There are things that we as human beings need in order to survive: air, water, food, shelter, and love. To be without any of them would ultimately lead to our demise. Love, for example, is a key motivator for people, especially when times are rough. It may be as invisible as the air we breathe, but we can feel it like we feel the wind rushing by, touching us, encasing us. And love is a fairly simple idea: it’s a human connection that brings us together. The trouble with love is that we, as human beings, desire to bend it to our will, impose restrictions upon it, and all we end up doing is complicating it. We are guilty of weaving a sticky web of conditional clauses around it as if it were a legal document; and often times, we pierce and asphyxiate it until it becomes a noxious mess.
From as early on as the European settlers fighting our natives, throughout the Antebellum slavery, and to the present day culture wars, there have always been social divides in place, our very own caste system, in American society. These labels that box us into categories, filing us by specific demographics, do all they can to keep us segregated. For example, straight men often avoid intermixing with gay men due to fears of becoming accosted, associated with being gay, or perhaps even disturbing deep rooted dormant feelings for other men. But as homosexuality becomes less taboo and more commonplace, archaic fears and biases like these have been melting away from public perception. Maybe not everywhere, but in most places, there are straight men who have many gay friends.
But when the line between friendship and love blurs – more specifically, in a friendship between a straight man and a gay man – what happens? Fight or flight reflexes come into play in situations like this: do they try to keep the friendship friendly, do they end the friendship immediately, or do they throw caution at the wind? When I began to have strong feelings for my friend Finn, all these options came into play.
Last year, on the weekend after Halloween, I had gone out drinking downtown with my friends Homer and Finn. The windy night had already started on an awkward note. Earlier that evening, we decided to venture out to another gay club just a few blocks north. Perhaps there would be a better crowd, better music. I hugged a handful of acquaintances on my way out; the club scene is a nocturnal, grown up version of the high school cafeteria – always having to prove how popular one is with customary greetings, hugs, and occasional schmoozing kisses. Beneath it all, it is just a public superficial lie or farce in an effort to seem loved, to feel important, to be desired.
Moments after crossing that threshold and stepping out into the darkness of the night, Homer and Finn had begun to tease me about something fleeting. This relentless bullying, commonplace when those two hang out together, had grown particularly irritating that night. I had not considered just how intoxicated I was up until that point but for whatever the reason, I replied with a growl. This displeased noise had rocketed from deep within my throat, shot up and out, escaping through gritted teeth, before I could do anything to stifle it.
“Oh, fuck,” I though. Nothing good can come from this.
As predicted, those two jumped on my actions like vultures to prey. They began to drone on and on, laughing at each others’ jokes, speculating that I was of werewolf descent. My rebuttal was to growl some more and shove them forward in an effort to play along and feign that they were not affecting me. To be clear, I did not want to harm them, it did not turn to blows, but I did make it physical. It was all simply just a ruse to thrust my body against Finn over and over, and I only shoved Homer partly to shut him up, partly to make it seem as if I were not solely targeting Finn. Ultimately, this behavior could be compared to pulling pig-tails in preschool. One particular shove against Finn went awry; as he dodged me, I stumbled forward collapsing into the street. Luckily enough, there was no on-coming traffic that could have run me over. I did, however, scrape my left elbow during my plunge into the middle of the gritty asphalt road.
Neither men helped me up. I slowly picked myself up, looking around in hopes that no one else that I knew had seen the altercation. In general immature fashion, I blamed Finn for falling; his dodging me was seen as a push by my altered state of mind. I set out to walk ahead to the nearest bar at a faster pace to get away from them. In the bar, I asked the bartender for a bandage for my now scraped up elbow. In later accounts, the bartender reported that I had asked him incessantly for a bandage, after the fact that he had already applied one onto my wound. When Finn and Homer caught up, I purchased my beer and made my way through the crowd of loud patrons and out back to the smoking patio. Halfway through my cigarette Finn appeared. We locked gazes and he hesitated before he made his way to where I was sitting. I got up and offered him my chair, partly out of being polite, partly because I wanted him to stay near.
“Why are you being weird,” I questioned accusingly when he declined the seat and stood beside me.
“I’m not the one being weird. You’re the one who was pushing people and growling like a werewolf.” I tried to conceal my panic and decidedly stepped away from him, leaving our table. With a frustrated sigh, he watched me retreat to the safety of strangers eager to talk. I lit another cigarette and discovered new best friends for the evening. My tongue wagged on, laughter erupted, and vapid exchanges that would soon be forgotten filled the gathering. Not much later, Homer appeared with his own brew and joined Finn at his table. After both men traded silent words in each others’ ears, glares and confused looks were shot my way. A lucid thought entered my mind: no longer could I keep this secret; it was eating me alive. I needed so desperately to not feel crazy anymore but my needs were met only with various stares and polluted air.
My mind frantically searched for an explanation for how it got like this. Then I remembered, earlier in the year, when Finn returned from backpacking through Europe, he spoke of the all the amazing cities he enjoyed and the nightlife that he craved. He bragged of international friends he made – and spoke of all these happy times that he will cherish forever. But then, begrudgingly, he shared with me the events that unfolded between Lydia and him.
Lydia is an English model that Finn met virtually through a few friends several years ago. They connected for four years online and occasionally over the phone. They both, of course, held other relationships during those years; they were merely long-distance friends. At the beginning of the year, Finn had finally decided to take a real vacation and chose to backpack through France and Germany. According to him, she had met him the first night in Lyon and they hit it off superbly. It was the following day, the morning after they had slept together, that her friendliness began to fade. Making odd demands and becoming increasingly combative, her behavior led him to suspect that she was merely using him. On his third night into his trip, whilst out at a sports bar, Lydia made a move on another man. Because he addressed the issue with her and not the other man, she blew up at him and made a vicious spectacle inside the establishment. Apparently, her motivation for flirting with the stranger was so that Finn would fight him, thus proving her how much he cared for her. Already fed up with her strange behavior and the noxious situation, in that instant, he left the bar and moved up plans to venture onward to the following city on his itinerary. He never spoke to Lydia again.
To him, it was not that this girl had been wasted effort, it bruised his pride because she had been the seventh bad experience with women that year. He went on to his eighth soured amorous experience with my good friend Bridgette.
Being the generous friend that he was, he invited Bridgette and I to an xx concert. I think he originally wanted only to take Bridgette out as a date. I imagine that as he suggested it to her, she hesitated, so, in a last ditch effort, he proposed that I would go as well.
It had been my first time in the VIP section of a concert at a major venue. Together, we three had a great time. However, by the end of the night, it was clear that Bridgette was not interested in him. I had just pulled up to my driveway when she immediately got out of my car, walked to her vehicle, and drove off without so much as a good bye. Homer, who we had picked up on the way to my house because he had been far too drunk to make his own way home, stumbled out after her and into my bushes to relieve himself. Finn and I slowly shuffled inside the house, with an exchange of shrugs and expressions of confusion and fatigue. I offered Finn some bourbon as a nightcap, which he readily accepted with a tall glass of orange juice to chase.
After hearing Homer crawling inside the house and safely collapsing onto the nearest couch, we exited out the sliding glass doors and onto the back porch. Sitting close because the end of summer night breeze had been peculiarly chilly that evening, we took various shots and kept the conversation going. Well into our talk, he shocked me when he unexpectedly cowered over and started to cry. I put my arm around him as manly as I could manage but still in a caring manner.
He regained his composure and apologized after a few minutes.
“It’s okay,” I allowed.
Then it started to spill out. He was crushed that he had experienced his eighth rejection of the year. He thought he was a catch; he had a secure, stable job at a major tech company; he was a generous, good person. Desperation choked his speech as he listed all his favorable qualities. He didn’t think he was all that bad looking. Was he? His insecurities had gotten the best of him.
“That’s not fair,” I replied
“What do you mean?”
“Dude, you know that I’m into you. It’d be biased if I answered that,” I offered, nonchalantly. It was not that big of a secret, I rationalized. All my roommates had picked up on it.
Laughing it off, he flicked my thigh with the back of his hand as if to say, “I’m being serious.”
“No really. Dude. I think you’re hot. You have a really nice body, you’ve been a great friend to me. I’m just as confused as you are.”
He chuckled. “My body’s not that nice, I’m out of shape,” he declared as he turned his head to his right, flexing his arm, and watching his bicep bulge. “See?” And then he stood up and lifted his shirt and moved to face me. “I’m not toned anymore,” he said and brushed a hand up his muscular torso.
“Dude! Stop it,” I snorted with a smile and leaning away in an effort to hide my lust and feign disinterest. Was he doing this on purpose?
“Why,” he laughed out incredulously, a grin growing wide.
“Because. You’re turning me on.”
“Yes. Now pull your shirt down.”
He tilted his head, still grinning, perplexity slowly washing over his face. In a brash, uncoordinated grasp, he reached out to my crotch. As if ablaze, he pulled his arm away in alarm and stood up straight. “No way,” he shouted, scandalized. Shock quickly morphed to amusement. Amusement shifted to pride. Pride converted into a serious intent expression. I was still processing the quick turn of his facial expressions spilling from one emotion into another like water down a tiered fountain. I can only imagine the blank, bewildered look I carried. Before I knew what was happening, a straight man’s face made its way to mine for a kiss. Followed by another. And another. Each more with more effort, more meaning, striving to get closer.
A hand grabbed my shoulder, pulling me out of my daze and waking me back from the memory of what had occurred a few weeks prior. A supernumerary, one of my new faceless best friends, asked for a cigarette. I offered her one, swallowed the remaining beer in my bottle, put out my own cigarette, excused myself, and headed back into the rowdy crowd inside. This is where the haze in my memory becomes glaringly evident. It is like peering through an unfocused camera. Or like opening your eyes underwater without a pair of goggles – bleary images of slow movement that are hard to make out. The next thing I knew, I was outside, down the street. Helplessly, I looked around for a familiar face. A car pulled up. One of those so-called acquaintances slid out and proceeded to talk to me. I opened the passenger door and got in. Tearfully, I offered Armando money to drive me home. I began to cry and panic as he stepped out of the driver’s seat and shut the door. He wanted me to get out. Stepping out of the car, I am faced with an angry Finn and an irritated Homer. Suddenly they pulled me to a platform for the light-rail stop on Second Street. I sat down and came to the realization that I was really out of it. And I knew that they are mad at me. I was also aware that I was irritated at them, but I can’t quite remember why. In that moment, why was irrelevant. I walked away from them, stepped down the first platform and up onto the second just to show them how far away I still wanted to be from them.
Before I could comprehend it, I fell off the platform and slammed into the rails and concrete. The impact knocked the wind out of my lungs. Soberly, I remained faced down on the ground in pain and tried to regain composure. Cautiously moving limbs to get off of the tracks and onto my feet, I scrunched my face in pain. Nothing was obviously broken but not even the alcohol in my system could numb the discomfort. I heard laughter and looked around; I vaguely recognized the two bleary figures standing atop the first platform. We were alone.
Fuck them, I thought. I have no doubts that we all shared one wish: we wished as if everything from when I first collapsed in the middle of the road up until this point had all been a hallucination. But it had happened. And although the events were not clear, I knew in that moment it was all bad. I dreaded learning that the night was irreconcilable, that there was no returning from all this.
My eyes swelled with moisture and I stood up straight, picking up any shambles of pride left in me, and I carefully began to stagger towards my brother’s apartment, dragging my now broken boot heel, and pulling out my phone to call him. I hardly ever call him. Another pang of guilt added to the now cracking emotional dam; I’m such a shit brother. He’s supposed to come to me for help and advice, not the other way around. I rang him. No answer. I dialed the number again. Now I was bawling. I left him a messy, tearful voice message apologizing for calling so late. I made sure to tell him that I loved him. I needed so badly for him to know that.
“No!” It was Homer’s voice but I didn’t bring myself to stop and turn around. “Stop! What are you doing,” was screamed followed by clamoring footsteps accelerating towards me. I received a text from Bradley, my brother, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I type back, still making my way down the street. “Are you home?” Send.
“Blake! Come back!” Homer’s shouts scratched at my ears as I crossed the street.
“C’mon! Where are you going?” Finn sounded much closer; his tone, defeated.
“No, I’m visiting mom and dad at the house in Morgan Hill for the weekend,” my brother’s text read. “What’s up?” My hopes were dashed to bits. I wanted so badly to get away from the two men. I couldn’t look them in the eyes. My body and clothing were saturated with hot sweat, pained embarrassment, and heavy shame.
I fought back when I felt them grasp at me. In the scuffle, I had scratched Homer just beneath his left eye, my phone dropped, and I was tackled down soon after. Once convinced that I had calmed down, each man grabbed one arm and dragged me to our friend Warren’s awaiting vehicle. The whole time, I was incoherently crying. I felt like a man who had been relieved of a possession. All my demons scattered out into the shadows of the downtown scenery for all to see.
On the drive home, I looked down at my phone, I replied to my brother, “Nothing. I was just feeling a bit down. Sorry to wake you. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
That evening was the last time I saw Finn. Through texts, I learned that between my memories of being in the smoking patio behind the bar and until we arrived to the tram stop platform, I had continued to growl at people, threatened to bite strangers, and created an altercation between Finn and two inebriated thugs. I did apologize through text but allowed my shame and fear get in the way of meeting him in person and owning up to the chaos I caused.
I have reluctantly encountered similar situations with straight men before, when friendship blurs the line on sexuality and love, each producing various consequences. Ultimately, however, all experiences resulted in the absolute dissolution of our friendship. It was that specific statistic that plagued my mind with fear.
And there were many kinds of fears: the fear that I was going to be the only one to get hurt, the fear that he actually wanted me, the fear that this was all contrived in my head, the fear of letting someone in again. And because of all those incidents, because of those past lessons, I desperately fought my affections. Of course, my alcohol addiction did nothing to quell the chaos that saturated my mind. Nor did it help prevent said chaos from spilling over onto the situation. Sure, it all makes sense now; I was a drunk, crazy, reckless fool. I was afraid of being inadequate. I was afraid of falling in love. I was afraid of being loved – I still am. I still have a lot to work on but it is a work in progress. My hope is that one day, I will release those fears out into the wind and be able to stand tall without burden. And when that happens, because I know it will, I hope that it won’t be too late.