(This is a continuation of Will: In the Dark, part of the Will series I started last week. The series will be concluded in the next installment.)
Will and I had a very natural, loving relationship for some time. He spent that Christmas at my house, guest of honor at one of the big dinners we used to have for friends and acquaintances who didn’t have family in the area. He sat by my side, and spent the evening having such friendly and in-depth conversations with my father that my dad still asks after him, to this day. He was my companion at my birthday party in the middle of winter. We helped each other with our gardens come spring.
Summer was supposed to be when he was leaving for the priesthood, and I spent most of the first half of the year dreading its arrival. The order with which he was supposed to become a recluse, however, had some kind of change of heart, and told him they wouldn’t be accepting him. It was a blow, pure and simple. He’d spent almost a year at that point studying and preparing himself. He’d made plans to put what little furniture he had into storage for his sons, he’d begun the process of putting his finances in order, of ridding himself of his apartment in preparation for the move. The wrench of having to jam on the brakes jarred him.
It jarred the both of us, really. I know that in this kind of story there’s always a moment in which the relationship starts to go bad. Ours didn’t rot; it didn’t grow so rancid that it’s difficult to look back upon. It did grow awkward, though. And it started soon after his rejection from the order.
“What did your advisor at the order tell you?” I asked, a few nights following the news, after we’d made love. He was in my arms, that small and perfect body curled onto mine in fur-covered curves and angles. I already knew the answer. He was moping enough, however, that I wanted him to say it aloud, so it would sink in.
“He told me to apply again next year,” he said, reluctantly. “That the entire board would be different next year, and that with him at its head, I’d be able to join.”
"A year," I pointed out.
“It’s a year,” he said, stubbornly.
“It’s only a year. You’ll apply again. You’ll get what you want. A year’s not long to wait.” Secretly, though, I was basking in the thought of another year with him.
He sighed. I knew he was thinking it over. I thought that inwardly he was agreeing with me, that he was seeing the rightness of what I was pointing out to him. I thought that in a moment he’d nod and agree with me, and I’d stroke his head until he was smiling once again. Obviously, I didn’t know him as well as I thought. A few moments later, he spoke up again. “Would you be upset if I started seeing someone else?”
I blinked. I wasn’t expecting that question. “What?” I asked. “No. Of course not.” It was, in a small way, a lie. I minded very much the thought of him with someone else. A selfish side of me wanted him all to myself, forever. Fortunately, that side was outvoted by the part of me that knew how stupid and irrational it was of me to expect such a thing. “Sweetie,” I said, very slowly, keeping my voice calm and level. “I want you to do what makes you happy. I've always said it’s unfair to ask you to love me.”
“I still love you,” he said, quietly. He meant it, that night. His eyes were still full of fear as he spoke. “I love you. I do. It’s just . . . now. . . .”
“I get it,” I told him hastily, so he wouldn’t have to say the words. I did get it. Before, I was a safe repository for his affections. I had an official status of temporary. We'd both knew that the relationship as it was, wasn’t going to last. It had an expiration date. Now, though, with an open-ended future, perhaps I wasn’t as practical for him. “I totally get it.”
“You’re upset,” he said, looking at me with the eyes of a scared doe.
I was. “I’m not,” I fibbed. “I’m fine. Really. I love you. I want you to do what you need to do. If you want to date someone, date someone. We'll still be friends. Nothing's different with us.”
Things had changed, though. I left a few minutes later, knowing and hating the fact.
Will hadn’t anyone in mind when he’d asked that question. Within the month, though, he had a guy he was dating—a six-foot-six hulk of a man with drooping shoulders, shaggy blond hair, and a jaw like a bludgeon. He looked like the son of Lurch, of the Addams family. In my journal of the time, I derisively called him ‘Lunk.’ The first time I met him, I saw him as a cruel parody of myself—the height exaggerated, the facial features rendered in broad strokes that were vaguely reminiscent of mine, in a funhouse mirror kind of way. Lunk weighed about a hundred pounds more than I, and walked like a hunchback. I was the first to shake his hand, though, and I spent nights at the bar talking to him and making him feel welcome and part of the group, just to prove there were no ill feelings.
Lunk didn’t last. There were others. There was a blond, chubby artist with the stammer. There was a floppy-haired literary type who, save for the fact that his features were dark where mine were fair, could have been my twin. Every new dating partner seemed to be some kind of attempt to find a man in my image, twisted and distorted as it sometimes seemed. And every time there was a new fellow introduced to me at the bar, I was the first out there with a handshake and a welcoming smile.
Even though inwardly, sometimes, that smile would be through gritted teeth.
Under the circumstances, it was normal that we’d grow apart. We were still friends, though gradually our sex died down to nothing. I felt as if sex with me kept him from a love life of his own. On his part, I think he imagined I was angry with him. We would stand close to each other when we went out together. He came to family occasions, still sat at the table at another Christmas.
But it wasn’t the same.
The final blow to the relationship came a year later. True to his advisor’s word, when Will applied again to the same order, he was accepted by the new board. All the plans he’d put on hold, he suddenly needed to put into motion again. He said goodbye to the last of my stand-ins, and gave up his apartment, and finalized his plans for a vow of poverty. At a party at my house, friends and family gathered to say goodbye. He and I hugged, and parted with tears in my eyes.
He was getting what he wanted. That should have been the end to it. But a week later, I was on gay.com chatting when a private message popped up from Will’s account there. What are you doing on? I asked. Is something wrong?
In my temporary confusion, I honestly thought that there was some kind of emergency that he’d been given special dispensation to resolve on the internet. Though why through gay.com, it never occurred to me. Nope, he typed back. Just so fucking bored.
I prodded him a little more. He was at the order of the brotherhood or whatever they called it, he told me. He wasn’t supposed to be on gay.com, or on the computer at all, but he was tired of everything monastic. He’d had a week of studying and praying and doing good work at the local bread bank, and apparently was over it. So he’d logged onto the biggest time waster of all, and declared himself bored.
I was a little stunned, to be honest. The admission of boredom seemed particularly puerile to me. Will had gotten what he’d wanted. He was doing what he’d wanted to do for years. He’d fucking given away his life, to do this. And after a week, he was bored?
Every day after that, he logged on to chat in the Michigan room about how bored and dissatisfied he was. It pissed me off, more than a little. Will had been heroic, in my eyes; he’d been a larger-than-life figure for wanting what he wanted, and going to extremes to achieve it. Listening to him bitch about the bad food and the lack of internet and the tediousness diminished him. He sounded petty. His reasons for dissatisfaction were picayune. It was like listening to a secretly-taped conversation from that U.S. Airways pilot who managed to his crash-land his plane in the Hudson a couple of years ago and save his passengers, confessing in confidence that he’d really only done it because he didn’t want all those packets of in-flight peanuts to go to waste. I wanted to fucking shake him. Besides. It's a religious order. What had he really thought it was going to be like? I don't think they're known for their spa-like facilities and in-cruise entertainment.
A week later, he was home again. Somehow he got a new apartment, and his furniture out of storage. He started looking for a job much like the job that had given him such dissatisfaction. The priesthood wasn’t for him, he told people. He was just glad to be back. And I, on some level, couldn’t forgive him.
It was unfair of me, but I couldn't help myself. Will had been the man who had always encouraged me to follow my heart and my artistry and do the one thing in my life that made me happiest. I thought he was doing the same. He was my model, my inspiration. I'd upheld him as an ideal, defended his choices to friends and family. I'd thought him noble.
Two weeks, he’d spent at that dream of his. Two fucking weeks before he’d given up and returned to the exact same life from which he wanted to escape. It wasn’t that he hadn’t given the dream a fair shake. He hadn’t even given it a shake at all.
I’d see him at the bars, and I’d wave and smile. I’d hug him, occasionally, in a friendly way. We’d make small talk. But it wasn’t the same. We’d look at each other across the crowds of people—him with those big, sad eyes, and me with my chipper smile, which was a mask, really.
It was a far, far cry from those nights when we’d be in the corner, pressed against each other, making out as if our lives depended on it. Every time I thought of those times, and of the nights of passion, and of the love and closeness we’d lavished upon each other, it sent a pang through my heart.
I thought the friendship was ruined, forever. And then, a year later, we made love one final time.