John Byrne


John Byrne is the founder and chairman of Raw Story, a political news website, and has previously written for The Boston Globe and McClatchy Newspapers. Born in New York and seasoned in Boston, Ohio and Miami, he now lives in Washington, D.C.

I’m Going To Let You Go, Okay?

If I’d pulled out of the Stop & Shop in Provincetown a few seconds later we would never have met. I wouldn’t have sheared off the driver’s side mirror of your Civic, you wouldn’t have smirked as I dropped the cards from my wallet, and I wouldn’t have fallen for your Neptune-colored eyes. I wouldn’t have followed you to your parents’ beach house under the pines, and you wouldn’t fallen asleep in my arms, sticky, before I’d even known I was asked to stay, and I wouldn’t have kissed your forehead, or smelled your hair, or pressed the arch of my foot against your sole, or admitted to myself that I would have crept out quietly, and left your life forever, had I not felt guilty that I’d bludgeoned your car.

But I did, and you, with your incredible chutzpah, invited me home.

When I woke, I found you on the stoop with a glass and a half-empty bottle of Shiraz. Your mirror dangled from your door like a cleft zombie’s hand. I told you I was on vacation, and you asked, What from?

I slept with you the five nights I had left. You returned to Boston with me on the ferry, even though you weren’t going home to Boston yet, and we drank rum punch, and you knocked yours over on my lap, and the bald guy with the beagle scowled at us as if we were in love.

We met the next week in Central Square. You bought me a carrot cake cupcake and fingered cream cheese frosting off from above my lips. Each time we rendezvoused, I told myself I’d ask you for a proper date, but for weeks, it never came: Each afternoon, we found ourselves at the coffee shop taking shots of espresso and sharing grilled pistachio muffin halves, because we’d fallen under the spell of afternoon sex. On days we didn’t meet, I attempted to write short stories, and you plotted drawings that resembled asymmetrical Rorschach tests. Nights, you designed websites for political campaigns, and I explained to diners at the restaurant where I waited tables the difference between burgers, of which we had seventeen.

The afternoon you agreed to meet me for a real date, you produced a pipe from your night table, a lighter, and a bag of pot. I told you we should open a window, and you kissed me just behind my ear and said, Baby, it’s fine. Two bowls later, you drew me out the door. We forgot our jackets. On the stairs to the T, I tripped and scraped my knee on the cement.

Baby, you said.

I kissed you in the wind of the approaching train. We transferred to the Green Line at Park Street and got off at Museum.

Assuming the guards could tell we were high, I spent most of my time studying the floor tile. Oblivious, I bumped into a statue, maybe Hermes, and the tiny size of his dick relative to his body made me break into laughter. You covered my mouth, but you began chuckling so I covered yours. Come on, you said. I want you to see the mummy’s smile.

The mummy lay in a corner room at the end of a hall. Her thin lips ticked up slightly at the edges, offering only the hint of a grin. I said she looked like Mona Lisa might have had she stuck to her diet. We laughed like kids being tickled until our eyes were wet.

Afterward, we checked out boys playing Frisbee from a swan boat under the willow trees by the common, which drizzled like wax into the lagoon. You bought me a hot dog. At dinner, you asked for peanut butter with your steak.

We fucked like crabs crawling over each other in pails.

You built websites with the same intensity: as if someone had ransomed your child and enjoined you to design. You talked to clients on the toilet. You sketched logos waiting for water to boil. When you worked on weekends, I took four-hour baths and read Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest. You were always touching up a design when I arrived—one minute, one minute—and because of those minutes I learned how to please you, to buy Lucky Charms for my apartment, to keep Swiss hot chocolate, to order seasons of British comedies you liked but couldn’t bring yourself to buy. I needed you then—I kept getting photocopied rejection letters from literary journals for my stories, letters that were only a third of a page, as if I hadn’t written a piece good enough to even warrant a page. I became addicted to your company, like nicotine. You let me read my stories to you in bed, and we lit the rejection slips with candles and threw them out the window at night, watching them curl like burning leaves into the street.

How do you know what love feels like? you asked one night in my bed. I don’t know, I said. It’s probably like being drunk. No, you said, you can make yourself drunk. You can’t make yourself loved. I don’t know, I said. After you fell asleep, I realized you weren’t asking how you knew you were in love, but what love was.

I remember the night I agreed to move in: we’d just drank two pitchers of margaritas. You hit an old Lincoln pulling out of the parking lot and scribbled a note, Sorry, we’re broke, and didn’t leave your name.

But you didn’t stay broke. Your client list doubled and doubled again. You hired a designer in San Francisco and three people in New York. We started buying superfluous furniture and expensive beer.

That winter snow swallowed fire hydrants and climbed to the height of windows. We booked a trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Virgin Islands and sated ourselves on house vodka and over-chlorinated pools. On the pool deck, you flipped through a catalogue of condos you’d found on the plane. You talked of moving to Florida the way liberals talk about moving to Canada. Miami, you said, like it was the answer to a question. Miami, you said, as if it were an invocation for a djinn. It seemed innocent, only you kept discussing it after we flew back, every day, constantly, as you gradually drifted away from me, away from your job.

Miami, you said. It won’t ever be cold.

We flew to Miami and met up with a realtor and you shot photographs of us in hard hats checking out the unit they were finishing that you wanted to buy. You made me a collage with the photos you’d taken from the pool deck, the glass skin of the building, the balconies and the pool.

Miami isn’t a solution, I said. And I knew it, too. But logic isn’t love, and hope isn’t logical.

Your parents divorced. We moved.

Our first days in Florida were like the blooms on the mandevilla we bought for the balcony, lazy trumpets of color. Frozen daiquiris in buckets on the rim of the pool. Canoeing in the mangroves. Trying to explain how to build snowmen to bartenders who’d never seen snow and wandering knee-deep in the teal-colored waves after a half-dozen Sapporo, lining our pockets with coral.

Something changed. I noticed it the morning I found you in the tub crying and you couldn’t tell me why. The day you broke down after I suggested we get a puppy. You stopped responding to email. You tapped one of your employees to manage your accounts.

You became too afraid to order take-out. You couldn’t go to Walgreens when we ran out of milk. I remember staring at yogurts in the dairy aisle, shivering from the air on my calves, struggling to recall whether you liked plain or vanilla, feeling a woman looking over my shoulder, probably thinking when are you going to move, how long are you going to stand there, and asking the same thing of myself. In the cereal aisle, as I hunted for Lucky Charms, I decided I would get you help.

I drove you to a psychiatrist. He prescribed some meds. Each week you shook your head and said it wasn’t working, and each week he called in something else. Aren’t they supposed to take time to work? I asked, thinking, didn’t he have to go to school? But you were the patient; I was the boyfriend without a job. I picked them up because you said you were too afraid to leave the apartment.

You became little more than a ghost. The Starbucks barista at the end of our street expressed more interest in my day than you did.

How’s your day going?

Great, I said.

One day, I replied, Not great.

I’m sorry, she said.

I’m sorry too, I said.

After that she eyed me with suspicion, as if I were a homeless person planning to ask for change.

When I couldn’t write, I’d lose myself on Craigslist scoping apartments in random cities. There were studios in LA with warlock landlords: a cat might be considered, a small dog might be considered. Cheap grammarless places in in Detroit: new kitchen new bath new windows for cold winter’s big back yard for summer fun keep eye on kids quite area family schools nearby. A Chicago couple seeking a roommate: You must be ok with sharing this home with two gay men who live in a safe and committed relationship upstairs.



If I tried to kiss the back of your neck the way I used to, you’d push me away and say, Don’t. When you curled against me after you’d fallen asleep, I thought about slipping inside you as you dreamed.

At least that, I thought, at least give me that.

One morning after I came out of the shower, you told me you wanted to check into a hospital. I guess we should wait until Christmas, you said. The hospitals in Boston are really good.

You cried on the plane. I pretended to sleep when the flight attendant came by. You asked for Diet Coke and I cursed myself because I was thirsty and had missed my chance.

All I remember of Christmas besides hoping you didn’t crack in front of your family is the fact the lights on your mother’s tree didn’t blink in unison. I remember wanting to smash the bulbs into tiny pieces and thinking: yeah, she’s fucking crazy too.

You checked in. For the first time in months, I slept alone.


You don’t remember how cold it was the day your mother, your youngest brother, and I went to visit you because you were locked inside. I remember because I was wearing your leather jacket and we got lost trying to find the building you were in. I slipped and bumped into your youngest brother and said, I’m sorry, and asked myself if he thought I’m sorry meant I was the reason you were here. I remember thinking it would be prettier if it had snowed.

You sat on your bed in a small room with another bed. Your things lay atop your bureau. You’d spent so much time crying your eyes appeared to be part of a different face. I’m a failure, you kept repeating, I’ll never be anything. I thought, What am I, if you’re a failure? I’m not an artist, you said. I wanted to be an artist, like—and you said my name. I wish I died the day I was happiest, you told me. The day we saw the mummy.

Your mother looked at me for an answer. I didn’t speak.

I sat beside you on your bed and kissed your hair. Your hair smelled like hotel shampoo. Your youngest brother handed you a journal he’d brought you with a marbled cover. It gave you a moment to say thank you, and breathe. But by the time we left, you were crying again; your tears flowed like blood from a wound no one could stanch, and I wondered why they could repair a heart but couldn’t cure something as simple as tears.

At your mother’s house, I sat on the couch and read old New Yorkers. I turned the heat up to 76. In the afternoon, I couldn’t find any cookies so I ate her healthy cereal, Autumn Wheat, which had no flavor at all.

I found myself on Craigslist again. Muscular top uncut 7” looking to host at my place. Love guys who call me names and get rough. HWP biwm, ddf, completely safe looking for same. I felt sad for the first time since I arrived.

You sent me an email and cc'ed your mother, your brothers and your dad. The subject line said simply, HELP.

Your doctor mother got you out. Your father took us out for Thai. Your eyes looked bruised but your smile was stronger. We stayed another week at your mother’s so you could attend a day program at the hospital that was supposed to teach you how to keep from slipping back into despair.


The morning you taught me to ice skate, when you propped me up as I edged nervously onto the ice, was the longest time you’d ever held my hand. At the edge of the pond, birches hunched under the weight of their iced branches like witches in fairytales and leafless oaks groaned rustily in the breeze. Your brother skated away. I watched how your ankles moved together and came apart, how you held the blades of your skates slightly outward on either side to make yourself move. Try it, you said. I pushed the blade into the ice and started moving. I squished your gloved hand in mine. I thought I would try to kiss you, but you were too far away, and I knew if I tried I would fall. You’re doing good, you said, smiling. I’m going to let you go, okay? After you did, you skated a few paces forward and turned around. I skated two paces and began to glide fast. I could have been good at this, I thought, and then just as quickly toppled on my ass. You laughed, skated, and dropped on your knees where I fell. You pushed me onto my back. You climbed onto me and kissed me, grinding your crotch against mine, and I thought what about your brother seeing, but I couldn’t speak because our lips were locked. It felt different in those puffy clothes, more erotic, that below our neck our bodies couldn’t touch at all. Though I couldn’t see him, I knew your youngest brother must be skating on the far edge of the pond, where the ice was thinner, and that we would have to skate there now to give him space to twist and turn, here on the thickest ice, the same way you’d have to skate on thinner ice when we flew home. You rolled over beside me. We stared at the gray, indeterminate sky. I love you, I said. I love you too, you said. I thought about how big the world was, and whether we could survive in it, but reminded myself that we had walked on water, and if we could walk on water, we could certainly know joy.


The second time you were hospitalized I remember thinking: see, I knew it, you’re fucking crazy. I couldn’t cry, I didn’t want to cook, I ate the frozen things you’d bought when we still ate things with fat, the pizza with goat cheese, the Hot Pockets, the remaining Cherry Garcia even though it was shot through with ice. I carried the cat to the balcony and held it over the rail and was going to drop it because it wouldn’t stop crying, and the only reason I didn’t was because I saw a woman pushing a stroller and I thought she might see. I Googled how people suffocated themselves with plastic bags. I didn’t visit you the second day, because I was at the mall trying on jeans, skinny jeans from Diesel, single skinny jeans, hitting on the clerk, then watching a kid’s movie with garrulous animated bugs because it was the only movie playing that hour and I didn’t want to wait, didn’t want to wait because I didn’t want to think, didn’t want to think because I would have thought not of you but of why I was with you.

I waded through Craigslist in men seeking men. This little Asian is having a rather boring and somber weekend and would like for some cute guy to change the mood around. I am looking for dates, hangout, whatever, just as long as it's fun. Lookin for guys in my age group disease free and not fat.

I fucked him but couldn’t come. After he fell asleep, I drank two of his housemate’s Red Stripes and ate the rest of someone’s Hawaiian pizza. On the toilet, I checked my voicemail and listened to your dad.

Your dad said you asked for Reese’s Pieces and soda, anything diet. I heard: I know being with my son is difficult so I forgive you for not visiting him the first day, and I know my ex-wife wants you to disappear, so I’ll help you look good since she knows you didn’t visit the first night.

They took the Diet Pepsi from me at the nurses’ station. They can cut themselves on cans, a nurse said.

On the desk in your room sat a loosely-shaped putty figure you explained was a dove and a sheet of lined notebook paper stamped, FRIENDSHIP, LOVE, DREAMS. You told me they didn’t have inkpads, so you had to color the stamps with markers. You stared at me fearfully, as if I was going to tell you what you thought of yourself.

This time the doctor diagnosed you as bipolar, manic depressive. She suggested lithium. Depakote is safer, you said, you’d read it in a book. Really? I asked. Seriously? You’re going to play doctor again? I knocked over your bag of flossers as I helped you move out and picked them up one by one like fallen coins, then realized you would put them in your mouth. Whatever, I thought, fuck it, you’re nuts.

Depakote was fine, she said.


Sitting on our balcony struggling to write a story I knew I’d never finish, I studied the dusty sunset that parenthesized the building behind us and attempted to name the hue. This is how relationships end, I thought, and this is why we hold onto them—there’s so much color and faded beauty we can’t bring ourselves to look away. A plane roared by, its wingtips lit with tiny sparks. You flipped on the light in our bedroom and rested square plates with pasta on the bed and pulled stiffly at the balcony door. You flashed me that strained can-you-believe-how-hard-it-is-to-get-these-doors-open grin.

I’m going to leave you, I wanted to say.

You said, I remember you said you didn’t like thick alfredo so I used more milk.

Vanishing inside, you returned with a candle. It didn’t provide enough light for us to see each other, but it was enough to reignite that sinking sensation I’d begun to feel, that how the fuck had you gotten so happy again, so loving, so human, so the you with whom I’d fallen in love. I wondered how I could make it stop.

Let’s move back to Boston, I said.

You kissed the inside of my neck. If you’re not happy, you said. You know I love you, right?

We rented your apartment to an émigré from the Baltics who worked in customs. In Boston, you snagged a two-bedroom with a view of the Charles. Now when I fucked you, I thought of the Latin boy whose videos I watched online at Starbucks with the screen brightness turned all the way down.

In Boston, you started cooking more. Stir-fries, casseroles, mousses, bisques. You bought a torch at Stop & Shop to make crème brûlée and asked me if I preferred clear ramekins to red.

Maybe this was mania, I thought. I didn’t know how to leave you, but I knew if you were hospitalized a third time I could. One afternoon while you were grocery shopping—you went every day now for green things, exotic vegetables I mostly couldn’t stand—I hid your Depakote behind the cat litter. I wondered if you’d stop taking it, maybe, because you loved how manic you’d become.

I can’t find my Depakote, you said. Did you move it?

Nope, I said. Fuck, I thought. While you cooked, I slipped it back into your nightstand drawer.

To get you shopping feverishly, I told you all your clothes were out of style. You bought a bevy of shirts in an array of colors, and I stared at the pimpled high-school kid who was helping you pick them out. He started to talk to me—It’s really starting to get nice out—and I just said, Don’t.

I wondered if I could get you going shopping for a car. I said, You make too much money to drive a Civic.

I received a rejection slip that was a quarter of a page.

At your mother’s family’s Easter egg hunt, your mother pulled me aside and said, You know, you’re doing a really great job. Your youngest brother laughed when I told him, offered me a quarter bar of Xanax, and said, Yeah, he seems a little less nuts.

You began sketching children in charcoal. A little girl in a doorway, a boy dangling from a branch. You joined a book group, unwittingly reminding me of how I couldn’t get anything in print.

I got trashed on tequila at a bar by the wharf. I puked all over the dashboard after you picked me up. You stared at me worriedly, and I thought: Wow, this was probably how I used to look at you.

Maybe we should take a vacation, you said.

Yeah, I said, maybe we should.


Your parents’ beach house looked just as it did the day we met—the discolored shingles, the heaving, intemperate pines. Only now it wasn’t your parents’ beach house, it was your dad’s. As you turned off the engine, I remembered when it was just you and me and the bottle of wine and the bottle we had after that; when I thought the next story I wrote would make me famous; when, thinking ourselves artists, we almost hoped we’d always be broke. Now we put back a bottle of expensive Malbec, and I was the one who got drunk. A mosquito chased us into bed. I couldn’t get hard, and you kissed my cheek and said, Really, baby, it’s fine.

Pulling myself out of bed, I padded to the bathroom to piss and stared at the cabinet beneath the sink. There behind the plunger I found the bottle of Vicodin I picked up at Stop & Shop the day we met. The Vicodin I stuffed in my pocket after I hit you because it was in my hand. The Vicodin I hid when I realized it was still in my pocket because I didn’t want the pills to clatter on your parents’ bedroom floor as I stripped.

I fingered the cap.

I dreamt you asked me to accompany you into the sea. It’s cold, I said, and you replied, I know. Then why are we swimming? I asked. You know why, you said. I want to be happy forever, like the mummy. I want you to hold me under until I drown. So I did. I grabbed your head and held it under and wrapped my legs around yours so you couldn’t kick. I knotted your forearms behind your back. I gazed into your pupils and thought: This is how much I love you because you wanted to be dead when you were happy remember you wanted to be dead so I’ll make you dead, and I watched your life ebb, but you still stared at me incredulous, wondering why, knowing why, still wondering, why? You wouldn’t stop moving. You wouldn’t die. I tried to pull you deeper but I couldn’t. You uncuffed your wrists. You wrapped your fingers around my throat but didn’t squeeze. Then like a catfish in muddy water you slipped out of my hands and rose to the surface, hungry for air.

I like to let my stories to speak for themselves, to give the reader a space to enjoy an intimacy with the work, so I don't want to say too much about this piece itself. It gestated in a period where I was struggling to articulate my experiences to my family and friends and trying to reach a truce with myself. I hoped to communicate a deeper reading both of the challenges of bipolar relationships but also ecumenical issues of strained, codependent love, a theme familiar to gay couples I know.

I've told this story in what I consider a mixed first person. The narrator tells the story in first person, but refers to his partner in the second. In other words, this story is told from the first person ('I') to a second person ('you'). Making the second person 'you' allowed me to express anger I've felt at the person I am when I'm struggling and invests the reader in the bipolar experience in a way that third person and first person would not. Also, the mixed first person creates a kind of bipolar narrative in itself.