(A letter from my good friend Mark, age 31, living in New York City. The guy “Brad” in this letter was Mark’s boyfriend for 11 years. Mark and Brad broke up for good in 1995. Mark was out at a nightclub with his 5-months new lover, James, when he wrote me the morning after…):
Subject: Beautiful Sunday Morning
Sent: 10/27/96 12:56 PM
Went out to Twilo last night with James, John, Tom and about a million other queens for Halloween. This morning, mysteriously, I feel as if I was chugging from a Jack Daniels bottle all night. My head is pounding and my shoulders are all tight and fucked up. All I did was three bumps of K, which in New York passes for a “drug free” night. These days I’m off X; too big a commitment. The depression afterward is substantial for me, and it feels like turning myself into a dependent child for the evening. I do miss it in a way. I know I’ll take it again. I need to find a source for that superpure stuff that evaporates after four hours, leaving you fresh and sober. I’ve had it before, and its amazing.
At any rate, I wanted to jot down a few ideas, because a lot happened last night. I woke up and immediately thought of you and Jason.
Seeing Brad out in public has been one of the lingering tortures of my separation from him, Patrick. I pretty much *only* see him when I go to a nightclub. Gym sightings are rare these days…we must be on opposing
schedules. I rarely spot him on the street. But I know for certain on a big night out (such as last night) that he and Bill (his new lover — ed.) will be there, and that I’ll have to deal with the awkward feelings that come up.
It used to be much worse, because I’ve learned a lot about what to do when it happens. I once saw Brad and Bill looking at clothes together at Barney’s (uptown). I was shopping with Nadeem, a sort-of date/friend at
the time. We literally fled…I had a kind of panicked flight response. I had no way of dealing with him being there doing what we used to do together with someone new. I was so upset that I had to sit on a couch at
Crate and Barrel with my head in my hands, recovering, for twenty minutes or so. This was *not* a good way to deal with it, I found out.
The feelings I get when I see Brad are really the same: a deep, plunging stab of something, some kind of big shock…panic. It’s hard to go further than that when describing this feeling. Sometimes it feels
like anger, sometimes like shame, sometimes just like a kind of generic “big reaction” that leaves me confused and incapable of understanding what’s going on. It’s really powerful stuff.
Of course, this is the last way I want to feel when I’m out with my friends, supposedly having “fun”. It amounts to a 180 degree mood swing. Actually, its less drastic than that, because the anticipation of seeing
Brad means I’m always scanning the crowd, anticipating that big feeling, hoping I can be nonchalant and “have fun”. My fear is that my friends (not to mention my new boyfriend), who have been hearing my woes for two years now, will have no patience for how Brad can affect me. I’m afraid that my secret panic will be found out, and that it will *separate* me from everything that is good in my life, that it will *weaken* the ties I have to others, just as my tie with Brad once withered and collapsed. It’s a horrible position to be in: when grief from one loss cannot be felt, for fear that it will lead to new losses.
What used to happen is that I would find myself acting super-happy. I would dance ecstatically, pretend to be the life of the party, etc. This was scary in itself, because I found myself worrying about who would be
near me when Brad would see me. It took a lot of energy and planning. I wanted Brad to see me surrounded by my “new” friends; I wanted him to see that I was popular, desireable, and having fun without him. I wanted him to feel left out… just as I had felt left out when he ran off to be with others. This is a set of experiences that I have labored two years to make Brad feel, and it is natural for me to still want this for him (I still do). I constantly catch myself setting up situations to make Brad feel these things. It feels like a way of punishing him… and I really want that.
Ironically, if my schemes have ever worked, they may have backfired. It’s possible that Brad never saw me as those things I fear most and seek to dissuade him from believing: that I’m a loser, ugly, upopular,
undesirable, etc. In fact, the opposite may even be true. Brad may believe that I am so threatening and fabulous that the only way for him to compete was to get away from me. I know he has nothing but good things to say about me to others.
Whatever the case may be on Brad’s side, I’ve gone through a thousand approaches to dealing with the shock of seeing him out in public. Everything from ignoring him, performing for him, lying, half-truths, petitioning him…everything. But what two years of therapy taught me was that, for me personally, behind all the anger and desire for revenge is
> sadness, lonliness, and grief over
> loss of a connection to someone.
Of course, it’s extra-powerful because it taps into the same feelings I had towards my father. Last night I realized that there may be a way to fully acknowledge and occupy that sadness even when its inconvenient.
Brad and Bill came into Twilo as miners, with those mining hats with lights on them. (I wasn’t in costume.) The same thing happens that always happens. Brad and Bill sweep in with a sort of entourage, all excited and greeting everyone. My friend John gets a huge bear hug from Brad, a deep, eyes-closed kind of embrace. For me Brad purses his lips into a tight little cone, as if to restrict our contact into the smallest possible space. He gives a tentative wave and says “How are things?”…the kind of question with only one answer: “Fine” or “Great”. I feel cheated and walled out. It’s not fair that I invested ten years and that it ended; worse yet is the way I have to spend my life being reminded of it. So I just allowed myself to feel sad; to feel that grief deep inside me. “What a huge loss” I said to myself, as I felt the weariness and grief in my chest. I felt my face go calm. It’s usually twisted with warring motions: contrived happiness masking anger masking grief.
My new dating buddy James asked if I was OK, and so did John after a bit. In a gesture to me, John said “Those miners hats with the lights, that’s all about ‘notice me’ ,” which is a thing we talk about gay men doing. I could easily have taken the bait, and said something disparaging about Brad’s choice of costume, or the fact that Brad seems dependent on Bill. But that would have been easier than admitting the truth: that even at his most ridiculous, I valued my connection to Brad and losing it is the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me. That feels much harder to admit. (Bitterness would involve not accepting this loss fully; i.e. attempting to convince myself that Brad wasn’t important to me). So I told John “Whenever I see Brad out like this, all I feel is incredible sadness and grief.” He initially misunderstood me, thinking I was “feeling sorry for Brad” in a phony kind of way. But I clarified it for him, saying “I’m sad that I lost him.” Suddenly John understood, and he gave me a huge, very sincere hug and kiss. “You lose and then you gain”, he said, indicating James who was dancing right there.
He may have meant it to mean that everything’s “all better now”, that things come around, that my life has improved. That’s fine I guess. The thing I realized is that this is what life is going to be about now that I’m thirty or older. Life will never be only about “gain” as it was in my twenties. I hadn’t lost anything conciously for my entire adult life. From now on, life will always be “you lose, and you gain”. Maybe that makes the moments of gain that much sweeter, that much more valuable. I don’t know.
I realized last night that, even if Brad were to open up to me, to tell me what happened in a way that was meaningful to me… even if we were to reestablish a connection, that would not repair the grief I feel. I simply never knew that the world was a place where relationships between people can dry up quickly, where bonds can snap over the course of months, weeks, or even hours. You obviously found out how that can happen
with Matthew, Patrick… and now with Jason. I can’t believe or accept that these things happen. Even if Brad were to “come back”, I would still have the grief of his 2+ year absence. If Matthew were to “come back”, you’d still have the grief of losing him. Nothing can repair that memory, that sadness I think, because it has to do with the fragility of connections as much as it does with a specific person. I’ll never be able to look at a relatioship the same way, and I’ve told James this. But the solution can never be to reconnect only partially to others (in an attempt to save oneself pain); nor can it be to avoid past sadness with sarcasm or revenge fantasies. I think past sorrow has to be embraced and experienced in all its horror, so that our new lovers can feel the full presence and commitment we once offered others. It’s a huge risk to start over with someone when you’ve been hurt…and are still hurting.
So here I am with my grief (but, interestingly, not “alone with my grief”). I had a fine evening with my friends once I had these feelings, and even shared them honestly. Other people understand…we all go through it with varying degrees of acceptance or awareness. Acknowledging this kind of simple, sad truth fortunately doesn’t consume every happy moment for me. But what it does do is modify the character of the world a little bit. The world is a place where things change, where people go away, sometimes forever, sometimes with little or no explanation. It’s sad, it’s unfair, and it hurts.
Losing Brad is a part of my experience here on this planet, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I’m not pretending to be stoic or brave — in fact it sucks, but I suppose I can live with it. Most lives are probably dotted with losses like that, or worse ones. Think of my bio-mom Pat… losing two babies in a row. That’s just what I mean: the fact that I came back doesn’t take the loss away. (Mark’s bio-mom gave him up for adoption and he found her in 1996, after some 32 years of wondering what happened to each other after the adoption — ed.) She’ll always have that grief over losing me, and so will I over losing Brad. Somehow in comparison, losing Brad doesn’t seem quite so bad. But I can’t give up that part of myself any more than I would give up an arm that had been burned in a fire. Every time I look at it it reminds me of how painful the fire was.
Whew. Long letter. Thought I’d send it instead of just putting it in my journal. Hope this has some relevance to your ordeal with Jason.
Thinking of you always,