On this day, you meander the sidewalks outside your gym; your art studio; your shared apartment; the cement that sits at the entrance to your favorite bar, ruminating on the notion of love.
You pass the sun-bathed cafe where you and your “almost someone” macerated artisanal scones at and huddled around one another’s iPhones, watching YouTube videos of clumsy cats. You notice a carousel of humanity — clasped palms, vanilla kisses, warm gazes, delicate gesticulations — around every urban bend. You’re right: you can’t get off this spin. It’s a quarter-after-six at twilight, prime time for date night.
You grow cynical (downhearted and despondent) at the set of these scenes, knowing that of the relational aces dealt in front of you, you’re left clutching a Jolly Joker. The door to your room slams with a labored sway; that black Eddie Bauer backpack seems heavier, falls louder, though its contents remain unchanged. Your phone, like wells of unpolished optimism, are all but empty at 5 percent. Nevertheless, you risk an impromptu iOS shut-down, hovering both thumbs over their various social media accounts: I just want to see them… and prove to myself that they’re worse off than I am and maybe that they’re thinking of me and perhaps that they found someone else and that they regret leaving in an iMessage.
But! You don’t depress the left one, opting not to descend down a rabbit hole of what-ifs and wishful musings; you lock your phone with the right one rather, a last-minute episode of celebrated self-control. As if God (Oprah) himself (herself) guided the action. You cry. A shot of Jameson. Repeat. The dim pale of the moon fades behind dense clouds. It’s two-in-the-morning — and you’re still alone, the smell of spilled dark liquor piercing your Target-bought sheets. You dream. Featherbrained, face and teeth dingy. Rise. An expansive, bright star cuts through thick Bay Area fog. All that passed three days ago; the same, too, happened again some seventeen days prior; and it’s now Valentine’s Day. Alas, you worry about another lapse of self-compassion and healing.
Presently, you’ll query if you’ll ever glow again as you did in August. Yet you will. Remember when you nursed that betta back to health, the one you found shelved at an Upstate New York Petsmart, obviously forgotten about? The labyrinth fish the checkout clerk said to you in a heavy Yankee accent “he’s gray and dull, I don’t think he’s going to make it, so you can have him” when you went to pay? Jerry’s tailfin plumed with the most vivid spectrum of neons after several months of persistence. Like Jerry’s scaled flipper, you’ll, also, radiate in well-tended time.
At some hour today, you’ll hear your subconscious echo the last things they said to you — I love you; go fuck yourself; let’s just be friends; keep the jacket; I’m sorry I gave your best friend a blow job. It’s times like these you engage in self-flogging. Mentally, you’ll run this spiked hamster wheel for hours, sometimes days, sans pause. You’re used to it, which makes it that much worrying to the functional, moderately rational, reptilian portion of your brain still on-line in the midst of these moments. You’ll be OK. Because you’re maturing, getting better at stepping off this cycle of self-harm. And you’ve grown to appreciate the still, contentful stops whenever you do embrace yourself with compassion.
You’ve managed to cultivate a litany of queerdos and kindreds who’ll buoy your self-worth and ebbing levels of satisfaction. That, that alone is worth a tender pat on the back.
Today is soundtracked by the post-breakup anthems of the brokenhearted and chronically single. For you, that means Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” — a melancholic tale of failed love, fall foliage, and misplaced winter wear — will play ad nauseam. It harps on tangible affections, the type you oh-so adore, but, more specifically, the five-minute-song rubs raw at your Achilles Heel: a proclivity to remember everything, particularly the bad bits, “all too well.” You’d like to “be your old self again,” but you’re “still trying to find it.” How you can “picture it, after all these days”; You’re “OK,” though far from “fine at all.”
Gentlefolk would tell you to remove these past memories like broken glass from your barefoot.
And you should, most of them, if you’re being frank. You shouldn’t fawn over a presently married man. The narcissist you briefly dated at twenty-four added you on Linkedin, three years after ghosting you. Another moved to Costa Rica sometime later cursing you out on 4th Street in Austin. Yes, thee: leave that synaptic rubbish behind. It neither serves you well anymore nor has ever assisted you. Still, don’t divorce yourself from the happiness you felt and the lessons you learned during those bouts of desire, either. Grant yourself the freedom to sift through this compostable, cerebral waste — thoroughly. Even when the unearthed realities are “casually cruel” in their blatant honesties.
Today — Valentine’s Day — you’ll allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the full spectrum of human emotions. You’ll grow in future graces, locate solace in past shadows. You’ll, without fail, cringe and bemoan instances of public affection and episodes of reciprocated passion. Try not to… at least for too long. Go on a run, but maybe not eight miles; six is plenty. Indulge in some chocolate candy, even though it’ll kick you out of ketosis.
Above all, you, just remember that you’re better than you were yesterday. And the day before that, especially a year or so ago.
// Illustration by Alicia Espinoza