Less Than Butterflies, No. 29
As per the usual, I sat at the bar of Tony’s Corner Pocket staring at my friend and bartender, Michael. He was writing all my drinks on the comp list and I was bitching about one thing or another and screaming at him in Spanish when I sensed he wasn’t paying attention to me.
“PAY ATTENTION TO ME,” I shouted across the bar. There was no one else there.
“I am paying attention to you,” he told me without looking up from his phone. “I know you may not be used to this from men, but I’m trying to listen to you without interrupting you.”
I grabbed a shot he’d put on the bar for me earlier and downed it quickly before rolling my eyes. “What a load of bullshit.”
“Have you ever considered not being so eager with a guy?”
“Who’s eager?!” I asked him as I sucked a lime to soften the blow of the tequila and thought to myself that I should get a slice of one of these every time I had to give a blowjob. “What about my charming disposition seems eager for other people to like me? Is it the way I kick men out of my bed literally seconds after they ejaculate? Is it the way I haven’t had anything nice to say to a man since I said that Obama really was the change we needed? Or maybe it’s the way I tell men that they’re ugly and stupid and then let them buy me alcohol.”
Michael finally put his phone down and just stared at me. “Do you … ya’ know … hear yourself when you speak?”
“No one else does; why should I?” I shrugged and went to lean back in my barstool that didn’t have a back to it, inadvertently falling off of it altogether.
Michael came around the bar, rolling his eyes again and helping me up off the ground.
“This is what I’m talking about,” he told me as he grabbed me by the hand and yanked me upward with strength he did not look as though he had. “You do this whole damsel-in-distress thing as if you’re constantly waiting on some man to save you from something that isn’t there … yet you’re mean to them.”
“I will have you know that I am not a damsel in distress!”
“I know that you’re not. You’re a perfectly capable human being!” Michael stopped and shrugged. “Okay, maybe not ‘perfectly’ capable, but you manage.”
“HOW DARE YOU?!” I said as I reached forward to smack him in the mouth.
“STOP TRYING TO FIGHT ME!”
“IT’S ALL I KNOW HOW TO DO WITH MEN! Other than being mad at them for attention.”
Michael rounded the bar and pushed my shot and lime toward me. “All of those things you just said, whether you want to believe them or not, are your cries for help. You did the same thing with Peter, just like I’m sure you did with every other man you were involved with or interested in long before we ever met.” He picked up his own shot of Jameson and raised his glass toward mine. We clinked. “Would it kill you to just enjoy what you’re feeling right now, and to stop pushing these men away while you wait for the other shoe to drop?” We took our shots. “You know …” he spewed hot air out of his mouth after the shot. “… just be a person.”
I slammed my shot glass on the bar and reached for my not-blowjob lime.
“I want another shot,” I told him angrily.
“To the head.”
“So you wrote about me?” Ricky asked me as he struggled with great futility to get the tire lock off of his car.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked him, eyes narrowed and nose a bit wrinkled.
He didn’t break his gaze — in his subtle yet undeniable determination, Ricky was going to get the truth out of me.
… or so he thought.
“I’m ‘Ricky’ in Less Than Butterflies. Right?”
I tried so very hard not to skip a beat. “No, you narcissist,” I told him with a roll of my eyes. We were sitting on the floor trying to get the tire lock off of his car since he’d hit a curb and flattened his tire. He’d apparently lost the key some time and we were now tapping into our Hispanic roots to try and break it off.
“Mhmm, okay,” he said with emphatically pursed lips.
“You’re not,” I told him. “I already told you about Ricky. He was some guy I was seeing briefly and now it’s over.” I don’t even know why I was bothering to lie to him at this point. He was gonna read about it all anyway.
As he struggled to get the new tool removed from his tire that he’d now managed to get stuck to it, Ricky went on talking about how frustrating the situation with his car had been. Having to Uber to-and-fro, having to ask other people for rides, how it had interrupted him in the middle of moving. He was definitely between a rock and a hard place, and I felt for him. We’d all been there. Hell, sometimes I thought I still was there. And I wanted to do whatever I could to help him.
“You know, I was in a relationship for six years,” he went on. “When shit like this happened, I always had a boyfriend to help me get things taken care of so that it didn’t take this long or cost this much.” He shook his head and fell back flat against the garage wall. “I’m not used to it.”
I sighed and sat up some, rolling my eyes in the process, I’m sure. “Look, tomorrow, if you’ll call USAA and have them send a wrecker, I’ll take off and go get the car fixed for you. And then, if it’s done before you get off, I’ll come and pick you up in it, and that’ll be one less thing you have to worry about while you’re moving.”
Ricky bit his bottom lip as if he was thinking and turned to look at the sad, pathetic little tire. He then turned back to the me and clucked his tongue. “So, what’re you saying?” he asked. “That you’re my boyfriend now?”
I did my best to will the blood away from my face … only it wasn’t working.
“Shut up,” I told him as I stood up and went inside just to get out of that awkward situation.
I keep a box of old photos and cards and sentimental shit where no one can find it. It’s sort of my way of metaphorically hiding my exes’ lifeless corpses. The contents of it are mostly memories from old relationships, but also memories from friends I hold close to my heart, family photos, possessions of my grandmother’s that I accrued after she’d passed away. They’re priceless things — things that can never be replicated — things with memories associated to them I never want to forget.
From the box, I took out any and every last thing that had anything to do with Peter at all.
- An autographed photo of Taylor Swift, a concert he’d taken me to back in October.
- His press passes from all the other events we’d been to together.
- A concert t-shirt I’d never given back to him because I’d liked the way it fit me in spite of the fact that he’d spent $40 on it for himself.
- The wig he’d worn with his Halloween costume the year before.
- My favorite photo of us from the St. Lucia concert where he smiled at the camera with that tired, sheepish smile I’d fallen so much in love with.
I gathered all of those things in a new box, one I’d gotten from the liquor store when I’d made a very large purchase a few weeks before, and dropped it all in there. After I’d collected every single last thing inside of it, I made my way out to a safe space on the concrete in the backyard and doused the goddamn box with gasoline. I then lit a cigarette and smoked it about halfway down while I stood there over it thinking about how much I wanted to stop falling into old patterns and routines. I wanted to stop falling in love with men who would never be able to properly love me the way that I deserved to be loved. I wanted to stop letting gay culture dictate how I had to behave in a relationship or a not-relationship. I wanted to stop reaching for the finish line every single time a man woke up the butterflies inside of me. And as I reflected on all of these things, on all of the men who had broken my heart, on the wise words of both Cooper and Michael (fuck them, by the way), I took the cigarette out of my mouth and threw it dead into the center of the box.
It erupted into a glorious fire comparable to the one I’d been feeling in my heart since Peter had left me. And as it burned away, I think some of my incompetence in relationships and my fears about letting men into my life did, as well. It may not have been a forever purge, but the catharsis was so strong that I knew I’d be able to conjure its memory any time that I was in doubt of myself. And that’s what really mattered, right? The feeling of self-assuredness? Whatever was going to happen with Ricky was going to happen. Maybe this little crush would grow, maybe it would fade. Maybe he’d break my heart, maybe he wouldn’t. I couldn’t change any of it, just like I couldn’t make him or any other man feel something that they weren’t capable of feeling. What I could do, however, was know that if I made a decision to put myself out there, to just say ‘yes’ every now and again, someone else telling me ‘no’ wasn’t going to kill me … even if sometimes it felt as though it might.
So I helped Ricky get his car taken care of the next day. Two wrecker drivers, two tire shops, five minutes of labor, and twenty dollars of his money was all it took. I was done before he got off work, and I was happy to be done, but equally as happy to have done it. With the time I had to kill, I got his car washed, worked a little bit in spite of the fact that I’d promised myself a day off, picked him up from work, got my car, and felt as if I’d had a productive day. It was more than just productive though … it was nice. It felt nice to help someone and it felt nice to know that that person appreciated it because they’d really needed the help. But as we sat at dinner that night at Barnaby’s, we discussed some things that Ricky was writing and had asked for my help with and I found myself asking those questions again.
Do I like him? Should I like him? Can I go through that again and come out okay?
His trademark quality — his passion — beamed out of every single one of his pores as he discussed the project, and the young artists he’d been working with that were not only featured within it, but that inspired it. And we drank wine, and we talked formatting, and Ricky came back to his little muses and eventually began to cry some. He was a pretty crier, thankfully, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do to comfort him. That was another thing gay culture didn’t prepare you for: how to handle other people’s feelings. As someone with a lot of younger siblings, as someone who is innately nurturing, it was my initial reaction to sit beside him and hold him; but I couldn’t allow that because the boundaries were still too unclear. So with honest words, I reassured him of himself, of what he was doing, and of the fact that his feelings were all valid. And in a moment of vulnerability — one likely brought on by some wine and the overwhelming nature of trying to move and having car problems and everything else he’d been going through — Ricky said to me, “You’re the only person in my corner right now.”
I swear to god I felt my bones turn to slush inside of me and I nearly slipped out of our booth and beneath the table. It was quite possibly the saddest thing I’d heard that day — and that came in layers. The first layer is that no one should ever have to feel like they don’t have people on their side. The second — and I mean this — is that if you’ve only got one person in your corner, and that person is me, you have been dealt a bad hand by the powers that be.
It worried me for both of us. I knew he’d be okay, so that worry was limited. He was smart, and agile, and capable. This was just a rough patch. I, on the other hand, wasn’t that person. I was the guy who kept notes on Starbucks napkins in shoeboxes and set them on fire later. What was I going to do if this crush ever turned out to be anything more than that? Who would be in my corner when that happened? And would it mean losing a friend I’d only just gotten and really didn’t want to lose? After all, this was it. This was the third act. This was the part of this long, harrowing tale of me hooking up, and looking for love, and having my heart broken where things should have been resolving, even if that was just within myself.
But things weren’t resolving. There was no climax or big end in sight. Everything in my heart seemed to be at a plateau, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stand the same scenery from my cliff. I was ready for something different — not with anyone specific, not even anything specific. But I was ready for something other than the same time loop I’d been stuck in that broke my heart over-and-over. So, as to keep from worrying any further, at least for right now, I grabbed the half-empty (second) bottle of wine and looked at him, “Let’s go smoke some weed.”
This is it, y’all. Act III.