“This is a story about how I almost died. Almost. Well not exactly. But I COULD have died. I could die anytime, as a matter of fact. Is that a lump I feel in my armpit?”
Anxious Seeks Canine is a memoir blog series about a gay man living with Asperger’s, mental illness, and the relationships that may very well be fueling it. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of all featured individuals. Except for the dog. Here’s part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Subscribe for more posts.
“I think we have good energy.” I stared at Derrick, trying not to laugh.
“You realize horses cost a lot of money, right?”
“A few thousand dollars, at most,” Derrick replied.
“Really,” I said. “And where would you keep it?” Our tiny apartment was hardly big enough for two people and a dog as it was.
“At the stables,” Derrick said. “See, I think it would be a great investment. I could rent it out to other riders. Before long the costs would cover themselves. I’d even be able to turn a profit.”
I was on the verge of disputing the claim when the pointlessness of it all struck me.
Derrick was mercurial where it came to life decisions. This I figured was him trying to persuade himself as much as me.
And sure enough, when Derrick returned from his riding lessons a week later, he was under a cloud.
“Bitch,” he muttered. I gave him a look. “The trainer,” Derrick added. “She quoted $12,000 for the horse. Can you believe it? Then she had the nerve to ask for a commission.”
I knew better than to rub vinegar into my boyfriend’s wounds. But still, I had to ask the question.
“So…are you still going to buy a horse?”
“I’m not giving her a damn cent!” Derrick said, storming into his room.
Reality had dealt his modest dream a death blow. But by the next day, his mood had changed.
“Good news,” he said, bouncing through the door. “I’m going to buy a motorcycle.”
“You’re- What?” I replied.
“I sat on one today,” Derrick explained. “It was so cool. Look.” He showed me a photo.
“But you don’t even know how to ride,” I pointed out. Derrick scowled.
“I’d learn,” he said.
Still, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for this latest obsession. Last time it had been a trip to Coachella. And the time before that, an overwater bungalow in Tahiti. Derrick was quietly treading the waters of a mid-life crisis.
I made myself a bowl of cereal. Derrick’s expression got all furtive.
“So… How’s your therapy going?”
It was a fishing expedition – I was sure of it. I tried to keep my tone neutral.
“Pretty well so far.”
“Have you told her about us?” I hesitated.
“No, not yet. See, she’s Christian,” I said. “I’m worried she’ll pass judgment. You know, about us.”
“You should really tell her,” Derrick insisted. As if doing this might somehow help crystallize our relationship.
Right now, Dr. Kukosian was impartial. Trying to keep your private life private while stretched out on a therapist’s couch might sound like a losing battle, but the last thing I wanted to do was incite her prejudices.
Defending one’s “lifestyle choices” was not a task I particularly looked forward to, especially when it might result in me being more or less kicked out of therapy.
The therapist pickings were slim. Los Angeles was a city ripe with dysfunction, with not enough sympathetic ears to go around.
Though if I was being honest with myself, Dr. Kukosian’s religion was an excuse, and Derrick had good cause to be worried.
Dr. Kukosian’s office was on the ninth floor of a high-rise at the heart of Glendale. This floor, I eventually learned, had been rented to a private Christian college. The doctor’s counseling room – more of a booth, really – occupied a far corner.
Dr. Kukosian sat in an armchair, clad in a cardigan, capris and an unfaltering smile, listening patiently as I ran through the week’s events.
Fifteen minutes into the session, I ran out of things to talk about. Dr. Kukosian’s encouraging smile loomed before me.
Her nondirective therapy style had left me with a chronic fear of silence. Broaching the subject of Derrick was no longer a choice, but a necessity. It was time to let the homo out of the bag.
I opened by mentioning that I had a partner. Then I casually slipped in a masculine pronoun, carefully watching Dr. Kukosian’s face for a reaction. Nothing.
“So you moved in with him after only two months of dating?” she asked. Her lack of disapproval was anticlimatic…disappointing, even.
“Well, my lease was up at my old place,” I said. “He had a spare room. The rent was cheaper. I wanted to save money.”
Here I was, trying to justify my decision, less worried about being condemned for being gay than I was for being, well, reckless.
“Seems like that happened very quickly,” Dr. Kukosian observed.
“Anyway, it’s just temporary,” I said, hearing a criticism where there wasn’t one. Dr. Kukosian processed this with a sagely nod.
“And how are things between the two of you?”
I considered how best to respond.
“Well, he has an anxiety problem,” I began.
My therapist would have to be deaf not to hear the irony of this. I was here, after all, because my own anxiety had recently migrated to my face, leading to weeklong bouts of jaw clenching.
“Derrick’s a workaholic,” I continued. “He’s often go-go-go all day, night and weekend. We don’t have any time together. He forgets all our couple’s appointments and blames me for not reminding him. I’ve basically become his maid and dog-minder.”
“And how does that make you feel?” Dr. Kukosian asked, perhaps sensing my exasperation.
“Like I’m a…a fixture in his household,” I said, grappling for a metaphor. “Like a lamp or a chair. Like my needs don’t matter. The dog isn’t mine. She shouldn’t be my responsibility.”
That, however, wasn’t the worst of it. I’d known from the beginning that Derrick had anger management problems.
Early on in the relationship, he’d mocked my taste in music during a car ride. I’d mimed slapping him and an instant later his fist connected with my face.
It had not been deliberate, but rather a knee-jerk (or should I say elbow-jerk?) reaction. Still, it had made me cry, and in an unexpected show of contrition, Derrick had pulled over and gotten down on his knees to apologize.
A few days later, on the return drive from a visit to see his family in Sacramento, Derrick had woken from a nap to hear me telling his dog, who was misbehaving at the time, that she was “out of control”.
“Maybe you’re the one out of control!” he shouted, before turning over and promptly falling back asleep.
At first, I was bemused. But the outbursts had continued, eroding my sense of security.
Another time, we were driving through his friend’s neighborhood while he was in the car. I made what I believed was an inoffensive observation, noting that the houses around us looked “rather squat”.
Perhaps Derrick thought I was, by extension, insulting his friend’s home, because his reaction had been to snap at me.
“Just shut up, okay?”
And when Derrick wasn’t taking his frustrations out on me, he was usually humblebragging.
As a manager at a tech startup, Derrick had crossed paths with more than a few industry luminaries. But after weeks of namedropping, I’d taken to joking about Derrick’s claims to fame.
“Elon Musk and I are totes besties,” I’d once exaggerated. “You don’t believe me? I’ve got his father’s phone number in my phone. Look, see? Wes Musk. We’re on great terms.”
Derrick’s had retaliated by threatening to kick me out of his apartment.
Derrick was in his 40s, so my expectations had admittedly been skewed towards him possessing a certain degree of maturity. Skewed, if not faulty.
Over the course of months, Derrick had gone from charm offensive to lashing out at random, until finally, I’d withdrawn into my room, taking with me all my goodwill.
Our lives from then on had been parallel, occasionally crossing but never connecting. When my attempts to bridge the divide had been ignored and even scorned, parting ways had seemed the inevitable conclusion.
“It sounds like a very stressful situation for you,” Dr. Kukosian said. “Maybe for the sake of your relationship it would be best if you just moved out?”
Later, after the session, as I stood at the university urinal relieving myself, I noticed a poster taped to the wall.
“I am sending you,” it read. It was a quote, attributed to none other than Jesus Christ.
Sending me where, I wondered? And more importantly, why?
I considered the Korean characters beneath the quote. Supposing this wasn’t just a mistranslation, the phrase could have once made sense, in some other time and place. It was also equally possible it never had, and never would.
All the same, I decided to take it as a sign. Jesus or no, I was going to leave Derrick.
The following day, Derrick asked if I would be willing to volunteer my services as a personal assistant at his startup.
The business was short-staffed, and given Derrick had helped me with picking out my first car, I figured I owed him the favor.
But shortly after I arrived, I witnessed Derrick ball out another manager in front of several other employees.
Over lunch, I hinted to Derrick that I was worried about the possible fallout.
“Perhaps it would be better next time if you just walk away?” I suggested. Derrick glowered.
“Well, maybe next time I just won’t ask for your help,” he replied.
I studied my lunch. For the better part of the morning, I had been running around doing errands on Derrick’s behalf. Was this his idea of gratitude?
That night, Derrick missed yet another couple’s dinner, returning home hours later to find me practicing yoga. Trying to look as defiant as I possibly could from my position on the floor, I announced I was moving out.
“Okay,” Derrick said. Uncertainty flickered across his face, hardened into something else entirely.
“I don’t have any hard plans yet,” I said, trying to soften the blow, “but I have started looking around.”
I braced myself. Having laid the groundwork, I figured now was as good a time as any to pull the trigger.
“I was thinking,” I began, “it might be best if we both took some time out from the relationship.”
The subtext being forever – not that I was going to spell that out. Right now, Derrick was a powder keg I had no intention of lighting.
Derrick leaned back on his heels.
“I think that’s a good idea,” he said.
“… You do?”
“I’m pretty busy right now with work,” he said, playing it cool. “And you want more than I can give you.”
Was that a jeer I heard in his voice? If Derrick was hoping I would rise to the accusation, he was going to be sorely disappointed.
“Are you sure you’re okay with it?” I pressed.
“Fine,” Derrick insisted. His refusal to meet my eyes told me he’d suspected this was coming.
And really, how could he have not? I’d told Derrick on multiple occasions how his behavior was driving me away. His response had been to label me “too sensitive”, or worse still, ignore me completely.
Fearing my short credit history and lack of savings would hinder me in my search for a new apartment, I’d dragged my heels. But then my mental health had taken a turn, and moving out had become a matter of survival.
Over the next week, Derrick wavered between anger and brittle formality, staying away from the apartment. I began to walk on eggshells, fearing that if I wasn’t careful, Derrick might try to evict me on the spot.
A friend heard I was looking for a place and asked if I might want to take over his lease. The studio proved tiny, but it had recently been renovated, with exposed brickwork and a kitchen sink the size of a drydock. Cute, serviceable and – most importantly – available right now.
In less than 24 hours I’d signed the lease, packed my belongings and booked a moving truck.
Moving day rolled around and I received a text message from Derrick, stating in precise detail the condition in which he wanted my room left.
“Make sure when you move out to vacuum,” he wrote. “I want you to clean all the dust off the skirting boards.”
This from a man whose idea of cleanliness involved letting his dog defecate in the house while the Rumba was on.
All week conflict had been brewing. And soon it would explode.
At 9.30 pm, I made my final trip back to the house to collect some potted plants. While collecting the last one, I spotted movement through the open front door.
After a day’s absence, Derrick had returned home. His earlier silence over text told me he was itching for a fight.
I leaned over the threshold and dropped the keys on the TV stand.
“Here’s your keys!” I called, turning to leave. Derrick poked his head out of the bathroom.
“Wait a second,” he said, drying his hands and hurrying over. “I want to talk to you.”
“Really – I have to go,” I replied. My friends were waiting outside in the car, and we were long overdue for dinner.
“That’s fine,” Derrick blurted, using a word I’d come to associate with its exact opposite. Then he launched his opening salvo: “You need to stop talking shit about me.”
I stared, deadpan. Derrick forced a smirk.
“It’s actually kind of sad, the fact you need to go around talking about other people behind their backs.”
Yes, I had complained to a mutual friend about Derrick’s emotional abuse. So far as I was concerned, I could shout my story from the rooftop if I wanted to.
Suffice to say, Derrick didn’t really want an apology. He wanted a scene. But I was not going to give him one.
“Bye,” I said. And off I went, bounding down the front steps. Derrick rushed out onto the landing after me.
“Good luck with your writing career!” he screamed. “I hear it’s going really well so far!”
It was a knife-twist out of some soap opera playbook.
Giddy with the ridiculousness of it all, I launched myself into the waiting car.
“What happened?” my friends wanted to know.
I looked back at the security gate to Derrick’s apartment complex. Any second now I expected him to burst into view, a spurned lover set on shrill revenge. The idea left me torn between laughter and mortification.
“Just drive!” I said. “Quickly!”
The next day I received a text message from Derrick, written in the frosty prose of a job rejection letter. I was hereby notified he would be invoicing me for all outstanding bills. Derrick also demanded I remove myself from our shared auto insurance plan.
“Well ahead of you there, buddy,” I wanted to reply. Derrick was so out-of-touch he hadn’t even noticed when I’d cut the tie two weeks prior.
If I’m being honest, the relationship had been a slow-motion train wreck.
It was not first, and as circumstances would soon prove, it would not be the last.
Anxious Seeks Canine continues with Part 2: ‘Too soon bro’.
© 2021 Ehsan "Essy" Knopf. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content found on the EssyKnopf.com website and affiliated social media accounts were created for informational purposes only and should not be treated as a substitute for the advice of qualified medical or mental health professionals. Always follow the advice of your designated provider.