Lost Inside My Life
Translated from the original Italian by Lenny Bruce, revised by Talo Segura.
After the camp I tried disappearing again, but my escape lasted exactly thirty minutes. The day after our return, at half past seven, Paoletto was in front of the gate and sounded the bell.
That evening we were supposed to meet at seven o’clock in the Section to unpack. Open the backpacks and boxes. Lay the tents out to dry them. Store the tools. The boys were anxious to get together to talk about the camp, but I didn’t have to be there. My involvement had definitely ended when the camp finished, but Paoletto expected me to be there. I wanted to go, but I lacked the courage to face him and I had no idea what I would say to him?
At seven o’clock I hid in my room, burying my head in a book I didn’t want to read, but which I forced myself to follow, as some kind of punishment. It was a ruse, I was certain Paoletto would seek me out. It was impossible he would leave me alone, after what I had told him and what I had promised. After the intimacy and confidences of the past few days.
When I wasn’t at the Section as I was supposed to be, he waited only a few minutes before he stopped what he was doing and came searching for me. Paralyzed by that same fear which locked me within myself, I did not open the door immediately. Facing him again would change everything, it would force me to keep that promise. I had already made my decision, even if I now regretted it.
Seeing him standing in front of the house made me anxious. I knew this was his last rendezvous at the Section, his last time as Patrol Leader. Next year it would be another boy overseeing putting away the tents. After tonight he would be nothing more than a guest. Coming to look for me meant he was missing out, it cost him a lot. But he had left all the same, and he was waiting for me behind the gate, to make up my mind. His eyes were fixed on the hall window.
He must have realized I was there, hidden by the reflection in the glass, because he was staring right at me, or at least I thought he was. But one thing was certain, he was looking for me, he was still looking for me! I was certain he would have continued to do so, despite everything, despite any of my attempts to avoid and escape him.
He rang again and I heard my mother move to go to the door. Which forced me to open it myself. I flung it open and ran towards the gate.
“Hello,” he shouted, through the bars of the gate. He smiled at me as if it were the time we had arranged to meet and he had not been waiting for me for half an hour, and then a few more minutes ringing the bell.
He smiled at me and I too was happy to see him, at least as much as my mother was. She had followed me down the hall, surprised to discover someone was looking for me with such insistence. Then she recognized Paoletto and came over to greet him. She abandoned her torpor, replacing it with a smile, perhaps reassured to see him once more in our house. I took her lead, encouraged, I renounced for the moment my true intentions.
“I was waiting for you, why didn’t you come?” he asked as soon as we were alone.
“I was tired…”
It was an excuse, and he didn’t believe it.
“So? Are you coming now?”
How could I say no to him?
I followed him back to the Section, where we spent the evening together with the others. It was almost midnight by the time we left and as we made our way home, I had forgotten my promises, my intentions, and those fears. I was happy, walking together, arm in arm. He never stopped talking. He told me all about himself and about the last few years.
Those three years had gone, but It seemed to me it was only yesterday. He was there with his smell of candy and that unmistakable aroma of licorice that was so intrinsic to him, part of his person. His voice had changed but retained all the sweetness I had loved and still loved so desperately. His eyes, the hair he had somehow tamed, the swaying gait of a tall person. He was different, but still himself, amidst those familiar places, the same streets.
He walked beside me, and I listened to him talking. Every now and then I would ask him about someone, someone I had not seen for years, and the memories came flooding back to me. Being close to him was reopening all the doors to my memory, doors which I had slammed shut and thrown away the key. Now I wished I hadn’t closed them.
We laughed happily together, but I felt a growing anxiety. I knew he was about to ask me something. I knew it. I was in love and the person for whom I held that feeling was next to me, but I couldn’t, I didn’t want to tell him. If he decided I should stay by his side, if that were the way it was meant to be, I would follow him everywhere for as long as he wanted. Silently, without any question, I would take my place as his oldest friend, ready with advice and support, but I would never reveal my secret to him.
I felt rather foolish with those heroic thoughts, because Paoletto didn’t need me, he had never sought my help. He had learned to live his life alone and get along by himself. It would be me, the one who needed help, needed him, and these were careless thoughts. I knew from experience that I would never be able to sublimate my feelings. Never be able to live next to him without in some duplicitous way affecting him.
I burst out laughing because he had just said one of those things that make you rejoice when your lover tells you. I kept smiling, but with a bitterness, because it seemed that life hadn’t taught me anything yet if such naive ideas kept coming to me. To be sure about what I felt I touched my groin and there was the proof to confirm how foolish and dishonest I was being with myself.
“Hey…what are you doing tomorrow afternoon?” he asked, blissfully unaware of my thoughts..
We had arrived in front of the gate to my house.
“Why don’t you come and play football? It will be the usual group. At the Pinewood. Ten people, but there’s room for you too.”
Useless to pretend to be busy in some way. He knew very well how empty my life was, occupied only by reading and watching an occasional film. I could have told him I didn’t want to play football anymore, that I was afraid of getting hurt. I could have told him that, but why lie to him again? He didn’t deserve it, and I was tired of pretending. Besides, hadn’t I just decided to become his best friend again, albeit with certain conditions? Not exactly his best friend, more his chaste companion. That is, ignoring my erection, which I had become aware of, and which I hoped he would not notice.
“So… what are you doing? Are you coming?” he asked me impatiently, seeing I was captured in a spell, consumed by my own frightening thoughts.
“At what time did you say?”
“So, you’re coming!” His eyes lit up. “We’re playing at half past three. If we meet at three o’clock…or is it too early for you? It’s going to be hot!”
His voice had become anxious and I was moved he showed concern for me.
“No, no! It’s all right by me,” I said, “I’ll pick you up on my Vespa.”
“Do you still have it?”
An image reappeared, a picture which moved me. A memory of Paoletto on the Vespa.
“It’s not the same Vespa you remember.” I told him. “I sold that scooter to buy drugs. My father purchased another one for me when I returned… when things became normal again. I never thanked him for that. When I went to the garage to pick it up I thought I would never get on it. It reminded me too much of the past, but then I decided to use it any way, but I only took it out a few times.”
Talking to him was difficult, because my mind was flooded with the emotions of all those memories. I had to change the subject.
“You know…” I said, “that was my father’s last gift! I could have asked him for other things, and he would have given me them. But I didn’t, maybe, because he was too weak and sick.”
I could no longer talk. Clearly changing the subject had not been a good idea, because I was still losing my self-control and I didn’t want to. I covered my face with my hands. I didn’t want to cry either.
“You are not obliged to tell me these things…” he said and put his hand on my arm.
Although the night was hot, I shivered. If he had touched me one more time I don’t know what might have happened. I moved a few steps away but seeing his look of incomprehension I went back to him.
“Paoletto,” I said, almost to myself, “my father thought he had to make things up to me. I don’t know why. I don’t know how many times he tried to tell me! But I never let him because it was I who had to ask for forgiveness. For everything. I never managed to speak to him, never mustered the courage to tell him anything. And now he is gone…”
“When you decide to talk,” he said, “it’s not an if, but a when… you can tell me everything. I will listen to you, I need to know, and I would very much like you to talk to me. You promised, do you remember?”
“I remember… It’s just… I’ve changed. So many things have happened…” I was forever repeating the same excuse..
He grabbed my arm again, and he was not gentle. He held me in a strong grip so I could not escape. He was holding me, and I was scared he would let me go. He shook me.
“Do you understand that I don’t care what you did? Do you know that if I had encountered you in those months, in that year and a half in which you had become I don’t know what, if you had let me, I would have asked you to be my friend? I would have helped you!”
He raised his voice, then closed his eyes. When he looked at me there were tears. He rarely cried and recovered quickly.
“Why do you keep eluding me?” he roared, exasperated, shaking me again to get an answer.
“Am I still too young to be your friend? Are you ashamed of me?”
“No! It’s me who feels dirty! You don’t understand. If you knew everything you would be ashamed of me.”
“Tell me why…” he stared at me, “please, tell me why!”
He shook me another time, and I lowered my head finding nothing better to look at than the toes of my shoes.
“I am afraid of being a bad influence on you,” I mumbled. “Forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, that you would do only because you are my friend. Perhaps so as not to disappoint me. Paoletto, I could harm you!”
“But what the fuck is so bad about you?” he shouted, so loudly I was afraid someone would hear.
I shook my head, and he finally let go of my arm.
“Are you taking drugs again?”
“Then why? Why can’t I know? Do you think I’m stupid, or naive? If you’re so scared, why come looking for me? You didn’t have to!”
I felt like I had been hit. He was right, of course, it had all been some wasted effort, coming back and spreading my suffering to the people who loved me.
“It was Marco who sought me. I would never have come back alone.” I tried to justify myself, as if deciding to take part in the camp was Marco’s fault.
“You didn’t come back for me?”
“No!” I lied.
I was disappointing him, but at that moment it seemed necessary.
“I don’t believe you!”
“But I’m glad I found you again” I added, to console him, hoping to reassure him. “I’m not going away! I swear!”
“You already said.”
He leaned against the wall, evaluating my words. Then he stared at me.
“It was because of me you ran away. I knew it. I understood. At first, I couldn’t work out why, but I know it was because of me. But I want to hear it from you!”
“I will tell you everything. Give me time, please!” I whined.
Perhaps he took pity on me, because he suddenly became serene again, at least it seemed to me he was.
“See you tomorrow, then! Three o’clock! You are coming?”
“Listen…” he looked at me and took a moment before saying, “I don’t care about anything. If you don’t want to tell me don’t. I don’t need to know anymore, but…when two people are like us, when…they are like us…”
His expression changed, his face grew stern, he was frustrated and pretty upset. He punched me really hard in the shoulder and ran off, leaving me surprised, hurt and in pain. He disappeared around the corner before I could do or say anything. Maybe even give him a kiss. I wanted to kiss him. Would we see each other again? Maybe, what did I care about what happened? Despite the bruise to my shoulder, I felt overcome by a genuine feeling of happiness like I had never experienced before. I wanted to follow him and hug him, smother him in passionate kisses, take him with me into the house and love him there. I didn’t even know how.
Naturally, I did none of that.
I stood still, glued to the spot in front of the gate, with the key in mid-air and my mouth wide open. My shoulder throbbed from the pain. I didn’t think he had become so strong. He must have been really annoyed. Was it possible he loved me and that’s why he acted the way he did?
I repeated to myself what he had just said, ‘when two people are like us,’ like us, that could mean a lot of things. I decided it meant only one thing, that thing I so desperately wanted, it all made sense.
I had never felt any love which wasn’t filtered through feelings of guilt and now I had discovered someone who perhaps had a similar feeling for me. The possibility that it could happen without hurting him came as a revelation. Did he really desire the same thing?
Tomorrow I would find him at three o’clock in front of his house. He might not be there. If he weren’t would I look for him?
My hands were trembling, and I was not able to open the gate. I stood there, in the silence of the summer night. Gradually it dawned on me that Paoletto had left, and I became desperate, accosted by the idea that I had lost him. Were that true I would have gone back to taking drugs. That realization shocked me.
I was afraid I had sold my soul because of him. He was like a drug. That passionate creature who would slay the monster. Yet, finally, it was no battle of monsters, but a question of love. With his love for me, he was trying to save me, and perhaps he would succeed. There would come a time when we would meet and confide in each other, but for now, I loved him in silence. Perhaps one day he would understand why.
I ran home, undressed, and slipped into bed. I pulled the sheet over my head. Fear gripped me, fear of seeing him again and fear of not seeing him again. That night I slept poorly.
As soon as I woke up I tried to find clothes to wear for a soccer match between friends on a makeshift pitch. Shorts and shirt were no problem, but my soccer boots from three years ago were too small. I decided to buy a new pair, not doubting there would be more opportunities for matches with Paoletto.
“I love you, and you will never know it! I love you, but I will never be able to tell you! I will stay by your side, don’t be afraid. This time I won’t run away…”
I repeated these prayers all morning, jumping at every little noise, my nerves on edge. My mother observed me discreetly, perplexed by my nervousness, fearing it had a more worrying origin. I was delighted to reassure her and console her.
“I’m going to play soccer, Mom. Can you believe it? Do you know how long it’s been since I did that? Paoletto convinced me to play again.”
“Be careful, young man. You two be careful not to get hurt,” she said, as I expected she would. It seemed to me she was happy, although my reawakening to life seemed to perplex her, perhaps because it was unexpected.
She surprised me by asking, “So, you are friends again,” she caressed my cheek. “And do you love him as always?”
“Yes!” I confessed, to her and to myself.
What did she know? Had she always known everything?
We exchanged no more words, I allowed her to withdraw and return to her reclusive world of silence. It appeared to me that she was in some way comforted, I didn’t dare to think happy, but her melancholy had receded. She was, in fact, as happy as I was myself. She only had me, and I her, and Paoletto perhaps.
When I came around the corner he was already waiting for me next to his house. He was no less impatient than I was, and I thought I understood why. He climbed on my Vespa saying nothing more than a hurried greeting, then settling down on the saddle and almost angrily clinging to my body.
The smell of his scent took me back years, like this was full on dejà vu. I had taken him with me on my Vespa so many times we practically become one body. We were in a perfect symbiosis on that small seat, it felt almost uncomfortable when I was alone.
The two of us on that scooter were tight, which is why I liked to carry him. The proximity was absolute and the contact inevitable. I got so used to feeling him behind me I could distinguish, and draw in my mind, every part of his body. From his legs which he always squeezed against mine, trying to create the smallest possible impediment, to his hair that touched my head. His nose, which when I braked, always hit me on the back of the neck. His chest pressing on my shoulders, and in summer, I could even feel his nipples against my back.
Riding the scooter Paoletto would hug me and often place his chin on my shoulder. When he tired of that position because it became uncomfortable, as he was still a little smaller than me, he would rest his forehead on the back of my neck and press it against me. He would draw me to him, while he passed his hands around my hips. Holding me like this, his body adhered completely to mine. His groin was pressed against my sacrum.
I always enjoyed that feeling. I fantasized about him having an erection, his cock squeezed against the top of my buttocks was a powerful emotion. Limp or erect, whichever it was, I enjoyed the feeling. I would move to feel it better because I knew it was there.
That day, as if those three years had not passed, he jumped on the Vespa and hugged me, glued himself to me as he had always done. The difference, which I noticed at once, was that he had become as tall as me and so he could easily put his chin on my shoulder, placing his head next to mine. With a little movement, mine or his, we could have kissed if we had wanted to. I wanted to, but obviously I didn’t.
We wore thin clothing, T-shirts and shorts and I could clearly feel the shape of his chest pressed into my back. I thought I could guess where his nipples were on that muscular chest, and further down I recognized the shape of his penis pushed against me. Never did my body feel so sensitive as in that short space of time. Only a few minutes, in which I enjoyed such acute and intense sensations. He adjusted himself often and gripped me tighter and tighter, but he didn’t say a word while I was driving in the light afternoon traffic. It was unusual for us to stay silent for so long, but I was too busy enjoying his hug to notice. His quiet did not alarm me.
Now I know there was a misunderstanding at the root of our silence. Because I loved him I was distracted by his embrace, by the erotic sensations I was enjoying. I waited for him to speak, but he remained silent. Perhaps, but it only occurred to me later, he was disoriented by my quietness.
We left the city and headed towards the pinewood near the sea, just beyond the suburbs, where we used to play football. When we arrived, we encountered the others who were surprised to see me. They teased me and we joked a little. They said I had been missing for so long that they had forgotten how good I was at soccer. We burst out laughing. They were waiting for me. They knew that I would be there.
We all wanted to get playing straightaway and began choosing teams while we were changing. In the excitement of coming back here to play, I didn’t notice that Paoletto had stayed on the sidelines and he had made sure he was playing against me. Only when the teams were decided did I realize that and I was sorry, because it seemed to me a kind of betrayal. Still, I recalled we had played a few times against each other.
I looked at him strongly and he in return gave me a look of defiance. I winked at him and he smiled, showing his teeth. It was enough to calm me down, I thought he was joking.
We finished changing, wearing shirts and shorts even lighter than our summer clothes. Other times, a few years earlier, that moment would have been of great interest to me. Peeking at my companions’ nakedness had been one of my favorite pastimes. This time I also glanced at the guys who were taking off their pants. A pair of them took off their underwear to put on a swimsuit. The pinewood was near the sea and after the game someone would want to go and swim. What I was offered was a naive nudity which excited me. Paoletto stayed in his underwear, before putting on his soccer shorts.
While I was staring at him, he caught my gaze and I saw him blushing, turning around, resentful. He dressed hastily, quickly pulling on his soccer shorts. I looked away because I was annoyed with myself for upsetting him. My eyes were filled with tears knowing how much I desperately wanted his body, but more than that, I needed his love. Seeing him like that was more than I could bear.
Fortunately, we started to play, and I didn’t think about it anymore. I found myself chasing the ball, I had forgotten how compelling it was. I had barely played since I left the Scouts. I immediately became passionate again, experiencing every moment of the game with enthusiasm. Every touch of the ball seemed to me a confirmation of my new found inner order. Every kick, every shot, or pass was proof that my quotidian life had returned to being right and human again.
On that beautiful day there was one out of tune note which upset me. Paoletto was lashing out at me, something he had never done before, not until now. He was pushing me, crowding me out with his tackles, as if I were a soccer star, which I definitely was not. When I had possession, he was there next to me, barging, knocking me until I slipped and fell. My team got several free kicks from his fouls. I couldn’t understand why he was acting like that, we had never intentionally hurt one another. If we had, accidentally, playing round, it always ended in hugs. This was different, I was getting hurt, getting tripped up, and falling over.
“Fuck!” I shouted, “what the fuck are you doing?”
Swearing among us was not usual, it was almost forbidden. At that moment though, it seemed justified. Paoletto had barged me to the ground, and I had injured my knee. I was bleeding. It was a malicious, intentional foul. He looked at me with that same defiance, then walked away without even apologizing, or saying anything. I should have been worried about it, but I wasn’t. I got up, wiped the little bit of blood away and went back to playing.
Since we had left home he had not said more than a few words to me. He was being aggressive and going in hard during the game, it was as if he were trying to provoke me. I didn’t see at first what was happening, and when I did, I didn’t understand the reason.
“If you make me fall again,” I shouted at him, when the game restarted, “start running, because if I catch you, I swear I’ll make you cry…”.
I said those hard words to make fun of him, I wasn’t being serious, I actually regretted saying that. I wanted to joke, not make a drama out of it. But he stared at me like he wanted to kill me. I thought he was putting on an act, pretending to be serious with his hard face. I thought I saw a smile behind it, but he wasn’t smiling.
“Do you understand, blondie?” I insisted.
“You have to catch me first!” he mumbled.
“You trip me again, and then we’ll see!”
And so, we challenged each other, even though I was convinced that we were joking.
“You won’t have to wait too long!” he muttered.
The game continued and he charged into me, head down, striking me in the shoulder. I fell on my back, legs flying up in the air. I hit the ground with some force, and it stunned me for a moment, but not long enough to stop me getting up to chase him. Paoletto had launched himself on a crazy race towards the sea.
Soccer always thrilled me when I played, I got so involved I was not that aware of where everyone was. I did not keep track of Paoletto, perhaps if I had, I would have noticed his odd behavior. He was nervous and angry, and I didn’t notice, and missed the opportunity to ask him why. It was clearly to do with me, but I missed the chance to fix it.
Being so engaged in the game was not spoiled by his tackles or the deliberate fouls. It didn’t distract from the excitement. But seeing him run away, escaping, after that last tackle, pushed me to run after him and make him pay for it.
He had already reached the beach, I tried not to lose sight of him. I saw him dash into the pinewood and head towards the ruined building in the thick of the trees. I saw him go through the gate. The old house had been abandoned for many years, only the walls, the attic, and a staircase leading to the upper floor, remained. We all knew it, we had played in that place countless times.
I entered the ruin and looked around. I knew there was only one way out, and he was already inside. If he wasn’t on the ground floor, he must have gone upstairs. I heard the creaking of a floor board and told myself he must be there. I ventured up the stairs. He was on the terrace, a sort of a loggia, a few square meters with a relatively high parapet.
When I saw him, he was leaning against the wall, his arms wide, staring at me with an air of challenge. His gaze, his attitude, were maddening, and he managed to provoke me even more. He was breathing heavily, his mouth open.
“You certainly won’t get out of here…” I said with a malicious smile on my face.
I wasn’t joking anymore.
“You haven’t caught me yet!”
His voice. I didn’t listen to it. Not as I should have. If only I had done so. I thought it was the running that made him lose his breath. It was the anxiety, the fear of what could happen, of what only then he realized he had caused.
He realized that I was out of control. As I had never been.
“I’m going to get you,” I announced, without any restraint.
“Don’t come any closer!” his voice trembled.
Something wasn’t right, but I did not quite understand. I was completely out of my mind.
“I’ll give you a chance,” I said, instead. “give up, and I won’t hurt you. Otherwise it’s worse for you and I’ll won’t stop until you start crying!”.
I was like crazy. I had lost touch with reality. I would never have dreamed of talking to Paoletto like that, or threatening him, or hurting him. If I had not completely lost my mind. It wasn’t me. It was the foulest part of me who wanted revenge for the kicks and trips he had given me.
Although the soccer game and everything else had nothing to do with it anymore. There was a part of my soul that had decided to take advantage of the situation. It was an even more unpleasant, darker part, which had seen the unique opportunity to touch him. To finally abuse him, take him with force, because, after so many years, maybe I finally had a good excuse not to regret it later.
For that reason, my excitement was total, and my reason lost.
He understood it, because he looked at me with fear, but not yet convinced. He was worried, while I was more and more excited. I had convinced myself it was all a joke, a game, a dream from which we would wake up laughing, sweaty and dirty.
“Well? You made up your mind?” I shouted.
“Don’t come any closer…please… Let me go! I beg you!”
“If you are afraid, surrender,” I said, and I laughed insensitively, “I promise I won’t hurt you. Come on, give yourself up…” I said it only to provoke him, because, knowing him as I knew him, I knew that he would never do that.
“I… I was joking. Come on, let’s go…please…” he implored me.
“No, no… too easy! I warned you and you tripped me again. You ran away and I’ve captured you. Now it’s too convenient to say that it was just a joke. Are you giving up?”
And he made to run away, coming at me, then trying to push me or to throw me on the ground one more time. I grasped him. I was more aggressive, more mature, heavier, crueler than him.
I still have all the feelings of those moments, each one, ingrained in my memory.
What I felt, heard, smelt, skin, sweat, everything my hands touched, what touched my body. I also remember the sound of the sea, the scent of the trees, the resin of the pine trees carried on the warm air. I have not forgotten any of it, because that day I discovered how thin is the border between play and violence, the abuse. How easy it is to cross over and do harm.
I blocked him, and we ended up on the hard floor, rolling around. I was laughing even then. He still didn’t understand, but he desperately tried to escape me. I immobilized him beneath me. I could smell his fear, which thrilled me even more. It was a smell so unusual, that of sweat, of fatigue. I touched him everywhere. I took advantage of the moment, of the situation, I turned around and pulled him over me. I blocked him. With one hand I held his arms, with the other I swatted him on the ass once, twice. Crushed on top of me, he was struggling vainly to disengage himself. Our bodies were twisted together.
Then, while we were practically hugging and touching each other as if we were really making love, I realized that he had suddenly stopped fighting. I saw him stiffen, and start panting, then completely lose his strength.
This finally made me come to my senses, and I loosened my grip. He slipped from my lap and got down on his knees next to me. He looked at me, and I saw that his eyes were full of tears. I tried to caress him, but he withdrew in disgust.
I looked at him, then my gaze went down, and I stared at his groin. Even at that moment my mind had that thought and I realized the front of his shorts were wet. I realized he had had an orgasm, while we were struggling, when we hugged. I realized he was frightened. He had always been terrified. Maybe he had assaulted me during the game just because he was exasperated and wanted to induce a reaction from me. But that reaction, which he was looking for, so that I would ultimately declare myself, had frightened him. What had happened, frightened him even more. He had finally discovered that I was an awful creature.
I realized that by doing what I had done to him, I had humiliated him and that he would never forgive me for behaving like that. He looked at me and was about to start crying, but he would never do that in front of me. I tried to caress his shoulder, but he got up and walked away to escape me. He didn’t look at me anymore and ran off.
He had disappeared from sight before I was able to shake myself into thinking about what to do, how to remedy this, if I could. Then I heard him running.
Finally, I got up and quickly returned to where the others were still playing. Paoletto was no longer there. Laughing they asked me what I had done to him. He had come running and had grasped one of the boys’ bikes without asking for it. He had gone off without giving any explanation, leaving his bag behind.
I didn’t stop to explain either and jumped on the Vespa to go after him and try to catch up with him. To get to the pinewood there were an infinite number of possible roads and I ran down a couple of them, then I gave up, because if he didn’t want to be found, I wouldn’t find him.
I went back home, washed, bumped into my mother, we looked at each other, but I avoided her. I looked into the Section, although I already knew it was neither the right time nor the meeting day. I walked around the neighborhood, hoping to see him, but I didn’t see anybody. I had avoided him for three years and now looking for him was an exceedingly difficult task. I walked around the city like crazy and found myself near those gardens that represented corruption to me. I had never gone back there, but I also thought that if Paoletto was like me, he might have chosen to go there, like I did. There were perhaps still the same people there who had corrupted me.
I decided to go in and look for him, thinking that if I arrived in time, I would save him. It was a stupid fantasy, but it distracted me, providing me with the strength to go through the gate. I faced the walk as if it were a ritual of purification, which it really was.
I followed the path I had taken many times before, going through the thickest trees with their low branches hiding benches which were always in the shade. I encountered nobody I recognized, nor, of course, did I see him. I was frightened it would be painful going back to this place, but I kept my thoughts fixed on Paoletto and that served to protect me.
I discovered painfully I knew so little about the person I said I loved that I didn’t know the place where he could have gone to hide after I had hurt him again. But if he were not nearby, he could only be at home.
Grandma Luigia would be at his house and I was certain she would have preferred to see me dead. I still went there, but stood outside, looking at the gate which was closed like a warning. Eventually I gathered my courage and gave a long ring. Grandma answered the intercom.
“Paoletto?” I asked in a faint voice.
“Who wants him?”
She knew very well who had rung the bell, she could not have failed to recognize me. Nothing escaped her, and she had to remember my voice, even if it had changed, she wouldn’t have forgotten the person she loathed.
“I’m a friend!” I said to her without much conviction.
She was playing with me.
“Grandma Luigia, it’s me! I’m looking for Paoletto. It’s important!”
“Ah! You are the one who is drugged” she said matter of factly “and what do you want with my nephew?”
“I only need to speak to him.”
“Go away! Do you know how much you’ve hurt him? Do you want to hurt him some more?”
I had tears in my eyes. How could I convince her my intentions were noble? At that moment I had real, definitely good, intentions, I was painfully certain of it. I knew I was not very credible, and my presumed loyalty was hardly believable. She had many legitimate reasons to be angry with me. My sole hope was that Paoletto was there and he could hear me trying to convince her to let me in.
“I need to talk to him!” I said, raising my voice, “Do you want me to shout and tell him everything from down here?”
“Go away! Paoletto is not here!”
“Let me in, please, I can explain!” I said, “I haven’t done drugs for a long time!” Then I shouted, regardless of who might have heard me.
“I have been to the camp,” I added, “And now we have become friends again.”
“I know. I saw you at the station, while you were trying to hide. If I had known you would be there, I would not have let him go!”
“Let me in. If Paoletto is not here, you have nothing to fear. Could the two of us speak, please? I must tell you about Paoletto. Let me explain. Please, Grandma…”
“Come in!” she said at last when I no longer expected it.
Paoletto couldn’t be there, she would never have let me in the house if he had been there. So, where was he?
Without hesitation I started climbing the stairs quickly, not worrying about having to reach one of the highest floors. I could have taken the elevator, but I was not thinking straight. I stopped halfway to catch my breath, then continued climbing.
Grandma Luigia was right behind the door. She let me in.
I didn’t know what to tell her or if I should say anything. In any case, I no longer possessed the breath to utter a word. All those stairs and then my audacity that had turned into panic. The fear of having lost Paoletto forever hit me.
“I must speak to him,” I was able to stammer when I managed to breathe in some air, my voice strangled by the wheezing, “today we had a fight…I want to explain things to him. Tell me where he is, please. I must speak to him. Then if you want, he won’t see me anymore! No one will ever see me again!”
“Paoletto is still too young, and you must leave him alone…”
“Yes, I know that. I will, but first I must see him. I beg you. I must explain to him…”
“Why? Isn’t it enough for you to have disappeared three years ago?” she was almost assaulting me.
Before I realized it, I had raised my hands and arms, and held them in front of my face to defend myself. Not from the slaps she could give me, but from what she was telling me. From the terrible memory of everything.
“We looked everywhere for you, you know. Where were you?”
She could have struck me. She would have been very capable of it, in order to defend her nephew.
“Where were you when that child was crying?” she insisted, she shouted, “He didn’t eat for days…and I know it was your fault. What did you do to him? And what have you done today?”
I must have been a sorry sight, because suddenly she moderated her tone.
“Your mother called me a little while ago. She was worried about you.”
“My mother? What did she say?”
I was bewildered. Before I went out, we had looked at each other and she must have read in my eyes all the anguish that was oppressing me. How could she have connected that to Paoletto? We had not exchanged a single word. Only glanced at each other.
“What did she say? Please!” I repeated.
“That maybe you had quarreled with Paoletto and she was very worried about you and my child.”
“Then I must go and reassure her…”
I was completely lost, the world was collapsing around me. My mother’s balance was precarious, emotions were assailing her, and I had added to it all by making her worry about me. With my thoughtlessness I had caused another mess. I had let myself be dragged into a game that I had not been able to control, and I had practically come here to ask for help.
“I tried reassuring her” Grandma Luigia said “I told her, that if she saw you, she had to send you here in a hurry. That I’d put everything in order. Now you call her, inform her that you’re here. So, she doesn’t worry.”
I did, immediately, and reassured my poor mother.
“What have you decided to do when you grow up? Because to me you are still a child… you know? If you ever grow up?” Grandma Luigia asked.
It was easy to understand that she was not fond of me. Nor particularly interested in my answers. But she was a civilized person, even if her irony stung me a bit. I understood the meaning of her question. I was surprised by the calm with which I answered.
“I am going to go to medical school. I am thinking… I am going to study in Vienna.”
“It would be good for you to go there as soon as possible. And try to go far away!”
She wanted me to get away from her nephew. She was right. It was just like that. What could I do?
We were still standing. I leaned against the door. I was exhausted. She stood upright, in front of me, staring at me with the same eyes as Paoletto. She made me feel small and helpless with the hostility she felt towards me. She and Paoletto were very much alike, but not at that moment.
“Go look for him,” she told me after a long silence, during which she looked at me, judging me very badly.
“Where…?” I mumbled.
“I will tell you where he went because I pity your mother. And because my grandson loves you, in spite of everything. And I don’t know why he does. But if you make him cry one more time…” it seemed as if she wanted to put a curse on me, but it wasn’t like that.
She was preparing to threaten me and from the way she looked at me I knew that she would be wicked and insensitive.
“If I see Paoletto cry one more time because of you” she went on “I will make you regret you didn’t die when you took drugs. You are unworthy of your father. He was a real man. You did not deserve to have a father like him and now you do not deserve the friendship and love of my nephew!” she ended shouting.
I trembled, shivering. It was not from fear of her threat or because of what she had said about my father, I thought that too. I was afraid because I understood Grandma Luigia knew everything about me. About Paoletto, about the two of us.
“He told me some things…” she murmured and suddenly seemed uncertain “if it’s true, I can’t understand it…” she was lost, which was absolutely unusual for her. “He told me you are both homosexual. You and him. Is this true?”
What did I know as to whether it was true? I had always been cautious not to give, even myself, direct answers. Now a seventy year old woman was asking me openly and demanding to know. She was asking me to give her a direct answer. I knew that I had to confess the truth to her or leave and give up Paoletto.
If she had been my grandmother, whom I loved so much, I would have fled, but even the time for escape seemed to be over. And Paoletto was waiting for me. I was certain that he was waiting for me.
“I believe…I believe that it’s true,” I stammered, “For me, at least, it’s like he said.”
She seemed to deflate. Her erect bearing, the pride with which she had confronted me, vanished, and for the first time I saw an elderly woman in her. I noted her gray hair, her wrinkled neck, her hands stained with ephelids. I saw her hunch over before my eyes. She went to sit on the bench in the hall.
“Did you do it? Did you convince him?” she said in a hoarse voice.
I was afraid that question would come, and I had no answer ready.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I did everything I could so as not to hurt him. You must believe me. I did everything I could, and it was no use.”
“That’s what he says too. That you had nothing to do with it. But I don’t believe him. And then he said it was his fault that you ran away and then you took drugs.”
“He really said that?”
“Yes, he said that, but I don’t believe him. He said it to defend you. He told me other things I didn’t want to hear, but he is my nephew and I love him anyway. I don’t mind what he is like.”
“He really said that?”
“Where is he? Please!” I joined my hands as if in a prayer, so that she would tell me.
“He is at Giulio’s house. But remember what I told you! If you make him, cry another time…”
And it was no longer a threat, but an affectionate warning.
I would not have made him cry. Never again.
Paoletto and I couldn’t have been more different. Not so much physically, even if he were blond and light, and I was brown and a little darker. He was slender with a slouching gait, I was more robust, always upright, standing straight when I walked. The most considerable difference, however, was our personalities, we were opposites and seldom complementary.
I am by nature very tidy, whereas he was a mess. I am someone who shies away from responsibilities, he always faced them. I frequently tell lies, he never did, even at the risk of being considered impolite. Because his habit was to tell the truth to everyone, he had done just that the day when Grandma Luigia asked him about his behavior and mine.
I arrived breathlessly at Giulio’s house. I abandoned the Vespa in a corner, taking the risk that someone might steal it, I didn’t care. I rang the bell and heard someone pick up the intercom.
“Paoletto it’s me. Open up!”
“Come up, Paoletto is here!” was the composed voice of Uncle Giulio.
This was also a remarkably high building and Giulio lived on the upper floor. I ran up the stairs, again ignoring the elevator. I ran more than ten floors, before being overcome by the effort and falling on my knees on the steps. I was almost there, but my legs had given out. I slipped just as I reached the final flight. I hurt myself and curled up trying to control my breathing. I was exhausted from climbing all those steps and intimidated by what I was about to do.
If he was irreparably offended. If I had misinterpreted everything. If Grandma Luigia had misunderstood her grandson’s words. If he rejected me and laughed at me. If, and this was the worst of all the hypotheses that I had been forced to think about while running from one house to the other, rushing up those endless stairs, if Paoletto had given that explanation out of friendship. Perhaps he had decided to indulge me not out of love, but only so as not to hurt me. All those ifs stunned me, together with the oxygen that I desperately tried to breathe in. My head began spinning. I took it in my hands. Everything spun around me. I wanted to stop the stairs, the ceiling, the lights that shone, from turning around.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Uncle Giulio. He immediately understood what had happened and he sat down on the step next to me.
“You came up on foot? Running, huh? Now calm down. Try to regulate your breathing. Close your eyes and breathe slowly if you can.”
He was a doctor. I remembered that. He made me think of my father. Another reason to cry.
“My mother sent him here, because of what Paoletto confided in her, it was too difficult for her to understand,” he said, in a gentle voice, as he massaged my shoulder to calm me down. “She wanted him to explain it all to me. We’ve talked about it… We have talked about a lot of things with each other.”
Perhaps we were a little embarrassed, I don’t know which of us was more uncomfortable. That day it seemed that everyone had learned that I was homosexual. I was not yet prepared to make that revelation to the world. He was certainly feeling uneasy, because maybe he had never talked to a homosexual. A person who he also loved a little bit. I couldn’t get a word out. I was still panting.
“Is what Paoletto says true?”
“I think so!” I said, still gasping.
If this was to be the day of revelations, then so be it, I might as well tell all.
“If that’s the case, I… I believe the two of you need to talk but do it properly. And then, if you want to, you can talk to me about it as well. Agreed?”
“Yes, if you wish…thank you Uncle Giulio.”
He had always treated me with affection. I had the same feelings towards him. I knew I could trust him. He had always done the best he could for Paoletto and at that moment, I thought he would help me as well.
“Now do you feel like going in?”
I told him yes, but I was still breathless. He helped me up, put his arm around my shoulders and accompanied me into the house.
“Go ahead. He’s over there!”
He indicated a room that I knew was his study. He squeezed my shoulder, then left, closing the door behind him. I stepped further into the room and there was Paoletto. I stopped, I was stuck, unable to advance.
That was the end of my journey. Perhaps the end of my world, or the world I had lived in until then. Although, was that really living, what had been my life until that day. Whatever was going to happen, would happen in the following minutes. I would finally know what he felt about me. It was my ‘Redde Rationem’, that moment I had to account for my actions.
I had suffered too much not to be frightened. My legs were shaking. I took a few steps practically dragging them. He was at the window and looking out.
“Can you see me?” he said slowly, without turning around, when he realized I was standing on the threshold.
I did not answer him. I did not grasp why he asked me, but I felt he was resentful.
“Can you see me?” he repeated, in a composed voice, which frightened me even more.
He turned to stare at me, and I lowered my eyes.
“Paoletto…” I murmured.
“Now don’t bullshit me and look at me!”
I looked up and finally we were staring at each other. His gaze was resolute, mine I didn’t know.
“Do you see me? I am here, in front of you, and I am waiting! The time has come to tell me.”
He spoke in a monotone voice which seemed detached, indifferent, but that was probably because of the terrible tension he felt.
“If you had done this three years ago, I would have given you the same answer I will give you in a little while if you decide to speak. Since the first time I saw you I fell in love with you, you stupid asshole! And you’ve barely understood it yet!”
Because of the exasperated tone of his voice, it had returned to a high pitch, just as it had been only three years before. I leaned against the door, overwhelmed by those words, by the sound of his voice.
“Every time you tried touching me,” he continued, “every time you came close to talking to me, telling me what you really felt for me, I thought I was going mad with happiness. You, on the other hand, froze, you became weird. When you disappeared, I came banging my head against the wall, to see if it hurt more than I felt. I thought I would never see you again. Then, with time, I realized you had been afraid. Now I know it for certain. I understood it was fear that made you run away. Even now you would like to escape, but it would be the last time you ever do. For us there will be no more chances!”
He turned around.
“Do you know what your unique act of courage has been?” he said, getting excited. “Do you know what it was?” he shouted. “It was when you left when you disappeared! Do you know why you did that? You left because you were only concerned about yourself. Fucking with me, leaving me crying after you. Coming down from that damn mountain,” he shouted, “You abandoned me up there, because you were afraid of losing what you had and afraid of who you were! And do you know what I’ve been asking myself every moment during these last three years? Do you want to know? Do you want to know?” he repeated.
“Yes…” I murmured.
“I asked myself how the fuck did I fall in love with you!” he cried desperately. “What an asshole you’ve been! And so, have I!”
He turned once more to look out of the window. I knew that from there Paoletto could see a magnificent panorama. At that moment, while I was waiting for him to speak again, because now I knew he loved me. While I was waiting for him to forgive me, because I knew he would, I saw through his eyes the sunset he was looking at. The sky and the sea red with fire. The first lights that lit up the city, the mountain and below them, the sea, the harbor, and the ships.
I knew what he saw and perhaps it was those colors that returned his love to me intact, because he decided to forget all the bad I had done to him. He knew everything and better than me, he had just revealed something I refused to accept.
“Listen to me” he said, when he had calmed down a little, “Listen and understand well what you need to do. I want you to tell me if you love me. Say it now or leave and go far away. Above all, make sure I never see you again!”
He went and sat down at the stool in front of the piano, his arms abandoned beside his body, his hands open. Perhaps he was about to cry, I had tears in my own eyes. Now he had said it, his fatigue disappeared, as if saying those words out loud he had found renewed energy from deep within. Maybe it was like that.
It was up to me now if I had the strength. Discovering at the age of eighteen I had lived three unbelievably bad years and I had suffered needlessly, troubled me. I thought about my parents, my grandparents who I would never see again, my uncle whom I loved, other friends I had abandoned, who had cared about me. They had all suffered because of my behavior and it was all useless because I was mistaken to judge Paoletto. With my insensibility, my immaturity, selfishness, and presumptions, I had assumed the blame for something which I needn’t have.
Foolishly I had taken on the task of both punishing and redeeming myself, to save Paoletto from an illness that was not an illness. Something which was not his alone. He was simply in love with me and love is under no circumstances a vice. Why did I only understand him now and at what price?
I felt giddy. I covered my eyes with my hands so as not to look. I tried to cover my ears because I was dazed. It seemed to me that I was hearing all the voices of those I had disappointed. I began crying. Amidst that imaginary and deceptive noise, I distinguished the sweet and firm voice of Paoletto.
“Don’t cry. Don’t despair. Don’t hurt yourself again. I only need an answer. I’ve been waiting for so long!”
“Of course, I love you!” I cried out impatiently, through the tears.
I tried to calm down, to return my breathing to normal. I wanted to hear him say it to me. I also needed him to tell me again.
“And do you love me?”
“Do you recall Mozart, the Turkish March?”
I responded by recovering that sweet memory from the most protected corner of my mind, something held hidden in my heart.
“That day on the train home from camp changed everything. Do you remember?”
“Yes!” I whispered again.
“In every sense…really! I chose you and you…perhaps you almost adopted me…”
I was struggling to connect my thoughts, to separate the sensations from the emotions that troubled me, but I saw him blush. I understood it from the way he moved his head, rather than seeing it.
“It was just like that!”
He had gone back to his sweet, harsh, and affectionate, adolescent voice.
“At first I didn’t understand, but I didn’t take long to know. For me you became the most important person in the world, and you always have been. First, I loved you, as if you were my guardian angel, then, little by little, you became much more, and finally everything I could imagine!”
What he had just told me I had well understood and kept in my heart. No one would deprive me of it anymore. He loved me and I loved him. Not knowing enough about life, I thought I could play with it. I convinced myself that what we had confessed to each other could last forever.
Life then had the chance to show me how wrong I was. Together we discovered we were terribly tired. In the study, in that restful half-light, because it was almost dark outside. Neither of us seemed to have the strength to move, to come closer.
Then we moved together at the same time and grabbed each other tightly. There were no words or other gestures. Only that hug, tight, strong, so tight that we were incapable of breathing. It was only that suffocation that made us release one another. We stood facing each other, hand in hand, looking at each other, caressing each other with our eyes. Afraid to move away even a centimeter, almost afraid of losing the other again.
“Shall we go?” he whispered, after a time that I could not measure. We walked towards the door, he was clasping my hand.
“Uncle Giulio will understand. We talked about it before and he convinced me to wait here for you. He knew you would come.”
Downstairs luckily we found the Vespa was still there. Paoletto grasped me from behind and I felt him clinging to me. His breath became mine. The grip became firmer and I heard him crying. I tried turning around, but he reassured me he was fine.
“It’s nothing, don’t worry. It’s…I am happy! So, fucking happy I have to cry, otherwise…”
With his tears he wetted my neck and my shirt. Then he calmed down and kept his eyes closed, pressed against the back of my neck. I continued wandering around the city aimlessly, even after he had calmed down. Then his grip became more delicate, and his hands caressed my hips. I realized he was smiling and then laughing.
“What if I tickled you?”
“We would fall and end up in hospital!”
“Do you think they would place us in the same room, in two beds next to each other?”
I kept driving with Paoletto hugging me. It was everything I wanted, that I had dreamed of. For the first time he really hugged me, with a feeling that we understood and shared. Even though we had just discovered we had loved each other for years.
That revelation dazed me. I wanted him to explain so many things to me, and I had so much to tell him. I was in a hurry to know all about him and for him to know everything about me. I still kept wandering around the city, aimlessly, only to feel him holding me. I could feel his breath. He stayed with his chin resting on my shoulder and I was sure that most of the time he kept his eyes closed. After he had calmed down and we joked a bit, he hadn’t talked anymore.
“Are you tired?”
He whispered a no in my ear, tickling me a little. We laughed together.
“Shall we stop? Are you hungry?”
“Yes!” he shouted, all happy.
His appetite had never left him, so we stopped to get something to eat. More than something, because Paoletto was very hungry. We went back to our neighborhood and we arrived outside my house.
My family had always lived in the villa surrounded by its beautiful garden that in summer was full of scents. There were citrus trees, jasmine, and honeysuckle. The house and the garden wall were covered with climbing plants and centuries-old bougainvillea. Everywhere the air was perfumed by flowers.
I left him for a moment in the garden and went to inform my mother of our return. I found her where I expected she would be, sitting on the veranda and reading. She smiled at me when I told her I would stop in the garden with Paoletto. Maybe Grandma Luigia and Uncle Giulio had informed her of what had happened.
“Are you hungry? Has Paoletto eaten anything?” she asked me, anxious about my well-being, as always. Worried about Paoletto as well, and this moved me.
“Yes, Mom, we ate something…” I answered, smiling.
“Grandma Luigia was worried! Now I will reassure her!”
As I imagined they had spoken to each other. I kissed her on the forehead and smiled. Then I returned to my love. We went to sit on a bench leaning against the wall. The seat was buried by a bougainvillea, hidden from the house by a large fig tree, fragrant and majestic with its twisted branches. My father had proudly informed me this was the most massive and ancient fig tree in the city. The noise of the street reached us filtered through all the foliage of the abundant vegetation. That evening the colorful canopy guarded our love and intimacy.
We had a lot to say, but instead of talking and explaining everything to each other, we sat down and simply stared into each other’s eyes. Then I took his hands and came closer, touching his lips with a kiss.
“Your mother?” he asked, worried.
“She never comes into the garden. I asked her to tell your grandmother that we are here. So she won’t worry.”
Reassured, he came closer to me. He lay his head on my shoulder and closed his eyes. I think he did so, only because it was dark now and no one could see us. The lights in the house didn’t illuminate that corner of the garden. He closed his eyes, and his breathing became steady, as if he were asleep. It was the quiet of the place and the serenity of the moment that calmed him. All the anxieties and thoughts he had experienced that day and before, since a long time, seemed to vanish, fade, and disappear into the distance. I embraced him with one arm and closed my eyes too. I let myself slip into a kind of slumber, we were at peace.
The time would come for words, for explanations. We would talk, because to be together, as I wanted it to be, we had to share everything and perhaps dissolve into one another. At that moment, however, words were useless, action unnecessary. We edged even closer, and our breath joined together as a single breath. One body adapted to support the other, to be part of it.
I don’t know how much time we spent like that, but I remember the smell of jasmine and honeysuckle that intoxicated us, until we were overcome. The breeze swept up from the sea, not far away. These were the smells of that summer dream.
“I love you, Roby.”
I had only imagined that he would say that to me and now it was happening. Paoletto loved me. It was not a hallucination. No drugs were involved. I was really living those moments. It was then I detached myself from my prison to see myself embraced by him. Hugging him to tell him how much I valued him saying those words and how much I loved him too.
“I love you too…” I said, softly.
“No, listen…” he interrupted, “you are my love. You have always been. I don’t know how I was able to resist coming to look for you. To take drugs with you and do everything you did. Try the same things and then try to take you away. To make you come back with me.”
Hearing him say this, frightened me, but I realized it was only a shared intention and these were words of love. I watched him talking to me with his eyes closed, with his breath. Words which didn’t reach me through my ears because he almost didn’t make a sound. The words were already inside me when he thought them.
“And when your father was ill. Oh, I wanted to see you, but I didn’t have the courage. Forgive me. You needed help, didn’t you? Then I thought I would wait until the summer, the end of school, and I would come and tell you everything. That I had understood. I would have confronted you. I would have said I loved you. And then you would have decided for the two of us.”
I caressed him. I couldn’t think. I would have wanted to tell him many things, but the words that entered my mind were disconnected, disjointed. I knew that if I even said one of them, I would burst into tears and I didn’t want to cry anymore. Or maybe I didn’t have any more tears. Or I mistakenly believed I would no longer need them.
In those moments I had some unpleasant memories of my past. Flashes of my life that suddenly haunted me. But I had Paoletto, his head resting on my shoulder. I thought of him still smelling of Grandma Luigia’s talcum powder and her innate honesty. I thought of Marco too. His gift, a gift of love. He had loved me too. I never thanked him.
The bougainvillea was shaken by the wind. It was a sea breeze. I heard the faint sound of the waves. The mistral was rising. My father knew the winds. He had promised and never kept his promise to teach me how to sail. But it was because of me. One summer day, that summer far away, the last one he had spent before he got sick, he proposed it. A little tight-lipped, pushed by my mother. And I had refused, going so far as to mock him. I had shouted at him that it was too late. That he should give me his damn money because I wanted to go to Amsterdam.
“Are we together?” Paoletto whispered to me, bringing me back to my wonderful present, tearing me away from the horrible past.
I had gone away, again far away with thoughts. And I was so happy to wake up and find I had just had a nightmare and that now reality was the dream.
He lifted his head and stared at me. To make sure I understood him.
“Are we engaged, Roby?” his voice was firm. He needed an answer.
“Yes, we are. We are!”
“Do you really want to be my boyfriend? Are you sure?” he asked again.
“Yes. I feel like I’m dreaming.”
“Then is it true that you love me?”
“Yes. But do you know I’ve been to hell?”
“And it was because of me.”
I touched his mouth with my fingertips, so that he wouldn’t speak.
“It wasn’t you or me.”
“Will you tell me… about your hell?”
“I will tell you everything you want to hear!”
“Why? Are there things that you still don’t want to tell me?”
“I’ve done things you may not want to know.”
“What for example?”
“I have done… Some things that are not good.”
“They are difficult things to say!”
“I still want to hear them, but not now.”
His gaze became thoughtful. “I, too, must tell you something difficult. It is important. And I must tell you immediately. Will you be patient with me?”
He saw I did not understand, then he explained. “I must learn…you must teach me. Look… I know nothing of those things that two people can do…when they become engaged. Today you frightened me! When you grabbed me, I… then I ran away in shame.”
I finally understood and his complete innocence ended up moving me. Two tears escaped me. How different we were. I knew the worst of everything, and he knew nothing, nothing at all.
“Please, don’t cry!” he said.
“I am crying because I am moved. Because you always surprise me. And I am happy. But today I behaved like a fool and hurt you.”
“No! You didn’t hurt me. But I was afraid you wanted to do things to me that I didn’t understand.”
“It will never happen again!”
“Do you promise me that?”
“And will you have patience?”
“We will always do as you want. Only what you want!”
“But I don’t know what I want.”
“Do you want to bet that in a moment you will know?”
I took his hand and kissed it. My lips were wet. My kiss was tender, and he immediately understood what I meant, because he held me in his hug and looked for my mouth to kiss me. When we parted, after a time that I don’t remember, but that was long, it was his eyes that proved to me that he understood.
Then I got up and pulled him to me. We kissed each other, but our bodies just grazed each other, only our lips joined in a pure and innocent kiss. It was not yet the time.
That evening that was it. We were chastely engaged, but we didn’t know exactly what we were yet. In those years, two men, two boys like us, couldn’t promise each other anything but their fidelity and we did that. We promised each other love for the rest of our lives.
“Is that how we kiss?” he asked me, smiling cheekily.
“Well…there are other ways.”
“And what do you know about it?”
“Are you jealous?”
“Don’t you remember anymore?” he asked, with an air of defiance.
He was like that. And I loved him for that. I saw again, in a completely new light, the years we had spent together. I recognized the scenes of jealousy that my lover had made for me. His long faces, the spite I had mistaken for whims. He had always loved me and had been terribly jealous of me, until I had abandoned him. And his suffering must have been greater than mine because he had immediately understood he was the cause of it himself.
“Is it because you love me?” I said.
“I think so!”
I accompanied him home. It had grown late. We promised to meet again in the morning. He didn’t want to let me go. He took my hand and touched it to his lips.
“We are finally engaged at last…I can’t believe it…I can’t believe it! But it’s not too early for us, we’re not little!” He tried reassuring me because he knew I was already worried. “Don’t even think that…you must remind yourself that it was supposed to have happened three years ago. Perhaps it was three years wasted. Do you know that?”
At the time I didn’t even imagine how right he was. I caressed him. There was no one on the street anymore. We took advantage of it and hugged again, exchanging another kiss like the one before.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Will you sleep?” he asked.
“I don’t think so!”
“I will. I am dead tired!”
Your innocence will help you sleep, my love. I will keep vigil because I have to think.
It was the evening of August the thirteenth, nineteen-seventy-eight. I was eighteen years old, three months, some days, and a few hours. I was born shortly after twelve o’clock on May the first, nineteen-sixty. The same day and month as my mother and my grandmother. Strange coincidence!
Paoletto was three years and ten days younger than me, having been born on May the tenth, nineteen-sixty-three. I loved him so much.
My life, our lives had changed.