FRIDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER, 2009
I had never been to Cottage Country in my life. For those of you not familiar with life in Canada, Cottage Country basically refers to areas that have plenty of recreational properties. There is no singular Cottage Country in Canada; each major city in Canada has a place to call their own. Ottawa residents go to the Rideau Lakes area to get away from it all, and Toronto residents head up north to Muskoka, Kawartha Lakes, and Haliburton. In all cases, people head to Cottage Country for year-round fun – in the summer, boating and swimming and hiking are the order of the day; in the winter, skiing and snow-shoeing take precedence.
As I said, I had never been to Cottage Country before in my life. Despite Joseph and Nadine’s affluence, they didn’t care about family getaways for the weekend. They did, however, have their weekend dalliances with other people. In fact, we almost never did anything as a family, aside from church. Joseph even considered Cottage Country a “white people” thing. Italians are darker than most white people, but technically, we’re still “white people”.
Nonetheless, I grew up with the notion that Cottage Country was this magical, almost ethereal place that only rich people in Toronto could afford to go to. It did not seem like a place for a working-class Italian-Canadian gay kid from Corso Italia. For years, I was not able to picture myself boating, skiing, and swimming alongside the privileged of the Greater Toronto Area. And then, I got a call from Mykhaylo.
“My parents have a cottage in Washago,” he told me on the phone Friday night.
“Washago?” Where the fuck was that?, I wondered.
“You’ve never been up there, have you?”
I shook my head. “I’ve heard of Chicago, Winnebago, lumbago, Asiago cheese, Eggo waffles… no.”
“What are we going to do there?” I asked, as Britney jumped on my lap and snuggled against me.
“I thought we could have some fun in the snow.”
I was a little flustered. “Forgive me, Mykhaylo, but Cottage Country is not part of my life.”
“Come on, Graz!” Mykhaylo playfully whined. “It will be fun.”
I looked over at Brandon, who was in the kitchenette, fixing a drink. “I’d go if I was you,” he said. “You could use a break.”
I resumed my phone call. “Ummm… I’ll see what I can bring.”
SATURDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER, 2009
I met Mykhaylo at Union Station, which was a few blocks away from the apartment. We decided to take the VIA Rail because it was faster than driving up the highway and risk getting creamed in an accident. It took us two and a half hours to get from Toronto to Washago. Along the way, Mykhaylo had his nose in a trashy gay romance novel that he got off the Internet. It had some hot guys in a passionate embrace reminiscent of Fabio in his prime. I sat next to the window, getting a good look at the hitherto foreign countryside outside of Toronto that I had never seen before. Farms, forests, plains… they were covered with snow, and it looked like the gods had dusted the area with confectioner’s sugar. When not looking at the landscape, I kept to my iPod Classic, watching videos that I had downloaded off the Internet and converted to M4V format. I like to download various clips, but I have a soft spot in my heart for cat and dog videos.
We got to the Karbanenko cottage in Washago around 1 PM. It looked nice from the outside; nothing too fancy. It was tucked among a grove of trees, like it was a secret hideaway. In the middle of the lawn, there was a flagpole, and the Ukrainian flag swayed to and fro. As Mykhaylo inspected the outside for anything amiss, I checked out the inside. It was spacious, comfortable, and up-to-date with the latest technology. The decor was more tasteful than at the Karbanenko home on Sorauren Avenue. Bits and bobs, really, saved for the patterned rug in the living room. There were four bedrooms: one for Ruslan and Oleksandra, one for Mykhaylo, one for Oksana and Taras, and a guest room, each one with comfortable beds. I tried each one out, just to be on the safe side.
As I explored the sleek kitchen, Mykhaylo walked in. “How do you like the house?” he asked.
“It’s pretty cool,” I said.
“Everything here is up-to-date, from the granite counter-tops to the flat-screen TV,” Mykhaylo said, sitting down at the table.
“Brandon’s kitchenette could fit in here four times,” I replied, joining him at the table. “Who keeps up this place when no one’s around?”
“We’ve got a few friends who come by.”
“How about I cook dinner tonight?” I asked.
“I’d love it!” Mykhaylo exclaimed, his eyes lighting up. “My boyfriend’s cooking me dinner in the woods. How romantic.”
“I brought a few things. I can also use what’s here–” And then, I stopped. Mykhaylo had just called me his boyfriend. It shocked the hell out of me. “Wait. Boyfriend?”
“That’s what we are, aren’t we?”
I didn’t know what to think, so I just nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Boyfriends.”
“Great!” He got up from the table. “I’m going to take a nap. Can you wake me up at five?”
“Sure,” I said, not paying attention as he left for upstairs. I sat at that wooden table in absolute shock. Soon, I found myself wandering around the house, wondering what to make of what happened. Evan was my first and only boyfriend. All the guys that I had fucked were at worst fuck-buddies, and at best just good friends. I hadn’t even seen Mykhaylo naked. But the truth was: I didn’t want to call Mykhaylo my boyfriend, but not because I didn’t want him to be my boyfriend. I was petrified of putting a name on our relationship, because the only person who had ever been my boyfriend was DEAD. My grandparents were DEAD. Ryan might as well have been DEAD. The people who truly cared for me in my life were DEAD. And what about Brandon and Claire? I had grown deeply to care for them. And Britney as well. I could end up alone anytime. I know that it may sound strange, but that’s what I was feeling. If I called him my boyfriend, then that would be like signing his death warrant.
I retreated to the kitchen and began cooking. Within ninety minutes, I had whipped up whole-wheat spaghetti con aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic and olive oil), vegetable minestrone, and non-alcoholic tiramisu. The tiramisu was non-alcoholic because I soaked the ladyfingers in Diet Pepsi as opposed to rum.
As I set the table, Mykhaylo came down from his nap. “Something smells great,” he said.
“I hope you like my cooking,” I replied, filling two wine glasses with Diet Pepsi.
We sat down to dinner, and began with the minestrone. It was made from organic vegetable broth and whatever vegetables I could find in the fridge: peppers, tomatoes, squash, celery, corn, and avocados. I used some broth to cook the pasta for the spaghetti, and dusted the dish with real Parmigiano-Reggiano and cracked pepper. The Diet Pepsi tiramisu had whipped cream and chocolate shavings caressing the organic ladyfingers. It was as delicious as I hoped that it would be.
An hour after dinner, we went outside for a walk in the forest. By that time, the snow had stopped falling and the moon was peeking from behind the clouds.
“It’s a beautiful night,” I said.
“I’m glad the weather let up. It feels magical.” Mykhaylo picked up a handful of snow and formed a ball with his hands.
“DON’T. YOU. DARE!” I exclaimed.
“What?” he replied, feigning innocence. “I like snow.”
“Me too, but–” That ball splat on the left side of my face. I wiped it off, and scooped up a ball in return.
“I can be very quick, you know,” Mykhaylo said.
I snatched off his tuque and crowned him with the snowball. We looked at each other for a few moments, and then we began to horse around in the moon-lit snow. We lobbed things at each other, and we laughed and screamed. I hadn’t felt this child-like fun in… well, ever. We soon fell into each other’s arms, lying on the snow. This was as intimate as we had become in our relationship. He was on top of me, and I could feel my body tingle with excitement. But then, his face closed in on mine, and I suddenly blurted out:
“I CAN’T BE YOUR BOYFRIEND!”
I moved from under Mykhaylo, and ran back to the house, breathing heavily and with tears in my eyes. I could hear his footsteps as he rushed after me. The cold of the night combined with my tears felt like needles in my face, and I cried even more and ran even faster. By the time Mykhaylo caught up with me, I was on the porch swing, my eyes red and my future uncertain.
“What do you mean, ‘I can’t be your boyfriend’?” Mykhaylo exclaimed in anger.
I didn’t have a response. Mykhaylo sat next to me on the swing, and I moved away from him slowly.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’m not cheating on you, first of all,” I replied. “I just don’t know if I CAN or SHOULD be your boyfriend.”
I stood up and walked to the porch’s edge. “For one, I’m a fucking mess. I’ve been through so much shit, that I don’t know if I can properly build a relationship with you. It’s probably not even healthy for me to get involved with someone, let alone you.”
Mykhaylo nodded. “You have a point.”
“But that’s not the real issue,” I continued. “I’m worried that if we become boyfriends, you’re going to be dead soon.”
“You’ve been so good to me, and I thank you for it. You and Brandon and Claire, and even Britney. But everyone in my life who has been good to me is for the most part DEAD. Evan is gone. My grandparents are gone. Someone took them away. Since then, I’ve been hesitant to have relationships with other people. I’ve kept people at a distance, but that doesn’t work anymore. Am I making sense?”
Mykhaylo nodded. “Somewhat.”
“I’m just worried that if we become boyfriends, something bad is going to happen and I’m going to end up alone. I’ve lost so many people in my life, I’d rather say goodbye than being told goodbye.”
“So, you think that this is goodbye?” Mykhaylo stood up.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m so confused.”
“I’m not,” he replied, putting his hand on my shoulders, “and I have no intention of saying goodbye to you.”
He brought me towards him. The moonlight hit his face, and it was a beautiful sight. “I know that you carry a lot of baggage. I know that you have plenty of issues, and I can respect that. But you mean so much to me.”
Mykhaylo brought me back to the swing, and we sat down. “Do you remember when we first met?”
I thought about it for a few moments. “Yeah. It was the first day of secondary school. I had taken the streetcar all the way to St Clair Station, because that was the quickest way to school. I got on the train, and you were sitting next to the doors.”
“I remember what I was wearing like it was yesterday,” Mykhaylo said. “I had a bomber jacket and high-top Keds. You were wearing a Blue Jays jacket and red Converse sneakers.”
“So I was,” I said. “I also remember sitting next to you and asking if you were going to Earl Haig. You said yes, and I introduced myself. You looked like a Slavic Steve Urkel, but you were still kind of cute.”
“I fell in love with you that moment, Graziano,” Mykhaylo said. “I didn’t even know what being gay was about, but I knew that I was in love with you. It was a shame that we never shared a class at Earl Haig. Four years and not once. I never stopped loving you, even while I was in Europe doing porn.”
Mykhaylo looked me square in the eyes. “And I never will stop,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re an emotional train-wreck. I don’t care if you have parent issues. I don’t care if you eat pot brownies and listen to Whitney Houston in an Amsterdam coffee shop while you light a joint and read Highlights for Children. I love you, Graziano Buonfiglio. I don’t care if they try to tear us apart. I’d like to see them try.”
My heart began to melt. Was it love? Or was it the Diet Pepsi tiramisu? Either way, I could feel a smile form on my face, and I don’t normally smile.
“If you don’t want to be my boyfriend now, then I understand and won’t hold it against you. But there are people in this world who love you. Your grandparents and Evan still love you, even though they’re in another realm. Your friends still love you. Brandon loves you, Claire loves you, and even your cat loves you. But, do you love me?”
I looked into this brown, jewel eyes. “Yes. I do love you.”
“Then don’t worry, buddy.”
And then, we kissed for the first time ever. I could feel a weight slowly recede off my shoulders. I felt Mykhaylo’s face. It was soft, smooth, and resilient. I hadn’t felt this way since Evan. Midway through the kiss, my eyes caught a glimpse of the moonlight. It had hit the porch swing just so. It felt magical.
“Ti amo,” I muttered as we broke our kiss.
“Ya tebe kokhayu,” Mykhaylo responded. He took me by the hand and led me inside. We went into his bedroom and made love all night long. Let me tell you, Mykhaylo was built like a mother-fucker. He was ripped, buff, smooth, and had an endowment that even I felt was impressive. For the rest of the night, we kissed and caressed each other, and even fucked like jack-rabbits. It was practically a religious, nay, transcendent experience. I felt things that I had never felt before, not even with Evan. I hadn’t even seen any of Mykhaylo’s pornographic body of work, and yet I could tell that he was world-class.
SUNDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER, 2009
I woke up in Mykhaylo’s arms, covered in a warm blanket. Mykhaylo’s alabaster skin glowed in the morning light. The snow was falling again, but it didn’t matter. As I slowly stirred, Mykhaylo also started to wake up.
“Dobroho ranku,” he said, kissing my lips and smiling.
“Buon giorno, principe,” I ripped off the line from that Roberto Benigni movie and kissed my boyfriend back. “My ass hurts.” And it did hurt.
“So does mine.”
“What do you want to do today, before we leave?”
“There’s a hot tub out back that we haven’t tried.”
I kissed him on the cheek. “Sweet. I guess I’ll get started on breakfast. How do you like your eggs?”
“Just like your ass: hard-boiled but soft.”
I didn’t know how to properly compute that. “Would scrambled eggs be alright?” I asked.
“Okay,” he smiled.
I got up from bed, and realized that I was still naked. I shrugged my shoulders and walked downstairs.