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.
That melatonin mouth, those sleepy slits for eyes, the way your drowsy digits distract from the divots in daydreams. Running from cheek to chest in figure eights. Seeping into couch cushions, a frail mixture of suspension by fear and being grounded by the contentment of forever.
Cocooned in a warm satisfaction of touch, of breath, of bone and heart. Grasping at shirts and scents. I close my eyes as your words pour over my head, making way toward the inside of my shirt. I clutch at them, hold them aside, afraid of what they mean for me. They sound so familiar, a clone of compliments, a ghost of past gratitude. But the words always fell out and then fell flat. Semantics never solidified into serious sentiments. It was all a study, a well-worn phrase meant to subdue or temporarily satisfy. The lips they came from left so soon afterward.
And here I lay, those same sounds sliding toward me. The fear bubbles up, the familiar foul temperament of mistrust. Yet the words flow, so sleepy, so sweet. Hands guide them to my chest, massaging away the meanness, the masochistic monster inside. Gently pulling him aside, making way for the words that lost meaning, the syllables and sentence structure that no longer sway me, that always skimmed the surface but never settled. But this is a different mouth, a different hand, a different body holding me for the first time with an intimidating ease.
Slowly filing away a lifetime of fastidious downfalls, excavating a heart once buried in stone. The newness of calm, the excitement of eliciting emotion, winding down the days with someone who cares to know about mine. How do humans have the capacity to bend and mend each other, to crack some and caress others, to be chosen to be fixed, to abandon when bored, to want to stay despite the struggles?
Pain stretched as long as the days I lived, an oasis of degradation. I never knew how far down it dwelled, how unreachable I was until now. Because now I have been touched, a hand grasping for me, words ushering in a blinding possibility to be a person. To feel lifted, light as air, no longer burdened by the weight of my own head, my own soul, my own desires to destroy myself.
I just don’t know what this means. And I don’t know what this feeling is. I guess it should be transformational.
Your hand grows tired as your body shuts down. It finds its way wrapped around me before settling, a warm heat on my stomach. Should I loosen my grip on this group of words, to allow them to join you in nuzzling up next to me? What if it’s time to let them go, to allow them to resonate again? Can it really be true this time?
Can we ever really know?
I feel you fading beneath me. Your breath hitches, the familiar jostling of your heart signifying sleep. One last exhalation precluding a final thought before bed.
“I could get used to this.”
I’m taken aback, struggle to understand, gutted yet guarded. I want to believe you. God, I really do.
‘Cause I think I could too.
You blow your smoke in my direction, a dragon’s fire giggle that seeps into my shirt. Stray smiles set against a backdrop of binge-watching wizards and warlords. Analyzing and summarizing relationships, reactions, and reclusiveness. Discussing the dance of desire and apprehension, digging deeper into each other’s motivations for laced fingers and fast heartbeats.
Smoke blooms around our heads, mandarin and mango, long lashes and laced fingers. Hypothesis preludes playfulness. Setting faraway thoughts into action, making moves to make myself human. A robot racing to become a real boy.
And with your head in my lap, you break through years of isolation and deprivation. To feel the weight of your body is to feel the gravity of humanity, to tap into the basic needs of every person: safety, security, stability. I hold your head in my hands but you hold my very being up and pull me from the dregs of depression, if only for as long as each episode runs concurrently. Falling away from the stressors of jobs and jabs, bosses and bullies, we are willingly secluded together, embraced and braced for impact.
Using hands to separate strands of hair. Using words to parse past regressions. Using hearts to find each other in a world of obstacles, disappointments, and decay of all hope. But that hope still shines like light through a pinhole, tiny dots of fitful faith in the face of years of erosion.
Awkward and hesitant, comfortable and confident, settling onto your chest, hearing the pump of blood, feeling the cymbal crash of your heart, curious to decode its contents. Time transposes reality, shifting from minutes to hours in the time it takes to exhale. And trepidation turns to tranquility, dreams from the past pivoting into a pleasant surprise.
Bodies begin to relax as awkwardness drains away and is replaced with a safe sleepiness. Your breath trips, deepens, then deposits itself into the air like so much smoke. I catch you crossing over, falling into a haunt of dreams. And I, for the first time in my life, catch a glimmer of how things could be. How I thought it would never be.
It’s not a fantasy of falling in love. It’s the privilege of falling asleep in someone’s arms, to have someone willing and wanting to fall asleep in mine. To be allowed the simplicity of touching skin. To feel secure in my own. To be intimate in a way that few people are. To be emotionally tied while loosening the binds of sadness. To feel real and solid instead of vapor that dissipates. To open up to others and to myself.
Are you still watching?
I’m no longer occupied by the television screen prompting us to carry on. I’m much more focused on the smokescreen between us, hoping this might last more than one season.
Ensured that you’re stable in your slumber, I slip away to my own bed. And when I slip off my shirt, I catch the last fume of your smoke. The aroma brings you back to me, just for a moment.
As if you were watching me fall, too.
You take me by the wrist to pull me alongside you. I follow blindly, gratefully. Next to you, I feel like we are all threads waiting to be woven together. You’ve taken my heart with an innocent greed, given yourself over to me as if I were deserving of your body and all the mechanisms below. You drink my words, eat my anger, and bathe in all that I believe. And I am devout, desperate, and delicate under your fingerprints.
I sink into the layers of skin and meat and blood and bone. Then you pull away and pull me apart, an ache as palpable as a severed limb. Eyes transfixed on the specter of your form, filling you out in a revelation of being irrevocably pierced, bleeding out in the best way possible.
Pondering your profile, examining how I could be so drawn to you among an exponential pool of prospects. Billions of people pass by and you pause in my path, enhancing my existence just by breathing.
It must be something higher than us, an orchestration conducted in the clouds. All the cosmic wonders crop up and cry out to me, revealing the curious playfulness of cupids as they see fit to magnetize and harmonize two souls. Waking up chambers of the heart and ushering in the pain of longing, the elegant agony of a space between two pairs of lips, the sweet cut of curiosity of the soul, of wanting to be reassured regarding mutual fondness.
Time has no effect on affection. In dealing with day one or one hundred, the feelings manifest all the same. It’s a realization of an awakening, a clarity of sight and sound, a sharpening of focus. Feeling full and empty at the same time. Dizzy and sober simultaneously. Out of sync with the rest of the world while fully in step with you. Love measured in months or years or weeks or minutes. None of it matters when you just know, when the mask of solitude finally falls away.
Clinging to a chance of redemption, grasping for another day of nirvana. Yearning for the imperceivable perfection of your hand, the jewels of your knuckles, the exquisite glass of your nails. The simple act of slipping your hand into mine, of dipping into a purifying warmth, watching as parallel lifelines run concurrently.
And to bask in the feeling of all the universe shrinking and pulsating between two palms.
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.
Have you ever just clicked with someone?
When I was visiting my college friend and her husband in Atlanta, I was floored by how open they were to complete strangers. If they had questions, they walked right up to people and asked them. They chatted with our servers, made conversation with our Uber drivers, and did not seem shy with anyone at all. All I could do was stand by and be amazed at their ability to converse.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to share a genuine smile, to give a compliment, ask an open-ended question. I wanted to elicit a laugh, to leave a good impression. I wanted to have that connection with another human being, no matter how small. But despite my best efforts, my mind just doesn’t work fast enough to form a thoughtful word and before I know it, I’ve exchanged greetings and goodbyes and I’m left wondering how I scored.
I really want to be good with people. But the problem is I just don’t like people that much. But I am fascinated by them. They are simultaneously the most basic and the most complex creatures. Most humans want love, connection, safety, and security. That goes across the board. But the way in which they obtain those things is where it gets interesting. And confusing.
I haven’t had that many great experiences with people. I don’t have any long-term friends. Never been in a romantic relationship. I don’t fit in with my family. And I’ve worked in customer service for well over a decade. If that doesn’t sour your view of mankind, nothing will.
I think people have the potential to be great but most of them just suck. Especially me. I don’t give people enough of a chance. I make snap judgments and can be too quick to cut someone out of my life. I know there are good people out there but I’ve been dropped so many times that I just expect people to give 20% before crapping out. But does such an assessment make me an ass?
Maybe I’d be more inclined to have a genial response to a welcoming hand but I just haven’t experienced that alleged human connection, love, dedication, and care.
And I just really want to.
I could learn a lot from people. But I’m put off by them, thus I don’t want to interact with them, thus I never learn proper people skills. So when someone cool does come along, I can’t capture their attention. I can only bumble around like a butthead.
I understand that I need to work on things. I’m flawed and frazzled and often stutter and sweat when nervous. I have trouble continuing conversations, finding interest in others, picking up on social cues and niceties. I’m a huge mess and therefore I can’t always be surprised when I feel left out of the crowd. I know I’m not always a lot of fun to be around. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix it.
I’m wondering how I can break the cycle of simultaneously wanting people and pushing them away. I suppose I should just practice. Just talk to people. Ask questions. Show care and concern. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Maybe the skill of learning to connect will come to me. All I know for sure is the connection itself will not. That is something I will have to make happen.
I’ve waited for years for someone to come along, to care, to be in my actual life. I’ve wanted that feeling of finding my people, of discovering my complement. It hasn’t happened. It doesn’t mean it won’t. But with every lost chance at a friend, it does become harder to carry on, to finally experience that immaculate connection I’ve craved for so long.
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.