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.

 

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Fifteen)

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We didn’t have much money when we were little. Once, my brother stole money from my mother’s purse and went on a shopping spree that eventually cost us lunch money for almost a week. He bought lots of peanuts for some reason. I distinctly remember watching the other kids at school eat their wafers and chocolate bars while I only had one apple and a watering mouth. I know now that it was the healthier choice, but you know how envious kids can get. When the teacher wanted to know why I had only one apple for lunch, I told her the truth: we were out of money.

To my astonishment today, I didn’t blame my brother for it. At that time, I perceived it as a form of cruelty perpetrated on us by our parents. They must’ve had money stashed away in some hiding place, money they wanted to keep for themselves. We couldn’t be that poor. To my innocent mind, it was the grandmother’s fault because she was the one who took care of the family’s finances. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford that new game console, they just didn’t want us to have it. We had to wear the same jacket two years in a row while the other kids got new ones every year. I wore pants knitted by my mother, which I hated because they felt heavy and made me look bulkier.

People in school were mean for no reason. I was bullied throughout middle-school and high-school, that is, ever since I became aware of the fact that I had an ego that suffered when it was deprecated. Older kids made fun of me because I was chubby and studied a lot. Because I was a geek and spent time making mud pies. Some of my classmates derided my inability to run during physical education classes, which I avoided to the best of my abilities. I even had my parents bribe the family doctor to give me a special dispensation for those classes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it, but my grandparents had convinced me that if I forced myself to do something, such as intense physical activity, something would burst inside me and I would die.

Once, I developed my own alphabet and wrote stuff using that. Kids in school made fun of that as well. I kept a diary and brought it to school every once in a while to draft and develop my thoughts. They stole it from my backpack and read it out loud to the others while I cringed with embarrassment. I had written about my first gay crush, who was an older student and a volleyball player. And for all this, the only explanation I could find at that time was that my classmates were inherently evil and that they hated my guts. So I tried to avoid them, get out of class before the bell rang, spend my weekends alone playing stupid online games. My father’s colleagues from work made jokes about my parents feeding me yeast, which made me look bloated like a balloon. My cousin’s grandma once told me I had the head and the ears of a mule. I was called a sissy by random people, on the street, in school, and everywhere I made an appearance.

Casual acts of verbal and physical cruelty were at the order of the day, to the point where even things such as “you shouldn’t sit outside because it’s cold,” took on the tinge of personal attacks. Why couldn’t they just accept the way I was? When my parents went away, I went to live in the city with an old lady (and a cat) who reprimanded me for my slowness and told me to suck it up and act like a man. These acts happened so often that I came to actually give credence to them and reach the conclusion that there was something inherently wrong with me. I didn’t deserve to have friends because I was so obnoxious. With this, there also came the belief that, eventually, somebody was going to accept me for who I was and save me from myself. The only thing to do, I thought, was to find that person and steer clear of all those haters who told me I wasn’t good enough. They were the ones who needed rehabilitation, not I. I was the innocent one.

Since then, I’ve made peace with it, with them, because the resentment consumed me. It still does, especially when I get rejected by someone and I am reminded once again of my own fallibility. It is in those moments that I begin contemplating the idea that perhaps my bullies were right after all. Maybe I am unlikeable just like they told me. Whenever I feel like I disappointed my students, by making an error or by not explaining a concept in the best possible manner, the feeling returns. Why am I even trying? Am I really that stupid to believe that I could actually do it? Yet, whenever this happens, I do my best to develop new ways of halting the stream of negative thoughts at their nascent stages. And it’s not by looking at myself in the mirror while repeating out loud that I am beautiful, that I deserve to be loved, that I am human and make mistakes. I do it by being frank about my fallibility up front so that people around me can identify my mishaps and perhaps forgive me for them, exercise empathy, nurture affection, or just ignore them.

As you can imagine, it takes a tremendous mental effort to do this, and at times panic settles in, and my body starts sending signals of encroaching danger where there is none. I had a severe episode on a Saturday morning in class when I felt I couldn’t go on teaching and had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom because I was afraid I was going to soil my underwear and pants in front of my students. I was out of breath and felt as if my knees were going to topple and I was going to fall over my desk. My heart was racing, and I was sweating profusely. That day, I taught for six hours in this pitiful state, taking frequent trips to the bathroom because I was drinking water like there was no tomorrow, and to this day I still can’t fathom what kept me going, or what, to my despair, was the thing that triggered it. The fear returns every once in a while, but I’ve learned to live with it, and now it no longer bothers me that much.

A similar episode occurred while I was driving the car with my parents in it, on our way to Romania. Our GPS got lost, and my reaction was way out of proportion. My blood pressure swiftly dropped. I couldn’t focus on the road, and I felt my senses receding to the back of my mind while I was desperately trying to focus on my breath. Luckily, I had not entirely lost my ability to make decisions and told my dad I needed to pull over because I was feeling unwell. The moment I did that, and I took a sip of water, I lost consciousness.

I woke up to a beeping sound, which in fact was only in my head, and to my parents’ dumbfound faces. I exchanged seats with my father, and just minutes later, after I had checked whether we were on the right motorway, I lost consciousness again. When I woke up, we were back on the side of the road, and there was that beeping sound still. Reality came back in chunks. First the sky through the windshield, then my mom and dad’s glassy eyes, their voices asking me whether they should call an ambulance. Then the realness of the situation: I had lost contact with reality a second time that day. My chest felt heavy, and my breath was labored as if no matter how much air I sucked into my lungs it just wasn’t enough. What scared me most, though, was the fact that I had uncovered in me this ability to explore, albeit unknowingly, this dark space that was beyond my control, and which ran dangerously close to death.

That summer, once we got to my grandparents’ place, I did a complete medical check-up. Blood tests came back clean. A cardiologist looked closely at my heart, literally, and concluded, somewhat to my chagrin, there was nothing wrong with it, except for the fact that it was slightly, almost imperceptibly, enlarged. I had hoped they could see my heartbreaks, but there was nothing there. Perhaps heartbreaks only make your heart bigger, able to accommodate even more people. Or more heartbreaks. I checked my blood pressure on a daily basis, and it stayed within the prescribed limits. My body was healthy, and all the tests corroborated that conclusion. The verdict was somewhat underwhelming: it was all in mind. My bullies were gone, only to be replaced by a bullying mind, which waged war on my body on a daily basis.

I tried meditation and mindfulness to dissuade my mind from going into a fully-fledged war with my body. My back ached from all those deep breaths I took. There was an urgency to the attacks which confounded me because I felt as if they went against my nature. I had been, throughout my life, a very calm person, so why was I experiencing them? Then, when all else failed, I tried medicating them. My doctor prescribed benzodiazepines, which I took, on doctor’s orders, one hour before my classes, so that the effects of the pills would be clearly discernible from the thrum of my irrational fears by the time I got to class. I panicked when I got on crowded trains, which was almost always the case, and I got lightheaded when I was about to go on a date. I resorted to the pack of pills, whose presence was somewhat reassuring, even when I was about to go out with my friends. My anxiety subsided the way an earthquake would, and I was able to enjoy life once again. I was back to my good old zen self.

The pills emptied me of whatever negative feelings I had. They slowed me down. Reality washed over me in a constant but calming stream, a rivulet really, and everything felt manageable. Whenever I made a mistake in class, I stopped, corrected myself, and apologized. I couldn’t care less about my slips. Yet, in time, I began being increasingly aware of the fact that the pills deprived me of whatever mechanisms I might have developed to work around my issues. They were not a way to do that, the tablets only numbed my feelings, which was akin to me avoiding my bullies in high-school when I asked my teachers to let me out the class before the bell rang. The solution was always the pill. When I couldn’t sleep because of all that constant worrying and dreading, my hand quickly reached for the pills, boxes of which I kept all over the house. I put one tablet in the pockets of every jacket I had, just in case.

I realized that matters were getting out of hand when I had gone out with a friend of mine, and he kept complaining about the humidity ruining his hair, and I was about to lash out at him and tell him that I was on benzodiazepines because I couldn’t deal with reality and he worried about his fucking hair?! I didn’t do it, but just the thought of wounding his ego in that way helped me understand that the medication was beginning to legitimize a side of me I wasn’t ready to call my own: the one that admitted defeat. The part of me which admitted to being unable to work without the pills’ helping hands. The side of me that had given up on trying to recover the calmness with which I had prided myself in the past. It was only a matter of time until I would resort to that chemical succor even for the most basic human functions, such as going to the supermarket or talking to neighbors.

Now, I don’t mean to say that medication is the easy way out of a time-consuming and challenging problem. When it comes to specific mental health issues medication is vital. That is, it saves lives. It helps people lead wholesome lives and prevents them from identifying fully with their affliction. You’re not your depression. Your anxiety does not define who you are. Yet, I believe it is also essential to realize that, in time, it could lead to a defeatist outlook on life, at least when it comes to anxiety disorders. Where do we draw the line between what we do and what medication makes us do? Does it affect our capacity to make decisions? Can we claim full authorship on a decision made while under medication?

Most of us probably know this, but medication does not go to the source of our problems, it only takes care of the symptoms. It sweeps things under the carpet where we can’t notice them, which can be a good strategy, especially when you have a full-time job, or you have to raise children who do not seem to understand your mood swings. It goes without saying that most people don’t understand mood swings because if they can just stop feeling depressed, then you can do it as well. You just have to be happy, embrace positive thinking, and start singing Bob Marley. It also goes without saying that this kind of advice is likely to make things worse because it implies that if one can do something, then all of us should be able to do it.

Over the past year, while dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks, I have also tried to identify as best as I could moments in my life that have led me to where I am today, but that’s always a difficult task. Most of the times the things you think have left a mark on you are not the source of your problems. It might be something else entirely. The abuse that was not perceived as abuse when it was perpetrated on you. Family issues, an alcoholic father, an opprobrious uncle, or a cousin whose sexual appetites were too developed for his age. It can be any number of things, and there is no right or wrong answer in this equation.

I always return to my bullies, which might be my easy way out. It might be that I’m giving them too much credit where there is little credit to offer, or where there is none. I also keep having the nagging sensation that my lingering on the high-school episode might be merely an obsession I have developed over the years and that it might be high time to just let it go. My bully-narrative does fall in line with the current craze for tales of redeeming à la Oprah Winfrey. We’re all looking, it seems, for a traumatic past that would explain why we are the way we are today, to be able to say that, yes, we’ve suffered, but we’ve managed to overcome that. Just look at how far we’ve come. And perhaps I’m vilifying my bullies the way I belittled my family when I felt like they weren’t giving me the things I wanted. I need them to be evil to justify the damage I seem to be doing to myself or to be able to say that the image I have of myself is beyond recovery because of that.

It’s astonishingly easy to vilify those who hurt us, or those who do things we perceive as hurtful. It’s as if we’re hardwired to do so, trained to expect instant gratification even when the rules of the game do not even mention it or are vague with regards to that. The slightest offense, such as reading a text without replying to it right away, triggers waves of resentment. Not getting a like on Facebook from a specific person is often interpreted as an indication of a friendship turning cold. Each gesture, even the most unconscious, is thus soaked with intentions that are, in most cases, detrimental to our mental wellbeing, deprecating to our egos, disrespectful of our investments, be them emotional or physical. The road from peace to fully-fledged war is a slippery slope.

This summer I met a guy I really liked, and it all seemed to work well between us. We both love books and reading, and so we always had something to talk about, albeit our tastes in literature were diverse. He likes Italo Calvino, while I find him cold and distant at times (though the guy swears that it’s not so). I love Faulkner and other authors he has never read, and probably never will. But that never got in between us. The first time we went out we had drinks at a bar in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, and we instantly liked each other. We discussed Camus that time, and in no time we got to touching hands and looking at each other with dreamy eyes. After we had drinks, we bought beers and went to his place and listened to music late into the night. We talked about Virginia Woolf and, of course, we kissed (and…did some other stuff as well; I won’t go into details). Then it was time to go because it was getting late, and he accompanied me downstairs, and we kissed by the main entrance knowing that there were surveillance cameras. We felt rebellious because, I think, we had uncovered something in each other we both liked. I took a rented bike and rushed to the train station all sweaty from the pedaling and the unusually warm night. But I felt happy.

We decided to meet again, and when I went to pick him up from his apartment, I immediately noticed something was off. We had drinks at a different bar, and we grabbed something to eat, and then we took a long walk on the banks of the river Po at night. And we had THE talk. He liked me a lot, but he was unsure about it, because he had felt the same way about his ex, and it was happening all over again, and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He was happy about seeing me, but then he saw me and felt doubt creeping in. I felt humiliated and embarrassed and told him I was going to go because the discussion made me uncomfortable, and it reminded me of other such dates, which had not worked out and they only made me feel bad about myself. Yet, he told me to stay and talk things through. We did discuss things through, and his doubts seemed to recede. My doubts did the same. I have always been of the conviction that whatever issues we might encounter in such cases there was a way out, a compromise that would make things work.

We met, repeatedly, and then he had to go back to the south for the summer holidays. We talked, every day, exchanged ideas about books and writing because he is also a writer in the making. He got jealous when I commented on other guys’ pictures on Facebook, and he told me so. I was happy with that because, finally, there was a guy who likes me the way I am. Then the ominous silences began until I couldn’t take it any longer and demanded an explanation. He told me he changed his mind and gave full swing to his doubts. He was no longer interested in pursuing whatever we had because he never really liked me in the first place. I’m an exciting guy but physically not that attractive, and so he had decided we could stay friends.

I tried crying but couldn’t. Tears never came quickly to me. A friend suggested I took a shower because showers made him cry when the situation required it. I tried writing but couldn’t. I walked around my grandparents’ back garden trying desperately to muster the energy to scream, to be furious, to kick things, punch holes through the walls. I turned the music to full volume hoping that in that way I wouldn’t be able to hear my thoughts. What did I expect? Why had I trusted this guy who was, ultimately, just like everybody else? I should have known better! I tried reading James Baldwin to calm down, but nothing helped. The heaviness in my chest returned, the shortness of breath, the lightheadedness. And all I wanted to do was tell this guy that he was a douchebag. I felt betrayed, sad, and alone, and most of all, I saw my old fears confirmed. My bullies had been right after all.

I didn’t tell the guy any of that stuff. Resorting to negative feelings, I had come to know, was akin to reaching for the pills. A quick way out that would have closed the door behind me forever. And I didn’t want that. Deep down I hoped he would take his words back and we would get back together. So I kept all that resentment to myself. Then, when we met after the summer something was definitely off. He kept squinting at me as if he couldn’t understand what I was talking about. He was overdoing his gestures, he laughed theatrically and somewhat nervously. He was intent on showing me that we had lost whatever spark there was between us. To this day we still exchange texts every once in a while. A couple of days ago he sent me a picture of the cover of a book which had made him think of me, and that makes me happy.

Yet, my initial reaction was to vilify him. I wanted him to sense my resentment and feel sorry for hurting me. I wanted him to feel sorry for himself. And although I thought of him in this way at that time, now I realize that it was only a deviation from how I honestly feel about him. I still experience that warmth in my chest I felt the first day we met when I think of him. He may feel differently about this whole situation, yet I choose to stay true to my feelings. I will most likely never know how he felt. I only hope we worked things out, in the best way, for both of us. Resentment returns, of course, and often when I see him on dating sites, I get jealous and imagine him going out with all those guys. But that feeling is only a feeling that is not mine to have. He made his choices. I made mine.

And that’s that.

I saw his best friend today, on my way to class, and I was reminded of him. The same friend in front of whom he had kissed me once when we met on the street, back when things were still going well, and I was full of hopes, and I couldn’t look at other guys. And a wave of bitterness washed over me. And I took a walk. I often doubt myself, yet I refuse to believe there’s something wrong with me. I’m sure he had his reasons.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Fourteen)

I used to do drag on stage when I was in high school. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t know how to do elaborate makeup and sew fabulous dresses out of curtains. Doing drag, for me, at that time, wasn’t new at all. When I was little, I used to dress up in my mother’s clothes and put on lipstick and dance in front of the mirror. I thought high heels were just the thing I needed. Pretending to be a woman on stage felt like a natural extension to my daily life: I did the washing up when mother was too busy doing other stuff, and grandpa always added an “a” to my first name, which, in Romanian, is usual for girls’ names, whenever he wanted to be affectionate. I was, throughout my childhood, called all kinds of names and they were all variations of sissy. Or they felt like they were variations of that.

I spent a lot of time with girls because guys naturally excluded me from their group. When I did manage to break through that wall of ice, which rarely happened, they regarded me with suspicion and kept me at arms’ distance. Or they bullied me back to the girls’ side of the room, where I was accepted with the kind of giggle you give a child when it cannot work out how a toy works. I knew I wasn’t one of them, that was kind of obvious, I had the extra thing, but at least I had somebody to hang out with. And that was okay for a while, that is until I was expected to develop a sexual interest in girls. Which is where things started to go amiss. For obvious reasons that were not as obvious at that time as they are today.

My brother did it. His friends did it. My uncle did it. They all spoke about girls with a wink at the end of every sentence as if they had been let in on a secret I was yet to be revealed by actually being with a girl. Often enough, my brother would boast about the fact that he had been taught by my uncle to fuck everything he could get his hands on, no pun intended. As opposed to my brother and his friends, who gathered to watch porn on the same VHS player I used for watching Disney movies (Aladdin is my favorite btw), girls represented a particular class of citizens that, to the eyes of the same group of men, required the implementation of a strategy, an approach. You circled around them, and then you closed in on them.

I was, of course, oblivious to the procedure, and I still am. The first time I went out with a girl, and she held my hand, all I felt was the embarrassment of having trespassed on an act that was not for me to see. She snuggled against me while we were watching a movie at the cinema, and perhaps I knew I was supposed to do something, but I kept watching the film because there were fucking robots and flying drones in it (“only a guy could like such things,” she said). When another girl held my hand, just outside class at university, I felt like disappearing because I was suddenly visible, my interests were revealed to the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel the same about guys. A couple of weeks ago I went out with a guy, whom I really liked, and we held hands and kissed in public. At the bus stop, while waiting for my bus to come, I kept my arm around his shoulders, and a little girl stared at us, and I couldn’t help obsessing over what she might be thinking. Or what the mother, who accompanied the child, might be thinking. I felt the urge to keep my hands to myself, but I also felt the guy didn’t want me to do that, and we sort of met halfway, unconsciously, and decided to enjoy those moments together. That shyness was there, too, yet, it was a shyness overruled by honesty. I wasn’t doing something that betrayed who I was, or who he was. It was the shyness of being awarded a prize of which I was proud.

I felt the same giddiness, though of a different degree when I went to the Pride Parade in Turin this year. I danced in the streets, and there were times when a chastising voice in my head kept reminding me of the fact that I was a university teacher and that a student might see me, inevitably, and think the worst. Or tell his parents who would later storm into my office and point an accusatory finger at me. I found it hard, but I reminded myself that the parade was precisely about that, about being proud of who I was, and that there must be, akin to the lives of famous writers, a separation between the personal and the professional, and that the two do not mix except obliquely and in non-invasive ways. At the end of the parade, my friends and I sat down on the sidewalk in the Vittorio Veneto square, and I felt somewhat empowered and decided to wear the rainbow flag on my backpack. I felt the fatigue one feels at the end of a productive day.

But above all these aspects, there looms an overwhelming fear, which creeps in often enough to make us avoid certain situations and which leads us to long and search for safe spaces. The phrase is often overused in gay-speak, but it defines a place where we are free of the expectations of gender. Where we are not expected to develop a sexual interest in a person of the opposite sex. Where we are able not only to hold hands and kiss with people of the same sex but also where guys can have girl-friends and girls can have boy-friends and not feel the pressure of sexual interest. It’s not necessarily a physical space, akin to those quiet coaches on a train, but it does set boundaries against any type of bullying. It is, quintessentially, a space that makes us less self-conscious.

I’m confident there are people out there, people I know, people you know, who do not see the necessity of these safe spaces. Society nowadays has developed a system of checks and balances that ostracize those who engage in hate speech, and this is, doubtlessly, a positive development. In most European countries today as well as in the United States, gay people are no longer attacked, verbally or physically, for their preferences. But that is not the point. Difference, much like change, is always unsettling mostly because we live in a world that is saturated with the things we trust are normal. When I started sharing my dating life on Facebook by writing short posts in Italian, I did it with the best of intentions and out of the belief and confidence that I should no longer hide. A few days after publishing one of my posts, the father of a friend of mine warned me that I was too naive and that some people, out there, might not be as open-minded as the most of us. He said it was fatherly advice and I accepted it as such, although, for a minute, I had visions of somebody using my words against me. An enraged student, one of my high school classmates, my parents’ friends who might use my homosexuality against them. Since then, I started filtering out, by using Facebook’s privacy settings, those who might pose a threat from that point of view. Friends, except so and so. And that is the point.

You mostly feel the necessity of these safe spaces when you like somebody, and you feel the world is standing between the two of you. It might be something that the guy you’re dating says while you’re waiting to get your movie tickets at the cinema that makes you want to touch his face. But before you take any action, you must always, be aware of your surroundings. The thought process is akin to those habit-breaking techniques they teach you when you’re trying to quit smoking. Take a step back, observe your thinking, and act against it. If you’re straight, you don’t think twice before touching your girl’s face to show affection. We have to think twice. I’ve experienced this a couple of times, but I’ve never felt it so ardently as I did when I met Richard.

[Slight change of tone here. Bear with me.]

Richard lives with his mother, and after meeting me for the first time, she told him that I’m slightly effeminate. He said it casually, over one of our expensive dinners, as if to say that he doesn’t agree with his mother’s first impression. I dismissed this confession with a papal wave of the hand. All first impressions are mistaken, as the saying goes, and to the naked eye of a mother who can only wish the best for her son, I might appear slightly offputting, as all in-laws do. And I might have returned to the thought, perhaps, while I was having sex with her son and she was still in the house one Saturday morning, adding to it, if not scorn, then at least some form of pity. But not the kind of compassion one feels for the unfortunate; instead, it was the sort of sympathy one feels for those who decide to tell you about the latest conspiracy theory they came across on the internet.

The first time I met Richard, which was in front of the Porta Susa train station in Turin, I fell in love with him. Love might be a word too big for what really happened, but I like to think that, finally, and for once, I fell in love with a guy. He speaks English with a proper English accent (not sure about the grammar though), and he dresses like a guy who’s got his own business and likes to look as if he’s never done one hour of work in his life. Which is the cool and slightly-urban-zen-just-out-of-the-gym-and-freshly-showered kind that makes you jealous and fear for your life. The second time we went out for drinks, I was still in love with him and touched his hand while he was showing me a LOTR parody on YouTube. It was also out of love that I decided to tell him the drinks were on me. It didn’t matter that I spent the pocket money I had saved for a week teaching English to a twelve-year-old on two drinks (!!!) as long as it was out of love. We kissed in the car in an underground parking lot, and we kissed when nobody was looking. And when we went out with his friends, I had to pretend I was straight.

Now, acting straight in public should be (and is, presumably) easy, and it’s not really about making comments about girls or talking about how much you like them. It is, in fact, the default label you end up with unless the person observing you has the emotional acumen to detect or understand that you are not straight. I say this from personal experience. A girl I met at the library once told me she had sensed a peculiar sensitivity in me and hence she concluded that I must be gay. A student of mine, a girl, told me she realized I was gay from the way I folded the cable of my earphones. It’s true, I don’t like when it gets all tangled up, but that girl is Sherlock. (Also, she might be reading this.) However, most people don’t have that, and they stick to the default settings: you’re straight, let’s not discuss this further. And Richard wore that label like some people wear their flaws. On his (expensive shirt) sleeve.

We always sat at opposite ends of the table, and if any touching was to be involved, we did it under the table, and only when some heavy tablecloth could cover our trespasses. Richard would always look both ways before doing anything that showed affection towards me. When I asked him whether he came out to his parents, he said yes but that he didn’t really talk about it with them. His friends did not know, and once it happened that one of the girls took an interest in him and he rejected her, not because he was gay, there was no talk of that, but because he was not interested. This created tensions within his group of friends, for obvious reasons, and he kept complaining about the fact that the others sort of avoided him. The problem was, of course, with his friends.

We danced around the topic akin to tribal men around a fire. When I addressed the issue of him coming out to his friends, which, I thought, might have eased the tensions and reinforced the bonds he had with these people, Richard dismissed it and said that he doesn’t want his sexual preferences to define who he is. Which is, rationally, a valid argument. Nobody puts that on their CV for sure, just like nobody goes around telling people, at the bus stop, for instance, that they are gay or straight. Being proud of who you are also implies this, that you can lead a life in which what you do in the bedroom does not affect your daily struggle, that you have a secret life you share only with those who matter. Yet, again, that is not the point.

Coming out is a sensitive topic. When I came out to my parents, I trembled the way I do the moment I’m about to open some blood test results. We all struggle with it, and it is that very struggle that makes the moment crucial, and constructive. Before actually doing it, I practiced everything in my head a thousand times: what I’m going to say, how I’m going to do it, where I’ll keep my hands. Yet I knew that I have to do it because, for a very long time before that, it had started to affect how I acted around my parents. Thinking twice before doing or saying anything in their company became second nature and, for once, I wanted to enjoy the ease of mind and body I could only feel at home. And perhaps that is the point. You come out to the people you care for when you begin to think that what you do in the bedroom stands between you and that ease of mind you experience only when you’re around family and friends. It’s about removing a massive amount of anxiety from your life.

I stopped seeing Richard more than a year ago. We didn’t discuss it over, we just stopped talking to each other. He isn’t much of a talker anyway. I wouldn’t hear from him for months until I would write to him and ask him out. He blocked me on Facebook or deactivated his profile, I do not know for sure. I only know that he disappeared from my life. Searching for reasons would only mean vilifying him, and I don’t want to do that. Then, a few months back, I started to miss him and asked him out again. We had drinks and French fries at this very butch pub in Turin. And by butch I mean that they sell burgers and dozens of different types of beers I cannot tell apart and men go there to watch soccer matches wearing funny hats and flags. We talked, and I was disheartened to notice that he had not changed his mind in the meantime. He no longer goes out with his friends because he feels as if they betrayed him somehow. I asked whether he made any new gay friends and he said he doesn’t need that. I suggested he tried dating apps, we had met, after all, on Tinder, but he told me everyone there has AIDS, and I didn’t broach the subject further.

I was on those dating apps as well. I knew some of those people who supposedly were HIV positive. I saw him again in his pastel-colored suit at my Ph.D. graduation ceremony, but he didn’t stick around for drinks, so we didn’t have the chance to talk that much. I still get that warmth in my chest when I see him, and, perhaps, that feeling will never go away. I hope it doesn’t. And I hope he’ll find what he’s looking for, whatever that is.

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Architectural Design (sneak peek III)

[Beginnings]

On the way to the shop, the sexless child, like any sexless child, fell from the sky in the village of grandma and into the arms of an overweight priest who tried drowning the sexless child in abnormal water. On the way to the shop, the child fell on knees and elbows, breaking the skin. That’s when the child acquired a gender. The sexful child became he.

Such joy. A boy to carry the name on his shoulders. A name like a dead body.

Wait. Or perhaps some internal animal, eager to come out, tricked the child into falling on his knees and elbows to make the blood come out. It was the devil that the overweight priest tried to wash away with the abnormal water. The blood came out, first shyly then stubbornly, like a playmate who refuses to leave. The child ran back home crying and the child’s father suggested he wash his wounds with soap. The mother disagreed and instead placed the child on her extended legs, rocking him from side to side until the pain subsided, so that the child faced the womb and go back the way he came.

But the child did not know how to get back.

The child had to wait for the wounds to heal. The skin around the wounds turned hard, then brown. The child looked forward to peeling off the hardened brown skin and so, to make the time pass, he played on soft grass, and read books on a blanket in the garden. The child used to look at the sky and think of it as the glass belly of a bottle. Then the day would finally come, when the brown hardened skin revealed the pink fragile skin beneath, the incarnation of an embarrassing kiss or of violence discovered at a later date. That other skin would harden, again, and fall, again, imperceptibly.

The child was an animal. Really.

Not unlike any other animal in the schoolyard, but somewhat different, more like a frown on an adult woman’s face when she sees horse shit on the side of the road. Indeed, more like a fart that everyone heard. This animal broke a sweat every time he masturbated.

[The shape of the sky is the shape of your life]

The houses were the same. They were painted differently, according to the taste and financial means of the owner, but they had the same look. Two big rooms with small windows. A kitchen, at the back of the house, to be used only during rough winters. The kitchens had slanted ceilings. A storage room that housed fruit and was dark enough for monsters to live in it. And an attic, where clothes were hanged to dry during the winter.

In those houses they slept, and fucked, and ate their lunches and every other meal.

The blue blue sky so unavailable. The grass, our grass, on late November mornings like hair parted to the side. Those mornings like the amber droppings of cherry trees. The ground beneath their feet so sterile that the neighbors’ grapes were sweeter. The cherry trees refused to grow and only gave them limited access to their fruit. Some rituals had not been performed properly, the ground too young to give birth to anything appealing except perhaps for the children who needed to be kept away from harm. The world beyond the front gate so evil the children had to jump over the fence and endure the bruises that flowered between their thighs. The bruises that mother would discover when she washed them on Wednesday and then on Saturday.

The trees fell from the sky like strands of hair. Grandma brushed her hair in the morning, the hair she dyed only just above the forehead, the side of the head that was most visible from under her headscarf.

The trees the children climbed to steal fruit or simply to bypass fences. Cherry trees were particularly precious. Old men guarded them with sticks and stones and if you dared to steal the fruit you ended up with a good beating.

The hair at the bottom of the sink. The hair mother found on dad’s clothes asking whose hair it was. This is not my hair. My hair is not as long as that. The condoms that mother found in father’s winter coat. About which we heard but hadn’t heard.

In winter, mother smoked by the stove, the smoke getting sucked into the puzzled mouth of the stove. She was trying to get father’s attention and she threw a box of matches at him. The box flew through the room and hit father in the groin and when the children were not looking, father made a face, and in that face the child saw their adolescence, and how adults were not the adults of books or the adults they saw on TV. These were not the adults who set on voyages not knowing where they went to seek cure for obscure illnesses. These parents were the parents who were content with what little they had.

The rooms had to be big enough to accommodate numerous families. To save on firewood, large families could crowd in one of the rooms. Most often, the other room was used as storage. And Christmas trees. Since Christmas trees had bars of chocolate on them, besides the twinkling lights and other merry paraphernalia, they had to be kept in cold rooms. Not because of the temperature, of course, the chocolate bars didn’t melt easily, but because the children had to be kept away. The tree was there for the pictures. Which we took with large woolen caps on our heads and heavy sweaters that were as itchy as they looked. We didn’t go in there. We just knew we had a Christmas tree in a part of the house that was inaccessible to us.

The other room was also where the good clothes were stored. People and clothes had to be separated that way. Clothes needed their intimacy as well. Grandpa’s heavy leather jackets were particularly shy. Like distant relatives, they were brought into the habitable room only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to church. And like distant relatives they brought with them a smell of their own. The smell did not conceptually belong to grandpa. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind on the outside, with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave and deodorant. That wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His smell was that of chewed and digested grass and hay. His smell was that of sheep. Little lambs, that were sometimes brought in the house during cold winter nights. We visited them in their shed and took the smell with us. We didn’t mind it, of course, we knew no other, better, smells.

What did you expect? We were used to seeing our own shit, and that of the others in the household, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. If you had to take a dump late at night or, even worse, in the middle of the night, well, good luck to you, my friend. No matter how well you dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, your balls suffered nonetheless. You had to pull your pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where even your breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. You gave up easily because of the cold. Your ass froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in your own shit-and-piss.

The houses were all the same.

Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men in them ate their souls and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions grew stronger in time. Their heads turned hard.

I rarely put things on my head. My head is big enough. If I put things on my head, such as a cap or a hood, my head is bound to look bigger. Hence disgusting. Nobody wants to feel like that about their heads. Unless there’s something going on in your head, unless your head is messed up and the only thing that can make it right is reprogramming, the traditional brainwash, mental shampooing. Use a soft piece of cloth for the eyes, you don’t want to scratch those LEDs, miss the high definition.

But when I do put things on my head, and then take them off, I need time to realize there’s nothing on my head. I put my hands over my hand to tell my brain there’s actually nothing there. My brain eventually gets it. My head is really free and surprisingly small, less disgusting.

When I was little a log fell on my head. I started running home the moment it happened. The other kids stopped me and told me to calm down. My head was alright, they said, and they put their hands around my face. My brain understood it was still in one piece. It was a big log. If I were to put my fingers hands around it my fingers wouldn’t touch. Not even close. I knew the log was going to fall on my head so I stood underneath it, to see how it felt.

When the log fell the pain at the top of my head told me to stand my ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. My feet dug into the ground and since then I’ve been swimming in the dirt. The other kids didn’t want me to tell. They encouraged me to stand under the log and see it fall on my head.

The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of my cousin who wasn’t actually my cousin but it was nice to think of her as cousin. We had a swing made of wrought iron and the cousin got really jealous and she told her grandpa she wanted one as well. He put the log in between two trees and tied a thick string to it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half holes at each end made sitting on the swing comfortable enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung long enough the log would rotate until it fell out.

Nothing happened, except for the swimming-in-the-dirt thing. My head got bigger because of that realization. My ears got big as well, to fit the size of the head.

‘Your head is so big,’ my cousin’s granny said, ‘you have the ears of a donkey, and your brother’s life will amount to nothing.’

‘You stay away from her,’ my cousin’s grandpa said, ‘go home and leave her alone.’ He was trimming the trees on the street and I was just a little boy. I took my oversized head and went home, which was not very far away because we were neighbors.

On the train, on my way to work, much later on, I thought of what I saw that day while returning home. I saw mountains growing on the inside, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, then breath in between them, porous shame, like that of broken shoes.
A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. But it cannot remember what happened to the toy stolen but not really stolen from grandma’s house. The grandmother on the father’s side had a house unlike our own, and in it there was a room that had no power outlets and no lights, no heating implements. The father’s twin brother and his wife slept in there even during the winter. They warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets and they slept.

In the house there were toys very different from our own and one of the cousins insisted I hide one of them under the shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house the toy disappeared.

I expected, even after reality set in and I finally got home, the toy to fall from my shirt and reveal itself.

How could a head so big forget about the toy?

‘Your head is so big,’ a classmate told me in high school. I moved to one of the other beds in the room. Where else could I tuck my head, renounce this huge house of dreams?

My father’s car got a remake and was painted in a putrid red, the color and the texture of overly matured grapefruits. The underweight neighbor whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it the day after it was brought in from the repair shop. She must have marveled at how much money went into that paint. At times I went in the car to listen to music on the radio. The car then became a big pair of headphones. I listened to Hotel California without knowing what it was or why the musicians had decided to dedicate the song to a hotel.

The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, chocolate, and yogurt. When the backseat was empty it was a disappointment. It happened one of my birthdays when father didn’t bring anything in the backseat. I was showered with gifts a couple of days before my birthday but that didn’t matter. Those gifts didn’t count. I wanted that game console that resembled a computer keyboard. I could write on it. Play word games. Which I didn’t play in fact, because they were boring. But just having the possibility to play that kind of games made my desires go mad.

I was around my school in the afternoon and I saw my father’s car returning home and he stopped and I got in and the backseat was so empty I wanted to cry.

At home I sat on the front steps of the house and acted real sad.

I told my father about the game console and he assured me that it was coming in the next couple of days. My father, the traitor, the unloving father.