This is Part 8.
Other recent stories in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Nowhere Man -- Part 7.
Features Brian Kinney, Jack Kinney, Dr. Ravi V. Kumar, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Brian takes his father to the doctor. 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.
Wednesday, September 6, 2000:
Brian spent a long, slow Wednesday taking his father to see the new doctor. This was a specialist who had been recommended to the Kinneys by Jack's primary oncologist and Jack refused to see the man unless Brian escorted him through the initial examination, as well as the myriad of offices and treatment rooms that followed.
This specialist was an Indian gentleman, a Dr. Kumar. When Brian heard the name he feared that the old man would balk at being treated by him. Jack Kinney wasn't the most tolerant of people on his best days and he didn't know the meaning of the phrase 'politically correct.' So Brian cringed at the possible reaction of his father to someone he might dismiss offhand because of his race or nationality, no matter how able this person was, no matter how Jack might need all the help he could get, from whatever source.
But, to Brian's relief, the doctor, a tall, stately man in his forties, was the kind of no-nonsense type Jack respected. Dr. Kumar had a clipped British accent and an almost military bearing. Jack responded to this immediately. He saluted the doctor as if they had served together on some colonial campaign in some far distant time. Jack loved those old films about the British Raj and Kipling was his favorite author, so something about this very proper Anglo-Indian doctor appealed to him.
And Brian wasn't about to question it -- not at all. If his father could relate to the doctor, even on such a level of childhood fantasy, Brian was grateful. It made Brian's life a lot easier. And it made Jack much more likely to obey the doctor and follow his recommendations without complaint. Or at least not as much complaint as usual.
After the initial examination, Dr. Kumar took Brian aside and spoke to him alone. He ushered Brian into his office. It reminded Brian of Ron's office at the university. The big antique desk, the oriental carpet, the soft leather chairs, the big window letting in the morning light -- all the trappings of power and success in his field.
Brian tried to explain why his father was so recalcitrant. About the situation at home with his mother and his sister. And about Brian's own frustrations and inadequacies with his father. About their lack of communication. And about why he couldn't be there for the old man's treatments. He tried to explain his own situation a little, but he was making a muddle of it. He didn't know how personal he should get with this doctor. After all, the oncologist wasn't interested in Brian's personal life or his difficulties with his partner. That had nothing to do with his father's illness. So Brian talked around the subject. But the more he tried to talk, the more depressed he became.
"Listen, Mr. Kinney," said Dr. Kumar, stopping him. "There is only so much you can do, even as a son. YOU cannot take on his pain and his worries for him. HE must do it for himself. The patient MUST take that responsibility. You cannot do it for him, as much as you might wish to. You father must be responsible for his own attitude. He must learn to cooperate with his team of doctors -- even if it is against his usual obstinate manner."
"Right. That will be harder than ANY actual treatment," said Brian, almost to himself. "Getting him to do what he has to do."
"This is a terrible disease, Mr. Kinney, and the treatment is often painful and always unpleasant. It takes character and determination simply to get through it."
Great, thought Brian, then the old man is really screwed!
"Your father has strength, but he also must have will. The will to live. It must come from within, but it also must come from those around him. And especially from the family member closest to him. The one in whom he puts his trust. And that seems to be you."
Brian frowned. "Dr. Kumar, I think you have it wrong. My father and I have never gotten along. For years we barely even spoke to each other. He doesn't like my choices, he doesn't like my lifestyle -- he doesn't like ME. And that's simply the truth."
Dr. Kumar smiled. "I think you are mistaken, Mr. Kinney. May I call you Brian?"
"Why not, doctor? If you keep calling me 'Mr. Kinney' I think you're talking about my father."
"Then Brian -- I will repeat that you are mistaken. Patients who are faced with so grave an illness select the person closest to them to share the ordeal. To help them through it. To make it more tolerable. And, sometimes, to ease their passage beyond this life. And with a disease like this, that is always in one's mind."
"It must be in his mind. I know it's certainly in my mind."
"Well, Brian, your father has clearly selected YOU for that position in his life. And that tells me where you stand with him. YOU are the one he wants to come with him to treatments. YOU are the one he wants to be near him. Such actions speak louder than any words or disagreements you two may have had over the years."
Brian sat back in the leather chair. The doctor must be wrong. The old bastard had always hated him. Hadn't he? And Brian had always had those horrible, conflicted feelings about his father. The fear of him and his violence. That disdain for all the narrow values he held. That longing for some kind of understanding from him. It was a mess, in every way.
"I still think you're just wrong, doctor. He has a wife at home -- my mother. And my sister. They are a lot closer to him than I am. They've never been estranged from him, the way I was for years. It doesn't make sense."
"I don't think I am mistaken, Brian. I have seen it happen again and again. Faced with their mortality, the truth comes out. Their true feelings come to the fore. People who thought they were loved are rejected, and others are embraced. The patient reveals what he truly wants and what he truly needs -- and WHO he truly needs -- because there is no second chance."
"Then you're telling me that the prognosis... isn't good?" Brian swallowed and wished he had something to wash down the huge lump in his throat. Like a large shot of Jim Beam. He wished his mother hadn't poured all his father's liquor down the drain after his diagnosis, because Brian could use a stiff drink when he got back to the house.
"We do what we can, Brian. We have successes and we have failures -- sometimes at the same time. One patient may try and try and try. Another patient may completely give up. But in the end it may make no difference. It may come down to Fate. Or luck. Or God. Or science. Or whatever power you believe commands your destiny. But whatever happens, it is often beyond the control of any of us. Patients. Doctors. Loved ones. It is the disease that controls what happens -- and that must always be understood as a possibility. And you have to accept that -- HE has to accept that -- before you can proceed."
"I... I don't know if he can, doctor. I don't know if I can, either."
"Believe me," said the doctor, gently. "It will be harder for you than for your father. Speaking with him, observing him, I think he has already accepted it in his own mind. And in his own heart. Perhaps that is why he has chosen YOU to be here with him. To help him through it. And perhaps to help YOU through it, as well."
"But I'm not the one who's sick!"
"It isn't about illness. It is about your father -- and you. Perhaps you are the only one who makes him feel strong. The only one who helps him to be able to face his own mortality."
Brian took a deep breath. "I just don't know anymore. About anything. I... I've been going through some difficult things recently. This is only one of them. It's hard...." Brian stopped. He didn't really want to spill his guts to this stranger. This man wasn't a psychiatrist -- he was a surgeon. And what was wrong with Brian couldn't be so easily excised.
Dr. Kumar sent Jack on to a round of further examinations by his team. A lot of poking and prodding and drawing of blood. Brian thought that the old man would start screaming for them to cease and desist before the day was through. But, to Brian's relief, he moved from procedure to procedure submissively. It was very un-Jack-like, Brian thought. But then, neither had ever been in such a circumstance before. It was completely new territory for both of them.
Finally, they were brought around again to Dr. Kumar. Jack and Brian sat in the treatment room while the doctor explained the regimen to them. Jack would also have to return on Friday for some results and further consultations. The doctor took Brian aside to speak with him, drawing the curtain between them and the patient.
Brian promised to bring Jack on Friday -- but after that....
"I have to go back home. He already knows that. I have my job," he said to the doctor. "Classes start on Monday and I have to be there."
"And where is your work?"
"Indiana." Brian explained about the university and his position there.
"Ah, then I should have been calling you 'professor' all this time! Why didn't you instruct me?"
Brian tried a slight smile. "I'm pretty informal. Whenever anyone calls me 'professor' I look around to see who's come into the room."
Dr. Kumar laughed outright. "But you have earned that title, Brian, just as I've earned mine, through your own hard work. Accept it proudly."
Sure, thought Brian, through Ron's hard work -- as HE would say! Since I wouldn't have the job without him. And Brian began thinking that he'd better call Ron tonight. To tell him when he would be back. What time he would be leaving on Saturday to drive home.
All the while Brian was talking to the doctor he seemed to be getting some kind of vibe from him. But he wasn't certain. It didn't seem a sexual interest. Brian usually caught on to THAT immediately. Guys who were interested in him usually made no bones about it right from the start. And the doctor didn't SEEM gay. Maybe it was just a cultural difference that Brian was picking up. A different aura or something. But everything was so turned around in his mind that Brian couldn't be certain of anything anymore, even a hint of desire. So he was caught unprepared when Dr. Kumar asked him out to dinner that night.
"Um, I don't know," said Brian, completely flustered. "I already promised my mother that I would eat dinner with my parents tonight. I went out with an old friend last night and my mother was rather put out, so I really have to eat with them."
Brian realized that he was scrambling around, trying to get his thoughts together. And also trying to figure out whether he wanted to go out with this man who, although his father's doctor, was still a stranger to him. "Besides, I'm only in town until Saturday," Brian added lamely.
But Dr. Kumar was persistent. "I understand that you are only visiting Pittsburgh for now, Brian. But we might get to know each other a little better. Perhaps Friday night, then? If you are free?"
"Look, Dr. Kumar -- can I get back to you? Things are a bit hectic right now."
"Certainly. But perhaps a break from your hectic schedule is just what you need. That and a good meal." The doctor raised an eyebrow. "You are much too thin, you know."
"So I've been told," said Brian, biting his lip.
"Dinner would be the perfect medicine for that."
"You mean, just what the doctor ordered?" And Brian smiled for practically the first time that day.
"If you wish." And Dr. Kumar smiled back at him.
He IS good-looking, Brian thought. But my gaydar must really be off not to have sensed something stronger from this man if he's so interested in me. Or else I'm just not thinking of THAT right now.
And the doctor wrote some things on his pad and handed them to Brian. "Here are the prescriptions for your father's medication." Brian took the papers and put them into his jacket pocket.
Then the doctor scribbled something else. "And here is my prescription for YOU. I'm looking forward to your call."
"Tell me, Doc," said Brian, folding the slip of paper with the doctor's phone number on it. "Do you pick up the sons of ALL your patients? Not to be cynical or anything."
"Never before," Dr. Kumar replied. "And you can be assured of that."
"I believe you," replied Brian, unsure of what else to say.
"Until I hear from you," he said. And Dr. Kumar walked out.
Brian realized then that he didn't even know the doctor's first name. He looked at the slip of paper. Dr. R. V. Kumar. Well, that didn't tell Brian a thing. R. V. He didn't look like he had anything to do with recreational vehicles, so that was a dead end. Brian shoved the paper into his pocket.
Brian pushed the curtain open. The old man was sitting there, staring into space. He'd never remembered him being so quiet. He got his father's jacket and helped him on with it.
"So -- are you going?" Pop said, standing up slowly
"Where?" Brian said, absently.
"Out with the doctor, where else? Are you going?"
Brian started. "Jeez, isn't anything private anymore? I can't believe you were eavesdropping. And since when are you interested in my personal life? Or even admit that I HAVE a personal life?"
Jack wheezed out a laugh. "Hey, when you've got nothing to do all day but sit and listen and think, you actually start to figure a few things out. And work out some stuff in your own mind." The old man cocked his head. "So, are you going?"
Brian stared at his father in disbelief. "You act like you really want me to go!"
"Why not? He might be nicer to ME if you're nice to HIM. You know -- tit for tat. Or whatever you guys do." Jack Kinney was a realist. If he could turn his son's attractiveness to his advantage, why not? What did Jack have to lose at this point in his life? Not a damn thing.
"I don't believe you, Pop!" said Brian, feeling a little sick. Talking to his father about his sex life was not something Brian wanted on his agenda. "You want me to do this guy so he'll give YOU better care? I don't think it works that way."
"It couldn't hurt, Brian," the old man replied, calmly. "He's kind of nice looking -- I guess. And he's successful. He's head of Oncology here and that's something. And he's interesting. Heck -- maybe I should go out with him!"
"Very funny, Pop," said Brian, shaking his head. "The problem is -- I'm supposed to be married, remember? You were at the ceremony."
"So what? It never stopped me," Jack confided. "Besides, your mother has a big mouth. I know what's going on between you and that guy. Ron. Screw him. Go out and have some fun."
"Pop, this is a little too complicated. I mean, with me and Ron...."
"Hey! Don't let that guy walk all over you, Brian. I mean it. You don't owe him anything! You may THINK you do, but you don't."
"If anything, he owes YOU something. He's not such a prize. He may THINK he is, but he's not. You can do better. A LOT better."
"I can't believe we're having this conversation," said Brian, rubbing his forehead. "Man, this is like my worst nightmare come true."
Brian took his father's elbow and led him through the hallway to the elevator. Brian punched in the button for the lobby.
"Why is it a nightmare? Because I'm telling you to step out a little? To have some fun in your life? What's so wrong about that?"
"No, Pop! Because we are actually talking about... about THIS!" Brian paused and looked down at his shoes, waiting for the elevator door to open. "And because I'm actually considering taking advice on my relationship from YOU!"
They stepped into the elevator and rode it down to the lobby. Brian stood there next to his father, still shaking his head.
"Hey, I've been married a long, long time, Sonny Boy," Jack advised. "Maybe I didn't do such a good job with my chances in life. I've screwed up, but GOOD."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"Maybe I was never meant to be a family man. But you didn't have a choice back then. You got married -- sometimes in a real hurry, if you know what I mean -- you had kids, you worked. You didn't THINK about it. You just did it. That's what was expected."
"And YOU always do what's expected, Pop?"
"If you don't know any better, you do. If you think you've got no choice, you do." The old man nodded to himself. "And what if the person you get chained up to turns out to be a cold and emotionless bitch? Someone who, in the end, doesn't really give a shit. Someone who is only interested in appearances and keeping up a good front. Then you are really screwed. It's over -- and you've got a goddamn life sentence ahead of you."
"What about love, Pop?" said Brian, staring directly in front of him and not looking at his father. "What about being happy? Ever think about THAT?"
Jack shrugged. "Love? What does that mean? Not much, after all. It hasn't done YOU much good, has it? All that sitting around, being a good little wife. That's shit, Brian! Be a goddamn man!"
"And that's what being a man means, huh? Fucking around?" Brian was disgusted.
"No, Brian! It means being free. Not letting anyone chain you up and keep you in that jail. Keep you until you're too old and sick to bother even trying to fight it anymore."
"You mean like 'The Warden'?" Said Brian, using the old man's nickname for his wife.
"And is that what Ron is doing -- just getting free of the nasty Warden so he can do what he wants?"
"No, Brian -- HE'S the goddamn Warden! He's the one who has you in a corner, afraid to move, while he does what he pleases. He's the one with the key. Except now you've got a chance to escape. The door is open, kid. Finally."
"The Voice of Experience speaks!" said Brian, sarcastically.
"You could do worse than listen to MY voice of experience, Brian. What good are all my years of collected knowledge if I can't pass that knowledge down to my only son?"
"You mean expert advice on how to cheat on my partner? Is that the kind of thing you mean, Pop?"
Jack snorted. "Hey, Brian -- HE didn't seem to need advice from anyone to figure out how to cheat on YOU. Believe me, what goes around, comes around. And it's HIS turn!"
They walked out of the medical center to the Volvo. Brian put his father into the car and strapped on his seatbelt. "You'll have me in a carseat next, like a two-year-old," Jack grumbled.
"I'm not going to get pulled over by one of your cop friends, like Carl Horvath, and get a ticket just because YOU won't wear the goddamn seatbelt!"
"All right! All right! Don't beat me up about it!"
Brian got in and revved up the old Volvo.
"And when are you going to get something better than THIS piece of shit, Sonny Boy? What's wrong with a Chevy or something? Or anything new?"
"I can't afford a new car right now, Pop," said Brian, pulling out into traffic and heading for home.
"And that's another thing. I bet that bastard is riding around in a new car. Am I right?"
"He makes more money than I do."
"So what? Does he want this thing to break down with a sick old man in it? Tell him THAT next time you see him. IF you see ever him again."
Brian glanced at the old man. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just what I said. I mean, IF you decide to go back."
Brian sighed heavily. "I've got to go back to Indiana. Where else am I going to go, Pop? I live there. My job is there. What can I do?"
"You could always live here. In your old room." The old man almost sounded like he was hoping Brian would do it. "You could get a job in Pittsburgh. A smart boy like you, you could do anything. You don't have to take some shit job just because Ron fixes you up with it!"
"It's not a shit job! I like teaching. I'm good at it. It's all the other crap that gets me down."
"Well, there are plenty of schools in Pittsburgh. Why not one of those?"
"You just don't understand, Pop."
"I understand more than you think, Sonny Boy. MUCH more than you think." The old man looked at his son with watery eyes. "Don't waste your goddamn life like I did. Don't get hustled into something that you'll be stuck in your entire life. Don't throw away your youth being miserable because you don't have the guts to break free and live your own life. Don't end up a bitter old drunk who's a bastard to everyone because of it."
"In other words -- don't end up like you?"
"I mean exactly that. And I'm not kidding, Brian. I'm not a smart guy. I never was. I've got a line of bull that's served me pretty well throughout my life, but it doesn't count for shit when you're facing what I'm facing. I don't have much to leave you -- unfortunately. My philosophy was that if I couldn't take it with me, then I should spend it while I could!"
"I'm not asking you for anything, Pop. Do I look like I've been hanging around, waiting for my big inheritance?"
"Good thing, because there isn't any," Jack guffawed. "I don't have much to offer you, Brian -- except what I know. And what you've already got -- good looks, your health, and a brain inside that thick Mick head. But you don't need much more than THAT to get along. Just don't throw it away! I'm telling you, Sonny Boy."
"I know. Pop. It's just... a hard thing to do. I mean, I've never been on my own in my life! Ever. Not even... in New York. There was always ... someone telling me what to do. How to be. It's been Ron for twelve years! I scarcely remember what I was like BEFORE I met him. And I can't picture what my life is supposed to be like if I really leave him." Brian's mouth felt dry. "It's just a little late for me to start over now from scratch."
The old man was quiet for a few minutes before he spoke again. "What are you, Sonny Boy? Twenty-eight?"
"Twenty-nine last April."
"You're a goddamn kid!" Jack was almost shouting. "Just a kid, I tell you! To think that your future is set in stone at your age is ridiculous, Brian. Don't be a patsy all your life."
Brian wished that he could just drop off the old man and go back to his room and hide in the dark. Maybe that would make the pain in his head and his heart go away. But what would make his father's pain go away? Nothing that he could think of. Nothing.
Brian seriously considered stopping at the nearest bar -- gay, straight, or indifferent -- and getting both of them as drunk as they dared to. The old man would probably love it -- and Brian could block out the world for a few hours. It might be a way to manage the pain they both were feeling.
But he didn't. Instead, Brian drove the two of them back to the house and sat down to eat one of his mother's tasteless meals. Some kind of chicken that seemed to have been boiled down to a mush, along with some unidentifiable vegetables that might once have been green, but were now a shade of off-gray.
And Brian sat and endured both of his parents watching him, expectantly. If they thought he was going to make any kind of revelation there at the dinner table they were mistaken. If they thought he'd made any kind of decision about Ron and his future, they were wrong. And why would they imagine that Brian had suddenly decided to confide in them NOW? At the Kinney dinner table? In the house that had always sucked the air out of ANY serious conversation he'd ever attempted to have with his mother and father?
The truth was that Brian didn't have a clue what he was going to do.
Except to go home. To Ron. He had no other option. No other possibilities. He couldn't move back in with his parents and pretend he was sixteen years old again. And he couldn't really impose on Ben Bruckner, as much as Ben had encouraged him to. No, moving in with Ben would be tantamount to accepting a relationship with him. There was no other alternative there. And Brian wasn't ready for that at all. It would just be exchanging one intense, successful, and powerful partner for another.
And then there was the sex aspect. That was throwing him, as well. With Ben it was easy for Brian to rationalize avoiding sex because he was wary of Ben's HIV positive status. That at least gave him a reason to pull away from any involvement with his friend gracefully. Even Ben was understanding about it. Or seemed to be.
But the doctor. Would Brian be expected to fuck him after dinner? Was THAT the usual? He guessed so. Brian's gay etiquette knowledge was sorely lacking in the dating area. He realized that he didn't have very much experience of actual dating. Fucking he had down. It was the lead up to it that he was uncertain of. It had never been necessary to think about that too much with Ron. The preliminaries had always been pretty straightforward. And Ron had never seen any reason to 'romance' a teenage hustler who basically walked into his apartment and climbed into his bed. It was a done deal from the first day.
And the guys Brian had been with in college were of the drunken party fuck variety, not the dating variety. Only a couple of them had actually asked Brian out to dinner or to a film, and even then it had been awkward. After all, Brian wasn't some girl who needed to be gotten drunk to give it up. He was a queer and if he wanted to do it, he did it. IF he wanted to. Brian tried to remember the last guy he'd actually been to bed with other than Ron. It must have been Adam, in his first year of graduate school, when he was twenty-two. Seven years before. Not long after that Ron had returned from his stint in England and they'd been together constantly since then. No wonder Brian was feeling apprehensive.
Maybe he and Dr. Kumar might really hit it off and they could run off to India together. That would be exciting. And unexpected. And it would solve all his problems. But Brian didn't have a lot of luck with running away. The last time he'd done it -- at sixteen -- had been a nightmare. Besides, without Dr. Kumar who would oversee his father's treatments? No, that wasn't an option, either.
Brian sat and ate his mother's indifferent dessert -- jello, just plain jello, not even in a mold or with a crummy piece of fruit in it, like a cafeteria would serve it! And then he said goodnight to his parents. Brian headed back to the motel, a long, desperate, lonely night ahead of him.
Continue on to "Nowhere Man -- Part 9.
©Gaedhal, November 2002
Posted November 1, 2002