Getting the Message
I look at the message on my screen, then at the profile of the man who has sent it. His picture shows a headless torso covered in hair. He’s wearing nothing but a leather harness and a jockstrap. According to his stats, he’s 36, 5’ 9”, 180. He’s a bottom, into Orioles baseball and trying new sushi restaurants, and he’s looking for chat/random play. His location is 15 miles away.
I’m considering whether or not to answer him when he messages me again, this time to open his private pictures. Now I get to see both his face and what’s in his jock. He’s handsome, bearish with blue eyes and a beard. The rest of him is not unappealing either. But it’s the dog that makes me decide to write him back. In one photo, he’s sitting on the tailgate of a red pickup truck with his arm thrown around a big brown mutt seated beside him, its ears cocked as it looks into the camera.
“Hey there,” I write back. “How are you tonight?”
"He shoots back a reply almost instantly. “Horned up,” he says. “Looking to get used. What are you doing?”
I don’t have the energy to role play, so I tell him the truth. “Sitting on the couch watching Moana with my mother.”
While I wait for his response, I look over at my mother. She’s mouthing along as the giant crab character Tamatoa sings the song “Shiny” in a voice that sounds eerily like David Bowie’s but isn’t, which makes it all even weirder than it already is. Her fingers tap on her knees, and she nods her head more or less to the beat. This is the fourth night in a row we’ve watched the film, and we’ll likely watch it dozens more times. It’s rare to find something that even remotely holds her interest and doesn’t frighten or confuse her, so when we do, it gets played over and over. Since her Alzheimer’s ensures that she never remembers that she’s seen it, for her, it’s a treat every time. For me, it’s torture. I’m already having flashbacks to Frozen, which I saw so many times that hearing the opening notes of “Let it Go” is enough to trigger a rage spiral.
I fully expect my new correspondent to disappear as a result of my decidedly unsexy reply, but he doesn’t. A new message comes in: “You live with your mom?”
I’m not sure why I’m even bothering with this. I installed the app a few weeks earlier, curious to see if anyone local showed up. Where we live is geographically peculiar, at the northernmost end of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and fairly isolated. Even my pen pal’s reported location of 15 miles away is misleading. He’s actually on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, so while he might be close if I was in possession of a hovercraft, in reality we’re a good hour’s drive apart.
Not that it matters, as we’re never getting together. I don’t have the time, having anyone over is an impossibility in my current situation, and mostly I’m too exhausted anyway. Really, I shouldn’t even be on the app, as its primary purpose is to engineer sweaty hookups, and there are too many obstacles to make those a reality for me and I hate wasting anyone’s time. But I’m going on six years since the last time I saw a naked man in the flesh, and lately it’s started to bother me. Seeing that there’s still interest makes me feel both better and worse. It’s nice to know someone is theoretically willing to get busy with me, but being unable to act on it increases the frustration level and reminds me how much of my life I’ve put on hold while taking care of my mother.
Just setting up my profile was an exercise in confronting both my current situation and the changes I’ve undergone since the last time I was single, which was 16 years ago. Forced to choose a category for myself, I considered and rejected Bear (not quite big or hairy enough), Leather (not quite leathery enough), and Guy Next Door (not quite next door enough) before settling on Daddy, mostly because it was the only thing left, and it’s apparently what you are when you’re 48 and have a beard. Assigning favored positions and sexual turn-ons required wading through even more options, none of which was It’s Been So Long that I Don’t Remember. Weary of the whole thing, under interests I listed “tattooed soccer dads, creepy clown films, and the smell of the 1974 Sear’s Wish Book.”
I’m curious as to why my current conversation partner decided to contact me, as his list of favored activities suggests a robust and varied sex life involving a lot of accessories, every possible bodily fluid, and complicated machinery. I consider making up an excuse to cut things short, but I dislike being rude. Besides, my mother won’t be ready for bed for another hour, and I have nothing else to do.
I write back and explain to him that yes, I live with my mother, and why. He writes back immediately to say that his grandmother had Alzheimer’s and he knows how hard it is. “You must be a good guy to do this,” he tells me.
This is not the first time someone has made this assumption, but the first time it’s come from someone who moments before showed me his ass and stated his desire for me to play with it. I find this unexpected turn of events intriguing, and so while Moana and the demigod Maui go in search of the heart of Te Fiti, I continue the conversation, which quickly shifts away from what my new friend would like me to do to him to how difficult it is being so removed from gay life.
I wind up telling him about the past six years, and how my life has changed. He tells me about how he ended an unfulfilling relationship, discovered he was into BDSM, and found a partner who encourages him to explore his boundaries. I mention his dog, whose name I discover is Garth. I send him pictures of my four pups, and we talk about the joys of pet parenting, and how dogs keep us grounded in the here and now.
When my mother starts yawning, I bid my buddy a good night so that I can begin the process of getting her settled. He extends an open invitation to meet up sometime at his favorite bar, the Baltimore Eagle. “It would do you good to get out,” he tells me.
He’s right. It would. But right now I have to put my mother to bed. When I’m done, I sit down to enjoy my first time alone since getting her up 12 hours earlier. I try to read, but I find myself instead looking up directions to the Baltimore Eagle. It’s 59 miles away, a little more than an hour’s drive. But right now, it might as well be on Mars. Still, this unexpected exchange with a stranger has reminded me that there’s life out there, waiting for me when I’m ready to meet it.
Michael Thomas Ford recently received his 14th Lambda Literary Award nomination, for his novel LILY. Visit him at michaelthomasford.com.