Hungry for knowledge
|(Image by Xtra West files)||
story by Michael Harris /
May 13 2004
Everything Will really learned, he learned by lusting after older men.
A psychiatrist once insisted that the catalyst for this Mentor Complex was most likely a barrel-chested babysitter his parents had hired who read to Will while lying in bed with him. This comforted Will somewhat, as did the psychiatrist’s further discovery that Will’s overprotective mother had caused him to fear vaginas. This predicament also served, said Dr Witch, to explain Will’s fear of the dark and his allergy to peanuts.
Will fell asleep on the couch one week and dreamed Dr Witch was molesting him. From that point onward, he skipped the sessions his mother scheduled. He spent the time reading pamphlets in a gynecologist’s office across the hall from Dr Witch and informed his mother that he was cured two months later, having managed a slight erection the week before.
That is putting it crudely, but so it was. Educated minds excited him; new words made him wet.
Many years after his time with Dr Witch, and after a dismal year of schooling, Will found his brain now oddly charged. He read books in the sun and ate apples. He looked around and blinked; waited for someone to say something brilliant.
It was a great convenience, then, that he met S—a thirty-something, bespectacled man, who always smiled as though he knew the colour of Will’s underwear. S had studied architecture, but now was training to be a lawyer.
Will thought about how wonderfully middle-class they could be, perhaps with a dog and the entire Criterion film collection lining the walls of some Yaletown apartment. He set about bumping his shoulders into S’s, casually, as they made their way down the seawall. Will made impish remarks, played the peach-fuzz boy, the puckish sprite. And S twinkled back, amused.
They entered the park one sultry Sunday (though S remarked that Vancouver could never be truly sultry—“you have to go to France for that, or Montreal, at least.”) And S waxed poetic on the parks board building, the inside-outside thing that Arthur Erickson had made famous. Will thought the building ugly, but loved having his taste corrected by so confident a voice.
“My boyfriend wants to meet you,” said S with sugar tones. “I’ve told him all about you.” But what was there to say about Will? A boy, two arms… Would Will like to go home with him for dinner, wondered S. Did this mean sex?
Will thought of the stains and wetness developing on the butt of his jeans. But he turned S down, saying he’d rather not go home with him.
But why? What weird deviation from his regular whoredom brought Will down Abstinence Ave?
If S cared that Will would not go back, he did not show it. His head went lolling backward, as though to catch more sun and he picked up the conversation. The way you pick up laundry.
Will wished they could talk like this forever. He’d been reading Tales of the City, and this always had a tortured happy effect on him. He longed for Barbary Lane and the way that world made such fluent, romantic sense. But Vancouver’s lazy sun continued its dogged descent and soon the air had caught a chill. Hungry heron chicks squabbled in the trees overhead.
Their goodbyes were warm and painfully casual. “I’ll see you later, I guess.”
“Sure. See you.”
And S became a pair of retreating footsteps, two hands in corduroy pockets.
Listening to S on the lawn had felt to Will—his face lit a hot blush—like the warm pressure of a gentle fuck. He had an idea of what it meant to be fucked by someone ten years older. One felt… what was the word? Informed?
And he moaned to himself, looking out at gold-flecked water; moaned for a boyfriend. He couldn’t take this Robin Hood sex life anymore—stealing from the hung and giving to the loose—there was little or no centre.
Friends had melted away like passing cars, and family, too, had been given over to an unintimate haze of memory. The self he was left with, not 20 yet—nearly 20!—still lacked direction. Lacked any real knowledge of any real subject. Everything glowed with newness! And was so easily forgotten. What had S been talking about? Architecture…
Years later, Will would recognize that this was the one week between his last pimple and his first gray hair. He spent most of it worrying about the future.
It was impossible to take in the world, but equally impossible to keep it at bay. What was there to be done? How to deal when every day bled like a raw wound? The afternoon wore on and older men went laughing by in pairs like gods.