When I say I, I hope you see the you in it.
Flaunting a face caked in makeup and a bouncing blonde wig, his dad cheesed for a photo I’d find years later in a clutter of dusty power tools. I’m just now realizing my best friend probably saved my life. It is within the nature of dots to connect on their own time and I feel we’re not meant to be cognizant of it all as it’s happening. His dad’s partner would later explain to me that the only thing we have is hindsight.
It’s hard to understand these things perfectly in the moment.
She took one last drag of her cigarette when she saw me, proceeding to crush it into the pavement. Appearing calm and collected, my date would go on to tell me how nervous she was. I was a virgin. She’d never gone on an actual date until that moment. I understand it all now but I guess back then we were doing things without knowing why. Every one of my boys took down her phone number the days or weeks prior. She has that effect more often than not. Trekking up the hills of Dolores Park in high heels to get to us, her phosphorescent blue blazer popped under the San Franciscan sun. I think in most cases when you meet someone that changes your life you don’t realize it until one thing leads to another and you’re deep in it. I had a gut feeling right then in the moment though. There are certain people in this world that exude all of what’s inside of them. Our mutual friend texted me later that night to tell me she thought I was cute. In all of my boyishness, I felt I’d won the unspoken competition the lot of us cultivated. Dots were connecting as plain as day and I knew exactly where everything was going, so I thought .
She said she’d never had sex.
My best friend came out to his gay parents as straight, he would cheekily say. I met him when we were in elementary school. He could’ve told you the story so much better than I can, I’m sure. From what I gather, our friendship was an important moment for him. I honestly didn’t think much of that freckle-faced, missing-toothed, weirdo of a little boy right then. I definitely didn’t think he would change my life; not until we were deep in it. From the jump I felt this need to watch out for him and I didn’t know why. A lot of kids didn’t like him because their parents didn’t like him. Some parents even called him the devil, he would tell me. I wonder how experiences like that affect the perspective of a child later down the road.
There’s no way it doesn’t.
I took his dad’s partner to dinner recently. It was good to catch up with him but also to sit and talk to a man about everything on my boyish mind. He commented on how I don’t pick around my vegetables anymore. I’m no longer the boy he knew when we met. The conversation floated. I remember telling him about my fear of giving myself to someone to the degree that love requires. I shudder at the thought of things potentially getting out of hand and slipping beyond my control; which is the nature of it, I guess. You have to allow yourself to lose yourself, which takes a good deal of trust. I briefly told him about the girl I went on that date with. It was the first time I felt such a feeling and I didn’t know what to do with it; which terrified me. I don’t like not knowing what to expect. It’s like running in the dark. Not knowing what’s going to happen or where I’ll wind up is a feeling I try to avoid. That’s when he told me about hindsight.
It really is all we have.
But let me rewind a bit.
I woke up to missed calls one morning. I’d never experienced anything like it. One of my boys exclaimed that stories about girls they fucked didn’t have to be kept on the hush when I was in the room anymore. I’d called him back halfway in a daze and, somewhere in the conversation, decided to slip in what went down the night before. I had my own story to tell. I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t feel good to be one of the boys. After dapping me up, one of them later explained how we never keep the girl we actually want. The way I see it, there are select hard truths every boy is faced with that mark the end of innocence; this being one. Nobody in the room disagreed with his statement including myself, as that story I was telling had nothing to do with the girl I went on that date with. I had no feelings for the girl I fucked nor did I intend to. I wonder how uncommon that feeling is.
My best friend lost his virginity when we were kids. Not too long before this, our main concerns were Pokemon cards, Gameboys, and whatever else little kids were into back then. When he told me what went down the previous night, I didn’t believe him. It was an interesting moment in time. I think he was taking on a lot at a young age. A lot of dots were cropping up that are only just now starting to connect and when his dad killed himself there was no way I could’ve understood what was ahead of us.
I texted her asking if she ever masturbated to the thought of me. I’m not sure why. There was context, I promise. When she said yes, who knows if she was being serious or just giving my young ego the stroke it was craving. Hindsight has me seeing it different than I did in the moment. I want to say this was a little over a year after our date. I don’t know what we were. Our relationship never straying away from its shapeless nature, I think we were still doing things without knowing why. I lied to you earlier, by the way. She didn’t say she hadn’t had sex. She said she was a virgin.
There is a difference.
My best friend loved vegetables before we met. His dad’s partner commented on how I don’t pick around them anymore. I’m still getting used to the idea that I have an affect on those around me.
His mom was rushed to the hospital in the same fashion most of ours were. I imagine my friend was met with a slap on the butt, an “it’s a boy!” and a blue blanket the way most of us were. He didn’t know who he was, what was going on, or where he was at that moment the way most of us didn’t. I wonder if there’s ever a point when any of us do. I imagine there were balloons, baby clothes and baby books in the room. His parents had a name picked out beforehand and more than likely a set of expectations to go with it. We all have expectations. Cheesing, they all huddled around the newborn in photos I’d find years later. I wonder what it is they expected. I’m sure his mothers wanted to paint their boy, this blank slate, a sensitive and forward-thinking color. I’m sure his fathers wanted him to feel free to be himself. But expectations and reality tend not to look the same when standing side by side and one can’t write their own narrative. He used to love vegetables and I’m sure they didn’t expect some random boy to come along and change that. Back in preschool I ate one piece of broccoli and vomited all over the floor. I’m not sure why. I imagine I came across another boy there that didn’t like vegetables and figured there was something I was doing wrong. Not too long after, my best friend came across me and I was that boy. He probably wasn’t sure why he changed up just like I wasn’t sure and when he lost his virginity, I wasn’t sure why I felt so compelled to lose mine.
I guess I figured there was something I was doing wrong.
My date texted me recently saying she loves me and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
A few years back she crash-landed on my doorstep radiating from head to toe. That phosphorescent blue blazer wasn’t on her, it’s just the way she be sometimes. Her caramel skin shimmered underneath a dress comparable to what the sky looked like at that moment; jet black with twinkles in it. Unlike before, she didn’t need to point out how nervous she was for it to be visible. I kissed her for the first time that night, which was the biggest deal having not been able to touch her until then. She referred to herself as a virgin though she’d had sex before; multiple times in fact. However, not one of those times did she say yes.
She has a stockpile of ugly stories that would weigh on your average, run of the mill soul.
One couldn’t tell just looking at her. She has a beauty that comes across so unaffected it’s hard to imagine any kind of ugly could coexist with it. There’s this certain something inside of her that she exudes all of. It radiates. She said she stopped messing with boys and that her last relationship was with a girl. Not long before we met at Dolores Park, a boy forced himself on her. She mentioned a couple of times how she wishes her and I met prior to this and how differently things could have turned out because of it. But that’s not how time works. This girl I wanted came with complexities that maybe I wasn’t ready to take on at the time and, just the same, I had a boyish ego that she probably wasn’t ready to stroke long-term. This girl I wanted was the one I could never keep. Sometimes I think about the boy that attacked her and what would possess him to do something like that. Maybe he figured there was something otherwise he was doing wrong. Maybe he was unaware of the affect his actions have on those around him. Maybe he wasn’t even sure why. All I have is this keypad and some guesses. She texted me recently to catch up and capped it off by saying she loves me. I danced around saying it back in my response and a few months later she texted me in a panic.
My best friend and I only saw the aftermath and none of what led up to this point.
There was a homeless man holding a suitcase on the corner of Stockton and Sutter as we were walking to work. My friend, about two years clean and sober by then, said something that from the jump I knew I’d carry with me for the rest of my life. The latch on the suitcase broke, causing what was essentially his whole life to burst outward and onto the sidewalk. There was absolutely nothing the man could do. He was left stranded out in the open with no solution in sight, forced to marinate in his defeat. That’s just the way things fell into place. “I know that feeling exactly”, my friend said nonchalantly. He didn’t expand on that thought, nor did he need to. Having seen that boy, when around other boys, refer to his mom and dad in the singular as opposed to the plural all four of them were, I knew what suitcases in his life burst outward onto the sidewalk. I’d be lying to you if I told you it doesn’t feel good to be one of the boys and I imagine he was sick of falling victim to things outside of his control. I think about that baby and this world filled with problems that existed before him. He didn’t know who he was, what was going on or where he was at that moment the way most of us don’t. Nor was he aware of the issues he’d eventually become subject to; issues that in all actuality had nothing to do with him himself. A lot of kids didn’t like him because their parents didn’t like him and maybe those parents didn’t like him because their parents wouldn’t have liked him. I can only imagine the amount of times he felt stranded out in the open, by himself, and broken with no solution in sight. Maybe when they called him the devil, they weren’t even sure why. That has to be a frustrating thing for a child to make sense of.
I felt this need to watch out for him but unfortunately there were certain things I didn’t have the hindsight to watch out for. Having seen that little boy in his living room scream how much he missed his dad, I knew instantly why he said what he said; victimized again by something outside of his control.
It was an interesting time.
We stopped going to the same school and started mixing with different circles. When he met me, I was a boy that didn’t like vegetables and he felt compelled to adopt the same tastes. He could’ve told you so much better than I can but I imagine he came across some boys that smoked, drank, and fought; among other things. Too gradually to grasp it all as it was happening, my best friend wasn’t the freckle-faced, missing-toothed, weirdo of a little boy I met in elementary school anymore. He said different things, he wore different things, and he carried himself in a different way. He wasn’t the sensitive, forward-thinking boy I imagine his mothers intended, nor did it seem he felt free to be himself the way I imagine his dads expected. His innocence’s end marked by more than the standard serving-size of hard truths, my friend wasn’t the little kid I’d met years back. But there were still glimpses. He’d go on to sleep with a lot of girls, earning him daps from the boys, though I have a feeling he was genuinely looking for love; maybe harder than most.
I’m not that boy his dad’s partner first met. I guess that’s just how it goes. I guess over time we figure out what’s us and what’s not us. I came to realize I actually have no problems with vegetables and my distaste for them wasn’t even my own opinion. I think my friend was coming to that same realization about a lot of things. Having racked up a healthy amount of trouble as a kid, he wound up employed, three years clean and sober, renting his own spot, and talking to a girl who he was excited about. In hindsight, he was gaining his balance and developing a more solid sense of who he is, what’s going on, and where he’s at. Though I wonder if there’s ever a point when any of us really knows. I could tell there were still things beyond me that were frustrating him. It took a while for those dots to connect. I didn’t fully understand what he was going through and wouldn’t until the morning I got the call telling me what happened to him.
There’s a lot about this world that I can’t explain. One thing I do know is that, if it hasn’t happened already, one of these days life will hurl you into the darkness and you will be forced to run. What I can’t explain to you is why.
It was just some night. He was having sex with his girl and as soon as he finished, his heart gave out and he died.
Just like that.
This 19 year old boy, whose autopsy would show him to be in good health, had his heart suddenly stop and that was it. No explanation. I think in most cases when something happens that changes your life you don’t realize it until you’re deep in it. I had a gut feeling right then in the moment though.
What sense was I supposed to make of it?
What was I supposed to take away from it all?
Who could have seen that coming?
This wasn’t like the Pokemon cards we collected as kids. This was far from the Gameboy games we used to play. Life essentially has no rules to play by or structure to contain it. Every second of every day every bone in my body was felt. I’d never experienced anything like it. Every muscle, every vein, the blood rushing inside of them, each heartbeat, and every breath I took I was aware of and present for. I am a thing. I am a thing on a time limit. Somehow in all the years of life I’d lived, I only thought I understood that fact. It’s been a trip learning that there’s some things about myself I just can’t control because I am a thing. Grief is something else. Maybe I don’t actually understand who I am, what’s going on, or where I’m at. Mentally compiling every possible dot that could connect to my death or the death of a loved one was a tough bud to nip. That’s too much thought for one soul to take on. The fact of the matter is it is within the nature of dots to connect on their own time and we’re not meant to be cognizant of it all as it’s happening. For a while a lot of people said a lot of words both heartfelt and generic, optimistic and cynical, practical and flowery, and so on. What I managed to gather from it all is that, until everything’s said and done, we’re really just operating on our best guesses. That’s exactly the kind of shit that terrifies me. I don’t like not knowing what to expect. It’s like running in the dark. Not knowing what’s going to happen or where I’ll wind up is a feeling I try to avoid and here I was forced to marinate in it with no solution in sight. Like love, it all takes a good deal of trust. In order to walk lightly and live well, it takes trust.
I don’t know if I’m quite there yet.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be.
The thought of having a son usually finds its way into my mind.
I found myself spending the night with a girl I didn’t have feelings for. I am a thing. I am a thing that fucks and one of those fucks might lead to another thing being brought into this world. I can’t help but think that someday I could find myself rushing to the hospital in the same fashion a lot of us do. My son might be met with a slap on the butt, an “it’s a boy!” and a blue blanket the way most of us are. He won’t know who he is, what’s going on, or where he is at that moment the way most of us don’t. Nor will he understand what’s ahead of him. I think about that baby and this world filled with problems he would be subject to though he isn’t even a thing yet. I think about my best friend and how he isn’t a thing anymore. He’s a story. That idea took some getting used to. I think about the stories I’d have to tell my son; the explanations I’d have to have ready for him. I found myself spending the night with a girl I didn’t have feelings for and I had no idea it was going to happen at the time it did. It was just some night. I’d need to explain his role when it comes to girls; if he even likes girls. At one point I naively assumed I knew where everything was going. I dated a girl that radiated from head to toe, that had everything I was looking for, and I couldn’t touch her. Then I met a girl that didn’t that I could. That’s just the way it be sometimes. I’d have to explain to him how things happen at random and without explanation at times. I’d have to explain how expectations and reality tend not to look the same when standing side by side. I know what all of this is and who I am a lot better now. I think about my preschool self that ate that one piece of broccoli, threw up all over the floor, and how I’m not sure why I thought that was the thing to do. I had broccoli just the other day, in fact. I really enjoyed it and when I slept with that girl, the stroke my young ego craved, I realized I was never doing anything wrong. The dots connected. I was the last of my group of friends to lose my virginity and maybe there was never anything wrong with that. That’s just the way things fell into place and I’m just who I am. Maybe I was focused on the wrong things. Maybe I need to trust more.
I don’t know if I’m quite there yet.
My date texted me in a panic, I think I mentioned.
I already knew what lead up to this point and was met with the aftermath. Stranded out in the open with no solution in sight, she too was a baby born into a world filled with problems she was subject to; victimized by things outside of her control. It was just some night. She found herself confronted with her first attacker who’d just crash landed on her doorstep. Home from prison, her dad appeared in the next room over. So it was less out in the open and more an enclosed space. What was especially isolating, she’d explain, is that everybody in the house was aware of what he did to her as a child but nobody was tripping. He was welcome like everything was regular. The way she described it sounded like a Twilight Zone episode or something. I wonder how experiences like that affected her perspective. There’s no way it didn’t. That calm and collected appearance I took note of when we first met broke and this was one of the many items to burst outward onto the figurative sidewalk. I was witnessing a human being lose it all, it seemed. Finally having some hindsight at my disposal, I told her what I wished I knew to tell my friend when he was going through it. I gave her a lengthy paragraph about people I’ve met and the two paths I’ve seen taken. I told her about people who got stuck and people who made it. I was proud of myself for finally having the words.
Then she said something I immediately knew I’d carry with me for the rest of my life.
Queer is what she identifies as. Who she’s attracted isn’t confined to any one point on the gender spectrum. Her previous relationship was with a girl and that shimmering caramel skin tone of hers is a result of her mixed background. She has a hard time committing to just one person and the way she dresses can be like night and day or anywhere in between. She’s liable to wear something that pops under the sun or twinkles in the dark and I can never call what she’ll look like at any given moment. I’m not saying these qualities have to do with what she said, they have more to do with this world we’ve found ourselves in. Blue or pink, boy or girl, black or white and other either-or’s are some of the first lessons we’re taught on arrival. My arrival is pretty far behind me at this point but those lessons are the foundation of everything I know. They are what shaped my perspective. So I suppose it’s only natural my response to her would narrow her down to this or that. The way I saw it, there are survivors and victims, people who get stronger and people who crumble. That’s when she explained to me how a survivor never stops being a victim. She explained how she’s less like this or that and more like everything all at once. I feel like, for a glimpse, all of what was inside of her that she exuded was finally put into words.
Im just a baby, I’ve grown to realize.
My friend was just a baby like that parent that called him the devil was just a baby. My date’s just a baby like her attackers are just babies. All of my boys are just babies like you’re just a baby. I feel like we’re all babies teaching other babies; operating on our best guesses, focusing on the wrong things, and doing things without knowing why. I’m this thing that can walk, talk, fuck, and call itself an adult but it’s moments like those when all of that just feels like decoration; like a thing I’m posing as. The way a little kid sees the world in black and white, simplified for their own understanding, is the way I was looking at this situation. Maybe I was focused on the wrong things. What do I really know? I think there’s something to be said about acknowledging your pain; about living in it and with it. Grief is a process I’ve had to get used to. I wonder if I’ll ever get over it. I don’t know if that’s the point. I think to deny your weak moments is to deny the strength that can come from them. My date explained to me that there are multiple paths toward healing and that none of them are straight lines.
What do we really know?
Seeing my friend’s body was a trip because, once again, he wasn no longer that thing I’d gotten to know, leaving me wondering what it is he’d become. He’d already changed so much before then. But maybe he never stopped being that freckle-faced, missing-toothed weirdo. Maybe he was neither this or that. Maybe over time we collect experiences that add layers to us. Maybe we never change. Maybe we’re all of those layers at once. I wondered where all the layers went. My boys and I swear we remember him jokingly saying that’s the way he wanted to go out. Love scares me because the ones you love are things that will become other things, things that will hurt, things that will die, and you can’t control when. That’s just a piece of knowledge that I have to walk around with from now on. Everything could die. He was a topic that weaved in and out of conversation all throughout dinner. His dad’s partner never shied away from the subject. He doesn’t shy away from talking about my friend’s dad killing himself either, though I never dig too deep into it. All we have is hindsight, he told me. I think there’s something to be said about acknowledging your pain; about living in it, with it, and regardless of it. I also think there’s something to be said about not writing your own narrative and letting things be what they are. My date and I are good friends and touch base every now and then. I don’t know where any of this is going and I had to learn that that’s ok. Some things aren’t meant to be explained. I try not to overthink it and just let them be. Some things just be. The most recent text I sent her was going to be a lengthy paragraph but I shortened it down to the main point.
Because I finally understood.
The Boy Scout