Nonfiction

Which Dreamed It?

by William Henderson

1.

The first few weeks in my apartment are lonely. I haven’t lived alone in more than 12 years. My friends try, as does Holly (who I have to learn to think of as my ex-wife), and my mother is here for some of it, but most nights, I try not to hear the sound of my bedroom clock ticking. I see Judi, my therapist, every week, then every other week, then every three weeks. In time, she says, I won’t need to see her at all, unless I feel the need for a checkup. I like talking to her. She makes me feel like I already know the answers, if I would just get out of my own way.

Does not being a partner to someone bother you?, Judi asks.

I don’t think I would use the word bother, I say. I’m just not used to it. I know myself mostly as someone’s partner.

Are you worried that you won’t like yourself?

I like myself.

And you’re adjusting to living as an openly gay man?

Yes, I say. I don’t know why I was afraid. I think that’s why I tried to kill myself. I think I was afraid of what telling Holly I wanted a divorce, and that I was in love with a man who decided he’d rather get high than build a life with me, meant. I thought she might move away with our children. And he, clearly, didn’t care.

But she didn’t.

She didn’t.

And everything is all right.

Yes, I say. I’m not sure how it happened, but everything is turning out all right.

And you’re getting attention.

This is not a question. I’ve become brazen. If I want to invite someone over, or if I want to stay at someone’s house, I can. I don’t have to explain my decisions. I should joined a gym a long time ago. Getting laid is easy now, mostly because of how I look, but also because I live alone. Everyone likes someone who can host.

I write my phone number on the forearm of a waiter at a restaurant in the Theater District in Boston. He calls the next day. When I go to this apartment, one of the first things I see is a bong on his coffee table. Want some?, he asks. No thanks, I say. I’ve read this story. I don’t like how it ends. I leave. He never calls back.

I meet another man at a sports bar in the South End of Boston. He is drinking a beer. He is seven inches taller than me and has on a Boston Red Sox cap and a button-down plaid shirt. It is cold, so I offer to drive him to his car. When I get to his car, I put on my hazards, and I kiss him. We make out for 20 minutes. Seated next to each other in my car, our height difference doesn’t matter.

Another man comes over. I had promised to make dinner. He kisses me three minutes after walking into my living room. He stays the night. We don’t eat dinner.

I kiss men in clubs, and men offer to buy me drinks at concerts, and I sleep with one man because he promises to take me to a Lady Gaga concert. I don’t think he will really take me to Gaga, but I tell myself he will, if only to feel better after.

The number of men I sleep with continues to swell. Holly says she knows I’m busy. I’m not dating, I tell her. I never said you were, she says.

2.

I seek anything that may help me. I go to a gay dad’s support group. The men in the group are going through, or have survived, bitter divorces with women who do not understand why their husbands are now gay. Now gay, these men say, and they laugh. As if being or not being gay is a choice. I tell the men that Holly and I will not be like that. One says to give it time.

I attend an Alanon meeting for gay men and lesbians who have been affected in some way by drug or alcohol addiction. We meet in the basement of a church. I listen to the stories, and when I leave, I think that while I may not go back, at least I recognized myself in some of what I heard. I was affected. You and your addiction affected me. I will not let myself be affected like that again.

I join an online support group for men and women who failed to kill themselves. No. That’s not what I’m supposed to say. Who succeeded at living. That’s the way we wrap up our stories of desperation and despair. Succeeded at living. Tie a ribbon around that package. Inside is a mostly empty box.

I go to a Quaker Church. I had told you I was planning to try Quakerism. It’s not for me. But meditation is. I find a gay meditation group that meets once in a month in Brookline. I find a Buddhist monk who offers meditation sessions on Sunday. Sometimes, at home, alone, I sit cross-legged in my yoga room, in the dark, and I close my eyes and I try not to think. In these moments, I see my life unfolding before me; in these moments, I feel like I loom.

I let my friends convince me to go out with them. Bars. Clubs. Parties. I do not drink, though I want to. No self-medicating, I think. I talk, and maybe I flirt, and I think I’m charming. My number gets asked for, and my e-mail address. I share my contact information even though I am not ready to be contacted.

3.

I’m tired of grieving him, I tell Holly one night, mostly because I don’t think he grieved my loss.

You don’t know what he’s feeling or doing, Will, she says. And he’s not your concern anymore.

What if he’s already moved on and found someone else to love?

You don’t know that he’s moved on, she says. And even if he has, then he’s moved on in order to feel better, or in order to find someone who won’t object to his getting high, or he’s moved on because it’s easier to move on than it is to work on himself.

Or he’s moved on because he’s fallen in love with someone else.

I think he loves – or loved – you very much, Holly says. I think because of how much he loved you, he acted toward you in the end the way he did.

I don’t know, I say.

Maybe I’m wrong, she says; I typically look for the best in someone.

4.

I tell Judi during one of our sessions that I think that each day that passes takes me one day closer to the next we I’m meant to be a part of. She says, Will, your next we may not be your final we. You may go through several wes before you find your final we. I think she uses words like final we because I use words like final we.

I’m afraid of being hurt again, I say.

I think you’re afraid of being unable to say goodbye.

What do you mean?

You didn’t get to say goodbye to him. He made that impossible. He took away your choice. He treated you the way your father treated you. And that’s why you held on as tightly as you did, and why the end of the relationship triggered so much for you. It wasn’t him that triggered you; it was what you haven’t dealt with about your father.

I say nothing. I have grown comfortable in her office. I long ago looked at the titles of books on her shelves. Some of them I have read. I wish she and I could spend a session talking about books. I think I would enjoy that conversation.

You knew your affair was about to end, Will, she says. You weren’t sleeping. You weren’t eating. Those aren’t normal behaviors in a healthy relationship. He didn’t pick you, and he kept not picking you.

She’s right. I was afraid you wouldn’t pick me, and if I left Holly, and you eventually didn’t pick me, then what would I have left? I didn’t trust that when you said as is, that you meant as is.

5.

One Saturday morning, when I get my hair cut at the Supercuts in the shopping center where you work, Avery, my son, asks for you, and I tell him that you love him very much and he did nothing wrong, but you don’t like mommy and daddy anymore and you have decided not to see any of us again.

No more D?, he asks.

No baby, no more D. And I start to cry, and Avery says, daddy not happy, and I look at him in the rearview mirror and say, no, baby, daddy isn’t happy.

And he says I love you, daddy.

Thank you, baby, I say. I love you, too. I want to say that I love D, too. And I miss D. And I want him here, too. But I don’t say any of those things. Avery wouldn’t understand. I don’t understand most of the time.

Two weeks later, he is playing on my computer and he pulls up iPhoto and finds a picture of you and him from the day we were together in Central Park. Who is that, daddy?, he asks. And I say Avery, that’s you, and he says, no, daddy; I know that’s Avery. He still has not mastered personal pronouns. Who is that? And he points to you, and I say, you don’t know who that is, baby? And he says no. And I say that that guy used to be in our life but isn’t anymore. And Avery says oh, otay.

When Holly comes for him, or when I drop him off with her, he says that he’s sad when he leaves me. And I tell him I never leave him. He’s always with me. And I ask him if he knows how much I love him. And he smiles and says, I love you, daddy, and he wraps his arms around my legs and hugs me. Don’t let go, I say, and he says, I won’t, daddy.

6.

Most foreign language instructors claim they can teach you a foreign language in 10 days. In 10 days, you and I had learned enough of each other’s language to want to invest in learning more.

You like avocados. You drink milk or cream in your tea, but not otherwise. You like bananas that are green. You like eating lemon wedges, even if aren’t eating anything that requires lemon. You paint your toenails. You take long, hot showers. You do not like baths; in them, you feel like an ingredient in a soup. You are bilingual, English and Spanish; you know some French; you want to learn Portuguese. You try to speak to people in the language that you think they speak, even if they prefer to speak in English.

I am still fluent in you. I think I will always be fluent in you, or at least in the you I once knew. These instructors say nothing about how to unlearn a language.

7.

My father’s father dies at 8:07 a.m. on a Monday. I am with Holly. My brother, Lucas, texts: Papa died. Call me.

Avery is in the blue swing that hangs from the ceiling of the loft, and I swing him and he laughs and I talk to Lucas and Lucas is very matter of fact about my grandfather’s death and how our father wants me at the service and Lucas will buy me a plane ticket if I need him to.

I listen to Lucas and I can hear the shower running and I want to hang up and call you, or text you, or somehow tell you that my grandfather has died. And that’s how I know that I don’t hate you, even though I think I should. But maybe the opposite of love isn’t hate; maybe the opposite of love is feeling empty.

I ask my brother for our father’s phone number, and I tell my brother I am going to call our father and my brother says I shouldn’t tell him that Holly and I have separated or that I had an affair with a man. You might want to leave the gay part out, Lucas says.

I laugh. I won’t lead with that, I say. Lucas texts me my father’s phone number and I hug Holly and Avery and I say I will talk to her later and before I get to my car I call my father. When he answers the phone, I say I am sorry and he says thank you. I ask about my grandmother and he starts talking and I know that we will be on the phone for a while. I think he likes to talk to me because he feels no obligation to me.

My father says he first saw his father dead in his hospital bed. He had died about five minutes before my father had walked into the room. My grandmother was with my grandfather when he did. My father had first noticed not hearing the sound of the machines breathing for my grandfather, then he had realized that the mask was off of my grandfather’s face and that his body was still. My father knew that his father was dead.

My father’s father is the first of my grandparents to die.

I haven’t seen my father’s parents since December 1998. They met Holly once. They have not met Avery. They know nothing about Aurora.

I tell my father that I tried to kill myself earlier this year. He is shocked. I think I tell him to shock him. He says he is glad that I didn’t succeed. I tell him I was in a situation where I couldn’t cope. He says he understands. I say I had had an affair and lived two lives for more than half a year. My father says he had always thought about having an affair but had been too scared to try. He asks me if had used my name with the person. I laugh. Of course I did, I say. I don’t tell him my affair was with a man. He doesn’t ask if I had fallen in love with the person.

I tell Lucas later that if you had been my partner, I would have needed you at the funeral, holding my hand, telling me that I am going to be OK and that crying in front of everyone is OK and the fact that I never introduced my grandfather to Avery is OK and that I don’t need to forgive my father and that that is OK. I would have needed you there because I would have needed you there.

8.

One afternoon, I watch the men disassemble the carousel erected six months ago in the middle of Boston Common. You and I took Avery there several times. I watch the men lift the horses, rabbits, and frogs off of their poles and pack them away in crates filled with hay. The white rabbit is taken off of its pole last. The men lower it into a box and screw on a lid.

I am witness to a dismantling. I am witness to the onset of hibernation.

You will forget the wonder with which Avery chose his animal on this carousel and held on as if his life depended on it, mostly because we made sure he knew that his life depended on it. We held onto him. We took turns riding with him.

I watch the men dismantle the carousel and pack away the animals and the lights and the seats and the ticket booth. I took a picture of this carousel at night the last night you and I were together on Newbury Street in August. I think that these same men will re-erect the carousel next summer and Avery will be one year older and Aurora will probably be too young to ride, and I will bring Avery back to the carousel and watch him choose his animal and hold on as if his life depends on it, mainly because I will make sure he knows that his life depends on it.

9.

You can’t tell how broken a heart is from outside. You can only feel how broken it is by seeing how broken the owner of the heart is. Touch his chest. Feel the beat. The beat returns, but it is not the same. There are gaps and stops. Hearts beat differently once halved. Hearts heal. Of course they heal. But the heart may never beat again in the same way. Kind of like how after a broken leg, some people walk differently. I know my heart will never again beat the way it did when I was with you.

This is the sound of my heart without you. I. I. I.

The letter A separates what we had from what we have. When we were together, I felt part of something. Now, we are apart. The letter A separates what we had from what we have. If our relationship was a test, if the gods were watching to see if we could get it right this time, then we should not have earned that A.

10.

I dream about you sometimes. About us. Sometimes we’re fucking. Sometimes I’m reading a magazine on the couch and you’re making dinner. You’re laughing at something I’ve said. You’re explaining the way a helicopter works to Avery. You’re asking me if I remember when we weren’t talking and you’re saying that those were some of the hardest months you’ve ever experienced. I wake up from these dreams, and if we’ve been fucking I’m hard, and if we haven’t been fucking and if we’ve just been together I cry, and I wonder if I’m dreaming you or if you’re dreaming me and if the connection we forged is still there.

11.

Carrie, my psychiatrist, asks how I’m doing. Any racing thoughts? Alcohol? Depression? Any contact with him? How is Holly? How is your son handling living in two houses? She still has the same folder she started on me at St. Elizabeth’s. I see her every three months. We check in and she writes me a prescription. She trusts that if I start feeling unwell that I will tell her.

Are you lonely?, she asks.

No, I say.

Good, she says. That’s good.

I don’t tell her that while I am not lonely, I miss myself with you, and I miss the future we had decided to create. I don’t tell her that I’ve come to think that love kills you when you have it and when you don’t have it, and that right now, and who knows for how long, I don’t want to love. I don’t have time to love. I’m busy with myself and with my family. I tell men who like me, or who want to find out if they can like me, that I’ve become dating-phobic. The men, several of them nice men, try to convince me I am anything but afraid of dating, and I don’t return their phone calls, and I don’t answer their text messages, and I tell them I will let them know when I am ready, but I am not sure that I will ever be ready.

Let me read a book underneath a tree beside a river. In books, I can’t get hurt. In books, I can find happy endings, or if a sad ending, there’s at least an ending I can understand. I do not understand our ending. I understand why we had to end; I just don’t understand why our ending had to hurt as much as it did, since our beginning and middle were mostly anything but painful.

12.

A man named Robert, on our third date, suggests we eat at a restaurant inside The Liberty Hotel, which is located within the old Charles Street Jail. There are several courses. And cocktails. And wine. We talk about past relationships. I tell him about how you stopped having sex one night to give your friend weed; and how on those nights you got high with him, I felt like I disappeared; and I tell him about leaving the phone in your room and how we ended soon after.

I don’t get it, he says to me. Why would you stay with someone like that? Why would you enable someone like that? You were trying to build a future with someone who doesn’t even have much of a present.

I loved him, I say. I didn’t want to be someone else who hurt and disappointed him.

Is it any wonder that he continues to get hurt?, Robert asks. And he blamed you for it all, didn’t he?

Yes, I say. He blamed me for everything.

You should aim higher, Robert says, and I know he’s talking about himself. He’s not yet 30 and already he owns a business and two homes. He doesn’t want children, so I know he isn’t forever.

But I know why I stayed. I stayed because I loved you, and I stayed because I believed in our when-not-if future. And I stayed because I believed in you. And I stayed because I knew – because I know – that we could have had an amazing life together. Splinter-self versions of us are living that amazing life. I think about the yous and the mes who got it right, and I know that they are happy.

Then there’s Marco, who thinks you and I never loved each other. We needed each other, he thinks, because I wanted a reason to leave Holly and you wanted a father and a refuge from yourself. D wanted you to fix him, because he can’t fix himself, and he can’t run from himself because nobody can. And because you couldn’t fix him no matter how hard you tried, he blamed you.

I lied to him, I say. I failed him.

He wasn’t honest with you either, Marco says, and he punished you for not saving him from himself.

Marco wants to date me. I think he’s telling me what he thinks I want to hear.

I dream about you sometimes. About us. Sometimes we’re fucking. Sometimes I’m reading a magazine on the couch and you’re making dinner. You’re laughing at something I’ve said. You’re explaining the way a helicopter works to Avery. You’re asking me if I remember when we weren’t talking and you’re saying that those were some of the hardest months you’ve ever experienced. I wake up from these dreams, and if we’ve been fucking I’m hard, and if we haven’t been fucking and if we’ve just been together I cry, and I wonder if I’m dreaming you or if you’re dreaming me and if the connection we forged is still there.

I know that after the next relationship I get into, I will not talk about my relationship with you. I will go from my life with Holly to whatever man comes along next. You will not even warrant a footnote. You will be a cautionary tale I only tell myself. I will not share you with anyone else because I don’t want to share you with anyone else. What we had, I don’t think I have the right words to explain it, no matter how I arrange and rearrange the pieces.







William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines including the Advocate, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the New England Blade (formerly In Newsweekly), where he served as editor. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. Currently, he works as a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and is a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora.
Which Dreamed It? is part of an in-progress memoir, House of Cards.





Comments
One Response to “Nonfiction”
  1. Thank you for such a beautiful essay. When I read it I loved you, and your children, and your continued relationship with Holly. I wish you all the happiness you can wrap your head around.

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