At 21-years-old, I became aware of myself as an actual force in the world, as something with the power to effect change, and as someone whose actions had lasting consequences beyond my immediate situation.
Before I became someone who could say I was going to do something and then actually do it, I was on a peanut butter diet. I’m not being dramatic when I say this – I just ate a ton of peanut butter, spoonfuls of it for breakfast and for lunch and for dinner. Sometimes I would put it on bread or mix it into a bowl of oats, but more often than not, it was just straight out of the jar and with the biggest spoon I could find. To my credit, it was not a wild kind of consumption where I devoured any peanut butter I could get my hands on. I only ate smooth peanut butter, and preferred the Pick ‘n Pay no-name brand in particular (it’s the perfect mix of sweet and oily and doesn’t work your jaw unnecessarily like some of the ‘healthier’ peanut butter options).
The reason for my peanut butter diet was twofold: one, it was a very affordable meal at a time when I was making very little money. Two, I simply was not bothered with eating real food because, to put it plainly, I was very sad. When you are sad all day, you don’t have the energy to think about preparing food, nevermind actually getting up to make it. I was living in a very old but fairly charming two-bedroom apartment in Observatory. My housemates were an eccentric Christian couple who owned several instruments, including a set of bongo drums which they enjoyed playing on weekday evenings. They were pleasant, if a little strange.
Before moving in with the Christians, I lived on my friend Adam’s sleeper couch for six months. Adam was studying to be an architect and had impeccable taste in furniture, even if he didn’t have very much of it. I freelanced as a production assistant on TV commercial sets during the day, and spent all the money I made at Crew Bar on the weekends. Finally, in July of that year, I secured a full-time job, making just enough to afford rent split three ways. It was my first real step towards independence, and I expected to become an instant adult. Instead, I started eating more peanut butter and leaving empty plastic jars all over my bedroom. They would become crusty and produce their own moisture before I was able to force myself to throw them away.
When I was sleeping on the couch, I ached for personal space, and for a real mattress. While deeply thankful to Adam for his generosity, a part of me believed that he was the reason I went out every weekend and spent all my money on party perishables. Personal space, I believed, would be the answer to this. I knew that when I lived on my own, I’d be able to make better decisions, avoid the club and begin building a ‘respectable’ life.
Upon moving out, I discovered the truth: I was the bad influence. Although I no longer lived on the sleeper couch, I still spent my weekends at the club, spending money on various substances and going home with various men. This was not bad in itself – I know now that you can party without going overboard. But back when I was twenty-one, I only knew how to go too far.
I would go out on Friday night, wake up hungover and craving peanut butter, and repeat the next night. During the day, I took long walks to the grocery store to get my fix, earphones in, listening to music on full blast – you can’t think sad thoughts when your head is full of music. By Sunday, I wasn’t able to use my brain in any meaningful way except to dread going back to work and to promise myself I wouldn’t
do the same thing the following weekend.
This left me with very little time to actually develop myself as a person. My personality consisted almost entirely of clubbing and going to work (and, yes, the peanut butter). I was unable to read any books, unable to write, and unable to maintain friendships during the day time. The general feeling was emptiness. This would have been okay, except that it was not only empty inside me – I began to radiate emptiness, to ruin things that were external to me.
The first weekend I didn’t go to a club that year was because of a Tinder date. I met Frankie at his flat, where he cooked us dinner and introduced me to the concept of refried beans (they are not, in fact, twice-fried beans). It was the first home-cooked meal I’d eaten in ages. Frankie was on a student exchange from the United States, and even though he was only here for a short time, he had already developed an entire life here. We went on more dates: thriftshopping; a music concert; a beer tasting. I still ate peanut butter, but sometimes Frankie would come over and we’d eat peanut butter together.
Then, Frankie went away for a weekend, and I went back to the club – I couldn’t be alone with myself. Some of Frankie’s friends were out that night too, and they saw me wrapped around a boy who was not Frankie. The next time I saw Frankie, he cried. He told me I’d made him feel empty too, like a huge pot of soup turned over on its side. He didn’t understand why I did it, and at the time neither did I. I only cried after he left my house.
I felt progressively worse over the next few days. At the height of my self-pity, I explained the story to Adam, through tears, looking for support and sympathy. Surely Frankie has overreacted, I said, sitting on the couch where I used to sleep. Adam poured us each a glass of wine and shook his head: No, and please know that while I do hate to see you sad, you deserve to feel how you’re feeling right now; you knew how Frankie felt about you and you made the decision not to care. Now, drink your wine and then go and apologise to him before he leaves. It’s the least you can do. And for God’s sake, stop eating so much peanut butter.
Frankie and I made up right before he went home to the US. He bought me a bunch of sunflowers to remember him by, including one made out of little beads so it would never die. I vowed never to make anyone feel empty ever again if I could help it. But, as had been pointed out, I first had to work on filling myself up with something other than peanut butter.
If this was a novel, then this is the part where I, the main character, would suddenly discover a hidden talent or life altering hobby. In reality, I languished in an in-between place for a few months, knowing I needed to change, but unable to figure out where to start. I didn’t know that I had already begun.
By the end of my twenty-first year, I could take myself thrift shopping and eat dinner alone without feeling lonely. One Sunday, I looked up from a book and realised I hadn’t been clubbing in weeks – which is not to say I never went back. I go back often, but as a visitor instead of as a resident. Now, I only eat peanut butter with jam and bread, and never from the jar, and never by myself.
By Ciaran R. Maidwell
Courtesy of GayPages Magazine
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