Still skinny and funny, he had every strand of his thick brown hair, now fashionably spiked up and out of his round brown eyes. As we exchanged sincere you-look-greats, the warmth I remember feeling about him half our lives ago washed over me. After updating each other on our careers and who from high school finally figured out they were gay, we set out over a laughter-filled lunch to reconstruct as much about our relationship as possible. I recalled that we made out listening to Phil Collins overlooking the lights of the Bronx. He remembered the Billy Joel concert he took me to. I had only pretended to like both Phil Collins and Billy Joel, which reminded me that I wasn't all that assertive at 16, especially with boyfriends. (Boy, I thought to myself, Paul would never believe that I ever had a hard time expressing myself.) I teased Rich about how much he used to eat. He said he didn't remember me ever eating. I confessed that was because I'd never eaten in front of him. Then I told him about the starve-binge-purge shuffle I'd been doing the entire time we were together—and for years to follow.
That pretty much killed the good-humored banter.
"I guess 17-year-old boys aren't exactly sensitive," he said apologetically. I assured him that he couldn't have known: I was not underweight and did all I could to keep my frightening habits to myself. I'd also never told him about my autistic brother and my warring parents, who I made sure weren't home when Rich came over. Which is why we were able to have sex in my mom's bed. He vaguely remembered that part, which got us laughing again.
All the same, over lunch I realized we hadn't been close at all. Reconnecting with a love from your teen years makes it clear how well you have to know yourself—and like yourself—to really let another person love you. Rich—Rick—dropped me at Amtrak, and we said our goodbyes. I felt enormous relief—not that our visit was over, but that I no longer worked so hard to keep myself to myself anymore.
I'd Die Without YouIn 1990 I fell flat on my face for Mike*, a moody nicotine-stained musician who had an explicit appreciation for nonskinny women. Among many other things, I loved that about him—by then I was no longer undereating or throwing up and no longer thin.
We went home together one night after a dive-bar gig of his and began our torturous yet glorious and operatic affair. I'd never felt better in my entire life. Or worse. That's what I thought love meant—any intensity of feeling, extremely good or bad, as long as the potential for good was just around the corner. I was convinced he was in love with me but unable to express it. In 1991 our relationship imploded after many embarrassing and desperate acts, mostly on my part.
I hadn't seen him in more than six years when we got together for lunch in Washington, D.C. He met me at the train, gray haired but healthy looking, no guitar strapped to his back, and without a cigarette dangling from his lips. He'd quit that habit years ago, just as I'd stopped going out with men who couldn't show their love. He's now in a PhD program for clinical psychology. "I love my work, and I want to do it well," he told me. It was as if an alien had abducted the brooding, bitter, adorably antiestablishment Mike of a decade ago.
*Indicates name has been changed.
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