On May 12th, 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, I posted on Facebook about the three month mark of being single for the first time in over 12 years.
Three months ago, on February 12, I woke up next to Cody, who had slipped into bed sometime after midnight after a weekend away at Disneyland. After a quiet hug and gentle hello, I kissed him on the forehead and pulled away to get up and get my bed started. He reached for my arm and I laughed and said, “no, I got to go to work,” and went to take a shower. Looking back, on the list of things I might have done different, if I’d known that would be our last morning as a couple, I would have lingered longer. I would have held him very close to me, and let his head rest on my chest. Instead, when I came back from the shower, as I was dressing, I looked at him cuddled under the blankets holding Bundt Cake, my grandmother’s panda bear that Cody adopted after he came home with me from my last trip to Tucson, and I asked him if he wanted me to turn the fan off before I left. I can’t remember if he said yes or no.
What I can remember, is a few hours later, standing next to him as he sobbed on a bench outside the Salesforce Tower, crying so hard he couldn’t speak. Me being me, and me knowing what was happening, and me knowing when it’s time to help someone who really needs it, I asked him if he could just nod answers to the questions I would go ahead and ask since he was afraid to. He nodded yes. I asked him if he wanted to marry me still. He nodded no. I asked him if he wanted to stay together. Another no, and bigger sobs. I put my arms around him and told him it was okay. That it didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends, or still love one another, or still be a part of each other’s lives.
Finally, he could speak.
“But what are we going to tell the stuffed animals?”
“Cody,” I said, holding him, “they’re just toys.”
“I know,” he said, and cried harder.
But I could also tell he was relieved. I had set us both free by severing the strongest bond between us. In 12 years I had never, ever, ever, referred to any of the stuffed animals as “toys.”
The stuffed animal thing, which a lot of our friends knew about and which in many ways became our sort of signature as a couple, had begun on pretty much the first day of our relationship. The first time I had him over, I had come back from the bathroom to find Cody had tucked himself in my bed, making it very clear he was spending the night. Under one arm he held this dog shaped pillow my mother had made for me, back when I was a preschooler and the preschool required all the children to have their own pillow for nap time. The pillow was old, fragile, and faded- you could barely see some of the details, but I still put him on my bed when I made it every morning.
“Hello,” I said, climbing into the bed with this strange little blonde kid who was apparently moving in.
“This is Doggy Pillow,” Cody told me, and our life together was born.
When he left my apartment the next morning, I stood on the balcony and watched him walk down the street until he was out of sight. Right before he passed from my view, he turned and waved at me, and blew me kisses. We did this every time he left 30 Corwin Street, until I finally moved in with him in September of 2016, after I got a Facebook message one day that said, “come live with mees.” Pluralizing words was the way we signaled to one another we were going out on a limb, please be prepared to adore me because I will need it depending on how this goes. If one of us was in a mood, it rarely took more than the other one saying, “Hellos!” to start to pull the other one out of it.
Our relationship had it’s ups and downs. Periods of content and happiness would be interspersed with periods where one or both of us would get maudlin, depressed, jealous, or even angry, though rarely in regards to the other, as the world itself was often plenty traumatizing enough. We are both artistic people, we are both very smart, we are both deeply emotionally invested in what we do and the folks around us and thus we are both prone to mood swings and self-alienation and depression of the variety that really is only possible because we are artistic, smart people with big hearts and thus deep vulnerabilities. Learning when to talk, when to give space, when to cling, and when to push became as much a part of our relationship dance as giving presents and snuggling and getting to know one another’s friends and families, habits and hopes and boundaries. Like all couples we had strengths and we had weaknesses. We traveled well together- incredibly so, and some of our favorite mutual memories are trips we took- and we listened to one another well: we didn’t tell each other everything, but we always knew we could. We were good at showing one another our appreciation for the other, and we never stayed angry at one another for long. We found opportunities for one another to shine, and we tried to help one another realize respective dreams and goals, and we forgave one another when one another messed up or couldn’t figure out how to forgive ourself. We helped each other forgive others. We kept one another’s imaginations alive, and we reminded one another how important it was to play. We were good at building things together, like the Olympians Festival, and we were good at relaxing together, whether it was in a swimming pool on the top floor of a luxury hotel, or by the beach at a youth hostel, or on a long walk to nowhere in particular. He was good at making us dinner and I was good at making us breakfast. We were both good at watching TV while eating pizza, celebrating holidays (our 2018 Christmas/NYE was one of the best holiday seasons of my life), making one another laugh in even the darkest moments, and cuddling stuffed animals. Actually, Cody was good at the last bit. I was, more often than not, I hope, good at cuddling Cody.
I know that, in many ways, I am not an easy person to be in love with, though over time I have come to realize I am an easy one to fall in love with. But to be in a relationship with me is to take on all kinds of challenges, from my deep insecurities and intense emotions, to my rather whirlwind ambitions, my bad habits (which include not checking in when staying out late- something Cody FINALLY broke me of, to his credit) and my OCD (which often manifests in hypochondria so that’s fun for everyone), to the intensity of my mind and all its incredible acrobatics it’s capable of and also expects you to follow along with. Beyond that, I don’t believe in monogamy, or really exclusivity of any kind, and I’m the kind of guy who stays friends with his exes, good friends in some cases, so you’ll always know who your competition is (though ideally you don’t see it like that), AND you’ll have to put up with my insane theater schedule on top of everything. A therapist once said to me that “Anyone who would date you, must be tres formidable,” and while he thought he was giving me a compliment about what a colorful and challenging (but rewarding!) person I am, I took it as a sentence of loneliness, and that I would never meet anyone who could hold out in the long run. For over 12 years Cody not only held his own with me, but he did it with good humor, bravery, generosity, kindness, and oceans of love and support and acceptance. He taught me that it was okay for me to be angry, or sad, or weak, or struggling, or even occasionally scary, and that none of these things made me a bad person, a bad boyfriend, or less of a catch. An exceptional human being in every way, I would have been a great fool not to have fallen in love with him.
And yes, he has his faults. Like most humans, he can be distant, negligent, callous, inconsiderate, and occasionally deceitful or blasé about the truth when it actually really matters. His taste is sometimes really questionable, and his refusal to pick up on social cues when he doesn’t feel like it, somewhat epic. He can be incredibly stubborn, to the point of being damaging. His lack of attention to details can be infuriating. You know, like how he forgot to actually cancel our wedding invitation and so everybody got a reminder to come to our wedding the day before it was supposed to happen, even though it had been canceled? I’m not saying that kind of thing happened a lot over 12 years. But it wasn’t infrequent. Dropping the ball is something each person in a relationship will do at some point, more than once, but some people got butterfingers, you know?
We both made mistakes. We both had moments we’re not proud of.
And yet, Reader, I would have married him. Happily.
The night of our break up, I sat on the chair outside of Cody’s room and watched him pack a suitcase. I realized I was having an experience that I’d written about and imagined for characters in plays, and that I’d heard about from friends and watched in movies, but now was finally experiencing first hand. It was, as I had always expected it would be, sort of terrible, mostly sad, and like most stuff you never want to happen, rather anticlimactic once it had arrived. If I could pick one thing that I hated the most, it was that it all felt terribly… grown up. It felt like something two men were going through, not Stuart and Cody, not Snuggletiger and Snugglebear, and he did not feel like my wonderful, silly, playful adorable fiancé who believed in magic, who told stories about a little blue cyclops whose heart was Cody’s heart on display for the world, who had once run with me, hand in hand, down the lawn of a castle through the pounding rain of a tropical thunderstorm, screaming with laughter. Sitting there, on that chair, watching him pack, it hit me that while I was devastated our relationship was changing, it was far worse to believe that Cody himself might be gone, and with him our world that we’d created and populated with little stuffed avatars, each with a name and job to do.
And then I saw him pack Thomas, his stuffed rabbit, into the suitcase and I sighed with relief. “Thomas will protect him,” I thought, “Thomas will be sure he’s okay.”
There are so many things I had hoped for our future, and the truth is, I believe they can still be a part of it. Though our lives may be separate in some ways now, I still promise to Cody what I would have promised him at our wedding: that there will always be a place for him to sit or sleep in any place that I call home, because any place we both are will always feel like home to me. There will always be pancakes for Cody at Easter, there will always be a pumpkin for him to carve at Halloween, there will always be room for anyone he wants to invite to Thanksgiving, and a place for his presents under the Christmas Tree. If there is a beach to sit at, he has a place next to me, and the same is true for my brunch table, my living room, my porch, and my theater. If he wants to borrow my books, he may. If he wants to go for a walk, I will accompany him. If he calls, I will answer. When he needs me to listen, I will. Always. Though we may pursue different paths and relationships, that had always been part of our life together, and so for me, at least, there’s no reason to change anything that brought us both happiness and reminded us both how important the other one is. I can’t say for certain that he feels the same way, but I can hope for it, and I do. Since we broke up, we’ve actually done a really good job of taking care of one another, still. He helped me pick out sneakers. I did his laundry. He gave me a pair of gym shorts. I gave him a birthday card. We try to say hi one way or another every few days, and I still send all the cute animal pics I find to him. One of the things we agreed to do was not tag one another when posting about one another, but to give one another a heads up that it had been done, so that the other could always make a choice of if they were up for it. On Sunday, I warned him this was coming. So no, you don’t need to let him know, or be sad that he isn’t tagged here. He’ll read this when he’s ready. And there’s nothing in it he doesn’t already know about what I think or how I feel.
The other night I had a dream about him. My first since we broke up, actually. In it, we were sitting in the back of a cab, on our way home from something. An incredibly common moment for us, as we must have taken over a thousand cabs in 12 years, and certainly came home from far more events. In the dream we were holding hands, as we often did, resting them together on the space between us. At some point I said to him, absently, “I bought you something for Christmas.”
“My Snugs loves Christmas,” he replied.
“You want pizza for dinner, don’t you?” I asked.
These days, there are no stuffed animals on my bed, where for a while there had been an entire family that I would remove each night, and replace each morning. Some of them we gave away to friends with children, and some we reclaimed as individuals, and a few, three in particular, are still hanging out in the living room, the shared property of two people I hope will, one day, be very good friends. Two, which belonged to me, now permanently belong to him, and I got one of his, and two his mother had given us as a pair. The ones in my bedroom all sit on the linen chest, and I have to admit, it takes me a full ten minutes less to make the bed in the morning, and I’m sort of ecstatic about that. In the final six months of our relationship, when it was obvious that we were starting to drift apart and buckle under individual hardships we just couldn’t seem to help each other over come like we’d done in the past, I probably should have seen my apathy about making the bed most mornings as a sign that something was wrong. But it had never really gotten unpleasant, though occasionally sad and tense, and we were both so good at giving one another space, and respecting that, that it wasn’t really apparent we were growing away from one another until suddenly it was. Letting one another continue to grow was the best thing we could do for one another, and I’m actually really proud of both of us for having the strength to do that, and for doing it so considerately and kindly.
One week into the pandemic, I made my first foray into the world to bring Cody the stuffed animal we more or less thought of as our first born son: Chunky Puddles. He of the bottomless supply of candy who was always hoarding more, often tricking the others out of their candy. He who could occasionally be a real grump, and didn’t always say the nicest things, but who deep down had a heart of gold, and was the real mother hen of the crew. He who could fly, but hated exercise and why fly when there’s so much candy one could be eating? Cody had messaged to tell me he wanted him. That he wanted something of “us” to shelter in place with. But he was afraid to leave where he was and he was afraid for me to do the same. But what is twelve blocks through a pandemic on a rainy day when one has twelve years of love, and laughter, and tears to honor?
Our second born son, a gangly pink teddy bear named Prince Andrei, after Cody’s favorite character in War & Peace, used to spend his days lounging on the bed, occasionally directing the other stuffed animals in plays I would leave arranged for Cody to find when he came home, for he had been an actor, you see, and wasn’t just the usual lazy sort of nobility who did nothing with his time. An avid fan of the New Yorker, he’s taken to spending his days on my directing chair, recently cleaned off for the first time in years, but immediately claimed for its proximity to the front windows. Prince Andrei purports it’s all about the light, and how his pitch black eyes, which Cody and I used to find both endearing and terrifying, need maximum exposure for reading.
But we all know he’s keeping an eye out for Chunky Puddles.
On May 12th, 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, I posted on Facebook about the three month mark of being single for the first time in over 12 years.