An Essay by Andrew Hahn
The house sat off a stretch of empty highway a mile down a gravel road off 460 East Business. I texted my best friend, T. C., the address before I lost cell reception. I couldn’t contact anyone if I needed an out. I pulled up to the house. The man owned two cars, a new practical sedan and a black, Acura sports car that my dad wanted. His split-level house reminded me of my parents’.
Just as he said, the front door was unlocked. I walked up the stairs and into a half bath. I looked into the mirror, into my eyes. I heard the shower through the wall. An hour ago I started chatting with a guy on Grindr. His profile said he was thirty years old. I didn’t know what he looked like other than an animated sketch that served as his profile picture. He told me he had to shower after finishing yard work, and what if a boy was waiting for him on his bed? We began a role play.
He wrote, We’ll see if you can handle me.
“What are you doing?” I whispered to myself in the mirror. What if I didn’t find him attractive? What if he actually hurt me? What if I caught something? Maybe it was the way the sun cast a beam onto the hardwood floors, into the bathroom across my shoe, but I felt no immanent danger.
I took a deep breath and entered his room. A double bed set under a window with a gray and red striped comforter. It looked like a racecar. Next to his desk stood a bookshelf stocked with DVDs, then a corner hutch that served as an end table.
Steam crept out of the bathroom door in a fog that hugged the ceiling. Porn played on a large flat screen next to the bathroom door. I took off my clothes.
I lay on the bed, waiting, nervous, hard. On the wall next to the bed were pictures of what I assumed were his parents and some close friends. The picture of his parents must’ve been from the 80s.
The water stopped. The soft banging of tacky drums and moaning of the men on the television. The metal-on-metal scratch of the shower curtain opening.
A lean, pale frame stood in the fog. He walked over to me. He grabbed the back of my head, stared at me with stunning blue eyes, then kissed me. He pushed my face down on his dick. It barely fit in my mouth. I choked. He pulled me up by my hair, then shoved me, flipped me facedown, my head by the window. The rip of the condom wrapper. It only covered half his cock. I thought it would snap. He maneuvered himself to me with both hands. I attempted to take him, but I couldn’t relax quickly enough. The pulse of a pulled muscle. I inched away, his body on my back.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he said, his voice like tires on gravel. He pulled me closer. I took a deep breath and opened up my body. “Didn’t anyone tell you not to break into someone’s house?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“That’s right,” he grunted in my ear. “Tell me again.”
I looked out into the expanse of brown and green land reminiscent of the Midwest, somewhere far from here, then his arm around my neck in a hold, the other covering my mouth to muffle the sound of pain. I looked farther and farther into the horizon point until it all collapsed into nothing.
He rubbed my head after taking note of our cum on my chest. It glistened in the sun coming through the window behind me. I was lightheaded.
He threw the condom in the garbage bin in the back of the room.
I sat up and dangled my feet over the side of the bed searching for the ground. I looked at the pictures.
“Who are these pictures of?” I asked.
“These are of my parents,” he said, pointing to the few older photos. “They died when I was in my early twenties.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I’m so sorry.”
“All these pictures are friends who have died.” He stood near me, still naked, with his hand on his hip as if I was a child loose in a glasshouse. “Don’t feel sorry for me. It happens. People die.”
I lay on my stomach at the foot of the bed with my cheek on my fist.
He turned off the porn before walking into the bathroom to pee.
“Does it make you angry?” I asked.
“I don’t know. God?”
“There is no God.” He returned in his underwear.
We inevitably covered ourselves. At Liberty University, we learned Lynchburg was the “city of over 400 churches.” God seemed inescapable here, yet all the heartache and pain must’ve stripped God from him. How could I expect him to believe in someone who’s taken most everyone he loves?
He came over, kissed me, and grabbed my ass.
“How old are you really?” I asked.
“Thirty-five.” He put his arms out, like Jesus on the cross. “You hate me now?”
He grabbed my wrists, pushed me back on the bed, and pressed against me.
“I can’t go again,” I said. The muscles in my ass throbbed, a job well done. He backed off me.
“Get used to this,” he said, grabbing his semi-hard dick.
I dressed, then grabbed my keys. Stepping outside, I was overcome with the wind, the birds, the trees, the smell of the pine and freshly clipped grass, the evidence of living things that compose the world.
I called T. C. when my cell reception returned.
“T. C., it was huge. Like, Google search Rocco Steele.”
“You know I love a good dick. . .” I heard his thumbs tapping the phone screen as he internet-searched. “Oh my god. You have to keep that around.”
I laughed. I thought the same, but I didn’t know if we would see each other again.
“How old was he?”
I told T. C. his real age, leaving out the part about him lying about it. I didn’t want T. C. drawing comparisons to Wynn, my ex who originally lied about his age.
“Older men have too much baggage,” I said, quoting a middle-aged man I met regularly, a man who also lied about his age—53 to 40—and I believed him too.
I turned down Florida Avenue to cut through the declining neighborhoods of Diamond Hill to Main Street. The houses off Florida teetered on the fence of condemnable. Some had broken windows, rotted wood, and old roofs, unkempt yards with garbage littering the grass and curbs. Once entering Main Street, housing transposed to remodeled factory lofts with hardwood floors, cafés, vibrant restaurants and bars with delicious food, and people laughing. Two worlds sat side-by-side, but neither seemed to acknowledge the other. T. C. and I knew what that was like, living in this city where gay people like us lived in the church’s shadows.
“A good fuck buddy is great dick you would never date. You know what I mean?” I said.
“It’s safest that way.”
Anything to live in-between. We hung up so T. C. could make some design edits for his show before rehearsal that evening.
When I parked my car outside my apartment building, I saw that Grindr Guy had messaged me, Can I fuck you again soon?
Ronnie stopped texting me. After T. C., Adam, and I visited him in Maryland about a month ago to be with him after his breakup with Dean. I knew he wasn’t someone I wanted to date, not because I didn’t like him, but because he didn’t seem to know how to not be an actor. The week after we returned to Lynchburg, he texted me saying he wanted to visit in the next week or two, that he would love to spend a night at my place. During our conversations, I mostly asked how he felt after his breakup with Dean and what shows he was auditioning for. A broken heart needed to stay distracted.
After a week, his texts trailed off until he stopped responding altogether.
I sat on the tattered love seat in T. C.’s kitchen. He was prepping home-baked pretzels for a cast and crew potluck at the Renaissance Theatre down the block from my apartment. He wore an apron, stamped with moose, tied around his large waist. I remember Dean sitting on this love seat two months ago. Even though I didn’t know Dean well, I felt I had to hide that Ronnie and I hooked up.
T. C. lined two baking sheets with foil, twisted the dough, and placed six pretzels on each sheet. He sprayed them with cooking spray. He placed them in the oven and took off his mitts.
T. C. said something, but I wasn’t listening. I was replaying my part in the breakup and feeling guiltier with each frame. I wanted to tell Dean how sorry I was.
“I’m moving to New York,” he said.
“Oh my god,” I said, as in, How incredible for you, as in, What am I going to do without you?
He said his last day at work would be October 15, about two months away.
“I feel overwhelmed,” he said. He cleaned the bowl he stirred the dough in. When he looked down, his curly hair almost reached his eyes.
He had no place to stay, but he had friends and connections in the city already. In September, he and Adam planned to take a week-long vacation to scope it out.
He threw away used paper towels and loose particles that had accumulated on the countertop.
“I’m low key hoping Adam wants to move to New York too even though I know he would never want to live there.”
“How do you know?”
T. C. deadpanned. “He said, ‘I never want to live in New York.’”
He needed to live away from Adam so he could find a man who’d love him back. He deserved that. Adam deserved space from T. C. painting a queer portrait of him.
The timer on the oven beeped. He salted the pretzels, placed them in a container, and covered them with a towel. He untied his apron and hung it up.
“I have to get home anyways,” I said. I didn’t need to be anywhere, but I wanted to be alone.
“I’ll text you after the potluck and rehearsal to see if you’re still up.”
He followed me in his green Tacoma down to my street but stopped at the theatre. I kept driving.
I lay on my bed and read previous texts from Ronnie, ones from before T. C., Adam, and I drove to Gaithersburg. Dean had showed up at T. C.’s house the afternoon of the text, the day of the breakup.
But like TC will ignore me and not tell me that Dean is there… Like, I’m not stupid lol and also Dean never really liked TC… Or at least had nothing nice to ever say about him… But TC doesn’t know how to put his foot down so I have to be the bigger person… If TCs ex cheated on him, I wouldn’t be having sleepovers with the prick.
I didn’t know how to sift through Ronnie’s criticisms of T. C., but I knew that I had seen a different and better side of him than Ronnie had. Ronnie couldn’t think so poorly of T. C. yet vie for his attention. T. C. did his best to keep both friends he had grown to love. He played Switzerland. I didn’t think it would be too long before he would have to make a choice on who he would choose to remain friends with, and who would have to be cut off.
T. C. worked the morning at Starbucks to have the evening free for his birthday dinner with Adam and me. When he called me at work around 2:00 p.m., I thought something was wrong, that maybe his car broke down and he needed a ride, or something happened to his mom or Adam. I worked at Liberty University as an editor for the online program. Leadership seemed to single me out. Someone had mentioned they thought it was because I wouldn’t be my boss’ gay BFF, which could’ve been it. I removed my headphones, locked my computer screen, and slipped into the stairwell where hopefully I wouldn’t be overheard. I didn’t want to get in any trouble.
“You are not going to believe what happened last night.” He sounded annoyed. He was driving home from work. “So around 1:00 a.m. I’m woken up by these hard pops on my window and I don’t know if it’s my roommates’ weed dealer or if this person has a gun or what. I opened my curtain and Ronnie was standing there, waving at me from the yard like some fucking 80s movie. Not like I didn’t have to be up for work at 3:30. And he just assumed that it would be okay to stay with me. Didn’t even tell me ‘happy birthday’ since he woke my ass up three hours before I had to be at work on my birthday.”
Somebody honked their horn.
“This is a residential area!” he yelled. “There are fucking children on scooters on this goddamn fucking street!”
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m a little tense.”
I reassured him dinner tonight with Adam and me would be relaxing.
He invited me out to Rivermont Pizza, our favorite bar, afterward.
“Is Ronnie going?” I didn’t want to see Ronnie after he’d been ignoring me for two weeks, even though he read my texts. He stopped responding to T. C. too.
“He’s sure as hell not coming to dinner,” T. C. said. “Thank God Adam already made the reservation.” He couldn’t stop Ronnie from going to Rivermont. He suspected Ronnie spread gossip, but T. C. hated letting go. It didn’t matter that Ronnie lied and attempted to manipulate him. I knew he looked forward to going out and having Ronnie there. They had seen each other through numerous personal struggles, found a gay family at Liberty, and supported each other’s careers. I had heard that being friends with someone for over seven years meant being friends for life. But a fire had been kindled, and Ronnie was a whirlwind.
We hung up. I walked back into the silent office and placed my phone face down next to my computer in case Ronnie texted me to hang out. . . or to come over. Secretly, I wanted him to ask, because I wanted him to want me, but mostly because I wanted to tell him politely to go fuck himself.
We dressed up for dinner at Dish, a small-plates restaurant, at 7:00. None of us had much money in our bank accounts, but we were willing to spend at a restaurant for a birthday or dinner before a show at the theatre. It was the artistic high life we imagined. We were one of two seated tables. Our square table allowed room for one more.
T. C. ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which, split three ways, was about two and a half glasses each. I could barely handle one. When T. C. came over to my apartment last week after work to watch a show called Please Like Me, he poured us each a glass of wine. After a glass, I stood up to change the episode on my computer and almost fell over. I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch.
“Are you guys expecting another in your party?” she said, motioning to the empty side of the table.
“No,” T. C. said. “Just us tonight.”
The server returned with our wine and a basket of bread, which she forgot in the beginning and apologized for three times. Then we ordered our entrees. As T. C. buttered a slice and took a sip of wine, he smiled at Adam and me.
“This is exactly what I wanted,” he said.
“We love you, bud,” Adam said.
I finished my first glass. T. C. laughed at my red cheeks and goofy grin. My eyes probably drooped in the corners like my mother’s when she drank.
“One and done,” I said.
“So you.” He sipped.
Adam asked if I was going to Rivermont after dinner. He sucked his bottom lip, which he sometimes did when he wasn’t talking.
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking of an excuse. “I might be tired after the wine.”
“Do you not want to go because Ronnie will be there?” Adam said.
I turned the glass by the stem. I saw my warped reflection staring back at me. I took a sip of wine, any reason to take a sip.
T. C. sighed. “We were doing such a good job of not talking about him.”
“I don’t want to see him,” I said. “I don’t feel like being in a production.”
“It’s how he gets through life,” Adam said.
“Let’s not talk about him,” T. C. said. “He’s not what I need today.”
I motioned to the empty side of the table. “He might as well have been sitting right there. We’ve been talking around him the whole time.”
“This is a reservation for three.” T. C. raised his eyebrows and finished his glass.
The server returned with our food.
I took the finishing sip of the second glass of wine. Adam poured the rest of the bottle, a half glass for each of us. After a sip, my spinning head made my eyelids grow heavy in the way white wine makes me sleepy, all at once. I could have fallen asleep at the table.
I don’t remember anything that happened other than I laughed at the correct moments and finished my dinner. When the server cleared the table and brought our checks, T. C. asked her to take a picture to memorialize the night on the internet.
I received an Instagram notification from T. C. on my phone. He captioned the picture, “First stop Dish with my two favorites,” probably hoping Ronnie would see.
I went to bed even though I wanted to go to Rivermont to be with T. C. on his birthday. Later I would hear Ronnie acted as if he never moved away, lied to T. C., or showed up on his doorstep without wishing him a happy birthday.
Ronnie drank too much. T. C., exhausted, drove him back home and guided him inside where he slept on the couch.
I would have stayed sober enough to let T. C. drink as much as he wanted. I would drive him home, and we would sing Mariah’s “Always Be My Baby” at the top of our lungs on the drive. We would laugh and tell each other how much we loved each other, and when I parked outside his house, he would say, “Text me when you get home so I know you’re safe,” even though I lived three minutes down the street.
I would text, Home.
And he would say, Thanks for driving tonight.
And I would say, Anything for you. Goodnight, I love you!
And he would say, I love you too! Goodnight, bb. See you tomorrow.
The following night, Grindr Guy texted me, Hey, I’m downtown with friends. Can I come over?
I replied, Sure, just call me from the call box. I’m apartment G13. I’ll let you in.
I’ll be there at 10, he wrote. Leave the door unlocked. Make sure you’re ready for me.
I showered to be perfect for him. He wanted me enough to text me while he was out with friends. Of all the people he could’ve texted to fuck, he chose me. I washed out my ass with a Fleet. I lathered on lotion to smell fresh. I read in bed for 45 minutes and then bookmarked my place at 10:00. The only light in my apartment was a dim lamp on my dresser. I waited for my phone to light up with CALLBOX in all caps across the top of my screen. Maybe he would bring his friends. I imagined Grindr Guy, with a fist full of my hair, shoving my face onto his friend’s cock. They’d take turns fucking me. Maybe he’d bring more than one. Maybe they would spit on me, finish on my face, call me a bitch.
A few minutes past 10:00 and still no ring. I thought that maybe he wouldn’t come and how inconsiderate it was to have me wait for nothing—the promise of being wanted sex wasn’t nothing—so I started thinking that maybe he was too drunk and had to be driven home, or maybe the service at the restaurant was slow, or that perhaps there was an emergency. I would be the last person he’d tell.
Then I heard my apartment door creak open. Footsteps in the galley kitchen. I lay on my stomach, face on my pillow. The swooshing clunk of belted pants hitting the floor. The creak of my bed as his knees carried him over to me. He grunted as he rubbed himself on me. I was his, but really, he was mine.
He placed his knees at my hips. The slaps of his cock against my ass. The pump of the lube bottle. Then the pressure. The sensation of my body expanding. His hand on the back of my neck, fingers exploring the close-cut hair on the back of my head. The bed frame screeching and knocking against the wall. The dirty talking that turned me on. “Like this huge cock, you little bitch?” Sounds from my mouth, out of my control.
“Fuck me,” I said. He thrusted harder and deeper into me. I bit my pillow and screamed.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t want to do this again despite how alive and good our sex was, how satisfying for my body to be a vessel.
I looked at the brick exposure, my windows, wondering if the people walking on their way down to the new bar could hear the bed knocking against the wall or my muffled voice. Part of me wanted them to. Part of me wished the blinds were drawn. He pushed my face into the pillow and moaned and reached deeper inside me. It was over.
He lay on top of me. The soft rising and lull of our breathing. The beads of sweat transferring from his chest to my back.
“Towel?” he said into my ear.
“Under the bathroom sink.”
He groaned as he pulled out. I followed him to the bathroom right outside my bedroom.
“Is your old-man cock tired, Mister Thirty-five?” I grimaced, posting up on the bathroom’s doorframe.
“I’m just getting started with you, boy.”
“You couldn’t.” I knew I could get him to fuck me again if I wanted. I was the real boss.
He tossed the towel and grabbed me before I made it to the bed. He pushed me over the bedside. I was sorer than I anticipated, the pain of jogging another stretch when out of breath. But I didn’t stop it.
After Grindr Guy left, I checked the time. 11:11. T. C. and I had a joke about 11:11. At Liberty University, all wishes were prayers, and Jesus heard them all.
I texted T. C, It’s 11:11. Pray for someone who isn’t saved by the blood of Jesus.
Well, I mean Ronnie was just here, T. C. said. So there’s that.
Pray for Ronnie, I replied.
He wrote, #P4R
I laughed out loud alone in my room, sitting on my bed, listening to the sounds of the new bar outside my window, the white noise of drunk girls in short dresses and wobbly high heels. My bed squeaked as I repositioned myself and plugged my phone in.
Haha! I love you, I said. I’m heading to bed now. Hope the first full day of being 27 has been memorable.
He replied, It’s surely been memorable lol. So glad we reconnected when you moved back to good ol’ Lynchburg. Goodnight!
I set my phone face down on my bedside table and turned on the small fan. I wished I had someone to lie down next to. I half-hoped Ronnie had asked to stay with me. In this moment, I felt too weak to decline. I would’ve been another tick mark in Ronnie’s history, no one special. Did Jesus hear my wishes? My little prayers? Adam once told me that he thought I gave myself up too easily to men in order to keep them around. I couldn’t deny it—feeling wanted sex was my drug, but I wasn’t ready to stop. Grindr Guy was one of a few older men I fucked regularly, and being wanted the sex felt too good. My body throbbed in pain with tonight’s sex, but I thought without it, I might be worthless.
A few days later, I sat on the love seat in T. C.’s kitchen while he cleaned. I scrolled through my social media sites: Same women posting pics of their babies, their Bibles, their coffees and scarves. Same guys in their raggedy clothes, flannel shirts, trendy hair, cigarettes, and occasional girlfriend post. I was bored of it all.
“So, Ronnie and I FaceTimed the other night,” he said.
I swatted a fly that flew from the garbage. Four buzzed around, touching each surface and zooming away before T. C. could smash them. Four flies, one for each of us.
“He basically told me I’ve turned him into my sexual object, which is such bullshit.” I thought of the game of Truth or Dare we played in Maryland, how T. C.’s Dare stripped Ronnie down to nothing.
I swiped at a fly near my face. Ronnie used me as a sexual object, I thought. But I let it happen, so I was to blame too. Maybe I used him as mine. I didn’t know anymore.
“And then he said that I have completely removed him from his faith in God.”
T. C. never left his faith. He encouraged Ronnie to live honestly, but Ronnie’s failure to understand that God loved him slipped by as he tried to please others with his choices. A month later, a woman from Liberty University’s theatre department featured Ronnie on her blog: “At the time,” he wrote, “I firmly believed that you can be gay and love the Lord, so I opened my life and pursued the wrong person. As a result, I was fired from the department and left Liberty on another sour note. How could God let this happen?”
In addition to blaming God, he blamed his friends from the theatre, which hurt T. C. the most.
“I don’t need this.” He brushed off some leftover food into the garbage from a plate that had been sitting out. He slammed the plate on the counter. “What the fuck with all these goddamn fucking flies!? Touching everything with their goddamn grubby-ass fly hands!”
He pounded his hands on the counter. The flies, all of them, buzzed around him like vultures over a carcass. “I spent some time the other night crying about it after we got off the phone because I just knew.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say because nothing could heal grief but time. My phone vibrated. “Oh my god.”
I read the text from Ronnie aloud.
Hello! I just want to apologize for ghosting you… I’m very truly sorry… I don’t know why I do the things I do and I’m trying to work on that area. That being said, I freaked out because everything was happening so fast for me… I know I was the one to invite you into my room… It’s all on me! I have hurt a lot of people through this process and I’m trying to put the pieces of my life back together with honesty and forgiveness… I’m speaking from a much higher place and this time here in Gaithersburg has been a beautiful time to get right with God! Yes, I’m gay but I have been living so badly and for the wrong things… Not to say that you aren’t an awesome person, you are… I just handled our friendship in all the wrong ways… I’m telling you this because you don’t deserve to be ignored… You have a good heart and you’re a good person… Please forgive me for being rude!
“Rude’s one word for it,” I said.
I knew Ronnie did not have feelings for me. What happened between us was supposed to be fun. Somewhere I got swept up in trying to win him because men wanted me, but Ronnie didn’t. I thought because he didn’t want me my body hit the clearance rack, a mark-down.
“I’m really hurt,” T. C. said.
“I’m really sorry.” It was all I knew to say.
The flies kept buzzing around. I swatted one out of the air with my hand and watched it spiral onto the counter top. T. C. took a pan and smashed the fly. He rinsed off the guts and watched the remains swirl down the drain.
That night T. C., Adam, and I drove to Maylynn’s Creamery. We sat in a gazebo, licking our ice cream, laughing, and feeling warm in the rural Virginian summer night.
T. C. announced that he picked up Shrek the Musical in Fredricksburg. He took a large spoon full of his peanut butter sundae. “I’m really looking forward to starting something new,” he said.
What I think he meant was he was ready for a change as a way of putting the past month behind him.
“I think we all might be ready for a change,” I said. I had been accepted into a low-residency grad program in Vermont. I’d only go twice a year, so I could keep my job and my friends.
“Here, here.” Adam raised his dipped cone, half-finished, with bits of the chocolaty shell pointing skyward.
T. C. placed his finished sundae next to him on the bench and said, “Everything is working out just right.”
We all planned to go our separate ways: T. C. to New York. Me to Vermont. Adam to Richmond. We weren’t going to live together in Lynchburg forever. We wouldn’t even be in the same state, or maybe even the same coast. But sitting here laughing and licking ice cream with my best friends, I was home.