“You are a trick question.” –Closer
Today is The Writer’s birthday. He’s turning thirty, and I’ve been dying for this day to arrive–not only to see how someone with his own specialized brand of well-meaning narcissism celebrates the day of his birth, but also due to the mercilessness of my gift selection.
After work, I drive to his house. I retrieve the large blue gift bag, overflowing with yellow tissue paper from my trunk and hurry up the stairs to ring the bell. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” The Writer says. “But I would have held it against you if you didn’t,” he remarks. I roll my eyes, remembering how he forgot my birthday completely and thought an acceptable substitute was a lunch at Panera.
He takes the bag from my hands, and I follow him into the living room. Pulling the tissue paper from the top, he looks puzzled. “What’s this?” He asks, pulling out something else. “They’re Depends…you know, the adult diaper? I hear old people have trouble controlling their bowel movements.” He cracks a big smile followed by a loud and awkwardly exaggerated laugh. “Go on,” I say. He begins to pull each item from the bag, an affixed post-it explaining each one:
1. Fancy wrinkle cream; “Because now you’re old and saggy.”
2. Margarita rimmer: “Because you’re a butt slut.”
3. A plate of brownies; “Because you’ll be fat soon anyway.”
The expression he wears tells me my gag gifts are wearing on his ego a little more than I suspected they would. And then I realize that he’s probably in a bit of a fragile state right now. The big 3-0 probably isn’t easy on anyone, especially a gay man. Plus, he’s dealing with the whole Dalton thing. I feel bad for him…for a second.
4. A mix CD of all the songs that meant something between us; “A soundtrack to remember the good times as your memory fades.”
5. A shirt with the word ‘douché’ printed below two crossed fencing swords; “Because you’re kind of a douche.”
“You think I’m a douche?” He asks with an unexpected innocence in his voice. “Definitely sometimes,” I reply. “But not always?” “No, just sometimes,” I repeat without missing a beat. He ponders this for a moment and shrugs slightly before retrieving the final item from the bag:
6. My favorite book; on the inside cover, I write: “Do yourself a favor and read this book. It will only affect you in the positive and perhaps teach you to feel with more imagination.” Before my signature, I chose the salutation “love.” This is the only time I have ever so much as corresponded the word to him, and in this moment, I feel like a bit of a cheat for doing so.
* * *
We’re the first to arrive at dinner, a high end Mexican restaurant with notably authentic cuisine. I take a seat across from The Writer—we’re the first to arrive, so he orders his custom margarita, and we discuss which books we’ve been reading. When that conversation comes to an end, I find myself searching for another topic of discussion. But it’s like coming home and walking into a brick wall (or I guess in my case, a window) where the bedroom door used to be. The transparency, the access that was once shared between us has vanished. It’s unpleasantly shocking, but I imagine that’s the cost of having a healthy, stable friendship with him…whatever that is.
“I wonder where Dalton is,” The Writer mutters. “Huh?” “He’s supposedly on his way. He had some gig today,” he continues, typing away on his phone. Before I have time to respond, we hear a loud “Happy Birthday!” The yell comes from a tall Jewish man with auburn hair, approaching our table. He’s followed by a skinny girl in her late 20s, which is surprising considering the blatant lack of female friends I’ve ever seen with The Writer. A third guest arrives, and I realize that I don’t recognize any of them. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve met The Writer, and I haven’t so much as heard him speak of one of these guests. The sound of The Writer’s voice echoes in my thoughts with his confession that Dalton and I are his only true friends. I thought he was just being dramatic, but I’m unsure of what to make of the turnout at this 30th birthday dinner. I pick up in conversation with the dinner guests, asking how they met The Writer. Their responses aren’t insincere, but each of the circumstances of making his acquaintance are.
I see The Writer checking his phone. Dalton is now 40 minutes late. “He hasn’t answered the past 25 minutes,” The Writer says. “I’m sure he’s on his way,” I say and sure enough, Dalton hustles through the door a minute later, a friend in tow. They both have residual signs of some sort masculine pop star make up on their face.
“Sorry we’re late,” Dalton says without introducing his silent friend to the others or me. After greeting the guests who he knows, Dalton takes a seat on the bench next to me despite the fact that The Writer and I are already occupying the seats across from each other at the very end of the table. He turns his back toward me, talking to his friend, who sits on his far side, taking up the space of another table. Minutes later, I’m deep in a discussion about pilot season with one of the guests, who is a TV producer, when I overhear Dalton say he was working as an extra in a music video. He then, for whatever reason, banishes his friend to the other end of the table.
Dalton has no choice but to stop blocking me out now, and at this point, the vibes he’s putting out are just abrasive. Here we are, squished into a space meant for one, both facing The Writer. Who knew a table at a Mexican restaurant could provide such a blatant metaphor. But really, I find his passive aggressiveness silly. There is no longer anything special between The Writer and me. And even if that weren’t the case, Dalton is the one who shares his roof, his bed, and the majority of his company.
The bill comes, and The Writer says goodbye to these people, who I suspect I will never encounter again. Dalton shares that he’s going to a wrap party for the music video and that he will be home late.
As we walk back to the car, The Writer begins to speak without looking at me: “Has Dalton ever made a move on you?” I nearly burst out in laughter simply due to the preposterousness of the idea, but I bite my tongue. “Why do you want to know?” I ask, going fishing. “It’s just whenever he senses that I’m giving someone as much attention as him, he tries to get close to them, and they usually end up…you know.” Did he not just witness that display of contempt at dinner? “Whatever happens between Dalton and I is none of your business and will be staying between Dalton and I,” I answer, knowing it will drive him crazy. “So that’s a yes,” he declares. “I knew it.” Since it’s his birthday, I give him a break. “No, I’m just fucking with you. Dalton has never come on to me, and even if he did…well,” but that’s all I say.
When we arrive at the car, The Writer stops and looks around. “How you doing, old man?” “Do you want to go for a drive?” We used to go on drives every once in a while back when things were different. It clears his head. “Sure,” I say.
Driving up and down the boulevards, he plays the CD I gave him. As the crisp, cool air floods the car, so do old memories. It would all be too much for me if we didn’t have that wall there.
“Let’s write something,” he says out of nowhere. “Right now?” I ask. “No, but soon. I want to write something with you.” I don’t argue. “What do you want to write?” I ask. “A comedy,” he answers. “Do you have any ideas?” “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were like a couple of therapists, who were friends, and they have these fucked up relationships with their patients?” “Like what exactly?” “I don’t know. I always thought the idea of a therapist breaking up with a patient would be hysterical,” he says. “In New York, my therapist kind of broke up with me,” I confess. “How?” “He tried to convince me I was running out of sessions. And then when I realized that I wasn’t, he told me he was going on an extended vacation…which was realistically two weeks. Total Bullshit.” “Wow,” The Writer says with an amused smile. “You really are crazy.”
“Whatever. He was just in love with me, so he couldn’t handle being with me anymore,” I say. “Really?” “Definitely not, but that’s what I like to tell myself to feel better about it.” “So was he weirdly glad when you weren’t making progress?” He inquires jokingly. “Yeah, and he got really into the sessions whenever I talked about my daddy issues,” I add, tongue in cheek. “You have daddy issues?” He blurts out with frightened hesitation. I mean, I was kind of kidding. But given his response, I decide to run with it. “It’s a definite possibility,” I say mischievously. “Wait. So does that mean when you liked me, you thought of me as a…daddy? Because that really freaks me out.” I roll my eyes. “First of all, Señor Alzheimers, you liked me first. I’m not sure I ever had much choice in the matter.” I’m taken a little off guard. He hasn’t spoken about anything regarding the “we” that was in the past six months. “Whatever, I know, but still—” “And second of all, you only date boys like ten years younger than you. You are a daddy issues magnet.” “No, I’m not!” He protests, and I’m cracking up. “You so are. You are a walking, talking daddy issue!” I shout. “Shut up!” He yells. I stick my head out the window and scream: “The driver of this car is a daddy issue!”
We drive into the night, and the sound of our laughter echoes through Hollywood.