Then the Tidal Wave
by Andrew Sarewitz
Saturday, early evening, walking up Second Avenue toward home, I paused in front of the building where Scott lived. I crossed to the other side of the street to get a panoramic view of the renovated prewar tenement. Dramatically, I stood there for a few moments, taking it all in. When I turned away and continued on, my mind drifted. To the past. To the "what if" and the "why couldn’t we" and the subliminal undertow, "I still miss you."
I have had a few lovers of arguable substance since Scott, but mainly there have been notches. No one I would want to marry or not change for. I capsized and took warnings from this shipwreck. Stop trying to save troubled souls. Stop being the surrogate father. And for Christ's sake stop acting as an unlicensed therapist. But what I haven’t reconciled is why the shared intimacy was so significant to me and so cavernously deep. Short lived, blinding, and murdered by circumstance.
In order for a relationship to have a chance at longevity there needs to be a foundation of friendship beyond sexual attraction. That’s fundamental. But may I just add that if everyone married his best friend, straight men would marry men and gay men would marry women…and then where would we be?
The urban gay culture of my generation (the last of the Baby Boomers) is different from the straight. It was relatively common to find love in bars or on a night club dance-floor. Not always of course. But the courting rituals for city dwelling Western heterosexuals at the time seems to be benign. I’d rather not defend my sociological argument on this. In our case, I met Scotty sometime after midnight on a phone sex-line in 1995. He agreed he would come over to my apartment.
I opened the door to a young man with a 1970’s blonde Shaun Cassidy haircut, chiseled cheeks and jaw, clear white skin and Bondi blue eyes the likes I’d never had stare back at me before: deep, metallic and foggy. He raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement that I “would do". The sex was passionate and compatible, but he wouldn’t let me kiss him. And by the way his lips passed mine when I tried, I sensed something was off.
For me, kissing is the true intimacy. There have been times when I’ve metaphorically been in bed with someone but really not wanted to be kissed. Kept it base and erotic. I recognized that this wasn’t the case for Scott. I narrowed the probable reasons to two. The first simple, the other unapproachable. Either I had bad breath or he had been a victim of sexual abuse.
To the latter, I wasn't being cavalier or jumping to a movie-of-the-week conclusion. I had learned the signs. I knew it could have been a number of disparate things, including his just wanting to get off. But it was the practiced way in which he dodged kissing that set off the signal. It would sober his drunk. In the mutual heat and rhythm, I understood and left it alone. I was contented to continue exploring his exquisite body with an edge of gentle violence and whispers of erotic threats. He was beautiful to look at. Athletic but not overly muscular; proportionally perfect. At age 25, his face bordered on pretty without being feminine. Like a Southern California rock ‘n roller. I subdued Scott physically, playing for his sexual assent. This unleashed his innately submissive side, first passive then so wild it was like waking a panther. I may have been the aggressor, but he was in absolute control. He had me.
In the years prior to meeting Scott, I dated a few men that had been assaulted as children. I’ve questioned why I randomly attracted these souls who were able and needing to share such dark personal horrors with me. Maybe there was a higher reason. But believing I somehow was more than an intuitive shoulder for Scotty to lean on screams of my irresponsible ego.
After we had sex that first night, Scott stayed and talked for a while. We were lying side-by-side on our backs staring blindly into total blackness. He would begin a sentence and then hesitate. I remember his saying something about my being easy to talk to. I think I was just listening.
About twenty minutes after he left my apartment, Scott phoned to thank me. I told him I’d like to see him again. We hung up. Two minutes passed, he called back and we talked until dawn. It was winter. The morning of December 26.
Though Scott initially told me he worked as a plumber, by profession he was an actor currently featured as the male ingenue in a Broadway show -- and he was not out of the closet. We talked family, career, origins and the American South. He didn’t tell me anything about his personal abuse but I was certain within the first couple of days what truth was buried.
There is a prequel to this time not memorialized. Scott endured abuse on a scale unfathomable. One of his brothers whom I can only guess suffered similar destruction did blow his own head off with a shotgun. I won't write about the specifics of Scott’s childhood. It’s not mine to tell.
The all consuming hours of conversations forged the illusion of our being together longer than the calendar would document. Not since college can I remember having the luxury of spending this much saturated time with someone. And there was a secure side to all of this. Scott was now part of my everyday life. In the evenings I would leave work, sometimes have dinner with a friend or come home to lift weights, then meet him either at the theater's stage door or at his studio apartment. We’d eat at Serendipity on East 60th Street a lot. It was one of the few restaurants open late in our neighborhood that wasn’t either a pizzeria or a diner. After, we’d go back to my place to make love. Then he walked to his apartment – either with me or alone – to sleep. We lived just five blocks apart. On the nights that we didn’t see each other, we'd talk incessantly on the phone. I was getting about four hours of sleep a night but never seemed tired. I was happy.
Then the tidal wave.
I never broached the subject. Around the five-month mark in our relationship, Scott finally untethered his childhood dam. By now he’d met my parents and was even comfortable enough to spend the night under their roof, sharing a bed with me. We had taken the frightening step (for him) of commitment, which presumed monogamy. As to the admission, he couldn’t talk to me face to face. Maybe by using the phone Scott felt there was a seawall of safety. The vulnerability I expected, but not his embarrassment. He laid it out in generalizations as I listened without interruption. Then I confessed that I already knew, a response Scott didn't understand. Confused, he became angry. Maybe because he thought he'd hidden it well, or because I hadn’t told him I had known all along. It was no longer nebulous. The altered and omitted truths from earlier conversations were amended and the details grueling to hear. Like witnessing war crimes, much of it I wish I had never learned. And instead of cementing our commitment, it torpedoed the heart of it. Scott was convinced that I now saw him differently. What he meant was I would treat him as wounded or damaged. This became an argument I found I couldn't win. I did see him differently. Brave beyond anything I could verbalize. But the dilemma morphed into his idea of how all men in his life see him. In Scott's eyes, at the end of the day, we all just want to fuck him. I was in love with a man whose past now marked me as the enemy.
I don't know what I had expected. After days of my trying to control the fallout, he asked what seemed an implausible oxymoron: for us to be a platonic couple. To Scott that would be proof I was genuine. So truth killed passion. And fear suffocated love.
It took weeks to soften his armor. Part of the emotional charge included reminding him of how great the sex had been. Under the table in a downtown restaurant, hidden from public witness, he weaved his fingers in-between mine. Through acquiescent eyes, Scott gave way.
That evening, we went back to Scott's apartment and had sex in his bed. His orgasm was mechanical; not fulfilled and not like any I remember causing or witnessing. After I released him, he curled up into a fetal position. He began mumbling to himself in a child’s voice. I moved off the bed. “Scott,” I said. No response. When I firmly repeated his name like a command, he seemed to come back to himself. He moved to the far end of the bed and said I needed to leave. I said no. I asked him to tell me what had happened. He told me he'd had a flashback while I was making love to him. I became the devil from his childhood.
My knees buckled but I still refused to leave. He said I wasn’t strong enough to handle him and he was afraid he would physically hurt me. Shell shocked, I got dressed and left. I phoned him when I got home. For the life of me, I can’t remember our conversation. But I was furious with myself. I had done this to him. It didn't matter that it was unintentional.
Though it seems banal now, there were signs and coincidences that led me to believe we had something special. But I made a big mistake in thinking I could take this on. Not everything can be rescued through love. If there was a hand I think I dealt well, it was getting Scott to leave his inept analyst to find a formidable shrink that he could not manipulate. Scotty would never make love with me again. And though I clung onto the relationship for a few more months, he eventually, bluntly said he was no longer attracted to me.
Looking back I also pieced together another blinding flaw in my Psych 101 handling of us. We always, without exception, had sex at my home but slept at his. When we were in bed at his apartment, I would hold him most of the night. He had nightmares and heart palpitations. I theatrically worried he might suffer a coronary in his sleep. I loved resting my head on his chest or against his back, calming him breath and believing I might be keeping him safe. But having sex with me in his bed desecrated the refuge.
We stayed friends for another year until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I wasn’t getting on with my life. And somewhere in this stagnant, brutal period he confessed to have been taking pain killers during the early weeks we were together. I had no idea. I’m so observant that I completely missed his addiction. Apathetically he said he didn’t really remember most of our relationship. As I write that all these years later, I still have a hard time processing the statement. In one sentence, everything I believed we had, evaporated. Now there wouldn’t even be two sides to the story. There is just me. Considering the ghosts that Scott lives with everyday, it’s hard to gauge my personal heartbreak as radical. I once read that when a child is sexually molested, his soul is shattered. Mine is bruised but it’s intact.
Six weeks into my relationship with Scott, there was a blizzard in New York City. I couldn’t get to work so he and I were able to spend the day together. When we ventured out of his apartment, the snow was piled so high on the sidewalks of Second Avenue that only the tops of the parking meters peeked out of the plowed white drifts, like steel grey robots. With a vintage Kodak Instamatic, we took pictures of each other next to the knee-high meters. When the film was developed, our portraits were out of focus. I let him keep the photographs.
About the Author
Andrew has written several short stories (published work listed below) as well as scripts for various media. His play, “Madame Andrèe” received an Honorable Mention from both the 2018 Writers Digest Competition, Play/Screenplay Division, and the 2018 New Works of Merit Contest (Loyola University, New Orleans), as well as garnering First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival series in August of 2019. The script for his play “Five Men, Four Beds” advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition.
Published and Award Winning Short Stories
Lady Vanessa, BigCityLit Magazine, New York, NY, published November 24, 2019
A Woman Named Samantha, Bangalore Review, India, publication August 21, 2019
Miss Marcia: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, issue 21, publication August 8, 2019
Stands a Boxer: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication July 11, 2019
Harold and Al, All Covered in Fur: Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication June 12, 2019
Blue Roses and Diane: Second Place Prose Award, Havik, Las Positas College Journal of Arts and Literature, Livermore, CA, publication May, 2019
Color, in Black and White, Trilogy Award Nonfiction Finalist, Hidden River Arts, Philadelphia, PA, May, 2019; Prometheus Dreaming Literary Magazine, Los Angeles, CA, publication October 26, 2019
The Wholly Separate Sides: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication May 20, 2019
The Big Sneeze: Jenny Magazine, YSU Student Literary Arts Association, Youngs- town University, Ohio, publication November 15, 2018
...And into the Fire: NYMBM, New York, NY, publication June 27, 2018
The Banquet: Yes + No Magazine, London, UK, Page 58, Autumn Issue, 2017
The Tale of the Sisters Landau: Cobalt Press, Baltimore, MD, publication July 19, 2017
In the First Person: Chelsea Station Magazine, New York, NY, publication July 5, 2017
Stephen was...: Plenitude Magazine, British Columbia, Canada, published June 8, 2016
Contributed essay to "A Giant of 20th Century Russian Art, Vladimir Nemuhkin;" published by ArtDaily, June 6, 2016
Project Gus, publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2013
My Father, publisher: Untreed Reads, San Francisco, CA. Editor in chief, Jay Hartman, 2011