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BRUISER

by

Travis Jon Mader



His face comes up for air; itís puffy and discolored in places, like bruised fruit. My hand pushes him down by the scruff of his neck. He hurls into the can again, spitting up Wild Turkey, leftovers, etc. Weíre having a moment. Our relationship has evolved to include graphic scenes like these. Initially, I thought he was simple: one more straight-acting clichť with nothing going on up top. Just when I thought I had him sized up, everythingís started unraveling.

Iíve been parked here for half an hour; Iím in my truck, sitting quietly. Itís dark. Thereís this huge oleander bush slash tree that spills out onto the street, obscuring me from passersby. Another Friday night in the old neighborhood, around midnight, and things are starting to heat up. I like to watch. From here itís a front row seat to the hit parade of faces as they bop along to their intended destinations -- bars named for the clientele they hope to attract: the Ballgag, the Spur, the Mine Shaft, Ursa Major. The neighborhood gay and lesbian patrol is on the street, cruising the scene in cars driven by volunteers with neon pink patrol flags suctioned to their roofs. They know, like I know, that the next basher could be out there right now. He could be anyone.

He hacks out a few more chunks, apparently finished, and stares vacantly into the toilet. Blue specks add some visual variety to the scene, courtesy of Ti-D-Bowl. My knees crack as I snag a towel from the shower rod to wipe his fishy face. His deep browns slash greens flit up towards my grays slash blues, only narrowly avoiding them. He clears his throat when he hears the tap.

Lucky for him I donít freak and split when people start telling me things. You know what Iím talking about, not banal details as in childhood traumas or coming out or any of that mundane bullshit, but things. Really significant details, i.e. how old you were when your dad started molesting you, how bad your last boyfriend beat you up, etc. I like the details. I like to hear the really juicy stuff, compare rap sheets -- you know, take comfort in someone elseís personal demons. Actually, as it turns out he wasnít all that fucked up. Until he met me.

Like I said, I like to watch. Keep tabs on the neighborhood, my eyes peeled for trouble. Iím not a cop or anything, and I have no intention of volunteering for the cheesy queer patrol. I value my independence way too much for that. And FYI, for the record, Iím not exactly easy. I can count my significant relationships on one hand. Not that I have insignificant relationships -- I donít sleep around, never did. I donít know if itís because Iím afraid of disease, insecure about my body or what. Whatever. It doesnít matter: I have an (over)active imagination.

Ok, letís flash back to the beginning. Long story short, I thought he was sexy. Still do. Sexy in that real male sexy way -- you know, not at all fey and not an Advocate fag, not particularly queer, really. All right, ďstraight-acting.Ē But letís get this straight (no pun intended), I really hate that term, even if itís accurate. He was just a guy, a regular joe, john doe, etc. He could be anyone. I get crushed out on that type a lot. With people like him I donít feel like itís a prerequisite I play some idiotic pre-assigned butch slash fem role or anything -- Iím sure thatís my internalized homophobia speaking -- we didnít have PFLAG when I was a kid, so sue me. With a guy like him I can just be me -- whoever that is.

He doesnít look so good. Iíve laid him out on the futon and covered him up with a quilt made for me by my dead grandmother. Watching him perspire profusely, Iíve started to feel sorry for him, the way he canít just buck up and do the right thing. Iíve tried to be supportive. Iíve tried to ďmake him a priorityĒ and ďset aside quality timeĒ for the two of us. I like to think that Iíve ďbeen there for him.Ē But heís stubborn, thatís his problem. Heís got that character trait down pat. In that sense, weíre birds of a feather. (Donít worry, the irony isnít lost on me.)

You see, Iíve got these bruises: two enormous black slash purple slash green thumbprints on the insides of my wrists. How did I get them? I canít exactly remember the details; itís mostly a big blur, a chronological smear that starts from his fucked-up phone call earlier tonight to now, here, parked on this corner camouflaged by the oleander bush slash tree thatís spilling out on the street obscuring me from passersby. (Iíve had a bit to drink.) Flashback: his tHis His humbprints, pinning me down. The sound of his voice, wrong. My nose aches; I check the rear view mirror for swelling. Suddenly thereís this terrible screeching beyond the glass, stiffening my back like a steel rod through my spine. It sounds like a canned soundtrack scream, like some dated B-movie shriek -- potentially fake, but frightening all the same. My face hungrily scans the street for scripted storyboard images of homophobic jocks, acned boys fueled by repression, armed with hate and baseball bats. Like a movie they emerge from the shadows, celluloid phantoms gaily clattering through the gate: crossfade to some crazy queen in a silk Versace tiger-print blouse playfully slapping his slash her compadre with a man-purse or whatever. Tragic. I relax back into my daydream. >Play.

Ok, more backstory: everybody wants to know how our story began, even knowing how it inevitably ends. Why is that? At any rate, before we started fucking we just palled around a lot. Had a lot of drinks at this one particular category-defying bar. So anyway, blah blah blah -- numerous drinks were bought and swallowed, few words exchanged, and after last call one night I decided to invite him over to my place. Things started off slowly: weíd get stoned together, watch old movies, laugh our asses off, etc. Then the situation grew more complex -- the plot thickened, as it were. His milk carton face drew me in, and I couldnít help myself; on his third visit, I chanced it and grabbed his crotch, my middle finger sliding in the general direction of his perineum buried beneath the seam of his faded jeans. I remember his face, its expression: a glacier that shifted from extreme fucked-upness to something resembling a blank slate, if anything can resemble a blank slate. I couldnít figure him out; he didnít look shocked or angry or amused, or anything. He was just there, on my couch. Tabula rasa. He took another shot of Jack Daniels from the bottle and aimed his hazy green slash blues in my direction. ďIs that what this is all about?Ē His voice echoed strangely in the room, wrong. I exited to the kitchen to snag him a beer from the fridge. When I returned, neither of us spoke for a long time. We continued watching Joan Crawford in Queen Bee, as if nothing had happened. Later, as the tape rewound, he ďbroke down,Ē just ďcouldnít hold it in,Ē ďcried on my shoulder,Ē etc., and told me things: how Dad was bad... how Dad did things... and thatís why he hates fags... but not me, he doesnít hate me. Iím different.

They slip past my window, the innocents. Itís the usual crowd tonight: assorted nelly black queens, goth girl-boys, swole gymbods with cowboy boots and baseball caps, college guys with meticulously groomed facial hair, lipsticks, sanchos, fats, fems, trannies, bulldykes, etc. All the colors of the rainbow: each category assigned a different festive hue, no blending permitted. I watch them stream in and out of bars, imagining the imaginary lives they lead behind each closed door. I picture them as tops or bottoms or progressives who ďtranscendĒ standard gender-fucked assignations. I like to watch. Inside my head I can be the ultimate voyeur. I close my eyes and ease back into the headrest. My imagination goes wild.

Background check. One night, when he was still in high school, he and some buds peeled out of their wholly suburban driveways and burned rubber down the interstate to the gay neighborhood near downtown. He rode shotgun, the rest of the boys at attention in the back of the pickup; under cloak of night they cruised the strip with garden tools and homemade weapons: short lengths of chain, two-by-fours studded with nails...

They chose this guy walking back to his car: clearly gay, hair just-so, a big grin lighting his face after a night of be-bopping with a bunch of other shirtless dudes. They zeroed in on him right away. They knew he could be anyone: ďJoe Blow, literally.Ē (They snickered at their own joke, then got pissed off.) They pulled into a dark parking lot and ambushed him, bearing down on the fucking faggot in a huddle, their weapons and steel-toe Doc Martens cocked, adrenaline blowing their minds. They shouted things. They spit on him. They kicked him in the face and in the balls. Ad nauseum. Another car pulled up and they split, their bats and chains and spades hitting the ground, sending up miniature clouds of dust like tiny atomic explosions. The nameless homo died in the ambulance. It was all over the news, the papers. There was a candlelight vigil. Everybody went; it was a moment for the whole ďcommunityĒ or whatever. Attendance was practically mandatory.

Of course he and his pals got caught. There was a trial, which made the local 5 oíclock, 6 oíclock and 10 oíclock news. All of the boysí families came and defended the actions of their wholesome whitebread heterosexual offspring who were naturally defending their precious asses from the lascivious advances of an evil somdomite [sic]. Each family stuck to the party line, reciting gospel by rote. Except his. His dad wouldnít provide character testimony for the state or for the defense, he just sat at the back of the courtroom and glared.

Things are pretty quiet tonight. The fag patrol has passed by a couple of times. I donít think they saw me -- I wouldnít want to be mistaken for a basher. Actually, I look pretty random. None of my friends even guessed I was queer until I told them. And then half of them didnít believe me. I suppose Iím pretty anonymous-looking. I blend in. I think thatís one of the things he liked about me: I donít seem to stand for anything or project any sort of relationship with politics, sexuality, etc. I just am. If you want to find out who I really am, you have to ignore the ticking sound and tear open the package.

At night when I fuck him he cries like a baby. I fuck him as hard as I can. Sometimes when heís drunk and out of it, I fuck him with objects found around the house: a paper towel holder, a broomstick, etc. I call them readymades, but he never took art history. When itís over and Iíve come all over his chest, he holds me and tells me he loves me. In lieu of a cigarette, he strokes my hair and massages my neck, the stickiness between us cementing us together like glue. Thatís usually when the stuff happens.

Flashback: itís 1991. Iím 19. My first boyfriend punched me out a couple of times: once in the eye, once in the lip. Nothing John Woo might call violence, but the fact that I was so young and so in love with him at the time made all the difference. Sitting here behind the wheel I imagine I can still feel the sting. Of course thatís metaphorical and lame. They say you canít remember pain. Not physical pain anyway. So Iím a little damaged because of it, him. Iím damaged goods, I like to think, like something you buy at a scratch and dent sale -- not so pretty or perfect anymore, but still functional. Ready to be used.

Letís cut back to the present. Our sex life: he didnít think of himself as queer. He had a roster of former girlfriends to back up his claims. The first time I sucked his dick he provided a cheap soundtrack, things like, ďYeah, suck itĒ and ďYou like it, donít you bitch?Ē Porno crap like that. Ugh. I queried him re: his violent feelings towards women. His hands pushed me down onto his lap hard, choking me, but he was drunk enough not to fight back when I punched him in the face.

Sex is easy, but Iím not so sure about ďlove.Ē I used to idealize it, actually believe in it. I know Iíve ďlovedĒ people before. Not many. A few special ones. But no matter how much I ďloveĒ someone, no matter how much I would do anything for him, the situation always changes. And the next thing I know, Iím alone: unable to grasp those feelings Iíd rather die than be without, but too fucking desperate to let go of the loss. So I donít know if itís worth it after all, to want ďlove,Ē to just give it away to someone whoíll eventually take their stuff and move in with someone else. Obviously I have issues, but I canít really talk to anyone about them. Or want to, frankly. I guess that makes me an emotional cripple -- which is both fucking typical and convenient.

Iíve come to the conclusion that I like to hurt him because thatís how I feel inside. He tells me Iím some kind of vigilante, a fucking basher bounty hunter. He says he isnít a basher anymore, that that was a long time ago. He ďmade a mistake.Ē He ďserved his time.Ē He was ďjust a kid.Ē He says Iíve gone ďover the edge,Ē ďoff the deep end,Ē etc. He says Iím way too interested in violence. ďItís not healthy,Ē he says right before he passes out.

He took me to Mexican wrestling once, on the South Side. Picture it: Los Luchadores with their signature masks and wicked names like Metallik, Caballero Diabolico and Demente. Lots of tag team action, wheel of death, etc. What youíd expect of Mexican wrestling. Scene: Karina enters to a disco beat, in a powder blue ladiesí one-piece bedazzled with butterflies. As she struts around the perimeter of the ring, Karina sits in all the Latino laps she can and tries to kiss the hombres, to their embarrassed protests. But itís all a game, right? The crowd chants ďKarina! Karina! Karina!Ē and eggs her on as she body slams one macho guy after the next; the barrio padres and chulos clapping and cheering on this big mean fighting Latino drag queen. For the moment, sheís the hero, the unrivalled luchador(o)(a). Just so long as she isnít really winning. See, when the final round shapes up to be between Karina and Jaivo, the scrawny Mexi-mulletted underdog, the temperature changes dramatically. ďMatalo! Matalo! Chinga, joto! Chinga maricon!Ē After a dramatic outside-the-ring struggle with Jaivo -- featuring acrobatics, audience dislocation and fake blood -- Karina loses, beaten, bashed over the head with a folding chair. The crowd roars as the refs sit her down before us, crumpled, and take the clippers to her long black hair. Her scalp steams in the hot lights of the ring.

Maybe Iím digressing, but he likes fratboy hazing websites. He discovered this one site where you can download photos of ďreal college guysĒ jerking off into their webcams. They all wear baseball caps, have big dicks and look straight. He likes the big brother/pledge dynamic; you know, the initiated who has to endure getting paddled, sucking his big brotherís fat cock, getting rammed up the ass by his big brother and the rest of the drunken frat. Getting beaten up, on occasion. Fucking livestock. Itís worth it, I guess, to feel that sense of brotherhood.

Iíve seen the same black Toyota Corolla circle this block three times. Iíve ruled out that the driver is searching for a parking space, as there are a couple within easy view, well within walking distance of the Ballgag, the Spur, the Mine Shaft and Ursa Major. He has tinted windows, which are rolled up. Deep bass pulses inside. I try to picture his face as he swings the bat; I try to imagine the sound of its impact. The car keeps circling, like a hungry shark.

Can I just say Iíve never really felt any sense of brotherhood in The Community. Iíve done volunteer work, just like everyone else, gone to the parade, walked for AIDS, etc. But when it comes down to it, when Iím out mingling in the bars -- which is the only place queers are really ďoutĒ (despite what our ďmediaĒ may tell you) -- I just feel like part of the crowd. I know I said that I liked my anonymity; donít get me wrong, I would never want to lose that. But the way we just slide through the throng, predator or prey, top or bottom, man or boy, makes me feel like itís all a big ruse, this brotherhood Iím supposed to be feeling. Iíve starting to get this sinking feeling that itís all a big lie -- that our ďhistoryĒ is just a big joke. Because we donít love each other. Our surviving oppression or whatever hasnít brought us closer together. Itís just made it easier for us to shop for gay porn, or rent 1-bedroom apartments, or fuck. We donít even like each other. We just use each other to feel good, to escape the feeling that maybe weíre doing something wrong because weíre still faggots after everythingís said and done. Sometimes I wonder if the other 96% is right and weíre wrong. And if so, why have they put up with us for so long?

I tell him the frat thing isnít so special, that itís not so different from the way gay guys generally treat one another. I mean, a lot of us really have it in for each other, fuck (with) each other (up), leave a few bruises and go onto the next willing victim. He tells me that Iím ďtotally morbidĒ and that the fratboy stuff is ďincredibly hot.Ē And if I canít see why, itís no wonder Iím so lonely, he says, no wonder I have to find a horny straight boy to fuck around with. I tell him heís not straight and he just laughs and laughs.

Sometimes I picture myself fighting back, beating the shit out of him -- the first boyfriend from 1991 I mean. Iím totally obsessed with the thought, with the fantasy of stringing him up on a wooden fence somewhere in the middle of nowhere and beating him to a bloody pulp. But once the footage starts rolling I start to feel guilty; I mean, he only hit me twice I think. Once in the lip and once in the eye. Itís not like he was an abusive partner, nothing major. He just blew his top a couple of times. I didnít die, or even have to go to the ER. A little peroxide fixes everything. But sometimes itís all I can do to keep from rerunning the fantasy, the same sick twisted scenario over and over again in my demented little brain. My own private Wyoming.

Heís gone. The date was a big mistake. He ďnever should have called,Ē tonight ďnever should have happened.Ē When I went to snag some peroxide for the cut above his lip, he must have slipped out. Fuck him, I think, straightening the pillows on the futon and neatly spreading the quilt. The bathroom shows no sign of wear, no trace of tonight -- Wild Turkey and leftovers all flushed away. I can see it now: heís probably already on the strip, checking into the bars named for their clientele -- the Ballgag, the Spur, the Mine Shaft, Ursa Major -- just another nameless dick among the crowd looking for his next victim.

Itís nearly two, just before last call. Thoughts zigzag randomly through my brain. I canít get a handle on them, canít regulate my feelings in this mess of stories. I canít believe he actually left, after all weíve been through; Iím beginning to suspect he had another trick on the side all along. Iím beginning to think I canít separate fact from fiction. I canít remember how it feels to be just me -- whoever that is. My left hand clenches into a fist; my right hand circling it, fighting it, my thumb pushing down into my wrist, into my pulse, hard, as if to slow it and calm me down. A black slash purple slash green bruise blossoms there.

Thereís the screech of someoneís brakes, and my back instantly stiffens. (Insert steel rod metaphor here.) Pan left. Idling next to me in a black Toyota Corolla is a nondescript teen, windows down, music blasting. His hands fumble for something inside the glove compartment. A weapon? He doesnít notice me right away. Heís just another guy. He could be anyone: Joe Blow, literally. My window inches down. I materialize as he looks up. We trade smiles. He looks straight and restless, with a healthy dose of anger. I wonder whatís his story. In his brown slash blue slash gray eyes I invent ours.  


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Travis Jon Mader is a 30-year-old writer living in Houston, Texas. His work has shifted from playwriting to performance text to fiction and back again. Along the way he has worked with Edward Albee, Tim Miller, Anne Waldman and Elia Arce, among others. He is currently working on a book. 3AM Magazine has also published Travis Jon Maderís ďCutĒ and ďcrush SyndromeĒ. An interview with the author appears in our ďWhat the Butler Never SawĒ column. Send correspondence to: travis@take23.com 


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