Notes for a Moth Story Called “Johannes”*

Nothing too long or drawn out.

Ten minutes, perhaps less. Use straightforward language. Simple sentences. No Jamesian syntax or vocabulary David Foster Wallace would likely approve of. The tone could either be sad, or it could be self-deprecating. Maybe both.

The story is going to be about friendship. More than that, it is a story about the loss of that friendship.

Because a Moth story is not complete without a touch of humor, I would begin by saying that, like all great friendships, ours, Johannes and mine, began on an app called Tinder. I would tell them that I swiped right only because—and I am not ashamed to admit it—he was blond, and I’ve always had a soft spot for blond guys. That he also turned out to be tall was just the cherry on top.

I would immediately tell my audience that it is not how they picture the story is going to be, because right off the bat Johannes and me made it very clear that we were not looking for a quick moment of passion, nor a friendship with certain benefits. If we were to ever meet IRL, there would be none of the not-so-subtle attempts, so common at the outset of all gay relationships, to discern whether or not we were sexually compatible and get in each other’s pants.

Which was just as well, since what we turned out having was greater that any hook up I’ve ever experienced, and more fulfilling than any casual flings.

On paper, he was the best friend anyone could ever ask for. He was kind, caring, generous, compassionate, thoughtful, and, above all, he never forgets to text me back. Ever. That is maybe one of my most grievous pet peeves: people I like not texting me back. I could send Johannes a message at 2AM and if he’s awake he would reply to me in a jiffy; if he’s not, it would be the first thing he would do in the morning. He was also the kind of person you could talk to about everything and nothing, from the meaningful to the mundane. Nothing was off topic, and each of them will be treated with the same amount of reverence.

He would cook me dinner, put a jacket on my shoulder on a chilly night, invite me to clubs, and would come look for me in the same clubs in the event that I find myself wasted and adrift and dancing with random nobodies.

I don’t think everyone understands how meaningful it is to be able to drop pop culture references in casual conversations and having someone understand them, and more than that, respond to them with an equally relevant reference.

He listens to the same songs that I do, watch the same YouTubers I do. Even the video games I loved playing as a small boy he also played, despite the four-year difference between us.

The best thing about Johannes was that he had a sense of humor so similar to mine that every conversation, every interaction had the potential to be a gag. I don’t think everyone understands how meaningful it is to be able to drop pop culture references in casual conversations and having someone understand them, and more than that, respond to them with equally relevant references.

There was no second guessing with Johannes. If he says he wants to hang out with you, he means it. In fact, if it happens that he could not commit to a specific date, he would be the first one to suggest alternative dates or plan other things you could do instead.

He was overall a great person. His only character flaw, really, was that he grew up uninfluenced by any Disney animated film—a fact that I have failed to wrap my head around.

Early in our friendship, I made the mistake of making a move on him. How could I not? In a sea of cold, aloof, emotionally-stunted gays in Berlin, he was the first person who showed me real warmth and genuine affection, so obviously I was all over him, despite the fact that we had prior to that agreed that we won’t try anything with each other. And so one evening, finding ourselves in his bed watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I had maneuvered my head into his lap, and, driven by one-too-many glasses of vegan white wine, reached up behind his neck and drew his head down toward mine.

Without giving the audience too many TMIs, I would just basically tell them that we, Johannes and me, decided to try and see where things can go. From that point forward, things pretty much remained the same between us, except that now I could actually make out with him and cuddle unabashedly.

In a sea of cold, aloof, emotionally-stunted gays in Berlin, he was the first person who showed me real warmth and genuine affection

The first indication I had that something was not quite right was when I found myself on the U-bahn during a late hour on my way home from his place. He had not asked me to stay the night. Now, I don’t know about you, but in my experience, every guy I have ever been with casually or otherwise, once we reached past a certain hour of the night, has always asked me to stay the night.

Days later, we found ourselves in bed and being the libidinous person that I am, tried to initiate something with him. He was uneasy with my touch, obviously reluctant to reciprocate. Frustrated, I gave up. Later he would tell me that we had been giving the both of us some thought, and decided that he was not ready for a relationship. He said he did not want to lose me. Neither did I. So despite how hard it was for me to stay friends, we did.

It wasn’t until weeks later that he would finally confide in me: he still wasn’t over his ex, and was in fact trying to figure out whether or not he should get back to him. He told me this as we were watching the summer sun set, the sky ablaze with oranges and blues. For brief moment, I resented him for it. And to a greater degree, I resented his ex. Because Johannes could have had me, who was within reach, who was willing to offer myself to him in whatever capacity he wanted, needed. Instead he pined for someone who treated him badly and was not even in the same continent.

Curiously, miraculously, after the night, our relationship took a turn for the better. I was willing go let go of that missed opportunity and focus instead on our friendship and how it could thrive. And our friendship, despite that initial bout awkwardness (like having the knowledge of what each other’s lips felt like, of knowing what our dicks looked like hard), was better than ever. It was as if nothing had changed between the two of us, as if no secrets about past lovers had been revealed, and we were just carrying on from where we last left off.

In that short amount of time he became such an integral part of my daily life that it was hard to imagine him not being in it. I would invite him over for a mojito I’d lovingly make for us. I would introduce him to my closest friends. I would share with him the most personal of experiences not another soul has ever heard. It was because I trusted him, and I did consider him as my closest friend. And he was. I recall one night sending him a message in the middle of the night, nothing of import, just some meme, just so that I could fill that lonely silence that has become my life in Berlin with another human presence. In less than a minute, he replied with another meme.

The fondest memory I have of Johannes was during a wrought time in my life. I was needing a surgery, and because I was all alone, afraid, and didn’t have anyone else to turn to, I asked him to come with me to the surgeon’s office. I remember waiting for my name to be called. It was early morning, 9AM, and he was sitting next to me willing and uncomplaining as he worked on his stuff for university on his laptop. I never mentioned this to him, but I remember physically and painfully trying to force my tears back under the white fluorescent light of the clinic because in my life no friend has ever sacrificed that much for me and without needing anything in return, and I was so fucking grateful that I didn’t know how else to process it.

Now, when I feel my audience drifting, as any audience is wont to do in the middle of any performance, I would causally segue into my climax in a stroke of genius George R. R. Martin would find admirable.

I would tell them that toward the end of our friendship (even though at that time I didn’t know that it was the beginning of the end—funny how hindsight works sometimes), something shifted between us, and I still cannot place my finger on it to this day.

I started seeing this guy from Argentina, and I was not at all subtle about it. The only rationale behind it was that, not unlike a child with a new toy, I had something new and shiny and wanted to show it off. I flaunted it on my Instagram and to anyone who had the patience or the benevolence to listen.

Although I never talked about it with Johannes, and even tough he never once brought it up, I knew that he knew about it because I saw that he saw my Instagram stories.

For some reason that remains inexplicable to me, he gradually stopped responding to my messages as he had previously done. I would send him a text message, a casual text we typically sent each other to remind one that the other existed, and it would lack a certain humor, a certain verve I had come to expect from his messages. At this point, he also stopped reaching out to me and he stopped inviting me over. Because I could sometimes be obtuse, I persevered and would muscle my way into eliciting the responses I had so grown accustomed from him. I would pretend that nothing was wrong all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

I never blocked his number, because deep in my heart I was hoping that he would one day reach out to me and try to make amends.

Eventually his messages stopped coming, and, frustrated that I wasn’t getting through this new barrier, I stopped reaching out to him. To be honest, I was hurt and angry and a little indignant. I thought to myself, if he could not be happy for me then he was not a true friend to begin with. In my mind, I did nothing wrong. If anything, he should be the one trying to restore our friendship to its previous condition, not me.

Because the whole situation pained me so much, and on top of it I felt betrayed, I ended up unfollowing him everywhere. I deleted his number from my phone book and never again tried to reach out to him, and, to my dismay, neither did he. I never blocked his number, because deep in my heart I was hoping that he would one day reach out to me and try to make amends.

To this day I’m still waiting.

To end, I would say that there is not much else I could tell my audience about Johannes, except that he came into my life when I needed a friend the most. I would tell them that it is okay to outlast people. It does not mean the connection was false or meaningless: Once a butterfly emerges, its cocoon has served its purpose, but it doesn’t mean that the cocoon didn’t have value. The last time I reached out to Johannes he ignored my message altogether. That was a few days ago. Maybe it was a good thing, for both him and me, and maybe it was not. When it comes to these things, you never truly know. If he had responded, I would have told him good luck, because in September he would be going abroad to study, and I would tell him that I am happy for him, genuinely, honestly, in all perpetuity. Because I am.

Lately I find my thoughts drifting back to him. I suspect that I am still not done grieving the death of that friendship. Because it was and still is the most meaningful connection I have had with anyone since I arrived in this city almost a year ago. If there is one thing that helps me cope it is the thought that “grief is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

End note: tell the audience thank you and have a nice evening.

——

* The Moth is a live storytelling event where anyone, regardless of pedigree or profession, can share their story in front of a living, breathing, responding audience. I am not, in fact, performing at the Moth. I never have, and perhaps would never want to—despite the thrill and liberation and limited prestige to may offer. However, I find it interesting to imagine myself upon its stage delivering a personal story to a sea of largely impersonal crowd. What I like the most about the stories shared on the Moth stage is that they are incomplete stories. They may conclude, but they never impart a sense of ending; their narrative continues on, partly because their storytellers continue living it. Moreover, the stories told on the Moth stage impose a semblance of order in an otherwise disjointed series of events. They have a way of drawing meaning from what is largely a dark and senseless period. In this regard, it is not unlike the act of writing. And it is perhaps for this reason that I am so drawn to the Moth and the way the event is structured. I’ve never written for catharsis; that, I believe is a different impulse entirely. I’ve always written to make clear what is in my head that I cannot understand. I write so I can impose a language to the gibberish that is my thoughts. And for quite some time now I have been trying to come to terms with what happened with Johannes and me and failing. This is my attempt to at least look at it at a remove in the hope that I could somehow draw some meaning from it, impose some structure.

© Featured Image by Ellen Munro

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