Every night these silhouettes appear above my head, little angels of the silences that climb into my bed.
What do you write when you feel like you’ve written everything? When that existential need to express yourself falls hollow? I would say I am an upbeat person, I’m certainly an optimist. I would say that my friends care about me. I would say that I would be remembered.
But, then you have these moments, these paradigm shifts where the Earth trembles and suddenly you’re falling. In that flash, you doubt – what’s going on? will I be ok? who’s going to catch me?
I’ve gone many places, I’ve done many things, and I’ve cemented many friendships, but more than that I’ve met many men in this last year. However none stood out so much as Hollen. In the course of a few nights we had become as most couples do after months of dating. There was an effortlessness then, an effervescence that sparkled in every ounce of me. It just felt right, and who questions that feeling? Something so fleeting, so craved that even if it is ephemeral who cares? Seize it.
And so we did, and the story unfolded as you have already read and I have bemoaned.
But, recently I have changed. I don’t need a knight-in-shining-armor anymore. Months of almost complete gay isolation have given me time to recollect myself, to reprocess who I am, what I want, and why it’s all worth it.
And my answer to all of these is I don’t know.
Who does? And why do you have to? Sure I could be writing this as some sort of cathartic expression of psychosis, but I think that the worlds of black and white, of gray and grayer, are rational attempts to define the irrational. Try to define your essence in a few sentences and see how little you know of yourself. What we want must be beyond our absolute understanding, otherwise wouldn’t we all be happy? Or at least on the path towards happiness?
Which is why I’m glad that I’ve written Hollen off. I don’t care anymore about how great he was because no one who truly cared about me could so completely brush me aside later. A friend could never do that. I will not linger in the corners of despair or the shadows of melancholy. Instead, I’ll find a clean, well-lighted place: a place beyond the horrors of the shade, where the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid. I need find no mate, I need pay no toil or toll. I am master of my fate, the captain of my soul.
In these final days abroad, these last hours of pause before my regular life recommences, I can only reflect on the fact that life in and of itself is meaningless. And so we must fill it with meaning, bring it to a frothy foam. A foam that drips over the edge, that bursts forth and sloshes with every toast, every dance, every nod, every touch.
I may not know where my soul need go, but I will lead it.
I shouldn’t be sad, but I am. Inexplicably downtrodden is the best way to describe how I feel.
I’m sitting here at 4am in my Oxford dormitory, unable to sleep, which is going to result in a terribly sleepy tomorrow. I was exhausted earlier, but had to finish my French placement exam, and ever since I haven’t been able to get back to bed.
I guess the best way to understand where I am right now is to recap the last seven days. So my last week wasn’t anything like I envisioned it would be. I nearly broke my toe (Michael – lame friend – creepy walk home – oh my!), studied extremely hard all week for Multivariable only to blank on the final, Hollen and I parted under confusing circumstances, and my time so far in Oxford has been fun but strangely empty, which I will discuss in a post tomorrow.
Suffice to say I do not miss Rice in the least. Wonderful school, not for me. The final was fair, but there was just so much to know. I froze in fear many times, terrified at the thought of failing the test. I pulled it together and finished, and I’m confident that I did well enough to pass, but who really knows. (I did pass!)
Hollen and I, well I have no idea. I don’t really know what to say, either way. From his texts in Chicago and our conversations the week before I anticipated a messy, complicated heart-wrenching conversation about what exactly these last two weeks had been and how we would go forward. Instead, we watched TV and got tacos. Which would have been fine, I just let my expectations get the best of me. I know that he is going through a very tumultuous period in his life, and I’m trying to rationalize everything along those lines, but I still just feel like everything is incomplete back there. Every now and then I’ll briefly think back to Houston and just get this little pang in my stomach, the pain of ambiguity, of incongruity. I really have no idea what, if anything, will ever come of those five dates. On the one hand I’m glad that I’m not longing for him or missing him so terribly that I can’t enjoy Oxford, but at the same time I don’t like loose ends, and at this point it’s too late to tie them, which brings me to the most recent reason for my malaise.
Gay Oxford blows… The worst dudes I’ve ever interacted with. In 3 hours I’ve already had 2 hardcore fake profiles, a douche who said after a 15 minute conversation that I should read his description again because he only likes “muscular men and clearly you are not one.” Plus everyone is ugly and boring. Thank god my class starts tomorrow. I really think I might just completely hold off until Paris at this rate, but even Paris scares me. It has the second largest number of Grindr users in the world, after London, and in a city with that many gay men how will I compete? How will I set myself apart. With 155,000 unique users and only 200 men visible on the app how will I even find the good ones? I don’t know, I’m just at a very low point in terms of my relationship outlook. I’m going to check out Oxford’s gay bar and gay club, but I think I’ll take a break otherwise, a sad admission after only one night on Oxford’s grindr…
Everything just seems to be coalescing in a negative way, and I can’t help but shake the feeling that somehow this malaise will always be around me. That I’ll never be happy and satisfied with my life. I mean I’m at Oxford University right now… how is it even possible that I’m not overjoyed? And to that I have no answer. Tomorrow when my tutorial starts I’d like to pour myself into it, to learn as much about modern British politics and economics as possible. I think that Oxford might be the time I need this summer to turn inward, to really find out who I am and what I want before Paris starts. I have 6 weeks and only 4 hours of class a week, plus it’s history so I won’t have any issues with the material. No, my issue currently is myself and why I can’t find happiness. Tomorrow I’m going to get my room in order, organize my computer, start working on some belated research for my boss, and read a lot about Britain.
Maybe when it’s not so late and I’m not so confused I can elucidate things better and come down from the abstract to the finite, but right now I just… I just don’t know anything.
I’ll try to skype all of you that I promised to skype as soon as possible. After tomorrow we should know our schedule and from there I can start planning things. Given my emotional fragility right now I think my trip to London this weekend should be postponed, so I’ll be around Oxford. Didn’t postpone, met Taylor, who knows how my life would have been had I skipped that bus. But no regrets, life is meant to be lived.
So the Math test that I had been dreading, the one I happily got a 76, not 36, on, was Monday. After an hour introducing double integrals Jake cocked a cheeky smile and pulled out a giant bag of tests, which were all the more daunting because of the fact that there were only 13 of us… Yes… those tests were 20 pages each…
Math death was upon me. Over the course of 150 minutes I toiled through parametrizing, reciting vector definitions and applications, calculating the critical points of three-dimensional shapes, finding the gradients, the hessians, and the other inane partial derivatives that we’re expected to have mastered in 3 days.
Anyway, it was bloody awful. Throughout the whole test the only thing that kept me going was, “At least I get to see Hollen tonight.”
At 4:20 we finally got out of the exam and I staggered back to my room. Where I collapse, throw my backpack against the wall, and inhale the rest of my partially eaten protein bar. Oh, what a glorious moment that was. I next grab all ma shit and toss it in my laundry hamper. Yes, Hollen had agreed to let me do laundry at his place. This dude is legit.
Half-an-hour later Hollen rolls up and whisks me off to the magical land of… HEB, the Dierbergs/Food Lion of Texas. On second thought, it’s marginally better than Food Lion. Don’t want to offend the Texans out there.
We roamed through the aisles assembling only the finest of ingredients. Ok, so maybe we just ended up with a random cart loaded with… well who knows, but I like to think that we are fine people with fine ingredients. So there that’s. Rather than interrupt later paragraphs I’ll spoil the grand mystery of dinner: NY Strip Steaks (mine with chevre (goat cheese) on top), quinoa, roasted ears of corn, and some delicious beverages… Most regrettably Hollen is rather lactose intolerant, so he cannot partake in my deep and boundless adoration of all things dairy, especially cheese. So, rather than waste a perfectly good log of goat cheese, I ate the whole thing. It was the selfless thing to do.
After HEB we headed back to his place and talked for hours. I swear I don’t even know what we talk about because it’s just so natural that my mind isn’t even there. It’s like I’m speaking straight from my heart… my soul. Over the last two days I’ve told Hollen things that I’ve never told anyone else, even my best friends. He then made himself a delicious, if terribly spicy, cocktail (the base is mashed serrano peppers… that shit is cray). I then had *navy censorship,* which was delicious.
We then headed up to the terrace of his apartment building. It’s nestled right in the heart of downtown Houston (well Midtown, but given Houston’s three financial district, “downtown” is a very fluid concept). The lights of the city danced around us as we grilled the steaks and the corn, oh! and the asparagus. I forgot that we had asparagus. Yes. Yes we did, and it was delicious.
Obviously this whole time we were still talking, and that didn’t stop. Hollen is the most honest, open, genuine guy that I have ever met. There’s nothing to hide around him. All of my vulnerabilities are bare, and not only am I ok, I’m glowing. He is the most uplifting and affectionate man I know. Around him I can be my authentic self, and of the selves I have, that is the one that is the hardest to be.
So before I begin my next part, I have to say one of the other best parts about Hollen. He is a classy guy. He respects me. There is no rush, there is no pushing. After everything that I’ve been through over the last eight months, I’ve become increasingly reticent to start things too early. Good things come to those who wait. And Hollen waits. He is a gentleman. Something that I cannot say about any other gay man that I have ever been on a date with.
Ok, so the reason I said that is so that you, dear reader, would not jump to any conclusions about the next sentence. After dinner we went upstairs to his bedroom on the second floor of his apartment. We had talked about watching Harry Potter 7 pt2 because I had never seen it in English (oh that is great story that I cannot wait to tell). He pops the movie in and we start our own witty, cheeky commentary. Ms. Menzel would have been so proud of how snarky I was. Of course eventually we start to get engrossed in the movie, and for the first time all night I finally shut up.
As Harry rummaged through the vaults of Gringots and then escaped to the Scottish Highlands, I sat enraptured by the beautiful cinematography. Of course, that wasn’t the only beautiful thing I was thinking about. Hollen had be so respectful, so gentlemanly that I wondered a few times how exactly our first kiss would shake out. Even in bed I had sent out a stray hand to his, which while it did not go unrequited, also did not cause some sort of calvalcade of subsequent action. No, instead I resigned myself to forgetting about it.
Which made what happened next all the more endearing. I turned to check a text, and when I set my phone down and turned back there he was, coming closer. And it was good. I know I have quite a few straight friends reading this and one of my biggest fears is that somehow I’ll embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable, but this, this I have to tell. The kiss was wonderful, and it lasted for that perfect first kiss length, that moment when everything coalesces, when it all comes to fruition. It was bliss, like floating on a sea of dreams suspended over the world’s darkness. An untouchable moment.
Once that bridge was crossed, we wouldn’t go back. He does this thing, that I honestly think might be one of my favorite things in the world, where we just kiss, nothing a la francaise, repeatedly, slowly increasing the tempo until it’s like your being enveloped by a jackhammer of adoration, and then he grabs me and holds me tight. I really can’t give the jovial sensation that overwhelms me justice with my petty words. We cuddled all night, and he would kiss me on my head, forehead, elbows. He just cares, and that’s what all of this shows. It’s not sexual, and that’s why I’m sharing it. He just makes me feel like I’m worth it, like I’m someone truly extraordinary. I mean he’s such a great guy that if he likes me this much it’s hard not to be buoyed by it. In brief, he’s just the bee’s knees.
And, to cap all of that off, it was his birthday. Yes. He chose to spend his birthday with me after only two meetings. He said that someone must have been looking out for him to give him such a great birthday present, and I couldn’t help but swoon. He treats me so well that it doesn’t seem real.
The next morning he dropped me off back at Rice so I could meet another guy I met on Grindr (just friends) named Donald who just graduated from the Naval Academy. Donald is a pretty sharp guy, and he treated me to a wonderful lunch at Hungry’s. Nevertheless, Donald reminded me why Hollen is such a catch. Donald was aloof, cordial, and had a few interesting things to talk about, but I was not blown away by any aspect of him, even as a friend. Aside from our shared Naval background, I don’t really think there’s much there besides a professional connection. He dropped me off afterwards and I raced to my class, which was the same old 3 hour-a-day Multivariable bootcamp that I’ve grown so accustomed to. Tuesday was especially difficult material, and the thing that most got me through it was “Well [the class] is almost a third of the way over… You’ll survive.. I’ll cover you in kisses as a reward for getting through.”
And then my class ended, and my night began.
My two favorite texts from Hollen (I hope it’s ok that I share these 😉 )
June 20, after Tuesday night, which I’ll tell you all about tomorrow
“You really are the rarest of kinds. You are one of a kind. genuine and far more special than you know.. I want to thank you so much for sharing the last few days with and even more so, sharing so much about yourself. I think someone was watching out for me and gave me the perfect gift this year for my birthday.”
This one he actually said to me, and it is by far the nicest compliment I have ever received.
“When we were at Restoration Hardware and you started describing the maps of Paris and Italy, you shined like no other. I think saying you were brilliant and passionate about it is, even on a good day, a lackluster understatement of words.. You captivated not only me but even the employees stopped to listen to you. I saw other customers listening to you the whole time we walked through the store. At that point it took so much strength not to just throw you on one of those beds in the showroom because I had never been so attracted to anyone. Dan, you truly are one of the greats.”
Well, the results are in. Despite my most dire misgivings I at least managed to pass my first math exam with a 76. I made stupid mistakes, and I think I’ll get 4 e/c points added from something else. At this point a B- would be lovely.
However, my life over the last week and a half has been much less focused on Math than I expected, and honestly over the next two weeks that will irrefutably have to change. Nonetheless, it’s been an amazing experience. Andy taught me a lot about myself and definitely cooled my desire for a relationship in the short-term. I now know that it will come when it comes, and until then I can’t attempt to prognosticate my destiny from a few dates with someone. It takes time. Life develops, it doesn’t happen in bolts of lightning.
So Sunday I wasted two hours meeting this guy named Kevin who is a math tutor and said he could help me study. We had lunch, chatted, but he’s not my taste and I really didn’t need a tutor… I just needed to focus and study. Therefore, I split pretty quickly after we ate and then yesterday completely broke it off with him by telling him half of the truth. I do indeed not have the time to waste jumping around Houston meeting guys for coffee and lunch. I need to focus on my class. But, for his own sake, I neglected to mention that I really didn’t find him very interesting or attractive. Frumpy is the best adjective for Kevin. My time with him was an afternoon wasted. Lesson learned: don’t meet someone just because they really want to meet you and seem nice. I’ve already got plenty of friends.
After lunch I was beat and crashed on my bed for what was supposed to be a 20 minute power nap that evolved unmolested into a full 3 hour snooze fest. I chided myself for starting my day at 5pm. I did have a test the next morning after all… But it’s summer and my focus is entirely wrapped up in that sentiment. From 5-10 I studied with a decent level of focus, and managed to cover a broad swathe of the material. Unfortunately after starting SO late it wasn’t really possible to go into depth on the things that really confused me, like Hessian gradients. In the midst of this studying I realized that I had completely forgotten to get dinner… the dining hall is only open from 6-7pm (really Rice?).
Luckily, my white knight was nearby at a dinner party in his honor. I asked, and Hollen most graciously obliged, to take me to grab some fast food real real quick after his party was over at 10. Around 10:30 Hollen picked me up from outside Baker and we cruised down passed Rice Village and towards the main drag of food that is fast, fried, and frugal. Wendy’s caught my eye and we headed over to the drive thru. What I saw before me was one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had the pleasure of beholding… Wendy’s done and got itself a value menu… Oh sweet heaven, there is a God. For $5.39 I got two deluxe cheeseburgers, a chicken caesar wrap, a monterrey jack crispy chicken sandwich, and a baked potato with butter and sour cream. Plus, Hollen brought me a cupcake from Sprinkles (almost as good as Crave… almost…). Therefore, for those of you nutritionally and fiscally inclined people, I ate 2219 calories for $5.39 [I’m trying to gain weight so I’m on a 3200 calorie diet, though I haven’t really been going to the gym enough to justify my food intake…].
However, even more than my delightful discover in the shadow of Wendy’s neon lights, seeing Hollen was the best part about my day. Just like on Saturday, we just have a rapport. Our conversations flow naturally, to the point that even though I finished eating at 10:50pm and my test was the next morning, we talked until 12:18am. Which meant that I was the first person he saw on the 24th anniversary of his birth, and I must say, I felt pretty special to have that honor. I mean, I feel pretty special just to have met him. I’ve truly never met someone like him. Everything is just so… effortless.
We parted, and once again I was very impressed that even though he clearly really liked me he still hadn’t made any sort of advances. Truly good guys don’t rush things, and I was glad that we weren’t complicating things or trying to “make the most of our limited time” or some other BS like that. No, instead we just enjoy each other’s company and it flows organically. The #1 I learned from Matt/Andy is that you can’t say some things. You just have to feel them, and have them be felt by the other person. Words are an artificial medium, poor attempts at bounding the infinite within the constraints of the finite. You’ve got to just let it be.
And with that Hollen and I made plans to hang out at his place on the night of his birthday, and to foreshadow my next post, what I a spectacular night it was.
Well, Andy (Matt) is officially gone. He had a great soul, and we truly did have an amazing connection, but I cannot found a friendship in the rubble of the greatest deceit I have ever known. I told him that I sincerely wish him the best, and that I know he is going through a confusing, even treacherous, phase in his life, one in which I have also struggled through. I will support him if he needs it badly enough, but generally I want nothing to do with him. I had already started to emotionally disconnect from him because of the impossibility of it all, and the fact that he misrepresented himself and betrayed my innocence only makes it that much easier to move on. Today I feel good. I feel ready to begin my life abroad and live life for what it is. I deleted our texts, the pictures, and blocked his skype account (which he would only call through, never video chat, for now obvious reasons).
The only pains I still have are the pangs of his voice in my head, the flashes of the false friend I thought I knew so well in objects around me, and the memory of what I had. Yet, I’ve learned so much. I can connect with someone in the deepest possible sense, something everyone fears they are incapable of, and I don’t need some ivy league ibanker to be happy. Music, fashion, engineering, or the culinary arts are all possibilities, and yet even they are but a few of the possible professions my future love could have. It doesn’t matter what he does. All that matters is that I love him, that we respect and trust each other, and that we complete each other. Only God knows all of my flaws and foibles, and any man that could fill in all of those gaps, blemishes, and scars would truly make me happy beyond all measure.
But I’m not waiting for Prince Charming. He will come, as always, whenever I least expect it. Instead I will live for me and believe in him. One day we will be. Until then I’ve gotta make do with just me, and I’m ok with that. In fact, I’m positively ecstatic about it. Now I have a whole lifetime to discover who I am, what I love, where I am happiest, and how I can be my most authentic, fulfilled self.
Now, of course I didn’t just want to write another “I shall overcome post.” No, instead this was to preface you, dear reader, for the wonderbomb that just exploded all over my bleak skies. He came innocently enough in the guise of yet another guy on Grindr.
Hollen, well, Hollen is lovely.
In all of my dates, only one other guy has rivaled Hollen in holding my attention, but the ways in which they do are entirely different. For the first guy, inevitably, he was the ray of sunlight, the guy that proved that the rule had exceptions. Not all gay men are worthless sacks of shit. He was adorable, sarcastic, and empathetic in his own unique way. Hollen however, is just endearing to the core. He’s incredible: genuine, caring, humble, ambitious, intelligent, and, of course, adorable [don’t forget real! (too soon…)].
He took me to an incredible restaurant perched in an outdoor garden with a beautiful contemporary, Napa aesthetic called Little Boxwood’s. It was the best place for a first date. I had a delicious angus burger on a brioche bun with pesto aioli and homemade pickles accompanied by a sumptuous medley of blackberries, strawberries, and pineapple. However, the star of the meal was the cookie… It literally returned me to a primal state, all I could think of was this tiny disk of paradise melting in my mouth. The only response I could utter was a series of guttural exclamations paired with a series of rapid hand flourishes. I was beside myself. This cookie was better than Olympus’ finest ambrosia. This cookie was life itself, plus tons of butter.
Of course, while the food may have been divine, I was here on a mission! What mission you may ask? Ehh I didn’t really know. But I had one! Kind of…
Mostly I just really wanted human contact with someone, and of all the guys I had talked to in Houston, Hollen stood out the most.
We talked about everything, his three great loves, my recent Matt/Andy saga, our lives, dreams, futures, values, beliefs, little comforts, and general opinions.
My favorite quote of the date was, and I use some creative license on this, when Hollen said, “I just want someone that will look at me during one of my vapid designer socials and be like, ‘Do you just want to go home so we cuddle and watch Jeopardy?'” That’s when I knew this guy was truly a kindred spirit.
I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation, but suffice to say, it was captivating. The three hours at the restaurant flew by and we went to my, now, favorite furniture store (EVER): Restoration Hardware. It’s modern vintage meets classic elegance, ergo, ravishingly beautiful.
So here we are, running around this three story palace of interior decadence, talking about everything under the sun, and honestly it was the craziest thing. I was on a first date with a guy combing the chambers of a store designed for profligate housewives and fabulous gay couples, and yet it all felt so normal, so subtly enchanting.
And that is the beauty of Hollen, that more than ever, and especially at a time when I needed this lesson reinforced, I can believe in good guys. They exist. They may not be everywhere, but isn’t that what makes them so grand?
I have no idea what any of this means and I don’t care. This is the moment I have, and I’m going to run with it. Surrounded by darkness I am my only beacon, and I choose to shine.