Saint Sebastian

Saint Sebastian

[Written By: Gabriel Rutherford]

[Photograph: Ruarí MacManus]

Who am I? What am I?

Precious few will know how to answer that question in the way I mean it to be interpreted. I do not seek an answer in terms of social status. I know I’m wealthy. I know I’m educated. Not that it will do me much good in the answering of the question. Education teaches us about the world, not how to find a place in it – Aristotle was right to differentiate between theoretical and practical wisdom. For I may know about the stars, about mathematics, about Wordsworth and Byron and Shakespeare and Dickens. But where do I place myself in my own story? How can I place myself where I am not wanted – or does that make me my own antagonist? Thoughts like these are the imperial masters of my head and make my brain spin anti-clockwise in bed at night.

It is love, dear reader. It is love that makes my head so unclear and confused. I hear people whisper: “There’s Felix. There’s something wrong with him” or some garbled trash along those lines. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people may read a lot of interpretations into the countenance of a troubled soul. And I am indeed troubled. Not in such a way that would be easy to fix. An essay deadline is fine – meet it or don’t, it will go away in a few weeks. You always have a choice in everything in life, bar the matter in which I have a problem.

Reader, my problem is men. To be less vague: a specific man. A man I have fallen in love with. But how? How can I fall in love with him? How can such a thing happen? How could it not happen? How can I undo this? You see, I am free in every way: handsome, young, educated and well-off, with a promising future, except in one way. I am not free to show who I love. I cannot express to him what I feel when I see his face, what I feel when our hands brush together, what I feel when he laughs at something I said. This is the torture of the unrequited lover writ large – to be unable to express one’s true feelings but not out of fear of rejection (though that features too in my fear) but out of fear of censure, humiliation and imprisonment! His beauty, while glorious, is barbed wire to my soul. Imagine Saint Sebastian – shot full of arrows, bleeding, dying in his glory, in his agony. Saint Sebastian is my love for Henry, or rather his death is. Pure yet impure, beautiful but a monstrosity.

I don’t know where to take my love. Literature seems to be the only safe space I can think of – reading Shakespeare’s sonnets I often notice a homoerotic tendency. Byron talks of women but implies of men. But how can that be my defence? Do I have a defence? What if my thoughts can be read on my face, and the police arrest me for my secrets that I wear like the ordinary man wears like a scarf? Let them come then! For I have broken the law, as unjust as it is, and I’m proud of that. For Henry I would commit one hundred capital offences, just to kiss him once and to be free to let him know how I ache inside. Only two things can absolve me of my torment – Henry’s requited love or my death. Even if I were to flee and abandon this place, I know his face, his smile, his laugh, would follow me like a beautiful shadow wherever I went. I would be a fool to think I could escape something as powerful as the feeling which consumes me whenever I see him. So I must do it then! I must! I will not cage my love as a beautiful parrot to be gawped at! It will soar high, higher than anything I have ever felt before, and then I will be truly free to live or die! Come, come, let the soul soar! Let it sing for the man I love, and damn those who would deny me my hearts calling.

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