Lost Inside My Life
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
Paoletto entered my life at the moment Marco left.
Marco had reached the age when you leave the Scouts’ Troop to become a Rover, Paoletto was of the age that allowed him to enter the Troop, leaving the Cubs. The two events coincided, something which left me little time to evolve from being the disciple to taking on the role of mentor.
It just happened and was both fascinating and also appalling.
Each year, in early autumn, when the activities of the Scout Group resumed, a special ceremony was celebrated. It literally was a rite of passage. There were always seven or eight eleven year old Cubs entering the Scouts’ Troop and as many fifteen year old boys leaving the Troop to become Rovers. For this celebration, as well as to mark getting together again after the summer break, on the last Sunday of September or the first Sunday of October, the whole group decamped to a wood not far from the city. There were boys and girls, from seven to thirty years old and even older.
I already knew about Paoletto because of the oddity of his story. But although our families lived quite close to one another I had never met him. I don’t remember ever seeing him, I only knew his family history. A tragedy had happened. It seemed that he lived with his grandmother, because his mother had died in childbirth and his father no longer wanted to take care of him, or that was what I recall hearing.
That’s the kind of story that circulates among families who know each other.
Stories that get told and re-told, even if the events might be seven or eight years old since they actually happened. Everyone knew, remembered, and talked about it from time to time.
However, Paoletto’s story was this. His mother died a few days after the birth and his father went to live in the house of his mother, Paoletto’s grandmother Luigia, who was already a widow. In the house also lived another son who was then little more than twenty years old, Uncle Giulio. For all purposes, Grandma Luigia became Paoletto’s mother.
Three years later Paoletto’s father decided to remarry, and Grandma Luigia understood she would soon lose the exclusive affection of her beloved grandson, of whom she was evidently very fond. An affection reciprocated by Paoletto, who despite being only three years old, did not want even to be touched by this other woman who was about to become his new mother. Even as a child, Paoletto always had a strong will.
When, on the return from honeymoon, the time came to change homes and go to live with his father and stepmother, Paoletto fell ill. He was normally a healthy child, but the fever attacked him the night after the move to the new house and did not leave him even after a week had passed.
Grandma Luigia decided to make a last desperate attempt to save her child and while she was alone in the new house, she wrapped Paoletto in a blanket and took him back to her home. She put him in the bed where he had always been used to sleeping and waited for the miracle that would certainly happen. She was so sure of it that she was not discouraged even when the child was taken back with the chills. She did not call the doctor. She waited for hours. She never left the cradle. She stared at that feverish little body and prayed.
Uncle Giulio found them much later, when he returned home, both asleep. The grandmother was a little bit sore from the uncomfortable position and shivering from the cold since she had forgotten to turn on the heating. The grandson was peacefully dreaming without a fever anymore, with a healthy color absolutely unjustified considering how ill he had been that morning.
Waking up his mother, Uncle Giulio got an incoherent explanation, but whatever it was, miracle or luck, Paoletto was definitely getting better. The youngster smiled happily, obviously content to be back home in a familiar bed, and undoubtably healthier having regained his appetite. Giulio noticed all these things, even if he was still only a medical student. That unexpected recovery by Paoletto, caused the family to reconsider the decision they had made about the child’s fate.
For the moment, during his convalescence, no longer than a couple of weeks, Paoletto would stay with his grandmother. Then he would go to live with his father and his new mother, whose care no one doubted.
Seeing how he spent all the following years at his grandmother’s house, one might easily have said that Paoletto was never really cured, because his grandmother never let him go. His father stopped asking for his son’s return and his stepmother simply didn’t think about him anymore. Paoletto thus remained with his grandmother, who loved him so very much. His parents would gladly take him to lunch on a Sunday every now and then. However, as the little boy’s parents were like strangers, those lunches became Paoletto’s nightmare, until he was old enough to confess to his father and stepmother that he would have gladly done without them. Therefore, they also stopped, and the family gathered only for the holidays, until his father had to move to a city far enough away that they could hardly see each other anymore.
During the years in which these events took place, my mother often talked about them with my father, as almost all the people who knew the story periodically did. My mother always blamed everything on Grandma Luigia, who could not accept being parted from her grandson, and so had contrived, who knew what sort of plot, to prevent his return to his parents. My father, on the other hand, who was the same age as Paoletto’s father, and his schoolmate, then later, colleague at the University, had always leaned towards the belief that the arrangement suited his father. He remembered, in fact, Paoletto’s father’s uncanny ability to escape commitments and duties.
Whatever the truth and despite the events which determined his childhood, Paoletto’s life was spent peacefully living with Grandma Luigia. She always gave him a lot of attention, without spoiling him, and educated him with a necessary severity as was expected. Uncle Giulio took the place of his true father, until he got married when his nephew had just turned eleven.
The day after the wedding, that first Sunday in October, was the celebration that inaugurated the activity of the Scout Group for that year. It was there that I met Paoletto for the first time.
We were all eager to get acquainted with our new comrades, but they were staying apart, too grown up to be with the Cubs, but not yet comfortable to be with us.
Paoletto was the tallest of them, but what struck me and made him standout from his companions, was his disheveled appearance. He had a large mop of blond hair that magnified his head. The Cub uniform, which he was wearing for the last time, was a little too small for him. But the thing about him which struck me the most, was his expression. His face reflected an air of extreme gravity, as if he had been hit by a disaster. I knew nothing about his uncle’s marriage and had no idea about anything which might have happened to him. The fact was that he was the only one who was subdued in a group of noisy and cheerful kids. He was looking at the ground, his hands in his shorts pockets and his eyes reduced to squinting, although there was shade under the pine trees. He looked as if he were cross, that there was something he didn’t want to see or that frightened him.
When I realized he would be in my Patrol, I paid even more attention and studied him, finally recognizing who he was. Then his bizarre story came back to my mind. I thought that maybe all that sadness was due to not having a mother. I, who had a mother and loved her so much, was sure that never knowing your mother was a misfortune that brought unhappiness to every moment of one’s life.
When it was time to eat, we found ourselves in the Patrols and that was for the little ones the first contact with their new mates and something much more serious, like companions for adventures and life. Paoletto came to sit next to me and immediately began to devour a huge sandwich. Sometimes I looked at him curiously, and he always frowned at me without talking. We all joked and laughed, happy to have found each other, but Paoletto, always profoundly serious, only chewed his sandwich.
“At least tell me what you’re thinking about,” I murmured to him, no longer tolerating that mute presence next to me.
That year I was the Assistant Patrol Leader, the second in seniority in my Patrol. I had to take care, among other things, of the younger boys, make them comfortable, if possible. I immediately liked him, with that sad and disarming air.
“So?” I insisted.
“Nothing that could make you laugh!” he said without even looking at me.
He had replied with impoliteness, but I decided not to give up.
“We’ll be in the same Patrol… We could even become friends, if you want, of course…” I tried to win him over. “I know you live not far from my house and so every night we’ll go the same way to the Section. Maybe we will meet because we will be leaving at the same time. But walking with someone who never laughs and only munches sandwiches… Well! I don’t know if it’s worth it!”
He was still frowning at me and then he realized I was joking, and he smiled. I still remember that smile.
“This sandwich was made for me by my grandmother. She’s always afraid I won’t eat enough!”
“She must be terribly anxious!”
And finally, he laughed, his eyes lit up. When he smiled, two dimples were formed in the corners of his mouth, which gave his face a lively, intelligent, and somewhat mischievous expression. But his eyes were always cheerful, charming.
“Can we really become friends?” he asked me, almost as if he didn’t believe my offer, “Or were you just joking like you did about the sandwich?”
“I live really close to your house” I replied, and then explained to him who I was and where I lived “Why can’t we become friends? Don’t you want to?”
“I know who you are… And I agree. Friends!” he finally consented, then he concentrated on the sandwich, managing to eat it all, even as he laughed and chatted with the others.
Then he turned to me to ask me if I played any instruments.
“No, although we have a huge piano at home. My mother often plays it,” I said “And you? You play something?”
At that point he leaned over and started drumming with his fingers on my thigh. It seemed to me he was miming a pianist. Which he was. It turned out he wasn’t simply miming, Paoletto was a pianist.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m playing… Its Mozart’s Turkish March. From the piano sonata no. 11 – K 331,” he replied, without stopping playing, that was, drumming on my thigh.
“And can you really play it?” I asked, laughing.
“Of course!” he replied, sounding offended. “Are you stupid? I’ve been studying the piano for five years! And I’m good at it!”
He was a little angry then, but he immediately smiled at me again and continued for a few more minutes to make chords and scales on my thigh, while he hummed Mozart almost silently to himself. From as much as I could understand, he seemed good. After all he was playing on my leg and I recognized the tune of the Turkish March he was humming.
I didn’t interrupt but let that kind of massage end, which is maybe why he considered me worthy to become his friend.
That evening we returned by train from the excursion to the countryside. When we boarded the carriage, he came and found me, convincing another guy to give up his seat so he could sit next to me. Tiredness overcame many of us and I was about to fall asleep myself when I heard him shake me gently. He was trying to capture my attention.
“Do you believe in imprinting?”
“Imprinting has something to do with ducks,” he explained to me seriously. “An Austrian scientist thinks that a newborn duck chooses for a parent the first living thing it sees, even if it is not his real mother. The guy says that’s how it works!”
“What’s that got to do with me?” I inquired.
“Guess!” he said, smiling and shaking his head. Then in an instant he fell asleep resting his head on my shoulder. He snuggled closer every time the train shook, until he was hugging me, holding me as if I were a pillow. I, on the other hand, never slept again, intrigued by his words whose meaning was completely obscure to me.
Paoletto had chosen me.
I understood this after I got back home. I asked my mother to enlighten me about Conrad Lorenz and Ethology. A subject that Paoletto seemed to know well, unlike me.
It didn’t take me long to understand, and I became for him what Marco had been to me.
At first, it vexed me a little and I even felt embarrassed. I was not a person whom one should put their trust in. I was arrogant and unstable, prone to be hard headed. I could even say selfish, because I simply did not want a lap dog outside the gate every night at a quarter to seven. But the puppy insisted, proving himself to be much stronger, tyrannical, and more self-centered, than the master he had chosen.
He bribed me with the licorice he chewed continuously and which he offered me without any hesitation. He won me over with the apparent docility with which he accepted my changes of program, so long as they did not exclude him. We were After all of different ages. He was eleven and I, fourteen. I had commitments that I could not share with him. We attended different schools. I was already in high school, he went to middle school. None of this stopped him from following me everywhere. We ended up being inseparable. I had no doubt that this was what Paoletto wanted. We had become friends because he had chosen to do so, it was all thanks to him. What was also certain was it was something I needed as much as he did.
Thinking back, we were similar. I was an only child. He was an only nephew, as he said about himself, joking. He called himself that because Grandma Luigia and Uncle Giulio were his family, and like my mother they were very affectionate and very caring. We both lacked a father figure, although in a radically different way. Our fathers were not dead, but they were far away. His was physically far away, mine was invariably at work, which made me think he loved his work more than me.
By the way, on this last matter, I was wrong.
The loneliness we shared as children had produced a rather divergent couple who completed each other. His youth was tempered by an innate wisdom, a thoughtfulness of actions, which easily compensated for my extra three years of childish, impulsive, and selfish behavior. You might say we suited each other!
It did not happen immediately, but over time we became firm friends, always within that larger organization that was the Scout Section, where we spent all our free time. In that world there were other groups of friends and as well as us, all with a carefree happiness that pervaded our days.
That first year passed like a dream, the serenity of my fourteen years and his eleven was complete.
After the camp I became the Panthers Patrol’s Leader. Paoletto was in his second year in the Scouts and it would have been my last year, because afterwards I would have left to become a Rover.
There were seven of us in the Patrol, and in the age range, Paoletto occupied the penultimate place. For me only he existed. But my happiness was upset, without completely dissolving, at the end of the summer. Although the real trouble happened on a gloomy Sunday in November.
That Sunday we went on an excursion, just the Panthers Patrol. We left early in the morning despite it almost raining. We took the train and then walked until we reached a vast karstic depression, a place as impressive as it was huge. We settled on the edge of a large hollow. The intention was to try remote signaling methods, with sounds, lights, and flags. We divided into three groups. It was predictable and everyone expected that Paoletto and I would form one of the teams. It always happened like that.
We moved away along the edge of the abyss and gained the opposite side, far enough away so that we almost lost sight of the figures in the distance, but we could distinguish the movement of the signal flags, hear the sound of a whistle, or still see the flashing of a light.
How I felt about him had become complicated, something I could not easily understand or define. At times I hated him for the way he made me angry, for how rebellious he was and for how little attention he paid to those unimportant things that seemed important to me but were irrelevant to him. At other times it drove me crazy with joy to have him around, to smell his candy scent, to know I was the most important person in his life.
He used to repeat it to me over and over again and, since our friendship was yet uncontaminated by malice, that was a statement that filled me with pride. Me, the most important person in his life.
Knowing that every night I would inevitably find him in front of my home, gave me the strength to live my day at school, to study what little was necessary, not very hard, since I was doing well. It helped me to bear my father’s absences and offer my mother some of that same joy. Paoletto was all this for me and I for him, given the commitment he put into making our relationship more and more alive.
That feeling had begun to complicate one day, at the end of the summer, when I realized I wanted him in a different way. I mean sexually.
We were at the beach. A dozen or so of us of various ages, intent on joking around. We were waiting for the summer to end, for school to start up and, above all, for the Section to reopen. I looked at Paoletto, and suddenly I desired him. Until a moment before he was a nonsexual angel whom I adored. Then, I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, he was a body to be desired. Suddenly, all I could think about was how he would look naked, without that heavenly costume that covered him so little. And I had an erection, difficult to hide, because I was in a swimsuit.
To me, it was a reminder of the reality of things, of bodies, of the flesh.
I didn’t think about sex too much, taken as I was by so many ideas and activities. My first masturbation was a couple of years before. Then there was the experience with Marco. Knowing he didn’t want, didn’t like, me to remind him of those moments, had blocked me towards him and anyone else. So much so that I considered masturbating a very private, very secret, but necessary affair.
In any case, in those years in the scouts and anywhere else, sex was unspoken about. As if it didn’t exist.
My sex life was at the time tied to some memories and pleasures I was giving myself with a certain regularity, thinking about who, what? It may seem strange, but my dreams were so vague that they were indistinct. Did I already have a precise objective and unconsciously made it indefinite? I could not say. I masturbated, as Marco had taught me, almost every night, in bed, with great speed, anxious to reach orgasm and then to calmly fall asleep. Thoughts were not supposed to be important, because I reached pleasure and sleep almost together. And I would forget them, dreaming of something else.
It went like that until I looked at Paoletto with different eyes, as if they were no longer mine.
That day on the beach I calmed down with some difficulty, but that evening I did not fall asleep. The pact with my private demon was over, and the thoughts I had were the best proof of it.
I dreamed, fantasized, saw, with my eyes wide open, what I desired to do with him. I was more awake than if it had been morning. The excitement was so intense that I had no inhibitions in imagining every detail of the seduction I could attempt and then, from fantasy to fantasy, guessing the ways I would violate his innocence.
I evoked the scenes that took place in my mind as if they were in front of my eyes. And I experienced all the sensations with my body up to an orgasm, something I lived with an upset, an emotion I had never before experienced.
I had degraded him and that was it.
The next day I was nervous that he would read in my eyes how dirty my thoughts were, but he was as always warm and friendly. Even that night I imagined seducing him and I did it so many other times, thinking about him night and day. And then I would wait for him by the front gate, so that we could go to the beach, or play football, or wherever our imagination invented for us to spend a couple of hours doing. I felt dirtier every day, and he finally realized something was different, but he could not understand the nature of my feelings.
I would have died rather than reveal to him how corrupt I was.
“You are acting weird… Why? What have I done to you? Did I do something?” he asked me suddenly, one morning on our way back from the beach. Perhaps that day I had looked at him for too long. I had stared at him, trying to take off his costume with my eyes.
“What… why?” I pretended to be surprised.
“You look at me… weird… I don’t know. You’re getting strange!”
I tickled him, grinning. It was our way of proving to each other that we were friends as always.
The start of school helped me. The Section began to work again and so even though we continued to see each other regularly, to frequent each other with the usual affection, we had much more to think about. Above all, the opportunities to see him almost naked, and be forced to desire him, ended.
Until that morning in November, when I attacked him.
That day my hormones took over. I could say that is what happened and blame it on that. Then again, perhaps, it was not that at all. I am, however, certain that I didn’t plan what I did. I only knew that I wanted to see and touch Paoletto in all those secret places. I dreamed of touching him. And then, I had the opportunity, and did so.
As soon as we were far enough away from the others, I asked him.
“Do you know how to jerk off?”
I never had any doubts about why I did it, but one of the mysteries of my life is where I gathered the courage. My hormones again, I suppose.
We had never spoken about it between ourselves. We discussed everything, but it was as if we didn’t possess that part of our body. Our dicks seemed to be outside of our friendship, certainly because those talks did not represent for Paoletto the existential problem they had become for me. He was too young.
Paoletto seemed not to have heard me.
“So, do you know how to jerk off or not?” I insisted.
“Do you know what I’m talking about?”
“I know what you’re talking about. What do you think?” he said to me, impatient and apparently not at all embarrassed.
“Well… and do you do it?”
“Yes!” he finally admitted.
So, he masturbated.
A friend would have stopped there. Even if the real, special one, the best friend I was supposed to be, he would never have asked those questions.
“And since when?” I continued instead.
“And why do you want to know?”
He wasn’t annoyed. Perhaps he seemed intrigued by my questions. He wasn’t embarrassed. He would have answered me in the same tone even if I had asked him if he had done his homework for the next day. A reddening of his cheeks would have stopped me. I am sure. A hesitation in answering would have perhaps made me reconsider what I was doing, but Paoletto didn’t get upset and kept looking at me waiting for me to make the next move.
My throat was dry. My heart was pounding in my chest, I could almost hear its beat. It was so strong I thought it would burst. I was afraid he knew it, understood my emotion, and was alarmed, instead he remained calm.
“No reason,” I said, trying to control my voice. “Only, of course, I do it too…” I tried to joke “And I thought it would be fun to do it together!”
I had told him. All in one breath and without imagining the consequences for him, still a child. But what consequences? I wondered about it at that moment.
“Yes, yes! Come on. Please, let’s do it! Now? Here?”
He was eager.
“Only if you want to… Are you sure you want to do these things with me?”
“But what things? Jerk off? With you? Sure, come on, let’s do it. Where are we going to do it? Here? Back there?”
He smiled happily, and his enthusiasm overwhelmed me, along with all the good intentions, if I ever had any. We had a few minutes before the others were ready to start the game, so we ran and hid behind a massive rock that was on the edge of the chasm.
We stood in front of each other. Paoletto was waiting for me to move first. It frequently happened like that when there was something to do that, he imagined, I knew more about. And that was a field in which I was supposed to be more experienced than him, but my hands were shaking.
Then the excitement took over. I opened my fly, and he immediately did the same. I pulled out my dick already hard enough to grip it. And so, did he.
I don’t recall what I was thinking at that moment. Nor, oddly, what I really saw. But I know, and it is an image that I have impressed on my memory, that the wind picked up and the clouds started running across the sky.
It brought me back to reality, the feeling of cold on my groin. Paoletto was waiting for my moves. I caught only a glimpse of the object he held in his hand, that which I had so longed to observe.
“Close your eyes,” he said in a breath.
“I’m ashamed… I’m still so little…”
I was too excited to understand or discuss this, so I obeyed him immediately. Then I started to move slowly. I put my forehead on his and with my hand I brushed the tip of his cock. I heard him sighing. Then I smelled the scent of his hair and the smell of the wind bringing rain. Before long, a lot of water would fall, but I didn’t care. We moved simultaneously with eagerness.
From the way he reacted before and from the way he was doing it, I finally understood that it had to be his very first time. He was imitating and exaggerating my movements. He was thrilled, but also awkward. His breath immediately became labored and then it happened. He sighed, I felt him contract, and then he felt what was perhaps his first orgasm. I heard him moan and immediately I added my own climax to his spasms. We ended up hugging and clinging to each other, until our breathing returned to normal.
Only then I saw him staring fascinated at my wet hand. Curiosity had won out, making him put aside his modesty. He took hold, bringing my hand to his nose, and smelling it.
“So, this is semen?” he touched my fingers, picked some up, testing the density of the liquid that covered me.
I nodded. I was mesmerized by his inexperience, by the naivety of his questions. He smelled it one more time, then he stared at me with that cunning gaze of his.
“I told you a lie,” he said laughing. “It’s the first time for me. But if I hadn’t done it, when would you have shown me?”
And without a blush, smiling calmly, he caressed my dick that was going soft again.
“Will mine become like that too?”
“Soon…” I whispered.
Without any embarrassment he took my cock in his hand, as if to weigh it. He squeezed a little bit and looked carefully at the hair of my pubis. He was curious and had no shame, simply taking advantage of the opportunity I had given him.
Then the wind that had warned us brought rain, just a few drops.
I would have liked to touch him too, but he had decided to get dressed. The way I was excited I would have undressed him again and I think he would have let me do it, but suddenly the rain began to get heavy. We ran for shelter under the trees of the forest a few meters from where we were.
Only then was I really aware of what I had done. That kind of ecstasy I had experienced was followed by an intense remorse. It was an anxiety that would never leave me alone, an anxiety that began at that moment its slow work inside my mind.
I felt an overwhelming anguish building inside me. We went and sat under a tree, he ran to sit next to me, hugging me as he did, as if he wanted me to protect him.
I should have warned him, told him to stay away from me, that I was dangerous for him, but instead I returned the embrace. I closed my eyes so as not to cry. It was raining hard and penetrating through the thick tangle of branches. We shifted closer trying to avoid getting wet.
I hoped with all my heart that somehow being occupied with keeping dry, escaping the storm, would have distracted him from what we had just done. That he might forget. But he was like a young pup, he was exuberant and fixed on what he had discovered, already thinking about doing it again. He was a puppy, I was almost an adult.
“When are we going to do it again? It was just…”
He hesitated, searching for a suitable adjective, then simply said, “it was ‘beautiful'”. When he said it, with all his innocence, he moved me and increased my awareness of my inadequacy.
“I want to do it the way you do!” he added, after a while, seeing I was not speaking.
“We cannot do it anymore!” I murmured.
“And when will I have semen, too?” he asked, not even considering my answer, oblivious to my pain.
“When you are older. Next year perhaps…” Then I made my angry face, which he knew, “But now we two won’t do that anymore!”
“And why is that?” he asked, as if I had snatched his preferred toy from his hands.
He was disappointed by my change of heart, far from comprehending how bad I had been to him and how misguided my actions were.
Where was his modesty? That request to close my eyes so as not to look at him. What was it if not shyness, innocence that he had then given up because of me?
I was unable to tell him anything else. I locked myself in a mutism that disorientated him and prevented him from asking me any more questions, which was very unusual for Paoletto. This also encouraged me in my intent to resist his every request and above all my impulses, which I feared the most.
We went back and joined our comrades after the rain stopped. We had to decide whether we should return to the city or continue the excursion despite the rain.
I was worried about what I had done. I already felt indecent simply having those thoughts I had kept to myself, but now I had corrupted someone else. Yet he joked happily as if nothing at all had happened. He remained close, attached to me, as my best friend.
The sky cleared, and so we could stay outside until dusk, when we took the train back to the city. As always, I made my way home with Paoletto, who didn’t mention what we had done, even though I think he wanted to. Several times during the day he looked at me, as if to tell me something, but my mood must have deterred him.
I was afraid and hopeful, at the same time, that he would talk about what we did together. I wanted to touch him again, touch him, even just to look at him. And if he had asked me, we would have done it again. I am certain of it. But that day did not happen.
I didn’t walk away from him. I couldn’t, I couldn’t live with the idea, because I would have to leave the Scouts, and that was inconceivable. I decided I would stay close to him, but would never even touch him again, not even if he asked me. I would always refuse to go back to doing what we had once tried together.
Yet I knew very well how impractical this way of thinking was, even at the very moment I made the decision. I did not have the character suitable for martyrdom. However, I was very prone to expect and accept punishment and pain.
At that time, something happened that frightened me so much, it strengthened my intention not to undermine Paoletto anymore.
Paoletto did not seem to suffer either from what we had done, or from my decision not to do it anymore. A couple of times he proposed we masturbate together and I, while despairing within myself, virtuously refused. He also alluded to how much he had enjoyed himself and how nice it would have been if we did it again, but I side stepped his requests, feigning disinterest or pretending not to understand.
What really kept me from succumbing to temptation was something that happened at school. The fear that we might suffer a similar fate to a boy who went to my school, when suspicion arose that he was too close to one of the teachers. No one had ever seen them together more than usual, but there had been rumors. Someone had known, it had been stated that the boy spent many evenings at the teacher’s house, an unmarried man, and living alone. It was enough for both of them to be branded as homosexuals, without anyone ever saying it openly. The rumor was that the boy was corrupted by the teacher.
It meant he had to change schools. The professor disappeared and we never knew if all those whispers were true or false. Still, the voice inside my head told me to take heed and a fear remained.
That others might discover and malign Paoletto and I, terrified me. It was a salutary lesson and the idea that my mother could discover my real desires towards Paoletto, even prevented me from masturbating for many days.
In spite of this, I attached myself even more to him, in what I tried to make the most chaste of friendships. I vigorously made sure we escaped any hint, even the most distant, of sex. Paoletto neither noticed, nor did he pay any attention to my new found purity. At least, he didn’t seem to, nor did he mention what had happened between us, the matter that I considered so dirty, I felt terrible just thinking about it. We incredibly never spoke of it again.
Winter passed, spring blossomed, and summer returned.
It was once more time for camp, my last camp as a Scout, before embarking on the next adventure, as a Rover. I had known where that would take me. Certainly, I would no longer be close to Paoletto who would stay in the Scouts for another three years. The nearer the approaching moment when we would separate drew close, so Paoletto attached himself to me more and more, almost foreboding that something would happen. During those last months, I often had to steel myself, to become strong enough to stem and limit the degree of confidence and familiarity we shared.
The preparation for the camp was hectic and we no longer had time to worry about our future, or think about what would happen in October, when we would no longer have a legitimate reason to see each other every night.
I was sure anyway that we would invent something to keep seeing each other somehow. Both of us would grow and mature. Our bond would hardly remain unchanged, but in my heart, and I knew Paoletto thought so too, our friendship would evolve and be preserved intact. As strong as ever.
And who knows what our life would have been like if Paoletto, that day, the penultimate day of the camp, had not taken the yellow flag and I had not chased him.
It all happened so suddenly.
We were playing a game, the most important one during the camp. A kind of war between two groups who were formed by mixing the members of all the Patrols into two factions. To our great regret, Paoletto and I had ended up on different sides. Each group had to conquer a flag and defend it all day long from the attacks of the other group. It was a bit more complicated than that, there was a story for the setting of the game and other rules, but in the end the goal was to keep possession of the flag until four o’clock in the afternoon.
Paoletto, using his speed and ability to squirm and wriggle, managed to get through a bunch of people bigger and heavier than himself. He reached the flag before anyone noticed and was already running towards the woods. I saw him and followed him.
I saw him before the others because he and I never lost sight of each other. We looked at each other all the time and always knew what the other was doing. So, I was the best prepared to chase him. Some of my team tried, but soon gave up, because Paoletto’s companions managed to block them, delaying their run.
After a few minutes of uncontrolled charging through the woods, between ascents and descents, I stopped to recover my breath and get my bearings. I seemed to know where I was. We had been living in those woods for two weeks, and we had explored them far and wide. The direction taken by Paoletto was uphill towards the mountain that overlooked the camp. By now I had arrived at the clearing from where another thicker patch of trees climbed up towards the top of the mountain. Below there was the village and the whole valley with the lake.
I saw him dawdling at the upper edge of the clearing. He was waiting for me because he knew it was me who had followed him. He signaled for me to come closer, and I was about to reach him, when he shouted at me.
“Truce. Truce. Peace. You can’t take the flag from me!”
“And why can’t I?”
“Because you have to give me your word that until four o’clock you will not try to take the flag from me!”
“And why should I?”
“Because I will confide in you.”
He had disarmed me. He always knew how to do it.
“OK! Then, peace! But only until four o’clock!”
He ran towards me and hugged me, as if the truce between us had allowed him to find the friend he had lost.
“What time is it?” he asked.
That was one of the very few times he had asked the time. Paoletto had a very singular relationship with time. He was only punctual if we were to meet. Otherwise, including school, his measure of time was elastic and unreliable.
“Then we have at least five hours to be alone, don’t we?”
“I think so!”
Being on opposing sides in the game we were playing, it was not convenient for either of us to be found by the others. For me to be found by his companions would have meant being overwhelmed and ending up out of the game. For him, who was practically my prisoner, but until four o’clock protected by my word, meeting my team would have meant losing the flag. Instead, arriving at the fateful hour with the flag in his possession would make him a little hero. Regardless of the final outcome of the game.
He was right, it was convenient for both of us to hide. And it was a beautiful opportunity, to be alone in a world of our own.
“Shall we go? Shall we see where we can get to?” he said, looking up, to the top of the mountain.
He took me by the hand and pulled me into the woods. After an hour of strenuous climbing, we stopped next to a stream to take a few sips of the very cold water. Then we continued on, climbing to the top, and after a short distance we lay in the sun on a spur overlooking the valley. Beyond the treetops we could see the campsite and even further below. A branch of the lake and then at the bottom a whole panorama of hills and countryside, more and more flat and indistinct in the distance.
It was an enchanting spectacle that took hold of us, but we were immediately ravenous. I took out the sandwich I had in my backpack, since he, with all his dexterity and maneuvers to capture the flag, had left his bag in the camp. So, we only had one sandwich, not even that big, and only one water bottle, always mine, which we shared, happy to do so. At the end we collected and ate the crumbs that had fallen on the stone. We devoured the apple by biting it in turn, until we also ate the core.
By the time we had finished our little meal, it was just after twelve o’clock and the sun was beating down. We were at an altitude of almost two thousand meters. We moved into the shade beneath a tree. I lay down on the grass resting my shoulder against a boulder. He came next to me, laying his head on my chest. Immediately my heart accelerated its beats. The emotion I felt ran from me to him and our eyes met. Many months, almost a year of proposals, of sacrifices, of fears, of remorse, everything was swept away by what I saw in his eyes.
I put my arm on his chest and he came closer to me, he gathered himself against me.
We were alone. Suddenly I was aware we were alone, absolutely alone. We had drifted away, as distant from everything and every path as the rocks that surrounded us.
Only God could see us there. I hadn’t believed in it for a long time, and Paoletto believed only what I believed in.
He held me tight. I felt his body, as he felt mine.
I touched his face with my hand. I drew him to me. I caressed his chest, then I went down slowly to touch his belly, and then further down. I felt he was excited. I caressed him, and he let me. He didn’t stop looking at me, then he untied himself from my embrace to sit cross-legged next to me.
I could no longer decipher his expression. He hesitated, it was as if he were stunned by what we were doing.
It was then I stopped thinking and without realizing it decided about my life and his.
I took his hand and placed it on my crotch. I was afraid he might run off, yank it away, or hit me, but it didn’t happen. He didn’t burst out crying, or laughing, he didn’t withdraw. He did nothing to bring me back to reality. That is not meant as any sort of justification. Instead he caressed me gently, down there, just as I had done to him shortly before.
Then he surprised me. With a slow movement, he lifted himself up and came and lay down on top of me. I felt his excitement pressing against mine. He put his head in the hollow of my neck. His lips opened to touch my skin. He hugged me. Then he was looking for my mouth.
He wanted to kiss me, and I was letting him. I stayed motionless. He was going to kiss me. His serenity, the confidence with which he moved, not only amazed me, but literally overwhelmed me.
Finally, our lips joined but it was not a deep kiss. We would have been unable to do it. Neither of us had ever kissed like that.
I squeezed him. We looked into each other’s eyes. He had few clothes on and I let my hands run over him. First to touch him, then to get rid of his clothes. When I began to undress him, I felt him stiffen. I didn’t mind his shyness and he let me do it. He offered himself to my hands, to my eyes that fed on that poisoned food. He had grown in those months. He was beautiful.
We moved aside and rolled on the grass. When I was on top of him, I got rid of what little clothes I had on. He was intrigued, because to him, who was no longer a child, my appearance as a young man must have seemed like a revelation. It was like seeing himself in the future, a specimen of adulthood.
Our bodies pressed together. Not a word was spoken. What could we say?
With my eyes closed, I tried living those moments in full. And I lived them in an orgasm that was sudden and upsetting, suddenly bathing his abdomen. Exactly as he did with mine.
The pleasure for me instantly turned to tears and sobs. Paoletto, who was always suffering with me, followed suit, and cried too.
When we calmed down my head had no more thoughts. They would have been too dreadful for me to contemplate.
I felt nauseous and giddy.
“Why did you cry?”
He was frightened. Our eyes were red.
“You were crying too…”
“You started it,” he insisted “Why? Tell me!”
“I don’t know,” I replied, a little rudely, trying to get dressed, “We can’t stay here any longer, let’s leave!”
“Why? What have I done?”
I should have stayed by his side and consoled him. I should have tried to explain, to justify my behavior. Instead, after using him, I was abandoning him. Once clothed, I got up and walked towards the woods, leaving him behind, alone.
“Did I do something to you?” he cried.
I heard him shout as he ran after me.
“I promise you that I will never do it again. I swear to you. I’m sorry!” he cried again.
I stopped and waited for him to reach me.
“What have I done to you?” he murmured again as he approached me.
“What have I…” I shouted to him, to the sky, to God if there was a God “What…”
“Please!” he was crying.
I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
“Swear on your mother’s life you won’t tell anyone what we did just now!”
“I swear to you,” he whimpered, “but don’t be angry with me! Please, I beg you! I will never do it again! I will never speak of it! I swear! With anyone! Don’t get angry! Please!”
He was like me! It couldn’t have been! It was not supposed to be! It was not supposed to happen!
I was the sick one, of that horrible species. I had the unmentionable vice, and I knew it for a while, but discovering that Paoletto could be like me too, terrified me, because I was sure I had infected him. Probably, as Marco had done with me. I don’t know why I imagined a disease or a curse, something that was transmitted from boy to boy, but that’s what I thought as we were going down the hill. I was stunned by screams that didn’t exist. I could hear a buzzing sound in my ears that deafened me, and my eyesight became clouded until I fell down a couple of times.
I could barely hear his footsteps behind me and every once in a while, I would hear a sigh and hiccup, or his pleading for me to stop and wait for him. He cried and begged, but I didn’t stop. We descended towards the camp. When we met a group of our comrades, I said I was sick and could not continue the game. Paoletto was silent, behind me. He also seemed dazed.
The Scoutmaster diagnosed both of us with sunstroke and sent us to the tent to rest. The game continued without us.
My life had changed. I had taken a path that would make me quite different from what I had been until a few hours before. When we were in the tent alone, I slipped into my sleeping bag and turned my back to him. Paoletto was wasted, washed out, his eyes closed. He didn’t say a word and practically did not speak again until the end of the camp. I too, was not much company, hoping that everything would end as soon as possible, and I could get away from everyone, especially him.
I just wanted to be alone, in my room at home, looking at the ceiling.
And that’s what I did when we got back. I stayed for days alone in my room without leaving, except to eat listlessly.
It was there, lying on the bed, with my eyes shut, that I determined and planned my future life, if what I conceived could be defined as a plan.
Looking at the ceiling, I saw those images of what I wished I had not done. My devious, slow, implacable approach to Paoletto, exploiting his naivety, his vulnerability. He was a child and believed in his oldest friend. As plain as daylight, in the same vision, I saw myself and Marco. Him running away from me. More subtly, moving away from himself. Perhaps he had understood my weakness and was afraid of it, somehow stopping in time.
I was in an orgy of self-pity, in the raging of my desire to punish myself. I was not touched by the idea of how Marco had acted so that I would follow him, only to run away scared.
It happened there, in the bed I was soaking in sweat, because that August was the hottest in a century and it was even hotter for me to burn in hell. It was the beginning of hell.
In those sheets that were soaked with tears at night because I cried, that’s when I decided to die. I contemplated my suicide, but my cowardice did not figure it should be immediate and definitive. Instead, I planned that it had to be slow and painful. Out of selfishness and with malice towards my loved ones, I decided to let myself die and stop worrying about myself.
My apathy made my mother uncomfortable and she even managed to get my father’s attention. He, recognized the symptoms of a nervous breakdown, had me examined by one of his neurologist colleagues. I was fit, the man said. I only had growth problems. If I cared about myself, I would have shouted my real problems at him, but I didn’t do that.
Give me a medicine, doctor! Let me heal, asshole of a doctor. Or let me die.
I was desperate. I had a monster inside and I had to drive it out. And in order to destroy it I had to look for something stronger, something that would bring it down. Or at least reduce it to silence so that I wouldn’t listen to it screaming inside me anymore. Even if it were not the screams I was afraid of, but the song of the siren that drew me to a place where I would embrace Paoletto again. I knew he was still there, crying and waiting for me.
I went out again, but I was wandering around on my scooter in places where I had never been before. Where I was sure not to meet any of my usual friends. I made some new acquaintances and approached some kids from my school who were meeting in a public garden far from my neighborhood. At that place, late at night, when most of the ordinary people had gone home, someone would pull out a joint and we would smoke it all together.
That’s how I started, taking a few shots, and seeking company, because I got tired of crying alone.
I went looking for a monster mightier and stronger than my private vice and my impossible love.
One evening there was an alarmed phone call from Paoletto’s grandmother. It seemed that the boy had been refusing food for a few days. Grandma Luigia asked, if possible, that I come and talk to him.
If I had done so, someone would have asked me to explain, but what could I have said?
Perhaps I should have looked Paoletto in the eye.
When my mother told me about the phone call, I left the house slamming the door, without saying a word.
That night I bought drugs. I was never short of money, my father and mother gave me as much as I asked for, and I could afford all the vices I wanted.
I bought some LSD pills. Feeling more scared than I thought, I swallowed one and waited for the effects. My new friends, more acquaintances than friends, assured me that for a while I would forget even my name. That was exactly what I was looking for.
However, with that first high I distinctly recall a complete sequence of odd dreams whose concreteness still astonishes me.
In the first dream we were on the high mountain, the sun burning on our skin, Paoletto was on top of me. The feeling of his weight pressing on my belly. Him touching my lips with a kiss, me undressing him. His resistance. I tore his shirt. I remembered the sound of the tear. We rolled together on the grass. He was then underneath me. I blocked his arms. He tried to move. I forced my lips on his mouth. I found his sex, gripping it and joining it to mine. I felt them pulsating. The orgasm wet us.
That first dream ended there.
Instead of waking up I realized I was in another reality. I discovered with terror that I had dreamt while I was awake. The merry-go-round of dreams on which I had climbed on took off for another, even more terrifying, ride. I dreamt I was chasing Paoletto and then I reached him. It was easy to overwhelm him because of how strong I was. Still my hands were looking for satisfaction on his body. Then, as skillful as I was, he still eluded me. He managed to slip out of my sweaty hands. I saw him disappearing over the precipice and I fell with him.
Once again I failed my attempt to return and wake up. It wasn’t over yet. In another round I was certain I had killed him. It was then I panicked. I frightened the others who were with me. I screamed, calling out for Paoletto, whom fortunately no one there knew.
When I was conscious enough, they told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted to stay with them, I had to stop taking hallucinogens. At least until I was a little calmer. I could smoke all the grass in the world, but no more trips.
The humiliation of that night with the risk that I had run of betraying myself in front of everyone, hit me hard. The thought of being taken away from the only people with whom I had any sort of friendship, pushed me to be more cautious, to save myself from worse damage.