I have had three (3) boyfriends in total, and I have said “I love you” to all of them. I have lied – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – to two of these three. There have been others, however – other romances and other people loved fleetingly, from afar or close by, for a night, a week, a month, the duration of a friendship. This is a temporal love, transient in nature, and for me – probably for all – it seems to burn all the brighter before it’s extinguished.
The first is a boy with sandy hair and a pale complexion; someone I met through my adventures in amateur theatre. I am 18, and fresh out of high school. He is, of course, heartbreakingly straight, and thankfully unaware of my teenaged pining or too nice to shoot me down.
We do a few shows together and with the regularity of rehearsals he becomes the highlight of my week; the rehearsal room’s sputtering neon bulbs playing across the sharpness of his face and somehow reflecting my pitiful adoration back onto myself. He is older – some six years or so, something that seems at the time to be vastly “mature and together” but now just seems like life – with a Real Life Adult Person Job and girlfriend and everything that seems to come with both of these responsibilities. At night I lie in my single bed in my single room in my parents’ house, alone, and think of what it would be like to be held by him – in actuality, by anyone; to feel the strength and warmth of someone else lined up against my own supine form – and hope, in the desperate and desperately sad manner of someone who has only known emptiness, that one day, One Day, I’d be held like this. I never said it – to myself or to him (thank god), but I think that that’s maybe some of the appeal he held – he was so desperately unattainable that he (and our friendship) was, in a sense, entirely safe; entirely comforting in its restriction.
I met my first boyfriend at Flinder’s St Station while out with friends one night. I’d seen him prior to this in a student theatre production I’d attended because I went to school with somebody else involved, and from that knowledge stood awkwardly on the platform, a few people in between me and this face that I knew I knew, I just couldn’t place.
“It’s you! Hi!” my friend Georgie smiles, and shepherds the group over. We quickly board the train, and I sit, two seats away, for the duration of the 25 minute train-ride, my skin on fire, the hair on the back of my neck erect and raised as electricity courses through my brain and screams: a gay! A Real Life GAY. I’m not the only one!
We found each other on Facebook fairly quickly and moved on to MSN Messenger (hah) soon after that, spending countless nights exchanging hopeful witticisms and attempts at flirting. Finally, after a week of pussyfooting around, he messages me:
Wanna get breakfast this weekend
I pause, my pulse racing and body sweating as my heart slowly calms itself down and I realise he can’t see me. Then, every part of my body twitching with anticipation and mind-blowing fear, the gargantuan effort of self control pulsing in through my fingers, I type:
However, it takes me approximately two minutes to get this out, so it feels more like
Y e s !
About an hour later, I realise: I have it. A Date! I have a date! A real life normal person date!
And we’re drunk, perhaps a month later, in my parents’ house one night when they’re away, music blaring in teenaged rebellion and exaltation and appreciation at the lack of adults around. We’ve just had a fight over what I’ve drunkenly deemed “inappropriate” behaviour (I can’t remember what exactly, but let’s just say it was a play at an actual adult fight) and I’m sitting, blank-faced and blank-minded on the couch as he holds onto my legs, eyes streaming.
“Chris,” he says. “Chris! I don’t want us to fight, because…”
“Because I’m falling in love with you.”
I remain inexorable, my features and body a stone idol, but inside I’m freaking out; tiny currents of electricity coursing over my body and the ardent feeling that it’s actually much too early for all of this if you don’t mind, please and thank you very much.
Silence, except for our mutual breathing, and the song on the stereo: “I need you so much closer.” Fuck. Of course it had to be this song.
“I…” the preposition dangles dangerously as I weigh up the pros and cons and how I really have no fucking idea what I’m supposed to do. Then, finally, the words inchworm themselves out my mouth at emotional gunpoint: “I… love you… too.”
And we’re lying, some two years later, in the darkness and coolness of his bed, and I’m thinking, selfishly, that I can’t believe that it came to this, that I always thought I’d be the one to be broken up with – not that that’s a better option, really, but at least then you get to be the heartbroken one, the one who people feel sympathy for, and you get to not feel like a terrible fucking person and instead drink your feelings away.
Here goes, I think. And I launch into what it is that I have to say; what I’ve rehearsed time and time again in the mirror, and –
“Okay,” he says, voice a dull blade in the dark of the night. “Sort of like, like an Amish holiday? You want to go and experience life and… stuff, and then decide?”
No, I think. No, in fact, that’s not what I just said. That’s not what a break-up is.
And there are a million reasons I could use to justify why I was “right”, but none of them particularly matter. Yes, he was depressed, yes, he got me kicked out of home, yes, he owed me money, yes, yes, yes. He also loved me.
And I can see, now, that I took the easy way out, regardless of how I felt for him – I had one chance to set it all straight and instead I took the easy way out, like I did three years prior. Partly because I wanted to take the easy way out, and partly because I was – actually, genuinely – worried to see how he’d react if I did, and worried, in a particularly egotistical manner, that I’d have blood on my hands.
“Yeah, sure,” I say.
We had seen each other around university, but the first time we spent any actual time together was on the way to the uni’s medical centre – he had an appointment (and, knowing how the medical centre worked, probably an hour’s wait) and I had a few hours to kill and a vague interest in this new person around the student theatre. It wasn’t ‘till a week or two later, however, when “vague interest” became “tension at breaking point”; directly after the opening night of the show I’d been directing and walking, staggering, drunk on too much free wine and making our way down suburban streets somewhere in the dirty heart of Clayton.
He stops and looks at me, eyes inquisitive in their drunken haze. “I’m… I’m getting this strange desire.”
“Strange how?” Even drunk off my face I don’t have time for this.
“This strange desire to –“ he pauses, for a second, wipes his mouth on his hand, and “– to kiss you.”
We pause, partly because of the suddenness of this revelation and partly because we’re both drunk enough we’ll fall over if we don’t. I lock eyes with him, and:
Another pause, and he launches himself forward like an avian creature diving for its prey.
And I don’t remember when we said it, only that we must’ve, because one day, everything was turgid and teenaged, still: grand declarations of love and trust and wanting to be with one another forever, for EVER. It was exactly around this time that a close friend of ours died and this, in a sense, threw us together for longer than we should have rightly been together. And though I don’t remember us actually saying the words, it was this sudden morbidity and dramatic atmosphere that gave way to it: that pushed these declarations forward, ever forward, saying to us: you don’t know. You never know. We could all just up and die tomorrow, so don’t die wondering ‘what if’?
And this is the distinct image I have of this time: of curling up together at the centre of my queen sized bed; the bed itself feeling impossible to fill, and of not just holding each other but holding on to each other – pulling the other closer to ourselves in our desperate and futile attempts to feel like something, anything, wasn’t normal and not fucked and nice and heartwarming. As our bodies finally calmed down; the gooseflesh lowering itself back into our skin as our bodies processed the inordinate amounts of alcohol we’d consumed (in those days, it was called Dealing, or at least An Immature Attempt At Dealing), I began a ritual of my own – reaching out with my foot and slowly wrapping the toes around his like a drunk, sad primate who didn’t understand the workings of life, friendship or what drove people suicide.
“Monkey foot,” he’d confirm sleepily from the pillow next to me, and I’d nod in agreeance through the darkness, ignoring the fact he couldn’t see and hoping, somehow, that this silent agreement would open the door for better things to come.
And it is perhaps a year and a half later, and we’ve moved into a large apartment with another friend of ours. It’s dirty and unkempt – the bathroom doesn’t have a handle and there’s a seedy older gentleman we’ve dubbed “The Smoking Man” who stands out on the tiny public balcony outside our kitchen and stares ominously in, smoking his Winfield Blues and hacking out his lungs – but most of all, it’s home.
A few weeks after our move we’re lying in bed together, in the cool, dark unfamiliarity of his room (it’s a three bedroom apartment so we’ve all got our own spaces) and he speaks – something I can’t quite remember, but the conversation, in the crispness and blackness of the night, takes a swift turn for the worse; not argumentative, but still pointless and dramatic.
“Are we… are we breaking up?” I ask. In writing this down it reads as painful and melodramatic, but it wasn’t. It was simply a question because I really, honestly did not know: were we?
“No!” he sobs, childish tears contradicting the speech he’d just given me about “always staying friends” and “exploring new avenues” and “seeing what was out there”.
“No,” he repeats, the wetness of his emotion rolling down my shoulder blade and pooling around my ribcage. “I’m not ready to break up with you, yet.”
I mean, what IS that? I just. I wanna get through this on my lonesome but I’m getting the impression this will be way harder than I thought it would be. Duh. Dumb. Good one, Chris. SO SMART.
Let me tell you this. And this will sound incredibly harsh but just know that I don’t mean it to, and I’m here for you whenever you need, but…
if he wanted to be with you, he’d be with you.
Yeah, I guess.
Know. I know. I just miss him and hate him at the same time because apparently life can never be simple.
NEVER. Never ever.
Plus he keeps spending all his money on his new boyfriend even though he owes me a bunch of money for groceries and stuff. To awkwardly paraphrase Scott Pilgrim, apparently he was dating me and the new boyf at the same time. Saaa indecisive. Worst. It’d just be real nice if he didn’t decide to take a steaming shit on my heart.
There have been others, and although I’ve only uttered the words “I love you” romantically three times, I’ve said it countless times more in the confines of my skull, or deeper than that, rattling through my bones and excreting out through every tear or laugh or awkward, forceful witticism offered.
I obviously don’t anymore, but it’d be fair to say that I loved every person I’ve ever had a crush on, in some miniscule way. In an immediate and desperate attempt to hold on to the person in question, I somehow filed away a little piece of this person or our friendship together; chipped it off and held it safe at the centre of my being until the remainder of my body did its work and filed each piece away: both literally, in some imaginary filing draw entitled “PEOPLE I LOVED ONCE, IF ONLY EVEN FOR A LITTLE BIT” and metaphorically, as it filed each piece down to its core and allowed the rest of my body to absorb the tiny truth at the centre of its being.
This one might say: You came on too strong. Your jokes were good but you stank of desperation. Go take a shower.
Or: Next time avoid the arseholes, please.
Or: You can’t be hurt by their actions if they didn’t know what they were doing was hurtful. If you’re going to give someone your heart, at least make sure they know you’re giving it to them. Dickhead.
Or: You ticked all the boxes, and so did he, but now is not the time.
Or: The scariest thing about being alone is the actuality of being alone. You need to learn to deal with this better. For your own sake. For everyone’s sake.
And then he was there, clean-cut and bearded and conventionally handsome, sure, but not intimidatingly so; his hair flicking to the left in the kind of manner that I continually attempt to make happen even to this day and fail at, his face alternately an impassive, terrifying barrier or warm and open and inviting in a way more terrifying than before. I saw him standing in the street; in the unseasonably cold night air, waiting to meet me for the first time, and thought: Hello.
And then, stepping away from my previous fears and insecurities and doubts: I can do this.
And we have both made mistakes, of course, an entire blog’s worth of mistakes that I could reframe in countless ways, again and again and again, but he has forgiven me, and I’ve forgiven him, and we’re working, together; lifting the other up and doing the best we can at any given moment.
I could detail the time in a German hospital that we held each other as the sun sank down in a bizarre mirroring of some ridiculous, cheesy romance novel, the two of us cramped up on a single, white starched hospital bed, holding onto each other for dear life; casting out the doubt and fear of the world around us and holding on to this one, solid belief: I will get out of here.
Or the first time we had sex; two sweaty bodies smashed taut against the coolness of his sheets and the hotness of the Summer air surrounding us.
Or the birthday card he gave me, those three words written perfectly in black ink slashed against ashen cardboard: I love you.
And I could write a million paragraphs, and rephrase each occurrence and incident of support time and time again, but nothing possibly feels right or eloquent enough or simple enough. I’ve shared so much – regardless of whether anyone’s listening, or engaged – but he is here, and he is my friend, and he is judgment-free, and he is mine. And some things are, simply and inexorably, exactly that – just for me.
I’ve said, earlier, that I don’t believe I ever loved any of my previous partners – and maybe that’s true, or maybe that’s just an attempt to distance myself from them, now; to continue my journey and continue to create my life as I want it to be. I remember seeing on Facebook, some years ago, some terrible meme: the background had a man and a woman, linking arms and sipping wine, smiling, laughing, enjoying themselves above the text: “YOUR EX ASKING TO STAY FRIENDS AFTER YOU BREAK UP IS LIKE KIDNAPPERS ASKING TO STAY IN TOUCH AFTER THEY LET YOU GO.” And on some level I believe that’s true, but on another, I can still recall the lessons and gifts each one gave me, whether intentionally or otherwise:
My first boyfriend introduced me to synesthesia as a concept (something that’s fuelled many an insomnia-fuelled Wikipedia rampage), taught me the benefit of a well-timed cup of cocoa and brought me to Monash Student Theatre and the concept that it is okay to follow and chase the thing that you love, most of all. Whatever else, without him I wouldn’t have made it to NIDA last year, or gotten to the stage where I’m actually pleased with my writing.
My second boyfriend taught my the joys of bespoke cooking and of being silly when the mood called for it. He gave me the belief that I actually was beautiful despite that nagging voice in my head, and touched my body, hand to flesh, and told me that it’d be okay – and then tested the limits of that belief by cheating on me, but I came out stronger for it in the end.
The others taught me the joy of film and a really good coffee, that credit card debt is passable and temporal and you’re never too old to get your license, that cutting corners is kind of okay so long as you do it well, that giving a fuck what people think is never the best course of action, that I was competent and good and what I did. They introduced me to British sitcoms, the gay concept of a “blouse” (a feminine top), that Cookie Mueller wrote a (rather good) book involving the Manson Family, the joy of revisiting Disney classics, the coolness and lushness of Lana Del Rey, gelato Messina, Crystal Castles, international travel as a graspable concept, the idea that that getting severely high in the gator-centric woods of southern America isn’t a good idea, the works of both Kate Beaton and Xavier Dolan.
And then there is him. And he is not my teacher or anything as trite as that – and I am in no way about to declare a grand gesture of love and “forever”. I might be an idiot, sometimes, but I’m not that foolish. Things change, people change, wants and desires change and that’s okay. It’s heart wrenching, for a while, and then it’s okay.
And on we trek, standing strong and tall against the night and the darkness and finding solidarity with the hope of emotional clarity with every world-weary, exhausted step. There I am, and there he is, and we are together, or maybe we are alone – standing side by side, close or far and trying, trying to be someone better, someone who can, in his own way, teach someone else (or himself) something valuable; a lesson worth knowing.
We’re on a journey, certainly, but as to where we’ll end up, how and with whom, who knows?