(Sally: I would recommend not reading this, but there is nothing offensive in it…I believe.)
In my younger years, when I was still too young to realize that heartbreak fades, when I thought the scars from my very short list of lost loves would forever be on display to any of my future lovers, I decided to be another 90s kid who put his voice out there by making a magazine; mine was called “The Subterranean.” While the magazine only had one issue (and only about 20 copies of it printed), it was a moment in my life when I was proud of something I had created.
Currently (at the time of writing this), I am in San Diego (80% of you just repeated that to yourself in a specific voice and then thought of a large sea mammal’s sexual orifice), sitting in a coffee shop (an act I haven’t done in so long it actually hurts) called Subterranean. The irony—when I wrote and published the magazine, I was reeling from heartbreak after a series of failed relationships, and today I am once again feeling 19 as I sit in public attempting not to break down and cry.
Not too long ago, I was a rock. Anyone who has read any of my stories probably understands that I am a narcissistic, sociopathic son-of-Sally who gets exceptionally introspective about seemingly inconsequential moments in life. Lauded by friends for never letting problems bother me. Looked up to and adored by many who wished they could drift through life with the ease I had somehow achieved. If only they had known me as a 19-year old kid who wanted nothing more than to know what it was to be loved. I was a tiny ball of stress, searching, hoping, and praying to a god I am not sure I believed in anymore that one day someone would come along and show me how to live a life void of the eternal stress of what it is to be me. Everything got to me, and it wasn’t until I was able to learn to not sweat the small stuff (to throw in an awful cliché) that I was able to become the wonderful, talented, and lovable narcissist all of my friends have come to love.
After my millionth heartbreak… Actually, this isn’t 100% correct. Let me start again. After watching a woman I loved get completely blind-sided when I broke up with her, I learned how to shut myself down emotionally. The walls went up, I didn’t want to feel the hurt and pain of heartbreak ever again, and I especially never wanted to hurt another person. Knowing I held that much power over someone was a dangerous thing for me to realize. Getting someone to fall in love with you is easy, getting them to stop is impossible.
By shutting myself off to the rest of the world, nothing could touch me. It was a beautiful thing. People would yell and scream at me (at the time I was a server and customers are assholes), and I would retort with a witty, sarcastic comeback to express my lack of concern about their personal opinions of me, and to oh-so-gently remind them that they were getting upset about pizza. My friends would come to me for advice, asking me how they too could get to my zen-like level of apathy toward everything. The only problem with finding such a heightened level of apathy is that it is apparent in everything you do. This means that every date you go on, no matter how much sincerity you attempt to bring in to your voice, they realize that you are not showing them your real self, and suddenly you find yourself being alone, often. Naturally, instead of looking inwards, I did what I have always done best—I ran away.
I ran to a place where people have run since the beginning of America. Florida. People come to Florida looking for a better life. Instead of fixing the problem, they hide it under a blanket of booze, drugs, sex, and sun. They meet someone else who was also running from their issues, and the two of them have a tiny little crazy baby together, and they pretend they’re happy, but they aren’t. The child senses the craziness of their parents, has inherited it from them, and soon that child is throwing an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-thru window at a clerk who didn’t remember to take the ketchup off his burger.
Luckily for me, I managed to recognize that pattern, and before I became another old bar regular talking to people about how I almost became somebody once, I decided it was time to rejoin the world of those who care about more in life than getting laid by vacant women and drinking beer at 10 a.m. The only way I was going to escape the impending Floridian destiny was to sober up for a bit.
So I quit drinking. I won’t regale you with that story again. I have written about it time and time again as a personal reminder that what I am doing is for the best, and even though people love the personal victory stories of redemption, I am tired of telling it (until I reach my two year milestone, and then I will once again brag about my accomplishments).
Alcohol is an amazing drug. Yes, I freely and confidently use the word drug to describe it. It allows you to numb pain from stubbing your toe, from chest pains caused by colds and flus, and from heartbreak. It gives you the ability to shut off all emotion, which for someone who claims to be a narcissistic sociopath is pretty essential. Unfortunately, when you stop taking that drug, you suddenly have to learn how deal with a whole new bevy of emotions you haven’t had to wrestle with in however long you have been in a truly real relationship with the bottle.
Feelings came flooding back to me in an emotional hurricane of Katrina-like power. I embraced all of them as though they were lost children. Happiness, anxiety, fear, sadness, hope—real hope, not the bullshit promises you make yourself when you have to lie in order to make yourself feel better. Hope that makes you know that one day everything will be OK no matter how dark the nights are, no matter how dreary the days. Hope that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning because today has to be better than the last. Hope that fills you with glee because you know that there is something or someone out there looking for you as determinedly as you are looking for her. Hope that fills you with so much false confidence that every lie you’ve ever told yourself about your future seems actually possible for one brief shimmering, shining, glorious moment.
But we all know what Dante recommended we do with hope.
I felt alive for the first time in years, and it scared me more than anything I have ever experienced. I lived in a constant state of doubt. I was told that someone who has recently stopped drinking or using drugs should take some time to learn who they are before getting into a relationship. So, with every ounce of arrogance I possess, I jumped into a relationship, and while my girlfriend was very nice and will one day find someone to make her very happy, I was not that man. These emotions confused and frightened me, and I feared that because I was sober and in my mid-to-late thirties I would end up alone. I wanted to make it work, but I was not the right person for her, and even though I lied when we broke up, I did it to spare her feelings, thinking it was the correct thing to do. The right thing. The Wright thing. The Matt Wright thing to do.
Once again the fear of loneliness filled my being as I wondered if I would ever find anyone who would make me feel alive in ways I hadn’t felt since I was a young teen with idiotic ideals of what life and love and marriage and family were supposed to be. In my newly acquired pangs of anxiety over my future, I wasted away at home with my roommate and watched television, talked about life, feelings, dreams, and philosophy, and ate day-old pizza while wallowing in a new sea of emotions I never really wanted to experience.
My roommate, an 18-year old I’ll call “Leigh” is an amazingly talented woman with a spark for life that I have never seen in anyone else, but she was also very insecure. At the time, she was dating a guy who was nice but who had an annoying habit of telling her everything she did wrong as a girlfriend. One night, she vented to me about this recurring experience, and I told her that she shouldn’t put up with that sort of attitude in a relationship. I told her that she is an amazing, talented, wonderful, funny, beautiful person that deserves the very best in life, and if he couldn’t see how special she was then he didn’t deserve her.
Leigh, unable to take a compliment without holding her hand to her chest like she’s a southern debutante and gasping slightly, gasped and said, “Matt, god, that was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
In that moment I knew I was in trouble.
Somehow, during the long nights of worry, loneliness, and conversation I had started to build real feelings for a person. This wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to being afraid of dying alone or dealing with another breakup. This was something built on real friendship, real feelings, and real life. Knowing that she and I could never be together, due to the large age gap between us, I attempted to retreat inward. I wanted to run away again, but now that I had a job I loved, friends I cared about, friends that cared about me, and a life I was actually proud to be living I had to remain where I was, so I delved inward, shutting down everything, attempting to become the narcissistic god I had abandoned what seemed like a lifetime ago but had only actually been a little less than a year.
Only this time I failed.
Leigh would sit on the couch with me as I binge-watched television shows and movies and became more and more addicted to my iPhone. She would ask me what was wrong, and I would smile and say, “Nothing.” But she could tell I was lying. She and I shared a connection, and though I wanted to remain the valiant one in her life, I knew I was going to break if pressed.
Even if she never realized this, she seemed to sense it as we continued to pass the nights hanging out in the fashion in which we had grown accustomed, and occasionally would ask what was wrong to which I would look her in the eye and tell her the only lie I would ever tell her: “Nothing is wrong.” That lie would later morph to a much more true statement but also a diversion meant to keep me from having to discuss my feelings as though I had never felt them before as a 17-year-old high school kid who had fallen in love with Becky Gorman. And I can say this with absolutely no amount of uncertainty in my mind because even though it had been almost 20 years since Becky and I had parted ways, this was the first time I wasn’t comparing whatever girl I was considering dating to her.
Leigh and I went to a rave on a beach by the Skyway Bridge in Pinellas County, FL. I, having spent a good portion of my late teens and early twenties at raves, and Leigh not liking large crowds, split out of there rather early and found ourselves back at home, watching a movie, sitting in silence on the couch. She asked what was wrong. I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her, but I knew what would happen if I did. She promised I could tell her whatever it was, and it wouldn’t change anything. I laughed. I knew it would change everything.
Finally, I decided to leave it to fate. I challenged her to a game of war. If she won, I would tell her. If I won, I wouldn’t. She agreed to the terms and before we had gone through the deck of cards twice, she held all of them in her hand.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I exploded every ounce of emotion I had been bottling up inside of me on her. I told her things like, “I miss you when I’m not with you, and when I’m with you I don’t want it to ever end,” and, “You are amazing in every way,” and “I think about the possibility of us often. It is a great thought. A beautiful thought. It’s one of the few thoughts that makes me happy, and it’s happy because it’s a thought about you.” I expressed my doubts and fears stating, “I know you and I would never work but…if I could make it work, I would make you the happiest person in the world. Every day I would do everything I could in order to make sure you wake up happy and go to bed happier.” I assured her that “if we were closer in age, I would be the last person you would ever have to date, because I would never want to let you go. Whomever you pick to be with for the rest of your life will be the luckiest guy because he will get to be with you.” Then I sat there in silence for what seemed like a veritable eternity as I waited to hear her say, “I broke up with [my boyfriend] today because I wanted to be with you.”
A smile broke my lips for the first time in months. I gently lay down next to her on the couch and held her close to me, never wanting to let her go. Hoping that even though the odds of our relationship going the distance was minute, we would be able to pull it off, together.
I walked her to her room, holding her tightly. My mind raced. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to feel her lips against mine, but I knew I couldn’t be that person. I had to know, even though she said she wanted to be with me, that she was 100% certain that it was what she wanted. The moment I felt her soft lips touch my neck in nervous anticipation, I knew she was absolutely certain, and slowly, cautiously, our lips guided toward each other, eventually touching, sending sparks of excitement through my entire body.
This was the kiss we all read about (or listened to Peter Faulk describe) in The Princess Bride. This was the kiss to end all kisses. No kiss in my lifetime was filled with the same amount of passion and love. This was the kiss that so many people have written about in poems, and stories, and songs. This kiss was quite possibly the greatest thing I had ever done. In a lifetime of mistakes, a lifetime of doing things wrong, time after time of wishing I could take back what I said, what I did, what I thought, this was the moment it had all led up to, and it was, for lack of a better term, beautifully fucking perfect.
I remember that day, and so many kisses that have followed, and how each and every one of them was perfect in its own way.
All the way up to the very last one.
I wouldn’t trade a single one of those kisses. I would take back some of the dumb, thoughtless things I said to her when I was mad at her for being 18, forgetting what it was like to be that young.
I don’t blame her for ending it with me. It only makes me wish I could somehow either age backwards or stop the aging process until she could catch up to me a little more. She needs time to go figure out who she is and who she wants to be. She needs time to be 18 and make the same mistakes we all do at that age. But even though I realize these things, it doesn’t change the fact that it hurts so damn much.
So, here I am, at Subterranean Coffee Boutique in San Diego, glad I am almost as far away from the roommate I love with all of my heart as I can get. Hoping that now that I’m older, the pain of the heartbreak will fade quicker than it has in the past. Hoping that none of the other patrons or those that work here won’t notice the only reason I am wearing sunglasses right now is to hide the fact I’m crying as I remember some of the last words she said to me before I left to go across the country: “You know I’ll love you no matter what we are,” and wishing that even though I knew this was going to happen one day that it didn’t happen just yet.
Now I’m faced with another dilemma, one that I have to decide on before I find out what real pain feels like in a sober mind. Do I return to the narcissistic sociopath that was shut off from the rest of the world who enjoyed taking introspective looks at his life, or allow myself to feel all of this for the first time since I learned you could numb yourself with outside attributes? We all know what the answer is, and it will be hard to return to who I used to be, but in an effort of self-preservation I have to allow myself to continue to live with some sort of happiness, no matter how muted.
But before I shut myself down, hopefully without the aid of alcohol, drugs, pills or anything else, I have to say this to Leigh, and apparently anyone else out there who reads this: Thank you. I can never thank you enough for showing me what it was to be truly and honestly loved. Thank you for showing me that I can actually feel emotions again. Thank you for showing me that I didn’t kill the last hope for humanity inside of me. Thank you a thousand times over for being you, and please, please, please, don’t become jaded by this world. You are perfect in every way. Never forget that. I’m sorry if I wasn’t the perfect boyfriend I promised, but I did the best I could. I will love you forever, and even though it will take time, one day I will be there as your best friend again, and I will be there for you forever after that. Until then though, don’t get too mad at me if I avoid you, or don’t return your texts. Know you are one of the most important people in the world to me, and you will always be the one I consider to be the one who pulled me back from the depths. I love you and always will.
That was…fun, I guess.
Let’s get back to doing what I do best. Maybe it’s time to take a look at some of the last few years of my life that I have yet to cover.