Pete approached me in a bar. It must have been June of 2002. Young, eager, Midwestern, thin, blond, an actor — I immediately felt he’d stereotyped me as a hulking black brute who’d fuck him violently, something I gradually found out he enjoyed. I’d stereotyped him too, obviously, but I when I make snap judgments about people, I hope they’ll prove me wrong. In situations like this I find myself identifying with Ferdinand the Bull. It came to light during our first conversation — long, flirtatious, intense — that he lived with his boyfriend. I was single at the time, but unwilling to let anyone relegate me to #2.
Nevertheless, we started spending time together. Pete’s hair swung at his face in the colors of cut hay. He had long, sinewy arms and tended to make fun of himself. He was bashful — a quality I can’t resist. Pete’s BF was older, close to 50 maybe, and didn’t like bar-hopping, so I became Pete’s go-to guy. We mostly milled around in bars, but one unbearably hot Independence Day weekend we took a trip to the Coney Island Aquarium. Near the walrus tank, we sat discussing something profound like what happened, if anything, after death. The walrus, apparently blinkered from humidity, basked on a rock, and as we watched, almost like an editorial comment on our discussion, suddenly let out a stream of shit and plunged into the moat. I remember feeling embarrassed and disgusted, but also amused and comforted that Pete and I had seen this deeply vulgar display together. Who could you tell about that? What would they think if you brought it up?
On the train back to Manhattan, a group of arch, rude Blatina high school girls we’d never seen before interrogated us. The ringleader, after making it clear she knew we were gay (clean tank tops always give it away) found it astonishing that we weren’t boyfriends. “I thought it was like, vanilla and chocolate together — BAM!” she punched her palm with her fist.
Later that summer, Pete broke up with his boyfriend, and vanilla and chocolate did come together, but “BAM” isn’t the word for what happened. Pete came to my apartment one evening, and in a very roundabout way let me know that he wanted to fool around, though I sensed his ambivalence. By that time I knew what turned him on — he’d made far too many jokes about his father, rough sex, and rough sex with his father for me to have missed the hints. Of receiving anal sex, he’d told me, excitedly, “It’s like being murdered.” Hard to dispute — so few murdered people can describe the sensation afterward. I probably could have done what he wanted, but I was pretty sure he wanted me to be what he wanted, and I didn’t see the point of faking that. I guess I got more of what I liked — a languorous and sensual, if tentative, sweetly intimate experience, the kind you’d expect to happen with someone who’d started as your friend. The following morning we took a bath together, as if to fortify this impression, though I knew it wasn’t meant to be. Still, the next time I saw him I tried to get him into bed again, which I didn’t expect to kill our friendship, though it did. Immediately afterward, he began expressing the desire to get together without following through, and though I wanted to explain to him that I understood, futility overshadowed my effort — he was too young, maybe, to negotiate a return to friendship, or I had crossed some unknown boundary. If I’m carrying a torch, it’s only for our friendship. But who can you tell that? What would they think if you brought it up?