Robb’s Last Tape (Take Four)

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Striking a pose

The bitter truth is always sex-related. Every confession has to be about sex, about desiring another person’s body, one that is in most cases forbidden to us, unaccessible. The ego finds its purest expression in the ultimate orgasm, one reached in the right circumstances, at the right time, and with the right person. Reaching orgasm with the right person is akin to winning, it’s the gold medal, the long-awaited promotion, and the fatherly pat on the back coming from a superior. Nothing grooms the ego the way an orgasm does. And nothing destroys the ego the way watching other people reach that orgasm does. It’s demeaning, and it’s socially frowned upon. People often mock the porn movie industry for its poor acting as if they watch porn for the acting. And what acting is there except for those initial scenes in which the pizza delivery guy knocks at a door only to be greeted by a damsel in distress? Or those scenes in which the good-looking twink sprains his ankle while descending an uneventful hill in order to be rescued by an equally good-looking daddy who also happens to be a doctor? Now, I really doubt it that porn actors, producers, directors, aim for an Oscar. And I really really doubt it that people watch porn in order to provide other porn connoisseurs with valuable criticism, and the general public with trustworthy ratings. That is probably why it so happens that when porn emerges as a topic during educated group discussions almost everyone deflects to talking about the quality of the acting. It’s as if there’s a switch in their mind that goes on when porn is mentioned. No, I go there for the acting, I couldn’t possibly go there for the sex and the orgasm, I’m a film critic, just like everybody else in this group, right? Such pathos in the performance, such exquisite makeup, and the lighting was just incredible.

And if everything is to happen for a reason in life then there must have been a good reason behind my brother’s discovery of my uncle’s porn stash (it wasn’t that well hidden after all, and my brother, three years older than me, has always had the talent of bringing dark secrets to the light of day). We would hide to have a look at all those pictures every once in a while marveling at the anatomy of such human endeavors. About nine years younger than my mother, my uncle must have been at that time in his early twenties and in his sexual prime. We knew about his girlfriends and then we knew of his dark secret. Other dark secrets emerged later on but I was too young to unravel them and understand their full significance.

You see, I used to play alone a lot, mostly because I could not keep up with the other kids of my age. I was chubby, nearing the dreadful childhood obesity, and people made fun of me. In order to avoid that I spent most of my time reading and dressing up. Yes, I guess you could say I was an early drag queen. I used to put on my mother’s dresses and high heeled shoes, and I would even sometimes put on makeup to make the dressing up complete. I would then watch myself in the mirror, sing, and pretend I was performing a musical in front of an imaginary audience (made of adults, of course, who marveled at such precocious talent). I learned songs by heart by listening to them obsessively. And so every once in a while, while rummaging through my mother’s dresses, it happened that I came upon unused towels (put there for safekeeping and intended for future use). Some of them were clean, and some of them were sticky in the middle as if they stained with a liquid that had dried in the meantime. When I confronted my mother about the sticky situation she dismissed it by saying that my uncle blew his nose in those towels. He just was too lazy to reach for a napkin or handkerchief. In my naïveté, I believed her. Years later, while thinking about my uncle’s hidden porn stash and the mysterious towels, I realized that my uncle did not, in fact, blow his nose in those towels. He did something completely different, still involving bodily fluids nonetheless. I trust you got the idea by now.

When my uncle moved away my grandfather hid the secret stash in one of his lockers, wrapped them in an old newspaper and placed them behind mounds of carpentry tools. But even these methods were of no match to my brother’s inquisitive mind. And so we resumed our contemplation of the wonders of the human anatomy. The most precious item of my uncle’s stash was a deck of playing cards on which men and women were represented fornicating in different positions. In my sick little mind I even went to the extent of actually imagining men smoking cigars and playing Texas hold ’em using those cards late into the night. I even remember imagining this happening at the house of a priest from a neighboring village who always made kinky jokes even when children were around.

I come from a very religious background. Born and raised in an orthodox family I knew very well what sin was. It was dancing and listening to music before Easter, Christmas, and after the death of a close family member. Touching yourself in certain areas of your body was a sin. Not going to church on a Sunday was considered a sin. Not saying your prayers before going to bed was a sin. Sitting down in church was a sin, even though your feet were killing you. Also, keep in mind that mine was a family in which we had to use two distinct towels to dry ourselves after a bath: one for the hair and the upper part of your body down to your bellybutton, and one for the rest. Using one to dry your entire body was a blasphemy. My earliest memory of religion, besides the religion classes that were taught by the village priest, is me refusing to go for the Easter confession. We had to go to church very early in the morning and I wanted five more minutes and my mother just didn’t want to hear about it. I had to go to confession, because who knows what sins I kept to myself. I distinctly remember the scene: my father brutally holding me in his arms and washing my face against my will, me pushing with my feet against the bathroom sink. I can distinctly recall the face I saw in the mirror that morning. It was red with anger and covered in mucus. But I had to go to church, there was no way around it.

When I say confession don’t think of those scenes from the movies, it was nothing like that. There was no booth in which you entered and spoke to the priest through a little window. Our priest sat on a chair at the back of the church (where the women were supposed to stay during service) with his back against the gruesome images of hell painted on the wall. Next to him there was always a small round table on which people would put money (yes, you had to give money to the priest every time you confessed your sins because in that way your sins were forgiven). You would then kneel at the priest’s feet, he would cover your head with his saintly garment, and then it was confession time. Have you been a good boy? Of course, father. Did you quarrel with your friends or family? No father, of course not. And that was about it. No sensible questions were asked, and the drill continued well into my teens and early adulthood. Once, while I was in college, I had confessed to my priest that I had been unsettled after taking a course in demonology at the university. His reply was that literature in general is preparing us for the return of Satan. I stopped going to confession afterwards. The priest had a bad breath anyway.

Yet, if my confessions were uneventful, my brother’s were definitely not. Apparently, once the priest had asked him whether he had engaged in premarital sex, and my brother, due to an excess of piety, had replied affirmatively. He did not get the wine and the bread after the confession. He had officially been declared impure by the church. The gesture infuriated me at the time though my brother couldn’t care less. But I also felt jealous in a way, because the priest had never asked me that. I had had no sexual adventures at that time but still, why wasn’t I being asked the uncomfortable question? Was there something in my manner that betrayed a lack of sexual drive? Nowadays, I often wonder what would my priest’s reaction be should he find out about my latest adventures in bed. Would I be banished from the church as well? Would I be shown again the images of hell and fire painted on the walls at the back of the church?

My brother held nothing back when it came to talking about his sex experience. I knew he cheated on his supposed girlfriends, the way I knew that my father cheated on my mother. I knew my father had been kicked out from the police force on an alleged accusation of rape, one that was later settled financially. And I knew my uncle had cheated on his wife on a couple of occasions with other women. Just like my brother, my uncle held nothing back. He used to watch porn on my computer and I knew about that not because he never deleted the browser’s history, but because I was there while he was watching it, guarding the door and letting him know when my grandmother was approaching. I was perfectly aware that my only male cousin cheated on his supposed girlfriends. Both my brother and my cousin have had exceptional ways of dating girls. And there I was, trapped in the very heart of the beehive.

Porn watching sessions occurred at my house because my brother was the only one in his group of friends who held a perfectly functional VCR and was the proud owner of a collection of porn videocassettes. They would come in groups to watch them while my grandparents were away sweating in the fields picking potatoes. They did not masturbate, they just made jokes about their “hammers” (i.e. boners). Yet, what struck me most about those videos was not the act itself but rather the rapidity with which the actors went from being pizza delivery guys to full-fledged casanovas complete with abs and erect penises. At the end of these sessions my brother’s friends would ask me to play some cartoons so as to quell the passion in their pants. And on went Disney’s Aladdin. Princess Jasmine was not their kind of woman I suppose, and Aladdin was my kind of man.

Occasionally, some of them would stay behind and talk about girls, and the way you distinguished them according to their pubic hair and other such features. They would even ask me about the girls in my class and I would simply tell them I couldn’t make any difference between them. They stared at me in disbelief and to fill the awkward silence that followed I would invent distinctions of my own. In the end they would let go of it conjuring the old excuse: I was just too shy to talk about the girls I liked or disliked. Your time will come, they would tell me, just wait and see.

I did wait, for a very long time, and saw a completely different picture.

Undoubtedly, watching porn can constitute a didactic experience, and it must have been like that for my uncle, my brother and his friends. Porn movies can incite a sort of preparedness into the body, they can help muffle that fear of the unexpected, of the unknown. But they must have also defined the roles that the men watching them were supposed to fill, well beyond their fantasies. They were expected to be ready, to jump swiftly from the role of the pizza delivery guy to the one of dominating men and, by extension, from the roles of husbands and boyfriends to the ones of adventurous men ready to free themselves of the constraints of marriage and relationships.

Gay men, on the other hand, have always felt free of the constraints of marriage and relationships. Developments in this field, such as the recognition of civil unions in certain parts of the world, are quite recent in our history. Our preferences have been for a very long time part and parcel of a criminal mindset. Think of prisoners in all-male prisons for instance. We’ve been placed in the category of evolutionary deviations, our search for sexual satisfaction the outcome of a systemic suffocation, a last resort when other means of obtaining it were forbidden to us. And because we have not had a system of social pressure in place with regards to marriage and relationships has certainly helped in turning us into exploitative sex machines. The only thing that seemed to stall our drive was disease. And part of our drive was and still is made of blind anger, the kind that leads one to despair and ultimately to self-loathing and self-destructiveness. The latter is always dynamic. To produce destruction an explosive device must undo itself, must refute the consolation that comes after victory is declared and peace is organized. To obtain social and political recognition a group must manifest itself, make itself seen, and we chose to make ourselves seen by transgressing at times at the price of our own destruction. What did Alexander Portnoy, the protagonist of Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, do to finally let go of his inhibitions and fears (besides masturbating excessively)? “I am marked like a road map”, Portnoy confesses, “from head to toe with my repressions. You can travel the length and breadth of my body over superhighways of shame and inhibition and fear.”

When something is forbidden the mere fact of obtaining it becomes a pleasure in itself. And even only knowing that obtaining it constitutes the breaking of a certain rule makes that object even more desirable. There’s an almost irrational stubbornness when it comes to the things that the body needs and desires, and that stubbornness sometimes turns into anger and then into violence. People who give up smoking will sometimes dream of smoking. Those who are on a diet will dream of worry-free eating. Knowing that porn is socially frowned upon makes it even more desirable. And that’s the thing, conceptually the direct consumer cannot be blamed because the consumer cannot undo the fact that porn exists in the first place, just as somebody who despises Lady Gaga’s music cannot undo the fact that Lady Gaga’s music already exists. It’s out there, people do it, we know they do it because we do it as well. “I, for one,” says the protagonist of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer, “am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word ‘murder’ made us mumble as much as the word ‘masturbation’.” And I think I agree with him.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Three)

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Even then I was fabulous

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, shall we? Because maybe that pesky little prince was right to a certain extent. What is essential is invisible to the eye, literally. Your lungs are essential to the functioning of your body and yet you can’t see them when you look at somebody (it would be weird to see them, especially on a first date). The heart as well. The same goes for a computer’s processor. All of these elements are essential, and yet they are invisible to the (naked) eye. And for a moment let’s assume that the little one was right, certain things can only be seen with the heart. I could work with that. All those heterosexual bedtime stories and all those Hollywood movies have taught me how to work with that. The frog might be a prince, and a femme fatale can be a witch, an angel can be a devil and so on and so forth. All good. But I dare you to notice something about this whole setup. We only want it applied to us, and we are unwilling to offer the others the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever looked at a person whom you physically disliked (most likely on the spot) and thought ‘I don’t think he looks that bad on the inside’? Have you ever thought ‘ok, now I’m going to spend all this precious time trying to find out whether this guy is good-looking on the inside, because the essential is invisible to the eye’? Not while on a gay dating site, trust me.

Some will do that, of course, while waiting patiently for a desire that will never come. Others will find names for it, come up with quirky terms. They will try to envision the brain as a sexual organ, will call themselves sapiosexual, and with every passing day they’ll find themselves in the company of growing despair. For a very long time I have considered myself to be sapiosexual, and hoped other sapiosexuals would notice me. Don’t get me wrong, a great mind can be appealing, it can turn you on, you may look at somebody talking intelligently and think ‘I wanna have sex with that guy’, but nanoseconds before actually perceiving that intelligence you have already unconsciously made a decision based on the physical appearance of that person. In this whole equation of attraction intelligence comes as an add-on, as an afterthought. I do not have scientific references for this, I cannot send you back to the literature, I can only trust that you have experienced this as well, that you have been aware of it at least at one point in your life. Proof of this is the fact that you’re not thinking about your partner’s intelligence when engaging in casual sex. You’ll think about the skin on their necks and on their bellies, you’ll think about their hands, you’ll think about their lips, you’ll think about what comes next. Your own body will vibrate in the vicinity of that other body. You’ll get an erection because of that body, not because that other person knows Einstein’s theory of relativity, or was able to make a complete and brilliant argument in a debate.

I know this because while I was overweight I’ve been repeatedly told by guys on dating sites that I was ugly and repulsive. Some said so directly, by using these exact same words. Some did not say it, but chose to ignore me by not replying to my messages or simply blocking me. You’re not my type, came the swift reply. Even more painful was the absence of an answer, as if I didn’t even deserve an explanation, somehow confirming that deep unconscious belief that the person was really out of my league and that only my stubbornness was to blame. It was a nod in the void of rejection. And when you feel like you’ve overreached and been brought forcefully back to earth once, and then again, and then again, you don’t feel like overreaching any longer because you already know the outcome. And that’s the thing, you know perfectly well when somebody is out of your league, but those American films, and those romantic love stories have taught you that the good guy always gets the girl, the hero of the story never gets killed, no matter how out of his league the girl might be. And while you’re inside your mind you can only perceive yourself as the good guy, and why can’t that guy see that, why won’t he reply?

And while we’re on the topic of romantic films, I just have to admit they are so well made, so smooth, structured to make you believe even in the most ludicrous of unlikelihoods and make you stare in disbelief at the sight of betrayal when betrayal is so natural, so statistically possible. A failure to believe in the love put on display in those movies, both on the part of the protagonist and on that of the viewer, feels itself like a betrayal of our pursuit of happiness. Failure to believe in that love is just bad karma.

Once, during class, I was contacted by a guy who was in a relationship but told me was interested in me anyway. His profile picture was something as uneventful as a table’s edge with a glass of wine on it. Mine was equally misleading. Yet he told me that it wasn’t my picture that made him tap on my profile; it was my description and the way I told, in a couple of words, my own story. He then asked me for a face pic and an awkward silence followed immediately after I sent him one. You’re kind of ugly, he told me, but let’s have a coffee anyway, after class. I thanked him, of course, because a hierarchy had been set with those very words, and I was obviously in the lower ranks, and was supposed to be thankful for whatever was thrown at me. We were in different classes, and he was studying another thing altogether. When the class ended and I got out I asked him where exactly the main hall was. He did not reply. About twenty minutes later he simply informed me that he had gone home. No further explanations were extended.

Surely it can’t be that bad. That guy was simply a jerk. You’ll find someone else, someone who deserves you, someone who recognizes your true value. I have been fed with these words by most of my friends, gay and straight. You’re not ugly, you just didn’t find the right guy. But that’s the thing, there’s nothing outlandish about using the word “ugly”, even when it is used to refer to people. Other people do it all the time even when they don’t say it out loud. And if they are not saying it they are thinking it. Even when they use other words to reject somebody (such as “you’re not my type”) they are still thinking “ugly”. Stupid, verbose, effeminate, these are all just versions of ugliness.

The fat ugly guy in the lower ranks of the hierarchy is supposed to swallow the cum, he is supposed to swallow his dignity along with it, he’s supposed to take it all in, get down on his knees. He is supposed to ignore basic safe sex regulations such as the use of a condom, he is supposed to be a cum dump not only because he occupies the bottom bunk but also because he is fat. This sort of punishment is not to be taken negatively but as a form of pity, because the fat guy is pitied for his lack of control, for his inability to act when the power to change his appearance is right there, in the shape of an act of personal volition. Let him be, he can’t do better. The hunter is skilled in setting his traps, and once you fall into that trap, once you acknowledge your position you are willing to do anything just to stay inside that relationship, however transitory it may turn out to be.

I know I did it, and will most likely continue to do it. I know I’ve taken nude pictures of myself because I was asked to do it by men whose interest I wished to kindle and maintain. I know I’ve taken pictures of myself sticking my tongue out because I was asked to do it. I know I’ve sent dick picks because I was asked to do it by men I knew perfectly well were never going to be interested in me in any other way. I know I’ve done things I had never fathomed myself doing before. I’ve been into Skype calls with men who kept asking me to lower my webcam while they themselves did so. I’ve seen them cum live though maybe hundreds of miles away. Once, I was asked by a guy whom I had met online to write a series of stories about dads having affairs with their own sons. Luckily, our little online adventure ended soon enough that I didn’t have to write those stories after all. I translated Youtube videos for him from English into Italian. I listened to him on the phone for more than an hour complaining about a brown spot that had appeared on one of his teeth, reassuring him that it wasn’t an emergency. He kept repeating the same thing over and over again. I spoke very little, grunting every once in a while to let him know that I was still there. You’re a true friend, he would say, we’re the perfect match. And all I said was okay, okay, okay, just shut the hell up. Suffice it to say that our relationship ended because once I refused to translate yet another Youtube video for him.

Once, I’ve been on the phone with a guy I could not hear because of the many trains transiting in the background. He confessed to me he went to the train station to talk to guys he’d meet online because there nobody could hear him talk and as such come to the conclusion that he was gay. I couldn’t hear him either, our conversation punctuated by departure and arrival announcements and the deafening hum of passing trains. That didn’t last long. I still imagine him today going to his train station to talk to and meet other men.

I had come to embody the perfect fetish, submissive, accommodating, always affirmative in my response. I admitted to being a metaphorical pig in bed because I was led to believe that I was one. What choice do you have when you’re in bed or in the car with the guy you like and he’s putting those very words into your mouth with his tongue? I’ve texted long descriptions of what I would do to them (sexually, that is) and feigned text orgasms at odd hours and in inappropriate venues. Stop being so shy, Robb, what’s wrong with you, stop being so rigid, let the man touch you. Pretend your head is floating away while your body is left behind to flap its arms like a dying chicken.

I chose to deny a guy’s lack of intelligence and conversational skills because he was good-looking and because he had shown interest in me. What choice did I have when I was perfectly aware of the fact it will be a very long until I stumbled into a guy like that? And it was clear from the very beginning that his intelligence quotient was a high as the security doors he had to test every day as part of his job. Three days had passed and all we talked about was dicks and cum, and ways of having sex. His replies were short and dismissive whenever we talked about something else other than the size of his dick. Would you suck it? He had asked me that after having sent what was probably the tenth picture featuring his fearful instrument. And I kept on talking because finally I had been given the chance to enter the world of normal boys, where ugly men sought good-looking women. And whatever you do, don’t even think of mentioning the word “relationship” to him because you just can’t. It will throw a dark dark shadow over the conversation splitting it in two. You can’t possibly be looking for a relationship on a gay dating site. And even if you do just don’t say it. First you’ll have to get used to the guy’s dick, contemplate it form every possible angle, and under different lights, have sex with him, lots of it, as much as you can, because even though it doesn’t work out in the end everybody’s happy, right?

The straight world breeds terrible gay monsters.

And that’s the thing, there’s a fierceness when we pursue that standard set by the kingdom of the straights, the kingdom that had conquered our world well before I was born, and well before many of those who have already died were born. Those men came to us with their gods and told us their god didn’t approve of us. When that god had lost its grip those men sharpened their swords with family values, statistics, and laws made of words. They came into our bedrooms at night, on our screens and showed us what happiness is supposed to look like. You’re happy, you’re happy, until somebody else comes and tells you that you’re happy in the wrong way.

I chose to ignore the fact that a guy had come to our date in flip-flops because once again I had been offered a visitor’s pass to the world of normal boys. Here was love wearing flip-flops, here was love under a different shape. These moments are so rare. We went to the mall and had coffee and lunch and made out in one of the bathrooms of the supermarket where we could hear other men pissing and farting. During lunch we had chosen to sit in the farthest corner of the restaurant hoping we could somehow maintain the slightest physical contact. We could not because high school kids were all around us, laughing and talking. And then we were shown what happiness is supposed to look like: boys and girls kissing, and hugging, and holding hands. Compared to that display of forces our attempt at physical contact withered and died. I know we could have done otherwise, I know we could have defied them and done whatever we wanted, the world had changed so much in the meantime, but you have taught us how to put those instincts to sleep. You’ve shown us the pillow, sold it to us. When we were little you told us that we can be whatever we wanted and gave us good examples of what we could be, teacher, astronaut, president, but you’ve never meant ‘whatever’ to refer to sexual orientation.

And now you come to tell me that what is essential is invisible to the eye?

Your fucking guts, little prince, I hate your fucking guts.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Two)

 

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Observe my sense of style even under the duress of totalitarian regimes

I feel like I should have started this whole big endeavor of speaking freely about myself and my experience with a sort of disclaimer, or an author’s note or something, to warn readers against the corrupt and corrupting nature of these pages. Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind. This was supposed to be a very sad thing, I mean, this was the premise of this whole writing process. But now, as I’m revising these pages it feels as if I’m telling you about the big joke life has played on me. It feels as if at the end of every sentence I’m about to burst into laughter, or rather that you’re about to burst into laughter and think I’m just a wanker. Laughter can be a good thing after all, it’s the expression of an emotion. It can also be the kind of nervous laughter high school kids burst into when the school priest tells them masturbation is sinful. In the end, not all memoirs are supposed to be tragic and full of loneliness and sadness. And maybe on a grander scale I might be perceiving my life as tragic and sad when in reality it is not.

Then there’s the sensitive issue of the intimate aspects of my life, such as jerking off and fantasizing about bulging pectorals and biceps, the latter by now leitmotifs of my narrative. My grandmother, whom you can see in the picture above, would nod disapprovingly and think of me as a failure, a herald of the end of times, should she read these pages (she doesn’t know a word in English). To those who cringed at reading about this stuff, well, I can only apologize and point out to them that I am no saint, even though when I was little I did perceive myself as a sort of new messiah (I had been a devout Christian for a very long time, and imagined the end of the world coming soon). I am made of flesh, and flesh is fleshy and desires flesh and, in my case, bulging pecs and visible abs. And if by this time, after these couple pages, I seem shallow to you, well, please reconsider your attitude, because I have also read The Little Prince and realized that in the gay community people who strongly believe that what is essential is invisible to the eye, be it naked or covered, have no sex, at all.

And I might have overused that phrase from The Little Prince in my dating profile’s description, thinking that it would attract like-minded people. The truth is, it did attract like-minded people, except that the majority of them were well over my age range and resembled the beer-drinking rednecks from American movies (the ones who walked around with chainsaws and other gardening instruments). There were the exceptions, of course, but even in the case of the exceptions I noticed a pattern. They were as lonely and as desperate as me, and after exchanging a couple of messages they burst into arduous and passionate declarations of love, up to the point where you were included into a haunting “us”, just for the sake of feeling included. Believe me, thank whatever gods are out there that those guys were often hundreds of miles away.

Such was the case of a guy who had contacted me by saying that my profile was really interesting and as a consequence expressed his interest in knowing me better. At that moment I thought, finally, somebody who understands me, who seems to be in a similar position, and who is willing to push aside all of my insecurities so as to build something durable. In my imagination the whole thing was like a bomb exploding repeatedly: we’re going to get married (symbolically), be happy, have kids, and be romantic at the same time. I imagined trips to Spain and exotic places, and coming home to steaming pasta and candle-lit dinners with tall wine glasses. I wasn’t necessarily attracted to him physically (no bulging pectorals there, forget about the biceps), he was no Adonis for sure, but, like him, I was ready to ignore that because here was somebody who believed in what that pesky little prince said.

Then out of the blue he started telling me about his mental illness, and the fact that in reality he needed somebody to take care of him, and I kept saying okay, it was all okay. I even imagined myself taking care of him because who knows what kind of essentials were hidden behind all that baby fat. I needed time to process that information and so I told him that I was going to log off and go for a walk around the neighborhood. I switched off my computer and went out, forgetting that I was still logged in on my phone.

The messages started to land in my inbox a couple of minutes later and they were satiated with the furry of a jealous husband. Why was I still logged on? Who was I talking to behind his back? I was obviously cheating on him, and he had placed such confidence in me, he had believed in “us”. I explained why I was still logged on, and his initial fury seemed to subside. However, my explanation was not an attempt to mend the wrong I had unconsciously and unwillingly done, it was rather an attempt to point out the fault I had found in him at that point so as to make it easier to get rid of him. My gay instincts started to kick in. And so I told him things were not going to work out between the two of us. The reply came swiftly. I was shallow just like everybody else on that dating site. My rejection was the last straw for him and as such he was never going to put himself out there like he did for me. Obviously, I had failed to notice that. Before I could reply back a service notification informed me that I was no longer able to interact with that person because the user had blocked me. To have the last word, I blocked him back.

Now, I may have acted like a jerk, because here was this guy who suffered from some sort of mental illness, who was sincere, and I just dismissed the complexity of his life with a simple text. Maybe I should have been more sympathetic with the guy. But then again we were on a dating site, and we hadn’t even gone out, we had never touched, I didn’t even know the sound of his voice. I wasn’t the kind of jerk who never calls back after what feels like a special night, I just couldn’t be. How was I supposed to act? Take all of that responsibility upon me because we both liked The Little Prince? Well, at least we didn’t exchange pics that could be later used for blackmailing and other forms of shaming, at least he didn’t send me a picture of his dick, like most users did, as if I was supposed to understand, at a glance, the finality and importance of such a statement.

On a side note, I have often wondered what these people are thinking when they’re sending you pictures of their dicks. On a couple of occasions I thought that maybe I was supposed to ignore the rest because dicks can solve emotional problems. But do these people presume that the person at the other end would want them even more after seeing their dicks? And then, what do you do with a dick pick? Where’s the statement in that? Here’s a picture of my erect penis, deal with it, own it, you can’t use it against me because there’s no face in it, so it can be anyone’s penis. I should make a collage of all of those dick pics and think of it as a work of art, hundreds of statements making one big statement, whatever that is.

A couple of days after the unfortunate incident with the passionate Romeo, and after being so forcefully banished from that paradisiac “us”, I was contacted by an older guy on the same dating site. Now, it’s worth noting that at the beginnings of my gay life I had developed a deep aversion towards older guys. That was before reading Nabokov’s Lolita. I changed my mind afterwards. At that time older guys gave me a sense of sick perversion, thinking of them as these sexually repressed individuals who lurked in the shadows and looked for younger men to feel young once again. In parallel, I had also inherited and used extensively a phrase that circulated (still in use) on gay dating sites and was meant to embarrass older men: I already have a father (or grandfather, depending on the user’s preference), it said, and so I kept saying it practically to all men that were over forty. It was only when a sixty year-old guy told me that the phrase hurt him that I started to think twice before using it again. I did not use it against this particular guy, whose name I cannot recall right now, mostly because he couldn’t have been my father (he was not that old), and also because he did not give me the sense of a pervert, despite the fact that he did not have a head in his profile pics. He had only shared pictures of his underwear. In his case, I was prepared once again to take it all in (you dirty little mind) and accept whatever came. When you look the way I did back then, so foreign and weird, chubby and sad, there was not much to choose from.

We chatted for a long while, for what seems now like an eternity on gay dating sites, and to this day I have not seen his face. The reason behind this lack of face, he explained, was that the guy lived in a small Italian paesino with his mother, the kind of small village where everybody knew everybody else, and older generations of Italians still cringe at the idea of homosexuality. Fair enough, I thought at that point, the guy had good motives, I wasn’t going to question his relationship with his mother. Italian men love and hate their mothers in a way that could only be defined as Italian. I did ask for extra pictures and the only thing I got in return was the same underwear picture but with a boner hidden inside, which was supposed to give me an idea of the instruments this man carried around with him. Mother must have been so proud.

A little bit of context here, since I don’t expect all of my readers to be familiar with how gay dating sites work. Headless and faceless photos are quite common on gay dating sites, for different reasons, depending on the user and the background he’s coming from. Some, like my man here, do it for social and political reasons, and some do it to acquire higher visibility on the gay market. The bottom line is that the former don’t want their parents, relatives, colleagues, to find out about their sexual preferences. Which also means that those very parents, relatives, and colleagues had to actually have a profile on that particular website in order to recognize them and act surprised. Dating sites usually don’t publicize information about their users outside their own user circle. The latter, who most likely don’t care about who sees their profile, wave their pectorals and crotch in profile pics because they know that that’s where the eyes of other gay men will linger longer. I guess experience teaches us that. And a lot of them don’t even include face pics in their profiles; they do it only by request, especially when that request comes from a guy they are interested in. If the face they’re getting does not meet their expectations a moment of awkward silence will follow. Educated individuals will simply say thank you and add a smiley face. In translation, they would go to bed with the torso and the crotch, but not with the face.

To verify this preference for the torso and crotch a simple head count would suffice. Put those parts of the body on full display in your profile pic and the number of visits will increase exponentially. Hide your face altogether and you are bound to maybe even getting a message (asking for face pics, of course, but it’s still something, still better than nothing). Show your face and the number of views decreases notably, unless you have an exceptionally gorgeous face. You’ll also notice that there’s a difference in the kind of people that actually click on your profile, depending of what part of the body you put on display. Those who are looking for a quickie will more likely come to you if they see your torso and crotch area. Those who have more time on their hands will more likely look for a face.

At first I took this to be simply a symptom of the shallowness of gay men, the kind you’d see in gay movies, the kind that Larry Kramer did his finger-pointing at. Couldn’t they see how sex-driven it all was? I blamed it on the kind of atmosphere that was created on gay dating sites. And after spending a couple of years looking at probably thousands of profiles, chatting with all kinds of individuals, I felt I was becoming shallow as well, and I hated myself for it. Implicitly, I was asking the others to accept me the way I was, I felt that it was my own right, yet, on the other hand, I resisted accepting the others for who they were. It all felt like a painful paradox. I was incredulous, and I experienced the same kind of incredulity when I started reading, for instance, Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Swimming Pool Library, and, later on Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. And I believe I came to terms with it when I read Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner. I can’t recall the exact phrase, but I remember explicitly that Harlan Brown, the protagonist of Warren’s novel, felt an excruciating attraction for one of his runners first and foremost because he was physically fit.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take One)

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I turned twenty-eight a couple of weeks ago and, truth be told, I’ve never ever dated anyone. This is not because at one point I chose a life of utter promiscuity and swore my allegiance to a no-strings-attached creed, on the contrary, my existence is as sexless as that of a monk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete recluse living in a fiscal paradise either. I do socialize, occasionally, when necessity requires it. I’m not a modern Adonis, but I’m not overweight either, though I used to be for a very long while. I feel horrible pangs of guilt every time I have ice cream. I’m tall (6ft 0.8346458in to be precise), with light-brown hair, and deep blue eyes, depending on what I’m wearing, and the photo filter I’m using to take selfies. I run, I exercise daily, until everything hurts, until it feels like a punishment. I have friends, at least I think I do. I eat pizza every once in a while and feel extremely guilty every time I do that. I drink beer, Belgian, I know how to make brownies. I read all the time (that is, when I’m not doing anything else), and I’ve been studying ever since I can remember myself studying. I have a bachelor’s degree, and two master’s degrees, all of them in the humanities, and am now doing a PhD in contemporary American literature. I have never dated anyone, and if it ever did feel like I was dating someone, it always turned out that it was all in my head. I’ve had this constant feel that I was being put aside for some future use, to mature and be savored when the time was right.

I’m into guys. I like the way in which they can be both abusive and protective. I like the way they talk at times, I like their facial hair, the way it surrounds their lips, as if those kissing instruments were an oasis on a prickly rough terrain. I marvel at the violence in their hands, their thighs. In them, I look for the things that I could never have. I abandon myself to them, think of them when I jerk off.

I’m also a guy, in case you were wondering (though the jerking off part was pretty clear). I have been attracted to guys for as long as I can remember, even though there had been a time when I did not know for sure what exactly I was feeling. I did not have a name for it (I was provided with the name at a later date). And there had been times when I desperately hoped that it would pass, that it was just a phase I had to go through, a phase at the end of which I would emerge with the same violence and tenderness in my hands, similar thighs, and lips to match that sudden explosion of manhood. That never happened, of course, the phase never ended, and that almost unconscious fight against it feels, now, like a waste of time. And that’s the thing with the heterosexual mainstream covering the sky like the belly of an airplane. It feels as if I’ve wasted so much time wondering what was wrong with me when I could have wasted that time working on my pectorals. Somehow this gay thing is never parallel with the straight thing, it only comes at a later time, in the shape of a revelation. Like scientists in lab coats we move on to the next method only after having exhausted the possibilities of the first one, explored its limits, and the first one is always the straight one, the one statistically natural. Somehow, to be gay, you need to be straight first, and the transition is always a painful one, akin to independence wars. As a gay veteran, I cannot say I have emerged stronger out of that war, on the contrary, I now feel even more insecure and lonely.

I did not date anyone in high school, nobody had shown interest. My high school was full of jocks who thought that every object resembling a book bound in black leather was a Bible. I was bullied throughout my high school years, from the very first day of school until the very last one, when I had to deliver the valedictory at our graduation ceremony. By that last day, their bullying had become subtle, recognizable even in the way they pronounced my last name, obvious in the inflection of their voices. My gym teacher bullied me. She bullied the cheerleaders by slapping them with a hockey stick. Once, she called me a “little cunt” in front of my classmates. She did not apologize when I complained to my tutor about it, and after the tutor confronted her, she simply told me I had a big mouth and I had to keep it shut. As you’d expect, she was very manly and had the body for it, Glee style. I distinctly remember she even had a mustache.

I was afraid to go to school and dreaded the moment I had to leave school at the end of the day. I never went to the bathroom, and never ate during school hours because I was afraid of going to the school cafeteria (which was basically a kiosk under the stairs, Harry Potter style, except people didn’t sleep in it). I never looked up and walked as closely to the walls as possible so as not to draw attention. At least, that is what I thought back then. Once, while waiting for class to start, a guy spit in my face because I refused to give him the cap of a freshly opened Coke bottle. Later on, before biology class, a group of older student got a hold of a video camera and filmed me while “interviewing” me, a plastic bottle instead of a microphone. I asked them to leave me alone and hid my face behind my textbooks. But the plastic bottle kept probing against me, the camera pointed at me, the older students going round and round like little children around a squirrel found dead in the middle of the street. The biology teacher must have found out about it, because later on, during class, she made an allusion to the “interview”. She did nothing about it, I didn’t hear of any students being suspended for misconduct, or at least being warned. Now, when I think about it, the fact that I was one of her favorite students in my class, and the fact that she had shown her affection towards me by letting me use the biology laboratory to read and hide from the world, could have never changed the way I felt about her inability to do something about the older students. Did she not register the fact that I was in distress during and after that “interview”?

Yet, those were passing moments, their terror subsided after a couple of weeks, months, years, a couple of jokes, and friendly pats on the back. It was all part and parcel of the high school experience, right? But none of those moments compared to the one when I was wrongfully accused of bumping arrogantly (and by mistake) into another chubby guy outside the school premises. I was walking home with a classmate when we had to stop because a car was pulling out of the parking lot, and this guy bumped into me. He slapped me with a rolled textbook and tried to fist punch me. He even called on his friends and they all surrounded me after my classmate had fled in fear. He tried punching me again, I ducked and ran home. I will always remember that Thursday; it was the loose end of that constant fear I felt during those years. I started to dread going to school even more. I hid in libraries, I sought the protection of older students, did all sorts of favors to them (helping them pass that drawing class, helping them cheat on their biology tests, that kind of favors). During breaks I would move to the farthest desk in the classroom so I could not be seen from the hallways. I would ask some of the teachers to let me out before the end of the class so that I could not be seen getting out by the other students. I invented excuses, something about roommates having lost their keys. I stopped along the hallways to listen. I stayed behind, feigning interest in whatever the janitors had to complain about until I was sure all of the students had gone home. Once I even heard the chubby guy boasting to his classmates about the fact that he had turned me into a “punching bag”. And what was I if not a passive punching bag? To them, it did not matter that I was one of the best students in my class, and though I kept studying, getting top marks, all of that faded in the face of that seemingly endless terror. I never “got back” to him for what he did, or tried doing, to me. I never got my revenge. Today I can only imagine dreadful scenarios involving him: failed marriage, domestic violence, and a beer belly to match.

The bullying did stop eventually, but only after I went to college and moved to another city, as far away from my bullies as my family’s budget permitted. It came again only when, symbolically, I returned to high school as a teaching trainee. I heard mean comments coming from my students about my voice, about the fact that I had “man boobs”, about the way I moved my hands when talking in front of the class. It may all seem too far-fetched to some of you, but all of these aspects undermined my authority as a teacher and gnawed away at my self-esteem. I swore never to go back there, not even as a full-time teacher.

I did not date anyone in college, but I did hold hands with girls (I bet you weren’t expecting that). A couple of times with the friend who once touched my face nervously and I pulled away, quickly, as if touched by a burning cigarette. She held my hand when we got out of the cinema one night and a thunderstorm was looming at the edges of the city. She squeezed my hand when we said goodbye for the night in front of the taxicab. That same night, during the movie, she had buried her face in my shoulder and I had no idea what I was supposed to do and just carried on watching Transformers.

I won’t give names. My failures are my own.

Then there was that other girl who kept telling me she loved me, though I knew she kept pictures of naked men on her digital camera (men with bulging pectorals). Even today, she still tells me that she loves me, even though she is now married (to a man with bulging pectorals), but the words have a strange metallic feel to them, the sensation stirred by them similar to the awe inspired by terms such as “gold-plated”. The whole world seemed to inherit that feel whenever she was present because all men seemed to notice her, except me. And like a parasite I fed on and binged on the attention she received. She gave me a sudden and momentary sense of power, and I took the credit for it even though, deep down, I knew that I had not conquered her in any way. I wasn’t good-looking, had no bulging pectorals, I felt sorry for myself, and complained about everything. But once, after class, she held my hand, and the others saw us, they witnessed the way she reached out and grabbed me by the hand, and in their eyes I saw envy, felt the gossip piling up.

The sensation was replicated later on after one of my exams. She was waiting for me outside, and when I got out she hugged me, and our “feminist” professor saw us and smiled in a certain way, the way feminists do. Unconsciously, I was aware of the conventions of the heterosexual world because I had witnessed them for so long, in full display. Even the ugliest man, no matter how ugly, dreams of a trophy girl standing by his side, and waves her in front of everybody as if to fortify his own sense of manhood. It was only later on that, in the light of those very conventions, I realized I didn’t want her, I did not desire to possess her, I only wanted to be like her, exert the same kind of power that she wielded over the men that gawked at her wherever she went.

Then she went away. I moved even further away from my bullies to another country, and it was only in this other country where, in my solitude, I started to come to terms with my attraction to other men. I believe that the transformation had started when I told one of my Italian classmates, by text, that I was gay, and she told me that she still appreciated me despite that newfound knowledge. She even promised to hug me next time we met. She did hug me, and her affection did not seem metallic, but prone to being cast aside in a playful manner. What struck me then was not the ease with which she accepted me and promised me unmovable friendship, but rather the way in which my sexual preferences instantly occupied a less important place in the ranks of our friendship priorities. It wasn’t demeaning, don’t get me wrong, I believe it was rather the symptom of somebody who had probably thought about the issue at one point, someone who had read about it, experienced it vicariously, seen it, and decided it wasn’t going to affect the way she related to the people in her life. For her, my sexual preference was not a catastrophe in the way it was for me. For all I knew, all I wanted to do was talk about it, emphasize the drama, turn myself into a victim. Yet, she gave a sense she wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it, the way she wasn’t going to lose sleep over a medicine the effects of which she was perfectly aware.

I encountered that same relocation of energies when I told my best friend about it. He thanked me for having trusted him to the extent of confessing that kind of thing to him. I have never told him about the fact that his masculine presence in my life has been, over the years ever since I met him, to say the least, formative. I decided not to tell him about it, afraid that it might ruin our friendship, give him a sense that I was somehow interested in him in that way. I have never stopped feeling self-destructive, and every time I ask him whether there’s something in me that he would scorn and hate me for, he seems at a loss for words. The question, of course, is never singular. It comes with a baggage of self-loathing, and along its twin question: when are you going to leave me?

I’ve asked this last question, never out loud, every time I tried dating a guy.

I won’t blame anyone. My failures are my own.

The answer came as silently as the question, never out loud, in a series of absences, time filled with nothing. Soon, the answer was, and my insecurities throbbed at the thought, as if on an adrenaline rush. My insecurities knew perfectly well that the confirmation of that thought would come. And soon it came.

I slept with a guy a couple of times. Just that one guy. We had not been dating when it happened because I met him on an online dating site destined for bears, muscle bears, older guys, chubby guys, hairy guys, and (drumroll), the category that every man on that website was basically looking for, the elusive “admirers”. These latter were the opposite of the former: young good-looking guys who spent most of their time doing odd jobs that permitted them to spend insane amounts of time at the gym getting pumped up. And the results could be seen in the many pictures taken at the gym: pictures of feet, bulging biceps and pectorals, pictures often lacking a head altogether. Most important, you didn’t just talk to them, you couldn’t, they would talk to you. The best you could do was visit their profile, leave a footprint, and hope they would return the visit, and maybe even contact you. They were the gods. But not because of some sort of innate quality, rather because all of the other users lacked the narcissist thrust that compelled the “admirers” to suffer for their beauty. We admired their discipline, masturbated to their headless bodies, our way to hell paved with abs, and dreamed that one of them would finally see the shallowness of the world and pick us, us and no one else.

Father our (a poem)

 

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A reading by the author:

 

father, you’ve taught us how to kill each other

when there was no one left to kill

you drove our hands backwards

there, where our hearts and guts were sitting and watching

our hands that still held the knife

with the stubbornness you taught us to trust

but then how much of me is there left to kill

how many unwanted versions of me are there?

because when I held within my palm

not the knife but

my uncle’s erection

the coronation of a midday nap spent

under the covers on a summer’s day

I did not think of eternal damnation

I was too short to fly above my adults.

no such thing had crossed my mind

when I let the other boys pretend

I was the wife and they the breadwinners

who came home from work with green leaves

instead of money.

back then my flesh had not yet acquired

a memory of fire

the skin did not burn when

I lowered my pants

and hid my face in the tall grass

or when I felt their weight descend upon me

that pressure not resembling

the one of being buried alive.

back then it was only the red-cheeked embarrassment

of nakedness.

I did not see the demons dancing

around my head when

later on

I watched boys in the locker-room

and marveled at the way they wore

their bodies

and wondered what was wrong with me

when girls

in the mind of other boys

occupied categories

held distinctions according to their pubic hair.

father, you’ve taught us how to hide twice over

once, within our bodies

and then within our minds

you’ve taught us how to tie the knots

over our hands

to keep them close to our bodies

when everybody else was free

to reach and show

the objects they desired most.

you turned our blood against us

imagined branches withering

on our family trees.

my flesh did not resent me

when I let another man’s tongue

come searching in my mouth.

I only thought of coming home

that home unlike the promised land

the house beyond the walls you built.

so tell me, father

shall I not seek your love

man, in the arms of another man?

Letter to an absent friend (Wednesday, May 4, 2016)

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Dear friend,

Before I say anything else, allow me to thank you for your last letter, the one that never got to me, unfortunately, due to the hectic nature of our planet’s temperamental atmosphere. Black holes must have opened in the very fabric of the night sky while you were writing it. Don’t get me wrong, the letter did get to me, yet it was impossible for me to read it. The pages were all wet, the writing illegible, so much so that when I finally managed to open the envelope, fretfully, the breath running out of me and hiding in the corners of my room, I thought you had sent me an ink blot test to figure out my personality traits. So I immediately sat at my desk accordingly and started to write a response letter about the figures that seemed so obvious on the humid pages. And while I was doing it I was thinking, again, as I did on many occasions during our affair, of writing the letter in such a way so as to show you how good I was for you, how lucky you were to have discovered me on that dating site. I wanted to show you that I had changed, that I did it all for you, and that I still lived in that bedroom-world I had imagined for the both of us. In that bedroom-world we were still together, and I was still the man you wanted me to be, protective, jaw clenched, omniscient in the way American men living in the suburbs with their wives were supposed to be.

What you are reading now is not that response letter, of course, I burned it long after I had realized your own letter was, in fact, not an ink blot personality test. In the fury that followed that realization, by mistake I burned your letter as well, and so I no longer remember the details, as I no longer hear the voice that was so carefully embedded in your handwriting. I now find myself in a state of despair because I feel as if, once again, as I did on many occasions, I lost you once more because of my innate stupidity when it comes to matters such as these. And so, I had to go back to our bedroom-world to find you again and to be able to write this letter.

Our bedroom-world is in a rather shabby state, I’m afraid, mostly because of my carelessness. I’ve been trying to stay away from it for as long as I could, returning only at night when I find it difficult to fall asleep. Because of the brevity of these moments I never have the time to think too much about the context. I never think about the lighting in the room, or the furniture for that matter. The sheets and the pillows are the only elements I manage to think about extensively nowadays. The tapestry has faded, the windows have disappeared, the rest of the furniture is but a presence, akin to the one inspired by invisible gods. There, we are in a constant state of darkened mood, made so by our need to fall asleep in each other’s arms. The greatest detail, however, and the highest imaginative effort are bestowed on that final embrace before sleep comes, on the way I try to control my breathing so as not to disturb you, on the way our embrace turns to heat as if we are about to cross the wide expanses of a polar night. That night never comes, of course, and every morning I find myself alone, not in our bedroom-world, but in actual physical pain.

On a merrier note, rumor has it that you finally graduated from law school. I might have seen some of the pictures from your graduation ceremony, but then again I have seen so many such ceremonies in my life that I can’t remember whether I have actually seen yours. I might have seen you wearing that green laurel wreath that is customary in Italy with graduation parties. I might have seen your friends congratulating you, your mother and father proud by your side. I might have seen you smiling for the camera, and I might have imagined us together in our bedroom-world on the night of your graduation. I could have been in on one of those pictures, not knowing how to stand or where to put my hands. I couldn’t touch you the way I would have liked to because I was afraid some of the people around us might frown and smile awkwardly, the way people whose heads have been detached from their bodies smile before realizing it. I might have flown in from London on that very morning, and I would have acted the way a stranger would, always on the fringes of the conversation, always the one taking the picture without being in it.

I might have listened to all of the congratulatory notes coming from all those people around you, only to prepare my very own special congratulatory note. I might have chanted dottore, dottore… along with the others. I could have gotten you a graduation gift, something fancy and expensive because in our bedroom-world money has never been a problem. I could have arranged your tie and spoken to you softly while doing it. I would have reassured you that everything was going to be fine, and that your thesis defense was flawless. I would have made small talk with your father who would stare down at me from the skies of his own failures, knowing somehow that the question regarding my intentions with you would never come. I would have talked about the weather with your mother, and finally, when she wouldn’t be listening, I would have told her that you are the most handsome law school graduate.

But I wasn’t there, so isn’t this letter some sort of apology for that?

I assure you it is not. You wouldn’t have wanted me there. I would have ruined everything for you. Most likely this letter is just one of those congratulatory notes, written and read at a time when all congratulatory notes have been written and read, and consumed, and returned to their rightful places. The only thing I can wish you now, irrespective of your future academic plans, is for you to find somebody who would look at you adoringly, awe-struck. Somebody who in those moments would think of you as his and consider himself to be the luckiest man on earth.

Yours truly,

Rob.

Happy Burden

 

The moment I sat at the computer to write about the day, add significance to it so as to make it more meaningful, less resentful, I heard its strained whisper. I saw it. I watched it as it stretched like a sleepy cat inside the hands and feet of my mother and father after my brother and his wife, and his dog, had eaten their share of the birthday cake that was so cyclic so as to bring back memories of the one from last year, and left. I overheard it in the indistinct babble floating like a cloud above the background TV music and coming from the kitchen at the far end of the hallway. I sensed it in the way mother was loading the dishwasher, and in the way father sighed. That silent expectancy, the hope that had been, at one point in the past, sentenced to death and was now inching closer to the scaffold.

There had been no candles, no pictures were taken, as if, deep down, we didn’t wish for the moment to be memorized in any way. The cake was a proof of that. None of us seemed to have the emotional energy to light the candles and watch father make a wish before blowing them out. What was there to wish for anyway? When a toast was finally given and the glasses clinked my sister-in-law sighed and I knew what she meant by that. I didn’t say anything, just raised my glass, brimming with still water, and pushed it against the other glasses and hoped to be covered by the sound of their good wishes. I knew perfectly well what she meant by that when she got out of the kitchen to grab her coat and her eyes were glassy and slow, as if she had cried or was about to. She sighed again and whispered something about shitty lives while she lovingly stroked their panting, carefree dog.

It was then that I suddenly felt huge and disgusting, incapable of acting, and I felt I was being blamed for something. Not something I had done personally but something I was a part of, something I had unconsciously condoned. I knew she was condemning us and, by extension, I knew she had tutored my brother into blaming us as well. I saw it in the way he took the money when it was handed to him by my father, in the way he told his usual stories this time calibrated to a nervous tone, and punctuated by nervy bursts of laughter.

And somehow I understood them perfectly well, and I was aware of the things that were not being said, the way a child is aware of his parents’ lying. But I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that understanding had I been asked to do it. It was then that I wanted to make my disgust apparent, turn it into a knife and threaten all of them, my thirst for blood and vindictiveness dancing playfully at the back of my tongue. There it gurgled like the beginning of laughter and descended into my guts only to heighten my nausea. It had been pacing back and forth ever since that morning.

It had nestled there and yet every morning I chose to ignore it. But that day, when me and my mother sat at the kitchen table to chop the boiled potatoes and the carrots, and the pickled cucumbers, I had vowed to it that I was going to finally release it. I told it that the day had finally come and that it wasn’t too selfish of me to do it on that particular day. It felt as if I had irrevocably decided to make an offering in the shape of a birthday gift to both my parents: a truth wrapped in the showily expensive paper of disappointment.

There, at the kitchen table, a yellowish potato in her hands, mother had talked of death and the weight of solitude, and of past kitchen adventures, and that whole speech felt like a landing strip on which I simply had to parachute myself and hope for the best. But I kept swallowing the words and pushing them back, and shoved salad and mayonnaise down my throat to muffle the moans. Then mother started peeling the mushrooms and cutting the prosciutto into small chunks and I had to remove myself from the room and pretend I had some work to do on my computer. When I got back to the kitchen mother began her usual speech about my brother and his wife and their financial problems. About the bank loan that had gone unpaid and had been forgotten for more than eight years. About the admonitions one of the bank managers had issued during my brother’s last visit to the bank, and about the trip to England my brother took to meet a woman he had met online. The money had been spent on that trip but, my mother assumed, my brother was too ashamed to confess it to his wife. Nothing had come out of that long-distance relationship and women from the past had to stay in the past. That particular woman, who had in fact spent a couple of days during Christmas at my grandparents’ house, stayed in the past but the forgotten bank loan kept returning, ever more threatening.

I wanted to tell mother that I would never do something like that. No women would loom over and threaten our domestic contentment, not only because I had never made any bank loans to appear financially stable, but also because there had been no women in my past. There were no such men either. This last bit of information was an essential part of the argument I had prepared for the day. Yes, something was off in my case, something was wrong, but I had chosen not to act upon that wrongness. I had not indulged my craving for the bodies of other men, I had not promised my love to anyone. There was no boyfriend, no love affair. Tentatively, I also wanted to add to it the promise that I would never ever indulge that craving because happiness was not something I saw myself attaining. It was something I could live without. This final part felt like a closing excuse, I knew it, one last attempt at preparing them for the transition, pacify them, help them sleep at night.

The words returned when my brother left, after all the sighs had been uttered, and they lingered there on my tongue, watchful, their eyes gleaming like those of an animal in hiding. The taste of them made me walk around the apartment. They made me sit on the chair for which there was no space at the kitchen table. They made me follow the edges of the wooden cupboard in the kitchen with my fingers. Even long before that, while the men were still chatting over beers and the cake looked even gloomier, my prepared speech came back bulkily, furiously, screaming at me when I had finished that last cigarette and I was getting back into the kitchen from the balcony. And while my right foot was still suspended over the threshold I had a vision of their future faces: mother would look like she was about to burst into laughter, my sister-in-law would be smiling, and both my father and brother would be frowning, deeply, a frown akin to that necessary when tedious work was performed. They wouldn’t know, of course, that maybe I had built a life around this ultimate shedding of light, that I had built a career around it, that I had carefully avoided all of those classic mistakes so that no reproach could be issued when the time came.

Yet, once I was back inside, the speech subsided, or rather it was covered by all those sighs and the knowledge and the guilt that came with them. There was still time for certain words to be spoken. Phone calls came in between, additional birthday wishes, and mother filled the silence with a conviction I came to recognize as not her own but an echo of my father’s. A conviction tinged with negligence almost, and a blind faith into everything my father said and did. Somehow, I knew they wouldn’t react, and I was almost sure that in their solitude, or when I wasn’t in the same room with them, they would smile at the thought, at my inappropriateness, at my unspeakable transgression. And maybe, later on, when the bitter medicine settled on the bottom of the glass, they would reconsider my brother’s transgressions, and think that maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

Random Moment (Guernica II)

 

A reading by the author:

 

Seeing the world through the eyes of a fish you see me in ways and colors I could not see myself, stolen from the world, perched on the mountains of my mind, my left hand raised not to catch a glimpse of the sun but to hold on to the entrails of my beautiful gods. Against their ruins I throw my own body to deface it, make it resemble something you could have feelings for. Today, I make myself ugly, awakened, as leeches are, by the smell of the pulsating warm limbs of mindless children, just to give you reasons to uphold your lack of nerve. For once, let your blood talk. Because nobody has ever had the courage to tell me they loved me and you are no different.

I often wonder whether it’s a question of time, or timelessness. Do you postpone your words, promise to utter them tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow? Because when I look up I can only sense the narrowness of a breathing tube, its transparency made to resemble that of swimming jellyfish. The narrowness that curbs upwards like the momentary thrust of anticipation. The narrowness that then plunges downwards and curls into itself, struggles to reach the tiny mouth of a machine. Will that be the moment when you will finally say something? When the plastic lips will finally touch in a kiss bound to go on forever? Say it now, while you can still distinguish between the brownish hues of my skin and the sheets in which I sleep as in a cocoon. For once, let your blood speak, because if I speak the leeches will come out of my mouth and you will turn away, disgusted.

Then I will tell you about the sounds that come from the walls, and the way sometimes construction cranes resemble the skinny limbs of a praying mantis. What are they praying for? I’ll speak of resonance and the ground we stand on, which was once a battlefield. Of the bed we could be sleeping in. Of how I don’t want to imagine you with your back turned to me. Of how I often feel as if people are afraid of me. Is it because they know I’m afraid of their emotions? I am, in fact. But not because I’ve never went through them. It’s because whenever I see them do it I feel as if they are taking something away from me. In time, I got used to it, and started giving them everything until, at the end of the day, I would feel depleted. I gave them my dreams and kept the nightmares for myself. I offered them my hopes and they took them. I gave them my time. And I will keep doing that until you finally decide to speak.

Random Moment (Guernica)

 

A reading by the author:

 

Your eyes, they were all wrong, your mouth as well, misplaced, not unlike those of men and women who suddenly sob or hate unknowingly, your tongue, superb knife, pride of those who step back when the job is done to have a look at their creation. Innocent as the children whose parents are dying, you grow bigger by the day, breast-fed on Macbeth’s soliloquies. There’s at least one side of you I do not know, the side that’s unaware of how I see you, the one that is as subtle as the prolonged scream of a violin abandoned in the throes of the player’s passion.

Was I supposed to notice the way you did your hair in preparation of my arrival? Because when you opened the door and the light ran out and down the stairs, and I could no longer see the way you moved, it was as if for a very long time I had been sleeping in a hole in the ground and I was suddenly awakened only to see you pulling me out. I was not struck by that instant of awakening. For a very long while I had been expecting it. What startled me was the notion that we both had hands to pull each other out, that, at a time when I had lost my faith in limbs and all was grey matter and metaphors.

And while you were speaking and sliding across the floor in your plastic chair, and the music was playing, I kept telling myself I wouldn’t allow my hands to touch you. I promised myself I wouldn’t think of your lips, that I wouldn’t turn them to language and obsession. I did, however, prepare some answers to questions such as: Why are you doing this to yourself? I had prepared a speech about them, about all of the men in my life, about how you could never be one of them. About the taxi driver who played soccer on his phone and told me he was irreparably busy, in whose house I had spent two nights, whose bony hands kept pushing my hands toward his groin while Eddie Izzard was telling jokes about vegetarian Hitler who was also a painter and couldn’t get those trees right and vouched to kill everyone in the world because of it. The taxi driver who weighed the pasta before cooking it.

About the tall gym teacher and his receding hairline, who was too young to have a receding hairline in the first place, whose mouth tasted of corn when he shoved his tongue into my mouth. The gym teacher who, out of a self-fashioned morality, told me not to call him and talked in code when I messaged him. About the man who had taken his dog for a walk and saw us making out in the car, in the parking lot by the park. About how I felt when I realized he was, in fact, looking at us. About how he turned away, embarrassed, when all I wanted to do was to get out of the car and tell him it wasn’t his fault, he shouldn’t be embarrassed. It wasn’t his fault we couldn’t express our feelings any other way.

About the forty-something guy who thought of Justin Bieber when he penetrated his uneventful lover, who was totally unaware of the fact that he, the forty-something guy, was taking me out every week to a dark parking lot by another park. He who had once told me about another quiet parking lot close to the airport and I fled knowing that, once there, we wouldn’t be watching airplanes taking off. He whose hand kept landing on my knee while I imagined scary spiders crawling up on my ankles.

About the older friend who once stood on top of me and then told me not to move while he rushed to the bathroom to wash his genitals, all of this while his companion was snoring obliviously on the other side of the bedroom wall. About how I kept my hand on his groin while we were driving up the mountains in northern Italy.

About the man who worked in a store that sold luxury handbags to wives who thought they deserved them.

About the men who had given me a ride home and whose hands lingered in a handshake. About the boy who had once kissed me on the neck out of the blue. About their eyes, and the constant nagging sensation they were just on the verge of telling me something that would change my life forever. About the fact that they never did. About the way I followed them deep into their confusion. I followed them until I finally came to understand I had mistaken their friendly interest for affection, the way one mistakes the flowered patterns of a discarded napkin for drops of menstrual blood.

Random Moment (Descent)

The shops weren’t closing, people weren’t disappearing from the streets, but the night was falling in a rush on that December evening, and I was just outside the university building having a smoke and thinking of finishing up for the day and going home. And I couldn’t take my eyes off you, glasses and jeans and shirt and fancy jacket and your way of waiting there by the garbage can on 5th Avenue, and the way the light from the streetlights fell on you and your impatience. There was that sense of recognition of you, one I could not escape whenever it occurred, that halfway point between familiarity and the acknowledged impossibility of randomness turning into significance.

And out of that crowd that travelled like wolves in packs downtown, your other half detached itself from the pack like a small rivulet and started flowing over into your direction, and you acknowledged him and he came to you and kissed you, and nobody cared about it except the two of you. I rolled my eyes at you both and at your gesture like I roll my eyes when an old woman refuses to take the seat you just offered her on the subway. Your encounter somewhat resembled the feet of a luminous creature, frail toes and all, like those of an angel, seen for a brief moment by drowning children before they are pulled out by a stranger and dragged on the shore.

The stranger was not saving the child, the child is beyond saving, the stranger was merely considerate of the parents and their investment, all of those years lost in the idiocy of a profane moment.

But then, just like the feet of that proverbial angel, frail toes and all, the two of you disappeared, and I was left floating on my cloud of smoke.

You laughed when I told you this story and said it was hilarious, too saccharine for your taste. You said you no longer believe in love. Once you had fallen in love with a guy out of boredom.