I quickly wrapped up my conversation with Barney, the guy I wasn’t interested in. Nevertheless, I gave him my number because I hadn't learned to politely decline someone. The moment Barney walked away, the other guy moved in and sat in the seat next to me. My adrenaline was rushing for many reasons. I was excited that I got to this moment after watching him from across the room hoping to make contact, but it also meant I would be taking a step I was still unsure I wanted to make. Up to this point, I thought I could suppress “these feelings”. I had done a great job doing so for the first 22 years of my life.
He asked my name and where I was from. He told me his name was Allen and he was from Emporia, VA. He already knew I was new to the club and to the city. I've since learned you're most popular and more appealing if no one knows or recognizes you on the scene. It's some sort of indicator that you haven’t gotten around and you're less likely to be jaded or scarred from dating. More importantly, it leads many to believe you don't have a reputation.
He asked if I wanted to go to his car to talk because it was difficult to hear inside the club with the music blaring. We walked over to an SUV and got in. We crammed everything we wanted to know about each other in the few moments we sat in his truck. We quizzed the other on all the things you want to know about a person when you first meet them; birthday, age, number of siblings, favorite foods, profession, and the biggest question, “How long have you been single?” When I disclosed that I had never dated a guy before, and that I had only been living in Atlanta four months he paused. Because there are so many “options” and opportunities to “sew ones oats” it’s almost an unspoken rule that no one dates a gay man that’s lived in Atlanta for less that a year. He finally asked, "Why was I so lucky to meet you?" The excitement of coming across someone so rare would soon wane.
Two days later, on a Friday night, I found myself driving north on Piedmont Rd. I was headed to Lenox Mall for a movie, then dinner with Allen-- a man. “What am I doing?” I thought, but I kept driving. “Is this really what I want to do?” When I got to the theatre he was standing outside the box office. I wondered if people would think we were on a date. “Is he gonna sit right beside me in this movie?” The most obvious sign two guys are on a date, and hope to throw onlookers off, is by leaving the obligatory “gay seat” between them open. He sat right beside me.
After the movie, we headed across the street to Bennigan’s to eat. As we were leaving the restaurant, there was a feeling that neither of us wanted the “date” to end. He asked if I wanted to come to his place for a movie. “For what?” I thought. We had just seen a movie. It was almost eleven o’clock and I was living in Vinings; twenty minutes from his Norcross address. I decided I would go anyway.
We got to his place and it was evident he didn’t live alone. He had a roommate. I was slightly turned off. Was this how he was able to afford the BMW and all the fancy clothes? By the middle of the movie, I was sleepy, and my contacts were burning because they were dry. He asked if I wanted to spend the night. I looked at him and asked, “Where will you sleep?” He said he could sleep on the couch. Before he retired to the living room he asked if he could have a kiss. I was paralyzed. I knew the time would come, but I wasn’t expecting it so soon. "Why didn’t you just do it?" I asked. "Now, I’m thinking about it.”
If I were ever to play a game of “Truth or Dare” again, I couldn't honestly declare that I had never kissed a man before. While I was in my head, he stole a quick peck. I felt an extreme mix of guilt and remorse take over me. It was obviously visible. He asked, “Are you OK?” I said, “No.” I didn’t see him again until the morning.
The next morning, he went to the grocery store, so he could make breakfast. I ate and left immediately after because I had to work that evening, and I didn’t want things to become awkward. I had no idea if I would ever call or make plans to see him again because he was far more seasoned than I. He was ready for things I had only thought about. A day passed without any communication. He called on what would’ve been the second day. He left a message on my answering machine that was direct and matter of fact: “I guess you decided not to be gay because I haven’t heard from you.” My mouth dropped. I then became angry because someone could’ve been in the room with me during the playback. I returned his call and told him to never leave a message like that again. He apologized.
I never did get comfortable with the idea of being gay during that relationship so it took a toll on things. I was annoyed by his angst to move quickly while he was agitated with my hang-ups so we ended things. The turning point came when I made a surprise visit to a party hosted by him and his best friend.
On the day of the party, we both had to work. He told me he would fax the directions to the party. I must’ve checked the fax machine three times. The directions never came. Still, I went to the barbershop when I got off, just in case he called with the details. Before long, I knew this was a game. What he didn’t know was that I intended to win. I dialed 411 and asked for his best friend’s telephone number. When the operator told me it was unlisted I got antsy and even more determined. The operator must have sensed the urgency in my voice because she suggested I call the police for non-emergencies. I hung up and dialed them right away. I gave the operator my address and the name of the street the party was on. She said, “Fortunately, there’s only one Horseshoe Bend.” She gave me directions from my front door to the party.
The clock read 11:30 p.m. I jumped up, showered, got dressed, and grabbed a bottle of wine from the rack on my way out the door. I mumbled to myself, “I’m gonna get there by midnight and if he’s there with someone it’ll be a new day.”
When I pulled on the street I had no idea which house it was until I saw the brigade of gay men standing outside a house. When I walked in, his best friend looked at me puzzled, so I knew he knew the fax machine story. He finally said, “Hey, what you doing here?” I said, “Where’s Allen?” He said, “Wait here. I’ll go get him.” When Allen emerged from a back room, he looked like he saw a ghost. His first words were, “How did you find it?” I said, “A better question is ‘Why didn’t you send the directions?’” I handed him the bottle of wine and left the party. He followed me to my car begging me to call him when I got home. I drove home in silence because I didn’t want any song playing to remind me of that night, ever. He called incessantly the next day. I blocked all of his numbers: work, cell, and home.
When the time came to nurse my wounds, Clinton was there. The very person I shunned because he was unapologetically gay. My breakup with Allen was the impetus for both my friendship with Clinton and my eventual acceptance of gay men--despite their level of flamboyance. In a later conversation with my new friend, I asked why he overlooked my coldness and continued being nice to me. His response: "I knew you needed time."
"But, how did you know I was gay?" I asked. He quickly replied, "Because a rose can smell a rose..."
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