The only thing on my mind as I ran alone through those dark woods was: Get as far from the campsite as possible, get as far from the campsite as possible. I knew things were about to get ugly and quite possibly...loud. It wasn’t until I picked a spot and commenced dying from the inside out that I had time to think about anything else.
I turned off the lantern to lessen the risk of being found by a neighboring camper, or worse, the one I’d left sleeping. Not that anyone in their right mind would approach an area emitting sounds like that willingly. Unless they thought I was being attacked by a razorback.
And of course with that thought, and the sudden blinding darkness that did nothing to muffle my agony, I became terrified that I would be mauled by a wild boar, bitten by a snake, or eaten ass first by a crocodile...bless his heart. I was damn near tears by the time Satan loosened his hold on my bowels.
On my way back to the tent I walked slowly, holding the lantern high and swinging it wildly from side to side. I was consumed with paranoia and every rustle was like a gunshot ringing in my ears.
When I finally reached the campsite my relief was short lived. Fear of wild animal attacks was replaced with irritation, anger, and disgust. I felt horrible and there was no way I was trying anything with him. I crawled into the tent and moved as far away from him as I could without losing any blankets. He was still sleeping the heavy sleep of the inebriated, but I would have no such luxury. I lay awake most of the night, only catching a few minutes of sleep at a time. As I watched the sun creep over the tent walls, my resolve plummeted.
I didn’t tell anyone about my little stroll in the dark, but I watched the others for signs of illness. Apparently I was the only one that had issues with chicken on a stick. I left them to their breakfast and went off to take a shower.
I was miserable all day and didn’t accomplish more than the shower, a few bong hits, and a nap. I lay spread eagled in my tent, wore as little as possible, and prayed that night would hurry up. The heat was oppressive. It felt like being smothered by an invisible pillow and though I don’t remember any conversations that took place that afternoon, I’m sure my only contribution was whining.
That night, wrapped in blankets against the welcome chill, we talked about nothing in particular. Random whispers in the dark until we both fell asleep. As badly as I still wanted to make a connection with him, I’d lost my nerve.
I woke sometime in the night to the sound of heavy breathing. It seemed to be coming from behind the tent and I stared quietly up at the open netted window on the back wall, seeing only black. I immediately thought it was a dog or some other large animal. The breathing was obviously wild and feral. Something had followed the stench of my defeat back to the tent and was going to kill me.
As I silently began to panic I heard whispering. Comforted by the realization that I wouldn’t be eaten alive, I listened intently, trying to determine what was going on. I started to catch a few words here and there. “Fuck...yes...” This was followed by more heavy breathing. “Harder...”
That’s right. The cherry on my camping sundae was listening to my friends fuck each other in the tent next door...all while lying next to the guy I should have been fucking, but wasn’t. I tossed and I turned and I put my pillow over my ears, but it was in my head by then.
I eventually fell asleep, only to be awakened again by pounding rain. I secured the flaps over the windows and moved everything away from the edges of the tent. It was relentless and loud. And while he slept on, I sat Indian style in the middle of the tent and cried.
The next morning we packed up our soggy campsite as best we could. I loaded my things in his car, said goodbye to my friends, and we started the long drive home. He was in a good mood and feeling very chatty as we pulled off. For the first few hours I made conversation, laughed, and sang along with him and the radio. But it was an eight hour drive and soon I was crashing.
I would fall asleep for a few minutes and he would do something to wake me. I knew he didn’t want to drive in silence while I slept, but I honestly couldn’t help it. I told him that I was sorry and that I didn’t get any sleep. He still couldn’t let me be. And even though he smiled and tried to make it funny, I finally snapped. I don’t remember what I said to him exactly, but it was along the lines of “leave me the fuck alone”.
And that was the beginning of the only fight we ever had. He snapped back at me and the gist of it was “you can walk home”. A few more heated back and forth sentences and it was over as quickly as it started.
True to form, he was smiling and turning it into a joke, smoothing things over. Outwardly I let it go, but inside I was still seething. It wasn’t just the fight that was bothering me. It was the whole disastrous weekend. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. If I let him see me break down if would all come tumbling out. All of the embarrassment and the planning, everything that didn’t need to be said in a car with four hours left and nowhere to hide.
We were fine for the rest of the trip, but by the time we pulled up in my driveway I desperately needed to be away from him. But of course it didn’t work out that way. He helped me bring in my things, settled down on the couch, and started discussing what we’d have for dinner with the rest of my family. I stayed in the shower for an hour and got it together. When he finally left that night I hugged him goodbye at the door and promised to call him soon.
But I didn’t.
Weeks went by and I played busy. I was just so tired of the emotional roller coaster. And, yes, I could have ended it. I could have said everything I wanted or needed to say and no matter what his answer would have been, at least it would’ve been over and I would KNOW. But, of course, I didn’t. Fear has a way of silencing the outspoken, casting doubt on the certain, and locking the free in a prison of their own making.
I spent our short time apart trying to fuck him out of my system by way of my old standby. The Fireman didn’t know about him, likely wouldn’t have cared if he did, and if I was a bit more aggressive and a bit more available, so much the better.
When I thought I was ok, that I could block it all off again, I called him to hang out and things when back to normal for awhile. We resumed our dinners and our movies and working on his house. I was coping.
But one night, after spending the majority of the day together, we rented a movie and took it back to his place. The TV wasn’t hooked up yet so we set the laptop up on the coffee table in the living room and sat on the couch to watch. I was skeptical about his choice, but it turned out to be tolerable. It was a spy drama called The Tailor of Panama and there was just enough sexuality in it to make me bite my lip a little nervously. I’d never been good at watching sexually charged scenes in front of certain people and he was at the top of that list.
About halfway through the movie he stretched out on the couch and put his head in my lap. He grinned up at me, I grinned back, and we returned our attention to the screen. I started absentmindedly running my fingers through his hair, which was longer than usual and falling over his forehead. I continued playing with his hair and massaging his scalp until the end credits rolled and he looked up at me again. My fingers, still wound in his hair, were motionless as we stared at each other.
We’d had these moments before - Moments when we looked each other straight in the eyes and didn’t move or say a word and there was this feeling. It’s like putting opposite ends of a magnet together and they want to meet straight on, but they just can’t. They circle each other, the pressure building each time they try to move closer, until one of them snaps round and they’re in their original positions again.
He broke it first, sitting up and chattering away about something or other. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. He walked me to my car and hugged me goodbye. As I drove away I played the scenario over and over again in my head. About ten minutes later, before I could stop myself, I picked up my phone and called him. When he answered I quickly said, “What are we?”
“What do you mean”, he replied.
“I mean...what are we? Are we just friends?”
I’d pushed out the words in a rush and they hung between us, suspended, each second like the pop pop pop of a fraying cord about to snap. They weren’t the words I’d meant to say, but they were out and there was no turning back.
Finally he said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes you do!” I threw it back immediately.
He paused again before stuttering out, “I mean...I like you...I...I think you’re really pretty. (pause) We’re really different.”
I had no idea what to say to that. At the time it sounded like a rejection, simply because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Thinking about it now I still don’t know what it was he was trying to say and I should have pushed him for a clearer answer rather than simply pausing and saying, “Ok.”
And after a few moments of silence he said, “I’ll talk to you later, ok?”
After I hung up I couldn’t stand the silence or the tangle of thoughts in my head. I popped in a random CD and out came Howie Day’s song Collide. And I cried...wailed...while it played on repeat all the way home.
Then I got angry and did something I never do – confide in my mother. She listened and petted me and though she’d always loved him and thought the sun shone out of his ass, she said, “I always knew he was gay.”
Unfortunately, weeks later I still had no idea what to think. We never talked about that conversation again. I went back to visiting the fireman several times a week. When in doubt, have sex and forget about it. There’s nothing quite like a vicious cycle.
At the beginning of the end, we went out drinking downtown with a group of friends. We were having a good time and definitely drinking more than we should. It made everything seem normal for awhile. We stood together with our arms around each other’s waists, we danced and we laughed.
There was some drama (in a college bar...imagine that) and several of us decided to leave. He and I walked arm and arm, trailed by Rachel, some lesbian girl I worked with, and my cousin.
We paused to regroup in the parking lot. One minute I was leaning up against a car in the parking lot, waiting on everyone to quit bickering and laughing long enough to get situated. And the next he was pressed up against me and we were kissing. Really, wrapped up in each other, passionately kissing. I forgot about everyone around us the moment his lips touched mine.
It ended as abruptly as it started. He turned and left, heading for his car. And in my drunken memory, I can’t recall if we said goodbye. In my drunken memory, all I have is that one shining moment that I’ve forced through sheer will to remain intact. The kiss I waited eleven years for.
The next clear memory I have is after he left. I stood in that parking lot, wide eyed, fingers pressed to my lips. My cousin was staring at me with a huge grin on her face and the lesbian coworker was slouched over on a low wall, looking exited but confused. And I said, “He kissed me.”
“I saw it”, my cousin yelled jumping up and down. She was one of the few people that knew about every detail, every moment of our complicated history and exactly how I felt about him.
Tears filled my eyes and threatened to pour down my cheeks as I whispered it over and over to myself. “He kissed me...”
For the next several days I rehashed that scene in my mind, making my cousin recount her version. Then I waited for him to call.
He didn’t. After three days I caved and called him. We talked for a few minutes and I waited for him to bring it up, but again, he didn’t. So I prodded him. I talked about that night and how crazy it was. I knew he remembered. He’d had a lot less to drink.
Nothing. He didn’t acknowledge it. And when that happened, I drew back. I thought about just coming out with it. My emotions raged from anger to hurt and back again. In the end I decided that all signs pointed to one thing: He didn’t want me. I might have beat around the bush, but I attempted to talk to him about it. He shut me down.
And too, if I came out and said the words, talked about what that moment was like for me, there was a possibility he could take it away. I wanted to keep it safe and whole and mine. It was all I had.
We stopped calling each other. We didn’t see each other. Months and months and months went by. I resigned myself to that time apart. I knew it was necessary if I was going to stop obsessing. I saw people, I did things, and I replayed the kiss in my head less and less.
One day I called him and left a message, but he never called me back. I kept trying.
A year went by and still nothing. No response to messages online or emails. Nothing. I looked for him everywhere, terrified I’d see him and heartbroken when I didn’t. Then one day, out of the blue, my godmom asked me a question.
“Why is he mad at you?”
She was good friends with his mother and the word on the street was, no, he didn’t want to talk to me. The first thought I had was, “Oh god...what did I do?”
And that was my constant thought for a very long time. I had no definitive answer. I racked my brain for months trying to figure out what it was I could have done to make him never want to speak to me again. I beat myself up for a long time about one thing or another. “Maybe it was this...maybe it was that.”
But I finally had to stop.
I’ve forgiven myself for any mistakes I might have made. That may sound silly, but it helped. I realized that I did everything in my power to make amends; even though I had no idea what I would be making amends for. And I’ve taken from our relationship some important lessons:
Never let fear stop you from telling someone you love them. Getting rejected is better than a constant internal battle – it can truly make you crazy.
Don’t accept anything less than what you deserve. If you want it all, you should have it all. If they can’t give it to you, move on.
You can’t will love to go away and you can’t will someone to return it. But you can heal.
And, of course, never ever eat chicken on a stick if you plan on seducing someone.
1 week ago