This is Page 2 of Chapter 7 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to Page 1 of "The Jump".
Ernie is my dishwashing buddy. I'm pretty much on permanent dishwashing duty because of all my Demerits. So is Ernie. My infractions are mainly purposeful ones -- I've never been very good at following anyone else's Rules. But poor Ernie's mind is just so gone that I don't think he even realizes that he's breaking the Rules half the time. Like he walks out of his room wearing just his shorts -- or less. He just forgets to get dressed. Or he forgets to eat or go to Group or he wanders outside -- all against the Rules. So we meet up at the big sink in the back of the kitchen quite a lot.
Ernie looks like a street person, which doesn't wash with Haven of Hope's image as the last resort of the rich and famous. Actually, there are all sorts of people here, rich and not so well-off. Some, like my roommate Denny, are insurance cases. Others are charity cases. Haven of Hope trumpets their charity work and loves to get big fund raisers, like Tess Hardy, working for them. But it turns out that Ernie isn't really a derelict. He's a musician, an ex-session man who has played guitar on the albums of a lot of heavy hitters, from the Beach Boys to Michael Jackson to David Bowie.
"Bowie? Yeah? I met him in New York," I tell him while we're washing up the breakfast dishes the day after Tess comes to visit. Now I'm the one who is fucking name-dropping.
"Uh huh," says Ernie. He's a man of few words, like a lot of crack addicts. He's also done a lot of smack in his day, mainly injecting. That makes me wonder if he's Positive, but I don't ask. That's a question that isn't polite to ask in a place like this.
"You a faggot, right?" asks Ernie, curiously.
"Um, yeah. So?"
Ernie snorts. "You'll find out, man. This place is hard on everybody, but especially fags."
I'd already figured that out from the vibe I've been getting, but Ernie might shed a bit more light. After all, he's been here for six months -- on this most recent trip. He's actually been in and out of different programs for 20 years. He's been at Haven of Hope at least twice before -- that he can remember.
"Why hard on fags?"
Ernie cackles. He's a guy who has a wealth of experience to impart to a clueless neophyte like myself -- if he can only remember it. "'Cause of all that Higher Power voodoo, man. They act like it's okay to believe anything, but they got a agenda. If you don't buy into THEIR view of stuff, you fucked. And fags don't fit into that view."
"No shit," I say. No shit is right. Because I'm constantly catching grief over my photo of Justin -- and not only from my roommate Denny. Or they're disapproving of my supposed 'queer celebrity' status. Or all the publicity about those pictures of me and Justin fucking on 'La Diva.' And over Ron, too. No, they don't miss a single one of my disastrous, 'perverted' missteps.
For instance, Skip brings my fagdom up all the time in our one-on-one counseling sessions. Also in Group. Dr. Lorenz, the Big Kahuna of Haven of Hope, is not my official psychiatrist -- this is a Self-Help Focused joint, so they don't rely on professional therapists -- but I see him a couple of times a week to review my 'progress' in The Program. Even he is always discussing the negative aspects of my 'alternative lifestyle.'
"Listen, doc," I tell him. "Being a queer isn't a lifestyle choice. It's not like deciding between living in Pittsburgh or living in South Beach. Or whether to decorate in Early American or Italian Modern. It's just the way I am! My life. Period. It has nothing to do with my drinking or drugging or fucking! If I were straight I'd be doing the same damn thing!" I swallow hard at this revelation, but I realize it's perfectly true. "Like my old man! He was... the same way -- and he was as straight as Frank Sinatra. Hell, on the Hugh Hefner scale, Jack Kinney was way past smoking jacket!" I joke. But it isn't really a joke. It's just fact.
Dr. Lorenz just stares back at me. "We shall see, Brian," he says. He's just like a shrink from Central Casting, Viennese accent and all. "But it seems that your life is full of Enablers who feed your inflated view of yourself and also your desire to continue your self-destructive patterns. Your friends, for instance. Your... lover."
The way he says 'lover' chills me. Like it's something filthy. I bite my lip to stop myself from spitting at this guy. "Justin has nothing to do with my self-destructive patterns, doc! He's the reason I want to get OFF of that merry-go-round! I've been drinking and drugging and fucking since I was 16 and I didn't meet Justin until I was 29. He's the one who's been encouraging me to change. To get help. He's the GOOD aspect of my pathetic existence."
Lorenz sits back in his big leather chair, making little 'um' noises. "We think that you are not working The Program hard enough, Brian. Not making the kind of progress we like to see. You are still too attached to your addictions. I do not mean physically, but psychologically. And too attached to the people who enable those addictions."
"You mean Justin, right? Why not say it?"
"We point the finger at no one, Brian. YOU have made that identification yourself. So you must understand the root of your own addiction better than anyone else. That is why you are so defensive. And so recalcitrant." Dr. Lorenz makes a note in my file and then closes it. I fucking HATE shrinks and social workers and doctors -- all with their fucking files that contain your whole miserable life! Or at least their perceptions of your life, however right or wrong. "We are recommending that you remain here another 2 months beyond your initial 30 days. After that we will re-evaluate your progress and decide whether you are ready for release -- or whether you will need another 3 months of further treatment."
"Another 2 months? What the fuck do you mean? You can't do that!" I grip the arms of my chair so I won't fall on the floor. "I... I have a film that starts shooting in May."
"I can do that, Brian. You are here because you are a willful addict. So far you have chosen to ignore The Program instead of embracing it. How are you to conquer your many addictions if you cannot even accept the basic Steps? Your counselor says that you openly refuse to admit to your shortcomings or accept a Higher Power. How can you work The Program with that attitude?"
This is the sticking point at Haven of Hope. At all of these places. It's the center of The Program. Turn yourself over to a Higher Power. There's no other alternative. It's that -- or failure.
"I... I... can't," I say simply. And I just can't.
Dr. Lorenz sighs heavily. "If you have made sufficient progress between now and May, then you might be released in time to make your film, Brian." He smiles at me frigidly. "All of our clients have important jobs and meaningful things to do in their lives. You are no better or worse than they. Which is more important, Brian? A movie -- or your sobriety?"
I stare at him. I can feel the panic rising. I need a fucking Xanax. "But... what about my partner, doc? You said that after 30 days... that I could go home. I told him I could go home! What am I going to tell him?"
He frowns. "If your so-called partner is so flighty that he cannot wait for you until your treatment has successfully concluded...." He shrugs. "Perhaps you might do some re-evaluation of your own, Brian. We have spoken of this before, as you know. Your relationships tend to be personally destructive to both parties. Ask yourself why that is. Why you seek out partners who bring out your worse traits and encourage your addictions. Consider that -- among other things."
So, that's that, then. Dr. Lorenz has already decided who is good for me and who is bad. What is good and what is bad. All the counselors have decided. They've been working on me from the minute I arrived here. Normal straight life -- good. Queers -- bad. It doesn't seem to matter how much I explain that plenty of fags and dykes live boring, domesticated, breeder-like lives. Like Lindsay and Mel. Or even like Michael and Dr. Dave were living once upon a time. Not that I want to fucking live like that! I'd rather cut my throat with the Gillette right now. But queers aren't all the same, anymore than fucking breeders are! Besides, I know lots of straights who could give any fag a run for his money in the self-destructive race. Hell, almost everyone in this dump is straight and they are just as fucked-up as I am -- or more so! But no one tells THEM not to be breeders!
But... but they do tell other addicts to change their way of living. To get rid of their friends. To cut off members of their families. Quit their jobs. Move to different cities. After I leave Lorenz's office, I sit in Group while they all work on some poor, mousey woman to convince her to reject her husband because he's an Enabler. But he also seems to be the person who got her into Haven of Hope, so it's confusing to me. From what she says the husband seems like a supportive guy. But he's been married to her for 15 years and she keeps falling off the wagon anyway. He also drinks socially, so they've decided that he's part of her Problem. That he is her Primary Enabler, which means he's got to get out of her life. Skip leads them all in badgering this woman until she breaks down and announces that she's decided to divorce her husband! Jesus! It's fucking chilling how they all nod and congratulate her! Another fucking job well done!
And then they all turn on me. Like a fucking pack of wolves.
After I walk out of Group I go into my room and sit on the bed. I want to close the door and just be alone for five fucking minutes -- but it's not allowed.
I pick up my picture of Justin and look at it for a long time. They all think he's part of the problem. That he's my Primary Enabler. They won't let it go. They just won't. They want me to get rid of Justin. Today in Group Skip said it outright. He's not a 'suitable' partner. He's too young to understand me. He's too weak to stop my bad behavior. He's a shallow blond boytoy who only feeds my fucking ego. Not only is he bad for me, but I'm bad for him and will only ruin his life, too, in the end. He would be much better off without me. Skip even had the fucking nerve to say that if I keep up the way I've been going that I'm going to kill Justin.
"Just like that last guy you were with, Brian. What was his name? The director?" Skip probed. "The one who overdosed? You were doing drugs together, weren't you? Admit it. You were doing drugs with him the night he died, isn't that true?"
My face was burning. I don't want to think about Ron. I WON'T think about Ron! "I don't have to answer that shit!"
Everyone was staring at me. Trying to get me to crumple. To admit my failure. To admit my guilt. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa!
But Skip was relentless. "And I bet you get high with this kid, too. Don't you, Brian? Admit that you've done drugs with him. Gotten drunk with him. And we all know that you've had kinky sex with him. We've all seen those photos, Brian. Everyone in the world has seen them -- so you can't deny it!"
Skip's eyes looked at me, but they were dead. He's dead inside. No one could be alive and say this kind of crap to another human being! What fucking bullshit! Why is it kinky sex that Justin and I were having? Just because we're queers? If it had been a blonde bimbo who had been bent over the rail of 'La Diva' with my cock inside her, that would have been celebrated. I'd be a superstud, instead of a fucking pervert. Skip and his pals would have been high-fiving me like I won some fucking football game or something.
So I stood up and walked right out of Group.
"You can't walk out of here, Brian!" Skip yelled after me. "You aren't even trying to work The Program! You'll be here for a year at this rate. Or else you'll be dead. Just like your old boyfriend. And so will that poor kid!"
Every negative thing that I've ever thought about myself in my darkest, bleakest moments, every fear that I've ever had about my relationship with Justin -- they bring it all up, again and again. They harp on it. They turn my own thoughts and my own fears right back at me. That I killed Ron. Killed him as surely as if I'd taken that fucking gun and shot him with it.
And then there's everyone else that I've harmed in my life. I ruined Jimmy. His marriage is wrecked, probably beyond repair. Tess puts up a good front, but she can't fool me. And still she comes to visit me, after all the shit I've put her through. I know I drove Tim Reilly out of the priesthood and into a queer world he wasn't ready for. Now he's Positive. He'll probably die cursing me. And then there was Frank Scanlon. Another disaster. And Ryan O'Donnell. Chet Worth. What about Lindsay? I can't forget how I fucked her in college and then, after she was in love with me, told her I was a fag. Or poor old Dorian. I've played him when I needed him just like a piano. Or Michael. I can't start thinking about what I've done to Michael or I'll lose it. My son, Gus. I've hardly even begun to screw up his life. Jesus! Why are there so fucking many? What the fuck have I done with my life?
They don't need to keep reminding me how much I've hurt Justin. Already damaged him beyond repair in so many fucking ways. Physically. Emotionally. The scars are visible on his head -- and in his heart. And eventually I'll destroy him. That's the point of all this. That's what they are saying. And the last person I'll destroy is myself.
Only... they're wrong about Justin. I know they're wrong! Hearing Skip parrot back my own bullshit shows me how hollow and ridiculous it is. Maybe it makes sense logically, but emotionally -- Fuck! Because as much as I've hurt him, he's still there for me. He loves me no matter what. And we're good for each other. I'm very mean and cold and full of all sorts of Black Irish quirks and bullshit, while Justin loves sunshine and puppies and roses and happy endings! So we temper each other. We have to have each other. And I'm holding on to that. Because I know that I don't want to let Justin go. I've done that already and been miserable. I'm miserable now without him! At this very moment!
They won't stop working The Program on me until they break me down. Dr. Lorenz has made that abundantly clear. That's what they do here. They break you down. They call it Rebuilding. Making you into a completely different person. And they do it by smashing at you every day, every hour, every minute, until you're nothing but tiny little fragments. And then they put you back together again the way THEY want you to be. Humpty fucking Dumpty. Except... when Humpty Dumpty was smashed, that was it. That was the end. All the King's Horses and all the King's Men couldn't put him back together again no matter what they did. And Skip and Dr Lorenz are certainly no King's Men! No, there was no putting him back together because there was nothing left. Nothing.
Besides, I wouldn't want to be put back together their way. Without Justin. Without Michael or Deb or my loft. Without Diane or Dorian or Sir Ken or Jimmy and Tess. Without my loft or my boat or my Jeep or my fucking career. Without Gus and Lindsay. Without... anything. Anyone. But especially without Justin.
Now I know why I stole Tess' VISA card. It's my ticket out of here. I don't fucking care about Howie Sheldon or Detective Parra and their deal. I'm sick of fucking deals with the Devil! I can't stay here for 30 days or I'll kill myself for certain. If I'm going to do that anyway, if I'm going to Hell, then I'd rather do it in my own bed, on my own terms, and not on the terms of Haven of Hopelessness.
And there's not a minute to lose.
Continue on to "Eight Miles High".
©Gaedhal, February 2004.
Posted February 15, 2004.