Joyland

New York |

The First Taste

by Jo Barchi

edited by Michelle Lyn King

It’s the fall of 2013 and I just found out I’m a faggot. Henry isn’t supposed to be a part of this realization, or my life. He’s a friend of a friend. He’s in New York getting his degree in film. I’m in Rhode Island taking classes at a community college. He’s an easy canvas for me to project onto. I ask him out via Facebook message after repeatedly asking his friends if he was straight. We don’t know! We don’t think so! We’ve asked! But we don’t know! He always dodges the question! We don’t know! So I went for it. I had decided I needed a boyfriend. I was looking for someone thoughtful, someone my gay cousin would approve of. I message him on Facebook. It says something like “Hey! Sorry! How is college sorry! Hope you’re doing well! Sorry if you’re straight but would you want to go on a date with me? (sorry)” He is very kind when he tells me he is straight. I let it go. We didn’t talk much after that. The occasional tweet. We run into each other in New York at one point. He is drunk and I am too. We talk around each other. His mouth is red from sangria. We are on the street at Strawberry fest, NYU’s annual spring concert. I still bring him up sometimes to my friends. I still don’t think he’s straight. Everyone always agrees. I just started listening to Fiona Apple.

***

It’s the summer of 2015 and I’m so bored. Henry graduates from NYU and moves back to Rhode Island. In August, at the end of the summer, we bump into each other at Hann and Adam’s housewarming party. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and drank everything in sight. I wasn’t into restraint that summer. I was already drunk by the time he got to the party. We hugged and I looked at Hann and she just rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what I was going to do before I even did it. The sun went down and I’d finished a giant bottle of wine, we’d all moved on to shotgunning while standing in the tub. There’s video of this somewhere. I handed Henry my phone and made him read the poems I was working on. We end up on the front steps of the apartment listening to Carly Rae Jepsen and talking about Prince and Kate Bush. It was gay. He didn’t seem to understand that I was trying to flirt with him, even though I kept telling him to stop being so nice to me or “I’ll fall in love with you.” In his defense, he was wasted. His mom picked him up from the party. Hann made me a PB&J and I fell asleep on the hardwood floor.


I didn’t see him again until a month later when he agreed to go see a movie with me. I told him I was going to invite Adam, but conveniently forgot to. We made plans to see Mistress America on a Saturday night at the theater in Providence that had couches. We were going to go get pizza beforehand. I had a clear picture in my head of him giving me a ride home and kissing me. I thought he would wear jeans and like, a button up or something. I couldn’t think about how he would smell. I could see it so vividly. I’ve never believed in manifesting desires, only in obsession. Until depression sets in when things don’t happen how I’ve pictured. We met up and the first words out of his mouth were “Adam is just trying to find parking!” Adam is our mutual friend, the entire reason for our friendship. I had said I would invite him and had conveniently forgot. We all went to the movie and they talked and talked. Old friends catching up while I lagged behind. Adam sat in between us on the couch. I think it was raining that night. I asked Henry if I should shave my head. He told me I should do whatever I want. The next night I came home from work and my mom shaved my head in my kitchen. Hann was playing a show that night. I went and Henry was there. He rubbed my freshly shaved head and said it looked great when I fished for a compliment. I didn’t realize until months later that I shaved my head because a man told me to, or didn’t even actually tell me to, but implied I could. He got drunk that night, and in the process of sneaking me drinks, I got drunk too. We smoked cigarettes on a couch outside of the venue and yelled at each other about Fiona Apple and Paul Thomas Anderson. He kept talking to me about The Master, and I kept talking to him about a cover of Why Try to Change Me Now that I had recently found by Fiona. I made him listen to it outside the bar. He told me it was way too sad and asked me to turn it off. I fell outside of the bar after the show.

***

October 24th, The night of Hann and Adam’s Halloween party. I spend the day downtown trying to figure out my costume. My original idea was going as Perfume Genius, but a leather bondage harness ended up being fiscally unattainable. I decide instead to go as Patti Smith, from her album cover for Horses. I wear a sheer white blouse, steal a black tie from the mall that I wear undone around my neck. I finish it with tight black pants. I feel hot, all I’ve had to eat is a Clif Bar and a green apple. I take the bus to Hann and Adam’s. I get off at the wrong stop and walk for twenty minutes muttering and cursing at myself. I feel crazy. I‘m trying to forcibly restrain myself and failing . I’ve spent all day shoplifting and starving. Halfway through the walk, I have a brief moment of clarity. I am letting go of Henry. He doesn’t love me. He isn’t going to fuck me. I’ve known this for two years.


I’m the first one at the party. Henry shows up later, while Hannand I are smoking outside. He’s dressed as David Lynch. He dyed his hair white for the costume. We both open drinks. My brother comes to the party at some point, telling me later that Hann’s landlord asked if Henry was my boyfriend. Henry and I talk all night. Now that I’ve decided he’s not going to be a love interest, I obliterate what scant boundaries I previously had. I talk at him about trauma, I talk at him about my gender and his gender and gender, I talk at him about my eating disorder. We talk about all of this and chainsmoke, going inside when our hands turn red from the cold. We come back out ten minutes later. This goes on for hours. I end up stoned and Henry keeps walking up behind me and running his hands through the peach fuzz on my head. I don’t really notice except to think it feels nice. I fall asleep on the couch for what feels like hours but is really only twenty minutes. I wake up. Henry puts on The Master during the party. He’s seen it eight times in theaters. We sit on the couch, our thighs touching, and watch part of it. I get bored. It’s not gay enough. We go outside to smoke. Henry’s mom is coming to pick him up. He’s 22 and that should be a huge turn off, but I’m ready to ruin my life for any man who loves his mom.


Henry looks over at me and says “You know what would be so funny? If when my mom got here you just got in the car.”


I argue with him about how ludicrous that suggestion is. I don’t realize he’s trying to take me home with him. He keeps saying it would be so funny. Finally he says “My mom thinks I’m the straightest boy and I’m just NOT.”


I start laughing hysterically and say “Remember when I asked you out?”


“Yes. I was such an idiot. I realized right after you did that I wasn’t straight.”


I’m still laughing. No part of it fazes me. He insists I walk over to him. We stand yelling across the yard at each other. “What, do you need help walking or something.” “No just c’mere!” As I stomp over like a petulant child he smirks. Hey. Hey. And then we kiss and my knees give out. We stumble over to the house, press each other into it. I was such an idiot.


I spend the next six months telling everyone about him. I stand outside bars, drunk and chainsmoking, playing Fiona Apple off my phone, and waiting for one of my friends to worry about me. People at parties make eye contact with me, and suddenly I’m telling them all about my non-relationship with Henry. I start off slowly. Hey have you seen Magnolia? It’s an amazing movie you’ve just gotta see it. It’s all about Paul Thomas Anderson and Fiona Apple. Aimee Mann did the soundtrack. Julianne Moore is amazing in it. Anyways remember when Paul Thomas Anderson married Maya Rudolph after he and Fiona broke up? And now they have all these kids and they both seem so fucking happy. I’m not saying I’m Fiona but I am.


Six degrees of separation.


I’m not saying I’m anyone. I’ve been waiting for Henry to rip me out of a crowd and tell me who I am. I wanted him to point at some far off place and tell me that’s where I belong.


I’m so bitter. He told me a few days after the Halloween party he’s not going to date me. A lot of very good excuses. Still processing an ex, doesn’t want to lead me on, has a hard time with this stuff. He’s very worried that I feel led on, which is more about him than me, more a question of whether I blame him than what he did, more about telling me how to feel than taking responsibility. We barely see each other anymore. I try to get over him at least a dozen times. He tries to fuck one of my friends, I yell at him for two days. We drunk text. We skate around things until I get bored and push it. I’m nineteen. I don’t care about our brittling boundaries. We hurl bullshit back and forth. He blacks out, I black out. We get drunk at some party and do it again. This goes on for months.


The last time I see Henry is at Pride. He walks by me a few times without seeing me. I think I didn’t see him either.


An emotionally unavailable man is the blank canvas that I’m most comfortable with. He won’t get close enough for us to see each other. I’m farsighted anyways.


I have it all catalogued and archived. I’ve scrolled through it hundreds of times wondering why it didn’t work, why I wasn’t worth it, why he wasn’t worth it, but this isn’t a movie. This isn’t a song. There’s no script to consult. No codas, no chorus, no bridges. I hurt him. He hurt me. I was the reason. He was the reason. We both moved on.


I thought if he didn’t see me, I wasn’t worth looking for. But I didn’t even know him. I didn’t know myself. I could tell you his favorite movie and what his hair feels like in my fingers. I could tell you verbatim what the texts he sent to me said. He could tell you all about Paul Thomas Anderson. I could tell you all about Fiona Apple. I could tell you everything, but I don’t know either of those fucking people.