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Creative Writing

Your Crooked Neighbor: Part 6

Two Parks

“Who gives his heart away too easily must have a heart under his heart.”

-James Richardson

Justin called twice in the week after the party. I made excuses – I was writing, I was tired from work. I did not know what to say to him. Well, I did, but I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. He had done nothing to mislead me, and yet I felt betrayed and hurt. He hadn’t taken care of me. I thought this was something he would do. He left a phone message that I didn’t return and then stopped calling.

For another week, my mind could hardly stay away from him. I’d made him matter so much that my thoughts would return to him out of habit, only now there was nothing to find there but pain. Sometimes, just for a change, I thought of Thomas. There was no hurt there at all, no regret or longing. It seemed Thomas and I had known each other a lifetime ago. With Justin I had been the one hanging on, ignoring signs, hoping against reality. I now understood how such a thing happens. Thomas’ post-breakup role had become mine.

I stared out the bus window on my way back up the hill after a day in the market. I passed the convention center, Cyber Dogs, Club Z. Club Z had caught my attention ever since I’d first read about it two years earlier – a men’s bathhouse, a windowless place of anonymous and copious sex. I’d never been in, but my imagination frequented the place once or twice a year. Occasionally I’d see someone going in or out, usually middle-aged, pot-bellied, wearing a sweatshirt and a baseball cap. Once it was a skinny man with sharp cheekbones and a tenuous grip on life. In conversations I had with The Gays, the patrons of Club Z were The Others, as were the men we sometimes spotted sitting alone in their parked cars on the lower loop of Volunteer Park, waiting. These men were not us. The story goes that they’re relics of an older, closeted time, a time when men were so ashamed of their attraction that they’d hide it, letting it out only long enough for sex. Anything more would take too long, risk too much. Suddenly there was more to them. I saw that it isn’t homophobia or the closet that continues to drive them to these dark places – at least not all of them. It’s just that they’re horny. Lonely too, but mostly horny. Treating one is easily mistaken as treatment for both.

“Was it something I did?”

I looked up. My stomach rose in my throat. Justin stood in the aisle of the bus. I’d wanted to run into him. I wouldn’t let myself ask for it by answering his calls. In this way a fragile, imagined dignity was preserved. “Hi,” I said.

“Did you see me?” he asked.

“No.”

“I saw you get on. I waved.”

“I didn’t see you.”

I couldn’t tell if he believed me. “You going to tell me what’s going on?” he asked. He sat down. I pulled the cord for the next stop. If this was happening it wasn’t going to happen on the bus. Cal Anderson Park wasn’t far.

“I was falling for you,” I said once we’d reached the park. “I was thinking about you a lot. I wasn’t dating, not even trying. It was just you, and you weren’t enough. It was really obvious to me at your party.”

He wasn’t surprised. “You should have said something.”

“Would you have ended it?”

“I would have suggested it, but it would’ve been up to you.”

I stared out over the park. The sun was already setting. Soon it would be autumn. It didn’t seem fair. “Tell me how that works,” I said. “You enjoy someone’s company. You’re attracted to him and he’s attracted to you. He tells you he likes you and then you suggest he move on. How does that work?”

“Don’t go all wounded-puppy on me,” he said.

I was glad he said it because it gave me the excuse to act indignant, and I needed the excuse. “Fuck you,” I said. “You said I could put my hand on your leg and when I kiss you hello I get the stink-eye. You invite me to a party of work friends and bar friends and don’t mention that some are your fuck friends.”

He stepped ahead and turned to face me. I could hardly catch my breath. My legs shook. My body had begun to wrestle with me. Looking at Justin’s stillness only made it worse. He seemed calm. It was amazing. I thought maybe this had happened to him before. “Did I ever lie to you?” he said.

“No.”

“I said I didn’t want a relationship. I didn’t want to date. I wanted this and you said okay.”

“Because I liked you! You took advantage.”

“How did I do that? Did I make you come over? Did I make you call me? I was completely upfront. It’s not my job to check-in on you every week and say, ‘Hey, about this arrangement we have, is it still okay?’”

“You’re like a lawyer at this,” I said.

“You’re talking to me like I played you. I didn’t play you.”

“You shouldn’t have invited me to that party.”

“You’re happier not knowing?”

“You should have warned me who was going to be there.”

“I didn’t think you needed a warning. Those people are all special to me. I invited you because you’re special to me.”

I wanted so much to see him as bad, as wrong. I wanted him to see it. If he was guilty of anything it was only callousness. It was in that word, “special.” His definition was broader than I’d imagined, and it’s a label that becomes increasingly meaningless the more people it’s applied to. I did not know what this meant about him – if his heart was big enough to hold this many people or if it was merely diluting the risk of loss by shoring up its reserves. It was no place for me, though. This deformed, not-quite-romance had proved more painful than being alone.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said.

I knew he meant it. I knew there was nothing he could do about it.

Jen took me to Molly Moon’s and then Discovery Park the following weekend – a treat for me, being car-less and stranded on the Hill. I’d never been to Discovery Park before. It is one of the more spectacular city parks. We crossed the meadow and trailed down the bluff to the beach and the lighthouse. It is a grueling trek back up, especially after ice cream, but worth it.

“Would you do it again?” she asked.

“I would. I know I would. That’s part of what bothers me.”

“Yeah. It should. More regrets, please.”

“I didn’t think I was one of those people,” I said.

Those people?”

“The kind who put aside reality for hope.”

“Oh. People-people.

“Shut up.”

“What? I’m helping.”

“I’ve dated before. A lot, actually. This was maybe one of my shortest and most limited relationships. Probably the most dysfunctional, too. Maybe it doesn’t even qualify as a relationship, but it was by far the most meaningful.”

“Don’t say that,” she said. “You’re only a few weeks out and you’re still depressed.”

I slipped my arm in hers. “I’d do it again.”

“It had value.”

“It did.”

“That’s a good thing. A mistake worth making.”

“Several times.”

“Whoa. Easy now.”

The sky was overcast, but there was good visibility. On the beach we could see Mt. Rainier clearly in the distance, its white top vanishing into gray. Jen took my hand. She rested her head on my shoulder and I lowered my head to hers. We stared for a moment at this icon – so familiar to us, yet strange enough to always catch the eye.

#

Author’s Note: It was about a year ago Bond Huberman and I first talked about the possibility of me writing a serial for the new City Arts companion that would become Ampersand. Four months after that we talked about it seriously, sans alcohol. The crucial thing was that it be episodic – something that would hopefully get people coming back for more. The decisions to make it fiction or memoir, anonymous or not, came later. Bond wanted the main character to be someone like me: 20-something, gay, with a strong interest in the arts, and an active social life. These details had something to do with demographics. The first run would be 6 episodes and, if successful, they would comprise the first “season” of a recurring series. I settled on memoir thinking the stories would come easier if they were mostly real, and anonymous thinking it’d be less scary to publish them. 

A week before Christmas I was working on part 4 when Bond phoned to say she was leaving City Arts. She left the decision about the future of the series up to me. Part 3 could be the last or, with her help, I could finish the 6-episode run we’d negotiated, after which I could explore continuing the story with a new editor. I decided to finish the run. It may be cocky or naïve of me, but I didn’t think I’d be comfortable working on this project with anyone other than a close friend, and Bond was exceptional. Her feedback and encouragement were a bigger part of the series than you can possibly know. Plus there were those two times she took me out to eat.

I’m sorry to leave you here and to have this be the end of the story. The year that followed these events was an incredible, formative, happy period in my life, and I was looking forward to writing about it here. I wish I could have done more as an author to promote this feature and publicize Ampersand, but the veil suits me, and I’m not eager to give it up. To those who took the time to read this series, thank you. I’ve enjoyed fantasizing about your existence. If the series found its way into your heart, I am gratified beyond words. I hope that you enjoyed it. If you found it depressing, then I hope there was something sublime in that depression. If you found there was nothing sublime, join me now in Google-image searching “puppies.” Puppies never disappoint.

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