He first met Mark at one of those Japanese restaurants where they cook at the table. He had invited a friend from school in New York who lived nearby his parents' house in Connecticut to meet during Christmas vacation. Instead of bringing a date; his friend brought Mark. He thought his friend was crazy; Mark appeared to be about 16 years old, and surely wouldn't get served alcohol (which was the reason this particular Japanese restaurant was chosen, certainly not the insipidly over-marinated, poor-quality steaks for which they could charge a fortune because the chef juggled them right in front of one's face before serving). An evening like this would've been much better spent, he thought on behalf of his friend, with one of the very, very pretty young women his friend was notorious for having in his company at nearly all times. Worse, he'd hoped that his friend would bring yet another very, very pretty young woman; perhaps a Christmas fling for him.

It turned out that Mark indeed got served. He was right, in a way, about the age difference; Mark was 18 and a senior in high school - he and his friend were juniors in college. The difference between 18 and 22 (at that period in one's life) is enormous, normally. While he and his friend got more and more loquacious as the drinks kept coming, Mark merely added a few words here and there. What amazed him was that Mark's words were chosen very carefully and were those of a person far more mature than a high school senior. Mark was also graced with the rare talent of making one he spoke to feel like the only one in the room.

The three parted company in the parking lot and he drove slowly back to his parents' home, his thoughts totally ignorant of what had gone through his head on the way to the restaurant (Christmas shopping, his folks, whom of his high-school chums he'd look up). His head was full of the sight and the sound of Mark.

Laying awake that night, he felt myriad feelings he'd not recalled feeling before. The best way to describe it was a giddy sort of fear. He finally fell asleep.

The next day his friend called. The conversation was awkward. This conversation would best be conducted with the aid of some alcohol. The two arranged to meet at a local watering hole. He got there early and fortified with two double whiskeys. Without going into great detail, the conversation revealed that his friend, and Mark, had grown up next door to one another and were still friendly. Absent a date, his friend decided he'd do a little partying with Mark. Both college buddies had Christmas shopping to do, and parted after only another two rounds.

He steadied his hands on the steering wheel of his car as he drove to the clothing store where he intended to buy his brother a sweater. He was trembling; and feeling that giddy/fearful feeling again.

It took him until the day after Christmas to get up the courage. He drove by his friend's house and didn't spot his friend's car. He spotted Mark's car parked in the driveway of a humble ranch next door. Three times he drove past the house; the fourth, he pulled into the driveway, behind Mark's car. He grabbed an old scarf from the back of his car, walked up to the door and rang.

A very attractive woman of about fifty answered the door. She invited him in, and asked who he was. He explained that he'd been out with Mark and his friend and that Mark had left the scarf at the restaurant. By now he nearly wanted to vomit he was so anxious and detested himself for lying so ridiculously. What would she think about a guy who was a total stranger and obviously older who'd given her son alcohol at some restaurant?

"I'll go get him, sit down and make yourself at home." This woman was genuinely friendly. He noticed that she was dressed in tie-dye and wore a lot of silver and tourquoise jewelry.

Mark had heard the lie. "Thanks. I just got this. Sorry you went out of your way. Hey, do you wanna see some of my work?"

"Er, sure." He was getting more and more nervous by the minute. Giddy/fearful. Giddy/fearful.

Mark's basement room was filled with drawings in pencil, charcoal and pastel. Clay sculptures of castles lined shelves on one wall. All at once he wanted to stay for a while but fear overcame him and he decided to offer his praise and go as soon as he could. Before he left, Mark asked what he was doing for New Year's Eve. He'd planned on spending it back in the city, but he blurted out "nothing much - probably at a bar." Mark wrote down an address and a name. Mark was inviting him to a party. Curiouser and curiouser. Giddy/fearful. Giddy/fearful.

The night arrived. Loud music he couldn't identify blasted from the house. The front lawn looked like a high-school parking lot; junkers galore. Entering the house, he asked a couple standing near the door where the host was. They pointed to the kitchen. He introduced himself, was handed a beer and glad-handed by a young man about his own age. He asked where Mark was. "Satisfying his insatiable urge for the pleasures of the flesh...in my fucking parents' bedroom," was the host's reply. About a half hour of nervous waiting and awkward introductions later, Mark emerged from a hallway, holding hands with a very attractive blonde girl. Their hair was tousled.

Immediately Mark dropped the girl's hand and walked over to his guest. Mark inquired as to how things were going, and if he'd met the host. Then, quickly grabbing the girl and blurting out "meet Sarah," he gestured toward the basement stairs.

The fog in the basement was 75% grass and 25% cigarette smoke. Bongs and joints were everywhere. The conversation was mostly about the quality and quantity of marijuana that had been brought by the various guests. He thanked his lucky stars that he had brought something. Something good. City bud.

Fast forward to about 1:00 in the morning. "Could you drive me home?" Mark had come with Sarah. He felt it his duty to ask why Mark wasn't driving home with Sarah. "I'm over that; c'mon, it's gonna get hairy around here in a little while."

When they got to Mark's house, Mark invited him in. He sat down in the kitchen. Mark cracked two beers (as if they needed two more) and reached into his pocket. Four hits of blotter acid were enclosed in a tiny zip-lock bag. Mark asked "do you trip? He had, a few times. Mark conveyed, in many more words than need be included herein, that getting high on hallucinogens was a sacred thing for him that must be done in safe, comfortable surroundings; that he enjoyed it thoroughly, and could not in the presence of the huge, raucous crowd they'd just left.

"Where's your mom?"

"She goes away with her boyfriend for New Years. She'll be back in two days."

They took the beers to Mark's basement room - the 'inner sanctum' of visual stimuli of his own creation. Mark took two tabs and placed them under his tongue. The tiny bag with the remaining two was offered to him, and he accepted. Mark got up and played a tape, and began to explain the story behind each work of art that hung on the walls and sat on the shelves. He was in awe of the beauty before his eyes and the beauty in each brief story.

Within an hour, they both agreed that not only were the walls "breathing," but that their collective consciousness was full of color and sounds that they agreed anyone who hadn't consumed what they had would be totally ignorant of. He was sweating. Mark invited him to remove his shirt, get comfortable; and as he did, so did Mark.

At that very moment it hit him like a ton of bricks what was so familiar about the giddy/fearful feeling. He'd felt that before, long ago, at age 14 when he and a male friend lay in bed together masturbating and kissing. Mark's physique was awesome; sculpted and, well, exciting. That caused his giddy/fearful feeling to intensify, and momentarily become more fearful than giddy. They sat in silence, looking into each other's eyes; communicating but not saying a word. He had to break the silence.

"You work out?"

"Nope. Just sit-ups, push-ups and running." Mark got on the floor and began doing push-ups furiously. After about fifty, he sat back down, red-faced and sweating now, himself, and took off his jeans. "What a rush!" That was Mark's attempt to break the silence.

He took off his own jeans and commented that he was out of shape.

Those words remained suspended in the air for what seemed to him like an eternity. He couldn't keep his eyes off of Mark. Mark looked at him and finally broke the silence yet again. "Come over here."

They kissed. They embraced. They played. He whispered, "this is fun." Mark laughed heartily and continued. Their contact continued in all manner and fashion, from fervent to near-tantric (that being especially rewarding while tripping). It was broad daylight when their stop-start, talk/silent celebration ended, both of them exhausted. The drug began to wear off, and they smoked a joint and drank peppermint tea in the kitchen. Then they slept - separately. It was over.

It was his impression that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He was wrong.

Similar peak-experiences were his privilege with this beautiful, generous man every New Year's Eve for the next five years. It was a tradition, held secret and sacred between them. Three out of the five years Mark visited him in New York on his birthday and they enjoyed similar celebrations of total trust, freedom and physical and mental stimulation.

One spring day, a letter arrived. It was an invitation to Mark's wedding. He'd never met the girl; Mark hadn't felt it correct to introduce them. Yet here it was. Shortly thereafter, he was invited by Mark to spend a few days in Connecticut. There was no acid. There was no sex. Mark wanted to make sure he was alright. This was the decision that had been made and Mark was going to be true to his vows. He wanted to know, but didn't bother to ask, nor did Mark offer to tell him, whether or not she was privy to their experiences. He thought not. He didn't attend the wedding. That was for them. The "them" that happened on nine separate occasions remains a sweet memory that he savors often. For awhile, he thought his heart would break. His heart was much stronger than that.

Years later, New Year's time comes and goes and brings to mind the amazing human being who came into his life so suddenly, and brought him moments of ecstasy the likes of which he believes that now, at 50, he'll not experience again. But the memory remains, delightfully.

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