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Archive for March, 2010

16. Date Night in Toronto

Darkness had fallen on Toronto by the time I had gotten out of the shower. It was Saturday night, and Mykhaylo was taking me out to North 44, the restaurant that I had been denied access to on my birthday. When he told me the plans, I was excited as hell. I immediately decided that, no matter what, I was going to have the same menu that I had planned weeks earlier, even the lillokai parfait.

As I looked through the closet for something to wear, Brian walked in. “When is he picking you up?” he asked.

“Seven o’clock,” I replied. “I don’t know what to wear. I want something formal, but not too formal.”

“May I?”

I backed away from the closet as Brian rummaged through my clothes. He paused for ten seconds, and finally took out a red shirt and some black jeans.

“I can’t wear red on a first date!” I exclaimed.

“Is it against the law?”

“No… but usually I wear red whenever I want to get lucky. I don’t fuck on the first date.”

“When do you?”

I thought about it for a moment, and then: “The second.”

Brian chuckled. I simply shook my head in embarrassment. “I don’t know! I haven’t been on a proper date since Evan. I don’t know what the rules are. Brian, do you know what the rules are?”

“I’ll be honest with you,” Brian patted my shoulder. “No. I haven’t had time for a boyfriend since I joined the faculty. My social life consists of fellow professors. I don’t even go out to Church & Wellesley as much as I would like.”

I slumped back on the bed and threw my head back.

“The alleged rules of dating aside, I think you’ll look great, no matter what you wear.”

Britney walked up to Brian and nuzzled his leg, and he picked her up. “She’s been quite a sweetheart. Can I play with her while you’re out?”

“Yeah.” As Brian left with the cat, I got up and looked at the red shirt and black jeans combination. After a few seconds, I picked them up and put them on. They did look cute on me.

Half an hour later, Mykhaylo picked me up in his car (a Toyota Prius) and we rode along Yonge Street. I’ve lived in and around Toronto my entire life; I’ve gone up and down Yonge Street countless times; and I still am amazed at how long it is. Just one continuous stretch of asphalt and concrete. There are times when I actually have to pinch myself because I get so lost in its length, its grandeur, its magnificence.

We arrived 20 minutes later at North 44, but rather than go valet, we parked around the corner. When I asked him why, Mykhaylo responded: “I’m not trusting anyone else with this car.”

I personally wouldn’t have minded doing the valet thing. But that probably means I’m too trusting.

Inside, I nearly ordered the exact same menu that I had planned for my birthday:

  • APPETIZER: pink snapper tartare with ruby grapefruit and spiked avocado
  • MAIN COURSE: grilled U.S.D.A. prime strip (I wanted the rib-eye, but I changed my mind after looking at the price)
  • DESSERT: a tart of chocolate peanut butter marquise,  burnt caramel, crisp feuilletine, lillokai parfait, and crisp meringue

And this is what Mykhaylo ordered:

  • APPETIZER; butternut squash ravioli with oxtail ragout and sage
  • MAIN COURSE: pan-roasted Dover sole, saute of roe and chanterelles with lemon slivers, caper berries, and butter sauce
  • DESSERT: strawberry and vanilla “shortcake” tower with chantilly froth and strawberry consomme

When our server, a dorky blonde cutie named Jimmy, presented us with the wine options, Mykhaylo looked my way almost immediately.

“I don’t drink alcohol,” I said.

“Ummm…” Mykhaylo began to say something, and then–

“You’re driving, remember?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Jimmy asked.

“Whatever diet soda you have on tap for the both of us,” I said.

Mykhaylo nodded.

“I’ll have your appetizers and drinks coming up,” Jimmy said, and he scampered off.

“Why don’t you drink?” Mykhaylo asked me.

“Because my mom is an alcoholic bitch.”

He nodded knowingly.

“An Italian who doesn’t drink wine,” I said. “Sometimes I can’t help but laugh.”

A few minutes later, our appetizers came before us, followed with two diet Cokes with lemon wedges in them. We both stared at our plates for a few moments, unaware of what we had ordered. The pink snapper tartine looked good, but the ravioli looked amazing. I could tell that Mykhaylo was feeling the same way about his dish.

“Can I try some of your ravioli?” I asked him.

“If you’ll let me have some snapper.”

At the same time, we took fork-fulls of each other’s dish. I’m not really into butternut squash, but it tasted really good. And the ravioli was cooked just perfectly. No soggy noodles here. I even snuck in a bit of the oxtail ragout. I’ve never eaten oxtail before. The name alone just sounds nasty in culinary terms. But the meat was tender and juicy.

I downed my portion with some diet Coke. “How’s the snapper?” I asked Mykhaylo.

“I like it. It’s flaky and spicy and refreshing at the same time. The portion’s a bit small for my taste.”

“It’s an appetizer, Mykhaylo!” I laughed.

He laughed too. And then we finished our own plates. The snapper, as Mykhaylo had said, was flaky and spicy and refreshing, even though I don’t like grapefruit as a stand-alone fruit.

Our main courses came along, and as before, we sampled each other’s plates. The fish was delicious, but I LOVED the butter sauce. I’m a big fan of anything with butter. And Mykhaylo enjoyed the strip steak, too.

After we finished, there was an interim of 10 minutes before dessert arrived. “What do you usually do on a Saturday night?” I asked Mykhaylo.

“Apart from Hockey Night in Canada? I read some books and, if I have the patience, I’ll go down to Woody’s and dance.”

“I’ve been to Woody’s once, and that was enough for me.”

“You don’t like the club scene?”

I shook my head. “It does a number on my hearing. That, and all the drugs and shit. One time, during spring break, I got the opportunity to dance at the White Party in Palm Springs. The money was good, and there were plenty of hot guys… but I just didn’t fit in.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. When I was living with my parents, Saturday nights consisted of crying in bed and eating copious amounts of food to dull the pain.”

“What about when you were with Evan?”

“When he had a performance, I’d be in the audience. When I had a competition, he’d be there too. When our schedules were free, we’d spend our Saturday nights walking around the neighbourhood… followed by hot, sweaty sex.”

“You’re an old soul, you know that?”

I rolled my eyes. “I hate that phrase ‘old soul’. It wasn’t cute when Simon Cowell said that to Diana DeGarmo, and it’s still not cute now. I’m not opposed to going out and having a good time; I just operate on a completely different wavelength from every other gay guy in existence.”

“I understand you, Graziano. I just don’t understand why there is this constant need for us fags to go out and get blitzed while fucking Lady GaGa or Beyonce or Taylor Swift plays at all hours of the night.”

“Hey, I like Lady GaGa!” I interjected. “Beyonce and Taylor can go fuck off. I’m sick of those bitches.”

“My sister Oksana worships at their altars. She’d kill you if she heard that.”

We both chuckled. Mykhaylo looked so cute when he did that; it reminded me of when Evan would crack open a laugh. And then he touched my hand. It was a firm touch, but a gentle one too. He looked deep into my eyes; his were hazel brown and almost puppy-dog like.

“I’m glad you’re back in my life, Graziano Buonfiglio.”

He smelled nice, too. His cologne wasn’t too strong; just the right balance of floral notes.

“I’m glad you’re back, too.”

And then, we closed in on each other. I don’t know how long our kiss lasted, but I loved every moment of it. I didn’t even care if anyone else was looking. And then…

“Your dessert.”

Jimmy was back with the chocolate tart and the shortcake tower. We stopped kissing and allowed for Jimmy to set them down on the table.

“Looks like dessert came a little early,” Jimmy cheekily said as he walked away.

“He just HAD to say that!” Mykhaylo said.

Again, we chuckled. That was the best dessert that I had ever had… and the tart of chocolate peanut butter marquise, burnt caramel, crisp feuilletine, lillokai parfait, and crisp meringue was no slouch either.

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By the time that the first morning rays of sun had greeted Toronto on Friday, I was already up. My assignment at the Bank of Canada had finished on Thursday, but I was still anxious. Friday was another rendezvous with Dr. Claire Breedlove. Granted, the actual appointment wouldn’t be until later that afternoon, but still…

I cooked some breakfast for Brian before he left. It was nothing too fancy; just an egg-white omelet with cheese, some brown bread toast, and fresh orange juice. He never seemed to have time for breakfast; just a cup of coffee, and he was out the door. If he couldn’t have it at home, I figured, he should at least take it with him. So, I put the omelet and toast in a Rubbermaid, the juice in an aluminum bottle, and handed them to Brian as he made his way to the door. I felt like I was on the sidelines at a marathon, handing out refreshments. He did say “Thanks”.

The time was finally right for Britney to roam the apartment. She had been confined to my room since I had moved in, though I made sure that she had her bed and litter box inside. So, for the next five hours, it was just me and her. She snuggled on my lap as I browsed the Internet for jobs, while watching the cockamamie bullshit of morning television.

After a quick-lunch of leftovers from the previous night (tabbouleh and falafel), I got on the bus and headed up to Willowdale, with Britney secure in my room, eyeing the view of the waterfront.

This time, Claire was prompt when she collected me in the waiting room. She was wearing a tasteful pashmina as opposed to the garish poncho that she wore the previous week.

“How are you today?” she asked as we settled in the counseling room.

“Pretty good.”

“You look cheery.”

“Well… I reunited with a former classmate, and we have a date tomorrow night.”

“Great!” She produced another fucking clipboard. I rolled my eyes and she took notice. “I know it’s a hassle, and it’s rather patronizing, but we have to get through this with these tools.”

I nodded.

“I thought that we could talk today about your family, namely your parents.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Well… I don’t want a dossier on them. Save that for the police. Let’s simplify things: what images come to mind when you think of your mother?”

I stretched my legs and my arms, sinking into the chair a bit. “Can I call her Nadine?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Nadine, Nadine, Nadine… she was always with a bottle in her hand. She… she reeked of alcohol. And not just alcohol: she smoked and she turned to drugs almost a decade ago. There were times where I could find her passed out on the sofa, a cigarette in her mouth, a bottle of tequila in one hand, and powder around her nostrils. And… when it came time to be around family and other social gatherings, she cleaned up extremely well. You couldn’t tell that the night before, she was completely out of it.”

“Has she ever been to rehab?”

“Do you want me to throw in a little Amy Winehouse here?”

She chuckled. It was a rather high-pitched chuckle, though. “Seriously. Has she?”

I shook my head. “I complained to my grandparents, and they tried to get her to go. But she was so hard-headed. She bitched and moaned and said that she was too ‘classy’ for rehab. What a load of crap!”

“What about your father?”

“Joseph? He never once asked her to clean up her act. In fact, I don’t ever recall them having each other’s best interests at heart.”

“Why?”

I looked out the window and saw some birds on a branch, cuddling with each other… or something. “Do you see those birds out there? Do you see how intimate they are with each other?”

Claire took a look. “Oh, yeah. They’re really cute.”

“Joseph and Nadine never were even close to that. Their whole marriage was a simple excuse for financial benefits and the prolongation of the human species. Both of them came from immigrant backgrounds, but their families were prominent in the Italian community. They saw something that would benefit the other, and they got married. They never did say ‘I love you’ to each other. There wasn’t even an ‘I care for you’. Did you know that they never even had sex with each other? Did you know that they conceived me and my siblings in a sperm bank?”

Claire dropped her pen on the clipboard. “No.”

“Oh yeah.”

She shook her head in disdain. “Let’s talk about your father Joseph. What images come to mind?”

A lump in my throat formed, and I swallowed it. “Let’s see… he was the most abusive person in the world. He never laid a finger on Ryan or Charlotte or even Nadine… but he always singled me out. Joseph would punch me everywhere. He would whip me. He would…” I felt tears form in my eyes. “He would throw objects my way.”

I stood up, turned around, and lifted the back of my shirt. “What do you see?”

“Oh my God…” Claire muttered. I was showing her a portion of the scars that were on my body.

“When I was competing, I would ask one of my fellow competitors if he could put tanning lotion or makeup or whatever was nearby to minimize these scars. I even bought fucking Mederma! And these scars still haven’t gone away.”

I sat back down. Claire’s mouth was slightly open, still in shock.

“When I see these scars, it scares the shit out of me,” I said, breathing heavily. “I’ve been reluctant to be intimate with another guy. I’ve had sex in the years since Evan died, but those times, my partners didn’t notice.”

“Did Evan notice?”

I nodded. “But he was understanding and tender, and we worked around it. But it’s not just the sexual and aesthetic sides of me that these scars have compromised.”

“What is it, then?”

I inhaled and exhaled, grabbing the sides of my chair. “Joseph beating my ass… it made me question a lot of things. I don’t respect authority figures; I fear them. I fear that they’ll beat me up next. When I was in school, I was scared of my teachers. Even the nicest ones… I feared them all. Joseph… he took away my sense of security, and declared open season on my ass.”

Claire shook her head. “What about Brian? He was your teacher. He was an authority figure. Did you fear him?”

“It wasn’t until I went to university that I started respecting teachers. So, no… I didn’t fear him. But to this day, I still fear other authority figures… like the police, like… the church, like… George W. Bush and Stephen Harper.”

“Graziano, Dubya’s not in power anymore. Barack Obama is. But we can’t get rid of Harper until the next election.” Claire touched my arm. “I’m sorry that your parents left you with such a negative impression. I’m sorry that you have to carry these scars with you forever. But you shouldn’t have to fear authority. You shouldn’t have to fear intimacy.”

She stood up from her chair. “This is not what I usually do with my patients.”

I thought that she was going to do a strip-tease or something. But instead, she widened her arm span. “Can I give you a hug?”

Nadine never hugged me. A woman hadn’t hugged me since my grandmothers died. Claire nodded in encouragement.

I sighed and nodded. I picked myself up and fell into Claire’s arms. Her grip was taut, but comforting. She smelled of some flowery perfume; I’m not sure what the scent was. I was hesitant at first, but it felt good. It felt like a mother’s compassionate hug. I had never felt anything like it in my life. It brought me to tears.

“You know what, Graziano? You can cry. You can let it out. But just know that there are people who love you in this world; people who will be there for you, even when you are done crying,” Claire whispered.

“That’s… that’s some corny shit,” I blubbered into her pashmina.

“Corny, yes. But it’s true.”

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