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 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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The effete, novel and social category

10352397_10201907955522302_8911305111952872968_nI wrote The Effete, a novel set in an utopian community on the outskirts of an unknown city, in 2013, and for the first time in my writing career I was experimenting with names. I don’t usually give names to my characters because most often I’m afraid that people who know me will be able to recognize themselves in the things I write about. By not using names, I also want to maintain the widest aperture to the reader, let him or her do part of the work of fiction, fill in the blanks, as well as liberate my characters of a certain excess of interpretation. From this point of view, The Effete is different: though there are no more than a couple of characters, they have a name, they are identifiable. The very title of the novel is a name in itself, one describing a social category. In the Theatür, the motherly company that in the end becomes a way of life and a metaphor for the reality that I myself have been experiencing for quite a while, “the effete” are those who have been expelled from the ranks of presumably “normal” human beings and who have sought refuge in a world where they are being told exactly what they are. No embellishments, no fancy language, the effete know where they stand. The rest is variation. And love.

The Effete is now available for free download here: the-effete-2016.

Enjoy!

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.

Moment Thirty-Two (Service)

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Akin to street vendors, the men aligned. They were stacked rather, according to their spatial nearness.  The whole thing resembled the universe before the Big Bang. Some of them had to elbow their way out of the crowd. Each of the users had chosen their best picture, for sure, and each of those pictures recreated a moment stolen out of their lives. An instant of happiness perhaps? Some of them were faceless, a glimpse of red underwear here, a patch of brownish skin over there, next to the guy who chose to show the picture of a sunset over Central Park instead of his face. And yet, a sense of security exuded from each of those instances displayed on the screen of his phone, the kind of security he craved for and hoped to have attained on that same dating app.

Sunday mornings were always like that: smell of unwashed sheets and sweat, the radiators hissing as if about to start moving, hellish creatures, the desperate sense that showering was necessary and that it was the only day of the week when he could have cake. Then the hand moving downwards, sliding in between his legs to caress morning erections. Just one look at those pictures was enough to unleash waves and waves of fantasies and pleasure. He wouldn’t touch the skin, no, he would merely rub his erection through his boxers and then smell his fingers when he stopped to prolong the sensation. There was some sort of pleasure to be taken out of it, in detecting that smell of urine on his fingers, one that mixed with the smell of tobacco stubbornly refusing to be washed away.

Then he would fall asleep again only to be awakened by the expectancy of that final relief. The cycle would be repeated a couple of times. There had been a time, a very long time before that, when he still believed in some sort of divine retribution and refused to masturbate on Sunday mornings when supposedly the Sunday mass would be happening. He would wait until the afternoon to do it. Those were the times when he had a laundry basket in the bathroom next to the washing machine. Those were the times when he used to clean the house on Saturday afternoon in preparation for the holiness of the next day. Those were indeed the times when he had a nightstand and a bedside lamp. He no longer did that. His dirty underwear was simply hidden from view in a plastic grocery bag under the bed. It wasn’t really a bed, it was merely a mattress placed over a metallic structure, one that resembled a beach chaise longue. The nightstand was a cardboard box that had originally housed a desk lamp. He was aware of the dust settling on his books, which were stacked not on shelves but on a make-believe fireplace, but could not find the energy or the will to do it.

Then the innocent glare of the phone.

The page refreshed automatically to reveal the newcomers, people who had logged on or created new profiles in the meantime. And there he was, the man with the beard and the round glasses staring at him from a selfie taken on what appeared to be a leather sofa. He had seen him before, but never had the courage to write to him. Because why would he be interested anyway? Nobody had ever been interested in him, except maybe for those who had no other choice and imagined themselves next to him. Never contact those who have the better looks. Contact the underdogs, those whose sense of security was often undermined by the way they looked and the way they subsequently saw themselves. He considered himself one of them, living on the outskirts of those dating apps, in the shadow of perfect abs, beautiful eyes and symmetrical faces that had just the right amount of facial hair to give them structure.

At times rage would come and turn him into a renegade. In those moments he promised it to himself not to go there anymore.

But then the man with the beard and the round glasses moved upwards, closer, and a message landed in his inbox. The man with the beard demanded to know how he was doing. Courteously, he replied that he had just woken up but he was still sleeping on his feet. That was a lie. He wasn’t on his feet; the coffee had not been brewed yet. The self-loathing that came with breakfast had not yet been served. But it was already late and so he thought he should just throw in the idea that he wasn’t one of those lazy guys who slept till noon because they had nothing better to do.

‘I woke up a long time ago,’ the man with the beard replied, ‘but still in bed lazy, under the covers, where it’s warm and cozy and nobody can see me.’ And then that ambiguous laugh. Hehe. ‘Go back to bed!’

He said it was okay. The man with the beard smiled. That man was no fun, he thought.

‘I noticed you before,’ he wrote to the man with the beard, ‘and thought you were very nice, but I never had the courage to write to you.’

‘That is very sweet of you,’ the reply came seconds after, ‘I am just an ordinary guy. I noticed you too.’

Liar.

‘I like ordinary guys,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘and I just love the fact that you are so much taller than me.’ The man with the beard and the round glasses was also older, more than ten years older, and had an air of rough maturity about him. He liked that. He was tired of all those little boys who didn’t even know how to have sex. Not that he was a master of sex, but still, a man has to have his dignity.

After they exchanged pictures and told each other how handsome they were, there came the silly question. The question wasn’t silly in itself. He had been expecting it. After all, the man’s intentions were specified in his profile. The man with the beard was looking for “clean and respectful guys, professional, no drama, quiet”, and considered himself average, more of a top, if it came to that. He was also “relationship oriented” and, more than anything, urged his fellow hunters to be polite and engage in conversation only if they were interested in having one. Honesty was also appreciated. “Cuddling?”, said the name of his profile.

‘I apologize if it’s premature’, the man with the beard said.

‘Sure, why not’, he told the man with the beard and the round glasses. He needed to get out of bed, had to get out and do something. He wanted to appear adventurous. He wanted to seem disillusioned and raw.

‘I do sleep in boxers’, the man said, ‘but I will change in pajamas. Where do you live?’

In outer space he wanted to say because where he lived was just that, a room in which he slept, a place where he simply found himself, a hiding place. He told the man an approximate address.

‘You want to come over? Or want me to come to you?’

He told the man with the beard that he had roommates, even though they were long gone to work that morning. He wanted the man to imagine these faceless roommates that wouldn’t appreciate a stranger coming into their home to cuddle with the other stranger.

‘That’s fine’, the man with the beard replied, ‘you come here then.’

The sudden materiality of the situation made him cringe. The man was serious but there was still time to back down and offer some sort of excuse. Maybe he should go back to sleep. Maybe some other day.

‘I don’t know whether I want to come out of bed right now.’

‘I know’, the tall man replied, ‘it’s a tough call.’

The man’s location popped up on the screen. It wasn’t far, but the idea of having to get up, taking a shower, and going out was simply too unappealing. He was also afraid. He had always been afraid of them. Feared their gaze and silent judgments, imagined them hating him, scorning his awkwardness. That is why excuses always had to be invented.

‘It’s alright’, the man said probably noting his hesitance, ‘maybe some other time.’ And he appreciated that. Everything sounded better when it was out there somewhere, about to happen, lost between the folds of a future tense. Beautiful things might happen in the meantime. A beautiful relationship maybe, the man of his dreams might be just around the corner.

‘Don’t sound so sad,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘it breaks my heart.’

‘I understand,’ the man replied, ‘you are all cozy in your bed, me too, and just want to sneak in and cuddle, feel the warmth of the body and relax…’

And suddenly the warmth was so real he could smell it, feel the rigidness of the body breathing next to him.

‘Isn’t that the most amazing feeling in the world?’

There was a long pause. He closed the app and returned to his erection, thinking of the warmth that the man with the beard had planted in his mind. He imagined the roughness of the man’s beard on his face and the red sores it would leave behind. He felt the numbness of the sores that would form around his mouth, that mute reminder, imagined his grunts.

Minutes later the reply came. ‘I feel it now in my mind’, the message said, ‘holding you tight.’

‘It’s like when you hear somebody else’s breath so close to you it becomes a mantra and you wish your breathing could be in sync with it.’

The tall man with the beard and the glasses agreed, it was just like that. ‘Or if you are on top of my chest, hearing my heart beat, your leg slightly over my leg, your arm over my shoulder.’

He told the man with the beard and the glasses that he needed to take a shower first and the man thought it was cool. Then, under the shower he thought of everything that had been said, and he thought he was so weak, so fucking weak.

Moment Twenty-Seven (Mind Cancer)

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I craved to make you see your eyes not by reflection but by themselves, so I broke all of our mirrors and locked all the doors to keep you inside. The neighbors rushed to our door because you were screaming and they threatened us. They said they were going to call the police. Then they went away when I smiled at them and reassured them there was nothing wrong. You weren’t exactly screaming. What kept coming out of your mouth was more like an accusatory howl, and you were telling me I had taken away all of our eyes. Somehow I believed that by blinding all of our mirrors your beauty would finally go away.

I pushed you against the bathroom mirror until it broke and pieces from it flew all over the place. Water ran over the shards of glass and I told you look, darling, it’s raining sadly. I kept you in there because I wanted to see your blood. At least one drop of it: to make sure it was still crimson with passion. I wanted to suffocate you because I was feverish.

Let this fury blind the both of us until we can’t see each other again.

That’s the reason why I had been doing all of our daily chores. For the both of us. I went to work in your stead. Your boss did not notice the difference. Your colleagues did not look up from their computer screens when I went into the office. They did not react in any way when I put all of your things into a box and exited the building. Your manager did not say anything when I placed your resignation letter on his desk. When I got into his office he merely extended his arm and pointed to the stack of unopened envelopes. He did not look up from his computer screen. I needed you to stay inside the house, away from everybody else.

What can you write about when you feel as if your life is being lived by somebody else under your very nose? You write about the mind. And all I wanted was to suffocate you. Tie you to a chair and wrap you in plastic foil until you resembled Barbie’s boyfriend. I had no intention of preserving you. I wanted you to disappear. I was furious, I’m sorry. It was the only way to make your beauty go away. It was the only way to turn it into silence.

So I split open my head and did not use the plastic gloves mother used to clean the toilet. I did not wash my hands beforehand. In the splinters of the bathroom mirror I looked at my open head and dug with my fingernails deep into the layers of tissue. I took out the mind and my body felt like an empty tube that amplified the remains of the rest of the world. Against these remains I threw my mind as in a pillow fight. Or like an empty highway turned upside down, that’s how it felt.

Then it had all seemed like a waste of time because I couldn’t find you there.

I told you my mind is a terrible place because you aren’t there.

So I swept it along with the broken bathroom mirror under the linoleum floor of the kitchen.

I was furious because I had wasted all that time for nothing. I couldn’t find you there.

The evening then turned green with nausea so I took the garbage out on the balcony, and watched as the steam rose from my dying mind, shards of mirror sticking out of it like thorns on a pink and grey rose, while I smoked a cigarette, taste of chemicals blooming on my tongue. I couldn’t decide whether to have coffee or not because I couldn’t remember, for the universe’s sake, when was the last time I had one.

Sleep (Adam the Second)

 

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Night comes crawling, pulling itself along, sweat on its brow, supplication on scorched lips, begging on its knees. Our night comes not like perpetrators do but laden with guilt, and we can’t help but do the same, kneel by its side and call it a day, call it a night, adorn it with achievement. As you fumble between the sheets, I can sense the despair inching closer to your bones. I feel you moving and my body wants to move along yours. Then breathing and doing nothing else, then moving again.

All I want to do is ask you what’s wrong because I know that’s what good lovers do even though they already know the answer. For a very long while I have known what’s been bothering you.

But I wonder, if I skip the questioning and abandon fully to the knowledge of the answer will I still be the good lover?

Because I do, I know the answer already, I know what’s bothering you. It’s buried deep inside of you. I know this because I’ve felt it too, I’ve been there too, I’ve been working with those demons my entire life.

I have broken you in the process of conquering you, not following the old adage of divide and conquer, but thinking that were I to prove myself incapable of loving the whole of you, I could be capable of loving at least one part of you.

Grandfather talked about similar demons, similar but entirely different somehow, mainly because he’d not been introduced to these new ones we’ve been acquainted with ever since we came out of our mothers’ wombs.

Grandfather held his right hand on the Bible and talked about Adam and Eve and about how we’ve been carrying their sins ever since, and how could you not hate Adam and Eve? They left us with nothing but the sweat and pain of labor. The life we could have had there in Paradise. Grandfather would sigh at the end of this parable, stand up, and continue working.

Grandfather then ate and slept as if Adam and Eve never existed.

But Adam, he was a man, the man, he lost no sleep over the whole forbidden fruit conundrum, he slept, he ate, and fucked, and lived the rest of his life not only as a man but also as a reminder, until he stopped being a man and remained forever a reminder.

You stir again between the sheets and I almost speak to you except that I’m afraid I’ll startle you and my voice won’t be heard over the sound of your moving limbs.

I know what’s bothering you, trust me on this one, because as opposed to grandfather we’ve had another ancestor, one that our grandfather doesn’t know about. Unfortunately, this, our ancestor doesn’t have a name or a face for that matter. He hasn’t fought wars and though he was there, in the background, all the time, he never had the courage to come out. Our ancestors were closeted as well. We don’t need to know his name, at least for now, we only need to assure ourselves of his existence.

Who was the man that first dared to yearn for another man?

Not grandfather’s Adam, because Adam had to be Adam.

We ran back to the origins while playing hide-and-seek, literally, we hid from those who were not necessarily our enemies but rather from those we considered enemies because of the simple fact that they were looking for us. The secrecy that stems from hiding and from being searched for always verged on the illegal, and somehow we felt illegal.

But, conceptually, I thought while you were sleeping, that first man who longed for another man had to be told about that yearning, had to be taught. Somebody had to explain things to him. How could he have known otherwise?

Wake up, please wake up and explain this to me.

You would wake up and look at me, then you would close your eyes again as if mentally preparing for a long explanation. Then you would open them again, swallow in vain, stand up, lean against the railing of the bed, swallow in vain again, and then set on explaining, gesticulating, moving your lips, sometimes arching them as if in disgust. You’d start with banal matters, you’d start with the controversial discussions about the origins of their universe and then move on to our universe. You’d start with that particular distinction even though I would’ve never thought of you as a methodical person.

Yes, you would say, the origins of their universe is controversial, but ours is not. Our universe is simple, there was no Big Bang, no sudden revelation. Wait, yes, revelation might have been involved, but it wasn’t sudden for sure. Ours was gradual revelation.

Imagine Adam the Second, our Adam, Adam from our team, monstrously beautiful Adam the Second who descended from the most noble bloodline, our very own bloodline, so much cooler than their bloodline.

Imagine Adam the Second descending the stairs of Heaven down into the world. No, he wasn’t being expelled from Heaven. He had been ceremoniously asked to go into the world and discover the world by discovering himself. And he’s going down, pretty happy and excited thinking about the things he is about to discover down there, or up there, depends which point of view you adopt in this story. He’s pretty psyched about the entire experience.

He was happy because he had also been told that down there he is going to be immortal and live for thousands and thousands of years. I mean, he’s still alive today. Wait for it, you’ll get to the point eventually. So he’s immortal, still roaming the world in search for his ultimate love and the meaning of life, a difficult task if you ask me.

On his way through the world he encounters another man. In fact, he encounters many many other men, and women, too, and he discovers friendship, then, after thousands of years, he discovers affection, and so on and so forth. Basically, with every thousand years that pass he discovers new sentiments and does his best to explore them to their fullest potential only to discover that they are not what he was looking for. And with every emotion that he discovers and explores he feels as if each and every one of them is just another step toward that ultimate love he is in search of. And he goes on doing that, but he is unable to forget any of the previous experiences.

They are never lost, they hang in there forever and he can’t do anything at all to get rid of them. Whatever he does, he can’t.

Then, at one point, he discovers this thing we have, this thing the two of us have. And he registers it, he stores it, and once he does that it cannot be forgotten.

And so on, you know the rest.

You go back to sleep.

I know what’s bothering you.

Our imaginary talks feel like small betrayals.