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Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

“Hello?”

“Hello, Henry. It’s Lucy. Can I speak with the kids?”

“Sure, just a sec. Jason? Your mom is calling.”

Our typical exchange. A handful of words, the bare minimum necessary for Lucy to convey what she wants, and for me to meet her request.

Anyone else answering the phone would have received a more loquacious greeting, replete with “how are yous?” and “how’s the weathers?”

I don’t warrant such niceties. I am merely an obstacle, the thing that stands between my ex and a conversation with our children. Her tone made clear her regret I was the person closest to the phone when it rang.

She did not acknowledge the date. My parents had not mentioned it either, if they even noticed. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

That day, one of the last of my visit back home, was our wedding anniversary. It was the fourteenth since the big day, and the second to pass since we separated.

For two years, we have been suspended in this limbo, no longer husband and wife, not yet divorced. And in each of those years, the calendar has thrust this date into our faces like a cruel insult.

Or into my face, at least. Lucy scarcely noted anniversaries when we were together. Perhaps they don’t haunt her now.

For me, it will be a while before this is a day like any other.

My wife was never one for sentiment. Indeed, her aversion to sentiment was a hallmark of our wedding ceremony.

We came to be engaged at her suggestion. We had been living together for about year when she allowed that if I proposed, she would not refuse.

I can take a hint. But, as she knew, I had a young anarchist’s distrust of the institution. Why should we seek state sanction for our love, I asked?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

But its just paper, a contract, I argued. Why not trust in one another? Why accept the rules of matrimony, the ideal of lifelong monogamy, when they seem so contrary to human nature?

Because I prefer it, she answered.

So it was that one evening, in a tavern, I proposed. I gave her a ring my mother had passed on to me. Lucy cried. She lost her breath. She threw the ring at me, saying she was “not worthy” of me. She ran to the street.

I picked up the ring. I followed her to the street. I put the ring on her finger. “I love you,” I said. “I am yours. Please, marry me.”

She nodded. She cried as she held me tight, as if I would evaporate if she let me go.

We set a date.

Marriage ceased to be abstract, something I supposed I would do some day, when I grew up. Now, at twenty-six, I was grown up. I was engaged to the woman I loved. We were entering into a sanctioned union.

We planned the wedding.

Of course, it would be a civil ceremony. My faith as an agnostic Methodist was no match for her firm convictions as an atheist. Her mother offered us the use of her home, a lovely Cape Cod situated on a bay in Long Island, for the wedding ceremony.

We accepted. Lucy and her mother began the time-honored tradition of mothers and daughters arguing over wedding details.

It was decided that the ceremony was to be performed by a local ferryboat captain.

“Do you want to say anything during the ceremony?” he asked us one afternoon as he guided his ferry across the bay.

“No,” Lucy said, looking at me. “We want the ceremony as short as you can make it.”

“We can do it in about, oh, five lines, if that’s what you want.”

“That’s what we want. Right, Henry?”

“Right,” I nodded, taking her newly expressed opinion as my own. “Four lines if you can manage it.”

My family was surprised that Lucy intended to keep her last name. “She’s the end of the line,” I explained. “I’m one of four boys. Our lineage is secure. She’s got one brother, and he’s gay. So she is keeping her name.”

They thought it odd that she rented her wedding gown. “Don’t be superstitious,” I chided. “Why buy a dress she will wear once?”

To me, these things made sense. Lucy’s decisions were consistent with her independence of mind, which I treasured. They also reflected her ambivalence about the ceremony, which I shared.

Still, there were some traditions we kept. I did not see Lucy in her gown until shortly before the ceremony.

“You are a stone cold fox,” I smiled, kissing her.

She looked so beautiful.

Lucy prefers her hair short, but knew that I liked it long. For her new husband, she grew her hair so that it flowed over her shoulders.

She had chosen an antique gown, in ivory white, with petticoats and layers of lace. Her smile radiated from her warm olive complexion. Her almond eyes sparkled.

“I’m so sorry about this,” she whispered, fingering the gash on my forehead.

“It’s okay,” I winced. “Looks much worse than it feels.”

“Has anyone noticed?” she asked, looking about.

“Everyone has noticed. But it’s okay.”

Following the reception on the previous evening, Lucy had stormed away from me, shouting obscenities as she hurled herself into the middle of a quiet street.

It was well after midnight. She was drunk. We both were.

She was scared to death. We both were.

“Shhh, shhh,” I shushed, running after her. “Please, don’t walk away.”

“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. “There is no way I am marrying you tomorrow, none!”

“Lucy, Lucy, please. Everyone is here. My family and friends are here. Your family is here. We love each other. We have to get married tomorrow. For us. For them!”

“What, I have to get married because your family got on a fucking plane? I don’t have to do anything!”

“Look,” I said, my anger rising over my dread of being overheard. “We are getting married tomorrow. That’s it. It’s settled.”

“I fucking HATE YOU!” she shouted, lashing at me. Her newly filed nails clawed into my face.

“Fuck!” I grabbed my head. I pulled back my hands and saw blood. “Oh, shit . . .”

“Oh my god,” Lucy gasped, shaking her hands like things she could no longer control. “I have to go. I have to go.” She ran down the street, away from her mother’s home, where we were to sleep that night.

“Don’t follow me!” she called back.

I looked at my bloody fingers, and wiped the mess coagulating on my eyebrow.

I had to take care of her.

I had to disguise this outburst. No one should know.

I was bleeding. How do I fix this?

I abandoned the reception party and headed to my future mother in law’s home. No one was there. I could sneak in and clean up the wound. Maybe it would look better in the morning.

I awoke alone. The pillow was streaked with blood. I washed my face and went downstairs to join in the wedding preparations. I had to be normal.

“Good morning,” Lucy’s brother Richard said as I approached him on the lawn. “Did you enjoy the . . . good Lord, what happened to your face?”

“Uh, nothing, just, you know. Say, have you seen Lucy?”

“You mean she’s not in your room?”

“No, and I’d like to find her quietly, okay?”

“I’ll find her,” he said. He understood. “You just try to, I don’t know, just avoid Mother until we find her.” That was good advice.

I visited my family. My mother expressed alarm at my scratched face. “Lucy did this to you, didn’t she?”

“Mom, please. She’s anxious. It’s a big deal. The wedding, I mean, not the scratch. It doesn’t hurt.”

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, examining the wound. “Hmm. I don’t think you need stitches . . .”

“Mom, please,” I batted her hands. “I don’t need stitches. It’s a scratch. Anyway, I have to go. I have to help with the set up. I’ll see you at six, okay?”

She hugged me as I stood.

“I have to go, Mom.”

“I know,” she stroked my hair. “Just . . . don’t let her hit you again.”

“She won’t, Mom. Geez.”

When Lucy left me standing on the street, she ran to the house a friend was renting for the wedding. I had invited dozens of friends, and most had accepted.

Lucy invited very few friends, but this one in particular. Of course, she took Lucy in. She sat up with Lucy, calming her down.

The next morning, she woke Lucy and called her sister. Together, they did Lucy’s hair and make up—she was clueless about these things—and helped her into her gown.

They made her into a bride. I think Lucy was as surprised as anyone to see how ravishing she looked.

How much I loved her.

I put on my suit. I pinned a boutonniere into my lapel, then into the lapels of my father, brothers and future brothers-in-law, Richard and his partner.

My former professor, Whitman, was on hand to serve as my best man. I reserved flowers for his lapel and that of his partner.

A bus pulled up in front of the house, discharging my past. My friends from high school, from college, from work.

I hugged Allan. He told me I looked great in my suit. I thanked him for not wearing shorts, and took a swig from his flask.

“Man, I got to tell you, Lucy is really, really pretty.”

“That’s kind,” I said, swallowing his bourbon. “I mean, considering she is the only girlfriend of mine you haven’t fucked.”

“Henry, I am shocked, shocked,” he began, his mouth dropping. “But, you know . . .”

“I know, its true.” I handed the flask to my brother and greeted more arrivals.

Marcus was there, with his new wife.

Debra sat with Donnie, who was, by this time, so thin he was swallowed by his suit.

Guini was there, in a skirt so short my mother felt compelled to tug down the hem. (Later that night, my little brother Lee would feel compelled to lift her hem with his face.)

Everyone mingled, all these parts of my life coming together.

And I realized that with the exception of people sharing my last name or that of my bride, I had pretty much slept with all the wedding guests. It was time for me to settle down.

The ceremony was over fast. Whitman clocked it at under two minutes. We exchanged rings, we signed a paper, and we kissed.

Just like that, we were married.

“I love you,” she said. “Thanks for marrying me.”

“Thank you for accepting my proposal. I’ll love you forever.”

The wind was coming strong from the bay, anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Bob a few days later. It whipped everyone’s hair and clothes; as the drinks settled in, it blew away inhibitions.

We had hired a stomping swing band. In photographs from that night, everyone is contorted, windswept, dancing, laughing.

Everyone agreed: there has never been a better party, before or since.

My friends paired off as they stumbled back to their hotel rooms, or boarded the bus back to the city. The driver covered the sounds of kissing with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack.

That night, everybody got laid.

Well, almost everybody.

With the departure of our guests, Lucy decided we would not sleep at her mom’s house as planned. We loaded the wedding gifts into a car and drove, drunk as can be, to her friend’s house.

Over my objection, Lucy opened all the gifts that night as I tried, hopelessly, to match names to items.

We fell asleep on a couch as the sun rose, my wife in my arms.

Four days into the honeymoon, we made love for the first time as a married couple. I videotaped her afterwards, laying on the bed, still flush from sex, her slip pulled up over her belly. She laughed into my camera, “Now you have evidence that we had sex on our honeymoon.”

I laughed, though the comment made me rather sad.

A month after returning from the honeymoon, we were in couple’s therapy.

We would see our therapist every week for two years, until the birth of our first child.

We’d return to therapy many times afterward.

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A few months ago, Lillie served as flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. (I was conspicuously not invited; despite my good relations with my ex’s sister, Lucy had blackballed me from the joyous occasion.) Since then, wedding bells have been ringing in Lillie’s ears.

She recently arrayed her dolls and stuffed animals on a picnic blanket, each matched to a suitable partner. Kitty joined Rabbit, Barbie joined Woody, Bear joined Beary, among many couples, in a large circle. In front of each couple, she placed an index card on which she had carefully enclosed the word “love” in a hand-drawn heart.

She went from pair to pair, conducting a mass wedding. Reverend Moon would have been impressed with her efficiency. “Do you, Kitty, take Rabbit to be your lovely wedding husband? I do. Do you, Rabbit, take Kitty to be your lovely wedding wife? I do. You may kiss the bride.”

When the assembled menagerie was hitched one to the other, she sent them all on honeymoon by ignoring them until dinner.

The other day, she brought me a jar of dill pickles to open. As she took a pickle, she wet her hand in brine and sucked it clean. She stuck her fingers back in the jar for more “pickle juice.”

“Lillie! Please don’t put your yucky fingers in the pickle jar!”

“I can’t help it,” she giggled. “I love pickles so much!” She bit into her pickle and ran off a few steps. She stopped in her tracks and looked back at me. “I know what you are going to say,” she grinned. “’If you love pickles so much, why don’t you marry them?’ Well, maybe I will!”

She walked back to the pickle jar. “Do you, pickle jar, take me to be your lovely wedding wife?” She nodded. “I do. And do I, Lillie, take you, pickle jar, to be my lovely wedding husband? I do. You may kiss the bride.”

She kissed the jar. “I’m married to the pickle jar!” she giggled, racing off.

Later, she found me reading on the terrace.

“You know, when say ‘I do’ in a wedding, you are really saying ‘I do’ to fighting. And to kissing! You and Mom said ‘I do,’ and you fighted. Aunt Jill and Uncle Aaron said ‘I do,’ and they fighted. When we see them this summer, I am going to watch them. And if they fight, I will tell them they said ‘I do’ to fighting. And if they kiss, well, I am going to look in the other direction!”

I sat with my book lowered to my lap.

“Lillie, do you remember your mom and dad fighting often?”

“Okay, I am outta here!” She ran back inside. She was in a mood for pithy observations, not extended conversation.

I went back to my book.

Heck. We had thought were doing a good job of hiding our fights.

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Jason was engrossed in his homework. Collie and Lillie were across the hall, playing with their three-year-old neighbor.

I took the opportunity to do some laundry.

In the laundry room, I ran into a new neighbor who had acquired her apartment as many of my neighbors have—she inherited it at the death of her grandparents.

She was folding sheets.

“Those are beautiful sheets,” I admired. They were crisp and white, with embroidered details.

“Aren’t they?” she smiled. “Let me tell you about these sheets.”

My neighbor had cared for her grandmother in her final years; her grandfather had died a few years before.

One afternoon, her grandmother asked to be helped from her bed so that the sheets could be washed. She wanted to sit in the living room until the sheets were clean and the bed made again.

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the bed?” her granddaughter asked. “I can make the bed with other sheets.”

“Oh no,” the grandmother replied. “I don’t have any other sheets.”

She told her granddaughter that when she and her husband fled Germany during the war, they carried only one trunk.

Among the contents were the sheets on her bed. The sheets my neighbor was now folding.

“So for fifty plus years of marriage, they had only one set of sheets?” I asked.

“That’s right,” my neighbor nodded. “My mother was conceived in these sheets. And now I sleep in them.”

“Incredible.”

I hoped that my neighbor had not noticed my own wash.

As we talked, I had folded two loads comprised entirely of sheets. Sheets for my kids beds, sheets for my bed, sheets for my parties.

So many sheets.

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Scars

The longevity of my marriage was largely derived from my ability to disguise my wife’s . . . eccentricities.

I had a secure place in her life. She had me to anchor her, so that she would behave as people are supposed to act.

She grew up hiding her own mother’s eccentricities. She was very appreciative that I could manage all the quirks she inherited, while never losing respect for her.

In public situations, I knew when to lean over and whisper, “Ix-nay on the olitics-pay. ” I could tell her, with a glance, when an opinion became a rant, or when the drinks had made her incoherent. She trusted me to do this.

In private, I endured her hypercritical assessments of yours truly.

She was trained to avoid any imperfections. Her mother was a model, a copyeditor, and an alcoholic in the Fifties. You couldn’t ask for a more volatile mix to create a perfectionist.

Lucy did a number on herself, battling depression and anorexia in her struggle to live up to her mother’s ideals. Then she found good clay to mold in me, a talented kid who needed direction and ambition.

No more sleeping in. I was up early, responding to her monologue.

No more late nights with friends. Why go out when I could be with her?

No more dead end jobs. I needed to make more money.

She trained me well. Under her tutelage, I became a responsible husband and father, just like my own dad before me.

But there were some things she could not change.

I snore. She tried waking me. She tried nudging me. She hit me, so hard there were bruises. Nothing made me stop. I was sent to my doctor to seek a cure.

The doctor said that if she could do anything, she would have cured her own husband’s snoring years ago. She recommended my wife get earplugs.

Lucy was not happy with this diagnosis.

Lucy decided I had bad breath. I was sent to the dentist to seek a cure for chronic halitosis.

The dentist told me I did not have chronic halitosis. She asked why I thought I had bad breath. My wife says so, I replied. Try gargling when you get home from work, she recommended.

Lucy had no interest in touching me. When we passed in the hall, I tried to steal a kiss. She turned away, grimacing awkwardly.

Sometimes she allowed me to snuggle next to her as we slept. I gulped that human contact.

Other times she flayed her arms, telling me to get the hell off her and back to my side of the bed.

She complained that my erection pressed against her as I slept.

We went into couple’s therapy. Every week. For years.

Lucy was encouraged to initiate physical contact when she wanted it. By this point, I was too discouraged to start anything sexual. I thought I was repulsive. I was encouraged to use words rather than touch to suggest intimacy.

It was a good thing that I was so interested in her pleasure, I was told. But what about my own?

I was really embarrassed about this. I get off sometimes, I protested.

How often do you have sex? Now and then.

How often do you orgasm during sex? Umm, sometimes.

Lucy, he enjoys giving oral sex to you. Do you reciprocate? No.

Why not? Because that is disgusting and demeaning to women.

Henry, do you enjoy receiving oral sex? Yes.

Do you want Lucy to give you oral sex? Well, no.

Why not, if you like it? If she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t do it. Right?

Well, yes, no one should do what she doesn’t want to do. But it can be satisfying to pleasure your partner. You are both in your mid-twenties and in good health. You are really too young to live as companions. You are sexual partners. You need to take care of each other’s needs. Will you work on that?

We nodded.

We had more sex, doing our homework like the diligent graduate students we were. No blowjobs, of course, but I orgasmed now and then.

We made some progress.

I never, never told anyone that we had no sex life to speak of.

I never, never told anyone how she railed at me, and made me feel like dirt.

I never, never told anyone about the many times she threatened to leave me.

She didn’t hit me often, and I only had scars now and then. The scratch she tore into my face on the night before our wedding was awkward to explain, but everyone put that down to wedding day jitters.

That’s just how she was. I could deal with that. She was worth the effort.

So long as no one else knew.

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Tainted Love

In the autumn of my senior year of high school, my heart was broken for the first time.

Debra was a junior, a vivacious and silly girl, with freckles, porcelain skin and wavy hair. She was hanging out with Allan when she got to know me. We decided this was it, and fell fast in love. We held hands, wrote each other notes, the works.

She lost her virginity on the floor of my family’s den. My family was asleep. I built a fire. We had wine. It was so perfectly romantic.

My then nine-year-old brother discovered us the next morning, asleep, naked on a blanket. Poor Debra was mortified—she was a good girl, forever to be considered a slut by my mother.

Debra became the first woman with whom I had sexual intercourse on a regular basis.

I say “regular basis,” but that’s not quite right. See, she had a reason she wanted to lose her virginity that night—her parents were moving her to Seattle at the end of the semester. And she wanted to lose her virginity to someone she loved as intently as we loved one another.

We had a month remaining in which to be lovers.

Our friends became co-conspirators, sneaking me into the girl’s dorm, pretending she was at a sleepover when she was with me, anything we could dream up.

Just as intensely as Debra loved me, so too did she worship Donnie.

Donnie was much admired, without question the most talented actor in our school. I scarcely knew him—we had a few classes together—but everyone extolled his sense of humor. He was also very handsome, with blond hair, blue eyes, chiseled features. He was rail thin.

A skinny blond funny boy—those were my best attributes too. I was a little threatened by Debra adoration of Donnie, but he was gay, so I had no insecurities about our romance.

Debra desperately wanted Donnie and me to be friends. I was game, though the circumstances felt forced.

One evening, I saw him in the window of his dorm.

“Evidently we are supposed to be friends,” I called up.

“So I hear,” he replied. “We’ll see, huh?”

Debra’s last night came too soon. Donnie arranged for me to sleep in his dorm room, though I would actually be sneaking over to the girl’s hall.

Debra’s roommate slept elsewhere. Debra and I stayed up all night, talking, making love, crying.

At dawn, I crept back to Donnie’s room. I feel asleep on the floor.

Donnie woke at eight, and took Debra to the airport. She didn’t want me to do that.

When Donnie left, his friend Chuck felt me up as I slept. I stopped him. Geez, how insensitive. Chuck was a creep.

Donnie didn’t care for Chuck, but he felt responsible to watch out for the other gay kids.

The deflowering of Debra, and our subsequent torrid romance, was the soap opera of the season. Everyone followed it, and expressed their regrets to me when she was gone.

It also identified me the boy who could put an end to a girl’s virginity. Debra’s friends queued up. I was suddenly having a lot of sex.

One night, Donnie and I sat on a porch, watching a party across the street. We talked about Jesus, we talked about Tom Robbins. And just like that, we were friends.

I told him about my experiences with Allan. I had told no one else. He was touched that I confided in him, and asked all the right questions. It felt great to have him to talk with about how mixed up that felt.

He took me to my first gay bar, a small dive called Belle’s. We were underage, but that was no problem. I had free drinks and we danced. Donnie never drank.

It was only a matter of time before we were having sex.

The first time, in his dorm room, he blew me. He complained that it took so long to get me off. Think of it as staying power, I said.

The truth is, though, I was nervous. Donnie was gay. That struck me as somehow different than being with Allan, because we were both straight. Allan and I loved each other, but it was always pretty clear that our primary sexual partners were women.

It would be a while before I understood bisexuality.

Donnie and I traded notes throughout the days at school. He put his notes in interesting containers—a cup, a found envelope, a chocolate box. They grew increasingly elaborate in format, requiring me to open secret panels, or to fill in blank areas to read the full text.

I opened up to him in our correspondence.

Donnie fell in love. That scared the hell out of me.

A group of us went skinny-dipping at my house one night. It was late, and by some miracle, my family did not wake up.

We wound up in my room, splayed about naked on the floor, in pitch darkness. I was massaging Jamye, slipping my finger inside her.

Her sister wanted a massage too, so I rubbed her. It was nonsexual, as we didn’t go there.

Anyone else? I offered.

Donnie signed on. I straddled his buttocks and ran my fingers up his spine, branching outward along his muscles. He squirmed under me. He raised his ass. My hand traveled between his legs; he was hard.

Elsewhere in the room were the sounds of couples kissing. I could hear Peabo coo soothing words to Jamye’s sister.

Donnie was sucking me. Loud, wet and fierce.

His mouth felt so good on me. But I worried about the noise. If anyone heard the sounds of sex coming from this corner of the room, they would know it was us. I would be outed.

I lay back and stretched myself to reach Jamye. Her head was near mine, her body stretched in the other direction.

She was asleep, or feigning sleep. I found her face and kissed her lips. She pretended to sleep through it. I scooted back to suck her nipples, loudly. Donnie stayed on me as I moved, sucking me, loudly.

I wiggled to her hips. I raised a leg so that I could get my mouth down on her. She moaned softly and ran a hand down my chest, to my belly.

I stopped her hand before she reached between my legs. There would have been a surprise there.

Donnie worked me until I was about to come. I stopped him.

Light was coming in my window. The sun was rising.

I saw my friends off.

Once Donnie confessed his love for me to his best friend Michelle, she set her sights on me. It was a stupid thing, but she wanted anything he had.

She was a gorgeous black girl, and I was easy. We started having sex.

Donnie was hurt. His letters to me were filled with betrayal and anger. And, perversely, with the tenderest expressions of love.

He loved me too intensely. I didn’t know what to do with him.

He would be pissed at me because of Michelle, but forgive me immediately when I agreed that his new favorite song, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” was insanely great.

After graduation, Donnie moved to New York. I came up to see him often. It was a twenty-four hour trip by train, each way, but I couldn’t afford to fly. I was working for minimum wage in a movie theater.

I came to know the city through his eyes, by his side when I was here, through his words in the letters he wrote.

In the summer of nineteen-eighty-five, I was in New York with my parents and grandmother. After being a good tour guide all day, I was given the night off to hang out with Donnie.

He gave me a sex tour of the city. We were twenty-one.

He worked at the box office of a gay cinema in Times Square.

At his theater, men watched porn projected on a vast screen. I saw men walking onto the stage and going behind the screen. “Where are they going?” I asked.

“Behind the looking glass, Mary. Come on.”

I followed him. We walked along a narrow corridor behind the screen; looking up, I saw porn actors, seventeen feet high, as projected light.

We went upstairs. There, we found a park, created from stage props and Astroturf. Men were having sex on park benches. I had never seen men have sex, and now I saw dozens of them.

Donnie held my hand as we toured around.

He took me to a few of his haunts. We ended up at the Anvil, in the meatpacking district. We walked into a bar with a dance floor. Go-go boys in jock straps danced on the bar, and many of the dancers were shirtless. We swam into their midst to dance.

After we were good and sweaty, he took me downstairs.

Porn was being projected on a screen, as men blew each other on plush sofas.

We sat as far as we could from the action. As we talked, a man came over and jerked off in front of us.

Donnie took me further.

There was a narrow corridor, lined with men. They turned and smiled at us as we approached. It was pitch black at the opposite end.

I decided I had seen enough.

Back at Donnie’s tiny studio, we kissed as his roommate slept.

He asked me to keep my socks on as he blew me. Why, I wondered?

He wanted me to fuck him. He had just started to bottom. No, I can’t, I can’t.

I was just too freaked out.

I cabbed back to the hotel. My family was more than freaked to see me drag in at sunrise. I escaped into sleep.

Five years later, I was out of college, and Lucy and I moved to New York. Donnie, of course, was still here. Debra had moved to the city as well.

Donnie helped us unload the truck when we moved. We hung out as I settled into the city.

I was well into Lucy then, and certainly not up for sex outside of that relationship. Donnie never brought it up. We were good as friends.

One afternoon, I met Debra for coffee. We had a high time talking and catching up. We were both thrilled to be back in a place where we could be friends again.

After a while, she said, “I should get going. I told Donnie I’d visit him in the hospital.”

I knew what she was going to say next. I had to pretend otherwise. I had to.

“Hospital? What happened?”

Nothing had happened. I knew.

“Hank . . .”

Stop. Don’t.

“Donnie has AIDS.”

He had not told me.

I went with her to the hospital.

I saw Donnie almost every day for the next two years.

On the morning he died, I was in a cab, racing to the hospital.

It didn’t matter if I was there when he breathed his last. His family was there. Our friends were there. He was already doped to incomprehension. I had already been with him through the worst of it.

I needed to be there.

The cab’s radio was much too loud. The sun was too bright. The sky was shrill.

Three blocks from the hospital, the song on the radio ended. I heard the opening tones of “Tainted Love.”

He was gone.

I don’t believe in omens, but he did. Donnie delighted in good endings.

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