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When Boys Keep Secrets, Pt. II

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 18, Pt. II

These are my secrets.

They aren’t all necessarily good ones, and many of them may not be as secret as I’d like to think. But there they are.

I spent my life with most of these, and I spent most of that time in a closet. So, when I say that it would take an incredibly skilled liar to keep a secret from me, I mean it. What’s the old saying? You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?

Here’s one more:

For Christmas I bought Ezra and I two tickets to see Anastasia on Broadway, and thereafter purchased our plane tickets (he paid for his own), tickets to Mean Girls for his birthday, and Wicked because we both love it so much. I was so excited for the trip that was supposed to take place the first week of June, but when that rolled around I was so overwhelmed by Pride work, work work, and depression that I asked if we could move it back to July. The tickets were all exchangeable, and Ezra was a perfect, understanding friend about the entire thing. But that was the first time I saw one of those aforementioned signs — the day I asked him if we could delay the trip until after Pride.

In the time that followed, my work load grew much larger than ever, I was drugged and raped, and my suspicions only grew more and more. On several occasions we’ve gotten together to rework our plans, to pick out AirBNBs, but nothing has ever come to fruition. I still have two unused plane ticket credits that have to be used before the year’s end. From time-to-time, I’ll say to Ezra, “Let’s use this time to get our trip details in order” and he’ll always agree, but then we’ll get together and smoke weed or drink wine and forget all about it. And that makes me incredibly sad, because I really want to make it happen. I really need that vacation. And he was the person I wanted it with.

But when he sent me a message this week asking if we could make the trip happen Labor Day weekend, my insides cringed a bit. We’d just spent a weekend together in Dallas for a convention and all that time I had to remember that Ezra and I were only friends and would only ever be friends. Sure, Ezra did and said a few things that struck me as odd while we were away, but because I’m not sure what to make of them, I won’t analyze them here. Still, the time alone with him was nice. We were able to talk about the magazine, he pointed out to me that all I ever do is work, we drank some, we ate a lot, we caught up with some of my friends that live in the area, and we slept side-by-side in a king-sized bed at a Holiday Inn. He went to sleep much earlier than I, and as he laid there and I chatted on Marco Polo with my friends Gwen and Sam, I caught myself staring at him a few times, longing again just to hold his hand and be close to him.

I’d convinced myself up until that trip that a little space between us over the last few months — as opposed to the back-to-back weekends we were spending together for a very long time — had been good for me. I’d met someone new, I’d begun to get over him, and I felt confident that for the first time I really could just be his friend and enjoy our time together as such. But as I watched him check his phone, as I caught sight of the sheepish little grin that crossed his face when he didn’t know I was watching, when he’d say certain things that were deliberately glib, but that had to be said for one reason or another, all of those signs I’d been pretending I hadn’t been seeing were right there in front of me, screaming at me to get a clue.

Maybe it was just the paranoia of a boy who had had his heart broken by the man he is spending his weekend with and had grown suspicious of, but I could have sworn then and there and still could here and now that there’s someone in Ezra’s life that he isn’t telling me about. And for what it’s worth and if that is the case and I’m not just being a basketcase from the lack of sleep — hell it’s 5:30 AM now and I’ve been up writing this since three — I’m glad he isn’t telling me. Part of me hopes that he’s reading this right now so that he knows that if that is the case he should continue to not tell me. Because I’m not there yet. Just the thought of him maybe having a date with some pretentious twink from Grindr on my birthday spiraled me into a two-week depression. And just the thought of that now is still enough to strike me with silence. Max asked me about it just last evening and I was unable to communicate anything regarding it. But there as I watched him sleep in the bed while I drank a bottle of Cabernet that Sam had gifted me, I felt something was afoot.

I was no fool. I was familiar with that elated grin, the way he checked his phone again-and-again while awaiting a new message. I’d smiled like that because of him once upon a time, checked my messages with that exact same urgency. I knew he had a secret, that there was something he was keeping from me to protect my feelings. Or maybe it wasn’t me or my feelings at all. Maybe he just didn’t want to be made to feel like shit the way he had the last time he’d hurt me. Whatever the reason behind it may have been, I was positive there was someone else in his life. Someone I could never be to him.

And that last part particularly sucks. Because, when Ezra told me that he wasn’t in love with me after I publicly humiliated myself telling him in what I denied to be but actually turned out to be a grand gesture, he’d said this:

Here was this wonderfully intense and engaging guy who had brought change and self-enlightenment crashing down on my head in the only way either of us could have managed it. He was wildly successful, charming, witty, genuinely funny, and every other thing you’re normally forced to lie about in your Tinder bio to get people to swipe right before the inevitable non-conversation.

So where were my goddamn butterflies?!

I felt betrayed by every musical and romance I’d ever seen, betrayed to my very core – which both of those things had played a tremendous role in forming! What was wrong with me? I re-lived every phase of being young and not knowing why I felt (or didn’t feel) the things I was feeling (not feeling?) all over again in rapid succession.

Then, through an errant facebook post by a recent acquaintance, I was alerted to the full meaning of the A in LGBTQIA+: Asexual(/Aromantic). After doing some cursory research I realized this explained how I was feeling to a tee, then proceeded to experience the relief of being able to identify with a minority sexuality all over again as well. It was a roller coaster, to say the least, but one I’m always glad to ride again.

I know it’s probably no real solace to you and you’ll be catching crap for the rest of your life (mostly from yourself, probably) for somehow managing to turn someone away from sex completely, but it has opened the door for me to finally be able to explore and better understand myself as a person after 20+ years of being locked out of my own heart. And that really is incredible. You are incredible.

What sucks about it wouldn’t be finding out that there was someone else. And it’s not because I don’t want him to be happy. I do. I always have. I always will. What’s difficult about it would be knowing that I’m the person who allegedly brought him to this revelation of the fact that he isn’t capable of having romantic feelings for another person only for someone else to bring those about.

It takes me back to every single one of those secrets. From my mother who chased after men because her children weren’t enough, to my father who abandoned me over-and-over again and had a separate family because I wasn’t enough, to my first love being engaged to a woman because I wasn’t enough, to crying after my first sexual encounter with a man because I wasn’t enough and every other thing in between. All my life I’ve been spun out into disappointment because someone made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. And to think that there might be someone who is enough for Ezra, who gives him everything he needs and more after having heard all that above … it would be a heartbreak I can’t even fully wrap my head around.

It was one thing when Parker told me he wasn’t the type to commit. It was one thing when I had to stop sleeping with Dylan because he voted for Donald Trump. It was one thing when Blake got engaged because he wasn’t gay (or at least he wasn’t out). It was one thing when I broke up with Adam because I couldn’t be with someone just because they fetishized my body type.

Ezra was always different. So much about me changed over the course of knowing him — and not because I was making an effort to change it. It just happened. I lost a ton of weight; I started working harder; I stopped sleeping around; I became less obsessive and learned to relax and lean into things as they were.

I grew up. I grew up a lot. And while I didn’t do any of those things for him, they did happen because I knew him and because I accidentally fell in love with him.

Ezra — even at his worst and when he’s broken my spirit without meaning to — always seemed so right for me. He was the one thing in my life that didn’t put me under pressure and that I could just relax around and enjoy myself. So, now, even when I think about trips to New York, I get nervous thinking about it. Because as much as I want to go (and here’s the last secret finally), I’m afraid that my neurosis about whether or not he’s keeping something from me will prevent me from being in the moment and having a good time. And, yeah. We’ll still go. And I’ll still smile stupidly and pretend that I don’t know anything is going on. But I’m certain now that it won’t be quite the experience I had in mind. Still, like I said, if he is keeping something from me, it’s better to remain kept. At least for now.

Because after a year of being rejected, being raped, being overworked, being humiliated in front of my peers, peeing on myself by accident on a bad first date, falling in love and having my heart broken, and spiraling in and out of depression and then mania and then depression again — and maybe that’s it too … maybe I’m just in a manic phase — I’m not sure I can deal with one more thing right this second. Do I think I would do anything rash or irrational? No. I’m medicated so that I won’t do those things. But do I know how I’ll respond? Again, no. And I’m a little worried at how self-destructive those reactions might be internally.

I’m not perfect. And I’m obviously not the one for Ezra. But I’m pretty damn great. Sure, I lose keys, and have to rearrange plans, and I’m chronically late, and I spend money like an NFL player. But I’m also kind, and true, and loyal, and loving. And I would spin the world backward on its axis if it would make the person I loved happy.

God, I can’t wait to find the man who would do that for me. And God knows I can’t wait to have something different to write about. But for now, this is just another secret that I’ll keep. And I hope that if there is a secret being kept, or just information that’s being omitted for no reason in particular, that it’ll continue to be kept.

I’m just not ready. And I’m afraid that if I say these things to him — that if he were to really see how much these things eat up at me, at least when I allow them to — that it’d be more than he’d be willing to put up with. Not that I’d ever ask him to put up with them. I don’t bring them up when we’re together and I wouldn’t because I don’t like to talk about things with people. Writing is easier. It helps. But it’s not just that I worry that he wouldn’t be able to put up with these things. 

I worry that he might hate me.

And I don’t want him to hate me, because even if we’ll only ever just be friends, I still love him. And that’s the truly sick part: that I’ve already lost so many important people from my life because I loved them too much and they couldn’t deal. And that’s honestly one of the places in my life that I’ve been most different with Ezra unlike the other men and friends I’ve had is that, at least to his face, I’ve managed to remain relatively cool about my disappointment in the way things turned out. With other men, I’d get drunk and cry into voicemails or send hateful texts; I’d beg them to love me back or scorn them the moment they’d met someone else. But not with Ezra. The extent to which I’ve lost control of myself lies here within these columns. But it’s the only outlet I have for these feelings.

I can’t talk to him about them. Why should I? So that he can better explain to me what exactly is wrong with me? No, thank you. Knowing it is hard enough in the abstract; I don’t require the breakdown and thesis — and I certainly don’t need to know what someone else might have that I do not.

It hurts too much as it stands in my willfully ignorant bliss.

And I do realize how hypocritical it is of me to say, “I don’t want to know!” and to then publish my own thoughts on the matters for the world to read. But if ever there come a time when anyone I’m writing about doesn’t want to know, I would respect it if they asked me not to say anything further. I could always kill them off or change the arc of the story. But this really is just all that I have. It’s easier than talking to friends or family. As candid as I am here about everything from heartbreak to blowjobs, it may difficult to believe this, but I’m too easily embarrassed — too easily shut down. So, I really would understand if he wanted me to stop — if any of the men did — or if they couldn’t bear to read it themselves.

You know, it’s hard sometimes to remember that Ezra wasn’t around for most of those secrets. It’s not that I don’t know that he wasn’t there for them … it’s just weird to think that there was a time when he wasn’t a part of my life. Having known him even just this long, having grown close to him … it’s hard to recall what it felt like when he wasn’t a part of my life. So, I write it all here and I say nothing to him and we have fun and goof around and sing showtunes in the car and drink wine at Barnaby’s and sit silently next to one another through the symphony and giggle through movies and talk about any and everything other than our respective romantic love lives because I can’t handle it.

I’m a fucking mess. I know that. These are the ramblings of either an extremely intuitive individual or those of a paranoid schizophrenic.

Either way, they’re all I have.

And even though he’s not necessarily something that I have, I still can’t stand the thought of him hating me of not having him in my life.

God, I don’t want him to hate me. But I also know that this act of ignorance can only go on so long before I have to get to a place where I’m comfortable hearing all the things I don’t want to hear. So, for now, we just have to be two boys who keep secrets … even if I’ve just spilled all of mine right here onto the page. And maybe eventually the day will come that we can laugh and talk about our boyfriends or sex partners or husbands or loneliness.

I’m just not there yet, babe.

When Boys Keep Secrets, Pt. I

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 18, Pt. I

I don’t want to say his name. Isn’t that stupid? Like he’s fucking Voldemort or something. Like if I were to spell it out here three times consecutively, he might appear, slap this computer from my lap, and tell me to stop talking so candidly about him to a bunch of people I’ve never even met. But here’s the truth: I could say his name once, I could say it three times, I could shout it from the highest plateau and then spin around in a full 360-degree turn and look for him and he still wouldn’t show up.

I learned that the hard way.

Or maybe he would … show up, that is. Maybe I’d shout it so loudly that he couldn’t ignore it anymore. Maybe he come crawling up that rocky terrain, fingernails peeling back, hands callusing, and skin cracking in the hot, high altitude. And when he finally made it to the top, finding me standing there, alone on a mountaintop, crying tears of blood, arms wrapped around myself because I need to feel the touch of something — anything — maybe he’d finally say something.

But the question remains: do I really want him to say it?

What would be more heartbreaking? I’m genuinely curious. Standing atop that mountain all alone certain he’ll never come? Or having him show up just one more time to tell me the thing I can’t bear to hear?

And why do I care?

When I think back over it all — and I do mean all of it — I catch just glimpses of things I was too busy obsessing about to see before. They weren’t fragments in the peripheral; they were translucent or small or easy to miss. They were boulders painted pink and purple and cotton candy-blue. They were enormous with warnings painted on them like signs on backyard fences cautioning intruders of dogs. They were flashing road signs with arrows pointing me into the right lane from the left so that I wouldn’t crash. Only, I couldn’t see them to get over because I was barreling so quickly toward them that I crashed anyway. I was catapulted into the sky and smacked down on the cement and left alone for dead while the traffic that had been paying attention moseyed on by in the right lane because they’d seen the signs I hadn’t.

But just because I crashed and burned and bled doesn’t mean that the signs weren’t there from the very beginning. But they were little things I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t really paying attention — at least at first — like not asking me to watch the dog while he was out of town or suddenly having to check to make sure he had no plans after I’d invited him somewhere when he’d never had any plans before. They came as requests to take him shopping for new clothes because he wasn’t quite sure how to dress himself, and those were followed by him buying new clothes all on his own. They appeared in text messages that were so urgent to him that he’d check his phone minute-after-minute and having to leave events early with no explanation at all other than he had to go.

The signs were there, and I was lying before when I said I didn’t see them. After all, they were traffic lights and cotton candy-colored boulders and skywritings and billboards and mushroom clouds and musical numbers accompanied by choruses and dance ensembles. But I ignored them.

It was easier to ignore them.

There’s something I do every night when I lie down to fall asleep. And it may sound stupid or maybe I’ll just sound stupid for thinking it’s going to sound stupid because maybe lots of other people do it, too. But I get in bed, and I lay my pillows out just the way that I need them so that I won’t wake up with a tremendous pain in my neck. Then I slide between the sheets and I pull a person-sized body pillow close next to me. And I don’t hold it, but I do lie next to it close. And as I toss and turn and think about all the things I have to do for work the next day, as I check my phone obsessively for an advertiser email or a columnist’s newest edition to land, I slowly find my head gliding onto what would be that pillow’s chest if that pillow were a person.

And sometimes I talk to it. Sometimes I swear to God I can hear it asking me why I’m not sleeping or what I’m looking for in my endless emails and text messages. And I look up at it, as if it is a person, and I place my phone down on the other side of it, and I tell it all about my day, and the things I have to do tomorrow, and what my friends are upset about, and what events I have to go to for work that weekend. Then I’ll start apologizing to it … for not being more present, for working too much, for crawling into bed well after two because an article needed editing before the morning’s turn or because finishing a video’s edits would save me the time the next day. And usually as I’m talking to it, I fall asleep.

Just like that.


Because if I don’t stop talking I don’t have time to hear the silence and realize that there’s no one there talking back to me.

I am 6’3”, and I weigh 250lbs. I have always struggled with my weight. When I was in high school, I ran seven miles every morning, and I ran seven miles every night. I would eat full meals — anything that I wanted — it was the taste I was after, really. Then, I’d go upstairs to the bathroom, or down the hall depending on where I was, and I’d stick an old toothbrush I kept wrapped in a napkin in my backpack down the back of my throat and I’d vomit into a toilet. Sometimes I wouldn’t even have to do that. If I was down there on my knees and I thought hard enough about the dirty bowl I was sticking my face into and all the crap I’d eaten just moments before, I could sometimes disgust myself into throwing up without ever lifting a finger.

I was in amazing shape.

When I was 17, in an effort to keep my weight under control, I got hooked on Adderall I’d steal from my mother’s prescription bottle, or from my friends’ younger brothers’ and sisters’ bathrooms, or that I’d buy from the college kids I used to do theatre with at the local community college. When I was 19, I was drinking heavily. Wine during the week. Vodka on the weekends. And by 20 I would’ve downing rubbing alcohol if it helped me ignore the fact that I was dating a girl four years my senior who thought it was okay to pressure me into having sex with her by crawling naked on top of me and slipping my hand down the front of her wet underwear and by telling me how bad she wanted to feel me pounding between her legs. At 22 I was still drinking, but when it came to drugs, the only thing that could quell the anxiety I had every time I walked into a room and believed that everyone knew I was gay before I had the chance to tell them was a handful of Klonopin or Xanax — whatever I could get my hands. Then, at 23, I wasn’t working hard enough and I had to forgo the downers and start snorting cocaine off the counter of the bar bathroom or a key in the stall if someone were pissing beside me.

Well … I didn’t have to do anything, I guess.

When I was an infant my father left my mother, and the next memory I have of him is him calling me from Milwaukee where he was visiting his sister, Katherine, promising to take me to some place that had people dressed up like Pikachu and then never showing up. He popped back in around the time I was 8 or 9, and he took me to a Toys “R” Us with his father — who actually turned out not to be his biological father because his mother had had an affair with an undocumented immigrant she had smuggled here from Mexico. He told me I could pick out any one thing, and I remember seeing a Sabrina the Teenage Witch PC game that he paid probably way too much money for, then taking it back to the desktop at his rental house on a bad side of town and playing it while he and the woman who would someday be my stepmother watched Austin Powers in the living room. After that he popped in a few times until I was a teenager, then decided he’d be a more active and involved parent. I spent some weekends with him, and even a summer or two, and when he and my stepmother sat me down to tell me she was pregnant both the first and second time (with my brother Taylor and my sister Emma), Melissa looked at me — I think we were at an Olive Garden both times — and said, “We have something to tell you,” and without catching her gaze I muttered, “You’re pregnant.” Both times.

She had no idea how I’d known that, and honestly neither did I.

The first time I had sexual contact with a man as an adult was after rehearsal for my first TV show, when I’d downloaded an app and had hoped that I could just get the process over with so that my nerves about sleeping with someone of the same sex would settle. I’d had sex with many women — too many women, if you ask me — but somehow every time I’d prepared myself to see it through with a man, I’d lost my spine. So after drinking a shit ton of cheap beer I had in my car at 18-years-old, I drove not far from my house and met a nice, slightly-older, Black man whose wife was working the night shift in an emergency room and cautioned me to be quiet because he had two sleeping children upstairs. He sat me down on the couch and made me watch half an episode of Family Feud that was in syndication with him before getting down on his knees, unzipping my pants, asking me why I wasn’t wearing any underwear, and giving me what was probably the most amazing blowjob I’d ever had in my life. He even swallowed and asked me if he could take me into he and his wife’s bedroom so that he could fuck me.

I ran from his house and cried with shame the entire drive home.

When I was seven-years-old, a boy named Blake moved to my neighborhood from Huntsville. He didn’t talk to anyone and he was the second new kid in our class that year after another boy named Aidan whom I’d one day grow up and name a character in my third book after. Will sat not far from me, and–don’t ask me why–he’d finally talked to me a bit overzealously and told me where he lived. When we discovered it was only a block from my own house, he invited me over that afternoon and I remember my first pang of anxiety because seven-year-old me looked at seven-year-old Will and knew that I was feeling something inside of me that the other boys were feeling for girls at that age. So, that afternoon, I got on an electric scooter my stepfather had bought my brother and I for Christmas the previous year, and I drove it around the block toward his house. As I stared at the strip of paper that he’d written his new address on and tried comparing it to the new builds on that side of my neighborhood, I hit something in the street in front of me, lost my balance, and flew off that scooter before landing in a driveway. A kind man came down the drive and extended a hand to me while simultaneously picking up the scooter from beside me.

All that man said to me was, “I’m Will’s dad,” and then, “And you must be Anthony.”

The summer before ninth grade, my mother had already found gay porn on my laptop and I was living in fear of what happened if I’d pursued these urges any further. But she had just coupled with a man who would later be her third husband and we were moving from my hometown of Spring, TX, up to the Kingwood to be nearer to her sister and her then-husband. One night while my mother was working, an old friend I’d once played baseball with had come over to help me finishing packing while she was unable to. Instead of packing the house, we drank a bunch of liquor that we’d found in the freezer, watched porn on our separate laptops and jacked off on opposite ends of the couch, and then raced down to my apartment complex’s pool and went skinny dipping together. I was so nervous about another person — even at 14-years-old seeing me naked, but this old friend of mine held my hand and smiled at me and once even kissed me before we grabbed our clothes and ran through the dark apartment complex naked together toward my flat. When we arrived back, I went to the shower to wash the chlorine off of me and came back to find him going through his mother’s phone which he had borrowed for the night, where he discovered a text message argument between his parents about the affair his mother was having after having lost a great sum of weight. For the rest of the night, as I packed a little here and there, my friend read those text messages over-and-over again then asked me if I wanted to go to bed. We crawled into my mother’s king-sized bed naked, and he asked me to masturbate, to which I obliged, and he did right beside me over the comforter. He asked me if he could taste my ejaculate, but I instead pulled the blanket over me and pretended to be asleep. About a half hour later, he was masturbating again as fourteen-year-old boys seem to do at a constant rate, and he reached one hand out to touch me, and I let him because I wanted him to. I touched him back, and we masturbated together again-and-again for hours that night, slowly getting closer to each other, slowly letting our hands navigate one another just a little bit more, and finally wearing each other out. When we were done and the sun was beginning to come up through the window blinds, my friend cried about the end of his parent’s marriage and I held him and let him kiss me and kissed him back.

My mother was so angry the next morning when she realized the house hadn’t finished being packed.

A few months after I’d broken up with the girl who had been molesting me, I was off in Brenham over Father’s Day weekend at the wedding of a coworker who had been known for getting around the office, and the city, and probably most headboards throughout the United States. I commended her for that. That weekend, Alice joined me and we were to stay in a crappy hotel down the hall from my new friend Rita and her husband, Jason. Rita had cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus and the only wit I’ve ever encountered in this world sharper than my own. We drank before the wedding, and then we drank through the wedding, and then at the reception we waited anxiously for the toasts to be over so we could drink our goddamn champagne before going out on the patio to smoke cigarettes and talk shit about the groom. My friend Georgia showed me around the historic and boisterous hotel the reception had been held at with its limited number of rooms where the wedding party was staying. A podium carved in the shape of an eagle sat in she and her husband’s room, and atop it there was an open bible with a highlighted quote about man not lying with man as he would a woman. I spat on it, then walked toward the bathroom to find a clawfoot tub that I sat in for several minutes before Georgia told me we needed to go back down to the reception as she’d only come up to grab a fresh pack of cigarettes. Downstairs, I stole a bunch of flowers and then Rita, Jason, Alice, and I went back to our less-elegant hotel and sat on the outdoor stairs smoking and drinking vodka and crying over stories of how Rita had survived 10 brain surgeries in one year. The next morning, Alice and I woke up as hungover as we’d ever been, and then we drove down to Magnolia so that I could have brunch with my father, his other two children, and my stepmother for Father’s Day. Alice left me there where I’d parked my car, and I enjoyed brunch with them not having showered that morning, wearing an old Wicked t-shirt, donning thick-rimmed black sunglasses, and probably smelling like the vodka that was pouring out of my skin. Afterwards, we went to visit Melissa’s parents and I had to leave to be at work early the next day. I asked my father not to forget to pay the back child support he’d been giving me directly every month and he said he would on his next payday before I rolled out of the sketchy neighborhood in my old Kia Rio Cinco and back home.

It was June of 2014, and my father never answered a single text message or phone call after that. I haven’t seen him since.

I stopped running about a year out of high school when I woke up in the middle of the night unable to move. I cried out for my grandmother, whom I lived with at the time, but she didn’t come. For hours I had to lay there in pain and unable to move until the next morning when someone found me and took me to the doctor, where a few x-ray techs carelessly flopped me onto an x-ray table and shouted demands atme as if I were mobile. The doctor reviewed the films and he explained to me that I was born with a condition called spina bifida, and then went on to lecture me about the three different forms it appeared in. The most mild form, spina bifida oculta, was something that I had been living with all my life. Spina bifida literally translates in Latin to a spine split, and is usually characterized in its more severe forms by the spine and spinal cord not forming properly before birth, sometimes creating a sac full of fluid in lieu of the closing of the spine. In my case, it simply meant that a couple of my vertebrae were malformed. In most cases, spina bifida occulta is asymptomatic and most who have it live their entire lives without ever knowing. However, in more severe cases such as my own, symptoms appear in the form of extreme back pain and foot deformity, as well as irregularities with urination. As it turned out, the high-impact activity of running 14-miles every day for three years of my life had made the condition worse, and I was instructed to never run again for sport, especially not on cement due to the fact that it could further damage my spine. My doctor encouraged me to utilize an elliptical and to strengthen my core muscles so that I wouldn’t use my back so strenuously when doing every day activities. I gained 60 pounds and only recently began to once again approach the weight I was in high school, still with another 15 pounds or so to go before getting there.

But even on the best drugs, you hit a plateau in your weight loss at some point.

Sometimes when I’m lying with the body pillow and pretending it’s a person, I imagine a specific person lying there with me. Sometimes it’s Ezra and I imagine that he’s doing what he normally does when I’m talking to him — listening, analyzing, straying. Recently I’d gotten into the habit of thinking it might be Mason; but when I think of Mason I can only ever imagine how fucking intense my sexual feelings are for him and often end up masturbating and then crying over how badly things went the last time we hung out together. Before, when I would pretend it was Ezra, it was never about sex. I felt a closeness to him in our friendship that just made him an easy person to pretend to be talking to when he really wasn’t a person at all but a body pillow. It also seemed like something he wouldn’t judge me for doing if he ever found out about it. After the first time I held his hand back on my birthday, I would sometimes slide one arm under the pillow and one arm over and pretend it was his I was holding, and again not even entirely because I wanted anything particularly romantic from him — especially not after what he did to me on my birthday. More so, I wanted to feel that closeness just a bit stronger, feel like someone was there. For a while being Ezra’s friend was nice because I was one of the very few that he had in the city and certainly the only one he really ever spent any time with. But lately, as I begin to grow suspicious that he might be keeping something from me, I feel foolish doing this — talking to him when he isn’t there — holding my own hand — falling asleep on top of the chest of the body pillow and dozing off into a dream state where he may show up, as well. I should’ve felt silly doing it from the beginning, but it was a mechanism of comforting myself through a long and belabored attempt to keep myself sane while suffering the lows of my manic depression for months at a time. Now, when I find myself beginning to do this, I have to go back to one of the men I have been intimate with before on any level because at least I don’t feel stupid — at least it’s not something I’m concocting out of desire, but rather something I’m doing because it’s already happened once before. The closest I’ve ever come to really cuddling with Ezra was the time we held hands for just a few seconds and after I’d been raped and he’d stayed with me in my hotel before Pride and let me lay lightly against him in our hotel room bed. And while the men I force myself to imagine in his place never provide me the same comfort, I do so in an effort to not get lost in romanticizing something that will never be and getting hung up on him again like I did for so long before. Because if he is hiding something, I think maybe it’ll hurt less when I inevitably find out if my imagination has gone to such extremes.

Even if only from sitting on opposite ends of a very long couch, I miss being comfortable with him.

When I was finally out to my friends and living in the Woodlands, I realized that I had fallen in love with Blake and that I’d had these feelings for him since the time that we were kids. The girl I’d been dating who shoved my hand down her underwear to try to arouse me had never liked him, because we were very tactile best friends and she was jealous of how he’d stand behind me and wrap his arms around me while I leaned back into him. I still can’t help but think to this day that Blake was — at least subconsciously — a little bit in love with me too. We were the only two people in each other’s lives that had been consistent with one another now for fifteen years, and when we were together there was no shame or embarrassment. We were just the two of us. We could lie in bed holding each other, or holding hands, or exchanging gentle kisses on shoulders while lying beneath the sheets in just our underwear. We spent Christmas morning together a few times, and I’d get up and cook for him and he’d open presents and I’d get so lost in thinking how lovely it would be for us to spend the rest our lives that way. Only, by the time I’d come to realize what these feelings were, he’d become engaged to a woman I wanted to hate but couldn’t and their wedding is just a few months down the road now. Still, loving Blake was one of the most joyous and heartbreaking forays of my life. I’d cry when he’d leave me, unsure as to when I’d see him again, and he’d embrace me and hold me there for as long as he could before I’d make him let me go. The last time I saw him while driving through Huntsville, he sat me in a recliner in his living room and sat himself at the piano against the wall so that he could play me a few songs from a recital he’d had a few months before that I’d been unable to make it to because I’d gotten a flat along the way. The worst thing about it was that for someone who began playing so late in life, he was actually really quite good, which made me a bit jealous. I remember looking at him and remembering that even seventeen years later, I was still in love with him, and that every little thing he did even just a tiny bit well was like moving mountains to me. He couldn’t possibly not impress me. So when he was done, I pushed him over a tad on the piano bench and went to sit down beside him, my skin sprouting goosebumps the moment our shoulders touched. Then I touched the keys of the piano and began to play him Adele’s Someone Like You, and when I sang it to him while I played, looking him in the eyes, and trying not to let him take my breath away, I meant every single word of it.

He asked me to be the best man at his wedding.

While officiating a wedding for a lesbian couple that I’d been friendly with for a while, I’d been in Galveston with Hope, Derek, Derrick, and Alice and had been drinking since about 10 o’clock the night before without any sleep. The brides were running late and we were stranded on the hot beach with nothing to do but drink more when I received a mysterious Facebook message from a face I recognized but had never seen in person before. The person messaging me looked about my age and asked me if I was Marcus Ramirez’s son, to which I explained that I was but wanted to know why he was asking. When he replied to tell me that he believed himself to be my older brother, I nearly had a meltdown right there on the beach before noon. I cried for hours and realized there was no arguing about it — this young man had my father’s face and his story was too accurate to have been falsified. He was my brother. Later after a few weeks, Jacob — that was his name — and I finally met at Barnaby’s for dinner and exchanged stories of our childhood, to the point where I learned that we grew up on different sides of the same highway intersection and may even have gone to school together if not for the fact that that intersection divided the school districts. He was a year older than me and did quite well for himself and was only trying to get to know himself better. He met my friends and they all loved him and he and I began a nice relationship, albeit one that was often punctuated by great lengths of time. I was happy to have had him find me, but my rage for my father swelled inside of me to the point where I let his wife know about this secret child she’d never heard of and cursed my father in a lengthy, angry, and drunken text message for keeping him from me my entire life.

As it turned out, my mother knew about Jacob the entire time.

Speaking of my mother, she and I grew up more like siblings than we did mother and child and to this day she has trouble reconciling that within herself. I moved out when I was 17 and our relationship was certainly better apart than it had been under the same roof. As a child and teenager after she and her second husband split, my mother would disappear to work nights at the hospital and leave me with my two younger siblings to take care of until she returned at God only knows when. She met a man she remains married to to this day, and they now have three more children. But back then I’d stay up watching old DVD box sets of Grey’s Anatomy in a house she’d rented in Klein waiting for her to return. She’d never answer her phone or text messages during this time, and was often out with that man who I was told was doing a lot of Molly back then — though, who am I to judge? — then moved us in with him shortly after. My siblings and I often slept two and three to a bed. My brother Kyle, who is three years my junior, and I shared a bed until we were both teenagers in high school. When there was a man in my mother’s life, there was little room for her children that came before that man; and when there wasn’t a man, there wasn’t time for us because she was out looking for someone to fulfill her. I often worry that I might turn out just like her — constantly waiting to be loved by someone. But the difference is that I don’t have children to shirk off my responsibilities onto, and I don’t have my nonexistent eldest cook meals for them, and walk four miles to and from the bus stop because she didn’t have the time to call the school district everytime we moved — 15 times over the course of four years — and let them know we’d relocated so that I could board a nearer bus. I wouldn’t make my children clean the floors and kitchen and bathrooms that were already spotless until the early hours of the morning, then wake them to go to school shortly there after, having neglected to let them do their homework — nearly failing — because she was obsessed with constantly reorganizing her house because she was taking too much Adderall. I remember being in ninth grade and crawling into bed at 4 in the morning after scrubbing the floors on my knees and taking my socks off my feet for the first time because my stepfather wouldn’t let us walk around the house without them on and thinking how nice it felt to just be off of them, even if I had to be up for school in two and a half short hours. I remember her having a child when I was eighteen, whom I cared for because she was depressed that her husband — who has since come back — left her, then impregnated her again, stayed away, impregnated her again, and finally stuck around. I remember staying home from school one day for no reason in particular and looking for her to ask where she wanted me to put her laundry I’d been doing only to find her passed out in a puddle of her own blood on the bathroom floor where she’d just had a miscarriage.

I want to be a parent someday. But I think I might be too fucked up to be one.

When I found out my grandmother was in renal failure I was spending time with my roommate and her straight best friend that I had a massive crush on. I was high as a kite and we were watching stolen cable soccer in his living room. I stepped out onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette with my roommate and answered my phone and flew into a panic. My friend Max was there, too, and she immediately drove me to the hospital to find my grandmother — the person I was closest to in the world. She and I worked for the same medical practice she’d gotten me a job at to put myself through college, and as her condition worsened, I took on the task of working forty hours of my job per week, plus an additional forty of hers so that she could remain on the payroll and wouldn’t lose her insurance. The weekend that she died, my mother had gone out of town camping with her husband, and I’d stayed at my mother’s house where my grandmother was living at the time to watch the three younger kids and to make sure my grandmother was okay. We watched Sandra Bullock movies and ate Popeyes and laughed and for the first time got to spend time together without thinking about the fact that she had one of the rarest kidney diseases known to man. I took a phone call on the back porch — much like I had the day I found out she was sick a year before — and she told me she was going to take a nap. The children wanted to lie down with her, to which I objected so that she could rest and wake to do her dialysis a few hours later. But my grandmother obliged and said they could lay with her, which gave me time to start cleaning my mother’s house, which was a total disaster. A few hours went by and my aunt had stopped in to say hi. We could hear my grandmother snoring from the other room and the kids were now up from the nap. When my aunt left, I went to wake my grandmother for her dialysis, but when I turned on the lights and called her name, she didn’t wake. I ran to her side of the bed, her breaths short, sparse, and shallow. I immediately called my aunt back over, then 911, and began doing chest compressions on her until my aunt returned a moment later followed by the ambulance. She was put into a medically induced coma at the hospital from which she would never wake. I didn’t leave the hospital for those four days while we waited for the doctor to let us know what was to happen next. But because her brain had been without oxygen for so long, she was pronounced legally brain dead and had to be taken off life support. I didn’t shower or sleep over those four days, and I probably wouldn’t have eaten either if Alice hadn’t showed up every day and forced me to do so. Then, when she died, my life suddenly looked different. I wasn’t the same person anymore. No one that knew her was. She swore up and down that no one would come to her funeral, but the church was so packed with people — well over 200 — that strangers I’d never met were crammed into the back for what turned into standing room only. And as much as I loved her and as important to me as she was, I’ll never forget the thought that I had when the paramedics asked me to leave the room that I’ve never confessed to anyone:

If she dies, can I finally come out of the closet?

Continue to Pt. II 

Much Ado About Stephen

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 17

The funny thing about friendships–especially close friendships that are intense and that challenge us–is that you get so swept up in their euphorias that it never crosses your mind that they might someday end. Whether it be a silly disagreement, a change in location that puts space between you, walking down different paths that cause you to drift apart, or another loved one coming between you and your friend, these conflicts–or maybe just these changes–are typically unexpected, seemingly inexplicable, and lightning fast.

A person–someone you speak to daily and care about with great propensity–can out of nowhere be removed from your life without you ever having expected it. And more often than not, the situation, even if the fault is partly ours, is out of our hands. That’s because, no matter how we feel about what someone else did to us or how our behaviors affected them, other people’s feelings matter, too, and just as much as ours do. Unfortunately, when we’re so caught up in those feelings, when we are blinded by tears or rage, we act just as blindly. We speak before we think. We thrust power into the universe that–once cast out of our persons–is often irreversible and irreparable.

That said, this is not a story solely about how my once-best friend Stephen hurt me, but instead one about how I hurt him, even if in a small and stupid way that in the grand scheme of things really played no part into our demise. More so, it’s a story about two people who cared about so many of the same things so much that, at some point, they lost sight of how much they cared about one another.

It is, like most things in this column, a story about love and about heartbreak.

The friendship of Stephen and I began in a similar way to most of my relationships with men. At first, neither of us really knew what to make of the other; it wasn’t that we disliked one another, but we weren’t sure that we needed to be friends; we discovered our similar interests, and we fell quickly into each other as friends. Our dynamic was anything but simple. Together, it always made sense. We were both intelligent, thoughtful, educated, successful, gay, creative, and goal-oriented. But our differences often made that dynamic all the more exciting. Stephen was seven years my senior and had been out of the closet his entire adult life. He had experiences I hadn’t lived. He was social, charismatic, serious, and loved sex. I, on the other hand, was not a people person, joked around too much, and had sex less so because I enjoyed it and more so because I loved the feeling of being desired. And in a lot of ways, that made the time we spent together more fun. It was nice to talk to someone I considered an intellectual equal and could someone who could show me a unique perspective. A lot of people had a tendency to hide those perspectives from me when we had conversations, but not Stephen. He was, much like I, assertive with his opinions and wanted to make sure they were accounted for by others.

But the one thing that we shared in common with one another that made us most alike—and maybe the one thing that to which we clung ourselves so tightly as if to make it another layer of skin, an outwardly part of us we wanted everyone to see—was how deeply impassioned we were. It didn’t matter if it was with our work, with the people we loved, or with the topics we cared about. We were creatures of deep and heavy-flowing care. And for a great time, that made us a truly dynamic duo. We were a super hero team that could have accomplished anything together, could have ruled empires if we were careful to play off one another’s strengths correctly. Even once, during a discussion at Michael’s Outpost over many glasses of wine, Stephen looked at me in the eyes, smiled that big, sweet, knowing smile, and said to me, “You know … if we really wanted to and if we work together, in a few years, we could run this city.”

I don’t think I ever realized how right he was about that until lately.

I did, however, take it into consideration, and I let it galvanize me to work harder.

Unfortunately, and I won’t say why or what it related to, the vision Stephen and I shared blurred a bit for both of us. And in the process of trying to adjust our focuses, our heads had turned just enough away from one another so that the bigger picture was a bit different for each of us. In truth, and this never stopped being true, the image I saw never stopped including Stephen. While he may have shifted a bit to the side and sometimes into my peripheral, he was always still there. That much never changed. And to be completely fair and honest, I’d like to think that the same was still true of me when it came to Stephen’s perspective. Although, in the process of trying to get to certain places, trying to make changes in the community that we both felt needed to be changed, our paths branched apart a bit, and our relationship as friends changed because of it.

Gone were the nights that Stephen’s boyfriend, Leo, would be out of town leaving Stephen and I to drink an entire bottle of vodka alone, talking politics, boys, and work. No longer were there dinners at Barnaby’s upon which we sat on the patio drinking wine until after the restaurant inside had closed and the wait staff had to come and ask us to leave so that they could lock up the back gate. The nights of walking into bars in Montrose as if we owned them and everyone around us were just our loyal subjects had become just distant memories—dreams that turned difficult to recall.

Stephen and I were no longer Stephen and I.

And that hurt me a little bit. A lot, actually. And it may have hurt him, too, or maybe he just didn’t notice how different things had become between us the way that I had. That didn’t mean that I hadn’t noticed, or that I didn’t want to try to fix things. But I guess if one half of a whole hasn’t realized that the whole is different, or that maybe its even a little broken, it’s difficult to mend it. Acclimation, natural and inherent, takes over, and because the new perspective is just that, one has a hard time realizing that the new has pushed aside some of the old.

I took it hard for a lot of reasons, the most evident of which was that Stephen was really the only gay, male friend I’d made—Ezra aside—that had never tried to sleep with me, to date me, and that had never expected anything of me in a sexual or romantic sense. Sure, he’d kissed me on my lips once when he was drunk and upset at Rich’s when another friend had treated him poorly. But we were both drunk that night—or, at least, he was. I’d been drunk earlier in the day, but sobered quickly in an effort to go and help my friend. And Drunk Stephen and Sober Stephen were never necessarily the same person. So, maybe the kiss was meaningless. Maybe it was one of gratitude. Maybe it was simply that we did love each other as much as two friends could without crossing a line, and that particular moment was the approach of a precipice neither of us needed to cross. Or maybe Stephen was just drunk. [Shrugging woman emoji]

It didn’t matter to me why it happened, because something about that kiss changed the dynamic of my relationship with Stephen from then on until its close. I couldn’t quite explain it to myself then, but a part of me was taken by him and from myself in those few seconds our lips had locked. It was, after all, a really nice kiss. To this day, it was probably one of the best I’ve had in my life. And that could just be because it was from someone that I’d never had anything other than a platonic relationship with that I really did love and care about, and that I knew cared about me. Still, a part of me—maybe the part that trusted others—slipped out from between my lips and into his and stayed there for him to do with what he pleased. And in losing it, whether it had been taken away or I’d given it to him willingly or I’d wanted him to take it away, my feelings about him transfigured a bit. Not changed necessarily. It was sort of like I said before. The focus had shifted to inspect different parts of them. I still looked at him fondly and thought, I’m lucky that this is my best friend, long after the fact. But the view I took in was somehow different than before.

Working with Pride Houston meant that I went to a handful of Pride-related conferences throughout my time with them. The most recent of which was a conference of select Prides from cities across the country that made up larger organizations across the country that made up CAPI, or the Consolidated Association of Pride. There were two other regional Pride organizations that made up the rest of the country, and each breaking down into smaller, citywide nonprofits. CAPI, however, was the organization to which Pride Houston subscribed.

We met in Austin in the spring for the weekend conference amongst our peers we only saw sparsely throughout the year; and before we’d even gotten to the car the morning before to head there from Houston, Stephen and I had spent the evening before at Barnaby’s discussing our expectations, what we hoped to learn, and, of course, that we were going to make a point of rooming together at the hotel. However, I’d stayed up the remainder of the night before trying to get work done and found myself exhausted that entire morning.

The ride there was a bit irritating in my sleepiness. Stephen and our friend Johnny gabbed most of the ride in the front seat to themselves, excluding Courtney, Graham, and I in the back at many times. I found myself a little jealous, I’ll admit. I didn’t like my best friend possibly making a new best friend. Still, Stephen stole Graham’s seat beside me in the back later and I decided to let it go. I was just tired, I though.

“I’m going to eat,” I told Stephen when we arrived at the hotel in Austin. “And then I’m going to put my things in our room and take a nap.”

“I think I am, too,” he told me. We’d had a few bottles of wine the night before, so it was unsurprising that he was tired, as well. Still, I’d been through a phentermine, an Adderall, and a little cocaine and still wasn’t getting that pep in my step I needed. Still, I figured a nap would serve me well considering all the after parties these conferences had a habit of hosting and the fact that we were planning to do rails of coke later. Aside from that, I’d brought with me a $150 dollar of champagne to drink in case there was cause for celebration at all, which I was sure we’d create even if there wasn’t.

After lunch, Stephen retreated to the hotel room before I could, where upon my return I found him flailing around in his bed wailing like a baby.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him as I crawled into my bed and closed my eyes. I was so comfortable I could have fallen asleep right then and there. Working overnight was one of the downfalls of being the boss, but it often proved necessary when there were things to be done before you left town for a full weekend.

But just as I was dozing off, the achy cries of Stephen only got louder.

“Damn it, Stephen,” I muttered, my blood-shot eyes flying open. “What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” he groaned. “It’s my stomach.”

“Jesus,” I said, sitting erect and sliding over to stand up. I slipped on my shoes, found my wallet, and said, “I’m going to get you some medicine. I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t have to—ohhh!” he cried out again.

Mhmm,” I mumbled, walking out the door and leaving him to die. I ran down to the little market in the hotel, found some Pepto Bismol, charged it to the room, then ran back toward the elevators. As I passed a bar, it occurred to me that maybe having a drink would help me sooth myself to sleep.

I walked in and found that my friends Courtney and Graham were sitting there drinking in the middle of the day.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be drinking before the panels?” I asked them as I pulled a chair up next to Courtney and ordered a drink.

“Who gives a fuck?” she asked.

“Yeah. We’re fucking adults. We can do whatever we want,” Graham said as he ordered another beer. I shrugged and ordered both a drink and a shot.

“I need to get a little sleep. I may skip this afternoon’s panels and just do the ones tomorrow and Sunday,” I told them as I downed my shot and followed it up with a drink. “I’m so tired.”

“Why don’t you go take a nap while nothing’s going on?” Graham asked. I flashed him the Pepto. “Stephen is sick. And like a typical man, he’s whining like a little bitch baby. So I’m going to shove these so far down him I’m going to literally lay hands on his stomach ache.”

Courtney kind of looked at me funny for a moment, then said, “Did … did you come down here to get him medicine … and then stop at the bar on the way back while he’s upstairs in pain?”

I slurped down the rest of my drink.

“Blow me,” I said before tossing some cash onto the bar and rushing back up to our room. Inside, Stephen was snoring loudly, which normally wouldn’t have bothered me. However, since I’d probably begin snoring when I fell asleep, too, I elected to just let him get some rest. I set the Pepto down on the table next to his bed and slipped out, sending him a text to let him know it was there when he woke.

I wouldn’t end up taking a nap that day. I’d try to make sure Stephen didn’t die, go to my panels, get distracted by work calls from Houston, go to dinner and have margaritas, pop open that bottle of champagne with Stephen, and pretty much everything else I could have done. But I wouldn’t fall asleep.

After Mexican food at Uncle Julio’s in Downtown Austin, Johnny, Courtney, Graham,  and Stephen—who had made a miraculous recovery at the sound of the word ‘margaritas’—all of us but Johnny were doing bump-after-bump of coke in the bathroom before going out. We had gone through the champagne and had a few drinks at dinner and were now bouncing off the walls for an after party hosted by Deep Eddie’s Vodka and Austin Pride. My lack of sleep, however, was turning me into a raging cunt monster from hell.

We made our way down to Fourth St. onto Austin’s gay strip stopping at Sellers Underground for the Deep Eddie’s party and then the traveled next door to the nightclub Rain for the after-after party. Graham, as he normally was at these sorts of functions, was silly drunk and had gone MIA. Courtney was being harassed by a girl from Austin who had grown infatuated with her in the ten minutes they’d known one another. Johnny was carrying on with Stephen as annoyingly as before while the latter was awaiting the arrival of Leo. At Rain we sat in a cabana, laughing with friends from Prides far and wide. The girl from Austin Pride and Johnny were working my exhausted, drunken nerves and I was without filter the entire evening. I didn’t mean to be hateful to them, but it was almost as though there was a pitching machine shooting hate baseballs at them every time either opened their mouths. At one point, Johnny even looked at me and asked, “You don’t like me very much. Do you?”

It was untrue. I adored Johnny. He was just … I don’t know … on my nerves. Even when the very-attractive bar manager approached me at a table, complimented my hair, bought me a drink, and gave me his phone number, I was a few smiles shy of charming.

Everyone sort of went their separate ways, and I was too tired to continue by one o’clock. When I went into the bathroom to do another bump of coke before walking back to the hotel, I found that it was gone from my cigarette pack, which was enough to send me back to the room alone. I entered the room just before two and locked the deadbolt behind me. I then crawled into my bed and grabbed my leftovers from Uncle Julio’s where I had barely eaten, ate them, watched something on Netflix and began to doze off.

Anyone who would’ve found me probably would’ve assumed I was dead.

I woke to the sound of the room door slamming around 7:30 AM. I peered through my eyelids to find Stephen stomping around the hotel room. I took note of the time on the alarm clock and then looked over toward him, “Where have you been?”

“Oh, I’ve been here,” Stephen snapped.

Stephen continued around the room in some sort of fit as I rolled around over something grainy in the bed beneath me. I reached between the sheets and grabbed a handful of what I was rolling over.

Rice. Mexican rice.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked him.

“Are you serious?” he yelled, spinning around on one heel to face me. “You locked me out of the room last night. I tried calling you like twenty times, beat on the door, had Graham and Johnny call you, and finally had to go downstairs to the desk to ask the management to let me in. But because you had the deadbolt locked, they had to break the door in.”

Whaaaaaaaaaat? is pretty much all I remember thinking to myself. It made sense though. A force of habit I’d practiced since I was a young seventeen-year-old living alone was always to lock the deadbolt. I flew out of bed and looked at the door, which had, in fact, been beaten in.

“Omigod, Stephen.” I said as both my hands flew up to my mouth. “I am so sorry.” I wasn’t even sure what else to say. I went back to the bed and pulled back the covers. Beneath them lay my Uncle Julio’s to-go box and the sheets were accented by yellow grains of rice. “What the fuck did I do last night?” I asked, trying to remember anything about what had gone on.

“I don’t know. You were in a bad mood. You left the club before any of us. And then this.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “God, I knew I should’ve taken a nap. I’m so sorry, Stephen. I don’t know how I can make this better but I am so sorry.”

“It’s whatever,” he told me as he rushed out of the room.

He’d come to get over it as the day went on, even laugh about it later on in our friendship. But what I felt about disappointing Stephen and putting him through that cut deeper than I’d expected it might. Part of me wanted to cry about it, another part of me wanted to go and find him in the hotel and beg for his forgiveness. Instead, I flopped back down into my ricey bed and thought about what I’d done. Stephen and I had gotten incredibly close over the last year. The idea of losing his friendship over one stupid night was like getting punched in the gut and having the wind knocked out of me. And while that wasn’t what would happen, or at least not why it would happen later, the guilt ate me alive for a long time to come.

That story is the one I always think about when I try to rationalize why Stephen and I couldn’t be friends any longer. It’s not the reason—not even close. But somehow remembering that first time Stephen was just sort of mad at me over something I’d done is a lot easier than thinking about the other times when I watched anger swell in his eyes and the veins on his neck stick out like snakes sliding under bed sheets.

The ‘why’ isn’t irrelevant, but it may be the one thing that’s too personal to share here. And that’s because I took it a lot harder than I did any sort of breakup or bad date. It probably wasn’t harder, but it was certainly different, just like our friendship after that kiss. The reason for that could be because Stephen and I only ever had a platonic relationship. But it could also be because he was—for better or worse—the one person in the world I really trusted for a very long time. But within that, we’d lost one another at some point. We’d fixated on goals that were important to us; I’d slumped into a depression I couldn’t seem to find my way out of for a very long time; and Stephen had taken on more responsibility than he’d had when we’d first become friends. We split like a hair and continued to split until we reached up to the root and all that held us together was the follicle from which we both stemmed. And even that part seemed temporary. Soon the head would molt, and we’d fall away and hit the ground or catch the wind and part ways forever.

I said and did things that I know hurt Stephen. I did them in reaction to things that Stephen had done to me—or, at least, that’s how I justified them to myself. Because Stephen was doing things to hurt me, too. And whether or not he was doing them on purpose, I was more comfortable telling myself I was standing up for myself—which, in truth, I was—than admitting that I was wrong. But even in defense of myself, I was still hurting someone that I loved very much. Someone I may have even been in love with a little. I don’t know. When I think about it now, it sure sounds like I might have been. The jealousy, the fixation on that kiss, the deep concern as to whether or not he’d hate me for locking him out of that hotel room. But if that were the case, I didn’t understand it then—wasn’t cognizant of it. Although it would’ve made sense, considering our friendship’s genesis did come from a crush I had on him that I thought had fled when we’d gotten close. Or maybe it wasn’t even that. Maybe I was so caught up in my shit with Ezra at the time that I clung to Stephen because he was the only man who had ever come into my life expecting nothing of me, stuck around for what felt like a long time, then left just when I’d convinced myself another shoe wasn’t going to drop. That said, it could have been something like both of those things. Not quite in love, not quite because he was the only consistent man in my life, but maybe in love with the fact that that’s what made our friendship so special. Maybe I was in love with our friendship.

All I know now is the moment that I noticed the change was that night that Stephen kissed me. And it’s funny to me to consider that, because I’m sure that if you asked him, Stephen might only vaguely remember it happening and laugh it off as drunken silliness. But it wasn’t silly to me. Because somewhere in that short-lived, somewhat uncomfortable, but nevertheless sweet kiss, I’d lost the part of me that trusted people. And after that, something I worked for years and years to gain, I’d gotten back. Maybe it didn’t change the friendship as much as I thought it had. Maybe it just changed me.

I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure. And Stephen and I will never—probably can never—go back to being who we were before. And whether I was in love with him or I loved who he was to me is irrelevant. What matters is that the end of our friendship was a heartbreaking thing for me, because it meant that that love—at least to some extent—had to be over. Even if I still felt it for him when I saw him, holding back the urge to ask if he wanted to go drink wine at Barnaby’s or gossip about our other friends, the sharing of it was over. And it must have been for Stephen, too, which I guess I have to understand. Because I did hurt him. I was a dick. He was a dick, too, don’t get me wrong. But there was more than enough blame to share and I didn’t do anything to fix it when I had the chance.

So, yeah. This is a story about love. And it’s a story about heartbreak. And somehow it might be one of the saddest ones for me to write, because I still do love Stephen, and I think about him every day. But as I’ve grown distant from the situation and from Stephen, I’ve learned something more important:

Loving someone sometimes means letting them be happy without you, because sometimes your own feelings stand in the way of their happiness and of yours.

When It Pees, It Pours

Less Than Butterflies Romance His Pants Off Romance Anthony Ramirez Sex

Less Than Butterflies, No. 16

As made evident by the fact that I’m writing my sixteenth consecutive column in this series, I have had some not-so-wonderful experiences with men. Whether it have been because they’re Trump supporters, because they turned out to be asexual, because they couldn’t commit, because I was incapable of getting my dick hard, or because they were just flat-out stupid, my Rolodex of men was quickly eliminating card-after-card for one reason or another. The worst of which, at least in terms of trauma, was certainly the man from long ago that took it upon himself to shower me in his urine after ejaculating in my mouth. Not only was it just downright disgusting and putrid in smell, it was humiliating in a way I’d never experienced before in my life. Still, that didn’t mean that the cake couldn’t still be taken — even if in part because I had contributed to it.

Following up on Mason’s suggestion that we should hang out the following weekend, only to realize he’d be out of town for work for a week to follow (and, yes, this is an actual fact — something that could be confirmed by photos on Facebook and Snapchat — not just some lame excuse to not spend time with me), we’d finally nailed a day down to go out drinking, or spend a night at home watching movies, or to have dinner and journey out onto some adventure into the city. And to be quite honest … I was really excited. I was excited in a way I hadn’t been since the anticipation of seeing Freaky Friday: The Musical for our first non-Pride-related time together almost exactly a year ago. (As an aside, I need to stop spacing my romantic interests so far apart; but I digress).

Those entire two weeks between rescheduling and the actual event, I went through the typical motions day-after-day, tired and bored and distracted from my work. I kept telling myself as I laid in bed each night, “Just [insert number] more days until you get to see him again.” Even the night before, I found myself at Gwen’s house, downing wine and doing my best not to vocally obsess over the fact that we’d be spending time together. It was safe to say that at that point, and after what had happened at JR’s, I’d developed a bit of a crush. And that, my friends, was a very foreign and strange concept for me. Typically my relationships or not-relationships happened so quickly that they bypassed that step, catapulting me down into a free fall of love instead of being able to enjoy the simple, giddy descent that a crush was supposed to be. Unfortunately the catapult typically resulted in me being met at the bottom by some man who inscribed on my tombstone beside me, “Sorry, bro. I don’t feel that way.”

This was different though. All throughout those two weeks, we texted every day, sent drunk pictures to one another from where we’d spent time with our friends, and got to know one another just a little bit better. In fact, on one particular night when Mason had gotten a little drunker than he might normally allow himself to get while out with coworkers, our conversation had begun to delve a bit deeper into his psyche.

“I feel like I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told me on the phone as I sat in my backyard smoking a Marlboro and he laid in bed eating Whataburger he’d picked up on his way home.

I took a drag off my cigarette. “What do you mean?”

It took him a moment to respond, although that could have been assimilated to the chewing I heard on his end of the phone. “With work, with friends,” he began. “… with guys.”

I struggled to understand completely and wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. That tended to be how I handled other people’s emotions when they confessed them to me. We did resolve to keep things chill over the weekend, not too much drinking, something low-key. And without berating him for more information, I ended all of this with, “Well … I think you’re pretty great. And there will be plenty of time for us to kvetch and be introspective in person on Saturday. But for tonight, get some rest and try your best not to worry.”

Only, as I’d soon come to find, there wouldn’t be plenty of time for any of that.


Alice and Ezra were hanging out at my house the next night the way all fag hags and gay boys do — by applying face masks and drinking cheap wine the hags had inherited from their grandmother who’d ordered them from QVC and watching reruns of American Horror Story on Netflix. In the midst of all of this, I’d moseyed outside to smoke a cigarette while still in the face mask that made me, a Latino, appear to be doing some sort of protest white-face. Alice and Ezra both—for no reason in particular—had followed me outside and began chatting away.

Ezra had only had one glass of wine, but Alice and I had each terminated a bottle apiece. As sweet and mild-mannered as Alice was, one thing that never fails is that when she gets drunk she becomes two things: tactile (a number of confusing hand-holding instances with me has attested to this) and talkative.

“So what happened with you and Mason last weekend?”

Like … for fuck’s sake, Alice! Why on earth would you bring that up in front of Ezra? Of all the things to say in front of the man I was doing my best to fall out of love with, and of all the people to bring it up to, why would you bring my weird, touchy, drunken incident with a very cute boy up in front of the man I was just now starting to get over? Did I think he would care? No. Hell no. That wasn’t the problem in the slightest. The problem was that I might have wanted him to care. And since he wasn’t going to care, all this would do was open up the possibility of him thinking it okay to bring up boys he may or may not be seeing around me. And I was not about to have that. After the Molly-induced incident on my birthday, if he were to ever put me through that again, I might actually punch him in his face.

“Nothing …” I said through gritted teeth.

It obviously had not been nothing.

“It was something,” she said with a knowing look on her face.

“The guy from [redacted]?” Ezra asked. Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m still not quite ready to spill all the details about Mason or where I’d met him. Sadly, Ezra wanted to know for one reason or another, and I didn’t feel like I had a good enough excuse (or, at least, not one that was explicable without running the risk of sounding insane) to use now.

“Yes, that guy,” I answered.

“Hmm,” Ezra hummed with no particular expression on his face. At least … not at first. That changed the moment his next comment flew out of his mouth to something completely unreadable. “He doesn’t seem very smart to me.”

“He’s very smart. He has a PhD,” I snapped. Why was it necessary for Ezra to say something like that? What right had he? This guy—regardless of where these feelings he felt he needed to share were coming from—had no right to condescend anyone I was interested in. I’d given him a year. A year. That’s longer than a full-term pregnancy and I still got nothing out of it except a published book.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s smart,” Ezra replied.

What the fuck is his problem? I thought to myself. If I could at least make sense of the look on his face when he said these things, I’d at least have some slight indication as to why he was saying this. But the problem was—like with most things when it came to Ezra—he was completely unreadable. Sure, it probably was nothing more than him just saying what he was thinking without any true malice behind it, let alone care about what the situation was as a whole. But for fuck’s sake, I really was starting to like this guy.

“Well,” I told him with a sort of dead look in my eyes, “He’s very intelligent. I’ve had several conversations with him and can attest to that. Plus …” I took a drag off my cigarette and spewed smoke toward him, “he makes more money than you.”

I hoped he knew I wasn’t trying to be a dick … but I also hoped I’d gotten my point across.

The day I was set to hang out with Mason had come. And let me tell you … I was so fucking excited. I’m not even 100% sure why I was so excited. Like … were we going to fall madly in love and run off into the sunset? No. Was he going to present me with a blood diamond ring (the only acceptable kind of diamond, in my mind), tell me I was the boy he’d always been looking for, then ask me to marry him so that I could give up my job at the magazine, then run off into the sunset (read: Nordstrom) so that I could spend all his money and never have to work again? Unlikely. Were we going to make love on the second story balcony of the Eagle and eat marshmallow cream off of one another while I picked the pocket of his pants lying nearby to steal his credit card so that I could quit my job at the magazine and ride off into the sunset (read: Mexico) and never have to work again? Not … like … totally unlikely, but probably not. Was he going to ask me to co-father Syrian refugee babies with him before running off into the [… you know what goes here …] so that I’d never have to work again? … No. Nevertheless, I was excited. And oddly enough … so was my penis.

Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking. “Why is that odd? You’re a dude. Don’t you always think with your penis?”

Ummmm … no.

In fact, I believe I stated before that over the course of the last year, one of the headspaces I had to get myself to was thinking less about sex. Drawing an emphasis away from it made it easier for me to focus on and sort through my feelings for Ezra, who just so happened to be asexual. So, the fact that I was going to get to spend time with a guy that I actually sort of had sexual thoughts about wasn’t just exciting. It felt … well … new.

It started off with dreams. Vast and many and plentiful, I dreamed about the amazing, catatonia-inducing sex we would have in great and glorious detail. And every single dream started the exact same way: with that fateful night at JR’s. His pelvis pressed against mine; him leaning in to kiss me, but not doing so; me holding my breath just so that I wasn’t so distracted as to miss a single touch he made against my body. Only in the dreams, I went after him. Or maybe he came back for me. Maybe it was different each time. Who knows? It’s what follows that matters. The sudden appearance in a bedroom. The nervous and shaky undressing. The touch of my nose against the outer part of his underwear and the feeling of what lay beneath.

Phew. If I take that any further, I may not be able to finish this story. I digress …

The orgasms at the thought of it were even different than what I was used to experiencing. These were full-body mechanisms that drew parts of me into my core and held them there until something like a light bulb inside my chest exploded and sent shockwaves all throughout me. Eyes moving in different directions. Toes in spasm.

So, yes. I was extremely hopeful I’d be getting dicked down that night. But I still wasn’t expecting anything. I could enjoy just the sweetness of it for as long as possible. That was still something that had been absent as of late that I didn’t mind taking the time to learn again.

When my phone rang that Saturday afternoon, I was an Adderall deep and typing away at some edits for the magazine with ten other tasks to try to complete before we went out. I picked up the phone without even looking to see who was calling, eyes never leaving the computer screen before me.

“This is Anthony,” I answered the way I always do in the event that the phone call is work-related.

“Hey.” His voice was soft. It almost seemed nervous—although I don’t think it was so because of me. In 2018, everyone gets nervous when they make a phone call to someone else because we’ve evolved past them for the most part. That aside, my fingers stopped pedaling keys and I melted just a bit on the inside.

“Oh, hi,” I gushed. “What’re you up to?”

“Just hanging out at home,” he told me before a long pause. “So … we still good for tonight?”

Good God, it seemed to have been forever since I’d done this. The last guy I think I spoke on the phone to was my ex-boyfriend Parker, who’d been 37 at the time and still favored the voice-to-voice call he’d probably grown accustomed to when he’d been younger.

“All good with me. What’d you have in mind?” I noticed the difference in my voice when I spoke to him vs. how I’d have spoken to a client or one of my employees. There was a softness there. It was equal parts trying to sound innocent and innocuous.

“I don’t know. Do you know of anything good going on in the neighborhood?”

That meant the gayborhood. Montrose.

“Not in Montrose specifically, but my friend Gwen is having a concert at Neon Boots. We could go there for a bit and then head somewhere else.”

“That sounds like fun,” he told me. “Text me when you’re done working and we’ll go from there.”

“How do you know I’m working?” I asked him, one side of my lips curling up into a smile.

He paused, then took a breath and chuckled. “You’re always working.”



At 6 o’clock, I hadn’t realized that I was already running late. In between yelling at a video editor and trying to clean up the mess he’d left behind for some emergency—his mother had died or something. I’m not sure. It was inconvenient, nonetheless—I had neglected to realize that I’d neither washed anything cute to wear nor taken a shower. We’d decided earlier to meet closer to 7, but after I alerted him that I’d been running late, we’d switched that up for 8. In lieu of having dinner with me because of my workaholic nature, he’d calmly told me he’d have dinner with some friends who had been asking him for a while and would meet me at Neon Boots after.

That saved me a little time. I managed to find a cute outfit in my closet, iron it, take a shower, blow out my hair, put on makeup, and hit the highway before 7:15. But I had to admit to myself that by the time I was riding the loop for the 290 exit, I was already exhausted. I’d worked all day, hadn’t eaten anything, and was about to go hang out with a guy I was really beginning to like. And in all of that, I had established some vague expectations for how this evening was going to go. We’d meet at Neon Boots for a while, sitting on the patio while Gwen sang a few sets and sipping vodkas. I’d introduce him to Gwen and get her reaction as to gauge how I was to feel about him after, we’d part her company, and then head into Montrose to have some drinks amongst our gay brethren. And hopefully, if I was lucky, we’d both be a little drunk by the time it was all over but not ready to say goodnight just yet, and one of us would invite the other back over for a few more drinks, turn on a movie or a Netflix show we’d both seen a dozen times, and in our drunk and tactile state we’d doze off holding hands or spooning.

I, admittedly, was already too tired for sex. But the sweetness I could get down with. And, at that point, I was determined to see this all through in spite of my exhaustion. I’d been excited about this night for weeks and I was going to let nothing ruin it for me.

Or … so I thought …

I arrived at Neon Boots just as Gwen had begun her set, waving to her between songs and taking a seat with her parents at a table up front.

“Oh, hey, Anthony,” she uttered into the microphone from on the stage. “My best friend just walked in, y’all,” she said with a nod of her head toward me. “He’s the editor-in-chief of About Magazine.” People clapped at her shameless plug and I gave an embarrassed wave without looking at all the faces I was sure I knew from around the city. And for a little while, I got so caught up enjoying Gwen’s show that I forgot about awaiting Mason’s arrival. It wasn’t until Gwen announced her intermission that it occurred to me. Even then, the moment I reached for my phone, I was shocked into setting it back down.

“I’ll be back here in just a bit,” Gwen told the audience as she began to make her way down the stairs. “C’mon dep—”

Before she could spit out the words ‘depth perception,’ Gwen’s failed her and slid ass-first down the remaining few steps. I dropped my phone on the table and did a half-enthusiastic lunge out of my seat. But as soon as I saw her laughing, I was able to forgo the effort and fall back into my seat (with twice the grace she’d fallen down the stairs).

When my phone chimed a moment later, I was suddenly reminded that I’d never seen through my previous task. I picked it up, noticed that it had been alerting me that my battery was down to 5%, then darted out to my car to charge it and check my messages.

There were … a few from Mason.

“So, my friends want to know if it’s okay to join us. It’s totally okay if it’s not, but we haven’t left the restaurant yet because they got a little drunk.”

This was quite the dichotomy for me. Did I want to be that guy who immediately came off as not liking the friends of the man I’d been masturbating to for the last two weeks? No. But did I want the first time we got to spend time alone together to include a bunch of randos I’d never met before?

Hell no.

Then there was the next text.

“So, they’re really drunk and it’s taking a little longer to get to Neon Boots while I’m wrangling them.”

And the next one.

“Do you want to just meet in Montrose?”

And the last.

“If not, it’s totally fine. I’ll come there.”

Oy gevalt.

Believe it or not, I do this thing when I want everything to run smoothly and no one to be put out where I actually will forgo whatever it is that is going to make me happy and go with what’s easier for everyone else. Yeah, you heard it here. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I, Markus Anthony Ramirez (yes, that is actually my first name) … am a people pleaser.

But for the sake of all the men to come after Mason, for the men like him and Ezra and Parker who had no earthly idea that they’d need Google Translate to communicate with me at maximum efficacy upon meeting me, I’m going to here break down and translate exactly what I mean when I say the things that I said to Mason in that text message.

“It’s fine.” It absolutely is not fine; and how could you for a second think that is was?

“I’m sure your friends are a lot of fun.” You tell those cock-blocking sons of bitches that I will kill myself and come back as a ghost that ruins each and every one of their sexual experiences in the future if they fuck this up for me.

“Give me just a few minutes and then I’ll head that way.” I will take my goddamn time getting there because now my allusions about this night have been crushed under the weight of one thousand polar bears.

“Just let me know where to meet you.” I hope you get hit by a car while crossing Westheimer.

* * *
In Houston gay culture, when someone asks you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the bars from Fairview down to Westheimer on the eastern side of Montrose Blvd.” When white, straight people who have zero interest in going to gay bars because none of them are celebrating bachelorette parties or wanting to see a drag show for the first time in their lives tell you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the gentrified, over-priced bars on Westheimer on the western side of Montrose Blvd.”

So why the literal fuck was I on the western side of Montrose Blvd?

Montrose is a historically gay neighborhood. And for decades, that queerness canvased it in its entirety. But since the early 2000s, that canvas has shrunk significantly over time as hipsters with bad haircuts and ghost frame, unnecessary eyewear have moved in and erected tattoo shops in historic old homes, bars that cost $25 cash to valet, and hookah bars that look as sketchy as they smell.

The western side of Montrose Blvd, yes, is technically still Montrose. There are even a few gay bars still in existence there (see: Michael’s Outpost). But Montrose, at its heart, has dwindled down to a refined area where queerness has been preserved.

The bar at which we were supposed to be meeting was brand new. Like … opening weekend new, and that was already a tall order for someone with social anxiety and that is constantly afraid of what people are thinking about him as their eyes glare over when he crosses their paths. But what was worse was than the aforementioned valet charge, was the fact that I had no cash on my person, and that I had had to pee since well before leaving Neon Boots and well after six vodka cranberries while there.

To make matters worse, the only non-valet parking on that side of the neighborhood that I could find without running the risk of being towed was ten blocks away. So, I had made the decision to park and run to the new bar in order to get into the restroom before I pissed all through the cute outfit I’d picked out specifically for this occasion. Ten blocks wasn’t that far—at least it hadn’t been when I was living my first year of college in New York. But in reality, ten Houston blocks were a helluva lot longer than ten Manhattan blocks.

I reached the bar at last only to find that the line at the door was wrapped around the corner. To my advantage it was moving relatively quick, but I still couldn’t stop moving due to the fact that I could feel fissures opening up along the walls of my bladder. At last, I made it to the front of the line and reached into my pocket for my wallet to show my ID at the door. Now, mind you, in Montrose proper I would not have had the issue I’m preparing to mention. On rare occasion am I asked to present an ID or to pay a cover charge for that matter. But that night, being on the straight side of Montrose, I was out of my element. None of these people knew me. I wasn’t shit here. Which is exactly why realizing that I had left my wallet in the car nearly sent me into hysterics.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered as I spun around on one heel without any explanation and bolted back to the car.

I became convinced that the tears welling up in my eyes were actually urine looking for an emergency exit route. That was not the case, however. A genuinely sensitive soul, when I am frustrated about anything, I tend to release my upset in tears if there’s nothing around I can break or into which I can scream. By now, I was sweating from the 95-degree heat and absurd humidity. My makeup was rolling into my eyes and my shirt (thankfully white) was becoming spotted with perspiration along my chest and under my arms.

Nothing was going right; and yet, there I was, Anthony the People Pleaser, trying to make sure that it was rectified in some way.

When I reached my car, I flung open the passenger’s side door and began fumbling around for my wallet. My phone chimed in my pocket; and I reached for it and threw it into the middle console to check a moment later. Unfortunately I knew that if I didn’t pee right then and there, I was going to wet myself or risk a major UTI. So, I hopped into the passenger’s side of the car, found a Gatorade bottle without a lid that was lying on the floor, whipped out my dick, and pissed into the bottle.

Oh, sweet relief, I thought to myself as one thing about the night finally began to ease some of my tension. I wasn’t done when the bottle was nearly full, but figured I could hold it long enough to make it back to the new bar and finish my business. So, in a hurry, I grabbed my wallet from the floor and stuck in my pocket, pushed the automatic window control so that I could pour the piss out into the grass and not leave behind an acrid stench in the car, then raised the Gatorade bottle to thrust the fluid out into the grass.

Only, in getting ahead of myself and pursuing a rush to get back to the bar, I neglected to realize that the window hadn’t completely rolled down. And when the bottom of the Gatorade bottle capsized from my hand, my entire lap was showered with my own urinary discharge.

I don’t think I’ve ever screamed the word ‘fuck’ so loudly or for so long in my entire life.

In that brief moment, I somehow was still not ready to acquiesce to the fact that maybe this was the universe sending me signs that this was all over or that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was still so determined to have this one thing that I’d been looking forward to—probably way more so than Mason—that I actually found a container of baby wipes in the backseat and gave myself a ho bath in my car so that I could see it through.

No, I did not have a change of pants in my car.

No, I did not have the means to at least run water over the pants to rinse some of the urine from them.

No, I was not giving up that easily.

My only saving graces were the fact that I only ever drank copious amounts of water when I wasn’t drinking liquor and a stack of Johnson & Johnson’s baby wipes I kept in my car to clean ashes off the dash. So, I took off my (luckily navy blue) pants, scrubbed them down with the baby wipes until they were foaming and I was certain there was no odor, put them back on, reapplied some powder and fixed my melting face, ran a brush through all the fly-aways in my hair, doused myself in cheap cologne my mother had gotten me for Christmas the year before, got out of the car, and proceeded back to the bar.

When I finally checked that message from before, it was Mason asking if everything was all right. I couldn’t even hide the fact that it wasn’t, but I certainly was not going to disclose the fact that in an effort to not piss myself, I had inadvertently (albeit not so literally) done the very thing I was trying to avoid the entire time. Luckily for me, he and his friends were kind of over that bar and were ready to move along.

We met outside as I did my best to act as though everything was still okay. At this point, I wasn’t even sure I looked presentable anymore. And I didn’t know if I really cared. As we walked from bar-to-bar in Straight Montrose, each one more crowded than the next (not to mention more expensive) I was losing energy that I probably had on loan, for it wasn’t mine. And as much as I wanted to try and be fun and gracious and sweet, those qualities had fled with my dignity ten blocks away from where we stood.

At another straight bar, I excused myself to go and smoke a cigarette a couple of times, each time with Mason trailing after me out of the bar to make sure that I was okay.

“I’m fine,” I lied each time. “Go have fun with your friends. I’m gonna be back in just a second.”

And so he did, which, for the record, is always the wrong move, gentlemen.

At last I’d at least gotten a few drinks in me and was doing my best to try to smile at these people I didn’t know as they carried on conversations that were no business of mine. Once, a young, straight woman began dancing on me without prompt and then grew frustrated when I refused to dance with her.

“Why won’t you dance with me?” the blonde bimbette asked me in drunk, ripe anger.

“Honey, you are barking up the wrong tree,” I told her as I scooted away and a little closer toward Mason. A second later, I felt someone’s fingers wrapping around my wrist, and then a jerk of my arm, and suddenly I was being pulled down the stairs and out to the patio once again. Mason took a seat at a picnic table, and then instructed me to do the same.

“You aren’t having fun,” he told me as if I were somehow incognizant of this.

“I’m fine.”

Lies and slander.

“I tried to get them to go to Montrose proper but they didn’t want to.”

“It’s fine. As long as they’re having fun, everything is fine.”

MORE LIES! What the actual fuck was going on with me that made me incapable of telling this guy how poorly this entire night was going and how badly I wanted to go home and get in bed and never speak to him again?

“We can go somewhere else, Anthony,” he told me. “I already told them earlier we would probably end up doing our own thing.”

Mind you, Mason was only now just telling me this at one o’clock in the morning. Like … dude … then why did I have to go through the process of walking the length of the Galleria from my car to a bar, back to the car, piss myself, and back to a bar I didn’t even go inside of only to end up at yet another straight bar? And by the way, what happened to drunk Mason from the other day who was going on-and-on about how he wanted to do something chill and low-key because he felt like nothing in his life was going right? Where was that guy? I liked that guy. He was depressed and I could cuddle him and make him feel better. (Okay, that’s terrible, I know. But the fact remained).

“It’s fine, Mason.” LIESSSSSSSSSSS. “If everyone is having fun here, then we can stay here.”

“But you’re not having fun.”

“Yes, but your people are and they are the majority here. I’m not gonna be that person who ruins it for your people.”

“But you’re my people, too!” he almost shouted. “This was supposed to be our thing and I feel like I screwed it up.”

Now I was getting pissed off—which, in retrospect, was nearly as bad as just hours before when I’d gotten pissed on. I wanted to slap him in the face, or at the very least throw a drink it. I didn’t understand why he was asking me what to do to make the situation better when he knew what was wrong. Why wouldn’t he just do it? Why was he being such a little bitch baby about it? Why couldn’t he just man up, grab me by the wrist like he had upstairs, and drag me out somewhere else? Why hadn’t he just kissed me that night at JR’s so that I would have at least had something else that I could’ve used to get me through this—to know that this wasn’t all for not?

“You know what, Mason,” I told him as I tried to keep myself from crying. “I am exhausted. I am the victim of a bad day, which hasn’t been entirely your fault. I am out of my element. I am not the biggest fan of straight people. And I’m not going to lie to you … this is so not what I was expecting tonight. And, given my track record with men, I’m not someone who really has that high of expectations.”

The tears were coming. I could feel it. I had to shut this all down before he caught me in a moment of weakness. The me of what could have been that night might have been okay with a bit of vulnerability. The me of what actually had happened that night couldn’t let that happen. I’d already lost. I wasn’t the type to let him also see me be a sore loser.

I stood up at the table grabbed my cigarettes.

“So, I’m going to go into Montrose proper and probably have a drink—”

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked softly. I could hear his regret in his voice, but I wasn’t going to let that sway me from my frustration.

“I’m not going to ask you to do anything, actually. You can do whatever you want. I just need to—I don’t know … get out of here.”

And so I did.

It took me a while to find the car, because at that point, I’d lost track of where we even were. It probably took another thirty minutes—time that I lent to Mason to call or text me and ask where I was heading, to tell me that he would be right there, to come after me like Prince Charming with Cinderella’s shoe. But he didn’t do any of those things. And when I reached the gas station at Westheimer and Montrose, I got out to buy a pack of Marlboros, threw some cash at a homeless man, and got back into my car sobbing.

The one thing I’d been excited about for the first time in what felt like forever had ended just the way things always had with Ezra and every man before him dating all the way back to my very own father:

in disappointment.

* * *

It’s worth noting that Prince Charming didn’t follow Cinderella home that night, either. He waited until the next morning to hunt her down, going cottage-to-cottage trying to slip the glass shoe onto the right foot. And though even in my delusion Mason was no Prince Charming, I had to give it to him, he had at least tried to make things right the next day.

Depressed and mournful over what was supposed to be something bordering magical, I kept in bed until the late afternoon. I told Gwen how everything had gone down, and she sympathized, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to it. It might have seemed silly or even downright naïve, but it didn’t change the fact that I was a little heartbroken over it. I was beginning to like this guy so much and I had this weird, palpable chemistry with him I hadn’t felt in a really long time. And all of that just got … well … pissed on.

I cried a little more, and I posted some vague, angry Facebook statuses about how my life was over and I was never leaving my bedroom again.

Then, around noon that day, I checked my phone to find a message from Mason. In that same thread, I saw that he’d texted me to tell me he’d left when I had and I even found he had texted me apologizing the night before. I guess I was too upset to read them or maybe I just hadn’t heard my phone alerting me to them. But below all that was a genuine apology, one that—no matter how upset I still was or would continue to be—I knew he meant.

“Hey,” it began. “I’m really sorry about last night. There were a lot of things I should have done differently, and I apologize for not doing so. I value what we have, but last night wasn’t reflective of that. And, if you’re willing, I’d really like the opportunity to make that up to you.”

I started bawling again—only this time, I wasn’t even sure why. And then there was like … I don’t know, man … guilt or something bubbling up in me. Like … had I really made him feel that bad about what had happened? Yes? Okay. Good. But also, why was I feeling guilty about that? Maybe it was because I did like him a lot and when you like someone a lot and they feel bad, you feel bad, too. It’s especially true if you’re the reason they felt bad.

So I did something I know now that I really shouldn’t have done.

I, Anthony the People Pleaser, began to placate the boy I liked and put aside my own feelings so that he wouldn’t be upset. And why? Because I knew he was already having a hard time with things. Because I knew that—even if he only had admitted it while he was drunk—somewhere deep down inside of him, he was hurting and needed someone to be a friend if nothing else to him. Because I’d been there before and had known I’d fucked up and inadvertently hurt people and knew that having it thrown back in your face when you already know that you’re wrong only makes things worse.

So, I placated him. Because I didn’t want him to be sad or to hurt anymore. And because there was a part of me that genuinely wanted to get to know him better and to see if maybe in all of his brokenness and in mine, there were places for one another to at least fill the holes.

“I honestly didn’t mean to ruin your fun or make you feel bad,” I told him at least half-honestly. “And we can discuss more later about why I was so pissy because it really is a whole thing, and it wasn’t just that situation; but you were at least trying to be sweet and you were trying to be considerate given the circumstances.” That much was true. He wasn’t being a dick about anything. And he’d paid for at least two of my drinks. Granted, I think I only had three after Neon Boots. “But honestly …” this next part was hard to even type out.

My overwhelming fear of rejection and being vulnerable and honest about my feelings gets me into more unforeseen trouble than it would if I’d just be upfront about things. But, unfortunately, expressing my feelings doesn’t usually ever help the situation, either (enter: rejection). Still, I chose to be at least a little honest with him about it.

“I was just expecting something different, I guess. Not like I had … like … a whole thing in my head about it.” Lies and slander. “It just seemed like it was gonna be more low-key and wasn’t going to involve other people. And I didn’t mean to be a dick to your friends, and especially not to you. So, I’m sorry if I was. Alas,” (who the fuck says alas? Like … what? … Pirates?), “I appreciate you saying all of this, and yeah … I’ll let you do that [make it up to me].”

“Thank you for letting me give it another go.”

But here’s the thing, guys. Where I was excited the last time we’d made these very same plans, I was anxious now. And true, what was to come was still to be seen and it certainly couldn’t have been as bad as getting piss all over myself, but there was so much I didn’t know now.

Was I doing the thing? The thing where I dive so deep into the pool to reach something at the bottom that by the time I realize it’s not down there, it’s too late to come up for air because I’ve already begun to drown?

All my life I’ve been rejected and dejected by this incomparable track record of men going as far back as my father who walked out on me and came back only as it suited his fancy (and none too often, nor in great longevity), only before turning me loose as an adult for good. And each one I was so ready to have be the person who made up for the first that I leapt from the highest mountains into pools of the smallest circumferences. And if I don’t splatter next to it because of poor aim, I shoot down to the very bottom, looking for that treasure chest everyone else seems to be able to find, but that never really seems to be there. Another x (or, rather, ex) just marking an unremarkable spot. Only, the more pools I dive into, the deeper and darker they get much more quickly. And as I was free-falling down toward this one, I was beginning to wish I hadn’t ever left the diving board at all.

I’d been asking this question since my birthday when Ezra had torn a piece of me I’d even then not quite gotten back, but with the recurrence of my heart’s erasure from some different man, that feeling only began to swell:

What if there really was something wrong with me?

Why was it I kept diving into these pools of piss and letting myself suffocate before I learned my lesson … or at least reached for the life preserver?