When I was 16 or so, I was introduced to a dude named Gabriel (not his name at all) through a girlfriend of mine who had spent the majority of her summer pining over him and therefore hiding him from the rest of us. She had grown tired of his antics and was essentially passing him off to me, and I took him on gleefully, as he was a wonder: Gabriel was over 6 feet tall, with dark, brooding good looks. My sister described him as a sexy Vigo the Carpathian, but that was only slightly true. He just had big heavy-lidded sleepy eyes, sharp cheekbones, and long straight hair that he dyed black. He was solidly built- the kind of guy that could throw you over his shoulder and rescue you from a burning building, in contrast to the wispy anemic dudes I normally dated- he dressed in badass clothes (black jeans, Danzig shirts, and vests for days) and had recently moved to North Carolina from New Orleans.
I found him infinitely fascinating, but he was the kind of fascinating that only a 16 year old appreciates- he knew a lot of big words, he knew a lot about music and movies, and he talked constantly. He had ideas about space and science and music and the way everything was interconnected. “The wall of fear” he said to me one night, as we sat in his car, “is a giant wall of skulls. Can you picture that? Can you see it? That wall doesn’t even scare me anymore.” (BTW, there were no drugs involved, this is just Gabriel being drunk on himself.)
More of Gabriel’s story: his father had passed away a few years before we met, and he and his mother had kinda gone a little nuts with his life insurance money. His mother drove a Jaguar with a license plate that was a dirty word in German, Gabriel drove a black 1970s Corvette, and their house was covered in THINGS. Gabriel had over 300 CDs, owned every movie on VHS, and they just spent spent spent. That car was pure sex, and I loved riding around in it and talking about dreams, the future, the past, etc. He talked of the dark romance of New Orleans, and told me he would take me there. I hung on his every word and sought out interesting things to say to him when we weren’t together.
Being around Gabriel made me feel like the world was infinitely more interesting than it actually was. Late night trips to WalMart were tinged with mystery, coffeehouses suddenly felt luxe and slightly sinister, in-jokes about Funyuns were somehow better than any joke that has ever existed. I say “being around” Gabriel, rather than “being with” Gabriel, because even though I told my parents he was my boyfriend, the truth was that Gabriel had snared me into a web of unrequited obsession that he kept at arms length.
We spent all our time together, we sometimes slept in the same bed, we changed clothes in front of each other, but Gabriel would not make a move on me. He’d occasionally make comments about my appearance or flirt oddly with me by asking me about past relationships and the dumb boys who had dumped me. Sometimes he’d even talk to me about his tortured past romances with women who treated him terribly. I was shocked that such a thing could ever occur, and told Gabriel that those girls must have been dumb whores that were molested by their uncles to have let such a perfect man out of their lives. He would nod morosely, his eyes huge and sad in his face, and then hit stop on the Nick Cave CD as it was reminding him too much of Natasha. But that was the extent of our romance. I’d been around gay dudes since middle school and had the sense to not develop crushes on them, but Gabriel was straight and therefore had to be mine.
It didn’t help that he was incredibly proprietary over me. Once, when a guy asked me out and I faux-casually mentioned it to Gabriel (to make him jealous), he freaked out about how that guy was a poseur and a shithead, threatened to kick his ass, and then shut down and wouldn’t speak to me for days. Instead of being indignant, I was horrified, and turned to one of his other friends, a portly white trash girl named Shannon. I still have no idea how those two became friends.
“Don’t worry”, Shannon told me, “He’s just upset that someone else figured out you exist. I think he likes you, he just doesn’t know what to do about it.” This knowledge burrowed deep in me and glowed red hot, and I kept wanting to wrap my hands around it, scared it would escape if I didn’t keep my eye on it. The fantasies of Gabriel realizing that he was in love with me, which had been a constant quiet chatter in my head, were turned up to full volume in his absence.
Gabriel turned back up in my life a few days later acting as if nothing happened, but I noticed his nails were bitten down ragged. I took this as a sign of his devotion. We sat in his room, hanging out and listening to music, as we always did. “Pictures of You” by The Cure came on, and Gabriel told me about how this song reminded him of his long-distance girlfriend. He said it ultra-casually, as if this was a thing we had discussed, as if I was stupid and had forgotten that the dude I was in love with had a girlfriend. My voice shaking, I asked about this girlfriend, and was spun a tale about a girl he met in an online BBS who lived in upstate New York. She was his true love, and they’d sent each other pictures, and he couldn’t wait to meet her someday. Part of me knew that he was punishing me, part of me wondered if this had all gone down in the days he was giving me the silent treatment, but the bigger part of me felt like I was dissolving. I couldn’t lose Gabriel, not after I’d come so close! (So close!)
So I stayed and let the storm of my emotions pass, and that night we went to a rave. (It was North Carolina in the late 90s, what else were we supposed to do?) He forgot his wallet so I paid his way in. $20 per person is a lot for anyone to cough up, and I that plus the “girlfriend bomb” had me semi-fuming by the time we hit the floor. But then Gabriel danced with me. Normally at raves you dance by yourself, or with strangers, but tonight, he pulled me close and put his arms around me, and I was nearly paralyzed with how intoxicating it felt. I went through the entire day with a fine-toothed comb, wondering what I’d done, or worn, or said, to warrant such treatment. Maybe the girlfriend talk was a test?
That night we acted like boyfriend and girlfriend, holding each other all around the huge warehouse where the rave was being held, being sweet to each other, and I went home that night convinced that this was the beginning of a storybook romance. The next day I was back at his house, watching movies in his room with him, when we kissed.
HE KISSED ME!
Gabriel and I made out for a while in his room, even got to some heavy petting, and I remember that (get ready for NSFW time!) his penis was somewhat disappointing. Not like it was missing or looked like it had been burned, but once you put someone on a pedestal like that, the reality will never live up to the fantasy in your head. We messed around until he pushed me away and said something about not wanting to hurt me. Something melodramatic and bullshitty, I’m sure, but at the time I thought “That’s a good point, we don’t want to hurt anyone”, and soon after, I left, as I was working on being unattainable (but totally attainable).
The next time I saw Gabriel, a day or so later, he was back to his old self. No affection, no flirting, and certainly no kissing. I’d done something wrong, clearly, and now we were back to just being friends. Dejected but still hopeful, I stuck around, trying to make myself beautiful and mysterious to him, trying to make myself into the girl he made out with a few days before.
This pattern would repeat itself several times. Friend friend friend, Gabriel makes a move on me and we act like we’re dating, Gabriel actively pretends that never happened, friend friend friend. Once he actually stopped me when I tried to hold him and said “Don’t get the wrong idea”. YES I KNOW, I PUT UP WITH THIS. FOR A WHILE.
Every time he pulled me close I felt like a magical elfin princess, and every time he pushed me away I felt like a castle troll. I scrutinized every interaction looking for cues, for signs of my importance. He thought himself magical and I confirmed it by hanging on his every self-aggrandizing word. “I think I might be the Antichrist” he confided in me one day, “and it’s a lot of pressure. I want to take you to my Dad’s grave sometime.” He was the Antichrist, it turned out, just my own personal Antichrist.
Nothing huge happened between us to make this pattern end. Perhaps my car was in the shop for a few days and in that time, when I couldn’t get over to Gabriel’s house (he rarely came to my part of town), the spell was broken. Perhaps I started hanging around with another guy who seemed also quite mysterious and dark and interesting, but a guy who wasn’t trying to actively mindfuck me. Who knows, but thank Antichrist something happened. By the time Gabriel starting actively pursing my time and attention, I was too far gone to care that much.
About a year later, Gabriel contacted me out of nowhere and asked if we could meet for dinner. We went to the restaurant we used to always go to, the Ruby Tuesdays in the mall, and we ordered what we always ordered, quesadillas. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dress up a bit and pay a bit more attention to my makeup. I wanted my look to scream “You fucked up, dude. You had a chance and you fucked up.” And who knows, maybe he would realize the error of his ways and try to win me back, and maybe he’d be worth it finally. Maybe he’d grown up. Gabriel looked handsome and dark and brooding as ever. We made small talk for a while, and I was starting to relax into the grooves we’d created, when he grabbed my hands across the table and said “You know, you could have had me if you wanted me. All you had to do was say so, I was so in love with you.”
What the fuck? Clearly, I remembered the reality of the past in a way that Gabriel was confused about. On what planet did this get construed as me pushing Gabriel away? Is this what happened with the other girls? Was I a new patch added to the shitty quilt of women who had “wronged” Gabriel?
Weirdly, he did seem a lot less full of shit up until that moment, and I had been mulling over seeing him again, but his melodramatic whitewashing had woken me up for good. I leaned forward, expecting to yell at him, but all that came out was “I’m sorry I did that to you, Gabriel. That wasn’t fair.” I changed the subject and we finished our dinner with me continuing to eye him like he might pull out a knife, or his penis, at any minute. When we hugged goodbye, he held on to me a bit too long, and I have never relished gently pushing someone away that much.
I could have screamed at him and avenged all those heartbroken nights he gave me, but I prefer to think of the past the way he does. In his memory, I became the unattainable creature I’d always wanted to be, and that’s where I belong.