To most junior high school kids, the sound of the last bell represented freedom. In my gallop home, I had five blocks to run, and four boys to outrun, in the heaviest of winter apparel consisting of unfashionable bobby-socks and a brown cotton coat that easily outweighed a wet horse. And tried I did; every day, through heavy pockets of snow that covered the city during the rough winter of 1994. This was neither freedom nor fun.
Brandon, the cutest of the boys, would snatch me by the hood and jettison my body into any available trash can. On the last day of school, only Brandon would follow. I ran with the sort of liberation reserved for a young man happy to see the end of a physically demanding routine. This time, he pulled me by the collar as I stared at his flat top and perfectly round lips. His next words would change everything: “You’ll be a cutie, someday.” An awkward kiss and playful slap would follow. Though it was the last time I saw Brandon, it was the beginning of my protracted relationship with gay men.
Fifteen years later, everything has changed and well, nothing at all. I am the epitome of a contradictory cynical New Yorker: equally erudite and acerbic; urbane, yet considerably accessible, albeit, fluent in piquant sarcasm. You know, a bitch of sorts.
Like most, I set benchmarks. By 29, I would certainly have a prêt-a-terre, a husband and an Ethiopian baby. (Ok, so P.C. I am not) What I have, in reality, is rent, student loans and a wild Chihuahua/Jack Terrier named Harlem, where I also live, obviously.
I’d been dating a guy, who at 6’6 to my 5’10 was very tall, to say the least. He was charming and dirty/handsome in the unshaven but tee-shirt-ironing-way. I unimaginatively nicknamed him TB, which he said reminded him of the disease. I reminded him that nothing I did was ever an accident. At our best, he would come over with tall Steel Reserves and I would sit on his lap to share a beer and eat sweet Waffles from around the corner. At our worst, weeks would go by without anything as a text message from him or a sign that he existed. The closer we got, the farther he drifted. At the confession that a piece of my heart had once opened for him, he replied, “I am flattered by your feelings.” Flattered? “I put out what I feel is appropriate,” he dryly continued. I wish it were as easy to declare it a bruised ego. No, it was the carefree nature of his rejection that floored me; as perfunctory as no starch request at the dry cleaners.
A sea of pain ran through my body. I was unable to move. It was as if, somehow, my cynical exterior had paved the way for a certain crassness in response to my feelings for which the shrug of a shoulder was sufficient rebuttal to a candid expression of vulnerability. Eight months dissolved in one simple evening.
You see, nothing had changed. Years of make-out partners and steady boyfriends were no different than Brandon. Gay men had yet to find a better way of expressing their feelings for me. The dagger of words hurt as much as punches in trash cans. And I have to decide if I’m still running away with pain, or running towards taking a chance at love, one bruise at a time. I hope that by the time it happens, I, too, don’t have such chilly surrender.