Less Than Butterflies, No. 10
It was August, I believe. One of the hot months. My life had just calmed down after the Pride celebration, yet had picked up speed with a live performance of a sitcom I was writing at the time. At that point, I’d known Ezra all of two months. But in the interest of the man I’d begun dating a week or so after Pride—Jacob, we’ll call him—I’d sort of taken some off-time with Ezra. We’d hung out twice, I think. Once at Freaky Friday: The Musical, and again at the Idina Menzel concert. Both were fun—immense, fun, actually. Still, nothing had come of either, and I’d moved on … well, I’d moved coupled with Jake.
Jake was 37—a doctoral student who I’d agreed to help with his dissertation—and our relationship was nothing short of intense. He was tall and slender and he drove a truck—a man’s man. The country-music-listening-but-still-voted-for-Hillary type. But he also cried … like … a lot. Coming from me, someone with the emotional threshold of a Goodwill shoe, that was saying something.
Nevertheless, it did intensify the relationship ever more so. And although I never fell in love with Jake completely or maybe just not properly, that intensity was something felt universally. Others saw it when we sat together at bars or in restaurants, staring into one another’s eyes for minutes without blinking. Jake saw it bouncing off of me when we’d sit at patio tables where, as I began to laugh, the umbrella poking out from its center would begin to spin on a windless night. It was evident when we’d pour shots of Fireball at his apartment, raising glasses to the days to come after his graduation, and the shot glass would explode between my loosely-gripped fingers before ever making its way across the island to clink his own.
The trouble began when I lost myself somewhere inside of Jake for the time. I couldn’t go without thinking of him, or dreaming of him, nor could I be apart from him without physically aching. It was that force we had created, painfully drawing me nearer to him, and in its wake I was no longer myself.
Our love—or whatever variant of it we were experiencing—wasn’t just intense. It was powerful. It could have fed off the stars that aligned for us to meet, or maybe it was the witchcraft I practiced in solace that I sometimes believed led him to me. In any case, there was power there, and an insurmountable amount of power at that.
But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. And unfortunately, that responsibility became too much for Jake just nights before our live show at the Room Bar. We’d broken up and said our goodbyes. And for the first time in our short-lived relationship, Jacob shed not a single tear. All the same, he showed up to support me at the show, which was kind enough in spite of the fact that he had brought a date.
As I watched them across the bar, doing my best to maintain myself while preparing lighting and sound before the show, as my eyes sank into his from afar while I sang a song of heartbreak all but to him, I learned that night that I didn’t need a man to wield great power, nor to shoulder the burden of great responsibility. I was surrounded by my closest friends and family, people who knew what I was capable of and had come to see me wield that power in complete autonomy. That night, even strangers saw it—lightning bolts boasting from my hands and chest as I delivered line-after-line almost breathlessly, cracking jokes with ingenuity likened to Dorothy Parker and Phyllis Diller. Still, my knight on noble steed was riding something—or, someone—else now. And the thought of him sitting there, taunting me with indignation the likes of which I’d never seen as he whispered to his trollish new beau beside him, I relinquished control of my power.
Enter Ezra—the last person I expected to see entering the bar to watch me whip my tongue in ingenuity and fall apart on stage for the sake of telling a story that was near and dear to my heart. Yet, there he was: the boy I’d forgone without him even knowing I’d done so because I’d lost myself in a man that it would take me months to forget about.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” I said, approaching with two shots of Fireball and embracing him upon reach. He returned the hug awkwardly.
“Well, I almost didn’t come when I realized how far away this place was …” he laughed, as did I. “But I always want to come and support my friends.”
We took our shots and smiled.
Without even knowing it, he’d ridden in on his own steed—something more akin to a Mini Cooper—and, without knowing it, reminded me that even if Jacob had turned out to be a total fucking prick, there were people in my life who were capable of going above and beyond without trying to prove some sort of selfish point.
I don’t know that I would have gotten past Jake if I hadn’t had Ezra to distract me with the friendship that would follow.
It’s Ezra … obviously.
Okay, first of all, that’s far too many apologies just to compliment someone. Work on that.
Second of all, fuck you for making me cry about anything other than an animated movie. You know those emotions are foreign to me.
For real though, thank you. You’re too sweet and I feel so lucky that you were persistent enough to accomplish our friendship single-handedly because, as you helpfully pointed out (many, many times) my natural state is ‘uncomfortable’ and it’s difficult for me to manage fostering a friendship with anyone, much less if they don’t put in any effort (like I didn’t). That was unfair of me, so I guess—in some weird, cosmic way—your letter is payback for that. However, this cosmic duel isn’t over.
In October while at a conference in Indianapolis, my phone had suddenly decided to shutter. I could neither receive nor accept calls or text messages. I might be lucky enough to connect to the WiFi, considering it was available. Even then, I felt pretty shut away from the entire world. I was in a city I knew nothing about, incapable of communicating with those back home I missed even after only a few days away. And though I was in the company of friends—new and old—I couldn’t extricate those I’d not seen that week from my mind.
I’d gone to a Verizon in the mall downtown to get my phone looked at. That’s the funny thing about Indianapolis: much of downtown is connected by skywalks leading from building-to-building. So, reaching pretty much anything you needed was no great traverse.
On my way back to the Westin, I passed a Hot Topic—a store I’d not seen the inside of since buying black clothing during a brief bout of depression in high school. But that day, a window display featured a collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts memorabilia. My friends at home on my mind, I ventured in, knowing Fantastic Beasts was Ezra’s favorite movie (in spite of J.K. Rowling’s questionable decision making in the time since its release).
I browsed for a moment, finding scarves and t-shirts and keychains. Still, nothing caught my eye right off the bat that I felt would really suffice as a souvenir.
Then, just as I was getting ready to leave, a plush toy left to be forgotten in the store corner caught my eye from my peripheral. As I turned to look, I realized it was a niffler—a platypus-like creature from Fantastic Beasts known for stealing shiny objects and collecting them in its pouch. No contemplation needed, I snatched the damned thing up and checked out at the register.
Returning to the conference center for lunch, I found Lauren sitting with our new friends Tamara and Micah where Ft. Lauderdale Pride was hosting an elaborate and certainly obscenely expensive lunch for the other Pride organizations. When I sat down and placed the Hot Topic bag in the vacant seat next to me, Lauren looked down and poked her fingers inside of it.
“What the hell could you have gotten from Hot Topic?” she inquired.
“Oh, I got a souvenir for Ezra,” I told her as she pulled it from the bag to examine it.
“Why haven’t you gotten souvenirs for anyone else?” she asked as she toyed with it.
“I bought Alice and Jackie souvenirs yesterday, asshole,” I explained without any real reason to do so.
“Mhmm …” she teased. “And what exactly is this?”
“Something from his favorite movie,” I told her. She cut her eyes down at me. “What?”
“Did you also get Alice and Jackie gifts that personal?”
I snatched the niffler out of her hands.
“First of all, fuck off. Secondly, I didn’t go scavenging for it. I just happened to pass a display in the mall.”
“I see …”
I’ve told you before, and I’m not sure if you believed me or not, but you really are the only friend I’ve made since moving to Houston four years ago. Unlike you, I don’t make a lot of friends—I lack the required social skills to maintain casual friendships, which has the happy consequence that all of the friendships I do manage to establish are deeply meaningful and fulfilling. Ours is no exception to that rule.
You are, in a word, intense. You feel and express emotions so deeply and passionately, and in ways that I don’t think I will ever be able to understand. And even though you don’t mean half the things you jokingly say, you somehow still manage to be both brutally honest and sincerely well-meaning … pretty much constantly; and all that through a consistent haze of questionable substance abuse and rampant alcoholism. It’s equal parts inspiring and intimidating, if I’m being honest. You’re crass; you’re loud; and you make all the terrible decisions that parents threaten their children with disownment for making.
A week or so after returning from Indianapolis, Ezra accompanied me to my cousin’s Friday the 13th wedding. My mother’s side of the family is a bit backwoods and the wedding in Cleveland, Texas only furthered that point. On the way there from my mother’s house in Kingwood—a snooty Houston suburb—Ezra mentioned, “This place is making me feel rather at home.”
Ezra was born and raised in Arkansas.
Arriving late, we’d missed the ceremony, which didn’t bother me too much. Straight weddings have a tendency to nauseate me. Still, the reception proved to be a good time. The drinks were strong, and after a while, my cousin had changed out of her wedding dress and came down to take tequila shots, a tradition I very much wanted to be a part of.
The first shot went down fairly easy; and, for me, the second shot did, as well (as did each that followed). However, the moment that the second tequila shot hit the inside of Ezra’s mouth, he immediately gagged and spit the liquor out of his mouth … all over my cousin, Lara, the bride.
“Dear God,” I muttered before erupting into a fit of laughter.
One of the funniest things about Ezra, something he probably doesn’t even realize is comical, is the way in which he can do something embarrassing or klutzy, turn red as a Target ad, and then shrug it off and look up at the sky or ceiling as if nothing happened at all, arms crossed and lips pursed.
When the elders of the family had left, the bridal party, the groom, and his men met behind the garage to pass around joints. I wasn’t driving and didn’t really need to worry about what would happen if I cross-faded. Ezra passed on the weed, and Lara regaled me with stories of how her mother, Sam, had nearly fought the groom’s brother earlier that day when he arrived belligerently drunk. At another point, she leaned into me and whispered some sort of dirty joke, only to comment, “Ezra’s cute. How’d y’all meet?”
“Oh, we’re just friends.” I felt telling the Tinder story might make it seem like I was lying. “He’s here for moral support. Too many straight people in one place.”
It was after that wedding, and then a straight bar, and then a trip to IHOP, that I presented Ezra with the niffler.
He seemed to like it—even impressed by the fact that its pouch was actually functional.
All of those traits have gotten you to where you are today, the same way that my walls and avoidance of risk have gotten me to where I am today. And, for that, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. Your journey has been something I am fundamentally incapable of understanding, much less would I be able to try and reproduce it. I believe the fact that we are so radically different plays a massive part in our dynamic and is the driving force allowing us to build off of one another as effortlessly as we do, because I also guarantee that you have helped me become a better person as much as, if not more than, I have helped you do the same. As long as we’re friends, I have no doubt in my mind that you will accomplish every goal you have and then some, and I would love nothing more than to be there celebrating with you when you do.
Which also means this is going to be way more unfair of me than yours was, and I know it’s going to hurt; and for that I truly am sorry. But it’s important to understand how much you’ve had an impact on my life, as well:
You are the sole person who allowed me to fully realize and accept my own asexuality.
Most people reading this (especially you) would probably consider that a slap in the face, but trust me when I say that I mean it as a genuine compliment.
July – the Miller Outdoor Theater – Movie in the Park Night
The film was La La Land, and the only person I knew I could talk into going with me was Ezra. Both lovers of musicals and the theatre, I suspected it might be pleasant for him.
I brought the cheap, boxed chardonnay—the Miller doesn’t allow glass bottles on the hill that overlooks the the giant pavilion-style theatre. Pavilion seats have to be reserved and picked up, but really aren’t worth the trouble, even if they are free. You can’t bring outside food and drinks into the pavilion. The hill provides a full-view of the stage and the sound can be heard as far as the neighboring zoo on the other side of Hermann Park.
Ezra, on the other hand, brought the premade popcorn and his dog—an absolutely dog-ified manifestation of Ezra’s personality. Naturally skittish, anxious, and wary of humans. After a while I realized that they actually sort of look alike, but I chose not to dwell too much on that unsettling fact.
I’m not sure that Ezra really would have enjoyed the film, as I’d later find out that, despite it being a musical, the subgenre wasn’t quite in his favor. Regardless, I’d probably never know. We talked through most of the movie and I fed Dorito—the dog—popcorn through the entire thing to keep him from tripping out over the ridiculously populated hillside.
I looked nice that night. I’d bought a new outfit. It wasn’t for Ezra, mind you. But I’d recently lost twenty pounds and wanted anyone I might run into to be cognizant of that fact.
As we left, however, the sweat had trickled down my face secondary to the intense Houston humidity and the $10 boxed wine that would later give me the worst hangover I’d ever suffer.
On our way out, a few women stopped us to pet Dorito, who was not having any of that nonsense, and sparked a conversation with Ezra and I as they tried with Dorito to no avail.
“So, what are you two up to?” one of the women asked. “A blind date?”
I looked from the woman to Ezra and then back to the woman.
“Pardonne moi?” I asked, slightly offended. I’m not sure what made her think that our not-date was a blind date. If it had been a date, would it have been so shocking that we could have been on a date?
Fuck this bitch.
I immediately reached to pull my hair into a ponytail in the event that this escalated into a physical altercation.
However, before it could get to that extreme, Ezra piped up and said, “Oh, God, no. This is like … the furthest possible thing from that.”
This time, I looked from Ezra to the woman and back to Ezra. I could feel the whiplash setting in from how quickly I’d jolted my head back and my eyelids were so widely set apart that I feared an eye may fall out of socket without the support.
I chose not to ask questions about what the fuck the furthest thing from that could possibly be, simply because it didn’t really matter to me. At the time, I was still with Jake. Still, the insinuations sat firmly in the forefront of my mind as I downed the remainder of the boxed wine in my car before driving home.
Young Ezra wasn’t unlike Young Anthony—seeking butterflies. Only, Young Ezra didn’t even know what the butterflies he was seeking were supposed to feel like. Maybe, he would often think, they hadn’t had time to flutter in before the door to his heart was barred shut. Or maybe they made it just in the nick of time, and then the door was sealed too tightly, and they suffocated. In either case, he felt he was on a fruitless journey. The hopeful boys and men who came along with lock-picks and skeleton keys and even crowbars eventually wandered off, not leaving so much as a scratch on the handle. I had convinced myself that the door was barred for good; early-childhood-development Ezra was somehow a genius architect and a masterful bricklayer, able to permanently block off parts of himself from even himself. Nobody until then had been able to prove me wrong.
Enter Anthony, poised on a platform rising up from center stage, surrounded by his vanity lights and wielding a fucking sledgehammer. Down came the door, and the surrounding wall with it.
Unfortunately, that was just an outer wall. Once the dust cleared, I was surprised to see it had revealed something like the hedge maze from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, comprising the interior—constantly rearranging itself to throw off any would-be adventurers from getting to the center, defensive warding spells, probably a sphinx somewhere. Difficult, perhaps, yet finally—triumphantly—navigable.
But no sign of butterflies, alive or otherwise.
I was furious. Here was this wonderfully intense and engaging guy who had brought change and self-enlightenment crashing down on my head in the only way either of us could have managed it. He was wildly successful, charming, witty, genuinely funny, and every other thing you’re normally forced to lie about in your Tinder bio to get people to swipe right before the inevitable non-conversation.
So where were my goddamn butterflies?!
That weekend in Austin, the night following the tumultuous argument at Rain, Ezra, Alice, and I elected to stay in and watch a movie rather than go out with the others. After all, we’d been out since early that morning doing Pride-related work, and I’d already had to pull the car over once so that Ezra could get out and throw up on the side of the road.
A musical was decided upon: The Last Five Years, a favorite of mine.
The thing I hate most about musicals is watching them with other people. I always want the person I’m watching with to enjoy it as much as I do, and often that isn’t the case. Normally, for Ezra and I, we’re capable of enjoying the same shows, but I wasn’t so sure how he’d feel about this particular movie. For one, he wasn’t a fan of Anna Kendrick’s singing voice, which should have been a dealbreaker to begin with. Through the entire movie, as the three of us lay in the bed of our hotel suite, I kept stealing glances at Ezra just to see his reactions to what was happening onscreen.
When Anna Kendrick sang, “I Can Do Better Than That,” I briefly considered telling him a secret about the song I’d never told anyone—something about what made the movie special to me, that song in particular. But when I looked over to tell him, his face was solemn and unmoving, and I made the decision to keep the secret to myself. Maybe after we’d known each other longer, been better friends in the future, I’d share it with him.
I’d never really thought about telling anyone before that.
Instead, I just looked back to the screen and mumbled, “I sang this in a cabaret last year.” That much was also true.
When the film ended, he said nothing, and I immediately turned off the movie and laid back down between he and Alice—who passed out somewhere in the first hour. I didn’t ask anything at first. For a while, we all just laid there in silence, the exception being Alice’s occasional snores to punctuate the quiet. Still, without having to ask, I knew he didn’t have the reaction to the film I’d hoped. If he’d liked it, he would have just said so without prompt.
“So, what did you think?” I asked anyway.
“It was okay,” he told me. “I mean … I feel like there wasn’t really a plot. Nothing really happened.”
I did my best not to scoff and roll my eyes. “It’s about their tumultuous relationship.”
“Yeah, but that’s kind of it. Nothing else goes on.” He sat up and rolled off the bed to go back into the living room. “I’m just not really that into romances.”
I pulled a pillow over my face, suddenly relieved I hadn’t shared my “I Can Do Better Than That” secret.
I felt betrayed by every musical and romance I’d ever seen, betrayed to my very core—which both of those things had played a tremendous role in forming! What was wrong with me? I re-lived every phase of being young and not knowing why I felt (or didn’t feel) the things I was feeling (not feeling?) all over again in rapid succession, only this time porn wasn’t helping.
Then, through an errant Facebook post by a recent acquaintance, I was alerted to the full meaning of the A in LGBTQIA+: asexual/aromantic. After doing some cursory research, I realized this explained how I was feeling to a tee, then proceeded to experience the relief of being able to identify with a minority sexuality all over again, as well. It was a roller coaster, to say the least, but one I’m always glad to ride again.
Twas the night of Friendsgiving, and I was cross-faded to hell and back. It didn’t stop me from drinking, mind you. Lord knows, I’m nothing if not a trooper. Everyone had left but Ezra and Hayden, the latter of which was preparing to leave after telling us about a man with whom he’d be engaging in sex after he left.
“I thought he was married,” Ezra asked me as we sipped the Robert Mondavi Cabernet he’d brought with him.
“He is,” I told Ezra, seated on the barstool next to his in my kitchen. “He and his husband have an open relationship.”
“How does that work?”
“More or less, they can sleep with other people, so long as they don’t do it in their house, and as long as they don’t talk to each other about it.”
“Hmm,” Ezra muttered as he watched the refrigerator as if waiting for it to dance. He was high for the very first time in his life, having smoked a ton of weed in the garage with the rest of us earlier that evening. “I think I’d be okay with that,” he went on, sipping his wine.
I looked over at him and asked, “Okay with what?”
“An open relationship,” he muttered. “I mean … if I can’t give someone what they need, being that I’m asexual, and I care about them enough to be with them anyway, I’d be okay with it.”
I stared at him, unresponsive.
Ezra never stopped looking at the refrigerator.
I know it’s probably no real solace to you and you’ll be catching crap for the rest of your life (mostly from yourself, probably) for somehow managing to turn someone away from sex completely, but it has opened the door for me to finally be able to explore and better understand myself as a person after 20+ years of being locked out of my own heart. And that really is incredible.
You are incredible.
While he was to be away visiting his best friends in San Antonio, I volunteered to babysit Dorito at Ezra’s apartment for a few nights. He’d given me the key after we’d seen a movie he’d had his eye on. When he handed it to me, I was struck, forgetting I’d agreed to watch the dog at all.
It was the first time a man had ever given me a key to his apartment—not even Jake had done that. The whole illusion, of course, was only shattered by the reminder of the chore.
“You’re watching my dog this weekend,” he told me.
I didn’t stay over, didn’t rifle through his things, didn’t open closed doors (well, except for a closet that I thought was the restroom, where I found a very large, strange, pink unicorn). As I looked around, it was clearly the apartment of a single young man. There were video game consoles at two separate TVs, a couple of dishes in the sink, a bar with loose change and gum resting atop it, but clean nonetheless. He had a nice collection of books in his dining room that I looked through and noted I’d mostly read. Beyond that was a piano keyboard, where some sheet music sat with pencil marks scribbled across it. In his bathroom, where I went to pee, I took note of the cologne on his counter I’d recognized when he wore it. I’d worn the same scent a few years back.
But what caught my eye was what sat next to the television in front of his sectional when I was coming back out of the bathroom.
Perched atop the small entertainment center was the niffler, looking at me almost as though it recognized me. I approached it with the sort of care used to handle ancient manuscripts of alchemy in museums. I was almost afraid to pick it up, to touch anything at all, for fear some sort of alarm might trip. Certainly the niffler had only just been placed there when Ezra was straightening up his apartment before having company. For all I knew, it could have been in the trunk of his Mini Cooper or in Dorito’s cage in the months that had passed since the wedding. Maybe he’d only set it out because he knew I’d be by.
But I chose not to consider why it was there … just that it was. As I sat down at the keyboard and transposed the key up 6 steps, I pressed gently down on the keys to play the chords of Adele’s “Someone Like You” with my left hand and the recurrent sixteenth-note rhythm with my right.
And, as I sat there with my eyes closed, the niffler seated next to the sheet music before me, humming the chords along with the keyboard, I realized that it didn’t really matter why the niffler was seated on the ledge of the entertainment center.
It was there. Something I’d given a friend, because I’d seen it and thought of him, was now a part of the place he lived.
And, sure, it may someday end up in the closet with that weird, pink unicorn, or maybe it would become a chew toy for Dorito when he was old and crotchety with a heart full of angst.
But at least I knew that when Ezra looked at it, when he came across it while spring cleaning or packing his apartment to move to Denver, he’d know it came from a person who cared enough to remembered these things about him—his favorite movie, his disdain for Anna Kendrick’s singing voice, his open-mindedness to open relationships. He’d know who saw him in the things like that niffler and who smiled at the reminders.
Whether or not there would be more Jakes in my life would be perennially in question. One thing was for sure, though.
There certainly wouldn’t be any more Ezras … not even close.
Still, much like being his friend because he might live his whole life with far less than butterflies, I was okay with that. It isn’t his fault that he can’t feel butterflies, despite his efforts over nearly 28 years. If they aren’t hiding in that labyrinth he’s comprised of, then they just aren’t there.
At least he is.
And if that was the worst that came from all of this, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing. In fact, it seemed pretty great from where I was standing. At least I got to know him in a way that most people would never be able to say they did. At least there was really nothing left we couldn’t say to each other when necessary after the openness we’d communicated through these letters. At least we were closer, and maybe as close (or close to as close) as either of us were capable of being.
Because that’s what love should be, regardless of what weird, singular kind of love that happens to be.
And I do love you.
Just, sans butterflies.
For more information about asexuality/aromanticism, please visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network’s website here.