by Matthew Anderson
It started like other things that end in nothing.
Although it was the fourth of July, the only independence I believed in was my own loneliness, and I didn’t think it deserved a celebration. But my friends invited my roommate and me to a party, just a block away from our apartment. And if our grand national myth was an excuse to let numb inebriation masquerade as human connection and a good time, who was I to question the logic? Plus, as my roommate had reminded me several times with a suggestive slant of her eyebrow, he was going to be there. That boy who lived with my friends in that apartment so close to mine, the boy next door. He’s going to be there, and you should do something about it.
Openly, I kept my cool. I acted like I could afford being indifferent to the prospect of meeting someone, meeting anyone, in a small college town where the population of pretty gay boys who think thoughts and talk ideas and are critical of the American military-industrial complex is small. But on the inside, I crossed mountains and jumped to conclusions. I oversaw the construction of my very own fantastical house of cards. I imagined a twisted series of what-ifs, twisted because the story always ends up happily ever after and not in the tragedy occasioned by the haunting of a boy-ghost. So, we went to the party. Good location, easy escape. So I thought.
He was a mirage, pretty like sin.
Trying to remember when looking at him became talking to him, my memory fails me. Which precise moment in time portended this sour disappointment? I forget. It would be inaccurately simple to blame the shots I took in my apartment as preparation for my trek, or the jungle juice at the party I called on for backup. Because lonely me had a great stake in creating this artificial boundary of “alone” and “not alone” against my knowledge and against my will, so that I would take his presence in my life for granted much too soon.
At least we had good discussion.
We talked standing on our feet. We moved our discussion to the couch, and talked sitting down. We talked walking to the fireworks. And if some things have turned fuzzy in the damp recesses of my mind, I do remember being grateful that the sidewalk only fit two people walking side by side. It was obvious that some city planner had envisioned this moment and designed this stretch of pedestrian passageway for the two of us. My roommate stole glances of us out of the corner of her eye: Told you! I saw stars in the sky. It was clear that we were star-crossed.
Look at the bombs bursting in air, in honor of our union!
My math teacher told me it was unwise to extrapolate information outside of the parameters of a particular data set. But what has math ever done for me? Let me extrapolate in peace. That I did! I extrapolated wildly, naïvely believing against all previous experience that one night could and would stretch itself further into time, that my friends’ giggly winks of encouragement could force our destiny.
did happen that night. Somethings happened, and although his something
and my something would happen simultaneously, they were separated by large
expanses of emotional space.
He held me, our lips met. I tried to stroke him lower where he would find his pleasure and appreciate my company. He gently refused my advances. I told myself he cared about me and wanted to avoid the moral ambiguity of buzzed intercourse. I never let it occur to my conscious mind that his reluctance was a declaration of emotional and physical independence.
Why can’t I just enjoy something for what it is, what it was in a single moment and in a single place and under a single sky?
I was in
shock over this boy, his almond skin, his earnest smile, the energy in his
brown eyes when we talked of the fall of the west. Was I naïve, greedy,
hubristic to think we could have something beautiful?
We woke up and we watched an episode of Stranger Things. Usually, Netflix precedes sex. That morning, Netflix preceded a talking to. He told me that he was broken and didn’t want to slip into anything serious.
I’m not serious either, I thought. I’m cool.
I just want someone to hold me and look at me and talk to me in the really dark hours when I feel like I’m drowning.
But I’ll slop up whatever shreds of emotional availability you have for me, I will. Because beggars can’t be choosers.
Just name your terms, it’s a seller’s market. I have neither the strength nor the will to negotiate.
We saw each other again.
Maybe it was my roommate’s birthday party. I don’t remember.
I bought a new cross earring, one of those really gay ones, to make myself visible.
When the party was over, he asked me to come to the bar with his friends.
Meeting his friends? I had to stage my best performance.
I drank too much and had to lock myself in the bathroom when we got back to his place. Neither of us found our pleasure that night.
I texted him to say sorry for spending an hour in his bathroom spilling out my insides.
He responded a couple days later. ‘It’s okay,’ he said.
‘Hey, wanna hang out again sometime?’
‘Hey you’re cute and everything but I can’t be your boyfriend I can’t be anybody’s boyfriend, I’m just too broken. I have trust issues I’m not ready, this is too much; sorry, we can’t see each other again.’
His message was brutal, but the delivery was kind, so crooned Amy Winehouse in romantic lament.
Fly away. Fly away like all the boys who, repudiating the rules of biology in the name of emotional unavailability, grow wings in record speed and migrate in any which direction to get the fuck away from you.
What a feat!
Capricious like the wind, my last chance disappeared just as quickly as it came. Newark, Delaware was condemned to be an unfertile breeding ground, unfit for my kind.
One chance, a single hope, became no hope, the lack thereof, void of value. I mourned this death slowly, wallowing in each drop of pain. I connected with him, and he tossed me aside, not like a salad but like urban refuse, into a sprawl of loneliness that threatened to never end.
I could no longer believe in illusions that I would suddenly find the one, or at least a one, someone to kiss me and hold me and tell me that everything would be okay through the last days of my youth. My suffocating desire to hold and be held, left unrequited, evaporated into the atmosphere, contributing to the mass of history’s unspoken unfulfilled yearnings whose hot, poisonous weight rises and pollutes our atmosphere.
His new boyfriend was short and skinny.
He flew away and traded me in for a new model.
Novel, groundbreaking ways for me to despise my physical form began to annex my thoughts.
You’re too fat, you’re too
They say your worth doesn’t depend on what others think of you. But how am I supposed to trust what they say?
I yearned for faraway places I couldn’t name. I dreamt about boys who drank smoky cappuccinos and talked about revolution with vain enthusiasm. I lit joints to set ablaze my roots in reality. I found peace in drowning.
I saw him a lot more frequently than I wanted to. The magnitude of my self-hatred deceived me into believing that somehow, when I visited my friends’ apartment, he would show me mercy and stealthily avoid our interaction, or that maybe my friends would coordinate our comings and goings mathematically to spare me extended embarrassment. Some would call it crazy.
But that wasn’t what really happened. In fact, every time I came over, he seemed to end up sitting with us on the couch, asserting his primacy in his own habitat. Naturally, I suppose, for the victorious male, for he who conquers and receives as his prize emotional intimacy, an enviable acquisition in our postmodern times. He exercised his right to his sovereign space, territory he had pillaged through remarkable feats of charm and handsomeness, and if I was to be there, I would have to subject myself to his authority.
Out of the kindness of his heart, he made attempts to include me in the conversation, or at least acknowledge my presence. I had set rules for myself intended to preserve the little dignity I still had. According to these rules, I was absolutely forbidden to display my discomfort. If I had followed these rules, I would have reacted kindly to his peace offerings, and resisted showing my wounds. But some rules can’t be enforced.
As I remained in their company, I would become more and more uncomfortable, staring in the face at the physical manifestation of my deepest insecurities. In light of this, I decided it was much simpler for me to gradually phase myself out of the conversation, foreshadowing my exit. Luckily, I had been preparing for this task my whole life, and when it came time for me to purposefully be overshadowed and overpowered in a group conversation, I knew to put my forgettability to good use.
Every time I ran away, my mania became more condemnable. This sparked a vicious cycle, a cycle whose existence I had no proof of but felt great reason to suspect: since I was incapable of acting unbothered, my friends would gravitate towards siding with him, exiling me to an emotional island that floated farther and farther away. Since I would leave suddenly to avoid such conversations, or otherwise act strangely, my friends would think of me as weak, criticize me, side with their friend who was just trying to be nice. How could you not sing the praises of the cute one’s benevolence and charity when he made such an effort to indulge his lame prey? How dare I, the inferior male, show my wounds?
Viewing him with suspicion, I could say he was trying to gain the moral upper hand. I tried not to view him though. I just wanted him to go away. But I couldn’t make him go away, so I performed magic to make myself disappear.
Weeks passed, months passed, the shock of the initial rejection turned into a tacit acceptance of my solitude. No wonder you’re alone, croaked a voice of doom.
At least my friend, one of the ones who lived with him, knew of my solitude and advocated on my behalf. She mentioned me to one of her gay friends, making a genuine effort to win me some romantic chemistry. But then he asked how tall I was, and the answer caused him to write us off as preposterous and impossible in physical terms. He said that the mechanics just don’t work, since he’s 6’5” and I’m a mere 6’0”. I was really quite baffled. How was I stupid enough not to know that male sexual pairs had to stand equally tall above the earth? I had been playing the game all wrong, judging my attractions based on an individual’s personality rather than their statistics.
I wondered if Mr. almondskin knew that his relationship with his much shorter partner was an egregious affront to the laws of nature.
Or maybe it was my own existence that was the affront to nature.
I held several daily confrontations with myself in the mirror. Naked, in peril, I would bring myself closer, teeth clenching in horrible anticipation and rabid hope that today, I would look different. And when I ended up staring at my gargantuan round form, I would hope that this figure was a figment of my own hateful imagination. Then, when my hope ran out, I began to seethe with rage, admonishing my weakness and hurrying to cover my appendages with modern cloth.
There are people who say that failure, when mulled over and regurgitated like a cow sucking its feed, is inevitable on the road to success. But when people produce these platitudes, they don’t cite their sources. So the phrase passes from mouth to mouth and brain to brain, and somehow along the way it ends up stuffed deep in our neural passageways, where it evicts the lazy creature programmed to enjoy the simplicity of an unambitious existence.
Like a Protestant work horse, I had to implement industriously swift internal measures to come to my own rescue.
I had been waiting for the sky to bestow upon me a pretty boy to cast in the role of my better half. And who can blame me to lose myself in the rhetoric? But it was too much. I was tired of waiting for my self-actualization to message me first.
I tossed myself a lifejacket.
I recognized that no one could help me if I didn’t help myself. I asked what habits I needed to keep every day to stay sane.
I heard and listened to my yearning to create, to bleed onto paper. I told myself to write every day.
I liberated my thoughts, one by one, from the tyranny of judgement and criticism. I convinced myself I was worth getting to know.
And out of this melodrama came this story, the story of a gay boy who fell in love with himself.