Was late spring 2018
Peaches had broken up with me in April, a month before my thesis was due
Until then, I had thought we were moving to New Orleans together after I finished school
We had been together for almost five years
I met Ryan a few weeks after, while Peaches was out of town
I downloaded Scruff for the first time in years
Saw Peaches's profile, logged on at the airport, before he got on the plane to leave
It said he was on PrEP
I took it as permission (not that I needed any) to have sex with whomever I wanted
I traveled from Boulder to Denver to fuck
Ryan was the third, the only "date" I went on
It was more of a hookup under the pretense of a date
Getting drinks first so he could make sure I was not crazy, or catfishing him
Though Ryan was significantly fatter than he was in his pictures
I did not mind that at all
In fact, I preferred it
Because that is something I like
Not the only thing, but one thing
I liked him a lot already
I was still living in Peaches' and my basement apartment, in Boulder
I had helped Peaches move most of his stuff into a storage unit outside town
He was ten years older than I—had more things—so it was pretty bare now
Joey flew in from Austin and I picked him up from the airport in my upstairs roommate's car
I had not seen him in about two years
My best friend
The smartest, funniest person I knew
It was not even close
He came out to see me, because he knew I needed it
He needed it, too, but I needed it more
We were to rent a car and drive to Southwest Wisconsin, where my mother's side is from
With a weekend jaunt to Chicago to meet some writer friends—Norm and Seamus—with whom I had spoken online for years but never met in person
Then return to Colorado for a few days
Then drive to Santa Fe to meet Joey's friend for her art installation
Then return to Colorado
Then Joey would leave
It was going to be great
No, it was going to be traumatic and epic, with the potential of us hating each other at the end
If this is not at stake, then what you are on is not a true road trip, and what you have is not true friendship
The energy in the car on the way back from the airport was giddy, manic even
We were psychotic about seeing each other after so long
Laughing, doing voices, making wild and demented faces, brutally and excessively making fun of people in ways they mostly did not deserve
When we laughed, we did not laugh
We held our mouths open widely in silence or faintly perceptible hissing
Faces pained with seizures of muted mirth
It was too much
At one point, I want to say we were both screaming for no reason
There was a reason, though
We loved each other
Joey and I got back to my place and immediately got high with my upstairs roommate
We played Mario Kart 64 and I crushed them with my prowess
I smoked them
I crushed, rolled, and then smoked them
Koopa Troopa Beach, Yoshi Valley, Rainbow Road—it did not matter
Joey and I would be on our own rainbow road soon
Except neither of us fucked with rainbows
We tended to wear black
I probably wore black more because of him
He had a black ball cap that said "bootyslayer 69" in cursive on the back
We picked up the car from the rental agency and left
We drove there in one shot
Vaping cannabis distillate
Listening to satellite radio, mostly new wave and disco
Listening to Bruce Springsteen read his autobiography
Which made us cry, the childhood parts
There was also a part where he gave his father pubic lice from sharing the same hotel bathroom
We had to listen to it again, to make sure we heard it right the first time
Bruce Springsteen gave his father crabs
We talked in the car about how I wanted to talk to my family about my growing concern for my mother's cognitive health
Every time I brought it up to her over the last few years, she had attributed it to her aging
Or it was a B-vitamin deficiency, for which her doctor had prescribed her pills
Her coworkers had expressed concern to me, too
Her friends, too
She should get checked out
It forced her into retirement
When Peaches and I helped her move from Texas to where she grew up, she almost killed two women while driving the rental truck
They chased her down at a rest stop and screamed at her
She refused to let either of us drive the truck, because we were not on the insurance
My mother was a dominant, fiercely independent personality
I grew up being scared of her
Her rage was as superhuman as her affection
When my mother drove out to celebrate my finishing school, four years after she retired, she got lost forty-five minutes outside town
She could only describe her immediate surroundings, and not very well
"I'm by a . . . uh . . . um . . . a biiiig uh-place—there's a uhhh—siiiign"
My upstairs roommate's boyfriend, who grew up in the area, deduced that she was parked at a school he knew of
He was right, we found her
She was standing outside her car, looking exhausted and confused
Beautiful gray hair hovering and swirling in high plains gusts
"I'm gonna drive, mom"
"I can drive"
"Yeah I know, but you've been driving all day so I'll drive"
Peaches and I took her to a show at a dinner theater
A show about Patsy Cline, one of her favorites
Sitting across from a mother, father, and what appeared to be a clearly gay tweenage boy
All wearing Disney attire
This family said they had been to the parks, both land and world, over a dozen times
I'm crazy, crazy for feeling so lonely
Driving back, my mother straddled two lanes in the dark, and I pointed it out to her
It was night, she said, and old people had a hard time driving at night
Peaches and I were broken up and trying to show her a good time
She was loudly singing fragments of songs
A few days before Peaches broke up with me, I was FaceTiming with my mother
Telling her our plans to move to New Orleans together
She was so happy, she was crying
Telling her that he broke up with me was intensely painful
I wanted her to feel like I was going to be okay in life
And now I could not give her that, because I was not sure if I would be okay in life
My mother gave me my late grandfather's watch as a graduation gift
We both cried when she gave it to me
I never ended up completing my degree, letting my I/Fs expire over the summer
I did not take my academic advisor's condescending advice and "use the energy" of my breakup
I did not graduate, but I finished school
I was finished with it
I knew I was the best writer in the program at the time (which was not saying much) and probably one of the best writers to ever go through that academy of mainly boarding school brats
Founded by an alcoholic, drug-addicted, womanizing cult leader and his lost, beatnik/hippie devotees
And a pedophilic poet
Allen Ginsberg (look up the essay he wrote about becoming a NAMBLA member, or just look at a picture of his face)
A flea clinging to the silver nuthairs of Walt Whitman
Bob Dylan's coattail jockey
He wrote one, maybe two good poems in his entire life
"Howl" is not even that good
"Kaddish"? I would rather get deepthroated by a daikon radish
Howl-about you go fuck yourself?
He Kad-dish it out, but he cannot take it
Oh, and while I am at it, suck my dick, Elf Boots
You know who you are
You pompous, vest-wearing douche
Your reading voice is repellant
You have published one book
I have published two, and I am your teenage son's age younger than you
I am writing my third right now
They are all better than yours
I got your "outrider lineage" right here, pal (cups genitals)
I hope your school attains nirvana (goes bankrupt)
I am never making another loan payment
Broke for life, son
My human karma explodes hell into heaven, drags clawing and yelping the devils of delusion back into the reality of God's heart where they were all along
Some people call me Big Bruiser Dope Boy, others call me Ben
You can call me dad
It is nice to meet you
You are late
I am playing
Nobody is good at writing
Joey and I arrived at what was known among my family as "the office," a multipurpose space my grandmother owned that used to be a daycare center
Visiting family would often stay there, and it was used as gathering space
It still had a bubbler (water fountain)
It was early in the morning
We had a drink, got stoned, and went to bed
We went to my grandmother's house and she was watching a Jacques Brel DVD
Joey was impressed
My mother and aunt were there, too
Joey introduced himself to and delighted my family with his casual brilliance and hilarity
Somewhere in the conversation, my grandmother made a comment about someone she knew, a white guy, having moved to one of the Dakotas to "pretend to be a Native American"
It was hilariously shady/salty
Joey was amazed by her
We got breakfast at the general store
My mother was driving us around with my grandmother in the passenger seat and Joey and I in back
She was acting weird
Making noises and giggling, driving goofily, swerving and braking erratically, defying her almost ninety-year-old mother
Like a misbehaving teenager
It was disturbing and funny
Joey and I looked at each other
Joey and I drove to Dr. Evermore's Sculpture Park outside Baraboo, where my grandmother was originally from
She came from a circus family
There was someone, a great aunt or someone, who used to hang by her long hair from the big top's apex and twirl around
The park was tricky to find, tucked behind a salvage yard, but we found it
It was incredible
The Forevertron was the centerpiece of the park, the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world
Dr. Evermore was the fictive artist persona of Tom Every
A Victorian inventor
Per the legend Every created, Dr. Evermore built The Forevertron to blast himself into the cosmos "on a magnetic lightning force beam"
To ride a rainbow road for eternity?
It was too much
There were giant mech insects
There was also an area of the park with an orchestra of birds
French horn bodies, trumpet beaks
It was swarming with aggressive mosquitos
Sweltering and muggy
We did not stay for long
Though before we left, we interacted with a woman who lived in a bus, which was also an office, on the park grounds
She represented Every/Evermore
She said he was in a home
Driving into Baraboo, I got lost because neither of our phones had service
I aggressively pulled over, turned around and parked
Joey called it an "angry boyfriend whiparound"
Which diffused the stress instantly because of how funny and perfect of a description it was
We got lunch at a cafe in Baraboo's main square
For dessert, delicious and refreshing espresso milkshakes
They might have had booze in them
On our way back to the valley, "Back on the Chain Gang" by The Pretenders came on the radio
I found a picture of you, oh oh oh oh
Those were the happiest days of my life
I started to cry, because it reminded me of Peaches
I remembered how it came on the radio when we drove his stuff to Boulder so we could move in together
The last two hours of the drive, we went through a wicked storm
We were in his Jeep Wrangler, with a "turtle shell" on top for extra storage
It was extremely windy and we could barely see out the windshield
It was terrifying
We could have died
Joey and I ate at Culver's for the second time
He said he was not used to eating this type of food and it was making him feel like shit/giving him the shits
He ate very "clean" usually
Sometimes he would note how he hated the fact he had to eat to survive
Our food was great
Joey and I drove to Dinah's
A woman in her sixties who was my friend
A drinking buddy and mother figure to me
One of my favorite people ever, who had helped me out during the hardest times of my life
She was graceful, courageous, and kind
Helped other people often, sometimes at her own expense
A bit of a passive-aggressive martyr honestly
But hey, everybody has issues
I met her through her son selling me weed when I was 18, working in the valley after high school
She worked from home
Also at home were Olivia and Orson—Dinah's daughter and her boyfriend
Their daughter Olive, too
Olivia was pregnant with another
Orson was dying of a brain tumor
He was an asshole, I had heard from Dinah and her son
He was from Wimbledon, but talked like he was from Brixton
A British w[hite-person-who-tries-to-"act-black"], essentially
An asshole with a brain tumor (they exist)
He was an InfoWars type guy ("InfoWarrior"?)
He needed your approval while being perpetually antagonistic
I heard he once called Dinah a "cigarette smoking barfly" to her face
You do not say that
You do not say that to your girlfriend's mother while you are staying at her house
Even if it is true
You disrespect Dinah, I stomp your guts wet and flat with the weight of my love for her
Joey and Olive hit it off
Olive, the adorable, precocious toddler
At one point, Joey was reading an illustrated book to her about magical stuff
I was in the other room failing to have a conversation with Orson, who was saying something about something evil in the world, and he got up and went in to check on them
I heard Orson go "Wuh ah yaow shaowing moy choyowd?"
It sounded accusatory
Joey was like ". . . What?"
"Woh doz dat lok loik tah yao?"
"Uhhhhh . . . you mean the wizard?"
"Das a coke gowin een anuvah main's arsehoe"
The illustration, Joey told me later, was of a wizard striding while clutching a scepter
Orson was pointing at the area where the wizard's leg disappeared into his robe
An insidiously subliminal gay pornographic message in the illustrations of a children's book
The book's style of drawing was like paper cutouts, shapes put together
(Why was the asshole a man's asshole? (probably because Joey was gay))
He said that shit right in front of his kid!
Orson seemed obsessed with pedophilia
He forbade Olive to be naked around anybody but he and Olivia
Olive would often remove her clothes on her own accord, and he would swiftly police it
He would get mad at Olivia if she had Olive naked in front of anybody
Diapers had to be changed in total seclusion
He talked about it a lot—the global pedophile elite
All this, to Joey and me, meant he was probably secretly a pedophile himself
Now, we were no psychoanalysts, but was this not the mental phenomenon known as "projection"?
The scally doth protest too much, wethinks
Like, okay, yes, the world's wealthiest people operate a sinister network of child trafficking and rape, doing it for perhaps no reasons other than their status affords it and they are powerful enough to do it without getting in trouble, sure, nobody can deny that, but what was with him harping on it
Made your point, bruv—starting to think this has more to do with your own desires
Was he jealous of them? ("Nowbuh-eee cain woah ah fack moy tew yeewhoa daw-ah bah may!"
He was at least upset that a faggot was getting along with his daughter better than he ever did, and was conflating Joey being gay with . . . Joey wanting to expose his daughter to an image of men having sex with each other?
. . . What?
It was really fucked up, creepy, and sad (one might even say it was too much)
Orson had a scar on his head from a prior surgery
Was not taking doctor's orders, refused treatments, instead opting for self-guided treatments based on things he read online
His forehead would suddenly bead up with sweat periodically
He was such a crazy asshole, and he was dying of a brain tumor (which probably made him even more of a crazy asshole by pressing on the lobe that affected his already shitty personality)
About to leave his girlfriend and her mother to raise two children, one of them yet to be born
Children who would live such better lives with their father gone, one barely knowing him and the other not at all, only as a distorted specter of communicated memory
The nicest thing Orson ever did for me was offer me tea
Which, with him being British, was likely more automatic than anything
Dinah drove us and her friend Patty to Madison for dinner and drinks
We went to Mickey's for dinner
Big plates of beef stroganoff on special
Then we went to Caribou Lounge, a dive on East Johnson
We got really, really drunk and stoned
Two women in their sixties, and two gay guys in their twenties and thirties
All making each other laugh
An impenetrable formation
When it was time to go, Joey and I went outside with cigarettes we bummed from Dinah, who had to go to the bathroom, with Patty following behind us
I was pissing in the bushes and heard Joey gasp
I shook and returned it, pissing in my underwear a little, and went over to see what he was upset about
He was gesturing toward the car
"Look what happened to the car!"
The front bumper had a hole in it, and there were various scuffs and dents
"Oh yeah, that's been there forever"
"Yeah dude, it's not a big deal—drives fine"
"Oh my God!"
He got in the backseat and I joined him
He was livid, arms folded tightly, gaze cast downward, fuming
I was confused, and a little entertained, giggling incredulously, which seemed to enrage him all the more
"Dude, it's really fine—I don't know what you're so upset about—relax"
"DON'T TELL ME TO RELAX! THERE'S A FUCKING HOLE IN THE CAR!"
Patty got in the passenger seat
"Joey, that's been there for years"
"WHAT?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!"
"I don't know man, she hit something or it came like that"
He clenched his jaw and shook his head, seethingly exhaling
He seemed inordinately irate and despairing not only about the longstanding damage that had been there as far back as I could remember, such that it was characteristic of the car—it made Dinah's car Dinah's car—but also that Patty and I were not having meltdowns about it
"This is so bad—I don't know what we're gonna do—this is so fucked . . . WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS SHIT?! IT'S FILTHY BACK HERE!!!"
He was looking around at Dinah's gardening equipment, small square plastic pots and topsoil scattered and stained into the floor carpeting
"Yeah, that's Dinah's stuff, she's a bit messy, so what?"
"WHY THE FUCK IS IT IN THE CAR?!?!?!"
"DUDE, because . . . wait . . . do . . . oh my God"
I realized Joey was so drunk and stoned that he thought Dinah's car was the rental
A completely different make, model, color, and year of production than Dinah's
"Joey, this isn't the rental, this is Dinah's car . . ."
"Oh my God"
He put his face in his hands and started laughing
"Oh my God . . . oh my God"
I was screaming
We were back at the office with Dinah
Super drunk, passing around a bottle of whiskey
Joey put on a YouTube video of Crowded House playing "Don't Dream It's Over"
The last concert of their farewell tour, and the last song of that concert
The last time, at the time, they would all play that song together
There's a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you'll never see the end of the road while you're traveling with me
Dinah wanted to leave, but Joey and I stopped her, because she was too drunk
She passed out on the couch and was gone when we woke
Joey and I drove the rental to Chicago and parked it in a garage in Lincoln Park
We had booked a hotel room for two nights
Our hotel seemed to have just underwent a renovation, making it look new and cheap, with pseudo-artsy shit all over that was supposed to be representative of the city
We learned Seamus was staying in a hotel down the block and across the street
Everybody was going to meet in Seamus's hotel room
Norm, Lance (a publisher who had put out books from both Norm and Seamus), Truck (a writer), and others
I did not know anybody other than Norm and Seamus
The hotel was old, smelly, and charming
We got to Seamus's room and he offered us absinthe
His attire seemed to emulate Anton LaVey
Norm and the others arrived
Norm looked at me, said "dude," and embraced me with his broad, robust frame
He had always felt like a kind of older brother to me
An encouraging, quiet example
Not only did I love and admire his writing, but he showed me possibilities of how I could live in the world and make art
We also seemed to have a bit of a "twinsies" dynamic, us both being Geminis (just kidding)
Our values overlapped, as did our humor
I think, among other things, we initially bonded over failing to function normally in society
We even looked related (in the years since, as we have spent more time together in person, people have mistaken us for biological brothers with such frequency—sometimes insisting on it in disappointed disbelief when told we are not—that it is now fully expected and enjoyed)
It was wonderful to finally see my friends
Seamus dispensed gifts to the group
Books he curated towards what he knew of their individual recipients' interests, as well as copies of his latest for each
An incredibly thoughtful and touching gesture
"Damn, thanks a lot man"
"This is so sweet of you"
"You shouldn't have"
"It's too much"
Nobody else had brought gifts
I had brought weed, but that was just as much for me as it was for everybody else
Norm asked Seamus if he could print something in the lobby
Norm was giving a reading at a bookstore from his newest offering that evening
We had dinner at a restaurant close by and walked to the bookstore
It was in a bougie neighborhood and had a large gay section
It seemed like a gay bookstore, rainbow flags mounted on its facade
Norm broke off and talked to the event's organizers, who appeared frantically deferential about getting him bottled water
I had to go to the bathroom, but could not find it, so I asked the handsome clerk where it was
He flirtatiously apprised me of its cranny
I went to the bathroom and before entering had to quickly dodge being bludgeoned by its narrowly-accessed, tightly-springed door as somebody exited
I found Joey and Seamus in the gay section, which I started to halfheartedly browse
Joey told me the clerk who flirted with me was a dick to him, acting irritated he was being addressed at his job
He treated customers differently based on whether or not he was attracted to them
Classic shallow gay guy behavior
I looked around at the books in the gay section, feeling disdain for contemporary gay people
Whatever it was I glanced in the matte and gloss of the covers I felt neither a part of nor did I want to join
I felt alienated by it
A stranger within my own named desires
Your sad, deep gay story does not make you any more interesting, special, or worthy of love
You still have to work
You still have to be a person
Norm came over and looked at us with wide eyes
"That bathroom door . . . I wasn't ready for it"
"Yeah, it's a doozy"
He pointed to the books and grinned
"You gonna be there someday bro?"
He knew how I felt about it
Norm's reading was great
We went to a bar after, played some pool
Lance seemed upset about something
Truck seemed jolly, if brooding
Seamus, a gloomy, Burroughs-esque, wraithlike presence
Norm was averse to the atmosphere of bars
It was clear he was only in one to be a gracious host
Having worked in bars, I identified with him, but maybe, being gay, had put up with more for the sake of being around "people like me"
He mentioned how he was avoiding looking at the screens of TVs and game machines
Joey and I thought about picking up Big Buck Hunter's plastic pump-action shotgun and digitally dispatching zebras like the others, but it did not feel like the right time or place
We were there to see Norm and Seamus
The group dispersed and Joey and I went back to our hotel room
Before falling asleep, I found Dean on Scruff
Dr. Dean Campbell
A muscle daddy bear from San Francisco in an open marriage I had hooked up with in 2013 in Madison two weeks before moving home with my mother in Austin and two months before I met Peaches
He had crossed my mind from time to time
I messaged him
"Well well, I suppose it was bound to happen eventually"
We agreed for me to go over to his hotel room early in the morning
I set an alarm for 6 AM
I was fully dressed, trying to whisper
He was hungover
"Hey, sorry to wake you up, but I'm gonna go—I'll be back in a couple hours tops"
"Where are you going?"
"I'm gonna meet up with this guy at his hotel downtown . . . to have sex—I know him from years ago, he just happens to be in town"
"Oh . . . okay . . . have fun I guess"
We were chuckling a little, he awkwardly and I sheepishly
"Thanks, sorry to wake you up, I just don't want you to worry if you wake up and I'm not here"
"I need this—oh, wanna get breakfast at that pancake place when I get back?"
"Sure, whatever, I'm going back to sleep now"
"He's a pretty cool guy actually"
"I'm glad, goodnight"
"He works for a big pharmaceutical company . . . okay . . . bye . . . . . . love you"
I slunk out the door
Dean was as sexy as ever, and fun enough, but it was different—I had not been able to shake my brain of Ryan, an erotically ideal, seemingly perfect sexual partner with whom I felt a strong emotional and mental connection
Our session was brought to an abrupt halt after I knowingly prematurely ejaculated inside him without a condom (he was on PrEP), promising to get hard again "in like 2 minutes"—he was sitting on me and, as he stood, I felt something warmer than usual
Joey and Seamus were waiting for me in a booth at The Original Pancake House
I slid onto the bench next to Joey
". . . Everything okay?"
"Yeah—have y'all ordered?"
I turned the menu's pages while furtively smelling my fingers
"What are y'all getting?"
Joey was getting an omelette, and Seamus, as he did at dinner last night, was not getting anything
During his travels, he adhered to a stringent diet of what he referred to as his "nubbins" (dry snacks with low digestive impact)
He had mentioned his health issues to me before
Seamus was a bonafide artist and eccentric—I could feel the electricity of his obsessiveness, because I had that in me, too
He was a genuine person—hypersensitive and soulful with a terminally dour edge
His commitment to doing exactly what he did had always impressed me, how he constructed sonically, syntactically, and semantically dense and gnarled lines and sentences that masterfully hit your guts as grounded in experience without ever producing the obscure, impenetrable, risk-free, interchangeable textual wallpaper of many of his pussyfooted, jealous peers—he knew who he was and was not afraid of showing it—there was something of himself at stake in all his work
I decided on a skillet and excused myself to the bathroom
I washed my hands twice in hot water, after which they still smelled like what they smelled like
We ate and left The Original Pancake House, returning to our respective hotel rooms, after which we were to reconvene and walk to Millenium Park to meet up with Norm and his younger brother Nicola as well as Lance and the others
Joey was rinsing his mouth out after brushing his teeth
"I'm gonna shower—that guy shit on my dick and I can't get the smell off"
He spit in the sink
"Ew, fucking gross . . . I knew something was going on with you—fucking fidgeting all breakfast"
He wiped his mouth and I followed him to his suitcase
"It's like there are particles of it inside my nose or something"
"Oh my God stop"
I was giggling
"Either that or the shit, like, fused to my skin"
He winced and pushed his fingers into his brow, slowly shaking his head as he spoke through his teeth
"I hate you so much"
"I already washed my dick like four times in a row there, but I feel like I can still smell it"
"That's so fucking disgusting—it's like it's in your mind . . . you're like Lady Macshit"
I reached toward his face and he recoiled, leaping onto his bed, crouching and clenching his fists in what can only be described as an "Italian-American martial arts stance"
"FUCK you get the FUCK away from me take a GODDAMN shower!"
Joey, Seamus, and I walked a long way through miserable heat to Millenium Park, navigating the zoo and its surrounding park, tourists, children, bicycles, a guy saying we looked like we were going to a metal concert, a Black Hebrew Israelite calling us "white devils," etc., stopping twice at convenience stores for water and air-conditioning
We settled in the shade and waited for Norm and Nicola
A guy walked up and provided us with unsolicited tourism information for a minute, then asked for money
Seamus offered him some "nubbins" and he declined
Norm and Nicola arrived
They had a soccer ball with them and suggested we kick it around
We went to an open area of grass and spread out
Seamus participated for a few go-rounds, then sat on a bench, looking severely displeased
After, we took turns putting our heads under a water fountain
We left Millenium park, started walking toward a neighborhood to get Italian ices
Nicola did various martial arts moves on sidewalk objects
Crossing a bridge over the river, Norm double thumbs-downed and stared at a barge of tourists as it blew its horn and passed beneath
After, I saw him appear to psychically/emotionally connect with a leashed dog in passing, subtly putting his hand out to be sniffed, without acknowledging its owner at all
The ices were still far, so Nicola ordered a car
They were delicious and refreshing
We went into a deli and got some sandwiches and beverages
It was nice to sit down and eat in a climate-controlled deli
We talked, among other things, about the TV show Family Matters, starring the great Reginald VelJohnson
We improvised imagining Steven Urkel in bleak contemporary cinema scenarios, for instance if he was tasked by the state to do some form of espionage in the Middle East (mushroom cloud in distance, him saying "did I do that?" and so on)
We were cracking each other up
I smelled my fingers
Paging Dr. Campbell
It was faint, but still there
The unwashable residue of my tragic aspiration for bottom bears
Out, damned daddy doo-doo!
It was getting later in the afternoon and into the early evening, so we arranged to meet up with Lance and the others, who had been doing some tourist activities that day, at a bar by Seamus's hotel
Norm said he had money on his public transit card and we could take the train back
Walking to the platform, we were passed by a convertible blasting "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult with four young people in it
Norm noted the irony
The fear of death was surely present in the convertible, the song itself and its excessive volume demonstrating the transparent denial and concealment of that fear
The train car was humid and packed with people
Nicola poised himself to get off and so did Joey
Norm stopped him
"We're getting off at the next stop"
"Oh, why is Nicola getting off?"
"He's going to stop by his work"
"I'll meet up with you guys later"
Nicola disclosed to me that he was going to stop by the gym where he worked because he felt an oncoming bowel movement the urgency of which was too profound for him to believe he could last another stop without soiling himself on the crowded train car
He was wearing athletic shorts
I started laughing with him, imagining his coworkers and gym members trying to talk to him, unknowingly and maybe catastrophically impeding his desperate mission
It was funny, but I could tell he was in moderate physical discomfort, focusing on not shitting himself
If I could have helped him hold it in, I would have
That came out wrong
So did that
We were walking through Wrigleyville at dusk, right next to the stadium
Norm turned to me
"I hate it here, but it's not that bad when there are so few people around"
We passed a guy in a suit who had an earpiece in
"Still enough people for the CIA, I guess"
"I noticed that guy too"
I put my finger to my ear and made a radio feedback noise
"We got four suspicious goons, over"
"Four suspicious goons . . ."
The bar was in a basement down a flight of stairs and we were relieved to find it
We played pool at first, then darts
We were getting very drunk
Seamus was over playing games of any kind
I overheard Lance condescendingly pitching him a novel to write called "Pig Man" about some asshole finding redemption
It was painful—he was basically calling him a bigot to his face in the form of a book pitch
At one point, Lance asked Joey and I if we were writers
We told him we were, and that was that
Nothing here for you, boss
It was embarrassing to see him stewing about Norm not giving him enough attention
I felt bad for Norm
But I supposed that was the social price you paid when you made art that nobody else could make: other people wanted things from you that you could not give them, projecting onto you their desires, insecurities, and warped ideas of you, themselves, and the world
What I admired most about Norm was how he kept to himself and did not entertain other people's bullshit, even if they expected something from him because they published his books
Publishers were so often like that—using their often inherited wealth to position themselves in proximity to art and the authentic individuals who produced it, idealizing and valorizing yet resenting and coveting them for being who they were and wanting what they had
They wanted to be friends without having anything meaningful in common
I was having a great time playing darts
Lance, Seamus, and the others left
Norm and Nicola offered to walk us to the hotel
We shared a joint on the corner
Hugs and goodbyes were exchanged
In the hotel room, from our beds, Joey and I went through everything that had happened
In the morning, Joey realized he did not have his debit card in his wallet
"Goddamnit, I knew I wouldn't get out of here without a fucking scratch"
He called the bar we were at last night
They had it
We got his card back, checked out of the hotel, and drove back to Wisconsin
At the office, I was worried I had gonorrhea
I kept going to the bathroom to check if I had a discharge
I would squeeze the sides of my penis head so my external urethral orifice would open, and then
I would drag my finger along the underside of my shaft like getting the last toothpaste out of its tube
I thought I saw something
I needed a second opinion
I asked Joey to come into the bathroom with me to look
Joey had never seen my penis before
"I mean, I can't really tell—if it's bothering you that much just get tested"
"I'm sorry I asked you to look at my dick"
"I guess a boundary has been crossed, but it's whatever"
It was Sunday
I made Joey drive me to the emergency room in Madison
In the emergency room, the nurse treated me for gonorrhea and chlamydia prophylactically
I would find out the results of my urine panel in a day or two
I also got a rapid HIV test
It had been years, because I had been monogamous with Peaches (except when we were long distance and he cheated on me before a visit and gave me gonorrhea and Pink eye in both eyes at the same time, but we worked through that)
I was waiting for the results, silently coddling my ears as I often did when I was anxious
I was sitting on the examination bench and Joey was sitting in a chair
I heard his phone make the Grindr notification message
He grimly looked up from his phone at me without moving his head
How dare you, Joey
How dare you taint the sanctity of the emergency room and my hypochondria
The nurse came back and the result was negative
We met Dinah, Olivia, Orson, and Olive at an Indian buffet in Madison
On the way in, I said something that made Joey laugh
A guy hanging with his friends outside noticed us
Once inside, Joey turned to me
"That guy totally just flirted with me"
"Yeah, that was really cute"
I had to get food in me fast to help the antibiotics be easier on my stomach
I piled my plate up and sat in the booth
I had a few bites, then excused myself, looking at Joey gravely
"Yep, here it comes"
It started coming out as I bent my knees, before my haunches made contact with the toilet seat
It was the most incredible diarrhea I had ever experienced
Suggesting a kind of endlessness
Volume-wise, it was otherworldly
It just kept going
Like Rainbow Road
It was surely as colorful
Where was it all coming from?
It was awe-inspiring
And yes, it was too much
In the ferocity of the moment, I ceased to be human and became a hollow cylinder expelling the sordid waste of a molecular war
I slid the enlightened husk of my flesh back in the booth
". . . Everything okay?"
Orson's forehead was sweating and he was talking about regular, everyday stuff
I am playing—he was talking about the malevolent forces at work in the world
He said something about China, then started talking about Russia
"Yew now een Rosha, twanzgenda paypoh ah geh-in twanspwantz fwum bahfalow vajoynaz" ("You know in Russia, transgender people are getting transplants from buffalo vaginas")
I was not sure what to say
I mean, what do you say to that, other than "I hope you find the peace in death you never found in life"?
"Uhh—It's good they're using every part of the buffalo, I guess"
A bit of food fell from Dinah's mouth as she laughed
Joey and Olivia giggled
Orson stared at me blankly
Olive did not care about any of us, because she was a transcendent genius
Joey and I were going back to Boulder in a couple days and I had still not brought up my concerns about my mother to the rest of my family
We were going to dinner at my aunt and uncle's house that night and I told Joey I was going to linger and bring it up to them there
After dinner, after my mother left, I asked my aunt into the other room and told her I was worried about my mother's memory
She told me my mother had early onset dementia
I started to cry
My grandmother came in the room and joined the conversation
My mother had been diagnosed two years ago
My family did not tell me
They had been waiting for me to bring it up to them
I had to live my life, they said, and my mother's quality of life was okay
Joey came in and noticed I was crying
"What's going on?"
"She has dementia"
"Fuck . . ."
My family and I resolved to not emotionally bypass each other anymore
My grandmother told me we would not avoid it
We would plan things together as a team
In the rental, on the way back to the office, Joey told me how proud of me he was
"You handled that with grace"
From bed, I texted Ryan
"I found out tonight my mom has dementia—I know you've been through a similar horror—it would be nice to talk about it with you"
After having sex on our first "date," Ryan and I went to Pete's Kitchen, a 24-hour Greek diner on Colfax
He told me that his mother had died of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's nine months previous, and that after, he "ran away" to Colorado, where he had lived before and went to school
He told me how he had been unemployed for two years, leaving his job when his mother got really bad
I was almost crying telling him about Peaches's and my still very fresh breakup
When he dropped me off at Union Station to take the bus back to Boulder, I thanked him and told him I really liked him, that I needed a friend
I wanted to be his friend
Ryan texted me back
"I'm so sorry to hear that, Ben—you're right, it is a horror—of course, we can talk about it whenever you want"
I called Peaches and told him
He cried and had questions for which I had no answers
My grandmother, mother, Joey, and I were at the general store the next morning, eating breakfast
I could not look at my mother the same way
Sure, she had been masking her symptoms to others and herself with increasing ineptitude
But I had been in denial, too
I did not take action
I had to, as my family had rationalized to me, live my life
I was a deadbeat son
Like my deadbeat father
My mother could tell I was looking at her differently
She was still acutely intuitive in sensing other people's emotions
Who knows, maybe she was even more perceptive with the other things falling away
She opened a copy of the local small town newspaper
She pointed to something
She started reading it aloud, slowly
It was like she was trying to prove to us she did not have dementia
Part of the masking, too, being the loss of the awareness that the world of your mind's language is crumbling around you
People sometimes couch it as a reversion to a childlike innocence, and that's a nice thought
But from the outside looking in, it was suffering and confusion
I was trying not to cry just looking at her
Outside the general store, she confronted me
". . . Nothing—I just love you"
Now I was doing the masking, and she was seeing through it
"It's fine—I'm fine"
"Yeah, I know"
She gave me a hug
"I love you"
"I love you so much"
My urine panel results came back—I never had anything
My grandmother, mother, Joey, and I had dinner at a restaurant in town that night
At some point during our meal, my grandmother was approached by two men, unmistakably an elderly gay couple
"OH MY GOODNESS!"
She stood up and hugged them both, smiling bigger than I had ever seen her smile
They were clearly old friends
It was poignantly joyful
Joey started crying
I felt bad for having dragged him, albeit unknowingly, through such trauma
He was raw from it and reacting tenderly to things
I know I was
Seeing him cry made me start to cry
Too, too much
I tweeted about having found out about my mother's illness
Some asshole retweeted me with the comment: "totally chill to broadcast this on the internet"
Norm texted me
"I'm really sorry to hear about your mom—if you need to talk about it I'm here—my nonna had dementia—love you bro"
Norm was there for me when Peaches broke up with me, too
I texted him and Joey the morning after it happened
They were my best friends
The rest of the world could choke on its sponsored algorithm
They were both my brothers and my boyfriends
Except I loved them more deeply than I could ever love a boyfriend
They appreciated me for who I was, not who they expected me to be to satisfy themselves
They could feel me
They knew I did not have anybody else like them in my life
Joey and I drove back to Colorado, forever changed by everything, our friendship as close as it had ever been
Holding onto each other in the alone-stream of the perfectly merciless universe
We still had to go to Santa Fe, which, with our drained energies, we had our doubts about, but were still committed
Ride or die, for better or worse, for nothing, for what
For anything but kicks
Fuck Jack Kerouac, fuck jazz, and fuck America
Fuck spoken word poetry, fuck brunch, and fuck community
Fuck fake-ass, pussy-ass writers and their chummy poser publishers, fuck the dog and its leash, fuck the fishes and the water they swim in and pretend to breathe
Fuck the CIA—I am the CIA
Fuck me, fuck you
Fuck every reality and counter-reality
Fuck the continents and their cultures, the senses and empirical knowledge
Fuck the twisted thought-demons guarding the gates of direct perception
Fuck the relative and the absolute
Fuck it all to sublime, empty nowhere
Fuck Goddamnit motherfucking FUCK
We had a couple days, though, to "relax" before driving down there
Joey and I went for a walk at sawhill ponds to watch birds
He could identify most birds, and I could identify very few
We saw one he had not seen before, but guessed it was a golden oriole
Walking back to the car, Joey paused and turned around and looked at me
"I'm really happy we're doing this together"
He wiped sweat from under my eye with his thumb
I walked ahead, then paused and turned around and looked at him
"I'm sorry, but that freaked me out a little—it seemed like you were about to kiss me or something—I need you to be my friend"
"Fuck, sorry, I'm just emotional—yeah, that was weird"
"It's okay—I love you"
"I love you, too"
I met Joey not long after I met Peaches, through a mutual friend we both despise
It was at a small house party
Joey was blackout drunk, dominating the song selection, aggressively dancing and lip-synching at people, getting inches from their faces
New Year's Eve that year, 2013, as our friendship was blooming, we were at a party at the same house where we met
He was there with his ex, blackout drunk
Toward the end of the night, he leaned in to kiss me
We argue over if our lips actually made contact—I say we kissed for a second, and he says we did not
I rejected him, grabbing his shoulders
I was already in love with Peaches
I felt bad—he was very embarrassed
Despite him being a hilarious, brilliant, beautiful, sexy person, I could not fathom him as a sexual partner
Or, I could, but that was behind a door I would never open
It was not as if I had not been flirting with him—I absolutely was—but I was not flirting with him as a means to more, and therein laid the misunderstanding
He was a gorgeous human being, but I had a type, and he was not it
He would tell me that having a type was basic or less evolved, that it meant you had not done the work to break down dominant conventions within yourself and open up, same as being either a total top or bottom in the "binary"
But I had never tried to innovate or break the mold with my desires
I wanted what I wanted, was driven by that which I was driven—social critiques be damned
He said he did not have a type, despite, from what I could tell, him inevitably becoming boyfriends with guys as skinny or skinnier than he was
He once told me his ex had "Jafar hands"
Back in the basement, watching Golden Girls, I noticed he got goosebumps on his legs after laughing at something Estelle Getty said to Bea Arthur
I stood up and noted this, still reeling from the weird, intense, emotional moment between us at the ponds
He got really self-conscious, then angry at me, then made fun of me
Did I think that because he got goosebumps watching Golden Girls with me that he was turned on by me or something?
I was paranoid—about what our friendship was, how he maybe felt about me and how I maybe felt about him, but could not admit
He clowned on me until the awkwardness passed
I apologized for freaking out
What we went through in the Midwest had deepened and darkened our bond
Our friendship was charged with passionate tension
It exceeded the threshold of easily digestible experience (it was too much)
Peaches had seemed to resent our friendship sometimes
He was my life partner whom I seldom touched—only for hellos, goodbyes, and when either something really happy or sad had happened
We drove to Santa Fe, the landscape of which recalled the roadrunner and coyote cartoons
It was naturally beautiful and culturally repugnant
Rich people swarming around municipally mandated adobe architecture
Shopping and food, turquoise and booze
We attended his friend's art installation, which was in a big complex
It was cool enough, but it was also a lame, tryhard status event, like virtually anything occurring in a gallery
"Whenever I'm at a thing like this, I always think 'where's the shooter gonna come from?'"
His friend invited us to a fancy spa in the mountains, but we declined
His friend invited us to a conceptual art playground-museum called Meow Wolf, but we declined
We drove to a petroglyphs site outside town
It was extremely dry and hot—the sun rays palming my head
We walked the trail and up the rock formations and saw the ancient carvings
There were many of them, with a few main locations
He pointed at one and told me it was Kokopelli, a fertility deity
He talked about how petroglyphs differed from hieroglyphs
"They're not language—they're just like . . . something some guy did when he was bored"
"Maybe he was on peyote"
"Yeah, maybe, who knows . . ."
Walking the trail back to the parking lot, I smiled
"Race you back to the car"
"Hell no—it's so hot"
"Yeah, you're right"
I started walking faster
So did Joey
We started sprinting and laughing
"Your legs are so fucking long!"
We hunched over and panted by the car
I was dehydrated and heat-exhausted
I was shivering
I had goosebumps
We drove back to Boulder
We returned the rental
The night before Joey's flight out, he was sleeping upstairs and I was awake downstairs
Ryan had come from Denver to hang out with some of his Boulder friends
He came over after
We got naked—cuddled and talked
It was great to see him again
I mentioned my mother, and he looked at me like he did not know what I was talking about
". . . She was diagnosed with early onset dementia"
"—Oh, right, sorry!"
How could he not remember such a connective thing between us?
Maybe it was too much for him
It kind of made me feel like an asshole with a Ryan tumor
I told him my family had not told me for two years
"They should have told you"
"Yeah, I was mad at first, but I let it go, because it wouldn't do anybody any good—they told me they were waiting for me to bring it up to them"
"Yeah . . . 'you have to live your life' and all that"
"Oh my God—that's exactly what they said!"
He closed his eyes and nodded
We held and kissed each other
He told me he had a theory that childhood trauma made a person more likely to develop symptoms later in life
I told him my mother had been raped when she was six years old by a family friend who was babysitting her
She told me about it when I was a teenager
She woke with him inside her, and he told her he would "get her" if she told anybody
Ryan told me his mother had been raped when she was a child, too
I told him that, when she was a teenager and the man who raped her was dead, my mother told my grandmother what had happened to her, and my grandmother got up and left the room without saying a word, and that she did the same exact thing in a family therapy session decades later
"Maybe it was too much for her, the guilt—also, that's a different generation—I'm not sure people talked about that stuff like that back then"
"That's her mom, though—that's when you hold your child and go 'oh baby, I'm so sorry, I love you'"
Ryan thought parental love was universal and unconditional—not cultural and temporal
An ironic thing for a person with a Master's degree in anthropology to say
Still, I wanted him to be right
I thanked him for coming over
In the morning, I drove Joey to the airport in my roommate's car
We hugged tightly outside the terminal
I was sad to see my friend leave
But driving back home, alone, it was not too much
Life and death were not—are not—too much
And I can only will myself to change so much
When so much change happens on its own
I meet you in the middle of this road without edges
Where there are no words or thoughts
Some people call me Big Bruiser Dope Boy, others call me Ben
Joey calls me Benji
Norm calls me Lurky
My father calls me on holidays
My mother calls me by her brother's name now
But I can tell she still knows who I am
You forget the most important things last
The most important things last