AMERICAN AIRLINES flight 370 taxied and paused at San Francisco International. I sat back and took a deep breath. In the cockpit the pilots received the clearance for takeoff, and they eased forward on the throttles; we were moving. As the plane rolled forward gathering speed, a low rumble passed through the cabin.
The plane gained speed and then became airborne, the ground falling away under us, the familiar thump of the landing gear retracting. I watched the well-known landmarks and my favorite places in San Francisco grow smaller, vanishing in cloud cover, then reappearing. I was sorry to be leaving home, but Mark, who sat next to me, eyes closed, sensed that a temporary return to Chicago and a visit to his family in Massachusetts would be good for the both of us.
The jet made a wide, slow turn, and my last sight of San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. Was it really six months ago that I stood on that same bridge preparing to jump, only to fall at Mark’s feet?
Six Months Earlier
ALL my life I’ve had a love affair with San Francisco. When I was eight years old and living in Chicago, my parents reluctantly let me stay up late to watch the 1936 film, San Francisco with Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. I lay on the floor in front of the television with my favorite pillow, and I was in love. I wanted my own Blackie Norton played by Clark Gable, a bad boy with a heart of gold. I wasn’t exactly Jeanette MacDonald, but Blackie always battled his way through the ruins of San Francisco and through fire, flood, or Acts of God to rescue me. Blackie never showed up, but my love for San Francisco never diminished. When I reached the age to travel alone, I would go out there once or twice a year, finances permitting. I would come back savoring every sight, every smell. Never could I admit saying that about any man or woman.
After my thirty-second birthday, I looked back over my whole life as if I had already been through it. I saw an endless parade of men who were nothing more than frogs in disguise. They were beautiful to look at, but I found no depth or trace of goodness, no feelings whatsoever. I suppose every man who volunteers in a soup kitchen or opens a door for someone thinks he’s good, like having a big dick makes him a great lover. All over Chicago I found nothing but fake people and false friendships.
At the invitation of my two close friends in San Francisco, Patrick and his lover of ten years, Terry, I decided to go to California and stay with them in Patrick’s ancestral home in Pacific Heights. I felt I was in a bad situation, and in a moment of weakness I had decided to take my own life. Not with pills or a gun, but by drowning after a fall from the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s rash, you say, but you don’t know me.
A whole other world, a lifetime away from San Francisco, I wanted to become a monk. Not as an escape or refuge from the world, a normal reaction of most people. I was attracted by their prayers and their work among the poor and the forgotten refuse of the teeming cities. I felt the call from God to be one of them, so I made applications to several monasteries that had shown an interest in me. I visited and made friends, and the whole process ground to a halt. I told them I was gay. Never mind, of course, that many priests and brothers in religious orders are openly gay and proud of the fact too. I was told to lie about it, but what’s the point of being in the service of God if you have to live a lie. I didn’t lie, and many a good-natured Abbot or leader of the community would take me into their office and sit me down. They were very kind but very final about my future in their order. Now, if I looked like someone who would climb in the window in the middle of the night and steal the silver, they would greet me with open arms. I was guilty of the sin of telling the truth.
It was very discouraging, to say the least, and would have driven any other man away from God and the church. I have seen both happen in my life. I wasn’t acceptable anywhere it seemed, not in the church or even in the gay community of Chicago. A great darkness settled over my heart. Yet my family and friends, the community at large, sat by, blissfully unaware.
That was the story of my life. I used to wonder if I was really gay because men were such a bitter disappointment to me. To be honest, I met plenty of decent guys, but one or the other of us wasn’t ready for a relationship. But you aren’t reading this far to hear my problems. While I was sitting up in the bedroom of the limestone mansion in Pacific Heights, unable to sleep, the hands on the clock were moving toward 3:30 a.m., and there was someone else on the other side of the city also not sleeping.
MARK ANTHONY CAPARELLI stepped out of the shower and dried himself with an oversized gray terrycloth towel, trying to be as quiet as possible. Hoping to get back in bed before Chris woke up and would want to join him under the hot, steaming spray. Through the dissipating cloud of steam, Mark could see Chris lying on his back through the partly open bedroom door. His lean, muscular body and his boyish face obscured by the shadows. Mark turned and wiped the damp, clouded mirror with his towel to look at his own reflection.
In the foggy glass, Mark examined the small jagged scar in the center of his right cheek. It was no longer painful or swollen, and it only added to his rugged handsomeness, this souvenir from a fight at a bar near Camp Pendleton. A brawl started over a confrontation he had long forgotten, or had chosen to forget. Mark ran his tanned, callused hands over his damp body. He was happy to be in excellent shape for thirty-five years old, though guys didn’t look at him as much as when he was younger, still a Marine, and always horny. Over time Mark had come to realize that it didn’t matter if he was sought after or not, he had built a life here in San Francisco, and he was happy. Mark found himself smiling at his own reflection before he turned off the light and went back to bed. Making sure not to disturb Chris, Mark eased himself down and pulled the blanket over his naked body. In the throes of some dream, Chris moaned softly and rolled over, facing Mark.
Mark lay on his back staring up at the ceiling, listening to the noises of the night: Chris’s slow, steady breathing, his own heartbeat, the creak of the bedsprings to the movement of their bodies. Somewhere in the city the wail of a fire engine pierced the still night air. In the apartment above, his neighbor Drew and his boyfriend were making love. Their groans and the movement of their bodies in bed were louder than usual. The red numerals on the digital clock flashed 3:59, then 4:00.
I WAS awake on the other side of the city as well. I was up and had gotten dressed quietly so as not to wake Patrick and Terry. Though their bedroom suite was on the second floor and I was on the third, I kept my shoes off until I reached the main foyer and the foot of the stairs. The hands of the ornate Grandfather clock moved, and the chime rang: 4:15 a.m.
UNABLE to sleep, Mark climbed out of bed carefully, so he wouldn’t disturb Chris. In the dim light from the hall Mark pulled on a pair of faded jeans and an old NYU sweatshirt. He laced his new black Nikes in the hallway, looking once into the darkened room. Chris moaned softly and shifted in his sleep, but he didn’t wake up. Trying to make as little noise as possible, Mark grabbed the keys to his Jeep and closed the door behind him.
A minute or two later, the key turned in the ignition and he drove into the fog-covered San Francisco night.
WITH the heavy oak door shut securely behind me, I walked the next several blocks in the misty fog to the Fairmont Hotel. I went there only because it was one of the few places I knew where taxis would be lined up waiting for a fare. To make myself look like a guest, I slipped in and came out the front door. The driver was wary of taking someone to the bridge at this hour of the morning.
“In this fog you won’t see anything,” he said.
I curtly reminded him that I could also walk and that he could return to his queue in front of the Fairmont. He drove on, not talking, which is the way I prefer my taxi drivers. If I wanted to have all the sights pointed out to me, I knew how to make use of Gray Line Tours, thank you very much.
MARK drove, not paying much attention as to where. Driving always helped him think. He did it whenever there was a difficult case in his job as police detective. The fog was heavy, and there wasn’t much traffic: only buses and delivery trucks, people on their way to work or on the way home from late shifts. Mark recalled the day that he met Chris. It was February, two months earlier.
After work Mark had gone to the Safeway on Church and Market to pick up some food for dinner and then head home to chill out in front of the TV. That was the plan until he found himself in the produce department surrounded by a cascade of oranges. A tall, good-looking guy with blond hair had just happened to pick the one orange that started the whole avalanche. Mark stood in the middle, oranges rolling everywhere, people staring and employees scrambling to catch the rolling fruit.
The young man stood opposite Mark, his eyes wide from embarrassment. He introduced himself as Chris.
Mark and Chris shared a laugh and some small talk. He didn’t remember what they talked about, but they spent the rest of the evening hanging out and had dinner at an Italian restaurant in North Beach.
That was two months ago, about a month longer than Mark had expected it to last. He liked Chris well enough, but something was missing. There was an element of Chris that seemed to be beyond Mark’s grasp. Many times Chris was emotionally distant, even when talking about love.
He knew Chris was a model, obsessed with clothes and his body image. He loved gossip, and Mark suspected that he did drugs, a fact that Chris always denied. Even sex was dependent entirely on Chris’s whims and desire for control over their every movement. Mark wasn’t innocent when it came to partying and hitting the bars and having sex, but lately he wanted more. What that more was, he wasn’t sure. He felt sometimes he was being too much of a gentleman by not saying anything.
Last night Chris had come over and was nearly naked by the time Mark reached his front door. Mark felt that he had had enough, so he pushed Chris off.
“Chris, I think you should go home!”
“I just got here, and I want to feel your arms around me tonight, babe.”
“I’m sure any guy in the city would be happy to oblige, just not tonight, okay?”
“But, Mark, I want to be with you.”
“Look, Chris, I’m tired, and I’m not in the mood to play right now!”
Chris was undoing the buttons on Mark’s shirt, but he pulled away.
“Dude, I don’t believe this shit.” Chris looked angry. “What’s wrong, did I do something?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m not in the mood for this right now.”
They watched a movie in silence, and for once they sat on opposite ends of the couch. They went to bed after 10:00 p.m. Neither one had said a word. Now here he was, sitting in his truck, trying to find a way out, driving God knows why across the Golden Gate Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, he pulled over and cut the engine, taking his jacket as he climbed out and started walking. He narrowly missed being run down by a taxi that stopped near his Jeep. A young man got out of the cab and started walking toward the Bridge. Mark didn’t know why, but he followed him.
THE girders of the Golden Gate Bridge came out of the fog like a ghost ship. The distant moan of a foghorn and the early morning traffic crossing the bridge seemed far away, subdued.
As I stepped forward, I felt like an aristocrat in the French Revolution mounting the steps of the guillotine, and my legs felt heavy, almost numb. After coming this far there was no turning back, and I was grateful for the fog this morning because I’m afraid of heights. If the weather had been clear, I would never have walked out this far on the bridge.
I kept walking until I was in the middle of the bridge. Gathering courage, I looked timidly over the rail. The greenish-gray waters of the bay beckoned through the wisps of fog. It would feel like falling into a bottomless pit. I looked to my right and left. There were no cyclists or pedestrians nearby, but I had a nagging feeling I was being followed. I hadn’t felt it before. Perhaps the fog or my mind were playing tricks on me.
The moment had come. I could muster no anger or curses, just a deep sadness that I had come to this point of desperation. I do remember thinking that it would be just my luck that San Francisco would be hit by another major earthquake right this second. I took a deep breath and waited for the ground to split open. Nothing happened, only an eerie quiet.
The cable cut my hand as I tried pulling myself up on the rail. My fingers, which gripped the cable so tightly, were wet and sticky with blood. I saw it oozing between my clenched fingers and tracing crimson lines on my exposed arm. I ignored it and stared into the nothingness below.
Holding back a sob, I whispered, “God forgive me!”
Then I fell, not down into the water below, but I fell backward. I landed hard and unceremoniously on the sidewalk. I didn’t break anything in the fall, but I felt dazed, and I suddenly wanted to be sick.
I didn’t even hear the footsteps that came running up to me, but I heard a deep male voice. A hand lay on my shoulder.
“Hey, dude, are you all right?”
Dazed, I turned in the direction of the voice, and then I saw him. There, crouched beside me on the sidewalk. Short military-style haircut, deep brown eyes, heavy from lack of sleep, and the handsomest man I had ever seen. I felt his breath, warm in my ear and on the back of my neck. I felt a shiver—a bolt of electricity passed between us. For a minute I forgot where I was and what I was doing there.
I stared at him for what felt like forever. He had a square jaw and a small scar on his right cheek. He needed to shave too. When he helped me to stand up, I was shaking and stumbled into him. He was two inches taller than me, and I could feel the warmth of his body beneath his heavy gray sweatshirt. He kept asking me questions to which I could only nod replies.
There are countless books and articles where gay men talk about finding their “Mr. Right.” For myself, I wanted it to be romantic, profound. Well, it would certainly be memorable. I felt dizzy and lightheaded, there was a sick feeling in my stomach, and I could taste something metallic in my throat. The nearest bathroom was over a mile away, and I was too shaky to run to the rail, so I let it go. I puked all over the guy in front of me, his clothes, the sidewalk, myself. The last thing I remember was the look of stunned shock on his face.
“Oh shit, just great, man!”
I sagged into his embrace, and then everything went black.
I would hear the details from Mark much later: he carried me to his Jeep and laid me across the backseat. Though I was as yet a total stranger to him, he didn’t think it was necessary to go to a sterile ER, so he took me to his apartment. He risked speeding through San Francisco with all the windows open because of the smell.
WHEN I opened my eyes, I had expected to be in one of two places: a hospital bed connected to tubes and wires, or lying at the bottom of the bay. This place was quite obviously someone’s bedroom, but whose? I couldn’t recall getting here, and somebody had taken great pains to undress me and put me in bed with a dove-gray blanket under my chin. Sitting up a little, I looked around the room, but my eyes had not adjusted to the dim light. The mini blinds were closed, and I heard rain against the windows. The door was opened enough to see the bathroom across the hall. I still didn’t know if it was day or night, or even how long I had been here.
The bedroom was not very large, and the bed took up most of the space to the window. My clothes were folded neatly on the seat of an old ladder-back chair next to the door. Next to the chair, the dresser was piled with books and papers. There was a bottle of cologne which must have been used recently: a trace of its smell lingered in the room. There were keys, a cell phone, and a leather-looking wallet on the nightstand by the bed. I reached for the wallet and opened it: a police badge. A policeman brought me home? I didn’t recall any policeman around. Then behind it all I saw a photograph.
It was a picture of two men: one older, the other was much younger; both were dressed in Marine Corps dress uniforms. The older of the two had a deeply lined face, aloof, yet proud. In his eyes, I saw or rather felt that he was not given to emotion of any kind. He probably ran his family and his home like a military base. That would explain why the younger man looked stiff and on guard, as if the elder would reach out and strike him. On closer examination, I saw the family resemblance in the jaw and the nose. This was him, the same man who saved me on the bridge. Several years younger, but still it was the same person.
He brought me to his house, a total stranger. Why? Was it still Wednesday, or had several days passed? My head ached and my legs felt like rubber as I stood up. I put on a pair of sweatpants I found on the floor and went into the hallway. I could hear voices coming from the living room. Two voices, both male: one was a masculine baritone, and the other was slightly higher pitched, not quite effeminate, only a little on the grating side, to say the least. By the tone of their voices, I could tell they were arguing about something. I tried to make no sound, and I strained to listen.
“So what did you want me to do, Chris, leave the poor guy out there on the bridge?”
“You have a cell phone; you should’ve called the paramedics. Then left him where you found him.” A fist or a mug slammed heavily on a wooden surface.
“He might be dead by now if I’d done that!”
“So, Mr. Good Samaritan, you brought him home. Where are we going to sleep now?”
A pause, one of them cleared his throat.
“You have your own apartment, Chris. Sleep there for a change. I’ll camp out on the couch. Problem solved.”
“Great, just fucking great. I wanted to be with you tonight, Mark.”
“Well, for once we’ll have to be apart.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I didn’t hear the rest. I had returned to the bedroom by then, but I could still hear their muffled voices through the door. Mark came in later when I was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Well, you’re awake at last.”
“I’ve been awake long enough.” Translated meaning: I heard most everything that was going on in the other room.
Mark shrugged, and his face showed the same cold expression as the older man in the picture.
“How are you feeling?”
“I feel fine, but why did you bring me here?”
“Will you tell me why you were out on the bridge at that hour of the morning?”
“Are you asking me that as a detective?” Letting him know I had found his badge on the nightstand. “Or are you really concerned?”
It was difficult to read Mark; he stood over me with the same impassive look on his face.
“Should I have reason to be either?”
“No, you don’t even know me.”
“Jeremy Edward Haniver?’
“Well, you have one on me. Who are you?” I asked him with a mix of both curiosity and sarcasm.
“Mark Caparelli. I saw your driver’s license. I found your friend Patrick’s phone number on a slip of paper. I promised him I would give him a call when you woke up.” Mark sat next to me on the bed.
“I didn’t take you to a hospital because they would have asked too many questions. You don’t look crazy to me.”
“Thank you for that.”
His face softened a little, and he leaned toward me. As goofy as it sounds, I actually trembled.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Our faces were so close it seemed we were almost kissing. There was a hint of coffee and mint on his breath. I stood up and went past him to the door.
“It’s not that I’m ungrateful, but I don’t see where it’s any of your business….”
“I think you need saving.”
“Thank you, but I prefer being in distress!” I went into the hallway and Mark came out of the bedroom after me.
“Well, you’re forgetting something.” Mark dropped my clothes into a pile on the floor between us. I blushed; how could I forget something like my clothes? I picked them up off the floor and retreated into the bathroom. I left the door open enough to throw the borrowed sweats out the door at Mark’s feet.
I came out dressed. Somebody had laundered my clothes.
“If you like, you can drive me home. I’m not completely rude.”
“That’s good to know.”
So I let Mark drive me to Patrick’s house. We didn’t talk very much at first, because I didn’t know what to say. Whenever we would stop for a light or a pedestrian, he would look over at me and smile.
“Jeremy, how long have you been here from Chicago?”
“You really do know a lot.”
“Not really, only what your license told me.”
“I only just arrived here three days ago, and Patrick is not my lover, he’s a friend.”
“I wasn’t going to ask that, but it’s good to know.”
“Why is that good to know?”
Mark shrugged, but he didn’t say anything further about it. The rest of the conversation was just small talk: the weather, the city, his job with the police. I told him about my plans for living here, the job with Patrick at his art gallery, but I didn’t volunteer any information about why I was on the Golden Gate Bridge. Mark had tried bringing it up, but I changed the subject. Someday, I thought to myself, I’ll tell him.
The house was on the brow of a hill in Pacific Heights. When Mark walked me to the door, I told him the little bit I knew about the history of the house. It had been in Patrick’s family for over a hundred years. The original house had been burned in the earthquake of 1906 and then completely rebuilt. Only the façade of the house was original. The door opened before we were even on the limestone stairs. Patrick stood in the doorway, looking thin and tall in a dark pinstripe suit. He flew down the steps and embraced Mark and I with a strength I didn’t know he possessed.
“You’re home safe and sound….” If he had said anything like the Prodigal Son, I think I would have kicked him. Instead, he released me and went on to gush over Mark.
“Jeremy, introduce me to this handsome knight in shining armor!”
I looked at Mark and rolled my eyes. After the introductions, Patrick insisted that I ask Mark in for coffee, and he couldn’t leave without meeting the approval of Terry. I just wished the whole thing was over so that Mark would leave. While we were standing in the kitchen and I handed him a spoon, our fingers brushed and I almost dropped it. Patrick took, or rather dragged, Mark on a tour of the house, and whenever our eyes met Mark would smile. I watched Mark as we passed from room to room. He looked out of place in the middle of the antiques and art and the marble. I watched his face while Patrick explained the history of the house or some piece that we happened on. He listened with a slight smile, the same smile that I imagined he used whenever he was working on a case and asking questions of friend or foe alike. He had shaved since the morning I met him on the bridge.