Less Than Butterflies

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… and the New Guy

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No.15

While it’s probably best that I don’t equate falling in love to some sort of illness, it is worth noting that there are symptoms that accompany falling in love with another person. The symptoms might be a bit different from person-to-person, but upon hearing the symptoms described by someone else, those of us who have in the past been afflicted can recognize them almost immediately. For some it’s the utter disinterest in perusing for other partners or the lack of intrigue in having sex with someone else. For others it’s that jealous, angry pit that opens up in the bottom of your stomach when you see the object of your affection romantically involved with someone else or when they talk about their sexual conquests or recent dates. Of course there’s the natural, nurturing feeling that comes along with seeing one’s beloved hurting or sick or maybe mad at the world and wanting to immediately hold and console them. Then there’s the simplest one—the one that we all want most: the feeling when they walk into a room or a text message from them appears on the home screen of your phone that’s followed by your stomach doing cartwheels, tickling and scrunching up as the inside walls are traced by the wings of the butterflies bouncing around inside.

That’s sort of how I knew I had fallen for Ezra. It took a while, but I was eventually cognizant of the fact that I was suffering from certain symptoms I’d experienced before but hadn’t recognized because it had been so long since I’d last felt them. All of those were there: the jealousy, the nurturing, the butterflies, but probably first and foremost came the lack of interest in dating or sleeping with other men.

Now, that’s not to say I’d lost all interest. Certainly when attractive men, whether that be defined by their looks or by bright mindedness, would pass me by or smile at me or give a friendly hello, I took note. But there was a certain compartmentalization that took place that prevented me from pursuing it any further. One of the many compartments was marked Anthony, Who is Always Boy Crazy, and it was there that any thoughts or urges were placed until later. Later, I say, because I was living out of a different compartment of tools at that time; one that was marked Anthony Who Is Falling in Love with Ezra.

In the process of trying to fall out of love with Ezra, or at least trying to get back to being okay with just being his friend, I’d begun digging my way through the former compartment to see what was inside. The symptoms Ezra brought about for me weren’t quite gone—not even close, if I’m being honest—but I also had the cognition to understand that if I didn’t dig through the compartment where I’d stored all my feelings separate of him, I’d never really get past them at all.

While doing so, I began letting myself pay closer attention to the world around me with my focus not so keenly set on the man I’d fallen for and who had broken my heart. What I began to see was that, in the process of trying to win one man’s heart, I’d not realized that there were plenty of others standing all around me at all times. I’d been mildly celibate and dateless since I’d confessed my feelings to Ezra. Even in hearing him say he couldn’t reciprocate them, I’d been convinced that by holding out, something might change; but the only thing that changed was the fact that opportunity-after-opportunity had gone by and I’d not even batted my eyes at any of them.

That’s how I’d missed a boy named Mason as if I were shooting a gun at a target for the first time in my life. Nearly as long as Ezra had been around, Mason had been around, as well. In fact, that wasn’t the only way our happening upon one another had been similar to that of Ezra and me. Although, I don’t want to go into the details just yet.

That, however, is where the similarities between Mason and Ezra stopped. We met similarly. That’s it. Ezra was asexual, Mason was … well … not. Not. At. All. Ezra was a man of numbers and solitude, and Mason was more of a words and people person. Ezra didn’t particularly enjoy drinking, as to where Mason loved being drunk, though didn’t do it that often and certainly was unable of keeping up with me while I was drinking. Ezra preferred to spend his time alone and at home, but Mason was a person who enjoyed company and explorations.

They couldn’t have been more different, actually, which was a relief to me. It was a reminder that even though I may have had a type—smart, dorky, nerdy, cute nevertheless—I was not doomed to repeat a cycle with the same type of man for the rest of my life.

Well … hopefully not. That much remains to be seen.

But as much a fondness as I was still feeling for Ezra, my eyes had finally realized that the entire time I’d known him, there was this other wonderful man standing right in front of me. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t thought about it. The thoughts had just been fleeting. I shrugged them off as distractions or things that would ultimately prevent me from obtaining the very thing I was destined to never have. So, when I saw Mason—not saw him for the first time, but really saw him—I remember thinking to myself, I wonder …

What we were celebrating escapes me, now, but I knew that we were celebrating something. Maybe it was a big advertising account I’d scored at the magazine or maybe someone had gotten a promotion or a divorce. Not just Mason and I, but a large group of us had made our way to JR’s in good spirits, ready for a night of reprieve from our droll, day-to-day humdrum. I had been drinking since much earlier in the day as I’d had that Friday off work and even arrived ahead of schedule. As the masses trickled in—Mason, Alice, Elaine, Taylor Kyle, and Max—I began ordering drinks for everyone, and a round of shots when they’d all arrived. We took our shots at the bar, then retreated to an empty patio cabana where everyone lamented about work, boys, their families, and, again, boys.

“Oh, this guy is cute,” Mason said as his phone resonated the Grindr ping! and he typed out a message.

“Let me see!” I laughed as I snatched his phone away. The guy on the screen was short, but had nice arms and a very serious-looking face. “He is cute,” I agreed as I zoomed into his arms. “And those biceps, though! Oy gevalt.”

Riiiiiight?” he said with a smile as he pulled his phone back toward him. “We can share him if he’s into it.”

I laughed and downed the remainder of my drink.

“You know, I remember being where you all are,” Elaine told us with a laugh and a flip of her ginger hair. “The cruising for guys, the shameless flirting, the endless amounts of random dick.”

“When she says it like that, it almost God is using her to communicate with us,” I teased.

Everyone laughed. “I’m serious,” she insisted. “But when I met Cameron,” Cameron was Elaine’s husband of nearly a decade, “all of that changed. And I’ve never wanted it since.”

“Oh, bullshit,” Taylor antagonized. “You’re telling me that in ten years of marriage and eleven years of being together, you’ve never looked at another man?”

“Oh, c’mon!” Elaine replied. “Of course I look. Hell, I look at all your friends, and they’re all gay.” Everyone giggled a bit at this. “But it doesn’t mean you want to be with them,” she said as she finished the remainder of her drink, as well. “Besides … Cam has a huge penis. It’s like … perfect.”

A-yo!” I shouted as I stood up and reached over to high-five her. “I get it, though. I mean, not the married part. Ew. Gross. Kill me,” I began. “But even when I was super hung-up on Ezra, I couldn’t really get into sex with other guys. So … I just … I don’t know … didn’t have much.”

There was a near-communal gasp around the cabana.

“What?” several of them asked.

You?” Alice asked. “You didn’t have sex for that long?”

“It’s only been a few months, Alice,” I told her with a smile. “I don’t need it. I don’t even really remember if I like it,” I chuckled before saying, “Oh, my.” I paused and looked around. “Is this what growing up feels like?”

“Partly,” Elaine jabbed.

I slid a piece of ice of my glass and into my mouth. After crunching it, I said, “I don’t like it.”

“I love sex,” Mason said. “And I even think I need it a little,” he added as he went back to the men on his Grindr app.

“I’m just saying,” I told them, “that when you really love someone, when it’s the real thing, it isn’t that you don’t really think about anyone else or that you don’t lust over anyone else. It’s just that you don’t really want them. You might think about it, even …” I gave a masturbation gesticulation to them, “… about it. But it’s like this side effect of falling in love that you just don’t want it badly enough for it to be with anyone but that person you’re in love with.”

“What about polyamorous people?” Taylor asked. “Or people in open relationships?”

He posed a good point.

“I don’t know,” I confessed. “I’m sure it’s similar, just with more than one partner. But I could be wrong. I’ve never tried either of those things.”

“Exactly,” Elaine agreed. “He’s so wise.”

“Well, I’m only 24-years-old, but I have a mind as old as Elaine’s frown lines,” I told them as I stood up to get us all more shots and me another drink. She swatted at me and laughed as I walked by.

At the bar, Mason joined me. “There’s nobody here I wanna make out with,” he said as he slumped onto the bar and gazed around at all the gays in Montrose who had come out to enjoy their Friday. They drank the way any of us would … with a disposable gay income.

“What about the cute Grindr guy? Where’s he at?” I asked.

Eh. I think he’s on the DL,” he told me with a grimace.

I ordered us each a shot and then new drinks, as well as one for Elaine. We raised our glasses to whatever it was that we were all celebrating, took our shots, then just stood their in awkward silence for a moment. I tried not to stare at him, but the closer I got to the finish line of romanticism with Ezra and the nearer I grew to just looking at him as my friend, my tunnel-vision for him expanded to see what else was around me. And right there in my line of sight was Mason.

He was terribly cute, I must say. Almost like … cartoon character cute, if that makes any sense whatsoever. He had big eyes and messy hair, but was well-dressed in clothes that hugged his average frame. He wasn’t bulging with muscles, nor was he really “skinny”. He was just kind of … him, I guess. I caught him looking at me, too, and for a moment I smiled, then laughed, then had to turn my head because I was blushing.

Yeah … blushing.

I swear to God I couldn’t remember the last time a boy had made me blush, especially just from passing along to me a sheepish smile. But that’s all it took to make me smile and giggle like a child and blush, all one-after-the-next.

Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe not.

In the cabana, we all drank more; we all talked more.

“You’re basically comparing love to cancer,” Elaine refuted my cynicism.

“No, I’m not!” I said after explaining to them all my theory about the symptoms of liking someone else. “It doesn’t kill you in the end.”

“It can,” Max chimed in. “I tell you what, when my ex left me, I felt like I was gonna die. It’s been almost four years, and I still get weepy thinking about it. Then finding out he was gay, and then having him tell everyone else in the free world but me—that almost killed me. We were high school sweethearts,” she explained. “If nothing else, was I not still important enough or a good enough friend to confide in? If anyone would’ve reacted well, it would’ve been me. Hell, I’m a fruit fly!”

“Maybe he didn’t tell you because he didn’t want you to blame yourself or feel like he loved you any less,” Taylor analyzed.

“I would agree with that,” Alice said.

“Maybe,” Max told everyone. “It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like I was dying.”

“See?” I asked. “Love. Has. Symptoms. Some are good, like being elated when your partner walks in the room. Others are not, like—”

“Feeling like you’re dying when your ex comes out of the closet,” Max finished my sentence.

I gesticulated toward her. “Precisely.”

Mason sat next to me on the couch as he slammed back the remainder of his drink. When he finished it, his torso was dancing—or, at least, the white people version of dancing—to the rhythm of the song playing over the patio.

He rested his head on my shoulder.

“You know, I agree, though,” Mason said next to me before he jumped into his own story of romantic free-falling. But I could hear a thing he was saying. Because the moment he laid his head on my shoulder, the minute I felt that hair against my neck, my chest tensed up—tingled, even. And the rest of the time we sat there, through drinks-upon-drinks, through stories and laughs and swear words and cigarettes, it only progressed.

First, the head on the shoulder, which was followed by the arm around me—the only punctuation between the two an ever-intensifying flutter in my chest. Then, from his arm around my waist and his head on my shoulder, the skin of his wrist brushed against that of my own and I swear to god every hair I had—not just those on that arm, but all over my body—stood up, electrified. And last came the thing that just did it, that thing I’d not felt since before it had happened with Ezra but had missing for so long since.

As I was sort of playing with his fingers only for a second, he jumped at the chance to hold my hand, to intertwine his between mine.

My body … was … on … fire.

Everything inside of me tickled, and I suddenly found myself having to fight back the urge to take it a step further—to press my nose into his neck, to rub its tip softly back and forth against his skin in slow, gentle strokes and to kiss him there along its trail I’d have left.

It wasn’t exactly the hot kind of see-each-other-across-a-crowded-bar-and-dive-into-one-another story I’d had in the past. It wasn’t animalistic or ravenous.

No, it was better.

It was kind of … well … sweet.

Everyone else noticed it, too, even for being as drunk as they were. In fact, I’d say that in seeing what was happening, in their eyes meeting mine, lids spreading further and further apart, they were sobering up just a little bit.

And there we all stayed, drinking more, taking more shots, telling jokes, and exchanging stories until the very moment that the bar threw us out because it was fifteen minutes past two, and they had to close down without us realizing how much time had passed. And we walked hand-in-hand back to our cars, which were parked right next to one another. And we said goodbye to Elaine, and to Alice, and to Taylor, and to Max. Then we stood between our cars, his hands on my hips, mine tracing the small of his back.

We stared right into one another’s eyes for the longest time, saying something, but nothing at all, smiling like the drunk, horny idiots we both were.

And the moment he pressed his forehead against mine to tell me goodnight, the moment he pulled me in closer to him and I felt his penis through his pants right there in the middle of that empty Montrose parking lot, he whispered, “Let’s go out again next weekend.”

I got excited hearing this. I felt like I was in a fever dream or something … completely incapable of understanding how this had happened between two friends who’d known each other for as long as we had or how I’d gotten here with him, how these feelings had crept up on me and surprised me and made me feel so light. I felt like steps were missing. It was like reading a run-on sentence free of commas—confusing and messy.

But the messiness of the sentence structure was okay, or, at least, I was still able to decipher it.

Maybe that’s exactly what it is when it happens, though—what all these symptom-inducing infatuations are—fevers. Maybe that’s what happens when we fall for someone, or at least when we begin to. We live febrile and all those symptoms—the jealousy, the nurturing, even the butterflies—are the accompanying symptoms. And the thing that makes the fevers all worthwhile, no matter how bad it may have get or seem at the time, is the knowledge that at the end of it all, we got to escape in the accompanying, sexy, fever dream.

Suddenly I was moving from one to the next, without ever having truly been afebrile. One compartment was being closed, and another opened as I dipped my toes into a pool of cool water just enough to not let the fever spike and take control.

Mason pulled me in a little tighter, let me go, and entered his vehicle without ever saying goodbye, without ever laying his lips upon mine.

He didn’t even look back.

My god was that sexy.

Book Review: Less Than Butterflies

Less Than Butterflies, a collection of columns originally published here in About Magazine about the gay dating and sex life of About editor-in-chief Anthony Ramirez, is coming to bookstores August 31st, 2018.

(HOUSTON) – When Anthony Ramirez asked me a few days ago to review his book Less Than Butterflies, I was nervous. I like my reviews to reflect my true feelings towards a book, and I didn’t want to have to lie. Let’s face it, he’s my boss and writing a negative review about his book probably wouldn’t keep me in his good graces. So, before I had even started reading, I was nervous. I so badly wanted this book to be good. I hadn’t previously read any of the columns, so I didn’t know what to expect.

36322752_10208945521194725_2014757068220661760_o Book Review: Less Than Butterflies
Author Anthony Ramirez

The first chapter delighted me. But also, I was thankful. It was a ‘thank god this is good’ moment. Not that I expected any less from Anthony, but still, I was pleased. Less Than Butterflies is a compilation of Ramirez’s sex columns for About Magazine. Each chapter tells a story of Anthony struggling to find success in his own love life. He deals with countless different men and tells in great detail about all the problems he has with them.

“I just sleep with men until they start buying me things; and then I assume we’re a couple or they’ve assumed I’m a prostitute.”

It was comforting to read about another person’s sexual adventures. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Reading Less Than Butterflies made me feel less alone, in many different ways. It made me realize things about myself that I didn’t know needed realization. To find that in a book, is wonderful. Reading is something that brings people together, especially when it comes to books like these. Memoirs or collections or even biographies have a funny way of making us, as readers, feel united. Ramirez’s book is no different. He does a great job of bringing us along on each of his adventures, recalling events of sexual misfortune and substance abuse.

The narrative, while real and raw, is nothing short of hilarious. I read it and often found myself sitting alone in my room, laughing out loud. The tales that take place in this book are a fantastic keyhole view into a world that I didn’t know existed. Ramirez does a great job of setting the scenes for his life. Each detail and description had me imagining a new bar or a new street. Setting, I find, is extremely important in books like these, and the description does a great job of adding to the narrative while not taking away from it.

That being said, there are some very real parts in this book. I went into Less Than Butterflies expecting a good laugh. I didn’t expect the raw dynamic shift in storytelling that occurred at the halfway point. We watch as Ramirez traverses the gay sexual scene, where everything is hilarious and light. But then we get an insight into Anthony’s mind, delving deeper into his personality. He gives us stories that shaped him as a human being and content that a lot of people will relate too.

“The life that follows is one stained and tainted by something that can’t be simplified down to an ugly memory, because it’s so much more than that.”

Ramirez doesn’t shy away from any subject in this book. Less Than Butterflies was a book that made me feel less alone. It shed a light on Anthony as a person, and in doing so it made me realize that there are other people out there in this world that are going through the same things that I am. There are other people who sleep around and there are other people who deal with trauma and tragedy. And while Less Than Butterflies does a great job at making people laugh, it will also do a great job at making people think and making people feel.

You can pre-order your copy of Less Than Butterflies here.

You can RSVP to the release party at Guava Lamp in Houston on September 1st, 2018 here.

All-About-It Book Review: Less Than Butterflies


Hoodrat Shit with My Friends: Dallas

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 14, Pt. I

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

—Carrie Bradshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue to Part II

It’s My Party & I’ll Cry If I Want To

Less Than Butterflies Season Two

Less Than Butterflies, No. 13

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

—Carrie Bradshaw

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

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

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

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

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

Whomp, whomp, whomp.

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


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.

I’m digressing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt haunted.

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

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

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

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