Michael C. Bryan
The first time I fell in love was with a white trash God of a man who had a mullet, smoked Camels, and sniffed amyl nitrate on the dance floor of a disco in Seattle in 1984.
He had sex with me while Tina Turner wailed in the background asking us what love had to do with it. I had no idea what love had to do with it. I still don’t know. And back in the glorious days of the 80’s, it was even more confusing since being gay meant something that today is rather revolutionary and that’s how love and sex were not (are not) synonymous.
It’s true being gay and being sexual are different from what most people might know. I write ‘most’ because I’ve come to realize that the more I talk about my wild past life of sex and drugs and diverse love, the more people divulge to me their secret sexual lives, and wow are they secret.
We are a land of secret perverts falling in and out of love, and now is the best time ever to celebrate that.
(Editors Note: Oh, by the way. While we like to keep Mindsoak hovering around the PG-13 line most of the time, all of those rules went out the window when Michael wrote this article. Michael’s experiences are not PG-13 (neither are yours….so don’t be so quick to judge) and we’re not going to lessen his storytelling by trying to hit some rating. What he writes below is as real and honest as it gets. If you’re offended by cussing, sexuality or honesty run away by clicking here. If not, please enjoy the rest of the show.)
Okay, I must stay on topic. Jon Filitti, the mastermind behind Mindsoak, asked me to write an essay about love, and here I am being smutty. But see, I can’t write about love and not write about sex. How are they not the same? We like to whitewash sex in this country (still, which is hysterical) and relegate it to our local Hallmark store, and why is that? What are we so afraid of?
In 1999 I felt in love for the second time and while for most of us that would be cause for celebration, for me, well – I developed shingles.
My doctor at the time (who I’ll call Dr. Idaho because his last name was an actual state name, and I don’t want to use his real name here since he died a number of years ago, and I want to respect his memory.)
Dr. Idaho looked at my side and saw the puffy, white splotches on my trunk. He frowned. “You’re saying you didn’t have this before you met – what’s his name?”
I smiled because that’s all I felt like doing. I was in love and I loved being in love. I was giddy.
“Jared” I said.
Dr. Idaho nodded and stared at my side. “Where’d you meet him?” he asked me, pushing up his glasses and swiveling around in his chair. Dr. Idaho always smelled faintly of body odor and Vaseline which, I reasoned, made sense. He was the premier doctor for gay men during the Homosexual Apocalypse and often told me as I lowered my pants for our exams “God, I hope I don’t have to see another dripping penis.”
“NYU, huh?” he said with a smirk.
“Yes,” I replied knowing exactly where he was going. “Why?”
He shrugged his shoulders but not before serving me up with a very well rehearsed over-the-shoulder glance. I felt like we were on Broadway and milking the audience for the next big laugh. “He’s a student,” I replied looking at my fingernails.
“That’s awful unethical of you,” he replied, his voice much lower. “Don’t you work for the President or something?”
“I work in his office, yes. But I’m only his admin.”
“Uh-huh. How old is he?”
“The President? Well, he says he’s 45 but he’s 60 if he’s a day.”
“No, you silly gay. This new toy of yours.”
“Oh. Well. He’s legal, you know.”
Dr. Idaho swiveled around in his chair and his smile grew wider than the Grand Canyon. “How old are you now? I’ve got your chart by the way,” he said holding it up. “Don’t lie to me, girl.”
“You’re not even trying. You’re 33 and you know it. And how old is this boy?”
“Well, he can drink legally as of last week. How is that?”
My doctor, a graduate of one of the most esteemed universities in the world, one of the most beloved medical practitioners in all of Manhattan rolled over to me in his tattered chair and touched my knee and said, “Good for you. From one slut to another, good for you.” And then he rolled away. Honestly. He said this and then he rolled away.
I didn’t know what to say. I was mortified he thought me a slut. I was a woman of high morals. But on the other hand, yes I did go to sex clubs and yes, I did go to bookstores and have sex and yes, I’d been a prostitute and yes, I was a phone sex operator, so I guess I was a slut.
He asked if I was happy and I said I was, because I truly was.
I had met Jared at the gym at NYU which was the most iconic way for any gay couple to meet. We’d had a torrid time at the start and had been screwing like bunnies since.
(Oh, I should be clear on something. I’m throwing this out because I don’t want to assume, but gay men throw around gender pronouns like confetti. So men are girls and men are women and she and he are interchangeable because it’s funny. I’m sure there is a political statement here, but it’s never used as such. I hope. It’s just funny. Go with it and please don’t make a big deal out of it. Thanks, girl.)
I was happy and thrilled I’d finally found someone to love me. I had felt unlovable for so long I was shocked I was finally one of the Taken Ones.
I had finally stopped thinking it would come, this thing called love as the song goes. My past was (is) riddled with such emotional chaos, it’s still rather startling to me I’m alive today to write this story for you to read. By all logical counts I should be dead and buried and reincarnated as a nun with a yeast infection to pay for my indiscretions.
But here I am and here I am, like most of us, trying to make sense of it all.
“I’m glad you’re happy. You deserve it, Michael” Dr. Idaho said.
Sweet, lovely Dr. Idaho who had put up with me acting like I was a character from a Woody Allen movie so consumed was I by my fears of catching diseases.
I upset most of my progressive friends with my inordinate sexual neuroses. I could tell they thought I was unaware and being silly and more than a tad insulting. While they were all having sex and enjoying open relationships, I was fumbling emotionally everywhere I went. I could never find steady emotional purchase. I didn’t seem to ‘get’ this idea of love and being gay and sex. It confused me. I didn’t play well by the rules. I was being hysterical, like my mother who was crazy and I don’t meant that metaphorically. She literally was crazy.
I touched the white, raised spots on the side of my torso. “What is it then?” I asked Dr. Idaho, thinking back to how the week prior I’d felt a sharp pain at night that woke me up. It felt like tiny knives were being methodically driven into my flesh. While I was only a youngish person, I had a sneaking suspicion the first blushes of love weren’t meant to feel like one was being impaled with tiny knives.
“Well, it’s pretty weird,” Dr. Idaho said as he stroked his scruffy chin and looked at me over his scratched glasses which looked like they couldn’t have cost more than $5. “But you have shingles.”
“I have AIDS.”
“Jesus, what’s wrong with you?” the now dearly departed Dr. Idaho said to me as he swiveled around his chair. “Why do you go there? Do you have any idea how many men I treat here have AIDS?”
“Sorry. Don’t mean to react like that.”
“So why do you do it?”
“It’s the mother stuff. I’m in therapy, okay? I get it. I always think I’m dying. I wake up thinking I’m dying. I know I’m the kind of patient who’s the cornerstone of your business.”
“Your visits have helped me to put a down payment on a nice brownstone in Cobble Hill.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Good deal?”
“Hell of a good deal. Less than half a million for an entire brownstone. I’m no fool.”
I marveled that the only thing that could stop two New Yorkers dead in their tracks in the midst of a discussion about the effects of the worst plague to hit gay men since the beginning of time would be real estate.
Dr. Idaho waved the real estate discussion away as if it were a pesky mosquito that had inadvertently caught his attention. “Seriously you need to get a grip. Do you want another HIV test? It’ll be your third in two months.”
“No, I don’t need one. “
“Good. Okay. So we can put this aside. You have shingles. It’s that simple.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Well -, ” Dr. Idaho said and let his voice trail off after that. I stared at him because I knew what he was going to say. It’s what I’d heard my entire life. What I still hear today.
I had always felt myself so undeserving and unworthy of being loved I had developed a disease to remind myself what I was unable to feel sexy and empowered in my body.
I had fallen in love and developed shingles.
Now, before I go into the deeper meaning of this and what have you, I have to say that I knew at the time it was funny that I had developed an old person’s disease out of my fear of being in love, which is not how most people function. And I joked about it, and I made fun of it, but really, if I can be honest with you, it’s not very funny that I can’t be in love, but instead, recoil from it and don’t allow myself to revel in being loved and feeling love, but instead, developed (still do) adverse physical reactions to love and unexpressed pain.
It’s odd and perfectly logical.
Nice love story, huh? It’s got a happy ending, you’ll see. Yes, a happy ending.
Case in point: I have a shoulder injury as I write this. Well, I tell people in passing it’s a sports injury because if I told them the real deal, that I’ve been to neurologists and massage therapists and psychics and Reiki healers trying to figure out why my shoulders hurts so bad and now I can’t entirely sleep through the night because of the pain, and because I can’t sleep through the night I’m anxious about sleeping which is helping me not sleep because I’m afraid of more pain – if I said this to people they would be like –
“Wait. So you think your shoulder hurts because you can’t shoulder the pressure of the success you’re now having and you – wait. What? You think your wings have been clipped for so long that you’re now hurting because you aren’t yet expressing who you really are and the pain of being abused as a kid and since it hurts on the right that indicates your dealing with masculinity issues – you think that’s why your shoulder hurts? Dude. Take Advil and get surgery already. Shut up.”
There is also the fact I’ve had red bumps on my body for 15 years that come and go with the levels of anxiety and fear I feel in life and that I’m always ashamed to how my body because of them. So there is that as well.
There is a point to this diatribe and thank God my editor, Jon, understands there always is with me. While this article was an entertaining romp about my sexual life and my developing a physical disease when I fell in love, the really interesting thing is how even today, at age 52, I am still, in my heightened emotional state, someone who has a body that deeply reacts to repressed emotions, and I don’t like it. Not one bit and that’s the problem.
I’ve been afraid to fly and live for so long, and my body is now saying, “Bitch, you better find a way to feel worthy of the life you desire or limbs are gonna start falling off faster than Madonna gets butts implants.”
The other night I met Deepak Chopra. He’s a nice guy. Super hair. And he told me that one of the greatest reasons for suffering is a fear of death. He said, “We have never been born and if you get that, then you won’t fear death.” Now, I love The Deeps a ton, but I’m human and a man and a gay man and I am not happy that I am sensing death a bit more than normal which is odd, since I’ve been obsessed with death since I was a teen. I tried to kill myself twice. I lived for depressing movies as a kid. I can recite the dialogue from Ordinary People by memory. I’m no stranger to the dark side. But don’t you think it’s time that shit ended? I do.
This brings us to the point of this piece, which is about love.
And the point of this is the same as it’s always been since the beginning of time and one I’m determined to finally get before much longer.
Love for another is not the point. Sexual love, and the expression of it, is lovely but not the point. The point is to love ourselves, and we all know this, and yet we all make fun of this idea. I know I have never yet fully loved myself and that’s a shame. It’s holding me back from all the glory that is waiting for me. I have spent my entire life trying to feel worthy of the love I give so freely to others. I’m not sure when the breaking point is going to come for me, but I sure hope it’s very, very soon. It’s getting there. The light is shining and I look forward to the day it’s blinding.
Shit, said the blind man. I can finally see.
The shingles passed way back when and to this day I have a scar on my back from where they vanished. Sometimes in the shower, I’ll touch the spot and feel how there’s no sensation there. I think to myself how interesting it is that the feeling is gone from where the pain once was.
Almost like I was being saved despite my best efforts to not be.
More About Michael C. Bryan: Michael C. Bryan is a bi-coastal writer who is the author of the memoir, Creepy Kid, which recently won a nationwide contest sponsored by Huffington Post and Simon and Schuster for best memoir of the year. It’s the story of his life growing up with a mentally ill mother and learning, to his joy and shock, that he’s not his mother. You can’t know what a relief that was for Michael. Like, major. He’s currently adapting the memoir for the stage with an established team of Broadway producers in New York City. Michael also writes for television and film. He recently completed a loose adaptation of his memoir as a new dramatic and comedic TV series entitled Woodridge which is being read by HBO, Netflix and Hulu. He’s also written a new pilot for a comedy TV show entitled The Life Coach which is not remotely based on his personal experiences working as a successful business and personal coach via his company MCBHappier (that’s called irony). He has written numerous plays produced off-Broadway, as well as many feature-film screenplays. He has performed stand-up comedy at Broadway Comedy Club, Caroline’s and New York Comedy Improv. He speaks nationwide to teens and younger people on the topics of mental illness and health. He’s also a certified spinning and yoga instructor and is obsessed with Golden Retrievers.