by: Nico Lang
I wish that you loved me.
I know you do – in those hidden places that all parents love their children, those places we draw hearts to signify. However, I think that the only love that we know is conceptual, more out of obligation and inertia than a desire to be connected to someone. We’re connected by time, we’re connected by tissue, but I know that’s all that bonds us together, and I know that when my grandparents die, which will likely happen sooner rather than later, we won’t be bonded at all.
I know this, because I see the way you look at me. I’ve known you my whole life, before I even knew what you were or that we would be forced to love each other forever, even though we don’t like each other very much. I can see that in your eyes; I know how your eyes look at things, how their shapes say when you are sad or happy, like those emoticon charts in a psychiatrist’s office. I know which eyes are Sad, which are Confused and which are Nothing at All. When you look at me, your eyes are Less Than Nothing at All. It’s like you don’t register a person.
I am certain that you will think these things aren’t true. But let me ask you this: Can you remember the last time you told me you loved me? Can you remember the last time you told me you loved me when I didn’t force you to say it? Can you remember the last time you hugged me? Can you remember the last time you even touched me? Can you remember the last time you called me before I called you? Can you remember the last time you emailed me first? Can you remember the last time you emailed me at all? Can you even remember the last time we spoke?
I can’t remember a single one of these things, if they ever happened. It’s strange. I remember them from my mother. From my best friend. From most of my close friends. This morning, I exchanged a goodbye hug with a co-worker that was more warm and loving than anything we’ve ever shared. I don’t even know her middle name or where she’s from, what her mother looks like or what the name of her childhood pet was, but I was sad to say goodbye to her this morning on the way to the airport.
Today, I left Paris after living there for two months, and I can’t remember you even telling me goodbye. What’s worse is that I don’t remember being sad about it. I didn’t miss you, and I didn’t expect to miss you – because I didn’t feel like you’d earned being missed. What would I miss about you? The awkward silences? The fact that we never talk about anything? The fact that, quite honestly, I don’t know a thing about you, not a thing that really matters?
I spent years trying to get you to open up. I asked you about your girlfriends, things you liked growing up, what my aunt and uncle were like as kids, what you want to be when you get old, but I still don’t have the slightest sense of who you are. For instance, when buying you a Christmas present, which I currently have packed in my luggage and will get to you whenever I get around to seeing you, I had to rely on one of the two or three things I know about you: you really like the show “Dexter,” which I used to joke was extremely appropriate for a mild sociopath. I don’t make that joke anymore because no one ever laughed, and there’s nothing worse than telling jokes that make people sad.
I’m interested, actually. What did you get me? Even better, did you buy it yourself or did you let Nana pick it out for you? If you had to buy it yourself, what would you get me? Lastly, have you ever bought me a Christmas present on your own? Because I have a feeling the answer is no.
You see, it’s not really that important what gift you give me. Take Mom, for example. I love the woman to death and loving her will probably cause me death, but she cannot give a gift to save her life, which I find strange for someone as aggressively people-oriented as she is. But it matters that she tries, that she got me anything. Because I love her, I sometimes take some sort of weird pleasure in the bad gifts she gives me. What will it be this year? The collectible Elvis knife? The Peptobismol colored dress shirt? The Lycra bicycle shirt for the day I decide to excise one of my testicles and try out for the Tour de France?
These gifts are a part of our relationship, which isn’t perfect but it’s the relationship we built, one we built together. You know all those presents I just mentioned? I’ve never thrown out a single one – because however ridiculous they are, they signify something to me. They are the shapes of my mother’s love, one that is often misguided and thinks I want very different things than I actually do, one that thinks I like the movie Footloose.
I don’t know how she got this impression, but I do know who likes that film. She does. Getting this present shows me that she wants me to think that we are alike — that after the space that college put between us, we still have something tangible in common: a love for dancing on your car to Kenny Loggins.
But, Dad, college never had to put any space between the two of us. You know I realized yesterday that I haven’t had even the slightest facsimile of a relationship with you in ten years? A FUCKING DECADE. This is longer than Suri Holmes-Cruise has been alive, almost half of my life. In that time, I can probably count on my fingers and toes the numbers of full days we’ve spent together, the number of times we’ve been in a car together, the number of times we’ve shook hands or patted each other on the back.
How does that make you feel? You have two other kids, who I really like when they aren’t being tiny jerks, who I try to be a good brother to, even though I’m more like the weird middle-aged uncle they don’t quite understand. Do you hug them either? Do you take them to the park? Do you know what the names of their girlfriends are or even if they have girlfriends? I would be surprised if you didn’t. If you could come up with the last name of my Most Significant Ex, I would boil and eat my shoe. And then boil and eat Werner Herzog.
You know, it should make me feel shitty, but it doesn’t anymore. It used to.
I’m about to land in the states soon, and I’m going to see a lot of people who love me a whole lot. I’m going to see your parents, and I can’t wait to see their faces as the open the presents I got for them. I got Pops the perfect present and am actually concerned that he might shit himself, and I have EMS on standby in case he doesn’t survive the experience. He’s old now, and these things are considerations.
So, the thing is: I’m not missing out on anything by not having you around. You’re kind of an asshole, and I know that you know that. But your parents are some of most loving people I’ve ever met. Do you know how lucky you are to have them around? I’m sure you do, considering the fact that they raised your kids for you. When I think about most of the people who do the normal parent things for me, it’s them and it’s my mother. My Nana and my Mom both love me so much that they can’t even be in the same room together. You barely even want to be in the same room with me. You don’t seem to care.
I have so much love in my life, so much that I don’t always know what to do with it all the time. I used to be angry that you aren’t a part of that love, because you don’t want to be, but I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of being the only one who gets angry about our relationship, the one who yells at you for not loving me correctly, the one who moves to be closer to you, the one who kills themselves to make you pay attention.
Dad, I’ve worked so hard forever just to get you to notice me a little, to wake up and say, “Hey, you know, that’s a pretty good kid I’ve got there.” I got close to straight As in college and worked my ass off for four years, and you didn’t even get me a graduation present or even hug me. I did that for you, and I’m tired of that. I have to start doing things for me.
Because love doesn’t have to be like this. Love doesn’t have to mean waiting for prayers that are never answered.
For instance, when I was a kid and Mom used to come pick me up on the weekends, I would wait for her by the window – because she was always late. Nana used to get so angry with her for being late, but Mom always came. And when she did, she held me so tight, and I knew that even if love isn’t perfect, it’s the most important thing in the world. She knew that, and her love made her always show up. You don’t know a thing about loving anyone, and you were never really there, even when you were.
You’ve made it clear that you don’t really want me to be a part of your life, and if I haven’t stated my case enough for you already, the evidentiary support to back this up is astounding. You didn’t tell me when you had kids (multiple kids!) with your ex-wife, and I had to find out from my mother in a parking lot – when she screamed at me for not telling her about it. You didn’t tell me when you got married, again, and still haven’t told me. I found out you were married from a database at a Lenscrafters. Lenscrafters!
I could go on — because there’s so much more — but I won’t because I’m sick of it, sick of waiting for what’s next. I feel like I’m always waiting for you to hurt me again.
I am not going to let you hurt me anymore – because I can’t do it. I moved away to get away from you once, and I’m about to do it again, but for good. I can’t have you around me. I can’t let the person you have become emotionally abuse me anymore — because letting you treat me like shit just makes it easier to let other people do the same. Sometimes, creating safe spaces starts at home.
And I need to create a space for myself where I can be happy, where I can finally start to let people in, where I can accept the love in my life. With you around, I’ll never be able to do that. You’re just a reminder how love is dangerous, how love fucks you up irreparably, how love means that you always secretly feel worthless no matter what anyone says, how love means that you spend almost every Christmas in tears.
I’ve been so screwed up my whole life, and I’m tired of making excuses for it. It’s time to get better. And the only way I can make myself better is to surround myself by people who care about me in ways that make me healthy. I’m not saying that you can’t be a part of that someday, but if that’s something you want, you need to change first. You need to be a person who deserves my love, the way I worked so hard to deserve yours. You need to learn to love other people, but more than that, you need to simply learn to get to know them.
I’ll help you. I’ll start.
My name is Nico. I’m your son, and you’re my dad. I’m named after you, and you and my mom picked that name out of a hat. I’m a writer and a critic, and when I grow up, I want to be Ira Glass but nicer and with better hair. I wear bowties and a lot of black, and I haven’t read most of the books that I own – because when I read a book I love, I always force someone else to read it and I never get it back. I’m obsessed with poetry, and I got a Baudelaire tattoo because my ex made fun of someone who got one, but I thought that tattoo was the greatest idea I’d ever heard. It’s over my heart. When I saw Baudelaire’s grave in Paris, it was covered in flowers and cigarettes and I cried. I didn’t hide my tears.
I remember certain things about you from when I was a kid – because I spent most of my life with you, and memories stick sometimes, even if you don’t want them to, even if they hurt.
When I was young, I loved the way you used to brush your mustache all over me to tickle me, and the way you would never let me win when we played the football game on our SEGA, the one I wanted to badly to beat you at. At the time, I hated you for it, because you never even let me score a touchdown. You always knew how to stop me. But now, I see that you were raising me to work hard to achieve my goals and to appreciate my victories. You raised me to be a fighter. That lesson stuck.
So, now, I’m going to be the one who fights, the one who loves you so much that they can’t have a relationship with you that’s like this anymore. One day, you are going to want to fight, too, and when that call comes, I’ll be standing by, ready to listen to the things that are in your heart. I’ve wanted to know you my whole life, even if you didn’t.
I hope that you have a lovely Christmas and that you get everything you want. I know I won’t get everything I want this year, but one day, I will. I’ll be ready to open it.
Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a first-year graduate student in DePaul University’s Media and Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a film critic for HEAVEMedia. His work has been featured in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the New Gay and on his mother’s refrigerator. Nico is also a tireless advocate for the brussel sprout, a delicious vegetable he feels has gotten a bad rap. Follow Nico on Twitter @GidgetLang or on that Facebook thing all the kids are talking about.