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My Blue Midnights
Rane Arroyo

The trees which grew along the broken arches

Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars

Shone through the rents of ruin

Lord Byron, Manfred

My ears are ringing so I can't help but think my family is already talking about me.

I don't think I'm that interesting once I get out of other people’s beds.

The country of my own bed is only for invited tourists.

I stop at Little Jim's for a drink before I go to the family party for another cousin who is engaged.

It's only 4 o'clock in a Gemini afternoon but already the bar is crowded.

I see lots of businessmen eyeing unemployed (or unemployable, as my friend Linc insists) men in cowboys suits.

How has the Gay world become so full of uniforms?

A younger man nonchalantly stares at me.

I look away and see one of the suits staring at him.

In the beginning was the triangle and it is still holy.

I walk over to the jukebox to see if there are any new Spanish songs on there and I find the same old one: "Feliz Navidad."

Jesus, why is there a Christmas song on this jukebox in the middle of June?

I swallow my warm Budweiser and hurry out of the bar before I have to reject a skinny man with an eye patch who is seeking rejection, and probably wouldn’t believe that I’m late for a family party.

It's so strange but the inside of a Gay bar is like being inside an imaginary country; rarely are there clocks nor even clues to which city you might be in.

It’s a no-man's land filled with men.

It’s as if we’re all amnesiacs without any other I.D.s other than what hangs between our legs.

I’m an exile who isn’t an exile.

I think of my parents arriving in Chicago not knowing any words of English, their Puerto Rico becoming only Puerto Pobre.

How they used to bundle us up in the winters as if we were going out to play in a new ice age.

I guess I’ll never be the sexy narcoleptic that River Phoenix played in My Own Private Idaho.

My boots hit the sidewalks in a regular rhythm and I think of that song that Uncle Israel, before he became Señorita Luna, used to sing: There is a rose / that grows / in Spanish Harlem.

I arrive at the party, take a deep breath and ring the doorbell.

The cousin who is pregnant and fifteen is being honored for trapping her man, an electrician who is even in a union.

She shrugs at me and cousin Tony embraces me and I’m pushed into the living room.

He is one of the family’s heroes because he has been a rich banker's (I've never seen a poor banker) personal chauffeur for over ten years.

Tony’s tragedy is that he hasn't had enough free time to make children, or at least "legal ones" as Mami whispered to me at another party for another pregnant cousin.

In our family, sometimes we had celebrations to celebrate the fact that nothing bad had happened in a long time.

Tony’s wife, Rosa, kisses me on the cheek and sighs, "Ricky, you've finally got here. It's you and me against them. I've been doing my part."

It's a well-established, if undiscussed, fact in the family that I don't have children either.

Rosa finds this a more important link than I do, but it provides me an entry, or reentry, into the family often enough.

Bells cut out of white tissue paper are taped everywhere so it feels like I’m inside an church just for albinos.

My secret life is no secret anymore.

It’s suppose to be my secret love.

Where is he?

Will I never sing: eres tú / la agua de mi. . . .?

Cousin Blanca walks into the living room, her body stuffed into a white Christian Dior yacht-dress and rushes forward to embrace me.

"I told your mother this morning you would show up," she purrs. "Your parents told me that you wouldn't. That you had to go to the ballet or something that you -- you know -- you like to do."

"I like to do everything," I smile back. "That's how I get in trouble."

Rosa chokes and Blanca beams.

Sometimes I wish either of these women had been my mother.

"Where are Mami and Papi?" I ask.

"They'll be here. You know your mother. She's like a daughter of the tides. She leaves the suburbs when there isn't any traffic. She wasn't that nervous when she was young. But who is young anymore? Not even you. I see gray hairs, hijo."

"That's because I am very good on some very bad nights." I feel drunk, strangely happy.

I like the sound of Spanish and English filling the room.

Some of the men are huddled, talking about the Cubs vs. The White Socks, that ancient argument where it’s been agreed there are no clear-cut winners.

I join the women in the kitchen who are never more than a few steps away from the liquor.

I grab a beer, look at it in case it's on the latest boycott list -- it's not!

Blanca hits my hand. "Put that back, you barbarian. I have a surprise for you."

She pushes me through the hallway into the dining room where a bar has been set up. "See something you like?"

I follow her gaze and see a handsome bartender. "Blanca, are you trying to get me in trouble?"

"Let's just say I'm trying to manage the trouble you're already in."

Jesus, I have a sudden taste for a cigarette even though I don’t really smoke except when I’m drunk or nervous or sexed-out.

I rarely smoke.

Blanca leans forward. "Haven't you had enough of this business? Your parents making up excuses. You never join the family because your parents. . . ."

I kiss her. "Is this like a late graduation present?"

"It's up to you to make it a party. I know it’s a fact the stud is suffering from a broken heart. So just keep it below the waist, you get me, huh? You'd be surprised what can crawl from down there to up here." She pounds her chest and then dramatically winks then walks away.

I savor the moment.

I feel as if I'm in Brideshead Revisited, but with a mambo soundtrack.

"Hola, hermano." I'm a fucking idiot, I think to myself.

Why am I calling such a stud my brother?

The bartender smiles back. "Are you my tip?"

I pull back. "What do you mean?"

"You're the Ricky that Blanca told me about."

I nod, "The little that she knows to tell you."

He extends his hand, "I'm Pablo."

I hold his hand, "And I'm very happy that you are Pablo."

He breaks into a smile. "Ah, they warned me that you could be charming and that you have a fat bank account."

I smile back. "This is going to sound crazy, but I feel happy today. I mean, just being with my family -- look at these criminals. You're. . . here and I'm. . . ."

"Also. . .happy."

"Right," I wink back. "Happy."

"But you haven't asked me about my broken heart!"

"Tell me about your broken heart," I ask while trying to offer my best GQ scowl.

Pablo gestures toward a drink, "You're too sober and I'm working."

"Can I ask just one thing?"

"As long as it's not the kind of question that is too inspirational."

I lean forward. "You sound like a Hallmark Card."

"What's your question?" Pablo asks as if is guiding me back home through a billion mile journey. I like his tenderness.

"Was he Spanish or American."

"He was Spanish-American. A Latino. I only sleep with our kind. Who do you sleep with?"

The robot in me can’t be stopped once again, "Usually myself."

Pablo puts his hand over mine. "Look, I've been hearing about you for nearly a month. And you are handsome. And you might even be sweet. I don't want to talk about me, OK? I want to talk about spending next summer in Madrid. Or some other adventure we might have, can have. Stupid, right?"

I cock my head, "Are you a professional bartender?"

He shrugs, "Ricky, I'm licensed. God, that makes me sound like James Bond, no? Did you see Rob Lowe, no wait, it was Tom Cruise in that terrible movie where he serves drinks in the Caribbean?"

"No, but I'll have to rent it now."

Rosa shows up. "Sorry to interrupt this -- whatever it is but I need your help. The uncles are arguing about who will be godfather to our children."

Pablo points, "You two. . . .?"

I shake my head, "No, it's a joke. . . ."

Rosa yells, "We're two of a kind."

I'm dragged off into the living room.

I wave goodbye to Pablo and he waves back.

Forgive me this literary theft, but I'm surfing one of Virginia Woolf's waves and drunk on adrenaline: the waves, the waves, and yet more waves.

Uncle Tony grabs me, "Am I or am I not your favorite uncle?"

I nod my head, "No."

Everyone laughs.

Uncle only pats me on my back, "America is still a land of choices, right?"

"Right," I laugh. "But you're always going to be my uncle. I have no choice!"

Uncle Tony playfully pushes me away and I watch as the conversation slowly descends into a series of private concerns and confessions.

I can't help but think of Señorita Luna and wonder what he is doing right now, at this very moment -- no, wait -- this very second, right now.

How many times I have tried to find him but it seems he has legally changed his last name too.

A transvestite in the family still has no place at the table during prayers for our god is a jealous god and wants the spotlight all to himself.

Ask me about Spanish men I admire and I'll tell you of my Señorita Luna, he who taught me how to dance to Aretha Franklin records, whose last words to me before he disappeared (lost desperadoes in America): Honey, I'm taking a slow boat to China and I may never see you again but think of me each time you open a fortune cookie.

Those were his last words.

Then he was gone.

I wonder if I'll disappear just like that someday.

I need a new drink, a new bartender.

Funny word -- "bartender."

Tender bar.

Father Time, love me tender and I'll be so good to you too.

Maybe I’ll even be good for you.

I think of escaping my family, of making my way back to Little Jim’s and being picked up.

I want to be seduced tonight and not be the seducer.

I’ve been dismissed as a fucking romantic by many of my so-called amigos.

These thoughts get cut-off because Mami and Papi arrive.

All too soon, I’m their referee once again.

I avoid Pablo, feeling as unsexy as old bean burritos in a 7-11 microwave.


Eventually I do call Pablo and he meets me at the Chicago Diner, a trendy vegetarian restaurant blocks from the bars.

I'm a creature of habit, feeling safe only with the familiar, the explored, the tamed.

Christopher Columbus I am not.

I always have to know where the emergency exit is in the theater, the skyscraper, airplane and on first dates.

Little Jim's is two blocks from here and French Kissing is three.

Pablo shows up, looking a little older than he did at the party.

Perhaps that's because he is dressed more informally, in a jeans and a tank top.

Or maybe I'm just sober.

We smile at each other, stumble through orders, and face each other without saying much of anything.

He breaks the silence. "So your lovers, Americans?"

I smile back, but not so to reveal much of anything. "You and I are Americans too."

Pablo laughs and the tension breaks.

I like this man, although I don't know if I can love this man.

Why am I thinking about this over lentil soup, with a side of hand-shredded carrots?

He says, "When I was young I wanted to change the colors of my eyes. I wanted them to be sea blue."

I stare at his brown eyes, the eyes of a Mark Anthony before his encounter with a destiny nicknamed Egypt.

God, I have to stop reading personal ads.

I smile, "There are contacts for that now."

Pablo shrugs. "But I've changed. I came to realize that blue eyes wouldn't help me look like James Dean."

"I wanted to look like Sal Mineo, the smart one in Rebel Without a Cause."

Pablo pats my hand. "At least, you pick a dark hero."

"So what do you think?"

Pablo understands. He shakes his head. "It won't work. You, hijo, are too Americanized to live in my world. You know your family's party. Well, I belong there."

"I don't."

Pablo plays at twirling his pretend mustache. "And someday you'll succeed. And you'll get away from them too."

"What do you mean?"

"Ricky, I watched you watch them. I'm not even sure if you know how far away you've placed everyone from you."

I must be crazy, but I just put my right hand in his crotch and rubbed him. "I'm right here, baby."

Pablo lifts the hand, kisses the open palm and puts it gently into my own lap. "You're too Puertorriqueño and no matter how you try, you can't make the United States your real bed. I'm not talking about your body. I'm sure it knows how to sleep almost anywhere."

There is a pause and we're both laughing.

I feel so good.

I want to love this man.

"I want to love you, Pablo."

"I want to love you too, Ricky, but. . . "

I stop him from talking.

The dinner is excellent as usual and deserving of the big tip I offer.

I walk Pablo to Belmont Avenue and flag down a taxi for him, but before he enters it I kiss him slowly on the lips.

His hands wrap around my hips.

He pulls me to him.

We can't let go.

We can't let go.

We don't let go.

I jump into the taxi and we go to his place near the Taco Bell in Andersonville.

We walk up the stairs past stoners in black T-shirts and underwear munching on tacos.

I think how the neighborhood looks like a Mexican Disneyland.

Pablo’s apartment is crazier than I thought it would be because he seemed so damn polite and not the free spirit he feels free to be at home.

There are cacti painted on the wall; orange chairs are all over the place.

They’re like pumpkins that no one will carve with human faces.

There are different colored lightbulbs in the lamps throughout his place.

Pablo has filled an aquarium with broken wine glasses.

"Souvenirs of parties?" I ask in an amused voice, "Or glass slippers you’ve refused?"

He gives me a look that makes him look like a brat, a mischievous little boy, a sideshow barker.

I thank Pablo for being my new brother, though I want and need him to be my lover.

I thank the men whose names I don't remember for giving me memories which I'll never forget.

We mess up his place as our shadows rub against each other.

Making love with him is both silly and beautiful.

His brown skin covers me and it feels like I'm falling into the sun head first.

I wake up at midnight, my heart racing.

I look at the man next to me and Pablo looks uncannily like me; we’re not twins, but we do look as if we come from the same planet.

I wake him up and insist we walk naked to his balcony.

"Los vecinos will call the cops, hombre," he half-protests.

"Fuck your neighbors," I growl.

"Dios, you're not going to be very faithful, are you, Ricky?"

He pulls me to him and soon I get him to look out at a city of lights.

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago.

We don't say anything.

We don't need to speak in Spanish or English about this moment as the weight of his body and mine are burdens we share.

Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.

I quote musicals at the worst times.

I feel as if I've stopped falling into a black hole and that I have landed alive in Margaritaville.

Hell, whatever scars I might have are only causes of celebration -- that I've made it to the present, this now which is as naked as we are.

Pablo asks me where the North Star is but what do I know of space, of cosmic forms?

I kiss him slowly and he rubs his face against me.

I don't care if we are ghosts among ruins.

Right now, we're dreaming without even having to close our eyes.

"What will happen to us in the morning?" I stutter.

"That's a million years away," he whispers.

"But in the morning?"

"We'll see."

I nod my head.

In daylight, one can trust one's eyes.

In the dark, the body knows the route to survival.

We have instincts that have developed within us after millions of years of living and dying on Earth.

I become cold and we go back to bed where earlier our shapes, or the ruins of them, have been etched out in the sheets.

Our desires are often explicit.


Over the next year, Pablo and I become friends and stop sleeping with each other.

I'm a little surprised one March night to see him waiting for me as I stagger home from Little Jim's.

I'm alone, broke and tired of my clothes smelling like smoke.

I smell like a goddamn fireman; the bars are becoming more and more like the hearts of volcanoes.

The truth is that I spent most of the night hugging the jukebox.

I didn't really want sex.

I do right now.

Only, it's Pablo who is here and we are now just amigos.

Pablo is as gone as I am, but I sense he is here for a safe place from some internal storm.

Riders of the storm.

He loves my apartment because if you open up the balcony door you can smell Lake Michigan.

Not that you can see it!

My building is one of the last rental unit in the lake shore area of New Chinatown.

Daily, I see yuppies shopping for $100,000 condos right in this building.

Soon I will have to move out, replaced by a young banker, a pretty actor, a successful photographer, or a dedicated accountant.

"Hola, El Cid," I smile. "Come inside. If you want to be cold, I'll put some ice in your wine."

He follows me inside, holds me, takes a deep breath.

"What are you doing?" I ask gently.

He holds me even harder. "I want to never forget how you smell like. The nose is one way that a poor man takes his revenge on a rich man's garden."

"Sit down. You're drunk."

"Ricky, you've been smoking tonight? Trying to pick someone up? Why don't you take the bull by the horns instead. You know what I mean?"

Many glasses of wine later, we stop talking.

We grow sullen as we next finish off the leftover and frowning rum.

Maybe this is what I miss most about not having a lover anymore: two bodies in one space not having to say anything to each other.

Pablo is still young, too young to be this unhappy. "So why are you here tonight?"

He becomes animated, as if a spell has been broken.

"You know about Chino. I mean, you know he's dead. You went to his funeral. They never caught the guys who did it, you know."

I move over by him. "I know, honey. Chino's probably in heaven looking down on us right now. Jerking-off, I hope."

Pablo pushes me away. "Ricky, he tried awfully hard to go to hell."

We say nothing for the next ten minutes.

Chino stole Pablo from me even though Pablo was never mine; I didn’t want him until he was unavailable.

My family asks about Pablo although they are afraid that if I find a companion then I will demand for them to treat us as a couple.

A couple of thugs.

A couple of what?

Pablo starts talking and I know it's going to be one of his monologues; I’m right but first, "Stop, let me piss first and get bigger glasses for the vodka."

He follows me into the bathroom. "Why do you always know the right thing to say to me?"

"Pablo, a man needs his privacy sometimes."

"I've seen you at the Belmont Rocks doing God knows what. It was hard to tell from where I was but your butt. . . ."

I zip up.

Glasses, vodka, ice, radio tuned to a classical station.

It's the New World Symphony; I'd laugh at the selection but Pablo might think I'm laughing at him.

He speaks slowly, deliberately. "It's my anniversary. Chino has forgotten all about me. The dead are putas, no? We went out just a couple of months. Then he got killed. And today is the fifth month anniversary of our first date. Chino was something special. That's why he got stolen from me. You liked him, I know you did because you didn't make jokes around him. You listened to him. Everyone did. Not any more. Chino doesn't have a tongue. He doesn't have hands. He doesn't have those beautiful legs. He doesn't have a cock. He doesn't have a neck I wanted to bite tonight like I was fucking Dracula or something."

He cries so hard that he is no longer saying words and I hold him.

Pablo's Chino was killed in a drive-by shooting.

He had been in the wrong place and in the wrong time.

Pablo’s Chino.

Will I never belong to anyone?

I don't know what to say and end up making Pablo angry with these words, "Honey, you celebrate the sixth month, a year, 25 years. But the fifth month, well…"

"Ricky, we have five fingers on each hand. Five. You should know. You jerk-off enough. You should know that five is important. Five. Five."

He paces the room like a trapped animal.

I open the balcony door. "Take a deep breath."

Pablo almost says something, stops and takes a long look into my tired face.

He then takes that deep breath.

"Lake Michigan!" I prompt. "There are some things you just can't see even if they're there."

Pablo leans forward, throws his glass of vodka in my face.

Startled, I fall back. "What?"

"I want to lick it off."

He does and we end up kissing.

"Let's just sleep tonight, OK?"

Pablo nods.

"Sometimes, Ricky, I have sex with a guy just to sleep next to him. To breathe in the air he's just breathed out."

I push him towards the bedroom. "You're sick and that’s why you are the most perfect friend in the world for me."

"I think I'm going to be sick in the morning."

"If you're human," I add.

He whispers in my ear, "I love you, Ricky Ricardo Jr."

"I wish you did."

I put Pablo to bed and he floats away to some safe place in his head.

Why do I always feel like I'm being left behind?




My body is my true family.

My soul is the orphan that I’ve adopted.

My mother and father are sleeping in each other’s arms and why can’t I as a gay man have the same refuge?

Is my Señorita Luna going to make his cameo in a seance soon?

Again, I’m alone.

I am no loner and is that my tragedy?

Shakespeare is doing the cha cha cha in Chicago tonight.

I can't sleep.

I want to guard my friend against some invisible enemy tonight.

I sit on the couch, listening to my neighbors argue about alternative music not being alternative since it’s so mainstream now.

Stupid shits.

I shake off my blue mood by thinking of someone I slept with (Did he even have a name? Did he ever share that much of himself with me?) who stayed over on a night when these very neighbors were going for each other's throats.

My boyfriend (who hadn’t been a boy in a very long time) cooed, "They sound like jazz musicians without instruments."

He didn't know what a poet he was.

I remember him listening to the arguing couple some more, cocking his head like a dog that is left alone very often.

"Just listen to them go up and down the scale, baby."

I remember that much of him.

I still appreciate that much of him.

Is love possible?

I don’t remember orgasm with him, just that moment listening to the neighbors.

Curious how the body is an amnesiac.

Are we all men of the Mancha, our erect lances against windmills?

I'm glad to laugh at myself.

I turn on the television and fall asleep watching, of all things, It's A Wonderful Life.

Pablo talks in his sleep.

He talks in Spanish.

Angels gets wings on the television everytime a bell rings.

Is it a wonderful life?

My blue midnight blows out the candles, one by one.

I end up in the dark, face down.

I spite the gods by dreaming about reality.


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