how lovers change
I never dreamed how easily.
For now I'm just a shadow
Of the boy I used to be.
When I Write the Book
BOY I USED TO BE
that was the moment I knew something was . . . different.
He wasn't doing anything in particular,
wasn't even aware that I was looking at him. He was just standing
there, fresh from the shower, drying off with a towel. It wasn't
particularly erotic, but I couldn't take my eyes off him, the way
his arms flexed and bulged as he toweled off, the way tiny beads
of water dripped down the back of his neck. If you saw him walking
down the street, I doubt you'd call him "beautiful," but as he stood
there, unselfconsciously, I couldn't help but think exactly that:
He's beautiful. Weird moles, potbelly and hairy back. Strange marks
on his back and dents on his forehead only vaguely explained to
me as remnants of an abusive relationship. There he stood, rubbing
lotion into the sandpaper heels that scratch the hell out of me
and the one thing I wanted to say was, You're beautiful, baby. And
I couldn't. Does he ever look at me like that? Could I ever make
him happy the way he was making me happy just then?
Do you have moments when your
life seems like a bad TV-movie? You know, the ones where the hero
with the tragic flaw triumphs oh-so-predictably in the end? It was
one of the first conversations we'd ever had, and I needed to bring
the specter of my disability into the picture. Back then I was thinking
of Michael as nothing more than a diversion, but I knew the issue
would come up whether we had one date or fifty. My self-deprecation
had already kicked in, so I dropped the bomb on the conversation.
"And if I haven't scared you away already, I have a physical disability."
To which he responded "That's supposed
to scare me away?"
I shoulda known then that my poor
little heart was gonna be in trouble.
I told him about my CP, my lack
of balance, the fact that I was born two months premature. I made
sure he understood that, for better or worse, none of this would
ever change. What you see is what you get. He listened and nodded
his head. A few days later we were talking and he casually mentioned
a Cerebral Palsy factoid he'd picked up while researching CP on
the Internet. I pictured him thinking about what I had said earlier
and taking the time to find out more. I could barely repress the
happy grin that was dying to come out.
Over the past year, my mom has
taken up a crusade for me to date a "nice little Chinese girl."
Oh, did I mention that they don't know I'm queer? Well, fuck . .
One weekend when I was getting
ready to visit my parents, Michael called and asked me out for Friday.
Of course, his invitation postponed my journey home. When I finally
arrived, late Saturday afternoon, their big question was why hadn't
I come last night. "I had a date," I said bravely. My mom got a
twinkle in her eye. "Is she a nice little Chinese girl?" I pictured
Michael, with his goatee, his football-player physique, and the
sparkly rainbow feather boa he'd strutted so happily at the Pride
parade. "No," I said, and left it at that. The look in my eye must
have said something, because mom dropped it and changed the subject.
Does she know?
Part of me thinks she does, but
just doesn't want to. I mean, this is the same woman who, when I
told her so-and-so was gay, replied "You mean, like… gay
gay?" I still haven't figured out what gay gay is, and how that
might differ from the singular variety of gayness. My friend Bob
loves that story, but then again, I'm pretty sure he's gay
So, what am I gonna do with this
guy? He's adorable. He's smart. He's got good hair. He's a good
cuddler. As far as I can tell, he's honest as a Boy Scout (more
honest: at least he can admit he's gay). He's fun to talk to. Being
near him makes me feel peaceful. Yet we couldn't be more different.
From what he's told me, school
was a nightmare for him, whereas I'm the overeducated geekboy starting
on a Masters Degree with no immediate real-world application. I
always vowed I'd never date a smoker, but he burns through a pack
a day. I get the feeling that academics (including me, by association)
scare him sometimes. Owing to what sounds like some bad breakups,
he's wary of anything that resembles a relationship. Sometimes,
I want nothing more than to take him home with me and keep him there
forever. When I see him, I'm happy. When he leaves, I'm sad. I don't
know what I want from him right now, but it would be nice if I could
call him my boyfriend. Even if it was only once.
Yet sometimes I find myself pulling
away from him, and I can't quite figure out why. Have the sparks
of attraction fizzled? Does the fact that I know what brand of toilet
paper he buysand that, without his inhaler he snores like
a goddamned lumberjackmean that we've gotten too close? Have
we descended from heady passion to the mundane level of existence
where he's just a guy and not the beautiful angel I think he might
be? Or is it something more sinister? Am I falling in love with
him and so afraid of that prospect that I have to push him away?
For no good reason, I get suspicious and jealous and bitchy. When
his cell phone rings I concoct fantastic stories about who's on
the other end. If I find myself in the neighborhood of a bar I know
he goes to, I scan the street for his car (all the while reassuring
myself that I won't freak out if I see it parked outside).
He hasn't given me any reason
not to trust him, but I find myself getting suspicious anyway.
So far, my friends all seem to
like him. Last week four of us headed to San Francisco to see the
indie-pop band of the moment. Michael had no idea what they sounded
like, and judging by the Celine Dion in his CD collection, I wasn't
sure this was the kind of band he'd appreciate. Still, his ability
to roll with the punches is one of the things I like about him.
We drank, we laughed, and eschewing any semblance of rock-show cool,
we danced. As the band ripped into an old funk song, we shook our
moneymakers alongside the indie kids standing stoically in their
natty thrift-store sweaters. Yeah, we got our share of strange looks,
but fuck 'em. We were having a good time.
been a while since I started writing this; some things have changed.
For one, he is my boyfriend now, and even though we both stutter
over the word every now and then, it's true. Lately, we've even
begun to express what I'm pretty sure is love. He doesn't say it
as much as I'd like him to, but neither do I.
Some of my fears have faded a
bit. For one, I'm not so concerned about someone else swooping in
and snatching him away from me. I'm not saying it couldn't happen,
but things have come together for us, gelled a bit. I feel a lot
more secure, and I think that's been positive for us both.
This weekend, we went to Reno
to visit his family. Friday night we went out to the casinos and,
for the first time, it happened. I had been able to avoid it so
far. We'd talked about it, played out the scenarios, but it finally
happened. It's true what they say: there is
a first time for everything.
Walking down the street, la la
la. I had a couple of beers in me, along with the happiness that
comes with a weekend away. We're cruising along, and-BOOM-I
trip on a crack in the sidewalk and hit the ground. All I could
think of as I headed for the concrete was, Goddamn it! I made it
this long, why now? I scrambled
to my feet and looked around to see who else had witnessed my grand
act of physical gracelessness.
"Oh my God! Are you OK?" Michael
asked as he grabbed my arm. I gave a feeble sort of nod. Physically,
I was fine. Emotionally, I was looking for a small, dark hole, someplace
I could crawl into and die. He asked me again if I was OK. I told
him I was fine, praying that it would magically become the truth.
We walked a few more steps in that most terrible kind of silence
before he stopped and turned to me.
"I know you're embarrassed and
just want me to forget about it, but are you OK? Really? What about
"I'm fine," I said, holding out
my palms for him to see. They were stinging a bit, but other than
my bruised pride, I hadn't sustained any damage. We walked along
in awkward silence for a few minutes. I didn't know what to say.
Aside from my embarrassment, I was fine, but what was he thinking?
At that moment, I was afraid to
know what he was thinking.
I'm a very independent guy. I'm
intelligent, I'm funny, and thanks to the miracles of hair-products,
I daresay I am able to attract a decent share of admiring looks
when I put in the effort to do so. All in all, a pretty good package,
one I feel comfortable presenting to the world on most days. Then
my disability reaches out and smacks me, just to make sure I don't
forget what I really am, and all of that hard-won (and carefully
crafted) confidence goes flying out the window.
Who was I kidding? Michael is
handsome and strong and desirable. Then there's me, the helpless,
clumsy cripboy who can't even manage to walk down the street without
making a spectacle of himself. How could I ever hope to compete
against all the other bodies that are so much closer to perfect
than mine will ever be. Will I still be attractive to him after
he's had to pick me up off the ground for the umpteenth time? Will
he grow tired (or worse, ashamed) of my limp, my scuffed shoes,
my scraped knees. I know that he worries about my physical safety.
I can see it in his eyes as he scans ahead when we are walking together.
Right now, I think he does it out of genuine concern, but will my
disability end up a burden to him?
I tentatively reached out my hand
and grabbed his thumb. I gave it a squeeze and he squeezed back,
hard. The world seemed back on an even keel again.
As I sit here writing this, I'm
not really sure where I'm going. When I started this piece, I was
full of questions, about where we were going and how much I should
open myself up to him. There are some things I wish I could take
back, erase from the record of this budding relationship, like a
few dating fuckups on my part. But despite all that, things have
progressed. Some of my questions now have answers that seem to satisfy
couple months ago, I came out to my parents. It was the hardest
thing I've ever had to do, and for the first few weeks things were
not going well. The question "why" kept coming out of my mother's
mouth. Why was I telling them? Why
couldn't I just keep this information "up there," in the Bay Area
(where I think my mom figures everyone is gay)?
We didn't speak for a few weeks
and when we did all that came out of it were hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
Since then, however, things have improved. My mom even went down
to Barnes and Noble and bought the book Ellen's mom wrote after
she came out. I can't imagine the courage she must have needed to
walk into that store, find the queer books, and buy one. (My parents
live in a city where being anything other than a married heterosexual
with a sensible car is looked upon with grave suspicion.)
They haven't expressed any interest
in meeting Michael yet. I'm not sure when, and if, they ever will.
My mom, of course, immediately took up the position that this "gay
thing" must be a phase I'm going through. She was convinced I was
just "experimenting" with something new. My assertion that any "experimenting"
had happened a long time ago didn't make her feel better. It just
seemed to traumatize her more.
I'm pretty sure my parents assume
that the evil gay man that corrupted their son was forcing me to
come out. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I was waffling
about telling them, Michael tried to talk me out of it. He told
me I should wait until I was absolutely sure
I wanted to tell them. In the end, I wasn't totally ready, but I
did it anyway. As I explained to my parents, I got to a point where
I was no longer able to put up with myself. I felt like not telling
them was disrespectful to my relationship with Michael, and that
was unacceptable to me.
After we started talking again,
we had a family powwow. They said they were going to try to be OK
with "this situation." My dad talked about how they didn't necessarily
agree with "this lifestyle," but he couldn't tell me what he thought
"this lifestyle" entailed. I saw the pain in his eyes and it made
me feel bad. If he was going to be suffering like this, I felt like
I should at least be doing something heinous and deviant. I didn't
have the heart to tell him that the "lifestyle" he finds so difficult
to confront consists largely of renting movies, eating take-out,
doing laundry, running errandsall the same, mundane stuff
that makes up his life. Still, I
guess his reaction is understandable. My parents have no frame of
reference when it comes to gay people, other than the flaming queens
the talk shows love to trot out to simultaneously titillate and
horrify middle-America with their indulgent, scandalous lives. As
much as I'd like to report something equally exciting, the most
indulgent and scandalous thing Michael and I did this weekend was
split a desert after a huge meal with some friends.
Recently, we went dancing. He's
not exactly the dancing type (although I have to admit that the
Michael Shuffle is unbearably cute), but my birthday was just around
the corner, so I played my trump card. After a few drinks, my gimpy
ass was moving across the dance floor. I was having a good time,
not caring that my lack of coordination was now on vulgar public
display. All of a sudden, Michael grabbed me and dragged me off
the floor. He tried to cover up that guilty-little-boy gleam in
his eye by swooping in for a kiss. "What's going on?" I asked.
"Nothing, Baby," he said, pulling
me close. He was selling, but I sure as hell wasn't buying. Tilting
my head up, he started to come in for another kiss, but I held back
just enough to let him know the jig was up. "Do you really want
to know?" he asked reluctantly.
I nodded my head. I wasn't sure
exactly what was up, but I knew something was.
"You were dancing right next to
Before he knew what happened I
spun around and headed back toward the dance floor. I was dying
to get a chance to size the guy up. I turned my head back and shot
Michael a mischievous grin. The last thing I heard before the sounds
of the dance floor drowned out his voice was "Ray…COME
Getting into the groove, I sidled
up to the guy. OK…he's taller than me, but other than that, he seemed
pretty unremarkable. I feigned getting lost in the music, bumped
into him, muttered a quick apology, then found a spot where I could
watch him through the mirror behind the bar. He obviously knew who
I was, because I could see him pointing me out to the guy he was
When I made my way back to the
other end of the bar Michael looked at me tentatively. "Whatever…"
I said, grinning from ear to ear. He followed as I pushed through
the crowd back to the dance floor. Being the sore winner that I
am, I danced up a storm to make sure that Mr. Ex saw us together.
I even managed to look him dead in the eye once, before swooping
in for the most passionate kiss I could muster while dancing at
130 beats-per-minute and simultaneously not spilling my beer. My
relationship with Michael is not a contest, but at that moment I
relished victory nonetheless. I was proud to show the world my prize.
I poked Michael in the belly, beamed at him and threw my hands in
the air in a moment of exquisite happiness.
We're different people, from different
places. That used to worry me a lot. Do we have enough in common?
Can I hold his interest? Can he hold mine? Lately though, I've come
to realize something: We are different people…and that's one of
the things I enjoy about him. We learn from each other, and I think
it's safe to say that we're open to each other's experiences. It's
a pretty good bet that without Michael I wouldn't have gone flying
through the Nevada desert on a dirt bike. But I did. And I loved
every second of it. I probably wouldn't have had the courage to
wear big-ass rhinestoned sunglasses to see Elton John in concert,
belting out "Tiny Dancer" at the top of my lungs; I loved every
second of that, too.
I think I've also opened his eyes
a bit wider. The other night, we were snuggling and struggling with
the fact that, no matter how hard we try, someone's arm gets smooshed
in the middle. "My next boyfriend's gonna have only one arm," I
teased, "that way this won't be such a pain in the ass."
"Babe," said Michael, "considering
the circles you run with, that's definitely a possibility."
lives in Oakland, California.
He and Michael spent last weekend putting together a new gas barbecue