The Ugly Truth
by Marc Charbonnet
He would never forget his first real "sexual awakening." Was it his first real orgasm? It happened almost accidentally. He was stepping into the bath tub and he remembered a sudden feeling of intense sexual bliss, otherwise known as the "G-spot" in some circles. It caused goose pimples, heat flashes, hard, erect nipples and a feeling of being faint. If he had fainted at the moment it happened, he wouldn't have known what to grab to steady himself (or whom). When he recovered from this moment of transcendence, he began to gather himself. He looked up and realized what had caused the sensation. It was the wet corner of a used towel hanging on the shower rod, yes a wet towel grazing against his back. Amazing, isn't it? His greatest lover. His re-born Christian brothers who claim that he, as a homosexual, will burn in Hell for all eternity…what would they say if they knew the truth? That his most potent lover was a wet tip of terrycloth?
He's 51 years-old and has only snuggled twice in his life. Should he still be alive? Would he qualify as the living dead? 51 years-old. That's 18,615 days, 18,615 nights, 18,615 mornings… and only two nights with someone. Lots and lots of one hours, two hours, ten minutes, fifteen minutes. But an entire night? Only two.
He stood looking at his reflection, thinking about so many things. He remembered when he was a child. His father would drink, and would call his older sister "below average," his older brother "the jerk," and him a special name; "the freak of nature." His younger brother was called "lizard face." And the little girl and the little boy that followed were like another family. It was his four immediate siblings, and them.
Although conversations were always ended with the phrase “I love you,” it certainly wasn't a house that seemed full of love. Parents got divorced when he was ten. Father would say horrible, awful things about the mother. Then that stopped because she left and he stayed. He cooked. He cleaned. He tried. But he was an alcoholic so it was hard for him.
That was his ugly truth. It would show its face. It would stay around. His ugly truth came from toxic shame. His father — who was very lovely and genteel, but not very bright — was used in a scam and wound up serving two years in prison during the 1930s. No one ever told his father why. He was only thirteen. His father then disappeared one day, for two years. He didn't know any of this until his mother told him during a visit to New York, at the River Cafe in the Brooklyn promenade.
She looked at him and said, “Your father's father, papa, served time in jail.” Upon hearing this, he thought how his father must have been stunned. He'd thought him such an elegant man. He only knew him until he was five, but...so dapper, so polite, so French. He came from the old days and still carried a small French accent. He always spoke it first, if he could. He preferred it over English.
That was his ugly truth. His father and son — his stepson, actually — would cause him to serve two years for handing him things to sign, and he didn't even know what he was signing. Poor man.
His mother's ugly truth was that she was alone and frightened. She was one of four, but too bright for the others. Her father died when she was only ten. Her first question wasn't “Where will he go?” Instead she looked at her mother and said, “Who’s going to take care of us?” It had always been so apparent that he had and would and did. Then he was gone, that was her ugly truth.
As he looked in the mirror, over his shoulder, he saw a reflection. It was a picture that had been found when his father had died. It was in the bottom of a box. When it came out, his brother, the lizard face, looked at him and said, “Look how beautiful you were. You really were a cute little boy.” But it changed, around the third grade. That's when secrets happened that were never spoken about. The residual effects were gross weight gain. It was never the same after that. That was his ugly truth. Then it would only become uglier.
People found him intriguing and interesting, and people loved his company. They thought he was funny, and oh so amusing. He was talented too. His ugly truth was that he had dropped out of high school and had to run around New York, pretending he was of a higher education. And he really thought he was successful until years and years later. He realized he'd been saying words that he thought were correct, and weren't. Instead of “deprecating,” he would say “demegrating.” He would say, “irregardless,” which is actually not a word, he understood years later. There were more ugly truths.
But the ugliest truth was that he wasn't loved, and he wanted that so badly. Honestly, he had only had one boyfriend, for two weeks. All the other times, it was the same silly, ridiculous, unrequited feelings extended to so many, and never returned. It was easy for him to have a pity party. He really had something to feel sorry about. Himself. He could be funny. He could be smart. He could be stylish. The ugly truth was that he carried the knowledge of what was under his clothes around with him. Gosh, and the surgeries. The old man that had worked with him for years, an African-American named Moses Walker, had once said to him about his surgeries, “You just like to be cut on, don't you?” And he actually answered him, not even believing that Moses would ask such a thing, or make such a statement, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “You likes to be cut on. You likes it.”
He didn't understand what that meant and then he thought about it, and it was true. A hernia when he was an infant. Another hernia when he was five. So the scars were adding up. Tonsillitis, and the tonsils came out. And then nothing. Nothing until he was 23. He lost a little weight and finagled an insurance company to pay for a tummy tuck. Unfortunately, this was long before they had mastered the skill, and he wound up with a T-shaped scar. When asked to fill out confidential identification papers, on occasion, they would say, “Any distinguishing marks or scars?” and he would always say no. Just a mock chickenpox scar on the forehead, which was the size of a grain of salt. He never mentioned all the other ones. The ones that were hidden. The ugly truths.
So, two hernias and tonsillitis. And then the big one was the tummy tuck, which had been a messy job. But to this day, he was thrilled because even when he was heavy (extra heavy) he still could carry it well because the huge gut — the loaf of wet bread — which had hung from him in the area known as the umbilicus was now gone. Replaced by a scar, the ugly truth.
He once contemplated visiting a tattoo artist so he could have his nearest and dearest best friends' monograms inked into the flab under his arms, inner thighs and the ten inches around his trunk. All of the extra skin is to be removed in an upcoming surgery. He wanted to first send the skins to a tanner he knew, and then off to Florence to a renowned and highly skilled leather craftsman. A coin purse would be made from the under-arm excess, a check book cover from the inner thigh and address book covers from the trunk portion. How many people can share their ugly truths in a physical way? All would be personalized gifts, a personal piece of him with his best friends' monograms. He remembered his mother telling him that proper monograms always had the sir name centered, and not to forget his thank-you-notes, and proper etiquette is important. Proper etiquette cannot correct, cure or absolve or change the ugly truth.
Then there would be more surgeries. Three on the knees. Two on one and one on the other. And then the intestinal bypass. That was a big one. Interesting enough, whenever he had these surgeries, doctors would tell him that he would be in a hospital for a week to two weeks, and convalescing for much longer. He healed like a field hand. When he had his wisdom teeth pulled everyone said “Watch it, ice it, pack it!” He had Thanksgiving dinner the next day. Cornbread dressing with pecans. Chomp chomp chomp! No problem there. Again, an ugly truth — gorging himself — trying to cover and hide the fear and loathing and anger. Love, hate. And the ugly truth.
The intestinal bypass was drastic, and he eventually developed severe problems. So severe that at one point he had to go back again and have it corrected. He was delighted he had lost so much weight. He thought he had found some miracle cure, but found out instead that his bowel was lacerated. He could have died. He didn't mind that he was green. He was thin. But they repaired that, and all of a sudden the weight came back. People looked at him and said, “How in the world could you eat all that food if you had your tummy stapled with a gastric bypass?" and he would never know how to answer except, “I can eat!” He would stretch that little pocket into its own stomach-sized thing, while his stomach still remains disconnected, floating around in some fluid. Like a stone baby twin that was never born and will be discovered when he's autopsied. Oh, what an ugly truth that will be. But that will be for the coroner. An ugly truth for him.
What brought all of this together was a fair boy named Kenneth. He brought home the real ugly truth. He was so attractive. He reminded him of someone he had known long ago, named Tyler. It had never been a positive situation. As a matter of fact, that person was the reason he moved to Manhattan. It wasn't ambition or goals. It wasn't star dreams. It was that he had to get away from Tyler. Twelve years of a ridiculous relationship with a married man who was on the down low, who was screwing around with everyone. And all through it he had lied and thought to himself and pretended, because he hoped that he was special. He was special. Tyler found him captivating and intriguing, but physically disgusting. So nothing ever happened. The ugly truth.
And when something did happen, the ugly truth would show itself. Once, Kenneth was looking at him while he undressed to get into the shower. Kenneth was staring at him with a look that he wasn't familiar with. Then he said, “I really don't want to take a shower with you.”
He answered, “Okay.”
And he patted him on the shoulder and said, “You're a sport.”
He felt so naked. And he was naked. When he looked at himself in that mirror, the frozen image would haunt him years later, where he was standing now, looking at himself, at the ugly truth. This boy showed him how ugly it was. It was ridiculous too. Even his shrink said, “You need to find a more age-appropriate crush.” He was twice his age. But you know, when he was 11 he liked 24-year-olds. When he was 18 he liked 24-year-olds. They were older and more mysterious. When he was 24 he liked 24-year-olds. When he was 30 he liked 24-year-olds. So why in the world shouldn't he be 50 and still be attracted to them? He liked that year less than a quarter of a century. Hence, young Kenneth had come to town and let him know that he had run face to face with the ugly truth.
Living in this culture, it's not unusual to find yourself with the UT. The ugly truth. This world that we live in, it is so important to be beautiful.
He had learned to be clever. Being an interior designer, it was important to be clever. He could wear slacks from anywhere as long as he had on an alligator belt. He could have socks from anywhere as long as he had hand-sewn Belgian loafers or Weston wingtips. And then there's the scarf, a Bottega briefcase. People looked at all those trappings and thought, oh how fabulous.
It didn't work with Kenneth. He genuinely liked him. He said those words, “Captivating, quite a character.” Loved his company. When the lights went off and the sheets turned down though, he faced his ugly truth. He looked at it, and it was him in bed. The ugly truth.
So much came back. He remembered another age-inappropriate crush, walking in Central Park at lunchtime. When he walked down a small ravine with the object of his crush, they discovered the weather in the immediate area was like San Francisco, a micro-climate. It was 10 degrees cooler. He looked at his companion and said, “What is that?” and his companion answered, “A freak of nature.”
It was as though he had been hit in the head with the back of a broom. He fell and cried. And his friend didn't know what to do. He said, “Go on, go on, I'm fine. I just hurt myself.” His friend didn't want to leave, but he insisted. He insisted and pushed him. And he did. Freak of Nature.
"Freak of nature" had followed him to New York. He hadn't heard that phrase in a long time. Because when he got to New York people thought he was intriguing and captivating. He had good ideas. He had good taste. He had more of a whimsy than a style. But it developed into a style and clients were satisfied. But he never was. He wanted something that he could never have. He wanted the incarnation of that person that he had loved for twelve years. And every time he ran into someone who reminded him of that, he would produce wonderful shows. Dinner parties, special gifts, things that only somebody who really understood that person would be able to give them. Never ordinary — always special. It was his way of buying people.
He had recently returned home from London. He was excited because Kenneth was back in town and had agreed to come and meet him. He had, through alcohol and marijuana, gotten Kenneth to tell him what he needed to hear. He needed to hear a growl from the past. Not delivered meanly by this young man, but just the same, delivered. He liked him, but the physical was not what he enjoyed. It was difficult. And he sat there, shaking his head, just as though he were listening to the fact that traffic at 42nd Street was tied up because the lights didn't work. He shook his head and understood. Oh he did understand. He was revolting. But that was okay. But he was captivating and alluring. What an ugly truth.
His mother was ill. She was dying of stage IV lung cancer. And although he'd spent time crying over that — not so much for her, but for the dream that could never happen, the peak he would climb to prove his love to gain hers. He'd been trying since the age of ten. It was their ugly truths. And there she was going to die, and he'd never have the chance to right a wrong that could never be righted. It didn't exist. But he couldn't and he knew it. She would go and that would be put to bed. It would at least be one ugly truth that could be put to bed and put to rest with love. Because, although she wasn't the best mother, she was a best friend.
He looked in the mirror and realized that he didn't care any longer. He had not cared for a very long time, but he knew he didn't care now. What was there to care for? Another opportunity to face the ugly truth? Another interesting, intriguing, captivating moment when he would have those words used to describe him?
He received a thank you note from the elderly lady who lived upstairs, for the treats from Portobello Road. Oh and he was so loved that dear Fran put him up there. Such a paradox. People loved him and appreciated him and looked for his company, but when the lights went low and the clothes came off and the sheets went down, it was compensation for someone. It wouldn't happen. The ugly truth.
And so, he turned quickly and punched the picture and cut his hand badly. He smashed the picture again and blood smeared the face of that once beautiful child. Oh, look how cute he was. Never to be cute again. But he sure was cute then. Beautiful. Such large, sad eyes. Nothing could save him from the ugly truth. The ugly truth that was him.
He looked at his bloody hand and wondered, what would he do with that? Go to an emergency room in Manhattan, where it would take forever? He couldn't bear the thought of that. Wrap it up in a towel? He thought of something much more important to do. Much more meaningful. Much more pressing. He took his oldest and dearest friend, Monty, into his arms. A 15-year-old miniature Doberman who was blind and couldn't smell and bowed so low that his tags would hit the ground and tinkle. He was his best friend. Always forgiving and loving and accepting. Always anxious to give a kiss. He didn't see the ugly truth. But he wanted more than that and he couldn't get it. The ugly truth was too strong.
He thought of his father who was now buried. He thought of his mother who would soon be buried. The only hard thought he had was of these precious dogs that had been so loyal — his best friends. But he was confronted with the ugly truth, actually so innocently brought on by Kenneth.
Kenneth. He had an aroma so intoxicating. A kiss never offered, but taken anyway, which was sweet, sweet, sweet. Fireplaces lit, special meals ordered, treats from Europe or Asia. He always appreciated everything and he apologized for refusing to sleep with him — he couldn't perform. Oh, the ugly truth.
His hand was dripping blood now, staining a beautiful piece of linen that he had left out to be ironed as his housekeeper would be coming. He realized that it didn't matter that there was lovely art, an eclectic collection, a nice stereo, any kind of alcoholic beverage, pot, intriguing conversation. Oh, he was captivating, a character. A character out of fiction. He made fiction a reality and now he was ready to really make reality, and face the ugly truth.
He rinsed his hand and it only hurt. He turned and he walked to look out at Lexington Avenue, but he didn't stop. He sat on the ledge of a window and fell backwards, down 12 floors, thinking about how he had been so afraid to do that at the New Orleans country club as a child. Everybody did things on the high dive. He couldn't. But he was doing something none of the people on the high dive, including him, was supposed to have done. He flew, and wasn't afraid. He knew that it would be over in a blink. And it was.
There he was in the service alley of his building. Two or three breaths. Actually a really beautiful color ran from him. Rembrandt Red. It ran from his head, from his back. He had that strange occurrence that happens when people die suddenly — one eye facing the other. It's always kind if someone walks up and closes the eyes, but that didn't happen for him. But what did happen was that he never had to face the ugly truth again. He didn't know where he was going. He wasn't aware. But something pierced through that state of non-being. As the light faded, he smiled. Although he was gone, he was taking the ugly truth with him. Freak of nature no more. He was gone.