An Utter Disregard of the Potential for (and the Likelihood of) Complete and Total Ruin
first appeared in Nonsensical, December 2015
“Love is an incredible thing. And we don’t know love like we should. We always talk about ‘I have unconditional love.’ Unconditional love is—we don’t even know it. Because if a person stops stimulating us, we stop loving them. ‘You’re not interesting to talk to anymore, goodbye!’ But that real love, that love that sometimes is difficult—difficult to have—that’s that love. And that’s a confidence builder.”
Please respond when I call your name.
Kevin Childs? (Here)
Jarris Hoytman? (Here)
Alicia Simmons? (Here)
Phillip Valdez? (Here)
Gabrielle Solado (Right here)
Um, Latoya Bradbury? (Here)
Anton Mitchell (Here)
Shaquon Sutton? (Here)
Cory Thomas? (Here)
Taryn Lewis? (Here)
Kemia Caldwell? (Yeah)
Tamika Marshall? (Here)
The first time was, of course, unlike any of the other times that followed. Well, because naturally, I had never experienced anything like it before. I was completely and totally green, naive, vulnerable. Virgin.
Not yet hardened by the pangs of endings. Not yet aware of just how broken breaking up can leave a person. Since then, I have learned to remove the bandage in one quick rip rather than one excruciating follicle at a time. But damn, this first one, he was as pure as one could get. I will always remember my first one. Always. I will forever regard him as the baptismal offering which rectified the ills spilled onto and around me by parents, teachers, (and quite honestly, by my own self sabotages), as well-intentioned as we all may have been. This was the one that taught me what is really meant by the word “falling.” The one that roused parts of my being I never realized were there to begin with, parts that pulsed violently with his first breath, his first touch, and parts that returned to dormancy in the wake of his absence, where they remained for years, longing to be stirred again. This first awakening was much like the initial carrying-out of a specific physical task, not necessarily a strenuous one either, but one that, by the next day, leaves muscles you did not know to exist, sore from their being summoned. Yeah, he was kind of like that. Body, heart, and mind slowly blooming into something I will remember for the rest of my life. He was the one that introduced me to the depths of my own capacity to care for another. There was no possible way for me to know that I would end up chasing the ghosts of his touch for the next ten years of my life, with its wispy seductions and promises just always slightly out of reach, forever searching for an intimate connection with a man who would essentially be the counter to my fa— well, someone who would stay. It is no surprise then that in the weeks leading up to our breakup, which was predicated upon his leaving for college and my reactionary fleeing to the other side of the country, when he offered the most biting and eerily accurate prediction that makes Susan Miller look like Miss Cleo: “I don’t think you’re ever going to be truly happy because you don’t really stick with anything long enough to actually enjoy it.”
Alright people, I’mma write something on the board. Let’s spell it; First letter…
L… O… V… (laughter) E.
How many people know any songs about love?
Right here! Everybody!
I know a lot about love.
Tell me some titles. What’s a song?
There’s a song called love? No song called love!
Yeah! It’s by Kirk Franklin.
Alright, what is it? How it go?
It go, “Looove…”
I’m telling you!
Go ahead, go ahead. Ok. Anybody else? Is this the only song we know about love?
What’s Love Got To Do With It!
I Will Always Love You.
I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you.
I Will Always Love You!
What about any movies about love? You know any movies about love?
Romeo & Juliet!
Did you know that was about love or you saw that on TV, and they said it was about love?
Nah, I saw it.
I Used To Love Him
Several months after my 20th birthday, I sort of impulsively decided that I would move to Boston. I had just finished working as a summer camp counselor in Southern Maine and while trying to ride out the hangover of the century on the Greyhound bus to Logan International, I looked out of the window as we navigated paved cowpaths and decided, “I want to live here.” So not long after touching down at LAX, I began making plans to get back out there, back to Boston. Two weeks later, I had packed my silver Toyota Corolla with as much of my stuff as would fit, and I drove across the country to begin anew. I mean, really, in retrospect, at 20 years old, it wasn’t exactly like I had lived enough life to warrant starting a new one, but at the time, this change was necessary. I had barely graduated high school, I wasn’t in college. I was working a shitty retail job for $8.50 an hour folding deliberately stained shirts and ripped jeans because it was 2005, and people were lining up to pay money to look a hot mess. Needless to say, I didn’t really have anything keeping me in Los Angeles. My first love was going off to college to learn all about how to forget about me, and I wasn’t about to stay behind only to be forgotten. So I headed for the East Coast. After about 7 days of driving, I ended up in Boston.
After about a year of casual dating and giving goodnight kisses to whoever held my interest long enough to get one, I finally met him. It was just like how it is in the movies. At least in the way that I remember it: We were on the dance floor when I looked toward the bar, and there he was, squared perfectly in my line of vision. I made my way to the bar, in slow motion of course, while the crowd slowly parted like the Red Sea to allow for his soft “Hello,” delivered with the sweetest hint of a smile.
A few drinks and slow grinds later, we’re leaving the bar to kiss each other in the streets in front of the Crazy Dough’s near Berklee. I mean like full on face-grabbing, zero-fucks, get-a-room-already kind of kissing. A few kisses later, and we’re sharing the same bed at night, waking to make breakfast or to steal a kiss as one of us rushes off to work, while the other continues sleeping. A few rushes out the door later, and we’re buying more shelving units and closet extensions to accommodate his clothes, his things. A few Ikea trips later and we’re reorganizing our funds to pay the bills together. A few rent checks later and we’re driving down the East Coast to Florida because we hate our jobs and just want to spend every moment with each other, having fun, adventuring to wherever the currents may drift. A few road trips later, and we’re figuring out the practicalities of moving our life from Boston to Chicago so that I may officially accept the offer to attend Columbia College. A few loan applications later, and I’m realizing I’m drinking far more than I ever have, and we’re arguing more frequently than we’re used to. A few drunken arguments later, he’s sleeping on the floor of what began as my, but quickly evolved into our tiny studio apartment, because the night prior, while we were at a party, he had sex with a guy we had both just met (at said party), while I sat drinking with the hosts, painfully oblivious to what was going on in the room adjacent. A few expletives later, and he’s packing his clothes and books and taking them back to where he was living before, loading the final round of boxes while I was at work because I simply couldn’t bear to witness another man pack his car and drive away. A few very dark months later, I move to Chicago, where I would eventually find myself offering up new goodnight kisses to anyone who would eagerly reciprocate from the passenger seat of cars, in front of dorm buildings, outside of my apartment, at the Loyola Red Line station, and on the shores of Lake Michigan, ever so passionately, still in that zero-fucks kind of way. In that slow-motion, crowd-parting, running through the airport kind of way. Just like how it is in the movies.
Everything Is Everything
It should go without saying that many hearts have been broken by these hands as well, and of that I am most certain.
Ok how many people in here have ever been in love? I know none of the guys are going to raise their hands, but how many of y’all have ever been in love?
With my dog!
I know none of the guys been in—we don’t get in love, right? Oh! Let this Black man right here tell what his idea of love is; It’s not all the time we hear a young Black man talk about love. About your personal definition. Don’t tell me what Webster thinks.
Willing to do everything for that person.
Willing to do everything for that person.
Ok, everything like what? Explain. Let him talk, come on. If I asked him to talk about a fancy car, he’d be right on point. But we want to talk about love. You can do it! What do you think? If you said you loved somebody you should know why you love them right?
The way they act.
The way they carry theyself, stuff like that.
If they with they boys, hanging with they boys or whatever, and they just stand out. It’s like, sometimes it don’t even matter like what they wear or what they look like. It’s like that one you know? (Yeeaah). You know—You know that you want to talk to him because he stands out. It’s like he got a glow or something.
That’s what I’m talking bout!
I thought that was a beautiful point. Anybody else want to deal with that?
And sometimes, like when they try to act funny in front of they boys, then they get around and they say they love you, they can’t love you. Cause love, love, love wouldn’t do that.
Love is not phony.
Usually, on the party holidays (St. Patrick’s, Halloween, etc.) I find myself so stressed out about the prospect of choosing which party to go to, which invitation to accept, that oftentimes instead of making a decision and committing to only one (or if i’m feeling particularly ambitious, two), I’ll end up just staying home, very much alone, every time. On New Year’s Eve this year, ringing in 2015, as midnight drew closer, I was still rocking that super cute about-to-go-to-bed-with-holes-in-my-shirt-but-sweatpants-on-point look, catching up on How to Get Away with Murder. In any event, on this particular New Year’s Eve, a dear friend visiting from Sweden invited me to a party that she was planning on attending. And because I am never able to see her as often as I would like, I bit the bullet and headed out to the party around 11pm to meet up with her, which as it turned out, was pleasantly filled with so many other lovely and familiar faces.
However, as is usually the case for New Year’s Eve gatherings, my primary concern that evening was: “Who am I going to kiss at midnight?” I figured I could, and most likely would, kiss a friend on the cheek but like, you know, I wanted a real kiss from someone. I’m always wanting a real kiss from someone. As I had anticipated, I ended up sharing a cute, totally platonic 3-way kiss on the lips with two friends, both women, which I only note here to highlight just how non-libidinous it was. Fun was had, drinks were consumed, and that rug got cut like bad bangs. I mean, for real though. I sweated out 2014 like it was the devil’s poison, and if I’m being real honest here, it most definitely was.
An hour or so after midnight, almost as if it were a scene from some Shannen Doherty movie, in walks a man I used to know slash (kind of?) have sex with. I say “kind of” because, I mean we went on dates and made out plenty and slept in each other’s beds and got naked with one another and rubbed dicks together a time or two, but it never really went beyond that. Then after a while, without warning, he totally ghosted. I’m talking like Sam and Oda Mae and “Molly, you in danger girl,” kind of ghosted. After almost a whole summer of dates and intimate cute-as-shit hangouts, he just stopped returning my calls and texts without a single word. And then a couple months later, after I’ve already resolved to move on, we run into each other at some wack-ass art opening and he’s all, “Hey, we should hang out.” And I’m basically like, “The fuck?” So we take a walk around the block a few times and attempt to talk it out and reach some sort of understanding because clear, direct, open, and honest communication is what adults do. Or something.
Months later, because I very rarely learn my lesson, we start hanging out again. I’m cautious at first because, duh. But then, of course, like clockwork, I eventually let my guard down, thinking: “This time, I’m different. He’s different. We’re at different points in our lives and so obviously this is going to work this time. He’s ready. I’m ready. He won’t ghost again because that would be absurd.”
Except it’s not funny at all, and I was really sad, frustrated, and confused for a time because, “Fool me once…” But since I only know how to act on irrational (read: sexual) impulses, when we run into each other again at this New Year’s Eve party, I’m all like :)
So we’ve done this weird off-and-on thing for almost 2 years, and so he shows up, and immediately we’re locked into each other’s gaze in our usual manner. He does that, “We should hang out” thing and I say “Yeah, maybe return one of my calls once in a while then.” He looks surprised I’m actually calling him on his bullshit, calls me a dick, then walks away, but then minutes later we’re leaving together to go to his place where we would eventually have sex for the first time. Of course, I’m thinking: “This is it. A new leaf. A new page.” How can he not call me back after this? We shared each other. Bodies fused, without barriers (and irresponsibly so). The next morning, as he’s dropping me back off at my car, we park and we talk again. Openly. Honestly. I let him know that I wasn’t asking for his hand in marriage or for him to move in with me or anything like that. I just wanted to see him every once in a while, wanted to know what his day was like, what types of things he dreamed about the night before. He assured me, yeah, let’s do it. Let’s go for it.
I haven’t seen him since.
Happy New Year.
Ay, we’ve got some very intelligent women in here man. Do you think you’re too young to really love somebody?
Let’s take it from me, if I’m an adult and I say, “Wait, you’re too young to be in love; This is silly, you’re infatuated with him, he got nice jeans, he wearing fancy Adidas.” I mean, it might be something—I don’t know… Go ahead…
It’s a difference from loving somebody and being in love with somebody.
Well you tell me Miss, what’s the difference? What’s the difference?
You can love anybody, but when you in love with somebody you looking at it like this: You taking that person for what he or she is, no matter what he or she look like, or no matter what he or she do!
God, she preachin!
If you can fall in love you can fall out of love.
You might stop being in love with them but you is not gon stop loving that person.
Maybe sometimes they never been loved before, or they never been in love before, or they never—they don’t know what the feeling is to be loved.
Man, she poetic!
She killed it. We can end that conversation with that.
When It Hurts So Bad
As someone who is constantly falling in love, whether it is reciprocated or not, I can assure you that being in love is just as tortuous as those times when I am not in love. It's basically like all the same shit, always. And that's not my heartfelt sentimentality finally giving way to cynicism. No, it's just the actual reality of things. All things have a little bit of good and a little bit of bad. Some things are more good than bad and vice versa, but when it comes to love, it is all completely insane, and it is the one thing that will start and end a war all in the same breath.
I just bought the new Alabama Shakes album, Sound and Color and overdrafted my bank account for it because their last album, Boys & Girls was kind of another love/love lost anthem for me. And from what little I heard of this new album, I knew it was going to be a good follow up—the perfect soundtrack to this current moment. Maybe I should just put art on hold and start writing music again.
Did you know that before going to art school, I pursued a music career? I played open mic gigs and coffee shops, stuff like that. Played my acoustic guitar on the streets and subway platforms à la Tracy Chapman circa whenever that was. In any case, I don’t even know who that person is anymore, but it was totally real, and I was so 100% all about it. Maybe love is kind of like that: So real when you're in it, but looking back, you're like "LOL, bye." Like the studio apartment you shared with your boyfriend when you were 22 years old, not quite a child anymore but barely an adult, still referring to him as your “friend” when your mom asks through the phone, “Who’s that?” Trying to make adult decisions as best as you can as you realize, "Wait, did he just start sleeping over here often enough that it makes sense for him to just leave a lot of his stuff here so that…omg, does he live with me now?" Maybe it's like having an entirely different life with different people and reference points from like 10 years ago and then trying to reconcile the things you've learned since then, knowing that if you were presented with the same conditions at the age which you are now, you'd be like "Um, you need to pay half this rent, homeboy." Maybe love is growing up? And trying to do it better than you did before. Not better than your parents or their parents, but better than your 20 year old self, in all relationships, and not just the romantic ones. But like, job-related partnerships, friendships, relationships to creative pursuits. Maybe love is change. And evolution. And paying special attention to self-care. And self-respect. And being secure enough in those things that by the time someone else comes around who sort of catches your eye, you've already got all you need, so that the desire to possess isn't as strong. It's like. "I'm already doing me so if you tryna get up on this you better be doing you too, like super consistently."
I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I was raped in my last relationship. But I'm not talking the screaming “NO!” hands held above your head, forced entry, Lifetime Original Movie kind of rape. It was more complicated and nuanced than that. I didn't realize it at the time, but I knew in my gut that something about the sex we had that night felt very, very wrong. And he knew it too. We didn't really talk about it in those terms, but even if, at that time, we were unable to articulate it for what it was, we felt it. God damn, did we feel it. For what it’s worth, he apologized the next day. He mentioned how he called his best friend, crying while explaining to her what happened, trying to process the gravity of the situation. Again, neither of us used the word “rape,” but we both knew that a line had been crossed, a border had been breached, one from which we were to never return. It is only now that I am able to ascribe the proper language to what happened that night, and to be honest, what happened on many other nights prior to that one.
I've done a lot of healing this past year after that relationship. I've blamed myself for a lot of things. I've probably blamed him for far more. But love isn't blameful or resentful. It's forgiving. It's so forgiving.
So when I’m asked, “Are you ready to love again?" basically what I hear is, "How prepared are you to forgive yet another person for their hand in what you know might very well be the death of you? How willing are you to dissociate long enough to possess an utter disregard of the potential for (and the likelihood of) complete and total ruin?”
To which I reply, "Ruin me, baby.”
You ain’t said nothing man, come on you gotta say something to me man.
Really, like love right now, it’s like confusion. Like people be thinking they love somebody when they don’t really love somebody. Like, I thought I was in love with this girl, and I really wasn’t. Like now, I don’t even care about her no more!
You used her!
Ok, alright. Do you think the TV and music and all that have something to do with why people are confused about love?
‘Cause today we listen to a lot of TV and a lot of music and then, and what sounds nice may not always be right for you.
Yeah, we need to put you on a bullhorn and let you ride around Newark with this.
Forgive Them Father
I always imagined that I would eventually find that kind of Jennifer Aniston/Renée Zellweger/Katherine Heigl movie kind of love. The one where girl meets boy, boy breaks girl’s heart, girl spends some time recovering, girl eventually meets another boy with extraordinary mending powers. Restart. Clearly, I’m “girl” here. (Clearly, we’re all “girl” here.)
Actually, I guess it is very much exactly like that. It is never the forever, happily ever after kind of thing. And TBH, I’m not so sure I really want that. At least not as much as I used to. Or as much as I thought I did. As much as I was convinced I did—convinced into thinking that I wanted it? Needed it? And every time I really went for it, I totally dove in, head-first, and it was always the most stifling, controlling, overbearing, manipulative kind of encounter. My track record leads me to wonder if it is even possible to fall in love without completely giving yourself away? Without someone taking everything out of you, depleting all resources?
Girl meets boy, boy breaks girl’s heart, girl spends time recovering.
(Clearly, we’re all “girl” here.)
Even the most difficult, debilitating ones, I remember fondly after a time. For it is known that harbored deeply in all disasters, is the unwavering capacity for paralyzingly striking beauty.
What do you think?
It just happened, like, things just be going on and then like 24/7 you think about the girl and stuff like that. And then you like, if you do something wrong you like, “Do she hate me?” like, you want to know what they would think and stuff like that.
So what she feels is important to you?
Because, I want her to still love me. But, you know? You know… But see! But I know she still likes me ‘cause you know the little eye contact…
Aw, you talking about somebody you know! Yeah!
My desire for, and pursuit of any amorous partnership has always ever only been about finding a companion who is willing to receive my advances for comfort when the night falls too darkly, but one who understands the importance of negotiating the delicate balance between codependency and self-assurance in those hours where he himself finds nothing but the unrelenting night.
What do you think about love? Come on.
Yo! Yo! He’s about to give us a dissertation, the way he said that. Go head. Break it down, break it down.
Well, love is just a feeling.
When just, when you like somebody, and you want to fall in love with them.
And you just hope they feel the same way like you do towards them.
True that. Okay, okay.
Nothing Even Matters
He came from across the pond and was only in town for about a week. I learned this just shortly after meeting him. It wasn’t quite “doomed.” No, I wouldn’t say that. But from the very beginning, the expiration date was clearly labeled. The take home shelf life, somewhere around 10 days. I thought I was playing it safe by getting involved with someone whose presence in my life would be remarkably temporary, someone I would eventually have to say goodbye to unusually soon after meeting. A week is definitely not enough time for anyone to actually catch feelings. Not nearly enough time for all of the worst parts of being in a relationship: jealousy, resentment, etc. to creep up and darken the brightest corners of the union. This could actually be the most perfect love. The “Hi, nice to meet you, that was fun, see you later (but probably never again, and I’m okay with that) Biiiyyyeeeee!” kind of love. After that first night we spent together and the entire next day of hanging out, I asked to see him again. His response: “Won’t that just make everything more complicated?” My reply: “Yeah, but like, whatever right?” Him, knowingly: “Okay…”
I ended up using my frequent flyer miles to extend his trip by 3 more days. He agreed, although somewhat reluctantly because like, what? Some guy (AKA, me) was basically just like “Here, let me get you a different flight home, just stay with me for the weekend, and let’s continue to live in this blissful bubble that we’ve created but we know is ending as soon as it’s beginning, but like we both seem to be having a good time and whatever, how often does anyone get to feel like this?”
I tend to come on pretty strongly, I am fully aware of this now. I live with such emotional intensity that I have been known to scare a potential suitor off a time or two. Or almost every time. But I think even this one realized that we could fall deeply and unabashedly, uninhibitedly, with our whole hearts, because no matter how deep into it we got with one another, we knew it would all be over soon. So why not go all in? Why not simply live it for as long as circumstances allowed? This, we silently agreed upon. This was our tacit understanding, evidenced only by our mutually continued plunge.
After the first few days of our affair, the cute texting, the checking in to say hi to see how the other’s day was going, after all of his plans and booked Airbnb’s expired, he arrived at my apartment, bags in tow, ready (or not?) for the next part of his trip, the part that neither of us could have ever anticipated, the part that involved, quite severely, the very confusing and wondrous sensation that is human intimacy.
We would sleep until about 10, not leave bed until about noon, then eventually make and eat breakfast together. We walked around my apartment in our underwear, I wrote or played guitar while he worked and emailed—domestic business as usual. It was instantly comfortable, and unfathomably so. We went out in the evenings to meet my friends at art openings or to meet his friends for dinner and drinks. We would come back home, talk while we lay in bed, or fall asleep to a movie. Every day together, every night together for the briefest of moments, really. The shortest but sweetest blink.
And then came the morning where he would head back across the pond. We cooked breakfast again, this time more solemnly than before. We didn’t exchange many words that morning. If we did, it was more like “Good morning,” and “Thank you,” and “Could you pass the salt, please?” He played Miguel’s “Coffee” on repeat on his computer, and I sang Banks’ “Someone New” in my head over and over. I drove him to the airport with almost zero words exchanged between us, but there was just enough traffic to make it through Nick Hakim’s Where Will We Go, Pt. 1 EP a total of 3 and a half times, which filled the gaps of our silence perfectly. That’s when he told me that while we were still at my apartment, he had posted one of Nick Hakim’s songs to Facebook with the caption “This is what goodbye sounds like.” He got out of the car at the Virgin America loading curb and removed his bag from the trunk. We exchanged a very brief, “This isn’t a ‘goodbye’ but a ‘see you later.’” I kissed him on the cheek only because anything more would have verged on melodrama. There was no amount of lip-kissing that would transcend the intimacy that had already been fostered. We smiled at one another, and then I got back in the car. Seconds later, as I’m entering the 105-E onramp, that’s when my deep breathing became involuntarily shorter and shorter. And then it all hits me in the way that only these things can. I’m going just above 80 mph as I approach the 405, choking down sobs wondering if it is really that dangerous if I don’t pull over? What if rather than slowing down into the curve, I sped up? I mean, what a note to end on, right? What a way to go! The perfect sensation, should it be my last. I eventually make it home, crawl into my bed, where I would stay for the rest of the day and night, not rising until the following afternoon.
What had just happened? It was only a week, with the best parts toward the last 3 days. How did I end up feeling like this all over again? And he tried to warn me. He really did. He knew of the risks all along. But I wouldn’t listen. I never do. Not when there’s life to live. Not when there is an opportunity to experience such an absurd affection with equal parts torment and idyll.
“Won’t that just make everything more complicated?”
“Yeah, but like, whatever right?”
Clear, direct, open, and honest communication would be to actually sit with him and let him know exactly how I feel rather than sending drunk subtweets, leaving ambiguous Tumblr text posts, or putting these words here, hoping that they somehow find their way to him. Maybe it helps to simply get it out. To tell someone—anyone—who is, if not at all interested, then at the very least, willing to listen. “If a tree falls…” amirite?
It began as they all do: a series of psychosocial projections onto a person with whom I had no prior contact, thus deeming him attractive. (Right Swipe.) I imagined what kinds of things he was into, if my friends would like him, if I would like his friends. Did he have only a few friends that he held closely? Or did he have an expanded network of loose, casual connections? Would he be okay with me needing space, time away from the relationship to hide away in hermit-mode, recharging my batteries, while being secure enough to know it isn’t so much about wanting time away from him as it is needing time for myself? Could I actually learn to allow him enough space to pursue that which fulfills him without feeling resentful of those things? Those people? Was he Team Igloo Australia or Azealia Banks? You know, all the really serious, important stuff. But of course, we would have to meet IRL first. Unfortunately, there wasn’t (and still hasn’t been) any “It’s A Match!” notification, but his IG handle was in his profile. So I followed. And he followed back. Thirst-trap set. And I was caught.
Him: Posts photo of Claes Oldenburg sculpture.
Me: Posts rare selfie.
Him: Posts anything.
Me: LIKE, LIKE, LIKE, LIKE!
We trade Likes for weeks without ever meeting, and I didn’t dare slide into those DMs. I opted to live quite comfortably in the land of projections—a blank space for me to lay bare all of my insecurities and hangups on a person who is most definitely unaware that I am thinking about him as much as I do, or looking at his feed more times a day than I would care to admit.
Months went by, and I had long ago resolved that he would just be “one of those guys I know from Instagram.” But then, one night, we ended up at the same party. I’m pretty sure I saw him first. I immediately recognized him and was surprised by how tall he was and just how beautiful he was in person. It wasn’t one of those “You looked better on MySpace” kinda things. He was actually, exactly as he looked in photos, which happens to be a 21st century rarity. I panicked. I looked away. Tried to be at the party and continue to act as if the love of my life hadn’t just entered the room. But it was too late; he had. And as far as I was concerned, besides me, he was the only other person in the room. And he was now walking toward me.
He introduced himself, we talked casually, but it was totally over: I was at once smitten and completely heartbroken, because I knew from here on out, it could never be as sweet as it was when he was a flat, two-dimensional glow on my iPhone. Meeting him was now rounding out his person. I could no longer use a static image of him as a vessel for containing all things desired—things I believe myself to lack.
We exchanged numbers, and I began to lay on the charm and pursue him as I would any other romantic interest. But from the beginning, it always felt... different. I was always so scared, unusually shy around him. For some reason, I couldn’t treat him the way that I treated the other guys. As much as I hate to admit it (because I thought I was somehow above it all), my other romantic pursuits were, unconsciously of course, always rooted in obtaining something, a conquest of sorts, possessing the other as my partner, my boyfriend, essentially, mine. But this one was different. Each time I tried to flirt with him or make my desire for him known, it came out fuddled and awkward and clumsy. Graceless. In the past, I had always gotten the guy by laying down a certain amount of suaveness. There was something really special about this one. I think he saw through my shit. And I couldn’t quite figure out how. So curiously, I kept coming back. I kept texting. I kept answering his calls. We kept hanging out. Eventually, we found ourselves in the middle of an artistic collaboration that necessitated contact with one another every single day for about a month. From the outside, I’m sure it looked just like any other friendship. But on the inside, at least on this end, I was fascinated, enamored, completely enchanted by a feeling that in my 10 plus years of chasing The High, I had never experienced until now: The utmost fulfillment from a severely platonic friendship between myself and another gay man.
I learned to trust and care deeply for someone with whom sexual contact was never promised but definitely ever-present in the realm of possibilities. I learned to open myself to a different kind of intimacy, to be vulnerable with another man to whom I held no obligations and who was not obliged by me. Our loyalties were always, first and foremost, to ourselves. And the other was made quite aware of this by our mutual relaying of tales of sexual and romantic companionship with other men. And we took care of each other by reminding the other to take care of himself. No jealousy, no resentment, just openness and sincere investment in the other’s well-being. True and perfectly unconditional love.
Something was definitely in the air the night we ventured to the building that housed a suite of artists’ studios, one of which used to be mine while I attended graduate school. We scaled the side of the building and sat on the roof while we had what I believe to be our first real conversation after many months of friendship. He listened intently while I cried about how I was raped in my last relationship, about how I was verbally and emotionally abused in the relationship prior to that one, and how I am exhausted and deeply saddened by my repeating of these patterns. I listened while he confided in me regarding things from his past that would be amiss and irrefutably irresponsible of me to mention here. But the truest words he spoke that night still ring in my ears on nights when I am confused about what our relationship to one another is—on days when I am unsure as to whether or not I want to reveal all of this to him. His words, offered on a rooftop, well after midnight and sunrise just hours away: “Maybe we could be good for one another, help each other to heal and break away from repeating old patterns.”
True and perfectly unconditional love.
He is aware that I am working on this writing. He is familiar with the source material from which I borrow. He knows of the subject matter, its formal structure and presentation. After all, I was sitting on the floor of his apartment while I wrote, through glossy eyes, of saying goodbye to the boy from across the pond. So when he asked “Who is ‘Doo Wop’ about,” I told him, without hesitation, “It’s about some guy who fucked me raw after some New Year’s Eve party and then never called me back.” And in that moment I wanted to say “Guess who ‘Tell Him’ is about.” I wanted to explain how I still think about our conversation on the roof. I wanted to let him know all about how I found his Instagram not through mutual friends but because I Swiped Right. I wanted to admit to him that when I exasperatedly rested my head on his knee once, the way he comfortingly rustled my hair in response just about killed me. But I hadn’t finished writing this section yet. I was still in the middle of constructing the bridge after the second refrain. I was still processing the meaning of all of this—processing the reality of our situation and not my desires for, or projections of it. I wanted to tell him what I hadn’t yet known—what I could only possibly know after, and only after, it all ends. Because it always does, and it always will. I wanted to tell him:
“I love you. And it’ll be alright.”