Scarred

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jon Cuevas

The walls are bare, ex­cept for the in­ten­tion­ally sooth­ing paint­ing of what I can guess is an al­ba­tross perched on a stone in the San Francisco bay, a paint­ing you could prob­a­bly find eas­ily at Mar­shall’s on dis­count. I sat there with con­fi­dence. My last ap­point­ments were noth­ing but pos­i­tive and as­sur­ing. I had no rea­son to be ner­vous, but then again, I was see­ing my car­di­ol­o­gist for a rea­son.

About two months be­fore, I’m pe­rus­ing my usual web des­ti­na­tions in an ef­fort to stall pro­duc­tiv­ity at my job. A lo­cal San Fran­cis­can blog tweets that an HBO se­ries shoot­ing in the Bay Area is look­ing for ex­tras for an up­com­ing bar scene. They’re call­ing for “hip­sters and leather en­thu­si­asts.” I feel like I could fit at least half of those de­scrip­tions so I sub­mit the most hand­some photo I could find of my­self. That same night, I get an overly com­pli­ment­ing re­sponse from agents say­ing they love my look and, if in­ter­ested, they will send me the de­tails for the day of the shoot.

That early morn­ing, I re­port on lo­ca­tion. Cor­ralled into a makeshift stag­ing area at a lo­cal bar, I check in at a desk and find a seat at an empty ta­ble to await fur­ther in­struc­tion. Ex­cite­ment and en­ergy are high. We are go­ing to be on TV. Sex­ual ten­sion is flow­ing. It’s a gay bar scene, and real (and fake) gay men are all around. After a cou­ple of failed at­tempts at ini­tial friend-mak­ing with an older stout man and leather-clad twink, I look to my right and no­tice a blue Hawai­ian shirt, SF Gi­ants cap, and huge glasses on a cute guy. Dur­ing breaks, he and I find our­selves in the same cir­cle of tem­po­rary friends and we have pedes­trian con­ver­sa­tions about the cute ac­tors, how sur­pris­ingly okay the free food tastes and what we all do for work in our reg­u­lar lives. After the last scene of the day, a crowd of gays danc­ing the night away, ev­ery­one starts to make their way to­wards the exit and I no­tice he hangs back be­hind the crowd as I wait my turn to egress. We ap­proach one another half­way, and agree that we should meet for a real drink in a real-life bar some­time.

Weeks later, walk­ing into that real-life bar, I’m un­sure why we are there. Is this a date? Is he look­ing for more friends who may be ac­tors? Is he even into boys? Re­gard­less, I roll with it and we sip on whiskey and Man­hat­tans over con­ver­sa­tion. We ex­change sto­ries of baby neph­ews, life in the city, and dead par­ents. I’m hav­ing a good time and think I’m mak­ing a cool new friend. But then he leans over and tells me, “I think you’re re­ally cute,” and we de­cide to walk to another bar. En route, he stops me and kisses me in the street. He is into boys. We are on a date.

More weeks pass and we con­tinue to date and see one another. I get con­cerned that it’s re­ally just so we can make out and roll around

in bed. But I sup­pose I’m okay with that. To fully ex­pose my­self is un­think­able. But while he is va­ca­tion­ing and vis­it­ing friends on the East Coast, I re­ceive Gmail up­dates of his trip. I start to miss him and I re­al­ize that it may be turn­ing into some­thing more. I re­ally like him and I’m un­be­liev­ably hun­gry for him to come back to San Francisco. After his re­turn, I find my­self there again ly­ing in my bed with him. He tells me sto­ries of his trip. I tell him how my Thanks­giv­ing was. He tells me he picked up some Ta­ga­log words from an old col­lege buddy. Then he looks over and asks me to be his “joa.” I’m un­fa­mil­iar with this par­tic­u­lar Ta­ga­log word, and then he fur­ther ex­plains he is ask­ing me to be his boyfriend. A rush of ex­cite­ment, doubt, con­cern, and com­fort come over me. Boozy din­ners, long con­ver­sa­tions, morn­ing-after break­fast chef’ing, and now real-life boyfriends? I want to yell yes, but I hes­i­tate.

Months be­fore meet­ing him, I was hav­ing prob­lems with another boyfriend. We were liv­ing to­gether but un­happy. It should’ve ended years ago. But he was a man that had agreed to be with me. Se­cu­rity trumped vul­ner­a­bil­ity. And on the sur­face, we were the premier gay cou­ple in our cir­cle. But at home, we had lit­tle to noth­ing to share. I made ex­cuses for ev­ery­thing. The story isn’t un­heard of. Lost love with no true ori­gin.

It’s been some time since I lost my par­ents. I’m out of a re­la­tion­ship that felt de­struc­tive to my own self-worth. I am look­ing into a new ocean of pos­si­bil­i­ties. And I cer­tainly don’t ex­pect any more big, lifechang­ing news. But that day, sit­ting in the doc­tor’s of­fice, I find out I am not as free as I thought.

For two months, I’d been con­sis­tently com­ing down with flu-type symp­toms that kept hit­ting me like clock­work. After the third or fourth oc­cur­rence, a car­di­ol­o­gist found my aor­tic heart valve had been in­fected with bac­te­ria and needed to be treated with a three-month-long in­tra­venous an­tibi­otic. That long-term IV line cured the in­fec­tion, and I thought I was back to nor­mal, but dur­ing this process we also learned that I was born with a bi­cus­pid aor­tic valve. Where my heart should have three doors to open and shut when pump­ing blood through my body, I only have two.

Surely I’ve gone through it. I am done. But the doc­tor walks in and in the most somber and frank tone he tells me it’s time to start plan­ning my surgery. My open-heart surgery. Be­fore I am even thirty. That pesky in­fec­tion left my al­ready de­formed heart to func­tion im­prop­erly. And as a re­sult, the cen­tral or­gan of my life is grow­ing to an un­sus­tain­able size. He tells me if I do noth­ing, at this rate I prob­a­bly won’t live past forty. I feel numb and con­fused.

But he was a man that had agreed to be with me. Se­cu­rity trumped vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

By this time, it isn’t of­fi­cial, but I think I am in love with my HBO boyfriend. But it is way too early for love to even be a thought. I am ready to go at this alone, I think. I’m not used to hav­ing to need some­one. In the course of heal­ing fol­low­ing my par­ents’ deaths, I’ve learned how to live life in­de­pen­dently. My pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship wasn’t warm, and to pro­tect my­self from that same kind of hurt, I learned how to hold and swal­low feel­ings. But now this new boyfriend wants to change all of that. He wants me to open up; he wants me to cry to him and tell him how angry I am that I have to have my chest sawed apart. He says he wants to be there and care for me. But what does this re­ally mean? Is he go­ing to bring me food when I’m too weak? Is he go­ing to sit with me while I rot in a hos­pi­tal bed? Is he even go­ing to want to still be with me? Just a few months of dat­ing, and now I have to ask him to be a care­taker. It feels ab­surd. But I have never felt more de­fense­less. Emotionally and phys­i­cally, I need him desperately.

Swal­low­ing feel­ings is no longer an op­tion be­cause now I am spilling out all over. Now I am left to be­come a man in my twen­ties who ob­sesses over his blood INR lev­els, whether or not he can eat a serv­ing of kale, and sched­ul­ing so­cial gath­er­ings around rou­tine echocar­dio­grams. I have never felt more scat­tered.

I come out of surgery smoothly. And I make peace with my new heart. A life of for­ever doc­tor ap­point­ments. A life of blood thin­ners. A life of the au­di­ble tick­ing from a new me­chan­i­cal heart valve that will con­stantly re­mind me that I needed fix­ing. And to top it off, I have this huge war wound smack down the mid­dle of my chest. My male torso is tar­nished. Most gay men would be dev­as­tated to have some of their prime real es­tate de­vi­ate even fur­ther away from Ado­nis. I am about 50% dev­as­tated. I’m not one of those gays who is ob­nox­iously proud of his body; I am prob­a­bly closer to the other end of the spec­trum. Ad­di­tion­ally, I am simultaneously try­ing to nav­i­gate my own fab­ri­cated phys­i­cal ex­pec­ta­tions of my new boyfriend. The bit of con­fi­dence I did have is now marked with a dis­col­ored, raised col­lec­tion of tis­sue. I should still be in the stage of mak­ing sure I am prop­erly de­odor­ized and ob­sess­ing if my pubes are im­mac­u­lately groomed.

In­stead, I ask him to pick me up a cup of soup and a tube of Me­d­erma. And he doesn’t even flinch at the thought. When I try to hide and cover up, he looks di­rectly at me. It’s oddly un­set­tling, but I ac­tu­ally don’t have to go at this alone. I learn to lay shirt­less again. Even next to the man who tells me he loves me, I still feel em­bar­rassed. But then he leans over and he kisses the mid­dle of my chest.

Most gay men would be dev­as­tated to have some of their prime real es­tate de­vi­ate even fur­ther away from Ado­nis.

Jon Cuevas, a Bay Area na­tive, fills time with tak­ing dance classes, read­ing more YA than he should, be­ing out­doors, and pry­ing his hands off video game con­trollers. But mostly, you can find him in the kitchen. @JonCCuevas on Twit­ter.

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