The Time Warner Center in New York City was completed during my freshman year of college. There may be varying opinions about the colossal structure, but to me, it was the symbol of a new New York City and of a new New Jersey native, who came to Manhattan to cut the chords of the past and reinvent himself.
Growing up, I was as an awkward kid. My cranium was large, my frame slight and my limbs long. The prettiness of my features did nothing to distract from the prettiness of my personality, which was decidedly faggy. Of course, the whole gay thing was beyond me. I hadn’t developed that vocabulary yet. All I knew was that I liked Disney princess movies and Whitney Houston. There was nothing sexual about my homosexuality at that point. My sense of self as a sexual being developed later- years after my friend Marlene got her first period and well beyond Becky’s fake virginity misplacement (up the butt didn’t count, apparently). While everyone around me was experimenting with drugs, sex and ska music, I was three years behind- finally developing an idea as to what turned me on: boys.
To me, it was obvious that my same-sex crushes were slight flaws in my hormonally-imbalanced pubescent self. Soon, I thought, those butterflies for boys would fly towards girls. Until that day, I would live like a monk and focus all of my attention on something beyond me. The thing was, I didn’t have a particular affinity for god so the next logical step was musical theatre. Perfect, right? Dolly Levi, Heather Headley and the prospects of Charlie Brown flying that damn kite took up every ounce of energy. With all of the lines I had to memorize and cast recordings to listen to, I had no time to think about myself. But even that the star of the school musical needs to go to prom. Slowly it occurred to me that the Rent poster in my locker was gayer than the gay impulses I’d been suppressing. I had to face the (dance/club/Celine Dion) music and come clean.
The first men in my life had gone through similar steps. My experiences seemed to be a natural progression for all of the guys who liked guys in my area. With our mutual affections for musicals, we bonded. I chalked up our being together as the result of timing and lack of options. Never did I think that I might be a catch. Since the true desires of my penis had just been discovered, it’s needless to say that my sense of self was a bit askew.
Then there was my freshman year of college. Any success in the dating field was due to the high concentration of homosexuals per square inch, as I attended a school primarily made up of arts majors. Greater strides could have been made with a fake ID and greater income, but I was left with the slim pickins of my equally inept classmates.
But sophomore year presented itself as a rainbow majestically arched over my pathway. My body finally decided to settle on a less cartoonish shape- my face squared, my posture caught up to my height and my eyes lit up. Everyone looked fantastic after returning from summer vacation, especially my roommates and I because we had moved out of the dorms and into our very own NYC apartment. We really were, too cool. That was also the year that I decided that I LOVE being gay. The closet was open, I was proud. Sometimes I even wore eyeliner to show it.
A little reality show about a group of fabulous gay men making over the lives of tragic heteros was all the rage, furthering my desires to be a professional homosexual. It taught not only the straighties how to live but also the newbies, like myself. So when they made an appearance at the Tim Warner Center’s Borders to promote their new coffee table book/guide to life, you can bet that I ditched two classes to bask in their glory.
The weather was especially gorgeous and I was especially excited, seeing no need to bring a companion. I would march into that bookstore alone and confident. I was terrified.
With a newly-purchased book in hand, I waited on line to meet the queer eyes. Each man was sat next to another at a long table that seemed to stretch the length of the store. The rabble stopped at each station for a signature and a smile. To my surprise, smiles turned into winks and winks morphed into speech. “Beautiful eyes,” said the eye specializing in hair and skin. “Doesn’t he have beautiful eyes?” he asked another. The gaggle conferred and bombarded me with questions about my relationship status and what hair product was used to produce my bologna curls. My face burned with embarrassment as I held up the line. Dirty looks from other eager book-holders and employees trying to leave their shifts put an end to their fun and I left the bookstore with my head and heart in the clouds.
Now these men are well known for having fun. I was alone, vulnerable and apparently cute so I was an easy target for witty banter and exercises in flirtation that were not meant to lead to anything. I knew that. What was so amazing about that afternoon was how they made me feel. Never had I seen myself as an object of others’ affections. I was Jeremy, that kid who likes musicals, drawing and boys. Could it be possible that other boys- strangers- could like me, too? My nineteen-year-old self was not about to start dating a fashion consultant or a reality TV star or anyone for that matter, but the prospect that someday I could arose. More than just the petri dish of homosexuality that I existed within could want me. It felt great. Welcome, Jeremy, to New York. Welcome, Jeremy, to adulthood.
Flash forward six years. I’ve asked a very cute guy out. Now, I was well aware that he’d be moving across the country in a few months for work, but I’d been infatuated with him for a while and figured that we could have a simple romance before his departure. No strings, no pressure, no problem. Dating that way was kind of amazing. Gone were the rules that we usually project on new relationships: I didn’t wait three days to call him in between dates, I didn’t label us because the label would prove useless in a few weeks time and I didn’t get jealous when he went out with friends instead of me. We simply saw each other when we liked…and we liked seeing each other a lot.
We often discussed how fun it was to date like that, like our consciousness of the situation would prevent it from crumbling. We lived life like we were involved in a summer fling in a small vacation town; we had ideal evenings filled with great food and drinks and fantastic sex. We predicted that when he departed, we’d be left with almost perfect memories of each other’s company, unmuddled with emotions. We could look back at those snapshots with affection but move on with our very separate lives on opposite coasts.
Of course, this theory proved flawed as whatever biological, chemical or spiritual happenings that are supposed to occur during that phase of budding love took place. By surprise, I found myself wanting more than snapshots, possibly reels of his moving body and tracks of his speech. Worse yet, I wanted to continue living in those memories and create new ones- ones with his friends and my friends, bad moods and spats, airport hugs and stolen kisses at parties.
I believe these feelings were mutual on his last night in town. I attended a fancy party at that glass behemoth, the Time Warner Center, as his date. Again, we’d have a perfect night with good food, bottomless drinks and many of his friends and colleagues. Despite that night being part farewell soirée, he made a point of being with me. We nestled ourselves in a small corner against a giant picture window that looked over Columbus Circle. Caterers brought snacks and people milled in and of our periphery. When we weren’t engaged in conversation with someone, he’d sneak in a plant a kiss on my cheekbone. My eyes would meet his and he’d give me a small smile then return to the business of mingling.
Since I hardly knew anyone there, I often found myself just watching him. The room was darkened, mostly illuminated by the glass wall that allowed the pale blues and clean white lights of the city to wash over us. Unaware, he bathed in this sublime light. Did he know how perfect he was at that moment? Did he know how perfect he made me feel in between his sentences, when he’d send a wink my way? In those moments of glances and pecks and holding my index finger during conversation, I felt something switch.
Again, that building had marked me. As it bid that potential boyfriend adieu it welcomed me to a new place in my life. The uncountable dates, liberating nights on the town and random sex that helped me find comfort in my own skin had served their purpose. Now, life would be about finding people that helped me stand firm. It would be about bringing a consciousness of what this body needs to feel satisfied. It would be about finding those splendid moments of bliss and having at least one person to share them with, may they be family, friends or lovers. That glass-encased night was the first night full of such moments, moments that I hope to create and recall over and over again…