Zac’s office is just big enough for the two of us. He’s working at home after working at work. I’m sitting behind him on a futon with Oliver, the dog, at my feet. The plan is to go out for Korean fried chicken, because I’d seen it on YouTube and Zac remembers stuff. Dooce’s death is rattling in my head, and I needed to be with other people. It wasn’t planned this way. It just is. The randomness of needing Zac close and already having had something planned weeks in advance is the silver lining on this cloud. I don’t have to grieve by myself if I don’t want to, and I also don’t have to talk about it at all. He’s just here in all his redheaded brilliance for whatever it is that I need.
I love these simple moments, where we can be in companionable silence. All I hear is the rhythm of two people typing, and it’s better than a white noise album. It reminds me of other times I’ve been in grief. I didn’t need anyone to say anything. I just needed another presence in the room.
If I had to pick one thing that I miss about being married, it’s being able to have someone around all the time. I don’t care what we’re doing. Just having that person you can be quiet with is enough. I just get caught up on the idea of someone living with me again. I have to think long and hard about what I want my life to look like, because most of my friends are extroverts because I realize that someone needs to drag me out of the house.
I find that most of the time, I am my own best company because I’m internally driven to write. I am irritating as fuck to live with sometimes, because I’m a lot. A lot. I sometimes feel like I’m protecting people from me, because my relationships have gone two ways. If I’m with someone neurotypical, they don’t understand. Living with someone who doesn’t get it is bad.
Living with someone who does is worse. If you both have mental health issues, it’s a lot to be a partner. You have to work so much harder to keep yourselves strong so you don’t get your crazy spatter on each other. Living with someone who does have mental health issues but can’t be arsed to go to the doctor is the worst kind of punishment. The fights hurt so much more because there’s too little serotonin in the room. You descend into each other’s madness, but can rarely see outside the situation.
Deciding to be with someone who also deals with mental disorders and/or alcoholism vs. someone who’s never struggled with depression at all is a huge decision. I have had neurotypical people reject me because I’m too much within weeks. I have a cavernous inner landscape, and asking someone to share it with me is frightening. Neurotypical people resent the hell out of the neurodivergent because they have no frame of reference for our moods and behaviors…. and even then, they’re human. If we are irritated with our own illnesses, God help the person who tries to help us. Our brains are trying to tell us that we’re too much for everyone. That no one needs us because we’re too much. It’s depression’s main playbook, and it works too much of the time.
It’s hard not having that person who comes with me to doctor’s appointments so we can debrief what new meds might do, etc. Having my partner actually present to hear what the doctor says is important to me, because repetition is essential to retaining information. The other person also might remember something I missed. Being responsible or my own health is exhausting, I don’t need someone to fix me, I need someone to empathize with me, or sympathize as the case may be.
Giving someone that power is equally dubious in my mind. I trusted Daniel because he was the military equivalent of an NP. I didn’t want to put all my stuff on someone who couldn’t attribute behaviors to my personality when they were my disease, and be able to know the difference.
It is my job to keep myself strong, I just miss support in doing so…. the equivalent of getting a lollipop after a shot or a kiss on a bruised knee.
What I don’t want is for someone to jump into a relationship with me so fast that they don’t have time to take in the whole picture. This has been problematic because I am also trying to meet other people, and they seem to be so bent out of shape that I’m dating someone else, as if we should be married on the first date. It doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of monogamy or commitment. They just don’t know me well enough to have that discussion after one conversation. Zac is one of my best friends. Why would I tell him I didn’t want to date anymore because I’ve known someone new for five minutes and she already expects for there to be no one else? It just seems crazy to me on both sides. I can’t count on emotional support from people I don’t know well. I also don’t lie or play games. I will tell you the truth, whether you like it or not. You cannot imagine how long I was alone, blaming myself for anything and everything I possibly could. Denying myself a full spectrum of emotions because I’d caused emotional devastation in my wake when I was sick.
I also don’t give myself any slack when it comes to being sick. Just because I’m sick doesn’t mean your reactions don’t matter. What matters is whether we can adapt to each other’s quirks, or whether they are so incompatible that it creates more problems than it solves.
I had to give up caring that I’d find my forever person, because that would take so long to build. I wanted something manageable, to be able to date someone that wouldn’t put restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do because we aren’t building a future together and compromising all the time. I just get to sit here and watch him be cute.
But while I’m sitting here watching, I’m not thinking about defining anything but this moment. If there is a future being built here, it’s having a friend that accepts me for who I am, and wants to be in my life at whatever level works best for both of us.
Now Oliver is snoring and kicking his feet, and I am subconsciously competing with Zac to see who types faster. Every minute, someone else is winning. I love that, because the sound of someone playing a mechanical keyboard is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth when they’re good at it.
As soon as I finished that paragraph, Zac was finished working and we headed out to the park behind his house with Oliver. If I lived in the ‘burbs of Virginia, I think I would get isolated over time, but there is nothing like having hiking trails very near your backyard. Zac has also promised me a trip to Great Falls, because I was lamenting how much I missed driving out The Gorge. Some of my favorite memories are hiking alone and with friends. Hiking alone is a totally different pace, because I’m me and need to take pictures every 50 feet. With Zac and Oliver, I hang all right, but we move faster.
I’m actually writing this from the Woodley Park-Zoo area Starbucks because hiking last night reminded me that the zoo is the best place to work for me, because the animals are the perfect background noise. What I did not take into account is that it is really, really hot right now. So I stopped in for a second cup of coffee and the ability to write in the air conditioning.
I’m having a grande cafe misto (cafe au lait) with an extra shot and four Splenda. Sometimes that’s called a red eye or a wizard jump. It’s my favorite thing on earth because it’s not candy. There’s real coffee in there somewhere. In fact, it was funny. I got off the metro and looked around for the gayest twink I could find because if there was a good coffee shop around, he’d know where it was. I said, “do you live in this neighborhood?” When he said yes, I said, “is there a good coffee shop around here…. or a Starbucks?” He laughed and gave me directions.
Starbucks is okay. The coffee tastes better with steamed milk and sweetener because it’s sort of bitter. I just prefer trying local brands, and rely on Starbucks when I flat need a cup of coffee and it’s getting serious. They’re everywhere…. and because I live so far away from some of my family and friends, the ones who know I like coffee make it possible to come here a lot, because digital Starbucks money is stupid easy to send for Christmas.
I also like my coffee ratio better than Starbucks, so if I have a large enough gift card, I’ll buy the beans I like by the bag instead of using it for multiple outings. Komodo Dragon and Caffe Verona are my favorite, because I like a coffee that can stand up to fat. They are big, bold roasts. I wish they didn’t have a flavor graveyard, because I wish that Indivisible and Morning Joe were still available.
I just love coffee shops in general because of the ’90s vibe. Starbuck’s has modernized, but plenty of shops are still retro. If you walk in and there’s some sort of lesbian music playing, you’re in the right place.
I don’t even have to define “lesbian music.” There’s a reason I didn’t listen to Indigo Girls in public for the longest because I thought to myself, “I look gay enough.”
But that relaxed vibe of a bar with drinks I’d rather have? Priceless. Yes, cocktails are delicious. But there’s an intimacy to drinking coffee and tea together. It’s the tiniest sacred ritual that exists. What is it about coffee and tea that makes us just as vulnerable as drinking beer or cocktails? Maybe it’s different for extroverts, but to me, drinking coffee together at one of those places that has mismatched couches and tables in an invitation for conversation to go deeper. It’s the feeling of the mug in your hand, the lighting of the early morning or late at night…. the acidity of the coffee and the sweetness of the milk… a type of communion that honors each other rather than a higher power.
I even feel that connection with the people who are sitting next to me, and they just got here.
In a bit, I’ll be leaving. I need to go and visit Kevin (what I call my favorite giraffe. I can’t be arsed to actually ask its name). We haven’t talked since last year. There are tables and benches that are very comfortable, vending machines so that you can get stuff even when the zoo is closed, and the comfort of feeling like the park itself is your own habitat/enclosure. You look around and see so much green…. and it’s an actual, working park because it doesn’t really close. People jog through all the time.
I can be focused and calm while also enjoying the outdoors. Kevin doesn’t mind if I work while we’re talking. He is also doing his own thing. When I need interaction and companionable silence, both Zac and Kevin are excellent choices.
Especially if I’ve had coffee.