I was fresh out of the Navy and fresh out of the closet. A friend (who is still a very dear friend) suggested that a bunch of us drive up to New York City one Saturday night in late September to "go to a dance and then hit the tubs!" (translation: "the Gay Activists Alliance has weekly dances on Saturday at a converted firehouse in SoHo which we should attend, after which we can make a night of it at a gay bath house.")
In no time, a bunch of us were jammed into a car heading up the Turnpike to the City.
Even from a block away you could see the crowds heading towards the firehouse on Wooster. It was a beautiful autumn night and the doors were wide open to the street as 100's of gays streamed into the dance hall. There was something romantic about the whole idea of a bunch of gay guys dancing on the concrete floor of what had once been a very butch, macho, stud firehouse.
I stood on the sidelines for awhile, soaking up the wonderfully gay atmosphere (remember, I was pretty new at this and the only intoxicant I needed that night was the sheer numbers of gay people in the world!!! I felt wonderful!!!!!)
And that's when it happened. To the thumping dance beat "our eyes met across a crowded room."
Yeah, I know. How corny is that? Well, it was corny, and it was real, and it happened just that way and I thought I'd throw up, if I weren't so enthralled that somebody... ANYBODY... would look at me "that way." I never thought anybody, anywhere, would ever want me "that way."
I was wrong. Somebody did.
I blushed. I turned. I was afraid. I looked again. He was still looking at me. I didn't know what to do. I felt awkward. Tongue-tied. Ridiculous. Is my fly open? How does my hair look? I wish I'd shaved. He was still looking at me. The crowd closed in. I panicked. What if he escaped? What if he didn't??? The crowd opened. He was still there, still looking. Only now he was smiling, too. A great big beautiful smile. He was beautiful. Blonde. Handsome. The most beautiful, blonde, handsome man I had ever seen in my entire life. Ever.
I edged along the wall and across the floor towards the spiral staircase leading upstairs to the lounge. I hoped he would follow. I was afraid he would follow. He followed.
I sat on a sofa. He came and sat on a love-seat next to the sofa. He said hello. I melted at the sound of his voice. I wanted to scoop him up and run away with him right then.
"We're going to the tubs now" came from a voice behind me. It was my friend.
"Er, uh, well, I'm, I don't, HELP!!!" was all that I could muster. The "help" being unsaid. Fortunately for me Rick, for that was his name, piped up with, "he's coming home with me, where can we meet you in the morning?" Everything was taken care of. Everything was set. We agreed upon a time and a place and I was suddenly whisked off on the RR (now the R) train to deepest, darkest, Queens.
I was in love. Not for the first time, but it was the first time there had been a physical expression of my feelings for someone else. Someone who returned the love, and lust, with all the burning fervor of youth.
I didn't want to leave him the next morning. He escorted me all the way back into Manhattan to the assigned meeting place. We kissed goodbye. My friends all looked as though they'd just crossed the Sinai with Lawrence of Arabia.
My friends, except for the driver, slept all the way home. I cried all the way home. For the first time in my life I had felt complete in some way, and now I was feeling torn apart again.
I had no faith in the future. I didn't trust that things would work out. I wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it. I was like a baby.
Over the next few months, we spent just about every weekend together. I learned very well the various routes to Queens from Delaware. He took the train a lot.
Then I began to notice little annoying things about him. He nagged me about my friends. He wanted me to move to New York or, worse, made noises about moving to Delaware.
And suddenly, the blush was off the rose. He was crimping my social life. Really clingy. I looked for more faults, so I could get rid of him.
Finally, in January, I dumped him. Bad. In one one-hour session. Then I headed home and joined up with my buddies at a gay bar outside Philly.
There was nothing wrong with Rick. But my need to drink was growing and getting hungrier. And it outweighed any need for human love and companionship I might have had.
I have regretted what I did to that man for over 30 years. I also regret what alcohol did to everyone I've ever known. I hope and pray to God that it never happens again.
And I hope and pray to God that, wherever he is, Rick is happy and in love.