(This is the first part of a story I'm calling "My Gay Life." I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.)
Kate had decided a South Park marathon was in order. I disagreed.
"Come on, Josh," she whined, forcing her face into a mockery of despair.
"We can get one with Big Gay Al if you want," she offered, trying desperately to be lucrative.
"No," I said with finality. "Big Gay Al is disgusting."
"He's really not," Kate offered, changing her demeanor from that of a maiden in distress to a TV news reporter. "In fact, some gay activists argue that South Park has brought messages about tolerance and diversity of the gay community unlike any other television show. They're not making fun of Big Gay Al. They're..." Kate searched for words. "They're enjoying his gayness."
I looked at Kate squarely in the eye. "No."
Kate grunted. "Sweetheart, I'm just trying to help you here. Ever since you and Kyle separated..." Kate trailed off and reached for my hand across the table. "Listen, I know you guys were together for nine months and he was really important to you, but you've got to realize that he's an ass." Her face softened. "It's his loss. He gave up something wonderful. He cheated on you, and that's totally not okay."
"That's why I dumped him," I said, almost impatiently. "I realize that he's an ass and I thank you for your compliment about him losing something wonderful, but it's still somewhat difficult. We spent a lot of time together-way too much time together, maybe-and it's just a little weird without him around all the time like he used to be." I chewed my bottom lip for a few seconds and then continued. "It was just two weeks ago and I need a little time to get back to normal."
"Okay," Kate said, her voice softening. "So how can I help?"
I shrugged. "Well, I'd like to go change clothes and go to a yoga class."
"Sounds good," Kate said. She smiled, stood up, kissed me on the cheek, and headed for the door. "Call me, okay?"
I gave her a half-smile and promised I would. She blew me a kiss and headed out the door.
Twenty minutes later I had changed into my comfortable cotton white pants and a tight white t-shirt. I pulled on a jacket and started looking for my bus pass when somebody started pounding on the door to my apartment. I rolled my eyes and rushed to answer it.
"We're here to kidnap you," Tyler said as I opened the door. Tyler, Justin, and Ryan stood at the door, all decked out in club clothes.
"You guys, I'm heading out to yoga," I said, whining. I knew that they would win the battle, but I attempted to put up a fight anyway.
Tyler looked me up and down. "Boy, you're gonna have to change your clothes." He pushed passed me and Justin and Ryan followed. They all headed toward my bedroom and I closed the door behind them.
"The boys got together and decided to help you out since you were doing your best Emily Dickinson hermitage impression. You're going dancing tonight."
"It's Thursday night," I whined. I fought the urge to stomp my foot like a four-year-old.
"So?" Tyler asked not blinking. Then he started laughing. "Come on, Josh. You know you want to go dancing. You need to get out there and strut your stuff."
"The worst thing you can do right now is sit home and feel crappy," Ryan chimed in. "Everybody feels dejected when relationships end. The proper solution is to have your frat brothers come and kidnap you to go shake your booty. You have no choice in this matter. You're blinded by relationship baggage and we're kicking your ass back into the wonderful world of living."
Tyler nodded his approval.
Justin pulled out a pair of pleather pants and a super-tight black tank top from my closet. He pulled out a pair of tall black shoes and a subtle rainbow necklace and beckoned me to put the outfit on.
I sighed. Then I smiled hesitantly.
"See that?" Tyler said triumphantly. "Be dressed in two minutes and then we're heading out."
"The dancing won't be good for another three hours," I said, raising an eyebrow.
"That's right," Tyler said, doing his best impression of a super flaming gay man. "We're going bowling first." With that the boys marched into the living room to let me change clothes and I shut the door behind them.
I do have to confess that I love Minneapolis. It's a metropolitan area yet it doesn't feel overburdened or overcrowded like New York or L.A. There isn't smog and the traffic is never absolutely unbearable. There are hundreds of cool cafes, dozens of random shops, more theaters per capita than any city in North America, more than twenty full-size lakes within the city limits. And, of course, there are enough guys to date to keep a man busy for a lifetime.
I moved into an apartment in a part of town called Uptown for my freshman year of college. Instead of a dorm I decided that the extra two hundred dollars a month was worth it to have my own bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. And, as a fringe benefit, I would retain my sanity. I've heard enough horror stories about dorm mates to fill a book.
Though my apartment isn't all that large-and the heater can be a bit unpredictable-it's a great place. It has hardwood floors, an oversized claw bathtub, a tiny but satisfying kitchen, and enough space to have a half dozen friends over for the night.
At the start of my freshman year at the University of Minnesota I joined a fraternity called Delta Lambda Phi. Delta is a gay fraternity, and I decided to join. Who would pass up the chance to have twenty gay brothers?
When I first joined I thought it would be a great way to meet guys, but one of the senior frat boys quickly informed me of a "don't pee in your own pool rule" in the frat. They don't want boys coupling, then breaking up, and then messing up the whole frat environment with boyfriends and ex-boyfriends abound. And, the more I think about it, I've decided it's a good rule.
Tyler's car was parked directly in front of my apartment. His parents- his father is an investment banker and his mother is a corporate attorney- bought him a Toyota Land Cruiser for his twenty-first birthday. All the boys are jealous and, of course, Tyler enjoys that immensely.
"You're riding shotgun, big boy," Tyler said to me, opening the car door for me. I smiled at him. I was being spoiled because I was "in mourning." It was standard break-up etiquette for the group. The boys crawled in the back and Tyler cranked up club music so loud that it was difficult to speak. While we drove Tyler, Justin, and Ryan bounced, gyrated, and shimmied as much as is possible while buckled. At stoplights we rolled down the windows and did our best too annoy the cars and pedestrians within a fifty-foot radius of the car.
Thanks to Tyler's chronic speeding habit-he's honestly a danger to society on the roads-we got to Bryant Lake Bowl in record time.
"Tyler, what are we doing at a bowling alley?" I asked as we whisked through the front doors of the bowling alley.
"It's cosmic bowling night," Tyler said matter-of-factly. "They turn off the regular lights, turn on black lights, crank up music, and play music videos on jumbo screens."
Ryan laughed. "I can't believe we're going bowling."
The bowling alley was filled will people. The crowd, made up mostly teenagers and twentysomethings, gathered for a night of junk food, talking, making fun of bowling, and hitting on the opposite sex. (We, however, excluded ourselves from the latter form of entertainment.) A remix of an old Garbage song blared as we collected our monumentally unsexy bowling shoes and stepped up to ally fifteen with our bowling balls.
"Okay, girls," Ryan said grabbing his ball and stepping up to bowl, "let me show you how it's done." Tyler laughed as Ryan stepped up to the line, thoroughly concentrating on the game. He paused for a moment, stepped forward three times, cleanly released the ball, and promptly scored the first strike of the game. Our group erupted in hoots and cat calls.
"Thank you very much," Ryan said, his modesty completely withheld. "You're next, big guy," he said to me, smacking my butt and sitting back down. I sighed and stepped up to bowl. And, shockingly, I wasn't half bad. Halfway through the game Tyler came to talk to me while the boys took their turns. Tyler slapped down a super size Coke in front of me and urged me to drink up.
"So tell me," Tyler said, being serious for the first time that night, "how are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm going to be just fine," I said honestly. "I hadn't even thought about Kyle once we started bowling," I said, grinning. "And you know what? This bowling thing isn't half bad," I admitted bashfully.
"See!" Tyler exclaimed. "You've got to trust me more." He wrapped his arm around me and we watched Ryan get up and get a spare. "Maybe we'll have to set you up with somebody," he said slyly.
"Whoa, Ty. My bed hasn't even cooled down yet."
Tyler laughed. "Listen, mister, I know that you're bed hasn't been hot for a few weeks now. You and Kyle were busy doing too much fighting and not enough lovin'," Tyler said suggestively.
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, but I'm not just looking for a quick fix, Ty. I'm looking for a guy to actually be with."
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Tyler drawled, getting up to take his turn. "But maybe-just maybe-we'll set you up with a guy yet." Before I could complain he had grabbed a ball and skittered away.
We found a parking lot on Hennepin Avenue and jumped out of the car. It was March and still cold outside but we decided to freeze for a few minutes instead of paying three dollars for the coat check. When we got in the doors of the club a completely uninterested bouncer glanced at our ID's and waved us in.
It was 11:30 and the Saloon started to wake up. Straight ahead of us was a bar, a huge dance floor rested on our right, and another few sections of bars and pool tables sat on our left. Tyler immediately went and found Andy, a guy he had been dating, on the dance floor. Ryan headed for the bathroom. "I had three super size drinks," he screamed in my ear. The music was deafening where we stood. "I'll find you guys in a little bit."
Justin grabbed my hand and led me toward the pool tables. "Come on," he said over the din of the music. "There's somebody I want you to meet." Already I felt nauseous. I didn't feel ready to be "meeting people."
Justin expertly led me through thick crowds of young guys wearing tight shirts and sporting short, well-gelled haircuts. A few glanced my way as I walked through and I smiled back at them. It felt good to feel like I was back in the game.
Justin brought me to a pool table where Alex, one of our Delta brothers, was playing pool with two guys I didn't know. Justin brought me to one of the guys with jet black hair, looking almost Italian. He was freshly shaved, his hair was perfectly in place, and his pectoral muscles jutted out under his t-shirt.
"Josh, this is Evan," Justin said as Evan smiled and shook my hand.
"Nice to meet you," Evan said, grinning just enough to show interest.
"Nice to meet you, too," I said, smiling back obligingly.
Justin and I stood back to watch the game finish up. I looked around and saw a few guys I had seen in classes or on campus and I noted almost a dozen Delta boys. Ryan found us again and struck up a conversation with Justin just as the pool game finished up. I started to join their conversation when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find Evan smiling.
"Do you want to get a drink?" Evan offered, gesturing toward some bar stools.
"Sure," I said, moving toward a seat.
"Do you want a beer?" Evan asked, pulling out my wallet.
"No thanks." I said, smiling sheepishly. He looked at me strangely but then I added, "I'm under age."
"Oh," Evan laughed. "Okay." He quickly countered. "Do you want a soda then?"
"Sprite please," I said, sitting down on one of the stools. Out of my peripheral I could see Justin and Ryan talking together and looking at us. I did my best to ignore them.
Evan had smoothly decided to order a soda for himself, too, and sat on the bar stool next to me.
"So, you're a Delta boy?" Evan asked, sipping his drink.
"Yeah," I said proudly. "The boys are good to me."
"So, what're you studying?" Evan asked, sounding legitimately interested. He looked at me intently as I spoke.
"I'm a double major, actually. I'm studying computer science and English."
"Wow," Evan said. "That's quite a combination. What do you plan to do?"
"Uhm, I'll probably go to law school," I said, taking a drink of my soda and returning his eye contact. His body language said he was interested in me but didn't want to be overzealous. I was thankful for that. "What about you? What are you studying?"
"I'm in my senior year at the University of St. Thomas. I'm planning on being an architect. I'm putting off studying for a while, though, because in May I'll be doing a stint with the Peace Corps in Tibet."
My jaw almost dropped. Tyler and the boys must have searched high and low to find Evan. They knew my secret passion for travel and for all things exotic. They had also managed to track down a hot guy with a short-term time commitment, allowing me to enjoy myself and not get too serious. Realizing all that made me both uncomfortable and intrigued at the same time.
After fifteen or twenty minutes of more chatter Evan finally asked if I wanted to exchange numbers. I certainly wasn't interested in bed hopping with him, but I decided he might be fun to have dinner with.
Then it happened.
Just as I finished writing my number on a cocktail napkin, I saw Kyle across the room. By chance he caught my glance and we stared at each other for a full five seconds. I was the first to look away. I handed my number to Evan and talked to him for another minute or so before Tyler burst in.
"I hate to interrupt, boys, but I need to talk to you," Tyler said to me.
"I'll catch up with you later," Evan said to me as Tyler pulled me away.
Tyler led me by the shoulder through the mass of men to a place near the dance floor and the bathroom. Tyler nudged me up against the wall.
"Okay," Tyler said, completely serious, "Are you ready for this? Kyle is here."
"I know," I said casually. "We made eye contact."
Tyler grunted. "Noah found him and told him not to talk to you. Kyle said he was leaving anyway." Noah was one of my fellow Delta boys.
My shoulders dropped. "Tyler, he didn't need to do that. I don't need bodyguards."
"I know, but Noah was worried." Tyler paused for a minute. "Kyle was here with another guy and Noah didn't want Kyle coming over and flaunting some new guy on you when you just dumped his ass for being a cheater. See what I mean?"
I shook my head. "Okay, but can you let Noah know that I can handle something like that myself next time?"
Tyler shrugged. "Sure." His attention span had finished its cycle. Suddenly his face became mischievous. "So, do you want to dance?" Before I could respond he scooted me out onto the dance floor.
The music was overwhelming. Strobe lights spun randomly as looping house music played. The dancers crowded so closely together that by simply moving or gyrating on the dance floor the dancers touched bodies. I slowly let loose and my body moved with the rhythm of the music. Tyler pushed me over to a stage in the middle of the dance floor.
"Get on it!" He screamed over the music, pushing me onto the small stage. A Delta boy grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the little stage. For a few minutes I was standing above the massive crowd of boys. "Dance!" Tyler screamed.
And I did. I let go. Boys screamed. I danced harder. Somebody grabbed my butt, and I finished my little dance. It was a supreme high to dance in front of so many people and be an object of desire, even if only for a moment.
Justin found Tyler and I on the floor and we all danced together for what seemed like a blissful eternity. Eventually Tyler pulled us off the floor and found Ryan.
"Time to say goodnight, boys," Tyler said ushering us toward the door. "There will be more fun next week."
And, with that, we left the Saloon. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to Evan.
Friday afternoon I burst through the door of my apartment panting. I pulled off my headphones and running pants, wiped sweat from my face, and headed to the kitchen for water. Every day after I finished my run around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles it was my tradition to sit on my kitchen countertops and drink a few gallons of water.
As I filled my glass with ice cold water there was a knock at my front door. I turned off the water, grabbed my glass, and answered the door.
"Hi Tyler," I said as I opened the door. I guzzled my water.
"Do you always answer the door half naked?" Tyler asked, grinning and walking past me to the kitchen. He wandered to the fridge and poured himself lemonade. "I was book shopping for Andy and I thought I'd stop over," Tyler said, pouring his glass to the brim.
"How generous," I said, teasing. "Why are you buying books for Andy?" I jumped back onto the countertop near Tyler.
"It turns out Andy is a big fan of Tolstoy. Andy told me about a rare leather-bound version of Anna Kareina he saw while in Amsterdam. His birthday is coming up and I thought I'd track it down at one of the rare book stores up here." I nodded. "You're done with classes for the day?" Tyler inquired.
"I'm done every day by two o'clock. Today I just had British Lit and Calculus II."
Tyler changed the subject. "Has Romeo called?"
"Do you mean Kyle or Evan?" I teased.
Tyler made a gagging noise. "I'm talking about Evan."
Before I could answer Kate came through the front door beaming at us. She set down her backpack and keys on the kitchen table and came into the kitchen.
"Josh, some guy named Evan left a message on my machine today asking you out to dinner at Palomino's tomorrow night." She squealed and hugged me.
"Wait," Tyler butted in. "Evan called Kate?"
I smiled sheepishly. "I gave Evan her number."
"He does that with guys he's not sure about," Kate said to Tyler. She grabbed his lemonade, took a sip, and handed it back to Tyler.
"Josh!" Tyler yelped, mortified.
"I just didn't know if I wanted to talk to him," I said. "I know you guys must have used all your connections to find him, but... He was just too... Too perfect." I paused. "And besides, I want to be able to find guys by myself."
Tyler sighed and his expression softened. "Why do boys always look for boys they can fix up?" Tyler teased. I punched him on the shoulder. Tyler laughed. "Besides, it's true that it's more rewarding to hunt for your own meat," Tyler conceded.
Kate smacked Tyler on the other arm. "Tyler! That's so inappropriate!"
Tyler laughed harder. "Inappropriate? This is coming from the South Park girl?" Tyler guffawed and then rubbed his arms. "Jesus, you two," he said, grabbing his coat and heading for the front door, "you two should be called the Bruiser Twins." He winked at me. "I'll call you, kiddo." And with that, Tyler was gone.
Kate jumped up on the counter next to me and sighed. "Allen got his acceptance for grad school at Duke yesterday," she said, resting her head on my shoulder. Allen had been her boyfriend for almost two years.
"Oh, Katie, I'm so sorry," I said, running my fingers through her hair.
"Are you going with him?"
Katie nuzzled into my neck. I heard a muffled, "No. We talked about it and decided that I should finish my undergrad work here. Maybe we'll meet up later." She sat up and sighed. She looked at my glass of water and then decided she wanted a drink. "But I guess I knew we weren't on the marriage track all along." She paused. She made the move and took a long, resounding gulp of my water.
"Well," I said, trying to lighten the mood, "we can both go through a break-up together, then."
Kate looked at her watch. "You know what, darling? I need to get to work." Kate worked at Caribou Coffee and she often gave me free drinks when I wandered into her shop. She jumped off the counter and smiled at me.
"There's this guy at work that I've been hanging out with who works with me and I was thinking that maybe I'd ask him..."
"Kate!" I said, pretending to scold her. "You and Allen just broke up!"
"I know," she said smiling devilishly. "But I have to have somebody good for my rebound." She fluffed her hair, doing her best cheerleader impression, and then flounced out the door to work.
I filled my claw-foot bathtub with hot water and bath beads. I flipped a quiet CD into the CD player and slowly let myself into the bath. And then, for a luxurious forty minutes, I did nothing but soak in the bathtub. A few thoughts drifted in an out of my mind, but for the most part there was nothing but peace and quiet.
After my bath I pulled on a thick white bathrobe and padded to the kitchen table. I messed with my hair for a few seconds, cajoling my wet mane into place, and then proceeded to open a calculus study packet. I managed to study for almost half an hour before another knock came at my door.
"My God, somebody else?" I muttered under my breath, walking to the door. When I opened it I almost lost my breath.
"Hi Josh," Kyle said, standing at the door in jeans and a sweater. He'd obviously groomed for the occasion. I didn't say anything for a few seconds. "Can I come in?" He asked. I was so stunned that I actually let him in. He sat at the kitchen table and I sat down, hesitantly, across from him. "Listen, I know this is odd, but after seeing you at Saloon I just knew that I wanted to talk to you."
I pursed my lips. "What about, Kyle?"
Kyle started slowly. "I was just thinking about us," he said quietly. "I was thinking about all those days during the summer we spend at the beach, reading books and playing Frisbee and talking about what we were going to do with our lives." He laughed quietly, obviously becoming nostalgic. "I remember the day that you packed the huge picnic lunch for us and we sat all afternoon at the lakes, eating and talking."
"You made fun of me for packing the picnic in a picnic basket." I didn't change my facial expression. "But it really is too bad that you decided to give up this relationship," I said, meeting his eyes directly. He looked away.
"Josh, we were fighting those last three weeks so much. I didn't give up this relationship..." Kyle said, trailing off.
"Kyle, you gave up this relationship the minute you decided to sleep with Rob," I said harshly. Neither of us said anything for what seemed like five minutes. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. I could feel my brain start to spin. I wanted him to leave.
"Josh, I didn't plan on sleeping with him. It just sort of... Happened." Kyle sighed. "I'd be willing to do anything we need to in order to make things work again. I'd be willing to see a shrink or start some new sort of relationship or... Josh, I'll do anything you ask."
"Anything?" I asked slowly. Our eyes met and locked.
"Anything," Kyle said confidently.
"I have two requests. The first is that I want to be able to say everything I need to say to you without you interrupting. Don't zone out, don't speak, just listen."
Kyle sighed. "It's a deal."
"First, you should know that sleeping with Rob was the biggest violation of me possible. It doesn't help that we both met Rob at Tyler's party just as we started having problems in our own relationship. It doesn't help that I know who he was and that you just randomly slept with a guy like him." I was speaking so calmly and clearly that Kyle was completely unnerved. "If you didn't respect me then, you're not going to respect me now." I paused dramatically. "And, now, my second request. Are you still sure you'll do anything?"
Kyle looked concerned. He probably wondered if I was going to ask him to go jump off a cliff or run around campus naked wearing a "Josh, I'm sorry" placard. While those options were quite tempting, I had other plans for Kyle.
"Yes, I will," Kyle said, obviously deflated.
"Good," I said, sweetly. "I want you to zip up your jacket, stand up, walk to the door, open it, walk through it, and close it behind you. And honestly, Kyle, that's the last thing I can think of that I'll ever want from you."
Kyle slowly stood up. He looked at me with a forlorn expression, sighed quietly, and left.
Tyler laughed incessantly. I was laying on his bed in his apartment, talking to Tyler and his roommate Zack. We had a giant bowl of salsa and a super size bag of chips. While we crunched and munched we talked about the afternoon's events.
"My God, you actually said that?" Tyler said, still laughing in belief.
"I did," I said proudly. I beamed. "And it felt damn good." I shoved a chip with a massive load of salsa into my mouth.
"So what did he do after you said all that?" Zack asked, laughing from surprise.
"He just left," I said, grabbing a jug of milk we had sitting on the bed and guzzling.
"That cheating bastard," Tyler muttered, shaking his head and laughing.
"He had no idea who he was playing with. Oh, and we've banned Kyle and Rob from all campus gay and lesbian meetings for the rest of the year. Those boys will never, ever be admitted to Delta functions again."
"Can you do that?" I asked, surprised.
Tyler winked at me. "Of course I can. I can do anything."
"So what are you going to do now?" Zack asked, leaning in closer to me and grabbing a hand full of chips.
I thought for a moment. "I'm just going to live," I said smiling. "It's been a weird month." Zack and Tyler agreed heartily.
As I sit back thinking about that day having a binge festival with the boys, I want to laugh. If somebody had told me what was to come in the next month of my life, I would have laughed-and then cried. But, as I sat there with my boys, talking into the wee hours of the morning, I felt like my life had just begun again. And, in a way, it had.
[This story will be continued in May 2001. Maybe if you drop me a note at email@example.com I might even give you a preview. :) Josh, an eighteen-year-old full-time student, has won national writing awards for nonfiction essays and has been published in several anthologies of writing across the nation. Thanks for reading!]