It tells me the crossing must be done.
This was the title of the email I received from Fabrizio a few weeks after having visited him. When I saw his name on the mailbox of my professional email, which was available through the art gallery's site, I experienced sadness and anger. Still, I opened the message -- to find a picture from his Richter's painting, with no other text but the title
It tells me the crossing must be done.
I waited at least a week long, hoping to leave Fabrizio expectant and also to calmly think on my reply. More than an answer, I came up with revenge -- I simply erased the title of his email and rewrote instead Re: Thank you for the pic. Good luck.
I had no wish to prolong that suffering, neither for him nor for myself.
I had my own crossing to make.
"Wait here, please." I told the taxi driver who had taken me from Fabrizio's apartment to the nearest club, where I was pretty sure Gabriel was not an habitué. The entrance queue stretched under a marquee, protecting from the rain a lively crowd of men, all neatly dressed or semi-naked for the night. After the wind had come a downpour, causing a frenzied commotion. Some of the men arriving at the club were enjoying getting wet, and having their bodies revealed suggestively to an always eager audience. One long-haired guy did stop in the middle of a puddle, and stretching his arms, remained still until he was completely drenched, his carefully sculpted body delineated to astonishing details under the tight T-shirt and jeans. Noticeably, he wore no underwear, and his show received brief but enthusiastic applause. I mentally wished him luck in finding an agent or a client for that evening, as I imagined he wouldn't be looking for a painter.
Others, like me, sprinted, trying to avoid the shower as much as possible. I just didn't believe it was necessary to scream while running, like some were doing, as if the thick raindrops were burning. But I guess that depended on how much time one had spent doing the hair.
Following Fabrizio's rejection, I felt ugly, old and filthy -- and wanted to prove just the opposite. No longer the diva I had been during the times of my scandalous exhibition, I just wished to remain anonymous, and stood at a distance. Discreetly, I checked the guys on offer. I did not even want to go inside, and from the queue I drew a cute young guy who was looking at me with intensity, who smiled sweetly when I stared back at him. "The taxi is out there, shall we?" I invited bluntly, beckoning him off the line. He was cute enough -- I wasn't feeling particularly picky after the blow I had just suffered. And again I crossed the town through the storm, towards a pretty decent little hotel near the beach that rented rooms by the hour. I was schooled enough to avoid taking strangers to my own hotel room.
Now, I was not so decent with the young man who later revealed that he had attended one of my workshops at Vice's Museum, and thus had so readily accepted my invitation to leave the queue. When I thought my good looks were working still, I found out he was more interested in me as an artist.
I did not remember him from the ranks of participants that had remained largely anonymous to me -- a rather handsome dreamer and idealist, who wanted to become a visual artist. He had seen my show several times, and confessed he was fulfilling the fantasy of touching my body, that he had desired on my paintings. Blushing, he told he had masturbated looking at my pictures, and then delighted in going down on real me. He must have been barely past his teenage years, still trying to get rid of an emoish look and displaying pimples on his chin and butt cheeks.
In bed, more than impressed with my size, that he nevertheless bravely devoured, he looked at me with so much love that, after so often having done the same thing again and again over the years, my heart finally broke -- when later in the evening I dumped him without further explanations.
Sex had been great, his endurance remarkable. His admiration for my work and public persona, our short conversations about art in between kisses and while we stripped -- that had been a nice surprise. But apart from be entertained and share the stupor of mutually inflicted orgasms, I did not want anything else from him -- no more than to have laid some guy, any guy, between me and Fabrizio, as quick as I could. It had done wonders to my pride to go to bed with a beautiful boy, younger than both Fabrizio and Gabriel, who showed admiration, even respect for me. Problem is -- I was not capable of reciprocating that respect.
It was only after I had returned to my home in Samsara Heights, remembering the teary-eyed cute young guy -- Justin or Jason, I did not pay attention to his name --, that I understood I also had a crossing to make, my own journey to undertake.
I decided that my journey would begin with a more radical measure, and Fabrizio's email had found me leaving for a three weeks total silence retreat.
It were three weeks of distress and hardship, physically and mentally, meditating more hours than sleeping. But the numerous and valuable insights into my suffering and personal torments was worth it!
There began a period of voluntary chastity and absolute seclusion, which I spent at my isolated home in Samsara Heights, seeing just a few good friends who ventured climbing The Cliff -- Darren and Brazen, mostly. I left town just once, to visit Armand in Sweden -- and that had been another form of a healing measure, too.
With the decrease of suffering, my sexual energy had also decreased, and I had also stopped painting -- the two of them had been inexpressibly intertwined for a long time in my life. I tried not to worry about the creative hiatus, because during that time I began to write again.
"Does this feel like a retreat to you?" Fabrizio had asked me one day, during the stay in our Icelandic home. Just like my own in Samsara Heights, we had chosen a house that was well away from the city. And being on Iceland's wild coast, there was no sign of civilization to be seen, as if civilization had actually never touched those shores. And except for an occasional fishing boat, or the far noise of an airplane, we had no contact, not even visual, with any other human being.
"Oh no!" I laughed sweetly at his remark. "This is a retreated house, but not a retreat in any sense." Though I had been profiting from the silence and spaciousness of both the house and the landscape to meditate often, during the periods in which Fabrizio went on the internet and took care of his businesses. "I never had a retreat with kisses, hugs and sex, babe... I think that doesn't exist!" I laughed again.
Some time before I had left for Sweden, there came another email from Fabrizio. It was the continuation of the Richter message, but in that one there was no text nor image -- just the title that read
The crossing has begun.
Again, despite all the meditation that I had just undertaken, and how it made me clearly see the way I could be inflicting more suffering on him, I took a lot of time before answering him, wanting him to fell uncertainty and expectation. And then I simply wrote back an even more concise revenge, I mean, answer Re: Congratulations. I had intended to reply Good for you, but I thought it sounded aggressive.
"Does this look like a retreat to you?" I returned Fabrizio the same question. I sought to understand how he was feeling about our Icelandic holidays. The other times, when he had rented a house in different countries, it had been with Andara and their group of friends -- and now his entourage had came down to me, only. We hadn't so much to talk all day long -- I had been telling Fabrizio about my reunion with Carlo at the Nirvana Lounge after 20 years of separation, but when I felt burdened by emotions, having to go back to my breathing to regain control, we stopped and continued only when I felt at peace again. Which could be hours later, maybe the following day. And in the mean time, there was either silence or music, since we had both agreed on having the television removed from the house.
"I've never done a retreat to know how it is... As you said, I cannot expect love and sex, can I?" Fabrizio giggled.
"Much love, yes. But fraternal, not romantic love." There were some pretty dry and hard retreats, but there were many with so much camaraderie and sharing, like those at Plum Village, that were dearest to me. "And lots of love for yourself, and acceptance, and self-acceptance, friendship, peace... Fabrizio, would you agree to go on a retreat with me?" I had been feeling tempted to invite him, and I just did.
In the one week we lived together in a house in Iceland, which would become memorable and leave indelible memories that later helped us survive our separation, Fabrizio and I had the quiet fluidity of time and space, the conviviality, the silence, the attention, the dedication, the care, to get to know each other in greater depth, by asking personal questions that needed time and care to be properly answered.
"I won't say yes, at least for now... But neither will I say no, definitely... Is it a good enough answer for you, monsieur Zen?" Fabrizio smiled his charming, wittiest smile, trying to give me an ambivalent response, just like I had sometimes given him.
I was afraid that Fabrizio would eventually develop a disdain for meditation just like Catherine had -- though hers was closer to aversion. There was a time when Carlo had to hide himself for his sitting sessions, for she was enraged whenever she saw him at it. She felt like she was being excluded, that Carlo had left to a far off place where she could not reach him, even if he was right there in the middle of our living room. Nor have any control over him, that's what frustrated her the most, I guess... And she had been mad at me when I had started it, too. "This is not some religious sect that will kidnap you and steal your money, is it?" Catherine had asked, when I unskillfully shared it with her over the phone from Vice City.
But Fabrizio seemed to be a bit different. Though he did not find himself attracted to any spiritual practice, he demonstrated to respect mine -- just like I did not feel any drive to the financial market, but I did not criticize him for constantly playing the stock market. In fact, our exchange of metiers had led me to ask for his advice before investing any of my money, while he had read Shantideva's and the Dalai Lama's books I had given him, and even a couple of others he had seen laying around.
"The titles are really catchy!" He justified, when he had started reading two of Pema Chödron's books, 'When Things Fall Apart' and 'The Places that Scare You'. I have to confess I had read both books more than once, but I had pretended to be re-reading them because I thought they might interest and help Fabrizio. And they actually had. "Though I don't really understand the difference between this and the self-help guides..." He had commented.
Some time later after that "The crossing has begun" message, once I had already returned from Sweden and been quietly spending most of my days in isolation at home in Samsara Heights -- redecorating it to receive Dan Charmand's first visit, ever, to any of my houses --, another email had popped in my professional mailbox.
was the title of the email, and this time there was more text to it. Compared to our previous standards of succinctness, Fabrizio had almost written a novel.
Hard to say if it's a bridge or a boat I've taken for this crossing.
Whatever it is, it's burning.
The margin I've left, too, seems to be burning.
Now there is no way of turning back.
But the boat or the bridge that I'm on, it is also burning.
These flames all around me, is it what they call Hell?
Or was it Hell before, with all the lies and deceit?
And now I should be glad, because this fire is purging?
Does it ever stop burning?
What lies ahead?
For now, I can only see smoke.
On I go, though.
I had goosebumps upon reading that message, and it brought tears to my eyes. Fabrizio insisted on the "crossing" term, and that language was like a code, a Buddhist code, between us -- he would later tell me he had used it because he was writing to a public e-mail at the site of the art gallery, and he was not sure who had access to it. And he neither wanted nor could be exposing himself more than that.
The main difference between Fabrizio and I was in relation to how we handled our personal, private lives, and the part of it that was public.
I did not hide my sexuality, and made it my own art and form of expression. Although it seemed outrageous and scandalous, I absolutely did not care about publicly revealing my nudity. In my understanding, it was just the image of my body, it was not my body itself that people were looking at. I hadn't been shocked at seeing the picture some guy had posted, of a brochure with my self-portraits made all sticky after he had ejaculated on them. Touching or looking at my pictures was not touching or looking at me -- but the urge to, the lust and desire that my art inspired was what made it strong, and a good selling product. I felt so separated from that body of my art, and even the body with which I delighted in bed with other men, just because it had no heart...
It took me longer to answer that message from Fabrizio, since I was dealing with my own grief, having seen how heartless I had become. The Justin or Jason teary-eyed cute young guy from Vice City still haunted me, along with many I had dumped and hurt.
And then he wrote again, before I could send him a reply.
How does the other margin look like?
Where is it, actually?
Are you there, please?
Of all the things I had told Fabrizio that night, one had impressed him more than anything else -- what I had called my loyalty to myself.
I had a private truth that would set the tone of my public life. Fabrizio's life was exactly like that, too, his private truth actually being the same as mine -- that of being gay --, but the effects were opposite. While I was living my truth openly, with freedom, he lived his in a veiled way that turned his private life into a secret and the public life into a lie. And that I would be included and fit into that scheme was what terrified me -- to be the lover in the private life, parallel to the public life that Fabrizio led with Andara.
It was that "please" in his message, and the realization that he was suffering, and a certain empathy with what he might be going through at that moment, and the fact of being in an airport again -- all that led me to call his mobile, the number which I had stored since that night in Vice City.
But Fabrizio did not answer my call, and when he called back, I was flying to Italy, and he found my phone off for many, long and afflicting hours.
I had finally decided to visit Carlo.
My chastity had the effect of an artistic abstinence too, and I no longer painted nor even neared my atelier. As I swam at the pool, looking towards the glass box that was my studio -- inspired by Johnson's Glass House that I had once visited --, it was as if I observed the posthumous remains of someone's life, the deceased painter's studio left untouched for posterity. It seemed like the last canvas I had painted was ages ago -- the classy face of Mario, a stunning Brazilian model I had also dumped. Framed and sold, already turned into new clothes, furniture or some kind of investment. For my new, Argentinian art dealer, who kept demanding new works, I had sent some old paintings, which I had not previously enjoyed, but that were not so bad, after all. The guy was exploring new markets in emerging countries, and since what was old to me was new to them, I didn't have to worry much about my creative hiatus.
Yet, I'd rather be like my father, who painted so little and had thus increased the value of his works so greatly. Seeking for inspiration and guidance, once the atonement and revenge had petered out, I decided to take refuge in his atelier and hermitage in the Apennines, on the farm he had inherited from my great-grandfather.