This is Part 2 of Chapter 59 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Fireworks -- Part 1", the previous section.
"Jennifer! Where is that son of yours?"
Wonderful. This was exactly what I needed right now! "I don't know, Vera. He said he'd meet us at 6:00 when the buffet opened. It's almost 6:30 now."
"I suppose there's no hurry. There's certainly plenty of food!"
Yes, and Vera was taking advantage of that fact. Her plate was piled high with prime rib, crab legs, smoked salmon, and Lord knows what other combinations of rich foods, all glued together with lashings of potato salad. As Vera made her rounds through the dining room, her dinner tipped left and right, threatening to bring the whole mess down on some unsuspecting person.
Vera's daughter Gwendolyn trailed behind her, carrying a plate with a meager salad and a few pieces of fruit on it. Gwen was a dance major at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts and thus required to look like a famine victim.
"Hello, Mrs. Taylor," she said. "Just ignore my mother. I know I do."
"That's quite all right, Gwen. She's very well-meaning."
"Sure. You don't have to live with her." Gwen turned to follow after her battleship of a mother. "Oh, and say 'Hi' to Justin -- if he shows up."
I looked around for Molly and saw her at the dining room window, looking out. "Mommy! I saw Justin's Jeep pull into the parking lot!"
"Are you certain, honey?"
Molly gave me that 'I'm not stupid, Mother' look that I was familiar with from raising Justin. It made me aware that those difficult years were still ahead with Molly. Lord, give me strength!
"That's a relief! When he comes in then we can go through the buffet line."
"It's about time! I'm hungry!"
I thought about stopping by the bar and getting myself a small cocktail. I'm always aware of drinking at the club. I don't drink much, but sometimes I need a stiff one, I admit. But when you're a divorced woman you can be certain that one of the club busy-bodies will be counting just how many sherries or vodka sours you consume before dinner. So, I passed.
But a moment later I was sorry I didn't down a good strong belt while I had the chance.
"Justin!" Molly flew into his arms. He was dressed in one of his usual summer outfits of khaki pants and a red and blue striped rugby shirt. He looked very patriotic for the Fourth, intended or not. His hair was bleached almost white by the summer sun -- I knew that he sometimes worked on his projects on the roof of his building and I was constantly warning him about burning his fair skin up there.
Justin swung Molly around, just missing taking out the wife of one of the board members. I stepped forward to gather up my children when a tall, dark shadow moved forward just behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, halting him.
"Oh my God," I breathed.
"Hey, Mom!" Justin called. "Look who I brought!"
"You look amazing, Brian," I say as he emerges from the Jeep.
"I thought basic black would do well here among the pastels," he says. "Always dress AGAINST the grain -- that's my motto."
He is wearing one of my favorite outfits -- his tight black jeans, boots, and black sleeveless 'fuck me' shirt undone halfway down his chest. He looks like a gunslinger entering Dodge City on a mission of revenge.
"Jesus, this place looks like Hampton Court on acid."
"What the fuck is THAT?"
"The place where Henry the Eighth stowed his wives before he chopped their heads off."
"Eww. Well, it IS kind of a nightmare, style-wise," I say. "They wanted it to look like an English manor house."
"You'll be seeing some real ones soon for comparison. But they won't have three-headed dragons hanging from the gutters. Are those supposed to be gargoyles?"
"I think so, Brian."
"Their architect must have been schizophrenic."
"Wait until you see the inside -- it looks like one of those medieval theme restaurants. But don't say that to my mom. She thinks it's classic."
"Not the most politically correct place to have an Independence Day celebration. Especially independence from Britain."
We walk in and Molly attacks me immediately. We start spinning around and almost crash into a fat old lady carrying a plate of hors d'oeuvres.
"Steady there," says Brian, catching me by the shoulder.
"I got carried away. Sorry."
I wave to my mom. Of course, the moment she sees Brian her whole expression changes. That just makes me so annoyed. And discouraged. I want her to accept Brian so badly -- and when she doesn't... well, my heart sinks a little.
"Molly, you remember my friend, Brian?"
"Hi! Can we eat now?"
"A woman who gets right to the point. I like you, Molly." Brian definitely knows how to charm the ladies -- when he wants to.
"Justin -- can I see you for a moment? Please?" Mom's lips are making that thin, tight line. This is going to be a bitch, I can tell.
"Molly, why don't you take Brian into the Fountain Room and you guys can start going through the line? Mom and I will meet up with you in a minute."
"Okay. Come on!" She grabs Brian's hand and drags him in the direction of the food. I walk in the direction of getting reamed out, big time.
"Don't even say it, Mom. Brian just got here this afternoon. He flew in a whole day early to surprise me. If I'd known he was coming I would have told you beforehand. But now we're both here, so why not just make the best of it?"
I can see her mentally counting to ten before she speaks. "Justin, how could you even think of bringing your... your...."
"My lover? To your oh-so-tasteful club? Jesus, it's just a crummy picnic, Mom! It isn't a White House reception. Although I'm sure Brian would fit in at some important event like that a whole lot better than any of the pretentious assholes here!"
"I think that's enough, Justin." She puts on her calm, country club face. "But as long as you are here now I expect both of you to behave."
"Because we don't ordinarily know how to behave in public, Brian and I, is that it, Mom?" I have to turn away from her, I'm getting so pissed off. "Cripes, I guess you'll have to ask Jimmy Hardy or some of those other Hollywood people whether or not Brian is socially acceptable. I guess L.A. has lower standards than the Arcadian Country Club, huh? Because he was welcome anywhere out there! And he made sure that I was welcome, too, wherever we went!"
"Justin, it is simply that these people are all my friends. People I have to deal with on a daily basis, both socially AND for business. I have to be aware of how certain things look."
"It isn't as if everyone here doesn't already know that your son is a queer, Mom. It was only on the front page of every newspaper in Pittsburgh for days. Remember? 'Gay Teen Bashed in Prom Hate Crime'? Daphne saved all my clippings for me to read when I got better. Oh, I forgot -- Daphne isn't 'acceptable' at the Arcadian, either, any more than Brian or I am."
"Now, Justin -- Daphne's been here many times over the years as your guest."
"Sure -- as long as her parents don't think they would ever be allowed to join! I'm not totally naive, Mom! Black people can work here -- but they better not try to be members. And if your son is gay -- well, don't bring him and his boyfriend into the Main Dining Room -- unless they are decorating it!"
Now she's really anxious to move me along. Some people are stopping to look at us -- and to listen to us. She's pushing me towards the Fountain Room, where the big buffet tables are set up. Since I don't really want to argue with her anymore, I let myself be pushed.
The Fountain Room is swarming with people, all attacking the various tables loaded with disgusting amounts of food. A seafood table. A salad table. A cold cuts table. A steam table where a rack of prime rib, a huge ham, and an army of roast chickens are being sliced up. In the back I see the dessert table, where one chef is cutting a large cake decorated like a flag, while another sautes bananas to make Bananas Foster -- one of my favorites.
"Where's Brian?" I look around and don't see either him or Molly.
One of my mom's friend's, Mrs. Webster stops. "I saw your sister and a tall man out by the children's line." She points to a long table out on the terrace, next to a bank of grills. Mom stays to talk with Mrs. Webster, while I go out onto the terrace.
And there are Molly and Brian, standing in the children's line. Both have paper plates in their hands. Molly has a hamburger and some potato chips on hers, while Brian has a hamburger, two hot dogs, and a slice of pizza on his. And apple sauce. They are patiently waiting for their turn at the ketchup and mustard dispensers.
"Brian! What are you doing out HERE? They have roast beef and salmon in the other room!"
He looks at me. "This is a picnic, isn't it? Well, I want picnic food. There's no sign up that says I can't be in this line, is there?" I look behind him at a long trail of ten and eleven year olds, all waiting with their plates of hamburgers and hot dogs.
"Excuse me, it's OUR turn at the ketchup."
"Jen -- I see you got Justin to come."
"Yes, Marge, and now I'm wondering if I did the right thing."
"Why? Because he brought his boyfriend? That IS who that is out there? Tall, dark, and to-die-for? Or am I wrong?"
I sighed. "No, you aren't wrong, Marge."
"Well, buck up, honey. He could be straight and bring a white trash girl from up in the hills. Or some bimbo with a safety pin through her lip. You ought to have seen the treasure that Mabel Warren's son dragged in here for the Easter Brunch!"
I glared at Marge. Just what I needed to hear. "Thanks for the vote of confidence in Justin, Marge. It's so appreciated. I think I need a large vodka martini."
"I'll get you one, Jen. Now why don't you get some food and stop worrying?"
I put some salad on my plate and went back to the table marked 'Taylor.' A large red, white, and blue centerpiece sat in the middle of the table.
"Jennifer! Here you are!" Leave it to Vera to state the obvious.
"Yes, Vera. I'm here."
"And your talented son is over there, too, I see! Gwendolyn, why don't you get Justin and the two of you can sit together?"
Poor Gwen had obviously reached the end of her rope with Vera. "For Godsake, Mother! Justin Taylor is the biggest queer in the entire Institute! He's so gay that he makes the guys in my ballet class look like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Now will you STOP trying to fix me up with him! Er -- No offense, Mrs. Taylor," Gwen said, turning to me.
"None taken. I think." I sank down in my chair, wishing Marge would be quick with that martini.
Gwen leaned over. "Really, Mrs. Taylor -- I love Justin. He's a very sweet guy -- but my mother will just NOT get the point without being hit over the head with a large object! She's been trying to match me up with Justin since we were six and I'm sick of it!"
"I can sympathize." She started to follow her mother when I called her back. "Oh, Gwen -- I think if you introduce Vera to Justin and his... the guy he brought with him, that may solve your problem for good."
"Thanks, Mrs. Taylor. I'll do that!"
A minute later Marge appeared. "Where's that drink? I need it after my latest encounter with Vera -- and her daughter."
"Well, you may need more than a drink, Jen."
"Why?" The look on Marge's face was not encouraging.
"I just talked to Lee Gordon. She said that her husband invited Craig to play a round of golf with him this afternoon. She thinks they are up in the Men's Clubroom right now."
"Craig? My ex? Is HERE?" Oh my God. Just what I needed. Craig -- and Brian! In the same building. "Are you certain?"
"I'm just telling you what Lee told me." Marge touched my arm. "I know that Craig and Justin don't get along very well."
"That is the world's biggest understatement. If he comes down to the dining room and sees Justin -- and Brian -- there will be one hell of a confrontation!"
"If you're lucky, he won't come down here at all. My own husband wouldn't be caught dead in the Family Dining Room during a party like this. Maybe they'll just stay in the Clubroom and never come out?"
"Well, I'm going to make sure he's up there."
"That's a vain quest, Jen!"
One of the hardest and fastest of the hard and fast rules of the club was that no women were allowed in the Men's Clubroom. In fact, you weren't even allowed to ASK if your husband was in there. It was the last bastion of total male chauvinism in Pittsburgh. I went up the main stairs and knocked on the big oak door. A uniformed attendant opened it a crack.
"Please, Ernie, tell me if my ex-husband is in there?"
But Ernie was stalwart. "Mrs. Taylor -- you know I can't do that. So don't even ask me! Have a nice day!" And he slammed the door in my face. Goddamn it!
I trudged back down the stairs and went to our table. Molly and Justin -- and Brian -- were sitting there, eating and having a fine old time. Brian had managed to snag a large vodka from the bar. My martini was sitting at my place, next to my uneaten salad. I sat and bolted the drink down quickly.
Gwen brought Vera to the table and she stood next to Justin, talking his ear off about her Art Afternoons. Justin listened politely, but Brian flirted outrageously with the old battleaxe. Naturally, Vera was eating it up with a spoon. Justin made a promise to come to one of her Sunday Salons when he returned from England. And Brian got her to pledge -- Lord only knows how -- a sum of money to the Gay and Lesbian Center Art Project. You can never say that Brian can't convince people to do anything he wants them to do. I guess my son is proof enough of that. And Gwen was happy that her mother had finally dropped her futile matchmaking efforts.
And I just kept looking at the stairs, hoping against hope that Craig wouldn't come down them and burst into the dining room, half-loaded and spoiling for an argument.
"So, what is this -- a crop circle?"
"No! Asshole!" I give Brian a push and he pretends to collapse on the short, green grass. "It's the First Tee!"
"I like the feel of this. Like a fancy carpet." He pulls me down next to him. "How about if I fuck you on it right now?" he whispers in my ear.
"Well, seeing that the First Tee is in full view of the Main Dining Room -- and that in about fifteen minutes all the people from the picnic will start gathering here to watch the fireworks -- I'd suggest...."
He looks at me, appealingly.
"... That we wait until after it gets a little darker?" I roll over on my back. "I bet we can make the first hole-in-one from the First Tee in the history of the Arcadian Country Club. Or we can at least try."
"Oh. Hi, Mom." Brian and I sit up. I brush some grass from my hair.
"Here are the blankets. If you'll put them down so we won't get grass all over our clothes. And watch Molly, please, until I get back with the lawn chairs."
"We don't need chairs, Mom. Brian and I will sit on the blanket with Molly."
"Whatever," she says. "I'll be right back."
A lot of families are beginning to spread their blankets and put up their lawn chairs on and around the tee. In the distance, at the bottom of the long sweep of grass, I can see some men preparing the firework display. On the main terrace a small orchestra is tuning up to play during the show.
Brian and I sit with Molly, watching the families settling down, walking by, the kids chasing each other around. Other than a few curious glances, no one has a problem with us. No one says anything or points or laughs.
Gwen Worthing stops by and sits on our blanket, complaining about her mother and mentioning some people we both know at PIFA. She looks Brian up and down, approvingly. I've known Gwen longer than I've known Daphne and although she's not a good friend, she's someone who knows me and doesn't judge me. Even her mother seems cool with Brian and I, although I'm not sure she even realizes what 'gay' is. Gwen says her mother lives in her own little dream world.
"Are you guys going to England together?"
"Yeah, we're leaving on Saturday."
"I envy you two. My mother will never let me out of her sight to go anywhere. I spent two weeks at dance camp last summer and she called the counselors every single night. I'm ready to go out of my mind. I'm also dying for a fucking cigarette."
Brian reaches into his pocket. "Sorry. I'm fresh out."
"That's okay -- they won't let you smoke here, anyway." She sighs. "Not that it would bother you guys. You're free, Justin. Really. You and Brian live your own lives and do your own thing. You know who you are and don't give a damn who knows it." Gwen gestures to the clubhouse. "People here are so fucking worried about what other people think that they can't even walk a straight line, their asses are so tight."
"That's something Justin will never have to worry about," Brian jokes. I push him down on the blanket.
"See! You guys can do what you want. Joke around about stuff. Go places. Meet people. Not frightened of being yourselves or doing what you have to do. While the rest of us are stuck. I'm stuck! Even your mom, Justin. She's just as stuck as the rest of us, I can see it on her face."
And I glance around at all the people at the club. All dressed alike, acting alike, with the same expectations. I realize that St. James, with its uniforms and its rules, was just the first step to try and make us all the same as everyone else in our 'social circle.' But I was never the same. I was the nail that sticks up out of the wood. The nail that has to be pounded down to conform to all the others. But I'm still here. They may have tried, but I wasn't pounded down. Not at all. And now I don't need their approval or their condemnation. It doesn't matter to me at all. My mom may still be a part of this, but I'm free of it. I'm on the outside -- where I want to be.
And I look at Brian in his all-black outfit. The real outlaw. He's not afraid to be himself anywhere. Not afraid of anything at all. And I know who I want to be like. Who I want to follow. It was obvious from the beginning. I love him and I know he loves me, even if it's hard for him to say the words. His actions say everything to me, louder than any words. His very presence here says it. Maybe it IS a kind of destiny. My destiny.
The light is starting to fade. When the sky is totally dark then the fireworks will begin. The orchestra starts to play some classical pieces. The families are settling down on their blankets, waiting. Molly is half-asleep already. I lay back between Brian's legs and he props me up, leaning back on his muscular arms. I close my eyes and feel the warm night on my face. Brian's warm breath on my face....
"What the hell are the two of you doing HERE?!"
I look up. "Dad!"
"Craig!" Mom is standing there, holding her lawn chair.
Like a reflex, Brian pushes my head down and covers me with his arms and shoulders. I hear Gwen and some other people yelling.
Suddenly, Brian is on his feet. Two of my dad's golfing buddies are attempting to pull him away as he tries to swing at Brian. But he's obviously drunk and can't even get close. Brian catches his arm and twists it behind his back, jerking him hard. I jump up, too. "Brian! Don't hurt him! Please!"
Brian looks at me, at Molly, my mom, Gwen -- at all the people now standing and gaping.
"You seem to have a penchant for sucker punching me, Mr. Taylor. First in my car, then on Liberty Avenue, and now here. That takes a big man, Craig. If you really want to test me, then why not come to me face to face -- and when you aren't shit-faced? And not in front of all these kids. You really know how to pick your battles, don't you?"
My dad mumbles something. My mom is beside herself, looking like she's ready to cry. The golfing buddies are still trying to take my dad over, to lead him away, back wherever he came from. But Brian isn't letting him go. Brian turns him around and they all march back towards the clubhouse, my mom following. I start to follow, too.
"Brian -- please be careful!"
"Justin -- you stay here!" Brian orders. But I go anyway. I trail them into the Great Hall, the large entryway where the big staircase leads to the clubrooms upstairs. There, Brian releases Dad. His two buddies, Mr. Webster and Mr. Gordon, try to convince him that it's time to leave.
"Yeah! I have to leave! But you let this goddamn FREAK stay! At my own club!"
"You're not a member here anymore, Craig. Just let it alone!"
"Sure -- because of HIM! And that little faggot son of mine!" He points right at me and they all stare.
Before Brian can stop me, I run up to him. "Dad -- please!" But before I even see his hand, he's slapped me so hard that I spin to the floor, stunned.
"Craig!" Mom screams. Brian springs forward. I know he's going to kill my father, right here in the Great Hall, under the horrible gargoyles and fake dragon banners. But my mom puts herself between them. "Brian, stop it right here! Or else it will never end. Ever."
Dad's buddies have his arms pinned back now. The manager of the club runs into the hall, alerted by the commotion.
Brian moves back, then crouches and picks me up off the hard marble floor, cradling me against his black shirt. He searches my face intensely. "Justin, are you all right? Are you hurt?" His voice an edge of panic in it.
My face is red where I was hit, but I'm not hurt. Not bleeding. I've survived worse. A lot worse. "I'm okay," I whisper. And I almost believe it.
Mom pushes her face right up to Dad's. "Craig, I would have thought that you'd learned a little something over the past year. Maybe come to some kind of peace with everything that's happened. Especially after...." She falters, but then steels herself up again. "After Justin was almost killed. Yes, killed by the kind of thinking that YOU are still perpetuating, Craig! Can't you SEE that? I can't believe I ever married someone who could end up so full of blind hatred and homophobia! And I can't believe that I... I ever loved someone who could come to treat his own son the way you have treated Justin! Your own child...."
"Mrs. Taylor...." Brian touches her elbow. He's still shielding me with his other arm. "We'll go now if it will help...."
"No, Brian. You are my guest here. Do you hear that, Craig? Brian is a member of our family -- and that's what YOU can't stand, isn't it? Because he and Justin are together, whether you like it or not. They don't NEED your approval. They don't even NEED my approval! They have a relationship and have had for two years! Yes! You can't accept that, so you have to lash out at me, at your son, even at Molly. To punish us." Her voice gets quieter. "But you're only punishing yourself, Craig. Only cutting yourself off from your family. From all your friends. You make yourself look small, Craig. So, what's left? What?"
Dad glares at me and Brian like he truly hates us. I know he's drunk and not thinking right. That he's angry and resentful. But it still hurts. He's still my dad. I can't help feeling it. I realize that I haven't laid eyes on him for over a year and I'm shaken to know that this is what happened when I finally did.
Mr. Gordon, Mr. Webster, and the club manager hurry my father out a side door. I guess they will take him home now. Who knows when I'll ever see him again.
I hide my face in Brian's chest. Hide my face from all the staring people, just like a little fucking coward. "I'm sorry, Brian. I'm so sorry that this happened...."
"Sorry's bullshit, remember? What do you care what these people think? What your old man thinks? He's made his own pain, his own version of hell. Let him live in it. But we don't have to let him take US there, too."
Mom glances around at the small crowd that has gathered in the Great Hall to watch the drama. She sniffs and holds up her head. Then she turns and nudges Brian and I out the main door and back down towards the First Tee.
In the distance I hear a small explosion and a huge burst of red, white, and blue light shimmers across the sky and falls down on top of the hillside.
"Come on, boys," says Mom, taking each of us by the hand. "We are just in time for the fireworks."
Continue on to "My Back Pages", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, July 2002
Picture of Randy Harrison and Gale Harold from Showtime.
Updated July 30, 2002