by Samuel Cole
I sat on the edge of Christopher Mayo’s bed fully-clothed, longing for nakedness. Wanting to reach out and touch his forbidden year-older skin, his shiny black hair swept to the right side of a perfect skull, square teeth, satisfying lips, and a tugging smile that twenty-four years removed still pulls me backward. If only I’d been courageous enough to speak up, to whisper please, to shout I am and can be, to swear loyalty and secrecy to whatever secrets he needed me to be loyal.
His bright red electric guitar at the time was a color and brand that mattered to him yet all I recall is watching thin fingers play thinner strings, my jealous heart wanting to steal it all, carry it close to my chest, tighten it when things got loose, pluck it when other sounds lured me away—such a tempting life. But I couldn’t back then pay attention to any other brand beyond his on me.
Our summer 1989 road trip to Alabama was sudden. A visit to his older sister, Dana, just us, alone, only the middle space between the seats keeping me from conquering my burgeoning yearning; side face to side face fact; seven-hundred twenty miles round trip; love and lust melding together like erupting repression. Me. Him. Rolling along. Forging ahead. Michael W. Smith cassette tapes crackling the speakers. Amy Grant concert on September 10. Shit. College starts September 8.
“What are your plans?” I asked.
He was quiet for a spell. “Not sure,” he said. Voice of seventh heaven. “My dad fixes watches. Maybe I’ll do that.””
“Not interested in college?” I wished him to go with me, to share a room, stories, classes, and walks. Best friends having and doing it all. I knew exactly what I wanted.
“School just isn’t me.”
That I didn’t know. I was a high school senior when we met. What I would have given to study with him, our heads cataloging similar subjects to be discussed in depth as we matured: to agree or disagree only mattered because together we had decided to agree or disagree. I’d have probably let him cheat on me if he asked, let him copy, mimic, morph if we must into one to become one. Who was the lucky son-of-a-bitch who got to add with him, read O. Henry, sing tenor in the choir, and divvy up art supplies? Nobody better tell me they sat on his bed talking openly of love after watching him play guitar.
His sister in Alabama was plain, so different from him, nothing special save her kind brown eyes, like his, so special, nothing plain about him except if he said he loved vanilla best then so did I. I’d have changed anything he wanted me to change, apart from the one thing I didn’t know how to, or want to, change—like multiple division fighting against the natural order of things—because I believed he also possessed the change and shouldn’t he, being older than me, be the first to admit the change, be the wiser one to open the small window of hope my truth needed him to open so I could open mine and then climb through to adventure with him on the other, happier side. Bona fide men of substance living the authentic art of realization. I can admit it now: there is nothing more damaging to lying than knowing.
I often (see) saw us as old men, our hands and faces aging consistently from touching each other so often, so kindly, healing wasn’t an option but a gift we freely gave without fault or expectation. So many years speaking sweetly, so please speak sweetly, say something raw and true to unleash my tortured tongue, ignite the 18-me and the 19-you to talk outright to help secure the bond being thinly stretched inside your white pickup truck on the road trip to Alabama, bouncing in that awfully uncomfortable vanilla-colored cab and dashboard, talking of God, the concealed pride in my heart whenever passer buyer’s looked in on us and for a second I hoped they saw us a couple, a smartly pair, youth aligning itself as soul mates forever. Destiny. Fuck fate. Textbook partners just as we were, and are. Well at least I am now. I guess I am. I mean, kind of. No, not really. Sad mostly. Perpetually broken if you really want to know.
“Let’s switch places,” he said, looking at me, then back to the steering wheel.
“While we’re driving?” I couldn’t see until right then a way in, out, or over. Yes.
“You ever drive clutch before?” he asked.
“Clutch?” I had never before said the word. Was that a bad thing? Did that make me less in his eyes? Had he singled that word out on purpose? Did I, sometime in our past, no doubt daydreaming of him, tell him without realizing it all about my clutchlessness? “Did I tell you that before?” I asked.
“No. I just figured.”
“Figured you hadn’t. Your car’s an automatic, right?”
“Oh yeah, totally automatic.” God, I loved driving my 1980 Ford Escort, especially with him in the passenger seat. Going slower than necessary, sponging up his time, listening to Michael W. Smith’s Friends are Friends Forever. A love song for all categories of sexual orientation, goddamn it.
“You ready?” he asked, leaning toward me as if to take me right there, into his arms, on the highway, in that truck, our truck, out in the open for everyone to see. “Think you can keep it in fifth gear while I snooze?”
“You want to go to sleep?”
“Is that a problem?”
“No.” I should have yelled fuck yeah, stay awake, man, pay attention to what is happening right in front of your eyes. “Do what you must.”
Our bodies became intertwined, his hands pressing into my chest, his cold toes rubbing against my calves, his breath close to my lips, his masculine scent tempting my lustful greediness to stand erect, his childish giggle huddled up against my tearful laugh as we changed positions without crashing—dying together, how romantically tragic, how utterly naive—my foot pumping the gas, his eyelids shutting me out yet again. Open your eyes, man. I’m sitting right here. I’m taking you and your truck in the right direction. Can’t you see how far I’m willing to go for you, for me, for us? Don’t you understand how much I could matter to your future capabilities? This is merely the beginning, my love, nowhere close to the end. And you, my road-trip-crawler-over, are my wheels and I will roll with you as long as you ask, so please ask, I beg you to ask, give me a chance to take a risk, my fifth-gear-clutch-sleeper, pick, above all others, me, save me from the peril of living life without you.
Four years at college felt like an eternity flying by in fast semesters, me coming and going, him switching bookstores and heart-wrenching girlfriends, fucking chicks. We talked a few times briefly at church, the place we met, the very sanctuary that said my feelings for him were banned from the Kingdom of God, the thick wooden pulpit rebuking me from going any further with him than to replay the invisible dream of those glorious eleven seconds of awkward touching inside his pickup truck heading to Alabama, providing me very little warmth to what has become at forty-two my constant coldness. I’ve been touched by so many men’s hands but none bring joy like his momentarily on me.
Dana Mayo Santiago. Facebook Friend Request. March 2012.
Hi Sam. How’s life?
I’m ok. I think of u, David Santiago, and Christopher often. How is Christopher? How r u?
Chris died in 2010 from rectal cancer. He fought hard but God decided it was time to call him home.
Raindrops sliding down the window pane of my street level office seem happy to land on black tar. Like a splattering pool of want not gotten as big as any ocean.
Sleep well, Christopher Mayo; I will dream of you.
published 2 July 2014