Tim Barrus: I Hear Voices
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
His real name was Serge.
He used the name Francois when he was doing sex work. He was all over the Internet.
He was pretty but he wasn’t that good a fuck. Junkies never are. They want to get high. Not have sex. Sex is what Serge did for money.
He wanted into Cinematheque. He was a talented artist but I didn’t think he could turn his life around.
“There are too many twelve-year-olds,” I tried explaining. “I just don’t think I could expose them to an addict as committed to heroin as you are.”
We negotiated. Negotiating is what junkies do.
I would let him into Cinematheque’s art program but he had to clean up his act. He went into a treatment center and he tried. I know he tried. I know it was hard. But I had to be hard, too.
I had never kicked anyone out of the program.
In fact, I wasn’t the one who kicked Serge out. The other boys did it themselves. I was amazed at how angry they were with him.
We were in Amsterdam then. He relapsed. It happens.
Eavan was the first one who came to me. Eavan is a junkie himself. They don’t have HIV for nothing.
The propaganda rhetoric calls them boys at risk. “Serge is using.”
My eyes to the sky.
“I will talk to him,” I said.
“You better do more than talk to him.” Eavan walked away.
“Don’t walk away from me, Eavan.” But he kept on going. And the New York Writing Remoras think they’re arrogant. They haven’t met Eavan. They might someday though.
Now, Eavan was writing, and had stayed away from junk.
I was going to have to wade into it. I try to stay out of all their convoluted stuff. It is not always possible.
I knew Serge was close to Remy. But I did not want to know much more than that. Remy is young. But Remy is old in ways that defy sanity itself.
“We’re lovers,” Remy tells me. Remy is defiant. It’s just his way.
The Amsterdam loft was becoming complicated. Paris had been.
There is only one reason Serge would be sleeping with Remy. Remy’s family has money.
‘Remy, are you bankrolling Serge.”
He bites his lower lip.
“Il a un fusil.”
“What kind of gun.”
Remy knows nothing about guns.
Probably a revolver. A relapsed heroin addict with a gun. Just what I needed.
Serge was gone a lot. Amsterdam beckoned. I wondered if he’d been doing tricks. An adolescent with HIV as a prostitute. None of this was good. I had worked so hard with this boy. He was in his room asleep.
I crawled into his bed.
You are thinking sex. Yes, you are.
I crawled into his bed with my clothes on. I crawled into his bed because I wanted his attention. It had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with a failure that has haunted me for over a year, now.
He was not surprised that I was in bed with him. I knew him to his core.
“It’s three in the afternoon, Serge. You need to get up.” His room was a wreck. His works and his gun were in the bed with us.
He wasn’t hiding anything.
“Get up. We’re going for a ride.”
“I want to sleep.”
I pulled him out of bed by his hair. He didn’t weigh that much. Food just doesn’t interest junkies. I pushed him up against the wall. I hit him in the face with my fist. Several times. His lip was bleeding and his eye was going to swell.
He was naked.
He just took it. “What the fuck, Tim.”
“Get dressed. You’re coming with me.”
There is a beach in Wilhelmshaven. The drive there is nothing.
I needed to walk on a beach. The sea was cold and mean.
He was having trouble keeping up. “Tim, I can’t walk as fast as you!” He screamed. I left him there.
In the cold. Getting back would be his problem.
That night, they kicked him out. They took a vote. It was a done deal.
I just sat there with my head in my hands. I knew what this was going to mean. I knew.
I do not think the twelve-year-olds had any sort of awareness about what kicking Serge out was going to come to. Or mean. How could they. But he scared them and this was their chance to get rid of it.
“Are you sure,” I asked them. They were resolute. Even Remy.
He didn’t fight it. He just left. We heard he was back to his usual tricking in the Pigalle. The red light district of Paris was not unknown to them.
A few days later, Eavan is in my room. He had been on the Internet. “Serge has blown his head off.”
That was all.
You have them when you have them. You can’t save them all.
Bullshit. I want to save all of them.
The train ride to Paris and the funeral is one of those memories I only have in fragments. It was my fault. I could have talked them into letting him stay but I did not do it.
My head was coming off.
Eavan put his arm around my shoulders. “Just sleep.”
We arrived in Paris and I could not go on another foot.
“We were all he had.”
“They don’t need you to bury him, Tim.”
We took the train back to Amsterdam.
All the way back to Amsterdam, I kept hearing him scream at me. “Tim, I can’t walk as fast as you can!”
Set at naught. Defiance speaks to me. It always has. I fail all the time with them. The wolves are always at the door. The voices are articulate and come from oblivion as if pulled by horses. No, you can’t keep up with me. Egress is just a man and a boy upon this beach and you have drained me of redemption. Go to hell.
I am hearing voices.
– Tim Barrus is the author of six books and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, the Columbia Journalism Review, American Baby, Advocate Men, Men on Men, New American Library, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Gay Sunshine Press, Knights Press, Bay Windows, Desmodus Publications, and Hustler magazine.