I’m doing okay, now.
Written by Jack Ladd
“How does one deal with the sneaking suspicion that love is unequal? Is love ever equal? I don’t know how to play this game on the same field as someone else. It frightens me that all I can do is love him – and that perhaps he loves me a different amount than I love him.”
“Will you hug me?” He said after he walked into my bedroom. It was 11:47 on April 13, 2016. I hugged Him. I knew it was coming. He took several deep breaths, sitting across from me on my bed. He finally looked at me. “You know I care about you. Or, at least I hope you know.” I started to cry. In 10 minutes it would be our 14 month anniversary.
After the deed was done, we shared a cigarette on the balcony at my apartment. Standing in the eye of the hurricane, we stood and talked about the production He was working on and how my recent work trip went. We talked logistics: when we would see each other next, how much we wanted to be in each other’s lives. It was no longer our life. He left.
Denial and Isolation
I sent my sleeping mother a text, wanting nothing more than to be laying in my childhood bed with her scratching my back, the way she did before I knew what heartache was.
Delia came over. We smoked endlessly. I wanted to be sedated. I switched between feeling numb and screaming, clutching my chest. I fell asleep after eating Ritz crackers with cream cheese and salami, thoughtfully prepared by my smiling roommate who knew not what to say.
For the next few days I would do anything I could to not feel. I would stand in the middle of my living room and scream as tears streamed down my tired face. I finished a bottle of Tanqueray in record time. We had agreed to take a break from speaking to one another, which made me want to stop speaking altogether.
Our lives had become so intertwined that I couldn’t imagine who to tell first.
Of course, my mom. She told me she was glad He was my first love. That we were right for each other, but she’s glad that I wasn’t getting too serious now. She was glad that I could be single.
I felt dead.
How would I tell my father’s family?
I laid awake most nights and skipped class during the day, sleeping and smoking cigarette after cigarette. Never was there a better friend than Camel Blue, after all. Though sometimes I’d cheat with Marlboro Lights.
I would attempt to rationalize His thinking, try to understand it intellectually, but it didn’t matter. My body could not understand why the man who laid next to me every night with his legs woven into mine was gone. My body ached into the early hours.
“How could He make this decision for us? It’s not what I want,” I said to a friend. I was seething. “How could I not have known that a love I felt so deep in my bones could be carved out of me in one night?”
My crying became different than before. I started to shake violently. I wanted to punch a wall. I had to resist punting my phone the length of a football field every time I accidentally saw a picture of Him on Facebook. How could He be smiling?
There weren’t enough cigarettes in the world. And Tanqueray is expensive.
We met outside of my building after His rehearsal. It was chilly and I worried about Him wearing shorts. We walked in the general direction of Starbucks, but decided not to go in. As we walked around the Old Town Triangle, there were moments of silence. I had a lot to say with none of the words to say any of it. Every sentence was a fumble.
“I just want you.” There we go.
We stood outside of a brownstone on Lincoln Avenue and stared at each other. Both of us were crying, neither of us knew what to say.
Then I told Him that I was ready to start over. I had studied in London for three months in the fall and the time difference and distance inevitably strained our relationship. I apologized for going and promised to do whatever I could to start fresh.
I told Him I had gotten lazy. I apologized and promised to break up our routine and start having more fun. He wanted none of it.
I apologized for taking Him for granted, which I never did. I wanted to address whatever He was feeling and immediately make it better. I thought this would just be a week of hell in a great love story. I didn’t truly realize it was the end until weeks after we broke up.
He sat across from me on my bed two weeks later and told me we should stop hooking up. “It’s confusing for us. I can’t give you what you want.” He was right, he couldn’t. I leaned into kiss Him and He turned His head away. I wailed.
After He left, I locked my door. My roommate knocked softly. I told her the next day I didn’t hear it.
“Gay people don’t have lasting relationships,” she said as we drove to Portillo’s. I was newly out. 2013. “Without the man and the woman complementing each other in a relationship, there can’t be a real bond.” I was too young to realize that she was sowing the seeds of guilt and shame within me. This woman is my aunt, someone who I expected to have my best interest at heart. “Without gender roles, relationships don’t make sense, Jack. They’re vital to a relationship and, later on, a marriage.”
I sometimes felt like the Gay Delegate to the Illinois GOP Convention when I sat at the table during holiday dinners. Every word I uttered, every view I expressed, every eye roll, every furrowed brow, every tear shed was reflective of the gay experience to these people, my family. I was always waiting for the wrong word to be said, for someone to play ‘gotcha!’ and use my words against me. I stood in the kitchen after dinner this Christmas and silently washed dishes alone to avoid the inevitable dining room conversations.
“Hey Jack, quick question… with the divorce rate so high for heterosexuals how come it would be any better for homosexuals?” she said in an e-mail in July, 2014. Why did I have to explain this to her? I can’t even get married where I live. I’m 19. I don’t have a boyfriend. Go away.
It was the beginning of May, 2015, when we sat around the dinner table at an Italian restaurant, the evening before the funeral for my great uncle Amby. We sat around the table, talking about the political happenings of the day. Obergefell v. Hodges came up. Another moment where I hoped they would prove me wrong.
My loving grandmother looked at me and said, “Well, I know where I stand on the issue.” I knew she stood on my side. She always has.
My grandfather looked at her. “I just don’t understand why we have to redefine marriage.” I took a short breath in. Tears welled up. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. I shoved pasta in my mouth, trying to put a cork into the bottle of emotions that was bubbling up. The bottle popped. I excused myself. Walked past the other tables. Past the bathrooms. Out the backdoor. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Standing alone on a back patio that was supposed to look like an Italian courtyard, but looked out onto a parking lot in Crystal Lake, Illinois, I knew that this man thought differently of me than he did his other grandchildren. I was inherently different. He didn’t want the same things for me that he did my brothers. My heart hardened. Such a simple sentence created a chasm between me and the man I descended from.
It was moments like these when I couldn’t wait to get back to Him. To tell Him what happened, have him hug me and scoff at their small-mindedness. More than words, it was lying next to him at the end of the day that would affirm what I knew so deep down in my heart.
It was the little comments. These sentences, short arrangements of words, created distance between my family members and me. But I didn’t care at the time because I knew, deep down in my heart, that I had found Him. The Him they write songs and books about.
But no longer could I rely on Him. These excerpts from conversations with those whom I share a last name with would circle in my mind throughout the day. I felt like I was going crazy. I could hear their voices getting louder and louder. Were they right? Was I wrong?
The seeds were beginning to sprout.
We laid in bed together after a bottle of cava, a plate of goat cheese, a bottle of red wine from Whole Foods, and some pad thai. We really think we love Thai food, but we only ever order pad thai. Before dinner He pinned me on the bathroom floor and crept inside me. I felt weak with his breath on my right ear.
It was my 21st birthday, exactly one month and two days after we broke up. We sat across from each other at dinner and He told me that He had hooked up with someone else earlier in the week. I watched myself from outside the window, like my meal was my ticket to a screening of the dramatic saga of the century, but I didn’t follow the script. All previous encounters would lead me to believe that I would immediately burst in tears and possibly make a scene at 9 p.m. at Cozy Noodles ‘n’ Rice.
Was I happy for Him? No. Was I angry with Him? No.
We got into the shower after hours of kissing. He carefully rubbed white soap on my body in the same room He laid on top of me and bit my neck only hours earlier.
We laid in bed together, our legs intertwined once again. We talked about our futures with each other and with other people and his new role in a volunteer organization that he was heavily involved in. We talked about friends and my birthday. We talked about how much fun this summer was going to be. It was the first time he felt like my friend in weeks.
And it all happened in the room I would sleep in every other night as his boyfriend, lying next to him in my underwear and his t-shirt.
My roommate is an Early Childhood Education student and she said that the fear of uncertainty doesn’t set in until around age 6. That’s when we start asking “why?”
What a world it must have been before then.
I’m scared to meet other guys. I’m afraid I won’t be able to recreate the same feeling with someone else, of knowing in the deepest part of your soul that this person loves you for who you are. I don’t know how this will all turn out in the end and that may be the scariest part: not having a road map anymore.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing will turn out okay in the end. Saying that I don’t feel anything for Him when He holds me in his arms or when He’s lying next to me covered in sweat and kisses is a fantastic lie, but I tell it to my dearest friends anyway.
I don’t know where I’m going, but I do know that I’m figuring it out. I’m not sick. It’s not evil. It’s not wrong to love a person. I don’t need someone lying next to me to know that who I love won’t land me in some mythical fiery pit.
Not only did I cut the sprouts before they bloomed, I’m digging up the seeds and putting them in the garbage.
And I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Two months ago I never thought I would be able to breathe again without tears rushing to my face. Today, I’m doing okay. Who knows where I’ll be in a month?
More than a year of my life: gone. But I’m grateful, always will be.