(you're entering a pivotal scene in an ongoing plot, so don't be alarmed if you're slightly disoriented...)
And as I walk into the room, my eyes are drawn to a familiar figure, his head turned in conversation. A beat before I really recognize him, my heart surges open with unexpected pleasure. It’s been at least nine years since I last saw Ian. We had a spark friendship, short and intense, having met at a Hallowe’en party and connected in a way that felt more open and familiar than I’d ever experienced with a man. I could accept his attraction because he was gay. Even though I sensed a sexual element somewhere in there, I knew instinctively that our mutual lure was more primal than sex. As though our essences recognized each other as kin.
Through the following months, we were constantly drawn together, talking on the phone every day, meeting up for coffee or lunch at least once a week, often more. We always greeted each other with a smile of special recognition and a hug. We shared our childhood experiences of difference, our deepest shames, our dearest wishes, our uncertainties, while cuddled under a blanket sipping tea. We discussed and debated music, science, politics, spirituality, and a host of inanities. Within a few weeks we had developed the habit of holding hands, leaning on each other and touching naturally with genuine affection. People started whispering and wondering, but we hardly noticed inside the bubble of connectedness we shared. We laughed a lot, we cried sometimes.
Then he met Ristic. Ian was no pansy-boy, but he was slight and fine-boned, hovering on the masculine side of androgyny, with a quick wit and discriminating sensibilities. Ristic was a baseball-playing, jovial boys-boy, laughing while he pushed the limits of propriety to see what it took to offend the current room. He was overtly sexual in his comments and conduct, and though 110% masculine, more openly gay than even sexuality-secure hetero men preferred. He was gorgeous, tall and muscular, with ripped abs accentuated by tight t-shirts, and he exuded an edgy, challenging kind of charisma that made other men fall in line around the top dog.
This was the man who grasped Ian’s heart with a tight fist and squeezed until I hardly knew my friend. Ristic, who only knocked Ian around if he’d had too much to drink. Ristic, who publicly denigrated Ian’s femininity but tolerated no masculine challenge. Ristic, who time and again created situations that forced Ian to choose him over me, clearly marking his possession. Ristic, who held on to Ian for dear life when he discovered that he had HIV. But by the time that happened, I was already in the distance, no longer able to reach the part of Ian that was me.
Now, seeing him, I long for our connection, long for him in a way I thought I’d forgotten to feel. He looks up, drawn by my stare; instantly, my essence leaps with joy at the bright recognition in his eyes. And the next second, plummets as those eyes cloud over with caution, his face settling into the barely amused, polite demeanor of his social mask.