Less Than Butterflies, No. 9

What the fuck have I done?

It was after nine. I was wide awake. My friend Gwen was Marco Polo-ing me and had just read my open letter to Ezra.

My very open letter.

My letter that was supposed to be a catharsis—and was!—but that I also publicly published for him to read.

My letter that basically said, “Hey, brah. Umm … so not to be weird or anything, but I have these like feelings for you. And I don’t want to make things awkward, but I felt like you should know. And it’s not like I wanna date you or anything, but I do like being honest. Soooo, anyway, we’re gonna still be amazing friends, but you need to know this and you make me a better person and I think you’re special. K thanks bye.”

Yeah … that letter.

“So he hasn’t said anything to you?” Gwen asked me via video message.

“It’s only been an hour, Gwen. He may not say anything at all. He doesn’t have to. It’s not like he comments on all my other columns. Besides, it’s not a grand gesture.”

“Oh, it’s a grand gesture.”

“No, it’s not. Grand gestures are what you do when you want to be with someone. I do not need to be with Ezra.”

“That’s not what you said,” Gwen told me.

“What are you talking about? Yes, it is.”

“No,” she went on. “You said first that grand gestures are what you do when you want to be with someone. Then, you proceeded to say you don’t need to be with Ezra. Those are two different things.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “It’s applicable to both.”

“So, you don’t want to be with him?”

“I’m very happy being single,” I told her. “I do like him, obviously. But we have  a great relationship as it is, and I really adore that friendship. And he’s not relationship-y anyway. Plus there’s the whole asexual thing.”

“Asexual thing?” she asked me.

“Yeah. He’s asexual. And I’m kind of a nymphomaniac.” I looked out the window. It was dark out, though my room was lit up like a soundstage. I stood and closed the blinds.

“How did that conversation come up?” Gwen asked me.

It was the first time we’d ever done anything together. Our first not-date. We were driving back from the bar … what was it called? That terrible hipster bar with the expensive food and nearly liquor-free drinks?

La Grange. Yeah, that’s it. It feels like much longer ago than it was.

We were driving back to take Ezra and Lauren to their cars, neither drunk. It had been such a weird night, when I think about it now. The conversation was so effortless when it was just Ezra and I at that mildly dangerous Mexican restaurant. Granted, we were drinking. But the moment we were out and around our other friends, it felt different. At least, it did to me. It was almost like everyone else—Lauren, Courtney, and Jennifer—was watching us under a microscope waiting for something to happen, wondering what we were going to say, how we would engage with each other. Like bringing home a puppy to the dog you’ve had for years for the first time and seeing how they’ll interact.

But then, when the crowds were gone, when it was just us talking in the car—sans Lauren, who was in the backseat in her own little world—the conversation was easy again.

“I’m so tired of having sex,” I joked as we drove down West Alabama. “It’s exhausting and it takes so long. Plus, the men are rarely even good at it.”

Yeahh …” Ezra agreed. “I’m pretty sure that I’m asexual.”

I nearly wrecked the car.

When WHAT?! didn’t seem like an appropriate response, I instead said, “That’s sort of how I’ve been feeling lately.” But I knew for him, even then, that this wasn’t just a passing thought the way it had been for me. He was serious. It was a thought that he’d been sitting on for a minute.

“Yeah. I just don’t like sex. And when I have the urge, I have a hand for that,” he said with a laugh, though it wasn’t meant to be funny.

I tried not to bring it back up again until he did.

Sooo … I have tickets to this Idina Menzel concert in a few weeks, and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me. But I was thinking maybe we could go like … on a date?”

It was the very first time I’d ever asked anyone on a date in my life. The second would follow shortly after, though.

All day at work I waited for Ezra to reply. Courtney had been talking me up in an effort to get me to ask him on a date proper.

“C’mon! You guys looked so cute together the other night. Plus, you’re awesome. How could he not like you?”

Because Courtney’s a jaded liar, that’s how.

I was terrified. Why I was terrified is lost on me even today. After all, Ezra is literally the most harmless person I think I’ve ever met. Then again, aren’t those the ones who always turn out to be serial murderers? Not that I think Ezra is a serial murder. He’s too noncommittal.

Alas, the day turned to night and my anxiety got the better of me. The darkness fell, and with it my hopes as I quickly turned to a bottle 2002 Chardonnay someone had given me as a gift that I was saving for a special occasion.

… rejection kind of felt like a special occasion. Or maybe the special occasion was asking someone out on a date for the first time. I’m usually the one who gets asked out. Or 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.

When the wine was gone, however, I was worse off. Now, it was after midnight and I knew if the response hadn’t come by then, it wasn’t coming. So, doing what I was best at, I drunkenly called an Uber to come and take me to the bar.

It was a drag show night, and the bar was busier than I’d have liked. I wanted to just talk to my friend, Hope, not play games with Blackberri and Estella Blow—both of whom I do love—for prizes. I just wanted to take shots with my friend and bartender, while simultaneously crying about something that may not have even warranted any tears. But at least by Estella and Blackberri being there, I was able to enjoy myself, get drunk, and even win a prize (two concert tickets I think I ended up giving away).

When I finally Ubered home—blacked out and ready to sleep—I sat down to pee, as I knew there was no way I could aim for the toilet being that drunk.

“Well, if Ezra won’t go out with me, I’m sure someone will …”

I opened my phone and grazed through my contacts, stopping at Matt Kersey’s name.

Matt Kersey (God, I love that name) was a very cute boy I’d met all of twice at the bar on karaoke nights who once made me feel really good about my body when my ex-boyfriend was being a dick. I’d always found him attractive and assumed one day we’d probably end up sleeping together, anyway. There felt like no time but the present.

I don’t even remember how I asked him. I remember waking up the next morning hungover and ashamed to have done it in a message and while I was that drunk. I immediately deleted the entire thread and didn’t speak to Matt Kersey again for months. And thank God we did speak again. I kind of want that to be my married name, just because it’s such a great name. Anthony Ramirez-Kersey? Anthony Kersey?

It doesn’t sound so hot with my Anthony. Meh.

At work, though, I was surprised to find that Ezra had texted me back.

And while he was sweet about it, not to mention apologetic for taking so long to reply, he said no. If I still had the message, I’d quote it here. But again, I was ashamed that I’d been presumptuous with him, so I deleted the thread. Not that anyone could blame me. We did come to know each other because we matched on Tinder, after all. Still, I was embarrassed for a while following that, unsure of how we could manage a friendship if I was feeling anything for him.

But we did. And we did see Idina together … just … platonically.

I should probably stop buying him things (mind you, he did just buy our Hamilton tickets) …

Alcohol might be a good place to start tightening the purse strings.

Austin, TX – Austin Pride Parade – October

I believe the bar was called Rain. It was on 4th Street, but the details aren’t important. Out that night were Alice, Lauren, Ezra, and myself. We were staying at the Westin on the other side of downtown, and we’d all been drinking. A lot, actually. I know we’d been drinking a lot because according to my credit card statement, I spent roughly $200 on drinks that night.

I’m an alcoholic through-and-through, but even I can’t drink that much alone in a few hours.

The details are unimportant, but the rest of the night happened in a flash.

Lauren and I got into an argument—a screaming match, really. I went outside to smoke a cigarette while they were in the bar. I went back into the bar to find them, and they were all gone. Just like that. I’d been outside the bar for all of seven minutes and they’d abandoned me in a city I was unfamiliar with and a hotel all the way across town on a cold, October night.

Fuck ‘em, I thought as I took off, pad-and-foot, down 4th Street toward Congress. As I walked, my fury grew so quick, I swore that when it began to pour down rain on top of me that I had made it happen. These were supposed to be my friends, not just people I did volunteer work with. It shouldn’t have mattered that Lauren and I had a work-related argument. It was a classic mean girls move, and not one of them had even bothered to text me and ask where I was. When I finally did get a text, I was crossing Congress in the pouring rain and Alice had only said, “We’re going to Courtney and Jennifer’s room.”

Thoughtless fucks, was the last thing I thought before my foot fell into a pothole in the intersection and I went crashing down to the ground and slammed my face against the curb.

Maybe it was just my drunkenness, but I’m pretty sure I laid there for a moment before I got up to move. People passed by me—more than a few—but not one offered me help. When I did stand, my nose was bleeding and my glasses were a bit bent at the hinges. But I stood up, drunk, and tall, and too proud for this bullshit, waltzed my ass in the pharmacy where I could see the clerk staring at me out the window, and bought a pack of Marlboros.

The rain stopped before I reached the hotel. I went to our room and cleaned my face, then went down and joined them at Courtney and Jennifer’s room as if nothing had happened.

There, I walked in on the brunt end of Ezra telling Jennifer he thought he might be asexual. I tried not to intrude on their conversation. Besides, I’d heard this information before. Lauren sat on the floor, puffy-eyed and quiet, when Courtney told me she wanted to talk to me. Lauren left a moment later, but since Alice and Jennifer were still drinking and talking with Ezra, I told her we should talk about it in the hall.

I’m not sure why Ezra accompanied us there, or into the stairwell where the next fight ensued. Maybe I’d asked him to come, too. All I remember is spilling my wine on the floor, in which I sat down, and Ezra sitting next to me. What followed was Courtney, standing four feet above me scolding me for making Lauren cry. Her words were sort of lost on me at that point. Everyone’s were. And for a while after she left, I cried, and Ezra let me, not asking questions, not making me get up and go back to the room. We just sat there, barely saying anything, and I cried, not just because my friends had abandoned me and most of them had turned against me, but also because I was literally at my worst—the screaming, drunk, broken-faced, crying lunatic version of myself that only surfaces once in a while.

Ezra and I barely knew one another, but he let me be at my worst and never judged me—at least not to my face.

When I awoke on the pull out where Ezra and I were sleeping in the hotel suite the morning after next, the covers were mostly pulled off of me. Lauren had kept the room at a crisp 65 degrees. Ezra was facing me, but asleep still. So, I did my best to pull them back on me without waking him.

His eyes flew open and met mine, and for a moment I stared into them, taking note of what exactly they looked like. But in a motion as quick as a bolt of lightning, Ezra closed his eyes and rolled over onto his other side to face the wall before going back to sleep.

I still laugh when I think about that.

After Hurricane Harvey, a bunch of us from Pride were trying to get out in the city and volunteer where we could. The trouble was that so many people had come to the aid of others, that when Ezra and I met at the Pride office to go out and volunteer, everywhere we called turned us away for having too many volunteers. No one would take us. We spent time calling shelters, animal hospitals, retirement homes, churches, dog pounds—nothing. It seemed they had so many volunteers that they didn’t know what to do with them all.

An acquaintance, Gabriel, had joined us there on breaks while he volunteered with another organization in the building. They apparently needed no extra hands either. Instead, I poured vodka-cranberries for the three of us and we drank as we watched Practical Magic and played card games.

“I had sex with a guy that peed on me once,” I told them during a game of Ring of Fire.

“What?!” Gabe asked.

“He did,” Ezra answered.

“How do you know that?” I asked him as I stared him up and down.

“I read your column,” he told me. A part of me felt embarrassed. Certainly it was no secret at this time that I was a bit of a slut, but I didn’t really know how I felt then about Ezra having such a detailed knowledge of my sexual endeavors, which were anything but sparse.

“Interesting,” I said as I put my card down on the table.

“I’m mostly just waiting for the story about me to come out,” he teased as he drew a card of his own.

“How do you know I’m writing one about you, you narcissist?” I asked him, my mouth so wide open it could have sent birds flying out of it.

“Are you two like … best friends?” Gabe asked a moment later. “Like … how long have y’all known each other? Cause you talk to each other like sisters.”

“We actually just met right before Pride,” I told Gabriel.

“Yeah, but I mean, you kind of are my best friend in Houston. I mean, you’re the only person I ever spend any time with,” Ezra told me as he sipped from his drink. “Actually, you’re the first friend I’ve made in the years since I’ve moved here.”

My eyes cut up to him. Was he being serious? He’d been in Houston for three, almost four, years. Had he not made any other friends in the city before me?

I cut my eyes away and shut my mouth.

“There’s one more coming out next week, and yours is after it,” I told him. “My editors are working on it, now.”

I wasn’t panicking or anything. In fact, the moment that I published the letter, it was like there was this knot in my stomach that instantaneously untangled. I hadn’t even realized that I was still having these feelings for him, until he started being all cute and stuff in front of me when he was at my house. Granted, we’d both been drinking. And, in typical Anthony ‘I-can’t-deal-with-this-shit’ form, I waited until I couldn’t see his headlights as he was leaving, went upstairs and got dressed, and went out an alcohol and drug-induced spree through the city until I literally could not stand up any longer and passed out in my friends’ guest room.

And why? Because I’m not good at dealing with things. Sure, I can write about my feelings all day long. But don’t ask me to talk about them or try to sort them out or—worse—deal with them. Instead I’ll drink through them and maybe take a pill or smoke something that takes the worry out of my mind.

So, that’s what I did. And when it was over, when I was sober again and the world suddenly materialized around me, so did those feelings. I mean, they were never really gone. It’s just that they’re easier to ignore when you’re drunk off your ass and your nostrils hurt and a cute boy are playing with your hair while you pretend you’re ignoring him. When really you’re wondering whether or not he lives inside the loop so that you don’t have to go far to get home after you join him at his place to engage in what will probably be some rather mediocre sex with him. You do bumps in the bathroom while your friends pee right in front of you and you take the shots that everyone is buying you and pretend that one more drink won’t hurt. You do whatever you have to do not to feel anything, even if the feeling your feeling isn’t sadness or hurt … just an affection you aren’t ready to feel.

And if doing another bump means that you aren’t going to sleep, that’s okay. Because what does being awake mean but not having to face the darkness? After all, you forget that you’re afraid of the dark until it’s there with you, lying beside you in the bed that you felt was so lonely before. Only, when the darkness is lying there, still and unbreathing, you don’t wish for the light. You don’t wish the darkness away. You wish for company—someone to suffer through it with. And when you know that going home and to bed means greeting darkness alone, you do everything in your power not to do that. You, instead, do a line of coke, or pop an Adderall, or dance with your friends. Sometimes you even accompany strangers home. And it’s not because you expect anything to come of some mediocre sex in their dirty Montrose-adjacent apartment. But sucking their dick and lying lifelessly underneath them as they insist on calling you filthy names before they ejaculate on your face and chest and expect you to smile about it sometimes seems somehow more appealing than being home alone with the darkness and feelings you aren’t ready to face.

And the next day, you wake after falling asleep when the sun was coming up, and you look into your own tired eyes sometime between washing your face and brushing your teeth. And for a long, lonely moment, you realize that those feelings are exhausting … at least the way in which you go about not dealing with them is exhausting. You realize that you look five years older than you are because all you do is work and try to fit in so that you don’t have to feel. But that’s the real irony. Isn’t it? As you stare into your own cold, soulless eyes, staring at the shell of a person you used to know, you realize how much it would mean to you if you could just feel again.

It was nearly midnight, at that point. And Gwen and I were still talking. Then, as I was just about to fall asleep—with the lights on—my laptop pinged.

There, in the top right corner, was an email from Ezra. The subject line just said, “Ezra’s Response.”

Boy, was I about to feel again.

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