I would think, I wish I were dead.
I did not think of it as a suicidal thought. My poet’s parsing mind read the first “I” and the second “I” as different “I’s.” The first “I” was the whole watching the self, while the second “I” – the one I wanted to kill – was the gay “I” nestled inside it. It was less a suicidal impulse than a homicidal one – the infanticide of the gay self I had described in the poem.
My only consistent foray from my rooms was to the college chapel, where I prayed to gods I did not believe in for transformation. No erotic desire I had ever felt exceeded my desire for conversion in those moments. It is hard now to recall that young man at prayer. To see him clearly is to feel the outlines of my present self grow fainter.
An older American student [also studying at Oxford at the time] tried to help. Arad was struggling to come out himself, but seemed, I thought enviously, much more self-possessed. He was the prodigy of his class – his intellectual feats, in medicine and philosophy, were reported in hushed and reverent tones. Tall and angular, he accentuated his forbidding demeanor with a black coat that billowed out like the wings of a predatory bird.
Arad was kind to me. I never named my malady, but he knew its ways better than I. I remember sitting in his rooms, listening to him describe the deadlines he had set for himself – to come out to his parents in three months, to go to a meeting of the college gay group in six months, to begin to date in a year. It was important, he said, to be a creature of will. Unable to meet his eye, I looked over his shoulder at the wall behind him, which was tiled with diplomas and awards. In the center were some framed black-and-white photographs he had taken. One caught my eye – a statue of a kneeling angel weeping with her head buried in her arms.
It was a portrait of abject perfection, a portrait of him, and it terrified me. I recognized the striving impulse in Arad as an attribute of my former self, and felt shame for having lost the discipline he possessed. Yet I was also frightened by the harshness of that will. I thanked him and left, never to return. I could not help him, and I knew he could not help me. […] Continue reading