I notice the quiver in his chin, but it doesn't register for what it is. Or maybe it does but part of me doesn't want to stop.
It must have been cruel, in hindsight. To me it was merely debate, advice; he reminds me strangely of myself, and I say things I wish, now, someone had said to me, four years younger. I've lost the trick, I think, of thinking like that younger me; of considering what the words mean on the other side of the conversation.
I'm no iconoclast, I didn't tear down a worldview. It didn't occur to me, though, that pointing out the lack of one was just as bad. Somebody needed, sometime, to tell him where his flaws were. He has such potential, mind and charm and heart all wrapped together, blanketed with cynicism and self-doubt. If only he could learn, if he would let go of the unreasoning, monstrous depression that seems to tear at the foundation of his self. I am a hypocrite to tell him this; my lying implication: that I have the confidence I commend to him. But false as I may be I had the hope of being a warning post; a marker lying on the wrong path he's set his feet to.
I forget, though, the comforting warmth of that reflexive self-deprecation; that acknowledging your flaws is not the same as fixing them, and being forced to confront them without that easy brushoff is a deeply painful thing.
And so I am taken off-guard when he starts to cry; my first impulse, to lay a hand on him, on his shoulder or his cheek, to take him to me and hug him, just to remind him through the contact that it is okay, that I'm here and human and care enough to wipe away a tear... the urge rises but I deny it.
And in this moment I hate myself, for the breezy innuendo, for admitting he's attractive, that I'd occasionally wished he wasn't straight; hell, for being gay, for the whole complex of reasons making it impossible for me to touch him now, making that simple human gesture an ambiguous morass of confusion and motives. I long to wipe away the tears, whatever they're for- the past he's convinced he screwed up, the future he doubts, the moment now when I made him question both- but I know how he'd see it. And I know I'd make it worse. And I know, in that moment, that I'm the worst person to have had this conversation with him. And from the sound of it, maybe the only one who would.
So, cursing society, psychology, and the world, I get up and go to fetch a napkin; what have I left to do but politely turn away? When I return a moment he's regained his composure, returned to his drink. He thanks me for it, quietly, as he wipes his eyes.
"Is everything all right? Do you want to talk anymore?"
"Yeah. I think I'd rather not talk now."
And I wait a moment in silence as he finishes. I am so clumsy, I break my toys so; I forget, sometimes, that they are people.
"Ready to go?"
"Yeah. Are you okay?"