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.”
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.