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Topher Payne: A wedding anniversary becomes a milestone for the whole family

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

This story starts with the ending. Mama and Daddy celebrated their 40th anniversary last weekend — impressive by any standard, and even more so when one considers the fact that they were 19 and 20, respectively, when they eloped.

Neither statistical odds nor conventional wisdom was on their side, but they grew together and built a life. Not every leap of faith has that kind of payoff. It is a moment worth celebrating.

I called with congratulations. Mama said their shared hope is that my sister and I will build equally strong partnerships with our husbands. That was the term she used, “Your husbands.” Mama made no distinction between her daughter’s marriage and her son’s, and both were lumped in with her own. Marriage equality has been achieved in the Payne family.

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Melissa Carter: Vision, vanity and breaking my streak

My avMelissa Carterersion to wearing glasses comes from sibling rivalry. My older brother and sister needed glasses young, so this offered a challenge for me to see how long I could go without them. At 42, I still pass my driver’s license test without my glasses. But barely.

I am near-sighted. I think. Much like the debate over “affect” or “effect” seems to commence whenever either word is cautiously used, a similar confusion occurs whenever one gives an eyesight diagnosis.

I can see things near me, but the detail of things far away is blurry. I have a prescription for this condition, but find I only use these glasses in dark places, like a movie theater or driving at night.

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Topher Payne: Using old talents in a new medium leads to the birth of a salesman

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I’m really into bricks lately. The gateway drug was tearing the wooden steps off the back of our house and building the new ones myself. Standing at the base of my beautiful brick steps, I felt a surge of pride not unlike what the Egyptians must have felt when they completed that first pyramid.

“Ah, yes,” they/I thought. “Here is a thing I did which will last the test of time. Now, let us see what Cleopatra is up to.” Only when they said that last part, they meant the real Cleopatra, not obsessively Googling for more leaked images of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, which is what I meant. But I can assure you, our devotion is identical in every way.

Anyhoo, the back steps led to a retaining wall, which then caused drainage problems requiring a second retaining wall to reroute the flow. And now there are plans for a patio. I can only haul a certain number of bricks in my car at one time, so I make lots of little trips to Home Depot, stopping by after work to pick up a load like one would grab a gallon of milk — only much, much heavier.

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Melissa Carter: We can help bridge the gap between past neglect and future stability

Melissa CarterI think we’ve made great progress with Trevor. Our first foster dog, this GoldenDoodle was found on the streets of Alabama and sent to Adopt A Golden Atlanta.

A few years ago, we adopted our dog GiGi from Adopt-A-Golden. They asked that we foster Trevor and try to get him more comfortable and emotionally healthy so he could one day soon be moved into a loving and permanent home.

When Trevor came to us he kept his distance, literally. We let him out in our fenced back yard and that is where he stayed, choosing instead to sleep outside the first night. He wouldn’t let us pet him and showed his teeth to our other animals when they came too close.

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Melissa Carter: How can we help LGBT youth be not only out, but proud?

Melissa CarterIt seems that suicide is spilling into our headlines more than ever before, with another gay teenager falling victim to this tragic trend a couple weeks ago.

Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. of Iowa took his own life at the age of 14, after being tormented by classmates for his decision last month to come out. His mother told The Washington Post that Kenneth quickly became the target of threatening cellphone calls, voicemails, and online comments.

Kenneth was a popular kid in school, but only when classmates thought he was straight. Once they learned his truth, Kenneth’s peers quickly turned on him and that rejection led to his death April 15.

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Topher Payne: Travels with my aunt, preparing me for the journey ahead

Playwright and writer Topher PayneI was sitting in the front seat of my Aunt Merry’s big blue Cadillac, freezing. It was April in Mississippi, already in the high 80s, but that luxury automobile had killer air conditioning. I sat silently, odd for me even at age 12, watching the goosebumps rise on my arms. The knot in my stomach was growing exponentially. By the time we got to her house, it would weigh a hundred pounds and I would be unable to rise from the blue leather seat.

“You’re quiet,” said Aunt Merry. She phrased it as an observation, not as a concern.

“I’m just sleepy,” I said, watching the pastures race past the window. She always took off like a rocket when we turned onto Military Road, because encountering another car was such a rarity. Maybe the occasional deer, but she had one of those repellant whistles mounted to the hood of her car to keep them from running into the road and messing up her Cadillac.

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Melissa Carter: Faith and letting go

Melissa CarterFaith is trust in something unseen. Basically you willingly accept lack of control of a situation and simply let life play out on its own. You let go. That can be an easy concept on an emotional level for many, as our society encourages us to deal with experiences from our past, let them go and move on.

However, to physically let things go is an entirely different matter. It’s all well and good to say goodbye to a bad feeling, but giving up the souvenirs of a time gone by is the ultimate hurdle. Whether it be an overexposed photograph of your siblings or that cumbersome futon couch from your first apartment, throwing them out feels like ripping away a piece of your soul.

Just take a look in your attic or garage at all the things you intend to one day organize when you have time. You’ve actually planned to organize for years, but you just can’t bring yourself to throw out those old high school notebooks or that faded Raggedy Ann doll.

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Melissa Carter: It’s not new love we should celebrate

VMelissa Carteralentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love — or at least the idea of how love could be. We see plenty of examples of young romance on television and in movies. But I wish there were more portrayals of couples still hot for each other after years together. Those are the couples who have figured out what true love really is and remind us that sometimes the secret is more simple than you would think. 

My parents were married for 50 years until my father passed away from cancer in 2001. Their unique and touching romantic gestures towards each other began when they were newlyweds and had no money. On their first anniversary she arrived home from her teaching job and checked the mailbox first like she did every day.

Inside was a letter informing her that her gift was upstairs waiting for her. When she got to her bedroom, there was my dad waiting for her wearing a bow. My mom is in her ‘80s and this story still makes her smile and blush when she tells it.

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Topher Payne: Three questions to ask yourself that will dramatically improve your relationship

Playwright and writer Topher PayneAt some point in every relationship, you have to learn how to fight. The stereotype is that women talk about feelings and men talk about issues, but I don’t think that’s true.  In a guy-girl pairing, that just means she’ll talk about the feelings she has about the issues, and he’ll talk about the issues he has resulting from his feelings, so ta-da, now everybody’s on a level playing field. 

In our house, I’m the one who likes to discuss how I feel about things, because I think feelings are fascinating, and also because they’re handy when you’re totally in the wrong.  If you can’t argue based on fact, you can always argue based on feeling.  Because a feeling is never wrong.  And I prefer never being wrong.

But discussing the minutiae of your relationship can be a bit like describing individual blades of grass — while each is a marvel of creation, no doubt worthy of close examination, you could exhaust yourself with the task for months without covering much ground. After you’ve settled into a life with someone, you tend to look at the whole yard and determine whether it’s time to do some serious work, or if you can wait ‘til the weekend. Or maybe the weekend after that.