Creative Nonfiction by Raymond Luczak
The Heaven of Our Eyes
in memory of my 25 deaf gay friends who’ve died from AIDS-related complications
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] awake to find my dank room mottled with moss, my body covered with vines crawling and a moist dust creeping. My limbs are weak, but the sun cuts a sweet swath through the musty panes. I glance to the other side of our bed, finding the man I loved gone. No trace of him: has he truly left me for a hearing man, or for dead, or had I simply dreamed up every inch of him in the room of my eyes? I try to get up, ignoring the thinness of my ribcage. When I lift my head, my dizziness hurts. But I close my eyes and face the sun. The warmth soothes me. I stand up, shakily but slowly, and feel even more dizzy as I totter to the window. I close my eyes and lean for a breath’s rest against the moth-eaten drapes. Damn him, where is he now? My stomach gives thunderous rumbles. I open my eyes and catch the shock of my gnarly beard in the window’s reflective glint. My aching bones tell me that I must’ve slept a year, maybe more. I touch my face, my carved-out cheekbones. He can’t have abandoned me—no, not like this. Damn it, he was supposed to love me! I remember acutely the savage beauty he gave me, and how much more to him I’d given. I push open the window, and a rush of warm peppermint wafts in. I look below at the fetid moat, and to the rolling meadows beyond. Everything is a summery green, nothing like the drab and cold February when we first met, when we were desperate for a little color. In the distance I see a huge herd of naked men heading toward my castle. They are all on foot, carrying burlap knapsacks of food and blankets. My eyes are still unused to so much light, and the muscles around my eyes are already sore from squinting. But as the men get closer, I recognize some of them, the deaf men I always wanted to know and love ever since I began learning their language years ago. They stop signing with each other to gaze up into my weeping eyes: the morning sun rains down on my frail shoulders. Oh, where have they been, and for so long? And why had I been separated from them in the first place? I never got to learn their stories. Much too hungry to think of anything else, I fall back in the stark shadows and struggle my way out of the bedroom. Each step down the winding stairs in the dark tower gives my bare soles shocks of wet iciness. In the blind flight down I recall ghosts of all these men I’d starved for from afar, falling in love with the way their faces and hands moved, feeding an unspent volume of hope in my search for a kindred mate in my naive days: how odd to see them again, and all naked as I’d secretly dreamed. At the bottom step, I find the huge wooden door bolted. Through a crack I see the men signing passionately to each other on how to smash open the door with a rotting log near the moat’s edge. I can see so brightly their pectorals shifting with each expansive gesture, their biceps flickering with each fingerspelled word, and their mouths pursing with each grunt as they centipede the log right through the door: the sweat on their skins shines their beauty, each one of them. I climb back up the stairs, only a few steps, and watch the sunshine splinter the lingering darkness. The door surrenders, and the end of the log is steadied onto the threshold. I watch the shadow of a man with rangy shoulders loom larger on the wall opposite the moat, and I remember the hearing man I loved. He once struck fear in my heart, yet this shadow is gentle, precarious as it crosses the sagging log. Then he steps off the log and peers into my darkness; the smattering of hair on his body glistens in the sunlight. He finds me, a beastly specter against the unforgiving walls, and his broad grin melts me. Tiptoeing around the splinters and rusted nails, he scoops me into his arms. I faint, a sheer miracle against the wall of his chest fur and steady arms. If this is heaven, I’d never want to die.
* * *
Reawakening on the meadows what must be hours later, I discover my body enveloped in a forgotten aura. My bones are wrapped supple with muscle; my nails and beard, trimmed. Cleansed, I am fleshed out with food; yet a strange, thrilling aftertaste lingers in the back of my throat. I realize as I survey their sheepish glances that somehow I hadn’t merely imagined our abundant feast. They pull me up to my feet. I’m hardly surprised by their familiarity with my body, nor mine with theirs: oh, what sweet crimes they commit with their hands, interpreting perfectly the grammar of my desires! Walking among them and looking deep into each deaf man’s eyes, I beg: translate me. Translate me into words best left unspoken on my tongue. Teach me so that I may comprehend all the body’s mysteries. Fill me with travels of countries I’ve never heard of, with my body its only passport. Behind them all, I see the men of whose legendary stories I’ve heard remnants a long time ago, and now I meet them in flesh. My eyes are so blinded by tears that I can’t see clearly, and my dry tongue thirsts for sweat. I am wanton with want, and their eyes penetrate every pore of my body. I could’ve been ash in their hands, yet they choose to salvage me, to revive. As I introduce myself with my name sign, I glance back at the castle where I had slept for a year: now in ruins, its shadow is already creeping closer to our feet as the sun arcs west. As the men sweep me onto their path home, we embrace and swap stories, as if nothing bad had ever happened. Feeling my voice freed through my hands lonesome no longer, I feel gloriously alive, talking and laughing without worrying whether I could speak or hear. Why hadn’t anyone told me how truly wonderful life could be? The further we move away from the castle, I see the opaque silhouette of the hearing man I once loved standing in the window of what used to be our one room up in the tower. He is alone, unable to convey with his hands the one year between us. Oh, how could anyone be so selfish as to stay silent in the language of touch just shouting? No longer his, I am forever theirs to touch, and all the heavens are mine to behold and share.
Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of seventeen books, including How to Kill Poetry (Sibling Rivalry Press) and Mute (A Midsummer Night’s Press). His other titles include QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology (Squares & Rebels) and the award-winning novel Men with Their Hands (Queer Mojo). He is on-line at raymondluczak.com. [Editor’s note: “The Heaven of Our Eyes” was our Second Place selection for the 2015 Christopher Hewitt Award in Creative Nonfiction.]