In It

“I’m a failure.”

“Don’t talk like that, baby.”

“You know that I’m a smart person, so don’t you think I’m smart enough to know that I’m a failure?”

I can’t think of anything to say. I wish I could think of something to say, something light hearted and warm, something that made him feel like less of a failure, but I’m too crushed beneath his statement to be able to think on my toes. I can feel some part of myself falling, fading. This is bleak.

Earlier that day, I had asked him if he could go anywhere in the world, where would he go. He told me that his dream is to live on a boat full of dogs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It sounded quixotic, but it also wasn’t the answer that I was looking for. Most people say things like Japan or Oaxaca, but he’d rather go to the middle of the ocean, where there are no people and there isn’t much to see.

“I just want peace,” he explained, which is when I realized that most people want to experience the world, but he wants to escape it. I wonder what could have happened that was so awful that he doesn’t want to see the pyramids, or the Great Wall of China, or butterfly migrations, or Niagra Falls, or the stock exchange, or the tallest building in the world.

I realize that this is a recurring theme. He had gained some weight a few months ago, and he told me that he likes it because it makes him feel safe. There are so many aspects of being a man that I will never understand, and there are especially so many aspects of being a black man that I will never grasp, and this is probably one of those things I can’t understand, but it also makes sense.

Later that day, as we’re lying in bed, and he’s next to me sleeping, I look at him. I really, really look at him. It’s cliche to say that he’s a tortured soul, but perhaps that’s the simplest way to say it. A more complicated to say it would be: the world punishes people who live at the crossroads of emotional depth and intelligence. There’s something very difficult about seeing the world the way it really is and continuing to survive inside it. To withstand the cruelty of the world so rawly, with no buffer between him and the pain – it’s destruction.

I know he wants to save the world. To protect the children. To defend the defenseless. He is a hero in his own way, even as the world rejects him. And I’ve reached the point where I love him, and it has nothing to do with fucking him, although that helps, too. It has happened – I just love him in a way that can’t be explained or broken or dissolved. So I wrap my arms around him while he sleeps so I can protect him from nightmares. I hold his hand as he battles demons. I am here, and I am doing this, even if it destroys both of us.

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