Thursday, March 19, 2009

Adieu to Ricky

I met Ricky in the waning months of summer. Zachary had told me about his friend, about some of their shared history, about how Ricky was once going to be a priest. I saw pictures on Facebook--of a long-haired boy who always wore a smile. I once perked my eyebrows perhaps a bit too interestedly and Zachary pounced upon me, "He wouldn't be into you." I guffawed my way out of the complications...

The first time I spent serious time with Ricky was under the balcony outside Caribou Coffee. It was summer, and it was raining. Everything smelled like rain, and the air had the taste of pennies. We were sitting on copies of the Free Press stolen away from the racks in Caribou. I was smoking, eavesdropping on a cellphone conversation he was having. He was sipping some mushroom tea as he listened, occasionally looking over to me with a tired, bored look, saying with his eyes, "ugh." I can't remember what we actually talked about once he hung up, and before Mario met up with us, but I remember Mario seeing us sitting there talking, and his greeting was something to the effect of: "What are you two, beggars?" It had never occurred to me to be concerned with how we looked, Ricky and I, sitting outside this cafe--my NYTimes in hand, an espresso in arms-length, his bag spilled-out onto the sidewalk: magazines, scribbled pages, a book or two, and some vegan bits from Wholefoods.
There's a lot of ways to read this episode in hindsight, but these are the facts: it was raining, and we were staying dry, enjoying the thick air, and one another's company.

Ricky wears earplugs to dance clubs. This is a banal detail, I know, but I love it. Of all the people with whom we are a part, Ricky seemed the least likely to do something like this. Perhaps it was the mythos of him that prompted my surprise, but I laughed at the sight and not maliciously. It seems bizarre, I suppose. I love the overwhelming quality of music, to close my eyes and see only the arcs of sound moving my body. Yet here was Ricky, unashamed. I'm nearly deaf, myself, so I can barely hear what someone is saying, unless their chin is nestled in my neck. And I yell, preferring to hear myself--to make sure I got the ordering of words right when I spoke them. I didn't mind yelling with Ricky, through his earplugs.

Once Ricky said he was into the sort of sex where you can just punch the man who is fucking you in the chest. I shot-up straight at the idea, as a good Victorian might, perhaps. I had this image in my head of Ricky punching someone in the chest, and then cumming. It's not an explicit vision, and is mostly concerned with his face in the act of hitting his lover. It is my face, I think, I would fear most should I attempt something so bold--it would give me away: I didn't mean that, or I meant it... either, too strongly furrowed on my brow. So it was his face that fascinated me in this imagination. How do you look at someone when you punch them? I've never really punched anyone. Yes, I've been punched plenty of times--and the idea of my face at those moments, too, is embarrassing to think about--but I've never actually hit someone. Ricky's face seemed too serene for something like this.
Then Ricky suggested that perhaps my troubles sleeping in a bed with another man stem from a suppressed aggressivity that is only allowed free-play when the guard of my consciousness is down. This was a halting suggestion for me, and I've not yet amply taken-up the question. I take such pride in viewing sex as "first ethics"--the most cruelty I've ever lavished has been silence, prudently, so as to be dis-embodied (we both suffered). But it gives me pause, and cause to return to the desire Ricky once voiced. For myself I take it to mean (attempting to take up his challenge): Will you care for me, in this moment of my utter vulnerability, if I vent myself upon you?
(Is this a test? Or is it just the nature of this sex? Or is this displaced rage?--I don't know. I won't speak [ever] for Ricky, but for myself: the puzzle still needs working-out.)

Ricky is one of my best readers. Many people have left comments on my notes, but Ricky stands alone in speaking not to _what_ is written, but _who_ is written in writing it. Ricky, I feel, senses a poetry in life that perhaps overwhelms him, and gives him the grace I've come to love. I write for those with the grace, and discerning eye, to see me hidden within the syntax of my prose, and the clumsiness of my content. I have valued these expressions of recognition, and held-fast to them: they are light and heat, and I love nothing so much as these.

Early in knowing Ricky, perhaps in the first week of his arriving in Chicago, four of us gathered in my miserably sparse studio to eat pizza from Wholefoods before going out. It was Zachary, Ricky, me, and Paco (oh my, do you remember Paco!?). In a crass effort to impress Paco, offend Zachary, and stake my independence from Zachary in front of Ricky I grabbed hold of the pizza box Zachary was carrying to recycle, and hurled it in a dumpster. Zachary predictably pitched a fit, and I demurred with cultivated cynicism. Ricky's assessment: "If you can't come up with any new ideas of your own, you might as well recycle the garbage you create while repeating what other people have said." (I paraphrase.)
I laughed!: at the clipped retort, the witty mask, and the soft-fierceness I've never sought to elicit again. Ricky became, immediately, someone I could trust, and laugh with.

Last night was Ricky's "going-away party". This came as an utter surprise to me. I didn't know he was leaving--though I didn't know he was leaving when he left in the Fall, either. But this seemed conclusive in some way. I didn't like the idea. I don't like to say "good-bye". I said to Mik, as we were working, "let's go out for a drink, and then I'll go home and finish my lecture notes." I'd wholly forgotten it was Ricky's going-away. Then Zachary sent a text. And again, I forgot: "Mik, we should go to Kit Kat!" And then Joey came in to kill time before going down the street to the party, and I couldn't avoid the event I was so eager to avoid.

(I've been thinking about connections recently. I didn't spend very much time with Ricky, this is true. I can count on a few fingers the number of times we've been alone. But there was, always, when I was with him, a sense that I wasn't alone--not corporeally, but in spirit. Ricky, I think, has been the most naked of those I move among. He knew my references to music, books, films, theatre... I could speak with him in short-hand, as it were, and perhaps that's why I count every moment with him to be of the sort of connectivity I find only among my dearest friends in NY. [Perhaps, too, this was cause for my distance.])

Last night Ricky described Plato's staged moment of the philosopher staring at the Truth: most readers miss this, but I haven't: the philosopher stares at the "sun" of truth through a reflecting pool. Ricky was describing life at New College(?), and said he saw the Truth, but not directly, through a mirror, which made it bearable to see. I smiled, and wanted, instinctively, to say: "That's Plato!" I see now, and am grateful for holding my tongue, that Ricky is of that class who manages to live, and move, and see, and love like philosophers spend life-times trying to capture in stale letters on dried sheaves. I smiled, deeply, at his own artistic moment of narration, mostly noting the wildness of his beard, and how it seemed a fitting frame for his smile, reckless as it is.

Last night Ricky said he has something he wanted to tell me. What he said is not for your eyes. It was for my soul. What I told him in reply is not for your eyes, either. But what he needs to know is this: Your words tread on my deepest fear, the head of the viper curled in my heart.--You couldn't have known when you spoke your words to me, but I needed what you said--like light and heat and air itself.

"Who is Ricky?" Armando asked me when he overheard my plea to Mik that he come with me. Armando does brilliant work on demonology. I framed my picture as such: "If the arch-angel Gabriel were fallen, and queer, he would be Ricky." Armando nodded deeply, and then broke out into laughter with us when Mik asked if there would be gin.

"Sometimes life can be beautiful." I said this twice last night. First, when standing outside the cafe with Mik in our silly aprons and Caribou caps, staring at the "protected" pylons glowing under the coverage of gigantic condoms, while flurries hurried past, making us figurines in a snow-globe. The second time was when Mik and I were leaving Theo's apartment, and we had embraced Ricky for the last time, until... And then, as we walked to Addison, Mik said: "See, it was nice to be there with everybody." And I smiled, and nodded, and wanted to cry. It was beautiful to gather around a friend, and celebrate his impact on our lives by simply living who we are now, with his impression upon our voices.

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