Originally published on June 6, 2007.
A friend asked me, the other night at U Rudolfa was not just my favorite bar in Prague, but my favorite bar anywhere I've ever been in the world. It was billed as..., if I regretted how I handled Marek, if he and I were speaking yet. Most everyone thinks I should have just taken him back as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
My friend must have noticed me blanking out earlier because I’d spent the previous 15 minutes or so sipping beer and fantasizing about what might have happened if I’d handled things differently, i.e. forgiven him despite his inability to apologize, or if we’d gotten back together in the interim. God, the numerous and detailed possibilities I’ve considered in my mind on that subject. Manchester Lee was not the only one who could see what I was thinking.
Nothing pulls me into myself like thinking about Marek.
At U Rudolfa was not just my favorite bar in Prague, but my favorite bar anywhere I've ever been in the world. It was billed as..., my fantasies included a rocky relationship that eventually led to a one-year anniversary, where we celebrated with a big party in Prague, where we slow-danced, and where he fell into my arms and I had to carry him home. As an anniversary gift, my patron sent us to Thailand, Bali, or anywhere with a beach. I had to fend off suitors of all genders, and he eventually had an affair with a young brown male local but returned to me. A lifetime of drama and passion in 15 minutes of cloudy, stupid fantasy.
No, I told my friend, I didn’t regret how I handled it; I regretted how he handled it. Marek did not give me a foothold on forgiveness, which I would have freely given but not at the cost of respect. He was already fighting his contempt for me — the more he realized how devoted I was to him, the worse it got — but also for himself, because of the parts of our relationship he liked, especially the sexual parts, which were becoming more intimate daily and had always been frequent and mutually pursued. What he couldn’t handle, I’m guessing, was the dawning and apparently humiliating realization that there was more at stake than just a place to sleep.
Did I tell you he told me he loved me once or twice? In a peculiar and very Marek-like manner. He had been following me around the kitchen while I straightened up and did a few dishes the same night he confessed that he didn’t like sleeping alone, without me, and that was why he always came back to my bed. Every few minutes, he’d mutter under his breath, “Rick, I love you.”
It was strange. I turned my head and caught him muttering this again, this time with his hand wiping across his mouth, pretending to conceal what he was saying. The behavior, timing, and style were unsettling and pervitin-inspired, but was the sentiment? I’m not sure. From this vantage point, and with all my bruises, it would be easier to believe in a god who loves me, than Marek.
I know that even if he hadn’t stolen my phone and took the decision out of my hands, we were still headed for the rocks. What follows is a typical example of our treatment of one another. Another lost tale about Marek.
Marek often left the flat late at night. Sometimes to provoke me, mostly just to meet up with station buddies and get high. One night after dinner, he asked me if I wanted to come with him. It was about 11 and I said no, really, I just want to sleep, or fuck. I was also tired of the routine of his disappearing late in the evening, reappearing early morning and then wanting sex. I was getting very little sleep.
“You no want?” he asked again, putting on his cap and coat.
“No, I sleep.”
He paused and looked at me for a second from underneath his cap brim, posing as inscrutable. Marek revealed his emotions with small gestures and changes in expression but I could see them if I squinted, like thin clouds passing over a wan sun.
A change came over him and I knew I had made a mistake. As so often with Marek, I didn’t understand exactly what kind of mistake, but I knew I’d made one from the way he hurried to get out of the flat.
“OK, OK, I no come back,” he said. How easy it was to piss him off and how unsatisfying. I wasn’t even trying to do it.
“No, no, I want to go,” I said, easing into passive/aggressive mode easier than I could take a shit.
“No, I want sam.”
He waved me off and went out the door. He wanted to be alone.
I followed, of course, telling him I would go with him if he wanted. No, he was leaving and he didn’t know when he would come back. This sort of talk always sent me into a panic, despite how often I’d heard such threats. He always came back, eventually, so far.
This time something I said brought him back into the apartment. I don’t remember what I said, just that it agitated him even more. Even though he was back in the apartment he would not consent to let me come with him. There’s a passage in Gary Indiana‘s Rent Boy that painfully demonstrates the desperate neurosis that characterizes passive/aggressive relationships, particularly with a boy who cultivates his “unknowability”.
In one passage, Indiana’s been waiting for the boy to show up for a rendezvous and vacillates, possibly for hours, between whether he should meet him on this corner or that corner. From which direction would he be coming? His reasoning about where to look makes no rational sense or else it only makes sense to penny-counting vampires; my effortless understanding of that impulse, that obsession is entirely emotionally based.
I felt that way with Marek that night. What was I doing? I didn’t want to go in the first place. What was he doing? He wanted me to go in the first place.
I became angry because he said he didn’t want me to come. So I got on my jacket and hat and told him I was leaving.
“Where you go?” he asked, following me to the door.
“Ne vim. Valentino. Kabinky. Sex shop. Ne vim!”
He stopped short behind me and said, “Ah huh,” as if he’d just realized something.
I went out and slammed the door behind me, not locking it as I would have normally. I wanted to see what he would do without being locked in. I had no real idea what I would do, maybe do what I’d said, maybe not.
Once I was outside and starting down the street I decided I’d wait outside the flat, from a safe distance, and observe where he went.
I reversed direction and trotted up the street to the first corner, diagonal from my building, checking behind me a couple times to make sure he didn’t sneak out while my back was turned. I won’t try to duplicate Indiana’s painful and masterful depiction of abject expectation.
Simply: I was torn between feeling like a fool, both for behaving so insanely and for feeling so dick-whipped and out-of-control, and feeling like I was master of the situation, that I had put him in a place where he would have to make a decision, whether to stay and wait for me, or else go and fuck me off.
I waited for almost 40 minutes, or what seemed like 40 minutes. In that time he didn’t leave the flat. I tortured myself with the possibility that he’d slipped out while I wasn’t looking or that he’d left the back way. So I kept changing my observation point, dashing from one doorway to the next, until I was back at my own window.
The light was shining through the pale, slightly parted, ticking-stripe curtains. I peered in. I saw Marek in the front room, pacing back and forth. I gave a start and moved back quickly when he came towards the window to our room. He moved over to the bed, picked up something — a newspaper maybe — leafed through it quickly, put it back down.
Then he walked back into the front room where the TV was and just stood there, looking toward the front door. Keep in mind that this was a little over 40 minutes after I first left the flat, and he was still in there. Realizing this, I was elated. Where I went mattered to him, which suddenly seemed to be the point of this ridiculous manipulation: Finding out that it mattered to him where I went and why.
He was always flaunting the fact that he would go where he wanted and that I cared about where he went too much. Now, now, he felt a little of what that was like.
Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I went to the second window, Arssi’s room, and knocked hard, sprinting away immediately afterward.
I waited on the steps of a building a block down and saw him finally come out, look both ways and see me. He stood there waiting for me with a half-grin on his face.
“Ha ha! What you do?” he asked me, cocking his head, as I walked up.
Okay, I’m tired of writing about this incident. It’s still draining and embarrassing to relate and remember. It’s enough to say that more passive-aggressiveness ensued with neither one of us willing to be the first one to leave. Maybe another ten minutes. Our Czech neighbors passed us by on either side as we debated on the sidewalk outside our flat, giving us bemused looks.
Finally, I told him I was going back inside. He said he was going to Prague's main train station, where I spent a lot of time picking up boys..
“OK, I see you later?”
“Ano, ale ne vim kdy.” Yes, but he didn’t know when.
We never, never knew, neither one of us.