I thought I understood why my uncle Armand had chosen that island. Not just because it lied farther apart from the others, but because it was located on one of the rare blind spots on Earth for communication signals. I had already checked -- more than once -- for an internet signal, and there was none.
Thinking of Angelo was making me miserable -- and horny, too, I have to confess. My determination to fasten sexually included not masturbating, and I was made restless.
Though my instructions about not running away from my own emotions had been clear, and I should concentrate on my breathing while trying to observe my feelings and thoughts like they belonged to some character in a movie, I'd rather seek some distraction.
It was two thirty in the morning. How many hours had I been lying in bed already, without being able to even nap?
Maybe Fabrizio had written something else, and when I finally gave up trying to connect to the internet, I reread his last message.
'The crossing has begun.' It was more concise than a haiku, and not very satisfying when I was feeling lonely.
I had decided not to encourage him. Not until he definitely quit his fianceé, Andara. In that new period of my life, when I was trying to make my own crossing, full of commitments mainly on what not to do, I had promised myself I was not going to be his lover. No matter how good looking he was. No matter how magically we had connected. No matter all the coincidences and preferences that we shared -- no matter how unique a love relationship between us might have been.
I wondered what the 'crossing' might mean for him. The odds were that, if he was keeping me informed about it, I might be on the other margin of the river of his life. But what if he was simply counting on me like a friend -- the only guy to whom he had opened up? What if I was alone in that romantic reverie, and Fabrizio was not thinking of me like I was, aiming at love?
Sometimes, I tried to pretend to myself I couldn't care less -- but the truth is, it would not be so easy to give up on him and ignore his presence on this planet, when I thought Fabrizio might be l'homme de ma vie.
Just like, two decades earlier, I had thought Angelo was it, too.
And how wrong I was.
No, I wasn't wrong.
Angelo had indeed been the man of my life. And he would still be, hadn't he dumped me. And maybe I had been the man of his life, too. He had cheated on me with several guys, but he always returned. And when he left me, it was for a woman.
On that night in Sweden, it dawned upon me that I was trying to replace Angelo with Fabrizio. It was so wicked, and I blushed at the thought. Freud might have explained the fact that the men I had fallen in love for were two Italian hunks, exactly like Carlo was? Had I tried to replace my father with Angelo? Yes, I probably had. The abandonment I felt, the rejection and silence coming from Carlo, how defenseless I had been, and how it led to my personal tragedy.
Mérde. I had used Angelo. I might retell the story to give the impression that he used me -- and he did, oh yes did! But for the first time I realized I had also used him -- to hide the hollow left by my father's abandonment. And the question seemed to be... Why did I need a man in my life to fill in the gap? And what gap was that? Because it was a hollowness I could not masquerade, no matter how many lovers.
I had come to loathe him, to despise him, to wish him bad -- Angelo had been the man of my life, and he was still occupying that place. No, his place was not left vacant. Hatred had taken the space of love. That's how I had kept my heart busy all over the years.
And that's why Fabrizio could not enter my life, not yet. Not because my bed had been full of men. My broken heart was still taken.
By one man.
At eighteen years old, I was so sure that Angelo was and would forever be the man of my life -- and the love I felt for him gave me the strength to finally decide to join him on that adventure of living abroad.
The hardest part was telling Catherine about my decision, and asking for her financial support.
Angelo and I had discussed about the best moment and how to approach her. I wanted to be diplomatic and careful, while he thought I should be bold.
Now, at the door of Catherine's studio, that I had rarely entered, I tried to brace myself.
She had converted Carlo's studio into her own writing corner -- and if once I had been an habitué at my father's studio, I was banned from my mother's office. Not that she forbid me to go there, but I sensed I wasn't welcome. She did not like interruptions when she was immersed in her creative process.
It was awkward how swiftly Carlo's presence had been erased from our house. Apart from the three portraits in the upper floor, the pool was the only thing that indicated that he had lived there. His name was never mentioned, neither by Catherine nor me. Just like Angelo, Edoardo must have known about my father, but they too had decided to ignore him.
I hadn't quarreled with Edoardo for days. Not because I had not had reasons to -- I would have punched him everyday, if I could. I felt inexplicably violent in his presence. But once I decided to leave France with Angelo, I knew I would have to be nicer to him to at least please my mother.
Another reason for our truce was that my boyfriend needed his father's money.
That was the preamble before I knocked at Catherine's office door, on a morning by the end of Spring. I had been consulting with the cherry tree, but when the petals had all fallen and the signs of the first fruits appeared, I knew my time with my mother had arrived.
I knocked once, twice, and not until the third time did Catherine's eyes leave the computer screen. She bent her head and just looked at me, for a whole minute perhaps, before summoning me into the office with a very charming smile. And I knew, from years of experience, that her smile was not addressed at me, though she had recognized her own son, but at her text. She might be satisfied with something she had just written.
"I just need a minute or two to finish a paragraph, mon cher."
Like my father, I am not good at numbers, and I might lose track of time. But I thought I had overheard my mother, and instead of minutes she had said hours, because it took her half an hour to again talk to me.
"So, why have you decided to honor my studio with your presence?" My mother said, as she stood up. And she wasn't being ironic.
Catherine was in a good mood. Maybe it was my informal peace treaty with Edoardo that was pleasing her. But not just that. She was prettier, too. Since Edoardo had moved in with us, she was always wearing nice clothes, jewelry and perfume, even if she was not going out. I had to recognize it -- no matter how I loathed him, Edoardo was making Catherine happy.
"You don't come here much, do you, Laurent? You should come around more often. There are many books here you could benefit from! Instead of listening to that kind of music..."
Catherine was talking about the songs I listened to with Angelo, in our room. Grunge, and all that noisy, dirty stuff I have never heard again since we broke up. It was 1993. Radiohead -- one of the few bands Angelo and I agreed about -- had just released 'Pablo Honey', their first album. Together, we would sing 'Creep', with lyrics I had immediately related to, and 'Blow Out' -- the loudest we could, and scream along Thom Yorke at 'You'.
Catherine's remark surprised me. Angelo and I weren't even allowed to use the swimming pool when she was in the studio. It seemed as teenagers we were treated like inconvenient children, because we would be using the trampoline to compete for the biggest splash, running around screaming -- things we were allowed to do only when the adults were not home. We could sun bathe, that's all we were allowed to, when Catherine was in her studio, and without any background music.
"What is that shirt, honey?" My mother asked. It had taken her a few minutes to land at the studio, after she had finished writing. I knew exactly how that was like. When writing, it was if her contact with the real world diminished. During the creation of her first historical romance, she had been so immersed in the times of horses and carriages that I thought we were going to suffer an accident whenever she drove her car. And she had screamed at me once, "Mon Dieu, Laurent! Do want to kill me? What is that noise?", when I had used the blender. "How have we come to that?" she asked, looking horrified both at me and the device. I had felt so inappropriate.
"Angelo gave it to me." Angelo and I had thought that using an American football t-shirt was a good introduction, and I was glad that Catherine had noticed it right away.
"You look so different, Laurent... You have... bloomed!" Probably, Catherine was comparing my image to the last time she had seen me against the same background... and when was it that I had last entered her studio? Never in Angelo's company, though he had been there a few times, invited by my mother. At least three, maybe even four years before. And since then, I had 'bloomed' indeed.
"Well, thank you mom, I guess..." It could also be that, since school had finished, Angelo and I were dedicating our long and boring days mostly to cultivating muscles, and it showed already.
"I don't like that t-shirt on you." My heart skipped a beat when she disapproved the first part of our plan. "But I am happy to hear it was a present from Angelo."
In respect for Edoardo, she had never again referred to Angelo as my boyfriend. Though she wouldn't tolerate any homophobic remark coming from Edoardo, not even about stuff they watched on TV or read in the newspapers, mainly about Aids.
"Respect, my love" She had recommended him, "Because I know you enjoy being treated with respect." Edoardo did respect Catherine. And obeyed her, too.
Catherine was also referring to the fact that it was usually the other way around -- I was the one giving presents to Angelo. I would often ask Catherine, when she went to Belgium, to buy this or that to give to my boyfriend. But because he and his father were in such a poor financial condition, Angelo couldn't quite reciprocate.
"Catherine..." I don't know when I started calling her more by the name and less by her motherly function. Maybe after Angelo. "I have something to tell you."
"Let's sit, then. Do I have to worry about what you are going to tell me? Are you ill or something?"
"No!" I knew she was thinking about Aids, because I was always thinking about it too. What if I had contracted it? I had never tested, yet, Angelo and I were not using condoms. "It's just that... I want to go to the United States." I blurted. Having rehearsed several approaches with Angelo, I did not recall any.
"Oh!" Catherine raised her eyebrows and was thoughtful for a moment. "Now that you have finished school, traveling would certainly do you good... But why not go on vacations to Greece? Or even Paris... I think you could profit from Paris now that you are eighteen, Laurent... Though I don't think your grandmother would host you... Anyways, why the United States, mon cher? Was it Angelo's idea?" She was aware of his fixation for the US.
"It's not on holidays, mom..." I braced myself. "I... We..." I could not avoid it, I needed my boyfriend's strength to aid me in such difficult situations, "...want to live there."
"I don't think I understand it, Laurent." She was suddenly very serious. And a bit upset, too. It was noticeable by the way she had twisted the corners of her mouth.
I tried to explain myself as best as I could. But talking to her about America, Vice City, university, Journalism... It all seemed nonsense to me.
"Why would you want to study Journalism, Laurent?"
"Because..." Angelo chose it, I wanted to confess. Because it is his path to success, and I just want to follow him, "...I want to be a writer myself!"
"Don't you think you should study Literature instead, darling?"
"Oh no, that sounds..." I almost said "boring", which was Angelo's opinion about the subject my mother taught in Belgium, "too serious!"
"Then you don't want to be a serious writer, is that right?"
I was at loss. Maybe I should have used 'boring' after all, because it was justifiable that I did not want to become a boring writer.
"And why America? Why not Paris? Or even Belgium, Laurent? I could recommend you..."
I dreamed of Paris. But my life was Angelo. I knew Catherine understood perfectly well why I had chosen America, but she wanted to hear it from me. Maybe she also wanted to give myself the chance to listen to my words and realize my own foolishness. I engaged in an explanation that promoted America like the country of the future and the land of opportunities, while it buried France and Europe in the past, exactly like I had heard from Angelo.
"You really love this boy, don't you, Laurent?"
"I do, mom, I do."
"So much that you want to follow him into his dreams?"
"Yes, Catherine. That much!"
"Wouldn't you rather pursue your own dreams, Laurent?"
"I don't think I have any, mom..."
I had not expected it would be such a difficult conversation. I had suffered years of silent agony, thinking I would die to my mother's heart when she learned about my sexuality... But instead, she had welcomed and accepted it at once, and in doing so, pacified me. My revelation had been filtered first through her intellectualism, and once thus understood and acknowledged, she was perfectly willing to honor me as gay. It had even brought a major turn in her literary career, when she had started including a gay character in each of her novels. Sometimes, they were as remarkable as her heroines, and she never made these guys her protagonists just because female main characters were her distinctive mark.
And to something much more simple like living abroad, and that hadn't make me suffer much, she had so many doubts and so many questions.
"America, Laurent?" She raised her eyebrows in dismay. "What do you intend to do in that country... Apart from studying... Journalism to become... a writer?" She emphasized the contradiction.
Angelo had trained me well on that.
"Dickens was a journalist before he became a novelist. And so was Mark Twain, and Hemingway, and Truman Capote and..." But at each name I mentioned from the list I had memorized, Catherine's look of consternation only worsened. I continued, "And there is Tom Wolfe..." We knew we couldn't mention just dead people, and a living success might impress Catherine. "And Ken Follet..."
With a gesture, my mother dismissed all her North American colleagues.
"I can see Angelo there, but you? I can see him wearing this t-shirt and even becoming a professional football player... But you, in America? Aren't you going to lose yourself, Laurent?"
"I won't become a cheer leader just to accompany Angelo... I don't believe I am a transsexual, mom..." I laughed at my own joke.
"That's rather gross from you." Catherine cut me short. "I don't believe you are down rating someone based on gender, Laurent! Don't be disrespectful! Or are you homophobic?"
"How can I be homophobic if I am..." I realized I had to struggle to say the word -- 'gay?' -- I did not know any other gay men, then, and I was frightened by what I saw in movies like Querelle, L'homme blessé and Les Nuits Fauves, that Cyril Collard had released just the previous year.
"Many gay men are homophobic. Especially the closeted." Catherine remarked, and again grew silent. I then understood she was not answering the question she had addressed me. I would have to answer it throughout my own life.
"Do you sometimes consider that Angelo might be abusing you just because you love him so much?"
"He has never abused me, Catherine!" I objected. In fact, I almost reprimanded my mother for her remark.
"I don't mean sexually. Of course not. I know you are in charge there. You are still in charge of it, aren't you, Laurent?" I did not respond, and she moved on. "I mean... emotionally. Sometimes I wonder whether this relationship is doing you any good, Laurent."
"He is all I have, mother." I pleaded, "Will you please help him?"
"Laurent, please! Don't be melodramatic. But... I hadn't seen this coming. I can't promise you anything right now... Does Edoardo know about your decision?"
"No mom, please don't tell him!"
"But Laurent... he has to know what you boys are planning."
Angelo would be talking to his father that same day. Perhaps, they were talking at that very moment. But cautiously, we had decided to keep me out of his communication to his father. Edoardo was against our relationship, and at first he might agree with Angelo living abroad just to separate us. I feared Catherine wouldn't co-opt in hiding it from her own partner, but we wanted her to keep my decision a secret at least until our trip was set. In reality there was no chance, since the preparations would take almost a year.
"Angelo will tell him. But Edoardo..." hates me, I was going to say, "can't know about my decision, not yet... Please, Catherine!"
"So... it is a decision you are communicating, Laurent?" Catherine smiled. "You are not asking my permission, are you?"
I was embarrassed.
"I know, mon cher. You think you don't need my permission, but you still need me for your decision, don't you?" She made a gesture that implied she was talking about money.
"Mom, I am sorry... I..." I had taken her financial support for granted.
"Let's hope America will eradicate this awful habit that you have... Will you take your feet down, Laurent?"
"Oh, I am sorry..." I then realized my tennis shoes on Catherine's beautiful sofa. "And..." Had that been a yes? Through her remark America will change me?
"Don't worry, Laurent. We will talk about this again. But not today." Catherine let out a loud sigh. "A non-serious writer in America. Who would have thought of that?" She shook her head. "I think I need time to rest now. Will you excuse me?"
Later, I lied to Angelo about my conversation with Catherine, to shine some hope onto our plans. Edoardo had refused to help his son.
That was a strange symmetry between us. Angelo had always felt loved by his mother, while I struggled to obtain Catherine's approval and recognition -- I won't even say love.
But my problems with Catherine were little compared to how Edoardo mistreated his son. My mother might have been cold and distant with me, but Edoardo thoroughly disrespected Angelo. While I had never experienced anything like that from Carlo, who had always been considerate and attentive and caring -- loving, indeed.
"Find a job." Edoardo told Angelo, when he refused to help.
Not a serious suggestion, it was just Edoardo's way of keeping Angelo around. Truth is, he did not want to part from his son. He knew it would take anyone ages, working as a waiter, to gather money to buy an airplane ticket and pay the application fees, tuition and have enough for the first couple of months in America, before Angelo found yet another job there. Even if he won a full scholarship, like he later would, Angelo would still need financial support.
Edoardo had justified he couldn't help his son because he needed the money to open his restaurant.
But after three years of procrastination, we knew it wasn't true. Edoardo was always trying new recipes and improving the classical ones -- that was the reason why he couldn't accomplish a menu. He had found a few places where he thought he could open up shop, but he would always find this or that obstruction and again give up.
We knew it wasn't going to happen. The project of a restaurant was the restaurant itself, all that was ever going to exist. We knew it -- and I wanted to shout it out at Edoardo, whom I regarded as a complete failure. How could my mother have complained about my father, when Carlo's paintings had become a commercial hit? How could she instead love Edoardo, an opportunist who actually depended on her money? Carlo had built a swimming pool for our home -- Edoardo couldn't afford building a pit.
"He is my father, Laurent. He is the only relative I can depend on. Don't ruin everything, please. I have my own ways with him. He will help me, you will see."
A couple of weeks went by. One evening, when we thought Edoardo was in bed already, he came down to catch Angelo and I in the living room. We were dressed and just kissing, trying to divert from the disappointment of not getting any further with our plans.
"Madonna mia, this is a shame!" And once he started bailing about sin and all the catholic prejudice I couldn't stand, I lost my temper.
"I won't allow you to say what is a shame or not in my own house, Edoardo." I tried reasoning with him at first.
"This is Catherine's house, Laurente." With his ugly accent, he made my name sound like a slap. "This is not your house."
"Fuck you! This is my house much more than yours! You are a guest here." I immediately recalled Catherine saying that we should be especially kind and polite with our guests. I had no problem being nice to Mr. Chabrol and Mr. Resnais, for instance, but I couldn't include Edoardo in the respectable category. Still, I decided to quit that line of attack. In fact, the whole attack, by just dismissing him. "I don't care what you think!"
"Yes, you have to care. Because you are going to hell!"
Sometimes I thought Edoardo was really silly. Why didn't he take the chance to end an argument when I'd propitiate it to him? Since he insisted in quarreling, I was going to retort how primitive his prejudices were, and that instead he should go to hell.
"No." Suddenly, I felt calm. I did not want to swear anymore. I had found the perfect response. "I am not going to hell. This is hell, already. I will actually be going away from hell. Do you understand, Edoardo? You are hell, for me. Hell is where you are. Capisce?" I knew that, if I wanted to deliver a blow on Edoardo, I'd have to speak Italian with him. Angelo had long ago stopped translating our discussions. "Tu sei proprio l'inferno, Edoardo! Capisce?"
It had the desired effect on Edoardo, who just gulped, swallowing my words. He was motionless for a moment, then he backed up, and staring down he left the room.
"Io sono felice da te lasciare, Edoardo." I did not care whether it was grammatically correct, as long as it sounded Italian. "E di non te vedere mai! Mai più!" I added, though I knew I had hurt him already.
"Enough, Laurent." I heard Angelo behind me.
"You are a lame gigolo, Edoardo! You should be happy that you will be left alone to use my mother as you want..." I shout after him.
"Shut up, Laurent!" I heard from behind me.
Edoardo hadn't answered my comment. He was already heading upstairs, and he probably did not understand my remark, since I had done it in French, spitting the words. And I have to confess I wasn't aiming it at Edoardo.
"Fuck you Laurent!" Angelo exploded.
I knew it. Humiliating Edoardo when it came to money, I was also humiliating Angelo. And for days after that, Angelo did not speak to me, and in the evenings he occupied the little room next to the studio, just like Carlo had when he quarreled with Catherine.
When my mother once more came back from Belgium, she found the house silent; the three men in it exhausted and exsangue, dead one to another like victims of a war that had finally ended. With no winners.
Entrenched in my pride and self righteousness, I never apologized to Angelo for that humiliation. It's one of those episodes that remained unsolved and unspoken between us.
And from then on, I started ignoring Edoardo. It only caused further distress and severance in our household, and led to Angelo's desperation and sense of isolation.
Surprisingly, I would still have a chance to become closer to my boyfriend's father, before we left France.
In fact, having Angelo's death in perspective almost led me to make peace with Edoardo.