We had talked for a bit on an app, messages back and forth for about a week. He was coming into town for a conference, and I assumed he was simply looking for some fun while he was away from home. Anonymous lays in unfamiliar territory—I am willing to give little, but I am willing to be that kind of notch, willing for that kind of commitment.
We planned to have lunch. And then I canceled. And then we planned to have brunch the next day. And then, the day before, I biked for most of the afternoon and evening and subsequently went out with friends. The next morning I kept our appointment for brunch but mentioned I had a headache, a leg ache, and neck ache, a back ache. He said, “Come to my hotel. I’ll give you a massage.” I am rarely willing to accept massages from professionals, which he was not. I agreed, though, to his “massage,” since it had been a while since I’d had sex.
He says he is thirty-two, but as he walks up to me in the hotel lobby, I realize he looks much younger, younger than me, and I am years away from thirty-two. And as I enter his room, I unlace my boots, unzip my jacket, unbutton my shirt, unbuckle my belt. I have been around this block. I am procedural.
He takes off his shoes. Takes off his socks. Takes off his shirt. He sits on the bed, his back against the headboard and places a pillow in his lap. He motions for me to lie on my back, head in his pillowlap. “I like to touch people,” he says as he gestures. “It’s not sexual.” A pause. “It’s usually not sexual. But you are so attractive.”
I lay my head on the pillow as he readies his hands with lotion, and he begins massaging my face. Gently, his fingers run across my skin, tracing my eyebrows, circling my cheekbones, unfurrowing my brow, unlocking my jaw, uncluttering my head. For an hour, he rubs along my face, my neck, my shoulders, my chest. He says he is from Texas, an Asian boy who lived his adolescence around black girls, a brother and guardian for his siblings, a failed and admittedly poor playwright, a child of a broken home, an artist, a performer, a critic of spoken word spoken by undergraduates who have not experienced much, a transplant first in Houston and then in California who has ended up in Champaign, Illinois but cannot stay. For an hour, I sit and listen and talk. I say I am from Wisconsin, a lover of the kind of anonymity that only large cities can give, a cynic, an reciter of poetry that is not my own, a son who admittedly may be too close to his mother, a hopeful writer in academia, a naif, an individual who did not realize the way my race would affect me until well after I should have. He massages my hand, works out its kinks, rubs the flesh and traces the lines of my palm. He holds up my hand to the light from the window and reads the lines slowly, methodically. In between anecdotes about himself, he notifies me that my love line is one of the most complicated he has seen, that I generally have the hands of someone older. I joke that my circulation is worse than my grandmothers’. Both my grandmothers are dead. As he touches me, I grip his wrists, his forearms, his biceps. I want to feel him feel me. He rubs my chest and says he feels energy and tightness there. “You do not know the half of it.” For an hour, we talk and touch. I look up at the stucco ceiling and speak, rarely seeing his face, connected to him through his fingers, through my grip, through his voice. His speech is quick but articulate, his thoughts quick, his voice lower than I had expected from his photos.
At one point—after we had stopped seeing each other, while we were still being amiable, and before things had gotten heated—we had a conversation. We divided up territory. He said, “Take whatever you want,” he acquiesced. “But you can’t take The 19. It’s the only place I feel comfortable, and I know so many people there.”
I replied, “No. The 19 is Switzerland.”
He reluctantly agreed to The 19 as the Safe Space, as Sanctuary. At the time, I thought that was a success.
I often still go there, late at night with friends, a nightcap or a pre-party. It’s a place I feel comfortable. I know so many people there. And I’ve never seen him. I’m unsure as to whether I should consider this an indicator of my success or my failure.
During “lunch,” I fooled around a bit with a guy who was staying at a hotel near my office.
After work, we met for a drink. I learned that he was an aspiring playwright in an open relationship (presumably because of all the travel he did for his non-playwrighting job), and we had a conversation about when he thought his boyfriend would propose to him. (Around New Year’s, he predicts.) “If you’re into that sort of thing,” I said.
The life I have been leading lately has been surreal.
Some brief words, some vague traces.
I have run into the same father and child multiple times this weekend. The daughter is probably three or four. The first time I saw them was at a thrift shop, the two of them sitting at a bench near the entrance. They were playing “I Spy.” There was, honestly, not very much to see where they sat, but in the handful of seconds that it took me to get from the store’s doors to a range out of hearing, they had already found three objects to be named: something pink, something big, something flat. There was, apparently, very much to see where they sat.
The father is probably in his early to mid-thirties, which is probably why I noticed them in the first place and probably why I remember them each time we have crossed paths. I’ve realized only recently that I only pay attention to fathers who are within the age range of the men with whom I sleep.
Only recently, I had some of the best sex I’ve had in while. We started around 1am and ended at 5am and fell asleep for a bit, a tight spooning, intricately woven, absorbed, fingers laced, my head resting impossibly comfortably in the V between his forearm and bicep. I awoke at 6am and kissed him and he awoke suddenly, a fairy tale. We started up again for a bit or so, this time silently. Later that afternoon, I went to an art historian’s lecture. She spoke about mothers and children, about things that last and those that leave us, about moments and memories that mark yet fade, about images and bruises, images that bruise us, images of bruises, images as bruises. He left for his flight out of the city mid-lecture. I know because he sent a text, naughtily, as he was ascending, and I felt him vibrate on my thigh.
The second time I saw them, I sat on my porch, typing at my laptop. The girl walked, and the father pushed an empty stroller behind her. She pointed at me, and her father asked, “What do you see?” and I made an effort not to look up, made an effort to be engrossed, absorbed, an object for her to identify, an object for which she needed to find the words, an object to name. “A man and a computer,” she replied.
I went to brunch with a friend, and we sat at opposite sides the table, though our waitress (a woman whom we, two gay men who spend hours cultivating our equally fretted over exteriors in order to look merely mediocre, both admired for her impossibly effortless beauty) believed were dating for a bit before we corrected her. We spent the hour talking about men and looking at those around us: someone older with tattoos, someone hegemonically beautiful, someone in an auburn shirt with an amazing ass, someone who had bruised us. It was wonderful and pleasant and unargumentative, and he said, “This brunch and this restaurant and this conversation are wonderful and I don’t want you to take it the wrong way but I wish I were here with someone who I would later sleep with.” And I understood him. And we took long, thoughtful, final sips of our drinks, finding our words, and set our glasses down on the table in unison.
An aside: an early entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the verb “fret” reads: “To devour, consume, destroy.” This definition of fretting referred often to animals, another entry clarifies.
An aside: the tables we sat at were made of copper, a material that, apparently when it comes in contact with moisture, becomes marked. Previous glasses have left their traces, light and faint rings on the tables’ surfaces; circular, mouth-like outlines. They are not bruises: the marks are lighter than the original (“pure”) copper surface and are permanent. As well, these watermarks trace only the edges of the cup’s bottom—they are like bite marks, the imprints of teeth.
The man spent much of the night grabbing my ass, cupping it, kissing it, hitting it (naughtily, like a father). When I showered later that day, looking in the mirror, at my image, I found slightly pink traces of his large hands lingering on my bottom, slowly fading.
The art historian (a name: Carol Mavor) pointed our attention to the early lines of Chris Marker’s La Jetee. The film’s opening sentences, as they are recited to us in English, speak. “This is the story of a man marked by an image from his childhood.” The art historian makes little of the later, more famous, line, “Moments to remember are just like other moments: they are only made memorable by the scars they leave.” It is not the scars Mother Mavor takes interest in, nor is it, in the end, the process of making memorable those moments. Rather, it is a different kind of mark, more deeply hidden yet more lasting, upon which she lingers: those bruising obsessions that leave us and come back ephemerally, unexpectedly, the images that return to us. The power of the bruise, another art historian (my art historical mentor-mother, her name: Jane Blocker) added, is that the mark remains beneath the surface (of memory, of the skin) despite its physical impermanence; it is, in fact, this impermanence, its out-of-sight-ness, that makes us notice, point to, remember the bruise more than the scar.
At one point, as he fucked me, he held my erect leg by the ankle and began to kiss it and then moved to press his lips against my foot. He slid his tongue from my heel down the tendon, descending until he was mid-calf, and then he kissed there, all while his waist kept perfect rhythm. And then I felt him simultaneously bite and suck it (the calf as breast?), his spit mixing with my sweat and his sweat as it slid down the back of my leg, collecting on the surface of the sheets. As I winced, I cupped the back of his head and pressed his mouth into me.
Back at home, in the mirror, my eyes followed down from the pink mark on my ass to the maroon-blue spot left on my calf.
While Mavor and Blocker theorize the bruise, I think about the hickey also as a form of image making, as a trace of passion. Unlike Mavor, I fret over the making memorable of the moment that produces it. It is a kiss, but a kiss that lingers, a kiss that sucks, a kiss that marks, a not-kiss. It is partially like the mark of lipstick left on a neck, partially like the mark of a spank left on a cheek. It is not surface—it is the mark of a portion of me entering another temporarily, my body almost consumed, taken in, my body inside yet almost (soon) back outside. It betrays, traces, outlines, fills in a desire to devour, to consume, to destroy. The hickey: halfway between kissing and consumption—the body, the skin, the flesh, the calf enters the other’s mouth but then is let go, is released, returns to me. My body fills in the indentation of teeth, but my blood beneath the surface remains pooled, inside yet almost (also) (wanting to be) outside, leaving its maroon-blue mark. The hickey: halfway between kiss and bruise—it appears at those sensitive, erotic areas which receive more passion than punches, but it resembles the mark of a fist more than it does the fleetingness of grazing lips. The hickey acts as both badge and embarrassment, a mark over which we fret in our attempts to conceal it, as it reveals, betrays, points to previous and private passions. This fretting anticipates (and the hickey precedes) another similar reddening, another pooling of blood, another later warmth: that of the flush of my cheeks once the hickey been noticed, once it becomes an object to be named, that blush that is more fleeting than the mark that caused it. An ephemeral version of Marker’s scarring moments, the hickey is the mark of passion made memorable.
The third time I saw them was at the grocery store. She grabbed an apple and began to eat it, her small bite marking the flesh of the fruit. He smiled but calmly instructed her not to eat the food while they were in the store, and then he glanced up and saw me and winked. I turned a corner, uncomfortable with these breaches of decorum, with the gray of his eyes.
In the days that followed, I found my finger grazing the back of my calf, remembering naughtily. But now, today, my leg is no longer tender, and with the flight of that tenderness has gone the trace on its surface. My skin had once been half-consumed and half-devoured; had been simultaneously kissed and punched and bitten; had once, momentarily, been almost-him. But, just as his mouth released me, returning me back to myself, my skin has also released that night’s passions, has forgotten its devouring and consuming pleasures.
As I left that morning and stood at the door, inside yet almost (soon) outside his hotel room, he asked me what I went by, and I realized that, for him, I still remained an object to be named.
lies we told ourselves when no one was looking
Love what happened here.
Love, what happened here?
"No," he clarified. "It’s difficult to be his friend. It’s exhausting to be yours.”
"You realize," he begins, "you have a fetish for failure." I tell him I hadn’t noticed. He continues, "You don’t just wait for the shit to hit the fan. You can’t wait to dance under its spray." I watch him smile and lean back in his chair. I close my eyes.
It is really such a horrifying thing being 11pm drunk when it is 5pm.
Sometimes I realize it’s silly to think I’m madly in love with one man while texting another one I’m madly in love with all while corresponding with a guy who seems pretty sweet.