part one of Marcus in the March
issue of BENT.
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
nothing they've offered
seems to be helping
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
That afternoon, as
I let Marcus talk, I decided tolerance and patience were my best
responsebut 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!"
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!"
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.
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
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
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.
Previous to "Marcus,"
Michael Perreault appeared in BENT with Acting
for Others, Acting for Myself
BENT: A Journal of Cripgay Voices/May