Paul is cheerfully marching ahead of me, wearing a backpack, shorts and sneakers looking like a very tall and very mature school boy. I stare at the back of his head. I know it well. When God gave us our legs he was in a joking mood. He made Paul’s extra-long and toned and mine short and spindly, so that I would always be playing catch up.
“Just four more blocks sweetie!”
Behind the glitzy lights, dancing water fountains and high end retail stores lay vacant lots of arid gravel baking in the desert sun. On the distant horizon red mountains ring this dustbowl. If I had been blind folded, hog tied and thrown into the back of one of those trucks that endlessly drive up and down the strip advertising “Hot Babes, direct to you!” and subsequently dumped here, I would not be able to discern the difference between this place and Mars. But you cannot say that you have been to Las Vegas if you have not walked three miles in the hot sun to a grocery store with a five martini hangover.
“Maybe you should have worn sneakers.”
Paul says this as he glances over his shoulder at me. I shoot daggers with my eyes at the back of his head as I pick up the pace. My flip flops barely hang onto my feet and my arms flail up and down like a baby bird’s wings.
“Maybe we should have eaten breakfast first.” I say in my most feeble and pathetic voice sounding as if I may faint at any moment. But he doesn’t buy it.
“Come on, we walk further than this in the city before breakfast. It’s worth the walk. We’ll make our own drinks and avoid the fifteen dollar drinks by the pool.”
Paul has been to Las Vegas with a couple of his previous boyfriends. Those relationships ended shortly thereafter, one actually ended during their stay in Las Vegas. I begin to understand why.
Even in the relationship department, Paul had a head start on me. On our first date, he relayed his method for remembering each of them.
“Take the first initial of your last name and give them a nickname. My last name starts with a B, so I have the Boozer, the Bastard, the Biscotti, the Bald Eagle, the Box boy…” My head began to swim. The number of serious relationships I had didn’t need a mnemonic device to recall them.
Over the years I have learned the details of Paul’s relationships. The Boozer was his first after coming out. Not surprisingly, they met in a bar. From all accounts he was a very outgoing and fun guy, as long as the liquor was flowing. Their relationship took a sharp turn for the worse when he drank the entire weekend away in their Las Vegas hotel room. While Paul was out winning at the gambling tables, the Boozer grabbed Paul’s wallet and plane ticket and left him.
Always a meticulous photographer, Paul has recorded scenes from these relationships. Before we travelled together, he travelled to all of the destinations we now love with someone else. Here is a photo of Paul and the Boozer on Miami Beach, here is a photo of Paul and the Bastard in Las Vegas, and again in Key West, San Francisco and New York. Because he was always one step ahead of me, I have had a glimpse of my future.
Even on the plane ride home, he sits in the seat in front of me and my immediate view is again of the back of his head. I know it so well that I could pick it out of a faceless line up. It is lovely, really, perfectly shaped with a whorl of thick salt and pepper hair. It is perhaps divinely ironic that even though I am always one step behind him, I will in all likelihood reach the finish line first because I am several years older. Knowing this I once asked him what his nick name will be for me when I am gone. He thought for a second then said “The Best”.
I think it was more than blind luck. Maybe God made Paul’s legs longer so that he could walk ahead of me to learn that even though the path is the same, it looks completely different with the love of your life.
And anyway, everyone knows, you always save the Best for last.