January 2006


A week has already passed and I feel as though I haven’t really recovered yet. I went to a party at a club in midtown last weekend that served drinks off an open bar. I’m sure I drank more vodka-cranberry cocktails than I could handle. But the drink-induced hangover had already been flushed out of my system the day after. I am alluding to still getting hung over what happened — or who I met.

I was talking to Andrew, a Jewish friend whom I had a brief flirtation with a long time ago, doing catch-up and some calculation as far as rekindling that flicker from way back when was a possibility that night. But he had his eye on this Latino boy in the corner and his attention became instantly divided and was already waning. I unbuttoned his shirt even further to reveal a sexy patch of chest hair and pushed him to talk to the guy. I continued to nurse the cocktail in my hand and scoped the scene for available cock.

Then, I saw Paul. Paul was another guy I had a brief flirtation with a long time ago. Or is that still continuing? Paul is my age, grew up in NJ (from a lineage that goes all the way back to England), went to Georgetown for his undergrad and now does public press relations. It was interesting how we had more in kin than our ages. We broke up with our then-long-term bfs at the same time last year. We both pursued grad school — he being more successful since he is on his way to finishing his MA in Communications at NYU. (I never finished my creative writing degree in the same school.) We are both out at work in atmospheres that are still very tense in a macho kind of way — defying the limits as defined by the pink ceiling. We work long hours and have very busy schedules. We went out on dates that had months lie in between one and the next. I guess it was reassuring that there seemed to be constancy behind the infrequency.

Paul and I started talking. I felt the heat in the exchange. He went to the party with Lana, his lesbian friend, who was also there with her friend, Tim.

Tim is a few years younger than Paul and I. He is Japanese-American, grew up in Long Island, went to Stanford for his undergrad and is now at NYU pursuing medicine. He has the cutest accent that is a mix of NY curtness and Cali twang. He also looked too straight, cool and unassuming in his loose jeans and grey sweatshirt which was a stark contrast to the crotch-huggers and nipple-showers in loud colors all around the club. Apparently, Tim is still in the closet. Oh my ! A gay bar virgin!

It must have been all that alcohol. Or the loud music. Or the sheer energy of hot sex that was made even more palpable by a gay club on a Saturday night. Whatever it was, I found myself on the dance floor with Paul and Tim. All three of us started dancing the night away with each and every other. I was dancing with Paul. Paul was dancing with Tim. Tim was dancing with me. We personified the luv train.

Tim, the grad student, was boozed up with whiskey. I was buzzed with vodka. Paul was holding all that beer up well at 3 AM. The inevitable question was — what then, or better yet, where then? Time was already a moot issue. The air was ripe with the smell of sex. When the answer to when is decidedly an hour or an hour and a half away, the issue of space springs up. Tim lived with his straight roomie all the way uptown. I lived in a studio in Brooklyn Heights. Paul had the biggest space in Queens so all three of us hopped on a cab and sped off to Astoria.

No, it did not end up to be a porn flick. (Unfortunately) Tim was too wasted so Paul graciously set him up on the couch to sleep. I shacked up with Paul in his bedroom. We woke up the following morning to jerking each other off and to Tim walking towards the bathroom.

The sun was out. It was a Sunday morning and all three of us found ourselves in the awkward position of balancing the breakdown of too much alcohol in our livers and the recollection in our heads of the sticky situation we found ourselves in. We were literally decked out like an irregular triangle in Paul’s room: Paul was on his bed in the center, Tim was on the couch on one end and I was on the lounge chair on the other corner. The cloud of sexual tension coupled with the haze of intoxicated stupor was already absent. We were all hung over but we were all thinking clearly. The first thought was not of sex — it was food. We decided on greasy brunch plates from a Greek diner before heading home that morning.

I saw Paul and Tim again yesterday as we drank coffee and chocolate from City Bakery while soaking up on the unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday at Union Square. Winter’s bite was dulled by spring’s sneaking. Even the Green Market on the Square was infused with a sprite spring air. It was nice to see them both again (although Tim came over Tuesday and sepnt the night at my apartment unknown to Paul) in such an atmosphere that had the air of refreshing beginnings. I don’t know where these dynamics fork into. But what I know is that I relish the possibilities they open. That realization hit me as Tim sat on the railing while biting into a cookie and Paul drank his mocha as he lay standing across from me in the midst of tourists passing and residents walking their dogs and couples running together in Union Square. I smiled and cherished that disticntly NY moment.

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Never Shall I Forget
Elie Wiesel

Never shall I forget that night,
the first night in the camp
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the litttle faces of the children
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames
which consumed my faith for ever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence
which deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments
which murdered my God and my soul
and turned my dreams to dust.

Never shall I forget these things,
even if I am condemned to live
as long as God himself.

Never.

[from the Holocaust Museum, DC]

I went to the Holocaust Museum and was awash in a sea of overwhelming emotion for a full 4 hours. I told Kevin that the last time I was affected so personally by an exhibition was when I went to the JFK Museum in Dallas. But even that pales so much in comparison. (That feels like comparing the view from the Water Tower in Washington Heights to one atop the crags of the Grand Canyon.)

I know of the Holocaust. I have even read Elie Wiesel. But nothing could have ever prepared me for the horror as told by the museum. From Germany to Bulgaria to Austria to France to Poland, thousands upon thousands of Jews died in the most horrific manners. Men, women and children all suffered the same fate under the inhuman hand and darkest heart of the Nazis. Hangings. Firings. Burnings. Mutilating experiments. Lethal injections. Gas chambers. Death marches. All these went on simultaneously and endlessly against people picked solely by the arch of their nose, the color of their skin and the blood through their veins. Voices of Auschwitz survivors recounting their stories filled one room. (How much sorrow can one room hold?) The uniforms of internment camps were hung on poles. (How much anguish can a piece of clothing carry?) The shoes of the dead were piled one on top of the other in a muted yet most powerful display. The hairs sheared off the Jews before they were tricked into the gas chambers (believing that they were being led into a delousing shower) formed a sad, still ocean of gold and brown and grey wavy locks. Pictures of men and women and portraits of families that were the only remnants of a Russian ghetto after a series of pogroms and the execution of the “final solution” on the community rise up into a towering wall of testament to the tyranny of absolute evil. Video footage and still photos that documented the indescribable inhumanity of the Nazi empire rumbled on and on in most frightening displays. It ended in 1945 but it was already too late. The irreparable damage had already been done. Hellfire that was Hitler’s army had already razed so much of the earth on Western and Eastern Europe for almost 10 years. Whole communities had died and whole centuries of culture had already been wiped off the face of the earth.

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness,” said Elie Wiesel. This was the inscription at the end of the museum exhibition which led into the Hall of Remembrance. This space was shaped like the Star of David. The hall jutted into a towering dome whose top was swathed with sublime panes of glass. They filtered the warm rays of the sun into the solemn space lit by a hundred candles which lined its corners where on black walls were written the many internment camps and gas chambers where the Jews were murdered. Dachau. Treblinka. Bergen Blesen. Auschwitz. The candles continued to flicker as if defiantly, raging against erasing the memory of this most horrifying chapter in the annals of human history. Even higher up on the walls were inscriptions from the Torah that echoed the cries of humanity to the Father which until now commuted to sheer soundless screams that shook the very stone foundations of the Hall. At its center was one bright flame which illuminated the hope in all as described in the Book of Deuteronomy. To remember is not only to honor the memory but is also to fulfill an oblitgation to one’s conscience. Man was once a monster (absolutetly as perpetrator and also as bystander) and never again should he be allowed to be one. Only if we continue to remember will we learn to not be condemned to the same evil.

I have never cried so much for so many people in a single hallowed space. I feel as if I can never cry enough. I can only try to remember and remain witness. I can never do enough and yet I am compelled to do what I should.

I came here to DC to tell a story. I am leaving this city with this mission that has been substantively fulfilled but, also, with it abruptly and most unexpectedly taking on a radically different form in the most shocking yet welcome manner.

Kevin is a friend back in college. In those years long gone when school was hard and life was easy, Kevin and I shared a bond borne of the same passion for self-fulfillment and social justice. We adhered to religious tradition and succumbed to social convention. We drifted apart when I moved to NYC. I have since found so much of myself being in that place and he has since followed me when he pursued postgraduate studies in international relations in Columbia. We barely hung out since we both belonged to different scenes. I was a gay professional and he was a straight graduate student. Yet despite the infrequency of meetings and even the rarity of emails, we managed to maintain a consistent and faithful friendship. He moved to DC to pursue a year-long research stint at the World Bank which was ending in March. I was excited to visit him this weekend after not having seen him in 2 years. I was delighted to finally have the courage to come out to him.

Kevin didn’t know I was gay. Then again, I realy didn’t know it either until I moved here so many years ago. I have since found a deep-seated comfort in this profound acknowledgment and am quietly consumed by the desire to share this empowering news to all my friends. Now, I wanted Kevin to know.

He picked me up at Union Station (after I mistakenly got off at the Baltimore Washington station and barely made it back to the car when I realized my folly) and took me straight to his apartment in Addams-Morgan. His studio struck me as a designing mind’s beginner’s bachelor’s pad. There was a bed laid out like a tatami mat in the center of the room. Twin bookshelves that held portraits of his friends, his favorite books and his own artwork flanked either side. There was a flaming Indian mat that hung above his bed and a flowing African runner that flowed from his table. A glazed porcelain bowl with a single apple adorned it. His space was cute and cozy; it was inspired and intimate.

I felt the air thicken enough with tension that one could cut it with a knife and get it to bleed. I was anxious to tell him. Apparently, he was anxious to tell me something too. I let him break it and I was floored by his story. He told me that he was heartbroken. He fell in love with someone in NY but they have since broken up. His name was Greg.

Suddenly, my story became the tingle of a pindrop compared to his blast of thunder. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was looking at the same person from so many years ago and yet, I felt like I saw someone I didn’t know anymore. In a situation wherein the expectation is intimacy owed to reminiscence, an unexpected plunge into the blankness of memory is terrifying. I began to dig deep for signs that could have prepared me for this revelation and I came out empty. I felt like falling from this pit of not-knowing-then-suddenly-too-much-too-quickly. Yes, it was most shocking news but as I calmed down and composed myself, I also found it wonderful.

He was talking about falling in love so deeply and so completely for the first time. Kevin and Greg were roommates in NY. My friend was working at the UN then while his friend was pursuing his own postgraduate degree. Their simply hanging out became intimate conversations that blossomed into them sleeping together. Kevin had always had heterosexual relationships before. I find him to belong to that rare breed of sensitive (straight) men who hold out for the romantic and the most real. His grounded but suddenly extraordinary affair with Greg was utterly groundbreaking. It was also earth shattering when it ended. Kevin broke up with Greg after professing uncertainty in the midst of their long-distance relationship (since he was in DC while Greg remained in NY.) That was 2 seasons ago. Now, he has become confident in who he is and what he wants only to realize that it is too late. Greg is already in another relationship and Kevin is left to face this reality alone.

Break-ups are always hard to read and even more exhausting to talk about. It becomes doubly exasperating when one has to deal with it because his close friend is going through it. How does one help? What can one say? Suddenly, I felt like all the plans for this weekend were enobled with new purpose. I was hoping that our hanging out would provide a nice diversion from his pain. We went shopping in Georgetown. We saw the Arena Stage’s production of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ Damn Yankees. We saw the Studio Theater’s staging of the Neil LaBute play, Fat Pig. We went to see the Holocaust Museum. We had delightful meals at Pizzeria Paradiso in DuPont Circle and Tenpeh and Jaleo downtown. I soon realized that cluttering one’s schedule with too many things really doesn’t do much as a salve for the heart’s wounds. It really isn’t the quantity but the quality that pervades each or any acitivity that really matters. It is not how many things one does that will make him forget but it is how one works in each distinct situation to face the pain, hold on to it and find meaning in it which will empower him to move on.

It must have been the Catalan wine or the pitcher of potent sangria or, simply, the sheer energy of Spanish food done really well. But whatever it was, there was something charged in the air that night that spiced up the conversation at Jaleo. Kevin, who had been terse throughout that day, suddenly opened up about his story. He was basically bearing the burden of blame for the relationship. I could only but respond to his outpouring of emotion. I couldn’t tell him what to do but I could tell him my story and, hopefully, provide him a sounding board for what he’s going through. I told him about my first boyfriend in and my first break-up with Eric. I told him about my last relationship with Carter. I shared to him those many cycles of defiance, regret, desperation and quiet denouement in my post-break-up phase. There were so many different tangents I went off on but the common line that bound them all was time. It took time to get over someone. It will take a lot of time to get over that one who broke your heart for the first time in that defining first relationship. It took me a year to ger over Eric, my first boyfriend, especially since we had a disastrous fling the second time around the following summer (but that is a totally different story now altogether.) It took me 6 months to get over Carter. It takes time to move on from someone you built such a profound connection with in this day and age of such rampant disconnect. But, in those times of regret or overwhelming loss, I always look back to what broke us apart in the fist place and beat meaning out of it. People break up for a reason and there will always be reassuring wisdom in it in hindsight. Ultimately, people move on from those they fell in love with. One lets another go because if he was really loved, then he well be let go to find the joy where he sees fit. Isn’t that what love is anyway? We desire the utmost joy for our beloved, whether he be current or former.

I said goodbye to Kevin a few hours ago. He was still forlorn. He still didn’t have much of an appetite. He still talked about bouts of crying. I kissed him on the cheeks and wished him well. I looked at him and I saw a glimpse of myself for a moment. Stubborn in his passions and seemingly reckless in his abandon but ultimately unyielding in his hope. I hope he fares well and I know he will. His story will continue onto a new chapter as will mine. Time will bind the books that our spirits will pen. Our every ending is a new beginning from which each other will share and grow from. We are kin and we are never left to either take pleasure or to suffer alone. To live and to love is too wonderful to bear by oneself.

ARRIVING AGAIN AND AGAIN WITHOUT NOTICING
Linda Gregg

I remember all the different kinds of years.
Angry, or brokenhearted, or afraid.
I remember feeling like that
walking up the mountain along the dirt path
to my broken house on the island.
And long years of waiting in Massachusetts.
The winter walking and hot summer walking.
I finally fell in love with all of it;
dirt, night, rock and far views.
It’s strange that my heart is as full
now as my desire was then.

[on page 32 of The New Yorker while aboard an Amtrak train]

There is the soft humming of string music through the speakers. There is a boy whining to his mother a few feet away about some stickers in a book. A middle aged man reads his morning paper while lying in wait for his evening commute. A college boy in stoic pose buries himself in his book as his varsity bag laden with baseball stuff and a bat lays in a pile at his feet. A clear female voice authoritatively announces the final call for trains leaving for the DC corridor. Some commuters scuttle out as others arrive to take their spaces in this disjointed assemblyline of slumped shoulders moving slowly.

It is a Friday night and there is a week-long weariness attached to the faces and bodies of these people waiting for their trains. Everyone yearns to already be some place else and yet are doomed to suffer that inevitable in every destination, travel. This basic frustration coupled with every other one — this is NY, after all, the capital of neurotic anxiety — around the difficulties of daily routine set in an ultraurban competitive environment adds up to a scene of such sheer human pathos. There seems to be a collective sigh after every anxious thought. There is a sad unity in the passionless consumption of periodicals and a hollow harmony in the many yawns. Everyone is armed with impatience and yet have aleady hopelessly lost to the quiet power of time’s passage.

This is why I like traveling. It reaffirms for me one of life’s many paradoxes. Knowing what one wants is inextricably linked to not always getting it at the time he or she wants it. Everything is in process in as much as everyone who seeks that thing is integral in its unfolding.

I am waiting for my train to board then leave for DC where I will be spending this long weekend.

the hands on my watch

move too fast

faster, at least

than how you are

slip

     ping,

sli        di             ng,

away

from me

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