“And His Eyes Be as Blue as the Sea” (Addendum: Matthew)
(For Glen who wanted to know more about Matthew, and the other nice persons who asked I continue the story, this chapter is dedicated with much thanks)
Matthew, feeling all his life like an addendum, had followed Alton over to the Humanities building to try to talk to him, but then Alton had headed straight to Maples’ room, so Matt had stood outside the teacher’s classroom, listening, while Alton was trashing his best friend, formerly best friend, name of Matthew, to Mr. Maples, and Matt’s first thought was to get away from the whole damned thing. To stop. Here and now. He had confessed his love for Alton that drunken night a lifetime ago. And they had jacked together; it had been so wonderful to Matt, pretending, hoping it was not just a drunken friend whittling wood with him– not that he would not have accepted that. But still, you can pretend, Alton, that you love me; you don’t have to say the words. I’ll say them all for you. You don’t have to say a word. I won’t either, if you would rather. I can just hang round you and not cause trouble. I can just kind of be a shadow, and I won’t stand in your way. I’m sorry about what this has caused Jo.
But you have made it gossip and something evil and stupid; you don’t do that to someone who’s hurting this much. You don’t have the right to tell something this secret and this important to anyone else; like you had killed somebody, and you had to confess to get it off your conscience. Like you took somebody and hurt them so badly and it’s obscene in your mind—well, Matt thought, as he walked quietly from the doorway of the classroom and out into the snowy quad, you did kill someone; you killed me. You did it by giving me a favor and then you have to be the star of that favor. Oh what a great guy you are. And oh you are having sexual problems. You the high school stud, who had to make charts months in advance of girls who were going out with you, your lays, for upcoming weekends. Sure, Mr. Sensitive. Well, grab this by the horns, buddy—I’ve been in love with you since ninth grade. It hurt so goddam much seeing you with girls; you were kind to me, and I pretended you were my friend. And that you cared. They say kids can’t fall in love. They are wrong. I did. And I will love you forever. Why did you trash me, man? I was going to keep that drunken moment in my heart forever. I was keeping it like amber under glass and you’ve turned it to shit and now I’ll not get a hard-on for who knows how long?
Matt had no family. He lived three towns over with a very distant cousin who saw him through school and now holidays. A very old man named Matters. Matt was more like a boarder at Matters’ house than anything else. And driving away fast now from the humanities building parking lot, peeling rubber, screeching to a halt at stop signs, then racing the engine and going way over limit. Thinking I can fake being drunk or high when the cop stops me and I can throw my life away and it’s stupid—it’s stupid to trust anyone—it’s stupid to hold a longing in your heart all these years and your best bud, your best friend, someone who let you near every so often, but not near enough, discusses me like I’m some sort of horrible problem, and just what is that all about?
Matt driving from one town to the next thought of killing himself, and that thought crumbled into remembering his best bud’s voice telling Maples about what he and Matt had done, what Matt had lead him into doing. So Alton did it out of guilt and sadness and empathy. No, friend of mine, you did it because you were interested; you did it because you wanted to find out. And so, like a little kid, you decided to do an experiment. You were the stupid kid. I was the adult–for guess what? I was the one doing you a favor. I was the one giving of myself because you would look at me sometimes and away immediately when I caught you. So what Matt did was to stop in the town where Mr. Maples lived. To go to a restaurant, for coffee and chili, and a phone and phone book. When he had the number, he pushed the buttons with a trembling finger. The man, who seemed like shadows of lumbered dead stacked plank by plank—what in the name of God did Alton see in him?—he was rude and petty and irritating, was Mr. Maples-so why did Alton confess to him? And why didn’t Alton talk it over with his friend formerly named Matt, tandoğan escort now seeming named nothing at all instead? The voice on the phone was like a turret of a house from another century talking. Precise, clipped, all the words and sentences in correct order, spoken by a professional poseur of the English language, university style.
Somehow, Matt got out who he was and why he wanted to see the man who hesitated, who deliberated, who equivocated, and finally said, “for a few minutes, nothing else.” And Matt thanked him, got directions to the Maple house from the waitress, drank his coffee, and left his chili untouched. He paid and walked back into the howly snowy wind with the wings of dark night all around. It took Matt a while to find the professor’s house—a small little brick place, wisteria vines would be budding on it in spring, a roof of slate shingles, a word-taut tightly knit house with a white fenced gate, immaculate of course and in perfect condition, though the whole place seemed quite old. Matt said to himself, drive on, forget it—why would this man believe Matt, or have any time for him, or care at all? Well, somebody should care. Matt had been holding these quiet trembly trembling feelings inside him ever since he could remember. He saw love and he saw beauty and he saw instances of happiness that could have been his, if only, if only..
He thought this would only bring further heartache. If he treated good old star everything golden sun Alton who liked this man immensely like he did, what would he do to me? And Matthew like an automaton made himself get out of his car, and open the gate, walking up the precisely straight brick sidewalk, to the little porch all in green, snow on his hair and his coat as he rang the prissy little door bell that made a prissy little sound, this big strong Matthew, this football player Matthew, this towering Matthew who had started developing some chest hair at about age 9, which made him the laughing stock of the school, they not knowing that some day they would come to envy him that early burly maturation. Mr. Maples opened the door. And looked at Matt’s face, way up there. The beginnings were as they often are, horribly awkward, and involved names exchanged, entrances made, coffee offered, chair or sofa to sit on, the turning off the TV, the pouring of coffee, sugar or creamer? — So, when all fixed on a tray, Mr. Maples sat down in the chair, turned it round on casters to look at Matt on the couch. Matt tasted the coffee in the dainty little China cup with roses on the sides, found it too hot, put the cup down on the tray next to him. There were butter cookies there if he wanted any.
The house was nicely warm, small and cozy. There was Christmas music playing somewhere in the background. He didn’t think Maples would have been one for Christmas music, and then, since it was night and the house was filled with shadows, only dimly lit, he saw the Christmas tree over in the corner and believed he could make out packages underneath it. The tree was not lighted. It startled Matthew, like something monstrous had been in the room all this time, and he just now discovered it. He felt foolish and he felt fearful at the same time. How dare this sour late middle aged man should have things like Christmas trees in their homes and Christmas music playing? That was reserved for Matt and his friends and their just vaulted over childhood years. It was wrong. It made Matt angry. And that gave him impetus to be angry enough at Alton, and with Maples for treating his friend the way he did—go figure-loyalty to someone who was so totally disloyal to him. And it got Matt mad enough to talk. And he did. With force and alacrity and with words that people thought were not of the lexicon of football players, of large men, with short hair cuts, and ham hands, but though Michael was always a second string quarter back in high school, and not even that in this university, he got in because of superb grades and an agile mind. So he talked. He talked succinctly. With point and purpose.
He was like he was laying out a new sketch for a building he was hired to construct. All the levels and all the measures blue-penciled as though in watercolors, complex and precise, with not one joint, with not one bevel un-connected and flying buttress in space. He was exhausted after he had talked non-stop tunalı escort for a good fifteen minutes. He was thirsty for something cold and asked Maples if he had a Coke or something. Maples, who had been seemingly asleep in the dark as Matt talked, all but hopped up and said, “Certainly, Mr. Harrison. Just a moment.” And rushed into to kitchen. When he came back with the bottle, Matt drained almost half of it. And had to belch. Maples said, “Go ahead. We can’t get away from our physiognomy” and thus, Matt belched. He apologized. Maples turned on a bright lamp so they could see each other finally. He said nothing for a moment. He was a taciturn man. He was a man of sorrows. He was a cliché because he thought it better and easier to survive as a cliché. Then bigots could make their clever little jokes and basically leave him alone. He was telling this to Matt. Maples’ hands were finger locked at his chest as he leaned over slightly, his facial structure of very fine and very delicate bones. His hair was thinning and was gray. Mr. Maples looking straight into his eyes. Mr. Maples looking determined and sharp and whose mind was working overtime. A man of courage and wisdom, without fear, for a few moments—when he was not around others who would, of callous necessity, in their world be ceded to, as he would pretend what they expected.
He said to Matt, calmly, while Matt was now nervous, “Matthew, I am gay. I am not happy gay. I am sad gay. I had such dreams when I was your age. There was a boy at my university, we were both freshmen, and I loved him—I dwelled on him all the time. I never told him, of course. I knew how he felt about homosexuals. But I believed in miracles then. I believed in lost causes. Who is the patron saint of lost causes?”
“St. Jude” Matt said, remembering a St. Jude Hospital telethon on TV once, the children’s hospital, devoted to fighting the worst of childhood illnesses, the hopeless ones, being named after The Patron Saint of Lost Causes by the singer Danny Thomas.
“Yes. St. Jude. Thanks, Matthew.”
“He hurt me and he got rid of me and he told you. How can you be so wrong about a person?”
“Matt, he didn’t mean to hurt you. Alton is a nice boy. He has to grow some more. You’ve grown already—so long before him. He got to have an easier road than you did. He got to laugh and be with friends and be ‘normal’—he didn’t have to guard every word he said, and re-think every half-sentence before he said it.” He drank his coffee. Matt finished his Coke and then started on his now mildly warm coffee, as he took a butter cookie too, and offered one to Maples who shook his head “no.”
“Matt, I’m an old man in your lexicon. I still have feelings. I still masturbate.” Maples smiled and said, “Yes, we do it too.” And Matthew pulled back a bit. “I know. But I do. I’m not coming onto you. Don’t worry. I don’t know how to come on to anyone. I asked that boy I was in love with back there if we could talk about sex, just in general sometime, just a word, just a gesture, just a—I had no idea what really—something that I could mentally hang on to—I don’t know what I thought—other than I was dying inside—and I wanted—something I could pretend about and imagine about…and he couldn’t stop laughing. It took such incredible courage to say that. I worked my way up to it for weeks. I sweated it out in such fear. I almost said it to him a million times. Then finally I blurted it out so fast he didn’t hear me. He had to ask me to repeat it. So I did in a loud trumpeting voice, at least it seemed to me, to him it must have been shaky and high and hilariously desperate. I had my eyes closed. I thought he would hit me. But all he did was laugh at me. And I ran away from him. And later apologized. He would have nothing to do with me. And apologized again. No go. And I still apologize. In the mirror when I shave. When I go to bed. When I wake up. When I masturbate…”
Then he paused for a while. And continued:
“That was a highly difficult thing Alton did, you know?”
“Yeah, cause Alton has such a supremely massive heart.”
“Yes, Matthew. You were both drunk—outside, with other people, I would have to say inebriated—keep my image intact—I sacrifice bits of myself so I can live another day, and I don’t know why I want to live another day. Matt,” he said as he stood up with some unease, and turangüneş escort came to sit the couch with Matthew, who did not like the way this was shaping up at the moment, “I won’t tell you anything other than Alton is going through a species of hell—hear me out,” Maples said as Matt started to object with anger, “Wait, listen,” Maples said in a stronger voice than Matt had heard before from him. “He did see you were horribly broken, he did see you really loved him. For Alton, that’s a really tough thing, a really difficult situation to be in, but…..” Matt stood and said he had to be going and thanks for the coffee and stuff.
Maples stood and walked to him. Matt stood with his back to Maples, and was at the front door, ready to open it.
“He did it because it was you. He was curious, yes. He was still a little drunk, yes. But he jacked off with you because you were his friend. Do you have any idea in the world what I would have given to have had my love do that for me? To just do something like that, and he could pass it off in the morning, by saying we were just drunk. This is so horribly common, Matt. He was stunned you are gay and that you told him what you did. You were getting ready to leave, after your revelation, and he stopped you and you both jacked off together. How lucky you were. How very fortunate. You didn’t have to say, let me just be around you, let me pretend you love me while I know you don’t. Let me just be a shadow and not cause troubles. Let me just pretend. You didn’t have to say that. He did it for you. He did it because he cares about you. Still and all.”
And Matt was shattered as his own words of begging coming back to him, the words Matt had not had to say. He trembled. He started to open the door onto the night and travel on to his cheerless loveless cousin’s house to spend a cheerless loveless Christmas.
Maples said, “Just a minute, Matthew,” and walked away, coming back a moment, and holding out to Matt a present gift-wrapped, “I had thought of giving this to Alton for Christmas, but I may have another gift for him. I’d like you to accept this present for a Merry Christmas.” Matt took the gift. And Maples smiled briefly. Matthew nodded and said, “We all come to the Puzzle Palace, and the puzzles we never can put together are ourselves.” He smiled for real this time.
Then, taking a breath, “This boy you loved..The one who laughed at you when you told him…what you felt…does the hurt go away..ever?”
“No, Matthew. I’m afraid not.”
Matthew turned, dejectedly, to the door, opened it and the glass door, as Maples turned on the porch light again. Matthew had walked down the precisely laid out stairs and onto the ruler straight sidewalk, as he crunched through the snow, the package held in one hand. The only one he would get this Christmas.
“Matthew,” Maples shouted in a long heavy voice. Matthew stopped, his hand ready to open the picket fence gate, “The hurt doesn’t ever go away. But the love never goes away either.”
“Which is worse?” Matt asked softly as he opened the gate and latched it closed.
“You have to decide. And if you work it just right, each takes care of the other. Each balances the other out when one gets more hurtful than the other.” As Matt got in the car, tossing the present on the seat beside him, and turned on the motor.
“You can love, Matt,” Maples said to himself as he watched Matt drive off. “You are young and you can love and be loved.” He shivered as he watched the car drive off.
Then he walked out of the chill, back to the warm living room, remembered every second of Matt, and of Alton, separate, and together, turned on the revolving light for the Christmas tree, unzipped and knelt by the tree now orange, now red, now blue, now green, as he had when he was a child and alone at Christmas, and masturbated onto a Kleenex he had taken from his shirt pocket. It had always been a lonely time for him, and this made especially now less lonely. When he came, he felt foolish and sad and so envious. For what Alton and Matthew had done. Maples had not, had not even, ever, done a single sexual thing with another human being. How incredibly lucky Alton and Matt were and would be, regardless of how it turned out. They would be in the world. They would experience life. There would be friendships and romances and broken hearts and heart’s delight. And they would be noticed. They would be loved. They already were.
And Maples hung his head shamefully, as he continued cumming a bit. And said a name, to himself. Nobody else ever heard. Except for the person whose name it was. Maples was to never say that name again. Not after the laughter.