“I love you.”
Colin didn’t blink or put down his cup; he took a sip of tea and continued staring at his computer screen. I got the distinct feeling this had happened to him before.
He clicked on something and I saw his eyes start to move as he read. He was infuriatingly calm. It was kind of hot.
I wasn’t sure whether to repeat myself. I knew what he was doing, but I didn’t want to play into his hands by falling for it. I let the long seconds tick by (I remember he had some kind of annoying, very loud clockâ€“ I’m tempted to say it was one of those creepy Felix the Cat ones with the eyes, but that doesn’t seem like his style).
Colin continued reading as though I wasn’t there. Even if I hadn’t just admitted that I loved him, I would have considered this kind of rude.
“Colin?” I tried again.
“Yeah?” He turned to look at me as though I’d just entered the room.
“Did you hear what I said?” I knew he had and he knew I knew and I knew he knew I knew and he knew ad nauseum. But what could I do? He had all the power.
He nodded and turned back to his computer screen. I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone quite as much as I did in that moment. I wasn’t expecting him to reciprocate (well, part of me wasâ€“ the part that unironically likes Twilight; the part I don’t talk about) but I was hoping to at least fluster him a bit. But I knew, in that moment, that he’d already guessed long before this conversation. I must have given myself away at some point: I guess I wasn’t as good an actor as I thought.
We’d met in the theatre. I don’t remember the exact first meeting: in theatrical endeavour, you tend to meet people in big groups, either as the cast of a show you’re in or else at some tedious networking event. I wasn’t immediately attracted to him but then I didn’t actually know I was gay when I met him (I think these days he might tell people that he was the one who â€œunlocked my closet,â€ so to speak: he fucking wishes). We probably shook hands (like I said, I don’t remember the actual first meeting) and made small talk. I probably thought he was a pretentious a-hole, which is a very common opinion when one first meets Colin, and he probably thought I was a stuck-up, whiny shit because I was.
Anyway, the first conversation I remember actually having with him is when we were both sat in theatre. This must have been after I met Duncan, because I know that I was feeling extremely uncertain about my sexuality at that point. I was watching a dress rehearsal for somethingâ€“ I think I was meant to be helping with the set, the keywords being â€œmeant toâ€â€“ when Colin entered and, against habit, sat down next to me. I don’t remember if I actually squirmed or notâ€“ I know I was uncomfortable around other men at that point, but I like to think that I hid it well. But then, I also liked to think that I hid my feelings for Colin well and we’ve all seen how that turned out.
So he sat down next to meâ€“ I remember now that it was his show, or at least he’d written it, which meant that he was probably actually there in the hopes that I would offer observations on the script like â€œIt’s brilliantâ€’ and â€œI wouldn’t change a word.â€ Given that I was a stuck-up, whiny shit, I doubt I obliged.
The show had a military theme, I think, so we somehow got ontoÂ the topic of â€œDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell.â€ Looking back, I think Colin might have guessed what I was going through at the time and deliberately picked this subject to provoke me. No, I’m vilifying him; he wasn’t a cruel man. We got on to the topic, that’s all that I can say for sure.
“Oh yeah, I’m not allowed to go to war,” Colin said.
He didn’t realise (I hope) how much this off-hand comment sent my world crashing down around my ears. If someone like Colin could be gay, then someone like me could be gay (I do realise now, of course, that anyone can be gay but at the time I was going through some stuff). We were cut from the same cloth, he and I. Well, I think so. I think he thinks he’s better than me. Fuck him.
I believe I excused myself from watching the rest of the play (I’m tempted here to say that it was dreadful anyway, because I’m still bitter, but that wouldn’t be fairâ€“ it was entirely unmemorable) and walked outside where I continued the conversation in my imagination. I believe it went something like this:
Oh yeah, I’m not allowed to go to war.
Because of my huge, throbbing erection for you.
Dialogue was never my strong suit. I tried to put him out of my mind, but that just made me think about Duncan and, well, I’m not writing about that so we’ll skip ahead some.
The next time I met Colin alone I was out and very, very proud. Like, too proud. I don’t want to start a whole thing but there’s being comfortable with your sexual identity and then there’s being obnoxious about it and I sadly fell into the latter category. I don’t doubt that Colin had heard about my transformation, which is one of the many reasons I find his behaviour in this section of the story frankly odd. He was a couple of years older (at the time, he seemed impossibly worldly) and presumably had gone through a similar phase himself and maybe he just wanted to make himself feel smug by looking back at how he used to be. Anyway, I was walking through the streets at nightâ€“ I didn’t drink at the time, so I have no idea what I was doing (probably moping in some way.) But I ran into Colin and he wasn’t doing anything and I wasn’t doing anything, so I invited him back to mine for tea andâ€“ here’s the weird partâ€“ he accepted. To this day, I don’t know what he was expecting to get out of this, except a terrible cup of tea. I mean, I know he liked attention (he was in the theatre, after all) but even at my best I don’t think he and I got along, and at that time I think I was genuinely insufferable to even my closest friends.
I probably regaled to him my entire sexual saga (and not the good kind of sexual saga, either) and I no doubt name-dropped Duncan as the cause of it all (Duncan, if you’re reading this, I’m so, so sorryâ€“ you didn’t deserve to be blamed for that version of me). He then casually mentioned that he’d never found Duncan attractive and I suddenly saw him in a whole new light. This casual dismissal of the object of my obsession cast him as some kind of arbiter in my mind of what was and wasn’t worth pursuing. After all, he’d been out longer than I had, so he surely had better taste than me. So now, in my mind, he wielded power. And that made him sexy.
I should note that all of this was happening while we were sittingÂ next to each other on an incredibly tiny sofa. I didn’t have any furniture at my place back then, apart from this one incredibly uncomfortable and boxy sofa that had come with the place. I think I thought this made me seem minimalist and unmaterialistic and a bunch of other aspirational adjectives. God, I was sickening.
Anyway, Colin left, unawareâ€“ or so I thoughtâ€“ of the passion he had ignited inside of me.
So that moment led to me sitting awkwardly in his flat (â€œawkwardlyâ€: at least he had more than one piece of furniture, jackass). Over the next few months, I conspired to meet him as often as possible. The word â€œconspiredâ€ suggests some kind of malicious plot on my partâ€“ I didn’t stalk him or anything, I just made sure we’d talk to each other as much as possible. For example, I wouldn’t leave a party I knew he was going to attend (thank you, Facebook) until he got there and, when he did, I’d make sure we talked for at least a little bit, just the two of us. Now that I think about it, this is probably how he realised I was crushing on him.
After one such party it was about one in the morning and the host politely kicked us out. Someone said they weren’t ready to go to bed yet and people began discussing about what to do next and where we could go. I wasn’t interested, I’d gotten what I came for (guess who), until Colin’s house was thrown into the mix as a possible suggestion. Suddenly, I was game. So we all started to head towards his flat but it was a bit of a walk and, as we travelled, more and more people lost their vim and headed out (I remember that they mostly departed in couples, because I was incredibly aware of things like that at the time) until it was just me and Colin, walking in near-silence.
If I could only travel back in time once, I would head back to that moment, wait in some alley and then drag myself in when we passed. I would slap myself a couple of times and snatch the ridiculous hat I wore off the top of my head before yelling “Go home, you idiot” as I faded into nothingness from having altered the time stream.
Everyone else had left. It was just me.
I think I actually took his not suggesting I call it a night too as some kind of suggestion of affection, as opposed to the worst mix of politeness and bewilderment. I can see it all in my head nowâ€“ the way he inserted the key in the door, how we climbed the stairsÂ which, like all such staircases in big cities, were full of rubbish bags. We stood outside his door and I commented on his doormat which humorously read â€œOh, not you again!â€
I think I actually said “lol.”
In my head, I am screaming at myself to just go to bed, but I can’t alter events and I’ve already started this story so I might as well finish it. We went into his flat and he offered me a drink and I just asked for water, thanks, because I wanted to seem unfussy and oh God, get out of there, you moron, please. He got me water and I asked himâ€“ not for the first time that evening, I assure youâ€“ if he had seen Pan’s Labyrinth. He said no, having failed to watch it in the half-hour since last I inquired and I implored him to because â€œIt’s so goodâ€“ it doesn’t even matter that it’s in Spanish.â€ (Kill me now.)
Anyway, after that, the conversation died down and I still didn’t go home and Colin booted up his computerâ€“ maybe he was gonna show me something cool or maybe he just didn’t want having me there to interrupt his plans for the evening and the glass in my hand began to tremble. The feelings inside of me began to bubble over and fill up my mouthâ€“ I had to say something or I would choke onÂ them. I can still picture him now, bathed in the light of the Windows start-up screen, and I still feel an incredible pull towards him. So I told him.
And that’s where we started this story. His non-reaction. I left shortly afterâ€“ he didn’t ask me to, I just developed some modicum of self-awareness. I imagine I spent the rest of the evening complaining on Facebook to my friend in America that it was so unfair and that he was an asshole.
He wasn’t. And it wasn’t unfair. I see that now. He wasn’t rude, he wasn’t malicious, he never told anyone what I did. He didn’t even kick me out; he just let the natural awkwardness of what I’d done carry me out of his flat like a bin bag on a river. He remained very cordial throughout the rest of our acquaintanceship. I did not.
Once, I remember, he was up for a part in a show in which I had some middling amount of influence and I blocked him getting in, saying I’d worked with him before and he was â€œimpossible.â€ I’m sorry, Colin, I really am. I said before that I’m still bitter and, yes, there’s a small part of me that will always hate you but it honestly is just a tiny fraction of my psyche and I know it’s unreasonable. If weÂ ever meet again, I promise I will show you all the courteousness that you did me (long overdue) and I will completely understand if you throw a drink in my face.
You taught me a lot about the world, Colin, though I can’t imagine you meant to: how to casually drop into conversation that I’m gay, how to rig a Fresnel at four in the morning and, most importantly, when to just go home.