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.