BURYING THE BEAST
By Terence Hughes
1. The Golden Age
When you meet the one you will love forever, he’s splendid in golden light, and there’s an aura of golden sunshine around him and everything he does, everywhere he takes you, and in all the things you do, and you’re rapt in this magic, you can’t see or hear anything to contradict it, and you aren’t happy or unhappy, you’re beyond the dull dualities of happiness or unhappiness, like your entire life has been leading to this revelation -- like the whole universe were in on it to guide you to this delight and joy.
I wrote this run-on gush more than thirty years ago, the week I met Hutch. I found it stuck in a book last month. I was unpacking cartons in my beautiful new apartment in Brooklyn, just across from the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a new beginning after the terrible trials I’ve been through, although, to be honest, there’s a bad smell that comes out every once in a while. At any rate, this paragraph was like news from a legendary place that existed in the far past. I placed it on the desk by my laptop; I see it every day, and my heart warms for David – my “Hutch.”
Hutch died a year ago after a very long, painful decline. I haven’t gotten over his passing. Will I ever? No. He was the love of my life, and I was his.
David Hutchinson laughed at me the first time we met. We were at the reception of a gay ”marriage” ceremony in the West Village. Two teachers were vowing their commitment in what I felt was an embarrassing display of “normality”. You see, it was 1982. I remember the restaurant had a Provençal theme. It was bright and open and the afternoon sun shone on the restaurant’s interior garden. I happened to be standing near a group of old queens who were listening enraptured to a tall, beautiful Apollo in his twenties explain that he was descended from Anne Hutchinson of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I vaguely remembered something from school and asked, screwing up my face, “Yes, I think I’ve heard of her. She has a brand of cakes at A&P.”
Hutch laughed heartily and gave me a closer look. “You’re hysterical.” The crowd of regal walruses looked down their nose at me with stern disapproval. “Cute too.”
For once I was bold. I had to strain to fix this handsome young man’s attention on myself. I was short, Mediterranean-dark and thirty-two, beginning to lose my hair, and in every other respect unremarkable. So I hammed it up a bit. “Dominic Fratello agli ordini.” I did a comical take on the Continental heel-clicking and bowing of my late father, Ennio, who had been a doorman in Yonkers when he worked at all. “Italian.” We shook hands. He excused himself from the group and took my elbow, leading me to a corner.
“I adore Italians,” he drawled in preppy tones. He gave me the eye, felt my biceps and touched my face. He made a discreet kissy face. I felt like telling him to inspect my teeth, too. “Mother would hate me to come home with a spic or a jigaboo. She hates the fact that I’m bent, but I should at least come home with whitey. Anyway, no one expected a hunky Italian to fall into my lap.”
“I fell into your lap?? Don’t I wish!”
He laughed again rolling his eyes like touché. He leaned over and kissed me. He reached for my crotch and groaned, “Fuck!” He kissed me so hard my teeth felt broken. I thought, This is one pushy kid. I was breathless. He panted, “Let’s get out of this dump.”
Fifteen minutes later we were drinking coffee at a diner near Sheridan Square, conversing like normal people. We talked about work – mine as a graphic designer in an ad agency, his as a topnotch math teacher in the city schools. He called himself a “rising star” with some irony. He seemed admirably dedicated. He adored what he did. I told him he was very lucky to love his work so much. He grinned at me in the golden afternoon light and said, “I think I’m very lucky right now.”
I had never felt in my life the way he made me feel. My happy heart soared up to heaven. I tried not to grin like an idiot when I suggested going to his apartment. “I thought you’d never ask!” he exclaimed.
There’s nothing like the first time you go to bed with the love of your life. Combine the joy of discovery with the profound sensation of being home. You’re so happy it terrifies you. You look at his face, his chest, his hands, his ass, his neck—you take him in, all of him, with such wonder and hunger you feel crazy, or maybe you just understand how lonely you had been. You can’t get enough of him. You breathe him in, you want to eat him, you could kill him in complete loving possession. I mean to say you want to possess him utterly so that no one else can get near him. When he touched me I went higher, up to some summit of joy and I kissed his hand as if he were the pope.
He was ready with the lube. He greased up his ass and lovingly did my dick. He turned over on his stomach, and as I lubed up, his height – he had infinitely long, strong legs -- and his broad powerful back scared me as much as they drove me wild with desire – he was a very big boy. Lubing up was so exciting I almost came. I hesitated but he drew me straight into him, and he reached back and pushed down hard on my rear so that I drove deep deep into him. After the earth-shaking sex he looked at me differently as he propped himself on an elbow and lightly ran his hand over my belly and crotch. “Domenico. I bet that’s the name on your birth certificate.” I ran my hand lightly over his face with my eyes shut. I said it was. He told me he had never – never – experienced anything like this. “Me either.”
“It’s that big Italian cock.”
My face was ablaze. “Maybe it’s because we like each other. A lot.” He smiled and got shy. He was silent for a while. He looked like he was weighing something.
“What do you want, Dom? In life, I mean.”
“That’s direct!” and he began to laugh.
“What do you want, Davey?”
“Please don’t call me that,” he said, wrinkling his face. “That’s what Mother calls me. Call me Hutch. Nobody’s ever called me that. It’s something I’ve always wanted to be called.” He said the word in a deep voice a couple of times. He liked it because it sounded tough.
“Hutch, what do you want? Above all else?”
His long golden lashes closed over his eyes. “A handsome, well-built, intelligent, well-hung, nice man of my own.” He opened his eyes. “He doesn’t have to be at all tall. Preferably Italian.” He reached for my semi-hard dick and made it stiff, then slid down and ran his tongue around my scrotum. I had never come across a man who was so unselfconsciously sexual. Most of the men I’d been with were Catholics like me, uptight and squeamish about every aspect of sex except the stare and the come-on. Mere physicality scared the hell out of them.
His tongue had me moaning with intense pleasure when he said, “You need to shave down here. Too much guinea hair.” Hutch moved up the bed and held me in his arms while I was preoccupied with thoughts of shaving down there and would I cut myself. “What do you want to do, Dominic? Go back to that terrible party? That fairy-tale wedding,” he sneered. “I’ll bet all those old queens are crowded around the piano, feeling each other up, singing ‘Over the fucking Rainbow’ right about now.”
I laughed and made a face. “I think that party is well over by now. Can’t we stay here a while? You’re doing a nice job of feeling me up.” My head was already full of scenarios of apartment-hunting and selecting his & his towels, and lamps and artwork. I was seeing cozy evenings by the fire capped by long sex scenes on an oriental rug. Of course there would be Champagne, the real stuff, because a man of his quality could countenance only real Cham --
“Spend the whole night, Domenico,” he begged. I pretended to think about it. Like I was deciding between cheese and no cheese on my burger. He laughed and said, “Oh I see. You’ve already invited yourself. What a piece of work!” He chucked a pillow at me and we laughed like fools. I grabbed him and kissed his neck.
The late sun gave a diffused light through the dirty windows. The cramped apartment was filled with the lightly used castoffs of a wealthy home. We could hear ships on the Hudson. I looked at everything through the floating dust and thought it was beautiful despite Hutch’s affinity for clutter.
We had Chinese food delivered that first night and stayed up late making very passionate love. It was the purest happiness I ever experienced. I vowed to refrain from using the “L word” for the first month, but around midnight I slipped and used it. Hutch cradled me in his arms and said, “I’m so glad you said it. I love you too. Well, that cat’s well out of the bag! We’re officially dykes! Hire the U-Haul!” Helpless laughter. We made love and laughed until three, and Hutch drank a lot of vodka to celebrate his “new-found boyfriend Numero Uno”.
From the office next day I called my mother Rosalia in New Rochelle and told her I wouldn’t be home for a while except to pick up some clothes and shaving things. No, I didn’t know how long, don’t ask me. In Italian she asked me, hope vibrating in her voice, “You found a nice girl? Where does she live? Is she Italian, Mimmo?”
”Manhattan, Mamma.” She grumbled. “And she’s not Italian.” She sighed like a martyr, muttering, “Figures.” I wasn’t prepared to get into the pronoun business yet. “Oh, Ennio!” she exclaimed dramatically, invoking my father’s spirit. Then after getting more non-answers from me, she said briskly, “Ciao, tesoro.” So long, treasure. She had to get back to her soaps.
There were times I was grateful that Mamma was so simple and provincial.
I’ve been searching for ways to describe the early months and years of Hutch and me. To say “we were happy” doesn’t tell you anything. To say we lived in a state of light – that golden light of Apollo I’ve harped on – gives you some slight idea of our reality. We felt special and anointed. While we were thoroughly wrapped up in each other and our jobs, we scarcely noticed that a lot of our friends and colleagues were getting sick. There was illness and abandonment everywhere, but none of it touched us.
Hutch got his AP (assistant principal) job and transferred to a tough high school in the era when the Bronx was smoldering, if not still burning. How he maintained any sort of standard there, I don’t know. He actually raised standards, and after a few years his graduates began to get into good colleges. Everyone demanded to know his formula of success.
“The answer is simple, Dommy. We adhere to the standards of a generation or two ago. No dumbing down or following the mandated curricula. Because they’re not designed to make students look better, they’re to cover up the abysmal ignorance of the administrators. They’re the ones who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.” You can see why I also admired him. Confident. Knew exactly what he was doing. No bullshit: Went ahead and did what he felt he must do.
My job with a middling ad agency wasn’t nearly as involving – my progress was a lot slower than his. I quickly became his cook and keeper. Which made me inordinately happy. He went crazy for the meals I made – the calamari, for example, which my father had long ago taught me to make perfectly. How many evenings of laughter and deep conversation at our big dining table, those times with just us two being by far the best.
You know, by and large, this was how our first fifteen years together went, with a few sharp exceptions. We lived our lives almost unconsciously, which is to say happily, with no obstacles except the ones we created for ourselves. We went to work, progressed in our careers, shopped for Christmas, dined out with friends (all Hutch’s since I was a lot shyer than he was), went to MOMA on a Sunday afternoon, had sex afterwards as a reward for Hutch (he hated museums), socialized with colleagues to the extent necessary, visited my mother in New Rochelle and Hutch’s in Scarborough, and went to Key West and Puerto Rico on vacations. We made love, we had tiffs, and we made up. We worried about money yet somehow always found enough to pay our bills and do something nice. In short, we had an ordinary, good life together. We sort of preened at being more fortunate, and happier, than most of the gay men we knew.
Years passed in this way. It astonishes me as I look back. Those years flashed by in no time like a swift brook in the moonlight. We gained a little weight around the middle and enjoyed our meals more than we used to. Sex became correspondingly less important, but, as we said, “we are very busy.” Still in his thirties, Hutch was made principal of a prestigious high school in Manhattan. I was made assistant creative director, then creative director in the agency. We were thinking of buying a cottage on Fire Island – we had saved enough for a cottage without running water or electricity, so we were saving more to get mod cons. We were happy.
Let me back up a little – it was something of supreme importance to me.
About six months after we met, Hutch bought us a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn, in Boerum Hill, on a good block on a good street. (“What’s a trust fund for?”) It had good light and there were flowering trees outside the living room windows. The rooms were gracious and big with old crown moldings carefully restored. The exterior of the building looked a little shabby, but the apartment itself had been freshly painted, the wooden floors had been refinished, new appliances installed and – we couldn’t believe our luck – there were two completely renovated bathrooms. We even had a kitchen with more than two feet of counter space. This counts as extreme luxury for your average New Yorker. It was 1500 square feet of heaven.
Hutch took care of the furniture – he got most of it from his mother’s huge place, same as at Morton Street – and with the rugs I bought, it looked and felt like the comfortable, well-worn home of a WASP, or as I imagined one might be. Awash in chintz. A country house in miniature. (All right, it was the Eighties.) I added pictures, all of them paintings, no prints – that was my strict rule. The paintings tended to be abstract, but in vibrant colors. We “curated” the smallest details, like tea towels (as Hutch called them), coat hooks and switch covers. These trivialities give an idea of how we lived within our state of light. These were our happy preoccupations, and even our few fights about them were the disagreements of men who were fundamentally in harmony.
“Hutch, this is the nicest home I’ve ever lived in.” He put his arm around me and pulled me close. I at least was conscious of basking in happiness.
“Me too.” This wasn’t literally true, but maybe I had something to do with his kind lie. He beamed at me. He seemed as happy as I was. I’m sure he was.
Hutch never met my mother as my lover, only as a friend who wanted to get out of the city for a few hours. We took the train to New Rochelle and walked to Mamma’s place, a small apartment in an old barn of a house. I grew up there and lived there until I met him. Hutch was unusually gentle with her. She wasn’t worldly and she never left home, so it was easy to pretend I was seeing a woman, or that, unhappy in love, I preferred solitude. I put on a good act for her. I don’t know if she bought it, but she wanted to.
Once I caught a glimpse of her regarding Hutch with a sad, assessing eye, murmuring, “Molto gentile, molto simpatico. E per bene, è ovvio.” She said he was very nice and obviously well-bred. She glanced at me and went, “Ah, Mimmo.” Hutch said she was unworldly but no fool. Every time we left she slumped a bit, waving goodbye pretty pensively. She always gave him a big care package to stock his fridge. She didn’t give me one. Her tacit acceptance, he said.
Hutch’s mother, Nancy, was another story. One summer day almost a year after we met, we went up to Scarborough to have tea with her. He warned me on the train that she was a bitter woman. His father had run off to Florida with the 19-year-old daughter of a former business associate, and they were living in tropical splendor in Coral Gables. That this young beauty was a Jew did not to bring out the best in Mrs. Hutchinson.
Nancy was a very tall, skinny, horse-faced woman who scrunched down to me and spoke as if I were a child or mentally defective. She couldn’t seem to get my name right, and settled on Donald as acceptable. Over tea, which was gin, she aired her opinions of Italians (dagos), Jews (stinking sly yids), blacks (Neeegroes), Puerto Ricans (dogs) and Chinese (chingchungcho). She smiled and asked her Davey if he was serious about this liaison. It wasn’t too late to put it all – big smile for me – behind him and get engaged to any one of a hundred presentable girls who would die to have a man as handsome and well-fixed as he for a husband.
Hutch was wonderful. He declared his love for me, saying that no one had ever loved him like me, and that he loved me and that nothing could separate us. He told Nancy that he wasn’t going to pretend to be straight and marry some past-date debutante and raise a bunch of snotty, over-privileged little bastards. Furious with her, he said good afternoon, we’re leaving. She had kept popping pills with her gin, so by that time she was out of control; she screamed, “I’m so ashamed my son is a fairy I can’t hold my head up at my meetings! And this boyfriend, this-a greaseball – ugh – you both make me sick. Get out! I want you to go!”
I didn’t know it for years, but he phoned the next week to apologize to Nancy and confided that he had ingested a mix of tranquilizers and vodka on the way up from the city. (Untrue.) “Mummy,” he said he cried, “I never meant to upset you. But you have to accept that I’m…that way.” She cried ginny tears over the phone and forgave him everything but being that way. She came around on that too, eventually, but of course she had cancer by then and didn’t want to risk dying alone.
In those days Hutch was always wonderful to me. He was considerate and generous with money and time, anything to make me happy. (Trust funds are lovely.) Did I need a new winter coat? He took me to Paul Stewart, of all places; I would have been content with MernsMart. Did I have some extra vacation time during his school year? He sent me to Paris for a week. Had he been working too hard and spent too little time with me? He took an entire weekend to spend in bed with me. He stroked my hair and smiled at me so lovingly. “I’m lucky to have you, sweet Dom. I’ve met my man, and it’s you, my sexy little goombah.” He pinched my cheek and gave me a long, slow kiss that sent me into orbit.
I’ll never forget one Thanksgiving in the mid Eighties, I forget the year. We had about a dozen at the table. Ricky, one of our queeny, hilarious friends, was telling someone about health problems he was having. The table fell silent. He stopped and decided to admit that he had AIDS. He had extraordinary courage. His trust in us was touching. Gasps, hands flying to mouths in horror. Ricky put on a jaunty smile and raised his glass. “Here’s to Dominic and Hutch, the two happiest men I know, men who will never abandon each other no matter how tough the going gets. I’ve never seen a more perfect love.” We started crying for poor Ricky, who died before the next Thanksgiving, but in my heart I gloried in his words about Hutch and me. The happiest, the most steadfast. The most blessed. The most perfect.
Of course, Ricky died alone.
I wondered how you’d know when perfect happiness becomes something less than perfect, on the way to becoming misery. The thing or event or person that first signals the demise of perfect golden happiness isn’t the cause of its demise, it’s a token of its long decay behind the scenes, just outside your consciousness. It’s like when you’re feeling fine and go for your annual checkup, only to discover you have an inoperable tumor. You go home still feeling fine, but every minute is a countdown to your suddenly imminent death.
Worse, it’s the awareness that, in every relationship, one person loves more than the other.
I met Jimmy McPhee and his wife along with a pack of Hutch’s pet teachers at our Christmas party. It was 1989. They all had made the trek from the Island, the Bronx and Westchester to the heart of Brooklyn on a sleety night. I noted that every one of them was white.
We laid on everything we could afford – we even served foie gras. Hutch rolled his eyes every time he heard someone exclaim, “I’ve never had fraw graw before!” Some of our less flamboyant friends were there, too, and they spent a lot of time studying the male teachers, some of whom were very young and there for the taking. My eyes were often drawn back to Jimmy McPhee. He was a handsome dirty blond of about 30, almost as tall as Hutch, slender, and rather fey in his movements and speech. His face reminded me a little of Steve McQueen, but with more chiseled features. His wife, whose name I always forgot, was a petite blonde who was already getting bottom-heavy. Everyone said she had a beautiful face. It was blank.
As I ran around playing host, I saw that the faculty wives were sitting in a clump, eyeing Hutch with curiosity and indignation, and someone was patting the hand of Mrs. McPhee. I gloated a little: they were jealous because Hutch was more successful than their husbands. With superkindness I asked if there was anything I could do for them. Someone went “Hmm.” Mrs. McPhee glanced my way and muttered, “Keep him home.”
I grinned because I thought she was referring to the workload he imposed on his best people. Then I glanced up and saw Hutch and Jimmy exchange a look.
A year’s worth of whispers, kisses and lies distilled in one look. I was so ashamed of my stupidity my cheeks burned.
I managed to get through the rest of the evening cheerfully enough. I was used to playing host – indeed, I loved flaunting our lovely home and style, and of course our superior happiness. I talked to Jimmy only to ask if he wanted more wine, to taste the foie gras. I laughed and was jolly as the season required. Of course everyone had a marvelous time. They declared the fraw graw a hit. They said they would have to invite to wherever for a cookout in spring. I said sure, we’ll touch base in May. I was so relieved when they all had left, I drank the last two ounces of Champagne out of the bottle.
Hutch knew I’d seen the look between him and McPhee. He was nervous and repeatedly asked me if I was all right and could he help me clean up. He drank more than usual after the party ended. Blandly I told him to go to bed and sleep it off while I cleaned up. It took three hours. I finally sat down with a glass of brandy. I looked around the living room I was so proud of and saw it in a 3 o’clock light: overdone and a little shabby.
I didn’t drink the brandy. I washed out the glass and put it where it belonged. I went to bed and watched Hutch sleep. He was naked, sleeping on his stomach. He looked magnificent. I took some lube out of his night table and got myself very hard, so hard I almost couldn’t feel anything. I plunged into him in a single thrust, so that he cried out in pain and woke up. “Heck, what the fuck—“
“You shut your mouth. Shut your fucking mouth.”
Drunkenly he shifted about. “I know what this is about -- Dominic? I know – “
I whispered in his ear, “Keep quiet or I’ll cut your throat.” Disbelief and drunkenness kept him quiet. It was out of character for me although it came out as natural as could be. At that moment I could easily have killed him and McPhee, cutting their throats with a scalpel. I was seeing it all play out in my head. I had never been so angry and so embarrassed. Humiliated – that was the best word.
I finished and left him to clean himself up, if he was able. (He wasn’t. He slept in his own dirt.)
I got into bed and lay awake until day. I turned his betrayal over and over in my mind. I realized the affair with McPhee wasn’t a new thing. I channeled most of my hatred to Jimmy, who was everything I wasn’t: tall, handsome, WASPy. I had visions of clubbing him to death, I really did.
Christmas vacation was hard. We had almost two weeks of not speaking to each other. I went to New Rochelle by myself. Mamma hinted that she had found a nice Italian girl for me to marry. Concettina’s father, Teodorico, was a furrier who sold high-quality re-made stoles and jackets. It sounded like a neo-realist movie to me. I smart-mouthed and told her I was seeing a six-foot lesbian. She called me a bastardino, which is a word you use for a dog that destroys furniture and shits on the rug. Even so, she was glad to have me there, especially since I decided to stay until New Year’s Day. I gained weight.
Hutch enjoyed Christmas dinner with his mother and her racist friends, and chose to spend three or four days with her, which she took as a sign of our end. He told me she was in a grand mood. She showed him off to her friends with money, influence and, I gathered, the power to find him a more lucrative profession. With great amusement he also told me about his flirtation with a local Republican bigwig. “I didn’t do anything, of course, Dom. I just wanted to bring the old bastard down a peg or two. What a fag-hater! A secret fucking queen! You should’ve seen how that closet case begged me for a blow job when we got in his car! And, I have to admit, he was rather good-looking.”
“Where were you going in his car?”
Pause. “To the station. Taxis are so unreliable in the country.”
I had to give him points for cleverness: one statement true (taxis) and the other unverifiable. I could have made an issue of that encounter because for the first time I didn’t implicitly believe what he told me. I envisioned him trying to give a blowjob in the cramped confines of a car. I comforted myself thinking it was a physical impossibility given his height.
But the McPhee affair was the problem at hand. Hutch said they broke it off in January. Within weeks, much to my surprise, it was as if McPhee had never existed. Soon we laughed and joked again, which only in the aftermath of McPhee did I realize we hadn’t been doing for months. Sex returned, and it was still good.
I was like the most gullible peasant who looks at the flowing blood of San Gennaro and takes the phenomenon at face value.
A few years later Hutch received an invitation to dinner at a steakhouse in Manhattan. I was invited too. We were seated at a packed table for eighteen of Jimmy McPhee’s colleagues, benefactors and spouses. The occasion was to celebrate Jimmy’s new position at a tony prep school in Connecticut. It happened to be Hutch’s alma mater. I sat at dinner trying to compute all of this. In the midst of it all, I truly saw Mrs. McPhee for the first time. She had slimmed down since I’d last seen her five-six years ago. She was petite and shapely, ever so glitzy, which did not bode well for her in old money, WASP Connecticut. She wore a brittle lightheartedness that suggested detachment from Jimmy – she behaved so differently now, especially with him: I thought, unhappy woman with gay husband, and despite the vivacity, she’s given up. While Hutch and Jimmy talked shop over coffee and brandy, I tried to make small talk with her at the other end of the table. The other guests formed a buffer for our conversation, although they were starting to leave.
“Sherry,” she said, holding her glass to the light. “I’ll be drinking much more of this stuff soon.” It amused me to hear the changes in her accent: less Long Island, more preppy New England. “God, I loathe it.”
I leaned toward her. I was trying my best to be sociable. “I’m surprised Jimmy remembered Hutch. It was thoughtful of him to invite him.”
She looked at me as if I were an idiot. “Dominic, they never stopped seeing each other. Davey worked like a Trojan to get him this new position. Administrative. No more classrooms of little shits.” She knocked back the sherry. “No, well, there was more to it than that.” Her expression was so forlorn I had to turn my head away. “You didn’t know this?”
“Mrs. McPhee, I had suspicions but…” I had had none.
“It has broken me.” She shook her glass and I handed her the sherry bottle. “Set it down here. And please call me Diane. We might be seeing a lot more of each other.” She poured a glass. “The useless wives’ club.” She was getting drunk and maudlin.
“Do you think they love each other?” I whispered. I put it out there as a fantastic question with only no as an answer.
She looked wrecked. “It’s hard to know if either one of them can love, don’t you think.” Diane drank.
“Yes of course.” I concealed my raging emotions by laughing as if I’d made a witty observation.
Hutch and Jimmy moved down the table, laughing with the other remaining guests, and asked, “Yes of course?”
“I asked Dominic if I was totally drunk, and he said ‘yes of course.’” Hutch was scandalized and cried out my name. “He’s right. I’m three sheets. Home, James.” Jimmy went unwillingly to get her coat. He exchanged longing looks with Hutch. He came over and held Hutch’s shoulder tight when he said goodbye and thank you. Hutch grabbed his hand and said, “Best of luck, old boy. I’m sure you’ll shine.” Jimmy ignored me.
We were alone. Hutch sat by me and thundered, “How could you be so rude to Diane McPhee, Dom? That was awful!” A few heads turned in our direction. Some looked wise and knowing, and I thought: The husband is the last to know.
“How could you lie for so many years, Hutch? I think that’s what’s awful.” Wine had lowered my inhibitions too. “Our life is bogus – meaningless.” Self-pity engulfed me. “You cheating prick.”
“That kike bitch!” A few heads turned, faces angry.
“Don’t blame Diane for having the courtesy to fill me in on you two.”
“It isn’t at all what it appears to be,” he said in his loftiest of tones.
I got up and started to shout something – God knows what – and he grabbed my wrist so hard I thought it would break, pulled me to him and sat me next to him. More heads were turned to us; it diverted them to see homosexuals in a domestic spat. “Stop it, stop it,” he whispered, “It’s you I love, Dom. You. Only you.” He didn’t dare kiss me in public.
I rolled his words around a thousand times, and all I could think was: Liar.
Then he paid the enormous dinner check. He was one who had orchestrated the dinner. More lies, an unending procession.
But even then I didn’t make a stink. I didn’t start acting hurt or bitchy or hostile. I didn’t disrupt the rhythm of our lives. Both of us acted as though nothing had happened. I wanted to believe him, that I was really the one. Jimmy was attracted by a dynamic man, he was helpless before Hutch. I almost felt compassion for him. Hutch was so compelling and charismatic – of course Jimmy fell for him. The better question was: Who could remain unswayed by him?
We soldiered on. We continued our round of dinners and celebrations with good friends, we arranged for a week on Fire Island the following summer, we dutifully visited our mothers (both terminally ill by now), we worried about our weight and went to the gym as usual, and I lamented the loss of my hair and cleaned ever larger piles of it off the bathroom floor. We had good days and bad days. It was normal. Mostly, it was fine. But that golden light? Gone gone gone.
Hutch’s affairs – I couldn’t think about them, about who and when and where. I was afraid to ask about HIV status. I pushed all of it out of my mind with astonishing success. Besides, with McPhee out of the way, nothing seemed to make an impression on him. By that I mean Hutch seemed back to normal, with his hearty, cynical good humor. I reconciled myself to Hutch’s need to whore around – it was not my need, believe me, because Hutch for me was it – and so I saw what I imagined were short trysts as a form of mental hygiene, a safety valve. Like jerking off so you can get to sleep.
Soon enough I was giving him a big smile and a kiss when I came home from work. “I’m glad we’re back,” he’d say. I hugged him around the neck as he sat at his desk, struggling with some personnel problem or directive from Board of Ed HQ on Court Street. “Yeeees, Hutch, we’re back. And don’t you forget it.” I jabbed at his ribs. He laughed and gave me a smooch on the check. He telegraphed that he was, yes, on his best behavior.
This is what I like to remember.
We met on September 1, 1982. Every year I celebrated the date as our anniversary. Hutch thought it was silly and laughed at me, but we always had a good time with each other and whoever was in our inner circle at the time. Sometimes we went out, but we generally preferred to gather at our place. On September 1, 1997 I was preparing the party, buzzing around the kitchen, setting the table and so on. I made a big deal about the amount of work, but I enjoyed it.
He had gone to Manhattan for a regional meeting of the BOE. I thought that was inconsiderate; it was Labor Day, after all. But I had learned never to question the almighty Board of Ed.
It was a beautiful day, still summer but with that tinge of autumn. You could smell the leaves beginning to turn. The windows were open and the breeze rustled the leaves. Sunlight poured in. The scene and the light reminded me of a Hopper painting. I was finishing the dining room when I checked my watch. It was already five o’clock. I was getting a little peeved with Hutch. He had been gone all day.
A few minutes later he rushed in. He looked awful. I ran up to him shouting, “Hutch, Hutch, what—“
He raised his hand and shook his head. He walked into the living room unsteadily. He put one hand over his eyes and said, “Get me a vodka.”
“Well, do you want it on the—“
“I don’t fucking care. Get it, for Chrissake, you stupid little wop.”
Stunned, I got the drink and sat opposite him on the couch. His appearance shocked me. His eyes had a hunted look. His face even looked different – the muscles were slack and had an unhealthy color. He looked ten years older than he had in the morning. As I collected myself, I saw that his clothes were disheveled and torn in a couple of places. There was blood on his shirt, on his pants. When I looked at his right hand, I gasped, “Hutch, what in God’s name—“
“It hurts like a fucking bitch. Get me something for it.” His hand looked like a raw ham, cut and bruised in more places than I wanted to count. It was swollen to twice its size. I got alcohol and bandages and ointment from the bathroom. I applied them and he drew in his breath. “Fucking cunt,” he said savagely, over and over.
“Tell me what happened. Why did this happen to you?”
He clammed up and drank his glass dry. He reached and grabbed the vodka bottle. He filled the large glass. He drank half of it in one swallow. “I can’t tell you. It’s none of your business anyway.”
“You’re my partner. I fucking well think it’s my business.”
Hutch’s face crumpled up and tears came oozing out of his eyes. “Dommy, I’m sorry, I can’t, I just can’t. Believe me it’s terrible. You don’t want me to go to jail, do you? Then shut up.”
Jail? He was the aggressor? I was silent a few minutes as he drank vodka. I cleared my throat to signal a change of subject. “Sweetheart, do you think you can deal with a party tonight?”
He got up, wincing, and headed for the bedroom. “What do you think, you stupid shit? Cancel. Do me a favor and fucking cancel the thing.” He slammed the door.
I called our friends with a tale of sudden illness. I turned off the stove. I put all the dishes and silver away as quietly as I could. I brought him the vodka bottle, closing the bedroom door firmly as I left. Then I sat in the living room sipping a beer, aware that some vast unknown thing had intruded on my life.
I slept on the couch that night, lulled to an early sleep by beer and emotional exhaustion. I moved into the guest room the next night. That’s where I stayed.
It took me a while to convince myself that Hutch had really been having a serious affair, although I couldn’t conceive of one that would end so brutally. He never spoke of it. It was a torture to me. Something prevented me from asking what had been going on. I didn’t want to know anything about it. I was afraid. And I decided that the man Hutch beat up had it coming to him; he was the destroyer of my happiness.
Jimmy McPhee. I hoped he was dead.
The first change in Hutch was his unrelenting irascibility, and the escalation of his abusive language (“that dumb-fuck coon,” “this sneaky kike,” “you worthless little guinea,” “you fucking cunts”), which caused problems everywhere, at home included. Most of our friends fell away – who needed to be around someone who was always so derogatory and foul? A few friends stood by us, but as one told me, “We were abused as children. We know how to handle it.”
The other big change, a little longer in manifesting itself, was that he let himself go. Since I’d met him, he’d been proud of his body and worked hard to stay in shape. He’d been a keen tennis player. Loved rugby. And he was always up for a game of touch football. I admired his physical prowess – I had none – and all this sport gave him the powerful, beautiful body that was my exclusive playing field. (Correction: mine and Jimmy McPhee’s.)
This year he told his tennis partners, “No. I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Literally. He ate more than ever before. He drank three times more than before, as if every evening was a particularly grim party. When I pointed it out, he muttered, “Drop it.”
The cruelest change came one night as we were finishing dinner. Hutch had been strangely quiet and anxious since he got home. When I got up to begin clearing the table, he lumbered up out of his seat. It startled me to see how much weight he’d gained. It was six months after the incident. His gut hung over his belt; he must have gained 40 pounds. Why hadn’t I noticed before? I couldn’t let go of my ideal golden boy of 27, who had become a fat sloppy man of 42. I was about to say something but he beat me to it.
He followed me into the kitchen carrying the silverware. “I have something to tell you.” This sounded awful, whatever was coming.
Sullenly, as I cleaned off the plates: “What.”
“We have to leave this apartment.” I looked up at him, seeing the fear that was eating him up.
My mind filled with lurid images of refugees on the road being shot by German planes. “Why? This is our magnificent apartment! It’s the envy of our friends! I tell myself every day how lucky I am to live here. And it’s us, Hutch. We’ve been here nearly fifteen years. It is home.
“Never mind. We have to, Dom. It’s not a choice.”
“Somehow I think it’s exactly that, a choice. And it’s all yours.” I waited for an explanation.
“I’ve found us a nice two-bedroom in Manhattan.” He was trying to make it sound like he was laying down the law. “It’s convenient and won’t cost the earth. It’s in a very desirable community. It’ll be nice not to be stuck in old Brooklyn.”
“What ‘community’?” I feared the worst. “Not some disgusting, characterless pile of shit like Stuyvesant Town?”
He grimaced and said, “Peter Cooper Village. The rooms are bigger than you’d expect.” He even tried to joke. “First Avenue is lovely in the spring.”
“Fuck you! I’m not leaving this apartment. Not for that goddamn housing project. This is home, Hutch. You’re punishing me for your—“
“Stop.” He raised his hand. “This apartment’s been sold. The new owners move in on May the first. My name’s on the mortgage. Mine. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
This was when I stopped loving him. The hating came later.
2. The Wounded Beast
We had a second-story view of the FDR Drive and a tiny stretch of the East River. The roar of the traffic was constant, day and night, along with the stench of car exhausts. The apartment itself was half the size of the one in Brooklyn. The rooms were small and boxy, and the kitchen was like something from my childhood. The art that I’d carefully selected and placed in Boerum Hill didn’t fit; it looked grossly out of place, and the vibrant colors made the dingy darkness of the new apartment more evident. Hutch sold them – I couldn’t bear it. I had to get used to a scaled-down, second-rate Manhattan life. I bought prints in cheap frames. I even hung family pictures as an ultimate concession to our lowbrow surroundings.
Hutch set up the spare bedroom as his office. It quickly became a trash heap of papers, important and otherwise: who could tell? He set up his desk and computer so they faced the door—with the mess all over the floors, you couldn’t walk behind the desk, and you couldn’t peek at his screen. I tried not to think about what it meant.
We slept together again, but only because there wasn’t a choice. He was huge -- at least 300 pounds. He took up most of the queen bed. I must have compensated by losing weight from worry and sheer depression – I sure couldn’t eat or drink with any pleasure, I couldn’t sleep, and I spent as many hours at work as I could. Dominic Fratello, your right-hand man in deadline hell. I lost so much weight I started to get worried looks and one of the agency’s owners took me aside: “Dominic, have you got AIDS?” I laughed like a maniac.
One night Hutch held me and whispered, “You poor little guy. You’re worn to skin and bone. I love you, but it probably isn’t enough.”
No, it wasn’t. He tried to please me. He had to coax me, but I was so starved for his kisses and caresses my defenses finally crumbled. We kissed and played enough for me to come, and he got up to wipe off his hand with a towel. “You’ve been storing that up for a while.” He wiped me off and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Babe, early day tomorrow. Night.” He turned over. That was as close to love, or sex, as we were ever going to have until he died. That was in the fall of 2002. Most of the next ten years I spent watching him kill himself.
Soon after our last night of sex, he began to take charge of himself for a time. He lost a little weight and drank somewhat less. He bent himself to his work with a new drive, and he was soon rewarded with a good position within the BOE hierarchy. In that world of second-rate lunkheads he stood out like a beacon of analytic acuity, reason and progressiveness uncorrupted by the usual back-scratching and ass-kissing. Of course, the fact that he was related to a state senator and a former liquor commissioner probably greased his ascent a little.
All this dedication took time. Hutch was away from home a lot – trips to Albany, Washington and Cambridge, where he was in some sort of advanced program at MIT. My job required me to travel no farther than Sixth Avenue and 45th Street, so unless there was a hot deadline or a new business presentation, I was home by 6 – 6:30.
Like all lonely wives, I developed my own existence with my own friends. I stayed busy. I did not fool around. I was afraid of getting AIDS. Despite what I’ve said, I still loved – cared for -- only Hutch, even though I continued to make myself sick with resentment over the move out of Boerum Hill. Other things didn’t enter my thoughts at all.
So, largely on my own, I celebrated Christmas, went shopping at Crate & Barrel, threw friends surprise birthday parties, tended my mother before she died, rented a shack on Fire Island with some work friends, learned to make matzoh ball soup, went to Century 21 for underwear, repainted the apartment twice and tried to learn Russian (shto eta shtul). Hutch sometimes came along for the ride if he didn’t have anything better to do. In fact, he begged off nearly every time, with work always the excuse. It went on for years like this. Yes, it was what I’d always done. But now I did it alone.
I thought, Most people don’t live like this, do they? Why bother live at all?
Hutch had sealed himself off thoroughly. I was interested in – not what he was doing, especially, but in what he was thinking, feeling. Was he still haunted and suffering? Was he somehow happy without me? What were his plans? It did seem to me, after a year or two of stupendous work activity, that his dedication grew less even though his time away didn’t change. I certainly was still haunted with the loss of the place in Boerum Hill, and since it was winter I kept dreaming of another mythical place, “our” house on Fire Island. I so wanted the sand and the surf, the almost deserted beach, the plum bushes, the plank walks from cottage to cottage and the wonderful evenings of drinks and impromptu meals among friends. Our times there had been so carefree and happy and so – despite all the booze – healthy.
One night Hutch came home late from a trip to Albany. I brought him a plate of pasta (orrecchiette with broccoli rapa) and sat down and sipped at a glass of wine. I dove right into the subject: “What’s in the Fire Island account now? We must have enough to buy a pretty decent place. With electricity. It would be great to have a place to go to outside of the city.” I looked around at the cramped dining area in what I hoped was a pointed way. I smiled, paused, saw no reaction. “I was thinking this would be a good year to try and find a nice little house, nothing fancy, but definitely on the ocean side, I don’t care for the bay side. Do you?”
He played with his food. He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He wouldn’t look at me. He occupied himself with filling his wine glass.
A suspicion was growing in me. I drew myself up to my full 5 ‘6” and demanded, “It’s a lot of money we’ve saved, Hutch! It’s over $200,000! Where is it?”
He still wouldn’t look at me. “I had a debt to pay.”
“Two hundred thousand dollars’ worth?!”
“One hundred and ninety-five.”
He held up his hand. “Don’t even go there. I’ll just say it was someone I wronged. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut up about it now.” I was used to non-answers from him. I kept quiet. I added this to my vast store of anger.
I slumped onto a chair. “I can’t understand you. What you do. Why. I can’t imagine ever doing to you what you do to me.” I was full of morose self-pity, then I sat still and opened up my mind. I sat up suddenly and glared at Hutch. “Oh, fucking Jimmy McPhee again.” The conviction dawned that this was all in service of his great and good friend.
Hutch laughed at me. “You lack imagination. You always have. You’re clueless. You’re a nice little man, Dom, but you’re dull dull dull.” He ate a forkful of pasta, then downed a tumbler of wine.
I didn’t know what to say. It was as close to a rejection of who I was as he’d ever lay on me. Because, I thought, he didn’t care enough to destroy me fully. Like the man he’d beaten so horribly, Jimmy as I hoped. He sat drinking wine while I cleaned the table and did the dishes. By the time I was done, he was in bed taking his pills with another large glass of wine.
We hardly spoke for months after this. He acted hard and guilty. I acted harder and was filled with a righteous anger that wore me out. The rest I stored away.
One day about a year later Hutch told me to call in sick for him. I called, I made excuses and the secretary cooed her hope that he would be back at work soon. I had to call in all week, at which point the secretary said, “He’s gonna need a doctor’s note. He has been bed-ridden, hasn’t he?”
“He’s sicker than you know.”
He hadn’t been out of bed all week except to go to the bathroom. He staggered out of bed, leaning on the close walls of the apartment, groaning as he sat on the toilet and again as he got up and began the slow progress back to bed. It alarmed me, and I danced around him like a nervous mosquito, asking, “What is it? Why can’t you walk? What’s going on? Hutch, speak to me.”
I didn’t realize until weeks later that, while I was at work, he had vodka delivered to the house in large quantities, which he had secreted in various hiding places. Vodka so it supposedly wouldn’t be detected on his breath and in the air. He had spent that week off work getting plastered 24/7. He soon spent every week the same way.
When I found out – accidentally, one day when I came home early – I found him throwing up into the toilet, empty bottle by his hand. He heard me and between gags gasped, “Oh Dom, Dom, sweetie, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Sweat ran down his face and body onto the floor.
I stood as far away from the stench as I could. “Sorry for what? You need to be specific.” I left him and did a quick sweep of the apartment, and I found four more bottles, two almost empty. “What is this, Hutch? The Lost fucking Weekend?”
He was back on the bed now, wiping his face with a washcloth. “Penance for my sins, Dom.” I did a double take at his voice. Gravelly, thick, rasping. He looked that way too – the way you think far-gone drunks should look. Broken veins in the nose, mottled face, eyes that don’t focus any more. How long? It seemed to happen overnight.
“You got that many sins on your conscience? They’re that bad? Tell me about them some time. Confession is good for the soul. Then maybe we’ll exorcise the demon that’s fucked up our lives. Maybe that goddamn demon is you – the man who brutalized his lover.” He glared at me but kept quiet. No confessions tonight. I went to make coffee. The awareness of his voice and face shook me down to the ground.
I came back and forced black coffee down his throat. I spoke more calmly this time. “So you’re destroying yourself intentionally. You’re committing slow suicide. Fuck you, Hutch, what about me? Do you know what you’re doing to me? What about us?”
He gave me a glazed smile. “Oh, baby. ‘What about us?’ You reading those Harlequin romances again?”
“You have to get up, get out of bed. Go back to work. It’s the best thing for you.”
“Little guinea queen, don’t fucking presume you know what’s best for me.” Then, like a magician, he pulled a pint of vodka from under his pillow and took a tug. “This is what’s best for me when I’m home.” Another sip. “I’m applying for disability. I’ll be home all the time.” A triumphant smirk. “Won’t have to go to Court Street in Brooklyn – or anywhere else again. Nowhere. Nowhere but here.”
My heart was turning to lead. I could see my future as a caretaker. Confined more and more to a dingy, cramped apartment that we both detested. With an accumulation of clutter and dirt that would culminate in apocalyptic squalor. His health would undergo a steady decline toward helplessness. Mine would suffer under the strain of tending to a gradual suicide and trying to function somewhat normally at the same time. I foresaw a wheelchair and attendants changing his sheets and bathing him with a sponge.
Later that night I controlled my anger. My feelings were somber and sorrowing. I got in bed and whispered, “Why are you on this road? Why do you want to kill yourself? You can’t leave me -- my life is nothing without you.”
He chuckled and patted my back. “Love is no panacea, Dommy. I’m sorry but it just isn’t.” He kissed me and lumbered over to sleep.
There was no thought of leaving him. Where would I go? Who would I be? I was 54. I didn’t have any choices. Our lives were completely bound up in each other, even though, while I was an open book to him, he hid a hundred chapters from me. Besides, I was still in love with the golden young man he had been, and, I realized with my typical self-pity, perfection of beauty is the hardest habit to give up.
Sometimes he was less drunk and became another person. He hugged and kissed me. He asked brightly how my day was and told me how lucky he was to have me as his soulmate. “I treasure you, Dommy, and I don’t tell you often enough how appreciative I am. Of all you do.” He would look away and then gaze at me as he softly said, “Accept my apologies.” We were still early in the progress toward immobility and perpetual illnesses: calculated helplessness. I thought he was really telling me: Don’t leave me alone, Dom, I’ll die with you, Dom.
By year six he was using a cane, by year ten a walker, by year twelve a wheelchair and by year fourteen he was confined to bed. He developed diabetes and arterial problems, which was no surprise to anyone. Diabetes. Prostate cancer. He was always falling and breaking something. He was always going into an alcoholic coma of some kind. The 911 dispatchers knew our number by heart. “Hi, Mr. Fratello, what’s our boy up to tonight?” The ER team at Bellevue knew our birthdays – they sent us cards at home.
Somewhere on the way I chose to sleep on the sofa thanks to the overpowering clutter -- pills, monitors, canes, walkers, bandages, blood pressure cuffs and other accoutrements of sickness in the bedroom. I loathed the takeover of our home by medical technology. When I arrived home from work, I was instantly on call as Hutch’s night nurse. It wasn’t just fetching things or giving him his medications that was hard, it was hell trying to heft around a gigantic man when he fell in the bathroom or got wedged between the toilet and the shower; it was getting him dressed and getting him to move so I could change the sheets. I felt like a mouse trying to move a rhino.
Hutch wasn’t a good patient. When he finally consented to use a bed pan, he usually managed to slop piss over the sheets. I didn’t know if he did it intentionally or not (he claimed not), but it was too frequent to be purely accidental. So at 2 AM there was I, coaxing him to move while I remade the bed. To counteract the effects of the vodka that I vainly hid or threw away, he demanded a big pitcher of iced water at all times. When he wanted more he’d rattle the thing with some ice in it, and he’d sit there shaking it until I got out of bed or off the toilet to fetch him a fresh one. When he spilt the cold water all over himself, he lay in it, believe me. When he complained I said, “Feel free to get your ass out of bed and make it yourself.” It didn’t happen too often after that. I wished he was so teachable with regard to the urine bottles.
And those were the better times. There were days and months of unspeakable pain and weariness. I mentioned earlier something about ceasing to love him when we lost our beautiful home. It was a long way from there to where I wound up. Hutch’s anger was a terrible thing to see and to have aimed at me. He was physically abusive and verbally repulsive. One time he was enraged at something I’d done – I don’t remember what it was, maybe opening his mail – and he grabbed me and shook me like a terrier shakes a rat. “You fucking little shrimp, don’t you do that again. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” He slapped the side of my head so hard I was afraid it would snap off. I said yes yes and my arms were full of deep purple bruises for weeks. I made up my mind to leave him if he did something like that again, but by the time it did happen I’d forgotten my resolve and stayed on, always with the anxious refrain: Where will I go? Who can I go to? I did not want to end up like poor Ricky.
The sense of being trapped. Nowhere to go, no one to turn to. That was the worst part of taking care of Hutch, especially once he was confined to a wheelchair. I felt guilty about leaving him to go to work, to shop for food, to rest in the park for half an hour, to do anything that took me from him. When he was confined to bed, we finally hired a home health aide, a big West Indian named Desmond, who got an earful of Hutch’s racist ranting.
Desmond took it in stride. He told me, “Dominic, they’re all like him. They’re afraid. They hate what they are now. What is waiting for them right round the corner. Look, you go out, it’s a beautiful day. Just sit in the park and get some sun.” I obeyed and tried to enjoy myself.
I walked over to Union Square. The flowering trees were in bloom. The sun was brilliant, and all of New York had escaped their shoe boxes to play outside on a warm Saturday in May. The park benches were very crowded so I walked and walked. In half an hour I found myself in NoHo. The streets were swarming with young people, well-dressed and speaking in the accents of privilege like Hutch. I stopped at a place with outdoor seating and ordered something to eat and a bottle of wine. I looked at the bottle when the waiter brought it and opened it with absurd ceremony. I wondered how I’d be able to walk home. Taking a taxi never entered my mind – that wasn’t for someone like me.
I sat sipping my wine and noticed a handsome man giving me a tentative sort of smile. He was a bit younger than me, a big guy about Hutch’s height (I guessed), and verging on the portly. The glances continued until, half way through my lunch, he came over and sat opposite me. He said his name was John, and I said, Of course it is. He laughed, showing me a set of perfect teeth, and I told him my name. He asked if I was from here, and I answered, with a sour look, Peter Cooper Village. He nodded in commiseration and said he lived in Midtown. Then he asked me if I was of Italian background, as if the name Dominic hadn’t been enough of a clue. I nodded and he said he loved all things Italian, especially Italian cock. I asked him if he was Irish, he said yes, and I said, Oh, no wonder. He blushed a bit and laughed a little too heartily.
John watched me while I ate my lunch and drank more wine. I felt like a prisoner on work release, free for the moment only. Speaking of release, I was also getting drunk. When I had almost finished my meal, he asked, “Where shall we go? ‘Your place or mine’?” He seemed to think that was quite witty.
Then I looked at him and thought, This is pathetic. It’s too damn sad. I ignored the man as I ate the rest of my lunch. He left slowly and kept turning around to see if I had changed my mind. I finished my wine in peace. It was going to take more than two hours out to lighten my heart, and random sex wasn’t going to help me.
When I got home (I did take a taxi), Hutch and Desmond peered at me and asked if I had enjoyed myself. Hutch sniffed at the wine aroma that came in with me. “Yes! I’m drunk but I didn’t get up to your old tricks.” I glared at Hutch to let him know I had taken the moral high ground, unlike him ever in his life. I was faithful and pure, unlike him. I was a better man, a better partner, a better human being than him. Hutch cried for some reason. While I was falling asleep on the sofa, I had never felt better about myself.
There were little bouts of happiness, fewer and fewer as they years went by. By far the greatest of these came late in the game. One night we were watching TV and there was a news segment about same-sex marriage. It was legal now in New York. “Have you given any thought?” I asked without much hope.
He nodded. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, actually.” He smiled at me. “You?”
I stared at him in disbelief. He had always sneered at the mere idea of gays marrying. But it was something I’d wanted since Ontario had legalized it in 2003. “I think we should do it as soon as possible.”
He winked. “Me too.”
I went over and hugged him. “Seriously, honey? Shall we get the dress at Kleinfeld’s? Will you say yes to the dress?” He roared with laughter and gave me a loud kiss on the cheek.
We kidded round like that for an hour, making rather fantastic plans and guest lists of hundreds of people. We agreed on guests like Liza Minelli and Tony Bennett and had heated fake arguments over Billy Joel and Claire Danes. (I loved Claire.) We shared some Prosecco that had been in the fridge for months. “Cheers, baby!”
Hutch beamed at me happily. “My Dom. Maybe we’ll have sex again.”
We were in high good humor at that one, which didn’t last long, since at four in the morning he complained of chest pains and a searing pain down his left arm. Back to Bellevue. Heart attack. Quadruple bypass. The day after the surgery, I ran downtown to get us a marriage license. I bought a couple of brass rings off a street vendor. The day he was going home a hospital chaplain married us, an Episcopalian, which made me happy for Hutch’s sake.
“Rather like a deathbed confession, isn’t it?” Hutch said. He tried to be light but the pain was intense. He had to puff out his words in separate breaths.
“Maybe we’ll be happy again.”
“Dommy, that would be wonderful.” We held hands like kids in puppy love. It was wonderfully foolish.
We were happy in a way. We were on borrowed time, and Hutch knew it better than anyone. After the bypass he felt better for a time, well enough to venture out in his wheelchair, with Desmond’s help, and sit for hours in the parks surrounding Peter Cooper on the warmer days before Christmas.
I wasn’t working anymore -- I got a buyout when the agency was sold -- so I had lots of time to reorder the apartment and make it feel less like a long-term care facility. I even decorated a little for the holidays. Hutch appreciated the effort, and he warmly praised the meals I was making. He called me June Cleaver. In terms of the way we got along, and the tone of our life, it wasn’t a golden time, but more like highly polished brass.
After Christmas the old Hutch came back as he got sicker and his pain increased. He was irascible and closed. He kept muttering, “I’m dying and you don’t fucking care,” weeping bitterly for an hour at a time. He couldn’t do much for himself, but he did continue to empty an impressive number of vodka bottles. I don’t think he was sober from Thanksgiving until he died in February. I was fed up being the vodka cop, so I didn’t try to stop him from drinking. I was profoundly discouraged, and more than tired. Desmond was still with us, and without him I would have collapsed completely.
Hutch didn’t recover completely from the bypass surgery because of his compromised state. The surgeon told me, “With the extreme liver damage and the trauma of the surgery, his body is under siege -- not to mention the worsening effects of his diabetes.” I read the writing on the wall, even though Hutch was focused only on the bypass and its painful effects when he wasn’t focused on a fresh bottle of vodka.
In those last few months we had no deep heart-to-hearts. We didn’t speak of the fear of death or what would come after, for either one of us. He was incapable of having a real conversation. I was worn out, sick of tending to the ever more unwieldy and difficult invalid; we could afford in-home care like Desmond only five days a week. The two days he didn’t come to us were pure hell for me.
I’d been up all night on the black February morning when Desmond came to the apartment. Weary beyond all weariness I’d ever known, I was slumped on the sofa, half sitting and half lying down. I was in shock. I told him it was over. “I’m sorry. I didn’t call you. They just took him – his body…”
“I didn’t think he was ready.” Desmond spoke softly.
I covered my face and said, “No.”
Hutch was cremated. There was a little service conducted by the associate priest at an Episcopal church in the West Village. Five or six people showed up. Desmond was there, and I was grateful. In my exhaustion it took me a few minutes to register that one of the mourners was Jimmy McPhee.
“Dominic,” he said, “I’m so sorry.” He added, “I saw the obit in the Times. I cared so much for Davey. You know. I hope you don’t mind.”
I shook my head, still shocked to see him. Shocked that he wasn’t crippled, or dead. This hateful man was the cause of all my miseries and, really, of Hutch’s long goodbye. “Hello,” I said coldly. “How is…your wife?”
Jimmy was still weakly handsome and trim, and the only sign of aging was a slight thickening of the jowls. He put his hand over mine. “Diane died ten years ago. Cancer of course.”
Of course? “You remarried?”
He smiled. “Yes, I did. Molly. Wonderful girl. We’ve been married nine years. We live in Nantucket all year round. I don’t work anymore. We have a little pied-a-terre on the East Side.” He appeared to be very pleased with himself.
“So does Molly know -- ?” I enjoyed his reaction.
“Oh God no”. He looked alarmed that someone, such as Dominic Fratello, might tell dear rich Molly about his other existence.
I gathered up the Macy’s bag that held the little cardboard box that held Hutch’s ashes inside a plastic bag. “Thank you for honoring Hutch. It was good of you to come all the way from Nantucket.” I shook the bag a little. I tried to keep a sneering sarcasm out of my voice but I’m not sure I succeeded.
“Dominic, I’m sorry, but you need to know. Davey was the love of my life. And will be till the day I die. In fact, I never was with any man but him. Never. He was everything. Everything.” His voice was shaking and tears welled up in his eyes.
I was shaking with disgust and fury. I wanted to shout, “Why the fuck are you telling me this, you two-timing faggot? You destroyed our lives. Where were you all the years he was willing himself to die? Were you cleaning up his puke or cleaning him when he shit the bed? Bastard! If your rich wife’s money didn’t protect you, I’d find a way to stick a knife in your eye.”
What I did was leave him there sobbing without a word of goodbye or go to hell. I went out to the sunny street and walked home. It was a nice day for March 1st.
The soothing words of the service had helped me a little. I was almost ready to forgive Hutch his deceits and self-destruction, and the toll they had taken on me. But, thanks to McPhee, on the way home I was tempted to leave Hutch on top of the trash bags stacked at the curb. Not that I believed the goddamn worm: I was never with any man but him. Did he take me for an idiot?
I stuck the ashes under an end table in a mahogany box that had been collecting dust for years. I sat in a kind of daze for a couple of weeks, then slowly began to pick up the apartment, glad to clear away the sick-room stuff – get its stink out of the house. I gave the place a good scrubbing, the first I’d been able to do in years. The amount of grime was shocking, so it was satisfying to make visible progress in something. Taking care of an invalid – a self-destroying one – you take countless steps backwards. Hopelessness infiltrates everything. Nothing ever improves. Sickness wins. Dirt wins.
The last room I tackled was Hutch’s horrific office. Folders, loose papers, books, clippings – they were scattered about haphazardly, and his attempts at imposing order in the filing cabinets were laughable. There was no organization. He used to joke about it and say, “But I can find anything I want in under a minute. Try me!” I never did. Here, now, I brought in giant black plastic trash bags. I was prepared to use them for everything in the room except for the relatively few personal and financial items I might find. I had slaved for two whole days to make some progress and was about to knock off for the day when I saw a file half-buried under a year-old copy of the Times. PENSION it was titled.
I opened it and a few sheets of paper spilled out. One was an account statement from a couple of quarters earlier. The figure was larger than I would have believed. That put my mind at ease about the future. Another sheet was a photocopy of a beneficiary change form, which Hutch had signed 14 years before. The primary beneficiary was a Hector Medina of Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn – not far from our “happiness” apartment. I was the secondary. I let that sink in. Hector Medina? This was a name I’d never heard so much as whispered. Hispanic? I always believed Italian was as low as he’d sink. Bitterly I thought, Always a brutal surprise, Hutch, even from the grave.
There was a third sheet I picked up off the floor, which was signed and notarized recently:
I, David Hutchinson, in the event of my death, make over my entire pension to my husband, Dominic Fratello, whom I married on this date.
[Date November 15, 2011 ]
“Thanks for the afterthought, Hutch.” His change of heart did nothing to improve my view of him. This was the date of our marriage. He must have had it ready ahead of the big day. Affection, or at least loyalty, prevailed.
Naturally, my curiosity about this Hector Medina grew until I couldn’t sleep without his intrusion in my thoughts. I kept imagining some muscular Puerto Rican stud, maybe 35-40 years old. Some sexual dynamo who fucked Hutch into ecstasy, so he had nothing left for me when he came home for what he called my folkloric Italian suppers. I tore myself apart over Hector Medina – did a thorough job of making myself miserable, and angry, as if I hadn’t already amassed enough misery and anger.
It wasn’t a question of this Hector Medina almost getting money that should come to me. I needed to confront him over the theft of my love. Somehow I had to make him pay.
3. Whose Better Love
I popped one of Hutch’s leftover Ativans and got off the subway and went straight to Hector Medina’s building. I’d visited friends there many times – it wasn’t far from our old apartment. Medina’s apartment house was a redbrick pile with a semi-courtyard across from the Brooklyn Museum. A classic building but run down. The directory revealed 610 as Medina’s apartment. I didn’t have to press the button and go through the interrogation process to get in. A deliveryman left the door open for me.
I rode the elevator with my heart in my mouth. I stood in front of the badly painted black door. I felt faint. What am I doing here? I was about to turn around, but I stepped forward and banged on the door.
There was rustling inside. A faint voice asked, “Who wants to know?”
“It has to do with David Hutchinson,” I said. The door opened with excruciating slowness.
Hector Medina was in a wheelchair. He was a twisted fragment of a man in a wheelchair. His right side was pathetically deformed. I could see a depression in his skull, as if someone had taken a sharp stick and scooped out some brain. “Who are you?” He spoke with a slur, and the drooping of his mouth caused him to drool a little. Hector Medina was a badly disabled black man.
Stunned, I could not look him in the eye. “Dominic Fratello. His husband.”
It was Hector’s turn to look stunned. He motioned for me to come in. I walked into an apartment that echoed the old place in Boerum Hill. Hector showed me to a chair in the large living room. It took me a minute to realize the chair he was indicating was an antique club chair that Hutch had demanded we get rid of fifteen years ago. It had been reupholstered since, and it was in Hutch’s taste. I soon recognized nearly every piece of furniture and picture on the walls as stuff from our old apartment in Brooklyn and from Hutch’s mother’s house. I walked in and sat down in a state of disorientation. I stared at the original artwork I had selected with great care, which Hutch told me he sold when we moved to Peter Cooper.
I sat and observed Hector. The man was small and thin but had once had a solid build. His left arm and shoulder were still big and muscular, while the right side was atrophied from disuse. He was medium colored, like President Obama. I couldn’t tell his age. The permanently twisted, frozen muscles on half his face made it difficult to see ageing.
“This can’t be good,” he said.
“When?” Hector asked. His distress was profound. His face crumpled.
“Last month. Aftermath of bypass surgery.”
Hector took it in. “I thought –“ His voice shook. He tried not to cry, unsuccessfully.
Hector looked out the window, eyes fixed on the Brooklyn Museum across the street. “I thought he was done with me. The last time I heard from him was in November. He called me. He asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving.”
“We got married right after the bypass. November 15th.” That was gratuitous. I was trying hard not to smile. My anger and contempt were ramping up.
The waiting tears sprang loose. Unsuccessfully he struggled to control himself, wiping his eyes with his good hand. He sighed shuddering. “He never answered my calls. I thought, that’s it, he’s done with me.”
I sat there and lost the urge to smile. “He sure as hell is done with you now.” I wondered if that came across as too harsh. Angry as I was, I didn’t want to come across as weak, which is to say vindictive.
“It should’ve been me he married,” he pouted in an effeminate way. “Maybe he’d be alive today. Maybe with the right kind of…care he wouldn’t have drunk himself sick.” He smiled and it was painful to see. His expression was both accusing and pathetic, and his teeth were broken sierras, destroyed in some terrible accident. “He’s my love and always will be.” He collected himself. “Sorry. I wasn’t raised by bums. Want something to drink? Coffee? Sparkling water? Vodka? Wine?”
“Sparkling water.” I watched Hector wheel himself, with some difficulty, into the kitchen, which had a pass-through to the living-dining room. I watched him struggle with the ice tray, the glass, the bottle of San Pellegrino. “It’s early for vodka, but I guess Hutch…”
Hector let it go. “I got limes. Want lime?”
“Please. Two wedges.”
The man struggled pitifully with the knife as he attempted to cut the lime. It kept slipping away on the cutting board. “I was right-handed before the, uh, accident. So this is sort of hard even now. Whitey – Davey -- paid for most of the rehab. I don’t know how I’d live without that.”
My brain had the sensation of a dozen blows with a tiny lead mallet. He was telling me too many new things at once. Tossing them off casually, as if we were in on something together. The slurry voice coming from his contorted face grated on my nerves. I was figuring out a way to handle this. To deal with this thief.
I sat quietly until Hector wheeled in at a cockeyed angle. His asymmetry made controlling the wheelchair extremely hard. He was holding the glass of water, which slopped over the rim and down his sleeve. I took the glass without comment. I decided I’d let this nasty rat indict himself. I would not tell him that Hutch had designated him the beneficiary of his pension – even if he’d repented of it later. I’d been through enough.
“So I guess you knew him a long time?”
Hector nodded. “Very long. We met my second week at the BOE. I was right out of Brooklyn College. He was a new teacher. I guess it was 1980. Whitey came to Court Street to hand in paperwork on his fingerprints or something. It was like electricity crackling between us. Man, he was gorgeous. It’s like a million lights were blazing out of him. Like he was shining in a holy light. I couldn’t believe he’d go for a little brown dude like me.”
“You mean a little nigger like you. A dirty little nigger. That’s the way Hutch talked. He was a bigot. You mean you couldn’t believe we went for a little spic, a jigaboo, a black piece of shit like you.”
Medina was watching me intently. “So, Mr. Not White Enough, did it matter when he called you dago and wop?”
I wondered if I flinched – “Mr. Not White Enough.”Davey darling, Donald isn’t quite white, though, is he? He ought to go get himself a monkey and an organ.
“He never did that.”
Hector was grave. “Oh, I forgot guinea. I bet that’s the one he used.”
I said nothing.
He laughed, mouth showing the full array of broken teeth, which resembled an overused saw. He wheeled himself closer to me. “When did you come on the scene? It had to be a long time ago, because he wouldn’t go for a dumpy old fuck like you are now.”
That stung. I retorted, imitating his mode of malforming words, “I was a reasonable object of desire in 1982 when we met.” Hector shrugged. “So why would he go for a deformed piece of shit like you? Deformity skeeved him. How did he even allow you to shove your prick up his ass?”
He looked genuinely shocked. “He was a top.“
“Funny man. He was a big bottom from day one. I fucked him hundreds of times. From day one. Besides, Hector, let’s face it – Hutch wasn’t all that big. Pencil dick.” I exaggerated, of course, though not completely. It was the one place he wasn’t impressive.
Hector’s face showed humiliation and revulsion. “Whitey – my boo – you bitter old faggot. You got some talent for making everything ugly, don’t you?“
“I was taught by the master.” I was glad I wiped the smug expression off his face. His idol crumbled, his white daddy fell to the anal mud where Hector Medina dwelt. All I could think was about thirty-plus years of duplicity, and somehow getting even. It was like a trapdoor had opened under me and I was falling and falling and it was my true calling. “Did he love you, do you think? I mean, not just look at you as a piece of coon ass?”
Half of Hector’s face showed an angry pride. “Of course.” He looked hard and asked, “Who are you to act so…? What’s your name again?”
“Dominic. I wanna show you something.” He wheeled off and returned with a photo. It was in a cheap silver frame and was sliding out the bottom. With some effort Hector put his hand under it and held it out. It was a scene in summertime, Hutch wearing a T-shirt with holes in it, standing a good head taller than Hector, whose spectacular torso was bare. Hector was a little ugly even then, but Hutch was gorgeous, gorgeous. They were whole, happy, bursting with vitality. It looked to be 1985: when I believed my happiness was complete. Worse: the background was definitely at Nancy Hutchinson’s house. That shocked me.
I asked him where the picture was taken. He said, “His mama’s big house upstate. She was away. He said he didn’t have anyplace to go in the city – he had a really annoying boyfriend then. The jealous type, you know, all me-me-me-me. We fucked all over the house. His mother’s bed included.” He was very embarrassed. “That wasn’t right,” he said softly, “but Whitey laughed at me and said, ‘Take a piss in it too. Serve her right.’”
I glanced at him, then at the photo. I tried to betray nothing. The thought of Hutch and this homunculus cavorting in Nancy’s bed was horrible enough, but being characterized as “the jealous type” concerned only about myself made me see red. I looked at him with contempt and said, “This all you got, Hector? This single picture from the Reagan era?” I looked around. “Oh, and this cast-off furniture. Some of it’s from our apartment – his and mine – so I feel quite at home here. I farted on these cushions often enough. Hutch puked on them enough. Yes, I could move right in, it’s perfection. This must’ve been a big step up for you, coming from where? East New York? Bed-Stuy? You got a real meal ticket when you hooked Hutch…’Whitey’. You’re deformed now, but when you could get it up, I’m sure the good times rolled. You had a cute enough little body.”
He cut me off with “Fuck you, man!” His tone got aggressive, then turned tearful. “Maybe you would look like me if someone beat the shit out of you. Almost killed you. Hurt you so bad you got confined to a wheelchair and got twisted up like some piece of scrap paper. He left me to die. I bet he never told you any of that, did he?”
It took me a few minutes to respond. So this is the destroyer of my happiness. My heart rose as if on gilded wings. “Hutch did all this? It wasn’t the work of half a dozen tricks?” I enjoyed tormenting him. I had feared Jimmy but I had nothing but contempt for this broken loser.
Hector had been smiling as if he enjoyed recalling Hutch’s brutality. He was enraged now. He turned his head to see me more fully. “I wasn’t a whore. I didn’t play that. My love –“
Hector’s eyes filled with tears. His voice shook. “’My husband’, you fucking faggot. He came over here one day drunk, spouting off about some guy name Jimmy and how Jimmy was going back to his wife after they’d been fooling around for years. Jimmy was a big shot at this school in Connecticut. He said he was in love with Jimmy. He said he’d never been in love like this before. He fucking told me, ‘I met my man, and it ain’t you, Hector.’ He said, ‘Jimmy isn’t like you or any of the other wops and coons I run with – he’s a full-blooded white man. He’s tall and beautiful.’ He said, ‘I’m breaking up with you, Hector. I can’t be seen with you any more. You ugly fucking little piece of shit.’
“I said, ‘Whitey, baby, don’t leave me. Don’t dump me. I’m not garbage. I’m the man who loves you. Your man. Yours. I love you, damn it. I’ve always been faithful. You’re the love of my life! The whole world should know!’
“His face changed. He looked afraid. Then he got mad -- not mad, he erupted like a volcano. He came at me, picked me up and shook me like a rat. He goes, “We are keeping this a secret!” He throws me down – hard, on my back, I could hear vertebrae cracking – and he kicks me in the balls. And it went from there.” Hector pointed to a piece of petrified wood on the coffee table. He told me to look at it, at the dark stains on the sharp end. “That’s my blood,” he said almost proudly, “Whitey beat me with it. Doctors said I wouldn’t’ve been so fucked up if he hadn’t used the petrified wood on my head. They told me I was very strong. I should’ve been a vegetable. I got a plate in my head.” He ran his good hand over the rather deep depression.
Hector’s expression changed: calm. “I blacked out when he smashed my face against the bathtub, over and over and over. That’s when my teeth broke. When I woke up I was in the hospital – so hooked up and taped up I didn’t know what was broken or not. A lot of surgery. Rehab.”
After a few minutes I asked, “When did this happen?”
“Fifteen years ago. September the first. When I was born again,” he whispered.
I was reeling, mostly because this twisted-up little loser knew more about Hutch’s affair with McPhee than I ever did. And all the while Medina had been in Hutch’s orbit too. All three of us unbeknownst – no, that wasn’t at all the truth. I was the one living in a fool’s paradise. Eventually, I found out about Jimmy McPhee, sure, but nothing about Hector or his long affair with Hutch. Not a whisper or a syllable.
It fucked me up to understand that Hector had always been there. I refused to believe anything but that Medina was always the something on the side.
I was the one Hutch married. I was the one he finally chose. I was the one who stayed with him until the end, no matter how grim and shit-speckled it was. I got rewarded, at the end, with his Board of Ed pension and memories of thankless years of caretaking. And what was left of the trust fund, which was little enough after years of exorbitant medical bills. I endured it all. I hated Hutch now but I had earned my hate honestly, by being with him every day and tending to him when he was immobilized by self-created illness. When he was totally dependent on me. Then I was, I was surely the only one he loved, the only one he could count on. Me. Dominic.
“When he was beating me he whispered in my ear, ‘You’re dirt, you’re filth, you’re not even human. You nasty little nigger.’” Hector used Hutch’s intonations and pronunciations with such weird accuracy, I had a moment of déjà vu. “The words worked him up. Like chants or something.”
Quietly I said, “I bet he was hard the whole time.”
Hector nodded. He turned awkwardly toward me and muttered, “I told him, ‘I’m HIV positive’.”
I let that one sink in. “Real smart. So he was scared.”
“No, jealous.” He lowered his gaze. “I was promiscuous then. He wanted me for himself. I betrayed him.”
“No, Hector, he betrayed me.”
Hector laughed. “You pendejo.” You asshole. He scrunched the wheelchair and his twisted feet right up to me. “You came after me, Domingo. He was my true love and I was his – you were something on the side. We were lovers a long time before you stuck your dick in. You didn’t even know about me when it was happening, am I right? He used to joke about you. You’re fucking clueless, and you never had a clue. ‘That stupid guinea,’ he’d say. ‘Get him outside a kitchen, he doesn’t know what the fuck to do with himself.’ So go home and give his nasty old clothes to charity. Make some lasagna. Get the fuck out of my face. You don’t count. You don’t count. I was the one, fucker.”
I didn’t move. I told him, “He made you the beneficiary of his pension. Then he undid it when we got married. That’s what I meant to him. When someone dies and they think of you, that’s what’s important.” Hector seemed troubled by that. With sarcastic charity, I said, “Maybe with all that money I’ll throw you a few bucks so you can hire someone to wipe your ass, because it sure stinks now.”
Hector started crying. It was unmanly. He was exasperating. Such a whiner. I understood why Hutch would have wanted to beat this creature to death. “My boo was there every step of the way when I did rehab. He helped me so much. He got me this nice apartment. He bought it for me. He says, ‘Hec, you won’t have to worry about being thrown out on the street.’ He caressed me and kissed me so tenderly. He never said he was sorry, but he did like he was.”
So there went the place on Fire Island, I thought. To buy this filthy little creep a nicer apartment than we lived in. That grave debt he talked about. More deceit. Fuck you, Hutch. Did you ever tell the truth?
“That’s why he made me beneficiary of his pension. From love. Looking out for my future. And because I came first. I came before you. I came before Jimmy.”
“Guilt,” I said coldly. “From guilt. To keep you quiet.” Hector began to cry again. He was intensely irritating. “Don’t worry, you haven’t got much of a future.” He grew quiet and stared at me. “You fucking phony. Oh poor little me, what that big brute did to me! Save it.” I leaned into his face. “Listen to me, Hector. I’m going to come back with a shovel and finish what Hutch started. I want the satisfaction of making you a bigger vegetable than you are now. I want you to pee out your ear and shit out your mouth. That’s something else us guineas are good at. Revenge.” I was standing over this twisted, shrunken man, who was over 50 now and no one’s object of desire, spewing saliva over him in my anger and contempt. I had an impulse to kill him then and there. I could have held his head under water in the kitchen sink. I could have strangled him. I had visions of doing those things. It would have been easy: I was whole and strong. I stepped away from him.
Hector smiled demonically/angelically and whispered, “He didn’t love you, he loved me. He would kiss the side that was injured and hold me close and cry. He’d ask for forgiveness. I always gave it to him.” His twisted smile was so full of tenderness that I had to look away. The urge to wreck his good side was powerful and growing. “Can I tell you something? I never felt closer to him than after he beat me within an inch of my life. When I was recovering he was always there for me, like a real husband would. When I recovered he made such passionate love to me. We were both so happy.” Hector brooded for a minute, then looked at me frankly. “I brought it on myself. You know? I told him I was HIV-positive. I wasn’t. I said it to get him to be closer to me. I didn’t think he’d go off like that.” He stretched out the good arm as if to say, He gave me all this you see today.
I looked out the window at the museum. I wondered if there was any place was as full of lies and violent deceptions as this one room. And stupidity: first Hutch never said he was sorry, then he’s tearfully sniveling about forgiveness? And pretending to be HIV-positive? This Hector was a nitwit of the first magnitude. But he was happier now he’d sung his little aria, and he asked me the question I was hoping he wouldn’t: “How long’s it been since you loved him? When was it you started hating him? Because I can see you hate him, you’re acting from spite. You hate him. I loved him first. I’ll love him last. I still love him, I worship him. Love conquers all, not your sad-ass hate.”
I sat there staring at him, but seeing only Hutch. I didn’t want to believe this deformed little rat. And I hated his cheap cliché about love, something worthy of Facebook. I got up and went to the door.
As I shut the door behind me Hector shouted, “I still love him. He loved me.” He flung the door open and, in a hideous vision of deformity, slurringly shouted, “Me. Me.”
It was funny. I shed Hector Medina’s taunts like a molting skin. Far from hating Hutch, I realized I had never stopped loving him. By the time I got home, I felt closer to him than I had in years. I thanked him for making a cripple of my rival. I realized that sparing Hector’s life was the true sign of Hutch’s love. It was a joy to understand what his sparing Hector’s life meant.
Such as it was for me when I gave Hutch his pills one night. Suffering must have an end. His and mine. He had lost a foot to diabetes – more gangrene was inevitable. He required oxygen every moment. He wasn’t healing surgically from the bypass operation. Pain had overtaken him – it dominated every waking moment. I didn’t think he had long to go. It was an act of love. Obediently he took all the pills. He was too drunk to notice how many I was giving him. He was sitting up in bed, trying to keep his eyes focused on the Post.
He smiled up at me with real, intimate gratitude and love. He squeezed my hand. “My Dom,” he said and fell asleep. I put the newspaper on the floor. I got in bed beside him and rested my arm on his huge chest until it stopped moving. I lay there much longer holding his hand until the hand grew cool. I got up and sat on the sofa as the sky grew light. I called 911. “I woke up and he wasn’t breathing. He feels cold to the touch.” They took his body to Bellevue. There was no autopsy; they looked at his bloated size, the ravages of diabetes and the angry incisions of the bypass, plus his alcoholic condition, and they wrote “Heart failure” on the death certificate. They noted his age – 57 – and shook their heads.
It was days before I could put together what Hector had told me, fitting the pieces of a gigantic puzzle so that Hutch’s parallel lives made sense to my one life, the one I dedicated to a lying bastard. The greatest infidelity of all was that Hutch had always made Hector his priority. I didn’t believe Hector’s gooey tales of Hutch’s TLC after the beating, but I lived the bitter fact of his manipulation of me with the apartments and the loss of our beach house dream.
Meanwhile, I cleaned our – my – apartment thoroughly, so after a few weeks it was like Hutch never lived there. If I got rid of all his stuff, maybe I could forget him faster; I didn’t want to rely on death’s amnesia. Even when Desmond stopped by one day after work, I rushed him out, because he was going to stir up so many terrible scenes and memories. He just wanted to see how I was getting along, and I said, “Great.”
And so a month after I visited Hector, I went back to him. It was a beautiful day in May, everything was in blossom and spirits were high after a long gray winter. His building was swarming with workmen who were refurbishing and upgrading everything. I wore a gray jumpsuit over my regular clothes, and a wool cap pulled down lower than the mild day warranted. A painter let me in the building as he was leaving. I put on latex gloves standing outside the apartment and then banged on the door calling, “Con Ed.” Hector fretted and flailed and finally made it to the door. He let me in, understanding his error too late. He stared at the gloves. Then he looked up at me. There was no plea in his eyes. He had the insolent look of someone who has the advantage.
“Oh. You,” he said, almost with amusement.
“It’s the last time you’ll have to see me.”
He asked me to come in and sit down. He offered me a drink, and I said, “No, thank you.” I took off my coat and sat in the chair that had once been in my happiness apartment. The chair that Hutch had commanded me to get rid of because it would never fit in the Peter Cooper space.
“Look,” Hector said, staring curiously at the overalls, “I may have been a bit harsh when you were here last time. It was the shock of hearing that Whitey – David – was dead. I didn’t see him for three years – you ended my hope of seeing him again – on earth at least – although we used to speak often. I cared for him so much, but of course I recognize that you loved him too. I think it would make sense if we became…not exactly friends, but sort of like a support group for each other. He was irresistible but so complex. Not always lovable but still compelling.”
“You’re talking like someone in a play.”
Hector smiled engagingly, as far as the nerve damage permitted. It was a grotesque effect. “My father was a lawyer and my mother was an actress. We know how to talk.” I smiled. He slurred his words, sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility. He was trying to keep his fear under control.
He had made an appeal to my snobbery, to my smarmy white values, not knowing that my father was a doorman, often out of work, and my mother a beaten-down housewife. I didn’t care about his superior place in society. At length I replied, “No, I don’t think that’d work, Hector. I despise you too much. And plus, I love Hutch more than you can know. I have you to thank for restoring him to the center of my heart. My young golden god.” He didn’t care for this.
With my latex glove I put a small sealed plastic bag in his hand. He said, “What’s this?” I asked him what did he think it was? What did he know it was? Heroin of course. He was about to yell at me but he saw where my eyes rested: on the big piece of petrified wood with the sharp end. I had a vision of shoving the thing deep into his eye and brain. Hector began to wheel in a frenzy toward the kitchen to grab a knife. In his panic a wheel caught on the doorjamb, and he couldn’t get past it. His sloppy muffled voice turned into a long moan. He tried to hide his face.
I felt deeply at one with Hutch. I caught up with the twisted little rat from the rear. Laughing, I swung the petrified wood in an arc hard and deep into his droopy right eye. His blood was red. His scream was brief.
Grinning with the knowledge of a job well done, I looked back at him as I went to the door. I wiped the blood that had fountained into my face on the sleeve of the overall. The petrified wood was still sticking out of his eye socket. His head had come to rest in a backward loll, and blood still pulsed slowly from it. It looked kind of funny, actually.
I took his keys from the kitchen counter and stuck them in my coat. I locked the door – three locks. I figured he’d be mighty ripe by the time they got into the apartment. I rather enjoyed the vision of Hector swarming with maggots and rats chewing off the toes of his sneakers.
Out in the corridor, I removed the gloves and stuck them in my coat pockets, which I had stapled with plastic bags. I left the building without being noticed by any of the many workmen, who were absorbed by an argument between a tiler and an electrician. I walked down the block to a busy work site, where an almost-full dumpster was waiting to be emptied. I knew it would be picked up that afternoon. I took off the bloodied overall and shoved it well in, making sure as much dust and grime got on it as possible. I covered it with some more junk. I had to stand on abandoned concrete blocks and plywood, but I got the job done and no one in particular saw me. I got rid of one glove in a tied plastic trash bag on a different street.
When I got out of the subway in Manhattan I threw the knit cap in a dumpster. The keys and the remaining glove went down a storm drain. I had extracted the baggies from my pockets very carefully; there were no threads.
The afternoon was late and the spring sunshine drenched the city in golden light. I walked in glory down First Avenue. It reminded me so of the day that my beautiful man and I met, when we were young and had no troubles and nothing to be ashamed of. No secrets, no vicious concealments. Like we had banished sadness and loneliness from our life forever.
I went home briefly and took the box of ashes to the East River. Across the bright water Brooklyn shone mellow gold, a thousand windows reflected the sun. I thought, “My golden Hutch is waiting for me over there.” Then I thought, “It was me all along. I was the one: Dominic. Me.”
I spilt the ashes into the treacherous currents, positioned carefully so that the ashes wouldn’t get blown on me. They flowed like milk into the roiling seawater. My happy heart soared with a joy I hadn’t felt since one long-ago September 1st.
As it turned dark, I went home and began packing up the apartment. Soon I’d be moving. I was very, very happy.