“I love you” he says, softly and sincerely. Your eyes grow large, your breath catches, you stop what you are doing with him. He turns suddenly to you in the bed, his eyes also grow large.
“No, I know that was accidental.”
“No, it’s okay, I know it’s too soon.”
“Yeah I was just caught up in the moment. I meant to say “I love you being here” but ran out of breath.”
Your apologies and explanations stumble over each other, the walls recede, the bedsheets catch on fire. Somewhere in the distance a air raid siren starts wailing, the bomb goes off, and your last thought before you are vaporized into tiny particles is “thank God at least we wont have to talk about that tomorrow…” and the blast hits the building and breaks your body into sweet sweet gay radioactive ash. Or maybe not, you think as you wake up next to him the morning after. You are disoriented for a second, then get your bearings: you are in the Bronx, a borough you hadn’t explored until now. Anytime you’ve ever heard the question “are you traveling for work or for pleasure?” you hear the word pleasure in your head as “ple-ZHAH”, said with an indulgent fake British accent. You’re here for both, with the bonus of seeing this man you’re waking up next to. You wonder absently if you’re at that stage where you can poop in his bathroom yet. You assume he doesn’t have this same dilemma, as he’s visited your city twice already.
He’s working today and the two of you sit side by side on the D on the way to his work, your hand brushing his, your knees pressed together. You kiss him goodbye when you part and this small act, this public display still makes you tense up, you make it as quick as possible because of the era you were raised in. His generation is bolder, they did not grow up getting their asses kicked as often, maybe were called “faggot” a little less. You reflexively listen for the word as your eyes close to kiss, it is not uttered. Despite the stomach turning administration, the ugliness hasn’t infected the streets of the cities you love.
The next day you and Chris walk along Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn Heights in perfectly Portland weather, it’s drizzly and 60 degrees out. A woman passes and aggressively commands “ENJOY THE SPRING WEATHER!” She is perhaps in her 60s, maybe 50s if she’s had a hard life, feathered grey hair, her lips have a smoker’s purse to them as she deftly holds a cigarette. Her eyes burn bright blue as she passes the two of you and you barely have time to acknowledge with agreement that it is, indeed, NICE SPRING WEATHER. Chris and you spend the rest of your lives unpacking the encounter and vacillating on whether the exclamation was sincere or sarcastic.
As always, the city is positively silly with dogshit. Like, do New Yorkers only spend their days making their dogs shit on sidewalks like it’s their job? Is this a stale take? You wonder if other people even see it: maybe it’s like the Sixth Sense and this is all ghost dogshit of doggos who have passed on and only you can see it, maybe you are the Dogshit Whisperer. Anyway.
Later that week, you walk alone past the Schubert theater, they are changing the name on the marquee for the revival of “Hello, Dolly!” to Bernadette Peters and the large red letters with light bulbs forming the last name “Midler” are leaning against the wall under the scaffolding. You stop dead in your tracks. No one is around. You mean. How easy would it be to just. You mean. Just one letter. No would would miss it until she was in the role again in the future and the marquee would just have to say “Bette Idler”. You stare and stare at the letters; they begin to blur. They are a spinning spiral disc, they are a cobra hypnotizing you, their prey. A worker comes around the corner and the spell is broken.
You move on, and a familiar pit forms in your gut. Is this a neighborhood you’ve been before? Is it some baggage from your ex surfacing? Are you remembering something urgent you forgot to do? Then it dawns on you, a wave of familiarity and clarity that washes over you like a wave, practically makes you shiver.
You have to poop.
This is bad. You are 2,440 miles away from a toilet you are comfortable with, and going to Chris’ apartment is at least 3 hours of transit time to go to his work to get his keys and then head to the Bronx from Brooklyn. You wonder, why isn’t pooping talked about in The Odyssey? Why do great, epic journeys from classic literature not include detailed descriptions of bathroom breaks? This is important.
You stop at a chain coffee shop near Union Square. The bathroom has a code to get into it so you buy a coffee to get the code. The coffee, surprisingly, does not help the situation get less urgent. You sip it, glancing at your phone for a long enough time, sweating and thinking of turtles. You finally get up and gingerly make your way to the bathroom, lest your stride be too great and you evacuate by mistake. You can see the headline for the viral video now: “Watch This Middle Aged Weirdo Shit His Pants in Starbucks.”
You frantically put the code in, the door opens. You look at the commode.
There is a very specific scene that comes to mind immediately. It is described in Stephen King’s novel “Dreamcatcher” in which an alien parasite grows to maturity inside a character’s bowels. When it is ready, it bursts out violently while the character is in the bathroom, spraying every surface with blood and excrement and flesh.
What you are saying is, you decide not to use this particular restroom.
You soldier on, moving through the chilly New York winter. Jane Krakowski walks towards you, she is tiny and beautiful like a miniature show pony; you smile at each other as you pass, she smiles because you do not pester her, you smile because she has literally no idea how much you need to poop.
An epiphany: at this point it will take you a half hour to get to Chris’ workplace, at which point he’ll be getting ready to close, at which point his coworkers will leave, at which point you shall defile their commode, which you predict will be spotless. You message him and he agrees it’s a good strategy. Everything goes as planned and another day passes where you don’t go into septic shock.
At some point you discover Chris hasn’t seen Ratatouille, so that night the two of you get under the comforter and interlink your legs and watch it. You are very bad at hiding how much movies make you emotional, you think maybe by the time you’re wiping your eyes for the ninth time Chris figures this out. You cry for the Little Rat Chef who achieves his dreams, you cry for the other main characters who figure out what they are supposed to do with their lives while you’re still figuring it out.
You cry for finding hope at your most hopeless. You cry for how scared you are that your baggage will get in the way of something wonderful. You cry for how every year you sympathize more and more with the dinosaurs who went extinct and less and less with the meteor. You cry at how hard you and Chris laughed together in his kitchen when you leaned in close and whispered tenderly “you are so ugly.” You cry at how fucked and how beautiful the world has been the past year. You cry for that sinking feeling that you are aging out of relevance and you will die penniless and in obscurity. You cry because you have been handed so much, and done seemingly so little with it. You cry because you can, you cry because you earned it.
Ok so maybe you don’t cry that much.
A few days later, you kiss him
goodbye “until next time” in the middle of the airport. You go in for the peck on the cheek and he grabs your arm, pulls you in, and gives you a proper deep kiss, and then another. You don’t listen for that muttered word, you don’t care who sees. The plane takes off, carries you high and far, launches you into the unknown, into your own future.