He liked to be called J, so even his name remained a mystery. We had dinner together a few times. We saw a movie together. I asked teasingly if these things were outside the bounds of tolerance from his government. He only smiled.
I actually referenced his peculiar homeland very infrequently. It sat in the room with us, came to dinner and the movies with us, though it remained unobtrusive. It draped itself over J like a cape, something that caught the eye on first viewing, but then regressed to the background. Though we rarely discussed North Korea, I felt that he had much pride for his homeland. I would expect such an attitude from someone of his standing. He held a rare privilege among his people: the ability to travel overseas. Many North Koreans never get a chance to see their own capital, Pyongyang, much less travel abroad. Only the most trusted, loyal comrades received that blessing, no doubt.
We spent a good deal of time at my place. He liked the homemade mango lassis. He liked the music I played. He liked looking at the setting sun from my balcony. He never spent the night, but we held each other comfortably. We never actually “did it,” but that never bothered me. I respected whatever limits he felt comfortable with. I knew folks back home who kept to themselves so much, fearful of where their sexuality might take them, that they lived like cloistered monks or nuns. J had a better excuse, given his origins. Even if he felt comfortable within himself, how hard was it for him to find someone to hold, to drink lassis with while watching the sunset? For me this was a pleasant interlude with a very handsome man. For him, I hope I provided a rare oasis.
He asked me about my growing up in Los Angeles, whether I was allowed in Hollywood and if I had ever seen the Watts Towers. I laughed. Time outside the homeland has given him a glimpse of the world. He understood about the restrictions placed on black folks, the shadow we find ourselves living under. I told him that I had no trouble going to Hollywood and how I practically lived there and all the dive bars I used to visit. I could tell that excited him, the thought of a place filled with men seeking other men. I also told him how my mother took me to see the Watts Towers when I was a boy.
He asked about my mother, and I admitted that she was a difficult subject. We had a falling out after my coming out. She ranted about how she failed me, how it was all her fault. She lamented not sticking it out with my father. I didn’t need a man in life that badly, I said angrily. My father was a motherfucker; the less said about him the better. She got cross and didn’t speak to me for nearly a year. When we started to communicate again, we danced all around the subject of my sexuality, my dating and heartaches over this dude or that dude. I felt like Eliza Doolittle: stick to empty “how do you do” questions and the weather. That type of detachment from her and others of my family – cousins, aunts, and uncles; I’m an only child – was what helped to propel me from the US in the first place. It wasn’t just the racism, I told J. I’ve lived overseas ever since, from Sydney to Singapore to Hong Kong.
My days with J were all too brief, too fleeting. During our last meetings, we had graduated to passionate kissing. By the time his taste filled my mouth, but before I could go back for seconds, he was gone. Duty called. The privilege of living and working outside the motherland meant obeying a strict schedule. He had to go home.
I wondered if he ever considered defection and startled myself with the thought, wondering if my attraction to him was more than I realized. Possibly. Maybe part of me just didn’t like thinking of him going back to a place where he could not find the type of love he wanted or needed. He looked at me and read either my face or my mind. My mother is back home, he said, and she doesn’t do well when I’m not around.
That was the first time he mentioned anything about his family. I asked how close he was to her and his other relatives. She worries about me, he said. She wanted him to find a good wife and settle down. He giggled, though melancholy darkened the dimples I liked so much. He said she worried about what will happen to him when she passes on. I asked about his father, then regretted it from the facial expression he made. I would describe J’s face as neutral beauty, no forced smiles or hardened looks, but a natural gaze of lingering contentment. He banished that when I mentioned his father. My father was a motherfucker, too, he said. Hearing that word come from his mouth shocked me. It also kinda turned me on.
But then his next words really threw me for a loop. You should come visit Pyongyang, he said. J thought that he would be assigned tour guide duties for a while, to stay home. That way he could take care of his mother more easily. I laughed. Seriously? Me in North Korea? Americans can visit, he said, and then I can be your guide. He seemed certain that he would be assigned to whatever tour group I ended up in. Admittedly, I knew folks who visited North Korea, but they all had dual citizenship. I only had my American passport. The whole thing seemed ludicrous, but J insisted that it wasn’t. Just be cool, he said.
Beside, he added, folks will think you’re just another one of the basketball players.
I smiled. Context was everything. When I moved to Venice from South Central, I remember how pissed I got whenever someone left a basketball or chicken bones on my front steps. I almost left a watermelon on the steps, just to psyche out whoever left the shit. I still wish I had. J’s basketball comment, though, came from a very different place. Black basketball players were the in-thing in his country right now, all because Dear Leader, Jr. loved the sport and entertained the likes of Dennis Rodman. So maybe my black ass would fit in better than I thought.
We’ll see, I said.
To be continued. . .
© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.