My phone’s alarm went off one late September morning, reminding me to call home. It was the 5-year anniversary of my mother’s car accident, and I knew my dad needed to hear from me, just as I needed to hear his voice. The call always starts the same once he picks up: “Eric. Buddy. Happy anniversary.” He says this because the day my mother died was also the day I moved to New York. I dropped most of my bags into my crappy Bushwick sublet, quit the production job I hadn’t even started (but for which I had moved), and for the next month was back in Kansas with my dear old man, spending every minute together with barely a word between us. “It still counts,” he says of my technical move that day. “You’ve got the rent check to prove it.”

Talia and Joanie came home for the funeral, and texted, called, or emailed every day thereafter making sure I was coming back to New York. Talia assured me she could get me another production job, but I said I would take anything to get on my feet. Joanie had a friend who worked at a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, and he gave me a decent bar back job five nights a week. I liked my coworkers, probably because I had no other gay friends to compare them against. They introduced me to numerous drugs—cocaine was my staple—, and I drank myself senseless every night. Per the schedule, I rarely saw Joanie and Talia, who frequently checked in to see how I was coping with my loss.

I batted away any job interviews that Talia arranged, certain I would get a bartending shift soon. I did, however, go on a date she coordinated with her casting director friend Yates, to whom she pitched me as “a great video journalist making ends meet until a decent production job comes around.” That description was three months expired, really. Nowadays, I wonder what Yates was thinking when we became boyfriends. I was broke. I was living in a windowless bedroom in some beatup Bushwick warehouse. I was always drunk or high or asleep at 2 in the afternoon—and showed zero signs of rebounding. His friends certainly despised me. “He’s Yates’s numb piece of ass,” I once overhead them say

My relationship with Yates lasted only three months. I think fate gave me a boyfriend just to make me endure being dumped: “I really thought you had potential, Eric. I still do. But I’ve earned every right to not hold your hand as you unravel this knot…this whole ‘figuring out your shit’ thing. I need to date someone who’s earned his way here, who’s got this out of his system. Also, please please please stop shaving your chest.” I called my dad that night and told him everything, from alcoholism to drug abuse to breakup. He suggested joining a support group, even searched online and found one exclusively for gay men. He sent me an email with a link to their site: “You might consider this place. I love you, but you’re embarrassing your mother to lie helplessly and wastefully in her wake.”

Dad’s expressed disappointment was my fulcrum moment. I traded the bar for a cafe in Cobble Hill and worked daytime hours. The support group met twice weekly, and suddenly I was friends with men of all ages, each of us sharing the same obstacle and desire to overcome it. One of the guys was Bart. He was beardless at the time, 50 pounds heavier and far less cynical than now. Bart had been drinking generously since his college fraternity days, and it only accelerated after he moved to New York. It’s weird to have met my best friend near rock bottom, but our foundation is quite strong, seeing as we embarked on the upward climb together.

Talia and Joanie’s lease was up in Greenpoint, and Talia got the blessing to find a place with me. She did all the groundwork and within a week we signed for the apartment in Prospect Heights. My dad lent me the broker’s fee, moving expenses, and deposit. I had enough for first and last month’s dues and paid him back within a year, thanks to the stabilized rent at the time. Talia came home one day to tell me about a talent manager who needed an assistant: “He’s an ass hole, but I think he’s desperate so your lack of experience may not matter. It could be the best place for you to begin.” I started with Sam two weeks later. Ever grateful, I hoped it was one of the last favors I would need from Talia.

From the very beginning, the job with Sam was torturous. I had to adopt my new name (Eddy) plus condition myself to the long hours, mediocre pay, and Sam’s flip-a-quarter personality. But Talia, knowing I was slowly adjusting, would call me each day at the office, pretending to schedule a casting appointment, and ask: “Are you better off today than you were yesterday?” The answer was yes, every single time. And now, four years later, I wish I could call up Yates—though he married a German banker, moved to Berlin, and fell off the grid—to tell him that I had earned my way here, that all of those increasingly better days had piled on top of one another and I turned out OK. Also, that my chest hair was pleasantly unruly. Oddly enough, I felt really proud of that.

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