I NEED A MAN
For many heterosexual men, close friendships are confined to
women or gay men. But when it comes to the crunch, men need men
like themselves to turn to for support.
My best friends all my life were women and gay men. Other heterosexual men represented competition and were not to be trusted. Then I got divorced, and lo and behold, not one of those great friends was very friendly. And the bottom line is that they didn't have what I want from a friend. At the risk of sounding a bit flirtatious, I need a man, a heterosexual, comfortable-with-the-way-his-chest-hair-curls adult man, like me.
This need became painfully clear to me at a particularly painful time in my personal saga. It just so happened that my best friend since high school (a gay man) was beginning the long descent into AIDS-death right about the time my marriage went really sour. Kel and I were very close, very tight. Actually, he was a part of our family; my wife and I took care of him off and on for years. I promised him a long time ago that he would not be alone at the end; he didn't want to tell his family he was sick. We drank together, drove around in my Jeep talking shit and contemplating things. Watched TV. Talked about the idiocy of political correctness. Scorned what needed to be scorned, and celebrated what needed celebrating. Good friends. We never touched much, except on big occasions (like when he came to see my newborn son, or before, in the few frightening moments before my wedding commenced).
When my wife and I separated, Kel was still fairly healthy and we still got together to talk. I remember trying to tell him how I felt, what it felt like to be so lost, and so on. The standard "I can't believe this is happening to me/why doesn't she love me" line. His eyes would narrow in faux wise-man fashion, and he'd say, "Well, you don't need women, you know. Sometimes what you think you need is not what you need at all." He meant his words to be teasingly sarcastic, but they were more true than he realised. I sadly listened, knowing with more and more certainty that he was really right, but he was talking more about friends than about lovers.
He didn't understand. It is that simple. All that we had gone through together, all that we knew about each other, all that we had shared as friends...none of that really mattered, because he simply didn't get it. Oh he understood the basics: rejection, self-doubt, questioning manhood. But he could not feel it, he I Need a Man (continued)...
couldn't empathise. He was a man I loved very very much, but in many ways he and I were fundamentally different in our understanding of the context of male life, our understanding of gender. He couldn't help me understand anything about what was happening to me.
We didn't have a lot of time, anyway. Shortly after Lin and I separated, Kel got his first case of evil pneumocystis, and it was downhill from there. We put my divorce on hold and got ready for his death, which, by the way, I just couldn't understand. There was no time for thinking; my promise was at hand...carrying him from his home on Christmas day, because he was too weak to walk; helping him through physical therapy so he could return home; bringing him home. Just days later hearing the fateful question, "And just...who are you?" before taking him back to the hospital; telling his mother that her son had AIDS and his mind was going. Visiting late one night to tell him I was scared, and he in a temporary but wonderful lucid moment saying "I love you too" before he became incoherent again. Holding his hand through six hours of seizures that left him blind and deaf and unable to speak. Finally, being shaken awake on the brown vinyl sofa where I had spent the last eight nights by the someone who said, "He's gone."
That was last April. Lately I am a little angry with Kel for not being the kind of friend I needed. Not that he didn't care about me, but that he didn't have anything in the way of the answers I needed. Just like I couldn't understand his trial, he couldn't understand mine. Sometimes I just want to scream about this. He and I never competed, never faced certain common issues because we didn't have them in common. I don't regret a moment, but I'm damned dissatisfied with my "friendship life" now that he is no longer in it.
I've been a friend for life. It is wonderful, awful, glorious, and cold...all at once. I still feel a need for a good, lifelong male friend, but unlike before, I want to meet people more like me. I want to brave the competition, swallow my fear of losing to some other guy, and learn to respect men for what they are sometimes savage, sometimes funny, sometimes ribald, sometimes models of propriety.
Unfortunately, I feel like a story like this would not be welcome in the ears of the kinds of people I want to meet, to befriend. I guard this story, because maybe I think it will make me vulnerable in competition with other men. I hide my life as a strategy. Hmm...
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