[Despite what's written below, this guy
is now one of my closest friends.
It seems that at every turn in our lives we are biased by
then-current impressions, opinions, mental and psychological
conditions, by a probably large number of unknowable,
unconscious filters. I suspect there is no way around this
except to constantly revise everything we write, say, or do.
Kind of impractical, really.
Nevertheless, rather than try to revise, reshape, recant, etc.
things written earlier, sometimes years earlier, I'm letting all
that stand. After all, time does not go backward.]
It seems that at every turn in our lives we are biased by then-current impressions, opinions, mental and psychological conditions, by a probably large number of unknowable, unconscious filters. I suspect there is no way around this except to constantly revise everything we write, say, or do. Kind of impractical, really.
Nevertheless, rather than try to revise, reshape, recant, etc. things written earlier, sometimes years earlier, I'm letting all that stand. After all, time does not go backward.]
Joey (a pseudonym) is a straight man I knew at work. In 1993, when we first met, he was 29 and I was 58. About a year later, we became friends. In early 1996, the friendship crashed. This is some of that story.
We worked in the same department, though not doing similar tasks. He was 5 ft 9 in tall and weighed about 190 lb, physically not my type, which ran to swimmers, runners or gymnasts. He was more like a football-player, with dense bones and big muscles; too beefy for me. But he was good-looking, with a wonderful smile, incredible eyes, and a kind of good-humored earthy disposition that I found quite agreeable.
By degrees we became friends. He was sometimes kind of loud and wild, but always energetic and outwardly cheerful. Soon, he wanted to hang out with me a lot, both at work and outside of work. I found him interesting on that account and enjoyed both the attention and the companionship.
It didn't seem to matter that we didn't have many interests in common, that his background was fairly different from mine, or that he was straight and I was not. He could be, and usually was, very charming. For quite a long time, we got along fine.
The first serious conversation we ever had was over pizza at lunchtime. Out of the blue he started telling me about the frustrations of his marriage, saying that Marie (a pseudonym) was crazy, that she couldn't or wouldn't fulfill his needs (sex), and other things in that vein. To say the least, it was unusual to hear such intimate details from someone I didn't know all that well. I read that as an indicator he needed a friend to talk to and had decided I was a good listener.
At the time, I had no way to gauge the accuracy of his account of their relationship; I simply accepted everything he said as fact. Later, when I'd met her and made my own observations, I got a different picture.
We'd known each other for about a year when, to celebrate my 59th birthday, he invited me to a local restaurant. I had expected both of them, but he showed up alone. We ordered food, shared a pitcher of margaritas, and talked mostly about music.
He had no formal training in music, but as we talked I became increasingly sure that he had native musical talent. I think musicians often recognize that special something in each other. I thought that was a wonderful, positive thing and hoped it would bring a significant shared interest to our friendship. It was a very upbeat evening.
He said he wanted to play an instrument and I encouraged him to study. He started taking guitar lessons. Inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughn, he wanted to be a blues player and was making progress.
Later, when the friendship collapsed, the one reassurance he asked of me was whether I had been serious about his having talent. I said I was, which was the truth, but by then I also knew he rarely stayed with any one thing for very long.
I asked him once what sort of a friend he would see as ideal. Someone who would accept him exactly as he is, he said. I didn't see any problem with that, having little sense then what his "as I am" might include.
He obviously wanted a sounding board for his ideas and an appreciative, understanding audience. I was a good candidate for that, I thought.
To get a little ahead of the story, I'm a fairly open, usually rather trusting person. It never occurred to me that anyone, especially not someone I had known for over a year and counted as a friend, would take advantage of me or try to exploit the sexuality issue. Yet that eventually happened.
Before this buddy-type friendship developed, I had for more than ten years -- a happy, serene, productive time -- not had any major affective relationships.
After the last one -- I was 48 then -- I wanted to leave such things behind and organize my remaining years in a different way, with patterns and connections built not on lover/boyfriend concepts, but rather on principles I would have to discover and develop.
At that point I had for the first time in my life been living alone for a couple years, rather than with family, roommates or boyfriends. I really liked having a base from which I could go forth and form important, but also very different, connections with the world around me.
It was a great boon that home also offered a comfortable, familiar refuge of peace, quiet and solitude in which I could ruminate on life. One result was that I had fewer close friendships, but they seemed qualitatively better, in the sense that I could focus on them at some deeper, more meaningful level.
This had worked well for me and I enjoyed it immensely. Freed from sexual involvements and insecurities, my friendships embraced an emotional spectrum that was substantively different but no less intimate, passionate, and rewarding.
As my friendship with Joey continued to develop, I failed to notice how things I wanted gradually elided into things I didn't want. I realized too late that I had avoided dealing with potential threats; I had enough at stake that I would feel loss if our friendship crashed.
It's also odd that I didn't become wary one day when he blurted out what I later took to be unguarded truths. Part of a larger conversation, the two key lines were "I love to fuck with peoples' minds" and "It would be so easy to take advantage of you". Such statements, the latter one especially, should have raised a red flag. My mistake was thinking they couldn't possibly apply to me.
A complicated scenario was unfolding on both sides. Despite having a wife and two small children at home, he was spending very large amounts of time -- on his own initiative -- at my house, calling me on the phone 5-6 times a day, exchanging at least as many emails, and so forth. We spent four or five evenings a week together.
I think it's accurate to say that that level of attention and of seeking my company amounted to a kind of courtship. Indeed, I'd had several lovers who were less solicitous. I can't say for sure what he wanted, but there's absolutely no doubt he wanted it badly enough to devote impressive amounts of time and energy to it.
I was not immune to such sustained, ardent attention. I took it at face value, based on his saying he had zero same-sex experience anywhere in his earlier life, that this was not a person who might become a lover. But there are many kinds of intimacy, and I'd say it was for both of us a fairly intimate friendship. There was a corresponding level of affection -- hugs hello and goodbye in the conventional buddy-buddy way.
Emblematic in this regard was his insistence that I let him move into my office. A brilliant student worker was already sharing my office, however. Joey's own office was around the corner on the same floor. He intensely disliked his officemate and getting away from her was one of his motives, but clearly not the only one. Other office-space options were available, and it wasn't like there was a ready vacancy in my office. He wanted to be in my space. The boss approved the switch, the student was moved out and Joey moved in.
We started going to the gym together every day. I didn't know anything about weightlifting, but he'd been lifting since his teens. I needed to gain some strength anyway, so when he suggested it, I was up for it. We also did cardio workouts every day. The benefits of these activities were obvious.
One day he phoned and excitedly announced, "You're going to buy a motorcycle." "I am? How much is it going to cost me?" I asked. "He's asking $550 but I know he'll take less," he said, "I'll pick you up and we'll go take a look at it." He'd had motorcycles ever since he was a teenager.
Though I'd wanted a motorcycle since I was 12, I'd never driven a one before, so for the test ride he drove and I rode in back. The bike sounded OK, looked good, had reasonable milage, etc., so I bought it on the spot for $500. I signed up for a motorcycle safety course at the local technical college, where I really learned how to drive it.
Soon Joey and I went for rides together. One of the first ones of any size was a trip around Lake Mendota. It's only about 30 miles, but at county highway speeds for a lot of the distance. It was the first time I'd gone 50 mph or more, and it was pretty exciting. He was excited too, I thought not only on my behalf. He told me he didn't like riding with most people but felt real good about riding with me. I was pleased, but I was sure he was intentionally flattering me, too, maybe to build up my confidence.
Our lives continued to get further entwined. When he wasn't at my house, I was often at his, a couple times a week. I became a virtual member of the family. My mother had died in 1992, and I didn't then have particularly close ties to the other members of my own family, so I quickly felt attached to this new one.
A major factor was the two kids, then 3 and 2 years old (13 months apart). They were completely without guile and immediate in their reactions to their surroundings. I was with them for all the birthdays and holidays, as well as two or three evenings a week. I played games and did puzzles with them, read them stories, brought them presents and did all the fun things one does with small kids.
Earlier in my life, I hadn't been around very young children enough to realize how fast they develop. Literally every day there was a new, larger person inside there. I was amazed by that and endlessly fascinated by watching their process of growth. I loved them dearly and they obviously loved me. A child can't make it up; if they love you, you can be sure it's genuine. Of course, it was enormously rewarding and also huge fun.
One day while driving from my house to his, we passed a large frame house on Nakoma Road (an upscale neighborhood) that was being renovated for resale. "Let's buy that house," he exclaimed. "It would be so great for the girls to have you there." I thought the idea of buying a house together was fairly bizarre and responded that I already owned a house free and clear and had no intention of moving out of it.
At the other extreme, once when he was stressed out, he accused me of trying to break up his marriage. By this time I knew Marie pretty well. I had a lot of sympathy for what she must be going through to be a mom to two very young kids.
Beyond that, I thought he had what I would call very traditional ideas about what she should and should not do as a wife and a mom, so Marie also had to cope with the expectation that she should embody the perfect wife/mom model. Be that as it may, any notion that I had an interest in separating them was totally off the wall and I said so.
I think he had a fairly limited, entirely conventional concept of homosexuality, one that took it for granted that I would compete with her for his attention. It also seemed to escape his notice that we were friends more on his initiative than mine. I rarely asked him to come over; it wasn't necessary, he'd just show up and walk in. I didn't need to ask to be at his house; he invited me more or less constantly.
So some other dynamic was obviously at work. He was a traditional, competitive male who didn't hesitate to lust after other men's wives, and it may well be that he was simply projecting his own values onto me.
Furthermore, Marie may very well have wondered (had I been in her position, I would have) what her husband was doing, exactly, spending several evenings a week at this gay guy's house instead of being at home with her and the kids. She might have found it strange that this gay guy was so often at their dinner table, included in the family circle on holidays and all the rest.
My own interests were obviously best served by their having a stable, happy home (and since I loved the kids, I wanted it for their sakes as well). It's just much easier to relate to happy people than to miserable ones.
In addition, I wasn't attracted to him sexually beyond a completely normal, hormonally mediated response to seeing him naked at the gym, a response that would have been the same with any other cute guy. I had never given him any indication that I was interested in sex with him. The physical contact between us, limited to minor post-workout massages or to hugs that he initiated as often as I did, was devoid of sexual overtones. It was a typical, male-bonding type of affection, that's all.
It's possible he made the well documented default assumption many other straight men make: any gay man would want them for sex if they allowed it. Of course, that's woefully ignorant, but it's also a dirt-common pattern that gay men have to adjust to. To be sure, there are men of whom it would be true, but they are a small minority and I am for sure not one of them.
Joey changed jobs a couple times, first to a securities firm near Milwaukee and later to a private network provider back here in Madison. But these moves did not affect the amount of time we spent together outside of work hours.
Their marriage continued to deteriorate. By this time I had a fuller view of the whole situation. He idolized her but it seemed to me he sometimes treated her badly, a kind of love/hate thing. I thought she was trying very hard to meet his demands, but he was merciless about any failure to live up to his expectations. At times the atmosphere seemed completely suffocating.
Years later, he told me that one factor of their relationship was that she deliberately, repeatedly hurt his feelings and was emotionally cruel toward him. In light of that kind of thing, I'm really not sure what animated the complex emotional dynamic between him and me back then.
The resulting emotional chaos, though I did what I could to be supportive of both of them, affected everything. He was often distant and unresponsive. Given what had come before, that perplexed me, because by then I was thoroughly enmeshed in the whole family scene. I became increasingly concerned that some sort of blowup was inevitable and would come soon, with painful consequences for me.
Fear of rejection, a holdover from childhood insecurities, had figured in varying degrees in most of my lover-type relationships. While my friendship with Joey was hardly the same thing, there were enough parallels to restimulate the pattern.
Having had to deal with such anxieties in the past, I knew right away that I would need professional help to restabilize my life. That was quickly arranged, and after a couple months of talk therapy I had basically recovered. The dependency part was resolved and my center was once again inside my own skin. Though the fact of possible rejection had not gone away, the fear of it was neutralized.
Right in the middle of the worst part of all this, Joey and I drove to Washington together to attend a week-long work-related conference. I was not in good shape, psychologically: moody, withdrawn, apprehensive, not communicating well, etc., probably not easy to be around. As it happened, my 60th birthday was that week. Joey took me out to a very nice Italian restaurant where we had first-rate food and service. My mood was somewhat better, too.
When we got back to the hotel, we had a couple drinks of good Scotch whisky and a joint. He had been suffering off and on for weeks with sciatica; it was flaring up again and I think the drugs helped with the pain. It goes without saying we were in separate beds. We watched some TV and not long after midnight, turned out the lights and went to sleep.
At 2:30 a.m. I was awakened and opened my eyes to see him straddling directly above me, as though he were about to lie down full length right on top of me. My first thought was he was in some kind of terrible pain and needed help. My second thought was "What the hell is going on?" Aloud I said, "Joey! What is it?" In a flash he jumped off and back into his own bed and said, "Uh, uh, I was dreaming, uh, that you were Marie."
That was certainly a first in my experience, and under the circumstances a total mind-blower. But who knows what it really meant?
Though we had a fair number of close and rewarding times together later, for the rest of the year things were often bumpy. The beginning of the end was a major dustup on Christmas Day, 1995.
The end result was that he abruptly and without any explanation shut me out from all contact with him and Marie (and, in a way more importantly, the kids). I felt thoroughly betrayed by this sudden, unilateral, arbitrary banishment. I was more sad than angry, and more disappointed than sad.
During the first few months of 1996, all efforts on my part at rapprochement were firmly rebuffed. I resigned myself to the status quo, and my life continued along its own trajectory. In time a degree of closure manifested. My feelings began to assume a more distanced, more nearly neutral tenor.
One complication was that I had earlier invited him and Marie to be my guests for a major Madison Symphony Orchestra concert. My original plan was that they would use my two perfectly located subscription seats and I would buy a separate seat for myself. But given the estrangement shortly after making the offer, which he had accepted, I felt I could not rescind the invitation without seeming vindictive.
Nevertheless, it made little sense to forgo my own seats and the option of having a real friend along to share the rare opportunity to hear a live performance of Mahler's massive Resurrection Symphony. So I decided to buy two other tickets, which I mailed to them. As we were not in contact with each other at all, I had no idea whether they would show up, but in fact they did.
At the end of the concert, as the applause died down and the audience was starting to leave, I saw Joey rushing from the other side of the hall, against the human traffic, toward me. When he reached me, I was surprised to see that he was crying. He threw his arms around me and, continuing to sob but without a word, gave me a long hug, then turned away and rejoined his wife. I never did find out what that was all about.
I thought that would be the end of it. It wasn't; there was to be another chapter, in fact more than one.