Rarely Reads Directions

I pass by the store where you work on my way home. I have been crying since I got your final text telling me that you and I are over. The text-message break-up you had asked me to promise to never make, and here the break-up was, from you, by text, while I was – am – at work, in an office that isn’t mine. And I am crying and I am crying and I am crying and below me, if I were smaller, I would fill a pool with my tears.

I had called my wife. Of course I had called my wife. She hadn’t known you were anyone more than my friend, and you hadn’t – still don’t – known that Holly is my wife and Holly told me you and I would work things out, and then I told her that you and I had been dating and I was in love with you and I had asked you to marry me, and Holly stopped telling me that you and I would work things out and instead she told me that she would meet me at home.

Leaving work was easy. I told my boss I was sick, and my boss believed I was sick, mostly, I think, because I look sick. How else does someone look once a heart has been halved? The red light at the intersection where the store where you work is. Red and red and red, then green, and I am driving past the store where you work and I am on my way to a home I may not share for much longer with a woman who deserves to be married to someone who isn’t gay, but who is married to someone who is gay.

Holly and I get home at the same time. We ride in the elevator together. She says nothing. Inside, she goes to the bathroom. She closes the door. We don’t usually close the door when we go to the bathroom.

I sit on the couch, and put a pillow in my lap. She sits on the other end of the couch. She looks at me. I start to talk. The story of you and me unspools rapidly and not in chronological order. I can’t remember when you met Avery and how often you hung out with Avery and when I told you I loved you and when we stopped using condoms and when I started thinking your drug use was out of control, and the stories keep coming, and I keep unraveling, and Holly is quiet until she starts to cry, and I keep talking until I have nothing left to say.

Help me, I say. You’re the only one who can help me.

Help you what? she asks.

Write him. Tell him I’m sorry. Tell him that I didn’t mean to hurt him. You know me best of all, Holly. You and he know me. You can get through to him. He will listen to you. You can tell him what being in a relationship with me is like.

I know I’m asking her something I have no right to ask her, but I don’t know what else to do.

I know he loves me, I say. I love him.

She is still crying.

I will think about it, she says. I give her your e-mail address and phone number.

We have to get divorced, she says, not because you fell in love with someone else, but because you deserve to have the next man who wants to marry you, or who you want to marry, work out.

Would you consider staying married until after our child is born? I ask.

Yes, she says.

I think I am in shock. I think Holly is in shock.

She goes to the bathroom. I know she is going to the bathroom to cry. She doesn’t want me to see how hurt she is. When she comes out, she has taken off her engagement and wedding rings. She has never taken off her wedding ring, not even when Avery was born. She has taken off her engagement ring plenty of times when she has been angry with me. I see she has taken off her rings, and I take off my wedding ring. Even though I had taken off my ring when I was with you, my finger now feels strange without my ring, or maybe I feel strange sitting with Holly without our rings on.

What did he know about me? she asks.

I never told him we were married.

She walks into our bedroom and sits on the bed. She comes back into the living room, sits at the computer, and composes an email to you. I don’t have to ask to know what she is doing. She loves me, probably more than I deserve, and because she loves me, and because she wants me to be happy, she is doing what no other wife would do.

Will you go for a drive with me? I ask. She agrees. I drive us to your apartment. This is where Avery and I spent our time, I say. This is where I was happy. This is where he is.

I drive us home. I know that this is the last time I will drive down the street where you live. I have become an ex-boyfriend you will not acknowledge. I have become a story you will tell your next boyfriend, an example of what you don’t want in your life. Isn’t that what an ex is, after all? I have become your ex-fiancé, and you have become mine, but I don’t think you will tell a future boyfriend that once someone had asked you to get married, and that you had repeatedly said yes.

I should have just set up for your party and never came back.

Holly leaves to see a friend. You have not responded to the email. Before I get Avery from daycare, I call the Hawthorne Hotel and cancel our reservation. I can’t return the swan boat tickets. On my way to Avery’s daycare, I stop at a Walgreens. I go inside; not for anything specific, but in the sleep-aid aisle I pick up a box of Motrin PM. I am tired. I need to sleep. I think the cashier knows what I am going to do later with the pills I hadn’t known I went into Walgreens to buy.

I get Avery. I hug him tightly. He says, daddy, down, down, daddy down. I put him down. He holds my hand as we walk across the parking lot to my car. Ummies daddy? he asks.

I have some crackers in my car, and I give them to him. At home, I put macaroni and cheese on a plate and put it on the kitchen table. I put cookies and crackers on a table in the living room. I fill three sippy cups with juice, and I leave them where Avery can reach. I lock the top lock of the front door so Avery can’t get out. I fill a small glass with some white wine. I open the Motrin PM box. I put the box in the bag I carry to work. I don’t want Holly to see the box in the garbage can. I open the bottle, look at the pills, tilt the bottle toward my mouth, and I dump in as many pills as I can fit in my mouth. I swallow them with a little white wine. I swallow the rest of the pills in the bottle, and I finish the white wine I have in the cup.

I check Facebook. You and your friends have blocked me. I have no Facebook friends. They had all been your friends. Using Holly’s account, I look for your profile. You have changed your relationship status to single. I send an email to your mother. I thank her for caring for me and for Avery. I apologize for hurting you. I tell her I hadn’t meant to hurt you. I tell her I wish I had gotten the chance to know her better. I send an email to one of your friends I had met at the party. She, I had thought, was the nicest. I tell her I hadn’t meant to hurt you. I tell her I wish I had the chance to know her better.

I lay on the couch. I look at our text message history. Nearly 27,000 text messages. These texts are our history, everything we had been. I delete the chain of text messages. How easy to delete our life together. Less than a minute after hitting delete, everything is gone. I cannot delete the pictures of you, and of you and Avery, and even the few I have of me with you or of you and me and Avery. I cannot delete our AIM history, because that is how we first communicated, and that is how you told me you needed to talk to me the night you asked me to date it out. Deleting everything means you are totally gone.

I hear Avery playing with his cars near the front door. I take comfort in hearing him play with his cars near the front door. Someone knocks at the door. I answer the door, and a police officer is on the other side of it. Avery runs into the hallway and tugs at the officer’s pants.

Are you William Henderson, the officer asks.

Yes.

Do you know D?

Yes, I say. I think you must be hurt. I think I am still your emergency medical contact.

He has filed a restraining order against you. You are barred from contacting him, going to his home, or going to his place of employment. Do you understand?

I say yes.

Consider this service of notice, he says.

Thank you, I say.

People in love do desperate things.

I read the order.

AFFIDAVIT Describe in detail the most recent incidents of abuse. The Judge requires as much information as possible, such as what happened, each person’s actions, the dates, locations, any injuries, and any medical or other services sought. Also describe any history of abuse, with as much of the above detail as possible.

 

On or about July 27, 2010, the Defendant

William has on several occasions made it clear that he will “never give up on me.” On the morning of the 28th of July he was trying to get into the front door of my apartment to which the locks had been changed by applying force to the door; he still has the old keys to my apartment, so he was able to enter the main door to the building. I had to change the locks and end our relationship because I found out that there was a recording device behind my bed, which had been recording me for several days at minimum. He has on several occasions said he has a temper, he has also lost his temper toward me, and at parts he has thrown articles from around the house and broken them. William claimed that he was recording me without my knowledge to make an “audio time capsule” and that it was never intended for his use.

Today is your birthday. On your birthday, you have taken a restraining order out against me. I put the restraining order on the table in the kitchen. The Motrin PM won’t be enough, I think. I get the Melatonin out of the bathroom, and I take what is left, about 30 pills or so. I just don’t want to feel. I want to never feel again.

I call Holly. She answers. I tell her what you have done.

What the hell? she says.

I know, I say.

What the hell. He’s labile, Will, she says. There’s no reason he needs a restraining order.

I know, I say. I love him.

I’ll be home later, she says. How are you?

I’m fine, I say.

And Avery?

He’s fine, I say. I’ll be here. I hang up.

I go into the bathroom, turn on the faucet at the sink, and begin to shave, but the razor is mostly dull from Holly using it to shave her legs. I shave in awkward strokes. I cut myself. I cannot feel my hands. When I am done, I know there are patches of hair left, but I need to sit down. Someone else will finish, I think.

I call my brother, mostly to say goodbye, but also because he has called and texted several times. What’s going on? he asks. When you blocked me on Facebook, you also blocked him.

I tell him what happened. While I talk to him, I feel myself begin to fade. I feel myself disappear at the edges. I cannot feel my head. I feel the phone drop out of my hand. I cannot reach for it. I still hear Avery playing with his cars. I wonder if he will remember me, or if he will only remember me as the man in the pictures with him.

I think you have already moved on. I think you have already slept with someone. Maybe more than one someone. I think you have already traded necklaces with someone, and asked them to go steady.

I call Holly. I need you to come home, I say.

Later, she says. I’ll be home later.

I sleep. Holly finds me on the couch. Avery is asleep on top of me. She changes his diaper and puts him to bed. Are you OK? she asks.

I’m fine, I say. I am slurring. I just need to sleep, I say. I am so tired. Let me sleep.

What did you take? she asks.

Just some Melatonin, I say.

How much? she asks.

Just three pills, I say.

She looks for the bottle, but I have hidden it since it is empty.

You took more than three pills, she says.

Maybe four, I say.

You need to go to the hospital, she says.

No, I say, I’m fine. I’m going to be fine. Just let me sleep.

She tries to get me to agree to go to the hospital. I tell her I am fine. I lay down. She goes to bed in the bed we used to share. I think that I will probably wake up later. I don’t want to wake up later.

In the morning, I think I have failed. I cannot even kill myself. I do not feel like myself. Everything today is different. I have been changed in the night. I am not the same this morning as I was yesterday morning. But if I’m not the same, then who am I? A great question. Who am I?

I am unsteady on my feet. In the bathroom, I finish shaving. I tell Holly I cannot go to work. I call my boss and tell her I am sick. If the police officer looked for me there yesterday, than there will be questions, and I think I will be fired.

Holly, Avery, and I spend the day together mostly in silence. Holly doesn’t want to talk to me, and I don’t know what to say to get her to understand. She talks to her parents, but does it in the bathroom. She texts several friends. The word is spreading. There is no containing what I have done. I have now been outed. There is no retreating into the world Holly and I once occupied. I am gay. No take backs.

I think I could try pills again, but decide that later, after Holly and Avery are asleep, I will sneak out – as I have grown expert at doing – and I will drive to a nearby bridge and jump off. Jumping off this bridge makes perfect sense. All I have to do is leap. I’ve spent the last six-and-a-half months leaping away from everything I’ve known, and leaping toward everything I’ve wanted to know. Leaping off of a bridge should be easy. Only later do I think that neither suicide attempt was because of you. I was afraid of what living as an openly gay man meant. I was afraid of losing Avery. I was afraid of never feeling for another man how much I felt when I was with you.

Holly takes Avery out into the hall to play. While they are gone, I record a suicide video.

In the video, I apologize several times, to you, to Holly, to Avery and my unborn child. I apologize for the lying and the hurt and the pain I expect you and Holly will feel for the next few weeks. Her pain will continue. I don’t think yours will. I ask Holly to share the video with you. I tell her she has been an amazing partner, and that I can’t imagine having grown up with anyone but her. I tell her to name our unborn child its name, regardless of the name she thinks I’d pick.

I never meant to violate your privacy, I tell you. I am getting dry mouth. I tell you I am getting dry mouth. I tell you I wanted to capture your last days as a 28-year-old. I tell you that I think you have a drug problem. You use drugs to escape, I say. You know I know about the pills, I say. You know I know you lied to me about snorting pills.

The video of you in the shower, I say, must have been a screw-you goodbye. I don’t understand why you changed your locks, I say. You responded to my birthday text message. We should have talked about it. The restraining order, I say, was a nice touch.

I tell Holly what to do with my things. Sell what you can, I say. Use the money to help you and our kids move to California. Move in with your parents. They want you there. They will help you. Tell my mother and brother how much I love them, I say.

I wish you wonder, and to think seven impossible things before breakfast. Living a life that isn’t scared would be good, too.

Cremate me, I say. And you and Holly and Avery have a picnic. Talk. Get to know each other a little. Spread part of me underneath the weeping willows.

Remember, Holly, I say, D has been Avery’s stepparent for the last six months. If D is interested in knowing what happens to him, and if you can do it, keep him informed. At the very least, I say, let him hug him goodbye and call him Buddy.

I say the word Buddy and I am the most emotional and upset. I want to cry, but I can’t cry, not until the video is over. I don’t want you and Holly to see me cry. The video is hard enough to make; I can’t imagine how hard watching the video will be.

I don’t know how everything got so screwed up, I say. Help each other. D, I say, you may hate me, but I know you also love me. Help Holly. Give her my stuff, and Avery’s stuff. Be there for each other.

I’m sorry.

The video is done. Now, I wait.

I eat a piece of your birthday cake for dinner. I had not eaten yesterday. From the couch in the living room, I watch the sun set. I think this sunset will be my last. Sunsets are wonderful, when you’re feeling sad.

I’m tired, Holly says. Will you be safe if I go to sleep?

Can I sleep in bed with you and Avery tonight? I ask.

Yes, she says.

I will stay on my side, I say.

I watch Avery struggle to fall asleep, and then he falls to sleep. Holly eventually falls to sleep too. I whisper her name. She doesn’t respond. I put on my shoes. I put on the necklace with the key on it you gave me for my birthday. I had taken it off last night. There is no other way, I think. My head hurts. I just need to stop hurting. I never thought about the end during our beginning. I never thought our beginning would end.

Outside, I look at the sky and the stars, and as I had thought on the Fourth of July, I think you are also under these stars, probably with someone, probably high. I think in time you will be consoled, because everyone, eventually, is consoled. I hope in time you are happy to have known and loved me.

Once I’m dead — because I cannot think about the actual act of dying — but once I’m dead, I can sleep. I will not know another day without you. I will not have to see the way Holly looks at me: Disappointment. Sadness. Hate. Pity.

On the bridge, I look for the best place to stop. I turn off my engine. I put on my hazards. I open the driver’s side door and get out. I see headlights behind me. Another car. I get back in the car, wait for the car to pass, drive a few feet further, get out again, and this time I close the door behind me. The bridge feels unsteady under my feet. The bridge sways. Gravity holds me to the bridge. I am trying to fight gravity. I no longer want to fight gravity. You had pulled me out of my orbit. I no longer know which end is up. I think that love is like falling, and falling is like this, and my heart feels like it is gone, and all I have to do is jump, and then I will fall, and then everything will be done.

What is left behind seems so broken. I cannot think of myself as a person. My when-not-if future with you will not happen. I have been erased. I am going out altogether like a candle. I wonder what I will be like then. I have not seen what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out.

More headlights. More cars. I get back in my car and keep driving and then I’m past the point where I think the fall will kill me, and I decide I will turn around and jump from the other side. I pass the Charles River and the playground where you and I had played with Avery five days ago. I don’t want to die, but I don’t know how to live anymore. I’m crying. I call Holly.

I need help, I say.

Where are you? she asks.

I’m at the Tobin Bridge. I was going to jump. I don’t want to die.

Come home, she says. We can get you help. Come home.

OK, I say. I’m coming home.

Do you need me to stay on the line with you until you get here?

No, I say. I’m still crying.

Just come home, she says. Everything is going to be OK. TC mark

image – Phillip Pessar

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  • Mandatory

    finally, fucking finally, something really good on TC

    • mya

      Phenomenal pieces like this on TC posted, oh I don’t know, once a year, brings me to TC everyday.

  • Elika

    this was a beautiful piece of writing.  it’s good to see something quality on this site every once in a while.

  • http://twitter.com/morganizing Morgan Kelley

    i can’t imagine going through this. reading it was intense, i can’t even think about how intense it was to go through. great writing. survival is tough sometimes.   

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    This is haunting and beautiful. Well done.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sanyukta-Banerjie/1127023186 Sanyukta Banerjie

    to put into words, actual words..this entire thing…this experience…!!! I feel I will trivialize your feelings if i write more. For what its worth – this too shall pass.

  • GUEST

    this was absolutely beautiful. every line, every word. 

    personally, I absolutely loved: “I have not seen what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out”; beliefs on life and death perfectly molded into art. wonderful.

  • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com Maxwell Chance

    You’re a selfish asshole.

    • MC

      That’s a little harsh, but I have to agree a little.  Aren’t your two little kids, who love you unconditionally, enough?

      • bee

        Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.  When you’re at the brink of self-destruction, you truly believe it will be better for others if you disappeared.  It’s a twisted way of thinking, and is very often false, but at the time it makes perfect sense.

    • Wtf

      Wow, you should be a suicide counselor/hotline operator.

    • Gnush

      Agree. It’s funny how so few people see it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    Everything is going to be okay even though you don’t know how to live anymore. 

  • Tom

    Wow. That was insanely powerful. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sucked into anything before. As horribly traumatic as this was, I think you did the right thing by not jumping. Remember that this too shall pass and though this wasn’t exactly the greatest way to be outed, success stories do exist and you can be happy being an out gay man. Find a good support group!

  • Jamaicanmetori

    You’re to talented to die.

    • Jamaicanmetori

      too*

  • Bee Jones

    powerful.

  • http://twitter.com/Avesdad Will Henderson

    This event, or this series of events, happened more than a year ago. I didn’t know how to undo everything I had held true about my life when the guy who I was supposed to go through it with was more interested in getting high and snorting pills. After, I checked myself into a psych ward for three days, completed a partial-hospital program, got back together with the guy (which ended not long after, but not on a bridge), and somehow managed to come into my own as a gay father and as a friend to the woman with whom I have grown up (she and I met when she was 19 and I was 20). Was I selfish? Definitely. I couldn’t see a way in which I would be OK coming out every day, but on this side of the events, I can’t picture my life any other way. And if I needed something this traumatic to make it happen, then I’m lucky to have gone through it. 

    I appreciate the feedback. Thank you for reading. Other excerpts from HOUSE OF CARDS, from which this comes, have appeared in other print and online journals and magazines. I’ve archived them on my blog: hendersonhouseofcards.com. 

  • April

    Holly must be such a strong woman. 

    • http://twitter.com/Avesdad Will Henderson

      She is one of the strongest women I know. Sad thing is that, then, if given a choice, I wouldn’t have picked her. But she picked me, or, she picked my safety, if only to make sure our kids have a father, their father.

  • April

    Holly must be such a strong woman. 

  • Anonymous
  • Katzz

    The reality of your tale is so harsh. Yet the honesty and humble approach make this such a powerful piece. Holly is so strong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/black.moon.ghost.girl Moon Temple

    I sometimes forget why I read tc, and then something like this pops up. I am utterly blown away.  I hate to read this as something that has happened to a real man in real life–it’s so gritty, it hurts my lungs.

  • eefa

    I can’t believe I almost passed on reading this – it was like a stab in the gut, so honest it was almost painful. But thank you.

  • http://www.vie-nomade.com Corinne

    I am an avid reader of TC and I enjoy most of it. sometimes it’s touching, sometimes funny, sometimes just a good way to procrastinate… But this, oh this, is so intense! I feel like there’s no way anything else could catch my interest after going through your breath-taking piece of life, William. 

    Creating beauty out of despair seems to be the only thing we can do with those crystallized moments that reflect nothing else than pain and emptiness. Healing. You did it wonderfully, thank you so much for sharing.

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