SEASON 4, EPISODE 52

Sometime in the last year, life felt perfect. I think it was right before Christmas; I had just started gathering my own clients, Joanie’s career was taking off, Sam hadn’t jumped in front of that train yet, I was in good shape, and had a healthy, steady sex life. And, of course, Peter was still here. It’s silly to assume that life will ever stay static—in good times and bad—when the variables are so fleeting. I don’t know what I will do, though, if I ever have to leave this dynamic place. Even when the bad days stack faster than the good ones, I like that each New York year has such propensity for change, for elation and for heartbreak and for reflection and for gratitude. Maybe my worldview is narrow, but I’m not sure many places could give me that same unpredictability, that thrill. I have come to realize that I can never feel too bad for myself knowing that everything is, to some degree, temporary. Life didn’t seem very perfect of late, but the variables were there to make it so.

Tyler was out in LA shooting a Calvin Klein campaign, and with a pretty paycheck on the way, he now had Bart’s blessing for posing in his underwear. Tyler’s absence meant that I should have seen more of Bart over the course of the week, but his social calendar had been filling up quickly of late. He had some new buddies from CrossFit and was spending a couple evenings with them, then I saw on Instagram one night he was hanging with Tyler’s “Peril” co-star, the supermodel Katerina Kalashnik. He was always vaguely inclusive when I would reach out, but I didn’t want to impose on his budding friendships, and certainly understood that this was all his new reality. I did at least get him once a week for AA meetings, and our chemistry was just like it always had been. I wasn’t losing a friend by any means; life was simply altering our routes.

I saw a somewhat familiar face at our next AA meeting. I nudged Bart and pointed across the room. “Isn’t that Charlie?” I whispered. “No, no way. He looks too good,” Bart replied, squinting. “But is it?” We had met Charlie briefly, earlier in the year. He was young and volatile and had failed numerous times to clean up his act. After this meeting, Charlie came right up to us, albeit nervously. “Bart and… Alan, right?” “Eric,” I corrected him. “It’s good to see you again, Charlie. You look great…healthy.” He nodded. “I was in Hazelden. The 30-day program,” he said. Hazelden, MN had a rehab center that many gay men attend, and a handful of our friends had started their recovery there. “Welcome back,” Bart said. “We were worried about you.” Charlie squinted his face and looked away sheepishly. “Yeah, I was too. I guess I still am.” I saw another familiar face in that moment: 25-year-old Eric. “Well, you’ve come this far already,” I pointed out. “Taking control of yourself and everything…you’re already succeeding.” Bart and I treated him to dinner, eager to learn more about our new pal. I couldn’t wait to witness his blossoming, his growth, his surging confidence.

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Peter’s Instagram told everyone that things were really taking off in San Francisco. He was going on pub crawls with some of the Googlers, dancing in the Castro, running in Crissy Field and shopping at the farmer’s market, and on our occasional phone calls he would gush about it all. I was a little jealous. By no means was my life bad here—I was eating healthier, squeezing in some Prospect Park runs, prospering at work, going on the occasional date—I just kept quieter about it all of late, because nothing felt particularly noteworthy or showy, and admittedly I was lonely, especially since I was seeing Bart less. I couldn’t help but wonder which hours of my day would have been spent with darling Peter, were he still here. Finally, after seeing a photo of him and his pals at a Giants game, I had to stop and scold myself: I’m the one who craves control, who crafted this give-me-the-reins outlook from living in New York. So, I texted a couple guys I knew peripherally to make weekend plans. I couldn’t replace Peter, but I was certainly responsible for filling that void.

Talia and Dad both attended Saturant’s performance in Kansas City, on her tour supporting Lorde. Said Dad of Joanie: “She seemed so angry up there. So emotional. But good, yeah. Very artsy and well rehearsed.” He even ran into her parents at the show, and he said that they were having a blast. That was so unlike them—to let loose, and heck, to even show much rousing support of Joanie—but Dad swore he saw them twirling around, a few drinks deep, enjoying their daughter’s show. Talia was equally ecstatic, and was in shock since she got to go back stage and meet Lorde, who complimented her earrings and lip stain. “And Joanie is a legitimate rock star,” Talia beamed. “She said they’re about to announce a solo tour across Europe and South America.” This was news to me, but really no surprise.

I woke early that Saturday for a run, but my leg was sore and I didn’t want to risk injuring it. Instead, I walked to the flower shop to get some lilies. “We’re fresh out,” the vendor said. “Someone just snagged the only bunch. Sorry.” It clearly wasn’t a morning for little victories, but I was nevertheless perfectly content as I meandered back. I took a small detour to appreciate the earth tones of each row house, and the bright green trees that lined every street. Prospect Heights could still slow everything down, calm every concern, and give me a profound sense of accomplishment. This was my home. This was where I grew confident. I returned to my apartment, put on a Billy Joel vinyl—Dad’s favorite—and brewed some coffee. Then the doorbell rang. I walked barefoot to the intercom: “I’m not interested in your religious fantasies,” I yelled into the speaker. Then, another ring. “What? Who is it?!” I said angrily. A familiar voice responded: “Eric, it’s me. It’s Joanie.” I pulled my finger off the speaker button, completely paralyzed, and anything but calm.

 

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I opened the door to see that very familiar face. “I didn’t think you went by the name ‘Joanie’ anymore,” I said on first glance. “I’ll always be Joanie,” she replied, looking very nervous. “Just like you’ll always be Eric.” “Shouldn’t you be on tour?” I asked. “We have a long weekend off,” Joanie said as she handed me a bouquet of lilies. “Here are some dead plants to express how sorry I am for, you know, being a bad friend. Can I come in?” In a few short seconds, I thought of all the reasons I should slam the door in her face, and how much satisfaction it would give me to shut down her apology, considering the huge knife in my back and the big paychecks she was receiving. How easy for her to come by now, now that she was a household name, a global headliner. “Please, Eric?” she begged, understanding the conflict. Another pause. Then: “Okay…okay,” I said, keeping eyes locked, nodding in fear and forgiveness and humiliation and gratitude. Because, well, you can’t always be an asshole if you want to survive—here, or anywhere. Only recently have I understood that, and I’ll forever have my 30-year-old self to thank for the little bit of wisdom.

—-THE END—-

(But don’t go anywhere! More to come.)

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