V. 

Late December, we met at Kava on 40th and 9th for a late dinner. His cheap wool peacoat and large white knit circle scarf sat lifeless in a pile beside him as he sat calmly in the far left booth awaiting my arrival. We both ordered soup, and when he walked me home, he kissed me outside of the lobby, his face green from the reflection of Christmas lights above him.  He sighed and a plume of cold air spiraled upward. “I’ll text you!” he smiled. 

I went back to school that January, with an early love kept in the air as easily as a helium balloon. We tapped it back and forth between Ithaca and New York City contently and curiously with poems, weekend visits, and dirty videos. Summer came with ease and a job scooping ice cream at a vegan dessert shop on the Lower East Side. He’d visit me as we closed, my boss offering him cake batter soft serve as I mopped—weary, grateful and proud of my faux adult life. My knees would be sore from standing, my wallet slim from lack of cash tips, and still I smiled as we wandered to the R train, the night only just beginning now that we were together. 

Winter came again, and with it 2 months of uninterrupted bliss in his Queens 2-bedroom apartment. What was his was now mine. I’d bundle up in his circle scarf running out to our bodega for cookie dough, my brown canvas jacket hanging on the bedroom door, wondering what our next adventure would be. Astoria felt like home—my toothbrush behind the mirror, the bedroom floor littered with my underwear, and a spare phone charger underneath his desk. Radiators hissed and clanged while we nuzzled on his steel gray couch, ignorant to the noise. 

Our relationship was homemade sushi, failed attempts at cauliflower pizza crust, and 5 for $5 avocados. It was the local barber who referred to us as special friends, and it was a drive to Hudson for our 1 year anniversary where I fell asleep instead of taking a hike, and the chicken was undercooked no matter how many times we put it back in the oven. It was yoga on the roof, and tracing his face in the sun, counting the golden wires that sprang up from his cheeks and chin. Specks of dust danced in the sunlight as I kissed the wrinkles around his eyes good morning. He loved to make things from scratch—an adventurous albeit amateur chef—and he hated when I was late, which was often.  

In the spring, things ended as neatly as they started. Distance can erode just about anything, especially yielding doubt and ungratefulness as tools, effective and painful with their sandpaper-like resolve. It whittles and scrapes at a statue of togetherness until it is something entirely different—fear, resentment, or my least favorite: indifference. Poems lost their charm, weekend visits grew tedious, and dirty videos became obligatory if not dissatisfying. With a semester in London looming, and 2 more years of school after that, the shelf life of playing pretend every 3 weekends and during the summer made the future look stale. A phone call in a bagel shop – “I guess this is it, huh?” – and Astoria was his again. 

Jose Useche is an actor and writer from Queens, NY. As a writer, his web series pilot SLUT has received laurels from the Official Latino Film Festival, the Baltimore Next Media Web Fest (where it won best LGBTQ Web-Series), the Chicago Pride Film Festival, and Web Series Festival Global. Jose has written jokes and questions for SCRUFF’s in-app game show HOSTING, and does communications for several LGBTQ nonprofits including the Arcus Foundation, the Transgender Law Center, and PFLAG NYC. His personal blog, Manic Hispanic, has garnered over 10,000 hits in its lifetime.

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