I did not expect Brendan to be easy. I don’t mean that purely in terms of sexual promiscuity. With his angsty mien and some tragic twentieth century American novel constantly in tow, Brendan did not solicit friendship. Lunchtime proved a nonstarter; he spent the entire 45 minutes reading, punctuated by caustic commentary. Spending much of my time deflecting intrusion, especially from my cross country teammates, I imagined interrupting would sentence me to a future of loathing, not desire. And Brendan loathed a lot.
“Is the Gender Studies department going for irony with that creep O’Neill teaching the Global Women’s Lit class? Or are they simply self-destructive cowards?”
“Do people with PhDs not understand how ridiculous it is to be addressed as ‘Doctor’?”
“These fucking cigarettes are stale.”
“The plot of Call Me by Your Name is so ludicrously improbable that the movie isn’t even worth watching. Yes, as a Jewish man in the relevant age range, I’m perfectly qualified to opine on the matter. You’ve been to Italy twice, Chris? Well, congratulations on being so goddamn worldly.”
“But what do they think they’re freeing Palestine for, exactly?”
“I don’t oppose the #MeToo Movement; what I oppose are gratuitous hashtags, which accomplish little besides the degradation of women’s hard-fought literacy.”
“These fucking cigarettes are stale.”
“I think I’m a socialist now.”
Through his expansive kvetching in that nasally voice, Brendan often made compelling points. Though, his commentary presaged the problems I could face in romancing him. To my credit, I took note of some indicators immediately. Brendan was flamboyantly cynical. While I do not find cynicism problematic per se, its seeming purveyors often sublimate inner flaws into cynicism. Cynics condemn in others what they cannot condemn in themselves. Excepting the most astute observer, one would not recognize a defect in another if he did not first notice it in himself.
I saw Brendan’s self-loathing, and it drew me ever closer. I wanted so desperately to find its roots. What exactly did Brendan loathe about himself?
I would find out, eventually. I would find out too late.
Several weeks after I expressed my interest in Brendan, Chris dutifully engineered an opportunity.
“You’ll attend the Thanksgiving party at the ROTC house,” he explained. “The cadets traditionally bring dates. You’ll be mine.”
“Keep your panties on. We’ll sit together chastely, and by the end of the evening, Brendan’s half-bottle of Maker’s Mark will have melted away his thick layer irascibility, which-”
“Yes, yes, which we all know is just disguised sexual frustration. But what if he brings a date?”
“Bringing a date to a social function is far too predictably bourgeois for Brendan. He won’t.”
I had never seen the ROTC house before. I left campus only for cross country courses and tracks at other colleges in the region — riotous multibillion-dollar endowment clones of my own school.
The prospect of shedding my starchy social life for an evening of debauchery — real debauchery — excited me. The prospect of shedding my clothes for an evening of copulation also excited me.
I fear my coarse language may deceive you, reader. Let me be clear: at nineteen years old, I did want to lose my virginity. But I did not pursue this goal so keenly that I would have permitted just anyone to take it. I wanted Brendan to take it. You may find my attraction strange, even perverse. You may read my actions as misguided, even self-sabotaging.
I am not sharing this account to defend an argument or make a case. Any attempt to do so would serve no real purpose and, even worse, sound petulant. I am writing about that night, and the nights that followed, for me. You, reader, are merely an observer. Well, I suppose you’re a participant insofar as you read and hopefully react. You indulge my need to be heard.
Your level of participation roughly equals mine in my own story, which, I would soon realize, was not my own story.
The ROTC house, located in the sleepy, blue-collar town right outside of campus, accommodated only a handful of cadets. Unlike the others quartered in the ROTC house, who wanted to live with students on a similar schedule, Chris sought a more “cosmopolitan” college experience. Perhaps his proximity to the downtown’s two Irish pubs, shoddy pizzeria, and three competing Catholic churches enlightened his life in ways Epsilon Theta could not.
Chris instructed me to wear a cocktail dress, which I did not own. “Conservative in the chest, but skanky everywhere else,” he further stipulated, explaining that while I should avoid drawing attention to my flat chest, I must “readily display my slender waist and sculpted legs.”
Chris could sexualize my body in the matter-of-fact way only a seemingly well-intentioned gay man could.
Collecting me, attired in a borrowed red dress, at 6pm from my dormitory the evening of the party, Chris voiced his approval. “I can barely resist.”
Given his oft-expressed love of dick, I knew he was hyperbolizing. I appreciated the reassurance nonetheless. To this day, I feel ridiculous in a dress.
The modest, two-story ROTC house, nestled in the cul-de-sac of a somewhat seedy neighborhood, struck me in its aggressive cleanliness. Every horizontal surface in its dilapidated dining room appeared dusted. I scanned the first floor for a vacant pair of shoes, a stray book, a rogue ruck sack. Yet I could find no sign of negligence.
I registered, but did not fixate on, the cadets and their predictably prim dates. Several of the latter, blonde Baptists of my cross country teammates’ ilk, eyed me curiously. That look would later be explained to me as the disapproving gaze of an aspiring military spouse.
In their defense, my dress was pretty slutty.
I found Brendan by the turntable, a moderately expensive-looking Victrola. He wore a slightly oversized navy blazer and, as Chris promised, appeared stag. An abandoned hors d’oeuvres plate sat on a coffee table several feet away.
At Chris’s behest, I had already imbibed several servings of white wine, “to calm the nerves.” Four years of competitive running with unwavering Christian girls granted few opportunities for alcohol, and a growing awareness of my sobriety.
“Hey. I brought you this.”
Brendan looked up from the records shelf, accepting the glass from my outstretched hand. “Bourbon?” He took a sip. “Thanks.”
He smelled like aftershave.