They came as a group, surrounding the park and alighting in the trees above me. They were silent at first, moving quietly in tandem, then all at once a dozen different cries sounded loudly, shattering the silence. It was eerie. Some said they spoke words, repeated profanities, whispered street slang, but that wasn’t true – at least I never heard it. I only heard them scream.
These parrots, once pets, had gotten out – had bred and multiplied and now haunted various areas of the Bay, finding food among the trees and traveling in packs. I was uneasy whenever I came to encounter them, their striking red heads reminiscent of blood splotches flying through the air. They were there when I first met him, and there on the day I left.
I couldn’t quite place where it all began, at which exact moment it happened, or what moment anything happened really. Walking along the wharf he was suddenly beside me, walking with me, as though we had always walked together. Nothing much was said, nothing I can distinctly recall, nothing that made me take note of the time or date. When we were together, time seemed to bend, stilling itself around us, morphing the rest of the world into a strange silence. It was just the two of us, and that’s why it would never work.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It is the middle of the week as we climb his steep street, together for the first time. It feels like I am being pulled down, gravity reaching up from below and tugging on me, and I think how one day the earth will pull everything down here, and how beautifully futile it all is.
Every inch of my legs hurts – my calves, hamstrings, thighs, even my bony knees – all ache hotly from this walk, but he is barely out of breath. He wears a worn backpack, sagging off his shoulders, and I can tell he carries it with him all the time. The cuffs of his jeans are frayed and dirty, and there are holes in his Chuck Taylors. His building is fronted by an ornate iron gate. The key clangs in the lock, then suddenly we are ascending the narrow stairs. I watch his feet fall before me, and allow my gaze to rise to the wrinkled denim behind his knees.
We reach the top floor, and as he opens the door the light floods the dim hallway. We are high above San Francisco – the Bay rolls out beneath us, the spire of the Transatlantic Pyramid slightly to our right, stark against the sky.
There is something sad about this, as I know it is not the first time he has brought someone back here in the middle of the day. Sad, yes, but incontrovertible as well. We would move in such motions regardless of reason or knowledge or the hope of something better.
It strikes me as suddenly strange, the way we shift into each other’s lives. I don’t think we even spoke, he simply took up his stride beside me and we ended up here, back at his place. How odd such quick intimacy feels, and still how right. We stand there, not speaking, not moving, just looking at each other. The light is strong, this high up. A breeze ruffles through a ratty-edged curtain over the kitchen window. It is this silence that I will remember. The silence and maybe his eyes, watching me, holding me there.
He removes his backpack and takes out a camera. I stand, mesmerized by his deliberate movements, as he brings the camera to his face, closes one eye, focuses the lens, and takes a single picture. The moment before the fall.
We are the only ones who know what goes on in the next few hours. A window of time in which nothing and everything could happen. I often wondered what went on in these apartments during the day, when most people were at work or school. I thought to ask if he had a job, but didn’t want to break the quiet. We both fall asleep in his bed, half-clothed and exhausted.
The afternoon passes this way. Light slants through the bedroom window, in between the slatted blinds. The shadow of a chair leg grows long, ultimately melting into the darkness of evening. Around us the last light from the day on which we first met fades slowly as we slumber, and then the fog arrives, rolling in suddenly, over the hills and valleys. It’s poison stuff, this fog. Makes me do all sorts of strange things, wildly abandoning reserve, flagrantly displaying my body, daring some god to strike me down.
I awaken with a jolt, a sudden fear and a sharp intake of breath. He lets out a sleepy groan and I relax, settling back into the end of this day, not wanting it to end, and knowing the longer I wait the harder it will be.
“I’m hungry,” he says. They’re the first words I remember him saying to me. “Do you want to grab a bite?” The only thing I can do is nod.
The neon-signs of Italian restaurants beckon through the dim night, the sidewalks spilling over with people beneath heat lamps, the breeze coming on stronger now, and then that fog. He leads us down a side street, away from the noise and crowds. It’s late, but he says he knows a good restaurant – the best one in all of North Beach – and it’s owned by a friend. She is wiping down the bar when we arrive, but hurries to unlock the door as soon as she recognizes him. This is how it works. Doors open for him that would be locked to the rest of us, and his charm overrides any of the usual envy.
“Hello, my dear,” she says throatily, a hint of an indeterminable accent on her lips.
“Hello, darling,” he returns, kissing her lightly on both cheeks. “You wouldn’t happen to have my favorite meal on hand tonight for me and my… friend, would you?” The pause before ‘friend’ is faint, almost unnoticeable, but it’s there.
“For you? Of course… sit, sit, sit,” she urges, physically placing us into the tall chairs by the bar. The maternal motion makes me slightly sad, that dull ache of long ago still resonating in the kind, unremarkable act of a stranger. She disappears into the back room and we are left alone again in the dim light of a few flickering candles.
A window opened onto the street
“Well, you are my friend now, aren’t you?” he asks, and he smiles in that infuriatingly disarming way. It was a grin, verging on smug arrogance; he knew it, and I knew it, and there was nothing else to know but that, all in the damn, glorious, all-encompassing half-moon of his mouth.
“Here, some wine… try, try, try,” and she returns, pouring three glasses for us. He holds the stem delicately with his thumb and two fingers, swirling the burgundy liquid beneath his nose and breathing in its unfurling bloom. If done by anyone else, it would have smelled sourly of affectation, but for him it was a natural motion.
His friend brought out two plates for us.
“You’re not eating?” he asks her.
“No, you go ahead,” she answers, smiling at us both and putting her hand on his shoulder.
They talk of the last time they saw each other, and in their easy banter I try to find the cadence of adulthood. She hurries into the back and returns with two plates of steaming food. The smell of it confuses and delights my nose. I was unaccustomed to such a meal, yet this is how he must always eat. Reddish in color, it contains spices not known to me, and thoughts of usual dinners of rice and beans seem already impossibly distant in this new world. He eats his food unabashedly, enjoying every mouthful and extolling the praises of his friend. I smile, relaxing a little after half a glass of wine, but afraid to say too much.
Throughout it all, I remain distant, aloof, slightly out-of-focus. Abstract and obtuse, unfathomable in my quiet. He engages me, more than any other, but he’ll never really reach me, never fully bring me out. It’s sad, how that won’t ever happen, but I will try – I will try more for him than for anyone else.
We find our way back to his place, and though I hesitate at first, I am unable to not go up with him. He likes guys who kiss hard, who take his head roughly in their hands and mean it. I kissed him like that. I kiss everyone like that. There’s no point in a kiss if there’s nothing behind it. Dizzy from the wine, and brave too, we fell onto his bed again. I couldn’t bring myself to leave him, not then. He never asked me to stay, not out loud, but before we fell asleep he picked up my crumpled shirt and hung it on a chair, then found my shoes and placed them beside his. I watched it all through the dreamy fog, then pulled him close.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was quiet in the morning there, a few floors above the street, above the whole city, and so different from my noisy Mission apartment. There the street never stopped. Babies screamed constantly, sirens roared through the night, and the sudden bursts of family arguments tore through the thin walls.
In his loft there was noise too, garbage trucks crushing their carriage at 4 AM, groaning and squeaking and expelling their exhaust. We’d lie awake next to each other, sighing at the disturbance, but I didn’t mind. The sounds of the Mission bothered me more in their relentlessness, merging into one long continuous wail. Here, next to him, there were rumblings and waves that now and then broke through, but there was quiet that followed, and a certain peace, even if my mind never stopped racing.
Outside Stella’s Café we sit at a small table, watching the people across the street at other cafes in their sunglasses, reading their morning papers. When he orders us two coffees, black, he looks at me with a sideways smirk. It was okay when he did it. That’s what I told myself, and really it was. Across the street, the sun is shining on Caffe Greco, but we are cool in the shade. He takes off his sunglasses and I study the fine lines around his eyes, wondering how old he is but not daring to ask. His eyes are pale blue, with tiny slivers of green. Lined with wild lashes, they study me as I study him.
It would be sweet if it ended here, I thought. Even then, I knew it would end, certain that this sort of spell could not last. It would be all right, though, leaving now, before I knew his last name, or why he carried his camera everywhere without taking any pictures.
“You wanna go for a walk?” he asks as I stand up, on the verge of saying good-bye because I knew I should leave. Yes, I knew then, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it, nodding instead with a ghost of a smile.
The air is already warming, burning the fog away, as he leads us to Washington Square Park. The grass is green and lush, bordered by dark trees with thick, twisting trunks. Black easels are set up, dotting the expanse and displaying an art exhibit. Paintings and sculptures surround us, beauty within beauty as the colorful canvasses play against the verdant grass and brilliant sky. The artists sit in slim director’s chairs, nodding and smiling as we pass.
He pauses and looks intently at a painting by DeLave, one that shows a fiery embrace of a man and a woman, rendered in seering oranges, salmons, and reds. The couple is entwined in swirls of flames, but the picture isn’t frightening. He is drawn to the warmer colors of the piece – the darkest shades of fire. Faces peer through the flames as the bells of Saint Peter and Paul’s church toll to mark the half-hour. We walk along, passing a bank of furry Spanish lavender flowers and a group of leashed dogs yelping to go their own direction.
He slows and looks up, noticing them first and coming to a stop. They are in the trees. A worried look crosses his face – the first time I see any sort of concern, written on a wrinkled forehead and barely-parted lips. “Shh,” he whispers, pulling me back before we pass beneath them. His grip on my shoulders is firm, both protective and arousing, and I allow him to guide me. We sit on a bench across from their tree. The scarlet caps twist as they twitch their heads, bobbing back and forth, tricky against the green backdrop.
“Look,” he says quietly, pointing to the group of birds that is perched among the many limbs of the park trees. “Do you know what they are?”
I shake my head, looking up at the strange birds, then down toward the pigeons walking in the park, and back up to the crimson-headed flock. They are striking in comparison.
“Those are the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill – cherry-headed conures they’re called,” he explains, as if sharing some sacred secret. “I think they were once pets who escaped, and now they live around here somewhere.” He leans closer to me, whispering into my ear. “I’ve seen them flying over Coit Tower some days – what a sight – that bright green body and flaming red head against the sky – it’s something.” We sit there watching the birds until they fly away, as quickly and quietly as they arrived.
Up the street there is a woman having a garage sale. Items spill out onto the sidewalk and he quickens his pace, eyes lighting up at the treasure before him. Spying a table from the fifties, a gaudy thing that he instantly loves, he begins bargaining in his friendly way until he gets it down to ten dollars. After hoisting it onto his back he smiles and we continue walking.
“Sweet! Where else can you get authentic Americana for less?”
At his apartment building he sets the table on the sidewalk and finds his key. I look around as he nods at the door, beckoning me in again.
“No, I have to go.”
He smiles and reaches around my shoulders to hug me, drawing me close, pulling me into his chest – and there he holds me. A moment of panic as I wait for any signal that he’d like to see me again, any bit of concern that this might be our last good-bye. I give a half-hearted hug back, then turn away, letting the steep street pull me down, towards the only home I know and all of its dull trappings. I want to cry at having to leave his kindness, and I am focusing so hard on simply breathing that I do not hear his soft sneaker-falls catch up to me.
“You didn’t give me a chance to give you my number,” he says, slightly out of breath but beaming, and he hands me a receipt with his phone number scribbled out in pencil next to his name. “I don’t know if you wanted to hang out again, but if you do…” He winks and retreats before I can come up with a clever reply, but my smile is answer enough.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When I get home, my brother is waiting.
“Where were you?” he asks, annoyed. “Dad was looking for you before work.”
My brother cuffs me on the head with the back of his hand, on principle more than anything else, and I shuffle into the tiny bedroom we share. I lie down on the unmade bed. The squeaking of worn springs fills the room then subsides.
His phone number is in my pocket and I hastily fish it out, unfolding the thin receipt and studying the way he wrote his name. In the next few days I will memorize his number, wearing down the scrap of paper until it is soft, its fibers broken down into a delicate semblance of filaments. I do not dial it, though I am constantly on the verge. A phone call would not fit into the tenuous world we created for ourselves, and I think that he must have been a little desperate too to have given it to me.
My brother comes into the room, hurrying through the narrow walkway between our beds and picking up his jacket. “I’m going to work, make your bed,” he orders. I don’t respond. The lock turns in the hallway and I am alone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There is usually no reason for me to be in North Beach. It’s a foreign land to my family. They stay close to the Mission and never saw a reason to take us further. The day I met him was a fluke. I had some time and decided to walk towards the Bay to see the edge of the city. That’s where I first found him. Like the sea, he represented a glimpse of what might be, and where I might go. Those visions are what drove me forward, and they teased and tempted me so much that I found my way back to the area a few days later.
I walk a different route this time, taking the bus to Union Square and stepping into the center of downtown. After climbing up a few blocks, I find myself at the foot of Chinatown and begin another ascent. A little ways in I stop to watch an elderly woman doing Tai Chi in a canopied park off the main street. She claps her hands together and exhales in short, staccato grunts. In the late morning sunlight, there are people who find peace here. Squeezing into the small shops on the way, my heart aches over the chance encounter with beauty – a rice paper scroll, the raw silk of a woman’s jacket, and endless varieties of mottled jade – or maybe it aches for something else.
I am drawn further upward, pausing among the shriveled dry roots, the pungent herbs and spices – all emitting some stringent smell that’s sharp against the nose. Dried meats are piled high in plastic-lined boxes, alongside the dull orange of dehydrated shrimp, and everywhere the thin skin of red bags, in the arms of buyers and sellers, as they are paraded up and down the street. To find a bit of quiet, I enter a small shop nestled between two bustling restaurants. The door shuts behind me and after the tinkling bells on its handle stop their ringing, it is still and quiet. Incense burns at the sandy base of an altar and the storekeeper sits near the back, not bothering to acknowledge my entrance. Behind him are jars of amber liquid holding the other-worldly shapes of preserved ginseng roots. I find gnarled faces in those tubers – grotesque, scrunched-up mouths and eyes and noses, screaming to be released as they drown in their glass prisons, on display for the world to see. This would have frightened me as a boy.
Back outside, the Occidental notes of an erhu come in and out of focus as an old man languidly moves his bow, watching people idly as he scratches out a meandering melody in which I find no tune – the oddly fitting soundtrack to a scattered dream.
I have almost made it to North Beach. A block of strip clubs flashes its riotous lights. Most are empty at this time of the day. One more steep hill to his apartment. I do not know if it is wrong to just stop by, to ring the doorbell and impose. But I couldn’t stop. He let me in with a smile, like I had been expected.
“I just got back from work,” he says, excusing himself to the kitchen, then returning. “Bit of a mess.”
He walks into the room, covered in a dusty light-gray film – the raw stuff of beauty on his hands, in his hands – in their sinew, their prominent veins, their calloused power.
He is an artisan, and I am his secretive admirer. In the bedroom the afternoon light slants through half-open blinds, the floor a warm amber glow. He walks in clouds of dust.
The sudden beating of shower water and the comfort of someone in the bathroom. The bed in which I lie is not mine. It is a bed to which I have no claim. I remain a stranger here. Not to him, but to his friends, his life, his past.
He has given me a little – he has given me enough. Enough to sustain. I won’t ever ask for more.
Soft from the shower, rough from his work, the hands he proffers are sturdy yet delicate. He is clumsy, too. Scrapes and scratches mar his arms, endearing his body to me, and his vulnerability. I’ve always been touched by the wounded.
When the towel is off he is pale in the sunlight. Before the window, the outline of his body is rosy with backlit blood. Standing there like that he makes me want to cry, then he turns and leans over me, his mouth cool and moist. A tiny rivulet of water spills out of his short hair and anoints my forehead. His body seems to glow while mine recedes into the shadowed folds of the sheets.
He has a bit of a belly but is no longer shy about it. I wonder if I’ll ever find that confidence in my rail-thin figure. To him I must seem an awkward assembly of oddly-bent bones, but he never indicates anything less than pleasure in my body.
He doesn’t like it, but I light a cigarette and sit up on the edge of the mattress. It’s better than his insufferable incense. I catch the ash in the palm of my hand, a momentary sting, barely noticeable. In a world of random chaos, killing oneself slowly is a single solace, something certain and sure.
Sitting there, I feel small and inadequate, my dark skin blending into the corners of the room, where I stand from time to time, trying to ground myself when the earth moves and, more importantly, when it is still.
He calls me his half-breed mutt – only after I say it, only after it’s okay for him to say it. I am Mutt from that point forward.
“Hey, Mutt,” he says in his quiet voice.
“Love you, Mutt.”
Never “I love you”, just “Love you.”
Is it an order, an instruction? Him telling me to love myself? I can never tell.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Days pass, and I return there, again and again, and we never talk about it, we never say things that most people would say. If I knew any better, if I’d had anything like it before, I might have found a way to ask about what troubled me. Instead we talk of other things – things that somehow mean more.
“I would love to inhabit your mind,” he whispers in the dim recesses of a cool summer night. “See what you see.”
Both of us elusive, aloof aside from our desire for one another, and then, too, distant, never quite present, neither willing to be captured just yet. Smoke rings hanging in the air – our only promise to one another.
In his underwear, he strums a guitar. Concentration furrows his brow. Even in his missed notes, I find music. Perhaps because of them I find it so endearing. He tries so hard, and I am breathless at the effort.
I should explore more of the city, he tells me. Get out of the Mission. So I head into the Castro, finding a spot he loosely suggested. I don’t expect him to be there, but I hope he is. Sitting at the corner of the bar by the window, I watch the men walking down the street. It is late afternoon but still bright. The bartender selects a small lime wedge and puts it into the neck of my beer. He places a square paper napkin before me and puts the beer down on it.
Another man stumbles wildly into the bar, clinging to the doorframe so he doesn’t fall down. His eyes are already rolling back into his head as he sits next to me, ordering a shot of tequila and a beer. A plastic bag swings from his hands and he plops it onto the bar, retrieving a smelly carton of Chinese food. He dumps the contents directly onto the bar and starts eating the bits of vegetables with his hands.
The bartender hasn’t noticed, and the rest of the crowd cheers the game playing on the overhead television – the Giants versus Arizona. The sun is bright on the television, and brighter outside on the street. In this dim bar I wait for him, knowing that he likely won’t come, but staying nonetheless because he suggested it. He had been here before, he had touched this bar, perhaps even sat in this seat, looking out at the same street. I was going to have to stop soon, but for now it was enough sitting here, close to him in this approximate way.
The man with the Chinese food is dropping water chestnuts onto the floor, laughing to himself, just as the bartender notices the mess. He jumps over the bar and grabs the guy roughly by the coat, tossing him onto the street and throwing the messy carton of food after him. A volley of curse words. The bartender returns shaking his head, then wiping the greasy remnants of food off the bar. My friend never does arrive that day.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In the Castro he is known by many. Standing next to him, I am quickly shoved aside for the hugs and kisses of friends. His smile betrays his loyalty, and then I know that everything is wrong, because a smile and betrayal could never reconcile, could not exist together as one, no matter the underlying intent. He would come over and draw me in to his crowd, his arm pulling me close, giving me something to subsist on, and the hope that he seemed to want me to harbor. It would be ruinous to give in to that hope. It would be foolish. I wasn’t there yet, and we were nearing the end. That much I trusted.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
From time to time he asks about my family, always after we make love.
“I will not sully this bed with that kind of talk,” I tell him again in a mock-dramatic tone, followed quickly by a vicious smile. “I’ve never asked about yours,” I say gently, trying to make up.
“You can. I would tell you.”
A shared cigarette stops the talking, and then I leave.
It might have made some sense to talk now of my place in his world, to ask at least a question or two about what I might or might not mean to him. I did not have that courage, convincing myself it was simply that I did not have the words. And then there was the issue of the bed, and the things we did in it. It was the only way I felt really connected to him, the only chance I had to make him mine, and yet I still felt such distance between us.
When he took his shirt off, his secrets remained hidden. In his underwear and startling white socks he stayed a mystery: unaffected and unknowable, alluring and unavailable. Stripped bare-naked and sprawled face-down spread eagle – he is still unattainable.
No matter how much he is ravaged – and his body promises it will be much –
No matter how much life-juice spurts out of him – and you will draw it all out –
You’ll still never get into him.
You can penetrate his puckered lips, but he will never be filled,
You can enter his inner sanctum, but he will never be had,
You cannot understand this, and so you will fuck him harder.
I didn’t know who was ‘he’ or who was ‘you’.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The night fog is chilly. It is almost fall in San Francisco. He returns from the store and with a flourish produces a garishly-packaged paper log. After popping it into the fireplace and lighting it, he sits before the little fire and motions for me to join him. An impulse to run out passes over me. It would be so easy to leave now, to hurt him a little, if I hurt him at all, before this ruins me. I stand there and he senses my hesitation.
“I know what we need,” he says, standing up. When he returns he has a bowl and a small plastic bag of weed. “The finest Maui Waui,” he proclaims, packing the dull green leaves into the end of it. I don’t notice its shape as he passes it to me. “Here.” I take a deep drag. “What’s it like having your mouth on my cock?” he asks, bursting with laughter and pointing at the pipe. I look at it – dark wood in the unmistakable shape of a penis, the mushroom head of which I had just put in my mouth – and I roll onto my side in hysterics.
We’re too mellow to make love, cuddling before the fire on a thick, furry rug. The fog is peeking through the windows now, slipping into the warm living room and darting its wispy tongues at the dying fire. I rest my head in his lap and he shifts his hips. The log goes out and he gently lifts my head before getting up to re-light it. The dark band of his underwear peeks above his jeans, stark against his pale skin.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In Victoria Pastry, a woman takes orders from a customer, in a volley of shouting, laughter, and smiles. Sometimes the city seemed too much. I felt subsumed by its magic, when its fog-filled beauty shimmered in the cool night, and music drifted from open windows, pouring out humid heat and the sounds of clinking glasses and distorted laughter.
In the middle of this magic was him ~ he who came to embody the city for me, he who represented the gorgeous impossibility of sustaining such magic through the next day, the enchantment that dissipated with the fog – the fog that always burned away – and the equally-rapturous peeks of sun, under which everything should be so clear and transparent, and never was.
The sun made its own mysteries, cast its own white shadow over the ripples of his heart, and it was too bright, too obscure for me to ever see. He made it seem so easy, and once caught up in the wake of his motion it was impossible not to be swept along with him. There was excitement in what he did, no matter how dull or mundane the task. A trip to the market was an adventure; his surprise and joy at the bright fruit, the way he took in the scents, closing his eyes and breathing in the air, the exuberance and yet wholly-prescient outlook on these simple things, all of this delivered me to him.
He brought the philosophy to every day – each moment was ripe for a new sensation – each second was electric. There was astonishment to be found in the simplest of gestures, in the smallest details. It was infectious, and we were all drawn to him. There were others before me, and there would be more to follow. I did not try to last.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
On our final night together, he brings me into Pearl’s to listen to a chanteuse he knew. Singing a sad ballad, then bowing her head as the band skitters off with the rest of the tune, she comes to our table and dotes on him. As the xylophone rings out its last muffled tones, the song ends. He reaches out and holds my hand, folding it inside of his. It is the closest I have felt to being loved. Our hands stay on the table as a spattering of applause rustles through the room. The band takes a break. His friend sits with us for a bit, then has to go.
“Come on, enough jazz for one night,” he says, pulling me up with him. Up on his roof, we can see the Transcontinental Pyramid rising in the murky light. The Peter Macchiarini steps disappear down the hill. We sit on the edge of the roof and look below, all the way along Kearney. The graffiti of “vinski” follows him everywhere, scrawled over the alleys of North Beach, through Chinatown, and further too. It will remind me of him, as will most things I encounter throughout my life. We do not speak for some time. I can almost begin to trace the trajectory of the moon, barely discernible through the layer of clouds rolling in.
He rubs his hands together, and slides closer to me, putting his arm around my shoulder. In this crazy world, and for the rest of my existence, this is the only moment that will ever make sense. I wish I’d known that then. I would have told him. It wouldn’t have changed anything, I see that now, but I would have said it and he would have known and there would be no question about what might have been.
In the white sheets of his bed, on that last night, I search for him, but he is already gone. I know the dimming of love. I’ve seen it before, and I can perceive it happening now. I can’t tell if he’s aware yet. I will not cry or beg to stay. This was never my place. It will be up to me to stop. The idea of him telling me is too daunting. Even if he did, I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to hate him.
He is asleep. I follow the rise and fall of his stomach in the dim light of a street lamp, listen to the soft intake and exhalation of his breath, feel the coolness of his shoulder against my cheek. In these last hours together, I don’t know how to reconcile myself to leaving.
On that Sunday morning, we rise early. Once the day broke, a shared restlessness beneath the sheets made sleeping-in pointless. Already, we were beyond the stage where it was enough just to be next to each other; at least, he was beyond it.
He did not ask me to leave, but I knew to go, knew sadly of the relief he would feel, and the bit of guilt that would go along with it. I would be happy for both. I get dressed in that room for the last time. With my clothes and shoes on, there is nothing left of me in that space – no toothbrush, no bedside table drawer, no trace that I had been in that bed, other than the wrinkled warm sheets that he was absently smoothing with his hand. I lean down to kiss him good-bye. He smiles sleepily. So he does not know, I think, or he does, and this is the only way he can deal with it.
Walking away from his building, I don’t look back. I will never know if he is watching me go, if he runs to the window and peeks through the blinds, waiting to wave or smile, or hide should I happen to glance back. Maybe he is taking a picture. He was always trying to capture something – with his camera, with his steady, thoughtful gaze, with his stories.
As I reach the cross-walk, I don’t go the usual way, turning right instead, and finding my way to the park where we sat at the very beginning.
The sky is gray, and suddenly I can’t go on. Collapsing on a bench, I heave one lamentable cry, then shudder with silent tears. They start screaming then. There, above me, high in the trees, the parrots cry out what I cannot speak. The silence he brought to me is broken. Their cries suddenly stop and then the birds are gone. I never saw them again.Back to Blog