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.
Is there a better smell than a freshly struck match? I light a candle and watch the wick curl, remember the scratch of every page ripped loose from the binding, bad ideas and broken plans, and when did I become better at the breaking than the building?
Give me a life with a man who reads books, not out of some higher ground but because I can’t even fathom how safe it would feel to sit together in quiet, minds exploring worlds, with someone who knows how to be content with his thoughts and the things he already has
Pause at the library and study my reflection in the glass, am I really a character worth rooting for? Michael and his sinking arc, stubbornly clings to what has become heavy rather than glide his arms through the floodwater.
There are people in your story you will merely survive, I scribble down, kneeling beside the coffee table after a run then, beneath the shower, the sentiment melts as the cold rinses loose from my limbs
There are no bad guys, I write on an unblemished line, I know firsthand the hollow sting of having tried to love someone and instead leaving behind scars, then I shrug, stand up, tired of apples and oranges
Maybe everyone was trying his best, my jawbone says, generous, and my fingertips recoil, so it’s a matter of capacity, then, and not willingness?, my lungs bark, sternum wails, forehead aches at the cacophony, a body at war with itself, wringing itself ragged for some meaning, for some meaning
What does it say about you, says my heart, in some silence, that your love is this color, sun ray through an open window, what does it say, for some meaning, for some meaning?
sunrays of an early morning and here I am in the mirror my body a tender mammal warm and wanting, still recoiling where I press recklessly against the spaces where you pressed recklessly
some hundred crumpled-up poems over the last week, sharp-edged lines slicing papercuts into my healing fingertips, what is there to do with fury, really? I press on, starving the fever
relief swells in your absence, no longer combing up the crumbs and declaring myself full, watch all the prettiest boys open up briefcases and bruise my own wrists hoping you might just take the money
I’m sorry I wanted so much and expected so little, tell myself you could’ve left well enough alone, and still I’m enamored by the boy who tried to love despite better instincts, still feels so unflinchingly on this cold, bright damn morning
The best nights in New York City feel a bit like a runaway train. The city is hard, brutal edges and corners, but it will give you story after story if you let it. You just have to loosen your grip, feel the breeze against your palms.
It’s 3 AM, I’m sitting on the floor of a Brooklyn train station, and I am reveling in how free and beautiful life feels. The night freshly lived is a series of images: six-pack of sour beers, black henley stolen from my brother nine years ago, crickets at Zona Rosa, stories swapped on a bus otherwise empty, bags of chips on a free-standing laundry, my friend’s face as we break free to talk about life yet again.
And now this: Me, 33 years old and suddenly at ease with everything that’s ever happened, singing into the cavernous space. Really can’t remember where I left my spine, carrying my body in a bag for dimes. I pause, the melody warm on my lips as I hear my voice reverberate. Hidden in the pages of the New York Times at home. Nearby, two women turn to smile at me, one giving me a thumbs-up. I laugh, shy, and hum to myself instead.
We’re raised on stories with satisfying arcs. Heroes face down villains, lovers face obstacles, people meet the moment and change for the better. In college, a fellow writer told me I’d probably always write ‘coming-of-age’ stories. Everything you write is about learning to meet this world for what it is. At the time, I resented his boiling down of my gift to something so simple.
But here, on this night and against this wall, I have to admit: The greatest coming-of-age lesson I’ve ever learned is that stories don’t really have endings. Human arcs are messy, layered, mundane, back and forth. Happiness isn’t just a quick mountain away; love isn’t the period at the end of some sentence.
But, sometimes, the story we want to live chimes in perfect unison with the moment we’re living. Peace is a cat wandering into the crook of our arm, purring for the moment. Try and grab it, hold it too close, and it runs away and skulks beneath the furniture.
And so we sing into subway stations.
My therapist apologized to me this week. Last time, she explained to me, when you were telling me about some of the changes in your life, I showed too much emotion. I laughed, told her it was all right, but she insisted. No, I’ve thought about it, and I shouldn’t be another person making you feel like I’ll be happiest when you get it right.
The hair on my arms raised, a lump pressing against my sternum. I accepted her apology. Our time together is always work, a long breath in and out, but it is also like looking into the mirror for a good long while. Eyes gentle, mind relaxed. Investigating.
Afterwards, I grabbed a coffee and stared out the window at a city in motion. Folks were buying Christmas trees, eating bites of pizza in between foggy exhales. I realized the hardest part isn’t the learning, isn’t the discovering the hard truths about ourselves, but it’s the unlearning, the letting go.
Maybe you realize you push people away. Maybe you even break through to realizing you do it because you’re afraid of being let down, and pushing people away at least keeps the control in your hands. The epiphany can feel clarifying, relieving, but the work comes days, weeks, months later, when you find yourself pushing someone away again. When you realize naming the monster didn’t free you of it, and now you need to forgive yourself, set the monster down, and try something new.
We are learners, always. We learn and learn and learn. Unlearning, letting go, is the good fight for something better. It’s swimming against our own currents and trying to reroute the story.
I brought my cat home at the dusk of July. I woke up, walked to my rental car with a cat carrier, and took the tunnel out of the city and into New Jersey. My destination, decided by his foster family, was a rest stop named for Jon Bon Jovi.
In the back seat, on his own for the first time, he was timid and quiet, then began to cry out. One hand on the wheel, I reached my right hand back toward his carrier’s net boundary. He pressed his tiny face against it and purred. We arrived back into the city that way, jumping over the page into a new chapter together.
Months later, it’s hard to imagine my apartment without him. At night, when I climb up the ladder to my lofted bed, I know he is going to playfully bat at my feet. On the mornings I linger in bed and play on my phone, I know he will eventually get tired of waiting on me and make an appearance to coax me into the day.
He’s changed so much in such a short time, grown more confident and restful. Some corners of the apartment feel like his, and he stands most proudly in those. We have rituals, and he knows how to communicate their beginning with me. He paws at my legs when he wants me to lift him, stretches his body back and away from me when he wants me to brush his paws against the walls and corners. He can open the bathroom door if it’s not fully shut.
As December begins to melt into a new year, I think of his 2022. Lanky kitten has given way to playful cat, a fuzzy beast that revels in his own rest for most hours of the day. He has grieved his siblings, moved on from the places he called home before this, come to trust me, flourished alongside me.
Sometimes it tickles me that he has no concept of New York City, of the busy and bustling world roaring just outside the perimeters of this apartment. I feel sorry for him, and then I realize I shouldn’t. He is so deeply content.
Don’t you want to dance? a friend asks, and, before I know it, I’m riding a bike through the rain in a glitter-bomb jacket, the swaths of streetlight glow shattering into dancing stars across concrete buildings and rain-slicked signs
I wrestle in bed with someone new, we are kissing and laughing, and I am a mess of neuron sparks, poet with pen overflowing, there are better stories to write
This year I wrote letters only I will read, sighed long and slow as my eyes danced them over, hands dropping them on the desk to yellow in the honest air
November was the eleventh hour and I spent it reacquainting with a room full of abandoned selves, the me who fares oceans by intuition, the one who sings his story in boisterous tenor, me whose love blooms every morning into a bouquet he cannot help but hand out
In the corner, watching the window with a rueful gaze, the me who closes the door to rooms where he did not find honest welcome, who etches boundaries like cliffsides, keep your distance, I hugged him and thanked him
The me who sorts the Polaroids on the hardwood floor, arranges them into a meaningful thread, he asked me where you been and laughed warmly when I confessed it had been a shin-scrape year, that’s not the story, he showed me, whisking the blurry pictures aside, you see?
I walked into the room, embarrassed and wary, but they’d been waiting all the while, a family doesn’t ask for explanations upon the return, just pours a drink and admits it’s such a relief to feel you here again
my supervisor tells me you get to choose again and i have to go off camera so she won’t see a grown man wipe his eyes, I am telling this story just fine until my friend interrupts me to say you don’t have to keep saying ‘twice,’ and, puzzled, i ask what she means, she says say ‘it was a mistake’ but you don’t have to keep saying ‘twice’
on the night we gave up, i thought i might find tears when i crossed the finish line home, but no, just numbness and then relief, found fury and indignation and regret, my least favorite of these, in all the rebuilding tomorrows, but no tears
the only times i want to cry, am tempted to buckle into myself, are the moments i am offered grace, far easier to regard myself with brutal hands, stupid boy and your stupid hopes, steel myself over and keep going, ready to weather anything but a single gentle touch, any permission to confess the tender, animal griefs within me