Dear Birthday Guy

By Alan Semrow

unnamed (2).jpg

It wasn’t easy getting through to you. Before finally being driven over in the Uber, that fine November morning, I may or may not have muttered something to the effect of:

Fuckin’ tops these days.

You’re right. I needed to chill. But, at the time you came along, in my mind, one disappointment could have caused a downpour on the parade I’d been prancing around in all weekend.

The night before, a group of some of my favorite people in the whole world had taken me out and, the entire time, proved over and over and over again why I was so lucky to have each of them in my life. Mostly, it was humbling—it made me see that I was so much less capable of going above and beyond in the way they did. I’d formed a circle of a rare breed of humans who don’t put themselves first.

What did I do to deserve this? When I was younger, that question carried a darker weight.

At exactly 11:55 pm, five minutes before we planned to ring it all in, I left my circle at the bar. By that point in the night, there was a very low chance of topping the joy I felt. Staying out longer and slipping further into excess—that could have only dampened things. The year before you, it had been an education of sorts. Now, I was twenty-six years old and starting to go about things just a little bit differently. Just a little. I’d learned a few lessons.

In the morning, I woke to nothing but a slight hangover and a message from you:


We’d been playing this game for a while now.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes, please.”

It took time and total impatience on my part for us to get the plan in place. You were online. You were offline. Green light. You were showering. No light. Back on. Finally, you were giving me your address. By around nine o’clock, it was officially on. I got ready and dialed the Uber. The driver, a guy probably in his upper thirties, he asked me, “So, what are your plans for such a nice day?”

I explained that I’m meeting an old friend right now. And, after this, I planned to meet others for brunch.

“Well then, happy birthday,” he said. “It’s a great day for a birthday.”

And it was. It was one of those strangely warm November days when the grass is damp and the world is quiet, but the air, it feels refreshing and the sun is still shining bright. It was different from years before. I’d been living in the city almost exactly a year and three months and, quite deeply, I had experienced change. Before this, I spent a year heartbroken, in a lapse of self-imposed exile, in a very small city where I never intended to spend the rest of my life. Here, I managed to make up for what I see as lost time. I met a lot of people. I formed bonds. I found real fondness for a lot of very different men. Mostly, I lived the shit out of that year, and surfaced from it feeling more grateful, more self-assured, more at ease, more accepting—maybe even, dare I say, more patient.

In the lead-up to the move, a friend told me that a new location wouldn’t change who I was deep down—that a change of scenery was incapable of changing who a person really was. I now can safely call bullshit on that. At twenty-six, I was changed. And today—this day when I met you—I guess, I felt that I deserved to celebrate the fact.

Once the driver parked the Prius, I looked down at my phone screen—just to make sure we were in the place where your directions said I needed to be. The white door opened. It was you standing and waving. A butterfly fluttered down into the pit of my stomach. You looked just like your pictures.

I thanked the driver and ran over to you. I tapped your arm and then got attacked by the dog who, with her rapid and energetic jumping movements, practically pummeled me into the inside wall.

We followed her up the stairs. At the top, I scanned the room and said, “This is a really nice place.” You had this urban vibe going on and almost no furniture.

“Thanks. My roommate just moved out. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it.”

You gave me the tour. It took about thirty seconds. You pointed at the vacant room with the blue walls. You said this is now the dog’s room. “Do you want any coffee?”

I’d already managed to down a pot that morning. But, hell yes, I wanted to taste what your coffee tasted like. Because that’s already what you were doing to me.

“My neighbor roasts his own beans,” you said. “You’ll really like this.”

This is two people hanging out, talking about nothing in particular, laughing—being criminally casual. Standing on the other side of the counter from you, I felt this real need to have a good time—as almost a requirement of sorts. For now, that was it—to be able to leave knowing that you were pleased and that I was too. And that maybe that was enough—though I now assume there were mountains of other emotions you were quite capable of making me feel. And, I, the same for you.

We took the coffee into the bedroom. You had some tiny paintings on the wall. I wondered if you made them, but didn’t ask. I don’t know why. I guess, it’s because going into the bedroom usually means that two people are about to get a little more vulnerable with each other—and the mind starts racing.

I tried the coffee. You were right.

On the bed together, while scrolling through your Apple TV, you asked what kind of movies I liked. I threw out a few titles, but I also knew there was no time for us to watch some full-blown blockbuster. I had friends expecting me in an hour.

I think it was the moment I wrapped my hand around your arm that we stepped away from ourselves. In slow-mo, our lips drew to that place and, once they did, I couldn’t stop kissing your face.

Afterwards, cradled around your body, our hands clenching each other’s, you said:

I like the sounds that you make.

I wasn’t sure what your day might look like after I left, but I wanted to know how you might go about it.

What I had been so far able to infer was that, compared to mine, you lived a quieter life. As I got shitbombed downtown the night before, you stayed in and had wine with the neighbor who roasts his own coffee beans. Maybe it was better to remove yourself from the noise, from the temptation.

To pay a lot less for a lot more square footage. To focus on other things.

We found ourselves, dressed again, and standing in the kitchen. You pointed at the park out the back window and said that’s where you like to take the dog. I asked about the blue tape around the edges of the wall. You explained why the paint job was unfinished, but I didn’t understand what you meant.

People were waiting for me. I had to go to them. I asked you, “Does my hair look like I just had sex?” You laughed. “They would have known regardless.”

And it’s true. Especially after certain times.

After I dialed in the Uber, you walked me down the steps. That’s when we fell into it again, against the white wall. I don’t know what it was. I said to you, “Why can’t I keep my hands off you?”

“Probably for good reason.”

You asked if my birthday was off to a good start. But that hardly needed an answer.

“You seem like a chill guy,” you said. “We should do this again.”

It wasn’t a promise by any means, but you still had me nailed against the wall and kissed me once more.

We came up for breath and you explained where the Uber would meet me. I said, “It’ll be funny when the driver asks what I’ve been up to this morning.”

I made my way up around the mulch and the grass and the trees to wait in the spot you told me to. The driver arrived and I boarded the Honda. And yes, she asked exactly that question.

To which I laughed and explained nothing, because I wanted to hold it with me.