The old lady and her grandchild who live upstairs move out. I'm overjoyed--quiet at last. My recurring dreams of trying to care for a baby who never stops crying disappear. A few days later, a young Pakistani family moves in. Now there is not only another crying baby but also a screaming toddler. The husband is overly friendly to me, while the wife clearly wishes me dead because I'm a shameless harlot out to seduce her husband. Every day she gets up at 7 am to make breakfast, clopping about in heels, banging cabinet doors and rattling pots directly above my bed. This conflicts with my graduate student lifestyle of staying up until 2 am and sleeping until 10, but I can't exactly tell her not to make breakfast for her family. I stock up on earplugs and do my best to avoid all of them.
Now that things are really, truly over between me and Rollerboy, I can move onto my new, adult healthy relationship with Kevin, the baritone from the Lester State Adult Chorus. He asks me out to dinner at a pho restaurant, and not one that caters to Americans, either, a real authentic place in the Asian mall. Rollerboy would never in a million years to eat there.
My enthusiasm is somewhat dampened as I peruse the very short menu and realize my only options are pho with tripe or pho with beef tendon. This is a little too authentic for me.
"Uhhhh... isn't there one with chicken?"
Kevin laughs at me. "What are you talking about? Come on, this is the good stuff." There's a long line of people behind us so I order tendon and he orders tripe. The bowls appear a minute later, and we squeeze into a tiny corner table together.
He slurps up the tripe with gusto and teases me some more about my whitebread, bourgeois, meat averse taste, as I attempt to eat only the noodles and avoid the animal parts.
I stare at his hands, wrapped around his giant pho bowl. I notice for the first time that his hands are tiny. He's a tall, solidly built dude but he has tiny little girl hands. It's weird. I immediately shove that thought away. What kind of superficial judgmental BS is that anyway?
We move on to chatting about the next concert with the chorus, which is a repeat of the 1940s show in a new venue. I'm looking forward to wearing my vintage costume again.
"It's a nice dress," Kevin agrees. "It looks good on you."
"Thanks. The GI uniform looks great on you, too. What made you pick that as your costume?"
"I didn't. The director told me to wear it."
"Really? I wanted to be a movie star type but he wouldn't let me."
"Don't you remember? You were there at that first rehearsal when he was asking for volunteers for character types. He asked who wanted to be a diva, so I raised my hand. He looked right at me and said, 'No, I want someone attractive to be the diva.'"
"Yeah, I know, right?" I laugh. "I couldn't believe he just came right out and said that."
"Well, anyway he's wrong about you not being attractive enough to be a diva."
"Aw, thank you. Whatever, he's a gay guy, so what does he know about women? I've been in this chorus for almost two years and I think he still doesn't even know my name."
Kevin shakes his head in disbelief. "What a jerk."
"I know. But I've sung with a lot of choruses and I've never met a chorus director who wasn't a jerk."
I say it mostly as a joke, but Kevin takes this very seriously. He tells me at great length about another chorus he is also in, a group of ten men who sing Gregorian chants and other all-male a cappella pieces.
From there the conversation wanders on to other topics, and eventually to past relationships. I've been waiting for an opportunity to tell him about Rollerboy. I'm not ready to tell Kevin that I'm a devotee, but somehow it feels really important to let him know that my last boyfriend was in a wheelchair. It's not the kind of thing he would ever guess, and if I don't say anything, it's like that fact about me is hidden.
"My last boyfriend was in a wheelchair," I blurt out, awkwardly shoehorning this fact into the conversation in a very unnatural yet vaguely self-congratulatory way. "He had a spinal cord injury from a car accident."
Kevin stares at me, his eyes wide. "Wow." He pauses, then repeats, "Wow. That's, just, wow."
I'm not sure what kind of reaction I was hoping for, but this is not it. "It's not that big a deal."
"Yes, it is. You're like, some kind of angel."
Ugh, this is really not what I want to hear. "No, I'm not. It's not like that at all."
"Yes, you're an angel," he insists. "How can I compete with that?"
We go on some more dates, and it's the same uncomfortable mix of bonding over music and awkward moments.
I've decided to audition for the Raser City Lyric Opera, but it's hard to practice because it's been twelve years since I had a lesson, and I don't have a piano. I ask Kevin to help me, because he has a piano, but it doesn't go so well. He can tell me where I don't sound so good but not how to make it sound better. Actually it just seems like he enjoys criticizing my voice, but he won't play the accompaniment they way I want him to. We both end up a little frustrated. I switch to just singing for fun--it would be so nice to just sit at the piano and sing together.
I launch into one of my favorite tunes from when I used to get dressed up in Ren Faire costumes with Ewan and Cyril. Kevin cuts me off after the first verse.
"What is that?" he asks in a derisive tone. "The lyrics and tune are totally mismatched. Was this translated from some other language?"
"No, it's just an Elizabethan folk tune," I reply, feeling rather hurt. I give up on the idea of singing together.
At Kevin's suggestion, we go together to a lindy hop class. I'm excited, because I always wanted to learn lindy hop and I love big band music. I flash back to the moment I first noticed him, when he spun me around while we were both wearing 1940s clothes, and I felt like I was in an old movie.
The class is rather tedious, though, and I find it hard to concentrate because the instructors are so weird. The head instructor is a dapper older man, impeccably dressed with white hair slicked back in elegant waves and a smooth, shiny face. His assistant is a much younger, slightly less glamorous woman, but they are clearly a couple. There are about ten heterosexual couples in the class, and the head instructor takes turns dancing with each of the women while his partner dances with each of the men, to teach us our parts. When he dances with me, I notice that his face smells distinctly, strongly like pussy. I glance over at his partner, oblivious on the other side of the room. The instructor comes around to me a second and third time, and it's unmistakable. What the hell? Was she sitting on his face right before class or what? I stare at his shiny face in revulsion.
But it's not just that. I find myself eying the other men in the class, wishing that I were dancing with any of them. We all trade partners several times, and I'm a tiny bit disappointed each time I end up back with Kevin.
Word gets around the Lester State Adult Chorus that Kevin and I are an item. The alto who encouraged me to go out with him is delighted. I even hear back from Dorie, the former member who I visited once because she lives near Rollerboy. She's delighted too, and tells me what a great guy Kevin is.
But except for those two, everyone else is much more wary.
"What are you doing?" asks Brenno, another baritone. "Kevin is gay."
This is news to me. "He's not gay. He's the one who asked me out." Brenno just shrugs.
I'm not sure what to do with this information. I don't feel like I'm forcing myself on him. Just the opposite, Kevin seems very intent on having a serious relationship with me. He keeps talking about how he's thirty-five years old and it's time to settle down. He's only interested in someone if he sees a future together. I'm about to turn thirty in a few weeks, and I definitely want to settle down too, but this mercenary, utilitarian approach to dating seems alarming and depressing.
It feels rude to confront him about these rumors. I try to ignore it but I can't help tallying up evidence against his professed heterosexuality. I turn for advice to my fellow grad student Stephanie, my go-to expert on gayness. Her buzzcut is dyed black now instead of hot pink, she has a few more tattoos and she has cheated on then dumped her girlfriend who looked exactly like her. Now she's with a femme Italian exchange student.
Over coffee, I offer up the evidence for her evaluation.
"The first time he came over to my apartment, he ran his finger over my bedside table and showed me the dust with a very judgy look."
Stephanie purses her lips. "Inconclusive."
"Yeah, well he's in no position to judge. His house is clean but the inside of his car is a disgusting mess, and it smells like a gym sock."
"Gross. What else?"
"He showed me a sketch he did in an art class that was supposed to be of a nude woman but it totally looked like a dude. You know, like those nudes done by Renaissance artists who had clearly never seen a naked lady in their lives."
"Ha! Funny, but still inconclusive."
"He's in an all male a cappella group."
"Oh yeah, he's totally fucking all those guys."
"What? How do you know?"
She rolls her eyes. "I just do. Definitely gay."
"So why doesn't he come out? He's living in one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. He's surrounded by gay people at work and in all his leisure activities. Why even bother asking me out? Just be gay already."
"He already is, with those a cappella guys."
I still don't see how she can be so sure of that, but I have a hunch why he might not have come out yet. "I think it's his mother. She's like a WASP bitch queen."
"You met her already? How is it you dated Rollerboy for two years and never met a single person in his family, whereas Kevin is introducing you to his mother within a few weeks?"
"I dunno man, life is strange. Anyway it was just because she came to our second concert. I saw her for like a minute after the show."
"Oh yeah, how did the concert go?"
"Pff. Dennis fell off the back of the riser just as I was about to do my solo. Then they announced the title of my song, 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy' and the audience was like awwww. I forgot the concert was on Father's Day! Everyone thought it was a Father's Day song, and I'm like, no it's about a sugar daddy."
"Did they even get it?"
"Who knows, the average age in the audience was over seventy. Anyway, after the concert we were all milling around outside and his mother was there so he introduced us. She gave me one of those little half handshakes with just the fingers, barely said hello then turned and started talking to him. I swear, she looked at me like something she scraped off the bottom of her shoe. I just get the feeling that she's very conservative and demanding, and he's very close with her."
"Whatever, dude. Just ask him."
So I do, the next time I go over to his house. Actually, it takes me a while to work around to it. He makes me a delicious dinner of chicken in a red wine sauce, which I help him prepare and clean up, as we drink some more of the wine.
After dinner, we have sex for the first time. I mean, so far all we've done is some mutual masturbation but this is the first time we have intercourse. It's terrible, but I can't exactly pinpoint why. Something just feels off in a way I have never experienced before, like he's not really there in the moment.
As we're laying in the bed afterwards, I finally come out and ask. "Have you ever done it with a guy?"
"Women are so much more attractive," he deflects.
"Yeah, but there's different kinds of attraction. Actually, I'm bisexual. It's ok with me if you are too. I won't judge."
"No." He gets up and puts his clothes back on. It's clear he's not going to budge and harassing him about it feels mean, so I let it go. I have class the next morning so I don't sleep over.
I start having that recurring nightmare again that I've lost my wallet. A week before my thirtieth birthday, Kevin invites me over to his house to break up with me.
I've complained in the past about guys who broke up with me by email or over the phone but in person is really not much better.
"This isn't working out," he says the minute I walk in the door. "You said that you don't plan on living in Raser City long term."
"Yes, that's true, I'll probably have to move once my career gets going. But that's still like three or four years away. How do you know what will happen in the meantime? Shouldn't we at least see how it goes?"
"No, I told you I'm looking for a serious commitment and if you're not staying here, there's no point."
It's crazy how Kevin has found the one thing that would upset me the most to break up over. If he had said we need to break up because he's really gay and he's been living a lie to please his mother but no more, I would have stood up and cheered. And I have to admit I had a lot of doubts about him too. But this really hurts. I hate that I'm almost thirty and still in limbo, that it will be years before I can truly settle down somewhere. I want a man who will commit for real and move with me because he loves me so much. Like Buttboy said, but didn't actually mean.
The next day, I have an appointment with my grad advisor to talk about future plans now that I've passed my exam. To my shame, I break down crying in his office over Kevin.
"He t-t-told me that he can't take me seriously because I might have to move in four years!" I blubber.
My advisor, a scruffy fiftyish dude, looks like he'd prefer to stick his fingers in his ears and say lalalala I can't hear you rather than listen to one second of my personal problems, and I can't really blame him. But to his credit, he only says, "That sounds like bullshit to me. Just live your life and don't worry about that jackass. He clearly has other issues."
I know he's right. I wipe my snotty, tear stained face on my sleeve and try to pull myself together, to concentrate on my work.
I have to tell my friends in the chorus, though, because we have yet another concert this weekend. This time I don't have a solo; it's just the stand in the back and sing your part with a bunch of other people type concert. We're singing the Missa Criolla, which is really not my thing, so it's hard to work up any enthusiasm. At least it's pretty easy to avoid Kevin, since the sopranos and the basses sit far away from each other.
"Wow, you always get dumped right before a concert," the mean girl alto comments when I tell her. "Sucks for you, haha."
"I told you he's gay," says Brenno.
Not long after the concert, Dorie invites a group of us to spend a weekend at her parent's beach house, a two hour drive south of Raser City. There are about ten of us, including Dorie's nebbishy boyfriend Adam, the mean girl alto and the rest of her mean girl clique and their boyfriends/husbands. Dorie also invited Kevin, but thank god he can't go because he has a concert with his a cappella group.
I gather from oblique comments by others and by Dorie herself that she has nurtured a long term crush on Kevin, and was horribly jealous of me for dating him. This despite the fact that she has a boyfriend, and that she knows Kevin is most likely gay. I find this profoundly irritating. She's jealous of me? What for? If she wants the experience of being strung along then dumped on a technicality, she's welcome to it. Besides, I'm the one who's jealous of her for dating not one but two paras, and clearly not appreciating their overpowering sexiness.
Adam, Dorie's current and definitely not SCI boyfriend, is a short, chubby Jewish nerd. Adam and I end up sitting around the house together most of the first day while Dorie and other more adventurous types go out hiking. We were all instructed to bring board games, so I brought a Simpsons trivia game. It's immediately apparent that he and I are the only ones in the group who have committed every season to memory. We play for hours, reciting entire scenes verbatim and cracking each other up. Dorie comes back from her hike to find us laughing together and her jealousy flames up even higher. I quickly put the game away. This is such stupid bullshit. I have no interest in her schlubby boyfriend. It's not my fault he has more in common with me than with her.
The rest of the evening and the next morning I try to avoid both of them, which is not easy since we're all staying in the same house. At lunchtime, we pack a picnic and all head out to the beach together. We're all sitting in a loose circle in the sand, chatting about nothing much, when someone asks why Kevin isn't coming.
"He probably wanted to avoid any more drama," the mean girl alto says, staring pointedly at me.
"I think he's just having a really hard time right now," I hear Dorie say in a syrupy tone from the far end of the circle.
"What? What about me?" I burst out. "I'm the one he dumped."
"Sometimes these things just don't work out," Dorie replies in the same patronizing tone.
I dig my hands in to the sand. "It didn't work out because he's gay and can't admit it."
"You don't know how hard it is come out," she says defensively. Now everyone else has fallen silent and is just staring at both of us.
"I know exactly how hard it is," I reply through gritted teeth, plunging my hands into the sand over and over. "But he's thirty-five years old. That's plenty old enough to figure your shit out and not go jerking other people around."
"You don't know," she repeats stubbornly, looking daggers at me, like I'm the bad guy in this breakup. I just roll my eyes, and thankfully someone changes the subject. The end of this beach weekend torture can't come soon enough.
After all this, I've had it with not just Kevin but this entire chorus--the mean girls clique, the asshole director, the boring program, all of it. Just as classes are ending for the summer, I have my audition with the Raser City Lyric Opera, and to my astonishment, I get in. Not only that, but the upcoming opera is The Marriage of Figaro, my most favorite opera that I already know almost by heart. Brenno gets in also, so I'll have a friend there as well. I quit the old chorus, and say good riddance to Kevin. But I have to admit, if it weren't for Kevin, I would definitely have gotten back together with Rollerboy when he asked me to. So at the very least, I am grateful to Kevin for helping me get over Rollerboy.