I don’t know how to talk about Sean. Where to begin. It was one of the darkest times in my life, one that had the promise of an epic love story but twisted into something much more uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to revisit. Still shameful to talk about.
Sean was the embodiment of so many things. He was brought to me by the powers that be, to help me reach a point of complete despair. Where I can now understand the depths of sadness, of loneliness, a spiritual pain that still holds scars like trophies of war.
This story is his just as much as it is mine. He wrote it as passionately and recklessly as I did. As I lived it.
I met Sean in December of 2004 while snorting cocaine and talking to guys on the internet. I was a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee, living in a 3 bedroom townhouse with two friends. My token Asian, Kia, and an on-again-off-again vegan bitch named Maria. Pronounced MarEEEuh. An affected pronunciation for an affected waste of space. The two girls were polar opposites, but the three of us connected somehow.
I kept my bedroom locked and dimly lit most of the time. With a mattress on the floor. Ikea paper floor lamps glowing in the corner, and makeshift shelves that held random artifacts with no particular meaning or order. I stayed in that room most days, while most nights I snuck guys in to have secretive, drug induced sex until the sun came up. This hush-hush activity was a normal occurrence through my teenage years. Probably part of my twenties, too.
I kept my computer on a snack table perched next to my mattress where I laid down to watch TV and meet boys online like it was my job. Chat rooms and random gay websites were saved or kept open so I could quickly manage incoming prospective opportunities. It was a hunt, a mission to find the one I was meant to be with. The companion I sought for so long but just ended up with my pants down before the conversation went too far. When in reality I wanted to find my twin, that other self who was an extension of me. Who understood the sadness I felt, the loneliness. Who thought like I did and shared the insanity.
This twin, my second self, was someone I longed for in a brother as a kid, or a friend growing up. Another person who was as broken and isolated as I was. So I met guys online. Scoped them out to make sure they didn’t like to go to clubs or bars. They exuded a melancholy demeanor that bordered on depression while still maintaining a level of wonder about life. Someone who liked to shell up, lived in blue light and an incubated state of beautiful sadness. Who dissected life and wore his emotions like a brilliantly carved sculpture.
And then he came.
Sean messaged me sometime in December as GuyFSU02. It was a window left open just before the storm swept in.
Light communication back and forth. The standard operation and procedure of guys cruising on the internet.
What are you looking for?
Side note: Modest Mouse’s “Gravity Rides Everything” just started playing on my iTunes as I write and the timing couldn’t be any more perfect. “Everything will fall right into place…” This song wraps me like a blanket as I type in a blue-lit room nearing midnight.
We got our initial interrogation out of the way, approving each other’s entry exam. Sean said he was 6”1, 20, living in a house about 10 minutes from mine, looking for whatever. Generally that meant a golden ticket for immediate sex, but this time we actually started to talk. Our sarcastic banter began almost immediately. Back and forth like a pro tennis match.
“Do you just want to call me?” I messaged him, noticing an overwhelming build-up of excitement as I felt like he could be the one.
By this point I began to pack a bowl. I stuffed my Pyrex pipe with some of Tallatrashy’s finest selection of pot sourced directly from my neighbor. I held the piece to my lips and sparked the lighter, slowly inviting the burn of smoke down my throat and into my lungs. I held it for a few seconds, focusing on the warm glow that softly illuminated the walls, casting sharp shadows off every shape in the room. I’ve always been a glutton for ambience. Especially when doing drugs, the lighting always had to be perfect. I felt like I was living in a movie, creating an experience. The moment, the soundtrack, the dim but not dark bedroom that encapsulated my everything. Held my emotion, my feeling, my spirit.
AOL messenger chimed and my heart momentarily stopped. That chime was crucial when cruising guys online. It was the sound of interest and approval. That the fish was still on the hook.
“Sure,” he responded.
I sent him my phone number. Every second that passed felt like someone was twisting my innards. Until he called about thirty seconds later. I eagerly picked up the phone but strategically sounded nonchalant so as not to come off like a crazy person.
That is until he spoke.
A beautifully smooth English accent greeted me. Like yards of silk billowing out in the open air, dancing and gliding with every slight gust of wind or breeze that catches its stride. That was his voice. And it immediately became a drug. There are unexplainable connections sometimes when you just know that whatever is going on is absolutely, without a doubt, meant to be happening. I don’t know what it was about his voice, about his accent, but I knew in that very greeting that he and I were meant for something special. But I had no idea what lie ahead.
We talked for hours. Well into the early morning. I paced back and forth in my bedroom, smiling and laughing, occasionally walking outside to smoke a cigarette. His words echoed mine. His thoughts reflected mine. His laughs were perfectly timed to my attempts at witty sarcasm and a cynical world view. His bitter superiority matched with an idyllic isolation was like heroine to me. Sean very quickly began to mold into my lost twin, the phantom limb that I felt for so many years but could never find. My appendage had arrived.
Sean was from London. His father is neurosurgeon who was transferred to Tampa, Florida several years ago. His mother died of cancer when he was younger. He and his father had a rough relationship, especially after his mom passed. Sean lived an extremely privileged life, one that I imagined myself having been suited for. He lived that special, tortured existence that I so admired. A wealthy Brit with a dark sense of humor, studying Psychology to understand his own mental deficiencies. We bonded over depression, loneliness, and a mutual love of music and film. Our conversation would go from feelings of abandonment during childhood to how we would creatively murder someone then to Hollywood celebrities in a matter of minutes. We both had a very dark side that wove its way into our dialogue almost immediately.
“Let’s meet,” I urged him. “I know it’s soon but I really have to meet you.” I lied. It wasn’t soon. I was generally already kicking a guy out of my bedroom after meeting him online at this point. But I certainly did not want to seem like a charlatan. At this point I was not worried about sounding too eager or excited, I knew he shared my kinship.
But I felt the first stab of disappointment by the hesitance in his voice. He had to help a friend move in a few hours and needed to get rest beforehand. He told me how happy he was to have found me. That we would see each other before parting from Tallahassee for winter break in a few short days. He was heading back to Tampa and I would be en route to Pembroke Pines for the few weeks off from school. I knew my holiday vacation would be crushed if I did not meet Sean.
We talked for another hour or so before finally hanging up the phone. For the first time in many years, I felt hopeful. A smile formed on my face as I clicked off my lamp and curled up on my mattress for the remaining couple of hours of night.
My thoughts went from Sean and I traveling the world together, to us being an unstoppable duo with an innate air of superiority. We were better than everyone. More special than anyone. We would live in seclusion somewhere in England because we were too good for the world. I had found my perfect mate, my identity, my other self.
Nothing else mattered anymore.
Winter break came and I never was able to meet Sean. For one reason or another it never seemed to work out. But we talked on the phone everyday. He hated the holidays. Being home was a reminder of his father’s distance and neglect. Being home for me was a reminder of everything I would never have again. Security. Comfort. Childhood.
We spent nights talking about a mutual disdain for people. For those who did not understand. Understand what exactly, I am not too sure. But there was certainly something that the world did not understand about us. About our innate entitlement and general superiority. It was a bond over years of pain and self torment. Sadness and loneliness. Lone companions united over a melancholy existence. Sounds all very Smashing Pumpkins. But that is what we were. Living in a movie together, filled with idealized dreams and romanticized depressive tendencies.
I lay in my twin bed back home at my parents house night after night, racking up cell phone minutes as our conversations never could really meet an end. We were one, and without the other life quickly seemed far less interesting. It was just that — life. Whereas together, it was the most beautifully crafted epic novel that had never been written.
And then one day his call did not come.
My mounting worry grew into an anxious and lingering disease that manifested as anger toward my parents. Isolation from any friends. I was once again a snail looking for a shell. I must have scared him off. Shown him too much of myself. I am fucked up. What’s wrong with me?
And after two days of self-loathing, the phone rang.
“Hallo.” That voice. My heart stopped.
“Sean what happened? Where have you been?” I attempted to sound less concerned and frantic than I actually was. I doubt I was successful.
He sounded different. Detached. Solemn. I was in my bedroom, midday with the blinds shut. Lights off. The faint struggle of sunlight through the wooden slats resulted in a dim glow in an otherwise shadowed room. A metaphor for my current mental state.
“I had an accident. My father put me in the hospital.”
An accident. It wasn’t me. And my concern for him grew. “Sean are you ok? What happened?”
He went on to explain that he had cut open his leg on the edge of a glass table. It went deep and his father sent him to the emergency room. Ten or so stitches later, he was back home.
In a matter of time we were back to conversation as usual. “There was so much blood. You would have loved it. I want to pick at the stitches. I missed you so much.”
And just like that I became human again. Or something close to it. Life resumed as we melted into each other once again.
“I want to see you. I want to touch you. To hold you.” Sean’s voice sleepily whispered one night as we both lay in bed with the phone pressed to our ear. Late night laughing always became early morning longing for one another. Like clockwork our tone would get softer, eyes would close in exhaustion. Words continued to flow in a dreamlike state, whispers, drawn out sentences. “You are so fucking strange. I love it. I want to be in bed with you right now. Put you in my arms. Feel your chest as you breath. Your heart beat.”
His words were intoxicating. They were a warm blanket that wrapped my soul and made life okay. My need to be with Sean became painful. More unbearable every time we spoke. We planned to see each other immediately after winter break. Christmas and New Year couldn’t end fast enough.
The days dragged on. Sean began to obsess over his wound more and more. “I want to open it back up. I keep playing with the stitches.” I told him to stop. But he kept focusing on this deep cut in his leg, eventually beginning to irritate it. I could hear something in his voice, something dark and irritable.
“What’s wrong? I can tell you’re off,” I said.
“Just fucking stop.”
He had never pushed back.
“Just tell me. You can tell me anything. You know that.”
He was silent but I knew he was beginning to open up.
“I’m fucked up, Ryan. We can’t keep doing this.”
My heart broke. I went into panic mode almost immediately. “Stop it. You can tell me whatever is going on. I’m here for you, Sean. Please just tell me what’s happening.”
“I didn’t fall on the glass table,” he said, “I cut myself with a razor.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been doing it for a long time. I didn’t want to tell you.”
I felt a fear and worry that I had never experienced. He explained that he had been cutting himself for years. His father had sent him to therapy, he had been on medication. Nothing helped.
“I don’t think I want to stop,” he said one night, “ I like the way it feels. I like to see how deep I can go.” Our conversations would get darker as he opened up more about cutting himself.
But I followed him down the rabbit hole. I loved the emotional wreckage, suddenly feeling like I was not alone. That I had someone to walk with. Someone I began to imagine sitting up all night with to talk, bringing to my parents house for dinner. The more he opened up, the closer we became. I was upfront about almost everything in my life, from my desires to my demons. I told Sean things that no one knew, skeleton after skeleton crept out from my deepest of closets and he accepted them all. I had nothing to hide.
It went on like that for months. Something would always get in the way of us meeting, but it became normal I guess. A drug in itself. The need to see him, to meet him always at a fingers grasp but never close enough to touch. We were in the same town, attending the same university, but something always stood in our way. I was absolutely addicted to this person, to this voice on the phone. He was beautiful in my mind, and his photos were even more amazing.
“That’s not me in the photos,” Sean said one day.
Every time he began to confess things to me, it was like a blow to my gut. Like all of the air in the room was completely sucked out.
He kept hiding behind secrets, hiding out of fear. He explained how he was too nervous to show me his real photos all this time, so he kept finding reasons why we shouldn’t meet. He cared for me so much that his fear of rejection stopped him from being honest about his physical identity.
That’s the conclusion that we came to at least. And that’s what I believed whole-heartedly.
I pleaded with him to send me his real photos. I told him in every way I could think of that it did not matter what he looked like, that what he shared spanned beyond physical attraction. He was everything to me. He was my thoughts, my life, my purpose. Why would he lie to me? Why would he be afraid?
But he wouldn’t send photos. And ultimately it didn’t matter. At that point I had him painted in my mind. I knew every facet of Sean because what I did not know then was that I was creating him. With each thought that passed, each conversation we had, each fantasy of us I imagined, Sean became more dimensional and perfect to me. He was my idealized mate, my second self. He existed to no one but me.
Months passed, but the same continued. We would talk for countless hours every day. The more we spoke, the further from reality I treaded. It was a slow process that took me further and further into my own head. When I was a kid I would get lost in fantasy. As an only child I played by myself alone in a room, very easily letting my overly active imagination get the better of me. I detached. Escaped. Protected myself from myself by wandering off into every corner I could find within my little mind. And here I was again. Alone in my bedroom, on a phone, walking down a path that led deeper and deeper into a dark forest. I was alone with a voice on the phone. An English accent that did more to me than the pot I was smoking. The coke I snorted. The liquor I drank. I didn’t need the other stuff anymore.
I just needed him.
We spoke the same language. Analyzed lyrics to music. I read him my poetry. He told me stories about his childhood in London. We plotted perfect murders. We were passionate about art, music, writing and love. He swept me up with stories of his wealthy upbringing, a limitless bank account that afforded him world travels, designer clothes and a tortured existence.
I detached from friends. I stopped going to class. I sat in my room, smoked pot amongst other substances, watched TV, painted, wrote poetry, listened to music and talked to Sean. Throw in the occasional midnight rendezvous with perfect strangers and frequent drug abuse. That was the extent of my college experience for my entire sophomore year. Unbeknownst to me, I was successfully paving the road to my rapidly approaching nervous breakdown and subsequent medical withdraw from Florida State University.
Day by day I lost myself just a little bit more while finding myself in Sean.
It was sometime mid-year, I was skipping class again and laying on my mattress with the curtains drawn. I began to feel stale. Stagnant. We had spoken about our future together so much, crafted this intricate web of possibility and adventure for the coming years. I could see it all like a movie in my mind that continued to become more real, more cinematic and romantic as our relationship grew. It was a grandiose existence made only by the finest writers of our century. And it was ours. The carrot hung before me so I kept moving along, but the wait was growing increasingly difficult. I was tired of the people around me, they seemed common and uninteresting. They were not Sean. But It was a burden I had to bear until we were together to rise above the mediocrity.
“I have to leave Tallahassee and go back to my dad in Tampa,” Sean said.
Again the world stopped. This wasn’t happening again.
“He wants to put me back in a psych unit. I fucking hate him.” I held on to every word to try and make sense of what was going on. But it all just came out like a thick, heavy liquid that poured over by body and weighed me down. His words were a coat of quicksand and I was immobilized. “I won’t have my phone. But I can call you. Ryan, I love you. I love you so much.”
And then he was gone.
When you take the drugs away from an addict they go through withdrawals. When you take the love, the identity, the codependency away from a drug addict, they do a lot of drugs.
After Sean left, I spiraled.
I assumed the role of a grieving mate and continued my role as a self indulgent, depressed junkie with a fervor and conviction that would have made Kurt Cobain proud. There were weeks I did not leave my bedroom except to get more drugs. Days I went without sleeping. Nights I spent trying to find someone to fill the void.
Side note: “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera just came on. Chris turned it up and said, “I love this song.” It created a perfect moment as I begin to submerge into darkness and tell this story. He sits next to me, wraps his arms around my shoulder and kisses my cheek. I stop writing to enjoy the present. A timely and grateful contrast to the circumstances being written about.
I connected with people who fueled an already flaming addiction. This searching led me to meet a guy online who came over one night with a pipe and some meth. I had never tried the drug before. We stayed up all night smoking and fooling around in my blacklight drenched bedroom listening to the likes of Portishead and Tricky. Meth was like nothing I had used before, a euphoria wrapped in quiet madness.
What would Sean think? What was Sean doing? Where is he?
I tried building a shell to hide inside, but the thoughts, the whispering pangs of abandonment and love lost cracked my frail exterior. It was the heart beating beneath the floorboards, slowly building my insanity.
The sun rose and my unnamed guest gathered his things to leave. I had not realized the irony of the situation until he put on scrubs for his next shift at the hospital that morning.
I was just happy he left the rest of his stash.
I spent the next few days smoking and snorting crystal meth while alternating between booze and pot to manage my high. I had a friend come up from Fort Lauderdale who brought along some painkillers that we also added to the mix. We spent the days locked in my room fooling around, getting lost while driving on random roads, or wandering around the park and cemetery. As the meth ran out we bought an eight ball to finish off before he had to drive to his brother’s house in South Carolina.
And then I was alone again.
My body began to withdrawal. I was crashing from the meth. And everything began to hit at once. I locked myself away and cried for days. My roommate would try talking to me to find out what was going on, but I could barely formulate a sentence. Feelings were overwhelming and loud sobs would just dominate any attempt of communication. I fucking miss Sean. I need him.
I was never open about my drug use, I tried to keep that part of my life hidden. So to most people I just looked like a completely deranged, emotional wreck. And I was. But there was so much more going on beneath the surface. More than I even cared to recognize with an honest self-assessment. In my eyes, the world was not only on my shoulders, but currently defecating all over me. I was a victim of circumstance. A victim of abandonment. A victim of childhood bullying. A victim of homosexuality. A victim of drugs. A victim of sexual abuse.
At the end of the day, I was a victim of myself.
Unfortunately, hindsight is twenty-twenty and I just continued to dig myself further and further into an early grave.
And then Sean called. Just like that. Out of the blue. He was at his treatment center in Tampa and filled me in on everything – his blonde roommate who follows him everywhere, the ridiculous doctors, his desire to get out of there. His father had barely visited him, but was insistent that he stays in Tampa to fully recover. He would not be returning to Tallahassee.
By that point I was accustomed to crying. But he had never heard me break down. The floodgates opened and I told him everything. I could not stop. Could not stop saying how much I couldn’t take this life anymore. I wanted to die. I wanted everything to be over – Tallahassee, independence, responsibility, life. But it had reached a point where the pain and emotion was so strong that I could barely breathe. I had never felt such a strong and overwhelming need to die. Because it was too unbearable to handle. To sit in my own skin any longer.
Sean was the most calm I had ever heard him. He talked me down. He listened to me. He did not judge me. He let me know how special I am to him, that I am everything. His voice filled my spirit and gave it the moment of solace that I needed.
And then he had to go.
I did not know when I would hear from him again. I did not know if I would ever meet him. I just knew that I was alone. In a place that held so many ghosts from only the few years I had lived there. Loneliness, lies, sex, drugs, broken friendships. In that moment all of it just weighed on me and I broke.
I called my parents, unable to breathe. Unable to think straight. It was daytime, I remember that. I was lying on my mattress. I was looking out the window through my Wal-Mart purchased gray frayed fabric turned make-shift curtains. I stared at the sky while tears streamed down my face. I had to leave. I had to get out. It was a moment of clarity that may have saved my life.
I can’t imagine the fear I caused my parents as I sobbed over the phone. It was enough for them to tell me to come home. To leave Tallahassee immediately and get back to them.
I left the next day.
Sean called me on my drive back to Pembroke Pines. “Hallo,” he said, “How are you feeling?”
That voice was like a dose of medicine.
I begged to stop in Tampa along the way back so I could see him, but the treatment center prohibited it. He was moving back into his father’s home in the next few days. We would be back to us. Both living at home, starting this new chapter together. It was all playing out just like a movie.
I came back home in May of 2005.
A twenty-one year old mess returning to mom and dad’s house. It was defeat. But it was an indescribable comfort nonetheless. It was like walking right back into a childhood security blanket and wrapping it around my bruised body. I was safe.
Sean called me after he got out of treatment. He said he was going back to Tallahassee to get his things from the apartment.
“I have to tell you something,” he said, “I have not been honest with you.”
I had built up a pretty strong armor by that point. I had gotten used to Sean occasionally having to “be honest about something”.
“My father is not really a neurosurgeon. I don’t know why I lied to you.” Another lie.
It hurt but I didn’t care. I didn’t care because I was so low at that point it didn’t matter. But then I began to realize that the stories he had told me were lies as well. His family did not have the money he claimed they had. All the stories about their wealth and his privileged childhood was bullshit. Stories. Fantasies. And I believed it all.
“Ryan, I really am so sorry. You deserve so much better than me. I’m an asshole.” The way he said asshole was so sexy Fucking accent. He was serious, his tone was stern and guilty. But it was that voice. It was the voice I built into this perfect person in my mind. My mate. And that image was chipping away. It did not register – or at least my mind was not able to fully process what had happened. His voice, his accent was the same – but the story had changed. It’s like taking everything you’ve known about someone and then hitting a delete button. The book has been rewritten and I don’t know this character anymore. At least not like I did.
I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what he said. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I loved him. There was nobody more aligned with me than Sean and I wasn’t ready to let some lies tear him away. It hadn’t before and it wouldn’t now.
“I can’t keep doing this to you, Ryan. I am not a good person. Please don’t call me again. I will leave you alone.” And again, he was gone.
At this point, it all might seem crazy. But I was completely in love with the idea of Sean. I was head over heels in love with this person who was such an extension of myself. We were intertwined. And I needed him to continue on.
But he did not answer my phone calls. So I eventually stopped calling as frequently. And then barely called at all.
A week later I returned to Tallahassee to gather my things, withdraw from FSU on a medical leave with a note from my psychologist, and officially move back to South Florida. I knew Sean was still in Tallahassee gathering his things for his move back. He had told me the apartment complex that he lived in. And I knew the car he drove. So I did what any borderline insane individual would do and drove to where he lived and stalked out the car I knew he drove.
There happened to be a few cars that fit the description, but by process of elimination and some stealthy investigation, I narrowed it down to two. After peering through their windows to examine books on the seat, paperwork, soda cans and other potentially identifying crap, l realized that neither of them were his car and watched as the owners eventually drove away.
In an anxious fit of anger I sped out of the complex. I felt that rising sadness meets frustration meets confusion meets rage. The heat in my face throbbed. I turned a corner to exit onto the main road and suddenly felt my car drop a few feet on the drivers side with a loud bang.
I got out to examine the dent and cut tire that resulted from a pothole on the side of the street. I figured it was superficial damage but noticed my car rattling as I continued home.
Turns out I did enough to that little blue Honda Civic to keep me trapped in Tallahasse for almost another week as the body shop had to wait for parts to be shipped in. For those following day, I was looked over my shoulder everywhere I went hoping to hear an English accent or see someone that I thought could be Sean. But the paranoia was mounting and I finally called him again.
He picked up the phone.
“Sean, please talk to me,” I pleaded. “I don’t care about the other shit. We need to be together.” I told him what happened with my car. He was flattered that I tried stalking him out. My crazy was always appealing to him.
“I don’t want to keep hurting you. I feel responsible for everything that has happened to you.” He sounded so distraught. I could just picture his eyes looking into mine with a sullen romance that was so enigmatic I could not pull away. His voice mixed with my imagination was a lethal combination.
“I love you,” I said.