— T.B. LaBerge // Things I’m Still Learning at 25 (via saintofsass)
By ÁBATON Arquitectura
Photography by Juan Baraja
"Sucks that I don’t get to see you today, haha," I typed out on Whatsapp in the early hours of the morning before he woke up. I began to start thinking that I was suffering from some kind of a problem, as I had just seen him for a few hours the day before. I have already grown accustomed to an everyday with him that I cannot wait for the next time he’ll be beside me again. He has no classes on Tuesdays, so the thought of not having him around on campus caused more than a little note of disappointment inside me. But when he suggested that we get lunch together after his interview in downtown, I did not hesitate for one second in accepting his invitation.
It was a perfect Autumn day: rich blue skies, thin wisps of white clouds creating artistic, dispersing strokes, leaves starting to give up their green pigment for the reds and oranges beneath, temperatures dropping to a comfortably cold level counterbalanced with the sun shining in all its glory… I still felt the chill of the breeze as I sat in the shadows, completing some Japanese homework on a bench outside the Skytrain station as I waited for him to arrive, but it wasn’t long till I felt his warmth beside me. As we got up and meandered towards Chipotle, shoulder on shoulder, I felt the chill dissipate. The boy was like a ball of sunshine, literally and metaphorically; not only is he like a little furnace, but he is also a person who has continually brought out the best in me this past while.
I knew my extended break would have to come to an end a few hours later, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. As we descended the modernist concrete steps that joined the UBC’s downtown satellite campus with Vancouver’s law courts after lunch, I reached out and intertwined my fingers with his. I didn’t care that we were doing this in broad daylight. For now, he was mine. We ended up sitting on steps that came together to form a prolonged ramp that looked out towards the Art Gallery and the city. It was simple, but simplicity lets you appreciate the few distinct flavours of the moment even more. His warm hand in mine, my arm around his shoulder, his head on my chest, the scent of his dark purple woolen cardigan wafting over with the breeze once in a while… I smiled to myself as his hair tickled my nose. As we spoke, people lazily wandered about the concrete steps: A young man smoking a pipe here, a muscular middle-aged athlete enjoying his takeout there, paralegals and lawyers rolling their heavy briefcases down the winding ramp after their battles. But I couldn’t get enough of him. I didn’t want the day to end and even considered skipping my afternoon class. But responsibility still won out in the end.
As he got up and beckoned me to follow him towards the bus stop that would bring me back to UBC, I remained still on the steps.
“Come here,” I called out to him, as he looked up at me from the closest landing confusedly.
When he walked back to where I was standing and stopped one step below mine, I slowly leaned in and gave him a kiss before smirking and continuing down.
“Oh my god,” he trilled, before his characteristic laugh filled my ears. I felt my heart quivering for a second as that noise transmitted through to my brain, before reeling my feelings in and slamming the lid on that box.
Best not to let myself get too carried away.
It’s hard for me to write this now. My breathing is uneven and my face is flushed, but he has no idea how happy he makes me. The first time I held a boy’s hand in broad daylight. The first time I went in for a kiss. In the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder if this fantasy will end. For now, my life feels like the high that I get when I perfectly return a tennis ball over the net. Wondrous. Thrilling. Whole.
Chest deep, I risked my phone’s life to take this
I think it only fitting that I make one final post about #3, considering how prominently he was featured here from May until July this year. Maybe I should have seen the end coming earlier, but I was totally blinded by my affection towards him. For a while, I measured my days not by a calendar, but by the time that had elapsed between our last communication. I hated myself for it and I put myself through countless layers of emotional hell. No, I don’t think I am being very dramatic now; I didn’t write about it at the time because tumblr is filled with enough sadness and I could deal with things on my own.
My feelings towards him probably reached a low when I got back from my roadtrip across America. I marvel at my friend’s patience in listening to me expunging limitless adoration for this person during our entire trip. On the journey, my friend kept asking if I wanted to stop in any particular place or see anything special. My only stipulation? Anything was fine as long as I got to find Coke made with real sugar because #3 had mentioned liking it once. I never felt like he would subsequently need to owe me anything for doing this. I just wanted to surprise him and see him smile (why am I such an emotional masochist/martyr… I never learn). When I got back from my trip, I contacted him so I could get rid of the coke that perpetually taunted me from my kitchen counter, reminding me of our eroding friendship. I don’t know what had happened during my week away, but I had been feeling him emotionally recoiling. Maybe he thought he was being kind by letting go, knowing he could not give me what I wanted.
After convincing him to meet up with me about a month later, I finally got rid of the coke I’d brought back from America at his favourite cake shop. He used the gift card that I got for his 30th birthday to pay for our sweet indulgence (kill me). At this point, I’d already mulled over many things and was largely ‘over’ him. In the end, my hard logic won out (gasp). Even if we had entered a relationship, his conservatism would have been an issue in the long run (what gay guy has the right to believe that men should be the ‘heads of households’?! Ew?). We mutually knew that my adoration of him was over that night, but while I was looked at him from across the table, I could still recognize why I had been overwhelmingly attracted to him for the past four months.
I told cpsc this recently, but I loved how for a long time, it felt like he cared as much as me. I liked seeing the good morning messages he always left on my phone, the way he treated his parents and grandparents, the life he had largely made for himself from scratch, his dedication to helping the next generation learn, his commitment towards his own goals, his simplicity (for a while) and also… His teeth. But even if a person had a combination of all these things, I may not have felt anything. The problem is that I did. There were more cons than just his conservatism, though, but I am not here to write a foul report about him or tarnish the memory of my own feelings. I just knew that in the end, some cons were non-negotiable and my realism started becoming apparent. Perhaps this was my own coping mechanism to face the hard truth.
Before I stepped out of his car that night, the following conversation transpired:
“We should study together when you get back,” he offered. I had a standardized exam coming up and he had professional development requirements to complete. Our timing in August also wouldn’t have worked out for a meeting, as he left at the beginning of the month for his yearly vacation while I left for the last two weeks to visit San Francisco.
“Maybe… If you’re still talking to me then,” I retorted, half seriously. What a harbinger this statement would become.
“Don’t say that,” he said, turning over to look at me in his carefully temperature controlled car and playfully punching my arm.
He didn’t talk to me for the next two weeks until he landed in Montreal, a city I am intimately familiar with due to my time spent there during undergrad. For the next four days, despite my days spent studying for my exam, I spent most of my breaks talking to #3 and giving him specific, detailed recommendations for what to see/do/drink/eat/experience. I was perfectly happy helping him, and during that brief time, I felt like our conversations had reverted to what they had been. Perhaps friendship was still possible after all! On his last night in Montreal, I wished him a safe flight for the next leg of his journey. I got a single ‘thanks,’ in reply. He never initiated conversation again… Not when he got back to Vancouver, not when he knew I was in San Francisco, and not when he knew I got back. I can’t say that I feel used, because I was perfectly willing to help a friend. At least that’s what he was to me. Even if things between us hadn’t worked out in the way that I had initially hoped for, I had still held him pretty high in my regard. But… Is there a more appropriate word to describe what happened than mistreatment?
At the beginning of September, on the rainy night that I ended up by the water, I messaged him one last time. I inquired as to whether he was working late that night. He saw my message and replied an hour and a half later.
“When did you get back?”
“A few days ago. I was actually going to see if you wanted to catch up”
That was it.
I deleted his contact information off of my phone later that night. I know it takes two for a relationship to work, but I can honestly claim that I did nothing to deserve this. I looked back and wondered whether there was something ‘bad’ that I did. My only fault was in treating him too well. I surmise that #3 may be a masochist, but maybe he just enjoyed receiving my affections (attention). I am still grateful that he never tried toying with me sexually, though. I don’t know how I would have dealt with that in hindsight if he had propositioned me and I had accepted him in the moment. Nevertheless, he dropped the ball. I’m not so desperate as to beg for a friendship that he is unwilling to give. From me, he will never receive such sentiments again. He gave me a lot of happiness, but the sadness and the ending more than counterbalanced any positive emotions he had given me.
#3 was the first person on any of these apps that I seriously believed I could be friends with. He’s impacted my present way of thinking about what a connection with someone else means in more ways than one. I actually started picking up tennis seriously this semester because I wildly enjoyed myself when I played with him this past summer. I don’t know how I feel about these apps leading to deep friendship anymore and it’s important for me now to keep myself guarded at some level. Then again, you never know. Sometimes, someone comes along and starts diving into the bottom of the ocean, looking for the part of you that you locked away in a safe and threw overboard. I wonder if he’ll ever find it, though, buried among the trenches of melancholic memories and layers of fleeting emotions.
I am sorry for the lack of updates, but since the commencement of the new academic semester three weeks ago, many interesting things have happened that have kept me on my toes.
Some of you may be surprised now, but I had seriously considered a ‘friends with benefits’ type of relationship with someone at one point in my life. Although our planned encounters never came to fruition, I can still recognize the fact that we shared a pretty strong connection in retrospect. After getting back from San Francisco three weeks ago, many events intersected that drove me to consider a fwb type of relationship again (with someone else); I was extremely sexually frustrated after having no privacy for two weeks in SF, things with #3 came to an undeniable end (this short story warrants a separate post later), and my relationship with #6 was finally resolved (again, another post).
As I was surfing the internet, finding certain materials to relieve problem #1, I stumbled across a Chinese-based forum that I had never visited before (apparently, I was looking for something very esoteric). For the more savvy adult material explorers out there, you will probably be able to guess which website I am alluding to. A few clicks later and I somehow stumbled upon the ‘personals’ section of this page. I sometimes go on Craigslist personals section for my dose of creepy crawlies, but I have to say that this place was quite a bit tamer. This was where my first encounter with 50 shades of gay took place, hereby known as 50shades. When I glanced over his posting the first time, I felt rather intrigued that he went to the same school as me, seemed height/weight proportional, and also (you might have guessed it, given his namesake) that he had a liking for BDSM. I’ve never been drawn to heavy, heavy BDSM, but I think lighter elements of the subculture can be fun. As I toyed with the idea in my head, I realized what this actually implied, and clicked the little x in the top right corner of the screen. That very same night, following a ‘date’ with someone I felt ho-hum about, #3 irrevocably showed me that he no longer cared to continue any kind of friendship with me. I walked around downtown Vancouver alone on that rainy evening to clear my head, ending up at the Seawall while the sun was setting. It was a stunning evening, full of rainbows and dramatically coloured skies. As darkness encroached, with #6 paddling away with his dragon boat team in the distance, I sighed. How tragically beautiful. Oh? You think I’m melodramatic?
When I got home that night, I rechecked the forum and decided to reply to 50shades’ posting. Screw it all, let’s see where this leads, I thought. From his first reply, I knew that 50shades was not going to be someone I would be able to have any sort of deep, meaningful conversation with. He had arrived from China not too long ago and his English was still a work in progress. I knew friendship would be precluded from our relationship, yet I persisted in exchanging messages with him through Wechat. Why? From the initial picture that he showed me, he looked -okay- (until I found his Facebook later, ew), he seemed patient and extremely boring (wewt no drama), I enjoyed his insanely needy attention (for the first two and a half days), and despite his love for domination, I always felt like I was the one who held the power between us (I’m not cut out for true BDSM). It wasn’t long till I got him to show me the goods *cue in Elle Woods*, which seemed like a good set of practice materials.
For those of you wondering, I did not reciprocate. Duh.
I finally met 50shades in the student union building on the Monday of the second week of school for a chat. I was a bit bemused that he had used the self-descriptor “handsome” on many occasions in the history of our chats, especially when I started looking at him for a prolonged period of time. Mediocre he was, handsome he most certainly was not. As time went on, I realized that everything that came out of his mouth and everything that made up his general behaviour (from the way he ate his food to the way he ended up wasting it) served as more and more of a turn off to me. I felt like I had nothing much to say to him, and my icy reserve started kicking into full force by the time our meeting was adjourned.
Initially unbeknownst to me, a person who shall henceforth be known as cpsc was only sitting a few tables away from us during this entire exchange. Cpsc had matched with me on Tinder a few days previous to this meeting and had been asking me about my progress with 50shades. Why not kill two birds with one stone today, I thought. After 50shades left, I contacted cpsc and floated over to his table, plopping myself down on a chair next to him after I spotted him from a distance. As cpsc looked up from his phone inquisitively due to the presence that had materialized before him, I couldn’t help but notice his perfectly groomed eyebrows framing his beautiful face, in stark relief to the person I’d been looking at five minutes ago.
“Hello,” I ventured.
My complete disinterest contrasted with my sexual frustration was still fresh in my mind as I spoke to cpsc about 50shades. A part of me was disgusted with how low I could go, but another rational part of me thought that this would be the smartest way to go about gaining further experience and release without the hindrance of emotional attachment. It helped that I talked it through with someone, but vocalizing my thoughts accurately proved difficult in the moment and I left my second meeting feeling more confused than before as to what I should do.
Thankfully, my indecisiveness did not have to wait for very long. I gave myself an internal ultimatum that I would consider the next step with 50shades if he gave a sign and vice versa if he did not. When the Wechat icon appeared on my phone that evening, it read, “I actually think I prefer someone who looks younger…” I took this as my sign. “Okay, I guess I’m not your guy. Good luck!” I replied. With a great sigh of relief, I hurriedly uninstalled the app from my phone, no regrets in sight. I feel like I could have convinced him otherwise if I’d really wanted to, but I just couldn’t be bothered and also wanted to stick to my own ultimatum. Just a side note though, I do not look old. Hmph. How dare he. If I looked any younger, he’d be stepping into illegal, paedophilic territory.
In the end, I am thankful things worked out this way. 50shades was looking for a relationship with BDSM elements on the side, while I thought of him as a penis that happened to have a human attached to it. I also thought myself superior to him in every way (in the sense that he was lucky that I was even talking to him), and that mentality bothered me. Everyone has their strong points and even though I found him undesirable in most ways, he is probably close to perfect in some other person’s mind. Attraction has no absolute measuring stick. It is also a misnomer to call him a ‘fwb,’ in any sense of the phrase, since I could never be friends with him. I wanted the benefits without the friendship… While still not really being in hookup territory. It was a complicated little relationship that I would rather not think about again. It was also probably one of the most selfish things I considered doing in a long, long time. Alas, I too am human.
I have learned some lessons and there is a silver lining to all this though, but that will be a tale for another time.
“Babe, you’ve gotta hurry down there. We need to get this projector and screen set up before Michael gets home,” I yell, as I lean out the window from the master bathroom.
He looks at me, half exasperation and half amusement. I know that we have plenty of time before Michael is set to arrive at the airport from his first year away at college, but I foresee any amount of setbacks that will get in the way of the perfect evening I imagine.
“You just worry about Caleb and the other kiddos. I’ll get this done, just you see,” he says as he exaggeratedly flexes his biceps. I make a face and scrunch up my nose.
“Just get it done!” I yell back, barely hiding my dimpled smile as I walk back towards our kids’ study room.
Maddy and Mischa tentatively look up at me as I walk in before returning to their work. My two girls never gave me problems with their astounding work ethic. But Caleb has been misbehaving again, recently refusing to finish his Chinese and Russian worksheets.
Shawn is so much better at disciplining the kids than me, I thought. It was true. The kids knew how they could get me to do what they wanted… Or so I let them believe. I was more willing to offer sympathy to their emotions than their other father. Caleb really was being impossible today though, but the prospect of seeing Michael again opened me up to the idea of bribery.
“Caleb, finish your worksheets now and I’ll get you Moose Droppings from the airport.”
I saw his eyes perk up as his favourite sweet was mentioned. I walked by and ruffled his hair as he picked up his pencil again.
“Ewww, stop it daddy!” Caleb responded
“Maddy, Mischa, do you want daddy to get you guys anything?”
As I saw Michael walk out of the arrivals terminal, I couldn’t help but tear up as he headed towards us. He had stayed away for winter, spring, and most of summer break as he had taken on staggering amounts of responsibility in his extracurricular activities already. We were so proud of his involvement, in addition to him achieving stellar grades and maintaining his first serious relationship. I felt Shawn squeeze my hand lightly. He didn’t show it, but I knew how happy he was seeing our first born son come back home.
I suffered from a period of deep separation anxiety when Michael first moved away from home. Our family just hadn’t seemed complete anymore. It was not just me who felt it. Being at least five years older than any of his siblings and a loving brother meant that our three other kids both respected and missed Michael perhaps even more acutely than I did. If a higher being existed, I truly thanked him for giving our family Shawn, the steady rock that pulled us all through those early few weeks.
Michael seemed to forget about his luggage when he caught sight of us. I kissed him on his cheek as Shawn and I embraced him.
“Daddy, you’re going to have to stop doing that one day,” Michael quipped as he released us from his embrace.
We all laughed.
“Dad, daddy, this is Sarah.” Michael said, as the very pretty girl left by the luggage shyly approached us.
As I made the final touches to the arrangement of the lawn chairs, Shawn called out to the kids and Sarah. I shouldn’t have doubted Shawn’s skills with tech. The projector and speakers ran perfectly, and the oversized garden lanterns, decorative pillows, fleece blankets, and lawn chairs scattered around the white screen hanging from the brick façade of our house created a wonderful outdoor setting for our family screening of Disney’s Mulan. The crisp, clean, earthy September evening air of Vancouver also held up for us.
I turned and gave Shawn a light kiss as the kids took up their favourite positions around the backyard.
“You did a great job,” I whispered, wrapping my hands around his waist and hugging him closer. The man that, in my right time and right place, was the one for me. The man, that after twenty years together after our marriage, I still cherished as my life partner.
“Always. You and the kids mean everything.”
“Daddy, can I sit with you tonight?” Mischa asked, tugging at my shirt and looking up at Shawn and me with her bright, dark eyes. I picked her up and whirled her around, nuzzling my face against hers.
“Of course you can, chipmunk.” I knew that there would come a time when Mischa wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this anymore, so I treasured these moments I could spend with her now.
As Mulan started playing on the screen, I looked around at the soft white glare from the movie reflecting on us. Michael, with Sarah and Caleb on either side of him. Maddy, sprawled out on a blanket next to them with her head cupped in her hands. Mischa, on my lap and Shawn’s hand resting gently over mine. I sighed noiselessly as the oversized candles around us flickered against the starry sky.
So this is what bliss means.
Beaux recently messaged me again after a rather long hiatus of communication. As is the trend, I had gotten a bit confused with the status of what our relationship could be defined as. With him being in Hong Kong and me being in Vancouver, we both knew that it was impossible from the start. But he kept (unreciprocated-ly) flirting with me over the entire duration of our exchanges. When I finally called him out on it, asking him what exactly he wanted from this fantasy-like thought process he maintained, he got defensive and impossible to communicate with. Leading up to this point, the aura surrounding his extreme good looks, relative life success, and intimidating family background had already largely worn off. I found some elements in his personality so distasteful that he had already been banished to the recesses of my friend zone (if that). But the incident that came next irrefutably assured me that I would never take him seriously again.
One day, around 2AM his time, he sent me a message on Whatsapp blasting his doorman for daring to walk away from his post for 20 minutes (Beaux had forgotten to bring his own keycard for the front door). Very colourful language was used in describing both the doorman and his lack of work ethic, including the nouns, “motherfucker” and “piece of shit.” As early as high school, I would have the tendency to instinctively lend my sympathies to the weaker party in an argument, no matter who ultimately ended up as the erroneous party. From the tone of his messages he felt rather peeved that I took on a tone of cool indifference to his having to wait outside his apartment’s locked doors. In fact, I found this small annoyance in his life rather amusing, considering how much he had been given.
Not long after this incident, another angry message arrived about the same doorman, who had mistakenly turned on a water switch to his apartment while renovations were being conducted. This error resulted in a miniature waterworks adventure that destroyed and damaged countless documents/furniture in his home. I understood his anger and frustration. After all, if priceless childhood paintings and memories had been destroyed due to a man’s unprofessionalism and carelessness, how else is one supposed to react. However, what I was not prepared for were Beaux’s ill wishes on the man’s life and the sentiment that Beaux’s family would “sue him to hell.” I accordingly kept my tone neutral during this time. Not only did I think I would add nothing by fanning the flames of his anger, but his tone towards the doorman also reeked classically of the economic rich stomping all over the economically modest. I would have been more sympathetic to his anger had he expressed himself differently, but after this incident, I deleted his contact info off of my phone and only gave the most basic of replies to his subsequent messages. I figured that he had gotten the idea after our sparse messages devolved into a prolonged silence.
The very last straw came when Beaux messaged me for one last time while I was in San Francisco. Apparently he missed the sound of my voice, but I was also lonely exploring the bay area alone. Thus, our mindless superficial chatter started once again, until he (laughably) brought up the concept of how he was only attracted to “straight guys.” Shutthefuckup. I get how some gay men are more attracted to others who display stereotypically more masculine behaviours, but as y’all know, we have a rampant problem with internalized homophobia where ‘no sissy and no fems’ treads very close to the discourse of inferiority and hate. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but have you guys ever seen ‘no mascs please’? I get that being a gay man means that we are attracted to men, but what constitutes this ‘man’ is still very much dictated by a heteronormative society. Hence, these are labels that bother me, especially when you have the gall to claim that you only sleep with “straight guys.” #Irony
When I called him out on it, the following exchange occurred:
Disclaimer: by me “see[ing] many things in that kind of way,” he was referencing the earlier episodes of me choosing to remain neutral about his doorman-experience. He then went on to call me a know it all who didn’t understand anything and claiming that my belief in social justice was a farce. I got rid of our chat after that ended and will never speak to him again. I had nothing left to say to him and his personality makes it so that I will never even consider him as friend material. I may have only presented snippets of his personality, but I’ve found his selfishness and inconsideration for others unbearable over time, as ro-mantik can attest to. Sure, he has tons going for him, but those things are not enough to counterbalance qualities that I value in a human being, friend, or partner.
After five months, it is so long, farewell from me. Parts of you were a beauxtiful dream (I’m so punny =3), but a large part of your personality was truly ugly to me.