The truth is I will answer how are you with good even when I can’t see the world in color, when I’m figuring out how to breathe through a new knot in my chest, and sometimes good is less of a truth and more of a promise to myself, we will get there, we will feel good, and
Truth is, I was only beautiful to them as long as I fit into the picture they’d already painted, and realizing it was an ugly scrape, and never again, never a-fucking-gain, and the
Truth is rarely an easy story to say out loud, I’m a character lost and wandering the unspelled page, hoping for happier pages, trying to speed through the gray, re-read, re-read, until the words finally mean something,
And the truth is I hope you will love me on the day I am hardest to see, when I am lost and stubborn and fighting my way to the next page, I hope you will go with me, hope you won’t go.
Philadelphia, five years ago –– wrote a poem in that coffeeshop about wanting to study my arms and find them free of scars, and nothing is the same, so is everything.
They say we cannot simply sleep, can only create the conditions for sleep, dark room, white noise, blanket, oscillating whirr, and hope sleep will find us, and isn’t that also true of love, just setting up the room and hoping for the best?
So I run beneath the sun like a man who is in love with his life and I remember to tell the stories that make me laugh, till my soil and plant seeds for tomorrow’s flourishing, sand those hard edges down, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
To let go is to make room, no more bruises in my stanzas, nothing sharp nor sweet to say about yesterday’s characters, just the exhale of look where we are and the wonder of where might this go?
As I packed my life into boxes, emptied my Indiana apartment, I explained it to my friends and family. Every time I’ve gone there, it’s been the same. You walk outside, follow your intuition, and a story sort of unravels at your feet.
It’s a decidedly bright-eyed sentiment, the kind of line sure to elicit a groan from a seasoned New Yorker, but it holds true. It keeps me here when things are hard. I get to call home a city that brims with possibility, meaning, unexplored corners.
Before I met Ross Morgan, I’d never encountered the same quality in a person.
We met through a gay kickball league. At a pre-game brunch on the East side, he shared a story from his college years I could not believe was true. Charmed, I stuck by his side as we walked toward the tram, and our conversation blossomed. “Don’t fall in love with me,” he shrugged a warning, “I’m probably not in the city for much longer.”
He wandered into my life and stories shimmied in right alongside him: The Halloween he tripped and fell in the street as Freddie Mercury in drag. The night we paused a horror film to discuss his snack of choice –– uncooked pasta. The COVID-19 pandemic, when he disguised me in medical scrubs so we could watch a show together in his hotel. The night we smoked weed on his fire escape because I’d lost my job. Get out of my face. Or that’s not the way people feel about me. Adventures in Pittsburgh and Miami and Muncie and Jax Beach. A drunken synopsis of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
The stories proliferate; I have loved every page.
Ross departs New York City today, his apartment emptied into a moving van and his eyes fixed on a new horizon. HI and a hundred other people will miss him here, often, and we’re excited for him all the same.
There’s the funny thing about stories: We gather enough of them, and suddenly our lives become home. Move to a new town, start a new job, begin a new hobby, and there’s not much story to tell. Eventually, though, the pages stack up into chapters, and you’re at home among them.
Ross, I know you will be home wherever you go, because you have the magic of making them flourish around you. New York will always be home to you, because there are hundred Ross stories in every corner. It’s why so many people call you friend; they’ve found a home in you.
And I know I will always have a home in you, because I have loved you, we have loved each other, and there’s a stack of stories to prove it.
You are the shot of tequila and the cup of coffee the morning after.
You’re something I’ve had to learn how to talk about, a story whose sharp edges I’ve sanded down with each retelling. The fury finally passed, fire giving way to ashes.
Where do I scatter this?
I run the city like I’ve been in a coma. To reacquaint with the world is to admit to myself that I’ve been away. Sun spills between sky-high buildings as I hustle up the street, a love song ringing in my ears. For now, the love letters are between me and myself: forgiveness, gentleness, admiration. You were brave, you know?
I arrive back home, pull off sweaty clothes and stand beneath a shower of warm water, and my palms run over my body with loving detail.
The hardest part of looking back on you is acknowledging what a traitor I became to myself. That August morning, waking up in a panic, walking into the bathroom and facing myself in the mirror. You stupid fucking idiot, I remember thinking. You deserve every fucking scar this leaves behind.
Scars give way to stories and someone else will kiss the skin you bruised. The world we built and broke will become a picture tucked in some drawer. Small though the aches have become, your memory still echoes into my awareness. One day, I will go to write and you won’t spill out of my fingertips. Til then, I’ll run and rinse and release.
I am standing in a year of purposeful transition. These are not the most exciting pages of anybody’s story. These are the days of taking inventory, of changing up our yeses and nos, of packaging things into cardboard boxes and preparing to step into new beginnings.
Every aspect of my world feels a little adolescent, not in its youth nor ready to be released, and I search for beauty in the becoming. We are always in some sort of flux. Movies present our lives in clear arcs – setup, conflict, moment of great peril, and triumph – but most of our days are a muddy blend of these.
Planting seeds for tomorrow’s flourishing takes faith, stubborn conviction. I think you should bet on yourself. A friend said this to me in a moment of peril, and I have since taken it to heart.
I have not even come close to my most honest flourishing. If you thought life seemed vibrant before, wait til you see where I take it next. I scatter seeds, laugh with friends, learn to exist again in raw skin.
Hurdles and hopes. My friends and I meet weekly, and we report a hurdle and hope each time. I love the way it plants us in one another’s stories. Oh, I discover, he has been learning how to peel the thorny vines of anxiety from his skin. Then I grin as I learn he is finding hope in the later sunset or the chance to revisit a coffeeshop he once made a second home.
I love, also, the opportunity it grants me to story myself, right where I am. I am anguishing over goodbyes I will soon have to say, untangling my friendships, inventorying my time and energy. I am getting excited over connections and learning to let them crumble when they do.
Some weeks, I struggle to come up with a hurdle, and what a relief that can be. I’m all hope. When I think on it, I feel incredible gratitude that I’ve never had a bit of trouble conjuring hope. My eyes are fixed ahead, on some horizon, imagining sun even when there are thick sheets of rainfall overhead.
In it, a wild beast begins attacking a crowd of people around me. Instead of running, I toss myself into its path, stretching out a trembling hand and saying softly, calmly, ‘it’s okay.’ The beast, usually a tiger or lion, paces and pauses, its eyes locked with mine, breathing short and unsettled. ‘It’s okay.’
Sometimes, I wake up here. When I do, I find my body is tense, as though physically matching my mental effort to calm the beast. I drink in a deep breath and exhale.
Other times, in the midst of my gentle chiding, the beast lunges at me, fangs bared, bringing my body to the ground instantly. This waking is more startled, more afraid.
Some elements of the dream change every time: the setting, the ‘storyline’ leading me to this moment, the company I keep, the clarity of the ending. But each iteration, when it comes, has its constants: a wild and furious animal, a gut feeling that I can bring it to calm, and the terrible, eternal silence of waiting to see what happens.
Sometimes, I am mesmerized by the fact that we dream. In the dark, we surrender ourselves to rest, and our brains start carving out storylines on autopilot.
As a child, I was told we dream about the last thing we think about, and so I would try to drift off thinking about something specific. The Power Rangers, or The Fox and the Hound. I remember waking up at, six or seven, in the middle of a good dream, and trying desperately to resume. (It never worked.)
Then, at 25, I experienced my first true heartbreak. For months, my first boyfriend worked his way into my dreams, showing up and making me sad all over again. On those mornings, I stood in the shower longer, hoping the warm water might rinse the grief off of my limbs.
Once, I dreamed about getting together with an ex-boyfriend again. In the dream, I was so happy, but I felt a pang of sadness, too: When are you going to leave again? I tried to press on, happy, but my dream ex-boyfriend eventually changed temperatures. He yelled at me, ‘See, this is why I left, why are you like this?’ I woke up, startled and sad, and then picked up my phone, breaking a long silence:
Hey, I had a dream about you. I know you weren’t there, but it told me a lot about how I think of you. Can I call you to tell you about it?
He said yes, and so I called. I told him about the dream, and he told me he didn’t feel that way, that he didn’t want me to think of him that way. The conversation we shared was bare, kind, and healing. The kind of conversation I wasn’t sure we’d ever have.
This is, of course, a rarity. Most of my dreams aren’t so meaningful, and many I do not remember at all. But often I am curious what they might reveal about me. What am I carrying, in my day-to-day wanderings, that manifests in this nighttime storyline?
From what emotional soil, tended by me in my waking hours, does a wild and furious beast grow?
At a young age, my grandmother told me I was a ‘peacemaker.’ I’d never thought of myself this way, and so I reacted with surprise, but she went on to explain she had observed it many times: When we, as kids, broke into an argument or a fight, I often stepped up to resolve it. I wanted to be friends.
Sometimes, I think I find myself trusting inherently in this quality. If I were to find someone standing on a ledge, for example, I would immediately begin trying to build a bridge to them. When I am at odds with someone, when emotions are high and communication is off the rails, I can feel myself click into a mode: ‘Hey.’
This doesn’t always work out, though. I can’t sustain a bridge between two people, and I can’t always be the one building bridges. A relationship cannot be sustained on this alone.
Is this the tiger tearing through my dreams? Am I at odds with my own peace-bringing, and should I learn to let go of this? I don’t have a clear answer, just an idea of a quality that has brought my life more flowers than scars.
I think of my friends, the people I’ve chosen to keep in my life, and realize there’s a quality they all share: When I am furious, when I am lost and bewildered, they are there standing, arm outstretched, ‘it’s okay.’
and, some years, the rain fell freely into the open mouths of flowers, love in abundance, possibility rinsing over the scene in watercolors, and every deep breath felt like it was making room for something more, and everywhere we reached there were petals, our wild eyes dilated, oh, this, we knew, love
still there were years on the concrete, empty slab, save for the stains of memories wrapped in thorns, which taught us the soft incantation, I have enough, and our friends grinned, old souls seeing magic firsthand, I have enough, and the sting of old scars, gone, I have enough, and then came the rinse, exhaling color over all the everything, gratitude drowning out the deficits, love letter to those years, too
Love should feel sturdy. Reliable, steady, within reach. Love is not happenstance, but practice. The power of saltwater is devotion, currents etching pathways through rock. Love is an agreement, together, to show up beneath blue skies and amidst the bleak and dreary gray.
It isn’t always scanning the room for something better. It doesn’t pull away when we falter, when we fail. Love knows how to say sorry first, to extend its hand, to dismantle the barbed wire together. Love seeks to understand, even when it stings to share the room.
Love is an exhale. A favorite sofa, well-worn over the years but, man, sinking into it after a long day feels right. Love is a song that slow the world down, makes you close your eyes, tilt your head back, forget and remember.
Yes. Love is hard work. But that does not mean it should be a fight for your life. Love will not bruise you, not over and over. Love will not leave you feeling lonely in every crowded room. It will not convince you that you should subsist on less. Love has the energy to show up, prioritizes, swells and grows to fill its container.
It will not drop you in the midst of some trapeze trick. It has your back, particularly when it’s hard. Particularly on your heaviest, moodiest day. When your hands shake and your voice breaks. Love is a forehead kiss. Love is a Saturday afternoon call just to see how you’re handling being stuck at home. It is a trip to the pharmacy to grab you medicine and some small surprise.
Love does not punish you with petty silences or sharp-edged jokes. It forgives, it discovers, it adapts. Love discovers your least lovable colors, and it includes them in the portrait it paints of you. As if to say yes, this is you. As if to say yes, I choose this, too.
It hangs the portrait on the wall, points it out with pride to every incoming guest. As if to say this is my home, this is my home.
Should we start with Egypt, you ask, and we do, two boys on a Saturday unseasonable, your passion flows freely, describing Hatshepsut and Blanche Devereaux with equal enthusiasm, I am grinning, we are kissing in the Met’s quietest corner
Funny the way tentativeness melts to the floorboard, how we look back on the nerves with fondness, forget just how wonderful it is to be at rest with someone
By candlelight, dinner, the drinks all wrong but we drink them, share stories and the hummus plate, charm the server for more pita, make a plan for where next, then we linger in the glow, conversation a beautiful book, no clear ‘good place to stop’
It’s a blur, but it’s warm, when you retell stories you laugh like you are experiencing them for the first time, and it’s wonderful, good to clasp hands that build amidst all this breaking, Saturday stolen from a cold winter, pin it gently against the wall.
When I like something, I love it. Taylor Swift, my cat, Fire Emblem, Jigglypuff, the wing spot on 10th Avenue, the quilt sprawled across my perfect, ugly couch. I love unironically and enthusiastically, in a way that overflows. If you let me, I’ll tell you all about it.
The heart I carry around with me is tender and prideful. I will tear up telling you about my niece, about how deeply I love my friends, watching some scene in a TV show I’ve watched thirty times, but I will wage war to keep you from seeing me cry over you.
I will keep everything. Months, years into knowing me, I will remind you of specific instances, the moments I fell in love with your personhood. I will remember the first time you pulled me into a kiss, where we were and how it felt. I will recall the way your eyes look when you’re focused on something, the small signals you are feeling nervous or agitated. I will be able to describe what you are like at rest, how you sleep, the sweet and subconscious ways in which you share a bed.
Everything. I will remember how you are when you are on the opposite side of an argument. I will keep what you said, the way you argue, the ways in which you are fair and unfair. I’ll take note of the way you make amends, whether you ever say sorry first, how long you hold on or let go.
I will run late. I will say yes to too many things, and – at some point – yours will be the plate I will drop. I will need the reminder to listen, sometimes, to drop my defenses and listen. The same hand that writes love letters can capture your harshest edges. If I decide you’ve broken my trust, I will remove access to most of my ‘rooms.’
I will see you. I will hang back from the group, squeeze your hand, say hey, how are you doing? I will barely blink as I listen, eyes right with yours. You will catch me observing you, and I will need reminders when it’s the wrong time to check in. I will never not want to talk about the ‘big matters,’ our dreams and our griefs and our takeaways.
I live my life like it is a grandiose tale. I am lucky to be living it and grateful to explore every corner of the story. I will expound upon how you fit in it, how the narrative bent and expanded the moment you came. My words are my paintbrush and you will see yourself in portrait. It will pain me, I admit, to figure out how to write chapters after you.
I’m the sort of person that people confess themselves to. My messages are full of conversations on the heart. I am a friend who is just as honored to be with you on the hard mornings as the joyful nights out. I give pep talks to people I haven’t seen in years, decades. This is an honor and a consistent, lifelong pattern.
I am hard-headed and soft-hearted. I am bright, am a mess, am defiantly sincere. In conversation, I will jump from absurd ideas to gentle notions to a story about my hardest grief. Stay with me; I promise I won’t drop you.
Strange is the way we become strangers in the after, can you even fathom my casual arrival at your door, kicking off my shoes, setting my backpack against the wall, by the chair, kissing you hello, making myself at home?
We are polaroids now, tucked away in some closet shoebox, one man seeing another off at the New Jersey transit, dinner on a sunlit patio the day after I cried myself to sleep for the first time since I was a boy, skin rubbed raw and draped in wild colors.
I wish I could keep the joy without feeling the sting, Oz in reverse, Technicolor rinsing loose to stark gray, wish I could know you like I knew you, but we are finders, keepers, nostalgia the sweet, ugly ache of trying to exist in some yesterday.