Since my breakup, I have been going to the gym almost every day. I added an extra day to my workout week and changed my routine to one a bit more intense. This is what homos do in breakups. We get pretty again, discarding the complicated world outside for the simpler one in here where weights and sweat feel more at ease with our cold, dead hearts.
Image really is everything. If I can’t be good looking then I can’t catch the eyes of strangers from across the room, strangers who might nervously step through the crowd, mustering up the strength to speak.
You know, I still remember what he said. There was a line of people in front of him and they all wanted to talk to me because I was the president of the LGBTQ student club. We had just had a meeting. During the meeting, I saw him across the room in a cutoff shirt with his jacket tied around his waist.
He waited in line to speak to me. I saw him get closer and closer. When his turn came, he looked at me with those dark brown eyes and said to me in this beautiful South American accent, “Are there any Cokes in the refridgerator?”
I didn’t understand the question. I didn’t know there was a refridgerator, and then I remembered there was a kitchennette by the door of the room where our meetings were held. After three years moderating this group, I had never once been in the kitchen.
“Um, I don’t know, but you can look.”
He nodded and left.
I would come to love that man. A year later, I would buy a ring from Amazon and plan my proposal, which never happened.
I’m writing this in Florida. My family is on vacation. I keep wandering away from them to walk on the beach alone. Teenagers on Spring Break and straight couples walk past me and I wonder if they can tell I’m crying. Probably.
He would never do something like this. Walking the beach and crying is a movie move. It’s self-indulgent and silly. Heaven forbid I pick up a stick and draw a heart in the sand, or watch as the waves wash it away.
The way he viewed the world wasn’t heavy like mine is. I see portents and omens in everything. He would see kids in bathing suits playing in the surf and hot daddies walking down the beach and he would talk about them. He got me out of my head and taught me to see the world and its beauty without my narrative projected onto it. I miss that so much.
There are dozens of articles on the Internet on how to handle a breakup. Many list “what to do” or “what not to do” with cute illustrations and infographics. These always seem reductive to me because I do not believe such a personal thing can be reduced to a set of rules. I think the only way to write about breakups is to tell one’s own story. That’s usually what people want to hear, anyway. The story of how it happened, how it hurt, and how you got through it.
I recently read a book called Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, published posthumously. Gratitude is four essays that Sacks wrote during the final few years of his life. The fourth and final one, “Sabbath,” was written two weeks before his death of terminal cancer.
It was a death he saw coming and, as a medical writer, one he faced with the tools he knew — analysis, essaying, and the ability to look at his own life as if it was laid under a microscope. He scoped out the little parts of it, studied his suffering, and let it be real. At 81 years old, Sacks writes, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.”
I read that on the beach. It was dusk before I put it down. That’s what I want. I want that exchange, that intercourse with the world.
His essay “My Own Life” closes with this sentiment: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
Oliver Sacks was gay. His longterm partner held on to the end. His parnter watched him die.
I want that kind of love. I want that furious and unrelenting kind of love, the kind you see in movies but better. I didn’t know I wanted that kind of love when I started dating my former lover. I would have never admitted it to him. I don’t think I knew it myself until now, until this beach. Everything, all this absurd behavior, the ring-buying and walking on the beach alone, points to a truth I wasn’t able to see before: I want a partner.
I want to date again. A shallow fixation on my body may not be the healthiest way to get back to that place, but it’s where I am now. The gym keeps away the drugs and loneliness, and that’s okay for now. Until that day comes, I’m adding more weight.