Monday, August 27, 2007


Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend….

-John Donne, ca. 1615

My whole existence is flawed.
You get me closer to God.

-Trent Reznor, 1994

“No, I’ve never doubted my faith,” Tonio said. I adjusted my pants, looking at his shoulder. This is what I had wanted him to say. I hoped he didn’t ask me.

“What about you, Hugo?”

“Of course not.” 

“Of course not,” he echoed. 

Tell you the truth, it doesn’t come up too much anymore. Though at the time it meant so much to me. I was giving up a habit that I never told him about, and was struggling to replace my thoughts of it with God, though it wasn’t coming as easy to me as it once had. When I was younger it would. The world was so black and white, so easy to understand. There was good and there was evil and here is what is good and here is what is evil. And even though both things will exist in you, you must only do what’s good. When I did what was evil, I tried to fight it, but it was hard. Especially when all I could see was that I was the only one I had a possibility of hurting. I knew I was supposed to think that it would hurt God, but it wouldn’t. If He didn’t want anyone to touch it, He shouldn’t have let us find it.

The funeral is a full mass. He was a soap star in the eighties. He died of a cocaine overdose the previous weekend. He only took occasionally as far as anyone knew. That might have been what killed him. His body wasn’t dead to it yet. The River Phoenix thing. People are wearing sunglasses, piled up in the church, the flashbulbs going off even during the service, leaving purple-red mottles on our retinae. Father Moses spoke, then stepped down for the wife of the soap star.

“The poem is by John Donne,” she says, “and it was one of Luis’s favorites.”

I’d heard it before, read it in some textbook in high school. We gathered up in the hallway, muttering to each other. Did that mean what I thought that meant? Yeah, I think it really did. Holy shit and they actually read that to us? Maybe they don’t know what it means. We broke up to go to class.

“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you as yet but knock…”

Tonio never spoke about God much, though it was on his mind all the time. It was a reason for him to say no to a lot of things. It bolstered me. I felt like if I hung around him all the time it would rub off. I’d stopped going years ago, not just over the meth, but because I just didn’t buy it anymore. Since giving it up, I joined the choir, a hell-bent effort recommended by my sponsor, but it just didn’t have as much of an effect on me. Tonio did, somehow. His purity, the way he saw things, reminded me so much of myself back then. I thought it would wash away the filth.

Coming off of meth also makes your heart dry. The only time I ever felt anything at all was when I was with him.

“…breathe, shine and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.”

I slept all the time, waking only in a scentless sweat in time to shower and get ready for choir practice. To act normal in front of him, this substitute priest with his shining eyes.

The room has shut up for once, everyone listening to Luis’s wife, whose eyes are puffy and red, though she always seemed to hate him before. Her bottom lip is quivering, each syllable a fight to get out, her lipstick wearing away, a flashbulb in her face illuminating new wrinkles. 

“I, like an usurped town, to another due, labor to admit you, but O, to no end….”

There was one time that he spoke of it, over a burger instead of a cocktail after a rehearsal. 
”I see the proof of God in the mountains and the dextrousness of your hands,” he said, holding them out in front of himself. “I see Him in children and the digestive system and the water cycle. There’s no way He doesn’t exist. It’s all too perfect. My sister has turned away, you know,” he said, flashing his eyelashes at me. “She let doubt get the better of her. I miss her, but she won’t see me anymore.”

“Why, just because of that?”

“She’s a lesbian now. She didn’t like my disapproval.”

I took a sip of my Coke, letting my hair hide the look on my face.

“Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.”

Tonio squirms a little in his seat. He’s been reading along with the poem, but squinting up at her, trying to make it all out.

I’d been trying to replace the meth with God, but I had been all along replacing it with Tonio. At night, my hand drifted down my front, my eyes slammed shut, my fingers wrapped around my cock and I thought about him, what would happen if I let myself do what I wanted to do with him. My hand, sticky with butter or hand lotion or olive oil or whatever I could find came down over his imaginary body and when I came, his lips parted and he smiled, approvingly.

“Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, but am betrothed unto your enemy.”

Tonio bought some beers one night, the taste of real sin on our lips, we talked for hours. We were on the couch in his living room, watching some stupid show on Animal Planet. Telling him came up a thousand times, as he put his feet on my knees, smiling that unbreakable smile. He was so clean. He was so much of what I wanted to be. I couldn’t tell him about my past, couldn’t tell him what was in my mind now. I stepped gingerly around both things and he let me. Because he assumed they weren’t there, that they couldn’t be, that I was like him. Because I made him think I was like him.

The beer spoke for me anyway. “Have you ever done anything serious? What’s the worst thing that you’ve done?” He sat up a little, hooking the arches of his feet over my thighs, wiggling his toes in his socks. He looked at me and cocked his head.

“Divorce me, untie or break that knot again, take me to you, imprison me….”

The widow is really kind of losing it now. The priest comes up next to her to comfort her but she doesn’t let him. She doesn’t like him. I can see that much. Does she blame him, I wonder? Does she think he didn’t do anything about this, or did too much?

He wiggled his toes some more, examining them. “Um, I let a guy…. Well me and this other guy we…. I had a thing going on with a male friend of mine.”


“Me and this guy, we were… fucking for a while. But it’s over.”

He looked at his feet again and removed them from my thigh.

“What?” My brain went cloudy. It reeled, stupid and empty.

“It’s over. I don’t really think about it anymore.”

I took his hand and he let me. He looked to the side.

“…For I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

The funeral card shakes in Tonio’s hand and he looks at the widow like he’s afraid of her. She covers her face in her gloved hand, waiting to regain composure. The poem is over, but she stands at the dais, afraid to let her husband go.

He pulled my hand and we took each other’s faces hard, the taste of the beer in each other’s mouths, the squeak of his couch and the innocent voiceover on the TV, his cock jabbing into me, his uncontaminated skin which had lied about his soul, silken under my fingertips. He unbuckled his pants. I pulled them off for him.

When he came, my cock deep inside of him, the world turning red around me, he screamed out for God. When I came I screamed out for Tonio, the idea still in my head that that was who he was. I lay on top of him, this strange man, no one I knew. I looked into his face for a while. He looked back at me, petrified. I pulled off of him and got dressed.

“See you for practice tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I said, though my voice shook. I let the door shut quietly behind me, the sweat on my back like it was every morning. Feeling broken for the first time since the meth. It was something, at least, though not really what I’d been missing.

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