Oliver Quotes in Call Me By Your Name
A few hours later, when I remembered that he had just finished writing a book on Heraclitus and that “reading” was probably not an insignificant part of his life, I realized that I needed to perform some clever backpedaling and let him know that my real interests lay right alongside his. What unsettled me, though, was not the fancy footwork needed to redeem myself. It was the unwelcome misgivings with which it finally dawned on me, both then and during our casual conversation by the train tracks, that I had all along, without seeming to, without even admitting it, already been trying—and failing—to win him over.
Today, the pain, the stoking, the thrill of someone new, the promise of so much bliss hovering a fingertip away, the fumbling around people I might misread and don’t want to lose and must second-guess at every turn, the desperate cunning I bring to everyone I want and crave to be wanted by, the screens I put up as though between me and the world there were not just one but layers of rice-paper sliding doors, the urge to scramble and unscramble what was never really coded in the first place—all these started the summer Oliver came into our house. They are embossed on every song that was a hit that summer, in every novel I read during and after his stay, on anything from the smell of rosemary on hot days to the frantic rattle of the cicadas in the afternoon—smells and sounds I’d grown up with and known every year of my life until then but that had suddenly turned on me and acquired an inflection forever colored by the events of that summer.
I knew exactly what phrase in the piece must have stirred him the first time, and each time I played it, I was sending it to him as a little gift, because it was really dedicated to him, as a token of something very beautiful in me that would take no genius to figure out and that urged me to throw in an extended cadenza. Just for him.
We were—and he must have recognized the signs long before I did—flirting.
Perhaps, in this, as with everything else, because I didn’t know how to speak in code, I didn’t know how to speak at all. I felt like a deaf and dumb person who can’t even use sign language. I stammered all manner of things so as not to speak my mind. That was the extent of my code. So long as I had breath to put words in my mouth, I could more or less carry it off. Otherwise, the silence between us would probably give me away—which was why anything, even the most spluttered nonsense, was preferable to silence. Silence would expose me. But what was certain to expose me even more was my struggle to overcome it in front of others.
I saw his star almost immediately during his first day with us. And from that moment on I knew that what mystified me and made me want to seek out his friendship, without ever hoping to find ways to dislike him, was larger than anything either of us could ever want from the other, larger and therefore better than his soul, my body, or earth itself. Staring at his neck with its star and telltale amulet was like staring at something timeless, ancestral, immortal in me, in him, in both of us, begging to be rekindled and brought back from its millenary sleep.
What baffled me was that he didn’t seem to care or notice that I wore one too. Just as he probably didn’t care or notice each time my eyes wandered along his bathing suit and tried to make out the contour of what made us brothers in the desert.
What never crossed my mind was that someone else who lived under our roof, who played cards with my mother, ate breakfast and supper at our table, recited the Hebrew blessing on Fridays for the sheer fun of it, slept in one of our beds, used our towels, shared our friends, watched TV with us on rainy days when we sat in the living room with a blanket around us because it got cold and we felt so snug being all together as we listened to the rain patter against the windows—that someone else in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was. It would never have entered my mind because I was still under the illusion that, barring what I’d read in books, inferred from rumors, and overheard in bawdy talk all over, no one my age had ever wanted to be both man and woman—with men and women.
At my age, [Chiara’s] body was more than ready for him. More than mine? I wondered. She was after him, that much was clear, while all I really wanted was one night with him, just one night—one hour, even—if only to determine whether I wanted him for another night after that. What I didn’t realize was that wanting to test desire is nothing more than a ruse to get what we want without admitting that we want it.
The fear never went away. I woke up to it, watched it turn to joy when I heard him shower in the morning and knew he’d be downstairs with us for breakfast, only to watch it curdle when, rather than have coffee, he would dash through the house and right away set to work in the garden. By noon, the agony of waiting to hear him say anything to me was more than I could bear. I knew that the sofa awaited me in an hour or so. It made me hate myself for feeling so hapless, so thoroughly invisible, so smitten, so callow.
He stared me right in the face, as though he liked my face and wished to study it and to linger on it, then he touched my nether lip with his finger and let it travel left and right and right and left again and again as I lay there, watching him smile in a way that made me fear anything might happen now and there’d be no turning back, that this was his way of asking, and here was my chance to say no or to say something and play for time, so that I might still debate the matter with myself, now that it had reached this point—except that I didn’t have any time left, because he brought his lips to my mouth, a warm, conciliatory, I’ll-meet-you-halfway-but-no-further kiss till he realized how famished mine was.
And yet, he had shown me that what I wanted could be given and taken so naturally that one wonders why it needed such hand-wringing torment and shame, seeing it was no more complicated a gesture than, say, buying a pack of cigarettes, or passing a reefer, or stopping by one of the girls behind the piazzetta late at night and, having settled on a price, going upstairs for a few minutes.
How I admired people who talked about their vices as though they were distant relatives they’d learned to put up with because they couldn’t quite disown them. That and other things. I don’t care to remember—like I know myself—hinted at a realm of human experience only others had access to, not I. How I wished I could say such a thing one day—that I didn’t care to remember what I’d done at night in full morning glory. I wondered what were the other things that necessitated taking a shower. Did you take a shower to perk yourself up because your system wouldn’t hold up otherwise? Or did you shower to forget, to wash away all traces of last night’s smut and degradation?
“Do I like you, Oliver? I worship you.” There, I’d said it. I wanted the word to startle him and to come like a slap in the face so that it might be instantly followed with the most languorous caresses. What’s liking when we’re talking about worshipping? But I also wanted my verb to carry the persuasive knockout punch with which, not the person who has a crush on us, but their closest friend, takes us aside and says, Look, I think you ought to know, so-and-so worships you. “To worship” seemed to say more than anyone might dare say under the circumstances; but it was the safest, and ultimately murkiest, thing I could come up with. I gave myself credit for getting the truth off my chest, all the while finding a loophole for immediate retreat in case I’d ventured too far.
Did I want this, now that something was being offered? And was it in fact being offered? And if I wanted or didn’t want it, how would I live out the day till midnight? It was barely ten in the morning: fourteen hours to go . . . The last time I had waited so long for something was for my report card. Or on the Saturday two years ago when a girl had promised we’d meet at the movies and I wasn’t sure she hadn’t forgotten. Half a day watching my entire life being put on hold. How I hated waiting and depending on the whim of others.
And yet another part of me knew that if he showed up tonight and I disliked the start of whatever was in store for me, I’d still go through with it, go with it all the way, because better to find out once and for all than to spend the rest of the summer, or my life perhaps, arguing with my body.
I’d make a decision in cold blood. And if he asked, I’d tell him. I’m not sure I want to go ahead with this, but I need to know, and better with you than anyone else. I want to know your body, I want to know how you feel, I want to know you, and through you, me.
No, I didn’t hate it at all. But what I felt was worse than hate. I didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to think about it. Just put it away. It had never happened. I had tried it and it didn’t work for me, now I wanted my money back, roll back the film, take me back to that moment when I’m almost stepping out onto the balcony barefoot, I’ll go no farther, I’ll sit and stew and never know—better to argue with my body than feel what I was feeling now.
It never occurred to me, as I was going through the heady motions of feeling over and done with him and even a tad disappointed that I had so easily recovered after a spell of so many weeks, that this desire to sit and discuss Haydn in so unusually relaxed a manner as we were doing right now was my most vulnerable spot, that if desire had to resurface, it could just as easily sneak in through this very gate, which I’d always assumed the safest, as through the sight of his near-naked body by the swimming pool.
I saw him pedal down the cypress lane, still wearing my trunks. No one had ever worn my clothes. Perhaps the physical and the metaphorical meanings are clumsy ways of understanding what happens when two beings need, not just to be close together, but to become so totally ductile that each becomes the other. To be who I am because of you. To be who he was because of me. To be in his mouth while he was in mine and no longer know whose it was, his cock or mine, that was in my mouth. He was my secret conduit to myself—like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are […].
I don’t know what happened to me at that moment as I kept staring at him, but suddenly I had a fierce urge to cry. And rather than fight it, as with orgasm, I simply let myself go, if only to show him something equally private about me as well. I reached for him and muffled my sobs against his shoulder. I was crying because no stranger had ever been so kind or gone so far for me, even Anchise, who had cut open my foot once and sucked and spat out and sucked and spat out the scorpion’s venom. I was crying because I’d never known so much gratitude and there was no other way to show it. And I was crying for the evil thoughts I’d nursed against him this morning. And for last night as well, because, for better or worse, I’d never be able to undo it, and now was as good a time as any to show him that he was right, that this wasn’t easy, that fun and games had a way of skidding off course and that if we had rushed into things it was too late to step back from them now— crying because something was happening, and I had no idea what it was.
This was a time when I intentionally failed to drop bread crumbs for my return journey; instead, I ate them. He could turn out to be a total creep; he could change me or ruin me forever, while time and gossip might ultimately disembowel everything we shared and trim the whole thing down till nothing but fish bones remained. I might miss this day, or I might do far better, but I’d always know that on those afternoons in my bedroom I had held my moment.
Perhaps what I liked far more was the evening. Everything about it thrilled me. Every glance that crossed my own came like a compliment, or like an asking and a promise that simply lingered in midair between me and the world around me. I was electrified—by the chaffing, the irony, the glances, the smiles that seemed pleased I existed, by the buoyant air in the shop that graced everything […]
“You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special, what you two had was.”
“Oliver was Oliver,” I said, as if that summed things up.
“Parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi,” my father added, quoting Montaigne’s all-encompassing explanation for his friendship with Etienne de la Boétie.
I was thinking, instead, of Emily Brontë’s words: because “he’s more myself than I am.”
In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!
The very possibility of meeting his family suddenly alarmed me— too real, too sudden, too in-my-face, not rehearsed enough. Over the years I’d lodged him in the permanent past, my pluperfect lover, put him on ice, stuffed him with memories and moth balls like a hunted ornament confabulating with the ghost of all my evenings. I’d dust him off from time to time and then put him back on the mantelpiece. He no longer belonged to earth or to life. All I was likely to discover at this point wasn’t just how distant were the paths we’d taken, it was the measure of loss that was going to strike me— a loss I didn’t mind thinking about in abstract terms but which would hurt when stared at in the face, the way nostalgia hurts long after we’ve stopped thinking of things we’ve lost and may never have cared for.