This Side of Love

a bro­ken story

Hello Mr. Magazine - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Text by JA­COB WAR­REN Pho­tog­ra­phy by HAR­RI­SON GLAZIER

This story has changed the names of the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved and con­tains a scene of graphic vi­o­lence. Au­gust 2011

I had never taken a train into the city alone be­fore. Sit­ting by the en­trance to Rock­ridge Sta­tion, I lis­tened to cars on the free­way pass over­head while wait­ing for a text mes­sage. Ear­lier, we de­cided to wait un­til the week­end to meet each other, but I wanted to see him now.

I in­sisted we meet down­town, which was fool­ish of me. I had vis­ited San Fran­cisco only once be­fore choos­ing to move there and had only the vaguest mem­ory of how to get around. With my dy­ing cell phone in hand, I took a train from North Oak­land to Mont­gomery Sta­tion. In the city, I stood starstruck on Mar­ket Street, mouth agape, my head tilted up at the tow­ers above. I must’ve looked like a tourist. In most ways, I still was.

It would’ve been eas­ier to meet any­where else, I thought. Dolores Park, Fort Ma­son, the Pan­han­dle. Some­where not in the thick of the Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict dur­ing rush-hour traf­fic. I wan­dered north into the noise of car horns and jack­ham­mers un­til I saw him in the crowd at the in­ter­sec­tion of Kearny and Cal­i­for­nia.

Rhys would say that he saw me first. I re­mem­ber see­ing him spot me. Our eyes met as a ca­ble car passed be­tween us, but when it cleared, he had van­ished. Was this some mean joke? Did he see me from across the street and change his mind? Maybe I didn’t look like my pic­tures.

I caught a glimpse of green fabric pok­ing out from be­hind the pil­lar of a sky­scraper. He was hid­ing. I could imag­ine why. We had been talk­ing for months on­line, and now we were mere feet from each other. When the traf­fic sig­nal al­lowed, I took a deep breath and crossed Cal­i­for­nia Street.

When I got closer, he leapt out from be­hind the col­umn like a child. The sight of him made me smile. Though we stood eye to eye, he was smaller than I ex­pected. When we em­braced, I smelled pipe to­bacco and mar­i­juana in his beard.

“I saw you across the street. Did you see me?” he asked.

“Yes, I saw you hide,” I said. “Your bag was pok­ing out.”

“It was?” he said, ex­am­in­ing the olive drab mes­sen­ger on his hip. “Damn. You hun­gry?”

“Starv­ing.” July 2012 Our train dove into the earth be­low Berke­ley. I sat fum­ing in a dif­fer­ent seat, in a dif­fer­ent com­part­ment, leav­ing Rhys to brood sev­eral cars over. We were re­turn­ing from San Fran­cisco to our in­suf­fer­ably small stu­dio in the East Bay. What we were fight­ing about, I don’t re­call.

We usu­ally got off at North Berke­ley. The sta­tion be­fore that, near the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia cam­pus, was only a lit­tle fur­ther from our apart­ment. As the train slowed on ap­proach to down­town, I con­sid­ered what the night held in store: a silent walk to our lit­tle box wherein we would stew un­til one of us ex­ploded. Sweat gath­ered un­der my hair­line.

The space around me seemed to get smaller. Many pas­sen­gers were stand­ing and col­lect­ing near the doors. When the train stopped, I found my­self join­ing them, walk­ing through the doors and up the stairs with them, un­til we reached the sur­face and wan­dered in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

I smoked one cig­a­rette, and then an­other. Pass­ing a high school, I watched two seagulls squab­ble over fast food re­mains. On my walk home, I met the blush of a mid­sum­mer sun­set as it started to red­den be­hind the build­ing fog. I wanted to cry, not just for the beauty in front of me, but be­cause I so rarely got to en­joy it alone.

When I reached the apart­ment, Rhys was not yet there. This was more omi­nous than it was com­fort­ing. I was sure he would give me hell for leav­ing him on the train like that, but I did not feel bad about do­ing it. By then, I didn’t feel much of any­thing. Novem­ber 2011 I sat out­side his apart­ment in the city watching the fog whip be­tween eu­ca­lyp­tus trees. Rhys stepped out­side wrapped in a bright red blan­ket hold­ing two mugs of hot tea.

“How are you feel­ing?” he asked, hand­ing me one of the cups.

“Good. Look up,” I said, point­ing at the fog. We sipped our tea and watched it build, wait­ing for it to con­sume us.

“This is good acid,” I said af­ter a while. “It’s funny that some­one man­u­fac­tured this.”

“It’s just a chem­i­cal,” Rhys said. “Our brains are a bal­ance of them. As for whether or not they do a good job of pro­duc­ing and reg­u­lat­ing them, well, that’s up to God.”

I looked at him, so per­plexed by his faith. What made him so cer­tain, I won­dered? I had wit­nessed no mir­a­cles, no di­vine in­ter­ven­tion. I lit a cig­a­rette and looked out into the night. The quick-mov­ing mist had en­gulfed the or­ange street­lights, dis­tort­ing them and crown­ing them with ha­los. Why was God such a gam­ble to me? Was it pos­si­ble I had wit­nessed proof, but failed to rec­og­nize it? “I’d like to think there is a god,” I ad­mit­ted. “There is,” he said con­fi­dently. “He’s a sci­en­tist, just like the per­son who made this LSD.”

I raised my eye­brows. “That’s an in­ter­est­ing idea.”

“I’ve been known to have a few.” Sud­denly, a twig snapped be­neath the weight of some­one walk­ing nearby. “What the fuck was that!?” “Satan,” Rhys joked. My skin prick­led. “That’s not funny,” I said. He laughed. “So you be­lieve in the Devil but not in God?”

“Yes. I don’t know. Maybe. The whole thing is ter­ri­fy­ing.”

He nod­ded, say­ing noth­ing. Dense fog swept over the hill, swal­low­ing the Mon­terey pines at its peak. Muf­fled waves were break­ing on the beach down the street. An oc­ca­sional foghorn sounded as ships passed un­der the Golden Gate. “I’m go­ing to miss liv­ing here,” Rhys said. “Me too.” “I hope I’ll like it over there. Berke­ley sounds nice.”

“It will be. But my apart­ment’s re­ally small,” I re­minded him. “I hope that’s al­right.”

“Would you rather stay here and split a room with me and an­other stranger?” he asked. I con­sid­ered his ques­tion be­fore re­al­iz­ing that both him and his room­mate still felt like strangers.

“No, I sup­pose I wouldn’t.” October 2012 “Stop it, Rhys! Stop!” I screamed, but he con­tin­ued to beat his skull against the edge of the bath­tub. Blood was be­gin­ning to show in his hair. I dove into the bath­room to re­strain him only to take a sharp jab in the ribs. I cursed him and tried again, this time wrap­ping my arms around his shoul­ders. When I had a firm hold, I kicked away from the bath­tub and pushed us out into the hall. “Let go,” he screamed, “let me go!” “Calm the fuck down,” I shouted. He writhed in my arms. Then he be­gan to cry.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he re­peated. “You need to breathe,” I said. “Count it out.” He be­gan to kick the door jamb. “No! You don’t un­der­stand! I did some­thing!” I rolled my eyes and tried to hold him still. He al­ways said things like this dur­ing an episode.

“Yeah, Rhys, I know.” He shud­dered in my arms. I needed to call his mother.

“No. No, you don’t.” “Je­sus,” I said, al­ready ex­hausted. “Oh, I’m sorry if this is too fuck­ing much for you.”

I tight­ened my grip. He wanted me to get an­gry with him. If I got an­gry, it opened the door to an­other brawl. By this point, they had be­come rou­tine.

“It is too fuck­ing much for me,” I told him, “but there’s noth­ing I can do about that, be­cause you don’t re­ally want help, do you?” He glared up at me. “Fuck you.” “Get up.” “No!” he screamed, go­ing limp. “Get up!” I was grow­ing im­pa­tient. Stand­ing, I crossed my arms and looked down at him coldly. “You have got to get off of this floor.”

He hugged his knees. “I did some­thing bad. But I didn’t mean it.” “Christ, I need to take you to the hospi­tal.” “Fuck hos­pi­tals,” he cried. What else was there to do? If I took him to the ER, he’d just sign him­self out once he was lu­cid enough to do so. That’s what hap­pened last time. I didn’t want to push, es­pe­cially when he was like this, but my grow­ing sus­pi­cion had be­come un­de­ni­able. I got down next to him and he sat up­right, snif­fling.

“Rhys?” I asked, “What did you do?” There was a long and painful si­lence.

“It was my best friend’s cat,” he said fi­nally, “But I didn’t mean to.”

My eyes widened. “What did you do to her cat?”

He clutched my shoul­ders and sobbed into my shirt. “I - I…” Rhys said, rais­ing his arms. He twisted his hands in a wring­ing mo­tion, then dropped his arms and wailed.

I couldn’t think of any­thing to say. A cold, new fear over­came me.

Au­gust 2012 We laid to­gether on our lit­tle white couch, his body folded up in mine. I was lis­ten­ing to him breathe. “Do you feel like this all the time?” I asked him. “I have good days,” Rhys said qui­etly. “I know. I see them.” The last time he at­tempted sui­cide, it was pills. He fell asleep in the bath­room and woke up in the hospi­tal. “My mom was so an­gry with me,” he said.

I looked over his head and through the win­dow at the day’s wan­ing sun­light. “I’m so scared of that, Rhys. Com­ing home and find­ing you just – Je­sus.”

He sighed and looked away. Light from a car turn­ing onto our street il­lu­mi­nated the win­dow. It cut through the blinds, cast­ing white strata on the walls of our room. Then the room grew dark.

“What would you do if I killed my­self?” I asked. Rhys turned to me sud­denly, look­ing as if I had slapped him in the face.

I shrugged. “I’ve thought about it too,” I said. “Some­times it just hap­pens.” It was strange, ad­mit­ting this to some­one who had tried to take their own life, but that didn’t make it any less real.

Rhys turned his whole body to me, grab­bing my face with both hands. He bore his steely eyes into mine. “You – don’t you ever. You’re too good.”

“I don’t want to,” I said, a lit­tle ashamed. “They’re only thoughts.” “Well,” he asked, “how would you do it?” “I don’t know,” I paused. Sev­eral grue­some pos­si­bil­i­ties un­folded in my mind. I picked one that had be­gun to crop up any time I was in the city. “I’ve thought about walk­ing in front of a bus.”

He winced and turned away. I could see him imag­in­ing it. He opened his eyes, tears spilling from their cor­ners, and stared into mine.

“So,” he said, “you want to know what I would do if you stepped in front of a bus?”

Yes, I told him, afraid of his an­swer. Novem­ber 2012 Sit­ting at the edge of the bed, I held my face, at­tempt­ing to col­lect my­self. I pulled back my hands and looked at my open palms. Strands of blond and black hair were stuck to bloody skin. “Sir?” the of­fi­cer asked again. “Sir?” I looked up at the woman in uni­form. “Can you an­swer the ques­tion?” I had for­got­ten what she asked me. “How did the in­ci­dent start?” Where to be­gin? How could I help her un­der­stand? This par­tic­u­lar fight started be­cause he wanted to come to my high-end re­tail job and dis­tract my co­work­ers so that I could make more sales. I told him it was a bad idea. He re­sponded by hurl­ing a plas­tic milk crate at my head. Would that have made sense to her?

“You also need to sign a waiver stat­ing that you de­clined to be taken to the hospi­tal.”

She pre­sented me with a pen and a yel­low piece of pa­per. I scrawled my name on the bot­tom line, stain­ing it red. She took her pen back cau­tiously and dropped it in her pocket.

“In a minute, I’m go­ing to have an­other of­fi­cer come take your state­ment. Do you need any­thing? Some wa­ter?” I nod­ded, and she went into my kitchen, step­ping care­fully over bro­ken bits of glass.

A sec­ond of­fi­cer stepped in­side. He looked around the place and gri­maced. “You Mr. Walker?” he asked me. I nod­ded again. “We took Rhys Ken­drick down to Holly Creek Psy­chi­atric Fa­cil­ity on a 5150.”

“Can he get out?” I said, my eyes fixed to the floor.

“Only af­ter he’s trans­ferred to county. The

Alameda County judge gave him an au­to­matic five-day re­strain­ing or­der, so he’s not al­lowed to re­turn to the premises. If he does, you call us.” “Thanks.” The po­lice­woman re­turned with a glass of wa­ter be­fore go­ing out­side. The of­fi­cer stood there for a mo­ment, study­ing me.

“You know, he looked pretty beat up too,” he said. “We could’ve taken you in for the same thing.”

I looked up at him, en­raged – how could he say that to me? Is it so dif­fer­ent when two men are in­volved? Per­haps if I’d laid there and let him man­gle me, I would have sat­is­fied his ex­pec­ta­tions of what a vic­tim of abuse should look like.

When he stepped out­side to con­fer with his part­ner, I set about try­ing to find a pen in the wreck­age of our apart­ment – my apart­ment – and I stopped. Was that right? I said it aloud, just to be sure. “This is my apart­ment.” It sounded right, so I said it again and again, for the rest of the day and into the night, mak­ing it more true with each of his things that I packed away. Fe­bru­ary 2016 “I’m writ­ing a story on it,” I told a friend. I heard him pop a top on the other end of the line. “Wow. That doesn’t sound easy.” “It’s not. That’s why I called. I need to know what you re­mem­ber.”

He col­lapsed onto his sofa with a loud frump. “I don’t know what to say, man. You guys were like fire and ice.” He took a long swig from his beer. “It’s been a cou­ple years, right?” “Three,” I said, “four in Novem­ber.” “Wow.” “I know.” “Well,” he said, scan­ning his fuzzy mem­ory, “this was to­wards the end of it, I think. I had never seen any­one fight like that be­fore. It re­minded me of my folks. They used to rough each other up, but not like that. Not even close.”

I re­called the fight he was talk­ing about. Rhys was con­vinced be­yond all doubt that I had been sleep­ing with my neigh­bor’s boyfriend. I swore that I hadn’t. He didn’t be­lieve me.

“You were asleep on the couch, right? When it started?”

“Mm-hmm.” He paused, tak­ing an­other drink. “I think I was still high from the party we went to the night be­fore. I woke up when he threw you onto your kitchen ta­ble.”

I was quiet for a while, re­mem­ber­ing. Af­ter so many fights, the mem­o­ries of them splice to­gether as more time passes, each one be­gins to re­sem­ble the next. Was this also the night he sank his teeth into my bi­cep, leav­ing be­hind two pur­ple cres­cents, or was that for the time I called him crazy at a Chi­nese buf­fet?

“I couldn’t look at it,” he said. “I didn’t want to. I’m sorry. You got him off of you even­tu­ally.”

“Yeah, af­ter I hit him. I hate that it came to that. I feel like a mon­ster.” “You’re not. What else could you have done?” “I don’t know.” “Jake,” my friend said firmly, “you did what you had to do.”

Did I? Some­times I find my­self de­mand­ing an­swers to old and in­ex­orable ques­tions. Why didn’t I push him harder to find a ther­a­pist? Why didn’t I make him get on and stay on med­i­ca­tion?

Like the la­tent ef­fects of ex­po­sure to ra­di­a­tion, I would not know how se­verely this trauma af­fected my body and mind un­til well af­ter the fact. Long af­ter I be­lieved the fall­out from my re­la­tion­ship with Rhys had set­tled, I would de­velop a pro­nounced case of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, for which I am cur­rently re­ceiv­ing ther­apy – with promis­ing re­sults.

“Yeah,” I paused, “I guess you’re right.” I bit my bot­tom lip softly.

Novem­ber 2011 We were walk­ing along the Em­bar­cadero. The sun had just dipped be­low the Pa­cific, tint­ing the sky a cool, deep vi­o­let. Head­lights from city­bound traf­fic on the Bay Bridge sparkled be­hind us, their reflections glint­ing on the wa­ters of the bay. Rhys was hold­ing my hand.

“I’m sorry for scar­ing you last night,” he told me. “Some­times I get that way.”

“It’s okay. Just tell me when you feel like that again and we’ll work through it.”

He leaned on my shoul­der and nuz­zled it. “Thank you.”

Rhys and I shared a joint near the foun­tains at the plaza. We talked about ways we could love each other bet­ter. Palm trees –trans­plants like us – swayed be­fore us in the late au­tumn wind. I trusted him with sto­ries from my youth about hurt and sur­vival.

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said. “I’m telling you this be­cause you need to hear it.”

I be­lieved him. That night, I agreed to let him move in with me. For that, I’ve been called naïve. By kin­der peo­ple, sim­ply young. I’m still try­ing to learn the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. We hud­dled for warmth as the fog gath­ered and thick­ened above us. I smelled his hair and kissed him, and promised that I would keep car­ing for him, how­ever reck­less that may be.

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