Less Than Butterflies, No. 19

My very first crush that I ever had was on … wait for it … a girl. At my elementary school in the North Houston suburb of Spring, I was in Mrs. Nevitt’s Kindergarten class, and the room in which the class was held was divided in half by a long row of storage cubbies. On the opposite side of the cubbies, an older teacher named Mrs. Burns had a class of her own. To put it frankly, Mrs. Nevitt was kind of a bitch and the all of the Kindergarten-aged children knew this. On the playground, it was rumored that Mrs. Nevitt would take the children who misbehaved home with her and lock them in her attic until they’d learned their lessons. In reality and in retrospect, Mrs. Nevitt wasn’t that bad, especially when you consider that twenty-five five-year-olds ran around her class screaming and knocking each other over for purple crayons and glue sticks. She never locked anyone in her attic, although when we got too rowdy, she would make us all sit silently on the storytime rug and stare at the clock for one full minute. Those minutes always seemed like the longest spans of time we’d ever suffered.

On the opposite side of the wall, a more patient Mrs. Burns was warm and sweet to her class. She let them use the large, block-like computers to play educational games, watch The Land Before Time on a near-weekly basis, and sometimes even took her class out for an extra recess at the end of the week if they’d been particularly good. I had a few friends in her class, and one girl in particular drew my attention away when I’d see her on either side of the cubbies on the computers or practicing flashcards at the table by the wall to the next room.

Her name was Daphne, and she always wore a headband in her hair somewhat like the character from Scooby-Doo. I’m not sure that I really thought she was cute at 5 and 6-years-old, but I definitely remember the euphoria I’d get when we’d run into one another on the playground or she’d say hi in the hallways. I don’t think she was all that cute, now that I’m recollecting upon it, and it’s possible that this “crush” was nominal only due to the fact that she did share a name with the Scooby-Doo character whom I adored as a child. That said, one thing that stuck out to me about her that entire year was never that she had a cute face or even that she was nice to me. Rather, it was the ugly-ass beige shoes that she wore every single day, which caused me to wonder who had dressed her and let her think that they matched anything.

I guess you could say that the signs were always there.

Growing up, I remember having lots of crushes. As my crushes on boys became less frightening to me, some of them even spiraled into deeper feelings (maybe you’ve read about these somewhere). But it always seemed as though I bypassed the stage of just liking someone quite quickly and fell head-over-heels in love with them after it was too late to slow myself down. Parker and I had only been together three weeks before we’d exchanged ‘I love yous’. Ezra I liked, quit liking due to the fact that he’d never date me, and then realized I’d been in love with the entire time after one night together to help him get away from his depression. And every man in between and every man before had all been the same. Sure I’d not fallen right into love with them. But I certainly didn’t give due time to savor the crush and infatuation for what it was.

Which brings us back to Mason.

Mason and I had now hung out a few times over the summer. He traveled a great deal for work and I worked nonstop, which made hanging out particularly difficult for the both of us. The first time, we’d hung out with a group of people we’d known in common, and the second time we’d plan to have a nice time alone, but ended up spending the entire night with people I didn’t know — you may remember this as the night I inadvertently peed myself. Most recently, my good friend Gwen and I — who had since become my business partner in the magazine where I served as editor-in-chief — had been invited as special guests to the fifth anniversary party of the gay, country bar Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon.

A gay bar that’s also a country bar may not at first sound terribly appealing to everyone, but in fact the club as a whole kind of is for everyone. It’s the kind of bar that caters to many diverse people. There are dance classes, concerts on the beautiful back patio that has a large stage, and karaoke almost every single night. There’s always something to do there, and the bar owners make a point of getting to know pretty much every newcomer that passes through their doors.

Gwen picked me up at six that evening donning an outfit of pink that coordinated a bit with my own outfit of mostly pink. We swung by to pick up our friend Jackson, who walked out of his apartment building on Washington also wearing pink. While Gwen was perennially single, Jackson was the sort that never seemed to not have a boyfriend. I’d known him a little less than a year, and in that time he’d had two long-time boyfriends. The first of which he’d been with for a few years before breaking up with one night seemingly out-of-the-blue. The second he’d begun dating a few weeks after that, with whom he’d just split — a matter with which he was having a hard time. I’d suggested to Gwen that she invite him out as her plus-one because we knew that he could use the break from thinking about boys. Problematically, I’d forgotten that this could mean Jackson would be looking for someone to hook up with and had invited Mason as my plus-one. As dumb as it may sound, or maybe just paranoid to a fault, I didn’t want to risk my very attractive friend — Jackson had notoriously good looks, as well as a dick the size of California — moving in on Mason.

We took our seats at a table set for four and chatted as people entered the bar in droves to find their tables and respective seats. The show was preparing to begin when Mason entered … also wearing a pink shirt.

“Jesus, did someone send out a memo or something?” I asked.

“On Saturdays, we wear pink,” Jackson teased.

Gwen had been teasing me as of late about the fact that she probably would not like Mason when she finally got to meet him. The entire thing was in jest, of course, and I knew each of them well enough to know that they actually would get along quite well. It was just something she did to rattle me, pointing out that his nose was too pointed from a picture I’d shown her of him or making a remark about his intelligence to mimic the one Ezra had made — which was ridiculous as he had a Master’s degree. She only did this because she knew I assumed she’d hate any man I brought around, which also was not true and simply another side effect of my own paranoia. Still, we all laughed at Jackson’s Mean Girls joke as Mason looked at both Gwen and Jackson whom he’d never met to introduce himself. He turned first to Gwen and smiled and shook her hand, then to Jackson to do the same.

Jackson. Jackson. Newly-single Jackson. On the prowl looking for someone to fuck until next Sunday Jackson. It may have been silly, but I could not stop picturing how to best keep them away from one another.

I’m sorry if it sounds stupid or like the babble of someone who doesn’t know his friends well enough to maintain even the crumbs of trust, but this is just how it was. Jackson was one of the most attractive men I know. Young face, tall, lean, well-dressed — he was a catch. The 29-year-old owned his own company and worked with celebrity musicians doing their sound and lighting for performances, even contracted by the Country Music Awards just this past summer. And I loved Jackson a great deal as my friend. After his break-up, I felt for him as I watched his heart break and as he talked to me on the phone at four in the morning about the pain it was causing him. He was a lot like me in a lot of ways. He presented as fun-loving and spry, but didn’t let a lot of people in past his guard. He worked his ass off doing what he loved because he loved doing it and made something out of himself from a time in his life when he had nothing; he drank to get through the things he didn’t want to deal with, but reeled himself in when he needed to do so. And in just as many ways, we were dissimilar — I was not the slight, attenuated beauty that he was; I was not one of the boys that could go out and get into the gay club scene and enjoy myself; I was less known in the community than he was; and I certainly was not the the person of which men were lining up to be the next boyfriend.

To be as dramatic as I am and to live in the exaggerated reality that I do, I — even then — still am a very self-aware person. I was thick — although I’d lost a significant amount of weight over the past year; I was effeminate; and I was not the natural, herculean, conventional beauty that many of the gays at clubs and bars in Montrose were. It had taken me a long time to get comfortable with my outwardly appearances, but it happened after a lot of effort. I mean, if this column has proven anything it’s that I can catch a dick whenever the hell I wanted — even forty pounds ago. Still, I never stopped seeing the beautiful gays as a threat when I was approached by them around guys I liked. Jackson was no different in this situation, even as someone I cared for in a greater way.

That said, I forced myself to let my guard down, because he was my friend. I may not have known him as long as many of his other friends, but I could almost bet that as someone who had been a player in seeing him through his breakup — even if just a small part of that — he wouldn’t move in on Mason. The part that worried me much was that I hadn’t let him know about these feelings.

Nevertheless, it was quite obvious that Jackson’s mind was elsewhere. Our friend Kara Dion — a drag queen royal — was performing at Neon Boots after suffering a sciatic injury, and we were excited to see her perform. She always put on a great show and — even after a crippling injury — never was one to forgo entertaining her fans for comfortability. After she performed — to audience members literally forming a line from one end of the dance floor to the next to tip her — Mason wanted to grab a drink at the bar and I wanted to have a cigarette, both activities we participated in one-after-the-next. As we smoked outside, Mason and I caught up after not having seen one another the past few weeks.He worried that his shirt made him look fat, which was ridiculous because he was actually quite lean and I thought the shirt hugged him just right. We joked and bantered a bit before returning inside to finish seeing the show. Near the bar, one of my magazine’s photographers snapped a photo of the two us, which I would see later and find that I appeared terrified. Then we returned to our seats with Jackson and Gwen and watched number-after-number of drag queens taking turns doing the songs of pop icons of the past few decades.

The evening of drag was punctuated by jokes and laughter. Mason had a couple of drinks, but I abstained due to the fact that I was going to have to review the show and needed to not have holes in my memory. And as we sat there and laughed and handed ones to the queens, Mason leaned back in his seat and over to the left against me some.

It was funny when it happened, because I’m always talking about how I never get the feeling of butterflies and that the only person who’d given them to me over the last year was really Ezra. But when Mason leaned against me and relaxed, I relaxed a little bit, too. At least … I relaxed on the outside. Inside, the butterflies were swirling around and making me smile so stupidly that I was grateful he was facing away from me. But the butterflies didn’t feel quite like the ones Ezra had given me; and maybe `that’s just because Ezra and I had never really been terribly tactile people with one another. Mason was a tactile person. But I’d always just sort of chalked that up to him being drunk. Here he was not; and that came as something of a relief to me. I didn’t want to be the guy whose hand he only held when he was shitty drunk off of ten Long Islands.

Maybe they were different because I had been able to set aside my worry about Mason unlike I ever had been able to do with Ezra. Anytime Ezra and I were together — especially after my birthday — I always seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop — for him to tell me he’d fallen in love with someone else or for his house to smell of sex when I went over to watch movies with him. With Mason things were easier. We could talk about sex and the people we’d been with and I didn’t feel pangs of jealousy and my mood didn’t shift in a way that sharpened my words and made them cut. And I wondered if maybe that was what having crushes on people as a grown-up was like. Not the talking about having had sex with other people, but being able to smile and laugh rather than get jealous and angry about every little infraction. Maybe it was about enjoying the person you were with, knowing that you liked them for no truly evident reason, and hoping — maybe even sensing a little bit — that there was something that they liked about you, too.

After the show, we retired to the patio again so I could smoke and found seats on a giant, boot-shaped, cushioned ottoman of sorts. I’m not sure why I sat so far away from him, but I pretty much sat on the opposite side away from Mason. I think this is is something I still just do around men I like because I got so used to trying to respect Ezra’s space, but it often comes off as me not wanting to be near them. Mason laid out on his back, his hands resting on his tummy while he complained about how fat he felt, still.

“I fucking hate you,” I told him after he’d whined about this.

“Do you hate me because I’m fat?” he asked, moving one hand off of himself and extending across the bench toward me. I looked down at it and smiled, anxious to slide over, lie down next to him, lay my head against his shoulder, and take that hand into my own.

I resisted … obviously.

“You aren’t fat. That shirt looks really good on you. Shut up.” It wasn’t irritating me as much as I let on, but he had to know that he wasn’t actually fat. Mason was in good shape, for what it’s worth — better than I was, anyway. As I smoked my cigarette he talked to me more about how he hated his job — a story I’d heard a few times from him before — and how he’d been looking for a new one. I nodded along, listening to all of it, but mostly watching his hand get just a little bit closer to me out of my peripheral. It was cute in its way. I wasn’t exactly sure that he’d put it there for me to hold, although that had been the case the last time he’d done this — snaking his arm around me slowly while we were drunk on the patio of JR’s before placing his hand just an inch over mine and finally taking it. I could at the very least suspect that he liked me a little. As uncomfortable and insecure as I was about myself most of the time, I was no fool. There were plenty of men all across Houston that would gladly dick me down and a few that might even date me. I just hoped that Mason would turn out to be the latter.

Well … okay … sure, I also hoped he’d want to dick me down, but dating seemed nice, too.

As I was lost in my pink cloud of thought about whether or not Mason might actually feel something for me, too, I nearly missed it when he said to me.

“I’ve been interviewing for other jobs,” he told me.

I turned around to look interested, which I genuinely was. I just didn’t want him knowing that I’d been day dreaming through that much of the conversation.

“Where at?” I asked in a way that I thought he’d understand to mean ‘which companies?’”

No, no.

“I had one in Ohio last week …”

Well, if I hadn’t been paying attention before …

“What?!” I squealed after he’d said it.

“Yeah,” he went on. “Well I had two up there. One was in Columbus, and the other was in this little bum-fuck-nowhere town. It’s like away from everything.”

I’d known that he’d been wanting a new job for a while, but I always assumed he meant like … I don’t know, man … later?

In true fashion to who I am as a person, my inner-monologue immediately made the fact that Mason hated his job and was looking for a new one at which he might be happy all about me. Because, in a way, it was. I liked this guy! I at least had a little crush on him. For chrissakes, I finally find a guy whom I like and who is tactile in person where people can see it — disproving that myth that I am, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster — and he’s going to up and leave me for Ohio? Like … the most boring state in the north save for Minnesota)? What the actual fuck was that about? I was way more exciting than Ohio! Sure, okay, his family did live up there and he would probably would do well because he was white enough to get whatever he wants in corporate America, but Ohio isn’t going to be a nice housewife like I would be. Ohio isn’t going to adopt Syrian refugee babies with him and raise them to learn weird spells and useless trivia about 90s television sitcoms like I would. Ohio isn’t going to hit the bed like a hooker on tax-free weekend the way that I would.

I desire few things in life:

  1. A job where I can work from home and still be the boss [check].
  2. A husband who loves me way more than I love him and likes being tactile in public [not really a check yet, but okay we’re working in the right direction here].
  3. A kid or two whom I can use to get more money back on my taxes [no check yet].
  4. A pet raven [working on it].

This nonsense of moving to Ohio for work was really putting a damper on those plans.

And as I thought of how shitty it would be if he did move to Ohio and I never saw him again, I realized that my crush on him was taking over me and I was suddenly just left being crushed because that’s the thing: this is not what adult crushes are like. There are no adult crushes. You either like someone and immediately think about your future together and how soon you can attain it as your mortality quickly sets upon you, or you have sex with them and try to forget that you didn’t take your PrEP that morning. There is no in between.

Yes, sure, some of us are in less of a rush to settle down and get married than others. And that’s fine. I’m not one of the people that is in a rush. But I am one of the people that loves the idea of having a partner. And for those who don’t, there aren’t crushes because the amount of attention paid to people is fleeting. I know this because I’ve been both people. The people who don’t care live lives that are in the moment, in the setting, in the moment of what is actually happening. When they see someone they think is attractive, they go in for it. And if they hook up, awesome. If they don’t, that’s okay, too, because they’re still going to have fun. Those of us who want a boyfriend to come home to and bitch about our bad day at work are always imagining that exact same scenario in our heads. We aren’t sizing anybody up and wondering what they’re like in bed. We’re hoping that they aren’t an asshole while trying to figure out what colors look good with their skin tones so we can start picking out the colors for our wedding planner. And that may sound stupid, but it’s true. We’re adults. And especially in adults like myself who never stop being busy, we don’t have the time to waste crushing on people. We have stressful jobs and crazy families and incessant, neurotic thought patterns that medication can’t ever quite completely quell.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy the ride or want to stop and look at the landscape. We just want someone special to do it with us.

And was Mason supposed to be that person to me? Who fucking knows? That remains to be seen. But when we stood in the karaoke room just moments later, and Gwen sang Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”, and I bumped into Mason a little bit from behind by accident and he leaned his head back on my shoulder to look up at me, I kind of hoped so. Because even with all the panic that was happening inside of me, I had never been so at ease on the outside around someone I liked in my entire life. There wasn’t any pretense, no silly worry that he might not like me for me. If he liked me, great. If he didn’t, I’d be fine.

But as the butterflies floated around in me and as he leaned back against me, there was one thing I did know:

If it wasn’t going to be him, I needed to find out soon.

I’d spent a year doing this with Ezra, and I’d spent plenty of time on a chain of plenty of other fools. I liked Mason enough and felt comfortable enough around him to know that I wasn’t going to waste my time “crushing” on him only to really get crushed in the end. Better to find out now before the feelings dug too deep.

There in the karaoke room, his back against me, me watching Gwen sing, I resolved to do the grown-up thing about this grown-up crush, in spite of the fact that I didn’t believe the grown-up crush to something that was real:

I was going to find out if he liked me; and I even had a plan as to how I’d do it.

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