Sixteen (Architectural Design)

When I looked up, the birds were vibrating in the evening air screaming for water, and I asked the Lord for forgiveness, not just for myself but for the whole world. Grandma had told me about the birds, and the way they asked the Lord for water, at night, hidden in the trees behind the house. I thought, how cruel this Lord of ours is, one who refuses to give water even to the most innocent of us.

I took the wooden cross from grandpa’s homemade altar and went out into the fields and dipped it into the parched ground to force the Lord to listen to our plea. ‘Feel,’ I repeated as I walked around the orchard, ‘I want you to feel the hopelessness in the ground beneath our feet.’ The clouds gathered and boiled above me, and a woman from the village urged us to throw the shovels into the middle of the yard because the Lord’s wrath was upon us. Grandpa threw the shovels on the concrete, and the grass popped as if it was burning. We breathed in, and the air was incandescent with thirst, thick with the commands we shouted at each other. The woman walked away, the shawl she wore on her head disheveled, her breasts moving on their own, ahead of her, her hands furiously stroking her face as if keening for a son lost in the war.

The chickens had to be led into the stables where the cow and the pigs had been tucked away like precious gems. The windows had to be secured. Grandpa could not stand damage resulting from human errors that could have easily been avoided. Church bells ululated in the distance, the sky above full of leaves and dust, the hills around the village like subdued dogs. Big drops, here and there, then everywhere, my brother was nowhere to be seen, he who had always been afraid of thunder.

The Lord’s love arrived in gusts of wind and sharp drops of water, and our brains reverberated with images of sanctification. ‘Lord,’ we thought as we watched the sky come tumbling down, ‘how could we have ever doubted you?’ We barricaded ourselves in the house, all in one room, far from any source of electricity, removed from the windows because people got struck by lightning that way. Everything in the house had to be unplugged: the TV, the refrigerator, the radio. Then grandpa would run one more time through the rain, a long blue winter coat hanging on his shoulders. One last time, he had to make sure all the animals were safe.

As the rain poured, grandma crossed herself, and we waited in the half-dark rooms, every thunderstorm a pedagogy of survival. Stay out of nature’s way, it said. Sometimes the rain would fall for days. But that first couple of minutes after a storm had the taste of sainthood, proof that we were still loved by our Lord. As we headed out of the house to assess the damage, the earth seemed renewed to the core, and we knew that, at least for a while, we won’t be praying for rain. We prayed, though, for my brother to return.

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Oggi sono uscito con un tipo

Il caldo mi fa pensare allo Straniero di Camus e il tram sta mettendo tanto per arrivare. Ogni sua sosta, anche se breve, diventa un motivo per arrabbiarsi. Perché siamo fermi, una signora grida da l’altra parte del tram e l’autista non si gira neanche. Nessuno di noi si muove, nessuno di noi parla. Dalla strada incandescente si sente solo il rumore delle ventole dell’aria condizionata e in ogni macchina le persone sembrano mortificate, come se avessero appena compiuto un atto immorale, o ingiusto e si sentono in colpa. La luce là fuori, ogni suo riflesso è come la lama di un coltello. Quando arrivo alla fermata mi metto al riparo, ma non c’è tregua. Il caldo è come un casco.

Ci vediamo dalle sue parti perché lui sta studiando per gli esami e non ha tempo da perdere, e prendiamo una granita. Sta facendo una magistrale in biologia e non vede l’ora di andare in vacanza. Questo lo dice con una voce che arriva quasi alla disperazione e io provo a rassicurarlo dicendogli che manca poco e che dovrà solo fare questo ultimo sforzo. One more push. Dico questo anche se sono perfettamente consapevole del fatto che non lo aiuta: lui dovrà comunque studiare, dovrà comunque dare gli esami, dovrà comunque soffrire dal caldo, sudare, bestemmiare, pensare alle vacanze, al suo ritorno a casa. Sto per dirgli che anch’io ero così quando ero studente ma non lo faccio perché lui ride ed è così carino quando lo fa che per un attimo sembra che dimentichiamo del mondo e del caldo, e della coda di gente che si forma gradualmente davanti alla gelateria.

Andiamo al parco e lui si bagna i capelli e il collo sotto la fontanella e quando si avvicina ha quel odore di terra umida in mezzo all’estate. Fa caldo pure al parco ma almeno lì dentro, lontano dal traffico, il mondo sembra girare più piano. Ci sono cani con la lingua tirata fuori, bambini con le bici, e un signore che corre attorno al piazzale e la sua pelle sembra quella di un pesce o un alieno. Ma io provo a guardare tutto questo con un certo distacco perché voglio baciarlo e per fare questo il mondo deve restare fuori. Lui guarda attorno prima di farlo, e chiude gli occhi quando lo fa. Io faccio lo stesso. Il signore che sta correndo non esiste. E neanche i cani con i loro padroni. I bambini sono andato via. Siamo solo noi.

La seconda volta che ci vediamo chiude gli occhi e si nasconde il viso tra le braccia quando mi dice che non mi devo affezionare a lui. Non vuole farmi del male. Non ti preoccupare, non lo farò. La terza volta mi dice la stessa cosa. Non ti preoccupare, rispondo, non lo farò. Nella mia mente provo a disegnare un cerchio sul pavimento attorno a me. Mi dico che è assolutamente vietato oltrepassare la linea.

In stazione, al ritorno, una ragazza sedicenne (penso) sta bisticciando con quello che sembra un suo ex. Levati, gli dice alzando sempre la voce, vattene via, coglione, sono stufa delle tue scene. Lui si allontana e lei lo spinge. Levati, levati, LEVATI! Dieci metri più in là, sullo stesso binario, una tipa sui trentacinque sta gridando al telefono. Ho visto che eri online, dice, ma non volevi sentirmi, è questa la verità. La prossima volta farò anch’io così! Avrò altre priorità d’ora in poi.

Sul treno, penso a quanto è difficile, faticoso anche, gestire le nostre emozioni, e al fatto che molto probabilmente questo è il prezzo che dobbiamo pagare per avere un cervello così complesso. Rabbia, rancore, felicità, contentezza, sembrano tutte unità per misurare il mondo, o per creare un rapporto tra noi è il mondo. Penso al mio cerchio e so che non ci servirà perché senza la rabbia, il rancore, la felicità, e la contentezza, senza tutto questo caminerei ad occhi chiusi e le mani legate.

Oggi sono uscito con un tipo​

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Caro lettore, (ho la voce di un terapeuta)

Prima di tutto, devo dirti una cosa, essenziale secondo me: nessuno se ne frega. Nessuno se ne frega dei tuoi capelli, come nessuno se ne frega del fatto che a te piacciono i risvoltini. Nessuno se ne frega della tua maglia. Nessuno se ne frega che a te non piace come si veste quel tipo che hai visto sul tram. Nessuno se ne frega delle tue opinioni. Nessuno se ne frega, davvero. Proprio perché nessuno dovrebbe fregarsene di tutte queste cose. Fallisci meglio, ogni giorno della tua vita. Non c’è altro metodo per scoprire come sei fatto. 

Per favore, smetti di leggere “Il Piccolo Principe”. Leggi “Il Principe” di Machiavelli se hai davvero voglia di leggere qualcosa con un titolo simile.

Tutto passa. Pure il cuore spezzato.

Alla fine tutto quello che conta è la musica. E come muovi il tuo corpo. C’è più di un gigabyte di informazione in ogni tuo movimento. La musica è vortice. Il rock ‘n’ roll è sesso. 

Il tuo corpo lo vivi come una tragedia. Ogni kilo in più è una piccola sconfitta. Ogni muscolo in vista, una moneta d’oro. 

Un giorno questo dolore ti sarà utile.

Un giorno succederà che vedrai il mondo sotto una certa luce, così spenta e scura, di un azzurro malato, che vorrai spegnerti anche tu. 

E io ti riaccenderò. 

Se togli i tuoi incubi, se togli il lavoro che secondo te fa schifo (perché non è quello che volevi fare però hai bisogno di quei soldi per sentirti indipendente), se togli il padre di cui hai paura, la madre che tace perché, magari, anche lei ha paura del tuo padre e perché le donne devono seguire i loro uomini, se togli il volto del mondo, il fratello che, sposato, pensa che il mondo non può essere altrimenti perché tutto il resto non può essere che una scelta testarda, se togli le tue paure, che cosa ci rimane di te? E se togli anche il tuo amore, se lo nascondi, se lo seppellisci, se metti un cuscino sopra sperando che si soffocasse sotto la pesantezza della tua furia, che cosa ci rimane di te? Che cosa ti rimane? Solo il tuo corpo di carne e ossa, che nella sua tangibilità rimane un semplice grande vuoto.

E io ti riaccenderò. Oppure saremo due fiamme spente. 


E poi, di pomeriggio arrivi tu e il drink che abbiamo di fonte a noi sembra di contenere tutto il mondo. Io faccio finta di toccare il bicchiere mentre, in realtà, quella è sono una scusa per avvicinare la mia mano alla tua. Parliamo di Camus e forse di Calvino, che a me non è mai piaciuto, ma questo non lo dico perché non voglio fare brutta figura al primo appuntamento. Poi ci sono le regole che dobbiamo seguire: no, non quelle per il primo appuntamento, ma quelle che noi, ragazzi gay, siamo costretti a seguire nei luoghi pubblici. Prima di ogni tocco, uno sguardo attorno. Ma non perché gli altri sono cattivi, più perché questa vergogna che abbiamo dentro ci perseguita come una malattia incurabile. È come se fossimo troppo giovani per vedere o sapere qualcosa.

A casa tua giriamo attorno al tuo letto come se fosse uno spazio sacro, ma una volta che ci sediamo non si può più andare indietro e tu cominci a fare un elenco dei tuoi difetti. La tua voce non va bene ma tu la usi per cantare comunque. Il tuo naso è quasi sempre chiuso per una deviazione del setto. Sei uno che russa tanto. Il tuo corpo è pieno di sconfitte ma io provo a rassicurarti che va tutto bene mostrandoti i miei difetti. Non so perché lo sto facendo, ma per un attimo che sembra il più importante di tutti, mi sento a mio agio con te.

Il secondo giorno è diverso. Seduti su una panchina mi dici che stai rivivendo un momento del tuo passato: sei con il tuo ex, e all’inizio provi entusiasmo, che poi cade improvvisamente, e tu non vuoi rivivere questo. Io quasi mi alzo per andare via ma tu mi dici di rimanere ancora un po’.

Alla fermata del tram tengo la mano sulle tue spalle e una ragazzina ci guarda e io sento la vergogna che torna. Ma tu ti sei accocolato al mio petto e io provo a non pensare che questa potrebbe essere l’ultima volta che ci vediamo. Forse questo è il nostro segreto per una vita felice. Questo istante felice, poi l’altro, poi l’altro, e così via, senza sosta.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Ci vediamo di fronte a Palazzo Nuovo e poi andiamo a prendere qualcosa da mangiare perché è già tardi e abbiamo entrambi fame. Arriva in ritardo perché, mi spiega, ha sottovalutato le distanze. Ha il MacBook sotto il braccio ed è molto più basso di quanto immaginavo, ma parla inglese perfettamente, con un ritmo che a me fa girare la testa, e io mi sento subito a mio agio. Finalmente, mi dico, posso usare la parola “obstreperous” in una frase senza ricevere in cambio lo sguardo confuso di chi non capisce l’inglese.

Scegliamo il cibo thailandese e poi, borse di carta in mano, ci dirigiamo verso il Po per sederci e mangiare a l’ombra. Dietro di noi, un gruppo di ragazzi sta fumando e ridendo. Lui abita a Dubai, dove sta per finire un dottorato sulla mass communication, e mi parla dei suoi studenti con una sorta di affetto che tradisce la sua giovinezza: ha ancora freschi nella mente la paura e lo scombussolamento dello studente e vuole aiutarli. La sua ricerca, mi spiega, si focalizza sui blockchain e su come vengono rappresentati nella comunicazione di massa. Mi parla di come questa nuova tecnologia è una forma di internet che non potrà mai essere censurato o chiuso, e dietro le sue parole vedo una forma di entusiasmo, non frenetico, ma rassegnato, come per dire “sarà così, e menomale che sarà così e non altrimenti.”

I ragazzi dietro di noi continuano a ridere. C’è odore di erba nell’aria. Ma la loro presenza, a pochi metri di distanza, è così inconseguente che spunta solo nei momenti in cui ci fermiamo per guardare il fiume che scorre davanti a noi. Mi parla dei suoi viaggi, della vita gay a Dubai, e del fatto che, mentre nei paesi occidentali l’omosessualità è strettamente collegata all’identità, al “essere,” nei paesi del Medio Oriente, l’omosessualità è più qualcosa che “fai.” Più un’azione che una cosa statica.

Mi racconta di come per quattro anni ha investito affetto nella cotta per il suo migliore amico tedesco, che dormiva con lui, mangiava con lui, e che si è poi sposato (con una donna) senza neanche invitarlo o informarlo. Per quattro anni, mi dice senza rancore, ha vissuto con la speranza che questo affetto, ricambiato, potesse diventare qualcosa di più. Per quattro anni, aggiunge, non ho conosciuto altri tipi, e per quattro anni ho vissuto con l’idea che anche lui fosse gay, ma doveva solo fare il passo avanti e dirlo. Quando la verità è finalmente uscita allo scoperto il tipo è sparito. Ci salutiamo e io torno in biblioteca a lavorare su una traduzione.

Tra le parole che leggo e traduco, però, non riesco a non pensare a quello di cui mi ha parlato. “Fare” ed “essere” sono due verbi molto diversi che denotano due atteggiamenti altrettanto diversi. Uno implica movimento, l’altro staticità, e mi chiedo se il primo fosse più adatto a descrivere la nostra situazione. E questo non è perché siamo moderni e viaggiamo spesso in sempre più paesi, ma perché abbiamo scoperto di quanto è frammentato il mondo e, per estensione, di quanti piccoli pezzi siamo fatti, e di quanto siano diversi questi pezzi. Un sabato sera sei con i tuoi amici a mangiare ravioli e pensi che quella è la felicità assoluta e poi lunedì mattina scopri che la felicità è fatta di non dover svegliarsi presto, e mercoledì pranzi con un tipo che sta facendo un dottorato a Dubai e quello sembra il momento perfetto. Magari, penso, per provare contentezza devo scrollarmela di dosso quest’idea di staticità. Alla fine, una bella emozione sarà bella solo per un momento. E poi arriva un’altra. E poi un’altra.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Ci vediamo al Starbucks di fronte al Trinity College, e il nostro incontro lo percepisco, anche ancor prima di subirlo, come l’incoronazione di un lungo processo mentale, come quello che precede una decisione importante. Dovevamo vederci il giorno prima, ma per vari motivi (di salute, mi dice), non riusciamo a trovare il momento giusto. Lui è brasiliano, avvocato, con gli occhiali tondi e la barba che sembra fatta apposta per la sua faccia, come se fosse un vestito lavorato a maglia da sua nonna. Ha la mia altezza, e il suo corpo si perde nei vestiti, simile al corpo di un bambino in un mucchio di foglie.

Nel momento in cui ci vediamo sembra di evitarmi, non mi guarda, parla con le finestre, coi muri, con la commessa che scrive il suo nome nel modo sbagliato sul bicchiere di carta. Per un attimo mi sento come un intruso, e sono quasi geloso della loro conversazione. Io, come sempre, comincio a costruire muri attorno a me, perché questa sua indifferenza la conosco benissimo e fa male: è il sintomo di una malattia comune, il rifiuto. Ovunque io vada, penso, le mie insicurezze mi seguiranno, come un cane fedele che non vede la sua fedeltà come una forma di scambio.

Ci sediamo e parliamo di tutto. È venuto a Dublino per imparare l’inglese, io gli dico che abbiamo solo un paio di ore a disposizione, perché poi ho una cena, e poi devo tornare a casa. Mi parla della sua scuola, dei suoi corsi, del suo lavoro, e quando parla i suoi occhi fanno un cerchio attorno a me per poi fare centro sui miei. È molto difficile guardarlo, perché lo trovo (oddio) tanto carino, ma mi sforzo di farlo perché, perché, perché non voglio che questa maledetta f*****a ansia porti via il piacere che provo quando mi parla.

Faccio domande stupide, attraversiamo momenti di silenzio imbarazzanti, e sto già pensando al fatto che mi devo fare le valigie, al fatto che il giorno dopo dovrò svegliarmi presto per andare al aeroporto, ma poi quando tocco per sbaglio la sua mano con la mia, lui me la afferra e stiamo lì, così, lui con la mano allungata sopra il tavolino, a parlare di podcast che ti insegnano inglese. Andiamo in un negozio di libri e ci fermiamo alla sezione “cooking” dove lui mi dice che cucinerebbe cose nuove ogni giorno, solo così, per divertimento. Poi, andiamo in un piccolo supermercato dove lui si prende il dentifricio e la Coca Cola e io mi prendo le caramelle gommose che mangiamo insieme alla fermata del tram. Il suo tram passa. Può prendere il prossimo, mi dice, nessun problema. Io guardo Google Maps per capire quanto ci metto ad arrivare alla cena. Solo 17 minuti, posso restare ancora un po’, dai. Un altro tram passa. C’è sempre il prossimo. Io posso restare ancora un po’, dai, per una volta nella mia vita posso arrivare anch’io in ritardo.

Poi arriva il tram di nuovo, e non si può più rimandare, e ci abbracciamo, e io corro perché sono in ritardo, e non capisco da dove devo prendere il pullman per arrivare alla cena. Attraverso le strade e il freddo, il fiume di cui nome non ricordo. Una signora mi chiede se può usare il mio telefono per chiamare sua sorella, e io non mi giro neanche, perché ho paura di vederlo di nuovo, seduto al tavolino che ora è grande come il mondo intero.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Ci vediamo vicino al Cinema Centrale, e lui mi parla in un inglese storto, come se non l’avesse mai parlato, solo letto da qualche parte. Io provo a correggerlo ogni tanto, provando a non sembrare troppo puntiglioso, perché è carino, con la sua giacca scura e maglia color pelle, e un neo posizionato sul viso nel posto giusto, come quello di Marilyn Monroe.

Prendiamo un caffè e nel mentre mi parla del suo lavoro e io del mio. Mi parla di come lui se n’è andato di casa quando era molto giovane perché i suoi si erano lasciati e non trovava più legami con quella casa. Io lo ascolto e penso a come questa cosa, di andare via senza avere una meta, lo rende più nobile per certi versi. Lo vedo lì, dall’altra parte del tavolo, sotto una certa luce, e lo invidio perché lui ha trovato il coraggio che a me manca. Perché a differenza di lui, io sono tornato, sempre, perché, a differenza di lui, mi sono sempre legato ai luoghi, alle persone anche quando ero consapevole di quanto male questa cosa mi potesse fare. Lui si rende conto di quello, mi guarda e mi dice che sono fuori luogo qui, che mi può vedere solo a Londra, o in qualche posto del genere, che sono troppo interessante per restare a Torino. Questo lo dice con una sorta di imbarazzo che lo rende, nella mia percezione, molto femminile. E il neo di Monroe non contradice questa mia sensazione. Ha le ciglia lunghe e quando guarda in giù le sue labbra si affilano in un modo che a me fa tanta tenerezza. Ha quell’aria da ragazzo che ha appena finito il liceo, e il mondo è ancora pieno di meraviglie.

Lo accompagno per un po’ sulla strada verso casa sua e poi ci abbracciamo e ci auguriamo il meglio perché lo abbiamo capito entrambi, penso, il fatto che non ci vedremo più. Sulla via di ritorno, penso a quanti modi ci sono per dire ad una persona, oppure per farla capire, che le nostre strade rimaranno divise, o che si divideranno d’ora in poi. Un modo è sicuramente dirlo direttamente, che è anche il modo più difficile, più doloroso, simile allo strappare, in un solo colpo, un cerotto che si è abituato troppo con la tua pelle. Ma uno può farlo anche indirettamente, parlandoti di un mondo in cui tu non ci sei, oppure dicendoti che sei felice nel modo sbagliato, o nel mondo sbagliato.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Prima di vederci, però, abbiamo speso tante parole, come se le parole fossero una sorta di rituale tantra oppure una strada di mattoni gialli. Durante una chiamata Skype, con il telefono tenuto sempre ad un angolo non molto lusinghiero, mi fa vedere la sua cucina. Si sta facendo un shake proteico, mi dice con l’aria colpevole, dopo essersi allenato. Ride, e quando allunga la mano vedo i suoi pettorali e la tartaruga. Il suo corpo, biondo, è una battaglia vinta. Qua c’è il tavolo, il frigorifero, l’armadio per la cucina. Mi fa vedere tutto e io mi vedo già lì, seduto al tavolo a preparare il suo shake proteico oppure semplicemente a guardarlo.

Abita lontano da me, e la sua età lo allontana ancora di più, ma decidiamo di vederci all’Auchan di Torino. Vado a prendere il pullman e mentre lo sto aspettando, improvvisamente, un’amica di mia madre arriva in macchina e mi chiede se voglio un passaggio. Vorrei dire di no, perché so che dovrò spiegare cosa sto andando a fare, ma il pensiero di vedere il tipo ancora più presto del previsto mi spinge di accettare la proposta. All’amica di mia madre dico che sto andando a comprare un paio di cose. La mia indeterminatezza è come l’elefante proverbiale. Lui è lì, come promesso, vestito in una giacca che sembra troppo grande per lui, e mi parla con una voce molto bassa, come se qualcuno stesse per ascoltare la nostra discussione. Parliamo del tempo, in inglese, perché vuole migliorare il suo inglese (già abbastanza buono), e poi si mette a parlare al telefono con qualcuno. Parla e cammina, gesticola ma in un modo molto contenuto, e io mi siedo e lo guardo e inaspettatamente lo vedo per un attimo così fragile che quasi quasi assomiglia un cane maltrattato dal suo padrone. Abbassa la testa, guarda in giù, fissa il pavimento, come se l’altra persona potesse vedere la sua umiliazione.

Finita la conversazione mi offre un passaggio a casa nella sua macchina a due posti e io provo a parlare di altre cose, ad avvicinarmi, ma lui continua a fare finta di niente. Evita una strada perché il suo navigatore indicava una ferrovia e lui ha paura delle ferrovie e quindi fa un giro lunghissimo solo per evitare quella strada. Gli spiego che non è un passaggio a livello, ma lui la evita comunque. Per qualche motivo, gli do un altro indirizzo, e scendo dalla macchina, e faccio finta di cercare le chiavi finché lui gira la macchina e se ne va. E io rimango in mezzo al marciapiede colpito dal sole e dal caldo e dalla situazione.

Per un lungo attimo sento un imbarazzo profondo. Non c’è nessuno sulla strada ma io vorrei entrare in un buco nella terra e non uscire più, così come facevo da piccolo quando commettevo un errore. E penso alla sua cucina, al tavolo dove mi ero seduto, e mi sento come uno che è andato ad una festa senza essere invitato. Arrivato a casa, penso alla facilità con cui riesco a proiettarmi nella vita degli altri, come se la mia esistenza dipendesse da quello. Durante la nostra conversazione su Skype era come se esistevo solo lì, seduto al tavolo, e non dietro lo schermo del mio telefono. Quando, mi chiedo, a quale punto della mia vita ho deciso che non posso esistere fuori ma solo nella presenza di un’altra vita che scorre, tra l’altro, indipendentemente dalla mia?


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Viene dalla V. e parla italiano velocemente, come se dovesse scappare in ogni momento e vuole finire tutto quello che ha da dire prima di andarsene. È più basso di me, e io mi sento come una gru a torre che deve spostare pesi sopra di lui. E già questo non mi piace. Mi chiede di aspettarlo al pianoforte di Porta Nuova, e quando arriva, le cuffie bluetooth attorno al collo come se fossero una collana, mi dice che lui è un musicista e che non sa una parola d’inglese. Tutto ciò mi spaventa, mi delude, perché l’inglese è la mia lingua, ed è quasi un rifugio (cavolo, non potrò mai impressionarlo con la mia recitazione di The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), e lui è molto, ma molto carino, e io voglio scappare, perché di sicuro avrà sbagliato persona. Lui comunque continua a parlare, e in ogni sua parola, sento una cadenza così estranea alla lingua italiana che la fa sembrare quasi come un gioco da bambini. Una ruota di legno che gira.

Mi parla del suo ex che l’aveva tradito, e dei suoi professori a l’università che, ogni tanto ci provano con lui, perché lui “è il più figo della classe” e le ragazze sono rimaste tutte deluse quando hanno scoperto che a lui piacciono i ragazzi. Poi mi parla del fatto che ha suonato con cantanti italiani famosi che lui non conosceva prima. Io nel mentre provo un forte desiderio di alzare gli occhi al cielo. Ma non lo faccio, perché quando gli dico che dovrebbe andare anche nei locali a conoscere gente (perché, secondo me, avrebbe tanto successo), lui mi spiega che per lui non funziona così. “Io vorrei avere successo”, mi dice con la sua stessa disinvoltura, “con la persona che scelgo io”. Io annuisco perché non ho altro da dire e per un attimo, tra di noi, si sente solo la voce registrata del capostazione che dice che il mio treno sta per arrivare.

Quando mi chiede il numero annuisco di nuovo e metto una tromba vicino al suo nome. Il piccolo musicista. Sul treno, tornando a casa, penso alle cose che non ho mai fatto per paura di fallire, agli spazi “di sicurezza” che costruisco attorno a me per stare bene, ai miei rituali, che vanno sempre verso di me, ma mai verso gli altri. E quasi quasi, la musica che sto ascoltando ha un senso.


Non ricordo se mi hai parlato in inglese o in italiano, ma di sicuro le tue parole sembravano quelle di un venditore che all’improvviso deve chiudere il negozio presto oggi, e sta già chiudendo le scatole mentre io sto ancora guardando. Sono parole lunghe, finali, riassuntivi, e da tutto ciò si fa capire che il mondo che avevi in testa è molto diverso da quello là fuori, e ora non hai più bisogno di nessuno. Una forma di autonomia suprema, che sfida pure l’arte. Io annuisco, in macchina, alle tue parole, e guardo fuori, e penso alla tua barba, e vedo gente per strada, sui pullman, ed è come se questa realtà, là fuori, è molto più accogliente di quanto pensavo. E sembra che, piano piano, sulla mappa di questa mia realtà, tu ti stai definendo come uno spazio indisponibile, oppure come la terra incognita, selvaggia, che si rifiuta di essere scoperta. Alle quattro del mattino ci ripenso, e sono quasi geloso delle tue storie, perché sono già tue, e io sono ancora realtà.

Mi sveglierò tra un paio di ore. Andrò a correre. Farò la doccia, provando sempre di restare dentro il mio corpo e fuori dalla mia testa. Farò colazione. Prenderò il treno per andare a Torino. Esaminerò studenti e proverò a non guardarli in faccia. E a fine giornata il cielo assomiglierà la pancia di un aereo gigante che coprirà tutto, pure le mie orecchie. Ma almeno, in tutto questo, tu sarai solo un pensiero. E se nel passato, i nostri padri costruivano case e fabbriche per seppellire il passato che ci chiamava da dentro la terra, io costruirò questa giornata sopra di te. E domani ci sarà un’altra. E poi un’alta. Finché non ti sentirò più.

D’estate si va al parco con l’uomo fatto di pelle e inchiostro. Ormai tutti gli uomini che ricambiano il tuo sorriso assomigliano una promessa fatta di notte per far passare la febbre.

Lui ti porta sempre in su, attraversando il calore pomeridiano, ti parla delle varie statue che vedete lungo il sentiero, e tu lo ascolti senza togliere lo sguardo dalle sue braccia che vorresti si muovessero per toccarti in un certo modo, con un certo senso. Ma lui si muove solo per spiegarti meglio il mondo. Vedi, tu hai qualcosa di cui ho paura, ma non saprei dirti cos’è. Si riempie la bottiglia d’acqua e saluta una ragazza incontrata per caso. Allontana le zanzare con le sue mani.

Poi, le sue parole diventano strette, come se volessero scapare tra i denti, mentre si avvicina e ti bacia e tu non sai cosa fare con quel bacio tranne che tenerlo sotto la lingua, sperando che si sciogliesse come una pastiglia.

Ti porta in macchina. Ti tiene la mano. Parli con sua sorella e lei ti guarda come se fossi un commesso esageratamente amichevole. Prendete tutti il gelato. Ti porta a casa e mentre tieni la sua testa al tuo petto lui geme come un bambino e tu pensi, finalmente, ci siamo, ho questo uomo con me nei suoi momenti più fragili, e nessuno potrà mai togliervi questo. Quando se ne va di lui rimane solo la musica.

D’estate si può fare. D’estate si può illudere senza rimanere male.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Lui studia architettura e parla inglese come se fosse madrelingua. Però senza l’arroganza di un madrelingua. Usa la parola “lucrative” (redditizio, profittevole) in una frase, correttamente, mentre mi parla di un architetto che è tipo il Lady Gaga dell’architettura. Poi mi parla di un suo libro, pubblicato in arabo, e la sua foto sulla quarta di copertina, che odia così tanto che ogni volta che trova il suo libro nelle librerie lo compra per poi regalarlo ai suoi cugini e altri parenti.

Ma io, ovviamente, da bravo ragazzo gay, gli chiedo se i suoi genitori lo sanno, se i suoi fratelli lo sanno, perché per noi, questa cosa del dire e del sapere è essenziale, come se senza quello non potessimo esistere. In principio, c’era il verbo (e il complemento oggetto). Lui mi guarda perplesso, come se non l’avesse sentito sopra le voci dei ragazzini che ci circondano in Piazza Castello. Sapere cosa? Il fatto che tu sia gay, gli dico. Fa una piccola pausa, e poi mi dice che in realtà vuole mantenere le opzioni aperte. (Santa swings both ways, penso). Non ho conosciuto tutte le ragazze di questo mondo, mi dice, quindi non posso dire che non mi piacciono le ragazze. La stessa cosa vale per i ragazzi. Prova a conoscere tutti, mi spiega, senza avere un obbiettivo, uno scenario in testa. Non mettere le cose in piccole scatole.

Dopo che ci lasciamo, sul treno, penso alla domanda che ci facciamo spesso sui siti/app d’incontro: cosa cerchi? Come se, necessariamente, si deve cercare qualcosa, che una volta trovata ci risolverà tutto. Mi dispiace, Mario, ma la tua principessa è in un altro castello. Penso, soprattutto, a come prima di uscire con qualcuno preparo tutto nella mia testa. Se farà questo, io farò quello. Se farà quello, io farò questo. Come se quello che sono io fosse uno spettacolo da mettere in scena per il piacimento del pubblico. E ogni pubblico insoddisfatto diventa un fallimento.

Mi prometto di dimenticare la sceneggiatura, o almeno di provare, di lasciare le scatole a casa, e di guardare le persone che incontro senza questi pregiudizi di forma. Perché poi, prima che diventino persone amate, sono, prima di tutto, persone, che avranno storie da dire in un inglese perfetto.


Oggi non sono uscito con un tipo. Oppure non ricordo di averlo fatto.

Ma poi, alla fine, perché tutto questo, da dove arriva questo desiderio di ricordarsi e di rivivere tutte queste stronzate?

Non è, penso, una questione di rivivere, ne di analizzare ogni istante del passato per capire dove si è sbagliato. È più per capire se si può vivere una vita senza fare male a qualcuno.


Il 24 Febbraio 2012 sono uscito per la prima volta con un tipo. Trovo questa informazione in un mio diario, ritrovato oggi, tra altri quaderni pieni di appunti. Il ragazzo si chiama M., e a quel punto aveva 22 anni e studiava filosofia. Lo descrivo come “intelligente, brillante quasi, e molto dolce,” e scrivo che ci sono stati dei momenti durante il nostro incontro in cui avevo tanta voglia di baciarlo. Ovviamente, non l’ho mai fatto. Poi scrivo che mi piacerebbe tanto rivederlo. Che spero tanto di rivederlo. Il 28 febbraio 2012 scrivo che mi sta evitando e che continua a non rispondere ai miei messaggi. Addirittura va offline ogni volta che gli scrivo su Skype. La stessa cosa il giorno dopo. Il suo nome risale un paio di giorni dopo. Poi sparisce. Non parlo, però, del fatto che avevo versato un po’ di caffè sulla mia manica e che ero uscito a fumare mentre lui si è preso un toast perché aveva fame. E non scrivo del fatto che è stato quel ragazzo a parlarmi di Edmund White, lo scrittore gay che poi diventerà uno dei miei preferiti, e del suo libro, A Boy’s Own Story, che mi aiuterà a capire chi sono e come sono fatto. Continuo invece a girare sui miei problemi: sono brutto, disgustoso quasi, certo che non si farà sentire, devo cambiare, devo fare qualcosa. I diari sono uno strumento molto potente. Amen.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Non ricordo il suo nome.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Lui studia medicina. Prima aveva studiato filologia classica. Mi sta dicendo tutto questo in inglese e io lo correggo ogni tanto perché non posso farne a meno, perché è un difetto di professione, e ogni volta che lo faccio mi scuso. Lui mi tranquillizza e mi dice che ho fatto bene. Ho fatto bene a correggerlo. Noto poi che la seconda volta non fa lo stesso errore. E neanche la terza volta. Tutto questo mentre mi parla dei virus, di come funzionano, di come in realtà sono dei parassiti che non riescono a sopravvivere senza attaccarsi ad un essere vivente, del cancro, e delle difficoltà che la medicina deve affrontare ogni giorno. Ho quasi paura di fermarlo perché vorrei tanto che continuasse a parlare con me, a vedere come le sue mani si alzano nell’aria per farmi capire qualcosa. (Non so perché, ma per un attimo penso ad un Primo Levi giovane, su una bicicletta.) E ogni volta che gli dico che veramente sa tante cose alza le mani e dice che ha “solo” studiato tanto. Niente di che. Nulla di speciale. La modestia, mi dice e io finisco la frase, è una virtù. Esatto, mi dice, esatto. E quasi quasi lo voglio sposare, ma alla fine di tutto mi dice che è stata una discussione stimolante e mi abbraccia. E niente di più. E mentre scendo le scale a Porta Nuova per prendere la metro penso alla lezione che ho fatto con i miei studenti stamattina. Success and failure go hand in hand, avevo detto a lezione. Non sarà una storia d’amore, ma almeno ho capito che tipo di persona mi piacerebbe avere accanto.

Fermati qui. Poi riparti.

Certe cose non si possono dire. Lo so benissimo. Per ciò ho costruito un intero mondo sulla punta della mia lingua, con tutte le cose che non posso dire, che avrei voluto dire, e che non dirò mai. Senza rancore, ogni mattina, scalerò quella montagna di cose non dette, e guarderò tutto con l’occhio di un collezionista, contento di avere tutte quelle cose. E tutto questo lo farò mentre ballo ascoltando Robyn – Dancing on my own.


Oggi sono uscito con un tipo. Arrivo a Porta Nuova, dove avevamo deciso di vederci, e quando gli chiedo dove lo trovo mi dice che è in ritardo. Di più di un ora. Perché, in realtà, pensava che non sarei mai venuto. Mi arrabbio e quasi quasi me ne vado a casa. Però mi fermo un attimo e penso a quello che ho imparato in questi giorni su come gestire le mie emozioni: bisogna fare un passo indietro, penso, soprattutto quando si tratta di rabbia. Faccio il passo indietro. È anche colpa mia, penso per un attimo, avrei dovuto ricordarglielo, avrei dovuto parlare. Magari pensavo, come lui, che non sarebbe mai arrivato al nostro appuntamento.

Rimandiamo l’appuntamento di un’ora e finalmente ci vediamo. Arriva vestito tutto di nero, vestiti larghi che non sembrano di finire, o di avere una forma precisa, e il suo profumo mi ricorda di quelle mattine domenicali piene di sonno quando andavo in chiesa perché mi sentivo in colpa. Sto per confessare tutti i miei peccati: si, ho letto Edmund White di nascosto, si, ho desiderato ciò che non dovevo desiderare. Finito l’incontro, mi dirigo verso la stazione e rido da solo e sorrido, ampiamente, a due donne che si tengono per mano. Rido perché penso al mio esercizio di positività, perché quasi quasi vedo tutto questo come un esercizio fallito. Va tutto a puttane quando sono positivo, mi dico. Ma poi, sempre camminando, mi rendo conto che la lezione era proprio quella, di ridere dei tuoi fallimenti, e di rendersi conto che quando sei così pieno di te stesso raramente c’è spazio per gli altri.

     

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Sixteen)

line-in-the-sand

A few years ago, the daughter of one of my grandmother’s neighbors packed her bags and moved to Spain for work. Once there, she learned the language, found a job and a boyfriend, and seemed to be moving on with her life. The mother, on the other hand, did not take matters so lightheartedly and refused to accept her daughter’s apparent indifference. She had only one daughter, and she had dared to leave, to work and live among strangers, in a faraway country, and who knows when she would come back. The mother was and still is of the idea that you raise children to have someone care for you when you are no longer capable of doing that, and her daughter had ignored that belief by forging a life of her own.

She mourned her daughter’s departure and, long after that, she kept returning, doggedly and in spite of my grandmother’s supplications, to the place where she had watched her only daughter get on a bus and wave goodbye to her from the window.

My grandmother tried to comfort her to the best of her abilities since she is a veteran of sorts. She had watched as all of her children and grandchildren got into cars or on buses in search for a better life to return only perennially, akin to seasonal fruit. Then, when the supplications ceased working, and the woman seemed to be losing her wits, grandmother started berating what, to her, looked like irrational behavior. She needed to get a grip of herself, she had to do that for her daughter’s sake. For everyone’s sake.

The mother, as mothers often do, had built a life around her daughter and she would frequently get into fights with her neighbors and friends because of her daughter. Whenever she believed the little girl had been mistreated, either by her classmates, teachers, or even relatives, she would go to their houses and wreak havoc. Stern accusations would be served in rapid fire as the other person stood, dumbfounded, while the spectacle unfurled. After, she would avoid speaking to them or give them as much as a look when they crossed paths.

Every year, when the dyer’s greenweed in her front yard blossomed, she would pay a photographer to come and take a picture of her daughter sitting next to the flowers. The thing became a ceremony of sorts, a way to record the girl’s progress through life. The photographer was often drunk, and the photos would come out blurred as if to warn the mother of her daughter’s intentions. Always on the move, ready to sprint when the signal went off.

She was her daughter’s PR manager. Birthday parties were rituals akin to those concocted by wedding planners. Only the right people were invited or those who held some amount of clout. Eligible young boys were strategically placed next to her in case she would develop an interest in them. Those same boys were later scrutinized by the mother, their behavior weighed against that of other, ideal, boys, their families’ history accounted for in the process. Birthday gifts were reviewed through the grapevine, and if they were bad enough, or embarrassing enough, they could be used against you when the time was ripe. Friends were painstakingly selected, and if any of them ventured to trespass the unwritten rules of conduct that the mother had set beforehand, they would be shunned with biblical momentum.

People in the village frowned upon the mother’s demeanor and more often than not they disapproved of the daughter’s behavior. She wore high boots in winter and big circular earrings that reminded you of an R’n’B singer. She was a free-spirited girl and went dancing in the village discotheque, and she had been the first to introduce high-sole shoes and Spice Girls to the people in the community (including me). And when she broke up with the guy she had been dating in Spain, everyone, including my grandma and her friends, agreed that it had been a big mistake because she should consider her rank and nobody would have her after such impertinence. Beggars can’t be choosers, the consensus went. The mother battled on, her body shriveling, her health receding to some forgotten space at the back of her mind.

In the meantime, the daughter returned, whether to undo the harm perpetrated by her departure or not, I do not know for sure. She has now taken up university studies, and she has a mysterious new boyfriend who is always on the move, and nobody has yet had the pleasure to see or meet him. But the rumors never ceased: she is still the odd one out among the young girls in the village, a position, I believe, she both despises and takes comfort in, protected by the mother’s long and prickly wings. Personally, I take pride in her decisions, because I can sympathize with her predicament. In spite of all hindrances, she has remained faithful to who she is and has never been afraid of what people might think of her. I cannot fully fathom how the people in the village would react if they knew I was gay, yet I am confident the rumors would tear my family and me apart, so I prefer to keep some things to myself.

Like my grandmother, I also thought of the neighbor’s behavior as excessive, and, as if by habit, I frequently returned to a poem about letting go I had studied in college. It was a poem about a mother’s death, and it managed to encompass, in just a few lines, like all good poetry, the unnerving sensation and the pain of letting go. I cannot recall the exact poem, but its ending went along the lines of “it’s simple, you just have to let go.” As you might imagine, I could not tell the woman about the poem, she wouldn’t have understood it, and she wouldn’t have accepted it. She lacks the education needed to appreciate such an offering. And, as my grandmother has done on repeated occasions, she would have scolded me for my insensitivity, blamed me for being too far removed from the true meaning of the situation. Unlike the two of them, I had not experienced the emotional infirmity, the sense of helplessness prompted by the knowledge of being unable to see, touch, smell, and talk to the person that up to the point of departure had occupied a big chunk of my emotional life.

It’s simple. You just have to let go.

To be frank, I have made a habit of breezing through farewells and goodbyes, either by telling the other person that we shall meet again, that they haven’t seen the last of me or by depreciating the gravity of the moment. I would make a joke or a comment about something, wish them the best with the biggest of smiles, then turn quickly away and leave without looking over my shoulder. The quicker, the better, that was and still is my motto. For some reason, whenever I went out of the train station, or the airport, I would always look up at the sky, as if the blue impassivity of its vastness could act as a buffer for the brusqueness of my emotions. Yet, I have never broken down or cried in front of someone, except for that time, in high school, when my mother left me in a new house, with people I did not know because she had to go back to Italy.

But I have watched other people break down. My earliest memory of it is of when my great-grandmother died. I remember being at the cemetery, surrounded by people, and, as my great-grandma’s lifeless body was being lowered into the ground, my brother suddenly turned to me, his face melting in a flow of mucus and tears, as if to check and see whether I had any feelings at all. I did not cry, I was most likely dumbfounded by the ritual as I always am on such occasions, but I can distinctly recall my mother’s wailing, her supplications beseeching the old lady to return home because it was cold there, in the ground.

It’s simple. You just have to let go.

My mother broke down again when my father moved to Italy. When the suitcases were finally by the door, and the time came for him to leave, my mother leaned back against the fireplace and covered her face with her hands. Grandma cried, too, but more for her daughter’s sake. After all, she had never fully agreed to their marriage, and in her eyes, father’s departure was akin to a confirmation of her fears. Then mother pushed herself back up to hug and kiss my father, and the only thing I felt was this immense emptiness in my chest, the kind you feel when you are falling or traveling at high speed. I was stoic about it, or perhaps ashamed of showing my emotions. It was an impulse I could not control, or maybe I had made a habit of bottling my feelings. I could not figure it out, I was too young, my mind unripe, and decided to stay strong, because that is what boys did. Showing emotions was shameful.

Or perhaps it was because I had rationalized crying. It was something I did when I felt like it, and not when the situation required it, or when others peer-pressured me into it. I shed tears when I was furious or when I thought that some injustice had been perpetrated on me, not when people moved to another country. At that time, moving to another country spelled opportunities that had to be seized at all costs, it meant escaping deadening routines, earning new money, exploring different cultures. In school, I cried when I got a bad mark, or when other children made fun of me, which was pretty often. It was, in short, a way to diffuse pent-up emotions, an embodiment of rage. In high-school, at the height of my bully problems and those related to my homosexuality, I wished I could turn my heart to stone and never succumb to such manifestations.

Yet, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. There have been times when I desperately wanted to cry but could not. Times when something would rise up in my throat and stop me from breathing regularly, from thinking straight. Times when I felt like it would offer some respite from the tension that threatened to turn my chest to shreds. Last summer, when the guy who had got my hopes up and boosted my confidence told me he was no longer interested in pursuing whatever we had going on, I felt like crying but could not, for the death of me, muster the courage or the fragility needed to shed tears. I had finally got what I wished for.

Is it that simple? Do you just let go?

What I learned that summer is that letting go is a sinuous process, much lengthier than the closing line of a poem, more extensive than the gap the departed leave behind. It requires a daily dose of effort, not to close it, but to become functional again. You wake up, and there it is, the absence, grumpier than any sense of guilt, more obstinate than a stain on an old carpet. I tried reasoning with it, telling myself that I should have known better, that I should have set a system of checks and balances that would have kept me out of harm’s way. But still, it lingered. I tried writing about him thinking that it might offer some closing, but, just like that omnipresent absence, the words refused to comfort me. You are on your own in this, they seemed to be saying, and, finally, I yielded to their stubbornness.

One step at a time, I told myself, and I believed it.

Then, in late autumn, I met another guy, and that absence seemed to recede, its tail between its hind legs. I met him on Tinder, and I had come to our first date with that memory of disillusionment still fresh. Which was good, because it kept me with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I was not going to make the same mistake again, for sure, I had learned my lesson. We had been dating for a while when I told a friend of mine about him, and that friend warned me. Be careful now, he said, you’re falling in love with him. I denied it, energetically, I could not be doing that, my heart was still charred, still smoking, the burnt wood still emanating warmth.

But then it happened.

And how could I see, as Elizabeth Smart puts it, the light of a match while burning in the arms of the sun? And the sun darkened as if to take some time off from its constant burning. And I was left alone in the dark. I counted the hours. Hours turned into days. I became increasingly aware of time akin to an alcoholic trying to stay sober. I stopped contacting my friends. I did not feel like going out. I plunged into my work, taking on as many projects I could physically tolerate until time turned into a puddle; until I could no longer remember when I got that text message saying we couldn’t go on meeting. Before and after no longer made sense.

I went into a trance.

Is it that simple? Do you just let go?

I calculated everything. The number of steps I took away from you. The more I walked, the further I went, the better I felt.

I know I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t linger. I shouldn’t ruminate. I shouldn’t listen to the songs you like. But I’m really working on it as if my life depends on it. I’m elbowing my way through the thick molasses of my mind to summon an image of you that gives you the legitimacy you had on the first day we met. A picture that is disengaged from what I know now as I’m writing this. I’m working my way back to you in the hope of finding a way out. Back to that Wednesday afternoon, the one with the yellow shirt worn over a black t-shirt and the smell in that vintage shop in Turin we went into because we didn’t have anything else to do.

You tried on a green shirt. You didn’t like it. The man in the shop tried to sell you other things, but you were an immovable object, your body gyrating in the mirror of the dressing room with the ease of a clockwork ballerina. When you look at yourself, you disconnect, and for a moment you resemble those who are photographed unknowingly.

I’m walking backward, back to that Wednesday in mid-October, when I went into one of the toilets of the Porta Nuova train station to change into a red sweater, which I had bought for the occasion and felt like a runaway in a spy movie. The Wednesday with the cheap wine that had gone sour, when you told me about how you had put hemorrhoid lotion on your tattoo, thus ruining it. The Wednesday that still feels like the epitome of all Wednesdays.

We’re laughing over lunch, and you’re slapping your thigh and close your eyes when you smile as if the joy you feel in that moment must be kept a secret. You’re telling me about how you went into the Vodafone store, repeatedly, because you’d been having issues with your account, and they refused to help you with the stubbornness of a foreign language. Then, you’re telling me about your favorite movie, Pulp Fiction, and I feel small because, for the death of me, I can’t think of one single film that is my favorite. The Grand Hotel Budapest, I finally blurt out in my defense while we’re eating ice cream. The Isle of Dogs, I add. You’re not a big fan of ice cream, you say as we’re heading to the ice cream shop. Eating ice cream is exhausting. I had never heard anyone describe ice cream as exhausting, so I make a mental note of it. Something to hold onto later.

I still hold onto it, like I hold onto the night we had tea and chocolate biscuits in bed after midnight.

We’re walking, wandering really, and as we cross a square in the city center, you invite me over to your place. There’s an awkward silence at the end of your invitation as if it’s something that shouldn’t be discussed further, but I say yes anyway, and feel my spirits drop for a moment, the way they do when I’m about to go into a job interview. On our way up to your place, we meet an old lady who lives in the same apartment building, and she’s all over you, and you smile warmly at her, and you’re no longer the tallest man in the world.

Then, I’m walking the streets we used to walk on, the places familiar, resembling the relics of some lost empire, the glory of it now unpalatable, ridiculous almost. I’m undoing our steps. I’m the old witch in search of eternal beauty. Poetry helps. The words of other people a pinning down of an animal struggling for air, the muscles still twitching after its head has been cut off. Your face against the pillow looms large like that of an unforgiving god. The god of the old testament. You body seen from below acquires the immensity of church towers. In the crowd, I still look for your figure, hopeful yet afraid that it might resurface and I might not know what to do.

I am still learning how to let go of him. Some days are better than others, but I have made peace with it: he is not coming back. I deleted all of our text messages. I blocked him on Instagram and Facebook because seeing him still knots my guts. I have invested my energy into my work. They say it takes time and I am okay with that. One step at a time, I tell myself, and I believe it. It is not simple, you do not just let go. You draw lines in the dirt with a stick as if planning a battle. This is where you are, this is where I am. If you cross this line, you venture into enemy territory.

Architectural Design (Prologue, One, Two & Four)

Architectural Desing Cover (Final)

PROLOGUE

The man with the beard and the round glasses who sold luxury bags for a living said: leave your history at the door when you enter this house. I complied and poured it all over the carpet that said: welcome home.

I tried to see myself as the person whose life unfurled in that home.

I felt light through the eyes of an astronaut, emptied of dichotomies and air. Free of the color of my skin. Finally free of my womanhood.

Repeat after me: first confusion and then clarity!

The man with the beard said: do your job. And I descended under the blanket, turned and tossed like a possessed woman, and spilled the truth over his pajama pants. He fell asleep afterward. He spoke in his sleep. He said: the future is not in the drones hovering above us. I hugged him and thought: my man, the prophet. He continued: the drones flying above us do not carry the future on their fairy wings; the highest truth has already been reached in the past when we put armchairs in the air. The future is in the memory of it.

I sang: I am the mother of me. History, my past, laid out in a graph like the seats on a stadium. And as I sang, I saw dust motes lit by sunlight, and I saw the weights he trained with on the windowsill, I saw his arms holding them and wondered whether he felt the same when he held me down, against the bed. In his sleep, he was implacable, adamant about the future.

This future in which I could not exist.

I sang: oh, the stadium where I was little and ashamed, put down on the grass for the first time, heavy men working above me, all of them sweating.

I saw the tip of a needle pushing through the skin, stretching it to the point of rupture. On that skin, the faces of people spread, too, like soft butter on hardened bread.
I took my history back on my way out and left the man with the beard in the doorway. He said: let’s see each other again. We hugged, but the man wasn’t in it. And I was already somebody else. I’m very good at that.

That was the last time I saw him.

ONE

On his way to the shop, the child, like any child, fell from the sky in the village of his grandma. He landed on his knees and elbows, all at once, like a broken cat, breaking the skin. Or perhaps, the child thought, some internal animal, eager to come out, tricked the child into falling on his knees and elbows to make the blood come out. The child thought he was the Messiah. The blood did come out, first shyly then stubbornly, like a playmate who refuses to leave when the game is over. In the open flesh, He saw the world.
The child ran back home crying, and the father suggested he wash his wounds with soap. The mother disagreed and instead placed the child on her extended feet, rocking him from side to side until the pain subsided. The mother’s feet, as you all know from those biology classes, were close enough to the womb. The child was aware of all this, so much so that he remembers everything. Even today.

The child had to wait for the wounds to heal and he grew impatient. The skin around the scratches turned hard, then brown in a series of slow-motion moves. The child looked forward to peeling off the hardened surface and so, to make time pass, he played on the soft grass, and read books on a blanket in the garden.

Then the day would finally come when the brown skin revealed the delicate pink surface beneath, the incarnation of an awkward kiss. That other skin would harden, again, and renew itself, still, imperceptibly.

The child was the animal Messiah. Not unlike any other animal Messiah in the schoolyard but somewhat different, more like a frown on a woman’s face when she saw horseshit on the side of the road. More like a fart everyone heard. The other children felt uncomfortable around him. The animal Messiah broke a sweat whenever he masturbated.

The houses in grandma’s village were the same. They were painted differently, of course, according to the taste and financial means of the owners, but they all had the same look. Like a child’s drawing of a house. Two big rooms with small windows to keep the cold air out. A kitchen at the back of the house, to be used only during rough winters. Most of the kitchens had slanted ceilings as if they were an afterthought. Added at the last moment, just in case. Opposite to the kitchen, there was a storage room that housed fruit in the winter and was dark enough for monsters to live in it. At night, the animal Messiah was afraid of going in there the way children in American movies are fearful of basements.

And then there was the attic, where clothes were hanged to dry during winter.

The houses were built around winter, and in those houses, they lived their lives.
The sky above the animal Messiah was so unavailable. A girl, a cousin of his, had told him he shouldn’t say the sky is blue. The grass, the grass he would encounter later on his trips to grandma’s village, on late November mornings like hair parted to the side. Counterless were the heads he had to cross on his way to school every morning. Those mornings like the amber droppings of cherry trees in the summer. The ground beneath his feet so sterile and unkissable that the neighbors’ grapes were sweeter and more inviting. On that ground, the cherry trees refused to grow, they said: no sir, not here, we don’t do business with you people, there’s only sorrow in this earth. Apparently, some rituals had not been performed correctly, the soil too young to give birth to anything appealing except for the children who needed to be kept away from harm at all costs.

The world beyond the front gate, so evil the children had to jump over the fence and live with the bruises that flowered, numbly, between their thighs. Fate grabbed them by the legs and bruised them and mother appeared like the Virgin in the doorway when they ran away.

As they ran, the trees fell from the sky like grandma’s heavy words. Grandma brushed her hair and her words in the morning, and the brush felt like wood against teeth. She dyed her hair only just above the forehead, the side that was most visible from under her headscarf.

The trees they climbed to steal fruit, or bypass fences ran along with them. Cherry trees were particularly precious. Old men guarded them with sticks and stones, and if they dared to steal the fruit, they ended up with a good beating and the silent treatment for days on end.

The words settled at the bottom of the sink. The words mother found on father’s clothes, the words that were as long as a woman’s hair. Mother said: these are not my words. My words are not as long as that. The condoms that mother found in father’s winter coat.
In winter, the mother smoked by the stove, and the smoke got sucked in the puzzled mouth of the furnace. She tried to get the father’s attention and threw a box of matches at him. It flew through the room and hit the father in the groin. When the children were not looking, the father made a face, and in that face, the children witnessed their parents’ adolescence and understood that adults were not the adults of books or those on TV. Those were not the adults who set on voyages not knowing where they went to seek a cure for mysterious illnesses.

The box of matches was still flying when father was in prison. Grandma said: stop smoking girl, you have your children with you. It is still flying through the room as I write this.

The bedrooms in those houses had to be big enough to accommodate large families. To save on firewood, the families had to stick together, elbows scraping against each other. The other rooms were used as storage places and for Christmas trees. Since Christmas trees had chocolate bars on them, besides the twinkling lights and other merry paraphernalia, they had to be kept in cold rooms. Not because of the temperature, the chocolate bars didn’t melt quickly, but because the children had to be kept away from them. Especially the animal Messiah, who was overweight. The tree was there for the pictures they took every year. In the photos, the children wear heavy woolen caps and bulky sweaters that were as itchy as they looked. The children didn’t go in there alone. They just knew they had a Christmas tree in a part of the house that was inaccessible to them.

Clothes were stored in the other rooms, and they were cold when they were brought in. People and clothes had to be separated that way. They needed their intimacy. Grandpa’s heavy leather jackets were particularly bashful. Akin to distant relatives they were brought into the warm bedrooms only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to Sunday mass. And like distant relatives, they brought with them a smell of their own. It wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave, deodorant, and somberness. That wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His smell was that of chewed grass and hay and baby sheep. Little lambs that were brought into the house to sleep with the children on cold winter nights. The children didn’t mind it, they knew no other smells.

They built their lives around winter, and in those lives, they thrived.

What did you expect? They were used to seeing their own shit, and that of others as well, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. And if they had to use the bathroom late at night, well, good luck to you, my friend! No matter how well they dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, their balls suffered nonetheless. They had to pull their pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. They gave up quickly because of the cold. Their asses froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in their shit-and-piss concoction.

The houses were all the same. Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men ate the women, and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew up to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions strengthened over time. Their heads turned hard, and their heads held the sky.

The animal Messiah rarely put things on his head. His head was big enough. If he put stuff on his head, such as a cap or a hood or a big idea, his head was bound to look bigger, hence disgusting. Nobody wants to feel that way about a part of their body. Unless something is going on in your head unless it’s messed up and the only thing that can make it right is reprogramming, the traditional brainwash, mental shampooing. Use a clean and soft piece of cloth for your eyes, you don’t want to scratch those LEDs. You’ll wreck the high definition. Yet, when he did put things on his head, and then took them off, he needed time to realize there’s nothing on top of his head. He put his hands over his head to tell his brain there’s nothing there. Eventually, the brain got it, and he forgot about it.

When the animal Messiah was little, a log fell on his head. He started running home the moment it happened, but the other kids stopped him and calmed him down. They said: there’s nothing wrong with your head, except that it’s too big and it stood in the way of the log. His brain understood it was still in one piece. It had been a big log. If he were to put his fingers around it, they wouldn’t touch. Not even close. He knew the trunk was going to fall on his head, so he stood his ground beneath it like a retard, just to see how it feels.

The instant it fell the pain at the top of his head told him to stand his ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. His feet dug into the ground, and since then he’s been swimming in the dirt. The other kids didn’t want him to tell. They egged him on to see it fall on his head.

The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of his cousin, the girl who had told him about the blue sky. The animal Messiah had a swing made of wrought iron, and the cousin got really jealous, and she said to her grandpa she wanted one as well. So her grandpa put the log in between two trees and tied a rope around it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half-holes at each end made sitting on the string comfortably enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung for long periods, the log would rotate until it unhooked from the trees.

It went: plunk!

Nothing happened, really, except for the swimming in the dirt thing. Messiah’s head got more prominent because of that realization. His ears as well, to fit the size of his head.
Cousin’s granny said: your head is so big; you have the ears of a donkey, and your brother’s life will amount to nothing.

Cousin’s grandpa said: you stay away from that girl; go home and leave her alone. He was trimming the trees on the street, and the animal Messiah was just a little boy. He took his oversized head and went home, which was not very far because they were neighbors.

On the train, on my way to work, as I was reading through the manuscript, I thought about the animal Messiah and what he must have seen that day returning home. He must have seen mountains growing on the inside of his guts, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, the air in between them, the world bloated like a corpse left for too long in the open. He must have felt the shame of broken shoes.

A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. Yet it cannot remember what happened to the toy stolen from grandma’s house. The grandma on the father’s side of the family had a home unlike their own, and in it, there was a room that had no power outlets, no lights, no heating. The father’s twin brother and his wife slept in there in winter. The warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets, and they slept.

They built their lives around winter the way you put a scarf around your neck, and in those lives, they slowly withered.

In that home, there were toys unlike those the animal Messiah and his brother had, and one of the cousins insisted he hid one under his shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house, the toy vanished. The animal Messiah expected, even after reality set in and he finally got home, the toy to fall from under his t-shirt. He looked for it in the folds of his pants. To this day he’s still looking for it, still waiting for it to appear.

How could a head so big forget about the toy?

In high school, a classmate said: your head is so big, why is your head so big? The animal Messiah moved to another bed. Where else could he tuck his head if not inwards? How could he renounce this large house of dreams?

The world must feel like a constant clearing of the throat.

The father’s car got a remake, and it got painted in a putrid red, the color and texture of overly ripe grapefruit. The day after it was brought home from the repair shop, the thin woman who was their neighbor and whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it. She must have wondered how much money went into that paint. At times, the animal Messiah went into the car to listen to music on the radio. The car became his headphones. He listened to that song, Hotel California, without knowing what it was about or why the musicians had decided to call it that. It was the only song he liked, and he built his life around it.

The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, and chocolate bars, and yogurt. An empty backseat was a source of disappointment. Once, on his birthday, the seat was empty. He had been showered with gifts a couple of days before, but that didn’t count as much as the vacant seat. He wanted the game console that resembled a computer keyboard. He could write on it. Play word games. Which, in the end, he didn’t play because they were boring. Yet just having the possibility of playing that sort of games made him go mad with desire.
On that day, he was around the school in the afternoon, and he saw his father’s car approaching. There was nothing in the backseat. He wanted to cry. At home, he sat on the front steps of the house and acted really sad. He told his father about the game console. Father said: rest assured, you’ll get it soon. His father the traitor, the unloving father.

TWO

I had a pole in my chest, and people held on to it as if they were on a bus. I can’t recall what happened to the animal Messiah. I closed all the cupboards and doors in the house. The man I had called over the phone was then crossing the front yard, and I couldn’t help but think I didn’t like him. What had I been thinking? When I opened the door, he looked around the house, a puzzled look on his face, as if somebody else, some pilot, had taken over the control of his actions. Then he turned towards me and covered the silence with words and steps, and his tongue was in my mouth, and I felt the excitement of a bladder emptied of worries.

Fungi growing where my womanhood should have stood.

He gravitated nakedly around the bed while he spoke with pathos about what he’s going to do to me. I ground my teeth and felt sugar crystals between them.

He had a name for each action, and they all spoke of how I was giving myself away, selling myself cheap to a man I had willingly let into my house. I thought of what the children would say even though I had no children.

This man like a disease walked all over me. He moved above me with the certainty of a surgeon. He shifted until I felt a warmth in my chest and I couldn’t tell the difference between outside and inside any longer.

He said: you’re no woman; you’re good for nothing.

After he left, I used bleach to wash my body, but the words wouldn’t go away. The fungi blossomed on my belly and chest.

[…]

 

FOUR

The man stretched in my bed and sat at my kitchen table as if he owned the place. I had made sure to do the washing up. There were no dirty cups in the kitchen sink. We talked and while we did that I caressed his shinbone with my toes. His mother was in the hospital with cancer, and he spoke about her with a disdain I could not acknowledge. He was at my house, and I felt powerful. He had seen the books in my room, and his skin had touched my sheets.

His mother was going through the second round of chemotherapy, and she had given up hope, struggling against the doctors and the nurses who kept telling her everything was for her own good. To him, having a cancerous mother was a nuisance, because he had had to take some time off from his job to be with his mum. His father had taken his place at the mother’s side when he came to my house. He was here on borrowed time.

Then he started talking about his ex, and I felt pity for myself. After he left, I didn’t even dare to look at myself in the mirror. I made the bed and scrubbed myself clean. I replaced the sheets and used bleach to clean the shower cabin, the taste of his tongue in my mouth. Still, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, so I covered all of them.

I thought of the animal Messiah. By then, it had become an obsession, and I searched through my notes feverishly, hoping to find something, a detail that had perhaps escaped my attention and which might explain all this. At what point in his life had he decided he couldn’t live outside somebody else’s presence? The search took my mind off things. I wished, oh how I wanted, to go back in time and tell him he should, by all means, do his best to be happy on his own.

One Hundred and Twenty-Five

I took the train back home and fell asleep the moment it started moving. The ticket inspector woke me up minutes later, and I showed her my ticket, then fell back asleep. The sun was setting when I woke up, and in the distance, the sky glistened with gold and victory. When I got out of the train station, the city seemed utterly unchanged. I watched as the same buses came and went; the man who sold newspapers still there, in his booth, surrounded by flashy magazine covers. A teenager asked for a cigarette and was intent on paying for it. I told him I didn’t want his money, but he insisted. I took a taxi to our apartment and asked the driver to let me off at another address. I felt like walking the rest of the way because I wanted to see the supermarket just around the corner, and the antique shop with the expensive Persian carpets on display. The fluorescent sign outside the gym, the coffee shop just across the street, they were all there, like breadcrumbs, to remind me of my way back.

The key still worked. I took the elevator because my suitcase was too heavy and I was too tired to drag it up the two flights of stairs. I could, for once, use the elevator. When I got to the door, I was afraid to unlock it. I waited in the silence of the corridor, hoping to hear something moving in the apartment, but nothing stirred inside. I unlocked the door and the moment I opened it a repulsive smell assaulted me. I got in and closed the door behind me, afraid that it might travel around and disturb the others.

Nothing had changed. My note was still stuck to the fridge. Inside the freezer, tomatoes had rotten to ash. The curtains were heavy with grime and dust, the sink in the bathroom calcified. I left my suitcase in the hallway and started opening the windows. I did not yet dare to go into our bedroom, afraid that it might rekindle painful memories. I knew I could stall the wave of memories, because, after all, I was aware of what they were. I would see your clothes on the bed and imagine you taking them off before bedtime, the yellowish light on the bedside table throwing warm shadows all over your body, the hairs on your chest golden, like gossamer in the morning. I was already imagining everything, with the clarity of one who had understood the situation a long time before and was only playing along so as not to disrupt the natural course of things. I felt like I shouldn’t dwell on those memories, that I shouldn’t go into the bedroom. Not going in was part of that natural course of things. I might have seen it in some movie, the protagonist avoiding certain places, knowing full well that he would be unable to stop some of those memories from resurfacing. To us, in the audience, that always seems exaggerated, a shallow thing to do. But then I was doing it as well, avoiding the bedroom.

I took the garbage out and washed the two cups in the sink. I bleached the bathtub and the drain, wiped the bathroom mirror clean. The water was first rusty red, but then it cleared. The smell inside the house began to change. But I still didn’t go into the bedroom. I went out to the supermarket around the corner to buy some groceries. The cashier recognized me and asked where I had been all that time. I told her I had found work outside the city. Was I back for good? I put the coffee in the bag, then the fresh bread, then the cheese. I didn’t know what to tell her. Maybe, I said, I’m still figuring out what to do with my life. I gave a nervous laugh to show her that I wasn’t too serious about it. She smiled and placed her right palm on her chest. I hope you figure it out soon. I thanked her, grabbed my bag of groceries and went out.

The nights were beginning to get cold, the dying light at the edges of the horizon like a cry for help. The approaching night relentless in its advance. Neon signs competed with the dying sun. Some of the shops lining the street were closing, the owners looking at me, furtively, and with an air of despair, as if I were some sort of alien figure who was a harbinger of a darker age. Cars were idling on the streets around me, people returning from work. I envied them because they had decided to stay in the city while I was running away, from what I don’t know. But the atmosphere calmed me; it made me think of the afternoons after work I spent with you when I was tired but thrilled to see you. The happiness that gave me the energy to spend time with you and laugh with you while music inhabited the background.

I got back to the apartment and turned on the fridge. It whirred to life. I turned on all of the lights, but I still didn’t go into the bedroom. I decided to cook some pasta since it was the only thing I could make on the spot without using too many pans. I washed one of the pots and turned on the burner. The warmth coming from the boiling water made the windows sweat. Finally, it felt like home. I turned the TV on and let it run in the background. I put the pasta in the water and lowered the flame. I wanted it to cook slowly as if seeing it boil brought comfort. I took a bottle of wine out and opened it. The taste and smell of wine made me hungry. I cut some of the cheese into little pieces and placed them on a plate. A man on TV was speaking about immigration. The climate forced people to abandon their homes to move to other countries. They moved in groves, like groups of nomads in search for new ground.

I poured some more wine into the glass.

And there you were, frying the vegetables in a pan, making them jump, the way chefs do on TV. You were wearing a white t-shirt that said ‘double cheese makes life better’ and a pair of black trousers that made your long legs look even thinner. We were laughing, and I was recording you with my phone. It was the evening in which we had gone to a vintage clothes shop to look at some stuff and returned home famished. When we went to the supermarket to shop for groceries, I felt like I was going to faint from the hunger.

Once we got back home, it was already well after nine pm. You held onto the pan with your right hand and placed your left hand on your groin. If there had been a reference into your gesture, I didn’t catch it, yet I laughed anyway because your hair stood in a certain way that made you resemble a very young version of you. Perhaps the little boy who had been told that he was suffering from some sort of syndrome and had to be medicated to keep his body from growing out of proportions. You had told me about him, the little boy, a while back when we said each other stuff one night, and you listened in silence while I told you the story of my life. When you spoke about the doctor and the things he said to you I wanted to hold you tight as if to let you know that the doctor had been very wrong, that you turned out to be the sexiest man I had ever laid my eyes on.

Stay like this, I wanted to tell you, there’s no need to change anything.

Up went the vegetables, and then back into the pan. You were actually good at it. Your glasses were foggy from the steam. Is it a video? I nodded because I didn’t want my voice to be heard on the recording. I can only hear my laughter now. I can see the two glasses of wine on the kitchen table, and I can listen to the music in the background. I remember not wanting it to stop, that moment. I wished the world left us alone, there, in your kitchen. Let us live, and we’ll let you spin, as you’ve done for millions of years.

You were cooking rice or some variation of it. You always asked me what I wanted to eat, but I never knew what to say. You were disappointed by that, but to me everything with you was new, even the rice you were cooking. We fed each other chips and dried veggies while dancing. We decided to eat outside, on the little table you had put on the balcony, where I went for a smoke every once in a while. Before we sat at the table, you cleaned the table. You were adamant about hygiene, and so you wiped everything before use, even the plates you had just taken out of the dishwasher. The water in the water boiler had to be changed before every use because who knows for how many days it had been in there. You had used it that morning, but still, the water had to be changed. You told me to wear house slippers when I went into the bathroom.

You cooked the meat then set it next to the rice on the plates. Then, you lit the candles and placed them on the table. I took small bites, to make it last longer. It wasn’t the food that made the evening resemble perfection, it was the fact that we were there, on the balcony, and the world was watching us. I wanted the world to envy us, to wish to be there with us, or live through a similar moment.

I couldn’t go into the bedroom. I tied a rubber band around the thought.

I heard a noise coming from the bedroom. A thump on the floor. I stood and listened, but the sound did not occur again. I drained the pasta and poured the prepared sauce over it. I arranged it on a plate. Before sitting, I wiped the table clean, washed the glasses, and I, finally, sat down to eat. I did not usually say any prayers before eating, but right then I felt the compunction to do it. Not a prayer addressed to God, no, I had stopped long before that to believe there was a higher power watching over us. It was, instead, the desire to make a wish, as if the plate of pasta was a birthday cake and I had to blow the candles. I wished, most of all, to see you return, to be able to share that meal with you, to let you know that I had mastered the art of making a meal for myself. You were always accusing me of being dismissive of food when the time came to eat something. The truth was, I hated cooking because it required time I did not want or have to dedicate to it. After a hard day’s work, cooking was the last thing that went through my mind. I wanted you, not to love me, I think we were well past that, but to be happy for me, to be content that I had turned into someone you wished me to become.

The rubber band stretched. I couldn’t go into the bedroom.

After I finished eating, I went out on the balcony for a smoke. I found the ashtray with the row of half-naked women on it, which you had bought as a joke. I smiled when I saw it because it was akin to discovering a part of you. The two small chairs with the dark brown pillows on them were still there, as was the little star with the LED light inside that twinkled. When I turned it on, the star lit up and pulsed, but only a few times and then it went dead, or to faint light. A car parked in the courtyard and a man wearing sweatpants came out of it. He did not look up and went into the adjacent building.

I was afraid of going back into the apartment after I finished smoking. It looked so empty and silent from the outside. I put the dishes into the dishwasher and decided to make camp on the living room sofa. I dragged the suitcase into the room. The man on TV was still talking about immigration and the challenges it posed to the soul transfer system. New trends were developing, people asked to be transferred into bodies that lived in the developed world. The notion of citizenship was becoming superfluous. I changed channels. I locked the door and stretched out on the sofa.

Then, I fell asleep and dreamt of my grandmother, who was taking me to an abandoned house. Inside the house, there was a special room that did not have any floors. And if you opened the door and looked down, you could peer into the abyss of your mistakes. I did not see my mistakes, or sins because I woke up before I could do that. But even before I could open the door to that room, I knew what my mistakes were.

How to kill a sobbing heart (88)

my-post-10In the car, Francis did not say a word. He looked, forlornly, out the window at the passing scenery. I put my hand on his knee and asked him how he felt. It’s different now, he said and placed his hand on top of mine. Different, how? I don’t know, he replied, just different. Then he was back in his mind again. I continued talking about trivial matters. The weather had turned hectic. Sea levels had been rising alarmingly, and people were fleeing from the coasts into the mainland. Cities were disappearing. The transition between seasons had become abrupt and unforgiving as if someone up there wanted to see how we would react to that. Have you read Dante’s Inferno? Francis was looking at me now. I asked him to repeat the question. He went on. That’s how I feel, it’s like I’m in beast mode. He closed his fists, placed them together and brought them to eye level, the way children do to mime the use of a telescope. It’s like I’m looking through a plastic tube. Everything is unglued.
Did the therapy help? It did, it made him aware of how his mind worked, it helped him become aware of the plastic tube. I promised him he was going to get better, but I don’t think he heard that. He was looking out once more.
There had been signs; signals, lights going on and off. Martha, who spent the most time with him, told me about these symptoms when we still saw each other regularly. Francis couldn’t sleep, and she would often find him wandering around the apartment in the middle of the night, without knowing what he was doing. He kept asking her, out of the blue, whether she wanted to say something because she was always clearing her throat. She wasn’t doing that, but he heard the sound at all times. People clearing their throats, preparing to say something, which they never did. And he was curious to know, so much, until that curiosity began to eat his guts, and he lost his mind.
The prospect of losing him terrified Martha. Because they had been living together for a while and he was taking steps into directions that unsettled her sense of the world. He would sit around for hours doing nothing, telling her about the things he was going to do. He could find a decent job that was going to make him so people-smart that she will no longer recognize him. She was scared witless. He smoked so much that the hairs inside his nose turned yellow. His teeth, too, because he overlooked oral hygiene. This torpor consumed most of his days. There were good days as well when he would go out and return with a bag of groceries. More often than not he would return empty-handed with a face that spoke a thousand words. She would then fall at his feet, beg him to come back to her. He would smile, fiendishly almost, and tell her that he was there. He wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t violent, he was merely absent-minded. He put the coffee brewer on the burner without pouring the water in it. The brewer burned minutes later. He didn’t apologize, didn’t promise to buy a new one.
They slept in the same bed but didn’t touch. They had stopped touching long before that. She leaned into him, and his attention could only be drawn from whatever was going on in his mind by her clear intentions. He needed to see that she wanted to kiss him, he didn’t do anything on his own volition. He had to be shown how to do it, and when to start doing something. Martha closed herself inside the bathroom when he went on the balcony to smoke, late at night. She cried from fatigue and despair. She was working shifts, and at times she was afraid of going to work, thinking of all the terrible things he might do to himself, knowingly or unknowingly. He could try and make coffee and forget the water again, or forget about the coffee altogether and set the house on fire. She cringed whenever at work she was called by her supervisor thinking that that was it, the call that told her he had succeeded in taking his own life. She also cried, bitterly, because, secretly, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that she wanted to be finally, and irreversibly, free of him. It was going to hurt, a lot, she thought, but she was going to fight through it. She was strong enough to do it.
When she did get the call, that call, she broke down. She went to the hospital, to his room, where he stood, akin to a mummified pharaoh, on a bed of light blue sheets, and transparent tubes. He looked at her from above, and she broke down right there and then, in front of him. This time furiously, pitilessly, charging at him, hitting him, raising her fists in the air. You selfish animal, she howled, and the nurses at the central station turned their heads. The word, animal, akin to a ritualistic combination of words, the demon evoked in need of spiteful words to fully emerge from the underworld, to hatch from that egg of anger. I’m done with you, she continued, I’m tired of looking for you. I’m done with this constant fear, the continuous search for you. A smile played on his lips. You’re right, he said, I don’t want it any longer either. Martha then fell on a chair, next to the wall, and sobbed uncontrollably, because there it was, what she feared most, his irreversible loss in the murkiness of his own thoughts, out of which she had tried, and failed, to pull him. She grabbed her bag and held it to her chest. You’re melodramatic, he said, which also means you never loved me. She froze, her voice still buried in her guts, her legs finally lighter, her fatigue liberated, it danced somewhere else in the hospital room. The fact that you’re leaving me, right here; that’s what it means.
She was melodramatic, she thought on her way out, and he didn’t deserve it, not in the least bit, not even feelings heightened to theatricality. She saw his gesture as one of pure selfishness. He didn’t think of her when he cut his wrists and watched the blood run out of his body. He couldn’t have possibly thought of her when he sat in the bathtub, naked, and filled it with water. It was the downstairs neighbor who had discovered him there, alive, barely, the blood-red liquid that had oozed through the vents, to stain the man’s bathroom ceiling. He was the one who called the ambulance, and he was the one who had called her workplace. He must have left the water running on purpose, she thought, to ruin her bathroom, bring everything down with him, her carpets, let his blood soak everything. She was sure of it.
She got out of the hospital and walked toward the center of the parking lot. She couldn’t remember where she left her car and she stood there for a while shielding her eyes from the sun. She started getting impatient. For the death of her, she couldn’t recall from which direction she drove in. She started walking quickly, then running, then she came back to where she had started looking. Her armpits were dark with sweat. She turned on her heels and still she couldn’t remember. Then she sat down on the concrete, behind an electric panel to hide from the sun. She was out of breath.
The light above her changed, the evening sun was shifting. Heat emanated from the ground and the cars all around her. Another thought crept into her, and it disturbed her because it was unwelcome. Perhaps he was right as well. The fact that she had left him, at a time when he needed her most, was irrefutable proof that she wasn’t in love with him after all. That she had failed.
She stood up and looked around the parking lot. She remembered now. The cafeteria next to the parking lot, the big tree behind it. She remembered parking the car beneath it, in the shade. She walked, and to her relief, she saw the car. And that relief felt so familiar to her. It was as if she had been looking for it for a very long while.