Bluebell (Ages 1-4)
Turquoise dragon given to me by my dad after it seemed conclusive that I was either frightened or saddened by the other stuffed animals he and my mom had placed in my crib. Regularly brought Bluebell along to dinner and long car rides. Spent a lot of time “tucking him in,” which meant “tightly wrapping his wings around his chest and holding them there.”
Thomas (Age 7)
His last name changed mid-year, due to his parent’s divorce. Seemed to have a lot of female friends. In gym class would take his pulse by putting his hand over his heart instead of searching for some “mystery spot” on his wrists or deep in his neck, like everyone else. I had a red cardboard box containing five or six lucky charms I would rub before bed while thinking “Thomas.”
Ben (Age 11)
Seemed really popular. One day Mike Steaz started condescendingly then hostilely questioning me about my Beanie Babies (in seventh grade there were days where I wouldn’t say more than ten words to anyone, yet I still possessed some kind of bizarre confidence that allowed me to think it was socially acceptable to ‘perch’ a different Beanie Baby on my desk every day). Ben said, “Mike, if the next word you say to Megan isn’t ‘sorry,’ I’m going to punch your ass in the face.” Spent a lot of time gazing into a .5” x .75” black and white yearbook photo of him, which was mysteriously pixelated the way some long-distance photographs of UFOs are.
AOL (Age 11)
Spent the summer of 1997 sitting in front of my computer, listening to the radio and drinking Surge, talking to five friends I met in a chat room called “mEnTaL hOsPiTaL,” where the focus of conversation seemed to be “type insane things at each other in an imaginary, yet stable environment (i.e. swimming pool, grocery store).” Five of us grouped off to do our own “insane talking” in private chat rooms. We called each other food names for some reason. My name was “Spam.” A girl we didn’t like much was “Bagel.” I would only take breaks to eat Hot Pockets or watch MTV. Saved every group chat and instant message in a word processing document, then printed and stapled it in a thick packet. When my mom asked me why I did that, I said I didn’t know.
Colin (Ages 14-18)
Played the titular role in my high school’s production of The Music Man. Brushed his teeth at the water fountain every day during play practice. Invented the word “glundy.” I tried to style my hair like girls who I knew had rejected him. At a cast party, officially asked him out (probably actually said the words “I am officially asking you out on a date”). He nicely turned me down and left for college. Two years later saw him at a house party. We sat for several hours at the top of a staircase and talked uninhibitedly about things I always pictured talking about with him. I remember untying and tying his shoe, saying “Your shoelace is mocking my very existence,” not knowing what I meant, exactly, but that immediately after I said it we began kissing, first on the stairs, then standing in a room where a crowd of people vacated, and then another room with fish-patterned curtains where I had sex for the first time and woke seven hours later next to him saying “This should’ve happened a long time ago.” Six hours after that, received an instant message from him saying I was a disgusting person who had manipulated him into having sex, and that he regretted knowing me. The next day, he apologized and explained that his ex-girlfriend was threatening to kill herself if he didn’t say those things to me.
Rich (Age 18)
Can’t remember how we began hanging out, when the friendship turned into a relationship, or the conversation that ended it. I remember spending almost three consecutive weeks with him, blowing up apples at his dad’s farm, watching spiders eat each other, sandwiching frozen pizzas together and grilling them in his fire pit, receiving a phone call from him asking if I had $30 and ending up yelling things about our sweaty balls to George Clinton, reading and napping on my new down comforter we had brought out to backyard on the longest day of the summer, waking as the stars were appearing, then watching Manhattan in my living room, taking turns laying on top of each other.
Vincent (Ages 19-21)
Broke up with him after dating for two months in high school, didn’t talk for five months, then became good friends. Laughed together enough to ignore that I called him more often than he called me. Three years into the friendship, after dying my hair platinum blonde, spent a day with him in Philadelphia. Ate pizza side by side, standing up, and joked about the “Pizza Nazis” who ran the store. Showed him the building I lived in when I was depressed at art school and the fried chicken place where I binge-ate several times a week. The sun was shining in the sleepy way it does around 3PM at the end of summer. I was a few feet ahead of him, euphorically fatigued from walking all day, when he said my name and I turned around and he told me he thought I was very pretty.
Steve (Ages 21-22)
Met during my winter break from college, as I was ending my first long-term relationship with someone not on this list. Felt immediately attracted to his deadpan comments and nervous eye twitch. The first night we hung out, walked through his neighborhood in the fog, comparing it to the atmosphere inside of a blue whale. Drove us past his old high school and said, “Through any of these windows during those four years, I could be seen getting bad grades.” In his basement, showed me a painting he made of a bear driving into the World Trade Center. Talked until around 4AM and kissed in my car until maybe 5:30AM. Had several more nights like this in a two-week period. Sent each other letters when I went back to college in Chicago, and then saw each other almost daily when I dropped out two months later, despite the 45-minute commute to his house. Wore each other’s t-shirts. Made a list of things we wanted to do together, and completed a lot of it. Planned to go to Iceland for his 20th birthday. Sometimes we drove my car without a destination, saying “meadows” and “mountains” with sarcastic reverence, eventually realizing we were lost.
Three radio towers in hard-to-locate field (Age 22)
After breaking up with Steve and quitting my job, I didn’t have much to do but sit around my parent’s house, smoke weed, and feel sad. At night, I would get stoned and drive without a destination, unsure of where I belonged or why I was alive, certain that I’d never answer those questions if I continued existing in this way yet somehow unable to do anything else. One time I followed three red dots on the horizon until they became radio towers in a field in front of me. I’ve always thought of radio towers (if I’ve thought of radio towers) as things with functions so passive that they might eventually “evolve” into abstractions. Seeing them so large and up close made them look like they had a sense of humor about their purposelessness, yet were obliged to endure existence by quietly blinking on and off in a distant field, barely visible except at night.
Nick, Charles, Francis (Ages 22-23)
Attracted a series of men to “wake up next to,” often in very endearing ways that misled me into preparing to enter an actual relationship with each of them. Nick cooked for me and liked me to sing to him before we went to sleep. Charles was one of those oddly charismatic depressed people Dustin Hoffman would play in a movie, only taller, less honest, and ultimately lonelier. Francis never seemed “human” in a way that is hard to describe other than by simply saying he was intriguing and I felt, at times, usually after realizing it was much later than we thought it was, similar.
Tao (Age 24-?)
Borrowed Bed from Steve and read it on an airplane. Related to some of the character’s thoughts and experiences in a way I never acknowledged nor expected “could” be possible. Wrote Tao a Facebook message in late 2007 asking questions about loneliness, which he responded to promptly, scaring me a little. One year later started a blog with the background intention to unobtrusively make contact with him. Met him at Brandon Scott Gorrell’s book release party in 2009 and didn’t say much to each other. Met him at a reading of his in Baltimore, drove him to his hotel, and thought he probably didn’t like me. Met him at a restaurant with Jordan and Mallory where we took prescriptive opiates and threw wheat grass on each other, and the next day chased him around Times Square screaming “Jet Li!” Married me in Las Vegas. When we’re faced with an impending menial task like disembarking an escalator, he stands behind me, rubbing my shoulders, intensely whispering “You can do it, you can do it” like a boxing coach, until I start jumping up and down or punching the air with my arms, which he triumphantly raises above my head and says, “You did it! You did it!”