I'm proud to introduce Rudy, who allowed me to live in his head for a while, and taught me some things as he was learning some things. It isn't often a pretty story, but it was one that needed to be told. I'm honored that he told it to me. <3
I knew I was meant to play guitar from the moment I was nine years old. I had just witnessed Prince perform in the Super Bowl Half-Time Show, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard before. The way he made that guitar sound, the sheer bliss on his face as he played it, it was like he ceased being human and bent long and sparkling into the fabric of the universe, like a god. Echoes of ancient music bled through his fingertips. I could hear the beat of tribal dances of the natives, the echoes of the tortured gospel of the slaves that later gave root to the foundation of rhythm and blues. All really great music challenged and changed the status quo, that was no big surprise. But what he did with it was out of this world. It was ancient and yet it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before, something so futuristic that I nearly thought he was an alien being from outer space.
After that I became obsessed. I got every album and listened to them until I could sing them in my sleep. That Christmas I got my very first guitar, the only thing I had written on my wish list. I wanted in on this miracle. I wanted to reach deep into this mystical bliss. I wanted to transcend the murky paths of mediocrity and reach that summit of excellence, and I knew what I had to do to make that happen. By then I knew that this genius who had first inspired me had taught himself how to play dozens of instruments, and I set out to do the same.
It took me eight years to go from playing a guitar to a guitarist, someone worthy of the title, one to share with my idols like Prince, and Hendrix, and Frampton, Clapton, Van Halen, Slash, Dimebag. The list goes on and on. Each one taught my hands new way to travel across those steel strings until my fingers bled. Finally, on my eighteenth birthday, I composed my first song. Accidentally, yet purposefully. Inevitably.
That’s when I reached that euphoric state of self-awareness I’d been searching for. I wasn’t just wishing or hoping or aspiring anymore. I wasn’t dreaming of who I could be someday in the inky, undefined darkness of the future. Through hard work and perseverance I pulled back every last layer of fear until I became who I was meant to be.
I was an artist.
It took me a little longer than that to come to terms to the fact I was gay.
I had always known I was different. I wasn’t like everyone else, with dreams of some steady job somewhere, with a mini-van, two kids and a dog. I didn’t want the requisite white picket fence future with a wedding, a mortgage and a retirement plan. I wanted what so few of us ever truly obtain—the freedom to define myself for myself, on my own terms. I decided early on I had to shake off the expectations of the world around me to do that.
Most settle for security. They find a job they can stand, they sell large chunks of their lives for a paycheck, they buy the right car, live in the right neighborhood, participate in society with the polite, numbing acquiescence of remarkability, choosing instead to blend into the background of tapestries other people had the courage to weave.
This never interested me. Not in the least. For a long time I chalked this up as a casualty to my ambition. I walked—no, sprinted—down an alternate path with one goal in mind. I wanted to be a rock god. Certain notable exceptions aside, most of that didn’t result in golden anniversaries with spouses of either gender. I forfeited dates for late nights studying my guitars, or my keyboard, or my computer, anything that could help me speak the only language I had the courage to speak. When it came time for prom, I didn’t care to dance, or make out, or lose my virginity. I just wanted to listen to the band, to absorb every last note until they became a part of me, filed away in my subconscious to inspire and cultivate my own voice.
The music was all I needed. That was all I wanted. It was a lot less complicated than revealing the real truth—that the random, token girls I tried to date throughout high school left me cold. It wasn’t even their fault. They were funny, pretty, interesting…everything every red-blooded American boy would want. They’d touch me with eager hands and shower me with tentative kisses, but I was always left wanting more. Like anyone else I was waiting for the lightning bolt, but—in keeping with the alternate theme of my life—it always seemed to strike with the wrong people.
When I was five years old, I remember sitting in my mom’s car in front of the store, waiting for her to finish loading the back with our weekly groceries. I was playing with one of my cars, running it over the dash, making funny sounds with my mouth as it accelerated over the graceful sloping curve. All that stopped when I caught sight of a man walking into the store. He was talking on a cell phone. He had a brilliant smile framed by a beard trimmed neat, and I could almost feel the heat of his gaze from a full thirty feet away even though he wasn’t even looking at me specifically. I remember how I forgot about my toy car, my mom, or even the colorful popsicles I normally couldn’t wait to tear into the minute we got home. It was like time itself screeched to a halt.
Simple aberration, right? Lightning misfired. It does that sometimes. I didn’t feel that way again until Mr. Johnson started teaching me music theory in eighth grade. He was just twenty-eight and, simply put, he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. A tall, golden Adonis with a strong chin, broad shoulders and a killer smile. I’ve always been a sucker for a great smile. But it was more than that. For the first time I felt a stirring deep inside for something I couldn’t yet name. I remembered how his big strong hand wrapped around the neck of the guitar, and it made me shiver all the way down to my toes. He had these bright blue eyes that twinkled when he laughed, and he laughed a lot. I convinced myself that I hadn’t really fallen in love with him. It was a crush, misplaced because of the intense passion we shared for the music.
Another misfire, obviously.
Though I wanted to, I never felt that same excitement, that same joy, that same connection with girls, despite all the dates I’d endure simply to appease my family and friends. I tried, God knows I tried. I chased that lightning bolt for all it was worth, but it continued to elude me.
That was until I met Tony Rojas. Five minutes in his presence and I was every bit as enamored as his legion of groupies. He was more than a rock god; he was a sex god. From the intensity of his unusual turquoise eyes or the sexy curve of that smile carving into the bronze perfection of his face, I found myself from worshipping at his altar from the moment we met. It was beyond me. I was locked into the ride and there was nothing left to do but hold on. Looking back I can see that Tony was put in my life to awaken me. I had spent my life painting the canvas with only one color, thinking that would be enough. It only took one moment to convince me otherwise, but that moment was undeniable. When I looked into those captivating blue-green eyes for the very first time, and felt really and truly seen for the first time in return, I knew the real truth.
Nothing would mean anything if I didn’t take the chance to be really and truly happy. To do that, I had to be honest. Lightning struck and I was in love, even though that love was about to cost me everything.
But I would do it all again for one more minute in his arms. I loved him no matter what it cost me, my family, my music… even my future. Nothing meant anything without him. That was when I knew the deepest truth of all. I was meant to love him. And he was meant to love me.
This is our story. A love story. A horror story. It was erotic, it was romantic. A comedy, a tragedy. A cautionary tale.
It is a life story.
It is my story.
And sometimes one chance is all you get to tell it.
MASKED IN THE MUSIC releases September 25th, which is a very special date for me personally - and reason #1 why I chose it. You can pre-order it now for a discounted price. It goes up to regular price after release.
Fair warning... if you need a warning to read a book, this will NOT be the book for you. I'm keeping it real, folks. As always.