This is Chapter 4 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, and features Justin Taylor, Skip, Denny, Leslie, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian reads his mail. Haven of Hope, Malibu, California, January 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"There are no second acts in American life."
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
"I heard the mail is in."
My ears perk up when I hear the crack addict sitting behind me in the cafeteria of the Haven of Hope Rehab Center whisper this to the sexaholic sitting next to her.
The mail is in. This is what my fucking life is reduced to -- my dick getting hard at the thought that I might be getting an envelope in the mail.
Funny how shit you once took for granted suddenly becomes all important. Vital to your very existence. Right now I would suck off George W. Bush for a bar of my own soap. Or my own shampoo. I'd let Freddy Weinstein fuck me for a glass of fresh guava juice. One fucking glass!
And... other things that I miss more than I can say. I can't even put a price on them. So I try never to think of them. I usually fail.
I'm supposed to be eating right now. I look down at the food on my tray -- if you can call it food -- and I know that I'll never finish it. I'm 'required' to finish it. They check you off at every meal. If you don't eat you begin to pile up Negative Points. Too many Negative Points and you get a fucking Demerit. Too many Demerits and you lose Privileges. Like being allowed to watch the soaps for two hours every afternoon on the broken-down Magnavox in the Rec Room. So the fuck what? I don't watch television, so it's not a big loss. Neither is being denied dessert -- I never eat it anyway. Or else you get 'punished' with dishwashing duty. Or scrubbing floors. Or toilets. I'd rather do that than eat the shit they pass off as food or watch my fucking language or obey their mindless little Rules that are designed to turn you into a 'Stepford Wife.' And I'd rather wash a thousand dishes or clean a hundred toilets than sit through another session of Group fucking Therapy.
Yes, Group. Everything here is done in a group. They never want you to be alone. When you're alone you start thinking. Too much thinking leads to Negative Thoughts. Negative Thoughts lead to Negative Behavior. And since almost every fucking person in this place is a poster child for Negative Behavior, they never leave you the fuck alone.
This place is defined by fucking negatives. No visitors. No reading or writing. No music. No phone calls. No computers. No using your own soap or shampoo. No cigarettes. No booze. No dope. No sex. No fucking wonder that I'm biting my nails like I did when I was 10 years old! All my old nervous twitches have come back with a vengeance. Tapping my foot against any handy surface. Drumming my fingers. Clenching and unclenching my hands. Chewing on the inside of my cheek. I feel like I have Tourette's Syndrome because I can't control my fucking movements anymore. And it isn't just me. Everyone here twitches like they have the D.T.'s. Everyone wishes that they had something to put in their mouths, in their veins, up their twats, or up their asses -- something they aren't getting. Something they are here to get rid of. A pack of gum in this place is like a brick of pure gold. Everyone is so oral and dying to satisfy that urge that to offer someone a stick of Doublemint is like a fucking marriage proposal. I have a plastic water bottle that I drink from constantly. Filling it up, drinking it down. All day long. My kidneys are getting a real workout here at Haven of Horror.
I find myself constantly rubbing or tugging at my heart necklace or my cowrie shell bracelet. I've always done that, but now when I do it, it takes on a whole new meaning. Especially the heart charm. I wear it constantly. Sleep with it. Shower with it. Take it for granted -- until someone tries to take it away from me. Then I fucking panic. I lash out. Dig in my heels. Keep your fucking hands off that! That's MINE! Mine. And one day I'll lose it. I know I will. Without even realizing it. Through sheer carelessness. It'll be gone. I have nightmares about that inevitable day. When he's gone. I mean -- when I lose the charm. The only fucking thing keeping me alive.
"We don't wear jewelry here, Brian," Skip told me in Group during my very first session with the Wild Bunch. He looked at my bracelet, then at my necklace. I don't think of these things as jewelry, I think of them as fucking lifelines. The heart isn't even visible most of the time, unless I start playing with it in my nervousness. Otherwise I keep it inside my tee shirt where it will be safe.
"That's not true," I pointed out. I gestured to Edgar, a heavy-set man in his 50's who reminds me of my old man and who, like him, is a chronic drunk and physical abuser. And also to Betty, a speed freak in her late 20's. They were both wearing rings.
"Those are wedding rings," said the esteemed Skip.
I felt my face turning red with frustration. "And this necklace was a gift from my partner! So I don't see the difference."
Skip curled his lip. "One Demerit per day for every day you wear that stuff. No Demerits if you remove them right now."
I sat there, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
"Well, Brian?" prodded Skip.
"Fuck you," I said demurely.
"Another Demerit for Unapproved Language."
So I refuse to remove my necklace or my bracelet. That means daily Demerits. Add those to the ones I pick up constantly for Unapproved Language. Or for closing my door. Because I'm a Risk I'm not allowed to close my door. Ever. By a Risk they mean a suicide risk, although they never say the word 'suicide' for fear they'll give you the idea. They think that just because I was in the Spencer Pavilion a year ago, or because my ex-boyfriend committed suicide, or because I almost killed myself by totaling my Jeep that I'm a suicide risk. Right! They think that by keeping my door open, they are going to prevent me from doing anything stupid? As if I couldn't just grab a knife out of the sink when I'm on fucking dishwashing duty, which I'm always on because of my Demerits! As if I'd cut my own throat with one of their blunt butter knives! I'm a jerk, but I'm not a complete fucking moron! If I really wanted to kill myself their stupid Rules wouldn't stop me.
I keep telling myself that I can't fuck this up. I can't. And I'm trying to be good, I really am. But the fucking Rules are so arbitrary and stupid! You can't do this! You can't do that! You HAVE to do this or else you'll get a goddamn Demerit. Pointless rules and regulations always make me want to do exactly the opposite. I know the fucking drill. I've been clued in on the Program and on the Steps. The Steps are to give the addict a guide to live by, while the Rules are to give the addict's life structure. To give the aimless and self-destructive slob something to follow so he won't have to think or make the wrong decisions. To teach the addict how to live correctly and without crutches like sex, drugs, booze, cigarettes, or rock 'n' roll. You know -- without any fun at all. That's what the fucking 12 Steps are all about. They are not about teaching you NOT to drink or snort or fuck, but about teaching you how to LIVE. Okay, I get it! I understand. Objective -- a world where one size fits all. Where everyone is a grinning clone or a mindless pod. Yeah, they should definitely just call this place 'Bodysnatcher Central' instead of Haven of Hope.
The difficulty is that I've never been good at fitting in, at being a robot. Oh, I'm good at acting the PART of someone who plays by the rules. Always telling myself that suppressing what I truly felt or believed was all about business or getting ahead or making money -- or sheer survival. Bringing the grades home to Mom and Pop. Kissing up to the teacher. Sucking off the coach. Impressing the boss. Stroking the client. Pleasing the studio. Telling the press what it wants to hear. Telling the john he's got the biggest dick, he's the greatest fuck, how much you love him, love him, love him. But the whole time you are thinking of ways to rip him off. Thinking of getting back at them all. Making them pay for what they put you through. Fucking them over and doing what YOU want to do -- no fucking apologies, no fucking regrets.
And so I'm an outlaw/whore once again at beautiful Haven of the Hopeless. Piling up the Demerits. Already on the shit list of every counselor and peon on the staff. Personally acquainted with every toilet that needs to be scrubbed, every dish that needs to be washed, every square inch of dirty linoleum floor that needs to be mopped. On my chart right next to the entry for 'Attitude' I'm sure is written: "Bad and getting worse every day."
I CANNOT fuck this up! I can't. I have to figure out SOME way to get through it without losing my sanity. Myself. Or everything that I care about. I'm still trying to figure out how.
But what the fuck is it, really, with all these Demerits? Is this the Cub Scouts? Skip and his fucking Demerits! Skip is my counselor. Everyone is assigned a personal counselor, and I'm the lucky bastard that drew Skip. He's a born fascist. Stalin would have loved him. He would have made a fine Hitler Youth Leader, too. Or a Red Guard. He loves humiliating people. Breaking down your resistance. Reducing you to your most vulnerable elements. They call it Rebuilding. All addicts need to be Rebuilt. But they have to tear you down to rubble first. Or at least they try.
I met Skip my second day here after they sprung me from detox. He's supposed to be my mentor and my Role Model. He's an ex-junkie who, if there really was a fucking Higher Power, would have ODed sometime in the '80's and therefore not been alive today to torment me.
When Justin showed up at the house on Maui after the New Year, we only had three days to be together before we had to go back to L.A. with Tess and Annie. We never left the house or that little beach, so I was clean when we got back to Los Angeles on that Friday. Tess had already made the arrangements for me to go into Haven of Hope in Malibu. It's a stricter program than the one I ditched at Desert Palm, which is really a country club for strung-out celebrities. But Haven specializes in people who have failed elsewhere. So that's where Tess and Howie Sheldon -- after much phoning back and forth -- decided I should go. It was that or the fucking Spencer Pavilion. So I said yes to the Haven.
Leslie, my new personal assistant and office manager, had arrived from Chicago and moved into the other guest bedroom in Ron's house, the one where Lilith always stayed. The house seemed a logical place for her to stay. She could take over answering my fan mail forwarded from the studio and she could also begin setting up an office to pay the bills and handle things while I was... um... on hiatus. She was also going have Ron's stuff put into storage, a job that I wasn't capable of doing. When Justin and I came in from Maui on that Friday afternoon, Leslie had already started working from Ron's old office and running errands in the Mercedes, which we designated the company car.
"It's good that the house won't be sitting empty for weeks at a time, Brian," Justin commented, and he's right. But it still felt strange having her there. Leslie has none of the bad memories or weird vibes that Justin and I have in Ron's house. In fact, she loves it. The pool, the office, the car, the convenience to shopping in Beverly Hills and to Terra Nova Studio -- it's all great to Leslie. But it still creeps me out to be there. Thinking of what happened in those rooms. Or trying not to think about what happened....
Friday evening Justin helped me pack my suitcase. Like at Desert Palm, they tell you to bring only one. I picked out some basic clothes, mainly jeans, tee shirts, and sweats. And all my products, because I knew I wouldn't be allowed to go out and get more. We were told that no radios, televisions, CD players, or laptops were allowed, so I picked out a bunch of books I'd been wanting to read, as well as some old favorites.
"Should I pack 'The Fountainhead,' Brian?" Justin held up a tattered paperback.
"I don't think so. No, no more 'Fountainhead,'" I said. Instead I put in 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,' 'On the Road,' and 'City of Night.' It would be good to read those again. I also added my Filofax and a supply of paper and pens to write letters. Little did I know that I wouldn't be allowed to use any of them.
Justin also gave me a bound blank book to use as a journal. "This will give you a chance to write down what you feel, Brian."
"I think this book might come back as blank as it is right now," I told him as we sat on our bed.
"Try, Brian," he asked. "Just listen to what you're feeling and don't fight it, okay?" Then Justin gave me an assortment of my favorite photos that he'd put in simple frames. "To place next to your bed. You can look at them when you get up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. See? Here's you and Gus when he was really little. And Gus and Lindz at his first birthday party. You and Michael outside the store on the day he opened up. You and me on the 'Colleen.' The two of us in England. And this one -- it's new. I was saving it, Brian." Justin handed me a fancy wrapped package with a red bow.
"I never seem to get your Christmas presents on Christmas, do I?" I said sadly.
"I know, but at least it isn't six months late," he replied. And Justin reached over and touched the heart charm with his finger.
I unwrapped the package. It was a photo of Justin, posing on the bed in the loft like a pin-up boy. The blue lights were glowing in the background and his shirt was off. "Didn't I see this picture in 'Freshmen'?" I said, raising my eyebrows. That's a gay mag that features twinks baring all.
"Stop it!" he laughed. "I asked Emmett to take it for me a couple of months ago. He used the camera I got in London. There were a few good poses, but this is my favorite. I hope you like it."
What did he think? "It's... it's wonderful. All the pictures are wonderful." But then I had to go into the bathroom and close the door because I couldn't fucking deal with my emotions. I fucked up my life big time -- and this was the result. I felt like I was going away to prison. Which I was, in a way. I had to go. I didn't want to, but I didn't have a choice. I'd missed Christmas. Missed being with Justin for the second year in a row. Missed spending time with Gus, or seeing Mikey, or just hanging out at the diner or Woody's -- all the things that I now wanted desperately to do. Instead, I was going away for at least 30 days, maybe even more, to Haven of Fucking Hope.
And Justin was returning to Pittsburgh to start the semester at PIFA. We'd had a lot of discussion about that when we were in Maui, sitting on that beach. He wanted to stay. He wanted to be close to me. And God knows that I wanted him close by. But the bottom line was that if he stayed around L.A. by himself, waiting for me to be released, then he'd be wasting the whole winter. He wouldn't be allowed to visit me -- that had been made very clear -- or even talk to me on the phone. No phone calls, remember? So Justin agreed that he'd go back and complete the year at PIFA. And I'd join him in the Pitts as soon as I was sprung. That's what made this whole thing so fucking hard. Neither of us was certain when we'd be together again, but it would definitely be weeks, maybe even months.
After my bag was packed, Justin and I sat with Leslie and tried to eat some dinner, but it was useless. Leslie knew that it wasn't exactly a joyous occasion. She needed me to sign a bunch of papers and to approve some things. She's one of the handful of people who know where I am -- Justin, Tess, my lawyer, Walter Urbanski, Howie Sheldon, and Detective Parra are the others.
Justin and I also agreed that only a few more people would know that I was in rehab, but not in which facility. That group includes Lindsay, Michael, Deb, Vic, Tim Reilly, Justin's mother, Jennifer, and Jimmy. While Tess is in on all the details, I didn't want Jimmy knowing where I was and deciding to show up here out of the blue -- which is what he tends to do. And I didn't want Diane to know, or Dorian, or Sir Kenneth. It was better that they believed I was back in Pittsburgh with Justin, at least for the time being. I felt that the fewer people who knew about this thing, the less pressure would be on me. Or on Justin.
Justin promised to write me every day, and I knew that Tess, Lindsay, Deb, and Vic would write when they could. Leslie would keep me posted on business and how the office was coming along. Mikey would send me his version of a letter -- the latest comic book he thought I'd enjoy. Jimmy would probably drop me a postcard from Toronto. And Tim Reilly -- well, he was someone I might need to work a few things out with, especially if I had to go to some kind of therapy, which was pretty much a given. Besides, Justin and I realized that if Vic knew I was in rehab, then Tim would know anyway. That made up my Approved List. Only people on your Approved List are allowed to write to you. The Haven of Hope Foundation keeps a blind post office box in downtown Los Angeles that the people on your List address their letters to. That's supposed to ensure your privacy. Right. Whatever the fuck. Some Haven peon picks the letters up every morning and then distributes them to the inmates. Like I say, it's the highlight of our dreary day.
Justin made up my List and put it in a folder with my other papers to give to Dr. Jacob Lorenz, the director of Haven of Hope, when I was admitted. Then we went upstairs and went to bed. We held each other close all night, burning each inch of skin into our memories, trying to fuse our bodies together so that we would never have to be apart again. Or that was the idea. That night was the best night and also the worst fucking night of my life. The best because I have to live on the memory of it, over and over again, for as long as I'm in here. The worst because all I can remember is Justin pretending that he wasn't crying, all night long.
Almost every day I get a letter from Justin. If he seems to miss a day then I'm certain to get two letters the next. He must write constantly. And I have to brag that no one else in this hole gets as many letters as I do -- or has such a faithful correspondent. I'm resigned to the fact that the flow will probably taper off as he gets on with his life and has better things to do with his time, but for now I can't even express what these fucking letters mean to me.
Like I say, I always took the mail, like so many other things, for granted. Bills, flyers, junk mail, come-ons -- that was the bulk of my mail. I never wrote letters and so I never got letters. If I had business with someone I called them or e-mailed. But sitting down and writing a letter, that seemed foreign to me. Too many fucking words. Too many fucking thoughts. Now I'd give anything to be allowed to write a letter -- even one -- to Justin. And getting his letters -- I fucking live for them. Any bit of information, no matter how trivial. Any inkling of his voice in the innocuous gossip about Wade or Daphne, descriptions of gassing up the Jeep, stopping by the store to bullshit with Mikey, dishing with Emmett and Deb at the diner, or having dinner at Jennifer's condo. I'm starving to know this stuff. Starving for that contact. To picture it all in my head. To picture him in my head.
But even that pleasure is muted. Because of Skip, my goddamn counselor. He opens and reads every piece of mail that I get before I'm even allowed to touch it. Skip likes to read my letters with me watching. Other counselors read their addicts' mail in private and then pass them on quietly, but not Skip. He likes to open each envelope in front of me, read it, and then sit and watch while I read. Supposedly the counselors are monitoring our letters for Warning Signs of Addictive or Enabling Behavior in our friends and relatives. So they know who is 'good' and who is 'bad' for you. So they know who should be permitted in your life. And that's an important thing here -- who should be permitted to be in your life.
When I read Justin's letters after Skip has already had his hands on them I feel pissed off. Like Skip is watching the two of us make love. And not in a hot way, either. Because Justin, in his perfect innocence, writes personal things. Private, intimate things. And this creep reads them. Every word. This creep judges Justin -- judges US.
And all that paper and those pens that I so carefully packed turned out to be useless. Because I'm not allowed to write back. Not allowed to warn Justin that his letters aren't private. Not allowed to respond to anything he says, anything he tells me. None of us are. It's one of the Rules. Not until we are ready to write our Apology Letters. One of the Steps says that the addict has to ask forgiveness from everyone he's ever harmed, so your Apology Letters are long mea culpas detailing every rotten thing that you ever did to them. Reminding each person how much of a shit you are. I'm not ready for that lovely Step yet. I haven't earned the Privilege. I can hardly wait.
Continue on to Page 2 of "Haven of Hope".