Part II

by Michael Perreault

Read part one of Marcus in the March issue of BENT.


On a later hospital visit, after the usual chitchat, I asked Marcus, "Is the pain in your hip any better?"

"Yea, Michael, it is. They've increased my medication … but … nothing they've offered seems to be helping … that … middle leg of mine." He smiled coyly, "I certainly wouldn't mind something to make that feel better."

I cringed at his delivery but flushed with desire when I noticed the white-capped peak of his bedclothes crest within reach. I looked into his eyes, not quite believing what I heard. I inhaled his warm scent, as welcome as the aroma of vanilla remembered from childhood. I touched his cheek, looking for resistance, found none and moved my hand lightly down over his chest onto his belly.

"Is this safe? Do we dare?"

He answered with a quick nod and a Cheshire grin. I closed the door, then slid my hand into the tangle of sheet and gown, ready for instant removal should someone interrupt us, but my very caution allowed me to savor the journey and my boldness only increased when, hand trembling, fingertips to skin, I found the source of Marcus's heat. He was ready and I was now his specialized medical technician, his personal Florence Nightingale. Caution abandoned, my quick grasp became extended kiss. His complaint was soon relieved. His ailment was cured!

The operation was a success, but not without complications, for Marcus just lay there, passive, non-reciprocal. He didn't look at me as he apologized.

"Michael, someday I'll make this up to you."

Just moments before I had soared. Now, eyes lowered, shoulders bent, I crashed. His climax was anticlimactic for me.

"Yes, Marcus, someday," I mumbled as I smoothed his rumpled sheet.

Later, I remembered the scene in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," when Porgy rolls into Catfish Row on his wheeled board and says to his indifferent neighbors: "No, no, brudder, Porgy ain't soft on no woman; they pass by singin', they pass by cryin', always lookin'. They look in my do'an keep on movin'. When Gawd made cripple, He mean him to be lonely. Night time, day time, he got to trabble dat lonesome road."

I knew that road. I traveled it often. I wondered if those lines would have spoken to Marcus as they spoke to me.

I had hoped he would be different from other men. I began spending less time with Marcus and made no further advances.

Month's later, over the phone, he talked of his discomfort, embarrassment and shame at being seen publicly with other disabled men. He had talked of this before and never seemed aware how much I might be hurt by what he said. I understood what he meant. My childhood friend Danny had cerebral palsy, too, and walked like a whirligig spinning out of control. Dogs snapped at his heels just for passing by. I knew I was not being a good friend when being seen with him made me embarrassed and ashamed, but I fought those feelings. I forced myself to go with Danny into stores and other public places. Eventually I felt more comfortable and it seemed to matter less.

I hoped I could feel that way about myself some day, yet I could not forget the expressions on people's faces that said "foreign," "ugly," despite their efforts to hide behind smiles and platitudes. "Michael, you're wrong," my family would say, "you shouldn't feel that way," so I stopped talking to them about it.

Decades later, I read about a Chicago law, on the books until 1911, which made people deemed "unsightly, disfigured and disgusting in appearance" subject to arrest if seen on city streets. I was shocked to learn a law like that existed, more shocked when I realized it was enacted by so-called reasonable and moral people. Reading about it validated my childhood memories. Even though I had known all along how people felt, I had no defenses, no way to prevent their attitudes from becoming a part of me. Laws get changed, but attitudes don't follow so easily. Marcus only passed on what he had been taught, I'd begun to realize.

That afternoon, as I let Marcus talk, I decided tolerance and patience were my best response—but tolerance and patience were my mask, too. Marcus went on, "I want to 'get-over' feeling this way, but I don't have a clue how to do it. Should I see a shrink?" I encouraged him: "It might be helpful, Marcus. I've been there too and I know I can't continue to live my life in that despairing place. I think I've started to find my way through it. Maybe, you could, too!"

I hung up the phone and lit a joint. My self-protective role as mentor and therapist dissolved in a marijuana fog that let my feelings surface. They were sad and jumbled feelings, but somehow they gave me the courage to call Marcus back.

"Marcus, it's Michael again. I need to ask …that discomfort, that embarrassment you feel being seen with other disabled men … does that apply to me, too?" Once I asked it my question seemed ridiculous. I knew the answer. How could I not?

He hesitated, then answered, "Yes, Michael, I feel that way about you, too!"

"Is … that why you never made love to me, Marcus? You found my body unattractive … ugly?" That last word was barely audible. Was my question courageous or just foolhardy?

Once again Marcus answered, "Yes, Michael!"

I shattered. … It felt like pieces of me tumbled to the floor. I reeled. I started to cry, and then I wept. We talked further, between my sobs, but I knew that he was unable to hear me. I have little recollection of what we said, but I do remember telling him, "Marcus, the next time you're rejected, like you've just rejected me, you'll know you're no different from the people who've done it to you!" I said good-bye and hung up the phone. We never spoke again.

After all these years I can still recall the anger and betrayal I felt that day. Despite the hurt, I am convinced that Marcus allowed me to believe he wanted a loving relationship with me not out of malice or deceit but because he lacked the skills to express himself any other way. I understand now that it was a clumsy love I had for him. We were wounded, fragile young men with too few emotional tools at our disposal and little finesse in their use. No one had taught us how to manage that deep, almost DNA relationship we had with our disabilities.

I didn't know where my self ended and my disability began, what to grieve or how to heal, so I lived my life from that soul-hole place, the only self I knew. Marcus and I collided head-on. It was bound to fail. He had nothing of himself to give and I had no right to insist that he did. I didn't realize then that I didn't have enough to give either.

My love for Marcus left me with hard lessons learned, a little more wisdom gained. Now, finally, I can remember him with fondness. I can recall my desire for him and not have it hurt, like it did then. I wish him well wherever he may be. I hope that some day both of us will have a sense of self that abides with us and nurtures us, accompanied by the grace, purpose and peace that we'll need to love ourselves as well as others in this world that we did not create but must learn to live in.

©2002 Michael Perreault


Previous to "Marcus," Michael Perreault appeared in BENT with Acting for Others, Acting for Myself



BENT: A Journal of Cripgay Voices/May 2002