The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Countdown: 4 - Flesh of Lost Summers (Part V)

I am scared to go on. I am scared to revisit the places he took me. I am scared to look into the mirror of those memories. But more than that I am scared to show you those places, those memories, and that when I do your eyes will not see the beauty, and that your gaze will not be accompanied by understanding. I am scared your sense of morality and propriety will force me to re-evaluate something that for the longest time had been a place of refuge for me, somewhere to withdraw into and feel special, and safe, and good about myself.
But I do want to take you by the hand and take you there, you see, show it all to you, with all the passionate impatience of a child burning to show off his favourity toy, his favourite climbing tree, his secret treasure.
When my father up and left, his collection of CDs remained, for a while, until my mum did something with them and I never saw them again. It was all stuff like Marillion, Pink Floyd, Queen, U2, and Billy Joel. One day, I must have been 11, I took some of them out and listened to them. I hadn’t yet entirely given up on him, but mostly, and every song was a barb that tore up the inside of my heart.
But it was Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” that really sucker punched me. I was at an age where that particular explicitness sometimes still was needed, and I had no rents providing it. When I listened to “The Stranger” I finally understood what the Flesh Fair in “A.I.” had meant to me, and what the weird feeling had been that I’d had when I watched one and a half years before.
My mates and I had rented the Spielberg flick and watched it one afternoon. I had been 9. I’d got my first queer crush, on Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe, and that had been bad enough – to sit there with the others and realize that that feeling they had just begun to talk about, the one they got when they saw Christina Aguilera or Avril Lavigne, that I got that when I saw Jude Law. When I saw Jude Law with Haley Osment. But that hadn’t been the worst.
We’d been in the living room of Hector’s rents, and my mates had hoted and jeered at the glacial pace and the sickly-sweet sentimentalism, and for a while I had pretended to do the same. But then we had gotten to the Flesh Fair, where masterloess robots were executed on torture machines done up garishly like carnival rides and circus acts. They were dissolved with acid, drawn and quartered, and turned into sentient torches, still babbling and begging that they could still be useful. That they could still be loved.
I watched the scene in horrified fascination, lying on my belly to hide my aching hard on. I knew we were supposed to wait in breathless suspense whether the little girl would manage in time to save the boy-robot David, Gigolo Joe and the walking, talking Teddy Bear. My mates were cheering the robot-destroyers on, calling for the death of David so that the film would be over. And I, I too wished for the girl to be too slow, hoped for him to end up on one of the machines… but I yearned for it, because I wanted to be him.
I wanted to be that parentless robot child, wanted for Gigolo Joe to hold my trembling hand and tell me the sweet lies we tell children to deceive them into believing the world is not as monstrous as it really is. I wanted him, wanted myself to be torn from those arms, crying, begging and struggling, and then be tortured to death in front of an applauding crowd.
Never before had I been so turned on. And for over a year it terrified me. Being queer was one thing. I mean for a 10 year old that is bad enough. But to be… this?
So, when Billy Joel asked me, did I ever let my lover see the stranger in myself, I finally understood who I had met that day. And when he told me not to be afraid, that everyone has a face they hide away forever, relief washed over me. It was probably the last kindness, the last fatherly act my dad did for me.
Still, for a long time afterwards, I only took that face out and wore it in the cold solitude of my fantasies, by night under the covers of my bed. I didn’t show it to Colin, or Jonas, and not even to ‘Nette, and I never would have dreamed of showing it to Hendrik, though I might have suspected that the part in me that craved him so, his ruthlessness and cruelty, was very close to that strange in myself.
But I want you to keep in mind that long before I lost my angel wings and stepped over that invisible threshold that seperates innocent children from perverted men, that demon was already living in my heart. Whatever you may think of Hendrik, after I am done telling you about him, it wasn’t him who fucked me up.
Had it been illegal what he did? Probably. Had it been morally wrong? Maybe. Did it hurt me? Oh yes. It still does. But I had wanted it, for years, before it finally happened.
Nothing would have happened, I suppose, had it not been for my failing grades in 3rd form. I had spent most of the winter 06/07 in emergency rooms, police cars, arrest cells, and doing increasing lengths of community service, and the bill for my lack of school attention and even attendance was due. At the end of the first term it clear that only a miracle could keep me from having to repeat the year. Given that professional tutoring services were too expensive I asked my form teacher Mrs. Nastarowitz, and she promised she’d ask around amongst the older pupils.
My football performance had suffered considerably as well. At 14 football was no longer the centre of my universe. I had put my dreams of beomding a professional away together with my LEGO building blocks.
Hendrik was still our assistant coach, but he, too, had been less active since he’d gotten himself a girlfriend, a surprisingly ugly girl, one year younger than him, with a crooked nose and kinky, caramel hair. He had also grown lean with his last growth-spurt, had shaved his once shaggy hair down to a skullcap of brass coloured fuzz, and looked so lean and mean it hurt.
One Friday in April he came up to me after training. He wore a black tracksuit with red and gold piping, and black football boots. The cleats clacked loud on the tiles of the corridor to the changing rooms.
“Yo. Nasty Rowitz tells me you need some help.”
I was tired and spattered with mid, and I had to get up very early the next morning for weekend community service. The nights were still crispy cold, and steam was rising from my body.
“Yeah. Math, and chemistry, and physics, and…”
“And French,” he said, looking me up and down like a buyer checking out the merchandise. “I know.”
And after a pause: “I take 10 an hour. And I expect you to give it a lot more than you did here today. You will take this serious, understood?”
“You will tutor me?” I couldn’t believe it.
There was that rare flash of a smile, the twinkle in the eye of a distant god.
“If you don’t fuck it up. Monday, after school, my place.”
And Hendrik, the boy I had dreamed of for the past 4 years, gave me his address and his mobile phone number.
As a tutor he was as strict as he was as football coach. He took the time to figure out exactly where my problems lay and he was good at explaining things, but he expected me to study hard and to mindlessly practice all the formulae and vocab.
It started pretty early on. We met two times for two hours every week, that was 40 Euros I’d have to play my mum back somehow. We sat at the dinner table in his rent’s flat, catercorner, so that he could read over my shoulder.
When he saw me making a mistake, he only would snort quietly, not “God you are stupid”, somehow, but always “Jeeze, you know you can do better than that.”
And, like, from the second time on, his leg would touch mine under the table. And his elbow would touch mine on the table. Or his hand, lying innocently there, his fingertips would brush against my hand when I reached the end of the page.
And then, maybe the second week, the third at the latest, I had not done my homework. I did it probably half on purpose, to test him, the way I tested teachers, and rozzers, and social workers, to see how much I really had to conform, and what was merely expected bit without the stomach to enforce it.
I told him I’d forgotten to do it, my expression 4/5th contrition and 1/5th challenge. He hit me with the open hand right in the face. He didn’t pull it. My hand whipped around and I tasted blood.
I jumped up and wanted to punch him, but he just leaned back, looking at me from half-lidded eyes.
“That was your only screw-up, got that? Next time, you’re out, Tavi.”
It was the first time he’d used that name since the night on the bus. I couldn’t believe he remembered at all. All the fight went out of me and I sat back down.
“Are we clear?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Yes what, Tavi?”
“Yes, Sir.”
A smile crept into the corners of his eyes. It wasn’t a friendly smile, and it never reached his mouth, but it made me shiver. It wasn’t telling me he was fucking proud, but still, I wanted to make him smile like that again. And again.
But I didn’t know how to, and so for another week I studied hard and did my stuff and had a hard-on through all those hours that he kept touching me.
It was his girlfriend that picked the moment for me. She called him during one of the tutoring sessions, and he stepped out into the hall with the phone. He left the door ajar, and I listened.
They talked about something I can’t remember, because it paled to insignificance next to the thing he said at the end. She probably asked him when they could meet, or something, and he said, with a sigh: “Got to stay here with that little creep I told you about. Once I’m rid of him, I’ll head out.”
The disappointment was more than I could handle. All those days, all those moments, touching me, it had all just been in my head. I could feel the tears burning in my eyes, the shame in my cheeks. I could hear him say good-bye on the phone and walk back towards me. I knew that in a few seconds he would see the shame on my face.
When he returned to the living room I attacked without warning. Like Lukas Hendrik knew how to fight, and like Lukas he was a lot bigger and stronger than me. It didn’t take him long until he had me on the ground on my back, arms pinned under his knees. But his lips were bloody.
“You listened, Tavi.”
“Don’t call me that!”
“Fuck you, Tavi! I’ll her whatever I like. It’s none of your fucking business!”
“Don’t call me that!”
And then he kissed me, long, longer, saturated with the taste of his blood.
It was the last fight I had until the one with Samuel, except for the one with that lady rozzer, and as I told you, that doesn’t count.


  1. NICE! Can't wait for the "Short Cuts and Vagrants" point of view. :p

  2. I'm intrigued as to where this is headed. I'm guessing I may not have to wait long to find out, as your words seem to be flowing quite nicely once again.

  3. Ok, sleep-deprived lit crit - so please forgive me if this is like swimming through porridge, or something.
    It's pretty brave (but then you like courageous, don't you?) to hang, or try to hang such beauty, profundity,whatever - on a Billy Joel song. I mean - fucking Billy Joel! Like, when it gets really dark are we gonna get some in depth lyrical analysis of Uptown Girl? I fucking hope so. Don't bristle - I'm entirely sincere. You've read American Psycho? My favourite thing about that book is how increasing difficult it becomes to read those chapters about Phil Collins et al - it's like - skimming those sections all squirming with unease and sighing with relief when you get back to the safe waters of sex death torture - phew. Unfortunately, I've never seen that movie, I don't think it matters. Really successful here, this feeding of cultural influence into experience, without giving in to your tendency to explain everything to within an inch of it's life.
    I'm still reading your characters as allegorical, archetypal - something like that - you know, a Circe, or a Cyclops lurking in the next block? But it's beginning not to jar with me, in that your protagonist/yourself seems to be creating, or at least projecting these people through a sheer force of will and desire - at least in retrospect. I mean, I'm beginning to get Hendrik's allure and your searing need to construct it, even if it wouldn't be my need and that's a very proficient skill.
    I think some of my main issues with your writing still lies in the places where it diverges so radically from my own - egotistical huh? But I guess it's automatic to read with a part of oneself going - "I wouldn't have done it like this" and maintaining some wavering faith in your own tactics is kind of essential. Primarily, I guess, I'm not that enamoured with the tendency you share with some of the writers you admire - like Stephen King say - a kind of concentrated focus on the straight, narrow path of 'The Story'. With someone as prolific as King, this reads as a kind of utilitarianism, but with you, it's more - I don't know how to put this elegantly - like you're writing purely for yourself, trying to learn from and grow, or something, from a retelling of your story. As a result of this I feel excluded as a reader. There is no space for me in the text - no extraneous detail or uncertainty for me to come to my own conclusions over - just bang bang bang - YOUR meaning. But I'm learning to live with it.

  4. @Changeling: What can I say. It really was a Billy Joel song? ^_~
    But there is space for you, mate, right here in the comments and it will always be there for you. (Hah, can you spot how many lies were in that sentence?)
    "your tendency to explain everything to within an inch of it's life" Oh, I love that. Thanks. Yes, that is exactly what it feels like. Working without hard hat or safety harness, but with a microscope and a meat tenderizer instead, lol.
    Of course I am sorry if you feel excluded. That I don't mean. Camille said the same, I think, about my Shirley Jackson ref. But it is like showing you the scrapes on my knees and my very bestes toys. The space here is limited. But tell me, am I/is my meaning wrong? Or false? Am I cheating?
    (The King comparison I'm not sure about. I thought I ambulated, meandered, and circumlocuted around the actual story far too much... It feels more like jigsaw puzzles. There is stretches where it is clear what goes where and the image groew smoothly, and then there are the skies and seas and other vague features, and I get lost in all those pieces, and what to do with them, knowing only that simply leaving them out would leave a hole in the overall tale.)

    But now that you mentioned it... how would you have done it? Because I really aren't very happy with this chapter, and a few others as well. And I do like a lot about your writing. Maybe I could learn to make mine a bit less confining... (Which in itelf is probably a lot more ironic and funny than the whole Billy Joel thing.)

  5. After reading the first two paragraphs, the quote from Quiller-Couch came to my head -- "Murder your darlings."

    For what you are trying to do, I think there is something in those two paragraphs that could really be workable and useful, but it doesn't seem to share the same style as the rest. You're 'scared' but you also want to take the reader 'by the hand' and lead. It's difficult emotional territory, so it's going to be hard to get it just right in writing. (I'm no good with emotions, so I don't know what help this is...)

    Billy Joel's The Stranger -- I think that's good. Pop-culture has this weird ability to offer 'moments of clarity' at almost random times, and from near random sources.

    The part about tutoring and Hendrik moved along much better than the start, in my opinion. Come to think of it now, there is kind of a strange progression in all this -- the unsure and vulnerable opening up at the start, the musical/video revelation of your self and then the physical, combative and sexual actualization.

    It isn't consistent, but maybe it hangs together better than my first impression led me to believe.