I’m pleased to bring you an essay by Lawrence Kessenich, whose writing bio appears at the end of the piece. —BetsyG
By Lawrence Kessenich
It was in Anger, France that we finally had the blowout. We should have been on our way to Morocco, but were instead stuck in a boring, provincial town due to a train strike. Rebecca and Monique made it clear that it was thanks to me and my detour to visit a friend that they’d been stranded there when they could have been in North Africa smoking hashish.
They say three’s a crowd. After weeks together, I was finding it true, and I was the odd man out in every sense. Enough. We parted company; they went off to places unknown while I stayed on in a farmhouse outside the city.
The friend I’d come to visit was too busy to entertain me, but he suggested I check out the student coffeehouse at the university. I got a lift there, and found my way to a smallish room with a makeshift stage surrounded by café tables. I felt awkward sitting there alone listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez wannabes. But then a black man named Marc—also a visiting American—asked if he could join me.
Marc was good company. He listened sympathetically to the tale of Rebecca and Monique beating my self-confidence to a pulp and shared his own adventures about Europe. Then, as yet another painful rendition of Blowing in the Wind wrapped up, he leaned in conspiratorially.
“Would you like to hear some good music?”
He described a roadhouse that featured great jazz and offered to take me there on his mobile, a small motorbike.
“It doesn’t have much power, but it’ll get us there.”
The mobile was indeed small. Marc got on and started it up. I climbed on behind him, though there was barely room. Our combined weight strained both the suspension and the motor, which sounded like a golf cart on its last legs. But we managed to putt-putt out of town and into the countryside, where the cool evening air made me forget that I was clinging to the back of complete stranger on a glorified bicycle.
The roadhouse featured a jazz quartet tucked into the corner of a tiny, jammed room. We sat at the back and ordered a bottle of cheap wine. Having been with Rebecca and Monique exclusively for a month, I was happy to be with someone—anyone—else, and the wine made the time pass in a pleasant haze. We stayed until 2 a.m.
It was chillier outside by then, so I hugged Marc’s back for warmth on the way to town. I could have rested my head on him and gone to sleep, if I hadn’t been afraid of falling off. In the dark, I had no idea where my farmhouse was, so Marc invited me to stay in his room in a family home.
We entered the house as quietly as a pair of drunks could and went up to Marc’s room, which had just a double bed. Dead tired and a little high, I stripped and dropped right into it while Marc washed up.
I fell asleep immediately, but woke up later when I felt Marc’s hands caressing my shoulders and back. I should have seen this coming. I had homosexual friends—some of whom had even propositioned me—but this had gone over my head like a missed punch line.
Now, what the hell do I do? I wasn’t attracted to men, and Marc was clearly serious about getting it on. But gradually, as he caressed me about the back, hips, and ass, I had to admit that, after being so mistreated, it felt good to be touched with affection.
Part of me wanted to do it. Any kind of tender human touch would have been healing. But another part of me was too freaked out to let go. Despite the pleasant sensation of Marc’s hands on my skin, my body remained rigid (except for the part that mattered) and unresponsive. Eventually, Marc got the picture, turned over, and went to sleep.
In the morning, I was too uncomfortable to acknowledge what had happened. I felt grateful to Marc for caring about me (maybe I’m naïve, but that’s how it felt), and sorry I wasn’t responsive, but I couldn’t bring myself to explain that. We parted awkwardly, and never saw each other again.
I believe now that I should have accepted Marc’s love in that time and place. Real affection had been offered to me, but I was too uptight to accept it. And I have no doubt that the failing was mine.
Has anything similar happened to you? Please tell me your story; I print reader stories on Fridays.
Lawrence Kessenich’s poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Chronogram, Energy Review, and soon in Conclave. His chapbook Strange News was published by Pudding House Publications in March 2008. Another chapbook, Trying to Save Jackie Kennedy, was a finalist in the Spire Press Poetry Chapbook Competition in 2007. He has also published essays on CommonTies.com and Arkansas Public Radio’s “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” As an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston for ten years, Mr. Kessenich read for the publisher’s annual poetry series and worked with the editors of Selected Poems: Anne Sexton and the author of Anne Sexton: A Biography. He also discovered two Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award-winning novelists, including W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, as well as many other fiction and nonfiction writers. He lives in Watertown and works part-time as a marketing writer.