Image Credit: “Last One In” by Matthew Oliphant
I’m sitting in my car, idling in front of the gated entrance to a storage facility in Fallbrook. It’s 11:30 PM. My mouth is dry, I stifle a yawn, and I wish I were home in Orange, lying in my own bed. Instead I’m waiting for Mike, a forty-something-year-old guy I’ve had sex with a couple times, to take me to his fuck-shack of a storage unit. His hulking form, a shadow among shadows, lumbers toward the gate. It swings open. Mike waves for me to follow him.
Depression, for me, manifests as a scratching loneliness. Thoughts of fading into nonexistence pound my brain like a steady drumbeat. I want to rip from my skin to end the relentless thudding. The only way to break the rhythm is through the creak of bedsprings. Escape is flesh on flesh, the entanglement of tongues, and a hungry look in another person’s eyes.
Two nights ago I was at the store buying scented candles and massage oil. I made my bedroom spotless, cleaned my sheets, and waited patiently for a guy named Joseph to text me. This would be our third date: the big one. He was supposed to spend the night but cancelled last minute. The resultant itch drove me to Mike. I expected the address he gave me to be for a house. It wasn’t.
I park behind Mike’s white Explorer. I’m wrapped in the warmth of his thick arms as soon as I leave my car. He kisses me, slowly at first, then his tongue forces its way into my mouth. He tastes like he just woke up, hot breath stale and salty with hints of garlic. We stand at the end of a long rectangular building. I follow him in to a hallway lined with garage doors. He takes me to one, pulls the door open, and we go inside.
Newly liberated from the closet, I expected life to fall into order. No more hookups, time for dates. No more feeling used, time to be someone’s priority. For nearly twenty years I’d had no issue finding sex. Love shouldn’t be difficult, right?
I signed up for dating apps. I went out with the first moderately attractive guy I matched with after exchanging three messages. Our first date went well; the second was stagnant and never-ending. Days later, he sent me a supposed-to-be-sexy picture of himself shirtless in bed, the shapeless and hairy upper half of his torso effectively delivering the killing blow to any desire I’d once had for him.
Then came Joseph. We met for coffee which stretched into a movie, then dinner, then sitting in my car for an hour, talking and holding hands. As the night ended, his eyes begged me to kiss him. When I did it was gentle, awkward, and sexy. Was this what being sixteen and in love might have felt like? At thirty-four years old, I was only just realizing how much of life I’d missed out on.
Since I was fifteen, life has been a never-ending series of hookups.
My first homosexual experience was an awkward blowjob—received—in a car in front of my parents’ house. The second was an awkward blowjob—given—in a rusted green van with a man more than triple my age. Though I lied about being eighteen, to him it didn’t matter. Then there was the time I met a man at a motel. We were naked in bed when his friend unexpectedly—at least to me—arrived. He sat at the foot of the bed watching us. Brandon, the MMA fighter who moved in with me after a one-night stand, turned out to be a violent felon who’d nearly choked his ex-girlfriend to death in front of her kids. I met a meth addict in a shack behind his house. I’ve snuck around with married men and had sex in the beds they share with their wives. I still have a picture of a woman whose eye is surrounded by a plum-colored bruise in the shape of a lung; the eye itself matches the inside of a tomato. Her husband had beaten her with a pistol after she’d gone through his texts and confronted him about me. She showed me her face after he was arrested. I’ve made porn while black-out drunk that exists forever online.
I’ve done a lot of Really Dumb Shit.
My therapist tells me I’m bipolar. A telltale sign is sex addiction. Or, more precisely, Risky Sexual Behavior. More than half the questions on the survey he gave me relating to this disease involved impulsive and reckless sexual acts. Of the 200+ people I’ve slept with, I can accurately name about twenty.
In the storage unit, dirty clothes pack the space between a sex-stained mattress and metal walls. Half-empty plastic water bottles are scattered randomly throughout the clothes; he occasionally grabs one to offer me a drink. A single incandescent bulb in the center of the ceiling lights the room. There’s no string. Mike twists it to turn it on or off. Psychedelic lights hang from the walls. “Check this out,” he says as he plugs them in. They’re a new edition; he asks me if they look cool. Though it’s after midnight, we hear multiple people come in and out of their own units. Each time, Mike springs up to yank the door all the way down. Mostly, he keeps it cracked to give the stale air the illusion of being fresh.
The normalcy of the night I should have had with Joseph rubs up against me. The candles that were never lit, massage oil sitting unused on my dresser; the regression from a romantic evening to my old ways of fucking strange people in strange places. Between fooling around, Mike shows me pictures of vaginas he has penetrated and flips through women on Tinder. Why does he have to be such a good kisser? I want to leave but my body tangles tightly to his.
When I was nine years old, I was taken with the urge to throw myself in front of a moving car while lost in my new neighborhood. The realization that there was an escape from frustration, from this body, never left me.
Depression became my first secret, my first closet.
When I was eleven, I got into an argument with my dad and was forced to see a therapist. He asked a few basic questions. “Do you ever get really sad? How did you feel when you and your father were fighting?” I was cagey with each answer; I didn’t trust this salt and peppered stranger who took notes after every word; he would see who I wanted him to see.
My parents took my place in his office as I sat in the lobby. While flipping through Highlights magazine I heard shouts behind the wooden door. No one talked our whole ride home. Later, my mom told me the doctor wanted to put me on lithium. My father had agreed. She fought, successfully, to keep me off the drug, but I learned that my performance with the therapist had been inadequate. I had been exposed.
My time in the closet was a period in which no relationship could be normal. I’d resigned myself to living a solitary life, bristling at conversations about sex or relationships. I was unsure how to act around gay people. Homophobic slurs caused a rise in my stomach that I had to carefully swallow. I never knew where to point my eyes; I was afraid to look at bodies and preferred the world view me as asexual. Every interaction held the risk of exposure.
A 2015 study by John Pachankis, Susan Cochran, and Vickie Mays found that queer men report having far fewer mental health issues while they are in the closet than men who have recently come out or been out for a long time. I wonder how much of this might be performative. While performing as straight, had I been performing as mentally sound? And then once the “straight” performance ended—once I allowed myself to be vulnerable and seen—did I fall into a performance of mental illness to make up for years of pretending everything was OK?
Am I with Mike because it’s where I want to be, or am I behaving as a bipolar person is supposed to?
“I like you,” Mike tells me. “I can see us dating. Find some down ass chick to bring in, too. That’d be fun, right?” I agree though my stomach flips. Hours pass slowly. I won’t be able to sleep.
At seven my alarm goes off. I teach a class at ten and need to go home. I’m tired and filthy and want to wash this night off my body. Neither of us slept, but Mike looks comfortable and relaxed, naked and spread out with one arm around me.
I find my clothes and get dressed. Mike pulls on his pants. He opens the door and walks me to my car. No one is around. He brings me in close and kisses me, deep and passionate. The world explodes in bright colors. In this moment, I know this is all I’ll ever need. He tells me he wants to see me again soon. One more kiss, just a peck on the lips, and I promise to hit him up later tonight.
By the time I hit the 51, the high of his touch fades and I can hear a familiar drumbeat. Alone in my body, the world is muted and gray. This was far from my worst hookup. Why does it feel like part of me got left behind in his mattress? Have I finally given away too much of myself? I think about Joseph and our first date; the conflict between what can be and what is. With a hypomanic rush of confidence, I promise I’ll delete Mike’s number, but I never do. His kiss lingers, sweet as tobacco.
Matthew Goldman is a dual degree (MFA / MA) student at Chapman University where he also teaches rhetoric and composition. He is editor-in-chief of Anastamos literary journal and the founder and host of the Write to Read reading series in Orange, CA. When he’s not engaged in literary citizenship, he obsessively writes about himself. Matthew enjoys quiet nights at home with his pit bull, Rocko, who is the goodest of boys.