir, “Logical Family,” talks about it this way: “Sooner or later, no matter where in the world we live, we have to venture beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us. We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives.”
LGBTQ people often know that wisdom best, but it’s not limited to gay people. Those not fortunate enough to know love, support and encouragement from their parents and communities have to seek out or even create their own support system no matter their sexual orientation.
The four of us were among the lucky ones. We all grew up in loving, intact families, and while each had its own particular issues, we maintained close relationships with our parents until their deaths.
Chosen family doesn’t mean we don’t love our biological family; it’s not about choosing one over the other. It’s more about surrounding yourself with people (related to you or not) who know you and love you for all of who you are.
How wonderful would it be to be enveloped by the people who gave birth to you, took care of you and stood by you in times of challenge or accomplishment and be encircled by those close friends who know you best and still love you?
Our trip to Tucson this year was one of our best holidays yet. Sure, the stunning desert beauty and break from Northwest winters fed our mood, but it was spending time with family that fed our hearts.
Ted Broussard is retired after working as a counselor and administrator in community and technical colleges. A downtown Tacoma resident, he is one of six reader columnists who wrote for this page in 2017. This is his last column. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org