- My weight loss might not be permanent. Statistically speaking, it won’t be. My weight has fluctuated my whole life. Before I got back on Weight Watchers a couple months back — before I decided that I needed to make some kind of change, to feel some slight sense of control over my body — I was around the heaviest I’ve ever been. But I had been there before. And yes, I feel more confident about keeping the weight off now, because instead of focusing solely on dieting, which is what I’ve done in the past, I’ve made significant lifestyle changes. But are those lifestyle changes sustainable? That’s impossible to say.
- I am worthy of your attention and kindness at any size. Compliments are hard. Don’t get me wrong — I love them, I crave them, please never stop. But if you tell me how good I look now, I’m going to hear how bad I looked before. Heavier me was still me: The only real difference between us is that he walked a lot less and ordered a lot more late-night sushi. Please be aware of how you treat fat people. Please be aware of how you talk about fat people. It is not easy to love and feel connected to your body when people are constantly telling you, directly or otherwise, that your body is broken and wrong and not worth loving.
- I am still fat. And that’s fine. The BMI — which is deeply, deeply flawed, mind you — defines me as overweight. I’d have to lose a substantial amount more to be considered a “healthy weight.” I may not get to that point. Even then, my body will likely not be up to certain people’s standards. At my thinnest, I was rejected by men over my weight. I don’t think my body is built to shrink down to a size they would consider attractive. That’s fine, too. There’s nothing wrong with being fat. “Fat” is not a bad word. Consider why it has negative connotations for you, if it does. It shouldn’t.
- Losing weight has not solved my problems. Losing weight will not solve yours either. Yes, a more active lifestyle — along with getting ample sleep and taking care of yourself in other ways — will likely make you feel better in many ways. But it won’t cure your depression or make your job any less stressful or repair your relationships. It might not even have much of an impact on the way you feel about your body. I am still working to push past all of my negative self-perception. If you want to discover unnoticed physical flaws, lose some weight. You’ll be amazed to learn how many new things you can fixate on. (This is why it’s more important to work on loving and appreciating your body as it is than on trying to “fix” it.)
- I can’t tell you how to lose weight. I am not a weight loss expert, and I don’t want to be. I would rather tell you how to talk back to negative thoughts, or methods of self-care, or why it’s important to not try to mold yourself into someone else’s idea of what you should look like — I am not an expert on these things either, but I certainly have more experience with body image struggles and self-doubt than I do with weight loss. I also know how much more important it is to change your thoughts than to change your body. I am still learning to love myself. I get a little better at it every day. My progress on that front means more to me than the number on the scale.
- I don’t need your unsolicited advice or opinion. I don’t want to know what weight loss plan worked best for you, because I know what’s working best for me. I don’t need you to explain the psychology behind binge-eating in my @-replies. I don’t need you cheering me along, because even though I know you mean well, I am not running a marathon and there’s really not a finish line to cross. I don’t need to know that you think I’m fat or that you think I’m not fat; I don’t need any comment on my body at all, especially if you’re not someone I have a relationship with. I like hugs, though.
- It is not easy for me to talk about this. I do it because writing is how I process my feelings and anxiety. I feel compelled to share what I’m going through, and sometimes that means talking about the salted caramel brownie I just ate and sometimes that means talking about how I’m not really eating salted caramel brownies these days. I never want anyone to think that what I choose to do with my body is a reflection on anyone else’s body. I never want to be thought of as a traitor to the cause of fat positivity. I get nervous whenever a young person comes to me for advice, because I am not a role model. I am just doing my best at doing what’s right for me.
- I miss salted caramel brownies.
Although there will likely be video at some point — vaguely dreading that, to be honest — I’ve decided to share the homily I delivered last night at Sondheimas, the annual celebration of our birth and savior Stephen Sondheim. It was a thrill to take the stage at 54 Below and nerd out over a man who is, without question, one of the most significant influences in my life. What follows is the homily as I wrote it. (I ad-libbed a bit on stage, so if you happened to be at Sondheimas and thought my homily was much better as you remember it, you’re being really picky. But you might also be right!) Anyway, without further ado, the homily.
Steve be with you.
The Bette Midler Gypsy came out when I was seven, a decade before I did. I’ve always connected the two, if for no other reason than being gay seems to be some combination of nature and nurture, and if watching the Bette Midler Gypsy every day for a year doesn’t turn you gay, you’re not trying hard enough. The funny thing about the Bette Midler Gypsy is that I never saw the whole thing until years later, when I learned that my diligent parents had been stopping the VHS tape after “Together, Wherever We Go.” That means that for years I had no idea that Gypsy was about a stripper. It also means I missed Christine Ebersole’s iconic performance as Tessie Tura. In retrospect, I’m lucky I still turned out gay.
The Sondheim musical my parents did let me watch start to finish was Into the Woods, which my dad had taped when it aired on PBS’s American Playhouse in ’91. I was four years old, still a few years shy of the Bette Midler Gypsy and barely old enough to follow the fairy tales that inspired the musical. But I knew that the Baker’s Wife died. I’m not sure why the trauma of Into the Woods was inflicted on me while I was spared the knowledge that Louise becomes a stripper, but like most parents, mine had a harder time explaining sex than violence. I guess they hoped I would miss the giant wolf dick in Into the Woods.
I probably did, at first. I missed a lot of things during those early repeat viewings, which were even more frequent than those of Gypsy. But unlike the Bette Midler Gypsy, the PBS Into the Woods has been a constant in my life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t watching it. That worn VHS tape, which I eventually upgraded to a DVD, has been a lifelong companion and friend. Sometimes I fear I’m touched. And when I wasn’t sitting down friends to watch Into the Woods, nervously gauging their reactions to decide if we could actually keep hanging out, I was watching it again on my own, taking more of it in each time, my understanding deepening the older I got. I know things now.
I don’t want to put all of my emphasis on Into the Woods because it wasn’t the only Sondheim show that moved me during my adolescence. I remember seeing Company a week after getting my first hickey and bawling during “Being Alive” because somebody had held me too close and then stopped returning my calls. I experienced something close to a goth phase when I became deeply obsessed with Sweeney Todd. I saw an all-Asian production of Pacific Overtures and an all-Asian production of Merrily We Roll Along. Both were great. For those not in the know, the East West Players is LA’s premiere Asian American theater organization, and they do a lot of Sondheim.
But nothing could ever replace Into the Woods for me. The connection was too strong. No matter how many thousand times I listened to the original cast album, I found new relevance to my life. Lyrics from Into the Woods comforted me in times of turmoil. When I came home from college to a city that didn’t feel the same: “And you think of all of the things you’ve seen, and you wish that you could live in between.” When I made my first online dating profile: “But then what if he knew who you were when you know that you’re not what he thinks that he wants?” When a close friend died suddenly: “Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood. Do not let it grieve you, no one leaves for good.” And, of course, when David asked me if I wanted to deliver this homily: “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.” Which I’m pretty sure is a James Lapine line, but work with me here.
I know I’m not the only person in this room who looks to Sondheim for guidance or context or inspiration. His songs are so intricate that they force you to engage: “Every moment makes a contribution. Every little detail plays a part.” You can’t not think about his words long after you’ve stopped listening, and you can’t not find meaning in every line, whether funny, tragic, or somewhere in between. Sondheim helps us think and feel. And if you’re anything like me, you need all the help you can get. Sometimes the best way to process that which we cannot understand is through Sondheim.
The other day at work I published a list of quotes I commissioned from various performers, composers, and directors who have worked with Sondheim or have a special relationship to his music. At the risk of losing you all with a Glee reference, I want to read what Chris Colfer wrote, because I think he sums it up well. Sorry, haters. Chris wrote, “Performing Sondheim is more than just singing a song; it’s exposing a soul — sometimes a character’s, sometimes your own. Listening to Sondheim is like handing over the keys of your psyche. Every lyric and every note is so beautifully assembled, it instantly levels your mood to whatever emotion is being portrayed. It takes a true gift to make audiences feel music as much as they hear it, and a performer couldn’t ask for a better tool.”
It’s a really nice quote, right? Almost makes up for the horrifying Auto-Tuned cover of “No One Is Alone” that Glee did. I digress. Chris’s quote really resonated with me, even though I’m not a singer. Because you don’t have to be a performer to be grateful for that lyrical journey Sondheim takes you on. You just have to be a human being. With really good taste.
At this point in my life, I still turn to Into the Woods the most. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve watched and listened to it so many times that it’s now deeply rooted in my soul. All I know is I can’t remember the last time I made a decision that didn’t involve consulting “Moments in the Woods.” It’s the perfect anthem for someone as anxious and indecisive and Jewish as I am. The older I get, the more I realize that having it all is a fallacy. Believe me, I know: I’ve tried to be bicoastal. But I’m also OK with life as a sometimes disappointing but often wonderful work in progress. Things are complicated: No matter what my parents would have me believe, Gypsy doesn’t end with “Together, Wherever We Go.”
So do your best, be kind to one another, and maintain your faith in a higher power, whether it’s Stephen Sondheim or one of the lesser deities. As my therapist has been telling me for years, “Live in the moment.” Now I understand. And it’s time to leave the woods.
- My favorite film genre is horror. It wasn’t, until I took a summer course at Berkeley that changed everything for me.
- I was an extra in the drag horror comedy All About Evil. I have a close-up and everything.
- I’ve read more by Stephen King than by any other author.
- The movie that made me realize I was gay, at least to some extent, was The Object of My Affection.
- The first person I ever came out to was an older guy from my high school who started chatting with me on AOL and asking me increasingly personal questions about my sexual desires. He was a creep.
- The first NC-17 movie I saw in theaters was The Dreamers. I had it bad for Louis Garrel.
- I was mugged by five guys when I was 18. They punched me in the back of the head, but I don’t remember any pain.
- I’ve had two minor surgeries: wisdom teeth, obviously, and the extraction of a benign bone tumor in my big toe.
- I was adopted at birth.
- When I was in third grade, I appeared in my Jewish day school play A Symbol of Hanukkah. I really liked being onstage.
- In middle school, I went to theater camp, but not the prestigious kind you have to audition for. That’s probably why I got a couple solos. Humblebrag!
- I also did choir in eighth grade. And then I suddenly became terrified to perform again until my twenties.
- I love storytelling and I think I’m reasonably funny, but I’m afraid of trying stand-up comedy.
- I speak Italian, but I’m out of practice. I used to speak Hebrew and Spanish, but I’ve mostly forgotten both. I can still understand a lot of Spanish, because Los Angeles.
- I took Italian in college because French was full.
- I’ve always lived in California. I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Berkeley and stayed there for a few extra years, then moved back here.
- Outside of Los Angeles, the cities I’ve spent the most time in are Manhattan and La Jolla.
- My first boyfriend was named Mark. We dated for a few months when I was a freshman in college.
- My first kiss happened when I was a senior in high school. It was awkward, and my mom was home at the time.
- When I was a kid, I briefly played piano and guitar, both poorly.
- I was also forced into tennis, gymnastics, and t-ball. I excelled at none.
- I have a serious phobia of flying and take Xanax whenever I have to do it. I have recurring nightmares about getting on planes and forgetting my Xanax at home.
- I’m very insecure about my appearance, but I like my lips and my calves.
- At one point, I dyed my hair reddish-brown. At another point, I had blonde highlights.
- My Bar Mitzvah portion was Noah. I still feel an attachment to the story, if not to Judaism.
- My Bar Mitzvah party theme was television. All of the tables were different shows. My table was The Simpsons.
- When I was 15, I spilled chocolate milk all over a girl’s bag, and I still feel bad about this.
- When I was 17, I said that I didn’t think I was a feminist, and I still feel bad about this.
- All of my grandparents are dead.
- I can count the number of funerals I’ve been to on one hand. I’ve been to even fewer weddings.
- I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but I had a hypoallergenic dog named Lily. She was a Bichon Frisé, and I still miss her.
- Other pets I have had: a tortoise, a hamster, hermit crabs, a pair of rats.
- I once wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was not erotic.
- I have a scar on my left index finger from when I cut it while slicing bread on Ambien. I have told this story before, but it’s too good a useless fact about me to not share.
- I sucked my thumb until I was 10. I know.
- My nails are usually long because I hate the way that short nails feel. I get chills thinking about it.
- Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do with my time, and then I feel a little embarrassed about expecting anyone else to read it, but I’m publishing this post, anyway.
- I wrote a sex column in college. My mom loved it.
“I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.”
– Summer Anne Burton, “Social Networking: A Love Story”
I don’t know where I would be without Twitter. I think about this often — sometimes I’m embarrassed by how often — but there’s no denying the tremendous impact it has had on my life, both professional and personal. Twitter is not the most important thing in my life, despite what some of my haters would have you believe, but it is the means through which I found some of the most important things in my life: my closest friends, my job, and an audience I never thought I would have, gracious enough to read everything from 140-character musings to 7,000-word articles I’ve spent months reporting.
Reading my colleague Summer’s lovely retrospective on her 20 years on the internet, I was delighted by how much I connected with it. Delighted but not surprised: One of the most important lessons the internet taught me is that there is always someone out there feeling the same things I’m feeling. There always has been, and there always will be. In my experience, the internet has never been about alienation or isolation, but rather an endless source of connectedness and comfort. My offline life is so much richer for it.
Inspired by Summer, I wanted to take my own trip down memory lane — a briefer jaunt than hers with just three stops, the three sites that have dominated my internet experience and most dramatically influenced my life. This is where I went and what I learned there.
LiveJournal taught me to never stop writing. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. (One of my earliest memories is sitting at a restaurant with my parents and writing stories that were essentially titles with illustrations. I repeatedly asked my mom how to spell “the,” because the word “the” didn’t make any sense, and frankly still doesn’t. I digress.) But LiveJournal made writing a part of my daily life again. It taught me that writing was an escape when I desperately needed one. The more I shared, the better I felt. In those early days, I had very few readers and I knew who they were — though, of course, my LiveJournal was public because I was too naive to think twice about that — but I was writing as much for myself as I was for anyone else. And yet, I can’t deny the gratification that came from a positive response. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit LiveJournal also taught me the thrill of instant validation, one of the internet’s double-edged swords.
Soon enough I was meeting new people on LiveJournal. Roxy and I were introduced through a mutual friend, but the internet is where we forged a real connection. It wasn’t until we were older and she was driving (I was late to that) that we relied more on IRL hangouts. And even then, we continued to communicate through LiveJournal comments, because that was the world we knew and the language we spoke. Through LiveJournal, I met the first boy who ever broke my heart, the first boy who ever got me to admit to myself — and soon after to a few trusted friends — that my feelings for the same sex weren’t going away any time soon. That boy, whom I found through a shared interest in Buffy, left me comments on my posts that melted my teenage heart, until we took it to AIM and stayed up all night talking about kissing each other. (That’s how innocent it was.) And when that boy moved on, because he was a year older and an hour away and maybe it was all just a game to him anyway, I went to therapy for the first time. My therapist asked if I liked boys or girls, and I didn’t hesitate before answering.
LiveJournal taught me to step outside of my comfort zone in a way I never thought possible. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, awkward around new people, and deeply afraid of most social interactions, but suddenly I was making new friends — and connecting in new ways with old friends — without breaking a sweat. I had a photo on LiveJournal, but it was carefully selected and cropped and flattering enough that I didn’t cringe to look at it. I rarely posted any other photos at all. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was being judged not for my looks, but for my words, and my words were where I thrived. I didn’t feel fat or ugly because my words weren’t fat or ugly, and even if I still felt out of place at high school, I knew that there was a haven to which I could always retreat. It was a place where I could speak freely and people would listen. I could talk about my crush — I used the gender-neutral acronym O.O.M.O. (“object of my obsession”) to refer to him — and my parents and my anxiety. And I was not alone.
I got Facebook the summer before I started college at Berkeley, back when it was still only available to certain colleges. (And you better believe I had a superiority complex about that. I was 17. Give me a break.) I envisioned it as a way to keep in touch with my high school friends, so many of whom were going to Facebook-approved schools like UCLA and USC. And it was that, for a while. But Facebook quickly taught me how to distance myself from high school, and from a version of myself I was never all that comfortable with. It wasn’t my first social network — I’d been on Friendster and MySpace — but it was the one that somehow meant the most. (It’s also the only one I still use, which certainly means something.) It was through Facebook that I discovered the ability to fashion an online persona, not drastically different from who I really am, but slightly cooler and more confident. With Facebook, I could choose what I wanted to present to the world, and that was such a rare gift. I didn’t feel like I was stumbling, because I was crafting my own path.
“Online persona” has a negative connotation, and I get that, but I wasn’t trying to be someone else entirely. Even in the pre-Catfish days, when I probably could have gotten away with it, I never pretended to be anyone other than myself. If anything, Facebook allowed me to be a truer version of that person, someone who could honestly declare The Rules of Attraction to be one of his favorite movies, and Maurice by E.M. Forster to be one of his favorite books. My so-called online persona turned out to be composed of the aspects of myself I’d been repressing out of fear and discomfort. One of the most pivotal moments in my life — and again, this used to embarrass me, but now I don’t care — was adding a sexual preference to my Facebook profile. I am Louis Peitzman, and I am interested in men. It was paradoxically so simple to do and an incredible feat. Before Facebook, I didn’t have the means to announce myself with the click of a button. What a thrill to be brave and lazy at the same time.
After that things changed quickly. My new out status on Facebook brought in an influx of friend requests — it was a small enough community back then, relatively, that some people took notice — and I was suddenly confronted with the idea of meeting people from the internet. The “stranger danger” alarms went off in my head, but Facebook had stripped away a certain level of anonymity that I’d always associated with internet friends. There was a very sweet boy who added me and told me I was cute, and one night I let him come over and kiss me in my bed. I didn’t feel unsafe — my roommates were home at the time — but I must have felt something, because I shivered the whole time, even when he held me. It was exciting and terrifying to know how easy it was to make a connection, whether that meant someone to fuck or someone to fall in love with. As Facebook grew so did the possibilities, and at times I felt paralyzed thinking about all the people, the vast majority of whom I would never meet, but I also felt a little bit of cautious optimism because I knew some of those strangers might one day become my friends or lovers or more.
I’ve written a lot about Twitter and what it’s done for me, but I can’t leave it out of this trifecta. Apologies if I’m repeating myself, though if you’re still reading this, that’s on you. I joined Twitter because I wanted to share my writing and find an audience. That happened. But what I found that truly changed everything for me was how much I enjoyed laughing and making people laugh. In very little time, Twitter went from a tool for self-promotion (hey, not that I’ve moved past that entirely) to a place where I could explore and refine my comedic voice. I am not a comedian or a humorist — I guess at the end of the day I’m just a writer with a sense of humor. But I found so much joy and laughter following some of the funniest people I’ve ever known. And the ability to keep up with them, or at least lag behind from a minimal distance, gave me a newfound confidence in my writing. As committed as I was and still am to journalism and entertainment writing, I pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could do with my words. Twitter, which I had joined as a tool, turned out to be a new outlet entirely.
And with that confidence, I did something I never thought I would do: I got on stage. Not as a stand-up comic, which still terrifies me, but as a storyteller, which felt much more in my wheelhouse. Twitter unlocked something in me — many somethings really: among them, a desire to make people laugh and a need to perform, both of which had been suppressed by intense social anxiety. The more I perform, the more I realize how much it’s always been inside me. Twitter merely facilitated that by letting my find the comedic voice I needed to tell these stories, and to make the connections that gave me a stage to tell them on. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again, because I still marvel at the fact that typing words into a tiny box on a screen somehow allowed me to overcome a lifelong fear of standing up in front of an audience. I don’t have delusions of making my living as a performer or a TV personality, so maybe it’s all inconsequential. But what used to terrify me is now something to look forward to. To me, that’s a powerful thing.
What means more to me, than anything really, are the friends I’ve made through Twitter. I know how ridiculous I sound when someone asks how I met any number of people, and I answer with the same deadpan “Twitter” because I don’t know what else to say. But I also know I’m past the point of caring. LiveJournal taught me that the friends you make online are sometimes better than the friends you make in person. You can bond with people based on shared passions and senses of humor instead of being thrown together by circumstance. Facebook let me continue that exploration, opening my world up and letting in people I never would have met otherwise. By the time I started to connect with people on Twitter, I understood the power of the internet to create and foster relationships. As silly as it may sound to some (it sounds a little silly to me), I found my chosen family. But I’ve also found myself, an ongoing process that involves stripping away insecurities and speaking out without being ashamed. That’s what the internet has done for me. I’m a little embarrassed to be this gushy and grateful, but the internet has also taught me that sometimes sincerity works, too.
I visited your grave today. There was no gravestone, only flowers. I wanted to see your name on the off chance it would give me some kind of closure. I know the more likely scenario is that I’d see it and I’d be hit hard with the reality of your absence. I’d buckle to my knees, sob hot tears onto the grass. But as it was, I simply sat there amid the flowers and imagined you were somewhere else entirely. I wanted to feel close to you but today it was more comforting imagining that you were very far away.
Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary, and I’m no closer to understanding any of this than I was then. And yes, I still reach for my phone to call you, and I check to see if you’re online, and I feel a pit in my stomach because I think, “It’s been too long since I’ve seen Roxy,” and then I remember and the pit deepens and threatens to swallow me whole. At times I feel like I’ve been grieving you forever. Other moments it’s like you never left.
There’s so much I want to tell you, and I wish all of it were good. I wish I could say that things were better than ever, that I had found a way to not be lonely or, even better, that I had learned how to let someone else in. I wish I could tell you I had gotten myself into shape or that I had decided to love myself as I am. It’s terrible to know that I’m incomplete, because that means you never got to see me whole. Not that it’s about me at all, really, but so much of my self-worth was tied into showing you how far I’d come, even knowing I had a ways to go.
On the way to the cemetery, I drove past my high school. My 10-year reunion is fast approaching, and I can’t count all the reasons I’m not going, but today I remembered how spending time with you was my respite from all that. I don’t want to go back to high school because, even now, with a job and a life and a place of my own, I can’t survive high school without you. I don’t even want to try.
Most days I’m fine. “I’m fine” becomes a mantra in its meaninglessness. But I know you, more than anyone else in my life, could understand the value of being “just OK,” that sometimes leaving the house is its own tiny victory, and not letting dread consume you is an ongoing battle. I know you wouldn’t judge me when the darkness takes over, but I still want to be better because I know that’s what you would want for me. And I want to make you proud the way that you made me proud.
I want to write a book just so I can dedicate it to you.
Usually when I write about my grief, I hope that it serves a purpose past my own self-indulgence. But sometimes I just need to document it all. Like today, I visited your grave and I didn’t know what to bring, so I didn’t bring anything. And I’m leaving you this instead.
It occurred to me at 4 a.m. this morning that I was lonely.
It was an odd but familiar sensation, a sort of sinking in my stomach battling for prominence with the two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch I’d decided to eat when I was half-asleep and hungry and justifying poor dietary decisions as a really early breakfast. I felt grossly full — and also, kind of gross in general. But the feeling I couldn’t really pinpoint was the one lingering underneath that, whatever subtle nagging urge had me curled up on my bed with my head near the foot so the fan would be even closer, even though for once I wasn’t sweating. And I realized, with sudden unwelcome clarity, that what I was feeling was loneliness, a state of being I once knew so well but has since become something I’ve come to regard as a childish affectation. Being lonely is for teenagers who write poetry and read Camus and make declarative statements about love two months after receiving their first kiss. (This is not me. I read The Stranger, but only when it was assigned for class.)
Logically, I know that loneliness is an incredibly common emotion, which is probably why human beings are always obnoxiously wrapping our arms around one another. I, too, crave physical contact, but at this point, I accept that begrudgingly as an irritating side effect of not being a robot. Companionship, while nice, is something I don’t often feel I need, and I say that as someone who genuinely loves the people in his life. It’s not a reflection on them, but on me, and the way I’ve learned, sometimes by necessity, to be comfortable by myself. And I go through phases, yes, where I truly do feel the need to be surrounded by people I love as often as possible, when I’ll double-book myself just to ensure I don’t have to spend too much time with my thoughts. But even then, if plans fall through and I’m left as solitary as I’d feared, it’s not loneliness I feel. Frustration, annoyance, and boredom, sure — not loneliness.
That’s why I was so caught off-guard at 4 a.m. this morning. It felt so absurd to me that I would be experiencing this useless concern I’d grown past. But of course, it’s completely normal and human, and the only truly strange thing is that I’d ever believed myself to be beyond loneliness in the first place. I don’t think of myself as a cold person. I’m not withdrawn. I guess it’s more that I’ve come to resent the idea of living your life with the purpose of finding someone else to share it with. And that’s not cynicism so much as hope that we can all be self-fulfilled, to the extent that any sort of coupling, conscious or otherwise, we entertain is an added benefit to an already complete existence. I still believe that, to some extent, even though it’s perhaps a bit short-sighted. And I still maintain that far too many people stuff themselves into relationships that very clearly don’t fit out of the vague but terrifying dread of dying alone. All of this can be true, and I can still have felt lonely at 4 a.m. this morning, without any real prompting aside from the fact that the pillow I was clutching to my chest had become too warm with body heat and I had to let it go.
But I guess this is all to say that, rationality aside, I could stand to let a little more loneliness into my life. And maybe someone else, if it came to that, but it’s OK if it doesn’t.
I keep reaching for the phone to call you. In those few seconds before the reality dawns on me, I take comfort in knowing that I’m moments from hearing your voice — that even if you don’t pick up, I’ll hear your outgoing message. And I’ll leave a voicemail, despite the fact nobody likes checking their voicemail, because whatever, you can deal with it. Sometimes even after I come to my senses and I feel the reality of your absence, a sensation not unlike falling, I think about calling you, anyway. I don’t think your voicemail is still connected, but maybe — and then I could leave a message you’ll never hear (you weren’t going to check it regardless) and it would almost be like talking.
I’m still not sure what I believe in when it comes to the afterlife, but I like to imagine you floating in the clouds somewhere, annoyed at the fact that you’re still getting voicemails, but mostly just frustrated that you can’t call me back. Believe me, it’s hard for both of us.
I wonder what you’d think of the way I air my grief in public. It’s something I’m still not sure I should be doing — yes, even as I’m doing it — but it remains the best way I know how to cope. From a young age, I learned that for me writing was the first step toward healing. And the second step, the more important step, was to put that out into the world, as scary and shameful as it sometimes feels. I guess the hope is that someone reads it and relates, that maybe I could help that person, but I think on a more basic level, I just want my pain to be heard. Otherwise I’m screaming into the abyss.
Put it this way: I need someone to listen to my voicemail.
I question my use of metaphors, my stylistic flourishes, the fact that I try to create something meaningful out of my grief instead of just writing “I miss you I miss you I fucking miss you” over and over again. Perhaps it’s self-indulgent — that I’m not just offering up something bare and raw — but crafting language is how I process my thoughts. This is what happens when you major in English and you’re a little bit pretentious.
If I were leaving a voicemail, I’d keep it brief and tell you that, yes, I think about you every day, and some days are harder than others. I’ll feel fine and then a certain memory will needle its way into my thoughts, and suddenly I’ll find myself sobbing on the arm of my couch. But I’d also want you to know that I’m OK, that sometimes I’m actually pretty damn good. I am flawed in all the ways you knew me to be flawed and loved me anyway, and I am working to get better in all the ways you would have wanted to me to. On the good days I know that I can make you proud.
I didn’t know what I was going to write when I opened this page. I just knew that my eyes were welling up with tears because once again I thought of something to tell you, reached for my phone, and was struck by the fucking injustice of your death. It’s stupid and rude and I will never get over it. There is, as I think I’ve said before, a Roxy-shaped hole in my heart. As grateful as I am for all the love that surrounds me, nothing’s ever going to fill that back up.
(OK, I’ve given it more thought, and realistically, if there is an afterlife, voicemail is an eternal punishment, not the kind of thing you’d be subjected to in paradise. Besides, I’d like to think that wherever you are, you’re surrounded by all of us who loved you and will always love you. We exist there and here at the same time, which is exactly the kind of hippie bullshit belief system we might have laughed at back in high school. I mean, it’s still a little silly, but it’s comforting, so I’m going to hold onto it anyway.)
This is now verging on a ramble, the kind that I would instantly regret if it really were a voicemail. I try not to talk about these things too much: I don’t have a monopoly on grief, and I’m only one of many who misses you. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m a constant weepy mess, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not me. I am someone who does his best to hold it together, who sometimes needs to force himself to ask for help, who can be fragile or strong depending on the hour, and who honestly never would have made it this far if you hadn’t been there to help me along the way. I do cry, but I also smile — and that’s as much as credit to you as the tears.
I wish you hadn’t even read this, that you saw the missed call and were already calling me back.