CHICAGO: REFELCTIONS ON LIFE, DEATH, SEX, AND LOVE

Discerning Daddy

When I was 15 I fell madly in love with a boy named Eric. His father lived in the Dakota, Eric’s bedroom windows looking out over Central Park West, and Strawberry Fields. I would spend weekends at Eric’s place. We would lie in bed jerking off, kissing and fucking. During the day, when Eric would lock himself in his bedroom and paint, I would go across the street to the park, and cruise the Rambles.

I would spend hours wandering those trails, trying to see how many guys I could get to touch me, to let me fuck them, how many different guys I could make cum by sucking them off.

And then I would return to Eric. We would get high on opium laced joints and he would tell me about what he had created: Eric believed his work was inspired by beings who lived in other dimensions. Eric believed that there were worlds within worlds, and if we closed our eyes we could see past the thin veil of our existence: we could see into the endless expanse.

Eric would wake me up late at night. He would be crying. He would tell me that he had to get out. He had to get away. I knew he was falling under the spell of whatever madness ate at him. And maybe a part of me understood it: understood the burning in his brain, the voices.

We would go for long walks, down Central Park West to 59th, meeting Broadway, through Times Square, and into the Village. He would sit in Thompkins Square Park, listening to the drums play, listening to the drunks and the conspiracy theorists yelling at the sky, and I would wander down 7th street to the stoop where the dope dealers stood.

A bag of dope for each of us. Enough to quiet our screaming heads. And we would sit on benches, waiting for the sun to come up, telling each other wild dreams of who we would be, of love and adventure. I was going to be a poet, a writer, Eric was going to be an artist, he was going to be a cult leader: and one day, when we were older, we would find each other again, and we would spend the rest of our lives in love somewhere in the desert, or in Paris, or Tunisia, or maybe in an apartment in Chelsea.

When Eric moved to Sedona to live with his mother I thought my whole world would fall apart. I had never known pain like that in my life. Eric is the first man I ever really loved.

And the loss of him ripped through me, tore at me, like losing a part of myself.

I didn’t know then what I know now: that even though it felt like dying, it wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t know then that I am strong, and that love, even the loss of love, will just make me stronger.

My mother, Beverly, used to talk about the fires that burned in her head. How they would burn bright and then dark. How life was an endless battle between those fires. Beautiful and destructive and consuming.

“We are like that, you and me. We burn bright. And that burning can make life feel endlessly magical, but if you aren’t careful those fires will consume you and everyone you have loved.”

She’s right of course. Those fires have consumed me over and over. Like heroin. Like the screaming thoughts in my head.

The first time I kissed Eric was in Madison New Jersey, where my father was living, where his mother lived before moving to Sedona. We were on the golf course, it was three in the morning, and Eric was sure that the night sky was full of alien crafts, that the shadows were hiding whispering men, we were tripping on mushrooms and I think I kissed him because I wanted to shut him up as much as I actually wanted to kiss him.

He held me. He was so warm. I was high enough to feel us becoming one. I was high enough to believe we could stay like that forever, breathing in the night.

Layne likes to ask me when I knew I was in love with him, and I never want to tell him, because what if I fell in love with him first? Because I resist him, I don’t want him to think I love him as much as I do: I’m afraid of falling in love with Layne: I’m afraid of losing him. I’m so afraid of losing some battle that is a self-made construct: I am so afraid of giving in, and yet here is a secret: when I give in I win. Every time. When I give in I no longer even care about winning: I’m just happy.

But lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot too. When did I fall in love with Layne? Was it the night he showed up alone at Ostbahnhoff, a warehouse party in Downtown LA, where I was with my boyfriend, Noah, who was visiting from Berlin with friends of ours? Layne stood there, on the dance floor, watching me, something about his eyes, the way he looked at me: I wanted to walk up to him, to kiss him: I wanted the whole world to stop so it could be just the two of us. He smiled: maybe I fell in love with him the first time I ever saw him smile because Layne has one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen: because even though he wouldn’t agree with me, I know it is true: Layne’s smile that night was so full of hope and dreams and life , or maybe it was the first time I realized he was just as scared as I was, or the night, driving home from another warehouse party and we pulled over on the side of the road and he fell asleep, because I wouldn’t let him sleep over yet, because I was still refusing to give in, and his head was on my shoulder and I listened to him breath: listened to him live.

When did I fall in love with you, Layne?

Was it the time you asked me to come to the Eagle and watch you dance, and I did. I got dressed and drove to the Eagle and you danced for me. And I knew: this was important. It was important that I did that.

My mother would tell me we had been in love forever. Before we even met: that our love was just waiting for us to find it.

I come from the kind of women who believe in magic and love and destiny: the kind of women who have spent their lives refusing to be anything other than who they are.

Maybe I have loved you forever, Layne. Sometimes that is exactly how it feels.

Layne and I fuck. A lot. And we fight. And we burn as bright as we can: and we do everything we can not to be consumed, even when all I want is to be consumed.

When I got sober the thing I was most afraid of was losing what made me special, of becoming like everyone else: a man who goes to work, who grows old, who loses his dreams. What I didn’t realize was that the drugs were the things that were holding me back, the things that were robbing me of my real fire, of my true dreams.

Sobriety is a challenge for me. The voices in my head, the anger, the jealousy, the obsessive thoughts. I struggle with quieting my head so I can hear who I really am: that little voice underneath it all.

This is amplified in my relationship. I am slowly realizing that when I am mad at Layne, or jealous, or scared, it rarely has anything to do with him, or us, but with all the stories I have built from that very first kiss with Eric, through all the men I have loved, through all the loss and all the dreams that didn’t come true and all the fear: sometimes I have to step away from Layne and realize: this isn’t about us . It’s about me.

Because, like anyone who has made it 51 years, I am damaged, and that’s ok. It’s actually kind of beautiful. If I let it be. We are all these amazing, damaged survivors: we are the ones who get to tell the stories.

Layne grew up in Nebraska. He moved to Chicago when he was 27 to be an actor and an artist: to be the man he really always was. So going for a three day trip to Chicago was going home for Layne.

The most amazing thing about going home with someone, going back to where they were creating the dreams that would define them, is you get to meet all the people who loved them. You get to see them outside of the context of the life you have together: you get to see Them.

Maybe you fall in love with someone many times: maybe it isn’t one time. Maybe I fell in love with Layne listening to stories his friends told me of the actor, of the young man, of the crazy man: of my man. Or maybe it was the night we stood in the middle of a sex party at Jackhammer and Layne wouldn’t let me go, whispering in my ear, “Mine,” or when he walked me around Sidetrack in Boys Town excited to show me his world.

Or maybe it was when he showed me all the places he had fucked, or sucked dick, the dark rooms and the guys he had met there. Or walking all the way from Downtown to Edgewater where we were staying because he wanted me to see everything: the theatres he had performed in and the apartments he had lived in: he wanted me to love Chicago as much as he did: he wanted me to catch the dream.

This is what it means to get to get to know someone: to learn them: to see them. There were those moments in Chicago where I realized: This is Layne. This is a Layne I’ve never met before. This is a whole new Layne for me to fall in love with.

And we got to fuck some really hot dudes together, and I got jealous, and we fought, but mostly we walked and we talked and we grew: and we fed the fires so they could feed us.

My mother had a friend, David. David was gay. He would spend summer weekends on fire Island, he bartended at a gay bar in New Hope. David would spend weeks with us, sleeping in our guest room, telling my brother and I wildly inappropriate stories about all his adventures. Stories I would jerk off to, hungry for life.

David was the first man I ever knew who died of AIDS. I remember being at his funeral, all the men crying: it was the early years, the years we were still able to cry: before all the funerals my mother would make me go to: “Because we owe it to them. We owe it to all of them.” After the funeral we went to Washington Square Park and someone played a pop song I can’t remember on a big black radio and we all danced and I remember the way the sun burned against the buildings, the way the clouds rolled over the City, and the way a summer rain fell, and we still danced.

And I remember my mother saying, when I asked her why we were dancing: “Because what else are you going to do? It’s either dance or die, baby boy. So we’re gonna dance.”

When I found out I was HIV positive I was terrified to tell my mother. Because she had lost everyone, all those men who had helped raise me, because there came a time when we no longer danced, when we no longer cried: a time when we just knew: eventually they would all be dead.

I remember calling her. I couldn’t stop crying. I kept saying, “I’m so sorry, mom, I’m so sorry.”

And she said to me, “Baby. I love you more than anything in the whole world. This is just a thing. Just one more thing. It will not take you down.”

And of course she was right. I sero-converted in the age of undetectable viral loads and PreP and TASP, in the age where this would not kill me. But I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. Like I had let her down.

“You will make this something important,” she said to me. “You will use this to change your life.”

Maybe I fell in love with Layne when his dick was buried deep inside this little muscle dude we met in Chicago, when he reached out for me, his eyes connecting with mine: and I saw him there, I saw him loving me as he fucked that guy, or maybe it was when the three of us were kissing and I felt Layne’s hand taking mine in his, his fingers interlocking with mine…

…because this is what life is, isn’t it? All the dreams and all the love and all the loss and all the living…the burning as bright as we can without being consumed…

We fight and we fuck and we dream and we burn bright…and we love…and I wonder if Eric is the leader of his own cult in the desert, or if he is in Paris, or Tunisia, in some studio making brilliant art, or maybe he is a banker, or a homeless man, or maybe he’s dead, and I wonder who David would have been if he hadn’t have died of AIDS, or all those men who we could have loved, but instead, we turned our backs on, who as a nation we allowed to die alone from a disease that for me, in 2019 is totally manageable, and I can make their deaths matter: I can make David, who was so beautiful and funny and vibrant: I can make him matter…by loving Layne, by following my dreams all the way to the end, even the ones that never manifest: just by living and not giving in…

And maybe the first time I fell in love with you Layne was when…

Art work by Layne Manzer.

The Challenges And Joys of a Three-Way Relationship

Discerning Daddy

I wrote this story over 3 and a half years ago for Vice. It was the first piece I ever wrote for Vice and it started me down this strange and gorgeous journey.

Along the way a lot has happened. February 9th will mark the one year anniversary since Jon Nelson went missing. February 19th is the one year anniversary from when we found out Jon had died.

And while there is so much sadness and loss, there is also all this love and hope and beauty. Because Jon was all of those things for Alex and I.

So I wanted to share this story. To celebrate Jon. To celebrate the three of us. And even though things have changed, and Jon is no longer here, and Alex and I are no longer together in the same way, we are still family, brothers and best friends, which is proof of the love that I write about in this piece.

I love everything this story stands for. And I will forever be grateful for the life Jon gave me.

For the life he gave Us.

I hope it still holds up.

THE CHALLENGES AND JOYS OF A THREE-WAY RELATIONSHIP

Recently, while I was at lunch with a friend, she asked me about intimacy. She did it in such a way that it was clear she wasn’t really asking me, she was telling me what she thought about intimacy. More specifically, what she thought about the intimacy involved in my relationship with my husband, Alex, and our boyfriend, Jon.

“I just don’t understand,” she said, picking at her salad as if meaning might be buried under her kale. “If you give 40 percent to Jon, then you only have 60 percent left for Alex, your husband, and I guess… Marriage is hard. Relationships are hard. Can a relationship survive on just 60 percent?”

The implications were clear: Somehow my intimacy with Alex was being diminished because of our relationship to Jon. According to my friend’s theory, love was finite: There was only so much, and if you tapped into it for another then you were ultimately taking some away. I was robbing Alex of my love to give to Jon.

“I know that Daniel is my soulmate,” she said, speaking of her husband. “He is my true love. I know that I was meant for him.”

I believe in soulmates, I wanted to tell her. And I believe in love. I just don’t believe that love is limited to one person, or that we are meant to live only one life dedicated 100 percent to someone else.

I thought about her kids. How when her son was born she told me he was everything, the love of her life. And when she was pregnant a second time, she worried she would never love another child as much as she did her firstborn. But then her daughter was born and she fell in love. Completely. She loved them both infinitely and separately and the love of one didn’t jeopardize or diminish the love of the other.

When you are in a triad you get used to these questions, though. People always want to know if we really love Jon. If there was some problem between Alex and me. Is it about the sex? What is it that made this happen? Why? I am often shocked by the intensely personal questions people ask, mostly about our sex lives, the kind of questions they would be appalled at if someone were to ask them.

“Doesn’t it bother Jon?” my friend continued. “Knowing that you and Alex are married? That in the end, he has no legal rights? That the two of you are so legitimate?”

And Jon isn’t legitimate is the not-so-subtle subtext. How could he be?

When I met Alex I knew I had met my soulmate. We met on Scruff, a gay hookup app—his username was Spy in the Cab, a Bauhaus reference, that was a throwback to my youth. He was supposed to be a trick. Just a fuck. He was working on a movie and suggested we go to dinner. I was disappointed; I didn’t want to go to dinner, I wanted to get straight to the fucking, but I conceded.

I remember the moment Alex walked into my house. Stunned is the only word I can think of. He was so handsome it was breathtaking.

He couldn’t look me in the eye. Later he told me it was because he was sure I hadn’t seen him right, that at any moment I was going to realize how ugly he was. Which is idiotic because Alex is gorgeous. He is huge and muscular and Dominican, with the most beautiful, innocent, wondrous eyes I have ever seen on a man.

We went for Thai food in Hollywood. He told me about going to film school in Vancouver, and we talked about the movie he was working on, Sharknado. He did special effects makeup. He loved horror movies. I was recently sober after a four-year relapse. I was broke and jobless and living off my father’s financial kindness. After dinner we went back home and did all the things we talked about on Scruff.

Alex is my lover and my travel buddy and my best friend. He is my partner in adventure. I obsessed over him and longed for him and fell madly in love with him. He likes to tell people I gave him the keys to my house after two weeks. I’m pretty sure I made him wait seven, but either way, we moved fast. After six months he was moving out of his mom’s place in Huntington Beach and in with me. Two years later I proposed to him in Laguna.

Alex and I were not open. We had no interest in being “poly.” We had what we called a kind of “monogamy-ish” arrangement. Whatever we did together was allowed. If there was a guy we both wanted, fine. We had three-ways and four-ways with other couples. We picked up guys and went out flirting together. I loved watching Alex fuck another guy. He was so sexy and strong, such a stud. It just made me want him more. These adventures enhanced our sexuality and our relationship.

None of this is to say I didn’t get jealous. I can be an extremely jealous and possessive person. I can be dark and moody, stormy and unpredictable. There were times when what I wanted (and sometimes still do) was that fantasy of one love, that idea that he wants me and no one else, that I can satisfy all of him—but that came up against the hard reality of my own needs and wants. I wanted him to want only me, but I also wanted the freedom to go out and do whatever I wanted.

Jon was supposed to be just another three-way. A fuck and nothing more. We met him on Scruff. He was living with his ex in Orange County; it was complicated. We chatted for a few days before we all decided to meet. It was going to be brief. He was driving back from his mom’s house in Bakersfield, and I was working the door at the Faultline, a gay leather bar. He was going to stop by on his way home.

It was a Sunday beer bust, busy and chaotic. We were going to meet at the bar for a quick kiss and to check each other out. Jon pulled up in his silver Volkswagen Beetle. I still remember watching him walk over to me, his hunched old man gait, kind of awkward and shockingly handsome. He smiled his crooked smile. His nose was off center from being broken, his eyes serious and vulnerable, his hands at his sides, fists clenched. He was so beautiful and lost in that moment, so perfectly himself without pretense.

Alex and I took him into the green room where the strippers go to get into costume. We all took turns kissing. It was strange and magical. I knew that something different was happening. I knew that this was not going to be just a hook-up. It was in my heartbeat, in my nervousness. Hook-up Jeff would have thrown Jon down on the couch and said sexy, dirty things to him because hook-up Jeff can be aggressive. But this felt different, slower, easier, more meaningful and natural. It didn’t need to be forced or turned into a porn. This moment had a life all its own.

So we agreed to meet another night. We made a plan to watch David Bowie’s Cracked Actor and eat pizza and then fuck around. Then we invited him back again. And suddenly we were texting him every day: “Good morning” and “How are you?” and “We miss you” and “Goodnight.” Sexy chats and romantic chats and banal chats.

Alex and I would go on long walks and have endless discussions about what this meant. We were supposed to be getting married in six months. We both knew where things were headed: The question was, did we want to be moving in that direction? We had always been disdainful of triads, thinking the idea silly and overly complicated. I bought books, like The Ethical Slut and Opening Up, but none of the people in those books felt like me. Like us. I didn’t want to join poly groups. I wasn’t looking for a lifestyle.

I was jealous. Jealous of Alex. Jealous of Jon. I wanted them to love me, but I didn’t know how I felt about them loving each other.

What became clear to me is that there is no map here. No guide to how this is done. We weren’t new-ageists or vegans looking for some new tantric style of love. Alex and I weren’t looking to open up. We weren’t struggling in our relationship or our sex life. Things were good. We fucked a lot. We had fun. We were happy with how things were.

So then why? Why were we heading down this road? We had a choice. We could stop. We were getting married; we had our hands full. The TV show Alex was working on got picked up for a second season. We were busy. And the answer was simple: Jon. And it was fun. It felt right. The road seemed clear and open and easy.

It was strange watching Alex fall in love with someone else. Seeing the process, sharing in it, being a part of their experience while having my own. In the beginning, when Jon started sleeping over, I couldn’t sleep. The bed was too crowded. The room too hot: It was January, and we had the AC on high. Three big guys in one queen-size bed. We were drenched in sweat.

And I was jealous. Jealous of Alex. Jealous of Jon. I wanted them to love me, but I didn’t know how I felt about them loving each other. And all the books and web sites said that while jealousy was normal it was dangerous: ugly, bad, wrong. I watched myself becoming someone I didn’t understand. Someone who would lie awake at night counting affections: Where did Alex put his hands? How was Jon curled up against him? I’d count the minutes he curled up against me. Could I divine, in their sleep, their love for each other? Their love for me?

There were nights of high drama. Nights when I would storm out of the room, knocking things over, purposely trying to wake them, because I was mad. They had spent too much time wrapped around each other, leaving me out, on the far edges of the crowded bed, alone. Once, while on vacation in Vancouver, I pretended to fall out of the bed and then stormed around the room yelling, “This isn’t working! Nothing is working!”

A lot of these fights involved Alex and I going into a room and whispering furiously to each other, leaving Jon to sit alone on the couch. Or we would text each other madly through out dinner, believing naively that Jon didn’t know what was going on. During this period Jon felt left out of the decisions and the fights. We had a rule about texting: Alex and I could have our own texts, but all texts with Jon went through a group three-way chat. Alex and I were trying to maintain our relationship while building one with Jon. In the beginning we liked the idea that Jon thought of us as a Unit, one entity, but the truth is, that isn’t sustainable. In the end, each side of the triangle has to be equal or it falls apart. Without equality there is no actual relationship.

But what did that mean? Did it mean dissolving what Alex and I had built? Did it mean losing what I loved so much? Again I went back to the books, googling “throuple” and “triad” and “poly relationships.” But there was no clear rule. Many couples maintained their autonomy, regulating their third to a kind of second-class station. Some tried for unity.

We came to realize that each relationship has to stand on its own, and that the idea of equality isn’t always going to work out in a perfectly balanced way. Jon can never have the three years Alex and I had. We can’t change that, and I wouldn’t want to. We were still getting married. We were going to be who we were. And it would go like that for all of us. Sometimes they would bond without me, sometimes Jon and I would bond without Alex. Each relationship: Alex and Jon, Alex and Jeff, Jeff and Jon, Jeff and Jon and Alex, had to survive independently.

Now we keep a three-way chat, but we all get to have our own private chats as well. Jon is included. If we fight or get jealous we tell him, we work it out as a team. Or at least we try.

Our first official three-way fight occurred in Spokane, Washington, when Jon and I had gone to visit Alex while he was working on season two of his show. I don’t even know how it began, but somewhere along the way Alex was threatening to divorce me, break up with Jon, and kick us out. I have a lot of experience fighting with Alex. He and I are similar. We are passionate and volatile. Jon is different; he isn’t used to that kind of fighting. So without saying anything he booked us a room at a hotel, sure that this was over. The fight lasted close to six hours and cost us $200. It felt endless. Once two of us were OK, the third was mad. It kept going. On and on. We took turns forming alliances, ganging up on the other, switching back and forth, until finally it just kind of broke, like any fight, just a little more complicated. Some of it was related to the fact that Jon and I were alone for six months while Alex was away working. Some of it was related to the fact that we were all tired and Jon and I missed Alex. And some of it was just learning how to communicate with each other, learning how to relate.

Because this is all new.

I have had to learn a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I am afraid of being abandoned, of being left. I had dark fantasies of the two of them running off together and leaving me alone. I am 17 years older than Alex and 15 years older than Jon. I played games in my head, horrible, movies about when I was 60 and they weren’t even the age I am now, an old man with nothing left to offer his two young lovers.

And that is the thing: I am afraid, I am insecure and anxious, terrified of being left, of being alone, of growing old, having no one, nothing. These feelings occur in a normal dyad relationship and they become magnified in a triad. And what you are left with is yourself. I have learned to trust myself, to be secure in who I am and in what I have to offer. I have learned to be secure in the fact that they love me, even as they love each other. I have learned that just because they might want to fuck someone else doesn’t mean they don’t want to fuck me. This learning curve is sharp, and it has often been painful, but through it I have some how come out stronger, happier, maybe even braver.

I can’t legitimize Jon or his experience of this. All I can do is try to be honest and try to be supportive. We talk about his feelings and concerns about being in a relationship with two married guys. There are no legal protections for him. And I can’t imagine they will be coming any time soon. He doesn’t get to be on Alex’s union insurance. My father doesn’t offer to buy his ticket home for Thanksgiving. There is no simple solution to these things, so we come together, we split the extra ticket three ways, we agree to help Jon with his insurance and to all take care of each other the best we can. But still, is it enough? Does it appease that feeling of being left out? Sometimes. And I’m sure sometimes not. There is a price for the choices we have made.

Jon is like a perfect mixture of the two of us. He shares things with each of us. Sometimes he and Alex will be going off on some tangent about something they saw on Tumblr that has nothing to do with me. Sometimes Jon and I will be talking about some book we loved that has nothing to do with Alex. That’s the thing we each have to accept: Sometimes you aren’t a part of it. Sometimes you have to learn to love them for loving each other. To enjoy their enjoyment, even when it doesn’t involve you.

We decided to introduce Jon, officially, to our families and friends at our wedding. This might have been a flawed decision, but it seemed like the only time everyone would be at one place at the same time. My 13-year-old nephew, Eli, probably handled it better than anyone. He didn’t seem to really care. He just called it an “alternative relationship” that made his Uncle Jeff happy.

I have put my family through a lot. I was a heroin addict for 13 years. There isn’t much I could do to surprise them. My father mostly wanted to know if I was happy. If I was happy he was happy. He’s 78. I think a certain zen comes over you by that point in life.

Not everyone gets it. I don’t get it half the time. Most people think it is a phase, but if you look at the divorce rates, it would seem most relationships are phases.

Alex and I got married in our small craftsman-style house in Hollywood. Our friends, mostly people from LA and New York City, welcomed Jon. Triads seem to be a thing that is happening now. I still remember someone saying to Jon, “So how do you know Alex and Jeff?” and Jon replying in his bookish, quiet way, “Oh, I’m their boyfriend.”

There were moments when I would find him hiding with the cats and dog in our bedroom, overwhelmed by everyone and everything. He had suffered family rehearsal dinners and brunches and endless explanations of who he was. Everyone knows who Alex and I are. We’re the married guys. But who is that Jon?

Two weeks later he moved in.

People always ask about the sex. They imagine constant nights of three-ways and orgies, and to some extent they are right.

People always ask about the sex. They imagine constant nights of three-ways and orgies, and to some extent they are right. Every night in my house is a three-way. Our rule of monogamy-ish still exists: What we all want we can all have, together. Sometimes there are four-ways and five-ways, we talk about finding another triad, but the truth is that there is a normalcy to it as well.

I am in a relationship with two guys, each having his own insecurities and needs and goals. Each of us is a complete universe unto ourselves. Three-way sex is hot. Three-way fights suck. Sometimes they annoy me. Sometimes they charm me. Sometimes I want to run away and hide, be alone. We are lucky because we have a three-bedroom house and a back house that we can escape to if we need it. It’s nice knowing there’s a place I can go to that is all mine. It’s important. It’s hard not to get lost with all these people around. It is important to me that we are each given the opportunity to maintain our selves, to have our own lives and our own experiences inside all of this. That isn’t always easy. It is something we work at very hard.

Recently we were in Seattle meeting Alex, who was on a break. I had booked a room for us with a king-size bed. The woman at the desk said that the hotel had a strict no guest policy, only couples allowed in the room. When I tried to explain to her that we are a couple(-ish) and that Alex was not our guest, she just looked at me like I was crazy. “You aren’t allowed guests, sir,” she kept insisting. No explanation was going to change her mind. Eventually I had to upgrade to a room with two queen-size beds that we ended up pushing together into one bed.

Beds are a really big deal for us. A queen doesn’t really do it. A California king can be a stretch sometimes. We’ve discussed getting three king mattresses and turning our bedroom into one giant bed.

When we were flying to Vancouver we all fell asleep with our heads and hands all over each other. I woke up to find people staring, not sure what was going on. A woman in the aisle next to us shook her head at me, like I had slapped her. The stewardess had the exact opposite reaction: She kept saying how adorable we were. Both reactions made me feel like a strange museum piece or an exotic animal at the zoo.

When trying to find a place to go for Valentine’s Day, we ran into all the pre-fixe menus for couples. Nowhere was willing, even when I said I didn’t care about the cost, to do a pre-fixe throuple menu. We ended up ordering pizza and watching My Bloody Valentine.

Nothing ever comes in threes. Everything is set up for two people. Finding three seats on the plane, renting an Airbnb room, shopping, navigating other people’s perceptions, all these things are challenges. But then, in the end, any relationship—whether with yourself, another, two others, or 20 others—is complicated and full of challenges. The question is: Is it worth it?

Sometimes I will be sitting at my desk, writing or reading, and I will look over at the two of them on the couch, giggling at stupid cat .GIFs, or holding hands quietly, and I will think, I am lucky. I am loved and safe. And together we will face the world, the three of us.

What I wish I had said to my friend over lunch is that life isn’t easy, and things have a way of going terribly wrong, but love, love is huge and it is a gift and I don’t think it’s about percentages. I think love is something expansive, something that grows if you let it.

Because that is the one thing I know for certain: Our ability to love is not limited. It is not small. It is vast and huge and ever-expanding, and if we allow ourselves we might even find ourselves growing and expanding with it because we are huge and vast and capable of anything. I believe that now. I see it. When I am lying there at night, drenched in sweat, bodies wrapped around me, surrounded by them, listening to them breathe as they sleep, I know that there is a magic in this life, a gift, and it is buried deep inside the love I have.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. It’s been a long and amazing three and a half years since this first appeared in the world and I’m grateful to all of you who have stuck with me, with all of us, through it.

Take a moment and check out my book, Accidental Warlocks, on Amazon. Your support keeps all of this going.

Gorgeous Descent

Discerning Daddy

It is hard to describe the feeling of Magic. Like love, it feels like something concrete, something physical. It has the ability to ache and to create joy, to move along your body, ripping at your soul and nourishing you: Magic is akin to love, to desire: it is the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, about who we are and who we were, who we will be.

It is the creation of an existence, of a world, of a self, built from a darkness that is waiting to devour us.

Love, though, is the intricate and aching beauty buried deep inside everything we will ever lose.

A few years ago I met a boy named Joe. Joe was 25 years younger than me, 22 years old.

There is something I should tell you, something I can’t explain, but that feels somehow part of the fabric of magic and love, part of the fabric of the creation who of I am: ever since I was 18 I’ve been having the same dream. I have it every week. And every morning, I wake up from this dream with a sense of hope and love, and the pain of loss, of having lost something so beautiful and magnificent that for a few moments I lay in bed, stunned, not sure how I will make it through the day.

I always get up. I always make it through the day. But like some strange and golden treasure buried deep, I carry the longing for something that feels impossibly gone.

The dream goes like this:

I am riding a big wheel through a vast and endless field. The sky is dark, but a silver moon aflame in a burning white light hangs full and cold in the night sky. Ahead of me is a barn. Next to the barn is a lake surrounded by a forest of giant trees.

In the lake a giant mermaid jumps from the water and into the sky, hovering there before returning to the blackness of the water: her reflection etched into the moon, imprinted inside me.

I stop my big wheel next to the barn and I walk inside. There is a staircase.

This moment is always reflective, as if I can see into my own dream, into my self, into what is coming. I have a choice: to turn and walk away, or to continue up the stairs and to the beauty and pain that awaits me.

I never choose to walk away. But I always hold it for a moment, savoring the option, savoring the idea that if I did turn away I would never know him, never see him, never lose him.

At the top of the stairs is a large room. One of the walls is missing, looking out at the lake and the forest and the moon.

A boy, maybe 18 or 19, stands in the middle of the room. I can never remember exactly what he looks like, just that overwhelming feeling of love, of need, of longing: I just know he is the most beautiful human being I have ever seen in my life and that I love him with all that I am.

He has written the words, “He falls gently through the trees,” in black.

He turns to me. “I miss you so much,” he says, and it feels like the words are tearing into me, decimating and full of a searing heat. “I miss you so much and I love you.”

And he turns, every time, he always turns in the exact same way: he always turns away from me, and he walks to the missing wall, walking on air, into the night, above the lake, until he gets to the trees, where he hovers for a moment, before falling, before fading, before being gone.

I have no way of telling you what this dream means. The absoluteness of it. The totality. Just that in those few moments I am so in awe, so enthralled, so swallowed by life and love: that in those few moments I am given a glimpse of something ineffably full of wonder.

Joe worked as a barista at a coffee shop in Echo Park. But he was an artist. He didn’t want to be Banksy, he wanted to be Basquiat, he wanted to be Herring, he wanted to be something else: something new and old: something violent.

“I want to create that one thing that no one can turn away from, that one thing that will be so beautiful and so terrifying, so personal and intimate that you will never forget it.” He laughed. “There is no such thing, of course. The idea is the thing that is beautiful, once I make it it will be nothing. That’s the thing, right? You create the most beautiful piece of art in the world, pulled from some faraway place to show the world exactly who you are, and –”

“It never does.” I say.

“Yeah,” he said. His eyes were a golden haze, his hair dark and curly, his hands long, thin, nails perfectly cut to an almost painful precision, his body lean and tall: he was stunning.
“I’m always trying to find the words to say exactly what I mean,” I tell him. We are laying in my bed in the Silverlake Hills, LA burning bright outside my windows, he is sweating, his head on my chest, I can feel his heart beating against mine. “I am always trying to describe what it is I am feeling: who I am. I feel like all I’m ever doing is screaming: This is me! Me!”

“I want…” he hesitated, and then he laughed. He smelled of carnitas and weed and…himself. He smelled impossibly like Joe. “That’s it. I want. End of sentence.”

We kissed and he fucked me, him inside me, connected to him as he held me down and fucked himself deeper into me, grounding me. He always had this amazing way of grounding me.

I love that feeling of being pinned under someone, their weight heavy on my back, their cock deep inside me, the feeling, even if it’s just for a second: of being more than who I am: more than who we are.

He would kiss the back of my neck, his arms wrapping around me, his body shuddering, and whisper, “Baby, I’m going to cum. Fuck, baby, I’m going to cum!”

I would catch Joe looking at me, his eyes open as we kissed, or the few times we went to the gym together, or as I was standing: lost in my own world, I would turn and see him and he would smile: everything I’ve ever wanted was in that smile.

A few weeks before Jon died he came into my room. I was trying to write. He lay in my bed. We weren’t boyfriends anymore. So much of our lives had been destroyed by heroin and meth: the ravages of addiction. I lay down next to him, and I wrapped my arms around him.

“Baby,” he said.

I almost said to him, I’m not your baby anymore. Not because it was true. But because I was mad at him. Jon had been in a heroin relapse for months by then, he had stolen from me, lied to me, and I was angry.

But on that day, that one day, I didn’t push him away.

“Baby, did you know I love you?”

When Jon’s mother told me they had found his body, in the back of his car in a parking lot in Montebello, that Jon was dead: that Jon was now forever gone: I thought my whole world would fall apart. I thought the pain of that moment would be too hard to ever stand up from, to ever return from: I believed that my whole life would be forever defined by the incredible aching pain of that one second.

“Baby, did you know I love you?”

I don’t remember what I said to him. I’m not even sure I said anything. I think I just held him, wishing I could keep him safe, keep us safe: wishing I could protect him from what would eventually come.

The next time he came into my room and lay down in my bed I was mad at him. I told him to leave. I told him I didn’t want him in my room anymore. He looked at me. If I could erase that look, those words, from my life I would: if I could change the very moment I forgot who he was, who we were, I would.

“I understand,” he said, and he walked out.

What was I doing in that moment? What was so important? I was probably on Facebook, or watching Netflix: lost inside the insidious banalities of life.
I don’t have an ending for this. I don’t have some beautiful way to wrap it all up in hope and how amazing life is. I don’t know any of the answers.
I do know Jon loved me. And that I continue to love him. That I will love him forever. And I don’t know where Joe went, but I like to think he is working on that impossible painting: that forever beauty, even if it means he will fail. It would be an honorable failure.

Sometimes I think all we can do is fail in the most human and beautiful way possible. It is the tapestry of our failures that will elevate us: Magicians conjuring the impossible.

You can find my novel, Accidental Warlocks, at Amazon.com. I’d love if you checked it out. And thanks for being here. My witness.

Loss.

Discerning Daddy

Recently, a Facebook friend of mine told me that she missed my Facebook stories.  I told her that I would write something just for her.  That was a few days ago.  But I have felt empty lately, at a loss for words, at a loss for meaning.  Not sure what I should be saying anymore.  Not sure what is important.

And I know that is intrinsically linked to the loss of Jon.

There have been a few moments in my life that have truly changed me.  My mother getting diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, my getting sober, finding out I was HIV Positive, and now Jon’s death.  Each of these events have taken the course of my life, the direction I believed I was meant to be heading in, and radically shifted them, changed something essential that I believed about life.

Each of these events have left me feeling like I am fumbling in the dark, grasping at faith that my life will once again take on shape, will once again feel purposeful.

When I was a child my grandmother, Sadie, gave me an antique money bank.  It was a smiling clown with a red gloved hand.  You put your pennies into the red gloved hand and then pushed a lever and the hand would shove the pennies into the clown’s mouth.

For months I was terrified of this leering, hungry clown.

And then I began to talk to it.

I was a strange child.  I spent a lot of time alone.  I believed in ghosts.  I believed in demons and Magick.  Both my mother and my grandmother believed they were witches. They cast stones and read tarot and threw spells and set intention and explained our lives in deep tapestries of myth and reincarnation.

I remember imagining all the fury and dark anger I had as a child and putting it into the clown’s red gloved hand, watching as he opened his mouth wide to devour it.  He became a place to store all my deepest fears, all my dark and angry thoughts.

As I grew older I found other ways to combat my demons. Heroin became a way for me to quiet the world, a way to take all the chaos and pain and turn into something soft and beautiful.

And for years that worked.  Until it didn’t.

Heroin became that devouring clown, monstrous and hungry: no longer just eating the darkness, but eating all of me.

I thought nothing would ever hurt me again the way I ached walking away from dope.  To this day I can feel that warm blanket wash over me, that safety, that absolution: I can taste the drip in the back of my throat, the urge to walk, slowly, throughout the City, that endless sense of possibility that would never really be realized because there was no reason: there was nothing else I needed in that fairy tale opioid landscape.

But eventually that safe and perfect beauty died, and turned into something monstrous and destructive.

I ended up homeless, I lost my car, my relationship to my family and friends became strained and full of hurt and betrayal. I was lost, fumbling in the dark.

And somewhere inside all that darkness light appeared.  It wasn’t immediate.  It took time and there was pain.  I remember lying in my room, alone, crying, the ache inside felt like it would rip me in pieces.

But it didn’t.  And the person who emerged was stronger, clearer, the shapes around me more defined than ever before.  And from those strange and new shapes I built a life that was my own.  Separate from my family’s money, separate from my past, from all the darkness and hurt, I built a life of hope.

My mother has lived with Stage IV cancer for 8 years. I have been sober for almost 7.  I have been HIV Positive for four.

I believed that finally I understood life, I understood hope and love and what it meant to be alive.

And then Jon died.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my room reading. Something in the way the light moved, something in the way the air seemed suddenly denser, full of something other, and then I smelled him.  I could feel him right there, his breath, those blue eyes, and you will call me crazy and you will never know what I am talking about until you have felt it too: but he was there with me, his lips up against mine, his hands briefly connecting to mine.

It could have been seconds or it could have been hours. It was endless.

And then it was over and I could breathe in a way I had never been able to breathe before.

And I am left with this sense that I do not know anything about life.  Once again I am changed.

The ache of Jon feels too large to comprehend, too vast to make sense out of, so I don’t try anymore.  I just let It be.  And I when I come upon it I sit there, as still as I can, my body shaking with the pain of missing him, until it is gone, and I remember that moment when out of thin air Jon came to me and kissed me.  To let me know that he was still there.  That he would always be there.

I have learned so much about love.  Through my relationship to Jon and Alex, and to my relationship now with the man I call Noah.

Someone recently asked me if I thought it was “healthy” that Alex and I continued to live together.  He insinuated that maybe I shouldn’t share with Noah my feelings about Jon, that maybe I needed to leave the past behind me.

But that is bullshit.  Alex and Jon are my family.  My love for them will never not be one of the most important things in my life.  Just because the direction of that love has changed does not mean the intensity of it has.

And my love for Noah encompasses all the love I have ever felt before him, it emerges from that love, it is because of that love.

The one thing I am sure of, the one thing I know for certain, is that love is at the core of all this.  All of life.  It is the only thing that matters.

I can be petty and sanctimonious, I can gossip and lie, I can be jealous and spiteful and unkind.  I am human.

But then I think of Jon, who died alone in his car in a parking lot in Montebello.  And how loved he was.  Whether in those final moments he knew it or not.  And while maybe in those final moments that love couldn’t save him, I think it has the opportunity to save those of us he left behind.

Jon loved me so much.  And I loved him.  And that love is something that will live forever.  It will change us.  And I think of Alex and I think of Noah.  And I think of all the men I have ever loved and I try to hold on to that.

Who we are and what we do matters.  Maybe everything we do matters.  I don’t know.  But in that darkness there is a new shape forming: something hopeful: something full of integrity and kindness.  And I want to hold on to that.

So for now I have no idea what words to say, no stories that make sense to me: I am still searching for meaning, for understanding, but I can see it, shimmering out there in the distance: the vastness and the potential, and when I lose sight of it I can close my eyes and remember that kiss with Jon, or the first time Alex and I went to dinner, all those endless walks we took, or Noah, and the quiet moments in bed just holding each other, or the long drives across America, listening to music and exploring the world together, in the way we have all come together in this life to take care of each other.

In all the love.