Before you plow into this next installment of Low Spark, it’s worth saying that this is where the rubber hits the road. This where you, my sweet readers, learn what heart beats at the center of The Movie Lovers. Jose is the whole reason I began telling this story, but of course at this point you’ve barely met him. That can’t be helped. And I can’t prepare you because nothing can. I had as much preparation as any human being possibly could, and I still wasn’t ready. People die. It can’t be helped. In the '90s it happened every day.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
How do we know what things are? Is it the inside that counts? Is it the outside? How do we know when something is what it appears to be? How about when a facade covers the true nature of a thing? By what measure do we judge? Appearances? Intuition? Our knowledge of the facts? What is a fact, exactly, and when is a “fact” actually a philosophy, a theory, an opinion? Once I learned that all scientific facts down through the ages were, at bottom, based upon the philosophy of the day, I stopped expecting reality to be anything outside of or independent of my own point of view. I mean it was once a fact that the world was flat -- you could fall off the edge of it! -- and now that’s just a hopelessly outdated opinion. In the end, what we focus on is what we create, that’s reality. And right now, that’s the only thing I am truly sure of.
Cliff was a swinger when I met him, but because I have only one relationship rule, which is you can’t cheat on me, he gave up the life without a backward glance. So I was taken completely by surprise when, out of nowhere one day, Cliff volunteered that his tolerance for gay men stemmed from the long-held belief that, as long as there was consent, sex was sex: gay sex, straight sex, swinging sex, kinky, bi, or simple onanism, none of it was anybody’s business but those participating, just like he’d said when we met. Stunned to hear my husband -- or anyone, for that matter -- say he did not imagine love to be a part of the equation for any but heterosexual lovers, I sat silent and pondered the fact that the man I loved seemed to “tolerate” our friends only because all sex was fair game. Meanwhile, Cliff kept going. It was our friendship with Frank and Jose, he said, seeing the love they felt for each other, it was this that had changed his view. He went on to elaborate, but I was only half listening. Instead, I was remembering the early stages of our friendship with Frank and Jose. While at first there had been the pretense of being roommates, soon that fact gave way to the truth of being a couple and the two of them began to embrace and kiss when we were in their home, as we all do with our mates. I remember how excited -- that’s the right word -- how excited Cliff and I were over this new development. Engaging in couples behavior meant that our new friends trusted us, that they felt safe. Wonderful! How could we facilitate more of this behavior? Cliff and I had gotten a couple more sentences into this private conversation before we heard ourselves. What were these men to us, anyway, animals in a zoo? And what did that make us?
To be fair, almost any dance with the unfamiliar can elicit the animal-in-a-zoo response. What is this new thing, we wonder. Is it interesting? Is it funny? Do I like it? What happens if I tap on the glass? This activity is fun when you are on the outside looking in. Being on the inside is another story. My own experience on the wrong side of the glass came as a girl of ten. My parents had made a stop after church at the home of a couple who had two boys and a big tree in the back yard. Looking forward to showing how well I could climb, I changed from my good dress and patent leather shoes into the cotton shirt and shorts my mother had brought, took my little sister by the hand, and went outside to where the boys were. I wasn’t asked to play or to climb. I wasn’t spoken to at all. Instead, I heard the younger brother say, “She’s alright, I guess,” to which the older replied, “The bigger one looked better in a dress.” The younger one nodded. And then. . . . silence. The sun, warm bright, sparkled and winked through the leaves of the cherry tree. I stared into it awhile. Then I went inside.
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Love, beautiful Jose said nothing of love, but love rose from him like the childhood scent of beans and rice for breakfast. Jose talked about sex. He talked about sex like it was love. He‘d sigh and say, "Ah sex, it is life."
Frank once repeated to me the words of his and Jose’s couples’ counselor, who told Frank early on, “Jose has an unusual definition of sex.” For Jose sex was, to put it in the words of an eighteen-year-old, when you, well, you know, when you “did it.” Penetration was sex. But mouths didn't count in that definition. Not when kissing. Not when tonguing other things. Certainly backs and bellies didn't count, and arms -- the embrace -- that counted for love but not for fidelity. Now, if you’re gay or a swinger, this may sound like a lifestyle choice. But if you are straight, particularly if you are married, such a definition might have you calling Jose, what's the word, easy? sleazy? a slut? Words with attitudes like those a teenage boy might lob at a girl who’s turned him down and then made out with someone else at the same party; ugly words that couldn’t be further from the truth of Jose. But then, when it comes to sex, we all tend to speak as if our definition and point of view are the only possibilities.
As Jose lay dying; dying the death that sex had brought him, dying into his short, wildly-bright candle of a life; as he fell away from life and his body shrank like an inflatable love doll unplugged and abandoned in the corner of a rented room, Jose became love. Sex was gone -- “Ah, sex, it is life” -- and now life ebbed, trickled, seeped away. As the body receded into the folds of the bedclothes, sloughing off its muscle tone, its modesty, its toilet training, its words and codes and thoughts, its social graces; as the body lay dying, Jose’s spirit rose up, flooding the room as the sun floods the earth with light. And all who entered there became flushed, breathless, starry-eyed in a universe wholly and completely nourished by the light emanating from Jose. Awash in love, furniture floated, ties to the outside world came loose at their moorings, plans bobbed and drifted away. Freed from the gravity of the everyday, the creases in our faces relaxed, cheeks plumped, mouths lifted into beatific smiles. Each day when I arrived to care for Jose, I flew to him, held as the planets are held to the sun, the sun that burns its own bright body, its yellow-orange emotion, its incandescent, cannibalized light.
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