I could tell you it was the White Party or The Winter Party or some weirdo after party where you dance in the middle of a zoo, but it wouldn't matter. I could also tell you that this was the party where the lights went out, or where the DJ collapsed on her turntables, or where Teddy and Eddy broke up, or where somebody took a dump on the dance floor, or where that guy I've seen a few times out died of a GHB overdose. I could tell you all that, but it wouldn't matter.
What matters is that it was Carmine and me, old pals, arms slung around the others shoulder, stumbling through loose-fit sneakers through the rocky terrain of empty water bottles and plastic cups. Danced-dazed-drug walking shirtless human apes, trudging for an exit. And we were with them.
It was balmy outside. Our bodies sticky with the crowd, the heat and sweat. The lights glowed, thumping lightly. We stood there rolling on our heels for awhile coming to our senses. Buoys in the middle of the sidewalk.
I lit a cigarette. "Where to now?"
"Let's go back to my room. We'll shower, sit down for awhile and head to the after party."
"Aye, Aye Captain."
The walk was pleasant and goofy. I kept grabbing Carmine from the back and squeezing his ribs, tickling him. Making him run away from me and then whining that he was too far away. Pals. Real true pals. It's the only word that comes to mind. That push-push, "I've known you forever/we've been through this thing together" familiarity and old-root strength. We've been there, with each other, the whole time.
At a stoplight I went to poke his ribs another time. He had a delayed response. He wasn't paying attention. He was somewhere else. He pushed away my arm and began walking closer to the wall. Our energy dropped.
"Hey," He said, "I have to tell you something."
I knew the tone. I stopped short, clenching my teeth.
Carmine and I go way back. Back to the gay.com days. Back to AOL Chatrooms. Back to the days when he would meet me after class and we'd take our fake ID's to the straightest Frat bar and pretend to be straight guys just "getting to know one another." It was good that we became friends and never had sex. There was never any interest on either of our parts. Instead we were allies. Comrades in a new terrain. The years of 19 and 20 were adventuresome. Flooded with memories of our delightfully shared secret amongst the keggers and house parties, of renting cars and driving to Phoenix on the dusky desert roads just to go to Pulse for the night. Man, how our hearts would pump. Together we were unstoppable. We we're going to figure this whole thing out.
I came out a little before him. And I was much more loud about it too. He was the jock. Played sports. Had a scholarship. Showed me how to work out. He was the reserved one. But what he enjoyed about my willingness to have fun, to be carefree I took from him his patient resolve, his even-keeled temperament. He challenged my urgent need to come out. He wasn't concerned about the fight or the cause or the plight. To him it didn't exist. It's not that he lacked compassion or was sheltered it's just that Carmine really is that guy who could live in the suburbs: "Give me a house, a dog a boyfriend and a 9 to 5 job and we'll call it a day." To which I'd respond with something like: "The Suburbs?! They'll lynch you!" He would shake his head, roll his eyes and continue sliding his tray down the line at the Student Union Panda Express.
He graduated earlier than I did. I had an additional semester learning how to put the useless "Fine" in Fine Arts. He held back, soaking up the desert sky. Going to the gym. Happy in his out-of-college entry level IT job making a buck and reclining before the sunset in his $400 a month Spanish style one bedroom house. I told him about my internship in Los Angeles. He wished me well. He told me he'd come visit and that I'd better too and with that we stepped out into the world alone, the first chapter of adulthood, waiting to be engulfed.
The years carried us. I bounced from LA to NY. Climbing up the ladder. Getting involved. Stirring passions and he doing the same in his own way. Finding a house, securing a job, jumping from one long term relationship to the next. Always these guys, his stability, contrasting my jump-about Rubik's cube restlessness. He was where he wanted to be, in the openness, and me in the thick of it, Tetris-like buildings falling all around me, encasing me.
The Cell phone crackled:
"So what are you working on now, big shot?"
"Big Shot? Please, I'm moving to Brooklyn."
"Still more money than I have."
"Yeah well, you've always looked better than I have."
"So are we going to this party or not?"
"Yeah, let's do it."
"Ok so I'll book the plane tickets and...we'll rage."
"I hate when you say that."
"....Is the latest coming? I promise not to say it around your beau. I want to meet him."
"Nahhh. He can't get away. It's cool. We're good."
"Cool. How you guys doing?"
"We're good, you know, I really like him. It's just that he's so young and, you know, with everything going on.... I just want to be there for him. It's really tough. But I really like him."
"I hear you, man. You just take your time, communicate. That's all I got."
"Ok speak to you later."
What I heard Carmine saying, although it wasn't actually said, is that Carmine's 22 year old boyfriend tested positive after a few months of them being together. Their lust for one another flowed in the turbulent waves that are the dramatics of the situation, the being there for one another, the passion, the taking of each other's hands through the complexity of this new found situation. The younger man coming to terms with his status the older man confronting it.
Through these waves they churned. Like magnets flipping sides. They were attracted and repelled by one another depending on the week. They loved, they split. They loved again. They saw one another. They loved again. They split. They opened things up. They split. They shared the latest information and medical research to one another. They visited the doctor together. Carmine remained negative, the younger man continued armoring himself.
A year and some months later we find ourselves back on that very same street. We're waiting for the light to change and I'm still clenching my teeth, bracing for an impact.
"Well, I am.......Positive."
I exhaled. I breathed in again. Turning toward him. Staring into his eyes. "Ok." I said in the calm way the voice allows for only the real life moments like these.
"And I don't need the lecture from you, okay?"
"I wasn't going to give it to you," I spit back.
The traffic light clicked. The blinking white man appeared in the black box across the street. Carmine started to cross, his back to me. I threw my arms around him, tight as a harness. I held him back, cupping my fists over the center of his chest and held him. Our bodies warm against one another. I kissed the back of his neck with one long meaningful kiss. A kiss which would translate how much I would be there for him, how much I loved him and how much everything was going to be ok. He took it in, allowing himself to be vulnerable. To let it all go and we stood like that until the blinking man had a chance to appear once more.
We released, dabbing tears from the corner of our eyes. Smiling at one another and sucking the loose snot back into our noses. Back to being pals again he pushed my shoulder. I pushed him right back.
"Alright asshole," he said, "Let's get going."
Nothing more needed to be said.
I received the call on a violet-laced Sunday night. The sun was fading fast. You could see your breath in the air and the bare twigs huddled together like fingers trying to stay warm. Autumn was almost finished, only giving an encore at this point.
The phone bleeped with Carmine's name as I took off my coat and ran upstairs away from the television my roommate had on. I tucked myself into my room. Not turning on any lights. I shared his call in the darkness.
"Hey," He said flatly.
"I just don't understand it man. I don't know what he wants. He doesn't even know. One minute He wants to be together. Then on his own. The he wants a threeway. I just don't know. And on top of it I feel like a girl who just got pregnant and dumped."
"He's 23 years old! Do you remember us when we were 23 we had no idea what we wanted. Fuck, I still don't!"
"I just wish none of this gay ever happened to us. I just wish he could be an ordinary guy without all this gay bullshit to deal with. I don't want to keep going out, the drinking, the meeting people, I don't want any of it anymore! I want what I always wanted. Just a regular guy, with no issues and no hangups who just happens to be gay. I mean is that so hard? He wants to get all caught up in the scene and I don't want any part of it anymore. Positive or not, I don't want spend my time trolling around bars, trying to find a boyfriend who when the tough gets going all the sudden wants an open relationship. I just want," he yelled and then slowed his pace, "A regular fucking guy." "I don't want to do this anymore, man."
The room grew darker. The temperature dropping.
"I know, man. I know what you're saying. I see it too. I feel it too. We all do. We're all out there searching for something. It'll be fine. It'll be ok. Maybe you two just really need your own space. Break away from one another awhile. Take time to find yourself again. Weigh your own priorities. " I kept going, not waiting for pause. I didn't want him to interject. What he was saying was all too much, too real, too true. There was nothing more I could say. I finished another few sentence and when I stopped it seemed as though the phone went dead.
It had. I looked at the brightly lit LCD screen, the only light in the room. The screen bleeped, "call failed -- call failed -- call failed." I waited for him to call back and when he didn't I didn't attempt to call him either. There was nothing more to be said and anyway, it wouldn't have mattered.