Raphael: Head of a Youth

of The Fields

July 2000


His name wasn't really Nathan.

But someone did call him that: "My Nathan," a reference to Nathan Maloney, the captivating 15-year-old blond on Queer as Folk, in life Charlie Hunnam, I think 17, who portrayed him in the British version airing then on Canadian TV [six months before the egregious American rip-off].

So I'm going to call him that. He was just as captivating: also blond if leaner than the original and much taller; 16 years old. He's a real flesh-and-blood human boy (if, as you'll see, I had momentary occasion to doubt it), living in a town quite small. He doesn't need his life complicated should word of this somehow get there. Imagine: "Hey guys! There goes the aaaangel!"

And, too, I'm going to give others in this story names unlikely to stir local buzz. They are dear friends so I hope not offended, but here they'll become Baker, Oscar, and the Squire. (They'll get it.) There is one other small change: the precise nature of this angel's athletic abilities. But how he looked, his presence, the effects he had on us -- all that remains unaltered. It was too wondrous to mess with.

I said in the Preface here that only in the last while have I seriously thought to call certain humans "angels." This is when that thought first came. Seriously. And, as you'll see, I wasn't the only one pondering it.

As ever, Jane Rule got to hear about it not long afterwards.

Friday, August 19, 2000, 3:30 pm

Baker and I went up to the Squire's farm on the Friday three weeks ago today, advised by Oscar that we see his new helper: Nathan, 16 years old and reportedly a vision. He was: six feet three inches, trim, leggy (he's a local track legend), hair of honey gold; a beatific smile and a comfortable ease.

Remarkably comfortable given the attention he draws -- discreet of course. But as Oscar said later: "It's just as well Nathan isn't around late at night when the whisky bottle makes its rounds [the Squire an excellent host] -- one could scarcely vouch for his safety."

[In fact he risked only admiration, usually from afar: his long stride behind the lawnmower, hints of firm bottom under his baggy shorts. In closer proximity we got his arms, the golden blaze when he took off his cap, legs angled tan off the sofa as we sat together for tea. He survived unscathed: a boy blessedly unflappable under the attentive gaze of grown men he knew to be gay. But I digress. If not really.]

He seemed almost literally an angel, a vision, somehow not quite of this world, as if he might not be a flesh-and-blood human boy. I was tempted to lean in close enough to sniff his sweat, just to check. (Well, not just -- I love armpits.) But of course I didn't.

He was also utterly -- wondrously -- unassuming, apparently unaware he's such a joy to behold. I said to the Squire: "Kids like that should know they're a gift to the world."

Of course one can't say that to a 16-year-old, at least not in assurance of happy effects. As people so often say: It would just go to his head. I'm not sure it's always true: he did seem a very level-headed boy.

But it's made me ponder "knowingness"; Oscar as well, we two since doing a bit of e-mail back and forth on divine visions. I had titled my first message "Raptures." He responded:

"As for Raptures: there's a kind of troubling irony that grows from the beloved's ingenuousness: his beauty and power and closeness to the divine all stem from his lack of self-consciousness.

"It's all Knowingness on one side and blissful ignorance on the other. Not sure why or if there's a problem with that, but it does seem to be denying the other full personhood.

"But then the same thing happens when I amuse myself watching the Italian boys strut: they remain unaware (of my amusement, even though they're fully conscious of their strutting). I'm completely turned on by the almost campy obviousness of their self-presentation, so there's Knowingness on the one side but nothing like ingenuousness on the other. I guess."

[Oscar lived then in Toronto's Little Italy.]

I do wish we could see self-awareness of one's own beauty (in the broadest sense) as something richer and less suspect than a sense of strategic advantage too easily abused.

Or, for women, too often necessary for survival, historically and even now. Girls can still grow up learning that charm may be the only currency they're easily allowed; boys that looks and manners aren't supposed to be central to their sense of self -- and may be suspect if they are.

There's such cynicism in that -- "innocence demands ignorance" -- as if Nathan's angelic charm would evaporate if he knew he had it, or be turned into something vaguely sinister if he knew how he might put it to use. I'm reminded of things I said to you about another boy, Oliver, a dancer at Remington's in 1995:

"...the butt (so small), the stature (comfortably tall), the skin (so smooth), the face aware but easy. I could see [his friends] cherished him: smiles, easy talk, comfort, his face even more relaxed.

"What a gift to the world, I thought -- even if he also knows how to sell it. Why shouldn't he know and cherish, own and dispense, his own power? And all, apparently, with no attitude!

"All right, I was far gone."

It was that in part -- that knowing, cherishing, and dispensing of one's own erotic power; revelling in it, celebrating it -- that I saw and loved in Queer as Folk. I'm glad you got to see it, that you so liked, as you said, "the sexual energy so high it made me laugh out loud at so much outrageous loveliness."

What a blessed and too rare reaction for portrayals of life (sex included) to call up. Nathan [of the Film] -- with his utterly unabashed, unashamed, amazed and empowering joy at what he suddenly knew and owned at the age 15 -- practically embodied the wishes I have for Nathan [of the Fields].

Well, as you can see, I've indulged myself with angels on the mind; if not literal ones then angels nonetheless, a bit of the divine on earth -- something of the sacred, something magic, ineffable.

I said to Oscar (having gushed on) that I was almost embarrassed at the formulation. Imagine: Invoking the divine! Entertaining angels unawares indeed! (Or as I've heard it put: angels in underwear.) I was hardly unaware -- as neither were God's own angels, allowed self-knowledge so many of us don't want kids to possess.

The Squire has all of English and Classical literature for more erudite allusions, liberally applied to Nathan. But I'm sure he'll respect the trust invested in him. We're not beyond restraint (though too many, even of us, seem to think we are); not just cautious but humane, whatever visions we encounter divine or otherwise, human ones after all wondrous enough.

Still, it seems to me not a bad way to regard other people: as divine. So long as one remembers, as Oscar implied, that they are persons, not icons.

Nathan is a kid who works in the local grocery (a job he wants to keep: it will last the winter; farm work won't), worries about school, frets that in his last track meet he didn't make the cut for championship games due in Calgary. He came in second.

Second. Imagine how good that means he must be. He frets nonetheless.

Interspersed in that letter were reflections on another boy who also made me ponder knowingness -- reflections reflected off Nathan. I encountered him, in fact, just hours before my Vision of the Fields.

You'll find him, and those reflections, in the next -- and final -- episode.


Some fields:
Not Nathan's; just a random find,
if much reminiscent of his.

For Oliver, that gift to the world (among others) at Remington's, see Other Angels.

Angel image: Raphael: "Head of a Youth" (self-portrait).

Final episode: XII: Knowingness

Go back to: Preface

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New Year's Eve, 2000 / Last revised: July 16, 2003
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