This is Part 1 of Chapter 4 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Queer Theory" -- Part 2" , the previous chapter.
The narrator is Victor Grassi, featuring Deb, Michael, and Brian.
Rated PG for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Vic comes back to Pittsburgh to deal with some family issues and other matters. Takes place in April 1988.
Author Notes: All quotes in italics are from the novel "Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
"Michael believed longer than the other boys, though they jeered at him."
"Vic, I've been dealing with some stuff here and I really need you to come and talk to Michael. Be with Michael for a bit. He needs a man to talk to. I mean, I do the best I can with the 'both mother AND father' bit -- but I can't do it all. He needs you. And I need your support right now, too."
I'd been working in Cleveland for a big catering company for about nine months and was starting to get antsy. The food service industry is fine, in its way, but there's a huge turn-over, especially among the creative types -- of which I counted myself as one. At first, being a part of a big, prestigious outfit that specialized in big charity functions, political fund-raisers, and over-the-top Mafia weddings was exciting. But after a while my creative juices were beginning to feel stifled. So when my sister Deb called to ask me to come back to Pittsburgh to deal with some 'family issues' I was glad to take some time off.
Deb met me at the door. She'd just gotten off her shift at the Liberty Diner and I could tell she was exhausted. There were big dark circles under her eyes and I could see the grey creeping into her hair where she hadn't had time to touch up her dye-job. I teased her about it.
"Yeah, one of these days I'm just gonna say 'fuck all!' and buy a big old fright wig and wear that every day! That will teach some people not to be such fashion critics!"
"I just want my sister to be a reflection of my own fabulousness!"
"Ha! Vic Grassi -- killer queen!"
"Don't knock it, Sis."
But Deb then got serious, "Really, Vic, I can't tell you how worried I am about Michael."
"Where is he?"
"Up in his room, where else? That's where he always is. He goes to school, comes home, and goes up to his room. That's it. He doesn't go out, doesn't go to the movies anymore, doesn't see any friends -- not that he had that many to begin with, but the ones he had he won't call back when they phone. Every Saturday he goes and spends a few hours at the comic book store and then comes back. That's it. If he was an adult I'd say he was in a blue funk -- but he's just a kid...."
"Children can he depressed, you know, Deb. They aren't immune to the things that get to grown-ups. Especially a sensitive kid like Michael. He's had a lot of emotional upheaval recently, according to what you've been telling me. It sounds enough to make even me depressed, and I'm irrepressible!"
"Yeah, you're something all right!" Deb gave me a little punch.
It was dinner time and when Deb called him Michael came trailing down the stairs, looking mournful. He was seventeen years old, but looked about twelve, his eyes huge in his soft face, his black hair long and curling around his ears like a little Renaissance angel. There's just something about Michael that seems adrift in this world, something that makes people -- his mother especially -- want to protect him from all kinds of hurtful realities. But some things you just can't be shielded from.
I tried joking around with him. I told him and Deb about some of fancy functions that I'd worked with the capering company. I described a very expensive wedding for which I'd worked on the cake -- a hideous eight tiered creation that was tinted to match the bride's 'color concept': a stomach-turning combo of fushia and orange. Deb and I were laughing, but Michael barely cracked a smile. He also hardly touched his dinner, just toyed with the pasta, taking a forkful and then mainly pushing it around the plate.
"May I be excused?" He didn't even wait to see what was for dessert -- I'd brought a box of cannolis that I knew he would adore.
"Sure, sweetie." Deb looked at me helplessly at Michael trudged back up the stairs, the weight of the world on his narrow shoulders.
"He really is depressed, Sis. Perhaps he should see someone. A doctor? A therapist?"
"Well, if I thought he'd talk to a therapist, I'd try to find the cash to get him to one...."
"Sis, I'll help you with that. I'm making good money and it's important for the kid to snap out of this."
"Except he won't talk to one. They called me from his school and said they wanted him to see a counselor -- that some of the other kids were picking on him about... things. And without Brian around to protect him...." She shook her head, "I'm at the end of my rope, Vic."
"I'll do my best, Deb." I put my arms around her and gave her a squeeze.
"... he was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything."
Michael was sitting at his desk, his pen poised in his hand over a sheet of paper. Some books lay open next to him and wadded up sheets of paper were scattered at his feet.
"Doing your homework, Michael?" I asked. Nothing like stating the obvious to kick off a difficult conversation.
"Trying." He scratched a bit at the paper and then put down his pen. "I really suck at this, Uncle Vic. I wish Mom would just let me quit school. They are hiring stockboys over at the Big Q and I know I can get a job there easy. I'm wasting my time trying to do this work, trying to pay attention in class -- trying to ignore the other kids when they bug at me. The teachers... everything."
"Michael, quitting school is no solution! Why, you need at least a high school diploma to get a good job. And your mother wants you to go to college and make something of yourself. She was never able to go and she's always wanted you to have all the opportunities that she didn't."
"College -- sure! You never went to college and you do okay, Uncle Vic."
"But I went to the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute. That's a kind of college. And I really wish I had gotten a regular degree -- maybe I'd make a lot better decisions about things if I had more of a rounded education. Maybe I'd appreciate things a lot more. But we are talking about you, Michael, not me or your mother. And I don't think quitting school and running away is the answer."
"I never said I'd run away! I'd never run away!" He said passionately. "I'd never leave Ma like that... I couldn't...." He turned away. "I have to finish this term paper for English class."
"What's it on?"
"Peter Pan." He held up a paperback.
"Mary Martin! I love her!"
"Well, this is about the book, not that old TV show."
I picked up the book and leafed through the pages, which were full of yellow highlightings and notes written in the margins. "It looks like you've done a good job of picking out quotes and things here -- what's the problem you're having?"
"Everything. I can't write the paper. I don't understand what the point is. I don't know where to begin or what to say. If it was a comic book, it might be different -- but all these WORDS...."
"You seem to have marked the book up enough. Well, here, for instance. Here's a note that says: 'perpetual childhood -- adults ruin the world of innocence -- never to be regained.' That's a good start."
Michael looked at me. "Really, Uncle Vic. Does that sound like something I would say, let alone write? I hardly even understand what most of the notes mean, let alone be able to make a paper out of them."
I turned the battered paperback over in my hand and opened it to the inside cover. Written in a bold, curling hand was the name of the book's owner and annotater: Brian Kinney.
"I see." I closed the book and laid it down on his desk. "Well, what did you do in the past to get an idea for a paper?"
He mumbled something.
"I said, I didn't! Brian's been writing my papers ever since we've been in school together. For English, for History, for Social Studies -- everything! He'd write his own papers for his own classes -- all honors classes, of course! -- and then he'd write mine. He'd do them really fast the night before they were due because he said then they would seem more like I wrote them, with some mistakes and things. He didn't make them too good -- not like his own papers -- so the teachers would believe they were mine. And it's worked. I usually got at least a 'B-' and that was better than I could ever do myself. I wrote a paper for my American History class a few weeks ago and the teacher asked me what was wrong -- that it didn't sound like my usual work. Ha! That was the best I could do myself: rotten."
"Michael, that's not right. You should have been writing your own papers all along. How are you supposed to learn if you don't do your own work and make your own mistakes? I know he was trying to help you, but Brian was wrong."
"I know. It doesn't matter -- now."
"Would you like to talk about it. Michael? I know you're feeling... sad."
"What's to talk about? I'm just a kid -- I can't do squat." He put his pen down and turned his chair around to face me as a sat back on the trunk in front of his bed. "People think I don't know what's going on, but I'm not stupid. I know where he was... and where he is now..."
"I'm sure it's not as bad as you imagine, Michael. People sometimes need to get help -- and they come back as good as new."
"But you weren't here, Uncle Vic. You didn't see... what I saw." Michael swallowed. "I can't get it out of my mind. And now they won't let me in to see him -- not even for a couple of minutes. They say there's no 'kids' allowed." He looked away from me. "Sometimes I really hate grown-ups."
"I'm sure it isn't personal, Michael, just the rules...."
"Well, fuck the rules! Excuse me, Uncle Vic, but screw the rules...." Michael wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I was really scared. I'm still scared. I mean, I was scared before, when I didn't know where he was or if he was going to come back. But then... Sometimes I can't sleep thinking about it."
"I wish I could have been here, Michael, to help in some way. To help you...."
"It doesn't matter now." He turned around back to his desk and picked up his pen, dismissing me.
"I have to get to work now, Uncle Vic."
"He had one of his dreams that night, and cried in his sleep for a long time, and Wendy held him tight."
" 'I ran away the day I was born.' "
Deb was sitting at the kitchen table when I came downstairs. She was doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Funny how she and Michael hold their pen exactly the same way, waggling it a bit while they think about what they want to write. She looked up.
"Did you get him to talk? What did he say?"
"Not much, Sis." I didn't tell her about the papers or about quitting school. I didn't want to give her any more to worry about. "It's just what you'd expect: Brian."
"It's always Brian! Always!"
"That's something you can't control, Deb."
"I know, but it is so frustrating." She stood up and walked around the kitchen. "I feel guilty getting mad at that kid -- it isn't his fault, I know... But when Michael is so affected by it, I...."
"If he could see him -- he mentioned that -- it might ease his mind. He wouldn't let his imagination run wild." I lowered my voice. "He said I couldn't understand because I wasn't here. That I didn't see what he saw... Was it that bad, Deb?"
"It was pretty bad, Vic." She sat back down and rubbed her cheek. "He came to the door late -- I think he wanted to be sure Michael was already asleep. I was just back from my shift at the diner. It was snowing like a bitch out. I heard a little scratch at the back door, like a dog would make. And when I opened the door I almost didn't know who it was. Until he said, 'Hey, Deb.' "
"That must have been tough."
"I got him on the couch, but I knew I'd have to get him to a doctor -- to the hospital, pronto. He was icy cold. He had a jacket, but no shirt or sweater, just his undershirt. And no socks. No gloves. His hands were raw. Bleeding. And his arms...." She began rubbing her own arms, as if trying to rub away something very painful. "I didn't want to think where he'd been, what he'd been doing. God knows when he first went missing Michael and I spent hours scouring this neighborhood, then the whole city -- trying to find some kind of clue. Meanwhile, his own fuckin' parents... they didn't even call the cops to report him missing. His goddamn mother says to me, 'When he's ready to come home I'm sure he'll show up.' Bitch."
"That's the root of the problem, though, isn't it?"
"I'd like to give THEM a 'problem'! So, I put on my coat and go down the street to Mrs. Arcola's -- her daughter is a nurse, you know. And she comes back with me. It's snowing real good now and she -- Reina -- says that maybe when we get to the house we'd better call 911 or we'll never get out of there." Deb looked up at me. "I open the door and Michael is sitting on the couch with his arms around Brian. And he's crying and saying, 'Is he going to be okay? Tell me he's going to be okay? Please!' I thought my heart would break right there."
"But you got him to the hospital."
"Yes. Reina called for the ambulance and she did what she could. And they took him away and I told Michael that he had to go back to bed and I'd take care of everything. She drove me to the hospital and she said to me, 'You know, that kid's been through something bad -- really bad.' And I said that I knew it. And when I got back home -- it was almost dawn by then -- Michael was sitting on the couch and he just looked at me. There was nothing I could say to him. I didn't know how to make it better. Not this." My sister stared into space and shook her head, still trying to think of the words that would somehow make everything better, but there weren't any.
"'I forget them after I kill them,' he replied carelessly."
"And your relation to the patient is?"
"I'm his uncle. On his mother's side. Grassi. Victor."
"Well, I'm just asking because, frankly...." The woman at the desk pursed her lips and frowned as she rustled through a mass of papers on her desk.
"Please proceed down this hall," she pointed. "Room 145. Dr. Finer."
"But I don't really want to talk to the doctor. I just want to see my nephew. I brought him some books and magazines. And some pastries. I didn't know if it would be allowed...."
"Proceed to Room 145. Dr. Finer."
I made my way down the hall to 145. The door was ajar and I knocked on the doorframe.
"Come in, please. Mr...?" The doctor was dark-haired and looked a bit like a young Dustin Hoffman. He wasn't smiling.
"Grassi. Vic." I sat in the chair he gestured to.
"Well, Mr. Grassi, we haven't seen you here before."
"I live out of town. Cleveland. This is the first chance I've gotten to come. But, really, I'd just like to see him...."
"The reason I ask is that, well, it's odd because you are the first visitor that the boy's had since he's been here."
"But -- hasn't he been here a couple of weeks already?"
"Yes, not quite three weeks, actually."
"I don't understand...."
"Neither do I. That's why I wanted to see you first. To find out what the hell is going on with his family. Where the hell are they? Why haven't they called or come here?" He glared at me.
"I honestly don't know, doctor. I... I'm not close to them, but I love my nephew and I wanted to see for myself that he's all right. That's the only reason I'm here."
"Well, I'm glad to see that someone gives a good damn, but I'm his doctor and it doesn't make my life any easier to try to get through to a kid who, frankly, seems to have been dumped here without any more thought than you'd give an animal you left by the side of the road."
"I'm sorry about that, Dr. Finer. I didn't know or I would have come sooner."
The doctor opened a folder on his desk. "He was a runaway -- obviously. It also seems clear to me that he may have had good reason to run away, at least judging from the concern his parents have shown up to this point, which is none." The doctor made a note in the file and slapped it shut. "Perhaps you aren't the person to ask about this, but was he being physically abused at home?"
"I... ah, doctor... Yes, I think so."
"And yet no one reported it?"
"I think he didn't want it reported." I felt sick to my stomach, as if I were at fault. I knew, Deb knew, so many people must have known. And yet no one did anything. We were all to blame.
"I think it must have been going on for some time." It was an accusation.
"And this is the result of no one wanting to 'make waves,' Mr. Grassi. No one wanting to piss someone off or cause dissention in the family. That kid could very well have died. And now I have to pick up the pieces. Do you know how angry that makes me?"
"Yes. I know. But what can I do now? To make up for it?"
"Nothing, Mr. Grassi. Nothing can 'make up for it' as you say. That kid is damaged, probably for life. And I don't mean physically. He's quite strong. He's bounced back nicely. The actual withdrawl from the drug, once we were able to get him some help, was uneventful. He seems to have suffered no permanent harm. I actually don't believe he'd been on it for much more than a month's time. And he was only injecting a very short time -- we could tell because of the lack of old track marks. He may have been snorting prior to that, but I don't think it had been that long. So he wasn't a hard-core addict and that makes my job easier. Or it should. But it's the psychological damage that is my specialty and I can't even begin to address that."
"Why not, doctor?"
"Well, in order to begin to help someone I have to get him talking to you. And, if you must know, in the time he's been in this facility he has yet to say one word to anyone."
"Nothing? At all?"
"Nada. Nyet. Nothing." Dr. Finer's eyes drilled into me. "So I have a silent patient. And I have a family who, seemingly, has no interest in even finding out how their child is doing. And now I have you, who -- may I be blunt? -- do not seem like a relative at all? Am I correct?"
"Yes. You're right. My real nephew is Brian's best friend. But my sister, Michael's mother, and I have known Brian since he was a child. He came to my sister's house that night when he got back into town. He walked there from the bus station in the snow -- that's over three miles. Notice that he didn't go to his own house. My sister went to the hospital and stayed with him until his parents, finally, arrived. His mother told my sister that her presence was not welcomed, so she didn't come back after that. But she called every day, until they told her that he's been moved here. We had no idea that... I mean, I can't imagine that they could just leave him here and not care...."
"Neither can I, but there it is." The doctor was quiet for a few moments. "Do you know that he suffered... other physical abuse while he was missing?"
"No. I didn't know."
"Perhaps you can imagine what kind, Mr. Grassi."
"I... I don't know what to say, doctor. I don't know what you want me to do."
"Does he trust you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, are you someone he might confide in? Do you think you can get him to speak to you? Because I have had no luck and neither have any of our therapists. He also won't interact with any of the other patients, or the nurses, or any of the staff. And since he's had no visitors...."
"I really do want to see him, doctor."
"It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly."
Continue on to "Lost Boys" -- Part 2".
©Gaedhal, April 2002
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Updated May 1, 2002