Less Than Butterflies, No. 13
“I’ve done the merry-go-round. I’ve been through the revolving door. I feel like I’ve met somebody I can stand still with for a minute and … Don’t you wanna stand still with me?”
One might be privy to believe that after chasing the same man around-and-around in circles for a year, being rejected by him not once, but twice, finding out he is not only asexual, but also aromantic (a then-new term to me), and bearing my soul to him on a very-public forum, I might be tired and heartbroken and over it. Well … I am tired. Exhausted, actually. And I am over it, please believe me when I say that. And, last but not least, my heart is broken. All that “time heals all wounds” bullshit is just that … bullshit.
So, yeah. Tired? Check. Over it? Check. Heartbroken? Quadruple check. Done? … apparently not.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds, you know. Saying I am moving on and actually moving on are two very, very different things. As much as I wanted to, I was trapped by the knowledge that for the first time in my adult life, I’d actually met one of the good guys. Like … one of the really good guys. One of the guys who doesn’t get upset with you over trivial matters; one of the guys who doesn’t make a big deal out of it when you have to cancel plans; one of the guys who knows about your (very sordid) sexual history and isn’t judgmental; one of the guys who isn’t rude to you and doesn’t put you down (even if he doesn’t always think about what’s coming out of his mouth before he says it); one of the guys who isn’t spending time with you because of some ulterior motive and genuinely just enjoys your company.
That’s right. I’d found him. That one in a million. And his name was Ezra Rochester (it’s a ridiculous name, I know. But try to stay with me here).
Only, as stupidly deep as I’d fallen for him, Ezra’s love for me extended only as far as … well … friendship.
Whomp, whomp, whomp.
I know. It sucked. Hell, it still sucks. But, to his credit, after an emotional and regretfully public admission of my own love for him, Ezra had come out of the closet for the second time in his life. This time not as a gay man. No, no. He’d done that before many years ago (Ezra’s actually four years older than me, and, by default, kind of a crotchety old man who is set in his ways). This time he’d come out as something I, at the time, didn’t understand people had to come out as:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the hits really do just keep on coming. So, as you can imagine, there’s more. An extension of Ezra’s unfortunate (in my case) asexuality was that he was something else, as well—something I’d really never heard of before he’d told me:
Yeah. So, now you’re all caught up. Cliff’s Notes version: Anthony Ramirez is a sad, lonely nymphomaniac who uses sex and alcohol to mask his actual feelings for someone who is actually incapable of falling in love with him back.
What a fucking shit show.
But, honestly, for a short time I didn’t feel that way about it. I was happy for Ezra. He’d finally come to grips with something he’d been trying to figure out about himself his entire adult life—longer even, probably. And it couldn’t have been such an easy thing to do. As the LGBTQIA community continuously is in divided on whether or not asexual and aromantic are even identifiers that should be recognized in our acronym (they are, mind you; these people matter just as much as everyone else), being something that may not be accepted by a community you already belong to has to be a bit scary. Although, if Ezra was content and finally accepting of who he was on a larger scale than just being gay or straight or otherwise, then I had conceded to be content for him. In fact, I’d even come to a place where I was able to stop crying over the fact that there may be something totally unlovable about me and realize that it wasn’t about me at all. In that moment, I was finally able to accept that maybe, just maybe, it was just as fulfilling to be one of the most important people in his life—a friend that he cherished in the highest regard, considering that there wasn’t going to be anything else romantically that he’d ever really be able to have.
But like all moments, that moment was … well … fleeting. And while I’d love to chalk it all up to my own crazy and irrational emotions just getting the better of me, I can pretty much certainly say that for once my histrionic reaction was justified.
That’s right, folks. The man I’d been boasting as “one of the good guys” to everyone I’d ever mentioned him to, even if he wasn’t necessarily my good guy, kind of fucked up … in a big way.
The date was April the 21st, and it was the day before my 24th birthday. To celebrate, my friends Max, Karlee, Alice, and the man of the hour himself, Ezra Rochester, were kidnapping me for a not-so-surprise trip to Austin for a day where we could day-drink and worry about absolutely nothing.
I was thrilled by the idea. It had been quite a long time since I’d been on a day trip that wasn’t for work, and the idea of not having to pay for any of my meals, drinks, or activities was nothing short of appealing to me. Better yet, getting a little alone time with my friends, especially Max and Karlee whom I didn’t often see, was going to be fun. There was, however, the awkward incident of Ezra and I wearing nearly identical outfits that day, which I guess was mostly my fault. I had, after all, accompanied him on a shopping spree the weekend before and helped him pick out a new wardrobe that included jeans that fit and shirts without words or superhero logos across the chest. In fact, we’d gotten him a lot of nice new clothes, and to be frank, when he wore them, he was hot. (Keep this shopping spree thing in mind. It will come back up later).
Regardless, as soon as we got in the car and stopped at the gas station, I pulled a tiny plastic bag from inside my Louis Vuitton wallet and my car keys out of my pocket so that I could do a bump of coke. I’d been up late working the night before and then couldn’t sleep much after that from all the excitement. If I was going to be awake and alert enough to really enjoy the day, I was going to need the uppers. Max and Karlee both disapproved of my backseat drug use, while neither Alice nor Ezra really batted an eye. Alice had grown so used to my bad behavior that she was almost completely unfazed by anything I did; and Ezra wasn’t going to judge me when he’d already agreed to do Molly with me at the day’s close, which I’d already tucked away safely in my bag.
The next several hours were spent driving to Austin from Houston, listening to whatever playlist Max had selected on her Apple Music, while we avoided any restroom stop that might pose danger to two gay men and three people of color.
Arriving in Austin, the weather was a bit dreary, which served fine for me, as I preferred rainy weather to the typical heat of the early Texas summer. We hit up lunch at Uncle Julio’s, had prosecco mimosas at Max’s Wine Dive, narrowly managed to escape one of the challenges at the Austin Panic Room, went on a temporary tangent about stalking out Tiffany Haddish who was in town doing stand-up, and resigned to Gloria’s for more alcohol. At the end of it all, most of us were slightly inebriated—save for Max who kept her faculties about her so that she could make the three-hour drive home—and I noticed that my friends were all getting along cohesively.
I’d been concerned about this initially, you see, because that did not always turn out to be the case. Karlee—who was one of my oldest friends since we’d been freshman in high school, much like Alice—didn’t always like my newer friends … often rightfully so. She had met Max their first semester at the University of Houston where the two instantly hit it off over their love and adoration for Demi Lovato. Karlee had brought Max to meet me at my Halloween book signing back in 2014 when my second novel had been released. A few days later, Max and I began spending time together. I’m not sure why it happened, but I could tell then that Max—who was new to Houston—needed friends in this new city where she knew few people, and I wanted to make Karlee feel like we were accepting Max as if she’d been our friend all along. And it worked out, too, because Max and I got super closer super quickly. She and I turned out to have a lot of things in common—even a boy, once, but we’ll save that story for another column. And while the friendship outside of our relationship with Karlee did tend to irk Karlee to her core at times, it turned out to be a really great thing for all of us.
Still, Karlee (and now Max) could be a bit overprotective when it came to who we all befriended outside of each other … especially so when that person happened to be a man. We’d all been fucked over by men in the past, and we’d all watched each other have our hearts broken at one point or another. Both these women knew that Ezra was just as much a character archetype in my story as all the men before him. They’d heard me gushing over him after we’d first met, had heard the stories of all the not-dates we’d been on, and even saw me give up on the idea of a relationship with him, only to fall for him again later. They’d witnessed my grand gesture letting him know that I had feelings for him I wanted to pursue if he did, and they’d also watched the aftermath when he’d revealed his asexuality and his lack of romanticism for me.
And that’s why it meant so much to me that they were getting along. Outside of Max’s Wine Dive, while Ezra was inside using the restroom, Max turned to me and exclaimed, “Omigod. He is so handsome.”
“He is,” I agreed with a half-smile, staring at the hollows in my cheeks beneath their bones. I’d been losing a little weight as of late—probably in part to do with the cocaine, but also from a supreme lack of sleep and regular meal intake. I saw my own smile saying something to me. It was hard to tell exactly what it was saying, but it was hopeful, happy somehow.
“He’s much cuter than he is in photos,” Karlee agreed. “Like … his profile picture doesn’t look like him at all.”
“He’s had Lasik since then,” I informed them.
“I think he’s just one of those people who doesn’t know their angles,” Max added. I chuckled and shrugged.
“I really like him,” Karlee told me with one of her hard-to-come-by approving smiles.
I looked back at my reflection, a bit saddened by the fact that I’d finally found one of the good guys that my friends actually approved of, only to have to acquiesce to the fact that we’d never be anything more than friends. “I do, too,” I agreed as Ezra came out the door.
After leaving Gloria’s and stealing a fantastic parking spot on the street from some stranger by standing in it so that she couldn’t take it, the entire group of us wandered into a CVS, bought a giant box of Franzia, and made our way down to Zilker Park on the south side of Austin. Along the way, I pulled the bag containing the Molly out of my pocket, handed one to Ezra, smiled, and said, “Happy birthday to me.”
We popped the capsules into our mouths and swigged down giant chugs of water—which probably wasn’t a bad idea considering that we’d been drinking alcohol all day without intermission. We drove to the park, windows down and blaring hip hop loudly through the city as Max drove recklessly through Austin’s streets. It was the most Houstonian thing we’d done since being out of Houston, save for stealing the parking spot. And though the Molly hadn’t hit yet, I was feeling amazing. I had the good fortune of spending my birthday weekend with some of the people I loved most in the world, and those who loved me most in the world, day-drinking and solving riddles in an escape room. We’d laughed so much that my cheeks hurt, drank until we were speaking in cursive, and ate delicious food at one of my favorite restaurants in the entire state of Texas. But most important, and the thing I knew Karlee and Max had been thinking of when they’d planned this surprise, was that I’d escaped not only the city, but the problems that existed there for me at work, with Pride Houston, and in my personal life. For that one day, I wasn’t Anthony Ramirez the volunteer coordinator, or Anthony Ramirez the editor-in-chief, or Anthony Ramirez the man who drinks and makes jokes instead of coping with things.
I just got to be Anthony, or … Markus, my legal first name by which Karlee and Max took to affectionately calling me. That was a nice feeling. But as the Molly sunk in, as we sang with the cast of Rent to “Seasons of Love” on the grass in the park, as the conversation turned to boys and sex, my stomach began to tighten some; the goodness wasn’t where it had been earlier. In fact, I was starting to feel it less-and-less as the minutes ticked by.
“Oh, yeah,” Ezra said at one point. “This stuff is good. Way better than last time,” he said of the drugs. “My vision just blurred.”
I chuckled while Max went on to talk about the cute Asian guy from the escape room.
“He was cute,” Alice agreed.
“Oh, yeah,” Ezra added. “I would’ve fucked the shit out of him.”
I swear to God I think my face slid right off of my skull.
In wanting to take Molly and wanting Ezra to do it with me so I wouldn’t be rolling by myself, it hadn’t occurred to me that the drugs might make the asexual wonder feel a little … well … sexual.
In an effort to divert from the topic, I turned the music up, then stuck my phone down inside a Solo cup to amplify the sound. Apparently between five Millennials, not one of us had thought to bring a portable speaker. A moment later, Sam Smith played and Max made a comment about how good looking the pop singer was. I made mention that I didn’t find him all that attractive.
“I thought you loved him,” Ezra commented.
“As a vocalist and a songwriter, yeah; but I’m not attracted to him,” I added. Although what I was telling Ezra and the others was true, I typically made a point of not talking about boys in front of Ezra, even silly celebrity crushes that would never be more than that. I’d done it in the past, before I’d ever been truly frank with him about how I felt about him. Back then, my friend Gwen had warned me that doing so might make him take me less seriously as a potential partner, and since then I’d made a point of not striking those sorts of conversations. For one, and regardless of his own feelings, I never wanted Ezra to think that my feelings for him were somehow on par with the little glee I got from the other men in my life or the ones I had sex with. I was sure even then that it probably wouldn’t matter to him whether or not I was vocal about my own sexual escapades and short-lived romances. But there was another part of it that was simply that I secretly didn’t want to warrant him talking about other men. I was, and always have been, a jealous creature, and one whose feelings are easily injured. Had it been Taylor Kyle or Jeremy or Stephen or Dylan or any of the other men I’d crushed on or slept with, I probably wouldn’t be so careful. Those feelings never really ran quite as deep as these did.
After sitting quietly and singing along to the music, darkness fell over the park, and everyone’s stamina for the day had run out. We piled back into Max’s SUV, dashed to the nearest gas station we could find to pee before leaving back for our hometown, bought milkshakes at In-and-Out, and proceeded home. I was trying not to let my own weird, internalized fears of Ezra talking more about men ruin my Molly trip, and after getting a milkshake (which I took two sips of before forgetting about), I had nearly stopped thinking about it at all. But as we were pulling out of the In-and-Out, Ezra began talking again.
“Has anyone seen my phone?” he asked as he looked around the floorboards under the cabin light for it. I looked around for it, as well, but found nothing.
“Did you leave it in the park?” Alice asked from the backseat.
“I hope not. But knowing me, I probably did.”
I slid my hand around the seat between us and found his phone nestled beneath the arm rest. “Here,” I told him as I handed it over, beads of sweat pooling down into my brow as the Molly really took affect. That’s the thing about Molly: it makes you sweaty as fuck; and for someone like myself who pretty much sweats all the time, anyway, that can be disgusting. But the other thing about it is that if you aren’t actually in a good place when you take it, if you’re already bothered by something or battling some sort of undefeatable internal demon, it has the power to heighten that anxiety and fixate you on that problem … especially so if you’re trapped in a car for three hours with a boy you like who says things like:
“Oh, good.” He took the phone from me. “Especially since I’m having a conversation with this cute guy on Grindr.”
I swear to God I nearly shat myself.
I didn’t respond to him—hell, I wasn’t sure what to say—and turned my head instead to look out the window as we left Austin and traveled up-and-down over hill-after-hill through central Texas back to the Gulf Coast. All the while, Ezra could not manage to shut the fuck up. He was talking everyone’s ears off. I asked Max to turn up the music a few times, to which she obliged, but I could still hear Ezra talking through it all about the boy from Grindr.
“He’s gonna come over on Tuesday night and we’re going to watch Steven Universe.” He paused and looked thoughtful. “I don’t think I’ll fuck him,” he said to no one in particular at one point. “Or maybe I will. I don’t know.” As this went on, he engaged Alice in a conversation about how important it is to find the right man to have sex with—Alice was and is a virgin, but by choice, not because of something stupid like religion. Many times, the temptation to scream, “What the fuck do you know about it?” crept up on me, but the mixture of Molly and sheer humiliation kept me silent. It didn’t hurt that I was still swigging down glass-after-glass of Franzia leftover from the park.
But more than the Franzia and the Molly, it was just the humiliation. There I was just after midnight—now my actual birthday—in a car with two of my oldest friends, one of my friends I’d only known a few years but felt as if I’d known forever, and the man I stupidly fell in love with who had softened the blow of breaking my heart by telling me he wasn’t capable of having sexual or romantic feelings. Only, now, he was spouting off fact after fact about some random stranger from the a hookup app he may or may not be having sex with in the near future.
Even in writing a sex column for the last year, I had never felt more like Carrie Bradshaw than I did in that moment. Maybe there was some hallucinogenic effect from the Molly, but I suddenly pictured myself as Carrie Bradshaw in her gorgeous Vivienne Westwood wedding gown as I drove away after Mr. Big—Ezra in this hallucination—had stood me up at the altar. Then, when he’d stopped the limo next to mine, getting out and apologizing for breaking my heart, “I’m asexual. I’m incapable of feeling sexual or romantic. You helped me figure this out about myself,” (I’m paraphrasing), I took my bouquet of magnificently arranged flowers and began beating the living shit out of him with them.
“I am humiliated,” I screamed as Carrie, tears and snot running down my face as that weird peacock feather in my headpiece wiggled loose. Then, coming from the limo, in their three differently colored bridesmaid dresses came Karlee (Miranda), Max (Samantha), and Alice (Charlotte) to pull me away from him before I was charged with battery right outside the New York City Public Library. People were staring, Ezra was explaining; flower petals glided through the air in slow motion as Karlee and Max pulled me off of him. And then there was Alice, also in tears, holding up her bridesmaid dress and pointing a finger at Ezra as she shouted, “NO! No!” while she pulled me by the shoulders and put me back in the car.
When the dream sequence was over, I looked around and found Alice had finally fallen asleep in the third row, Karlee was snoring lightly from the front passenger’s seat, Max was humming along to the music, and Ezra was staring at me while “Take It Like a Man” from Legally Blonde The Musical played over the speakers. The whole sequence in the musical is Elle Woods taking her new friend Emmett shopping to sharpen his image and gain the respect of their boss. It was sort of like Ezra and I the weekend before when I’d been helping him pick out new, more stylish clothes.
He seemed to think so, as well, because he said next, “This was literally us last weekend,” with a slight chuckle.
A bit relieved that the subject had changed, I chuckled without looking at him and agreed, “Yeah, I guess it was.”
But Ezra on Molly was unrelenting and unable to really be stopped. He went on by saying, “Although I think it meant a little more to you than it did to me.” I sighed and shook my head, still looking out the window into the darkness. “Do you wanna talk about it?”
My head snapped around so fast I could have given myself whiplash and the scour on my face was noticeable even to me, who could not see it. “No, I do not want to talk about it, Ezra. Not here. Not now. This is neither the time nor the place.”
“Okay, okay,” he muttered somewhat apologetically. Nevertheless, he persisted. “I’m just saying that I’m not usually up for the sort of deep conversations and if you wanted to talk about it, the best time to do it might be while I’m on Molly.”
“We can talk. When we. Get home,” I grunted through gritted teeth.
We pulled over at a gas station so everyone could pee and reup on water or snacks. Alice slept in the back seat. Max and Karlee stared ahead into the store in the front while I sat watching Ezra meander around the convenience store inside.
“I cannot believe he’s talking about some guy he wants to have sex with in front of you,” Max said.
“I cannot believe he’s still talking,” Karlee added sleepily.
“Like, if he needs to get laid that bad, why won’t he just have sex with Anthony?”
“I do not want to have sex with him,” I snapped. And that much was true. Especially not right that second. In fact, in all the time that I’d had feelings for Ezra, sex had always been the furthest thing from my mind. And that, honestly, came from a place of having had sex with so many men that all I want and had wanted then was and is a relationship with someone who is kind, and who makes me laugh, and who I don’t feel weird hanging around for hours on end because I enjoy just having them next to me. When it came to Ezra, all those qualifiers were checked off the list. He wasn’t someone I thought about when I was having sex with someone else or when I was masturbating. Had the idea crept through my mind? Of course. But it was locked away in a trunk inside my brain. Padlocked. Chained. Key swallowed. Because I knew that if ever that day were to come, it would probably be beyond my expectations. It would certainly be beyond his. He has no idea just how good I am at sex. I’ve made grown men scream in a soprano in the past.
Sex was never the point. Sex to me, from someone who had been through his fair share of men and who was capable of catching a dick whenever he wanted one, was becoming less-and-less exhilarating the longer I went without having it with someone I genuinely cared about. And besides, it felt disrespectful to Ezra to think about him that way knowing full and well that our feelings were different for one another.
As we got closer to Houston, more music played, and most of it brought me to silent, ugly tears. At one point, “On My Own” from Les Miserables hummed through the speakers—a song all-too-fitting for that situation.
“I love him,
but when the night is over,
he is gone, the river’s just a river.
Without him the world around me changes.
The trees are bare and everywhere
the streets are full of strangers.
I love him,
but every day I’m learning
all my life I’ve only been pretending.
his world will go on turning.
A world that’s full of happiness
that I have never known.”
“This song is beautiful,” Ezra said, clearly not understanding the present irony of the situation. “Listen to those lyrics. They’re poetry.” He zipped through his phone a little more, typing something and then coming back up for air. Even if he’d just been on his phone and not talking to some vapid, mindless twink on Grindr, I probably still would have been irritated. Even if it had been Alice or Max or Karlee. My biggest pet peeve in the entire world is being surrounded by your friends, especially those you don’t see often, and having their eyes glued to their phones.
Sam Smith played some more, this time “One Last Song” from his newest album, and I sang the song along with him because I felt like everyone needed to know that I could sing that very difficult song and sing it very well. And soon, without talking to Ezra anymore, we’d arrived back at my house. Everyone hugged and the girls parted ways, but Ezra and I traveled into the house after I’d smoked a cigarette. He was still far too high to be driving home, and instead we got into bed.
My tarot cards were sitting somewhere nearby, and as a way to just alleviate some of the tension inside of me, I shuffled the cards and read what the future had in store for me. There was nothing terribly interesting there. Work stuff, mostly. But as I finished, I caught Ezra watching me, and I asked him if he’d like me to read his, as well.
He nodded, and I gave him the deck to shuffle. As a Jewish Mexican who isn’t necessarily religious or spiritual but was raised in a Southern Baptist church, there are still some things that I do believe in. I practice folk witchcraft in my private time, read tarot cards and palms for friends who want to know if they’ll ever find love, cast spells for safe travels over friends going on vacation like I had once for Ezra, and even hex a motherfucker every now and again if I’m feeling vengeful enough. I instructed my friend to hold the cards in his hands and close his eyes before shuffling them, then asked him to think first of his happiest memory, and then of his saddest. To me, the cards needed to get to know the person being read in order for the read to be accurate.
I never told him this, but as soon as he handed the cards back to me after shuffling them a bit and cutting the deck in half, I too held them close and reflected on my happiest memory. Only, my thoughts needed to be more specific. I chose my happiest memory with Ezra—the night we laid in bed watching movies that I realized how much I actually cared about him—and my saddest with him—earlier that night. And I did so not because I wanted to interfere with his reading, but because I wanted to know just where this friendship would end up down the line. That feeling I got around him—those butterflies—only intensified as time went on. I hated it, but it was true. And while most of the time I could pretend it wasn’t there and act like a friend who wasn’t swooning over him, nights like tonight made that more difficult. I mean, for fuck’s sake, it wasn’t as if I’d ever be able to go Ezra’s wedding. Depending on who I ended up marrying, I’m not even sure any future spouse of mine would be comfortable letting him come to ours. There were so many milestones that we, as two extremely good friends, would probably have to miss because I was dumb enough to go and fall in love with him. I was culpable for that, I guess. So, I just wanted to know what was in store. What was to come.
I clutched the cards and chanted something in Latin on the duvet as Ezra returned to his phone. But as soon as I laid down and saw the very first card, I snatched it up and put it back on top of the deck.
“I can’t do this,” I mumbled to myself as I snatched the deck up and slid it in my pocket.
Ezra nodded and said, “I understand,” while he laid back against the pillows. I took a moment to turn on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then excused myself from the bedroom to go smoke a cigarette. Only, I didn’t go and smoke a cigarette. Instead, I went to the kitchen, flipped on the lights, found a bottle of tequila in the top of the pantry, took a giant gulp of it, and then laid the cards out in a Celtic Cross spread on the counter as they would have been laid had I drawn the rest.
In the center and upright was the card I’d seen earlier—the Lovers. It’s a card that is … well … pretty self-explanatory. Lying over it was the King of Cups, the ultimate man of love, compassion, and caring. Together these cards represented a union with … well … one of the good guys. In the cause spot sat Judgement in the reverse position, which read that if there was a relationship that was to unfold, it wouldn’t happen until both parties began to listen to the inner voice in their heads and due to a lack of preconceived ideas about the relationship or the other person. In the past position was the Nine of Wands, the card of past damage, abandonment, and hurt. In the attitudes space was the Ten of Wands, a card that appears unfortunate and traumatic, but one that usually represents, in terms of ideas, making something out of nothing and letting small tragedies rule one’s life. In the near future position was the Wheel of Fortune. Again, self-explanatory. In the seventh space representing how we see ourselves came the Five of Pentacles, which reveals a person who is exhausted, tired, depressed, experiencing hard times, and even rejected. Above it, the space of the outsider’s perspective, was the Four of Wands, the card of celebration and excitement. Next was the key factor, the Ten of Wands—burdens, overworking, overextending oneself. It symbolized how life at the time was tougher than it normally might be, and how jading and daunting that could make anything seem. And then there was the last card, the final outcome—the Empress—the card of my birthday. The Empress is indicative of the joys of life in all its forms, especially so in those things we make new. She is the reminder of where your roots are planted and that what is most important to us is usually already surrounding us. She is, in conjunction with the Lovers, a card that represents fulfillment of the heart.
“Bullshit,” I muttered as I swept up the cards and threw them against the wall, lighting a cigarette inside the house and then venturing out to the front porch. The reading could have been about the two of us together. Then again, it could have been about me somehow soon moving on from Ezra and learning to just be his friend. Who knew? That’s the trouble with trying to see the future. It’s subjective. It changes with every action we make or thought we have. Nothing, not really, is written in the stars.
When I returned inside, Ezra was less talkative and probably coming down off the Molly some.
“I’m trying to get better at being a person,” he said quietly and without prompt. “That’s why I wanted you to take me shopping for new clothes. That’s probably what I’m doing with this boy from Grindr. I’m just trying to try new things.”
Instead of getting mad at him for bringing up that stupid little twink troll from hell again, I instead asked Ezra for his hand.
“Are you gonna put a spell on me?” he teased.
“No,” I sort of laughed. “Just give it to me.”
When he did, I laced my fingers between his own, and I rubbed my thumb gently against the side of his. Then, at a volume at which he couldn’t hear me, I whispered, “There’s no reason to worry about being a different person than the one you are. There are people, me likely most of all, who met you as you are and wouldn’t want to change that person, even if we could.”
And then I just held his hand a bit longer, just because it felt nice. Comfortable. The hands fit well together, even if the people they belonged to never would. But I gave it back to him before he freaked out and laid there in silence while the movie played. Soon, he was ready to go home, even though I knew he still shouldn’t be driving. And as we hugged goodbye and I watched him scurry to his car from my perch on the front porch, I lit another cigarette and called to him.
“Ezra,” I said just loud enough for him to hear me. He turned and I took a few steps nearer to him. It was hard, and at first my mouth just hung open while my brain and my heart tried to shove the words I needed to say out of it. But soon enough, I was finally able to mutter, “In the future, I don’t think you should talk to me about boys from Grindr.” It was succinct and summed up enough about what I needed to say. Not nearly all of it, but enough for now. Then, I turned around, flicked the cigarette off into the yard, and went to sleep quite quickly.
A few short hours later, I woke and immediately began to cry. The MDMA had likely stifled my ability to really feel what I needed to feel, and the lack of serotonin after taking it was probably only making it all the worse. I cried for hours, unable to get up or to talk to anyone about what was going on.
Soon, I had to retrieve Ezra’s laptop bag he’d left in Max’s car and take it to him. Even upon arriving at him apartment, I struggled to get out of the car for fear that when I saw him I might begin bawling again. I kept the conversation short, not even passing through the threshold into his house. But as soon as the door closed behind me, I ran back to my car and flew back into hysterics over the boy who was not able to love me.
After a while, I trekked to Gwen’s house, far away from the people who had witnessed my humiliation and in need of someone to talk to about it, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t ready to do so. She asked me what was wrong, and multiple times over I told her I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. Instead, we went into her recording studio and for a few hours we played instrumentals from YouTube and I belted songs of sadness between glasses of wine as I fought back tears. I sang them as if I meant them—and I did. Especially so when I sang a transposed version of “On My Own.”
“On my own,
pretending he’s beside me …”
And soon, we retired to her back porch where we sat in hanging hammock chairs as I downed the remainder of the wine in my glass and finally brought myself to tell Gwen everything that happened the night before. And then, when I was done, I could only sit there crying again. I was heartbroken. Understandably, Gwen was livid.
“He did what?” she asked through gritted teeth. “Does he not understand why that isn’t appropriate? Did he not realize who he was talking to or that it was your birthday for chrissakes?”
“You know,” I said through sniffles, “I have so many issues with men already. My father left me when I was a child. He would come in and out of my life at his own fucking fancy. The first man I ever loved loved me, as well, but is marrying a woman. All of my exes have either been philandering whores or can’t commit to me or tell me that as much as they do care about me, they just don’t see our relationship going anywhere. And here I am, in a place where I’ve found someone who really makes me happy, someone who really has been one of the good guys—even when he told me wasn’t in love with me. And I was okay with that, because he was a good guy. Because he wasn’t like the other men who had broken my heart.” I paused and poured a new glass of wine. “And then he did this.”
“You have every right to feel this way,” Gwen said as she shook her head and clucked her tongue.
“It’s more than just the heartbreak,” I told her. “Yes, I love him—I’m in love with him. But I could have dealt with the heartbreak by itself. I’ve done that more times than a few.” I shook my head and lit a cigarette, staring off into the distance. “What gets me—what really is tearing me up inside is that I feel lied to. And that wasn’t something I was expecting from him. In fact, he was the last person I expected that from. And what was all of this about me dressing him in a brand new wardrobe, by the way? Was that just so that he could feel good enough about himself to go out and flaunt his newfound self for the world to see so that he could meet boys? For fuck’s sake, this is the man who first told me he wasn’t going to date while he was living in Houston, because he knew he’d be moving soon anyway; and then told me he was an aromantic asexual. I don’t—I just—I don’t know what to believe.”
“I get it,” she agreed. “You went out on this fragile fucking limb and made this grand gesture toward him, expressing your love for him for the entire world to see, and he told you that as much as he did love you, he wasn’t able to experience romantic or sexual feelings. And then he turns around and does this so soon after. You could have existed knowing that he couldn’t have a relationship with you, because he made it sound like he’d never have one with anyone. And you got to at least be one of the few people he loved most in the world—”
“But that’s just it,” I managed through huffs and heaves of my own breath. “I don’t think he was lying, but it doesn’t change the fact that his actions say otherwise. And I go through this thing with myself where I am constantly working to be a better person. I am constantly making myself more available to people who need me. I am constantly fighting against my own inner-monologue that tells me that there is something wrong with me—that I am not good enough to be loved. And this—” I gasped. My body was trying to fight back words I wasn’t ready to verbalize just yet. “ … is there something wrong with me, Gwen?” Tears and dignity fell down my face in streams of hopelessness and defeat. “Am I really not lovable?”
Gwen cried then, too. And turned her chair to face me and demanded that I look at her.
“You listen to me,” she said. “And I’m not bullshitting you here, and I wouldn’t tell this to just anyone. But there is nothing unlovable about you. You are one of the smartest, kindest, sweetest, funniest, most accomplished, and most lovable people that I have ever known. You give so much of yourself to others in everything that you do and give your love to a lot of people—and many of them do not deserve it.”
I lost my shit there. Compliments had never been something I was good at receiving.
“But you need to understand that you are wise beyond your years and you have grown up faster than most people your age. And you’re ready for love. But Ezra? He’s not. Do I want to rob him of his identity as someone who is asexual and aromantic? No. But it does feel a little bit like a cop-out right now. It probably isn’t, and the Molly probably made him say a lot of the things he said last night. But there’s one thing that I do know based on knowing you and having followed this story since the beginning. And that’s that you have been ready to receive love for a very long time, and he’s just not there yet. And maybe that will change, but you cannot make yourself feel culpable for what someone else did to you. All you’ve ever tried to do was give him your love. You don’t have to feel upset with yourself or feel like there’s anything wrong with you just because he can’t accept it. Because someone will be ready to accept it eventually, and probably soon. And there may come a day when he is ready to be loved, and he’s going to realize what an amazing thing he missed out on.”
I exhaled a heavy breath, sniffling again, and unsure of what to say.
Gwen had only one last piece of wisdom to share with me. Advice, really.
“He owes you an apology. And, when you’re ready and have sorted through your feelings, you need to let him know how badly this hurt you, even just as your friend. Because friends don’t do this sort of thing to their friends. No matter if they’re in love with them or if they just love them platonically.”
I didn’t get out of bed much for the next week. Stupidly, I’d agreed to keep Ezra’s dog, Dorito, while he went to visit friends out of town. But unlike the times I normally sat with Dorito, my visits were short and with a mission. I was there to feed the dog, take the dog out, spend a little time with him, and then I had to go. I couldn’t make myself stay in his house any longer than I had to or sleep overnight in his bed. It was too much. In my head, all I could hear was Ezra talking about the little sugarplum twink fairy he may or may not have had sex with right there on the sectional, or around the corner in his bedroom.
I felt haunted.
So, I made the visits short, and then I would leave and return to my bed. I didn’t go to work. I didn’t answer phone calls or text messages unless they were of the utmost importance. I spent a solid week away from the world, crying because I felt like some disgusting creature incapable of being loved, and waited until I had the guts to face him again.
I’d been dating since high school, been cheated on, pushed around, lied to, left to plant another seed in the field of broken hearts. Then, I’d finally found someone I wanted to get off of that vicious merry-go-round with, to stand still with, as Carrie once said. I just didn’t understand why he didn’t want to stand still with me. Moreover, I didn’t understand how someone who loved me even a little bit could put me through that in front of my friends and on my birthday.
Still, I knew Ezra Rochester was not a bad guy. In fact, I knew him still to be one of the good guys. Even if he hadn’t then apologized and still has not, everyone fucks up once in a while. Mistakes are made. And to not accept that someone has made a mistake is self-righteous. Even the best of the best of us fuck up every now and again. This one lapse in judgment didn’t undermine all the good he’s done in his life, nor did it take away from the sweet and caring friend he’d been to me. But that didn’t change the fact that I was defeated and unsure of how long it would take me to get back onto my feet.
As it turned out, it was going to take a while … and it wasn’t going to be a healthy coping ritual.