Wednesday, March 14, 2012

[ BtS ] Your Arms

By all rights, the beginning to my chapter in Boston should have sounded like a dream coming true. I took a practically blind leap and landed in Boston. Within just a few months I secured a pretty sweet apartment (with an awesome roommate), a $40k job, and was living it up making new friends and carousing around the city almost every weekend.

I mean 40,000 smackers a year. Just for perspective: that's what my parents bought our first house for. It was also about the same income my father - a school teacher - was making at the time after 20 years of working. Holy shit!

But of course there was stuff lurking under the image.

My last semester at Oberlin was a rather rough one. I had one particularly disastrous encounter with a professor and... well, let's just say that I left Oberlin feeling like there was not just a knife but rather a giant sword in my back.

And given that I'd just taken six years to get a mere bachelor's degree, I wasn't ready for another two to four for a Masters. I needed some time off school. Plus I didn't really know what to do next to further my career - if I still had one.

I needed some time off: time off from studying, from practicing, from dedication, from isolating myself away for hours. I needed some time to live.

On the flip side I'd spent most of those six years desperately seeking my "True Love" only to finally realize that I needed to be happy with me first. So here I was in Boston as a free man happy and determined to make it on his own.

Then enter a guy who turned my world a bit upside down... He'd come in town periodically for work, we'd get together, and I just had an amazing time. Smart, sexy, adventurous... It was very nice.

But this isn't a chapter about him. (Don't worry. He'll come back in later chapters.) No, the idea of taking things further wasn't on either of our minds. Strange as it may sound I was clearly too intent on being single to even begin to realize how much of an impact he had on my mind and heart.

It wasn't for another several months until some encounters at a gay weekend caused me to start re-thinking things. No, I wasn't about to become some neurotic, love-desperate foolish thing. I just started to re-evaluate my stance on me and dating.

Was I being a fool for not taking opportunities? Were there not some advantages and benefits to dating? Was I being short-sighted in my determinedly-singleness somehow?

So enter a man who would later become The Ex. (Capitals necessary!)

It was a quiet midwinter night. (And yes, this was Boston - a VERY COLD midwinter night.) I went out to my bar of choice - the Ramrod - to partake in a pool tournament and meet people and relax in a different setting. Less cruise/sex, more camaraderie and competition.

I was wearing a leather biker jacket which I'd recently acquired (in a Philadelphia bar that years later would become my home bar: the Bike Stop). I remember because this burly guy with a shaved head, a goatee, some scars, and wicked-thick Boston accent took it as an invitation to chat - asking me if I rode.

I didn't. In fact I didn't even have a driver's license at the time. But it was a convenient starter for conversation.

There was clearly some sort of curiosity/sexual tension going on. And, at the end of the night, he offered to drive me home. I accepted but with some hesitation.

He was aggressive - not in a menacing way, but in a domineering sort of way that both intrigued me and yet concerned me. The conversation turned from pool and various other things to a decidedly sexual direction. The snow had begun to fall in thick flakes and I remember a part of my brain thinking, as he took me on this long-and-unknown-to-me route back to my apartment in Somerville, that for all I knew he was about to stop the car in some back alley and rape me.

Yes, this is the beginning of a good story, isn't it.

Nothing happened, however. We exchanged numbers and he dropped me off safe and sound with but a mere hint of sexual "indiscretion". Something stuck with me, though, and a few days later I found myself dialing his number and suggesting some further time together.

The next eighteen months became... well, an interesting lesson on the roller-coaster of interpersonal drama. He could be selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. I was neurotic and a mess. A perfect match.

Oh he wasn't all evil; he had some good qualities. He also had this one hint of humanity that just shot straight to the achilles heel of my martyr complex.

At fourteen years my senior, he'd had a partner for fourteen years who died very suddenly from an aneurysm. They'd been together since they were both about 21 - each other's first loves. They'd had just about everything a gay couple could have - a house, pets (kids). Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, one half was gone: no goodbyes, no "I love you"s, nothing.

This happened a few years before we met. He'd already been through a few short-lived and self-destructed relationship in that interim.

John, The Ex's lover, was an interesting presence. Only a couple times did I ever feel like my Ex really directly compared us (or forgot that I was NOT John). He was that far along in the grieving process. But John's ghost - his memories - did linger: a lot of projects had yet to be completed, some belongings still remained, etc.

I was respectful of this, of course. It's not like I could tell someone I was growing to care about to just rip a third of his life from his memories. In my own way I actually cherished some of it, too. At one point, when I realized that I did truly love the man, I made a silent promise to John that I'd watch over him and take care of him in John's absence.

I'm not sure why we lasted as long as we did. We certainly weren't great for each other. I think my naivety and stubbornness combined with some other random life events (we spent a good chunk of that time rebuilding his kitchen) delayed the inevitable. Regardless I remember taking a vacation without him - our relationship problems were just getting too much. When I got back, he came over and put an end to things.

"It's just not the same," he said, in tears.

Now at this point in my life a lot of things were still new to me. I really hadn't suffered death much - it just wasn't that immediate for me. Aside from a few acquaintances passing away, I'd only lost my grandmother on my dad's side - with whom I was never terribly close - some years prior. (My grandfather, her husband, actually died a couple months after this break-up.)

But now so many things started to become more tangible. Pain, loss, heartbreak... It was insanely overwhelming. The gruesome image of a loved one much decayed entered my brain and I realized the utter horror of that reality.

The common saying is that, "pain shared is pain halved." But in this case pain touched pain and it exploded inside my head. For all that mattered it might as well have been my own love who was now rotting in the ground...

At one point I demanded that my Ex (who was now officially an ex) take me to his lover's grave. He'd been interred with in my Ex's family's plot. I think I had strange notion that it would somehow ... I don't know... confront my Ex about his issues? Whatever it was, I don't think it did what I wanted it to do.

But the deeper reason, for myself that is, was that I needed to admit to John that I'd failed - I'd failed my promise to be the person that could take care of my Ex and spend the rest of our lives together.