#121: For Zack

meandzack

Hi Zack

It’s about 9:30 at night, I’m sitting in the office on my new laptop. Jake is on the floor next to the chair. I’ve had kind of a weird day. I went out to find something to eat this afternoon and I ate a frosty from Wendy’s, and due to being diabetic I learned the hard way just how bad of an idea that was. I’m probably lucky that I’ve just had a headache, and the constant feeling that my ears are popping.

What I’ve done all day to occupy myself is very similar to what I did when I first got here, almost one year ago. I’m going through my music collection, and adding to it from your CD collection. When I first moved here I was stunned at how many CDs you had, because I was convinced I was the only person who still had a collection of CDs. I imported way more of your music than I ever actually got around to listening to, though I have discovered quite a lot of new artists since meeting you.

The day we met has been on my mind today. I guess I didn’t notice until just now, but it’s probably related to a dream I had last night. Last night I dreamt that I was walking into the train station again, and seeing you waiting for me, holding a book (I can’t remember the name but it was a mystery crime novel you got from the library). I don’t remember much of the dream, just the vague notion that I was there again, and I KNEW that I was there for the second time, and I thought to myself, “I have to make this work this time. I have to do this again, and make sure to keep my job, so that I don’t have to go back to my mom’s house.”

Hold on, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, just stay with me here. I’ve been thinking about how I felt that day, when I met you in that train station. The first thing that struck me was how cute you were, and I instantly had a crush on you. In fact I was really infatuated with you for the first couple of months that I was here. On that first day, we didn’t talk very much. We didn’t know what to say. You didn’t know how to start the conversation and I was so overwhelmed that this was ACTUALLY happening, that I didn’t know what to think. I remember us walking to the parking garage and loading my bags into the car, and I remember the drive on the highway. We were listening to one of the rock stations on Satellite radio. It was the first time I’d heard Stitched Up Heart. I know we eventually started talking, I just don’t remember much of what it was about. I remember poking you. Partially it was to get a conversation started and partially it was just because I wanted to touch you.

I remember when we pulled into the garage for the first time. I remember that you told me to wait while you brought the dogs out to meet me. While you were inside the house I noticed a snow shovel on the wall. I kind of smiled, because I realized that we actually lived in a place where real snowfall was something to be prepared for, because I’ve lived in the south my whole life and it’s never been much of an issue. It also struck me that I was suddenly in “the north,” and even though it’s debatable whether or not Delaware is considered to be a northern state, I was so relieved to have some distance between myself and the south. The place I grew up, where people had thick accents and chewed tobacco and churches littered every corner, and you got funny looks for doing anything even slightly atypical. A place where I had to keep my head down and avoid eye contact.

I remember when the dogs rushed out into the garage and jumped into the trunk of Robert’s car, sitting on my luggage. I remember when I first walked into the house I was so impressed with how spacious the house was. I don’t remember much else about that first day, except for Robert coming home and how I didn’t really know him as well as you, so I wasn’t sure what to say. He seemed a little more serious than you, and I think I might have been a little afraid of him. I found him intimidating for some reason, but it was probably just because he’s a little more reserved.

I don’t remember much else about the first day here. But I have all sorts of memories about the first few months. I remember that something happened which I didn’t expect. I kept having these emotional breakdowns, and I didn’t know why. I would go off at any little thing and just start crying, I took any excuse to dramatically storm out of the room and run into my room crying. Every time, you followed me. You held me. You promised me it was alright now. That I never had to go back. I told you how afraid I was that you guys would get tired of me and send me back. You promised me that wouldn’t happen.

Stop it, don’t start feeling guilty again. I’m really not trying to guilt trip you here. I’m just telling you what I remember.

I remember getting a job at Barnes and Noble and being so excited, and I remember the horror as my excitement turned to anxiety and I started having panic attacks at work, and before work. I had trouble going to sleep, sometimes trouble eating. On Thanksgiving I couldn’t concentrate all day, and I ended up walking outside and sitting on the porch, eventually just laying down on my back and trying to breathe. I realized that working at Barnes and Noble was too stressful for me, that I needed to find something else, that I needed some kind of office job. I remember the immense relief when they fired me a few days later. I really was upset about it, I was being genuine when I told you I was upset, and it was because I didn’t want to disappoint you. But I was very relieved that it was over, and that I could crawl back into bed where it was safe, that I didn’t have to go back there, to a place where I felt like I was in chains.

I remember the excitement of getting hired at Avalanche, and how proud you both were of me. One of my favorite memories is when we were setting up the Christmas tree in the living room, and we baked Christmas cookies while we were watching the Simpsons. I often go back to that memory when I need to feel stable and safe, and have hope for the future. I remind myself that there can be more times like that night, and I can feel as safe as I did then. I remember getting used to the routine of driving to and from work every day, and truthfully I never got used to working 45 hours a week. It was so MUCH, even if I wasn’t doing very much work. I had never had that kind of responsibility before, even if it was an easy responsibility.

I think if I tried to describe all of my memories from all the trips we took to meet the other people from the Patreon group, I’d be rambling on for pages and pages about it. But my favorite thing was always the beginning. I love road trips. I love them even more with friends. I’ve had so few opportunities to go on road trips with friends. I love stopping at the gas station at the beginning, getting supplies, choosing CDs to listen to on the trip, I even love falling asleep while you’re driving. I love listening to you sing while your favorite music plays, even if some of the heavier metal is kind of indiscernible to me.

I felt safe. I have always been safe with you.

It got harder when I quit Avalanche. Looking back, it’s such a big regret of mine. Because at the time I genuinely thought that I could make it without that job. I wish I had understood then how important it was for me to have that job, for me to have something full-time, and I wish I knew then that office stress was MUCH easier to manage than retail stress. I wish they had hired me back when I applied again, and when I called and called. I’ve probably called them at least once every month or so. No matter how many times I call the managers, none of them pick up their phones. I even left one of them a handwritten note at the front desk once, but never got a call back. I tried texting my old manager but he stopped responding. There was just no hope of getting the job back. And yeah, it wasn’t the best office job. I wish I would have immediately set my sights on finding another office job, or going to a temp agency or something.

I wish a lot of things. But it did feel good to leave Avalanche. And it did feel good to start working at Staples. Admittedly the feeling didn’t last very long. I remember the stress building and building, becoming worse with each failed attempt at a job. I tried working at two stores for Staples and I still didn’t have enough money, I tried working full time at the pawn shop and I was absolutely miserable. I moved back to my mom’s house and I missed my family so much, my real family, you and Robert and the dogs, and the sloths. You welcomed me back.

Letting me come back means more to me than you can realize. Even if it only lasted a couple of months, the fact that you welcomed me back home when I asked, that’s something important. It shows me, looking back on it, that you weren’t afraid to take another chance on me. That you were willing to put yourself out on a limb for me.

This recent job hunt didn’t work out much either. I got the job at Target and hated it, but I tried not to complain to vocally, because I didn’t want to upset you guys. I know how tight money was getting, I know that I was becoming a burden on you. I know that in one year I’ve paid rent maybe three or four times.

I just want you to know that I never intentionally used you or Robert. I never TRIED to live off of you. I will admit that there were many times when I knew the two of you would be forgiving, and that you probably wouldn’t make me leave if I fucked up, so I didn’t always make the best choices because I knew you could be counted on to pick up the slack. That was abusing your kindness and your trust, and I’m sorry. I truly am. I guess I didn’t realize how fucked it up was that I did that until just now. But please understand that I wasn’t trying to live off of you, to be a leech. I just knew that if I failed or gave up, there was a good chance you guys would take care of me in the interim of a few weeks while I searched for something new. I fell into a pattern, and it was an unhealthy one. I started using you in the same way I’ve used other people: my family, and at least four ex-boyfriends that I can think of immediately. I have always trusted other people to take care of me when I can’t take care of myself.

I told you earlier today that I’ve come to the realization that I seem to need to be parented. It happens in relationships and in friendships. I need for someone else to be in control, and to have a steady grip on things, someone I can rely on. I think this is because of how unreliable my own parents have been. One of my biggest fears when I was a teenager being shuffled from house to house was that I didn’t know where I would lay my head down the next night, and I felt that the reason was because I had a mother who didn’t, or couldn’t, love me.

And that’s really the thing. You saved me. Robert saved me too, but it was you who took the first step, you who reached out to me, you who listened, and you who suggested that I might be able to stay in your guest bedroom. You asked Robert. You paid for SO much. You bought me food, and you bought me a car, you got me set up, you put me on my feet, and you hugged me and held me whenever I cried and told you I was afraid.

You promised I would never have to go back.

And I’m not going back.

That’s the thing. Right now, because of the situation, I’ll need to move in with my mom for a short while. I’m hoping it will be only a few months before I figure something else out. But I’m still not going back.

I’m never going back again, to the place I was when you met me. I’m never going back to being that terrified boy, who had no one in the world he could trust. I’m never going  back to that place of desperation and fear.

Because I have a home now. Because I have love now.

Because I have a FAMILY now.

You made good on your promise, Zack. I never have to go back to where I was when we met. I never have to go back to being afraid that there’s no one in the world who cares about my well being. I never have to worry that I can’t have a loving family who cares about my thoughts, my feelings, my voice, and who encourages my talent and my future.

No matter where I go, you are a part of me now. No one can take that away from me. Not my mother. Not my father. No distance can stop the way I feel about you and Robert, and no distance can stop this house and this atmosphere from being my home.

I wish I didn’t have to go to my mom’s house, and I know you do too. I’m afraid. I’m not so much afraid of what she’ll do (I have plenty of experience deflecting her vitriol), the thing I’m most afraid of is that I might, unforgivably, for even a moment, forget you, or forget how I feel being here, forget my home, forget the love I have here. I fear that I might give in to despair for just a moment and forget how many people love me, and how many people encourage me and want the best for me. And the truth is, a large part of that is because of you. The sloths have opened their hearts to me because they’re wonderful people, but if not for your bold act of kindness, with no expectation of reward or returned favor, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet them, at least not when I did. I wouldn’t have had this year with you.

It’s funny, so much terrible stuff has happened in the world in the past year. I always pause when I see people saying things like “I just want 2016 to be over,” and believe me I identify with them and I’ve said it myself. But truthfully, despite all the trials I’ve faced over the past year, I’m glad that it was here, with you, and with Robert. I’m glad that I had you to come home to. I’m glad that I had you to show my music, my writing, and my ideas to. I’m glad that you listened to me ramble about my interests, and that you shared your interests with me. I’m glad that you cared about me, that you guarded me ferociously when you found out about my blood test results and came to the doctor’s office with me to help me make sure I understood my diagnosis and what to do next. I’m glad that you took me with you to so many place, to concerts, to gatherings, to meet your family.

I went through a period earlier this year when I felt suicidal. I think a big part of that had to with how much suicidal stuff I was surrounding myself with: I was getting really involved in Emilie Autumn’s art, which has a lot of examination of suicide, the mythology and morality questions surrounding it, and I think I wanted to identify with her, as someone who was suicidal, because it helped me to feel that I had an identity to be proud of, even if that identity was a mental illness. I know you’ve worried about me hurting myself. I can’t say that I’ve honestly not considered hurting myself, but I know that I’ve not really come close to TRYING anything. Just basically sunk into the depression and daydreamed about it. I guess I want you to know that I’m sorry if I scared you with my talk of being suicidal, and also that I don’t want you to be scared that I’ll try to hurt myself if I go to my mom’s house.

I promise, if I hit rock bottom, if I lose all hope, I’ll call you. And if you don’t answer I’ll wait until you do. And if absolutely nothing works, I’ll sell my video games and drive here with the gas money before I try and hurt myself. But just so you know, I really don’t think I’m going to hurt myself.

I wish it weren’t my mom’s house. And it is upsetting in many ways. But the thing that really makes me sad, is losing this. I know that I’m not REALLY losing it, I’m not losing the fact that I have a home and a family, I’m not losing the love I feel for you and Robert, or the trust I have in the two of you, or the way either of you feel about me. But it will be a change. It’s hard to imagine I won’t allow some feeling of dread that I’ve turned back the clock sink into me when I’m in South Carolina. But I know that I can overcome those feelings because I have you here, and I have Robert, and I have the sloths.

I’ll miss Jake a lot. I’ll miss having him in bed with me every night. I tried to sleep with Butterscotch in my bed before but her fur is really thick so petting her makes my hands feel icky. It’s not her fault. Just, Jake is easier to sleep with. I like to cuddle with him. I feel safe and comforted having Jake near me, and I think he feels the same. I’ve never really bonded with a dog the way I have with Jake. I’ll miss Roxxi too, and Apollo. Apollo is finally starting to warm up to me as much as he does to you. Roxxi’s started following me around a lot more in the last few months too. I hope they’ll be okay. I hope they won’t be too upset that I’m not here. It breaks my heart to imagine Jake laying on my bed in the guest bedroom, wondering when I’ll come home.

I hope that I come back here some day. I know that might sound kind of unexpected, but I hope it happens. I hope I’m able to get some kind of job, like being a writer or something that I can do online, where I’m able to do it from anywhere, and I can come back. I’m not asking for that to be on the table, I know you would need time to think about that, and besides I know you need the relief of getting back to saving money and time to get adjusted to me not being here. But I hope it will happen. It’s a wish, deep in my heart, a little secret, that one day I can come home, when I’m ready, and when I’m able. I hope sooner than later.

I’m scared. I’m excited about the drive. Like I said, I love car trips. I’ve been burning CDs all day. I’ve been getting ready. I’ve been borrowing your music. And I’ve been getting ready this past year, and borrowing from you. I asked you, and you helped me.

You can’t possibly ever understand what you’ve given me, Zack.

I may not have actually killed myself if I hadn’t come here. But I would have kept dying. I was dying then. And when you rescued me, I was pulled out of an ocean, and when you’re saved from drowning, the first thing you do is cough and pant and gasp for air, and it hurts. But it’s a good thing. It’s how you come back to breathing, and to being alive.

Thank you for making me alive.

There’s a song called Being Alive, it’s a Stephen Sondheim song from the musical Company. Whenever Nathan and I broke up, I spent a lot of time listening to songs from musicals, especially Into the Woods. But Bernadette Peters sang the song on one of her albums, and it’s a beautiful song. And it has these lyrics that I used to sing along to, and I would sing them out into the universe, hoping someone would hear them and answer me:

“Somebody hold me too close, somebody hurt me too deep
Somebody sit in my chair, and ruin my sleep
And make me aware of being alive
Somebody need me too much, somebody know me too well
Somebody pull me up short, and put me through hell,
And give me support for being alive
Make me alive, make me alive
Make me confused, mock me with praise
Let me be used, vary my days
But alone is alone, not alive
Somebody crowd me with love, somebody force me to care
Somebody make me come through, I’ll always be there, as frightened as you
To help us survive
Being alive”

Thank you for being the one who answered the call I sent out into the world. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for giving me the love I had lost when Nathan left, and for being the first person in my entire life to give me real, functional love, built on trust, with no anger and baggage and fear.

Thank you for being my friend when I needed, my lover when I needed, my brother when I needed, and my parent when I needed. Thank you for being everything for me. Thank you.

Thank you for making me alive.

It hurts to be alive. But that’s part of what makes it special.

I’m going to miss being here, and I’m going to miss you so much every day. I know I’ll see you again, and I know I’ll talk to you and be in touch with you. But the actual “touch” part, I’ll miss that. I’ll miss hugging you before I go to bed every night. I’ll even miss when you get mad at me. I’ll miss everything about this place, and you, and the dogs, and Robert, and staying up late playing video games, and going to the store in the middle of the night and coming back in to be greeted by Jake slapping his tail against the wall, and listening to podcasts all night, and driving to Wawa, and ordering pizza, and watching the Simpsons, and baking cookies at Christmas, and laughing about Family Guy jokes, and ranting about religion and atheism, and everything, everything, everything.

I will carry you with me into the next chapter. I will be frightened. But I will be safe, deep inside, knowing that I have a home. And you are my home, Zack. Wherever you and Robert are, that’s where I’m safe.

And all I ever wanted was to be safe.

You gave me everything I ever wanted.

I love you.

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