This is Part 6.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 5.
Features Brian Kinney, Ron Rosenblum, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian arrives at his parents' house in Pittsburgh. September 2000.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
Tuesday, September 5, 2000, continued:
The drive across Indiana and Ohio seemed endless.
The landscape was hot and dusty and flat and boring. Brian had a rotten night's sleep, so keeping himself awake was difficult at some points. He got out of the car and walked around, took a piss, had something to eat, turned on the radio, turned off the radio, rolled down the window to let fresh air blow on him, rolled up the window and turned on the air conditioning to blow cold air on him -- Brian tried every trick he could think of not to fall asleep.
And then there were the panic attacks. He felt one coming on, his hands shaky and his heart hammering, just after he crossed into Ohio. He pulled over at the next exit and pondered whether to take a Xanax. But he was afraid to take one and then try to drive. Brian was already tired and with the drug he'd be floating. Then he'd definitely run off the road -- or into a semi. And, as horrible as Brian felt, he didn't feel ready for that conclusion. No, that would be the final fucking irony.
It was mid-afternoon when Brian finally crossed from Ohio into Pennsylvania. He stopped at a rest area and called his mother on his cellphone. He'd had it turned off during the long drive, unable to face having to take calls from Ron at twenty minute intervals.
"WHERE are you, Brian?" Joan Kinney's voice cut through her son like a razor. "What is taking you so long to get here? I thought you were planning on getting an early start?"
"Some things came up. I'm getting close to Pittsburgh now, Mother, but I wanted to let you know that I'm going straight to the motel. Then I'll call the house after I check in there."
"I don't know why you don't want to stay here at the house, Brian. Your room is all ready for you."
"I told you, Mother, I don't want to disturb you and Pop. I'll feel better if I'm at a motel and out of your hair."
"You're NOT in our hair, Brian! You're the perfect guest. I don't know why you feel you are in the way, dear."
Jeez, Brian sighed. The less time I have to spend in that house, the better for my own state of mind. Especially right now. "I have some work to do, Mother. I've brought my computer and I'll be working late at night on my article. So I don't want to disturb you, either. It will just be better for all concerned." So, don't push it, Mother, Brian thought. Please don't push it.
"All right, dear. Just be sure to call me the minute you get to that motel."
"Oh -- Brian?"
"What?" Jeez, what ELSE?
"Ron has called here three times already wanting to know when you were getting in. He must know when you left, so why is calling all these times? He says that you aren't answering your phone in the car. And every time I say that you haven't arrived yet he gets more agitated."
Wonderful. Just great. He could feel that anxiety creeping up again at the mention of Ron's name.
"What is going on, Brian? Is there something wrong?"
"Nothing, Mother." This was the last thing he wanted to get into with his mother while standing by the side of the highway on a boiling hot day.
"Don't tell me it's nothing, Brian. What's the matter? And Ron didn't seem to know that you weren't staying here at the house. When I told him you were going to a motel he seemed to get even more upset!"
"Mother, what do you care? You don't even like Ron!"
"What are you talking about, Brian? Who said I don't like Ronnie?" Joan Kinney sounded truly puzzled. "Brian, what is going on? Tell me."
"Mother, I'll talk to you about this when I get into town."
Brian closed the phone and got back into the car. Part of him wanted to turn around and drive away from Pittsburgh as fast as he could. Unfortunately, he couldn't think of where else he would drive to. So he continued on into the Pitts.
Brian knew that he was going to have to steel himself for the next few days. His father, Jack, had been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier in the summer and was, without a doubt, the world's worst patient. Jack had been coughing and complaining for months, but since he smoked like the proverbial chimney, he ignored the symptoms until he was rushed to the Emergency Room, gasping for breath. At first the doctors had thought that it was pneumonia, but further tests revealed the cancer.
Since that day in late June, Brian had been to Pittsburgh more times than he'd been there in the previous five years. His mother was constantly calling him with some new crisis. Jack wouldn't quit smoking. Jack didn't want radiation treatments. Jack didn't like his new doctor. Jack went on a bender and got picked up by the cops for driving under the influence. Luckily, Jack was friends with a lot of policemen and one of them, Carl Horvath, got him out of the slammer with a minimum of fuss -- as long as he wasn't permitted to drive anymore. Which caused yet another crisis, as Jack threw a major tantrum every time he was denied the car keys.
Strangely enough, the only person Jack Kinney seemed to tolerate during his illness was his faggot son. How ironic, thought Brian. Maybe it was Pop's final attempt at male bonding. Brian might be a detestable sissy, but the cold and distant Joan -- the Warden -- and his whiny, weepy daughter, Claire, both grated on Jack's raw nerves.
Brian, on the other hand, was calm and soft-spoken, business-like with the nurses and intelligent with the doctors. Jack Kinney would never admit it, but his son impressed him. He felt secure when Brian was dealing with things. Brian knew what questions to ask, when to push for information and when to step back. And the doctors took him seriously, unlike the impatient, dismissive way they dealt with Joanie. So when Jack was due to see a new specialist, Jack refused unless Brian went with him. Unless Brian talked to the man. Assessed him. Okayed him. No one else but Brian would do.
Brian checked into a motel not far from his old neighborhood. The last time he had stayed at the Kinney homestead Brian almost went out of his mind. His mother couldn't stop snooping in his suitcase and eavesdropping on his phone conversations with Ron. Joanie seemed to want to know everything that was going on in Brian's life. The greatest irony of this, of course, was that for years she had absolutely no interest in Brian or his life. Quite the contrary. Joan Kinney didn't WANT to know anything about her son's repulsive lifestyle -- or about the man who had corrupted him. When she did talk to Brian it was to give him lectures on sin and redemption. Now, however, she couldn't seem to get enough details about their house, their jobs, their travels -- Brian felt like giving her the address of the nearest PFLAG organization and telling her to go and indulge herself there.
So on this visit Brian wanted to avoid all her meddling and reserve a little space for himself. That's what he'd tried to tell his mother on the phone, but she just couldn't understand. At least, Brian thought, at the motel he could get a good night's sleep -- especially after the dramas and traumas of the last twenty-four hours.
After he got settled at the motel, Brian drove over to the house. He wanted to appease his mother and see for himself how his old man was doing. Pop's appointment was early in the morning and would be followed by another battery of tests and consultations that would last most of the day. Brian was anxious to talk to this new specialist and get a feel for the man. He also wanted a real evaluation of the old man's condition, as well as his chances for a full recovery. Brian was apprehensive, but he also appreciated an honest opinion -- and he thought his father would appreciate one, too. Both men were tired of Joan Kinney's religious declarations and Claire's doom-and-gloom attitude. A little dose of reality by a straight-shooting doctor would be relished.
One look at his father told Brian that this wouldn't be easy. Jack Kinney looked terrible. He'd lost weight and had a haggard, hollowed-eyed expression. He was nervous at being stuck in the house and could barely sit still in his easy chair. Brian couldn't really blame Pop when he thought of his mother and sister hovering. Brian also knew that whatever was the result of this new treatment by this new doctor, it wouldn't be pleasant for the old man.
And Brian felt sorry for him. He was an old bastard and a drunk who'd been rotten to him as a kid and had beaten him up, eventually badly enough to cause him to flee the house and get into even worse trouble. But it had all turned out all right, thought Brian, thanks to....
Brian stopped. Thanks to Ron. That's NOT what he wanted to be thinking of -- HIS debt to Ron. For anything. Especially right now. But maybe some good HAD come out of a bad situation. Maybe it WAS Fate that led him to meet Ron and maybe even Pop had his part in it. Brian tried to imagine what his life would have been like if he'd stayed in Pittsburgh, but he couldn't. He couldn't even bring the person he might have been to mind. He tried to -- but then decided that it would be someone he wouldn't like very much. Maybe even someone like his old man. And that made Brian shudder.
"Brian," said his mother, taking him aside after he'd exchanged a few pleasantries about the Steelers with his father. "Ron called again after I talked to you on the phone. He said that you had left him. Is that true, Brian? What is going on? Will you tell me, please?"
"Ron is being melodramatic -- as usual."
"Then why would Ronnie say that if it wasn't true? What happened? Did you two have a fight?"
"You might say that." Brian went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, looking for something cold. He pulled out a Steeltown beer. Crummy pisswater! Not his first choice, but it would have to do.
"He was very upset, Brian." Joanie pulled out a bag of chips and offered them to Brian, but he shook his head. "I think you should call him, dear."
Leave it to Joan Kinney to try to play fix up with other people's relationships when she never had a clue how to fix her own marriage, thought Brian. Except maybe to pray it back into shape. Which obviously hadn't worked. "I'm not calling him, Mother. I need NOT to talk to him right now. And it's best if YOU don't try to act as mediator in this." Brian sat down heavily on a kitchen chair and set his beer on the table.
"Why not?" Joanie stood next to him. She was a tall, strong-looking woman, Brian thought. So why was she never this strong or insistent when he had needed her as a kid? Why now, when he didn't need -- or want -- her interference? "I think you are making a big mistake, Brian. What do you think you're doing, not talking to Ronnie? What's the matter with you?"
"What do you care, Mother? Since when are you so concerned about my relationship with Ron? Why is it so important all of a sudden that I talk to him? And since when are YOU his big ally?"
"Brian, Ron and I get along very well. Whenever I call you, if he answers we always have a nice chat."
"Mother, I thought Ron was the devil incarnate who made me into a pervert and all that shit?"
"Give me a break, will you?" Brian drank down the beer and wished it were something a lot stronger.
"Brian -- I'm just concerned about you! You are obviously as upset about this as Ronnie is. Yes, I admit that in the beginning I wasn't too happy about all this 'gay' stuff, or about your relationship with some man we didn't know. And you were so young -- I felt it was just a phase that you were going through."
"It wasn't a phase, Mother. I've know I was gay since I was old enough to know the difference between male and female, believe me."
"I understand that now, dear. But I didn't before. I didn't understand ANY of it! But Ron has always been such a good influence. He's taken good care of you all these years. He's so successful -- and a good provider...."
"Jeez, Mother! 'A good provider'? You make him sound like the father on 'Leave It to Beaver'! You'll have me waxing the floor wearing pearls like June Cleaver next!"
"Brian, can't you be serious for two seconds?" Joan was getting impatient with her son's evasions. "This is a serious matter, dear."
"And this crap about Ron being a 'good provider'? What about MY job, Mother? Don't I work my tail off, too? I can damn well provide for myself. I'm not some child-bride who can't walk across the street without someone holding my hand! Jeez."
"Brian, I never thought you were like that. You've always been so independent. Always had you own ideas about things -- especially things that I didn't understand...."
"I'm sorry -- but it's so frustrating. So damn frustrating. Everyone thinks they know what is going on in your life -- but they don't know a thing! And it isn't worth analyzing, anyway. It's just not worth it."
"Brian, dear -- this IS important! This is about your life! If there's something I can do to help the two of you...."
"Like what? Like telling Ron to stop screwing around?" Brian rubbed his forehead. He was getting a gigantic headache from this conversation. "Next time he calls, give him THAT bit of helpful advice."
"Brian! I can't believe he would do that. I just don't believe it! He's so devoted to you."
"Yeah, Ron is so devoted to me. That's why he's fooling around -- and not for the first time, either, Mother."
"I... I just can't believe it. You've always had such a good relationship. So steady." His mother sat down at the table and peered at Brian closely. "And what was it that YOU did, Brian? You must have done YOUR part to hurt HIM in some way?"
"Right, I MUST have done something. It must be ALL my fault, right? Like it was my fault when Pop used to beat the crap out of me. So, it follows that if Ron is cheating on me, THAT must be my fault, too." Brian looked directly at his mother. "Do you want to know what I did, Mother? I guess I was too much of a doormat. I did exactly what I was told to do -- and there's nothing like someone who does everything you want them to and who is afraid to cross you to make a guy feel like he can walk ALL over you. And don't I have two perfect examples of that in my own family? You, Mother, you AND my sister, too. You and Pop -- the perfect dysfunctional marriage. And Claire, with that Neanderthal husband of hers, she's a real poster-girl for a healthy relationship. And now with me, that makes it a perfect three for three in the Kinney Family."
"I don't want to hear anymore. Really." Brian finished his beer and stood up, tossing the bottle into the trash can. "I'll be by tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. to pick up Pop. I don't know what time they'll be finished with him. This may last all day."
Joanie stood, too. "And Friday. He has another appointment on Friday with the other oncologist."
"Right. Friday. But I can't stay much longer than that. I have classes beginning on Monday."
"I know, dear -- and I appreciate you coming here this week. I hope that wasn't what the argument with Ron was all about."
"I already told you, Mother. It was about... just never mind."
"Why don't you stay for dinner? We're having roast pork."
Brian turned up his nose. That was his old man's favorite. Irish Turkey, he called it. Joan Kinney's dinners embodied the cliche of bad Irish food. Everything was either fried to a crisp or boiled to a gray mush. But Brian, having grown up eating Lilith Rosenblum's excellent cooking, still couldn't stomach his mother's tasteless meals. And especially pork. He'd spent too many years at the Rosenblums' Kosher table to feel comfortable digging into THAT. Jeez, thought Brian, I really don't belong in this family. As if I ever did. So what AM I doing here? Discharging my obligation to my dying father? Is that all it is? Brian just didn't know.
"I'm having dinner with my friend from Carnegie Mellon, Mother." He saw the disappointment on her face. "But I'll eat here tomorrow. After I bring Pop home from his appointments. Okay?"
"All right, dear." She kissed his cheek. Brushed it, actually. Her lips always felt very dry and cool. So unlike the way Lilith kissed him, with her whole face -- her whole body -- always on both cheeks AND the mouth.
Brian tapped the old man on the shoulder before he left. Jack was still sitting in his customary chair, watching some game on TV, as usual. "I'll see you tomorrow, Pop."
"Right, Sonny Boy. Tomorrow."
And Brian once again escaped from the house the way he always did -- as if something, or someone, was chasing him.
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 7.
©Gaedhal, October 2002
Posted October 24, 2002