By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
Now: A couple of weeks ago, I was eating lunch at my place of employment — a boutique that offers rejuvenating skin creams on bustling Northwest 23rd Avenue — sitting at the desk in our office, absentmindedly thumbing through Grindr profiles. (It’s been eons since any piqued my interest; I don’t say this as some sort of hotshot heartthrob, I say it to illustrate a point about small towns and oversaturation.) As I shoveled a delicious Baja Bowl (with pork!) from Pepino’s into my mouth, the familiar Grindr chirp sang its sweet song into my tired old ears. Who’s trying to get my attention? A bot? An escort? (Two recent trips have left me broke; sorry bro.) “Hey sexy.” Hi. “Do you know who this is?” No. “Jacob!” What?! It takes several minutes for me to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.
Then: I have to be honest; my baby gay days are very fuzzy. I claim to remember things vividly, but mostly I’ve just kept good notes over the years. When someone tells me about something I did at The City Nightclub or about someone they saw me locking lips with on Stark, I nod politely, then excuse myself as I jump into the nearest broom closet or phone booth to scribble down the details. Like our beloved Joan Didion, I can be a maniac about taking notes. My memory betrays me; it employs trickery. That said, a few people stay above the shadowy fray, and Jacob is among them. He was, after all, my very first boyfriend (though I was not his); when we were very young, we locked gazes while sitting on blankets in the grass opposite one another at Peacock in the Park. We shared Bartles and Jaymes (or Boones Strawberry Hill) and it was pure magic; sunshine, Poison Waters, and baby gay love.
Now: If I could have serenaded Jacob with “Landslide” the moment when our Grindr apps found one another, I would have. I’ve had many lovers in the two decades since those first, innocent summer days and I’ve had a variety of relationships end in myriad ways. Without going into painstaking detail (I do not have one thousand pages at my disposal), let me say simply: I am on speaking terms with few of the men who’ve spent prolonged periods of time in my bedroom. In examining this phenomenon with Therapist, we’ve determined this happens because I stick around longer than I should; as the oldest child from a “broken home,” I was taught early to “make it work,” to be the “caregiver,” no matter the emotional cost. Things may have ended similarly with Jacob, but neither of us remembers specifically why we broke up (20 years). Young love ends as quickly as it begins; it is its own phenomenon. We were both thrilled to find each other and we set a date for dinner and drinks.
Then: When Jacob and I met, I was barely out. I had told a few close, trusted friends, definitely not my Pentecostal family; I even played it straight at work. (Oh, the tales the old Gap Girls could tell about my first weeks folding sweaters, talking about my many “girlfriends,” and admiring the gorgeous women who frequented our khaki palace. They had a pool going — Tina won.) I also still lived at home at the time, and since this all happened in the late 1990s, we didn’t have cell phones; he’d call my parents’ landline so we could chat and make dates. He came from an affluent family and was emancipated, living in an apartment in SW Portland, which I loved to visit. I felt quite elegant venturing into the big city to sleep over at my rich boyfriend’s home. I lived in northern Clark County (Orchards) in my Pentecostal family’s blue-with-beige-trim split-level house. Occasionally I’d get very nervous when he called, and I feigned accents, pretending to be our housekeeper or gardener. (We didn’t have either.) I aimed to keep up appearances, and he loved me, so he never questioned it. “Your housekeeper is very kind when I call,” he’d say.
Now: We met for dinner at Jo Bar, on the street where I work, near the apartment where I live. Jacob just moved back to Portland from New York City, where he worked in fashion and antiques. (Can you even?) As I have told my closest friends and coworkers, it had been eons since I had such a pleasant night with a gentleman. Jacob and I reminisced, laughed about the past, marveled that we lived through some of our more sordid adventures, talked about our failures and triumphs alike, and three hours passed before we realized even an hour had. Dining with Jacob that evening was like curling up with my favorite book and a bottle of wine on a snow day — in my pajamas; it was extraordinarily comfortable and easy. After dinner, I took him to see drag queens and strippers, and we partied like we were 20. (Note: we are no longer 20.) The next day at work, my hangover was alleviated by memories of baby gay love.
During dinner, when we were revisiting our coming out stories and talking about how we met, Jacob said something to me I will never forget. “You know, I don’t think I ever told you how much I respected you for surviving what you did — that church you grew up in was no joke,” he said. “Most of us never deal with anything like that. I always thought you were — are — so smart and brave.” I resisted the urge to pull out my notebook and record those words so I’d never forget them — though, it turns out, I didn’t need to. There’s nothing quite like having someone who’s known you for so long — and so intimately — look you in the eyes and tell you you’re just fine. It is an unexpected but welcome affirmation.