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Hoodrat Shit with My Friends: Dallas

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 14, Pt. I

“Maybe we can be each other’s soul mates and then we can let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with.”

—Carrie Bradshaw

Even when you haven’t technically been dating someone — or, in my case, not even technically not technically dating someone — there are tumultuous events that can carry the same weight as a break-up would when things go south. With someone you’ve fallen for without dating, it can be the pitfall of unrequited love. To go a step further, it could also be the horrifying realization that it isn’t just that they don’t love you, but that there was some smudged dishonesty in their reasoning for this and that they never will love you because there may be something wrong with you. If it’s a platonic friendship ruined by a silly argument or maybe even something that hurt in a more meaningful way — a betrayal of some sort — the emotion and the heartbreak can be just as bad simply due to the fact that you’d invested so much love and so much of yourself into that person and into your friendship.

And like so many lovelorn gay boys before me, I had landed somewhere in the Venn Diagram-esque middle of that Unholy Trinity of scenarios. But inline with the type of person that I was, when others asked me why they’d caught me staring off into space while they lamented on about their workplace woes or family affairs, I only answered by telling them I was distracted. When I’d get drunk and post a glib, although always pointed, Facebook status and wake up to text messages asking if I was okay the next morning, I was inclined only to ignore them or to reply that everything was fine. That was my schtick. I was the boy who could have the entire world falling apart around him — pipes bursting, stove aflame, and concave roof dripping drywall dust over my head — and still manage to use the fire to light a cigarette, assess the damage done around him, put it out with the water from the pipes and conclude to the world that I was fine.

Needless to say, I was not fine following the near-traumatic event I’d endeavored for my birthday and was showing no signs of getting any better any time soon. After I’d spent my time wallowing in bed, crying myself in and out of sleep and screaming at anyone who dared to muster up the nerve to enter my personal hell, I managed to go back to my normal, moderately productive adult life. Sure, I was back to writing and editing; I was meeting with business associates over posh work brunches at Baba Yega Café or candlelit ‘I-need-you-to-give-me-my-way’ work dinners at Boheme; I was showing my face at wine and art walks and social events that required my attention; I was sitting behind the DJ booth with my friends hosting shows at Guava Lamp; I was barking orders as politely as I could at my staff and working harder than I probably ever had in my life. But that was all when the sun was out and leaving me without a shadow in which to hide my self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. When the night fell, things were different.

I could be found at the Room Bar outside the Loop — my stomping grounds from long before I’d had any clout in Houston or even just Montrose — popping Molly and snorting coke between shots of Fireball. I was sitting in my friend Hope’s apartment, up until the sun rose again while tripping on acid as she rode the wave brought on by her mushroom high just so that things would at least appear to be a little prettier on the outside than they were on the inside. In Montrose, when I chose to show my face there, I left behind me a trail of 100-proof sweat as I drank from bar-to-bar, doing whatever and whoever I had to in order to not allow my mind to pay any attention to Ezra or the things he’d said to me. I was blowing money left-and-right that I really didn’t have to blow, forgetting to eat because of the acid or coke, and sleeping with men I knew I’d see out in public later, but would introduce myself to a second time as if we’d only just met. Even when I’d spend time home alone, it would be exhausted by drowning myself in entire bottles of tequila in a single night or smoking enough weed to make me comatose. When I’d run out of alcohol or if I didn’t feel like drinking alone, I would pop a 30mg Adderall and make drastic changes to my company’s website, make spontaneous additions to my staff, reply to emails in a flurry without stopping to check for grammatical or spelling errors, and then spend the entire next day sleeping off the amphetamine high. Sometimes I found that on those nights — when I was running around working like the Roadrunner cartoon — fitting a week’s worth of work into a single night could save me the trouble of having to explain why I’d gone MIA for the remainder of the week. It never did, though. In fact, it only left me with more questions to answer that would inevitably overwhelm me and shut me back down into a depression.

Needless to say, I was a mess and not dealing with my feelings or the traumas I’d undergone in a healthy way that might help me to move on. I wasn’t dealing with them in any way, to be honest. I refused to endure another day of the murderous heartbreak I’d felt that week I’d spent in bed. I refused to wonder who Ezra was spending time with or what it was about that person that was so much more impressive than I. In some sense, I knew. Certainly that man — whomever he may be, if there even was one — wasn’t destroying his body because he couldn’t accept the fact that he was not the product of someone else’s opinion of him. Surely he wasn’t drinking four bottles of wine and lamenting on Facebook about the love he’d lost or accidentally posting dirty Snapchat videos to his story on the app for the world to see (I’d meant to send them to Dylan, in my defense).

I’d never let myself properly bereave from Ezra the first time he’d rejected me, just a year before. When he’d kindly said he wasn’t ready to date because he didn’t know how long he’d be living in Houston. I let myself try to grow up and be his friend — an idea that worked well … until it didn’t. Even the second time, I’d not gone through the proper channels of grief and acceptance. He’d come out to me as an asexual, and I’d chosen to love and support him anyway, happy to get to be an important part of his life. And the last time, when he’d been tripping on Molly nearly a year after we’d met for the very first time and had told me that he was talking to some cute boy from Grindr he may or may not have a casual fuck with in his apartment a few days later, I’d finally lost my shit and broken into shards of human glass too small to pick back up with just your hands. Some might say that that made the third time the charm; some would find the opposite to be true.

I didn’t let myself think about it too much. I was too busy getting high, sleeping around, singing melancholy Adele tracks in transposed keys at karaoke without feeling the weight of the lyrics and melodies, and drinking my liver into a permanent shock from which it may never recover.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up making a spur-of-the-moment trip to Dallas, Texas, to see one of my dearest friends who had long-since moved away for work. This friend of mine I’d known since we were children and had risen to moderate fame right out of high school for his work in the PR industry promoting famous musicians. He’d moved to Nashville the day after graduation in the hopes of becoming the next Blake Shelton or Tim McGraw. But his passion for money dug much deeper than his passion for music, and by happy circumstance while opening for a show after some mild success, a country artist who shall remain nameless had noticed the crowd he’d drawn out. A week later, she’d asked him to work as her PR manager. For a while, he’d lived in Nashville, then New York, and then LA. He’d finally come back to Houston for a couple of years before transplanting himself to Dallas to be nearer to his on-again-off-again boyfriend, Charlie.

We’ll call this friend Sam, as he is the Samantha Jones of my friends and works in the same field. And just the day before, that same artist who’d given him his break (who was now only one of dozens Sam represented) was playing a show at the American Airlines center in Dallas, to which I was to attend with Sam. It worked out well, too, because the magazine was launching its Dallas branch and was having a launch party and drag benefit show at the Round-Up, one of Dallas’s most popular gay bars. I resolved to attend the concert with Sam before meeting up with some of our Dallas employees at the Round-Up to have a good time.

I parked at his high rise just a few blocks from the venue with a bag of coke tucked away in my sock. I entered fashionably late sporting one of our magazine’s new tank tops and a maroon throw I’d stolen from Gwen’s closet/museum of Lularoe accompanied by a pair of powder pink pants and a new pair of shoes. I ordered two small glasses of Cabernet at the bar, poured them both into one larger cup, did a bump in a stall of the bathroom, then joined Sam near the floor for the concert. There was little time for introductions to his other friends that had tagged along, as the concert began only moments after I arrived. And for hours, we sang at the top our lungs, danced like all the white people that didn’t make the cut for Footloose, and drank our asses off.

Leaving during the encore, we Lyfted over the Strip, which appeared to be Dallas’s version of Houston’s gayborhood, Montrose. It was a much more condensed area of town than Montrose — more like one long, single street than a full-blown neighborhood. Montrose, on the other hand, spanned a great deal of west side of Downtown Houston and around its southside going eastward. Still, the Strip seemed like a great deal of fun. Even on a Tuesday evening like the night I visited — as opposed to how it might have been in Montrose — the bars that were open were all exceptionally busy by the standards to which I was accustomed.

By the time we got to the Round-Up, the drag show was over and the attention around the spacious bar was mostly being paid to games of pool in the front room and lively conversation between twinks. Sam and I found our way outside to the two-story patio where we ran into Alex, the new managing editor of the magazine’s Dallas edition. He was About Dallas’s #1, and my trusty #2. We hugged Alex, who looked surprised to see Sam with me. While they knew each other vaguely from around Montrose, the two had never had any sort of companionship due only to the fact that the opportunity to become friends had never really arisen. All the while, Alex introduced me to the drag queens that had performed, locals from around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and a number of eclectic personalities I swore I wouldn’t be able to forget, despite the fact that I was already a bit drunk. Each of them treated me as if they’d all heard of me before, even if they hadn’t. They asked questions about the magazine, how to get involved, and how impressed they were with how successful I’d become to be as young as I was. It was a nice feeling. It reminded me that even if there was a man back in Houston that was neither ever that impressed by me nor that showed me the affection I’d longed for so many nights before, there were still people who held me in high regard — complete strangers.

Sam and Alex got off on a tangent about how Sam could help better promote About Dallas, and I receded into the bar to grab us all drinks and shots. We clinked glasses and toasted to friends new and old before walking to the upper level to drink and celebrate Alex’s successful event and the mark we all seemed to be making in Dallas, as new as each of us was there.

Soon, it came time for Sam to return home. Unlike Alex and I, who were now our own bosses, he had to be up earlier in the morning to deal with his goldmine of famous clients. He did, however, agree to make a special trip down to Houston that weekend to see his family. So I summoned a Lyft for Sam while Alex and I found ourselves bar-hopping up and down the Strip. As we traveled up and down it, I noticed right off the bat that there were two familiar-looking bars. The first of which was our first destination, the Mining Company; the latter would be our final stop of the night, JR’s. They seemed to be almost counterparts of the JR’s in Montrose and the Mining Company that had once existed across the street from our JR’s, as well. It took some explaining, but what I soon learned was that at one point when I was still too young to enjoy the wonders of alcohol and good pop music remixes, the same person who’d owned the Houston bars of the same names had also owned those in Dallas. It was unclear as to when the separation had taken place, but I found it somewhat endearing and suddenly felt much more at home.

Alex continued to introduce me to his new friends at Mining Company. Some offered to buy me drinks and asked about writing for the magazine, questions I deferred to the managing editor of the Dallas branch. It was his call now, after all. For hours we sat outside talking about Alex’s ambitious yet attainable dreams for the Dallas edition of About. All the while, I took mental notes and agreed with all of his good ideas. Still I couldn’t help but look around at the numerous people who had done quite a bit of talking to purvey themselves to me. As I stared at them, then back to Alex as he went on about his ideas, I couldn’t help but admire him a great deal. We hadn’t always had a great relationship, especially so when I’d first taken over the magazine. But all that seemed like a distant dream now as we sat laughing and sharing our experiences and hopes. Here was someone who had already been a face known well around Montrose that — for whatever reason — had come to a brand new city and rebranded himself as a completely different person. A boss, even. He’d stepped one foot into this new world and made the community make room for him. He hadn’t taken no for an answer. He’d left behind all that was good and all that was in the only world he’d really ever known and had become someone even more respectable than before in a place where he’d have to start over.

It wasn’t just impressive to me, but inspiring. However, more than that, it set my mind into motion about my own predicaments back in Houston. Sure, there I had more acquaintances than I could count on all my hands and toes tenfold, and a small group of friends I couldn’t imagine my life without. Still, there in my native city existed a dim spotlight that managed to catch me no matter where I was or what I was doing. It reminded me that even in a city where most of the gays knew and liked me, there was still someone I’d never be able to win over the way I wanted to. And I knew that the conductor of that spotlight had never intended to do anything like that to me. I knew that he wouldn’t actually ever hurt me on purpose if it was able to be avoided. But that didn’t mean that it hadn’t happened.

As I sat there trying to sober at JR’s with Alex before my impending four-hour trek back to Houston, we’d nearly run out of things to talk about over the last four hours. So, he asked me the one question neither of us had really thought to ask the other, maybe just because we believed that everything we saw on the surface was to be accepted as finite truth.

“So, how are you doing?” he asked me while we smoked what was left of my Marlboro Lights on the patio of JR’s.

The question caught me a bit off-guard. I was used to being asked that question by my friends that I saw nearly every single day and who had at least an inkling as to what had been going on in my personal life. But to hear it from someone I knew mostly as a work friend was a bit disconcerting. I could tell that he genuinely wanted to know and may have also been concerned even if he was unsure as to why. Still, it didn’t make the question any less painful to answer — certainly not so honestly.

“I’m fine,” I told him with that same placid, inauthentic smile I’d been practicing over the last few weeks — years, really. “Everything is great. Work is going well, I’m enjoying being single, and I get to do fun hoodrat shit like this with my friends in my spare time.”

Even in his tipsiness, I think that Alex could see right through my bullshit. But I wouldn’t dignify any further questions with a response. I knew he asked from a caring place; but I wasn’t a person strong enough to answer these sorts of questions honestly. Then again, I also wasn’t a person quite ready to be vulnerable with anyone on a real level. I was just the boy wondering if I should pack my bags and run in the night to Dallas or Austin, or maybe even further — Manhattan or West Hollywood. I was the internalizing caretaker of others — Mother Earth whose magma in her core boiling a bit hotter than she was willing to let anyone see. But Alex accepted my response without further inquiry.

And rather than spend the four hours driving home doing some honest meditating and introspective reflection about whether or not I could continue to exist in a city where someone who couldn’t love me also existed, I resolved to just do another bump of coke to keep me awake a little bit longer.

Continue to Part II

It’s My Party & I’ll Cry If I Want To

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 13

“I’ve done the merry-go-round. I’ve been through the revolving door. I feel like I’ve met somebody I can stand still with for a minute and … Don’t you wanna stand still with me?”

—Carrie Bradshaw


One might be privy to believe that after chasing the same man around-and-around in circles for a year, being rejected by him not once, but twice, finding out he is not only asexual, but also aromantic (a then-new term to me), and bearing my soul to him on a very-public forum, I might be tired and heartbroken and over it. Well … I am tired. Exhausted, actually. And I am over it, please believe me when I say that. And, last but not least, my heart is broken. All that “time heals all wounds” bullshit is just that … bullshit.

So, yeah. Tired? Check. Over it? Check. Heartbroken? Quadruple check. Done? … apparently not.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds, you know. Saying I am moving on and actually moving on are two very, very different things. As much as I wanted to, I was trapped by the knowledge that for the first time in my adult life, I’d actually met one of the good guys. Like … one of the really good guys. One of the guys who doesn’t get upset with you over trivial matters; one of the guys who doesn’t make a big deal out of it when you have to cancel plans; one of the guys who knows about your (very sordid) sexual history and isn’t judgmental; one of the guys who isn’t rude to you and doesn’t put you down (even if he doesn’t always think about what’s coming out of his mouth before he says it); one of the guys who isn’t spending time with you because of some ulterior motive and genuinely just enjoys your company.

That’s right. I’d found him. That one in a million. And his name was Ezra Rochester (it’s a ridiculous name, I know. But try to stay with me here).

Only, as stupidly deep as I’d fallen for him, Ezra’s love for me extended only as far as … well … friendship.

Whomp, whomp, whomp.

I know. It sucked. Hell, it still sucks. But, to his credit, after an emotional and regretfully public admission of my own love for him, Ezra had come out of the closet for the second time in his life. This time not as a gay man. No, no. He’d done that before many years ago (Ezra’s actually four years older than me, and, by default, kind of a crotchety old man who is set in his ways). This time he’d come out as something I, at the time, didn’t understand people had to come out as:

Asexual.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the hits really do just keep on coming. So, as you can imagine, there’s more. An extension of Ezra’s unfortunate (in my case) asexuality was that he was something else, as well—something I’d really never heard of before he’d told me:

Aromantic.

Yeah. So, now you’re all caught up. Cliff’s Notes version: Anthony Ramirez is a sad, lonely nymphomaniac who uses sex and alcohol to mask his actual feelings for someone who is actually incapable of falling in love with him back.

What a fucking shit show.

But, honestly, for a short time I didn’t feel that way about it. I was happy for Ezra. He’d finally come to grips with something he’d been trying to figure out about himself his entire adult life—longer even, probably. And it couldn’t have been such an easy thing to do. As the LGBTQIA community continuously is in divided on whether or not asexual and aromantic are even identifiers that should be recognized in our acronym (they are, mind you; these people matter just as much as everyone else), being something that may not be accepted by a community you already belong to has to be a bit scary. Although, if Ezra was content and finally accepting of who he was on a larger scale than just being gay or straight or otherwise, then I had conceded to be content for him. In fact, I’d even come to a place where I was able to stop crying over the fact that there may be something totally unlovable about me and realize that it wasn’t about me at all. In that moment, I was finally able to accept that maybe, just maybe, it was just as fulfilling to be one of the most important people in his life—a friend that he cherished in the highest regard, considering that there wasn’t going to be anything else romantically that he’d ever really be able to have.

Sigh.

But like all moments, that moment was … well … fleeting. And while I’d love to chalk it all up to my own crazy and irrational emotions just getting the better of me, I can pretty much certainly say that for once my histrionic reaction was justified.

That’s right, folks. The man I’d been boasting as “one of the good guys” to everyone I’d ever mentioned him to, even if he wasn’t necessarily my good guy, kind of fucked up … in a big way.


The date was April the 21st, and it was the day before my 24th birthday. To celebrate, my friends Max, Karlee, Alice, and the man of the hour himself, Ezra Rochester, were kidnapping me for a not-so-surprise trip to Austin for a day where we could day-drink and worry about absolutely nothing.

I was thrilled by the idea. It had been quite a long time since I’d been on a day trip that wasn’t for work, and the idea of not having to pay for any of my meals, drinks, or activities was nothing short of appealing to me. Better yet, getting a little alone time with my friends, especially Max and Karlee whom I didn’t often see, was going to be fun. There was, however, the awkward incident of Ezra and I wearing nearly identical outfits that day, which I guess was mostly my fault. I had, after all, accompanied him on a shopping spree the weekend before and helped him pick out a new wardrobe that included jeans that fit and shirts without words or superhero logos across the chest. In fact, we’d gotten him a lot of nice new clothes, and to be frank, when he wore them, he was hot. (Keep this shopping spree thing in mind. It will come back up later). 

Regardless, as soon as we got in the car and stopped at the gas station, I pulled a tiny plastic bag from inside my Louis Vuitton wallet and my car keys out of my pocket so that I could do a bump of coke. I’d been up late working the night before and then couldn’t sleep much after that from all the excitement. If I was going to be awake and alert enough to really enjoy the day, I was going to need the uppers. Max and Karlee both disapproved of my backseat drug use, while neither Alice nor Ezra really batted an eye. Alice had grown so used to my bad behavior that she was almost completely unfazed by anything I did; and Ezra wasn’t going to judge me when he’d already agreed to do Molly with me at the day’s close, which I’d already tucked away safely in my bag.

The next several hours were spent driving to Austin from Houston, listening to whatever playlist Max had selected on her Apple Music, while we avoided any restroom stop that might pose danger to two gay men and three people of color.

Arriving in Austin, the weather was a bit dreary, which served fine for me, as I preferred rainy weather to the typical heat of the early Texas summer. We hit up lunch at Uncle Julio’s, had prosecco mimosas at Max’s Wine Dive, narrowly managed to escape one of the challenges at the Austin Panic Room, went on a temporary tangent about stalking out Tiffany Haddish who was in town doing stand-up, and resigned to Gloria’s for more alcohol. At the end of it all, most of us were slightly inebriated—save for Max who kept her faculties about her so that she could make the three-hour drive home—and I noticed that my friends were all getting along cohesively.

I’d been concerned about this initially, you see, because that did not always turn out to be the case. Karlee—who was one of my oldest friends since we’d been freshman in high school, much like Alice—didn’t always like my newer friends … often rightfully so. She had met Max their first semester at the University of Houston where the two instantly hit it off over their love and adoration for Demi Lovato. Karlee had brought Max to meet me at my Halloween book signing back in 2014 when my second novel had been released. A few days later, Max and I began spending time together. I’m not sure why it happened, but I could tell then that Max—who was new to Houston—needed friends in this new city where she knew few people, and I wanted to make Karlee feel like we were accepting Max as if she’d been our friend all along. And it worked out, too, because Max and I got super closer super quickly. She and I turned out to have a lot of things in common—even a boy, once, but we’ll save that story for another column. And while the friendship outside of our relationship with Karlee did tend to irk Karlee to her core at times, it turned out to be a really great thing for all of us.

Still, Karlee (and now Max) could be a bit overprotective when it came to who we all befriended outside of each other … especially so when that person happened to be a man. We’d all been fucked over by men in the past, and we’d all watched each other have our hearts broken at one point or another. Both these women knew that Ezra was just as much a character archetype in my story as all the men before him. They’d heard me gushing over him after we’d first met, had heard the stories of all the not-dates we’d been on, and even saw me give up on the idea of a relationship with him, only to fall for him again later. They’d witnessed my grand gesture letting him know that I had feelings for him I wanted to pursue if he did, and they’d also watched the aftermath when he’d revealed his asexuality and his lack of romanticism for me.

And that’s why it meant so much to me that they were getting along. Outside of Max’s Wine Dive, while Ezra was inside using the restroom, Max turned to me and exclaimed, “Omigod. He is so handsome.”

“He is,” I agreed with a half-smile, staring at the hollows in my cheeks beneath their bones. I’d been losing a little weight as of late—probably in part to do with the cocaine, but also from a supreme lack of sleep and regular meal intake. I saw my own smile saying something to me. It was hard to tell exactly what it was saying, but it was hopeful, happy somehow.

“He’s much cuter than he is in photos,” Karlee agreed. “Like … his profile picture doesn’t look like him at all.”

“He’s had Lasik since then,” I informed them.

“I think he’s just one of those people who doesn’t know their angles,” Max added. I chuckled and shrugged.

“I really like him,” Karlee told me with one of her hard-to-come-by approving smiles.

I looked back at my reflection, a bit saddened by the fact that I’d finally found one of the good guys that my friends actually approved of, only to have to acquiesce to the fact that we’d never be anything more than friends. “I do, too,” I agreed as Ezra came out the door.

After leaving Gloria’s and stealing a fantastic parking spot on the street from some stranger by standing in it so that she couldn’t take it, the entire group of us wandered into a CVS, bought a giant box of Franzia, and made our way down to Zilker Park on the south side of Austin. Along the way, I pulled the bag containing the Molly out of my pocket, handed one to Ezra, smiled, and said, “Happy birthday to me.”

We popped the capsules into our mouths and swigged down giant chugs of water—which probably wasn’t a bad idea considering that we’d been drinking alcohol all day without intermission. We drove to the park, windows down and blaring hip hop loudly through the city as Max drove recklessly through Austin’s streets. It was the most Houstonian thing we’d done since being out of Houston, save for stealing the parking spot. And though the Molly hadn’t hit yet, I was feeling amazing. I had the good fortune of spending my birthday weekend with some of the people I loved most in the world, and those who loved me most in the world, day-drinking and solving riddles in an escape room. We’d laughed so much that my cheeks hurt, drank until we were speaking in cursive, and ate delicious food at one of my favorite restaurants in the entire state of Texas. But most important, and the thing I knew Karlee and Max had been thinking of when they’d planned this surprise, was that I’d escaped not only the city, but the problems that existed there for me at work, with Pride Houston, and in my personal life. For that one day, I wasn’t Anthony Ramirez the volunteer coordinator, or Anthony Ramirez the editor-in-chief, or Anthony Ramirez the man who drinks and makes jokes instead of coping with things.

I just got to be Anthony, or … Markus, my legal first name by which Karlee and Max took to affectionately calling me. That was a nice feeling. But as the Molly sunk in, as we sang with the cast of Rent to “Seasons of Love” on the grass in the park, as the conversation turned to boys and sex, my stomach began to tighten some; the goodness wasn’t where it had been earlier. In fact, I was starting to feel it less-and-less as the minutes ticked by.

“Oh, yeah,” Ezra said at one point. “This stuff is good. Way better than last time,” he said of the drugs. “My vision just blurred.”

I chuckled while Max went on to talk about the cute Asian guy from the escape room.

“He was cute,” Alice agreed.

“Oh, yeah,” Ezra added. “I would’ve fucked the shit out of him.”

I swear to God I think my face slid right off of my skull.

In wanting to take Molly and wanting Ezra to do it with me so I wouldn’t be rolling by myself, it hadn’t occurred to me that the drugs might make the asexual wonder feel a little … well … sexual.

In an effort to divert from the topic, I turned the music up, then stuck my phone down inside a Solo cup to amplify the sound. Apparently between five Millennials, not one of us had thought to bring a portable speaker. A moment later, Sam Smith played and Max made a comment about how good looking the pop singer was. I made mention that I didn’t find him all that attractive.

“I thought you loved him,” Ezra commented.

“As a vocalist and a songwriter, yeah; but I’m not attracted to him,” I added. Although what I was telling Ezra and the others was true, I typically made a point of not talking about boys in front of Ezra, even silly celebrity crushes that would never be more than that. I’d done it in the past, before I’d ever been truly frank with him about how I felt about him. Back then, my friend Gwen had warned me that doing so might make him take me less seriously as a potential partner, and since then I’d made a point of not striking those sorts of conversations. For one, and regardless of his own feelings, I never wanted Ezra to think that my feelings for him were somehow on par with the little glee I got from the other men in my life or the ones I had sex with. I was sure even then that it probably wouldn’t matter to him whether or not I was vocal about my own sexual escapades and short-lived romances. But there was another part of it that was simply that I secretly didn’t want to warrant him talking about other men. I was, and always have been, a jealous creature, and one whose feelings are easily injured. Had it been Taylor Kyle or Jeremy or Stephen or Dylan or any of the other men I’d crushed on or slept with, I probably wouldn’t be so careful. Those feelings never really ran quite as deep as these did.

After sitting quietly and singing along to the music, darkness fell over the park, and everyone’s stamina for the day had run out. We piled back into Max’s SUV, dashed to the nearest gas station we could find to pee before leaving back for our hometown, bought milkshakes at In-and-Out, and proceeded home. I was trying not to let my own weird, internalized fears of Ezra talking more about men ruin my Molly trip, and after getting a milkshake (which I took two sips of before forgetting about), I had nearly stopped thinking about it at all. But as we were pulling out of the In-and-Out, Ezra began talking again.

“Has anyone seen my phone?” he asked as he looked around the floorboards under the cabin light for it. I looked around for it, as well, but found nothing.

“Did you leave it in the park?” Alice asked from the backseat.

“I hope not. But knowing me, I probably did.”

I slid my hand around the seat between us and found his phone nestled beneath the arm rest. “Here,” I told him as I handed it over, beads of sweat pooling down into my brow as the Molly really took affect. That’s the thing about Molly: it makes you sweaty as fuck; and for someone like myself who pretty much sweats all the time, anyway, that can be disgusting. But the other thing about it is that if you aren’t actually in a good place when you take it, if you’re already bothered by something or battling some sort of undefeatable internal demon, it has the power to heighten that anxiety and fixate you on that problem … especially so if you’re trapped in a car for three hours with a boy you like who says things like:

“Oh, good.” He took the phone from me. “Especially since I’m having a conversation with this cute guy on Grindr.”

I swear to God I nearly shat myself.

I didn’t respond to him—hell, I wasn’t sure what to say—and turned my head instead to look out the window as we left Austin and traveled up-and-down over hill-after-hill through central Texas back to the Gulf Coast. All the while, Ezra could not manage to shut the fuck up. He was talking everyone’s ears off. I asked Max to turn up the music a few times, to which she obliged, but I could still hear Ezra talking through it all about the boy from Grindr.

“He’s gonna come over on Tuesday night and we’re going to watch Steven Universe.” He paused and looked thoughtful. “I don’t think I’ll fuck him,” he said to no one in particular at one point. “Or maybe I will. I don’t know.” As this went on, he engaged Alice in a conversation about how important it is to find the right man to have sex with—Alice was and is a virgin, but by choice, not because of something stupid like religion. Many times, the temptation to scream, “What the fuck do you know about it?” crept up on me, but the mixture of Molly and sheer humiliation kept me silent. It didn’t hurt that I was still swigging down glass-after-glass of Franzia leftover from the park.

But more than the Franzia and the Molly, it was just the humiliation. There I was just after midnight—now my actual birthday—in a car with two of my oldest friends, one of my friends I’d only known a few years but felt as if I’d known forever, and the man I stupidly fell in love with who had softened the blow of breaking my heart by telling me he wasn’t capable of having sexual or romantic feelings. Only, now, he was spouting off fact after fact about some random stranger from the a hookup app he may or may not be having sex with in the near future.

Even in writing a sex column for the last year, I had never felt more like Carrie Bradshaw than I did in that moment. Maybe there was some hallucinogenic effect from the Molly, but I suddenly pictured myself as Carrie Bradshaw in her gorgeous Vivienne Westwood wedding gown as I drove away after Mr. Big—Ezra in this hallucination—had stood me up at the altar. Then, when he’d stopped the limo next to mine, getting out and apologizing for breaking my heart, “I’m asexual. I’m incapable of feeling sexual or romantic. You helped me figure this out about myself,” (I’m paraphrasing), I took my bouquet of magnificently arranged flowers and began beating the living shit out of him with them.

“I am humiliated,” I screamed as Carrie, tears and snot running down my face as that weird peacock feather in my headpiece wiggled loose. Then, coming from the limo, in their three differently colored bridesmaid dresses came Karlee (Miranda), Max (Samantha), and Alice (Charlotte) to pull me away from him before I was charged with battery right outside the New York City Public Library. People were staring, Ezra was explaining; flower petals glided through the air in slow motion as Karlee and Max pulled me off of him. And then there was Alice, also in tears, holding up her bridesmaid dress and pointing a finger at Ezra as she shouted, “NO! No!” while she pulled me by the shoulders and put me back in the car.

When the dream sequence was over, I looked around and found Alice had finally fallen asleep in the third row, Karlee was snoring lightly from the front passenger’s seat, Max was humming along to the music, and Ezra was staring at me while “Take It Like a Man” from Legally Blonde The Musical played over the speakers. The whole sequence in the musical is Elle Woods taking her new friend Emmett shopping to sharpen his image and gain the respect of their boss. It was sort of like Ezra and I the weekend before when I’d been helping him pick out new, more stylish clothes.

He seemed to think so, as well, because he said next, “This was literally us last weekend,” with a slight chuckle.

A bit relieved that the subject had changed, I chuckled without looking at him and agreed, “Yeah, I guess it was.”

But Ezra on Molly was unrelenting and unable to really be stopped. He went on by saying, “Although I think it meant a little more to you than it did to me.” I sighed and shook my head, still looking out the window into the darkness. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

My head snapped around so fast I could have given myself whiplash and the scour on my face was noticeable even to me, who could not see it. “No, I do not want to talk about it, Ezra. Not here. Not now. This is neither the time nor the place.”

“Okay, okay,” he muttered somewhat apologetically. Nevertheless, he persisted. “I’m just saying that I’m not usually up for the sort of deep conversations and if you wanted to talk about it, the best time to do it might be while I’m on Molly.”

“We can talk. When we. Get home,” I grunted through gritted teeth.

We pulled over at a gas station so everyone could pee and reup on water or snacks. Alice slept in the back seat. Max and Karlee stared ahead into the store in the front while I sat watching Ezra meander around the convenience store inside.

“I cannot believe he’s talking about some guy he wants to have sex with in front of you,” Max said.

“I cannot believe he’s still talking,” Karlee added sleepily.

“Like, if he needs to get laid that bad, why won’t he just have sex with Anthony?”

“I do not want to have sex with him,” I snapped. And that much was true. Especially not right that second. In fact, in all the time that I’d had feelings for Ezra, sex had always been the furthest thing from my mind. And that, honestly, came from a place of having had sex with so many men that all I want and had wanted then was and is a relationship with someone who is kind, and who makes me laugh, and who I don’t feel weird hanging around for hours on end because I enjoy just having them next to me. When it came to Ezra, all those qualifiers were checked off the list. He wasn’t someone I thought about when I was having sex with someone else or when I was masturbating. Had the idea crept through my mind? Of course. But it was locked away in a trunk inside my brain. Padlocked. Chained. Key swallowed. Because I knew that if ever that day were to come, it would probably be beyond my expectations. It would certainly be beyond his. He has no idea just how good I am at sex. I’ve made grown men scream in a soprano in the past.

I’m digressing.

Sex was never the point. Sex to me, from someone who had been through his fair share of men and who was capable of catching a dick whenever he wanted one, was becoming less-and-less exhilarating the longer I went without having it with someone I genuinely cared about. And besides, it felt disrespectful to Ezra to think about him that way knowing full and well that our feelings were different for one another.

As we got closer to Houston, more music played, and most of it brought me to silent, ugly tears. At one point, “On My Own” from Les Miserables hummed through the speakers—a song all-too-fitting for that situation.

I love him,
but when the night is over,
he is gone, the river’s just a river.
Without him the world around me changes.
The trees are bare and everywhere
the streets are full of strangers.
I love him, 
but every day I’m learning
all my life I’ve only been pretending. 
Without me, 
his world will go on turning.
A world that’s full of happiness
that I have never known.

“This song is beautiful,” Ezra said, clearly not understanding the present irony of the situation. “Listen to those lyrics. They’re poetry.” He zipped through his phone a little more, typing something and then coming back up for air. Even if he’d just been on his phone and not talking to some vapid, mindless twink on Grindr, I probably still would have been irritated. Even if it had been Alice or Max or Karlee. My biggest pet peeve in the entire world is being surrounded by your friends, especially those you don’t see often, and having their eyes glued to their phones.  

Sam Smith played some more, this time “One Last Song” from his newest album, and I sang the song along with him because I felt like everyone needed to know that I could sing that very difficult song and sing it very well. And soon, without talking to Ezra anymore, we’d arrived back at my house. Everyone hugged and the girls parted ways, but Ezra and I traveled into the house after I’d smoked a cigarette. He was still far too high to be driving home, and instead we got into bed.

My tarot cards were sitting somewhere nearby, and as a way to just alleviate some of the tension inside of me, I shuffled the cards and read what the future had in store for me. There was nothing terribly interesting there. Work stuff, mostly. But as I finished, I caught Ezra watching me, and I asked him if he’d like me to read his, as well.

He nodded, and I gave him the deck to shuffle. As a Jewish Mexican who isn’t necessarily religious or spiritual but was raised in a Southern Baptist church, there are still some things that I do believe in. I practice folk witchcraft in my private time, read tarot cards and palms for friends who want to know if they’ll ever find love, cast spells for safe travels over friends going on vacation like I had once for Ezra, and even hex a motherfucker every now and again if I’m feeling vengeful enough. I instructed my friend to hold the cards in his hands and close his eyes before shuffling them, then asked him to think first of his happiest memory, and then of his saddest. To me, the cards needed to get to know the person being read in order for the read to be accurate.

I never told him this, but as soon as he handed the cards back to me after shuffling them a bit and cutting the deck in half, I too held them close and reflected on my happiest memory. Only, my thoughts needed to be more specific. I chose my happiest memory with Ezra—the night we laid in bed watching movies that I realized how much I actually cared about him—and my saddest with him—earlier that night. And I did so not because I wanted to interfere with his reading, but because I wanted to know just where this friendship would end up down the line. That feeling I got around him—those butterflies—only intensified as time went on. I hated it, but it was true. And while most of the time I could pretend it wasn’t there and act like a friend who wasn’t swooning over him, nights like tonight made that more difficult. I mean, for fuck’s sake, it wasn’t as if I’d ever be able to go Ezra’s wedding. Depending on who I ended up marrying, I’m not even sure any future spouse of mine would be comfortable letting him come to ours. There were so many milestones that we, as two extremely good friends, would probably have to miss because I was dumb enough to go and fall in love with him. I was culpable for that, I guess. So, I just wanted to know what was in store. What was to come.

I clutched the cards and chanted something in Latin on the duvet as Ezra returned to his phone. But as soon as I laid down and saw the very first card, I snatched it up and put it back on top of the deck.

IMG_20180422_015022 It's My Party & I'll Cry If I Want To

“I can’t do this,” I mumbled to myself as I snatched the deck up and slid it in my pocket.

Ezra nodded and said, “I understand,” while he laid back against the pillows. I took a moment to turn on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then excused myself from the bedroom to go smoke a cigarette. Only, I didn’t go and smoke a cigarette. Instead, I went to the kitchen, flipped on the lights, found a bottle of tequila in the top of the pantry, took a giant gulp of it, and then laid the cards out in a Celtic Cross spread on the counter as they would have been laid had I drawn the rest.

In the center and upright was the card I’d seen earlier—the Lovers. It’s a card that is … well … pretty self-explanatory. Lying over it was the King of Cups, the ultimate man of love, compassion, and caring. Together these cards represented a union with … well … one of the good guys. In the cause spot sat Judgement in the reverse position, which read that if there was a relationship that was to unfold, it wouldn’t happen until both parties began to listen to the inner voice in their heads and due to a lack of preconceived ideas about the relationship or the other person. In the past position was the Nine of Wands, the card of past damage, abandonment, and hurt. In the attitudes space was the Ten of Wands, a card that appears unfortunate and traumatic, but one that usually represents, in terms of ideas, making something out of nothing and letting small tragedies rule one’s life. In the near future position was the Wheel of Fortune. Again, self-explanatory. In the seventh space representing how we see ourselves came the Five of Pentacles, which reveals a person who is exhausted, tired, depressed, experiencing hard times, and even rejected. Above it, the space of the outsider’s perspective, was the Four of Wands, the card of celebration and excitement. Next was the key factor, the Ten of Wands—burdens, overworking, overextending oneself. It symbolized how life at the time was tougher than it normally might be, and how jading and daunting that could make anything seem. And then there was the last card, the final outcome—the Empress—the card of my birthday. The Empress is indicative of the joys of life in all its forms, especially so in those things we make new. She is the reminder of where your roots are planted and that what is most important to us is usually already surrounding us. She is, in conjunction with the Lovers, a card that represents fulfillment of the heart.

IMG_20180422_032423 It's My Party & I'll Cry If I Want To

Bullshit,” I muttered as I swept up the cards and threw them against the wall, lighting a cigarette inside the house and then venturing out to the front porch. The reading could have been about the two of us together. Then again, it could have been about me somehow soon moving on from Ezra and learning to just be his friend. Who knew? That’s the trouble with trying to see the future. It’s subjective. It changes with every action we make or thought we have. Nothing, not really, is written in the stars.

When I returned inside, Ezra was less talkative and probably coming down off the Molly some.

“I’m trying to get better at being a person,” he said quietly and without prompt. “That’s why I wanted you to take me shopping for new clothes. That’s probably what I’m doing with this boy from Grindr. I’m just trying to try new things.”

Instead of getting mad at him for bringing up that stupid little twink troll from hell again, I instead asked Ezra for his hand.

“Are you gonna put a spell on me?” he teased.

“No,” I sort of laughed. “Just give it to me.”

When he did, I laced my fingers between his own, and I rubbed my thumb gently against the side of his. Then, at a volume at which he couldn’t hear me, I whispered, “There’s no reason to worry about being a different person than the one you are. There are people, me likely most of all, who met you as you are and wouldn’t want to change that person, even if we could.”

And then I just held his hand a bit longer, just because it felt nice. Comfortable. The hands fit well together, even if the people they belonged to never would. But I gave it back to him before he freaked out and laid there in silence while the movie played. Soon, he was ready to go home, even though I knew he still shouldn’t be driving. And as we hugged goodbye and I watched him scurry to his car from my perch on the front porch, I lit another cigarette and called to him.

“Ezra,” I said just loud enough for him to hear me. He turned and I took a few steps nearer to him. It was hard, and at first my mouth just hung open while my brain and my heart tried to shove the words I needed to say out of it. But soon enough, I was finally able to mutter, “In the future, I don’t think you should talk to me about boys from Grindr.” It was succinct and summed up enough about what I needed to say. Not nearly all of it, but enough for now. Then, I turned around, flicked the cigarette off into the yard, and went to sleep quite quickly.


A few short hours later, I woke and immediately began to cry. The MDMA had likely stifled my ability to really feel what I needed to feel, and the lack of serotonin after taking it was probably only making it all the worse. I cried for hours, unable to get up or to talk to anyone about what was going on.

Soon, I had to retrieve Ezra’s laptop bag he’d left in Max’s car and take it to him. Even upon arriving at him apartment, I struggled to get out of the car for fear that when I saw him I might begin bawling again. I kept the conversation short, not even passing through the threshold into his house. But as soon as the door closed behind me, I ran back to my car and flew back into hysterics over the boy who was not able to love me.

After a while, I trekked to Gwen’s house, far away from the people who had witnessed my humiliation and in need of someone to talk to about it, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t ready to do so. She asked me what was wrong, and multiple times over I told her I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. Instead, we went into her recording studio and for a few hours we played instrumentals from YouTube and I belted songs of sadness between glasses of wine as I fought back tears. I sang them as if I meant them—and I did. Especially so when I sang a transposed version of “On My Own.”

On my own,
pretending he’s beside me …” 

And soon, we retired to her back porch where we sat in hanging hammock chairs as I downed the remainder of the wine in my glass and finally brought myself to tell Gwen everything that happened the night before. And then, when I was done, I could only sit there crying again. I was heartbroken.  Understandably, Gwen was livid.

“He did what?” she asked through gritted teeth. “Does he not understand why that isn’t appropriate? Did he not realize who he was talking to or that it was your birthday for chrissakes?”

“You know,” I said through sniffles, “I have so many issues with men already. My father left me when I was a child. He would come in and out of my life at his own fucking fancy. The first man I ever loved loved me, as well, but is marrying a woman. All of my exes have either been philandering whores or can’t commit to me or tell me that as much as they do care about me, they just don’t see our relationship going anywhere. And here I am, in a place where I’ve found someone who really makes me happy, someone who really has been one of the good guys—even when he told me wasn’t in love with me. And I was okay with that, because he was a good guy. Because he wasn’t like the other men who had broken my heart.” I paused and poured a new glass of wine. “And then he did this.”

“You have every right to feel this way,” Gwen said as she shook her head and clucked her tongue.

“It’s more than just the heartbreak,” I told her. “Yes, I love him—I’m in love with him. But I could have dealt with the heartbreak by itself. I’ve done that more times than a few.” I shook my head and lit a cigarette, staring off into the distance. “What gets me—what really is tearing me up inside is that I feel lied to. And that wasn’t something I was expecting from him. In fact, he was the last person I expected that from. And what was all of this about me dressing him in a brand new wardrobe, by the way? Was that just so that he could feel good enough about himself to go out and flaunt his newfound self for the world to see so that he could meet boys? For fuck’s sake, this is the man who first told me he wasn’t going to date while he was living in Houston, because he knew he’d be moving soon anyway; and then told me he was an aromantic asexual. I don’t—I just—I don’t know what to believe.”

“I get it,” she agreed. “You went out on this fragile fucking limb and made this grand gesture toward him, expressing your love for him for the entire world to see, and he told you that as much as he did love you, he wasn’t able to experience romantic or sexual feelings. And then he turns around and does this so soon after. You could have existed knowing that he couldn’t have a relationship with you, because he made it sound like he’d never have one with anyone. And you got to at least be one of the few people he loved most in the world—”

“But that’s just it,” I managed through huffs and heaves of my own breath. “I don’t think he was lying, but it doesn’t change the fact that his actions say otherwise. And I go through this thing with myself where I am constantly working to be a better person. I am constantly making myself more available to people who need me. I am constantly fighting against my own inner-monologue that tells me that there is something wrong with me—that I am not good enough to be loved. And this—” I gasped. My body was trying to fight back words I wasn’t ready to verbalize just yet. “ … is there something wrong with me, Gwen?” Tears and dignity fell down my face in streams of hopelessness and defeat. “Am I really not lovable?”

Gwen cried then, too. And turned her chair to face me and demanded that I look at her.

“You listen to me,” she said. “And I’m not bullshitting you here, and I wouldn’t tell this to just anyone. But there is nothing unlovable about you. You are one of the smartest, kindest, sweetest, funniest, most accomplished, and most lovable people that I have ever known. You give so much of yourself to others in everything that you do and give your love to a lot of people—and many of them do not deserve it.”

I lost my shit there. Compliments had never been something I was good at receiving.

“But you need to understand that you are wise beyond your years and you have grown up faster than most people your age. And you’re ready for love. But Ezra? He’s not. Do I want to rob him of his identity as someone who is asexual and aromantic? No. But it does feel a little bit like a cop-out right now. It probably isn’t, and the Molly probably made him say a lot of the things he said last night. But there’s one thing that I do know based on knowing you and having followed this story since the beginning. And that’s that you have been ready to receive love for a very long time, and he’s just not there yet. And maybe that will change, but you cannot make yourself feel culpable for what someone else did to you. All you’ve ever tried to do was give him your love. You don’t have to feel upset with yourself or feel like there’s anything wrong with you just because he can’t accept it. Because someone will be ready to accept it eventually, and probably soon. And there may come a day when he is ready to be loved, and he’s going to realize what an amazing thing he missed out on.”

I exhaled a heavy breath, sniffling again, and unsure of what to say.

Gwen had only one last piece of wisdom to share with me. Advice, really.

“He owes you an apology. And, when you’re ready and have sorted through your feelings, you need to let him know how badly this hurt you, even just as your friend. Because friends don’t do this sort of thing to their friends. No matter if they’re in love with them or if they just love them platonically.”


I didn’t get out of bed much for the next week. Stupidly, I’d agreed to keep Ezra’s dog, Dorito, while he went to visit friends out of town. But unlike the times I normally sat with Dorito, my visits were short and with a mission. I was there to feed the dog, take the dog out, spend a little time with him, and then I had to go. I couldn’t make myself stay in his house any longer than I had to or sleep overnight in his bed. It was too much. In my head, all I could hear was Ezra talking about the little sugarplum twink fairy he may or may not have had sex with right there on the sectional, or around the corner in his bedroom.

I felt haunted.

So, I made the visits short, and then I would leave and return to my bed. I didn’t go to work. I didn’t answer phone calls or text messages unless they were of the utmost importance. I spent a solid week away from the world, crying because I felt like some disgusting creature incapable of being loved, and waited until I had the guts to face him again.

I’d been dating since high school, been cheated on, pushed around, lied to, left to plant another seed in the field of broken hearts. Then, I’d finally found someone I wanted to get off of that vicious merry-go-round with, to stand still with, as Carrie once said. I just didn’t understand why he didn’t want to stand still with me. Moreover, I didn’t understand how someone who loved me even a little bit could put me through that in front of my friends and on my birthday.

Still, I knew Ezra Rochester was not a bad guy. In fact, I knew him still to be one of the good guys. Even if he hadn’t then apologized and still has not, everyone fucks up once in a while. Mistakes are made. And to not accept that someone has made a mistake is self-righteous. Even the best of the best of us fuck up every now and again. This one lapse in judgment didn’t undermine all the good he’s done in his life, nor did it take away from the sweet and caring friend he’d been to me. But that didn’t change the fact that I was defeated and unsure of how long it would take me to get back onto my feet.

As it turned out, it was going to take a while … and it wasn’t going to be a healthy coping ritual. 

It Happened to Me, Too

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 12

Less Than Butterflies is a regular sex column that follows the real-life sexual encounters of its author, Anthony Ramirez. In this case, unfortunately, the encounter was non-consensual and the story contains information that may be triggering to the readers. While it does not outline in graphic detail the sexual assault itself, it does speak about the events leading to it and that followed. Reader discretion is advised. 


I swear to God I predicted it. Or maybe I jinxed it. I’m not sure if this is one of those things you can Beetlejuice—as my friend Hope might say—but it had been on my mind a lot lately.

After all, just the weekend before I’d been sober at a bar where a friend was hosting karaoke when a man and his “wife” came stumbling out onto the patio shit-faced. The man tumbled directly into me, spilling some of his drink on my shirt. Then, as he reached for leverage as not to fall, his hand fell below my waist and cupped my genitals. It may have only lasted a few seconds, but it could have lasted an eternity as far as I was concerned. Hell, it could have lasted two eternities. How long is an eternity, really? Sure, he let go, but even as he did so, his hands fumbled around my torso, thumb grazing my nipple through my shirt.

I wanted to push him off of me, uncaring as to how drunk he was, but I stood there immobilized, frozen. In the back of my head, I could hear the nails-on-a-chalkboard-like chirp of a cuckoo clock, something I’d not heard in nearly half a decade. His wife, a woman boasting some sort of eastern European accent, grabbed her husband (albeit too late) and pulled him away from me, spouting off nonsense about how she’d put her stiletto through the eye of anyone that her husband ever laid his hands on, regardless of what the case was.

Was she blaming me? I’d been standing there alone smoking a cigarette when he’d bounced out the patio door like a Weeble, wobbling and falling into me. Besides, if she couldn’t tell that her husband was clearly a flaming homosexual, she had more problems than I could roll out onto the table for her.

That was the first uttering of Beetlejuice.

The following Monday, I’d been invited to an exclusive party at a new bar called Victor at the corner of Montrose and Richmond. Joining me as my date was my friend Taylor Kyle, whom I never saw much of since he worked all the time and lived all the way out in Cypress. We stayed at the party for a short while before heading over to Guava Lamp to catch another friend’s singing competition. After we left there, Taylor and I traveled up to the Room Bar in Spring to catch a few drinks before last call, where we met a few other friends I don’t often see.

When my friend Jeremy joined us on his way home from work, the three of us were having a nice little reunion of sorts. But on my neck I could feel eyes from across the bar. It took everything in me not to turn and look to see who the eyes belonged to, and eventually I conceded and turned upward. Staring directly at me was a man I’d seen at the bar a few times before. He was a bit pushy, I’d heard, but harmless nonetheless. Still, his glance was invasive and the smile he bore was nothing short of predatory as he drilled holes right into my skull with his gaze.

The others noticed it after a while, as well. A girl named Kelsey who worked at the tattoo shop next door kept catching my eyes and mimicking his face as a joke, which at first did make me laugh. Taylor told me not to pay him any mind, and Hope shrugged him off as nothing more than some pervy old man who hung around the bar to look at boys. A moment later, Jeremy and Taylor both had to use the restroom, and went together, leaving me sitting alone at the end of the bar. Hope asked me if I’d keep an eye on things while she ran into the back cooler to grab a bottle of liquor she’d run out of behind the bar; and in that moment, the man staring from across the bar took his chance to approach me.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced before,” he told me, that ghastly smile curving into an ugly, crescent shape. I didn’t turn to look at him as he ran his hand across the small of my back before introducing himself and asking me my name.

“Please don’t touch me,” I muttered out in breathy, broken fragments.

“I’m sorry,” he said, although he never took his hand off my back and traced his fingers up my shoulders and around to the back of my neck. “I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re very cute.”

I was frozen, again. Every muscle inside of me tensed as if they were exercising and my breathing quit completely. I may have given him my name—I can’t really recall to be honest. What I do remember is hearing the bathroom door open behind me and the laughter of both Jeremy and Taylor coming from the bathroom. As they approached, I was finally able to untense and to exhale. And from behind I could hear the man asking Hope if he’d done something wrong once she reappeared behind the bar. I couldn’t tell what she was saying to him; but for the rest of the night I sat in near-silence turned away from both Taylor and Jeremy. No matter what I tried to change the thoughts in my mind to, no matter how I tried to distract myself or get drunk, I couldn’t stop feeling his thick, invasive fingers trailing me all over my backside.

A few times Jeremy and Taylor would ask what was wrong, and Taylor was sweet enough to put an arm around me and ask if I needed anything. But the two of them were not the problem. They’d done nothing wrong at all. I was just stuck inside my own head, where cuckoo clocks resounded like a child banging pots and pans together so loudly that I couldn’t stand to direct my attention anywhere else.

That was the second mention of Beetlejuice.

On the ride home, Taylor was drunk, and I was sober enough to drive as I’d not been drinking much at all that night. I was finally able to engage in conversation that was lighter, that didn’t send me into hysterics. And I did my best to apologize for coming off as a dick at the bar earlier.

“What was going on with you?” Taylor asked me as we were driving down the highway back toward Cypress.

I knew that if I chose to share it with him, if I chose to let him know that there was an actual person somewhere inside this cold, sarcastic shell I put off for the world to encounter, I wouldn’t be able to unshare it with him. But I also knew that there was a good chance he might not remember me telling him, at all … or, at least not in great detail. And somehow, that comforted me. I needed to get it off of my chest and to breathe a bit easier. What I did not know, however, was that by telling Taylor Kyle that I’d been raped by a friend at 19-years-old, before I’d come out of the closet, before I’d even really accepted myself as a gay man, I’d be uttering my third Beetlejuice conjuring.

And in not knowing, I shared it with him. I told him about the person I’d called a friend who took advantage of me. I told him how I had only recently begun sharing that story, because it only recently seemed okay to do so, and why it scared me to ever come forward in the first place. I did not, however, tell him that when I was reminded of it, when men groped my dick on bar patios or when strangers complimented me and ran their hands across my back I often heard the sound of cuckoo clocks drumming in my mind. It’s one of the very few things I remember clearly about that night: the old-timey cuckoo clock that hung on the wall and rung the hours as they passed both before and after I was raped.


Flash-forward a bit, and my day was going exceptionally well. I’d been busy work-wise; a radio interview, a work function, and had decided to round off my evening with a little karaoke at the Room Bar. A few of my friends were there, and Hope was all smiles behind the bar as she made drinks and poured shots. I wasn’t drunk when I arrived having just come from the aforementioned work event, although I imagine that by the time I was ready to leave, I was running on a strong buzz. Still, I didn’t want to spend the entire night getting smash-bag asshole drunk, so I left a while before closing to make it home, as the next day was set to be a busy one. I did make the decision, however, to visit a friend on my way home that I hadn’t seen in a long time who’d been asking to hang out for quite some time. But now as I reflect on it, all of that seems like nothing to me.

And I don’t mean that in the way as to say that it feels like nothing happened. I mean it to say that I can’t recollect a lot that happened in the moments after I left the Room. In fact, even being at the Room is a bit hazy. I can recall the songs I sang at karaoke. I can recall bidding everyone farewell and leaving, feeling fine. But the memory itself is rather foggy. I don’t think I felt foggy at the time, but trying to recollect on it sort of is.

I remember seeing my friend briefly—that is, the memory is brief—and I don’t believe the interaction was long. I remember telling him goodbye. I remember how tired he was. I think he may have even gone off to bed before I left. And I remember that, too—leaving. I didn’t at first, but now I can. But everything after that is just … black.

This is what I do remember:

I remember waking up the next morning in an near-bare apartment. In the middle of the floor, where I laid, there was an air mattress with no sheets. Across the room there was an old, ratty-looking couch. The walls were all bare and white as far as I could see, and there was no sign of anyone in the kitchen.

I wasn’t sure what was happening or how I’d gotten there, but from the moment that I jumped off the air mattress, I knew something was wrong. My head felt like someone had laid cement inside of it, and I fell down immediately upon trying to get to my feet. The room was acrid with the scent of disinfectant and it was cold. In fact, I could feel the draft against my thigh where I noticed a tear in my pants from knee-to-waist. As I finally put myself on both my feet, a sensation as if I was being split in half resonated from my anus. It hurt. And it hurt bad. My legs were sore on the insides of my thighs, as if someone had tried pulling them apart like a wishbone on Thanksgiving. I fumbled around in my pockets for my keys, but nothing was inside of them.

As I searched the room around me where nothing seemed to exist, I suddenly took note of some sort of table standing next to what appeared to be the front door. On it, all placed neatly as if done so by Mary fucking Poppins, I found my phone, my cigarette pack, my lighter, and my keys. Beside the odd table on the floor sat my shoes.

Snatching everything up, I took one last look around the room, then unlocked and darted out the front door.

More peculiar still was that the car was parked outside the apartment. As I raced down to it and jumped inside, I found that it was unlocked. The car was nearly out of gas—which made sense to me later when I realized how far I was not only from home, but from the Room and the friend I’d visited the night before—and in the passenger’s-side floorboard sat my wallet and my ID. When I opened up the former, however, I found that there was no money inside, nor were either my debit card or my credit card in their rightful place. For a moment I wondered why someone would take the cards and not the expensive Louis Vuitton wallet that couldn’t be traced back to me. But that thought was fleeting, as all of the thoughts were that went through my head while I navigated my way home. I tried tirelessly to call my mother, to call my best friend Gwen, to call anyone who could help me, but none of my calls were going through. The service on my phone was out; if I hadn’t been so good with direction, I might have had to stop at the nearest McDonald’s to use the WiFi to find out where the hell I was. But I knew the general area. Somewhere off of Airtex and I45. I’d been in the neighborhood before, but not for whatever reason I was there then.

I think for the first time since I was a child, I actually prayed on my way back to my mother’s house. I’m not sure if I was praying to God or if I just needed to hope that someone could hear me when I couldn’t speak, but nevertheless I carried on an inner-monologue asking for help, asking for the pain to subside, asking that I make it to my mother’s without running out of gas while I had no credit card.

And when I arrived without issue, my mother sat on her front porch smoking a cigarette as she said something to me. Maybe she asked why I looked so bad; maybe she asked me where I’d been; I couldn’t tell you. Because when I finally opened my mouth for the first time since waking, a jumble of words fell out that were meant to sound something like, “I think someone drugged me last night.” And when my mother leered at me from her perch, I added, “I think someone ra—”

But I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence, because that’s when I lost all control. I don’t know that that’s when everything sunk in, but that’s certainly when it all came to the surface. In crooked fragments, I tried to relay the information I knew then and there. That my pants were ripped. That all of my money and cards were missing. That I was in insurmountable pain. That I couldn’t remember anything past being at the Room. And as I reviewed it all over-and-over again both verbally and in my mind, I began to understand what had happened.

For the second time in my life, I’d been raped.

And soon, I’d be in a clinic not having showered or eaten since the morning before where a doctor would put a large piece of paper down on the floor and ask me to disrobe in front of her. She’d take my clothes, and she’d brush through my hair, and she would swab me both externally and internally. She’d poke and prod me; and she’d find the new bruises on my waist and knees and tell me after having a thorough exam, it was not a question of whether or not I was correct about what had happened to me, but now a question of who did it.

And I?

I would be humiliated. I would leave there, and I would go about my business as the rest of the day carried on, unable to shake off the feelings of filth and embarrassment even after showering, even after throwing myself into a routine. And I wouldn’t tell anyone who didn’t need to know. Gwen, because I told her everything. My friend Ezra, because he’d been worried about where I was when I wasn’t answering texts because my phone wasn’t working. Lauren, who needed to know why I’d gone MIA on such an important work day and when I’d be back.

And although I didn’t break down over the next few days—not really, not as I should have; although Ezra came to stay with me because being alone terrified me, and didn’t mind sharing my bed or when I laid my head on his shoulder; although I’d wake up screaming and sweating every night since, I did my best to present myself as the person the world knew me to be.

But that’s just the very thing about it all:

I don’t know who I am anymore.

It isn’t like it was when I was nineteen and already carrying around so many secrets about myself that one more made no difference. This time, I am an egg that has been thrown with great vigor into a wall. And while the pieces of the shell are still here, still accounted for, what was once inside of me, what once made me who I am has been vacuumed out and has dripped away to somewhere I fear I may not ever be able to find it again. Nothing seems funny to me anymore; nothing makes me smile. Eating is an aberrant thought to me and showering is a task I have to force myself into. I want to stay in bed and hide beneath the covers when I am awake, but sleep as much as possible. I want not to be left alone for fear that someone else will find me and do to me what’s already been done, the unspeakable, unthinkable horror I can’t even conjure a memory of, but that haunts me still. I want to scream from my brain, but not have my skull quiver as it holds the sound inside of me. I want to not look at every man that passes by me with disgust as if he were the one who did this to me. I want not to question whether or not I brought this on myself by being a shameless, openly, sexually active person. I want the deafening silence of being alone to subdue. I want to not to need someone by my side at all times. I want not to wonder if I Beetlejuiced this by worrying so much about it as of late before it ever even happened. I want not to question why the men that I fall in love with want nothing to do with me, and yet there are men out there so sick and disgusting that they’ll go so far as to drug and rape me just to have sex with me—why I’m not good enough to fall in love with, to share a life with, but good enough to be raped by a stranger. I want not to feel like I can’t dress nice or wear makeup or wear something that rides a little higher or is cut a little lower just because some creep might take advantage of me. 

I want my life back. I want my heart back.

And though the time that has passed since I sat down to write this has been short—incredibly so by the standards of many—it’s the only thing that I can do to keep myself from going insane.

And it’s killing me. I feel it killing me. I feel it extinguishing my soul.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am.

What I do know is that I was raped, and now I’m walking around as the ghost of a person who existed before that cannot stop hearing the sound of cuckoo clocks beating against the inside of his head.

The Next Five Years

Less Than Butterflies Gay Dating Houston Grindr

Less Than Butterflies, No. 11

Most of my bad decisions start the same way … most.

“I have goodies,” Hope told Derek and me as she handed us a bag of mushrooms at the bar one evening. I immediately popped one in my mouth.

“Thank God,” I said as I chewed. “I really need to be high.”

“Ezra stuff?” Hope asked as she poured me a drink.

“The least of it all, yes. Work stuff, household stuff, I-haven’t-had-sex-in-over-a-week stuff.” I put another into my mouth. “Nothing new.”

“How did your grand gesture go?” she inquired.

“First of all, it was not a grand gesture. Secondly, it’s fine. I mean … I haven’t cried yet, so that’s good.”

Derek, as well, pushed a mushroom stem between his lips. “You’re self-medicating.”

“Only because my primary care physician got busted by the DEA.” I looked around the bar. Soon, the year-round decorative Christmas lights would dance like pixies and the music would take a visual manifestation right before me. The problem was that it wasn’t happening quickly enough.

“So, I take it that means you won’t be planning a honeymoon anytime soon,” Hope said.

“Or ever,” I shrugged.

The clocked ticked for an hour, and in that time I’d managed to indulge in half the bag of mushrooms, as compared to Derek’s three or four. As the effects began to strike him, I grew increasingly jealous that I was still feeling absolutely nothing. In spite of the fact that I often participated in taking recreational drugs, I wasn’t willing to confess to myself that my tolerance might just be building up. It’s not like hallucinogens were favorites of mine. Stimulants were more my speed (no pun intended).

But as the hours went on, the mushrooms began to work their way into me. Looking down at my hands a few times, I swore I could see them growing right in front of me. As the bar partook in karaoke, I began to witness colors coming from the speakers, a different hue for a different pitch. The giggling was the next giveaway. I giggled at any and everything from the controversial drunk girl at the bar who sang “Before He Cheats” in the key of stop singing to Derek fooling with some sort of magnetic, top toy that spun around and around on rails, which I proved incapable of operating.

Soon enough, I realized I needed to go home before the mushrooms hit any harder. Derek pressed the bag into my hand and asked me to take the rest of them and sent me on my way.

Ubering home, I dozed off quietly in the backseat as the driver hummed along to Tejano music and asked questions I ineffectively answered through sleepy lips.

Act One

EXT. DENVER, CO – DOG PARK – AFTERNOON – 2020

It was chilly outside, as the weather usually goes in Colorado. What would probably be an 89° April day in Houston turned out to be a harsh 65° afternoon in Denver. Dorito clung to my side after using the restroom and I clicked away at the keys on my laptop. I was trying to meet a book deadline that was only a month away, but my progress had been … minimal, to say the very least.

Chapter One: read the top of the page. Sitting there as housewives jogged with their pups and canines sniffed one another for safety, ideas were fleeting.

Moving to Denver had been a demonstrative effort on my part to show Ezra just how much I cared about him. It wasn’t necessarily futile, as you had to have established expectations in order to fail. And if I’d learned anything since being with Ezra, it was that expectations were wastrel. Not in a practical sense, of course. There were sweet little things he did that often elated the heart or at least proved that those giddy feelings I’d first felt for him three years prior were still alive and well. He might stop on his way home from teaching and pick out peanut butter cookies from a local bakery or order tickets to a traveling musical that was coming through the city.

But, as we’d established oh-so long ago, our relationship would always lack that which other couples did not. There wasn’t any sex, nor was there much cuddling or hand-holding. For all intents and purposes, we may as well have been roommates that shared a bed and, now, a dog.

But I’d known since the first time we’d hung out that this was his plan. Ezra wanted to leave Houston behind—a city for which he’d never developed a great affinity—and move to Denver to teach math. It was ironic, in some sense, considering how much he despised children and that any time I even so much as brought up the subject of them, he all but shut down and receded into some internal well he’d dug for himself.

Or maybe I’d dug it for him. With my pushiness and my willingness to follow him wherever he went so that he wouldn’t ever suffer the loneliness I’d faced in the past. But even in doing so, I knew it would have been no bother to him. Ezra enjoyed the solitude. Welcomed it, even. He was a creature of habit and one that required time to himself—something I took no issue with giving him. Still, I wondered back them if he’d adjust well to being in Denver alone the way he’d come to and existed in Houston for so very long.

We’d been there for six months, and not much was happening for me. Not even a year before, I’d been running a popular magazine in my city and releasing my sixth book into the world. My agent had pestered me for months to write another; and despite the lies I fed her from across the country, no lightning bolts of inspiration had struck. They say that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but the truth of the matter was that, in Houston, it had struck me at least those six times.

Why hadn’t lightning struck Denver?

Chapter One: … I’m Out of Fucking Ideas.

INT. EZRA & ANTHONY’S APARTMENT – LATER

“Hey, babe,” I called as I knocked the door open with my foot—groceries piled into one arm and Dorito’s leash bound to the other.

“Hey,” he replied with a smile from the couch where he played some video game about which I knew nothing. That was sort of the routine, then. I spent the mornings cleaning the house and tending to the laundry while Ezra went to teaching high school mathematics. In the afternoons, I went out with the dog to either a coffee shop or the dog park or to run errands while I made efforts to spur out some kind of idea for the next great American novel. Meanwhile, this gave Ezra a few hours of alone time to decompress after spending his day combating the heathens he preached equations and arithmetic to all day long. “Write anything today?”

“Absolutely not,” I replied, stepping into the kitchen as I put away vegetables and bottled water. “It’s like my brain threw the kind of fit a petulant child throws when it finds out it has to move and decided to give me the silent treatment.”

“When’s the deadline?” he asked, getting up and taking a seat on a barstool at the island.

“A month from today,” I sighed, grabbing a bottle of Ozarka and popping off the lid. “Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m a pretty good writer … but I’m not that good.”

“What happens if you don’t meet it?”

“Eh,” I told him, gulping down some water. “I can always ask for a slight extension, if I can actually come up with an idea and prove that I’m nearly done. But the advance from the publisher paid for this apartment, and if I don’t come up with something, we’re going to have to sell it to pay it back.”

“I doubt it will come to that,” he said reassuringly. “You’re pretty good at what you do.”

“I like to think so,” I told him as a flutter took place inside my abdomen.

There they were: the butterflies that kept me here. Kept me by his side. It was true that I now tended to follow in stride behind him, that he took the front seat while I sat in the shadowy back seat waiting for my turn to drive again (a poor analogy considering that Ezra hates driving). It was nice, the relief of the pressure; don’t get me wrong. Still, it was an adjustment. It was nothing like what I’d built myself up to over my near decade of adulthood.

“Maybe you just need to get out of the house for a bit,” he suggested, reaching for a bag of chips on the counter and opening it.

“I’ve been out of the house every day since we got here. I could probably map out all the Starbuckses and dog parks in Denver.”

He laughed, then crunched on, “I mean like … go out. You haven’t been to a single bar since we got here. Which, to be honest, troubles me considering how much you like to drink.”

“I do love drinking,” I replied. “It’s my third favorite thing to do after eating and being mad at people for attention.”

“So, go make some friends,” he told me.

I nodded and sipped my water some more. Maybe he was right. Maybe if I got out and saw … well … people, it may actually inspire me to write about them. A theatre teacher I had in high school gave us an assignment once that required the class to separately go out in public and listen casually in on conversations happening around us. The objective was to take one line or exchange and build a scene and characters around it.

Maybe that would pull me out of Comarado.

“Maybe I will …” I muttered, biting a lip and staring past him out the window. You could see the downtown skyline from our living room window. The adjacent side of the house faced rows of mountains, but the city had always been so much more inspiring to me than anything in nature.

“Well, I have something for you that might make you feel better,” he told me as he stood up and walked over to his briefcase that sat on the coffee table. He popped it open and reached inside for a plain, white envelope before handing it across the island to me.

I stared at it for a moment with a familiar queerness in my eyes. I ripped open the side with little care, then hit the open end against the granite countertop until two tickets fell out before me. I flipped them over so that they were right-side-up and pushed my glasses up on my nose to read them.

Wicked: A New Musical, they read across the top. Almost twenty years on Broadway later, Wicked was anything but new. The date was several months away and the seats were in the front mezzanine, but what took me was that they weren’t for a national tour. They were, in fact, printed from the Gershwin Theater in New York City.

“Omigod!” I shouted. “Seriously?”

“Happy birthday.”

It was April the 22nd, and it was, in fact, my birthday.

I’d nearly forgotten.

I ran around the counter and embraced Ezra. “Thank you so much! I’m so excited.” I told him. I pulled away, arms still draped over his shoulders and around his neck. It was instinctive to want to kiss him, but as my forehead pressed against his and I could feel his breath slithering past me, I stopped myself and stared into his eyes for a moment.

Ezra was an asexual and aromantic person. This was the person I’d signed up to spend the rest of my life with. This was the life I had chosen and that he hadn’t asked me to choose. So, instead, I pecked him on the cheek, hoping to alleviate some of the pressure, then slid the tickets back into their envelope.

“I love you,” I told him.

“I love you, too.”

“So, do you want to go out with me?” I asked, as I began walking toward the bedroom.

“I think I’ll hang here with Dorito. Go make friends for your birthday,” he told me as I traced into the closet to find an outfit to wear. Fifteen minutes later, my hair was done, my makeup was on, and I was wearing clothes I hadn’t touched since buying them when we first arrived. An outfit of all black accented with a Versace scarf weaving through my hair.

“Okay, well I’m going to that bar Pride & Swagger. I hear it’s pretty lowkey.” I picked up my wallet off the bar and slid it in my back pocket. “Text me if you change your mind.”

I knew he wouldn’t.

INT. PRIDE & SWAGGER – LATER

The bar was quiet, but it was still early. I’d had a few drinks and sat with my laptop perched atop the bar probably looking like an idiot. The bartender, Charlie, checked on me every few minutes and chatted with me about my move from Houston. He’d even bought me a birthday shot when he checked my ID.

“I just met another guy from Houston last night. He said he’d be stopping back in after some conference he’s in town for,” Charlie went on as I stared down at that empty Word document on my laptop screen.

“Maybe I know him,” I teased.

The door behind me chimed, and Charlie simply said, “Speak of the devil,” as he checked the time on his iPhone 34. Those things seemed to be regenerating faster than ever in 2020. I didn’t bother to turn to see the mysterious man from Houston, but focused on the details of the bar around me. Hopefully, if I could paint the picture, I could write the scene.

“Welcome back,” Charlie said with a smile as the barstool next to mine pulled out.

“Good to be back,” the replying voice cooed, sending chills down my spine.

It couldn’t be

I looked up to my left and found that it actually was. Not yet seated in the stool next to me stood Dylan—the most attractive man I’d ever had sex with in my entire life.

The first man I ever told my rape story to.

“Oh, my big, fat, Jewish God,” I mumbled as my mouth gaped stupidly at him.

“I thought that was you,” he told me with a smile. He looked good—better, if that was possible. His beard was more neatly trimmed and his clothes clung to each cut of his Adonis-like figure.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him, standing up to hug him.

“So, it looks like you two do know each other,” Charlie laughed as he reached for my glass to refill it.

Dylan regaled me with the story of how he’d gotten to Denver. An attempt at making it big in Nashville had started off full of hope and spry, but had ultimately become too much. Bills had mounted, food was more and more scarce, and his tricky habit for alcohol had all but bankrupted him. So, he’d moved to Colorado Springs to be with family while he got back on his feet, and eventually ended up here were the dispensaries weren’t so far apart.

“What brought you here?” he asked.

“Oh, my boyfriend,” I told him with a roll of my eyes. “He always wanted to move here. Finally did. I followed.” I shrugged. I felt safer mentioning Ezra to him. It established boundaries, I thought. True, Ezra had been clear with me long ago that he was not opposed to being in an open relationship since his sexual prowess was virtually nonexistent, it still felt like something we needed to discuss before I pursued it. Still, as the night went on-and-on, the drinks seemed stronger-and-stronger. And as the lights went down in the bar, they all seemed to land on Dylan as he lamented tales of Nashville and failed relationships and sex and travels.

My phone vibrated a few times, but I was either too intoxicated in the conversation to look at it or I was getting a little too drunk to care.

“You look amazing,” Dylan told me. His head leaned against the palm of his hand, which had the connecting elbow placed on the bar. “You look younger, somehow.”

“I stopped snorting coke,” I told him. It may have seemed like a joke, but it wasn’t entirely false. Then his hand ran across my thigh, and his emerald eyes stared into mine with piercing intensity. “I wonder a lot why we stopped hooking up,” he laughed.

“I fell in love with someone else …” I told him.

“Do you still love him?” he asked, leaning in just a bit, his other hand trailing up my side with his fingertips toward the back of my neck.

“Of course I do,” I confessed. And I did. Nothing could change that.

“Answer me after this,” he whispered as he pulled gently on the back of my neck into a kiss.

It was weird.

You know, after not having sex in … Jesus I don’t even remember how long it had been at that point. Regardless, I expected something like fireworks or sparks or … butterflies.

But none. None at all.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” a voice came from behind.

I pulled away from Dylan and whipped around on my barstool. Standing there, expressionless and pale as copy paper, was Ezra.

“Ezra … wait …”

But he was gone. Just that quick, he had whipped out the door.

“Don’t worry about h—” Dylan tugged at my wrist.

“I have to go …”

“Your tab is still open,” Charlie said. “Your credit card is here.”

“Just run it. I’ll come back for it.”

I dashed out the door and onto the sidewalk, looking left and then right for Ezra. From afar, I caught a glimpse of him hailing a cab at the street corner.

“Ezra!” I yelled, running toward him. He looked up and then opened the cab door. “Ezra, don’t leave!” I approached just in time to slam the door shut. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know he was going to do that. I didn’t even know he’d be here. He just … he just showed up there. One minute the bartender was telling me another guy from Houston had been there, and the next he was there again.”

“Oh, right. You had no idea that he’d be there tonight.”

“You’re the one who told me to go out tonight! I didn’t plan this!”

“When I said go out and have a drink, I meant vodka or wine, not ejaculate or spit.”

“I did not sleep with him, Ezra. That’s not fair.”

“You don’t sleep with me, either. That doesn’t mean it’s not cheating.”

I slapped my palm against my forehead. “You’re asexual, Ezra. You told me years ago that you’d be okay with an open relationship.”

“We were drunk. I didn’t even remember saying that until you wrote about it in your slut column.”

I took a step back. My mouth fell open and my arms dropped to my side. He’d never spoken to me like that. In fact, he’d never actually said a mean word to me in the years we’d known one another.

“Slut?” I huffed out. “Isn’t that what you think I am? A slut? Because if I remember correctly, I gave up sex to be with you and then to come to this godforsaken city with you where I have no friends, an unfinished book, a dog who only likes me when the takeout is delivered, and a boyfriend who thinks I’m a slut.”

“I DIDN’T ASK YOU TO MOVE HERE WITH ME.”

And there it was—the well I’d dug not just for him, but for me, as well. The one I’d pushed him down into, then jumped behind him in because I didn’t want to be without him. And now? It was all being thrown in my face. All being spit back at me. And why? What had I done wrong before this one thing? Loved him? Cared for him? Since we’d been together, he’d at least been eating real meals and not combination Pizza Rolls and frozen fish sticks. At least the house stayed tidy and the dog didn’t have to spend the day in a kennel. At least someone had wanted to be there to cheer him on when he gave up his amazing job in accounting to teach math to some prepubescent brats. Wasn’t it ironic that the person who once told me I experienced feelings with an intensity he may never feel was now shouting at me out of hurt in the middle of the street?

I felt like a fool.

And as he opened the cab door and jumped inside, my knees wobbled, and then they gave. I fell to the concrete crying. Wailing. Drunk and wailing in the middle of downtown because I fucked up the best thing in my life.

And then it began to rain.


“Hey, buddy,” the Uber driver’s voice called. My eyes opened in quick, irritable flutters. I looked around the back seat and realized we were parked outside my house.

“Shit,” I muttered. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” I muttered somewhere between apologetically and groggily.

The Uber driver only shrugged and said, “Better in my car on the way home from the bar than in yours.”

He had a point there.

I walked into the house, the mushrooms still very much alive inside of me. I was suddenly famished, but the light inside the refrigerator was too distracting for me to find anything to eat. Instead, I laid down on the couch, visions of Ezra screaming at me swimming around in my head. I wondered briefly if it were possible to go back to that dream if I closed my eyes. Just to find resolve to the story. Just to see how it ended.

Act Two

INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – 2021

The Julia Ideson building was absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Standing inside of it, with its marble columns and its perfectly polished wooden floors and its arched windows, it finally dawned on me for the very first time:

In less than twenty-four hours … I would be getting married here.

And this man, this beautiful, beautiful man was standing on his feet before all our family and friends inside this gorgeous building toasting my family, my friends, and me. And in less than twenty-four hours, in this historic homage to Houston’s very first head librarian, Julia Bedford Ideson, I would marry this man.

He stood there, so brave, and tall, and sure, and sweet, holding up his champagne flute and smiled from his mother to mine and then back to me.

And I’d never been happier.

“And to my fiance’s friends,” he said with certainty typically reserved for lying politicians and Amazon customer representatives, “Thank you for making this man the man that he is today. Thank you for letting him crack all the jokes he’s cracked about you, and for letting him cry all the tears he’s cried over men like me. Thank you for never turning him away. Thank you for being here and handing him off to me. Without you, he would not be the person I fell in love with.”

With that, my wonderful would-be groom took his seat next to me, leaned in, and kissed me in front of everyone as the crowd clapped and cheered. Then, when the kiss was over, he leaned in, ever-smiling, and whispered into my ear, “What the actual fuck is he doing here?” before cutting his eyes away from me and looking directly at Ezra, who sat on the opposite side of the room.

“Can we not do this now?” I asked as I continued smiling and turned back to the face the others who sat at the spread of tables before us.

“You told me you weren’t inviting him,” Matt Kersey said through gritted teeth.

“No, you told me not to invite him, and I invited him anyway, because he’s my friend,” I responded in similar fashion. “Jesus, Matthew. It’s not like I made him my best man.”

“And who the hell shows up without a date to a wedding rehearsal dinner?”

“Someone who doesn’t date because he’s asexual,” I replied.

“Or someone who has feelings for you and knows you’ve been in love with him for years,” he snipped.

“I promise you, that has never been an issue. He has never had feelings for me, and I have never been in love with him,” I reassured him as I downed my entire glass of champagne. “Can we please talk about this when we get home?” I asked.

“No, actually, we can’t,” he informed me as he sipped his own champagne.

“And why not?”

Just then, a pair of hands grabbed me by either shoulder and yanked me back in my seat. As I tossed my head up to see who was there, I found myself looking directly into Stephen’s eyes. He smiled down—drunkenly, mind you—at me with all his teeth exposed and the faint scent of vodka dripping into my nose.

“Guess what!”

“No. NO! Not tonight. I have to get married tomorrow,” I told him as I did my best to pull from his clutches.

“That’s too bad,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he squatted down behind me and placed his head on my shoulder. “Matt already said we could have you for the night,” he went on. “Besides, isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the other groom before the wedding?”

“I’m not sure that’s how that particular superstition goes—”

“Let’s go,” he told me as he pulled me up under the shoulder. I reached for Matt’s champagne flute and drank what was left inside of it. “We’re having a girls’ night.”

“Okay, okay,” I told him as I found my footing and pulled out of his clasp. “Let me tell my fiancé goodbye, first, please,” I all but implored.

With that, I reached for Matt’s hand and pulled him up, as well, pulling him in close to me. Chest-to-chest. Pelvis-to-pelvis. Nose-to-nose.

“You don’t need to worry about Ezra,” I mumbled. “I love you. This is it. This is how our fairy tale ends. Me and you. That’s it.”

Matt smiled and leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled back. For a moment, in typical Anthony fashion, I nearly lost my balance and fell to the floor. But Matt Kersey being Matt Kersey, his arms weaved around my waist and kept me from toppling over into what—with my bad luck—would have probably resulted in a major concussion.

“Tell me you believe me,” I ordered.

“I do believe you,” he agreed, smiling and kissing me in a long, swoon-worthy embrace. “And I love you, too,” he told me.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket.

11:59.

“Perfect. Now stop looking at me,” I told him as I pressed my hand in his face and pushed him away. “It’s midnight. I don’t want to jinx anything.”

INT. THE ROOM BAR – LATER

They were all there. Every single one of the people who had made the last few years so memorable, so wonderful, were all there with me celebrating my engagement. Stephen, Lauren, Courtney, Hope, Alice, Derek, Jeremy, and … yes … Ezra.

‘”It’s weird. Right?” Stephen asked as he ordered us shots from Hope at the bar.

“Which part?” I asked with a laugh.

“This is what you’ve wanted as long as I’ve known you.”

Which part?” I reiterated with a laugh.

“All of it. The books, the job, the fame, the man. And now you’re getting married. Shit, you’re getting married before me and Leo, and we’ve been saying that we’re going to for years.”

“You’re next,” I told him as Hope handed us our shots.

“For the soon-to-be-groom and his best man,” she said with a wink. “On me.”

“You’re so sweet,” I told her as I smiled and blew her a kiss. “You’re the best.”

“Actually,” Stephen said as he raised his glass. “I’m the best … best man.” I raised my glass up and clinked his.

“Don’t make me regret that decision,” I told him with a wink and a smile.

We took our shots and smiled at one another. There was that earnest, honest look in Stephen’s eyes I’d only seen one other time before. It was years ago, the night he’d been heartbroken at Rich’s when I’d rushed home from Galveston to console him.

“Let’s do it,” he said with his toothy smile, shaking his head once from one side to the next. “For old time’s sake,” he went on.

“Stephen, no,” I said with a laugh.

“C’mon,” he said. “You aren’t married, yet.” And without missing another beat, without waiting for another moment to conjure itself and beget stagnation, Stephen wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me in close, and kissed me for the second time in our long friendship.

It was a nice kiss. And while the similarity was present in its sweetness, that’s where it ended. Because without him even knowing it, Stephen had reminded me that this would be my very last kiss as an unmarried person to a man I was uninvolved with. It was warm and soft and exciting. There was magic there. And a part of me wondered, as our lips stayed locked together, and our breaths kick-boxed in the narrow space between our noses, if I wasn’t a little sad that Stephen and I had never tried a relationship. After all, he was kind, and hyper-intelligent, and funny to a fault. In every zodiac and tarot spread and prophecy, we were 100% compatible. Again … to a fault. But the stars had missed their alignment by just a fragment of an inch, and that destiny had never quite come to fruition.

“Am I interrupting something?” a voice echoed behind us.

Without pulling apart at first, our eyes opened and our lips stayed pressed together while we smiled and enjoyed a lasting look at each other one last time.

“Not at all,” I said as I turned, blushing, to face Ezra.

“I um … I was about to head out, so I wanted to tell you goodbye,” he said with a smile.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” I offered, stepping toward him. I turned back to Stephen, “I’ll catch you in a minute.”

“Call me Amelia Earhart, because I feel like I am about to get lost in a triangle!” he cackled at his own joke. I waved him off and led Ezra outside by the hand.

It took only seconds to traverse to his car, and there was silence for a long moment as I smiled at him and he looked around the sky curiously.

“Say something,” I finally told him as I let out a small laugh and lightly kicked him in his shin.

“There’s nothing to say,” he chuckled. “Well, I mean, except for congratulations and that I’m happy for you, and that I love you.”

I smiled and opened my arms to him.

“I love you, too,” I told him as I wrapped him in a hug that lasted probably a moment longer than he was comfortable with. But being the friend that he was, he didn’t pull away until I’d drained him of every last drop of affection he had inside him.

He stepped into his car, and I leaned against that of some stranger. He waved as he ducked inside, and I blew him a kiss. He put the car in reverse, and I never let my eyes leave him.

That was the man I had developed the most beautiful friendship with years after telling him I might love him. That was the man who had confessed how he’d loved me, too, but that his own body had failed him when it came to romance and sex—that those sorts of emotions didn’t exist within him and that he couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. That was the man I was convinced, for a short while, that I might spend the rest of my life with.

And he was driving away, now. And I was happy to have him as my friend. And I watched him as he took off down FM 2920. And I shed a single tear knowing that he’d made me a better person, prepared me for the big love I was soon to stumble upon.

INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – WEDDING DAY

Stephen, Alice, Derek, and Lauren all look down the aisle before me. They were linked arm-in-arm by Matthew’s own party of groomsman and women. And when the wedding march began to play, and the large, double doors opened before me, I do believe that I stopped breathing.

I was about to give my entire life away to a man—a man I could see like an ant upon the ground on the other end of the library. And he loved me, and I him. And someday we would raise children together, and maybe move into some inner-loop suburb on some fancy side of Houston. But today, we would stand before those we loved more than anyone else in the world, and we would profess our love, and then we would go home to our tiny apartment, and pack our bags, and fly out to New York City the very next day where we’d spend time seeing musicals and drinking with locals and shopping in barrios. We’d do our best not to seem too touristy, but the glee and love would be evidence enough.

So, in my custom-made wedding attire—inspired by Hindu wedding garbs with a touch of couture and a Dolce & Gabbana scarf holding my hair back—I marched down the aisle all dressed in white—ironic, considering my sexcapades—and forced myself not to look at anyone I passed along the way.

Then, when I made it to the very front of the room, I stood across from him, a minister going through the motions and us reciting our vows. And when asked if he took me to be his lawfully wedded husband, Matt, crying, said, “I do.”

And when the minister asked the very same of me … I froze.

My force to not look around at everyone evaded me, and I looked around the room to see who all sat before me with smiles and teary eyes. My mouth fell open, and I suddenly needed a drink. And my eyes, they bounced from Hope, to Derek, to my mother. And they landed once on Stephen, and I was reminded of that 11th-hour kiss. Then they washed over man after man I’d fallen for or fallen into bed with. And when they hit Ezra, who looked impatient and was also somehow crying joyfully, I turned back to Matt.

His eyes widened. His hands clenched around mine. The room was silent.

“I … I …”

One last look. One last look at all of them.

“I have to pee.”


What would certainly end up being a urinary tract infection woke me from my slumber. I sat straight up and ran to the restroom, where I sat and peed for nearly five minutes. But at that point, I realized my high was gone, and I knew if I didn’t get it back, neither of my stories would get their happy ending.

So, without washing my hands, I dashed back into the kitchen, grabbed the remaining mushrooms in the bag, and shoved them in my mouth before running up to my bedroom and getting back into bed.

The thoughts, however, the questions that accompanied my ridiculously realistic dreams, kept me up for another hour. Before I could fall back asleep, the sun had begun to rise.

But the moment that I did, I was nearly certain that what I’d been looking for was coming.

Act Three

INT. BABA YEGA – BRUNCH – 2023

I began each morning by telling myself that being single at 29 was perfectly normal and that being alone was more a state of mind than a level of existence.

I was full of shit.

Now home from his honeymoon and resettled back into his life, Stephen droned on and on about the beauty of Spain and all the Spanish gay orgies he and Leo had been to while in Madrid. I guessed every couple should be left to begin their own traditions. Leo and Stephen’s idea of a honeymoon, as if it could get no gayer after factoring in the orgies, was a two-week-long trip across most of Western Europe, in which they visited every city known for its fashion imaginable. From Paris to Milan to Madrid and, of course, Amsterdam (because in 2023, leather was fashionable again), the couple celebrated their open-relationship-turned-open-marriage, Donald Trump no longer being the president, and the child they’d soon be adopting from China now that their lives were more intact and they’d moved out of their shitty, one-bedroom, Avondale apartment.

Gag me.

“So, what have you been up to? What’s new with you?” Stephen asked as we rounded into our third carafe. Being drunk now, I wasn’t even sure why I’d bother to tell him, as I knew he’d spend most of the time formulating something else to say and inevitably interrupting me mid-sentence one hundred times.

“Nothing really,” I confessed as I popped a grape into my mouth.

“What? We haven’t seen each other since my wedding and that was almost a month ago.” Stephen guzzled mimosa. “You have to have had something new happen. A new book? A new boy?”

“My life does entail more than books and boys, you know,” I sighed, a bit annoyed. I shook it off. “No, nothing really. Everything is just as it was when you left.”

“What about the guy you brought to the wedding? What was his name? Jake?”

“Jake is nothing more than my ex that I sometimes have sex with and take to events because we’re both single.”

“Then why not try getting back together with him?”

I laughed. Stephen had been around throughout the entire Jake situation. He knew that there was really no going back there. Often, I wondered if he asked such questions because the older that we got, the less we had to talk about. Our similarities never changed, but priorities often did.

“Nah,” I went on. “It’s not worth going through all that shit again. He’s very spiteful when he shoulders bad feelings for someone. Any little fight we had always turned into histrionics the likes of which I can’t even verbalize.”

Stephen looked across the table at me as he forked waffle into his mouth. He gave that seductive little smile of his. “Sounds perfect for you.”

I laughed, though it was forced. “Oh, fuck off.” I pushed my plate away, full somehow from just the small portion of fruit I’d eaten. “So, are we still on for Legally Blonde on Friday?”

Stephen looked up from his plate. “Is that this Friday?” he asked, scrolling through the calendar on his phone. “Shit. I totally forgot and that’s the day we’re supposed to leave to pick up the baby.”

“Seriously, Stephen? You’re blowing me off for your dumb baby? You never even wanted kids!”

“First of all, my kid is Asian, so I doubt she’ll be dumb. Secondly, things change. Now, I want kids. Is that so bad?”

“Yes, actually, it is. It especially is when it interferes with my plans to see Legally Blonde: The Musical.

“Take Courtney! She’s been to musicals with you before,” he optioned.

“Only because Ezra and I were going and she wanted a lowkey first date with Jennifer.” I picked up the carafe to refill my champagne flute.

“Well, then take Ezra!”

The carafe fell out of my hand and hit the ground with a clatter. Had I not just emptied it into my glass, I might be more upset. “Ezra has not spoken to me in five years.” My voice was squeezing between my gritted teeth.

“No, you have not spoken to Ezra in five years,” Stephen went on as he scarfed down bacon. He’d gained a little weight over the last few years, but he carried it well. Long gone were the days of the lanky Stephen I’d first met at Pride Houston in 2016. 35-year-old Stephen actually looked better than ever. He was one of those people who only got better-looking as they aged. I despised that about him. Still, he was my best friend through-and-through. Certainly we fought like all other friends, sometimes not speaking for months when that happened. But somehow, some way, through all our own hubris and stubbornness, Stephen and I always went back to being friends. There weren’t a lot of others to be had, it seemed. “And you only haven’t spoken to him because you don’t handle rejection well.”

“I handle rejection the best way I know how. And that’s not why I stopped speaking to him. I’m no child,” I pressed. “It was never the fact that he rejected me. It was the fact that he rejected me and chalked it up to his asexuality, then months later went out and met some Asian Jew and didn’t have time for his friends anymore. And what’s so special about an Asian Jew anyway? I’m Jewish, too. A Mexican Jew, which is far more interesting if you ask me.”

“Have the Asians done something specific to you that’s made you so bitter toward them?”

“It’s not all Asians. Just the ones who are taking all my people away from me.”

It was a cutting remark, certainly, regardless of the intent of it being a joke. In truth, it had nothing to do with Asians, but rather was due to a supreme feeling of once again never being good enough for anyone to consider dating seriously.

With Jake, our entire relationship had been real, even if it had initiated as a means of me helping him complete his dissertation. But the ultimate and final battle had been the same as so many before it: he couldn’t see spending the rest of his life with me. Adam, a man I’d dated for only a few short weeks, and I had broken up in similar fashion. True, our relationship had only happened because I was thick and Adam fetishized that. Still, when he and I broke up, it all came down to the future he had pictured and how I didn’t fit into it. Dylan was another problem, but the same in theme and tone: he didn’t want to settle down. He wanted to hook up without strings attached, which I was able to at some point stray away from. Matt Kersey may have been the sweetest prospect, but he and I never dated. Jeremy and I probably could have been something–his mother and Hope had both certainly hoped so. But Jeremy’s feelings for me only surfaced when he was shitty drunk, which to me felt like a bit of a deal breaker. And every man before or after or in between had been nothing but a meaningless sex partner with whom there had been no spark.

And of all the men in Houston–and a handful abroad–I’d met few whom ever brought me that warm feeling for which I so desperately yearned. And the older I got, as I began to flirt with thirty and as the fleeting moments of joy and euphoria brought on by cocaine and mushrooms and drunken karaoke nights at bars became fewer and further between, I couldn’t help but wonder if it really was me. Maybe there was something about me that just repelled men away … that made them think I wasn’t good enough. In the last five years, I’d become more successful, sure. My face reflected my age more, of course. My body had changed and then hadn’t. But other than those few things, little was different about me. I was still loud, still crass, still intimidating, still funny, still hard-working, still kind. And the still to steal them all was still the same, as well:

Still single.

“I’ll go alone,” I told Stephen as the waiter came by to present our checks. I pulled a credit card from my wallet as Stephen reached for his own. “I’ve got it,” I told him, curling one side of my mouth up to resemble something adjacent of a smile. “Happy baby week.”

We were gone moments later. And as much as hated to admit it to myself, as much as I tried to wish away the feeling, I knew that would be the last time Stephen and I spent time together uninterrupted by shrill, baby cries or PTA meetings or book tours or a traverse outside the loop where he and Leo would eventually settle down in a suburb and raise their new child and the two more they’d have in the three years to follow.

We weren’t different. In fact, we were still very much the same. The only difference was that Stephen had gotten his happily ever after. Mine, however, was somewhere far from sight.

EXT. THE MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE – THAT FRIDAY

I’d seen the same production of Legally Blonde on that same stage seven or so years ago. The cast was comprised of amateurs, though none that were out of their league in terms of talent. Only this time, instead of being joined by Alice and Max, I found myself sitting on the hill alone, humming the tunes along as the company belted out one after the next.

I’d arrived early enough to pick out the perfect spot at the foot of the hill, dead center. I’d learned after years and years that planning was important when attending a performance, as the crowds came in droves and never left any good seating even half an hour before curtain.

I’d brought a box of cabernet, but that was gone by intermission. I tossed the box into the recycling bin and made my way down to the concession stands, picking up the blanket I’d brought to sit upon as the grass was damp from the previous day’s shower. I ordered two glasses of white zinfandel—the only wine left behind the counter, to my own disgust—from the concession stand, feeling it necessary to lie to the clerk and say one was for my friend back on the hill. The blanket over my shoulder should have been giveaway enough that I was making things up, but she neither questioned me nor seemed to care.

I went back to the hill to take my spot back. Only, when I arrived at the foot of the hill, a young woman and her suitor were laying their blanket down and taking their seats in my spot. The moment the blanket hit the grass, a chirpy little dog ran atop it and plopped down in front of a bag of popcorn.

“What the fuck?” I shouted–and I mean shouted.

The man turned around. “Excuse me?”

“I said ‘what the fuck’ … as in, ‘What the fuck are you doing in my spot?’” Clearly their response required that I reiterate the point.

“You moved. We thought you’d left,” the woman told me without making an effort to get up and move back to her original place.

“I went to get wine, you classless cunt.”

“Wow,” her boyfriend uttered. “I don’t know what’s sadder about you: the fact that you’re about to double-fist wine, because we all know you’ve been here alone this whole time, or that your alcoholism and loneliness have made you so bitter that you’re harassing strangers in a park.”

For the first time in my entire life, I was without a quick-witted remark to fire back at them.

I mean … they weren’t wrong. I was behaving like a crazy person. Sure, I was drunk, but I’d never been belligerent in my entire life until that very moment. And I was bitter … in more than one sense of the word. Bitter that Stephen blew me off to go adopt a baby. Bitter that I didn’t have a boyfriend to enjoy doing things with me and that all my other friends were either married or so infatuated with their lovers that they hadn’t the time to spend with their friends. Bitter that I’d forgone love and a relationship for my career and that all the men I’d ever loved or at the very least trusted found me unlovable.

Jesus fucking Christ … who had I become?

“There’s room over here,” a familiar voice called to me from a few feet away. Turning my head, I spotted Ezra sitting alone on his own blanket with his own dog curled up nervously in his lap. He nodded down toward the empty space on the blanket.

“Ha!” I said up to the sky. “You have a really fucked up sense of humor. You know that?”

“Who are you talking to?” the woman asked.

“God, dumbass,” I told her as I downed one of the plastic cups of wine before chunking it at her. “I hope your dog dies.”

I moseyed over toward Ezra, left without any options. I took a seat down without looking at him, though I could somehow see in my mind, nonetheless. He looked relatively the same. His features were a bit more defined, as happens in the early thirties. He still smelled like that Rue 21 cologne he’d worn when I knew him. And he still didn’t have that much to say unless prompted.

“Still classy, I see,” he muttered, which—whether from drunkenness or actual humor—made me laugh loudly.

“Well, you know me.” A moment of silence passed. “You look good.”

“You’ve not even looked at me,” he pointed out. “But thank you, anyway. You do, as well,” he said. “You actually look younger somehow.”

“Yeah, well I had to stop smoking cigarettes and snorting coke,” I confessed. That being said, there was nothing about this awkward encounter that didn’t make me want to do a bump and smoke a cigarette. “How’s the depression?” I asked him.

“Managed,” he replied. “And your bipolar disorder?”

“I think that my little sketch comedy down there is sufficient enough an answer to that.”

Finally, I did turn and look at him. And he did look good. “I figured you would have moved away by now,” I admitted.

“I thought about it,” he said. “I still think about it. I just haven’t.”

“Staying behind for a boy?” I asked, partly to poke fun and partly because I was nosy.

“Oh, please. I haven’t dated anybody in years.”

As everyone took their seats down in the pavilion, the crowd on the hill got quiet and the lights went down. Moments later, the curtain rose and the cast of jump-roping actors and actresses began singing the act two opener.

“This is a really good production for what it is,” Ezra said.

“It really is. I saw it here years ago, and I was impressed then, too.”

Shhh!” the woman from my original seat hissed.

I turned to look at her. “I will literally kill your boyfriend in front of you, and then make you watch as your dog eats his carcass.”

She fell silent.

“Some things really never do change,” Ezra mumbled, taking the cup of white zin out of my hand and taking a swig before handing it back to me.

I smiled.

“Guess not.” 


The days that followed those mushroom dreams were … confusing, to say the least. Discerning reality from them was difficult, but proved to be manageable. Each ending fit the course life could have taken, but each was tragic in their own right. I feared them … really feared them. Pushing too hard, loving being loved more than loving the person who loved me, and being alone. After all, as someone told me lately, I experience emotions intensely … maybe in a way most other people don’t. But another sex writer, I believe her name was Carrie Bradshaw, once said, “Some people are settling down. Some people are settling. And some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”

I fell into the latter category.

A year to the day has passed since I sat down and wrote the first story in this series of tales about my sex life and my “love” life. In that year, I have been peed on, I have been objectified for my size, I have survived an orgy, and I have had my heart ripped out, and stepped on, and broken. But also in that time, I have danced with my friends, and had some amazing sex, and—as I once put it—fucked a frog or two, even when none of them turned out to be the prince I was hoping they’d be.

Still, through all the drugs and alcohol and parties and bad dates and not-dates, I did find the thing that I sought out to find in the first place:

Butterflies.

But what I’ve learned about butterflies is that they’re just like anything else that lives—like all organic matter. They are born, and they transform, and they live. And, ultimately, they die. But soon, if we’re lucky, someone comes along that impregnates you with them again. Even when they start off as caterpillars and slowly transfigure themselves into that feeling that makes you want to burst from the inside out. Sometimes they have to be caterpillars and cocoons, because they can never become butterflies without going through those phases. And that’s what life is all about: …phases. The relationships, the good times, the bad, the drama, the joy … none of it is constant.

And, if we’re still lucky, we get to go through some phases—like the butterfly phase—much longer than we have to wait for the chrysalis to crack.

However, therein lies the true beauty, at least I think:

Nothing lives without nurture, and if someone you love nurtures those feelings, nurtures those butterflies properly, they can live a very, very long time.

I’m lucky enough to say that I have someone who nurtures that feeling without even knowing it. Lots of people, actually. My Stephens, my Alices, my Laurens, my Courtneys, my Hopes, my Dereks, and even my Ezras. Without me, true, their worlds would go on turning. Still, each of them has had such a pivotal part in making me who I am, today, that I’m not so sure mine would without each of them.

They are true love, because there is no friendship if there is no love.

As for Ezra … well, nothing new is happening there. Nor with any man, for that matter. But he has taught me something quite unique about love from nearly the beginning of these stories; and that’s that love is just that … unique.

I’ll stand beside him and up for him and with him as long as he needs, and I will be his friend as long as we are both able—which hopefully will be a very long time. But I’ll never forget how he was the first man in a very long time to remind me what the butterflies felt like. And that’s the best gift anyone could have ever given me. And, as I said before, if the worst thing that happens is that he continues giving me those and I get to keep feeling them as his friend, that’s not such a bad place to be with someone.

I may not have ridden off into the sunset on the back of his noble steed, nor did we skip through fields of poppies into the sun. But the friendship I get to have with him since those letters is so much more fulfilling. It exists without illusion, without grandeur. And that’s something that I’ve needed more than anything for a very long time—long before these stories: something real. Anything real.

I don’t know what stories I’ll tell next, nor do I know which men will inspire them. I don’t know how soon they’ll come or what I’ll feel when I write them. But one thing is for certain:

I still have so much love to give.