Michael

I’m on the right, visible somewhere beneath all the accessories

I was sitting in a tree, the day I ran away from home.

The tree was on the front lawn of my high school, and I was sixteen years old. It must have been a week day because I remember thinking, as I walked through the short stretch of woods that divided my neighborhood from the school, that my chorus teacher was probably still there and I might be able to get some advice from him, talk to him about life. I seem to remember a few people still walking around outside so it must have been around five o’clock. I got to the school and went to the chorus room but it was locked, he’d already gone home for the day, so I wandered out to the front area where people waited for cars to pick them up and climbed up into one of the trees there. It wasn’t too difficult to climb because the tree wasn’t very high, and I remember nestling myself in so I could sulk properly.

I’d run away without giving it any thought. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t care, of course I’d not planned for where I would sleep, what I would eat, where I would go tomorrow. I was so fueled by emotion that it didn’t matter, the melodrama of doing it made me feel something and that insolent teenage passion and rage was enough. Just feeling it was enough. The future didn’t really matter.

I’d gotten angry at my mother. She’d abused me for years but on this particular day she was acting out of misguided compassion. I guess most of her abuse took the form of misguided concern. She didn’t really hit me, aside from one time when she lost it and pulled my hair, and another when she pushed me onto my bed and walked out of the room, it was all psychological gaslighting and emotional manipulation, a lot of screaming and name-calling and denigration. Today, the thing she’d done was to not believe me when I told her the truth.

I had a best friend, back then. His name was Michael, and we had met a year ago, and I had immediately fallen head-over-heels in love with him. He was my first love, and I met him the day before my fifteenth birthday. Having turned thirty a few months ago I can now say that it’s been the same amount of time from that day up to now as it had been from the moment I was born up until the day I met him, but even though that moment is lost in the dense fog that makes up my memory and perception of time, I still hold on to it, even if I’ve sucked all the feeling out of it like marrow from a bone. I hold on to that husk of a memory that has become so grainy and foggy and distorted and unclear because it makes me who I am, it was the time when I felt most alive. When I met him, I fell almost instantaneously in love with him in a way that only teenagers – not quite children and not quite adults – can. People say that teen love is “puppy love” but they only say that because most of the people doing the talking are heterosexual and have the privilege of growing up in a world when they’re allowed to have pretend girlfriends and pretend crushes as young children before they actually develop romantic and sexual elements of their own personalities – a boy walking to class holding hands with his girlfriend doesn’t have any idea what romance is, they’re playing pretend, they’re imitating what they see adults do.

Teenagers do everything in extremes. They love passionately and hate passionately and they sulk passionately. I once tried reading an Edmund White book called A Boy’s Own Story and honestly I never made it very far, but there was something he said that has stayed with me, and I’ve never been able to exactly pinpoint the quote so I’ll just tell you the version of it I assimilated into my mind: all love is a reflection of the first. The first time we fall in the love the most intense, the more pure, the most distilled and undiluted version of raw love that we can feel. It might not be the most healthy, the most productive, or the most successful, and I’m sure that this quote does not really apply to everyone. In fact, I wish it didn’t apply to me. But it feels to me, despite the love I have felt for other people since, that I’ve never loved someone as fully and unconditionally and unstoppably as I did Michael. Michael was straight (for the most part), and even though we would later on have a sexual experience after the full heat of our friendship had subsided and we’d spent a lot of time apart, right now I was deeply in love with him, and things had seemed to be going as well as I could have hoped for.

My wildest dream had come true: after a year of achingly longing to be with Michael all week and going to his house almost every weekend (the few times I couldn’t be with him I cried and pined after him as only a lovesick teenage boy can), our family had united into one little unit with my mother and his father becoming close friends. They’d actually dated as teenagers but broken up, and that’s how I ended up being introduced to Michael when his dad visited my grandmother. And now our families had actually moved in together, with Michael and I sharing a bedroom, that bedroom being a garage filled with our furniture and beds and video games. And not only were we living together but we were going to the same school.

When I fell in love with Michael I needed to rationalize some way to live with the fact that he did not love me back in the same way that I loved him, so I convinced myself that I loved him as “a brother.” I told myself that we were as close as brothers and that was why we cared about each other so much and so deeply understood each other. That was why I needed to be with him. He was my soul brother. But of course I didn’t understand at the time this was my way of contextualizing a love I couldn’t deal with. There were some bumps in the road, but for the most part I had come to believe this about my relationship with Michael. I had accepted that he wasn’t going to be my boyfriend, but I loved him with a ferocity that could only come from a teenage boy in the heat of pure and unfiltered infatuation, mixed with the gentle open heart of a deeply troubled abused boy who had never had a close friend he could rely on before, and had spent years fantasizing about what it might be like to be held in the arms of another boy or to kiss another boy or to touch someone in the way that I so desperately wanted to be touched. Michael didn’t kiss me, he didn’t touch me, and he only occasionally let me see him naked, but anything was better than nothing, and I worshipped him because as long as he was in my life, my life had meaning.

Michael and I had made a new friend, called Cody. Cody was, like us, a bit of an outcast. He lived in a rough part of town in a dingy trailer in the woods, but he was a kind guy and Michael and I started spending time at his house, spending the night together, the three of us bunched into Cody’s small bed. I was always in the middle. Cody was really more Michael’s friend than he was mine, but he was still just as nice to me, and he and I even spent some time together without Michael, with him “sword fighting” with me using old metal rods he had laying around his back yard. The three of us also wrestled with one another a lot. I remember how much we laughed while we were wrestling and how at home I felt. I remember this moment of looking at Cody’s bookshelf, I have no idea what was on that shelf anymore but I remember contemplating it, it may have been a CD or a video game, and I observed Cody with the same weird alien fascination that I observed everyone with, because I never really understood people and always felt that I was outside and trying to understand them. I used Cody’s bathroom and found a crumpled, crusty shirt next to his toilet, and told him he’d forgotten to wash it, when he awkwardly told me that it was his cum rag and it was there for a reason. If I remember correctly, I went back into the bathroom and did all the disgusting things you’d imagine a horny pent up gay teenage boy might do when presented with someone else’s cum towel.

All this is to say that while spending time with Cody had been fun, and I was beginning to feel like Michael and I were actually starting to form some kind of friend group, I’d come home absolutely covered in bruises from the wrestling and the metal pole sword-fighting. And when she saw how bruised I was, my mom refused to believe my story that it had happened naturally during rough housing. Even though I kept explaining to her that Cody is just really physically rough and I don’t mind because I can handle it, she convinced herself that I was so pitiful and so desperate to have friends that I was willing to let these boys beat me up in order to be their friend. She thought I was allowing myself to be physically abused by these two so that they could hang out with me and show me attention. It’s honestly a really bizarre narrative she invented but I could see how if I had been a parent with a kid covered in bruises I might not believe their story either.

The point is that I kept vehemently protesting when she insisted this version of events she’d invented were true, and you know the funny thing about gaslighting is that now all these years looking back on it, I had to stop for just a split-second and ask myself “Wait… was it true? Were they beating me up?” That’s how easy it is to fuck with someone’s perception, especially someone with mental illness. Of course I was sixteen at the time and panic attacks and anxiety were not yet a part of my life. That particular door had not been opened, and that endless sinking plummeting in my stomach and heat in my chest had not yet begun. So my mother kept insisting I was lying to her, and I kept insisting I was telling the truth, and as she grew more frantic she began to scream that she was going to call the police, that she was going to have Cody locked up or sent to juvenile detention for what he’d done to me.

I was so angry with her over everything, not just Cody I now realize looking back, but everything she’d put me through, that I had enough. And I stomped outside and stomped down the driveway and stomped the short way up the street to the woods and stomped into the path that led to school. And as I furiously stormed through the woods and found the dirt road that led up to the school, passing the few houses of the people who lived back there, I became convinced that I’d had enough and I was done with my mom, and I was never going back. It’s easy, when you’re young, to forget about the reality of a situation. Where you will sleep seven hours from now is not a consideration when you’re SO PASSIONATELY angry that the very act of running away, the defiance itself, is enough to make you feel satisfied. I imagined I would find my chorus teacher still packing up for the day and we’d sit down like this was a sitcom and I’d have a heart-to-heart with him, and he’d tell me something really wise and I would have the strength to persevere and feel that I’d learned something.

But he wasn’t there. The chorus room door was locked and the light within was turned off. So I wandered outside and sat in the tree.

I didn’t have a phone. In my memory of being in the tree I seem to think I was wearing a hoodie and listening to an iPod but that can’t be right. It’s funny how memory fills in the gaps with details that didn’t actually happen. I know that eventually, I got tired of sitting in the tree, so I climbed down and started walking.

I didn’t know where I intended to go. I turned right out of the school and walked up to the intersection and turned left, walking through yards. I was actually headed in the direction of a house I’d previously lived in for a few years but I don’t think that thought had really crossed my mind yet. I’ve gone through Mount Holly plenty of times now that I’m an adult with a car, and I think the distance I walked was somewhere between six to ten miles. It was a lot. I walked past houses and into areas of road with nothing but trees on either side, I walked past several gas stations, I walked past the big park where soccer games were held, past where my friends got off the bus. The sole on one of my shoes had come lose and it actually came completely off while I was walking, so I took it off and walked, alone, holding one shoe in my hand. At some point I decided to stop, I don’t remember what I was thinking exactly but I stopped and knocked on someone’s door and asked if I could use their phone. I tried calling Michael’s dad, who lived with us, but he didn’t answer, and the lady gave me a can of Mountain Dew and I went back to walking.

I kept going, further and further. The whole time, I was singing.

The night before had been a chorus concert. It’s a particular memory that’s been replaying in my brain for years and years. Our concerts were held at this big church with great acoustics; it had a high ceiling and stained glass windows that I remember had some slightly ugly depictions of Jesus and one that had the devil in a corner, or at least I thought it was. I had a Gameboy Advance with me and I was playing Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories. Michael was around somewhere, or at least he would be later, I don’t exactly remember because in my memory I’m not associating with him. He must have come later. But now I was sitting in a pew because I was here hours earlier than I needed to be and the rest of my class wasn’t there, it was just the Concert Choir who was there rehearsing, and they were eleventh and twelfth graders.

The piano started, and the group began to sing a spiritual, and the arrangement began with a soloist.

When she started singing, I immediately lifted my head from where I was staring down at the Gameboy Advance, and watched her, transfixed.

The song was a spiritual entitled City Called Heaven, and she was singing,

“I am, a poor pilgrim
A poor pilgrim of sorrow
I’m left in, this ol’ wide world

This wide world, alone
I ain’t got no hope
Got no hope for tomorrow
I’m trying to make it
Make Heaven my home.”

I was so moved by her voice and by the song that later on when our concert was ripped onto a CD I would borrow it from my chorus teacher and put it on my computer, and sadly those files, as well as his copy of the concert, is now lost. I’ve never heard a rendition of the song quite like hers. Later on, in eleventh grade, I would convince myself that I had a crush on her because I’d been so moved by her voice, because it felt nice to think I had a crush on a girl, it felt right and normal and like something I should do. I never really did, of course, but I even indulged in lightly fantasizing about her giving me a kiss for my birthday. It’s stupid, the things we fantasize about as teenagers. But our fantasies are blessedly stupid, because a lot of other fantasies from that time remain in my mind.

And so here I was, walking down a dusty road in a small town at dusk as the sun was setting, my long messy hair probably sweaty and tangled and holding one shoe in my hand. And the whole time I sang to myself, slightly misunderstanding part of the verse,

“I am a poor pilgrim
A poor pilgrim of sorrow
I’m left in this ol’ wide world
This ol’ wide world alone
I ain’t got no home
Got no home for tomorrow
I’m trying to make it
Make Heaven my home”

It seemed to me to be a mantra, and the theme music to this particular scene in my life. How fitting to have heard the song just the night before, to have it playing in my mind, to be quietly singing it to myself as I finished my can of Mountain Dew and probably threw it into the woods. The night before at the church I’d been wearing a god-awful necklace made entirely of soda can tabs that Michael had made, and even though I knew it was an incredibly dumb accessory (even for 2006, the height of dumb accessories), I wore it because it was something that made me feel connected with Michael. That night at the church it had broke and all the soda tabs had spilled onto the floor and I don’t remember what I did. I actually now think I may have just left them all there on the floor for someone else to clean up. That’s a memory that I didn’t even know I had, leaving them there. I’ve always thought I collected the tabs and wore them again. I don’t know, who’s to say at this point? That’s the thing with memory, it’s a haze.

So I sang to myself over and over again on repeat, not knowing anything but the first verse of the song, “I ain’t got no home, got no home for tomorrow,” and “I’m left in this wide world, this wide world alone.” It made so much sense. I knew that by now my mom was worried. But she didn’t know where I’d be. I thought maybe she’d have sent the police out to look for me. I didn’t care. I had calmed down a lot but I was still angry with her. Still feeling this righteous indignation deep within me at the fact that SHE had accused my FRIEND, one of my only, blessed, few friends, of abusing me, and had not believed me when I protested. She had no right to threaten Cody, not after I’d finally made another friend. It had taken my fifteen years just to make one, and now she was going to take away my second friend? I didn’t know Cody yet but I’d already had times with him that I cherished: sneaking out in the middle of the night to walk several miles up the road to the gas station, sword fighting in his back yard, playing Yu-Gi-Oh with him, watching cartoon on Saturday morning. It was the kind of friendship that most kids get to have but which I’d had so little of, when I’d been alone and imagining my friends. It wasn’t fair for her to take away someone who meant something to me. To threaten him. She was always taking from me, always making things worse.

She would do far worse things in the years to come, but for now, this indignation kept me walking, with no particular destination in mind. And eventually, I came upon the road I used to live on, which happened to be right across the street from the house where my uncle still lived. I tromped down behind the gas station where my uncle’s house was and found him on the porch, he jovially greeted me. It’s at this point in the story I remember that I was wearing a tee shirt that was way too big for me, and he made some comment about how funny I looked. I think the shirt was Michael’s dads. I’d long since started calling him “dad” and considering him to be my new dad, especially since I considered Michael my brother.

I asked to use his phone and I don’t remember exactly how but I ended up at his neighbor’s house and using THEIR phone to call Michael’s dad, who did answer this time. He didn’t say very much. He didn’t seem to be angry at me. I quietly told him where I was and asked if he’d come pick me up. I might have asked him if he’d bring me some food, I’m not sure. About fifteen minutes later he arrived and we drove silently back to our house. When we got there my mom was on the back porch, sitting quietly, and it was clear she’d been crying. I’d been gone for probably three hours or more. I asked her if she was going to start yelling at me. She sighed and said that no, she was not going to yell at me, but to please promise that I would never scare her like this again. Her sister was sitting beside her and I seem to remember her agreeing with my mom.

I went inside. I don’t remember what happened next. That’s where the chapter ends in my memory. Eventually I drifted away from Cody and then away from Michael. But I never really stopped loving him, just stopped needing him all the time.

Fifteen years later I think I still love him. I definitely still long for the way I felt when he was my entire world. To be so fully and completely devoted to someone, to be so enveloped by a feeling of devotion, it’s something I truly don’t think I’ll ever experience again. But I’d certainly like to. Michael is a hard person to find, and he has very little presence on social media, but I managed to find him under a screen name with no photos some time last year on Twitter and reached out to him. He actually lives very close to where I live now. He lives with two women, one older and one younger than him, and he made a lot of gross misogynist comments about how just one girl isn’t enough for him, and how he works to support them by streaming video games on Twitch. I asked him if he was still bisexual and he told me no, he was straight. I briefly brought up how much I loved him back in high school and he didn’t seem bothered but just kind of shrugged it off.

I think, that in the story of Michael’s life as he sees it when he looks back, I am probably not a very prominent player, not an important character. And it’s a little funny and a little sad that he is quite possibly the most important figure in my history, the one who taught me love and friendship. I don’t even know there was anything particular about him that did it: any boy who showed me attention and who was attractive to me might have gotten the same response. If time was rewound and the situation played out differently I might have fallen in love with any other boy in the world, but it was him. And that moment, so emotionally powerful, when I first got into his dad’s car the weekend after I’d met him for my birthday, and been so excited to see him that I’d left the front door of our apartment wide open, and with horror and panic heard my mom scream at me over the phone later that maybe Michael’s dad should turn around and bring me right back home, those moments are etched into who and what I am. They are a central part of my story, of my memory. They’re a landmark in the fog, a place to stop and sit and wonder and think and feel again.

As an adult, I am right now in a crisis of a kind. An emotional crisis, a mental crisis. I’m not panicking the way I was this time a year or so ago, when I was being ravaged by anxiety attacks every night and didn’t think I’d ever get any better. But I am at some kind of breaking point where I feel something has to change. And my depression has caused my memory to be affected, and my ability to focus and to recall the words I need have been impaired by this fog that swirls around in my mind. And I find myself sifting through these memories, trying to find some meaning in them, to understand what my life is and who I am and to recover enough of myself to move forward.

I haven’t found it yet. I don’t know if I will. Right now my feelings are so numb that the memory of loving Michael is distant, but it’s a light in the sky and I know it’s there because I can see it, even if I can’t touch it.

I’d like to fall in love again so completely, but I don’t know if I will, and I don’t even know if I CAN. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll experience teenage infatuation in my thirties. But life may surprise me. I hope it does.

Someone told me today that I am a writer. They didn’t say it in a triumphant way, they said it in passing while talking about something else, they acknowledged it as a fact, and it felt so validating that they believed in my writing. They actually said a lot of other kind things right after that touched me, but it was the fact they acknowledged it so completely, “You are a writer, you are a good writer.” They believe in me, and they believe I ALREADY AM a writer.

I guess I am.

I’ve never gone to college. My writing, like my music, is wild and untrained and overwrought with emotion because feeling is really all I’m capable of, which I know is ironic considering how numb I am. I don’t think I’m very good at describing scenery, I can never adequately explain the scene of my imagination to a reader, but I think I can make people understand how it FEELS. How it feels to be sitting in a tree outside my high school, to be wandering the road alone and singing a hymn I only half-remembered, to be young enough that the panic attacks hadn’t started and I could do something like walk for ten miles in a random direction with no thought to what might happen and with no food or water and somehow still feel content to keep walking.

I don’t know where this is going to lead. The world is on lock down and I haven’t gone to work since April. I’ve been delivering food in my car for most of that time, and it’s become harder and harder both to make money doing it and to force myself to get up and go to work. I’ve been emotionally and spiritually pounded by my depression in the past two weeks in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I’m in what I think of as “the deep place,” a dark place in a pool of water that isn’t exactly wet and doesn’t make you drown or suffocate, a place where you sink like a stone to the bottom of the dark lake and sit there with your arms around your knees and you just feel. Feel and feel and feel and feel. Tonight I’m numb, not rocking back and forth in the shower listening to music from my teen years that I didn’t even care about at the time but which now punctures me emotionally and makes the memories and the longing and the disappointment spill out.

Back then I kept walking because I was feeling everything so intesely that I couldn’t stop. Now I’m trudging because I want to feel. I’m on the other end of the road, walking toward him. I wish I could find him, the me that was sixteen, the me that was still healthy and not nearly as overweight as I thought I was, the me that didn’t have type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea and acid reflux and anxiety and panic attacks all compounded by the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I’ve had since childhood. I want to hold him in my arms. I want to hold his long brown hair in my hands and comfort him and tell him…

…tell him what? That there’s so much to live for? Well, maybe. He doesn’t have a lot to look forward to. It’s been so much pain, so much disappointment, so much regret, and so much continual longing for exactly the time he’s living through, the time that’s coming to an end, the time when he was first in love. But I could tell him that I love him. That he means something to me. That his existence is the only reason for mine, and I don’t mean that in a linear sense, I mean it spiritually. I’m alive because I’m trying to get to him, I’m trying to find him in this dense fog that ties my tongue and locks my memories and keeps me away from myself. I’m trying to find him, somewhere in this dense foggy castle of my mind, sitting behind a locked door and waiting to be found. I’m trying to believe, as he did, that the future held promise. That there were more Michael’s to love, Michael’s who would actually love me back, Michael’s who would enrich me and not just hold me in thrall. I love Michael, still, because of who we WAS, regardless of who he is now, and his part in my life is so precious to me that if I could do it all over again I’d make sure he was still there. He saved me from my silent existence, he gave me a companion who listened and who in some way understood. He gave me a lover whether he touched me or not, whether he kissed me or not. Michael did kiss me, a couple years later, because I asked him to, because we’d done most everything else I’d wanted to do but not that, and he awkwardly pushed me against a wall and kissed me hard with a mouth that tasted like stale marijuana, a kiss as unsatisfying and devoid of passion as I should have expected it to be. It didn’t feel like a book-end to a story, it felt silly. I’m glad he did it but I wish it had been better.

Maybe all this time I’ve been remembering Michael the way I do because it helps me make sense of my life to see him as a blinking light in the sky I can follow to get back home to myself. Maybe I’ve romanticized him, but who doesn’t romanticize their past? We all have to see something, to find some meaning.

I don’t even believe in Heaven anymore. But I’m still out in this wide world alone. And I’m still trying to find home.

*

*

P.S.

Last year I wrote a song about Michael. I’m very proud of it. It’s a bit lengthy but I think it’s a good one. My recording set up is not the best so the quality is very humble, but I hope you’ll feel something if you listen.

Ten Hours

A few days ago I woke up, early in the morning, drenched in sweat. The sheets beneath and above me were soaked through with it, and my blanket too; everything smelled of sweat. My head was spinning, and I managed to push myself upright and take a drink of water. I got up and very slowly shambled into the living room, where my mom lay on the couch with the news on. It was still early enough that there was no light outside. I collapsed into the recliner, and wrapped a blanket around myself, taking staggered breaths.

There was a hurricane coming through, Hurricane Michael, but honestly I wasn’t concerned about it. I don’t really mind storms anymore, as an adult I’m not really afraid of dying in them like I was as a kid, and I often find the pounding rain comforting. I sat in the chair, my head lolling back and forth because it was so hard to hold it up, and every time I exhaled, a soft moan would accompany it. This was the second day that I’d been sick, and I still didn’t know what with. But it was terrible, and it was wreaking havoc not just on my body but on my mind and heart as well. I suffered from a constant dread, a feeling that this would never end, never get better.

I don’t handle being sick well, and I never have. At least not when it comes to anything stomach related. Throwing up is an incredibly rare occurrence for me, to the point that I’ve always found it incredibly odd to hear people talk so casually about throwing up from drinking, or making themselves throw up to feel better. For me, vomiting is a life-or-death experience, at least emotionally. My entire body goes limp and then seizes up, it’s more like a seizure than throwing up. I never throw up quickly, it churns in my stomach for hours and sometimes even days before it leaves me, like a disease festering inside my body. Usually I can feel a disgusting taste coming up into my throat for days beforehand and when I do throw up, it exhausts me so much physically and emotionally that I almost always cry, and then emotionally collapse and go to sleep, praying that it will be over soon.

So, it was with some unease then, that I went to work several days ago with my stomach feeling uneasy. Now, I’m actually used to my stomach giving me problems pretty often: I’m lactose intolerant, I have type 2 diabetes and issues with blood sugar, but usually it never gets bad enough that I throw up, and thankfully at no point in this story do I ever end up throwing up. Thank God for small mercies, I guess. I work at a coffee shop, and had taken home a couple of the “protein boxes” that were past their sell by date, which I’ve even before and which are usually just fine. I happened to take home a couple that have two hard-boiled eggs in them, and though I still don’t know for sure, I think the eggs are the source of all of this. I ate one of the protein boxes the night before, and another the morning of before I went to work that day. I was in and out of the bathroom all afternoon, but I was determined that I wouldn’t leave work early because of it.

The truth is, I have a bad problem with calling out of work, or avoiding work in general. I’ve never been good at working a job for the same reason that I was never good at going to school regularly: I don’t like feeling trapped. I can actually still remember the moment in Kindergarten, walking into the school on a dark and rainy morning, so early that the sun had not yet come up, and I remember looking up at the ceiling, which to a five year old seemed so incredibly high, like the domed ceiling of a cathedral, and I remember a teacher ushering us all toward our classrooms. As I walked, staring up at the ceiling and thinking of how I missed being at home and being with my mom, I was thinking about how I’d recently learned that school lasts for twelve years. Twelve years was an incomprehensibly long time, and it seemed to stretch out forever before me. And I decided then and there that I hated school, that I didn’t want to be there, and that I just couldn’t wait until it was over so I could stay at home where I was happy. After all why did I need to come to this stupid school for seven hours a day, five days out of the week?

And honestly, that feeling never left me. I was a very smart child so I had good grades up until middle school, when things began to actually challenge me, and my response was to simply give up and slide by on terrible grades until I ultimately graduated high school. I could have applied myself and been an outstanding student, but the truth is I didn’t want to be an outstanding student: I just wanted to go home. I always just wanted to go home. And when school was over and the time for me to start working jobs, it was exactly the same feeling: why am I spending eight hours of the day here, every day, wasting precious moments of my life in a place where I’m unhappy? Why does ANYONE do this? There are so many better things I could be doing with my time. If this is what work is, then I don’t care about work at all, and I don’t want to do it.

And, like school, it’s never really left me, that feeling of the utter uselessness of going to work. I can understand on some level why it’s important to go out and be a member of society, but the fact that in addition to that simple childlike desire to go home, I now as an adult have to contend with debilitating social anxiety and panic attacks, makes it even harder to go to work on a regular basis. And so, it’s always been difficult for me, and probably always will be. I started this new job incredibly excited about working for this company, but within a few weeks I’ve already called out about four or five times and left work early twice, and that doesn’t look good on me.

So here I was, at work, with an upset stomach, just trying to make it through the day. My vision started to get blurry and I began to feel more and more disoriented. I had made a decision the night before that I was going to start eating healthier, so this morning had NOT included a run through the McDonald’s drive through for a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit, and instead I’d eaten my protein box with two eggs and some fruit, and later the turkey sandwich from another protein box, and even writing about either of those things right now is making me want to throw up, so you can see where this is going. I felt shaky and weak, which are symptoms that, along with the disorientation, I’m very used to, because they’re common signs of anxiety attacks, and also signs of low blood sugar. I didn’t feel particularly anxious, and when I checked my sugar it was lower than it should be, so I decided I would take lunch soon and have something sweet. On lunch I got a frappucinno (yes, I’m diabetic, and yes, I got a frappucinno, I didn’t say it was a GOOD decision) and a pre-made panini and went to sit in my car and eat and try to recover. After about ten or fifteen minutes I could feel my sugar rising and started to feel a bit better, when I suddenly realized that the air condition in my car was bothering me, so I turned it off. But when I turned it off I realized that actually, I was freezing, so I turned the heat on. All the way. And blasted it.

I was suddenly freezing, cold chills running up and down my whole body, and the heat felt like a warm blanket; my skin was covered in goosebumps, and I was reminded of the time I got bronchitis, which began with a terrible fever, when I’d sat in my truck with the heat blasting for a good fifteen minutes before I got out, and then discovered the next day I had a high fever. This was so unexpected and sudden that I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but my break was nearly over. The 30-minute mark of my break came and went, and I stayed in the car, shivering, and trying to breathe. Eventually about 45 minutes had past. I knew I wasn’t going back inside. I gathered up the courage to call the store and let my manager know what was happening, and that I was going to go to the Emergency Room. When I got to the Emergency Room, I brought in a small blanket my sister had made by cutting and tying together two pieces of fabric. I was surprised to find that I was NOT running a fever, despite having every symptom of a fever.

This led to the longest night in the Emergency Room I’ve ever experienced. I got there at 8PM. I was taken back, had blood taken from me, and hooked up to an IV pole with saline dripping. I kept going back and forth to the bathroom with dhiarrea like I had all day. I was taken to a room and given a gown, and the nurse even brought me a heated blanket. I did NOT like having an IV in my arm, as I don’t do well with needles, and an IV isn’t a needle, but a gauged tube that holds your vein open so that fluids can be injected directly into it, which somehow made my skin crawl even more. The tests were coming back not showing anything serious, my white blood cells were normal, my symptoms seemed to be an elevated heart rate, severe dehydration, and slightly heightened liver function. An ultrasound was taken of my liver and I was eventually given an X-Ray for one of my ribs which had recently been bruised, just in case it had something to do with what was going on. I was continually amazed that I was NOT running a fever, despite laying their shivering under what was now a pile of FOUR blankets: my sister’s quilted one and three from the ER. The fluids were making me even colder. Hours were passing. I was so exhausted, and just laying there and breathing was becoming more difficult. The heart monitor kept making annoying beeping sounds because my heart rate kept hitting 120, which is not dangerously high but is too high to be considered normal.

I was so afraid that at one point I took my phone out and turned on the voice recorder and set it on my chest and made a spoken Last Will and Testament, just in case it turned out to be needed. I told my lover and my best friend Jake how important he is to me, and that I leave everything to him, and said some words about people in my life who’ve been important: my ex-boyfriend Nathan, my friends Zack and Robert who I used to live with, and a handful of others. I said that I didn’t want a Christian funeral, and I didn’t want any preacher to use my death or the grief of my friends and family to prey on them with a funeral service inciting them to come to Jesus. I chose a few songs that I wanted played at my funeral.

I know this all sounds dramatic, and I was aware at the time that it was a silly thing to do, but at the same time… I just DIDN’T KNOW what was happening. All of the tests they’d run seemed to indicate that I was alright aside from dehydration, and despite having fever symptoms, I wasn’t running a fever. Did that mean that I was suffering from something really rare and unusual? Was I having a reaction to something that they hadn’t figured out yet? I certainly felt like I was dying, so was I actually going to? Sadly I didn’t get to finish what I was saying to Jake in my recording because someone came into my room.

Eventually I fell asleep. I woke up covered in sweat, no longer freezing. I felt a lot better already. My vitals were all the same as before: still a high heart rate, my temperature was elevated but not technically a fever. By now it was 1AM. I was lonesome, I was afraid, I was sad. I called every member of my family and none of them answered. My phone was at about 10% and had another hour or so before it died, and I didn’t have a charger for it. One of my friends, Tori, gave me a call, I’d never heard her voice before, but it was nice to hear someone friendly. She assured me over and over again that I was safe, that I was probably fine. It helped a lot, she was the first person to offer me any kind of comfort.

Blood cultures were taken and it was incredibly painful. My veins wouldn’t show up because I was dehydrated and it took three attempts, rooting around inside my veins with the needle, each time my heart pounded as I squinted my eyes shut and tried to breathe. I was told once again that they couldn’t find anything wrong, I learned I have a gall stone but it’s really not a big deal and probably had nothing to do with me being sick now. The doctor finally let me take the damn temperature myself, rectally, and yes I did in fact have fever. Strange though considering I wasn’t freezing cold anymore.

Around 4AM I started to get antsy, I was ready to leave soon, but then I was told I was going to be transferred to a hospital for observation because my heart rate was too high. I was honestly just not interested in doing that, but they suggested I take in another bag of IV fluids since the last one had helped so much and see how I was doing after. That sounded reasonable enough, except after an hour and a half, the fluids were still not any more than halfway through the bag, and I didn’t feel much different than I had before. And what’s more, I did NOT want to go to the hospital and suffer through any more of this. Finally I told my nurse I was thinking of leaving soon, and she said I’d have to sign papers saying that I was leaving against the doctor’s recommendation, and indeed that’s the only paperwork I was given: a pink copy of a sheet saying that I acknowledged that the results of my refusing treatment could be (and then a blank space in which was written very simply) “sepsis, death.” I still don’t know what sepsis is and don’t want to. I waited and waited for my nurse to come back and take my IV out, but now she was helping other people and cleaning another room, and I was nearly ready to march up to the counter and offer them an ultimatum that either someone take this IV out of me or I’m doing it myself and it’s going to be a mess, before finally at 6AM, I was released from the machines I’d been hooked up to and my vein was finally, after ten hours, closed.

The moment I walked outside and smelled the damp morning air from the rain that had fallen overnight, it was like I’d just been reborn. It felt incredible. I was reminded of a moment in Dragon Age Inquisition where Cassandra describes her vigil to become a seeker, where she’d kept in dark and solitude, fasting and praying for days on end, drained of all emotion, until finally being touched by a spirit of faith and let out into the world again, and that the feeling is indescribable. I honestly wondered if maybe I HAD died in the hospital, and this was me in another universe where I’d survived, living out the dead Jesse’s wish to see the outside again. Driving home in my car was a wonderful feeling, and as I got inside and crawled into bed, I hoped that the worst of it was over.

I was wrong, of course, but I’d made it through the experience at the ER. The next day was difficult, filled with just as much emotional trauma as the last. I felt like I was dying, like I’d never be back to normal, never have my life back. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t eat, I could sometimes barely even speak, and I was so tired at all times. When I slept, I sweated profusely. The only things that made me feel any spark of joy were watching the animals in our house: several cats and two dogs, as they went about begging for food or following people around. My dog Butterscotch stood watch nearby wherever I was resting. I felt better as I got into bed that night, and the next morning awoke more tired and afraid than I’d been yet, and a hurricane was preparing to come through our area.

Later that day I felt better, and it continued to go in waves: a little better, then terrible, then a little better, then terrible. No one at the Emergency Room had offered me a concrete answer as to what was wrong with me, but my symptoms perfectly matched that of food poisoning. Tori called me again and reassured me that I was doing great, that I would recover soon, and that it took her husband three days to get better from food poisoning. Everyone kept saying three days, actually, that was apparently the magic number.

And it was.

On the third day, I was out of the woods. I was not recovered or even nearly back to normal. It is the fifth day now and I’m still not back to normal, but I knew that the worst was now over. And I was greeted by another surprise when I woke up: autumn. Every year I look forward to autumn, because the choking heat of summer makes me feel like I can’t breathe, and the fresh breath of autumn is like water when I’ve been choking and thirsty for months on end. I stepped onto the front porch and smelled fall air for the first time in a year, and it was as though nature was congratulating me on making it through, and I had the feeling that my life before the sickness and my life after were probably not going to be the same. I don’t really know, honestly.

I have a lot more to talk about, but it’s getting late and I’ve written all I can. Tomorrow I’ll talk about what’s been happening in my mind this whole time, and where my thoughts are, and what my plans are. Going back to work… it’s something I still haven’t done yet. I don’t know if I’ll lose my job over this. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I am scared. But I’m going to just keep going and doing what I have to. Right now, I can’t afford to do anything other than exactly what will help me recover.

Yesterday there was a fire in the front yard, and they burned limbs and wood all day. At night I took this picture of the smoking embers as I stood by the remaining warmth. It felt like it was really fall. And as I found myself standing up, outside, and walking around, I felt like a different person than the one who’d been suffering these past fews days, like I was his representative, strong and determined, sent out here to speak on his behalf. And I couldn’t help wondering, again, if maybe I HAD died of the sickness, and this was some universe where I’d escaped that fate, or history had been changed to allow me to live somehow. I didn’t feel entirely the same. And with the seasons changing, I knew that one of my biggest sources of fear and anxiety, namely the heat and the environment, was going to be far away for a while. I felt hopeful, and yet still terrified at the same time. And I still do.

But I’m alive, I’m alive.

Hee-ee-ee-ee-ee, I said
Don’t even let this go
And it’s hey to that old man
I’m coming in the graveyard
With my little tune, it’s June
I said she’s gone but I’m alive, I’m alive
I’m coming in the graveyard
To sing you to sleep now.”

– Graveyard, Tori Amos

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.

Heavy Steps

walking

The best way to describe how I’m feeling right now is “over it.” And I just am. Honestly I’ve grown so absolutely weary of the constant struggle to get up and go to work and fight the relentless anxiety. I am just ready to let go. And i don’t mean commit suicide, or even stop going to work.

Just… Its too much to care about anymore. There are important reasons why I need a job. I need to pay Robert and Zack for allowing me to live in their house rent free for nearly a year. I need to buyfood. But… What is worth this? What is worth this struggle? I don’t know how long I have to live, and here I am wasting precious days working a menial retail job, and for what? A paycheck that doesn’t cover any expenses and the privelage of more tedious work?

At least the anxiety has decreased significantly. What was once a steady pulse of hot fear has melted into a thick blanket of apathy and submission. I’m feeling more and more like Marvin the Robot fromHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who is programmed in such a way that he is literally incapable of feeling enthusiasm or joy, and constantly laments his station as a glorified servant instead of putting his abilities to use.

I’m angry. I’m pissed off that I’ve come so far in life and yet here I am, still walking the sales floor and greeting customers, folding towels and pulling plates to the front of shelves, exchanging inane useless chatter with strangers just so I can have someone to talk to.

There are so many jobs I’d be happy to do.  It doesn’t have to be something illustrious. What I’d love would be data entry. Just to sit at a desk quietly, listening to audibooks and typing numbers into forms. Or a personal assistant, bringing someone coffee or organizing files. Or a secretary, keeping things organized and greeting people from the comfort of my seat. I could even work a government job, as long as I can just be in an office, sitting down. I don’t know why that’s so much to ask.

But no. You need a degree to sit at a desk. And in order to have a degree you have to go to school, and in order to go to school you have to have the time to do that instead of working, or the emotional and mental fortitude to go to school as well as work a menial job, and I just don’t have either.

I don’t believe I’m going to get another chance at life. And its killing me to waste my life in retail stores and restaurants. I want to matter. I want to wake up in the morning and do something I care about. But there’s a mentality in our culture that no one gets a “free ride.” God forbid I subsist on someone else’s money or in a simple home paid for by the government, even though I have a mental illness that severely handicaps me emotionally when it comes to working out in public. If I had a physical illness the government would be happy to give me a check, but because people still don’t believe mental illness exists and it’s just an excuse to be lazy or have a bad attitude, I’m expected to shoulder a burden much worse than the burden carried by people who are doing more physical labor than I am. I have to fight the world every single day.

And I’m so tired of fighting. I’m so tired of wasting time.

Give me a piano, let me earn money with that. Give me a desk and an office in which to write my stories, let me earn money that way.

Give me a safe place to sit and read and learn, to walk the neighborhood listening to music, to communicate with people, to fight the loneliness and battle the darkness that follows me every day in my shadow.

Even if I did no work at all I wouldn’t be getting a free ride. The battle I fight is ongoing and not always visible, but I’m fighting it. I know what you’re thinking, I’m just making excuses for being lazy because I don’t want to work. There’s a mentality that “If I had to bust my ass for money, so do you. If I had to suffer, so do you.”

But I’m already suffering. My full time job is surviving the day. Even in a day in which I have no work at all to do, I can still find myself fighting for my life against the anxiety and depression that pose a very real threat to my life, not to mention my well-being at the very least. You can call in sick from work with a fever or a stomach virus, but I can’t call in stressed and emotionally exhausted. There are days off from an office job or a retail job. There are no days off from mental illness.

And besides, the attitude that because you worked hard for what you have then everyone else had to work just as hard, that attitude doesn’t make sense to me. If you had to suffer through unnecessary pain to have success, why would you want other people to suffer the same as you did? You might say “it isn’t fair that I had to work hard and you don’t,” but what is fair about wanting someone else to suffer? Is it a bitter desire for revenge against life that leads people to think it’s so wrong for someone to “freeload”? What is freeloading? I mean look at that term. I carry my anxiety and fear with me everywhere I go. Even if all my needs were met by other people, my load still would not be free. I would still by fighting against my mind and my body. Anxiety isn’t just having a bad day or feeling sorry for yourself, its an actual disease that affects your body, it is NOT “all in your head.”

No one tells someone in a hospital bed with a terminal illness to stop feeling sorry for themselves, get out of bed and go to work like the rest of us. Because that person is physically unable. What if you’re physically able but mentally unable? What do you do then?

Exactly the same thing you did the day before. You go to work like everybody else and you do the same tasks as everybody else, only the work you’re doing is a thousand times harder because your brain and your body are constantly devising new and inventive ways to harm you. Tonight while I was working I was folding towels and suddenly realized that I was standing on the opposite aisle from where I’d started. How did I get there? When did I walk across to another aisle? Had I blacked out? I looked around and realized that I hadn’t moved to another aisle at all. I clapped my hand over my mouth when the room started spinning and the wave of disorientation hit me. Which way was the exit, which way had i been facing before, where WAS I?

This is something that has never, ever happened to me before and it felt very much like I was in a dream. I don’t think it’s going to cause me problems in the future, but who knows? What if I start feeling disoriented all the time? What if it makes my panic attacks worse?

I’ll just have to keep going to work and nothing will change.  No one will have sympathy or compassion for me, at least not enough to alleviate my suffering by giving me some other task, because there aren’t any other jobs there to give.

I just have to keep getting up and fighting my own body and mind every day.

And the truth is my stamina is running out and I’m losing the ability to keep fighting. I don’t know what will happen if I can’t fight anyone. I doubt it would mean that I’d hurt myself. But what would I do? Would I just stay in be and refuse to move? Would I stop eating, just stop living, and just exist? I cant imagine that’s a real possibility.

But I’m so tired. And I’m just crying out to rue universe, please, give me something else. I’m willing to do the work, I just can’t do this work. I can’t keep working these public service jobs, I cant keep ringing up groceries and standing on my feet for eight hours, I can’t keep dealing with the crowds and the noise and the lines of people, I just can’t. I need something else.

I don’t want something else, I need something else. I need it. I can’t survive this way. I’m so tired of fighting.

I’m exhausted.

gray-ocean