All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.
― Virginia Woolf, Orlando
Have you ever gone crazy for another person? Not head-over-heels smitten twitterpated starstruck young love. No, something… deranged. A passion so strong you’d kill your lover before kissing them. Consumed with mind and heart and soul, no thoughts for anyone else, or anything else. Always imagining being next to them, looking at them, smelling them, listening to their laugh, hearing them say your name all day. Every day. Planning ways to see them at their work or between a class. Inviting them to everything and talking to them every way possible, whenever possible. You’d crack a rib with every glimpse of them, and shake as you drew closer.
I’ve done that, been obsessed with another person.
It felt like it took everything from me, and then it nearly took my life.
Her name boded dark weather on the horizon which, yeah, should have been my first clue. We saw each other across the classroom and at religious youth activities. I can no longer remember how we connected, or what watered the seeds of our love graveyard. All I know is that there was a night I slept over at her house and we spoke into the wee hours of the morning and I shared the fact that I was in the wrong body, that I was interested in more than “boys,” despite the rules for who we were supposed to love. Then she suggested a way for me to explore it. We didn’t know how to talk about it so we kept pushing ourselves further and further, straining our jobs, school, and family lives, not to mention our religious welfare. I was cleaning off hidden parts of myself every day, but she felt her soul getting progressively dirtier. That should have been my second clue.
I thought she saw me! She used a name I selected for myself, and at safe moments she would refer to me by pronouns that felt like home. I wasn’t alone and I had someone on my team. Not just someone who knew me, but someone who wanted my body and heart! Someone I could be with, make all those stupid picket fence promises. Someone who’d stick by me when things got more difficult, right? She’d have my back… right?
She dated other boys while she was with me and I wasn’t her first relationship. We were halfway through 10th grade, and she told me it had to be believable we were “just friends” to everyone else. We would have been ostracized for any hints of queer, but we could have been committed because of what we were doing at night. I told her dating others was cheating, that despite our relationship requiring secrecy we should still honor each other. Plenty of people didn’t date at our age! I told her she was overreacting and being paranoid about what other people thought. Fuck them! But she wouldn’t buy it.
I wanted to possess her, the object of my affection, to spend every breathing moment with her, to be everything for her. My untrained little heart couldn’t handle it, especially when someone had finally paid attention! I engaged in problematic and toxic behavior trying to keep her. I abused her. How could I have known better? Schools don’t cover emotional intelligence, where we often need it the most, and it certainly wasn’t taught in my home.
I did everything I could to keep her interested, to prove that she needed me like I needed her. None of it was enough. I shouldn’t have begged, or bargained, or manipulated her. I shouldn’t have made my emotional welfare her burden. I should never have let her think that me killing myself in heartbreak could ever have been her fault. I don’t think she treated me well then, and despite knowing she doesn’t think well of me now…I know that I caused her a lot of emotional damage – she was called to social work in an effort to help “people like me.” I can only hope she’s helping them now.
I haven’t thought about the ferocity of the feelings I had for her for a long time. I heard this song by Hobo Johnson, and it drilled down into a dark hole and brought them all up to the surface.
“I can’t keep doing this,” she told me. I didn’t understand why, or what she meant, and this was not the first time she brought it up. I countered with how what we were doing was normal. We weren’t gay. We weren’t gay because I was in the wrong body and I would fix that! I needed her to give me time so I could fix it. I’d leave for a while, come back and my hot bod™ would convince everyone and she could be with me, for real. No one would look at us twice. We’d both have exactly what we wanted. I convinced her to wait, to keep doing this thing with me, to stay with me, please.
Attending different schools and living separate extracurricular lives, our only regular meetup was church. We were in the same class and spent a good two hours “together” every Sunday. But she stopped coming to church. I wish I could share juicy details about a breakup, but one never came, at least not from my affair-weather friend. Instead, it came from my religious HBIC – Head Bishop in Charge.
My bishop told me there was a specific reason he called me over to his home and asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about first. I shook my head. He then informed me that my friend was attending church with a cousin across the way for a while and that I was not to interact with her or her family, ever again. He apologized and let me know if there was anything I needed to talk about, he was there for me. To give this fella credit, he had been a gym teacher for many years. Unlike many who go into the role of bishop with zero experience or training, he had coached and educated youth. He had been my gym teacher, he was genuine, and I trusted him.
I wasn’t too specific, but I shared a little. We were dating – at least that’s what I had thought we were doing. We had done sexual things together, yes, but there was more to our relationship and not seeing her was going to be very difficult for me. I told him I understood, though. I asked him if my family knew anything, he reassured me they did not. He promised anything he spoke to my family about would only be by my consent. (A lesson I’m grateful to have learned early.) He then told me something amazing.
His brother was “like me” (gay, I assume – only a facet of my own situation, but on the right track), and their family had a really hard time with it. My bishop told me he loved his brother without condition, and that he didn’t want his brother to be someone he was not. He told me that my family might also have a hard time understanding anything I told them about myself, but that I was still a good person, and they would still love me. He got it mostly right.
She was gone – disappeared as though kidnapped, so I found every cliche and embraced it with open arms. I converted the crazy passion I had into fuel for my suicidal ideations and engaged in higher risk activities. If I was dead I wouldn’t feel the pain, I’d be free. I unleashed a demon that invades my mind to this day.
So I’ve been crazy inside, and I guess I made it out the other side relatively intact. I can see obsession sometimes in others around me, and I want to reach out to grab them, shake them, and slap them out of it before they hurt themselves or their partners. Listening to Hobo’s song I realize there’s no fucking way I could do that to someone else—because I would never have listened. I would have shrugged off their warnings and walked right back into the fire.
Perhaps it was the little voice inside or maybe the gentle nudge of friends nearby that kept me from losing myself completely. I weathered the long emotional ride for a few years until I moved out and started a new life. Eventually, I could see again, smell the fresh air and that. I was fine. Mostly. Maybe that’s what it means to be an adult? To be “mostly fine” most of the time.
It was a wild ride to love someone with unbridled passion. Over the years through the ups and downs of love, I have learned like Hobo Johnson states, “if you find someone that really loves you for who you are, keep being with them, man ‘cause that’s what matters in this life.” Looking back, the love I had for this girl taught me a lesson about finding someone who will love me without requiring I change. There is nothing wrong with the person I am, no matter how my body is presented in the world.