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It was very weird to crash at Simon’s house knowing he had a man in his bedroom, and I’m sure it was just as strange for Simon, too. When I had arrived, he let me in without a word, looking somewhat annoyed. The couch was made up with sheets. I only managed a “thank you” before he crept back into his room. Luckily I couldn’t hear anything from the other side of his door, even as I tiptoed past to the bathroom. In the morning, I heard his door open, followed by footsteps tiptoeing toward the exit. Once the man left, I peeked out the window, just for confirmation that I didn’t know who he was; I was relieved to not recognize him. “A nice man from Philly,” Simon remarked from behind me. “Walking back to his time share since, you know, most of us come out with proper planning.” I felt like a puppy being scolded. Some of Simon’s house mates—his friends I had met the previous year—were making noise in the kitchen. Said Simon: “Go tell them how you like your eggs. And the coffee’s on. We’ll go for a walk on the beach after breakfast.”

“I hate this place,” I told Simon as we walked down the beach together. “That’s a bold statement, considering this view,” he replied. I corrected myself: “What I mean is that it’s such a pressure cooker of ego and sex and testosterone, since it’s only gay men here. It makes me glad that straight people exist. Also, gay men are really terrible to each other. We project our insecurities onto one another and perpetuate every shallow part of our culture.” Simon remained quiet, so I continued: “Being gay is such a gift. We get to reclaim our identity and defy stupid, senseless traditions, but then we act like teenagers for our entire lives. You’re one of the few who actually acts his age. How have you tolerated this for so long?” “I just have low expectations,” Simon explained. “I operate under the assumption that everything will disappoint me, which means I’m often surprised when something—or someone—has a pulse and a perspective.” We walked a few paces as the tide flirted with our feet. “You know I’m talking about you, right?” he said. “Yeah, I got that,” I replied, unsure of what to add.

After a few minutes of silence, I continued my train of thought: “I’m just worried that I’ll become like these guys,” I said. “They just fuck, rinse, repeat. I’m vapid enough now, but I feel like my excuses are more than used up. I feel like I’ll suddenly be 50 and nothing will have changed about my life in 20 years.” Another pause. “Everything feels like it’s changing quickly right now, though, and it has felt like this for the past few years. But I know that’s going to feel less and less so over the next few. Suddenly I’ll be able to afford more things, and not just my studio apartment rent. My friends won’t move as much. Everything will settle into permanence. I’m afraid of what that permanence will be. And Simon, I want it to look like your life. Or maybe even a little more Kansan than I originally thought. You know—a couple kids, get married.” “That’s entirely in your control,” Simon said. “I don’t think you realize how just an ounce of self-awareness about this stuff will save you. But, I’d like to add that if you were to ‘end up’ like these guys—whatever generalization you’re making—it will be because it makes the most sense each step of the way. And I bet you’ll still be happy.”

I disagreed with Simon. “If I ‘end up’ like these guys, it means I’ve entirely lost sight of who my parents raised me to be,” I said. “It means I’m selfish beyond saving, it means I’m still thinking with my dick, it means the many versions of me between 30 and 50 DO change in that I would gradually grow more and more callous to this shallow lifestyle. I want to know which of those versions along the way is ideal, or if he’s already come and gone.” I tapped a nerve: “Enough already with this idea that there are so many versions of you,” Simon said sternly. “Stop pretending like you’re a different person every day. This whole Eric and Eddy thing—it’s bullshit. You’re Eric who grew up in Kansas. Your mother’s death, your drinking problem, your shitty job with Sam that gave you the great existence you have now…those experiences all belong to one person. Your perspective is because of the millions of things you as an individual have encountered. Not the millions of versions of you who encounter one thing apiece. You need to reverse your thinking here. As a 30-year-old man, you should know by now how aging works, how perspectives change. You can do it without the dissociation. Trust me.”

“You want to know something?” Simon continued. “I…I think you are absolutely perfect. I wish I could have been like you at your age. Instead I was doing a bunch of coke and had a dead-end relationship that I drew out for seven years. You’re well ahead of where I was. So if you want to be like me at my age, that’s great. I don’t think it’s half as amazing as you project it to be, and let’s not overlook the free pass you’re giving me. I proposed threesomes with you, and you were keen on the idea; doesn’t that contradict everything you just said? Listen, I’ve got nearly twice as many experiences and days as you, so I think I’m qualified to tell you that you’re as good as it gets, kid. You were brought up by good parents who have always supported you, even when you strayed far from the path. And you recovered tenfold from that low point. You have a great job; you’re your own boss. Your friends are sensational and they love you dearly. You’re so sexy and smart and rational and—ugh, it just kills me to hear you think otherwise. You can have all the happiness in the world at the very moment you decide. At the very moment you stop and realize how good your life is, and how much of that you owe to yourself and your decisions and the people you love. You already have it all.”

“YOU think I’M perfect?” I asked Simon. He nodded: “You’re worried about how you’ll turn out when you’re my age, yet I hardly know enough men my age who can engage me the same way you can,” he told me. “You’re intentional. You’re self-aware. Maybe to a fault, but that’s far superior to the alternative. You’re doing just fine, kiddo; I wish you’d give yourself a break from the overanalyzing, though. Just let life happen. Be open to changing and evolving. That’s all part of growing up, even in our gay utopian Neverland bubble. I have missed you so sorely since we stopped seeing each other. I needed you in my life, as a reminder that I was setting the bar high for the right reasons. You cleared it, kid. You soared right over it, and I’ve got 50 years of perspective that you’re competing with.” We stopped walking—we must have been going for an hour without turning around—and he kissed me. “Simon,” I said. “I don’t know if we should be together. We’ve tried for so long.” He smiled: “I don’t want to be with you, Eric. I think I deserve someone who’s already there, don’t you? You’ll be better off with someone who also needs to grow into himself.”

We lightened the mood on our walk home, gossiping about Simon’s housemates and laughing at my assumption that he wanted me back. He also spared me the train ride to New York, driving me all the way to Prospect Heights, where we grabbed dinner and concluded the weekend. Bart texted me before bed, wanting an update on the rest of my Fire Island sojourn. “I had a really lovely time,” I told him. “No sex. Just good company.” “That guy Rob seemed kind of…below your bar,” he said. “Kind of basic, I guess?” “You should have said so yesterday,” I texted. “Tell me when I’m not living up to my standards, you know?” “Sure,” he replied. “But I was mostly just happy to see you getting back on your feet. You’re an adult and can make those decisions. I just hope you’re feeling better. Really really.” I was. I really really was.

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