My father discovered he was ill with cancer one morning while shaving.
He felt a swelling on his throat under his fingers. He didn't have to wait for his colleagues to confirm it before he knew what it was. Even before he heard a friend report that they had to do tests to make sure it was a tumor, he was convinced of his own illness.
Needless to say, he was right.
It all happened on a spring day.
On my way home from school, I discovered that my mother was not there. I was convinced I would find her, but the house was unusually quiet and empty. They were at the hospital and I didn't know. How could I? In the morning by the time I had woken up they had already gone out, and the night before I had returned at dawn. For me it had been a special night and getting up had not been easy.
I almost always skipped the first hour of classes, but I had to attend school. My father had made two conditions whilst I was still living at home. That I didn't miss a single day of school, and that in June I passed my exams, no matter what my grades were. Since I could certainly not make the second commitment, because I was traveling confidently towards flunking out, I tried to have as few absences as possible. Like that he would let me stay at home for a few more months.
As for later, I didn't hope for anything, because I knew that very soon something worse would happen to me than not having a safe place to sleep.
My life was on a long, nerve-wracking roll towards the bottom of the pit.
I had been living a deviant life for too long and it was obvious I was now close to the limit. In fact, I was making a definite effort to take that last jump. That night I had shot myself with heroin. My first time.
I did it with the help of others because I didn't know how to do it by myself, not yet. I mentally took note of how it was done and if there was a second time, I would know what to do myself. But I never had that opportunity.
To tell the truth, I was afraid. It was my first shot, and it was horrible. When the effect of the drug wore off, I had a sense of loss that felt unbearable. An emptiness that crushed me. Then the heartbreak of having to go back to being who I was. After experiencing all those feelings from euphoria to despair, I was left with the total unhappiness that was my usual state of being.
That night I hoped to forget everything, but I had only touched forgetfulness. I thought, rather recklessly, that I had achieved my goal, but I had not. I was cast into despair, and went home before dawn had broken, to throw myself across the bed. I shut my eyes, crushing my face into the pillow, and hoping I would no longer have the strength to get up. The morning light woke me and brought me back to reality. I was happy to have at least avoided my father's looks of pity and the pain that my mother now carried permanently etched into her face.
My father, I was only ever seeking him when I wanted to fight, but with my mother I avoided arguments, because with the pain I saw in her she reminded me of what I had become myself. She tried to mediate the increasingly grim glances that my father and I exchanged, but we were cunning, and when we wanted to catch each other, like two roosters, we were particularly good at finding each other.
My scruffy way of dressing was a continuous challenge to his concept of order. My dirty and unkempt hair, my face obscured with fluff, were an offense to his principles of personal hygiene. My behavior without rules, the dirty words I constantly used, annoyed him. What he imagined I was doing with my life humiliated him. But his imagination was far from the bitter and demeaning reality of my existence, of that I was certain. If he had known the truth, I think he would either have killed me or perhaps tried to save me. But he never recognized the extent of my pain, the damage I was doing to myself.
If he never acted, it was because even after my abandonment of decency, he was ignorant of many of the details of my descent into hell. I kept a lot of things diligently hidden from him and my mother.
Consequently, he considered me only as an impolite intrusion on his life. If he could have read me, if we had been more familiar, he would have seen, and released me from all the shame I felt for myself. He didn't, he couldn't, because I always prevented him. He only knew that I was taking drugs, but he was convinced I only smoked pot and perhaps took the odd pill.
When someone told him about the group I frequented and what they did, he decided my family should ignore my deviance and he instructed my mother not to give me any more money. He never knew it, but by doing that he forced me into prostitution.
That day when I had a particularly good reason to fight with my father was because my friends and I conceived a brilliant idea on where and how to spend the Easter vacation, but my father didn't want to give me any more money. I was eager to face him and argue my case, even though I knew the discussion would be a tit for tat vying between two seasoned fighters. I thought perhaps, at the end of the fight maybe my mother, after agreeing with her husband, would be able to sneak me at least some of the money I was asking for.
Our plan was, whilst pretending to have gone to Amsterdam or who knows where, to devote our time to drugs, stuck in a house with other wretched people like me. The drugs, of course, we would buy with the money supposed for traveling. That was our plan, at least if, in one way or another, I had obtained the money.
I was one of the few in the group who maintained some sort of stable relationship with my parents, because I lived at home and was obliged to spend part of my time there. I was the only one who could still squeeze a little bit of money out of my parents.
This imaginary Amsterdam vacation was I hoped, in my thinking, to be my last trip. The ultimate destination.
The achievement of peace and oblivion.
For me it was a perfect solution and to achieve the goal I had to get the money in any way I could. But no one was home, which left me feeling cheated out of the confrontation. I had been deprived of the fight which was necessarily postponed.
I realized I was hungry. I hadn't eaten since the day before. I had skipped dinner because it was not something I had thought about in a night like the one I had just lived. Now I was famished. In the fridge, however, there was nothing worth eating, nor did it seem that my mother, before she disappeared, had thought about leaving me something to eat.
It was then I began to worry. I couldn't remember ever coming back from school with no one being there to welcome me or prepare my lunch. Sometimes there was the house cleaner, but more often there was my mother. She always tried to be there, she would listen to my confidences and hear my news. My report on the day, the story of my school successes, my doubts. How many such conversations we had had while I was nibbling on whatever I had found in the kitchen and waiting for my father to come back from his job at the hospital.
In the days when my father was busy in the operating theatre, knowing that he would be delayed, she and I would have lunch when I got home without waiting for him. Our conversations had gradually turned into discussions about the topics I was learning more and more easily at school and she had become my major cultural advisor. At that point came the summer, that summer. I had gone to camp, left the Scouts and the worst had happened. When school started once more, I stopped talking to my parents, except to ask for money.
Finding the house empty I was suddenly overcome with panic. I had never felt that before, but now it hit me brutally. Not immediately frightening, because I was accustomed to dealing with the situations I found myself in. My life was one of expedience amongst people who lived on the street, even though my parents still put a roof over my head. I believed I had given up the love of my parents, but too little time had passed for me to forget the sweetness and not regret it. The fear that struck me was the thought of being orphaned. That fear which only diminishes with age. In that moment, the realization that they were gone, abandoning me alone in the world, crept upon me slowly, forcing me in small steps towards despair.
After half an hour I was in tears and crying miserably as if I were an infant, lost or abandoned. I didn't think to contact the hospital, to find out if my father was there, or the University to ask about my mother. I had no idea about what to do, as if I had stopped thinking. Sitting on a stool in the kitchen, entwining my greasy hair with my fingers, I sobbed. I was crying for myself, not for them. I knew it and I told myself. I was crying for a loneliness I would have to bear, deprived as I was of my parents, before I could really be a man. That particular idea, thinking of myself as a man, made me nauseous, because I knew I had become the least like a man I could imagine.
I was an unfinished being, neither a boy nor a man, but someone suffering from a vile vice. I was a fag who was terribly ashamed to be so. And now I would be left alone and defenseless. I wept. I slid to the floor. I gathered myself together, I tried to take courage, holding myself, embracing my knees. I squeezed my head in my lap. I ended up falling asleep, exhausted by the dreadful night I had spent, the boredom I had suffered at school, the anxiety over the disappearance of my parents, the tears I was shedding.
They arrived after three o'clock.
I opened my eyes and saw my mother leaning over me, shaking me, scared. She looked exhausted. Her face already said that something terrible had happened. She was asking if I felt ill. She had been afraid I was dead, discovering me on the floor, curled up against a piece of furniture. I was pale, she said. I had frightened her. At that point, inexplicably, she left. And only then did I see my father.
"I have cancer, Roby," he said. "We went to the hospital. I noticed it this morning..."
He had never spoken to me like that before. There was no more challenge or pride in his voice. His voice was that of a frightened boy, even though he was almost fifty years old. A boy who had just been told his death was close.
Having them there, his announcement notwithstanding, I felt I was not yet an orphan, nor was I alone in the world. But his words made me tumble back into despair and I burst into tears once again. I sobbed without being able to control myself.
He knelt close to me, then sat down next to me and that was my father, as he had never been for too many years. Even before I changed and rejected him. In that moment I went back to being his son. No longer the antagonist or his opponent, forced through growing up. Because it was this authority over me that I had tried to take away from him, in the fear that, being too much of a friend, he would discover my secret.
He hugged me.
"I will have an operation. I hope it works."
But I knew this wasn't the truth. I understood a doctor like him could not have escaped the gravity of his own illness. If he had been convinced even a little of those words he was saying he simply would not have uttered them. He would have stood upright in front of me, looking at me with compassion. He would have inquired, with all his usual contempt, what I was doing sitting on the floor sobbing.
I had often dreamed of being an orphan, but when I woke up, I understood that in reality nothing irreparable had happened. Now everything was true and the irreparable was going to happen, because my father was really dying, and my mother would soon follow him. I knew, I was certain, at that moment, that she would not survive my father's death for long. They loved each other too much.
We stood there hugging each other while he tried to console me, and I tried to calm the sobs that were shaking me.
He had always boasted of having built his professional success, which was remarkable, on the firmness of his nerves. Being a surgeon, operating on people, opening their hearts, was his profession, but also, he had made it a kind of religion, a code of conduct. When I began to see him for how he was and then to openly criticize his way of doing things, our house became like his operating theater. My mother and I were his assistants, seeing that everything worked properly. The pleasure I felt by contaminating this aseptic environment, which I believed he had built around us, with my deviant attitude, was enormous.
Only that day, I grasped the vulnerability and desperation he felt. When he was kneeling next to me, hugging me, ignoring the fact I was filthy. As ever, in those days I was dressed in a fashion that disturbed his way of thinking and behaving. So, when I felt him caress my hair to console me regardless of the fact that it was long and filthy.Then I begin to understand how much I would miss him. How much he loved me, and how much I loved him.
After a while, we were both a little embarrassed about what was happening.
Up until the day before we had said the harshest things to each other. Now we found ourselves hugging. I was crying and his eyes glistened as he caressed me. It was a shock, even for someone like him, accustomed to maintain a certain self-control.
We shook each other. He helped me get up and stroked my hair.
"I'm going to your mother," he said, and he couldn't stop the gesture, that despite of everything that had happened, I was sure he would do. He looked at the hand with which he had caressed me. "Your hair is dirty," he said, and he smiled at me, coming closer and caressing my hair again.
The scalpel was not sterilized correctly, the swabs were not in place, the tweezers not ordered by size. The last nurse had on a different colored gown. He had looked about and had discovered there was something out of place in his private operating theater. Only the day before, a few hours earlier, he would have been furious and so would I. We would have challenged each other with looks, and I would have announced my decision not to wash my hair for another year. He would have threatened to kick me out of the house. My mother would have been in tears. But he had smiled at me and caressed me once and then again. Meekly I said yes to him, nodding my head. I left the house without another word and went straight to the barber to get my hair cut.
The family barber, who I had abandoned years before, couldn't hold his tongue and asked me the reason for my sudden return.
"It gets too easily dirty and is a mess to keep washing!"
I knew the answer would not satisfy his curiosity, but I would not confide that before I didn't have the money to pay him.
This was not the only change in my life because of my father's illness. I no longer took drugs. I stopped hanging out with the people who had induced me try them and with whom I shared them. I started studying again. And I ended prostituting myself.
I had begun my life as a boy for rent when my father forbade my mother to give me the money I kept demanding from her with increasing insistence. By now he knew I was on drugs and he was trying to prevent me from being able to buy them.
Taking drugs had become an intrinsic part of my life. I was not so much physically addicted, I had never suffered through any real withdrawal symptoms, other than psychological. There were times when not having anything to smoke, or not being able to escape reality with a pill, made me suffer.
I found a companionship with those friends with whom we had this one thing in common. I smoked marijuana and experimented with some hallucinogenic drugs, but I had never injected anything.
I had always been careful never to completely lose control over myself, because, I had a huge secret to hide. I felt I could not lose contact with reality, so my trips could be a struggle, because I couldn't completely let go. Maybe my need to keep a hold on things stopped any addiction. It didn't prevent me from resorting to all sorts of tricks to get drugs, not simply for myself, but for my companions.
I only cared about having the money to buy them, because it was the way to be accepted into that group. They were extremely selective. I was certain they would not keep me with them if I didn't have the money to buy drugs, for myself, and especially to offer to them. That was the way I paid my way into that very exclusive circle.
It is why I came to sell myself, but I had only done so on those occasions, few fortunately, when my mother had been unable to secretly give me money.
When I came home with my hair cut and my face shaved, I ran straight to my room to tear off the torn clothes I was wearing. I piled them in a corner to throw out together with the other rags that I had covered myself with until then. That had been my clothing for a long time. I tried washing myself, to get rid of the bad smell of years of poor hygiene, all the accumulated dirt that stuck on me. It was not easy to remove!
That day I took the longest shower of my life. I let water cascade over me and mercilessly scrubbed my skin until it was painful. I emerged red, sore, but clean. Yet, I still had that rancid smell on me, in me, and it was many months before I could forget it.
Putting on decent clothes was a problem. I went looking for a pair of pants that I had last worn almost two years earlier and they barely fit. I found a shirt and a sweater that I had forgotten I owned. Then I dragged myself to my mother and asked her to take me out to buy more clothes. I didn't dare to ask her for money which she knew I would spend on drugs.
She saw me with my face shaved and saw the shape of my head freed from the messy hair that usually covered it. This seemed to wake her up from the torpor in which she resided.
"Hey... what did you do to your hair? And the face?"
"I couldn't put up with it anymore. Besides, Dad said it was filthy."
I realized I sounded childish, but that was how it came out, I wasn't pretending. It wasn't anything I ever adopted with her. When I needed money, I only had to say so and she gave it to me. If I didn't need to, I did not lie to her. But at that moment I spoke to her like a child because I felt like a child.
"I need some clothes, Mom. I don't want to go around looking like I used to! Please!"
She stared at me, almost as if she didn't comprehend my words, not believing what she was hearing. Not believing what I was telling her.
"My poor baby, you haven't eaten anything today, have you?"
I hadn't eaten and didn't even remember it. At that moment, the only thing on my mind was getting new clothes that would at least make me look respectable. But I didn't want her to worry and so I sat down meekly and ate what she insisted on preparing for me.
She looked incredulous, dreamy, shaken by the events of the day. First my father about to be torn from her, and me who seemed to have come back from a long exile. I had been missing for too long. She appeared as if she were lost.
We went out, and she bought me clothes and shoes. Like Oliver Twist the poor wretched orphan who needed to be dressed in new things that he had never had before. She didn't seek explanations, perhaps because she was already reading my thoughts. Or she was afraid to ask, afraid that thinking about it I might change my mind again.
My return to life seemed to console her, because in those hours of pain she had found her child again. And I understood. Right then I would have done anything, almost anything, she had wished of me. I would have tried, even at the cost of dying. That desire to die I would leave for another time. If I had not succeeded in one way, I would have tried another.
The next day I went back to school.
I felt like I had missed a lot. I had gone there almost every day, but I refused to listen and learnt nothing. It was only because I was good at improvising and had a lot of credit with the teachers that I got promoted to the fourth year. At least that is what I told myself, in a semblance of pride, but I knew I had my father to thank. Someone told me so, but I never found the courage to ask him directly.
In the fourth year it was a different story. I had new teachers who hadn't met me in my previous life and for whom I was a drug addict. I was condemned to fail, without thinking about it too much. I had to leave school. I was the rotten apple. I really was.
That morning I went back to school, starting the first hour, with everyone else. I faced the incredulous look of my classmates and the distrustful look of the literature teacher. At the end of the hour, I went to look for her in the teachers' room and asked to speak to her.
She was a tough, demanding woman. Usually, she could sense the gaps in any preparation and exploited them. I knew she did it so we would not grow up with the idea of obtaining everything with little effort. With her I had not succeeded in my game of pretending to know.
I spent that night awake, not trying to fall asleep. My eyes were stubbornly open, my pupils dilated, as if I had sniffed cocaine. The drug I had taken was another, a nastier one, more elusive. It was a terrible cocktail between my survival instinct, the remorse I felt and guilt towards my dying father and my mother’s pain. It was, as I would discover after a few days, a rather masochistic search for spiritual agony.
Those three ingredients were the elements of the mixture that had snatched me away from the desire for death, an obliteration that I was trying to satisfy with my vagabond and wasted life. Turning over in bed, several times I had the impulse to flee and purchase drugs. It would have been enough for me to abandon the house. I had money, my mother had insisted on giving it to me, but I didn't move. A mysterious force kept me bound to the bed. Perhaps it was the thought of my dying father in the adjacent room.
Instead of going back to drugging myself, I played through those events of my previous life. I was on the same bed, in the identical position as that torrid night in August, when I had decided to take drugs to drive away that horrible thought. The thing I had done to Paoletto.
The literature teacher was amazed by my decent and dignified appearance, but she was definitely not influenced by it. Without my messy hair and unkempt beard, I knew I looked like an orphan or a wayward angel. I had barely recognized myself in the mirror that morning.
"I have decided to change everything in my life and would like you to help me," I told her in a pathetic voice and one breath. "I know I will have to accomplish a lot, but I need to pass. Please, help me!"
I would have liked to have told her in a normal voice, neither pleading nor mocking. It was a wish expressed and I hoped it would strike her, at least for its audacity.
She, on the other hand, did not believe a single word I expressed.
"And why should I support you? Just because you have washed and shaved? How can I believe someone like you? I know what you do and how you live. Do you think I hear nothing about you? I know more things than your father wants to know..."
At that moment I didn't understand what she meant. I could not give my genuine reasons. What was happening to my father, my remorse, my desire to atone, the need to punish myself more than I had done until then. My father's illness was a private matter, for as long as that was possible, it should remain unknown to anyone outside the family. He had expressly asked me the night before.
Then there were the other reasons, my deepest secrets, which were precisely secrets and I could not reveal them to anyone. If known by others they would have lost their possibilities.
"Support me, please," I repeated, "If I can't do it, I'll fail anyway. It won't cost you anything and at least I will have tried. I won't do drugs anymore. I don't want to do them anymore!"
"And when was the last time you took drugs?" she insisted.
"The other night," I confessed with a little voice, "I injected myself with heroin," I revealed to her, almost unwittingly, feeling, realizing, at that moment how unreliable I was, "but it was my first and it will also be my last time! Believe it or not!"
I stated it and was already crying. I didn't want to, I didn't think about humiliating myself so much. But I had forfeited my confidence and modesty had left me years before, along with respectability. My self-respect no longer existed.
"Whining like you're doing is not enough to convince me that you've really stopped," she insisted "And could I know what happened to cause your sudden change of mind? For all one knows the fashion has changed and now you are dressing better, to go and purchase drugs?"
She mocked me. She was provoking me, but I didn't mind her.
"I have decided to quit," I insisted, "I have to stop doing drugs, and want to go back to school!" I pitched my voice a little because I was exasperated. I began to tremble. "If you want to support me, it will be easier for me, otherwise I will study anyway and when the end of the school year comes, you can judge me. If you fail me, it means that I will have deserved it."
"You deserve yourself and deserve all the bad things that happen to you" she said staring at me "It would take a miracle. Do you know that? We have only two months to the end of the school year and you haven't read a single page of a book in two years! Do you think I haven't noticed? How do you hope to make the time up?"
I explained it to her. Calmly and with a coldness that frightened me. What I described to her was difficult and dangerous for me. The harshness of my commitment, the recklessness of my promises. I had thought about it all night long.
"So, study," she ultimately granted. "You will have to show me every day what you are achieving and see you do not make any mistakes. Mistakes of any kind and mistakes you know about!"
She did not promise to support me, but at least she was interested in me. She would help me.
With the others it was a little easier. To all of them I proposed cross-examining me a month later on the first half of that year's program. I would study at night and make up time in all the subjects. I knew I would not be getting much sleep. If that first interrogation went well, I would continue working hard again, and I would get back on track with the whole program by the end of the year. For the written tests we could see how they went. Someone even suggested that I repeat some of them to increase my grade averages.
It was madness, but I had no choice. I would have to keep my mind busy if I didn't want to go out again with my usual friends and if I wanted to stop using drugs. I had to study until I knocked myself out if I wanted to pass in June.
I had already achieved the experience of chasing and killing the beast within me, looking for a stronger, more powerful beast with whom I instantly became a slave.
So, I drowned all of myself in that mad study. I didn't leave the house anymore, except to attend school, and there I didn't talk to anyone, except to ask for explanations on topics I hadn't understood from books.
It was a crazy chase. For a long time, I had nothing left to lose, it seemed to me that I was at the bottom of a very deep well. I was there and I was walking around, knocking my head on the stone walls. It was not a nightmare, a vision, the anguished dream of a junkie who suddenly stops, but the rationally constructed image to describe myself and my state.
I wrote about it in an essay and got a good grade from my literature teacher. That day she called me to the teachers' room. She didn't say anything to me, but she caressed my cheek. When I realized that she would not speak, I left. Perhaps we were both moved.
I had a sufficiency in almost all the subjects and something more in Italian, Latin, and Greek. I had always passed close to the top, and these were not grades to be proud of, but my mother was happy to hear the news. My father, when I took the news to the hospital, burst into tears.
That I recalled was the first time I had seen him in tears. Then, with the onslaught of the disease, he did it more and more often.
That night I cried too. I wasn't excited about making the grade. I certainly wasn't crying with relief. I was terrified, terrified at having lost for the next three months, the only way to keep my mind occupied.
Probably my fall to the bottom had ended with the injection of my first and only dose of heroin. That night a few hours before my father discovered he was sick. It had been quick, but sometimes when I look at those years, I think I recognize a more precise pattern in my life, in my destiny. It was the day I left Paoletto. When I abandoned him to himself on the mountain without speaking to him again. After that I fell ruinously into a hell from which I could barely rise again. The drugs, the sex, the trips, the acceptance of my father's death, the promises I made to him, remain the only evidence of my return to the light.
I began to prostitute myself in the fall, a year after I had abandoned Paoletto.
There were two of us, me, and Valerio, blond and thin. He became skeletal when he started injecting heroin. He had turned eighteen, but he seemed younger than me. His family was not as wealthy as mine and he was constantly seeking money to obtain some pills, some smoke, then heavier stuff. Thanks to my mother I required less money and I tried to be less involved in drugs, consuming them less than my mates did.
When my father prevented my mother from giving me any money, finding the cash became indispensable. It was then I began to accompany Valerio. We went together on Saturday, taking the train at two in the afternoon. After school. I was the one who needed to do it, because Valerio had dropped out a long time ago.
We arrived two hours later. We didn't do it in our city out of pride. And then Valerio wasn't gay, he didn't think he was homosexual. At any rate, when he wasn't high, he was still getting hard for women, which I never could. No matter how desperately I desired it. Regardless, we didn't want to be hustlers where someone could see and recognize us. It was a residue of pride a little unexplainable.
We sold ourselves in the area of the Central Station. It was even practical, because as soon as we descended from the train we were in the proper place. In the underpasses, near the toilets, next to the luggage room, leaning against the columns, we waited for our customers.
Valerio had proposed this to me when he saw me running out of money and so one Saturday, I went there myself and the adventure had begun. On the train he explained a few things to me.
"If it goes well, we make a lot of money. Even without getting too tired. I always decide first how much money I need. You always have to say what you want to do or get done to you and how much they have to give you. Don't let yourself be convinced if you are not really sure. And then you are cute, you will always find someone who will want you. But you must tell him you have just turned eighteen. It's not true and they don't believe it, but you have to tell them anyway, so they feel their conscience is clear. And maybe they'll even give you more money!"
Valerio was nice too, but he didn't imagine he was. I thought if I had the money I would have paid him for an afternoon with me. I had a hard-on but was too sad and worried to even take care of it. My cock adapted to my state of mind and calmed down.
My first client, Valerio negotiated for me, was a gentleman of my father's age who took me to a somewhat metropolitan ravine, at the bottom of a disused underpass. As soon as we were hidden, he asked me to take his cock in my hand. Whether I had any doubts, or the idea of feeling embarrassed at a moment like that, nothing like that happened. I felt no shame. I needed the money.
I didn't think that man was like my father, or that I had a desire to hold my father's cock in my hand and play with it. Maybe hold it, I laughed, and hurt him. I didn't think anything like that.
I beat him off serenely and when he asked me if I would let him touch me, I let him do it. He unzipped me and pulled my dick out. My cock instantly became hard. Valerio had warned me against ejaculating with clients. It was unadvisable if you had not contracted it and they were paying. As a result, I didn't concentrate, there was nothing exciting for me about what we were doing.
The man wanted to kiss me, and I allowed him a hug and kiss, but only on my neck. I felt no disgust because he smelled of good aftershave and was clean. Unlike myself, I hadn't taken a shower in who knew how long. After he had come, he pulled out a handkerchief and always kindly asked me if I wanted to wipe it off. I did. At that point he paid me, and we went back to the station. Valerio had also returned and immediately wanted to know how it had gone.
"You have made yourself a regular customer! That one will be here next Saturday waiting for you, believe me! But you didn't have to get kissed. Next time remember to ask more."
There were other clients, other sad Saturdays and even Sunday afternoons, other lazy participation in sexual acts, not at all exciting. My cock became hard because of the solicitation it received, never because of any real excitement. From that point of view, I was a little disappointed.
When we returned on Saturday night our friends were waiting for us to scrounge what we had purchased with the fruits of our labor. The place where we used to hustle was better supplied than our city when it came to drugs.
At dawn I would return home. Without emotion, without regret for the innocence I had lost. Where had it been, how and when? Assuming I had a few crumbs of innocence left after what I had achieved. If I did have some left, whatever remained I trampled on with anger. My innocence.
What I remember most about those days is how I suffered no remorse. For nothing, neither for the life I was living, nor for myself, no shame in showing some of my nakedness to strangers who had paid for the right to look. No embarrassment in allowing myself to be touched by unknown hands, to touch the limbs of strangers myself, beautiful or ugly. I experienced nothing except the knowledge that those little inconveniences would provide me with enough money to pay for what I needed most.
The group that I had joined in that extremely hot August, after my last camp, was made up of boys and girls of different ages and I was among the youngest. We smoked pot and took some acid. In the intervals of lucidity, when we were not high, we identified ourselves as a group on the extreme left wing that was in close proximity to anarchy and which finally exploded in a myriad factions. Some groups ended up in subversion and armed struggle (1), others, like mine, in drug addiction, more or less heavy.
In the summer when I betrayal Paoletto, my future friends met in a secluded corner of a public garden on the other side of the city. I instantly understood that there were strict codes of conduct amongst them. To be one of them, I began to dress like a beggar, looking for old-fashioned, oversized pants and worn-out T-shirts. I abandoned personal hygiene and the razor that I already used infrequently, since my beard was only a shadow on my face, only down. But I let it invade my face like a mist almost as if it could hide it.
I don't know what fascinated me about those guys. Not their political speeches that I still didn't follow correctly. Undoubtedly, it was their unconventionality, the freedom in which they seemed to move. I discovered that their aspirations were above all to ignore the taboos that society dictated, and which were imposed on all of us. It seemed to me that they did not allow themselves to be conditioned by any of the bourgeois conventions which they were fighting openly. The enemy was the Bourgeoisie, with a capital letter, an indefinite and elusive entity. Religion didn't influence them. They said they ignored it rather than opposed it.
In them, however, one thing disappointed me. In that desire for freedom, they overlooked one thing that was of the utmost importance to me. For them, males were males and all very proud in their desire for females, who in turn were proud to possess something sought after. It was a kind of sacrament administered with liturgies of which they were fiercely jealous. They forgot, nor did I want to remind them, that there were other kinds of desires.
If freedom were to happen, I thought it was unfair that it wasn't for me too. And I was well aware of being the way I was. But I had found them and was also aware that without them I would have gone mad.
What I was doing in that group I couldn't say, but I knew I would find no other place to go than there, so I joined in. I invented for my own benefit and by way of explanation to those who asked me, a vaguely mystical sexual abstinence. In any case, being among the youngest I was not considered as a possible conquest by the girls and not around enough for them to care about me. One of the golden rules of the group, the one that I appreciated the most, was that each one of us would scrupulously mind his own business.
Before winter began, we had occupied the school (2).
As in a script produced and recited with fervor by all, we ran to barricade the doors and declared ourselves in permanent assembly (3), breaking down a few desks. And as every year, the occupation lasted two weeks, during which I slept at school every night.
That was a challenging time for me, because every night I had to look for a valid excuse not to get fucked by one of the girls who wanted to do it. My appearance was not bad then and even amongst anarchists and communists everyone knew I was from a rich family and therefore had money in my pocket. Briefly, I was quite a catch. One night I couldn't escape and found myself in a sleeping bag with a girl a little older than me for what was supposed to be my baptism of sex. It remained the only such experience of my life.
I was a bit stoned from smoking a joint and had enjoyed a beer. Another joint smoked with her, in that awkward position, had led me to a state of inebriation that freed me from reason, will, and judgment. At a certain point, I think I told her, 'I love you'. She kissed me. I hugged her and all I remember is our hands frantically trying to undress each other in the narrow confines of the sleeping bag. The last sensation, before oblivion, was the alien scent I smelled when she was naked, and I stroked her between her legs. The rest, if it in fact happened, I could only picture in my mind. That night I definitely ejaculated, because when I woke up my cock was covered in dried up cum, but where my cock was when this happened, I couldn't say.
It is a doubt that I have never resolved with certainty, nor did I ever care to know. The next day she claimed that I had been inside her until a moment before. I woke up because we had fallen asleep in the same sleeping bag and it was getting uncomfortable. Instantly the memory of my camp and another awakening came over me. Of when I was in Marco's arms in his sleeping bag. With that memory I burst into tears. I pulled myself out, kicking, waking up the girl, frightening her. And I ran away, I don't know where. All that halted me was the awareness that I really had nowhere else to go, nowhere else to hide. Weed, beer, wine, those friends, some pills, what else was there in my life at that moment?
The occupation, anarchy, or communism, I had not yet decided about. I didn't need an idea to believe in. The others had the State to fight, demonstrations and marches, shop windows to break, the police charges to fight. And then there was a revolver hidden in the school. And there was the fear of everyone being arrested.
I stayed there and pretended to believe in free sex, in the fuck that maybe I hadn't had. If I had left that school, I would have had to come home and listen to my father. There was nowhere I could go.
In those days, in those months, we were all doing drugs.
We had a kind of hangout in the old town. It was a block of rented rooms, I don't know from whom, and paid by someone else for who knows what reason. It was the headquarters of the 'Movement' (4), the breeding ground of the most subversive ideas somewhere that provided a number of people who later worked for the criminal press or went into politics. In the penultimate room, there was habitually someone who was getting stoned. Those like me who had money and knew where to purchase their supplies, offered others a smoke, sometimes some acid. During the breaks, between a joint and a trip, ideas got discussed.
In the last room, proletarian expropriations were planned, and attacks on the police, Molotov cocktails (5) were prepared for the next day's demonstrations. Maybe other things, even worse, but I never had any direct knowledge of that. Nor was I told anything by anyone because I was too young and considered unstable because of my behavior on acid. In short, the memory of how badly I reacted on the drug was still alive in everyone's minds.
I quickly learned to be appreciated by others, becoming an expert in the preparation of joints. I was also able to speak for several minutes without saying anything concrete. I could read a few things quoting Trotsky, Bakunin, and a few others. It was easy enough to learn the standard stuff and appeal to those stereotypes.
My mind, just like at school when I pursued my studies, was busy, but my own ideas and my real thoughts remained always permanently locked away. It was enough for me. I occupied my days with meaningless words. I assigned a sense to the debacle of my life, framed it with politics, consecrating myself to an alien ideology I never debated. I was in a pack, a tribe, and my people followed that direction.
Some time passed, a few months, before a group of us chose to abandon the party line of our leaders. To break away from the 'Movement' in search of an experience of 'real freedom'. Which was actually an existence determined through our actions. In fact, the choice was either to move to semi-secret, cloak and dagger, direct support of the clandestine armed struggle, or to let ourselves be caught in the spiral of a utopian non-conformism that was the use of drugs and the search for money to get them. The group to which I stayed faithful chose the latter alternative.
At the time, in that spring, my mother and a few other anxious parents were providing enough money for most of us. Our goal, very minimal, and not very connected to the destiny of humanity, was to reach the summer, hopefully with a promotion at school, and to go as a group to Amsterdam. There we would get to know a different and much more stimulating world. Not a cultural enrichment, but an opportunity to sample some foreign beer and above all to smoke freely when we desired. The rumors were that there was much more freedom in Holland than there was here.
(1) Those were the so-called Years of Lead (Italian: Anni di Piombo). It is a term used for a period of social and political turmoil in Italy that lasted from the late 1960s until the late 1980s (the story is set in the 1970s). Marked by a wave of both far-left and far-right incidents of political terrorism. Most of the terrorists were students and came from universities and also from the last years of the Liceo (High School).
(2) Strange as it may seem, in Italy it is still almost a tradition that, between the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, starting from the historical 1968, many High Schools are 'occupied' by students, just as described in the story. The motivations have changed over the years. They remain no longer the same as fifty years ago, but among all the ones that are not confessed is to be able to do in the school just what is told here. Even the Author has done it and more than once!
(3) ‘Permanent Assembly' is a term used during ‘occupations’. It refers to the fact that the school is entrusted to the decisions of the student assembly convened in 'the permanent' mode.
(4) The Movement represents a spontaneous political movement that arose in Italy in the 1970s. It began mostly from groups of extra-parliamentary left. As for form and substance, it was completely new compared to previous student movements, such as the protests of 1968. In fact, it was drawn by the declared objection to the system of parties, unions, and even political movements.
(5) A Molotov cocktail, equally recognized as a petrol bomb, bottle bomb, poor man's grenade, is a generic name used for a variety of bottle-based improvised incendiary weapons. Because of the relative ease of production, Molotov cocktails have been used by criminals, protesters, rioters, urban guerrillas, terrorists, irregular soldiers.
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
Thanks again to Talo Segura for all the efforts he is making to make this story readable.
The notes at the end of the chapter seemed to me crucial to understand the descriptions present in the story.