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Less Than Butterflies, No. 16

As made evident by the fact that I’m writing my sixteenth consecutive column in this series, I have had some not-so-wonderful experiences with men. Whether it have been because they’re Trump supporters, because they turned out to be asexual, because they couldn’t commit, because I was incapable of getting my dick hard, or because they were just flat-out stupid, my Rolodex of men was quickly eliminating card-after-card for one reason or another. The worst of which, at least in terms of trauma, was certainly the man from long ago that took it upon himself to shower me in his urine after ejaculating in my mouth. Not only was it just downright disgusting and putrid in smell, it was humiliating in a way I’d never experienced before in my life. Still, that didn’t mean that the cake couldn’t still be taken — even if in part because I had contributed to it.

Following up on Mason’s suggestion that we should hang out the following weekend, only to realize he’d be out of town for work for a week to follow (and, yes, this is an actual fact — something that could be confirmed by photos on Facebook and Snapchat — not just some lame excuse to not spend time with me), we’d finally nailed a day down to go out drinking, or spend a night at home watching movies, or to have dinner and journey out onto some adventure into the city. And to be quite honest … I was really excited. I was excited in a way I hadn’t been since the anticipation of seeing Freaky Friday: The Musical for our first non-Pride-related time together almost exactly a year ago. (As an aside, I need to stop spacing my romantic interests so far apart; but I digress).

Those entire two weeks between rescheduling and the actual event, I went through the typical motions day-after-day, tired and bored and distracted from my work. I kept telling myself as I laid in bed each night, “Just [insert number] more days until you get to see him again.” Even the night before, I found myself at Gwen’s house, downing wine and doing my best not to vocally obsess over the fact that we’d be spending time together. It was safe to say that at that point, and after what had happened at JR’s, I’d developed a bit of a crush. And that, my friends, was a very foreign and strange concept for me. Typically my relationships or not-relationships happened so quickly that they bypassed that step, catapulting me down into a free fall of love instead of being able to enjoy the simple, giddy descent that a crush was supposed to be. Unfortunately the catapult typically resulted in me being met at the bottom by some man who inscribed on my tombstone beside me, “Sorry, bro. I don’t feel that way.”

This was different though. All throughout those two weeks, we texted every day, sent drunk pictures to one another from where we’d spent time with our friends, and got to know one another just a little bit better. In fact, on one particular night when Mason had gotten a little drunker than he might normally allow himself to get while out with coworkers, our conversation had begun to delve a bit deeper into his psyche.

“I feel like I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told me on the phone as I sat in my backyard smoking a Marlboro and he laid in bed eating Whataburger he’d picked up on his way home.

I took a drag off my cigarette. “What do you mean?”

It took him a moment to respond, although that could have been assimilated to the chewing I heard on his end of the phone. “With work, with friends,” he began. “… with guys.”

I struggled to understand completely and wasn’t sure exactly how to respond. That tended to be how I handled other people’s emotions when they confessed them to me. We did resolve to keep things chill over the weekend, not too much drinking, something low-key. And without berating him for more information, I ended all of this with, “Well … I think you’re pretty great. And there will be plenty of time for us to kvetch and be introspective in person on Saturday. But for tonight, get some rest and try your best not to worry.”

Only, as I’d soon come to find, there wouldn’t be plenty of time for any of that.

***

Alice and Ezra were hanging out at my house the next night the way all fag hags and gay boys do — by applying face masks and drinking cheap wine the hags had inherited from their grandmother who’d ordered them from QVC and watching reruns of American Horror Story on Netflix. In the midst of all of this, I’d moseyed outside to smoke a cigarette while still in the face mask that made me, a Latino, appear to be doing some sort of protest white-face. Alice and Ezra both—for no reason in particular—had followed me outside and began chatting away.

Ezra had only had one glass of wine, but Alice and I had each terminated a bottle apiece. As sweet and mild-mannered as Alice was, one thing that never fails is that when she gets drunk she becomes two things: tactile (a number of confusing hand-holding instances with me has attested to this) and talkative.

“So what happened with you and Mason last weekend?”

Like … for fuck’s sake, Alice! Why on earth would you bring that up in front of Ezra? Of all the things to say in front of the man I was doing my best to fall out of love with, and of all the people to bring it up to, why would you bring my weird, touchy, drunken incident with a very cute boy up in front of the man I was just now starting to get over? Did I think he would care? No. Hell no. That wasn’t the problem in the slightest. The problem was that I might have wanted him to care. And since he wasn’t going to care, all this would do was open up the possibility of him thinking it okay to bring up boys he may or may not be seeing around me. And I was not about to have that. After the Molly-induced incident on my birthday, if he were to ever put me through that again, I might actually punch him in his face.

“Nothing …” I said through gritted teeth.

It obviously had not been nothing.

“It was something,” she said with a knowing look on her face.

“The guy from [redacted]?” Ezra asked. Unfortunately, as I write this, I’m still not quite ready to spill all the details about Mason or where I’d met him. Sadly, Ezra wanted to know for one reason or another, and I didn’t feel like I had a good enough excuse (or, at least, not one that was explicable without running the risk of sounding insane) to use now.

“Yes, that guy,” I answered.

“Hmm,” Ezra hummed with no particular expression on his face. At least … not at first. That changed the moment his next comment flew out of his mouth to something completely unreadable. “He doesn’t seem very smart to me.”

“He’s very smart. He has a PhD,” I snapped. Why was it necessary for Ezra to say something like that? What right had he? This guy—regardless of where these feelings he felt he needed to share were coming from—had no right to condescend anyone I was interested in. I’d given him a year. A year. That’s longer than a full-term pregnancy and I still got nothing out of it except a published book.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s smart,” Ezra replied.

What the fuck is his problem? I thought to myself. If I could at least make sense of the look on his face when he said these things, I’d at least have some slight indication as to why he was saying this. But the problem was—like with most things when it came to Ezra—he was completely unreadable. Sure, it probably was nothing more than him just saying what he was thinking without any true malice behind it, let alone care about what the situation was as a whole. But for fuck’s sake, I really was starting to like this guy.

“Well,” I told him with a sort of dead look in my eyes, “He’s very intelligent. I’ve had several conversations with him and can attest to that. Plus …” I took a drag off my cigarette and spewed smoke toward him, “he makes more money than you.”

I hoped he knew I wasn’t trying to be a dick … but I also hoped I’d gotten my point across.

***
The day I was set to hang out with Mason had come. And let me tell you … I was so fucking excited. I’m not even 100% sure why I was so excited. Like … were we going to fall madly in love and run off into the sunset? No. Was he going to present me with a blood diamond ring (the only acceptable kind of diamond, in my mind), tell me I was the boy he’d always been looking for, then ask me to marry him so that I could give up my job at the magazine, then run off into the sunset (read: Nordstrom) so that I could spend all his money and never have to work again? Unlikely. Were we going to make love on the second story balcony of the Eagle and eat marshmallow cream off of one another while I picked the pocket of his pants lying nearby to steal his credit card so that I could quit my job at the magazine and ride off into the sunset (read: Mexico) and never have to work again? Not … like … totally unlikely, but probably not. Was he going to ask me to co-father Syrian refugee babies with him before running off into the [… you know what goes here …] so that I’d never have to work again? … No. Nevertheless, I was excited. And oddly enough … so was my penis.

Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking. “Why is that odd? You’re a dude. Don’t you always think with your penis?”

Ummmm … no.

In fact, I believe I stated before that over the course of the last year, one of the headspaces I had to get myself to was thinking less about sex. Drawing an emphasis away from it made it easier for me to focus on and sort through my feelings for Ezra, who just so happened to be asexual. So, the fact that I was going to get to spend time with a guy that I actually sort of had sexual thoughts about wasn’t just exciting. It felt … well … new.

It started off with dreams. Vast and many and plentiful, I dreamed about the amazing, catatonia-inducing sex we would have in great and glorious detail. And every single dream started the exact same way: with that fateful night at JR’s. His pelvis pressed against mine; him leaning in to kiss me, but not doing so; me holding my breath just so that I wasn’t so distracted as to miss a single touch he made against my body. Only in the dreams, I went after him. Or maybe he came back for me. Maybe it was different each time. Who knows? It’s what follows that matters. The sudden appearance in a bedroom. The nervous and shaky undressing. The touch of my nose against the outer part of his underwear and the feeling of what lay beneath.

Phew. If I take that any further, I may not be able to finish this story. I digress …

The orgasms at the thought of it were even different than what I was used to experiencing. These were full-body mechanisms that drew parts of me into my core and held them there until something like a light bulb inside my chest exploded and sent shockwaves all throughout me. Eyes moving in different directions. Toes in spasm.

So, yes. I was extremely hopeful I’d be getting dicked down that night. But I still wasn’t expecting anything. I could enjoy just the sweetness of it for as long as possible. That was still something that had been absent as of late that I didn’t mind taking the time to learn again.

When my phone rang that Saturday afternoon, I was an Adderall deep and typing away at some edits for the magazine with ten other tasks to try to complete before we went out. I picked up the phone without even looking to see who was calling, eyes never leaving the computer screen before me.

“This is Anthony,” I answered the way I always do in the event that the phone call is work-related.

“Hey.” His voice was soft. It almost seemed nervous—although I don’t think it was so because of me. In 2018, everyone gets nervous when they make a phone call to someone else because we’ve evolved past them for the most part. That aside, my fingers stopped pedaling keys and I melted just a bit on the inside.

“Oh, hi,” I gushed. “What’re you up to?”

“Just hanging out at home,” he told me before a long pause. “So … we still good for tonight?”

Good God, it seemed to have been forever since I’d done this. The last guy I think I spoke on the phone to was my ex-boyfriend Parker, who’d been 37 at the time and still favored the voice-to-voice call he’d probably grown accustomed to when he’d been younger.

“All good with me. What’d you have in mind?” I noticed the difference in my voice when I spoke to him vs. how I’d have spoken to a client or one of my employees. There was a softness there. It was equal parts trying to sound innocent and innocuous.

“I don’t know. Do you know of anything good going on in the neighborhood?”

That meant the gayborhood. Montrose.

“Not in Montrose specifically, but my friend Gwen is having a concert at Neon Boots. We could go there for a bit and then head somewhere else.”

“That sounds like fun,” he told me. “Text me when you’re done working and we’ll go from there.”

“How do you know I’m working?” I asked him, one side of my lips curling up into a smile.

He paused, then took a breath and chuckled. “You’re always working.”

Damn.

***

At 6 o’clock, I hadn’t realized that I was already running late. In between yelling at a video editor and trying to clean up the mess he’d left behind for some emergency—his mother had died or something. I’m not sure. It was inconvenient, nonetheless—I had neglected to realize that I’d neither washed anything cute to wear nor taken a shower. We’d decided earlier to meet closer to 7, but after I alerted him that I’d been running late, we’d switched that up for 8. In lieu of having dinner with me because of my workaholic nature, he’d calmly told me he’d have dinner with some friends who had been asking him for a while and would meet me at Neon Boots after.

That saved me a little time. I managed to find a cute outfit in my closet, iron it, take a shower, blow out my hair, put on makeup, and hit the highway before 7:15. But I had to admit to myself that by the time I was riding the loop for the 290 exit, I was already exhausted. I’d worked all day, hadn’t eaten anything, and was about to go hang out with a guy I was really beginning to like. And in all of that, I had established some vague expectations for how this evening was going to go. We’d meet at Neon Boots for a while, sitting on the patio while Gwen sang a few sets and sipping vodkas. I’d introduce him to Gwen and get her reaction as to gauge how I was to feel about him after, we’d part her company, and then head into Montrose to have some drinks amongst our gay brethren. And hopefully, if I was lucky, we’d both be a little drunk by the time it was all over but not ready to say goodnight just yet, and one of us would invite the other back over for a few more drinks, turn on a movie or a Netflix show we’d both seen a dozen times, and in our drunk and tactile state we’d doze off holding hands or spooning.

I, admittedly, was already too tired for sex. But the sweetness I could get down with. And, at that point, I was determined to see this all through in spite of my exhaustion. I’d been excited about this night for weeks and I was going to let nothing ruin it for me.

Or … so I thought …

I arrived at Neon Boots just as Gwen had begun her set, waving to her between songs and taking a seat with her parents at a table up front.

“Oh, hey, Anthony,” she uttered into the microphone from on the stage. “My best friend just walked in, y’all,” she said with a nod of her head toward me. “He’s the editor-in-chief of About Magazine.” People clapped at her shameless plug and I gave an embarrassed wave without looking at all the faces I was sure I knew from around the city. And for a little while, I got so caught up enjoying Gwen’s show that I forgot about awaiting Mason’s arrival. It wasn’t until Gwen announced her intermission that it occurred to me. Even then, the moment I reached for my phone, I was shocked into setting it back down.

“I’ll be back here in just a bit,” Gwen told the audience as she began to make her way down the stairs. “C’mon dep—”

Before she could spit out the words ‘depth perception,’ Gwen’s failed her and slid ass-first down the remaining few steps. I dropped my phone on the table and did a half-enthusiastic lunge out of my seat. But as soon as I saw her laughing, I was able to forgo the effort and fall back into my seat (with twice the grace she’d fallen down the stairs).

When my phone chimed a moment later, I was suddenly reminded that I’d never seen through my previous task. I picked it up, noticed that it had been alerting me that my battery was down to 5%, then darted out to my car to charge it and check my messages.

There were … a few from Mason.

“So, my friends want to know if it’s okay to join us. It’s totally okay if it’s not, but we haven’t left the restaurant yet because they got a little drunk.”

This was quite the dichotomy for me. Did I want to be that guy who immediately came off as not liking the friends of the man I’d been masturbating to for the last two weeks? No. But did I want the first time we got to spend time alone together to include a bunch of randos I’d never met before?

Hell no.

Then there was the next text.

“So, they’re really drunk and it’s taking a little longer to get to Neon Boots while I’m wrangling them.”

And the next one.

“Do you want to just meet in Montrose?”

And the last.

“If not, it’s totally fine. I’ll come there.”

Oy gevalt.

Believe it or not, I do this thing when I want everything to run smoothly and no one to be put out where I actually will forgo whatever it is that is going to make me happy and go with what’s easier for everyone else. Yeah, you heard it here. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I, Markus Anthony Ramirez (yes, that is actually my first name) … am a people pleaser.

But for the sake of all the men to come after Mason, for the men like him and Ezra and Parker who had no earthly idea that they’d need Google Translate to communicate with me at maximum efficacy upon meeting me, I’m going to here break down and translate exactly what I mean when I say the things that I said to Mason in that text message.

“It’s fine.” It absolutely is not fine; and how could you for a second think that is was?

“I’m sure your friends are a lot of fun.” You tell those cock-blocking sons of bitches that I will kill myself and come back as a ghost that ruins each and every one of their sexual experiences in the future if they fuck this up for me.

“Give me just a few minutes and then I’ll head that way.” I will take my goddamn time getting there because now my allusions about this night have been crushed under the weight of one thousand polar bears.

“Just let me know where to meet you.” I hope you get hit by a car while crossing Westheimer.

* * *
In Houston gay culture, when someone asks you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the bars from Fairview down to Westheimer on the eastern side of Montrose Blvd.” When white, straight people who have zero interest in going to gay bars because none of them are celebrating bachelorette parties or wanting to see a drag show for the first time in their lives tell you to meet them in Montrose, what they mean is, “Meet me at one of the gentrified, over-priced bars on Westheimer on the western side of Montrose Blvd.”

So why the literal fuck was I on the western side of Montrose Blvd?

Montrose is a historically gay neighborhood. And for decades, that queerness canvased it in its entirety. But since the early 2000s, that canvas has shrunk significantly over time as hipsters with bad haircuts and ghost frame, unnecessary eyewear have moved in and erected tattoo shops in historic old homes, bars that cost $25 cash to valet, and hookah bars that look as sketchy as they smell.

The western side of Montrose Blvd, yes, is technically still Montrose. There are even a few gay bars still in existence there (see: Michael’s Outpost). But Montrose, at its heart, has dwindled down to a refined area where queerness has been preserved.

The bar at which we were supposed to be meeting was brand new. Like … opening weekend new, and that was already a tall order for someone with social anxiety and that is constantly afraid of what people are thinking about him as their eyes glare over when he crosses their paths. But what was worse was than the aforementioned valet charge, was the fact that I had no cash on my person, and that I had had to pee since well before leaving Neon Boots and well after six vodka cranberries while there.

To make matters worse, the only non-valet parking on that side of the neighborhood that I could find without running the risk of being towed was ten blocks away. So, I had made the decision to park and run to the new bar in order to get into the restroom before I pissed all through the cute outfit I’d picked out specifically for this occasion. Ten blocks wasn’t that far—at least it hadn’t been when I was living my first year of college in New York. But in reality, ten Houston blocks were a helluva lot longer than ten Manhattan blocks.

I reached the bar at last only to find that the line at the door was wrapped around the corner. To my advantage it was moving relatively quick, but I still couldn’t stop moving due to the fact that I could feel fissures opening up along the walls of my bladder. At last, I made it to the front of the line and reached into my pocket for my wallet to show my ID at the door. Now, mind you, in Montrose proper I would not have had the issue I’m preparing to mention. On rare occasion am I asked to present an ID or to pay a cover charge for that matter. But that night, being on the straight side of Montrose, I was out of my element. None of these people knew me. I wasn’t shit here. Which is exactly why realizing that I had left my wallet in the car nearly sent me into hysterics.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered as I spun around on one heel without any explanation and bolted back to the car.

I became convinced that the tears welling up in my eyes were actually urine looking for an emergency exit route. That was not the case, however. A genuinely sensitive soul, when I am frustrated about anything, I tend to release my upset in tears if there’s nothing around I can break or into which I can scream. By now, I was sweating from the 95-degree heat and absurd humidity. My makeup was rolling into my eyes and my shirt (thankfully white) was becoming spotted with perspiration along my chest and under my arms.

Nothing was going right; and yet, there I was, Anthony the People Pleaser, trying to make sure that it was rectified in some way.

When I reached my car, I flung open the passenger’s side door and began fumbling around for my wallet. My phone chimed in my pocket; and I reached for it and threw it into the middle console to check a moment later. Unfortunately I knew that if I didn’t pee right then and there, I was going to wet myself or risk a major UTI. So, I hopped into the passenger’s side of the car, found a Gatorade bottle without a lid that was lying on the floor, whipped out my dick, and pissed into the bottle.

Oh, sweet relief, I thought to myself as one thing about the night finally began to ease some of my tension. I wasn’t done when the bottle was nearly full, but figured I could hold it long enough to make it back to the new bar and finish my business. So, in a hurry, I grabbed my wallet from the floor and stuck in my pocket, pushed the automatic window control so that I could pour the piss out into the grass and not leave behind an acrid stench in the car, then raised the Gatorade bottle to thrust the fluid out into the grass.

Only, in getting ahead of myself and pursuing a rush to get back to the bar, I neglected to realize that the window hadn’t completely rolled down. And when the bottom of the Gatorade bottle capsized from my hand, my entire lap was showered with my own urinary discharge.

I don’t think I’ve ever screamed the word ‘fuck’ so loudly or for so long in my entire life.

In that brief moment, I somehow was still not ready to acquiesce to the fact that maybe this was the universe sending me signs that this was all over or that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was still so determined to have this one thing that I’d been looking forward to—probably way more so than Mason—that I actually found a container of baby wipes in the backseat and gave myself a ho bath in my car so that I could see it through.

No, I did not have a change of pants in my car.

No, I did not have the means to at least run water over the pants to rinse some of the urine from them.

No, I was not giving up that easily.

My only saving graces were the fact that I only ever drank copious amounts of water when I wasn’t drinking liquor and a stack of Johnson & Johnson’s baby wipes I kept in my car to clean ashes off the dash. So, I took off my (luckily navy blue) pants, scrubbed them down with the baby wipes until they were foaming and I was certain there was no odor, put them back on, reapplied some powder and fixed my melting face, ran a brush through all the fly-aways in my hair, doused myself in cheap cologne my mother had gotten me for Christmas the year before, got out of the car, and proceeded back to the bar.

When I finally checked that message from before, it was Mason asking if everything was all right. I couldn’t even hide the fact that it wasn’t, but I certainly was not going to disclose the fact that in an effort to not piss myself, I had inadvertently (albeit not so literally) done the very thing I was trying to avoid the entire time. Luckily for me, he and his friends were kind of over that bar and were ready to move along.

We met outside as I did my best to act as though everything was still okay. At this point, I wasn’t even sure I looked presentable anymore. And I didn’t know if I really cared. As we walked from bar-to-bar in Straight Montrose, each one more crowded than the next (not to mention more expensive) I was losing energy that I probably had on loan, for it wasn’t mine. And as much as I wanted to try and be fun and gracious and sweet, those qualities had fled with my dignity ten blocks away from where we stood.

At another straight bar, I excused myself to go and smoke a cigarette a couple of times, each time with Mason trailing after me out of the bar to make sure that I was okay.

“I’m fine,” I lied each time. “Go have fun with your friends. I’m gonna be back in just a second.”

And so he did, which, for the record, is always the wrong move, gentlemen.

At last I’d at least gotten a few drinks in me and was doing my best to try to smile at these people I didn’t know as they carried on conversations that were no business of mine. Once, a young, straight woman began dancing on me without prompt and then grew frustrated when I refused to dance with her.

“Why won’t you dance with me?” the blonde bimbette asked me in drunk, ripe anger.

“Honey, you are barking up the wrong tree,” I told her as I scooted away and a little closer toward Mason. A second later, I felt someone’s fingers wrapping around my wrist, and then a jerk of my arm, and suddenly I was being pulled down the stairs and out to the patio once again. Mason took a seat at a picnic table, and then instructed me to do the same.

“You aren’t having fun,” he told me as if I were somehow incognizant of this.

“I’m fine.”

Lies and slander.

“I tried to get them to go to Montrose proper but they didn’t want to.”

“It’s fine. As long as they’re having fun, everything is fine.”

MORE LIES! What the actual fuck was going on with me that made me incapable of telling this guy how poorly this entire night was going and how badly I wanted to go home and get in bed and never speak to him again?

“We can go somewhere else, Anthony,” he told me. “I already told them earlier we would probably end up doing our own thing.”

Mind you, Mason was only now just telling me this at one o’clock in the morning. Like … dude … then why did I have to go through the process of walking the length of the Galleria from my car to a bar, back to the car, piss myself, and back to a bar I didn’t even go inside of only to end up at yet another straight bar? And by the way, what happened to drunk Mason from the other day who was going on-and-on about how he wanted to do something chill and low-key because he felt like nothing in his life was going right? Where was that guy? I liked that guy. He was depressed and I could cuddle him and make him feel better. (Okay, that’s terrible, I know. But the fact remained).

“It’s fine, Mason.” LIESSSSSSSSSSS. “If everyone is having fun here, then we can stay here.”

“But you’re not having fun.”

“Yes, but your people are and they are the majority here. I’m not gonna be that person who ruins it for your people.”

“But you’re my people, too!” he almost shouted. “This was supposed to be our thing and I feel like I screwed it up.”

Now I was getting pissed off—which, in retrospect, was nearly as bad as just hours before when I’d gotten pissed on. I wanted to slap him in the face, or at the very least throw a drink it. I didn’t understand why he was asking me what to do to make the situation better when he knew what was wrong. Why wouldn’t he just do it? Why was he being such a little bitch baby about it? Why couldn’t he just man up, grab me by the wrist like he had upstairs, and drag me out somewhere else? Why hadn’t he just kissed me that night at JR’s so that I would have at least had something else that I could’ve used to get me through this—to know that this wasn’t all for not?

“You know what, Mason,” I told him as I tried to keep myself from crying. “I am exhausted. I am the victim of a bad day, which hasn’t been entirely your fault. I am out of my element. I am not the biggest fan of straight people. And I’m not going to lie to you … this is so not what I was expecting tonight. And, given my track record with men, I’m not someone who really has that high of expectations.”

The tears were coming. I could feel it. I had to shut this all down before he caught me in a moment of weakness. The me of what could have been that night might have been okay with a bit of vulnerability. The me of what actually had happened that night couldn’t let that happen. I’d already lost. I wasn’t the type to let him also see me be a sore loser.

I stood up at the table grabbed my cigarettes.

“So, I’m going to go into Montrose proper and probably have a drink—”

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked softly. I could hear his regret in his voice, but I wasn’t going to let that sway me from my frustration.

“I’m not going to ask you to do anything, actually. You can do whatever you want. I just need to—I don’t know … get out of here.”

And so I did.

It took me a while to find the car, because at that point, I’d lost track of where we even were. It probably took another thirty minutes—time that I lent to Mason to call or text me and ask where I was heading, to tell me that he would be right there, to come after me like Prince Charming with Cinderella’s shoe. But he didn’t do any of those things. And when I reached the gas station at Westheimer and Montrose, I got out to buy a pack of Marlboros, threw some cash at a homeless man, and got back into my car sobbing.

The one thing I’d been excited about for the first time in what felt like forever had ended just the way things always had with Ezra and every man before him dating all the way back to my very own father:

in disappointment.

* * *

It’s worth noting that Prince Charming didn’t follow Cinderella home that night, either. He waited until the next morning to hunt her down, going cottage-to-cottage trying to slip the glass shoe onto the right foot. And though even in my delusion Mason was no Prince Charming, I had to give it to him, he had at least tried to make things right the next day.

Depressed and mournful over what was supposed to be something bordering magical, I kept in bed until the late afternoon. I told Gwen how everything had gone down, and she sympathized, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to it. It might have seemed silly or even downright naïve, but it didn’t change the fact that I was a little heartbroken over it. I was beginning to like this guy so much and I had this weird, palpable chemistry with him I hadn’t felt in a really long time. And all of that just got … well … pissed on.

I cried a little more, and I posted some vague, angry Facebook statuses about how my life was over and I was never leaving my bedroom again.

Then, around noon that day, I checked my phone to find a message from Mason. In that same thread, I saw that he’d texted me to tell me he’d left when I had and I even found he had texted me apologizing the night before. I guess I was too upset to read them or maybe I just hadn’t heard my phone alerting me to them. But below all that was a genuine apology, one that—no matter how upset I still was or would continue to be—I knew he meant.

“Hey,” it began. “I’m really sorry about last night. There were a lot of things I should have done differently, and I apologize for not doing so. I value what we have, but last night wasn’t reflective of that. And, if you’re willing, I’d really like the opportunity to make that up to you.”

I started bawling again—only this time, I wasn’t even sure why. And then there was like … I don’t know, man … guilt or something bubbling up in me. Like … had I really made him feel that bad about what had happened? Yes? Okay. Good. But also, why was I feeling guilty about that? Maybe it was because I did like him a lot and when you like someone a lot and they feel bad, you feel bad, too. It’s especially true if you’re the reason they felt bad.

So I did something I know now that I really shouldn’t have done.

I, Anthony the People Pleaser, began to placate the boy I liked and put aside my own feelings so that he wouldn’t be upset. And why? Because I knew he was already having a hard time with things. Because I knew that—even if he only had admitted it while he was drunk—somewhere deep down inside of him, he was hurting and needed someone to be a friend if nothing else to him. Because I’d been there before and had known I’d fucked up and inadvertently hurt people and knew that having it thrown back in your face when you already know that you’re wrong only makes things worse.

So, I placated him. Because I didn’t want him to be sad or to hurt anymore. And because there was a part of me that genuinely wanted to get to know him better and to see if maybe in all of his brokenness and in mine, there were places for one another to at least fill the holes.

“I honestly didn’t mean to ruin your fun or make you feel bad,” I told him at least half-honestly. “And we can discuss more later about why I was so pissy because it really is a whole thing, and it wasn’t just that situation; but you were at least trying to be sweet and you were trying to be considerate given the circumstances.” That much was true. He wasn’t being a dick about anything. And he’d paid for at least two of my drinks. Granted, I think I only had three after Neon Boots. “But honestly …” this next part was hard to even type out.

My overwhelming fear of rejection and being vulnerable and honest about my feelings gets me into more unforeseen trouble than it would if I’d just be upfront about things. But, unfortunately, expressing my feelings doesn’t usually ever help the situation, either (enter: rejection). Still, I chose to be at least a little honest with him about it.

“I was just expecting something different, I guess. Not like I had … like … a whole thing in my head about it.” Lies and slander. “It just seemed like it was gonna be more low-key and wasn’t going to involve other people. And I didn’t mean to be a dick to your friends, and especially not to you. So, I’m sorry if I was. Alas,” (who the fuck says alas? Like … what? … Pirates?), “I appreciate you saying all of this, and yeah … I’ll let you do that [make it up to me].”

“Thank you for letting me give it another go.”

But here’s the thing, guys. Where I was excited the last time we’d made these very same plans, I was anxious now. And true, what was to come was still to be seen and it certainly couldn’t have been as bad as getting piss all over myself, but there was so much I didn’t know now.

Was I doing the thing? The thing where I dive so deep into the pool to reach something at the bottom that by the time I realize it’s not down there, it’s too late to come up for air because I’ve already begun to drown?

All my life I’ve been rejected and dejected by this incomparable track record of men going as far back as my father who walked out on me and came back only as it suited his fancy (and none too often, nor in great longevity), only before turning me loose as an adult for good. And each one I was so ready to have be the person who made up for the first that I leapt from the highest mountains into pools of the smallest circumferences. And if I don’t splatter next to it because of poor aim, I shoot down to the very bottom, looking for that treasure chest everyone else seems to be able to find, but that never really seems to be there. Another x (or, rather, ex) just marking an unremarkable spot. Only, the more pools I dive into, the deeper and darker they get much more quickly. And as I was free-falling down toward this one, I was beginning to wish I hadn’t ever left the diving board at all.

I’d been asking this question since my birthday when Ezra had torn a piece of me I’d even then not quite gotten back, but with the recurrence of my heart’s erasure from some different man, that feeling only began to swell:

What if there really was something wrong with me?

Why was it I kept diving into these pools of piss and letting myself suffocate before I learned my lesson … or at least reached for the life preserver?

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