Eastern Standard Time:
This column appeared in November, 1993, in The Washington Blade.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
"Are you and he talking at all?" asked the handsome young man.
"Not a word since we broke up," I said over my shoulder. I was sifting together the dry ingredients for pancake batter, just the way The Joy of Cooking tells you to. "I sent a card for his birthday. I got back a note that thanked me for remembering. It was -- I don't know. It was polite, I guess."
"He wrote to me," the handsome young man said. "At the office."
I put down the mixing bowl and turned to face him.
He swallowed. "I got it in the middle of the week. A card. It said, 'I've been thinking about you. If you want to get together, please call me.' " The handsome young man recited a phone number I knew as well as I knew my own.
"That pigfucker." I turned abruptly toward the window. I knew that "get together" didn't mean for tea.
"At first I couldn't figure out who it was from," the handsome young man said. "I mean, I never heard his last name, not that I know of." He paused. "You're upset. I'm sorry -- I shouldn't have told you."
"No, it's okay. I was kind of expecting something like this sooner or later. You're a hot guy. It figures he couldn't stop thinking about you. It's just -- " My mind was a jumble. "Not only did I lose him, now he wants to take you away too."
The handsome young man came over and hugged me tightly. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I guess he figured there was a chance you wouldn't tell me," I said, resting my chin on the handsome young man's shoulder. "And if you did tell me, well, yeah, it would hurt me, but that didn't matter as much as possibly getting to sleep with you." I buried my face in his neck. "Jesus," I said. "I hate that."
For a few minutes we stood there by the refrigerator. The handsome young man and I have known each other almost seven years now. By turns we've been friends, enemies, and lovers; he was the person I called the night of the break-up. In the next room he had put on the Pet Shop Boys' album Please -- it turns out to be one of his favorites -- and I heard the little reprise of "Opportunities" give way to "Tonight Is Forever." It was not a song I needed to hear just then.
"Pancakes," I said. I gave the handsome young man one more squeeze. "Will you set the table?"
For the next few days the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I remembered at night was the handsome young man's reciting that phone number. Sometimes I wanted to dial it myself and leave threats on his answering machine; sometimes -- and this is not like me -- I felt adrenalin rising in my shoulders and I wanted to pound him into the sidewalk. Worst of all, sometimes I still missed him.
I settled for telling everyone I talked to that men are pigs. Which is true, of course, present company not excepted.
And which brings us to a confession. Years ago, my friend the news editor began dating an attractive man whose company she enjoyed. But weeks passed and one thing did not lead to another. The news editor began to be concerned: Was there something about her this man didn't like?
Eventually she brought him to one of our regular dinners. In those days we ate at a pink restaurant on P Street whose demise we still mourn, and there her date started flirting with me. Later, without really thinking about the consequences, I looked up his phone number and asked him out to lunch and developed a crush on his biceps.
He and I must have gone out several times before I came clean to the news editor about seeing him. She cried and I stared at my shoes. I promised not to call him again. It was a horrible situation, and it was entirely my fault, and I have rarely felt like such a louse. But of course that was after the fact. Before the fact, I was thinking only of those biceps.
I guess now I'm getting my just deserts. After years of pursuing attractive men and ignoring anyone who seemed ordinary, I got dumped by someone who thought I was pretty ordinary myself; after writing more times than I now care to remember that all's fair in love and war, I learn the hard way that at least one person has taken me at my word. I don't think he was trying to hurt me. I was the one, after all, who wrote here just last month: Go ahead, ask. If you get turned down, you'll really be no worse off than you were before.
And, as I said, men are pigs. The bad new is, this is genetic. It's a fact of evolution -- it's what made evolution possible, if I'm remembering Darwin correctly. We're programmed to be pigs so that our species will prosper in the global competition for resources. Or something like that. What I can't figure out, having never been any good at philosophy, is whether I have a right to hold anyone to a higher standard of behavior than the one evolution has established.
I think I do. I think that's what Michaelangelo's David and Mendelssohn's E-flat major octet and Jefferson's buildings at the University of Virginia are all about. But this is real life, and I'm not sure of anything. I don't think I've done a great job of holding to any higher standard myself.
The day after I made pancakes, the handsome young man and I went out for pizza and beer -- he was trying to cheer me up. On my way back from the men's room, I found our waiter standing in a door he knew I'd have to pass through. "Lawrence, I've got to ask you something," he said.
"Sure," I said, a little hopefully. This was the same waiter I had tried to ask out at the end of the summer.
He nodded in the direction of our table. "Does he have a girlfriend?"
I was stunned. "Um, actually, yeah," I said. Which is true.
"'Cause the woman who's working with me tonight -- "
"Oh, jeez, I thought you meant that you -- "
"No, no," the waiter said. "She thinks he's really -- "
"He's really spoken for, tell her," I said. "Tell her it's all very complicated."
Copyright © 1993 by Lawrence Biemiller. Published November, 1993, in The Washington Blade.