The Man without Past, photo essay by Stanek Jakub , text by Julia Selmaj.
The feeling that he was born in the wrong place and in the wrong time has been with him for his whole life. In his childhood he had no ideas about the world around him. He was born in a small town in southern Poland. He was growing up in the 1980s, a time of political and economic changes that did not affect him in any way. The transformation reached his hometown only towards the end of 1990s. His overprotective mother is his only source of information about the world outside. When he was 7, she sent him to church to serve as an altar boy. Initially the parish priest did not want to admit the boy, explaining that he only takes in boys older than ten years of age. He consents only after numerous pleas on the part of the mother. His mother, a practical woman who has her feet on the ground, is despotic, intransigent and rejecting all opinions that differ from hers. She manages to convince the priest by telling him that it is the only chance to save her son from moral degradation that his peers may drag him into. For whole days they roam the town looking for fun. On many times she saw how ten and twelve year olds were skulking in archways, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. At the beginning of 1990s he receives his blessing and is admitted for liturgical service in the local parish. Initially he is shy and unsure of himself. He quickly becomes the parish priest’s favourite. He often invites the boy to the vestry, offers him sweets and talks with him about god, school and family. The young altar boy is happy that he finally found himself a true friend. He is proud to be the one the priest sees most often. The priest is an authority for everyone in town of 15 thousand inhabitants.
It is the year 2002. He emerges from an underground passage by Warszawa Śródmieście train station. He sees a beautiful city with skyscrapers, full of people hurriedly pursuing their business. He straightens up and proudly walks down one of main streets of Warsaw, thinking about his plans for the weeks to come. During his first days he will be making rounds to distribute his CVs in hair salons. Next he will rent a flat. He is immersed in thoughts about his plans, when suddenly someone jostles against him. Dumbstruck, he turns swiftly towards the rude passer-by to tell him off. He opens his mouth to say something… In that moment his nostrils are hit with a strong smell of male perfume that bring back the memories from the time when he was 11. He knocks on massive, oak door. He opens it slowly. He sees a priest – his true friend, whom he has been visiting for four years now. Encouraged with a gesture, he walks into a dark vestry. The air is filled with smoke from the church incense. In a corner of the room, by the window, the parish priest is sitting with his legs crossed thigh over thigh in a massive armchair. He grins at the boy and invites him to sit by his side. The boy complies. He is treated with sweets and sacramental wine, which goes to his head. They sit together and talk for a longer while. This visit would be the same as all the previous ones, but for the fact that the priest very slowly and gently puts his hand on the boy’s thigh. He moves it up his crotch. At that point his memories fade abruptly. The next thing he remembers is the boy quickly pulling on his underwear and trousers. He straightens up. He looks at the elderly, sweaty man, sitting with his trousers down in a massive armchair. Sperm is dripping from the armrest. The man’s face shows bliss and weariness. He tries to smile. The boy runs out from the room and makes it straight from the vicarage to the road that he crossed hundreds of times before. Yet this time he does not know where to go. Many times he will find himself standing in the very same spot. Haunted by the same thoughts. Every time after a meeting with the priest he finds himself smelling with with cheap, male perfume. As it turns out, this scent will dog him for the rest of his life.
The reminiscence is suddenly interrupted by another poke accompanied with a warm greeting “go fuck yourself, you faggot”, uttered by two sturdy thirty year olds. Trying to pull his thoughts together he reminds himself of his lover whom he is about to meet in 2 hours. He is excited. He will spend the first night in a city of his dreams in one of the highest buildings in Warsaw, in a luxury hotel. At night, he stares into space standing in the hotel window. He looks at a vast city below. He feels that all his dreams will come true. This moment reassures him that he has the whole world at his feet. Christmas Eve is approaching quickly. Several months ago he turned 24. He comes back for Christmas to his hometown. He intends to spend it with his boyfriend – he has been waiting for his visit for a long time. But for the distance between them, their relationship could be deemed perfect. Pierre is living in Paris.
Several days before Christmas he develops an angina that he can’t fully treat. He is overcome by anxiety. He has a feeling that something bad is about to happen. He does not know why, but he has an intuition that Pierre is the cause of his poor health. Two days before the New Year’s Eve he takes a decision to part with him. It is not the first time when he flees responsibility with regard to another human being. He avoids confrontation. He does not wait to explain. He leaves alone for Zakopane. He is going to celebrate the New Year’s Eve with a group of friends. During the New Year’s party he falls in love with a stranger with whom he will spend the next two years of his life. They spend their first months together fighting illnesses. In turns they suffer from angina and flu. The two men are inseparable. Because of the illnesses, or maybe thanks to them, their relationship grows stronger. It is a warm, June morning. The air smells of lilac in bloom. He is sitting on the windowsill and smoking his another cigarette on that day, when he notices Tomek standing downstairs by the entrance. He stands in front of the block of flats as if he was paralysed. The cigarette smoulders in the ashtray. Wondering why his partner is still outside, he decides to go down and greet him. When they face each other he notices tears running down his face. One week later he already understands. He repeats the tests, hoping against hope that they will yield a negative result. The sentence remains the same. AIDS. Also this time they go through the illness together. It is 2015. He is sitting on the windowsill and blows cigarette smoke. He looks at the city of his dreams. He lives on. (Julia Selmaj)