The party was interesting from the first minute. When I realized that the guy I found most attractive was there with his wife and kid, I smiled at myself for not fawning over the twinkies; cupcakes; McDonald’s fruit pies and other assorted typical party fare that in the past would have captured my interest. Instead I slowly breathed a sigh of acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe I have begun to grow up. I didn’t even really engage the twenty something group; only sharing a bit about my writing when they distracted me from my laptop long enough to derail a critical thought.
My host could claim no such enlightenment. Older than I, he switched between the groups—one of coworkers and friends, the other flights of fancy that were there for reasons I am not quite sure off. Maybe they were there in the way people hang prints of really great art in their living rooms—pretty to look at reminders of something that could have been much more. If only you were around at the time to offer VanGogh a couple of shillings for a Starry Night original.
But much like with art; time is the most important piece. If we aren’t there at the beginning to pick up the original, we have to settle later for the copy. It may look okay, especially if we put a decent frame around it—but in the end it will be just a copy of something we missed and a reminder of what could have been… if only….
My friend came out late—the ripe old age of nearly 40. Dragged from his closet, like so many of his generation, by the lust of a younger man that offered no long term anything-- other than the reality that the closet was no longer big enough to make sufficient quarters for living.
I have no animosity towards my friend. But it is an amazing thing to watch him act out scenes from a play that I have known by heart at not so distant times of my life. Owner of a beautiful home, holder of a good job, well respected in his community—none of it seems to matter nearly as much as his occasional success in bedding someone young—someone attractive—someone who is real to him only in the sense of a reminder: opportunities missed, paintings not purchased, wild high-school nights of love never consummated.
I suppose we all do this. God knows my own dating life, my own trips to the casino; my own trip to New York in some ways; all of them were and are journey’s in fantasy. For a long time I thought that the person whom I gave one fun evening or night to was my willing fellow traveler on a mission towards something real. After a time, though, I came to realize that they were perfectly happy with the poster print of the great painting. They didn’t stay long enough to look beyond the frame—or even to see if there was dust on the glass. All they really wanted was the night and the experience, and the warm body. A kind of Mister Potato Head—all the pieces present, but able to be configured or remembered in whatever way you wish.
When my friend details to me his exploits I can normally only listen for a few seconds before I flash a look. Sometimes I verbally react, which I know I should not do. I ask him, what are you thinking with these kids? What do you think is going to happen? Is it good for you? Good for them? At what cost will this fantasy be paid? He always looks back perplexed—as though I have long ago finished the Rosetta Stone and have offered a condemnation in French, while he is still at Mon Ami or Aret?!
I shake my head. Get frustrated then. Want so badly for him to realize that there is a price to be paid. That all these convenient strangers will diminish him. The most non-free thing in the world is our spirit. And giving to someone in order to replace memories never had in the first place is, well, the saddest thing I have seen. Many of my gay friends think that sex can exist without any tinges of emotion. That it can take place like a transaction—this for that—me for you. Paper or plastic. Have a nice day! Be sure to come back next week for the can sale. Perhaps this can be for some. I don’t think so however. My own scars prove to me the price to be paid. When I lied and thought “It’s just sex” and then cried over the never to follow date; or phone call; or even text message. There has to be some distance between us and our knuckle dragging kin right? We have to be able to overcome the primordial elements of ourselves to create and cultivate situations that allow us to appeal to our better selves. Move beyond the poster to the real art. If only we could be a little more careful with where we pour out our glass. I’m not saying be a prude, but at least stop and make sure what you give will be welcome and appreciated not just for the action—but for the person.
I thought of my friend and my reaction to his misguided ways as I drove home from the party. Rolling through my mind all that I wish he could see. Wanting to share with him all I have learned from my fifteen years navigating through this murky dark gay world and the murky dark places in my own self that had to be understood—accepted—and loved before I could find my peace.
I thought about him a great deal as I pulled my car into the parking lot at the casino. As I pulled the handle—said aI silent prayer—and tried to win back what I lost on the first machine.. and the second.. and the third.
I thought about him more as I drove away. Reminded by my lighter wallet that we all have lessons to learn, and relearn--- and fantasies to overcome. Some are in the form of 20 year old blonde-haired gay boys; some are in the whirling lights and sounds of a slot machine—some are in the form of a drug- so slow and sweet—others at the bottom of one too many glasses. They are all the same though. Our perceived pathways to something better, or something lost.
But in the middle of those paths—in the moment between when we realize what we have done and begin to berate ourselves for a failure we should have seen coming—do we really find anything. And it is not ever the plinking triple diamond win; or the night of lust with our past—it’s the knowledge that we can do better for ourselves—we can step away from the things that call us backwards in time or spirit—but only if we first have the courage to demand the real thing—and not the imitation. And love ourselves enough to value what we have to give—and who we give that away to. The treasure that fluttered away at the casino was precious I suppose, but I know more than anything that the treasure of me—the treasure of my friend—those are far more valuable, far more unique, and far more critical to not waste away in the search of anything that is less than real. Even if it looks nice on the wall, that $5 print in the Walmart frame is not ever going to be a VanGogh.