In five minutes, we reached the opposite shore, where Armand pointed his house standing on a deserted corner -- but instead, he took me to an old cottage sitting before a small bay of placid waters, near the only tree grove on the whole island.
"This is where I lived, when I first arrived on this island, many years ago. The house I now occupy was in ruins then, having been damaged by a fierce storm. And while restoring it, I stayed in this cottage, that belonged to the first settlers. It is cozy, indeed, just like you said it before."
The cottage stood some five hundred meters apart from the main house, that could not be spotted behind the trees. I confess I was a bit disappointed that I was going to be staying away from my uncle. At the same time, I understood that he wanted to keep his privacy, and I humbly accepted whatever kind of hospitality he had to offer me.
"I am sure you are going to enjoy staying here, Laurent, instead of sharing a room with me... and my snoring. I am pretty sure you won't be bothered by it from this distance, ha-ha!" Armand laughed wholeheartedly, a bit like a child or like only Buddhist monks could. "Of course, you are joining me at the other house so that we can have our meals together. Tonight I should dine at seven, which allows you almost two hours to settle and rest a little bit. I suppose it's been a long trip for you. At the same time, feel free to turn in early if you need to. If you don't show up by seven, I'll understand it. Then we will have breakfast together, tomorrow, how about that? I could bring more food over to the cottage, if that sounds like a good idea to you."
And with that, we parted. I thought I hadn't misunderstood my uncle's message -- he wasn't really expecting me to join him that evening. Nor even wanting it to happen, it seemed. The cottage was equipped with a small refrigerator, he had explained, that he had filled with fresh food just that morning.
"There is a small bowl with yogurt that I've made myself, Laurent. Will you please start with that, if hunger you may feel? I'm sure you are going to appreciate it, and it should taste better today."
When left on my own, I realized how tired I was. I had started over twenty four hours ago, driving from Samsara Heights to the LAX airport, and then the unbearably long flight to Stockholm, where I should have stayed at least one night, instead of heading straight to the port to catch an early ferry.
But I had been in Stockholm before, and I knew how easily I could fall into temptation in that town. Male top models seemed to be everywhere, working in museums and shops, and as guards, wall painters, repairmen, waiters. There was not one single place you'd enter and not stumble upon a gorgeous man. And I was really trying my best to disintoxicate from the unbridled sex life I had been leading until Gabriel -- and for that matter, trying to overcome him, too. For as hard as it was, I had the intention to keep my bed empty, until I found the meaning of true love.
I knew I needed time on my own, no matter how hard it was for me. But I hadn't expected to be left all alone like that, and though the prospect of solitude on that silent, isolated island did frighten me a little bit, I was willing to accept the improvised challenge proposed by my uncle.
I immediately felt at home. The cottage was just as big -- or just as small, if you wish -- as the bungalow we had occupied in Punaouilo, for the first eight years of my life. And it was stocked not only with healthy food, but also with a well curated small library that included poetry, short stories and novels by authors from all over the world. Specially some Swedish ones I had never heard of before. I could picture Armand carefully choosing the authors he wanted to offer to me -- like later he would confirm he had done, indeed.
And I was not just physically tired. I had finally arrived at my uncle's shores, after a quest of two years, and I was just starting to relax, as if something had been achieved. But the story on how the Île du Blanchomme, the island of my true conception -- opposed to the tale I had always heard on how my parents had met in a chic resort in Punaouilo, where I had been born --, had been erased from the surface of the planet had deeply impacted me.
I still did not know to what extent, until I decided to actually skip dinner with Armand and turn in early, just like he had suggested. With a prayer of gratitude, that I might not have recited until the end, laying in a small, antique bed that hardly fitted me but was nevertheless comfortable, I drifted into my sleep and dreams.
I dreamed of Carlo. He was as young as he had been in Punaouilo, a gorgeous Italian hunk. But the dream was about the ocean as much as it was about my father. At first, all I could see was a great extension of blue water, gleaming like liquid jewel under the sun. The light was so strong that I could not discern the horizon -- maybe, in the dream, there was actually none. Sky and sea were both blue and made of the same element, that somehow mingled air and water. And I sensed him before I saw him, as my view zoomed on my father, swimming in those waters -- or maybe flying in that air -- of transcendental blue. He had just gone for a swim, like he often had on the Île du Blanchomme. But after what in the dream seemed like more than an hour that he kept on swimming, I understood my father was not exercising. He was lost. He had left the shores of the island, but now he couldn't find it again. And I knew why. He hadn't been caught by one of the treacherous currents. He had always been careful about them. No. While he was swimming, the Île du Blanchomme had been swallowed by an earthquake, and that's why he swan in all directions and wasn't able to find it. The island had forever disappeared. The thing is -- I knew it had vanished, but my father didn't. And there was no way I could let him know about it. And he just went on swimming, in all directions, back and forth, increasingly confused and lost. Weakening. But even if I could not communicate with him, still, in that awkward emotional and mental confusion typical of dreams, I was able to feel whatever he felt -- and his desperation was mine, his fatigue and pained body were mine, and in that vast ocean that no longer held any possibility of refuge for him, we both knew we were going to die by sinking and drowning, after we could no longer sustain ourselves on the surface of the water.
When I woke up, feeling breathless and sweating cold, I could not go back to sleep again. My mind was agitated, and the heart was pumping so hard that it actually ached, just like my muscles, as if I had been swimming too.
When I started meditating I had read a list, apparently by the Buddha himself and not some neuro-scientist, on what would improve in my life with meditation -- sleeping better was item number one. I had never had a problem with my sleep, but since the last retreat I was prone to nightmares. They had started during the retreat, and when I asked the master if there was a way to avoid them, he had simply said "Awareness always increases. It goes forward. No, there is no way to stop it."
I hadn't quite understood what the relation between my nightmares to meditation and awareness was, so now I simply had to face the fact that I was awake. The night had grown cold, and I lighted the fire. But eating from Armand's delicious yogurt and even trying reading a book -- Cormac McCarthy's "The Crossing", inspired in Fabrizio's words and my own moment -- didn't make me any more relaxed or sleepy.
I would need a few more years to figure out of that dream with Carlo, but the master's words about awareness started to make sense that same evening.
Angelo. I knew the time had come to finally face the harm he had done in my life. Carlo was right -- I had been trying to hurt other men because I had been hurt by Angelo. I had been screwing around with so many guys because Angelo had screwed around with so many of them while dating me. And I had tried to put a pathetic distance of men between him and me. Still, I hadn't been able to forget -- nor forgive -- him. And if I hadn't had any other serious relationship since him, it was because, deep in my heart, I was still in a relationship with him. No longer the bliss it used to be, now there was only sorrow left – no longer love, that had long ago turned into hatred -- but still in a relationship with him.
It still hurt to see a picture of Angelo. All those years, I had avoided watching his interviews program on the television, and I would switch the channel if by any chance he was the one being interviewed at a party or any other fancy social event like the Met Gala, where he was an habitué and a celebrated guest.
Angelo's beauty, enhanced by his charisma, had also taken him to the pages of many magazines -- and a few covers, even. Those were harder to avoid, as I glanced through them at the dentist's waiting room or at the airport bookshops. His image always delivered a blow right in my guts -- and it was even worse if he was in the company of Laura, his ever so perfect wife, with whom he had had two perfect children. Angelo was a model of male beauty, and he hardly wouldn't make it to those annual lists of the sexiest celebrities. Not the best dressed lists -- but he would be placed at the top of the best undressed.
And it had always been so, when in his first week of school he was voted the Hottest Boy.
I still remember the Sunday night Catherine came to me, just before bed, saying that someone from school had phoned.
"Has there been any problem, maman?" My voice trembled and awfully modulated as I shivered.
"Should there be any, Laurent?" Catherine inquired.
There shouldn't. But I was always afraid something was going to jump on me from somewhere. Maybe coming from the country club -- someone from the swim team had learned about my true reasons for quitting. And I recall being terrified at the possibility that I had caught Aids. What if someone had caught it from me, drinking from the same glass? I knew very little about it. In my teens the information about the disease was not so widespread yet, and trying to learn more about it could arise suspicion -- not so much about having Aids myself, but about being gay, which in my mind were inextricably connected. So I'd rather keep my anguish to myself, and live in despair. My sexuality was to remain hidden at all costs.
It were rather complex emotions that I experienced at that stage in my adolescence. If I had been asked to judge myself, I would undoubtedly have condemned fifteen years old Laurent -- to the punishment I was already receiving, which was living my own life, full of fear and lies. I reputed myself being guilty of all charges -- my sexuality was shameful, making me the justified and natural recipient of despise and hatred in society. And because I had to hide it to try to survive in that same society, I had become a daily liar, a great pretender, the worst impostor -- and that was another condemnation.
"They have phoned because they want you to help an Italian boy that is joining your class. They want you to translate for him, at least for a few weeks. Do you think you can do that, Laurent?"
"No! I don't speak Italian, maman! And I don't want to be anybody's translator... No!" I had whined at the prospect of attracting attention to myself through a new foreign student. Wasn't I foreign enough already? All I wanted at school was to be left alone, away and apart from the other kids.
"I did not ask you if you wanted to do it, Laurent. I asked you if you feel you can do it. I have already agreed that you are going to help the boy. Even if I dislike the fact that you are going to speak Italian... Let's hope he doesn't speak some awful dialect like... Carlo did. Anyway, the boy starts tomorrow."
"Oh maman, non..." I wanted to protest, but I was afraid of contradicting Catherine. After giving me the marching orders, she sent me straight to bed.
"By the way. His name is Angelo."
Thus Angelo, in the year of 1990, entered my life on a Monday morning that would have been otherwise boring -- but that became unforgetable. I had thought of skipping school, but I knew Catherine wouldn't have bought any sickness from me.
I was stunned the moment he walked into the classroom. "Angelo Vivace", he confidently introduced himself , holding his gaze high and encompassing the whole room, before being told to occupy the place next to me.
I couldn't believe that such a beautiful boy was actually going to sit by my side... That I was going to have the opportunity to talk to him and to look at him from that close! I was used to glance at good looking boys with the corner of my eyes, and I was aware that I wouldn't otherwise have ever approached such a handsome boy. That very moment, as he took the chair next to mine, I felt so thankful for having learned a bit of Italian -- because I needed to communicate with my great-grandfather as much as I had wanted to chat to Fabio. But it was for a very brief moment only, that I thought of my first crush and the D'Allegro farm in the Apennines -- from the moment I had Angelo by my side I wouldn't want to leave his presence and escape the present moment any longer.
I started worshiping his beauty from that very first day -- and if I can't say it was love at first sight I felt for Angelo, it's only because I wouldn't have been so bold as to fall in love for the most beautiful boy I had ever met. I was aware of how ugly I looked, with my nerdy glasses, my awkward white hair and all the Belgian chocolate pimples across my face -- while, if a teenager could have had the most perfect skin ever, that was Angelo.
His complexion was so pale -- he seemed to be made of marble. In a stunning contrast, his hair was shiny dark, as his eyebrows and the long, lush eyelashes were, too. He had rosy cheeks, and beautiful lips, that he kept constantly licking and biting, which increased the blood circulation and made their gorgeous red glow. But it were his eyes, of a light and clear blue, shining with piercing observation, that most impressed me. His tremendous beauty took my breath away, but it was in Angelo's eyes that I drowned.
Of course, I wasn't the only one to marvel at Angelo's ideal beauty.
Every once in a while, the girls would throw pools for the hottest boy and girl in the school, and in each class. There was a general award, and minor ones for specific parts of the body -- once, I had been voted for the most beautiful shoulders, probably as a result from swimming or simply as a joke.
That same week Angelo joined the school, the girls decided to vote. I think it might have been their way to officially welcome him -- and Angelo was awarded The Hottest Boy in School.
I was with him when the girls came to congratulate him. After all, I was his official translator -- a function I delighted in for it gave me the alibi to continuously stare at him, what otherwise would have been illicit.
"And what is the prize?" He had asked at once.
The girls were taken aghast. No one ever had asked for a prize. For them, it was pretty daring that a newcomer, and a foreigner, had been awarded on his first week at school. He had been noticed, he had beaten all the other boys that in other versions had won. Wasn't it grand enough?
"The prize is... that you were chosen The Hottest Boy in the School!!!" They giggled.
Angelo had laughed.
"I know that, already! I don't need you to tell me! Do you think I don't have a mirror at home?" Angelo lifted his eyebrows, and then bit and lick his lips, doing the trick that made so many people declare he had the most irresistibly kissable lips they had ever seen. "Is that all?"
The girls still looked at me in consternation, as if I must have translated something wrong, before fleeing our presence, feeling at once disappointed and insulted. I was concerned that they would plot against Angelo, and he would soon become a school castaway like me.
But he was so charismatic, and defiantly self confident, that his dismissal of the award hadn't sounded like a snobbery. From that day on, he was regarded as superior. He was to be invited to every group, his opinion asked about parties and other social events for the students. He refused all invitations to collaborate, and the more he dismissed them, the harder people fought to have his participation and approval. His presence became an honor and a prestige to be disputed. After my grandmother Celeste, Angelo was the diva I got to know better -- how he couldn't care less about thanking others for their worship and adoration. It seemed like he didn't give a shit about other people's opinion -- but just because he continuously manipulated them, and was certain of their loyalty to his fan club, no matter what.
The second week, he led a movement to improve the food offered at school. It was a common complaint that was heard over and over again -- but no one had ever done anything about it. Angelo was disgusted -- his father was a chef, he pointed out, and therefore he knew and was accustomed to the best food --, and with me as translator, he articulated with the student council a strike that emptied and paralyzed the cafeteria, until they not only improved the food but also lowered the prices. Quite an achievement for a fifteen year old newcomer.
Within one month, Angelo was known by all sorts of people in the school -- students, teachers, the management board, the principal himself, but also by the servants. He would chat to everyone, which according to him meant that he exchanged useless words with the only goal of building a social network, always with my aid as a translator -- but he would only talk to me. For no good reason unless that I was the one designated to help him, he had chosen me as his single friend and confidant.
Angelo wore an earring on his right ear. Everybody noticed it, but no one had ever mentioned nor commented it. People seemed to admire and respect him, but also fear him. Because he was haughty, evasive and slippery in his interactions, everyone at school -- and specially in our classroom -- seemed to avoid confronting him, or saying anything that could annoy him. I could not fathom how he had become so popular in such a short period of time.
Apart from a girl who ran a gossip-zine, I had been the only one to inquire about the earring. Like everybody else, I hadn't commented nor criticized it; I just wanted to know why he had chosen to wear it. It was a fairly big diamond, and I wondered if it was fake -- but of course, I never asked that.
"This gem has belonged to my mother. And before that, to her mother, and to her grandmother... Well, that kind of stuff, like... you know?" Angelo confided me, in a mixture of Italian, French and English that would become our official private language and that just the two of us would have understood. "It was a ring. She gave it to me, just before she died. I think she feared that my father would sell it after her death. And she wanted to keep it in the family. Even if she hadn't had a daughter to whom she could pass the ring on, she must have thought I'd give it to my wife... Maybe, one day." I remember my heart sank, along all my romantic fantasies about Angelo, when I heard him talking about marrying a girl. "But for now, I made an earring of it, and I pierced my ear... You now, like... I carry my mother all over with me now, do you understand?"
I was touched. Angelo's mother had had a brain tumor. His father had tried every doctor in Italy, and then decided to move to America to try a well known specialist there. That's how Angelo had first been to Vice City, when he was eleven years old. For two years, while his mother underwent the proper surgeries and treatments, Angelo had been going to school and living the life of an American boy. And how he had loved it! But in 1988, the same year Carlo had left, his mother died. After all the expensive treatment that hadn't saved her, being left almost penniless, his father had returned to Europe with Angelo -- against his will.
His father, who had never settled in America, wanted to start over and first tried to work in a restaurant in Rome. Just recently had he chosen to sell their house and open an Italian restaurant in France. He had searched for a locality that did not have one already, and that's how they had arrived at that part of the country -- and the reason why Angelo had joined my school.
That also explained a few other things about my friend, like his resistance to learn French. He did not intend to stay in Europe -- his dream was to return to America, and make a living there. His English was fluent already -- and fearing he would lose it, he tried to teach it to me so that we could practice together, instead of learning French from me. Because he had no whatsoever interest in France, and no intention to live in the country. His most constant subject was on how to emigrate to the US.
I was the only one to know that Angelo could already speak decent French after a couple of months. He had an immense talent for languages -- for anything that regarded communication, in fact. But to everybody else, he pretended to still need my help in understanding whatever was going on around him, and to communicate with people. But one day, during class, I saw him write a very complicated sentence on my notebook, indicating how good his French had already become. I don't remember what the sentence was about, but I was dumbfounded since I still believed he knew very little.
"This is our little secret", he had written, also in French, at the end of the sentence.
"It's also a way to help you communicate, Laurent!" He had declared, ironically. Keeping me as his translator, he thought he would be offering me more contact and visibility among the other students. But as Angelo's voice, I couldn't be more invisible. "You don't seem to enjoy the company of our colleagues very much, do you?" Angelo had already realized my tendency for isolation, that I had envised as a means of protection, and he actually enjoyed that I hadn't been 'contaminated by the environment'. "Well, neither do I. Not these uptight rednecks, anyway. You should have seen the kids in America! They were so cool, Laurent! And they have all sorts of electronic devices there! Well, you know, this here feels like the Stone Age!"
It was a very convenient secret, for both of us. For a while, we were allowed even to take tests together. I was supposed to explain the questions and texts to him, despite my rudimentary Italian, but of course we would profit from our proximity and even solve Math problems together. My grades increased in subjects like Physics and Chemistry, that were hardest to me, due to my collaboration with Angelo.
And that's how Catherine came to thoroughly approve of my friendship with him. She noticed how happier I had become, but my improved grades were determinant when I asked her if I could invite my friend over for a weekend. We had a paper to write -- that was my excuse to bring Angelo home. And Catherine gave her permission without any further questioning.
"So... You seem to like the Italian boy, don't you Laurent? He is your friend, isn't he?"
"Oui, maman. We are very good friends."
"I'm glad you've found someone, Laurent. I just hope that it is not some weird sort of Electra complex from your part..."
"What is that, mom?"
"Never mind, Laurent, never mind..." Catherine couldn't have known how right she was about the Electra complex; neither could I, since I did not know what it was.
Inviting someone over to study at your place is so cliché and such an old trick -- but I don't recall having any devious plans about that weekend with Angelo. Not even many expectations. He was the absolute star of our class, and many girls were flirting with him. Sissies, rednecks -- he despised them, but still encouraged them to fall for him and to join his fan club. I didn't think I stand a chance with my gorgeous friend, but I might have wished to take a peek of him naked in the shower.
Angelo was living with his father in a road motel. They shared the same room -- and only when he told me that, did I realize how precarious their financial situation was. I had already realized that some of Angelo's clothes looked a bit old, even raggedy -- but I thought it suited his intended Grunge style. They looked a bit small on him too -- and when I had guessed he liked them that way to show off his chest and bare his nipples and navel, I was later to find out that his father was not buying him any new clothes -- in a period of our life when we were steadily growing.
Poor Angelo. I had also noticed that he could often smell bad. His sweat was acrid, but the odor was also in his clothes -- since his mother had been inhabiting hospitals, he was washing them himself, with cheap soap and in the sink, letting them dry wherever he could lay them, and rarely under the sun. Sadly, I think he was aware of his smell, because from that first weekend on, he would bring his clothes to be washed in our machine. I couldn't grasp how humiliating those things were for Angelo -- for this and many more reasons, he was so glad to be back in the routine of a home! Even if my home, with a missing father and an absent mother, had not much really of a routine on offer.
Our stories had many similarities and differences, though I was the only one to seem to notice them. He and I had been born in different years, but just a couple of months apart, he being the elder. We were both fifteen -- but so was almost everybody else in our classroom. A nice coincidence was that we were exactly the same height -- a plus, when you kiss someone.
I had explained to Angelo how my father had left home unexpectedly, without ever sending any news -- but to that he had only said "okay, cool". Angelo enjoyed talking about himself over listening to anybody else -- even me, or specially me. The only exception, yet to be raised, would be Catherine. But she had been away that first weekend, and did not meet Angelo until perhaps a month later.
Although with his "okay, cool", Angelo was not simply dismissing my story. I was surprised when, after giving it some thought, he spoke his heart out.
"I'd rather be like you, Laurent. You know, like... Having kept my mother, instead of my father. I mean, no. Well, he is like... cool." I was sometimes irritated when Angelo used American slang; in time, his efforts to sound like an American boy would fade. "But if I'd have to make a choice, do you understand?"
I had never considered that. If I had had a choice? Despite all the anger and resentment I felt towards my father... The truth is, I'd have chosen to be with him! And of course, for the rest of my life, I'll deny I have said that. Because I have never said it, never! And I shouldn't have written it, either. It's just the way Angelo put things. Yes, Catherine was "cool". But if I could have chosen...
It was a very emotional moment, for both of us, that Friday night after school, the first of many he would spend at my home -- later to become our home.
Angelo was absorbed by his own thoughts and recollections, and like he had been fumbling with a pen, he then reached over and touched my hand, and started playing with my fingers. He seemed distracted, and completely unaware that he was caressing me. I, instead, had become very self conscious, frozen to my chair, gasping for air, as I guiltily delighted in his touch.
I was afraid that, just like it had started, Angelo would again quit playing with my fingers and choose something else on the table. I was surely enjoying it, but because I was full of expectations, while at the same time having to deal with my lust on the rise and the corresponding shame, being afraid that at any moment he would realize what he was doing and stop it exclaiming "What the fuck?", I could not surrender to his touch.
But I realized he wasn't oblivious of my presence and caressing me in a reverie when he sprang from the chair and declared, "Laurent, you are the best friend I have ever had! I love you." He said, placing a hand over his heart. Did he bare a nipple on purpose too, to crown his gesture, or was it just the t-shirt a few sizes too small?
I did not answer. I just gulped, and smiled. And I didn't respond, either.
Now I know I should have stood up and hugged him, and perhaps it would have turned into a kiss -- but the erection in my shorts kept me from that. I was paralyzed. Angelo would always be more extravagant in manifesting his emotions, and at that very start of our relationship, the contrast was even greater. I was shy and uptight, while he was easy and out-going, all vibrant and radiant where I tried to be discreet and remain unnoticed.
After that event, when Angelo had made his advance and I hadn't responded, he retreated and grew cold towards me. Just naturally so. He was hurt -- proportionally to the energy and courage he had invested in that love declaration. He was bold for a teenager, but not as bold as to be rejected once and insist and risk being rejected again. From that moment on, it was my sole responsibility to build our love relationship. It was also the only occasion I heard him say "I love you" -- for the rest of the years, it would be "Yeah, I love you too."
I don't blame Angelo for how things unfolded from that event on -- as if I had to beg for his friendship, and do everything I could to compensate that first rejection -- I blame myself.
I had to deliver constant proofs of my affection to him, of how important our friendship was to me, and to try to turn it into something more than that. In a sense, Angelo became my client -- and I had to deliver the best service to try to keep him satisfied and coming back for more -- more friendship, more affection, more approval, more worship, more love. He was demanding and to grow ever more demanding, when he realized what the power equation between us was.
But it was never a problem to get him to come to my house on weekends. Every Friday, he would board the public bus that headed towards my side of the county, delivering us about one kilometer down the road from my house.
It was a ride full of adventures -- how our thighs would brush against the other's, or how one of our hands would carelessly find itself under the other's leg, or on top of the other's hand, our shoulders and forearms against each other's, and the wide range of subtle caresses enabled by those furtive contacts. We were both terrified that someone in the bus could realize our play, but at the same time, that made them the more exciting. I had huge, leaking erections -- and I guess so did Angelo. But we never talked about that, and still pretended that fondling was unintentional, done from a dreamy state and place we would readily deny if caught in public -- and also deny it to ourselves. Even when his fingers were running up and down my thigh, Angelo looked the other direction and pretended not to notice what he was doing to me.
And when we jumped off the bus, we would both run up the road to my house, trying to wear down our excitement, and ultimately subside our erections.
Nor was it difficult to have Catherine's approval to what became the weekend's ritual -- instead of returning to his father at the motel, Angelo caught that bus on Friday with me and yet another one on Monday mornings, back to school. He loved the freedom that we had at my house, and he always marveled at how my mother would leave me all on my own when she went abroad to teach.
But it was exactly Angelo's presence that made Catherine leave our home on weekends even when she was in France. Not that she disliked my friend -- knowing that I had company, she did not feel she had to worry about me anymore. "I'm not sure whether two teenagers taking care of each other is more or less trouble, but... Let's give it a try." And with that, Catherine was able to stay the weekends away -- when she was not in the process of writing, she loved going to the movies, visiting museums and libraries, shopping for fancy clothes -- happily leaving our rural house.
My relationship with Angelo was partially built on his relationship with my mother. At first, I was jealous of their friendship. The first time they met, they connected already. They started talking about religion, that they both dreaded. My mother had never spoken to me like that -- as if I was her equal. Whenever Catherine and I engaged in a conversation, it seemed like she was explaining things to me, as if I could not understand them, until I actually saw it from her point of view, always more mature and deeper than mine. My mother was continuously educating me. And whenever Angelo and I engaged in a conversation, I felt that I had to surrender to his willful opinions and preferences and tastes, too, if I was to remain his best friend and preferred company. With me, Angelo would talk about all things America, and that's all -- I had never guessed he could know anything about "adult topics", and not so much that he could discuss them with my mother.
Or so I thought. I loved and admired Angelo so much that I couldn't conceive that anyone wouldn't be impressed with him too. Especially my mother. From my point of view, Angelo must have been brilliant to be making conversation to Catherine -- she who was used to writers, movie directors and all sorts of intellectuals. And she seemed to love talking to him. But it wasn't exactly so, at least not unreservedly.
"Your friend is very well articulated. For a teenager, anyways." She said, with a grimace, and I understood she was being condescendingly patient with him, "And gosh, does he love to talk! No wonder you are a good match... You have always been a good listener, Laurent." Which was so true.
Angelo wanted to be a journalist, to have a program on TV, in America of course, and I was his first audience.
My logic was that, because Angelo had had a good and loving mother for thirteen years, he knew how to access my own mother. Catherine seemed to be closer and nicer to my friend than she had ever been to me. But later I understood that, because Angelo had loved his mother and been loved by her, he accessed Catherine as a person and woman -- more than once I saw him peeking at Catherine's legs --, and not as the mother. Because I was so insecure, and still unsure and begging for her love, I was always demanding from Catherine that she be solely my mother -- and I lost other sides of her, that Angelo had gained immediate access to. She didn't feel like educating him, and that's why they got along so nicely -- while I had turned my relationship with Catherine into a form of tortured slavery, a fixation with very determined roles. And perhaps, just like her mother had done to her, Catherine would like to be by my side like a sister, or a friend, and not necessarily and always as the mother.
There was a common interest between Catherine and Angelo that left me feeling jealous. It was a point of contact with me, too, but they developed a very close and intimate relationship all of their own about reading. And later on, about writing, too.
I never minded that Angelo peeked at my mother's legs -- they were long and slim, beautiful indeed -- nor at her breasts -- which were small but firm and with a strong presence, because Catherine always held her chest proudly. Catherine was growing prettier as she grew older, becoming more confident and developing her own style in fashion. And with time I came to think that having had so many men love her body, caress her, please her, had helped my mother keep her good shape and health at her 40th birthday.
But I was so jealous when Catherine let Angelo have a peek of her latest novel, before she even sent it to her editor. I know I had refused reading Catherine's drafts before, and Angelo never would -- but still, as her son, I felt that I deserved the privilege of being offered first, even if to politely turn it down, like I always had.
At 15 years old, I had already lost the interest and showed no patience for Catherine's stories -- not the written ones, nor those she told when she was home, experimenting plots for her books. Angelo, instead, was an avid listener -- I guess Catherine was the only person that could silence my friend, and whom he would attentively listen to.
Like Catherine, Angelo was an eager reader. I’ll leave any interpretations about this coincidence to Freud. And when again I saw myself having to compete with books for the attention of my best friend, to become my boyfriend and lover for eight years, I decided to finally become a dedicated reader myself. But I never had Angelo's focus and concentration, and I was not able to read as fast as him, nor memorize entire passages in a single reading like he would. Even Catherine marveled at his skills.
"The boy has a real talent there." She had commented with me. And I had to wonder what my talents were, and if I had any. Not that my mother had ever mentioned one.
Angelo never turned down any book that Catherine lend him, and soon they shared a passion for Russian Literature -- or so I thought.
"It's so depressing. Always so heavy! Does the sun ever shine in Russia? Not in books, I guess. I don't understand why Catherine likes their Literature!" Angelo confided, one day. He had been reading it to become close to Catherine, but he would forever drop the Russians when we moved to Vice City. "And now she is talking about going to Russia... To live there, did she tell you?" And no, my mother hadn't told me anything about any plans of moving. Mr. Gorbachev had just imploded the whole Soviet and Communist blocks, and yet I could not understand Catherine's renewed interest in that part of the world. "Do you want to live in Russia, Laurent? Do they give passports there?" Angelo continued, ironically, "Maybe you won't even be allowed to visit me in the US. I will be on the enemy's side, ha-ha! No, I don't think you should go to Russia. Come to the US with me instead, Laurent."
Angelo had the drive for fame – and money --, and as much as it was a reason to want to emigrate to the United States, where people became "thoroughly and worldly famous", according to him, that was another reason to admire Catherine also. In my adolescence, Catherine was already a consistent author, with several bestsellers in a row. Her "Deep in Winter, a Flower" had made the list of Europe's top ten books the previous year -- and Angelo was hypnotized with the lessons Catherine gave him on writing, the activity he then picked as his way to fame, clearly inspired in my mother's.
"You have to find your original voice, Angelo." I just listened as Catherine gave my friend advice she had never given me, though I had been writing stories trying to capture her interest since I was a child. But again, I must have been aiming at my mother, and her approval and affection, while Angelo accessed the professional in her. "In the beginning, it is okay to emulate someone's voice. But not for too long. James Joyce and Guimarães Rosa were so great because they found their own voices, but you don't have to make up words like they did to find your own voice. Are you following, Angelo?"
But what Angelo really wanted was a voice that would bring him big money. He had no literary aspirations. Being left penniless was a tragedy in his life as big as his mother’s death, which had caused their financial ruin. They had lived on his grandparents inheritance – a couple of famous Italian archaeologists -- from his father’s side. But even the last artifacts had been sold to pay for the medical expenses in the US, and for his father’s last try of opening up shop – the Italian restaurant in rural France that had brought Angelo to my side.
"There isn't any Italian restaurant in this part of the country because people don’t want one, I keep telling my father! I hope he doesn't ruin us entirely… I’ll need money to go to the US when this shitty school of us finishes…" Angelo was very unsure about his father’s financial support. Actually, he knew he was bound to take care of himself, and even of his father, too. "Do you think your mother will allow you to join me, Laurent?" Angelo’s campaign for me to follow him on his American adventure had already started, even before our love affair had, but we were still years away from the days of planning for Vice City, the town he wanted to return to.
"For now, try finding your literary voice, Angelo." Catherine had recommended.
"I wonder how does money speak…" Angelo had later summarized his concerns in a comment, when Catherine had gone on her errands and we were on our own.
My mother had never cared that much about my writings -- but to me, they were just a pastime and a means of attracting Catherine's attention, while to Angelo they were his professional future. The energy, commitment and effort we put into our stories was completely diverse. It probably showed in the quality of our texts. Catherine, at least, had noticed it clearly, and something else, too.
"Are you jealous, Laurent?" She had inquired one day.
"Of course not, maman." Of course I was.
"Good. Because your friend needs attention, and our help. His mother has died not long ago, in the most terrible way. Did he tell you?"
"Of course he did, mom. After all he is my friend!" I retorted, giving way to my jealousy.
"Bien sur. Take good care of your friend then, Laurent."
It was not uncommon that Angelo and I went on our explorations of the fields carrying books. We could forget the drinkable water, but not the books.
Angelo loved the outdoors, and that was another reason to come to my house. I had been exploring the surroundings just because I couldn't stand being home, feeling the hollow left by Carlo's absence, and often enough, Catherine's absence too.
While with Angelo, we explored beyond the limits I had already known. There was always the lake, a fifteen minutes run from my backyard, that became our territory. But further up a hill we came to a group of water sources springing from rocks that formed several small crystalline pools. Hidden in the midst of a grove of trees, they were shaded and the water very cool. There many flowers surrounding the pools, perfuming the atmosphere, and the constant humming of bees and the songs of birds were our soundtrack at what we named 'The Sources'.
We turned it into our private paradise.
It was there, embraced by beauty, that we first kissed. It happened six months after Angelo and I had met. And that meant we were six months already into our romance that would last eight years.
But I did not know our relationship had an expiry date, and such a limited validity -- and I wouldn't have believed it back then, at an end, when I was a fifteen years old helplessly falling in love with my best friend, who corresponded to it.
I don't remember having believed in Santa Claus nor the Tooth Fairy.
But I did believe I was going to live my first love forever.
What a joke, what a pity.
to read more about the Electra complex mentioned in this chapter, click here.