Ok I'm going to try and make sense of this the best I can. I'm writing from Arizona Pizza Kitchen in Western Massachusetts. I played a show at a punk house and chromed all night with this really beautiful community of weirdos out here in this gorgeous old house in the middle of the woods. I waded in a river in the rain. It was really nice. I've lost all sense of time of when or where I am anymore. September 13. All I can think right now is counting backwards from the Friday 8 weeks ago.
I went to see my folks on that Wednesday. July 24th. I was slated to stay a few days in Lenexa and then go up with them to the cabin and stay for 10 days total before coming back. The summer was kind of rough. I'm working full time a lot of over time at the restaurant and trying to manage all of this other shit on the side. The weeks leading up were a lot of business stuff related to the book and the record. The record is out in the world. The book is almost there. In a week. Feels totally insane. 2013 signified a real corner turned for me with my depression and I was feeling happier and more stable than I've ever felt. Totally fulfilled. And confident in my future and Grant's and my future together.
He was gone all of June in Europe. I got confused just working so much, really putting a lot of myself into the job, pulling a lot of identity from this weird position of authority I newly found myself in, and I just got caught up. Finally when he got back I felt such a sense of relief that my man was home. My home. I told him kind of joking mostly serious, "Don't ever go away from me for that long again."
He said, "I probably never will."
I knew he meant it, too.
Touching down in Kansas City I felt like I was seeing it for the first time. No alcohol, no crippling depression, my mind blown and expanded finally past the point where I couldn't fathom my place in this place where I was born. Everything smelled and felt good. My sister picked me up and we had a real conversation. I walked up the concrete stairs in my parents driveway with the ocean noise of cicadas singing in the trees and my mom opened the door and looked at me and said,
"I have my son back." She just knew everything was different. And it was.
The neighborhood is so pretty. I settled into my old room and then walked over to Roy's folks house to pick him up so we could go to the city. The trees are such a canvas there, like their own sky, so many everywhere. I had no memory that I grew up in a place that the prairie was desperately trying to reclaim at every moment. Grass and animals and life just sprawling everywhere, nipping at lawns and gardens from all sides. It's really crazy.
Something I realized about drinking vs not drinking … I always said that drinking was connecting me to this water, this deep black river of sorrow that runs karmically through the human race in modern history for all the ills we've caused ourselves, but I think another thing it did is cut me off, numb me to all the good parts that comes with the sorrow, the beauty and the pain are so inextricable, and if you lose one you lose the other. I felt for the first time like I was really experiencing the life in which I'd come up, with open senses and a clear mind. It felt insane. Like drugs. Like a movie. I didn't realize too that everywhere feels like that now. New York of course because it's still so fresh but even going back to LA last week it's like that, too, everything is first. Making a decision not to drink was me making a decision to live, to finally accept my lot as a whatever I am in whatever this body is and take this momentous challenge head on. It's like I've been given another life, where all these strange phases have blended together into this beautiful narrative and fed into this one river that suddenly makes them all seem coherent and sensical together. I feel…tremendously lucky.
Thursday my dad took me to see my grandma and then to buy me a new phone. My grandma is really old and really lucid and also really aware of maybe how little time she has left. My grandfather died in 2005 and she's really kind of been ready to join him since, but she keeps living, that crazy Northern vitality just propelling her forward. She's still pretty spry for 94, 95? 93? Really with none of the typical depressing things you associate with old age. I mean she's fucking old but she's really on it. I hope to live that long I really do. My phone was really getting up there, too. The latest incarnation of Blackberries for me had finally manifested as this touch screen wonder Silver Raven, but she was tired. She has been a familiar for a lot of gods and goddesses over the millennia and she was ready to reincarnate into something totally new. She just couldn't work. Her wings were tired. She shut herself off in frustration every few minutes. Froze a lot. I loved her so much and she was my portal for the world for so long but it was time. I was going to get an iPhone.
The transfer happened faster than I expected. It took her a few strokes on the keyboard and then we were out of there and I was trying to regain my sense of the universe with a new phone. At first I called her Mercury. It was drizzling lightly and I found myself walking to the comic book store, the closest being a fair distance away near my high school. I walked through Old Town, past the lot where the man lit his property on fire to collect insurance money, past the old train depot, the church where I grew up, my surrogate grandmother for years Mrs. Zilner's old house before she went into a nursing home and passed on, the whole time taking it in with my new phone, trying to make sense of how new and bold and crisp everything was. It was a walk of soul transference - the spirit of my now gone Silver Raven into this new thing, this young thing, the same but somehow different, with a totally different way of relating to me and relating me to the world.
I wonder if this is how it happens for people. A sort of rearrangement of processes within the same general paradigm, from the same "brand" or reservoir of whatever we come from, but patently unaware of what came before. This phone is the same for me, the same magical process that connects me to everything else, but different, with different ways and wiles.
The walk felt transformative for me, too. Everything was coming together. The future seemed undeniably bright. I really couldn't even bare to look at it. It all felt so certain, the record release, the book, the new record and book that I had been loosely working on for almost a year at that point, but still hesitantly, as if something might happen and the others would be lost, I couldn't quite let go of them enough to start working on new ones yet, not fully. I felt paused, poised, hovering in limbo, but about to break free into the next plane, whatever that was.
I bought comics from a sweet older man listening to r n b. I walked past the big beautiful weirdly modern Central Library, where once I'd lurked on the fringes of a teenage boy and girl's conversation as a kid of about 10 and struggled painfully to hear and understand what they were talking about as he put his arm around her, comforted her as she cried, tried to fathom the feeling of being that close to another person. It was raining pretty steadily by then and I hadn't brought an umbrella, and the battery of my new phone had died. I trudged on, feeling like I needed the exercise, a couple days removed already from my yoga practice, which is so hard to maintain with the same fervor on the floor of my parents house. My sister happened to drive by and picked me up again, and we went to visit my mom's friend, who has kids nearly the same ages as me and my sister, this cool cuttingly funny chick and her husband, their small house always so well-done and decorated, so welcoming. We talked about my life. I thought about him. So much strength back home, so much stability, like I had won the lottery. I have this giant amazing apartment in Brooklyn with this person who wants me to be there, who wanted me to move across the country to live with him, who collaborates with me and supports me. Our life is so cool and perfect. I left their house really loving the people I grew up around, and their reaction to this new, happy, successful me. I had seen my aunt and uncle who I don't even particularly care for earlier that day at my grandma's, just in passing, they're racist and drunk and stupid, and even they I could tell were timid around me, could see that I'd finally left their kind behind, I'd made it in the big city with my handsome husband and I had seen things they never would. At the gay bar the night before I ran into Rocco, this whatever kid who had been a few years older than me as a regular at the restaurant I worked graveyards at during high school. He'd smoke cigarettes and drink coffee and wag his finger at me saying the belt I was wearing was a, "Gay no-no," whatever the fuck he thought that meant, with his dorky gel spiked hair and baby doll tees. He looked the same, but he was nice, he'd moved back home from some other similarly sized place, Denver maybe, to be close to his family again. All these guys at Missy B's, these guys that had once seemed to sneer at us for being the only alternative gays in the room, suddenly they didn't have shit on me. Nothing had shit on me. I had my life and I had Grant and that was all that mattered.
When I got my phone back on I had a Twitter mention from him. He was deeply offended I wasn't following him on Instagram. I thought that I had been. I was still figuring it out. I told him so via Twitter. And that was the last thing I said to Grant. While I was waiting for my connecting flight, I don't remember where, he texted me.
"You never said goodbye!" I felt a pang of guilt but also a fucked up sort of satisfaction that he'd noticed, though it hadn't really been intentional.
Grant and I had been fighting before I left. Well not really fighting as much as we'd had one fight. He wouldn't give me my assertion that many of the physiological differences we attribute to gender are actually rooted in the psychology of gender roles in our society. Really he was just seeing how far I would take it, kind of drunk and playing devil's advocate, pushing all my buttons. I got really upset. He was kind of testing all of us that week I think, maybe seeing if we were still there after his relationship ended. Of course I was, we all still were, but I really didn't expect that kind of needless semantic dismantling of my core beliefs from him and it really hurt my feelings. I left the table in a huff. He spent the next day and subsequent days apologizing via text and email in both direct and oblique ways. One email ended, "See? You are changing the world." In some ways he was telling me he actually agreed with me. Of course when push came to shove he'd always be on my side, and I never doubted that, but the whole thing had bummed me out. Why had I taken it all so personally, why had I not been able to spar with equal detachment, being an equal wordsmith as him … I thought if I couldn't spell this point, something so central to my belief system, out to my best friend and life partner, how could I spell it out a stranger, how could I translate this into a cultural movement, a global change? But it was fine. And he was being very sweet to make me know he felt bad about it. And I … I was busy at work. Opening like several days in a row, up at 6 am, not sleeping in the heat, 95 degrees inside, the sun already up and I was sweating before 7, just working so much. And withholding a little affection, too. I wanted him to know that he had hurt me. And he did.
On Monday I talked to him for a second in his room. I knew he was going through it. I looked at him generally … bemused. There were a lot of things I wanted to bring up, things I'd wanted to bring up all summer, all year even. You always think you have time. I wanted to spend more time with him. I lingered in the hallway for the next two nights. He slept with the door open, and the tv on, so I never really knew whether he was awake or not, could have just asked, or peeked in, but his sleep was so hard won, I was afraid to disturb it. I got home from work late on Tuesday night, looked down the hall - door open, a quiet symphony of fans running in every room, something we'd both tweeted about, blue light floating out, flickering with the movement of the figures on the screen, probably Law And Order, a show he loved, I never watched with him, but I heard the sound effects, the curt dialogue of a crime procedural from his room often.
When he texted me about not saying goodbye, I thought about this moment, and the hundreds of moments like that, coming home late, looking to see if he was awake, and the deep longing I felt every time to climb into bed with him. Not in a sexual way. Just to be close to him. I often found myself thinking that things would make so much more sense if we were to just share a room. We spent so much time in each other's rooms, mostly him in mine, sprawled out on my bed, smoking pot and listening to music, playing each other things we hadn't heard or things we'd heard a thousand times, talking about the song writers we loved and how crazy they were, giving each other head rubs, he loved to have his hair played with just like I do.
I've had a lot of close friends in my life, and a lot of transcendent friendships with men, relationships that blurred lines and confused us both, but a straight identifying man, even one who would share my bed, even one who would fully have sex with me, they will always draw the line, somewhere, somehow, they all found ways to let me know, just like in high school, that they would never quite go the distance with me. But Grant never drew a line. He never once made me feel I was at any distance except in his arms, at all times, even when we weren't together, which was frequent. Our lifestyles were similar, in that we both were always doing our own things, and though they often intersected, especially at home, they often kept us apart for days on end, and I missed him every second of it, but I always knew he was there, just a text or phone call away, if I needed something or just to check in or tell him something stupid that happened or needed reassurance during a moment of panic or sorrow. He was always there, this beautiful, immutable presence. He gave his affection so openly, so freely, with no expectations in return, no baggage about whether the person he was touching was a man or a woman or a drag queen or crazy or sane or whatever, he just loved. Every time he entered a room I was in it seemed he came to give me a hug, or a kiss on the head, or a shoulder rub, always so happy to see me. In my mind and out loud I referred to him as a lot of things: dad, boyfriend, soulmate, husband, brother, best friend, dream man, angel. I've never met someone who so perfectly complemented all of my insanity, and encouraged it, supported me for the things I did that were good and just laughed at the things I did that were stupid or crazy, not judging just relishing. Yeah, I was in love with Grant. I only know that now, and I didn't want things to get weird, which I know they never would have, but I was. He filled my every fantasy by the end of the summer, and I still felt he'd never draw a line, even when it came to something he just could never do, though I will never know, I feel he would have found a way to make whatever I needed happen.
So when he mentioned I never said goodbye, I told him exactly what I felt. I told him I thought about climbing into bed with him, as I did every night. His response, you should have. I got on the plane thinking ok, I've said what I want, and he's assented, not to any ulterior motive but that I just want to be closer to him, or feel like I can be in his space, share in it with him, and of course he was down. The fall was going to be different. We were going to get stronger as allies, as friends. We were going to address any issues that came up and find a way to thrive together. He said he was going to take me home for the holidays. We would be together. Forever.
I thought about that as I got in bed that night, in my childhood bedroom, which had been guest room, storage room, my sister's new room, and was now vacant, guest room again. My mom came and sat on the bed. It's a nice bed, one of us said. I lamented the bed I had back in Brooklyn, that it was too small, that my room was too small, too, but the size of the apartment made up for it, and it was cozy, and that I was just biding my time until I got one of the bigger rooms, which would only come if Nick were to move out, which I wasn't even sure would ever happen, though sometimes he didn't seem long for the house, spending lots of nights away, but I knew Grant would never move out. He always said he'd die there, or they'd have to drag his body out of this place, or something morbid to that effect. Hell maybe someday we really would share a room. Weirder things could have happened. He was so chill about everything. Maybe around 2 or 3 or 4 that morning I went to bed. I'd been thinking about him all day. I had wanted to text him from my new phone, about it, about the day I'd had and how transformative it had been, how happy I was to be cordial and even loving with my parents again, how my mom had said she would love to set Grant up with my sister, having met him the previous summer, how much strength I pulled from him, strength to put up with all the craziness back home and with my folks, beautiful confidence in our home and our lives together, I wanted to tell him I loved him, I missed him, I wished he was there, wished he was coming up to the cabin with us, wished he had been at the gay bar with us the night before. I thought about him very specifically, but for whatever reason I didn't get around to texting him. I told myself I'd text him in the morning. I went to sleep feeling energized, weirdly up, manic, like I was turning this grand corner, things were shifting, life was changing. I slept.
I woke up before my alarm was slated to wake me up. My new phone was ringing. It was a 415 number. I thought it was weird. I immediately thought of Grant. I texted the number.
"This is Grant's mom."
I knew my life had changed. I knew something beyond my ability to fathom had happened. I shut down. I went into crisis mode. I sat up in bed. I just knew.
"Is everything ok?"
"Please call me"
Everything was not ok. Did she say Grant passed away this morning or did she say he died? I know I said "Are you serious?" or "Oh my God are you kidding me?" or something like that. And she said, "He's gone, Alexis." I remember that part. He's gone. He's gone. Suddenly we were talking about him in the past tense. I couldn't deal. I had to get off the phone. I had to call someone and see that it wasn't true. I told her I had to go. We haven't talked since. I still feel badly about it but I just couldn't. I couldn't deal. I guess she had known for a few hours at that point. I guess I was in shock.
We were supposed to start driving up to the cabin that day. My mom had gone out on errands. I opened the door. I was in my underwear and a white v-neck I would wear for the next week. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in my parents bedroom as my dad came over to say good morning. I told him what happened and he hugged me and I felt myself die some. To say it out loud. I moved around like in shock. Like I was struck by lightning. I couldn't feel my body. I sat down and tried to text some people. I called Dia first. Nick called. The other Nick called. My mom got home. My dad told her what happened on the stairs. I heard her say, "Oh, god." Somehow I finished packing my bag. I guess tears were falling. We started driving.
I don't know why I'm doing this to myself. It hurts so much but I have to write it down. I'm afraid to forget. This is all I have left. I've cried so much. I've cried more than I've ever cried in my entire life. And I cry every day. Every single day. But it was always just a little. Just a few tears. Now it's different. Things have come out of me I never dreamed were there. Old things. Old feelings. I don't understand what I'm going through.
We drove. I cried. I tried to eat. I started tweeting. I texted constantly. Spoke on the phone. I spoke to his brother. My entire body hurt. I couldn't read. Couldn't listen to music. Could barely speak. I just cried. And when I did speak I talked about him. Suddenly I realized I had to go back. I had to be back at our house. What the fuck was I doing going up to the cabin. I had to go find him. I had visions of going to the morgue, of wailing and beating on his chest and kissing him and sobbing all over him. I was scared of the way he would smell. I've read things about the way a corpse smells. How could he be a corpse? I had visions of him getting up and walking out of the morgue. Of him gasping and bolting awake. I'm not a Christian but I believe in the resurrection. I believe so many things. I wondered if there was any way, any way … Then I knew I had to be in his room. I had to be in his bed. I had to lay in his bed for a long long time and cry and not leave and that would be my reality. I had to get ahold of his dirty clothes. I had to smell his armpits. He knew how much I loved b.o., especially his, sometimes at parties he would say, "Hey, c'mere," and lift his arm and let me smell his armpit, without me asking, just because he knew I was into it.
I changed my ticket. I would fly back Sunday from Milwaukee. We stayed in a hotel that night. I remember nothing. We got to Waupaca. I cried all over the town I grew up in every summer. In the Pick N' Save bathroom talking to Liza. We pulled up to the cabin. The soil smelled the same as it has always smelled. I don't know what's in it up there that makes it smell like that. It's kind of sandy. The wind moves the trees. It had gotten suddenly very cold, after a sweltering summer, it was suddenly in the 50s. I didn't understand. I didn't understand why Grant wasn't there. He would have loved that place. Would have had so much fun driving up and getting drunk with my parents and goofing off in the lake. He would have loved it so much. I sat paralyzed in the cabin and I cried while my mother held me. I kept forcing myself to eat. I talked to Noah, I talked to Sarah. I cried on the dock. I don't' really remember much of it. We watched Tootsie. I felt sick, like a weird invalid, like I was being tip-toed around, cared for, even though my parents never stopped their normal bickering, which was almost comforting. If they hadn't at least have met him once, I don't know if I could have dealt, but they knew, they knew how much we loved each other.
The manuscript from the novel had to go to press that day. We put a picture of Grant in at the last minute with a small dedication. I looked over it as best I could. I ended up missing an error. I talked to the guys about the record, about Grant. They didn't seem to understand. They had babies on the way. There were things to do. We had to finish the video. The record was going to come out so soon.
My parents drove me to the Milwaukee airport after we took a walk in the woods. It was beautiful, chilly, I didn't understand, I forgot about winter, about fall, I forgot about everything. My body felt abused. All I'd done for two days was cry in a minivan. They wanted to wait for me at the airport but I insisted I needed to be alone. I was at my wits end really. I needed to grieve alone for a moment before I could be with my friends, with our friends, in our home. Sam and Nick would meet me at the house, I would be taken care of. I don't let anyone take care of me.
My flight was delayed. A lot. I got a voucher for a hotel on the airport premises. I checked in and time kind of stopped. My hotel had a big window that looked out on the pool. I started to open the curtain and there were all these boys standing directly in front of it that looked right in at me. It was totally bizarre. I closed it immediately. Undressed. Spaced out watching a Harry Potter movie. I went down to the bar later. Too late to order food, but I had a drink voucher, but it was only with dinner, so I paid cash for a beer and shot, and I just left them. I told the bar tender that it was for a friend who had died. I couldn't hardly say it. But I didn't cry. I was in a time warp there. I stared at them a long time. Texted. Instagrammed on my new phone. Some pianist practiced on the piano outside the bar restaurant. I went back to my room. This dweeb from Grindr who worked at the hotel next door came over. It turned out we had talked on Dudesnude the last time I had been in Wisconsin two years ago. Totally bizarre. He gave me a hug. He was insecure. I slept and woke and got on the plane home.
New York was hot but not so hot. Not like it had been. Where was I? The cab ride was so bumpy down Nostrand. They had torn up the already bumpy street and were replacing it. It was insane. Nobody was at the house yet. The water ran brown, rusty, they had shut it off a few times for construction and it hadn't been run for a few days. Nobody had been staying there. "Too many ghosts," John had said. I put my stuff down and walked numbly into his room. The whole world closed in on me there. It was dark and hot. It smelled like him. Smelled like his room. I found a shirt and smelled it, lay in his bed, sobbed, loud, painful crying, sick crying. I walked out. Sat down on the couch. Laid down and cried and Nick walked in and sat with me for a long time while I cried. I don't think I'd ever cried in front of someone like that. Except Brande once or twice, drunk, having tapped some deep pain when drunk, and I remember her saying then, you're not crying for this person, and maybe I wasn't, maybe I was crying for Grant even then, years before.
The week before I left I finished, or almost finished, a text on Tibetthan Buddhism. It all made total sense to me but when I got to the last chapter, I just knew I wasn't going to finish it, that it wasn't for me then, or maybe ever, to be a true Buddhist. I wasn't ready to give up all my attachments. Many, most, but not all. But I knew I would have to confront mortality, I knew it would be an issue. I'd lost friends, known a lot of dead. My last bed before this one, the guy gave it to me died, the bed I had for years all over the Bay area. But what I really thought I'd have to confront was my own mortality. My own death. My own fear of dying before I had truly accomplished what I wanted. What happened to Grant. All those songs gone now. Little did I know how immediately I'd be confronted by mortality. I've seen death. I've touched death now. I wasn't there. But I've inherited another bed, I sleep with death every night, I live in my dead best friend's room, I breathe his memory every second, and I miss him in ways I haven't even begun to figure out.
I stayed with Nick for a few days. I took a week to get back to work. Well not even a week. You know I'm almost the most prepared for this of anyone, it's almost a joke, that I'm the one in the room, I mean I wanted it that way, I knew it that day even, I was going to take the room if we stayed, and we stayed, and I feel closer to the boys now, and Sam is here, but you know, I feel the most prepared, even though I could never have prepared for anything like this, and I've only barely realized that I will at least…not die of this. I made my decision to live, after Mark killed herself, after I quit drinking, I decided to live. But thrive, be happy … I will do what I have to do, and I am lonely, I am searching, searching still, although one tiny glimmer of hope remains, as if to say, if someone like that existed, there are more, but the rest of me is saying no, no no no no . No. He's not dead and I won't find anyone else and I'll never be happy. But I can't let that be the spell I cast. I don't know what I will find but I will find happy. Because I did find it. In Grant. In my angel, my dream man, this perfect human being, everything I could ever have asked for and so much more in a friend, a soulmate, a love, everything. I never got to cry and beat on his body. He was ash so quickly. But I feel him here. Toilet paper rolls jump off the holder. I get chills up and down my body getting off the subway. He's here with me. I wear his hat every day. Sleep in his bed. I have his old underwear. His toenail clippers. All the strange minutiae that make up a life, whatever his folks didn't take were left with me. I don't know what I'm doing. I have a lot on my plate. I was writing about Grant before he died so I'm finishing that. And working on several other things. Things I thought he'd see. He read my book before, after it was done, he read the chapter about him and far from being embarrassed he was proud, he texted me how sweet it was, that he loved me. I love you so much Grant. I am here I am alive for whatever stupid reason, whatever bizarre process has brought me here has brought you somewhere else, all these things we don't understand, and I don't know I'll ever see you again in that form, maybe in one of these alternate universes, maybe never, most likely you are just back to being a full-time part of the great ether of soul of awareness of love that I am and will be a part of sometime, any time, who ever can know, so in that sense I guess we'll be together, are together? But my body misses you. I ache for you. I hurt for you. I'm sorry I feel like I failed you. I love you.