~Love Dan and Night xx
Dan and I have been best friends ever since the seventh grade. No, there wasn't some dramatic scenario that thrust us into a friendship. There was no bully that I saved him from, linking us for life in some historic event in his journey to gaydom. He was friends with my twin brother first, right after we moved to Michigan from the south. The three of us were really tight, bonding over our obsession with Justin Timberlake and riding our bikes downtown to get slushees and read comic books. It was simple.
Eventually, we grew up, as all people must, and my brother started to shine his lifestyle light a little brighter than Dan was ready for. My brother went through his 'fabulous' period starting junior year of high school. At least that's what our classmates called it. I think he was just sick and tired of being someone he wasn't, previously trying to take the spotlight off himself. But his boiling point came and he went all out. We're talking the iced highlights, contacts, tanning, tight pink shirts and jeans that girls were envious that he could fit into. Besides Dan, he was one of only four people who were out in our high school of a little over two thousand. For a small town, our school was pretty big. Gotta love school of choice.
Anyway, as my brother started hanging with an older crowd, kids from the nearby university, Dan and I were left on our own. I'll be the first to admit we weren't exactly popular. Sure we had friends, a close knit circle that we trusted and people that we labeled 'friends' in different groups, but for the most part there were only six of us on a regular basis. It wasn't a large enough army against our peers.
Until graduation, I saw first hand the amount of torture Dan and my brother went through. My brother? He was above it all at the time. School was just a place he had to be to appease my parents. He didn't care about the name calling, the teasing in the locker room, or the 'accidental' shoves in the hallway. He didn't care about the labels placed on him that would emasculate the pants off of any other man. Like I said, he was in another state of mind, above it all and patiently waiting for the freedom that graduation would bring. He was going to a school far away. He wanted out. He saw the way, and he took it.
Dan was a different story, a far cry from the security that my brother had. He did everything he could to keep the others from mocking him. He worked out. He was strong and tall, not what most would define as, whatever let's go there, a twink. He got straight A's. He did sports even though most of the guys didn't want him there, but he did it. For a sense of normalcy or just to prove to himself that he could? Both.
Unlike my brother, even though he loved my parents fiercely, Dan was always a mama's boy. I don't mean to say he would let his mother coddle him, do his laundry, and live their until he was thirty-five. No. I mean he had such a deeply rooted relationship with his family that he couldn't bear to be so far away from them. He even admits that I played a strong role in his decision to stay around home for school too. Flattered. *laughs* What can I say? We stuck together through it all and found that we needed each other to move onto the next step, college.
When I got to school, an hour away from home, I wasn't surprised by the diversity like Dan was. My childhood was spent in a metropolis compared to the small town that we had graduated from. Cultures from all around the world, different races, ages, the drugs, the parties, dorm life--all of it came as one big shock to my gay counterpart. We were in a co-ed dorm. Neither of us liked our roommates. Mine was, if I'm being honest, an alcoholic whore who happened to be a legacy at one of the sororities. And Dan's roommate barely left his bed other than to smoke weed. How this guy made it past the first year was beyond either of us.
That first year was truly a memorable experience. A few kids from high school going to the same university, that we had never really hung out with, reached out to us, and we became pretty close. Throw in a band of wild hipsters and our group was pretty crazy. When we weren't drinking, smoking, and trying to cram for school, I worked at a salon as a hair stylist. Thankfully having completed my program the summer before school started. It was new. It was terrifying, but it was awesome.
Enter the gay scene. Our first year of school was only about the basic requirements. Our sophomore year delved right into our majors, identifying us with a certain crowd. As an engineering student, Dan's school crew was made up of straight guys that he did nothing more than get lunch with. Mine was another world entirely. I was a design major. Fashion and textile studies. Now that was a crazy bunch. A lot of people make the stereotype that gay men are magnetized to fashion. Their assessment would be correct.
Out of the group of fifty or so that were in my class, at least forty percent were loud, out, and proud. The girls flocked over them. They flocked over each other. Their was drama. Someone slept with someone else and the whole class would be in chaos. If ever someone wanted to make a good reality show, they would only have to film our class. It was nuts.
I started hanging out with a few of the boys. It started as work for school--sewing together, sketching, the usual. But then the topic of home came up and I told them about me and my roommate having moved here together. Their shocked faces were priceless. A gay man on campus that they didn't know about? Spill, they coaxed. And so it began.
I mentioned before that Dan isn't the kind of person to put it all out there. He's fabulous behind the scenes, but in public he's pretty low key. He always jokes that you wouldn't know to look at him. Because people get it in their head that something effeminate on a man automatically makes them gay. The first night that I introduced him to the boys at a house party, they were under the same impression. Disbelieving that he could possibly be gay, they referred to him as 'straight bait' all night. This did not go over well.
Dan believed that he was doing something wrong. That he wasn't wearing the right thing or didn't know enough about pop culture and the latest fashion trends to attract a guy. I made it very clear to him that his insecurities weren't in the right place. The real problem at hand was did he want any of these guys at all? They were a bunch of lushes. They were nice enough, but too superficial and crude. Sex? Okay. But did he want to start off on that foot? In the community he had dipped his toe into, labels were everything.
It's sad, but it's the truth. One night of experimentation in a new group of gay men could lead to catastrophe. I told him he shouldn't have to change himself to fit in. This wasn't high school and these weren't the only gays in the village, so to speak. Dan was and always will be a romantic. This wasn't his scene for leads to his first relationship with another man, but they were fun to hang out with. They all wanted to test his waters, though. When he got uncomfortable with it all, we decided to leave. I will never forget the first time they raised a brow at him and said, "fine, go be with your fag hag." Giggling down another shot.
This was the first of many times that someone put the idea into Dan's head that he would never get a boyfriend if I was around. Did this hurt me? Yes, it did. But I wasn't about to defend my relationship with Dan just to appease a bunch of pre-queens. We knew we were like siblings, and that our relationship was ours to access, not theirs. Dan was still insecure, searching for that boy that made his heart flip. Unfortunately, love doesn't come in a pretty package for everyone. But it still didn't hurt to have standards. Not everyone does. It's sad.
I started dating this guy the end of my sophomore year. For the sake of privacy, we're going to call him Frank. Frank was the epitome of college boy heart throb. He had that rough look to him. He was quiet around others, always making you think that he had something smart to say, but he kept to himself to appear mysterious. Or least that was my opinion. He was really smart. He was a people watcher like myself and could read you like a book with a single glance. It was part of his job, though. Which was my favorite thing about him. Music.
As a DJ for several clubs around the area, he was in with the music scene. From small garage bands to bigger artists around the country, Frank had connections. Every time one of my favorite artists came around, he had tickets ready. Our love for music was unnatural to most people. Most nights we would just curl up in bed, smoke a little, and turn up the stereo or mix something on his little deck that he kept near the bed. His rhythm was astounding, in more areas than just music. ;)
Frank was the Saturday night DJ for the only legit gay bar in the area. He had no problem being the only straight boy in a packed house and laughed off the invitations and flirty comebacks with ease. His open attitude towards love and sexuality sparked a friendship between him and Dan. I can assure you it was completely platonic. lol. I had cut back my hours at the salon because Frank had put the seed in my mind that I would make an excellent bartender. I knew everyone there. I was loud and could take the pressure and I was the only girl he had ever met that liked vodka on ice without all the frills. I was perfect for the job and the owner agreed. Enter my job as the bartender.
After completing a ridiculous course in 'mixology', I got pretty good behind the bar. I was a chatter box and the crowd took me in with open arms. Sometimes it got a little too fabulous for my tastes, but at the end of the night, I made them smile and that was all that mattered. Besides declining multiple hook up invitations, cleaning up dust from the bathroom counters, and semen off the walls at the end of the night, it was a fun job.
But while I was stepping into a new routine with Frank, my job, and my major, Dan was heading down a different path. Slowly, he sunk into this depression that led to hanging out with the prima-donnas of the gay community. Young, tan, liked to wear neon to attract the hungry bears. They threw wild parties with themes like black light, bring your whore, Greek, and numerous other categories that are not worth listing. A lot of my fashion friends were in the same group and I knew they pulled Dan into the fold to try to revive his inner twink. They told me as much. They were pretty blunt about it actually.
There were nights when he would text me to come get him and I would end up staying, sucked in by people I hadn't seen for a while or his excuse of 'just stay a little while longer'. Those nights would end where I woke up in Frank's bed having no idea how I got there and Dan passed out on his bathroom floor. It was getting to the point where I didn't recognize him anymore. I didn't recognize myself either--having let us both get this far without saying anything.
I didn't like it and I knew something had to change, but I could only fix my side of the equation. Dan was an adult and I chalked it up to him spreading his wings and having a little fun until the night that I couldn't take it anymore. I had a fight with Frank after a startling event and his true colors exploded before my eyes like a drug-induced rave. The other bartender, we'll call her Sarah, had stated her feelings for me after closing. It came out of left field for me. We had been comrades in the liquor war behind the bar for over a year--joking around, occasionally hanging out, and chatting about our lives. She'd never before made a pass at me. She'd never given me a look to represent any feelings other than friendship.
I wasn't blind, okay. I knew she was a lesbian, and not once did that bother me. She was a cool chick that liked to party, and I won't deny that she was gorgeous to boot. I had just never felt that vibe from her before and I had never openly given her reason to think I was interested. I gently explained to her that while I thought she was an amazing person, I didn't see her that way. Though, I was flattered, I just couldn't. It wasn't fair to try to make her feel better with a hug or offer her sweet nothings that were meaningless. She wanted more and I know from an unrequited experience that for that person to keep going only makes it worse.
Heartbroken, Sarah got up and left, a complete sobbing mess that I couldn't make feel any better. I lost a good friend that night. I also lost my boyfriend over it. Sarah and Frank were best friends. She was the one that got him the gig at the bar before he made his career into something bigger. She was the one that had pushed the owner to hire me. I was in between a rock and a hard place. While I could understand his unease with the situation, I wasn't prepared for what came next.
He was actually upset that I didn't, and I quote, "give her a try". How did I not know until I had experienced her first hand? He'd heard about an encounter or two I'd had the year before and knew I wasn't as lacking in the subject as I claimed to be. Yes. Okay. I'd tried it a few times, but it wasn't because they were girls. It was because I was genuinely attracted to their personality. It sounds so cliche, but it's the truth. If you have that way about you, it pulls me in--a smile that I can't resist because you're genuinely happy, something that makes me laugh and keeps me thinking about it for hours. That's sexy to me. There was something there, in the moment or whatever you want to call it, those nights happened. But it wasn't enough to make me switch sides for the sake of technicality. Sorry ladies, I like dick way too much.
When I couldn't deny his claims, he rolled his eyes at me, and told me that I had probably scarred her for life. I was the first person that she had ever told she loved and I'd shut her down without a care. It wasn't even like that. Not by a long shot, but Frank was so messed up about it that it was obvious he had feelings for her. After many years of thinking about it, I feel like I was the connection between them for that period in their life. She loved him, but didn't want him like that. He wanted her, but couldn't have her because she loved me, or women in general. So he loved me too. Bizarre and entirely out there, but it makes sense. I was their balance and by denying Sarah, I broke them up somehow.
Even though he took up for her and most woman would be like 'what the fuck', I was heartbroken. Out of all the guys I have dated up until now, Frank was perfect for me in every which way. He got me and I loved him, I think. Whatever I felt for him, it was strong because when he walked out of that bar and left me there, I went out to my car and cried so hard I had to call a cab. I couldn't drive. I couldn't think. I could barely breathe. On my way home, I called Dan. I needed someone to sit with. He was best friend. It all made sense.
But when he picked up, it was so loud on the other end that he couldn't hear me. He hung up and didn't even answer his texts. So, even more distraught, I went home and thankfully my roommate was home. We weren't all that close, but the mother comes out of everyone when someone gets dumped. In my case, it was worse than being dumped. I didn't even know what to call the event it was so bad. Wrapped in blankets, we watched mind numbing television as she let me cry myself to sleep on her shoulder. To this day, I still talk to my old roommate Marcy. (Hey girl!)
I didn't hear from Dan for an entire week after that night. I knew it was finals week. I knew that he worked. I knew a lot of things, but I had no idea why he wouldn't talk to me. The one time I needed him and not the other way around, he wasn't there. Enter his new posse. I finished my exams early and tried to text him. I was about to make a trip to his apartment when I ran into a mutual friend of ours. He was acting strange, clipped words, hawk eye thing going on. When I asked him what was up his ass, he informed me that I needed to stop relying on Dan and to let him live his life.
Jaw dropped somewhere on the floor, I told him to fuck off, and that he didn't know green from red when it came to my personal relationship with Dan. Again, I was called a fag hag and left there on the sidewalk fuming mad. Never in my life will I love Dan more than a friend. Never in my life will I be his glittery accessory to parade around the club. Never in my life will I tell him what to do, who to sleep with, or judge his choice of men. He is my friend, my very good friend, that if he was a girl, no one would say a damn thing about it. But Dan happened to be gay, so of course I didn't fit in the picture according to his friends.
Still upset over Frank, pissed about Dan, stressed over finals, and having quit the bar the day earlier, I went in search of my friend. This had to end. This wasn't him. If this was who he was choosing to be from now on, I wanted to hear it from his own mouth before I wrote him out of my life. I would not be known as some 'breeder chick' that followed around their, yes, 'gay husband'. Why would you want a gay husband if you weren't gay? How is that healthy or productive for anyone? It's not. It's stupid and it's derogatory to me. These boys were a bunch of confused, attention grabbing, sex fueled, ken dolls that had been let loose from their small towns to paint the town with their media induced ideals of how a gay man should be.
If that's your thing, go for it. But not all gay men are that way, and Dan for sure wasn't. So I went to his apartment, if nothing more than to see he was okay. He answered the door looking like a wreck, stepping outside and shutting the door behind him. The conversation went something like this:
"What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to tell you that Frank dumped me. Sarah told me she loved me in a romantic sense. And apparently I'm a cramping your style, but that's hearsay, or is it?"
"Frank dumped you?" He reached for me and I backed away.
"Is it true, Dan?"
"I have a guy over right now."
"Of course you do."
"So what? I can't have a guy over?"
"I want you to have a guy over, Dan. I have no problem with that at all. My problem is that you're using it as an excuse to avoid telling me how you feel. But I get it now. Just do me a favor and get yourself tested once in a while. If that's (name excluded) car, which I'm pretty sure it is, he had Chlamydia a while back. People tell you anything at the bar."
"Seriously?" He looked back at the door.
"Fuck. I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"You didn't pick up the phone." I shrugged.
We stood there for a few minutes before I had to go. I was leaving for the weekend. My older brother and my twin were coming home for my great grandmother's birthday. It was going to be a big deal. He ended our awkward reunion by giving me a hug and telling me I was still his best friend, that things weren't going to change between us. I was still on guard about it all. It was a hard place to be. Wanting to talk about my problems and his, but there was this distance that had grown in the span of seven days that I didn't know how to close without feeding his new posse's gossip. I was, for lack of a better term, stuck.
That weekend was the hardest three days of my life. I had just talked to my twin a few days ago. He sounded good on the phone and was excited to see me. Even though he was on the west coast now, we still stayed in touch. I knew he left out a lot of things because he didn't want me to know he was unhappy there, but I had no idea how bad it was.
Walking into a house that is supposed to be full of happy homecomings and warm hugs from your family, only to find your mother on her knees sobbing in your father's arms is not something I would wish on anyone. She looked at me and turned away as my older brother ushered me outside. I knew. I'd had the feeling all day that something was going to happen. He hadn't boarded his flight. he hadn't called to say he was late or anything. One of his roommates had found him that morning. My brother had killed himself with an overdose of painkillers. It was intentional. There weren't any pills left in a prescription filled only two days prior. There was no note. There was nothing.
I went upstairs to his room and shut the door for the next three days. I had no explanation for why he would do this other than what his friends had relayed. I had no twin anymore. I couldn't fathom this. It wasn't real. He was the confident one. He was the happy one. It didn't make sense. I couldn't even move to call Dan. Again, I was stuck. My whole world had dropped out from under me in a matter of days.
I'm going to fast forward a little bit, because I can't handle writing about what the next week was like. If you've been there, you know, and if you don't, there's no sense in tearing your heart out. Dan was by my side in a matter of hours after my brother called him. My family thought it best if we had time to ourselves before we involved him and his family. Not like Dan's mom ever took no for an answer. She was right there to help my mother and to this day, I am forever grateful for having her in our lives. She is wonderful woman that I can't possibly put into words.
There were services, the funeral, and people that had wronged my brother in the past showing up to ask for forgiveness. It was emotional and hard and a lot of other things. His friends even made the trip from Cali to attend the service. They were the ones that suggested we catch a flight back to pack up his things however we wished. My mother couldn't do it. My father couldn't leave my mother. So Dan bought tickets for us both, and my older brother and his new wife bought their own. The four us made the trip to California to the house my brother had shared with three other guys.
After many phone calls, we discovered my brother had been seeing a therapist. There were journals that the therapist suggested he use as an outlet. Three of them in his closet that I read over the next week. Yep. This is where the journals came from in Cade. I picked them apart until I couldn't read anymore. There really were pages that were tear stained. Differences in handwriting when you could tell he was suffering or angry. There were so many things that I wished I had known about my brother, things he should have told me. But even as a twin, he had always been so independent.
He had an outlook on life that had once been bright. After reading the journals, I saw the truth. It was all a cover-up for how small he felt, how ugly and unwanted. His colorful exterior was to hide the heartache on the inside. To make my parents think he was happy with his life as a gay man, to make them proud. They would have loved him regardless. We all would have. He just couldn't survive without us. California wasn't his home. My brother wasn't so different from Dan after all.
I think about him every day. I wonder what he would look like now. I wonder if he could have been happy if we had known and done something. I sometimes feel like it's my fault. That I should have known. But everyone says that's bullshit. But I still think it. His death changed everything for my family. For me. For Dan. We stopped partying with those people who brought us down. We started looking at everything in a different light. Could that person use a friend? Why are they sad? Is there something I could do for them?
I had always stood up for Dan and my brother. But there were a lot of people out there that deserved another person on their side too. People that are just trying to fit into life but are persecuted for loving who they love. People that enjoy sex just as much as straight people do. People that want to have children like straight people do. People that want to grow old with the one they love, have a house together, and just live, but are not allowed because the love of their life is the same sex as them.
My brother was no different. Dan is no different. Now that we're older and more secure in our lives, we look back on our history with a smile. We all make mistakes. We all have a phase where lust overpowers all. We all do stupid shit, but all of it is different to society when you're gay. I will never understand the other side's opinion on the matter. I will never judge someone on who they love, what their religion is, or the color of their skin. All I want is to help those around me find balance in their lives, to share the same ground that I walk on, and be equal. Is that really so hard? Yes. Because everyone is different.
Even some of my friends call me a 'fag hag' or a 'fruit fly' or whatever, but I'm not. They're my friends and my family. I'm not some hag. I am not an accessory. I am a person that has been through a lot of shit and come out seeing the brighter side. I give my gay friends support. I give them my love because everyone deserves that in my book. They are the reason that I write gay romance. They are the reason that I write happily ever afters. My brother is the reason I rarely ever write about homophobia. Because it tears me up inside to write it and I want to offer an escape to anyone who needs one. A place where the societal divide doesn't exist and love conquers all.
Some people may think this is all bullshit, and I'm just another female writer with a hard-on for two guys going at it. But that's the real bullshit. I write for a cause. I write for him and all the others out there who never got their happy ending. Call me a fag hag, but I call myself a writer. Dan laughs and calls me a warrior, and that's all I really care about. Love you all.