Discover more from Where Pianos Roam
In Memory of Happiness
Looking Back at Love's Labor Lost
Two years ago, I submitted an essay for a different platform. It painted a picture of my life as it once was, and I share it with you now for this issue of WPR because some pictures are worth seeing.
History allows us to understand who we once were and the distance traveled toward who we have become . . .
He was going to be my happily ever after. After spending most of my adult life struggling through a long string of failed attempts at love, I finally found someone substantial. I was performing at a Pride festival in his small town in North Carolina. He watched me from the audience as I sang and played piano. I was on a stage doing what I love and projecting that out into the frenzied crowd of happy people before me. Our story began as two people who met without actually meeting.
I get messages from people at my shows every now and then, and when he wrote to me a few days later through Facebook, it was a small gesture of appreciation for my performance. I responded with gratitude toward what would become a chain of messages with someone who wanted to get to know me more. Before long, we were talking on the phone and meeting on Skype. I lived in Nashville, and the distance of over 400 miles left me feeling skeptical that our connection would amount to anything at all. That is, until we met in person for the first time.
I drove out to North Carolina to spend time with him, and the person I found was a tall and beautiful Black man with big strong arms. He was kind, thoughtful, and actually attracted to me. It was the first time I can remember feeling truly seen by someone. I was the shy Brown Asian boy at clubs and parties who was always passed over for the pretty white boys. Being loved by someone felt like something that belonged in the movies or fairy tales.
In time, we started saying “I love you” to each other. After a year into our long-distance courtship, he was willing to leave his family and life in North Carolina to be with me in Tennessee. As someone who equated romantic love with dismal failure, I was thrilled and elated that someone loved me so much that he would change his whole world for me.
After months of planning, I drove out to North Carolina to help him load his life into a U-Haul truck. We traveled back together, and he helped me carry my own life out of my small apartment in downtown Nashville. We moved into our new two-bedroom apartment together.
By then, he was the first boyfriend I took home to meet my Catholic Filipino immigrant family. This was a big deal. I did not want to hide this. If he was willing to uproot his entire life for me, I was willing to proclaim my love for him to anyone within earshot. Whatever shame I carried for being gay, I was willing to overcome all of it to be with him.
Our life together in our new home in Nashville felt surreal. I would come home from my job and get a hug and a long kiss from the man I loved. His kisses were special. He had these big, soft, billowy lips that made me feel like I was kissing a smooth, silky, five-million thread count cloud that would wrap around me and carry me away. This was the new picture of my life that I fully embraced.
Reality, as it turned out, painted something different. Our bliss was short-lived. He needed a new job in Nashville. I was due for a significant promotion and pay raise where I worked, but until then, our finances were stretched thin. This caused a lot of stress. He filled out dozens of applications and went on several interviews to no avail. A deeper problem also arose when I realized that we were also becoming sexually incompatible. We could not see eye to eye on certain things, and he grew frustrated.
On my end, the promotion I had been promised kept being delayed. We had two car payments, rent, utilities, and other living expenses. The anxiety of it all made for a troubled home life. He became angry a lot, and I did a delicate dance of staying quiet while being my usual passive, nonconfrontational self. Eventually, he could not talk to me without saying something harsh and resentful. He would hiss and show his fangs while I was consumed with guilt over how all of this was turning out. In time, I started arguing back.
The inevitable moment came in a simple statement. His delivery was calm but strained. We were sitting in the room we designated as his office. He said, “I think we should break up.” I never knew how much a simple six-word sentence could feel so devastating. I was in shock. All I could think of to say was, “Yeah, I guess so.” I did not have it in me to fight for what we had. We had already lost our way.
Our relationship was the impossibility that I thought would never come. I suffered through numerous bad dates and empty one-night stands over 15 years of adulthood just to get to this point. Then it was all slipping away.
Over the next few days, he converted his office to a bedroom and moved into it. He claimed his bed that he had brought from North Carolina, and I was relegated to a fold-out sofa bed in what was now my own bedroom. We stopped talking and made our own meals. Our new challenge was figuring out what we were going to do about the eight remaining months of our apartment lease together. This home that we made was not a home anymore.
In a couple of months, he secured a steady job, and my promotion finally came through. All too sadly, the damage had already been done. As much as I still loved him, his anger issues and erratic temper were more than I could bear. He was eager to leave and was eventually able to pay rent for a one-bedroom apartment across the courtyard from where we were. I made enough money to keep our two-bedroom on my own. Unfortunately, knowing that he lived across from me did not actually make the situation any better.
Sometimes I would catch him getting out of his car in the parking lot we still shared, or I would strain my neck to look across the courtyard to see if a light was on. I had to face all of the empty spaces where his furniture once stood. I found myself feeling sad all of the time: moping around in a pajama-laden, one-man zombie apocalypse, eating cheap meals from the frozen section of a nearby dollar store, and lingering in my car with an empty bag of Doritos and an embarrassing heap of Taco Bell burrito wrappers awkwardly hoping I might see him coming home or leaving.
To make matters worse, he started dating someone not long after we parted ways. I saw him and his new beloved going in and out of his car numerous times near his apartment and holding the smiles and happy faces I once held. The new guy was a pretty white boy too. Of course he was.
It has been a few years now since I suffered through that failure. The era of my life that followed was a glacial journey of healing that gracefully and gently took hold of me. Just before my ex-boyfriend moved out of our place, I adopted a one-year-old cat. I did not know it at the time, but this fluffy little animal would play an integral role in the mending of my tattered state. I named him Steinway because I am a dork who loves pianos (and his coloring was black and white). He was incredibly affectionate. I would get home from work to find him eagerly awaiting my arrival with cat kisses and soft head-butts. I discovered that our animals love us in ways that humans cannot.
In my fragile emotional state, I also turned to my piano for comfort. Its 88 keys have always felt like the ocean to me—powerful, rhythmic, immersive, and endless. I would play and sing sad songs for hours as if I were actually sitting at the edge of a beach and staring out into a blue expanse. Every lilting cadence allowed me to watch my sorrows swim and float along the swelling waves.
I now live far away from that time. To this day, I do not know what true happiness is. Maybe “happily ever afters” are grossly overrated and impractical. Maybe all that matters is that we do the best we can within the moment that stands before us and not be so hard on ourselves.
Whatever the case, I now have the composure and wherewithal to look back and marvel at how hard I tried and how much I hoped. Despite the outcome, my dogged pursuit of love was such a pure, wild-eyed, and tender-footed thing. I desperately wanted love and got to embrace the armful of it before it hastily flew away.
At least I held it close in my arms for a little while. I now find solace in the memory of its fullness, and in the absence of what I could not hold, this has become more than enough.
P.S. Several months after my ex moved out, I cleared out too and made a home at a new place with my own bed and furnishings. During that process, I went to a party at the house of a sweet and gloriously eccentric French woman on the other side of town. I met the amazing man who would eventually become my husband at that party. The distance I traveled to get to him was worth it.
This past week, I ventured into the past and visited a local antique store. Iron Pig Antiques sits snuggly in the town square of nearby Woodbury, TN. It is a two-story brick building that houses a labyrinthine maze of vintage delights. The entire place is divided up into tiny rooms that are rented by folks hoping to sell their collected treasures. I snaked my way through each hall and corridor. I love looking at art and antiques from the past. Their shapes, colors, and forms display the DNA of what we currently deem contemporary and hip. These visual delights gave my creative brain much to chew on.
To view my full portfolio of music, films, and illustrations, please visit www.roquemarcelo.com.
WPR is my weekly labor of love. There are no algorithms or advertising here. Become a free or paid subscriber and receive a new issue every Friday. All funds received fuel my art. Thank you for reading.