Las Cruces, 1984
I could hear him yelling over the crowd about our sex life! Paco. We were at a party at his friends,’ the Equinox party, in September, about four months into our relationship. He was dishing with the other style queens. I was practically the only Anglo there, so Paco was trying to make my white face turn red. And it worked. All the style queens were laughing and slapping each other, and the other guys were looking sheepish and trying not to smile.
“Oh, honey,” he said, “You know how we like to joke around. It doesn’t mean anything.”
But I was still mad when we got back, and I really got into fucking him. He liked it like that, but I didn’t hear it when he said, “Stop!” By the time I heard him, he already had bite marks all over his neck and shoulders. I began to pull out, but he said, “No, finish it already.”
Afterward, he turned to face me.
“I’m sorry, Paco,” I said.
He sighed. “I know. When we got home, I knew something was going to happen. You’re really pissed off.”
“Why did you do that, say that, tonight? I thought we’d agreed. And you just talked about me sucking you; you didn’t even mention how I fuck you every night.”
“Fred, they know that. Anyway, they’re friends. They like you.”
“Well, I don’t know them. And I don’t like you talking about what we do in bed!”
“Okay! I won’t do it again. Promise. All right?”
I only nodded. I felt like showing him I was still pissed off.
“You know,” he said, “I grew up with those guys. Even if I didn’t say it, they know everything.”
“They don’t know that I suck you off. They didn’t, anyway.”
“No. Okay. I already said I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”
“Okay.” But I didn’t feel okay. I didn’t like the idea that those queens thought that I liked dick.
“Fred, you know how long I’ve been out? Ten years. I came out when I was fifteen. Those guys, Carlos, Jacqui, and them? They all came out at the same time. They know I wouldn’t be living with you if you didn’t do it. Everyone knows: Paco has to get it every day. Period.”
My mood changed then. Whenever Paco started talking about that past of his, I was hypnotized. I’d never had a past to speak of.
“You were fifteen! When I was fifteen I didn’t know I had a dick.” I was trying to be Mr. Straight Guy. I played touch football, I went to dances, church.
Paco was suddenly interested. “When did you start to, you know, discover yourself?”
“Well, I messed around with some women, but… not till I was thirty.”
“So? You’ve been at it ten years, too. The same as me.”
“Yeah, Paco, but I haven’t been around the way you have, and here you are a young hunk at \twenty-five, and here I am, an old fart at forty.”
Paco always ignored my comments about my age. “Well, who are you out to?” he asked.
“No one. You know that. Well, my doctor.”
“And at work? WSMR? Doesn’t anyone there know?”
“No! And they’re not going to, remember?”
“But, Fred, you’re not military, you’re a civilian.”
“Well, it doesn’t make that much difference, Paco. I’m just a civilian tech writer, but I’ll be out of a job if they know.”
White Sands was both a firing range and a target for missiles in research. The airspace was restricted “from ground to God.” The White House is the only other place like that.
“So no one at all?”
“Well, there’s another gay man in the next building. Joe. I’m sure he knows, and we say hello to each other on base. But I keep hearing nasty comments about him from my co-workers, ‘light in his loafers,’ ‘filthy pig,’ stuff like that. And there’s one guy who I saw down at the bar one time, but he always avoids me when he sees me at work.”
“What about your family?”
“Just my sister. My parents wouldn’t go for it.”
“Wow. How do you stand it? I told my parents right away.” He snapped his fingers. “They didn’t go for it, either, but I wasn’t going to keep it secret anymore.”
“What did they do?”
“Well, we were watching TV. I said something to dish the MC, and my mom swatted me with the paper, like a dog. She said, ‘Qué cabrón!’ So I said, ‘No, mama, I’m a cabrona.‘ My mom laughed at first, but then she told my dad to turn down the set. She said, ‘Francisco, I think he’s being serious.’ My dad wanted to throw me right out, but my mom threatened to throw him out if he did.”
I admired Paco’s spunk. Sometimes when I think about how much I’ve worried about what the world thinks of me and how it has stopped me from doing just about everything I wanted to do, I really get depressed. Paco was the first man I even knew long enough to live with.
I asked him what he would have done if his father had kicked him out.
He said, “I would have gone to live with Carlos. I was practically doing that anyway.”
Carlos had the flower shop. Paco still worked there.
Our conversation got slower, the pauses longer, Paco turned out the light. We might have talked a little longer, and then we fell asleep. In each other’s arms. That was something else Paco showed me.
* * *
I had met Paco early in April of 1984. I remember the date because it was a few days after my doctor warned me that an AIDS case had been documented in Las Cruces; up till then, it seemed like something that would stay on the coasts. I walked into the florist shop for a going-away gift for a young employee of mine, an intern out at the missile range who was about to turn twenty-one. The shop was by the railroad tracks, tucked away next to the cotton gin and the onion depot; there was just enough room for a greenhouse. There were no billboards; in fact, if you didn’t know the place existed you wouldn’t have seen it. But this town still had personalismo, as Paco put it, and that was enough to keep the shop going. When I had asked a co-worker where to get flowers, she told me to see Carlos. “He’s a fag, of course, but I suppose it takes a pansy to know flowers.” She was proud of her joke, I was silent, my usual response to that kind of nastiness.
I didn’t want roses for this intern. What might he have thought? We ended up with Gerbera daisies, safe but exotic enough to make him feel special. My mind was on the flowers and I didn’t notice the man who was selling them, except that he was dressed so showy; I mean a flowing pink blouse, billowing white slacks, a heavy gold band on his wrist, and his hair all moussed up – and this was 1984.
On a Sunday morning a few weeks later, I was walking down the hill to my apartment from the Circle K, and someone pulled up beside me on a bicycle. He was in t-shirt and cut-offs, and I didn’t recognize him until he spoke.
“Did your boyfriend like the daisies?”
I laughed out loud. “Yes, he liked them. They were perfect. But he’s only an employee.”
He had to keep grabbing the brakes to stop from rolling down ahead of me. “Well, do you have a boyfriend? Someone who gives people flowers ought to have a boyfriend.”
I laughed again. I guess it is unusual for someone to give flowers to people just like that, but it’s what my mother had always done for the women who worked for her. Paco was flirting, outrageously, and I wasn’t even stopping him! And I was beginning to notice him. His working clothes had hidden the wide shoulders, and especially his strong legs. And his smile on my face was like the sun on my back. I was beginning to unfreeze.
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
We turned the corner to my street, and went on down the hundred yards or so to my front door. He continued his banter, but I got more and more nervous, afraid now that I would do some awful thing to show him what an uninspiring nobody I really was. In other words, by this point I was interested. It must have been him who finally said, “Well, do you want to go inside and fool around?” And I did! He was just so irresistible.
We went inside, me so nervous. Did I still know what to do? But I didn’t have time to worry. The living room floor. It was wonderful.
Then I asked him upstairs to take a shower with me – the living room was pretty dirty. Actually, the shower stall wasn’t very clean, either. I guess the water was clean, anyway. We showered without the light, leaving the door open to the hall. We didn’t get out until the water was cold and there were goose-bumps on his arms.
Afterwards, the bedroom: I was amazed at myself. He was so beautiful, his skin so smooth, his smell so fresh. When we weren’t in the throes of sex, I was still fondling him, kissing him. He loved it all. However I would touch him, his fingers, his ass, his face, it was as if that was exactly the touch he needed most.
We didn’t start going to those parties right away. I’m not much for crowds anyway, but that wasn’t the reason; I was just too busy with him. The day after he seduced me, I went to see him after work. The shop had just closed, but he was still there, with that shit-eating grin of his. We did it right there, and then I asked him to come home with me. I knew, even me whose hands-on experience was so little, that he would never ask me to take him home, but he wanted me to. So I did. The shower again. And the bedroom. And dinner, eventually.
While we were eating, he looked up. “You didn’t like it so much in the shop,” he said. “Were you afraid of bugs?”
“No. It was the mousse in your hair. And your cologne. I love your smell, and it all felt and tasted like someone else.”
“Hmmm.” After that, he stopped using mousse and cologne.
We had a lot of sex, and a lot of just lying around with each other. Within a week, I had given him the key to the house. He worked Saturdays and took off one weekday each week. I worked a “normal” schedule, so Sunday was usually our only full day together. For the first two months we spent Sunday, every Sunday, all day, at the apartment.
Work got crazy. At White Sands Missile Range, my productivity began to fall. It’s a government operation, so no one cared, but they noticed. I just said, “Personal stuff. It’s not serious,” and made sure I didn’t smile too much. I kept getting hard-ons at the worst times. And on the other hand, I suddenly wasn’t even seeing the cute young intern I had given the flowers to. They say that gay men don’t go through adolescence until they come out. For me this was it. I was beginning to see what they write all the songs about.
When people say, “It’s just sex,” what the hell do they mean? I could and did spend hours with Paco saying nothing. My hands went everywhere on his body, my mouth too, and my dick. The curve of his ass, the arroyo down his back, I still remember them. He would do anything I wanted. In my whole life, I had never had that happen to me. I thought, If that’s what they call ‘just sex,’ I’ll take it. Don’t wrap it; I’ll eat it here.
We started going to those parties some time in June. We went to the bar, too, of course. Paco loved to dance, and, to tell the truth, so did I. But he always wore those super-stylish outfits. I wanted people to see his knockout body, but he wouldn’t wear the cut-offs and t-shirt to the bar, though our summer weather would certainly have justified it.
One time in the bar, I whined about it. He said, “I already cut out the cologne and the mousse. That’s all the butch you’re getting from this one. Anyway, they’d all be hitting on me if I did.”
“I didn’t think about that.” And then I asked something even dumber. “What would you do if they did?”
“Don’t worry, honey, I’m not looking. I’ve got what I want,” he said with that snap of the fingers that I still can’t seem to do, and then he kissed me. “Listen,” he went on, “Carlos wants us to come by his place afterwards. Do you want to?”
“Sure. But you have to work tomorrow, chulito, it’s Saturday.”
I didn’t realize that Carlos was right in back of me. He said, “Paco, are you teaching this gringo Spanish? You know they can’t handle las dos lenguas a la vez.” He put his hand on my shoulder, to let me know it was a joke, “two tongues at once.”
Paco said, “I was just telling Fred about your little party.”
“Yeah, you should come on by, ese,” Carlos said, giving my arm a light punch.
We went. It was a lot of fun. I got very drunk, though, and Paco had to drive us home. I don’t even remember getting to bed.
In the morning, Paco was foul. I woke up to him banging around in the kitchen. I came downstairs badly hung over.
“Paco! What the hell is going on?”
“I have to go to work, remember? Or is your so-called brain still out of whack?”
“What? Wait a minute! What are you so mad about?”
He was still clanging around. “Look, I didn’t know you were a drunk, see, so you’ll have to give me some time to get used to it.”
“I’m not a drunk! This is the first time I’ve done this in years!” I grabbed him by the shoulders.
“You can’t be so upset just because I got drunk. What’s going on?”
“How do you know? Maybe my family are all alcoholics.”
“Paco, what’s going on?”
He calmed down. The look on his face seemed to be asking whether he should say it or not. His voice was very quiet. “You didn’t fuck me.”
“Oh. Well, let’s do it now.”
“It’s too late. I have to leave.”
“Leave the bike here. You can take my car.”
He was still not moving, so I took him over to the kitchen table, pulled down his pants, and bent him over. He came almost immediately. I figured he was okay, so I began to pull out. But he said, “No! You, too.”
When he had left, I went back to bed to nurse the hangover. The need for sleep overtook me, but after a few hours I was lying awake, spinning my wheels. He had wanted it so badly, and had come without me touching his dick.
That was the first night we had missed. Up till then, I had been able to get it up – no, so far it had been getting up whether I wanted it to or not. Paco was all that I thought of. But suppose I got sick, or suppose I just couldn’t? I drifted back into an uneasy sleep.
Paco began keeping the place clean. At first, I resisted it. The thought of having someone else being my servant was repulsive, and that it should be Paco even worse. But he was matter-of-fact.
“I’m not going to live like this, so I’m going to clean up. All you have to do is not filthy it up again. Okay?”
“Okay.” And I did my part. In fact, long after Paco had left, I still kept the place up. At least for a year or two.
As the summer wore on, I started taking leave to match Paco’s weekday off from the shop. We went up to the mountains a lot. I liked the idea of being alone with him, of course, especially now that we were also spending time with others. His friends’ parties were always interesting, and I was suddenly getting to know huge numbers of gay people that I had never even realized existed in this little town. But sometimes those parties were just over the top.
Besides, when we went to the mountains, Paco dressed and acted more butch. Once while we were walking, I talked about that.
“I don’t get it. Here we are walking along just like everyone else. You don’t seem to be suffering. Why do you have to get all dolled up all the time?”
“I don’t have to. I just like it. I like to do this, too. Why does it bother you when I get ‘all dolled up?'”
“It just seems wrong,” I said. “You’re a man. Just because you’re gay doesn’t make you a woman. You should act like a man.”
“‘Act like a man.’ Acting like a man means fucking women and beating up faggots. That’s what men are supposed to do.”
“Oh, shit! Why do you always turn it into some sort of political argument?” I hated his rhetoric.
“There are lots of men out there who don’t beat up faggots. I don’t even want to talk like this.”
“Well, yo soy que yo soy, I am exactly the man I am, and if you don’t like it, you can find someone else.” I didn’t answer.
On the drive home, we passed the missile range. For a minute, I began to wonder whether I might be seen by someone in my office. Paco must have read my mind because he laughed and said, “I could always hide in the trunk.” I blushed. He said, “You know, acting like a man means doing what you want to do, not what other people tell you to do.”
“Don’t you even care what other people think of you?” I asked him.
“Sure, I care. But not as much as I care what I think of me. How long are you going to stay in the closet, Fred? It isn’t even healthy. You can’t keep pretending you’re someone you aren’t.”
“It’s worked so far. And no one else is going to change it for me.”
Paco saluted me and shut up.
He was such a pile of contradictions. On the one hand, he could be as masculine as anyone. Hiking, for example. Or the bicycle. He used to take these long, long rides up the valley and back. He’d come back about the time I was getting home, his t-shirt stuck to him from sweat. He looked so great after his rides, and I’d be so proud.
He never camped it up in front of straights, so, except for his having to be so dressy, he could almost pass for straight himself. But then he’d do something incredibly stupid, like the time he went to the demonstration in El Paso. He didn’t tell me until he was just about to go. It was Sunday morning, and we had just made love. Suddenly, he got right up and took a shower.
“My sisters are coming for me,” he shouted. “We have to go to El Paso.”
The national ERA campaign had already been called off. We in New Mexico had passed it, but Texas was one of the states that had managed to veto it. Now the liberals in Texas were trying to get a state ERA passed. I thought you could as well ask Texans to stop spitting tobacco everywhere, but that didn’t stop Paco; he had to be there.
“Paco, why? Why risk your own neck?”
“Because I have to. Anyway, if they don’t pass the ERA, just how great do you think our chances are? If they shit on women, they shit on us twice as much.”
“That’s not true, Paco. No one shits on gay people any more.”
“Oh, really. Well, then, maybe I can answer the phone.”
I shrugged, and walked off to the spare bedroom to cool down. Paco’s youngest sister – the other two had backed out – honked her horn. Paco knocked on the bedroom door. I opened it. He said, “I’m going. I’ll be back this afternoon some time.” And then he gave me a kiss, before I could stop him.
There were some fundamentalists at the demonstration, so, of course, he had to get into a shouting match with one, an older woman. I found out sitting in front of the TV with him that night. She was haranguing him, and he was quietly taking it, occasionally making a straightforward point, and dramatically wiping off his arms and face from her spit now and then. He loved watching himself on TV; he thought he’d done well.
“Actually, she only spit the first time, but I figured, ‘What the hell?'”
I stared at him, and laughed out loud, and I hugged him to me, and kissed him. What a schemer! But then his friends were on the phone for hours afterwards, and he had to camp it up with them. Meanwhile I started to wonder again how safe it was to be seen with him.
Paco mentioned my closet too often. He wanted to go to the Fourth of July fireworks that our little town put on every year in the county stadium. But most of the town went to it, including my co-workers and supervisors. It would have been foolish to have been seen with him there, especially after his TV debut. He was disappointed. We went to a party afterward, but he missed having been at the crowd.
“You know, Fred, someday someone will find out, so you may as well be ready for it.”
I didn’t like the sound of that; was he planning some new trick? I had to know where he really stood as far as my privacy went. One day when he was off work – one of the days that I didn’t take off myself – I phoned my house to see if he would answer.
I slammed the receiver down. When I got home, he was wearing a t-shirt with ‘GUILTY’ written on it. “I knew it was you. My friends don’t call in the daytime.”
“Suppose it was from work?”
“But, Fred, you were at work. Why would they call here?”
“Look, this is my phone, and it’s my job! Don’t fuck with it!”
“Then don’t test me. You know what entrapment is?”
“Look, don’t answer the phone.”
He sighed. “Okay, Fred, whatever you say.”
Through all of this silly bickering, the sex was still wonderful. Over the years leading up to the time I met Paco, I had been watching myself getting older. My varicose veins were getting worse, I was finding it always harder to keep my shape, and my body hair was coming up in places I hadn’t even thought it could and falling away where I wanted it.
I was appalled by my body’s ever more sour smell, and had begun to shower sometimes twice a day. I cut my underarm hair to keep down the funk. Paco’s smell was so plain and easy. Even when he had been out on the bike, the only thing I could smell on him was salt. Sometimes I felt ashamed of forcing him to have to put up with my stench.
He never seemed to mind. He never commented on my aging features; maybe he didn’t even notice them. And I was too embarrassed to point them out. I accepted all the love he gave me, without question. In fact, an hour alone with Paco was physical therapy and a psychology session both at once.
On the other hand, by this point, late in the summer, it usually wasn’t more than an hour that we spent at it each day. Quite a change from only a month or two earlier. I didn’t notice it at the time, because we were doing so many other things together, with his gay friends and also by ourselves. Trips to El Paso or Santa Fe, and even one lucky weekend to San Francisco, when he was able to get away from the store. San Francisco was the best, because we – I – didn’t have to wonder who might be watching us.
I took advantage of my employee benefits, and enrolled fall semester in an evening course at the University, “Ancient Southwestern Cultures.” There were field trips every Saturday. A weekend in November would be set aside for a trip to Chaco Canyon in the northern part of the state.
I tried to get Paco to enroll in school, too, but he had spent enough time under the thumb of schoolteachers. Still, he did sit in a few times. One night, we saw slides of the archeological sites we would be visiting. When the slides of Chaco Canyon were shown, the dark room was suddenly full of whispers. The ruins were enormous! Buildings several stories made of stone without any mortar, one a hundred yards across and beautifully circular, Casa Rinconada.
“All the time I was growing up,” Paco whispered to me, “all they told us about was the cathedrals in Europe. They never mentioned this at all, from like the same time, and it’s right here in New Mexico!” He said he would try to get time off to come along on the overnight.
That Equinox Party. Yes, I fucked him good that night, but the next I couldn’t seem to get it up. Paco thought I was still mad because he had spilled the beans about my sucking him off. Anyway, he got out of bed and went over to the chest of drawers he had taken over, and pulled out a small white dildo. I was surprised.
It was pretty strange at first, ‘fucking’ him that way, but I was better able to see what was happening with him, because I wasn’t having that tunnel-vision effect I get when I’m charging off toward my own orgasm. All in all, I liked it a lot. I felt closer to him than I had for some while. I told him that.
“Well, I’m glad, Fred,” he told me, “but I’m happier when I know you come too.”
Usually, that still happened. I’d get hard while using the dildo on him, and then we could go back to Plan A.
Halloween. Of course there was a party. Someone wanted to hold it at our place, but Paco said, “No way. That’s our cave.” His friends used to call me The Cave Man, but I was happy that Paco was willing to preserve our safe house. And it wasn’t just me who needed it. Sometimes Paco would wheel his bike in from work, slam the door shut, and say, “Later for you, World!”
As it turned out, the party was in a large old shed in the Chicano part of town. I don’t know what business had been there. The place was full of gay people, maybe two hundred, mostly Latino with a scattering of Anglos. The queens were all decked out to the nines, including Paco. Some of the other guys had costumes on. I broke down and rented a Pink Panther outfit, which Paco bragged about to his friends. Someone at work had called me the Pink Panther because I was so quiet and was still perhaps a little trim. Carlos and Jacqui and the others told me I looked good in it, but the thing covered me up entirely, so it would have looked the same on anyone.
I danced! With Paco, sure, but also with some of the other guys. Maybe they didn’t know who I was, but I loved it. I could see Paco getting off on it, too, watching me dancing. I tried to dance the way a panther would, slinking around. Then I would pounce. One of the guys seemed to know me, though I didn’t recognize him. He had a cowboy outfit on, hardly a costume in Las Cruces. He was pretty drunk. He introduced himself as Joe Hatfield, and then I remembered him as the guy in the next building at work. He told me everyone at WSMR knew about me and Paco, but when I grabbed his vest, he sobered up a little and said it wasn’t true, just a little joke between him and Paco.
I was pretty shaken. I told Paco I had had enough of the party, and was going home. It wasn’t even midnight. He said he would be home later. One of his friends would give him a ride.
I went home, and right to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. Paco came in about two o’clock. He was very quiet, but he knew I was awake. He took a shower, and crept into bed, but I found myself turning away from him.
“You’re still angry.”
He began to massage my shoulders. I slunk away. He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. I never had any intention of doing anything. It was just a fantasy between me and Joe.”
“Well, it’s a dangerous fantasy.”
He sighed again. “I’m sorry it scared you. I didn’t want to do that.”
“I know,” I said, and right then is when I knew. “I’m not afraid of your trying to hurt me on purpose. I’m just not sure I can count on you to be careful for me.”
“Well, you can,” he said, and he began massaging me again.
I said, “No. Not tonight. You’ve got me all wired up. I don’t want to.”
“If you’re really all wired up, then that’s the best thing.”
“I don’t want to!”
He was quiet. In a little while, he went downstairs, and I fell asleep. I used to wonder if it would have turned out better if I had been more truthful: Paco, I need a day off. Give me a break. In the long run, I know now, it wouldn’t have made any difference, but it might have given me a little more sleep that night.
He was up early the next morning, but he made no noise. When I came downstairs, he was already on his way out the door.
“I’ll see you tonight.”
I came home fast from work that night. By the time I heard his bike pull up, I was naked at the door, with a hard-on. He laughed when he saw me, and he kissed me. And we made love, very sweetly. But something was not quite the same. He was somewhere far away.
Over the next few weeks, things got better. Sex was less often, and less earth-shattering, but,. actually, I liked it, and I liked the freedom to say no. I convinced myself I had begun to understand him more. It was as if we were finally getting the chance to become friends.
It was getting cooler outside, too, so we weren’t going up to the mountains. Instead, we took long walks out into the desert. And Paco got me a bicycle, and I began taking rides with him, though not the hundred-mile treks he had been doing alone. I was building up, he said.
We went on the Chaco Canyon field trip. I was asked to take two other students in my car. I agreed, reluctantly. As it turned out, there was only one rider, a woman who remembered Paco from the ERA demonstration. The two of them talked most of the way up, with Paco doing his best straight act. We stayed overnight Friday at a motel in Albuquerque, and then drove to the site the next morning.
There were sure clues that winter was nipping at our heels. A biting wind from the northwest blew all day, and clouds covered the sky. Still, the ruins were just as impressive as we had hoped. I can’t say why, but I felt very tender toward Paco there, even holding him from behind out there, my chin on his shoulder, while the others were headed back to the cars.
Some of the class drove back Saturday night but I was tired. The woman got a ride from one of the other students. In the motel, I thought I would fall asleep almost immediately, but Paco was in the mood. He still knew how to crank up my engine often enough, and we were back at our old level of frenzy.
The day before Thanksgiving I was off work. The weather had cycled round to being warm and sunny for a little while. I took a walk and ended up at the florist. I peeked into the main office, but no one was around. I found him back in the greenhouse.
Paco was with some older man, older than me, and even uglier. The man was brutal, but Paco was doing what he had to do. Paco has to get it every day. Should I have left then? Anyway, he saw me. I went off to the main office to wait.
When they finished, Paco came into the shop alone. He didn’t apologize for something he would do again the next day, and I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know why he was doing it. But I was angry even so. I asked stupid questions. “That guy is a creep. Why him?”
“He’s not so bad.”
“I don’t understand how you can need it that bad. And what about me? Is that all I am for you, a hard dick?”
“You’re not just a hard dick. But I need a hard dick, too.”
“Do I have to prove something to you? Is that why you want me to do it?”+
“No, you don’t have to prove you love me. Because I know that you do.” I didn’t know it until he said it. “But I need it for me. It proves something to me. Like that I’m alive.”
I was jealous, and angry, and hurt. I was also very scared.
“What about AIDS, Paco? What about dying?”
“They don’t know what it is. They thought it was poppers, remember?”
“But they know you can get it from being fucked up the ass, Paco! And what about me? Are you going to bring it home to me?”
Paco started to cry. It made me feel so bad, I had to shut up. “Look, honey,” I said, “I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. You always said you needed it every day. But, how can I let you keep taking that chance? And, I mean, how can I keep taking that chance?” Given the kind of sex we had had, my risks weren’t very high, but I didn’t know that then.
Paco was quiet. Then he said, “Does that mean it’s over for us?” I stared at him, and said nothing. He went on: “What about just living together? Without any sex?” I still said nothing. It was a great idea, but I knew I wasn’t going to let myself buy it. “I could still clean up and cook. We could still just sleep together. Or I could sleep in the other room?”
It had been nice just spending time with him. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off him if he still lived in my house. I said no; I’ve always made decisions like that, like a guillotine. And in those days, we didn’t know what was safe sex and what wasn’t, and, anyway, I wouldn’t have been able to play by the rules with him. And something else was wrong with it. I mean, how could he expect me to put up with him getting fucked by everything else in town? I guess that’s my real sin, my pride.
He stayed over for Thanksgiving, the quietest, unhappiest Thanksgiving I’ve ever had to live through. A meal together, no turkey. One of us in tears, then the other. Sleeping in the same bed, not touching.
I would have helped him move over to his parents’ the next day, but he had already arranged for his sisters to come by. I kissed him on the cheek. He knew I had a hard on, but, for once, he pretended it wasn’t there.
It was so sudden. One minute we were lovers, the next we hardly knew each other. I sent him a Christmas card; he didn’t respond. But he called me some time in January, and asked me how I was doing.+
“Have you found someone?” I said no. “You need to. Did Carlos hit on you?”
“Yes, he did. He wanted me to suck his cock. I said, No.”
Paco laughed. “And that was it?”
“He threatened to tell my boss.”
“I told him, ‘You’re going to tell my boss that I wouldn’t suck your cock? Hey, dude, go right ahead!’”
He laughed again. “Great! Carlos is an asshole.”
After that, he called every so often.
At some point, he said he had to move to Albuquerque. That’s the way it was here: When someone was diagnosed, they left, for Albuquerque, or another big city, or sometimes just back to their family, if the family would take them in to die. We didn’t have the constant drumbeat of funerals; instead, it was like having sinkholes suddenly show up in your life. Once I went to the flower shop, but it had closed. It was so strange to me, that I missed even people like Carlos.
I got postcards every month, “Get someone, Fred!” Then every other month, the handwriting becoming more strained. I wrote back to ask if I could visit, but he would not let me even know where he was staying. Then nothing.