A Barely Readable Account of … What Exactly?

The following was written in the summer of 2000. A love addict’s memoir. 

 

 Weeks have passed, months, and still I can’t forget–or perhaps I don’t want to.  I live in a kind of frozen time, a kind of non-time, outside real time; the seasons have changed–it is now summer–and yet I stay in the spring, dwelling on the hope of spring.  Soon I will go away on a long trip, but will that do me any good?  Will the sight of a beautiful village in the Alps or the feel of a busy London thoroughfare or the comforting smell of fish along the Barceloneta pull me out of the past and restore me?  I have tried everything, but I am not getting over him (but have I tried everything? Do I want to get over him?)  He follows me wherever I go.  Sometimes I believe the tragedy is not that he left but that he is still here.  I am writing this for no one but myself.  I am writing to feel better.   Perhaps he was always more a story more than a reality.

The most twenty-first century thing I ever did was to post a personals  ad in the male-seeking-male sector of an Internet dating service.  It was the end of last year. I called myself “Sensitive Dreamer” and had a picture especially taken.  I listed my interests and hobbies and wrote honestly about who I was.  I didn’t write much.  What I said, I think, was something like this: “I am a witty, charismatic, bookish, bohemian, fairly intellectual kind of man.  I like poetry and classical music and the gym and the outdoors, and I would like to meet a white or Latino or Asian man, late twenties to late thirties,  who preferably  gets turned on by the same things.”  Something like that.  The picture was flattering, the profile honest, and I sent them to make their way into cyberspace.  I got  (to my astonishment) many responses every day, more than I knew what to do with.

There were so many dates during the next several months, I met between twelve and fifteen different people, and liked very few of them.  There was Roberto, the competitive volleyball player, who met me in front of the Cinema Dome.   We had Thai food and held hands in a cafe, and I never saw him again.  There was Derek, an airplane mechanic who lived all the way in Ventura.  “I’d move mountains and walk on water to meet you,” he wrote.  We arranged to meet up in the Borders Books on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  At first he ignored me, then the first thing he said to me was he didn’t like my earring and would I please take it off.  Then there was Joe from Rosemead, who sent me his “hot underwear pictures.”  We met in front of Mickey’s on Santa Monica Boulevard, and as we walked through Boys’ Town he commented on how many men were cruising him. I think I fell in love with him.  I saw him twice, only for coffee or dinner: nothing else happened.  It was never consummated with any of these young men.  I rarely saw them more than two or three times.  Roberto and Derek and Joe were the three I liked, “fell for”–I do that so easily!  There were all Asian and we had little in common.  I liked Roberto because he was strong and played sports, and I had not been athletic in high school.  I liked Derek because he was a gym rat with a dragon inked on his arm; he surfed and did martial arts and was completely closeted.  I loved Joe because he advertised himself as a “masculine top” and because he had played varsity tennis in high school.  With all these people there was an instant mutual physical chemistry yet we didn’t hit it off;  it wasn’t comfortable.  But I don’t want to rehash the story of Roberto and Derek and Joe.  They are forgotten.

 

I met H*** at the end of February.  He had responded to my ad and sent me a picture of himself.  In his email he wrote that he was 27–which made him 12 years younger than I–half Vietnamese, half Latino.  He said he was doing a masters in English and also considered himself “bohemian” since he wrote song lyrics and sometimes worked freelance as a DJ.  The picture he sent me of himself–just a driver’s licence picture–was nice but not particularly flattering. (I had gotten used to not trusting pictures very much.)  He did look like an ethnic mix: very short dark hair, a tanned broad face, a small flat nose, lips tight together, and a rather prominent chin.  He wasn’t smiling at all in this picture and seemed a little plump.

He also sent me a poem he had written. It was called “My Blues.”  It seemed very simple-minded and very bad.  He’d written it, he said, two years earlier, when he broke  up with someone after  4 ½ years.  I don’t have this poem anymore.  I remember one line: “Will the pain ever end?” It seemed a strange thing to do, sending me a poem about a break-up.

“Emails are a very impersonal way of communicating,” he wrote to me after we’d only been in touch for a few days.  “Let’s get together for a drink.  If you’re seeing someone else, be brutally honest, I can take it like a man!”

I sent him my number, and he responded back with just a few spare words: “I’ll give you a call.” It was the shortest email I’d ever received.  And that night he did call, and I was immediately impressed with his voice.  Even though he had a foreign name, it sounded to me like a very American voice, a very boy-next-door kind of voice.  We didn’t talk too long, and I told him about living in Spain and being robbed in Pamplona in 1993.  I told him about being homesick for Barcelona.  I don’t remember now what he shared about himself that first call, but he said he was going to be in Alhambra the next day–a Saturday– and he wanted to meet me.  So we arranged to meet at Starbucks at 12:30. Every time I drive down Main Street Alhambra now, I turn my head and look at that Starbucks, at the table where we sat and got to know each other a little. Why do I do this?

I didn’t have too many expectations for that meeting.  I thought he had a funny name.  He hadn’t written much about himself, so I had nothing to fantasize about.

I got to Starbucks. . . Now, as I write, I am reliving that day!  I was wearing torn old jeans and sandals and a t-shirt and sunglasses, and just a couple of weeks before my hair had been bleached.  When I got there, I looked around and immediately recognized him, but he hadn’t seen me yet.  He was putting cream in his coffee in the corner.  I went up to him and said hi.  Now, as I write, I am happy to get every last trivial detail out of my system for the last time.  Things  have been cluttering up my mind every since they happened. But I must be careful to spare myself or any potential reader minute details that couldn’t possibly be of any interest.  For instance, does it matter who spotted whom first, or that he was stirring his coffee when I first caught sight of him?

“Hi, I’m Alex,” I said.  I noticed right away that he was pleased with what he saw.

I was pleased, too.  He was not beautiful like Joe from Rosemead and so I felt a little bit at ease.  He was a little shorter than me, and he appeared to have a fairly developed body. He seemed very young–I guess twenty-seven is very young for me now.  His face was broad and his nose very flat and his nostrils a bit jagged and imperfect.  But what I liked most was his voice, his accent.  It turned out he’d been born in Vietnam but raised in Texas and spoke with a slight Southern drawl.  I am trying to remember now exactly how I felt that moment of the first meeting.  I think I was happy, not afraid, not desperate, not at all intimidated.

He seemed like the kind of person no one would ever guess was gay.

 

We found a table outside and sat down and got to know each other a little.  I  asked him about the master’s degree he was getting.  He told me he was at the University of La Verne, which was near Claremont, where he lived.  He said his favorite period in English literature was “the Renaissance.”  Then we found out there was  a writer we both liked: Don Delillo.  Joe from Rosemead or Derek or Roberto would never have been able to talk about Don Delillo.  I’d found a soulmate!  We talked some more, and I found out H*** was in the closet.  He had no gay friends, he told me.  No one knew he was gay.  He was, he said, “exploring.”

“I can’t believe you’re 39!” he said to me.

It turned out he was free the whole day, so we went to Heritage Park in front of the Alhambra Historical Society Museum. I drove in my car, and he followed in his, close behind.  I looked at him in the rear-view mirror and noticed how close his car was to mine, how fast he seemed to be driving (though this was an illusion) and how broad, plump, eager and hungry his face looked to me.

We sat in the park for a while.  I asked him–it’s a question I always ask–if he had any tattoos, and he said yes.  “Where?”  I was getting excited.  “On my leg.  It’s a Wolverine,” he said, pulling up his pants.  “Is that a turn-on to other guys?” I asked him.  “Yeah,” he said, “but that’s not why I got it.”

I don’t remember the tattoo that well, but it had at least two colors, blue and red, and there was indeed a Wolverine there.  I’d never heard of Wolverine and didn’t know if it was male or female.  But it looked like a space alien.  It was quite a big tattoo, and quite a big deal for me that he had one.  A tattoo meant danger.

“Now I won’t be able to sleep all night!” I said, and he laughed. I was kidding, of course, but I woke up too early the next morning thinking about his body, thinking about the intricacies and contortions of the Wolverine tattoo.

“I wanna kiss you,” he said as we sat there.

We talked about other things but these things would not be interesting to repeat.  They are interesting only to me.  I think we discussed, once again, his being in the closet, and I made it very clear that I wasn’t and that being gay was not really an issue for me.  I think I still did not fully comprehend that I was dealing with a young man who was a different kind of homosexual than what I am.

We ate lunch at Wilde Thyme in South Pasadena, and with crayons I drew on the paper tablecloth. “You’re very happy!” he said, referring to the colorful doodles I was drawing, and it was true.

As he sat across from me in the restaurant I noticed something odd and quirky and individual he did with his face:   staring at me, he would “squish” his mouth over to one side, distorting his nose.  It was an I’m-thinking-and-waiting-and-staring-at-you-wondering-what’s-going-happen-next-and-if-you’re-game kind of look.  It was endearing, and thinking about it now, I wonder for whom and under what circumstances he would contrive the same expression. Did he do it for his mother?  For his three brothers?  Only for potential lovers?

“I wanna see where you live,” he said as we left the restaurant.  It was cold, and he loaned me his sweater.  As we walked toward the car, I noticed him check them out two young Latin men sitting on a bench waiting for the bus.

Was it a mistake to bring him up to my place?

We sat on the couch and listened to classical music, and I read him one of my poems.  I don’t know why I did this.  I think now it was inappropriate.  What business did he have listening to me read my work?  My boundaries with him were, from the beginning, weak.

He told me more about himself.  He had a nine-to-five job at Boeing in Seal Beach.  He told me at one time he’d applied to law school.  He told me he had graduated from college with honors– “high honors,” said.  And I still can’t forget the way he said that.  I guess people want to impress each other on dates.

We kissed.  He had such a professional way of kissing that I could hardly believe he was as inexperienced as he claimed he was.  He put his tongue in my mouth but rather than joining it to my tongue he would go over my upper gums with it, and I went crazy.  We did too much kissing on that couch, I think.  So there was no way back from where we’d gone.  I suggested going to the movies.  “I’m fine where I am!” he said, smiling, and I said “Me too,” and we went on kissing, music in the background, some Mozart symphonies, I think, but especially Ferdie Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, which I’d just bought a few days before.

 

Finally we did go to the movies, and nothing “happened” that night.  I have a “four date rule”; I am in recovery for my sex and love addiction.

As soon as we left my apartment and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted that night, his mood changed.  He was polite, but there was a shift.  Going to the movies with him was not like going with a friend.  Not that he was sullen or distant, but it was as if he’d climbed back into his Clark Kent role after being, briefly, Superman.

I am still carrying so much of this around with me. . . I am still holding on. . . Why? It was months ago, months. . . I am glad to get this out of me, it has no place in me anymore.

After the movies he drove me home and we arranged to meet the next day at half-past-one. Driving back from the theater, he put his arm on my leg in that nice proprietary way I like.  He wasn’t cheerful or upbeat but serious–definitely not gay. We had said something about my going to Claremont, but now there was no talk of that anymore: he would come back to my place.  He seemed very straight, very Asian, very male and very American and very young sitting behind the steering of his brand new little car putting his hand on my leg.  I was worried.  I was worried I would never see him again.  I got out of the car and said good-bye and walking to my door and turned around to wave but he didn’t see him, he was, I thinking checking the messages on his cell-phone.  Oh!  He won’t want to see me again, I thought.  He doesn’t like me.  He won’t want me. 

The next day was a Sunday and I woke up much too early, thinking about him. This was the beginning of the beginning.  I remembered his kiss, remembered his Wolverine, remembered, suddenly, his “4 ½ year relationship” though that didn’t seem to fit in with someone who was so closeted and now in the process of “exploring.”  I began to want him very much; I couldn’t sleep though it was only six and I’d only slept five hours.  It was raining.  I thought the rain might keep him away.  I lay there for a few hours and when I got up there was a message from him on my machine saying he was looking forward to seeing me and asking me to call.  So I returned his call and  he told me he was reading the Don Delillo book I’d loaned him–End Zone–and liking it a lot.  We talked a little about American Beauty. He seemed a little cold on the phone, a little reserved.   I imagined the house in Claremont where he lived.  I imagined his room.  It was a brown room, with a large window and a balcony overlooking trees.  It was a boy’s room, with a disheveled bed and a couple of bookshelves and many records and CD’s and posters.  I did not understand him.  I began to wonder if what I was doing was wise.

I played the Grand Canyon Suite again and made myself some breakfast.

I am remembering exactly how it was with me that day.  Exactly how it was while I was still just getting to know him, very attracted and scared.

One-thirty came and he was not there.  One-forty-five.  Nobody.  There was no earthly reason why he wouldn’t show up. I played the Grand Canyon Suite again.  Listening to it now,   especially “On the Trail” and “Sunset” I remember precisely the texture of that rainy afternoon in February.  I felt slightly sick.  My contact lenses were not fitting well.  I hadn’t slept enough hours and I was anxious.  H*** hadn’t waved to me the night before when I turned to wave good-bye: there was meaning in that: there is always meaning when someone does not know how to say good-bye decently. Listening to “Sunset” now, this lush, expansive, very American and slightly ingenuous  music goes perfectly with someone from Texas who read Don Delillo.  More than a sunset, what I picture when I hear the ethereal shrill violins that open this movement is a brilliant daytime sky and full sun over South Pasadena, a large very blue sky with mountains ; what I feel is something earthy and solid and ruggedly romantic, and then I get his face and hear his voice again: it is a whole landscape in itself, a whole universe of quirks and anecdotes, with its very own rhythms and idiosyncracies, a creature like none other: an individual.

 

H*** got there at two.  He didn’t ring the doorbell, just knocked on the door.  I opened and I saw him.  He was beautiful there!  And he was carrying a copy of Delillo’s White Noise for me to read.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He sat down on my couch and suggested going to a museum.  Someone who wanted to take me to a museum!  A month earlier I’d mentioned to Joe from Rosemead something about going to the Huntington Library.  He’d seemed hesitant and then said, “Can’t we just go to the movies?”  That was what I would call the “Huntington Test.” And now H*** was passing with flying colors.

As we left my place, I noticed that instead of walking down the stairs H*** slid down the banister; it was a gesture so spontaneously boyish that my heart almost stopped.

He drove us to the Museum of Latino Art in Long Beach.  It felt good sitting next to him in his car, and yet there was something reserved, something distant and shut-down about him that disturbed me.  It was not like going on an outing with a friend.  Behind all our interactions I could feel the presence of a kind of fantastic and blissful tension.

Walking around the museum with him, I sometimes felt at a loss for words.  I was happy!  But wasn’t sure he was comfortable in a museum even though it had been his idea.  I don’t how comfortable we were around each other.  I was conscious of him wanting to make a good impression on me; I wanted to say witty and interesting things to him.  All the while, I knew I was in the presence of someone much younger, almost of a different generation.  He hadn’t lived as much, hadn’t traveled; this at once excited and depressed me.  I wanted him badly but I didn’t think he had, after all, that much to say.

Over lunch he ordered beer–it was so different from me, a teetotaler!  I ate oysters.

“They say oysters are aphrodisiac,” he said with a smile and I told him that was all I needed, being already so oversexed.  He liked that.  Over lunch I shared intimate things with him–my boundaries were weak!  I felt I could trust him. I talked about going to high school with Ethan Canin and how Ethan had gone on to become such a success and how my father would never let me forgot that. I had no business sharing that! We walked along the waterfront and in the harsh overcast late afternoon light his face–wearing glasses now–did not seem at all beautiful and yet I was powerfully drawn to him.  He talked about his job; he said he supervised outside contracts for Boeing and was working on a project for the new space shuttle.  I frankly don’t remember too many details about his job.  It seemed an ordinary nine-to-five job to me.  He seemed ordinary to me–the kid-next-door type, a regular guy, a guy-guy.  Walking along the waterfront with him, it felt–once again–like the beginning of the beginning, like there was so much yet ahead for us.  It was a “romantic” moment.  All my life I had never had luck with relationships and I remember thinking, He’s so enthusiastic, but why should this one be any different from the ones that came before?  It seemed too good to be true.  He mentioned going to other museums together– “We could do that next weekend,” he said, “if you’re not bored with me by then!”

If I wasn’t bored with him by then?  What kind of remark was that?  Was he perhaps talking about his own future boredom?  My heart sank.  Joe from Rosemead had made the same kind of statements.  My first boyfriend, Dean, had made statements like that.  “Let’s do such-and-such in June, but do you think we’ll still know each other?” How could this thing with H*** turn out any differently from my affairlets of the past?  He was very young.

We drove back to Alhambra and he again reached over in his proprietary way of the night before.  “I don’t understand one thing,” I said as we sat in a cafe in Alhambra.  “You have a car.  You have mobility.  Why haven’t you ever been to West Hollywood?”

“It’s my background,” he said.  “The way I was brought up by my mother, my uncles.  I’m too masculine for that scene.”

He was moving his legs under the table; perhaps he was nervous sitting in that cafe right across from me.  All the time, I thought of the message and menace of the Wolverine on his right calf. I thought of how it was so close and intimate with his young body. I thought how close to and comforted by the warm odors of his sock and his foot it must be. . . The Wolverine never really left my mind.  What would I have thought of him without it?  I didn’t, and still don’t, have a clear picture of that tattoo; it remains slightly amorphous and repulsive, like the aliens in the Sigorney Weaver movies.

“Can I come upstairs?  Just to kiss?”

 

And I said yes, and we did, but we almost went too far.  We kissed and we kissed, and I was unguarded in the things I whispered to him; I outlined in graphic detail what I wanted to do to him in bed, and he took my fingers in his mouth and stared up at me as he fed on them.  His face, as he sat on my loveseat, was very broad and flat and Asian; it was not conventionally beautiful, it was not beautiful at all.  But it was beautiful!  We kissed and his face was very big and round and close to mine as we kissed: he could have been anyone.  Kissing me, he wasn’t H*** anymore; he could have been any one of hundreds of young men I’d been with, and this frightened me.  He’s going to be like everyone else. . . His mouth in mine, I kept my eyes open and he looked very hungry: he could be anyone.  “You look Oriental and scary when I kiss you,” was what I said to him, “ and you don’t look like you.”

We walked around the block.  That was the only way I could stop what might have happened too early (according to my sex plan).  I don’t think he understood.  He thought I was just playing hard to get.  As we walked around the block I noticed how his head was slightly too large and slightly protruding from his shoulders, and how he swung his shoulders from side to side.  He seemed very disappointed when it was time to get into his car.  “I’ll call you,” he said, and we kissed.  He was a guy-guy to me, a regular guy.  Nothing effeminate or gay about him. Perhaps this points to my own shame.

And here I was, dating!

We were supposed to get together the following Friday.  On Wednesday I called him up just to chat and he was very happy I’d called.  “I wanted to know if we can see each other tomorrow instead of Friday,” he said.  “I forgot that I have a dinner I have to go to.  A friend of mine is going to propose to his girlfriend.  I have class tomorrow, but I’m going to get a friend to take notes for me. . .”

When I opened the door and saw him the next day, he looked young and slightly plump and very fresh and eager and he said, “You smell good!” in that sexy somewhat Texan voice of his.  “You smell good!”  (I’d just taken a shower.)  That was our best time!  We couldn’t stop necking even as we stood there right in the middle of the living-room.  It was all too good to be real! Things were going so well!   I wanted him badly.  No one in my life had ever been so eager to touch me.  Why had it taken 39 years to find him?  Would this thing turn out well for me?

It was time for dinner, and as soon as we went down to his car I could see him change from Superman to Clark Kent again, and the change excited me.  We went to South Pasadena, to Gus’s BBQ restaurant on Fair Oaks Avenue.

“Sometimes I am a little nervous,” I said, “going out with people I don’t know that well yet.”

“Nervous?  I’m not nervous when I’m around you. That’s why I like being with you.”  And a few seconds later he knocked over a glass of water.

It was our best time, but it would be boring to relate every single thing that was said and done that night.  It was the beginning of March and we talked about my life in Spain, about his family and his being brought up without a father; we talked about possums and the book American Psycho.  I told him when I was twelve I was studying about the presidents and I asked him what he’d been doing.  And he said, “Playing baseball. . .”

 

Very much my “disowned self.”  The kind of kid who played baseball.  I didn’t.  I was a sheltered only child and I’d been give up for adoption, adopted by older German Jewish people.  I’d never had any siblings for company and grew up listening to Mozart instead of Rod Stewart and speaking with a kind of German accent.  Since I was a little boy I liked other boys but not the ones who were like me: I liked the ones who were chosen first for the team, the very active, rugged yet pretty all-American boys.  H*** was my perfect fantasy boy: Asian and yet very American, strong and ordinary, a conformist, a popular guy with a tattoo and a cell phone, someone who listened to the right kind of music.  I’m not exactly sure what to call the kind of music he liked, but it was angry and very young music.  My “operating ego” is the person I have become: the one who writes and listens to a certain kind of music and doesn’t play sports, etc; my “disowned self” is someone like H***, the kind of person I might have become if my birth mother hadn’t gotten rid of me.  We are–it is said–attracted to people on the basis of a “wound”; this is woundology.  My attraction to H*** was based on a wound.  He was–in the language of Sexual Compulsives Anonymous–a “trigger”: someone who triggers the obsession.  On the other hand, someone completely lacking in any of the qualities of the disowned self I have listed (and I went on dates with a few of those while my ad was up!) would not be physically appealing or compelling in any way.

I have often said “It’s never reciprocated” but in a sense that is false: things are always reciprocated; on some level attraction is always returned. The problem is the kind of relationship that is developed.  Part of the appeal of someone is their distance.  I am excited by the distance.  H***–from the start–had that cool, moody, sullen, shut-down sexual energy about him; that turned me on and yet also did not bode well for a future together.  The end was in the beginning.

In the beginning was our end.

That Thursday that he gave up his class to see me was our best time, our very best time.  Our feelings for each other hadn’t really been consummated yet and there was so much potential in the air, so much hope!  He was doing most of the calling; he was making statements such as, “I like the path that we are on.”  I didn’t really trust him but I wanted to see what was going to happen next; I was attracted to him; I wanted him; I was blinded by this attraction.\

Looking back, the kind of questions he asked him very simple and almost childish: “Who is your favorite actor?”  “What is your favorite season?”  “Who is your favorite president?”  He was a young man on his best behavior.  Trying to be at his best and make a good impression.  He opened and closed doors for me.  He wanted me to like him.  I was loving it.  I was loving him.   I had very weak boundaries!  Not that I “told all” by any means; I mean I had weak boundaries within myself: I was falling for someone I barely knew.

“Do you ever get lonely?” I asked him as we were walking to his car.

“Of course I do!  That’s why I’m so glad I met you!  I have lots of friends, but that’s not the same thing. . .”

He drove me back to my place but I didn’t trust myself to let him come upstairs.  We stayed in my car in the car port and made out.

“You’ve had a lot of experience?” I asked him, because that was how he came across.

“I’ve had three partners in my whole life. . .”

That made him feel very safe!  We necked and necked and I said things like “I could get lost in your body” and “You drive me crazy.”  I felt his chest and asked how much he benched and he told me 200 lbs. and I was impressed.  Two hundred pounds!  A strong young man! I even lifted his shirt and kissed his belly button.  “You’re such a tease,” he said.  It was getting late and I drove us to the 7-Eleven for a snack and he waited in the car.  I walked back to my car just before I opened the door I looked down at him sitting over in the passenger seat and he was looking up at him with the hungry, longing, desperate very hungry expression that guys sometimes have as they are giving head.  We had gone from being wholesome earlier in the evening to a very intense sexual intrigue now.  This should have been a warning to me. . . but. . .

We were planning to go to Elizabeth’s concert on Sunday, but I said to him, “So we’re not seeing each other till Sunday then?”

“I could,” he said, “come over late Saturday night.  I’m going to see my friend’s band playing, but I could come over after that around midnight.”

“That would be very late!”

“It’s no problem!”

So we arranged for him to come late on Saturday to spend the night.  It was decided.  There was no mystery or suspense now.

“I better let you go. . .” he said.

 

It felt good to be wanted, and the way he validated me, the way he nurtured me!  When we said good-night he again suggested that he could stay over but I told him we would leave that until Saturday and he still seemed very disappointed, like someone who was not getting what he wanted.  There was something too hungry and predatory about him, and yet. . .what if those qualities are missing?  Is a cold fish what I want?  How do you find someone who is sexually attracted to you and not overly predatory? Someone who wants you and yet doesn’t objectify you?

I was so happy on Saturday knowing he would come over.  I cleaned thoroughly and paid my bills and went to the gym, and then finally around 11:30 I lay down on the couch and read my magazine.  I began to fear he wouldn’t come.  Maybe he’d changed his mind.  I had many irrational fears.  Finally, around 12:15 there was a knock on the door.  It was raining that night and he was quiet and a little sullen and wet.

“You’re so quiet. . .”

“I’ve been thinking about my father. . .I’ve been thinking about you a lot. . .” he said.

Always telling me the things he thought I wanted to hear.

Since I knew he was spending the night and since it was now okay with my sex plan there was a certain thrill that was missing.  Soon we began to make out.  Slowly he undressed.  He was the more eager, the more “active” one, as if all this were his show, his production.  He stayed on the couch somewhat passively as he undressed me.  His upper arms were huge and worked-out and impressive and got to hold and feel.  When he finally took off his shirt I was a little disappointed with his torso.  I think he liked mine.  He didn’t really have a very shapely torso and this made him less intimidating and more accessible.

I saw his tattoo now for only the second time.

“Your other partners,” I asked him.  “Do they lick your tattoo?”

“You can do whatever you want with it,” he said.

I think we made love by candle-light until about six or seven in the morning. . . He was a generous lover, a great partner. . . there was nothing that he didn’t want to get into, experiment with.  I asked him to repeat “Wolverine”: I loved the way he said it with his vaguely Texan accent.  “Wolverine, Wolverine,” and sometimes before he had a change to finish coming out with that name I would stuff his mouth with my tongue: that way I literally ate the Wolverine.  Later, when I was getting hungry for a snack, I spread apple sauce and yoghurt over his body, over his genitals, and licked it off him. . .

When we talked in my bed a different H*** came out: he was not now trying to make a good impression.  He was just H***, and he turned out to be very adolescent.  Perhaps he was twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four and not the age he said he was.  He talked about a girlfriend he’d had for six months who’d cheated on him with his best friend.  He talked about masturbating four times a day sometimes thinking of getting fucked. . .It sounded to me like he’d gotten what he wanted from me and didn’t have to pretend anymore, or could at least let his hair down a little.  I began to be scared.  We were too far apart for this to work out, to last!!!

What was the “hangover” from this going to like?  Was this a wise thing to do?  Did I know enough about him?  Did I trust him?

As we were getting to sleep I took too much of the blanket on my side.  “Blanket-hogger!” he called me, pulling the blanket more to his side.

Blanket-hogger!

We slept and woke up about eleven.  I woke up in his arms!!! For the first time in over ten years I was waking up with someone.  I woke up on his big biceps and he woke up at exactly the same moment and looked at me with his big face and smile and we began making out and making love.  I woke up next to him and it was like magic, it was what made all the pain to come almost worth it.

I made us breakfast while he showered.  Sitting across from him at the table I saw a big scar on his left elbow and asked him about it.  “I fell off my bike when I was a kid.”

So “normal”!  A boy-boy!  A regular guy!  And he was in my house sharing my bed!!!

 

And we went to the concert.  Now, suddenly, he was Clark Kent again, as we drove–for once–in my car.  Outside my four walls he seemed to just deflate and be very silent and a little uncomfortable and serious.  We parked and went to the Music Center but he was quiet, very much a fish out of water.  If only I’d waited with sex a little longer (then of course the sex might not have happened at all!)  This wasn’t really his world.  This wasn’t his world at all.  They played the Verdi Requiem and I couldn’t wait till it was over.  He was next to me in those good seats and we shared the opera glasses but he was just being polite.  It was as if he’d shut down.  He did not even seem particularly attractive or beautiful.  He seemed very young and provincial and uncultured but very sexy and youthful, too, very much the kind of person I might have become. At some point as the music was playing I wanted our legs to touch, but he withdrew his leg. . . and now the enormity of my decision became apparent to me.

We drove home and I asked him about what he’d told me once about being obese as a youngster.  “Is that how you still see yourself?” I asked him.  “The way you were when you were twelve?”

He told me it was true.  He told me everyone had made fun of him for being overweight. He told me he was scarred.

We got home and sat on my sofa and it wasn’t long before we became involved again.  I reached into his pants and in the heat of passion his button came off and I apologized and he said it was no problem and we left the button there on the coffee table.  He’s a young guy just looking for sex was what flashed through my mind as we were getting involved again there in the living room.  I don’t know if anyone can understand this but it seemed too good and too sexual to really be lasting thing.  So this is it; this is what it’s really all about.  Those dinners, that trip to the museum. . . they were just the polite build-up to this. . .

I wanted to take a shower, since I hadn’t taken one earlier.  “No!” he said.  “Don’t take a shower! Don’t!”

We were at it for hours again and both of us came often and then around nine he said, rather suddenly “I have to go pretty soon. . . I have a ten-page research paper to write for tomorrow.”

(He was going home and write a ten-page research paper now???)

So now the beginning was over.  We were at the middle now.

It took us a long time to drag ourselves out of bed.  “I want to invite you to dinner,” he said. “What day is good?”

“Friday,” I said.

We got dressed.  I hated to see him get dressed.  I hated to see him go.  I couldn’t be sure–in spite of his invitation to dinner–whether I would ever see him again.  We kissed and kissed by his car in my car port (where he’d left it for the night) and he put on his glasses and I opened the gate for him, but the very last thing I said to him was “Drive carefully” and he just nodded and was suddenly distant, suddenly very Clark Kent, and my heart sank.  Would I see him again?  Didn’t he know how to say good-bye properly?  Didn’t he know that very last interaction, that very last second,  mattered a great deal?  I’d said “Drive carefully” and he’d just nodded rather coldly and then drove away. . .

I walked around the block once or twice. . . I went to the 7-Eleven for some yoghurt.  I saw the Vietnamese guy who cleaned the laundromat next to the 7-Eleven and, like H***, he had big arms and I thought, This thing is mostly sexual.  That’s what it’s all about, really.  I’d gotten what I wanted and didn’t have a good feeling about it.  It had been like eating junk food. And yet It ain’t good unless it’s nasty. 

Would I ever see him again?

The next day at around five in the afternoon I called him and left a message saying I’d had a good time and was looking forward to seeing him Friday.

Now, he’d finally gotten from me what he wanted: sex.  It was my turn to try to get from him what I wanted: love, romance.

The hours went by. . . I went jogging, I worked out. . .he didn’t return my call.

I called around ten.  I got his voicemail again. . .Was he going to call me or was it all over?  The waiting, the waiting, the terrible waiting!!! At ten-thirty I called once again and this time I got him.  “I’m just getting home now.  I was at the gym,” he said.  “I was going to call you when I got home. . . I was up till two-thirty last night writing my paper. . .”

“Why,” I asked him, “were you up so late last night when the paper wasn’t due until Tuesday?”

I don’t remember how he answered that question.

“And what was it on?”

 

“Oh, standard Elizabethan writers. . .”

I didn’t ask who.  “I’d love to read it!”

I believe it was NOW that I was having my first suspicions.  How can anyone write a ten-page research paper in just four hours?  Why would he stay up so late on Sunday to do it and then spend so many hours in the gym the next day when it wasn’t due until Tuesday?  Why was he unable to give me a more detailed answer about what he’d supposedly written?

Talking to him on the phone, there already appeared to be a slight shift.  He sounded very confident, like someone who’d gotten what he wanted and was now more or less ready to move on to the next person. . . Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but there was a subtle shift for sure.  He was going about his business at home as he was talking to me, and seemed happy enough to hear from me.  I asked him if Friday was still a good day for him, and he said it was.  “I’ll probably come over around nine. . .”

The next day was Tuesday.  On Wednesday I came home from group and there it was: 00 on my machine.  No messages.  I think I had a panic attack.  So he’d gotten what he’d wanted from me, he’d gotten laid, and now that was it.  There was going to be no dinner.  I pictured him in his house in Claremont and at his job in Seal Beach.  I pictured him “at school” doing his classes at the University of La Verne.  That first day I’d met him I asked him about different writers and he appeared to know very little about literature. . . He’d been very good in bed and yet claimed to have had only three partners in his whole life. . .He’d supposedly been in a 4 ½ year relationship but how did that fit in with being so closeted?

The next day was Thursday and I went to see Rigoletto with Elizabeth and I called him around four in the afternoon saying I was looking forward to seeing him.  By seven he still hadn’t returned my call and so, from Otto’s at the opera I called him again and he said he’d gotten my message and was sitting in his car “on his break” and had been planning to call me “during his second break.”  He sounded friendly and enthusiastic; it was a bit hard to hear him with all the people walking and talking around me and sometimes I had to motion to them to please be a little quieter.  I asked him once, or more than once, if he was sure he still wanted to get together the next day, and he seemed puzzled by this–and I was afraid I’d made a bad impression and so I said, “Well, you know, I’m a little rusty with this dating thing, it’s been a while since I’ve dated,” and he appeared to understand, but then he said “I’m not sure if I can spend the night. . .”

When the next day came I was nervous and unhappy and not at all sure if I was ever going to see him again, but he did show up, and when he got to my place everything was fine, he was charming as usual, and I was completely reassured.  Why had I doubted him?  We   went to the ABC restaurant and he was in a good mood and I was happy and we had a good conversation and I had the distinct impression that he was infatuated with me–at least that was how he came across.  Then, during sex that night, I almost didn’t want him, since I was so sure of his liking of me.   He almost seemed unattractive and boring and I licked his body only half-heartedly. Can I only like those who are distant and unavailable?  He seemed completely available to me then, interested, eager, even in love perhaps.  He said all the right things.  And he ended up spending the night after all.  It was delicious spending the night with him again.

But the dreams I had were not as sweet as the first time he’d spent the night.  I dreamed I was being encircled by a pack of pit bulls. . .

We made love again the next morning and his arms were full of hickeys.  I walked down to his car with him and he seemed very Clark Kent, very shut-down as soon as we got into the street, though the street was empty. . . It was a hot day and he changed into his tank top so that was the last view I had of him:  in his tank top, and he was very young and strong and athletic to look at.  “I’ll call you,” he said in a very male way. . .

And then it was like falling from Mt. Everest to the darkest valley.  He was gone.  Would I see him again.  How would I spend my time away from him?  Was he a boyfriend or someone I was just sleeping with?

 

I was uneasy, I was excited by him but not genuinely happy.  I wanted to spend every minute of every day with him and yet he, in his day-to-day life, had gone on pretty much “business as usual.”  Was that a good sign?  Was I the crazy one?  Or, since he’d gotten what he wanted, had he cooled towards me?  And yet the dinner Friday had gone so well.

The next time he phoned me–he was the one who usually did the calling–we talked about the book White Noise and I was a bit critical about it and this made him laugh.  We had a good conversation and he suggested getting together Thursday and I said Thursday was fine but inside me I began to worry: Why Thursday?  Why not the weekend?  What does he have planned for the weekend?  Why doesn’t he want to see me on Friday when we can have more time together…

I think I was almost normal for a few days.  I was preoccupied with him but not obsessed, my eating and sleeping were normal.  Thursday came, nine o’clock came, and I got a call from him.  “I”m on the freeway,” he said.  “I’m gonna have to cancel tonight.  I’m too tired.”

“Oh,” I said, “I was really looking forward to seeing you–”

“I’m sorry!”

He did not sound as if he was in his car.  He sounded as if he was in a room.

And there and then I knew that something was wrong, something was very wrong, I knew instinctively that he wasn’t getting a master’s degree and that our relationship was not going to last.  There is something about canceling that tells you someone is not that interested.  He’d gotten what he wanted from me.

“I was thinking what about tomorrow night,” he said.

“Yeah, that would be fine. . .”

He was sullen and very moody.  He mentioned running into some high school friends the other night in a restaurant–

“Oh?” I said, “what night was that?”

“Tuesday.”

But Tuesday night you’re in class–unless of course it was a very late dinner?  But you being so American and living in Claremont and it being a Tuesday how could it have been a nine-o’clock dinner?  How COULD it have been?  This whole thing with getting a degree?  Are you really 100% who you say you are?

I didn’t say any of those things, I didn’t think them either, in the way I’ve written them.  We were cut off.  From the beginning were always being cut off on his cell phone.  He didn’t call back.  I waited and waited.  Finally I began to make dinner.  Then he called.  He was still very sullen and tired-sounding and he confirmed that he was indeed a very moody person. . .So we arranged he would come over the next evening around eight.

I called trusted friends.  No one seemed to think there was anything amiss just because he canceled and did a “renegotiation.”   But of course they hadn’t heard his voice.

The next evening I was very nervous.  I was unsure I would ever see him again and I couldn’t even listen to music.  Eight o’clock came and he didn’t show up.  Eight-fifteen.  Eight-thirty.  Nine. Still nothing.  So this was the end after all. Why had it ended?  I began to think of reasons.

After nine I called him up and he was there!!! He said he’d gone for drinks with some people from work and was running late.  So I’d had nothing to worry about after all!  H*** was still in my life! I felt so lucky and so happy.

He got to my place about 15 minutes later.  It was St. Patrick’s Day and he wore a bright green t-shirt and shorts that showed his tattoo and he brought with him a six-pack of Corona Extra. I’ll never forget the way he looked as I opened the door.  So there was no need to worry.  He was there.  He was mine.  In his presence, I always felt so reassured.

 

I drank beer for the first time in over a year.  He invited me to see “Cymbaline” with him when it opened–in May.   He said it was going to be done by a Northern California theater company that sent him information about performances.There was no need for me to worry at all! That was our most poignant time, because the night before he had showed his other self–moody, losing interest, lying–and I believed that it would just be a matter of time until that other self resurfaced, but resurfaced for good, and he wouldn’t be coming over anymore.  I think I’d lived too much not be suspicious of him.

We drank–we each had one beer–and he was sweet and very young on the couch next to me and then we made out.  I suggested ordering pizza and we did–he called.  And as we waited we got more and more involved. “They might interrupt us with the pizza,” I said, but it didn’t matter.  I was a little drunk, and he was very sexy and eager for sex. . .Then we went into my bedroom and we were getting more and more involved and then the doorbell rang and he got up and paid for the pizza and then came back and took off his shirt and fucked me and afterwards he said, “After we eat I want to fuck you some more. . .” And then he said, “Do you think we’ll still be going out in May or will you be bored with me by then?”

“Maybe,” I said, “you’re talking about yourself.  “Maybe you’ll be bored with me. . .”

“No,” he said.

We ate and he was very sexy at the table there with me.  We listened to Joan Manel Serrat on the couch and he said, “I want to enjoy this moment. . .”

That was over three months ago.  Three months!  A whole season!

Can sexual relationships last?

We slept and when we woke up in the morning it was time for Dave to come over.  “Do you want me to leave?” H*** asked me and I said of course not.

That morning–it was our best time!!!  Dave and H*** met–for the first and last time in their lives!!! Mozart was playing and I went to the 7-Eleven to get cash to pay Dave, plus some supplies.  When I got back the music was still playing and Dave was cleaning the bathroom and H*** was on my loveseat reading the New York Times Book Review.  It was such a nice domestic scene.  Then H*** and I left for brunch.  On the way he said he could smell skunk. . .We went to Wild Thyme, where we’d gone on the first day.  We had a delightful brunch and we talked about death.  Thursday night on the phone H*** had said he was obsessed with death and so now I loaned him a copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  I even offered to read it out loud to him!  “That’s sweet of you,”–he was always saying that: “That’s sweet of you.”  He was always saying nice things, the things he probably thought I wanted to hear.  We drove back and as he dropped me off he said good-bye.  “Oh?” I said.  “You’re leaving?  You’re not coming up to see how the place looks clean?”  And of course he wanted to come up and we sat on the couch and he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to my father when I see him.”  That was a big deal, and he’d talked about it often.  At the end of April his older brother was going to be getting married in Houston and H*** hadn’t seen him since he abandoned the family when he was five or six years old.  We talked about his tattoo–that always seemed to come up.  It was never far from my mind. He told me that before the wedding in Texas he wanted to get another one. I was looking forward to this new tattoo–I was excited by the idea of my man with a new tattoo.    We sat on the couch and soon got sexual again and we both undressed and did it right there on the couch and I came all over his chest–we came together–it was great.  I’d had a lot of sex the night before and looking up at him at one point as he loomed above me his face looked a little fat and unattractive and his torso looked big and shapeless, and as at other times, I thought he was not that good-looking, not beautiful.  We looked through a photograph album I’d put together recently, and he was impressed with the way I’d looked at 25.  I watched him look at the picture. I couldn’t believe how he looked at it!  He seemed completely infatuated.  I knew he had plans for the rest of the day–haircut, gym, a party.

I was excluded, really, from his life.  Why couldn’t he have asked me to do something that night instead of going to a party he didn’t really want to go to?  It was our best time, but. . . in a sense, this kind of relationship wasn’t really what I had in mind.  And the gym!  It was always so important!

I was in love with him.

 

Around three o’clock he very abruptly got into his clothes and gave me a kiss and left–and I was left to my own devices.  I had a good sex partner–I didn’t have a boyfriend.

I want to record every detail!  Every last detail.  Because I know now that no one will ever read this except me.  This is purely for me.  It records events that could be of no interest to anyone but me.  Why are they so important?  Why does each detail have such compelling importance to me?  Well, he was climax so to speak of my internet dating experience. . .

And it was the first time in over 10 years that I was sleeping in the same bed with someone.  It was the first time in 14 years that I was dating someone. . . I felt he was too good for me.  Someone else would snatch him up.  I felt my attraction to him was based on his unavailability, his distance. And if he didn’t have those “distant” qualities I would not be interested.  Can I be interested in someone appropriate who loves me?  Or is it not in my nature?

We saw each other a couple of times in the next week.  Both times were very good sexually for me, and for him.  The following Saturday he called me first thing in the morning!  Yes, he was infatuated with me, but why didn’t that take away from my anxiety?  On the surface things were going well, but I felt he was not completely real, not completely who he said he was.

That morning he left a message saying he’d called at midnight and hadn’t left a message that time and just wanted to say hello.  “Give me a call. . .” I loved those words.  “Give me a call. . .”

Of course!  Of course I’ll give you a call!  I love you!  But I never said that.  I never used that word.  All day–in spite of his call–I felt so much anxiety and that evening when he came over he looked, for the first time, plain.  He hadn’t showered or shaved and he had hairs in his nose and his face wasn’t pretty.  He lay next to me on the bed before we went out to dinner and he gave me a massage and we listened to Tchaikovsky.

We had seen each other in the middle of the week and I’d given him a massage that time and said “I love your body” and now as he massaged me he said the same thing but there was something mechanical and artificial about it, as if he was trying to imitate what he thought was my artificiality.  Since the beginning of our friendship he’d been bothered by my complimenting and flattering him all the time and had asked me to “cut down.”  Now I understand.  In many ways, he was very fake and said fake things, and assumed other people when they “flattered” him were being fake, too, and this bothered him.   I guess it didn’t occur to him that I could be for real.

His massage felt very good, and then the music was over and we went to The Tea Station in Alhambra.  Nothing about that evening told me that this was going to be our last good time together.  We ate Chinese food at the restaurant and everyone around us was playing cards and I loved my time with him.   He told me about Kurt Cobain–it was comfortable, it was great being with him.  I talked about work.  I was talking with a peer. . . We went home and, as I’d done sometimes before, I called to register my car so I could leave it out in the street and he could bring his in to my place in the car port.  He had already taken off his shoes and socks by the time I called so when he and I went out he was barefoot and it turned me on.  There was a cat, a friendly cat, walking around and I asked him if he had any pets.  He said he didn’t but when he was little he’d had a dog named Lucky that had been run over by a car.

“I guess he wasn’t very lucky,” said H***, standing in his shorts barefoot there under the trees in front of my apartment.  I’ll l never forget that.

Upstairs we began to have sex and I tickled him and he laughed–how I loved it when he laughed like that but then he stopped and with a very serious expression he said, “I”m in serious fucking mood.”  I know I’ll never forget that.  Why can’t I forget?  Why do these tiny details still excite me and make me ponder?  What was sit about that sentence that excited me so much?  Was he objectifying me?  Was it he who was calling the shots in this relationship and was this reflected in this statement about HIS mood?   Was he just a good pornographer?

 

I remember on St. Patrick’s day he had told me why he liked Wolverine.  “I’m cunning, like Wolverine. . .” Yes, it was true.  He had a very cunning way with language. . .And perhaps his telling me he’d had only 3 partners in his whole life and telling me about that masters degree he was supposedly getting.  Cunning lies to gain his confidence.  A con artist.  I didn’t put it that way at the time, but that was he was.

The sex was great that night and the next morning we woke up around eleven and were at it again.  He kissed me and jerked me off and all the time I could smell the noticeable vinegary smell of his feet.  H*** did not have any particular smell, any characteristic smell, and wore no cologne, but his feet did smell acidy and as we kissed I could smell it and it was good.  The sex was getting better all the time, I thought, between us. . .Then he fucked me and he did it like a pro.  I was lying on my back thinking he’s been around much more than he says he has.  And then I wanted more so after he was done I kissed him and kissed him and came again and now I think this could have been a mistake: did it show I was liking him TOO much?

We took a shower together he was very affectionate.

The day before on the phone he’d said his mother was coming in from Las Vegas late in the afternoon and now he said he was meeting her at 1:30 at the Ontario Airport.  Always these stories that didn’t seem to hold together.  Like his being half-Latino.  His mother supposedly was Mexican but had learned Vietnamese perfectly.  She’d had a convenience store at one time and then was a financial analyst and now was a card dealer in Vegas.  Very strange!  And he didn’t speak one word of Spanish.  Was he ashamed of being Asian and had he created the persona of someone who was half-Latino just to be more interesting for me?

All these nagging doubts. . .

He ate cereal with me after our shower.

“I had a wonderful time with you,” he said.

WONDERFUL–Joe from Rosemead had used the same kind of slightly inflated language.  Watch out. . .

H***!  I want to drink from your OKness!!!!!

I had lunch with my father that day at the Cheesecake Factory in Beverly Hills.

I was so enthusiastic about this developing relationship that I told him about it.  “You don’t know where he lives?” my father said, shaking his head.  “You only have his cell phone number?  Is that healthy?”

“Healthy”–I funny word for him to use!!!

“But,” I said, “he has a beautiful new car and he usually treats me when we go out for dinner.”

“Oh!” said my father.  “Well, that’s all right then.”

But my heart was sinking.  I didn’t really think this was going to turn out so well for me, this thing with H***.

I had lunch with Elizabeth that Tuesday and I told her what was going on and she said she thought it sounded very good.  But she could hear my anxiety.  I said, “I think he could just disappear at any time.  I don’t really trust him.”

That day, as soon as I got home, the phone rang.  It was H***, calling from the office, calling just to say hello. We talked for about an hour.  I don’t remember who brought it up, but we talked about going on weekend trips together.  I told him I didn’t like going on trips by myself and I told him I thought Palm Springs was a depressing place to be alone.  “Maybe we could go there together,” he said, “ and you could have a different experience.”

He talked about taking a trip to San Francisco the weekend after next. . .

I told him about some of my ESL students.  I mentioned one woman, Hortensia, who was only eight years older than I who was a grandmother already and who came across as an old old woman.  He laughed.  “You’re talking about your future mother-in-law!” he said, and I didn’t know what to make of that.  Future mother-in-law.  He was talking about marriage.  I was happy.

 

We spoke for an hour, and he typed at the computer part of them.  It felt good, talking to H***. I mentioned going to the New Beverly Cinema with him on Friday.  I told him I’d call him to tell him what was playing.  Finally I was the one (as usual) who brought the conversation to an end. It was about time for him to leave the office anyway.  “Bye,” I said.

“Goodbye.”

There was something, though, chilling in way he said “goodbye.”  Nobody uses that word as a real way of saying goodbye.  We say bye or talk to you soon or bye-bye–but “goodbye”? In spite of that good conversation, I was now unsure of the future. . .

I did call the New Beverly Cinema on Thursday night to find out about movies.  Then I called him and left a message with that information.  On Friday morning I got home from work and there was now a message from him on my machine:

“Hello Alex, I apologize for not getting back to you last night.  I was tired and went to bed early.  About tonight, I won’t be able to make it.  A lot has occurred, and I want some time to myself to reflect.  It’s regretful to have to tell you this.  I wanna see you some time soon, but I want to use this weekend wisely and get things done. . .”

I walked around the room.

“There’s nothing I can do!  Nothing I can do about it!”

 

 

 

 

I went to bed and screamed and thrashed around and I thought the neighbors would call the police.  And yet I wasn’t really surprised by what had happened, disappointed yes, but not really surprised.  I called him back and left a lightweight message saying I understood and was sorry and would try to contact him later in the day.

That night we did talk, and he was the same as usual but a little more distant.  “We’ve been seeing each other every weekend for seven weeks. . .”  As usual, an exaggeration.  “And that’s a little fast.”

A little fast. . . .

A little fast. . .

And then I knew, as I’d known earlier in the day, that it was over between us.

We made a lot of small talk.  I was calling him from the street and there was a lot of noise.  I didn’t catch some of the things he said.  Now, I don’t think it was a good idea to call him from the street.  I missed some important things he might have said, things that might have helped me understand why he was pulling back.  I said we could get together some time next week, and seemed open to that: “Yes, definitely next week, before I go to San Francisco.”

I spent several days in bed.

 

 

 

 

One day I got on the computer and found out the University of La Verne, where he was supposedly getting his “masters” in “English literature,” did not even offer a graduate program in English.

I knew it was the end.

I tried to understand why.

I had become, I knew, addicted to him.  This relationship had been compulsive, fairly unhealthy from the start.

I dreamed there was a dark room and a man in a chair and he was opening a door and leaving me.  It was all over.  I could hardly sleep.

NOW I HAVE LOST A LOT OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN, AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY.  I will write it more elegantly the second time around.

 

I phoned him the following Tuesday after spending several days in bed.  He was now fairly distant, cold. I phoned him at work.  He talked about moving to San Francisco.  I asked him if he still wanted to go on dating.  He said yes, but he said he could understand why I would think he didn’t want to date anymore.  We arranged to see each other the following day, a Wednesday.

As usual, he came over late, after the gym, at about nine-thirty.  “Haven’t seen you in a long time!” he said.  “Don’t I get a kiss?”

I asked him about what had gone wrong that weekend and he told me he’d just wanted to be alone, to have some time to himself.  I was honest about my concerns.  I told him it bothered me a little that he was in the closet, completely in the closet, and that I would never see what his house looked like, what his room looked like.  “I have a Bob Marley poster on my wall,” he said.

Ah!   A Bob Marley poster on his wall. . .

I said I felt a little like a kept woman, someone on the side, someone not really a part of his life, but I tried to “offset” the “bad impression” this honest statements might have made by telling him how attracted I was to him, how much I liked him.  He said he was flattered, and he wanted to kiss.  Things seemed, in a way, back to normal.  He did not seem THAT handsome to me now, or THAT beautiful; he seemed a little short to me.

He told me about his plans to move to SF.  He wanted to teach English or teach business.

Teach English?  Teach business?  How was he going to find that kind of work in the city everybody wanted to live in?  What qualifications did he have for teaching those things? Did he think I was stupid?  And how did this gel with his oft-repeated idea of becoming a millionaire and retiring at 40?

Or was all this talk of moving to San Francisco just a very subtle way of trying to distance himself from me and discourage me?

We ate in the Go-Go Cafe and it seemed okay and normal some of the time, and yet different and cold at other times; he had an “edge” to him, as if he didn’t really want to be there, as if he was just doing charity work.

We got sexual when we got back to my place, right in the middle of the living room, and it seemed very good for both of us. Then we kissed on my bed and I lay there on top of him and he said, “You’re beautiful!” He  wanted me to fuck him and I got the condom and tried but then he was resistant and suddenly said, “I”m not in a very sexual mood.”

Not in a sexual mood? What kind of game was he playing with me?

Was he from Mars?  Was I from Venus?  Was it possible for me to have a sexual relationship with anyone?

“You don’t like me,” I said.

I shouldn’t have said that, but it could have been worse.  I could have said, “You don’t like me anymore,” or “You’re bored with me.” That would have been more to the point.  What I said, though, was damaging enough.

We did finish and both of us came and I sniffed and licked the soles of his feet.  A couple of days later, in Laguna Beach, I smelled the flowers by my lonely hotel, and they smelled just like the soles of his feet.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t in the mood,” he said after we finished.

He was apologizing a lot now in the final phase of our friendship.  He had apologized the other night for not wanting to see me, he had apologized the day before for never reading that short story by Tolstoy.  An “English major” who couldn’t read one simple story about a topic that interested him (death), an English major who never talked about literature except Don Delillo and American Psycho.

H*** was, in fact, a kind of American psycho.

His face was tired as he talked to me that night.  I was eating a snack on the side of the bed.  His face was very broad, very round, very Asian, no hint of “Mexican.”

 

He slept.  I couldn’t sleep but lay out on the sofa and listened to music.  I wanted to have a look in his wallet which was right there on the coffee table, to verify if some of the things he’d told me were true.  For instance, whether he really was enrolled in any program, or whether his age was really 27.  Maybe it was 23 or 24.  Or I could have found his address.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t have a look in there, though it would have satisfied me in some way.

Towards morning he talked in his sleep as I moved in the bed, watching him:

“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”

What the fuck was going on?  Good question.  Very good question.

He was really my type.  The type of guy who would swear in his sleep.  What the fuck is going on…………….

When he got up around six he was cheerful and flirtatious and friendly and he didn’t put on his shoes and socks because he was going home to change for work anyway.  And he said he was going to get a coffee in the 7-Eleven.  We said goodbye.

I never saw him again.

 

 

 

 

I spent a few lonely days in Laguna Beach.

I did call him one more time, almost a week later,  and he told me about his trip to San Francisco and how excited he was about moving there.

“I’d hate to lose you as a friend,” he said to me.

Well, that’s pretty clear, but he also said things like.  “I’d be very hurt if you didn’t want to see me again” and “I’ll finally read that book by the next time I see you” and “Do you think we’ll go on seeing each other after I move to SF?” Always mixed messages, now in the last phase, in the epilogue phase, of our friendship.

I told him, now for the first time, honestly about how I felt.  “I’ve been honest about who I am, you come here and see my photograph album, for example, you know who I am, but just as you conceal your real sexual orientation form your friends and family, so you conceal from me who you really are. . .”

Well, I guess after taking his inventory, “abusing” him like that, I couldn’t have expected him to want to see me again.

We talked about getting together that Friday in “West Hollywood,” I said, “we could go to a bar together.  You did say you wanted to do that.”

“We’ll play it by ear…”

He’d never used that expression before.

Neither of us talked before that Friday and then Saturday and Sunday went by and I knew it was over.  In Santa Barbara I chose a grave from a distance and approached it.  That grave would be his and I was going to say good-bye to him.  The name on this grave turned out to be  Darlings.  It was under a tree.  It was a pretty grave.  I scattered flowers and said, “Let go.  It’s over.  Go in peace.”

I thought there was still a chance I would hear from him again and so I waited a few more days and then, ten days after our conversation, I called him. It was late on a Friday night.  He hung up on me.  Then I just got his voicemail.  I said:

 

THIS IS ALEX I GUESS I CALLED JUST TO SAY GOODBYE I GUESS WE’RE NOT DATING ANYMORE I JUST WANTED TO SAY GOODBYE YOU STILL HAVE TWO BOOKS OF MINE I WANT YOU TO HOLD ON TO THEM, LOOK AFTER THEM FOR ME. I’ll UNDERSTAND IF YOU DON’T WANT TO CALL ME BACK…IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO, GOOD LUCK THERE. . . WELL, ANYWAY. . . GOODBYE…

 

I didn’t expect a response to this, and none came.

 

Sometimes I think, that last time he came over, if I hadn’t made some Sleepytime tea before we went to the restaurant then he would still be mine.  If I hadn’t made that tea he wouldn’t have gotten tired.  If he hadn’t gotten tired he wouldn’t have said “Im not in the mood” and I wouldn’t have come out with that negative comment “You don’t like me.”  And yet I know that is all nonsense.  It’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees.  The further away I get from that relationship, the more I realize its not lasting had nothing to do with making him or not making him a cup of  Sleepytime tea.

But that is where I go: If I had done such-and-such.  If only…And it’s all my fault… The only thing I did wrong was choosing him, and yet even that I don’t regret…

`           I don’t know.  It’s been over two months now since I last saw him.  Two months!

Someone called H*** Manh Truong was in my life for a while and is now gone.

Someone was there and is now gone. We knew each other for five and a half weeks.  That’s it.  We never signed any contract.  Kisses are not contracts.  I know.  I understand.  My misgivings about him were justified from the start. From the beginning, we were not really moving in the same direction.

I really do think all this has gone on much too long.  It is the MIDDLE of June and still I think about him so much, about our showers together, about sex together.  I play Sunset from the Grand Canyon Suite and I remember that first lunch in the Wild Thyme restaurant.  All the joy and potential and excitement of that time, and now I am almost forty and will that happen for me again?  What have I learned?  Can I have a relationship that isn’t obsessive, in which I maintain an identity?

Sometimes I think I need a 12-step program in which promiscuity is okay but dating absolutely taboo…

I want to finish writing this pretty soon.  Time has passed.  It is finally time to move on from the tyranny of that sexual fantasy.  He was a potent symbol for me.  The Americanness, the Ansianness, the youth, the muscles, the tattoo. . . I was always aware of that tattoo, of how he had defaced his body in such a masculine, fashionable way.  That Wolverine was h is true mate.  He’d be married to it forever, forever!  And it will  be a turn-on to all his ephemeral buddies.

I will never understand completely what went wrong.  Boredom, I guess.  We were too different.  He wasn’t really looking for a serious thing with me… I know that… We had our moments, though, there were loving moments.

I think that what I will miss most of all is the sound of your voice, H***, your young American voice, the way you talked in your sleep: THAT was honest; THAT was who you really were:

WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

 

WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

 

 

****************

 

It is morning and I’ve woken up after a good much-needed rest.  I’m having my tea.  I dreamed of my grandmother.  We are sitting at home and she is sitting in a huge armchair and my mother or my father, I forget who, is asking her what she wants to drink.  Then a young girl is asked to play the piano–she’s asked to play a request.  She goes to the piano and plays a virtuoso piece and I am impressed and envious.  Then we are walking in a wide open area, mostly concrete, in the middle of a city.  There are many birds of all kinds, mostly pigeons and seagulls, huge flocks of birds descending on us.  A black man hates these birds and grabs one or two of them and asks something like “What the fuck is going on with these birds?” and hurls them down on the grown where they limp away, wounded and unable to fly.  “You need a shrink!” I call to the man.  “You need someone to work on your issues with!”   He walks away and says nothing.

 

It is now the 17th of June and I still think about H*** all the time. I know this is unproductive.  After he was gone, the only thing I had left was a piercing he made in the water container on one of his last visits.  That small slit from a knife was all that was left of him!  Then I received the phone bill and saw all the times I’d called his number.  There it is on the phone bill: the only physical evidence that he and I ever knew each other.  That 909 number reads like a kind of poem to me, showing exactly all the dates and times we talked (but only the times I called him, not the times he called me of course).

Not even a button of his is left!  The first time we slept together one of his buttons popped off in the heat of passion.  I held on to it but a couple of days later, believing that he’d already had enough of me after that one time and wouldn’t want to see me again, I threw the button out. I just blew it out the bathroom window.  If I’d held on to it then it would be my one tangible souvenir of his body, like the silver button which is all that remains of Rumpelstiltskin after he vanishes into thin air.

Perhaps he felt tied down by me, as if he were being trapped.   I guess I as a person clashed too much with who he was.  And (outside bed) he clashed too much with who I am.

I think I realized this when I went into the bathroom once  as he was standing over the urinal.  He hadn’t raised the toilet seat.  There was something exciting and “low-class” about the way he was standing there, something rough and foreign and young.  Without being able to put into words I think I knew then and there that we were not really for each other.

I had the same feeling every time I felt his arms–they were too big, too strong! And I felt this every time I saw his tattoo.  And also when he came, the way he would say “I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come!”  or the young way he shut his eyes and grimaced as he ejaculated. What I’m trying to say is he seemed too much a fantasy kind of person, too much my sexual ideal, to be someone who would want to stick around for very long. Though he was not exactly a Playgirl centerfold person, he was like a very good hustler. When I saw his tattoo or felt his arms or watched him come or heard him say exciting but impersonal things like “I’m in a serious fucking mood!” or “Fuck my mouth!”  or “What the fuck is going on?”  my heart always sank and I would think:  This guy  belongs to the world, he does not belong to me, and sooner or later, probably sooner, he will be re-absorbed into the world.  This was why every time I he left I thought I would never see him again, and every time I was expecting him, I thought he might not show up.

I have written enough for today.  Perhaps there is nothing more to say about H*** and what he meant to me. . .

 

 

 

******************

 

But there is always more to say!

I still think of him when I wake up in the morning, when I go to bed at night.  I have no other sexual fantasies.  Since I have not been with anyone else lately, there are no fantasies to superimpose on him, no new fantasies to replenish the glass.  I especially think of the times on my sofa when I lay back and he sat on the floor making out with me and opening my fly and jerking me off–it is so powerful!  Or I think of him fucking me, saying, “I wanna fuck you some more after we eat!”  Or I hear him saying, “I’m in a serious fucking mood.”  Or I hear “Fuck my mouth. . .”

 

At times I want to do a search on the Internet: I might be able to find his address and the places he lived over the past five years.  But what good would that do me?  I will never be able to have his tongue in my mouth again–his tongue will never slide over my upper gums the way it did that day long ago in February when we were still getting acquainted.  I will never feel his arms or bite into his neck or dig with my fingers deep into his rectum and watch his face contorted with pleasure or pain.  I will never feel his hand on my genitals or his dick up my ass or watch him come all over me. I will never hear the voice on his voicemail with the message: “Hey you’ve reached H*** Truong…leave me a detailed message and I ‘ll get back to you. . .”  I will never lick his ass and ask him, “Does that feel good,” and never hear his voice saying “You’re great. . .” Years and years will go back and will never hear that voice again!!!

H***, where are you?

Who were you?

It’s the second half of June and the pain has lessened but I still think of you so often. . .

Is there such a thing as a sexual relationship without suffering?

For such a long time after you walked out of my life I was so hungry for your body! I hungered for the smell of the soles of your feet and I hungered for your tongue and the warm feeling of your anus as my fingers slipped through it and the way you laughed when I tickled you.           Is a sexual relationship possible?

What do I have to do to get it right?

 

 

********************

 

 

It is July now.  Mary read the foregoing and called the “paper”  “very good, remarkable, straightforward, and quite moving.”  And I was happy to hear her say that.  She also said, “It is clear H*** had the upper hand, and knew it.”  I went to bed and literally got off on those words.

Once, when he came over–it was a Wednesday night, I think–we were lying there after sex and I asked him, “What are you thinking about?”

He said, “I’m thinking about. . . going.”

At the time those words struck me as so cold and even cruel.  And yet they excited me.  “You don’t have to leave–you’re welcome to spend the night!”

And of course he did–that was what he preferred to do.  And I went downstairs to see if there was some space for him in the car port, so he wouldn’t leave his car out in the street overnight and get a ticket.  But there were no available spaces.  I was just wearing a t-shirt and shorts and it was still March and I got very very cold, and I ran back to my apartment shivering, I had the chills, and I wanted to put on his sweater.  He was already in bed.   “No!” he said.  “Don’t put that on!  I’ll keep you warm.”  And I jumped into bed and with him and his body was so warm and I rubbed all over it to get warm and I found he had a hard-on again and it was so good, his warm body.  Earlier that night, he had said, “You didn’t have to say ‘Dreamer’ in your ad, I could see in your eyes that you were a dreamer.”  And yet just a little while later I’d asked him what he was thinking and I got the response: “I’m thinking about. . .going.”  All those things together–the coldness and the cruelty mixed with the tenderness and sweetness.

He perhaps gave me precisely the experience I was looking for.

There were good moments.  I want to think about, emphasize, those now.

It’s July 2 now.  The day after tomorrow I’m going away on a long trip.

Early yesterday morning I had a dream.  I was talking with my Scottish friend who had come in the door.  He said, laughing, “I just got it on with H***!”

“No,” I said.

I ran.  I ran across freeways and highways and fields and I ran and couldn’t stop.

I woke up crying.

 

 

Revocable Trust

 

Ambition and greed in fashion woman with jewelry in hands on black background

Ambition and greed in fashion woman with jewelry in hands on black background

a selection from the last part of my memoir, the only selection I’m publishing here on my blog………….

 

            The house never changed at all, and neither did our old San Franzisko neighborhood. The big house withstood the fog that came in most days from the ocean. It withstood daily gunfire from the rifle range across Lake Merced as well as earthquakes, some of them severe. People withered and died, but the house just stood there stoically facing the lake as well as the lions that roared and the seals that cried out at midnight from the zoo. I could go back to my old room and it could easily be 1974, until I looked in the mirror and discovered a man in his forties, with more than a few gray hairs. I loved the house so much that I sometimes pitied it, as you can pity a living thing. It remained empty nearly all year long, since my father spent most of his time with his lady-friend in Beverly Hills Adjacent, not far from me in the northeast corner of Los Angeles. And so, whenever I went back, I spoke to the house and assured it that one day it would welcome a young family living there again; one day it would be warmed by children and animals within its walls.

Henry Frankel shriveled and shrank, but neither of us wanted to fully accept that he was older than fifty or that I was much more than nineteen. We worked to keep me innocent and young about money, and I still called him “Deddi.” I reached my forties before I realized the significance, for Americans, of the date April 15. I sometimes didn’t pick up my paycheck from the university for days, and then would leave it in my backpack for weeks before I deposited it. The phone company often threatened to cut me off for not paying my bills. I never listened to the stock market report, and why should I?  I had a checking account, a few thousand dollars in savings, and a Visa card linked to my father. I never paid for my own gas. And yet I lived simply in a one bedroom apartment near Cal State L.A.; I dressed in the careless way of most male college instructors; I drove an old car; I didn’t travel. I accepted my unusual condition of dependence and thought about it as little as possible.

One Friday morning I lay in bed until late in the day. When I checked my voicemail, I heard a message from Deddi’s companion, Rhoda Goldfarb: my father had driven to San Franzisko, weak with kidney stones and diabetes, and had fallen in the bathroom. He’d struggled on the floor for twelve hours until he could crawl to a phone. The paramedics had climbed in through a window and taken him away. “He’s not doing well,” said Rhoda. “You need to go up there and act like a son for a change. Good-bye.”

By that evening—after a daylong drive and frequent updates from nurses who inexplicably found my father “sweet” and “kind”—I was sitting at his bedside in a hospital near my old high school and synagogue, the same hospital where my mother had died of cancer so many years before (we never truly lived in the wholesome American San Francisco, but in our own moldy German-Jewish San Franzisko).  He lay in bed awake and frail, his eyelids drooping every time he made the effort to speak. He’d taped a picture of Rhoda to the wall. “This is my love,” he declared to the nurses.

Henry Frankel now turned into my grandfather. I learned to carry his briefcase and his belongings from the house to the hospital. I learned to open his bills and his checkbooks and enter his inner sanctum of high finance. I was going to have to grow up now.

I stayed in San Franzisko two long weeks. Rhoda Goldfarb phoned from Beverly Hills Adjacent with instructions, opinions, demands, but never came up.

I stayed alone in the empty house. Sometimes, at night, I avoided listening to music, because I was afraid it would mask sounds of trouble somewhere in that big house. I could imagine an orchestra playing, but in the midst of the concert, I pictured a doorknob turning, a door opening, and a hooded intruder standing there wielding a carving knife. At night I needed absolute silence, so I could keep track of all the creaking floors, all the rumblings from distant corners.

When people want to insist on the beauty of San Franzisko, they can’t be thinking of days and weeks alone in a big house with a father in the hospital. They can’t be thinking of days of visiting a sick father and coming home to an empty house with gunfire from the rifle range always in the background. They can’t be thinking of thick fog and foghorns and a phone that never rang, unless it was Deddi calling with feeble instructions or reprimanding me for something I’d forgotten to do for him.

After I returned to L.A., Rhoda Goldfarb consented to a break from her bridge tournament in Beverly Hills Adjacent; it was now her turn to come up and take care of him in our house. My father spent days readying the place, even summoning the strength to do some of the dusting and cleaning. He knew how exacting she was about housekeeping.

She threw out my old toys, my seven unique clocks, all my art from grade school, my stuffed baby cobra, my bust of Thomas Jefferson.

He appeared to improve a little. He regained some of the weight he’d lost. He walked without a cane. He paid his bills. He read. He yelled at waitresses and left insulting tips. But his body was consumed with the internal business of shutting down.

Rhoda did not see any need to keep me informed of my father’s condition, so it came as a shock one day, near the end of October, when by chance I found out he’d been re-admitted to the hospital.

I was there when the doctors and nurses rolled him back to his room after his latest procedure. He smiled in the fake-saccharine way that might have been in vogue around 1930 somewhere in Europe: “I invite you gentlemen to the most marvelous feast!”

I was there when he saw Bill Clinton on the ceiling. “Really?” I said.  “But everyone’s talking about Hillary.”  And I began to feel my side warming up pleasantly; a moment later I realized it was his urine.

I phoned Deddi’s lawyer and asked, “If he passes away, what is the first thing that will need to be done?” He answered with a more general and ominous point: “The first thing that will have to be done is sell the house.”

I rushed home and, while Rhoda was out with her new San Franzisko bridge partners, I rummaged through the hiding place, under a bedspread in his closet, where my father had always told me I’d find his will. I saw my name: “All assets shall be distributed to ALEX M. FRANKEL” and then I saw the other name: “$100,000 shall be distributed to RHODA GOLDFARB.” A moment of relief but, just based on the lawyer’s words and tone, I continued my search for papers: I needed to know what my future would look like, I needed some firm, or unfirm, knowledge—anything. In the top right-hand drawer of his desk, I found an innocuous manila envelope with a new will that invalidated the old ones. It was dated May, 2007, after his fall, when he was weak and helpless. I turned the pages: solemn language handed down from a misty but implacable Roman and medieval past, words like declaration, restatement, hereby, pursuant, codicil, amendment, revocable, inoperative, attestation, witness, testator, trust. Trust—an interesting word, I wondered what it meant, in this context. I didn’t know many legal terms. Trust. I had always trusted my father. A twelve-step sponsor used to say to me, “You are so trusting, you take people at their word.” I turned pages, looking for changes, sensing they were coming. Falling, falling alone, more alone than ever before. I was bad, unclean—maybe people were right to want me invisible: the schoolyard children from the seventh grade, the exciting young men from the streets and the gay bars, and now my own father. “The sum of $100,000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Dollars Exactly) shall be distributed to Settlor’s son ALEX M. FRANKEL, currently residing in Los Angeles, California, if he survives me for 30 (thirty) days. If she survives trustor for ninety (90) days, then all of the rest and residue of the trust estate and assets of the Trust shall be distributed to RHODA GOLDFARB, currently residing in Beverly Hills, California, outright and free of trust, and the trust shall then terminate.” What did it mean to revoke trust? Who was doing the revoking? I had done most of the trusting, but it seemed to me that someone else, now, was doing the revoking. What did it mean to be “free” of trust and to “terminate” trust? Now, in my hands, I held the answer to my future. A hundred thousand from my father to me, and Rhoda Goldfarb—almost a stranger—had won. I began to do primitive calculations in my head. I knew the house was worth over a million. I knew my father had a million in investments. Where had I made my mistake? When had I been bad?

*

Before I left his bedside that night, I recited my boyhood German prayer. He didn’t seem at all surprised or annoyed, and he even joined in, with his eyes closed. He said the words meekly, innocently, together with me. What a gentle old man he could be, what a good Deddi.

           

Tired am I, and go to rest,

            Close both my little eyes.

            Father in heaven may your eyes

            Watch over my little bed.

            Amen 

 

I had an idea. I took out my phone: “Record a message for me, please! Tell me good-night!”

He smiled and nodded faintly and, still with his eyes closed, said in a strong voice, “Nighty night, sweetie!” as I held the phone to his lips.

*

I drove around until late. I needed to avoid our house with his lady-love in it. At dawn I parked by the windmills at Ocean Beach and fell asleep.

There were four messages when I awoke. Impossible—I’m never that popular. Then I realized who they were from. “Where are you? Go to the hospital immediately,” instructed Rhoda Goldfarb. “You need to go to St. Mary’s now,” she said in her second message. In her third she said, “I left you two messages already. Go and see your father. Go and see him at once.” Her final message: “This is the last time I’m calling. It’s almost nine in the morning. Go to the hospital. You know where it is.”

On the fifth floor of St. Mary’s, someone had taped a sign on the door to his room: “Please see nurse before entering.” I opened the door and found my father in a bag.

Ten, twenty years of preparing for this moment and I wasn’t prepared. I unzipped the bag and saw his face—what an odd expression there. He didn’t seem in pain. His lips were pursed, as if he were about to speak.

I said the Serenity Prayer over and over. What was going to happen to me now without a Deddi?

He hadn’t really been sick. He hadn’t had either a heart condition or cancer. Eighty-seven was too young. I needed him there another few years; I even needed an angry father, anyone, anything, just not alone.

I put his glasses on him so that he would look more like himself. I felt his hands, cold but not stiff. Why hadn’t I been in the room when he died? Someone mentioned it happened at 3:00 a.m. No one around him but the professionals.

*

I brought his graveclothes to Sinai Memorial Chapel. I stood under what memory insists was a silver and gold rotunda. I brought his blazer, slacks, a dress shirt. And suddenly, standing on the other side of the room, I saw another man, also carrying clothes for the same reason. Our eyes met. We didn’t talk. What is the proper form of conversation for such a meeting? He looked at me; I looked at him. We said nothing. I turned away.

I sat down with the undertaker, a reserved and businesslike fellow who did not shake my hand. Because I’d often heard how mortuaries take advantage of people in distress, I chose the cheapest coffin I could, which seemed to displease the man.

I still had Deddi’s voice on my phone. I needed it. “Nighty-night, sweetie!”

I drove around San Franzisko and walked in the park, where rich young couples pushing strollers greeted other rich young couples pushing strollers. I spent yet another night in my car, not willing to face our old house taken over by Rhoda.

And then, the day of the funeral, I drove up to the Hills of Eternity and walked uphill to the grave where my mother had now been for thirty years. My father was to be buried next to her. I went to the coffin, hugged it, wept into its shiny brown contours and imitation gold.

About six or seven people showed up.

I watched Rhoda Goldfarb arrive; she looked like royalty decked out in black. She did not acknowledge me. I watched her walk on the grass among the graves in her severe attire. She knew how to dress for these events.

The cantor who’d officiated at my bar mitzvah conducted the service—what a comforting act of continuity! As if all those years hadn’t passed. Rhoda Goldfarb did not speak. I did speak: I’d written up a eulogy at 4 a.m. I still have it; I keep the torn, coffee-stained pages in my glove compartment. It reads, in part:

The happiest I ever saw him was the night we went to see Life is Beautiful. It may seem odd that a film about an Italian Jew condemned to an extermination camp would be so uplifting and so positive and would make him so happy, but it was the happiest I’d ever seen him. He was a survivor. Being a German-Jewish refugee in Shanghai taught him how to survive. Life is beautiful. Life will be hard without him. He lay there in the hospital on Friday morning and all around him life was going on even though he had left it behind. On his door, someone had put a note: Please see nurse before entering. You don’t say “death.” But I say “death” and I protest.

People talk nicely by the grave because the sun has broken through. Neckties. Dresses. A scent of Sunday even though it isn’t Sunday. That coffin, glossy as a baby grand, gets eased casually, with little ceremony and no protest, into the earth.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord . . . 

Sprinklers. Neckties.

To lead him into paradise . . . the bosom of Abraham.

No one is crying.  Orchids, dresses, light, sprinklers, bugs. There should have been music. Too late now.

The coffin is covered up with dirt by sullen men. People scatter quickly.  Rhoda departs without appearing to notice me.

*

The day after my father’s funeral, a tall, grizzled lawyer appeared at the house, rang the doorbell. Maybe my time in hell would be over soon. I was swallowing a Xanax tablet in my childhood bathroom when I heard the chimes ring. “Alex!” called Rhoda Goldfarb, and let the lawyer in. Like the undertaker, the attorney did not shake my hand and chose to get down to business, dispensing with polite preliminaries. Since I had taken a look at the will, there were no surprises when the man gestured to Rhoda, who sat on a distant couch, and said, “Your father left his estate to Rhoda Goldfarb, with a provision of $100,000 for you.” I remember his hand: he sat in an armchair and so easily gestured to Rhoda, so easily, so casually with his right hand indicated that she was to receive what should have been mine.

The lawyer handed us papers. “Here are copies of all his previous wills,” he told us, “so you can note the changes.”

Where we sat seemed important: I was in the round armchair that swiveled and had belonged to my mother, her favorite chair—“Mami’s chair,” where she’d sat the day she told me about my adoption. The attorney was seated in a stiff fancy-fretwork chair from Thailand, a gift from business people of the ’70s. And Rhoda sat in the new sofa she herself had selected, having thrown out the old one which had been in our family for twenty years. And everything in the room—as per Rhoda’s instructions and wishes—had been re-upholstered in white: beautified, purified by the cool simplicity of whiteness.

“It might take as long as a year to sell the house,” the lawyer said.

“A year!” Rhoda didn’t like this one bit.

It had been a good idea to medicate with the sedative. Sometimes I caught Rhoda looking at me, perhaps wondering why I wasn’t more surprised by the news the lawyer had brought. And that interested me: the lawyer brought us news; we didn’t have to present ourselves at his office. This scene didn’t resemble—physically, at least—the classic movie or TV image of relatives sitting in a dark, wood-paneled law office while a dignified man of years, seated behind his desk, informs those gathered around of a deceased person’s good or bad last decisions.

There were quite a few boring details to mention—and the lawyer mentioned all of them.

The talking went on and on; I felt so thankful for the sedative.

And the lawyer slipped out as quietly as he’d come in, almost bashfully, like a waiter.

*

Most of Henry Frankel’s possessions went into boxes and crates.

I stopped sleeping in my car and faced up to spending a few last days and nights in my old room. Constantly I heard high heels in the walk-in closet and the master bedroom. Once I picked up the phone and overheard Rhoda talking to a man whose voice I didn’t recognize. Instantly, I understood that she already had a new admirer.

One night, while I was sitting on the floor packing books, she appeared in the doorway of my room. “You left a mess downstairs,” she said.

“Did I?” I was trying to fit venerable old volumes of my Encyclopedia Britannica into boxes they’d given me at the market. I tried not to look up. “I’ll get to it later.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rhoda crossing her arms over her chest. “Your father was right about you. So untidy. So scatterbrained . . . You had difficulties in school, didn’t you?”

“Just with math and science.” Still without looking up, I tried to focus our attention on the books in my hand. Before there was the Internet and Google, there was the Encyclopedia Britannica—a source of hours and hours of wasted time. “I used to love these books,” I said. “I even loved the smell of the pages.”

“Yeah,” said Rhoda. “Math and science, math and science. Your father told me about your troubles. Summer sessions, private tutors, afterschool classes and whatnot, but you never got it, did you?”

“I never got it.”

“You weren’t too studious either, were you? Except in English. Except poetry!” I noticed she made an effort to showcase the word “poetry.”

Near me I kept bubble-wrap and tape as well as a pair of rusty old scissors we’d had in the family ever since I could remember. They were classic and rather frightening office scissors.

“Maybe,” I said, “I inherited a few traits from my birth parents, have you ever thought of that? My biological father was an intellectual, no head for business.”

“Oh Alex, don’t get me started on that,” said Rhoda. “You hurt your father—I mean the man who brought you up. It sickened him when you came up with those people out of the blue and announced you were going through with a reunion. A reunion!”

I went on with the motions of packing.

“Those were my birth parents. I had a right to find them.”

“Who gave you that right?”

I was nearly finished with a box but feared grabbing hold of the scissors to cut the tape, feared what I might do with them in my hand.

“Well, he’s at peace now,” I added quietly, looking at the floor.

“When are you going to get to the mess? The dining room’s a disaster.”

“I’ll get to it soon.”

She took a step into the room and, hands at her hips, looked at the walls. “Pictures of composers! They must be worth something. You should have them appraised.”

“I might,” I said.

“Most American boys collect baseball cards, but you had to collect portraits of composers and classical records,” Rhoda observed.

“I guess that’s the way it was.”

“You didn’t talk baseball and football with your father, you talked music!”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

She stood close to me, in my old room, in her new house. I could smell her Chanel. I looked at the scissors, shiny and sharp.

“He worked so hard to put you through high school and college and grad school, Alex, he wanted you to make something of yourself.”

“I did make something of myself.”

I heard her laugh. I was still on the floor and she was still standing over me. “It wasn’t his idea of success,” she said. “What do you make, fourteen dollars an hour?”

“Seventy.”

“But no retirement, I heard, no benefits . . .”

With the scissors it would have been so easy to do so much, but it would have taken too long and been extremely messy. I liked where my imagination took me.

“What are you now, fifty?” she said to me.

“Forty-five.”

“I thought you were older.”

“Forty-five.”

Then she was walking around in my room—freely, openly. She had taken possession, even of this space that had once been my sanctuary. She’d been my father’s higher power, no use denying it. Was she mine too?

I wanted her out. I wanted to get the packing done. Soon it was going to be time for Ambien and sleep. What would I have done without Ambien?

“Your father worked hard for you,” I heard Rhoda say. “It’s a shame you treated him the way you did.”

“We didn’t dwell on it.”

“Oh, you’re wrong about that. He dwelled on it. When you weren’t there.”

“No doubt,” I said. “No doubt.”

“He was such a kind, generous man, but you never got to know him, did you? Sometimes he’d come back from having lunch with you, and he was so down. I didn’t like to see him that way. He was suffering.”

Hundreds of more things to pack. I’d barely started. I looked around at the piles of books but kept snagging my eyes on the bright scissors on the floor beside me.

“He knew you didn’t love him,” said Rhoda. “I wish you’d tried, but you were always too selfish for that, weren’t you?”

“I tried. You only knew him a few short years. He was my father, and I was the best son he could’ve asked for.”

“You weren’t. You never came to visit, you neglected him. That’s not how a son behaves.”

Maybe if I hadn’t been grieving, the rage in me would have shot to the surface and I wouldn’t have been able to control it. I knew that since Rhoda was not grieving, it was easy for her to pick a fight as if these were just normal times.

“You weren’t there when he had pneumonia last year,” she went on. “Or when he had  the gallstones removed. Or when he almost lost his hearing. You were never around. I did everything.”

“Yes, you did it all. He was lucky!”

But she wouldn’t be sidetracked. “I used to tell him he was too permissive with you when you were growing up. With a little firmness, a little old-fashioned strictness . . .”

“Yes, what then?”

“Why, you might’ve turned out more normal.”

I looked at the floor. “More to his liking? More to yours?”

“More normal.”
“Normal, I see.”

“With just a little strictness. I don’t know how often I told him—”

“Rhoda!” I jumped up, startling her, but she was in her element, prepared for battle, pleased with where this might be going. “Rhoda, I want to give you something.” I groped for a box full of odds and ends on the shelf behind her. I took out a picture of my father on a Caribbean cruise, circa 1974. He was strong, tanned, slim, hardly a grey hair on him yet. “I bet you haven’t seen this one.” For a second she looked confused. “You only knew him when he was older,” I said. I took her hand and placed the framed picture in it. “I want you to have this, please.”

“Oh.” She looked down at the picture. “Yes, it’s lovely, thank you.” Deddi was standing on a sun-deck in a beige leisure suit and smiling at us with lips tightly shut. “I hadn’t seen this one, you’re right.”

I turned around and sat back down on the floor and went on with my packing. She passed through the room and out the door without another word.

Rhoda packed; I packed (I almost wrote “we,” but there was no “we”). Days went by. Sometimes her new boyfriend would leave soft, flirty messages openly on my father’s answering machine. One morning I woke up and realized she’d left for Southern California—along with her new china and stemware, as well as two Persian rugs, several lamps, and a miniature Chinese village carved into ivory, complete with temple and tower. I never saw her again.

*

A few weeks after the funeral, while the house was being readied to go on the market, I took a train and then a bus up to Yosemite.

It was winter now.  The first snow fell the night of my arrival, and the next morning I struggled to walk in the wet unplowed whiteness of the valley. I gazed up at the mountains and took pictures and, when no one was looking, I cried. My Deddi and my Mami and my grandmother! It was true that as an adult I’d tracked down my birth parents, but we hadn’t become close and I didn’t mourn them after their deaths. I had only one set of parents, those who’d raised me. And so what was I going to do now, all alone? In my cabin late at night I listened to radio voices speculate about space aliens, poltergeists, sprites, goblins, UFOs, alternate universes, life after death. An expert spoke: “Always there is life, always.” If that was so, where was Deddi now? Was he anywhere besides just gone? By day I walked in the cold and the slush—cold as Siberia here—and at night thawed out in the lodge and warmed my feet as near as I could get to the fire without burning myself. One evening I sat by an immense fireplace in the lobby of the Ahwanhee Hotel and watched partygoers in costumes file into the great dining hall. They were wearing Tudor-style costumes—bodices and petticoats and ruffles and lace cuffs—and they were laughing, life was good, life seemed to have at least a temporary purpose for them. I could never have imagined my father Henry Frankel dressed as Henry VIII, though for me he’d been as important and as mighty. On my way back to my cabin I communed with a snowman in the moonlight. “Such a good snowman out here in the cold!” I said, a child of eight rapidly turning into a man of forty-five. I patted his ice-cold belly and kissed his pine-cone nose. Slowly I walked back to my cabin. What was waiting for me there? Energy bars and talk radio. I prayed to God to ease, to deliver me from, the hatred I felt for the woman who’d stolen my inheritance. I lived mostly without God, but if ever there was a time for the Serenity Prayer, it was now. A full moon lit the way to warmth. “My Deddi,” I said out loud to just cold air. It was a comfort to have his voice on my voicemail, and there it remained for a whole year, until one day I woke up and realized I’d accidentally deleted it. The good-night message had vanished, along with my father.