Archive for the ‘‘Nette’ Category

For two days he drifted around Orkney. He got onto public busses when he saw them and got off at random stops, to walk along the one track country roads or simply across the windswept plain. On the seemingly limitless sky clouds and sunshine changed periodically according to an inscrutable schedule determined by far away currents and convection.
At the Standing Stones of Stenness, a Neolithic circle of stones set on a narrow peninsula between two shallow lochs, he met an old man walking with two hounds. The boy had been standing in the shadow of one of the stones smoking and watching two crows argue in coarse voices when the man suddenly spoke.
“Memories, huh?” the man asked. His windbreaker was the dark blue of municipal uniforms, and he had a lazy eye that made it hard to know what he was looking at.
The boy smiled noncommittally and tossed aside the cigarette. The old man slapped the cold stone next to them. “They got memories, too, you know?” he said, and when the boy didn’t answer he answered himself.
“Yes, old memories. Do you know that they have been set up at the same time the earliest civilisations started out in Egypt and Sumeria, India and China.”
The boy looked around, across the lochs and the pastures dotted with gorse and tufts of wild oats, all the way to the end of the land and the sea many kilometres distant.
“What did people do in this place?” he asked the old man. “There’s nothing here.”
The old man looked around as well, with his mismatched eyes, and then watched his dogs chase each other between the standing stones.
“Maybe that is what they came for.”
In Kirkwall he had two strange encounters that would haunt him for a long time. One of those happened as he picked pockets in the cathedral. A clump of tourists was listening to a guide tell some tale about a woman unjustly accused of witchcraft, and who mysteriously disappeared from a dungeon cell underneath the church the night before her execution. The boy had mingled with the group and used their shoving and pushing and the distraction through the guide to steal wallets. Just when the guide encouraged them all to peer inside the gloomy hole that lead down to the dungeon and everyone was craning their heads, a hand closed itself around the boy’s wrist.
“Not this one, Jack. Believe me. It’s not worth the trouble.”
The man was tall and stared at him with intense eyes. Then he let him go. The boy slowly walked away, so as not to rouse the attention of his other victims and make sure nobody else would remember his face.
He strolled through Kirkwall for a while, and listened to two heavily tattooed girls play Minstrel Boy near the harbour. The long-haired, dark one sporting raven feathers on her arms was playing the guitar, and the cropped, blond one with the Celtic knots and heavy leather choker and bracelets played a fiddle.
At dusk he walked around the Peedie Sea, a small body of water at the Western border of the town, cut off from the sea by a narrow sandbank with a road running across. The sky was overcast and reflected the town’s lights a sickly sulfurish yellow. In the shadow of a silo, amidst high stands of pricklyburr he met the tall man from the Cathedral again.
“Hold this for a moment, Jack.” The man was holding out a red glow stick. The boy took it and in its light watched the man set fire to the spiked fruits of the pricklyburr, drop them into a bowl and inhale the lazy white smoke.
“Thanks.” The man took another hit and the boy thought he could see the man’s pupils widen and swallow all of his pupils until there was nothing but two limitless black wells. The man’s voice was cracked and strangely quivering when he spoke again: “I have something for you, Jack.”
The man took something small out of his coat pocket and handed it to the boy. The boy turned it over in his fingers. It was a guitar-pick made of ivory, with scrimshaw filigrees and patterns winding around in it in slanted likes like some sort of unearthly writing, and a silver framed hole. The boy didn’t play the guitar, but the pick seemed to be almost too heavy to be useful.
“My name is not Jack.”
“Isn’t it? Well, it should be. Run a string through the hole, wear it like a charm. You’ll never be caught again. And now go away, Jack, and don’t come back. Take the light and go back to where you came from.”
By then darkness had fallen, and the boy made his way to one of the hostels.  That night he had some problems bluffing himself past the age and ID check of the Kirkwall hostel. He tried to sell the yarn that he had gotten separated from his sister (the girl at the check-in counter seemed more receptive to a boy with a big sister than one with a big brother) who he was travelling with, that his papers had been in the backpack she carried, and that she would arrive the next day, but the girl at the check-in counter wasn’t buying it.
“Ah’m sohry, bit Ah cannae do it, luv.”
He nodded, resigned to try another hostel. He pushed his hands into his pockets and encountered the strange, heavy guitar pick. He took it out and looked at it again.
“At’s a pretty thing. D’ye play the guitar, luv?”
“Do you have a string or something?”
Maybe feeling sorry for denying him earlier, she hunted around her desk and handed him a length of some gilded cord.
“There ye are, luv.”
He ran the cord through the hole in the pick, just as the stranger had recommended, and tied both ends off. He slipped it over his head and centred the pick on his chest, underneath his T, when the girl said:
 “Leuk, there is yer sis.” And at his startled expression: “’At is yer sister, luv, in’er?”
The boy turned around and saw a young woman carrying two backpacks, a violin case, and a naked guitar. It was the blond girl with the Celtic knot tattoos who he had listened to earlier. Something about her indeed bore an odd resemblance to him. And somewhere nestled in the corners of her eyes there was weariness he recognised. Trusting his gut, he rushed towards her to help her with her luggage and said loudly:
“Hey, I thought you’d arrive tomorrow, sis. I forgot my ID in the backpack. Stupid of me. Good thing I was wrong.”
The young woman sat down the larger of the bags and handed him the other one without perceptible hesitation. “I don’t think so. You didn’t forget it in Aberdeen, you numbskull, did you?”
The boy knelt down and began to rifle through the strange bag. The young woman started to chat with the check-in girl, telling her about the annoying wet end of a little brother, and got three beds on her ID.
“Come on, wet end,” she said, jingling the room keys. “You carry the bags.”
And in the hallway: “Listen, kid.  I only agreed because I really can do without a scene right now. Don’t let me regret it.” After a pause, “Annie. You are?”
“Wet End. And thank you.”
Annie laughed. “Alright.”
In the room they were joined by her dark haired friend with the raven feather tattoos.
“Did you get it?” Annie asked, voice discordant with tension.
The raven girl nodded but asked:
“An’ who would tha’ be?”
Annie looked around as if she had completely forgotten her new relation.
“That seems to be my little brother, Wet End. Wet End, this is Bev.”
“Mistaek,” Bev said, with a broad Irish accent. She took a small package from a pocket which Annie grabbed with obvious greed. “Ye don’t want her fer a sister, ye want me. I’m the fun one. But ye can be my brother as well, if ye want te.”
Annie excused herself to the bathroom. Bev took up the guitar. She strummed it once, rolled her eyes and began to tune it. The boy sat on the edge of a bed and relished the pain her comment had caused him. It took Bev a while, but when she was satisfied, she started in on what the boy eventually recognised as “Johnny I hardly knew you”.
He and Bev then spent the night talking and her teaching him the basics of playing the guitar, while Annie lay in blissful stupor on one of the beds. The boy wondered how his sister might have turned out if she had still been alive. Early in the morning he got up and searched through the packs of the sleeping girls. He took almost a hundred pounds and an old but well-whetted, well-oiled Swiss army knife. He gave Bev a light kiss and then snuck out of the room.
That day he travelled the islands again, and slept on fresh hay in small, lonely barn in the middle of a wide, lonely field. The next night he took another ferry further north.

And then there was Hendrik. Oh, how do I describe Hendrik to you?

I have known Hendrik for the best part of my life. He is four years older than me, and he played for the same football club as Orcun, Hector, Leo, and I. The first time he made an impression on me was when he acted as ref during my F-Youth days – that is football aged 7 and 8. He was only 12, but there was already something about him I adored, right from the start. He was without mercy. Once he made a call, you knew there was nothing you could do to change his heart, and any attempt to argue just resulted in a foul being given against you. He applied the rules very strictly, but he was fair, and as far as I know always correct. He knew his stuff.

I began paying attention to him, watched him when he played himself, or when he hung out at the club house with his mates, or when he just helped Coach or older players stow away stuff, take care of equipment, and so. Hendrik was always a bit stocky, at times almost chubby, but in that firm, supple way that makes you think of a powerful, aggressive dog, or a tiger, or a wolverine. His hair, usually worn longish and shaggy, was a rich, dark blond that depending on the light could be the tawny colour of honey or the shimmering green gold of tarnished brass.

He was a quiet bloke, and rarely smiled. He didn’t scowl either, but just seemed to watch things in a detached, almost serene way. He was almost always at the club, either playing or helping or watching. He was never particularly close with anyone, but he was never an outsider either. And when you looked into his eyes – though I suppose few ever did except me and Coach – you knew that he didn’t miss much, and that he always knew what he wanted.

As a player he never lost his cool, but there was a grit in him, a deep, smouldering fire that wouldn’t ever let him give up. Oh, he could be tactical, even devious in his attempts to get his will, on the pitch or off, but he never waivered.

I always tried to be like Hendrik, as a football player, to be equal to his focus, his courage, his ruthlessness, and his absolute will to win.

And then came 2003. I was in E-Youth. Hendrik, who turned 14 that July, was in C-Youth. Coach had asked him to be his permanent assistant on our team, and we’d seen a lot more of him. Coach had always trained us to be efficient and goal-oriented – no “it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” hogwash – but Hendrik made us bend the rules to the breaking point. ‘Thinking outside the box’ was what he called it, to win, and to win by wider margins.

“It’s only a foul if the ref gives it,” he told us. “And even the, sometimes it’s worth it. Sometimes a booking, and at the end of the game even a send-off can be worth it, if it gives us a tactical advantage. Just be smart about it.”

We practiced awareness of when we were invisible to the ref, and how to create diversions that drew attention away from a player about to commit such a tactical foul. I know it is bad form, it’s considered unsportsmanlike, but I still say that there was something very sporting about it: it wasn’t just that we played only against our opponents, but also against the system itself. The challenge, the fun and joy of it, is being so good, so quick, so deft and perceptive that you can get away with it. For after all a rule or law is only as good as it is enforceable. Following it is not a necessity, but a choice. You just have to be aware of the consequences. Later I applied all of that to my career as a crook, but I learned it from Hendrik on the football pitch. Don’t they say that sports teach you for life?

You can imagine how as our team moved up in our league we got a rep as grade A bastards.

***

I knew that Hendrik was paying me some attention also. I certainly did everything I could to impress him, and slowly I became one of his favourite players. I started out as a winger, because of my size, but eventually I was made centre forward. But still, he never seemed fully content with my performance, and always wanted me to exhaust myself more, play more aggressive, and more daring.

“It’s not your job to be careful, Ricky. Leave the defence to Bariş, Leo, Cem, and the others. It’s your job to score and to help Hector to score. Nothing else matters.”

And when I complained that he was less harsh judging Hector, he ginned without humour: “Hector is content to be merely good. If I push him harder, he’ll walk. And I don’t have anyone better to replace him with. You, you want to be the best. You I can kick as much as I like, and you’ll come back for more. So, yeah, I expect more from you. A lot more. And you know you can give it.”

There was that one game that summer, an away game against a team from Halle, in Saxony. We’d screwed them the last time we’d played them with two unlawful scores. So the tone of the game was hostile from the kick-off. They were fairly secure at the lower mid-table of our league, and they needed a win less than they needed to avoid another lost game, so they’d decided to stonewall us all through, with only occasional passes and quick strikes when we neglected our own defences too much.

It had rained hard not just through the game but for the last couple of days, and the pitch had turned into a mud bath. The game was almost over, we might even have been in stoppage time, and no goal had been scored by either side. We were all exhausted, and very frustrated after 90 minutes of railing futilely against this wall of disdain.

I had just made a solitary run down the right wing, to open up their left flank. Hector had been supporting me, while our two other forwards got into position. But when I tried to pass to them directly over the centre backs of the Hallensers, one of them had leaped up gracefully and blocked it with his head. The ball had fallen down, and they drew four of their defenders together around it, apparently intending to slowly pass it back to their goalie. Everyone was waiting for the ref to end the game, and they only meant to kill the remaining time.

I was still running lightly in the direction I had kicked the ball, and threw a quick glance over my shoulder towards Hendrik, who was standing at the sidelines. Through the rain I could make out his set jaw, and the cold fire in his eyes, his angry, withheld disappointment, nay, loathing with us.

It was still only moments after they had blocked the ball, and they were still ambling around each other, tired and lacklustre in spirit themselves. Their goalie was slowly approaching them, leaving the goal wide open. And then I understood the mistake they had made, in their wishful thinking that the game was already over, and picked up speed again. I ran as hard as I could, my thighs protesting with sharp pains, my ankles groaning and trembling with the stain of having to stay steady on slippery ground, until I was an arrow aimed at the heart of their defence. Only one of their defenders saw me coming, and he shouted to alert his slowpoking mates, but it was too late. I knew I couldn’t shoulder through the three bloke wall between me and the ball. The ball was still just outside the penalty box, so even if I hurt one of them, or tripped them, it probably wouldn’t result in a penalty kick against us, and anything else wouldn’t make any difference at this point. So I dropped down to one knee, the other leg outstretched, and on a wave of mu and water I slid through between their legs, kicked the ball, and scored.

When blokes understood what I had just done – reasonably certain that everyone was just then staring at the goal, and given the poor visibility, and that I was hidden behind the thicket of their legs – all of them kicked me as hard as they could. All the anger we had so justly incurred all through the season, and all the mute, cold frustration of this long, wet game went into those kicks.

And then the ref’s whistle signalled the end.

Hendrik carried me back to the bench himself. Before the designated game medic (the father of one of the blokes who’d just vented on me, actually, and who as an EMT by profession) began patching up my bleeding face, Hendrik hugged me quickly, and hard enough to make me groan in pain, and whispered: “That was fantastic, Ricky. Fucking fantastic. I am so fucking proud of you!”

It was the first time he said it, and I knew I would willingly put my right arm into a meat grinder to have him say it again.

My back was one big bruise, and I had serious trouble breathing. The medic gave me a shot that made me woozy and faintly high but reduced that sense of suffocating. They debated if I should get checked out at the hospital in Halle, but in the end decided against it. On the bus ride back, Hendrik had me lie on the backseat of the bus, where I could stretch out, and put my head in his lap, partly to make sure I was okay and didn’t pass out or anything, and partly to ease my breathing by taking pressure from my chest.

It was late as we drove back, and almost dark outside. Everybody was excited and relieved that we’d won after all, and talking loudly over the thundering diesel engine, and the hard rain, and the evening rush hour traffic on the A9 northbound towards Berlin.

Hendrik put his hand on my head.

“Try to sleep, brave Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.”

“What’d you call me?” I whispered back.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. You know, the mongoose from the story, the one that follows the cobra into its lair and kills it.”

“I know the story. My sister calls me the same. She calls me Tavi.”

“She’s a bright girl, then. Now try to sleep.”

The bus was shaking us gently. My cheek rubbed against the smooth nylon fabric of his trackie bottoms, damp from the rain. Mostly he kept both his arms stretched out along the top of the seat’s back, like a relaxed Jesus on the cross, but every now and then (when nobody was looking?) he put one warm, strong, heavy, and slightly sweaty hand on my shoulder or my head, and would as if absentminded tousle my hair. For a while Coach sat with us, offering to spell him, but he said I’d just fallen asleep (which I dutifully pretended to be, after that), and he’d rather not wake me. They’d talk quietly for a while, and then Coach went back up the aisle to keep the rest of the team in check. The red and white lights of the passing cars got caught in the rivulets and raindrops on the deep indigo windows.

And in my memory I held firmly the image of his face, as he’d hugged me, carrying me across the pitch, both of us rain-drenched and muddy, and as the blood from my nose had soaked the arm of his track suit. I held the fire in his eyes, no longer cold, but fiercely hot, like a furnace, as he said: “I am so fucking proud of you.”

So what do you expect? Of course I fell for him. I fell like a ton of bricks. But this was football. Football players aren’t queer. Even in 2003 that still just didn’t happen. Period. I kept being one of his star players, at least as long as I didn’t slacken and kept the performance of the team in higher regard than my personal well-being or my good name as a sportsman, but he never called me Tavi again, and he never held me again. He never even let me sit next to him on the bus, or join in a conversation he was having with mates his own age, or anything. He was strictly business, and I didn’t dare to push that boundary.

So for the best part of the following year, all through winter, I pined for him from afar, and did what I could to stay in his good books, and dreamed of him doing nameless, ill-imagined things to me at night. I came out to ‘Nette, and Lukas found out about me and told ‘Nessa. And in spring Tariq caught my eye, and for a while I put my desire for Hendrik aside as unattainable. But I never forgot him.

Continued here

I tried to apologize to Tariq, but he didn’t even hear me out. In the months that followed, ‘Nette got sicker, and sicker. There was that bad incident at the funeral. I turned twelve and failed my exit stage left. When they had me up and going again, I couldn’t stop hating, hating everything, hating myself. That May Day, on Heinrichplatz, was the first time I got into an open, physical fight with the rozzers, and the first time my mum had to collect me from the station. Around then my mates I also had our brief career as shoplifters.

My mum, so far overextended that she was crying herself to sleep every night, when she thought we wouldn’t hear her, sent me to my aunt for the summer. And to everyone’s surprise I sort of caught myself again, for a while.

It was in England that I met my boy #2. Colin F. was sixteen at the time, like my cousin Jane, and her best friend and confidant. He was blond, quiet, and had a shy smile that could flicker up and disappear at any moment, like a deer in a forest clearing. He was often at my aunt’s house that summer, and most importantly, he wanted me.

Not that he said anything, or made any move. How did I know? Well, it was partly how often he turned up in the door to a room I was in, or on the veranda when Alice and I were in the garden, and how he never seemed actually comfortable around me when we got within speaking distance. But more than that it was something in his eyes, some quality of eager openness and furtive closedness  at the same time. Or maybe it was just that I could smell his fear. After all, I knew all about that fear, didn’t I?

I tried not to tease him – at all. And I made the strange discovery that teasing was my main way of communicating with peeps. Any peeps. I hadn’t known that until then. But for Colin I made the exception. Even when Alice wanted to play some tricks on him and Jane, I made excuses, or distracted her with other ideas, and left him alone. I remembered ‘Nette, and Tariq, and tried to be less of a coward.

I didn’t throw myself at him either, of course. He probably would have run if I had. Outwardly I kept up the appearance of friendly indifference, but I relaxed around him. My body and my eyes, enough to let my desire become apparent.

The seduction of Colin was probably my first confidence job. Not that I would have been able to call it that back then. But I did seduce him. Not with lies, mind you, for all my practice that has never been my strong suit, but with the truth.

Lying is hard work. I know you do it, too, all the time. We all do. But have you ever made a study of how it is done? Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and tried to make your face and your body say something you didn’t believe?

As someone once observed, somewhere inside of us is this perfect mathematician. If someone gave you all that data describing an object moving in a curve through the vectors of impulse, gravity, inertia, resistance, and so on, how long would it take you to calculate it’s flight path? And yet, if someone tosses you an apple, you can catch it out of the air in a heartbeat.

Likewise body language is so hard to describe, and yet we all use and read it all the time without consciously thinking about it. It is only when we begin to lie on a regular basis that we have to learn that language by mind instead of by heart.

I now know what it was I did, back then. I opened my chest to him by keeping my arms at my sides or otherwise occupied just so they wouldn’t form a barrier between me an him. I kept my pelvis turn towards him, not sideways, the way we do to shield ourselves from possible blows. When he was in my back, I wouldn’t stiffen my neck, but bare it, inviting an attack. When he was close I would melt a little bit, so that my back and my bum and my legs would become this curve, this wave that asked for a hand to run along it.

I was a good liar, even then, but none of that was a lie. I seduced him with the simple truth, just showed him what I wanted. Why did I just call it a confidence job, then? Well, the essence of the confidence job isn’t that you lie to the mark. The essence is that you allow the mark to lie to himself. That you allow him to trick himself into believing that he could have something he desired for a price he could afford. That was the lie: That I would give something to him, and not just take.

Eventually Colin noticed. Oh, he never caught on to the fact that I was quite active in this. He believed it was all his own doing. But he lost some of his shyness around me, became more eager for my company. And when my aunt suggested my cousins should take me on a bike trip to Three Cliffs Bay in Wales – a three day tour each way – and spend a few nights camping there by the sea with me, Colin somehow ended up coming along. Unfortunately without any grown-ups along, Alice decided we would disregard the promise we had given my aunt, and she would sleep in a tent with Colin, while I would stay in the other with Jane. But I still got my wish.

The first day at Three Cliffs Bay Colin and I went for groceries at the the little camping site shop. It was rather crowded and while we queued Colin finally made his move, and stepped up close enough behind me that his crotch touched my bum. He did his best to make it seem accidental, for maximum deniability, and I carefully but unmistakably pushed my bum backwards and pressed lightly against his erection. Oh, the feeling of this undeniable proof of his desire. It send chills down my spine. To get the message across I once, very slightly, rotated my bum against him. He didn’t dare for more then, but when we went back to the girls, there was a new spring in his step.

Finally, finally, a whole day later, Alice declared she was going swimming and Jane went along. I said I would rather have a look at the little castle ruins up on the high shore, and Colin said he would come along with me.

The ruins, a single, crumbling wall and the remains of a gatehouse, were deserted. I went for the narrow chimney-like nook next to the gate, and pretended interest in climbing up inside there. Colin squeezed in with me, and pretended to help. I still think he was unaware how much I knew that this was only foreplay, the way he stood below me and put his hands on my hips, both of us wearing nothing but swimming shorts and trainers.

It was a bit chilly in the shade of that nook. We both had goose bumps when we embraces. The grass tickled my shins when I knelt down. His hands were wonderful in my hair, alternately gentle with restraint and then again helplessly demanding. And when I made myself swallow I thought: “I’m not a coward. I am a real faggot now. And I am not a coward.” But I was wrong.

I shivered, weak with relief, and a squeaking little laugh escaped my lips, a sound the Colin mistook for dismay. He hugged me and whispered he was sorry. Unable and unwilling to explain any of these complicated thoughts and feelings, I turned away from him to the walls of the ruined gatehouse, and said: “Well, are you going to help me up there? Maybe we can see Alice and Jane from the top.”

We stole a few such moment, Colin and I, but since we both tried to keep it secret from my cousins, opportunities were scant. We went back to Wotton-under-Edge, and it got even harder to find innocent pretexts for spending time alone together.

I didn’t want to return to Berlin. I didn’t want this summer to end, not just because of Colin, but also. As always, my time in Gloucestershire seemed to be time away from the real world, from my real life, from the real me. In England I could be someone I wouldn’t ever dare to be in Berlin. But I’d already forced one extension by crying my eyes out in my aunt’s lap, and with school about to start again I knew that my deportation couldn’t be stayed any longer.

I hope it was mostly the fear of my return to Berlin, to my mum, and my remaining siblings, and to our tiny flat that was still with too much echoing emptiness, that rode me that evening when Colin dragged me away behind the garage, and kissed me, hard and painful in his yearning.

“Rikki,” he whispered, and with a sudden dread I knew what was coming. “I…”

Panic welled up inside me, and hatred. In the half light filtering from my aunt’s kitchen through the oleander bushes I could see Colin’s tongue, pink and perfect, touch his upper front teeth, beginning to shape the one word I could not permit him to utter, the one that held promises I knew he wouldn’t be able to fulfil, the one that implied a betrayal too monstrous to allow.

Helpless, not knowing how to react, I headbutted him, hard, hard enough to crack his left upper incisor, cutting my own scalp on it. He stumbled back, and there was more astonishment than pain in his gaze, a stunned question, and I believe he still thought it must have been some accident, me stumbling forward, a silly mistake, ugly, but a shared experience we might soon laugh about.

Instead I punched him in his gut. Going down he knocked over a stack of empty terracotta flower pots, and they shattered on the tiled ground like a cluster bomb. Colin began to cry and pressed his hands in front of his bleeding mouth.

“If you need your cock sucked, you know where to find me,” I hissed, as my aunt and Alice came running around the corner to investigate the noise. Blood was trickling down my own face, from the cut of his tooth. I bent down lower, so that only Colin could hear me. “But don’t ever… kiss me again, you queer bastard.”

A week later, back in Berlin, I got a letter from Alice, informing me about Colin’s incisor. Neither I nor – as far as I know – he ever told anyone what happened back then.

I didn’t return to Wotton-under-Edge until those two weeks three years later that ended with me ditching the bus and following the fox into Westridge Woods. While I was at my aunts I met Colin once again. He’s now a student of law at the University in Cardiff, and like Tariq he, too, didn’t hear me out when I tried to apologize. He was too eager to apologize to me. It turned out that all these years he had been consumed with guilt. After me he foreswore homosexuality, became religious, and let his mum set him up with his wife and the mother of her future grandchildren.

That was the price I made him pay, for that first blowjob, that first confidence job. For my cowardice. Ah, who is keeping track any longer, huh?

Continued here

I can’t get enough of you, no never put you down
I don’t wanna be wrong, don’t wanna be right
Just wanna play along
– Children’s Masterpiece Theatre: Flesh of Lost Summers (2007)

Let’s talk about fear for a moment. Let’s talk about cowardice.

When I was seven years old, we went on our very last trip with the entire family, mum, dad, and us four kids. Mosquitoes, campfires, canned ravioli, fishing, and swimming in the lakes and waterways of Polish Masuria.

One afternoon our rents had gone for groceries. The sun was low and our campground almost entirely consumed by the shadows of the tress. Golden sparkles were still dancing on the gently lapping waves of the lonesome lake. ‘Nette was lying on her stomach on a large towel and reading a teen magazine. ‘Nette had waded out pretty far into the shallow waters and stood, arms outstretched like some Christ figure in the fading blaze of the evening sun. Lukas had disappeared in the woods. And I was playing by myself with these little plastic soldiers that come in a bucket.

Suddenly a big, far forest spider dropped first on my head and then down, knocking over one of my soldiers. I shrieked and jumped. And next to me, Lukas – who knew that I was afraid of spiders – began to laugh. He had returned from the woods brought the critter as a special present to me.

“For chrissake, Lukas, leave him alone, will you?” ‘Nessa groaned from her towel, but she didn’t even bother to stop leafing through her magazine.

Lukas ignored her. Instead he picked up the spider and let it dangle on its thread from his finger, swinging it back and forth like a pendulum.

“Look here, little pussy, she wants to play with you.”

I tried to get away, but stumbled over a root and landed with a heavy, painful thump on my back. Lukas followed me to stand over me and slowly lowered the spider towards my face. Terrified I lay still and stared up at the wriggling, eight-legged beasty.

And then a small hand closed around the spider. ‘Nette, nine years old and dripping wet, crouched down next to me. I knew that she hated spiders just as much as I did, and when we were alone with each other in the privacy of our room, she would shriek and hide behind me, and egg me on to put a glass or something over it, if one came to visit us there. Now she was trembling all over. I don’t know if it was with fear and revulsion, or with rage, or if it was because she was wet and there was a cool breeze blowing between the trees. Perhaps it was a mix of all of the above.

She stared directly in to the eyes of her 14 year old brother and held her lightly balled fist towards him, as if about to offer a gift in supplication. She even relaxed he fingers enough so that the scrabbling legs of the spider began to appear between them. And then I could see her steel herself. She gritted her teeth. Her breath hitched once. There were tears in he eyes but also a deep resolve.

Slowly she got up, put herself between me and him, and then she crushed the spider in her fist. All though she stared directly into his eyes, hers just as stormy grey as his. And I knew that I loved her, loved her with a blind, fiery passion I had never felt before and thought I never could again.

Lucas snorted and turned to leave.

“Pussies,” was what he muttered when I – now that the spider was gone – launched myself at him. I jumped on his back, and clung to him like a monkey, and tore at his hair and bit into his ear.

That night, when ‘Nette and I were down at the lake washing the dishes after supper, and I was still aching all over from the beating Lukas had ended up giving me, she took my by the arm, and she looked at me very seriously, and this is what I remember her saying to me:

“Everyone is afraid, Tavi.” Tavi was her special, secret name for me, from the Kipling tale. “But only a coward lets that stop him.”

That night I lay awake for a long time, and I swore to myself that I would never be a coward again. But things aren’t ever that simple, are they, and often enough life doesn’t permit us the luxury of keeping our word. Least of all to ourselves.

***

I’ve always liked boys, and men, and never really looked at girls, or women, in a sexual way. And as far back as I remember I knew that this was something I ought to be ashamed of. Like most of my kind, when my mates began talking about girls and pussy and boobs in that way, I first tried to avoid it, and then, for a while, I joined in and was probably especially obnoxious. But I hated it. Not because I was lying – I lie all the time, it doesn’t bother me at all – but because I really didn’t like that particular role.

‘Nette was the first person I talked to about this. I was 10 at the time, and it was my assistant football coach I had been thinking about. She listened very seriously and said matter-of-factly: “So, you’re a faggot.” And she hugged me and kissed me and added: “Then that’s just the way it is.” And for the short time afterwards that we had we could talk about boys, and compare what we liked about them, or didn’t, and what we wanted them to do to us.

And later, when she was dying, she egged me on to go through with it, to finally get fucked. But I didn’t have the first idea how to go about it. I mean, I had my fantasies, but they were never too clear about how to initiate it all.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was eleven, during ‘Nette’s last summer, there was Tariq. He had thick, black hair, and dark eyes, like a horse, and skin the colour of coffee with lots of milk. His nose was aquiline, and his face heart-shaped, and he had a birthmark low on the left side of his jaw line, close to the ear.

The only way I found to express my desire for him was to annoy him thorouly with constant needling, jibes and taunts, until he lost his patience, and we fought in the school corridor. We both got quite a lot of heat for that from our teachs and rents, and he never forgave me, but I remember how much I loved wrestling with him, how much I loved feeling his fingers dig into my arm as he tried to hold me down, how hard my prick was against his hip as he lay on me, pounding my face to get me to finally cry uncle so he would be able to walk away with his head held high. How he began to sob with frustration when I wouldn’t, and how he spit into my face as they dragged us apart.

That afternoon I spent at ‘Nette’s side. She’d one of her migraines and had returned from school early. She was already scheduled to go to the hospital, but we still assumed it would only be temporary. I cried about the way Tariq had looked at me when he’d come from the principal’s office and I had been on my way in, and I had known that even if I ever had had a chance before, it was gone forever now. ‘Nette had rested one hand on my head, and without opening her eyes she had said: “Coward.”

Continued here

It was raining again when I entered Glen Dee. The sky was as rugged as the ground, clouds, torn, chasing each other, sunlight coming through the ragged opening in scattered bursts, the way a gunman might occasionally strafe a besieged house with bursts of automatic fire. The hills on both sides of the glen grew into mountains and the path itself plodded ever upwards.

In the evening I reached a mountain whose lopsided peak jutted out impressively over the glen, like a cock straining against tight trousers. As I found out later it’s called “Devil’s Point” in English, which was the polite translation of its Gaelic name as it was told to Queen Victory when she travelled through these parts. A more literal translation would be “demon dick”.

There was a small stone hut at the foot of the Devil’s Point. I thought about spending the night there, but when I got close, I saw that a group of happy hikers were just getting cozy inside, hanging freshly washed socks from the window sill and busying themselves with the fireplace. I greeted them half-heartedly, without breaking my stride. I hurried past the hut and up a small path that lead to the ridge joining the Devil’s Point and several other peaks to a plateau.

I had not intended to climb any of these peaks. I had wanted to stay on the trail along the valley. But the path to the stone hut had taken me away from the main trail, and once I was there and saw that it was occupied, I only had the choices of either staying, or turning around, or walking on, uphill.

I didn’t want to stay. Helen and John had been all the company I craved that day. And I didn’t want to turn around, because doing so would have made it only to apparent to those hikers that I was avoiding them. And somehow that moment I couldn’t have born the shame of my cowardice becoming visible to them. Even if it meant having to drag myself up that devilish mountain.

I cursed myself every exhausting and agonizing step. Each made my shoulder throb with a deep, dull fire. And when the night had quietly done away with the last of the dusk I found myself in a large corrie, illuminated only by the wan light of a distant, gibbous moon – an immense natural amphitheatre made up of moss-covered rocks and steep slopes. And I felt very lost, and small, and terribly exposed to the heavens.

The corrie was lines with little brooks. I found a dry, sandy spot between two of them, had the last of Helen Campbell’s sandwiches, emptied the bottle, tended to my feet, and finally smoked my last fag and gazed down into the Glen, and the tiny flickering light of the hearth fire in the stone hut far below me at the foot of the mountain.

As I sat there I was still mulling over the things Helen had said. And her question whether I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

Just to be clear on this, I do believe in God. I do. I do. But… how do I say this?

My Dad had been raised a Roman Catholic, and my aunt had converted to the Church of England when she married. My cousins had been raised Anglicans. My mum is from a family of strict Prussian Lutheran protestants. My oldest friend and neighbour, Orcun, was from a family of moderately devout Muslims. And Hector’s parents were lapsed Communists and strict and vocal atheists. From the beginning I had known that whatever anyone wanted to claim about religion, there was always a way to look at things differently.

My mum had me and my siblings baptized in the local Lutheran parish, and all but me went to Confirmation class from 12 onward. I was the only one to flat out refuse to go. But that was the extend of my mum’s involvement with the Church. The only times I ever saw her even talk to the vicar was during ‘Nette’s funeral, and at Nicky’s baptism 2 ½ years later.

Primary school offered religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics, but none for Muslims, so it mainly served as a segregator for the main ethnicities – the German kids mostly went to the Lutheran class, Polish kids to the Catholic, and the Turkish and Arabic kids had a free period (but usually visited a Qur’an school some afternoons of the week.) Again it seemed to me that somehow religion was less about truth and more about belonging, about identity and taking sides.

I remember how astonished I was when I finally received religious instructions how boring and meaningless everything was that I was being told about God and Jesus. How God – supposedly almighty and all-knowing – was this soppy stern chap who in some never fully explained way was supposed to love everybody (like, what does that even mean?) and watch over the entire world and every littlest critter in it, and who for some reason was to be credited with every good turn but never to be blamed for everything that went wrong. And Jesus, the son (or incarnation, they never could tell me which) of this almighty God, had brought even more love and forgiveness into the world – I kept wondering what a perfect God needed a version 2.0 for – but then got killed rather badly for it.

And then I looked around in my world, and inside myself, and saw all the violence, and the callousness, the pettiness, and how messed up and dirty and run down everything was, and I thought, kurwa, He sure is doing a terrible job.

I also began to seriously resent my teacher, and God, because if there was any truth in what she told me about God’s intentions and power, then God must either hold one hell of a grudge against me, or – and that was even worse – I must be so unimportant that in all his omniscience He never noticed me.

And then ‘Nette started her confirmation classes, and in the nights we would talk about what she had learned, and what she was thinking about all of it. And we’d try to make sense of it ourselves. And once again I was astonished, this time because the stuff we read was nothing like that boring, pedantic, and utterly ineffective God the grown-ups had been telling me about.

The God of the bible is a truly wicked bloke. He is rash to anger and totally overreacts to everything. He blunders along and often acts before he thinks and then comes to regret it later, or changes his mind in mid-stride. He blusters and boasts, sulks, and refuses to admit when he’s made a mistake. He’s bloodthirsty, and untrustworthy, and incredibly vain. But He is full of love – and not that boring, serene love my dried-up teach was going on about, but a love that years, and hurts, is proud, and tender, and that knows how to forgive, not for morals butt for passion. Who could read the story of God and David and not be moved by the flawed, fiery passion for one another?

The bible is full of great folks, and I was pissed off that the teach had made them all sound so dull. There was David, and his suggestive, well, not even love-triangle but love-quadrangle, with King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan and saul’s daughter Michal. I mean, talk about kinky. David’s career as an outlaw and rebel, his ascent to kingship, his trouble with his own sons, and his less than glorious old age.

Or take Jacob, the thief, liar, and runaway, who got into actual fisticuffs with God, and who God loved so much that he re-named him Israel. Or Job, who took God to court and forced Him to show His true colours. Or Moses, who I think it can be argued is the only person other than Mary who has a reasonable claim to the boast that God made love to him, but who was still turned back at the border of the promised land and had to die, alone, in the desert.

At the age of 10 the New Testament was a bit boring for me and often very hard to understand. But even there were hidden gems that the grown-ups had withheld from me: Why do they gloss over Herod’s mass child murder in the Christmas Story? And who came up with these three boring old kings, when the actual text tells of an numberless group of wise men – possibly wizards! – from the East? And then there are moments like the one when Jesus begs God to spare him, when he is filled with fear and doubt, but God refuses him and Jesus is nailed to the cross anyway. Later when ‘Nette’s tumour had metastasised into her bones and she had to be given morphine, an still it hurt her so badly, I had to think of the crucifiction and what it would feel like to have nails driven through my wrists and the spans of my feet.

This God of the bible was a God who made sense, a God who fit the world I was living in. It wasn’t a God I could approach about a new bicycle or a Playstation, sure, but it was one I could somehow respect.

Until he murdered my sister.

That long Saturday afternoon, as I walked up Glen Dee and climbed the Devil’s Point, He was a lot on my mind again, and for the first time in years I asked myself if I still had faith. If I was, as Helen had said, putting my fate in the hands of God.

The idea bothered me, it bothered me a lot. I mean, if I allowed for God as the charioteer of destiny, I could hardly avoid it, could I? But it rankled with me: Since her death I had never begged. I preferred to take what I wanted and be damned the consequences. I didn’t want handouts from Him.

When I was sitting up on the mountainside, shivering in my damp clothes in the night’s chilling breeze, I tried to see the world through the Atheist’s eyes. It was surprisingly easy, under those racing clouds, with the cold and distant stars blinking through them from afar. It was easy to imagine the vastness to be empty not only of matter or warmth, but of meaning. But it remained a thought experiment. It didn’t truly relieve me of my conviction.

It did make me remember those nights, though, when I’d lain in my sister’s bed, had felt the warmth of her body against mine, smelled her skin and the shampoo in her hair, and when we had gazed out through the narrow window, so high on the wall – the same window that I would try to flee through from that lady rozzer only a few years later, condemning myself to jail and all that followed – and through which we had looked at the very same stars that I was seeing now, from the slopes of the Devil’s Point. And the memory hurt. It hurt with a raw, sudden intensity I had not expected, and I wanted to cry out in pain.

Instead I bit down on that pain, and spit it onto the gravel, and snarled: “Yeah, well, fuck you, too!” And I curled up as tight as I could, under those cold stars, and surrendered myself to the nightmares once more.

***

It would be easy to leave it at that and to move on to the scary White Van Man from Beauly, and that beastly night in Cannich, and my near death experience in the Mullardochs, but that would be dishonest.

When I woke up I was very cold and did a double Aikido session before walking back down from the Devil’s Point. The day was misty and gloomy and I was hungry and very thirsty. By the time I reached the hut the hikers had moved n. I looked around inside, vaguely hoping to find some left over food, or to warm myself on the ambers of their fire, but only warm ash remained, not enough to do me any good.

My shoulder hurt if anything even worse than the day before. It made me think of Ponyboy, and I knelt down in the middle of the room and wanked. That made the pain flare up, but I gritted my teeth and brought myself to a sad, whimpering ejaculation onto the floor. Still kneeling I pissed on it as well. Then I buttoned up and left.

I drank of the cold waters of the Dee, filled up the bottle, and walked on. The sun came out for a while, and to my right be Ben Macdui reached for the sky. Clouds came and went, but the mountain remained, its peak dipping in and out of the wisps of mist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the mountains in Scotland, but they are nothing like the Alps, or the mountains of the Balkans. The Cairngorms may have rocky cliffs here and there, and sometimes there are clumps of trees at their feet – pine, and birch, and aspen, and bushes of juniper and rowan – but other than that they are these rounded humps, steep, but startlingly smooth, overgrown with heather and lichen in the valley, but the tops  bald and covered in immense fields of lose, round, fist-sized stones. Walking amongst them is like paddling a small sealskin canoe through an immense herd of gigantic whales.

And so, their steep, smooth walls flowing out ahead of me along the valley’s sides, the valley floor itself rising like a wave to the distant pass, in spite of my anger and resentment, it made my spirits lift.

And when I passed a gushing creek coming down the mountain I veered off the path and began to hike up a pathless mountainside. It was hard going, and soon I was out of breath, but I didn’t slow down. My eyes were constantly on the lookout for the next good foothold, my brain kept calculating distance and balance, and once again it was his magic of movement, the trance of the trop, that pulled my heart along.

From time to time it rained, and the cold water ran down my body underneath my clothes. Then the sun came out again and dried me. And then, finally, in densest fog, I reached the heap of stones that marked the highest peak of the Ben Macdui, the highest peak of the Cairngorms.

Look, I don’t want to take back anything I just told you about my relationship to God, or life, or anything. It didn’t change anything, it didn’t convince me of anything. But still… while I stood there, catching my breath, the sky tore open, the mists around me blew apart, the world unrolled all its horizons, and the sun set everything ablaze. All the wetness caught and magnified her fierce fire, like a universe of jewels. No religion or philosophy dreamed up by humans can say as mayn good tings about the world, or say them as convincingly, as the sun, the air, the water, and the rocks did just then.

After that it was all downhill. By afternoon I surrounded by trees again, where I promptly got lost. By nightfall, tired beyond endurance, I ended up in Inverdruie, where I spent the night. Monday I first had a look at the Aviemore Centre, a piece of daring architecture from the 1960s so incredibly uncool that it is actually kind of cool again, and hitchhiked to Inverness, where I arrived in the evening.

Continued here