Break 002 (public edition): Hey, Handsome/please don't let me be
Story by John Paul Brammer, music by Sarabean
On this episode of the Dance Cry Dance Break, we open with “Hello, Handsome,” an original story by ¡Hola Papi! columnist and author John Paul Brammer followed by the exclusive premiere of please don’t let me be, the deluxe edition of the album from eighteen-year-old producer and songwriter Sarabean.
Eighteen-year-old singer/songwriter, producer Sarah Holland has been releasing music as Sarabean from her Florida bedroom since 2019 and recently relocated to Portland, Oregon. Her stunning, full-length debut album, “please don’t let me be”, blends dreamy synths and warm acoustic guitars with blunt, confessional lyrics and breathtakingly intimate vocals.
John Paul Brammer grew up in rural Oklahoma with aspirations of writing and making art. He started his path in journalism writing for The Guardian, NBC News, and Teen Vogue, then moved to Condé Nast as a writer while running his popular LGBTQ and Latino advice column, ¡Hola Papi!. From there, he worked with the Trevor Project to consult on their editorial content. He currently self-publishes his column at Substack and has a memoir of the same name published under Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint in June of 2021. He writes and illustrates for outlets like The Washington Post, Guernica, Catapult, and many more. He’s also presently working with Netflix on The Most, a small team that creates content, consults on projects, and builds community based on the company’s LGBTQ material.
by John Paul Brammer
It’s been over a day since I’ve asked Peter if he was free on Thursday. This is nothing new for us. I didn’t consider the text to be risky when I sent it. We do this at least once a month. One of us will ask what the other’s week looks like, and we’ll figure out a time to get together, always at my place. It takes some planning as he lives uptown and I live in Brooklyn. This feels farther than it is. I don’t consider our meeting up a routine. Although there’s a rhythm to it, it nonetheless always feels like a spontaneous and welcome thing. Each month one of us happily remembers the other.
Dealing with men, loving men, being attracted to men—however you want to say it, it has its lessons. The lessons are often silly, sideways things. They are intuited over time rather than set in stone, and so they’re difficult to articulate. Setting anything in stone with men is nigh impossible anyway. One of these lessons is how to divine meaning out of silence, how to measure quiet in emotional cubits. Thirty minutes, he’s busy. A few hours, maybe something came up. A day, uh oh.
I wake up, eat breakfast, start work, and at some undetermined point I pass the threshold into unreasonable territory where it’s unlikely that Peter simply hasn’t seen the text. Another lesson when it comes to men—it’s never the convenient excuse, the one you’re rooting for. It’s always the unwanted, the banal, the thing you hope it’s not. Work. Eat again. Sleep. Now comes either the long nothing, or the dreaded formality of a follow-up, the explanation as to why business as usual can no longer be conducted.
The follow-ups have become more common in my experience. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and people feel the need to be more mature about things, or because it’s a trend on social media to practice a sort of bureaucratic honesty with your flings or lovers or whatever you want to call them. I can’t decide if I like it more or less than being quietly disposed of. In my more cynical moments, I like it less. It smacks of self-satisfaction. I am emotionally mature for this.
Yet another lesson in dealing with men, though. You don’t usually get what you like. “Hey, handsome,” the text begins. I’ve noticed this, too. The measuring out of salt and sugar, the affirmation up top followed by the heart of the matter. “So, I’ve started seeing someone…” I lightly skim the rest. I already know my role in this exchange, and I’m fine with playing it. It’s good that Pete found someone. We weren’t going anywhere.
If things had worked out, we would have ordered Italian to my place and poured two glasses of wine. We would have started watching a movie before leaving our clothes puddled on my bedroom floor. We would have enjoyed it, and maybe he would have spent the night, as he sometimes did. If he did, he would have kissed me in the blurry morning before heading to the train. We wouldn’t have seen each other for a while after that.
That’s hardly a steady relationship. I have no right to be upset. So I’m not. Or at least I give no indication that I am, and I am resolute inside myself. You have no right. It’s not that I harbor some secret love for Peter, some hope, however dim, that we would end up together. That’s not what I want, in truth. But the truth that crests like a strange fish is hard to name, is mostly obscured underwater. Why be hurt?
Peter with his shoulder-length hair and the tattoo on his thigh, with his odd jobs and his reluctant laugh like he’s doing something wrong. I like these things. Maybe the hurt is because they’re suddenly gone. It’s change, and change is frightening. It's change of a sort that locks us out of self-pity. Entirely expected, and indeed, what you signed up for. The heart hooks onto little things like this. It hurts as they are tugged and pulled away.
There’s something to be said about the people who don’t owe you any great emotional responsibility, and yet show up regardless. Everyone wants their soulmate, but the idea is one of two people who prioritize each other, make each other the whole world. There’s something to be said about the other types of affection. The people who show up at your door because they enjoy you, because they’re attracted to you, because they find you altogether hard to resist on a lonely Thursday.
The pleasure in these casual dynamics isn’t just from another person wanting you. It’s that it allows you to see yourself in a certain way; as desirable, as a person with a certain gravity. You’re here because you want me. It’s a flattering mirror. It makes sense that we would seek out reflections like these, and that it would sting when one is taken away.
Our appetites make strange beasts of us all. Wants are hard to name, hard to examine, almost impossible to trace to their source. Sex with Peter. Sleeping with Peter in my arms. Kissing goodbye. Getting the occasional text, How’s it going? Feeling wanted by Peter, imagining how he must see me, and how it must be better than how I see me for him to have gone so far out of his way, all the way from uptown.
It was a little joke that I’d bring him something back from Mexico. But I did, a small ceramic painted skull. It cost a few coins and was wrapped in a sheet of newspaper. I forgot to give it to him the last time he was here, despite it being right there on the table where we ate. It’s still there. A tiny, laughing skull. A little joke.
It’s hard to be honest about intimacy. It’s embarrassing the way it makes you a child again, the way it feels, every single time, like you ought to have known better, that you ought to have seen it coming. That’s probably why we don’t talk about it much, or why we pretend intimacies are easily arranged into good and bad, mistakes and successes, the important ones and the unimportant ones. It’s harder to accept that, in their own way, they’re all important. They all matter.
The dull ache annoys me. I almost wish it would rise to the occasion of heartache. But it can’t, so it doesn’t. “Totally understand,” I say back.
The Dance Cry Dance Break is written and produced by Natalie Bayne and recorded and edited by Moe Provencher. Our stories are edited by Timaree Marston.
Theme music is Red Lines, by Tiny Tiny.
Today’s story was voiced by Kevin Murray.
Dance Cry Dance is an arts collective in Seattle, WA. Paid subscriptions support our artists and writers.
To hear the extended version of this episode featuring an interview conversation between John Paul and Sarah, subscribe to Dance Cry Dance + at Apple Podcasts.