55 miles. 1.5 hours. 2 more days. Speedometer climbing from 45 to 55. 3 traffic lights. 4 songs left on the CD. The slowest, saddest song was next. 5 minutes and 33 seconds. My favorite.
Light poles illuminated the sky like shiny pearls forming a winding path. Leading me back to the smoke that filled my lungs and dried my lips, the noise that cluttered my brain and strained my neck. A warehouse of carpeted excess. Flashing lights and MIDI sound effects. Chirping machines and amber drinks. Scraping ash in a silver vest night after night. 2 cars whiz past me. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I graduated college and received a degree and depression. The security of school was gone and I had no choice but to become an adult. And a janitor in a casino. But how could I be an adult when I was never a kid? Just a trash bag enveloping a skeleton. 100 lights down that hill, steering me toward that ash. That smoke. That drink. Those epileptic lights mocking me. I so badly wanted to be scraped away as well.
55 to 65. 3 years wasted. 90,000 dollars down the drain. Humiliation. Rejection. Gnashed between God’s teeth. 1 life wasted. No friends or family to see the pain. No instructors to see the potential. 2 tears rolling down my cheeks. Such a waste. I could have been better. I was too weak, too insignificant, much too afraid to touch the face of a lover, to grip tight to a goal, to push past the persistent patterns that planted me to that place. Too poor to leave. Every decision was dumb. Every friend was fake. But I was the fakest of them all. A total fraud. I couldn’t do it anymore.
The bug-blurred windshield splintered the light in all directions, turning the pearls into shards, stabbing me on my way down. I wouldn’t do it anymore. I could stop.
So I accelerated.
65 to 75. 2 hands on the wheel. 5 cars trailing behind me. 1,000,000 thoughts, fears, hesitations, and determinations flooding my brain. My heart pounded at the thought. Would I really do it this time? Adrenaline sang in my ears. Then a calm crept up and confirmed my course. I squeezed the steering wheel until I saw 10 white knuckles. And then I closed my eyes.
75 to 80. 80 to 85. Darkness for 1, 2, 3 seconds. Eyes squeezed shut. Lights bursting behind my lids like silent gunfire, a celebration of an end. Just let go. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because you never did. 85 to 90. My grip softened. I peeled my fingers away and for the longest time, I felt like I was floating. Flying. Skyrocketing toward rest.
And then the fear pounded into me, funneled into my fingertips and pried my eyes open. I steadied the wheel, let off the gas pedal. A Rolodex of responsibilities spun around my brain. It was only a few seconds. But I wanted to. I needed to. I just didn’t have the guts to have mine splayed across the dashboard.
I turned into the parking lot and turned my life over to another night of labor, of boredom and ashtrays, fingerprints and sticky beer bottles. Clinking glasses and walking holes in floors. I tugged at the last bit of moisture that clung to my lashes. I watched as the knuckles turned as pink as my eyes.
I learned the real labor was existing with this sickness, to breathe with no pulse, to live with no purpose, to have to fight with lungs and heart just to get out of bed, to know you are a fuckup, to count each day as both a miracle that you made it through and a tragedy that you didn’t die.
8 more hours to go. I couldn’t do it anymore.
But I did it anyway.
People cuddle people. Animals cuddle animals. People cuddle animals. I’ve watched enough cute puppy videos to see the comfort it brings both human and non-human to snuggle up to something else warm and breathing. It’s interesting to see that need for safety, security, and stability in another type of creature. When you think about it, you realize that need spans across all cultures, religions, and species.
I know I’m generalizing. Not everyone is affectionate or wants physical interaction and that’s okay. I still struggle with whether or not I’m that type of person. I’ve always liked the idea of touch but in actuality, it makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if it’s because I’ve been starved of touch for all these years and this is my new norm. Maybe I have just romanticized how therapeutic touch can be and maybe I made it more transformational than it really is. Or maybe I’m just naturally distant. Or maybe I’m just selectively affectionate.
But with the emerging popularity of weighted blankets and the undeniable adorableness of otters holding hands, there’s something to be said for being close. In the animal kingdom, it’s mostly instinct. Survival has a lot to do with it. Safety in numbers. But is it just about the body surviving? That closeness must encourage the head and heart to survive as well. It’s not just a physical need but a psychological response. Maybe when these animals get close to another willing creature, it lets them know they are worth surviving.
That instinct must extend to humans as well. I wonder if that’s where my desperate need to cuddle comes from. When I was cuddled for the first time earlier this year, I felt special for the first time in my life. And for a man who always feels worthless, it made a difference. I felt I was worthy of touching. I was worthy of getting to know. I was worthy of surviving too.
But now that it’s gone, it’s also made a big difference. And I wonder if I was wrong about being worthy of survival after all.
”Something’s missing in me
I felt it deep within me
As lovers left me to bleed alone
Down here, love wasn’t meant to be
It wasn’t meant to be for me”
”When you close your eyes even then your eyelids are beautiful
for so long there have been traces of you in blood vessels inside my skull”
-Showbread, I Want to get Married
A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to a wedding with an old friend. I didn’t know the married couple and all the attendants were new to me but the friend needed a plus one and borrowed me for the occasion. You see where this is going. I just needed to find something blue.
Despite my anxiety around crowds, especially crowds of strangers, I figured it would be a change of pace. A chance to do something different, to ask off work, and dress up a bit. I just hoped I’d be able to squeeze my binge-eating butt into my old slacks. I did…but barely.
The ceremony itself was fine. It was simple, inside a simple church with simple decoration. No blue sashes or neckties. No blue in the flowers. Just a red-faced toddler sitting in front of me and a bellowing baby sitting behind me and they both screamed in unison just as the ceremony began and continued their commentary throughout because my life.
Despite my current situation, I didn’t feel too bitter or sad about seeing two flesh become one. I was pretty unaffected witnessing the standard union of two people, in love and full of life. It happens every day. Life goes on. Good for them. The only discomfort came from those slacks. But one moment did stick out to me. The pastor read a quote from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 that goes:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Having never been in a relationship, I wondered why I’d never been able to find my own plus one. How had I made it 32 years while God made sure I remained lonely? If He had allowed such a declaration to be included in the good book, why have I always been denied the privilege?
While the ceremony was about 30 minutes, the reception went on for three and a half hours. And it was mostly held outside. No blueberries in the fruit plate while the newlyweds went off to be photographed with family. No blue ribbons adorning the arches. Why do people in the south insist on having outside weddings in the middle of summer? I was drenched in sweat and wanted to leave but the girl I went with wanted to stay for the cake cutting and to try to catch the bouquet. Don’t get me wrong, the cake was one thing this big boy was looking forward to but in this case, I’d rather have air conditioning than confections. I was a good sport, however, and smiled and blotted my face and tried to inconspicuously unstick my bat-winged balls.
And when it was cake time, I eagerly got in line. No blue fondant. The lady serving the cake cut off the smallest piece possible for me. Oh, sorry ma’am, I thought I was gonna be able to get more than a few crumbs that fell off your knife. I looked at her, thinking she would realize the error of her ways and cut off a little more for me but she just stood there so I quickly dipped out and ate the slice in three bites.
It was a little dry.
Turns out, the bride wanted to wait until it got dark outside so she and her husband could walk out under sparklers. Which meant more waiting, more forehead blotting and being the iPhone photographer for everyone else who knew each other and wanted to blow up Instagram with high school friends in rolled hair and pretty dresses.
Even the girl I attended with drifted away for a while to take pictures with former work friends she hadn’t seen in a while. I looked around me and saw everyone with someone else. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. Wives and husbands. Best friends. The caterers and photographers doing their jobs. Everyone with a purpose. I stood by the wall, unsure of what to do with myself. And I felt like there should have been someone next to me. Someone to help me up, to keep me warm, to defend me against my own self-destructive thoughts. Someone to make me feel like I also had a purpose. But the only thing that ever stands next to me is an empty void and that void only reminds me that I don’t have a purpose.
Night fell but the heat did not wane. It penetrated through the dark and doled out more sweat for me. All the single ladies gathered around the bride. As she flung the bouquet into the arms of an overzealous 20-something in a billowy yellow dress, I realized I had found my something blue. It was me.
God knows my heart, knows I have a lot of love to give, and yet I always stand alone. Sometimes I think I’m getting close and despite my hesitations to let anyone near, I do because there’s always the faintest hope that maybe my person has finally come, that this could be the one to turn it all around. But they only turn me in the direction I’ve already traced too many times. And I wonder why God would tease and punish me in this way. Denying me is one thing. This just feels deceitful.
I’m not saying I’m more deserving of love than anyone else but I do think I need it more than most. I can’t do life by myself. I can’t conquer my demons all alone like this.
The ache never really goes away. Sometimes it gets easier to deal with but it’s never defeated. Do you know what it’s like to see the world through glass, to feel others through gloves? To live life for bitter and worse, to endure sickness and hell, to forever be separating until death does me apart?
To be one strand already broken?
I get very confused about people and how to relate to them. What’s the difference between flirting and just being nice? What’s the difference between standing up for myself and just being a jerk? I haven’t always been so out of sorts. I used to be well-liked. And I used to think I had a grasp on grafting myself onto others. Then depression settled in and I withdrew my social self from the world. And instead of experiencing people, I just observed them. And by the time I wanted to step back into human relations, it seemed too late.
I think the best way to understand humanity is through both research and relation. I only achieved half of that. And that’s why I think I have some knowledge of correct and appropriate behavior but not enough to be successful in having fulfilling relationships with others. It’s that experience I lack, the on-the-ground research of getting to know and love and trust other people.
It’s hard to put myself out there because I’m insecure. I’m 32 with not much to show for it. I know we all have our own timeline for achieving goals in life but I have more potential than what I’ve produced. And this feeling of knowing I’m better, more capable, than what I’ve accomplished makes me very hard on myself.
It’s true that I hate who I am but unfortunately, it’s not self-contained. It seeps into conversations I have with other people. Long-term acquaintances are familiar with the inner insults I hurl at myself. I don’t even think about it. I’m so used to putting myself down as a self-defense mechanism and form of humor that it comes naturally to me. In my fear of being judged, I try to beat others to the judgment, pointing out my flaws in a funny way so we can all relax around my receding hairline or chuckle at my chunky body.
It’s usually when I meet new people that I become aware of how easily, how quickly, and how viciously I tear myself apart. When new acquaintances ask me to tell him about myself, the flogging floodgates open right up. It’s only after the conversation is over and I can reflect on the car ride home or before I go to bed at night the ramifications of my self-flagellation.
I want to be accepted but I also know I have several mental and emotional issues that could be off-putting. So I always have this need to explain away my crazy. But I over explain and end up making things worse. Instead of staying, people scatter and I’m left confused and lonely. I have to wonder if I should start keeping more things to myself. I always find it refreshing when people are open and honest. And so I try to be open and honest as well. And I never realized that other people could find that unattractive.
Should I change who I am and how much I share in order to keep people around? Or should I stay the same and hope that someone accepting will eventually find their way to me? It feels like a balance because you want to better yourself but you also don’t want to bend over for anyone else. How much change is too much? When do you go from improving your relations with others to compromising your personality for them?
I just wonder how I can be charming without charring my character. How can I make jokes without making myself the punchline? I’m sure it would be easier if I liked myself more but how am I supposed to do that? From the outside, it might seem like I’m well-adjusted and have a lot going for me. In some ways, that’s true. But only I can see the real me, the small squishy parts on the inside, the place where all the self-doubt and anger and despondency live and flourish. And it’s hard to like the person those qualities belong to, even when it’s yourself.
But I do understand that doesn’t have to be the case. And I suppose that’s at least one step in the right direction. And maybe one day, if I can get myself aligned with love instead of lashing, I might actually make a friend who will want to stick around.
There are two types of people we encounter in life: those who just brush up against us and those who leave a more lasting impression, a mark on our hearts, a bruise on our souls. As I assess myself, I wonder if I’ve ever left a purplish pigment of permanence on anyone.
I keep thinking about relationships, about where I fit in with friends, family, and co-workers. I feel like I’ve always coasted, always went right along with the majority’s opinions and decisions. I agreed and blended in so as not to be a bother. My face blurred into the next chubby-cheeked chap next to me. I listened and I loved and at some point maybe I was also loved but I could never seem to hook into anyone, to be outspoken and outstanding enough for someone to want to stay.
Life opens up and unfurls upon all of us, introducing a series of new sensations, situations, and salutations. New friends and opportunities can lead us away from those we once held close. It happens. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We should all strive to expand. But sometimes the strings of connection cannot withstand the widening of knowledge and experience. And they snap. We realize some people are not in the same space we are and we have to make the difficult decision to move on without them.
Some have moved on from me. And I’ve moved on from others. And I accept that. But what I do wonder is if these people think about me as I do them. Some have managed to come in and make a mess of me in a very short period of time. Others have lingered without leaving much of a dent.
It would just feel nice to know that I’m worth thinking about. That I’m missed when I’m gone. That someone wonders where I am and what I’m doing.
The sadder thought is that while these people were my bruise, I was their brush. I think I overthink things. And I overestimate people. So few come around that I get attached too easily and get too excited at the new prospect of a friend. My expectations are too high and ultimately everyone will fail. And I will go away to save myself from more pain but I always ponder about it long after it’s over. What if I made a mistake? How could I have dealt with it in a healthier manner? And the more I think, the more they imprint on my mind, the harder it hurts, the more bruised I become. I do it to myself and I know I’m only making it worse.
But I can’t help it.
And I think and I wonder and I think and I wonder. And while I want to move on I can’t because things usually end unresolved. I know I’m a mess in the head and trying to explain myself usually gets me nowhere so sometimes I don’t even bother. But I want them to know. But knowing won’t make a difference. So I hold it inside me and it cuts me up.
I do it to myself. No one else’s fault. I guess it would just be nice not to have to experience it again and again. That I could feel good about the people in my life and those who have moved on. That I could get myself in order so that I won’t have to worry about lasting impressions and echoing goodbyes.
Your words are just like alphabet soup, random characters clumped up and strung together by growls from the gut. They are messy, unintelligible, senseless. But they were once expressions of love, compassion, and confession. They moved me with their meaning. But the meaning only moved as far as your breath, dissipating on the precipice of your lips. Your mouth moved in an unwavering undulation of adulation but you kept your arms by your sides.
You shrank when called to action. You frayed when we came face-to-face. Time after time, you used your tongue just to tease me but never to reinforce your rhetoric.
You betrayed your words and allowed me to float aimlessly in a deceptive deep end. I slowly realized you didn’t like me as much as you said, didn’t care about my well-being as you claimed, and did not see fit to continue conversing as you promised you would.
All I wanted was for you to stick around and despite your declarations, you dropped me when you got bored or busy. With each broken promise, you pummelled your own prose. Consequently, I don’t care about compliments anymore. I am quick to shoot down suggestions and brush off bragging. And I don’t give a damn about terms of endearment.
From anyone. Anymore.
You filled me up with your words of praise and possibilities but once I got a glimpse of who you really were, I realized those same sentiments were the very things that emptied me out.
You really pulled one over on me, using your words to weaken a writer. It’s like slaying a dragon with fire. I can only hope this brokenness is temporary, that I’ll be able to rebuild my language so I can one day run a red line through all your lies.
”I believe in clean breaks
I keep the old troubles away…“
-Dashboard Confessional, Clean Breaks
I always get despondent when I think about past acquaintances and how almost all of them have ended on bad terms. There’s tension toward the end. Eventually, one person (usually me) stops speaking to the other and the issues never get resolved. And sometimes I don’t think I so much mourn the lost friendship as I do the fact that I never got my feelings across. The few times I tried to do that, it ended with the other person showing no signs of caring about how I felt.
It never seemed like there was a genuine communication or concern, just excuses, something said to get me to shut up. I haven’t felt heard in a long time and certainly not validated, which is one of the reasons why I feel like such an emotional mess. How can I feel confident knowing I did and said all I could when I’m not even sure if how I’m feeling is genuine in regards to the other person.
But that’s why I was drawn to you. I felt I had a choice with you. You gave me a platform and the encouragement to use it and I drank it down like fine wine. It was fun and dizzying. And it felt good. But then you took it away little by little, clipping my concerns with cutting remarks and minimizing my talents and accomplishments. I tried to hold on, to excuse your behavior, to sidestep the sadness but I kept coming to the same conclusion. You made me feel good but you were not good. I had to let you go before I developed another dependence.
Remember your two-think minimum? You said, “Relationships shouldn’t be hard or work. They should come easy.” Well, I’ve had to seriously think about the status of our relationship more than twice so I guess that means it didn’t come easily to me. I wracked my brain day after day, wondering what I did to make you distance yourself from me. I stayed awake at night. I couldn’t concentrate at work. Every free moment migrated toward your motivations.
I had to go, had to get out. And you let me go so easily. I haven’t heard from you since January. I’m not sure I ever will again because every time we got clean from each other, one of us relapses and gives in to those good feelings one more time. We’ll tell each other we miss each other. And we will resume with the past unresolved. But the past is a pest and always comes back to crumble all that we’ve constructed.
This time feels different. I won’t give in to the cravings anymore. And I feel like you won’t either. I’m thinking you must be tired as well.
But the truth is I still do miss you. But I know you’re no good for me. Maybe you’re fine in moderation but I’m prone to bingeing. And I know I won’t have any more mouthfuls of you.
What surprises me most is I’m not really that mad or bitter about it. I’m sad, sure, but I’m used to that feeling. I hear a lot of people say they regret past relationships and say it was all a waste. But I don’t think that way about you. I enjoyed our time together and our brief in-person meetings. And I don’t regret how you made me feel. I swallowed you up unencumbered. It changed me, if only for as long as you were in my system. It was nice to go from numb to nimble, to feel good for the first time in a long time.
And I would also like to think that I’m clear-headed enough to know good times don’t always translate to a good fit. I really do think I tried. Sometimes friendships don’t work out and that’s okay. Maybe it was my fault or maybe yours. Or maybe it was just a case of too much of a good thing. We took too many shots of fun and too many shots at each other. And now I think we’ve had our fill. And for me, I think it’s last call on us.
Everything hurts. It has for a while. And it probably will for a while longer. Especially because I can’t get through to you. But I know it won’t change and I have to accept that. And I’m trying. I really am. I take it one step at a time, slowly shedding the hurtful things you said, the callousness in which you conducted yourself, the ambivalent absences.
What you and I have become feels a lot like a hangover. It hurts like hell right now. But what we did to get to this point was a hell of a lot of fun.
I can see us lying in those supple sheets, your hand running up and down my bare chest, your lips brushing against my neck. I can feel the tingles and tickles charge through my body in the orange light. I can envision these pillows like portals carrying me out of my world, my mind, my self. I can fantasize taking you with me, this place we’ve carved for ourselves in the early morning hours, a space without alarms or algorithms. An alcove of absolution.
We are perfection, free from guilt and insecurity. We are all the oxygen, all the rush of blood and water. We are connected to the creatures that fly and furrow. We’ve tapped into each other and all that surrounds us, grafting onto gulls, gears, and ground. I could stay here forever, reckless in responsibility, oblivious to obligation. Nourished by you alone. I could get used to my heart pumping anew, filled with a forgotten joy in the face of a long-abandoned possibility: that love could touch me. That love could last.
I can imagine it all, each blade of grass and each strand of hair, all made presentable for you. But it’s all just in my head, a vision unraveled in times of respite. Perfection was possible but yet you remained unattainable. As much as I wanted you to hold my heart, I could never find a way inside your mind. You shielded it with smiles, distracted me by drumming your fingers along my spine. I was guarded, kept away from the cancer thriving inside you. It deteriorated your ability to be close, to fuse yourself to a future with me.
The orange light only burns now. You’ve left long ago but I still allow myself to take a semblance of you back to that sanctuary with me. I don’t know if I’m soothing or searing myself by doing so. But it’s comforting to imagine us together. I sail right past the painful realization that love has never been with me after all. I’m unaffected. It’s nothing new. I choose to focus my thoughts elsewhere. It’s healing to think of the possibility that your hands could be real, that your mouth could have been the best thing to happen to me.
The alcove is empty now. I often sit there alone. And I think. And I pretend to know how people carry on with each other. I go through the motions. I plan our partnership. And I know it’s all for naught. But not for me. It feels as natural as your smile sinking into mine.
”Sex is the one thing, more than any others, that makes you feel human.”
”Remember, your children can’t praise the Lord if they’ve got genitals in their mouths.”
-Nudist Colony of the Dead
I remember walking into my first college class, looking at my classmates, and thinking, “I’m probably the only virgin in this room.”
That was over 10 years ago and every time I walk into a new room filled with people, I still think the same thing.
Living in a small, religious town, I learned early on that the true “F” word was fornication. Sex before marriage was about the worst thing that could happen to you, besides being gay. That sentiment echoed through the church pews and school halls. But as I grew up, my friends realized other people’s genitals was about the best thing that could happen to you. Even the most devout got dicked eventually and their stringent sexual views began to relax.
Except for the gay thing. That was non-negotiable.
But it’s easy to change your mind with a hand down your pants. I never got that opportunity so I was able to hang onto my shame over sex for much longer than my peers. And the interesting part was I actually didn’t mind it that much. Although preachers and parents warned of the religious ramifications of sex, they also lauded the beauty of intercourse between two married people. And that was the message I chose to hold close.
I actually wanted to wait until marriage. I’ve always thought of myself as a romantic and the notion of me and my future wife saving ourselves for each other sounded pretty special. We’d be the first to have that intimate connection, to reach that milestone in pulsating unison. And so not having sex was not a big deal because, at the time, marriage was not on my mind, therefore sex was not either. But just because I’d made a no-copulation commitment to a stranger didn’t mean I wasn’t affected by sex.
I used to be a great listener and great friend. My classmates came to me for counseling. I heard all about their relationships and through their confessions, I learned that sex not only changed relationships but changed people. And it didn’t necessarily change anyone for better or worse. But it did feel like there was more at stake. Emotions were either heightened or deadened at the point of penetration. Some people could turn off their heads and hearts while others’ only grew heavier.
And just by growing up and living and being interested in people, I learned more about sex without actually ever experiencing it. It came pieced together from conversations, observations, and, thanks to the power of the Internet, research.
Inspired by p.
these times are quite a ways away
running circles through your hair with my finger
sending strokes down your spine
that sprout seeds along your skin
a slight with a smile, a simple scene
sinking into a perfect passiveness
that plays out over and over again
until your ringlets become real
tucked in black
you can’t see me looking at you
looking at the screen
with lips that stretch into a smile
and eyes that wet with laughter
one among many, looking forward
hoping you’ll see me looking at you
with lips pursed to plunge
and eyes closed to signify
a scene cut short
to direct one of our own
the unbearable barrier between arms
craving the taste of sweet and salty skin
hoping to sink into a seat with you
and experience a climax of our own
before the opening credits