Plaisir


Becoming Beautiful
March 9, 2009, 4:25 AM
Filed under: Misery and Woe, Sex, Soul-Searching

Preface to “Becoming Beautiful”

While I’m not without my dramatic side, I’ll have you know that this blog is unacceptably emotional, not to mention atypical of me to write in the first place.  I just wanted to get that out of the way.

That being said, these feelings, at least at one point, were legitimate.  The blog was written the day after the event being discussed, so it’s rather choppy and nonsensical, but I kind of like it that way.  I was torn about even posting this for fear of judgment or even worse, sympathy.  This isn’t meant to tug at your heartstrings and make you feel bad for me.  If anything, this is for myself.  I’m hoping and praying that in a month or so, I’ll re-read this and rear my head in laughter.

I’ll also have you know that this situation has now completely passed, and I have had ample time to heal after the damage it’s done.  I am no longer the broken man who wrote this blog.  If anything, I am stronger, more resilient, and more capable than before.  I am posting this to remind myself of this time of weakness, because even though I was at such a low, there is something to be gained from taking a microscope to yourself.  You learn a lot.  And who knows?  Maybe you will too.

Becoming Beautiful

I was having a phone conversation with my little sister and, like most of our conversations, the topic of the day was men. I enjoy these conversations with my sister; while we have very different tastes in men, our approach with them is usually the same. We both tend to become involved quickly, letting our hearts do the talking while silencing our better judgment, only to get burned in the end. And as they say, misery loves company, so whenever something in a relationship goes awry, I dial her number and let the commiseration begin.

I brought up in passing that a man had recently told me I was beautiful, and at this, she giggled. “I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just strange to hear a guy call another guy beautiful I guess.” I couldn’t blame her. Even for me it was a word I wasn’t accustomed to hearing. Cute, yes. Sexy, sometimes. But beautiful? It’s a rare word in the gay community, so her confusion was understandable, and on almost all levels, relateable. “Yeah, well,” I began, “It’s nice to hear sometimes.” To this she responded, “Yeah, I guess it would be.”

Excluding friends, family, and random drunk middle-aged men I met at Switch, I have only been called beautiful twice in my life. Whether I believed the statement or not, it was still said, which, oddly enough, made it that much harder to believe. Beautiful is a trigger word. For me, it’s all I need to hear. Once said, I’m a lap dog, a trained animal, willing to do anything to please the man who delivered the word. I mean, I may throw the word “love” around like a dollar store frisbee, but the word beautiful is reserved for the special people. My mother, for example. My best friends. My entire family. Bjork. It’s an elite squadron of those who are not just aesthetically attractive, but also impactive on my life in a positive and healing way.

“So, this is the plan…we should just be friends. Nothing more. It wouldn’t work.”
“Yeah, I know…”

During the third or fourth month of mine and Dave’s relationship, he announced that he would be going to the Bahamas. Naturally, I was excited and couldn’t wait to take off school for a week of tanning, sight-seeing, and fizzy umbrella drinks. Of course, he had to reiterate that HE would be going to the Bahamas, not WE. While I was upset, I had to realize that I couldn’t even afford to pay Dave rent at the time, and I was foolish for assuming that he would have floated me the money for a ticket. Still, I was excited for him, but I also knew I would miss him, especially because we had just begun living together and I still felt like a stranger in the apartment.

Before I moved in, Dave had a roommate named Aaron. Aaron, on the surface, was likable enough, but he never formally introduced himself. In fact, whenever I was around, he, deliberately it seemed, made himself inconspicuous. It was as if he was camouflaged: sometimes I thought I might have saw something move, but usually I’d tell myself it was a trick of the light. It wasn’t until he spoke, murmuring a small, “Hey” or “What’s up?” that I would freak out, wondering where the hell he came from. Aaron was basically lint that graciously paid utilities with baby blue checks.

Aaron also had a cat named Milo. I assumed Aaron bought Milo to make up for the personality that Aaron lacked. For the first few weeks, Milo was viciously attentive, hopelessly adorable, and mind-boggling noisy. He always had something to say; it was almost as if Aaron had was using ventriloquism with Milo as his dummy to assert his authority in the house. Of course, it didn’t work, because Dave and I just saw Milo as a rowdy cat rather than a force to be reckoned with.

When Dave left, I was heartbroken. I didn’t go to school the entire week, which was not a smart move, because all that meant was that I was going to have to avoid Aaron’s passiveness and also Milo’s aggressiveness. I confined myself to our room for the majority of the week, sleeping until 4PM, escaping my dungeon for a quick bite to eat, and then sitting there for a few hours staring at the wall, wondering how many more hours I had to sleep before Dave returned.

“I have to be honest…I don’t regret what happened that night, do you?”
“I…can’t answer that.”

Dave came back right on schedule with a bag full of presents for me. They were all small and slightly hokey, but it was the sentiment that counted. After our break up, I threw away the shirt and the license plate with my name on it, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the mug that said “I ❤ My Soldier.” In fact, I still use it sometimes. You would think that after such a painful time in my life, that using it would only bring me more pain. It’s actually the opposite.

That night, Dave and I didn’t have sex. We did, however, share one of the most passionate moments of my lifetime. For the most part, our clothes stayed on, which was exciting because I knew that we were both dying to tear them off of each other. He kissed me, and I sunk into the kiss, letting him take command. He molded me, like putty, into whatever he wanted me to be in the moment, and I more than happy to oblige him. About an hour in, he stopped and looked at me with his crystalline blue eyes completely ablaze. It was the only time I ever saw that look from him. And it was right before he said, “God, you are so beautiful.”

“I meant it when I said that I think you’re a beautiful person. You are.”

To say one is beautiful is romantic. It’s beautiful in and of itself. To say someone is a beautiful person is a let down. Beautiful is all-encompassing. It’s like saying, “Wow, that car is fantastic!” as opposed to “Wow, that car is a fantastic blue!” Beauty is like talent. You’re just born with it. Saying someone is a beautiful person implies that it is a learned skill, something they have achieved, rather than something they were bestowed with.

“You told me I was beautiful. It’s not something I hear very often, you know.”

After Dave and I broke up, I became the gay man I promised myself I would never be. I was going out bar hopping at the age of 18, meeting guys, charming them, and fucking them. Then I would sit by the phone, hoping they would call, and they never did. Ignorance might not be bliss, but it’s certainly a welcome distraction from harsh reality. For a year, I was a revolving door. People would find me, come inside me, and then leave. For them, it was just another venue they yearned to explore. But what is there to explore when you’re the destination?

My relationships, or as I like to call them “jokes”, during that period were full of turmoil and disarray. Even when I was having fun and enjoying myself with someone, I couldn’t help but wonder if they would do the same as so many others had done to me. My trust in men and in people in general faltered. For a while, I lost the so-called spark that others had seen in me, and I became almost stationary. Stationary until someone found a use for me, and whether it was awful or painful, whether they were ugly or boring, I was grateful for the attention. I was glad that someone, if even just for an hour, had found use for my body, which was becoming less of a body and more like a piece of furniture you’d find at a rummage sale.

“That’s like that hat you were wearing when I saw you.”
“What?”
“When I first saw you. You were wearing a hat just like that.”
“You remember that?”

In March of last year, for some unexplained reason, I bought a fedora. It wasn’t expensive, or even anything special, but it made me feel proud, powerful, almost. It was black and white with a dangerously low brim that I would tilt to cover my face like I was a mobster carrying a venomous secret. When I was at ASQ, the ladies all called it my “pimp hat.” I embraced the title graciously, since even pimps are regarded highly to some, even if it is just their whores.

Shortly after buying it, my roommate Brittney asked me if I wanted to go to the Pancake House with her and our other roommate Jessie. I decided to go, donning my new outfit, fedora and all. My other friend and old roommate Hannah also worked there, and when we sat in her section, she was elated that we had decided to visit. A few minutes into my conversation with Hannah, and something else caught my attention, and it wasn’t the Canadian bacon.

A man walked by across the room. Usually when I see an attractive man, I get all flustered and excited. But this was a different feeling. A wrenching, sinking pain. The pain, however, only catalyzed my interested in him, as did his smile, which was almost too breathtaking to handle. Finally, I snapped my eyes back to Hannah, “Hannah…who…who is that?”

The man and I didn’t talk or see each other for a year after that. And then as what I like to call “rigged chance” would have it, we ended up meeting again and befriending each other.

“Are you still with him?”
“Yeah…but…C.J. I don’t want to be.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything unless you end things with him.”

The friendship continued, flourished even. I began to realize that not only was he stunning and sexy, but he was funny, charismatic, genuine, and a great conversationalist. I was falling for him, but of course, there were strings attached.

“I’m not looking for anything serious. I just want to spend time with you.”

I ended up telling him my feelings for him at the end of December, after we had hung out a few more times. Of course, I was completely drunk, but I was also curiously lucid: the conversation lasted for two hours, no tears, no hurt feelings. Just mature conversation. I felt better, and we were going to remain friends.

“When we had that conversation, I thought that was my closure.”

Closure is not real. You tell yourself that you talked and “got closure.” Nothing is ever finished. People walk into your life, and they walk out. But more than likely, they’ll walk right back in again, at the worst moment, looming over your head, punishing you with remembrance, with feelings, with emotions. Closure is what we call the end of a chapter. Death is the end of the book. I suggest not confusing the two.

“I’m going to be giving you so much attention in a few minutes.”

I’m incredibly naive, and apparently, easy to please. Drop a few lines on me, and I’ll become soft and malleable in any situation. When he and I had started hanging out more, this was one of the many messages I had received that made me malleable. But this one stood out in my head. Maybe because he realized I wasn’t really enjoying myself where we were. Or maybe because he was anxious to be with me. Regardless, I had intended on keeping this text no matter what, because I was amazed at the sweet perception of it. But a week later, I deleted it.

“Can I…try something?”
“Sure.”

And he did. Our first kiss was incredible. Wonderful. Exactly how I thought it would be.

“I didn’t come here for this. I just wanted to spend time with you. You’re so smart and sexy and beautiful.”

Beautiful.

We awoke the next morning. He fully intact, me ripped to pieces. What could I have done? I saw that same look in his eye as I did with Dave. Or maybe it wasn’t the same. But he still said it. And I wanted to believe him. So I forgot my sanity and my intelligence and everything I knew about the situation. I suddenly didn’t care. Now I was living with the reality of my decision.

“I’ve had guys tell me that they could see themselves spending the rest of their lives with me.”
“Well, don’t worry, I don’t think that.”
“I know.”
“I’m not like all the rest of them, you know.”
“I know.”
“I think you’re an amazing person.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Well, I do, I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t stand to be without him. It wasn’t that I wanted to even be with him. But to hear the word and not have the option was too much to bear. He may have said I was, but did he have any idea what he was saying? Beautiful. To him, it was just another word.

Him: “I’m sorry, but, I’m getting tired.”
Me: “No, it’s fine. I get it.”
Him: “But we’re not done talking about this.”
Me: “No. We aren’t.”
Him: “Alright.”
Me: “You’re going to be fine.”
Him: “I know. We both will.”
Me: “That’s right, we will.”

I left the car, feeling like the right decision was made, and in the end, it was. But the emotions were stabbing at my eyes, burning my retinas, and as soon as I entered the house, I began to sob uncontrollably. It had been such a long, drawn out process. So full of hopes and texts and closures and dinners and laughs…and it amounted to what? One night. One night, and I still have no idea what to make of it.

(I almost excluded this next part from the blog. I felt that this was almost too personal, that it was something that I never wanted anyone to know I did. But I thought about it. Yes, it was humiliating. Yes, I’m ashamed. But I still did it. And talking about it can only help.)

Later that night, I laid on my bed and began to take my clothes off, slowly. My shirt, followed by my shoes, socks, pants, and finally my underwear. I stopped for a moment, letting the hot tears roll down my cheeks and onto the pillow. And then, gently, I touched myself. Within minutes, I was pleasuring myself. Screen shots of the week before were flashing through my head.

“Can I try something?”
“Do you want to go to your room?”
“You’ll be wearing…just…your…tie.”
“Ohh, CJ…”

I orgasmed. I laid back again, taking in the scene, my body. I examined the crevices and imperfections. The twirly and straight hairs that peppered my chest and stomach. The blemishes on my arm, the scars on my thigh. And just like that, I began to cry again. I didn’t cry for him. I didn’t cry for anyone. I cried because I was beautiful. In that moment, even with everything that had happened, I was still beautiful.

“You’re so smart and sexy and beautiful.”

Now I believe him. I just can’t see why he didn’t want it. I can’t see why nobody does.

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The Resolution To End All Resolutions
January 9, 2009, 7:42 AM
Filed under: New Beginnings, Sex, Soul-Searching

R.I.P. 2008, we barely knew ye.  I say that with complete conviction too: I don’t understand how a year can manage to fly by almost entirely unnoticed, but I suppose with someone like me who can search for their keys for twenty minutes only to realize they’re in your pocket, I shouldn’t be that surprised either.  

A new year may have begun, but I guess you could say I’m less than overjoyed.  There’s a lot I’d do differently about last year, of course, but the hurdles of this new year are daunting to say the least.  Good thing I bought my Studs and Spurs calendar to help me through it, the August man is so naughty!

The worst part about the new year is a question.  It’s a question everyone asks, because everyone wants to know the answer.  Well, actually, they don’t, they just ask in hopes of the same rebuttal question so they can show off their self-absorbed and high society demeanor they learned from watching The Clique (side note, Tyra Banks must be dismantled somehow, someway).  It’s the question I fear every year, because even if I have an answer, both me and the person I relay it to know that I have no intention on following through with it.  It’s that one small shred of hope that people desperately cling to as they make feeble and shallow attempts to reinvent themselves.  It’s the new year’s resolution.

Forgive me for being pessimistic, and perhaps even overly judgemental, but I can tell you that from experience, claiming that you will “loose 30 pounds by summer so you can fit into that new bikini” is, to me at least, naive.  And to say that you’ll quit smoking or stop drinking on January 1st is almost a sell-out.  Why pick the new year?  Since when did a day have to have symbolism to be able to accomplish something on it?

It’s also possible that I’m just incredibly bitter about the fact that most, if not all, of my new years resolutions have all come to a screeching halt.  If I said I wouldn’t eat any more McDonalds, I was scarfing down a Big Mac a week later.  If I said no more casual sex, I was hailing a cab on Wisconsin avenue with my underwear in my back pocket in less than a month.  Sooner or later, I succumb to the temptations that I despise, maybe because they’re familiar, or maybe because I really don’t despise them as much as I think.

This year, my resolution was to not have a resolution, but soon after I decided that the decision was both cliche and, at the same time, too rebellious.  When I was talking to Vynnie about the new year, it had already passed.  It was last Thursday, around four in the morning, and we were having a party the very next day.  So, naturally, we got on to the topic of who would be attending, who would being wearing who, etcetera.  Somehow the conversation shifted from regular chit chat, to heavy and depressing content, the kind that’s perfect for that time of day.  

“You know C.J., I think maybe we should just think about ourselves this year.  But not in a bad way.”

The smoke from my cigarette was in my eye, so I rubbed them and let her finish the statement, since I didn’t really understand the first half.

“I mean…I’ve always let things just…happen to me, you know?  Sometimes I feel like I’m just not in the drivers seat and…I don’t really know how we put this into a resolution but…what’s the best way to say you don’t want to feel like you’re not being yourself anymore?  And that you’re fed up with the way people treat you?  And fed up with…”

“Okay, hang on,” I stopped her, looked away for a second, only to see Jackie’s amber eyes glowing back at me through the smoke.  “Respect.  That’s all.  We’ll just demand respect.  Respect for ourselves.  After all, we deserve it, right?”

I half expected her to laugh and say it was a lame idea and half expected her to cheer.  What I got was a nice combination.  She nodded, smirked, and said, “I think that’s a great idea.”

So we wrote it on our bulletin board, for all to see: “Respect 2009: You’re Worth It.”  I sighed off my tensions and smiled.  This was going to be a good thing.

Except for that whole thing about me not being able to follow through with resolutions.

The next day was the party, and Vynnie had spent most of the morning cleaning and tidying up for the guests, while I proceeded to pass out on the couch, which was probably better anyway, because I would have just gotten in the way.  I woke up around 4 to find the place freakishly spotless, complete with spit-shiny floors and a pile of clean dishes that looked like it’d fall over with even the slightest disturbance.  I grinned, “Hey!  Can’t wait for tonight!  And don’t forget…”  “Respect!  Got it.” She laughed.

The worrisome thing about this party was that we just had one on Wednesday for the new year, so we, Vynnie especially, assumed there would probably be a smaller turnout.  Before the party started, I brought over my boyfriend to talk to him, and I all I kept thinking about was that damn word: respect.  Did he respect me?  Yes, he did, excluding the snide comment about the Mountain Dew.  But did he respect himself?  For the most part, no.  So there I was, faced with another question: am I keeping this respect to myself, or is it my duty to convert others?

After he left, my decision was clear, mostly because the talk didn’t ease any of my thoughts.  I called him and told him that I liked him very much, but that I needed to sort things out and work on myself before I could be in a relationship.  He agreed, and the problem was solved.  That’s one way to say it, but another way…well, I guess you could say it was just beginning.

At 9, Gloria, Vynnie, and I were sitting around the old dining room table smoking cigarettes, sipping wine, and telling stories.  At 10, two more people showed up.  At 12, a few more.  If I remember correctly, the attendance was a whopping nine, an enormous blow to the ego for both Vynnie and myself, but that didn’t stop me from getting completely hammered.  Nothing ever does.

At around 2, I was feeling conflicted about the break-up, and I was really craving mashed potatoes.  I didn’t know what would help me feel better, or even if there was a cure-all, with the exclusion of time, of course.  I decided that hipocrisy is always the best policy, and with a few keystrokes, I was the old C.J. for one horrible and oddly lonely evening.

His name was Zac.  He was cute, more than cute actually, but not what I would consider hot.  He was an actor from New York who was in town to do a show.  He had a fantastic smile and during the very short conversation that we had, I also realized he wasn’t as boring as poured concrete.  All of these elements mixed with alcohol and a dash of confusion, and before I knew it I was calling myself a cab to pay this Zac a visit.

Vynnie’s severity about the situation caught me off guard.  “I don’t approve, C.J.  What if you get murdered?”  I laughed, “People don’t get murdered at the Hyatt, sweetie.  Maybe abused or raped, but never murdered.”  She scoffed, “I really don’t think you should go.”  My eyes met with hers, and they were full of both anger and genuine worry.  I scratched my head, “Here…this is his number,” I wrote it on the back of a receipt, “I’ll call you as soon as I get there, alright?”  This seemed to soothe her slightly, but I could still tell she wasn’t sure of the situation even when the cab arrived.

On the cab ride there, I was still pretty inebriated, so I sort of laughed when I first heard my cab driver speak since his accent was so thick.  I learned that his name was Bo, and that he was originally from Poland.  It was dark, but I think he was missing three teeth, and his newsboy hat on his head had certainly seen better days.  But he spoke with such gusto, with such ardor, that I quickly forgot about all of these minor imperfections.  We talked about weather, about relationships, about money, about families…all in the span of 15 minutes.  And when I got out of the car, he said something so profound and yet so simple to me: “C.J., you, I think, you will be alright.”  I smiled and, even though I couldn’t afford it, tipped him 50% for the insightful comment.

When I got inside, I immediately felt regret for even coming, and thought it better to just get back in the cab and cry on Bo’s shoulder.  The concierge was eyeing me as if I was a convicted felon, as I paced up and down in zig-zaggy lines, trying to decide what I really wanted to do.  I thought back to all of those times in 2008 and how they made me feel.  The pleasure.  The sadness.  The pain.  The sensation.  In the end, as it always is with me, sin triumphed over virtue, and I found my way to the elevator, wondering why I was still doing this when all I wanted to do was sit on the floor and cry.

Zac was a gracious one-night stand host.  He didn’t offer out too much information and spoke almost completely in circles, which only made sense because he didn’t want me to know anything about him.  His charisma could induce vomit and his laugh was that of a baby meerkat, but above all else, he was attractive, and in any case, I was here to get something done, so I figured I should stop picking him apart and just get it over with.

After we had finished, I hoped that I would achieve some clarity.  I imagined myself going, “Glad I got that out of my system, time to go!” or “Never doing that again, guess I learned my lesson.”  But instead, I felt even more conflicted.  I searched my coat pocket for a cigarette and huffed.  He rose from the tangled sheets, “What’s up?”  I rolled my eyes, “Stupid me forgot a lighter at home.  I’m a terrible smoker.”  He chuckled, “Looks like they’re gonna revoke your license!”

See what I mean?

I went down at 4:30 to ask the concierge for a lighter or matches or something, but mostly I just wanted to get out of that room and away from Zac.  I approached the counter, reeking of booze and lubricant.  “Excuse me, do you happen to have, you know, matches or a lighter?”

He shook his head, “This is a non-smoking facility, sir.”

I paused. “Right, well, I’m not going to light up in the bathroom, honest, I just want to go outside for a cigarette.”

He asserted his so-called entry-level authority and swelled up like a robin. “I apologize, but we don’t even have matches in the hotel anymore.  I can’t help you.”

I glared at him suspiciously, “Then…how do you light those candles?”  I pointed to a row of candles to the right of me.

He looked back at me, stoned-faced, yet in his eyes he was dumbfounded.  Incredulously, I laughed at him and went back up to the room.

The next morning, I got a rude awakening.  A dry mouth, a headache, and a man next to me who literally said the phrase, “Ready for Round 2?”  The stupidity of my decision the previous night was finally sinking in, so I told him I was late for a rehearsal, packed my things, called a cab, and walked out of the hotel with whatever small pieces of dignity I could carry in one hand.

On the ride home, I kept thinking of my talk with Vynnie.  “Respect, you’re worth it…” ‘Am I?’ I wondered, ‘Or do I have yet to earn that?  Is it possible that I’ve made so many mistakes that I can’t demand respect from other people if I’m having trouble respecting myself?’  I still don’t have the answer to this question, but it’s another one of those new years questions that’s bugging me, mostly because it’s so specific.

When I got back, I told Vynnie about the experience.  She appeared indifferent, but I could tell she was somewhat disappointed.  “How was it?” she asked.  I pursed my lips, “Well, the sex was good, but, uh, that’s about all.” She frowned, “So, how…how do you feel?”  I shrugged.  It was the only honest answer I could give her.

While yet another resolution goes down the toilet, I am somewhat confident that my new one will not only be easy, but therapeutic as well.  I consider it the resolution to end all resolutions.  I’ve decided that the only way to be able to respect myself is to read myself, candidly, openly, and without shame.  To make no apologies for my actions and to view all of them as an experience, maybe not a good one, but an experience.  That is, after all, the entire point of this blog.  And this way, I hope that I can see myself for what I truly am, with no bias and no slant, so I can truly begin to find answer to that question: am I worth the respect I wish to achieve?

I really hope Bo was right.



The Ol’ Switcharoo
November 6, 2008, 5:51 PM
Filed under: Adolescence, Soul-Searching, Word Origins

I remember learning about etymology my senior year of high school.  It was one of the main focuses of a short but hellish regimen during my AP English course, complete with a little red book called “Word Power.”  Every week we’d have a test on new set of words, what they meant, and whether they were Greek or Latin or any other demographic that was bold enough to create language.  I’ve retained almost none of the information, with the exception of “misogynist,” which is, ultimately, a woman hater.  “Word Power” gave me no power like the title suggests, just a mounting feeling of anxiety, trying to remember what the difference between the suffixes “phone” and “phony” was.

There’s a lot in a word, yes, but in a name?  In a name there is life, lives even.  A name is like your definition.  I’ve often thought of the first date where the guy leans over the terrycloth table and says to me, “So…tell me all about yourself.”  I simply respond, “C.J.”, and he nods knowingly, having me all figured out.  Think about it: when you’re discussing a friend and you say their name, it isn’t just a noun.  It’s a verb, a preposition, and, most importantly, an adjective.

It’s borderline creepy to think that about a year ago this time my own definition was completely different.  In September 2007, I was lying on my futon eating bread and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, distraught over my recent break up with Dave, my ex-boyfriend who I dated for a year and lived with.  I had become lackadaisical and sloth-like because of my depression, and needed to do something severe to put my life back on track.  Post break-up, I moved into an attic in the Riverwest area for $300 a month.  It was all I could afford, and the only option I had with the increased pressure to leave my current living situation.  I remember discussing it with my mom, two weeks after I had moved in.

“Your place is on Meinecke, right?  Meinecke and what?”

Having only lived there for two weeks myself, I wasn’t too sure.  So I told her I couldn’t remember.

“Well, did you know that a Jimmy John’s driver was shot and killed in that area?  On Fratney?”  I looked up to see that I was walking down Meinecke and Fratney.  I picked up my pace.  “The guys had nothing against him, they just wanted his money…$25 dollars, they shot that man for gas money.  Can you believe it?  Of course, this was a few months ago, I think, but still, you ought to be careful.”

I didn’t sleep too well that night.  I hated how everything had went from Cinderella post-Royal Ball to Cinderalla pre-Royal Ball, all in a week or so.  Last Wednesday,  I was living with my prince in a freshly painted apartment with a cute, yet terribly smelly rabbit named Izzy.  Now?  I was surviving in a storage room that had no heat but approximately five thousand unnamed spiders.  At least I could pass the time by naming them, but since I took to killing bugs rather than christening them, that was starting to look more like a miniature bloodbath as opposed to an afternoon activity.

As I was lying there, attempting to make sense of the static on the T.V., I began to think about my own etymology.  What did I mean to others?  What did I mean to myself?  And if I didn’t like the answers, what would I do to change it?  I turned the volume on the T.V. to find out that the hazy static was actually Dr. Phil discussing a “large” age gap in a relationship, saying in his matter-of-fact Southern drawl, “It’s just fundamentally wrong!”  The crowd affirmed that it was with an uproar of applause, but I, the viewer, snorted.  Dr. Phil, to me at least, is fundamentally boring, so I opted for brief daydreaming rather than listening.

During elementary school, I never had a nickname, but that was due partially to the fact that I was invisible.  I was invisible, of course, until I did something that drew unwanted attention to myself, such as using a pink gel pen or mugging a kid on the playground for a holographic Charizard card.  When these outrageous events happened, I was briefly acknowledged, scorned, and hung out to dry, leaving the other children to wait for the time I would strike again.  Middle school I was finally noticed, but not as me, as someone else, which for all intensive purposes is an improvement.  A random student had called out to me, but it wasn’t my name; it wasn’t even close.  “Hey…Emerson!”  She had confused me with another of my peers who I shared a science class with.  I wasn’t upset or confused at the mix-up.  If anything, I was relieved that, even though people still didn’t see ME, I wasn’t completely transparent.

I began to collect a small group of friends, most of who probably felt like outcasts themselves.  After my Emerson nickname lost it’s luster, my friends were elated to find that when I’m embarrassed or shy (which was a good 95% of the time those days), my ears turn red.  The more I’m embarrased, the more red they become: colors range from a hushed rose to crimson.  The clever nickname I received because of this was Elmo, which, looking back, doesn’t make much sense.  I mean, I hadn’t watched Sesame Street since I could count to ten all by myself, but I don’t remember Elmo’s ears getting red when he was nervous or embarrassed.  I don’t even remember Elmo having ears.

Regardless, the name stuck for a good two years, but was sometimes replaced by a cleverly synthesized “Elmoson,” the juggernaut that haunted me for my entire 8th grade life.  The worst part was that I responded to it.  If you shouted the name down the hall, I’d come running like a whipped lap dog, and I hated myself for it, for Elmoson was not me.  It was just a compilation of another student and a shaggy red Muppet. 

By the time I became a high-school student, the once tight group that called me Elmoson had somewhat evaporated, and I was back at square one.  The invisibility in elementary school was tolerable, but high school was all about being seen, and on a good day I was almost as opaque as a Martha Stewart Living sheer window curtain.  To add insult to injury, the teachers barely knew my name, and made only a slight effort to learn it, leaving me, once again, alone and undefined.

When I came out my sophomore year, I had a new nickname that, while fitting, was a little unsettling.  I was now “The Gay Kid.”  The only out student at my high school, I was either ridiculed or put under a microscope like some sort of extraterrestrial organism:

“So…like, how do you decide which one’s the man?”

Easy, he’s the one who pays for things.  Next?

“How did your parents take it?”

Well, seeing as my mother used to get up at 6 AM with me to watch My Little Pony, I can’t imagine this shook her to her core.

On and on the questions went, and I’d answer them, excited to share my “new personality” with anyone who was interested.  But I can’t help but wonder how they’d feel if I asked them the same questions.  I suppose that’s the unexposed perk of normalcy: none of the really important questions pertain to you, because we already know exactly what you are.

Coming up on junior year, I had ditched the “Grandfather’s Closet-chic” look and gone more mainstream.  I started to shop at all the stores that encouraged teen sex appeal and just made you want to surf: Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, Hollister.  Oddly enough, I bought those clothes to feel like I belonged, but in the end, I didn’t even belong in the clothes.  I was, and I hate to say it, but I have to…it’s like ripping off a bandaid, a grade-A poseur.  It was a point where I still didn’t know my definition, and I was hoping that through the mirage of popularity, it would come to me one night in a dream.

Senior year, I figured, was my time to shine.  I wanted to finish my high school career with dignity, go out with a bang, and hopefully bring my grades up.  I’d argue that I achieved two of the goals with diligent mediocrity, the third goal, finishing with dignity, blew completely apart the minute I started my first long term relationship.  I met Dave because I was a terrible math student, and he had explained that he was an engineer at UWM, and was very good at math.  I knew he was gay, but in all honesty, I hadn’t expected much when we decided to meet at Starbucks for a tutoring session.  I spent the majority of the hour and half poo-pooing algebra and praising my acting skills to the point of revulsion.  Dave seemed to be slightly bothered by my unwillingness to learn, so half-way through, he gave up and talked instead.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

The reason this relationship caused such an enormous miscarriage on the dignity front was because Dave was older than me.  Much older.  At the time, I was a cheeky 17 year old, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just waiting to create my own personal future.  Dave was 32 (to be fair, he told me he was 28 until about three months into our relationship), a college student and someone who was looking to for the finality of a monogomous relationship, something I found I could only provide for so long.

As it goes, high school kids are absolutely brutal and have almost no consideration for other people’s feelings.  This isn’t bitterness speaking, it’s scientific fact.  I was the same way, so I don’t know how I was surprised when I was given the cold shoulder by the leviathan that was the student body.  I had gone from hero to zero in four months flat.  I traded in my Abercrombie apparel for mismatched t-shirts and sweatpants, moving from “Fake Prep-chic” to “Overworked Babysitter-chic.”  I did still have friends, but it was nothing compared to the popularity I’d been given during my junior year.  I was losing my visibility, and I was losing it at an alarming rate.

After high school, I moved with Dave to the East Side.  It wasn’t really my choice, but I went with it, thinking the change would do me some good.  It strained our relationship, mostly because I wasn’t having any fun being stuck in the apartment all day with nothing to do but paint the walls or blow dust around the kitchen floor.  It wasn’t all bad though, and there were many days where we were very happy, sickeningly happy even.  Some nights, I would lie awake and think to myself, “This is where I belong.  This is who I am.”

About three months later, there I was…lying on the couch, ignoring Dr. Phil’s all-too-familiar view on my past relationship, and jamming my knife back into the tub of margarine.  I was Elmo, I was Elmoson, I was the Gay Kid, I was the Kid Who’s Dating An Old Guy.  And now I was Chris.  Chris in the attic with the split top wheat and the barely working T.V.  ‘This can’t be it for me,’ I thought, ‘I deserve another shot.’  But how to get there?  What to do first?  To re-invent myself would be a daunting task, to say the least, but it was, at this point, necessary.  I wanted to be seen, to be heard, to be bold and forward and intelligent and sexy and everything I imagined I was.  All of these things I would finally be.  But…how?

I thought back to Word Power.  I remembered the etymology, the origin of a word…misogynist, even.  And then it hit me.  I would change my meaning my definition by changing my name.  Not a drastic change, but a simple one.  Something that exuded confidence, youth, and happiness.  Something that embodied my hopes and gave me the strength to move forward as a new individual in a new life.  The answer was simple.  So the following week, I decided to test it.

As I walked down Oakland Avenue, I wasn’t nervous at all.  I was excited, not only to see what could be my new place, but also to begin again.  I walked up the cement stairs to the door and rang the doorbell.  When one of the girls answered the door, she introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Brittney.  You must be…?”

I smiled.  In one clarifying breath, I released my past into the autumn air, and declared myself, “C.J.  I’m C.J.”

And just like that, I walked through the door, and into my new life as the person that I was struggling so hard to be, all these years.