Balthazar was a unique guy. But he was also, paradoxically, double — almost multiple — but capable of major arguments with himself from both extremes of the possible positions at once. He had this exotic name though he was from a small midwestern town where his father was a prosperous and respected banker but his mother had a lot of pretensions about Arabia, which she didn’t seem to realize was not a real place — just a concept. I saw her photo and she DID look Arabian. I mean, like someone out of those paintings of harems with sumptuous marble and fountains. But he said she dyed her hair black.
Actually, she read the books of Laurence Durrell over and over. Also, his friends — who were even more louche, if that were possible. She said they had imagination and daring. She had the imagination, but wasn’t very daring. Her husband was able to keep her out of trouble. Chemically, if necessary.
Not Balthazar. I met him at the Louvre in Paris. I won’t tell you which painting we were confronting, but we began to talk and were soon so emphatic and hilarious that we were asked to leave. We continued outside while dodging the bicycles and skateboards, hardly noticing them even as we avoided colliisions.
After that we often met. Balthazar took me in hand. He insisted that my jeans and plaid shirts were boring and predictable. We went shopping and he chose leather trousers and a scarlet velveteen shirt — things I NEVER would have bought for myself. When it was time to pay, he had already gone on to a little shop across the street so I used my credit card. He promised to reimburse me, but I didn’t let him, since I was the one wearing the clothes and I started getting compliments right away.
One afternoon he decided to give me a haircut that was almost shocking but sort of went with the clothes. It was very short except that he left a forelock flopped over my forehead. In a while I learned to manage it. Then later he decided I should have a pierced ear and installed a little gold hoop that I was supposed to twirl every day so the hole would heal open. It was healed soon and he brought me an ear rim cuff to go with a proper pend d’orielle, rather elaborate and dangling.
A new daring restaurant opened that had curtained alcoves that were meant to look like tents. The food was Moroccan, very expensive. The point wasn’t the food anyway — one was really paying for the seclusion and the status of what was implied. We arranged to meet there and Balthazar even ordered the menu in advance, but it wasn’t very secluded because I kept one of the “tent flaps” swept back in order to spot him when he came, which he didn’t. There was some kind of emergency, but I’m unclear about what it was. The explanation was kind of complicated. Again, he offered to reimburse me for the meal, but I had eaten some of it, so I said no.
I really wasn’t old enough to raise much of a beard, but Balthazar gave me a proper barber’s treatment with the hot towel and lather with a brush and even used a straight razor, which was a bit of a thrill. He did manage to define a mustache and sideburns and used a little coloring on them. Then he wanted to line my eyes, but I thought that was going too far. Already I was attracting flirtations on the street. But then, it WAS Paris.
One day he suggested we meet at a bench on the end of a pier looking out over the sea in a deserted part of the shore where no one would mind if we slung an arm over one another’s shoulders. He said I should take a hired car out there and wait for him so we could watch the sun go down together. It did go down, but he wasn’t there.
I sat for a while in the failing light, thinking about why Balthazar was like that. Some people say it’s organic, that some people are born with two minds in one brain. Others say it’s the result of terrible trauma, a kind of dissociation that happens under extreme duress and can actually cause personality to split into new constructs. And there are always the people who claim narcissism is at the root of everything and say he just never considered that other people might have needs and desires.
Of course, I examined myself as well. Why would I continue to admire Balthazar, who by now was dressing all in black like a gunslinger and was arguing with me unfairly, about things I never claimed? Why did I continue to attend his rendezvous ideas, even though they left me holding the “bag”— meaning the bill. It felt to me like love, as though I would do anything to be with him. Our other friends had wandered off, feeling superfluous and ignored, so I was almost with him by default. Was I playing the SM game? Of course, I was. Everyone does. Put any two people together and one will be dominant, simply because of being stronger or smarter.
A seagull came to visit me on that bench but didn’t stay long. Pretty soon it got dark out there. I decided to walk back to the city. I don’t carry a cell phone so it wasn’t much of a decision, more of a choice not to spend the night there.
On the way back, walking along the highway, I accepted a ride from three guys. It was a mistake. They treated me very badly indeed, left me blooding from all orifices, including the hole in my earlobe when they tore away my pend d’orielle. They took my fine clothes but left my hank of hair hanging over my blackened eyes. I was unconscious by then. I don’t know who brought me to the hospital or why no police have come to interview me. I woke with a sense of deja vu.
The doctor prescribed me some pills. He talked gently about being bipolar and all that sort of thing. He must have found out who I was because a friend brought some of my old jeans and shirts. It wasn’t Balthazar. I never saw Balthazar again. At least not in the way I had. When I finally had access to a big mirror, I realized the truth.
Balthazar, c’est moi.