When I ride my bike in the cold, I like to warm my body by working myself up into a raging froth. I imagine yelling back at shitty male customers and distant relatives and exes and politicians and everyone who has spurned me. I was recently on one of these rides to meet someone I was seeing — the kind of radical queer who says shit like “ghosting is violent” and doesn’t respond to my texts for three weeks — and I thought, “I don’t fucking care if I die alone! I’m in love with all my friends.”
We ended up making out in the bright awkward lighting of the Bay Street parking structure. I was wearing gloves and thinking about how much less vulnerable I am now, how I kind of miss feeling like my eyes were open wounds that tunneled into my dark, festering soul. She texted me later that she thinks I’m adorable.
I worry about losing my texture. That, in a time when our only chance at survival and meaning is deep love and fierce care, my heart might harden into a pile of rocks, sheltering its last tender scraps for a clever seagull. How do you keep yourself soft and porous in the right ways in a horrible world? I never want to feel less.
I wanted to write about my queerness, and not about grief, but I don’t know if I can write about anything without grief tangling her fingers around my words. I know this overlap isn’t unique to my experience, but it is relatively new for me. Maybe I feel more comfortable with grief in the room.
My close friend David died in August 2014. I’ve continued to write sporadic letters to him, maybe filling a hole for his final letter to me, maybe cupping my hands together to contain his impressions and questions and keep them alive and growing in the dirt. I want to continue breathing into our friendship, sharing my queer beginnings with him. I come back to his writing and I find a map for my grief.
In his undergraduate thesis, Daft Punks, David refers to Lauren Berlant’s assertion that “all attachment is optimistic, if we describe optimism as, the force that moves you out of yourself and into the world in order to bring closer the satisfying something that you cannot generate on your own but sense in the wake of a person, a way of life, an object, project, concept, or scene.”[*]
Is that something always belated? Always sensed in a trail, when the thing is headed away?[†]
Did it take David’s death for me to return to myself with my queerness beating in my hands? Nothing is linear, but why couldn’t I have moved out of myself and danced into the stars sooner, bejeweled and linking arms with David.
My generous and well-meaning manager likes to connect with our staff over special things that she associates with each of us.She comes into the store bearing these pieces like a sack of sea glass and bird feathers she’s collected on her weekend walks. With John, she talks about experimental film and John Berger; for Liz, she sometimes brings arcane historical facts and tiny black sweaters that always look great on her.
With me, she shares tidbits about other exceptionally shy people who grow old and never find true love.
A few months ago, she reread the works of Henry David Thoreau. She came into work one day and pulled me aside to recount a bit of Thoreau’s journals that made her think of me: he wrote so passionately about nature and plants — compulsively identifying and describing each one he came across — that she could feel his deep joy in solitude, and how much he loved being alone. It was okay that he never found his person because he was able to do everything he loved on his own — he preferred it! Just like me.
David’s chapter about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ art cuts me open. To encounter collective and individual queer grief through these layers of contact, David’s mind and words and body: my community’s and my own shattering loss.
He writes about Gonzalez-Torres’ piece “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” an installation of two clocks next to each other that gradually fall out of sync:
These lovers are perfect in their negativity: two clocks that together refuse to signify for the rest of us, that mock our gaze and tick in queer temporality. The lovers’ perfection is their adjacency, beating clocks that are almost but not quite, touching.
We were best friends, not lovers. But I’m interested in the proximity of queer friendship, the not-quiteness, and also the fullness. The porousness of queer temporality.
My friend Dylan recently reminded me of one time when we took mushrooms with David on Catalina Island. We were on the beach when it hit us, and Dylan said he started feeling paranoid that everyone around us knew that we were all on drugs. He tried to calm himself down, telling himself it was okay, no one knew we were on drugs. Then he turned and saw David walking fully clothed into the ocean, with me following.
That’s where I like to imagine David’s and my relationship living, in some suspended world: the two of us next to each other and floating in the warm clear waves, enchanted by the sensation of water licking our faces, filling our nostrils and ears and shirtsleeves.
I don’t want to be speculative or reach to stuff anything into the past that doesn’t belong there. Part of what feels hard about writing this sticky spiderweb of grief and queerness and questions is that the first person I want to talk with about it is David.
Before she went on her trip, Danielle and I talked about how we unknowingly held and felt our queerness in high school. I mentioned that I’d stolen one of my dad’s flannel shirts the last time I went home, and it reminded me of the first time I borrowed one of his flannels, when I was eleven and dressed as Kurt Cobain for Halloween.
“That’s right,” she said, “you’ve always dressed like a total dyke.”
David always asked me to go with him to see new films about queer women, and I would feel something deep and warm that I was maybe too depressed or sheepish to dig up and articulate. What do we do when we find those messy and not-yet-whole parts, when we feel too old to rename ourselves?
I recognize that this isn’t a very fruitful line of thinking, but what if I had been out when David was alive? We were in deep queer love, and I wish I had had more language for it then. But maybe my not being out was part of the not-quiteness of our relationship, the ineffable magic of our closeness.
Can grief obscure queerness if it hasn’t been named? Does it eventually burst queerness open like an apple hurled at a wall? I guess, like with most things, it can probably be both, and a lot of the stuff in between, and other things too. Maybe I had to sense my queerness belatedly, in David’s trail.
It’s not that I do or don’t want to be alone. I want more expansive narratives of aloneness, and not-aloneness, and shyness. I never want to be likened to Thoreau.
I want more stories about queers whose community love sustains them and makes them feel alive and full and held and safe in the world. I want to hear about people who cook for their sick, tired friends and love everyone in their community deeply and make each other art and take care of each other’s kids. I want stories about people who live alone and read a lot and are close with their families, and I want those stories to be heartening, not weird and sad. I want to hear about people who feel less alone because of the internet. And I want to hear how everyone holds their grief.
Mostly, I want us all to be fed the stories and the care that we need to get to wherever it is we’re supposed to be.
[*] Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.
[†] Italicized lines are from David’s undergraduate thesis: Getman, David. Daft Punks. Berkeley: UC Berkeley English Department, 2014.