“We aren’t mature enough to date, my parents met when they were 24,” he says, sitting in his hospital bed, a month into chemo. Upset, I grab my bag and jacket to leave and then he says, “Don’t go. If you leave, it’ll make me mad, and I don’t need that right now”
There’s a feeling you get when you know it’s over. Sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slow, but for the most part, a relationship is romantic until it isn’t anymore. For me, it wasn’t romantic when Brandon wanted to pick my ingrown armpit hairs, nor when he decided to go to Peru for two months to “find himself.” I thought this would be a blessing in disguise, but I cried everyday he was gone. Sometimes about myself, but mostly about him. How could he go? Right after celebrating our one-year anniversary, what felt like the beginning of a million anniversaries to come. I was the kind of angry that makes your entire body feel like it’s on fire, like you could blow steam out of your ears at any moment.
He didn’t have to go. He could have stayed in New York with me and we could have gone on a trip, like I suggested so many times, but he insisted that this was what he needed to do, and that I was not allowed to be mad. I was not allowed to cry in front of him about this because it would make him mad and storm out of my apartment, only to return hours later to say sorry, when my face was all red and I would be pretending to sleep.
I cried for so many days after that. I cried the second he left my house in the morning, the second he got on the plane. The second he got off the plane and texted me from the airport in Lima and the two or three times he emailed me when he had internet connection. I was alone and I didn’t like it at all.
I spent so many days sitting in my apartment, wearing the same pajamas, eating delivery and leaving scraps on my bed, leaving only when my brother forced me to. I lied to my mom and told her that I was okay and functioning, when really I was sitting in the dark counting down the days he would be home. I frequently thought about how, if he knew I was crying and staying home everyday, he would storm out of my apartment like he did.
Two weeks into him gone, I finally picked myself up. I slowly started to go for short walks, first to the end of my block, then to the L train, then finally to visit friends off different subway stops. Sometime within one of my best days, I got an email from Brandon. It was long and half in Spanish and he told me about how much fun he was having and how he missed me a lot, but that he was exploring and seeing new things he would have never seen at home. After reading his email, I was back to square one. I can’t remember if I had the courage to reply.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew that when he came back, I would have to end what I thought were some of the most important months of my life.
He texted and called before coming to see me. I was cold and distant, and wanted nothing to do with him. If this was his sick kind of way of saying “I was gone for two months with little to no communication and now I’m back and ready to be together again,” I would have no part in it. He came over and I didn’t kiss him at the door. I didn’t hug him when he came and sat down on my bed next to me and I didn’t look him in the eyes when he told me that he missed me and gave me an alpaca hat with flowers on it. I was nervous and we sat in silence for a while, but I finally told him that it was over. I didn’t tell him how him leaving caused me to have some of the worst days of my life and have to pick myself up all over again just to make myself feel okay, I just said that I grew as a person and needed time to be alone. He smiled and said it was okay, which made me feel a little bit better. I’m not sure if it was.
Months went by and I saw little to no Brandon except for a few times when he’d show up where I was or call me and speak to me angrily about how what I did to him was the worst thing and how he wasn’t okay.
I started dating again, but had no luck. I felt like I couldn’t be myself around anyone. I dated one guy who ditched me a lot, another who ignored me after I slammed my hand in his door, and three others of a similar persuasion.
Sometimes Brandon would skateboard past my house and I would see him and we would chat for a bit and he would occasionally come upstairs and I would be polite and ask him how he was doing and think about how I was better alone and not attracted to him anymore. At least I didn’t think so at the time.
I was doing okay though, until I had a series of bad weeks in October where my depression and anxiety returned. On my worst night, I felt like life had let me down. I had no motivation for school, another guy had just told me that he didn’t like me, my parents weren’t being that nice, I got fired and my skin had broken out really badly. I didn’t want to do it, but my life felt like it was spiraling out of control and that I could do nothing to stop it. I hurt myself. Maybe three or four times, until I couldn’t stop crying and knew that the only thing I could do was to call Brandon. It felt like the only thing I could do.
Within minutes he came over, wrapped me in his arms and we fell asleep. In the morning, I knew I still needed to be alone so he left. We didn’t kiss or talk about our past, he just told me to not do what I did again and that if I did, I should call him and he’d be right by my side.
On February 10th 2016, after having an amazing week, I got the call. It was about 11:30 in the morning and I was just about to sit down for lunch with my mom, dad, and brother. I figured that Brandon was just calling to yell at me because he found out what I said about him two days before when I performed this piece at The Museum of Modern Art where I read letters to everyone in my life who had played a significant role. When I answered the phone, his voice was shaky. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“Something happened and I don’t want you to be upset, I just need to tell you.”
“You won’t make me upset, just tell me what’s wrong.”
“Well, at the end of January I was feeling pretty sick and week and so I went to the doctors and had a bunch of tests done and I found out a couple days ago that I have leukemia.”
When Brandon said those words my heart felt like it stopped. It felt like a dream. I didn’t want to believe it at first and so I nervous laughed, but I knew it was real. My week turned sour and this time, there was really nothing I could do about it.
Brandon checked into New York Presbyterian on March 12th and underwent serious amounts of chemotherapy to kill all of his sick blood cells. The first time I visited him I held back tears and just tried to tell myself that seeing him sick would not bring me back in, it couldn’t. I was wrong. The second I saw him in that hospital bed, all of my love for him instantly came back. I wanted to hug and kiss him and rip his IV treatment out and make him run away with me. He was hurting, and this time it was physical and it was no one’s fault.
I’d visit him every week, even though I wanted to see him everyday. He wanted me to give him his space and didn’t want me to get too emotional or attached in case anything was going to happen to him. When I wasn’t with him, he was the only thing on my mind. When I would hear skateboard wheels I’d hope that it would be him and that he would whisk me away. It never was.
Every time I would visit I would want to kiss and hug and read poetry and he would want to talk about how his sickness makes him unable to care about anyone else’s emotions, especially mine. He would talk about how he didn’t have the capacity to be able to care for me because if he couldn’t deal with the burdens of my feelings. I wouldn’t even act too strongly, but one hint of me caring too much would bring him down.
I couldn’t help but say “I love you,” and want to sleepover when our visits would be end. I even spent time with him mom and she would tell me how much it meant to her while I was there. If Brandon wanted me to be there and would always make me stay with him for 4+ hours, why would he not want me to care about him deeply?
Brandon would text or call me everyday and when we would go for hours without texting or talking, he would send me something that said “no talking today?” or “why don’t you want to talk today, are you in a bad mood?” If I was in a bad mood, he told me I wasn’t allowed to talk to him and when I had a really bad day, I was not allowed to talk about it, or it would affect his sickness.
In the hospital, for all of the tough moments we had together, we had some sweet ones, too. When Brandon would let me sit in his hospital bed, want me to rub his back or teach me how to play card games, those moments meant so much. They gave me hope that he had sweetness somewhere and that it was tucked away so that no one would see it. Brandon’s kind moments kept me able to move forward, knowing that he was going to be okay and that we would work out whatever issues were keeping us apart.
On March 31st 2016, instead of a call, I got a text from Brandon saying that he’d gone into remission, and that he would be able to go home. He would still have to undergo chemotherapy treatments, visit the hospital and receive a bone marrow transplant. He told me that as soon as he’d be home he would come into the city and take me out for dinner and that we would sit in the park and laugh like we used to.
After that day, I started to hear less from Brandon. He barely called or texted and stopped responding to my messages. He would frequently visit me in my dreams and it would be exactly how it used to be: us, together, smiling. If this was Brandon’s way of getting me back into his life, only to throw me away again, he’d done his job.
I spend most of my time thinking about him now, hoping he’s well, wondering if he’s thinking about me and how I feel like I’ve been an old towel, hung up to try.
When Brandon first got sick, I started to pray. I’m not a religious person and I have never considered myself to be one, so as prayers, I would talk to the universe. Every night before I went to sleep, I would find myself whispering or thinking to myself everything that I wanted for Brandon’s health and happiness and how I hope that he’d get better soon. Some nights I couldn’t wait to get to sleep so that whoever was listening would hear me and how much I care and have always cared. When Brandon got the O.K. to go home, I continued to pray. Pray for his health and happiness still, but also for my own. I pray that I will get healthy emotionally and that I will be able to get the strength to once and for all move on.