Today I am so pleased to welcome Alan Semrow to Joyfully Jay. Alan has come to share an exclusive excerpt from his release, Ripe: Letters (which we reviewed here). Please join me in giving him a big welcome!
Dear Guy From College
It would be negligent for me to say that you started it. But, I will tell you this: you came at exactly the right time. It was a period in my life—that certain phase when a boy turns into a speck of a man and starts realizing all the things—the important things—that he’d kept pushed down and in denial about through the lead-up to this exact point. What you gave wasn’t anything of particular substance. What I mean by that is it wouldn’t have looked suspicious or thought-provoking to anyone watching. To you, it probably meant next to nothing. You’d simply found a new friend to talk to in a couple of English classes—as you completed your final semester. To me, it was a lot more—and I’ve kept pretty quiet about it ever since. But parts of me wish you could see me now.
Things had started to turn around. I was making friends. I was distancing myself from assholes. I was getting good grades and taking pride in my coursework. I was writing a lot. But I was also shutting down. I didn’t know how to really talk to anybody anymore, because what I wanted to talk about—what I really needed to say—I didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t know how to face myself at the end of the day. I didn’t know how to reconcile with the fact that you, the one who asked me all those inquiring questions and showed interest at a time when I wasn’t sure I wanted questions or interest from anyone—you were part of what ripped it all right out of me.
I’d enter class with earbuds in—sweatpants on, probably some very unfashionable pair of shoes (camouflage moccasins served as my way of “making a statement.”). And you’d turn your head right then and there as I positioned myself in the chair exactly behind you. “Well, hey.”
You were so fucking happy and I wanted to learn everything in the world about you. I also wanted to kiss you after our night class, against the brick wall outside that building. For you to fuck me in your car.
I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. Every mornings in the dorm shower. What it might feel like if you were my first time and could take all the energy I’d bundled up and pushed down for twenty years right out of me. I wanted to see what you looked like without clothes on. I wanted to feel your milky skin against mine. I wanted your scruffy face gliding against my smooth one. To turn red with you.
You made me see that I desired to be more than the best friend. It was true—I longed to do all the things that my friends had been doing all those years. I wanted to have sex. I wanted to kiss. I wanted to fall in love. I wanted to have my heart broken so badly. You kept me going. You kept me wondering.
It was the type of attention you’d give me that made it very clear you were interested in the way that only a straight person could be. You made comments: “I saw you walking with your guitar today.” It’s laughable now, but that meant something to me—that’s how desperate I was for connection. You gave me something to run with, to think about—to see you as the model of the type of man that I could see myself spending the rest of my days with. Short. Modest. Creatively inclined. Dark brown hair.
A month after you graduated, it came time for me to give myself a break, to come to terms with the fact that I’d been a good person all my life and all those things that I’d been saying to myself, repeating to myself, beating myself over the head with—those things were all a means of tucking the truth away. I told the first person, my best friend. And then I came out loudly.
In a way, I suppose you did start it. After my announcement, I went on a six-month long creative renaissance. I read hundreds of books. I wrote books. And songs (one about you) and poems and screenplays and everything in between. I even painted—collages, acrylics. What I was in the process of doing was learning how I wanted the rest of my life to look like—or at least, what it could look like. I lived vicariously through the lives of characters—gay characters. And then I stepped out of it ready for whatever might be thrown my way. To be my own character in my own story.
It wasn’t picture perfect. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. But it led up to a time where it became absolutely essential for me to break out of the suburbs and those small towns and cities where I’d spent my life and go somewhere where I could find my second family. Where I could become a part of a community. Where I could come of age and experience the shit out of my life and my relationships.
There’s a distinct line between now and the period (approximately twenty-four years) that I’d been without this city—without all these people that I’ve met and had my moments in time with. The line is there because, before, I hadn’t really been living—just writing this takes me back to the fact. But, now, I can safely tell you I am. So, thank you.
Funny, sexy, evocative, and brutally honest, Ripe is Alan Semrow’s ode to relationships with men. In this epistolary book, Semrow writes to the men who have impacted his outlook, reminded him of basic life lessons, surprised him in more ways than one, and left him reeling for days. Writing to one-night-flings, men he has never met, and men he’ll never stop running into, Semrow touches on some of the most constant human themes—love, lust, desire, and the yearning for connection. All the while, the book details a man’s journey navigating and blooming by way of the modern gay scene. Readers will find familiarity and hard truths in Semrow’s statements about the intricacy and explosiveness of the intimate moments we share.
Alan Semrow’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in over 30 publications. Apart from writing fiction and nonfiction, he is a professional copywriter, a monthly contributor at Chosen Magazine, and a singer-songwriter. Previously, he was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow’s debut short story collection, Briefs, was published in 2016. Ripe is his second book. Semrow lives in Madison, Wisconsin.