Men

Feet pounding the pavement. Heart racing fast, about to burst. Because so much is on the line. Your last chance to see him, your last chance to convince him. Make him stay.

If only you could reach the station in time. Time enough to catch that train, to catch him and let loose everything that's been festering inside you and aching for release. Please—I love you—Give me a chance—Give us a chance.

But you're always late.

You run out of breath halfway, your thighs screaming. You try pushing through the pain, mind over matter, memory of him in your head. Seeing the minutes slip away almost makes you want to crumple and cry. Fuck cardio.

7 minutes away from the train leaving. If only you could push through. You see the old familiar bridge before you, the bridge the two of you had crossed under the blazing lights in cold autumn, months ago: that night when you gazed into his eyes in the bar, said the cheesiest line in the world, and found only sweetness and laughter in those eyes. You knew bliss. You know he felt it too.

4 minutes away. If you could only sprint across this bridge to catch that train before it leaves.

But the resolve cracks there. You run out of it. Whatever it was you were tapping. Confidence, desperation, love, desire, hurt, defiance. It all gives way to numbness and knowing: you've already failed.

He would've made time, if he really cared to. He would've shown love, if he really meant it. He wouldn't have pushed this ultimatum on you, if he meant for anything but this. You would've found a way already, to make all of this work out, if ever it existed. He was never yours to have. He's given up on loving you already.

The bubble pops. The bliss is gone. You cease running, halfway across the bridge. You've lost it. You've lost him.

You reach the station a minute after the train departs, could've caught it if you had only tried. The numbness fades, gives way to the anxiety, gives way to the sorrow of knowing you gave up too, so close to making it.

It comes to you in a moment you'd never expect it to. In a place so far from home, over coffee on a warm sunny evening in the square with her.

She says she doesn't have plans for the future. Because she never expected to live past thirty. She feels too little and yet too much. Przebodźcowanie. To be overwhelmed with so much feeling you feel nothing. When a loved one dies. When heartbreak falls.

And just like that, you exhume the memory of him: The nothing you felt when you first heard. The nothingness that became perplexed annoyance at the funeral. That became collective melancholy at the party to celebrate a life cut down before its prime. That became nothingness again even as you read his words a dozen times over: An act of compassion in this ridiculous letter written months before the end, meaning something, surely.

But you feel simmering indifference for a year. Forgetting.

The indifference that becomes the pang of sorrow when you remember a year later. The absence you'd forgotten. He hopped off your train without explanation.

The pang that tumbles into true melancholy a year on: When you read his words and remember not just the loss of him, but the person that he was. Everything you admired of him, that zeal and wonder.

But in relating this to her: this story of the end of his life and this life after death—and the words he wrote you—You feel so cold now. Cold despite the sun, despite the company, despite home being continents away.

Because this melancholy blurs into the regret and anger and confusion of the now. When the words he wrote you are all you have left. When what was once him has become a blur of things you can barely remember. Was he kind? Was he compassionate? He must have been.

You unearth the letter for her. It's still on your cloud. He wrote you a recommendation to his university, condemning it for refusing to take you for a place. The stream of words is as manic as it is wonderful, a stream of praise of your being, it's so sincere you could hear him rant it. You never did send it on.

And she tells you it's beautiful. And in reading it with her, you remember some of how he was. Endlessly passionate, endlessly full of wonder. His mania.

Przebodźcowanie. What a beautiful word. You know how she feels. You know what it means to feel too much, and yet not enough. And what you both fear underneath. And you cannot accept not having plans after thirty; not from her.

No, she isn't him. Not like him at all. It's wrong to draw lessons from the past like this. And yet you do, because here, you are kindred in a feeling. You can't bear the thought of her not prospering. Not well.

You fumble with your phone, trying to see if Messenger allows you to make plans in ten years' time. It doesn't. You have to use Google instead. And thus you announce: We're meeting in ten years for coffee.

The two of you laugh. You'll call her in ten years: 'Urgh, she'd better be dead if she isn't picking up'. More laughter, before arguing over the place. Not New York. (Not here either) Vienna. Vienna! We will meet in Vienna!

The laughter lingers in you as you walk home. As does the cold: As you read that letter on that walk home and remember how much you've forgotten.

If the fever breaks What remains? Something more than this. Something more than the pain. Something more than him, or him, or him. When the fever breaks.

Everything else could fall into dust in the face of this spark.

That night, when you brought him home from the airport at 3AM. Him on his layover, seeking refuge for his nights here in this foreign land. When you lay down together in the same bed, and woke to his wanting.

Him wanting you. Not you. Your body.

You saying no. Not like this.

His indifference. What is indifference but cruelty. Indifference in the face of someone beholden.

Not beholden in that romantic way you write about so often. Beholden because he's bigger than you. Stronger than you. Because the question wasn't truly a question at all.

The first no comes as a whisper. Because you can't believe this is happening. The second no comes a little louder. No. Louder, loud enough that he has to muffle your words with his hand.

That indifference again: The motions are nothing to him. You are just a smallness. A nothingness.

I screamed.

Resist. Buck. Struggle. Whatever it takes, even though he's bigger. Even though you're helpless. Until a momentary lapse—you break free.

You scream at him. Every insult, every venomous word, but nothing could give voice to the betrayal. This is what you gave me for my refuge.

He doesn't understand. Not a monster, but a man, who doesn't understand.

He doesn't understand why you scream at him. Why you pace the room around him now, why your body trembles. Why you ask him to leave.

Don't throw me out—he says, not understanding, but seeing—Come on. It's a foreign city, he says, he doesn't know anyone here.

I don't care. Leave. Get out. Fuck off.

At least give me your wifi password so I can fucking sort something out— So much indifference.

He stands over you, no, towers over. But you do not relent. You cannot relent. If you relent now, you are undone. You are nothing. You are crap, absolute crap and shit and nothing and fuck you, you raped me and you're asking me for my fucking Wifi.

Get the fuck out of my house.

He does, surprising you as you quake and shiver walking him to the door. Letting him free.

Your brother comes out now, woken up by the sound. Sees you in your state, holds you as you cry and break down, whatever semblance of anything gone with him. Your brother calls the police.

And thus begins that spiral. The policeman and policewoman. Doubting you. The unspoken words in every action, how could a man even be raped? Treating this like nothing. Nothing. Indifference to your pain. This is nothing at all. How much pain must a woman see to feel this nothing? Or is she incapable of seeing your pain—your crying, your shivering, your screaming—as that.

More policemen. Disgusting examinations. They fucking ask you to invite him back. That woman, that disgusting inspector, asks you to invite him back with a smile.

No. You can't be serious. No. I'm not doing that.

More policemen. Photographs taken. But no evidence taken—Even today, in a corner of your house, those clothes remain, evidence never to be taken—You're grilled by policemen from a sexual crimes unit. They specialise in this. But fuck, you couldn't find an ounce of empathy between them. Nothing but doubt and indifference.

Nothing but men and women in a suit and uniform, looking down at you. Your smallness. Your still-half-nakedness. Your shame. Your weakness, tears and all. Men and women with the power to, but choosing not to.

You could make this all go away, they say. Give a statement: Say that a call was made to the police, and that you do not wish for the matter to be pursued further.

Hours of screaming, hours of wailing, hours of begging and pleading, believe me, please believe. Please, I'm a man, I'm your countryman, I'm a human. Please. It all comes to this:

You sign, because they don't believe you. Sign the statement to make it go away.

But it doesn't go away. You cry, in that shower, as the running water refuses to take the shame away. You break things. You regret, you faltered. You let him leave. You became that smallness. That nothingness. That indifference, to your own wound.

The cold water shocks you. His indifference has become yours.

You call them back. Before the sun had even set on this day. Demand the case be opened. Struggle with the man in the uniform at the station who doesn't see the point in it. Struggle with the woman at the hospital, who doesn't understand how to do a rape kit on a man. Struggle with that fucking woman inspector, who refuses to understand.

Struggle with the authorities for months, struggle with men in uniform for months, struggle upon struggle. In the office of lawyers, in the office of your trauma therapist, in the room you were raped in, staring at the ceiling that looked down at you while it happened.

Until it all falls into dust and nothingness. Until the police stop calling. Until you've reached the office of the attorney-general and he dismisses it all. Until your resistance erodes to nothing.

Everything falls into dust, to be forgotten.

By your friends, and your family, and the authorities, and the man, and that woman who asked you to call him back like some friend who had merely stolen your money when he had stolen so much more.

That indifference enters you. You are the smallness. You are the nothingness. You must be, to be serene.

God grant me the serenity. To accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference.

But God, I have no courage left. God, I have no wisdom. I have nothing but this serenity you've given me. This smallness. This nothingness. This creature who would accept this betrayal, who would accept betrayal upon betrayals, who would accept the man in the uniform looking down upon me. Not even with disgust, not even with malice, just with indifference.

I am this creature. This creature who must look up at him, and accept that he stands there. That he towers above me. That he will tower above me always. That he—they, her—have broken me. That they have always been meant to break me. That they will always have broken me. That I was broken, always.

Everything falls into the dust and everybody forgets but you.

Everything could fall into dust, but you.

But this spark. But what remains amid the serenity. Amid the indifference you've found, the indifference you must become, amid the pain you've swallowed, this spark:

The memory that you—that I—resisted.

I resisted.

I screamed.

I fought.

I cried.

I struggled, every step of the way. To be believed. To be heard. To be listened to.

I fought, to have my day in court. To leave the shame behind. To know that I was not at fault.

I looked up at the man in the suit. I lost to him.

But this spark remains. I—you—will not become this smallness.

Because you fought.

Because you cried.

Because you screamed.

Because you resisted.

Because you will never be okay, because this isn't right, because, because, because, because this spark remains: because, because, because, because. Because this spark has to remain, because, because, because. Because the indifference doesn't win. Because. Because. Because.

And you will look back, when everything has become dust, when nobody else cares anymore. When you feel small. When you feel like nothing. When you face that indifference of the man in a suit, the woman with a smile again. They're always there. Again and again. When that indifference nearly becomes you.

You will remember. You resisted. You resist.

So much bile rises in your throat when he says that. I told you not to fall in love with me—he says—like a shield.

That sweet memory of the months together unravel: of him saying—don't fall...—before he kisses you in the street below your office. His cheeky grin as you wave goodbye. Your near-daily ritual escapism in three acts, (I) a flirty conversation over lunch, meandering between Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons and how badly he wants to fuck you, (II) temptation lurching into heat, dragging you both into an afternoon quickie of pent-up lust and need, like exhibitionistic performance, (III) the rest of the day spent texting him furiously as you chase the next act.

It begins as ritual escapism—forbidden pleasure to break white collar monotony, friends with benefits, fucks of convenience, friends, period—but with time, it changes. Convenience gives way to need; gives way to realising you want him more than you should; gives way to distance, gives way to longing kisses; gives way to want;

gives way to him texting you longingly from under his blanket miles away in the snow—I wish you were here—gives way to you texting him from your bed—I wish you were here too—gives way to you resolving that he means something to you. Gives way to the question: Is this what first love feels like? He needs to know you feel.

So you tell him, excited and eager: Your feelings confessed over dinner, leading to, like so many acts before, fucking.

And you lie together in bed, in the afterglow, staring at the ceiling. You remember feeling so at ease then, limbs entwined. At bliss? Content. That shadow on the ceiling looks like a death star, you giggle. You will never forget saying that before he tells you.

—I have a boyfriend.

—I told you not to fall in love with me.

—I didn't mean to tell you this only after we'd fucked.

So the memories unravel and the comforting warmth fades forever. Everything a charade. Your first love withers before it ever blossomed. So much bile rises in your throat, you don't even know what to say. But you say some things. You want to hurt him the way he's hurt you. Insults, questions, more insults, more questions. Nothing makes the feeling of violation ebb, like so much poison.

The lacking boundaries become clear only after you leave him, those ambiguities you would always overlook.

Fantasies of that idyllic day: The kitchen island stacked with wine and cheese, pie and eggs, and cocktails, made by his mates—A couple in the bliss of togetherness for years now, sitting across that island from you and him.

There's an expectation of equality, between them who have everything—in their award-winning apartment and fulfilment already found—and the two of you, you and your lover. Despite your only year long romance.

But this is what it's like to have a little piece of bliss. Pretending or partaking? Lounging in the glow of him, as if the outside world didn't matter at all. Talking of the little troubles, never the big ones, because all the shadows seem minute in the face of this radiance. It's not a contest, but you want to impress, to show them that you're a worthy mind, a worthy lover for their friend.

And the space between the two of you narrows with every drink, every bite, every kiss. Until the closeness lulls you into that peace longed-for since you were little and knew you wanted to love and be loved.

Then comes the interloper to your garden, who knowing your lover's history, his lingering romance of the past, who asks: What are the two of you? Are you dating now?

And him, your lover, turns to you and says, you get to decide.

And all of this day catches in your throat. Because you want to answer yes. You want to pretend that this is a thing that could last. That you don't have plans this evening to meet and fuck another boy. That he is yours and you are his. That you could draw out this taste, draw out these afternoons with him, those nights spent gazing into each others' eyes under the blazing lights of the city, those mornings you spent clinging on to him in bed. But you hesitate, and give into uncertainty.

And your answer comes so much like acid: Why would you say that?

And the moment ends, question lingering. You've never given me the impression that I had a choice—you want to say—that you were within reach with the gulf of old loves and unforgotten trauma between us. But these words have no place here.

He only laughs. So do you. As you lie against him, and as the contentment of your day slips under a roiling black of sunset. You leave the apartment lightheaded, still heady from the wine. Pondering this.

The words will simmer in you like a little taste of what could be. A beautiful lie or paradise within reach?

You will throw his words at him in tears months later. When confessing your feelings, you ask him why he was ever cruel enough to give you the illusion of choice, this little piece of everything, if he'd only wrench it away now. He throws in your face the reason you left that evening, for another boy.

You will look back, thinking of how you could have answered differently. Yes, he's mine. Yes, we're dating. Could pretending it was have made it real? You will look back, wishing you never left behind that little piece of bliss for another fleeting embrace in the night. You will wonder if it even matters that you did.

You will press him for this longed for certainty, and his answers will never be enough. You will wonder, what rift separates the man you want to be, and the man that you are. Did he ever or never love you? Or did love turn cold in the wake of decisions such as these?

You will never know, and for that will remain poisoned forever.

You've been poisoned. poisoned. Poisoned. For a long time now. You write to exorcise it. Is that all these entries are? Suck, spittle, suck, the venom runs. Lover to lover. Runs endlessly onto paper, because you can't let go.

He's disenchanted with it.

He wants to remain faithful to his wife and children, but knows he belongs elsewhere. He wants to find a man he could love truly and genuinely, but every man he meets only makes him question fidelity. As a concept, as a promise, as a way of life.

All this he tells you over tea in a quiet bar in Vilnius. Stories of his life so far, and the life yet to be. Before he comes to a question: What's the purpose of this encounter?

Nothing, you tell him. Much like any other thing from grindr, there is no purpose. It could be the start to a grand something, or just another fleeting thing, to be enjoyed then forgotten.

So you meander from bar to bar. At each one, learning more about the other. Stories of his exes, his children, his music, his cock, his country. You laugh, the image of him becoming clearer and clearer: Of an honest man with many wants, but not the means to have them.

At the end of it all, you part ways with a long drawn-out kiss in a dark alley. As though knowing already that your paths would never again cross. A fleeting thing.

All that remains of him in your head are the lingering questions of love and fidelity. And whether it will ever be yours to have.

with a mate who does it better sober than you ever would drunk. You're out and about in a new city, a new club, and a sea of new men all moving to a familiar rhythm.

You still long for that missed connection you were texting outside. A boy you were trying to meet at his bar, if only the timing had worked out. But whoever had the bright idea of making this club a mobile deadzone, you whisper thanks to.

So you guzzle gin, dance with your mate, slip deeper into the rhythm of it. Slip so far that you only laugh as you're pulled onto the stage—as a stranger starts making eyes at you—as he grinds up against you—as you pull him into a kiss—as you make out on the dance floor while your mate films it all for the morning-after shame—as your lips part to laughter.

You want to dance longer, but the next drink calls. You drag your mate to the bar, feeling this stranger's eyes following you all the way.

More drinks—the beautiful noise and colour that is a drag show in two languages, you're so proud to be gay—followed by your eyes searching the crowd for that stranger. You've not nearly had enough of him yet.

You make excuses to leave your mate behind, step through the crowd to the bar in hopes of finding him. Needle in a haystack. Until you hear him call out.

Not the stranger, but the missed connection. Sitting by the bar, he is everything this city is: Beautiful eyes under the grunge, tenderness in the rough. So he made it to the club after all.

Buys you a drink, he stares into your eyes, you're hypnotised. Your lips graze once, and it sparks a slow dance: Pressed against the bar, making out, feeling his beautifully bearded face... You slip deeper down.

He tells you of his plan to hit another club. But another slow dancing kiss later, he revises it into a question: Come home with me?

You have time enough to say goodbye to your mate, to pass the stranger on the dancefloor on the way out. Time even to ask him for his number before the boy drags you home, and onto his couch. Where he rolls a joint as your rain-soaked clothes come off.

He is tenderness, until the primal fucking that blows your brains and leaves you panting and laughing in the sheets, covered in your and his fluids. On any other night, you would drag him into the shower and wash it away, but on this, you fall asleep blissed out in his arms.

Ungloved hand in ungloved hand, walking along the river Spree as we talk of Hunter S Thompson's great wave: That progressive optimism that defined a bygone era. What it must have felt like to be part of that zeitgeist in San Francisco.

I squeeze his hand when a breeze blows by, and his hand tightens around mine.

He's so adorable, as we talk of where we've been. Him two new jobs every year, the spirit of spontaneity chasing a path for which he can never see two steps ahead, devoid of certainty. Me marching down my predetermined way. Every instance of spontaneity an accident.

We ruminate on how it must have felt to be part of this inevitability washing over the world. When victory of the new over the old world was taken for granted. And how it feels now to see where the wave broke, its promise of a new world devoid of evil never fulfilled.

In the wake of it lies the seafoam and bubbles of people unwilling to let go. Bubbles wherein exist people like us, clinging on to a new world optimism and aching for a dream.

When our walk ends at the rail station, eyes meet and lips touch. I live for these neverending kisses goodbye—Beneath the tracks, where moans and whispers pass between two lips and two lungs, where arms roam desperately, unwilling to let go of even this fleeting moment. Castaways in our bubble.