I remember looking out the large window at the street below. Old soviet cars were bustling up and down Gagarina Avenue alongside newer European models. Pedestrians were flowing along both sides of the street like ants in a line. The sun was shining. Another summer day in Kharkov, Ukraine.
I distinctly remember the words forming in my mind. I can’t lie to myself anymore. I like guys.
It wasn’t devastating. Nor was it angry. It was a simple admission. No more games, no more lies. Time to come clean and admit the truth, at least to myself.
That was nearly five years ago, and half a world away. Even now, as I just searched Googlemaps to find my old apartment, I am bombarded by images of a life that seems like a story or a dream. For the first time in ages I felt the overwhelming urge to walk those streets again, to feel the distinct feeling of being foreign, of not belonging. That sense of oddness and discomfort became a friendly companion before the end, though it was certainly an anxious journey.
Being an outsider didn’t leave once I returned to the states. It simply changed. As the admission from that summer day grew within my consciousness I became less and less like the people I was surrounded by. The difference this time was that I was becoming a foreigner in my own culture. By choosing to date boys I was breaking the unspoken (and some spoken) rules of that culture, but I also found myself relating less and less. I didn’t agree with this view, I believed differently than that person, and so on.
Once again I live outside my original culture. This time I am a citizen, though, not a foreigner. And the more distance I put between myself and that world the more I can see the events of the last few years more clearly.
I can see the fear, the secret desire, and the terrifying urge to explore it. I can see the hidden love, the frightening exposure of that secret, and the pain of rejection from friends and family. I can see the ache of losing the boy who was a constant during all this chaos, a wound that has taken its time to heal. I can see that I’ve grown, matured, and learned personal strength. I can see the pain, all the pain, from so many places. It festers next to the fear of pain that was there whenever pain was absent.
Once I could see things from more of a distance a restlessness set in, like the feeling of being wrapped in too many blankets and fighting to throw them off before going mad. I wanted to be free of the judgment and the pain from my family, from my old culture, and from a broken heart.
I fought this for a while, trying to undo it, trying to understand how to let go of the past, and walk away from it all. Then one night, something was said to me that changed everything. I was ruminating over it all for the hundredth time, that battle between the desire for love and acceptance and the pain of betrayal. And when it was said it cut the pain like a knife.
“Nick, you don’t need their love or acceptance.”
Suddenly the flood of pain and frustration stopped cold. There was nothing but serenity and clarity. The thought didn’t fully register, but I knew that there was truth to it and I needed to explore it.
I have let it sit in my mind for about a week, and I feel its strength growing. I do not need their love or acceptance. The less I agonize over it, the more I can move on.
The other night I had a bit more to drink than usual. I put my earbuds in and played music from a very different time, when love and loss were very fresh. The pain of heartbreak flooded me. It brought back all the sorrow that was still living deep within me. I wept, as only an inebriated person can. Beneath the haze, though, I sensed a thread of logic. I breathed in, listening to what was sounding so softly. As I gave it room to speak it became clearer.
These people, this boy, don’t exist in my reality, and they don’t even exist in my memory. I’ve forgotten so much of that life. The only memory that remains is the pain. All that is left is the pain.
Part of me felt foolish for weeping when I truly couldn't even remember that life and that relationship. I felt foolish for giving life before the breakup more weight than the time after, especially for giving it more weight than the present.
I recognized that a ghost had been following me, when the reality it represented ceases to exist. I was weeping for a phantom, when life is right before my eyes. And I was missing life, seeing it opaquely through the fog of something that is not real.
I was not mourning the loss, I was mourning the pain. I was suffering because I had been suffering. If that seems illogical and circular, that’s because it is. It is a phantom pain, like an old veteran’s gunshot wound. It doesn’t hurt anymore, but it does because it used to hurt, and that hurt was jarring and violent.
There is almost a hesitancy within me, though, when I see the pain for the fallacy that it is. Am I allowed to let go of it? Will I lose anything if I do? The pleasure and heat and sheer intensity of the love and passion I felt was so new and so impactful. The pain was just as intense. If I let it go, do I lose it all? The chaos and insanity of the last five years have been my demon and my lover. I do not know life beyond it, without it holding my hand. Will the world without retain its vivid color, or will it be dull and grainy?
Within me there is a madness that feeds off of the memory of pain. I return to it to be drowned in it, to feel the intense searing pleasure and pain. It fills me with a smoke and a flame that clings to me with rabid animalism. I hunger for it and I am slave to it.
And the restlessness returns. The craving yearns for fulfillment around me, in the living world. Enough of the hazy ghost. I want life. I want reality. I want now. Time to look forward, not behind.
Suddenly the sun shines from behind a cloud, a rarity for Seattle in March. The light clears the fog in my mind and pulls me into the now. It is time to move on. To let it go. The pain and the pleasure, and let it settle into the dust of the past. The past never truly dies, for it lives in the man I am today. Beyond that, though, it does not exist.
It’s odd, how often we enslave ourselves to ghosts, when all we have to do is walk away.