When I go out, I start sorting guys into two groups: protectors and assailants. I quickly label everyone in my head in order to navigate my way through the night. Although this strategy keeps me present for a while, it always ends the same way. Slowly and then all at once, I shut off completely. And when I get to this point nothing anyone says can bring me back.
The assailants in a bar are easy to spot. They look at me, my skin crawls, and I know. When they talk to me I feel nothing and everything all at the same time. I've tried to describe this panicked feeling before, but the exact words to explain it are still elusive. I fight to hold conversations with assailants as long as I possibly can, but eventually their every word, every movement pushes my heart to a cliff. As I near the edge, the alarms sound in my head and I have to excuse myself to find my nearest protector.
Protectors are guys I know well and have a level of trust in. Their close proximity to me is never a threat, but not always a comfort either. As they see me start to unravel, they hold me like a fragile piece of porcelain. Cradling me too cautiously, encasing me so I don't shatter. They create a barrier between us and the rest of the world so that no one can touch me. Although I'm grateful for this at first, inevitably I panic again. Not in the heart stopping way that the assailants incite, but instead this panic squeezes my lungs. I lose my ability to breathe, suffocating under the weight of their fierce protection.
And then I'm alone.
Not physically, as my protector won't leave my side, but mentally I've rowed myself to an island of my own making. I sit there as the ocean laps at my oars, trying to coax me back in. But I can't. I won't. I refuse. I've made my choice to disconnect and now I'm lost to the world.
As I shut myself off from this confusing crowd of protectors and assailants, I search inside myself for you. You reassure me that things won't always be like this; I need to be patient. That someday, I'll be ready to stop labeling guys as either protectors or assailants. Little by little, I'll start viewing them as they actually are. Not just there to attack or defend me, but as real people who are searching for connections in the same way I am.
So even though it feels like there's you and then there's everyone else, I'll wait. I'll keep attempting to find my way through the safety and the set backs, the challenges and the comfort, the help and the hurt. Because I know on the other side of it is a world full of love. A world that I'll belong to again if I take my time.