This is Chapter 7 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Brian Kinney, and features Tess Hardy, Skip, Ernie, Dr. Lorenz, Others.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian has a surprise visitor. Haven of Hope, Malibu, 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.
"Brian, you have a visitor."
I look up in disbelief. No one has a visitor here. It's fucking unheard of. It's one of the firmest of the many Rules at this Hotel California. 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!' Fuck! There are a shitload of Rules -- one for every minute of every fucking day. But the First Rule they tell you is 'No Visitors.' Not even privileged little addicts who have 'earned' the right to walk outside on the grounds or use their own soap or write letters to people on their list of approved friends and relatives can have visitors.
And that isn't me. No, I'm on course to set a new record for the number of Demerits racked up in a single stay. The Demerits, I'm told, are to remind you of the Second Rule they lay on you here -- 'You Are Nobody, and Don't Ever Forget It!'
"In the main reception area," says the woman, Flo. She's one of the counselors, an ex-amphetamine addict with a superior smile.
It's strange how you can go from complete lethargy to faster-than-the-speed-of-sound in seconds. I practically skid to a halt when I get to Reception.
It's Tess. Standing there, looking like... like the Perfect Hollywood Wife. Dressed in a Donna Karan suit. Matching Italian shoes. A big Coach bag. She's gotten her hair cut, too. It looks good. Flatters her large features. "Brian!" she cries.
"Tess, what the fuck are you doing here?" I stop and look around, but Tess isn't about to give me a Demerit for Unapproved Language.
She smiles. "I told them that I was coming to talk to Dr. Lorenz, the director, about doing a fund raiser for the Haven of Hope Foundation. But I really came to see you, Brian."
"Jesus, Tess, I can't believe it." It's only been 10 days since Tess and Justin dropped me off in this hole, but it seems like years. Years since I've seen someone who looked so clean and shiny. Who looked -- normal. I'm suddenly very aware that I look like hell. I look and feel like a fucking inmate, wearing a dirty pair of jeans, a gray tee shirt, and white socks. I'm still not allowed to have any shoes. All of my shoes are locked in my suitcase and only my counselor, Skip, has the key. Not allowed to have my favorite Prada boots. I might put them on and run away. Or my oldest pair of Nikes. Those have shoelaces. I'm not allowed shoelaces, or ties, or a belt. Because I'm a Risk, after all. A fucking Risk.
"Brian, you look so... so good!" Tess lies. I know I don't look good. There are very few mirrors here because your appearance isn't supposed to matter. Looking at yourself only breeds vanity, calling attention to yourself, thinking that you look better or worse or different than any of the other fucking clones here. Because you're not different. You're no longer who you thought you were. We're all the same in our nothingness. Nothing but addicts.
But I don't need a mirror to tell me what I can feel about what's left of me. That my hair is like straw from the harsh soap. That my skin is pale and blotchy from never being outside. That my hands are red and raw from constant dishwashing duty. That I feel slack and listless because I can't use the pitiful gym equipment they have here -- I haven't earned that privilege. No, I don't need a mirror -- or looking at Tess staring at me -- to know that I'm a fucking mess.
"Oh, Brian," she says, her eyes brimming. "I was so worried about you! You can't even imagine. I was so afraid for you."
"Tess, really, it's okay." Now I'm embarrassed. I'm such a fuck-up. I never should have burst in on Jimmy and Tess on their vacation and thrown myself on their mercy. Once I walked out of Desert Palm I really wanted to stay in L.A. and get totally wasted, but something told me that I had to get the fuck out of there and hide somewhere I'd be safe. So I flew to Maui and landed on their door. I needed to be there. I knew that Tess would call Justin. That's really why I went there. I wanted him to come. I hoped he would. Not consciously, of course. But I was waiting there for him. Don't ask me what I would have done if he hadn't shown up. I don't think about shit like that.
"I know that things will work out for you much better here than in that place in Palm Springs," says Tess, looking around. "It's so beautiful here, Brian. Such a lovely view of the ocean!" She turns and looks out of the big picture window in the reception area. In the 10 days I've been in here I've never once looked at the ocean. I didn't even fucking know there WAS a view of the ocean. I mean, I know we're in Malibu, but all the windows I'm allowed to see out of face inward. Maybe the view is reserved for visitors. Or it's another privilege that you have to earn. I'm not allowed outside, either. Maybe someday I'll earn the right to look at the fucking sky.
"Why don't you show me around, Brian? Give me the Grand Tour?" Tess asks, picking up her soft leather Coach bag. It's the color of rich, golden butter.
"There isn't really much to see... I mean, it's mainly just rooms," I reply, nervously. I'm not sure I want Tess to see the inner workings of this place. It feels... strange. Wrong.
"Why not show me your room, Brian?" Tess smiles.
"My room?" I hesitate. This really isn't allowed. But who the fuck is going to tell me that I can't take Tess Hardy to see my room? I lead her out of Reception and into the bowels of Haven of Hope. We're immediately engulfed in an overpowering odor of Pine Lysol and Lemon Clorox. It isn't a thrilling combination of fragrances to live with.
I check the room. My insufferable roommate, Denny, is in Group. Thank God. That's all I need is that creep sitting here gaping at Tess. "This is it. The old homestead."
Tess looks around. I can see what she's thinking so clearly on her face. A fucking prison cell is more warm and inviting. The walls are painted gray, the floors are gray linoleum tile, even the fucking blankets are gray. And not a dove gray or a silver gray or even a slightly blue-tinged gray -- just gray. Tess sits down on the narrow bed, which sags under her. "Well... it seems very comfortable, Brian."
"Right," I answer. "It's okay." I have to look away. I keep staring at Tess. She's so clean and well-dressed and she smells so good. Oscar de la Renta cologne -- I can tell. And I'm so fucking horny and frustrated in general that I have the horrible realization that I'm wondering what it would be like to fuck her. Right here. On this crummy institutional bed, surrounded by these gray walls. This is very, very bad. I back away from Tess.
Meanwhile, she chats away about the movie she's producing for Cara Restifo and about Jimmy having trouble up in Toronto with Chuckie Ranger and about some charity event she's chairing. I keep staring at her like she's a Martian who has just landed and is speaking to me in some incomprehensible language. I gaze at her flawlessly manicured nails, fully aware that I've bitten my own down to the fucking quick. And those beautiful shoes. I want to touch the leather, just to feel it. She's so perfectly and so casually well-dressed that it makes me doubly aware that I've been in the same ripped pair of jeans for days. Aware of the dirty socks I'm wearing because I refuse to put on their fucking paper slippers. That reminds me too much of the Kensington-Welsh Center with its uniform of thin cotton pants, tee shirts, and paper slippers.
"This is a wonderful picture of Justin!" Tess exclaims, picking up my photo from the little metal table next to the bed. Normally I don't allow anyone to touch that picture. I don't allow anyone to look at it. Even Tess picking it up, gazing at it so closely, is making me nervous. When she sets it back down I feel myself exhaling with relief. "Don't you have any other photos, Brian? I thought you brought ones of your son? And some of Justin and you in England?"
I sniff. My nose is always running in this place. I always seem to have a cold. Or else I'm just allergic to Haven of Hope. "I'm only allowed one picture. Just one."
"Oh," Tess asks. "Why is that?"
I want to scream -- there IS no reason! Because the fuckers here are lunatics who want to control every aspect of your life until they break you down into a pile of jelly! That's why! But I bite my lip. "It's a Rule," I reply.
"Oh, well," she says. What else is there to say?
When you first check into Haven of Hope with your single suitcase your counselor opens it, looking for contraband. Skip started the ball rolling by taking out my vitamins and my ibuprofen, which I need for my fucking migraines. Then he pulled out my green tea shampoo and conditioner, hair paste, face, hand, and body lotions, eye cream, sandalwood cleanser, deodorant, herbal toothpaste, and the bottle of special cologne I have made for me in New Orleans. He threw them all into a big trashbag.
"Hey!" I protested. "Those are my products! What am I going to use now?"
"You won't be needing any of those things here, Brian," Skip explained smugly. "Toothpaste is provided in the bathrooms. There's soap in there, too. You can also use it to wash your hair."
"Wash my hair with SOAP?" I couldn't believe this guy. "Plain soap?"
Skip stared at me evenly. "Everyone else does, Brian, so I'm sure you'll get used to it."
Then he piled up my tweezers, nailclippers, scissors, my razor, shaving cream, and all my blades on the bed. And into the trashbag.
"You aren't allowed anything sharp. And that includes a personal razor. You'll be handed a disposable one everyday which will be collected when you finish with it. You can use soap if you want lather."
"You must be fucking kidding!" I said. I know I'm a Risk, but fuck me! Like I might attempt to cut my throat with a Gillette safety razor! "I hate disposable plastic razors! They're for shit! And I can't shave with just soap. Do you have any idea what that does to your skin? My face will be fucking ripped to shreds!"
"That's Unapproved Language, Brian. You would usually get one Demerit for each swear word, but I'll let it slide because you're new," Skip said graciously.
"Then I just won't shave," I decided. This would be a good time to test out a new, butcher look.
"Shaving is required, Brian. No facial hair is permitted at Haven of Hope. It's unsanitary."
"But... I don't understand why I can't use my own stuff?" I said weakly.
"We use what everyone uses here, Brian. So you better get used to it," Skip instructed. "But you can keep your own toothbrush."
"Gee, thanks," I replied. Those small victories are so sweet, aren't they?
"Oh, and you won't be needing these, either," he added, an offended edge to his voice. All my condoms and three tubes of premium lube went into the trash.
Next, Skip went through my clothes and decided what I'd be permitted to wear. Besides the 501's and chocolate Dolce & Gabbana sweater I was already wearing, he took out my oldest blue jeans and a pair of gray sweatpants. Then my briefs and a couple of white tee shirts. A dark blue Paul Smith shirt. A plain tan Tom Ford pullover. My green Perry Ellis cardigan. White socks. And my suede fringed jacket, which I wore here, now hanging forlornly in the closet.
"Don't you have any pajamas?" asked Skip, rifling my suitcase.
"Pajamas?" I answered. "No. I left my pjs behind when I graduated from the 6th Grade."
"Then you'll have to sleep in your sweatpants and a tee shirt," said Skip. He pulled out a new silver silk Versace robe that Jimmy gave me for Christmas. "Is this your bathrobe?" I nodded. "This isn't suitable for Haven of Hope. Don't you have anything else?"
"Yes, but not here." What was he expecting? Something from the Sears Collection?
"We'll see if we can find you something."
"I'm not wearing someone else's funky old bathrobe!" I said, recoiling at the thought.
"You will if we tell you to, Brian," said Skip, coldly. And he wasn't fucking kidding. "Remember that. Walking through the halls in your underwear is not allowed here. And neither is this." He tossed the silk robe back into my suitcase. Then he zipped it up. Locked it and put the key in an envelope with my name on it.
"Wait a fucking minute! Is that ALL? Those aren't enough clothes for 3 days, let alone 30!"
"You don't need anything more than this, Brian," Skip retorted. "This isn't a resort -- or a Hollywood disco. You don't need to dress to impress anyone here. Too many possessions take your mind off the truly important things."
"You mean, like looking like a homeless person?" I snapped.
Skip dragged my suitcase into the closet. "You'll learn to do without those things, Brian. You'll see."
"But... what about my pictures?" I yelped. Now I was beginning to panic. "And my books? My Filofax? My journal and paper?" Those were all in my Gucci carry-on, which Skip had also gone through with a fine-tooth comb. And given me nothing.
"You don't need an address book here, Brian. We'll tell you when you're allowed to write letters. You'll have to earn that privilege. And there's a calendar in the Rec Room."
"But I want my photos!" I said, my voice rising. I brought the picture of Justin under the blue lights that he gave me as a belated Christmas present. And a bragbook he put together of photos of Gus. And all those pictures that Justin framed for me of himself and Gus and Michael and Lindsay.
"You're permitted one family photo," Skip told me. "One."
So they make you choose. Choose who you're allowed to look at. Who you're allowed to think about every day. Who you're allowed to love. I didn't know I'd have to pick only one person, only one picture. But I didn't even hesitate. Skip opened the Gucci bag and spread the framed photos on the bed. I grabbed the one of Justin and set it on the little table next to the bed before he changed his mind and said I couldn't have any.
Skip curled his lip in disgust. He shoved the other pictures back into the bag and zipped it up.
"And my books?"
Skip shook his head. "We'll tell you what to read and when you can read it, Brian. There are some Approved books in the Rec Room. And pamphlets on The 12 Step Program. You're permitted to read those at any time. Also any religious book, like the Bible, as long as it's Approved. I didn't see anything like that in your bag."
No, I guess James Joyce and Jack Kerouac and John Rechy aren't Approved. They wouldn't fucking WANT to be Approved!
Yes, it's all about The Program. The Rules. What is Approved and what isn't. I learned the score pretty quickly from Day One.
"Can I use your bathroom, Brian?" says Tess, shocking me out of my stupor.
"My... bathroom?" There's no such animal. There are toilets down the hall and a shower room, too, but I wouldn't honor either of them with the name bathroom.
"If you go to the front desk I'm sure they'll let you use the one in the counselors' breakroom," I explain. At least that'll be clean.
"Okay, then," says Tess, cheerily. "I'll be right back."
The minute she walks out of the room I grab her Coach bag. I don't know what the fuck I'm looking for. Tess doesn't smoke and she certainly wouldn't have any drugs or booze in her purse. But I rifle through it anyway like a fucking animal. I used to do it in New York, too, going through the johns' wallets and pockets for spare cash when they were sleeping, or, if it was their apartment, searching the drawers for something small to slip into my pocket. I never thought of it as stealing. I never took anything really valuable -- I was too afraid. It was just survival.
I pull out Tess' wallet. It's full of cash, but I don't need money here. However... I scan her credit card holder. She has a ton of cards, including multiple Gold Cards and VISA's. I look for one in the back, one that doesn't look too used. I find a VISAcard for 'T. R. Hardy.' Roldoni is Tess' maiden name. It isn't even signed. I take it and slip the card into the top of my sock. That's the way I used to hide money and dope way back in the Bowery. See, just like riding a bicycle? You never forget. I'm not even sure why the fuck I take the card. I just know that if I ever need it, then....
I shove everything back in the bag and wait for Tess to return. She and Denny come back to the room at the same time, which is actually a good thing, because I have an excuse to get her out of here. Of course, Denny stares at Tess. She must look even more like a Martian to him -- he's been here for four months and I've only been here less than two weeks. Jesus -- what would the real world look like after four fucking months in this hole? Maybe a place too frightening to face.
Which is why I have to do my time and get the fuck out as soon as I can.
I walk Tess to the front. She's still chatting away, like she's at a garden party or something. I think most of it is nerves, because when she really looks at me I can see that she's still worried. I wonder if she'll call Justin and get him worried, too. No, that can't happen.
"Tess," I say. "Please don't... I mean, I'd rather you didn't tell Justin that you were here."
"But why not, Brian?" she asks. Her big brown eyes are compassionate. But that's the last thing I need right now. Compassion.
"Because I'd rather he not know what this place is really like. I mean it, Tess. You may not think you'll tell him anything, but... but he'll know. Then he'll worry, and he'll get himself upset, and.... just please don't even speak to him. That's the only thing I'm asking you to do for me. It's the only thing you CAN do for me. There's nothing else I need."
She takes my hands in her clean, manicured ones. "But Brian... it isn't so bad here! It's...." Then she looks down at my hands. I used to think my hands were one of my best features. They were smooth and beautiful and powerful. The things that I could do to a man with those hands! Make him scream. Make him beg. Pick him up like a child and take him to a place you never want to return from. Now they're only good for scrubbing toilets. And Tess really looks at them now, all raw and ugly and gnawed at. That's the truth of what this place makes you. Raw, ugly, and gnawed at.
I'm glad to see Tess leave. I don't want any visitors to see this animal at the zoo.
Continue on to Page 2 of "The Jump".