“I believe we’re all in denial about the people we love.” -David Geffen
I was wrong. Things didn’t get better. The next day, I survived the worst hangover I’d had in years and have since remained thoroughly unemployed. But I’m determined to pick myself back up. I continue to go without seeing The Writer and do my best not to correspond with him. And it works. Sort of. Despite being in an unprecedented state of denial, I find myself manically productive and thriving socially. Between my strengthening friendships and returned interest to forging ahead on my career, I don’t even think about The Writer. Until I get home at the end of each night, and I lie down in my cold, empty bed. I find him in my dreams. He infects the thoughts I am already thinking the moment I awake each morning. That, plus I find myself spooning my clumped-up comforter. It’s a surprisingly decent lover despite its lack of body heat.
But even as he’s not here with me, I cannot seem to fathom my not waking up with him.
* * *
It’s Sunday afternoon, and my friend Cash gives me a call. “Man, I haven’t seen you in forever!” He says. “What are you up to?” I ask. “Smoking a bowl at home, you should come.” “I’m good,” I answer. “Well, I’m headed up your way later to go to a party. You should come with,” Cash tells me. I agree and we meet at a trendy build-your-own burger joint around six.
“The sweet potato fries are delicious,” he tells me an insisty kind of way. The waitress approaches and greets us. Cash puts his serious black man face on and very directly inquires about the exotic burger sauces. After answering, she pauses then nervously opens her mouth. “You’re a no bullshit kind of guy, aren’t you?” “You know it,” Cash says. I start cracking up. Cash concludes about 80% of his sentences with laughter. “Oh, and this bitch will have himself some sweet potato fries,” he says melting into a chuckle. “Don’t tell me what to order,” I say in a mock-catty way. “I’m paying. You’re poor.” “That’s so sweet of you,” I say.
By the time the food arrives, we have caught up. “So what exactly are we doing tonight?” “We’re going to my friend’s birthday party.” “Who’s your friend?” I ask. “Dalton…The Writer’s ex. Have you met him?” “Where is it going to be?” I ask without answering him. “The Writer’s house.” I look around like I’m about to make a dash for the door before realizing I’m only in a restaurant. “I can’t go,” I say with a certain amount of urgency. “Why not? You get a booty call or something? Slut.” “No. I can’t go to that house.”
What comes next is obvious. “Why not?” I don’t want to answer that question. Denial is working relatively well for me at this juncture. But Cash is the most authentic person I’ve met since moving to L.A. He deserves a straight answer. “The Writer…he and I…I have feelings for him. Strong feelings. And he doesn’t share those.” Cash laughs. “The Writer is a good guy, but you don’t need to be wrapped up in that drama. He has no idea what the hell he wants, and you’re going to spending your life sitting in the “waiting room” if you go after him.” “Well, I’m not. We’re not really talking right now. Which brings me back to my original point: I can’t go to that party.”
Cash shakes his head at me. “Cut the drama out. Explain the situation, and ask if you can go. It’ll be fine.” I agree to do it, but first I text Trick Bradley to inform him he’s coming to the party with me. I don’t, however, disclose that it’s Dalton’s Birthday party. (Dalton inexplicably hates Trick Bradley despite never actually meeting him.)
I also go the texting route with The Writer: “I’m hanging out with Cash, and he wants me to go to a party at your house tonight. Would it be OK if I came?” The anxious terror of waiting for a response sets in before I even hit send. I receive a fairly prompt response that reads: “Yeah it would be great to see you! It’s Dalton’s birthday, but it should be fine.”
* * *
We arrive The Writer’s house, and Bradley is there waiting. But there are only two other cars there. “I don’t want to go in,” I tell Cash. “Shut up,” he says with vocal bitch slap, unbuckling my seatbelt. “But there’s no one here.” “We’re here,” he corrects me.
We walk up those steps in front of his house. There have been moments since the last time I was here when I thought I would never do this again, that I’d never come back here. But I have friends backing me. Plus, there’s no way they’re going to let me leave. This is far too entertaining for them.
Cash knocks on the door. The suspense of seeing Dalton for the first time is killing me. We hear approaching footsteps. My breath is short. How much does he know? The doorknob turns. Swinging open, the door reveals…The Writer. Bam. Wasn’t quite ready for that, but I guess it is his house. “Hey!” He says as if nothing ever happened at all. My jaw is firmly clenched as he doles out hugs to the three of us. I manage a closed-mouth smile.
I panic, wondering what to say. Should I say anything? Yes. Cordiality is important. I open my mouth without thinking of anything, but I’m saved as another group starts up the steps. The Writer goes to greet them, and I let out a sigh. We make our way inside, and I experience momentary relief until I realize that I’m in an out of the frying pan into the fire kind of situation. I am a hostile in the place I felt most at home just a week ago.
I look around for Dalton, but don’t spot him. Everyone is crowded into the room off the kitchen. It’s uncomfortable, but few enough people are there that it would be even more uncomfortable if they were spread out. I recognize one face. The Model. “Hey, how are you?” He asks, coming over for a hug. I return the hug, but I feel disoriented. I can’t hold a conversation with him for much more than a minute, so I go for a drink. Alcohol: it’s the only thing keeping this situation from being a middle school dance.
As I pour my drink, someone else walks into the kitchen. It’s him. It’s Dalton. The one who came before. He’s backing in, talking to someone else, doesn’t see me. He’s very tall. This upsets me. Like really upsets me. I knew he was tall from pictures, but he is well over six feet tall. I realize that I’m being silly, and put down the bottle of vodka. But really, he is quite tall. That’s when Dalton notices me, and I take a big sip. “Hi,” he says—part short, part inquisitive. Swallowing, I put out my hand to shake and introduce myself.
“Who are you exactly?” My eyes widen and my eyebrows go up. It’s my natural reaction to the tone he says it in. “I came with Cash,” I answer, unsure of myself. “How do you know him?” His question comes across as “who let you into the circle while I was gone?” “I met him through my cousin.” “And who is that?” “Clark.” This changes his tone, which tells me a lot about the type of person he is. “Oh, we’re friends. Clark and I hung out a bunch last summer.” In truth, their acquaintances, but in my experience, most L.A. people don’t know how to differentiate loyalties like that.
Bradley walks in the room, and I ask him if he wants a drink. I think about introducing the two, just as Dalton turns and starts speaking to another party guest as though our side of the room ceased to exist. “Did that really just happen?” Bradley asks me. “I hate him,” he continues. “I don’t,” I say, surprising myself a little. Despite everything, I’m unable to bring myself to hate Dalton or even to dislike him. He’s not the competition. I have fought with The Writer; I have stood up for him in fights. I will not fight over him, and I am certainly not going to waste my time trying to keep someone who doesn’t care for me as much as I do for him. But beyond that, Dalton, in many ways, feels like kin, like a predecessor. He haunted this house while I was here. Many of the ways The Writer interacted with me were a direct result of their relationship. I have a removed reverence for Dalton.
A couple more people arrive, and it is established that there is a dominant clique. Cash is friends with them, so I’m left on the outside with Bradley. “I can’t believe you made me come here.” “It’s a party! Free booze.” “How are you even functioning?” “I’m not,” I assure him.
The Model comes back in and introduces me to his friend, a girl who is visiting him from New York. I saw her when we first came in. Now, she is wasted. “Where in New York do you live?” I ask. “Chelsea,” she answers. I speak New Yorker, and I speak fag hag, so I manage to hold it together. “I love your sweater by the way,” I tell her. I rub my hand on the sleeve…a little bit too long. I’m zoned out, and The Model brings me back giving me an uncomfortable look. “What is wrong with you?” Bradley partially jokes. “So very many things,” I say.
Having alienated another audience, I go back for a second drink. From the couch, I see The Writer lying down on the couch, alone in the living room. He’s reading something. “You should go talk to him,” someone says to me from behind. I get a little flush. It’s Cash. “I don’t know what to say.” “Well, what do you want out of this situation?” I have no idea. I really don’t know where to go from here. I still want him in my life, but I’m not dealing. What’s a gay to do?
Leaving my drink with Cash, I walk over and delicately take a seat on the ottoman beside him. Now I really am at the middle school dance, and I’m about to talk the boy I want to dance with, but I’m too nervous to ask. So I ask something else: “You OK?” I say it with a little too much sincerity. “Yeah, I just have a headache…” “Is it the tumor?” He smiles at me; “No, he’s on vacation today.”
“What are you reading?” He looks at it and then looks at me. “This dumb script,” he says. He tells me about it. I note each of his ticks, his neuroses. His scent. He didn’t take his medicine today. He smells different the days he does. As he disingenuously rants about the project, I notice the way his bangs frame his face. I think to push them over like I used to, but I stop myself.
I ask him about the television show he’s trying to get hired on. “They want a T.V. script. I don’t understand. I gave them several film scripts.” He definitely doesn’t understand. “Let me know if you need any help,” I offer. He pauses. “Yeah. I will.” We sit there for a moment without saying anything. We take turns watching each other then looking away. It’s strangely comforting.
I look to the kitchen. Cash and Bradley pretend to converse, but really they’re watching this “special” moment with glee. I turn my attention back to the Writer. “So Dalton seems…nice,” I lie. “Yeah.” “Well, it was really sweet of you to let him have a party here.” “I’m sure he’ll be so grateful,” he says sarcastically. “Hey, we should work on that movie pitch soon,” he says. “Tell me when and where. Still unemployed here. Actually, I came up with a couple more ideas that…” “Hey, what are you doing over here, being all antisocial?” It’s Dalton. “I have a headache,” The Writer tells him. “I don’t feel like being social.”
“I didn’t realize you two knew each other,” Dalton says looking at me. If only he knew the half of it. “Yep,” is the best I can come up with. “Interesting,” Dalton says. “Hey, didn’t you come with Cash and that skinny guy?” I nod then look over. They’re no longer watching. “They left a couple minutes ago…”
I stand up and look around. Crap. “I have to go,” I tell them. “Nice to meet you,” I say to Dalton hastily. “Give me a call tomorrow,” The Writer says to me. I nearly run out the door and call my friends. “Why did you leave?” I ask annoyed. “It looked like you were doing fine,” they say. “Not the point.”
But it kind of is the point. Tonight worked out. I spoke to The Writer without dying. That’s an accomplishment in itself. I left on my own terms…or more accurately not on his terms. And I established a next meeting of sorts. And it’s work related. This is good.
I get home and manage not to think about the situation. For the first time since my “breakdown,” I fall asleep without pangs of loneliness.