At Long Last
I loved the stage,
So I performed every day;
Until they called it Stage 4,
And I don't act anymore.
The illness was spreading
Immensely, and fast
But we did what we could--
And at last, at long last!
After months of nothing,
Results finally struck
Death has turned his head,
Despite what Logic said.
The Smallest of Wins
I’d held him to myself for four months. Four months of a double life where some could see parts of me while I forced another side down, down down down, until even I was starting to get confused about who I was. Four months. Imagine it, that’s literally half the time a baby needs to be developed. Four. Fucking. Months.
The process, or whatever you would define "coming out" as, started two weeks ago. Two and a half, maybe. It was one of the nights where I couldn’t feel myself. Feel myself sounds dirty, which is kind of gross, but I have held the facade of being almost purely asexual for so long that maybe I was actually starting to believe it, despite having done so much stuff with him. Although this is anonymous, although you don’t know, although there is so much that could be way worse, his name, his identity, has to stay mine. Because no one really tells you that, once you come out, once you make yourself known as “gay” and not devoid of sexual feelings, these things that were once yours start to become the world’s. A product of a consequence, a small victory of not having a secret. So if I’m going to remain sane, the only reasonable thing I can do is keep pieces of it for myself and myself only.
Wow, that entire sequence right there was a tangent. Here’s another one, a small one, though, I promise I’ll keep it brief, but tangents are what started this. Off-hand topics, uncalled-for responses, bits and pieces of the mask I painted onto my face just slowly chipping off until I couldn’t take it anymore. I need you to understand that, to know that, if I had held it for much longer, I might never have revealed it all. A double life, one of straight-but-hinted-gay-and-asexual me and gay-oh-so-gay-and-going-out-late-at-night-to-see-a-man-and-kiss-a-man-and-oh-did-I-mention-he's-gay? me, like some sort of pretty socially fucked superhero. Except, you know, my own deception was my worst villain.
It started with a story. A tangent of my own private writings, a confession on the cheap Dell laptop's screen. Sometimes, when you just write for yourself, you see the little bits of plastic you threw in your own pond, hoping they'd sink to the bottom, just casually float back up, muddier but somehow cleaner than before. This is what happens when I'm depressed, when I can't feel myself (see, told you tangents are a real thing in my life). I write. And sometimes, you get too close to comfort, even for yourself. Here's a bit of it, and the motif of the story was glasses and how they let you see, but when you lie, these glasses become cracked, smudged, until you can't even see two inches in front of your face. Hell, is your nose even there? You don't really know. Not to detract from this writing itself, but to believe it, to see the amount of thoughts bubbling up in my head, you have to see it. See it in the way that I couldn't for so long.
Now, I sit in classrooms. I text friends. Or at least, I think they’re my friends. I accidentally keep secrets, because who wants to know about that, but what if they found out? Would they hate you? Would they drop you just like you dropped your glasses into the ocean, letting them wash away so that you were nearly blind for two days straight? And what if you tell them? Will they hate you then? Will they hate the initial lie? So.
You hold it in. You let the tears build up to the brim of your lenses, misty with your heaving breath, and you just play the part. You act clueless, although you know exactly what’s happening. You act innocent, although you know the things you’ve done. You lie and hold to it, you play the part, you get in the game, you shape up your personality and your life until everyone sees you as T.J., the boy who’s clueless, who’s smart, who’s dumb, who lacks any common sense, who has to break a little bit of himself each time he reinforces the web, who is just so tired of holding it in that he lets it leak through and everyone reacts with surprise, and you know it’d be even worse. So you keep going. You keep mortaring new bricks. You keep getting new pairs of glasses. You keep seeing these things, these lines, these threads of possibility.
And you wish that you’d never gotten any glasses at all.
Look at him. T.J., the boy who was literally dammed up in his own head. That's me. That's the person I am, I let the water rise and rise, but the reason I came out at all because of him. Not T.J., that's me, "him" as in the secret I get to keep from you. My own little piece of the world. But those last two paragraphs is part of what started it.
I asked my friend Samantha if she would something for me and tell me if she hated me. To confess, to alleviate some of my guilt that really shouldn't have felt like guilt. She didn't hate me. She said she loved me and that if I needed to talk, she "is always there for" me. I cried. A lot. Not uncommon for me, but still, figured it should be mentioned. And then, after a while, she asked a question, because she knew I wasn't going to let it out without someone telling me it was okay too.
"T.J.," she texted, "Is there something you want to tell me?"
I stared at my phone for a while. A good five, six minutes. My keyboard was open on the chat, the six keys just glowing, like they knew what was meant to be said. Prophesied, predicted. Just type it, I told myself, Just tell her and it will be over.
There's moments like this, pieces of your life that feel like there should be a grand score in the background or a lack of one, just a noise-blinded scene. You wait, and you don't know what to expect, but somehow, you're certain about something.
I sort of paused my heart here, can't tell you how I did it. It was the same feeling I got when I was with him, when I stepped into his car at 3 am, just to drive, just to see what Greensboro held for us. And she says what needs to be said. A simple word. So simple.
This is what I was talking about, the certainty. The knowledge that you just know, and I knew what I knew. This was enough. This was enough. There's no conflict. There's no disturbing plot twist. Just the simple acceptance of who I am. That's who Samantha represented, what she represented.
So before I start texting so much, before the tangent comes back, before I get lost in my own hidden glee, I made myself write something down in my Google Keep, a quick flick of my home screen onto the application.
I typed down, "This is not an uphill battle as long as you have someone on your side."
I studied it, the curves in the S's, the word "not." I listen to her dings as she tells me it'll all be okay, that no one is going to hate me and that I knew that she was right. This didn't mean I wasn't scared as hell, I absolutely still was.
Pressure, though, isn't immediately let off in things like this.
Four months, I had held him to myself. And now some of the steam has hissed out of me. And you know what?
Smaller victories mean winning the war at the end of it all. "You won this battle but you haven't won the war" is literally one of the most bullshittiest things I've ever heard. One battle is enough, enough to hold you through.
And I'm glad this battle was enough for me to finally shine through.
#lgbt #comingout #gay #nonfiction
When you don’t believe in God, who do you pray to when you are about to face down one of your greatest fears? Anyone and anything that will listen, that’s who. This is exactly what I was doing while the Park Ranger rambled on about how stalactites formed. Please Gods let my sedatives work, Please Gods let my sedatives work….. I glanced at the numbers above the fast approaching elevator and knew I was out of time. It was now or never.
Never sounded SO GOOD.
My husband gripped my hand tightly and we stepped into the elevator. The smallest of all the elevators, we had been told. Perfect. I could do this. I could. We were alone in the metal box when the doors closed and the walls started to slip past the glass inserts in the panels. I couldn’t do this. Oh my God. We were in a solid rock shaft plummeting 750 feet into the Earth. How did I even get here?
I couldn’t breathe. How did this broken glass get into my lungs? My fingers felt numb where they fluttered ineffectually at my diaphragm, and my heart was trying to slam out of my chest. Tears slipped from my darting eyes. Somewhere, in the tiny metal box with the walls sliding by, my husband was telling me that it would be over in just a few seconds. But I couldn’t hear him over the roaring in my ears.
The doors slid open. I stumbled out and plastered myself to the wall, then slid to the floor. I needed to breathe, to clear the spangles from my eyes. It had taken only 1 minute to reach the bottom. The tiny metal box had taken us 750 feet into the Earth to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I had finally made it into Carlsbad Caverns. It was a gloriously alien world, full of magic and a wonder I never would have gotten to experience if I hadn’t confronted my fears. Then it happened. For a time I forgot to be afraid. I forgot that being underground terrified me, that being trapped under all that rock felt suffocating.
Then it was time to go.
Back in the tiny metal box.
This time there were enough people to fill the elevator, but this time I knew I could do it. I let my husband hold me tight and watched the walls slip by.
This time I could breathe.
Break the Spell
All sublunary proclivities are spellbound by religiosity
A gradually implied subliminal suggestion
To metastasize an unseen authority in celebration
Culturing a fervor for acceptance
And a virtuous submission for some greater good
Imprinting a genetic predisposition
To an occult egregore that casts a shadow over mankind
The masses emboldened by slave languages
Successfully and seamlessly
An indoctrination of countless generations
Under the rule of hierarchical psychopathy
The effects of this accursed Human condition radiates dissenting voices in a growing cadence
To unchain the creative spirit of humanity and step into tomorrow, together
Is why We shed these skins
How I wish I could say such a thing
And always mean it.
But I fear
That in mornings I struggle
Coming back to reality after a peacful rest
It’s just hard to get up and be happy
When you’re mind is saying
Go back to bed, Go back to bed, Go back to bed
Normally When I say Good Morning
I actually mean
But you can’t greet someone like that
No that’s just not proper
So, when I’m forced to get up
I would just smile
And say Good Morning
But it wouldn’t be for you and I
Yesterday was different
Yesterday I decided to try something different
I woke up and instead of listening to my half conscious mind
I said, No
No I won’t go back to bed
I told myself that today would be a good day
I just have to get up
I told myself that over and over
Fighting with my conflicted self
I had wanted to crawl back into my warm bed
And forget about reality just a little bit longer
But I knew, I mustn’t
I must get up
Think positively and the fog will clear up
Yesturday morning I woke up
I said Good Morning
And I meant it
That day, it had been a good morning.
Take That Anxiety
"Listen close." I say
With only myself to hear.
"There is more than this."
Breathing can be a struggle,
My hands ache and clench,
Everything could-- No, would end.
And yet I reach out
To the world beyond my door,
And I do not die.
"Listen close." I say
With all of the world to hear.
"Despite you, I live."
An ode to loss and persistence
There was something about that amateur concert yesterday. It keeps bothering me, a sense of presence on the periphery of my mind, dripping with persistent annoyance of autumnal drizzle. A misty mystery.
In the pallid morning light I am watching raindrops on the car window. As it accelerates, the drops stay still. They shiver in nervous excitement: not yet... not yet... not yet... YES! Finally resolved, they take off, almost simultaneously, chasing each other to the end of the glass and off, spinning into watery oblivion.
'Weather talk' is an expression in English meaning empty conversation, innocuous and meaningless. That is exactly what, slightly contemptuously, I thought of it while living in California. The weather there was nice. The air was warm. The sky was blue. The days were long and easy. Not so in England - you really can talk about the weather for hours here - there is just so much of it...
There is a kestrel flying past the window, slicing through the grey misty air, intent on it's goal, assured in it's elegant trajectory. No hesitant trembling there. There is unquestionable beauty in it's simplicity. But there is also a strange, uncertain beauty in discordant complexity.
What was it, at that concert yesterday? It was the usual mix of of adults and children, playing with various degrees of proficiency: in the adults enthusiasm shoring up insufficient skill and in the children - parental pressure shoring up insufficient enthusiasm. A couple of beautiful, almost professional performances, strategically framed the concert at the beginning and the end. Was it that Liszt piece, with an almost unbearable sense of unrest just under the surface? No... it was that thin old woman, taught and trembling, like a string, like the raindrops, like the tears in my eyes that came, incomprehensible, out of nowhere.
The old woman walks on to the stage, accompanied by a younger one - attentive and slightly apologetic - her daughter, judging by the attitude. The mother is very nervous. Once seated at the piano, she has to take a few deep breaths to calm down enough to stop her hands trembling. For a few seconds she sits still, visibly stealing herself, and then suddenly plunges into her piece. Her fingers tap the keys lightly, with certainty, and there is spring - her eyes young, sparkling with laughter, her hands moving with the unthinking elegance of the kestrel in flight. You could see her sitting in a bright sunlit family room, demonstrating the piece to her daughter, happy in their shared enthusiasm. Suddenly, she stumbles. Her face falls. A look of helpless confusion replaces the sunny smile. Her daughter moves forward involuntarily, as if to help, but then the expression of grim determination replaces that of confusion on the old woman's face and, with the help of the score in front of her, she plunges on. It is a long piece. Over the course of interminable minutes she forgets the familiar music again and again, every time unable to believe the betrayal of her mind, every time returning to the score with grim persistence, unwilling to accept her loss, her frailty, the signs of decline...
The daughter stops moving forward with each mistake, only her fingers moving, as if willing to transmit their knowledge to her who taught them in the beginning, so many years ago. When there was spring, and light, and mum would remind her of the things she needed to pack for school, and she didn't have to follow her surreptitiously into the kitchen, just to make sure that the stove was off after she finished... Her mother never taught her to cook. She used to resent her mother's lack of domesticity - the house was always a mess and meals - a haphazard affair. Sometimes, while rooting through the fridge in search of something edible, she had that bitter feeling of being uncared for, unloved, unheeded... But then there were other times, when her mother would teach her music - or simply play, sharing her passion, offering the music as a gift of love. When she grew up she realised that she kept her room immaculate and learned baking at least in part as a protest. But she also learned to play the piano.
It was a few years before vague worries caused by her mum forgetting and loosing things became impossible to ignore. One day she was making a cake, listening to mum playing one of her favourite pieces in the next room. The music stopped in mid-sentence. She ran into the room, suddenly terrified. Her mother was sitting at the piano, shoulders slumped, arms hanging uselessly by her side. Mum's face had that helplessly confused expression she came to dread. Her eyes, bright with tears trembling in the lower eyelids, huge with despair, burned themselves into her daughterâ€™s memory, as did her trembling voice, repeating over and over again, with heartbreaking persistence, 'I can't remember... I can't remember... I can't remember...'
That afternoon she made an appointment with mum's GP and in a week received a letter with the diagnosis they both dreaded. She cried. Her mum didn't. She sat there, in the sunlit room, her back straight, her arms hanging limply by her side. After a few minutes of silence, she stood up and walked to the piano, an expression of grim determination on her face. She sat down and started to play.
Over the next few years, the daughter would learn to both love and hate this piece. Listening to it flowing from her mother's fingers and stopping abruptly, and starting again and again and again - a memorial to past skill, a testament to present spirit, a hymn that denies faith, an ode to loss and persistence.
The Last moments of Leonidas
We stood firm.
As the mountians applauded our courage.
As the wind whistled in our ears.
As seas brought dead to our gate.
As our bodies watered the earth,
Under the demands of fear.
We stood ready.
For our families.
That will echo forever.
At a disadvantage.
At the hot springs of Thermopylae.
At the gate of Thanatos*.
At the edge of the world,
And we slipped away.
We shall kill these Persians.
With our spears.
With our shields.
With daggers hidden in our boots.
With our hands,
if the need arises.
We shall die.
On our feets.
On the bodies of comrades.
On their swords.
On our faces,
with perfect defeat.
Blood soaked the earth.
Bodies piled on bodies.
The sky red.
Marking the end of day.
As the wind still whistled.
I bleed on my back.
As the sun returned home.
Slowly, Till . . .
I didn’t do it today. It isn’t the first day or some round number anniversary. Just one of those days in the middle, a Tuesday, a day no-one will congratulate you on making it.
It was an ordinary day. I did everything that was expected of me: I showered, I ate, I went to work; I played with my son afterwards; I made love with my wife. Everything nice and fine.
But the urge lingers, even as I lay down in bed, exhausted. Just one to show myself it’s not a big deal, just one to drown the feeling of dread, just one to fog the never-ending fear of tomorrow...
And then what? Just one tomorrow, and the one the next day, until it’s just one day without it, please, just one.
So I lay down in bed, celebrating quietly, this one day I didn’t do it, the same as the hundreds before it.
Thinking about my love and my child and how I never want to disappoint them. How I always want to stay my son’s hero and my wife’s knight in shiny armor. They never met the person I was before I said: “not today, maybe tomorrow, but not today.” And I fight myself every day so that tomorrow never comes, that they never meet him.