Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dear John

I would love to write a long, thoughtful narrative about John Fournier and how he became one of my closest friends, but I can't. Because John Fournier reads this shit. And he will make relentless fun of me for romanticizing our story. Because he's exactly like me – an asshole.

So instead, I'll write about the early milestones in our friendship and chalk it up as a deposition for why I needed to instill all of my bad habits and great ambitions into another human. So here I go.

In the beginning, I was just a graduate student who was starting his first and only semester of work on a Master of Science degree. But on my first day of student-teaching, I walked into my Communication 330 class and saw him sitting in the front row. And when he looked up at me, I knew that I was in trouble.

John was my student for that entire semester before our relationship drifted into bedroom territory. To be fair, though, we were never fully naked together because he refused to take off his socks when it went down – an act that secretly earned him points for originality. I can speak for him now and confidently say that neither one of us ever enjoyed it. It felt forced and hasty, and eventually just became an after effect of buddy binge drinking. But the sex was minimal and seemed like a simple vehicle for us to hang out more. And eventually, it went away, and became something for us to hold against one another when we were hard-up for ammo.

Over time, we discovered that we had almost everything in common, and I declared to my coven of gays that I would "take John Fournier under my wing." I saw a lot of potential in him to be a remarkable copywriter and I wanted him to do great things and follow my lead. Instead, John picked up all of my bad habits and became my soundboard for perpetuating dumb choices. He learned to drink vodka on the rocks and I learned to always keep an extra trick on standby.

John introduced me to a stocky, blonde SAE pledge on the back porch of The Keg one night in early September. He'd recently hooked up with this gorgeous, steamy pile of fratboy, and this was his way of showing off. But at that point in our relationship, John still had a lot to learn about me. Because I slipped the guy my number when John went to piss. And I banged him seven days later.

When John confronted me about it, I fessed up and he left me on my bar stool, shithoused and frustrated. So I did the rational thing: scribbled a note on a bar napkin, forced it into John's hand, and walked away. The note said,
"I'm sorry if I made you think that I was anything but interested in you. The last thing I want you to think is that I don't seriously like talking to you. Have a good night. Be safe. Xoxo. –Ryan"
To this day, he still teases me about the napkin – and rightly so. When I look back on it, it was my desperate attempt to cover my breech of The Bro Code with a Freddie Prinze, Jr. move. But thankfully, he Rachael Leigh Cooked, and stuck around.

He is no longer my project, but my best friend. And if I could choose anyone to mine the dark side with, it would be John Fournier. Because he was able to do something for me that I could never do for him.

He knocked my socks off.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fate Has Brought You Here

The guy that I spent last Valentine's Day with isn't alive any more.

We'd stopped seeing one another nearly five months before his passing, but the week before I got the phone call about his death, he texted me. He said that he'd recently moved back to Lafayette from Lake Charles and that he wanted to see me. I told him "sure," but never made plans. And then, eight days later, my former roommate rang my office to deliver the news.

We were causally dating when Valentine's Day rolled around last year, so we decided to spend the late evening together. He was working nights at a Mexican restaurant by the mall, so I waited around for him to get off while chain smoking and shotgunning 40s of High Life with my roommates. By the time I pulled up to the front door of Tampico's, he was already waiting outside and I was considerably hammered. Because he was used to most restaurants being closed when his shifts ended, he knew the ones that were still open at this hour. We settled on a nearby diner and we were eating biscuits and gravy within minutes. He and I didn't particularly have a whole lot in common outside of sex and a collection of David Sedaris books, but we both had an insatiable need to make the other one laugh. So we spent our meal doing what we did best: cracking up at the dumb things we said.

After dinner, we walked into the worst gay bar in Lafayette where I rekindled my buzz. I'm a little hazy about what happened for the hour or so that we were there, but I'll never forget what happened shortly after.

I pulled into his driveway and side-hugged him across the console. Then I shut off the engine, opened my door, and walked around meet him at the hood of the car. And there, in front of his condo, in a pool of Jeep Cherokee light, he kissed me. And as God as my witness, it was the single greatest kiss of my life.

I'd kissed him 100 times before then, and had kissed 100 people before him. But in that moment, I knew that I would remember this for as long as I lived. I'll give you a visual: Drew Barrymore and her teacher at the end of Never Been Kissed. It was like that. Only it was happening to me and it was better. The kiss was so perfect that I pulled away, caught my breath, and said, "Do that again."

Then I watched him disappear behind a screen door and I drove away. I only saw him a handful of times before dissecting what I referred to as his "Ambition Dysfunction" and moving onto other ventures. I later learned that he'd moved to Lake Charles for "personal reasons," and I didn't hear from him again until the week before he died. And then life continued and anniversaries of his death could begin next year.

As Valentine's Day 2012 inched closer and closer, I found it increasingly difficult to take it seriously. Not the commercialism of the holiday or the bitterness of single people – just the fact that my last date was in the ground and I had to make reservations at Tsunami so that my best friends and I would have something to do. In all honesty, Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday outside of Christmas, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that it was pointless to celebrate love when it goes away. I am the last person that he would ever spend a Valentine's Day with. Forever. And that fucking pissed me off.

On the morning of February 14, 2012, I walked into my office and sauntered over to my Art Director's area for our Downton Abbey debrief. Behind his desk was a poster that he'd recently created for a local not-for-profit's Valentine's Day fundraiser. The design was simple and low-concept with the headline, "Give the Gift of Warm Fuzzies" written in gorgeous typeface above illustrations of a bear, a rose, a balloon, and a heart. At the bottom was white space for the organization to fill in with the location and time of the fundraiser. To the extreme left of the open space were the words "Fate Has Brought You Here" next to an arrow. The joke was that fate had brought the attendee to the event to purchase last-minute VDay gifts for a good cause. But to me, those words hit me somewhere in my chest.

Fate had brought me to this moment – 365 days after my date with a departed friend and a haunting kiss. Fate had forced me to face my ambivalence. And fate had given me a year to figure it all out. Meeting him was great, dating him was so-so, ending it was easy, and wondering if I could have saved him was forever.

Fate had brought me to a place where I could say that last year, I spent Valentine's Day with an amazing guy, who passed away a few short months after. Thankfully, before he died, he taught me that Valentine's Day should be less about ordering flowers and making reservations, and more about saying everything you've ever wanted to someone you love. I miss you, buddy.