Tuesday, June 2, 2015

episode 10-II | Ultimatum

sensitive issues

I didn't realize Angelo was feeling so lonely, and isolated.

In my mind, I had done what he expected from me. I had decided to follow him to America, and I had communicated it to my mother. My own expectation was that he would then take over everything else. He had gathered information about the whole process of applying to the American universities. He had the addresses, the phone numbers -- but what he did not have was money to start and carry on with that bureaucracy.

When Edoardo refused to help him, Angelo wanted me to talk to my mother to help the two of us. Reluctant, I wanted to hear from Catherine first. I thought once she agreed to help me, she wouldn't mind helping my boyfriend, too.

But in the meantime, she and Edoardo arrived to a decision. They were going to care for their respective sons only, and not interfere in the other's decisions -- that settled, they never again fought.

Of course they knew what that meant. If Angelo couldn't go anywhere without getting his father's financial aid, it meant I wasn't going anywhere either, even if Catherine would help me. I was just accompanying him, and had no will of my own to move towards our future in America.

"You don't love me, do you, Laurent?"

"Of course I do!" I protested. 

"No. I'm just another toy for you. I get it now. You just like my body. You like my ass. You use me for sex, for fun."

"Don't be ridiculous, Angelo." I almost said 'melodramatic', but it would sound too much like Catherine.

"You don't understand me. You don't respect me. You don't care about my needs. My dreams."

"Of course I do." I repeated myself.

"No, you don't. And that's why you don't want to help me."

"Don't be unfair, Angelo. I've done everything I could..."

"No you haven't. And you know it."

Angelo had come up with another idea. He wanted me to ask for my grandmother Celeste's help.

He was aware that she sent me money every Christmas and birthday. With that, I had gathered a considerable amount in savings. That money could have helped us -- but Angelo himself had helped me to spend it all. We -- or I -- had bought a new music player, and plenty of long-plays, shirts, jeans, tennis shoes, and junk food. Actually, he was responsible for us having no money, having exchanged it for fun.

"Your grandmother is rich, Laurent. You could convince her to sell one of the paintings in her collection, or her jewelry. Then we would have the money we need."

But I knew Celeste did not have to sell anything to have money. That was Angelo's family history -- how they had sold all the artifacts from his archaeologist grandparents, even the furniture and finally the apartment in Rome, to go to the United States for his mother's treatments.

"I can't do that, Angelo." 

And I'm glad I never did, even if it led to tragedy in our household. But how could I? I hadn't seen Celeste again in eight years, though we every once in a while spoke over the phone. Catherine would sometimes visit her in Paris, on her trips to Belgium, but I was never again invited to her house.

"Of course you can. She has never denied you money, has she?"

"No. Simply because I have never asked her for money. Do you get it?"

It would have been funny to see what Celeste's reaction would be, had I asked her to sell one of her paintings. What would the painting be? Her Picasso? Her Renoir? Or the Monet? She could get rid of her Bonnard, or the Leger. She owned at least one painting from most French painters starting with the Impressionist period, and also of those foreigners that had made Paris their home for a while. Not that I knew any of that when I was eighteen. And I knew nothing about Monsieur de Montbelle either, who had bought her many of those paintings, and from whom she had inherited several others. 


Seeing so much art at my grandmother's apartment had confused me, when I was ten years old.

"Maman, why does... grandma--" I recall whispering the word, afraid that Celeste would hear it, "live in a museum?"

"Oh, mon cher. This is not a museum. Though Celeste's apartment is just as full of preciosities."

But I had never been to major art museums before visiting Paris, and to me they were no different from my grandmother's apartment -- except, perhaps, in scale. 

Catherine tried to enlighten my ignorance. When I elected two paintings I had liked best, she proceeded to explain who had been their painters, Chagall and Matisse. At some point, she said they were very famous.

"Not more famous than my papa!" I declared in triumph.

"Oh, much more famous than Carlo, mon cher."

"Certainly not, maman. I had never heard of them before. And I have know my father is a painter since... forever!"


"Besides," I continued my argument with Angelo, "we don't need so much money to go to the US, do we?" I was starting to doubt his intentions. Any of those paintings would have sold for millions of francs. (*)

"You will always need money in this life, Laurent. As much as you can have. Don't be silly."

"How can I ask her such a thing? Grandma," she would kill me at calling her that, "why do you need two Matisses? Why don't you sell one of them?"

"That would be perfectly fine. Because these paintings are yours already. Don't you see? You don't have to wait until she dies to sell them. Or are you going to keep all her old stuff?"

"You are out of your mind, Angelo!"

"Then don't sell anything. Just ask for her spare change. She is filthy rich, didn't you say so? She shall have enough francs to help us coming from her purse only. How much money do you think she keeps at home?"

"I can't do that, Angelo. And you're sounding like you want to rob my grandmother."

"It's not that you can't. The truth is you don't want to, Laurent."

"Let's wait."

"Wait for what, Laurent?"

"Your father might change his mind..."

"I can't wait, Laurent." Angelo had expected we would be studying in the US in the second semester of 1993 already, but we hadn't moved any closer to that. "Not in this hole." And then he threatened me again. "I am leaving, Laurent. No matter what, no matter how, I am leaving."

Angelo stormed out of the room.

We had discussed those issues several times, and I did not get that his threat was indeed an ultimatum.

Not until very late that evening did I start worrying. It must have been 3, maybe 4 AM. When we fought, both Angelo and I liked being alone, and we could spend hours not speaking to one another. But we hardly skipped sex, and the previous weeks, full of tension and expectations, we were doing it at least twice a day to dilute the stress.

I confess I was horny, more than worried, when I went looking for him. First, I checked the room in the back, where I had slept when we had guests, and where Carlo would seek refuge when he fought with Catherine. To keep the tradition, it was Angelo to occupy it now, when he wanted to get away from me.

I opened the door slightly, enough to peek into the room and check that he was not in there. I closed it again, and decided I would not go after him into the fields. Or could he have ran away? His words about leaving suddenly sounded more serious than usual to me. But he wouldn't have ran away without taking a backpack, would he? At least I wouldn't. But when I thought my father had disappeared just like that, to never ever send any news, I had icy goose bumps. I couldn't bear the perspective of being abandoned once again.

I opened the door again. The room was unusually stinky. In the dark, I saw the undone bed. Hoping Angelo had at least written a message, I walked towards the side table, where he had left a book open.

I screamed when I saw him lying in his own vomit. Incredibly pale, his body tense, fists clenched -- he was frozen with pain. Reminding me of one of those petrified inhabitants of Pompeii, his face was twisted in a clownesque grimace. I shouted again, and again, as I collapsed onto the floor, crawling next to him, to take him in my arms. His body was lifeless and covered in cold sweat. I shivered. I had never seen a corpse before, but as I held Angelo, I knew he was dead.

Catherine did not scream when she arrived in the room, taking in the scene of Angelo's suicide. To her, life was only a tragedy in books. She dealt rather coolly with reality, as if it were an experiment in a laboratory. There was always something she could use in a future book -- even her own son's misery at the death of his boyfriend.

But she did shout at me when I fought Edoardo, as he tried to fetch Angelo from me.

"Please let go of him , Laurent! We need to take him to the hospital!"

As Edoardo ran away with Angelo in his arms, Catherine stayed behind with me. Patting me on the shoulder, she tried to reason me out of my shock, but I don't recall her words. 

I did not cry, as I realized I was being abandoned again. It was useless, I knew. I had cried for Carlo, but my tears hadn't brought him back.


For several months after the incident at the country club, that led to my decision of quitting the swim team, I had contemplated the practical problems of suicide. At fourteen years old, suicide was a thing from books, and that's where I researched my possibilities. 

Catherine was a very well organized writer, and she kept lists for everything -- from names for characters to a thorough table of colours. In her archives, I found under S a list of suicides in books, and that's where I learned that Romeo drank poison, Heathcliff starved to death, Othello and Juliet stabbed themselves, Werther shot himself, Mme Bovary ingested arsenic. As I went through my mother's list, I learned about those who had hanged themselves, and drowned. 

Some suicides seemed noble, like Plato's, and other were beautifully tragic, like Anna Karenina's, who stepped on the train track. And in the company of so many suicidal characters, my desperation eased and I realized how my own death would only seem pathetic. I also understood I was a coward, and inflicting death upon myself seemed harder than coping with my shame and guilt.

Unlike me, Angelo was brave, full of determination and will to live -- or to die. Whatever he chose, he would accomplish. If he couldn't leave France, he could leave this life. Whichever direction he favored, he would travel. 

Unlike me, he did not seem to fear death as his final destination.

(*) this in Laurent's memories is the year of 1993, and French franc was the currency then.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This novel currently being published online gives us, reader and writer, the chance to connect -- you can hear my voice at each update, and I would love to hear it back from you!

It is a privilege to get to know your thoughts and feelings about the story, so please do share your comments, questions and suggestions, and I will reply.

Thank you for commenting.