Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An intervew with Aaron Suarez



Jim: Welcome, Aaron. I'm glad you could be here today.

Aaron:  Thank you for having me.

Jim:  Aaron, it is my understanding that you are the only openly gay firefighter in the Honolulu Fire Department. In light of current statistics, the odds seem stacked against you. I'm not questioning or arguing or anything like that. It just seems strange to me.

Aaron:  I agree. I don't think I'm the only gay firefighter, I'm just the only one that's out.

Jim:  Would you be willing to tell us your coming out story?

Aaron:  There's really not a whole lot to tell. Back when I was 18, my high school baseball team won the state championship for the first time in like forever. The whole town celebrated. There was a big victory party, but I decided not to go. I'm not really a party-goer. My best friend at the time kept trying to get me to go, and take his 12-year-old sister. Because there was going to be alcohol there, I refused. He kept after me until I finally got fed up and told him.

Jim:   How did he take it?

Aaron:  To say he took it badly would be an understatement. He got up in my face and started screaming at me. I thought he was going to take a swing at me. He stormed out of the house. I ended up leaving. I had to get away for awhile. Shortly thereafter I got a call from my father accusing me of trying to molest my friend. I ended up outting myself to my father who kicked me out and told me never to come back.

Jim:  Ouch! That must have really hurt.

Aaron:  It did, but not as much as losing my brother and sister. I was devastated by that.

Jim:  But that whole situation was a misunderstanding that got resolved, thankfully. I'll ask you about that later. Firefighting is one of the most stressful jobs there is. What made you decide you wanted to be a firefighter?

Aaron:  You know, I really can't answer that. I've always wanted a job where I could help people in time of need. It would take too long to become any kind of medical professional, and I didn't want to be a cop, so I guess it was the only choice I could make, since I wanted to jump right into it. I'll tell you one thing, it's a decision I've never regretted, not for a moment.

Jim:  So why the Air Force? Why not become a firefighter in your home town of Tuscon?

Aaron:  I needed to get away. All of my aunt's, uncles, cousins, and grandparents wanted nothing to do with me. As it turns out, it was the best decision I could have made.

Jim:  Why is that?

Aaron:  Well to begin with, I got more extensive firefighting training that I would have in Tuscon. Then I met my first boyfriend, Clark, who taught me so much about love, relationships, sex and candle making. Then I got transferred here to Hawaii where I met my second boyfriend, Iukekini who got me into the HFD, and finally, I met Jayson, who not only got me out of a bad living situation, but orchestrated the reunion between me, my brother and my sister.

Jim:  You told me about that earlier. Your parents were responsible for keeping the three of you apart and making you all believe that you turned your back on them, and they turned their back on you.

Aaron:  Yeah, but we got our revenge. The one thing our parents tried their hardest to prevent happened anyway. The three of us are reunited. In fact, my brother and his husband are still here in Hawaii living with us. Once my sister and brother-in-law retire, they're thinking of moving here. Also, my sister stirred up a hornet's nest when she revealed to the press about my father disowning and disinherited me for being gay, accusing me of molesting my brother and my niece and nephew. That effectively ended my father's run for Governor.

Jim:  Wow. If I ever meet your sister, remind me never to piss her off. I noticed earlier that when talking about your training, you said 'in Tuscon' instead of 'at home.' Do you no longer consider Tuscon your home?

Aaron:  No. Hawaii is my home.

Jim:  Tell me about Jayson. How did the two of you meet?

Aaron:  Would you believe we met in a cemetery? He was visiting the grave of his ex-husband Kyle on his birthday and I was visiting the grave of my ex-boyfriend Iukekini on the 1 year anniversary of his death. He started crying and I went over to comfort him. I’d seen him perform in a night club many times, so I knew who he was. Our relationship just took off from there.

Jim:  I understand you met your first boyfriend while in the Air Force. If it's not too painful for you, how did you meet Iukekini?

Aaron:  I was working at Candle Crafts Honolulu when he needed help with a candle he was making. I gave him the help he needed then encouraged him to attend the basic candle making class the following Saturday.

Jim:  Candle making? That's a far cry from firefighting. How did you get involved with that?

Aaron:  It was through my first boyfriend, Clark.  He practically lived at the candle making studio in the Arts and Crafts Center on base, until I came along. It was relatively easy to be in a relationship with him. We had a lot in common, and being roommates, nobody really questioned the amount of time we spent together. Eventually he took me with him when he was going to make candles for a fundraiser in San Diego, where he's from, and I was hooked. It was a great way to relax and unwind.

Jim:  So that led you to working for Candle Crafts Honolulu?

Aaron:  In a way. From time to time I'd go there to make some candles. If I saw someone having trouble I'd try to help them. Unbeknownst to me, the staff told the owner about what I was doing, so they kinda set me up. I helped this one lady who was having problems because she was overheating the wax. A few days later I found out that she was the owner and the problem she was having was a test. She offered me the job, got me certified as a master instructor and that's how I got involved.

Jim:  Let's get back to the firefighting. Was there any specific event that was memorable for you?

Aaron:  Yeah, there were a couple of things. I was tasked with creating a training program for the Navy firefighters on dealing with preparation for hosting a squadron of Air Force F-16s during a joint training exercise. That in itself wasn't so memorable. What made it so is that one of the Navy firefighters I had to train was my ex-best friend who started all the crap with my family. It seems that he was also gay and in the closet and he had a crush on me. I never knew. He never gave me any indication of how he felt. At least now I have closure. That chapter of my life is closed. The real memorable moment was when Iukekini and I convinced our respective station chiefs that we'd both benefit from joint training exercises. We'd get to know the HFD firefighters and their protocols, and they'd get to know us and our protocols. At that time I was still hiding my sexuality from the Air Force. I didn't want to get kicked out. After my second enlistment was up, I decided to call it quits and was discharged honorably and I joined the HFD.

Jim:  But you're not with them now.

Aaron:  No. When the first round of budget cuts came down, both Iukekini and I were laid off. We were both able to get unemployment, so we were able to keep our heads above water. It was during that time that we ran into my ex-boyfriend Clark and his new husband Danny. They were honeymooning in Hawaii. At first Iukekini was a real ass. He was really jealous. He eventually got over it. Clark had suffered a severe injury on the job which left him unable to fight fires. I can't remember how it came about, but it ended up with him and Danny meeting the owner of Candle Crafts Honolulu and opening up the first franchise, Candle Crafts San Diego. I believe that there are now about 25 franchise location around the mainland. Grace, the owner, sent Iukekini and me on an all-expenses paid trip to San Diego for a month to help Clark and Danny get the new store up and running. Neither Clark nor Danny knew we were coming. We shocked the shit out of them when we popped into the store and told them what was happening.

Jim:  I was wondering why you always referred to it as 'Candle Crafts Honolulu' instead of just calling it 'Candle Crafts' and now I know. I've never been there, so what's the difference between the Candle Crafts franchise and, say, Yankee Candle?

Aaron:  A lot. When I go into Yankee Candle, the scents are so overwhelming and intermixed that I get a headache and can't tell what a candle truly smells like. Am I smelling the candle, or a remnant of another candle's scent? Frankly, I don't understand how they can sell a single candle. Plus, all the candles of the same type are grouped together. Tea lights with Tea lights, Votives with Votives, that sort of thing. At Candle Crafts, the candles are all grouped by scent, and sealed with the exception of a sample jar so that the different scents don't mingle together.

Jim:  You mentioned helping customers make candles and teaching courses on candle making. Where does that fit in?

Aaron:  That's a good question. At Candle Crafts, in addition to selling candles, you can also buy all of the items needed to make them on your own, everything from wicks to wax to color dyes to scents, and all necessary equipment such as molds and stuff. There's also a huge studio when you can go and make the candles. You get a discount on all of the supplies you use in-house. They also have an interesting checkout system. When you make candles in the studio, there are tickets for each item you get from the retail store. You don't pay for them in the store itself. Instead you take the supplies to the front checkout counter. They'll assign you a table, punch a ticket with the time you started, and put all the slips from the store in a box for that table. It's $20 an hour to use the studio. They have all of the molds available to use, and bulk wicks at every table, so you don't have to purchase the wicks themselves unless you want a special wick. When you're finished, you go back to the front checkout counter and they'll punch the ticket for that table again, which rings up the usage fee. Then they'll scan the tickets for the supplies you used. You pay for everything all at once, instead of having to pay for the supplies in one place and the usage fees in another. Any supplies you don't use will be returned to the store. You won't be charged for them.

Jim:  That's quite a setup. Plus the classes. I can understand why people would want to go there. It sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe you can teach me sometime.

Aaron:  I'd love to. Here's my phone number. Give me a call whenever you want to get started.

Jim:  That's great. Thanks. The question is, don't you work some kind of rotating shifts? How will I know when you are available?

Aaron:  That won't be a problem. When the final budget cuts came down, my station house ended up closing. Since I was low man on the totem pole, I was let go permanently. Candle Crafts Honolulu was having a hard time keeping up with the customer demands so the owner decided to open up a satellite store here in Honolulu and hired me to manage it. If I had to give up firefighting, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. I can't help the feeling that eventually I'll end up travelling from store to store lending a hand as necessary.

Jim:  Well, that's great, Aaron. I wish you the best of luck. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I'm sure my readers will love reading about you.

Aaron:  It was my pleasure. Oh, and by the way, Jay wanted me to ask you over for dinner tonight and maybe hit the beach tomorrow. He also wants you to check out of your hotel and come stay with us. Our place has 10 bedrooms, 7 of which aren't being used, so you're welcome to stay for as long as you like.

Jim:  I'd be honored. Be careful with that offer to stay. I might just take you up on that offer.

Aaron:  Gee, what a shock. The offer stands.

Jim:  Okay. Well, thanks again and I guess I'll see you later!

Aaron:  You're welcome. As they say here on the islands, Aloha!

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