‘My mother,” he says, “was sensitive but inhibited.” Their relationship was, by Oliver’s account, too intense, too close. He was her youngest, and a prodigy.
One of the first buried memories to emerge during his psychoanalysis: how she used to bring home monstrosities from surgery, monsters, fetuses in jars—this when he was 10—and then, when he was 12, how she brought him along to perform a dissection of a corpse.
“When I was 21 and home from college, I accompanied my father one evening on his rounds. We were driving in the car, and he asked me how things were going. Fine. Did I have any girlfriends? No. Why didn’t I have any girlfriends? I guessed I didn’t like girls … Silence for a few moments … Does that mean you like boys? Yes, I replied, I am a homosexual.
“I asked my father not to mention this to my mother under any circumstances: it would break her heart—she’d never understand. The next morning, my mother came tearing down the stairs, shrieking at me, hurling Deuteronomical curses, horrible judgmental accusations. This went on for an hour. Then she fell silent. She remained completely silent for three days, after which normalcy returned. The subject was never mentioned again during her lifetime.
“My analyst tells me he’s never encountered anyone less affected by gay liberation. I remain locked in my cell despite the dancing at the prison gates.”
We have developed a pattern, Oliver and I. He comes over in the evening to my apartment. I begin by offering beer and cheese and crackers, which he eats with gusto. Then we go out to dinner: then we return and I offer him ice cream. (He’s already eaten a Granny Smith apple on the way home.) He then seems to veer along a narcoleptic precipice. When he starts yawning impulsively—nodding, gasping to wakefulness—I ply him with coffee: two, three, four cups. Eventually he’s awake enough to drive home.
After our most recent dinner, I get a letter from him. “Lovely seeing you last evening—I do greatly enjoy our evenings together and wonder if the sudden, peculiar collapsed feelings I seem to get toward the end are not because of the ‘forbiddenness’ and anxiety involved—your probing concern to elicit my substance and reality and draw a good appreciation to me, whereas my fearful-deprecatory part says, ‘No! It’s a lie—you’re nothing—not real—lie low—shut up—be mute—stay hidden … Die!’ ”