This is Part 4, the final section of Chapter 30 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Love Minus Zero -- Part 3", the previous section.
"You know, it's either this sandwich or me." He sat looking at the remnant of turkey sandwich sitting on a plate. "But I have to defeat it."
"What, are you on a food schedule?" I was rooting through the refrigerator, trying to see what food was still suitable to feed to Brian. He was sitting at the dining room table in his dark blue robe, picking at the turkey sandwich. Picking much more than eating.
"Oh. Well, you have to eat something, then. You are way too skinny."
"That's what they tell me. Now tell my stomach that."
I pulled out a plastic bag of salad. "This looks like it's still good."
He looked at the green stuff in the bag and made a disgusted face. "I think I'll pass on that. Why don't you just toss everything and we'll start from scratch."
"Maybe we could go shopping tomorrow? I'm through with classes at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesdays. I'll make up a list of what we need."
"Whatever." He took a bite out of the sandwich and chewed like it was wood on whole grain.
"Brian -- there's nothing wrong with that food."
"Then why don't you finish it?"
I walked over to the table. "YOU eat it. ALL of it. If you're good you can have that lemon square."
"You mean you actually left one for me? That was big of you."
I brought over a glass of milk for myself and a beer for Brian. I pulled up a chair next to him, as close as I could get it, and sat down.
"Do you believe how Michael totally freaked out? And Daphne thinks I have 'anger issues.'"
"With all you've been through it would be a miracle if you didn't have some anger issues."
"After Ted and I had our little 'confrontation,' she said I should see a shrink! Do you believe it?"
"Yes -- it might not be a bad idea."
"Might not be a bad idea? No way! I wouldn't be caught dead there -- Remember what happened when my mom took me the last time? Therapists are for losers."
"Then I must be a loser, because I'm seeing one." He tilted the beer bottle up and drank.
"No fucking way, Brian!"
"It's true. I go in the morning -- before the studio. It's supposed to help me get through the shoot without completely breaking down. At least in theory."
Breaking down. That phrase sent a shudder through me. "I can't believe it. How could you go?"
"I didn't have much choice. Ron goes to his shrink at the same time. You know the movie 'Annie Hall'?"
"Of course. I love Woody Allen -- especially his earlier...."
"... Films, when he was funny. Right. Remember the split-screen scene where Diane Keaton is on one side talking to her shrink about HIM, and he's on the other side talking to his shrink about HER? That's the way it feels sometimes."
"That's fucked up, Brian. Majorly fucked up!"
"A lot of things in this world are, sonny boy." He put the sandwich down and tried to push it in front of me. I pushed it back to him. We played this little push-me, pull-you with the sandwich for about a minute before he gave up and took another bite of it.
"Brian -- listen to me. I don't want you to go back there."
"Where? To the shrink? I have to go."
"No. To L.A. I don't want you to go back. Something is happening to you out there. Something bad. I don't like it."
"Shit." He reached for the lemon square and broke off a piece. "No one liked me the way I was. No one likes me the way I am now. I'm really up shit crick without the proverbial paddle, as they say in the hinterlands."
"I liked you. I liked you the way you were."
"Don't lie to me and don't lie to yourself, Justin. Of course you didn't like me the way I was. You were always after me to change. To act differently. To BE different. I think one of the reasons I left here in the first place was to see if I could change. A different place, maybe, might make a different person. Maybe that's what I had hoped the New York job would do -- but then the job didn't happen." He put another piece of the lemon square in his mouth and chewed it slowly. I watched the way his jaw rolled around and I wanted to kiss it. "But I don't seem to have any more control over what I'm becoming than I had over what I was before. Probably less. At least before I knew WHAT I was, even if it was something not very nice. But now I don't know who the fuck I am at all."
He sat there, chewing and thinking. And I watched him, not knowing quite what to say.
"Why don't you put on some music or something. This conversation-that-hangs-heavy-in-the-air is giving me indigestion."
I got up and headed for the stereo system. Then I thought of those CDs lying on top of the clothes in the leather suitcase. I went into the bedroom and squatted down next to the bag.
"What are these?" I fanned the jewel-cases out across the top of the suitcase. "Bob Dylan. Marvin Gaye. Joni Mitchell? Brian -- these can't be yours!"
"You are correct. They're Ron's."
"Oh." I felt like throwing them down. Like they would suck me in somehow.
"Those are his favorite records. He put them in there to send me a message."
"I'm not sure, but it's the only way we communicate lately."
"He has little red stars next to some of the cuts."
"Yes, those are the ones I'm supposed to pay attention to. That's his idea of a conversation."
"Well, that's more of a conversation than you usually have with anyone. That makes HIM the really talkative one."
"I'll have you know that out in La La Land I'm known as a stunning wit."
"Sure. And those are the same people who make movies starring Tom Green."
"Don't mention bad actors -- it might hit too close to home."
I picked one of the CDs out of the pile. The Dylan one. The cover was kind of cool: a hippy couple sitting in a cluttered room. I flipped it over and noted the tracks Ron had starred with his red pen. I put the CD on.
"Now I know I won't eat. Do I have to listen to the shit here, too? I wanted something to help me digest -- not something to make my stomach flip around."
"I want to hear it. I'm expanding my horizons, like you always tell me to."
The music was kind of folky. The voice was weird. Gruff, but intense. "He sounds... different."
"Dylan is an acquired taste. Just like you."
"Oh, no. I'm suitable for the masses -- or hadn't you heard?"
The words and images were so packed into the songs that it was hard to follow what they were about. Ships and birds and highways and queens and artists were all jumbled together, like bits of trash and treasures that had been carried away in the flood and collected in one place. The imagery didn't seem to make much sense on their own, but together they somehow created an impression, a picture in your mind. Like found art. Found art....
"Don't like it much, do you?"
"No, that's not it at all. My project! This is what I'm going to do! THIS is my 'found art'!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I have to do a conceptual art project using found objects and I've been having a horrible time working with the pieces I came up with. But this is IT! I'll use the images in these songs -- which I just 'found' -- and illustrate them with all the stuff I've collected. It will work perfectly."
"If you say so...."
"No! I needed a theme, a starting point, and an element to bring the concept together -- and I'll use these songs. This album."
I forwarded to the song Ron had double starred, 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit.' I knew immediately why he had sent it. It was about a lover who is not necessarily faithful, and yet is true to herself, 'like ice, like fire':
'People carry roses
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like flowers,
Valentines can't buy her'
I felt a little chill when I heard that verse, as well as 'She knows there's no success like failure, And that failure's no success at all.' I tried to picture Ron -- he just seemed a nondescript presence more than a real person -- listening to these songs, especially to this one, and frantically trying 'send a message' to Brian -- a message that the song made clear he would never pay any attention to.
'The bridge at midnight trembles,
The country doctor rambles,
Bankers' nieces seek perfection,
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing.'
I heard the rain pounding against the loft windows at that very moment. And I feel like I was being sent a message, too. The raven with the broken wing would always be beating at that window in the storm.
"Will you please take that off?"
I turned to look at him. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't kidding. I hit stop on the CD player.
"Why don't you take all those and deposit them -- somewhere else?"
"Okay." I scooped up the CDs and slipped them into my backpack.
"What are you doing with those?"
"I'm taking them. If you don't want them."
He looked at me a long time, then he stood up, pushing the chair back.
"I'm finished eating."
"But the sandwich...."
"I've had enough."
"I thought there was never such thing as enough?" I stuck my tongue in my cheek and moved it around, taunting him. But he brushed me aside, stepping up into the bedroom and kneeling down next to the suitcase.
"Since you are so hot to walk off with a souvenir -- here. I was saving these for the dinner...."
"God, you are nosy. You'll find out soon enough." He sorted through the pile of little packages in the suitcase, finally pulling one out from underneath. "Open this now."
It was a rectangular package, a little bigger than the others. It was wrapped in dark blue paper, almost the same color as the bed-sheets, but I'm sure that was a coincidence.
I tore off the wrapping. Two pieces of hard cardboard were taped together.
"Don't fucking bend the thing."
I carefully peeled off the tape and pulled the cardboard apart. Inside was a cellophane-encased cartoon drawing of Paul McCartney, his arms raised, backgrounded by a psychedelic landscape.
"This is from 'Yellow Submarine'! How did you know?"
"You only watched the fucking video every single day while you were hanging around here last year."
"No -- not THAT! McCartney! Deb and Vic took me to see his concert last month. In Cleveland. It was my first real rock concert. You should have seen Debbie and Vic crying and going crazy! But it was kind of good -- even if everyone else in the audience was about a hundred years old."
"Well, add me to the list of the aged, because Ron and I went, too. At the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But, no, I didn't know about that. Look at it again."
I held the print up and realized that it was matted at the back and was actually transparent. "It's a cell -- an animation cell!" I know my mouth was hanging open like a goon, but I couldn't help it. "Is this really from the original film?"
"If it isn't, I want my money back."
"Oh, my God! My GOD!" I knocked him back on the bed, throwing my arms around him.
"Don't crush the fucking thing!"
"It's fine. It's right here!" I held it up, over my head. Then I set it up on the table next to my side of the bed. It looked like it was glowing, the painted cell reflecting the light from the neons.
"Christ! That's why I don't like giving people things -- you could get killed."
"No, you don't like giving people things. Much." I kissed him and then kissed him again. Sometimes, just when he is the most infuriating, he comes up with something like that. It was like the Captain Astro comic book -- this was a one-in-a-million kind of gift. And for no reason. No occasion. I couldn't imagine how much it had cost.
"I don't know how I can ever repay you for all this stuff, Brian. The studio, using the loft and the Jeep. My fucking tuition. And now this...."
"You aren't supposed to 'repay' it -- you're supposed to enjoy it. What else am I going to do with my money? Give it to my mother? Or Claire and her kids? Jesus, what a thought!" He put his arms around me. "Then one day you'll have to subsidize me when I'm hideously toothless and incontinent. It's like a fag's insurance policy: get a twink indebted to you and he'll have to fucking take care of you in your old age."
"I thought that was Gus's responsibility?"
"He'll have enough to handle with Lindsay and Melanie as a couple of old crones in matching flannel-covered walkers."
"I know I owe you a lot...."
"I'm kidding. You don't owe me -- or anyone -- a fucking thing."
"No. I do." I pulled myself up against one of the pillows. "Remember how you warned me about Jay and his boyfriend?"
"The crystal twink twins. Yes, I remember."
"You were so right about them. After you... left... I kind of hooked up with them for a while."
"No! It was just because they were my friends -- I thought. And I was depressed...."
"I don't really want to hear about this." He started to get up, but a took his hand and held him back.
"Please, Brian. Hear me out."
He sighed and settled back, listening to me. Really listening for once.
"I hung out with them at Babylon, but they wanted me to go to Boytoy. So, I went. And that's when they 'introduced' me to the Crystal Gallery."
"I should have known...."
"The place was full of crystal meth freaks -- it was unreal. It was way worse than anything I've ever seen a Babylon. All young guys -- some really young. And they were all totally tweaked. Jay's friend offered me some...."
"But I kept thinking about Blake. And then I had a talk with Emmett at the mall one day just before Christmas. He told me some stuff about when he was using that shit, too. Did you know?"
"That Emmett used to be a crystal freak? Yes, I knew. Why do you think he was so down on Blake? He knew what it's like."
"But he was able to stop."
"Yes, mainly because he never had the money to afford a truly deadly habit. That shit is expensive. And Emmett was making minimum wage at the fucking Gap." Brian shook his head, as if remembering. "Plus -- he wanted to get off it. And he was able to. Some aren't so lucky."
"So, see? I felt like I dodged a bullet with those guys. You had warned me and I kept thinking about that. And I walked out of Boytoy and never went back." He squeezed my arm. "But... instead I started going to Babylon almost every night. To the backroom."
His face moved ever so slightly, his lips tightening and eyes blinking slightly.
"At first it was because I was angry. It was a giant 'fuck you' every time someone I could barely see sucked me off there. And for five minutes I felt good -- and then for the rest of the time I felt disgusted with myself. Until I went again and repeated the cycle all over again."
I paused, but he didn't say anything, so I continued.
"That's when I began to see how... someone could do this, over and over again, year after year, thinking that this was the best way -- the only way -- to relieve the pain you're feeling. To block out everything else but the moment. Never to know -- or want to know -- who you're with or what you're doing. Because then you might start to care. And then it might get painful all over again. And I saw what I might become if I kept going back there...."
"A heartless, soulless bastard who doesn't care who he fucks or who he hurts?"
"Something like that." I laughed. But then I saw that Brian wasn't laughing with me. Wasn't even smiling. He was just staring at me.
"I'm glad you couldn't be that. I would never want YOU to be that. My sterling example serves once more as a warning to all...."
"Just listen, okay? I'd think about all those things I thought I wanted before. You know -- those romantic gestures or whatever they are. Those things I thought were so important. About how Blake used to brag all the time how Ted used to bring him flowers or put out his china and candles for dinner. And I was jealous, I admit. I wanted that! That 'proof' that I was, what do you call it? An object of desire."
I paused. He was looking away and shaking his head.
"And I thought about how Dr. Dave took Michael to Paris and they did all those things like in the movies...."
"And we had to look at those fucking slides. And fucking home movies. And...."
"I know. I know... And I thought about how my dad used to give really fancy presents for Christmas and how he made a.... " I stopped and swallowed. "A big fuss over my... birthday. But, Brian -- none of that shit LASTED! None of those relationships lasted. Blake took off -- who the fuck knows where? And David didn't care enough about Michael to think about HIS feelings at moving away from everything he knew and everybody he loved. Didn't care enough to come back here to Pittsburgh... to fight for him. Convince him that he really loved him. So maybe he didn't -- not really."
I had to stop a second and wipe something out of my eyes. These allergies are a bitch at this time of year.
"And... my dad. He cared so much about me in the end that he didn't even come to see when I almost... died. Or even when I came back home from the hospital. In fact, he hasn't seen me since. So much, then, for the presents and cards and checks and all the empty words from HIM."
"And I left, too. Just to round off your quartet of assholes."
"No, Brian. You went away, but you were never GONE. You were calling me. Sending me some kind of message in that weird Brian-language that has nothing to do with speech or any way that normal people communicate. You gave me -- no, you SHARED with me -- all of this stuff. The loft. The Jeep. My computer. My studio. My tuition from school. All the things I really needed -- you made sure they were THERE when I really needed them. Maybe you didn't tie a flower to them, or tape on a card. Maybe you weren't even there, physically. But those were REAL things -- not 'symbols' or worthless displays."
I moved closer to him. As close as I could get without actually being on top of him -- yet.
"And I realized that of all those things I had -- and all those things I thought I had been missing -- the one thing I really wanted was YOU. No, don't shake me off. Listen. That's why I'm still HERE. Why I didn't run out the door earlier. Or yell and scream, like Michael. Because I realize now that everything else is meaningless without you. And that's what I'm going to have. And even YOU can't stop me from achieving my goal."
For a moment I thought he was going to get up and walk away. But then he surprised me. He laughed. Maybe it had that edge of hysteria to it -- but it was laughter. My broken-winged raven, beating away at the window in the fucking rain, laughing his broken laugh.
"We still have a couple of hours until we are due at Babylon," he said. "Let's not waste them."
And we didn't.
Continue on to Chapter 31 "Songs of Innocence" .
©Gaedhal, May 2002
Picture of Randy Harrison and Gale Harold from Showtime.
Here is the link to the lyrics to "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" from Bob Dylan's album Bringing It All Back Home.
Updated June 17, 2002