“Life’s a game we’re meant to lose. But stick by me and I will stick by you.” -Jeremy Messersmith
After my “he’s just not that into you” revelation, I’m doing a lot of thinking. No, I always do a lot of thinking. I’m doing system-overload level thinking. The Writer is going to Coachella, a giant desert concert, this weekend, so I see him once before he leaves. Thursday night, I nixed Tigerheat to hang out with some new girlfriends from work. I’ve become kind of a smash hit with the work crowd, and it’s nice to have a social life outside of gayworld (and independent of The Writer). Now it’s Friday, and a big group of us are getting together in Burbank for dinner. I meet a friend at her house to carpool, but she isn’t ready, so I go up to her apartment and play on her computer. I see The Writer is online. Which is odd, considering he’s supposed to be several hundred miles away in the desert by now. This disparity kind of makes me shrivel up inside.
“It sounds like he’s yanking you around,” my friend says on the way to dinner. “You really need to put a little bit of distance between you and him.” “Luckily, I haven’t seen him since Wednesday. And he’ll be in the desert for the weekend. Five whole days, I’m a champ!” I yell sarcastically. We arrive at the Mexican restaurant before the others and sit outside on the breezy promenade. I feel carefree and young, a luxury that I’ve only been able to experience sparsely as of late. (California has not made me feel like I’m living a teenage dream, contrary to what I’d envisioned of my cross-country relocation.)
When the others arrive, we order our food, and I let my hair down and get a little wild with a lite beer. I carry my food outside to the patio when my phone buzzes: it’s The Writer. Nearly dropping my tray, I plop down at a table near the window (out of earshot) and pick up. “Hey,” I say warmly. “What are you up to?” He asks. “Just getting dinner with some friends from work.” “Oh,” he says shortly…there’s a hint of disappointment in his voice. Then there’s a pause. “Why didn’t you go to Coachella?” I spit out. He doesn’t seem to question how I know he’s not there. “I’m just kind of…it’s a long story,” he says. “When do you think you’re going to be done with your friends?” He asks, his voice shrinking. “I don’t know,” I say, “we’re just eating dinner, and I think we’re going to someone’s house for a drink afterward. Where are you? Is everything okay?” “I’m at home. And yeah, I’m fine,” he says unconvincingly. “Are you going to Coachella tomorrow?” I inquire. “I don’t know. I don’t think so,” he responds. “You have to go. You’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. Besides, didn’t you pay like $300? You need to go. It’ll make you feel better.” “K. Well hit me up when you’re done,” he continues. I roll my eyes—‘hit me up.’ Sure,” I say, knowing he’ll probably be asleep by whatever time I head home.
I go eat and laugh with my co-workers. There aren’t enough seats, so I play musical chairs on their laps. We gossip like high school girls and tell jokes that make us spit out our drinks. It’s a blast. After dinner, we come across one of those spontaneous dance circles in the middle of a promenade. It’s about twenty feet in diameter, and people are clapping to the beat of the song blaring out of an old school stereo. A couple of us decide to throw our hats in and break it down. This lasts for approximately fifteen seconds before the spectators begins to disappear. Yes! We’ve managed to dissolve a beautiful dance circle with our unhip-ness. We’re cracking up over this when I get a text. Guess who? “Come over.” My heart sinks. “I told you, I’m out with work friends right now,” I respond. He doesn’t say anything back, but my friends can tell my mood has shifted. Downward.
“Good,” they say of my response. “What? He just wants you to drop everything and go to him? And why? So you can watch him have a pity party? You deserve better than that.” I do, I guess. But my night is over. At least mentally. And that’s when I realize I have a serious problem. It’s not that he has that kind of power over me. The Writer would never intentionally manipulate me like that. I’ve over invested. I’m at a point where I over-process a text message and let it consume my emotions for hours. That’s really not okay. Then I get another text. “Please.” I ignore it. I think that’s the smart thing to do.
My girlfriend drives us back to her house. On the way, I get another text. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.” This shatters me. “I can’t say no to that,” I tell her. “So what? You’re just going to leave?” She says annoyed. “I’ll stay for one beer, but I have to go. I don’t feel right not going.” The melodrama of it all is nauseating. I stick around for the beer and try to be my cheerful self, doing a little dance and engaging in outrageous behavior. But a half our in, I’m out. My departure is met with disapproval, but they’ll get over it.
On the drive over, I think of things I want to say. I want to reprimand him. You can’t have it both ways. I was finally having a good time without you, with people who like me, and you pulled me out of it. Love me or leave me. But then I’m annoyed by how righteous thoughts are. Besides, I’m too cowardly to ever say anything like that.
When I arrive at The Writer’s house, all the lights are off. I think he might be asleep. When I ring the doorbell, it’s a long moment before I hear his footsteps coming toward me from inside. He opens the door in his boxers. I’m not met with his typical manic, flighty smile. Instead his expression is one of sinking distress. “Hey,” I say in a caregivery voice. “How are you?” He just shakes his head and walks back to his bedroom. It’s a mess. Like him. We lie down, and I begin to gently comb my fingers through his hair. “It’s just…” he starts, then stops. I watch him as he stares at the ceiling. He’s shaking a little, so I slide my arm under him and hold him tight.
“I had to drive to Santa Monica today to pick up my ticket for Coachella. I sat in traffic for three and a half hours, and I just thought, ‘shit.’” I’m dealing with an existential crisis. Those are never pretty. He tells me his fears and insecurities. All of them: childhood trauma, high school shit, the failings of his parents, his need to be liked, the fear he harbors of his own mind. All of the nitty gritty that no one would want to hear. I embrace it. “I have this need for everyone to like me.” True story. His distaste for confrontation is the exact reason I keep sinking further into this messy relationship. Well that and my inability to set up healthy boundaries.
“I like you,” I tell him. “Yeah. Unfortunately, you’re not everyone.” Ouch.
“Why can’t everyone just love me?” I shake my head at him: “The only person who you need to love you is yourself.” “That’s not happening,” he says miserably. “Then I’ll teach you to love yourself,” I say before realizing how stupid I sound. “I can’t help myself,” he says. “It’s like I grew up as this weird gay kid in the south and I have all these scars from high school and growing up.” I turn his head to face me. “Gay is a gift.” “I know,” he says sheepishly. “I just wish it wasn’t so hard sometimes.” “If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be as strong or as interesting as you are,” I remind him. “Adversity is the currency of life. People say we’re shaped by our experience. What they really mean is our conflicts shape us.” He turns on his side and rests his head on my chest. He’s ready to go to sleep.
We lie there for a few minutes before his insomnia kicks in. He turns on the light and shuffles through the drawer of his nightstand in search of ambien. “Sorry I’m such a awful person to sleep with,” he says. “You’re fine. Actually, you’re the only person I’ve ever liked sleeping with. Usually I can’t stand it.” He sits up and looks at me intrigued. “Really?” “Really.” He pulls me over to him, holding me more affectionately than ever before. “Goodnight,” he whispers in my ear.