Updated: Oct 13, 2022
A Saga in Four Parts
On the morning that I wrote this I woke up at 4:30, unusually early. I made some cereal and tea, meditated, and walked to the gym. I was there for maybe 30 minutes. Then my ex walked in. He was with the person he left me for nine months ago.
When I saw it was him, and who he was with, I began to panic. Time to leave, I decided. I wanted to stay longer, but when he walked in, and I squinted to see it was him, I knew I had to listen to my body.
Two days ago, me and my roommate were getting sushi and I saw someone else I knew, a friend of a friend. He was across the room. In these situations, I always make it a point to say hi. On one hand, I believe it’s humanizing and polite. On the other, I have people pleasing tendencies. I don’t want someone to think I saw them and ignored them. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t say hi to me. I’m not sure if my, “just say hi,” philosophy is good, bad, or if I’m overthinking it entirely. I said hi to my ex. He smiled and we a had a brief conversation. Then, I left. I considered saying hello to the lover, who was on a nearby treadmill, but… I just left. “Fuck,” I whispered to myself when I stepped outside. It was a forty-minute walk back to my apartment. Before I made it to Druid Hill Park, I started crying when I thought to myself, “he looks good.”
As I write this, I hope he’s doing okay. He means too much to wish anything less. As I continued my walk home, I thought, “I guess today is the day to write the gratitude post about Myles.” I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. When I began this month-long gratitude project, I knew I would have to talk about Myles or else ignore the friendship that came to define my 20s. Still, I am filled with hesitation. Have you ever said something, and after hearing yourself say it, you can’t believe it came out of your mouth? Last year I was talking with my friend Chris as I was working through some anxiety. I said, disappointedly, “I don’t have a story to tell.”
I was shocked by my confession. It just slipped out, and I was shocked that I believed what I said.
The next day I was grappling with it heavily. Why did I think so negatively of myself? Why did I move my mouth to say, “I don’t have a story to tell.” I might as well have said, “I don’t have value,” “I am not interesting,” “I am not unique.” I knew it wasn’t true.
When I teach storytelling, and I teach it a lot, I emphasize that we all have a story to tell. We are all interesting people with value and wisdom. I believe that. I preach that. I stand by it.
I guess we might not feel that way, though, because we are too familiar with ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to see the beauty in the things that are familiar. We take ourselves for granted and do not realize that our experiences are interesting, that our opinions matter, and our feelings are worth sharing. Sometimes you must be your own teacher. “I have a story to tell,” I told myself, but why didn’t I feel that way? My best guess is that my story is tied up in the stories of other people. Who owns a story? Can we own what is ours when it is shared by others? Can we own our pain when we were hurt by the people we love? Or does loving them erase ownership entirely?
Does it transfer ownership of our stories to them? Are they part owners of our experience? Can we tell our stories of hurt, when the hurt was caused by the people we love?
These are not questions that I am asking for the first time. For a long time I’ve realized that I can’t tell the story of my childhood without telling the story of my parents. I can’t tell the story of my queerness without telling the story of my oppression. I can’t tell the story of my ancestry without telling the story empire. I cannot tell the story of my artistry without telling the stories of my collaborators, and here I realize that can’t tell the story of my 20s without telling the story of my relationships. And my relationships are queer, kinky, and polyamorous. They have been messy, but mostly they have been beautiful; beautiful and in the dark. For a long time, I could not tell the story of my relationships because I feared queerness. I feared the way I would be judged. In some cases, I feared for my safety and the safety of those I love. I feared that sharing my story would expose me or my friends in ways that were unwelcomed. Internalized phobia runs deep. How can you share your story if it makes you feel vulnerable from the outside in, world to community, and the inside out, community to self?
When I teach storytelling, I offer guidance for what I consider to be ethical:
1. It is about your experience.
2. It honors your boundaries.
3. It is radically honest.
The thing about a relationship is that it’s not just your experience. The thing about boundaries is that I want to honor his. The thing about radical honesty is that omission and silence extinguish it.
I would like to affirm that I was in love with Myles for eight years. We were never very public about our relationship. We did not do the cute couples posts on Instagram. We were never Facebook official. In public, our PDA stopped at hand holding, unless we were in a queer space. There was no PDA if we did not feel safe.
Ambiguous loss refers to trauma without closure. Losing Myles felt like an ambiguous loss, in no small part due to the fact that I could not share the loss with anyone and feel that they understood. If they were utterly dismissive of Myles and disrespected him, said something like “you’re too good for him,” or “fuck that guy,” I would find myself wanting to defend him. If they simply nodded and affirmed how I was feeling without sharing my anger, I felt unseen. I was looking for a Goldie Locks level of empathy, but what I got from people was too hot or too cold, too enthusiastic or too indifferent. Perhaps what this means is that internally I could not decide how I felt. Did I hate him? Did I love him still? Could I find closure amidst feelings that were all at once too hot and too cold?
Losing Myles was an ambiguous loss. I hope in sharing a little bit about him, about us, that I will feel a little more present, whole, disambiguated. This is a gratitude journal, and I know behind the triggers is a wealth of gratitude. I also know that story privileges the teller. It is inherently biased towards the speaker and their perception of events. I would invite anyone reading this to consider that this is one half of a story. It is the half that is mine. Part 1: Isaac, Maria, and Tavina Davine I met Myles in 2013 on OKCupid. At the time, he was a student at Towson University. I was a student at Stevenson, but I was recently cast in a play at Towson. I messaged him to ask if he wanted to meet up for coffee before rehearsal. We met at the Starbucks on York Ave. Myles thought he was talking to someone named Isaac because I didn’t share my real name until we met in person. I thought Tavish was too Google-able. I was still in the closet and my mom put the fear of God in me when it came to digital predators. Myles later told me he almost left right then and there, not appreciating the deception. I’m glad he didn’t. We walked around Towson’s campus. There was this great big tree that I climbed or at least swung on. That was when Myles decided that he liked me. We took things slow by gay standards. We didn’t kiss until after the third date, I believe. Not long after we were off to the races. One day at my apartment in Owings Mills, perhaps a month or two later, I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me. Although a few years later he told me he felt pressured to reciprocate. I remember wishing he had not told me that, but eventually, he said, the feelings were true. Either way, we were boyfriends. We spoke every day. We hung out all the time. We watched movies, traded music, and opened to each other.
I met Myles family that first year. I really liked them. However, Myles was still in the closet, so I was just the friend. Myles told his family that he had a girlfriend named Maria. That was me. I didn’t care. I had only come out to my mom and high school friends recently, and I know it’s scary on a case-by-case situation. Homophobia is real. Still, I liked his family and I felt they liked me. His mom mailed me a card to tell me that she was thankful that Myles had me as a friend. Myles was the second man I dated. When I was 21, the idea of an open relationship appealed to me. I suppose I was very sexually curious after bottling up my sexuality all through my teens and feeling the sting unrequited love in high school and early in college. We wrote up a relationship contract. It was a six-page signed document that outlined our expectations for each other, generally speaking, and in terms of sexual health.
Two months after we started dating, we met Doug. We became close friends. We would go over Doug’s apartment to watch Game of Thrones with him and his roommate Samantha. She became our friend too. Doug and Sam were the beginning of our shared friend group.
Two years later, in 2015, Doug, Sam, Myles and I decided to move into together after I graduated from college. We got a big old apartment with vaulted ceilings, huge windows, hardwood floors and a working fireplace in Bolton Hill. We had lots of parties in the apartment. A lot of cooking and game nights. We met Mason, Ahzee, Earnest and Tiarra who joined the friend group along with Ash and a combination of acquaintances between me, Doug, Sam, and Myles.
During this time, there were a lot of arguments too. In this apartment, me and Myles’ relationship faced some of its biggest challenges, what boiled down to honesty that was not expressed; expectations and boundaries that were not communicated and/or respected.
In 2016, I moved out. I felt that our relationship had reached an impasse and I broke up with Myles. I honestly cannot remember why exactly, but something wasn’t clicking. I immediately regretted my decision and worked to repair our relationship. Six weeks later, I was in therapy, and we were back together. Myles told me that I never seemed to be satisfied with anything. He believed I had anxiety and should talk to a therapist. Initially, I thought his observation was ridiculous. I wasn’t crazy. My dissatisfaction was a strength. It motivated me to succeed. I couldn’t help it if I was opinionated. I couldn’t help it if I was hyper-analytical and strived for excellence. Most importantly, I was smart. Smart people don’t need therapy. We can solve our problems by ourselves.
Myles wanted happiness. He insisted that life was about being happy. At the time I thought he was overly idealistic. I was happy to settle for neutral with moments of happiness here and there. Plus, what was there for me to happy about? I was a poor actor trying to make it in an industry that barely existed in Baltimore. I thought his ambition and his estimation of my mental health was a bit off, but I also saw that I was losing him. I decided the juice was worth the squeeze.
Therapy, as it would turn out, was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I would never have started if I had not believed it would help our relationship. It was an act of devotion, recognizing that my happiness mattered to him, and that it needed to matter to me as well, was an epiphany. Myles had already showed me love like I had never known and now, I thought, he is helping me to heal a part of myself that had been a long time wounded. My therapist told me – not initially, but eventually – that they suspected I had PTSD, certainly a difficulty with anxiety, impulse control, and adjustment making.
Admittedly, with our struggles exposed and problems better understood, things were still rocky. The honeymoon phase was well gone. We had both hurt each other and disappointed each other, but our communication was better, I still loved him fiercely, and he was still the only one who could make me laugh until I was out of breath.
It seemed were growing in opposite directions. I had transitioned to teaching and moved away from performance. I was hired by Johns Hopkins University to a be professor of applied improvisation. I was volunteering copious hours of my time with the Baltimore Improv Group and was fervently career oriented. Whenever Myles would ask, “what are you thinking about?” it was usually improv. I was still poor, but I now had health insurance and could afford to go out and spend some cash. I could purchase the occasional plane ticket too.
Myles climbed the corporate ladder and bought a house. He put more work into cultivating a group of friends and he developed a love for traveling. There were still lots of parties and outings. I sometimes felt guilty that I reaped the rewards of his social networking. I wished that he would step more into my world. I wished that I had stepped more into his. It was what it was and, I guess, what it needed to be. Our queer friend group was larger than ever.
We all got names. I don’t know how all the names were created or why they started, but I remember that Myles was the driving force in giving us all new names. There was Queen Masala, Lady Ernadette, and me? I got the name Tavina Divine. She was and remains my femme alter ego. She is my higher self, the spirited side of me that likes to let loose, likes to keke, and always has something smart to say. She is a mischievous, smirking diva and she is unapologetically me.
An improviser recommended a book to me: Buddhism: Plane& Simple. In it there was a metaphor about Buddhahood and the boat. The boat represents the people, places, and things that help us to cross the river of our struggles and reach the other side. Sometimes, though, we fall in love with boat and when we reach the other side refuse to get off and keep walking. In the summer of 2018, I began to wonder, “Was Myles my boat?”
That summer we were distant from each other, emotionally and physically. I had decided to participate in a summer program in Chicago. He spent the summer with friends and went to a music festival. He came to visit me and we got into a big argument.
When I got back home, things felt okay, but not great. I remember watching the series premier of Pose with him in the basement. It was a show about the Ballroom scene in New York during the 80s. He loved it. After a kind of culty experience in Chicago, I had decided to no longer watch TV, convinced that theatre was the only medium that mattered. I told him the show was great, but I wasn’t going to continue watching it. It upset him and I remember thinking again that maybe we weren’t right for each other.
I looked at his face in the dimly lit room. It felt like I was hallucinating, but I was sober. It was like I didn’t recognize his face, or that his face was many faces. I never had an experience like that until last year, around the same time, the time of endings, when once again I was overcome by this dissociative feeling. In September, this time, he broke up with me. It was one month before our five-year anniversary.
Part 2: The Pot, The Water & The Clay We broke up on a weekday morning. I was in bed and we were talking on the phone. I expressed a concern. He confessed that he no longer wanted to put in the work. I got in my car and drove to his house. We talked for a long time. When I left, I was single.
After some thought, I was determined to get him back.
We met at Wyman Park and walked around. I read him some of my journal entries. I got on my knees, not in a beggar-ish way, but like one who proposes to another. I had no ring and made no proposal, but re-affirmed what he meant to me. At first, I thought it worked. We held hands and continued to walk around. We got dinner. I walked him back to his car, but the night ended in disappointment. A while later I bought tickets to a music festival from my roommate and invited Myles to go with me. We went, but it was awkward. On the ride back we held hands again. Driving up Interstate 95, the Baltimore skyline was on the horizon. Inside my Hyundai, I could feel what was happening: this was it.
Outside his house, parked on a side street, he held me. We were both crying. My head was in his lap. One of his tears fell off his cheek and into my eye. I felt like that meant something. Finally, after a long goodbye, I drove home.
I was a wreck. Right before we broke up, I had started grad school. I contemplated dropping out and sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake in choosing to stay. But my boss at Johns Hopkins told me that if I got my master’s degree, I could teach full time. Financial security was too tempting. I was 26 and had little to my name. If I could get a professor’s salary teaching the art I loved, I’d be set for life. Regardless of whether I was with Myles or on my own, I thought, “this is an opportunity I cannot shy away from.”
But it wasn’t easy. The first few weeks at Towson University, I would spontaneously start sobbing in the hallway. It felt uncontrollable. Towson, ironically, was where I first met Myles. Initially, I was excited that we would both be Towson Tigers. I parked a half mile away from the campus because I refused to pay for a parking pass. Every morning, I would park my car on Stevenson Lane and walk down the road. Initially, those walks were painful. I would cry. Sometimes I would record a voice memo and pretend that it was his voicemail. I wanted to talk with him so bad. One time, I sang a song.
When we first broke up, I thought to myself, “I am going to try to fix this.” When I could not, I carried on, despondent. The only thing that got me out of my rut was Plan B: the long haul. It helped that Doug believed in me. He thought me and Myles were an amazing couple and that we could re-unite down the road. I called Mason to tell him, as I’m sure he already knew, that me and Myles were through, and he said he still wanted to be friends. I took that as a good sign too. I thought about our friend group. Admittedly, sometimes they felt more like Myles’ friends than my friends. He once said as much. “But they were my friends,” I thought. They were like family and the only people I felt like I could be myself around, who saw me as Tavish the person and not “Tavish the actor” or “Tavish the improv teacher.” I thought about our friend group, and I was thankful that they were not interested in leaving me behind too.
When Myles and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day, he gave me a card that said, “I like you and I want you and are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?” It was a reference to the Booty Warrior from The Boondocks. I thought to myself, “I guess we’re going to do this the hard way.” And this, ladies and gentlemen, is when I became a crazy ex-boyfriend.
“How do I improve myself?” I thought. My answer: do everything differently.
You know those joke pens that electrocute you when you click it? I got one of those, not to pull pranks, but to re-condition myself. I thought, every time I fall into an old habit of mind, I’ll give myself a little shock. (I know, I know. Cringe!) Don’t worry, that lasted about two weeks before I decided low-level electro-shock therapy was a bridge too far, but I began doing everything different, all the same.
I switched up my music and started watching TV again. I painted my apartment and re-decorated. I got a mattress – because before I was content to sleep on a foam pad and Myles hated that. In my defense, it was supposed to be good for your back.
“Teach yourself to be different,” I thought, “like Sandy from Grease.” Give up the good-girl act, slap on your lipstick and jump into some black spandex. “You’re the one that I want. Boy, you’re the one. Ooo-ooo-ooo-honey!” Let Tavina Divine out.
I got a tattoo. I pierced my ears. I joined a gym and started working out every day. I joined a swing dance class. I stopped drinking because I knew it would make me depressed, but I started smoking ganja, morning, noon, and night with my new medical card - thanks anxiety.
I began working with this metaphor about a pot, water, and clay. The idea was that a terracotta pot can be pulverized to dust and turned back into clay when water is added. At this point, I was 26 and I knew that my neural plasticity had decreased. Physiologically, the brain stops developing around 25 and change becomes more difficult because our synaptic pathways become “specialized.” Well, I didn’t like the way my pathways had become specialized. Hyper-vigilant artist was no longer who I wanted to be. If I was going to re-program my brain, I would need help. Changing my environment, appearance, and media input was part one: ground the pot to dust. Part two: Mary Jane and me, the water. Part three would be the hardest: molding myself into something new.
I threw out all my old converse sneakers. I threw out all my graphic tees. I bought a whole new wardrobe, and I got a haircut. I started having parties at my apartment and my schoolwork became decidedly phoned in. I was delighted to learn, that even while half-assing it, I could still pass the semester with straight A’s. *humble brag*
After years of avoiding astrology like the devil, I got my star chart read by Ash. I was very dismissive of astrology at first, viewing it as little more than uneducated superstition. I decided, I needed to be more open minded and try to see the value in things that added value to my friends’ lives, rather than holding onto a superior attitude.
I was surprised and profoundly grateful to learn about my planets. With my Sun, Moon, Venus, and Jupiter in Virgo, I started to understand how my analytical mind drove me towards problem solving and away from intuition, especially for matters of the heart. My Pisces rising explained why so many people saw me as “Tavish the actor,” rather than “Tavish, a human.” My Mars in Gemini spoke to my challenges in conflict: I always saw things from both sides, and I always hid a side of myself, not unlike superheroes with a secret identity, protecting something vulnerable and avoiding old wounds. Finally, my Mercury was in Leo, explaining why I am a leader and a doer, prone to impulse and creative thinking, bolstered by my Saturn in Aquarius. “Wow,” I thought. As the cliché goes, “that was pretty accurate.”
Celestial bodies aside, I tried to get back into therapy, but my old therapist, who I loved, was booked. I went to two other therapists who were god awful. The first shamed me for smoking weed. The second tokenized me. She “loved working with gay men!” She wasn’t sure why, but her stepson was gay too and he recently died his hair! So yeah… I was on my own for a bit.
My friend Kim had recently gotten back together with her ex. I asked her about the secret sauce. She subscribed to an online program, basically, a life coach. I didn’t want to spend money, so she told me the highlights: Stay busy. Fill your days with fun things. Post about them. Don’t reach out to your ex in desperation. If an opportunity to talk arises take it, but don’t be precious about it. Eventually, there might be an opportunity to hang out and that’s the opportunity you should take. Try to act unbothered and lead with positivity. “Perfect,” I thought. “I was already thinking the same thing.”
Writing about this chapter of my life is embarrassing. I felt determined because I felt desperate and because I believed Myles was the one.
Myles said we broke up because we were “incompatible.” This didn’t make sense to me. How can you love someone so deeply and feel incompatible? What happened to the good times? Incompatible is why people break up in the first three months, not after five years.
I believed we broke up because of priorities. I had made my ambitions as an artist a priority during those five years. I often went away during the summer for a theatre festival or training. I spent almost all my time at the Baltimore Improv Group or rehearsing for some play that I was in. He worked 9:00 to 5:00. I worked 6:00 to 10:00. He wanted to travel the world. I wanted to travel to the top.
When Myles was gone, I thought long and hard. I didn’t want success, if success meant being lonely. I didn’t want success, if success meant being unable to have fun with the person you loved.
Here's what I rationalized: 1) I felt unable and unwilling to move on. 2) I needed to improve myself because it had become clear to me that I was not happy. 3) If I improved myself, then maybe Myles would want to get back with me, but if he didn’t 4) I would be improved and more capable of moving on anyway. It was a win/win scenario. I was going to be in grad school for the next two years anyway. Why spend all that time scheming for my master’s when I could spend it scheming for him? Myles had once written me a list of everything that he wanted in a partner. This list became the one rubric that mattered during those two years.
I started going out more, taking charge of my own sense of fun. I went to festivals. I went dancing. I went to a gay bar by myself for the first time. I decided to go to Pakistan. My friend Akbar, who I had met at an improv intensive the previous summer, was getting married. Of course, I wanted to go, but originally, I thought it would be too expensive and that I wouldn’t really have time for something like that. After the breakup and the activation of Plan B, Pakistan was an easy “Yes, And.”
I also went to South Africa. This was actually a part of my grad program. Don’t ask me what part because it had little to do with our curriculum of study. In fact, our professor failed to give us an itinerary for the last ten days and we were basically on our own. No complaints from me though. DIY anthropology is where it’s at. I had a great time and I fell into a little romance while I was there too.
Once or twice, Myles and I had run into each other while we were out and about. One time, we ended up back at his place for an after party. Nothing happened, but it felt good to be in proximity to him. At Christmas, Doug, Myles, and I went to the lighting of the Washington Monument. Then we drank, danced and saw some drag queens.
Myles and I started messaging each other on social media. (Mwahahaha! All hail Plan B!) I wasn’t sure what it meant, but felt consoled by this one conversation we had on Instagram. It reminded me of AOL Instant Messager, it had that same kind of liveliness, care, and social anxiety to it. All we did was talk about family and recent happenings, but it made me so happy and hopeful. Meanwhile, I was keeping my friendships strong. I stepped away from Baltimore Improv Group. I left my troupes and I reduced my teaching hours significantly. It was a difficult decision. The hardest was leaving The Middle West, but I had to make room for change in my life. Although I loved the improv community, improv, I recognized, had become “that bitch,” the one who steals you away from your man because the sex was just too damn good. But like that bitch, she couldn’t offer you the love you needed. My friend Blue jokes that improv makes “improv widows” because improvisers spend all their time at the theatre at the expense of their relationships. But now, with no more obligations to perform or rehearse, I had an abundance of time. I gave it to my queer family.
In 2019, I had started dating again. Well, I guess dating is a generous word for it. In 2019, I became a mega-slut and I have the anti-biotic related health complications to prove it. I also, however, reconnected with Myles more intimately.
In March, we went to New Orleans with Doug and stayed with his brother for Mardi Gras. Myles and I shared a room, and I’ll let you do the math on that one. After New Orleans, we began hanging out more often.
2019 was a hot boy(s) summer. Myles asked me what my intentions were and I told him that I still loved him, but I was just interested in being friends and seeing where things went. I didn’t want to come on too strong, but also, just to reiterate, it was a hot boys summer - with an ‘s’.
Myles and I went camping. We went to a music festival with Doug and Ash. I did molly, mushrooms, and adoral for the first time. There was lots of dancing and interesting romantic connections being made. But, it would seem, sexual liberation comes at a price because I developed erectile dysfunction and some digestive issues that wouldn’t be solved until a year later. Both of these health problems gave me immense anxiety. I no longer felt sexy, but Myles still made me feel beautiful. I wanted to please him, and I felt like the universe wouldn’t let me… not in the way I wanted anyway. Myles and I continued our new dynamic, our situation-ship, into the fall. Then some things started to change. One of our friends took space from us and it was an ambiguous loss that we couldn’t really talk about. Although our friendship continued, it grew strained. I partly blamed grad school, which was now devouring my finances and consuming my energy because it was time to write my thesis. Coasting was no longer an option.
I started to feel, again, like my career combined with my mental health was getting in the way of my happiness.
At the end of 2019, Myles’ Dad died. Me and our friends celebrated the New Year without him. The funeral was in Virginia and I made sure that Myles would have friends there to be with him. Me, Doug, and Mason made the trip. It was my first time seeing his family since before we broke up. I was happy to see them, but the circumstance was very sad.
It was a beautiful service. On the ride home, though, I felt so miserable and anxious. My stomach was bothering me, and I couldn’t for the life of me carry a conversation. We stopped and had dinner. A few hours later, we were back in Baltimore.
I had been crying for a few days and I knew Myles was too. I went to T.J. Maxx and assembled a basket of self-care goodies. I included a joint, honey jack, and a mason jar full of inspirational quotes about family. I made it look pretty and I placed a stuffed animal on top, a little monkey that I got from the Rainforest Café when I was a kid. I don’t remember most of January. I remember feeling like I needed to give Myles space and that he needed distance, but I couldn’t really chalk it up to anything except circumstance. In February, he decided that it was time to discontinue our friendship. I didn’t have a meltdown this time. I just remember feeling numb. Eventually it boiled over into anger and the anger into poetry.
The next month, the coronavirus descended upon the world.
Part 3: When Shit Was Getting Real
I was doing okay. Plan C was, if things do not work out with Myles, move to Washington DC; start life anew after graduating from my master’s program.
“I did it,” I thought. I had improved myself. I got a little beat up along the way, but I felt like I did what needed to done. I followed my heart. Maybe Myles and I just weren’t meant to be together. Maybe we would find our way back to each other in a few years, but living on a maybe, was no way to carry on.
I had no contingency plan for a global pandemic.
It was March and I was going coo-coo. Doug, recognizing that I was in dire straits and feeling trapped in his mother’s house while he finished his nursing degree online, came to live with me for a bit. It didn’t last though. My mental health, as it would turn out, did not have a good affect on his mental health. We talked about it very honestly and he left. It was okay, though. I was really grateful that he came to live with me and that he helped me navigate the first few weeks of the pandemic. I felt more prepared for the road ahead.
I was starting to acclimate. Teaching improv online was quite fun. I finished my thesis, presented it to the committee, and graduated cumma sum laude. Doug, Chris, and I celebrated with drinks and dancing in my living room.
Mason also graduated. Myles organized a drive through graduation ceremony in a parking lot near Druid Hill. It was really cute. Samantha, Doug, and I went together. Tiarra, Raheem, and Earnest were there too, plus Mason’s extended family. There were balloons and speakers. Mason didn’t walk across a stage, but he did walk across the lot. It was one of those beautiful pandemic stories, a story of resilience and community.
I will admit, though, I was a bit hurt. Since the pandemic began, Myles had not texted me once to see how I was doing. He did not text me to congratulate me on graduating. He only texted me to invite me to Mason’s graduation, and even then it was weird because there was some triangulation.
Also, a lot of my friends didn’t congratulate me. The parking lot celebration was cute, and I was not jealous or anything like that, but I just remember thinking, “I also just graduated. I would also like a celebration.” Maybe I just wasn’t vocal about it. I didn’t like grad school and I tried not to talk about it often. I didn’t post on Facebook, but these were my friends, right? Ugh… I was over it. I was just thankful that we had both graduated and were both looking to the future.
Then in June, 2020 became the summer of fascist bull shit. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Toyin Salua were murdered, joining the list of people that these United States have snuffed out before their time.
Interlude: Revolution & Resolution
On social media, my timeline was littered with images of protests across the US, across the globe. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter.
A police SUV in New York drove into a crowd of peaceful protestors. An officer in full riot gear pushed an old man to the ground, breaking his head open, and sending him into a coma. A maniac showed up to a protest and fired arrows into the crowd with his bow. Secret police, in unmarked vans, began abducting protestors in Portland. Trump decided to use tear gas on a peaceful crowd new the Whitehouse and then held the holy book of my ancestors in his hand for a photo op. Fox News defamed the protests as riots and anarchy, and the Republicans put ANTIFA on the terrorist list, distracting us from the real villains in this conflict. Journalists were shot. More images. More videos. Kimberly Jones reminded us that we are “lucky that what Black people want is equality and not revenge.”
When Freddie Gray was murdered by Baltimore Police in 2015, I was panicked to see the reaction. I had nightmares where Myles was next. I was disgusted by our justice system, by the lies that we had been fed about this country. Most of my queer family was Black… and I silently vowed to avenge them, if anyone should ever cause them harm.
What happened in 2015 seemed like peanuts in comparison to 2020. How could that be? Now, it seemed, the truth underlying our democracy was stripped bare, barer than it’s been since the 1960s, since AIDS, since the Civil War, since Tulsa. The police do not exist to help us, I realized. They exist to “keep the peace.” They were created to catch runaway slaves. They were created to put BIPOC and queer people in their place, to keep the outsiders on the margins, silent and impoverished through law and order by any means necessary. In 2020, I felt like I had gone to war and had nothing lose.
The first protest that I went to confirmed everything that I needed to know. It was a march through West Baltimore that ended at City Hall. One police officer said something sarcastic to me as I held my fist in the air. As night fell, most of the protestors started to go home. I chose to stay with, perhaps, 100 other people. I was curious. What would they do? We had a right to be there and no one was hurting anybody.
When the sun set, the military gear came out. With riot shields in hand, the police pushed us back from City Hall to the adjacent street. It looked, to my eyes, like an old fashion warzone: two sides entrenched in their lines with a No Man’s Land in the middle. Some protestors threw water bottles at the police. Perhaps a rock. This, I thought, is what escalation looks like. They responded by firing rubber bullets and flashbangs. They charged us and we ran, only to re-form our line, again, twenty feet away. I was wearing a helmet and safety glasses. I didn’t want to lose an eye or an ear. There were DIY medics treating people who were bleeding from the head. I wrote a lawyer’s phone number on my arm with a black marker in case I got arrested. Every time the police charged us, we ran. It felt like I was in gym class playing capture the flag. “What a weird association,” I thought. By midnight, we had had enough. Whoever remained went home. My experiences in protest brought me back to Myles eventually, but first there was a war on another front: The Baltimore Improv Group.
When the protests began, I reached out to Terry, my boss at BIG. I told him he needed to make a statement as the leader of our community. He was reluctant and ultimately refused. He insisted that we were not a social justice organization, we were a comedy theatre. I insisted that we were a community theatre and that justice was in our mandate, and I threatened to resign if he didn’t do something.
Simultaneously, Blue and Tashika took to Facebook to call out the bigotry that they had experienced as Black women in the theatre. Blue asked me to testify to some experiences that I had borne witness to. Others did the same.
As I continued to voice my concerns to Terry, he told me that he thought I was being “brainwashed,” playing it off as he usually did, like a joke. He told me he was reluctant to take a public stance because he was afraid that the Black improvisers at the theatre would use it as an opportunity to work against him in the name of justice. For him, it seemed, justice and inclusion mattered little against the success of the theatre and the exaltation of what he considered to be “good comedy.” He told me that he didn’t want to see “shitty improv.” It sounded like he was afraid of affirmative action and didn’t feel like he, a white man, should be held accountable in any way for the racism that existed “outside” of the theatre, while being dismissive of the racism that existed “inside” the theatre.
To say I was heartbroken was an understatement. I looked up to Terry as a role model and mentor. He expanded BIG’s programming and brought some powerful ideas to Baltimore that helped to grow the community. At the same time, he caused division. I thought some people just didn’t like him because of his organizational changes. Turns out, those changes came with a price. I thought we shared a vision about what improv could be. In the past, I didn’t mind if he had a problem with shitty improv. Hell, I have a problem with shitty improv. I’m no stranger to being opinionated about what quality looks like, but, as Blue said, “by whose rubric?” When I realized that Terry’s “aesthetic” ended where racial justice began, that was it for me. I quit.
“Brainwashing” was the word of the summer. Watching the news, following the conversation, and bearing witness to the racism being unearthed in the “liberal” arts, I indeed felt brainwashed. I started drinking heavily. I stopped eating and for a while I did not know the meaning of hygiene. I drank a lot of coffee and smoked so much weed. Unusual times call for unusual responses. I had never gone on a bender like this. I was high and outraged. I would find myself shaking at the injustice, trembling every time I heard a siren, and I thought for sure I was hallucinating because I kept hearing gunshots and wailing. Don’t ask me how, but I knew most of them were not there. “PTSD,” I thought, thinking about my confrontation with the police, “is fucking real.” I could never be a soldier… Something happened in this fog of caffeine, alcohol, and smoke. I had a profoundly spiritual experience. I call it “the download” because that’s what it felt like. I would sit on my couch, unable to move, and unable to stop my ruminations. I visualized a beam of energy descending upon me.
Sometimes I would like it. It felt like nothing I ever felt, intensely thought provoking. Sometimes, I hated it and would ask, “when will this stop?” almost begging my brain to give it a rest. I thought about what I had learned from BIG and what I had learned from the Police State.
I researched the scientific definition of “brainwashed” and learned about the diversity of ways that we can gaslight others and be gaslighted by others. Not every manipulation is intentional and conscious. Sometimes, we are gaslighted in ways that are subliminal, conditioned by a culture of shame and an interplay of personalities seeking pleasure and belonging.
I thought about the phrase, “I don’t see color,” and how ridiculous it was. Then, I realized, there were many ways in which I had never felt seen. We might not say, “I don’t see queer,” “I don’t see anxiety,” “I don’t see suicide,” “I don’t see gender,” “I don’t see trauma,” but as a society we might as well. And that phrase, “I don’t see ______” is, at its core, the most essential way that we gaslight each other. We refuse to affirm our difference, and in so doing, refuse to affirm our shared humanity.
As a queer person, I never felt seen outside of my friend group. Growing up, I didn’t feel seen, not completely. I didn’t feel seen as someone with anxiety or trauma. I didn’t feel seen as a man who liked men, who had a feminine side, or who could take ownership of his body and the various ways in which it can receive pleasure. I didn’t feel seen as someone who held secrets. I didn’t feel seen as someone who was worthy because my bank account showed me that I was not. I didn’t feel seen as someone who struggled with abuse and consent because for a long time, I didn’t know what those words really meant, let alone what they had to do with me. I didn’t feel seen by others. Okay. I didn’t feel seen by myself? Oh, hell no.
I realized the ways in which I still hated my body, even after being out for seven years. I realized the ways in which I masked my experiences for other people’s comfort and positioned myself to avoid conflict and accountability. I realized the ways in which I gave my family a pass for the hurt they caused me, rather than being honest with myself about the messaging I received while growing up in a straight, white town as a queer, racialized human in a family with a history of mental health problems.
I realized why I fetishized masculinity. I realized that it was not insignificant that I was the only white person in my group of queer friends. I realized I struggled with feeling superior: I always thought I knew better than other people. I was casually dismissive of those who shared differing opinions, and in the most subtle of ways, I prioritized myself over my people.
I realized that all struggle is perpetuated by ignorance, greed, and trauma. I realized that all oppression correlated with individual struggle, and escalates towards erasure, exploitation, and systemic violence. I realized that that all healing requires curiosity, compassion, and honesty. I realized that liberation would require visibility, equity, and radical authenticity. I felt like I discovered the keys to the universe, alone on my couch, me and the cosmos, and thousands of spiritual gigabytes of data.
When the download finished, I was a different person. I woke up feeling so happy, curious, and thankful to be alive. Every morning I would listen to jazz and wake up with the sunrise. I stopped drinking and smoking for the time being. I thought about what was next. “Time to get radically honest,” I thought. I started reaching out to friends and family to tell them how I was feeling, who I was, what I was learning, and who I wanted to be. I decided, too, that I should reach out to Myles.
Part 4: Once More
I didn’t have an agenda or a scheme this time around. I just wanted to be honest. I hoped he would want to get back together, but I didn’t feel like his answer was more important than my honesty.
We met at 5:00pm under a tree by an old train station. We talked until 5:00am. A few days later, we met up again and talked for a few more hours. We made love and it seemed like things were going in a positive direction.
Later that summer, we went camping with friends. On the way home, Myles, Doug, and I had a heart to heart. Myles and I ended up getting back together. This was it, I thought. This is the beginning of the rest of our life.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Doug and Myles had a falling out, and I stayed friends with Doug. But how do you stay friends with two people who are no longer friends with each other? For me, I just held onto hope, convinced that they would make up eventually.
I started re-developing my company, Bird City Improv. I created a curriculum with a radical ethos, attempting to right the wrongs of BIG, clear my complicit conscience, and finally create something artistic that could sustain me, while making a meaningful difference in the world. I was busy, but things seemed like they were working. I felt like I was able to find a good balance between friendships and work, where before I had not felt that way.
It was still stressed though, especially when I taught classes about advocacy and justice. I found myself unable to quit smoking, which frustrated me because it now seemed like a hindrance, a habit that prevented me from being fully present. Still, I was generally happy.
Myles and I hung out a lot. We went on a few weekend getaways. We rented AirBNBs for Mason’s birthday, Tiarra’s birthday, and Raheem’s birthday. We traveled to Charlotte, scoping out a place to possibly live. That Pride month was the most fun Pride month that we ever had. Then, Sophie the dog died. My family traumas caught up with me, and I retreated inward. I had a few panic attacks. I started smoking and drinking a lot more than I had previously, and I remember hiding it, or downplaying it, from Myles. I guess I was afraid that he would see my downward spiral as backsliding into who I was. Maybe I was afraid of admitting that I now had a problem with substance abuse. Radical honesty, it turns out, is not easy.
There were some other hiccups, here and there, in our relationship. Looking back, I wish I had spoken about them. I wish I had advocated for myself. I just didn’t want to rock the boat because it seemed like we had a good thing going on. When we got back together, Myles made no promises. He said we could try, “but no guarantees.” Maybe it was a mistake to get back with someone who you were ready marry, while they had only one foot in the door, but I’m the type of person who shoots his shot. The downside, though, was sometimes I felt like I was walking on eggshells. “No guarantees,” meant that I needed to show up as the best version of myself no matter what.
In August, I took the month off to deepen into spirituality and recuperate from Sophie’s loss. Doug and I went camping, and by the time my birthday came around, I felt a lot better.
Then, my mom had reconstructive foot surgery and it didn’t go well. My friend Caiya, who had been battling cancer since 2019, got moved to hospice. A student threatened me after I removed her from a class. The year prior, my boss at Hopkins told me to “tone down the advocacy” in one of the classes (about advocacy) that she asked me to teach. I filed a report against her that led to a mediation. It was scheduled right in the middle of this time. The mediation was dissatisfactory and left me feeling worse than when it started. I decided I would have to resign from Johns Hopkins. It was really disappointing. At this point, still a part-time professor, Hopkins was holding me back and it became clear to me that equity, diversity, and inclusion were just words to them. The panic attacks continued. Myles and I got into a fight towards the end of September. Caiya had just had what would be his last birthday, and Myles wasn’t there for me the way I wanted him to be. Myles chose to hang out with someone else while I was grieving, and that really bothered me. I told him. He apologized and I forgave him. Myles and I joined a queer kickball league and that was the highlight of my fall. One game, I was the MVP and Myles charged towards me and carried me on his shoulders. I felt incredibly proud.
We went to The Field of Screams on what would have been our eight-year anniversary. I remember him holding me in gleeful terror as we walked through the haunted woods. I got him a card and some flowers.
On the last day of the kickball season, he told me that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue our relationship romantically. We talked about it and he was going to take some time to process.
I went with him to Houston for his birthday. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed home, but in my fear I became clingy. On the outside, I was trying to act like a chill little cucumber, but on the inside, I was in a pickle. It was an okay trip, but not very romantic, and I had to fight to hold myself together.
A week or so after we got back, I was on a knife’s edge. Myles was still unsure about what he wanted, or else had not communicated it. I decided, for better or worse, to do some mushrooms. I pulled a Tarot card, a card of dedication. I wrote some intentions on a paper and lit the paper on fire. I drank my magical tea. As the trip began, I felt peaceful. I felt like what I was doing was important and that, perhaps, it would offer me some clarity.
What happened? I got angry. It was a deep and still anger. He was my family. I loved him like family. I had never been more devoted to anyone. I always showed up for him when he needed me, and now he was leaving me in limbo because… why exactly? It wasn’t fair. Why do I still have something to prove?
I waited for the high to peak and for the world to come back down. Then, I showered and gave him a call. He didn’t answer. I called him again. He didn’t answer. I texted him: “Call me. It’s urgent.” Eventually, he called me back and I told him to come over, that I was not okay.
He was panicked when he arrived. There were tears in his eyes and I felt sorry that I scared him. I told him that we are figuring out “whatever this is” tonight, and I apologized for the suddenness.
We spoke for a long time in a way that was very even keeled. He had made up his mind and there was no changing it. He told me that he felt safe with me, that I was his best friend, that he loved me, he thought I was beautiful, that I was capable of anything, and that I would make someone else very happy.
Myles, as it turned out, met someone who made him very happy. He told me he wanted to date other people because I was the only person he had ever dated. I knew he met someone. He knew I knew. I didn’t care. I was honestly happy. I mean, maybe I was a little jealous of the time they spent together, especially while I was going through what I was going through, but I’m not a control freak and I didn’t think it was a reason to be insecure. I met the guy and I thought he was really nice. I believe in free love, but I didn’t realize that this person had won Myles’ heart, not consciously at least. The pieces were coming together. Myles had fallen in love. Someone else had fallen in love with him.
Can I knock Myles for wanting to date other people? Life is too short. Love is too awesome. The world is too exquisite. Everyone should go and explore it. I know it’s cliché, but I believe in living life to the fullest. Still, it hurt. It hurt really bad.
Since then, I have felt bitter and resentful. Words like “betrayed” and “abandoned” slip into my psyche from time to time. But, you know, it’s not his fault, and I have to remind myself of that. He’s not perfect and I think he could’ve done things differently. I guess I could’ve done things differently too, but I never felt like he intended to hurt me. Quite the opposite. And I know he regrets that, despite his intentions, he hurt me all the same.
I think Myles is beautiful from the inside out, and I’m thankful that we shared so much of our time together, that we kept coming back to each other, in earnest, and taught each other a lot about what it means to be human, about what it means to seek companionship, and understand belonging. Epilogue
In the Spring of this year, I tried doing kickball again with Myles and the gang. My friend Jo, who I look to for wisdom, suggested that I try to repair the friendships that I had and to be unafraid of something that brought me joy. That’s what I did. I was back on the team. I was back with my friends. It was fun, but it was difficult. When the games ended and we went our separate ways, it was hard to feel satisfied because the memories kept coming to the surface. Meanwhile, other parts of my life continued to challenge me.
I haven’t seen any of them since the season ended. That was by design. I made an intentional choice to take space. Until seeing Myles at the gym, I had not seen him either. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was still with that guy. Then, I saw them together, with our friends, at New York Pride and I saw them both at the gym too.
It’s funny. Last year was our best Pride. This year was my worst. June came around and I started crying. I didn’t feel proud, and then I was horrified to realize, “I didn’t feel proud.” What was all of this for? In my 20s, I had made so much progress into becoming who I thought I was meant to be. Now, again, I felt lonely. I hadn’t felt this lonely since I was a confused little kid or maybe an angsty teen.
Things have been better lately. These gratitude journals have helped. So has my friend Teddy and being able to see my family last month. I feel like I am finally taking a moment to say, “hey, this is me, and this is what I love, and this is what happened.”
And hey, Myles, this is me. You were someone I loved. From my perspective, this is what happened.
I think of you often. At times, it has made me want to leave Baltimore because everywhere I go there seems to be a memory of you. But you know what? That’s not a bad thing. They’re mostly good memories. Now, I just need to make some new ones.
When we broke up, our relationships ended with lots of affirmations, smiles, and a hand hug. I will say what I said again. I want you to be nothing less than happy. I want the same for me. I guess life just threw me one too many curve balls this past year, but I am still trying to find that light. I am still committed to my happiness.
Myles, this is a journal about gratitude. I know you are a private person, so forgive me for sharing my story – our story – but I need to let go of this hurt. I need to say to the world: this is the human that I loved, above anyone else, and one of the people in my 20s for whom I am most thankful. I have felt so confused for so long by whatever it is about us that didn’t work. I guess it doesn’t matter, but before I end this post, I would like to thank you for what does.