An American Masquerade

Most assume that it is women who are consumed with the overall idea of marriage. Supposedly they are enamored by the idea of the security and stability that they will seek with their husband, and the absolution of the responsibility for providing for themselves. Fortunately or unfortunately is it not only women who have such silly ideas.

I was a fairly attractive man in my day. Over 5’10, muscular but not freakishly built up, a light tan, sandy blonde hair and a clean shaven face with a light smattering of freckles. I wore only the best preppy suits from Brooks Brothers and carried a Fendi bag to my incredibly undemanding job as a professor of merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the heart of Chelsea. Of course, I had my own fashionable little place a few blocks down on 23rd Street, complete with an awning and a doorman.

One might find it surprising that I was single, since apparently I had it all. I was even intelligent, and could converse over a bottle of Chianti about topics as diverse as the fall of the house of Halston to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.  Perhaps it was that which lead to my own rise and fall, or perhaps it was my all American good looks or my Fendi bag. Looking back it is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment in which my undoing occurred, all I can recall are the events leading up to it.

My beginnings were the definition of innocuous, taking place in Geneva, Illinois in the fall of 1978. I was the second son born to Todd and Pam Paterson, modest Midwestern homemakers.  My mother was blonde and wore sweatshirts with teddy bears embroidered on them, and my father installed cables for the phone company, and was an avid Chicago Bulls fan. I was christened Alexander William, named for my mother’s favorite author Alexandre Dumas, and William for our distant ancestor William the Conqueror.  Despite being a simple Midwestern housewife, my mother was well read and intrigued by history. My older brother had been given the more conventional name of Paul, and my younger sister became Kathy.  Sometimes I wondered if it was my dramatic name that predestined me to do greater things beyond the scope of America’s breadbasket.

I had the quintessential American childhood. I went to a private Montessori school due to Illinois’s terrible public school system, but I still did normal little boy activities such as the Boy Scouts, basketball, roughhousing with the neighborhood boys, and getting all covered in mud.

“You’re filthy, filthy, filthy, just like all boys,” my mother would tell me after I came in for dinner with dirt from digging in the shrubberies all over me. She clearly favored Kathy, a nice, clean, quiet little cherub, over us.

Kathy never said a word, she just looked at me angelically, as my mother yelled at me for being loud and dirty while playing. She was only three though, clearly she had no clue what was going on, and neither did I until I was much older.

Paul never got the same treatment as me. He was different. In spite of being older, he was smaller, a bookish nerd who preferred reading science books, and dissecting bugs to having friends. He never once got his hands dirty, something that pleased our mother to some extent. No matter how good he was though, she was never reconciled to the fact that he was not a Paula and I not an Alexandra.

It was unclear as to what my father thought regarding the matter.

“Boys will be boys,” was all he said to my mother’s yelling about how nasty we were, before he retired to the family room with a beer, leaving my mother to clean up dinner and do all the housework herself. Yes, we were the stereotypical happy American family, gender roles, and all.

No one would dare look further beneath the surface, certainly not those within the family. Who wants to be responsible for destroying something that has existed for as long as one has known? Every night before bed, Paul would cry and cry, he was just so terrified of going to bed. My mother tried everything, stories, installing a night light, pretending to beat up the bogey man, and so on, until she gave up in frustration and disgust.  None of us asked if maybe there was something else that he was afraid of. My mother and father were sleeping separately, because she believed him to be cheating on her, but we never asked to find out the reason why, nor did they volunteer that reason.  So many secrets and untruths existed under that little roof that nobody dared to discover.

Jason was my best friend at the time. He was an athletic boy like me, two years older, with dark skin and glasses that broke every year from being mistreated.  His family was conventional like ours, but it was clear they were just bit higher up socioeconomically. My mother tried to show that we were cultured and educated by decorating the walls with prints by Rococo artists (she was very feminine in her tastes) whose names she made sure to drop in casual conversation so everyone would believe she was a true connoisseur.

“Ah yes, that is The Meeting from the Loves of the Shepherds by Jean-Honore Fragonard, painted in 1773,” she would proclaim if somebody stated that they liked the colors.

Jason’s family did not have to put on such airs, they just were. His father was a literary critic who met his mother, an amateur poet, at a party hosted by The New Yorker. He used his connections to get her published, and then brought her to the Midwest to be his wife. Their house was furnished with dark teak, handmade furniture, and knickknacks from their various travels around the world. Theatre tickets and obscure books lay casually on side tables.

Regardless of his family’s status, or perhaps because they had raised him to be so astute and aware of the world, Jason was the only one who asked me why my parents barely spoke to each other except if my father demanded that my mother make him dinner or bring him another beer.

“Well isn’t that how parents act?” I asked him confused, since obviously I didn’t know anything different. All of my friends had two parents who worked so I rarely, if ever, saw their families interact.

“No…” he trailed off, apparently slightly dumbfounded. “A mother and a father are supposed to love and respect each other. Being married is a commitment for life and that is how you make it work.”

I was only eight and he ten when he made this statement. He was a very intelligent and well spoken little boy.

“Oh.” Was all I said, since at least at that time, I was not yet quick on my feet with words.

It was with Jason that I first realized that I was different from other boys. It was 1986 and I was in the third grade. Charlie had a crush on Peggy, Michael liked to tease Susie and Tommy pulled the pigtails of Mary Jane. I liked to sit and talk in the corner with Jason. I saw nothing wrong with that, but apparently Charlie, Michael and Tommy did.

“Jason and  Alex, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” they sang. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage! Wait….you’re boys! Ahahahaha!” They would run off, pelting us with leftover French fries from their lunch.

“What’s wrong with us sitting together and talking?” I asked Jason, who knew so much more about the world than I did.

“Well…my parents have two friends, Dan and Adam, who live together and raise dogs together. When my parents introduce them at parties they introduce them as ‘partners.’”

“Are they partners in a dog raising business?” I asked.

“No, the dogs belong to them. They’re partners in their lives, they live together.” He explained.

“Like a mommy and a daddy, except like a daddy and a daddy to dogs?” I said, slowly realizing what he meant. He was saying that his parent’s friends were two men who were in love and shared a house and a life, instead of being like a man and a woman who were in love and got married. That wasn’t horrible; it was different, but not horrible.

“Do people have a problem with Dan and Adam?” I asked yet another question.

“Yeah, people say it goes against the Bible. Also there’s some new disease called AIDs which people say that they spread.”

“Weird,” I said. “So do you think the boys think we’re like Dan and Adam?”

“Probably,” He stated in a matter of fact tone.

In class kids snickered as we made our way back to our desks. We knew that they were stupid though. At least I knew they were.  None of them could be as smart as Jason.

After school we both played soccer at the local community center and changed in a communal locker room. The only other boy I had seen naked was my brother Paul after my mother had given him a bath. He had a pale, scrawny little body like a chicken’s that grossed me out to look at. Jason however was strong and healthy with the perfect shade of caramel skin that I wanted to run my hand over. He had to have seen me looking at him, but he never said a word. None of the other boys struck my fancy though, just him. That was probably why I never thought that I was one of those boys, a boy like Dan or Adam who liked other boys. I thought I was simply admiring my friend’s positive physical qualities.

So this was the time when all the boys had chosen a girl whose life they would make miserable because they found her cute, like a junior crush. No doubt one of those boys had become so curious about what made girls different than boys that they went so far as to sneak a peak at their sister when she came out of the bath. I however, was entirely repulsed. I could agree that my sister Kathy had perfect little blonde curls and looked adorable in pink, but the thought of her being any more than a model for nice clothes and perfect hair left me disgusted. I wanted no part of whatever lay underneath her or any other girl’s dress. I even ran home sobbing one day when a group of kids of mixed genders decided to play doctor. Of course I was only eight, so it’s not as if anybody such as my parents thought something was up.

“You cried when Charlie wanted to play doctor with Mary,” Jason stated.

“Shut up! It’s just gross!” I yelled at him, embarrassed.

“Would you think it was gross if it was just you and me playing doctor?” He asked.

I ran away. Clearly something was up, but I was eight, this was way too much for me to deal with at the moment. I thought it over in my head. To be honest I kind of did want to play just with him, but that sounded weird and dirty too. I desperately wished I could ask my mother for help, but lately she had been too distracted to deal with us children very much. Even Kathy got yelled at now, for the smallest of things, such as accidentally getting her food on the table as she ate. Dad was barely around either, in retrospect he was probably staying at a hotel.  I even wished I could talk to Paul, but by this time he was in the sixth grade with officially one friend, his lab partner Kevin, and that could hardly be called a friendship. Kevin was a bit of a bully and somewhat of a nitwit, who bribed Paul with chocolate to do his science homework for him. Paul was so desperate for human contact outside of his family that he took what he could get. I was desperate too however.

“Paul, I need to ask you something.”I stood at his door as he peered up from his microscope.

“The mitochondria are what power the cell,” he answered.

“No, it’s not a science question. It’s about friends.” I clarified.

“Oh wow, I’m definitely the one to come to for that,” he replied sarcastically.

“How would you feel if Kevin wanted to play doctor with you and see your body?” I flat out asked him.

“Ummm….ew? That’s really gross? Why would a boy want to do that with another boy?” He looked at me with a really weird expression.

“I don’t know, are only girls supposed to want to do that with boys?” I asked him.

“Duh!” he said, and he slammed the door in my face.

That was certainly an answer to my doubts.

It was 1989. I was eleven years old, the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse and my parents’ marriage had entirely collapsed. My father moved to Chicago with a Romanian woman named Francesca who had just fled the Communist Regime. It wasn’t clear if he loved her; she just provided an excuse to leave. My mother stopped making dinner, she just cried all day and night and shoved frozen dinners at Paul, now thirteen and in the eighth grade, to cook for us. We weren’t supposed to know this, but Paul, who had since given up on sobbing and protesting at the thought of going to sleep, still wet his bed at night. The only reason we knew, was that my mother had ceased doing any sort of housekeeping along with not making dinner upon my father’s departure, so Kathy and I had to do the laundry sometimes. Paul must have realized that we knew his secret though, for we only did his sheets once, and after that he always took care of his own stuff.

Jason and I were still friends and I began having dinner at his house, for his parents were kind and loving toward one another, so his mother was still inclined to take care of the family and provide the meals.  She always served something exotic such as roasted duck or lamb with an abundance of bread and vegetables on the side, with a big slice of chocolate cake or two scoops of ice cream for desert.  She was absolutely beautiful with perfect honey colored skin, and long wavy dark hair without a hint of grey in it. It was clear where Jason got his good looks from.  Jason’s mother and his father would spend the meal discussing each other’s day, current events, and then would ask Jason and I what we had done that day. Jason had no siblings to turn their attention away from us.

This was heaven, my ideal family. This was where I first got the notion that my goal was to be married and live in a perfect house like this with a perfect son and perfect food and conversation.

Usually these dinners ended with a sleepover, since Jason’s family had an idea of the unhappy situation that was occurring at my own home, and this was their own little way of helping. I frequently declined though, since Paul was emotionally weak and could not effectively deal with my mother and protect Kathy from what was going on. Occasionally however, I relented.

“Would you like to share a sleeping bag with me?” Jason asked me one night. It was cold out, and his parents had left the house to go to some fabulous dinner party, so I said yes.

I snuggled into the downy bag with him and felt his warm skin against mine. He ran his hand through my short hair, which felt really nice. I wished I had long hair that he could play with and braid. We lay like that for several hours. I was eleven and he was thirteen, it wasn’t as if we were going to engage in heavy petting or anything. He kissed me on the forehead like a parent would and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. The scene could be more accurately described as “adorable” than any word that might be used to describe a sex scene.

We were awakened by the sound of the phone ringing. It was Paul.

“Alex, please come home right now, Mom got mad at Kathy, and long story short, Kathy got her arm dislocated. Mom is hysterical so I called a cab to take Kathy to the hospital. Can you go with her and I’ll stay here with Mom?”

Needless to say, when we arrived at the emergency room, the doctors had many questions to ask the eleven year old who was accompanying a six year old with a dislocated arm to the emergency room without a parent in sight.

A social worker talked to me in the waiting room while Kathy was getting her arm fixed.

“Does your mother hit your sister a lot? Has she ever hit your? What about your brother, does he have to protect you?” and the questions just went on. I denied everything, which was sort of the truth, this was the first time she had ever laid a hand on one of us, and Kathy certainly could get out of hand.  I told her that Mom was just having a difficult time dealing with the fact that Dad had left, and Paul watched out for us all.

Dad came to pick us up, Paul in tow.

“Mom’s with the police,” was all he said, offering no explanation as to why she was with the police. Kathy began to cry.

“It was my fault!” she wailed, “I was a bad girl!” We never had asked her specifically what happened, nor had Paul volunteered anything. Instead of going back to Mom’s house, we drove about an hour and a half to the apartment Dad shared in Chicago with Francesca, where there was a lawyer and a social worker waiting. I ate a Popsicle while Paul and Kathy were interviewed regarding whatever had happened with Mom.

“Would you be happier living with your father?” The lawyer asked me. “He’d like to have a chance to be in your life and provide a good home for you.”

“But what about Mom, doesn’t she want to be in my life?” I asked her.

“Of course she does, but maybe for now it would be best if you only visited with her, and made a permanent home with your father until she feels better.” The lawyer replied.

Out of loyalty I wanted to stay with my mother, our father had never been active in our lives, but maybe he was just unhappy then, and things would be better now that he had Francesca.

“I’m suing for full custody, that bitch is a fucking nutcase.” I heard Dad say when the lawyer went back in to talk with him. I found Paul sitting on the front stoop sobbing.

“I can’t live with Dad, I just can’t.”

“Why not?” I asked him. “Mom hurt Kathy, what if she hurts us? She needs time to get better.”

“Mom’s not the only one who hurts people.” He said through his stifled sobs.

“What is supposed to mean? Are you talking about how Dad hurt us when he left?” I asked, but he wouldn’t elaborate, I just assumed that was what he was talking about.

Several hours later Dad took us back to Mom’s house so we could pack up all her things. She wasn’t there, according to Dad she wasn’t allowed to see us until their next court date and after she underwent a psychological evaluation.

I ran over to Jason’s house to say goodbye, but he wasn’t there. I left a note my phone number underneath his doormat in case he wanted to call me.

Francesca was actually good about helping us all adjust. She made us traditional Romanian cornmeal mush and told us stories about growing up under Communism. Dad seemed happier too, he was still working for the phone company, but now he had an administrative job. When dinner was finished he would help her clean up and sit with all of us in the living room. Paul was still nervous an anxious, Dad wasn’t worried about it though, he said Paul was just upset over what had happened with Mom and that he’d get over it. The rest of us agreed with him.

We didn’t stay in Chicago for long. Dad didn’t like the public school system there, but mainly he just wanted to get away and live in a radically different environment, so we packed up and headed to Great Falls, Northern Virginia.

In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected president and I entered my freshman year at Langley High School. I had acclimated fairly well to my new life here in Virginia, as well as Kathy who had developed a passion for soccer. Paul on the other hand, remained an unhappy nervous wreck. He was a junior at my school, and as was the case back home in Illinois, had not made any friends whatsoever. He was so antisocial that the guidance counselors had actually called in my Father and Francesca, who was now his wife, to discuss the possibility that he might have some sort of psychological disorder. They agreed that he might be prone to depression and took him to a quack psychiatrist who prescribed him the antidepressant Zoloft. My father adamantly refused to take him to psychology for talk therapy, which Francesca who was not even his real mother, was in favor of. Something about being a man was what he muttered when she brought it up.

I assumed that he was just angry when Dad finally married Francesca and saw her as some sort of usurper of Mom’s former role in the family. Mom sent cards on our birthdays, but otherwise never tried to visit us. Kathy and I got over it, but Paul seemingly never did. I had so much fun helping plan Dad and Francesca’s wedding. The colors were white and blue, so I scoured flower stores looking for the perfect shade of blue flowers for the tables, I went to the meetings with the wedding planner and helped pick out the most perfect white plates with a blue azalea pattern for the dinner. Kathy joined us in picking songs for the DJ to play at the reception. Paul refused to participate at all; he wouldn’t even be in the wedding party or stand up and give a toast for Dad. Kathy was a flower girl and I was a best man. I could not wait until it was my turn to have this special day.

Jason never did call me after I had moved, I figured perhaps my number had gotten swept away by the wind, or since he was older, he probably found a cooler crowd and forgot about me.  After a few weeks, I myself had found a cooler crowd and eventually forgot about him. This was an opportunity for me to escape my prior reputation as a boy who liked other boys, so I became the teenage version of a shameless womanizer.

When I was fourteen I could proudly say that I had broken all the girls’ hearts.  I laughed with Beth in first period, passed notes with Susan in history class, sat with Karen at lunch, and giggled with Emma on the bus home. I left each of them wondering which one I liked and was going to ask out. All were disappointed when it was none of them. Despite or because of that, I became one of the most popular kids in school, even being spoken to by upperclassmen. Needless to say, that did not please Paul who was spoken to by no one.

“L-A-N-G-L-E-Y! GOOOOOOOOOOOOO LANGLEY!” yelled the cheerleaders. I had developed an interest in athletics by this point and played for Langley’s Freshman football team. My Dad and Francesca were frequently busy, so it was Paul who chauffeured me to my games and back. Naturally, I left him waiting in the parking lot most times as I goofed around with the members of the varsity team after a game.

“Hey, why didn’t your mom take you?” One on the boys asked me, when Paul angrily came up to one of us. All of these boys had devoted team mothers who wore school sweatshirts, belonged to the booster clubs and sponsored homemade post game dinners.

“Because his mother is a bitch who abandoned her family when we needed her the most,” Paul suddenly burst out when I hesitated to answer.

“Whoa, whoa, she’s at home busy with Dad, that’s all,” I said, trying to smooth over the incredibly awkward situation.

“No Alex, she isn’t. Francesca is not your real mother,” Paul continued.

The football players looked back and forth at us in silence. Most likely they had never even heard Paul speak, much less say something this bizarre and angry. He was so far down on the social totem pole, that he wasn’t even made fun of, just ignored.

“Ok, well it was great seeing you guys! Great game! I’ll see you all later,” I said. Leaving was the only way out of this mess.

“Bye…” they all trailed off awkwardly.

“What the fuck is your problem?” I asked Paul, “Why do you have to be such a jealous asshole, trying to embarrass me in front of my friends? It’s your own fault that no one likes you, so don’t take it out on me,” I was so angry and humiliated.

“You need to learn how to face the truth,” he said stoically.

“Um yeah, I have,” I countered. “Mom and Dad weren’t happy. Dad found someone he was happy with and Mom couldn’t deal and fell apart. She took it out on Kathy with bad results, so now we’re in a better place with Dad. The end, you’re the one who needs to learn how to deal.”

“So fucking naïve. So naïve,” was all he said, and he would not speak to me for the rest of the drive home.

Paul was not the asshole, I was. So, I began ignoring him, and the rest of the family, in favor of my popular friends. I was always part of the court at homecoming, and was one of the few sophomore boys to be asked to prom by an upperclassmen girl.  It was no wonder that I was elected prom king my senior year.  Without a doubt my classmates were questioning whether I was gay or not, since regardless of my popularity, I never once had a girlfriend. Every girl was just a friend or a fling that I barely even kissed. Not to mention the fact that I was honing my extremely dapper and preppy sense of style, that was partially influenced by my infatuation with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In terms of college, Paul stayed local and went to George Mason, majoring computer science. The poor sap didn’t even dorm. I had far more grandiose dreams for myself in the year of 1996, Bill Clinton’s second year elected, and made the big step of moving to New York City to major in business at Baruch College. I was James Gatz remaking himself as Jay Gatsby. No longer would I find my glory at a high school in Virginia, I would be one of the most successful businessmen in New York City rivaling even Donald Trump. “The Alex” I would be.

As a mere freshman, knocking Donald Trump off his pedestal did not happen, nor would it ever, but clearly I did not know that at the time. Nor was my social life the wild party I expected it to be, seeing as this was New York City. My favorite hang out was a jazz club on Christopher Street near the infamous Stonewall Inn, called Le Chat Gonfle, literally translating from French as “The Inflated Cat.” There I played ping pong, games of chess, and drank red wine with countless nameless strangers, none of them interesting enough to make me want to pursue them further.

“Let’s play chess using my bottles of Advil,” I heard a voice say as I sat looking at a chess board that was lacking a King, which one had to buy at the bar to pay for the game.

“Why do you have bottles of Advil?” I asked the girl who stood before me. She was young, average height, with curly red hair and was wearing a dark green sarong with a print of elephants on it.

“My mom gets migraines. I forgot to give her pills back. I’m Veronica LaBianca, how about you?”

“I’m Alex,” I replied. “And I suppose I shall agree to play chess using Advil bottles with you.”

She was good at this game and had me in checkmate within twenty minutes. Smart people impressed me, so I remembered the name of this girl and called her the following night.

“Want to smoke pot?” She asked. In high school I may have been a miniature Casanova, but I never did anything such as drugs. The worst thing I did in that regard was drink a 40 oz and prank call somebody. Besides that, I had been a good boy.

“I’m always up for a new experience,” I responded. I didn’t get high the first time. I did get to know her better though. Her mom was a hairdresser, she had gone to high school in Connecticut, and now she was majoring in Illustration at the Fashion Institute.

“My goal is to be the illustrator for the Everybody Poops series,” she explained. I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not, so I said that sounded excellent.

We met and smoked again, but it wasn’t until the third time that I was able to get high. I met her at the corner of 7th and West 27th near a weird piece of modern art, and we walked in the darkness of night to Madison Square Park. David Glasgow Farragut, immortalized as a statue with a bench, provided our privacy.

I felt the familiar burn as I inhaled, but this time my heart was pounding and I felt as if I could not breathe. Uncontrollable coughing did not help that feeling.  Sitting down I felt nothing, but as soon as I stood up it felt as if I were in the middle of a dream. Intellectually my mind knew this was reality, but I could not comprehend that this was my reality. How amazing it was that I was here with this beautiful girl in the middle of New York City! This was my life! Let those from back home who never left the state see me now, them rotting away on their traditional campuses doing ordinary college activities, Paul staying at home as if he had never grown up, but me! Me all grown up and here by myself in New York City.

Now I was uncontrollably laughing, and Veronica was laughing with me.

“Isn’t this awesome!” she giggled. “I can’t believe you’ve never done this before.”

As we stumbled, or at least it felt like I was stumbling, along 7th Avenue I ended up telling her an abbreviating version of my life story, about how my mom had left, what she had done to Kathy, about Paul, my Dad, Francesca, and so on. I had not spoken to Mom since I was fourteen; she had met a man and moved to Canada. Kathy barely remembered her at all. Dad had won full custody of us, since she had effectively abandoned her duties as a mother.

Veronica was the most kind and sympathetic listener I had ever known. My story actually brought her to tears, she empathized so much.

“How tragic it is to be abandoned by a mother,” she stated, “I couldn’t imagine life without my Mom. I can’t even fall sleep without feeling the rhythm of her heartbeat,” she said. It took me a while to realize she was joking about the heartbeat, besides the otherwise seriousness of her statement.

Veronica became my near constant companion, at least when our class schedules allowed. We had fun nights out playing ping pong at Le Chat Gonfle, fun nights in watching movies from when we were kids such as The Breakfast Club, and nights where we just talked, sharing our innermost thoughts and dreams.  I could honestly say that she was my best friend and I thought perhaps she felt the same way about me as well. I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps she wanted more out of our friendship though. No doubt she had an idea in her mind that I did not prefer girls, even though I had never explicitly said so, however I could still feel some sort of sexual tension in the air now, whenever we were together.

In our second year of college the movie Titanic came out, and we went to go see it. Personally I felt that the way Rose fell for Jack was stupid, considering that they had only known each other for approximately three days, but Veronica saw a much deeper significance to their relationship.

“She’s not in love with him specifically, Alex,” she explained, “She’s in love with the idea of him. He symbolizes the freedom that she feels she cannot have; the idea of independence and being her own person; not being dependent on her mother or any man. Why do you think she never went back to her family after he died? Duh!”

Her explanation of the psychology behind Jack and Rose’s relationship had such fervor behind it that I sort of wondered if she felt that way about me somehow. I couldn’t imagine why though, I was no free spirit, she was. I wasn’t even officially out of the closet at this point, which was pretty ridiculous living in New York City. I was just so used to being the quirky, fashionable man whom all the girls loved, that I wasn’t ready to give up that cute role yet and truly explore the sexual aspect of my identity.

This bugged me for a while, so I finally asked her. Thankfully, she being my faithful friend was candid.

“It’s not that I have a romantic crush on you per se, I guess I sort of do have a crush on the idea of you, like you asked. You just act so cool and confident around both guys and girls like you don’t give a shit. And you clearly don’t, I mean look at how you dress. Brooks Brothers suits with orange loafers? You’re nineteen! You should be in jeans and a t-shirt. I just have to wonder, why haven’t you told anyone yet that you’re gay? I know you never told me, but trust me, it’s obvious.”

If everyone already knew, as she implied, maybe I should just flat out tell people. My family was traditional, but they certainly weren’t bigots, and it’s not as if anyone at Baruch would care, I’d just be one of the crowd. I researched famous gay people to see if they could help me come up with any ideas for how to come out to my friends and family. Apparently Graham Chapman, my favorite Python from Monty Python had had a party. I would do the same. I couldn’t invite my family obviously, since they were far away in Virginia and wouldn’t want to take the train up, so I called them.

By now Kathy was in high school at Langley and blossoming. If any of the events of the past had scarred her, she certainly didn’t show it. She was a varsity cheerleader, member of the National Honor Society, and president of the Latin Club. She was my favorite little girl and I made sure to call her at least once a week to keep up with what was going on in her life. I wanted to be a positive influence to her, since I’d never had one from Paul.

Paul graduated from George Mason with mediocre grades right before I moved to the city. He wasn’t able to get any sort of computer job though. Instead he worked as an assistant manager at Borders while living in Dad and Francesca’s basement. For someone who professed to hate them so much, he certainly wasn’t in any hurry to remove them from his life.

“Hi Fran,” I said nonchalantly when she picked up the phone. “I have something pretty import to tell the whole family. Can you get everyone together and put me on speaker?”

“Well coincidentally we’re all here tonight, one moment.” She replied. “Ok, go on,” she said once everyone had assembled.

“To put it plainly…I am gay,” I stated flat out.

“I always knew you were a fucking fag,” Paul said immediately, presumably walking away shortly after.

“Maybe I should join the GSA,” mused Kathy.

“Ok,” was all my dad said.

“I had an idea,” said Francesca.

And that was that. I was out of the closet. Apparently they were cool, except Paul, but he would never, ever forgive me for being more popular than him, so his reaction probably had more to do with that, than whatever feelings he had regarding gay people.  So there it was; my coming out story. So many people had dramatic ones about their family rejecting them, being run out of their neighborhood, and so on. I was almost disappointed, despite my relief.

My coming party with my friends went equally smooth, with Veronica being the guest of honor. Everyone noticed the irony of a gay boy hosting a coming out party, yet having a female be the guest of honor, so it was decided immediately that I had to begin a manhunt for my first real boyfriend. My hangouts expanded from the Le Chat Gonfle to clubs such as Rush, Home and Jekyll and Hyde. I didn’t want to date some club boy though. I would probably end up with some loon along the lines of Michael Alig.

It was pretty embarrassing, but at this time in my life I actually had a crush on a pretty famous male actor who was around my age, and starred in a series of movies for children and young adults. I even went to an event where I got to see him in person, but of course he wasn’t going to look at a boy or sign an autograph for him, because he was into girls. I was pretty devastated for some time, but I tried to forget about him, focusing only on school, my friends and my job. After my first year in college I began to view myself as a bum for not working, so I got a job as a sales associate at a better priced women’s clothing store.

I had not spoken to my mother since we’d left Illinois, and she’d even stopped sending me birthday cards since I’d turned sixteen or so, but her love for art lived on in me, and I would spend whole days at the Met, just wandering the galleries. My favorite painter was El Greco. His work was completed in the Sixteenth Century, yet it was so modern as if Picasso had painted it early in his career. I stared at the cardinal he’d painted a portrait of, wondering what that worry behind his eyes meant, and what was on that piece of paper he had dropped.

I always stopped to pay a visit to Gaius Caligula, my favorite Roman Emperor, on the first floor. I just felt so sorry for him, being such a misunderstood guy. I wished I could know what he had experienced from his perspective, and what justification or defense he could offer for his alleged actions. Regardless of what he had or had not done, it was impressive to imagine that someone was still thinking about him, nearly two-thousand years later, on the other side of the planet.

“He fucked his sister, you know,” some guy said while I stood looking at Gaius.

“How do you know? Were you there? I think most of the stories made up about him were part of anti-imperial propaganda,” I retorted, strangely defensive of this ancient man I had never known.

“Well, that’s just what I heard,” the guy said. He was about my age, my height, brown hair, blue eyes and was wearing this weird military inspired, hunter green, polyester jacket with black pants that had stripes down the sides, matching the jacket.  He was slender but not grossly skinny, the sort of body type that I liked.  He carried an expensive, yet worn, looking brown leather messenger bag.

“I’m Alex by the way. Are you a history buff or what?” I asked, introducing myself.

“Sort of.  I think military history is interesting, but mainly because I cannot fathom why people would be driven to commit such atrocities against on another, for the sake of who knows what. I think World War One is pretty cool, and I think it’s pretty fascinating how the whole Dadaist art movement grew as a reaction to that. Oh yeah, my name’s Jake.”

Gaydar must be real, not an urban myth, because I had an idea that he liked boys, and he had that idea about me, and we both ended up being correct. It was funny because all we did was exchange numbers to hang out later, but there was just something implied behind it all, like a silent understanding, that I couldn’t even being to explain.

Veronica and I used to spend nearly all of our spare time together, but now she had been replaced by Jake. I didn’t intend to replace her completely, no one could replicate the sort of friendship she and I had, but Jake came pretty damn close to doing that.  His reactions and perspectives were drastically different than Veronica’s however. When I told him about my mom and my brother, etc., he did not react with any sort of emotion of sorrow upon hearing what could have potentially caused me great pain, he simply asked me what I thought my mom’s motivations might have been for leaving.

Although others may find it in poor taste to bring up an idea such as that when someone discusses the fact that their mother had abandoned their family, I was glad that he had mentioned it. I was so used to thinking of my mother as just that, my mother, not an individual woman with thoughts, feelings, and motivations that went beyond those that centered only on the family. It had never occurred to be that perhaps she had expected more from being a wife and a mom, and had not realized that being fulfilled in one’s life has only a small amount to do with what you do for other people. You have to do something for yourself as well. I wished Paul could see things that way, but he was somewhat justified for his anger. A mother should never completely abandon her children; she brought them into this world, they depend on her, and nothing will fill the void when she leaves them.

The first time Jake kissed me was after we had seen Phantom of the Opera and he was exhilarated by the passion the Phantom had felt for Christine.

“We have reached the point of no return!” he cried, as he greedily put his lips over mine. I was taken a bit by surprise, but just as in the movies, it began to feel natural and everything fell into place.

I had never had a lover before and now Jake was my lover. I felt like a giant walking, talking cliché of joy, and giddiness, and all the silly words poets use to describe the feeling of falling in love. I even began fantasizing about my perfect wedding again, with him as my groom, in some liberal foreign country where gay marriage was legal.

“Why don’t you hang out with me anymore?” Veronica asked me, as I was skipping along the sidewalk, engrossed in my thoughts of Jake.

“What are you talking about? I hang out with you all the time,” I said, genuinely confused.

“No you don’t. It’s all about Jake. You’re always with Jake. And when you’re not with Jake, you’re talking about Jake. Enough with Jake! I hate Jake!”

I was pretty taken aback by her anger. I was just in love with him; I didn’t think I was obsessed with him.

“Well…would you want to do something with me then? A no-mentioning –of- Jake night?” I asked tentatively.

“No,” she replied. “You make me feel like shit and I can’t deal with it anymore. I felt that it would be most tactful of me to tell you that in person. Maybe now you’ll have something to think about other than Jake,” and she left.

Veronica had left me. Most of my friends had left me in fact. But I still had Jake, I would always have Jake. If there were an illustration in the dictionary next to the word “codependency,” that illustration would have been of us.

“What do you mean you want to study abroad in Italy?” Jake whined when I told him about my interest in a study abroad for a semester program.  “You would seriously leave me for a stupid school thing?”

Jake was in school too, doing photography and independent study at New York University, but the enormous amount his parents were paying for his education was a colossal waste, as he rarely, if ever went to class.

“I don’t consider just a stupid school thing,” I tried to explain to him. “This is a once in a life time opportunity to become immersed in another culture, besides, you know about my interest in Roman history.”

“Well to me it is stupid!” He shouted back. “You are leaving me, plain and simple. How do I know you’re not going to go over there and just be fucking Giacomo and Benito and all their other little pizza buddies? You need to consider my feelings once in a while!”

Sadly this was not the first time Jake had become so enraged and jealous over something that was in the grand scheme of things, relatively minor. Yes, moving to Italy for four months was a huge step, but a relationship needs to be built on trust, and I wished we had that trust, so he could believe that I would not cheat on him simply because I had the opportunity to.  Occasionally I even worried that he would hit me, or do something really crazy like throw a TV out a window, but so far his violence was relegated to the verbal kind.

It’s not as if he had had a bad childhood or something either, that had traumatized him, and was causing him to act out irrationally now. He was an only child, somewhat spoiled from a wealthy family, but there was no neglect or abuse in his past, at least that I was aware of. I had spoken freely of the way Paul acted, and the circumstances surrounding our removal from our mom’s house, so presumably if he did have a story to tell, he would have told it then.

Whatever his reasons for being a needy asshole were, he always won these arguments because I was so terrified of losing him and being alone. Perhaps that was the way he felt as well. I had a feeling that I was the first person he had ever truly loved as well. Not to mention, we had a really awesome sex life, but that’s not a very good reason to stay in a bad relationship.  But, in New York City I stayed.

I graduated in the year 2000 and got a job in the advertising department of some small real estate agency that mostly represented properties in Brooklyn.  My official duty was to assist the advertising team in brainstorming ideas for increasing the agency’s visibility in the real estate market, but I ended up just being the coffee fetcher, and made copies of documents. My meager salary allowed me to rent a small apartment up in Washington Heights, and of course, Jake crashed there.

His grades were so bad that he eventually dropped out of NYU, and worked low level retail jobs. I had actually had him come into apply at the women’s clothing store where I  worked during college, after they had a vacancy created by me leaving to go to the real estate agency, but he never showed up for the interview. I’m sure that left them with a real great impression of me as well.  His parents were furious at their son’s failure, and refused to help him out anymore financially since he had wasted nearly one-hundred and twenty thousand dollars of tuition by not going to class, so naturally I was the only one left for him to mooch off of.

I couldn’t let him do this to me though. My father had put two sons through school, and now it was time to send his daughter off, but there was just not enough money. Financial aid would help a little bit, but I felt it was my duty as a good older brother, to help Kathy out with what I could, to ensure that she had the future that she deserved.

“Jake. You’re going to have to get a job and stand on your own two feet,” I said flatly one night at dinner. I didn’t know how else to tell him, he always pretended not to understand subtle hints.

“Ok,” said Jake, he finished his soup, packed a small bag, and walked out the door. I could have dropped dead right there on the floor, I was so dumbfounded. Jake, of all people, just accepting a statement like that? Even a normal person would have been slightly more upset. I sat at the table for a long time, in shock, before I finally got up to watch some TV. At three AM I got a phone call.

“Hello, this is Carla Williams at St. Vincent’s Hospital. May I please speak with Alexander Paterson?”

“This is he,” I said warily.

“We took in a man tonight, who gave your name as his only contact within the city. Do you have a friend named Jake Albertson?”

I pulled on a sweater and took the train down to Fourteenth Street where the hospital was.

“What happened?” I asked the nurse. He wasn’t allowed visitors yet.

“He was distraught upon the ending of a relationship. He slit his wrists with a broken bottle then attempted to throw himself on the train tracks. He was incredibly lucky that a homeless person was nearby, and restrained him. Do you have any idea about the circumstances surrounding this or previous suicide attempts?”

“No clue,” I mumbled. “Why didn’t you contact his parents?”

“Wouldn’t let us. Any idea on how to reach them?”

I actually did have an idea. Jake was from some town outside of Philadelphia, where his parents owned a small hardware chain called Albertson’s, the source of their wealth, so presumably they could be reached through their company somehow.

Jake still wasn’t considered stable enough to receive visitors, so I sat in the lobby and read some story about Halle Berry. According to the nurse, he didn’t even realize why he was in there.

It was late and I was tired, but didn’t want to just abandon him, since I was partially responsible for his behavior, despite my denial of that, so I pulled two chairs together and fell asleep. The next morning I was awakened by loud screaming coming from the vicinity of Jake’s room.

“WHY THE FUCK AM I IN HERE, YOU FUCKING MEDDLING ASSHOLES. LET ME THE FUCK OUT NOW! I’M FINE!” Jake was shouting. I could see the backs of an older couple, who presumably were his parents.

“We didn’t put you in here. Your little friend Alex did,” I could hear his mother say.

Now it was my turn to wonder, ‘what the fuck?’ How could they possibly blame me for his behavior? I did not have any obligation to put up with him, regardless of how unstable he might have been.

A few more minutes of screaming passed, and they left, glaring silently at me as they walked out of the waiting room.

“Your friend’s able to see people now!” the nurse announced cheerfully, apparently oblivious of the awkwardness of the situation.

Understandably I was fairly hesitant to see him, considering the exchange that had just occurred, but I figured that I might as well since I had spent the night.

“Hi…how are you?” I asked tentatively.

“Why’d you have to call the police?” He spat.

“Umm…what are you talking about?” I was pretty bewildered.

“The nurses told me that you called the police on me and said I wanted to kill myself. Why would you do something like that?”

“Well, I actually didn’t do that. You did in fact attempt suicide and a homeless man stopped you and notified the authorities who took me here. They called me because they said I was the only contact you listed in the city.”

“Bullshit. You’ve always been a fucking liar. You just wanted me out of the way so you could fuck all those fancy schmancy real estate guys. I bet there’s some ‘King of Real Estate’ out there that you fuck in a seedy motel.”

“I don’t have or want any other men. I broke up with you because you were draining too much of my money, and I needed it to help Kathy. I’m sorry that I feel that my sister is more important that anyone else. You took the breakup very hard and apparently felt it was worth ending your life over. That’s all there is to it,” I explained as calmly as I could.

“No. No. I know you, I’ve always known who you are. A snake.  A snake who sucks the life out of everyone around it. Well you know what? I’m going to teach you a lesson. I know every hit man in Philly, and guess what? They know every hit man in New York City. Consider yourself warned. Good day now.”

I had never been more appalled in my entire life. I was normal, stable, had supported him materially and emotionally, and so on, and had rarely if ever asked for anything in return, except for when I had been forced to ask him to leave, because he would not listen to my pleading to get a job. But in his mind it was I who was the soul sucking lunatic. And now I had hit men after me. Great.

I got sick of the real estate business, so switched to a job at a freelance ad agency that had just started up. I always thought it was funny that I had majored in something so dry as business, but ended up in such a creative career.

Jake was released from the hospital after a week, but made no effort to contact me, something that offered me immense relief. Occasionally I looked at suspicious vans, wondering if the driver was someone Jake had hired to scoop me into the back, and beat me to death with a tire iron, but that scenario never played out.

“Jake is officially out of my life for good,” I told Veronica over the phone. I missed having someone who understood me in everyway and would listen to me no matter what.

“Good,” she said shortly.

“Did you want to meet up for coffee or something?” I asked her. “I want to find out what I’ve missed out on these past few years.”

“Ok,” she agreed, after a pause.

We met at a Starbucks on Seventh Avenue, right across from FIT where she had been a student, on an early September morning of 2001.

“After I graduated with my BFA in illustration, I tried to make as many connections in the art world as possible, and even sent in sample sketches to the lead artist for the Everybody Poops series, but I never earned enough money to actually support myself. So I came back to FIT as an assistant professor of Illustration and I do freelance drawing as well as nude modeling at Parson’s on the side,” she told me.

“Fascinating, I’m sure you’re a wonderful teacher,” I said, and I explained my various real estate and advertising adventures. I heard a sound like thunder, but the city was always loud, so I kept talking, although I noticed that people seemed to be in much more of a hurry than usual to get uptown.

“I hear there was some sort of plane accident, a low flying plane hit the World Trade Center,” some guy explained to us, when we commented on what was going on outside. Veronica and I got up and left the Starbucks, heading uptown where everyone else was going, hearing another noise that sounded like loud thunder. Veronica’s mom called as we were walking.

“She wants me to leave the city and meet her at her hair salon. Apparently another plane hit the World Trade Center, and they don’t think this is an accident. She doesn’t think the city is safe. Do you have anywhere to go?” She said.

“I guess I’ll come with you. It was great seeing you again and catching up, I’d like to hang out some more,” I told her, still not entirely grasping the gravitas of the situation.

It took us about two hours to walk across the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn where her mom would pick us up. I had sixteen missed calls from Paul by the time the journey was over.

“Dad’s dead,” he said. “Turn on the news, that’ll explain it all. Dad was on the flight from Dulles, he was headed out to California for business.”

The news did in fact explain a lot more than Paul had. I had had a lot of firsts for various emotions in my life, and now was the first time I was literally paralyzed from shock, from the horrific event that had transpired on the morning I had reconnected with Veronica, and from the fact that my father had been there and was now dead.

I couldn’t fly home, so I took the first Amtrak train back to DC for his memorial service. We didn’t have his body, so it wasn’t technically a funeral. Francesca, Kathy and various work acquaintances were in attendance, but Paul was noticeably absent. I briefly wondered if my mother would show up, but of course, she didn’t.

“Paul can’t live in the house anymore,” Francesca told me. “He’s always resented me, and now that you’re father’s gone, I just don’t think I can handle it anymore.”

“Have you told Paul this?” I asked her.

“No, I want you to tell him. Offer to let him stay with you. You’ve been so good to Kathy, why don’t you help him out?”

I went through the various pleasantries associated with memorial services, and went home to find Paul as soon as it was over, to tell him the news.

“Why didn’t you go to Dad’s service?” I asked him first, assuming that he had simply been too devastated to deal with the occasion.

“I didn’t want to.” He said shortly.

“Well why not?” I persisted.

“I just didn’t want to, ok? Why is it such a big deal?” he snapped back to me.

“Because he was your father?” I said.

Paul said nothing.

“So is Francesca still going to let me live here?” he asked after a long silence.

“No,” I told him. “Would you like to stay with me while you get back on your feet?”

“Thanks, I’m sure somebody made you feel guilty enough to offer. That’s ok though, I can make my own way. Just take care of Kathy.”

He went back into his room to finish packing. After making sure Francesca and Kathy were all right, I had nothing else to do but go back to New York.

I continued to rebuild my friendship with Veronica, now that the toxic influence that was Jake had vanished from my life. Thankfully, he apparently never went through with his hit man threat. The economy got fairly bad after September 11th, and the freelance ad agency that I worked for stopped getting clients and eventually folded. It was 2003, I was twenty five and at a crossroads with my life. I felt a little young to be having a crisis, I thought people only had those clichéd breakdowns in their forties or so, but the twenties are supposed to be full of drama.

Veronica let me know about a position that was open at the Fashion Institute for an assistant professor of merchandising. I thought I was a little young to be taken seriously as a professor, but I was broke, anything short of prostitution would do at this point. Because everything eventually works out in the end, I ended up acing the interview and getting hired to teach a course called FM 114, which was a general synopsis of the fashion industry for first semester students. Apparently they were impressed by my background in both retail and advertising. This was when I finally had enough money to buy my adorable little apartment, in building with a red awning, on Twenty-Third Street near Eighth Avenue.

I became fast friends with a fellow professor named Chuck who I met in line at a coffee shop on campus. He looked kind of like Kurt Cobain; shaggy blonde hair, a bit more than a five o’clock shadow, and he hopefully had over twenty pairs of brown corduroys, as he wore them literally every day.

“The James A. Farley post office has the largest giant order of Corinthian columns in the entire world,” he told me as we walked along Eighth Avenue. Chuck was full of knowledge. Someone who didn’t know him would assume that he was a tedious dweeb, but he was actually a lot of fun. I had tired of Le Chat Gonfle a long time ago, so we did our drinking and carousing at that establishment known as Jekyll and Hyde, while posing for pictures with their butler.

About a year or so after I began teaching, Chuck asked me to watch his class during a midterm while he ran some sort of errand. He taught art history, and thought me a qualified substitute due to my mother’s devotion to the subject.

“What is an allegory?”

“Was the Mona Lisa supposed to be Da Vinci as a man?”

“When did Thomas Jefferson build Monticello?”

This one particular boy kept repeatedly approaching my desk to ask me questions. Normally I would never accuse a student of asking a stupid question, as people have different capacities for learning, therefore stupid is only a relative term, but his questions really did get progressively stupider and stupider. It got to the point where I could tell he just wanted to talk to me, so I was forced to tell him to sit back down and not get back up again until class was over. Being a smart aleck he got up near the end of class to go to the bathroom.

I thought nothing of this peculiar behavior, as FIT certainly had its share of eccentric students, until this boy showed up during my office hour.

“How did you find me?” I asked him, perplexed.

“I asked Chuck who the hottie who subbed for us was,” he replied sassily.

“Oh get out, you’re wasting my time!” I yelled, turning my back to him. I only had a cubicle so I couldn’t slam a door on him.

“My name’s Dean. So you’re Alexander, according to Chuck?”

“That is Professor Paterson, thank you. Good day!”

He finally left, but he gave me a wink as he sashayed out. This Dean boy actually wasn’t bad looking. He had a slim body, similar to Jake’s, but more boyish. His hair was a wavy blonde, and he had the most beautiful shade of hunter green eyes. Being an FIT student, it was essentially a requirement for him to have a Marc by Marc Jacobs tote for his books.

“I really do find him cute,” I confessed to Veronica at the end of the day.

“Well, this sort of relationship is legal, since he’s presumably over eighteen, but think about it morally. You’re in a position of power over him, what if he feels that he has to flirt with you in order to get a good grade? And do you think other students will take you seriously?” She said, always the voice of reason.

“That’s a good point, I need to expand my horizons and find a true man,” I decided.

“Take it slowly,” she cautioned. “You really got in way too deep with Jake and I can imagine that he’s still affecting you in a way.”

“Good point,” I agreed. “I really miss the intensity and passion of that relationship, but it just wasn’t healthy. This kid just makes me excited, which reminds me of how I felt back then when I saw Jake. But you’re right, I need to take it slow and not be on the rebound.”

“Why did you tell that kid my name?” I asked Chuck the next time I saw him. “How do you know he’s not some crazy stalker? In fact, he may actually be one, since he showed up for my office hour.”

Chuck burst out laughing.

“That poor boy has the biggest puppy crush on you,” he explained. “I was just humoring him; I didn’t think he actually thought anything could happen. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

“There isn’t one,” I assured him, which was actually a lie. He had begun slipping love notes and cards into my mail box. They reminded me of how much younger I was than most of the other professors and told me I was much too hot to have such a job, I should be a male model, or even better, one of the nude Life Drawing models. I laughed at his chutzpah, but at the same time I was a little disturbed by the fact that he would attempt to pursue a relationship that was moderately inappropriate. Maybe he justified it by the fact that I wasn’t actually a professor of his.

He came to my office once again and I explained to him the difference between relationships that are legal and ones that are moral.

“If I gave a fuck about the difference, do you think I’d be here?” Dean laughed.

“Well, I thought maybe you didn’t understand the difference,” I countered.

“Of course I do, and I said, I don’t care! I think you’re really hot, I want to know you, I want to do you. What else do I need to say?”

I smiled in spite of myself. I wished it had been this easy for me to approach the people I liked when I was his age.

“See, you do like me a little bit!” he said.

“Of course I like you just a teensy bit, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to act on it. I do have some semblance of self control,” I told him.

“Well my frontal lobe is damaged, so I don’t,” he said, and he walked around my desk and kissed me.

I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not about having brain damage, but his tongue was certainly in good working order. I resisted his kiss at first, but it was so damn good that I just fell into it. He ran his fingers though my hair and I considered canceling my weekly massage so he could do it.

We broke apart.

“Well Alex, I’ll be seeing you next week,” and he left, just as abruptly as he had arrived.

Now I was the one who had a crush. I wanted to jump all over this boy man and eat him up. I had elaborate fantasies of whisking him off to Spain to get married with Ellen DeGeneres officiating, and then we’d come back and live in Westchester in a little house with a white picket fence, with a great big puffy cat named Claudius. Maybe we’d even adopt a little Asian boy and name him Maddox. There it was again, my little marriage and family life daydream.

Against my better judgment, I met Dean for coffee. I brought along some Turkish Delights as a treat for him, and of course he wanted more.

“I need socks; all of mine have holes in them. My toes will freeze off in the winter.”

So off to H&M we went, for me to purchase him socks. What kind of parent would send their child off to school in a cold environment without socks, I wondered.

He had an apartment in Astoria, which he shared with a girl named Ella who shoplifted from Betsey Johnson on a regular basis.

“She stole all my socks to make a scarf,” he explained, when I voiced my concerns to him, regarding parents who sent away children without socks.

It should have been a warning sign that I regarded him as a boy, not a man, yet still wanted to have sex with him, but it was to be expected, considering my track record with relationship red flags.

I was grading an assignment about comparing different stores for my Intro to Fashion class, when Dean came into the room, his eyes red and puffy from crying.

“Oh honey, what happened?” I leapt up, embracing him.

“Ella stole my laptop, sold it on eBay, and then said she had enough money from the sale to cover what would have been my rent, so she evicted me. I just want to jump off the curb!” he wailed.

“There, there,” and I rocked him back and forth in my arms, like the child that he sort of was.  “You can come stay with me, and I can get you a discounted laptop from one of those educational stores for teachers. These things happen; throwing yourself in front of a car will not solve anything.”

Veronica had always been appalled by the way I got sucked in by my boyfriends, but now Chuck was appalled too, and he seemed to take everything in stride.

“You’re allowing an emotionally needy young man to become dependent upon you. You mentioned that you thought your relationship with Jake was the definition of codependency, what the hell do you think this is then? First you buy the boy socks, now it’s a laptop. What’s next, a Lamborghini?” Chuck chastised me, on one of the rare days that I was having coffee with him, not Dean.

“He doesn’t want material items from me; he wants my love, that’s all. And I’m giving him my love, and I’m pretty sure he loves me back,” I mumbled.

“Yes of course he loves you back, but in an extremely obsessive manner. How are you going to break up with him when the time comes?” He asked.

I told him about what I had imagined with the house and the picket fence and Claudius. He didn’t even laugh.

“You are ridiculous. I’m truly, truly sorry, that I ever asked you to sub for my class. Actually no, this happened because I was foolish enough to give him your name. One day you’ll understand why I regret all of this so much. Have a good day,” and he pushed his chair in, leaving me alone at the coffee shop.

Veronica had left me because of one of my relationships and now Chuck was leaving me for the same reason. I really needed to learn how to find a healthy balance with these things.

That night Dean and I lay on the couch making out.

“You’ll never leave me, will you?” he breathed.

“Never,” I promised.

Dean made an amiable companion in my house. I believe that it was my influence that made him more responsible than he might have been otherwise, not that he was a bad kid before. He never once missed a class, always helped out with chores, and never once made unreasonable demands on me or started silly arguments.

During his junior year Dean was accepted to the Presidential Scholars honors program, so was at colloquiums most Wednesdays. On one of those Wednesdays there was a knock on my door. Assuming it was just one of my neighbors, I immediately threw the door open without checking to see who specifically it was.

“Hello again,” Jake greeted me.

I tried to slam the door as fast as I could, but Jake stuck his foot in front of it.

“I’m not angry, and I’m not here with a hit man. I’m here to apologize.”

I slowly opened the door up, thinking that this had to be some sort of trick.

“I’m sorry for all that happened. Do you think you could at least let me explain myself?” he asked, almost begging.

“Ok,” I relented, and let him into the living room.

When he had arrived at the hospital that night, he genuinely had no recollection of attempting suicide, the doctors thought maybe he had been having some sort of dissociative episode, and they had told him that I was very concerned about him and would want him to get better in the hospital, when he had told them that I was the only person he knew in the city. In the distorted state of mind that he was in then, he interpreted that as I had put him in the hospital.

“My parents backed up those thoughts, they said I’d been hanging out with the wrong sort of people, specifically you, and that was why I ended up this way,” he explained.

“So what happened when you were released?” I asked.

“Well, they diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, and my parents had me in the hospital for about two weeks to see if there were any medications that could help me. Right now I’m on anti depressants and talk with a therapist once a week to manage my feelings. He was actually the one who had me come here and apologize to you. It’s the same basic idea as when a recovering alcoholic goes to all the people he hurt while drunk and apologizes.”

“I didn’t think Borderline Personality Disorder was really a valid diagnosis,” I responded.

“Who really knows what’s an actual disorder or what’s just a personal quirk,” he said. “All I know is that I probably do suffer from depression, and I guess I just have a wacky mind, who knows.  I do feel much better now though, I’ve been taking accounting classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and I hope to make a lot of money as an accountant when I get out. It’s not very creative, but I need to focus on being self sufficient.”

I was proud of him for finally doing what I’d always urged him to do, become an adult.

“Congratulations,” was all I said though. “It was good seeing you again, I hope you stay well, keep in touch,” and we exchanged numbers, myself having no plans to call him, and assuming that he had no plans as well.

Dean and I certainly kept our passion alive during the next few weeks, so there was no way that I was thinking about any other man, especially not Jake.  Jake was apparently thinking about me though. I had fifteen missed calls from him over a period of two weeks, but I never responded, hoping that he’d get the hint. It wasn’t necessarily that I had anything against him, I just did not want to run the risk of messing anything up with Dean, particularly because of how my relationship with Jake had ended, it just wasn’t worth it to me. I never did tell Dean about Jake coming back in to my life either, which created a decent amount of guilt in my mind.

Jake did not get the hint that I hoped he would get though. It was a Thursday night, and Dean and I were snuggling, watching our favorite movie Mulholland Dr., when there was an incredibly loud knocking on the door. Neither of us wanted to move away from the other, so we ignored it, hoping it would go away. Unfortunately it persisted. I finally got up off the couch and opened the door. Predictably, it was Jake.

“Who is that man outside?” Dean hollered.

“Is that the Dean I’ve been hearing about?” Jake asked.

“What? Who is he? How does he know who I am?” Dean demanded to know, suddenly becoming paranoid.

“Calm down, calm down,” I nearly shouted, “It’s just an old friend from when I was in college.”

“We used to date,” Jake said inexplicably, apparently he was still an idiot in some ways.

That was the final straw that set Dean off.

“Get away from here you home wrecker! How dare you try to seduce my boyfriend! I’ll call the police if you don’t leave!” Dean threatened.

“You’d better go,” I told Jake.

To his credit, he did look fairly chagrined regarding what he’d said, and he left without protest.

Dean was absolutely hysterical, and nothing I did could calm him down.

“You don’t really love me. You’re going to leave me for that man,” he cried.

“Of course not, I love you more than anyone in the entire world. He’s just and old friend. Yes, I admit, we did date, but it was a long, long time ago and it ended in such a manner that I would never repeat that experience ever again. So you have nothing to worry about,” I attempted to reassure him.

He could not listen to my words. All he saw was competition.

We did not have any sort of normal interaction after that. Every night ended in a fight about who I was seeing, who I was talking to.

“Have I ever demanded to know any of this from you?” I asked Dean, and his response infuriated me.

“I have never given you reason to,” he said plainly.

I was so angered by Dean saying that, since I had never given him reason to ask such questions either, that I did begin seeing Jake again behind Dean’s back.

Jake had changed since I last knew him. He still had those beautiful blue eyes, but had packed some meat onto his slender frame. He was by no means chubby, merely more of a grown man now.

“I’ve taken a vow of celibacy,” he told me one night. Obviously, we had not resumed our sexual relationship.

“Why?” was all I could think of to ask.

“Because love destroyed me. I mean it was a lot of factors aside from that, but love was the main thing that made me go crazy.”

“But won’t a lack of love make you go crazy too? I don’t think love has anything to do with what happened to you, you have a disease in your mind, and you being with me was just a coincidence, if you had been single maybe it would have been a friend who set you off, and so on, there are infinite possibilities,” I told him.

“That’s a good point. But I know that because of how my mind is, I can’t be in a relationship without becoming unnaturally attached to the person, so for now I think it’s best to be single and celibate, while focusing on bettering myself.”

I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I changed the subject. That night Dean slapped me for the first time, because I was “sleeping with” Jason.  I couldn’t stop myself from bursting out in laughter, remembering his celibacy declaration. This inflamed Dean even more, and a plate smashed against my skull.

“Ok, I’ve had enough,” I gasped between peals of laughter. “You have to get out, move somewhere else, I lived with an abusive paranoid asshole once before and I can’t do it again. Just leave, be gone.”

The hitting stopped and Dean and I retreated to our respective rooms. A short while later the apartment rattled from the slamming of the front door. He was gone. A wave of complete and utter relief passed over me. I played happy music at full blast while dancing around my apartment. Never in my entire career, had I been as elated as I headed to my office. The fact that I might run into Dean on campus hadn’t occurred to me at all, I was so happy that he was out of my apartment and out of my life. I did not run into Dean once, and as the capper to a great day, I found a note from the chairperson of the department in my email.

“I wonder if they’re going to finally let me teach more advanced classes,” I pondered as I walked to her office.

There waiting for me was Carolyn, my chairperson, and Joan, the dean of the Business and Technology School. They looked somber which startled me, but I still thought nothing of it.

“A very serious allegation has been made against you, Professor, and we want to hear your side of the story,” Carla began.

My heart dropped to the floor.

“Allegation regarding what? I haven’t done anything,” I stuttered.

“A student, who shall remain unnamed, has said that you sexually harassed him, and made him so uncomfortable, as to make this a hostile learning environment for him, causing his grades to fall. FIT does not tolerate any harassment in any form, and the consequences are severe,” Carolyn warned me.
I had watched enough TV to know that in situations such as this one, it was usually best to say nothing. I had an idea that it was Dean who made these accusations, but me explaining our relationship would most likely make the situation worse, especially if for some crazy reason it was another student who had accused me of harassment, although that situation made no sense.

“For now you have been placed on temporary, paid, administrative leave. A substitute will cover your classes until we consider the situation further. Have a good day,” Carla concluded the meeting.

I walked out in dazed silence.  Veronica was smoking outside the art building.

“I’m on leave. Someone said I sexually harassed them,” I told her.

“Dean, right?” she asked.

“I figured,” she said, when I answered in the affirmative. “So what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know, do you have any advice me for?” I inquired.

“My advice was to not get involved with this boy in the first place. And did you listen? No. So what difference does it make if I give you advice or not?” she said, putting out her cigarette.

She had a point. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, I was so ashamed. Thankfully, I was able to compose myself as Chuck walked up.

“I heard what happened through the grapevine,” he told us. “What are you going to do next?” he asked of me, just as Veronica had.

“I have no clue,” I mumbled, and I left them to talk in pitying tones about my situation. I found myself walking toward the Met, my old hangout in college, where I had met my first lover.

“Gaius, I know how you must have felt,” I told Caligula. His head was turned, not even a statue would look at me, I was so embarrassing. At least no one wanted me dead, I thought.

A week later the school reached a decision. I had a right to face my accuser, and as everyone had thought, it was Dean. It was my right to address him and challenge him, but I chose not to. This mess was my responsibility and I would accept the consequences. Since I had contributed to making FIT a hostile learning environment for him, it was a unanimous decision to fire me. Dean had a glimmer in his eye and a slight smirk as his father told him the information in the hallway.

So here it was. My infamous downfall and everything that had led up to it. This was my undoing, the loss of my Brooks Brothers suits, the pawning of my Fendi bag, and the putting on the market of my little apartment in the heart of Chelsea. Who cared about Chianti and the Roman Empire, I was filing for bankruptcy because after being sacked I couldn’t get another job or pay my bills. In New York City unemployment does not cover anything. My suits were now from the Salvation Army, my bag from a dumpster, my food from a local soup kitchen, and my six hundred square foot apartment in the ghetto of the Bronx. Now I could never fulfill the lifelong dream I had had about being married and having the perfect family, because I was a marked pervert.  Veronica, bless her heart, kept in touch occasionally and gave me cheap non-perishable foods she didn’t need, such as spaghetti.  Chuck however couldn’t deal with the change, and we lost contact.

During one particularly bleak week, Kathy decided to come up to the city to visit me, try to cheer me up and help me out with the great job hunt. She was a college graduate now, her tuition having been paid for by a combination of me and financial aid, and now worked as a bank manager back home in Virginia.

“Can you just leave out FIT on your resume and say that you were working on a book or something about your experiences in the ad agency to explain the several years of ‘non-work’?” she asked, as we tried to figure out how I could avoid mentioning my firing as a means to actually getting hired somewhere.

“No, this has practically become FIT-gate, Dean went to the Post and everything, they love these little scandalous blurbs,” I sighed.

“Well, since everyone loves a scandal you could always pen a tell all memoir about this. Your drama with Jake would make for some juicy reading as well,” she suggested.

That was a pretty good idea. Maybe I could get one of those million dollar advances.

“I was kidding, dear,” she said when I got my hopes up. “First off, they only give advances to celebrities or established authors, and second, your chances of actually getting this published and making any money, much less garnering any readers, are near zero.  I suppose if you really want to write about it though, you could send a letter to the editor of the local paper defending yourself.”

I did want to write about it. And I did not want to write a mere letter to the editor. That was for self important chumps who were satisfied with being recognized at the local supermarket. I wanted to be something bigger, better, a superstar. I had dressed like F. Scott Fitzgerald and had a pathetic crush on him, now maybe I could write like him. For inspiration I spent a night drinking gin like him, and then I began the task of tracking down Paul so I could start my story from the beginning.

“No clue, I think he was resentful of the fact that I was a lot closer to you, than him, so we lost touch after I moved out,” Kathy told me when I asked her where he was.

My next step was calling Francesca, and to my surprise, she actually did know where he had gone off to following Dad’s memorial service.

“He’s with some group calling themselves the ‘Soul Savers’,” she told me over the phone. “He sent me a letter saying all sorts of horrible things about me being a home wrecker, usurping your biological mother’s rightful place, and on and on. He said that this group made him express all of his feelings of hurt to those who had hurt him in order to cleanse his soul. I’m surprised he didn’t send one to you or Kathy.”

According to her, the letter was postmarked from San Francisco, California, so it was there that I went. I went around to all the alternative and off beat coffee shops around the city hoping that someone had heard of this group. After a week and nearly eighty coffee shops, this bean pole of a girl with stringy hair told me where to go.

“They rent this big house out in San Mateo, they ask for large donations from their members, that’s how they pay the rent,” she said. “If you get in cab and tell them who you’re looking for, they should know where to go.”

It was a big white house with a beautiful view of the entire city. Palm trees lined the drive up, and pink hibiscuses surrounded the walls. This was one of the richest cults besides the Scientologists that I had seen. A girl in a purple sarong and a matching purple tank top, adorned in black beads, greeted me when I opened the door.

“Do you come finding salvation, brother?” she asked me, smiling serenely.

“No, I’m here to find my brother, Paul Paterson,” I said, all business.

“We all go by brother or sister here, there are no names given to us by society,” she explained, giggling like she was high.

“Whatever, can I please come in and find him?” I asked, now exasperated.

“Sure brother, you just might not want to leave,” and she moved out of the way, allowing me in.

Boys and girls in different color sarongs, all wearing the same black beads, were draped over  the couches and chairs, all laughing quietly to each other, or meditating. I stepped over the crowd, peering at all of their faces, hoping to find Paul. Finally I saw him, long brown hair and an orange sarong, sitting on a bed in the lotus position, silently praying, meditating, or whatever.

“Paul!” I explained.

After a long minute he exhaled and opened his eyes. He looked at my blankly.

“I am not Paul, I am ‘Brother’,” he said in a monotone, appearing to not recognize me.

“Come on Paul, I mean you are my brother, but you still have a name and a separate identity. Don’t you recognize me? It’s Alex!”

“Of course I know who you are, dimwit,” he said, now having a nasty edge to his voice. “I just don’t want to talk to you or have you here. I don’t care how you tracked me down; I just want you to leave.”

I just had to ask him. “Why didn’t you send me a letter like the one you sent to Francesca?”

“Because my hatred for you runs so deeply, that I haven’t progressed enough in my meditation to fully process it, and express it. Believe me, when the time comes, you will get one. I don’t hate Kathy, that’s why she didn’t get one, if you were wondering that too.”

“Why do you hate me so much? Is it because of high school?” I asked, legitimately not knowing what on Earth his problem was. I had always attributed most negative feelings of his to his antisocial personality.

His eyes hardened and he became so choked up he could barely speak. I thought he was going to faint or have some sort of episode, but he finally spat out the words that I was least expecting to hear.

“Dad molested me and nobody cared,” was what he said.

“What???” I yelled, completely taken aback.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore!” he cried back, and he ran out of the room. An elder entered the room.

“Get out. You are poisoning our commune. Leave our brothers and sisters alone,” and he walked me to the exit.

I was completely dumfounded. Why did all these ridiculous things keep popping up in my life and why was everyone I knew so messed up? Chuck had been pretty normal, that’s probably why he didn’t talk to me anymore.

So that aspect of researching my life story had been a failure. I toyed with the idea of tracking down our mother, but I had doubts as to whether she would even remember who I was. It’s inconceivable that a mother could forget her own child, but it had been nearly a decade and half my life since I had last spoken to her. I barely remembered her; she had no reason to recall me.

“This is very interesting material, but it fails to hook me. There are too many plot holes and unresolved situations,” was what most publishers and editors said when they read the rough draft of my manuscript.

“That’s awful, you’ll turn us all into a circus sideshow,” Kathy discouraged me when I floated the idea of fictionalizing aspects of the past in my story, to make it more flowing and coherent.

She had a point, Augusten Burroughs was being sued by members of his mom’s psychiatrist’s family for dramatizing aspects of their lives, I couldn’t afford for my family to do the same to me.

I had secured employment at a grocery store chain in Manhattan as a produce washer, which allowed me to pay for the stamps, printing, etc. for my manuscripts that I sent out. Washing rutabaga had not been included in the curriculum at Baruch, nor had I acquired that particular skill in any of my previous jobs, but it was something that came naturally in the end.

I sat in my glum Bronx apartment weighing my ideas on the balance in my head. Everything in there was brown: the sagging corduroy couch, the industrial rug, and the cracking paper lampshades. Even the light coming through the two windows I had looked brown because the curtains were so dirty. The chocolate colored phone rang, interrupting my ruminations.

“Bad news about Paul. Mom has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and I guess wanted to say some sort of final goodbye, so she contacted Paul and he collapsed in some sort of nervous breakdown. He’s being monitored in the hospital, and for now she’s fine, she just doesn’t have a long time to continue being fine,” Kathy told me, her voice staying even despite the upsetting news she was relaying to me.

Kathy wired me money and I bought a plane ticket to Chicago, where I met Mom for the first time in about fifteen years. Pam was shorter than I remembered, about five feet three inches tall. She had dyed blonde hair that appeared to be shellacked, perhaps it was a wig, and she had on that velour jogging suit all women of a certain age wear when they don’t want to wear Juicy Couture.

“My Alexander,” she said in greeting.

“Hi Mom, what’s up?” I asked, not really knowing what to say to her. I felt horrid for wanting Francesca to be to help me through this. Wanting my stepmother to help me deal with my real mother, real classy.

“Well, as you probably heard, I have a brain disease with a very unfavorable prognosis. So, in order to die with the least amount of guilt, I would like to sit you children down and explain to you a few things, so you don’t feel as if I died leaving all of the questions you most certainly have unanswered.”

She had always been bossy as a mom, but I saw now that she was simply a very plainspoken, down to business type of woman. I had always felt that explaining devastating situations in a very factual manner made them easier to cope with, and apparently I had gotten that trait from her.

We sat down at a table at the Marriot she was staying at and each ordered a black cup of coffee.

“So, Paul didn’t take my leaving too well did he?” she began.

“Well, no, none of us did, but he never really got on with his life,” I told her. “He said something weird about Dad molesting him when I visited him at the compound, but I don’t know if it was true or not.”

“If it did happen, I can honestly say that I had no knowledge of that, and I have always felt like a terrible mother, because I did suspect it after I left. But at the time I simply thought your father was cheating on me with another woman. I guess I justified my doubts by the fact that he was a good father to you and Kathy, I thought maybe Paul was just disturbed over something else.”

“Was it shame over that which kept you from coming back to us?” I asked.

“Sort of, I was embarrassed that my marriage and my family had failed, and I did stop by occasionally, park across the street and watch you all play out side, and all of you kids seemed so happy with Francesca, so I didn’t want to ruin that. Also, I had my own issues that I had to work out, and I didn’t feel it was fair for me to drag you into them.”

I looked at her, prodding her to elaborate as to what those issues were.

“This is very difficult for me to discuss, so I’ll just tell you flat out,” she said. “When I was young my own father molested me, and I developed a very negative attitude toward men. I know that what happened wasn’t the fault of all men, but I grew up in a very chauvinistic atmosphere; my father encouraged pig-like behavior in my brothers, and my mother was silent as these men boasted about their mistreatment of women. You can probably guess that she did nothing about my father molesting me, it ended on its own once I got my period.”

“So then why did you say nothing about what you suspected regarding Dad and Paul?” I wondered, feeling a little bit angry that she hadn’t learned any sort of lesson from her own experience.

“I married your father because he was the complete antithesis of what the men in my family represented. When we were dating he respected me by asking me my opinion, he helped me with my chores, he asked me if I was in the mood when he wanted to have sex, and so on. I could not face the fact that he might not be that man, there is no excuse for me ignoring my gut, I was messed up then and I still am a little bit messed up. I’m sure if I were to see a therapist they would say it’s because I never talked about my own abuse, I just let it go.”

“Oh,” was all I had to say.

“This is also why I was weird about you and Paul, I was worried when I had sons that they would end up having the bigoted genes of my father and brother, I wanted a daughter who would love me and respect me for whom I am, rather than look down upon my femininity.”

“But we do, or did, love you because you were our mom; we would have never been nasty to you like that,” I assured her.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought about your father too, but look what happened,” she said bitterly.

“I take it that Paul’s fainting spell occurred when you told him all of this?” I clarified.

“Yes, he was relieved that I had come back for him though, apparently he’s been waiting and praying every night for these past years. He’s devastated that I’ll be leaving him again though. I think what your father did to him emotionally stunted him, I’ve read about that happening in psychiatry books.”

I wasn’t too familiar with the field of psychology, but that theory made sense to me.

“I never forgot how much you loved art,” I suddenly burst out. “I think that’s the area in which you made the most impact for me.”

“It’s always a pleasure to assist in someone’s aesthetic enjoyment,” she said wryly.

Mom was actually in favor of me writing a book about my life’s experiences, her only caveat was that I change everyone’s names and change the circumstances just enough so that people we knew couldn’t recognize us.  I wasn’t mad at her for leaving us. I probably had some sort of emotional deficit, because it would generally be considered abnormal to have no feelings of anger toward a mother who left her children, but as I had discussed with Jake, there really is no way to empirically determine what is normal versus abnormal human behavior.

In the evenings following my shift at the grocery store, I sat at the local Starbucks drinking a Grande Hot Chocolate, pounding away at my little laptop.

“How many words do you have so far?” Veronica asked me, when she came across me at the Starbucks across from FIT.

“Sixteen-thousand nine hundred exactly,” I replied.

“I read online that a novella is over thirty three thousand words. You have about sixteen thousand words to go,” she informed me.

“I’m not worried about how many words I do or do not write, I just want to get my story out. I want to live like I did before, pretending I was F. Scott Fitzgerald. It doesn’t matter if this is short anyway; I want to publish a collection of short stories. I suppose that will be my Oscar Wilde period.”

“Well, I wish you the best of luck. Just don’t get married or become a drunk,” she playfully warned me.

I thought about the first part of her admonition. I had always thought I would be living my Manhattan version of the American Dream by now, married of course, passing on my wit and theories to my offspring. The world really did seem like the future, America now had a black president for God’s sake, a nation of over three hundred million with a most dismal history of race relations had progressed to this point, but I as an individual had learned nothing about how to manage my own personal problems, and was stuck in the same place as I was at nineteen.

I was at the point in my story where Paul is a member of the weird cult and won’t talk to me, when Mom finally succumbed to her brain cancer. This time we had an actual funeral which Paul showed up for. In the hospital they had weaned him off his Soul Saver addiction, so he was wearing a normal suit and no longer spouted hateful rhetoric toward us. Kathy came with her new boyfriend, a theatre teacher at Herndon High School in Northern Virginia, for moral support, and now it was Francesca who was absent. Later she said it could have been interpreted as strange had she attended. Veronica came with me as my own moral support.

“I hope you’re more upset when I die,” she said, referencing my lack of tears.

“I’ll try not to be upset, because according to Kurt Vonnegut, death is not a sad event. A person is dead in one moment, but they’re still alive in another moment. So everyone who’s dead is also alive, and I conversely everyone who’s alive is also dead.”

“I think it’s still sad because in real life time doesn’t become unstuck, we will move in a straight line for the rest of our lives though a time where this person no longer exists,” Veronica stated, disagreeing with me.

“So maybe this is where my story should end,” I said changing the subject.

“Your story ends when you end. Or when you run out of material, maybe your memoir and your life are so intertwined that you really will expire when you run out of interesting material,” she hypothesized.

“No character ever truly ends because they are read again and again over time. Plus, the reader will probably continue to think of me, once they have set the work down. One is only truly gone when nobody thinks of them,” I countered.

We were sitting at a folding table covered with a black gingham cloth, eating chicken tenders off a platter, away from the rest of the funeral reception.

“You may be right about some things,” she finally said.

“So it goes,” I replied, channeling Kurt.

It took a long time, but eventually Paul was able to begin working on functioning within society again. He lived with Kathy and her husband, still not having enough money to live on his own, but at least he now had a job within his chosen field of computers. As for me, I wrote an essay defending myself regarding the whole Dean incident, and explaining my past with Jake, all names changed of course, and had it published in the Village Voice. I only earned about one hundred dollars, but now I could honestly call myself a published author. This gave me the courage to persist in sending out my autobiography, tentatively titled An American Masquerade, to various agents and publishers. Finally an indie publisher accepted it, and my story was being sold at all those alternative little bookshops down in SoHo. One day I could dream for Barnes and Noble.

I took my title from a phrase in a song by the Killers. It made me think about how I always tried to appear so put together and control in my life, how I ignored everyone’s good advice,  because I truly believed that I knew everything and that my life would turn out full of magnificence and splendor in the end. It was all fake, an act, a masquerade though. I had the delusion that I would return to that archetypal American Dream that I had experienced so many years ago with Jason’s perfect little family, and act that out for myself.  But it was all right. I watched that show Rome and in the episode where Mark Antony gets beaten in the Battle of Actium he says to Vorenus, regarding defeat that it’s, “…not near as terrible as I’d expected,” because, “… the sun still shines,  water still tastes good. Glory is all well and good, but life is enough, nay?” I truly believed that. Of course my stakes were a lot less than his, but it was the same general idea.

I referred to myself as wearing the best suits and having the best little preppy life in Chelsea back in my day, but the truth is, my day isn’t over yet. So it took me about thirty years to find out that believing another person is necessary for one’s salvation is completely ridiculous, but so what. Too many people spend their whole lives trying to figure that out, or even worse, they never do. I have reached my nirvana and now have the freedom to live my life for myself, and only for myself.

I’m still friends with Jake, Veronica, and even Chuck. Chuck was a shallow asshole for ditching me just because I became poor, but he also felt incredibly angry and guilty regarding his part in the Dean scandal, so I forgave him. As for Dean, I don’t know what happened to him. He’s off in the wind somewhere with my first crush Jason. Jason had more going for him though, I bet he’s some successful doctor or lawyer and Dean’s the barista behind the counter schlepping coffee to all the yuppies.

As for myself, I go with the flow, freelancing as an author for various magazines, sometimes writing editorials. I’m back in my suits in Chelsea, but for now I’m fine being just myself, not F. Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, or whoever else. Being me is the only way I will be able to find the right person who complements, rather than overwhelms, my life.

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