You are familiar with how our relationship pans out. It is the very same Tyler from before. He was a tall and slender man, with an exaggerated boyish charm to him. He could’ve won over an entire room with one of his quips and his antics only served to perpetuate his standing as the comedian of our clique; in bitter contrast to the station I held. I was an egoist, if you will; the conceited friend who thought he was much better than he was. Yet, despite this all, we became best friends – a bonding out of undisclosed self-hatred. He, however, excelled at hiding it with a certain deftness and eloquence which I lacked. So I learned from him. Adapted and evolved. Such is nature.
We met for the first time during my first show. He was working tech for it, and consequently was charged with doing spotlights. Shitty job, honestly. I pulled a stint as a techie for a couple of smaller jobs later in my acting career. Anyways, we bonded because of this one scene. A car accident. I lay near death downstage, being cradled by arguably the most attractive woman in our troupe. She was stroking my chest. I think you can guess what happened next. The pictures circulated for months after that – me, with a spotlight aimed on me, lights down everywhere else, sporting full sail. I still have some friends that won’t let me live that down. Even Kelly found a certain sympathy for me regarding this. And that’s when I made my move.
I decided to ask her on a date. Typical movie night kind of bullshit that you deal with at that age. She was very hesitant to respond, and insisted upon having a few days to decide on what she wanted to do. Reasonable enough, I thought, she was well within her rights to have a decent bit of time to decide (I’ve never been a complete asshole after all).
I give it a week and she is still waffling on her thoughts. Now, don’t misinterpret this. I did not feel owed in any way anything from her. I just wanted a decision so I could move on with my goddamn life. All the while she was being intransigent, I had been endlessly texting her cute messages. The kind of cute that would make you a creep as an adult, but which was endearing as a youth. All the cringe-worthy professions of beauty and other gestures – you know, like shit out of the Notebook. Let me tell you, it never works out how you plan.
Despite my gestures and sentiments, she continued to be vague about her decision. She did confess that she still cared for me, and for a while things felt like they were going in the right direction, and that before the end of the month I’d be necking with this girl in my living room or backstage at rehearsal. I would daydream about it in my free periods. I had learned to care about this girl. More than just my primal boyish needs. I learned to legitimately care for her. And that’s what made this next part so hard to bear.
For the first time, darkness had come.
A tad dramatic to put it that way, but I know no other way of putting it. How does a person truly describe their first heartbreak other than darkness incarnate? You have no frame of reference, and being rejected when you first open yourself up to be intrinsically evaluated can have a lasting effect on the psyche. Most of the time we move on, but nevertheless it doesn’t make it any easier. She had fallen for Tyler and they had started dating. I suppose it was just recompense for what I had done. An eye for an eye. I watched enviously as their affection blossomed and I stood stupidly on the side, basking in self-hate and pity. I had been pushed from the spotlight and sent endlessly to a supporting role. The main character’s tag-along, as history would show. From that moment on, I would never be able to outshine him. For a brief moment, I knew what it was to have all eyes fixed heavily upon you, and it only led to pain and anguish. He saved me by eclipsing me. But he also damned me to a mentality of inferiority and internal struggle.
I left the rehearsal that day with my head well-hidden within a sweatshirt. I dared not to show my face for ridicule or for the fact that my cheeks were stained with tears. I waited for my parents to pick me up. They were an hour late, so all the while I stood staring out beyond the overhang at the rain pounding on the pavement. I watched as the dirt washed away, leaving only the pure black of the asphalt. I watched as the cars drove by, with people scurrying from place to place, living much more vibrant and happy lives than I felt I had in the moment. I began to think of myself as the ground, and that at one point, a great rain would pour over me, basking me in the soft, cool embrace of happiness and once again purify me. I wanted to forget the pain. I wanted to smile, but I couldn’t. Not that day. Not that week, either. I realized that I had latched on to her and my guilt wouldn’t let me give up until I could rectify my wrongs. I would cry myself to sleep every night for the next three months. I would call Tyler. He would comfort me. He would break me at the same time, with the lyric happiness underlying his tenor voice.
I stepped out into the rain, abandoning the safety of the overhang. I removed my hood and let the sweet drops wash over my hair and face. They felt comforting at first, even cleansing, but I knew then that emotions didn’t work that way. I couldn’t just be cleansed of the problem; I would carry that for the rest of my life. I could, however, clean the blood and tears off to look like I’m okay. No one likes you when you’re always being depressing.
Not even yourself.
I wanted nothing more than to break the cycle. How does reprisal only constitute aggression?
Once again, I felt my body crash against the porcelain toilet as I forced myself to vomit up everything I just ate. Three years had passed since the whole Kelly incident, and despite obvious disinterest I continued to pursue her. She had become the one thing that could release me from my self-torment. She had been the impetus of what I’d become. I wanted nothing more than her approval – her love, if you would. This consequently led to me destroying every possible relationship for myself along the way, (except for the whole Elizabeth incident, that kind of fucked itself, no?). This year would be different, I thought.
I was sixteen and a half and I was bulimic.
God, it was an awful time. I felt shame for eating anything for the thought I wasn’t good enough looking for her; that I wasn’t good enough for society or anyone to love me. People often ask how you get to the point where you think it’s better to kill yourself a little bit every day, and honestly, I’ve never had a good answer for them. The way I looked forward to purging my body every couple of hours is incredibly morbid in retrospect, but in the moment it gave me worth. Value. The feeling that if I tried hard enough, I could be good enough for anyone. And that to win approval was equivalent to me puking my gets out after lunch and dinner. Or whenever I felt inadequate.
You try to change, but a lot of the time you just break yourself more.
The palaces I built started to crumble, and I could do nothing. The earth beneath my feet shifted, and I realized then that the world lacked fixity. I was but a fleeting spirit and my legacy would be lost – But such is what it means to be alive.
I never thought to examine my life with such scrutiny until now. And, speaking candidly, it isn’t easy. How does one look into themselves and believe they can be better despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Is it not human nature to ensure self-survival? Many great minds have pondered this question throughout the years and even so, we as a species are no closer to understanding the meaning or necessity of our existence. Were you a Nihilist, you would dismiss this notion of meaning entirely, as it distracts from the present’s pursuits; Post-modernists like myself would beg to differ. It is not that life is meaningless, but rather that our meaning is not definite. That is a notion that strikes fear into myself, and that of all humans – the possibility that what we mean is not what we think it is; the crucial thread of our existence scraped carelessly against a blade. We can only avoid being cut for so long.
I’ve begun to lose sleep musing over these thoughts. It’s not pain that keeps me awake, though. It is anxiety. You see, in this story – my story – I have only told you events from which I am far removed and have had time to rationalize, justify, and paint my actions as those of ‘the best of a bad situation’. That’s about to change. The further we delve together, the closer we get to the present, and with that comes true pain.
Admittedly, this entire section is me stalling. I’m scared.
I’m not scared in the way you think I am though. I’m not scared of discussing these events. No. If that was the case, I would’ve stopped talking. Silence. Emptiness. Void of meaning. My thoughts are feverish as I struggle to find the words to articulate what I mean. Perhaps I am not fixed. Perhaps I am not definite. Is that what it means to be human? To be endlessly unsure of what you are? I have claimed up until now that I am a changed man. That I have learned from my mistakes. That I am a gentleman. A scholar. A contributing member of society. That I have value and meaning. Why do I try so hard to convince of that?
Perhaps it is because – because I think I’m fixed. The fear of having changed is nothing compared to the fear of stagnation. There are still characters to be met. There are still stories to tell. I suppose in them we will find the truth about me. About what I am. If I’m worth what I say I am. If I’ve changed.
Reinvention was key.
This next story will pick up a year or two after the last one I told. After two years of intense bulimia and only being caught purging once, I finally managed to subdue my condition, though my singing voice took on a rocky texture to it because of the damage I had done. I still had trouble keeping food down some days, but otherwise it was a thing of the past. So, let me catch you up on life of your pal, Stephen, beyond that. It was January, I hadn’t applied to colleges and I was thinking about joining the Coast Guard. My uncle sat me down, said you’re wasting potential, and a week later I had applied to over ten colleges praying it wasn’t too late. I got accepted to all of them, and I eventually settled on a reasonable state-school plopped in the Philadelphia area. It had a scenic campus, and I liked the area well enough. I applied a business major, and I started taking classes in the fall. September was a busy month for me, and I met the first wave all in that time period. I’ll try to sort this out in the easiest way possible. Let’s see . . .
Her name was Katrina, and she would take my virginity.
Honestly, you’d think this story would be a lot happier than I’m going to describe it. Especially as a man, people expect you to revel in your body count, but for me it’s never been about that. I wanted my first time to matter. I really did. I wanted it to be in the throes of romance and passion. I wanted it to be special. I wanted to feel special.
This was anything but.
We had seen each other in passing a few times before, and as freshmen, we were forced to endure the most boring fucking presentations. We would sit in the back and talk through most of them. She was enjoyable, and incredibly opinionated. It was with her that my understanding of feminism actually gained some breadth beyond just knowing it was about ‘women’s rights’. In the moment, I honestly did not give a damn, but in hindsight I’m glad she lectured me so much.
Fast forward; It’s a week or two later (I know the exact date; I’ll explain later) and we are having a building social. You know, those stupid “get to know each other” nights put on by the RA’s. Anyways, after kicking my ass at ping pong a few times, she said she had to leave to get homework done. In particular, watching Pulp Fiction for a film class. This was my chance. I could make a move on a college girl. Just like in all the movies and stories. Being emboldened by the cultural narrative, I say we can watch it together. She agrees, and goes to get her stuff. I wait by the elevator. Katrina came back several minutes later wearing some pajamas and carrying a backpack. This was a good sign.
We get up to my room and start streaming it on my laptop. We sit awkwardly on my bed trying to find the most comfortable way to watch the movie. Pro tip: Twin beds suck for these kinds of occasions. Anyways, we eventually set up a small external speaker I have and lay down side by side. Once again, twin beds suck. About thirty minutes into the movie, I finally make a move. I put my hand on her thigh, and she looks over at me. I retract my hand, and she laughs.
“It is okay, Stephen. We can do stuff.”
Fucking. Jackpot. Those were the words I had been waiting for. We carefully shift to face each other, wrapping our arms around each other and getting tangled up. I was incredibly nervous. I think she knew. She kissed me.
Honestly, my stories are becoming more erotic than I wanted them too. I’m leaving out as much as I can while still making my points, I promise.
Alexander Breth is a fourth year student majoring in English with a concentration in visual rhetoric. ✉ AB834895@wcupa.edu