I imagine there is a club, somewhere, for those of us who have lost the great love of our lives. For years, I was all too familiar with the bar that lay at the other end of the spectrum, where young men fondled beer glasses and seemed too scared to even glance at each other, lest someone do the unthinkable and glance back. I have been the gatekeeper of true love, playing matchmaker, easing nerves with alcohol and making introductions. I have been fearless, have known what it is to be immortal and carefree, to not cry very much when a boy seemed to prefer to move cross-country than return my calls. And I have lost it all, lost it to age and to wounds that finally cut open my heart, still beating in my chest.
But I am being overly dramatic, here in this sweaty nest of chicken schnitzels and over-ripe masculinity. No one appreciates a good monologue anymore. Let me talk about Sam.
Sam… the son of my very good friend and sometime employer, the stepson of my best friend and sometime lover, and now my son in no way that is legal or even acknowledged by the young man himself. I have watched him grow up, from a toddler who alarmed me with his energy, to an adult who astonishes me with his youth and vitality and, dare I say it, idealism. Suffice to say, he reminds me of myself in only the very worst ways.
"I think I might go backpacking this summer," he says, one leg crossed over the other as we sit and sip cocktails too expensive for either of our salaries. "Curtis says that Nepal just has to be seen before I hit thirty, and as a teacher I do feel bound to at least give myself an education."
"What do you suppose happens to Nepal once you hit thirty?"
"I imagine Nepal is just fine. But I'll become old and wrinkly and, heaven forbid, conservative overnight."
A wave of my hand. "Gay men are, fortunately, immune from such things. So far, at least."
Sam grins, knowingly. "Mm… Much as I'd like homophobia to be struck from society, we would seem a little less radical. Maybe by the time I'm thirty-five I'll be settling down in a suburb with a white picket fence, an adoring husband, and two little Chinese babies."
"I'm not babysitting. But, yes, I'd like to see that."
"Only to see it, Anton?"
I killed your stepfather, I tell him a hundred times in my mind. "Picket fences just aren't for me, kitty cat. At my age I want to be well and truly fucked to death by one of those limber young men who exists solely on mineral water and broccoli, and practically lives at a gym."
Sam studies me the way I used to study Sandy. "You should date, you know. It isn't like it used to be. There are out men your age."
"Oh, yes. There are those with living partners, and the ones with dead partners. I'm not looking to be the focus of anyone's third act."
"There are younger men, looking for a mentor."
"Because I have so much good advice to give." I pat his hand, and pour more cheap wine for both of us.
We've never fucked. If I'm being immodest, I might say that he wanted to, one night, when his stepfather and his mother had both recently died, when his most recent surfer boyfriend had left him, when the stress of funerals and finances was all too much. I've taken advantage of more than a few beautiful young men crying in my arms over the years. But Sam… Try as I might, I can only see him as a child.
And, yet… How old was I when I had left home, gone to college, worked in Hollywood, flunked out of the army, and found myself single-handedly running a restaurant? How pitifully young had I been, screwing different men every night, running from the police on a few thrilling occasions?
Sam's lovelife has never included the shamefully illegal, the acts that would make his mother disown him. Then again, mine at his age was blissfully innocent, free from condoms and a fear of death. I was young and beautiful and untouchable, and Sandy… Sandy had been so very obviously scarred and broken that I had wanted to make him untouchable too.
Instead… instead, we'd seen each other grow old as friends. I wonder if the wrinkles and gray hair would have been so obvious if we'd remained lovers, if we'd seen each other every day, known every inch of each other's bodies so intimately. Would I have cared so much about the extra pounds he gained, the hair he lost? Would I have grown this beard, or worn these clothes? Would he have cheated on me with Burt Sarris, and would I be sitting here still?
A week later, Sam introduces me to a friend of his I very much do not want to meet. The boy is a college friend Sam has probably screwed once or twice – an up-and-coming chef in New York, who has studied in France for several years, and returned to the States only recently. He has neat brown hair, glasses, and a body of which the army would have very much approved. He is not Sam's type. He is mine.
"Are you looking for a job recommendation?" I ask dryly over shellfish.
The boy smiles. His name is Henry, and he is too young for me, just as Sandy had once been everything I had ever desired at exactly the same age. "I know this must seem awkward, Mr. Kilgallen…"
"Mr. Kilgallen. Oddly enough, it is a little awkward, Henry, now that you mention it."
He makes me feel old. Terribly, terribly old the way Sandy had made me feel young, the way adrenalin had surged through my body every time he turned up at my door bearing wine or a good book, or tickets to a play Katie couldn't abide. We had been in love with each other, always, and cast it aside in favor of various flavors of denial. Oh, Sandy.
I come in Henry's mouth an hour later. It's not fair to him, much as he seems to enjoy it, jerking himself off into a washcloth he promises he'll launder and return. He's sweaty and warm in my arms, and I wish he would leave just as much as I can't quite tell him to go. Perhaps the poor boy has some kind of geriatric fetish. Perhaps Sam had slipped him a hundred bucks to spend the night with me.
But I wake the next morning more relaxed than I've been in… well, certainly since my return from Paris. Sandy lingers in my mind as I pick up clothes from the previous night, and attempt to flatten down my hair. He had been wonderful in bed even from the first night, his skin tingling against mine, eager to touch me, taste me, fuck me deep and hard and rejoice when he could get me to cry out. It had taken a few nights, a few bottles of wine, and more than a little cajoling to get him on his knees, but seeing him take me in his mouth… oh. I could have corrupted innocent little Jewish Harvard graduates forever, and never had that sensation of pure joy again, keeping my eyes open just to watch the slide of it, the expression on his face, the moment he started to enjoy it, the second he tasted me, thick and salty on his tongue.
"Can I use your shower?" Henry is still here: tousled and adorable. If he were Sam's boyfriend, I would approve. This is a man who might enjoy a picket fence. "I made tea…"
Somehow he hasn't bolted for the door even though I am scarcely my best in the morning: unwashed, uncaffeinated, and lacking in about thirty years' worth of beauty and youth.
I sit and drink tea and listen to him humming in the shower. Sandy was never the type to stay. I doubt he ever knew the shampoo I favored, or raided my cabinets for anything more than aspirin.
I am tempted to fall in love, just to thumb my nose at him… no one does that any more, do they? A lost art, now that we have middle fingers at the ready, and "fuck you!" all-too-quickly on our lips.
"I want to see you again," Henry says, massaging my shoulders, kissing my hair with damp lips.
"You're an angel," I tell him, patting his hand, as paternal as I can be. "But you need someone your own age, darling. They're all out and proud now. You can't walk down Broadway without tripping over fifty boys in tights."
He slinks into the other chair. It's unstable, a crushed cassette tape jammed under one leg. "I had someone," he says. "He died."
I do attract the broken ones, don't I? The ones who need a father, a mentor, a demon on their shoulder pointing the way to debauchery.
It wasn't AIDS. It was some unfashionable disease not terrifying enough for either the gay community or multinational groups to care. He already knows about Sandy, about Katie, and he kisses me instead of talking about it. He fucks me into the mattress of my already come-stained bed, and we're both late for work.
"Where did you find this kid?" I ask Sam, over the cellphone he's made me buy. "What on earth does he want from me? Therapy?"
He laughs at me, this boy I've known since he was in diapers, who has come to me for romantic advice since he was fifteen and found himself lusting after a varsity basketball player. "Anton, maybe he just likes you. Did you think of that?"
I wonder if there have been others, as I go to meet my young admirer in the park, carrying sandwiches and soda as some kind of peace offering. I had rarely been alone after Sandy, in my younger years at least, but how many had wanted more… had I been blind to men who could have made me happy, who could have torn me away from that destructive, aimless friendship?
We are ridiculous together: I could be his father, if not his grandfather, and he is hopelessly affectionate – a young puppy always eager to hold my hand, to kiss me, to tackle me in a hug as if we haven't seen each other in weeks. I fall in love with him equally ridiculously, thinking of how it might have been had Sandy and I done these things in public all those years ago. We would have been more than ridiculous, and no one would have smiled in our direction and said, "oh, how sweet!"
I have no idea if he will stay, if he will be willing to see me grow older still, to nurse me as he did his partner when I, too, eventually falter. The longer he does stay, the more nights I sleep in his arms, the more terrified I grow of a day when he may leave me to my loneliness and my memories again.
He jokes about marrying me in Massachusetts, his expression deadpan, and I laugh, wishing I could have laughed at Sandy in that way, all those years ago.
In the snow, the first deep snow of the winter, my old bones ache as we roll in the grass, scarves soaked, hair frosted over. And for a brief moment, frozen and crystal clear, I am immortal again.