Dinner with an Old Friend

The other night I had dinner with an old friend. Actually John is much more than an old friend although he certainly is that as well. Thirty years ago I had a six month romantic affair with him and to this day I regard him as one of the great loves of my life. I met him in a popular gay bar in the Castro neighborhood as I was watching Pat Benatar’s Love Is a Battlefield video. I had just returned from a trip to New Orleans where I first saw the video and was reliving happy memories of my trip. As fate would have it John had only recently moved to San Francisco and had lived in New Orleans so conversation with him was quite easy and enjoyable. I was quickly smitten with him; besides being physically attractive, he was intelligent, articulate, soft-spoken and sincere. My partner of five years and I had an unspoken agreement that extra-curricular sex was permissible and up to this point I had never allowed myself to enjoy anything more than a one night roll in the sheets with someone else. Despite my primary relationship being very satisfying, John was someone who touched me in a different way and throwing caution to the wind I allowed myself to fall in love with him. While my six month fling was wonderful I did pay a dear price for it, hurting my partner deeply and causing a serious rift in our relationship requiring a period of time that we needed to live apart so we could work things out. Happily eventually we did and now 35 years after we first met he and I remain very much a loving couple. From time to time I have wondered if I had not already been in a loving relationship would something more lasting between John and I have happened. I of course will never know that and certainly am not suggesting that I wish that would have been the case. After all this time I do though still remember what my feelings for him were and believe that at least from my perspective that was a possibility.

Over the years the two of us have stayed in touch although often there are long stretches between phone calls and emails.  My life partner long ago got over the notion that he was a threat to our relationship and in fact has told me on multiple occasions that he enjoys his company. A week before John’s birthday I contacted him and told him I would love to take him out for a birthday dinner, giving the two of us plenty of time to catch up on what was happening in our lives. And so we did on his birthday eve. The three and a half hours we set in the restaurant there was never any awkward silence or a sense that one of us was bored or restless. As had been the case that first night we met, conversation flowed freely as we discussed a wide range of subjects about both our individual lives and more global matters. A year earlier in an exchange of emails he alluded to a series of bad things that had happened to him and told me he would go into more detail when we next saw one another. Even though I did see him once briefly between our 2012 email exchange and our dinner engagement, the timing was not right for heavy conversation. And so after talking for hours about so many other matters I inquired about the details of his misfortunes. As I listened to the painful account of his recent past I felt not only deeply sad for him but despondent that I had not been there to help him in some way. Here was a man whom I truly loved, someone with whom under different circumstances I might have had a much longer intimate relationship. I felt that I had failed him as a friend by simply not making the effort to stay in touch better and I was disappointed in myself for my shortcoming.

I will not beat up myself too much over all this; I do though feel I have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of not letting a lot of time pass without touching base with those for whom I care deeply. John if you should read this and from our dinner conversation I know you do check out my blog, I hope you are neither annoyed or embarrassed that I have taken such liberties about discussing our past relationship and recent conversation.  I want you to know that I am there for you even if it’s just to be a good set of ears, a shoulder to lean on, or a set of arms to give you a big hug when you feel you need one. I love you and am so happy that we met 30 years ago and have stayed in touch. Stay well my friend and know you are loved.

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Background Reading for My Novel: A Home at the End of the World

A Home at the End of the World

One of my favorite movies from the new millennium has been the 2002 film The Hours starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Allison Janney and John C. Reilly. While I have not as yet read the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham upon which it was based I have seen the film twice and loved it both times. In the event that you have neither read the book nor seen the movie the plot centers around three different stories each taking place in a different era, 1923, 1951 and 2001. Not wanting to reveal too much, the three stories are inter-connected and it is only at the very end that the viewer fully appreciates the connection. Each story in itself is fascinating and the acting is nothing short of superb. The movie was nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Picture; Nicole Kidman deservingly won the award for Best Actress. I have the book on my To Read list and hope before years’ end to get around to reading it.

Having enjoyed this movie so much, I was thrilled to learn that Cunningham had written an earlier novel A Home at the End of the World in 1990 that fit into my queer fiction genre that I am pursuing as part of my research for the novel I am writing. This book is told entirely in the first person, although the narrator changes from chapter to chapter. Most of the narration is told by two of the main characters, Jonathan Glover and Bobby Morrow, but two additional characters also add their perspective, Jonathan’s mother Alice and a woman named Clare who is introduced about one-third of the way into the book.

Jonathan and Bobby meet as thirteen-year olds in suburban Cleveland in the 1970’s. Both have had troubled childhoods in the 1960’s although their experiences were quite different. Jonathan is introspective and not quite sure of himself. Bobby has had more than his share of tragedy growing up and is very hip, rebellious and somewhat strange. The two boys quickly become best of friends and Bobby soon becomes a part of the Glover family. As time passes the two boys begin to experiment sexually with each other. After graduating from high school Jonathan moves to NYC to start college while Bobby remains with Jonathan’s parents. Jonathan’s roommate in New York is Clare, a woman in her 30’s, who becomes his soul mate although their relationship is strictly platonic. Jonathan by now is openly gay and develops a very sexually fulfilling but emotionally unsatisfactory long-term relationship with a bartender named Erich. Complicating matters Bobby comes to New York, moves in with Jonathan and Clare and is soon seduced by her. Not wanting to reveal any more of the storyline (hopefully I’ve enticed you enough that you may want to read the book) I will simply say that the plot thickens and before story’s end the three main characters have built a very unconventional but loving relationship.

This was an exquisitely well written and enjoyable read, unlike the book I had read prior to this. I loved the way the perspective of the story changed from chapter to chapter; it definitely got me thinking about the way I am writing my own novel which I have been writing strictly in the third person. I found all the characters interesting and believable. While the book has an undeniable sadness to it, at the same time it is very heartwarming. I’ve learned that the book was adapted into a 2004 film starring Colin Farrell as Bobby, Dallas Roberts as Jonathan, Robin Wright Penn as Clare and Sissy Spacek as Alice. I have seen a trailer of the movie and a friend of mine told me how enjoyable it was which does not surprise me. I certainly plan to see it sometime soon.