We met online. His first words were: “You cook and write about vegan food? Marry me.” I liked his forwardness. We casually talked over the internet and like so many people our age do, we nosied our way through each other’s social media. It was satisfying when we met for coffee the next day and he was even more handsome than his photos led onto. He spoke through a big smile and wide jaw. His straw was used as a guard as he’d grind the front rows of his teeth, chewing through his nervousness. Sean was an expat from London getting his Master’s here in New York City. He was everything I asked for: easy to talk to, smart, and well traveled.
Since neither of us were New York natives, we got to know each other through getting to know the city. We’d hold hands walking around the Cloisters, poke fun at each other in the dirty sands of Coney Island, and debate who was going to take the shade from the museum attendant for paying well under the suggested donation. I quickly adjusted to him in my life. Within weeks I became dependent on his good morning text messages and after work phone calls. It wasn’t long before we were talking about the future.
As we got deeper into the relationship, my idle time would be filled self diagnosing the conclusion of us. Panicked and anxious, my bedroom walls seemed expansive. They’d become as long and as wide as Interstate I95 appeared when I was a child. Back when eight hours from Florida to North Carolina felt like days and the roads were endless. The atmosphere inside the family vehicle was tense, for my mother was prematurely running from my father. Even in her frenzy, I was happy to be with her. I’d get lost in the trees that framed the east coast. The fall leaves dripped lemon meringue and carrot orange as my mother would be thinking aloud. “Never trust a man. Never trust a word they say because all men are liars.”
Although they’d never divorce (now happy and healthy in their 24th year of marriage) the idea that all men were evil stuck. In the present, I started writing a book of stories of what Sean might be doing. His leisurely response time to my text messages obviously meant he was with someone else. I knew that when he said “ I want to go out”, he meant he wanted someone else. I questioned every word he said because I was worried that he’d meet someone else. And when that’d happen, he’d realize they were better.
The newest model.
The homewrecker wouldn’t be so thin or so neurotic. He’d be polite, a little more easy going. Free of fear and unbothered by loss.
Ever since I came out, I wasn’t sure if loss had become friend or foe. His hollowing presence was ghostly and consistent and I knew I could count on him. He usually showed up unexpected, asking for a cup of sugar or in hopes I’d watch his cat. But then he would stay. Tired, after a long day, I’d arrive home, and he’d be sitting in the dimly lit corner of my living room having a cup of tea. He wouldn’t say hello, but he wanted me to know he was there. A reminder that I had still not recovered from the loss of my family.
My upbringing was conservative, Christian, and family oriented. Our Sunday’s were dedicated to going out for ice cream and doing work around the house. My dad and I were responsible for the manual labor. I’d always get in trouble because I much preferred to be inside cooking and cleaning rather than outside building a fence. My dad would argue that I just wanted to be joined at the hip with my mother.
By the age of fourteen, I was no longer in denial about my sexual orientation. I couldn’t keep my secret any longer.
“Maybe I’m bi? I don’t want to get married to a man…… I think gay marriage is crazy. I still want to be with a woman.”
I didn’t know how to tell them. I didn’t know how to formulate my sentences to be the right thing. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say without making my family hate me.
My mother looked away. “When I go to heaven, I want for all my children to be there.” Her reaction stung. Nothing resembling a bee sting or a spider bite or any physical pain ever experienced before. It was like the taste of copper. Like a dark room that’s illuminated by the natural light of a sunset. Like being told that unconditional love doesn’t actually exist.
Suddenly my childhood was a lie. Love didn’t conquer all. The Disney movies and fairy tales had all been a hoax. It was something of convenience or circumstance.
But somehow, there I was, walking through the streets of Brooklyn with Sean as elation washed over me. Our nail beds sticky from the bits of Misir Wot, Shiro, and Keysir Selata we had just devoured at a nearby Ethiopian spot. I relished in our indulgence.
“I want ice cream,” He proclaimed. We stopped in a bodega, grabbed a pint of non-dairy espresso ice cream and strolled home scooping the biggest mounds into our plastic spoons. His lips, like the elasticity of a rubber band, stretched across his beautifully large mouth when he mocked my dorky laugh. The chemistry was apparent. It was accompanied along side storytelling and shoulder nudges.
Our tired legs and spicy stomachs melted into my sheets. The congealed cotton sandwiched between two pieces of cheap fabric didn’t do much to support our heads. We laid on them anyways, testing the flexibility of our interlaced limbs.
“Are you sleeping with anyone else?” I questioned.
“No, are you?” Just as eager.
“What are you saying?”
“Do I need to write it on a note and ask you to circle yes or no?”
The next morning he sent me a text message: “thanks for breakfast, boyfriend.”
It felt dreamy. It felt safe.
When I came out, we lived in Hawaii. Family days became a time to celebrate the beautiful beaches of Oahu. Our drives along the windy highways of H-3 would be met with windows down and matcha green trees. In those moments I’d feel at home again. Relaxed. Mind blank. As soon as the island air would chill the back cavities of my nostrils, someone would turn the music down and talk of conversion therapy would circulate.
My mother inquired, “if people can make themselves think positively, why can’t you make yourself think straight?”
My adrenal glands would pour and my back stiffen. Who was she? She use to call me her baby, but now my mom and my dad were embarrassed of who I was.
I remember I used to have dreams about losing my mother. I’d be standing over a grave with a photo of her laughing and I’d wake up in tears because I was so afraid that one day she would be gone. She was my safety. My childhood was one of dependence, but that had to change. I needed to know that I could pay my own bills, make my own money, and never rely on anyone again. I’d forever open my own door, even when I had no hands free. I’d learn to heal myself when I got sick. I’d never look for committed and wholehearted love. If I could accomplish independence in the mundane, then I could accomplish safety in every aspect of my life.
Those lonely feelings followed me throughout my adolescence and into adulthood. I made it clear to so many men that we’d never be a thing. I’d roll over after sex in hopes that they’d be scrolling to find an Uber. Please don’t touch me while I’m sleeping. Or I’d keep them around until I realized things were getting too serious and we’d have a chat somewhere like the park or on my roof. You don’t feel the disconnect too? We just aren’t meant to be. And when I did fall victim of being on the side of heartbreak I’d ask myself if I really did love them, unsure of my willingness to completely let go.
To this day, I’m still unsure if I’ve totally let anyone in, especially my parents. Their rhetoric became familiar again with love and acceptance. They learned to understand who I am. My dad leaves voicemails reminding me how much he loves me and my mother continues to say, “I trust you” when her conservative friends comment on my online presence. I get choked up every time because suddenly my parents aren’t some gods that are infallible. They aren’t otherworldly entities that have come to earth to care for me and only incite perfection. They are humans. When I receive those acknowledgements, I feel it’s their way of saying “I’m sorry.”
Coming to terms with my parents as imperfect beings has helped me come to embrace myself. My internal dialogue has shifted from abusive language to a tone that is inflicted with kindness. When I do spiral out though, I call my mother.
“Love can make you do crazy things” she said, as I paced back and forth on a street corner in the West Village. Sean was meeting up with a male friend that I hadn’t met before and my thoughts were going rampant. She told me that what was meant to happen will happen. If the relationship is meant to be, the two of you will stay together. Stay present and know your worth.
I boarded the 14th street A train as our call was disconnected. The jaundice yellow lights dusted the seats and I asked myself, “aren’t you exhausted?” I couldn’t go on like this anymore. Always second guessing myself, thinking I was unlovable. If I did, I would never truly experience committed and wholehearted love.
A blip of cell service came through somewhere between Manhattan and Brooklyn. My phone vibrated:
“Want to meet us in the Lower East Side?”