Just before Valentine's Day 2007, I am writing about love, somewhere between the thick of heart-break and a surrender to hopefulness. I don't know that I know anything about love, except that somewhere down the line, I wrote my own fairy tale-- imagined a life with someone who dared to dream, as bravely as I have, that two black men can fall and stay in love with one another for the long haul. Then there is my reality.
There was little to no evidence of this as a kid who has known of my sexual desire for men for as long as I've understood desire. It's a pure projection of futurity, not unlike the way children play house as practice for the homes they'll build. And since there was not brave pairing with other little boys as practice for the home I'd someday try to build, I took whatever cues I could get from a culture so stubborn in its heteronormativity that my relationships have been about as broken and disoriented as it. Still, I remain hopeful. I have faith that each turn and stumble into those I sincerely recognize as capable of loving, will not lead to loving men who are as careless with my heart as I have been with it. And therein lies the "light-bulb" admission. I have not taken very good care of my heart. I've believed that I'm attractive because I attract attractive people. I've believed that I'm desirable because my worth can be measure by degrees, accolades, and sheer talents. And I honestly find living for another so much more gratifying than living for self. Yep. When I take my meds for HIV each day, I attach the act to a hope for finding that great love. I'm not really ashamed of that. I'm prolonging my life so that I can experience this joyous relationship I've been desiring for much of my life. Among the things i most want to be remembered for is being a good partner. Acceptance is a first step.
I have always been a hopeful romantic, a dreamer, and a pure heart. I look for reasons to love people not hate them. I never forget someone's best, and will try to look beyond their shortcomings to understand why they may operate projecting the creulty life has dealt them. I believe that many things that are broken can be fixed. And this is where the most recent heartbreak begins to shed light on the shortcomings of my romance and optimism. For all the ways I can love hard, I cannot mend anyone who prefers to stay broken or who doesn't believe they are. I have damaged myself in the trying. I'm a magnet for people in process who would prefer not to be. And this isn't to say that I have all my "shit" together and have no issues. I know my issues. They are identified and in process, independent of anyone else's help. That's my responsibility to myself. I do think that I've historically drawn people to me who adore the purity and intensity of my loving, only to be frightned away or overwhelmed by it. "It's not you, it's me", is the storyline of my life. And now I think i get it. I can now say: "Yes, it is you.", rather than the bends and turns to warp reality, rationalize, or delude myself into thinking happiness is possible with someone incapable of valuing my love. You see, the way I love isn't really the problem. My choices in loving have been.
At a recent Brave Soul Collective gathering we were all asked to share, as an icebreaker, the best advice we've been given as well as an unhelpful criticsm. After some reflection while others bravely shared, I noted that my statements were pretty much one in the same-- the suffix of the statement making the difference.
Criticism: You're a hopeless romantic... and you're gonna scare somebody off if you stay that way.
Best Advice: You're a hopeless romantic... find another. You can have everything that you desire.
I realized, upon a friend sharing with me, the second statement, that I have seldom felt deserving of the kind of love I'm willing to give. Where did this start? Not being protected from a childhood molester? Domestic, physical, and psychological abuses i witnessed in my home as a child? Pulpit blasphemy that preached everything contrary to the certainty that God is love? Insecurity and therefore an addiction to perfectionism? Clinical depression? HIV?
I can honestly say that those who have perhaps loved me best are among those whose hearts I have broken-- not because I desired to, but because, deep down, I saw a reflection of myself that i didn't believe was possible... and ran from it. In the past, I did not believe I was worthy of the kind of love i seek to give. I recall my last face-to-face conversation with my friend (and ex) Corey. We were taking a trip to visit his father in S.C. back in April 2006. I'd just distanced myself from someone who had proven to be disrespectful and unappreciative of the ways I honored and privileged our relationship. Corey was complaining about some cat who didn't return his phone calls and who seemed to show little evidence of the kind of loving I desired for my dearest friend. In our last hours, fed up with the ways that Corey's complaints mirrored my own toleration of "bullshit", I grabbed his hand, looked him square in the eyes and asked: "Do you know what it feels like to be cherished?" After a long pause, a sigh, and his suggestion that I was asking a trick question... he answered, "No". I was deeply saddened by this, as I knew that I had cherished him from the very first day we met back in the Fall of '97-- two b-boys locking eyes on Christopher street and discovering some magic thereafter. I relayed to Corey that i have always cherished him; to which he responded: "but you're different." He didn't feel deserving either. He passed away in November 2006. I'm very glad I expressed my feelings. It was a first lesson given to another, that was intended for me. The night of his passing I cried myself to sleep next to someone whose own sleep was clearly more important than the comfort i needed. Ain't that something?!? And I stayed...
We are creatures of habit. I once experienced someone who cherished (and still cherishes) me. He offered some approximation of the love I deserve. I denied myself it, thinking that perhaps we'd moved to fast, and lured back to someone who probably does love me, though unprepared to stand alongside me, as a partner, fully embracing all that a life-partnership entails. I got "got". And the worse thing about it is that, in the process, I broke someone's heart who has (perhaps) loved me best. He still loves and has forgiven me. I have not forgiven myself. I'm still working on feeling deserving...
So now, dusting off the knees and making my way through the rubbish for whatever loving lies ahead, I suffer through many a lonely night without a cuddle. It sucks. I'm a tough guy with a soft heart, and my pillows don't quite comfort like I'd prefer. But it's better to learn to be okay with this than sleep next to someone who doesn't seem to want you there at all-- who pushes you away with every attempt you make to hold onto. And it is in this current heart-brokenness that I'm finding my clarity.
Will i be less of a hopeful romantic here out? No. I don't actually think that's the problem. I do know the evidence that I am deserving of what I give will show up when I've found another willing to give the same-- perhaps through their own stumbling and falling-- the gift of awareness we sometimes get in the "mean"time. I graciously accept the smiles, attention, invitations I get to indulge the warmth I believe I deserve. I do know that right now, I most need a friend and time. Love will happen again. The confidence needed to have a firm enough foundation for the actualization of my most romantic hopes and dreams is possible. But i can't make the compromises I've made. Can't apologize for being traditional. Can't be anything but who I am: fearless in my loving, hopeful in my giving, smarter in my deliberation.
I spoke to a sistah-friend the other day about all of this. She heard the pain and despair in my voice-- me trying to cover the heart-heart with spirited performances and diligence in my professional work as an educator. "I know you, Tim'm", she said. "You wouldn't be you, if you didn't love even harder the next time.... you deserve that. You owe it to yourself to make it better."
I am coming to internalize the resolve and confidence that she and others have in me, in order to secure precisely what I want in a relationship. I'm beginning to look in the mirror and see the distinguishing marks and features that I've so long taken for granted as pretty damn special (hell, even sexy). I'm working through pain to get to something else-- the unspeakable joy you feel when there is no doubt that you are loved... and that it's not temporary or conditional. I'm preparing myself to believe, as strongly as I have ever before, that the love deserved, awaits me with a smile as full as my own.... in time. Love is nothing if not patient.