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“So that’s why you’re so fucked up,” he said without a hint of malice. Each word was filled to the brim with “I love you, but…” honest compassion that only a beer and a cuddle can uncover.

“You’re handling all of this well,” she sobbed, mistaking dry eyes for wellness. Her bodycount was 2 that day, so she reckoned she had it harder. She’d just lost a man who promised to stay forever because he didn’t know her well enough. Always the scientist, she wanted to measure the pain down to the last milliliter of salt water burning skin to compare notes.

If I check the beaker of pain, on Christmas alone, a month before I lost her, my body count of loss was 4 in a single day, but it wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t remember all of their names. Most of the words of that conversation were lost in a trauma fog. Their deaths were supposed to matter. They were blood family. I should have been at the nursing homes or the zoom funerals to say goodbye, but time and space and gender got in the way. I learned months after everyone else. I remember most of their lives by childhood stories, by a ricocheting bullet or laughter, instead of by names. 

What do names matter anyway? I lost a couple of mine that year and gained one new one. Names come and go with letters and judges and death certificates. The one I remember is a name on a Christmas card that vanished on an identical card sent out the next year to someone I never was. A death can be measured by the absence of ink.

Those 4 deaths barely hurt under the numbness of cold rain falling onto the bridge we stood on under her umbrella, laughing about buried treasures. A woman walked past us who embodied my mood. She was dressed like a lighthouse keeper with her yellow hood pulled down to make the water pour over her face and down her back. There was no emotion. Just stoicism walking through pain unacknowledged. That’s how I feel when I think of her sobbing that day. How do you measure that in salt water?

The kids who are still here somewhere, the ones I’m not allowed to see anymore, hurt the most, not that I feel much about that. The loss of a mother and a father and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents doesn’t register either.

The loss of another graveyard lover is water under the bridge. Love lost under a knife is nearly forgotten. All the healing bonds broken under nerve damage are just outside of my amygdala’s reach. I can’t think about the men who worried that loving me made them gay. There’s no space for that loss. The knowledge of all the funerals I won’t ever be allowed to attend feels like watching the laser cut open my skin through an anesthetic haze. Losses of friends and chosen family can’t register after the nerves they touched were sliced.

I’m handling all of this well. I’m also so fucked up. Both statements can be true. 

Recommended4 Simily SnapsPublished in LGBTQ+, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Personal Narrative, Poetry, True Story


  1. “Each word was filled to the brim with “I love you, but…”
    This is so beautiful, and heartbreaking.
    A friend once told me that after coming out she was no longer allowed to see her nieces and nephews without someone else present. I don’t even know where to begin with unpacking that kind of pain. You describe it so well.