Dear Adjacent Backyard Neighbors (ABN),
We have co-existed peacefully thus far, frequently mutually and unobtrusively occupying our shared backyard space. You – usually a man, using his grill. Once lying in a hammock. A few times outside with a woman. And tonight, hosting a party.
Unbeknownst to you, ABN, you had unconsciously been witnessing what were arguably the most introspective and deeply personal moments of my life. You see, the porch is just an extension of my bedroom. Seldom-to-never occupied by my roommates, my landlords upstairs, or the several other adjacent neighbors, I listen to music (in headphones of course #AlwaysAGoodNeighbor), read, drink coffee, decompress, eat meals, and always always always keep to myself. It’s been our unspoken neighborly agreement.
So when I went out this evening, everything was its normal level of calm. I brought popcorn, The House of Mirth, my headphones, and also candy (I’m not proud, just accurately retelling). No Shame November, I’m wearing maroon joggers, a half zipped blue sweatshirt with nothing underneath, and whale socks. And on backward is my dirty brown Hollister hat, which is laughably hideous and obviously not my style but I’m wearing it tonight anyway.
It was weird when we made eye contact through your window. I would even say I actively disliked it and it completely threw me off. It felt as though we had broken the neighborly code, so I decided to play cool; darting my eyes awkwardly in every direction while truly devouring that popcorn. While this could have (and should have) been one isolated awkward experience, I keep catching lingering looks from you, ABN. Not cool.
When five of you, late 20’s, plaid-wearing, low-laughing, beer-clinking, arm-shoving guys stumbled out onto the porch, my immediate reaction was run. But then I told myself to relax. It’s a party. They just came out on the porch; it’s a nice night, this isn’t about you. But then there was the laughing, their deep dude voices getting louder and cutting through the ambiance of my music. Parties are supposed to be fun, Colin, of course they’re laughing. When my eyes betrayed my attempts to be rational, I glanced quickly at your porch and saw the five of you taking a picture of me. Fuck.
Context (conservatives read as: how I was asking for it): I was sitting with my legs crossed in that “only for ladies” way I stopped trying to correct forever ago. I know it looks feminine. That’s the point. But if you’re binary basic, you probably disapprove and I simply can’t give a fuck about that. You can see some of my chest hair (?) which I guess is maybe awkward or too stimulating for you? I was eating a lot of popcorn in a really short period of time, maybe you were trying to capture my hidden talent – a voracious appetite. It doesn’t matter, actually, why you were doing it. It matters because today was one the day I needed you to just fucking not.
* * *
That day was the anniversary of losing Tyler. Tyler, my closest friend in the world with whom I had little to nothing in common. He rapped along with Lil Wayne, created calculator viruses, talked anxiously and excitedly about girls he thought were hot, and cared deeply for his younger siblings in a way only a teenage older siblings can; by being the jerk who’s always there for you. Every time, no matter what.
From 12-18, Tyler was a constant and unwavering presence. I was a supporting role in so many of his life changes and formative happenings, as family dynamics shifted and priorities changed right in front of our eyes. He even moved in with my family and I for a while, where we watched 500 Days of Summer. I loved the empowerment of Zooey Deschenel’s character, not being obligated to reciprocate feelings because of the ‘kindness’ or ‘handsomeness’ of some guy. If she’s not down to date, she’s not down. Take your sad ass to OkCupid like everyone else. Tyler commented on how hot Zooey was and we each went to bed. Opposites.
Having experienced it alongside him, like a 6-year, sad, beautiful, complicated movie, I saw it start to spiral. Obviously I knew, we all knew. With time and therapy I’ve come to realize I did everything in my power to make sure he was safe; texting all hours of the night and messaging his family when it got bad, pleading them to get additional support. I was a college freshman, I gave what I could; an amount that, devastatingly enough, doesn’t feel like much in retrospect.
So when, five years ago today, his text said he was going to end his life – I froze. I was walking into class, baby freshman, 250 miles away from him. I was helpless and breathless and I froze. I text him back immediately, begging him to call me. I sat down and reeled for about 5 minutes, and then I called the police. I needed to be transferred to his college town but I told the woman everything I knew about where he might be and when I got the text. That night I received the call that he didn’t make it and I shattered.
And so, ABN, I know I was dancing around weird tonight, and potentially looked hilarious, and definitely cried a couple of times in his fucking horrible Hollister hat but I deserved to be left to my business; any day at any time but especially today. Especially today, I needed space to grieve my way in the place I felt most comfortable. Instead, my grief drove your party.
So I’m inside writing this, aware that I shook my head, didn’t look at you, and walked back inside, while your idiot boy laughs got louder and somehow douchier behind me.
Don’t you go getting any ideas now. I’ve got plenty of fight in me, I promise you that, but I was otherwise occupied today so I surrendered – but you better fucking believe you won’t get another one. I will occupy that porch, today and every day, as long as I damn well please because I’m a grown ass man. And I am telling you ABN, I’m NOT going. Five years of grief teaches some pretty dope resiliency, so game on.