Less Than Butterflies, No. 29
And now we’ve arrived at the third act — the part of the story that’s supposed to carry us home by noble steed into the sunset.
Inevitably … it will not.
“So you wrote about me?” Ricky asked me as he struggled with great futility to get the tire lock off of his car.
My lies immediately kicked in and took over not only my words, but my facial expressions and my body language. I was good at that. When confronted with some truth I was not ready to acknowledge — at least not to another — I was fully capable of playing the fool and lying. After all, I’d grown accustomed to denying all my real feelings. And that’s just where this story had landed me. As per the usual, in my feelings.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him, eyes narrowed and nose a bit wrinkled.
He didn’t break his gaze — in his subtle yet undeniable determination, Ricky was going to get the truth out of me.
… or so he thought.
“I’m ‘Ricky’ in Less Than Butterflies. Right?”
Ha. Aha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
It wasn’t going to be that easy.
Act III, ladies and gentlemen.
As per the usual, gay culture was ruining my fucking life. Gay culture, at least in the macro, is supposed to be about tolerance and acceptance and the ability to feel like you belong somewhere when the world has turned you away over-and-over again because of who you are. But gay culture is also a pastiche of incongruities — lines that do not run parallel to one another and that intersect and continue on rather than running a course together. After all, if you aren’t fit, traditionally beautiful, and ready to pop a fan and dance after brunch at the Rosemont, you aren’t in the club. You have to look a certain way, you have to behave a certain way, and you have to think a certain way. The time when queer people were known for their taste and flair has gone. We’ve bitten so deep into the apple of our ability to make uncool things cool that we’ve accidentally eaten the core, chewed, and spit back out exclusivity in its place.
Gay culture is a lot of good things; it’s knowing how to make a family out of friends; it’s understanding that there is beauty in things that others might not at first notice; it’s doing things to spite social norms and cues. But it’s also a lot of bad things; it’s not getting noticed so long as there’s some cuter, younger, vapid twink standing beside you at the bar; it’s not being sure whether someone likes you, or whether you’re just a friend; it’s thinking that you’ve evolved past gay culture, only to more subtly perpetuate its bad behaviors.
Enter literally every single man I’ve written about in this column.
“This is my friend, Anthony,” drag queen extraordinaire Ondi introduced me to a stranger. “We both love white men who emotionally abuse us.”
I nodded to the white stranger and extended a hand to shake. “Especially circumcised ones, or Jews.” As most men do when I’m talking, the stranger only nodded his head and walked away. Ondi followed after him.
“You need to stop falling in love with your friends,” my friend Cooper told me.
“Who?!” I asked, honestly shocked. “Ondi?”
“No, not Ondi, you imbecile,” he snapped. “Ricky.” I looked around the patio to make sure Ricky wasn’t around. We were perched atop a picnic table outside of some dive bar where we’d gone to see Ondi in one of Beck’s performance art drag shows. Beck’s shows were always a breath of fresh air from normal drag shows in Houston, because they incorporated drag queens who strayed from the type of drag most of us got used to seeing on stage at Rich’s or Hamburger Mary’s. Ondi was known for being a bit aberrant in her drag because she was a bit more artistic than a lot of other drag queens, but nevertheless a hell of a queen to watch. Currently, she was standing in line for tacos between shows and taking a selfie like the true garbage fire that she was.
“I’M NOT FALLING IN LOVE WITH ANYONE!” I unnecessarily shouted over my shoulder as I snapped a photo of Ondi taking a picture of herself. “Oh, she’s gonna hate this picture,” I said as I uploaded the photo of Ondi to Snapchat. “It’s perfect.” Ondi and I had been in a longstanding feud ever since I stole her phone at a party and updated her Facebook status to say, “I’m in a feud with Anthony Ramirez,” because I was bored.
Ricky, whom Cooper was referring to, was another friend of ours that he’d once slept with and whom I’d been spending a great deal of my time with over the last several weeks. Therein laid the trickiness of it: Ricky and I had been hanging out … and we’d been hanging out a lot. To the point where other men were sending me text messages asking who this Ricky person was. Suffice it to say, they weren’t entirely sure I was being honest when I’d reply to them something dismissive and flippant like, “Lol. A friend of mine.”
And he was! That’s all he was! He was just a friend. But that was another issue with gay culture: two men couldn’t be friends and not be sleeping together. And as much as I’d have liked to have proven that stigma to be wrong … I had to be honest enough with myself to say that, in fact, I did have a bad habit of developing feelings for my friends. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t happening just a little bit with Ricky, too. It’s a stupid thing to let happen, you know. After all, time-and-time again I’ve fallen into this downward circle of getting close to someone and not being able to segregate friendly feelings from romantic ones. I could psychoanalyze this all right now, but what would be the point, really? After all, I’ve been doing that over the course of this entire series and clearly to no avail. But the fact of the matter was that I was not falling in love with Ricky. Having feelings was one thing — it was too early to even really tell what those feelings were. Falling in love with someone I couldn’t have … I’d been there, all to recently, even. I wasn’t ready to do that again. Besides, I was having fun, and Ricky was a nice enough guy to be friends with. I needed to let that be enough for right now.
I had to.
Let us harken back to Ezra, my wonderful, asexual friend whom I also fell in love with. That was awkward. Months and months had gone by with me pining over someone I realistically knew that I couldn’t ever have. And then there was Peter — the man-turned-emotional affair that I let turn my life upside down and inside out who had also started out as just my friend. To be honest, most of my relationships and my not-relationships started off that way. And I’m sorry, but that isn’t exactly my fault. It’s gay culture, dummies. Gay culture sets us up to not have any sort of social cues about dating and lays carpet over the line that separates it from friendships. It doesn’t help that most gay people sleep with their other gay people friends. It’s gross and highly unhealthy, I know. But that doesn’t make it any less true. So what do we do? We meet new people and we spend time with them; then we flirtatiously hold hands or steal cheek kisses or snuggle up next to one another watching movies and drinking cheap Trader Joe’s wine and inevitably we find ourselves sad and lonely over some other guy who’s broken our hearts until we fall into the arms (and assholes) of our friends.
I could see Ricky quite clearly — who he was he presented to people without hesitation, but also without apology. He was cute, and he was smart, and he came with a lot of passion, the likes of which I hadn’t met in a person in a very long time. He was insightful and observant, someone who watched others and picked out clumps of coal before dusting them off into diamonds. It was something remarkable, really. Few people had that kind of foresight. He was definitely someone I was eager to get to know upon meeting him, someone I could tell needed people who wanted to get to know him. He was friendly, he was kind, and he would break my heart if I wasn’t careful.
He would break my heart if I wasn’t careful.
I turned back to Cooper. “You’re so stupid. You don’t know anything.”
“Anthony,” Cooper said as he pulled a joint out of his backpack, lit it, took a hit, and then passed it to me. Apparently everyone was just smoking weed everywhere since the City of Houston had made it less illegal to be caught with small amounts. Burn away the evidence, why don’t we? So, I took a hit, too. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, smoke their weed. “I love you, but you are way better than Peter,” he said. Peter, Peter, Peter. How the fuck was I supposed to really get closure and move on from that guy if my friends kept bringing him up? Cooper was right, though — I was so much better than that guy. “Just like when Justin and I broke up and you said that I was better than him.”
I exhaled and hacked up a lung due to the enormous hit I’d just taken off the joint. “Yeah, but …” I choked. “I didn’t mean it when I said it to you.” More coughing. “That’s just what you say to someone after a breakup.”
“Wow,” he said as he snatched his joint back away from me. “Why are you such a fucking pendeja?”
“Yo no se, bitch,” I told him as I downed the remainder of my mezcal margarita. “But I appreciate you saying that, and it’s very sweet. I just know that this thing with Ricky is not the same as the thing with Peter. First of all, I’m not in love with Ricky. I barely know him.”
“You’ve been together almost every single day since you met,” he added.
“Secondly,” I snapped, “I’m doing exactly the thing with Ricky that I said I was doing when we discussed this last week and that I didn’t do with Peter.”
“That was a really confusing sentence. What thing are you doing? … Or … not doing?”
I looked up and found Ondi prancing back from the taco line with a boat full of Mexican food in her beach ball-inspired, Katy Perry-esque outfit and blonde wig. She honestly gave all of us Latinas a bad name.
I turned back to Cooper as Ondi as the smell of Ondi or her food nauseated me. “I’m just riding it out to see where it goes.”
Ondi shoved a giant taco in her mouth and then said through a mouthful of food, “You’re always riding something.”
As per the usual — or at least as of late — I was stuck in my own head trying not to have a feeling, all while pretending not to be hungry because I didn’t want anyone to notice I’d gained like 6 pounds in the last two weeks. The latter really is a separate issue for later.
I looked over at Ricky as he talked and my own thoughts drowned out his words.
Do I have a crush on him?
I was trying my very hardest to listen to whatever story it was that Ricky was telling me about his day at work. He’d been a financial consultant — whatever the fuck that meant — since college and he literally never stopped talking about it.
In addition to the dulling of his voice thanks to my own inner-monologue, I also couldn’t get Cooper’s voice out of my head telling me not to be such a dumb bitch and to stop falling in love with every man that pranced in and out of my life. It felt mildly racist coming from a white man, to be honest; but I was willing to overlook that part. It wouldn’t be so bothersome if it were not for the fact that I actually wasn’t falling in love with anyone. But now the idea was stuck in my stupid fucking brain, and I was beginning to doubt all my certainties that I’d pre-established before Cooper had gone and opened his stupid fucking mouth.
God, I hate him.
He is very attractive. That actually may be the part that spoils all of this. I hated to think that way, but it was true. Even if it turned out that I was crushing on Ricky, he was waaaaay out of my league. Grown-up and outside of the gay scene more now, Ricky had seemed to evolved of twinkdom, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that superficiality or vapidness might still remain that hadn’t evaporated with the bulk of it. Even a little bit would be too much.
But do I like him? These were two separate questions. He was, after all, very smart as well. And driven. And passionate. These were things I wasn’t used to seeing in the men around me — specifically not the ones for which I developed feelings.
“What do you wanna do?” he asked as we drove around the city aimlessly. Maybe he’d finally caught onto the fact that I hadn’t been listening to him. I wish I’d been paying at least some attention so that I’d have some springboard from which to jump. But nooooo. I had to go harping on internally and psychotically about whether or not I might like him. Factor into that Cooper’s dumb voice ringing in the background telling me not to fall in love with Ricky, who I’d otherwise had no plans of falling in love with, and you’d find that I was beginning to suffer a migraine.
WHY ARE MY FRIENDS CONSTANTLY RUINING MY LIFE?!
“I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s 80-degrees outside in the middle of January,” I told him. “Think there are any water parks open?”
I think a part of why I was stressing about all of this had less to do with whether or not I was going to end up falling for Ricky and more to do with the fact that I wanted to know what he thought was going on between us. Truth be told, and if my track record had anything to show worth proving, he probably didn’t think anything of it other than the fact that we were two people hanging out and having a good time together. After all, that’s all I really ever was to anyone, wasn’t it? Friendship after friendship, relationship after relationship, I was constantly being pigeonholed to “friend” before things ever got to serious. It happened with Ezra — granted, he was an asexual, aromantic — and it happened with Peter. It even happened with my last truly serious boyfriend, Parker, when he told me he didn’t think I was marriage material — only for me to find out he was engaged to someone else a short six months later. These were just the more recent examples! It had happened with everyone else in between, before, and probably still would after.
It kind of sucked, y’all. I was smart and funny. I had lots of wisdom to impart and wit to interject. But I also had a taste for men who wanted to treat me like shit all of the time and who seemed incapable of reciprocating my feelings. Wasn’t that telling? Here I was at a huge crux in my life, a place where I had come out of something truly terrible; now was the time for me to decide how I was going to proceed with relationships for the rest of my life so that I didn’t have to put myself through what I’d gone through with Peter with anyone else ever again. And for fuck’s sake, I really was not up for an existential crisis that day while sitting next to someone I barely knew. So, yeah, I’d say it was pretty telling. The only thing that had ever been more telling about me than that was the time I’d accidentally spilled my messenger bag all over the floor of Starbucks and revealed to a Tinder date that I was actually 10lbs heavier than I was.
I don’t remember what we ended up doing that day. We probably got drunk or high or something. What I do remember were the little things that happened. I remember the stolen glances; the smiles and whats that followed. I remember how he’d kissed my cheek when he dropped me off at my car and I’d waited until he’d pulled out of the parking lot to go inside the bar where it’d been parked. I remember a few weekends before when we’d been sleeping on a pull-out on vacation and he’d farted in the middle of the night, woke up long enough to giggle, then rolled over to go back to sleep and how hard I’d laughed at that. I remember how stuck my mouth felt in a stupid, slight gape when he’d talked about other boys — how my face got splotchy and red and my mouth went dry because the pang of jealousy in my stomach had paralyzed me. I remember the feelings that I, in fact, was having. Moreover, I recognized them. I recognized them as the early stages of starting to really like someone. But what I remember most, is wishing I’d just said something; but letting my Hard Cocks School of Gay Culture tell me that I probably shouldn’t — that I should just ride it out.
I was growing so tired of riding things out.