Mr. S and the Unreliable Narrator

Surprise! This series has been a work of fiction. Any resemblence to persons living or dead are purely coincidental. Names, characters, places and incidents are product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? This series has been a work of fiction, or at least a series of untruths and half-memories, but it had nothing to do with imagination. I spent an uncomfortable time trying to piece together the basics of the timeline, and even then I got things wrong. For example, I implied that Ms. R had been off work since I met her, but in fact she was working until Mr. S’s concert/conference fiasco. The narrative is littered with such mistakes. It is frightening that something that seemed so clear in my head is a jumbled mess.

This was, of course, my side of the story, which is hardly reliable. Mr. S would have his own version to tell, as would Ms. R. Among other things I conveniently whitewashed just how much of a controlling, abusive, manipulative jerk I was throughout this process. I found a cache of emails I had composed to Mr. S and Ms. R during this time, and I could not bear to look at them. They were too painful and cringewFinds a Homeorthy. I was (and am) such a fucking asshole. I honestly thought I could bully others into doing the right thing.

I also discovered that I have written out this story at least twice before, although I believe this is the first time I have published it publicly. I hope it will be the last.

I worry that I made Ms. R come across as the villain of this piece. That is very much not the case. Ms. R had a lot of her own issues to deal with, including chronic pain, and she was one of the most open-hearted people I have ever known. No, she did not want to stay married. No, she did not follow through with immigration. All of these decisions were wholly understandable.

I worry that I made Mr. S come across as the villain of this piece. Maybe that is not surprising; I still bear some resentments about how he behaved and how he treated people. But he also had many gifts to offer, and I have grown to understand that some of these events had to do more with his bipolar disorder as much as it had to do with Finds a Homehim.

Writing this brought up a lot of stuff for me. It reminded me that the experience had lasting effects.

I learned way more about mental illness than I ever wanted to. I learned about how terrifying it is to have a perception disorder. One can behave entirely rationally, but when one’s perceptions are messed up then from the outside it seems that you are acting crazy. As somebody who has been messed up in the head for a long time this should have come as no surprise, but mania really drove the point home for me.

I learned that caring for people hurts, so I have done my best not to repeat that mistake. This has consequences of its own, but overall it is for the best.

I learned that I will never stop being an abusive and controlling person.

I learned that I don’t deal with cigarette smoking that well. I had not known too many people who smoked before meeting Mr. S and Ms. R (hello class bubble) and I am not willing to tolerate it again.

I learned that I am both a stingy miser and that I don’t care about money once it is spent. I gave away a significant amount of money during those years, and even though I am poor now I don’t resent that spending.

I learned that the mental health industrial complex makes people sick. Being in hospital is like being in jail. I no longer trust that a professional would be any help in healing me. Professionals are not allowed to care for people; they are only allowed to service them.

Maybe that is all I have learned. Here are some epilogues.

Mr. S is still in Cleveburgh. We exchange emails occasionally. His health is not great but he is kicking along. It turns out that from his list of city requirements, access to the Catholic Worker was important, and maybe health care is too. On the other hand, he lives a fifteen minute walk away from the beach and has never been there, as far as I know.

I went to visit him once, several years ago. It was a bad visit. Mr. S did not really want me there. He spent most of the time obsessing over his cat. I think that cat keeps him alive. For the most part he ignored me, although he did take me to visit his Catholic Worker friends. He had warned me that if I made a pass at him I would be immediately asked to leave, so I guess he was worried about the intentions of my visit. He did not touch me once during the visit. He did not offer so much as a handshake.

I also discovered that Cleveburgh is pretty awful (sorry, Blobby). The city seems to seethe with racial tension. Everybody seems to be upset there. The signs on storefronts about not bringing in your guns were scary. Mind you, I visited in February, but I am not planning to go back.

I lost touch with Ms. R. Her email address stopped working and I never found a way to re-establish a connection. I hope she is well, and I hope she has somebody who loves her and treats her right.

Mr. S reads my real blog from time to time. I hope he never finds this one, and I hope Ms. R doesn’t either. They would recognise themselves quickly. I do not think they would appreciate me recounting their adventures here, but I do not know how angry they would be.

Believe you me: this series was no more fun for me to write than it was for you to read.

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Mr. S Finds a Home

Time was growing short. Mr. S’s options for staying in Lurkistan were diminishing. He would either have to secure sponsorship by that point, or he would have to leave.

Mr. S and Ms. R were in contact during this time. Once they invited me and another of their friends to attend a marriage counselling session. That did not go well. Mr. S threatened to leave and I accused him of using Ms. R solely for his immigration status. (In fairness, the other reason I remember this event is because Ms. R introduced me to the therapist as one of the people most invested in their marriage. I am not sure that was a compliment, but it felt like a compliment at the time.)

Mr. S started researching places to live. Going back to NYC was a possibility, but it was not a good one. NYC was expensive, he had no money, and he had burned out many of his supports. On the other hand, most of his remaining social connections were there.

After a few weeks Mr. S decided that if he had to leave he would settle down in Cleveburgh. Why Cleveburgh? He listed a bunch of reasons, which uncharacteristically he wrote down. He admired the transit system and the bicycle paths. He cited access to health care resources, and the local Catholic Worker movement. He wrote about libraries and proximity to water (which is one thing he missed a lot from New York). But his primary hope remained for Lurkistani citizenship.

What was my role in all of this? Would I continue supporting Mr. S financially? If so I would have to get a job. My ties to Lurkville were weakening; I had completed my schooling and my volunteering was falling apart, so maybe it was time for a change. I started looking around for a full-time job either in Lurkistan or in the United States. My plan was to get RJ’s favourite visa (an H1B permit), find a job, and possibly move Mr. S with me so I could be his emotional support. Once Mr. S decided that Cleveburgh was his preferred option I started looking for positions there.

I continued to delude myself that my motives were altruistic, and that even though I was planning to rent a place for Mr. S and I to live, somehow I would respect Mr. S’s sexuality and leave him well enough alone. Why was I so obsessed with being his support? Who did I think I was fooling?

It got so bad that I thought maybe I had found my purpose in this life. Why was I such damaged goods? Why was I attracted to men, and furthermore why was I not attracted to the kinds of men all the other gays liked? The boyish smooth models prominently featured in gay newspapers did nothing for me. Why did I fall for older, overweight straight-acting men with lots of body hair? Maybe that was for a reason. Maybe my role was to care for this man, and to support him financially and emotionally. Being agnostic bordering on atheist, I was not willing to give credit to God or even the universe for setting up these circumstances. But if this was my role then at least I would not have to face the utter purposelessness of living, so I clung to this explanation. What a maroon. In my defence I had been reading A Prayer for Owen Meany, but that was hardly an excuse.

I may have been fooling myself but I wasn’t fooling anybody else. At long last Mr. S finally confronted me directly. He asked whether I had sexual feelings for him, and I admitted I did. He said that he did not reciprocate these feelings, and recommend that I go see his therapist, because his therapist was gay too. He said that Ms. R had told him that I probably had feelings for him, and then I realized that Ms. R had probably known for years. She was very astute about these things. Yet she trusted me in Mr. S’s presence even when they were married.

Then Ms. R reached a decision. She and Mr. S and I met to decide whether to move forward with the paperwork or not. She said she was not willing to sponsor Mr. S. The marriage was over. Sponsorship would have meant being financially responsible for Mr. S for several years, and she could not handle that stress. I held her hand briefly and thanked her, and told her that I did not bear any ill will.

I was shocked and numb on the way out of that meeting. Mr. S invited me to his place. He said we could share a bed. It would be nothing sexual, of course. The offer made me shocked and a little angry. Was Mr. S now trying to manipulate me the way he had tried to manipulate Ms. R? I refused his offer.

I doubled down on trying to find work. I got to a second phone interview with a company in Ohio, before I leaked too much information about my mental health and was rejected for the position. I did not get as far as a first phone interview anywhere else. My hopes for getting a job near Mr. S, renting a second apartment and supporting him there were dashed.

I briefly considered marrying Mr. S and sponsoring him myself. Lurkistan had legalized gay marriage, so maybe I could use this marriage token to get Mr. S his citizenship. Once again, who was I trying to fool? Fortunately I let the idea go quickly.

Mr. S made plans to leave for Cleveburgh. I do not remember his exact plans. I suspect he intended to stay with the Catholic Worker people before finding a place of his own. In some ways he was worse off than he would have been moving back to New York. He would not qualify for social assistance. I decided that I would continue to offer him financial support to the extent I was able.

A few days before he left Mr. S and I were saying our goodbyes. I told him I would miss him. I hugged him and lay my head against his chest. He gave me some story about how this was okay because men need to be touched. I did not care. I let my head rest against his chest, and I listened to his heartbeat.

And that was that. Mr. S got an apartment, which I helper pay for. As usual I was controlling and abusive, getting angry when Mr. S used the money I gave him on cigarettes or his car. Probably he was getting some financial support from a rich uncle as well. After several months he qualified for disability supports, so he no longer needed my money. He has been on disability ever since.

Ms. R moved on as well. As her marriage was breaking up she started corresponding with another fellow in a nearby city. She eventually moved in with him. Once I saw her as I was preparing to board a train. She got off the train I was planning to board. Her new fellow was there as well. She looked happier, and I was happy for her.

Left to my own devices I crashed. The trigger was a terrible job interview. I fell into a cycle of sleeping, reading books from the library, and then sleeping again. When I couldn’t sleep I would hit myself on the head with an iron saucepan, which would usually be enough for me for me to curl up and fall back into unconsciousness. So everything worked out in the end.

Seducing Mr. S

Mr. S held out hope that Ms. R would sponsor him for citizenship, so we were working through the paperwork. One day he needed some papers scanned into electronic form. We were not far from my residence, and I had a scanner, so I offered to do the scanning at my place. It was a relatively new residence for me; I had moved out of the six foot by eight foot room and into a spacious carpeted attic with more space than I knew what to do with.

Against all better judgement I invited Mr. S inside. This was unusual for me. Being poor and disgusting, I am too ashamed of my living conditions to have guests over. But for some reason he followed me upstairs, papers in hand.

While I did the scanning Mr. S decided he was tired, so he lay down on his back. I finished the scanning and sat down beside him. We talked for a while. My thoughts veered in inappropriate directions. I thought about how easy it would be to reach over and fondle his genitals, or to yank down his sweatpants and see the goods myself. I knew to do so would be wrong. Mr. S was straight and still technically married to Ms. R. I did not want to be a homewrecker. My arm started shaking. It was not trembling; it was shaking back and forth.

Mr. S noticed my shaking arm. He asked me what was going on. I did not give him a straight answer. (How could I have given him a straight answer?)

The moment passed. Maybe I got a goodbye hug from him when he left. That was the extent of the seduction.

Of course I should not have acted on my impulses. I had not disclosed my sexuality to Mr. S, never mind my feelings for him. I knew he had no interest in me. Once he and Ms. R and Ms. R’s daughter were watching Mambo Italiano while I was visiting, and he made it perfectly clear he was not interested in kissing any pickles then. Leaving him alone was the right thing to do. But I have replayed that moment in my head again and again and again. When I am feeling sorry for myself and moping about being celibate for two decades, I think “what if”. I know full well what if, but that does not stop my mind from wandering towards sin.

Mr. S Goes to the Hospital

I agreed to accompany Mr. S and Ms. R to the hospital. They were not ready to go when I arrived. Mr. S was walking around in his underwear putting his things together. Here was a man who was depressed to the point of suicidal ideation, and my thoughts were turning sexual. It was embarrassing and upsetting. But those images stick in my mind still.

Eventually the others got dressed and packed, and we went to the emergency department. Mr. S was not being hospitalized against his will, exactly, but we did not have a better way to get him admitted. We waited for seven or eight hours in total. First we waited in the triage area. Then we were taken to a small room for another two or three hours. The three of us did not talk much. I had a pack of cards, so we played a few games to pass the time. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for Mr. S if he had been by himself. Emergency rooms are stressful and hospitals are stressful.

We had left for hospital in the morning. It was evening before he finally was admitted to the psychiatric ward. I had never been to the psych ward before. I guess it did not look much different than any other hospital ward, but I found it depressing. How did people heal here?

I visited Mr. S every second or third day while he was in hospital. He would go outside to smoke and we would talk. A couple of times we played ping-pong on the ping-pong table. Apparently the doctors were administering surveys and tests to give him a diagnosis. In addition he was held to a schedule of attending therapy group sessions. To me it sounded terrible. Patients shuffled around without much to look forward to. Many passed their time in the smoking area.

After a week the diagnosis came in. Mr. S was diagnosed with perception difficulties and prescribed an antipsychotic. The diagnosis explicitly stated that they felt he did not suffer from bipolar disorder. This sent shock waves through his support network. We had lived through multiple manic episodes. Many of us, from both Lurkville and New York, started calling into the hospital to protest and ask for a second opinion. The hospital staff was sick of us. In retrospect, the diagnosis was probably not incorrect. It does seem as if Mr. S has problems with perception. But to this day I feel it is incomplete. Mr. S, on the other hand, would probably disagree.

The next issue had to do with housing. Mr. S had been in hospital for two weeks and was about to be discharged, but he had no place to go. Ms. R was not prepared to take him in again. We pleaded with the hospital to keep Mr. S hospitalized until we could make arrangements, but they reminded us that they were a short-term treatment facility, not a long-term residential one. They agreed to keep him enrolled for another week.

Somehow somebody (not me) managed to find Mr. S an apartment. He was also admitted to a non-residential, medium-term treatment program. He still had no income. I ended up stepping in to cover his rent and living expenses. That sounds noble, but of course it wasn’t. Whether I was willing to admit it or not, I was just trying to get into his pants.

The treatment program did not work out. Mr. S still had his work permit, but it was temporary, and he was not seriously looking for work. I did not have work at the time either. From time to time I would pick up contracts which paid enough to meet my living expenses, but not expenses for two people with two sets of rent.

Mr. S wanted his Lurkistani citizenship. His plan (maybe his plan all along) was to become a Lurkistani citizen via spousal sponsorship. On paper Mr. S and Ms. R were still married, but in practice they were separated. Would Ms. R be willing to go through with the sponsorship? Or would Mr. S face deportation?

Mr. S and His Cats

Mr. S dealt with his impending exile the way he dealt with many other problems in his life; with a lot of talk and not much action. The three month deadline for him leaving his apartment was quickly approaching. Mr. S assured me that it would be fine, and that he was making plans.

Being a worrywart, I was worried, for both him and his three cats. No matter how he treated people, he loved his animals and pampered them. The cats were not his, exactly; he owned them jointly with Ms. R, and one of the cats had originally belonged to Ms. R’s daughter. Ms. R tolerated the cats but did not adore them, and if I remember correctly she had mild allergies to them. If Mr. S left then the cats would have to go as well. I ought to have worried for each of the cats individually, but I was particularly concerned for L, my favourite. She was the gray longhair with the enchanting purr, who liked being petted to a certain point, at which point she would indicate that she was done by swatting you. L had short little legs which made her appear as if she was stiffly marching through life. She was not an easy cat, but she was a good cat. Spending time petting L had been a highlight of my visits to Mr. S and Ms. R’s house when I had first met them. The other two cats were fine as well, but they had little to do with me. Mr. S cared for them all, though, no matter what his moods.

But landlords don’t like pets, and the cats were a barrier to Mr. S finding new housing, especially given his dire financial situation. Things were looking grim, and then Mr. S decided (or “decided”) he was moving in with his brother in Florida. Mr. S and his brother seemed like very different people to me; his brother being stable and married and significantly more conservative than Mr. S. Nonetheless he packed his bags and went, and Ms. R decided to move back into her apartment rather than giving it up, which meant the cats still had a home.

It was a difficult time. Unsurprisingly, Mr. S and his brother did not get along well. His sister-in-law did not particularly like him, and he was not doing much to get a job in Florida or pay his own way. The Lurkville situation was difficult as well. Ms. R had a difficult time living alone. I went through a stretch of calling her daily to make sure she was okay. From time to time I would visit. Once I got really scared; she was on some new medications and was having trouble remembering even simple things. I felt helpless. She had been a good support to me and the only thing I could do was to keep checking in.

From time to time Ms. R would suggest that I adopt L, since I was so fond of the cat’s company. I refused every time. I did not want the responsibility of a cat. Also I am an abusive and controlling person, and I knew that sooner or later I would take out my rage on this poor animal. Also I was living in a sketchy (and in retrospect illegal) basement apartment with two other people. My room was 6 feet by 8 feet. I did not have the space to accommodate a cat.

After a few months relations between Mr. S and his brother deteriorated to the point where he was asked to leave. So Mr. S packed his bags again and headed back to New York, where he had lived before running off to Lurkistan. He had some family and supports there, but they were tired of his patterns too and did not have a lot of patience with him. He was in some contact with his ex-wife but they were not getting back together. He was in less contact with his adopted son, who was doing poorly himself. Mr. S was sinking deeper and deeper into depression.

Then Ms. R made a big decision. She decided to take Mr. S back in. She said she could not stand to watch his deterioration. But she attached some strings to the deal; Mr. S had to go on meds to stabilize his moods. He had to address the deep depressions. The destructive periods of intense energy and planning were not okay either. Ms. R believed that Mr. S suffered from bipolar disorder (which she termed “manic depression”). I did not know what she meant or whether to believe her until I started reading up on the topic. I read a book called The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide and a lot of things clicked. I started learning far more than I wanted to about lithium and Depakote. Being damaged goods myself, I had been firmly anti-psychiatry and anti-medication for my entire life. But given the damage I had seen firsthand via the housing episode and the conference/concert episode, my resolve was starting to crack.

Mr. S did not want to be on meds, but he was running out of options. So he agreed to come back to Lurkistan, and he agreed with the conditions Ms. R set. In his heart I do not think he felt anything was wrong with him, but he wanted housing, so he played along. He felt resentful that others did not support his dream of the conference and concert, but he was too depressed to act on those dreams.

The next time I saw him, it was clear that Mr. S had not thrived in his adventures abroad. His mood was down. He had lost a lot of weight, which under ordinary circumstances might have been cause for celebration, but in his circumstances made him seem even more unhealthy. He sat on a mattress in his living room, and did not say much or do much.

Mr. S and Ms. R were back together, but they did not enjoy wedded bliss. Neither of them were in great shape emotionally or mentally, and it showed. My own patience with them waxed and waned. They would run into money problems and I would give them “loans”, and then they would run into money problems again, sometimes because they ran into a vet bill or a car repair issue, and sometimes because they splurged on something not in the budget. They made noises about getting on with the immigration process so that Mr. S could get a worker’s permit, but they did not make much progress on their own. Eventually I forced my will upon them, meeting with them and getting them to go through the paperwork in my presence. The process moved forward, and eventually Mr. S got a temporary work permit. Then the struggle was to get him looking for work.

My own relationship with them was tumultuous. I would try to support them for a while, but then get angry and vow to keep my distance. Then I would get lonely and get sucked back into their dramas.

At one point I stayed away for several months. During this time Mr. S and Ms. R’s relationship deteriorated to the point where they decided they could not live together. Mr. S lived out of their car for several weeks. It was at this time that Ms. R decided she could not deal with the cats on her own. By this time one of the cats had died; he had killed some baby rabbits and eaten them, and died a few days later. That left L and her “brother” W. Ms. R was not willing to care for them any more, and Mr. S was living out of his car, so Mr S. found the cats a new home. He gave them to a local cat lady, who agreed to adopt them along with the dozens of other cats living in her house. Both cats died soon thereafter. My understanding is that L contracted a disease from one of her new housemates, and that was the end of her life. It is utterly unrealistic to think I could have adopted her and given her a good life. I will never overcome the guilt for letting her down.

That episode was not the end of Ms. R’s and Mr. S’s tumultuous relationship. Mr. S moved out of his car and lived in some pretty sketchy places, couch-surfing with some pretty sketchy friends. He made some half-hearted attempts to look for work, but gave up and got disillusioned when somebody slashed the tires of his car the day of a job interview. He was on an antidepressant (?!), but his mood was crashing. Maybe he went back to live with Ms. R from time to time. That period was kind of a blur, and I was dipping in and out of their lives as my temper allowed. I guess they must have been living together when Mr. S started threatening to kill himself, because Ms. R told me she was planning to have him hospitalized, and wanted me to help.

Mr. S Faces the Music

It started with a phone call. Mr. S called me while I was volunteering. In itself that was not so unusual, but he called while the area where I volunteered was open to members of the public, which was strange and not very appropriate. He had big news. The housing project Mr. S had been so excited about earlier was alive. He told me he was close to securing a $2.5 million deal between a soil remediation company and a developer. This was a bombshell. I had not heard anything about it.

But that was not all. Mr. S also wanted to organize a conference on homelessness, inviting some innovators from Scotland to be keynote speakers (apparently they were instrumental in getting Scotland to “outlaw homelessess”. Researching the matter now I think Mr. S was referring to the charismatically-named Homelessness, etc. (Scotland) Act 2003 which supposedly legislated entitlements to services for all people who were unintentionally homeless. But I digress).

Mr. S and Ms. R had been married for about a year. I had kept in contact with them, and although Mr. S was out in the community more he had lost the enthusiasm that had first drawn me to him. Now that enthusiasm was back, with a vengeance.

Over the next few weeks his enthusiasm grew and grew. Every day brought a new development, but oddly enough they were all about Mr. S’s proposed conference, and not about the development deal. Mr. S decided that to support the costs of the conference he would simultaneously hold a concert. He started talking to hotels and the Lurkville arena to arrange bookings. His initial thinking was that the concert would highlight local talent, but before long Mr. S was talking about inviting bigger and bigger stars. A few weeks in he was talking about getting Bono to perform (pro bono, of course).

Once again, Mr. S started obsessing about his concert and conference day and night. He would be up at all hours of the morning doing research. Once again, he started getting upset with anybody who talked about scaling things back, or questioned whether he could pull the concert and conference off. The local Lurkville newspaper wrote a brief article about Mr. S’s conference. The article was mostly positive, but Mr. S found a misstatement (hello Gell-Mann Amnesia) and it infuriated him. He started talking about taking the newspaper to court over the slight. To raise publicity, he challenged local (and then national) leaders to live homeless on the street for a week so they would understand homelessness better. He held press conferences for these publicity stunts. A few people came to the first one.

Once again, Mr. S was on an emotional rollercoaster: super-excited about the concert/conference one minute, and angry about some interpersonal friction the next. Once again, people who initially supported him in this new venture were dropping away, which did not stop him of calling people dream crushers.

And once again, very little was in writing. I did not see any evidence of the development deal. I did not see any evidence about how the conference was being organized, or what acts had confirmed themselves for the concert, or whether the people from Scotland were planning to come over, or even a concrete timeline for putting this on. I was worried, but Ms. R was distraught. I tried to comfort her by saying that at least this time things were happening, but she shut me right down. She said that this time things were much worse, because Mr. S really was phoning up arenas and hotels, and that meant her finances could be on the line if (she said “when”) things fell through. She said this was not more productive than Mr. S’s last burst of energy; it was much much worse.

And it was a pattern. Around this time I started learning about Mr. S’s support network back in New York: his aunt and uncle, several childhood friends, and his ex-wife. They were familiar with this pattern. It probably had something to do with how Mr. S had ended up in Lurkistan in the first place. He left his ex-wife (abandoning the son he and his ex-wife had adopted), met Ms. R on the Internet, and left his New York life to move to Lurkistan on an impulse and a dream. You didn’t need to be a handsome Arizona psychiatrist to figure out what was going on, but you needed to be more perceptive than I was. I didn’t get it until Ms. R laid the situation out plainly, in terms even I could understand.

About a month after the initial phone call, Ms. R had had enough. She left their shared apartment and moved in with her daughter from a previous marriage. She gave Mr. S three months to leave the apartment, because then the lease would be up. Mr. S had no money and no work permit. It was clear he would not be able to pay rent. Despite his marital troubles he was still determined to put together his concert an conference, ignoring the impending issue of his own homelessness. What was he to do?

Mr. S Gets Married

Mr. S and Ms. R were still together, but things were not looking good. Mr. S was still down in the dumps. He was not taking care of himself or taking care of his relationship. Their finances were another source of stress. Before I knew her, Ms. R had a good-paying job as a social worker, but she had burned out and left that job, and she was struggling to adjust to her reduced income. Often they would not budget properly, or they would splurge on a purchase, and then they would have trouble making rent at the end of the month. Even if Mr. S had been willing to help out financially, he still did not have a work permit. Although I do not believe there was physical violence, Mr. S and Ms. R were bickering regularly.

I felt their relationship was in trouble. Silly me. Little did I know that straight people have a magic ritual that fixes all relationship problems and binds people in eternal love. That ritual is called marriage. Mr. S and Ms. R decided to make things right by getting married.

I attended the wedding. It was the second wedding I attended in my life, and I hope the last. It was a relatively informal affair: a potluck affair in a room booked with the organization where Mr. S and I volunteered. It was attended by a few family members and several dozen people from the community.

There was a ceremony. From what I remember it was not very religious, although it did mention God. In particular, Mr. S and Ms. R made a covenants to each other, and the wedding guests collectively (and verbally) made covenants to uphold their relationship and support their marriage as a community. Silly me. As a wedding newbie I did not know that these covenants were just for show, and that I was not to take them seriously, because I did take them seriously.

I felt absolution for some of the naughty fantasies I had surrounding Mr. S and Ms. R, and the struggles I felt to be friends with them without overstepping boundaries. I knew my role was to do what I could to help them succeed as a married couple, and I felt relief at that.

That did not mean I was spared naughty thoughts. It did not help that both Mr. S and Ms. R were touchy-feely people. Ms. R demanded a hug every time we said goodbye. Mr. S had a bad habit of massaging people’s shoulders unexpectedly, which I did not take well when I was the target of these shoulder-rubs. Both engaged in sexual innuendo from time to time. Mr. S had a bad habit of taking off his shirt in my presence. None of these actions were intended as any kind of sexual proposition, but that is not how my body reacted — particularly when touch was involved, because touch is strong magic and I am weak.

But I had a role. And if I could channel my feelings and affections for Mr. S and Ms. R into the health of their marriage then maybe the messier feelings would go away. At the very least I was prohibited from being a homewrecker; at the very best I might do some good.

But I screwed up somehow. The straight-person magic ritual of marriage did not work as well as expected. Marriage was supposed to repair all relationship problems and bind people eternally in love, and it didn’t quite work. Things did improve a little. Mr. S’s mood lifted a little and he started participating in community activities more. Mr. S and Ms. R seemed to be getting along a bit better. But their financial situation had not improved, and they still bickered.

More worryingly, they had not made progress on Mr. S’s immigration status, and more importantly his work permit. They needed to fill out some paperwork to get the process started, and for some reason they were dragging their feet.

Nonetheless, I was associating with them and trying to support them. I loaned them money a couple of times. They invited me to their house, which was good (company, cats) and bad (bickering, cigarette smoke). They moved house and I helped. Ms. R became a grandmother via a child from an earlier marriage. It would be an exaggeration to say that things were going well, but they were going.

Then came the music, and everything fell apart.

Mr S the Visionary

What happened was housing.

Lurkville was starting to gentrify even back then, and housing/anti-homelessness advocates were agitating for more social housing. Mr. S decided to act. He started a group with the goal of building affordable housing in the area, getting his local contacts together to plan around the issue. Mr. S found an ally in a builder with development experience. A particular parcel of land was potentially up for redevelopment, and Mr. S wanted to put in a proposal.

He held meetings for the group at his house. I attended the first one and maybe the second. People brainstormed all of the facilities properties they wanted on this building. It went well beyond basic housing. As Mr S. heard new suggestions or found other initiatives online, he would add more and more to his wishlist.

I was so happy for him. Mr. S did not have a work permit yet and so could not make money, but he was putting in energy into developing the community in other ways. But Ms. R seemed more cautious. She did not appreciate the frequency or tone of these meetings in her house.

After a few meetings I started to see her point. There was acrimony amongst the group. When criticized about aspects of the plan Mr. S got defensive, sometimes accusing others of being dreamcrushers. People were getting frustrated with him and leaving the group. I stopped attending the group myself.

On the other hand, the actual proposal to redevelop the land did not seem to be going anywhere. Many many ideas were being thrown around, and Mr. S was getting more and more effusive about all the innovations his project would feature, but very little was written down. I asked Mr. S for a draft of his plans in written form, but I don’t think he had one. Everything was in his head.

The lack of documentation was bizarre, because Mr. S was spending more and more of his energy on the project. When we saw each other he would talk of little else. He would be up at all hours of the night doing research and looking for grants. Sometimes he would phone people up. He became very emotional about the project, flipping from enthusiasm to anger to enthusiasm within minutes. He became more irritable at those who questioned his plans, and in doing so more and more of his allies dropped away.

It was hard to witness this. He believed so deeply in this project. I felt (and continue to feel) that his motivations arose out of compassion and a caring heart for people in poverty (which he encountered frequently, because he volunteered at the local soup kitchen). But the project was not going anywhere.

Things were not going well on the home front, either. Mr. S and Ms. R were not getting along. Ms. R was really stressed out about this housing project and how much Mr. S was obsessing over it. She was also dealing with a lot of her own issues, and the tumultuous circumstances of the housing project were making things worse. It looked as if their relationship was on the rocks.

Then, suddenly, it was over. Everything fell apart. I do not remember the exact circumstances under which the housing project ended, or whether there was a particular event that marked the end. All I remember is that it was over, and Mr. S fell into a deep, deep despondency over its collapse. Instead of being outgoing and effusive, he retreated into himself. He stayed at home all the time. He dropped his volunteering and his other community engagements. He stopped taking care of himself. He felt too embarrassed or ashamed or angry to deal with the world. I would still visit, but the days of engaged politically-slanted gabfests were over.

The collapse of the housing project had not healed Mr. S’s and Ms. R’s relationship either. They were still together, but were not getting along very well. In addition to caring for herself Ms. R was shouldering the emotional burdens of Mr. S’s dejection. As an outside observer, it felt as if their relationships was heading for the rocks, which made the next turn of events even more of a surprise.

Meeting Mr. S

Screw it. Let’s talk about Mr. S.

I first met Mr. S in the early 2000s. He had recently moved to Lurkville from New York City to live with his new girlfriend Ms. R, whom he had met via the Internet.

I first got to know Mr. S while volunteering. He was in his mid-50s, balding, overweight running to obese (but in a way that made him look more wide than fat), had chest hair like a rug, and a gorgeous New York accent that made me weak in the knees. Overall he was a solid 6/10, and I was smitten. He was also straight as an arrow.

Being attracted to completely inappropriate people is nothing new to me (one day I ought to take Jesus’s good advice and gouge out my lustful eyes) but Mr. S had additional qualities that drew me to him. Firstly, he talked with me as if I was an adult, which I was completely unused to from grownups even though I was in my twenties. We could spend hours jawing about politics or his past or social movements. Secondly, he had a huge heart. He was outgoing and made friends with so many people, which I am always a sucker for. When he felt people were down he would go out of his way to talk with them and cheer them up.

And he had a history. He had been in the National Guard in the 60s, and involved with left-wing social justice movements. He had gone to trainings in the Human Potential Movement that he claimed were life-changing, and his speech was peppered with catchphrases from those trainings. He was an interesting guy.

His heart was also on the left. He despised GW Bush and felt ashamed of his warlike policies. Even though he had served in the National Guard he opposed the Vietnam war. He found Lurkistan much less crazy, and described himself as a refugee from the USA.

I began to socialize with Mr. S outside of volunteering. I would go to his house and spend time with Mr. S, Ms. R and their three cats (one of whom, a gray longhair named L, I grew very fond of. Ms. R had one of the biggest hearts I have ever known. In some ways she was fragile — she had suffered abuse as a child and was recovering from PTSD. But she was also perceptive and wise. I thought of Mr. S and Ms. R as “hippies”, even though they insisted they were no such thing. There were some downsides to my visits, of course. Both of them were heavy smokers, and their house smelled of smoke. Also I was even more oblivious than I am today, and sometimes I would show up at their place after volunteering, without showering in between. But overall I treasured my time with them.

Then something happened. Do I even need to spell out what? I am pretty sure we can all guess.

Blog Absence

“Whatever happened to that blog of yours?”

Guido and I were in bed, eating peaches flambeé and bananas Foster. He had a strange look on his face as he lit the bananas on fire. I wondered whether the cannelloni we had eaten for dinner had been a bit much. But until my dying day I will never be able to refuse Guido’s cannelloni.

“Seriously. You used to post to that blog all the time. Loads of admirers clung to your every word. What happened?”

I spooned vanilla ice cream onto the flaming dessert. “You know how busy things have been,” I said, only a little sheepish. “If you haven’t noticed, we have two cafés to run now, and we still have not finished renovating the flat in Denmark Hill. Add to that my day job rescuing rich patrons from bad colour schemes and it is no mystery why I have been neglecting my blog. We haven’t played poker with Ted and Gary in a dog’s age, which is just as well given we have no disposable income to fork over when we lose. Why, we have been barely managing sex three times a day lately. Who has time to update a blog?”

“That’s not it,” said Guido. “You have been busy before and still updated. Something else is different.”

My heart started to pound. Was this it? Was Guido falling out of love with me? After all these years and all that mayonnaise, was our relationship ending over some stupid blog?

“I didn’t know my blog was important to you,” I said, desperately trying to suppress the quaver in my voice. “I’ll update more regularly if you would like.”

“Oh, I hated that thing. You kept leaking my recipes and our bedroom secrets to a transatlantic audience. On the other hand, you seemed to enjoy it, and as your loving husband I was willing to put up with it.”

For one I didn’t know what to say. I tried to breathe deeply as I awaited whatever was coming next, dessert long forgotten as it singed the edges of the comforter.

“Have you ever stopped to consider,” asked Guido, “that you haven’t been yourself lately?”

That sounded like a dangerous question. “Sure, we’ve been busy,” I said. “But I’m still me, and you’re still you, and we are still sharing our beautiful and frequently comedic life together.”

“I am worried about you. You have been off your meds for a while. The last time that happened you convinced yourself that you were a glamorous New Hope drag queen with two boyfriends and a stable of unruly houseboys. What’s going through your head now? Has it ever occurred to you that are not a fabulous interior decorator in London, but some underemployed schlub in the frozen wastelands of Lurkistan? That you are in no way married to a gorgeous hairy six-foot Spanish chef, but rather you are neurotic, semi-closeted and alone and will remain so for the rest of your days?”

The tears were streaming down my face, mixing into the charred bananas and melted ice cream.

“I know this is difficult to hear,” said Guido. “And believe me, it hurts me to say it. But even though your life is hardly worth living, you are better off dealing with reality than retreating into a fantasyland. Now let’s get some sleep so I can take you to the nice psychiatrist in the morning.”

“All docs is quacks,” I mumbled more to myself than anybody. But even I rocked back and forth in my Justin Bieber pajamas, I knew Guido was right, and once again was looking out for my best interests. As my sobbing subsided and I drifted off to sleep, I gave thanks to be married to the best husband in the world.