On the other end of the line, my friend Ben is wrapped up in another mess of mine, caught up in the clutter of my life again. He’s also getting ready for work. I’m coming down and trying to do it without crying. I don’t know what I did, but I’m planning on lying. Dawn is cracking like a whip. The sun’s rising like a guilt trip.
“What are you talking about?”
Last night, I ran into my ex at a dive bar downtown. The patio was packed and the juke box was blaring a B-side or rarity. My smile was so fake. My tenth beer tasted like a mistake. Our hesitant hug lasted a whole half a second. We’ve been giving each other some self-prescribed “space,” some much-needed distance and time, so he and his friends left through the back to avoid me and mine.
“You don’t remember?”
“Would I be ASKING you if I did?!”
Last night was a while ago if that makes any sense. I’ve been up for a few days with some fair-weather friends. Thanks to blow and black coffee, I’ve been running from everything while running on nothing. I look great. I’ve come to realize that hunger feels more like home than any tangible structure ever has, or probably ever will. I know now that creating absence is my way of coping with absence.
I cut plates into pieces, negotiate negative space.
Still prepping for work and doing damage control simultaneously, Ben informs me that I tried to hook up with a mutual friend’s girlfriend in the midst of another post-break-up blackout. My brain flickers violently, fighting to remember. The last bit of honesty I’ve got left inside of me throbs like a stubbed toe. It hurts.
“That’s bullshit!” I blurt. “I’m OBVIOUSLY gay!”
“Idunno, man… I just wanted to fill you in.”
Ben’s lingering on the line. I’m washing my mouth out with a bottle of white wine. Morningbirds are chirping like a playground’s worth of children in the tree branches outside. My conscience kayaks across a wave of regret like it’s not destined to capsize.
“I’m sorry?” I slur, hoping it will suffice.
x x x
Artists who praise negative space are lazy. I’ve met a lot of them, slept with a bunch of them. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere (a reflection of me), but I’m not ready to acknowledge it quite yet. Someone once told me that gay men often hook up with men who look like them because men are inherently narcissistic. MASC 4 MASC. It makes sense, but I don’t think I’d ever fuck myself— my reflection. Men tend to be very rough with a package even if it’s labeled FRAGILE. I’d probably break me.
I’d probably like it.
“Let’s call it a FUCKING wrap already! It’s been seven years and I’m still super depressed. I need to start seeing a psychiatrist again. This isn’t working.”
I’m threatening my therapist.
“I see.” She sighs.
“I need meds!” I menace. “And NOT the ones that make me fat.”
If we’re being honest, I have no idea what I need.
Last week, I bleached my hair bright white at 2AM for a job I had at 6AM. I scraped the skin off my knees on the hardwood floor of a new friend’s apartment while spinning around her living room on a makeshift stripper pole. I spent $200 on books from Amazon.com and stacked the unopened FedEx boxes atop a mountain of already neglected reading material. I cried in the bathroom of a crowded Whole Foods and scrolled through Grindr like a lunatic.
“Have you been going through your DBT workbook?”
She asks this like she actually believes a stack of paper could save me.
“I’ve been trying to…”
I’ve been going through a lot. I’ve given up on myself and everything “me” entails. I’ve given my ID full control, and now we’re flying off the rails. We’re thriving in low spirits, smoking light blue American ones. We get drunk to get numb. We seduce sex addicts for fun. We’ve got bats in our belfry. We’re away with the fairies!
“Isn’t it scary,” therapist frowns, “how quickly we fall back into old patterns and behaviors?”
“Uh-huh.” I smile. “Very.”
x x x
Finding pleasure in pain isn’t a kink, it’s a survival tactic. Familiarity breeds stability no matter what it is you’re familiar with. Stability is sought after by everyone, no matter what they say. There is stability in self-destruction, in prolonging sadness as a means of escaping abstractions like happiness. Rock bottom is a surprisingly comfortable place to lay your head. Looking up from the depths of another low often seems a lot safer than wondering when you’ll fall again. Falling feels awful.
I’d rather fucking fly.
“He wasn’t a bad man…” My late father’s soon-to-be late mother assures when I visit her in hospice. “…you know that, right?”
It’s been over a year since we saw each other last (a few belated birthdays and heartless holidays), and now she’s stuck with herself and the sins of her past. She’s dying like she’s desired to since my dad did. The hunger strike she initiated in his absence has induced a fatal sickness she’s too fatigued to fight. Doctors blame depression for her lucid lack of appetite. The whole thing is very Grey Gardens if you’re willing to accept the fact that we don’t have access to a garden.
She’ll never forget that I told her son to kill himself, but she refuses to remember the mess he left in his wake. I start scrolling through my phone in search of nighttime plans to make. Nurses notice my negligence and avoid me like the plague. Grandma rambles on about a boy who lives inside her memory.
“He really loved you…” She smiles when her stampede of mood stabilizers finally starts marching in.
To hold onto a superfluous pronoun for as long as she has feels almost exhausting enough to forgive or let pass, but still, I dream of dragging her ugly old body out of bed. I want to show her how fucked I am— how fed up and unfed. I want to say NA was nauseating and Alanon was a huge waste of time. I want to see her cry. I need her to know that she gave life to the man who ruined mine.
“…and I loved him.”
x x x
An escort once told me that she gets off on selling fantasies because her whole world is a fantasy. She had a finger tattoo of a dollar sign and a dependence on Benzodiazepines. We were drinking Daiquiris. I think fantasy proves fatal more often than not. When my world feels small and sad enough, I give it a shot. I close my eyes and imagine all the other selves I could’ve (or should’ve) been. I envision them installed in all their alternate little universes and I wonder if they think about me, too.
I decide I don’t care.
“You’re stunning…” A man reminds, pouring pore-refining SPF down the stretch of my spine. “…you’re aware of that, right?”
We’re day drunk somewhere north of Palm Springs (posted up in a house he’s rented for the week) and the sun is shining down on us like it actually gives a shit. The backyard pool is shimmering like a Hockney painting. Our reflections dance across its surface like a pair of glittering ghosts. His is handsome and kind. Mine’s too rippled to recognize. It’s a total Mulan moment if you nix 90’s Xtina and replace her with whatever SoundCloud rapper is blaring from the Bluetooth speakers.
And when he fucks me, he does it like he likes me: kisses me softly and wraps my thighs around his waist. I dive into my brain, block out the thrusts and slip away. I resurface when he’s finished. He smiles and says the sex was great. His sincerity is scarier than the thought of him drowning me.
“You’re not here…” I announce from across the pool once the mushrooms we ate a bit ago begin to kick in.
I’m naked and dancing to an unreleased song by an unknown band either provocatively or pretentiously. The desert’s going starry dark. Our day is starting to unwind. I should tell this man how cruel I am— how careless and unkind. I should warn him of my ways while he’s detached enough to save, while he still has a chance to stray. He deserves to know I’m broken, but stuff like that is hard to say.
“…or I’m not there.”
x x x
If only I could tell someone, Franz Wright once told everyone, the humiliation I go through when I think of my past can only be described as grace. I reread “Letter” repeatedly, forget its potence pretty frequently. All I need is an apology from every man in my family tree. We are created by being destroyed. Self-pity’s silly, but it’s a shtick that sticks around. A heart is a hell of a thing to run into the ground. I spend most of my time wondering how everyone around me manages to get by in this world.
The ugliness is so shattering.
“I believe you Kristopher, but you do have a considerable history of substance abuse. ADHD medications are controlled substances. We need to be careful.”
My new shrink is playing hard to get.
“I’m fine!” I lie.
“Agree to a drug test,” he suggests, “and we can look into Concerta.”
If we’re being honest, I was hoping he’d say Vyvanse.
Things could be worse. A barber I let bone me twice texts every day to say he can’t stop thinking about me, which I guess is sort of sweet. I make friends with Molly so I never have to eat. I binge on Blow Pops and bubblegum whenever I feel hollow. I suck dick to curb what candy can’t and almost always swallow. Casting directors keep telling me they love my “edgy” look, which I guess is kind of flattering, if not completely fucking inevitable at this point.
“Obviously, you’d need to come in for regular weigh-ins.”
He says this like I don’t know how to waterload and hide ankle weights.
“If that’s what it takes…”
I don’t know a lot of things, but I know how to get my way. I’ve mastered the art form of keeping feelings at bay. I get high. I go dancing. I rock the motherfucking boat. I plump my Juvéderm pout in hopes that men will take note. I’m a friendly little floozy, flirtatious and free. If I never stop moving, nothing ever catches up to me!
“Honesty’s key.” New shrink warns. “You and I both know you don’t need another repeat.”
“GOD, no!” I grimace. “Please.”
x x x
“Don’t apologize to me!” Ben snaps. “You need to talk to him.”
And I know that.
“But, like… what do I even say?”
Sometimes, it feels like I’m constantly calling in sick to my social life. I’m always AWOL when it comes to any kind of accountability. I play perpetual hooky from even the simplest of responsibilities. It’s exhausting for everyone involved. I’m impossible to hold onto. Cry wolf often enough and you eventually get eaten by the wolf, even if the wolf is you.
And I know that, too.
Ben hangs up, so I step to the window and light the last cigarette in my pack. I stare at my phone screen until it goes glossy black. Outside, the city’s pretty in pink. LA’s choking on morning clouds the color of cotton candy. Scrawny palm tree silhouettes chomp at them like a bunch of crooked teeth, munching empty calories. The barber with the undying boner texts to tell me how sprung I’ve got him, how utterly obsessed, so I reach for the half-hollow bottle of wine. I bite down on my lower lip to keep from laughing or crying. How funny it would be, I drift into a daydream, to meet the boy he thinks is me. I reply with the letter “K” and an impetuous emoji.
Coming down for the thousandth time, I’m perched on the precipice of a billion broken promises. I’m speeding through the intersections of my own broken heartstrings, blowing red lights and ignoring red flags. I’m thinking, history repeats itself. I’m wondering why. The world outside is still happening also. I put my cigarette out and draw a deep breath in, draw the curtains closed.
Regret, albeit raw and relentless, is almost always unremarkable.