It’s like I fell into my own trap, and it confused me to think of the series of events leading up to this: Because I was sleeping with Omar, I had pulled strings to help him sign Joanie to Republic. It benefited all three of us, but it in turn lost Dixon his job at Glassnote, since he had failed to sign the lowest hanging fruit (his own girlfriend). Then, per his guilty conscience, Omar helped Dixon find a new job—he landed one in talent management—and Dixon then took Joanie off my roster. I kept stepping it through my mind, trying to gauge where I could have intervened. I still didn’t feel bad about getting Joanie in at Republic because it was best for her career. But now Joanie was gone. There was no warning, no “I’m thinking of leaving you since you don’t know as much about music but thanks for getting my career started and supporting me for my entire life, especially these last few years where I was desperate and depressed and didn’t even trust myself.” Nothing.
And nothing from Omar, either. I figured I would let him reach out, since any effort on my end would seem like a cry for explanation, for apology, for solace. I was too proud to do that, and too hurt to salt any wounds. But all I wanted was an explanation, an apology, some solace. I tried imagining what he must be thinking of me right now: “Poor Eric. He never meant for this to happen. Nor did I. I should see how he’s taking it, especially since I came out ahead, and since we’ve been sleeping together for a couple months now. That seems like the right thing to do.” But who was I to expect this from Omar, to assume that any of us was keen on doing the right thing? It felt like a really cowardly way to let things end, with me sinking slowly—and then totally—out of his view.
Of course, I wasn’t going to be hurting for work. I had plenty of actor clients who were doing fine, but this was my first taste of having someone leave my care, and I found myself wondering which of my clients saw me as a stepping stone as opposed to indispensable. “Eric, your work will be defined by the careers you launch,” Simon reminded me over dinner. “More than it will be by the careers you merely sustain. Joanie is the first of many breakups, many heartaches.” Simon asked me to stay over—per the usual plan—but I had no energy, much less any libido. I kissed him goodnight, and I suddenly knew in that moment that this was also our goodbye as lovers. I think he felt it, too. Our bowed heads stayed pressed together for a few seconds as I thought to myself that I would rather be alone than be with him casually, or anyone. We didn’t say anything as I left. Addressing it would only be another hurt.
“What should I tell people who contact us about Saturant?” William inquired. We were getting emails and calls regarding Joanie still, even though Red Light had issued an announcement about her management shift. “They’ll figure it out,” I told William. “I don’t want to say anything. That was always our practice at Sam’s office. If a client leaves the manager, you just say we no longer represent that artist.” “But, like, why can’t I just tell them that she’s with Red Light now?” “No. They took her. They’ve got to deal with the transition, not us.” “Seems like it would be easy to tell them that she’s with Red Light,” he argued. “William,” I said sternly, commanding his attention, if not stirring a bit of fear. “You are to say nothing. We will not be discussing it anymore, thank you.” I knew that, to him, this rule seemed absurd, if not unprofessional. But to me, everything was still too personal, and I needed time to forgive Joanie.
I read in Variety one Thursday morning that JK Simmons had vacated a much-buzzed-about comedy pilot on Netflix. The casting director was looking to replace him immediately, so I phoned her after confirming James Thurston’s interest. I spent ten minutes arguing James’ case, and an hour later she called me to offer him the part—no audition needed. I spun around in my swivel chair, twinkling my toes inside my sneakers. Then I called James to tell him the good news. He was elated, nearly in tears: “First of all, Eric, I’ll hold my tongue regarding my needing no audition. More importantly, I don’t know what to say to express my gratitude. You promised to find me something, but this is far more than I expected.” “Don’t say anything, James. Except maybe just remind me that I’m good at my job.” I was half serious in my request. “You’re bloody great at your job, Mr. Condor, and that even goes without saying.”
Talia called me to see how I was handling things. It really did feel like a breakup, like I had been dumped by Joanie and all of our mutual friends had to deal with the fact that we weren’t talking. Peter and Bart were obviously in my corner, but Talia was lifelong friends with both of us. She had reached out to Joanie after hearing what had happened, only she wouldn’t tell me what Joanie said. “Eric, I’m not your go-between here. You’re both taking it hard, OK? She feels pretty shitty too, but that’s for you to discuss with her when the time feels right. What I care about is that you’re feeling better today than you did yesterday.” “Well, yesterday my most famous acting client landed a big pilot, so it’ll be hard for today to top that,” I stated coyly. Talia said nothing on her end, unamused by my humor. “Yes, I feel a little better every day. But only a little. And thank you.” “Good. And you’re welcome.”
I have forever wanted to fill a room with past versions of myself. Sit us all around a dinner table, and let each one spew his perspective on the world, whatever his banner outlook is at that stage in life. Each year, the current self would host, soaking up all that he has learned, all the ways that he has changed. It would provide this overhead view of things—very “Boyhood” actually—and I think I would feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward each of them for getting me here, for being dynamic enough to experience so many ups and downs. Probably best to seat the youngest versions at their own kids’ table, and let the 14-through-30 crowd enjoy the adult company. At this table, there are a lot of bad haircuts and pimples, but plenty of proof that this Eric guy will grow into his own. After each one highlights his year and summarizes his outlook, the host—and oldest—says “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.” Then all together, very cult-like: “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Fourteen-year-old Eric is naively confident and unshaken. His worldview is landlocked, and he’s still in the closet (though, despite his efforts to find a girlfriend, is starting to get called “faggot” at soccer practice by some dipshit, most-likely-to-get-a-girl-pregnant-before-graduating teammates). He is sure that he will land in Chicago—as an athletic trainer for the Chicago Bulls, of course—but that ultimately he might move back to Kansas so his kids can be near their grandparents. But he’s got a good 10 years before that point, so for now he’s focusing on getting into a solid athletic training program for college, even though he’s just 14. “I like to plan ahead, since you can make anything happen if you plan it out,” he explains. There are a few eye rolls from the others. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Seventeen-year-old Eric is proud to be gay and his parents don’t make him go to church anymore. He painted to them a really good argument about how he isn’t even wanted there as a gay person; so why should he have to go sit with a bunch of people who judge him when he is only being himself? Plus there are probably 50 closeted gay people in the congregation anyway. Also, Kimmy Ellingson’s parents are swingers and everyone knows it so why are they at church celebrating the sanctity of marriage and family and everything? “Everyone is hypocritical,” he says. “Nobody lets you see who they really are, and everyone seems ashamed of who they actually are.” The highlight of the year is that he got a blow job from another soccer player in the bathroom stall after practice one night, but the guy dates a hot cheerleader so it was just a one-time thing, and now that guy ignores Eric, but it was still pretty cool and Joanie and Talia were jealous because they always had a crush on that guy. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Twenty-four-year-old Eric is the most optimistic of the bunch, and not blindly so. He’s two years removed from college, and he’s finally going to get out of Kansas. His entire life has been spent within an hour from home, and having broke the news to Mom and Dad, he’s packing up for New York City. He just put in his notice to the small commercial production company where he’s been working, and couldn’t be more excited for a new life with Talia and Joanie in Brooklyn. “I’m very scared,” he tells the table. “But I think I will regret not doing this, not challenging myself and not experiencing more than just…Kansas.” I wish I could tell this eager young man to hug his mother every day until he leaves, to say “thank you and I love you and you were only ever supportive of me.” She’ll be gone soon, and so will the optimism. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Twenty-five-year-old Eric is a study in how much can change in one year. His ambition has never been lower, and he wonders if he should just move home to Kansas, to be close to his widowed father. But money is good at the bar lately, and he would hate to sacrifice that and go back to his lame production job in Kansas City, much less turn it in for some shit-paying PA job here in New York. “It’s good to have friends who understand where I’m at in my life,” he says of his nightlife crowd. “Joanie and Talia are great and all, but they don’t know what’s good for me.” He’s started dating an older friend of Talia’s named Yates—apparently she thinks Yates would be good for him—, but he feels inferior in the relationship, and judged for his youth. He hesitates before admitting his addictions to the group, disclosing that he has tried nearly every drug. There is a drastic difference in how the older Erics react versus the younger Erics: compassion versus disapproval. I say it loudest this time, very stern and supportive: “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Eric is in a steady rhythm. He’s well into his talent management career, and hopes that his boss Sam will let him take on a few clients soon. Eric works many 12-hour days, but “that’s all fine since these are the years when I really need my hard work to compound into something great,” he says. “And plus, I’m surrounded by the best friends I could possibly ask for: Bart, Peter, Joanie, and Talia.” He spends a few minutes talking about Jack, too, and how he thinks he now knows what it’s like to be in love, based on the range of emotions he is finally tapping into. “I want to freeze time, and soak this year up forever,” he beams. The other Erics have an expression of relief, as if this is the happy ending toward which they’ve worked. I’m the only Eric in the room who finds it all a bit naive, but it’s a necessary reminder yet. … “Thank you, Eric, for your wisdom.”
Once or twice a year, I get into a very introspective state—far more than the usual overprocessing—and render myself sexless, unattractive, repulsed, all of it. The idea of pursuing anyone gives me a headache, as I think of all the wasted hours I spent chasing, being chased, rejecting, being rejected…only to end up back where I started. These decompressing periods are never planned, but they naturally arise, and it’s a good time to wipe clean any slate and remind myself that I have very important pursuits independent of my libido. The funny thing is that I still think about sex and relationships constantly, but in a more reflective way: why do I base my own self-worth on how successful I’m interacting with other ambitious, liberated, vapid men? And why, when these social cocoons arise each year, do I feel most fulfilled? There is such satisfaction in getting off alone—so I suppose I’m never totally sexless—, then going to sleep, and worrying not one bit about how I will catalog the experience, nor how I will be cataloged by the beating heart asleep beside me.
“How’s dating yourself going?” Bart asked snarkily over lunch. “It’s kind of the gay dream, isn’t it?” Luckily, I had darling sulky Peter on my side of the table: “Don’t get all holier-than-thou, Bart,” he said. “How many times did you claim to be done dating and totally celibate? Nothing about this game has changed since you got in a relationship.” “I’m only off the radar for the time being,” I told them both. “You know how it goes. Calibrating. Preparing for the next round of batterings.” Bart chimed in, done with his banter: “I know, I know. Whenever my self-confidence was lower than usual, I had to protect myself from the constant judgment.” “I never said my self-confidence was low,” I said defensively. Bart stared at Peter and me silently from across the table. “Oh, my bad,” he said. “I guess I mistook your empowerment exercise for pouting. Promise this has nothing to do with Omar and Joanie?” He saw right through me.
Peter stayed late at my apartment that night; I was sending work emails and he lounged about, not wanting to go home. “How’s Grindr, my dear?” I asked, assuming that’s what had his attention as he stared into his phone. “It’s annoying,” he responded. “So is Tinder. And Hinge. And Scruff.” “You’re hitting it hard, huh? Weren’t you the one feeling undateable as an unemployed person?” “Well, I’m not looking for dates right now,” he replied. “Though I can’t say much for my luck getting laid.” I saddled up next to him, scanning the Grindr crowd. “Wait, why are you a torso?” I asked, pointing out his headless, shirtless profile photo. “If someone says hello to me and I don’t think he’s cute, I feel less guilty about rejecting him, since I’m faceless,” Peter said. “He can’t assign any hatred to me.” “How thoughtful of you,” I replied. “That way, he can just hate himself a little more.” We both chuckled, having been there too many times.
Dad called me on Wednesday for our routine checkin. He had just finished a solo camping trip to New Mexico and gave me all the highlights. Then, he asked about Joanie: “I hope you don’t hate her. Do you?” “Not at all,” I said. “She’s growing too fast, and I don’t know enough about music to help her. But I’m disappointed that there was no conversation leading up to it. The way she handled it kind of sacrificed our friendship. I just hope she’ll be her usual self when we finally come back around.” “If you would have held her back, then she probably made the right decision,” Dad said. “And I’m guessing she’s not proud of how she handled things, either. I bet she’s thinking she burned this bridge. Don’t forget what you told me just now, kiddo. I know you think you’re all hard and selfish these days, but you aren’t letting the bridge burn, and most people would be too proud to ever let her back in—most people would happily let it go down in flames.”
Before he hung up, Dad’s tone got very serious: “Eric, do you think you should see someone? A professional. You’ve really been through it this year. First Sam, now this with Joanie. Maybe you could try to sort it all out, prevent yourself a breakdown maybe. Or at least get a highly certified neutral opinion on what’s good for you.” Admittedly, I had considered it before, mostly as a casual ongoing thing since a few friends spoke highly of their own therapists. Peter had been seeing one primarily to make sense of his professional identity, trying to figure out his purpose, or to be content with not figuring out a purpose. “She’s great,” he said of his. “What seemed like a dead end feels open now. I can ask her to recommend someone for you… what should I tell her is your main problem?” I didn’t know I needed a “main problem,” and I really didn’t want someone else to diagnose one for me.
“It just seems silly that you don’t think therapy would be useful given all the shit you’ve endured,” Bart said. “Honestly, I’ve worried about you a lot this year. We all have. Why are you too proud to ask for help after these things? I mean, you just ran away to Chicago to live a pretend life after Sam died.” I didn’t understand his concern; to me, coping with loss on my own was a greater victory than relying on other people—much less paying a stranger—to help me through it. Bart, whom I met at rock bottom, recalled a certain 25-year-old version of me, though, and he dialed in a favor. I got a call later that day from someone I hadn’t spoken to in nearly two years: my AA sponsor.
I woke to my phone ringing and groggily answered the call. “Bart? What’s up? Why the phone call?” “Eric,” he said frantically. “You need to talk to Tyler. He’s on US Weekly. No, I mean, we’re on US Weekly—him and I. In our apartment lobby, from outside. Someone took a photo of us kissing and sent it in.” To summarize: People had been speculating about Tyler’s sexuality, but we wanted him to be fully out on his own terms, not on the media’s. We weren’t entirely precious about keeping it a secret since he wasn’t a household name. However, since he was starring in a summer blockbuster in a couple months—and we needed red-state, consumer-happy middle America’s support—we wanted to first bank on his acting chops before adding the gay variable to the public’s knowledge bank. Bart put Tyler on speakerphone: “Hi Eric,” Tyler said, sulking. “You ready for this, buddy?” I asked him. “I guess I have to be,” he replied. “I’m in charge,” I told him. “You do nothing without my permission. Got that?” A pause. “Got it.” “And Bart, same goes for you.” Another long pause. “Uhhh. What does that mean?” Bart asked blankly.
The Internet has changed everything. The gay blogs picked up the Tyler scoop, and the emails I was getting from editors implied that he was the new gay Messiah. Tyler was getting 1,000 Tweets an hour from anyone with an opinion, both supporting him or shaming him. People—mostly teenagers—were Instagramming the photo of Bart and Tyler with the hashtag #BarTyler4Eva. “These kids who are behind him aren’t the ones buying tickets to R-rated films,” Eva pointed out. “Their support is cute, at best.” To me, it was just more speculation, and all one big headache. A bigger one yet was the dreaded headline on various outlets: “Can a Gay Up-and-Comer Open the Summer’s Biggest Blockbuster?” Numerous “experts” were weighing in, contemplating his chemistry with his female costar, questioning his masculinity for such a “male-driven” film. We—his PR team, agent Eva, and I—had been hoping for headlines in July to say “Newly Minted A-Lister and Box-Office King Tyler Weiland Comes Out as Gay, Sorry Ladies.” The sub-head: “Already Has a Boyfriend, Sorry Gays.” We would have no such luck.
Bart wasn’t giving me any rest, either: He was lavishing in his own trending hashtag: #BartQuinnGetAtMe. “My 15 minutes!” he gushed. “I’m trending!” I laughed at how much had changed in a few years: Bart was nearly 30 and only two years into being fully out, and now he was the subject of standalone articles across the web: “Meet the Man Who Made Tyler Weiland Comfortable With His Own Sexuality” and “Who is Bart Quinn? A Sexy Display of Machismo, That’s Who.” One Buzzfeed post rounded up 20 photos of Bart tagged to Instagram, ranking his “looks” from “Least Bangable” to “Most Bangable,” with every single one of them falling into “Most Bangable.” “I’ve never felt so attractive,” he exclaimed. “I’m getting texts and Facebook messages from guys who thought they were too hot to trot, suddenly asking me out or if we would ever invite a third guy to hang out. It’s disgusting, but I love this fleeting sense of mass appeal.”
Overall, Bart kept a good head on his shoulders, mostly fascinated by the phenomenon and keeping concern for his boyfriend’s peace of mind. “At least Tyler’s getting a laugh out of the added absurdity,” he pointed out. “He needs the distraction. Some reporters knocked on his parents’ door in Texas to ask them about whether or not they support his being gay. That didn’t go over so well, in all aspects.” Sam was especially good at handling these types of things. “I do not envy our clients,” he would say. “But I do pity them. We have to protect them from the mind poison that comes with the scrutiny, and decide what the next professional move is that will endear them to everyone if it’s not already the case. We keep them relevant so that what seems like a loss becomes a big win. And above all, treat them like a human. Nobody else is going to do that, and that otherwise starts to compound negatively.” A lot of people had bad things to say about Sam, but he sure was good at his job, at protecting his assumed family.
Tyler didn’t need to do any interviews, because everything he said or did on social media gave journalists enough to discuss; a photo of Bart making dinner (“He cooks, too!”) got its own headline on Towleroad, and a tweet that said “Never been so happy!” got 4,000 re-tweets within the hour. Everything he posted was purposefully upbeat, and came through his PR team and me. “We won’t always have to hover in this way,” I promised him. “It’s only while strategy and messaging are imperative to your career. You’re handling it very well.” And I meant it. James Thurston—my other high-profile gay client—emailed me one evening, marveling at this all: “My, how times have changed. I know 100 leading-men types who are prisoners in their own fame. Thank heavens for him and the Zach Quintos, NPHs, etc. Tyler is a worthy bearer of this torch.”
“How are your parents?” I would ask Tyler every few days. I knew that was his main concern in all of this: They didn’t ask for the attention, and were coming to terms with his sexuality independently of the media contacting them for quotes, digging for stories. Mrs. Weiland gave one moderately supportive quote to a local paper—despite usually ignoring them outright—and suddenly the two of them were unofficial PFLAG poster parents against their own likely wishes. “They’re as conservative and Baptist as it comes,” Tyler said. “I promise you they aren’t happy with this predicament. My sister even said my dad expects a formal apology because his friends think he’s ‘gone blue,’ and that my public presence is soiling their reputation at church. How absurd is that? It’s just funny that Amelia and I feel like their parents in all of this. Maybe they’re the ones who need a manager,” he chuckled. “Though that’s probably what they think Jesus is for? I’m sure He is being super responsive to their prayers for privacy.”
“Some guys in AA can be mean toward people who stopped showing up,” I said to Bart as we shuffled toward our first meeting in two years. “They’re not always open-armed when you decide to come back.” As with most group-oriented settings, anyone who leaves can be perceived as holier than thou. “Eric, sure, some guys might be that way, but most won’t be,” he replied as we walked in. “You know that as much as I do.” On cue, our sponsors Greg and Chuck hurried over to welcome us back. Maybe two dozen familiar faces—plus a few new ones—shook our hands or embraced us as we found our seats: “We really missed you guys.” “It’s good to see you boys again.” Had I made up that people would be cold to us? I was so used to gay men being catty and exclusive. Instead, we were received with camaraderie from men of all sizes, ages, ethnicities, and professions. I knew of no other community that was so free of judgment.
In early 2011, I ended a shift at the Cobble Hill cafe and rode the 2 train to West Village, where my AA support group met each Tuesday. I was but three weeks into my sobriety, still finding my footing in the group. After my first meeting a few guys came over to introduce themselves and welcome me. I thought it was funny how the three of them were the same age as me, and even similar “scene,” as if what I needed most was to relate to someone as close in outlook as possible. I recognized two of them from the nightlife crowd, though we had never formally met. I would later learn that this greeting ritual was unspoken custom: if someone was new and they seemed to “fit your category,” it was understood that you would introduce yourself. Ideally the newcomer would relate to you and feel enough sense of belonging to return each meeting. And, not three weeks into my attendance, at this particular early 2011 meeting, I made my first introduction to a new member: a very frightened, though not-so-sceney Bart Quinn.
Bart wore Sperrys and Croakies and couldn’t have stood out more with his pastel color blocking. He looked like any closeted fratino I had ever encountered, and everything about him (not just the clothes) screamed “Let me out of here!” However, he was the same age as me, and it was evident that he needed a friend as desperately as I. So, I figured if he had it in him to overcome his alcohol addiction, he could also overcome his awful, terrible, embarrassing taste in clothing. (Ironically, my fake Kenzo hat and Topshop wardrobe weren’t exactly screaming “tastemaker” but Bart had to take what he could get.) I didn’t learn much about him until his second meeting, when he got up to address everyone: “Hi. I’m Bart. I’m, uh. I’m gay. I guess that’s obvious since I’m here. But it’s the first time I’ve said that out loud…” Before he continued, I could feel every person in the room immediately assume an increased sense of responsibility.
“I, um. I…” Bart was struggling to tell his story to the group. Fighting tears, he slowly shared some details: “…I have used alcohol… to hook up with men for the last…six, no, seven years. I’ve always been, I dunno, homophobic, since I’m gay and tried to hide it. So, I would, um, use booze to hook up, with guys, but then tell myself I wasn’t, you know, gay or whatever, since I was always blacked out. But like, I had, um. I had sex with three of my pledge brothers in college. And four other guys in the house. Funny, two of them are best friends. I don’t even think they know it about each other. They both got married and were each other’s best man and that sort of made me really upset. I don’t know why. Anyway. Um. Since I moved here, I’ve been doing the same stuff. And I just want…I just want to not rely on alcohol anymore, to be comfortable with myself. I want to make friends who relate to me. I want to meet gay men aside from anonymous sex. So. Yeah. That’s why I’m here. Thanks for, you know. Listening.”
Once this new meeting had begun—the two-year absence entirely glossed over by all of our old friends—Bart nudged me and pointed to a young 20-something in the back corner. “I bet that kid is new,” he said. “He looks completely terrified.” I made eye contact with the guy and quickly cranked my neck back around. “He looks like he hasn’t slept for the past week,” I added. “And he knows we’re talking about him. Let’s say hello afterwards.” The kid said nothing the entire meeting, and Bart had to chase after him once we had concluded. He caught him—Charlie, all of 21 years old—and invited him to join a group of us for dinner. “Nobody’s going to ask you anything you don’t want to answer,” I promised Charlie quietly. “Sit next to me, OK? Hell, don’t say anything, but just give us all a shot.” Charlie was silent throughout dinner, seemingly lost in thought. He didn’t seem too thrilled about being there. But he was there, at least physically, and I knew that mattered for something.
Bart and I walked Charlie to the subway after dinner. “How was your first meeting?” Bart asked. “It’s not my first,” Charlie replied. “It’s my fourth. My fourth first meeting.” “Wait, how old did you say you were? 21?” Bart and I were thinking the same thing: this kid was struggling to pick himself up. “Let us give you our phone numbers,” I told him, as we took his phone and typed in our contacts. “Call or text us any time of day or night, and we mean that. And we’ll see you at next week’s meetings. Yeah?” Charlie, with his sunken, terrified eyes, could only nod back, too afraid to make eye contact or speak. Bart and I looked for him at the next few meetings, but Charlie never returned. We wished we had gotten his number instead of giving him ours. I used my rare lifeline to God or Jesus or whatever, asking and praying that Charlie find the confidence or support to reach his full potential, to get the fruitful, happy, healthy life that he deserved.
Hurricane Saturant had struck land: she was playing all of the nightly talk shows to promote her forthcoming LP “Buffer,” as well as her summer tour with Lorde. Posters for the album were plastered up around the city (and LA, I was told), showing Joanie as a dead ringer for Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.” And there she was on the cover of Billboard, head to toe in leopard print, flanked by children dancing beneath the rain of a fire hydrant as the sun beat down: “SATURANT: Summer’s hottest act is also its coolest.” I hadn’t spoken with Joanie in a month, and I now presumed I may never speak to that person again, even once things cooled between us. After this much attention and name recognition for Saturant, I think “Joanie” as I knew her was gone for good.
“This has been one helluva year,” Joanie told Billboard. “Last summer I was still performing under my given name, really lacking confidence and thinking about quitting. Then Saturant came to me…. Mainstream was never my aim, but to think that I could reach people back home in Kansas, wow…. I’ve been really critical of my state and how backwards I think a lot of it is. It is important to me to disconnect myself from that place’s core ideology as an adult. This has made me very dissociative, to feel so opposite of everyone and everything I grew up with. That’s a big reason I was reborn as Saturant. I had to absorb all of this new culture and become a totally new person, which took years of just… being alive, you know? I didn’t realize it was happening, but I basically broke myself down in order to build myself back up.” She sounded a bit uncoached to me, but overall, it rang true. That was my Joanie.
Saturant’s new Diplo-produced single “Stop at Nothing” premiered to equal buzz. It featured a verse and hook from Lorde, almost cementing its odds at topping any and every chart. The video had more views in its first three hours than all of her other videos had ever accumulated. “Can we already call it the song of the summer?” asked Entertainment Weekly. In the video, Saturant leads a viking ship out to stormy seas, and what follows is a Tarantino-esque affair once the ship is raided by pillagers. Captain Saturant and first mate Lorde lead the defense, slaughtering anyone who nears. And playing over it all, her words: “I would steal for this // Go to hell for this // I would give my firstborn // I would kill for this // I would sell out my friends // I would sell my own soul // I would stop at nothing // I have made this my goal // Do not stand in my way // Do not slow me down // I will stop // I will stop // I will stop // At nothing.
My work phone and email were erupting with calls for Saturant, and it now made sense to forward them along to Red Light, seeing as it would spare us the blocked lines and inbox crowding. I was in this better place with everything too; sure, part of me wondered what kind of money I had lost out on by not being part of Saturant’s explosion, but there she was, getting everything she could have dreamed up, if not more. I never helped her for the sake of getting rich, though she was about to become very very rich. What worried me most about our cutting ties was all the new people she would meet in the industry along the way: I think I would have been good at filtering those who were using her for the money, away from those people who genuinely wanted to see her succeed for her own good.
Saturant gave a pre-tour concert on a hot spring night. It was on the West Side Highway, set back on a pier, and the weather was pristine. For the first time in my life, I paid money to see Joanie perform, and I felt safe tucked in the crowd of two thousand people. Bart and Peter tagged along, and I could have sworn that Joanie noticed us among the masses due to Peter’s towering above everyone else. All around me, people were holding up their phones, FaceTiming their friends in other cities or snapping Instagrams so that they could boast of seeing music’s newest sensation. “Thank you, New York. You are my home,” Saturant told her adoring fans after the encore. Then I swore she looked me straight in the eyes, never mind my being 30 yards away: “I’ll be back soon. Thank you. Thank you. Don’t miss me ok? I love you!”
Peter, Bart, and I shuffled back toward Chelsea after the concert. Everyone around us was buzzing about how incredible it was, and I heard a couple people desperately trying to pretend they knew Joanie or had always been fans: “My cousin used to sing in a choir with her. He says she is so nice, like, everything you would expect her to be.” “Whoa, that’s awesome. Has he talked to her recently?” “No, but she favorited one of his tweets a couple weeks ago where he said he liked her EP.” “That’s so cool. She’s so cool.” The three of us chuckled as we angled toward Bart’s apartment. Ten minutes later, Peter was the first to actually say anything: “She did really well, didn’t she?” Bart and I both nodded and hummed our approval, then we walked in continued silence the rest of the way.
Peter had been temping around the city to make ends meet, and he was getting good insight into industries like advertising, merchandising, and event production. “I feel like an intern again, in a refreshing way,” he said. “Mostly because I get to charge them 40 bucks an hour since I’ve got all this work experience.” He was seeming more like his usual optimistic, lighthearted self—a version of him we hadn’t seen much over the past year, as he had navigated a bad breakup, being arrested, and getting laid off. It had an effect on me too: coupled with the summer sunshine, I was feeling less concerned about my losses and instead grateful for all that remained. I liked the uneventful nature of things, that life felt normal, and that in this staid happiness, nothing seemed like it could be threatened.
“Tyler and I don’t have the same electricity we did for the first eight months,” Bart told Peter and me while we lounged in Sheep’s Meadow. “It just feels…normal. Unexciting.” “Just wait til the press tour for ‘Peril,'” I said. “Your first dose of the red carpet will spice things up. He’ll get exhausted and lonely from all the traveling and interviews, and you’ll get to miss him and have terrific sex every time he comes home, knowing he’s more and more desired by the general public but you’re the one who gets to fall asleep with him and pluck the hairs off his shoulders and do all sorts of boring, uneventful things.” Bart managed a smile and a “Yeahhh, you’re right” as Peter and I stared out into the sea of bodies, both tired of doing nothing with nobody.
“I can’t believe I’m that person who wishes he was in a relationship,” said Peter. “If only I had felt this way when Alex had come along.” Peter was referring to his doctor crush from a half year earlier. Alex had wanted to be boyfriends with Peter, but my darling friend wasn’t yet over his ex, Dale. “What’s Alex up to?” I asked. “He was crazy about you. Maybe he would take you up on a date?” “He has a boyfriend now,” Peter lamented. “I don’t think it would go over very well if I reached out, ha.” I bit my lip; I had never told my friends about what I had done to my own “ex” Jack a few months prior. “Besides,” Peter added. “I should probably get my professional identity sorted out before I bring somebody else into the picture. What I wouldn’t do to go on a really nice and uneventful date, though. You know, to have someone I love sitting across from me, not expecting sex. Just thrilled to be across from me.”
I downloaded “the apps” again that night. I never stay away for long, too curious about who’s new in the neighborhood, who’s new to the single life, who’s opened their relationship, who’s willing to talk to me, who’s willing to show me a private piece of himself, who’s cute or coy or alluring enough to get the same from me, and who’s going to outlast the others and end up in my bed or invite me into his. I uploaded a friendly, smiley photo to my profile, sent some “hey theres,” ignored a “yo bro” and an “umm yummy,” flirted with a man name Jono even though I had no intentions or desires reserved for him, and noticed that Omar was approximately 2,432 feet away, according to Grindr’s GPS. My instinct was to block him, to literally take him off my radar, but then I realized I felt nothing toward him, save for a bit of disappointment about his own cowardice. I closed the apps, put on a Rufus Wainwright vinyl, readied for bed, and plucked a few errant hairs off my shoulders before falling blissfully asleep.
“Google just asked me to interview!” Peter texted me and Bart excitedly. “It’s exploratory, but they have lots of communications and PR roles that might be a fit.” Things really were turning around for darling Peter; the introductory interview turned into a lunch meeting with a Vice President, and she already had a vacancy in mind that he could fill. “She asked my salary needs, and even laughed at my request,” he said. “In that they would pay way more. It’s like a communications director role, I think.” We toasted seltzers that evening before Bart scurried home to cook supper with Tyler. “Peter, let me take you out to dinner, for good fortune.” I told him. “And, you know, to have someone I love sitting across from me, not expecting sex…just thrilled to be across from me. And I’ll be thrilled you’re there, too.” He blushed a little, and smirked: “You spoil me, Eric Condor.”
Peter and I ordered an enormous prime rib and six sides, and I reminded him that this was all on my tab—I was taking him on the date he deserved. “I haven’t even gotten a job yet,” he said. “We aren’t celebrating anything,” I told him. “This is an uneventful, just-because kind of thing. We sit around waiting for big occasions, and we let all these nights go by without treating ourselves to any lavishness. This city takes enough out of us, so let’s just soak up the fancy. Besides, after you land this job, you can take me out to dinner, and then we’ll really celebrate.” Peter hesitated, and I could tell there was something he was afraid to say. “Peter, what’s up?” I prodded. He pursed his lips sheepishly to one side, and looked nervously at me: “The job isn’t in New York, Eric. It’s in San Francisco.”
I got the strangest phone call from a lawyer named Terrance Tompkins asking me to please come by his office in Gramercy. A quick web search told me he mostly handled estate matters, which is more than his voicemail even implied. When I went by his office that Monday, he was yelling into his phone but waved me in. He covered the mouthpiece on the receiver and barked at me: “Is it Eric or Eddy? Sam had you listed as Eddy so it took me a helluva long time to find you.” “Find me for what? I’m sorry, I’m a bit out of the loop here.” He grabbed a small wooden box from the drawer of his desk. “This belongs to you, per Sam’s will. Please take it out of here; it’s been very weird for me to have a cremated body just sitting inside my desk.”
Well. Now what? I walked ever so carefully down Lexington, holding the box in front of me like it was a tray filled with hot coffees. I figured it needed to stay upright, but mostly because I imagined a tiny Sam in there being tossed and turned if I made any sudden movements. Also—what the hell? First he wished me the burden of his death in his suicide note and then he gives me his ashes? What was I supposed to do with them? And, what about his family? Why wasn’t any one of them a likelier candidate to handle this matter…to handle HIS matter? “You’re an ass hole,” I said aloud to the box in my hands.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, I wondered how much of Sam they were even able to cremate, considering he got pretty beat up by the train that hit him. The only time I had seen any cremated ashes was in high school when Joanie’s labrador had died, and even then they fit her remains into a tiny little pocket tin. So, out of sheer curiosity—and I’m surprised I didn’t do this right away—I opened the latch on the box and peeked inside. There was a small plastic bag containing maybe a tablespoon of dust “That’s it? That’s all you are now?” I said out loud. The woman next to me seemed to halfway understand what she was witnessing: “Who’s in there?” she said with an anxious expression. “My old boss,” I replied. “Or maybe, like, half of him.” “You must have been close?” she guessed. “Well. Sure I suppose. Only because we worked together. He was a miserable man, though. I don’t even want these.” “Then throw that shit out,” she said. “Nobody needs that emotional burden.”
I started listing all the ways I could dispose of Sam without feeling too guilty. Maybe put him in some potting soil, and plant lilies in it? They were his favorite flower—and mine—and it seemed a nice tribute from a protégé for his former superior. However, then the plants would become the new object of my agony. Or maybe I could scatter them on the beach, or in the park? But which beach? Which park? Isn’t the point of scattering ashes to let that person eternally rest where he had his fondest memories? Honestly, Sam probably would have wanted to be scattered in his office. His work was his life, and although it made him miserable, it also gave him great security. And for a long time, I think my own growth made him really happy, too. It gave him purpose. Maybe that’s why he assigned his remains to me: I was one of his persisting successes.
The guilt of Sam’s death still hadn’t left me. Or Peter. Or Tyler. Or James. Or Simon. We all felt the anxiety of having contributed something small or large to his suicide. It was a more magnified version of my general anxiety: having the ability to affect someone else’s life so significantly that it reroutes or compromises their own personal pursuits. I was in the wrong city, the wrong industry, born the wrong person, if I was going to continue being afraid of that kind of crossfire. I just wish Sam hadn’t killed himself. I wish he had had friends or family or doctors to help him. “Sorry I called you an ass hole earlier,” I said to the baggy of ashes as I gripped it in Fort Greene Park.
There was still no way I was going to keep Sam’s remains, so I opted for the least dramatic, least ceremonious method possible. I opened the plastic bag and stared at the ashes. I can’t be blamed for sticking my finger in there, fascinated that I once had a job interview with this person, and little did he know that some day I’d be cupping him in my hands and scattering him in the dirt in central Brooklyn. I pressed that small amount of ashes between my thumb and finger, let out a “Sorry, Sam.” followed by a “God damnit!” as I emptied it out and some of it blew across my white sneakers. I wiped my fingers in the grass, threw away the bag and wooden box, and told myself that what I had just done mattered for nothing.
The four of us went to Jacob Riis Park to bask in the weekday sun. Peter had accepted the job at Google in California, and since I was my own boss and neither Bart nor Tyler had day jobs, it meant we could all make Peter’s goodbye as drawn out as possible. As far as I was concerned, he would not be leaving my sight for the next two weeks. “Ew, don’t look at me,” he shrieked as he peeled off his shirt. “I haven’t worked out in months, trying to save money. And, of course, being moderately depressed.” I was in the same boat, staring down at my flatter-and-looser-than-usual chest and somewhat bloated belly. The previous two years I spent building mass seemed wasted on the fact that I had worked out maybe twice since February. We were a sad pair next to the Hollywood heartthrob and his protein-packed boyfriend, who were now both down to speedos and oiling one another. “Screw them,” Peter huffed as he slathered sunscreen across my pale, fuzzy back.
“You’re lucky,” I told Peter. “San Francisco gays don’t care about muscles as much. I mean, they’re all healthy of course. It is San Francisco after all. But in general, their head is in the right place. It’s not about being tight and beefy and untouchable.” “OK, but I don’t want to work out less just because the gay culture doesn’t demand it,” Peter replied. “Sure, I always felt the pressure here to have less than five percent body fat so that my inguinal tendons pop up past my pubes, but isn’t that also what New York has going for it—that it forces us to be the most optimal version of ourselves? I’ve never been out of shape, and since living here, it’s rare if I’m not in great shape.” “Well, the big, simple question,” I said, “Is WHY? We could all just eat oatmeal and run twice a week and be fine. WHY do we care so much about size and bulging muscles?” We looked over to see Bart and Tyler, side by side, holding hands and staring at each other playfully. “It’s sex, isn’t it?” I said. Peter nodded.
“I have never had great sex with someone who cares more about his body than about his intellect. Never,” I said. “That’s a lie,” Peter replied. “You’ve entertained plenty of meatheads solely for the thrill, without any care for their backstory or intellectual opinions.” “Fine fine fine, Peter. But they’re precisely that: sex objects. Anyone I’m going to fall in love with—or anyone I want falling in love with me—is of course going to be healthy, but it’s going to be a healthy mindset about fitness and muscle mass and dieting and what’s actually sustainable. A six pack tells me his priorities are in the wrong place. Nobody actually needs a six-pack stomach, and it just means he’s spending an hour a day doing stupid crunches at the gym simply for show. And half these guys are on dangerous substances. I pity anyone who thinks softball-sized biceps are worth having raisin-sized testicles.”
I recalled Bart from a couple years prior: just out of the closet, slightly pudgy, and less chiseled around the hips and cheeks. He was far less confident. And here he was now, soaking up the sun as his perfectly sculpted, hamburger-shaped pecs sat motionless atop his chest. And he had Tyler—a slightly leaner, much less hairy version of Bart—sprawled out like a payoff for all the hard work at the gym. With social status in mind, however, I wondered if Tyler would even consider dating a less built, less sexually desirable Bart. Their level of fitness required them to stay that way, to play defense over their domain, less they graduate into a doughier dating class. I wished I cared enough—honestly, I wished for that feeling to return—so that I might get back to the gym soon and try to optimize my own physique, if only to exercise deeper confidence in a shallow dating pool.
Similar to any downswing in dating, these breaks from working out also feel rewarding. They’re a mental calibration, the perfect excuse to slack off and question my motives. I always knew I could hit the gym again and eat less chocolate and get more rest and buy some protein bars, and that I probably would do all that within the year—before inevitably losing interest six months later. But these unintentional breaks were reminders: where other men would humble me with their size and prowess and lack of interest in my body, I was forced to question why I would even want to pursue a man with such priorities, seeing as the time and energy and superiority complex required can only steer one away from proper reflection. I wondered how many future versions of myself would laugh that I ever cared so much about muscle, that I equated it to higher worth and hotter encounters. If I have to project any long-term partner from my mind, his body is never his defining trait. He’s got a healthy self-image. He is fit because he knows its importance, and sexy because he believes he is so. I hope that’s where my mind—and body—land too, and for good.
I wanted to get to some sort of mental stasis where I looked disdainfully at muscled bodies, where I felt bad for people who worked out for anything but an endorphin rush or to validate bagels. This would be the truly optimal version of myself. I cursed the circles I ran in that perpetuated my physical insecurities. Even the AA crowd is fit beyond belief—it’s a common anti-drug—and I’d go as far as saying that many of them turned one addiction into another. Bart himself was toeing the line; he had most mornings and afternoons wide open since he worked nights, and it gave him quiet, uninterrupted hours at the gym lately—but who wouldn’t do the same in that scenario? And, since groups of friends are often crafted by physical appearance, would we drift apart as he replaced me for meatier, dopier guys (ones who would not approve of my company since I would bring down their collective hotness)? I hated that I sort of liked the challenge—that I promised myself I would get bulkier just to ensure I wouldn’t lose my other best friend.
Ever since Peter, Bart, and I became inseparable, I wondered what force of time or love or occupation would tear us apart. And, to my dismay, Peter was more sweet than bitter to the fact that he was uprooting his life here. “I feel this weight just…gone,” he told me as we packed boxes in his apartment. “I always wondered how things would come to an end in New York, you know, just afraid of ever letting my momentum stop. And now, it’s over. It ends with you, and Bart, and Tyler, and, well, that’s perfect. Part of me worried I would be stuck here for 50 years, incapable of giving it up. Thank God I got my ticket out when I did. Maybe I’ll be able to afford a house in Berkeley and have a family and send them to public school and have a yard and be on the school board. I feel like I have a more sustainable life ahead of me, finally.” His sentiment and projection certainly left me feeling more bitter than sweet.
Losing Talia to the midwest was a warmup to this. Heck, it was a warmup to losing Bart to Manhattan, and now this was the granddaddy of gut punches. My darling Peter, the loyalest of them all, felt no loyalties to his investments in the most vast, lush forest that was our city. To see him balance nostalgia with excitement was sobering and humbling. Selfishly, I worried about my own ability to replace him. He and Bart were the true loves of my life, more than any bedfellow could ever be. They knew my faults and I knew theirs, and my late twenties were fruitful because they were by my side. I wanted to go to Peter’s old office and knock out every tooth of the guy who laid him off, the same way Peter had pounced on Sam in my defense a half year earlier. I worried what my fragile mind would do without Peter to ground me. Where Bart is a wolf—good for brutal honesty, quicker to the punch—Peter is a guard dog. He is patient, selfless, observant, and loyal. Once a wolf myself, I was a lamb of late. I needed that guard dog.
Peter hosted a small goodbye party in Williamsburg, mostly per our nagging him. “Besides you guys, I don’t see anyone regularly enough to have them see me off,” he said as he created the Facebook event. While clicking through his list of invitees, he hovered over one name: Dale, his ex. “I should have un-friended him after the fact,” Peter said. “But I wanted to see if he would do it first, and he never did. He ‘liked’ my status update about moving to San Francisco, which I took as support instead of good riddance.” I could tell Peter was trying to rationalize inviting his ex. “I think it will be safer to not include him,” he concluded, now scrolling through Dale’s photos. He landed on one of the two of them, dated 13 months old—just before they broke up—looking blissfully happy. “I hope it’s sooner than later that I get to find this again,” he said.
The going-away party was small, and very manageable for Peter to relax without having to entertain everyone with the same transitional small talk about his new life. It was mostly our peripheral gay friends, plus a few of his old coworkers and classmates. I was somewhat relieved that Joanie was traveling, to spare our melodramatic reunion happening here and now. Peter seemed indifferent to the whole sendoff. “That was nice,” he said in the taxi home. “But I feel like I did that more for other people than I did for me. So they know I care about them without vanishing. You know, give them the chance to validate the friendship by formally saying goodbye. Whatever… wow, I sound terrible, don’t I?” I shrugged. “Maybe you’re just eager for that next step,” I said. “Since right now it’s dangling in front of you. Drawing out the goodbye is agonizing. But keep in mind that some of us do need that validation before you disappear. I wish I could draw it out another 20 years, Petey.” I squeezed his hand, and rested my head on his shoulder.
“Great news!” I texted Peter the following afternoon. “After the film premiere in LA next week, we have an extra day where we can drive up to San Francisco. Bart, Tyler, and I can fly home from there.” He sent back a text with 30 grinning emojis. We would get to see his new world as it started to unfold, maybe help him unpack his Nob Hill apartment and find a couple cool restaurants, even though he was well acquainted with the city. Mostly, I just wanted to check in, to see that everything seemed safe and happy and upright, and to maybe better understand his excitement by experiencing the newness with him. I wanted to quietly approve of his new life before accepting my own.
We had our true sendoff for darling Peter the night before he flew out—just the four of us. It doubled as our goodbye party for Miss Walnut Creek, so we dolled her up and went out into the humid summer night for a final hurrah. “This is my retirement party,” Peter—nay, Miss Walnut Creek—exclaimed loudly as we “turned down for what.” “What! You’re not going to bring her with you to SF?” I replied. “The drag culture there is so much better. Plus, it’s her homecoming—she’s a Bay Area Beauty Queen!” Peter widened his stance and grinded low enough to be eye level with me (while wearing heels, no less). “No, she was born here. She gave me the escape I needed this past year. She had thicker skin, but I’m gonna try that without the disguise now. I think it’s important that she stays here forever, that we put her to rest.” Before we got in the car home, Peter hurried to the corner trash bin outside the bar, discarding his wig and heels, then sprinted barefoot back to the cab. “A few less things to pack,” he huffed. “Now I need to get out of this dress.”
Bart and I inched our way off the plane in LA, stuck in economy while Tyler got put in first class. “How was your flight, princess?” Bart sneered as we met Tyler at the gate. “It was so amazing. I could get used to this,” Tyler said, totally appreciative. I knew he’d be jaded by this soon—movie premieres and press junkets around the world—but I soaked up this moment where my star was still grateful for every little thing; it made me grateful, as well. The following day, Tyler’s excitement turned into nerves as we suited up for the big red carpet blitz. Bart rubbed his boyfriend’s neck, looking handsomer than I had ever seen him. It was another moment of gratitude, seeing Bart so changed, so loyal, so confident in himself and his relationship. I pushed them out the limousine as the crowd roared—here was America’s new darling. I lingered a few paces behind, not entirely sure what to do as Tyler spoke to reporters and the pair posed for photos. Mostly, I felt numb. A good numb. Gratitude.
The best part of the weekend was not the premiere nor the terrific critical reception that “Peril” was receiving. The best part of the weekend was that, after the hoopla, the three of us rented a car and drove to San Francisco to see Peter in his new habitat. I felt like Steve McQueen as I crested every peak of Peter’s Nob Hill neighborhood, and then I had to parallel park at a 45-degree angle before landing in his arms. Just a few days removed from New York, he already looked different; his hair was shorter and he seemed better rested, or maybe just at ease. He was starting work the next day, and he knew the city well enough to give us a very quick tour—burritos in the Mission, a stroll through the Castro, sunset at Crissy Field. “Thanks for driving all the way up here,” he told us as we sat in the sand of Crissy. “I hope you like my setup.” To see darling Peter so…relieved… yeah, I liked this setup, as much as I hated to admit it. I felt optimistic; if he could bravely start over without us, we could try the same.
It was a big week for clients and former clients alike: Tyler’s film “Peril” was opening wide on Friday, and Joanie’s LP “Buffer” was released Tuesday. Her reviews were mostly favorable; a few critics remarked that she had the talent but just needed the time to grow into it. Overall, it was a promising first album, with terrific production behind it. Joanie released her next single at the same time—the title track. It was slower and more restrained than her last single, the imposing, Lorde-assisted “Stop at Nothing.” This one highlighted her vocal range; it was just her and a piano, ever vulnerable, ever pointed: “I’ve wanted to say sorry for so long // But saying sorry feels so wrong // When I haven’t yet forgiven myself. // And until I grow a spine // Please know we’ll soon be fine // So long as you’ll forgive me one day too. // This buffer hides the pain // But builds me up again // I dream of us together in the end.”
After “Peril” made its New York premiere, Tyler had to fly back to LA to do a couple talk show appearances. I stole Bart for a day trip to Fire Island Pines, a gay-centric corner of an island out past the Hamptons. We planned to tan ourselves on the sweeping beaches, surrounded by beautiful, vapid men. It didn’t take long for me to feel out of place—no surprises there—, and I quickly wished Peter could be there to give me attention, seeing as Bart was the one getting all the stares today. I turned off the meter in my head that cared about any of that, and closed my eyes to relax in the sand. “Eric, you should rotate,” Bart said, poking me after an hour. “You’ll fry your furry tummy. Get some light on your back too.” I stubbornly flipped over; I had been intentionally hiding all the razor burn marks from my hasty back shaving earlier that day. “Oof, that looks so painful,” Bart remarked as he put sunscreen on me. “You should have just left it. Some guys love back hair!” “I appreciate the concern, Bart,” I replied, annoyed. I could feel the sun hitting the razor burn, reminding me of my foolishness.
Late in the afternoon, we went by the AA house to see some of our friends who had a time share for the week. There were ten guys staying in the house, but a good 30 or more mingling by the pool and on the deck. Bart hopped into the water to catch up with some buddies, and I took a moment to post a photo to Instagram. Then a comment came from Simon who said that he, too, was out in the Pines. A text followed. He was staying the week and invited Bart and me for a quick hello, but we were pressed for time. I told him we should instead catch up back in New York. Suddenly, some kid—maybe 23 or 24 is all—tapped my shoulder and introduced himself. He was cute-ish, though his eyes were at different latitudes and his hair was thinning. But he was clearly a charmer, which worked in his favor. “Rob, sober for a whole week,” he said upon our handshake. “Who would’ve guessed I’d get to chat with the most attractive man here?” I looked around and counted maybe ten or fifteen guys who easily had me beat, but suddenly Rob himself seemed a lot more appealing.
Rob and I spent an hour flirting, and it was right about the time Bart wanted to head back to the ferry and catch the train home. He read the situation and asked if I wanted to stay longer—I looked to Rob, who smiled and nodded, essentially inviting me to sleep over. Bart hugged me goodbye while whispering “You’re back in the game!” in my ear. With that, he was on his way. We all cooked dinner, then Rob and I walked along the beach in the moonlight back to his house. He pulled me into the bedroom and immediately disrobed. His body was maybe two percent body fat, and totally hairless. I climbed atop him on the bed, thankful to finally be out of my slump. He peeled my shirt up over me, but then let out an audible groan as he pushed me off of him. “Woof. Have you ever heard of a razor?” he said, disgusted by my chest hair. “That’s kind of… too much for me. And I thought maybe you’d be in better shape…”
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.”
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.
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.