PART FOUR OF
THE JOURNAL OF JAMES CURTIS
BY MICHAEL J. BAYLY
THE JOURNAL OF JAMES CURTIS
BY MICHAEL J. BAYLY
(To start at the beginning of this series, click here)
I have just one photograph of Carlos – and not a particularly good one. Truth be told, we took it for the “so bad it’s fabulous” wallpaper that we discovered in a room of a bed and breakfast up north. I guess it’s okay, but I wish he was smiling in it. Carlos, however, always liked to look tough, to look “the man.” And he was my man – fleetingly. And, yes, I still miss him - and his smile.
We met in a strange, quite-by-chance kind of way. I was on an assignment about two years ago, covering a popular street parade put together by what I call the “old hippie” set. Not really my thing at all but always very popular owing to a local theater company being involved and contributing giant puppets and all types of curious props. Every year there’s always some kind of different “new age” theme, usually to do with celebrating “Mother Earth.” That kind of thing. Anyway, Carlos, believe it or not, was part of an anarchist contingent in this parade.
Dressed in tight-fitting black jeans and a sleeveless T, he eyed me suspiciously as I viewed him through my camera lens as he walked down the street, banging away on his big drum. I thought he was definitely cute, but also assumed he was straight – and probably in need of a good bath. I mean, judging from the look of his “comrades,” personal hygiene didn’t exactly seem a priority for this anarchist crowd. His unsmiling, angry-looking visage ensured I never took his photo. Yet as I lowered the camera our eyes met and for a timeless moment it was just me and him in the whole universe. Corny, I know . . . but true! He soon continued on his way, however, and I got back to the job at hand, heading off to photograph more obliging subjects.
Later that afternoon, I wandered through the city park where the parade ended and where a colorful and noisy festival was in full swing. There must have been several thousand people present, strolling and milling around a range of food stalls and informational booths addressing everything from ending the war in Iraq to animal rights. Many of those present were still in their costumes from the parade. All in all, there was a surreal vibe to the carnival atmosphere.
Things got even more surreal, however, when the cute anarchist I’d almost photographed approached me and shyly said hello. We engaged in awkward small talk: he asked me about the camera hanging around my neck, and I inquired about the group he had been marching with. As it turned out, he was part of that contingent as a favor for his sister – the usual drummer feeling under the weather that day! He nevertheless claimed allegiance to “the cause,” but I was already having my doubts. Let’s just say it was something about the neatness of his attire and his looks – not to mention the hint of cologne I detected when at one point the crowd pushed us close together.
You’re an anarchist wannabe, I thought to myself. He caught my smile and smiled back at me - that incredibly beautiful smile. We both laughed, and I knew then and there that we’d see each other again.
So that’s how it started. We met next for coffee, and then a few days later went and saw a movie together. Slowly we opened up to one another about our lives, our hopes, and our dreams. He shared with me how he was currently working as a roofer, but was finishing off a course in landscape design. He seemed genuinely interested in my work at the paper and asked a number of questions about past stories I’d covered. I shared with him how I was considering moving into film study with an emphasis on documentary film making.
By then, of course, I knew his name was Carlos – and that his mother was French and his father Mexican. He was raised Catholic, he said, but felt abandoned by the Church because of its “harsh and unforgiving” stance on sex between two people of the same gender. His mother was accepting of him as a gay man, but his father – whom, from what I could gather, was your typical Latino macho kind of guy – was not on speaking terms with him. There was in Carlos’ eyes a look of deep hurt and sorrow as he related this to me. And, if I recall correctly, that was when I first reached out and touched his hand.
For our next “date,” I invited Carlos to my condo for dinner and to watch a DVD. He ended up staying the night. I can honestly say it wasn’t planned that way, but rather, as the evening progressed, just came to be sensed (by both of us) as the natural thing to do.
Up until Carlos, I’d never been in a physical relationship with another man that I felt was a healthy and mutual one. In Memphis there had been Chad, whom I dated for just over six months. I guess you could say he was my first boyfriend. He was a nice enough guy, but I was more of a possession than a person with whom he was in relationship. I mean, Chad had his expensive condo, his jeep, his high-powered corporate job . . . and me. We never lived together – he liked his own space too much for that. Yet I was never jealous of him or thought he might be seeing other guys. Why should he? He had checked “boyfriend” of his list of acquisitions, and I was it.
I’m not proud of my time with Chad, yet neither am I ashamed of it. One thing I will say is that I learned from it. I learned how to be comfortable with another man sexually; learned something about my own desires and needs; learned how to give pleasure and, yes, love, to another; and learned, in the end, what it is that fails to fed my soul in a relationship. And once I realized this, I ended my relationship with Chad.
With Carlos it was different. I felt I came fully alive in his presence - body, mind, and soul. With him I wanted to be the best person I could be - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And I was ready also to extend myself for him and his development as a whole person; ready and willing to create time and space in my life for him and for us.
I also felt I was able to make our relationship a better one, an authentic one, as a result of the things I learned from my time with Chad. I had grown as a man – as a relational human being – by being attuned to what did and didn’t work, not just with Chad, but with all kinds of people in my life. I guess that’s all part of growing up – not being afraid to live and learn . . . and to apply the knowledge and insights we gain to new situations and opportunities we encounter as we journey on. Hopefully, such a process makes us more mindful, loving, and humble.
I remember when my friend Jack first met Carlos. It was at a gay bar downtown and, like a lot of people, Jack was quite taken by Carlos’ physical looks. He is a handsome man, no question about that. And his work as a roofer has ensured a very well toned but natural-looking body, if you know what I mean. Jack’s drag queen friend Dee Dee was also present, and siding up to me while giving Carlos the once over, whispered, “Honeychild, there was a time when armies would have gone to war over that ass.” Much to my embarrassment I couldn’t help but blush, yet later after I shared Dee Dee’s remark with Carlos, he just smiled his beautiful smile and said that my blushing at such things was part of the reason he loved me. I didn’t blush at that, but I did almost cry. It was such a beautiful thing to say.
Despite Carlos’ undeniable good looks and hot body, it was never just about sex with him. That’s not to say that sex wasn’t important to us, but our relationship wasn’t built around it. I remember how with Chad we’d often get together simply for sex – no dinner, no movie, no time together sharing what had taken place that day – just sex. He loved to be fucked and had a need to be fucked on a regular basis. I guess most men – gay or straight – would jump at this kind of opportunity, but I soon discovered that that type of sex, devoid of any real connection, was not what I wanted. It just becomes so mechanical and, well, soul-destroying. Yet for some men, I know, anything is better than nothing. But to be honest, I’d rather have nothing. Despite all the sex I experienced with Chad, I can’t say we were ever really intimate. For one thing, he wasn’t one for kissing, and he never wanted to be “on top.” He was happy to be simply “serviced” on a regular basis. And afterward, it was clear that I was not welcomed to stay the night.
Again, with Carlos it was different. For a start there was mutuality in our physical lovemaking. Versatility, he insisted, should always be a feature of gay male sex. He gently and patiently showed me just how liberating it was to discover and enjoy the freedom that the male body offers to alternatively enter and be entered. I know I became a better lover and a better person by opening myself – quite literally – to him; a better lover and person by being vulnerable with him and trusting him. To this day I miss Carlos’ gentle touch, the feel and rhythm of his firm thickness moving into me, and the awareness and experience of my holding him inside of me. I miss talking with him long into the night, our bodies entwined in the afterglow of our lovemaking. Those conversations were always the most honest and open that we shared. It was scary, at times: that closeness, our opening up of ourselves – on so many levels – to one another.
I realize now that it was from this that Carlos eventually balked. Yes, Carlos, who taught me so much, found himself suddenly in water that was too deep, too frightening. I know that together we could have supported one another, learned to swim and stay afloat, found a shore to steady us. The rock beneath my feet, I know, was not only my love for Carlos, but also my relationship with God – the source of all love. I shared with God everything about my relationship with Carlos, often before the statue of the Sacred Heart at St. Jerome’s. Most of all I thanked God for the experience of the relationship I was forging with Carlos; of how it was making me a better person – a gentler, less uptight and judgmental person; of how Carlos too was changing – trusting me, for instance, to share more about his strained relationship with his father; and how all of these things drew me to turn to God countless times a day in thanks and praise.
But it’s all over now. Not my gratitude to God for what I experienced, but the experience itself; the experience of Carlos and me together. He wanted to remain friends but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. For weeks I slept on the sofa as being in my bed without his warm, manly body beside mine was just too painful. I can still find it difficult – and it’s been almost two years since he disappeared like a ghost. For soon after I told him that I couldn’t be “just friends” after all we’d shared and experienced, he vanished. I have no idea where he’s gone. And that itself is a cause of grief . . . and also anger. How could he just leave me wondering, knowing as he does how I feel and care about him? Did he fall off a roof? Did he not tell me the truth about his status and get deported? Or is he well and happy in another part of the city or in some other city? I simply have no idea – and no way of finding out.
One evening shortly after the breakup, Jack gently tried to suggest that perhaps Carlos had been a “player” all along; that he got what he wanted from me and then moved on – a sexual drifter. I entertained the possibility of this for about two seconds, but then dismissed it. I simply couldn’t believe that about Carlos, our relationship, and all that we had shared.
I know that I’ll probably never fully understand why it didn’t work out between Carlos and I, and I sense that I’ll never see him again or discover what became of him.
Protect me, God, from feelings of bitterness, anger, and grief about all of this. Be with Carlos wherever he is. May he know happiness and meaning in his life.
I write these things tonight as a way of attempting to get them out of my “system,” as they say. Earlier this evening, I shared with God my desire and readiness to move on, and, as a result, felt compelled to write the things I have.
And just two nights ago I wrote of how I feel I’m embarking on a new journey - one that I don’t want to be burdened with by unnecessary baggage. I know I’ll never completely forget Carlos – I wouldn’t want too. But I do want to gently put aside those memories and thoughts of him. I trust that in doing so, I will have more energy and focus as I explore the new things that are opening up for me in my life, and the new ways of living my life as a gay Catholic man in a Church unmindful of my experiences of you, loving God, present in those types of experiences I shared with Carlos. And, perhaps also, by handing over to You, God, the many different feelings I have about Carlos, I may find myself more open to a new experience of intimate relationship with another.
This is my hope and prayer tonight, loving God: that You may help me move on in mindfulness, trust, hope, and love. And I pray this in a spirit of thanksgiving for my openness to use all of my experiences of joy, yearning, disappointment, and regret as a vehicle to greater communication and relationship with You and those around me. I thank You for my resilient spirit – a spirit still willing to take risks; a spirit that yearns for Your presence, for human touch, love, and sensual expression and affirmation. For all of this and more I express complete gratitude and praise. Thank you, God. I love you.
NEXT: Part 5: My Lunch with a “Medicine Bearer”
See also the previous installments of The Journal of James Curtis:
Part One: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy
Part Two: A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation
Part Three: A Journey Begins