By the end of July, Oliver and Chiara’s relationship has fully ended. In fact, Oliver has started having a number of flings with women all over town, prompting Elio to wonder every morning where he was the night before. Staring at Oliver sitting in “heaven,” Elio longs to have shoulders like his. “Maybe I wouldn’t long for them if I had them?” he wonders. “Did I want to be like him? Did I want to be him? Or did I just want to have him? Or are ‘being’ and ‘having’ thoroughly inaccurate verbs in the twisted skein of desire, where having someone’s body to touch and being that someone we’re longing to touch are one and the same […]?”
Once more, Elio shows his sensitivity to the intricacies of language. This time, he wonders if the words “being” and “having” are even capable of capturing the feelings he experiences when he looks at Oliver’s shoulders, which he desires in a way that is so complex he feels as if his yearnings themselves make up a “twisted skein.” Beyond this attention to language, though, lies something else worth noting: Elio’s attraction to Oliver again has to do with a recognition of himself in Oliver, though in this case he isn’t seeing in Oliver the person he is, but rather who he’d like to be.
In the garden one day, Elio tells Oliver about the old fairytale, and he asks if the knight speaks or dies. “Better to speak, she said,” replies Elio. “But she’s on her guard. She senses a trap somewhere.” Asking again, Oliver says, “So does he speak?” “No,” Elio responds. “He fudges.” Getting up, Oliver says, “Figures,” and then he tells Elio he needs to go into town to pick up something from his translator. When Elio offers to do it for him, Oliver pauses and says, “No, let’s go together.” Surprised, Elio puts down his pen, closes his score, puts a glass of lemonade on the pages, and then they make their way to their bikes in the shed, where Manfredi—the house’s driver—is arguing with Anchise.
When Elio tells Oliver about the fairytale, Oliver responds in a way that encourages Elio to avoid making the same mistake as the knight. “Figures,” he says, suggesting that the knight’s inability to be honest about his feelings is all too common—something Elio should avoid if possible. He then invites Elio to come into town with him, emphasizing that he wants to spend time “together.” This is significant, considering that until this point their moments together have always been casual and unplanned. Now, though, Oliver goes out of his way to make it clear that he wants to be with Elio.
Once they get their bikes, Elio asks Oliver if he thinks Anchise is creepy, which is the prevailing opinion around the house. However, Oliver maintains that he’s a nice man, explaining that Anchise treated a wound of his the other day after he fell off his bike and scraped his back. As they pedal toward town, Elio notices Oliver’s slow pace and decides to enjoy this easy moment while it lasts. When they reach the piazzetta in town that boasts a view of the ocean and hills below, Oliver asks Elio if he knows that Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in these waters. Elio admits that he already knows this, and then Oliver asks if he knows what Shelley’s wife and friends did upon finding his body. “Cor cordium, heart of hearts,” Elio says, referencing the fact that a friend grabbed Shelley’s heart before he was engulfed by the flames of cremation.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was a famous English Romantic poet who died by drowning in 1822. It’s worth noting that Oliver and Elio have this conversation about the well-known poet, as it once more reminds readers that they’re both interested in art and the life of the mind. Elio already knows the story Oliver wants to tell him, once more giving Oliver the impression that he’s sophisticated beyond his years. In turn, Elio manages to present himself as more mature than he actually is, putting his academic upbringing to use as a way of posturing as an adult capable of taking a lover Oliver’s age.
“Is there anything you don’t know?” Oliver asks. Elio stares at him and realizes this is his moment to reveal his feelings. “I know nothing, Oliver. Nothing, just nothing,” he says, feeling like this is the first time he’s “spoke[n] to an adult without planning” what he’s going to say. Oliver counters by saying that he knows “more than anyone around here,” but Elio insists he doesn’t know anything about “things that really matter.” “What things that matter?” Oliver asks. “You know what things. By now you of all people should know,” he answers. After a moment of silence, Oliver says, “Why are you telling me all this?” “Because I thought you should know,” Elio replies. “Because you thought I should know,” Oliver repeats. “Because I want you to know,” Elio adds. “Because there is no one else I can say it to but you.”
Finally, Elio has revealed his feelings, albeit in a rather oblique way. It’s significant that he thinks this conversation is so straightforward and revealing, when in reality he merely makes insinuations about his feelings. Indeed, he never directly says, “I have feelings for you, Oliver,” instead saying, “By now you of all people should know.” In this way, he effectively puts the impetus on Oliver to admit the truth without ever having to do so himself. Still, Elio manages to speak much more candidly than ever before, and this is because he can’t stand to keep his secret any longer.
“Do you know what you’re saying?” Oliver asks. “Yes,” Elio says, “I know what I’m saying and you’re not mistaking any of it. I’m just not very good at speaking. But you’re welcome never to speak to me again.” At this, Oliver tells him to wait outside while he goes upstairs to see his translator, but when he returns he simply complains about a mix-up with the papers.
For a moment, Oliver tries to avoid having this conversation by writing Elio off as too young—or too immature—to understand what he’s saying. However, Elio doesn’t allow for this interpretation, clarifying that he knows what he’s saying and that Oliver isn’t “mistaking any of it.” Unfortunately for him, though, he has now spoken too directly, ultimately scaring Oliver away. After all, Oliver is comfortable “sorting contradictory signals,” and has no problem communicating through vague insinuation. Now that Elio has managed to articulate his feelings, Oliver doesn’t know how to respond, so he simply leaves Elio standing in the square and uses this brief pause as an excuse to change the subject when he returns.
“I wish I hadn’t spoken,” Elio says while biking home. “I’m going to pretend you never did,” Oliver replies, and when Elio asks if this means they’re still on “speaking terms,” he says, “Look, we can’t talk about such things. We really can’t.” Now that he’s revealed his desires, Elio no longer feels ashamed. At the same time, though, he also no longer can cling to “that dash of unspoken hope that [has] kept everything alive these weeks.” Feeling this way, he suggests that he and Oliver stop by one of his favorite places, an area called Monet’s berm, which is a cliff that Monet used to visit to paint. Elio gets off his bike and leads Oliver down a small wooded path to a shady and secluded knoll.
Although Oliver asserts that he and Elio “can’t talk about” romantic feelings, it’s clear that he himself can’t help but continue to explore this new territory of their relationship. After all, he agrees to follow Elio to Monet’s berm, a beautiful private area that is quite obviously romantic. As such, his actions speak louder than his words, and it becomes clear that the only reason he doesn’t want to talk about “such things” is because he’s trying—and failing—to keep himself from fully falling for Elio.
“This is my spot,” Elio tells Oliver, saying he comes here to read. “Do you like being alone?” Oliver asks, to which Elio suggests that “no one likes being alone,” though he himself has “learned how to live with it.” “Are you always so very wise?” Oliver asks, but Elio only reiterates that he doesn’t know how to speak. “I like the way you say things,” Oliver says. “Why are you always putting yourself down?” Elio tells him he does this so that he (Oliver) won’t criticize him. “Are you so scared of what others think?” Oliver asks. As Elio contemplates this, he allows himself to stare directly into Oliver’s eyes. Disconcerted, Oliver tells him that he’s “making things difficult” because he himself often has to “hold back.”
Even as Oliver tries to “hold back” from acting on his feelings for Elio, he can’t keep himself from pursuing conversations that are quite romantic in nature. For example, when he asks why Elio is always putting himself down, he underhandedly compliments the boy, clearly insinuating that he thinks Elio is remarkable. Of course, Elio must pick up on the subtext of Oliver’s questions, but he’s unable to fully see that Oliver likes him in the same way that he likes Oliver. Indeed, it isn’t until Oliver admits that Elio is “making things difficult” for him that his feelings become unavoidably clear.
Oliver tells Elio that he’s “the luckiest kid in the world,” but Elio maintains that “so much of it is wrong.” Oliver then asks what, exactly, is wrong about his life. His family? The dinner drudges? Elio only smirks, and then Oliver says, “Us, you mean.” To this, Elio says nothing. “Let’s see, then,” Oliver says, scooching closer and planting his lips softly on Elio’s. After kissing him, he asks, “Better now?” but Elio doesn’t reply and instead kisses him again. “I was not so sure our kiss had convinced me of anything about myself,” he notes. “I was not even sure I had enjoyed it as much as I’d expected and needed to test it again, so that even in the act itself, I needed to test the test.”
When Elio kisses Oliver a second time because he isn’t sure that the first kiss has “convinced” him of anything, readers might recall the idea—which Elio himself retrospectively sets forth in Part 1—that “wanting to test desire is nothing more than a ruse to get what we want without admitting that we want it.” In turn, Elio continues to find ways to avoid admitting to himself that he truly does have strong feelings for Oliver. At the same time, he’s also gone out of his way to reveal his attraction. Ultimately, what emerges in this moment is that Elio’s conception of his own sexual desires remains complex even when he finally begins a romantic relationship with Oliver, and this is yet another indication of the fact that he’s still in the process of understanding his developing identity as a sexual being.
“We can’t do this—I know myself,” Oliver says once they’ve stopped kissing. “So far we’ve behaved. We’ve been good. Neither of us has done anything to feel ashamed of. Let’s keep it that way. I want to be good.” Despite this sentiment, though, Elio says, “Don’t be. I don’t care. Who is to know?” He then places his hand on Oliver’s crotch. With composure, Oliver brings his own hand down and lets it rest atop Elio’s for a moment before lifting it away. “Did I offend you?” Elio asks. “Just don’t,” Oliver says before standing and wincing with pain as the scrape on his back flexes. Thinking about the cut, Elio suddenly feels the “real world” rush in and eviscerate the moment.
Oliver tries to tell Elio that they “can’t” continue kissing because he “knows” himself, a line of reasoning that reflects his previous assertion that he can’t have more than two soft-boiled eggs at breakfast because, indeed, he knows himself: if he has two, he’ll have three, and then four, and there will be no stopping him. As such, he frames his attraction to Elio as something he must keep from indulging, something that might entice him to lose himself in a kind of pleasure he thinks he ought to avoid. Of course, this makes sense, considering the fact that Elio is a minor. Since they haven’t yet fully embarked upon a romantic relationship, Oliver thinks that stopping now will keep him from transgressing. What he fails to recognize, though, is that they’ve already embarked upon a romantic relationship. Not only have they kissed, but they’ve been building an intimate emotional rapport for weeks. In other words, they’ve already crossed part of the threshold that Oliver thinks he should avoid.
“We’ll never speak again,” Elio says on the bike ride home. “We’ll chitchat. Chitchat, chitchat. That’s all. And the funny thing is, I can live with that.” At lunch, though, he realizes he can’t live with that. Beneath the table his foot briefly grazes Oliver’s. Then all at once Oliver’s foot is pressing assuredly against the top of his arch, rubbing gently against the soft skin. “A sudden giddiness overtook me,” Elio writes. “No, I wasn’t going to cry, this wasn’t a panic attack, it wasn’t a ‘swoon,’ and I wasn’t going to come in my shorts either, though I liked this very, very much.” Looking down at his plate, he notices a raspberry sauce on his chocolate cake—someone, it seems, is pouring more and more sauce onto the dessert, and then he realizes with a gasp that his nose is bleeding.
Aciman portrays Elio’s reaction to Oliver’s touch as an onslaught of intense emotion. Relieved that Oliver is still sexually interested in him after their tense conversation and fraught moment at Monet’s berm, he experiences a “sudden giddiness” that he has to clarify isn’t going to make him cry or send him into a panic attack, though it does seem to cause his nose to bleed. This, of course, is a physical occurrence that may have happened on its own, but it’s symbolic of his overwhelmed state of mind.
Elio escapes upstairs with his bloody nose, telling his body not to “give the whole thing away.” Shortly thereafter, Oliver comes into his bedroom and asks if the nosebleed was his fault. Elio doesn’t answer, instead saying, “I’m a mess, aren’t I?” Oliver then asks if he’s going to be okay. “I thought I was,” Elio replies. “I’ll get over it.” On his way out of the room, Oliver tells Elio to get some sleep, promising he’ll “stick around.” When he leaves, Elio thinks about their interactions that day and begins to cry, wishing that he could soak Oliver’s clothing and make him taste his tears. “I didn’t understand why he had brought his foot on mine,” he notes. “Was it a pass, or a well-meaning gesture of solidarity and comradeship […]?”
It’s important to note that Elio declines to answer when Oliver asks if he caused the nosebleed. Clearly, Elio thinks—or wants to make Oliver think—that the blood that rushed out of his nose has something to do with their amorphous, ill-defined relationship, which is tearing him apart and turning him into “a mess.” In keeping with this, he breaks down as soon as Oliver steps out of his room, a bundle of raw emotion and confusion. Once again, the younger Elio isn’t yet well-equipped enough to handle the emotional complexities that come along with such relationships.
Lying in his room, Elio fantasizes about telling Oliver straightforwardly that he wants to be “taken” by him, even if it’s a one-time kind of thing. He plans to enter his bedroom that night and act without hesitation, reaching out to touch him and letting their Stars of David touch. However, when he wakes up later that afternoon, Oliver is nowhere to be found. He passes the time by going to the beach and speaking to Vimini—who tells him that Oliver likes him more than he likes Oliver—and then he comes home and has dinner, supremely disappointed that Oliver still hasn’t returned. In fact, he doesn’t come home until quite late, when everyone is in bed. Elio strains to hear him as he comes inside and starts the shower—a sure sign he’s had sex with someone. “Traitor,” he thinks.
Oliver disregards the fact that he has promised to stick around in the aftermath of Elio’s bloody nose, instead opting to go out for a night of debauchery (or so it seems to Elio). As such, he puts Elio back in a position of anticipation. Indeed, the boy whiles away the hours waiting for Oliver to return, constantly wondering what he’s doing and who he’s with and whether or not anything will happen between them when he comes back. Although this is quite cruel, it’s worth noting that at least this gives Elio something to focus on other than his confusion regarding the blossoming sexual relationship between him and Oliver. Instead of feeling fragile and overwhelmed, Elio now feels angry, an emotion that is perhaps easier to grasp.
After a sleepless night during which he periodically thinks Oliver has entered his room only to discover that no one is there, Elio is silent at breakfast. Mr. Pearlman asks Oliver if he drank a lot the night before while playing poker (which is what he was doing). “That—and other things,” Oliver replies. “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,” Elio muses to himself. “How I wished I could say such a thing one day.”
Once again, Elio longs to enter the mature world of adulthood, idolizing Oliver’s worldly way of speaking. What’s more, it makes sense that he covets Oliver’s casual acceptance of his own vices, since this kind of acceptance suggests that perhaps someday he’ll embrace his desire for Elio, writing it off as something that he will simply have to “put up with because” he can’t “disown” it.
That night, Oliver is kind and calm, eating with the family and going to bed early. The next morning, Elio finds him working hard by the time he himself is awake, and though he doesn’t want to interrupt, he finds himself saying, “I waited for you the other night.” He then asks if Oliver wants to go to town together. “You mean like the other day,” Oliver says. “I don’t think we’ll ever do anything like that again,” Elio says. “But, yes, like that.” As Elio continues to talk about how their time together two days before was an anomaly, Oliver asks, “Do you like me that much, Elio?” Astounded, Elio tells him that he worships him—a word he thinks both describes his affection while also remaining the “murkiest” thing he could possibly say.
Yet again, Elio’s close attention to language comes to the forefront of Call Me by Your Name. This time, he tries to find a way of speaking that is simultaneously clear and “murky,” a mode of communicating with Oliver that will enable him to express what he’s feeling while simultaneously withholding some of his emotions. Although the word “worship” might not seem particularly unclear, it’s true that it can be interpreted more than one way. Oliver might understand it to mean that Elio covets him in a romantic manner, or he might interpret “worship” in more innocent terms, thinking Elio means to say that he idolizes him in the way a young boy might look up to an older brother.
Oliver agrees to go into B. with Elio on the condition that he make “no speeches.” In the town bookstore, Elio picks up two copies of an old Romantic novel and gives one to Oliver, though not before inscribing it. “Zwischen Immer und Nie, for you in silence, somewhere in Italy in the mid-eighties,” he writes, delighted by the idea of a stranger looking through Oliver’s books one day in the future and wondering who wrote this note.
The German line “Zwischen Immer und Nie,” which means “between always and never,” comes from a poem by Paul Celan called “Nachts, wenn das Pendel der Liebe schwingt,” or “At Night, When the Pendulum of Love Swings.” In the poem, the “pendulum of love” swings “between always and never,” an idea that directly relates to Oliver and Elio’s relationship, ultimately recalling Oliver’s question, “If not later, when?” In this way, Aciman not only brings back Oliver’s previous reference to the fact that Elio rebels by reading Paul Celan, but also reminds readers that the two lovers are still in a period of intense anticipation, wondering whether or not their relationship will ever come to full fruition. At the same time, they also seem to understand that regardless of what happens between them, their feelings will “always” remain with them, affecting them as they move through their lives.
The night before this outing to the bookstore, Elio had a dream in which he was having sex with Oliver and looking into his face. The expression Oliver wore was so striking that it ripped “every emotion out of” Elio and confirmed to him “that not to give what [he] was dying to give [Oliver] at whatever price was perhaps the greatest crime [he] might ever commit.” Then, in the dream, Oliver said, “You’ll kill me if you stop,” words that stayed with Elio long after he awoke. Now, as the two ride their bikes down a hill on their way home, Elio turns to him and yells, “Kill me if I stop.” In this way, he thinks, he gives Oliver “back his words with the implicit wish that he repeat them back” like in the dream.
Again, Elio looks to language as a way of comprehending and representing his feelings for Oliver. In this case, he tries to nudge Oliver into playing into a private fantasy, wanting to hear him repeat a line from a dream. This dream, it seems, is a rather important one, since it suggests to Elio that he will deeply regret it if he doesn’t keep pursuing the kind of relationship he yearns to have with Oliver. In this way, readers see that he is coming closer and closer to discarding his reservations.
When Oliver and Elio return, Oliver is quiet and unresponsive, shutting himself into his room for the night. Unable to sit still, Elio calls Marzia, who has a “dusky chill in her voice” but agrees to ride bikes with him to B. In town they eat ice cream and visit the bookstore, where a poet has just released his new collection, Se l’amore (If Love). Elio buys two copies—one for him and one for Marzia. “I’m not sure this book is for you, but…,” the poet says as he signs them. Outside, Marzia asks Elio why he bought her a book. When he says he doesn’t understand her question, she says, “Any idiot would understand why I’m asking. But you don’t. Figures!” Uncomfortable, Elio senses that he understands what Marzia’s getting at, but he doesn’t want to admit it, worrying that he has perhaps been “purposely disingenuous.”
This is the first time that Elio grasps the fact that he is leading Marzia on, though he’s hesitant to fully embrace this idea. Playing dumb, he pretends to not understand why she’s baffled by his sudden kindness. Of course, he knows that he has failed to keep up their relationship, but he doesn’t think much about the fact that he’s now giving her his undivided attention simply because he doesn’t know where he stands with Oliver. Still, he senses that he’s being “purposely disingenuous” when trying to convince her that he doesn’t understand why she’s confused by this newfound affection.
As he plays dumb, Elio realizes that he’s “ignoring” Marzia’s signals so as to “draw her out.” He then understands with an unpleasant sense of shock that this is exactly what Oliver has been doing to him—“intentionally ignoring” him so as to bring him closer. As he and Marzia walk together, she finally tells him what she feels, saying, “I think you can hurt me and I don’t want to be hurt. Not that you mean to hurt anyone, but because you’re always changing your mind, always slipping, so no one knows where to find you. You scare me.” With this, they stop walking, and Elio kisses her. She then balances her bike against a shop door and leans against the ally wall. “Kiss me again?” she says.
Unlike Elio, Marzia has no trouble speaking straightforwardly, voicing her misgivings about their relationship instead of hiding them and waiting to see what will happen. This, it seems, is what Elio struggles to do in his relationship with Oliver, and so he’s attracted to Marzia’s forthrightness. Of course, it’s unfair to Marzia that he simply kisses her after she admits she’s afraid he’ll “hurt” her—seeing that she’s attracted to him, he kisses her and thus avoids having to address the plain fact that she’s right: he will most likely hurt her because he isn’t as committed to pursuing a relationship with her as he is to pursuing a relationship with Oliver.
Elio lets go of his own bike and leans into Marzia, his hands moving up her shirt as hers play with his hair and then travel down his pants. “Sei duro, duro, you’re so hard,” she says. As they kiss and touch each other like this, she briefly lifts her face and says, “Ma tu mi vuoi veramente bene, do you really care for me?” In this moment, Elio wonders how Marzia can embody such contrasting emotions. “I couldn’t understand how boldness and sorrow, how you’re so hard and do you really care for me? could be so thoroughly bound together. Nor could I begin to fathom how someone so seemingly vulnerable, hesitant, and eager to confide so many uncertainties about herself could, with one and the same gesture, reach into my pants […].”
In this moment, Elio takes cues from Marzia, observing the graceful way she handles the overlap between vulnerability and desire. Unlike him, her misgivings don’t hold her back from making “bold” sexual advances. As they kiss, it’s clear that he wants to embody this kind of attitude himself in his own relationship with Oliver. Moving forward, it seems likely that he’ll put this tactic to use, trying to embrace contradictory emotions as a way of navigating the otherwise confusing considerations enshrouding his feelings for Oliver.
Even as Elio kisses Marzia, he finds himself composing a note that he later leaves in Oliver’s room. It reads: “Can’t stand the silence. I need to speak to you.” Before he does this, though, he and Marzia spend the night making love on the beach. Upon leaving at dawn, they plan to meet later in the day. Throughout the daylight hours, Elio obsesses over whether or not Oliver has found his note. Finally, he goes to his room and finds a response: “Grow up. I’ll see you at midnight.” Suddenly, Elio doesn’t know what to think. “Did I want this, now that something was being offered?” he wonders. “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?”
Marzia’s boldness inspires Elio, enabling him to break the “silence” between Oliver and himself. However, he finds that he’s not quite ready to face what breaking this silence means, wondering if he really wants what he thinks Oliver is “offering.” This most likely has to do with the fact that he has never been with a man before. With Marzia, he doesn’t think twice about engaging in sexual activities because he presumably has already had heterosexual romantic experiences. With Oliver, though, he’s about to enter a new realm. What’s more, he is younger than Oliver—another reason he’s unsure he actually wants to move forward with his desires.
In the afternoon, Elio plays tennis with Marzia. Later, they have sex in his bedroom with the shutters closed but the windows open, and all the while some part of Elio hopes they’ll make an obvious noise that Oliver will hear. When she leaves that night, he stays behind and waits for midnight, agreeing to sit through a long dinner with a gay couple visiting from Chicago. Before they arrive, Elio tells his father that he’ll wear a purple shirt that was a gift from a distant cousin. “My father laughed it off,” he says about the joke, “saying I was too old not to accept people as they were. But there was a glint in his eyes when both showed up wearing purple shirts.”
A strong indicator that Elio hasn’t yet accepted himself as a bisexual man is the fact that he goes out of his way to make a joke about gay men. This, of course, is most likely an attempt to trick himself into drawing a distinction between himself and someone who enjoys sleeping with men. Because he hasn’t yet figured out his sexual identity, he postures as a straight man who makes homophobic jokes. Luckily, his father urges him to “accept people” as they are, a message of acceptance that Elio likely needs to hear in order to embrace his own sexual preferences.
After dinner, Elio goes upstairs and tries to imagine what kind of person he’ll be the next time he descends this very same staircase. “By then I might be someone else,” he thinks. “Did I even like this someone else whom I didn’t yet know and who might not want to say good morning then or have anything to do with me for having brought him to this pass? Or would I remain the exact same person walking up this staircase, with nothing about me changed, and not one of my doubts resolved?”
In this moment, Aciman spotlights the influence of anticipation on Elio’s thinking. Wondering if he’ll be a different person the next time he descends this staircase, Elio thinks about how sleeping with Oliver might change him. After having waited so long to move forward with his desires, he senses a fundamental change looming before him, thinking that this is a monumental night that will alter him in a profound and irreversible way.
Sitting on his bed, Elio imagines his grandfather’s voice telling him not to go through with his plan. “I was his namesake, and he was speaking to me from the very bed where he’d crossed a far more menacing divide than the one between my room and Oliver’s,” he notes. “Turn back. Who knows what you’ll find once you’re in that room,” the voice warns. Nonetheless, Elio relishes this fear, imagining Oliver whispering, “You’ll kill me if you stop.”
When Elio says that his grandfather “crossed a far more menacing divide” in the very bed that he himself is now sitting on, he insinuates that his grandfather died in this bedroom. The fact that he imagines his grandfather warning him against sleeping with Oliver illustrates just how nervous he is to cross this threshold—clearly, he associates what he’s about to do with shame and guilt. Indeed, he believes his elders would disapprove of his actions, though this isn’t enough to deter him and, in fact, actually makes him all the more eager to act.
When the time comes, Elio enters Oliver’s room and watches him move about awkwardly as he assures him how glad he is that Elio has come. Sitting on the bed, the two men share a joint, which Elio is glad to have because it gives him “something to do.” Then, as they wait for something to happen—their legs stretched out next to each other on the bed—Elio brushes his toes against Oliver’s, moving them through the gaps until Oliver begins to “reciprocate the movement.” Then Oliver puts his arm around Elio, who slips his hand under his shirt. “You sure you want this?” Oliver asks, and Elio nods even though this is a lie. “By then I wasn’t sure at all,” he writes. “I wondered when my hug would run its course, when I, or he, would grow tired of this.”
Even on the final brink of intimacy, Elio isn’t “sure” if he really wants to act on his desires. Oliver, for his part, tries to make sure that this is what Elio wants, but Elio doesn’t let him in on his thought process, instead nodding as a way of passively agreeing to move forward. At this point, then, it’s clear that Elio is simply going through the motions of a plan he’s already made up his mind to follow, and he has resigned himself to whatever happens, even if that means moving toward something he doesn’t actually want.
“We haven’t talked,” Oliver says, but Elio only shrugs. “Can I kiss you?” he asks, lifting Elio’s face. Without answering him, Elio brings his mouth forward in the same way that he kissed Marzia the previous night. Before long, Elio gets under the covers and revels in the way they smell of Oliver. Then he’s naked and Elio feels as if there’s “not a secret left in the world” as Oliver’s hands run over his body. When he realizes Oliver is naked, too, Elio feels compelled to ask “the tactful health question,” to which Oliver says, “I already told you, I’m okay.” As they resume, Elio feels “on the cusp of something,” though he also wants this feeling to “last forever” because he knows there’s “no coming back from this.”
When Elio asks Oliver “the tactful health question,” he’s referring to the question of whether or not Oliver has any sexually transmitted diseases—an important question, especially in the 1980s (when Call Me by Your Name takes place), a period during which many people—including many gay men—died of AIDS/HIV. Once he and Oliver establish that they’re both “okay,” Elio realizes that this is the last thing to be said before moving forward, which is why he suddenly feels on “the cusp of something” that he’ll never be able to come “back from.”
“When it happened,” Elio writes, “it happened not as I’d dreamed it would, but with a degree of discomfort that forced me to reveal more of myself than I cared to reveal. I had an impulse to stop [Oliver], and when he noticed, he did ask, but I did not answer, or didn’t know what to answer, and an eternity seemed to pass between my reluctance to make up my mind and his instinct to make it up for me.” Then, as Oliver is inside him, Elio feels a “distinct feeling of arriving somewhere very dear, of wanting this forever, of being me, me, me, me, and no one else.”
“When it happened” refers to the moment that Oliver penetrates Elio. Since Elio has never had anal sex, it’s unsurprising that he experiences “discomfort” and that he can’t quite conceal this pain. It’s interesting, in fact, that he doesn’t want to “reveal” this inexperienced part of himself. This is in keeping with his desire to be seen as more mature and experienced than he actually is. Oliver senses Elio’s sudden reaction and asks if he should stop, but proceeds anyway when Elio fails to answer. This is potentially problematic, as he hasn’t received verbal consent. Elio is most likely unable to articulate whether or not he wants what’s happening, since he himself is so conflicted, simultaneously experiencing hesitation, pain, and a “feeling of arriving somewhere very dear.” Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely that a simple “yes” or “no” could possibly convey what he’s feeling, and so he doesn’t respond.
Elio realizes his dream was accurate: having sex with Oliver is “like coming home.” And this is why he says, “You’ll kill me if you stop” over and over before switching to curse words, which Oliver repeats before saying, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.” Elio has never done this before. “As soon as I said my own name as though it were his,” he notes, “[it] took me to a realm I never shared with anyone in my life before, or since.”
When Elio and Oliver call each other by their own names, readers might recall the idea that part of Elio’s attraction to Oliver has to do with the fact that he recognizes himself in his lover. In this moment, Elio and Oliver become one, connecting in the same way Elio feels they’re bound by their shared Judaism. As he previously said, when he looks at Oliver’s Star of David necklace, Elio feels as if he’s looking at something “immortal” in himself, in Oliver, and in both of them together. A similar exchange—or melding—of identity happens when they have sex and call each other by their own names.
After making love, Elio wonders if they made too much noise, thinking he might even have “sobbed” a little. As they talk quietly while holding one another, Elio finds a book that he pushed aside while they were still having sex. Now he realizes it was a copy of Se l’amore and wonders if Oliver went to the same book party that he and Marzia stumbled into the other night. He then falls asleep and wakes up before knowing he drifted off—suddenly he’s overcome by “a sense of dread and anxiety” that he can’t “begin to fathom.” “I felt queasy,” he writes, “as if I had been sick and needed not just many showers to wash everything off but a bath in mouthwash. I needed to be far away—from him, from this room, from what we’d done together.”
Because Elio wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to act on his desires, he now feels a mixture of guilt and shame, wanting badly to be “far away” from Oliver and the entire context of their first time making love. As a seventeen-year-old who has never been with a man, the experience of having sex with Oliver—who is seven years his senior—is overwhelming. Not only does Elio endure pain as a result of having anal sex for the first time, he is also tasked with sorting the tense and amorphous emotions that have until this moment been nothing more than unspoken thoughts lurking beneath the surface of his and Oliver’s relationship. Now that they’ve had sex, their attraction to one another is more than a mere matter of words and ideas—it’s real, and Elio hasn’t had enough romantic experience to fully process the complexity of his situation.
Feeling as if he’s just woken up from a nightmare, Elio wonders how he possibly let Oliver do to him what he did. “I would never be the same,” he notes. He wonders if the “loathing” he now feels is something that has “always been there, though camouflaged.” Oliver, for his part, notices this shift in Elio’s mood and says, “You’re not happy.” Elio shrugs. “It was not him I hated,” he writes, “but the thing we’d done. I didn’t want him looking into my heart just yet.” Nonetheless, Oliver presses on, saying, “I knew we shouldn’t have. I knew it.” He then asks if Elio hated the entire experience. “No, I didn’t hate it at all,” Elio writes. “But what I felt was worse than hate. I didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to think about it.”
Since Oliver is quite observant—especially when it comes to interacting with other people—he immediately picks up on Elio’s sudden sense of guilt and shame. Unfortunately, though, there’s nothing he can do to help assuage these feelings. As such, he has gone from the only person Elio can confide in about his desires to the last person on earth the boy can look to for help. Because of this, Elio is forced to navigate these complex feelings on his own.
After a moment, Oliver tells Elio he can go to sleep, so he closes his eyes and wishes he were far, far away. At the same time, he knows he needs to keep Oliver close by “in case this thing [takes] a turn for the worse and there [is] no one to turn to.” And yet there’s also part of Elio that is happy he had sex with Oliver because now his desires are out of his “system.”
As is the case with many of Elio’s emotions, even this moment of intense guilt and shame involves a number of contrasting feelings. Indeed, Elio is both devastated and happy that he and Oliver have had sex. What’s more, he wants to be far away from Oliver while simultaneously wanting to remain close. Aciman shows how the human emotional spectrum is rarely cut and dry, but rather nuanced and contradictory.
Very early in the morning, Elio and Oliver go swimming, and Elio thinks this is the last time they’ll be “together like this.” Sitting on the rocks, they speak without reservation, prompting Elio to wonder why they were unable to talk like this before sleeping together. Finally, Oliver looks at him and asks if he’s okay. “Do we need to speak about it?” Elio says eventually, using “the same words that Marzia […] uttered when [he] wished to know if she liked what [he’d] done to her.”
Despite the tumultuous immediate aftermath of having sex with Oliver, Elio feels free and unburdened in the morning, finally able to speak without need to “sort contradictory signals” and obscure everything he says. This, it seems, is the first time he can simply exist with Oliver, finally free of the torturous mental calculations that their interactions have required until now. Interestingly enough, though, there remains one thing he doesn’t want to talk about: their sexual relationship. In this way, he realizes, he is like Marzia—having wanted so badly to sleep with his lover, now he is hesitant to discuss the actual experience. As such, Aciman shows readers once again that Elio and Marzia are in similar situations, though the difference is that Elio is the equivalent of Oliver in his relationship with Marzia. However, knowing what it’s like to be in this position doesn’t seem to help him in his own relationship with Oliver.
When they reach the house and go upstairs, Elio goes to his room and is surprised when Oliver follows him. “Take your trunks off,” Oliver says, and Elio finds himself unable to “disobey.” Then Oliver orders him to sit, whereupon he takes Elio’s entire penis in his mouth. “I was hard in no time,” Elio writes, but Oliver abruptly stops and says, “We’ll save it for later.” When he leaves, Elio falls onto his bed and realizes that his “craving to be done” with Oliver has vanished, though his “sickness” lingers like a hangover. Each time he moves, he experiences a “sudden soreness” that incites a “twinge of discomfort and shame.”
When Oliver gives Elio oral sex, he effectively reminds him of the desire that originally spurred him to pursue a sexual relationship in the first place. Of course, this is a rather bold and aggressive move—one that might even be seen as coercive—but there’s no denying that it helps Elio get over his misgivings about what happened the night before. Once again burning with desire, he at least is able to comprehend what drew him to Oliver, therefore making sense of his actions even if the “discomfort and shame” he experiences aren’t yet gone.
At breakfast, Oliver is wearing Elio’s bathing suit, which Elio thinks is “an unbearable turn-on.” Later in the day, he suddenly feels the need to see Oliver, so he grabs his bike and follows him into town, where he finds him in front of the post office. “I had to see you,” he says, and Oliver confesses that he’s incredibly happy that they slept together. “I just don’t want to regret any of it,” he says. “[…] I just dread the thought of having messed you up. I don’t want either of us to have to pay one way or another.” In response, Elio assures him he won’t tell anyone, but Oliver says, “For you, however you think of it, it’s still fun and games, which it should be. For me it’s something else which I haven’t figured out, and the fact that I can’t scares me.”
When Oliver says that he doesn’t want to have “messed” Elio up, readers see that he’s cognizant of the complications that arise when an adult has sex with a minor. This is somewhat reassuring, though there’s no changing the fact that Oliver has clearly ignored these complications until now, when it’s already too late to undo their physical intimacy. What’s more, he’s wrong when he says that this relationship is only “fun and games” for Elio, since this interpretation fails to acknowledge the emotional complexities Elio has experienced as a result of his feelings. Still, it’s worth noting that Oliver says he hasn’t “figured out” his feelings for Elio, or perhaps for men in general. This suggests that he’s not as romantically experienced as he previously seemed.
Just before Oliver enters the post office, Elio comes up behind him and whispers, “Fuck me, Elio,” in his ear. “He remembered and instantly moaned his own name three times,” Elio writes, “as we’d done during that night.” Then Elio suggests they’ll “save it for later,” and then he explains to Oliver how much Later! always affected him. Laughing, Oliver says “Later!” over his shoulder and enters the post office.
Finally, Oliver uses the word “later” in the exact way Elio has always wanted him to use it. Unlike the other times he’s called this out, now the word constitutes a promise, hinting at a forthcoming intimacy instead of expressing a sense of “indifference.”
On his way home, Elio stops at Marzia’s house and joins her as she goes to the beach. Elated, he realizes that he loves the way she smells and the way her mouth looks, and then she takes off her top and asks him to put sunscreen on her back. As he does so, he lets his hands slide around her sides and “cup her breasts,” at which point they steal into a small “thatched cabana” that her family owns on the beach, where they have sex, Marzia sitting on a table with her legs on Elio’s shoulders as he stands before her. “Barely half an hour ago I was asking Oliver to fuck me and now here I was about to make love to Marzia,” Elio thinks, “and yet neither had anything to do with the other except through Elio, who happened to be one and the same person.”
In this moment, Elio is thrilled by the idea of his own sexual fluidity. Marzia and Oliver, he asserts, don’t have “anything to do with” one another, and yet they do share one thing in common: they both have slept with him. As such, Elio feels connected not to just one person, but two at once, enjoying a sexual awakening and reveling in the way it informs (and even seems to construct) his own sense of self. Of course, this outlook fails to take Marzia or Oliver’s feelings into consideration, but Elio is too preoccupied with his sexual identity to stop and consider such matters.
Elio goes home for lunch and has two glasses of wine, which make him pleasantly sleepy. He then grabs two ripe peaches and goes upstairs and falls asleep while thinking about Oliver or Marzia walking by the balcony and seeing him lying naked on the bed. He imagines one of them—either one—enter the room, take the peach from him, and slide it onto his “hard cock.” He vividly envisions the entire scene: “I know you’re not sleeping, they’d say, and gently press the soft, overripe peach on my cock till I’d pierced the fruit along the crease that reminded me so much of Oliver’s ass. The idea seized me and would not let go.”
Although Elio seems to think that he’s equally attracted to Marzia and Oliver, it’s obvious that he’s more drawn to Oliver, as evidenced by the fact that the peach—which he has managed to sexualize—reminds him of Oliver’s “ass.” This also aligns with the simple fact that, while he thinks constantly about his relationship with Oliver, he rarely spends time considering the nuances of his rapport with Marzia. However, he’s too overcome by the entire experience of having two lovers to recognize with any clarity that his attraction to Marzia is (unfairly) superficial compared to the feelings he harbors for Oliver.
Unable to shake the idea from his mind, Elio gets up and takes one of the peaches, presses his thumbs into it, and pushes the pit out the other side. “[I] gently brought the fuzzy, blush-colored peach to my groin, and then began to press into it till the parted fruit slid down my cock.” He thinks about how he has “already tried the animal kingdom” and is now moving on to “the kingdom of plants.” Eventually, he finishes masturbating with the peach, ejaculating into the center of the fruit and setting it carefully aside on his nearby desk. Shortly thereafter, he hears someone sneaking into his room. Before he opens his eyes, he knows it’s Oliver, who takes his arm and kisses him, lifts the sheet, and finds him naked.
Aciman showcases just how insatiable this Elio’s sexual drive is at this stage in his development. Within twenty-four hours, Elio has had sex with Oliver, received oral sex, and had sex with Marzia, and yet he still can’t resist the allure of this fruit, which reminds him of Oliver’s “ass.” By emphasizing Elio’s desire, Aciman reminds readers that Elio is experiencing a sexual awakening. This sexual drive is important to keep in mind, as it no doubt influences the decisions Elio makes about his romantic relationships.
Oliver lowers his mouth to Elio’s penis and finds the “sticky taste” of the peach. Elio tells him what he did and points to the “bruised evidence” on the desk. Taking the peach, Oliver asks if Elio left it for him, and then he brings the fruit back to the bed, balancing it so the semen stays inside. “I’m sick, aren’t I?” Elio says. “No, you’re not sick—I wish everyone were as sick as you. Want to see sick?” Oliver replies, lifting the peach to his mouth. Just as he’s about to “taste it,” Elio shakes his head. “Please don’t,” he says as he watches Oliver dip his finger into the center and bring it to his mouth. “Look,” Elio says, “you don’t have to do this. I’m the one who came after you, I sought you out, everything that happened is because of me—you don’t have to do this.”
Oliver toys with Elio’s sense of shame, trying to show him that his desires—no matter how twisted they might seem—are not quite as wretched as he might think. This, it seems, is why he wants to eat the inseminated peach: to prove to Elio that he’s not “sick.” However, this entire act mortifies Elio, who’s worried not only that he’s “sick,” but that Oliver’s only doing this as a way of punishing himself for pursuing him. In other words, Elio fears that Oliver regrets what they’ve done and now thinks he must atone for his transgressions.
Oliver tells Elio that he wanted him “from day one” but that he simply “hid it better.” Hearing this, Elio lunges for the peach, but before he can wrest it away, Oliver grabs his wrist and holds it with a crushing grip. “You’re hurting me,” Elio says. “Then let go,” Oliver replies. And then, unable to do anything, Elio watches Oliver put the peach in his mouth “and slowly begin to eat it, staring at” him as he does so. “If you just want to spit it out, it’s okay, it’s really okay, I promise I won’t be offended,” Elio says, but Oliver shakes his head and swallows. “Something that was mine was in his mouth,” Elio writes, “more his than mine now.”
Once again, readers see how Elio’s interest in Oliver has to do with the co-mingling of their identities. “Something that was mine was in his mouth, more his than mine now,” he says, revealing his desire to merge with Oliver. At the same time, he’s nervous that Oliver will reject this part of him, so he tells him that it’s okay if he spits out his semen—a sentiment that suggests that he’s still not confident that Oliver feels as strongly about him as he feels about Oliver.
Elio breaks down crying. “And rather than fight it,” he writes, “as with orgasm, I simply let myself go, if only to show [Oliver] something equally private about me as well.” He cries for all the feelings he’s experiencing and for the many thoughts racing through his mind, like that he’ll “never be able to undo” the fact that he has slept with Oliver. “Whatever happens between us, Elio, I just want you to know,” Oliver says. “Don’t ever say you didn’t know.” These words make no sense to Elio, and yet, he feels he knows “exactly” what they mean. “Kiss me now, before it’s totally gone,” he replies.
Oliver picks up on the fact that Elio worries he doesn’t want to become one with him in the same way that Elio himself wants to become one with Oliver. This is why he tells Elio to never say that he “didn’t know”—this mysterious phrase implies that, although Elio has misgivings about what Oliver feels for him, he actually knows—on some deeper level—that they both love each other in the same way. This, at least, is what Oliver hints at, urging Elio to make peace with the fact that, despite all his second-guessing, he actually does know that Oliver cares for him.
That night, Elio and Marzia go to the movies and make plans to go to the bookstore the following night. When Elio returns, Oliver is nowhere to be found. After waiting in agony for him to return, Elio finally gets up in the middle of the night and resolves to go looking for him in B. Luckily, he spots Oliver before reaching the bike shed—he’s sitting on the rocks. “I was waiting for you,” Elio says, and Oliver says he’s been thinking about how soon he’ll be returning to America. “I come here every night and just sit here,” he says. “All by yourself?” Elio asks, and Oliver nods. “I thought—” Elio begins, but Oliver cuts him off, saying, “I know what you thought.” He then reminds Elio that in two weeks he’ll be returning to the States.
Now that Elio and Oliver have finally acted on their feelings, the concept of time rushes back to the forefront of Elio’s concerns. The fact that Oliver will soon be returning to America emphasizes how much time Elio let pass without revealing his desires. However, it’s worth noting that the weeks he let go by were important because he needed time to figure out whether or not he wanted to be with Oliver romantically. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Oliver’s impending departure upsets him, a fact that lays the groundwork for the heartbreak he’ll inevitably experience when Oliver goes.
The next morning, Elio opens Oliver’s soft-boiled eggs, taking Mafalda’s job and surprising everyone at the table. In particular, his father takes note of this intimacy and stares at him. “Americans never know how to do it,” Elio justifies. “I am sure they have their way…,” his father replies, and then Elio feels Oliver’s foot pressing on his own beneath the table, as if to tell him to “let it go and assume [his] father [is] onto something.” Later on, in private, Oliver says, “He’s no fool.”
Although he hasn’t yet factored heavily into the narrative of Call Me by Your Name, the few scenes in which Elio’s father appears make it clear that he’s an emotionally intuitive person, capable of picking up on the subtleties of human interaction. In particular, he seems particularly attuned to the signs of romantic attraction, a fact that aligns with his previous statement that he’s well-acquainted with “almost every bend, every tollbooth, every chamber in the human heart.”
“I look back on those days and regret none of it, not the risks, not the shame, not the total lack of foresight,” Elio writes. Although he knows summer is drawing to a close, he does nothing to slow down or conclude his relationship with Oliver. He thinks of this as neglecting to “drop bread crumbs” for a “return journey,” instead eating the crumbs as he goes. However, he’s unable to deny that summer is ending when one morning the sky over B. looks unmistakably like autumn. Then, shortly before leaving, Oliver invites Elio to Rome, where he himself plans to spend three days before leaving for America. He needs to see his Italian publisher, and then he’ll fly home from there. Elio immediately accepts this invitation. Wanting to give Oliver—and Elio—a “gift,” Mr. Pearlman books and pays for their hotel room.
Elio understands that Oliver’s departure is going to devastate him emotionally, but he refuses to spend too much time thinking about this fact. Instead, he decides to focus on the excitement of traveling with his lover. While his refusal to prepare for the impending sadness is perhaps foolhardy and the sign of someone who hasn’t yet had his heart broken, it also enables him to actually enjoy his final days with Oliver, thereby helping him fully experience the feeling of this new romance, which he has only recently learned to accept.
Giddy with excitement, Elio packs and tries not to think about how short three days really is. He decides that when he returns, he won’t move back into his old room, because this way he’ll be able to pretend that Oliver is still sleeping next door. Before they depart, Elio makes Oliver promise to give him his red bathing suit, his “billowy” shirt, his sandals, and his sunglasses when he leaves.
Now that Oliver’s time in Italy is drawing to a close, a different kind of anticipation pervades Elio’s life. Whereas in at the beginning of the summer he was saddled with the kind of anticipation that is shot through with excitement, he now has to deal with a more somber brand of anticipation, one that brings a sense of doom. Elio asking for Oliver’s clothes again implies a merging of their identities. Even in his absence, Elio still wants to be able to “become” Oliver in at least a superficial way.