Avenging Forty-Nine

To each of you,

I was not paying attention. Someone at the gay campground in Tennessee said something had happened, he had a radio, but I was busy doing — what? Hunting for sex, I suppose, or avoiding the drama of the gay men who took me to this clothing-optional retreat in the middle of the woods.

There was no cell service so nobody knew where I was. As I drove back the next day, the texts came in. My sister: Alex did you go to Orlando? Then: Please answer me!

I turned on the radio and found the world had changed. At first, they said 30 were dead. Over the next few hours, the number rose to 50, then finally 49.

I arrived in Atlanta at dusk. I was with my friend Josh and his pack of men. Josh was also my occasional lover, and when I looked at his face, stunned, eyes down, I knew it was the end of our sexual relationship, and it was. I can’t say our silent breakup was a result of the massacre but I link them together in my mind.

I could have driven to Orlando. It wasn’t very far.

Over the following weeks, writing anything seemed pointless. People in Florida were giving blood donations and volunteering. Maybe I should go, I thought. My blood could not be given, but I have two hands, two feet. I could do something.

You were murdered in a place I’d likely visit — a gay dance club. Nearly every weekend, I visit an Atlanta gay bar. Anyone can walk into any of them on a Saturday night and spray bullets.

A month ago, I was at the bathhouse. There’s a leather sling in a dark corner and I was there, blindfolded and getting fucked by strangers, when I started thinking about my friend Brent. For the first time in eight months, I wanted to be somewhere else — in my bedroom, sleeping next to him. After my last breakup, I thought I would never have a crush again. I had hooked up too much, had too many wild nights. Promiscuity, I thought, had barred me from conventional feelings of jealousy and romance, things that were reserved for those who didn’t live this way.

What did this have to do with you? It’s hard to say. I stopped going to bars and went to the bathhouse instead because it was safer, because it was harder to bring a semiautomatic weapon into the bathhouse. The check-in person spoke through a square of bulletproof glass and pressed a button to unlock the handleless steel door into the building. I went there seeking escape from the world, from you and the understanding that you could have been any of my friends and lovers. And in thinking of those friends and lovers, the ones I feared for, I thought of him.

He and I had chosen a savage life, one of slings and drugs and passing connections. No one gets hurt when you don’t know anyone’s name. Still, I was feeling romantic. What a strange thing to feel in such a place. Brent moved to New York not long ago and everyone in Atlanta seems to miss him. Everywhere I go, his name appears in conversation. “You should have met his guy who used to live here. Brent.”

I want to tell them that I lived with him for a little bit before he left. I want to lay some claim over him and say I knew him first, though I did not. He grew up in Atlanta, this was his hometown. I was a newcomer.

I had a crush, one of those moony affections I get in the afterglow of sex, the feeling that makes me wonder, “Could I? Could we?”

Was I capable of love? Most people would say everyone is capable of love, but I’m not sure about me. Maybe I am different. I have a bad spirit, an urge that takes me out on weekends. I know many people with the same spirit. I see them at sobriety meetings. I don’t like sobriety and don’t buy into its various dogmas, but sometimes I wonder if the sober life, like the conventional world of marriage and children, must at some point be assumed, like exile, in order to survive. Maybe those like me, those locked out of love, must assume with diligence the charade of convention or be lost.

On those lonely nights, walking through the bathhouse, I realized I had a crush on Brent and needed to tell him. A crush is not possessive, and Brent must never be mine. People don’t belong to people, and I, more than anyone, belong to no one. I simply wanted him to know I was thinking about him in New York and was hoping he was having the same effect on people there that he had on me. I wondered how he was grieving for you — I imagine he and I found solace in the same dark places.

Brent is a light. He loves to dance. I want others to experience him and fall in love with him. People like us are meant to be shared.

The most interesting Queer people burn out quickly. Lingering in the world demands restraint. If Brent and I share anything, it’s this thing, this bad spirit — the hunger for pleasure in the midst of violence.

I am a gay man. My lovers and friends all blur together. They become this fluid, lifelong dance. Boyfriends become exes who become fuck buddies. Friends become lovers and lovers become friends. I first met Brent at a gay bar in Savannah, Georgia, the same bar where my ex-boyfriend, Jose, go-go danced on Saturdays. Every Saturday, I was at the bar, watching Jose, watching people put dollars in his underwear. On slow nights, he would step off the box and dance with me. We’d get drunk. He and I were together in our little city, five hours from Orlando. We survived until we broke up. Would Brent and I survive? Would another gunman in New York choose the bar where he’s dancing? Is there any point in fearing that?

I first saw Brent on the dance floor. The greatest connections of my life will begin this way, in dance palaces and seedy dives and warehouses filled with lights and music. We talked, danced, flirted, and stumbled back to my place and had raw, beautiful sex. He fisted me (I was so drunk that I don’t remember it) and then told me to fuck him.

I remember getting behind him, spitting on my dick, and pushing it in. His hole was dirty, full of shit, but he wanted me to keep going. He said he didn’t care about shit — on the contrary, he liked it.

I have spent my life terrified of shit, and I believe this fear comes from a fight with my father when I was in high school. When I came out, he said something terrible — I’d grow up to live in an apartment that smells like shit — and I have never been able to let that go. His words filled me with so much shame. Brent was the first person I bedded who simply didn’t care about shit, who eroticized it and made it welcome on my sheets. In an instant, the last thing I feared about the body was rendered moot. There was nothing ugly about us, nothing to be afraid of.

I fucked him and it was nothing like the picture Dad made me believe so many years ago. When I think of all the men I’ve slept with, I wonder how many of them are dead now. Most were quick trysts in the dark, faceless and anonymous. Many have been forgotten. If I could pull them back to me now, each one, I would tell them it’s been a privilege to share this world with them. We are given so little safety in it, so little security, but I can think of no culture I’d rather defend, no populace I’d be more willing to die for, than these men, these creatures.

It is wrong that you are not here. It is wrong that we never got a chance to dance together. I try to imagine your last moments, the thrill of being among your own, the hope for some fun that night, the confidence that comes with a few drinks. I hope you felt loved and connected as only we can feel in a gay bar.

Those who call for our extinction, like the gunman who murdered you: I wish I could show them images of my first night with Brent. I wish they could see him, his slick, strong back, bent over in the dark, the pale light coming in through the open window. I wish they could smell our sex and hear my shaking bed and listen to the roar coming from his mouth. Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for giving me him.

I love my dirty boy.

Love, Beastly 

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