Once, I spent half the night coaxing and convincing a man older than myself. One could observe the conflict within him just by observing his face.
The story was a familiar one.
“I have two kids and an ex-wife. But I don’t regret either of them. I try to be a good father to them. It's just that...”
His voice trailed away to complete silence. He seemed exceedingly tired and uncertain of himself.
“What is really eating away at you?” I said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
He avoided the question, but notably did not decline the sensation of my legs rubbing against his. After a while, he left the table where we had both been sitting. He intended to leave and go elsewhere with a friend of his, one more or less his own age. I gathered the age difference had been disquieting somehow, or that perhaps he wasn’t ready for much more than that. It happens.
Two weeks later I saw him again, dancing with a determined look in his eyes. He was in the middle of a large group of men. When I looked over, he ignored me completely. Some people work on their problems, and some go to clubs to forget.
In any case, an old friend happened to be there as well. All was not lost. She enjoyed the voyeuristic aspects of the spectacle, never having much intent to engage in anything. At times we would even dance together. Neither of us was particularly gifted in that area, but with many other people around us on the dance floor, we knew that few were actually paying attention to us. She was the only person who could convince me to push past one of my largest insecurities.
Though it had begun with some promise, I knew that nights like this did not usually end up well. Sarah, as always, had roamed the perimeter of the club with her typical panache. I always used to tell her that she should have been a politician, because she was skilled in knowing how to work a room. Her persistence was legendary as was her knack for sniffing out dealers.
I never recalled the name of the most consistent source of them all. There was no reason to be on a first-name basis with him. He kept what he had in a small metal box with a latch, a bit like a miniature lunchbox. The only reason I even knew that much is because I always had to keep a close eye on Sarah. She was, after all, my only ride home. Cab fare was expensive. I didn’t really trust most of the clubbers to be responsible and reliable, should I need transportation.
I pulled her together once more somewhere around four in the morning. The drag show had concluded by then leaving a large void behind in its absence. The dance floor was once again turned over to those who had the energy to keep at it. Now seated in the car, I was deliberately situated in shotgun, just as I was supposed to be. Being her right-hand man had its perks and its occasionally tiring rituals. This was one of the latter.
“Ah! I ate a bean!”
Even when expressing surprise or enthusiasm, her voice always sounded the same. It took everyone by surprise at first. Certain people have a melodious quality to their speaking voice. For them, the pitch and inflection of their speech changes regularly, depending on the topic and emphasis. She wasn't one of them.
What she meant is by “bean” that she’d taken a tab of Ecstasy. This was typical of her, to take a drug and then express grave reservations later when it reached a peak. Within that statement was also an implied request, though sometimes it came out a little like a command. I was now supposed to rub her head. If her hair was not deliberately spiked and cut short, this would have been more difficult. I always felt a little as though I was petting an animal, but pushed the thought to the back of my mind. Sarah was never demanding, but was particularly insistent on this one point.
My regular place early on Saturday morning was on the couch in the hall. Her grandfather also lived there part of the time. As I was told, he owned the house in which she lived. It wasn't a bad arrangement, since she had a large space to herself, one with multiple rooms and an outside portico. She could always entertain lots of company at once because of these unusually fortuitous circumstances. I came to believe that her perpetual need for companionship was really a fear of being abandoned or of feeling unwanted. These were problems she never really confronted, much like the clubgoers with whom she rubbed shoulders night after night.
Returning to the grandfather, his schedule was irregular and I never knew at any moment whether he was physically present or not. Sarah was strongly cautioned to never have boys sleep over for any reason. I’m not sure the grandfather ever really understood the whole homosexual aspect, either for her or for me. It was inconceivable to him that she’d be completely and entirely uninterested in men. Life is always full of ironies.
If I’d been more effeminate, I likely could have made a stronger case for myself. Unfortunately, I easily passed for straight, making me instantly suspect in his eyes. His first impressions of anyone were the basis for how he felt about them for eternity. But for tonight, at least, he was nowhere to be found. That was a relief.
My own parents had abruptly stopped asking questions when I came out to them, almost a year prior. They’d demanded three months forced separation, this after dismissing me with several hurtful comments. One whole summer is how long it took them to come to terms with it. After that, they’d accepted my standard Friday and Saturday night alibi that I was always over at a friend’s house. Maybe they felt like everything I did from that point onward was part of some larger gayness they did not wish to contemplate any further.
When I woke up, Sarah was dressed in her work uniform of black, clean, spotless apron and blue jeans. She was a short-order cook at the diner down the parkway. Sometimes she’d cook dinner for us an hour or two before we departed. In any case, this was my sign to prepare myself to vacate the premises. She’d drop me back off at my house before work. Neither of us talked or made eye contact during the whole of the ten minute journey. It was nothing personal.
I was usually too hungover to make conversation. She was likely still coming down. During the drive, I realized how saturated my clothes were with the smell of cigarette smoke. And it wasn’t just my clothing, either. The smell clung to my hair and my skin. No one would have stood for a smoke-free establishment. I didn’t realize how many of us smoked until my first visit.
At these times, I wondered why I kept going out, over and over again. Why was I Sancho Panza to a person whose basic nature was good, but who was always in danger of pushing the envelope a little too much? She idolized the drag queens, particularly one who was famous for being bitingly sarcastic and sometimes vicious in her commentary. Sarah, I think, wanted that for herself. She wanted the spotlight turned on her and wanted to speak her true thoughts without restraint or filter.
In time, her ambitiousness would be rewarded.