Friday, 23 August 2013


Last Monday was Valentine’s Day, and the Saturday before, my fuck buddy came by.  My fuck buddy is a Master, and I his Sub.   A bartender at a major gay bar in the Village, Master Jordan is a 40 year old mohawked, Metallica T-shirt wearing punk.  He is so serious and measured in everything he says and does, that I often don’t know that he’s made a joke due to his complete poker face.  It’s a quality that keeps me guessing.   We’ve been seeing each other casually since just before Christmas, and the deal is that he loves to be worshipped, and I love to worship him.  Simple, no strings – just good fun.  When he came over, we sat to have a drink before playing, and just to provoke a reaction, I said “Happy Valentine’s Day”.  Grinning, he said it back, and we proceeded to discuss the merits and demerits (mostly demerits) of this holiday that supposedly celebrates love.

I’m not in love with my Master, nor do I believe that he is in love with me.  Which is good – he has a partner with whom he is in an open relationship.  And that makes me feel safe.  Can’t get too hurt since he isn’t mine to lose, you know what I mean?  But I’ve never once celebrated a Valentine’s Day with someone I did love.  Not surprising, since I also haven’t been in love in 16 years.  In fact though, I have known love twice.  And both times, it nearly killed me.  I recall a pain so intense that, once where a permeable heart resided, a stone replica seemed to take its place.  But even if I could go back in time, and be a friend to my younger self, what could I do to change things?  More importantly, how can I be a friend to my present self and melt my heart now?


Like any 16 year old gay boy living in Winnipeg in 1990, I knew two things: The drama club was a refuge, and I was going to hell for thinking about guys.  But on the first day of rehearsal for our high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, I just cared that I had scored the part of the Scarecrow.  And I hardly looked up when Jack Rankin, the star grade-12 athlete, walked in the music room.  Our eyes met, and he sauntered up to me to say he’d seen me in another school play a month earlier and had thought I was really good.  I was too floored to be nervous yet, and asked if he was going to be in the Wizard of Oz.  “Yeah,” he answered, “I wanted just a really small part, just to feel what it’s like to be on stage.”  He didn’t have time to go to a lot of rehearsals anyway – he was the school’s best athlete and devoted all his time to sports.

But he wasn’t slumming it.  He seemed to truly enjoy being at rehearsal, when he was called to them, and he was unfailingly kind to me.  The poor guy – he didn’t know that his kind words were going to reduce me to jello.  Slowly, I began to track his every move at rehearsals.  And then in the cafeteria.  And in the hallways.  He played intramural sports at lunch time, and I, with my school books pressed tightly against my chest, would enter the gym and quietly find a spot on the bleachers to eat lunch and furtively watch him.  But one time he noticed me.  Like a deer in the headlights, I was sure that he would magically sense that I was there only to see him, and he would retaliate somehow for the unwanted attention of a fag.  But, when he saw me, instead of giving me a funny look, like I anticipated, instead of ignoring me like he well could have, he smiled, gave a big wave and yelled “Hey Jason!”  There is that famous moment in Romeo and Juliet where Romeo spies Juliet for the first time at a party and knows that things will never be the same.  Like Romeo, I was done for once Jack smiled at me in the gym.  His “Hey Jason” was permission to like him.

I never doubted for a moment that Jack was straight, because he was.  But in spite of that, I got so caught up in feelings for Jack that I felt like Dorothy being sucked up by the cyclone and deposited in a different land far from home.  I came to worship Jack out of all proportion.  We got to know each other ever so casually through rehearsals, and I nearly shit myself every time he came into the rehearsal room.  I knew that what I was feeling was what Romeo called love.  My religious training had made me believe that my attraction to guys was a one way ticket to hell.  But this burgeoning feeling for Jack was so pure, so clean, so golden, that I knew that what I was feeling was blessed by God.  And so I cracked open.  Everything I thought I knew to be true about God and the universe was turned completely upside down.  Every bit of shame I felt from my religion and my society was, I discovered, unfounded.  I had to totally reconstruct my concept of God, cope with the first blush of love, and yet keep it hidden – all at the same time.

Jack thought I was a great guy.  I even managed to get his phone number on some pretense that I needed his advice about something.  Hidden in the basement of my home, I dialled the number, and his father answered.  Jack came to the phone and was as kind as ever.  He didn’t rush to hang up after I babbled whatever it was that I claimed to have called about.  Instead, he talked to me about a girl.

“I asked Linda to the prom, but I get this sense that she’s not totally into me,” he said.  And I, ever the pleaser and the good listener, turned it up full volume and told him the truth.  Linda was the prettiest girl in our high school, and could have any guy she wanted for the prom.  But the fact was, she had accepted Jack’s offer, just his.  All he had to do now was to believe in his worth.  “Wow,” he said, “Jason, you really are a great guy, thanks – you’re right, she said yes to me.”  While he hung up secure in the fact that his girl really did like him, I hung up horrified that I had just given romantic advice to the object of my affection.  If I had had Romeo’s dagger, I would have plunged it in my heart, except for one thing: I  felt a hollow victory that he liked me a bit more for my good advice.  It was a crumb, and I was starving.

It got ugly.  I found his address easily enough in the phone book, and I would get in my Dad’s car to go drive by Jack’s house again and again, weeping and cursing my image in the rear-view mirror.  Exhausted and nervous about circling his block so much, I’d force myself back home, crying all the way, experiencing this beautiful pain.  My confused parents didn’t know what to make of this young man who would unexpectedly burst into tears during dinner.  I told them a partial truth – I said that I had fallen in love with a girl at school named Jennifer and that it was unrequited.  They nodded, but mothers know things.    I don’t know where my mother got the balls from, but it could have been the pain she felt at seeing her son completely unhinged.  She gently sat beside her forlorn son on the couch one day and ventured to ask if it was really a guy that I was hung up about.  This was my opportunity to unload the burden of keeping Jack to myself, but instead I balked, insisting that it was indeed a girl I was depressed about.  (Did my mother think that the lady doth protest too much?)  I was naively shocked that Mom would ask that of me, and dug myself deeper into an isolation that was suffocating.

“Jack could be so arrogant,” Trina told me one day in Language Arts class.  “It was like he thought he owned the world.”  Trina wrinkled her nose at the memory of dating Jack, and I was all ears.  When I discovered that this girl in my class had dated the object of my affection, I changed seats in class and sat near her.  I cunningly forged a friendship with her, and obtusely began to ask her questions about her time dating Jack.  A pretty blond girl, but not the most popular in our school, she seemed only too eager to tell me that Jack wasn’t all that he apparently thought he was.  I goaded her for more information, appealing to her apparent desire to talk about herself.  I couldn’t believe the negative things she was saying about my god (he was egotistical?), but didn’t interrupt.  I would feast on her scraps and try to match it to the Jack I knew.  When there was nothing left for her to tell, I abandoned my efforts with her, having the information I desired. 

I had become fast friends with Blake, who played the Tin Man to my Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.  He was in Jack’s grade, and was taking his girlfriend, also in Jack’s grade, to the prom, and so his ticket for one guest was unneeded.  But I needed it.  I wanted to go to Jack’s prom, knowing full well that when he left our high school, I wouldn’t see him again.  Blake gladly gave me the ticket, not knowing that I was going not so that I could hang out with him and his girlfriend, but so that I could stalk Jack.  At the prom, I recall dancing a slow dance with some girl long forgotten, and seeing Jack dance with Linda, the alpha male with the prettiest girl in school.  At one point, Jack and I spied each other, with our girls in our arms, and he smiled, lifted his hand off Linda’s back, and waved.  I returned the wave in kind.  He was unfailingly nice, even with Linda in his arms.  I took a mental picture of him, knowing that I would probably never see him again.  And I was right.

I was chosen class valedictorian the next year at my own graduation.  I wrote a speech that highlighted the contradictions we students felt at leaving high school – excited to enter the real world, scared to leave what we loved behind.  My father had recently been laid off, and my parents and I decided it was a perfect opportunity to start anew in Edmonton, where my sister had already been living with her family for a number of years.  Alberta was the land of opportunity, and we packed up a thousand boxes with the intent of leaving right after I graduated.  Sitting alone in my basement, surrounded by said boxes, I prepared to put my childhood away.  It had been a childhood where I had received excessive love from my parents, but had not witnessed it in their relationship.  Rather, I had witnessed a mother who desperately sought the affection of a husband who withheld it like it was going out of style.  A mirror image to my mother, I had longed for Jack’s affection, and knowing that I was leaving Winnipeg in days, it was now or never.  I picked up the phone and dialled his number.  What would he think about receiving a call from some dimly remembered acquaintance from a year ago?  What pretense would I use now?  The truth was, we had not been closer than acquaintances.  If I had been him, I would have thought that I was a nutcase.  And so when he picked up the phone, all pretenses left me, and I simply told him that I was leaving the city, and had valued knowing him, and thought I’d say good-bye and wish him all the best.  Dear Reader, you must know how this went by now.  Jack was gracious to a fault and said he’d thought so well of me as well.  We chatted a bit about what he was doing with his studies, with his summer, and in all, the conversation lasted ten minutes maximum.  I hung up and stared at the phone for another ten minutes.  I wouldn’t hear Jack’s voice again for another ten years.


Two years later, I was living the life of a theater gypsy.  To my parents’ horror, I had chosen to become an actor, and found a home base in Vancouver.  Travelling wherever the acting work took me, I schlepped myself across Western Canada – Regina, Edmonton, back to Winnipeg, Vancouver, twice working on Vancouver Island, living in motels or being billeted in strangers’ homes during the run of a play.  All my actor friends were doing the same thing, and it wasn`t uncommon for us to store our belongings with friends while we traveled for work.  For a month I bunked with a bunch of actors living in East Vancouver, and when two of them, a young straight couple in love, decided to leave theater and return home to Regina, they asked me if I could hold the belongings of their friend Jonathan, himself working outside of Vancouver.  I agreed, left the communal arrangement and moved in with a Morrocan roommate in Vancouver`s gay village, the West End.
By this time, I was out of the closet, to my parents, my sister, to all of my friends.  I`d even had a few truncated sexual experiences.  But my passion was for the theater, not men. 

 My roommate had frequent tricks over, but I stayed relatively chaste and pure in the oversized closet that was my bedroom.  Completely squished, I had to get rid of Jonathan’s things, and left a message on his pager (remember those?).  My only connection to Jonathan was that we had both worked for the same theater company, but not at the same time.  He called back to tell me when he would be back in Vancouver and we set a time to transfer his belongings.

We met on a typically rainy Vancouver night at a restaurant.  Slightly shorter than I, he was blond, attractive, fit and possessed a charm that bordered on being slick.  We talked shop and dished about the people we both knew, and he openly flirted with me.  Walking me back home, we stood off to the side of my apartment building and necked for an eternity.  Nine years my senior, I was enjoying being taken by someone who seemed so experienced and even a bit world weary.  I had no idea if I was supposed to ask him in, and if I did, was I prepared for what would follow?  The answer was no.  I was not yet sure how I felt and finally put an end to the kissing.  By this time it was incredibly late.  He got his stuff and I made him promise to call me when he got home so that I knew he was safe.  In the intervening time, I fell asleep, and when he did call, it barely registered.  My heart was safely packed away – he hadn’t reached it.  Yet.

But he persisted, calling again and asking if I’d like to meet up again.  At this time, I had snagged a job singing standards of the 30’s and 40’s, with a wonderful accompanist named Bob, at a cute little supper club in the heart of the village called La Di Da.  So I suggested Jonathan come hear me sing and afterwards we’d have dinner.  He did, and after my set was done, he said, “I felt like you were singing to me alone.”  It was a good line, and my head tilted and I started to look at Jonathan differently.  Was I being pursued?  The question was, did I want to be caught?

Eventually, he had me over to his place, and he had set up a swinging bachelor’s pad for himself – dimly lit with plenty of candles and red wine open, ready to be poured.  Getting drunk on his scent and the wine, I lay with my head in his lap while he stroked my hair and asked me about my goals and dreams.  But I held back, fearful of appearing foolish – my dreams seemed so unreal, so lofty.  When he took me to the bedroom, it was the first time that I made love, in the true sense of the expression.  It was slow, romantic, overwhelming, enlightening, and lasted all night.  This scenario repeated itself over the next few weeks and my heart and mind exploded all over Jonathan.  I felt recognized and seen, and became greedy for his touch, his attention, his admiration.  I adored his experience as he adored my youth and naivete.  I wrote long entries in my journal about him, and cooked dinner for him one night – Kraft Dinner and a bologna sandwich.  It was all I knew how to cook, but he said he was touched simply because I had done it for him.  I vowed to learn to cook better.

And on the couch one night, nestled in his arms, we talked.  “Jason, I went and got tested for everything, because I want to make sure you are protected.”  As clinical as that sounds, the intent behind it sounded like a proposal.  But he added, “I don’t know if I am ready for a boyfriend, but I do want to keep seeing you.”  So, maybe it wasn’t a proposal.  He was, he said, getting over a heartbreak, a guy named Pete whom he’d been crazy about but who had ended it.  “Do you still think about Pete?” I asked?  “Not when I’m with you,” he replied.  I chose not to think about who took precedence in his mind when I wasn’t around.

That night, I entered him for the first time, the first time ever being inside of a man.  And the feeling was one of “I belong.  I belong to Jonathan”.  I left in the morning, wondering if my being inside him had made me a man.  Too impatient to wait until I got home, I breathlessly ran to a pay phone to call him, telling him that I could still smell him on me, that I missed him already.  And I remember not what he said, but what he didn’t say.  He didn’t reiterate my unabashed feelings.  If anything, I got the sense that if he could have reached through the phone lines, he would have patted my head.  But I disregarded any misgivings, and any reticence he showed was just that of a world weary lover who had not been loved quite like I could love him.

Days later, a phone call like any other.  A conversation that started about nothing in particular – I don’t even remember who placed the call.  But I must have said something affectionate, because there was a pause.  He wasn’t reaching through the phone to pat me on the head this time.  This time he said that he felt I should know that he wasn’t over Pete, he needed to go slow, he didn’t know what he wanted, he didn’t want to hurt me.  I told him that this conversation was beginning to hurt, but that he might as well unload it all now that he’d begun.   He took a deep breath and said that he loved me – but that he wasn’t in love with me.

When something bad happens in life, there is always a calmness in that moment, a disbelief.  Rather than get completely lost in the moment and drowning right away, you notice the way the sun is shining, you think about how you were supposed to get to the bank before five.  You wonder if the bad thing is momentary, just a passing thing, like a headache, and that it will all work itself out somehow, because this is not how the movie was supposed to go.  I heard Jonathan, but I wasn’t listening.  “Jason, are you still there?”  “Yes, I’m still here, but I don’t know why.  What more is there to say?  Are we broken up?  Is this a break up?”

He said that yes, we should take a break and see how we feel.  Again, silence on my part.  “Jason, say something, are you ok?”  I realized that all my affectionate talk had concealed the one thing that I had longed to tell Jonathan.  I told him that I loved him.  Now that it meant nothing, now that I was faced with a brick wall, I could finally say I loved him.  The words were right, the timing terribly wrong.  “I love you Jonathan, for what it’s worth, I do love you.”  And with that, I hung up.

The break down was mind boggling and obsessive thinking took over.  Where did I go wrong?  How could it feel so right for me, and wrong for him?  Wasn’t he the one who pursued me?  He had created this monster, and like Dr. Frankenstein, he would have to take responsibility.  But I’m not built for retribution, even anger.  Sadness instead became my new outfit, and a worsening sense of self-esteem my new cologne.  Every thought of my day related to Jonathan, until I feared that I was clinically lost.  I lost my 20/20 vision, and viewed everything through a cloud.  It’s a wonder that I made it to a bookstore, where I found a book entitled “How to Stop Obsessing About the One You Love”.  I read it from cover to cover, doing all the exercises.  I don’t remember a word of the book today.  But I do remember my roommate casually picking up the book from where I had left it on the kitchen counter, and snickering that I hadn’t been “in love” – I had only been infatuated and was being melodramatic.  I believe that’s what Romeo and Juliet were told before they offed themselves.  I was incensed that my feelings could be so belittled and ran from the apartment (however melodramatically).

One thing I should have counted on, but didn’t because I was too damn stupid, was that by living in the gay village, as Jonathan did, I was bound to run into him.  And so I should have been prepared for it, because it happened not two weeks after our break up over the phone.  We stopped and spoke.  I was aiming to appear cool and aloof, but he was warm and gentle.  He said he’d missed me. 

We made love again that night.

And so began a yo-yo arrangement that proceeded to make mince meat of my emotions.  But not only did we live in the same neighbourhood, we worked in the same, small, incestuous theater community.  And so, during one of our numerous break ups and reunions, we discovered, by chance, that we had both auditioned for, and gotten parts in, a trilogy of Harold Pinter one-acts.  Blessedly, we were cast in different one-acts and didn’t rehearse together.  But eventually we moved into the theatre for technical rehearsals and for the run of the show.  We were “together” during this time, and being with him in that small theater off Commercial Drive for hours at a time was a particular form of torture.  I wondered if he would hang with me or the other cast members.  Would he greet me with a kiss at the theater and put our relationship on display, or were we to be, as he put it, “professional”.  Added to this nightmare was the fact that I was too green as an actor to be playing Pinter – I didn’t have the chops for it yet.  And my reviews supported that notion.  Jonathan’s reviews, on the other hand, were spectacular – he was born to it.  I sabotaged myself at every turn, watching him in the wings, envying his skill, knowing I soon had to go on next, feeling like a failure.  As a lover and an actor.

I guess God had a good time with An Evening with Harold Pinter, because it happened that Jonathan and I worked together again – and again.  I was tapped to replace an actor in a sketch comedy show in the suburbs, and it was a hit – good chemistry with the other players and fun material.  I was asked by the theater to stay on for the next show, which would run on the weekends only, but for great pay (great enough that I didn’t need another job), and it would be written by the one and only Jonathan Mitchell.  “Oh, do you know Jonathan?” the director asked me.  “Yes,” I answered, “ in a roundabout way”.

Jonathan wrote the script but at the first read through, he couldn’t attend.  It was just as well.  Cigarettes lit, coffees filled, we decided that the script needed “punching up” – it needed better, and more, jokes.  Jonathan did not attend rehearsals, and when he came to see the show on opening night, he was not amused.  It was a radically different script, each of us adding comical bits that we felt suited our strengths.  One of the actors in the show had been the quasi director and gave us carte blanche to “punch it up”.  The structure and storyline and songs were still there, but Jonathan was pissed and didn’t stay for the opening night party.  I don’t even fucking know if we were fucking at this point or not – what difference does it make now?  What I did not do was tell the cast that I was fucking the writer.  And that’s a good thing, because after three months, we put up a new show.  Jonathan was writing, but this time, he would also be directing – and therefore, his script would not be tampered with.

I don’t know how I managed to rehearse.  In his presence, my self-esteem bottomed out, and I didn’t know who I was, onstage or off.  All that, and rehearsing a comedy.  This was as funny as drug-free dentistry.  Jonathan became more and more distant, and seemed almost afraid to talk to me.  He didn’t direct me so much as he directed around me.  I’d ask him if I was on the right track, and he’d safely say just that I was doing good, keep it up.  He said it quickly, looking at me just with his peripheral vision, and I plummeted down forty stories.  I needed if not his love, then his professional approbation, since I admired him so much.  I got neither.

But finally, upon opening night, and every performance after, I got that approbation from the audience, and I was so grateful.  If ever an actor needed applause, I did.  In the show, I got to be a combination of funny and sexy, the two things that I felt completely lacking in when around Jonathan at this point.  How masochistic was I?  Evidently, not quite masochistic enough.  One thing I had never done sexually with anybody was to bottom.  And one night, in Jonathan’s bed, I told him that I wanted him in me.  He tried, rightly so, to tell me that we shouldn’t, not under the circumstances.  But I demanded it, saying that even if he wasn’t in love with me, I was in love with him.  I wanted the first man to enter me to be somebody I loved, and so he had to do it, since I didn’t know when I would ever love like this again.  I was right to demand it.  I never did love that way again.

He was gentle that night, as he was on subsequent nights when it repeated itself.  The pleasure of being one with someone you love is heaven.  The pain of being one with someone who doesn’t love you the same way is hell.  I orgasmed without touching myself, feeling Jonathan hit my prostate, my core, my soul.  But a leaf slowly fell from a tree the night he first entered me, and when it hit the ground, I told Jonathan that no more would I sleep with him.  I couldn’t, I shouldn’t, I wouldn’t.  I knew it when the love-making started to feel like fucking.  I was spent, and emotionally drained.  I didn’t belong to Jonathan.  I hadn’t in a long time.  Perhaps I never had.  But this period of masochism was over.  In the end, I broke it off, for the last time- a hollow victory.


“Congratulations!  You’ve been accepted into the Integrated Program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.”  I held the letter from the Academy in my hand the careful way one holds an Oscar.   After one unsuccessful audition in Seattle years before, I had evidently passed my most recent audition for AMDA in Vancouver.    I was floored with excitement.  New York City’s theater scene was beckoning and that acceptance letter was one of the happiest days of my life.  For, you see, I had done things ass-backwards.  I had started working in the theatre without training, and I believed that in order to progress to the next level as an artist, I would need to learn more about the craft.  This integrated program would be a two-year journey into dance, singing and acting.  The acceptance said to me that I had the raw material.  It was thus time to mold that raw material into a performing machine – in the best city in the world. 

I had never liked Vancouver.  The ocean and the mountains had not been the panacea that it was for other people.  Saying good-bye to the city felt as easy as hanging up the phone, and Vancouver was no match in my mind with New York City.  If Jonathan had committed himself to me, would I have not auditioned for AMDA?  My three years in New York City would prove to be the best three years of my life, and the only thing that would have prevented it from happening is if Jonathan had been mine.  But because of the way our relationship crumbled, I was free to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and move on.  What I didn’t know then, was that the crumbled mess that I rose from would taint all future relations with men.  Feeling safe and relaxed around men was an emotion that lay lost in the ashes.  I learned that a phoenix may rise, but is changed by the events that went before.

I planned to leave Vancouver and stay with my parents in Edmonton rent free for a few months before heading to New York.  Like so many gay men do, Jonathan and I remained friends after the break-up. Not that we talked often, but we periodically would pick up the phone to say hi.  Was this healthy?  Instead of putting a full stop to things, I was allowed to obsess about him still, albeit to a lesser extent.  And so, with only days to go before I left Vancouver, we met for coffee.

Jonathan had wasted no time, and was seeing someone new.  Was it serious? I asked.  “No,” he responded, laughing.  With mock shame and regret, he said “I’m too much of a whore for anything serious.”  We shared a knowing laugh, but I wondered:  is this what he had learned about himself from his time with me?  Moreover, I would say the exact same thing about myself years later.  If I could later pin my future sexual promiscuity on my failure at a relationship with Jonathan, who or what did he pin it on?  Pete, the guy who had dumped him before we met?  Or does the promiscuity that came later reflect the natural desires of any hot-blooded man?  Perhaps so, but what of my ability to love? 
While at school in New York, I was chaste, my only lover being the theater.  I had a brief fling with an emotionally vulnerable young man from Indiana, a tryst that lasted a month before he chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue his acting dreams there.  I didn’t breathe that whole month, always uncertain about where I stood, never fully connecting with him.  I again experienced vertigo, a sense that I was on shaky ground, and my sense of self was lost.  My self-esteem became tied to the way he did or didn’t look at me.  When he left town, I regained myself and was glad.  It appeared that being intimate with someone made me temporarily forget myself, how to love myself and be myself.

After graduating from AMDA, I spent a year in New York on a special work permit, and a year of sexual exploration and debauchery began.  It was the year my sexuality took center stage, trumping my passion for the arts.  To add to the mix, I would periodically receive letters from Jonathan, in which he lamented all the time he was spending at bathhouses.  I didn’t understand why he was writing to me at all, and of all things, about his sex life.   My time in New York came to a crashing halt when my work permit expired.  With no direction, no backup plan, I returned home to my parents in Edmonton, at age 27.  I had bartended in New York, and quickly got a job bartending at one of the two main gay bars in town, The Anchor.

I had been at Buddy’s for a year already when a young man sat at my bar.  Cute, in shape, he said he was in town with the ballet.  I asked his name.  “Pete, what’s yours?”  Could this be Jonathan’s Pete, the phantom ex that I had to compete with back in Vancouver?  “Hey, did you ever date a guy named Jonathan Mitchell?” I asked.  Indeed he had.  This was him.  He proceeded to tell me about a threesome he’d had at the baths the night before, while I analyzed what he had that I didn’t, at least in Jonathan’s eyes.  We may have even flirted a bit.  He was cute, but not rivetingly so.  But he possessed a confidence that I felt I lacked, a self-assuredness.  So naturally, I despised him.  “Have a good run of your show,” I said upon his leaving.  He smiled and disappeared into the night.


In the summer of my 28th year, my sister and her family moved back to Winnipeg.  I had not been there in nearly a decade, and her living there was now reason to visit.  Winnipeg had become for me a city of ghosts, memories haunting every familiar street corner.  And on every street corner, I half expected to run into Jack, as if he was lurking everywhere.  He was lurking – in my mind.  I didn’t even know if he still lived there, but being in Winnipeg incited a deep desire to know.  There was one way to find out.  His parents were in the phone book under the same number and address.  Alone in my sister’s apartment, while she and her kids were out, I seized the opportunity and called the number, half praying that nobody would answer.  But Jack’s father picked up the phone.  What a lovely man.  There was no reason that he should have recalled who I was, but he swore he did and seemed sincerely pleased to speak to me.  Graciousness appeared to run in the family.  Did Jack still live in Winnipeg?  He sure did, would I like his number so I could say hello?  I grabbed a pen and wrote down the number and thanked Mr. Rankin.  Then I wondered if I would actually place the call.  But Mr. Rankin was sure to tell Jack that he had heard from me.  Therefore, I felt I had to follow through, despite my nausea at the thought of phoning Jack after all this time.  What did I want to tell him?

The next day, I steeled my nerves and called Jack’s number.  I was thrilled when someone answered saying that he was Jack’s roommate and that Jack was playing hockey with some pals.  So relieved that I didn’t have to talk to Jack at that moment, I gladly gave my number and half-hoped Jack would never call, and that would be that.  So when the phone rang two hours later, I was mortified.  Because I knew what I wanted to say to Jack.  The hour had come.

But at that hour, everyone was home, the music was on, my sister in the kitchen cooking, my niece and nephew running and yelling and having a grand time playing.  It was a small apartment, and I could barely hear Jack say hello.  I sought refuge in the bathroom, closed the door and said hello back.  And I breathed a sigh of relief, since Jack didn’t seem to think it odd that he should hear from me like this out of the blue.  Rather, he was tremendously open, about his life, about having just broken up with a girl he had once considered marrying, about moving in after that with the roommate I had spoken to.  And that’s when my niece needed to use the bathroom.  Trying to hang on to what Jack was saying, I opened the bathroom door while The Doors sang on the stereo that this was the end, my friend.  I hastily retreated out the door into the stairwell, trying to focus on Jack’s conversation,  but my own voice reverberated so badly that I was forced to go back into the noisy apartment.  My niece had left the bathroom, and I headed back in, locked the door and sat on the toilet lid.  Completely frazzled, my defences down, I had to respond with something when Jack said “Well, what about you?  How are you?”

Like my last call to Jack, ten years ago, I had no pretenses, and again, told Jack the truth.  “Jack, this is odd for me to say, but” and I stammered.  “I’m gay, perhaps who knew that way back when, but the reason I’m telling you this, is that, well, I had quite the crush on you in high school, and the feeling I had was so golden, so pure, so good, that it facilitated me coming to terms and accepting that I was gay.  So,in essence, I have you to thank for my own self-acceptance, which really changed my life.  I don’t mean to sound so heavy and I hope you aren’t weirded out by an out-of-the-blue call like this.”  To Jack’s great credit, he didn’t miss a beat.  “I wondered if you were gay back then, but it hadn’t mattered at all either way,” he said.  Did he know that I had had a crush on him?  No, he said.  “But Jason, I’m honoured that I played a role in you feeling good about being gay.  And can I just say that if you ever wanted to meet for coffee sometime, or if you’re ever back in Winnipeg doing a play or something, call me up.” I told him I was leaving Winnipeg the next day and couldn’t meet, but I finally got a chance to tell him how fucking gracious he was, back then and now.    I thanked him profusely, inwardly  thanking him for not betraying me now nor my memory of him.  This graciousness solidified my affection for him.  He was encased in the glass of my memory, and I was deeply grateful for his open heart. He gave an “aw-shucks” and repeated – “Can I just say again that you’re a great person and feel free to touch base whenever you’re in town.”

I never spoke to Jack again.


Back to Edmonton, back behind the bar, shirtless and centre stage – that was what being a bartender was all about.  Us single bartenders always half expected Mr.Right to show up, as does everyone who goes out to the bar.  Hope is the pervasive feeling at a bar – this might be the night you meet “the one.”  Future tense.  But the past can catch up with you there too.

And so it was that Jonathan walked in.  We had been out of touch, and he had no idea that I would be behind the bar.  I had no idea that he was working in Edmonton for the summer, for the same theater company we had worked for all those many eons ago.  When I saw him, I instinctively hopped over the bar and gave him a big hug.  He looked my shirtless self up and down, and I got him a drink.  Before he left, he gave me the number for the town house he was staying at.

We got together days later at his place in the west end, near the theater he was working at.  Looking at him was like looking back at my youth.  And this was the man I had given it too, willingly.  We reminisced, which led to long looks, which led to him flipping a leg over mine as we sat on his couch, which led to us kissing.  Many years before, on our first date, we had kissed for an eternity, but I had been afraid of having sex right away, nervous about what it might mean.  This time, I was still nervous about what it would mean, to me and for me.  And so when he lay upon me, I had a sharp feeling of regret.  Our reminiscing had been all past tense.  There was no future tense here.  The scent he gave, a scent I had once swooned for, now seemed pungent.  I looked up at him, but his eyes were closed.  Perhaps this was all past tense for him too.  We carried on, but I left my body, and watched us dispassionately from the ceiling.  As when you gain weight and find last year’s clothes no longer fit, Jonathan no longer fit.  Our perfunctory orgasms left us feeling naked in a new way, and the spell was broken.  There was nothing to say, and needing to check for damages, I left quickly.

I never saw Jonathan again, but years later, him again in Edmonton for a spell, we found each other on  We chatted and flirted online, he invited me over to play – and I declined.  Some doors, once closed, must remain closed, if only to honour the memory of what was.


“Jason, you’re stuck in a half made-up memory.”  Candace is my current colleague and friend.  The beauty of a Californian babe with the attitude of a girl from the Bronx, she could not get over the fact that I had fallen so hard for Jack as a teenager without actually having had a relationship with him.  “Did you really know him?  It doesn’t sound like it.  It sounds like you fell in love with an image, not reality.  How the hell is any man supposed to live up to Jack.  Nothing compares to a mirage.”  The question she posed was that hanging on to this memory of Jack was stunting my ability to have a real relationship.  Did she have a point?  “Do you know what he looks like now?” she asked.  I said that I had googled him, looked for him on facebook and came up with nothing.  “The only way there’d be nothing on him is if he’s dead.  Give me a couple minutes, I’ll find him.”  I assured her I had tried, thanked her for listening to my story and left to go home.  Walking home, she texted me – “I think I found a pic.  Looks like he has two kids.  Sent link to your work email.”

All that night, I wondered if she had indeed found a picture of him.  Did I want to see it?  If he was still attractive, would the spell never be broken.  Or what if he had not aged well?  Would this delicate and valued memory of him be tarnished?  In the morning, alone in the office, I turned on my computer and nervously opened Candace’s email to see a glimpse of my past in the present.  However, the picture was a tiny, fuzzy jpeg, and I could barely tell if it was indeed him.  The picture was useless, and I was relieved.  But Katherine’s words had struck a chord – had my phantom image of Jack taken over, making it impossible to love a man close up, flaws and all?  I wondered about priests and nuns who “marry” god.  No flesh and blood human can compete in their hearts for god, yet they can never know god as they would a person.  When Jack’s ex, Trina, had said that Jack was arrogant, it was heresy.  Would it be best for me and the nuns to know that our gods were not perfect, if only to bring us back to earth?


In retrospect, I don’t think my heart hardened from my experiences with Jack and Jonathan.  In some ways, it forced me to learn to love myself, and not wait for a hero to do it.  Not having Jack, and losing Jonathan was hard, but what I hated most during those times was the feeling of losing myself.  I hated handing my self-esteem on a platter to men who might or might not take care of it.  I learned to become my own best friend.  Will I ever let a man in?  Do I need to?    On the show Sex and the City, I identified most strongly with Samantha, the sex-driven, but relationship-shy character.  I too was sexually driven, but emotionally quite happy with my independence.  But we’re taught to apologize for being that type of character, as if there something wrong with you for not having, nor wanting a partner.  Only now, at this late stage, am I owning myself, and realizing that I am my own lover.


It was a Monday night when I had written the above sentence – “Perhaps so, but what of my ability to love?”.  I turned off my computer, went to bed, and the next day received a call from Master Jordan.  “I can’t do this anymore Jason,” he said.  He explained that years ago, on his and his boyfriend’s second date, they had agreed to a “don’t-ask don’t-tell” policy about having one-nighters with other people.  One nighters.  But Master Jordan had been seeing me for three months, and to him, it felt like cheating.  He said he couldn’t talk to his partner about this, couldn’t ask for an amendment to the agreement due to the don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy.  The weekend before, when he was bartending, I and his partner were both there, unbeknownst to each other.  But for Jordan, it was overwhelming, and it forced him to face that what he was doing was outside the assumed limits.  I said I completely understood and respected that he needed to end it.  “You’re taking this very well,” he said.  Was I taking it too well?  “I also felt that this wasn’t fair to you, that I could never be your boyfriend.”  I reminded him what I had said the night he told me that he was in an open relationship – that I was relieved.  I didn’t want a boyfriend, just a fuck buddy.  And I meant it and had been satisfied with the status quo.  Knowing how ethical Jordan was in everything he did, I believed his story, but secretly wondered if he had just gotten a bit bored.  Had I also had my fill?  (“Perhaps so, but what of my ability to love?”)  Where was the love here?  I looked within and realized I didn’t fall apart at Master Jordan’s need to end it with me, because I loved myself, knew how to take care of myself.   Even sexually.  I loved myself not in a selfish, narcissistic way, but a healthy, self-sustaining way.  Would there ever be room for a man in this equation?  I absolutely believe so.  One with his own apartment, his own friends, who would know when to let me be.  Maybe a man who is also his own best friend, his own hero.  What I love, and sometimes hate, about life, is that the things that happen are often nothing you could have ever imagined for yourself.

As for many gay men, Brokeback Mountain was a watershed film, touching in its depiction of a love that never ceased, that started in the proverbial Garden of Eden and lasted beyond death.  Shortly after seeing the film for the seventh time, I had a dream.  In it, I saw the two main characters’ faces staring back at me.  Slowly, the faces of the characters Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist began to merge into a single face, and when the merge was complete, it was my own face staring back at me.   I had believed that I would find my own Ennis or Jack, but the dream taught me that my journey just may be about loving myself, being my own knight in shining armour.  I said to my mother on the phone tonight that I’m really not looking for anyone, content on my own.  She paused, though, and said “But Jason, when you’re not looking, is the time when you meet him...”


  1. I can do identify with everything you say, Jason! I went through the same thing twice, but the effect on me was different. Maybe.

    I was raised in a family that pretty much operated as a business. My parents were fine, but there was never any kind of romantic overtures ever seen by the rest of the family. I have a sister who is five years younger. We didn't get along then; we get along okay now as long as there is 250 miles between us and we only see each other a couple of times a year. Growing up, I was not a part of a hugging, kissing, "I love you," family. I don't even know of the words "I love you" being spoken to me as a child...not by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or anybody else. I never got hugged, and when my grandmother would occasionally do it, I was uncomfortable because I wasn't used to it. I didn't even know I was missing anything because I didn't see it in other families, either. Of course, company usually doesn't get to see the caring intimacies of other nuclear families, so I never knew if my friends parents said "I love you" every night. We did say "good night" to each other each night, so I guess that pretty much made up for everything that was missing.

    My first experience with really falling for a guy was during my senior year in high school. There had been those adolescent "you show me yours, I'll show you mine" sessions occasionally, but all the way through high school, all I did was to have my cadre of guys that I made sure I saw and checked out every day. I knew where there classes were [a feat when my high school had 3000+ students], I knew who I would pass during class changes, and often went out of my way to make sure I could see one of these dozen or so "heroes" every day. I just never got to know any of them, and the closest I ever got to them physically was to shoot a load while I was looking at their picture in the yearbook.

    And then on the first day of class in my senior year, I walked into Honors Chorus and there was a really hunky, good-looking guy sitting back in the bass section. I had never noticed him before. A junior, Hank had decided to try out for Honors Chorus on a whim, been accepted, and was soon to become my "best friend." Of course I went up and sat down right next to him. I remember my first inspection of him: I had to see if he had a cigarette in the bottom of his shirt pocket. I had already started smoking, and while he might look good, he just wouldn't be 100% cool if he didn't smoke. He didn't, but that was quickly overlooked. After talking before and after chorus for a week or so, it turned out the guy had always been in town; in fact he lived right across the street from the high school. Because we lived in different school districts, though, we weren't together until high school. He and his family were very involved in the First Baptist Church downtown, and while I was Baptist at the time, I went to a smaller church in our neighborhood. After a week, Hank invited me to come with him on Sunday afternoon to youth choir practice and to stay for Training Union and Evening Worship. Of course I jumped at the chance. This youth choir had over 50 members, and because kids came from three different junior- and high schools in the area, I didn't know all of them. I knew I was supposed to be in this group, and the fact that his church had a big pipe organ that I might get to play made it even more definite. I can thank Hank for doing one thing....getting me involved in a youth group and for encouraging me to be in church music in some way throughout my life. Within a couple of months, I was playing the piano for church on Sunday nights, and I thought I was really important because this was "Hank's church."

  2. Hank and Mitch, part 2
    We were inseparable. I got him to be on the yearbook staff, and we both spent many afternoons cruising around town selling ads for the yearbook. He would come over to my house a couple of nights a week, and I was actually able to have friends back in my bedroom with the door closed. He had the same English teacher that I had in the 11th grade, and she was not only the toughest teacher I even had, but also the most inspiring and dedicated teacher i had ever had. Because she had helped me develop my writing skills, I helped Sam many Sunday nights writing essays/themes for Mrs. Hannah, and we would often be together in his bedroom working until midnight. I spent most of my time when I was with him just looking at him. Here was a drop-dead gorgeous guy that actually liked spending time with me. He had no girlfriend, and his other friends were church kids, so it was pretty much just "Jim and Hank" for the first half of my senior year. I got to look at his really thick legs and muscular arms and the silky, sun-bleached "surfer boy" hair there. I memorized his fingernails and hands, and even took to carrying a pocket knife so that I, too, could pull out my knife and clean my fingernails should the occasion to be butch arise.

    Did he care anything about me? Of course not. I was his best friend, and I think he liked spending time with me because not only was I an asset to the youth group and choir, but also because his parents didn't totally approve of me because I smoked, and "my people" weren't native Floridians, but newcomers from the Appalachians that had moved there eight years ago. I remember being crushed when I didn't get a Christmas gift from him. We had always tried to out-do each other with clothes - this was the bell-bottom pants era - and I had picked out and bought his Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving. He showed up the day after Christmas was a gift that he had grabbed off the shelf at Penney's the day after Christmas. His excuse was that he "didn't realize the stores didn't stay open late on Christmas Eve." That hurt, but because it was Hank, I overlooked it.

    And then in January, along came Rita. Although the word didn't get used in church chat, we knew that Rita was a slut. A senior, Rita had the body that every straight boy wants to climb atop of, and then climb down - - - until the next time. She was dating material; she was a slut. While Rita's father taught something like woodshop at the school, she didn't live with her parents. Instead, she lived with her older brother and sister. The brother was gay, but that wasn't a word we used in church chat, either. Truthfully, they didn't call it 'gay' then anyway. Long story short: Rita looks at Hank. Hank noticed Rita looking at him. I lost Hank that day to a girl. Hank lost his virginity, Rita became pregnant, Hank became a different person. Rita left school immediately after graduation to "go off to college early," and Hank's parents never found out about any of it. The reason he got away unscathed? Rita's gay brother. In order for this all to be kept a secret, I firmly believe Hank was forced to have sex with the brother whenever the brother wanted him to. This was alluded to in Hank's letter he wrote in my yearbook with the words, "there are some things you'll never know about Charles and me." Hank became distant from the church group, his friends, and even me.....

  3. Hank and Mitch, part 3
    ...until I got the bright, manipulative idea that he and I needed to go on a "senior trip" together. So, we did. We left town on the day that the rocket taking the first men to the moon blasted across the river from our houses. We were together in his car for three weeks. We spent time with his grandmother, my grandparents, and then time alone in Williamsburg, Richmond, and a whole week in Atlanta in a sleazy motel. Things were great. I got all of his attention, he got my admiration and longing looks, and we did nothing. I would jerk off laying on his side of the bed while he was in the shower at night, secretly use his toothbrush, and smell his underwear when he wasn't around to see me doing it. One night in Atlanta, he had a date with a girl he knew from church camp that lived in the city. I was miserable while he was gone. When he got back to the hotel, we were on the bed and he mentioned something about a zit on his back. He asked me to take a look at it because he couldn't reach it. He was face down on the bed, and for the next hour or so - as gross as this sounds - I straddled him, squeezing imaginary blackheads, zits, ingrown hairs, and whatever else I could find off of his back. I had an erection the whole time, but it never got close enough to accidently brush up against him. I know now that he had one, as well, because the whole time, he was squirming on the bed. For all I know, he shot a load while this was happening. Although nothing really happened, we never mentioned that episode again.

  4. Hank and Mitch, part 4
    I moved to Georgia to teach school; Hank went to college to become a lawyer. He was successful enough to build a McMansion in a good neighborhood, and raised a family of three kids. On my trips back to my parents' during Christmas, we would always get together on Christmas Eve, and I would stay at their house until 3:00 or 4:00 on Christmas morning helping he and his wife wrap "Santa Claus gifts" for the kids. I didn't realize that the last time I would talk to or see Hank would be one Christmas morning when I left his house, but I just never saw him again, nor talked to him. I remember the lust, longing, and pure love that I had for the guy, but I don't believe that it stopped me from allowing myself to care for anyone else. This was because I always knew in the back of my mind that it was a dead-end street and that nothing short of a miracle would get me into Hank's heart. I do always wonder, though, what he meant Christmas Eve when we were reminiscing about old times, and he said that there was "something he had been meaning to ask me about for a long time." He just never asked.

  5. Hank and Mitch, part 5
    Once I got over Hank, Mitch wasn't far behind.

    During my last two years of college, I still lived at home. I stayed active in church music, and in my senior year of college, I was hired as the interim choir director of the same church where I met Hank. My job included directing a youth choir...the same one I had been in, but somewhat smaller. One of the basses in the youth choir, Mitch, had been around for awhile since his family had gone to the church for years. He was two years younger than I, and just kind of matured right in front of me. Not drop-dead gorgeous like Hank, Mitch was taller and thinner and, while he wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, the overall picture was good....a nice-looking guy, but it was his personality that completed the picture. I decided that I needed to get to know Mitch better. Did I plot to get his attention? Not really. It just worked to my advantage that he needed some sort of affirmation by being "best buds" with the choir director.

    We started hanging around together. He showed no interest in dating any of the girls that flirted with him from the church, and spent most of his spare time with me I totally enjoyed the attention and, coming from Mitch, devotion. We were closer in many ways than Hank and I had been, and we had more opportunities to be together on a regular basis. Additionally, there was some sort of hero-worship going on with Hank like I'm now realizing was happening in the past with Hank. We shared a lot more private jokes, stories, and really deep conversations about ourselves. In retrospect, the only person that I have shared as much personal stuff with as I did with Hank was you, Jason. The only thing that I didn't share with him was my sexual feelings for him.

    After a few months of being with Mitch, a golden opportunity arose: his father worked for a company at the space center that was laying off employees by the hundreds. Because his dad was only three years away from retirement, rather than to lay him off, they transferred him to Fargo, North Dakota, to work for the last three years. Being a mature and responsible guy, Mitch was allowed to stay at his parents' house by himself during this time. While I didn't officially "move in" with him, I might as well have, because I was over at his place all the time. We did some traveling together, and during one trip out of town, we ended up in a hotel in Atlanta. We had ostensibly gone to Atlanta to "see some girls" who had gone to church with us and were now in nurses' school in the city. We spent a couple of nights in a motel, and one night on the way back to the motel, we joked about not "getting any" from the girls. He about blew me out of the car when he said that he thought he would have to go back to the hotel and jack off. I told him I felt the same way...and that's exactly what we did. It took a total of fifteen minutes. Looking back on it, it was probably a pretty lame bate session, if one could call it that at all, but it was a step in what I thought was the right direction.

  6. Hank and Mitch, part 6
    After returning home, we continued to bate together about once a week, and each time got just a little closer. After a few weeks, we were bating each other, cuddling, and even kissing. No oral or anal sex ever happened between us because in his words, "I'm not a homosexual." He had deep religious upbringing, and honestly thought at the time that he would be doomed to hell for it. So...he just did the things that weren't officially gay. No, we never did say "I love you," but that wasn't a part of my vocabulary anyway; nor was it a part of his.

    Then, I graduated from college and got a job teaching in Savannah, Georgia. A young married couple we knew lived there, and Mitch was very close to the wife. Mitch helped me move and planned to stay for three weeks before heading back home. If he hadn't had to take care of his parents' house, he probably would have moved in with me, but obligations thwarted that arrangement. I was overjoyed that I had his undivided attention for three whole weeks! I was also devastated when he left to go home. I was lost, alone in what I thought was a big city with no friends. I was so in love with Mitch that his absence was overwhelming. All I had to look forward to were his monthly long weekend road trips to visit. Within the next year, things changed. The lonesomeness wore off gradually, and I discovered that in this 'big city,' there were two gay bars. I came out then, and my need for Mitch ebbed.

    In Savannah, there is a line used in the gay community that says "the people you pick up in Savannah during the first six months you're out are the people you'll spend the rest of your life apologizing for." No statement has been truer, but those 'tricks' helped me get over Mitch. He still would come and visit, and even went to the bars with me. In the same way that our sexual activity had never progressed beyond bate, frot, and kissing, he would dance - but only with drag queens. Apparently, that wasn't gay. You can kiss another man and be straight, but if you have oral/anal sex with them, or dance with them, then you're gay?? I would have been incensed at that if I had been older and a bit wiser, but as a green-behind-the-ears gay man, I didn't think too deeply about stuff.

  7. Hank and Mitch, part 7
    We continued to be close, however, and he would come to visit four or five times a year for the next two years, and when we were together, we continued our bate sessions. One night, I got a phone call from my mother who asked me what I was doing on a certain date. I asked why, and she said that my sister was getting Mitch! I didn't even know they were dating. Since I had gotten over my emotional involvement with Mitch, the overall effect of the news was amusingly startling. The wedding happened, Mitch and my sister hatched out three kids, and then divorced. The last time Mitch and I bated was at his new apartment the night following the wedding rehearsal.

    Mitch helped me grow up, and Mitch also caused me to develop the attitude that no matter how much you love someone, they're going to ultimately end up leaving. Did I ever learn to truly give my heart to anyone else? least not for long. These relationships both ended with me being alone and suffering in the absence of the person who would give me attention. And that's the basis for the rest of my gay life: I'm wanting the attention; I'm not wanting to give my heart in return. My family raised me that way, and the first two men of my life continued the journey. Am I missing something by not being able to totally be in love? How would I know?