Realizing I had tensed up, I recalled a zen monk's advice to relax. He was just a novice, but years ahead of me into the practice.
"I might not sleep some nights. But still, I shall try to relax. Not fighting my feelings, nor the situation. I will calmly breath in and breath out. Aware of breathing, I let emotions and thoughts cross my mind. Like night birds in flight. I don't try to catch them. I surely don't cogitate shooting them. No corpses of emotions and thoughts, you know..." The young monk had a sweet smile, and once it gradually overtook his face, it would just as slowly fade, but never quite disappear. "And in the morning, having relaxed might do better, even, than a tense, drugged sleep."
But easier said than done. Because once I had surrendered to my recollections of Angelo, it felt more like a World War raid of thoughts and feelings than a simple flock of birds frolicking across my mind.
I know, I am being unjust -- with myself, with Angelo, and with our budding love.
I am contaminated with everything that happened afterwards, how gloomily our relationship ended, and doing no justice to the empowering sense of well being, joy and happiness that invaded us both from the moment we met, when we were just fifteen.
Angelo had been ultimately as lonely as I had. We were both an only child and, in a way, orphans too. And suddenly, we had found in each other a best friend and lover.
I am letting my bitterness and sorrow overshadow how we delighted in each other's company. How we became accomplices at school, knowing what the other was thinking with just one glance -- and helping each other with tests that otherwise would have been really hard. As a team, we excelled.
I am trying to recall how our sensuality build in a series of innocent episodes, until it actually exploded into our inebriating sexuality. How in school I often glanced sidewards at Angelo, when he was concentrated in reading, and how I eagerly drank his beauty.
I was convinced that his beauty was necessary for my survival.
I recall sometimes losing myself contemplating just his forearm, noticing every little detail of it, from the marbled paleness of his skin that lent his entire figure a deceiving veil of purity (and again, I am losing it here, because at fifteen I had no reason to believe that anything about Angelo was deceitful), to the veins popping on the surface of the muscles he had started cultivating, and that would lead to his physical perfection just a few years later. I remember being thrilled -- and excited -- at the rays of sun dancing on the hair of his forearm, and almost getting a sensation of vertigo from that vision.
Maybe because I was always too close to Angelo -- still, longing to have him even closer and hold him forever in my arms. As if I saw him in a microscope, I was constantly overwhelmed. I never stopped marveling at his chiseled beauty.
I can still recall the thrill of glancing at Angelo's naked body for the first times, in the shower, or when he went to bed -- he enjoyed sleeping naked, perhaps just to tease me. Our nudity would become usual when we discovered "The Sources", and when we started making love there. And it became natural, too, to the point that, years later, Angelo's nudity wouldn't necessarily arouse me any longer.
We spent hours at the natural pools, and also at the swimming pool that my father had built as his legacy to me, swimming naked when Catherine was not home -- and she usually wasn't! I'll have to agree with Angelo -- we never again were so free as when we were teenagers. Which is pretty uncommon and a privilege in adolescence. I owe that one to Catherine.
The rural landscape that enveloped us was boring, and again I recall Garcia Marquez and his 'Hundred Years of Solitude', because we tried to conquer those Hundred Miles of Solitude around us and stamp it with our youthful energy. We were screaming like crazy at the top every mount we climbed -- despite having ran uphill, we were never breathless, never tired, doing everything to escape boredom as if it were a plague.
We were often dancing, too, like two madmen. I hadn't been so much into music before I met Angelo. Carlo would sometimes listen to opera when he was painting, but I thought those people screaming their life and love and tragedies and daily affairs plus death out of their lungs was pretty weird, funny and kitsch -- and I still do. Catherine did not enjoy music so much -- her thing was cinema, probably from having dated more than a movie maker in her youth in Paris, and all the hours spent at the Cinematéque Française -- though she did listen every now and then to jazz, mostly the soundtracks of the nouvelle vague movies. Back then I thought jazz was a boring cacophony, until as a young adult I started going to a Jazz Bar near the apartment Angelo and I rented in Vice City. Then, it became the soundtrack to my life.
Angelo loved American pop -- what else? -- and he gave me this taste for songs in English. "It is the most beautiful language to be sung, don't you think?", he enthusiastically stated, more than once. I don't think I agreed with him, but I am sure I did not want to confront him, either. And so we listened and danced to the American hit parade of the late eighties and early nineties -- whatever we got on the radio, from TV clips and the albums Catherine would sometimes bring us.
"I'm not sure whether I appreciate this influence Angelo is having on you, Laurent. The US? Couldn't he have picked a more interesting country, with a richer and deeper cultural life? Aren't your tastes and interests becoming a little too shallow and limited, my son?"
But that did not mean she wouldn't look for and buy the albums we requested her.
"Never mind, maman. I like Britpop better than grunge." Not that it made any difference for Catherine, but I had finally realized that, in listening to songs in English, I'd prefer Oasis to Nirvana, and on a different ground, anything Annie Lennox to everything Madonna.
It were times of limitless discoveries, made more fun and wider because Angelo and I had each other as magnifying glasses.
Why, then, even while making this effort to stick to the good elements of that early stage of our relationship, do I have to recall that conversation that we had at the lake? We had just had a fight over something silly -- and it might have been a dispute about music, even. Angelo was always down rating my preferences, saying that I was too conservative and rather limited. He loved to remind me that I had been born at one forgotten edge of the world, making the tropical paradise of my childhood sound like a nasty uncivilized corner where there were cannibals who still dedicated themselves to black magic and sacrificial rituals. He was Roman, a citizen of the metropolitan world from birth.
"Why, then, are you with me, Angelo?" I had finally complained, one day, when his criticism felt too much to bear. I might have been particularly sensitive over some issue at school, I don't remember. Or it might have been the time when he started his campaign to get rid of my glasses, saying they made me particularly ugly, and trying to get me to wear contact lenses. "'Sometimes I think you don't like me at all..."
"Look around, Laurent." That's all he commented.
But there was nothing to see, really. Just the boring rural landscape, and two boys lost in it.
"Look around us, Laurent. Do you see anyone else?"
My heart skipped a beat. I still couldn't rationalize what Angelo was trying to tell me. Years later, I would turn the lyrics of Radiohead's song 'All I need' into the hurtful sentence Angelo uttered that afternoon. Because of that, I can't remember what he told me at the edge of the lake, when we were "lying in the reeds", exactly like in the song.
"I only stick with you because there are no others." Angelo did not say that, but that's what he meant. He might have said something, "Do you see any option for me?"
How is that, for a love declaration? And it might have been on our first anniversary, I don't remember. I tried to celebrate those dates, but Angelo always and simply dismissed them.
"I am not gay, remember, Laurent? I'm gay just when I'm with you!" He sighed. "It's all your fault, Laurent. It's all your fault!" He did not hide the melancholy that was depressing him.
Yet, though Angelo was not gay, we probably had sex that same day, maybe more than once, for horny teenagers we were, with lots of time and the whole house available to us. Sex in the swimming pool, sex in the kitchen, sex in the balcony, sex in the backyard. Left alone in my house, we felt free to do it wherever we wanted.
That sets this conversation by the lake before my coming out, when I finally tricked Angelo into being my official boyfriend.
For some time after my coming out, we were expectant about Catherine's decision on Angelo moving in with us. When one day she called me into her room, I knew it must be it -- she had arrived to a decision.
"Mon cher. This is going to be a bit weird. But we have to talk about it."
Catherine was looking prettier than ever, all dressed up for a date, having added make up and perfume. She was wearing a designer's gown -- most probably Yves Saint-Laurent, the couturier I got my name from. Of pale salmon, it enhanced my mother's natural colors and lovely curves. She looked happy, too, so I thought the conversation shouldn't be about anything nasty nor difficult.
"Every boy has to have a man to man conversation at least once. About the facts of life, you know. But being a woman, I was avoiding that. Until I actually understood that because I am a woman I can take better care of that than a man ever would..." After this short preamble, that left me wondering where our conversation was heading to, Catherine blurted, "Are you and Angelo having sex yet?"
"We are..." I mumbled, blushing.
"I thought so. What are your... positions, if you know what I mean? Comparatively... Relatively speaking?"
"Maman!" The way she posed her question was funny, yet I understood it perfectly and blushed even more.
Catherine was surprised when I finally told her that I was topping Angelo. She had never given a second thought about homosexual relationships, though from then on she would include at least one gay character in each of her novels, sometimes in very prominent roles. But at that point, all she had were a few stereotypes in which she had framed me and Angelo -- and because he was the dominant alpha male most everywhere he went, or at least he tried to be, even when we were among adults, Catherine and whoever looked at us as a couple would have thought Angelo was dominating me... And he was, even if he was the bottom.
I have to confess that, because of my refusal to vary positions, we had also conformed to those stereotypes as a couple. That was a bit sad and boring for two very young and horny men, who could have played and experimented so much more. I am the one to blame -- but I can already say that such a conformation wouldn't last until the end of our relationship, and later I would be forced to bottom for Angelo.
"Oh, really?"- I watched Catherine trying to readjust our roles in sex as she had pictured. My feeling is that, as much as she showed interest for me, her son, she was also researching for a new scope of characters she hadn't envisioned before. "Then I'll have to go into something else before we talk about condoms and all that..." Catherine was determined to act like my father, and the thought crossed my mind that she could be doing field research with me for a scene she might want to write between a boy and his father. "I know you have taken to... your father... in terms of... size matters!"
"Mom!" I exclaimed again. I couldn't think of anything else to retort, and a sentence of more than two words might get me stuttering in that situation. Still, I looked at her dazzled, wondering how could she know...
"Laurent! It shows, you know. When you were a boy, even Joanna was commenting on it, when she bathed you. And of course I've seen you naked, darling. And I've seen you wearing swim trunks more than once, haven't I? And now that you keep having these involuntary erections even at the lunch table... Especially when Angelo is here with us..."
"Mom, please!" I felt like fainting. I wanted to evaporate. In fact, just at hearing those things from Catherine, blood had rushed into my organ and it was inflating already.
"I just want you to be careful with Angelo, will you? I have... experiences with that, do you understand, Laurent? Don't think hurting is nice, my son, because it is not. That is not to be a man's pride in love! It is not size that matters, but how you use it... Are you following me?"
"Mom..." I repeated. I guess all that talk suddenly reverted my shame into pride, and I blurted. "Angelo loves it!"
"Good, Laurent." Catherine blinked at me. And every once in a while the image of my mother looking pretty in her sexy designer's gown had popped into my mind, years later, as I was having sex with partners that were particularly impressed with my size. "Now. I will also ask you to be discreet when you and Angelo do it, now that we are going to live together..."
And that was how Catherine announced Angelo was moving in! I exulted, but before I could manifest my happiness, she quickly moved on to another subject.
"I have met and spoken to his father." Catherine smiled, sweet and mysterious. "He is a very traditional, conservative man, and though he is very busy at the moment looking for a place where he can open a restaurant, and not seeing much of Angelo lately, he was not happy to be separated from his son... So this is going to be a first period of experience, when Angelo moves in..."
Something in Catherine's words, or how she did not finish the sentence, or maybe her intonation, or how she looked merrier than I had ever seen her -- and I knew it was not about my boyfriend moving into our house -- rang an alarm, as I felt my heart sink.
"First? Will there be a second period?"- I was in dismay.
"Yes, darling. When Edoardo moves in, too."
"What?" I gasped.
"I am dating Edoardo." I was so dumbfounded that she had to clarify, '"Angelo's father! You knew his name, didn't you? Isn't that wonderful, Laurent? It is now all in the family... You and I, Angelo and Edoardo..."
I wanted to faint to escape that scene. The thought that my mother was dating the father of my boyfriend was not very appalling. It was very wicked, indeed. And the perspective that Edoardo was later moving in with us took away all the pleasure and joy of Angelo moving in first.
"I don't know, mom..."
"I hope you understand the situation, Laurent." Suddenly, Catherine had become very serious. "You love Angelo. You long to be close to your boyfriend. Everyday. He is moving in with us. It is exactly the same, with me and Edoardo. I am sure you understand that, Laurent!"
"You... love Edoardo?" I had never seen my mother talk about love before. I knew she had lovers, that she dated every now and then, but love... love was very definitive, I thought! And for adults, it implied many things. "Are you going to marry him?"
"Is that why you look so worried?" Catherine laughed. "No, Laurent! At least, not yet. I hope you understand it. You are old enough for that, already. And now you have your own experiences about love, don't you? This is a fresh start for you and me, do you realize that, my son? We were... never really a family before..." It hurt me to hear Catherine dismissing Carlo like that, but her resentment against him did resonate with me. "And now, we might build one. With our boyfriends! Don't you think this is pretty cool, Laurent?" Catherine rarely used slang, and it sounded so misplaced in her discourse. I realized she was trying to reach out for me. "And because it will be two small families joining, we shall immediately experience a new family conformation, how about that? But that is not what's important here! I hope you understand it changes nothing in our relationship, Laurent. You and I, we are the original pair. And we have to stand for one another, no matter what! Do you think you can do that, darling? For me? For us?"
I did not quite get whether "us" meant she and I, or she and her lover. But I understood Catherine's offer at once. She was no longer addressing a childish teenager son. She was asking me to act like an adult. She was giving me the opportunity to grow. To take responsibility for the forthcoming new period in our household. I was flattered.
"Yes I can, maman."
And with that, bright and beautiful like a night butterfly, with a light kiss on my forehead, off Catherine went happily to her date -- with Edoardo, I was suddenly aware.
Angelo heard the news that same evening. He was as worried as I had been. And our happiness of finally living together -- we were starting our life as a couple, that would last eight years -- diminished at the perspective of living in an odd type of community.