THE CROSSING PLACE
Here's a short story I wrote that I wanted to share. I've been trying to merge my writing and illustrations, as well as to find a way to bring parts of my queer and asian self into the foreground through my work. As I was sifting through my portfolio I couldn't find many homoerotic images (I guess this needs to change - it's time to make some!) Anyhow, I pulled this one to go alongside my story. Heads up that the content might be provocative for some. Thank you for reading.
“The Crossing Place”
When I arrived at the bus station it was near midnight. I thought I’d be able to catch the last bus back to Toronto but, I’d misread the bus schedule and so I was stuck here. As I left the terminal I looked around for someone to help me. Oshawa was a smaller city, and although I typically do some research before going anywhere I’m not familiar with,
earlier that afternoon I was horny and was only here for a hookup.
Paul and I met over the phone. I don’t even know if that was his real name. We met through a gay phone sex line. Pre Grindr. Pre Gay.com. Pre Internet. I’d been using it while living with my parents in the suburbs of Toronto and needed some sort of lifeline to the gay community. All you needed was a dial-in code and you could call from anywhere; pick up messages, leave messages, find out how many guys were on-the-phone-line, and then start cruising. Although I had gay porn magazines and VHS tapes stashed in my closet and underneath my bed, hearing the voices of other gay men filled in the gaps in between those things. When I closed my eyes, I felt them. They were anyone and so was I.
“Five ten, 165 pounds, athletic build, white, hungry hole looking for a top with a similar build, or a couple who wants to play. Lives in Mississauga.”
“Straight acting Caucasian in Cabbage Town. Muscular. In my thirties. Five nine. Blonde. Looking for someone similar. Not into Asians. No femmes.”
“Traveling. Staying in Oshawa for a couple of nights. Want to hookup? Young white guy. Slim build. Bald and clean shaven. Open minded.”
I’d never been to Oshawa before.
Inside the coffee shop I sat in front of the window. I wanted to make sure Paul would be able to see me from the outside because I didn’t want to bring any more attention to myself by having him come inside, and for us to have an awkward introduction. I placed my hand in my left pocket and felt for my black tourmaline. I used to carry two crystals, the other one was a rose quartz, but I lost it after a drunken night out. The rose quartz is a love stone, one that amplifies love; self-love, love between individuals, and it inspires harmony and compassion in every direction. It probably fell out of my pocket after my fifth tequila, which I assumed made sense because tequila does make the affectionate me emerge, and so I convinced myself that someone else needed it more than I did. I wonder if the alcohol jammed my spirit signals and caused me to send out false vibrations, temporarily black out, and then drop the stone? I could really use it now. My black tourmaline on the other hand was supposed to absorb negative energy. To this day, I believe I was kept safe that night because of it. I mean the chances were that I could’ve lost one, the other, or both, but this stone stayed with me for a reason. I carried it everywhere like a talisman and would consider having worn it around my neck if I didn’t feel so embarrassed about believing in the power of crystals.
I looked out the window searching for a white guy in a silver sedan. Across the street were two blue awnings that were highlights in an otherwise colourless place. Powerlines framed the buildings that were no more than one or two storeys high, and the few trees that softened the edges of the neighbourhood seemed to push through the concrete.
When he drove into the parking lot I knew it was him. He wore a white ribbed undershirt and had a very short buzzed cut that was close to the skin. He appeared youngish although it’s hard to tell with white people. Usually when a white person asks me to guess how old they are I say a number lower than what I believe them to be. He had a handsome face, which was very different from mine – more angular and manly – I always believed I looked more like a boy than a man. Then I wondered if he would be disappointed with the way that I looked.
“How was your ride?” Paul asked.
“It was okay. Faster than I thought. I’ve never been here before.”
Paul had a gold star earring in this right ear.
“Jem.” I said.
“What?” Paul replied.
“Jem and the Holograms. Your earring’s a star.”
“Oh. Should I know them?”
“I’m staying in a hotel just off the highway. When we get there can you go through the side door? I don’t know if I’m allowed to have any guests.”
Standing outside of the hotel I try not to look conspicuous, but my brown skin gives me away. The side door
opens and it’s Paul. We walk up the stairs and into his hotel room. It’s an ordinary room with a bed near the window, which is next to a small couch. The bathroom is to the left of the entrance and across from it is a mini fridge. An ironing board is unfolded in the center of the room with a white woven shirt laid on top. Behind it I can see the television is on, but
there’s no sound; some type of music awards show is on. I sit down and start watching it.
“Sorry. I was just ironing. I’ll put this away. Here’s the converter.”
I turn up the volume.
“You’re nervous,” Paul says.
“I’ve never done this before. I mean, I’ve gone home with guys but I’ve never rung their doorbell and asked them if I could come in to have sex.”
Paul laughs, “Do want a drink? Is red okay?”
Drinking red wine at room temperature out of a plastic cup makes it feel like warm blood against my lips. But after
several sips, I get used to it, and it’s the buzz that I keep coming back for.
“What’s your story?” I ask.
“I’m heading to Hamilton. I’m only taking a break. I could’ve done it all in one trip, but – ”
“You’re here for a quickie?”
Paul laughs, “No, I’m here to visit some friends too.”
“Can I pour myself some more?”
I notice the stubble on Paul’s face. It’s spread evenly in a way that mine could never be. He sits down and his knee touches the side of my leg. He reaches over and strokes my arm.
“Your skin is so soft.”
“Chinese skin.” I take a sip of wine and try not to crack up.
Paul touches my leg and leaves his hand on my lap.
“And your legs are strong. Are you a runner?”
I laugh, “No, I have asthma.”
Grabbing my thigh, he pushes down on it and leans towards me. He smells like damp wood mixed with vanilla. Grazing the side of my cheek with his face, I can feel his stubble. It’s prickly and makes my skin itch. His warm breath evaporates into words that skim the inside of my ear.
I used to be able to move my body with ease. There was freedom in my gestures. My hips swayed when I walked, and my arms and hands responded by tilting and turning like a music conductor. But then the day came when I chose to restrain my body because it became unbearable for others around me. And so, with time and practice I learned how to cover it up. Each painful comment I heard spilled onto my body like a coat of cement. The heaviness of the layers weighed me down until my body stiffened, my wrists straightened and my hips became square.
Paul’s body held mine and his fingers drilled into the stone surface of my skin. His touch was firm and definite, like he was afraid I might slip out of his hands. The years I spent spinning a skin of lies to trick myself and the rest of the world into seeing a false version of me, made me unsure of how to move. The body remembers. When he pressed deeply into me, the layers of cement began to crack. Borderlines between my old self and the one who was now being uncovered became clear, and the filling that held my two halves crumbled. He pressed even deeper and I cried out. We moved from the couch onto the bed stumbling and recovering. And when I finally opened my eyes I could see his whiteness all over my brown skin.
“I feel so much lighter.”
“You seem like it. You were super tight.”
“I lied. I’d never been with another guy before.” I dropped my head into the curve of Paul’s shoulder.
“Look, we’re like puzzle pieces.”
Paul pulls me closer.
“Your skin is amazing.”
“I told you. It’s Chinese skin.”
I pull his hand down and press it in between my thighs.
“Did you say you live in Toronto?” Paul asks.
“Uh-huh. Have you ever been?”
“Do you know the YMCA that’s just off Yonge Street near the Village?”
“I think so. Is that where the male prostitutes are?”
“How do you know?” I prodded.
“Did you pay for a prostitute?”
“No!” I push Paul away jokingly, “I used to go to that gym. I remember the first time I decided to take a shower there. They don’t have private stalls – it’s a communal shower. I sort of did an experiment there.”
Paul grabs my cock, “What do you mean?”
“I used the shower that was furthest from the entrance so I could walk naked across the room. I wanted to know what it felt like to be naked in front of other men.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I think it’s strange that I’m lying here naked next to you, when just a few months ago I had problems taking my clothes off in a locker room. I mean look, I just traveled about sixty kilometres by bus for a booty call, and now your cum’s all over my stomach.”
Paul rolls on top of me, “Now it’s on mine.”
I gently interrupt, “Hey, let’s clean up. My bus will be leaving soon.”
The two of us unfold, our skin peeling off each other and back into ourselves.
As I walk down the hallway towards the elevator, the carpet catches every footstep of mine and keeps my presence hidden from the other hotel guests. I can barely smell him anymore through the stink of smoke and carpet cleaner. As I wait for the elevator I stretch the collar of my shirt to cover my face and breathe in. I reach the foyer and enter a terra cotta coloured room of tile and warm white walls. My footsteps against the floor expose me, and the concierge looks up.
“Can I help you?”
I look down at my watch. It’s almost midnight as I walk out the front door.