Less Than Butterflies, No. 27
This is how the story went:
I met someone by accident.
He blew me away …
There are people who believe in something — God, karma, a grand design, the Fates … whatever. They tell tales of Noah and his ark, of messiahs born and unborn, gods and goddesses that hail from mountains and heavens and reign over rivers and underworlds. Whatever they believe, the fact is that they do believe in something; and those believers always say the same thing no matter what faith it is they belong to or identify with: Everything happens for a reason.
I, a person that doesn’t belong to any kind of religion, always have the same response to that statement:
Bull. Fucking. Shit.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe children should get cancer; and I don’t believe that innocents should lose their lives to drunk drivers; I don’t believe that people should be raped by vile human garbage; and I don’t believe people who work their entire lives should barely be able to afford to put food in their mouths or roofs over their heads. And of all the senseless, inexplicable bullshit that happens, I certainly don’t believe that good-hearted, caring, loving people should have their hearts broken.
Some things in life just don’t happen for any reason at all. Some things in life just shouldn’t happen.
This is the story I’ve been leading to this entire season, even before I knew I was leading to it. It’s the story of no matter how much you can try to show someone how much you love them, they can for no reason still not love you back.
This is the story of a man named Peter, and the story of how I fell in love with him without even realizing what had happened until it was far too late. This is the story of how he broke my heart — even though it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t love me, and even though he didn’t mean to — in a way it had never been before.
He blew me away …
🦋 🦋 🦋
It was in the darkest of my days
when you took my sorrow
and you took my pain
and buried them away.
It was a Thursday evening in November of 2017 when I first met him, but only a few words had been exchanged. We were at a function and he was dressed to the nines while I was overweight and searching for the words to introduce myself to this dashing man as I sweated out Adderall and vodka. I was in a weird place in my life. Although I should’ve been rejoicing about all the good things that had been happening in my life at the time — I had just become the editor-in-chief of this magazine, I had amazing new friends as well as amazing old friends, and people were starting to get to know who I was as a writer and a member of the community. But not everything was going as great as I would have liked. I had just gotten out of a relationship with a man I thought I was going to someday marry (remember Parker?); I was slowly but surely falling for an asexual guy I knew didn’t love me back (remember Ezra?); my car had just been stolen from my mother’s driveway while I was out of town and I wasn’t sure how I’d ever afford a new one; plus my roommates in my gorgeous Heights townhouse were moving to Nashville in just a few short months and there was no way I could afford the place by myself.
Things were kind of a disaster; and I had no idea that in the months to come I’d go through yet another heartbreak and just shortly after that I would be drugged and raped. The year, on the whole, had been a nightmare with punctuated by patches of bedlam one after the next. Staying positive while also trying to keep my head above the water was proving difficult, but I wanted more than anything to maintain some air of charisma. After all, I was someone people were getting to know while working in the community; and I was known for my sense of humor at the time more than I was for my column or the magazine.
It wasn’t until one night while meeting up with my friend Gwen at Guava Lamp that I really first met Peter, though. I’d known him from the function before and had done my fair share of research (read: social media stalking), but it wasn’t until Gwen introduced us that we really had a conversation. In spite of my thorough stalking, I still knew very little about him then, but it seemed as though everyone in the world knew him. He was a bobbly-headed, lanky fellow out of that suit he’d worn to the function before that was more cute now than he was dapper. But what I found in just a short exchange of conversation was that Peter was quite charming and funny. My first true impression of his was as I sat at Guava and watched him take the stage with great hubris — albeit, drunk — and sing a strained rendition of Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” with a group of other boys I couldn’t name now if I tried while I giggled and sipped down a vodka cranberry at a table nearby.
When I later went to the parking lot to find a friend of mine, I found him laughing and hugging her as I approached. I can’t quite remember if I knew he’d been out there with her, and maybe that’s what I had approached him in the first place. But either way, when we did engage in conversation, he laughed at my dry jokes and complimented my work at the magazine before we spoke very briefly about trying to work together in our respective businesses to help the community thrive. But after only a single lunch meeting and some text conversations, I didn’t see Peter a lot. I’d heard he moved out of state, but I could hardly keep up with what he was doing with everything else that I had going on. Still, I thought about him, although not in any particular kind of way. After all, he was just a boy I had once fawned over as he sang karaoke. Nothing more, nothing less. He would, however, cross my mind as I scrolled through Facebook and saw photos of him out and about. It wasn’t until Gwen and I somehow pulled him in with the gravity of our own friendship after he’d gone that we began speaking on a regular basis. Group texts became a daily exchange between the three of us, and Marco Polos came shortly after when Gwen convinced us both to join the video walkie-talkie app. And on the side, Peter and I drew the map of a nice little friendship of our own. The tiny crush I’d had on him when we’d met didn’t seem to be an issue once Gwen informed me that Peter had had an on-again-off-again relationship. That being the case, that little crush evaporated into a wisp of smoke like a candle being put out after Mass.
What I couldn’t have known then, however, was just how much like a candle that feeling actually was — how soon it would be lit again and the wax would melt in slow, uneven form until is spilled over the plate it rested upon and hardened against the parts of my life trapped beneath it.
As it turned out, it was just that everyone seemed to know Peter — everyone did know Peter, even my straight friends that weren’t involved in the community. But more importantly, everyone seemed to love Peter, too. He was fun and handsome and had the most beautiful and trusting eyes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those eyes were the first things about him that I fell in love with. Looking at them made you feel surrounded in their color — like you’d suddenly fallen down a well and looked around as you hit the bottom to find you’d landed inside a painting. I still look into those eyes when I feel anxious or unsafe. Even just a picture can do the trick sometimes.
As we became better friends, our conversations were nothing if not a little harsh. Peter was a funny person, too; and what other people may have mistaken for hatefulness was just our back-and-forth banter. It kept us both laughing, even if it at times either of us could get a little carried away. It never ceased to amaze me, however, when Peter could almost read my thoughts and know exactly the right thing to say at the time. He knew when I needed to laugh and he knew when I was about to cry. Even if sometimes our mean-spirited jokes seemed awful to other people, it was evident that we both came from the same school of thought about laughing at things as a coping mechanism. Additionally, I was happy that it was something that I had with him that a lot of other people didn’t get. They got front-facing Peter, a mannequin in a display window. I got three-dimensional Peter — someone I could laugh with, someone I would go on to cry with, and someone I honestly had never expected to get to know all that well.
You buried them away …
🦋 🦋 🦋
I wish I could lay down beside you
when the day is done;
and wake up to your face
against the morning sun.
Something most people don’t know about me is that I was born ill. From the time I came into this world until I was a toddler, I would cry and cry, incapable of being soothed most of the time. In fact, there was only one thing that really did calm me down, as aberrant as it is: Shania Twain. That same woman I’d first heard Peter singing at Guava Lamp the night we’d officially met.
My family listened to a lot of country music and Shania was a big deal in the early 90s. For some inexplicable reason, her voice had a soothing effect on me it likely didn’t have on anyone else in the world. By the time I was of talking age, I could have recited to anyone most of her song lyrics. It’s fair to say that even from the beginning, I was absolute trash. Still, when I was invited to her concert this past year with Peter — our first true outing together save for that one business lunch — who had an extra ticket to the show, I was thrilled. We’d been chatting in that friendly way for months, but we’d never gotten the chance to do anything other than text or send Marco Polo messages to one another. A part of my excitement was just from that: that he’d thought of me as enough of a friend to invite me. The other part was that it was sort of like a childhood dream come true; and the genie in the bottle who had granted it was none other than Peter, a man with whom I’d had only a handful of conversations in-person in my entire life.
I’m not sure if I ever told him this, but that concert was special to me, because it was the first time that Peter for those reasons. Watching him dance like an old man and shout lyrics an octave below Shania at the top of his lungs left me laughing. And even that far into the disaster of my life, I’d needed those laughs. Things weren’t getting better for me, but the moments like that — and many of the others with Peter that came to fruition — made everything seem okay. And I think that might be the thing that I loved about being with him most: he made everything seem like it was going to be okay, even if I’d not shared my worries and woes with him.
Although it seemed to me at the time that Peter might be a difficult person to get to know. He wore a lot of things on his sleeve — what he did, what he loved, why he loved those things; but there were parts of him I could tell even from the beginning that were reserved for only a few people. Something that night told me that I might come to be one of those few people someday soon; and as the next few days during that week passed and we spent even more time together going out in Montrose, that process slowly began.
One thing that I always struggled with was Peter’s popularity. In the gay scene, he was someone people wanted to know, and it was understandable why people wanted to know him. Aside from his looks, his charm, and his zeal, Peter knew a lot of people and ran in circles that one had to work to get into. It was because of that fact that people often took advantage of Peter and his friendship kindness. Even the ones who barely knew him at all weren’t afraid to ask him for favors or to try to worm their way in without giving anything back in the relationship. And that’s always something I worried about when it came to Peter. I was not nearly as successful or financially well-off as he was; and it was my earnest hope that he’d never think I was taking advantage of him. He was someone I really cared about and if that didn’t show at any time when he was doing things for me, it wasn’t because I didn’t want it to. Every single chance I got, I tried to find ways to do things for him, too — even little things to show how much I was growing to care about him. The opposite side of that token was that, the more I realized how people were capable of taking advantage of him, the more defensive and protective of him I got around other people. And when it came to his popularity, it often put me at arm’s length from the people I could tell he genuinely cared about that seemed to only be there to take advantage of that fact.
That’s why going out with Peter got the better of me, and I didn’t quite understand why. I would often get so frustrated and mad at him without any sort of reason, but now I can say that it was just that. I was concerned. Peter — very much like myself — wanted to love people, and he wanted so badly to be loved that he would have done and still would do anything for anyone he cared about. But as I watched him traipse around Montrose with his friends that had come before me, I found that my irritation would spike and leave me unable to even speak to or make eye contact with him. At the time, I wouldn’t have thought of it as jealousy, but the more I dwell on it now — and believe me when I say that I dwell — the more I realize that jealousy was a big part of it. I’d met someone that I really cared about and had befriended him unexpectedly. Seeing him tell jokes with old friends that I didn’t understand was difficult, even for someone like myself that usually had no problem inserting themselves into a situation. But I never wanted to do that with Peter, because I didn’t want him to think I was imposing upon something that didn’t belong to me. So I sat back and watched from the sidelines many times, jealous that it would be a long time before I got to have those moments with him. But more so, I was genuinely afraid of the intentions others had for him. In the short time I’d known him, I’d watched him get hurt and used and had heard a few of the stories. I was letting my inner-mother come out on the defensive, and sometimes that wasn’t necessary. But in truth, I wouldn’t go back and change it. He was my friend, and I would have done it for any other friend the same that I did for him.
As would soon become a tradition of ours, I was staying with him a few days after the Shania Twain concert just because I was a little too fucked up from drinking and doing cocaine to actually drive myself anywhere. I was in the midst of getting over one boy and I wasn’t handling myself well in the months descending from that. On the last night I stayed there — I think it had only been two nights in a row — and when the others we’d been hanging out with had left, Peter shared a story with me about how he’d lost a friendship with my then-new friend, Chance, and how it had affected him, as well as how the loss of the other friends involved had affected him. Their separation would go on for several months to follow, and Chance would only ever just now begin to fully get over what happened. But as Peter — also drunk — told me the story as we sat in his bed, I remember having to do everything in my power now to wrap my arms around him and hold him. His vulnerability was like the liquid that cools into glass — penetrable, thin, and capable of either creating something beautiful or causing harm to someone who gets too close.
That’s the night our friendship really began, as far as I’m concerned; but I think it’s also the night I really started to care for him as something more than a friend. It was the first time I looked to his eyes, fell down the well, and landed in a painting that was — while equally beautiful — one that brought me great melancholy.
But like every man I’ve ever known,
you’ll disappear someday.
So I spend my whole life hiding
my heart away.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Dropped me off at the train station,
put a kiss on top of my head,
and watched me wave.
I started to spend more and more time with Peter as the months went on. Every day was filled with notes to and from him in my phone, three and four day-long visits would take place where we’d bunk up at night and talk and laugh and adventure during the day and well into the aforementioned nights. I trailed in his stride trying to keep up with whatever good time he was having whether I was visiting him out of state or whether we were here in Montrose with his other friends. I’d tag along with him to work functions and watch doe-eyed as he schmoozed with his betters and his lessers, a little turned on by just how sexy it was to see him do his job and to do it so well. He introduced me to people I probably otherwise would have never met, and he spun me into a baby socialite of sorts that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be. I loved my community, don’t get me wrong; but the bar and club scenes weren’t quite my aesthetic anymore, and they would become even less so my scene after being raped in June. I was terrified of them for a while, to be honest. Sometimes that terror comes back up when I least expect it — I could be having a drink in the bar and laughing with friends and reach down for my glass only to remember that someone had once drugged and raped me in a bar just like that before my anxiety would spin out of control and I’d make some excuse to leave. But when I was with Peter in those nocturnal settings, I usually felt okay and could staive off the fear. He liked to take care of people, even if he wasn’t sure that he was doing it. He was a natural-born caretaker, even if the way in which he did it was sometimes adjacent to confusing, Still, he was a calculated person who liked to plan out what he would say and do, and that much was evident when we were together. I think a part of that safety net came from the fact that when we did go out and socialize and drink and dance, he sort of — if not metaphorically — took my by the hand and just led the way. Sure I was trotting along at his heels, but he was pulling me in stride.
On one particular night I’ve written about before just a short three months after being raped, Peter and I had an intimate moment while in bed at a hotel. He and I had been working on some business matters together, and I elected to stay with him there rather than going home so that we could spend more time together before he had to drive back out of town — like I said, this was becoming tradition. That night, we’d both done a little Molly and spent the night dancing at a club before going to an after party hosted by some stranger to me where we rolled our asses off on the couch and everyone else sipped wine out of Olivia Pope-style glasses like classy adults. As the rolls got stronger on the couch, Peter was in no shape to be around functioning adults, and I was already lying on his shoulder ready to pass out with my hand in resting on his thigh.
That was another one of those things I’m not sure had any real reason behind it. Sure, I was tired and my friend was sitting beside me. But I can’t remember exactly what led me to do that. I never really touched people, least of all not Peter. We were great friends who seemed more like frenemies to anyone didn’t really know us. But we weren’t the type to touch one another all that much. But that weekend, he’d been handling our business so well and I’d started to look at him not as Peter my friend, but as Peter this man who was taking care of shit without being asked to do so. Aside from the business, I’d been rather upset with a boy named Mason that night for going on a date with another man and Peter had just swooped in — albeit, with Molly — and took care of me. So we returned to the hotel room and he disrobed to get into bed, I curled up next to him and rested my head on his chest. I wanted to thank him, but I couldn’t find the words; and it seemed as though maybe that was the way to do it. He sat up and put his arm around me and traced circles on my shoulder with his fingers while I ran mine over his skin and listened to a medley of his heartbeat and gentle moans and hisses coming from his mouth. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure what had made me engage so much in touching him, but there’s one thing I did know for certain:
That night was the first time I had let a man put his hands on me in the three months since I’d been raped. I’d had no sexual encounters, no kisses from dates — mind you, I hadn’t had any dates, either — and I’d squirmed at friends who tried to hug me or show me affection. The one time I’d let a man put his hands on me was just a few nights after being raped, when Ezra had listened to me tell the story I’d only just started to piece together and hugged me afterward for what felt like an eternity. No one else.
Maybe that doesn’t sound all that remarkable, but it is for me; and I think it is for any rape survivor who has long-lost their trust in men. That yearning for physical affection doesn’t come back easily, and certainly for most it doesn’t come back after just three short months. But Peter — someone I’d only just shared my rape story with a few nights before he’d come into town — was there with me, and he was there for me; and I wanted that closeness with not just anyone, but with him, even if I’d only realized it just then. There was my new best friend that had slipped into my life by accident lying naked beside me and all I could think about was the fact that he was the only man that I ever wanted to touch me again. He’d swooped in and saved the day for work, cared for me and made me feel like he wanted to be around me, and now he was holding me in his arms as I ran my fingers over the skin of his chest and tummy and felt us both growing erections beneath the sheets. He was literally a prince who had ridden in on a white horse and lent his hand to me on the ground below where I’d fallen. I’d never wanted a prince before that moment; but, at least for that night, I’d gotten mine.
We didn’t make love; and in some ways I regret that, but in others I think it would only make what happened next and what is happening now all the more unbearable. Instead we touched one another, and I found out he was ticklish under his arms and blew a raspberry there to send him flying into the air. I kissed his chest and we intertwined our legs together and I tapped the bottom of one of my feet against the top of his twice: tap-tap. That’s was the calling card of a Molly roll. When it hit your system, and you tapped on someone’s shoulder to see whether or not they were feeling it. Tap-tap, went my foot against his, then the top of his went against the bottom of mine, Tap-tap. And Peter played music, and I think I rolled away from him, and we both fell asleep and woke the next morning far too late for check-out.
As hard as we were rolling, there were a number of factors that played into the fact that we shouldn’t sleep together; though I believe that had either of us pushed just a little bit harder, had my hand grazed over his pubis or had clawed his fingernails just a little bit deeper into my shoulder blades than he had been, we likely would have. And you know what? It probably would have been magical and unforgettable and, again, an event that would’ve made this all the more difficult for me. I wanted him to make love to me that night, though; I won’t lie. He’d had sex with pretty much everyone else that I knew; and while it was nice to be in a place where I was the only person he hadn’t slept with, it was a place that made me feel like a leper — like I wasn’t worthy. I was attractive, and witty, and smart, and funny, and I was driven. But later it would come to seem as though there was something undesirable about me; and to this day I have to stop myself from asking him what that is.
Even still, when we woke the next day, we ran errands together, visited his family together, had drinks together on a rooftop bar, watched a show together, sang karaoke together, and in summation shared one of my favorite days of the last twenty-four years together. It would have been the perfect day if I hadn’t had to have parted ways with him at the end of it. I’d begged him all day just to spend one extra day with me, and for a while I thought me might acquiesce; but his work needed tending to out of state, as did mine, frankly. When he went to leave, I almost didn’t hug him because I was so mad that he had to leave. But he called me back to him, gave me a hug, and planted a peck on my cheek as my eyes began to water. And as soon as I was out of his line of sight, I cried my eyes out and texted him over-and-over again. We even talked the majority of his drive back home.
Even then, I still wanted to be lying back in his arms.
You watched me wave …