Time of Death: Tuesday, September 22, 2015. 11:59 PM
An excerpt from the book, “The Other Half of the Bottle”.
His heart still beats. His lungs still suck air. He remains sentient in the 3-dimensional world. However, there was a death. It was a long time coming. In truth, the patient had been on life support for a number of years. Eventually, there were barely any vital signs left, just a shell of a person who had finally given up hope and who had been left as detritus. Well, in truth, part of him was left as detritus, a husk, and a shell: the part of him that once pulsed with desire, with dreams of romantic adventures, with a zeal for passion, with a hope of love. Dead. Age 52.
The date and time of death came with a certain metaphorical significance, he thought. As the final hours of summer gave way to the burgeoning coolness of autumn, as one equinox eased into another, it felt like a good time for an ending. Summer. It’s promise of freedom, fun, barely-clothed cavorting, steamy days and sultry nights. Flesh on parade everywhere as people eschewed the armour of a long winter for the exuberance of those dog days. Summer held the promise of passion, romance: slow walks along the boardwalk under the stars, licking quickly melting ice cream cones, gentle breezes caressing the exposed skin, providing relief from the humidity and closeness of the atmosphere; the closeness of two people who strolled and lightly bounced shoulders as they took their intimacy out for the evening.
Autumn, on the other hand, was when the slow death of summer set in. Leaves dropping from trees as chilly breezes blew the last vestiges of that steamy air into history. Another one for the books. More clothes. More protection. More armour. He felt his desire, his libido, his hope, crinkle like a withering maple leaf waving in the cold wind, waiting to dislodge from its host and float to the ground and go back to the soil. Some of those stalwart, mighty giants that lined his city’s streets would not survive the deathly winds of the impending winter. Some would freeze to their core, their sap never to run again, their canopy never to burst into that admirable beauty the following spring. Instead, they would be totems to a life that once was, husks of a previous generation now set free to time. Ashes to ashes. Elms to dust. His mighty oak had been consigned to the woodpile.
He had felt the first inklings of his libidinous lassitude set in a few years earlier, just before he turned 50. While the divorce had sucked a lot of passion out of him and replaced it with the oh so familiar cream filling of scepticism and cynicism — two of his most reliable and powerful fuels — he still had a glimmer of romantic hope swirling around inside himself. He still felt a sexual tide rising and receding on schedule. He still looked into eyes for that connection. He’d fooled around a little in the later months before the divorce was final. He knew the marriage was over and gave himself permission to indulge in a little post-wedded hanky-panky. He’d attracted several nice suitors who, for even a brief time, wanted more than just to mess up the sheets of his bed. They were passionate, affectionate, romantic and sexually adventurous. The problem was, they wanted something he was unable to hand over: his heart. While he pulled them close physically and sexually, he pushed them away, one by one, emotionally. He was still covered in the tarnished barnacles of his sunken marriage. Unbeknownst to him at the time, his inner cynic was rising like a phoenix and brining with it high, impenetrable wall — and a mote.
As he careened from man to man over the next few years, he invented more and more excuses why each person was not the “right guy” for him: “That one is too young,” he said about one fellow who, in actuality wasn’t really. He was about 10 years his junior, very adult, very professional, very together. “That one is emotionally needy, and I can’t take that one right now,” he said of another man who was really just displaying his affection and desire — something the cynic in him recognized and was repulsed by, since that was the behaviour that got him into all this trouble. He cycled through excuses for each one and then left them behind to become shadows in a long, dark hall of memories. With each cast off, he cemented on another layer of barnacles to his emotional hull.
The cruel irony of this pattern was that he was pushing himself further and further away from what he wanted: someone to love, trust, share with, and develop an intimate bond. He confused that vulnerability for weakness. He felt he was too old and too experienced to fall into those foolish, adolescent daydreams of romantic love. He rationalized that the decades of heartbreak and disappointment were proof that real love had struck and iceberg, taken on water and was resting at the bottom of the ocean. A mystery. A myth. He rationalized his time away.
As he crested 50, he noticed the attention from men was becoming less and less. He would either get older guys who were married and looking for a little on the side, or he was approached by young men at least half his age looking for a “daddy”. And then there were the prostitutes. The rent boys depended on men of a certain age for business and feigned an affection that was duplicitous — yet almost irresistible. Who doesn’t like a beautiful young thing flitting around them covered in rehearsed, scripted charm — and oil? He took the bait a few times as he felt it was easy panacea to a growing pain he was feeling. He’d just throw a few bucks their way, get the company and companionship, and then set them free. No muss. No fuss. No emotional bonds. No expectations. No intimacy. He could spell out the terms like a business contract, and that was essentially what it was. It was the perfect solution to his intimate needs that didn’t impinge on his freedom, or his emotional life.
Of course, not all of these trysts were without their hitches. One guy gave him crabs. He was mortified that at 50 he had crabs. “People still got crabs?” he said sheepishly to the pharmacist when he went in for the second time to get the shampoo and nit comb. Another guy was surreptitiously filming a get-together. He noticed the phone propped at an odd angle and saw the red record button. He stopped everything, grabbed the phone and deleted the attempt at unauthorized guerrilla porn. He wasn’t afraid of being “exposed” by it. He just didn’t like the look of himself when recorded. And more importantly, this was being done without his consent. For a few tense minutes, he thought he might have trouble with his hired help. He was a prostitute, after all. He was muscular, younger and could have gotten violent. He didn’t, and he left with only half the fee promised.
Eventually, this strategy began to grow wearisome — and needlessly costly. He decided to change tack and joined a few online dating sites. In reality, they were ‘hook up’ sites where guys displayed disembodied pictures of their body: typically cock, ass, torso. You scrolled though the fleshy menu and decided what looked delicious. You clicked and read their sexual desires and decided if they augured with yours. Then you made your move. He discovered quite quickly that very little movement was being made and there was lots of talk but little action. On rare occasions he’s meet a guy for a little “fun”. For the most part he deemed them service calls. Either one, or the other, would do the deed and then hit the road. Once in a blue moon he met a guy who showed some affection, had a personality and could do other things with his mouth than just suck. They never lasted. He’d see them again, trolling for body parts and realized that he was deluding himself if he thought there would be anything more. These guys were relationship-proof. They had an anti-stick coating and nothing was going to last. On the other hand, his emotional barnacle farm was growing with admirable — yet horrifying — stealth.
His inner cynic cast this latest venue of meeting men on the slagheap and shut down another emotional need. He decided that, at 51, he was never going to meet another man with any depth, affection, compassion or truth. Now, all the men he was meeting were either happily betrothed, or single for a reason. The couples were the untouchables. He knew enough not to play a sophomoric game by trying to get between them. He would watch them from a few feet away; watch their glances, their implied intimacy as they smiled at each other, their eyes sparkling with that energy that lovers exude. He had a vague recollection of what that felt like. But now he was digging deep to try to recall the visceral, physical manifestation of that intimacy. He found he couldn’t locate it. He found himself plastering on forced smiles while he joined the chorus of congratulations when yet another beautiful young couple announced their engagement. He felt he was drifting further and further away from shore, emotionally. He was feeling remote. He was feeling sad.
To counter that sense of hollowness, he put distance between himself and the lovers. While he would see them on occasion and enjoy their company, he was beginning to feel like a third wheel. A third wheel that had been on the road far too long and whose treads were worn down to near smoothness. He still had a tiny glimmer of hope inside. He still felt pissed off that he couldn’t seem to meet a nice guy and have a relationship. He still held onto a faint belief that “it” could happen. He thought he’d give one more try to the sentient world.
In the sentient world he found single men his age and older. He quickly realized there was a reason these guys were single. They had been broken. They seemed to subsist on beer, vodka and cigarettes. They fell into neglect because they had been neglected for so long. In the bog of regrets he found himself roaming through, he did manage to locate two guys who seemed nice, fun, open and appealing. So, he decided to try dating. Date number one started fine, with his possible paramour being ebullient, chatty, funny and affectionate. However, things took a turn as more beer was consumed. The mood went from funny to cutting as his date began to imply little insults and jabs, while simultaneously attempting to tongue kiss during dinner. He extracted himself as quickly as he could and fled, vowing to put that one in the shadowy hall with the rest.
The next date was a few months later. This was a handsome, well-dressed professional guy who seemed to have it together. And, he didn’t drink. They met at a nice café and one had a glass of wine while the other sipped coffee. They talked about their careers, their lives, even their old relationships. He told his date about his marriage and that he was over it and it had been a couple of years ago. His date told him he had been out of a relationship for a while. However, he and his ex were still living together. This sent up little alarms. Why would a well-employed professional in his forties still be living with his ex? He’d seen this scene before and there was always a convenient ex sex element to the situation. Conveniently pulling the wool over his own eyes, he decided to ignore this fact and forge ahead. Too many shadows were populating that hall and he needed to add some light.
After the drinks, they decided to walk. It was a crisp autumn night and the leaves were swirling in the breeze on the sidewalk around their feet. Their gait was unrushed as they walked in step together. For the first time in a long time, he was starting to feel romance. The glimmer inside him flickered a bit brighter as his companion talked and laughed and bumped shoulders with him. Could it be? Could he have actually, really just met a guy with whom he could imagine a future? He had a quick internal thought that he had somehow beat the odds and, at 51, had met the real deal. The walk continued for 45 minutes until he realized he had been walked all the way home. This was truly a romantic gesture. Across the street from the apartment he lived in, his companion took him gently by the shoulders, slowly leaned in and kissed him. It was sweet, affectionate and passionate. It was this kiss he had been waiting years to happen. He felt his pulse rise and that romantic fervour begin to return. He felt those barnacles begin to loosen their death grip on him. He didn’t feel 51 in that moment. He felt like a young man with all the hope in the world laid out before him. They kissed for a few more minutes, unaware and uncaring of anyone who passed by on that cool autumn night. They were wrapped in a warm glow of passion and possibilities. It was time to say good night and they reluctantly parted ways with the promise to be in touch the next day to plan the next date.
The next day came and he texted his new friend to say good morning and reassert how much fun he had had the previous night and that he’d like them to get together as soon as possible for another date. He received a text a short while later saying “It was great meeting you…busy with work…will call you later”. He never heard from him again.
After a week of silence, he decided that it was not going to be. He reaffixed the barnacles and decided to concentrate on his work and travel. He dipped his toe back into the online pool once again, but mainly used it for erotic satisfaction — on his own. He gave man’s best friend a hand every so often and found that satisfied the occasional urge to actually, physically get together with another man. He sublimated as he masturbated. It felt like a good compromise as he had felt bereft of ways to meet anyone of substance. It distracted him from the caustic fear that he’d had since his youth that he would be a cliché, an old, lonely fag who had been cast off and forgotten, past his best before date. Inexplicably, he tried one more time.
The next guy he actually did begin chatting with on one of those hook up sites. He seemed nice, bright, witty and he certainly was good looking. He was in his late 40s (a good age he thought) and they seemed to share many life experiences. They exchanged phone numbers and kept the conversation going for about a week. He wanted to meet this fellow in person sooner than later as prolonged texting led to premature date death. He texted his new friend and asked him if he’d like to get together for a drink at some point over the weekend? The response he received was, “It’s my birthday weekend…I have a lot of plans.” He texted back saying, “How about next week?” He waited three days for a response then deleted the guy from his phone.
He was 52. He felt like a pimply-faced 13 year-old who sat alone at the back of the class, friendless, outcast, mocked and reviled. He had come full circle. He decided, for the sake of his emotional health and survival, to allow the barnacles to complete their mission to cover him. It was ugly, but it was armour — armour in the place of amour. He felt the glimmer go out, extinguished by dozens of wet blankets that collected to snuff it out. He snuffed it out, too. The hall of shadows was full and complete. Devoid of light. devoid of hope. He looked back and saw where he had opportunities but allowed his cynicism and fear to push people away. He was very good at pushing people away. It had been his defense mechanism most of his life. Isolation equalled protection. Ironically, he aided and abetted the murder of his emotional side. Yes, he could put the blame on all those men who loved him and left him, demeaned him, took him for granted, walked out without saying anything. How could that not hurt anyone? Especially someone who was already scarred? But yes, he was complicit.
He woke up Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 11:59 PM and realized he felt no passion, no remembrance of romance, and no tangible trace of that emotional thrill. His passion-fired youth was officially dead. Better to face the facts and forge on than to lament and mourn something that probably didn’t stand a chance of surviving anyway. So, on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 11:59 PM, as summer slipped into autumn’s grasp, he called it.
Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.
Tags: 2015. 11:59 PM
, Andrew Vail
, September 22
, The Other Half of the Bottle
, Time of Death: Tuesday