Jon Reyes considers his time as the “other man”, and the kind of closet he put himself in.
The painter’s head rested on my lap. We were in a cab. He was married and we were on our way to my apartment.
He looked up at me and said, “You’re going to use this against me. Aren’t you?” It was less a question than it was a statement.
“No,” I said, “I know the deal. Promise.”
I would eventually break that promise.
As I looked out into the swift moving panorama of New York City’s Westside highway, I knew that this would wreck me. Not because it was wayward, but because I was willingly pulling the sword from the sheath.
It happened swiftly. Both of us sitting side by side on a bar stool, me inching closer to him – close enough to kiss him. I kissed his neck first and he leaned in. When I finally went in for a kiss, he kissed me back.
Days later I sent him sunflowers – only two in a black vase; something subtle and masculine. Vincent Van Gogh’s 1888 painting, “Sunflowers,” might have had something to do with it. It’s my favorite painting, but I never told him that. Even when he incredulously asked me days later, “How did you know to send me sunflowers? They were always around my grandmother’s house when I was growing up.” I never told him.
The idea of cheating and being “the other man” tussled in my head repeatedly after that. A friend confessed her own affair with a musician in a band. I listened fervently trying to get something that I could apply in my own arena. Insight came months later while reading an interview profiling the musician. He talked about his wife, where they live, and how they’ve worked to make their relationship stand the test of time. For obvious reasons my friend was not present in the text.
Reality struck. The length of time my friend and the musician’s tryst occurred would be hidden, at least, publicly. It was a black hole in this man’s timeline. It was then that I knew why the painter had gutted my heart open. I had gone back into the closet for him. Not the closet of sexual identity but the existential kind.
The moments I spent with the painter were black. Not just because of the emotional darkness that eventually emanated from them, but because like the real color, light was absent. It’s a biological fact that few things grow in the absence of light.
The painter never loved his husband less because we managed to covertly overlap timelines. The painter’s decision wasn’t a decision to fall out of love, or to not be in love. It was a haphazard decision to do something – not to feel something. A long time ago someone told me that fidelity isn’t a feeling – that it’s a decision. Even as my belief system in monogamy has evolved into progressive ground (monogamy isn’t the only option), I still believe this to be an absolute truth. You don’t wake up in the morning, stretch and think, “I feel faithful today.”
Allowing the painter in my bed was my way of going back into hiding. Before coming out I used to pray for the ability to be invisible because I didn’t want the attention my “queerdom” garnered. It turned out that even as an adult I hadn’t outgrown that feeling.
Coming out when I was 17 years old wasn’t about my sexuality. The process of telling people was a declaration to not abide my life to a secret. Yet, here I was, almost 12 years later abiding my affection to a man who could only be with me in seclusion.
Realization would take time to knock on my door. Until then, I placed the watch he left behind on my nightstand. He would return for it, one last time.
Follow Jon on Twitter @JonReyes
Photo credit: Luis Flores, used by author with permission
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