Less Than Butterflies, No. 3
Here it is as best as I can explain it:
Love is something that happens when someone becomes so overwhelmed by the good in someone else that they can’t get enough of it. They crave it in their life at almost all times. At first, it creates a sensation of being high. It’s euphoric. It’s magical. After that, it’s something different. Like smoking several cigarettes in the car. Or biting your nails when you’re deep in thought. It’s habitual. Love, like all things, changes based on necessity and familiarity. That’s not to say that the emotion has changed. The care felt for another doesn’t go away. Sure, it takes a little more effort to make the heart swell or for the butterflies to take flight. But it is – all the same – now a habit.
That’s because being in such deep infatuation – like biting your nails or smoking cigarettes or drinking in the early afternoon – is an addiction. It’s a compulsion. A preoccupancy. And like all addictions, once the snag is hit – the part that causes great pain – it becomes difficult not to love or feel great fondness. That’s because it is habitual, just like taking a pain pill every six hours or drinking eight cups of coffee every day. At a certain point, you forget what you did before you were initially so shot in the heart by Baby Cupid’s arrow.
I was not in love – although I did feel a great fondness – but I had hit my snag.
Like so many other things, it started over a $10 bottle of wine at Barnaby’s.
“So,” my friend, Hayden, began as he took a sip of his wine. “You met someone?”
My eyes darted up from the menu.
“He met someone,” Stephen answered for me.
“I have not met anyone. I mean … I did meet someone. But we aren’t dating,” I corrected.
“Do you like him?” Hayden asked.
Stephen nearly spit out his wine. “More than he likes these $10 bottles of wine.”
I choked on the cabernet and spit some of it back into my glass. “Fuck you!” I told him before looking back to Hayden. It was just after two o’clock and Stephen and I were fresh out of a Pride function. Hayden was there to drink with me after lunch, but that hadn’t prevented us from starting at lunch.
“What’s his name?”
“It doesn’t matter what his name is,” I replied, shooting my nose back down toward the menu I really had no intention of ordering from. In only its first moments, the conversation had already caused me to lose my appetite.
“His name is Ezra,” Stephen answered, again.
I slapped my menu down. “Could you please stop speaking for me?”
“Have you asked him out?” Hayden asked me.
“It doesn’t matter, because he’s just a friend and we aren’t going to date,” I tell the both. “Now, could we talk about something else?”
“Why don’t you want to date him?” Hayden inquired.
“He does,” Stephen chimed back in.
“Why are you being so weird about this?” Hayden went on, pouring himself more wine and then ordering another bottle.
“I’m not being weird about anything. Ezra is just a friend. We hang out like friends. We talk like friends. We are literally not going to be anything more than friends, regardless of whether or not I want that, because he does not want it. And I’m being a grown-up and continuing to be his friend because he has very few other friends in the city and I like being his friend because we have very similar interests. Now, if neither of you would mind, I am going to the restroom.”
Anyone who has ever sat on the patio at the original Barnaby’s in Montrose may be able to tell you that one of the supporting beams that stands near the door alleged to be holding up the patio ceiling is actually of no use whatsoever. It’s screwed into the ceiling, but the bottom actually is raised about two inches off of the ground. It was a bit like my friends in that moment – appearing supportive, but providing no support at all.
As I stood up and downed the remainder of the wine in my glass, I whipped around to face the door and accidentally ran face-first into that very beam.
There it was. The corporeal manifestation of my snag.
Hayden was the type of friend who truly wanted what was best for you, and was happy to do anything to help you get it. If it were sex you were desperately in need of, he’d happily take you to a bar, get you shit-face drunk, and poach out potential partners for the evening. If you needed to unwind and get everything off your chest, he would be there to listen, and then to take you out to a bar, get you shit-face drunk, and finally poach out potential partners. In reality, Hayden was nothing like that levitating beam at Barnaby’s. He’d do anything for anyone he cared about.
I returned to the table and poured more wine. “I’m having a party next weekend,” I said after a few moments of silence. “Bring booze,” I instructed.
“Who’s all coming?” Hayden asked.
“I can’t,” Stephen said. “Leo and I are going to see my parents.”
“Will Ezra be there?”
“What is your obsession with this thing with Ezra and me? Which, by the way, is not even a thing. You’re just insatiably obsessed with it.”
“Oh, honey,” he went on it. “It’s gonna be a thing.”
“I’ll help you,” Hayden said.
“I don’t need help!” I nearly screamed. It was fortunate that no one else was on the patio, otherwise I may have turned a few heads. So, I took a deep breath and downed the entire glass of wine before very quietly leaning in to say, “I just got out of a relationship with a man this summer, and I’m not looking for another one right now. And I most certainly am not in a place to set up expectations from a man that does not want to be with me and go through the same pitiful spiral of rejection I’ve gone through a dozen other times with a dozen other men.”
“Ezra is not other men,” Hayden insisted.
“That well may be,” I snapped. “But if he doesn’t have feelings for me, then I am perfectly content with remaining friends. I may be a jaded, hopeless romantic who’s been screwed over more times than I can count by men, but that does not make me a fool.”
Stephen’s eyes shot to and fro between Hayden and me throughout the entire exchange. I knew Hayden meant well. I knew he wanted good things for me. This, however, was something I’d come to learn was not going to change. I had accepted that.
“Well,” Hayden went on, seeking the last word. “You know how it goes. You say you’re fine with it. You get in a little too deep. You don’t say what you’re feeling. You go crazy. You self-medicate with alcohol.”
I huffed out a shot of hot air from my nose, completely over the conversation. But instead of getting upset or irritated, I settled back into my chair properly, grabbed the open bottle of cabernet, and poured myself another glass. Then, as I lit a cigarette, I fumed the smoke over our heads and told him, “I’ll have you know that I drink regardless of how I’m feeling.”
By 8 o’clock the night of the party, I was royally fucked up. It was the kind of drunk you could really only get if you were having a party in your own home where you didn’t have to drive or try to navigate your Lyft app. I wasn’t quite sloppy drunk, but I knew I wasn’t far from it. There were about fifteen of us gathered at the house, though at varying times, and each of us had had more than our fair share to drink amongst other recreational proclivities. Someone had brought weed, which had never really been my thing. But the fact that I had so many people around me all at once had heightened my anxiety, and I hoped it would take the edge off.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered the fact that I might, at some point, begin to cross-fade between being drunk and being high.
At a certain point, the entire group was pretty heavy in conversation of which I had little-to-no interest. All I remember is listening to Ezra make a point next to me as we all stood around the island in my kitchen and my phone suddenly dinging in my hand. I turned down to look at it, seeing a text from Hayden, who stood just across the room.
Oh, girl. You’ve got it bad.
I whipped my head back up to look at Hayden so quickly that I feared the affliction of whiplash. I moseyed around the island, put my arms around his waist, rested my chin on his shoulder, and whispered into his ear, “I will kill you.” He laughed it off, not even humoring me.
“You should have seen the way you were staring at him,” he told me with another chuckle. “And you can, because I took pictures,” he went on as he held his phone up to show me.
“I’m stoned out of my mind. If a Southern Baptist minister were talking to me I’d be looking at him like that,” I told him as he scrolled through the photos on his phone. “And stop being such a creep.”
I turned around and dashed up the stairs of my house to the second floor, opened the door to my bedroom, and locked myself inside. I needed a moment.
Having just moved, nothing in my room was assembled or put away, so I fell to the floor onto the mattress I’d be sleeping on that night. I watched as the ceiling fan slowly spun around over my head, mesmerized in all my highness. It wasn’t long before one of the ceiling fan blades transfigured into the image of Ezra, running around in circles. Another one shifted into the shape of my ex-boyfriend, Parker, whom I’d only been out of a relationship with for a few months. A third blade morphed into a man named Taylor I’d once been quite enamored by, and the fourth and fifth turned into myself and a bow-and-arrow with which I chased the three men around in circles, shooting little red arrows at them like Baby Cupid.
Parker and I had little in common other than the fact that we were both staunch liberals who had amazing sex. Taylor, on the other hand, I’d only met a few times and developed a weird crush on because of our short yet impressionable interaction. Ezra was a little bit different than both of them.
If I listened closely enough, I could almost hear them screaming for me to leave them alone.
I think what I’d found so devastatingly attractive about Ezra was how much unalike we were. I mean, certainly, he and I had more in common than almost any of the people in my life interest-wise. But that didn’t mean everything about us or our likes and dislikes was entirely congruent. For instance, Ezra could be found eating Panda Express at 7 o’clock in the morning at an airport lounge if he’d missed a flight. I, on the other hand, found Panda Express to remind my palate of hot dog water. Ezra was nerdier than I, though I found that to be endearing. I was much more emotionally driven than Ezra, who at times could come off as devoid of any emotion at all, despite the fact that I knew there to be some in him. We were bred of different genera, and no one who knew us well enough would say otherwise.
But it was that about him – coupled with the fact that he was constantly unimpressed by me – that I found most compelling. He didn’t applaud my every triumph nor did he boast of me to others. And although the attraction to those qualities could simply be traced to having a childhood exclusive of a father, it made sense to me.
Ezra was, to the say the least, a pastiche of incongruities. A mosaic of non-matching tiles. He had a way of surprising me with the words he said and the things he did. Like showing up unexpectedly when I performed onstage, or taking up for me when I was backed into a corner. It was the culmination of things that you don’t notice about a person when you first meet them, but that come with time and friendship. And true, it did sadden me that he didn’t have feelings for me. But I wasn’t going to be devastated by it, either.
Rejection is one thing. It’s hard, but manageable.
The humiliation of letting someone see how they can affect you – that’s a dragon much more difficult to slay.
The sound of the door opening distracted me, and I turned to see my friend Iris standing in the doorway looking down at me.
“You good?” she asked me, just as our other friend, Miranda, popped up behind her at the door.
“Never better,” I replied, looking back toward the ceiling fan to watch myself shooting at those boys. Only now we were all gone. The ceiling fan was just a ceiling fan, and I had been better than I was in that moment.
Back downstairs, the number of people was slowly decreasing. We drank a little more, smoked a little more, but soon the only people left were Hayden (who was mostly sober, but leaving soon to go to the bar), Ezra (who was just as cross-faded as I was), and myself. Hayden was washing the dishes, of which Ezra was extremely complimentary.
“He’s doing your dishes for you. You’re going to owe him big time,” he told me at one point.
I could only roll my eyes and say, “If only you had any idea how many of his messes I’ve had to clean up.”
“Can’t you just put some kind of spell on these dishes to make them clean themselves?” Hayden asked me as he stuck a wine glass into the dishwasher.
“I don’t cast spells on dishes. I only cast them on boys,” I mumbled, drinking more.
“As long as you aren’t casting them on me,” Ezra muttered.
In my life, I’ve probably only been left speechless a handful of times. I’ve got one of the quickest wits of anyone that I know, and my flair for histrionics only amplifies this when I need it most. But sitting there at the island, looking at Ezra with his sleepy eyes and his foot bobbing up and down, I couldn’t quite summon my ingenuity. And maybe that’s because Ezra had done it again. He’d found something to say that had taken me by such surprise that I wasn’t sure how to react. Sure, I knew he didn’t like me. What was shocking was that this normally kind creature had the sharpness of tongue to bring up the subject with such little sensitivity.
I looked away, finally muttering, “Don’t be such a narcissist,” before walking away.
Soon Hayden dismissed himself, but Ezra was still too far gone to be driving anywhere. Instead, he ate, and we found something to watch on TV while we rested on separate ends of the couch. I think I may have tried talking to him about nothing in particular, and a few times, I think he even mumbled something back. But when I looked over at him, he’d fallen asleep. So, I leaned over a little onto the cushion behind me, still a safe distance away, and did the same.
As my eyes fluttered open and then closed over-and-over for the next few minutes, I kept them glued to him. There he was, the maker of the snag just resting on the couch next to me without any idea of the complication in my mind. He was complicated, which – as much as I may have hated to say it – only intrigued me more. Still, I had been right when I told Hayden that nothing would ever be between Ezra and me but a good friendship. And even if I’d not doubted it for a second, he had made that vocally clear tonight.
So, I fell asleep, still high enough to dream of chasing a boy with a bow and arrow. Only, this time as I shot the arrow, it hit the boy directly in the back, then he tripped over a root in the ground and fell on his face. And when I finally caught up to him and stood there to try and help him up, it became quite clear that the boy I was chasing was neither Taylor, nor Parker, nor Ezra.
It was me.
It was me having been struck in the heart, having hit my snag, and finally crying about something I’d told myself I’d be okay with because I hadn’t been in love.
Just great fondness.