Let’s say I was driving to the airport. Whipping down 91 from my hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont to Bradley International in Connecticut, windows down in my mother’s hand-me-down pearl Outback, now all mine—in a year, I would pack my life into it and whip out West. This cut of time was all expectation, urgency, despair, ecstasy. I was nineteen and morbidly attached to a person incapable of being in an honest relationship with me—or as I called it, “in love”—with Payum. We had met at a tiny college in the woods the previous fall, and not long after that he was kicked out of school for selling coke, whisked back to California. For the next two years, we would lash back and forth in attempts to reunite. So let’s say on July 10th, ten years ago, I was driving to the airport. Probably looking farther down the highway, to our lives ten years on. Together in a house in the pines of the Second Vermont Republic, or in the redwoods outside the Free City of San Francisco. My books, very popular. His addictions, beat. Our salad days the living proof of a fantasy I, a queer, mixed-race kid from Vermont, had never, ever seen before: two brown boys in the stix, in love with each other, in love with life.
I arrive at the airport and wait. I can already feel our kiss rising in my throat; the heat of our long-awaited togetherness chokes. I wait an hour, two, three. The crowds outside the luggage belts tease, dwindling and replenishing. I try calling him ten or twenty times. Our kiss has gone down the wrong pipe, sunken to my gut to burn. This was not the first time. In a few days he would call me and explain that his parents had hired a rehab center to kidnap him at the airport, or that his name had been put on the no-fly list, or that he just couldn’t get out of bed.
I return to my car and pedal to the metal home. There would be many moments in my relationship with Payum when I couldn’t see more than an inch in front of us—grabbing the wheel as he nods out on the freeway; searching in the night for the grave he said he dug for our dog—but in this moment, as I stare down the hills of Vermont again, I can confirm now that I saw at least a little into the future: California. If he couldn’t come to me, I would go to him. I had to try.
Today I do live in a house in the woods, in the middle of nowhere Vermont. My hair is long for the first time in over a decade. I live with a friend, a fellow queer kid from here who has also lost people to the opioid epidemic. Who has also gone into and come out from his own addictions. There are many of us who share in this story, who are living it still. Back then, and for years after, I was searching for a cure for loneliness. I know now that there is none. Loneliness exists in all people and between all things, and we must tend it, or it will tend us.
Let’s say that when I got home that day, I took my dog for a walk, the one who would become “ours” for a short time. Baldwin was a rough collie, so beautiful I wondered if I really deserved to be with him.
The only person who could tell me what really happened to him is gone, so this is what I like to imagine, the best I can do: He was not killed. Instead, Payum traded him for drugs to someone who needed him, who cared for him better than I could until the day he died of happy old age. And sometimes now, somewhere in the waves of spirit all around us, they come together like in my favorite photo of them, Baldwin licking at Payum’s smile.
Desmond Saunders Peeples' writing has appeared in Five [Quarterly], Big Bridge, Goreyesque, and elsewhere, and they write regularly for The Vermont Arts Council. They are the founding editor of Mount Island, a literary magazine for rural LGBTQ+ and POC voices. They hold an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Desmond was born and lives still in Vermont.
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