My Own Child
C. Bard Cole
"What is it with all these fucking preacher's son stories? Jesus Christ! I just can't read another book that has Jesus freaks in it. I am from a small town in the country and we knew that people who talk about Jesus all the fucking time are people you avoid. Where are these kids supposed to be from? And if they love Jesus so fucking much how come they always end up turning homo?"
Squire was mad that I was wasting time reading an award-winning novel by a southern gay man. It wasn't a highly prestigious award you would have heard of, but I don't have any awards at all. He doesn't like it when I read books that get me worked up.
"It's poverty-chic cornpone peckerwood Green Acres grade-A bullcrap. There's never been a kid in America who took that shit seriously. It's a fucking literary conceit; it's been rode hard and put away wet. It's haggard. I was friends with stupid kids and none of them were that stupid. Murphy was never that stupid!"
"You should stop reading that gay shit," he said. "It's all fucking pornography anyhow. Porn for people who think they're above porn. Plus," he said, conspicuously sliding his hand down the front of his pants and scratching himself, "you can't write child pornography unless it's literature so that's half of what they're up to."
"Let me tell you about the first time I had a dick up my ass," he said, touching his breastbone daintily and forging a beatific look on his face. "It was the son of our town's minister, who was coincidentally also my lacrosse coach at the New England prep school I somehow went to. He reamed me while we read Rimbaud out loud. It was beautiful. I loved him. I was eight. In fact, I was the one who seduced him, though people who hate love will tell you different."
"You didn't take your medicine," I said, non-accusatorily.
"Fuck you," he said. "I did, for your fucking information. I always take my goddamn medicine."
"Dad," he said. "I'm a good boy. I took my pill like a good boy, Daddy. Aren't I a good boy?"
"I was just asking," I said.
"You weren't just asking," he said. "You were not."
I looked at him.
He said, "Don't you fucking look at me!"
I told him I was trying to write.
"Uh-hum," he said. "I think you were trying to tell me about this stupid fucking book you don't like for some reason. So don't crawl up my ass about my goddamn pills when I actually have a conversation with you. I was going about my business. I was just going to put on some coffee."
I made a show of putting the book away, sliding it into a crevice in a nearby bookshelf. I tapped its spine into line with the other titles crammed in there.
"You can get books out of the library, you know," he said. "I like being reminded constantly about my pills, by the way. I appreciate it tremendously. I like it being a general topic for discussion. You should put a flyer up in the lobby so all the neighbors can ask me. 'Did you take your pills?' 'Did you take your pills?' 'Did you take your pills?'"
"You didn't sleep, then," I said. "I can tell something. You're hyper as shit."
"Okay. I have to go draft an open letter of apology to all womankind for any time I ever said somebody was on the rag because I see now how obnoxious that is."
He said, "I get frustrated for you. I don't know why you put yourself through this. Is all. It's a fucking gorgeous day outside, have you even looked out the window?"
"Don't surf the internet," he said, "and don't write little essays about what's wrong with literature. Come on, man. It's a job. Just block out three hours where you're going to sit there and write and then let's do something." He leaned against the doorway. "Or just tell me you're going to piss away the whole day pretending to write with your finger up your ass and I'll call somebody. It's Saturday."
I looked at the keyboard as if I'd think of something to write, which I wouldn't have, even if he wasn't looming over me, my own personal red-headed demon.
"I drank a little last night," he ejaculates suddenly, guiltily, because he shouldn't, it interacts with his medication. "When I was out with Clark and Derek. Two beers and a shot of Sambuca or something. And I ended up smoking almost a whole pack. That's the thing, Mr. Prosecutor. That's my full confession. I shouldn't do it. I shouldn't do it."
"No," I said. "You really shouldn't."
"I know," he said. "But it's what we used to do. And I feel it today so that's my reminder. I have to call my dad back sometime this weekend. Remind me tomorrow, okay? And really, don't surf the internet. I'm going to unplug the connection."
"I need to look stuff up sometimes."
"No you don't. There's actually nothing you actually need to look up. It's all you wasting time," he said. Then he coughed. Then he spent a few moments strategically snorting, trying to loosen something in the sinuses between mouth and nose. "I swear the cigarettes were the worst part, ninety percent of a hangover is cigarette. Shit. Are you writing about me?"
"I'm trying to," I said.
"For fuck's sake," he said. "This is going to be so painful and embarrassing."
"For who?" I asked.
"I want to see that movie this weekend," he said. "The one with the robots."
"I know," I said. "I want to see it too."
"Okay," he said. "Then let's fucking see it."
"You are the most retarded man I know," he said. "How did I fucking get messed up with you?"
"Your dad doesn't like me," I said. "He thinks I don't give you his messages."
"Are you kidding? My dad adores you, dude," he said. "He thinks you're fucking me, but he adores you. He tells me not to mess it up 'cause he doesn't think I'll do better."
"Why do you say shit like that?"
"It's true," he said. "He said, 'Now are the two of you friends, or are you friends?' With the italics and everything. You can hear it."
"And what did you say?" I asked.
"He actually knows me well enough to know that my calling back or not calling back says nothing about you giving me or not giving me a message," he continued, before answering my question. "I said, 'Shit, Dad. He's my friend, for fuck's sake,'" Squire said. "I said, 'He's my best friend.'"
One day, someone rang my buzzer and when I opened the door to see who it was I looked down to discover a red-haired infant left with a blanket in a case-sized Budweiser box and a note safety-pinned to the blanket that read Please take care of this star-child. His name is Squire. He needs a home.
Or something along those lines. It's difficult to remember. It's possible that it was a Rolling Rock box, or perhaps not a beer box at all. Maybe he was slightly past the infant stage. I have an extremely vague memory of something that may have been a dream: Murphy my favorite bartender with the asymmetrical smile and the exceptionally generous buybacks and that ridiculous suburban-teenager haircut, speaking in a flirty, insinuating tone that meant he wanted a favor. "Your roommate's staying in L.A., isn't he?"
Because this was true, and because I was curious and intensely hopeful about what exactly he wanted from me, I admitted that this was the case, that Brian was indeed leaving New York for good and that perhaps it would be financially well-advised of me to find another roommate, although (I added, in order to have a fallback position, and because I wished Murphy to believe it) I probably could manage all right on my own.
"You're not happy where you are?" I ventured.
"Not me," Murph said. "My friend from home. God, I'm going to kill him in another few days."
I just stared, took a sip of my beer. Murphy was from upstate, ostentatiously from upstate. He was a dumbass straight boy who took a wrong turn on his first trip to the city and wandered into a gay bar not knowing what it was -- except he wasn't straight, knew what it was; except he conquered the place. He was friends with club kids, art students, fashionable pretty boys, actors, speed dealers, nightlife promoters, journalists, filmmakers, artists and drag queens and with all these potential influences he chose to remain just what he was, which was therefore as phony as any city boy's act. He went home every couple weeks to see his folks, get his hair cut at an upstate mall haircut place, and see what new boys he could pick up at the corny gay bar out by the highway. He'd taken me there a couple times, like a field trip, an anthropological excursion for jaded urban homosexuals.
"I shouldn't have said that," Murph said. "That I'm going to kill him. You've seen my room, though. My room is big enough for my bed. It's a pain sharing it with someone you're not fucking. Even someone you are fucking."
You could think of it as heroic, like the underground railroad, the way Murphy went home and picked up these boys and conducted them south to the city, away from parents who fretted over their faggot sons, away from rednecks who shouted stuff out truck windows, away from creepy boyfriends they fucked just because they didn't know anyone else. Alternatively, you could think of him being kind of like a pimp. Impressed, overwhelmed, and innocent, these boys were on the fast track to whoredom thanks to Chris Murphy. Alone among the bar regulars, I never touched them. Murphy respected me because of it. I talked to them and was nice. It wasn't out of niceness, though. Youth can be sexy, but vanity and stupidity isn't and they were all stupid and vain, giggling and snorting whenever they thought someone "old" was looking at them. I don't pay much attention to very young guys even when they are truly goodlooking but Jesus, at least be good-looking if you're going to be a cunt about it.
But if Murphy was something of a pimp, he was a pimp with a heart of gold. Which doesn't really make any difference, really; only that he would become irritated and scornful and sad when his innocent country boys turned into lowest-common-denominator faggots in front of his eyes, as they always did. He felt he'd done something remarkable and generous for them and they'd chosen to waste the opportunity. He had fucked them first, of course. Fucked them until he was bored by them. That's our Murph.
"He's a really good guy. He's found a job already and everything. He's totally like my best, best friend from when I was a kid. You'd like him, I think you really would."
Murphy had never attempted to pass me one of his used boys before, because he thought I was above that, and because he knew my taste was slightly more sophisticated, and maybe because he didn't like the idea of our sharing sloppy seconds.
"I mean, I would want you to meet him and all."
And that's where my red-headed stepchild entered the picture.
Not that night, of course. Murph didn't whip him out from behind the bar for me. It was a few days, maybe a week later. I'd more or less forgotten about it, once my momentary fantasy about Murphy wanting to occupy space in my home had been spoiled. I'd sat down, unwary, next to the little prince on my usual barstool and Murph slid me an Anchor Steam as per usual. The little prince was having a Coca-Cola and chainsmoking, leaning with both elbows on the bar, one arm supporting his great big bullhead. Murph pretended he hadn't had the scene written in his head the whole time, turned to us as if he'd just now noticed us and said, "Oh hey. This is the guy I told you about. Squire, this is the guy who might have a room to rent. This is my friend Squire from upstate."
Squire took another sip of his Coca-Cola and wiped his hand on his pant leg before extending it to me. "Hey," he said. "What's up?"
He confirmed Murphy's version of the story. They were best friends growing up. "Yeah," he said. "For ever. Like since five or six I've known this guy. Like twenty years."
"That was supposed to be your twenty-third birthday last month," I said to Murphy.
"No," Murphy said. I'm twenty-five.
"That's not what I heard people saying," I said.
"I don't lie about my age," Murphy said. "I'm twenty five." He laughed. "I'm going to stay twenty-five for a nice long time so remember it."
"You know faggots," Murphy added. "They're full of disinformation."
Murphy encouraged this. Some people believed that his family was wealthy and that he was bartending out of some slumming impulse until his trust fund came due. Some believed he was twenty-three; some believed he was doing this one or that one, for money or drugs or for some unimaginably comic reason like love. Some believed he had a dick like two coke cans laid end to end. His tactic was to smile indulgently and shake his head with intentional ambivalence. I believed he was basically who he said he was except I suspected he was really a tomboy lesbian pretending to be a boy. That explained the exaggerated guy affectations and why he invited everyone to call him by his last name, gym-class-style, rather than by his gender-ambiguous first name.
The little prince said, "You don't have to talk that way, Chris." And to me, "You should hear him at home. He doesn't fucking talk that way."
"What way is that?" I asked.
Squire shrugged. "Like a dipshit," he said.
Baby Tuckoo had had quite an adventure over the last few years, sounded like. Lived in San Francisco and then New Orleans, partied, wrote, painted, got drunk, fell in love. Had some mild psychotic episodes which knocked some sense into that hydrocephalic skull of his, then he came home to New York State and finished his bachelor's degree at a local SUNY college while living in his old bedroom. American Studies. Now that he had the degree, he wanted to do something other than live in his old bedroom. What exactly this was, he didn't know. There are implications that he owes something to certain people, needs to do or fix or become something. He is on his special quest. I don't charge him what I should charge a roommate. Which is not exactly totally out of kindness: I like having the moral upper hand, something that keeps him on his toes so he doesn't bug the shit out of me with his music or the TV or clomping around late at night or letting his dishes sit out until they gather flies. I am generous and loving and if he became a pain in my ass he could go out on the street. I think he appreciates that.
Before I got Squire I had an old alley cat for twelve years, a cat that never sat on my lap, never purred for me, never did more than scratch the hell out of my upholstered furniture and create shit for me to clean up, and I sure loved that old cat, right up to the day he escaped out the back fire escape and got runned over like Jimmy Jimmereeno. I used to tell him it would happen, that that's why cats can't go out in the city. But did he listen to me? Obviously not.
"Don't get in bed with me," I said. "If you fall asleep I might rape you."
"Shit," he said, crossing his arms around a pillow and settling in, digging himself into my blankets. "Whatever. Not like I've never been raped before."
I can't help but love him, even though I doubt he really gives a shit about me. The one and only consolation I have, when I look at the little monster, is at least he's not my child. He's my friend, someone I've chosen (more or less freely) to have in my life. If caring about this little motherfucker wasn't a choice -- if it was my obligation -- if he was the flesh of my flesh -- well, shit. I hardly hate to imagine it. It's bad enough as it is.
Of course when I met the brat I thought he was a little gay boy, poor little homeless gay boy who needed a kindly uncle. I realize that's so awful, so stereotypical of me, to just assume everyone's gay like that, but given that A) I was introduced to him in a gay bar B) by his gay best friend C) with whom he was sharing a bed, it never occurred to me that this was a dubious assumption. Many young men of a similar age and in a similar situation, in a strange city and dependent on one particular friend and thus constrained by that friend's social world, might have made it clear, at the point of shaking hands or shortly thereafter, that they were heterosexual.
"Which I didn't do," Squire would say, "because I'm not."
"Yes you are one of those bi-sexuals," I'd say back with that certain roll of the tongue or eyebrow. "The official ranks of the sexually indifferent. I have heard you say this but what I have not observed first-hand is you ever being attracted to a male."
"Unless you've developed a way to see into my brain, I question how you would observe that," he says, his mouth scrinched to one side, "first-hand. I'm queer enough to live in this house with all your Judy Fucking Garland old school fag bullshit without puking, okay? So leave me alone, I'm my own thing, okay?"
Which in a sense is precisely the point and exactly my problem in writing about the teenage Squire. I tend to be more interested, more drawn to, and more capable of illustrating those moments in which various tensions are directed boyward. At the same time, the better I know the red-headed demon, the more certain I am that whatever the extent of these activities have been in his life, he himself has wasted very little time thinking about them. One might think, and in fact I have ventured to make this accusation out loud on one occasion, that the kid bent over and bit the pillow for the sole sake of being able to employ homophobic epithets at will.
It was Murphy -- that I know -- who gathered Baby Devil's rosebud. Funny that Murph didn't know himself until I told him. He remembered the incident, but whether he was first or tenth or the three-hundredth guy to make the incursion was not something they discussed; indeed there was not a lot of discussion, Murph insists, the thought of putting his member into someone sufficiently novel and exciting at that time to overwhelm whatever secondary considerations he might have otherwise made. Like most losses of virginity, it was an hour or so of buildup, in which the uncomprehending heart beats rabbit-like against the ribs, blood pumping in the groin and eardrums, followed by a minute and a half of horrifying action -- for Murph, anyhow. Squire shrugs and claims he can't remember, which is probably true (though this casts unfavorable light on the double Coke can theory) and tells me that describing it in any more detail than I've already done would be in poor taste, though I've told him there's no point in telling that to moi, a master of poor taste if ever there was one.
"It was more about being home alone, goofing off, doing things you knew weren't allowed." That's what Squire says. "I mean, you're just horny, at that age. Everything ends up being about your dick if you let it. I was angry all the time. I was horny all the time, and if we hadn't been messing around we would have been beating the shit out of each other."
"An enlightened boy," I mused. "To realize the slender difference between getting his ass kicked and getting it fucked, and knowing which to prefer..."
"Ya know, I don't really care for my sexual imagination to be an open topic for your crass speculation," he said. "How fucking old are you, man? And you still talk like that? Jesus!"
When you live with Squire Hull, you get lots of warnings about what is an open topic and what is a closed topic. You also have to understand that while some topics are truly closed, others are called so simply for rhetorical effect, such as his weight, specifically his preference for blaming his weight problem on his medication rather than on his laziness or the fact that he would eat corn syrup, cheddar cheese and butter melted together in a bowl if it were socially acceptable. I am scolded every time I respond to his nearly constant complaints, Mr. Buttersworth weighs 155 pounds now which sounds light enough but you have to recall that he is a near-dwarf, only five foot eight, and very little of that weight is dense muscle weight since the only exercise he gets is complaining and eating and jacking off and using my computer, probably all at the same time from the looks of my keyboard. Lately his big idea is that if we lived on the ocean he'd surf, and if that doesn't strike you as the absurdity it is, let me remind you that we live in New York City and I have no intention of leaving, but he could pick his ass up and go wherever the heck he wanted if he felt like it. I'm sure there's some moronic faggot in Santa Monica who could be manipulated into opening his home to a squeezably soft lithium addict who may yet turn out to be talented at something. I can't imagine that moronic faggots are yet a dying breed.
Although I'm considering the possibility that they are made, not born.
It is rather sad, I admit, and the best thing that I could ever do for this boy would be to lift him bodily from the boring psychological reality in which we live our daily lives and thrust him into the kind of story where his character traits and flaws could have some real significance. If it's not yet occurred to you, let me tell you that Squire is the kind of boy who, being born of a humble woodcutter, for example, might go and make his way in the world and be rewarded for his cleverness and his mostly-good heart; he might be rewarded on a spectacular level, particularly when it is revealed that his ethereal mother -- who lies buried behind the humble woodcutter's cottage underneath six baseball-sized white stones arranged in a cross pattern and a mystical rose bush whose red flowers turned white with shame when they looked upon the ashen face of the grief-stricken husband who yet prayed every day on his wife's grave -- that his ethereal mother was not the low-born peasant she appeared to be but was indeed the half-mortal daughter of the Fairy King.
(Which would make Squire one-quarter fairy, which sounds about right.)
Yet, having ascended to this position of nobility and power as -- well, let's see: Prince, he's the Prince of all Brittany. No, he's the young Baron, the Baron von Sloatsburg -- the young Baron of Sloatsburg, handsome and cruel, reveling in food and drink and pretty dancers, reveling in his luxuries and indifferent to his people. The face that one believed was shaped by its inner goodness may be just as beautiful though the eyes become cold and full of avarice.
At this point, with some Wildean intervention, a sparrow or giant or old beggar woman will appear to reveal some truth, some pathetic, poetic truth to tear the young Baron's heart and fill his soul with regret. Casting his coronet aside, he would then abandon his castle and throw himself into the dirt, abject, until the sparrow or giant or old beggar woman reveals the second half of the great truth, the one that will cause him to raise his eyes heavenward again as they fill with tears of joy.
If I was to follow the Wilde models too literally, he would die then. A lot of real folk tales and fairy stories allow the hero to live on happily ever after, a solution I would prefer because he's my boy and I love him but it doesn't always work out that way. It may just be that the young Baron von Sloatsburg has tragedy in his blood.
I don't know how to make up truths for artistic purposes.
"Just because your mother was a nut job doesn't mean you have to be," said the golden sparrow as it hopped from the ledge of the open window to the rail round the edge of the young baron's writing desk, where he sat in his fine outfit of velvet and jeweled embroidery. "You're not afraid to talk to a doctor about how you're feeling and you're pretty good about taking your medicine, and that's a good start!"
"Oh, for crap's sake, man," says the titian-haired youth, his face curdling with pointed distaste. "Get that fucking thing off my desk right now. I am so not kidding. Go back to your goddamn room and write already."