Twilight In Monterey
What passed for summer along the northern California coast had arrived and the fog came rolling in, alternately warm or cool. We had made plans with Sven and Marielle to have a picnic on a secluded beach cove some miles south of Monterey. They had arranged to pick us up at the language school at about 10:00. Sven arrived on time, but with a slight change in plans. It seemed that after preparing all the food, Marielle had felt sick and decided it would be best for her to stay home. He assured us it was nothing serious and then suggested our taking him back to the house and then the two of us could use the car and have the picnic anyway.
Leaving their house, and after stopping for a bottle of Chianti, Gregg and I decided to go on the Seventeen Mile Drive before heading south. It was one of the most beautiful spots in the area with ancient, gnarled Monterey Cypress, huge rocks, rugged coastline and a crashing surf beyond. We had parked and were walking, appreciating the unique beauty of the area, everything had been softened, partially obscured by the caressing fog.
Gregg commented, "As you know when I first got here a year ago I wasn't too taken with either this place or the weather, but in the interim I have discovered that it is one of the most magical spots imaginable. In fact, this is exactly where I want to be buried. Right here." He pointed to a spot immediately in front of him.
"Gregg, in the first place this is NOT a cemetery and in the second place I just don't want to talk about the burial of anyone. Besides, the ground is too hard and rocky to even make a hole," I explained.
"Well then you can just sort of stuff me under that big rock!", was his way of resolving the entire situation. Then he continued with a further comment that he felt that he would like to be cremated, have his ashes scattered in this area so that his being could seep into the earth, become an integral part of this natural beauty, be caressed by the swirling fogs and gentle winter rains, be serenaded by the songs of the birds in the morning, the seagulls in the afternoon. And then added with a smile, that every flower that bloomed would be carrying his personal message of love for me.
Obviously he was already anticipating the fact that in three short weeks our incredible year and a half together would be coming to an end. Maybe that was the reason for his uncharacteristic moroseness. I suggested getting in the car and heading for Pirate's Cove, as the four of us had christened our favorite hideaway. I realized that until that moment I had never seriously thought about the possibility of existing without him at my side. It was difficult to even think about and furthermore I refused.
The areas next to long winding path down to the cove were covered with golden-yellow California poppies, brilliant multicolored mesembryanthemum blossoms, dune grasses, large and small. The exceptionally heavy wet fogs of the last week or so had furnished enough moisture to encourage a sudden profusion of flowers. The persistent fog further up the coast had dissipated as we headed south and here the sun was warm, almost too warm. We both wished that Sven and Marielle could have come with us. In fact this was the first time that we had come here and it hadn't been the four of us together. The picnic basket weighed a ton and, since I was carrying it, I wondered how much food they had packed. It was no wonder few people ever came down here, the trek from the road would have been a bit much for anyone but the most dedicated. Going down the winding trail of the steep bluff we finally reached the sandy cove, spread out the blanket and Gregg immediately stripped and put on his bathing trunks. He rushed to the ocean and with a resounding bellow, jumped into the cool water. He would return in a few minutes, probably covered with goose bumps and singing one of his Neapolitan songs. Unfortunately the waters of the Northern California coast were always on the cool side. I opened the basket to look for a soft drink and the first thing I saw was a note:
Besides an abundance of food there was a bottle of wine and evident from the label one of those from our vine country visits. Delicious large submarine sandwiches on Sourdough bread. Marielle's special potato salad which, among other secret ingredients, contained marinated artichoke hearts, and another of her extraordinary creations, which was sort of cross between a chocolate mousse and a brownie. Exquisite.
Gregg was stretched out on the blanket, his head in my lap, eyes closed. I was gently rubbing his shoulders and the upper part of his bronzed chest with sun lotion when he suddenly inquired, "Have you ever thought much about reincarnation? I mean have you ever considered that we might have known each other before? From the very instant you walked into the room there at Fort Devins, that first evening together, we both, and without hesitation, knew we had encountered his other half. We belonged together. Almost as if we had been together before, and this was just a continuation of some past event. Have you ever considered reincarnation as a possibility?"
I wanted to share with him the strange experience that I had while on leave nearly a year ago, but in light of the slightly morose reference to being buried on Seventeen Mile Drive an hour or so ago, I decided not to mention it. Instead, I chose the easy way out and asked him, "What prompted all this? Was there a specific reason for asking?"
There followed a long discussion about the theory of reincarnation. About how a major portion of humanity believed in it, principally in Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and now finally the western world was becoming interested, especially in light of so many seemingly documented cases. Gregg mentioned that it had even been accepted in early Christian doctrine, until about 500 AD when, primarily for political reasons, it had been stricken from Christian doctrine.
He continued, "Well you remember a few weeks ago when were at La Cocina and there was a trio from Mexico that was singing? When you went to the bathroom I was listening to the music and, now I know this is going to sound a bit strange, but I suddenly I had this really bizarre experience. I knew that I was in Mexico, but it was in some remote time in the past. It was almost like watching myself in a movie. I was the person that I saw and was experiencing the action though I 'was wearing a different body.' I had just received a letter from you."
"This is where it becomes difficult to explain. I knew it was from you even though you were someone different, actually my fiancée. The letter was in French. Now the most incredible thing was my emotional state during the time that I had your letter in my hand. I felt that same overpowering love for you then that I do now. Isn't it fantastic to think that I've loved you through the passage of centuries of time. I didn't really know much about Mexican history and so did a little research at the library on base. Seems that the only time there were a large number of French in Mexico was in the 1850's and '60's during the short reign of Maximillian I, the ‘Emperor of Mexico’ and pawn of the French King. .... Who knows, maybe it was just a little fantasy caused by all the great Mexican beer and music."
I bent down, kissed him gently and whispered, "Je t'aime, je t'aime, je t'aime mon coeur. Mon Phillipe."
He at first looked surprised, then pensive. "Just now I didn't tell you what my name was during that experience, so how did you know? You already knew! You knew all about it.!" Now he was excited and laughing, he had raised up and demanded to know when I'd found out. I briefly outlined my experience—being seated at the table, writing a letter, also in French, my appearance, everything.... Everything with the exception of the sadness, the horror of knowing what was causing my pain. The unacceptable knowledge of his death. I couldn't bring myself to think about it, even now.
Gregg was as exited as a small child with a new discovery. He claimed that he had always known we had been together before and since we had both tuned into parts of the same experience this was sufficient proof to validate his hypothesis. More important it was now evident that we would always be together, no matter how many times we experienced life in the future. He was ecstatic and confessed that his greatest fear during our time together had been that of losing me. He said that, "The pain would be too much to bear". Words I would never forget. At the time, I assured him that it would, could, never happen. This eternity was forever.
The sun was now low on the horizon. It was slowly sinking into the ocean and the multihued clouds in the distance were changing by the minute. Brilliant yellows to golden tinged reds and then as the sun got lower the clouds began to darken. We packed our things and headed back towards the car. Gregg was rushing so that we could share our new discoveries with Sven and Marielle and besides that we had promised to arrive on time for dinner. Gregg had always been a bit 'Mediterranean' in his concept of time and more often than not was more than a few minutes late.
When we arrived at the house, early for a change, the table was already set, complete with flowers and glowing candles. By the enticing fragrances that wafted in from the kitchen it was evident that Marielle had been busy most of the day cooking. She was supposed to have been sick earlier but looked absolutely radiant. Especially luminous with a smile that was obviously hiding something. Sven had much the same smile. What were they up to?
Out came the champagne and champagne glasses, real ones this time. They couldn't contain themselves any longer and proudly announced that Marielle was pregnant and we were the first to know. The toasts were endless and the dinner delicious. Sven mentioned that of all the beautiful things that had happened during the past year the friendship and love which had developed between the four of us was undoubtedly one of the most precious. More toasts, now with delicious California wine, which Marielle conceded was almost as good as French wine. In all the excitement Gregg completely forgot to tell about our discovery that afternoon.
Suddenly and with hardly a trace of their having existed, the remaining three weeks at the school disappeared. Friendships were to be interrupted as everyone headed in different directions. Some of us would see each other in our new assignments, yet for others the break would be permanent. By far the most difficult separation for me was that of saying good-bye to Sven and Marielle. Sven and Gregg would be together in Korea and Marielle would be staying with Sven's parents until he returned, and by that time their child would be a little over two years old. Dwight and I had made arrangements to get together during leave. Gregg was headed for Boston and then would be coming back to Southern California to spend the last four days of leave with Bozhena and me. Then after that..... I refused to think about or even consider the 'after that'.
Gregg, along with a large number of others was getting ready to get on one of the military busses headed for the San Francisco airport, and from there they would each go in their separate directions. Everyone had received orders for their new assignments. Gregg and Sven and the four others in their group would be going to Korea; Peter and Ivan were off to Germany, Dwight, Alex and I were to be stationed in Japan, though the exact location was still not known. Perhaps we would stay in Tokyo or go on to another location since the ASA had several intelligence bases in Japan. Rick had unfortunately washed out in his ninth month. Many farewells and promises to keep in touch. Dwight and I had loaded the car with all the extra things that had been accumulated during the past year and headed south to Los Angeles.
That initial week at home passed with an astonishing rapidly. The first weekend Bozhena and I hardly stopped talking and of course, eating. That initial Saturday evening she magically produced a bottle of silvovitz, a marvelous Czechoslovakian plum brandy, though this one had been distilled in Chicago. She had put on some of the new records she had purchased, most of which were operas in Italian. Obviously in preparation for the arrival of 'Handsome Son #2'.
I had been wondering about it for some time and finally asked, "Mom how long have you known that I was gay?"
She smiled a half smile and looked off into space, "Oh, for some time. Probably the first real evidence vas when your cousin George died. It is normal to be sad over anyone who dies, but your grief vas so intense and not only that, but there vas a definite change in your personality after that. Suddenly you became much more, more vithdrawn. I knew there vas something. Vell, I guess I've always known, but then vhen you came back from Boston last year vith a radiance and joy that I had never seen before, and you may not realize it my dear one, but I heard the name Gregg until I thought I vas going to go crazy, completely ‘zbazneniya’. I vas of course happy for you, but the constant stories about this Gregg, this incredible young man who did this and did that and how perfectly beautiful it vas when he burped, the soft gurgling sound that came out of his throat..."
I interrupted, "Mother I never said anything like that..."
She had begun to laugh, "Of course you didn't, I didn't raise my son to be coarse. That vas just a little 'elaboration'."
She poured some more slivovitz and I put on Mozart's Piano Concerto #21, a mutual favorite. She continued, "My emotions vere divided and rather mixed. I vas happy that you seemed in a state of constant elation, but it vas obvious that this elation vas caused by a male person. Now that vas the most difficult. It caused a lot of sleepless nights. My crying and sleepless nights did not help, so vhat did I do? I did vhat ve have always done in this family. I read. My reading vas a revelation. I had not known that homosexuality was so prevalent vithin all of human society. I had no idea that it so many professional people accept it as being genetic."
"You see I had been feeling a bit guilty. Had I been the cause? By not having remarried and providing a father for you maybe it vas my fault. Had I been too soft with my sensitive son? You can't believe the thoughts that vent through my head those first few months vhen every other word I heard was 'Gregg'. At first I just knew he vas a monster—an evil creature. Little by little I began to accept, to accept you in a slightly different light, to accept that I vould have to change. Although I still vas unable to accept 'him', or probably any other 'him', in your life.
"And now for a little family secret. You know Slovak families are just filled with things that nobody talks about. I had an uncle named", but then she stopped. "Just listen to this second movement, this has to be the most beautiful music ever written." As the piano began its solo passage I knew she was mentally feeling every note with her entire being.
"Yes my uncle, your grandmother's younger brother, Tomash. I remember he vas my favorite uncle and I loved to just be with him. He vas very, very special. Evidently he vas having an affair with another young man in town—they were discovered and they vere both ordered to leave. Ordered by their own families. One letter vas received from Praja and then never another word. So I thought about this and about my own son. I knew that I could never do anything to send you away from me. I love you. I love you because you are you. I love my daughter because she is who she is. So I adjust and accept. Now all of this vas before I met the young man from Boston, the monster."
"You know in all those months, after you began studying in Monterey, I kept vaiting for the monster to show up unexpectedly on my doorstep." She smiled, "Monsters usually show up vhen we least expect them. You had continued to talk about 'him', though thank God not quite so much, and I vanted to ask why you had not brought him to visit. But I bit my tongue, oh, I bit it so hard you can't believe; it swelled up in my mouth like a large bloated frog vith bumpy red varts all over it." Whoops, there she went again, taking a nice simple idiomatic expression and 'elaborating' until it was a little more artistically presentable. In fact that one was so artistic that I wondered if perhaps the slibovitz hadn't helped in the construction.
"Then before your birthday weekend you called to say that 'he' vould be coming with you. You did not ask if you could bring a friend. You informed me that your friend Gregg vould be accompanying you. I was prepared and even made some 'green peas' for the special occasion." By this time both of us were laughing about that memorable dinner which now had become infamous for 'those little round green things'. "And by the way, vhat did you mean by 'little mouse turds'? Now that vas a terrible thing to say. What would our traditional food be vithout kmin, caraway seeds? I vill never forget that my son. That was terrible."
"I knew, I knew. I knew vhen he walked in the door that he vasn't a monster and that I vas going to like him. I vanted to hug him right away, but custom and tradition demands that you not get too friendly too fast, it usually frightens people. So I vaited. And then vhen he began reciting poetry in Greek I could resist his charms no more. I vas melting like the soft, delicate wings of a night flying moth who has been lured to the hot passionate fires of the brilliant candle flame, a solitary light in the darkness." Well, no more slibovitz for Bozhena! That last one was almost beyond artistic creation. I was glad, for her sake, that she had decided to vent her creative impulses in playing the piano and painting instead of oratory or writing.
"Even that first night I could see, and even feel, the love vhich existed between the two of you and I knew that I could not judge or condemn it. Then by the second day I became aware that I actually approved of your commendable choice. Commendable on both sides I might add. You know that in a short period of time I learned to love him like a son. Not of course like I love you, but yes, vith true love. Gregory is very, very special, but of course I don't have to tell you that. Now vhen is he coming, a week from Monday or a week from Tuesday?"
I informed her, as I had several times, that he wouldn't be arriving until a week from Wednesday. She had mentally kept trying to advance the arrival by a couple of days.
"Vell I just wanted to be sure of the exact day since I plan to take a some time off. I told Mr. Ankar that since both of my sons vould be home I vould need some free time."
"Mother, need I remind you that Mr. Ankar has known this family for eight years and he knows that you only have one son?"
With her Cheshire cat smile she replied, "Yes, vhen I said 'two sons' he did look a bit confused. But you know I suspect he vas born in a state of confusion, and not only that but his wife Fatima contributes to his continuing confusion. You know his wife Fatima don't you?" I admitted that yes, I had also known her for the last three years, since they got married. "Vell she keeps him confused and she doesn't even know she's doing it, at least I know vhat I'm doing." Now I was becoming a bit perplexed since it would appear that my own dear mother was purposely confusing her boss. I suggested it was time to turn in.
However now it was her turn and she inquired, "I am curious. Vhen did you know that you, your..that you vere different?"
In spite of her seeming acceptance, it appeared that she was still having difficulty in approaching me directly about my sexuality. Perhaps it was just the use of specific words, many of which were emotionally charged and still not used by her or society in general.
I attempted to explain that it was something that I certainly couldn't pinpoint and say with any exactitude that this or that date or period in my life was a specific revelation as to my sexual orientation. I guessed that I'd always been this way. I reminded her that I'd gone out on the usual number of regular dates during high school, but I always knew deep inside that I was doing it because it was expected of me. It certainly wasn't because of any deep burning desire to be with the young ladies I'd dated. I enjoyed their company but never felt that normal sexual attraction towards them.
Then she asked me about Richard, one of my closest friends during my first year in college. Yes, she certainly was observant, and we had been somewhat inseparable for nearly a year, but I explained to her that nothing had ever occurred. Probably not because we both hadn't considered it, but since we were both shy, and he was also dealing with the Church and its specific system of morality, our friendship had stopped short of any physical involvement. As if by mutual, unspoken agreement, neither of us mentioned my deceased cousin George.
"And your relationship with Gregory, how did it begin? If you don't mind my asking?"
Naturally this was something that I'd wanted to share with her and had just been waiting for the proper moment. I began by explaining that as soon as I'd entered the room we were to share, I knew, sensed, and felt that he was to be someone very special in my life.
"Mom, within twenty four hours I also knew that those feelings of the previous evening had been nothing less than love. I probably didn't recognize it immediately because I still didn't know or perhaps couldn't accept myself for who I was. As trite as it might sound, this was that fabled experience of love at first sight. And fortunately it was mutual."
She smiled and looked off into space — and time. I knew she was thinking about my father. She had related many times how she had met him at Comenius University in Bratislava and that same magical event had occurred between them.
"I know that I have told you this many times, but even in remembering that warm spring day, I can recapture the emotion that I felt vhen I first looked into his soft brown eyes and knew that I had been captured. Yes, my son, I understand—only too vell do I understand." Her eyes brimmed with moisture and she bit her lip, as she had been doing for more almost fifteen years. Long years of remembering and not being able to comprehend why the love of her life had been suddenly taken from her.
Yes, she understood, she knew, and most important I was aware of the fact that she was learning to accept me for who I was. The son she had always known and yet with facets which she had perhaps but reluctantly perceived. It appeared that she was now able to accept my relationship with Gregg, since he was now an integral part of my being.
The first week disappeared and seemed to leave no trace that it had ever existed. I'd felt that the time would pass all too fast since I had a great number of small tasks to attend to before leaving. I'd be gone for three long years and it wasn't as if I would be in just another city or another part of the state. This was to be a journey which would include a location on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, a puddle of considerable dimensions. In order to prepare myself for communication with the Japanese I finally, after much searching, found a bookstore which had a Basic Japanese Conversation and Grammar book. Although the intention was admirable, my energy level seemed to be at an all time low and the ability to concentrate, on anything, was limited to a maximum of no more than a few minutes.
Then on my second Sunday at home, late in the afternoon while mom and I were involved in reading, Gregg called. He announced that he would be arriving a day earlier than planned. He was going to take the night flight on Monday and would be arriving at the L.A. airport early Tuesday morning. Wow! Suddenly I had energy to spare. Without being able to pinpoint it, that had been my problem. There hadn't been enough sun in my life; that source of energy, Mr. Sunshine Bartoni, was missing. Bozhena was as excited as I was and immediately called Mr. Ankar, The Confused Turkish 'Kurt', and blithely informed him that instead of being absent from Wednesday on, she was taking the entire week off since her second son would be arriving early. She explained to me that she had wanted to do that from the beginning, but felt duty bound to show up at work.
Later that prompted a long discussion between us about the European and American work ethic as it affected personal happiness. What was and was not necessary in life? When does one decide to follow that path which includes as much joy as possible? One of the glorious things about having lived with Bozhena for all these years was that, like Gregg, everything was open to examination and discussion. Occasionally I still had problems dealing with some of the more obtuse theorems of 'Bozhena Logic', and I realized that the hidden depression of the past week dealt not only of being separated from Gregg, but it was also going to be very difficult to not be with that beautiful creature who was my mother. I immediately got up, gave her a great big hug and told her that I loved her very much. To which she smiled her biggest possible smile and replied, "Vell I know that, that's vhat sons are for."
As the arriving passengers filed into the waiting area I finally saw him and as usual my heart skipped a couple of beats and then raced frantically to make up for those beats it had missed. I saw this gorgeous smile, then noticed that the young man walking toward me had a very distinctive tattoo—exactly like the one I had on my arm. Some time ago I realized that it had been a super idea. But what had he done to his hair? It was shorter than I'd ever seen it. Most of the beautiful auburn color had disappeared and obviously been left on the barber shop floor. His neatly trimmed medium length hair had helped to make him the handsome young man that he was. Now, he was—well, he was downright cute! Bozhena got to grab him first and apply her traditional bear hug and some moist kisses to his cheek. Then it was my turn to give him a nice Italian, back-slapping embrace, and also managed at the same time to whisper in his ear, "Te amo molto.
He was neither so quiet nor discreet and looking me directly in the face responded, "E ti, te amo". I seriously considered going through the various other languages that between us would be comprehensible; we could say it in English as a beginning, and then on to Greek, French, Slovak, Russian, Korean.... But I realized that it was unnecessary, since his eyes had already expressed it far more adequately than any words ever could. All the way home from the airport we jabbered as if we hadn't seen each other in several years. The sound of his voice was music in my ears.
Almost as soon as we entered the house Bozhena mentioned that she should call the office. She dialed and began talking, "Yes, I understand. Yes, of course I vill." In the many years they had worked together I had never heard her call Mr. Ankar by his first name. Maybe he didn't even have a first name. After hanging up, she related that she had some business to take care of and would have to leave for a while. She smiled, apologized and then explained the various items which were already prepared for lunch. She then promised by be back by about five o'clock.
I helped Gregg take his things upstairs to the bedroom and suggested that he might want take a shower since it had been a long journey. He quickly shed his clothes and headed for the bathroom. I decided to go downstairs and make some coffee, Gregg's usual pick me up and something that I'd also become addicted to. As the water began to boil the phone rang and I answered. It was Mr. Ankar's secretary and she had a message for Bozhena, something about a manufacturer in Chicago. I explained that my mother had just talked Mr. Ankar a few minutes ago and so she probably already knew about it. The secretary explained that Mr. Ankar had left for Palm Springs early that morning so I must be mistaken, but would I please give her the message. As I hung up I suddenly realized what Bozhena had done. Well, number one she had lied. For the first time I had actually caught my mother in a lie. Not a real big one and the reason for the deception was so incredible I could hardly believe it. But then I realized that she had never said exactly what the business was that she had to attend to. It was my supposition that it dealt with her job. She was very clever. Although I was sure that she had left so that Gregg and I could be alone.
I went upstairs with two cups of coffee on a tray and on entering the bedroom I saw that Mr. BVDs was already on the bed resting. It was also obvious from the twinkle in his eyes that he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass, and besides that it had been nearly two weeks since we had been in each others arms. I was standing by the bed running my fingers through his short hair and telling him he was the cutest guy I had ever seen, while he was busy unbuttoning my shirt.
We had been lovers for a year and a half. It was a relationship based on the joint fulfillment of mental, emotional and physical needs and desires. It was complete and mutually satisfactory in every respect. However the physical aspect of our relationship had, for the most part, been carried on in an atmosphere of being constantly aware and cautious. Especially when we were huddled together during those encounters on a narrow military bed, which was barely large enough for one person. Only three or four times had we been allowed the complete freedom of not having to be constantly watchful. That first time when we physically discovered each other at his house during the absence of Bela and Paolo, a beautiful Saturday night when Sven and Marielle were out of town and had suggested we stay at their house "to watch the dog". That had become one of our favorite jokes since they didn't even have a dog. And now today. It was the unbridled freedom to laugh, giggle, coo, moan with pleasure, and release an intense passion that seemed to know no limits.
Soon it was time for another shower, and we tenderly washed each other's bodies, delighting in the touch and feel of every curve, the muscled firmness; territory which was familiar yet ever new and exciting. Gregg decided to take a short nap before Bozhena's return. I told him of the phone call and my discovery; of how she had 'arranged' to be absent. He smiled, then looked pensive and commented, "You know our relationship has been surrounded by such incredible people, understanding and helpful in every way possible, but Bozhena has to be the most outstanding. She's beyond words."
For a moment I suspected, or perhaps feared, that he was going to leap off the bed and hastily erect an altar to Saint Bozhena of Bratislava, complete with flickering candles and massive bouquets of flowers gathered from the garden. Actually I would have sort of enjoyed seeing him traipsing through the garden in his BVDs, with a flower basket on his arm and pruning scissors in hand.
I smiled, gave him a kiss on that invisible mark on his forehead, and suggested, "Get some sleep Bozo." He almost immediately drifted off to sleep and though it was nearing three o'clock, we still hadn't eaten lunch, but it wasn't really necessary. Love made an excellent substitute for food and didn't have nearly as many calories. I sat in the large comfortable chair next to the bed. Since the second night of his first visit we had used my sister's room since there was no longer any need to hide our relationship, and most important it had a double bed whereas my bedroom had twin beds. I sat there attempting to read, but couldn't keep my eyes off the peaceful sleeping form on the bed. It was as if I could have gazed at him for the rest of my life and never satiated that desire and need to have his presence fill my being.