This is Part 2 of Chapter 4 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Lost Boys" -- Part 1" , the previous section.
"He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees."
The most horrible thing was the locks. Every door we walked through, and there were many, had to be unlocked to let us in and then re-locked behind us.
Finally we came to a large, open room. A television was running in the corner and a couple of boys were sitting around it, watching cartoons. A shabby sofa, a ping pong table, some broken-down chairs, and a bookshelf stacked with old magazines completed the decor. At the nurses' station, a male attendant and a female nurse were listening to the radio and stacking some charts. They straightened up when they saw Dr. Finer enter the dayroom.
"Good afternoon, doctor," said the woman.
"Yeah, great. How are the natives this afternoon?"
"Pretty quiet. Most of the boys are over in creative therapy."
"Making more wallets?"
"Probably, Doc!" said the male attendant, laughing.
"What about our problem child?"
"Still hasn't said anything. I think he's catatonic," said the nurse.
"He's not -- he notices everything that happens in here. I just think he doesn't have anything he wants to say," offered the man. "Hell, I probably wouldn't have anything to say either if I was locked up in here. I mean -- involuntarily."
"Well, this is Mr. Grassi. He's the patient's uncle." Dr. Finer caught my eye and nodded. "He's going to try to get him to interact with him today."
"That's great. Since the poor kid hasn't had any other visitors... No offense, I mean." The attendant fumbled. "It's nice that somebody came to see him. Finally."
"I live out of town -- this is the first chance I've gotten to come over." I knew the excuse sounded lame, given the circumstances. The nurse frowned at me, but the male attendant -- who was a burly blond, maybe a Swede or other Viking type -- gave me a small smile. "Can I see him now?"
The Viking pointed to the sofa. I didn't see anyone else in the room, other than the boys by the television. Dr. Finer walked over to the sofa, which had been turned away from the center of the room to face the far wall. I followed behind and looked over his shoulder.
He was lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. One arm was curled across his forehead, while the other dangled off the cushion to the floor. He blinked a few times. If I'd expected him to suddenly jump up and say, 'Vic! I'm so glad someone has finally come,' I was mistaken. He stared through me and then looked away, at the wall.
"You have a visitor, son," Dr. Finer nudged him. But he lowered his arm over his eyes so he wouldn't have to see us. But the doctor was determined. He nudged him harder. "Sit up, now, and pay attention."
"Maybe this isn't a good idea...."
"No, Mr. Grassi, he'd lie here all day and all night if we let him." The doc took the arm that was dangling firmly and pulled him off the sofa and on to the floor. He hit the ground with a loud thump and I heard him gasp.
"Was that necessary, doctor?"
"Probably." Dr. Finer stood back, arms folded.
I leaned down and put my face next to his. "Brian, it's okay. Come with me. I won't make you talk if you don't want to." I helped him to his feet, grasping his left wrist. It felt as thin and hollow as a girl's.
"Why don't you sit in the breakroom -- over here. Then you can have some privacy." The doctor steered both of us past the nurses' station into a small room with a table and some chairs pulled around it. There was a small television on a corner table, and a microwave and a refrigerator in the opposite corner. A print of a Monet 'Waterlilies' was scotch-taped to one wall, and a bulletin board hung from another. Dr. Finer half-guided, half-pushed Brian into a chair. I took the chair on the other side of the table.
"Well, I'll leave you two to chat. Stop and see me on the way out, Mr. Grassi." And he stalked out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
And there we sat. I could hear my wristwatch ticking away the seconds.
My first thought was that, for all he'd been through, and for all I'd heard from both Deb and Michael, he didn't look half bad. His hair had been hacked at in some unfortunate way, probably in the hospital, and he was wearing some kind of odd green sweat pants, a t-shirt that was miles too large, and grimy white socks -- no shoes. His face was thin, but otherwise unmarked. His long skinny arms, which I assume had been quite messed up, looked a bit red, but not scabbed or scarred in any way. He had his hands resting flat on the table and he was very still.
"I came all the way from Cleveland to see you, Brian. I know I said you don't have to talk to me, but I wish you would."
He just looked down at his hands.
"Deb wanted to come, but she was afraid she'd get too emotional and she knows how you hate it when people get all emotional. Because you're always so calm and determined, right?"
Nothing. But then why would I assume that he'd suddenly do something for me that a staff of professionals had been trying to get him to do for weeks? So I tried a different tactic.
"I see your fucking parents haven't been around. Good! I'm sure they are the last people you'd want to see." He blinked a couple of times.
"Would you like some gum?" I knew he was a sucker for Juicy Fruit -- just like myself. I took the pack from my pants pocket and pulled out two sticks. I unwrapped one and put it in my mouth and set the other in front of him, next to his hands. He looked at it and licked his lips, almost imperceptibly. His fingers moved forward a bit until he had his hand over the stick.
"Want me to unwrap it for you? If you can't, I mean?"
And then he looked up at me, straight in the eye. He snatched the gum and unwrapped it, popping it into his mouth. He stared at me as he chewed.
"Here," I said. "Take the whole pack." I set it down on the table. He hesitated, then picked up the pack and shoved it in the pocket of his sweat pants.
"I brought you some other stuff." I opened the plastic bag I'd been carrying. "Some cannolis -- Deb and I made them last night. But don't eat them all at once or you'll get sick, okay? And a couple of paperbacks -- Debbie thought you'd probably be bored stiff in here. There's a Stephen King and some mystery novels, and a Kurt Vonnegut -- I think that was one of my old paperbacks. Deb's obviously been cleaning out the basement."
He looked at the books and then he looked at me. At least he was making some kind of contact -- and, contrary to what the nurse had suggested, he was far from catatonic. He was completely aware of what was going on. He was just resisting. Resisting this place. Resisting the doctors. Resisting the entire world, probably. And I didn't blame him one bit.
"Oh, and Michael sent these." I reached in the bag and pulled out a small pile of comic books. "He said that he selected them particularly for you. There's a Batman and a Superman and -- what's this? -- the Incredible Hulk. And three Captain Astros. He wanted you to have these especially." I fanned the comic books out on the table for him to see. I wanted him to know that someone -- and that Michael, particularly -- was thinking about him, even if his parents weren't.
He picked up one of the Captain Astro comics and opened it. I'd never quite understand Michael's comic book fixation -- even as a kid, comic books were hardly my thing! -- but Brian seemed to, even though he didn't share it. He sat and paged through, and then paged through it again. I seemed to have lost him, but it was getting late and I felt that at least he was acknowledging my presence. That seemed a big thing. I stood up and put on my coat.
"I'm going to come back tomorrow. Maybe I'll bring you some more gum. And I'm going to ask Dr. Finer if I can bring Michael with me. I'm sure the rules can be bent just a bit, he's so desperate to see you. He can bring you some more comics, okay?" I started for the door. "I wish you'd tell me if there's anything I can bring you? If you think of something -- well...."
I was almost out the door when I heard him say, "Vic! Wait!"
I turned around, trying to be matter-of-fact. "What, Brian?"
"Don't! I really mean it -- don't!" His voice sounded small and dry from lack of use.
"Don't bring Michael here! Ever. I don't care how much he says he wants to come. Don't bring him here!"
I sat back down and leaned over the table towards him. "Why not, honey? He wants to see you so badly."
"I don't want him to see me in here. I don't want anyone to see me in here, but especially not him! He can't take it." He worked the gum around in his mouth, compulsively. "I mean, I can't take it." And then the tears started.
I went to the nurses' station and asked the woman for some kleenex. She raised her penciled brows at me. "I'll get you a box."
"And could we have some water or something?"
"How about some juice? Orange juice?"
"Why, madam, if I'd brought a bottle of vodka, we could have made screwdrivers! Perhaps tomorrow?"
She smiled. "I don't think Dr. Finer would approve." The whole time I was schmoozing the nurse, I kept wondering where in hell my Viking had gone?
"The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers... when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out."
I carried the cup of orange juice and the kleenex back into the breakroom. Brian was paging through one of the comic books Michael had sent and, if you saw beyond the bad hair and institutional clothes, he looked almost normal. But that normality ate at me, knowing what it must be masking. "Here. Sorry it isn't something better."
"Thanks. This is great." He drank down the juice like it was good scotch. I put the kleenex down on the table.
"So... you going to talk to the doctor now, or are you going to keep giving him the silent treatment?"
He looked down at the table.
"He really a nice guy, Brian. Really. He's very concerned about you. He told me so. And he's angry at your parents for not visiting you here."
"You're right, Vic. I don't want them coming here. Bitching at me. Ask... asking me questions that I'm never going to answer, no matter what... But Dr. Finer -- at least he acts like it all isn't my fault. At least he's not going to try to pray it all away, like my mom. Or belt it out of me, like my old man...."
"No one wants that, Brian."
"Yeah, sure. But what you want and what you get -- two different things, man. Two different things." He took a couple of tissues and blew his nose softly. "You know, not everyone was shitty to me... there. Someone... helped me."
"Just some guy." He wadded up the kleenex and looked around for the trashcan. Seeing it next to the door, he tossed the kleenex in. "Basket. Yeah, a student at some university in the City. He was filming us -- a bunch of kids, you know -- for a project for his school. He helped me for a while."
"Was he a trick?" I looked steadily at him. I wanted him to understand that I knew the score and didn't care. I wasn't there to judge him and neither was Dr. Finer. The thought of me, Vic Grassi, judging anyone in such matters was pretty laughable anyway.
"No! Well... no. He gave me money, Bought me stuff. But that was only after... after I was staying at his place. You know, to get away from the other. But it didn't work."
"This guy kick you out?"
"Shit, no! He never would have kicked me out! I had to leave. I ran out of... stuff. And he went down and copped for me. It wasn't right. He could have gotten arrested or been killed doing that!" He took another tissue and held it tightly. "So I went back. That's when Stan -- he was like the boss, a dealer, among other things -- Stan got hold of me again... and fucked me up. I was doing okay up until then."
"This friend... does he know what happened to you?"
"No. I don't think so. No."
"Maybe you'd like to contact him. Tell him you're all right now." I watched his face changing around, struggling with his thoughts. "He must have looked for you. He might still be searching."
"Stan said he came around, but he told him I was gone. And I was gone -- or I might as well have been. Stan decided to put me on 'a short leash' -- that's what he called it. A short leash." He laughed pointedly.
"He spiked me. I'd only -- only! -- been snorting up until then. He figured if I need to fix, then I'd need him more. But that was only at the end. That's when I knew I had to get the hell out of there. Even if it meant going back to the Pitts. Stan was keeping me under wraps because he was afraid I'd bolt! Ha! But eventually he needed money, so he sent me out. Usually to other junkies or creepos he knew wouldn't let me get away. So it was hard to steal any extra money -- or anything I could trade for money."
I shuddered, trying to picture the man who had done this -- and then the other man who had tried to help.
"R... the student -- he gave me a watch. I was able to get a little cash for it. And finally Stan let me go uptown by myself. Three guys in a hotel in midtown. One was an addict Stan knew and the other were 'tourists' -- two Limeys trying out the New York low life. I was part of the low life, I guess."
He rubbed his arms up and down, as if feeling the pain still in them. "They weren't too bad -- too wasted to be that disgusting. You know, it's the really, really sober ones that you need to be afraid of, not the drunks or burn-outs. They got wasted pretty good pretty fast. I grabbed the money and... some of their stuff. I mean the dope they left. And a cigarette lighter and a travel clock and a couple of other small things...." He looked up at me, challengingly. "I'm not proud of it -- I'm not a thief. But I had to do it. I went to the Port Authority and bought my ticket with the money from R... from my friend's watch. Then I went to the East Village where they didn't know me and got as much dope as I could get, trading the lighter and the other stuff for it. They wouldn't give me much, but it was just enough to get to Pittsburgh. So I wasn't doing too well by the time I got to Debbie's house."
"But you're doing fine now," I said, trying to put a good spin on the horrific little narrative he'd just related.
"Yeah. Fine now." He drank a little more of the juice. "He probably thinks I'm dead, now. Maybe that's just as well...."
"Your friend?" He nodded. "He could still be wondering, trying to find you. He could be frantic...."
"No melodrama, Vic, please. He's probably relieved. He should be relieved. It's been weeks and he's probably forgotten all about me."
"I seriously doubt that, honey. I think you may be seriously hard to forget." I reached over and patted his face.
"Why, Vic. Now I know the secret of your success! You are such a sweet talker. And such a sweet liar. Hard to forget -- what a line...." But then his smile faded. "Especially when my own parents haven't had any trouble forgetting me."
I felt a pull in my gut. "Brian, what was the name of your friend? You say he was a college student?"
"Yeah, but older than that. He lived in a regular apartment, not a dorm or anything. A nice place. He had a computer."
"Like a graduate student? At what university?"
"I'm not saying. I know you think it's a nice thing to try to find him and everything, but I don't want him to know where I am. I don't. He might come here and try to see me. And I don't want him to!"
"But why not? It sounds like he cares about you. About what happened to you."
"That's why," he said in a low voice. "He cared and something bad almost happened to him. He was spending his money on me. And then buying dope -- for me. Then he said... that he loved me! That's not right!" He raised his voice. "That's how it starts, Vic. Next thing, he'd be doing the dope with me -- it happens like that."
"But you're off that now. What harm would it do?"
"Don't you see? Anyone who cares about me -- who loves me -- bad things happen to them! Things I can't control! Things I can't stop! That's why my parents hate me, for sure!" He looked down at his hands, ripping up the kleenex into little pieces. "That's why I want you to keep Michael away -- I don't want his life ruined, too."
"Brian, have you ever heard the term 'Drama Queen'?"
"Well, that describes you to a tee. Yes, some nasty things happened to you and it must all seem beyond your control and everything. But, believe me, Fate or Destiny or whatever is NOT out to get you. That is being a Drama Queen. The universe doesn't turn on your problems, honey. And no one is going to be punished for caring about you, even if it might seem that way at this moment." My God, what must it like to be sixteen years old, in a place like this, thinking that you are already doomed? The poor kid. I didn't know whether to laugh at him or weep.
"You don't understand, Vic. You just don't understand."
"I know, kiddo. It seems that way. You'll just have to trust me on it."
"There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a strange boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred."
Continue on to "Lost Boys" -- Part 3" , the final section of Chapter Four.
©Gaedhal, May 2002
Send Gaedhal any comments, critiques, suggestions.
Please return to Gael McGear's Home Page .
Updated May 2, 2002