We are each a prisoner of some design or other. I, for instance, reside eternally in the back of his mind, whispering something he can hear only when he squints his eyes and scrunches his cheeks.
I am whispering, “I will forget you.”
I am whispering, “I have moved on, I now live and sleep and breathe more easily over in a corner of the universe in which I feel more safe.”
I am whispering, “I never needed you, no matter how hard you tried to convince me I did.”
He, for his part, is halfway out the window, one foot already on the creaking fire escape, holding his lighter up to another cigarette.
He will be naught but a vessel for the specter of anger that defines his every move. This anger, red and smokey and smelling of stale blood, has no name. It has no shape, no face, no nothing, except unquenchable, incurable feeling. It is a presence he will never see, never know, never reign in, never control, because he’d prefer to will it into nonexistence by denying its stranglehold upon his throat.
He is a speck of dust, a metaphysical non-entity. He exists nowhere except in my head, a place where he can no longer touch me.
He does not exist, except in such a way that makes no difference.
Straight boy, mad at himself, who hates himself, uses the world, the whole entire planet, as scapegoat for his contempt. The world is unjust, he says. The world should adhere to his expectations, his needs.
Anyone who challenges his authority and knowledge, no matter the minutia of the disagreement, is an enemy. He must shout them into pliancy, submission. Otherwise, he must destroy them. Otherwise, he must disown them, outcast them, erase them.
He relies on his loud voice and his tall stature to incite obedience, but he knows, lives in constant fear of the knowledge, that one even moderately well-thrown punch to the mouth, to the stomach, to the cheek, to his precious, treasured penis, would send him to the ground, crumple him back up into his fetal self, the self from which he has just barely grown.
He knows he is destined to spend all holidays alone, to sit before his computer, sending typo-ridden resumes out into cruel digital oblivion. He will snarl at the people filled with mirth as they carve turkeys, exchange gifts, count down the seconds to midnight.
Blue-white light falls on his face. Another email. Another text. Another easy-apply button mindlessly clicked. Another phone call to Mom. Why won’t anyone respond?
A dangerous human being. A cancerous manboy with bad knees. He walks from room to room, slamming doors and stomping his feet. The vibrations rattle his bones. He wants a drink, will blame me if he has one.
I’ve never been so patently afraid of someone. That’s why I’m hiding in the dark. That’s why I’ve cut him off at the source. He can’t hurt me if he never comes near me. I don’t have to acknowledge his existence if he doesn’t exist.
I am writing mishmash nonsense and forgetting what I want to say before I get to the end of the sentence. I’ve been wounded here in a way I’ve not been wounded before. But I get it now. I understand the profound sadness, the mental fogginess, the feelings of helplessness, the vacillations between anger, contentment, certainty, and doubt. The way a screaming straight boy can attempt to bully your memories into a different narrative, to shove reality into an alternate shape that better suits him, the way he altered his own memories into believing I wronged him, the way he believes genuinely that he is the tragic protagonist of the universe, the way he believes, like his father and his father and his father and his father, that if only the world would bend to his will, if only every operation of the universe could adhere to the workflows that best benefit him, then everything would be perfect. The way he believes that all women exist to please and to save him; the way he believes all other men are his obstacle, his adversary, his plot device; the way he believes that’s all there is to it, that to have a penis is to be one and to have a vagina is to be the other; the way he believes that black, brown are made to serve, may be allowed a chair at the table so long as they keep their elbows off of it; the way he believes that Asian can be for fucking but a nice white girl is for settling; the way he can’t figure out how to use an object and so it is the object’s fault. The way he believes nothing matters nearly as much as his very important ideas and intellect. The way he remains forever unaware that he doesn’t have an ounce of worthwhile water in his skull.
I’ve never been treated like that before. But I get it now.
The months are rough. I hope they are worth the slog. I stay with my parents, though I hate the idea of returning to them. But it’s necessary, even healthy. No rent for a few months is a relief, and there is some comfort in knowing I still have a place at which I can abdicate some of my responsibilities as I put my life back together.
It will take a lot for me to ever trust a straight boy again, at least any whom I don’t already trust. Some have already, time and again, proven they are compassionate and helpful human beings, who have given a great deal of positivity into my life. It’s not that I’m saying all straight boys are awful and everyone else is a saint—I could list twenty queers I can’t stand right now—but the ratio of shitty, abusive straight boys to those who are not seems to be heavily skewed in favor of the latter.
What was my mistake? I used to consider myself a straight boy. I presented as one. I made friends with other people who called themselves the same. In the ensuing years, I’ve learned I am something different, something less obvious. My mistake was assuming the people I’d associated with back then had also grown.
Straight boys with BFAs cry when they don’t get their way. I can’t stand them. Get them out of my life, get them out of my life, keep them away from my friends, burn their art in public, ban them from the museums and theaters, the libraries and concert halls, from the community center talent shows and the coffee shop open mics, until they prove they’re not fucking scum, until they prove they’re capable of work and thought that amounts to something more than wanking off, until they demonstrate their empathy, until they show they know how to listen, until they can take criticism without yelling, until they defy my assumption of their fragility, until they can express themselves in ways other than bullying, until they understand that they are the perpetrators, enablers, and benefactors of the cycles of oppression against people of color and queers, against women and anyone else who does not look, speak, or act like them, until they can create some art that isn’t just a metaphor for their penises, or their sexual frustration, or their distrust of women, and even then, even then, keep a watchful fucking eye on them, because they have had the ball for too fucking long, and everyone else deserves a chance to play.
I’m scared, as always, of crashing and burning completely. I’m ashamed and embarrassed of staying with my parents. I’m afraid of being too big of a burden on the people I love. I’m afraid that life is one eternal folly, for which I am not in any way qualified. I worry that I misjudge things, that I come to resent people too easily, that I’ll regret moving out. I doubt my own feelings are real, which is exactly what he wanted. I worry that the world would laugh at me if it found out what I consider to be emotional abuse. I wonder why I don’t have thicker skin. I wonder if I’m a giant faggot who can’t take an emotional gut-punch without completely re-calibrating their entire life.
Simultaneously, I know he is vile. I know he is destructive. I know he would discard me in an instant if it was advantageous for him to do so. I know he projects his destructive behavior onto other people. I know he gaslights. I know he turns every connection he has into tattered, cancerous rot.
Both doubting and believing myself, at the exact same time, I remain in stasis, stuck in a dark splotch of ink, covered from head to toe in gunk.
I slept until 1:30 today, and yet I want to sleep more.
I want to sleep and let someone else handle the fallout.
I want to be at the next part.
I want to have a new home, a new job, and a happier, healthier, more whole daily routine. I want to read every book I own and write every book I have in me.
I want to wash my hands of the bastard who did this to me, and if he ever realizes the extent to which he’s harmed me, I want for nothing to return to him but a resounding wall of silence. I will never forgive him, and I only hope to forget him, just as time will forget him, just as all things will turn to dust, just as he will disappear into the annals of total mediocrity. I hope he languishes forever. I hope the world never reads a word he writes, never hears a single song he sings. I hope all traces of him and his little spasms disappear, resound into an unanswered, echoing infinity.
Good god damn, I hope this straight boy suffers. I hope he never gets his own checking account. I hope he never gets a job and runs out of money. I hope he never has good sex and never eats another good meal and never finds anyone to love him. I hope he keeps destroying every relationship he ever forms with anyone, and I hope he lives the rest of his life uncertain and unable to tell what keeps going wrong.
This is a spite of self-preservation. It is an assertion of the validity of my experience. That he abused me, devalued me, wished to bend me down into a status subservient to his sociopathy.
I hope it is a stark depiction. I hope, in thumbing through my journals years from now, nearer to the end of my life, that I am surprised by how angry I was in these pages—I hope for this, as it may well suggest I have healed.
He may write whichever crappy poem he wishes to write, sing whichever spiteful song gets him through another cold sunrise, smoke as many cigarettes as he needs to feel whole, and get as high as he needs to quell the crush of hate that springs from his heart. He does not deserve any lingering influence on my emotional life.
Yet, I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of telling him off. I’m only interested in making him feel as though he no longer exists, for my own safety, and partly because I know it will drive him insane. The reminders of all the people he has alienated and with whom he’s decimated ties—the silence—will consume and destroy him. That’s a more powerful and lingering punishment for his abuses than anything I could ever do with my own hands.
Soon, when this will all be over, I’ll be on to the next thing. Over and over I’ll be on to the next thing.
But he will disappear into the fog.
He made cancerous ruin of the college town.
He made cancerous ruin of another continent.
He made cancerous ruin of his hometown.
And I have every confidence he will make cancerous ruin of the city.
The city will not save his soul. His soul is stuck in the bile he has spewed all over the planet, and it will never be saved if he refuses to acknowledge the toxic waste he’s left it stuck within. Nothing will save his soul so long as he continues to believe he’s the only person who has one.
It is pitch black outside by the time the train leaves the tunnel.
I am whispering, “This is moving on.”
Maybe I’ll be the type of person who never quite finds their footing. Maybe I’ll always have a demon on my shoulder. Maybe I’ll always feel at odds with myself. But there’s a place in this world for me. If I have to cut through the cancer to get to it, hand me a machete. I’ll be damned if I don’t keep trying, keep searching, keep refining. I have survived too much to do any less.
There’s never been a better time to be weird. There’s never been a better time to smash our oppressors to dust.
I’m starting here:
Have you ever felt a sting so violent from another’s words that you become numb for days, all the way to your fingertips? I am clawing through the dirt to get the feeling back. I still have my partner’s grace, my family’s shelter, my brother’s words of wisdom, my sister’s humor and beautiful children, my work and connection to language, my songs, my bones, my functioning brain, my bed of soft sheets, my commutes to chase down ideas, my favorite parts of the city, my understanding friends, my unrelenting queerness, my connections to places all over the map, and my memories, my memories, which push me toward making more.
I still have myself, and I am all I’ve ever been, but I have so much more to be. Nothing, no mad boy and no plague of heterosexual righteousness, will change that I am me, and the self I am and the self I was conspire endlessly, indefatigably to make a better future for the self I will be.
I journal. I write. I sing. I do my best to use myself as my own guiding light. For when I fail, there are my people. I hope to repay them, such as I am able. I hope to be a person for them when their own lights flicker.
I begin to see a way out.
I begin, and I stop, and I begin.
D.R. Baker's writing has appeared at Book Riot, Memoir Mixtapes, Bright Wall/Dark Room, The Young Folks, Independent Music News, and others. As a musician, they have played guitar and bass for various acts over the past decade. Raised in New Jersey, educated in Ohio, and with brief forays into Michigan and Nevada, Dan now lives in New York City with their partner. Website: danbakerisokay.com | Twitter: @danbakerisokay