Sal and I see each other every year or two. He’s the last of the three men in college that I tried to attach myself to, but unlike with the other two, once the infatuation faded, I still wanted to be his friend.
Sal is an extraordinary person — affectionate, compassionate, and profoundly unconventional. He led a life that, at the time, I considered extremely romantic: never staying in one place for too long, picking up a job here or there, going homeless for long stretches of time. He’s also the only straight guy I know who likes hugs more than I do, and he doesn’t seem to wonder whether people think he’s odd for it.
By the time I became friends with him, I had learned what could happen when I didn’t guard my heart, and how easily affection could turn into obsession and dependency. We were roommates my senior year, which was the only year he spent there before moving on to something else.
He was hard to guard against, though. Once, before spring break, he gave me a poem he had written for me. Nothing sappy, nothing particularly about me, but it was for me, written with me in mind. I remember standing on the porch at home, reading the thing and feeling the warmth spread. Feeling pleased and worried at the same time, because I knew where that warmth could lead. It had happened twice before and I was terrified that it would happen again.
The first few years of our friendship were a battle for me. I was learning how to be close to another man without being too close; to admire but not to worship, to let down my walls without erasing my boundaries. Our occasional visits were intense and poignant: standing next to all that warmth, I wanted to throw myself into the fire.
A lot has happened since those years. I’ve learned a lot about standing on my own, not depending on others too much for my sense of self, being my own man. But I was still knocked for a little bit of a loop when Sal showed up at my door a few weeks ago, at the end of a spell of vagrancy, wondering if I was looking for a roommate.
He’s been sleeping on the couch since then. He’s got a job at the gas station down the road, working the graveyard shift. I don’t exactly know what to do with him. We’re as close as we’ve ever been, but the old charge is all but gone, thank God. I’ve prayed about it, I’ve sought the advice of Father T, and in both cases the answer has been the same: Do what you want to do, and what you think is best.
Just got to figure out what that is.