Editor’s Note: This was my “assignment” from Katie, and I thought I’d share it here for posterity and hopeful general amusement.
I first crossed paths with Katie while on an outing to the Fox Run mall in Newington, NH. I was with my friend Jacquie at the time (more on her later), and Katie and another friend, Josh, had decided to tag along. Or we ran into them, I don’t remember all the particulars. I do remember the streaks of red in Katie’s hair, her dark clothing, and her ever-present laughter. She and Josh strolled ahead of us as we passed by Macy’s and Hot Topic, dodging other mall-goers, in their own world. I wouldn’t really speak to Katie as more than acquaintances until a couple years later, but she was always around when Jacquie threw board game parties at her parent’s house in Stratham, which ultimately turned into a sing-songs-by-the-piano party.
Jacquie seems to be Patient X in this friendship scenario, so it’s only fitting to describe how we met. I was good friends with her ex-boyfriend, Phil, who, at the time, was never truly over her. Phil and I were hanging out in his apartment, a small domicile on Main Street in Durham, past Breaking New Grounds and Young’s Restaurant and Libby’s Bar and Grill. Anyway, I scrolled around on Phil’s computer, listening to music, as he trimmed his beard and got ready for the night. A knock at the door revealed Jacquie, wearing a forest green pea coat which complimented her red hair. Jacquie sat on Phil’s futon, which doubled as a bed, as I surreptitiously clicked on the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack. I had recently become a convert of the film, and obsessed with the soundtrack, and played it any chance I got. Tonight was no different, until I started to sing quietly along with Ewan as he began “Your Song,” and Jacquie looked up from the futon and said:
"You have a great voice!" She said it matter-of-factly, not surprised in any way. I retreated, however, because I realized that no one had ever complimented me on my voice before. It wasn’t that I sought accolades out, but my singing ability had never really been appreciated by my peers or my parents.
"No, you’re really good." She got up from the futon and leaned over me as "Your Song" finished, and Phil’s Napster player shuffled to "Come What May." I sang Ewan’s part, Jacquie sang Nicole’s, and we came together in perfect harmony. Phil wandered out of his bathroom, rubbing his newly-trimmed beard, not knowing what he had just set in motion.
"You guys ready to go bowling?" he asked. Jacquie clasped my hand and a new friendship was born.
After that night, she and I were inseparable. We drove around Portsmouth late into the evening, hung out at Rye Beach, listening to the waves crash upon the shore. We walked through old cemeteries, played imaginary baseball on a moonlit field. I think I understood at that time that she may have had romantic feelings towards me, and I brushed them off with the excuse that I was Phil’s friend first, and couldn’t date his ex. But there was another reason I ignored any attempts from her on that level. And that reason was a lifelong struggle with having an attraction to men.
But Jacquie invited me into her inner circle, and it’s where I found some lifelong friendships, and some short-lived romances. It’s how I also met Carly, when Jacquie brought me to her friend Skyler’s house, and we walked the beach and stood on driftwood and sang Broadway songs at the top of our lungs.
Jacquie held an annual Halloween party at her house, and I attended with my friends Hayley, Rachel, Kelsey and Caitlin, who called themselves “The Quad” as they lived together in the Hubbard dorm on the UNH Campus. Hayley was as gregarious and outgoing as her unruly red hair; Rachel was quiet, a scientist who loved nothing more than to do her homework while watching “Daria” episodes off of Limewire. Kelsey was the delicate balance of the group, and observer with a great taste in music, and over the years she gave me some A-plus mix Cds. Caitlin was bright-eyed and shy, still unsure of who she was, and wanted to be. But on this night, she was dressed up as Boy George. Rachel was a vampire, Kelsey a witch, Hayley was a dead tap dancer, and I was dressed up as Indiana Jones.
Katie was there, once again, and we didn’t speak much at this get-together. Josh was there, and Carly, and a few others sprinkled through. And then there was Ryan Cahill. I don’t remember what he was dressed as, just that he wore these tight leather pants (David Bowie, maybe?), and when he laughed I just wanted to be near him, at all times.
I still hadn’t figured out my sexuality, or what I really wanted. I had dated a guy, Tom, for a few months before it got too serious and I retreated. Tom was my first foray into any real relationship — and I had felt with him what I now had felt around Ryan — a raw, magnetic and almost animalistic want and desire. The air crackled with electricity. I was in their respective paths, and they were in mine.
Jacquie declared it was time to play a game. I made sure to sit next to Ryan. I got a little shock every time my knee touched his leather-clad one. We were both feeling the energy now, I knew it. When everyone had left for the night, I asked Jacquie to find out if Ryan were interested in me. She cautioned me. She knew that I had retreated with Tom, and most likely she was also hurt that I wasn’t romantically interested in her.
"Make sure this is really what you want," she said, as we hugged goodbye. I promised her it was.
Ryan and i chatted and flirted through AIM, and eventually we hung out again. Jacquie and I visited him at his dorm in Boston, his artwork displayed around the room. I think he wanted to further the relationship, but he was perceptive enough to pick up on my hesitance, and the fact that I wasn’t out, or had even really explored what that would mean.
Also, to make things more complicated, I knew Caitlin was interested in me romantically, and I kept putting off having a conversation with her. I was so afraid of the reality of being out, and dating a boy, that I would have rather stayed completely still. That’s what my brain wanted. My heart pursued Ryan, but there’s the rub. We could have been totally right for each other, but met at exactly the wrong time.
Hayley and the other girls loved Ryan. When I picked him up from the train station in Revere and drove him up to New Hampshire, we stayed at the Quad’s dorm. I slept apart from him, knowing Caitlin was in the other room. He wanted to move closer, I moved further apart.
I cried to Hayley the next morning, sitting outside the dorm. “Why can’t I just be normal?”
"Honey, you are normal." She rubbed my shoulder. "But you’re torturing yourself. And Caitlin. If you want to be with Ryan, then be with him."
"I don’t know how!" I threw the remnant of a tree branch across the lawn. It skidded across the grass, then rolled out of sight.
"Yes, you do," she said. "The only person making this harder on yourself, is you."
I couldn’t argue with that. The trip back to the Revere train station was quiet. We listened to Jump, Little Children and Ryan took my hand, squeezed it. I knew he was saying hello, and goodbye in that one gesture. I wasn’t ready to be with him; and to this day, I consider him the one that got away. The potential that was missed.
It was these types of relationships that I remember as bittersweet, and used that emotion to pour into my writing. And here we come back to my friendship with Katie. I was looking for an actress to fill a role in a TV show I had created with Phil called “Academic Failures.” The original actress had bailed, and I was trying to put the pieces together so the story would make sense.
Katie and I met at Breaking New Grounds. The red streaks were gone from her hair, and I explained the role to her, and I’m sure she asked questions, and I answered. I will always be grateful to her for taking on the part, as she probably didn’t really know what she was getting into, nor what she really wanted out of life, school, etc. I know she was in the Musical Theater program, but wasn’t enjoying it that much.
Her role required her to play a stiff, upper East-Side trust-fund girl named Tiffany, who was slowly learning how to rely on herself, and not her parent’s money. She was also falling for a boy named Shawn, who had a blue-collar upbringing and not that much money in his wallet. Shawn was played by a boy named Ellis, who was Hayley’s ex-boyfriend and we won’t get into the logistics of that part of the story. He was big into crew and didn’t wear socks and had massive sideburn game. My first faux-pas with Katie was telling her that she only needed to give Ellis (as Shawn) a peck on the lips, while telling Ellis to just kiss her. That combination erupted in a weird lips-to-tongue ratio that no one was happy with. I learned to be more specific in my direction after that.
"Academic Failures," the show, had become an important part of my college career. In many ways, it WAS my college career. I enrolled at UNH as an Occupational Therapy major, but commuting to school and other issues made it hard to go to class, and the program wasn’t at all how I imagined it. I wanted to write, and to pursue film, but didn’t have the knowledge or encouragement to do so at the college-level. I found the Student Cable Access Network on campus and made a movie. That’s how I met Phil, in retrospect. We then developed this show about college life that I could devote all my time to (since I wasn’t going to class), and Phil retreated from, having found a new girlfriend named Mandy who engulfed his life and later tried to slit her wrists with his car keys when he attempted to break up with her.
Anyway, the show was a way for me to explore many themes, and I spent my nights typing away in my parent’s basement. My mother and father didn’t understand this dedication at the time. They had a completely different idea of what they viewed as success, and what they wanted for me out of life. It wasn’t a bad plan, just misguided. The universe had blessed them with a gay son who wanted to enter the Hollywood machine. Nothing could have prepared them for that seemingly foreign concept. Now, living in Los Angeles, I see how common my aspirations are, but it doesn’t make me feel less alone.
After her stint on the show, Katie and I developed a friendship that surpassed my relationship with Jacquie. Jacquie was fun, but not always truthful. Katie was honest, to a point, and I liked that. We got along that way. We still do. And I think it’s those qualities that keep us friends to this day, while Jacquie has faded into the pantheon of relationships past. In fact, it was Jacquie who descended further into a concocted web of personalities and lies, and outright defiant obstructions of friendship code. It was she who told Katie that I was gay, before I was ready to. I don’t think I ever forgave her for that, and from that day forward we were on rocky ground. We would come together, and break apart. We were like Bonnie and Clyde, Sid and Nancy, Brad and Jennifer.
My coming out process wasn’t easy, but whose is? I had started seeing a guy named Jon, who was a few years younger than me, but had been out much longer and had slightly more experience in the relationship department. It was a big step for me, and our trajectory was very fast. We had been dating a few months, and I would come up to visit him at his apartment in Concord, and leave late in the evening to head home. I kept not wanting to leave, laying beside him in bed, as he pulled me closer, wrapped his arm around me. “Why don’t you just move in?” he asked, and no sooner had he said that, then it became a reality.
Katie was studying abroad at this time, but she sent postcards and letters, and I did the same. She was there for me when I struggled with the idea of loving someone, and not trusting them. She was there for me when Jon and I broke up, and her wisdom and guidance to this day is something I value and treasure greatly.
Katie, to me, has always exemplified taking calculated risks, being authentic, trying things out to see what works, and what doesn’t. In my mind, she could temper her emotional state and separate the pros and cons and make a decision. But who knows what really goes on inside her head — she could be as anxiety-prone and angst-ridden as I am, as most of us are. I’m just telling you how I see her, and admire her.
I loved visiting her when she moved to New York. We went to the best sushi places and restaurants, and stayed far away from Times Square, except that one time when we had awesome Orchestra seats to “Wicked.”
She took me to this piano bar in the Village, where the waiters and waitresses all sang beautifully, and it was magical. I remember stepping out of the club at one point, not able to handle all the emotion. I was probably struggling with my unrequited feelings for Eric at the time (another story for another day), and didn’t want to face the truth. Katie never pushed me in situations like these — she always guided, asked the right questions, handled everything with care.
After Jon, I had semi-dated a few individuals, nothing serious. I don’t know how this one came about, but I had begun to hang out a lot more with Josh, mostly at the Player’s Ring, and the curiosity of him as a romantic interest was intriguing. Josh was not a guy I would normally go for — not that he was undesirable, but personality-wise, not completely a match. I think I was lonely, and he was, too. Josh is probably one of the loneliest people I have ever met. But at Katie and other’s insistence we hung out, which led to us making out in my car in Carly’s driveway for about an hour. This was another relationship I didn’t really understand until I went back with him to his apartment, and after another serious make-out session a wave of emotion and anxiety hit me square across the chest. It was too much. Too much like being in a relationship again, too much of someone needing me, when I didn’t even know I wanted or could be needed again. I felt bad as I put on my shirt, and Josh curled up on the edge of his bed. I just looked around his room and had to get away. Jon had thrust a knife into my heart it was going to take a long time to recover any semblance of intimacy with another. I don’t know if I’ve reached that point yet, almost five years later. Has it really been that long?
So much of my past seems so present, and my present doesn’t always feel as real or tangible. I know I’ve gotten off the beaten path a bit here in Los Angeles, and I’m not really sure how to recover my muse. I know I’m being lazy and upset and depressed and it’s going to take a lot of work and I thought I had done most of the work already.
I’ve always recognized and realized it, but writing out this whirlwind account of friendships and bygone days has given me a re-lit appreciation for those people in my life, the ones I keep close and have continued to keep a major part of my existence. Writing this has illuminated the potential of stories I can still tell, and the possibility or rediscovering my creative self. I know this was a sly exercise dedicated to this fact, and I for the most part followed the rules.
Although I didn’t include the unicorn, but there’s always next time.