Lebanon Hostage Ch. 01

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What you’re about to read: This is a work of historical fiction—recent history—inspired by actual accounts, so it’s rather realistic. The novella is built around themes I find erotic: captivity, sexual tension, male intimacy. However (disclaimer and spoiler), you won’t find any full-blown sex here. This is the story of a queerly romantic, lopsidedly erotic, but unconsummated relationship between a gay man and a straight man held together as hostages.

Chapter 1 – Kidnapped

(Fall 1985-March 1986)

I went to Lebanon because I was running away from myself. Then I was taken hostage, which forced me to stop running and sit still. Literally. For three years. If I’m going to say, at the end of the story, that I took anything positive out of my long, grueling, frightening experience as a hostage, it’s that I learned to live with myself. And I learned to do that by learning to live with Allan.

That’s the story in a cryptic nutshell. The long version starts like this:

***

In the fall of 1985, I lose my virginity to a middle-aged man whom I allow to pick me up during my first nervous visit to a gay bar. I’m a 23-year-old graduate student, English literature. I’m closeted. I’m Catholic. I’m conflicted. My first sexual experience convinces me that, yes, as I’ve secretly suspected for years, I’m gay. And I’m afraid of it. The man with whom I left my virginity wants to see me again. I’m tempted, refuse, give in. Flee, waver, give in again. Finally I shut the door—for good this time, swear to God—and retreat into my former life of self-imposed celibacy.

Now that I know for sure what I am, I don’t know what to do about it. I am frantic to talk this out with someone, and there’s only one person in the world I trust with the secret: my uncle Bernie. Who’s in Lebanon.

Bernie is my mother’s brother. After my father died in a car accident when I was three, I was raised with Bernie as my father figure. Bernie and my mother were very close, both still living in the town they’d grown up in together; Bernie and his wife couldn’t have children of their own; so my younger brother Chris and I became the closest Bernie had to sons. Then, during my teen years, Bernie’s wife died, and he decided that God wanted him to become a priest. He and I saw much less of each other after that, especially once his order began giving him assignments overseas, but we kept corresponding regularly—less so, on my part, once I started college and began struggling with my sexuality and my faith.

Still, Bernie is the person to whom I immediately want to turn for urgent advice. At the time I’m grappling with my no-longer-theoretical sexuality, he’s in Beirut, directing a relief mission in the city’s Muslim sector.

I have no sense of proportion: my life, my future, is at stake. If I have to get myself halfway around the globe in order to have a sit-down conversation with Bernie, then that’s what I’ll do. I write to him, tell him that I’m rethinking the direction of my life. I’m feeling drawn to mission work, as a teacher, in the Third World somewhere. This is the truth if not the whole truth. It’s part of a bargain I’m trying to strike with God: Lead me not into temptation, and I’ll work for you. I ask Bernie if I can spend my next spring break with him, in Lebanon, shadowing him at his work, discerning with him.

Bernie writes back. He’s conflicted. Of course he would love to see me, to mentor me, to help me discern my calling. But couldn’t I do my discernment with someone closer to home—somewhere safer? He wants to be sure I understand: Beirut is in a state of civil war. There are bombings, snipers. A number of Westerners working in the city have been taken hostage by Islamic militants.

But then Bernie pulls back from the litany of dangers. He doesn’t want to reinforce an unduly negative perception he fears I may have gotten from the news media. Beirut isn’t all death and destruction and kidnappings. It’s a city working to move forward after a decade of war. People live their lives, take reasonable precautions. A visit would be feasible—and, Bernie trusts, fruitful for me. But I need to understand that there are risks.

The dangers that worry Bernie, which are hypothetical, frighten me much less than my sexuality, which is actual. Lebanon can’t be all that risky: Bernie’s been there over a year. I press him. Bernie offers a deal. My mother and stepfather need to consent to my going; Bernie can’t make his mission responsible for me, so I’m on my own to obtain a visa; but if I can get myself to Beirut, he’ll put me up in his apartment and arrange for me to spend the week helping out at a local school.

I resent his making me get my parents’ permission, as if I were a teenager. I downplay the risks to them, emphasizing instead what Bernie told me about people living their lives and taking reasonable precautions. Bernie has explained that the school where I would work is in a well-developed neighborhood of the city; altyazılı porno he won’t let me go to the refugee camps in the more dangerous poorer suburbs, even though his mission does relief work there. The school will be as safe a setting as one could reasonably hope for, he writes. I paraphrase that for my parents simply as: Bernie assures me I’ll be safe.

My mother is uneasy, but she trusts Bernie, and she wants to support me. She knows that I’ve been struggling and unhappy lately, though she doesn’t know why. She and my stepfather gift me the money for my airfare.

It’s decided: I’m spending spring break, 1986, in Lebanon.

***

Apart from the armed militiamen everywhere, with whom I’m advised not to make eye contact, the parts of Beirut that I see look pretty much like I had envisioned any Third World city would look. All the talk about civil war led me to expect a charred ruin, like the bombed-out German cities I’ve seen in World War II footage. Instead I see busy streets, and sidewalk vendors, and children walking to school, and new construction. One of the projects Bernie coordinates is the construction of housing for Palestinian refugees.

Bernie welcomes me at the airport with an enthusiastic hug. He’s grown a long, bushy, untrimmed beard, as if he’s trying to look the part of an Eastern Orthodox patriarch. (One of his reasonable precautions?) He apologizes that he won’t have time until Friday for a long, serious talk, but we can take all the time we need then. I ask if he’ll hear my confession while I’m here, which touches him. I assume he understands from that point forward that there’s something I want to talk about beyond the possibilities for a career in mission work.

Bernie’s driver, Youssef, transports us to Bernie’s apartment, located in west Beirut, the mostly Muslim side of the city. As we drive down the highway that connects the airport to the heart of the city, Bernie keeps glancing around and back at other cars, to check if we’re being followed, but this doesn’t stop him from carrying a conversation. His casually vigilant manner makes the drive tense but adventuresome.

As I’m settling down to sleep on his couch, Bernie prays with me. He thanks God for my safe arrival. He prays that during my time here, I will learn about myself what God intends for me to learn.

The next morning, Monday, Youssef takes us from Bernie’s apartment to the primary school where I’m going to spend the week working. Bernie hands me over to the school director, Adnan, who is younger than I would have expected, in his thirties. Since Youssef is Catholic, Adnan is the first Muslim I’ve formally met. He’s Sunni, he tells me, not Shiite, so I don’t need to worry. He intends that as a joke. In addition to speaking quite good English, Adnan is fluent in French alongside his native Arabic. I find him very attractive, sexually: a little stocky, clean-shaven but clearly on his way to sprouting a five o’clock shadow, hairy nape, thick mat of dark hair peeping out of his open-throated shirt. The attraction makes me feel guilty and therefore awkward around him.

I spend the day assisting an English teacher, a Muslim woman named Rabeeh who wears a stylish head covering and speaks in a refined British accent. Everyone is hospitable and gracious, but I am intimidated by the talent surrounding me. I’m out of my depth, a hopeless novice. Fantasies of sweeping in to dazzle the Third Worlders with my American know-how have evaporated without a trace.

I’ve been instructed never to set foot outside the school building. From an upper window, I see bearded young men with assault rifles—they’re Shiites—loitering on the street. Even so, I don’t feel endangered. Everyone seems relaxed, this is normal life.

At the end of the school day, Adnan drives me to the headquarters of Bernie’s mission, located close to Bernie’s apartment but a greater distance from the school. The three of us agree that, instead of Bernie dropping me off at the school again on the way to his office, Adnan will pick me up tomorrow morning in front of Bernie’s apartment.

Bernie has to put in a few more hours at the office before he can knock off for the evening. While I wait for him to finish, I explore the office, help out with paperwork, do some cleaning. Then Youssef drives us the short distance back to Bernie’s apartment. (Bernie never walks anywhere—one of his precautions.) We have a late dinner, by candlelight; the power’s gone out, as happens periodically. Our conversation focuses on my activities at the school that day and my first impressions of life in Beirut. I’m experiencing a bit of culture shock, but I’m definitely having a good time.

The next morning, I watch from the balcony for Adnan’s car; Bernie doesn’t want me waiting out on the street. When Adnan arrives, he double-parks directly in front of the entrance to the apartment building, blocking the traffic behind him, so I call a hasty goodbye to Bernie, who’s in the bathroom brushing türkçe altyazılı porno his teeth, and race downstairs. Sliding into the passenger’s seat, I exchange good-mornings with Adnan. I can’t help but think again how attractive he is. He waves apologetically out his window to the honking cars behind us as he drives forward.

And then my life caves in.

***

Half a block from Bernie’s apartment, a white car parked at the curb pulls out in front of us—abruptly and at an angle, cutting us off. Adnan slams on the brakes, throwing me against the dashboard; I’m not wearing a seatbelt. Three bearded men jump out of the white car. They’re holding guns. By the time I’ve registered what’s happening, one of them is standing at Adnan’s open window, pointing his gun at Adnan’s head. The other two men are at my side of the car. One yanks open the door; the other reaches in, grabs my arm, and hauls me toward him. None of our assailants has spoken a word.

I’m out of the car. Adnan is still in the driver’s seat, the gunman on his side hasn’t opened his door. Still wordlessly, the two men on my side rush me, stumbling, toward their car, one gripping each of my arms. I glimpse the third man running alongside us, backward. Adnan is being left behind, it’s only me they want.

The men left their car doors open when they got out, so there’s no delay as they push me into the backseat, down onto the floor. Two jump into the backseat with me, one entering through either side of the car; the third gets into the passenger’s seat; a fourth man is in the driver’s seat, pulling off before the others have even shut their doors.

The men in the backseat put their feet on my back, pressing me down low on my knees and elbows. “No look!” one shouts at me, so I keep my eyes closed and my face down. I’m confused when just moments later he pulls my head back up toward him, but it’s because he wants to remove my glasses and wrap a blindfold over my eyes. When he’s done, he pushes my head back down to the floor.

My heart is racing. I can’t seem to form any articulate thought beyond, “I’m being kidnapped. I’m being kidnapped.” At the same time, I feel like my senses have been heightened. Unable to see, I’m processing everything else around me that I can sense: the discomfort in different parts of my body because of my position on the floor; the bumps and turns as we speed along; the sounds made by the car and other traffic around us; little sounds that the men make as they shift in their seats. No one speaks.

We drive for a few minutes. Then we turn down an incline, into a place where the sounds made by the car are amplified, like an echo, and the street noises seem to come from far away. An underground parking garage, I think. We brake to a screeching stop. In a frenzy of activity, my kidnappers jump out of the car and pull me out after them. I’m blind except for a tiny gap, looking down, where my nose nudges the blindfold out away from my face. Immediately, I am made to step up into a van parked beside us, pushed up by men behind me and pulled in by others in front of me. The door slams shut behind me. I have the impression that one or two of my kidnappers, from the first car, have climbed up into the van after me, but there are new men here.

I am pushed down onto my knees. Still no one speaks, no one gives orders, they already know what is to be done. Unseen hands firmly hold my wrists and arms extended out on either side of me, like a crucifixion. At the same time, other hands are taking off my shoes, then my belt. My panic spikes as I imagine that they are preparing to remove my pants. Dear God, are they going to rape me? Instead, they empty my pockets. My panic level subsides from red to orange. It’s like in the movies, I reassure myself: prisoners have to remove their shoes and belts. I wait for whatever is going to happen next, my arms trembling a little as they are held out away from me.

A man is talking in Arabic; he had started while my shoes were being removed. He sounds agitated, something is wrong. Another man is talking in the voice of someone making excuses, explaining himself. I think it’s one of the men from the first car, who came into the van behind me. The agitated man isn’t buying the excuse, they argue a little. Then the van is quiet. I hear little sounds—paper rustling, plastic clicking. Behind my blindfold, my brain is working overtime to interpret what I’m hearing: I intuit that it’s someone looking through my wallet.

The agitated man says to me in heavily accented English: “What you name?”

“Jeremy Lawrence.”

“Bernard Garlitz?” the man says. It’s inflected like a question.

“He’s my uncle.” Suddenly I understand. They were waiting to kidnap Bernie. They took me by mistake, because I came out of the apartment first. I feel a surge of hope: Now that they’ve realized their mistake, they’ll let me go. Then I think: Or they’ll demand that Bernie give himself up in exchange for me. Oh God…

“Where hd altyazılı porno Bernard Garlitz?”

“Probably still at his apartment.” An instant too late, I think: I shouldn’t have told them that. What is Bernie doing at this moment? Did he witness my kidnapping from the balcony? If not, surely Adnan has alerted him by now. They’re calling the police, or the embassy, or whoever should be called. Whoever will find and rescue me.

“You American?”

I hesitate. Should I say no? They have my driver’s license, my college ID, in my wallet, they’ll know I’m American… unless they’re ignorant of American geography.

Someone slaps my face. It doesn’t hurt very much, but it startles and humiliates me and reminds me that they could hurt me worse. “You American?” the man asks again, louder, menacing.

“Yes,” I say.

My answer appears to have decided my fate. No one says anything more, but a shriek-like sound not far from my head makes me jump. I quickly figure out what it is: packing tape being pulled off a roll. They wrap tape around my blindfold, forcing it tight against my eyes. They grip my head and stuff what seems like an enormous wad of cloth into my mouth. I gag and struggle, but they hold me still, and after a few seconds the panic and the feeling that I’m going to throw up pass. I discover I can take having the gag in my mouth, I can still breathe fine through my nose.

To hold the gag in, they wrap layers of tape over my mouth, tight enough to compress my jaw and to stretch the skin on my cheeks down away from my eyes. I start to hyperventilate through my nose from a sense of helplessness and fear. If something goes wrong, if somehow my nostrils get clogged, I won’t be able to do anything to keep myself from suffocating… Someone holds my face between his hands, firmly but not roughly this time, apparently meaning to calm me down: “Ssssst…. Ssssst….”

As soon as I have my breathing more under control, they help me to my feet. I can’t stand up straight, the van’s too low. The men who have been holding my arms out away from my body this whole time now press them close against my sides and legs. They wrap tape around my torso to hold my upper arms in place, then more tape around my thighs, covering my wrists, hands, and fingers in the process, immobilizing them. Finally, tape around my ankles and shins, locking them together more tightly than I would have imagined they could be brought.

A heavy metal plate clangs against the floor of the van. I am lifted and maneuvered like an inanimate object, inserted feet first into what seems to be a compartment under the floor. It’s a tight fit, but I’m wedged inside, lying on my back. They cover the compartment with the metal plate I heard before, sealing me in. The cover is right above my face; if I barely lift my head, my nose touches metal. I force myself not to start hyperventilating again.

The van starts; I’m hanging underneath the level of the engine. I smell exhaust fumes, but those dissipate as we start to move. In addition to the fear that has now become my baseline emotion, I am physically very uncomfortable. Metal surfaces and edges are pressing or digging into various parts of my body. I pray in my head: Please, God, let them take me out of here soon.

We drive for what I would guess to be about fifteen minutes; I’ve never been able to estimate time well. Along the way, we spend a couple of minutes braking and inching forward, the engine idling. Again, I smell exhaust. As the delay continues, I fear asphyxiation. Should I moan to alert my kidnappers, knock on the metal cover with my forehead? As if he can read my thoughts, someone raps the metal plate, which I interpret as a warning. I endure, panicky, waiting as long as I can between breaths… At last we drive on.

We park. I hear a metal door rattling noisily into place behind us, with an echo. Another garage, it sounds like. They lift the cover plate from above my nose, extract me from the compartment. They untape my ankles and thighs so I can walk, but my upper arms are still immobilized, and I’m still blinded and gagged. They lift me out of the van onto the floor. Someone stands right behind me, gripping my shoulders, and frog-marches me across the room.

I hear a trapdoor open. Now they unwrap my upper arms. They maneuver me into position at the top of a ladder. Still blindfolded, I precariously feel my way down. Men waiting for me below reach up to guide me as I come to the bottom. Above me, I hear the trapdoor close. It hits me that I am now hidden somewhere underground, and that fact makes my situation feel even more desperate. I am light-headed and sick to my stomach.

I’m surrounded by men, I hear them moving around me. A television is playing, very loudly; it’s distracting and therefore disorienting. I’m left standing for a while, unrestrained, as the men talk among themselves in Arabic. I don’t understand why they don’t turn the television down so they can hear each other better. One speaker sounds unhappy, I presume because he’s learning that the wrong man has been delivered. I hear a garbled version of my name spoken, and Bernie’s. Again, a surge of hope… Maybe they’ll release me after all.

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