Taken!

When he doesn’t respond to my text message I know something is wrong, can feel it in my bones.  I call his cell phone; four rings and it transfers to voice mail.  It sounds too chipper, as if the message should somehow change to reflect the situation.  When the recording of his voice answers, I expect to hear sirens blaring and a half coherent message with long pauses as he gasps for air:  “I can’t talk right now…I’ve been in a horrible and disfiguring accident… Leave a message and if I’m not dead I’ll call you." Because if that is not what has happened to him, then by God he’ll wish it had.

If there is one thing that Paul and I do well, it is communicate.  The day after our first date, he sent a text message to me:  “Good conversation, good looking, good start, it’s all good!”  From that point forward we were as good as married. Couldn’t let a day go by that we didn’t know where the other one was.  Because when you finally find your split-apart there is a fear that you will lose track of him again.
When I leave work at ten pm, much later than I told Paul I would leave, I call his phone again but there is no answer.  This is so uncharacteristic that my mind creates a variety of scenarios to fill in the missing details.  It’s good like that.  My brain will take a little snippet of a past experience mix it with the present and embellish it with a flourish to make it interesting but believable. Behold the string of blog posts before this one. 
My mind goes back to Halloween night at a local night club. The men are all in costumes; sailors, policemen, soldiers.  But they all seem to be missing their shirts or wearing pants a few sizes too small. I don’t think there is such a thing as a costume that is not preceded by the term sexy anymore. Except for clown costumes, they seem to have cornered the market on creepy.  I see a man lean in and whisper into Paul’s ear. When I ask Paul what the man said to him he says “He told me that I should win the contest for most handsome.” 

I wouldn’t disagree with that and it is a validation of what I already know, although I wonder why I wasn’t included in the most handsome category too.  But tonight my mind uses that experience to create a scenario for Paul’s absence. I cross the street and walk into the Tapas bar where Paul was waiting for me.  I tell the hostess that I am incredibly late and should have called to let my party know and ask if I can search the bar.  She looks genuinely concerned. I assume this is because I am in Washington, DC and not Boston.  
He is nowhere to be found. 

That’s it.  Paul struck up a conversation with a stranger.  The stranger masquerading as a sexy sailor was infatuated with Paul’s good looks and dropped some drugs into his vodka tonic.  Paul is now unconscious at the bottom of a well in the sexy sailor’s basement, who is in fact not a sailor but a creepy clown.  There is no other reasonable explanation.   

I am inconsolable as I walk to the hotel eating an extra-large order of French fries.  I make a mental note to be angry at Paul, if he is alive, for making me eat crisis food.  When I get to our room, my key card does not work.  I bang my fist on the door. There is no answer!
When I present my key card to the hotel desk clerk he eyes me suspiciously.  Who can blame him?  My eyes are red, my heart is racing and I am making love to French fries.  I hand him my driver’s license and he slowly hands me the repaired key card.

When I open the door, I expect carnage, a lifeless body.  What I find is Paul snoring on the bed and an infomercial playing on the TV.  Spitting out my French fries I angrily shove Paul’s arm.  He wakes up with a start and says “You scared me!”
“I scared you?”  I ask angrily.  With ketchup on my lips, piercing red rimmed eyes and the harsh light of the hall behind me, I am aware that I would win the creepy clown costume contest.

You should know that it took a full day for me to forgive him.  But I knew that Paul would be travelling for work this week to someplace, I can’t remember where.  Graciously I decided that it was important to talk about this before his trip and put this event in the past.  In the end, it all comes down to communication.  And if there is one thing that we do well, it is communicate.
 



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Stardust

The stars floating above our heads on this Cool Maine evening look the same to me as they did when I was a thirteen year old boy surviving North Carolina. Every Sunday night I would flick on the garage light, throw open the back screen door and noisily drag the wheel-less trash cans down the gravel driveway. After placing the metal cans on the curb there would be a sudden piercing silence. Looking up at the starry sky I would imagine what life on a planet circling one of those distant points of light might be like; wondering if there was some lonely alien boy looking back at me.

But I was certain that any civilization existing on a distant planet would be far too advanced to be touched by divorce, discrimination or Sunday night football.  This was the year that my kind- hearted eighth grade teacher, Sister Mary Claire asked us to write a letter to our grown up selves; a message in a bottle to be delivered sometime in the distant future. 

I remember feeling self-conscious about what to write. As a thirteen year old gay boy in the south, I didn’t talk about my feelings, I suppressed them and goodness knows I didn’t eat them,  I was far too skinny.  So, I wrote a generic letter:
            Dear Bill,

            Wow, I can’t believe you are an adult now, congratulations!
I hope that life is good for you now and that you are happy.  I am sure that a lot has changed.  Are you still best friends with Willy?  I bet you are.
Do you still live in Greensboro?
Well, I better go now.
Sincerely,
You (Ha, ha!)

I don’t recall ever receiving the physical letter.  Perhaps Sister Mary Claire threw them all away in a rage after catching most of the eighth grade class in the field at recess smoking marijuana.  Or maybe she lost them when she was transferred to a convent in a crime riddled neighborhood of Baltimore.  Many years later I heard that she left the Catholic Church.  Perhaps the yellowed letters written with a number two pencil sit in a shoebox under a disenchanted aging woman’s bed who stares out at the expanding galaxy of her own past.  But it was less the actual delivery of the letter and more the act of writing it that spoke to me.  That there would be a future Bill in a distant world was enough of a message.
It did not occur to me then that Sister Mary Claire might have written a letter to herself. But we are all made of stardust.  I think we both searched the heavens looking for answers while the world around us spun out of control.

When Paul and I bought our cottage in Maine I bought two solar “sun jars”.  We place them under the full sun during the day and sit by their soft yellow light under the stars at night.  Tonight, I look up at the stars, and see their history; see the light that left on its journey through space years ago.  Looking across the table at Paul’s face I see the answer to that thirteen year old boy’s question and more importantly, the delivery of his message. 
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