alan bennett ilagan

By Alan Bennett Ilagan
Summer 2000
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A cacophonous carnival of chaos swirls constantly in my mind. The harlequin, the trickster, the charmer ~ they are all in me ~ informing, inspiring, interrogating ~ and I, cowering yet challenging, listen intently and watch raptly their sick, enchanting circus before taking my own gleeful part in the delicious debauchery. My fantasies and delusions are a vital component to my survival, my masks and facades are fortification against relentless reality. I am always shifting and changing ~ a man of the moment, given over to the whims of Mood and the needs of Atmosphere. Who am I? Whomever you want me to be. I fulfill the desires of others and live in wretched slavery to my own. I am confused and forever-in-flux ~ sure of myself one day then scared and desperate the next. I am hunted and haunted by the past, while I hunt and haunt the future.

I can be playful and puerile, but somehow make it all premeditated ~ a ridiculous jester in the Court of Life with the skillful manipulation and manic imaginings of a mad-hatter. Within me is a child-like innocence tempered with a world-weary wisdom ~ a little boy lost and an old man found, at war and at peace with one another ~ a paradox of pleasure and pain, of desire and dismissal. I believe in honor. I believe in justice. I also believe in vengeance and come-uppance.

I am a Renaissance man in the truest sense, having dabbled skillfully in music (piano and oboe), writing, interior design, party planning, horticulture, crocheting, photography, cooking, fashion, poetry, running, swimming, biking, yoga, and on and on, but never possessing the narrow tunnel-vision required to focus in on a chosen skill. I am good at a great number of things, but not especially spectacular at any one of them.

My physical appearance is adequate to the task at hand, and at my best I am quite attractive to both sexes. I am aware of the beauty I possess, and I wield the power of that beauty with grace, dignity, and charm ~ never letting on that I know exactly what effect I'm having. You don't think I notice the men and women who stare and turn. On the contrary ~ I notice everything. No one likes a beautiful person to be aware of his or her beauty, and so I am not., thereby becoming more attractive in my apparent blindness and humility. The world is easily manipulated if one simply takes the time to observe, listen, and intuit; people are perennially pre-occupied with themselves to take such notice, and I am free to make the most of those dismissals.

I'll be your Latin lover, your Egyptian riddle-Sphinx; an Arabian knight, an Italian stallion, or seductive Spanish minx. I'll be your boy, I'll be your girl, I'll be your bitch-in-heat; ride me, fly take me tie me ~ I'll bow down at your feet. I'm weak, I'm strong, I'm King, I'm Kong, I'll be whatever you ask. I'll take the lead or grant you power ~ I'll wear your chosen mask.

Outwardly my existence is one of nightly revelry and decadent detachment, spilling over with drink and depravity, while days are spent in recuperative slumber and lazy lounging ~ but inside me the most disturbing images parade themselves in ghoulish grotesqueries before my mind. Voices deeper, darker, and far more sinister than you can ever imagine whisper to me in the barren recesses of the night. There are things I haven't confided in anyone ~ ideas of oblivion and suicide and a destiny burned indelibly into the starry firmament ~ and the resulting isolation is at once liberating and limiting. I think of life too much and dwell too deeply, and in so doing I cannot escape equal thoughts of death and the temptation of eradication such an act might produce. But you will never know these things. As Alexandre Dumas once wrote, "I'll bury my grief deep inside me and I'll make it so secret and obscure that you won't even have to take the trouble to sympathize with me."

I too wouldn't dream of troubling you with anything less than entertaining and frivolous. A little bit of trauma goes a long way and then on tires of it and waits impatiently for the fun to begin again. I am aware of just how much you can take, and at that point I withdraw ~ a turtle retracting its head, an octopus changing its colors and shooting away, or an oyster clamming shut on its slimy pearl. Don't ever think that I don't know what I'm doing ~ even though that's precisely what I have led you to believe.

As a modern-day trickster I am invariably a loner. When the fun is done and the emotional resources have been depleted, I will sigh with boredom and move on to other, more stimulating and challenging circles, leaving you behind. The few and far between whom I deem worthy ~ those with the intellect, character, personality, humor, and goodness that I find necessary for friendship ~ will come along for the ride. Those who fail to keep me suitably inspired or put forth the same effort will find me pleasant and cordial, and be forced to make do with the false face I present to the world at large.

Of course, in the end, we are all alone. I know I can rely solely on myself and no other. My revolution will be fought mano a mano ~ single combat ~ a little bit at a time, and always on my own. You may share certain events and situations, but you have neither the time nor the inclination to truly be a part of my battle. Besides, I sincerely doubt you would be comfortable in the frightening landscape that frames my life-journey. Consider yourself lucky in that respect.

"O represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit," Lord Henry Wotton explains in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. And like Lord Henry, I take it upon myself to live out the emotional excesses you have always feared, the crash-and-burn derring-do that simultaneously scares and excites you, and the often-dangerous search for pleasure and ecstasy, both physical and psychological. Despite how much I love you, I will always resent you for that ~ for allowing me to do it alone and not taking part in the chances I took. You may not want to live your life exactly as I have lived mine, to do the things just as I have done them, but part of you wishes you had the audacity to seek similar thrills of your own.

Now, all of this must be said with a wink and a sardonic smile. I glean a certain glee from making you wonder. I want you to question what is true ~ in my life and in yours. After all, what is more important than the truth? I think, perhaps, only the way in which it is told.

* * * * * * *

{Boston} He lies naked on the bed ~ a sheet twisted discreetly over his midsection, his deeply tanned torso starkly dark against the light bedding. Looking languidly around the room, he eyes the fallen bedspread, hastily-tossed shoes, and discarded clothes strewn on the floor. Shades of pearl-gray ripple around him in the dim shimmering night.

A man whose last name he does not care to learn, and whom he met an hour or two before this moment, scuttles awkwardly out of the bathroom and into his boxer shorts. Another midnight rendezvous coming quickly to an end, Alan want only for the man to leave, and wards off any attempt at further intimacy with a wan smile and distant gaze.

After pulling on his own underwear, Alan gently but insistently guides the man out the door. They part with an obligatory kiss ~ one side deeper and more hopeful, the other dismissive yet sadly sweet. Upon locking the door and listening for the footsteps to fall away, Alan shudders a little and lets out a deep breath. He picks up the semen-stained towel and drops it into a laundry bag ~ a contemptuous laugh at the foolishness of men escapes the corner of his mouth. A patch of dried semen contracts the skin of his back as he lied face-down upon the bed. The night has closed silently around him and he is alone.

* * * * * * *

August 1999: Paul and I are traveling West on I-90 in a big bad Ryder truck. We are using the triptych from AAA (true as a triptych!) and singing along to the songs on the radio. (Can you imagine my horror at the prospect of an 18-hour road trip without a tape or CD player? Paul likes the radio though, and as long as there are pop stations I'll be fine.) I am excited and scared and happy and worried and hopeful. I have given up everything I have ever known, and I am both thrilled and dismayed with this. But it is for the man I love, and I cannot think of a better reason. All my life I have waited for someone so good, and when I think of what I've done for men so less worthy, I cringe at the past and smile at the present and future.

We are going to stop somewhere in Indiana or Michigan before reaching Chicago late tomorrow morning. I hope the landlord guy is there and all goes smoothly. It is impossible to reach him. We have to go through this whole answering service system before he can be beeped and then, maybe if we hope really hard, he'll get back to us. It does not bode well for the man in charge of our apartment, but it'll work out.

I have a sore throat, which makes smoking difficult but not impossible. It positively prevents any sort of drinking, and that is fine. Not the best thing to do while driving I suppose! There is also a lump in the right side of my throat that is getting markedly larger and starting to hurt. Hopefully a night's rest will cure it, and lots of orange juice. ~

We are staying at a roadside motel. Paul somehow managed to maneuver the truck into its parking space. I hate driving this truck, and we almost got into a fight when I thought he wasn't doing it right. I just want to already be moved in and have this whole process done. However, we had a fun dinner at Steaks and Shakes ~ it doesn't get much trashier than that! On the way back we had a farting contest while running through the parking lot and grassy field separating the motel from the classy restaurant. Needless to say, I won. Don't mess with me after a milkshake and cheeseburger. Tonight we will watch a scary movie on Pay-Per-View, and though we initially take separate beds (as a lark, and for more room) we end up together when I get too scared. ~

The dreary entry into Chicago is fraying what little remains of my nerves, and I have long since reached the tension saturation point. I fear a big yelling blow-out is next, or with luck I'll bypass to the maniacal-laughing stage where nothing matters and I'll just piss off Paul with my nonchalant apathy. Either way, it's not going to be a fun few hours. Cannot get in touch with P.J. Freaking Morgan, the stupid building manager/landlord/whatever-the-fuck-else and we wait at a mid-highway McDonald's as cars rush by us at dangerously-high speeds. It will be fun to pull this rough-Ryder back into the traffic flow. Cannot wait…~

Somehow we made it to the apartment. Of course, no P.J. Morgan, until I walk a mile and find a public phone, returning to see him waddling towards the apartment. He is a heavy man with glasses and a mustache. Seems very nervous around us, and people in general. Sweating profusely, hands shaking, he showed us around to the back loading area and went over the apartment stuff. And now the fun really begins ~ moving! To make it even better, the lump in my throat is now threatening to close my breathing off completely, and I am getting sicker by the minute. Still, moving in with Paul is a strangely peaceful ordeal. As I trudge up the three flights of stairs with the umpteenth heavy box in my hands I am struck with a feeling of calm ~ a quiet serenity and peace within my heart, and I suddenly know that with him by my side I can do anything and be all right. Our names are next to each other on the doorbell ~ "Fraley/Ilagan" ~ and for the first time I feel like a true couple. People whom we see and meet now will know us only as part of a team, and the thought has me beaming with pride and happiness. ~

It is complete. Our stuff is in the apartment and the truck is empty. I am also officially sick and we are going to the hospital after dropping off this unwieldy moving vehicle at the Ryder company. Aside from this ever-enlarging lump in my throat and a generally pissy attitude ~ directed somewhat unfairly at Paul ~ I am not that bad. True, if this lump gets any bigger I won't be able to swallow, but we are in a taxi en route to the nearest hospital, and Paul is with me and everything is as it should be.

Even though the lump seems dangerously close to cutting off my throat functions and time is of paramount importance, the emergency room system has me waiting for three hours before some resident fools of my age come in to examine me. They have no idea what is happening, but take turns feeling my throat and looking flabbergasted. Paul has remained with me in the waiting room and I wonder if I'd do the same or simply leave knowing I was helpless. When my name is finally called to see a real doctor, Paul says he'll stay in the waiting room.

After two hours of stupid tests and more clueless interns being called in to look at the freak and make haphazard diagnoses, I am released with a pass he somehow secured from the front desk, saying he was getting worried. My love for him is stronger than it has ever been and I know I have made the right move. We take the 'L' back to our apartment after picking up the pills, and we sleep close together on a twin mattress in the middle of the living room. ~

* * * * * * *

{New York City} On his first date since breaking up from Paul, Alan has been set up with Eric, a friend of Alan's long-time pal Chris Vaeth. At six o'clock Alan and Eric are scheduled to meet at a bar called the Boiler Room. Alan arrives early after having a few screwdrivers beforehand. At the bar, he drinks a few more. By the time Eric arrives, Alan is drunk and has already given his phone number out to get a man off his back.

After one more screwdriver, the guys head over to a sushi restaurant. Alan drinks warm sake as his eyes slowly close ~ Eric coming into and out of focus before him ~ and for a brief startling moment Alan passes out without notice. They speak briefly of his break-up with Paul. Even through his alcoholic haze, he knows it is rude, but he feels the need to impart the import of the event, if only to let Eric know he is fragile, and the hurt still raw.

They depart the restaurant and arrive at another bar, the Phoenix, for more drinking. In good spirits from the spirits, Alan turns suddenly flirtatious. In the dark back room, the young men kiss ferociously on a couch. Alan pulls Eric's face into his own and each swallows the other's tongue. They do not care if they are being watched.

In the taxi en route to Eric's apartment, Alan has another brief black-out ~ lights swirling past the window as he sinks deeper into the seat, slumping further down into a happy oblivion, and completely at the mercy of his companion. They arrive somewhere in Queens and take an elevator up to Eric's place.

Drinking a glass of water, Alan sits down on the bed and listens to the music as Eric uses the bathroom. 'So this is what it's like,' he remembers sadly. He feels an overwhelming sense of exhaustion at the prospect of dating. A few months seemed to be enough time to begin again, but those were months spent in stunned agony and stunted development. It felt too early, but what else was there to do?

They started kissing again and soon were in their underwear. Physical rapture and mental detachment pass the hours. Alan does not ejaculate. At about two in the morning he pulls his jeans on and insists he has to go.

"No way," Eric replies. "I'm not letting you get on the subway to the Bronx at this time. I can't; it's crazy."

"I'll be fine," Alan whispers with a smile, but Eric remains adamant. "No really," Alan continues, "I can't stay here overnight… I can't sleep in the same bed with someone. I can't explain," and suddenly he is crying. Eric won't let him go, offering instead to sleep on the floor if that's the problem. "I'm sorry," Alan relents, wiping away the last of the tears and feeling a slight relief. "You don't need to do that. I'll stay. It's not a big deal."

He waits and listens to Eric's breathing grow slow and regular, and finally falls asleep in welcome numbness.

* * * * * * *

September 1999: The antibiotics are slowly but surely diminishing the lump in my throat. I am taking them with gallons of orange juice as I try my best to unpack everything. Our apartment has come sparsely together ~ the couch/futon arrived, as did the double bed. Paul and I share my bedroom as it is bigger than his, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Fall in Chicago is deeply beautiful. I made my first trip to the lakefront as soon as I felt better. There's no beach near us, but it was pretty nonetheless. Paul and I walked to the nursery to pick up some plants for the apartment. I found a variegated umbrella plant, a fern, and some paper-white narcissus bulbs for forcing. In the greenhouse we got into a fight over something ~ I can't even remember what ~ and I carried everything home by myself ~ my stubborn pride refusing to accept Paul's help. It ended with me walking away from him in silence and defiance. I wish I was better at letting things go and learning forgiveness. Thankfully, Paul is pretty good at both, and I'm hopeful that those qualities will rub off on me sooner rather than later. ~

I have just sent out five packages of resumes and writing samples to a few local news rags. One of them has to bite. I'll also begin an internet job search as well; Paul managed to set up the computer when I almost threw it out the window in frustration. What would I do without him" Probably not even know enough to plug it in.

Last night we had dinner at Fuzio, some Italian-fusion place with killer martinis, which I tried and Paul denied. Stopped at Barnes & Noble on the way home. I'm making my special Italian sauce for tomorrow. Since my days seem to be free for the time being, and Paul is at work, I'll teach myself how to cook. It's time I learned the difference between the oven and the dishwasher. ~

A seed I planted a month ago has bloomed in a pleasantly surprising way: Peter Cummings, the head editor and founder of xy magazine, my most favorite publication in the world, and the one which gave me the courage to come out, called me personally to say he received my package of writing! Peter himself! He's always been a hero ~ okay, almost a God ~ and I spoke with him! I am completely in awe and happy and excited beyond belief. We discussed possible writing options, and maybe even a move to California ~ I know, I know, I just moved here, so I did tell him that I was committed to staying in Chicago for at least a year. However, I am planning on flying out to meet with him next month!

The best part about the phone call was that he sort of validated my writing. It's one thing for my friends and family to say that I am a decent writer; it's quite another when the compliment comes from an objective source, and the head editor of a national publication. I called Paul at work and told him the good news and we are celebrating with a dinner on the town. I asked him to find somewhere nice. This is so exciting! ~

Apparently Paul's idea of nice is a joint called The Mashed Potato Club ~ a drag bar/restaurant where every single entrée is made up of ~ yup ~ mashed potatoes. Under any other circumstances this place would have been the coolest in the world, but the intimate celebration dinner I had envisioned in my mind was having a hard time playing out among myriad disco balls, loud music, and bad food. To make matters worse, I allowed myself only one cosmopolitan, thanks to its outrageous ten-dollar price tag. After pissing and pouting my way through dinner ~ most of which was spent in silence ~ I walked down the streets of Chicago with Paul, giving voice to some of what was bothering me.

"Paul," I began, unsure then of what I was trying to do, only knowing that I was dissatisfied, "I don't know if this is going to work." He surely did not understand why I was so upset over a stupid dinner. "Well that's what I mean ~ I want the person I'm with to understand implicitly." I was asking for the impossible. I felt I deserved it ~ after all, I moved to Chicago and uprooted my life for him ~ the least he could do was read my mind and follow the maze of my moods.

It was a test ~ it was only a test ~ and, like all the tests I have unfairly given to people, it blew up in my face. In my own discontentment with myself, I emotionally manipulated Paul in a vain attempt at gaining some sort of control. And Paul ~ ever-good and innocently unaware of such strategies ~ wondered too at our compatibility. So much so that we broke up ~ just a week before our first anniversary. What felt vaguely empowering in the night left me miserable the morning-after, and when it became clear that it wasn't a little fight ~ that I had gone too far and played it the wrong way ~ I had to back-peddle and clean up my mess. I wrote him a letter:

Dear Paul,

I rarely write when my heart is so raw. At such emotional extremes the words spill out in messy waves, failing to coalesce into anything that resembles sense or sanity. This night shall be the exception. If I do not write I will cry.

This week would have marked our one-year anniversary. Thinking back on the year makes me smile ~ never before have I felt so complete, so full, so at peace with myself and the world. You brought such light to my often-dark outlook, and an inspiration and hope to my thoughts of the future. I don't think you will ever realize the goodness you restored to me, a goodness I had hidden away in the fear that no one would ever be so right.

It wasn't always easy ~ as if I need to reiterate to you. Happiness and contentment had always been short phases, and their permanence in your presence was initially met with suspicion and self-sabotage. My tendency to tease and put-down was ill-suited to someone so sweet and sensitive, and you had to teach me that such abrasiveness wasn't necessary, that you weren't going to hurt me. It was a tough lesson, but I did my best. Maybe I'll never learn.

As I sit here in the dark I am overcome with a sadness and loss. I want to be mad at you for making me give up my friends, my family, and my home to come to Chicago with you. I want to tell you that it wasn't my choice ~ I could come with you or lose you ~ where is the choice in that? I want to hate you for bringing me this far only to let me go once we were settled here. When I see your nonchalance, and your excitement at fixing the place up and getting groceries, part of me wonders if you brought me to Chicago just so you wouldn't have to do it alone. I hear you arranging things in your bedroom, your laughter on the phone, and I resent that you can do such simple tasks when I can barely walk through the apartment without breaking down in tears.

At such times everything here is tinged with your touch. I cried at the sight of your rubber duck in the bathtub, the rug in the dining room, the napkin-holder in the kitchen ~ it all has such significance because it is yours, and I doubt anything of mine would ever reduce you to tears, and I am sorry … Sorry that I wasn't loved that way, sorry that I never told you that you were, sorry that we may never know why.

And when I try to find any anger to direct at you, if only to make this easier, I find myself unable. I cannot get past the emptiness that now pervades my spirit. There is no reason for me to be mad at you. Even if you wronged me a thousand times I doubt I could ever bring myself to hate you ~ I just don't have that in me ~ not for you… not ever for you. I want only to love you, and you alone.

Oh Paul, I don't know what happened… I don't know what went wrong or when exactly ~ I only know that since we have been apart I've been completely miserable and dismayed and have lost all that ever made me happy. A little part of me, the best part of me, is being extinguished at each moment we are not together. What's worse is that I fear it is largely due to me. My stubborn pride, my refusal to give up any ground, my difficulty with compromise… I find it hard to blame you for wanting something better.

Part of me refuses to believe that it is over, that after an entire year we are simply giving up and moving on, that after everything we've already been through this is indeed the final end of us. I can't believe that and survive ~ I won't. And yet… if that is truly what you wish, and what will be the best for you, then I will not fight. If friendship is all you have to offer then I must accept, because I cannot stand to be absent from your life. If all we have to share are occasional hugs and cooking duties and decorating the apartment, I will acquiesce.

Paul, you were the best boyfriend in the world. I'm sorry if I didn't always treat you that way. Some things got in the way of my best intentions. Despite the enormous pain in my heart, and the tears that are about to start streaking down my face, I would go through it all again just to have known you. You will always be that special someone for me ~ the person who, years from now, will be remembered with a sad smile and a rare tinge of regret. Thank you for showing me how good it could be. I love you as I always have and always will. ~ A.

He never read the letter. We made up just before our anniversary, amid tears of hope and renewal. I put the sealed letter on the top shelf of my closet so I won't forget. I am relieved and glad, and never want to face a future without Paul by my side. ~

* * * * * * *

{Albany} The man watches Alan out of the corner of his eye. Alan looks back a few times and the flirtation dance commences. Encouraged by the sly come-hither glance, the man asks Alan is he has another piece of gum, and then gives him his phone number.

"You have a great smile," he says shyly. "Very cute."

Looking down at his feet, Alan says good-bye and says he'll give the man a call. In the car he unfolds the slip of paper and reads the name 'Claudio' near the phone number. Not a bad name, he reasons. Might as well give the dating thing another go.

During a rainstorm the next week, Alan drives into Albany to meet up with Claudio. He looks boyish in his baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirt. His black hair is long and locks of it fall forward over one side of his face. Claudio said he liked long hair like Alan's.

In the parking lot of Crossgates mall, Alan waits in the Blazer as raindrops patter upon the windshield. He finishes the vodka and orange juice from a thermos. Claudio is late Usually Alan would leave, but his defenses are down, and it is too dismal to go home alone, without at least a kiss or a small connection. His patience thoroughly tried, he finally sees Claudio pull up next to him. They agree that they will drive to Oh Bar for a drink and leave Alan's car in the lot until later. Pulling his hood on, Alan gets into Claudio's car. As they drive away, Alan sees the Blazer in the parking lot from afar, looking forlorn and lonely in the rain. In his apathy he does not once question the safety of his actions.

At the bar he orders a white Russian and recommends that Claudio get a cosmopolitan. Following his second drink and the previous screwdrivers in the car, Alan is dangerously drunk. Claudio brings him to the car and they sidle into the back seat, kissing feverishly and groping each other in the confined space. It has stopped raining. Inside the car the windows are coated with a thick layer of condensation.

Somehow his pants are off and he thinks he might pass out. He lets Claudio kiss his nipples roughly. He is leaving… he doesn't want to be there anymore… his eyes close and he begins to float away. Suddenly cold lubricant is being shoved into his ass, and Claudio sticks a finger in to open him up. Shocked into awareness, Alan is back from the beautiful blackness.

Claudio is trying to fuck him. He holds his arms down and forces his legs apart. The intensity is frightening and Alan must think of a clever escape that won't result in him getting beaten or killed or thrown into the street. He starts simply, "No, no I don't want that." He pants it seductively, as though he really does want it but on principal is saying no. Claudio has put on a condom and is trying again. Alan pushes him off but is not as strong as him. Almost panicking now, Alan tries a different tact. He intones the name of another man to upset Claudio's apparent ego and get him to stop. "Yes, Paul… oh, yes…" This too fails to stop Claudio's attempts at impaling him. Finally, Alan starts crying ~ genuinely ~ out of repulsion, sadness, horror, and fear ~ out of intoning a sacred name and having to remember ~ and his tears eventually soften Claudio's erection. 'This is what it fucking takes,' he thinks as he stumbles into the front seat and asks Claudio to take him to the car. Claudio apologizes. Alan says it's his own fault, that he should know better than to get into the situation, anything to make sure he gets back to the car safely.

A few days later Claudio calls Alan and asks if he wants to go out some night that week. Laughing, Alan responds, "Why, so you can try to rape me again? I don't think so. Don't call anymore," and hangs up.

* * * * * * *

October 1999: Last week we took a trolley tour of Chicago with the tourists ~ saw all the sights and heard the cool city history. It was so fun to share the day with Paul. He works a lot, so I often come into the Water Tower Place to pick him up or go out for dinner. Hard to believe we have been together for over a year. Sometimes I step away from myself and think, 'Oh my God! I'm living with my boyfriend!' It's strange in a grand way.

I am becoming quite the housewife ~ cooking extravagant meals, making beds, doing laundry ~ but it has not yet become boring. There is always reading or writing to do when I find myself feeling uninspired or dull. Speaking of which, I have heard from the Windy City Time and I am going to be paid for writing a story on hospice for their next issue. Not the most scintillating of topics, but hell, I've made my life look somewhat interesting, so certainly hospice can be glamorized into something palatable yet informational. ~

After dinner at Joy's Noodles, Paul and I attended a production of "Dancer from the Dance" at the About Face Theatre in the Belmont area. It was pretty decent. It seemed to inspire Paul a little ~ he is getting new head shots and doing the mass-mailing thing to agencies and theater companies. He's a little upset about his weight. But he looks beautiful to me. I like his peaches just the way they are.

I realized that we haven't had anal sex since we arrived in Chicago. Should I be worried about this? I'm thinking it's just the settling and maturation of our relationship. Besides, I'm not ready to let him fuck me, so I suppose that it's only fair that I'm not fucking him. We do everything but the anal stuff, though even that everything is lacking of late. All of this is usually all right with me, but I do get excited sometimes and being told 'No' is no fun at all. If my friends could see me now!

Today Paul and I went to Walgreen's to finalize my supplies for Caifornia. Amazingly, thanks to the wonders of modern plastic travel bottles, I have managed to fit my entire existence for the weekend in San Francisco into one, yes folks that's right, ONE backpack. A far cry from the guy who used to require two suitcases and a wardrobe rod for a trip to the mall on Sunday afternoon.

I can't wait to meet the guys at xy! I feel sure that they will offer me a job ~ in some capacity. And even if they don't, who cares? The head dude himself is picking me up at the airport! I must go and finish packing and then get some rest. Tomorrow we need to leave at 5:30 in the morning to make it to Midway in time for the flight, because apparently no one thought to make the airport convenient to anything. Paul has offered to come with me, even though it's his day off. He keeps telling me not to get my hopes up ~ and considering the writing offers that have not been pouring in, it is good advice ~ but I can't help it. I can't tell if he's really happy for me or not. I mentioned a possible move to California (yes, it's a stretch, but a guy can dream), and he was not quite enthusiastic about it. Understandably so. ~

We got up before the light of day and trudged through uncomfortably cold weather for October. I had my big winter coat on, and Paul took it for me at the airport so I wouldn't be dragging it around California. We kissed each other good-bye and I boarded the plane.

Nerves kicked in and I drank the screwdrivers that I'd had the foresight to prepare last night. When I arrived at the gate I was relaxed and ready. Peter, Mike Glatze (an editor), and Jeff were all there waiting. They drove me to the hotel and I met up with them for lunch in the Castro.

It was a good time, but they are the most unorganized group of people I have ever met, and after knowing Suzie and meeting her friends, that is a pretty powerful statement. It turns out that xy is moving to Los Angeles, and for me to seriously get a job with them would require a move to Santa Monica. That is not something I can do right now, especially when it is so dependent on such undependable people. But they did say my work would be published regardless. Back at the hotel room in the heart of the Castro, I call Mom and Paul. I miss him immensely. ~

The next day I have sushi with Peter Cummings. Walking to the restaurant, he gets a call, and then I hear him tell the person that he is meeting with a writer and can't talk. After a moment I realize that I'm the writer. I am a writer. In that one instant he validates what I had always doubted from friends and family. I walk around San Francisco elated.

That night I open the curtains to my hotel room window, lock the door, and masturbate for a gathering group of furtive on-lookers. A security guard sends them away, but a few return for the climax. I don't let anyone in. ~

Back from sunny California into chilly Chicago. Paul picked me up and brought my winter coat, Took the long-ass subway from airport to Granville ~ our inconvenient stop. Nice to be home. My hospice article is in the Windy City Times this week and I've already been asked to write a piece on Noel Coward, which I am currently researching. I'm also sick ~ a joy ~ and this apartment is fucking freezing. ~

* * * * * * *

{Boston} The sharp scent of sickly-sweet disinfectant hangs thick in the air, overpowering any shitty stench. No one has defecated in an especially foul manner today. Two sets of black dress shoes shift in separate stalls. Alan steps into the stall between them and closes the door. At twelve o'clock in the afternoon he is already drunk. He smiles a lazy smile as he slides his jeans and underwear down to his ankles and sits upon the cold toilet seat. He doesn't bother to wipe it off or line it with toilet paper. He doesn't care.

After a few moments of silence, hushed coughs are heard from both sides of him. A foot eases its way under the stall and retreats, tapping as it does so. In the marble floor Alan can make out the shadow of a man jerking off, the gentle brushing of skin heard softly in the confined quarters. Two fingers appear to his right, beckoning him over with quick, jerky motions. He won't be had that way. Too eager.

Focusing his attention to his left, he senses he is being watched. A young man's face peers up from under the stall, his face contorted and straining to see Alan's own face. He smiles down and gets closer.

"Hey," the man whispers, "You wanna get together? I know a place we can go. Follow me."

Alan agrees and pulls up his pants. He follows the man out of the bathroom. They do not look at one another. Alan stays a few steps behind, looking casually disinterested and a little bored, though beneath the smooth veneer his heart is pounding. Getting into the elevator, the man pushes the button for the fifth floor. Both men look down at the carpet, occasionally glancing sideways at each other and smiling before looking away.

"There's a bathroom here that's a little more private," the man says. Alan is no longer nervous. His heart has calmed, finally drowning in the morning's screwdrivers.

The man is tall and nicely dressed. They enter a stall and stand beneath bright fluorescent lights. The guy leans down and kisses Alan roughly. He slobbers a little and spit is escaping the corners of his mouth. Alan fights the repulsion building within and focuses on the man's cute haircut and the smell of his cologne. He is actually quite handsome.

Alan allows him to unbutton his jeans and take his dick in his mouth. The man's hands run up Alan's chest and he takes a sharp gasp of air before whispering, "Dude, you are so hot… God…" before plunging down on Alan's cock again. Stopping him, Alan leans in for another kiss. Even if it's not that good, a kiss is still better than a simple blow-job, and through his drunken cloudiness he remembers this.

He unbuckles the man's belt and pulls his dress pants down. Almost laughing at the bright green Tommy Hilfiger boxer briefs that he reveals, Alan brings forth the man's penis and sees that it is uncircumcised. It is his first, and he takes it into his mouth hungrily without thinking too much. The man moans and places his hand on Alan's bobbing head. Alan stops for a second.

"Don't come in my mouth."

"I won't."

Alan puts his hand on the man's ass and pulls him further down his throat. The skin he has grabbed is soft and squishy, and, mildly disgusted, he lets go. Smiling, he pushes the man so that he is standing over the toilet, and Alan comes up behind him. With two pairs of underwear between them, he rests his erection in the crack of the man's butt and pushes as the man strokes his own penis.

"Come," he intones in his ear and in a minute there is semen on the toilet seat. Neither of them bothers to wipe it off. The man looks nervously at his watch and says he is late for work.

"Thank you," he says to Alan before running out the bathroom door.

Dazed and alone, Alan throws his backpack over his shoulder and stumbles into the hallway. He takes the stairs, hoping not to run into whatever-his-name-was, but gets lost and has to return to the elevator. It doesn't matter ~ the man is already gone.

* * * * * * *

November 1999: Not a good week. My promised publication debut in xy magazine was a big bust ~ I'm not in this month's issue as I was told I'd be. Almost lost it at the bookstore. Oh well, who needs to make his first appearance in the 'Sex' issue anyway. Okay, me…

Then Paul and I broke up again. Can't tell if it's for real. I'm beginning to think we may be one of those tumultuous couples who breaks up over and over but really belongs together. As long as we're all right in the end, I can deal. But something is markedly changed this time. I remain in denial or I couldn't get up in the morning. ~

We went shopping at Marshall Field's ~ the big downtown store, all decked out in Christmas holiday splendor. I proposed the excursion in the name of friendship, though my heart hurt the whole time. Tried to put on a happy face, but wanted to cry every minute. Even purchasing a new robe didn't help or cheer me. I think Paul is sad too, so part of me wonders why we're not back together already. ~

I called home and told Mom that I might be moving back East. Never have I felt so ashamed and disappointed in myself. She was great about it. They must think I'm crazy. Maybe I am. ~

I was crying the other night so Paul came in and laid with me. I hate myself for being so impossible ~ it was all my fault ~ the usual crap I dole out to those I supposedly love. Coupled with a stubborn pride and a refusal to give up any ground, it does not endear me to Paul, and I wonder why I still carry it out. Yet he forgave me, again, and with my promise to change we made up and kissed, making gentle love to each other and bringing my world back into focus, back to something I can handle. ~

Last night we had a romantic dinner at a cozy Italian restaurant. We had left a wretched production of Noel Coward's 'Private Lives' during the intermission ~ the tickets were free because of my press pass, and thank God, or I would have been pissed to have paid for such shit.

After dinner Paul and I bought a pack of ultra-thin Capri cigarettes and laughed our asses off smoking them and crunching through the late-Fall leaves. It was a good night. ~

Due back in Amsterdam for Thanksgiving week. I'll miss Paul, but this time apart may be what we need. Besides, I'll get to see my friends in Boston; there's a party/get-together with all the folks from John Hancock. It'll be fun. The holidays are arriving just in time. I don't feel quite right about something, but I can't figure out what or why. Probably the gnawing uneasiness of the oncoming winter, even though it's not that cold yet. ~

* * * * * * *

{Boston} By the time he saunters into the Eagle Bar, Alan is half-drunk. He sits on a barstool and the bartender gives him a knowing smirk. Smiling, Alan orders a gin and tonic. Dressed in torn jeans and a tight white T-shirt, he attracts the hungry stares of men on-the-prowl. The bartender arrives with his drink, still wearing a wise-ass smile.

"What?" Alan demands, coquettishly agitated. The man shakes his head, laughs a little, and walks away. The gin and tonic is quickly devoured as a guy makes stupid small talk next to him. Excusing himself, Alan stumbles shakily to the bathroom, followed by another man.

"He can't afford you," the man whispers as Alan pees.

"How do you know?" Alan asks, annoyed but still playful.

"You don't look that cheap."

"I'm not for sale."

He returns to the bar and orders another drink. After gulping it down he asks for another, but the bartender says he can't sit there anymore. Alan is too drunk to understand, so he wanders to the back wall and slumps onto a seat. He is easy, pretty prey ~ wounded and weak and too fucked-up to give a damn. Finally he rises and walks dejectedly out of the smoky bar into the cool night air. The man from the bathroom hurries after him.

It is dark in the apartment. Richly furnished, the place is at odds with its ogre of an owner. The rather rotund man has a frightening face framed with thinning red hair and messy whiskers. Alan is too far gone to see clearly, and too lonely to care.

He doesn't remember walking down the stairs to the bedroom. It feels like a labyrinth and he knows that he could never escape in a hurry. Resigned to his position, he takes off his clothes and climbs into bed, hoping to pick up some scent of desire to get him hard. The man is on him telling him to relax. He is heavy and Alan feels trapped. He cannot kiss back.

The liquor is losing its power, but Alan is in a blur. Hands move up and down his body and a tongue glides over his neck. He cannot move.

"I have to leave… I'm sorry…"

"Shhh… just relax."

"No really, I need to go…"

"Will you just fucking relax?"

The man may be heavy, but he is not strong. Alan pushes him away, empowered by disgust. A fleeting thought of murder flashes insanely in his head. Still quite drunk, he fumbles with his clothes but can't find his underwear. He leaves the pair behind and walks upstairs, the man in a sheet behind him.

"Where's my coat?" Alan asks, remembering now that the guy had taken it when they first came in.

"I don't know," he answers.

"Please just tell me where my coat is," Alan says, his voice cracking and his thoughts suddenly on Paul and how much he missed him. He starts to cry. The man moves to hug him.

"I know, I know. It's not easy."

Alan tries to push him off but can't. He sobs uncontrollably.

"I wish I could say that it gets better, but being gay isn't an easy thing," he says. Alan can't even voice his disbelief at the stupidity of the man. In his frustration he cries harder. The man offers further consolation, but Alan interrupts.

"This isn't about being gay," he finally blurts out. "Just give me my coat ~ you put it somewhere when we came in…" and Alan remembers. He opens the small door to the closet, grabs his coat, and runs out the door. He walks home in the cold air of Spring, crying quietly to himself.

* * * * * * *

December 1999: We saw the World Premiere of the new musical Aida at the Palace Theater in downtown Chicago last night. It was okay, but nothing special; in fact, I thought it kind of sucked, but Paul liked it. I will write a review to see if I am in agreement with the other critics and if I have a shot to do that for real. Before the show we walked around and watched the ice skaters in front of Marshall Field's. it was fun, but something is off-kilter and I can't figure out what it is. Paul seems distant lately, like he's sort of looking through and beyond me and never truly seeing that I am here with him. Maybe it's the weather…

Had brunch with Amber Miller today. Talk about a blast from the past ~ haven't seen her in almost ten years. We shared Amsterdam stories and being children of doctors and nurses and lots of good stuff. Don't know if we'll meet again regularly. I haven't felt very social since moving here, and don't seem to have the effort to begin now. After Christmas vacation I'll come back with renewed vigor and make my way into the social stratum of the Windy City. Until then I sort of want to lie low and disappear. ~

While shopping at Marshall Field's the other day, I flirted with the sales guy Rick. I definitely did not need, not can I really afford, the $100 pair of pants I tried on for him, but I bought them and he gave me his phone number. I told him I had a boyfriend, but that I didn't really know anyone and would like to hang out some time. A hundred bucks for a phone number.

Perhaps I am getting lonely and too afraid to admit it. Paul is at work all the time and I have the cold days to myself. I try to make it to the supermarket every day, for a newspaper and cooking supplies, but there are those times when I stay in the bathrobe all day and don't even shower until late afternoon. Even when I cook dinner it's no longer a big deal, though Paul will still do the dishes. I wrote a silly poem I might title 'Housewife's Lament':

I think it is
the moment just before
you come home
I like best.
Dinner is done
the table is set
and there is nothing
save silence and scents.
The moment
ripe with hope,
plucked to an impending death
by the sound –
your keys rattling the lock
your steps on the hard-wood floor
your sigh before your smile…
Your smile,
sometimes, is enough.
Often it is not.
And then the moment
I like almost as much –
You are finished
and have dropped
dirty dishes in the sink
and you are gone.
A different silence,
different scents ~
an anxious relief.
Those moments
of peaceful parentheses
and quiet book-ends,
I think I like best ~
Those moments
that wouldn't be
without you.

Poetry has never been my forte, as is painfully obvious. Oh well, who cares. It was fun to write, and a lot of bored housewives may one day relate.

I have been assigned an article on holiday shopping at museums. Called and visited some of the places with Paul and fleshed out the wise-ass little article in one sitting. Free-lance may not be the way for me; I'll figure it all out when I get back in the next century. Scheduled to depart Chicago this week and return home for an extended Christmas and New Year's. ~

Tonight I am in Amsterdam. Picked Paul up from the airport this afternoon. Together at last, and the distance seems to have served us well. In my bathroom, while waiting for dinner to be ready, he went down on me in the dark. I stopped him and then we went downstairs to eat with the family.

Later we all gathered for an impromptu party in the attic. All my old high school friends were there ~ Suzie, Missy, her boyfriend Joe, Kerry, Kate, her fiance Ralph, and Missy's cousin Jamie ~ and they all met and liked Paul. We had wine and drinks and laughed and played Trivial Pursuit. I felt most like a couple tonight, and extremely proud of it. Whatever difficulties we may have, we will work through and manage. ~

It is New Year's Eve and we spent he uneventful (and sparsely attended) evening at Suzie's. Paul and I were the only guests, but the food was good and the atmosphere laid back and relaxed for ringing in the year 2000. We were in the kitchen when Paul made the comment about me being co-dependent. I didn't know if I was more angry that he noticed or that it was true. He and Suzie went upstairs while I washed dishes. Suzie was very disturbed by that. So was I, for different reasons. Midnight came and went. A new Year. A new century. A new millennium. Yet I feel no reason to celebrate. I don't know if I can live without Paul, and tonight I rang in the dire likelihood of doing just that. And I couldn't even tell you how I knew. ~

* * * * * * *

{Boston} Someone has written Alan's name and phone number in a bathroom stall somewhere in Copley Place. The first few calls he receives are dismissed before he realizes what has happened. He has an idea who might have done it, but doesn't know why the person would. It makes no difference. The only question is what has been written. 'For a good time call...' or 'Free BJ's…' or 'Hot cock-sucker…' It is almost ~ almost ~ laughable. Alan pours himself a strong drink. It is not quite noon. He decides to arrange a tryst with the next one who calls ~ there is nothing else to do. A few minutes later the phone rings and Alan is meeting the man in Neiman Marcus. They size one another up and decide it will work. Alan brings him home in the middle of the day.

He has lost faith in mankind and nothing matters. The overcast sky threatens but does deliver rain. Marianne Faithfull wails in the background as Alan gives himself over to the young man. He shoves his penis into Alan's mouth and moans. After another sip of a screwdriver, Alan plunges down again, tears almost welling in his eyes. He does not cry though. In this degradation he has found a certain peace, a moment absent of pressure or meaningful emotion. There is nothing more base he can do, and in that realization is a freedom and lack of care that is a necessary and cruel relief.

He must go through this to move forward. He will do it over and over until he feels nothing, until a cock no longer chokes him, until a bite no longer draws blood, until he has become hardened to the human touch. He will forget names he never wanted to know, and misplaces faces he sees on the street the next week. He will teach himself not to care, through experience, repetition, and the unrelenting viciousness of humanity.

The boy-man gets dressed ~ more boy than man ~ same age as Alan and a similar small frame. That is all they are ~ two frail frames, bones and skin bumping and rubbing and separating. He tells Alan that he lives in Lowell or Worcester or somewhere and Alan nods and smiles, not really listening because at last he is not in the least concerned. He looks blankly at the boy leaving and sees his own self depart as well. The door shuts in the other room and Alan lies on the bed ~ empty and naked and free.

* * * * * * *

January 2000: Paul departed for Chicago this morning. I have decided to stay an extra week, since Mom is going in for surgery tomorrow and didn't bother to tell me until a few days ago. Luckily the plane ticket could be changed without an extra charge. I am also assembling a number of writing packages to be sent out to publishers and literary agents since xy magazine just won't publish anything written by me and I don't know why. Promises broken left and right and I am starting to give up. ~

Mom's surgery went well, but she was groggy and not feeling well. I visited the hospital twice, and the second time she looked much better. I've been taking care of the house with my newly-honed home-making skills. Dinner has been cooked, the laundry has been done, and the house has been cleaned. I sort of like taking care of Dad and Gram, and I know Mom will rest a little easier. Tomorrow Suzie's Mom is joining us for my special Italian sauce. For the first time in a long while I feel like a good son, finally worthy of my parents' love. And yet I feel an impending sadness, a grief that what my parents share will never be felt by Paul and myself, and the goodness I am experiencing is tinged with sorrow. ~

Returned to Chicago and faced the winter of the Windy City. Everything is cold and I cannot get warm enough in the apartment. Paul and I make love once, but I don't come. I do not know that it will be our last time. We are not the same. Something shifted. We became too comfortable, too domestic, and the passion between us fizzled. Neither of us had the strength to keep fighting for something that would ultimately end later on and we both knew it.

Paul was the strong one. He had the courage and fortitude to end it; I simply accepted and resigned myself to the fact that we had fallen out of love romantically. I did not make an effort to repair what had been broken. He sleeps in his own room now. I can hear him crying and sobbing while talking to his Mom on the phone. I am either too mad at him or too mad at myself to feel much when his soft moans pierce my ears. My heart and my soul have been irreparably ravaged. I walk around in a daze, a mask of stoic resignation and a last stab of dignity my only defense. It is over. I am alone in a strange city, living with a man who no longer loves me the way I love him, and I am too stunned to cry or feel much of anything. When Paul comes to me one morning and says that maybe he hasn't given me a fair chance, I tell him he did the right thing. Part of it is a ploy, a last-ditch effort to play the game of detachment, but in the end it only turns into his own sad acceptance and, I fear, relief. ~

The chocolate cake I made for his birthday is finally gone, and I am the one who ate most of it. Have been writing to keep from killing myself. The shock is leaving and it is finally hitting me. Now I can cry, and I do. The miserable days are dark and dreary and the light does not last for long. I keep cooking ~ anything to keep me occupied, anything to keep me alive. I am living with my ex-boyfriend whom I still love and I think it should be one of the circles in Dante's Hell. ~

Have been cooking and drinking and hanging out with my friend Gregg from Viva Java, the café where I write and read. He takes me out to the bars and is a welcome relief. We kissed once on the shore of Lake Michigan. It was nice to be kissed again by someone who really wanted it. I will do anything to be wanted like that ~ any fucking thing. ~

* * * * * * *

{Boston} He had taken the last of the antibiotics that morning. His throat, which had flamed up since returning to Boston ~ as it had done on his arrival in Chicago so many months ago ~ was fine again. No longer swollen or painful, Alan saw his lump-in-the-throat as signs of the beginning and end of a very bad episode. He toasted himself with a batch of cosmopolitans before dressing for the evening's festivities.

Emerging from the condo, Alan cuts a striking figure in his black DKNY slacks and azure dress shirt, and, in honor of his friend Alissa's birthday, an actual tie. He carries a jacket in one hand and flowers and a gift in the other. Tipsy and giddy and happy to be out on the town again, he runs into Alissa on the train and they walk to the restaurant together. They are a little early and sit at the bar. Alan drinks two more cosmos and as the rest of the party arrives, makes his way tottering to the table.

All of a sudden something is not right. The liquor and the antibiotics ~ he had forgotten… this is very bad. He sees the food arriving ~ he cracks a lobster claw ~ his eyes close ~ he is in the bathroom. The world spins madly and he expels himself into the toilet. Everything is exiting his body ~ flowing in tears from his eyes, sweat from his forehead, and vomit from his mouth.

He slips to the floor, cracking his elbow against the toilet rim, slamming his knees against the hard tile, struggling to find footing, failing and sliding wildly in bitter puddles of puke. He sits on the cold wet floor, grasping porcelain and heaving his hell out in vicious spasms.

A friend from the party knocks on the stall door. "Alan? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Alan manages, "Just give me a minute and I'll be back out. Just go ~ I'm fine."

His hundred-dollar pants soaked in bile and his tie sopping up spoiled toilet water, Alan rests his head on the rim and passes out Another knock awakens him. His friend Kanwar says that the manager is worried about the guy in the bathroom.

"I just need to go home," Alan says as Kanwar leads him out of the restaurant to a cab. Somehow he spits out his address, but as he slowly falls to the side, the driver knows that he is going to throw up and orders him out of the cab. Stumbling to the curb, Alan lays down and retches. He wants to stay there ~ to roll into the street and get run over into beautiful oblivion. Instead, he musters what little is left of his consciousness and waves money at the next cab. He doesn't realize his keys have fallen out of his pocket.

He is back at the condo somehow. Remembering nothing of the cab ride, he climbs the stairs and reaches for his keys. They are gone, but it doesn't seem to register. Crumbling at the door, he throws up one final time, his face resting in the sick little pool, a piece of undigested lobster claw running off his chin. This time he passes out until it is dark.

The building manager wakes him up and finds the master key to Alan's apartment. Alan thanks him, even though he no longer knows what is going on. Falling onto his bed, he sleeps in his soiled clothes and a cold sweat. In a few hours his alarm goes off. It is his first day of work at the Boston Phoenix. Stepping gingerly out of the putrid pants, Alan calls in sick and goes back to bed ~ embarrassed, ashamed, and, for the first time, scared.

* * * * * * *

February 2000: Paul and I went to the John Shedd Aquarium & Oceanarium as friends today. It was bright and sunny by the lake, and the wind was not too cold. We walked through the dim corridors and looked at the fish. The beluga whales were my favorite. Standing on the steps outside the aquarium, we could see the skyline of Chicago ~ ice shimmering on the branches of trees and the shore white with snow.

Had lunch at the Potbelly Sandwich shop downtown. Great subs. It would have been the most perfect day if I didn't want to cry the entire time. I don't care about anything anymore. It is apparent that I can no longer live with Paul. I will kill myself if I stay. I will drown in so many tears and open up my wrists and drink myself to death if I do not leave. My own love is destroying me and I have to get away. ~

Back in Amsterdam. Tomorrow Suzie and I will take the bus to New York City. We saw a movie last night and a trip to NYC will help me get my mind off other matters. My family has been remarkably supportive and caring about the whole break-up. We do not talk openly about it, but I can sense they know things, and I feel safe here ~ sad, but safe. ~

Hung out with Suzie and Chris Vaeth tonight. Met up with Suz at Rose's Turn, a gay bar in the Village and then had sushi for dinner. Of course, Chris was late, so we went ahead and started without him ~ at Suzie's say-so by the way. Then the three of us had drinks somewhere else. When they went home I had a few more of my own at The Cock, after which I couldn't' find the damn subway entrance. Walked around the same block for half an hour getting more and more lost and feeling sadder and more alone every minute. Finally started bawling and called Paul from a pay-phone. Hearing his voice was enough. But when we hung up it was even worse. Shielded my face from oncoming pedestrians and finally found the subway. Got back to Suzie's place in tears. When will it stop hurting so much? ~

A few days ago my great Uncle died. Went to the funeral in New Jersey. It seems like only death brings my family together. It was nice to see everyone again ~ even Uncle Roberto made it and we had big fun the night prior to the funeral. That's my family for you.

Of course, I had been enlisted to read from the scripture AND be a pall-bearer, two things I could not wish against more. But how do you say no to a wailing widow? I asked my Mom to do it, but she wouldn't. At seven in the morning, while my parents are downstairs at breakfast and I am still hung-over, I drink down another screwdriver and pour more vodka into the bottle of fruit juice. I will need it if I am going to carry a dead man and read out-loud in a church full of family members.

It all went as well as a funeral could go. Saw all of the Ilagan family, and since I'm not seeing anyone I didn't have to lie about being single. Maybe something good will come out of this after all. I am scheduled to remain in Amsterdam for at least a month, and then go back to Chicago and move back East for good in May. Paul understands. He doesn't have a choice. ~

* * * * * * *

{Provincetown} The moonlight flows in through the open bedroom window. Alan and Chris are finally alone together after hours of skirting their loneliness with drink and talk. The waiting, the wanting, and the dizzying moments of almost and might-have-been are vanishing in their hungry kisses. Still, in spite of the desire and the dream of this connection Alan pulls back.

"Wait," he whispers huskily between kisses, "Please... no."

"Shh…" Chris coaxes, pulling Alan into a deep hug. They look at each other in the soft glow of the moon and neither is sure who is crying.

"Are you serious? I mean, do you really want this?" Alan asks breathlessly. "You know I fall in love with everyone."

Chris answers with a kiss and a shy smile before holding Alan's head in his hands and saying, "Yes" with a cracked voice. The bittersweet taste of liquor passes between their mouths, punctuated by the stale lingering of a cigarette. They fall to the bed ~ tongues flailing, limbs entwined, and uncontrollable motion.

"No… wait. We can't do this!" Alan says with slight alarm, awakening to the situation. He sits up, shirt unbuttoned, and asks, "What if Kristen comes in? And what about…" but stops as he sees Chris, and no longer cares. It has always been leading up to this, though neither is reading that much into it ~ too many drinks, a few cigarettes, and an evening of loneliness can make a man take leave of his mind.

They have been patiently awaiting this moment. It falls around them in folds of passion as their clothes lay discarded on the floor. In the end, the desire of the moment wins out and Alan plunges head-first into another messy mistake which he will either down-play of play-up to best suit his fancy and appearance. Chris comes, like so many others, and wipes it off with a T-shirt. They have stopped speaking and in the silence a new but expected awkwardness ensues. In the space of a few minutes everything is changed, and the difference goes unsaid but not unnoticed.

Chris dresses quickly, as if ashamed; Alan rolls salty wet eyes and turns his face to the wall before stopping Chris from leaving.

"Hey… umm, I had a nice time tonight…" and he stumbles over words for the first time. Wanting to ask if they'll ever meet again, wanting to set up something definite for the future, wanting it to mean something it never will, Alan holds back, but manages one final question: "What's your last name?"

Chris smiles and lets out a soft laugh. "It's O'Neil. Why?"

"I sometimes like to know the last name of those who come on me Perhaps I'll see you around, Mr. O'Neil ~ Provincetown's a small place," and in the dark Alan forces himself to forget as Chris closes the door behind him. They will pass one another on the street the next day. Alan will shake his hand and not care that he will never see him again.

* * * * * * *

March 2000: Extended my stay here for a few more weeks, leaving me only a couple days in Chicago to pack before Suzie comes out to help me move. Stopped by Wilton Mall the other day to see Dawn and get some boxes for moving. Can't think about it now ~ too scary.

I've been extremely subdued and quiet around the house, even more-so than usual. There's nothing to say to anyone. I have lost myself in these past few months, and I must try to figure out a way not to care. Nothing good has ever come of my love and I doubt it ever will. ~

Tomorrow I return to Chicago. Still have to close out my bank account, change my address at the post office, pack everything up, order the moving truck, and basically have a week of utter hell. The physical demands are exhausting, but the emotional toll will be far greater I fear. Have no idea how I'm going to get through this one. At least Suzie's coming. If it wasn't for her I couldn't do it. No way. ~

Packing has been surprisingly uneventful, as far as feelings go. As long as I don't think about what I'm doing, it seems to be all right. And despite my former penchant for thinking too much, I have thus far been able to think about nothing but simple mechanical motions and moving logistics and I am thankful for that. I know it will hit me at some other time, but for now the paralysis has been kept at bay. Suzie arrives tomorrow and them someone else can think for me. It helps that Paul has not been around that much. He is a little colder. I don't think he fully realized the ramifications of my moving out. I am conflicted on whether I feel bad for him. It was, after all, his decision. No, that's not true. It was our decision. So I do feel bad in a way, especially since I very much care for him and always shall. But for now I just want to get the hell out of here and forget for a while. The most difficult part of my journey with Paul is about to begin, and I only hope Suzie has figured out how to deal with hysteria. Farewell, Windy City. ~

* * * * * * *

{Boston} A man sits at a dark wooden desk. Hunched over, hair spilling down onto his forehead, he scribbles madly on a torn sheet of paper. He pauses for a moment, lifts his head, shakes the black locks from his eyes, and furrows his brow before diving back to the page.

This is what Alan Ilagan does late at night when he finds sleep forsaking him and his eyes too tired to read another word. The gin has worn off, and while his body is exhausted, his mind is racing with wild thoughts. He leans back in a leopard-print chair and lets out a long slow breath.

The sound of the downstairs door jars him upright. It is two o'clock in the morning on a week-night. Someone has entered the building and is making their way up the stairs. A thread of fear weaves quickly through Alan's head as he fixes his eyes on the door. There is a terrifying silence for a moment, then the jangling of keys. The fright is subdued only slightly when Alan hears his neighbor unlock the door to the upstairs apartment and trudge up the steps. He cannot calm his pounding heart. He pours himself another gin and tonic and turns on a few more lights. Three harlequin-patterned lamps glow warmly in the cool night. By four o'clock Alan has passed out and rests discontentedly near the foot of the bed. The following morning he will resolve to never be afraid again.

* * * * * * *

April 2000: Late in the night, I write these words. Though I pretend otherwise ~ to myself and to the world ~ it is still done for him. It shall always be done for him. All and everything ~ I made the promise and I alone will keep it.

I love too hard, and am forever punished for it. There is not a single place left in this world for someone who feels so much, and slowly I am learning. I shall seek to be numb, to be cold, to not care. In his silence he is teaching me. In his apathy he instructs. In his blindness to my devotion he erodes my pesky heart, and eventually I will be grateful.

One day I will kiss the lips of a forgotten name, force a small smile, roll an empty promise off my tongue, and thank him for it ~ for sharing such cruel and necessary secrets with his unanswered letters ~ for whispering poisonous knowledge into my ears with his unreturned phone calls.

Why have you done this? How could you misplace our love, and not even wonder at its disappearance? I will take anything from you ~ derision, disdain, disgust ~ but you won't offer these easy emotions. You can't even bring yourself to be bothered with a dull bitterness or simple resentment ~ and my hatred towards you for this merely shows how much I still care ~ and how much I will always care.

I meant it, but never spoke. You said too much and meant nothing. Maybe you did believe your words, and for my selfish sake I will believe that.

Now I must sleep. In my mind that is the state of our love. It is what keeps me alive. In the dream-world I inhabit to make reality bearable and your indifference forgivable, sleep is the sweetest comfort. Soon I hope to find sleep forever ~ a constant condition of somnambulation~ eternally on the edge of sleep and wake ~ those giddy moments of forgetfulness prolonged to a point of delicious dormancy that goes on forever. Sweet dreams, my beautiful angel-boy, sweet dreams.

* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *

I am tired of this world. ~ tired of the beautiful soulless men I've been with and become ~ of the taxing demands of being a good friend ~ of the love and pain and obligation and comfort of my family ~ and of continually sabotaging any chance at contentment. I am weary of my existence. It has become too exhausting and I am weak. A goo trickster never gives up, he simply moves on to better and brighter places, but the superficial sparkle of a devil-may-care glamorous life no longer appeals to me. I find no thrill in the quick anonymity of a hot one-night-stand ~ the freedom of the bottle holds no allure ~ and the deep drag on a cigarette will never get me high enough.

The happy hopefulness of love is something I have forever lost ~ the euphoric possibilities at the beginning have become mere obstacles in the way of greater pain, so why bother? There is no reason to begin again. It is simply too tiring, too overwhelming.

I don't think I'm scared to love. I'm spent. I have no more to give. Somewhere along the line I gave it all away. Or maybe someone stole it in the night ~ pillaging my heart and raiding my soul of the care and compassion that everyone else seems to have. Such stuff is no longer for me ~ I don't think it ever was.

I do fear dying alone. You will all have children or grandchildren or in-laws to see you through ~ I probably won't, and it does frighten me. My brother won't be there ~ he can barely take care of himself. I asked Suzie if she would, but she'll have a life and family of her own and I wouldn't impose that on anyone. I am a little part of everyone's life, but an integral component of no one's. I am your requisite gay friend, the witty confidante and barrel-of-bar-room-fun, but that is al. You can put me away at the end of the day like a smoky cocktail dress or dinner jacket, to be forgotten until the next evening out. And I have fashioned myself to fit that mode. I am my own creation, my own demonic monster, feckless reckless and cruel.

At these moments I realize just how damaged and lost I've become. I think back to my childhood ~ to the brief time when I knew innocence. As a boy I was in tune with the natural and spiritual world. I loved flowers and plants and animals and forest walks. The backyard was my home ~ climbing the pine trees, walking amid the ferns, watching the squirrels and chipmunks ~ I was alone, surrounded my life, and somehow an essential part of it all.

Now I am simply alone and part of nothing. Detached, fragmented, broken ~ I do not fit anywhere. I belong to no one and no one belongs to me. My relationships with others are bound by wispy strings of smoke ~ easily dissipated and ever-threatening to disappear ~ and I refuse to get close. My heart is already ruined, my soul tainted beyond recognition. You do not know me as you once did. I am no longer worthy of you love, but I can't care about that. No one cares, and now, finally, I am no one too.

* * * * * * *
* * * * * * *

"At first, then, tricksters create separation, setting others at odds or placing boundary markers in new and unusual places. Initially, they are the non-domesticated artus-workers who make or remake the articulated world. Once that work is done, and once they have made a place for themselves, they may settle down to be the more domestic figures who keep things lively through a kind of behavior we call mischief." – Lewis Hyde

When Alan Ilagan moved to Chicago with his boyfriend Paul Fraley, he was poised to nestle into happy domesticity and live the quiet existence he had sought for so long. In Boston he had made a name for himself with wild outrageous behavior, carving out a niche as the resident drama queen. He was the preeminent Trickster of Beantown ~ leaving a tell-tale trail of silly, fun, and more-or-less harmless destruction in his wake. Tearing through the city in a whirl-wind of mischievous mayhem, he retained a likeable sweetness; at the end of every day he could return home to Paul and find comfort and sanctuary, and all of his actions had a wink and giggle to off-set any upset. It seemed that, for the moment, Alan had found a balance. Friends noticed the shift and attributed much of it to Paul's presence.

"I thought it was the healthiest relationship he had been in," said Missy Natale, a long-time friend from Amsterdam, NY. "I was happy for him and relieved that he had found some consistency in a relationship. Paul seemed wonderful, and I felt great security for Alan through Paul's obvious love for him. He is a good person, with goals and determination. I felt that he was a great person for Alan. He was supportive and stable. Alan seemed very happy and content and I was happy for both of them. It showed Alan how wonderful a stable and devoted relationship could be."

Close confidante and friend Chris Vaeth also approved of the relationship: "There is a new healthiness in Alan's bond with Paul, one which allows profound introspection, in his writing and in life. What a development."

Mr. Vaeth had been witness to much of Alan's troubled romantic history: "For a long time before meeting Paul, Alan thought (at least subconsciously) that he was destined to live a life that many gay men seem to be trapped in ~ hooking up with random guys and having no meaningful relationship. Alan wasn't so sure he could really love. I mean, he could go absolutely crazy over a one-night-stand with a balding chef, and think he was in love, but he didn't get to act it out with the right person. Paul was the right person, at least at that time. Paul brought out things in Alan that no one else could. He brought out commitment, and open kindness, and stability. I was gratified to see Alan in a relationship with Paul. They were good for each other."

Alissa Myrick, one of Alan's best friends in Boston, has seen him through the past three years of ups and downs, including his relationship with Paul. "Alan and Paul were a good couple," she concedes. "Over the time they were together, they worked on communication, made compromises… It seemed like they established a relatively healthy relationship. I thought there was probably enough of a foundation to do the move to Chicago, although there were questions about it. Paul was a good match for Al, in that he didn't let himself be completely dominated. Even though he didn't have Alan's sharp wit, he managed to stand on his own. I never felt like either person was being manipulated or used or anything like that. Paul really softened Alan ~ they achieved domesticity in a super-short period of time; and Alan stuck admirably to the monogamy thing."

"I think Alan's relationship with Paul gave him a sense of satisfaction. It was somehow sort of validating," says Kristen Davis, another best-bud in Boston. She too has seen his romantic progress over the past five years and recounts an episode that reveals just how seriously Alan considered his relationship: "Once, while he and Paul were living in Boston, Alan was invited home with some guy. He went. It was the middle of the day I think. The guy wanted to start fooling around, but Alan stopped him and said he couldn't. When Alan told me about it, he was so impressed that he had refused. But not surprised. You could tell that that was significant to him… that it was a statement about his love for Paul. I think he liked having that "special someone"… someone that loved only him and someone to whom he could be committed."

Others were less ready to send the couple off into happily-ever-after land. JoAnn MacKinnon, a previosu co-worker and a friend of Alan's for almost two years, enjoyed Paul, but was hesitant as to admitting their compatibility. "I thought Paul was a really nice person," she claims, "But I didn't know him all that well. He seemed nice. I was quite sure he didn't like to party that much. Any time we were all out socially I felt that he must have thought we were acting like fools. Alan and Paul seemed to have a good relationship, but like I said, I didn't know Paul that well. I think that they were very different from each other. An opposites attract kind of thing."

Suzie Ko, Alan's closest confidante and current personal manager, also liked Paul, but harbored some doubts upon seeing the two of them together. "I honestly didn't think Paul could handle Alan's wit. It seemed that they got comfortable with each other pretty quickly though. It was really weird that Alan became so domestic all of a sudden too. Although it seemed like a good thing for him, it was still really odd. He was almost demure."

* * * * * * *

"Trickster is the consummate survivor, always slippery, always able to invert a situation and wriggle free, always willing to abandon a project or an ego position if the danger gets too high. Tricksters sometimes suffer, but that is never the end of it; the end is levity and speed." – Lewis Hyde

After the boys moved to Chicago it was apparent that Alan would need another outlet for his trickster tendencies. In fact, he sought to remove all traces of trickster from himself, to live out a simpler, more real and satisfying life. Unfortunately, it was an attempted eradication that went awry. Publicly, he was putting up a good show. The Domestic Diva act worked for a while, though some wondered how real Alan's contentment was, and when he would tire of the housewife role.

"I was surprised that Alan would really move to Chicago," admits Chris Vaeth. "I mean, he moved his whole life out there, to be with Paul. One might argue that Alan wanted to see a new city and all that, but Alan loves Boston. This was about shared commitment, partnership, and a new level of domesticity. I think it was an excellent move, even if it didn't last too long. It gave Alan a new perspective on the relationship, on a sense of place, on change and growth."

But what exactly was this new perspective, and how would the changes affect his relationship?

"Alan was undergoing some kind of transformation," Mr. Vaeth continues. "I do know that he was the happy homemaker for much of the time, developing a bond with Paul, living together, exploring the city of Chicago, venturing into freelance writing, and making a life change."

Ms. Natale echoes those sentiments: "He was cooking and becoming very domestic. He was also working on his writing career and seemed excited about that. He seemed to finally be settled. He began taking on a different role. He seemed more secure."

Such security may have been an inspirational starting point for some people, but Alan viewed it with a bit of cynical suspicion. He was happy, yet something held him back. He didn't tell anyone of his doubts.

"I think I was just happy and excited and a little nervous for him," recalls Ms. Davis. "I thought it was great that he was picking up and taking off to see what life in a new city was like, great that he was willing to take the risk, happy that he was so excited, impressed with his willingness to move "for" someone. Nervous that he'd be disappointed. I remember being eager to hear how it was living with your partner. He was only the second of my friends to do that. He seemed to enjoy sharing a home with Paul."

Indeed, Alan was the very first in his circle of friends to actually move in with a partner, not to mention to a new city half-way across the country. Suzie had done so when she went to Seattle, but even she had her brother there. It was a gutsy and serious move for Alan, who had always, admitted or not, depended on his family and friends when things got difficult. He only had Paul now, and if problems developed where would he be? How would he survive?

Ms. Myrick could relate to these questions, she being part of a long-term relationship herself. "I was a little scared for them," she recalls, "But I was also impressed. I mean, Chris and I didn't change our plans so drastically for each other. I was worried that their mutual lack of friends in Chicago might put too much strain on the relationship."

Mr. Bouzan understood Alan's need for a support system of friends and saw that his situation in Chicago was a drastic switch. "He was home all day trying to write while Paul was working," he remembers. "He was kind of the homemaker ~ making dinner, doing laundry, etc. He seemed a little bored, and on top of that he was a little lost without Paul home or his friends being around. On the other hand, he was doing some cooking and that was something he enjoyed, making chicken dishes or what-have-you. So I guess he learned a few things about himself while living in that apartment in Chicago. Time alonf will do that to you."

The time Alan spent alone would prove to be both revelatory and detrimental. He would realize, in frightening bouts with the truth, that he and Paul were remarkably different. They were each at separate points in life. Alan had always been ahead of his time, and his thinking was often decades more mature than his age, even when his behavior wasn't. His ambitions in life revolved mainly around love ~ being loved and loving another. Paul's ambitions were concerned with his career. He was going to Chicago whether or not Alan was; there was never a question or discussion. Alan, true to his heart, went with him.

"To be honest, I had a bad feeling about Chicago," Ms. MacKinnon says in hindsight. "I didn't think it was going to work. Alan was compromising too much. They wanted different things and they were headed in different directions."

Ms. Emerald agrees, "I felt it was probably not a very good idea, and that Alan was doing it more out of fear of losing Paul than of a desire to go somewhere new."

Something was missing, something was not right. Alan had placed his entire existence and reason for being in the heart of another person. It was unfair to both of them. Paul sensed it first, and with the best of intentions he knew what had to be done.

There is no simple explanation that makes it easy to understand how people fall out of love, or how a romantic passionate love can turn into a warm, protective, comfortable, platonic love. It happens gradually, insidiously taking over the players in a strangely seductive undertow of deadening apathy. It is no one's fault, and sometimes that is worse. When Paul and Alan's relationship ended, they still loved one another ~ in a different way than before, but one which would prove painful for both. It didn't help that Alan's friends were far away and had no real notion of what was happening.

Ms. Davis was in Boston, and had lost contact with him. "Alan had said that he and Paul didn't communicate, mostly because Alan didn't want to," she explains. "He said he'd avoid those "talks" so much that they hardly ever had them. Alan said he was mean to Paul. Seems strange that he didn't really want to work at something that was so important to him. He said Paul sort of fell out of love with him. The break-up was very painful for Alan. What must have made it more difficult for him was not really understanding what had happened."

"Alan wasn't really that mean," Ms. Ko insists, "It was just two people being really frustrated about where they were in life, perhaps. But since they didn't speak very well it just turned into bad feelings and not really something to learn from."

Most of his friends didn't fully fathom what was happening, and Alan didn't make motions to explain.

"Alan got more and more quiet about what was going on," says Ms. Myrick. "I don't know much actually. I know that Paul stopped talking to Alan, they stopped sleeping together. Paul told Alan he didn't love him anymore, and they broke up. Alan got really depressed, started drinking again, and left what had to be a crappy situation in Chicago."

"Their break-up came as a shock to me. I still don't really know what happened," Mr. Vaeth ponders. "Alan says he messed up and treated Paul badly. Maybe so, but I think more was at work. Paul, for instance. He may have had the impression that Alan was sitting at home all day, doing nothing, living off his parents' support, and therefore having a very different Chicago experience from the one he was having. Then, of course, they were living together, formally, for the first time. New issues must have been arising in this living situation. I think there were also, most likely, some very high expectations of happy domesticity, perhaps owing in part to the fact that our society does not accept gay male bonds, and therefore Alan and Paul were attempting something that is not widely, publicly modeled. Expectations were high, yet all the same human facts about the difficulty of living together remained. I was very sad and surprised to hear of the break-up. Paul was very cool; he brought out much good in Alan, and they made each other happy. However, their relationship left Alan, believe it or not from his continuing activities, a far more stable and complete person."

Not everyone agreed that it left him more stable.

"There's really no good way to comment on this without insulting someone," Mr. Bouzan begins tentatively. "Only the two people involved really know what it's like to go out with each other; to hear the superficial sound-bite of some outside third-party observer who only judges on surface appearances would, in my opinion, be insulting and unhelpful," he insists. When pressed he offers this, "Okay, so it was doomed from the outset; they shouldn't have moved in together. Living together is like being married and everyone knows it. Here's my take: they both felt constrained and tied down. They're young, single, attractive, and both wanted to date other people. Paul, facing this reality more since he was out working, meeting new people, probably initiated the break-up, though I could be wrong. Alan was a little more dependent on the relationship since he was living the life of a writer and not socializing. It hit him harder."

That much was definitely true: Alan was devastated and stunned.

"He was in a very dark place after the break-up," Mr. Bouzan goes on to say. "He would e-mail me with the most depressing and cursed thoughts about his life. I had never thought that he could be that down. The alcoholic binges were getting worse around this time. Alan went home a few times. He put out "Heart of Winter" at the time. It read like a kind of eulogy to the end of his relationship with Paul."

In the days following the break-up, Alan wrote the "Heart of Winter" piece. It was, he later claims, the single thing that kept him from giving up. Mr. Vaeth comments on Alan's writing as a form of therapy and catharsis: "Alan, the author, of stories and of his life, of silences and of relationships, literally pens the transformations of himself… Literary critics live on such mechanisms ~ life transformed to words, and in Alan's case, words creating life again."

Excerpt from "Heart of Winter":

I don't think well ever stop loving each other. From the very beginning Paul had said we belonged together, and it is so true. In an early letter, he had written that he couldn't help loving me, that it was just the way he was made. It made sense in its simple way. We were made that way, made to love each other. That's what we do. It seems so clear, so easy, and yet it's the first thing to become obscured. Like a set of keys or the remote control ~ the things which we unwittingly rely upon the most ~ our loving each other is taken for granted, misplaced, and in a panic we search for it, needing it and cursing ourselves for not being more careful. Once found, we don't guard ourselves against it happening again ~ it is lost a few weeks later and once again appreciated in its brief glory upon rediscovery…

When I was home last, I felt the pain and helplessness of love, of being loved. As my Grandmother and another distant family member spoke in the kitchen, I hovered out of sight at the top of the cellar stairs and listened like I did when I was ten. Gram was talking about me and Paul, and how we lived together in Chicago. She spoke of us with such pride, I could hear the beaming in her voice, and such love that my heart ached in its smallness. I was not worthy of such love, not from my Grandmother, nor from my Mom, not from my Paul, and for the first time I felt the horrible unrealization of love ~ the feeling of not having the capacity for it, the ability to access it, or the knowledge of what to do with it…

So many people still claim that the hardest part of any relationship or marriage is the first six months ~ after that it's supposed to be easier. For me, the beginning is the easy part ~ anyone can get along for a few months without killing each other. The tough part is the sustenance ~ the endurance and strength of a love to sustain itself through the years. Time is the greatest enemy ~ time, not death, is the great equalizer ~ and it threatens always to take away happiness: in its dulling effect on passion, its way of turning little annoyances into major arguments, and its petty march onward in the face of all emotional upheavals. Time never gives in. All of those moments when we think we're fighting each other are simply our misdirected battles with time.

We've proven ourselves steady through the changing seasons, and I sit silently awaiting Paul's arrival at agreement. It's not something I can force or rush or influence, and if our ships pass quietly in the cold darkness of this winter, then I will not go back. I will not retread the murky waters of the past, trying to come upon his wayward path as it gets washed away by waves of coming days. I will tend to my own ship, fill my own holes, chart my own course. And sometimes, late at night, I will think he is near me, sleeping in his own room as I cry alone in mine.

* * * * * * *

He became a darker, more disturbing trickster in the aftermath of Paul. His writing may have purged his desperation for the moment, but it couldn't stave off the impending feelings of sadness, loss, and failure. His move back East was "the single most difficult week" of his life up until then. Closest friend and personal manager Suzie Ko flew out to Chicago to help him drive home, and she was the only one who saw Alan during the horrendous time.

Ms. Ko recounts the journey: "I think that it went very smoothly. After packing the stuff into the truck, which Paul helped us do, we headed out that morning from Chicago. I'm not sure how the actual good-bye was; I left them alone. I was in good spirits, Al was rather quiet, and we headed out to visit my pal Rodney in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who we missed. Alan was extremely patient about the mayhem. I only heard him crying at night in the bathroom after watching a movie. Maybe it was more like sobbing. I tried not to eavesdrop, cause I know that some of us like solitude in misery. Next day, a little puffy-eyed, we continued on home. Staying overnight in Amsterdam… was there a K Mart run?… and then went on to Boston the very next day. It was all pretty methodical. It definitely seemed that Alan was relieved to be back, but also anxious to change the design of his apartment to wipe away memories. He kept telling me how long it would take him to heal, but I never believe his equations."

Alan was officially back in Boston. The move was complete, the break-up over, and the final extinguishing of the caring, compassionate person who had left half-a-year ago had begun.

* * * * * * *

"Trickster is the non-heroic male, by the way. If by "hero" we mean someone who muscles his way through the ranks of his enemies, whose stamina and grit overcome all odds, who perseveres and suffers and wins, then trickster is a non-heroic male. Nor is he that acetic male, the one who develops the muscles of self-restraint, mastering himself instead of others. The lithe and small-bodied escape artist, he doesn't win the way big guys do, but he doesn't suffer the way they do either, and he enjoys pleasures they find too risky." Lewis Hyde

Alan had to find a way to stop his pain and eliminate the suffering. It would not be easy, and circumstances seemed hell-bent on breaking him. When he moved back into the condo at 32 Braddock Park, he found a place altered by his brother Paul's presence. The brothers had forged a friendship after years of estrangement, but living together in such close quarters was bound to be trying ~ the two were notorious for their differences.

Alan returned to a place haunted by memories of his ex-boyfriend and times shared between them, and sought to eradicate all those painful recollections by renovating and redecorating the condo. He had the walls repainted, brought in new furniture, rearranged old pieces, and completely transformed the place in under a month. It was a start, but it was not a solution. It did not bring happiness or forgetfulness, and in his pain he turned against the world, starting with his own brother.

He had learned a lot in Chicago, but there were little things that continued to upset him ~ like dishes left unwashed in the sink, or clothes strewn about the couch, or an empty toilet paper roll left unchanged. He cleaned up after his brother's mess, but there was no joy or good-will in his efforts as there had been when he had done the same for his boyfriend. The tension was building, and combined with a burgeoning bitterness, the situation was headed for an emotionally-bloody showdown.

"They clashed," Ms. Davis says simply. "I don't think Alan was territorial of the place, having lived there before and made it his own… he slept on the couch. But he and Paul definitely weren't good roommates. Like anybody else, Alan needs space of his own and time to himself, and their living situation didn't really offer that. Finally they reached their breaking point."

Never one to mince words, Ms. Ko offers her succinct take on the brothers Ilagan: "To be fair, Alan was a bit bitchy. But I understand the whole clean thing. I do the same thing. It's hard to live with someone who's not as clean as you are, and someone who you're not willing to clean up after." When everything finally came to a head, both of the Ilagan sons would be drastically affected.

* * * * * * *

My brother had been gone for the past two days. He was supposed to call whenever he wouldn't be home at night, but I have heard nothing. I am furious because I am worried, but he won't understand that. He will only see my anger, and assume he is being attacked, and I really don't feel like explaining it to him.

There are dirty dishes left on the counter and in the sink. The newly-painted kitchen walls are splattered with the oil of his uncovered cooking pots. His clothes litter the floor, along with three pairs of sneakers, and I am sick to death of cleaning up after him. He knows I am in a bad place and he refuses to show the least but of sensitivity. I finally understand my mother's weariness when we were growing up.

He comes in at last and I launch into my tirade. He's heard it all before and acts the wise-ass, bringing out his own anger and attitude, and infuriating me all the more. I am brutal in my tone and delivery, liberally showering him with looks of hatred and sneers. He attacks with yelling before reaching for his ultimate weapon ~ guilt. I have won many battles with my cruelty; he has won wars with his guilt. His tone changes to that of the little brother who wanted always to hang around and be like me when we were kids. If he only knew how much it was the other way around.

"The other night, when we were here drinking and laughing and having a good time, I thought, 'This is cool.' Why can't you always be like that? Why do you have to be so mean and yell at me all the time?" he pleads. I have no answer for him. Sitting there stone-faced, looking at the truth with such derision, I do not bow down to his innocent questions.

He asks me in exasperation, "How can you be so heartless? How can you be so cold? Don't you have any emotions? You're my brother and you treat me like shit." I stay there, face frozen in fearful contempt, and awakening to his words because they are astonishingly accurate. He leaves the room.

It's true, I thought as tears broke through my eyes. I don't have emotions. I don't feel like others do. I have done it. And I don't understand why I cry, and why I cannot stop. I run out into the misty night, over to my boyfriend's old place on Beacon Hill, and I cry more. On the cobblestone streets I trudge wearily along a path that no one will share with me now. I am alone when I return. Paul has gone out. Fuck it, I don't care.

When I return home from work the next day the place is clean. My only-brother's stuff is missing. There is a note on the counter.

"Alan, I went home for the summer. You deserve this place more than I do. Sorry for the other night. Your [sic] my brother and I love you. You need to visit me in Miami. Thanks for everything. Love, Paul"

He has drawn a small smiley face at the bottom of the letter.

The messiness is gone. I am left with a clean plate, but it is empty and quiet, and there is no promise of happy commotion in the future. For all my bluster, I miss him. No one is coming home tonight, or any night, and the pristine perfection of the place is proof of the destruction I have created.

* * * * * * *

"Better to operate with detachment, then; better to have a way but infuse it with a little humor; best, perhaps to have no way at all but to have instead the wit constantly to make one's way anew from the materials at hand." – Lewis Hyde

Following the break-up and his brother's departure, Alan was reeling in shock and mental mayhem. He did not feel good about himself, and turned to the crutches that had so seductively supported him in the past ~ drinking and desire. When he drank, he did not feel, and when he was desired, he felt worthy of something ~ anything ~ if only for his looks.

He launched into a frightening world of sex and liquor ~ one-night-stands, public restroom encounters, midnight trysts with men he didn't know ~ and he simply did not care. All of his friends were concerned, but knew that their admonitions would fall on deaf, and possibly hostile, ears.

"He became quite complacent about certain things," Suzie Ko says carefully. "Like when he felt that Paul stopped finding him attractive, Alan seemed to go right out and fool around with some anonymous man… men… which is so very healthy for one's constitution," she remarks with a wry look. "I think I can safely say that his behavior was deliberately self-detrimental. Alan might like to think of it as screwing other men over for the pain that he felt, but it never really seemed like he had all that much fun having anonymous sex with people he felt no other connection to. It seems to me that it's just an action to show disrespect for yourself."

"I didn't see Alan too much when he first returned to Boston," Kristen Davis recounts. "I know he was sad. He was kind of protective of himself and yet kind of reckless at the same time… Well first of all let's clarify... the one-night-stands are more like one-hour-stands. He gets them in and out of there pretty fast. They're lucky if he lets them spend the night. The flings and what-not? I think it must give him a sense of validation or some sense of comfort. I know he needs to know that he's attractive, but if that was all he needed, the offers and the phone calls and the stares and compliments would be enough. Maybe it fills in the hole Paul left. Maybe it's just a good distraction. Maybe he just loves giving head. But he's really not remotely interested in most of these guys. Sometimes it seems like sex is just something he does to pass the time, and in other ways it seems like an absolute necessity to him."

Jo Ann MacKinnon was more blunt about Alan's antics. "Alan went nuts when he got back to Boston. Drinking, hooking up… After a break-up these things tend to happen. All I know is that someone once got his phone number off a bathroom wall and called. I don't dig that at all. I don't think that's a good idea."

"He was upset and emotional," remembers Missy Natale. "He began a series of one-night-stands which I find sad. In the long run I think it will have damaging effects, and I would like to see them stop."

"He reimmersed himself in the night life with plenty of booze and plenty of one-night-stands, drowning out the conflicted noise within his injured psyche," Jim Bouzan theorizes. "He embarrassed some of his close friends at parties and such with his drunken behavior. He was bitchy at times, and not in the cute, queeny way either; it was just plain old nastiness. All of which should be understood in the context; he just broke up from a long-term relationship."

Even so, Mr. Bouzan was not pleased with the Alan who returned so hardened. "Every time I see him he tells a new story about booze and/or sex that was more degenerative and anti-social than the last one. What's disturbing most is that he seems proud of these dissolute binges or at least he lets on that he's proud. It's like he wants to impress you with these things. Obviously, he's covering up for something that is missing in his life… then again, maybe he just likes to drink and fuck a lot."

"He's lost some of the preppy elegance in my opinion," Mr. Bouzan goes on to say, with a tinge of disappointment in his voice. "And of course, he seemed a little tougher, more street-wise, so that persona followed. There was more swearing in his vocabulary, more descriptive language about the sex romps, and more bragging about his bouts with the bottle. Although I don't agree with the extremes of such lewd indulgences that he's been partaking in recently, it's probably good for him after a tough break-up, though he should really start elevating himself a bit more."

After spending a few years in Boston with Alan previously, Chris Vaeth was concerned about his reckless conduct. "Alan went buck wild upon his return. He said outright that he wanted to hurt every man he could get his hands on, or whatever else, on. He returned to the city with a vengeance, although he made his apartment a lot sunnier. I really don't know why Alan acted this way. None of these men had done anything to him, and he would never do anything as harmful to Paul. So, actually, I don't get it. I've heard more details on random, sometimes drunk, voice mail messages than I care to recall. Again, I really don't know why Alan needs to constantly have these one-night-stands. What do they provide him? I know he misses Paul, but Alan himself acknowledges that he derives no real happiness from these little flings. They are often intertwined with alcohol, another something that makes Alan happy for the moment and not much more. Maybe it's the excitement of a one-night-stand, but I think it's more about revenge, against men."

Alissa Myrick was also disappointed in Alan's actions. "He plunged into this crazy life of meeting guys, having sex with them in all sorts of places, and going out the next night for a new round. He was almost always drunk when he met these guys, and he hated for them to want to cuddle or do anything even mildly intimate. This was not about love. He was extremely sad about Paul, since he still loved him and missed him. I was worried about him because he was so fragile.: Her concern turns to slight annoyance when asked to address the reasons for his bad-boy behavior. "I think it's really stupid and self-destructive. I mean, I don't understand what, besides sex, Alan gets out of it. He got into a few situations where he could have been raped, and I don't think that vengeance sex if worth it. I mean, if you're going to do the vengeance sex thing, at least do it sober so that the guys can see the complete indifference in your eyes." She smiles viciously and says no more. It is something only Alan would appreciate, and, perhaps, understand.

Julie Maslak is one of the women with whom Alan plays cards whenever he's home at his parents. She has seen him grow up in the past ten years, and when she speaks of Alan she lights up and laughs a lot. When questioned on his careless Boston deportment she rolls her eyes, "Oh my God! Geez! He's just… he's from another planet, you know? It's scary sometimes. You never know what he's gonna do. He's scary. He's trying to be with a thousand guys and I don't know why or what his goal is. Alan told me he doesn't have sex up the butt, but this is hard for me to believe because, in my mind, in a gay relationship I thought that was the main way they expressed their love. I'd like to learn more… do some research!"

While no one is exactly sure what went on physically with the men Alan was with, one thing is certain: there were a lot of them.

"I kept getting confused about how many different men he had in one day," Ms. Ko claims. "It just gets to be so much that it doesn't really mean anything anymore, which is really depressing. I'm not one to understand "sexcapades" really."

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to his bottoming-out period was his reliance on liquor, and the way he combined it with sex and danger.

"The drinking is particularly troublesome," says Ms. Davis, who had been witness to the Legal Seafoods drunken fiasco. It was her boyfriend Kanwar who had rescued Alan from his vomiting fit in the bathroom. "Alan has himself expressed a concern about his drinking. I'm not sure when he'll back off the booze until he sees a reason to."

Ms. Emerald agrees. "His drinking to alleviate emotional pain is not the best of soul remedies. He's a big boy, but I think he quite overdoes it. But isn't that the point?"

"I think Alan should drink less," Mr. Vaeth says, sipping at his second margarita. "I drink socially, so I do not have some moral high ground to suggest that he quit completely. However, Alan drinks much, and dangerously at times, and I really am worried about him, what it does to his judgment at the time, his emotions and stability the next day and down the road. I think he does have a problem, that he is prone to alcoholism, and that he should try to admit it to improve the condition of his head, heart, and liver." Chris finishes his drink, burps, and stumbles off the barstool to the bathroom.

* * * * * * *

The letter was postmarked May 16, 2000 ~ four months after they broke up. Alan had not heard from him in weeks ~ the longest stretch without communication of any kind. He was feeling worthless and dejected, and wondered if it had all been in his head. Had their love always been one-sided? Had Paul ever truly loved him at all? He began to doubt himself when the letter arrived:

Dear Alan,

I'm sitting on the deck of my apartment building. I like to come out here at the beginning of the day and at the end of the night. Just to take everything in. I can see Wrigley Field from here. And when there are games being played I can here [sic] the roar of the crowd.

I hope you are happy and doing well. I went through all of my momentos [sic] from you today and put them in a special box. I kept pretty much every note and letter that you gave me. I found the little note in my wooden post box. I decided to leave it inside, so that I could read it if I ever missed or thought about you. I do miss you. I miss my best friend. I'm adjusting well to my new place. I'm trying to re-gear myself to be more active in my theatrical pursuits. I had my last day at Jekyll & Hyde a few days ago. I'll probably start temping, until I find something worthwhile.

This last week my pipes were leaking in my apartment. It was quite comical. I mean, I had to laugh at the situation. The building manager calls me in the middle of the night and tells me. He comes in and starts hacking away at the wall in one of my closets. I get home the next day and there is a 10 foot hole in the wall exposing all the pipes. I felt like I was in 'The Money Pit', you know, the movie with Tom Hanks. Anyhow, it is being resolved. Otherwise it's becoming my new home. If you ever want to come visit, you have a place to stay.

How's your parents and gram doing? I hope they don't feel ill towards me. I hope that they're doing well.

Alan, you will always be dear to me. I have a special place in my heart for you. I hope that we can stay in touch. I have only pleasant memories of us.

I hope Boston is treating you well and that your opportunities are grand. I will be keeping in touch. I just wanted to let you know that you are in my thoughts. Please take care of yourself and enjoy every moment in life. I'll be trying to do the same. Love, Paul

It was almost, but not quite, enough. Alan cried when he read it ~ the healing had commenced ~ but it was already too late. There was numbness, real numbness, that could not be taken away with a simple letter, and that numbness was necessary.

* * * * * * *

Suzie: "You have more sex than anyone I know."

Alan: "That doesn't mean I enjoy it."

For Alan, sex had been a means to a non-physical end ~ a path towards greater intimacy, a chance-grab for power, or a way to connect ~ if only for a moment ~ in a detached and fractured world. Following his time in Chicago and the break-up, sex became a game, a weapon with which he could hurt others before he himself got hurt. It was also a test of his attractiveness, and a thinly-veiled attempt at jump-starting his ravaged self-esteem. He became a gay playboy ~ a sexual trickster whose only goal was getting guys to ejaculate and then sending them on their way, spent and wanting more. Alan himself never ejaculated with these men ~ he would not give up that power of control. He brought them quickly and skillfully to orgasm, but that was it. The Alan of the past ~ the on who liked to cuddle and kiss ~ was gone. In his place was a sly sexual seducer. Alan, who had always placed romance and love ahead of anything solely physical, had become the one-night-stand for whom others fell. Ironically, it was this sexual proclivity which ended up costing him a few potentially-dear lovers and relationships, even as it gained him a collection of loyal fuck-buddies.

The list of those who wanted more than a quick-fling with Alan is long: Rich, Brian, Steve, Shawn, and the many forgotten names of those he picked up in the drunken nights at bars and clubs. He dated Shawn a few times, but stopped calling him when things got the slightest bit serious. Alan was no longer interested in any sort of meaningful relationship. He was out there keeping his options open, and enjoying his freedom for the first time. It was a heady high ~ the thrill of getting the cutest guy in the room and taking him home. It gave him a sense of conquest, of power, and he tore though the men in order to feel better and forget. Still, it wasn't enough. Alan never realizes what effect he has on people, which is why he tends to overcompensate. In this case, he racked up sex partners to prove that he was desirable, even after Paul. His friends don't understand this need for affirmation.

"People find him physically attractive," his first girlfriend Missy Natale says. "Mentally and emotionally he can seem very secure and confident, but he also has moments where he shows his insecurity."

"I think Alan's probably much smoother than most men," contends Ms. Davis. "It seems like he just knows that people will find him attractive, like he expects what comes his way. I think he's quite confident with men. All of them ~ young, old, hot, not-so-hot, gay, or bi. He's smooth. Cool and steady. He's not particularly bold or brash at first… just expectant. It's like he knows he won't have to make any moves cause they'll come to him. The eyebrows go wild. He does this weird smile and wave thing when he says hello and good-bye ~ not like any wave or smile that his friends see ~ very soft and mysterious."

Ms. Davis accompanied Alan to Provincetown for a week in July and in that time she witnessed one of his notable transformations, though at the moment she didn't know it.

"When we were in P-town together, I saw him interacting with lots of men in flirty ways, but only one guy, Chris, came home with us," she says somewhat surprisingly, and then adds with a laugh. "The sounds from the bedroom confirmed that Alan knew exactly what he was doing. Nerves certainly aren't a problem for him."

Donald Grove, a co-worker of Suzie's, met Alan in Provincetown and the two became friends, seeing each other out at the bar every night. "Beauty is wasted on the young," Mr. Grove sighs wistfully, recalling his time with Alan that week. "He is friendly, and I think he might actually listen to what I'm saying."

In a world where gay men segregate themselves into distinct groups based on age, race, and class, Alan remains open to anyone with a decent sense of self and the ability to hold an intelligent conversation. Initially Mr. Grove may have been weary of another young gay guy who loved Madonna, but was quickly won over by Alan. "He is Mr. Charm," he says. "He flirts with everyone. He could mop up the floor with most guys he meets. He probably understands this a little, but is also frustrated by it, and doesn't like to rub it in."

During his time in Provincetown, Alan came to realize this. It was a vital awakening, and while most people figured he'd be out and about wrangling dozens of men in the course of a week, Alan had only one notable fling during his time there. He was enjoying the time with his friends ~ playing double solitaire with Kristen, making sandwiches with Suzie, male-bonding with Chris, eating seafood with Alissa, and sharing drinks and conversation with Donald and Tim. He talked with me again ~ not in a ferociously flirtatious manner, but as a human being. He spent hours on the beach ~ walking along the shore, collecting interesting stones, reading books, and getting a tan. It was a quiet, contemplative time ~ and the six-month mark of his break-up with Paul. Alan felt good again ~ about himself, his life, his family, and his friends. The out-of-control sex and drinking had come to a close at last.

* * * * * * *

There is one thing I did for Paul that makes my guilt endurable. It is the simplest single act I have ever done, but it is my proudest moment. Paul had invited me to a children's play he was in, for one of his theater classes at Emerson. Of course I wanted to go, even though he said it was a silly little play and wasn't really worth seeing (especially considering my great love for anyone under seventeen.) I didn't care ~ I'd see Cats again if Paul was in it.

The morning of the play we got into an argument, and like all our arguments I can't remember what this one was about. Something petty no doubt. I told him I wasn't going to the play. He walked out of the apartment to the theater. I watched him from the window. He didn't look back. I got into the shower and pretended not to care.

The play was to begin at one o'clock in the afternoon. At around eleven-thirty I made my way to Downtown Crossing and Chinatown, but shopping brought no joy. Nothing was right when Paul and I weren't together. But I held my ground, stubbornly refusing to yield to anything that would threaten my inexorable pride. He'll miss me when he looks out into the audience and I'm not there.

By twelve-thirty I had wandered to Beacon Hill to have lunch. In a café right next to the theater, I had a sandwich. In a short time his stupid play would be going on and I would be here, nibbling dessert and supremely confident in my ability to retain control and remain in charge.

It was ten minutes to one. Why was I doing this? Paul would never be so mean, so unrelenting. And I loved him. Why couldn't I give up a little for him? Why could I never compromise? And why did I always have to be right, even when I wasn't? I paid for my meal and ran out of the café to the theater.

There were five rows of bleachers in the tiny space, and I breathlessly sat down in the last available seat in the back as the play began. It was a little silly, but there was Paul ~ my boyfriend and my love ~ and that was all that mattered. He had noticed me and suddenly his steps were jauntier, his energy happier. The simple fact of my presence did that, and I knew that coming to this children's play was the best decision I had ever made.

During one skit where he was the narrator, sitting off to the side of the stage, he looked right up at me and just smiled this huge wonderful smile, and in that instant all my stupid pride fell away, and I knew I would always love this man.

Now as I write this and tears stream down my face, I remember that moment ~ my one time of self-less action ~ and I feel the loss. I think I just miss my best friend.

* * * * * * *

"We constantly distinguish ~ right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead ~ and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction. Trickster is the creative idiot, therefore, the wise fool, the gray-haired baby, the cross-dresser, the speaker of sacred profanities. Where someone's sense of honorable behavior has left him unable to act, trickster will appear to suggest an amoral action, something right/wrong that will get life going again. Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox." – Lewis Hyde

Alan is his own harshest judge. Critical, vain, self-conscious ~ these are traits of someone who cares what other people think, and works constantly on improvement and approval. He is demanding of friends and family, but it is nothing compared with the demands he places on his own self. This may explain how he justifies his sometimes-harsh treatment of his friends. For Alan, the challenges and biting remarks signify that he values someone enough to put them on a par with his own high standards. Not everyone can see this, however, and it has gotten him into trouble in the past.

Jo Ann MacKinnon rolls her eyes and shakes her head when recounting Alan's surly behavior and legendary short-fuse. "He gets really pissy sometimes and freaks out, like when Steph and I didn't wash the dishes after he made us his kick-ass sauce," she remembers. "He was yelling at us and called us "BITCHES". He has little fits sometimes. I don't love that part. Then we had gone out one time and he scared a little girl on the street with his screaming at me. That was weird, but we had been drinking so I chalked it up to that."

"He can certainly be pushy when he is looking to have something done," says Kim Emerald. "When I think of Alan the first thing that comes to mind is the devilish smile and knowing glint that comes into his eyes. He's quite a disarming character when he wants to be, with his flippant attitude about certain things… maybe flippant is not the right word, but I am hard-pressed to think of another at this time. He is not afraid to be shocking; if anything he almost thrives on it."

"Alan is a generous, loyal friend and basically a good person," Alissa Myrick begins before qualifying, "However, he can be insecure, narcissistic, and self-destructive. Alan wants to be loved, but only on his extremely specific terms. I think he's struggling to figure out what his place is in the world, but then, who isn't?"

Alissa has a little trickster in herself as well. "I think we share some sort of cynical-sarcastic mean streak that other folk many not be able to appreciate as much. Alan doesn't trip off what I do ~ just accepts me as Alissa, which is refreshing."

Even as a little boy he exhibited trickster tendencies. "He tormented me and a few others through seventh and eighth grade with his antics," recalls Missy Natale. "He found a strange joy in embarrassing and upsetting others."

"Alan treats me like shit,' Chris Vaeth complains half-jokingly after arriving for this interview half-an-hour late. "I allow it because we're such good friends, and if I tell him to chill, he'll usually adhere to my admonition. Sometimes he holds grudges for too long, over things that are seemingly minor. He is impatient and does not like to wait on people. And, while there is usually good reason, he can over-do it when talking bad about someone."

"He's a bit dismissive sometimes," Suzie readily admits, "And he really often lacks a social conscience of any sort. And what is boring about having a social conscience is often-times recognizing your impact on other people. I think that his philosophy is that things don't impact him. Politics, laws, social ills… so he doesn't do anything in a "good for society" way. And he'll ask for creative criticism, but then gets really defensive if it's negative. Even though he sometimes seems really strange and out-of-the-ordinary, he's a pretty basic person like the rest of us. He just night be a little more frank about not caring about certain things."

"Here's a little hint," whispers one of his close friends, asking to remain anonymous this one time. "If Alan's really mean to you, he really likes you. If he ribs on you constantly and pokes fun at your wardrobe, it only means he enjoys your company. It's the people he gives empty smiles and compliments to that he doesn't really care for."

For all the flaws and inconsistencies of character, one thing remains true to those who know him: Alan is a loyal and trustworthy friend ~ a friend for life if he deems one worthy ~ and he proves this time and time again.

* * * * * * *

Suzie Ko is, by all accounts, the person who knows the most about Alan. She is his older-sister-figure, best friend, and personal manager of the moment. She is probably the one person who understands him more than anyone else (with the surprising possible exception of his own Mother), and despite their differences they share a familial common-ground and twenty-five years of collective history. She remains the only person who is privy to all the subtle shadings of his day-to-day existence. They tell each other everything, no matter how trivial or mundane, and they share a common search for somewhere to truly belong ~ Suzie focused on bi-racial issues, Alan on his sexuality.

She is his sounding board, inspiration, and conscience ~ never afraid to put him in his place and let him know when he is being ridiculous. She doesn't allow him to get away with anything, all the while letting him get away with everything (no one else would be allowed to play the Spice Girls in her car.)

"He has a strong personality, in whatever form it cares to manifest itself at any given time," she says of Alan. "It's nice to know that you can call someone and depend on the fact that they're willing to help you things. Whether that's telling you that you're being irrational, whether it's relaying parental wishes (wishes from your own mother), or whether it's helping you move all your stuff when you're going crazy."

Suzie and Alan have been together for all the really big events in each other's lives. "He knows me more than anyone I know," she states. "I feel sorry for him for that fact. We help each other move cross-country, or half-way cross-country. We take sanity ocean trips to far off places." Indeed, the two have literally traveled the world together ~ from New York City to Russia to Finland to Seattle to the Caribbean ~ and have bountiful humorous tales to share.

They let their guard down with each other ~ whether it's by sharing a cigarette and serious conversation, or simply being silly and goofy and laughing at the world around them. Their friendship has spanned their life-times, and if there's one person whom Alan can count on to be there to the very end, it is Suzie.

He is devoted to all of his good friends. His friendships are taken very seriously, and because of this people will forgive him no matter how badly he misbehaves.

"When I think of Alan, especially the Alan of Alan's many pasts, I think of an extensive wardrobe, a queeny bitch, a perceptive listener, a compassionate friend, an accomplished writer, a world traveler, and a big spender," Chris ruminates. "While some of those characteristics have changed, Alan will always be remembered as a writer and a friend. I think other people think Alan is witty, smart, attractive, and at time biting and stinging and mean. Depends on the day or mood. People who get to know him see him as a good reliable friend. Alan has had a significant impact on my own life. I count him among my best friends, and he has taught me to feel comfortable having such a close friendship with a gay man. He has made me laugh often and seethe occasionally. He has modeled introspection. And, of course, he has been my foremost critic (usually constructive)."

"Alan has brought a new perspective to my life," claims Kim. "He is someone I can learn from and have fun with as time and the universe allow, and I am very grateful that we met."

Missy echoes those sentiments, "He has shown me the great benefits of loyalty and friendship. He is so loyal and dedicated to his friends. He goes to great lengths to stay in touch with them, and I have learned from that and admire that. We have a very healthy friendship. I feel that he now has a respect for me, and I for him, that wasn't necessarily there before. We are very different, from taste in music and clothes to future goals, yet we share a friendship that has lasted many years."

"My relationship with Alan has been like no other relationship I've had," boasts Jo Ann. "I hadn't had a gay male friend before, so that alone made it different. I believe Alan and I became friends for a reason. He and I were meant to be friends. I'm quite fond of him."

"Alan knows how to be a good friend to me," Kristen says warmly. "He reaches out. He calls. He writes. He gets us together. He listens. He asks questions. He remembers what I tell him. He shares. He laughs at me. He yells at me. He's honest with me. He's kind. He makes me laugh."

On the surface, Alan makes an unlikely friend for Jim Bouzan, but it is those unlikely friends he holds so dear. "We're both writers so we have a certain bond that way," Jim relates. "Other than that we don't have a lot in common. He likes Madonna, I like Led Zeppelin. He likes Sunset Blvd., I like The Patriot. He likes bars, I don't like bars. But I will say that Alan is the first gay person I really got to know well, just out of circumstance, and I'm sure that's a cliché, but for me it's true. There's always that tension, those questions running through your mind, when you're friends with a gay guy, such as the following: Is he checking me out? Am I blushing cause he just told me that his dick was up some other guy's ass last night? Am I just being a tolerant liberal while secretly hating his lifestyle? Am I gay? You can't get around those questions sometimes. But I realized about myself that I can live with those questions, that tension, and still be friends with a pretty remarkable person."

* * * * * * *

"The most interesting people were the ones who looked as if they did not require you. If no one came along, they were willing to be alone. And yet that very self-sufficiency drew people to them in droves. How could this be studied? How achieved?" – Jesse Green

For most of the summer of 2000, the skies opened up and a steady stream of rain descended in the Northeast. This healing water ~ water of baptism, water of rebirth, water of life ~ fell upon the earth almost every day. Alan, usually so acutely affected by the weather, found strange solace in the gray days and drizzly nights. He wrapped the mist mornings around him like a coat, cloaking himself in the wet warmth of the summer rain.

He spent much of his time alone ~ writing and thinking and watching the water fall. Distancing himself from Boston and friends, he went to his parents' home in Amsterdam and stayed there for a few weeks. When it was sunny he would swim and bask in the backyard. He read fun books like Harry Potter, listened to k.d. lang's 'Invincible Summer' and Saint Etienne's 'Sound of Water', and ate peaceful dinners with his parents. He was rediscovering the quiet within him, and the madness into which he had thrust his life was dissipating. During this time he made his peace with his break-up with Paul. The two spoke a few times on the phone, and though Alan canceled a planned-trip to Chicago to see him, they remained friends.

The memory of happiness in solitude returned to him. As he walked through the gardens and laid in the sun, the forgotten notion of being alone and being okay came back. He had been so sacred of losing it for so long ~ how could he have lost his way so spectacularly? He remembered running through the forest and climbing the trees as a little boy, and the joy of doing it on his own was resurrected. It was a subtle delight he didn't feel the need to share or express to everyone ~ a hopeful secret he kept for himself, made known only by the subtle buoyancy in his manner and a newly manifested calm in his countenance.

On Sunday evenings he played dimes with his long-time card-player friends. They had watched Alan grow from a boy to a young man, and had been witness to his ever-changing personae, all the while detecting and loving the core soul of sensitivity which he so rarely revealed.

One of the card players, Ms. Maslak, noticed a change in Alan. "There was nothing obvious except a maturity about him that I've never seen in him before, brought on by the heartbreak of love," she says, before going back to when she originally met him. "My first impression of Alan was that he was a cute little boy, full of fun, and he wasn't afraid of expressing himself, like in song or writing, which came as a big surprise because I never think of young kids possessing that intelligence. Since then, he's grown up physically. He's such a handsome fellow. He can be so nice when he wants to be ~ thoughtful, generous, and very dramatic!"

Ms. Davis also noted a shift in his personality. "I guess he's just farther along in life," she reasons. "He's seen more, done more, and felt more than he had before he went to Chicago. Maybe he's more sure of himself. He's probably more wary of relationships than he was before, not that he's felt the hurt of that kind of loss."

Alan was wary, but he was also ready to take the risk. After one of the card games he ventured into Albany's Oh Bar for a drink. He wasn't looking to hook up with anyone; on the contrary ~ Alan wanted simply to sit at the bar, have a drink and a cigarette, and be all right being alone. He had been thinking of Paul on the ride over, and as he sat down he felt at peace with the way things had worked out. Smiling at the bartender, he ordered a screwdriver and took a few gentle drags on his cigarette before extinguishing it in an ashtray. He politely answered questions of another patron next to him, but kept mostly to himself, content in his solitude.

* * * * * * *

It had rained earlier in the evening. Andrew Van Wagenen and his friends Patrick Ball and Michael Valastro had just finished dinner at Justin's and made their way across the street for a nightcap at Oh Bar. "Alan was sitting on a barstool near the door stirring a screwdriver," Mr. Van Wagenen recalls. "I remembered those beautiful eyes from seeing Alan the week before sitting in Oh Bar with his friend Suzie. After a quick scan of the patrons, Patrick asked, "Do we want to be seen?" ~ a private joke between us. "We definitely want to be seen," I replied, nodding toward Alan. Patrick smiled, steering us to a table near the bar where Alan was sitting. The three of us sat drinking beer and laughing for some time. Every now and then I would see Alan look over his shoulder at me with a pleasant smile, unlike the "bitchy queen look-of-death" he gave me upon exiting the restroom the week before. Later in the night, Patrick went to the bar for a round of beer, returning with two Coors lights, a Heineken with a lime, and an Alan with a sheepish smile."

Andy was not aware of what Patrick had said to Alan at the bar, and so he kept quiet, knowing that it might have been incriminating in some way, based on Patrick's past antics. In fact, he had merely asked Alan if he wanted to join them since he was sitting there alone. At first, Alan hesitated ~ he was enjoying the time alone ~ but he was also through with his solitary revelry and decided it might be fun. He sat down across from Andy, whom he thought was the cutest. The group talked and laughed, and Alan smiled seductively at Andy until only the two of them were left.

* * * * * * *

Fissures crack through the frozen lakes of my heart and head. I know I will soon cry out jagged icicles ~ and cruel shards of coldness will fall from my eyes. This man sitting across from me is too good ~ my past will frighten him, my intensity will be too much ~ and I don't want either of us to get hurt. He is trying to look into my eyes but I will not let him. I know that if I fall I will never be the same. And yet I will take the chance and risk what may come.

I listen intently to his stories. I discover that he was a police officer until he got injured on the job a few years ago. Before that he was a volunteer firefighter. I tell him how I worked in retail and laugh at the comparison. We speak briefly of ex-boyfriends and suddenly they are all in the past. I like him instantly, but still I am reluctant.

I make my final manipulative game-move: "I'll probably never see you again," I say, figuring that the easy freedom and lack of any attachment would make me more appealing. He looks at me strangely but does not say anything. I didn't realize then that my manipulation would get me nowhere with Andy. Coquettishly suggesting that he show me his home before it got to be six in the morning, I follow him to Route 146 in Guilderland.

His house is immaculately clean and neat. There are feshly-cut roses on the table and he tells me about his rose garden and how he likes to bring flowers to his mother when he visits her ~ which is almost every day. I find out that he also likes to cook, and is quite good at it. The man is perfect and I am feeling extremely out of my element, and uncharacteristically nervous around him. There is an old part of me that wished he would just take me into the bedroom, have his way, and let me leave, Instead, he takes me on a tour of his house, and in his pride I see raw emotion, and someone who's not afraid to feel or show his feelings It is gorgeously frightening, and I think of how easy it is for people to hurt one another.

We sit on his soft leather couch and he is telling me how nice it is when the fireplace is glowing in the winter, and how cozy it is to sit there with a glass of wine and fall asleep. He leans in to kiss me and I push him away. Sitting up I eye him with incredulous disbelief.

"Why did you have to be so nice?" I demand, all of a sudden confused and unsure of myself. "I mean… the house tour, the roses…. You're… so… perfect… and I'm just… not…" I stumble, not fully understanding what was happening. I know I am freaking out and I know he doesn't understand. There is nothing to explain how I arrived at this moment ~ he will never know what has gone on in my head and I can do nothing but sit there in awkward silence.

I ask if he wants me to leave, but he doesn't. It's clear that he's not going to try to kiss me again, and I know what I must do. It takes all of my strength and courage, but I do it, and in his kiss I feel safe again. He might hurt me, he might ignore me, he might never want to see me again ~ but for now, for this moment, we kiss. I push the past away and don't look back. I hold onto Andy and let him lead. Still, part of me refuses to let go, and I do not ejaculate. We exchange phone numbers and I am hopeful we will meet again.

* * * * * * *

That evening was a confusing one for Andy as well. When it was over, he wasn't sure if he could date Alan ~ there were just too many mixed signals, and he knew Alan was holding back." At the beginning of a dating or romantic situation, Alan is the definition of Mood swings," he says. "The underlying current is one of a witty, caring person whom you are glad you met. But making out with him was like being invited to a ping-pong match where nobody let you near the balls and you know you're going to get paddled."

Alan made the first call to Andy after a few days and found out that Andu\y was unsure that they would make a good romantic match. A little disappointed, Alan had not yet allowed himself to fall, and so could deal with being Andy's friend. A few phone calls later they agreed to meet up at Andy's house to talk.

"Alan like to play it cool and aloof," conjectures Andy. "He seems to do this to insulate himself from his emotions when he meets someone. That, to me, seems to slow him in finding what he truly wants ~ love. The cause, I believe, is a slightly-blurred line between a healthy ego and a slightly damaged self-esteem. How cute."

"Alan is extremely needy for love," confirms Jo Ann. "I mean, we all need love in our lives, but he obsesses about it. He doesn't like to be alone. I mean, he likes living alone but he always has to have an intimate relationship. Perhaps it's just the sex, but I think it's much deeper than that."

Kim sees a little more, "I think he's a bit afraid to be alone and that he makes far too many trips to one-night-stand land. I think he's a little boy trying to hide from the big bad world in drink, sex, and make-believe."

"As far as love goes," Kristen adds, "I think he just needs to settle down and stop this frantic search. Except he doesn't really search because men just come out of the rafters for him. And out from under rocks. And out of God knows where…"

By most accounts, Alan was not yet ready for love ~ but those accounts did not include his own, and no one had seen his transformation of the previous weeks. He would be friends with Andy, and if something more developed between then he would not fight it simply because everyone else thought he wasn't ready. Like all the other times previously, he would do it his way, and look back and make them all realize he had been right from the start.

* * * * * * *

"Trickster is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others and who is always duped himself… He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possessed no values, moral or social… yet through his actions all values come into being." – Paul Radin

It was as friends that Andy and I headed out to Oh Bar one night, or so I understood ~ or didn't understand as the case may be. The night before I had visited him at his house ~ purely platonic, though I wanted to kiss him the entire evening. Despite the seriousness of our conversation ~ where it was decided (or was it?) that we would be better as friends ~ I felt this force pushing me into him. I wanted so much to lean into his face, look into his eyes, and kiss his lips… Instead we parted amicably, but as he leaned back on the hood of his car and I walked backward to mine, something drew me in ~ and I went to him, straddled his legs, and gave him a quick friendly kiss on the lips. Hence the confusion of the next evening.

After about an hour of meeting his friends and drinking one too many screwdrivers, I saw next to Andy, but nothing happened. Maybe we really were nothing more than friends, though it certainly didn't feel that way. We had arrived together ~ was this a date? I didn't feel like I should ask. I brushed against his back when I went to the bathroom, but upon my return he still wouldn't put his arm around me, or even hold any extended eye contact ~ or perhaps it was me.

Across the room a man did hold my gaze ~ kind of cute in a dorky way, my usual type ~ and he was looking at me intensely. I saw the look in his eyes ~ that look of want and desire, and to be the object of that gaze was what I wanted most, as Andy sat apparently unaffected right beside me.

The man says his name is Tim and that he is from Broadalbin, but I don't really care about such stuff. It only matters that a man I could love, that I might want to love, is sitting to my left and I am so afraid that I will love him that my hand inexplicably roams up Tim's thigh to my right. I look into Tim's eyes for a quick second but won't let him see into mine. This doesn't mean anything. I have to do it ~ if only to sabotage a chance at happiness, and the possibility of loss that goes hand-in-hand with it. I'll destroy it before it destroys me. It's not a risk I feel I can take, not yet, maybe not ever. And so I put my leg over Tim's under the table and in my drunken state I don't see how conspicuous it is.

Something inside of me struggles to be heard. The tiny voice of my heart ~ of the goodness I keep buried ~ rises momentarily to the surface, and I case my activity and withdraw my hand and leg. Leaning close to Tim, I whisper, "I thin you're very attractive, but I'm here with Andy," and in that moment I make it true. Tim opens his eyes wide in astonishment and we both apologize.

Andy returns from the bar and the atmosphere has decidedly shifted; I do not realize that I am the cause. He suggests we take leave, and back at his house we give in to what we both wanted.

I call him the next day, but there is no answer. I leave messages, but they are not returned. Not wanting to come across as too attached, I fall asleep content in the memory of our evening together and happy with hope That night, violent thunderstorms will wake me from my slumber ~ a foretelling of trouble to come.

The following day he finally answers my call and tells me that all of his friends called him and related what I did. A dreadful feeling of terror comes over me ~ not at being caught, but of having done it. He says that he was humiliated and embarrassed in front of everyone he knew, and in his voice I hear hurt and pain ~ all of which I have inflicted on this man who was nothing but warm and caring and good to me. Why did I do it? In an underlying selfish effort to protect myself I have injured an innocent person ~ a decent person ~ and in my self-destruction I have damaged someone else. It is too much to bear. We hang up and I don't know if it's forever. Sitting on the bed, I bring my hands to my face and cry, but there is no way to release the pain and guilt, no way to undo the harm I have dealt.

* * * * * * *

Alan's actions were certainly rude, if not downright cruel, but he was in a state of raw, brittle fragility. He was feeling for the first time in a long while, and his habit of self-sabotage would be a difficult one to break.

"As I know him I believe him to be a bit melodramatic as well as self-destructive," Kim defends. "He seems to have a tendency to expect himself to not only create the most unpleasant situations he finds himself in, but also to revel in them just a bit."

There was little sympathy for Alan when Andy put their relationship on indefinite hold. Suzie and all the card players viewed his behavior as "sleazy and stupid". The realization that those closest to him felt that way was a turning point. He now questioned everything up to that moment. Looking back, it seemed that his entire existence and the way in which he went about things could be seen in that light, and the simple question ~ Why? ~ rang in his ears. Alan, awakening from his self-imposed sleep, didn't have the answer.

It was true ~ he didn't have to be the villain, he didn't have to lead such a dark life ~ most of it was in his head ~ the result of damaging self-fulfilling prophecies. All of the past could have been different ~ better and easier. He would turn it around. It had taken the stun and shock of hurting someone other than himself to make him see. He could no longer be so careless and thoughtless of others. Andy had told him he didn't think of anyone but himself, and Andy had been right.

With the grace and goodness of a truly remarkable human being, Andy forgave Alan, and with that forgiveness Alan made a vow to himself to be better. "I think Alan's greatest fault is his mastery at painting himself into a corner," Andy comments. "He does this with such speed and agility, then he spends the next week trying to exit the corner without stepping on his pretty paint, all the time trying to hand me the brush and paint and complimenting me on my art."

He was growing again ~ evolving and improving ~ but in such growth there were birthing pains. It was hard to let go, to fall into feeling again ~ so often joy came coupled with sorrow. In opening himself up to one he had to let in the other, and that left him with some trepidation. It would take one more push before the arduous gestation period would end.

* * * * * * *

I invited Andy over to dinner and made the special pasta sauce. The day had been sunny ~ the first in a long time. Things were going well. I had been a bit leery, even after we cleared everything up concerning the bar incident, but now I was ready to step back into the scariness and take a chance. I think I am finally ready. I will give up control and let my feelings dictate my actions instead of thinking too much. My heart used to lead, and though it was sometimes messy it was always worth it. I will allow my heart to lead again ~ I will give myself over to the goodness and not be so suspicious, and if I get hurt, I'll get over it. Sometimes getting hurt is the best thing ~ to prove that I still feel, that I still care.

He arrived early in the evening and after picking up some bread and cookies I took him on a quick tour of the house ~ as he had done with such earnest and endearing pride so seemingly long ago. He was such a good, exceptional man ~ and for a quick moment I thought again of how easily I could hurt him, how effortless it would be for me to ruin everything like I always did, and how I was on the brink of falling in love ~ and how disastrous that might be. I pulled back for one final time.

Silencing my heart and know knowing it, my head took over and I became instantly insolent. The cutting comments began, the little gibes and not-so-veiled insults took on a new viciousness, and the defense mechanisms circled and prepared for the attack. I went on the offensive ~ the agitator and aggressor ~ fighting off one more chance at happiness and for what? Why did I continue to do this? And most of all, why to him ~ why Andy?

This man, who was teaching me so much, who shoed me kindness without expecting anything in return, who made sex fun, erotic, and meaningful again ~ who turned it into making love ~ and who was changing everything for the better… this man was suddenly too important to me, and I simply couldn't let him be. My words drove him away. He stopped eating and sat there, wondering at my malicious treatment of him and questioning why I was pushing him away.

The unconscious assault worked, much to the dismay of my suddenly-bleeding heart. My head had won another battle, but my heart had been sacrificed for the victory. As Andy left, he kissed me on the cheek as I sat at the table in stoic silence. The front door closed behind him as tears ~ the blood of my wounds ~ spilled down my face. The carnage of our dinner looked up at me miserably. I had done it. And once more I couldn't stop crying.

I cried for hurting myself, but mostly I cried for Andy, for hurting him without reason. Them my heart, empowered by the tears and the fact that I still felt, rose again. Battered and weak, it pushed me into the car and to his house. I brushed away tears as I rang the doorbell.

He invited me in, but it was too late. Sitting on the couch where we had shared so much fun, I fought not to cry. And then it was over. He couldn't deal with it anymore, and I couldn't blame him.

I would finish crying when I got home. I would fall to the floor and heave out torrents of tears, wailing loudly in the dark empty house ~ my screams echoing through the night. Exhausted and spent, I would collapse on my bed and drown in salty water ~ awakened only once by another violent thunderstorm and visions of me begging Andy not to give up.

The next morning was sunny ~ the only signs of the previous night's storm were the wet ground and two overturned flower pots on the back terrace. That and the dull ache of emptiness, whose return I had feared yet failed to prevent.

* * * * * * *

"It should be now be easier to see why there will always be art that uncovers the body, and artists who speak shamelessly, even obscenely. All social structures do well to anchor their rules of conduct in the seemingly simple inscription of the body, so that only after I have covered my privates am I allowed to show my face to the world and have a public life. The rules of bodily decorum usually imply that the cosmos depends on the shame we feel about our bodies. But sometimes the lesson is a lie, and a cunningly self-protecting one at that, for to question it requires self-exposure and loss of face, and who would want that? Well, trickster would, as would all hose who find they cannot fashion a place for themselves in the world until they have spoken against collective silence." – Lewis Hyde

He had spent his whole life turning living into an artifice ~ a work of art ~ a project ~ and in so doing he had given up his real sense of self ~ his soul. The soulless can never be loved. He thrashed himself through his emotional extremes ~ all for the tale to tell, the story to write, and the anecdote to entertain. In the effort to never be forgotten, Alan had played into his own trap. The one thing he wanted more than anything ~ to touch and move and love people ~ was the very thing he restrained himself from doing. And what he knew would bring him happiness ~ to be touched and moved and loved in return ~ was precisely what he could never have.

"Certainly there is an extensive amount of attention-getting and approval-seeking going on," relates Mr. Bouzan. "Probably stemming from loss of parental attachment or some bullshit like that. Other than that, I think he just likes to keep his friends entertained, with the pictures and the writing projects."

Ms. Ko views it in a more troubling light. "I wouldn't look for the thrills in life just because they're considered risky," she warns. "Although I'd still write from my experiences, I would try to live life without the forethought of how it could fit in with my projects."

"I kind of agree," says Ms. Myrick. "I wish Alan would start writing outside of himself. How much of this stuff is he doing for material? But I mean really, who the fuck am I to talk?"

"I like the fact that he's still searching," Mr. Bouzan asserts. "He hasn't settled. He hasn't become boring. He's one of the best people to know personally and at the same time to live vicariously through. I think that's what people like about him best. You feel like he's living out your life for you, or making up the part that you're not living out. I think women understand this better, I'm not sure. Maybe that's why women take to him better, and I don't think it's the "He's-my-gay-guy-friend-and-I-secretly-wish-he-was-straight" thing either. However, I do believe that the charm is genuine for the people he likes."

"Alan seems relatively satisfied with his life even when he says he isn't," Ms. Davis contends. "I'd like that. He seems content even in the search, which is great, because I guess we'll always be searching in life."

"Alan is an incredibly talented person who is unsure of how and where to use his talents," avows Ms. Natale. "He is one of the most creative and artistic people that I know. He is self-consumed. He is comfortable with who he is and has gone through much to get to that point. He has an amazing ability to look inside himself and at his experiences objectively, analyze them, work through them, and use them to grow and move on, to change. So many people can't do that, refuse to do that, or refuse to act on what they see. I value that in people ~ it is necessary for us as humans. Now he needs to find where he fits into the future."

Whenever Alan had been in doubt, he turned to writing ~ specifically, autobiographical work which sought to make sense of his history and help him improve on his faults. 'Spin Control' essays his damaged self-esteem and co-dependency; 'The Fall' dissected the eventful summer of '98; 'Of Heart & Home' delved into his past familial trauma; and 'Heart of Winter' documented the dissolution of his long-term relationship with Paul Fraley. Those projects were incredibly self-obsessed, but Alan felt most comfortable writing about that which he knew best ~ himself. In an ironic way it is a humbling act ~ he doesn't pretend to know more than he does, and he wouldn't dare exhibit the haughtiness required to assume omniscience.

"I think some are perplexed by the intense self-study," Ms. Davis muses. "One time someone asked, "Oh, so he has narcissistic personality disorder?""

Mr. Vaeth senses that the apparent vanity and self-absorption are indicative of something more important: "Alan is constantly, sometimes overwhelmingly introspective, which occasionally takes the public connotation of egomania. He constantly thinks and writes about himself and asks his friends questions. Since his transformation away from the diva role, Alan looks in the mirror (a little) less, talks about himself (a little) less. So there's something else to this fascination with self. I really think he does so to figure out himself so that he can be a better person. He is an excellent friend, always conscious of those around him, and I think his focus on himself is intended, at least subconsciously, to make better around those he loves. That's my guess anyway."

To make the world a better place, Alan realized he had to start with himself. Once he felt comfortable about who he was ~ once he reached a state of contentment and acceptance and understanding ~ then, and only then, would he turn outward to help others. He realized he would never be "finished" ~ that there would always be improvement and evolution and change and growth ~ but he needed a core sense of self, and he wrote about his own life to decipher his past, his present, and his future.

The one thing that had always set him apart from most people, and the greatest cause of consternation ~ realized and unrealized ~ was his sexuality. When he came out as gay man he made the decision to help eliminate homophobia and the stigma of being gay. He did so mainly through his writing ~ the Letters-to-the-Editor of his hometown paper, and his own gay column in the now-defunct 'sidewalks'publication ~ but also through his quiet example. He has been a mentor for young gay people in his hometown, and has worked at broadening the minds and perspectives of others, both gay and straight.

Ms. Natale grew up with Alan in Amsterdam and has seen the effect his writing has had: "I think he has spoken freely and openly about homosexual issues, and as a result has caused many discussions. He has brought about an awareness of the issue, especially in Amsterdam."

"He should definitely continue to address ~ whether in writing or another form ~ the issues that surround being young and gay for as long as he can," stresses Ms. Davis. "This is absolutely necessary for our world ~ straight and gay communities ~ it's something he does extremely well, and it's something he seems to enjoy. I think his greatest effect on the world will be through his writing. He is reaching out to eh gay community, particularly the youth, promoting communication that's often difficult for people, but so vital to our well-being as a world. He is letting young people know that when they're frightened and sad and feeling totally alone, they're actually not alone. He is showing us that being gay is nothing to be quiet about. He's showing people that while there's reason to be fearful, he's not afraid. I think the world needs people who try to be true to themselves. Alan does that."

"He also affects the world through his friendships," she goes on to emphasize. "First, Alan shows those who know him how important friendships are in life. Without friends we'd all be real losers. Secondly, Alan is such a wonderful friend to people that all of his goodness comes through us. I know I sound like I'm talking about a god, but it's true. He touches ten, we touch a hundred, they touch a thousand."

Yet for all of his preaching to be honest and true, no matter what the consequences, Alan couldn't bring himself to do the same with his romantic relations, often hiding and pretending and masquerading to be what someone else wanted.

"Alan needs to stop working so hard at being who he thinks people want him to be," Mr. Van Wagenen remarks. "He would do better just believing that he can be who he already is, and that is what people in his life already know and love."

* * * * * * *

Excerpt from Alan's letter to Andy:

In some weird way you have shown me what I was on the cusp of rediscovering ~ that I am someone to be loved. Yes, I cried when I realized how badly I had humiliated and embarrassed you ~ yes, I cried over what could have been something altogether different and special ~ but crying is good. It shows that I still care ~ about myself and about you. I love you, Andy ~ in my own sick, twisted way ~ I love you. Maybe not romantically, and not just as a friend, but as… a life force of goodness, of love. I usually don't talk like this ~ you know I don't talk like this ~ but you're changing everything I thought I knew…

It was the only thing left for me to do ~ I would tell Andy the truth. That I'm scared to death, that I don't want to be hurt, that I don't know if I am ready, that I might not be able to give him what he wants ~ but that I want to try. He will forgive ma and understand, and I will hold his hand in the night. In bed he will tell me that at certain moments I have eyes like a wolf ~ glowing, intense ~ and then burning white as he sees into my soul. For the first time I will not flinch at the gaze. I want him to see, and I open my tender heart to a happiness so great it hurts.

* * * * * * *

"I wondered whether the idea of a gay place ~ the place I and so many others had fantasized about, immigrated to ~ was not also structured around a series of irreconcilable conflicts, was not something founded on a paradox as odd as the one that locates the pleasure of things in the losing of them. What else do you call a place that must somehow be both an edge and a center, somewhere you could simultaneously feel utterly different, as you knew you were, yet wholly normal, as you wanted to be? A place whose inhabitants would, like you, be everything ~ special, distinct, rarefied, elite ~ that you'd always had to believe you really were in order to defend yourself against the insidious sense that you were somehow defective; yet at the same time a place where those marvelous people would seem utterly unexceptional? This place would be a paradox." ~ Daniel Mendelsohn

Alan finds this magical and paradoxical place in his writing. He is understood on a common level, and while his words and stories are his own, his emotions are at once singular and universal. Bringing together the diverse and incongruous, he forces us to see ourselves in each other ~ whether good, bad, or ugly. The main stem of thought in almost all of his writing is in finding a commonality to which all people can relate, and that may be his greatest contribution to the world.

Ms. Emerald recognizes this. "It's strange how although we come from completely different backgrounds I can relate to a great deal of Alan's feelings," she maintains. "I can totally relate to the feelings of self-isolation one goes through when searching out one's self."

Alan searched his own existence ~ not because of vanity or egomania, but out of an earnest desire to enhance himself, and all those whom he affected. He would no longer be bothered by what others thought of his so-called self-indulgence. He took the time to be alone, without the advice or interference of society.

"Friends, even well-meaning ones, just don't come into play at times of accelerated growth, since destruction of the old mode of living and habits must occur before the rebirth," Ms. Emerald elucidates. "It can be disconcerting to try to relate these feelings and breakdowns to people who already have a preconceived notion of who you are. Those closest to us don't always accept changes or give credit that a person can change and deserves their support regardless of whether our loved ones disagree with these evolutions of soul or not."

When the latest transformation was complete, Alan emerged a stronger, more secure person. He opened himself up to a new romance and gave up much of the artifice that characterized his former life.

"He's one of the very few people I know who is and does exactly what he wants to be and do," relates Kristen. "I love how open he is. I like his quick wit and that sense of humor. I am continually impressed by his active devotion to his friends. I love how he knows exactly what he likes and what he doesn't. I love his jubilance, that is, when it's present."

"I bet there are men and women who hate him because of his flamboyance and candidness, and say so," Mr. Bouzan ruminates. "I bet there are men and women who secretly hate him because of his flamboyance and candidness, and would never say so. There are gay men who think he's attractive, there are straight women who think he's attractive. There are the so-so friends who only want to stereotype Alan ~ the monogamous, flighty, home-making queen whom they can say they know someone who's gay, but ultimately are judgmental about the real Alan. And there are his close friends who know him well. They are worried about him and care, but ultimately they let him lead his own life."

These are the people Alan cherishes most, and the lucky bunch who will remain close to him for life. He has whittled down the large superfluous assembly of party friends to a small circle of special companions, surrounding himself only with those who truly care to return his friendship ~ those who will be there through the tough times and those who will always accept Alan for the man he is, has been, and will be.

* * * * * * *

"My guide and I crossed over and began to mount that little known and lightless road to ascend into the shining world again.

He first, I second, without thought of rest we climbed the dark until re reached the point where a round opening brought in sight the blest and beauteous shining of the Heavenly cars, And we walked out once more beneath the Stars." ~ Dante Aligheri

"It's so much friendlier with two." ~ Winnie-the-Pooh

Having patched things up with Andy, the two were free to begin anew. The sorrow was done, and Andy's presence was a benefit of Alan's new mode. Of course, vestiges of the past persisted, but Andy was patient and steadfast.

"Alan's ever-changing persona made knowing him very hard for the first few weeks," Andy confesses. "My relationship with him has been very complex. Growing very quickly from Alan saying, "I'm probably never going to see you again anyway," to "This is my boyfriend Andy," over the past month. I had a few side-steps with Alan through "seeing" and "dating" and "hating"… well, maybe not hating, but Alan definitely didn't like me for a few hours anyway. Now, our relationship is fun… and smoldering. I am his present boyfriend, someone whom I hope can provide a canvas for Alan to start painting a different, possibly more serene life ~ a life where Alan could grow creatively through happier, lighter living, without further self-destructive inspirations ~ a life of passion and love."

As of this writing, Suzie was the only one who had met Andy. He had invited her and Alan over for dinner one evening. Despite her slightly cynical and perennially suspicious nature, Suzie was won over by the charming man who welcomed them into his home.

"I was very impressed with Andy," she attests. "He seems very sweet. Definitely more sweet than Alan has probably been used to lately, so I hope that Alan doesn't shy away from his affection. And Andy cooks. Men who cook always get more points."

The table was set with sparkling silverware and glowing candles. There was a fine red wine to go along with the fettucini and home-made marinara sauce. "Dinner with Andy was fun," Suzie continues. "It was my first time meeting him, although I had heard a lot about him. I think the two of them were, forgive me, pretty cute together. Alan seemed a little hesitant about me meeting Andy; that was pretty amusing."

She had been there to bring him home in the Spring, and at the end of the Summer she was there again to see how he had changed.

"Alan seems so much more calm these past few weeks," she notes. "Like he isn't terrorizing himself. I do hope that he isn't going to freak out and cheat on Andy, because Andy definitely seems like a very good person who wouldn't really go for that sort of thing. Alan seems to be more leveled. Good boyfriends and good relationships seem to be good because he finds someone who has a calm personality. I think that Andy is very comfortable with himself. You can tell he knows who he is and respects himself. I think that this is starting to help Alan be more comfortable with himself too."

* * * * * * *

This is a story that has no definitive ending, happy or otherwise ~ the best never do. In fact, this conclusion is instead a beginning, and while this particular project is coming to its completion, I feel like my own life is starting anew.

A lot of what you have said to me has been true, and I am ready to heed your words of warning and wisdom. That has never been easy for me, but I am learning. I have finally stopped living my life as fodder for my projects. I have ceased the heavy, unsafe drinking and casual sex ~ and I have not worn silver or gold lame in years. You see, I do listen, and I have reached a point where I am able to accept your kind criticism as a token of concern, without feeling condemned or attacked. Even so, I refuse to alter or change myself for you or anyone else, not if it means losing my sense of self. I will work on improvement and accept what you say, but in the end I will do all and everything for and because of myself.

I know that at times I am an impossible paradox and an infuriating enigma. My unfathomable complexity is daunting, and you shall never find your way through the Byzantine-like corridors of my mind. I wilt if you try to define or place me into your perfect diagram of the world. You cannot contain or categorize me ~ I am slippery and sly, and I defy the limitations of labels and the rigid structure of society. I will always be a trickster, and in utilizing and manipulating such things as they are, I shall work towards bringing about things as they should be.

I have my set-backs and weaknesses. There is a tendency to let myself go until I sink to the very lowest form of humanity, and then rebuild from there, but I am turning this around ~ slowly and carefully. While my relationship with Paul appears to dominate much of the preceding, it was merely a catalyst for inner-illumination. Though I initially took the blame for the break-up, I see now that no one is at fault. It wasn't that I was an evil or mean person, or that I wasn't good enough for Paul. He wasn't good for me. He was the harlequin, the jester, and the clown ~ too sweet and simple for my maelstrom of emotions. Paul, not I, was the fool ~ too dim to realize what precious stuff we had, too exhausted from my chaos to try anymore, and too blind to see the real reason why what he was actually doing was the best thing for both of us. But even in his misguided execution, he remained decent and honorable. I understand that now, and I forgive him, and myself, for what we did not know.

There is a lot I have learned of late. I have awakened to the simple truth that we cannot go around hurting people, even unintentionally. We must be more careful with one another. We have to be aware that we affect everything around us, and no action is complete in and of itself. There are always repercussions, no matter how seemingly-insignificant, and to ignore these results is reckless, ruthless, and potentially dangerous.

There is goodness within me ~ a goodness only a rare few will ever be allowed to witness, and if I'm a little protective of it, well… too bad. I am far from perfect, but I like who I am ~ pleased with the man I've become and at peace with everything I have done to get here. My failings and foibles remains, but they can no longer destroy me. In fact, those often-annoying quirks are distinguishing signposts of my character, and I refuse to deny them their place. I am flawed, filled with faults, and rife with tricky peaks and valleys ~ a landscape which is uncontrollable and diverse. My past is intricately and inextricably bound to my present and future, and all the pretty bracelets in the world will not erase my scars. But there is beauty there too ~ without and within me ~ and if you cannot see that, I pity you.

I shall cultivate and tend to the garden of my own life and not intrude upon the garden of yours unless asked or invited, and I expect the same courtesy in return. It's evident that a lot of you can't handle my wilderness, and you will therefore keep me on the periphery of your hearts. That is fine ~ maybe you can't appreciate me, but others can, and I will wait for them to share in the journey. If it means there are fewer guests at my parties or that my mailing list shrinks down to the three or four people who actually write back, then so be it. My love is too valuable to be lost on those who don't care to hold my hand in the night.

There are things you will never know about me ~ feelings and incidents which I will never share. You won't ever figure me out ~ for who has ever truly been figured out? We each know only one person in this world ~ ourselves. If I seem vain or egotistical it is because that is what I know best, and I don't feel comfortable spouting off about that which is beyond my personal experience. But I no longer feel the need to explain it to you. I wanted to stop writing this as I realized what was happening, but I went ahead as an acknowledging nod to my past ~ to a time which made me the man I am ~ a man with much more than moods and modes to offer. I believe that we should stop trying so hard to figure everything out and simply enjoy the man of the moment, the man of mode.

There's a little trickster in all of us. We should recognize and accept this, while working towards a greater good ~ first within ourselves, and then outwardly in the world. We may begin and end alone, but we cannot effect change and make our journey successful and worthwhile if we find our way in solitude.

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At the end of summer I sit on the back terrace of my parents' home. The sky is that brilliant blue which only comes with the arrival of fall, and the sun is intensely bright through the crisp, cool air. A breeze rustles the leaves and the pool glistens with tiny waves.

The gardens are wildly overgrown, but the flowers of the perennial bed are rich and vibrant ~ the startling golden-yellow of the black-eyed-Susans, the light magenta of the purple coneflower, and the orange-red shadings of the gloriosa daisy. The fading blue globes of echinops and the pastel palette of the malva are the only subtle bloomers now. It is almost time for the gardens to go to sleep. In a few weeks I shall return to plant the spring bulbs and say good-night for another season. All the rain has fortified the plants and next year looks to be brighter and better. I breathe this sunny air and feel calm. The chaos has come to a close, the curtain contentedly descended. A monarch butterfly alights upon a bush by the pool, its wings gently undulating and reflecting spotted glory. I am alone in the sublime beauty, but my heart does not ache.

Fragmented visages of the future soar before me as the butterfly flutters through the forest and disappears. I can see Andy with me ~ working in the garden I think ~ as a friend or lover, I cannot tell and it does not matter. Of course Suzie is there and she is making me laugh. My parents ~ older and funnier ~ wiser and accepting ~ are at holiday dinners and summer vacations. I can see my brother and his wife and their children ~ my nieces and nephews ~ and these kids like me. To them I an Uncle Al ~ the crazy fun guy in the family who gives the best birthday and Christmas presents. I make them laugh and know that they won't let me die alone. That old fear has been erased ~ replaced by the sweet realization that I am somebody to be loved, and always have been. Why has love been so easy to give and so difficult to receive?

I feel the transient nature of the moment, but not the panic that customarily accompanies the feeling. There is no longer the need for a photo shoot or other lasting evidence ~ I take the beauty into my soul and it is all I need. A dragonfly darts about the pool, skimming itself across the water and crackling light off its translucent wings. No one sees this but me, and I smile a smile that no one will ever witness.

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