FLOOR SCATTERED with romantic movies where I mentally change the female lead into my heartbroken self? Check.
Music CDs in order of most heartbreaking to “I’m ready to move on”? Check.
The timeless, pathetic gay-boy diet of half-eaten ice cream from the carton, cold Chinese, and cheese puffs? Double check.
Slide on my black thick-framed glasses and start the music.
Unfortunately, the lyrics no longer have any effect on me after playing them for an entire week. I used to supply myself with a box of Kleenex and a snuggle-worthy pillow when I listened to this song. It was like Toni Braxton was preaching about my miserable existence: wanting to feel love again but not being able to after the loss of a lover. Granted, “Un-Break My Heart” is much more tragic than my breakup. In fact, I’ve played the song so many times that all I can think about is how unfair it is that gorgeous supermodel Tyson Beckford died in the beginning of the music video. Damn. The heterosexual romance world is a cruel place; no gay man would ever let a chocolate dream like Tyson Beckford die.
It’s time to get a new anthem. Maybe I need something more upbeat, something current and not from Ms. Toni “Un-Break My Heart” Braxton. I guess it could be worse. I could be listening to the white lady they use for the animal cruelty commercials, crooning on about angelic arms while mangled dogs and cats try to guilt me into a donation.
A buzz from the intercom rudely interrupts the chorus. I have a choice now. I can rise from my old red couch, stop eating cold Asian cuisine, and greet the buzz with an optimistic hello. Or I can ignore it and continue my angstathon of—
A second buzz interrupts my thoughts, and I roll my eyes. I was going to get up anyway, jeez.
I set aside the takeout box and get up to push the talk button on the intercom. “Yeah?”
I decide to let It’s Me into the apartment complex. When I open the door and look down the hallway, I see my good friend, Kennyth, walking toward me. Wet spots of snow decorate the bottoms of his jeans, and the jacket he wears is stylish and black. He’s got his hands shoved deep in his pockets, trying to keep them warm this way instead of investing in a pair of gloves. It’s an amusingly sad contrast, I think. I’m standing here in a pair of boxers and a Mongolian-beef-stained T-shirt. My Afro had been stylish once upon a dream, but now it’s picked up stray specs of the lint from my pillow.
Kennyth lets out his best judgmental sigh as he steps past me to walk into my apartment.
“Really, Ty,” he says, walking over to my stereo and shutting it off. “I thought you were done doing this shit. This ain’t cute no more.”
“Breaking up ain’t never cute,” I say as I close the door.
“That was three months ago!”
“Actually, it was two months, two weeks, and three days ago.”
“Right. My bad. What was I thinking?”
I sit down on the couch and start to move the cheese puffs and other breakup food necessities off the cushion next to me. Kennyth shakes his head and sits on the floor. I can’t say I blame him. I’ve been using the couch as my own personal napkin when my fingers get too messy.
“I know I look pathetic, but it’s hard moving on. We were together for two years.”
No one likes playing the part of the comforting friend when his friend’s boyfriend decides to downgrade himself to a cheating bastard. Unfortunately, ‘comforting friend’ is exactly the role Kennyth has been forced into.
“I know, man, but come on! You were doing so much better, remember?” He points to a desk sitting in the corner of the living room, sketchbooks and pencils scattered across it. “You even started drawing again. What happened?”
He’s right. Last week I had finally walked outside of our—my—apartment for something other than groceries. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” A famous quote that’s been used a thousand times over. I imagined that cute white girl who won that singing competition cheering me on as she turned this quote into a catchy lyric. And that’s what I was going to do. No more cheesy puff mornings. No more afternoons spent on my phone playing stupid Facebook games. I’ve gone through 150 levels of Candy Crush Saga and all I have to show for it is a bitterness toward chocolate—unless I’m eating it in syrup form for dinner with ice cream. No. No more of that either. I was going to stop with the ice cream dinners, even if chocolate chip cookie dough makes for a good meal.
And most importantly, no more Jayvon Carlson.
Once upon a time, as these stories go, I met a handsome young man at the start of my junior year of college. I was going full force into my art major and spent a lot of free time at a local coffee shop in the appropriately named Dinkytown. This area of the University of Minnesota’s campus was filled with random shops, interesting restaurants, and plenty of students coming and going.
I would sit in the coffee shop, armed with a sketchpad, pencil, and coffee mixed with caramel and whipped cream. I’d draw characters and scenery for a comic series I’ve had in my head since being inspired by a healthy amount of graphic novels in high school. So far, I had the main characters sketched and a mental plot mapped out: a group of unique people whose job was to hunt down the creatures that went bump in the night.
Not that it matters now. My life has gone from drawing fantastical worlds to listening to sad love songs and playing make-believe with romantic comedies. Why can’t my life be like a quirky Sandra Bullock movie?
In September Jayvon had started working at the coffee shop I had been calling my artistic headquarters. There he stood, behind the counter, grabbing a scone for an elderly lady. God bless the elderly, because they can say whatever the hell they want. The gray-haired woman had no problem with telling Jayvon just how attractive he was. Tall, with gorgeous hazel eyes and dimples that complemented his perfect little smile. His skin was the same shade as sweet brown sugar, his hair perfectly braided and quietly tickling the middle of his back. I had ended up completely embarrassing myself by sketching a picture of him instead of a character for my comic. Before I knew it, he was walking over to bring my drink when I didn’t respond to him calling my name.
“Wow, is that me?” he had asked. My initial impulse had been to rip the paper out of the book, ball it up, and eat it so that he’d never see it again. Instead I got caught in his smile as he said, “That’s pretty cool, man.”
The rest of my junior and senior years had been a pleasant mix of classes, coffee drinks, and the kind of sex you told your best friend about after your boyfriend left for work. Kennyth had been a real trouper, commenting on our sexual escapades with a drawn-out chorus of “Dayum” every time I felt like reporting the number of orgasms I reached in an afternoon.
After college graduation, the two of us moved in together. Jayvon’s place hadn’t been big enough for two people, and I was finished with dorm life. I encouraged him not to renew his lease in favor of our having something bigger, something as a couple.
Mistake number one.
I had received a generous amount of graduation money from my parents, grandparents, and relatives who hadn’t seen me since I crushed on little girls in pigtails. Without blinking an eye, I put the money into paying for my very first couple apartment. Security deposit. First and last month’s rent. Jayvon thanked me for taking on the entire bill. There weren’t that many shifts at the coffee shop at the time, but he would contribute to the apartment whenever he could.
Mistake number two.
It wasn’t the best Minneapolis could offer, but it at least had working AC, a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer area on the same floor. I had enough space for my art supplies in the living room and could work on my comic. Jayvon had a bus stop down the block that could take him to work. Instead of getting a steady job, I discovered the convention scene. I would bring my art with me and make a decent amount selling prints and doing commissions. Summertime was a convention goldmine, so I was easily able to pay my half of the rent and a little extra to take care of what he couldn’t cover.
Mistake number three.
Suddenly Jayvon had a lot more shifts at the coffee shop but didn’t seem to be bringing in any more money. He was gone almost every afternoon, showing me an obvious sign that I didn’t want to pay attention to. I had seen this scene so many times thanks to movies and music videos: the cheating asshole who scrambles out of his bed after being caught in the act, putting his clothes on and spewing out apologies while his lover uses the blankets as a shield. In the blink of an eye, that scene was happening right before my eyes, all because I had gotten back from the grocery store faster than I usually did.
Kicking Jayvon out had been a surreal experience. The words came out of my mouth before I could process them. I had unknowingly transformed into a no-nonsense, neck-rolling, independent person who didn’t need no cheating man in his life. “Get out. Get the fuck out!”
After the sass and attitude wore off, depression sank in. During my two-month period of angst, I had bypassed working on my comic in favor of eating chips, fried foods, and cream-filled sweets. I had filled my sketchbooks with sad pictures depicting my feelings: a lonely tire swing attached to a withered tree, a red balloon that drifted aimlessly in the wind. I also skipped out on looking for a steady job since convention season was beginning to wind down. It was probably for the best. I was not in any shape to go to a public place where I had to be nice to people.
Eventually, I had to promise my parents I would try to find something while they sent me money to take care of myself. The first month they had felt sorry for me and my heartbreak. The second, they simply tolerated it. If I need their help a third time, I can expect a lot of phone calls and stern lectures. At least they don’t live in the same state as I do, or else those phone calls would be parental knocks on my door. So I finally decided enough was enough. I wouldn’t sit around anymore and think about what Jayvon had done to me. I would dust myself off, pick a comb through my tangled excuse for a ’fro, and go out and face the world.
Great idea. Until last night.
“He came over yesterday,” I say to Kennyth. “He came by to get some stuff he’d left here.”
“I hope you left it all outside the door and told his ass to step to the left.”
“Are you really quoting a Beyoncé song?”
Kennyth shrugs. “At least it ain’t ‘Single Ladies.’”
He’s not quoting it anymore, at least, but when that song came out, he sang along with it for a week. “That’d be a bit more inspirational,” I say with a loud sigh.
“Want me to do the dance?”
“Good, cuz I left my black pumps at home.”
That manages to get a laugh out of me, but it still doesn’t change the facts. “I let Jayvon into the apartment last night.”
The look on Kennyth’s face makes me feel about two feet tall. He frowns at me and says, “Tell me you didn’t sleep with the asshole.”
Ah, the benefits of a breakup. Hearing your friends rename your ex nifty things like asshole.
My silence tells Kennyth the answer to his question. He doesn’t look happy with me at all.
I knew it was a bad idea as soon as I opened the door. There he stood. Jayvon Carlson. He was just as gorgeous as he had been on the first day we met. Tall and stunning, he wore a look akin to a puppy dog trying to apologize for digging in the garbage.
“I left some clothes. Can I come in?”
Mistake number… fuck, there’s no point in keeping count anymore.
He started talking about “big mistakes” and how I was “the best thing that ever happened to him.” He had fed me the same bullshit when I caught him with the other man, whose name I still don’t know, and frankly, I don’t ever want to know. That day I had been fearless and angry. I had kicked him out with the viciousness of the strong, independent black women Beyoncé preached about in her songs.
Last night, it was like none of that had ever happened.
I wish I could say I didn’t want him to kiss me, but as soon as his lips brushed against mine, all my pride flew out the window. I was clinging to his shirt in seconds, parting my lips and inviting his cheating-asshole tongue inside my mouth. There we stood at the edge of the living room, me leaning back against the wall, him more than happy to press me against it. We kissed the way we used to, and my heart fluttered at the images of a time when I loved this man.
I wish I could say that I never once entertained the thought of our getting back together, but as he kissed the nape of my neck, I was mentally helping him unpack his stuff: jeans go in the top drawer of the dresser… his collection of sports-themed glasses is not to be used.
I was the one who extended the invitation into the bedroom. I was the one who took my clothes off and threw them to the floor without a care in the world. He smirked at me and told me to get on my hands and knees. I was more than happy to oblige. I wish I could say I felt disgusted with myself when I heard the click of him opening the small bottle of lube. Instead, there was a rush of excitement I hadn’t felt in months. His being inside me again felt familiar and wonderful. I buried my face deep into the pillow and screamed against it so that the neighbors wouldn’t hear the terrible truth: how I had fallen back into Jayvon Carlson’s arms so easily.
“It ain’t like I planned on that happening. Just… two years, Kennyth. And he said all the right things, and… shit, I’m so fucking stupid.”
So stupid, in fact, that all I could do was watch as Jayvon got dressed and left without a single word. Did I really think we were going to get back together? I sighed as I heard the front door shut to emphasize Jayvon’s “hit it and quit it” departure. Toni Braxton. I needed her strong vocals to serenade me. I threw on some semblance of clothing, popped in my old CD, and began listening to the same few songs that have been looping ever since.
Kennyth winces and slides closer to the couch. He finds a candy bar between the bag of puffed cheese and the ice cream carton. Huh. I didn’t think I had any chocolate left. He opens the wrapper and takes a bite. “You ain’t stupid. You just need to get past this. You can’t keep letting him win, Ty.”
I grab the ice cream and look around for a spoon. Shit. I must’ve forgotten to grab one from the kitchen. Maybe if I hold the carton over my mouth and squeeze it, the ice cream will pour in like fresh toothpaste. Not the most pleasant taste to imagine, but with it being mint chocolate chip, I can’t help myself. “Easier said than done.”
Kennyth points the chocolate bar at me. “No, it is easy. Stop thinking about Jayvon’s cheating ass, cuz he’s gonna keep doing this to you.”
“Did you have to say ass? Because that boy knows how to wear a pair of jeans.”
“Dammit, Ty! Focus!” Then he actually throws the chocolate bar at me. I would try to bat it away, but that means putting effort into something. “We need to worry about rent first. How long you got until you have to pay for December?”
“About two weeks.” I finally make an effort to do something about the chocolate bar that Kennyth threw at me. I pick it up and take a bite. It’s a bit melted, but it still tastes decent.
“All right, that buys us some time.”
“Time? For what?”
Kennyth stands up and crosses his arms before he gives me a firm nod. “You, sir, are gonna get a job.”