Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Short Story Continuation

For a time, I thought all of these disparate short story pieces should be eventually conjoined together. Now I believe they stand out by themselves best, individually, as vignettes. I haven't quite decided yet. The best strategy may be to compile them together thematically, or even to be so bold as to write a screenplay someday.

Today's post explores a major area of my life I don't easily confront. I fought with myself in the course of writing, conscious that I shouldn't self-censor to the detriment of the piece. Someday, I hope I can talk about such things without discomfort.


As I enter, I notice the progression of grey throughout your hair and mine. Mine is only beginning, confined mostly to my temples for the duration. Yours is much more plentiful now. After embracing you, I gather that you still subtly apply patchouli. The chest hair that billows out of your shirt has begun to turn as well. You’ve gained back the forty pounds you’d recently lost when last we met, three years ago. Food always was your torment. Sometimes you'd pour dish soap on food you'd thrown in the trash hours before, so that you wouldn't fish it out and eat it during the night.

You eye me up and down, rapidly and greedily. It embarrasses me now. Once I would have invited your glances. Now you look like a tired old man with a never-ending stack of essays to grade. The last few years have proclaimed your age in front of the world. There was always a kind of defeated, lonely look to you, which I always assigned to your alcoholic mother and overbearing army corporal father. I see how you will be soon, a nice, slightly haunted old man who tips well at local restaurants.

In many ways, I will forever be in your debt. You taught me how to be queer, or at least how to understand it. I rushed into your arms in full freak out mode, eighteen years old and scared absolutely senseless. You were sympathetic, of course. But you didn’t vouch for the fact that I would seduce you. Safe enough, I thought. For a time, you resisted, but neither did you exactly discourage. It wasn’t long before we were lovers. This narrative progression, I gather, is not especially novel or even that out of the ordinary. I just called it the beginning.

Everyone for whom heterosexuality is not an option, or like me, a confusing counterweight, goes through a similar process. First one learns the language, the vernacular, the terminology. Then one applies it to an active life. I was another one of your students, learning from our interplay as much as the unwritten code that opened up before me, bit by bit. Loving mystery, I applied myself well and excelled in symbolic comprehension. Publically, I was fascinated. Privately, I was incredibly tormented.

Regularly locking myself in my room at night, I processed a day spent with you. And I asked myself the same questions. Those who always told me that being attracted to other men was perfectly normal always set off a fresh bout of angst. In all that I saw and felt, nothing felt the slightest bit normal or average. Yet, if I doubted the validity of what I felt, you were always around to prove it. In your arms, I felt momentarily serene. Today, I remember some of that feeling, the hollow, residual sensations we reserve for old lovers.

You understood me. Every Sunday you asked the priest for absolution from sin for homosexuality. The request was always denied. He said the same thing, week in and week out. Don’t act on it. For a time you’d followed his advice. Until well into your twenties you’d remained celibate, chaste, and pure. The phrase you used to describe yourself in those, your salad days was asexual. I tried to explain that asexuality wasn’t necessarily a developmental step. I’m still not certain you understood entirely.

After reversing course, you met someone. The two of you had three wonderful years together until the diagnosis. In those days, AIDS was a death sentence. In an instant you were thrust into the role of caretaker. For five years afterwards, you watched the disease progress, took temperatures, observed night sweats, scheduled doctor’s visits, and then buried him with no one’s assistance but your own. In the course of a long evening, you told me this story, wholly without emotion. There had been pain once, but your voice never showed it. You spoke as though this were a story long told, long memorized.

For a while afterward, I always needed confirmation. Even now, my mind goes strange places. I sometimes doubt what I felt for you, then. If I could deny it, then I could deny who I am, what I am, what this was. The sensation was primal, passionate, and completely affectionate. But unlike how you felt about me, I was never in love with you. I would never allow myself to go that far. You provided me every opportunity to do it, always bringing up the sizable gap in our ages. If you were pushing your heart away, even gently, then I supposed I was allowed to do the very same.

Back in town for a day or so, I thought I might find you at your normal hangout. It shouldn’t matter that you were actively ogling me with unchaste eyes the whole time I was there. We had enough of a history to justify that. I was mostly afraid, like always, that others would pick up on it. Count me as one of those who enjoyed the security and relative anonymity of the clubs and the bars. I knew my place. I knew where I fit into the prevailing culture. Closeted. Even if people disapproved, they still covered for me. They knew why I was there and I never made any pretense otherwise.

We said our goodbyes and you returned to your familiar corner. Blue book essays neatly piled six and seven deep, in coordinated piles stacked on the tabletop. This was your system and I think you alone were the only person to make sense of it. The pedagogical aspect of your life was never especially interesting to me, so I never made inquiries. And you never felt it worthy of a discussion. I only observed the visible products and the observable results. Now, I am only awkward in your presence, the way I imagine all of us feel around an ex.

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