This is the shape of my torso. Were someone to peer through my window right now, this is the outline of what they would see. Actually, I’m bigger than this. I didn’t mean to lie, I’m just bad at drawing. Most do not lust or fantasize about this shape. Though the mass media are not my friend, neither are Michelangelo or Rodin. I don’t fit into most clothes so I don’t bother to look “nice”.

I don’t say this with any sort of self-pity. If anything I feel rather defiant. The sharing of this photo is an act of defiance. The way I keep my blinds open is a form of rebellion (let this add to the myth of my strangeness in this oddly provincial apartment complex). For most of my life, showing my body to lovers has felt more like a confession than part of the erotic act. I have, at times, almost felt the need to apologize.

My identity as a lover is not too different from my identity as a friend or family member. I am celebrated for my ability to attune, listen and surmise the desires of another. “You’re like a lesbian down there” said one ex-partner with praise. “It’s like you know my body better than me” said another. These comments used to feed my ego. Just like it used to feed my ego when people said I was a good helper or listener. But right now they sort of make me sad. I have, apparently, taught people about their own bodies while distancing myself from mine. Just like, in friendships, I became so good at attuning to the needs of others that I sometimes couldn’t identify my own.

I’m working on this with regard to the friendship part–trying my best to say what I need and to set boundaries. It’s harder with the sexuality piece because even when I recall focusing on my own pleasure, I had to kind of block out the way the other avoided looking at my body. I could see and feel that they sometimes enjoyed my face and genitals, but that they avoided looking at the rest of me. I think with trusted lovers I learned to block this out enough to enjoy sex very much. But I can’t help but wonder what it might feel like to be with someone who didn’t need to skip my torso. Hmmm. I imagine that it would be emotionally overwhelming at first. Maybe even so unbearably wonderful that I wouldn’t allow it to nourish me initially.

My shape is a memoir about loneliness and food as a substitute for emotional connection. It is about the fear of abandonment and the inability to be nourished by what is around me. It is also a tale about things well beyond my control. It is as misleading as it is revealing.

The size of the stomach varies slightly from time to time, but the outline more or less remains the same. It was my shape when I could run 10 miles. It was my shape when I could bench-press just over 400lbs. And it is my shape when I lose my breath walking up a hill. Often people assume that I am grossly unhealthy because of my shape. They are usually wrong. I am in better physical condition than most my age and, when I start to stray, I bring myself back. I used to say: “I’m in amazing shape for a fat guy”–it was a form of pride and self-deprecation. I don’t say that anymore. It’s too mean.

The “medical term” for my breasts is Gynecomastia. Many people get surgery to correct this. I privately fantasized about getting that procedure done up until the last few years of my life when I realized I did not want to waste my time and money on something that doesn’t align with my values.

So here I sit with folds of stretched out skin hanging over the elastic waist-band of my briefs. If someone accidentally peers through my window I welcome their disgust. I have learned to relish being strange and different in so many ways that I’m surprised that I never thought to add this to the list. Consider it added. I’m off to my walk now. And then some pushups and crunches. But not because I want to change my shape–just because I want to live long enough to enjoy it (or at least enjoy the defiance).

Often we discover that our loved ones have quickened their pace. One common reaction, I say with compassion for human imperfection, is to yell to them to stop or slow down. But to do so is to break their rhythm or, even worse, to create a needlessly false dilemma between love and life.

I question my ability to keep up. I have always been slow at taking in the lessons life offers me. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the pain inherent to the lesson tends to knock me off my feet, and I have never been one to get up quickly. A slow pace on a long road has been my way. It is not the worst way to live as there are many in life who stand up quickly and glean nothing from the blow. They march forth in the same direction, untouched by the experience. I feel both sadness and gratitude for my way.

Given this, I do not know when I will be able to look back and name how this period in our history has transformed me. I can have faith that something meaningful will emerge, but faith and knowledge are two different things. If there is something I know it is that…I frequently feel pain and sadness and occasionally discover a bit of joy and life. I am embarrassed to confess to the extreme imbalance and yet I am certain that I will find a semblance of balance at some later time.

Meanwhile, I must make peace with the idea that there is no “going back” (I have just now realized why I wince when people say during this time “when things go back to normal…”). Internally we may go back, but the world moves on. I am reminded of a saying by the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, “No man ever steps in the same river twice”.

And so it is with our loved ones who have miraculously found a way to march forth with grace. We can either ask them to slow down or find the part in ourselves that is happy for them. Whether it be seeing a loved one finally fall in love with a wonderful person or uncover strengths within themselves, we must find a way to celebrate them even through our own fear and sadness. We must find a way to yell out, “Keep going–I’ll catch up to you later!” And we must say that whether we believe we will catch up or not. Otherwise…I was going to say “otherwise it is not love”, but that is unfair since nobody can love perfectly. So rather I will say: it is not a love that holds within it the promise of transformation and, at this stage of my life, that is the only type of love I wish to cultivate.

This may look like selflessness but it is not. It is, rather, the only choice I can fathom if I am to hold on to some semblance of meaning, dignity and integrity. If there be another way I am all ears.

It is like when I say goodbye to a patient that I love and who is ready to fly away. I feel sadness but I also feel a sense of awe and wonder. It is, if you will forgive the cliche, extremely humbling. It is more trying when it is a loved one because, imperfect and fearful as I can be, I want to hold onto them. Whether it is to insist that they literally stay or simply to insist that they remain the same person. But nobody ever steps in the same river twice. And to insist otherwise brings with it far worse consequences than sadness or loneliness.

True to my slow ways I am finding it difficult to get moving today. It is nearly noon and I have yet to eat or get dressed. The prospect of leaving the apartment and going for a walk is daunting. But it is relieving to remind myself that I can walk at my own pace.

I sit upon the familiar log that rests upon the familiar sea cliff.

What has changed in the last few days? What has remained the same?

Where Saturday I grappled with a profound annihilation anxiety—a part of me fighting it, a part of me hoping for it to bring about my ultimate demise—today I feel as though my problems are grounded in the day-to-day: anger and helplessness about not being paid for my work; fear of not making rent; struggles with my “attachment issues”.

I feel like I am drifting on the very ocean upon which I now gaze. Whatever dissatisfaction or trouble I may have, there is nothing to be done about it here. And even when my mind insists on attaching itself to some problem or other, it is interrupted by a sense that none of it matters. I will be gone soon enough and the world will go on. Humankind will continue to be the ugly and beautiful mess that it is (and always will be) and these waves will continue to crash. It is one of the more interesting and paradoxical aspects of being human that the realization of one’s insignificance can bring with it insufferable pain and immense relief. In keeping with the feeling of drifting, I wish to let my writing drift.

As I feel my shirt wrapping tightly around my growing belly I am reminded of my shameful encounter with a jar of peanut butter last night. It requires very little analysis to understand that I binge to cover the pain of my unmet needs even at the expense of my health. But here, my gnarled warlock tree does not care. It offers its shade to criminals and saints alike!

I believe I would very much enjoy a life where I had only two patients in the morning and rest of the day to myself. It is not that I imagine it would relieve all of my suffering; perhaps I would suffer just the same. But the idea of having the freedom to suffer (or be joyful) without having to hold it together for long periods of time relaxes me. Big breath. That feels right. But these crashing waves—they do not care. They will continue to do what they do regardless of my work and survival woes.

My eyes grow tearful at imagining returning to my full time duties. Especially in light of not being paid. I need more than a vacation, I need a sabbatical. I am recovering from sixteen straight years of this work with never more than ten days off to stay at home (a kind of forced vacation due to end of year holidays). I feel a pinch on my wrist. An insect bites me. Rascal! Thank you for not caring about my insignificant complaints or fantasies! For reminding me that I’m no more or less than you.

Enough writing. These words matter not. I will heed the ocean’s call, close my eyes and listen to the birds’ songs, invite the insects to feast on me. I will be the drifter I yearn to be.

I sit on a shaded log resting on a sea cliff.

Twenty yards behind me there is a path upon which those who step deliver to my ears the occasional snippets of conversation. They create enough sound to join the chorus of crashing waves but never more than I can tolerate.

I have never seen the log upon which I sit occupied by another. I can only imagine that the dense thicket of branches to the right and left of it dissuades those whose desire is an unobstructed view of the sky and ocean. To one who lives in a room with a view of nothing, this branched window is more than satisfactory; indeed, its very “faults” are what award me this luxurious privacy.

The tree to my right looks as though it belongs in a forest next to a warlock’s hovel. It enchants the part of me that is so deeply drawn to scary and macabre tales. It comforts me.

I feel a pang of hunger and reach into my book bag for a food bar. I look out over the ocean. Nobody has walked the path for minutes. I slide down to the ground and lean back against the log, accompanied only by the sound of the birds, breeze, branches and waves.

I wish I could tell my reader that I am happy here but that would be a lie. I cannot discern if it is my heart that insists on its pain or if the pain insists on my heart. The relief I feel can best be described by saying that here I do not feel mad. Here I feel no compulsion to pace around restlessly.

Without the restlessness I can more clearly discern the causes of my painful madness.

I am unable to manage my own empathy which leads me, quite paradoxically, to a collapse that allows only numbness. I am an empath who needs to work a high volume caseload to pay for life’s necessities. My physical survival, in short, comes at the expense of my emotional survival.

Another aspect of this pain derives from my longing. Longing for touch. Longing for company. Longing for “my person”. Only one of my readers will understand this analogy (perhaps my only reader): I am a Laurie without an Amy. And she who I believe is best suited to be Amy is not destined for me. What would have become of Laurie without Amy?

As a younger man (perhaps even only a couple of years ago) I would have experienced this as romantic: longing for an unhappily married woman who knows that I am their true love. But there is nothing romantic about it. It is just disappointing, sad and pathetic. And there is nothing romantic about this childish self-pity and envy and jealousy. It simply creates more emptiness.

It saddens me that I will have to depart soon. That I will have to return to my apartment and my painful longings. Someday I hope to be free of longing; to be without wants or hopes. Not through the flimsy solution of cynicism or through the phony enlightenment I see surrounding me, but through my own personal acceptance of what I was put on this earth to endure.

There are two tiny scabs on my head behind my left ear. I pick them until they bleed and then rest the back of my left hand on the wounds. By the time I finish bleeding, my index and middle fingers are stained with blood. I go to the sink, wash my hand and wait for my head to scab up again. This creates just enough physical pain to distract me from the emotional pain, but not enough to cause any extreme discomfort. This is the best I can do right now.

I think about smoking cannabis but it fills me with anxiety to use substances when I am numb or in emotional pain. I cannot decide if my avoidance is a form of self-love or a form of masochism. I find this day to be intolerable and I do not wish to have many more like it. But for now I have the scabs to look forward to.

The thing I hate about cooking burgers is that they splatters my glasses with grease and forces me to have to clean them. This is apropos of nothing. Sometimes saying thing is simply a way of gauging where I am real or not. It is a poor test since, philosophically speaking, it holds very little water.

Dear reader,

It was but an hour ago (in this timeline) that I sat paralyzed by fear when I was awoken by the call of duty.

“Cadet! Enter your spaceship and meet us at the station!”

I quickly clothed myself and entered my vessel unaware of the adventure to come.

When I arrived at the station I realized that this was more than a practice exercise. I was but one of many cadets awaiting further instruction. I would be lying if I said that I was not overtaken by imposter syndrome as I looked at the warriors in the other vessels. “Surely, this is a mistake! I am not ready to fight alongside these intrepid soldiers!”

A sergeant approached demanding my card. I handed it over without hesitation. He inserted the card into a machine which gained me entrance to the line where the other vessels idled.

I could see up ahead that these vessels were being prepared for takeoff by a crew of skillful mechanics. Beyond that there was nothing save for mist, fog and—did my senses deceive?!—multi-colored space goop. “I am not ready for this!” I said to myself.

One by one the ships departed into the misty darkness. My hands trembled as I waited. I was next. One of the masked mechanics aggressively waived me forth. Suddenly three of them descended upon my ship. “There is no going back,” I thought to myself. My doom is certain.

That is when I heard a voice. Whether it was from within or without I could not discern. “Trust in the light,” it said. As I flew ahead a string of blinking yellow lights appeared. Two voices did battle within: one telling me to look where I was flying, the other, calmer, telling me to trust in the light. And so I gave in to the latter. I was overtaken by the very mist and goop the other ships faces but I carried forth through the darkness for what seemed like an eternity.

Suddenly, I could see daylight up ahead. “Keep following the light!” I told myself. A masked commander bid me slow down. He tapped my ship as though to thank me for my courage as well as to give me safe leave.

And so I sit back in my cabin having risked life and limb. Still trembling. Still afraid. But with a sense of accomplishment.