As a boy, the Law of Universal Gravitation had fascinated me and most of all, what inspired my imagination was the certainty there could be no exceptions, imperfections, or grains of sand that could challenge it and ruin the mechanism.
In my own universe, imperfection had been created, the device was frozen, as if time had stopped. My life, reduced to ordinary sensory perception, now recording the succession of day and night, forcing me to be occupied with only the indispensable actions necessary for survival. The mind, my poor head, was feverish. It constructed scenarios which it ignored. Opposed reality and the law used to regulate it, which now became no longer valid.
Looking outside at the garden, I could see the bougainvillea had flowered unconcerned. I registered, somewhere in my mind, that all the other plants had also bloomed and finally spring had become summer. Then the sensations overlapped.
The gentle breeze reached me, carrying the scent of the flowers into the house. I could see the curtains rise and a wave of fragrances surprised me as I closed my eyes, offended by the light I wished was not there. The smell of honeysuckle and broom, jasmine, snow-white and yellow flowers, blue wisteria. I registered them all, but the eyes of my mind, of my imagination, witnessed another scene.
I saw myself running among the plants, armed with an axe, cutting them down, uprooting them, tearing down their hundred-year-old trunks. Ultimately reducing them to an indecipherable heap. After a few moments to contemplate the disaster, my work, I set fire to the tangle of branches I had created. I imagined the heat from the flames and the smoke invading the room to which I returned panting and already upset by the destruction. I looked amazed at the precious furniture in the house. The books hiding the walls, accumulated by generations of obstinate readers. Consciously, I witnessed the ruin of smoke as it rose to the ceiling, stopping, and blackening the decoration.
At this point, the cowardly eyes of my mind could no longer reveal the image of destruction, those objects that suffered my madness. I opened my real, suffering eyes, hurting by what life had made them see, and I looked around me. I reassured myself that nothing I had imagined really happened and I returned to caress the keys of the piano I never knew how to play.
For a month I had been occupying my days by moving from the piano stool to the armchair in front of the window. Contemplating the garden, the flowers, surveying those solid objects, evidence I had not surrendered to havoc. Something I do not have the courage to accomplish.
Often my mother, Marco, other friends, and colleagues, would look for me. But I was able to escape them. I would tell one of them I was with the other. To those who inquired with whom I would spend the evening on Saturdays or Sundays, I would say I will be with my mother. To her I swore I would go to Marco's house. I said to Marco, colleagues had asked me to join them and I cannot refuse. I would play this game for as long as it was possible.
Paoletto played divinely, continuing for as long as he found the energy. It was not simply me who said so, but he was constantly told the same by all those who listened to him, who admired his talent. His fingers caressed the keys, extracting their secrets, drawing sublime sounds from the ivory and strings. He was light, sweet, passionate, masterful, and aggressive. He studied the piano and graduated without effort. Placing his hands on the keyboard never made him tired or bored, but when he was offered the opportunity of a concert career, he refused. The Conservatory begged him to accept, promising a wealth that had no meaning for him. They implored him not to deprive them of his talent. He thanked them and declined, without apparent explanation. But he told me why and it was the sweetest and most convincing reason I ever heard.
"I would have to study more than eight hours a day. Which I could do if I let go the University, but, Roby, but..." and he hugged me almost weeping, because the decision was causing him a great deal of suffering. He continued speaking to me, murmuring phrases which tore each other apart like clouds in a storm. "We'd be far away...I'd have to study somewhere else, perhaps abroad. In Berlin, in Vienna... and play... and then there would be the concerts, here and there...You? You couldn't follow me. You have your career... and I don't want that... No, I won't do that, Roby. I'll never do that! I will always be close to you!"
Perhaps the world lost a great performer of Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin, who were his favorite composers. A talented musician whom I, selfishly, kept for myself alone. Along with his love and all of the joy he was able to give me.
He never stopped playing, but it was only for me. Even if friends were listening to us, it was for me he played, me he looked at. He continued studying as if he had to prepare for a concert, one he would never give, because I was always his only audience. Each of my University exams had his piano studies as a soundtrack, our life was cadenced by the sonatas, nocturnes and impromptu, scales and variations.
Then he died and after twenty years I was left alone.
He left because of an illness I myself diagnosed as if it were a family tradition. When I wanted to torture myself, I would think I didn't diagnose it in time, but I knew that even if I had, it would only have increased the time we would have suffered.
He began tiring easily. Then there were the palpitations he told me about with a laugh. Saying it was my fault, my delays, our schedule that kept us apart for a few days, preventing us from spending our hours together. One evening, in autumn, a few months ago, he suffered a respiratory crisis. We were downtown shopping, annoyed with each other, taking the blame for not being in Paris as we would have liked. Then, in the middle of a sentence, I heard his voice trail off.
I turned around and saw him clutching his chest and bending slowly to the ground. Trying in some way to break his fall, I supported him. He had not lost consciousness, but a strong pain in his chest had left him struggling to breathe. He tried to recover, but was gasping for air, trying to fill his lungs which seemed to have closed. Slowly his breathing returned to normal, the pain subsided, and he could finally get up. We went and sat down in a cafe.
His gaze was already more serene, but his face was pale and tense. His breathing was still a little labored. He smiled at me, while I mentally reviewed all the possible causes of that sudden crisis. Connecting the attack, the sense of suffocation, to the palpitations and tiredness was quite easy. My fear that he had a serious illness was exacerbated by the fever which struck him that same evening.
That night I didn't sleep and the next morning I knew, I was certain about what it was. Like my father, there were visits to the hospital with me lying to him. Saying we needed more accurate analyses while my colleagues averted their eyes. The two of us looking at each other, aware we couldn't lie about leukemia, it would tear him away from me.
Not the flowers that bloomed, their perfume sweet and insistent, nor the air, the sea breeze caressing them. Not the music that this piano would no longer play. None of this would ever touch you again, my love.
We invented our life together, but it would be more accurate to say that I adapted mine to his, since I had no life without him. We never questioned the days we spent together, we had to be with each other, all the time, everywhere, and we would chase each other around between our schedules. That was how it was, from the first day to the last day of our engagement and this lasting marriage. When we managed to live together, and it was easier to be one person.
The beginning was not peaceful, but we always overcame all the difficulties we encountered.
Our bond was looked upon with kindness for no more than a few days. Everyone remembered or knew how united we had been. My history with drugs and then my father's illness and death. My life was known to everyone, so Paoletto's attention to me, our inevitable, prolonged, exclusive being together, were considered his way of aiding me. And my attachment to him was equal, at first, only in the beginning out of noble gratitude.
We, on the other hand, with the passing of the weeks, in the most complete carelessness our love could give us, we began to distance ourselves from everything that surrounded us and was not closely related to us. We unconsciously convinced ourselves reality was only a complement to our love. My mother, Grandma Luigia, Uncle Giulio and, in part, Marco remained the only people we admitted into our life.
In those years, but also afterwards, we often discussed and considered what our behavior had been. We always concluded that, because of what we had done, because of how our bond was seen from the outside, we were untroubled by the world outside, our friends, and the scouts in particular. In the sense that for Paoletto it was not traumatic to be discarded by the scouts and it was quite easy for the two of us to continue living in our city. Staying in one way or another in contact with the same people.
We ended up being merely tolerated by everybody, but never accepted.
In those years, to learn that one allowed a homosexual among his acquaintances, or rather two who were clearly together, was somewhat unusual. Suspicion alone of such a relationship would usually have been enough to decree our alienation or perhaps worse. To know with certainty that two people with whom they had shared almost everything, were homosexuals, was delicate to bear. When among friends and then amongst the scouts, the relationship between the two of us began to manifest itself, some labelled it ambiguous. This was, perhaps, the most effective word to employ. We were, depending on the person's point of view, or interpretation, ignored or tolerated, but largely kept at a distance, if not isolated.
Initial suspicion arose in the more astute in our entourage, who viewed our closeness in a bad light or saw the worst, and this quickly spread among all the rest. For a while we were gratified by what could be considered a generous understatement. Or a more sophisticated and Jesuitical pretense, tending to overlook my presence so as to safeguard Paoletto's soul.
Obviously, all this made it intolerable for him to remain in the Scouts. It was a huge relief for everyone, that before Christmas, he decided to leave. Anticipating by a few days that he was about to be asked to leave the Association.
Everything happened relatively quickly, and Paoletto did not seem to be affected much, even if he genuinely cared about the Scouts. When we talked about it, I felt that, despite everything, he was enthusiastic about life and expected there would be other experiences that would be interesting for him. He had soon realized I could not be close to him in the scouts, nor did I want to be, the Scouts did not cherish me. That much was evident by the slight signs and some more explicit warnings coming principally from the priests who worked alongside the leaders.
To begin with, they made Paoletto understand how inconvenient it was to have me arrive before the meeting ended and enter the Scouts' headquarters instead of waiting politely outside. So I stopped going inside. Then it was pointed out to him how curious it was, even unusual, I would be waiting for him after each meeting and would accompany him everywhere, we were always together.
Those observations seemed valid to us, because in our unconscious happiness during those months, we did nothing to conceal our love. Certainly, we did not kiss, nor behave in any shocking fashion, not at that time. There were those long, sweet looks, and raptured expressions we could not hide. Such being often more eloquent than a kiss, more passionate than a hug. Someone noticed this, it may have been someone envious of others, either way it was reported, a complaint about us, to those who would listen. Paoletto was asked that I keep my distance from the headquarters, which I did, meeting him a little further away.
It was almost Christmas when he was approached by one of the priests. I did not witness the conversation. He told me the man had asked him, in not so many words, to stay away from me, to leave me alone, not to see me anymore. This was not the right tone to use with Paoletto, nor with Grandma Luigia who received a phone call using the same tone that very afternoon.
That evening Paoletto ran to my house. We were supposed to meet as usual on the street, near the Scouts' headquarters, but he had freed himself early.
"This is the last time! I'm not going there anymore!" he said, in a single breath. "That asshole said a guy who takes drugs once won’t quit and you will soon come back to it. Then he said I should watch out for you. I would do well to leave you alone because who knows what other bad vices you have! Whitewashed sepulcher and asshole himself! He was really talking about homosexuality, but never said the word. He didn't mention I could love you. He didn't say anything about the two of us as a couple. He opened his mouth only to speak against you!"
“Whitewashed sepulcher and asshole? You’re something!” I said, laughing.
"Hey, it's a phrase from the Gospel. St. Matthew, I believe! Not the asshole part!"
When he had begun to speak, he was frowning, but we ended up laughing and calming down. He told me about the warning phone call to his grandmother and the peppery reply that old communist woman had given the priest.
"He also said I had changed for the worse. Do you understand? Because of you! Think about it..." he laughed when he said that. "I left him in the middle of the street. Without saying a word. Without even saying good-bye to him. Grandma Luigia will be happy!"
Then he joked all evening long, but I knew he was furious. This, however, was the end of my and his adventure in the scouts. We parted company and were left alone. Alone with ourselves, as always, which was enough for us.
We joined the youth organization of the Italian Communist Party, driven by a political passion which had matured in both of us. For me it had been induced by his ideas and those of Grandma Luigia. They proposed a collaboration to manage a pirate radio station as part of a self-managed group of young communists. It was a phenomenon in Italy in the late seventies which was widespread. Pirate radio popped up everywhere, run by spontaneous groups and especially political organizations. Volunteers were sought to answer the call for assistance. It was the kind of venture where someone would answer, 'Alright, I'll do it!' but with a certain inspired willingness to take part. Those were different times and people spoke about other issues, with different clichés.
We were asked to produce a program of classical music. It was considered an essential part of the radio station, to improve the image by adding culture. Absolutely no one wanted to do it or knew enough about classical music to attempt to put together a program. They needed someone who was committed, a widely used adjective at that time.
They probably asked us, because my mother was from Vienna and I was supposed to know a lot about classical music. Paoletto studied the piano so must have a good understanding too. Ultimately, they had the right idea, because I preferred listening to that kind of music and Paoletto studied it very seriously.
We accepted the engagement. Every Tuesday evening from nine to eleven. It was a bit heavy, but soon we began appreciating the loneliness. By that time everyone had left, and we were alone in the studio listening to the music we were broadcasting, inventing increasingly poetic and rhetorical comments on the pieces we aired. He would sit on my lap and I would hug him, or the other way around. I had kissed him on the neck, and we were aroused already, at the moment when our main opening theme started. It was a piece by Brahms, the 'Adagio ma non troppo' from the Second Symphony, which although passionate, would soothe any soul. But it didn't work with our passion.
I spent those two hours with my hands in Paoletto's underpants and his in mine. We would suspend our manipulations just long enough to announce the pieces. Frequently, when we were quite sure we would not be caught we had our underpants down and would make love in the director's chair in front of the mixing desk. On those particular evenings we would program Mahler, a composer known for the dilation of time in his symphonies. I have always loved Mahler but associating him with our embraces and ecstasies made him epic, almost glorious. In those days merely naming him sent a little tingle through our bodies. That name became for us a synonym of concupiscence, consumed as strings and brass resonated and dissonated and the percussions marked the rhythm of love, of the pleasure we gave ourselves.
"Mahler, tonight?" asked my little devil over the phone.
"I'll bring a couple of records anyway, who knows... maybe... if all goes well!" and I felt my excitement growing.
Then in the evening, if we were confident of our solitude, in the darkness and in the silence of the studio, those notes would start. The music was in our hearts and above all in our bodies, which vibrated with love, with sensuality, until we calmed down in the immensity of those adagios. Who knows if Mahler from his paradise, where he certainly conducts a magnificent orchestra, appreciated all the joy he gave us with his music?
One day Paoletto announced live on air that we were homosexuals. Which is when we were forced to stop. It was June 28th, Gay Pride Day. I don't know how, he had discovered that anniversary. At the time, it was practically not mentioned at all. It was not the kind of news which the newspapers published, even the most progressive ones. America was too far away for us. But he had badgered me for days with this story. He had gone to look for details in the archives of some library and had told me all about the Stonewall riots.
He absolutely wanted to do something, but he didn't know what. Then suddenly, a few days prior, he stopped pestering me. I had forgotten about the American homosexuals with their annual gay pride parade. Paoletto, instead, with the unconsciousness of his years, had decided for me. He selected a piece, but different to usual, he hid the title from me. To make sure he surprised me he brought the record in a separate envelope and hid the label with his hand.
"Wait and listen..." he said, fading the opening theme song, placing his hand over my eyes so that I wouldn't look. I was distracted and happy to have a good excuse to kiss his hand.
As the theme song ended and Brahms returned to the misty plains of Germany, I heard some music I knew well. Notes I knew almost by heart, which he had taught me to love. He had started the record with a piano sonata by Beethoven, the Adagio of the Hammerklavier, Sonata no. 29.
Initially, the music is relaxed, performing it is apparently easy. Then it climbs and the emotion of listening is equal to the difficulty of playing it.
He kissed me on the mouth and when the music reached its complexity, which he knew so well from playing it to the point of exhaustion, when the music revealed all its pain, he turned the volume down and unexpectedly spoke.
"On the night between the 27th and 28th of June 1969, eight men from the First Police Division entered the now legendary Stonewall Inn, New York's most famous homosexual nightclub." Paoletto was reading from a piece of paper he had pulled out of his pocket. "What happened that night is undoubtedly ingrained in the memory of homosexuals all over the world, but what matters most, which history can never erase, is the courage and dignity with which gay people reacted to yet another police provocation..."
He was no longer reading, he had learned the text by heart, and he could look at me.
"... in memory of those events, ten years ago today, we celebrate the day of homosexual pride. Of my pride, of our pride, because I am homosexual and am proud to be myself."
I listened to him with tears in my eyes and my heart in my throat because I was proud of him, but I was also afraid. I was certain, if someone heard us, and someone was there, we would bear the consequences of that crazy act of courage. Would they drive us away from there as well, or just marginalize us? Would they beat us? But I didn't care, because Paoletto, having finished reading, turned up the volume of the music and held me in his arms. We kissed without speaking, then he played, without commenting, the rest of the evening's program. We listened to the music and waited until eleven o'clock. We didn't talk, we simply sat and cuddled.
It was the head of the Communist Youth Federation, a boy my age, worried about the reactions to our gesture, who called me at home the next morning. I had been waiting for his call and considering the best way to react, I had already mentally packed my bags. We would leave the radio station, which would have no more classical music broadcasts.
The final theme song, a joyful and solemn Elgar march, accompanied us as we walked away, even from those comrades who had tolerated us as long as we did not talk about it. In essence, it was that 'Don't ask and don't tell,' which later became popular.
I have asked myself many times, we have discussed it ourselves and with others we met later, was it right to announce our homosexuality? Knowing for sure they would get rid of us, would it have been more prudent to stay there fighting, like others who achieved some results?
I believe the justification for our behavior was our love, which made us consider our relationship with the world redundant. But I am left with the doubt that that ban was deliberately provoked by Paoletto who could not bear to share me with others. I did nothing to stop him. When I saw him take Beethoven's Hammerklavier record I should have understood. When instead of announcing the sonata and commenting, he went looking for the piece that he loved playing more than any other, when I heard those notes I knew so well and caught his gaze, I should have known what he was going to do. Maybe I did, but didn't want to do anything, so I kept silent, waiting for him to speak. I didn't want to stop him. I couldn't, I never could.
What turned our bond into a marriage had been the death of Grandma Luigia who left us in the winter before Paoletto turned eighteen. At Christmas she had begun feeling unwell while we were in Vienna. We spent some very agitated days because of the news coming from Italy. The thrombosis struck her in January, paralyzed almost her entire body. Giulio's treatment and the love of everyone did not save her. She died on the first of March and for the second time Paoletto lost his mother, crying for her all the tears he had.
"What will become of him?" My mother asked me that question when it was clear that grandmother's illness was irreversible. She was worried about both of us and so was I. She helped me, as she had habitually done.
"Do you think Paoletto will want to come and stay with us? At least until the end of high school. Then he can decide what to do!"
I hugged her.
Paoletto was too worried about his grandmother and certainly did not consider his future. I was living in a nightmare, imagining he would go far away, join his father in another city, I knew he would not refuse. No matter that Uncle Giulio was here to support us and despite his father having never really cared about his son, with the death of Grandma Luigia he might have wished to take back his son, and I was pessimistic. I already recognized difficulties, with so many obstacles for us. I never thought about the end of our love. Nor was I ever touched by doubts about him. In those days, however, I carried with me the pain of his suffering and the uncertainty about our future which we had already planned out.
My medical degree, if it had been as timely as I had hoped, would have preceded by only one year, his degree in mathematical sciences. That was the faculty he intended to attend at the end of high school. I would have avoided military service, at the time compulsory for twelve months. In the gap year I would have worked on the best option for my specialization, almost certainly in the United States. After his graduation Paoletto would join me in America.
Would we have made it?
There were many unknowns, but I had enough help in the academic environment for the project to go ahead. He was not enthusiastic about the idea of using my family's friends to achieve our goals, but I had almost managed to convince him to accept my plan. We both would have graduated in Italy and gone to the United States for my specialization and his PhD as it was beginning to be known as even in Italy. The job prospects would have depended on our efforts and the results achieved. Even on that, I was not particularly bothered, because with our friends help we would both have had every opportunity possible.
Only one thing he didn't want any help on was military service. Not that he wanted to do it, that would have meant losing a year and certainly spending it away from me, but he had discovered being homosexual could serve to get discharged. Paoletto had decided to utilize this to avoid military service.
"Have you thought about it? For the Italian State, homosexuality was still a sexual deviation!" he told me, one day at the height of his frustration. "Anyway, there is this Article 28 of some law that defines us as 'abnormal and psychopathic personalities,' which also allows us to be considered discharged from military service!" he concluded triumphantly.
The law provided for a discharge as incompatible for military service, but with the explicit mention of the reason. This meant being branded for life and effecting job prospects. We would have discussed it a lot in due course, but I already knew he would do as he wanted.
“I want nothing more than to be myself!” He confided in me. How could I oppose that? But I was nervous at the idea. When the time came, obviously, he acted as he had decided to do and was discharged in accordance with Article 28. Fortunately, his academic merits were able to obscure that sort of stain which stayed on his curriculum vitae.
"Do you want to talk?" I asked, one Saturday night.
We were watching over Grandma. He wanted to do it, there was no way to convince him otherwise and of course I was there with him. Since she became sick, Grandma Luigia had been helped by a lot of people. Her son Giulio and Paoletto, first of all, then other doctors, arterial disease specialists, cardiologists and anyone who could give advice and opinions. Then a platoon of nurses who often ran away frightened by the character of the old woman which had not improved with her incapacity.
The most challenging period was the one between the first attack, which had paralyzed her and confined her to bed, and the second one that made her lose consciousness for good.
She spent her last days supported only by her heart which did not want to stop beating. She never recovered her senses again, which distressed Paoletto so much. The last words he heard from her were a recommendation to come home from school soon. The attack struck her in the morning when we were all far away and only an unknown nurse caught her last conscious glance.
Paoletto felt as if he had been defrauded of the last viaticum of the woman who had been his mother. He found her with her mouth half-open, surrounded by doctors, and realized that she had gone to a place from which she would never return.
That night, one of the last before Grandma left us, we were together next to her bed to watch over her. I was almost a nurse, not yet a doctor. He with the touching, impossible hope that Grandma Luigia would come back lucid and perhaps she would recover by some miracle, to guide his upbringing once again. Because he still felt too young to grow up alone and without Grandma's guidance.
I asked him if he felt like talking. As a way to divert him, because he had been there too long staring at the bed, with his grandmother immobile. He only listened to her labored breathing.
"Yes. Go ahead, talk!" he said, and didn't even turn around to look at me.
"Grandma Luigia will not make it. You know that?"
"Yes, I know!" and finally he turned around. "Do they teach you phrases like that to say to comfort the relatives of the sick?" he answered me, frustrated. “At the University, I mean!”
In another moment we would have quarreled. That time I didn't feel like it, so I smiled at him instead.
"I'm sorry, I haven't taken that exam yet!"
He returned my smile and came closer. I embraced him. He held me.
"I'm afraid, Roby!"
"Of what? I am here with you. For everything and forever, remember?"
"But without her, how will I manage? How will the two of us continue?"
"Tomorrow morning, Inge, she' s coming to prepare breakfast for us. I think she will want to talk to you!"
Inge, Ingeborg, my mother. Immediately after our reconciliation she asked Paoletto to call her by her name. It was an act of extraordinary delicacy which I appreciated so much that I still carry it in my heart today.
"I believe she will ask you to come and live with us for as long as you want to. In fact, I think she will ask to be your mother. To be your father and for everything else, I think I can manage myself."
I can see this scene again in my mind and I realize, in its strange and twisted form, it was a marriage proposal. I was really asking him to marry me. I was anticipating the proposal that my mother would make to him the next morning. So the form was respected.
"Will you come?"
"And my father, his wife? Uncle Giulio? What will they say?"
"They will understand, and we can explain it to them, again and again if they don't understand it by themselves! You don't want to go far away, do you?"
"No!" he said, frightened even by the idea. And that reaction, his trembling, as he approached me so I could hug him, all of this gladdened my heart.
"Our house is big. Mom said that for the time being we will free up two of the rooms upstairs for you, so you can bring all the furniture you want. In addition, she thinks we could get the ground floor fixed up and live there together. The two of us, alone! What do you think about it?"
"Are you sure I won't be a bother? Do you really want me?"
A kiss concluded the discussion. We were hugging all night long. Grandma Luigia was a little restless, but most of the time it was enough that Paoletto touched her hand and she immediately returned to her torpor.
The next morning my mother spoke with Paoletto for over an hour and I never asked either of them what they had talked about. They must have signed a new parental contract. Although, I don't know if there ever was one. When they returned to me, everything was decided. I had a new brother, a husband, and a son. We had to ask Paoletto's father and Uncle Giulio for permission for everything, but I was not worried about it. Not anymore.
In the animated days surrounding Grandma Luigia's death, Paoletto came into contact with his father for something other than the pleasantries of those who see each other occasionally. The woman who had driven them away was dead and father and son were finally able to cross the barrier she had built between them. He spent a lot of time with him and I became madly jealous. I started wishing he would die. I even planned to kill him.
The man looked nothing like Paoletto, neither physically nor in character. I could say there was no sympathy between them, and he was clearly unprepared to deal with a son he had never met. I, rather than helping the poor man to overcome the embarrassment of dealing with his newfound son, detested him with all my might and only regained my composure when I saw him leave. I was certain he would not return, and he never did.
When you love someone, you care more about them than about yourself. You are terrified for their health, fearing their suffering more than your own. It is easier to imagine yourself close to death than to accept the idea that those you love can leave you suffering in their absence. These were the thoughts I entertained while watching over Paoletto. Maybe I had already had similar ideas, even if I was less aware, about losing my father.
During Paoletto's illness I completely abandoned my work to stay by his side at every possible moment.
"Because of me you are spending horrible days."
"Shut up, you fool!"
"No, that's how it is! And I remind you of your father, I know! And it makes you suffer more!"
He looked out into the garden and I realized he had gone to sit him down, or rather, I had sat him down on the armchair my father used to use. More than twenty years had passed or had it? My father had been sitting in that same armchair, looking at the bougainvillea, wondering if he was going to see it bloom. He knew he would see the buds, but not the flowers, and so it happened with surgical precision. Just as I knew at that moment that Paoletto would perhaps see the colors of spring, but not those of summer.
"It is me who has become like your father, Roby. Isn't it true?"
We knew it was just like that.
"Isn't it ridiculous? I who never had a father, rejected as a son. No, not refused, taken away from my father by my grandmother's good soul. I found myself, at the age of fifteen, acting as your father. Have I been a good father to you, my love?"
I could no longer speak. Something tightened my throat. For the second time in my life, it seemed I was about to say goodbye to my father.
The trip to Vienna was our first voyage together, the first of many we made in recent years.
We left from the central station in the afternoon. To say goodbye there was Grandma Luigia in tears, accompanied by Uncle Giulio, also saddened by our departure. Paoletto instead was radiant. I felt an intimate happiness that was, at the same time, satisfaction, and expectation. I looked at him and I realized I was waiting with desire for the moment when we would be alone. I didn't know how and when we would be, because we were travelling in a wagon-lit with my mother. I wanted to hold him and kiss him. In my thoughts I stopped at that because I felt my intense excitement. It was not an embarrassing growing hardness, but the simple awareness of my body, the perceptiveness of my skin.
Given the short notice we hadn't had the chance to find any accommodation for Paoletto, so we intended to leave mom the lower bunk and we boys would make do in the upper one. We thought the wagon-lit compartment was big and comfortable enough to accommodate all three of us.
Paoletto's serene happiness calmed my excitement for a while and also infected my mother who agreed to play cards with us. Another surprise. Paoletto made her laugh and, as I remember, that had not happened since my father's illness. I enjoyed watching them discussing the game animatedly as they were playing. They were the two people I loved the most. It was for them I lived. Had they not been there my life would have had no meaning.
Now Paoletto is gone, and my mother has after some time found a partner.
We had dinner and when we returned from dining, we found the bunks prepared for the night. We waited in the corridor for her to get ready for bed.
"Are you going to sleep?" I whispered.
"I am going to sleep. Because what do you want to do?" he asked, alarmed.
"To caress you!"
"No, we cannot. There is your mother!"
"She will sleep."
He gave me a cunning smile.
"Well... If you say so. We can always come to an agreement."
Under the sheets we lay down so that I hugged him, and he could fall asleep and put his head on my shoulder and pillow. We hadn't undressed much, but at least we were in our underwear and T-shirts. It had been fun taking our clothes off while we were climbing around the upper bunk. Taunting and nudging each other, threatening the other to push him off in his underwear. My mother's presence didn't intimidate us at all and was soon ignored. We kissed. Next trying to move as little as possible we slipped our hands into our underpants. The caresses we gave ourselves were silent and discreet. We could not make any noise and we had to understand each other by touch alone. Our erections were immediate and while our lips remained glued to each other, we touched one another with our hands, not going further for fear of being unable to stop and being noisy. The deep sleep of youth born from tiredness crept up on us. Our hands tightened around the objects of our desire, our mouths united, our eyes already closed.
The pillow, thin and awfully hard, was rough in contact with the skin and helped to wake me up, along with a somewhat abrupt braking of the train. It was past dawn, a light glow filtered through the window, darkened by the curtain, but enough to make me distinguish every detail. I discovered that during the night Paoletto had slid out of my hug and had in his turn wrapped me in his protective grip. That must have been the appropriate position for the two of us. Him sheltering me, even from myself, and not me him who was younger. It had to be so, even while sleeping, in the unconsciousness of sleep, we were willing to take that position. I was anxious to tell him.
I distinguished between my mother's steady breathing and Paoletto's, slightly harsher rhythm, they were still sleeping profoundly. My lips were a few centimeters from his. I approached him and kissed him. Once and then again, until he shook. I kept stroking him with my lips, and he opened his eyes. He sighed, perhaps in protest.
"We are already in Austria," I whispered.
He grumbled a yes and closed his eyes. I kissed him again and closed my eyes too. I reopened them immediately and I realized that, while continuing to hug me, he was staring at me frowning.
I got closer until I touched his body. I felt him in front of me and took his cock in my hand. It was hard. I caressed him and felt him adjust to facilitate my movements. Then he touched me too.
"I woke you up to tell you that I love you," I murmured, "and that I feel protected by you, by your hugs. I suppose for my age I should have been the one helping you, but you are better at it."
"And you couldn't wait until later to tell me?"
"No, I had to do it now. But now you can sleep, Vienna is far away!"
"Do we have to sleep like this?"
And he gently shook what he was holding so delicately.
"Yes," I said and caressed him, "we are like this. Can you do that?"
"I believe so."
It was in Vienna that we made love and Paoletto gave me his virginity.
At my mother's suggestion, our grandparents had set us up in a little wooden house in the woods. It was like living in a fairy tale home, but it was all true. It was the little house my grandparents had had built at the beginning of the war, in the Wienerwald, the forest surrounding Vienna. The family had lived there to protect themselves from the bombing. As a child I had spent many summer nights there with my cousins and now I was back there with Paoletto. It was another dream come true.
During the day, we would go around Vienna, which is my other city.
One evening my grandfather and uncle took us to Grinzing to taste and drink the sweet wine in the Heuriger, which are the taverns where local winemakers serve their new wine. When we returned to the cottage, we were moderately drunk. Paoletto more so than me, it seemed. We had eaten and drunk in a special Heuriger because it was situated in one of the seventy houses in Vienna where Beethoven had lived more than one hundred and fifty years ago. This had inspired the musician in my lover. The Sturm, a partially fermented wine sold there, light and sparkling, had done the rest. We laughed like crazy all the way in the car and when we were alone, we discovered we were already embracing. Maybe we had been like that for a long time, in spite of our chaperones who we had evidently not scandalized at all.
"You stink of wine," he said.
"And you are drunk..."
"Really? Then take advantage of me!"
"I said... Fuck me!"
And he pressed himself on me. He kissed me and I hugged him more tightly.
"What are you waiting for?" He said, "I want to do it now. I desire you. I want you to make love to me. You fool! You know how to do it. You know what you have to do. Don't you?"
He pushed me against the wall, while he began undressing me.
"You know what to do to me. The things you did with René... everything, everything! Do everything to me... now, tonight!"
I was dazed by the wine and excited by those words.
"Yes, love..." I mumbled.
We used to sleep in the little room above. The room was reached by using a spiral staircase that joined the two floors of the little house. It was so narrow we had to go up one at a time. As we climbed up we kept getting stuck, because neither of us wanted to give way or leave the other's embrace. This made us burst into exhilarating, uncontrolled laughter.
I found myself with my back to the steps, almost twisted on the axis of the staircase, while he was on top of me and trying to pull down my pants. I had my hands under his shirt and feeling with my fingers, hypnotized by the line of his spine. Then with my elbows I climbed a few more steps.
Paoletto found himself in front of my cock which was already throbbing, waiting for attention. I was very drunk and only an insignificant part of me still maintained the idea of escaping that seduction. I didn't, why should I? He took it in his mouth, without hesitation. To tell the truth, we had done some experimenting in the previous days. He began to lick it like an ice cream. With the same concentration as when he was holding an overflowing cone in his hand from which he struggled not to lose even a drop. He was very greedy. At that moment he had that same intense, concentrated expression.
I was in a state of semi-unconsciousness. The wine had hopelessly confused me and looking at him I could only giggle. But then I got serious again because his tongue was transmitting waves of pleasure. He did it for a time that I could not measure. He stared at me, looked up at me and his gaze told me he was not uncomfortable with what we were doing. If I had been sober, perhaps, I would have understood he was not as drunk as he pretended to be.
Finally, we reached the bed, but in between we had lost almost all our clothes and between the two of us had only one sock on. I remember the white sock, but I don't know who was wearing it.
We hugged each other, slipping under the covers. We trembled at the contact with the cold sheets and he squeezed me, to protect me. We were exhausted because the climb had been long and tiring. Due to the kisses we had given one another on each step. Because of the hugs. Because of the struggle we had made getting rid of our clothes, the anxiety and excitement that had assailed us.
He was clinging to me, and I was crouching against him, looking for and enjoying the warmth of his body. In a darkness that was not complete, because the moonlight filtered through the skylight which opened onto the sloping roof. We paused to warm up and recover our breath.
He was not drunk. He was conscious and asked that I make him mine. His body, desired by me with passion and pain, was finally offered to me. And I made him mine, without more words or hesitation.
I moved until I knelt down between his legs and kissed his belly. I got rid of the blankets. The room was cold, but inside we were burning with desire and no longer felt the outside temperature. After I had covered him with kisses, I tried to make him turn over, but he wouldn't move.
"I want to look at you while you do it," he murmured, "Please love, let me look at you!"
I had overheard his distant voice, asking me to take him. Then he had spoken again, and I was as if enraptured by the magic of that moment. I nodded and shifted his legs. I moved in between and my tongue found and licked that special place, anointing him with saliva. I wet my cock and moved back towards him. He stared into my face intensely. He was focused on what I was doing, but more on me, than my actions.
The moonlight highlighted the delicate lines of his face producing little shadows. And at the bottom of his concentrated gaze I could only see love. His eyes shone. It was my imagination, but I remember seeing them shine. I touched him with my moist tip and pushed forward slightly. I felt a contraction in his legs which I held over my shoulders, but he relaxed them immediately and I pushed again, gently. We looked into each other's eyes. I was trying to see if I was hurting him, to make sure he wasn't in pain. I pushed into him and penetrated him deeper when I was inside him, he closed his eyes. I moved my hips and a moan escaped him. Immediately, I felt his contractions pressing my cock. His body stretched and then fell back. He was coming. His orgasm conquered me too. I closed my eyes and thrust myself inside him with more strength. My movements lifted him again, making us fall back together. I reached my own climax and then we fell exhausted on the bed, in a tangle of arms and legs. I remained inside him.
He opened his eyes and sought my mouth, we kissed. I moved slowly, slipping out of him. He touched the inside of my leg and then took hold of my cock. He caressed it.
"We were one person before. But even now I am yours! Isn't that true?"
"You have been inside me..."
"...I want you to do the same. I desire you too."
"We have time. I will do it when I am ready!"
"I don't want to do it now, nor tomorrow, nor in a week's time. Give me time. For now, you are enough for me. I always wanted to be yours. We must do it again. Often, always!"
He had decided. For me and for him and my protests were of no use. He did so only sometime later.
Now he is no longer with me. He is gone.
"Have you ever betrayed me?"
"You haven't told me..."
"I was always ashamed of it. It was in Boston. You were still in Italy, and I felt alone. I believe that Greg took advantage of me. We were drunk, I think…"
We broke out laughing. What had happened was so far back in time that Greg looked like only a faded figure in our memories. In the memory of those who had known him as well as in mine. Greg was a friend for a few months and a lover only for a couple of times.
"And you?" I asked, as a joke, sure he would answer no. That he hadn't even thought of betraying me in any way.
"Yes..." and he caught my incredulous look, "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Should I?" I said, while my face expressed all the skepticism it could.
"You'd better believe it!"
"And why didn't you ever tell me?"
Skepticism and surprise, but then foolishly, also suspicion and anger.
"Because you would not have understood. Because you would have made a tragedy out of it and the petting I did deserved nothing more than my repentance."
"The petting… you made-out? With whom?"
Anger at what? With whom, with him who was in front of me, slumped over the armchair?
"He was someone like you. When I realized how much you resembled each other, I let him go. He wasn't worth it."
"But who? When?"
"You are jealous. You see?"
"Of course, I am jealous!"
"At the high school! The last year!"
"You see, you are not yet ready to know? Not even after twenty years and after you said you betrayed me too?"
"You are right, sorry!"
"I apologize! But yes, I do apologize... I don't think you ever met him, but he was nice. He was only months older than me. When he knew I was gay, he came looking for me and told me he had some questions about himself. He didn't know exactly what he was. Maybe he was a bit gay too. That day I was feeling a little crazy and I was angry with you, so I told him to his face that there was only one way to know for sure. Which was to try having sex. He asked me with whom he could do that. 'With me!' I told him, because he was really cute and that day you and I had had a fight. Obviously, we talked about it in more detail and what I'm telling you are just the essentials. But we ended up doing things in his car, while you were desperately looking for me, not even imagining where I had ended up."
"Now I remember..." I interrupted him.
"Exactly! And you don't deserve knowing anything else..."
"Why? I want to know everything!"
But I was already joking and smiling at him.
"He was gay. Very much so. Very much indeed. It is enough for you to know that. But he was undecided. As you were, a few years before, and I left him alone. Also, because I felt upset at the idea of having betrayed you. You deserved it, however, because you made me angry. But I didn't really want to betray you... Just to teach you a little lesson... And..."
His concentration suddenly failed. He was exhausted. It happened in those days. I waited for him to recover.
"Do you forgive me?" he asked, smiling, after having dozed off for a few minutes.
I told him I did, and he stared out towards the garden, looking at I don't know what. I knew he could see practically nothing at all, little more than distinguishing light and shadow.
"Has God been bad to us?"
"A little bit, perhaps!"
"What will be next? I am afraid."
"You will go and wait for me in a faraway place. This time it is certain I will arrive!"
"Another time? I've already waited for you... What has it been, three years?" he thought about it a little lost. ”Yes, it's been three years!"
"It was twenty years ago."
"I will go where time does not count."
"But I will join you soon."
"No... stop it, stop it," he cried.
He cried more and more since the illness had worsened. He was at the end. I knew it. In front of the window, with the gray sky of that afternoon.
"I don't have much time left."
Instead of replying, I clasped his hand and kissed it.
"Not much, right?"
His voice was a whisper, reduced to the breath he could articulate in words. His weakness made me understand that for him there were only a few hours, or a few days.
"I don't know," I said, trying to be convincing. Trying to believe in what I was saying.
"I worry about you. What will you do afterwards, without me?"
"Don't worry. I will do something!"
"You have to promise me you won't do anything foolish and then swear to me you will go back to work. I want you to become the doctor you have always been. The man I love!"
Now it was me who was crying. I did not have to. I was no longer a good doctor, nor the kind lover I wanted to be with all my might. I had returned to being only the cowardly boy who had abandoned him and who was now afraid of suffering and being alone.
"Don't cry. Don’t waste this time," he scolded me. "I have no more. I want you to promise me what I asked."
"Swear it, Roby!"
"I swear to you."
"On our love?"
"On ourselves and on our love..."
I kept crying. I was committing myself again, but I couldn't deny it. I had always tried being strong. I cried that night, after I had given him the sedative to put him to sleep. During the day, I could usually overcome the despair I felt.
"So? How much time do I have?"
"I don't know."
"You know how much it is... And I know it is little. But how little? You can predict it. I know it!"
"I don't... I don't think it's much..."
"Then it's the end."
He closed his eyes. He took my hand quickly and held it as I didn't think he could anymore, but it took all his strength, his last final effort.
"Now everything is settled. Everything is accomplished. The pianist who hated Mozart because of you is leaving... I love you so much, Roby!"
The effort of speaking had exhausted him. He abandoned himself with his head bent over his chest. I took him back to bed. He no longer weighed very much. For some days now, I had not been using the wheelchair.
He closed his eyes and never woke up again.
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
Thanks again to Talo Segura for his efforts. His work has been of incalculable importance in making my rudimentary translation clearer. And his suggestions have often improved the understanding of the text.
Finally, it is thanks to his suggestion that I changed the title of the story to one much more congruent with the plot.
P.S. An epilogue will follow shortly for the conclusion of the story.