We humans are obsessed with our losses. We save our babies’ teeth, our dearly departed’s ashes, and we videotape our future ex-lovers in mid-coitus. The wisdom of no escape seems to elude us. When faced with loss we become sentimental, afraid and greedy. Why can’t we graciously let go of the things which have pleased us? I think it’s because we believe those spaces a loved one filled will stay empty; a hollow chamber in our hearts which aches like an amputated arm. We humans, with a brain wired for infinity in a physical world driven by change, are mystified and disturbed by what we will never touch again.
Max emailed me on a Tuesday.
“John, I saw your pics and liked them. You’re sexy. Ha! What do u like?”
I clicked on Max’s profile and found an attractable, dark featured, lean man claiming to be my age. He listed yoga, reading, hot men and passionate sex as his interests and hobbies. His profile was short but sweet.
“Max,” I wrote back. “I like your picture too. I have many likes and dislikes, but to get right to the point, I enjoy all of the same things you listed in your profile. Wanna meet and talk about it in person?”
Max wrote me back on a Thursday.
“John! Is this YOU? (http://www.broowaha.com/article.php?id=4692) Ha! You’re so funny! I like this writing. I didn‘t know you write.”
“Yes”, I replied. “I listed writing as one of my interests. What a coincidence that you found this. So we read the same zines, hunh? That’s another thing we have in common. Wanna meet for coffee or something?”
I gave him my cell phone number and told him to call when he’s available.
Max wrote me back and said, “I would like to meet for something. I don’t drink coffee.”
Then Max text messaged my cell phone and asked if I wanted to get a drink next Thursday. I clicked on Max’s profile one more time, looked at his photo, and licked my lips.
I sent Max a text. “Yes”, I typed. “I look forward to it.”
I arrived at the agreed upon destination only a few minutes late. At 7PM sharp Max had sent me a text asking where I was. I called him to explain I was searching for parking. When Max answered the phone, there was a pause before a timid voice finally said, “hello”. I was surprised by the trepidation in that one word, but I decided that some people get nervous on blind hook-ups. Oh well, I thought to myself, it could be endearing to meet a man who wasn’t jaded by tons of experiences under his belt.
I entered the bar and looked around for Max, who was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t believe he would leave when we had just spoken less than five minutes ago. I stepped outside and called his cell. I heard a phone ring somewhere near me, and Max stepped out from behind a telephone poll.
“Hi John,” he said nervously.
“Hi Max. Did you just see me walk in?”
“Yes”, he said. “I wanted to see you first. You look just like your pictures.”
My pictures were taken two weeks prior. Max’s obviously were not. Don’t get me wrong. Max was not an ugly man, but Max was about ten years older and fifteen pounds heavier than the photo he used on his profile.
I gave Max a hug and said it was nice to meet him.
We sat at the bar and the conversation went smoothly enough at first. We talked about the usual stuff; work, travel, what books we‘re reading. As Max drew close to finishing his drink he finally started to relax. Next thing I knew we were laughing and Max put is hand on my knee. I took this as a good sign.
“Would you like another drink?” I offered.
“Yes,” Max said. “But I must not have more than two. I don’t drink coffee and I am not supposed to drink alcohol. I have irritable bowel syndrome.”
I was speechless. I honestly didn’t know quite what to say. I kept a poker face as all sorts of different voices spoke loudly in my head.
The first voice said, “Ewwww! Too much info! What a freak!” The second voice was much more sympathetic. “Awww,” it said. “That means I won’t be getting any anal action tonight. Damn.” The third voice was consoling and practical. “That’s okay,” it told me. “You can suck each other off.”
Max confessed to me that he had been seeing a twenty-three-year-old Cal student from Berkeley on a pretty regular basis. “He is wonderful to look at,” he explained, “but I think I am tired of playing teacher. All he wants to do is go to the clubs all the time. I think he was very sheltered growing up because he finds these things so new and exciting.”
“Well Max”, I said, “I wanted to do those things at twenty-three myself. Dating someone so much younger can have its plusses and minuses.”
“Of course. I did too at his age,” he said. “However, he is just too sheltered. He won’t even smoke marijuana with me. He says he does not want drugs in his life.”
“I see,” I told him. I raised my glass and said, “Here’s to smoking marijuana.” We toasted and took a drink.
“I only started smoking marijuana about six months ago,” he told me.
“It is for my irritable bowel syndrome. I have a prescription and a marijuana card.”
I have no idea what irritable bowel syndrome looks like, if anything at all, but that term being repeated over and over again was conjuring up images that made me cringe. I desperately tried to change the subject.
“When was the last time you were in a serious relationship, Max?”
“Eight years ago,” he said rather quietly. “I was married… to a woman. Is that bad?”
I heard that trepidation in his voice again.
“Of course not,” I assured him. “I was with a woman for three and a half years. In fact, I felt pretty madly in love with her. We are still best friends.”
“She does not care that you are gay?”
“No. She is married to her wife. We‘re room mates. We’re a family.”
At first Max looked perplexed, but then an expression came over his face that I had seen on faces many times before. It was that expression men make when they open the centerfold of a smutty magazine and don‘t realized their being observed.
“You live with both of your wives?”
“No. They are wives. I’m not married to them.”
“So you do not have sex with them?”
“No. We’re just friends.”
“You never even have sex with the girlfriend?”
“She was my girlfriend in high school. There’s nothing like that going on.”
“So you never get horny for the girl?”
“Nope,” I said shortly.
Max looked at me suspiciously. Surely I jest, his look said. Max leaned in a little closer and put his hand on my knee again.
“What kind of guys turn you on, John?”
“I don’t have a type, Max. I like individuals. Different people turn me on for many different reasons.”
I made sure I gave him “the stare” when I said this. Max blushed.
“I only like tall blondes, with milky white skin, smooth all over and blue eyes. I cannot get hard for any other type“, he announced quickly.
He removed his hand from my knee and took a sip of the second cocktail I just paid for. He started looking everywhere except at me.
I don’t mind admitting I was offended. Not because everyone I meet needs to want to hook up with me, but because everyone who emails me out of the blue telling me they think I‘m sexy, after seeing three of my photos and knowing I am short and brown, better not let me cross a bridge, fight for parking, buy two drinks and then tell me they only sleep with Nazis!
I stood up.
“It was very nice meeting you, Max. I better let you get going since you have to teach tomorrow.”
“Oh no! Really? You must leave?”
I didn’t answer. I was confused.
“It is still pretty early.”
I still didn’t answer.
Max put his finger in the belt loop of my jeans and finally looked into my eyes.
“Do you want to go back to my apartment and smoke some pot?”
Max smiled from ear to ear.
I was very confused and this time it showed on my face. Max started to laugh.
“You are so funny! I love your humor!”
I switched to my poker face and the three voices became a disjointed chorus once again. The first voice said, “Run! This guy’s a freak!” The second voice said, “Awww. That means I won’t be getting any anal action tonight. Damn.” The third voice said, “That’s okay. You can suck each other off.”
We arrived at Max’s studio, and it was one of those places in the Mission with a tiny kitchen and a bedroom. The only furniture in Max’s place was a dresser, a bookshelf with lots of paperbacks about history, math and Buddhism, and a king size bed that left little floor space to walk.
“Thank god,” I thought. “That makes it so much easier to just hop in the sack!”
I kicked off my sneakers and landed in the bed with a bounce. Max got his pot and his bong and he started medicating. He laid down next to me and handed me the goods. I noticed a handmade astrological chart taped to the wall above his bed.
“Did you make that chart?” I asked him.
Max got a bitter expression on his face.
“No. A psychic I used to date made that for me. We saw each other for a long time, I think three months, and then he refused to see me because I liked crystal.”
I had just inhaled a lung full, and so help me I couldn’t control the guffaw that came bursting out. I covered it up with a fake cough.
“Are you alright, John?”
“Yes. I’m fine,” I told him. “It’s just been a while. So, you like to use meth, hunh?” Many things were beginning to make sense.
“In America people do not extend a helping hand to you when you are down. They are only your friend if times are good. If you become broke or broken they go away.”
“People are different where you come from?” I asked.
“No. They are horrible,” he said matter-of-factly.
Then he laughed and so did I. I was relieved he saw the humor in that. I scooted up next to him, both of our backs resting against the wall. We looked into each other’s eyes.
Max blushed and he leaned over and pulled a lap top off the bookshelf.
I took another hit from the bong as he placed the laptop between us and played a porn. A voluptuous woman on a living room sofa was taking it doggy style from a tall, white, blonde haired, blue eyed man wearing a hard hat.
“Does this turn you on?” I asked Max.
“Yes. Is that bad?”
“Look, Max. I don’t think in terms of good or bad. I don’t judge people. I’m just interested in what turns you on.”
“That man is hot. Don’t you think he is hot?”
“They just keep showing a close up of his cock going in and out of her,” I said. “I can’t really see the man.”
“Oh. What kind of porn turns you on?”
“Gay porn, Max. Actually, I don’t need porn to get horny. We can watch this porn if it does it for you.”
“Show me what turns you on,” Max whispered.
I put my hand on Max’s thigh and leaned in to kiss him. Max grabbed the laptop and put it on my lap.
“Show me,” he said.
I was getting impatient and wondering why the hell I ever listened to my third voice. I went to an old standby and pulled up a video of a dude in a sling getting gangbanged. Max stared at the screen in bewilderment.
“He likes the black men?”
“Well, he happens to be doing black guys in this episode, but he does all sorts. He ain’t picky.”
“You like to get fucked like him?”
“No,” I said. I yawned. I looked at the clock on the bookshelf.
“Max,” I said. “Usually when a boy invites me into his bed, shows me porn and smokes me out, it’s because we are going to fool around. Didn’t you bring me here to get it on?”
Max smiled, which was a bizarre thing to do in my summation, and he stared straight ahead. Max put both of his arms behind his head and he leaned back against the wall and his eyes glassed over.
“I do not know. You are such a funny guy. I have not decided yet. Is that bad?”
“Max,” I said slowly. “If we are going to fool around, then I know how to act. If we are just going to chill and smoke, then I also know how to act. I am just trying to alleviate the tension created by these mixed messages.”
Yeah, I’m Sagittarius. I can get frank like that.
Max turned and looked at me; he was still grinning at something or someone, but it wasn’t me. Max didn’t see me anymore. I don’t even think he could hear me. Max whispered, “Do you remember the feel of the pussy?”
Max slowly returned his gaze to that spot on the wall straight ahead. I looked to see what in the hell was so interesting over there. I found it. A framed photo of him and a tall blonde woman. They were embracing and smiling for the camera. Max looked to be the same age and stature of the photo he used for his profile.
My first voice started screaming, “Run! Run for the hills!”
This time I listened.
I crept quietly into the house so as not to wake my roomies. I undressed and slid under the blankets of my bed. I closed my eyes and pushed my hand beneath the elastic of my underwear. I tried to imagine my favorite hook-ups. Bizarrely enough I couldn’t remember any of their faces or bodies well enough to make me excited.
When I am with someone, I am fully in the moment. I do not imagine someone else while I kiss another. However, all alone in the dark, it is him who always comes to mind. It is his familiar face, his familiar touch, the sound of his breath in my ear and the feel of him beneath me. I began to swell and as I touched myself I remembered how my ex tasted and smelled.
I wiped myself off with a dirty t-shirt and rolled over to fall asleep. In my most quiet moments I am forced to realize that somewhere in a cell of my heart there is a chamber for him that has not yet been filled. Perhaps that chamber will always exist. I can keep myself distracted, too busy with affection and work to notice, but all of us must sleep eventually. It is then, in the dark, that we realize there is no escape. The past will creep up on us. We humans; once we love someone we always will. Love can change, it can grow, it can transform into something platonic. However, the memory of love lives on. We feel a pain, reach out to massage it, only to discover there is nothing there.
Love is a phantom.