And That’s Enough For Now

I’ve been thinking recently about what I’ve done in life, and what I haven’t done.

I turned twenty-seven years old in May. And I remember, when my older brother was in his twenties, I used to think to myself, “I won’t be like him. I wont’ be in my twenties, sleeping until the afternoon, living off my family without paying rent, having no job, staying up all night playing video games and watching movies, doing nothing with my life.”

But I was wrong. That’s exactly what I’ve done.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school. I hated school, all twelve years of it. There was a brief period in eleventh grade when I started having fun, but mostly I hated school, and never tried very hard. Which is a shame because I was a very bright student and a naturally intelligent person. But I got terrible grades from middle school onward. I started out with the mind of a sixth grader, so the first five grades were simple, and I could coast on my natural ability, and especially my ability to read and comprehend. But starting with middle school, things got harder. And truthfully, I didn’t care.

School didn’t matter to me. Video games mattered to me. Because video games were the only thing in my life that made me feel safe and gave me something to believe in. Final Fantasy was a world I belonged in, not this one, not this world without magic or airships or crystals or monsters. This world was boring, school was boring, and when you grow up and go to work, that’s even more boring. There was no way out of the boredom except to spend as much time as possible in fantasy worlds.

My mother criticized me for living in a fantasy world, but I always found it so confusing when she told me I needed to grow up, stop spending all my time in a fantasy world and live in the real world. Because my genuine response was… why? What does this world have to offer me? There’s nothing interesting here. Just tedium, monotony.

Sex happened when I was seventeen, and I began to have some understanding of what this world has to offer. I sucked a cock before I first kissed a guy, but regardless, I enjoyed it. And for the first time I felt tethered to this reality by something, by a desire in my chest, not just to fuck, but to feel safe and loved. I had my first kiss, and the boy who kissed me laid me back on the couch and pressed his lips to mine, and then we wandered into my bedroom, my hand in his, and lay down on my mattress, and for the first time in my life I understood what sexual connection was like. The intense pleasure, not just of orgasm after orgasm, but of the smell of another person’s body, the sweat on their forehead and their armpits, the musk of a guy’s balls in a hot room where the box fan doesn’t really cool you off, but it doesn’t really matter. The need to pump yourself against one another again and again, relentlessly until there is no energy left in you, and then the moment you’re awake to do it all over again.

I experienced a broken heart. I experienced a longing to be loved. I fell in love with music, then, and I learned to play piano. I had a new passion, not just video games. Music was something real and tangible now, and it was another fantasy world to lose myself in. I began to write poetry and lyrics, and then I began to write stories, giving me another fantasy world to live in. I spoke in the voices of my characters and lived their lives in a world with more than this one could offer, and I walked around with these things constantly swirling in my mind: lust for a boy to hold close to me, the warmth of his kiss and his affection to fulfill me, the sound of the piano with all the lights out, comforting me in the darkness, the sound of the music that inspired me, the names and places and events in the stories I wrote.

I graduated high school. What was college to me? I had made a decision very early on, during the first week of Kindergarten. I remember where I was. I had gotten off the bus and walked into the school, it was so early in the morning that it was still dark outside. It may have been raining, because I seem to recall the sound of wet shoes scraping across the floor. I remember a kindly older lady standing in the middle of the hallway, directing kids to where they should go. I remember looking up at the ceiling, and how it seemed so high above me that it was like a cathedral with a domed top. I must have been six with this happened. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be here. I hate it here. I want to go home.”

And I held on to that moment, that anger, that resentment. I never wanted to go to school. I wanted to be at home, where things that mattered were. I wanted to be with my games, and my movies, and my books, and my toys, and my friends. I didn’t care about math, or about labeling pictures on a piece of workbook paper, or about reading comprehension. Of course, I know now how important school was, and I did enjoy the feeling of excelling, particularly at reading, but still, the feeling never left me that this was not a natural place for me to be, that this was not where I belonged. I remember sitting in those classrooms for eight hours at a time, thinking about all the time that was being wasted, and drawing Sonic the Hedgehog running through green fields on the back of every sheet of paper. The stories in my head were always more interesting than learning the months of the year song, or reading aloud in class, or making popcorn, or nap time. I just wasn’t interested.

Twelve years passed, and though many things about me changed, I never let go of that old anger that I felt, looking up at that ceiling that seemed so high to the six-year-old boy, and thinking, I don’t want to be here. I remember asking in Kindergarten, how long kids have to go to school, and they said that you have to do it for twelve years. Frequently during my time in school, I would make a mental note of how many years were left, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have done that. By the time I’d reached twelfth grade, I was just ready for the damn thing to be over. My mom and everyone else pressured me to go to college, but I didn’t care about college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, and it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I was now grown up, and it was too late to give it any more thought. Obviously you don’t need a major picked out when you start college, but still, I was entirely, completely aimless.

I knew I wanted to write, I’d like to be a novelist. But a college education doesn’t get you a publishing deal. I knew I loved playing music, even though I was still just an amateur, but a college education certainly doesn’t get you a recording contract. I knew I loved playing video games, but the process by which someone becomes an actual video game designer involves a lot of technical proficiency and training in computer coding, which wasn’t what I was interested in. So where was I supposed to go?

I said I was going to take a year off. My mom was more willing to allow a summer off, or even a half a year.

I graduated in May. I met a boy right around the same time. A month later he broke my heart, and I sunk into the most intense heartbreak I’ve ever felt. For three months, my world was nothing but tears, longing, and intense, burning loneliness. My only life preserver was a friend who lived too far away for me to possibly visit (funnily enough, it would be easy now, he was only a five hour car journey away, but five hours in a car is an impossibility when you have no vehicle, license, or driving experience), and I had no desire to go to school. My mom pressured me to get a job, but the only thing I could imagine that would be worse than going to school again would be working a job. Standing behind a counter serving food to people, or ringing people up at a register, day in and day out, an endless boring tedium with no reward except for money that’s only used to sustain you so you can go back to working the pointless job.

In December, I met another guy. He was a couple of years older than me. We had sex within an hour of meeting, on that same mattress where I’d rolled around a couple years before with the first guy to ever kiss me, and I lost my virginity. He sat down on my cock and I gasped at the unexpected feeling. I had no idea it would feel like this. He lay on his stomach and I pumped into him, collapsing beside him, my head swimming. He held me.

I felt so guilty.

I didn’t really like this guy. We didn’t have much in common. But I’d just done this with him. I was lying to him, wasn’t I? I was giving him something I didn’t really want to give to him, but it was done and it couldn’t be undone now. I was immediately conflicted. What was I supposed to feel?

He took me home with him, back to his house. We spent the weekend together. I found myself crying uncontrollably several times. This was wrong, this was all wrong. I didn’t love this guy, I didn’t even like him. But here we were, fucking again and again. And I was insatiable. I was eighteen, and I’d tasted real sex for the first time, and my body wanted more, as much as I could possibly handle and then some. I pumped myself inside of him over and over, delighting in our size difference (he was a foot taller than me and thicker around, and much stronger), but when I was inside of him I unlocked a power that existed through pure adrenaline, and his body was mine to move around, to pick up and and to hold, to lift and to fall over onto, and to roll around with. And our lips kept meeting, and our cocks kept touching and going in one another’s mouth, and I reveled in the curiosity I felt to toward his uncircumcised cock, the likes of which I’d never touched before, and he laid me out naked on his body and covered me in massage oil and rubbed my whole body. But when we weren’t fucking, I was crying, because I knew this was wrong, I knew that I didn’t know this guy at all, and that I wasn’t really interested in him.

But I couldn’t help feeling a need for him, and uncontrollable need to be near him, and when he dropped me off at home, it was torture to be separated from him. So I was caught in an endless cycle of pain and despair: being away from him was unbearable, I needed to have him close to me, but when we were together, I knew that I didn’t really care about him. But still, I needed to touch him, to fuck him, to kiss him, to hold him close. I was caught in a situation that had no way out. I could stop seeing him, but that was unthinkable, it would hurt even more than being away from him or being near him.

My obsessive compulsive disorder kicked in harder than it ever had or ever has since. I would word-vomit everything I was thinking, often saying incredibly mean and hurtful things to him because I felt the obsessive need to be completely honest with him, and told him how confused I was, how I didn’t like him, but I didn’t think he was attractive, but how I did like him, how I did think he was attractive. It was all completely paradoxical, utter nonsensical ramblings. I called my best friend and talked in circles for hours and hours, and he listened attentively, and patiently. A month went by. I told my new half-boyfriend that we should just be friends. He was heartbroken, so was I. He called my crying, he missed me. I missed him too.

Two years went by. Two years in which we continued this abusive cycle. I didn’t want to be with him, but now I was used to him, now I needed him. He wanted to be with me but I was psychologically abusing him without meaning to, because of the combination of my intense anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and misguided need to be honest with him, brutally honest, about everything. He lived with his father. I lived with them too, though they insisted I just visited a lot. But I only ever went my mother’s house for a day or two a week. I cleaned up my half-boyfriend’s house, and I went to my mom’s house on the weekends, because now he was actually dating his ex-boyfriend, and still seeing me at the same time.

I got jealous. My jealously over his ex-boyfriend was greater than my love for him, but I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself. I asked him to be my boyfriend, for real this time, and I begged. And eventually, I got what I wanted. There was never a moment when we made it official, but there was a moment when it was understood. It was a terrible relationship. He had become abusive as well. He spit on me, he pissed on me in the shower, despite me asking him not to, he called me names, he didn’t listen or show attention or affection to me, and when we decided to open our relationship up so that we could flirt with other guys and invite them in for three-ways, he began spending our time together on his phone, flirting with guys instead of paying attention to me, many of whom were underage high-schoolers, but I really wasn’t ready to deal with that fact yet. He called me one night, drunk, and asked permission to go on a date with a seventeen year old. I wasn’t used to him showing me emotion, so I tried not to pass judgement on him, I just told him that what he was doing wasn’t healthy for any of us, and he shouldn’t go. But he wanted to anyway. I told him that it wasn’t my place to tell him what he could or couldn’t do, but truthfully I knew that once he went to see this guy, my feelings would be forever changed, and he did, and they were.

I developed severe agoraphobia, and rolling panic attacks that lasted throughout the day. I was only comfortable when I was inside, preferably with a video game, or with music, or something else to occupy me. I didn’t like my mind to be quiet, because then I was forced to think about what a sham this whole relationship was, what a liar I was for pretending to love him, and how angry I was at him for the way he treated me, not to mention how angry I was at myself for the way I treated him, and for allowing myself to come this far into something I’d have been better off leaving behind a long time ago.

When we broke up, two years had passed, and now I was twenty, and I had severe agoraphobia. I couldn’t start college because I needed to have a job, and I couldn’t get a job because I couldn’t go outside without having a panic attack. I started taking medication, which opened up my life and gave me possibilities again, but I still needed a job. My mom kicked me out and I lived with a lesbian couple for a few months, I found a job but I didn’t get a chance to start it because they kicked me out too, and now I lost my insurance and my medication, so I was withdrawing from it, while staying with a new boyfriend in another state. I couldn’t find a new job and we were starving, so I asked to come home, and my mom let me. The first thing I did was cheat on my boyfriend with my ex, and that relationship ended. Now I was back to where I started, and even more alone and confused than ever.

My family moved to Georgia, and after spending months moping and feeling sure that now that I was twenty-one and still had no job and no future, there was no hope for me. I began to regret not going to college. I wanted to know what it was like to be surrounded by people, to be in a pool of people which is known for containing many gay people and having a lot of potential sexual partners. I wanted the opportunity to drink or do drugs, to fuck new guys, to make friends, to feel wanted, but instead I lived in a camper in my mother’s back yard. I hadn’t stopped my abusive habit of meeting a guy, and then holding on to him even when I didn’t have feelings for him, dragging us both along and tearing us both up in the process.

I met a new boyfriend and had the same doubts I always did. After a couple months my family moved back to the Carolinas and I moved in with my boyfriend’s family, and we lived in a shabby trailer with no food and not much in the way of transportation, both of us aimless. He quit school to be with me, giving up his future as a teacher. We slept all day, played video games all night, sometimes we kissed, even rarer were the moments when we fucked. I hadn’t been very attracted to him at first, and had continued my upsetting habit of being brutally honest about that, which of course only hurt his feelings. The funny thing was I was now very attracted to him, and the more time went by the more beautiful he became to me, until I loved every inch of his body. He wasn’t as affectionate or as sexual as I was, but we shared video games a common interest, and we supplemented any actual growth or connection or work we might do in our relationship with playing video games for endless hours.

Another year had passed and now I was twenty-two. How had so much time gone by so fast? We moved in with my family, and both found jobs, then moved in with a roommate. College was still out of the question, I had to pay rent, how could I possibly go to college at the same time? My chance to go live in a college dorm, surrounded by friends and potential lovers, going to parties or having fun, spending my time learning, was gone. I had to work now.

We broke up. Another year passed. I was living in the camper again, in a different back yard. My mother told me I wasn’t allowed to come into their house for anything. I was hungry. She cooked dinner in the front yard but didn’t let me have any, and that night she texted me saying she left food for me on the back porch. I expected it to be the dinner they’d cooked, but no, it was half a bag of chips and a bottle of water. I briefly found myself in a three-way relationship with two Pagan guys, but when they wanted to introduce a fourth guy, with whom I shared a mutual animosity, things didn’t work out.

I was twenty-five now. Fuck. So much time had passed and I’d done so little. I was still so aimless. And now I wanted to go to school. The little boy who looked up at the ceiling and wanted to go home didn’t feel the same way anymore. He was still in there, though, home just became a different place. Home was an air-conditioned little building, outside in the yard, where he would sit with his computer and watch television shows and listen to music and watch porn and jerk off, then drive up the street to buy fast food. The eighteen year old who had been a hundred and seventy pounds had become the twenty five year old who was two hundred and sixty pounds, and who, though I didn’t know it yet, was developing type two diabetes.

Some friends stepped in and saved me. I packed what I could into a suitcase and a computer back, put on my heavy leather coat, and got on a train bound for Delaware. Zack showed up at the train station and took me home with him. I spent those first few months crying, having breakdowns, terrified I’d have to go back to my mother. Zack would hold me and promise me it would never be like that again.

I still couldn’t go to college, because I had to find work. I found a full-time job, I had a car, I had a smartphone and insurance, I was actually succeeding in life, for the first time. But my anxiety remained. I made things worse than they needed to be, and I gave up. I quit the job, and bounced between part-time jobs afterward. I found another full-time job in a pawn shop in the bad area of town sandwiched right between the liquor store and the homeless shelter, and I loathed going to work. I was exhausted. I was so exhausted. And now I’d learned I had diabetes. And my anxiety medication was failing me. And I didn’t know what to do next.

I decided to go back to my mom’s house voluntarily, so as not to be a strain on my roommates anymore. On the second day I realized it was a huge mistake and asked Zack and his husband if I could come home. They let me, but I just get jumping from job to job again, and with tears in his eyes, Robert told me that it was time for me to go. I packed my things again, and I came to South Carolina.

Where I still am. That was November. I’m twenty seven now. I was eighteen, and then suddenly… I’m twenty seven. I’m twenty seven and I’m two hundred and forty pounds, and I’m still no closer to achieving success. I still have no degree. I still can only hope to find a job in food service, or retail, or if I’m lucky, a call center or maybe office work (the latter of which I would like very much). I’m still writing, I’m still making music, I’m still playing video games. My novel has been written and unwritten in my head a million times over the past five years, while scraps of it exist in reality, pieces torn from different versions of the story, a hundred-thousand words of notes and concepts and scenes and old drafts. But the book is still not written. And as for my songs, it’s taken me ten years to write less than ten songs. Most of them are just ideas, floating around. There are mountains of poetry, and for that I’m glad. And there’s this blog. There’s seven years of this blog. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of words, expressing who I am.

I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this blog, of my writing, of my music, and of who I am. But the fact remains that I’m still in my mother’s house. And I’m tired of that. I just can’t live that way anymore. Sometimes, this compels me to work harder. Most often it depresses me, and I sink into my bed, which of course isn’t really MY bed at all, it’s a bed in my mother’s house, and I sigh. Because I’ve wasted so much time.

It’s never too late, I know. But still… I’m so far behind. There is so much I could have done. If I had been responsible, I’d still be in Delaware, working a full time job and making something of my life, even if I were only doing school part time or online. But no, I’m here. And it’s hot, and I’m sweating, and I woke up this morning feeling like absolute shit. There’s a boy who I love, and he lives in England, and he gave me two weeks together, and held me in his arms, and he made love to me, and he talks to me every day. But he has his own path, and there’s nothing I can do to place myself on that path right now. He’s going to teach English in another country, and I can’t go with him because I don’t have a valid reason to go to another country. And besides, what would I do there?

I’m still lost. I’m still aimless. I’ve still done so little.

So I’m sitting here at a coffee shop, and I’m putting in job applications. And I’m thinking about what comes next. I’m trying not to think about the misery I feel when I realize how trapped I still am, how incapable I am of caring for myself, how much I’ve failed. And I know plenty of people will tell me I’m not a failure, and I accept that, but I HAVE failed. I’ve failed at so much. I accomplished other things, and my failures were lessons in themselves, that taught me about life, but I’ve still failed. And truthfully, my anxiety still has me just barely hanging in there. And how can I possibly hope for some hero to swoop in and save me a second time? Zack gave me a chance and I failed him, and failed myself.

I failed those guys who I tried to love, but I failed in loving them, and maybe I haven’t really learned what love is, maybe I’m still learning how to love someone in a functional way, what love is really like. Maybe we all try to recreate our first love, and all love we feel is a dim reflection of first love that is sometimes brighter than it was the day before.

For now, all I can say is that here I am. I can’t know what happens next. I guess I can just keep hoping, and keep making tiny steps. And maybe that’s enough for this day, and for this hour.

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Final Fantasy

I’ve loved video games my whole life.

The first game system I ever received was a Nintendo Entertainment System. I must have been three or four years old at the time. The first video game I ever remember seeing was Super Mario Bros. I remember watching my parents play it once in the living room together, with my mom not doing very well and asking my dad questions about how to play it. Funnily enough I don’t have a specific memory of playing the game, although I must have at the time. I do remember my earliest memory of playing a game, and it was Mega Man II, also for NES (although at the time we all just called it the system “Nintendo”). I remember sitting in my mom’s room, with the game hooked up to a television on her dresser, and watching the opening scene of a camera panning up a building to Mega Man standing with his helmet off on top of the building.

I remember how difficult Mega Man was. I could never get further than one or two levels in, and once I actually managed to make it all the way through to the final level and couldn’t beat it. I remember playing the original Super Mario Bros, and an old lady who babysat me tried to teach me the trick to getting 99 lives with a turtle shell. The second video game system I got was a Sega Genesis. In the early 90’s, everyone picked a side in what became known as the “console wars”: either you were a Nintendo person, or a Sega person. It’s not that you necessarily only liked the games from one system or the other, everyone loved all the games, it’s just that the systems were so expensive that no one’s parents could afford to buy them both. To have both was a big deal. I only happened to have both by luck, because my cousin, whose name is Andy (and who will reappear soon in this story), was getting rid of his Sega Genesis and sold it to my mom. I’m not sure for how much but for some reason my memory tells me 50 bucks. I have no clue if that’s true or not.

My first Sega game was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, along with Taz-Mania, a game about the Loony Tunes character Taz the Tasmanian Devil. Fun fact: I was surprised to learn Tasmania is an actual place later on in school, I always assumed it was a made-up place from Looney Tunes. Anyhow, a lot of people fondly remember the first Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s opening level Green Hill, with nostalgia, but for me it was the second game. I actually never even played the first game until years later in elementary school, and was kind of aggravated by the lack of a spin dash ability.

I loved Sonic 2. I played it constantly. Eventually my cousins who were around the same age as me wanted a video game system, so my mom came up with a rule that I could only have one of my two game systems at a time, and if I wanted one, my cousins got to use the other. I still think that was a stupid rule, particularly because I always chose my Sega Genesis, and eventually my Nintendo just became their de facto possession, and they lost it.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But it was mine.

Just saying.

Anyhow, like I was saying I loved Sonic 2. I loved the levels and the characters of Sonic and Tails, and during school I used to draw pictures of Sonic running around on the back of my school papers. I don’t know if schools still do this but at the end of the year the teacher would give our parents a folder filled with all of our work from that year, which make pretty great keepsakes. My mom still has many of my Sonic the Hedgehog drawings, which I was constantly getting in trouble for doodling.

The thing that I loved most about Sonic, though, was the music. Chemical Plant and Mystic Cave Zone especially. My aforementioned cousin Andy (the one who sold my mom the Genesis, not his two sisters who always got to keep one of my game systems) always knew more about video games than I did, was always a more skilled player than I was, and always had something interesting to show me. I used to watch him play in awe, and I was very entertained just watching. He revealed to me that there were cheat codes to Sonic 2, which he had memorized, and he would sometimes put them in and show me Super Sonic, who could jump incredibly high and fly through levels at triple the speed of Sonic. I was amazed by Super Sonic, by his shiny yellow hair and his ability to float in the air as stars rippled past him, and by the way he would cross his arms and stand on his tiptoes, looking regal and powerful, when you stood on the edge of a clif. I also loved the Super Sonic music that played, and I would go to the sound test menu and turn on the Super Sonic music, then turn the volume way up on the television, and run around the house as Sonic, jumping on the furniture and making up stories about Sonic’s adventures.

Incidentally, Andy refused to tell me the cheat code and never did, I learned them when I got older and found them online. He did input them for me and let me play as Super Sonic sometimes, but he seemed to enjoy not telling me and keeping the information a secret from me. Once, after I begged him incessantly, he finally wrote the cheats down on the back of an envelope, and it turned out they were completely fake and not the real cheat.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But really, he should have just told me the damn cheat codes.

Andy was to be a pivotal player in my love of video games. He always had the newest systems and the newest games, and he would always let me play them, though usually I had to spend most of the time I visited watching him play, but even still, I was fine with that. I never really got to play much of the Super Nintendo, I had an aunt and uncle who had one along with Super Mario World, and on a few occassions I would visit and get to play, but I never had a Super Nintendo of my own. I still loved playing Super Mario World for the limited time I could, though. Anyhow, Andy eventually got a Sega Saturn, which I was entirely interested in due to it’s complete lack of Sonic the Hedgehog games, though I did watch him play Panzer Dragoon, and was pretty stunned by the graphics.

It’s funny now to look back at older video games and think of how stunning the graphics were to people at the time. But good game designers have tried different ways of creating beautiful games, and some of them have stood the test of time. For instance, I still think Super Mario World looks incredible, but unlike many other games it isn’t because of superior graphics as much as it is superior art design. The characters and environments are drawn in a style similar to cartoon animation, which means that they hold up over time. The opposite of this would be games like Doom or Goldeneye, who tried to go for a very realistic aesthetic, and as such look like paper mache pasted onto polygons now. I think that games that use an animated style, or any style that resembles animated art rather than realistic art, hold up over time.

I had only ever heard of Zelda as a game for the Gameboy, a device which I found fascinating. Gameboys were the first real handheld video game systems, apart from little handheld poker or Yahtzee games with little light up screens that had the game built in to the system. The first Gameboys were massive and heavy, with tiny little screens that were always green, and the games were black and white except for the fact that the screen was green, so they were more black and green than anything else. There was also a slew of accessories, my favorite of which was a huge clip-on magnifying glass that went over the screen and made everything look bigger, along with “worm lights,” which were glorified reading-lights that plugged in and lit up your screen in the dark (back-lit screens, surprisingly, would not arrive until much later). I had an aunt (Andy’s mom) who apparently loved Zelda and though she never let me play it I’d seen her playing it on her Gameboy (the game, by the way, was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening). I later saw the original Zelda for Nintendo but never found it terribly interesting, and always died very quickly, along with having no clue where to go.

Andy had a Nintendo 64 and I saw him play a lot of great games: Wave Race was the first one I saw, followed by Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and then shooters like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Forsaken, and many others. In those days video stores still existed, and in video stores there was a video game section where you could rent games. I both watched and played a lot of Nintendo 64 games through Andy, who would let me play his consoles while he was busy with something else when I visited him.

Andy eventually moved in with me and my mom when he was sixteen and I was about seven years old. He’d had a falling out with his mom, and in my family throwing your children out is a somewhat common occurence, so my mom took him in. I fell in love with Andy. He was the older brother I’d always wanted. I actually had an older brother but he’d been adopted before I was born by a relative who lived somewhat far away and didn’t allow us much contact, so Andy became my older brother. I totally worshipped him. I followed him wherever he went, I listened to his music and sang along with him, I watched movies with him, I read his video game magazines and played his games when he was busy, I watched eagerly as he played and asked questions which he patiently answered (being an adult now and having played video games next to kids who are around the age of seven, and listening to the endless barrage of questions, I understand just how patient he was with me, which is kind of surprising because I remember him not having too much patience).

Andy’s influence was a really big part of my life at that age. Because I didn’t listen to anyone but him. I wasn’t a bad or disobedient kid, it’s just that I did what Andy said, when he said it, and I did it happily. I loved his approval, and I did not question or argue with him. My mom probably used this to her advantage a few times and had Andy order me to do something that I wouldn’t do when she asked. Andy also began to go through a phase that a lot of white guys in the 90’s went through of adopting a lot of mannerisms and speech patterns of black culture. In the south, they have a word for this, which is “wigger,” a very crass portmanteu of the words “white” and, well you can guess the other one. He started listening to a lot of rap music (although he also listened to a good bit of alternative 90’s rock, provided it was a male artist, so I heard a lot of Third Eye Blind, Sublime and Sugar Ray in those days), and went through a very long Insane Clown Posse phase. To his credit, he never became the kind of cult-like devoted “juggalo” follower the band is known for having, he just enjoyed getting high and listening to their music and laughing at the absurdity of it.

My world changed in a profound way one day when I came home from school. I walked into the living room to find Andy just starting up a game. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a Nintendo 64 game, it was actually a Playstation that he was playing. I do remember seeing people with Playstations around that time, and I remember seeing games like Crash Bandicoot and some of the wrestling games that had a huge surge of popularity in the 90’s (along with professional wrestling itself, which was more or less a glorified soap opera with people throwing each other around and bouncing off of ropes), but I don’t know if it was before or after this moment.

This moment was important. This moment is imprinted on my memory. It’s the moment that everything in my life came into focus. It’s the moment that I became a writer, a musician, and an artist. I didn’t know all of that yet, but this is the moment that it started.

The game was called Final Fantasy VII (Andy had to explain to me what roman numerals were, and that the symbol meant “seven”). It was the start of the game, and Cloud Strife had just hopped off of the train and stood with his back to the camera. His blocky, pixelated form didn’t look silly to anyone at the time, in fact the graphics were great. The first thing I noticed was his spikey blonde hair. Now, I hadn’t watched Dragonball Z at the time, and didn’t know anything about Super Saiyans, but I remembered thinking that I recognized the game he was playing and said “Hey I know that guy! Who is it?” but I’d never heard of Cloud. Looking back, I must have thought it was Super Saiyan Goku, although paradoxically I don’t remember seeing the episode of Dragonball Z in which Goku goes Super Saiyan until a bit later, and I THINK that I was watching the show as new episodes came out.

At any rate, I was intrigued by the spikey blonde haired character, and sat down to watch Andy play. I had never seen a roleplaying game before, and I was confused about the fact that instead of actually moving around and slashing the sword with the buttons on the controller, Andy was selecting commands from a menu, and then the characters would go forward and do what he told them. Even though it was new, I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching a green aura swirl around Cloud as he did his magic incantation pose and throw lightning bolts or blocks of ice at enemies.

Final Fantasy VII quickly became everything to me. I think that what did it was the music. The music was so beautiful, so intensely beautiful, so world-changingly beautiful. I’d never heard anything like it. The song that always stands out the most in my mind is called Anxious Heart. It plays several times in the game, but it’s the area music for the Train Graveyard. I remember watching Andy play this area, and my mom was chatting with someone who was in the room, and actually made a comment about how these new video games had this cool incredible music. I’ve never forgotten her saying that. It was true, the music was incredible.

My favorite was the battle theme. I heard it constantly because there are endless amounts of battles in the game. I remember one morning when I woke up, and I heard that battle song as I woke up, and I instantly became filled with excitement and ran into the living room, jumping up onto the couch beside Andy to watch the action. I would stand in the living room floor and watching the battles, singing the battle music in “dum dum dum”s and mimicking the actions, standing in battle position and moving like I was slashing a sword, doing the character’s victory poses.

I loved Final Fantasy VII in a way I had never loved anything before. I was completely enraptured, watching this game. I was fascinated by everything, by the characters, by the battles, by the monsters the characters fought and summoned, by the villain Sephiroth, who was cool and soft-spoken and terrifying, by the artwork in the game’s manual which I tried to copy in my sketchbook and draw pictures of. I even drew little figures of Cloud and Sephiroth in battle, holding their swords, and I cut them out of the book and made the two little flat drawings fight one another.

Andy bought an unofficial strategy guide which I used to gleefully look through, looking at the pictures from the game and the incredible illustrations of items and materia, which I thought looked so beautiful and real. And even to this day, I think that the pre-rendered backgrounds of Final Fantasy VII are beautiful. Some of them hold up better than others, but the decision to put the game on pre-rendered backgrounds filled with lush forests, barren snowscapes, and brilliant skylines was a great one, and it’s caused Final Fantasy VII’s environment to age significantly better than, say, Tomb Raider, which looks like a pixelated polygonal mess now.

Andy beat the game, and then some. He did all the sidequests, he spent a long time breeding and racing chocobos. One day he was racing chocobos all day, and during that day he made us lunch, a huge pot filled with barbecue sauce, spices, and cut up hot dogs, which was so incredibly hot and spicy that I had to drain an entire glass of Sun Drop with every bite. It was a bright day, there was a sliding-glass door in the living room, and everything was perfect and bright and happy. I was so happy watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Everything in my life just came into focus when he was playing that game.

He wouldn’t let me play the game on my own because he was afraid I would overwrite his save file. I know he restarted the game many times, and I remember one time he restarted the game and gave the characters funny names, which he and his best friend, our next-door neighbor, found amusing to no end. It was kind of funny to see the characters all calling Cloud “Asshole,” Barret “Dr. Dre,” and Tifa “Bitch.” I mean, it was juvenile, but we were literally juveniles. Me much more so than them.

I remember one night I was watching television and I heard the opening music of Final Fantasy VII in the other room, and immediately bolted into the living room to watch Andy play. My older brother did actually come to visit once, and while Andy was away we played his Playstation (which I was EXPRESSLY forbidden to do when he wasn’t home, and I was PARTICULARLY not supposed to play Final Fantasy VII because I might scratch up the game disc or mess his Playstation up in some way). My brother and I played through the opening section in Mako Reactor No. 1, although I think I did most of the playing, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was I doing well, I actually beat the guard scorpion, the game’s first boss. Andy found out about this and got really angry, because from that point on, his disc 1 would always lock up at the FMV scene where the bridge breaks on Mt. Nibel in Cloud’s Nibelheim flashback. He blamed this on me mishandling the disc.

It didn’t really matter that I rarely got to play though, because I loved watching Andy play so much. He did manage to do everything there was to do in the game: bred a golden chocobo, got the master materia, and beat both Emerald and Ruby Weapon (Ruby Weapon was a long process of trial and error, and I happened to be out of the room when it happened but I remember Andy’s exuberant jubilation).

There are so many parts of that game that recall certain memories. I loved the music of Cosmo Canyon, I remember watching Andy battle these clowns that draw cards from a deck that have different effects, I remember the first time I saw Andy fight the final boss, Safer Sephiroth, and was stunned to hear that there was actual choral singing, in the music. I was stunned: people were really talking, IN A VIDEO GAME! There were actual voices.

I could probably go on for much longer about watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Suffice it to say, it became everything to me. When I was alone, I played pretend games of FF7 with myself, being Cloud or Sephiroth, turning sticks in the yard into swords and standing in place until my “attack” or “magic” command was selected from an imaginary menu, and then I would rush forward and slash my sword, then jump back into place to wait for my next turn. I also played the opponents usually too. I know it’s a common sight to see a little boy holding a stick and pretending it’s a sword, jumping around and swinging the stick through the air shouting like he’s fighting monsters, but it must have been a strange sight to see a little boy standing in place, assuming a battle pose, waiting for a command that came from himself, then rushing forward to slash and jumping back into place to wait for the next command.

Andy was playing Final Fantasy VII, fighting the red dragon in the Temple of the Ancients, on the day that my mom called me into the kitchen and, along with her aunt who was there, told me that I was going to be staying at a mental health center in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation that my therapist had recommended, and that she couldn’t come with me and I’d have to sleep there and be away from my family. I was terrified buy they gave me a teddy bear, and I made everyone hug the teddy bear several times, so that if I got lonely, I could ask my teddy bear for a hug from Andy, or from Mommy, or from one of my cousins, and he would relay the hug to me.

It’s sad, I know. The experience at the mental health center (which was actually just a floor of the hospital) was horrifying, but it’s another story for another time. When I came back, I was anxious to see what I’d missed in Final Fantasy VII.

This is how it started. Final Fantasy became important to me, and changed my life. It made me creative. It inspired everything I did from that moment on. I wanted to create my own fantasy stories, I loved magic and swords, I wanted to make my own stories like Final Fantasy, I wanted to be a video game designer and work for Squaresoft, the company that made Final Fantasy. I read all the video game magazines and loved anything mentioning Final Fantasy. I resented Final Fantasy VIII when it was released because it wasn’t a direct sequel to VII, and how could anything be better than VII? I did eventually come to love every entry in the series, though.

Years later, I started learning to play piano because I wanted to be able to play music from video games. The music from Final Fantasy VII, from Sonic the Hedgehog, from Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is it’s own story. I went absolutely nuts when I found out Cloud was in the game, and he had a voice. I could HEAR Cloud’s voice. My brother played a mean prank on me once, by pretending that he was actually Cloud, that he’d traveled to another world, and that he could morph between my brother and Cloud. I completely, legitimately believed him. I was heartbroken when he revealed to me that it was a lie, and cried my eyes out. Incidentally, he also pretended to morph into several other Final Fantasy VII characters. It’s a pretty funny story. Apart from me being heartbroken, anyway.

I printed out the sheet music to the Final Fantasy VII battle theme and put it in front of my chorus teacher, asking if he could play it on piano. He did. It was the first time I’d heard Final Fantasy music played on a real instrument, not coming through the speakers of a television, and not in the form of those wonderful MIDI sounds that I loved so much, but here on a real instrument. It was a different sound, but it was magic. I was hooked from that moment. I had to learn to play this song.

And really, that’s how it all started. I started trying to write my first novel when I was twelve, and it was a story heavily influenced by Final Fantasy. I started learning to play piano because I wanted to play music from video games. To this day, I’m still playing Final Fantasy, and I’ve never stopped playing the games from the 90’s either (although admittedly I rarely play Final Fantasy VII anymore, it’s a bit boring to me now and I don’t find the battle system as fun or engaging as others in the series).

My story with video games continues from here, but I’ll stop there for now. There were other games that had a big impact on me, other games that helped me create beautiful memories, and there are plenty more memories associated with Final Fantasy VII and it’s profound effect on me. When I started experiencing depression and became reclusive and afraid, I hid inside the world of Final Fantasy VII. At one point I even believed Cloud was real, and I begged that he would come and rescue me from this world and take me to his. Final Fantasy gave me a safe place, a place that made sense to me, a place where the things I loved were, where I was special and cared about and had magical abilities, and could do the things I wanted.

I never stopped believing in that world. I don’t believe it’s real anymore, but when I was a teenager I had an ardent wish. There’s an area in Final Fantasy VII, an area outside Nibelheim, where the green land drops off in a cliff and the ocean stretches out. I know that in the game, it looks like a bunch of polygons and textures. But it didn’t look that way to me. It looked like real green grass on a real rocky surface, overlooking a real, beautiful sparkling blue ocean, lit by the sun, with the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII playing in the background behind it.

And one day, when I was fourteen, standing outside in the cold morning and waiting for my bus to come and take me to school, I hoped that Heaven would be that place. That when I died, I’d go to a personal Heaven, where I could finally live in the world of Final Fantasy VII. Even now, the memory of that wish still lives in my heart, though now I’m ostensibly an atheist so I don’t know if I believe in anything after death, or in real transcendance anymore. But it didn’t matter then. All that mattered was that I loved this world, and that I found beauty and joy and happiness and safety and security there.

Final Fantasy VII gave me hope, and it still does. During a difficult childhood, it gave me something that made sense, something to love. And the thing is, it’s not like I just started developing a fondness for it out of a need to cope (although I completely believe that’s probably what happened), it’s that I fell in love with it INSTANTLY. I was hooked from that first day. I was spellbound by the characters, by the places, by the music.

And I’ve never stopped loving Final Fantasy, or fantasy itself. And right now, a fantasy story lives in my heart, a story with my own characters and my own places, all of whom borrow concepts and ideas from Final Fantasy, but which are mine. I don’t have to be ashamed to take from Final Fantasy because all art draws from all other art. I try not to outright copy the series, but in my mind I always see a future critic of my novel that hasn’t even been written, saying that it’s a blatant copy of Final Fantasy. But I know that my vision, even if it borrows heavily from Final Fantasy, is unique, and that it will become clearer the more I write, the more I try, and the more I explore. As time has gone on I’ve drawn inspiration from many more sources than just Final Fantasy, and I will continue to do so.

But Final Fantasy will always be special to me. It will always be that safe place, that place of numbers and menus and RPG mechanics that gave me something to focus on when I was feeling scared as a teenager and gave my time structure, that place of beautiful music and scenery and adventure that captivated me as a child and made me want to explore the fantasy realms in my mind, the place that I started writing fanfiction about as a teenager, creating my own stories with these characters, borrowing them and placing them in a world where I coexisted, creating my stories out of thin air as I danced barefoot through the wet grass in the morning, slashing a stick through the air, and adventuring with Cloud and the other Final Fantasy characters.

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.

My Last Night Here With You

Not us, by the way

Not us, by the way

(The following is a VERY detailed account of my relationship with my ex-boyfriend. I started this post attempting to talk about how I ended up living here in Delaware, and explaining what happened up to this point. I decided that the best place to start was with my breakup a couple of years ago, but that accidentally turned into a flashback and, well, I basically went through the entire thing. If you’d like to read a very personal account of my experience trying to make a monogamous relationship work while dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a discussion of emotional and physical abuse in relationships, plus some explorations of family and death, feel free to read. I wrote this to help myself, to reflect on the past, and to help myself move forward toward the future. If you want to know more, you’re welcome to read.)

About two years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend of nearly three years. It was a tumultuous relationship, but unlike previous relationships which seemed to mostly consist of a series of one uncomfortable moment after another with little joy in between, this one actually had a lot of good moments.

We met under weird circumstances: I had moved to Georgia with my family, and he was going to college an hour away from where I lived. We met online and I went to see him in the middle of the night, where we made out and had sex until the sun rose, at which point we sleepily headed over to his college’s music building where I got to play several pianos and a harpsichord. I spent a couple of days with him and started to feel immediately overwhelmed.

I have this problem with getting into relationships. Most people have a “honeymoon” phase at the beginning of their relationships, and I’ve experienced that, but the beginning of a relationship is always an incredibly stressful time. I experience something akin to deep grief, or loss. Connecting with a new person makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, but it also makes me feel that the foundation of my life has been pulled out from under me, and I’m caught in a rushing torrent with no one to hold on to but this new person, who I’m enamored with but who I have no trust built up with. I always experience panic attacks, intense anxiety, dread, fear, and often get emotional and start crying a lot.

This is a problem that I didn’t really start to notice until after the relationship started. It’s a pattern that’s followed me through almost every romantic relationship I’ve ever had. The beginning of a relationship is fraught with panic and anxiety equal to or greater than the excitement and joy of being with a new person. This time was no different.

By the way, about this person’s name. He is my ex-boyfriend, and we’re still friends today, but truthfully the details of our relationship would be painful for either of us to reflect on in their entirety. For the purposes of not dragging him through the mud (I want to tell the truth but the truth doesn’t reflect well on either of us), I’m going to give him the pseudonym Guy. Because he’s a guy. I’ve said his name before, but for the purposes of this story, his name is Guy.

Guy and I spent the weekend playing video games (I was immediately attracted to the fact that he loved Sonic the Hedgehog and had a collection of just about every game), did a lot of fooling around and kissing, watching movies, and of course, more sex. Because that’s what you do in the beginning. But I kept feeling overwhelmed by this unbearable dread. A few things started happening all at once:

First, my OCD kicked into high gear. And I mean ACTUAL Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the kind you can be diagnosed with (and I was, as a child), the kind where you have to blink your eyes an odd interval of times or else you’ll be overcome by panic. Whenever I get into a new relationship, I suddenly have this urge to be COMPLETELY honest with the new person I’m dating. And I mean entirely. Brutally, painfully honest. Like, it’s hurtful, for both of us. If I feel that I’m not entirely physically attracted to the new guy, I’ll feel the need to tell him, or else I’ll feel that I’m hiding it from him. Consequently, I start blurting out a lot of confused feelings all at once. “I’m not sure I’m entirely attracted to you, I mean I am, but like, just not sure how much. But it doesn’t change anything. I just wanted to be honest. But I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Oh god now I’ve hurt your feelings. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that I’m not sure how attracted to you I am, I mean I am in some ways but not in others, but it doesn’t mean, well, what I’m saying is…”

You can see how embarrassing and uncomfortable this is for both of us. Well, it was like that EVERY day, multiple times a day. And frankly, if I were him I’d have dumped me right there because that much emotional need is too much for anyone to handle. I am not going into this story under any illusions that I was a blameless angel. But the thing is, it wasn’t like I was TRYING to be hurtful toward him. It’s just that my fun array of mental disorders all started coming out all at once, and I was unable to keep any of them in check, so I was word-vomiting my every feeling, no matter how good or bad, and I was caught in a continual state of confusion.

And that’s the second thing: the confusion. Getting into a new relationship is an incredibly upsetting experience for me, because I have problems with commitment. And I don’t mean like in television when you hear a woman say that a guy “has commitment issues,” and just wants to be single, I mean that I literally cannot exist happily in a monogamous relationship. Again, this is something I did not know about myself at the time, and I had to learn the hard way. The absolute pressure of agreeing to be someone’s boyfriend is unbearable for me, the seriousness and weight of the decision is equivalent to agreeing to marry someone. Imagine agreeing to marry someone a day after you first met them. Think of how pressured and afraid and in way over your head you would feel. Alright, now multiply that by a few degrees, and you’ll have an idea of how I was feeling. I knew he wanted to be my boyfriend. I knew I was considering being his boyfriend. But the confusion kept bouncing around inside my head, each question tinged with red hot panic welling up inside my chest and burning my neck: “Am I ready to be his boyfriend? If we’re boyfriends that means I can’t see anyone else. What if I don’t love him? It’s too early to know if I love him, but what if I don’t FALL in love with him? How will I get out of this? I’ll have to break his heart. I don’t want to break his heart. I should just do it and see what happens. But I’m not ready to do it and see what happens. But am I leading him on? What happens if I say no? Will I regret it? Should I just run away and cut off all contact? Let’s just try and enjoy this moment. But I can’t, the more I enjoy it the more pressure I feel. I wish I’d never come here, this is too much pressure. Why can’t I just be happy?”

If you think reading that is aggravating, imagine having it bouncing around inside your head for days. Or months. Or years.

All he wanted to do was give me a chance and try dating me. And for me, that was the equivalent of him asking me to marry him and move to another country tomorrow. It isn’t his fault that it happened, and that he had to deal with what frankly was probably emotional abuse from me, because of my anxiety. And it isn’t my fault either, I tried everything that I could to stop the raging tumult of emotions, but they just wouldn’t stop, and the only thing that helped was to talk about it out loud.

I’m going to digress from the story about Guy for a moment to explain why I was acting this way. A big part of why this was happening was that I’d recently had a succession of very quick, failed relationships. I met a guy who seemed pretty cool, then immediately lost interest when I saw what he looked like. I felt terrible about myself for this: how could I be so shallow? He was a nice person, we had a lot in common, and I was gonna bail on him because I didn’t think he was very good-looking? I decided I was being ridiculous and went out on a date with him anyway, which ended in us more or less having sex. Afterward I felt even WORSE. Now I had an emotional attachment to him but I STILL didn’t think he was attractive and it was a HUGE problem for me. What did I do now? I went back and forth, from hour to hour, from minute to minute. The intense emotional anxiety of that time is, to this day, the worst stress I’ve ever experienced in my life. It last about three weeks, and for those three weeks I could not sleep, I woke up feeling like I was going to vomit, I was assailed at all times by relentless panic. Ultimately I ended this brief almost-relationship and collapsed into a mess of emotions right in front of him, putting this poor guy in the awkward situation of comforting ME for breaking up with HIM, for the express reason that I just found him too unattractive. What a horrible thing I did to this guy. And I’m not here to make excuses for it, I probably scarred that guy in a way that can’t ever really be healed, but I didn’t mean to do it, it was a product of my anxiety, and my deep inability to connect with or trust other people.

After that incident there was another guy, who by the way was a good deal more attractive, and believe me I felt like a pig for even bothering to make a judgement on it, but even though we seemed to get along well I just couldn’t bring myself to agree to be his boyfriend, despite spending a lot of time together and having sex and generally doing things that couples do in the early stages. Finally I just couldn’t do it and had to call it off with him, and I found myself getting dressed for work while crying hysterically, and going in to work holding back tears all day. It was unbearable. And I just thought, “Is this what every relationship is going to be like for the rest of my life? Do I demand perfection from everyone? Am I even CAPABLE of feeling love?”

It was a terrible feeling, and it was very scary. And it persisted into this budding relationship with Guy.

playing-video-games

At first, I just told him flat out we couldn’t be boyfriends, I just couldn’t do it. He was very understanding. He did something very sweet. He said, “How about for this weekend, and just for this weekend, we be boyfriends? Just for two days. And there’s no pressure, and we can just have fun and enjoy ourselves, and when you leave you don’t ever have to talk to me again if you don’t want to.”

Patience of a saint, this one.

I did it. We spent the weekend together. We went out to dinner. I cried a lot. I cried because I was so sorry for doing this to him. He held me. He told me it was okay. He kissed me and promised me I didn’t have to worry. He said all he cared about was that I was happy.

When it was time to leave, I told him I just wasn’t going to call him again. In order for me to get back to normal I had to completely cut off contact from him. He said he understood. I made it home, relieved. Now that I was relieved from the pressure I had a chance to reflect, and I kept thinking to myself “Look at all that this guy did for me. He could have been a great potential boyfriend. Hell, with patience like, he might be husband material some day. And I’m just going to throw him away?”

I found myself sitting in my truck, and I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. I cried. I cried a lot. Finally I called him and told him I was sorry, that I didn’t want to cut him out. He understandably didn’t know where this put us as far as the friend/boyfriend barrier was concerned, but he assured me all he wanted was for me to be happy, even if that meant it wasn’t with him. I kept apologizing to him for how fucked up I was, how I was so unable to love or care about someone without all this emotional weight pressing down on me. He told me he didn’t mind. I kept saying I was sorry for being crazy. He would smile and say he liked me just how I was, even if I was crazy.

Things went back and forth some more. I would hint at being his boyfriend, then take it back. I went to visit him again, but there was no conclusion reached about where we stood. Although that didn’t stop us from having sex. After a couple of weeks we were meeting for what was probably the third time and he finally just put it to me straight: I want you to be my boyfriend. I didn’t know what to do. I told him about my doubts and my confusion, my inability to overcome the intense anxiety attached to being in a relationship. He told me he didn’t care, and that he just wanted me to give him a chance. He said that if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, but I owed it to myself to at least try.

If either of us had been older and more mature we may have realized some things. Firstly, he might have realized that I was an emotionally dependent basket case, and that no matter how much he tried he was never going to fix me. I don’t think he WANTED to fix me, but my behavior toward him was emotional abuse, I was playing with his feelings even if I didn’t mean to. I was battling my own demons, but he was caught in the crossfire. However, I don’t think his desire to be with me anyway came from being young and naive, I think it came from the fact that he’s just a caring person who wanted to love me despite my flaws. He didn’t care that I was impossible to please, he just wanted to give it a chance with me. Now, if I had been older and more mature I would have realized that giving the relationship a try might have been possible without the anxiety if only we agreed that it wasn’t monogamous, because I simply cannot cope with that relationship structure, or handle the rigorous pressure I feel when in a monogamous relationship. I might also have been better at containing my emotions and not word-vomiting all my feelings, both positive and negative, all over him. I might also have been wise enough to realize that I just WASN’T READY for a serious relationship.

But we were twenty, and we were kids, and we were falling in love, however dysfunctionally.

He made the bold choice of telling me he loved me, right after I agreed to be his boyfriend. Tentatively, I said it back. The words had a hollow ring of dishonesty to them that didn’t sit well with me, because I didn’t think I was capable of loving him yet. But I certainly felt something, and it was strong.

The next couple of months were intense. We were with another almost every day. Which is difficult to do when you live hours apart from another. Here’s how we did it: I would go to his school when I had days off from work, and when school was finished he ended up going home to his family. Because he had no obligations over the summer, I’d bring him back to my house with me, and he would stay in my room, which was a camper in my mother’s back yard. He’d sleep during the day when I was at work, and when I had a day off, I’d take him the two hours to his parents house and stay with him there until it was time to go back to work, at which point he’d come back home with me. This continued for about two months, and though there were a few times when we were apart, we ended up spending most of our time together. Finally my mother decided she was moving back to North Carolina. I had no intention of going back with her, both because living with her was miserable and because I didn’t want to leave Guy. Guy suggested that I ask his parents if I could stay with them over the summer and look for a job in his hometown, and in the meantime he would quit school and look for a job too, so we could find a place together.

Again, a more mature version of myself might have told him that dropping out of school to shack up with your boyfriend is just bad practice, and doesn’t bode well for a future career. But at the time, I found it romantic, and agreed to this plan of action, so I called his parents and asked if I could stay with them for a while, and they said that it was fine.

overgrown_yard

Here’s the funny thing: his parents MUST have known we were boyfriends. They knew he was gay, anyone can tell that I’m gay after just talking to me for a few minutes (one of my best friends once made the hilarious observation that “even blind and deaf people know you’re gay”), and we were obviously spending every waking moment together. In addition to that, I’d be staying in his room and sleeping in his bed with him. They HAVE to have known we were dating. But they just never said anything about it. Neither did we. There was a reason for this. Guy had told me that his parents had been a little uncomfortable when he let them know he was gay; apparently his father had accepted it pretty easily but his mother didn’t like it, and felt very uncomfortable about it. Because of this, Guy didn’t know if his parents would have a problem with a guy who he was clearly dating moving into their house, but they didn’t seem to mind.

And it was never mentioned. It was quietly acknowledged without words. Guy and I spent every moment together, we just made an effort not to hold hands or do anything too affectionate in front of his parents. Guy’s sister knew we were together, and once told me “I don’t mind if someone’s gay but I don’t want to see ’em kissing on each other and stuff.” You might thing that sounds homophobic, and well, you’d be entirely right. But this was in Georgia, and his family were from a small town in the mountains, so that’s about the closest you’re going to get to gay acceptance. She really meant no harm. People who are ignorant about their own homophobia don’t realize when they’re being homophobic, and don’t know how much their words can hurt. I did take pleasure in getting her back though: a little later on we were at her house and she had Guy in the kitchen, trimming his hair with an electric razor, and she tried to make a joke by asking him “Are your pubes all bright blonde like your head or are they dark?” I called out from the other room, “They’re dark!” To which he burst into laughter and she let loose a disgusted sigh. Take that.

Living with Guy’s parents was, to put it mildly, an experience. Both of them were getting older, and both of them had very serious health concerns. Guy’s dad had had a stroke, and was nearly immobile, confined to his recliner most of the day, using an oxygen machine to help him breathe at night. He was a great guy, though. He loved science fiction and had a big collection of Star Wars novels, and spent a considerable amount of time watching every series of Star Trek on Netflix. Guy’s mother, who I was at first afraid of because of the fact that she hadn’t taken Guy’s coming out well, was incredibly kind to me. I once took the initiative of giving her a foot rub when her feet were hurting, and it quickly became my occupation, so she would every now and then call out to me from the other room to come and rub her feet. His parents shared everything with me, I was allowed to have any food in the house that Guy could have, and even though the sodas hidden in the kitchen cabinet were theirs, they shared them with me often, or didn’t chastise me when I snuck in at night and grabbed some.

One night I was washing the dishes and Guy’s mother came up to me and hugged me, and thanked me for doing the dishes and for being so helpful. I was a little surprised, and told her I was happy to help. She looked at me and smiled, and she said, “You know, you’re my son too.”

I was their son, too. And they didn’t just say it, they treated me exactly the same as Guy. I was given the same amount of privilege and responsibility. And not ONCE did they ask me for rent. And they had every reason to, not the least of which being that I lived there for nearly six months and never paid a dime. Why didn’t I pay anything? Well, the short answer is that Guy and I couldn’t find jobs. The more honest answer is that we didn’t really want to. We slept every day until late in the afternoon, and put in job applications online only sparingly. We went job hunting every now and then but truthfully we didn’t put much effort into it, and a consequence we remained unemployed. My mother would send me twenty dollars or so every now and then and we would use the money to go Taco Bell late at night. Taco Bell was great because we were poor.

We were really poor. And really hungry.

Guy’s parents got disability checks once a month, but most of it had to be used to pay bills on the house, which was actually a small trailer that was falling apart at the seems. The electricity cut out if too many things were plugged in at once, there were mountains of garbage behind the house, stinking and covered with maggots, because Guy’s parents simply couldn’t hall it all off to the dump and there was no one to do it for them. So Guy and I began to slowly, over the course of several months, chip away at the piles of garbage by loading them into my truck bed and taking them to the dump. It wasn’t just bags of garbage but old furniture, big bulky stuff that was difficult to get rid of. The grass was entirely overgrown because it hadn’t been moved in a very long time. We helped out with that, borrowing a lawn mower from Guy’s brother and trying to get the grass cut down to size.

There were several cats in the house. One of them was very old, one of them was just fine although he was incredibly fat, and one of them was sick. The sick one died. Guy’s parents noticed it had crawled behind one of the living room recliners and just died there. They asked us to clean it up. I didn’t want to touch anything dead, but there was no one else to do the job apart from Guy and myself, so I started digging the hole. I lost my cool in the yard. His parents were very difficult to live with, asking us to do all the cleaning, to take care of everything that had to be done, often making Guy cook us dinner with what small amount of food we had, and when they did get their disability checks they refused to buy groceries, instead sending us out to pick up pizza for a week at a time until they were completely broke and we had to borrow money for bread and peanut butter until the next month. Looking back on it, I can see that I was being ungrateful, because despite the fact that we were poor and had very little food, they still hadn’t asked me for a penny, not even SUGGESTED it. And I actually HAD found a job, at Sears, and quit on the second day because I hated it. And they had said it was alright, and hadn’t asked me for any money at all.

In retrospect I wasn’t really mad at Guy’s parents, although their stubbornness at NEVER grocery shopping and wasting all of their money on fast food and cigarettes had a negative impact on all of us. But really, I was mad at the situation. I didn’t have any anxiety medication (I’d started a year before but had to quit when I lost my insurance), I was having panic attacks, Guy and I were beginning to fight a lot. We would sometimes get into screaming matches, and we lived in VERY close quarters. Our entire living space was his bedroom, most of which was taken up by his bed. There was nowhere to walk to and no gas to drive anywhere, so we were stuck with one another at all times. Most of the time that was alright. Other times it was incredibly difficult. Both of us were losing weight from how little we had to eat, and I became very aware of the fact that I was in a hopeless situation. It was doubtful that I would find a job close enough to justify the gas money needed to drive there, much less hold down a job because of my anxiety. Guy and I had a lot in common, but something felt off about our relationship. Still, something ALWAYS felt off when I was in any relationship so I just started to accept that that was an inevitable feeling for me.

One thing I do miss is having sex with him. Even now, I still miss it. As we grew closer, I started to find him really attractive, as opposed to in the beginning when I kept honing in on any imperfection about him. I started to really love his body, his lips, the way he kissed, how warm he was at night when it was cold. I really loved being close to him, I loved trying things out with him (in the beginning of our relationship he’d been the bottom and I’d been the top, he became convinced that he was a top now but we could never really make that work). I watched a lot of porn and don’t get me wrong, I was still craving sex with someone new, like I always do when I’m in an agreement to only have sex with one person, but I began to feel really attracted to him, and the more that happened, the less I worried. Knowing that I found him sexy meant that one of the fundamental reasons a past relationship had failed and this relationship had started rocky was now overcome. I made a point of telling him often how beautiful I thought he was, in an effort to make up for how I’d hurt him in the beginning by telling him that I thought he was unattractive. That’s something that still bothers me to this day. I know that the reason I did was because I was having an anxiety attack and my OCD made me blurt out every thought, but I see now how much I must have hurt him, made him feel unattractive, and inflicted an emotional wound on him. If you’re reading this, Guy, I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t know what I was doing.

Eventually, something had to change. My mother was asking me to come live with her in South Carolina, but I refused to come unless Guy could come with me. For religiously bigoted reasons, she didn’t want a gay couple in her house. She thought that not only was it “inappropriate” and “sinful” for us to live together, much less sleep in the same room, but that it would have a negative impact on my little sister, who was about eight at the time. Basically what she was implying was that having us around might turn my little sister gay, or at the very least, instill in her the distasteful idea that gay people were allowed to be together, live together, and that gay love was alright. You can perhaps see why I had no desire of ever returning to my mother’s house.

But frankly, I was hungry.

No really, the hunger was driving me crazy. I would get incredibly angry very easily, because I just didn’t have food. For weeks at a time, the only food we had would be bread and peanut butter, and when that ran out, cans of green beans or some frozen chicken that had to be thawed, cooked without any seasoning, and eaten as it was. Sometimes there was ramen. I hate ramen, by the way. I was just so freaking hungry, and whenever I had two dollars to rub together I’d go immediately to Taco Bell, but then of course there’s the fact that Guy and I were together at all times, so if one of us was eating, so was the other. This was fine except it meant that in addition to being so poor we hardly had any money to eat, we had to have double the money needed just to go through a drive through and get something. And we couldn’t get something like pizza, because that was too difficult to hide from his parents, who would have undoubtedly asked for food as well if they knew we were going to get it, which is why we usually went to Taco Bell at three in the morning and hid the bags in our trash can.

To their credit, his parents usually knew when we’d been out getting food, and his mom once smiled at me coyly and told me she knew that we’d been out to eat the night before, but there was no resentment in her voice at all. I think she knew how desperate we were feeling.

Finally, my mother agreed to let Guy come as well, under the stipulation that we were not allowed to sleep in the same room together. It wasn’t a great option, but there was food at my mom’s house, plentiful and readily available food, and I think that was ultimately what led me to accepting the offer.

Okay, this one actually is us, featuring my sister

Okay, this one actually is us, featuring my sister

I was too hasty in my desire to leave. I wanted to go home, I wanted to be near places I recognized, I wanted to have my own family to rely on the way Guy had his, and I wanted to have a chance to get a job and start really working on getting a place with Guy. His parents were sad, but truthfully they were being evicted and had to move out anyway, and they were going to be moving in with Guy’s sister, who had no room for us. We had to leave, one way or another. On the last day, after we’d packed up the truck, Guy’s mom hugged us both, and told Guy that he could come back any time he needed to. Tentatively I asked, “What about me? If things don’t work out, can I come back, too?” She seemed genuinely shocked that I would ask. “Of course!” she said.

I’m going to skip ahead a little to tell you that Guy’s mom died a year later. We were living with a roommate by then, and had driven down to Georgia to see her in the hospital. When she’d woken up briefly to talk to everyone, she asked, “Where are [Guy] and Jesse?” She asked for her son, and asked for me too, even though she’d only known me for a year or so, but she considered Guy and I a unit. She knew where one of us was, the other was nearby. She had never actually acknowledged, at least in front of us, that we were a couple, but for all I know she may have just felt awkward about it, and thought we didn’t want to talk about it in front of them as much as they didn’t want to talk about it in front of us. But this woman was on her deathbed, and she thought to ask where I, of all people, was. Guy was there, I wasn’t at the hospital at that time, so the second time she woke up, I was there in the room, and she smiled at me and did something that I still find really incredible.

She pointed at Guy and myself, and she said “I love y’all.”

Y’all is of course the southern way of saying “the two of you,” but it was really important that she addressed us together. She was dying, she had to know she was dying, and this was literally the last time she ever spoke to her children. And she didn’t tell Guy, “I love you,” she told Guy and his boyfriend, “I love y’all.”

When I was alone in the room with her, while she slept, I spoke to her.

“You’ve been better to me in a short time than my own mother ever has. You’ve treated me with love, no matter what, and taken care of me when you didn’t have to. You gave me a home when I needed one, and you told me I was your son, too. Well, you’re my mother, too. In a year you’ve shown me more love and kindness than my own mother ever has.”

I also felt that she was giving us her blessing, as a couple. I don’t remember if I said it out loud, but I decided that for her sake, I would take care of Guy.

We had already made the journey back home when Guy got the call that she’d passed away. We went back to Georgia for her funeral. I was mostly silent, I didn’t know what to say. I did walk out of her funeral service, though, because the preacher was some insane fire-and-brimstone preacher who took this opportunity of a woman’s DEATH to start preaching about Jesus and telling everyone in the room that they’d go to hell if they didn’t believe. He was turning purple and stomping his feet so hard that her coffin ACTUALLY started to shake. I could take it no more and went outside. His family wasn’t mad at me, Guy’s sister laughed and said that I just wasn’t used to “that kind of preaching.” Sadly, I HAD seen that kind of preaching before, and it sickened me, but it sickened me even more so that this awful man used a woman’s death to take advantage of her grieving family to push his idea of salvation on them. But that’s another topic for another day.

Guy gathered some things from his childhood possessions. One of them was an assignment he’d done in Kindergarten, where the students had to fill in the blanks talking about their mother. “My mother is as pretty as ______,” “I love my mom like I love _____,” “My mom’s favorite food is _____.” For the record, is answer to the first one was “My mother is as pretty as a bird,” which is about the most fucking adorable thing I’ve ever heard. He put it into her casket and she was buried with it. When we got home, there was a photograph of Guy’s mom, it was not an incredibly flattering picture, just her standing in the kitchen with her mouth open, looking surprised to have had her picture taken. But he framed it and put it on the wall.

I still have it. It’s sitting on my desk. It travels around my room to different perches. It’s not that I had an incredibly emotional attachment to Guy’s mother, it’s not that her death caused me profound sadness. And I don’t say that to be insensitive, it’s just that I am terrified of death so I purposely maintain an emotional wall between myself and everyone save a few select people. Guy is one of the people whose death would devastate me, and whose death I continue to fear. Maybe one day I’ll overcome my fear of death, but regardless, I felt a little odd keeping Guy’s moms picture. I didn’t know if he’d left it behind when we broke up on purpose, or just forgotten it amidst all the other stuff in our room. But I kept it, and though it sometimes hides in a dresser drawer (for some reason I would feel weird keeping it on the wall), it’s always in my possession.

Guy’s mother treated me not only better than she could have, but probably better than I had a right to be treated. She deserved rent from me, she deserved more from me than I probably gave, but I was afraid and hungry and anxious, and I did what I could, and so did she. She never judged me, she never turned me away, and treated me as her son until the day she died.

Her acts of kindness are important. They showed me that the kind of parenting my mother gave me was not love, it was dysfunctional emotional abuse. Guy’s mom loved me unconditionally and she had no reason to at all, apart from the fact that she just wanted to. She made me a part of her family. I was her son, too.

handslettinggo

Guy and I lived with my mother for a few months, it was predictably pretty awful. Our emotions got really turbulent and ultimately it led to a physical altercation between us. There was a day when I was pissed off about something, storming around in a huff, and I grabbed my keys because I was going to go for a drive to calm down. Guy didn’t want me driving while I was upset, he would be too worried that I was going to get into a wreck. His intention was good, but he made the unfortunate choice of snatching my keys out of my hand, which led to me trying to grab them back, which led to us scuffling toward the living room recliner, where she shoved me down and held my arms down. His intention was to hold me still so I would listen to him, but as you can imagine it didn’t work, and my immediate reaction was to go on the defense. He shoved me down into the chair and my reaction was that I shot out my hand and slapped him across the face. He responded by throwing a hand back out and hitting me on the head, then started screaming at the top of his lungs.

I looked into his eyes when he started screaming and I broke.

I fundamentally broke.

I had thrown the first punch, let it be known. This was not an abuser-victim one-sided altercation. We had both hurt one another. But I was the one who broke first. I started crying, and then I started screaming. Really, really screaming. Guy picked me up and carried me into our room, where I collapsed onto the floor in a sobbing heap, still screaming. I didn’t speak, I just cried, and screamed, very loudly. No one else was home. He sat next to me. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said over and over again, he chided himself and said how terrible of a boyfriend he was, he said he was sorry over and over again, he held me as I screamed. After about half an hour of relentless crying I started to breathe. I opened my mouth to speak and I could not form words. To this day I don’t know if I was being dramatic, or if I actually went temporarily mute. I would make a gurgling nose and then close my mouth. I couldn’t speak.

When I could talk, I said that I didn’t know what this meant, or what to do from hear. I called my friend Thomas, I told him that this clearly was a sign that we weren’t working and it needed to end. But I decided to sit down and talk to Guy. I told him that what happened was indicative of a larger problem, and it showed that we just weren’t going to work together, no matter how hard we tried. He believed we could move on past it, and promised he’d never put his hands on me again. I was making him out to be the bad guy, I admit, I wouldn’t really acknowledge my part in the physical fight. I made it sound like he had hit me, when in truth we’d hit one another. But being the victim was the only thing that made sense to me at the moment, it was the only way I knew how to cope with what was happening.

Things were never really the same. For weeks, I would remember the incident when I was at work and fight back tears. I was so angry at myself. How could I have hit him? How could I have possibly hurt him? I hated myself for what happened. I hated myself for hurting Guy.

Things got worse. We did find a place to live, away from my mother, living with a roommate. We were both working and bringing in enough money to live on. We had video games and we could go places for fun, and we had a little life together. But the arguments got worse. We were growing apart. He didn’t want to have sex nearly as much as I did, he told me he just wasn’t a very sexual person, and it was hard for him to deal with me not only wanting to have sex so much but wanting to touch him so much, to hold him and kiss him and be romantic with him. It was hard for him, he felt a little smothered, and weirdly so did I. But I felt smothered by RESPONSIBILITY, not by his actions. It was so hard to be with him when I wanted so badly to pursue other relationships with available gay guys I had met. I didn’t want to dump Guy, but I just wanted to at least have sex with someone new. It was a natural urge that I had no way of fighting, and truthfully I didn’t want to fight it anymore. I started spending a lot of time watching porn, which by the way I believe is a completely healthy way of exercising your sexual desires.

There were more physical fights. Almost every time, he and I would get mad, and I would try and goad him into hitting me, so that I could play the victim. I’d get in his face and say “Hit me then, like a big man. Push me around, hit me.” Sometimes he’d shove me. At the time I thought I was standing up for myself. In truth I was trying to start a fight so I’d have an excuse to say he hit me. We got into a physical fight when he was on the way to work one morning, with me riding in the passenger seat. I finally got fed up with him when he was screaming at me and slapped him in the head, to which he responded by punching me straight in my chest. I sat quietly, gasping and holding my chest. He pulled into a parking spot and got out, and walked inside. I sat there, holding my chest. He’d punched me. How could he do that to me? It didn’t seem to matter to me at that moment that I’d hit him first.

I went home, told the story to my friends online, made myself the victim, and decided that either way it was time to end it. I don’t remember if I tried to break up with him right then, but there was another incident when he stormed outside, got in my truck, and backed out of the driveway, spinning dirt everywhere, and screaming out the window at me, cussing and calling me names. I turned around walked inside, and said “This is just too white trash for me, this is not an episode of Jerry Springer. I’m done.”

He brought me flowers when he came home. I told him it was over. He apologized. He begged. He cried. He got on his knees. I went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife, acting like I was going to cut myself. He cried, I started to cry a little out of sheer frustration, he begged me to stay with him, I gave in. I just wanted all the pain to stop.

A few days later we were at my mom’s house. He asked me to come outside with him and we stood in the little greenhouse where my mom kept her plants. He got on one knee and asked me to marry him.

“Are you serious?” I said

It was not a nice thing to do. But admittedly, it was a bad move on his part. Our relationship was falling apart and the only thing he could think to do was ask me to marry him, like that would fix it. I see now how hurtful it must have been to be rejected by me, but it was a very strange move by him. Still, I see why he did it. He was desperate. He wanted to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

I started talking to an old friend, and we swapped some dirty pictures back and forth. Guy and I had decided a while back that this was okay and did not constitute cheating. There had been once incident in which a friend and I had jerked off together on webcam and when I told Guy he said I’d cheated on him. I felt terrible, but I was more than a little annoyed to learn later, after we’d broken up, that he had ALSO jerked off on webcam with someone, and it had been THE SAME GUY. I was mad at both of them for not telling me, and at Guy for making me feel so bad when he’d already done the same thing before I did it.

So this old friend and I had been flirting online, and we’ll call him James for the sake of the story. James and I met up and he actually took me on what amounted to a date, driving me through the mountains, and we actually did walk up a mountain together and take pictures on a bridge high up in the air, and at one point during the ride I actually pulled my dick and let him touch it. When I got home I told Guy what had happened. He was mad.

But he was also tired. We were both tired. We were tired of trying. We were tired of failing.

We were sitting on opposite couches when suddenly he just piped up, all happy, saying “What if we just stay together?”

“Huh?” I asked.

“We don’t have to be boyfriends anymore, but we can keep living together, and seeing other people. Nothing actually has to change, there just won’t be any pressure on either of us anymore.”

Weirdly, incredibly weirdly, I perked up too. “But we can be broken up?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes,” he said, “But we’ll still stay in each other’s lives, we’ll still live together.”

We were both smiling.

How fucking weird is that?

Looking back on it, we were both in denial. Our relationship ended right there, and we just went back to doing what we were doing. We kept on hanging out in the living room, chatting like nothing had happened. We had agreed on something between polyamory and an all-out breakup right then and there, and we just sauntered on like nothing happened.

The denial didn’t last for very long. Having now gotten permission and my freedom, I slept with James pretty quickly. But Guy and I realized that this just wasn’t happening. And if we were going to break up, we had to really break up. And so we did.

It was very, very sad.

He made plans with his sister for her to come and pick him up, and take him back to Georgia with her. I stayed at my mom’s house for a couple of days, not wanting to be with him, because it would just be too hard. Eventually I did go home. I crawled in bed with him.

Late in the middle of the night I felt something wet on the back of my neck. His arms were around me. He was crying into my hair, and he was also singing.

He was singing the words to the love song from Final Fantasy VIII, it’s called Eyes On Me. It hadn’t exactly been “our song,” but he had really liked it and learned to play it on saxophone.

I held his hand. He sobbed into the back of my neck.

“My last night here with you, same old songs, just once more.

My last night here with you, maybe yes, maybe no.

I kind of liked it your way, how you shyly placed your eyes on me.

Did you ever know that I had mine on you?”

A few days later it was time for him to leave. We kissed a lot. We held each other. We waited for his sister to show up. She arrived and I helped load his stuff into the car. She waited outside. We stood in the hallway. I kissed him again. We said goodbye.

He got into the car and she drove away.

It was quiet.

I didn’t turn around or go into my room, I grabbed my keys and my laptop and got in my truck, and went to my mother’s house, where I stayed for a few days. When I came back, it was still quiet, our roommate wasn’t home. I stood at the closed door of our bedroom. I knocked on the door, knowing he wasn’t there. I called out his name.

“Guy?” I asked to nothing.

There was no response.

I opened the door.

Our stuff was strewn everywhere. We’d made a big mess packing. He’d left some things but mostly it was my stuff everywhere, and some of his clothes that he’d left for me.

Folded neatly on the back of a chair in our room was a tee shirt. It was a navy blue shirt for some restaurant, a shirt he’d had for a long time. When we first met, when I’d told him I was going to cut of all contact with him, he had given me that shirt to remember him by. I asked if I could have something that smelled like him, so he’d worn it all day and then given it to me. Now it was laying here, folded, on the back of the chair, and he’d worn it the day before. I picked it up and pressed it to my face. It smelled like him.

I looked around at our room, clothes and games and papers strewn everywhere. I started pacing around the room, into the closet, and back to the center.

I opened my mouth and sang.

“My last night here with you, same old songs, just once

My last night here with you, maybe yes, maybe no

I kind of liked it your way, how you shyly placed your eyes on me

Did you ever know….? That I had mine on you?”

I sat down and cried. I held his shirt, and I cried.

I cried for two years. Sometimes it was easier, sometimes it was harder. I lay in bed at night and felt so strange to have the bed all to myself. I missed him there. I missed snuggling up to him and pressing my waist against his butt. I missed touching his hair with my fingers. I even missed him waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me to stop snoring.

I didn’t regret my decision. But I missed him.

I still miss him. I still think that breaking up was the right thing to do. Most of the time, I’m alright. Sometimes, I miss him. It’s not that I regret breaking up, and in fact I think that the way our relationship happened is what HAD to happen. I learned a lot about emotional abuse, as both the victim and the abuser. I learned about monogamy, I learned what my boundaries are in a relationship, I learned what I can and can’t handle, and I learned when it’s time to let go and move on.

Breaking up was the right thing to do. I hope that he agrees. But I still miss him.

And he still misses me too. We talk, we’re friends. There was a long period of silence, but we became friends again. We’re not incredibly close friends, but he knows where he stands. Which is to say, he hasn’t stopped being important to me.

During the past year when I felt suicidal, every time I imagined killing myself, I always imagined what my suicide note, or video recording, or online post, might say. Every time it included Guy. I always left him everything. I always told him I was sorry. I always told him that I loved him. Every time I’ve imagined what I might do if I were in the hospital dying, I always open my mouth and ask for Guy. He rushes to my bedside and tell him I just want to kiss him again before I die. It’s morbid, but depression is morbid. Whenever I’ve thought about dying, the most important things that I think about are telling Robert and Zack how much I love them, how much their love and support means to me, and to tell Guy that I love him.

I don’t believe Guy was “the one,” because I don’t believe there is “the one.” Even in a polyamorous sense, I don’t believe that there are certain people you’re just destined to find. But I do believe that you find someone you care about, you connect, and you make it work. One of the most important things I learned was that I DID love Guy. I worried our whole relationship that I didn’t really love him, that I was just forcing it. And there were many things I was forcing, and I was even forcing myself to love him before it was time, but in the end I DID love him. And I still do.

I’ve thought about what would happen if he were to ask me to be with him again. I live in Delaware and he lives in Georgia, and we haven’t physically seen one another since that day that he left, but still, I’ve thought about what I would say or do. I know instantly that getting back together is not the right thing. But then, I think to myself, what about this longing I feel for him? What about this pull toward him, what about the fact that I still miss him, that I still love him?

I’d love to see him. I’d love to kiss him, to hold him, to fuck him, to be close to him again and experience that love that still exists.

Just because your relationship can’t work doesn’t mean you don’t love someone. And just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can make a relationship work.

It’s hard. But I learned so much. And I only learn things the hard way.