Around dusk, I rode into Eugene. I'd pedaled more than sixty miles from the coast the first day of my mad journey by bicycle across America, grieving by the mile for dear dead Greg.
At the organic market I saw the trickster Pan in the guise of a stockboy. He was bending over the bulk rice bin with his dark hair, his brown skin and gangly s-shape, a kind of vegetable dirtiness to him like a beet just pulled up out of the ground. I stared at him, my heart confusedly pumping this way and that, struggling toward my throat, aware he was the first guy I'd looked at since Greg had died. I felt guilty and saw Greg laughing at my guilt too and criticizing me for it, all at once. I kept staring.
So I'm staring and figuring all the figuring that homos have to figure, like if there are a fair number of queers in Eugene, and chances are they'd be marginalized into hippie or underground scenes, and even if he isn't, if he works in a place like this he probably wouldn't be mad if I approached him. And maybe he's only sixteen, and maybe he has a boyfriend. And he doesn't have any earrings, but he does have a small goatee of sorts; and I wish I didn't have a dick and I wasn't queer and that I'd never seen him.
'But you do,' I hear Greg's distant voice. 'You have. '
Then he suddenly looked up through all my figuring like he surfaced or something from water which made me think of drowning which I think of a lot because I almost did once and in some sense I have along with most of the people I know. He saw me staring and locked his eyes on mine and didn't turn away. And we stared that way for about a minute and many of those questions I was running on about were getting answered. I walked over to him like a zombie and said: "Hi, can you, uh, tell me where the carrot juice is?" I'd entered the stream. Greg let me go; maybe he even nudged me -- and in I went.
The boy smiled and pointed behind me, from where I'd just come from actually, and then he went back to work. I should have known then, when the first thing he did was tell me to go back to where I came from. So I went back to where I came from, like I've been doing all my life, grabbed a carrot juice, and turned to look back at him. And he was gone. I knew he was an Indian.
And the girl in produce looking at me now. And she comes right up to me and says, with a big red apple clenched in each upturned palm: "You're looking at that guy in bulk aren't ya? Well, he's mute, so if you want to talk to him you can -- he's not deaf, but he doesn't say much if you know what I mean. Just thought I'd let ya know. " I thought she should have bitten into one of those apples right then, and me the other. But, instead, she let her hands drop to her sides.
"Uh, thanks, yeah," I paused nervously, "Um, is he a friend of yours?"
She turned to place the apples in their rough wooden trough as she answered me: "Sure -- I work with him. Nobody really knows him well -- he's only been here a few months and he's quitting besides. And he really don't say much, believe me," she smiled, and crouched down to grab a handful of apples from a box. Then she craned her neck to look up at me "But sure, he's a nice person. "
"Is he queer?" I asked nervously.
"So I hear. " She was up and piling apples one on top of another and I thought of all the crushes I'd ever had and their various tragic consequences, hoping she was right through all the hope that he wasn't queer, which seemed bigger but weaker too. He was a star in the Clouds of Magellan.
"What's his name?" I was gaining confidence. And she smiled, holding a large apple in her fist, moving her fingers over it like a baseball pitcher. "They just call him Eugene, cuz he's here. But he has some Indian name he doesn't use. He'll answer to Eugene. "
Eugene. The Boy Who Don't Talk.
She went back to the box on the floor.
"So he's Native American?" I asked, thinking how I could feel the greed in my blood, wanting to extract my own soul from his beauty as if he were a mountain full of uranium or gold, or the Black Hills themselves. I was a fool romantic and I wasn't surprised that he was one of the ancient people who remained among us. Something about him said as much. I was in the land of the dead and who else would I expect to meet?
She looked at me, like I was stupid and she was getting tired of my questions: "Well, I said he had an Indian name. And since he doesn't look like a middle-aged new age Jewish man or like he's from Calcutta, I guess you could say, yeah, he's Native American. "
"Thanks, . . . . . . . . . uh, have a nice day" I said and moved on thinking maybe I don't need this. Maybe whatever this feeling is is a little scary and trouble. I should go. I didn't set out on this trip to cruise boys anyway.
But suddenly, I saw him coming toward me with a note, folded, which he put in my hand before smiling as he closed my fingers around it, turned and walked away. I stood dumbfounded, but I opened the note and read what it said:
I was excited and I snickered because as much as I hated how Pan made a fool of me, I usually enjoyed the game and got some fun out of it. I went and bought my food and then went to a park on my bicycle, ate my dinner of burritos and celery and carrot juice and sobbed of a sudden because suddenly I thought again of Greg and I hadn't felt any crush for a boy since him, and instead of feeling guilty this time, I thanked him. I don't know why. I just did. I took a nap then on the green, moist grass under an elm tree.
I was back at the organic grocery at 8:50 and looking in the glass door because the place was obviously now closed. And there I see his grin coming at me from down the aisle. That boyish grin, that shy smile on that ancient face that haunts me to this day. Then, I told myself: No corny shit. No ancient faces and romantic crap. But not even I could get the better of Pan and Eros and a lifetime of propaganda about the all-knowing noble savage. Is it wrong to believe in a city of gold? He walked out of a deeper past than I was looking for, I knew that. 'You want to go back to find the dead boys singing?' his face seemed to say, 'I'll take you back further than that. ' And he put his hands up with all his fingers splayed, saying with them: 10 minutes, OK? with his brow moving up in big arches. I nodded and went to lock up my bike on a parking meter. I sat out front on a bench they had there thinking about all the hip people, just like San Francisco probably, sitting and eating wholewheat burritos or hummus or something on this bench in the summer sun. I finally heard the door click and there he was grinning, breaking my heart up like ice chunks in the Willamette River. Hold that thought I told myself. No flowers, just ice chunks drowning field mice and crushing beaver dams. Energy. Plain and simple. I saw the dirt on his face. Call it beard. It was North American soil, I could see that much. And that door cracked the night open and a string of frozen days in me, and I forgot all about Greg for awhile as Eugene like a river pushed stones and logs and things around inside me.
First thing he did was grab my hand and take me around to the back of the store where there were some broken wooden fruit boxes full of fruit past its shelflife and he grabbed some apples and oranges and put them in his backpack and then motioned with a nod for us to head out across the old, pot-holed broken-glassed parking lot, empty now and rimmed with weeds. We went into some trees by a little path which led down through maples and madrones to the river. There was a lot of garbage lying around, but it was still a wild place in the city. We sat and ate the fruit watching the river, sometimes him pointing to things, leaves floating, a tree across the bank, a fish jumping. It brought me back to somewhere I didn't want to go in my childhood, but at the same time it was like taking me back and doing it over without all the drama and child idiot fear and grandiosity. Without my mean brothers, and with this boy Eugene instead. It felt so nice to be with him without saying anything. It was like being kids. How we just did things together thoughtlessly. I liked being with somebody eating fruit by a river. I felt a moment of joy and timelessness; whatever could I lose here? And I reached my hand to touch his shoulder and smile a kind of gratitude. He smiled back and reached to hold my hand.
He pointed to me and started saying something in sign language, but he stopped when he saw I looked confused. At least he could hear what I said, so I didn't have to know how to sign myself; I just needed to be able to read it. Which I couldn't. He began to draw on the ground. First a stick figure of himself, distinguished by an 'E' above it, then one of me with a 'J' over its head. He wrote 'where' next to me, and it was clear that he wanted to know where I'd come from, what I was doing here, my story. So I told him I was riding my bicycle across the country because my lover had died and had done the same thing once years before. I laughed and asked him if that made sense. He nodded emphatically and then leaned his head onto my shoulder and somehow I got that he was lost too, but as soon as I started to ask, he wanted me to get up and follow him. All through the evening it happened this way. He didn't seem to like drawing in the dirt and who could blame him. I felt guilty for not knowing sign language and realized I needed to learn it fast and thought of looking for a book, even right there and then with him along. But at the same time he didn't seem frustrated. I almost thought he liked it better that he didn't have to talk. He was expert in gesture and smile and eye.
We finished the fruit, got up and headed down another path along the side of the river, all wooded and smelling northwest soggy leaves dirt fresh, and pretty soon we saw a green steel bridge arching over the river and he led me right under it, where he showed me some graffiti and then pointed to his chest and smiled, proud of his work. It was hardly graffiti; it was a very involved Hieronymous Bosch kind of thing with people crawling around under the pavement, drunks in doorways, twisted trailerhomes and in the big empty sky above the miserable scene were a few stringy clouds, along with big vertical eagle feathers. And underneath everything too, laying near the bum's dropped wine bottle, under the cinder blocks of teetering trailers, were broken arrowheads and buffalo skulls. I'd never seen Indian graffiti. Is that what this was? The indigenous elements seemed out of place in the rest of the angst of the drawing which was so expected from a 20-something guy. I pointed to the feathers and arrowheads and buffalo and he pulled out his medicine bag which he wore on a string around his neck and held it in his fist with a firm kind of strong smile on his face. He touched it to my forehead and put it back in his pocket, then grabbed my hand, indicating it was time to go.
I knew he had shown me something special and I figured he was either desperately lonely or he really liked me. True as in so many gay encounters, I'd given up ever knowing the answer. Since he didn't talk, it was hard to really tell. If he's beautiful it doesn't matter I always say, be it wise or not. I followed.
I noticed that I too had stopped talking. We nodded to each other. The silence was a part of how you talked to him. I felt rude and sort of rough when I even said yes or no, so I just didn't. The river became the voice, the wind and the traffic. We moved in symbols, wrote a story with our feet somehow, in where we went, how we stood. And his eyes, enormous and green-gold, were such a part of what voice he had. In a way bashful, when they looked, they looked and they penetrated to the back of my skull; and something more -- they drew their graffiti there.
He showed me the whole town -- for hours we walked -- never saying a word, either of us. Green bridges and lumber mills stinking of sulfur and sawdust. Moss on stones by the river; a salamander that moved like a baby walking, its eyes locked on us as intensely as Eugene and I looked at each other as I learned how to speak his tongue. There were coffee shops full of coeds near the University and somebody's idea of wisdom, always gothic towers and big elm trees. Strip malls, like people who wear sweats everyday, completely unselfconscious of image, ugly and undignified. Gas stations and thirst; bars and neon hunger; cement walls with names of juvenile delinquents and Fortune 500 companies; markets full of the humility of vegetables -- poorly shaped sweet potatoes, knobby, deformed carrots and turnips -- and the arrogance of packaging. We walked past sleazy-looking bars with music, chain stores lit up brighter when closed; cars, some slow and some fast; cops and semis, like panthers, eyes closed or asleep behind the bowling alley. Like any small American city, only Eugene was a darker green, full of the stains and residues of puddles never quite dried; the earth's face puffy from crying and whimpering -- the grief of America kind of unscabbed and like it will never completely heal or cheer up in this gray, green, un-dry place where nothing can dissolve and dry up and blow away like in California. The sun erases everything in California. It begins about noon and wears itself down to night. You get stuck with the shavings. Not here. The past won't dry. The good and the bad of it.
But it was getting late in Eugene where the days do not disappear, but pile up like timber to rot or grow fungus. And the rain began, because I suppose here, what the night brings is more sadness. But nothing could waterlog Eugene and me. We were happy for this night, anticipating sex I suppose or having some kind of it already. He took me out of the rain and into a drag show at some little gay club. It was funny and entertaining. One of the drag queens came up to us at once.
"Ooooooh, Eugene, you got a big whiteboy again," she chided.
Eugene smiled embarrassed and then the drag queen turned to me, more for Eugene's benefit, and said: "You know Sioux means cut-throat. The faggots are the worst of them. They cut the dicks off their tricks and feed them to dogs! Ha, ha, ha, ha, . . . " she disappeared into her bitchy reverie of laughter for the next act and we waited to watch her.
And thin, gangly Eugene put his arm around me then and I felt that special high school date feeling I'd never known but always longed for, so innocent, as we watched Cherrie Kee lypsynche "I Will Survive," adding "in spite of the whiteman," when the music faded out.
He gave me a little kiss as the crowd scattered toward the bar and tables. And then he put his finger up to signal for me to wait and he went off to the bathroom. I sauntered over to the bar to get a beer and was tapped on the shoulder from behind by Cherrie Kee. . "Hi," she said with a big smile. "Where are you from? Don't get me wrong with all that whiteboy stuff. I'm a performer," she smiled coyly.
I told her I was up from San Francisco and she asked me if I'd met Eugene at the market. I said I had and then she asked me if I knew he was only 18 and shouldn't even be in this bar. "People feel sorry for him because he's mute and being mute he hasn't offended anybody yet. Unlike me," she said self-deprecatingly with a sigh. "We both live on the reservation. I've been taking him up here since his father died when he was 15. A mean, motherfucking Klamath alcoholic who used to beat the shit out of him. " I lit his cigarette; she puffed quickly and continued: " . . . Wasn't actually his father though. He's Sioux. His mother came out from Pine Ridge during relocation with her parents in the '50s. Nobody knows who his father was. Or is. But his stepfather was a prick. He kicked my ass once," she laughed. "Me and Eugene used to fuck around as teenagers and his stepfather caught us once. I can laugh now. 69ing in the back of his pick-up truck. Ha, ha. " She glanced over her shoulder and saw Eugene coming. "Anyway," she hurriedly continued, "be careful. He's a heartbreaker, honey. He lives in his own world, always has, always will. There was a time when he even talked. As a little kid. Don't get caught up in him -- Hi, Eugenee," she suddenly blurted as Eugene joined us.
I realized then that Eugene had probably brought me here to show to Cherrie Kee, probably his best and maybe his only gay friend. I wondered if Eugene also knew that Cherrie Kee would warn me like that. I couldn't see anything sinister in the boy. He seemed a total angel. All the more reason to think about what Cherrie Kee had said. But I wanted to make him then, and I gave into my fantasy, figuring I can think about it later, forgetting all that it had cost me in years past living in the pinball machine of sex that is San Francisco.
We left. The brief, light rain had ceased, and only the smell of damp soil and leaves remained. And he took me back to the place by the river where we'd been hours ago eating the fruit and he sat down there with me and then he turned to me and kissed me and we got our hands in each other's shirts and the warmth there. The rain had driven everyone away but just us. He pulled off his old army overcoat and laid it down for us to sit on. And our hearts beating, knowing our penises throbbed with the same rhythm. Wanting to confirm and see it happening, I pulled at his clothes. And pushing ourselves together, and shoving our hands in each others pants as we discarded our shirts. And his eyes following mine, never losing contact with my eyes, fucking me hard up against the back of my skull. I tried to do the same back but my eyes weren't like his. They were somehow lost and always looking, confused by words said or unsaid. We stood up and pulled off each others pants and reached for the cocks and held our fists around one another's. And kissed more and shared the innocent boyhood of nipples, biceps, thighs, feet and hands. And his skinny brown body, which was actually a kind of glowing orange. And the extreme blackness of his hair in the three places on the Y of his male body. Him all black and orange like Halloween and nightfire and the day where the veil between the worlds is thinnest. And his eyes. Big white moons that never looked away from me while we worked the pleasure up and out of each other. The smooth hardness of his slender, silent cock, the furious aggression in lips and a tongue that never spoke. We worked like furious machines together, laboring to produce the same thing. We each gave ourselves away, the want and the giving, the violence and the peace, the work and the play of it, all mixed up and become enormous in affirmation, like of course the universe is expanding. And the warm cum we'd shot on each other's bellies cooling and thinning and running away.
We held each other. And I didn't want to let go, and I wanted to stay with him; see him again. He reached into his coat pocket, and struggling with it, pulled out a folded picture he'd drawn of the bridge, with a buffalo sleeping under it where his graffiti was. I understood it was for me but couldn't imagine when he'd drawn it. And then we got dressed, Eugene beating the dirt and pine needles from his overcoat. I remember watching the smallness of his orange butt as he struggled into his jeans. I wanted to fuck him next time; I wanted to fuck him until his tongue spoke again.
He started up the hill and I after him, out of the trees and into the parking lot. At my bicycle, he kissed me, smiled and did a kind of Hindu or Buddhist greeting of farewell with his hands held together in front of his heart. And then he turned. He set off on down the street, toward home I was guessing. I felt like I was holding something. One of those expired oranges or an apple from the girl in produce. I thought of Cherrie Kee's warning but I wanted to go with him, just stay with him that night. But I couldn't invite myself. And besides, I'd been queer long enough to know that sex isn't necessarily the beginning of anything. He probably lived with his mother on the reservation. Cherrie Kee had referred to me as another big white boy and maybe that's all I was, his particular fetish. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, for no other reason than I was leaving in the morning anyway. Why get angry at someone I'd never see again who'd made my brief visit a kind of epiphany?
But I couldn't shake him that easy. He confused me. Those eyes that looked so far into me. I watched him go, a good block down the street by now. It was never terribly clear between men. I was afraid to follow him and afraid not to. And then something about me with a bike and him without. Me with a voice, and him without. He with everything, and all of me now. Me with nothing but him. All I've got is words I thought to myself; He's got pictures. He's got eyes. He can see. All I got is going. Blind. But I didn't follow him, even though he follows me and writes stories through my hand. Some day he'll run across one and draw a beautiful picture of himself. And maybe even of me.