A good man

“I like him”, I say, in a whisper too low, almost like I don’t want him to hear.

I look down at my worn out blue converse, waiting for my father to say anything at all. Nothing. Only silence, painful silence, like a cold hand wrapped around my neck tight and tighter until I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

I wait for maybe two minutes that feel like two lifetimes, and still nothing. The silence is poison in my blood, killing me over and over every second that goes by. So I look up, because I think I rather he just kill me once and for all. I wait for the yelling, the hateful crying, the slap on the face or all of it in just a look.

Nothing.

“Okay.”, he says blandly, like I just told him I’m going to walk the dog or I have extra practice on Saturday. He says it like he does on the breakfast table, sipping his coffee, eyes still reading the paper. He says it like it’s not a big deal at all, even though I know and have always known it is. It is not “okay” for him.

I try to look into his eyes, but fail, so I look everywhere else. From the empty coat rack to the stairs behind him to the outline of the couch to the television, still on, and he still has not said anything else.

“Dad.” The words sounds like a plea, my way to beg for him to please say anything else, punch me in the face, say you love me or say you are ashamed I am your son, say something or anything.

“You like him.” He nods at the door behind me as he says the last word, even though by now Ian is long gone. I wish he weren’t. I wish he was here to see me finally say these words, because he would be so proud. He would say I’m brave and amazing and maybe I wouldn’t be so alone right now.

“Yes.” My voice sounds small. It makes me feel two inches tall, as if he could just step on me and go back to the couch to watch the movie he paused to say hi and shake hands with my friend. He was excited to meet him. “Good thing you made friends with a man, son. I know you get along with girls best, but comes an age in a man’s life he needs a brother.”, he said this morning, when I told him Ian was coming over.

More silence, more poison, and I am afraid I will shrink until I no longer exist. “Yes, dad, I like him.” I find in me the courage to look at him right in the eye. I will not let myself be small, and despite everything I do not want to stop existing.

“Okay.” He says again, though now it sounds more like he is just thinking, wondering what to say next. It occurs to me that maybe, like me, he simply has no idea.

“Is it? Okay?” I just want to run out the door or upstairs to my room or to the other side of the world. I want this to be over, and I would rather he says it now all at once than to keep being poisoned by the silence.

“No.”, he says almost immediately, finally no infinite silence in between our words. For something so expected, it hurts me more than I thought it would. “You know me, son. I’m not going to stand here, look into you eyes and say it is okay. I am no liar. I am a man and a man doesn’t lie. That said, I have taught you to be a man too. And you are my son. I know you as you know me, and I know you are the man I have taught you to be. You are good and you are honest. Standing here and saying the truth to me, that is proof enough. So I’m not going to lie to you or say I can change, but I will say that I will try, because you are my son and you are a good man. And I am proud of you.”

A tear falls down my face. I feel it, the warm drop, tickling my cheek all the way to my neck. I don’t clean it. I let it fall, looking my father into his eyes. Dark brown, a small hint of caramel, just like mine. I feel a quiet kind of happiness. It’s not the best thing he could have said; he could have smiled and hugged me and said it doesn’t make a difference. But I am still happier than I thought I would be, both because he is my father, proud of me, and because it feels better than I could have possibly imagined to finally say the words. I wait for him to break the eye contact, and I think that, secretly, I wait for him to tell me he loves me. I think I have been waiting for him to say it since the door closed behind me.

He doesn’t. He looks at me and I think that if it was possible to read eyes, his would have said he loves me. But there are no words, no smile, no hug. Nothing, except a hint of what his eyes may be saying. But it’s okay. It’s okay because my father is a good man, an honest man, but he is not perfect. It’s okay because he breaks the eye contact, nods and goes back to the couch and the television still on, and I am left standing by the closed door, finally free, and he may not have said it, but my father loves me.

Fifteen years in the making

Right at this very moment, the man of quiet eyes who I today love is sitting at table in the back of a crowded restaurant, not so far from our apartment, with an old friend of his I have met a few times, and he is telling her about how he doesn’t love me. That might be more than slightly self centered, and though in a way completely true. But it isn’t about me, as much as it will eventually feel that way and yell at him for that, and hate him on some nights. It’s not about me.

He is telling her a story that goes way back to before we had even met. A story that begins when I had just gotten my braces out and had another boyfriend and really wanted to be homecoming queen; when he had pimples and still lived in that very small town across the country. He is telling her a very long story in which I am only a chapter, the last one, although he doesn’t know that yet.

In fact right now he couldn’t even imagine to believe that the ending is that close. It feels like the beginning, although, as it is clear from the story he is telling, the beginning was a very long time ago. Right now, it feels like it has all just started, because he is finally saying the words. It feels like maybe it’s the first thing he ever said in his entire life. It feels like the first sentence, but it is the climax – the beginning of the end.

He says it. He is going through everything, every single chapter, from the first thoughts, to his old best friend from high school, to his dad’s unfortunate jokes, to the fear of playing truth of dare, to meeting me. He says the words, all six letters, in a whisper so low she almost can’t hear it i am gay and he so desperately begins to cry, completely unable to stop. He cries out of his body the stories he never thought he would tell and the love that has turned to hate and all the times in which he didn’t say anything. Tears of so much pain, fifteen years in the making. In the quietness of his sobs, he is free.

His friend is listening quietly, and after he is done she will hold his hand and say it is okay. She will ask if he plans of telling me anytime soon, and he will cry more. He will say he knows he has to, and it is not fair to me because he could never love me in the way I want him to, in the way I think he does, but he can’t find the strength to do it. When I find out, in a couple of months, I will hate him for this. In between glasses of wine, I will scream in anger, calling him selfish and mean and heartless. I will hate him.

And it is true he was selfish. But he was also in pain, lost and confused and most importantly he was human. It will take a very long time for the anger to fade and for me to accept that he isn’t a villain in my story but instead the very brave amd only human hero of his own. He is only human. And he always had kind eyes, even when every breath of his body held a lie which came out of fear, even when he let me love him.

One day, three or so years from now, when he will finally know that today is the beginning of the end, the night in which he is free, I will see him for the first time since the ending of the end. I will be in the line at the supermarket, buying the ingredients to make myself pasta because it is my favorite, and when I hear my name and look behind me, he will be there. The same, but so very different. A light to him which I have yet to see. His eyes so, so blue, almost unrecognizable, because before all I could see in them was a certain sadness I didn’t even quite recognize. He will look more like him than ever before, and it will make me smile. There will be nice, maybe quick small talk, because we both have somewhere to be, and though I won’t say anything I will catch a glimpse of a ring on his finger. I will go home feeling in my heart the warmth of forgiveness and of understanding, the warmth of being human, and I will never see him again.

Of course, right now, I don’t know that yet. Right now I am watching a movie on TV and eating frozen pizza, wondering how long it will take for him to get home with the cupcake I asked him to bring. I am in love with a man I am sure loves me back, completely clueless of the fact that in two months he will sit me pour me a glass of my favorite wine and sit me down across the dinner table we bought together and tell me news that will shatter my world. I will hate him, then forget him, then forgive him, and never see him again. And in the quietness of a forgotten love I will know we were only a single chapter, and for a second before I forget forever, I will be convinced the sweet happiness of his eyes is the single most beautiful thing in the world,

Hold your breath

I want to say something. She opens a drawer after the other, grabbing everything inside, the clothes we folded just three days ago, and almost as if on purposed throws them wrinkled and messy in one and any of the opened suitcases on the bed. Shirts, then gym clothes, then pajama pants. With every single thing that she moves from their cozy place in our cozy life straight to her new future, a part of me is ripped apart. I want to say something. I have nothing to say.

Dresses taken from the hangers. The blue one she wore to my last birthday, when we had that date too expensive at that restaurant that wasn’t really that good; the one with flowers from the dinner with my brother a couple of months ago, when we laughed and drank wine and as happy as we seemed to him; the one I bought her when she turned thirty-nine, which she loved so dearly as if I hadn’t shown the saleswoman a picture and asked her to just choose anything; the burgundy one she wears every Christmas, which I always thought she looked so lovely in. I watch as she grabs them from the hangers, and throws them together in a bag, wrinkled as if paper, and I choke in my own silence. I see the memories I forgot I loved so dearly, and I see them clear as day, colorful and bright and sometimes so dark she couldn’t see, I see them flying by in front of my face, blending in the air with all that has been said and all that hasn’t.

The only sound of the room is that of drawers opening and closing, hangers bouncing lighly, bumping into each other as she pulls each dress, closet door banging, each thing aggressively and compulsive, with maybe something resembling rhythm within the anger which fills the room. There is no sad, melancholic song, no soundtrack that makes any sense, no cathartic background music. There is only the sharp and violent sound of ending, and the silence between us.

The closet is empty now, empty as I must be. Her clothes are gone. I feel naked. She moves to the living room, and I follow, neither of still not saying anything. Books are thrown from shelves to boxes, piles of them hitting the floor at once, making a noise that would give me a headache if I didn’t have one already. I imagine our downstairs neighbor, an old woman who lives alone, listening, and wondering what’s happening. The last time I remember seeing her in the hallways, one hand held my wives and the other a grocery bad, and I was still safe and okay and almost in love. In her mind we must be still what we were before the letters were found and everything changed, before the nights full of questions I have never been brave enough to answer, before the crying and before everything broke. In her mind, we are still happy and in love. She must be confused with the noise.

Our shelves, once full and cramped, are now half empty. She moves to CDs, running her fingers through them, trying to identify the ones that belong to her as if most of them weren’t bought by the two of us, together. She reads the title and goes on to the next, and I want to tell her take them all I don’t care but my throat is dry, I can’t speak and it feels phenomenally pathetic that I could try to fix all the hurting and lying and pretending with telling her to take some old CDs. She won’t care, and I doubt she really wants to take anything of mine with her, which is ironic, because I feel like who I am will be gone as soon as she is out the door. The person I have built for two decades, the skin I have lived in and so often promised it was my own, taken away from me. Despite how terribly unfair to her I know it is – and it is so unfair -, is it the truth, raw and maybe cruel: I am me because she is here, and I was so desperately thankful for that I really, really almost loved her.

And now she’s closing the bags and taking clothes and shoes and books and only two CDs, and with them the quiet, horribly beloved lie of an entire life. I am left with only myself, the person I’m most afraid of. No company for Christmas, no date for dinner with my brother, no one to spend two weeks thinking about the perfect birthday present for. I am left alone with a slightly empty house, full of memories of the person I need the most: the man I created.

She is at the door, with her boxes and suitcases, quite literally a foot out the door, headed to the life she deserves. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to tell her I loved her, I loved her, but I do not want to be the person that lies again. I want to tell her I’m relieved for her, I want her to be happy. I want her to be happy. She looks into my eyes and almost breaks the cold silence between us, but ultimately she just keeps looking.

She moves her eyes away from mine. In a way, my heart breaks. She reaches for her car key and takes a look then at the picture we keep by the small table, next to the spot where we always leave – left – our keys. The picture frame is silver and plain, with small, delicate detailing, probably a present for so many years ago from friends we don’t talk to anymore.  There is a picture of us, on our wedding day. She looks gorgeous and glowing and so terribly happy in her white dress; the kind of happy that makes it seem like forever isn’t a story someone told you once, but the simple truth and beautiful consequence of a choice made right. It is the glow of being sure.

Next to her, her maid of honor, who I haven’t seen for maybe a year now, holding a bouquet in her dark green dress, so happy for her best friend. On the other end, my own best friend, who I wish I had ever had the strength to go months without seeing. I’m between him and my lovely bride, in my black tuxedo and dark red tie, holding her, looking young and in love. In a way I was. I looked sharp, calm – always so good at pretending -, not like a man who was holding his breath and would keep holding it for so many years to come, until he choked in his lies and there was no way out of the simple yet unerasable truth of betrayal. I wonder if anyone who looked at this picture over the years it has been sitting on our small wooden ever got even close to imagining what my confident eyes really meant to say.

I was scared. I thought the I do would save me from myself, make me love her in the way she must have been loved, in a way rewrite the story of who I loved, the beautiful women by my right, whose future I partially stole.

She stares at the picture for a second, ten seconds, one minute, so long I stop counting. I want to say please, stay, to beg and promise I need her,  I’m scared of myself and I need her, I need her, I need her. I don’t. She knows as well as I do that I have been selfish enough. I want to wish her as much happiness as she tried to give me. I don’t. What I’ve said is enough and it will never be enough.

She moves her eyes from the picture to me again, and for a while we just look at each other, until it feels just a little less uncomfortable. I hate myself more than ever, because she never deserved any of this, but I know there is nothing I can do except to let her go now, to let her find a piece of the life I must have stolen from her. She closes the door, taking her clothes and shoes and books and only two CDs and me. She takes me, the man I am and the man I have been, the skin I have promised is mine, at last naked of lies. She leaves me alone somewhere that once was a home, now half empty.

She leaves, and I’m alone with myself. I let out a breath.

As we burn

I remember so clearly the fire, a single spot of comfort within the coldness of the dark beach that night. You were sitting on the sand, close to the sea, eyes closed, fire-colored shadows illuminating your body. My head was pounding and my vision blurred by the light and darkness of the memories that sparked in my mind, so fast, so sudden, things I didn’t know I remembered with such painful detail. The kisses, warm and sometimes cold, the sleepless nights, talking or not talking, the Sundays hidden in your small bed, the home-cooked meals that almost always went wrong, the uneventful days in between the beginnings and firsts and the lasts and endings; I remembered all of them, all at once, looking at you. You looked as beautiful as always.

I remember watching the bonfire during the infinite silences that lived in between our sentences. I watched it as if it was the most important, fascinating thing in the whole world, because I was so afraid of the moment we would run out of words. It was yellow and orange, with blue spots that appeared and disappeared. You thanked me for coming, and said you had been gathering the courage to call for months. The yellow was bright, so bright for a few seconds I forgot. I nodded, and I wanted to ask why, what did you need to say to me so badly that you asked me to come here and see you, you know it hurts you know it kills me and you know I will always, always say yes, why?

You looked at me, and it was strange, the reflection of the fire in your eyes. The same ones that had looked into mine so many times, seen me in the crude light of truthness, better than anyone ever before, and yet they seemed to belong to a different person. There was just too much in them. Guilt, sadness, and just maybe you missed me too; and of course the fire, too alive for its own good. You said you were sorry. I kept watching the fire through your eyes, trying to, without saying a thing, get you to say anything else. Sorry for what? Was it for asking me here? For letting me love you with everything I had and didn’t have, letting me give you  a part of me I did not know existed, the only part that was really true? And then what’s left? Sorry for what?

For everything. You bit your lips and stare at the sea, as if it held any answers. The fire turned your dark hair almost orange, and I tried to stare at it for long enough I wouldn’t recognize you, long enough you became a stranger, someone I could leave there without feeling as if I was leaving a part of myself too. It didn’t work. Is that all you asked me here to say?

I don’t know if I wanted you to tell me to leave or ask me to stay forever. You didn’t do either; you turned your body to me, your back to the ocean, and you starred into my eyes for what seemed like hours. The air between us was heavy and hot, and everything else around was terribly cold; our breaths in sync, our eyes locked. I could see how scared you were. I asked you here to say goodbye. The air in my lungs turned cold. The silly beautiful hopes I didn’t know I had were broken with seven words, and a quiet, terrible promise. You got up, looking at me, not a hint of a lie between us, and I knew we had run out of words.

Things got foggier. You loved me, you loved me so much, you had promised so many dark nights, but you were afraid to be with me and what would they say? You could not avoid loving me, and you could not let me love you. It was a simple equation and the only possible outcome was heartbreak. And there it was at last. You needed to say goodbye, to let go of me, to show me the way out of your heart because it could in no way be a home for me. You said what we had was beautiful, and you loved me so much it was killing you. One last time, you said you were sorry.

I stared at the fire and breathed in the silence of a sad, cold night like that one was. The fire burnt slowly, but still far faster than I could have wished for. Too perfect. It was beautiful, intense, dangerous. Too beautiful for its own good. I thought of us holding hands and kissing and saying lovely things. We were intensity born from a sudden, unexpected beauty, fast and sudden, impossible to fight; I thought of the days when we kissed between tears and cried between laughs and hid under your sheets, pretending there was nothing to be afraid of. It was too beautiful, too dangerous, all of it, us and love and the fire that made that cold night just a little bit more bearable. Dangerous like first kisses, like the times no one was looking, dangerous like the way it felt when we remembered the world wasn’t, despite our wishes, just you and me hiding under your sheets. It was a perfect metaphor, the fire, I thought.

And then it turned to ashes, to nothing at all.