Thursday, January 8, 2015

Episode 88 | Belittled lives

My father and mother would often disagree. Since the very beginning in Punaouilo (actually, all had begun on the Île du Blanchomme, I now had to adapt my memories), I feared their explosions -- Catherine's rage and Carlo's indignation. It escalated from quarreling to bickering to serious arguing until they were fighting -- though never physically. In France, it had not been different, and their disputes even worsened. 

And when my father and I had returned from the Apennines, they started having fights every day, often many times a day. Now I was getting to understand the reasons.

Carlo and Catherine rarely agreed on anything concerning our daily life. While Carlo loved cooking and eating pasta, she hated it -- only many years later would Catherine learn to enjoy it, when it was Edoardo cooking. Maybe she had eaten it solely to please him, whom she loved.

But my parents had especially disagreed on my education, disputing about my happiness. Carlo would even link the two words, and spoke of an "education for happiness". Catherine retorted that it was "new age bullshit", and stood up for the traditional education.

"Our son is not happy here, Catherine." That's how many of their quarrels often started -- when I was the main subject. Their errands and rather different daily routines would keep them apart for hours or even days, when Catherine started her studies and later teaching in Belgium, so that their room -- the bed, more specifically -- was the only place my parents knew they would meet.

"Oh, not that speech again, Carlo!" Catherine snorted, showing her impatience. She kept her head buried in her books, ignoring Carlo's presence unless he provoked her. "He just needs time to adapt. He'll learn to like it here in France. Anyways, Laurent is a child, and he has to be where we are. He has no choice. It is as simple as that."

"You really don't care about his happiness, do you?"

"Don't be unfair, Carlo!" Catherine replied, shutting her book, ready for battle. "Of course I do. And that's why I know he has to stay in France. He'll get the best education, here. A proper education. In Punaouilo he was just learning how to be a third class citizen."

"It's not just about education!" My father would insist. Not so much defending his points of view, he was standing for what he thought was good for me. "It's about his happiness! Laurent is increasingly sad here..."

"So what? Do we send him back to that island? To Aunt Joanna?" She laughed disdainfully. "Plus, Laurent has always been sad. Such a melancholic boy, isn't he? I hope he'll make friends with other boys his age here in France, and become less dependent from our company... It's not good for a child to be constantly with adults only."

"I could go back to Punao--"

Catherine did not let him finish the sentence, nor pronounce the awful name. 

"Then you'll go back all on your own, Carlo! My son is staying here with me!"

My heart fluttered as my parents played tug of war with my destiny. Our rooms were on the second floor of the house, opening onto a veranda so large that held several pots of flowers and a bench for three, offering lovely views of mountains in the distance, groves interposed to cultivated fields all around, and the rural road that ended at our front garden. There was even a table with three chairs, that we had never sat at as a family. The doors to our rooms opening onto the veranda were hardly shut in the summer evenings, and to my desperation I could hear my parents arguing next doors. Depending on the breeze, or lack of, I could understand their words quite distinctly -- until one of them, usually Carlo, closed their door, or I put on my walkman.

"Catherine, don't you ever miss Punao--?"

"Not ever. Not the least." She made a very peculiar gesture with her hands, sharply slicing the air, that indicated the discussion was over for her. Punaouilo and her involuntary exile had become an episode in her life she would avoid mentioning in her biographies.

Because, to the heavenly aroma of tropical flowers, that attracted myriads of insects and birds, Catherine preferred the latest in French perfumery, that she would get overseas as gifts from Celeste -- and one day she had asked Uncle Will to simply cut down all the bushes around the small cottage of my childhood. People around the world dreamed of the ring of indivisible beaches stretching all around the island, green palm trees, fine white sand and the translucent blue of the Pacific Ocean -- that Catherine avoided, since she hated walking barefoot and having her hair undone and made greasy from the salty breeze and the daily showers. How she must have missed the beauty saloons!  In Punaouilo, she had dreamed of strolling the Parisian boulevards on her high heels, going back to the Sorbonne and the Cinematéque, returning to her beloved 6e arrondessiment.     

They did not agree even on the house in which we lived. Carlo wanted to build a pool for me, but Catherine did not want to invest in a home that she considered "too middle class". 

"It's a lovely home, Catherine. Don't you think so? I thought you had chosen it yourself."

"Oh yes, of course I chose it... among the options that Celeste gave me, all of them, far away from Paris!" My mother had enjoyed living again in Paris, even if it had been just as my grandmother's guest, in the room she had occupied since childhood, but to which she had "lost the right", Celeste had stated. My mother regarded our rural house as another exile, an exile within France itself. "This house is so ordinary. But at least we don't have a middle class neighborhood around here. I could not stand being invited to those middle class dinners and weekend lunches that are the routine of the ordinary middle class neighborhood. So at last yes, being secluded, this was the least worse house from the options that I had..."

I began to truly worry about my parents relationship when, after their quarrels, they started sleeping apart. One early morning, before dawn, thinking I had heard a noise outside the house during the night, I went to check. I thought it could be my dad -- he always liked to work late into the night. But his studio was empty.

I found him in the small room attached to the studio, that we used as a guest room. In fact, I was the most common guest there -- whenever we had illustrious guests, usually famous writers or movie directors or actors Catherine would invite, they slept in my room, which was much larger and more comfortable, and I occupied the small bedroom next to the studio. 

For me, it was like sleeping out, since it was in a separate building from the main house -- it used to be a deposit, that Carlo had adapted to be his studio. 

 I was too young to properly benefit from the presence of Mr. Chabrol and other illustrious guests from Catherine, with their highly cultivated conversations that often left Carlo out, but I was always thankful that they would send me away from my own room.

On those last weeks before leaving home forever, Carlo would occupy that room every night. Still, I figured it was a passing period. Or at least I hoped -- but the prospect of becoming another child with divorced parents, like so many in my class, seemed to draw dangerously close on me.

Generally, after quarreling, Carlo and Catherine would reconcile in bed. The physical attraction they felt for each other was true and strong still. And as I would later learn -- an adult and sexually very active myself, in the period after Edoardo's death, when Catherine and I were sharing about our lovers --, not only had Carlo had an attractive body, fit and manly and hairy like my mother preferred, and been well endowed; he had also been well trained by Catherine for her own needs, growing from a clumsy virgin to an expert in giving her pleasure. He performed in bed aiming only to please her ever demanding ways, and quench her sexual thirst -- often holding back his orgasms obediently, until Catherine was satisfied or grew tired and allowed him to finish, too. Other times, the game was Catherine trying to make Carlo quickly ejaculate, while he resisted. In a time when several artists and other famous personalities advocated tantric sex, I was convinced my parents were adepts. Our house was never as peaceful as during their sexual marathons, and it must have been satisfying for both. Carlo just couldn't offer Catherine the spiced variety she seemed to enjoy while having several lovers, of several ages and nationalities, and he had silently learned to cope with that -- mainly, it seemed, to maintain our household going.

Instead of feeling ashamed or some sort of awkward curiosity about the sounds of my parent's love making, I felt relief whenever it followed their quarrels. I'd rather wake up to their muffled moans and the bedhead banging against the wall that divided our rooms, than with their screams and shouts. 

But a time came when not even sex would reconcile them. Thinking in retrospect, during my father's last months in our home, Catherine must be making it out with the young officer from the Tax Authorities, and that's how Carlo had lost his main access to my mother. And she might be leaving him out of her bed and their room because of the gipsy girl, Jaella, and that other supposed son of my father's.


"No, you don't have any half brother, Laurent! Even you shall doubt me, son?" Carlo had replied, clearly hurt. Apparently, he hadn't realized I was joking, and that, after discovering my mother had a half brother, I wouldn't be shocked discovering I had one myself. But Carlo was too earnest, "faithful like a dog", Angelo would have commented, to cope with a joke about his fidelity. "I've said it already... I never had any other woman in my life who was not Catherine. As it was proved, later, all tests taken, that the child was not mine. It could never have been..."

Catherine, however, could not, and did not want to believe otherwise. From her own perspective and experience, a second family was something perfectly possible -- and thus weary and traumatized, she did not want to see it repeated in her story.

"Go live with that gypsy girl, Carlo! Go live with your other son! I can perfectly take care of mine on my own! I don't need no man paying me wage." 

It was no use swearing to Catherine that I had never touched that girl -- nor any other woman. Catherine thought I was avenging myself, because of her own infidelity that had started in Punaouilo still.

"By no means, Laurent, would your mother see that she had herself planted those lies in Jaella's mind. It resulted in a story that resembled the plots of her own books, more than real life. It became as if she was reading something, without recognizing she had written it herself. And that's why our fights were more usual than before, with an alarming and increasing seriousness."

"And Catherine asked me several times that I leave the house. But I could not leave home... I could not contemplate living without you, my son. After all, what would I do all day without having you to give a ride, to feed you, to go shopping with you and for you..."

Since moving to France, Carlo had taken upon himself all the household chores, that in Punaouilo had been Joanna's. It was he who bought the groceries and even cooked -- not because he was a natural cooker, but Catherine wouldn't even break an egg. It was he who went to the bank and to the post office, it was he who picked me up in the club, after the training, when due to one reason or another I could not go home by bus or bike.

"And, of course, Catherine did not want to give up the right of having your custody, not even sharing it. For I sometimes pictured you and me living together in Italy... I engaged in these reveries of a better, calmer life as a means to escape that hellish daily routine that my life with your mother had turned into."

"You have belittled our lives, Carlo!" Catherine would scream, accusingly. Sometimes, she clapped her hands at the end of her sentences, like Tibetan monks do. But while they want to emphasize their statements, she wished to underline her rage, when it was at its fullest already. "For you yourself are a small man! Do you realize that? Your interests and your tastes are so limited! Your opinions are even narrower, and so unassertive! That you care more about the weather than for politics, that you pay attention to the moon but has never read Schopenhauer... It tells so much about the size of your mind. Your presence in our lives is limiting, Carlo! Everything around you becomes weak, blurred, humble, ignoble. Even me, Carlo. I feel underprivileged by your side. Look at our meek lives! This unpretentious, middle class house that you seem to enjoy so much! Look how you've debased our lives! Look what you did to me! Take a good look at what you are doing to Laurent, belittling his life with your low-born idea of contentment!"

"That's funny, Catherine!" Carlo wouldn't lose his temper often, but when he did, "What I usually hear from you is Oh, you're so bigGod, you're so big..." 
Carlo mocked Catherine's moaning voice in bed.

"Oh, you're too rude!" Catherine replied, disdaining his mockery, walking towards the bathroom, where she would stay until she heard Carlo leave the room, his heavy footsteps clearly echoing along the corridor, past my own door and down the stairs. "But you're right. Your dick is the only big thing that you have!"

"Please!" Carlo was running out of argumentation, and he had started pleading. "You can not make me leave my son, Catherine!" But once she had locked herself in the bathroom, Carlo was uncertain she had even heard his plea. When he was sad -- and he was devastated at the idea of losing me -- he could not scream, and his voice waned.

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