It was a year ago today that I met Joe for the first time, in his backyard, his family and friends gathered for a Labor Day barbeque. I had been in DC for all of five days, my mind and heart displaced, wondering if I’d made the right decision to pack up Bob and move to a strange land, one that would grow stranger by the days. I had been reading fabulist for the previous nine months, struck by the craftsmanship of his writing, his plaintive and often hilariously pathetic self-deprecation that he seemed to relish with words both jagged and poetic. The person I met that day was at odds with what I’d read – he was happy, far less dour, covered in sweat after sprinting from the house to the backyard with food and drink. I ate cold cucumber soup, an oddity although I was too polite to pass it up, and I remember wondering how much these people at the party knew about me, my story. After all, Joe had been reading my journal and had more interior information about me than most of my closest friends back home. I also remember thinking he was damned sexy, there was no denying it.
I’ve had my very own personal tour guide to my new city since we met, someone who could point to the obscured places most tourists miss because they’re too busy looking in the prescribed direction. Over there is where his favorite homeless person used to stand, look that way and you’ll see the best radio tower in the city, out in that field is a chicken coop that served as his home for a year. Driving around with Joe in the passenger seat proved to be an endless monologue built of the weathered bricks of a life made of joy and sorrow. I can barely pull out of the garage now before the tour begins and I’ve taken to honking the horn, giving an audible nod to those sites, each time Joe saying, “Stop. You’ll scare somebody.”
My part in our relationship has been to pull him into mainstream culture kicking and screaming. I’ve dragged him to films while he’d complain about it all the way there, forcing him to watch an endless amount of commercial television, and I’ve gotten him to wear clothing with logos on it. He’s been a willing victim in my indoctrination, and now he can place Vegas odds on the winner of Big Brother with the best of them.
We went from first to fourth gear quicker than the car could handle, though, and it’s been a bumpy burlesque ever since. I desperately needed a friend, a confidante, someone who could undermine my geographical loneliness. Joe handsomely filled the bill but he had his own needs, ones at odds with what I was able and willing to give. Anyone who’s read fabulist’s journal knows all too well what I’m talking about. At so many points during the year, Joe and I have reached a place where the mule just wouldn't budge, stranding us in that canyon of confusion more than once. Being desired emotionally and physically was an unexpected surprise for me, one rife with my own doubt and pain, a position that carried more weight than I was able to bear. How can I explain that I’m already in love with someone, albeit a quixotic trance, in the throes of romance with someone I believe will carry me through to the end, just as we’d always promised each other? No retreat, baby, no surrender. I’m still in freefall with that love, my love for Billy, and I may always be. Joe has had to bob and weave through those treacherous landmines, and he has done it with the grace of a ballerina, sometimes one wearing combat boots.
Joe came running into my apartment that awful night ten weeks ago when I was holding Bob in my arms, limp, lifeless, and I was hysterical. I was reliving another, even more horrifying experience, sanity once again a stranger, and Joe scooped up all eighty pounds of my Bob, lovingly carrying him to the car. He watched with me, watching over me, as I saw Bob leave to go home to his Daddy, and I kissed my dog, the last breathing manifestation of a family I finally found and cherished. Joe drove me home, lending quiet comfort. I am forever in his debt for his compassion that night.
This Saturday, we went to see Vanity Fair, a film we both liked very much. We came home, settled in for television, and I curled up in his lap. It was warm, comfortable, familiar. Eventually, I tucked him in on the couch and went to my bedroom, wrote my nightly letter, said my prayers, and kissed Billy’s picture goodnight. Joe had been awake for hours by the time I rolled my lazy white ass out of bed on Sunday. He’d gone and bought me my morning Big Gulp, having an adventure on the two-block walk that spawned a beautifully written journal entry for him, and I guzzled the drink in the rancorous state of being awake. We decided to go to the National Gallery even though Joe claimed I “hate art,” a statement he likes to make to create the buzzsaw that is our dialogue. As with most of our touring, we sped through that damned place in no time flat, finding the only da Vinci in America.
We came back to my place and started to watch Airport ‘77, arguably the best of the lot. Once again, I laid my head on his lap just as Olivia de Havilland was nursing her friend in the downed aircraft that sat at the bottom of the ocean, and I fell asleep. He sat there, his legs no doubt growing numb from inactivity, and let me nap. I woke up a short time later, disoriented but feeling a comfort I hadn’t felt in longer than I care to remember. I forced him to eat at a Mexican restaurant, a cuisine he grouses about every chance he gets. Back at my place, he packed up his stuff, walked to the door.
I followed him. Reaching for the door handle, I kissed him. He smiled, turning to leave but I grabbed him and kissed him again, hoping he would know that it wasn’t an obligatory gesture. I don’t know if it was the kind of kiss he really wanted, or if there would ever be one that met his needs but bluntly and selfishly, it satisfied mine.
I love Joe, his strident political theories, the tirades against a culture all too shallow for his depth, his insatiable grasp of the arcane, his uncontrolled smile during a gust of wind. I love Joe because he loves me, in spite of the impossible odds even a reckless bookie wouldn’t take. I love Joe even though I have no idea where it will take me but I do know I’ve made an essential friend, someone who will always be in my life. It is one more thing I thank God for in my prayers.