Monday, February 16, 2015

Death before Dawn

A work of fiction.

I'd been lying on the couch for most of the evening, which had now become the early hours of the morning. We'd played music for hours and taken part in some genuinely marathon conversation sessions. I was under the spell of pot so strong that, at first, it riveted me to my seat and rendered me mute for a whole hour. Marijuana had an unforeseen side effect, removing the fear and anxiety I'd always had around other men. But as it liberated, so did it isolate.

Jason was talking with his former long-distance girlfriend, now living in town, a Bulgarian exchange student. These calls usually lasted for an hour or longer, enticing me to make lusty, but stealthy glances at his lean body now stretched out across the carpeted floor. I had learned, as many of us do, the most effective way how to cut my eyes at the precise moment before detection.

Maybe it was chemical substances, but I couldn't help but take in his beauty, the grace of those long legs. I kept thinking to myself, You can't do this. You can't do this. As feared, he saw me, eventually. Like a startled deer, he rose to his feet suddenly and ran for his bedroom. I hoped he wasn't going be angry at me the next morning and was praying he wouldn't mention it.

One such man was not similarly inclined to use evasive maneuvers. I saw him greedily take a look at the attractive backside of Jason as he exited the couch for the kitchen. He flashed me a guilty glance because he knew I had seen the whole thing, though I would have never admonished him for it. I didn't make a big deal of it, but his secret was not necessarily safe with me. I regret not acting sooner, but when I did finally open my mouth I wish my concerns would have been more persuasive.

This johnny-come-lately bought access by way of what would seem like a generous gift, an expensive condenser microphone that likely cost several hundred dollars brand new. Now that gave him the liberty and access for close company with the man of his fantasies, playing keyboards astride the demo recordings we were rapidly accumulating as a band. When we had enough money, we'd buy studio time and put polish on the rough and raw.

I've trained myself over the years not to make immediate eye contact with other men. This is a means of protection as much as anything else. Like many women, I never allow my gaze to linger longer than a fraction of a second and I never glance at men when I know they are looking back. Most of us reserve full eye contact for relationship partners alone, or in queer-friendly spaces, and only the most courageous or foolhardy defy social protocol. Unlike women, being caught red handed, even momentarily, by the object of one's attention holds a strong risk, even in these liberated days.

Some respect boundaries and some do not. This is a fact that is true for men as much as it is for women. One evening, I was told that our new keyboardist had recently forced himself on Jason. As the story goes, he fed my friend some Ecstasy tablets, which only made the latter sick, then once they took hold, intoned vigorously that he was really gay. You know you're gay, Jason. You know you're gay. Hearing the news, days later, I wish I'd told my bandmates what I had gleaned earlier from my own observation, but decided against telling the wronged party. What could I have proved? Would it have mattered?

He was feeling somewhere between disgust and fear. The treatment had even made him question his sexual orientation. I tried to convince him that what had happened was wrong and he didn't need to question who he was. Jason was already afraid of sex and intimacy, usually in tandem. He was one of the few men I knew who spoke negatively against sexual conduct of any sort. He'd confused what this phobia really was, insecurity, for some supposedly long-denied fact now called into question. It was a great lie placed upon another great lie, all somehow about what he had never before acknowledged. I could have used this as my opportunity to make a move, but unlike some I have integrity and ethics. Even if he had he asked me, I would have flatly declined.

I asked him if he wanted to report the crime, but he declined. Consent had been broached. Drugs had been administered. Intent was present. Reporting sexual assault was for women, he said. He had a case, but was unwilling to pursue it. With time, the condenser microphone disappeared mysteriously, which seemed fitting based on the way it had been gotten. We went back into the studio the next day, blazingly high like normal. Jason seemed chastened and distracted, and we worked on one of my songs for until we ran out of time. Studio time is expensive and the meter starts running the minute you get levels and tune your instrument.

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