I was so intoxicated with Fabio that I did not realize how increasingly serious the conversations between my great-grandfather and my father were. I was used to Carlo and Catherine quarreling, lately often with screams that made me so fearful, so that these men's low, tense voices seemed not so threatening to me.
Preparing myself with days in advance, I even proposed my plan of taking Fabio to France, where he could focus on his academic studies as he wished. I have to say my proposal was not completely altruistic, since I could also imagine him with me at school, protecting me from the older boys.
"Ma che cose senza senso!" Nonsense! "Ma che assurdità!" Tarso had exploded. "It's just what I needed! The government taking away my ancestral land..." A National Park was in the process of being constituted, and Tarso was going to lose part of his properties, "and now I'm also to lose my employee!"
Since we had arrived, Carlo had been burdened with a lot of paperwork that he did not like to deal with, but that Tarso himself was totally unable to take care of. And besides all the personal problems that Carlo had in France, of which I knew nothing, my great-grandfather had added one more -- he insisted that my father should force Catherine to move to the Apennines, where we would all take charge of the family's farm. My great-grandfather was increasingly concerned about the fate of his property, as he grew older, and that National Park was threatening him.
And he had never been able to forgive Carlo's defection.
"It's time that the D'Allegros return to where they belong!" Tarso spoke fiercely.I realized he had included both my father and me in his reprimand, for we were the only D'Allegros that were out of place.
But if at the time I did not realize how serious Carlo's problems were -- and the slightest of them was Tarso's will and wrath . While my father -- I'm inclined to believe, nowadays --, though I thought he had forgotten about me, had already realized my feelings for Fabio. Even before I did.
Though not to ancient Via Flaminia -- I now considered it too far away, once I did not wish to leave the farm and Fabio's proximity, Carlo took me on a tour to the mountains. Just the two of us, like it had been when we first arrived at the farm. Since then, Carlo had gravitated into my great-grandfather's orbit, to the amount of governmental paperwork which Tarso was unable to deal with, and I had spent all the possible time with Fabio -- so that my father and I had actually enjoyed very few moments together in our ancestral lands. It seemed like he had met his fate in the family, and while I had found my destiny, our routes had taken us briefly apart. But we did not want to part from one another, and the reunion on a day's excursion was welcomed from both sides.
On that tour, we were able to again strengthen our affection. Especially when Carlo told me for the first time that story -- he'd return to it at the Nirvana Lounge -- about the albino baby chamois that had been rejected by his mother, and that he had tried to save without success.
"Did he die, dad?" I whined. I was moved to tears when I heard his narration on the struggle of the baby to survive, and on Carlo's struggle to try to help the baby, which nevertheless had been too scared to let my father approach him. "But even if he had no mother, couldn't his father have helped him?" was my next question. It was as if the albino baby chamoix had reincarnated in me, with all its painstaking helplessness. And... hadn't it?
Aware of my emotional state, Carlo carefully explained to me that, in nature, such a baby could only be fed by its mother. And often males were hunted and killed on those mountains, so that the baby might have had no father. It was a very sad story that had marked Carlo's childhood, addressing his own orphanage. And at twelve, I identified with the little animal in my own struggles of acceptance and affection relating to Catherine. Would she have rejected me if I had been born albino -- because, with my white hair, I suddenly saw myself on the verge of understanding my mother's difficulties in liking me.
"But you, my son," Carlo embraced me, "you have a father. And I'm here for you. I will not reject you for anything in this world. I will always be there for you, Laurent." A vow he would not be able to keep -- or at least break it, sooner than expected, and for twenty years.
Carlo did not speak openly about the love that I was experiencing for Fabio, but remembering that statement from him -- that, later when he abandoned us, would torture me like a deceitful promise --, I could tell that he was declaring his unconditional love and acceptance for me, even if I was to love other boys.
Perhaps my great-grandfather had noticed it too, or at least had sensed it, for he decided to send Fabio to the highlands, to prepare a shack that they used in winter. My adored friend would go and stay there doing repairs, and be absent from the farm until after our departure.
I was shocked to hear the news of his leaving. But to compensate my shock, and the sadness that he also felt, including his abbreviated studies, Fabio had taken a day of his vacations -- he was abdicating from a free day and from earning regular money -- so that we could go together to the lake at the bottom of the valley. My great-grandfather did not oppose to that, neither did Carlo.
I immediately realized that, as much as it was our farewell, it was also my last chance to have something with him -- at twelve, that 'something' was not quite clear to me. A stolen kiss? Sex? When I had just started experimenting with masturbation, what could sex have meant to me? I guess I simply wanted Fabio to take me in his arms and confirm that there was nothing wrong with the love that I was feeling for him. Maybe, even, reciprocate that love, blessing me with his acceptance for the rest of my life.
It was the most beautiful excursion that Fabio and I did together. We strolled down through fragrant woods, and I tried to concentrate on walking and following Fabio without tripping, though it was very hard -- he was wearing his worn Army shorts and t-shirt, and I could not avoid but marvel at his muscular body. I was not planning to have another accident -- he would surely carry me back home, and no matter how much I longed to be in his arms, taking him away from the adults presence seemed essential to get from him what I wanted -- that undefined 'something'. The trail ran along crystal clear streams, to dramatically arrive and emerge near the noisy waterfall that rushed from the icy heights, bringing the defrost water and helping to make the lake down the valley exquisitely beautiful and cold.
I was happy, even elated -- but sometimes I also felt sad, remembering that it would be our last day together. Or was it because I had many expectations -- we are as far from my great-grandfather's house as we had ever gone, and it was for the eternity of an entire day.
I had also been eagerly waiting for another chance to see him naked. Knowing it would be the last time, and perhaps predicting the visual artist I would later become, I wanted to have one last look on him in all his revealed splendor, to keep it before the eye of my mind in all its glory, down to the anatomic details. It's true that, back then when I was not yet painting, his vision was meant just to fuel my masturbatory fantasies.
But when we were down to our swimming trunks only, I realized how embarrassing it would be trying to hide my almost perennial erection from my friend, who was inadvertently causing it.
At first I felt awfully shy, and decided I would not go into the water, with the excuse that it was too cold.
I sat on a stone, legs crossed, hiding the bulge that tortured and pleased me at the same time. The copious leaking that left a sticky stain on my trunks was not just embarrassing -- I was confused at its causes, but it was addicting pleasurable that I had abandoned the idea of being sick somehow. It couldn't be anything bad, I sensed, when I felt inclined to continually touch my organ through the cloth to make it leak some more. But I did experience some guilt, and it was like being back at school, afraid that my eyes longing for Fabio's beautiful naked body would denounce me -- and further humiliation and rejection would follow.
It was a very familiar darkness, that of fear and rejection. So familiar, that it had suddenly returned to take over and fill my heart, after so many days of luminous happiness in the company of my friend.
And under that radiant sun, on a clear day, I found myself deeply immersed and helplessly trapped in my inner darkness again. Even my erection subsided, and stopped leaking, though Fabio had come out of the water and was now jumping close at the shore of the lake, to warm himself a little bit, but also to cheer me up and convince me to venture into the lake with him.
Fabio insisted that I should jump with him in the water.
"It is not cold!", he shouted at me, though it was very cold indeed. "And it's not so deep!" Although my father had made me promise to be very careful.
But Fabio was not ready to so easily settle with my inner negativity, which would have spoiled all the joy of our tour -- and that actually was not my true will, not to mention my deepest desire.
Since I kept denying, while having miserably shrunk into myself, for the first time Fabio's strength felt threatening to me -- when he walked toward me, his tremendous beauty turned mainly into muscles and power, and he just grabbed me and carried me into the water. Acting just like the school bullies did, tugging me to whatever corner, whenever they had wanted. Between fright and consternation, I offered no resistance to his will. For a moment, I felt like crying with rage. I had come that far, fooling myself about having a first friend -- first love? -- to see things happen exactly like they had in school. I was... being bullied again! Only that this time it was worse, for I was being bullied by my best friend, the only one I had so far trusted!
So sad, really, and I felt defeated. I just lay on Fabio's shoulder like a limp cloth, without reaction, accepting that my fate to be bullied. I felt negligible and contemptible, to my worst. I decided to hold back the tears because of that shame that was so familiar to me, that even my emotions should be mocked because they sounded effeminate. And I was feeling ashamed, fearing that he might have noticed my erection brushing against his chest. Against fear, my body had found that bewildering reaction. Humiliated, I tried to hide my emotions from Fabio, and I made an effort to bury them deep within.
And in this process of burying my emotions, lost in the confusion of my impulsive bodily functions, I was surprised to have an insight that, even today, I think was quite deep for a twelve years old boy.
I realized that Fabio was not disrespecting my desire nor my will, but actually simply forcing me to accomplish them.
The moment we hit the water, I thought and immediately understood -- if he hadn't grabbed me and carried me without my consent, all along joyfully laughing as he had done it, all the time being no less than extremely gentle with me --, perhaps... I would have remained at the margin. Forever. Just like I had always done, throughout my life in Europe, huddled and fearful, sad and unhappy. Trapped in the corner of my own loneliness, while actually dreaming about being back in his arms.
That day, Fabio forced me to be happy. To happily spend a day of freedom and joy, of laughter and excitement in his company -- and that attitude would have profound echoes for the rest of my life.
Often, from then on, when I realized I was sabotaging myself, giving up on my own happiness -- or self-imposing difficulties and creating obstacles to it --, it was enough to remind myself of Fabio carrying me in his muscular arms. my face had been so close to his face that I could have kissed him. With his strength he had overcome my own resistance -- and I just had to decide to carry myself towards my own happiness, in my own muscular arms.
I would be my own Fabio to myself!
I am so grateful to Fabio for so many things that I have overcome at different moments in my life by having known him!
And today I think, despite my frustration at the time, it was actually wonderful that he never touched me and did the things that I wanted him so badly to do -- and that I did not exactly know what they were, either romantic or sexual . Because the memory I have of him remains pure and delicate, like a very special and unique friend, and an ideal love.
But there would be one more thing to be thankful to him, yet.
When later in the afternoon we returned to my great-grandfather's house, Fabio was still impressed and had been so enthusiastic with the fact that I had won every swimming race. I not only swam better than him, but also much faster, even being weaker and smaller. And from the whole day that we had spent together, it was my swimming ability that he bragged the more about. He was elated.
"He is a true champion!", he had cheerfully announced to Carlo and Tarso.
Carlo, who had taught me himself how to swim in Punaouilo, was not so surprised to hear of my prodigious breath, and despite not having seen me swim in a long time, realized that having become taller with long arms, I had also become faster.
"I'll look into that..." Carlo had promised Fabio.
And indeed, upon our return to France, my father would put me on the swim team at the country club, and set to build a pool at home -- his last gift for me, before he left.
Our parting shortened by at least two weeks, Fabio was gone before me, leaving me alone on the farm.
The farm that I could not love, as my great-grandfather had wanted it to happen. Maybe if Tarso had been a little nicer, less silent, less strict, it might have helped me liking the family farm -- through him. But he had obliged me to do too many things I did not want to -- like working in the fields, that turned out being so lovely in the end --, and do things his way -- and Carlo invoked on my patience for obeying my great-grandfather while we were at his place --, always looking at me suspiciously or condescendingly, as I perceived it, which made me feel so inapt -- which I truly was, regarding the rural life.
But it had been on the family's ancestral lands where I had felt love -- and loved -- for the first time; it had been our family's farm to teach me what love was.
I did not love the farm, but I was grateful to it.
I had never cried so much in my life, not even when we left Punaouilo.
The majestic, dramatic landscape of the Italian mountains seemed so desolate and pointless, now that Fabio was gone, making me fell so lost and small.
My great-grandfather got mad at me.
"The D'Allegros are strong, boy!" He punched me on the shoulder, but not friendly like the other times. He actually hit me hard, and the shock made me stop crying. "We are resistant. We are persistent. We have a center, we have a story, we have a place!" I was trembling, afraid of him. Neither Carlo nor Catherine had ever beaten me. "A D'Allegro is never shaken! Stop crying now, bambino! Have you ever seen a rock cry? We are made of rock!"
I was embarrassed. For I knew I was made of sand, the fine and clear sands of Punaouilo, that any breeze took on a fanciful flight. I was smooth and soft too, and now that Fabio had been able to respect and admire me exactly the way I was, I could acknowledge it without feeling any shame.
I was not made of rock. But then, if I had to pretend to be made of rock to be able to live among other rocks, I would do it. Now I knew how rocks looked like, and how they were supposed to be.
Tarso's rude speech-- and specially that punch -- had reminded me of the school's hard reality to which I was returning. He was making me feel like a defective D'Allegro. If it hadn't been for the presence of Carlo, my sweet and submissive father, I would still be in disbelief that I was a D'Allegro. Or that I could be a true, rocky D'Allegro.
I would learn how to lie about my way of being, and how to pretend to appear having been made of rock. Inscrutable, resistant, hermetically sealed. I had observed and experienced the mountains and I had learned exactly how to do it. Secretly, however, my kernel would still be sand, soft, so soft, sweet, tender, gentle -- but only in my heart, and away from all those eyes that could not accept or love me like I was.
"I did not need to be strong, I just had to look strong. I could never be rough and rude like the other boys, but I could pretend I was like them. Perhaps, I thought, among the other boys there were others who also had to hide their weaknesses and suffering, showing off a strength and aggressiveness that they did not truly have, just to survive at school. That's what I discovered. The power and safety of the masquerade for the weak."
I had never told anyone about that rite of passage from my childhood to adolescence with so many details, like I just had to Fabrizio. I had spent a whole afternoon talking to him. But before him, no one had demonstrated genuine interest in me. And our Icelandic, secluded house, quietly immersed in a vast desolate landscape, had brought us closer together.
"You had this insight at what age, Laurent?", he had asked, demonstrating that he was not yet bored from listening to me.
"It was during this summer I've been telling you about, my dear. The year of 1987. Until then, the only male figure that I had known so close was my father, Carlo. So sensitive, so intuitive, with all his doubts, conflicts and wounds, showing his fragility like other men won't. But at the family's farm I discovered my great-grandfather's strength, who would lead me away from my own passivity and fear, and Fabio's beauty, who awakened my desire and would launch me, almost catapult me into life. As well as his love and acceptance, which would be grounding for my self-acceptance."
"This is quite an insight for a twelve years old boy..." Fabrizio pondered.
"It's like I have said. I stopped being a boy on my great-grandfather's farm. On the D'Allegro lands, our ancestral lands. 'We will make you a man.' At first, Tarso's words had sounded so threatening, but at last it confirmed to be so true! Tarso might have been disappointed in me, but the fact is that he truly succeeded. The Laurent boy stayed behind on those mountains, and it was the beginnings of a man who emerged from those mountains, and returned to France."
This man that arrived at your life, Fabrizio. And who loves you, with the courage and the will to face all he must to stay with you, I thought, but I did not say it.
From Fabio to Fabrizio, it was just a question of a few letters -- but between one love and another, so many men, so much delusion and pleasure, so much suffering, and decades of struggle for self-acceptance.
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.