I don't know what it meant, that summer with Evan. I don't know what it says about who I was or who I am now. That summer was the first time I'd felt that strongly about another person since getting my heart broken. The first time in months I'd opened myself up, allowed myself to be vulnerable. That summer with Evan was as intense as it was perplexing. As raw as it was confusing. I need to process these feelings, tell someone about my last relationship, before I embark any further into my new one.
My last relationship, like so many experiences in my life, started with a beer…but I'm getting ahead of myself.
During one of the loneliest times in my life, I happened to be involved in a production of Julius Caesar. I was pulling double duty, playing a few small parts in the show while also in charge of sound design and running the sound board. A few months before the production, I learned Shawna, the girl I'd been dating for over two years, was cheating on me. I broke up with her, returned the engagement ring I'd been waiting to give her, and spent a week smoking pot and binge drinking.
Around that same time, my two best friends, the only people in my life other than Shawna that I was close with, moved away. Thomas got married and moved to Kentucky after his wife got transferred. Niles moved to Kansas City to pursue his master's degree. Thomas and Niles were each off to start the next exciting chapter in their lives, while I was stuck in the same basement apartment I'd lived in for years. After making peace with my friends' departure and healing somewhat from the breakup, I felt ready to find a new best friend and start a new relationship. Little did I know, those two areas of interest would soon converge.
The director of Julius Caesar created a Facebook group to pass on announcements, rehearsal schedules, and so the cast members could communicate with one another. During the second week of rehearsals, Evan posted in the group that he needed a ride to rehearsal. Evan was about the same age as me, which was rare for the community theater scene in my town. It seemed like everyone else was either in high school or much older than I was. There weren't a lot of late twenties/early thirties aged people to date or befriend until Evan came along.
Hoping to fill the gap left by Thomas and Niles, I sent Evan a direct message and offered him a ride. He messaged me back minutes later and asked if I wanted to get a beer before rehearsal. I read his message and was ecstatic. It seemed like he was offering me a ticket to his friendship, which I promptly accepted. We made plans to meet up that afternoon and I spent the rest of the day excited to get to know the guy who could become my new best friend.
That afternoon, I drove downtown, and made my way toward Rags and Riches Cinema, one of our town’s most unique local businesses. Rags and Riches was part bar, part indie movie house, and part movie rental business. They specialized in documentaries and art house movies. I had never been inside Rags and Riches. I had always seen it as pretentious, a den for hipsters and the self-righteous. Plus, I'm not a fan of documentaries. I wasn't exactly excited about patronizing this odd bar, but I was open to a new experience. Especially if it meant making a new best friend. It would turn out that an openness to new experiences would come in handy during the time I spent with Evan that day.
I walked into Rags and Riches and saw Evan sitting at a two-seater table in the center of the bar area. He wasn't hard to spot as we were the only people there other than the bartender. He bought me a drink and we exchanged small talk, getting to know each other as we sipped our beers. I offered to buy the next round, but Evan waved me off. With our second beers in hand, the conversation shifted in an unexpected direction.
Out of nowhere, Evan asked me, "So I take it you’re straight?" I nodded, thinking that the stories I'd just shared about my ex had made that clear.
"How do you know that you're attracted to women?" Evan asked. I have to tell you; I was stumped by how to answer. I've always been attracted to women, at least in a sexual nature. I thought about telling him that there had been a few guys in my life I'd felt a strong connection with, but didn't consider those feelings to be the same form of attraction that I felt toward women.
Instead I blurted out, "Well, at the barber school where I get my haircut, I don't get an erection while a male student is touching my head like I do with the female students."
That was the first time I saw Evan's mischievous smirk. The left side of his mouth would quirk upward, ever so slightly, making it hard to tell if he was making fun of me or generally felt mirth over something I'd said. "If that's all you've got," Evan said. "How can you really be sure you're straight?"
I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I stammered, "Well Evan, how do you know you are attracted to women?'
"I'm not," Evan said, this time with a rueful smile. "I'm gay and I was hoping you were too."
It was at that moment that I realized this wasn't just a friendly hang out before rehearsal. Evan and I were on a first date. I don't remember what else he and I talked about but eventually the conversation turned to the fact that we both enjoyed smoking weed and Evan confessed that it had been months since he'd last smoked. Despite the confusion over what type of outing our meet up was, I was still hoping that Evan and I could become best friends. One of the things I like best about smoking weed is the sense of camaraderie. It's just so much more enjoyable for me as a group activity. Smoking by myself just never felt the same as smoking with a good buddy, a feeling I quickly realized I could recapture with Evan.
I glanced down at my phone and saw that we had about forty-five minutes until rehearsal started. I asked Evan if he wanted to come back to my place and quickly toke up. He excitedly agreed, paid our tab, and then I drove us to my place. At this point, I should mention just how heinous my apartment was. It had slab concrete floors and every square inch, including the bathroom, was covered by a single layer of carpet with no padding between. The dirt brown colored carpet did little to hide the stains left over from the previous tenants, from whom I'd subleased before signing a full lease of my own. There were few walls that didn't have cracks in them, and the apartment always smelled dank, even when the air wasn't permeated by a cloud of marijuana smoke. None of the windows opened and the front door was the only way in or out of the apartment. The sink was piled with dirty dishes, empty beer cans and cigarette packs lined the side tables, and my toilet hadn't been cleaned in ages.
Evan was a very well put together guy. He had good style and always wore nice clothes. His outfits were always coordinated and properly ironed. After seeing my apartment, I would have assumed that Evan would write me off as a romantic interest. He would later tell me that the slobbish nature of my living situation made me more endearing to him, a statement I found truly flattering. To me, my apartment had become a reflection of the emotional turmoil I'd been feeling for months. It meant a lot that Evan recognized this and still liked me despite it.
Evan and I got to my apartment, smoked a bowl, and then loaded another one to smoke on the way to rehearsal. By the time we pulled up to the theater, with only seconds to spare before rehearsal started, we were flying high and feeling good. That rehearsal was one of the best ones I have ever attended. Evan and I were both professional, taking direction well and nailing our lines when it was our turn to work on scenes. When it wasn't our turn, we'd collapse into fits of giggles. That day, without either of us having to say it aloud, we became best friends. Although I didn't realize it at the time, that was also the day my heart opened itself up again and was ready for something more.
Evan and I began spending more and more time together. Smoking before rehearsal or getting beers afterward. At rehearsals, unless one of us was on stage, we were inseparable. During this time, I was also trying my hand at online dating, to disastrous results. Most of the emails I sent to the women the dating site deemed compatible went unanswered. Eventually I did set up a couple of dates. The first woman didn't show up and promptly stopped returning my messages afterward. I watched the next woman drive off as I stood in front of the restaurant where we had agreed to meet. We made eye contact as her car slowed and then she sped off. Disheartened, I decided to take a break from dating and focus on strengthening my friendship with Evan.
At this point, he was the only person who I felt was truly there for me and I knew he was beginning to feel the same way about me. Evan was only partially out of the closet. He came from a wealthy, conservative, and incredibly religious family. The type of Christianity that views homosexuality as a sin. When he'd tried to come out to his parents, they'd kicked him out of the house. He was only allowed to return home after agreeing to attend conversion therapy.
Evan had just returned from this program a few weeks before we met. He had auditioned for Julius Caesar to give himself an outlet for his pain, and for an excuse to not just sit in his parent's house every night. He confided in me that he also secretly hoped to meet someone during the production. He lamented the fact that he was the cast's only homosexual, but expressed how grateful he was to have gotten close to me. He felt I was the only person who he could be his true self around and I was honored to be able to fill that role.
Evan himself was also devoutly religious and he struggled every day to reconcile his deeply ingrained beliefs with his sexuality. There were days when the resulting cognitive dissonance caused him pain that was so palpable, I swear I could feel it too. I must admit I was out of my depth when it came to helping someone deal with these feelings, but I did my best to console him. Most days, I just tried to help him forget his pain. That meant furnishing him with marijuana, which he gladly helped me pay for, drinking alongside him, and providing him a safe place to just be himself.
Halfway through the rehearsal process, Evan was struggling to memorize his lines. He was playing Mark Antony, one of the most important roles in Julius Caesar, but one that came with a lot of dialogue. In between smoking sessions, or before we got too wasted, I helped Evan run his lines, always offering him tips and encouragement. Evan wasn't the only one struggling to get off-book, but that didn't matter to him. He was incredibly hard on himself, but we kept working on his lines and he was making progress.
The theater where we were performing was located inside a city park. On the day the cast was no longer allowed to call for lines, Evan and I met at the park a few hours before rehearsal to run over his lines one last time. He had brought us each a tall can of beer and we spent the next hour sipping and reciting. The cast soon arrived and saw us sitting in the grass together, openly drinking. The casting for this production was gender blind, and the woman playing Brutus was struggling the most with memorizing her lines, having an even more difficult time than Evan. She saw us drinking, and true to the nature of the character she was playing, readily betrayed us.
Rehearsal was delayed that day as Evan was called into a meeting with the director. He was reprimanded for drinking and was clearly dejected through the entire rehearsal. Yet he still managed to remember every one of his lines. Brutus, meanwhile, was struggling so much that she had to print her lines out and read from them during Caesar's funeral scene. The combination of seeing my friend hurt and realizing the woman who had caused that pain had obviously attacked him to mask her own insecurities enraged me. That night, after the director finished giving us notes, I gave Brutus a piece of my mind. I pulled her aside and told her to mind her own business, reminding her that it was not against the rules to drink in the park and that we had done so on our own time. I pointed out that unlike her, Evan gave a stellar performance even after drinking while she couldn't remember her lines while sober.
I turned around before Brutus could retort, and found Evan standing behind me. He had heard my entire speech and had tears in his eyes. I worried they were from embarrassment, but later he assured me they were from admiration. He wasn't used to having people stand up for him. We talked into the early hours of the morning that night. I realize now, that is the night I fell in love with him.
After that, Evan and I began spending even more time together. We shared things with one another that we wouldn't have shared with anyone else and I could feel our bond deepening, emotions that felt romantic becoming more and more real. A week after Julius Caesar ended, Evan appeared on my doorstep unannounced on a Sunday afternoon. I was surprised to see him, as normally he would spend Sundays with his family. Evan was openly weeping, and it took me a few minutes to understand that he'd just come from church where the pastor had given a sermon denouncing homosexuality.
Evan told me how lonely he was feeling and expressed his wish to be physical with someone, lamenting the fact that he knew no one with whom he could hook up. Wanting to comfort him, and explore my new feelings, I began by suggesting we start drinking. We began taking shots of rum, chasing them with Mountain Dew. Emboldened by the liquor, I nervously asked Evan if he wanted to jerk each other off. He looked at me with surprise and then leaned in to kiss me. I didn't need the liquor to make me excited to kiss him back. After a heavy make out session, it was clear Evan wanted to do more. Unfortunately, once we moved beyond first base, my penis refused to become erect.
Evan began to retreat inward, filled with shame and embarrassment, but I pressed on, determined to see the evening through. I pulled out my laptop and found a porno portraying a three-way between two men and a woman, wherein one of the men was bisexual. With visual stimulation that catered to us both, our pants came off and our hands found their way to each other's laps. After only a few minutes of stroking, accompanied by some light kissing, we came simultaneously. Reaching orgasm at the same time as my partner was something I'd never experienced before and have yet to experience again. It made the whole night feel that much more powerful.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. When we next hung out, Evan wanted to hook up again, but I was uncomfortable. We tried watching another porno, but neither my heart nor member were into it. Evan became self-conscious and left soon after. We hung out a few times, but it was always awkward, and we eventually drifted apart. I struggled to understand my own feelings. I still felt a strong connection to Evan, but somehow my romantic feelings had gone away after we'd hooked up. In my mind, our hook up had further solidified our friendship but for reasons I still struggle to understand, it had eliminated my romantic feelings toward Evan.
It was months later before Evan and I saw each other again. I was working as the stage manager on a production of Darker Shores. One night, I turned to see Evan standing behind me, in almost the exact same spot he'd been on the night I'd confronted Brutus. We hugged and I tried to apologize, but Evan cut me off. He told me that he was moving to St. Louis and thanked me for everything I'd done for him. He kissed me on the cheek before leaving, and I haven't seen nor talked to him since.
That was a few years ago, and now I'm in love with a wonderful woman. We’ve started to plan our future together. I recognize that things probably wouldn't have worked out with Evan. Each for our own reasons, we were both just too conflicted over our individual sexuality. Although I'm happy with my girlfriend, not a day goes by where I don't fondly remember the summer I spent with Evan.