Dear Abby, please tell me what to do

By Daniel Curzon

Dear Abby, 

I'm almost twenty-four-years old now, and yet the world seems to grow more menacing every day, people less dependable, one’s consciousness more self-deceptive. Or is my own romantic vision shattering? Grasping some kind of truth about the outer world, about myself, seems more impossible each day I live. Please tell me what to do.

Please tell me what to do!

It all began in an eastern city that sits between two dirty rivers---let me not name it, though. I fell deeply in love with a young man I met in the Park while walking my Uncle Benjamin's cocker spaniel. Yes, Abby, a young man. Yes, I too am a young man. Though two years older than he. The day before I had a premonition. On July 1st something wonderful was going to happen to me. And yes, it was on that sweltering day that I met my Stuart. For three marvelous hours we sat on a bench near the museum and talked, about poetry mostly, but also about his job as a part-time peanut vendor in the Park, the only consistent thing in his life---so he said. But he was thinking of up giving vending because he’d been mugged by some teenagers. He still had the bruise on one cheek---and I think it was that bruise as much as his bright, innocent eyes and a well-trimmed mustache that won my heart.

A well trimmed mustache that won my heart

I should have been wary. But he was so enthusiastic, with the face of a cherub. Through the Pennsylvania accent I could hear  the voice of a little boy reaching out for love. How could I suspect? I was primed for something wonderful, for someone who needed me. And my Sheridan was the man I’d been looking for, I knew.  I told him I’d be happy with just friendship---a lie. No, he wanted more! “You think too much. Let's fall in love,” he said and kissed me as the first of the Independence Day fireworks exploded over the Jersey shore.

The first independence day fireworks
exploded over the Jersey shore

It was all happening so fast, too fast, and when I warned him that I could be very jealous, he answered, “It doesn't matter, because we will be faithful to each other." He was so utterly convincing, because---I see now---I wanted to believe in him, and perhaps also because of that warm, kind smile. We spent hours and hours together reading his poetry. Brilliant. Better than Rod McKuen's. I had been to college for two years and he'd never been, so he lapped up my praise. I had discovered a genius. A pellucid style. The passions of a Dostoevsky. Rebellious, robust, at time nihilistic. But that didn’t frighten me. No, even the nihilistic nightmare lurking in his poems lured me on. Sex was disappointing.

Sex was disappointing

My Stefan said that he didn't find me all that attractive. But it would work out, he assured me. He mentioned that he found my buttocks a bit too plump, my red, sparse pubic hair a turn-off, my breath occasionally bad. But we would work it out, somehow. Actually, though, Abby, he was the one who was disappointing as a lover, well-hung but clumsy, the less affectionate one, the one who didn't like to do "certain things” in bed. Yet I could understand and forgive everything at this point, for he'd been put in a Home by his mother at the age of six and raised there with his two sisters. His mother had wandered here and there, sleeping around indiscriminately. When he left the Home, he moved to the city between the two dirty rivers. If only I’d found him earlier, he might not have robbed those five banks with a note saying "I'm desperate. Put cash in this paper bag!” Of course, my Sammy didn't really have a gun, though he pretended to; he was not the kind that could physically hurt people.

He was not the kind that could physically hurt people

He toured the country, living it up, flushing excess money down commodes to show his contempt for it. (Imitating his wandering mother? Seeking her perhaps?) Feeling guilty in Tacoma, he gave himself up. He thought he would get eighty years. He didn’t. He ended up serving three years of a twenty-year sentence, because he was a model prisoner. He found Jesus in prison. His  faith and his poetry sustained him. While others were raped, beaten, stabbed with forks, he survived---with the respect of  guards and prisoners alike.

He survived

He's been released a year now (with four more of parole). He lives in a white boxlike room. It could easily be mistaken for another prison cell. He survives poorly, sometimes modelling for struggling art students, mostly pornographic figures in clay. He lost a better job when he was struck by a taxi in the garment district. (He limps slightly now.) He told the driver to go on, because my Sherman didn’t want the taxi driver to get in trouble. The doctors said he made a remarkable recovery. “I had faith,” he says simply.  Who couldn’t love someone with those qualities? Who wouldn't feel sorry? And he is rather attractive besides. He takes care of himself, works out in a gym three times a week, gets a lot of exercise modeling and vending those peanuts in the Park. (But it wasn’t just physical, Abby, never that.)

It wasn't just physical

When my Steven said it wasn't going to work out, that I was too moral, too naive, too intellectual, I couldn't believe it. I was heartbroken, yet I tried my best to accept what I couldn’t see how to change. I cried on the bank in the Park, beneath the tall trees where we’d met. I cried not so much for myself but for my Sean, for all the unloved, suffering, starving, limping children of the world.  But I'm shallow, I guess. For what have I ever done for these, what will I ever do to relieve their misery? I couldn't even help my Simon. (A voice in the windy night seemed to whisper, "Don't cry, there's more to come").

A voice seemed to whisper...

So I stayed on in that city between the two dirty rivers, waiting for my Skip to call, doing exercises for my buttocks on the hardwood floor of Uncle Benjamin's hot apartment, trying to darken and thicken my pubic hair with Miss Clairol, talking to myself, to my bed sheets. (Forgive me, Abby, if I have grown too personal too soon.) And then, lo, he did call! He did! He did! He called Uncle Benjamin's apartment after two weeks, to get my address, in order to write to me, to beg me to come back. He seemed a bit shaken that it was I who answered the phone---I had never left, you see. So much the better. We would pick up the pieces  That evening near the river, in the nightly shadows of a children’s playground, we sat on the swings and my Sheldon held my hand and said to me, “I want you, I want to live with you. For the rest of our lives. I want to cook for you. Say yes tonight, now, or I'll throw myself in the river. I mean it!"

I mean it

Of course he didn't mean it, not really, Abby. But I was touched, I guess, perhaps taken in by the luminous blue of his moon-lit eyes. Perhaps starved for affection. We met each evening that week. We talked. Intimately. About everything. He sang to me in the rain. He did cartwheels and handstands for me. He was so talented. He could walk on his hands for yards at a time (though passersby stared.) Sex was barely discussed. I didn't care. The city seemed to grow quiet; people became nice. Picnickers offered us watermelon, but my Saul wouldn’t take any---because they were black  people and he thought they were demeaning themselves by eating that stereotyped fruit. The lights reflected on the river seemed to be shimmering just for us.  Since I've heard you‘re not romantic, you probably can't appreciate all this. You’re probably laughing at me. Please don't think I'm silly. I don't mean to be silly. Then.

I don't mean to be silly

There was to be a reunion that next weekend in Skrungsville, Pennsylvania, at the Home where my Salvador had grown up. All those orphans---grown up now---were to get together, with Miss Pickles, the dear British headmistress. And my Sigmund wanted me to go with him. I had little money. But we could hitch-hike.

The trip began rather well. But one thing after another started happening. My Sydney's peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches were flattened by a truck---and the bag split open---when he dropped them as we ran across a highway. And the handful of  poems I had written for him were scattered by the whooshing wind of a truck-trailer hauling ugly machinery to some distant destination. "You can't hang on to anything, can you!” he teased me. “We could eat your peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches off the  middle of the highway,” I teased back. You run like a girl," he teased. “You wouldn't win any Olympic races yourself l” I replied.  (By turns we hurt and forgave.)  Then.

You'd win any Olympic race yourself

The rides stopped coming-only fifty-six miles short of our destination, Skrungsville. People drove by in their cars laughing and waving at us in the blistering sunshine. My Sterling, hungry and tired now, insulted me. "If you weren't such a fat-ass, somebody might pick us up!”  Sweating and grouchy myself, I responded, “Maybe they don’t like your limp!”  “If you think I’m going to have sex with you tonight at the orphanage, forget it! I didn't tell you this before, but I loathe red pubic hair! And you're getting even more freckly in this hot sun!”  “I can't help having freckles or red public hair!" I retorted.  “You're so stupid, for all your education!"  I couldn't believe the cruelty I saw creeping into my Shelby’s face. “You're not being nice to me!" I almost shouted.  “That's because you're a fool.”

That's because you're a fool

“Was it a fool you fell in love with, whom you asked to come back, to cook for? Was it?"
“You're ridiculous!”
“And you're perfect! You 're right about everything!" I shouted. (He was right about a few things of course. I was a little ridiculous that day.)  The quarrel went on. I couldn’t bear it. I had never taken such verbal abuse in my whole life. His egotism took hideous shapes, Abby, and his sadism was accompanied by a series of sly smiles.
“I'm used to being the master, you ass!" he grinned at me.  I threatened to leave  “If you love me, you won’t run away, you nit!” he called.
I came closer. “You're a ruthless beast!” I screamed, pulled down to that level of bitch-fighting. At my words he was stunned. Then I saw that he thrived on this business of mutual humiliation.  “I don't like bitchiness, it's sissified!" he said, but he wouldn’t stop. “You educated people think you know everything. You analyze everything, and you’re just full of shit!" (Smoke and fog were settling thickly in the air.)

Smoke and fog were settling thickly in the air

Then.  Finally I said, wiping the truck dust out of my eyes, “Sonny, I don't love you anymore!”  His eyes narrowed. "I wondered how you could from the start."
"I did love you---deeply. But there's only pity left, and that’s going fast."
“See how immature you are, even if you are two years older. See how silly!"

How silly!

Enraged, I cried aloud:“Get fucked, Stanley!” I stumbled away. His last gesture to me was ambiguous, his arm raised in the distance, jerking a little. What did that salute mean? Goodbye forever? Come back?  Why have I bothered writing to you about this love affair? I don’t fully understand why. Please forgive me if I've bored you. It explains me a little, doesn't it? Maybe it can be of use to both our readers. Thank you for listening. Maybe someday we'll meet in person. But if we ever do, I’ll be a changed person. I'm very bitter. I may never love again.  What does it matter?

Daniel Curzon is a Ph.D. and the author of many books of fiction and plays, including the landmark gay protgest novel Something You Do in the Dark (Putnam, 11971). He won the 1999 National New Play Contest for Godot Arrives. His newest books are the 3rd edition of The Big Book  on In-Your-Face Gay Etiquette (Wisehouse, 2014) and a novel about San Francisco, Halfway to the Stars: Cable Car Tales of a Grumpy Gripman (Wisehouse, 2014), which is a finalist in Foreword Reviews' Book of the Year Awards