This is Page 2 of Part 2 of Chapter 120 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to Page 1 of "Shooting Star -- Part 2".
Brian and I stand in the back of Temple Beth El on Sunday morning, greeting people as they enter for Ron's memorial service. I don't know even a fraction of the people in the crowd, but Brian seems to recognize most of them. Brian is clutching my hand and his dark glasses shield his eyes from the prying gazes of the crowd. He's wearing one of his Armani suits, dark blue, with a gold silk tie. Brian refused to wear black today. He's beautifully dressed, as always, but he still looks disheveled and ragged. All the stress he's under, his trip to the police station, and his 'night out' last night are all taking their toll on him.
Brian didn't wander home until almost 4:00 a.m. -- completely wasted. He's lucky he didn't kill himself on those winding canyon roads in the driving rain. I wanted to scream at him when he came in! I wanted to kick his ass so fucking hard! But I didn't. I just undressed him and put him to bed. Because Brian is already doing a good job of beating himself up. Punishing himself -- and he can do a much better job of doing that than I ever could. And now having to face all of the Hollywood elite, not to mention Ron's mother and family, while he's hungover seems retribution enough.
Jimmy and Tess stand a little over to the side of us at the entrance of the synagogue. Jimmy is holding court, shaking hands and schmoozing with everyone who comes in, so it's back to business as usual with Jimmy Hardy. Tess just looks grim.
Ron's mother, Mrs. Lilith Rosenblum, with his sisters and their husbands and kids, enter. They are staying at the Beverly Palms Hotel because there's not enough room at the house. Howie Sheldon arranged for their suites and a limo to ferry them around while they're in Los Angeles. Yes, Howie thinks of everything. Mrs. Rosenblum clings to Brian, crying so hard I'm afraid she's going to lose it completely. It's obvious that she loves Brian and doesn't blame Brian for what happened to Ron. But Ron's sisters, Debra and Wendy, just stare at him skeptically. Unlike Mrs. Rosenblum, who came out to California a number of times while Brian was living with Ron, the sisters have never met Brian before. One of the husbands seems openly hostile, but Mrs. Rosenblum wipes her eyes and gives the guy a sharp look after he makes some rude comment under his breath.
"Brian," says Mrs. Rosenblum, so that everyone in the back of the synagogue can clearly hear her words. "I know that you did all that you could do for Ronnie. Don't listen to anyone else or what they have to say on the subject. I knew Ronald better than anyone, and I know how... how troubled he was. But Ronnie WAS happy for a little while... with you. For that short time in New York and again when you first came out to California, that was the only time he was ever really happy. He told me so! I'm only sorry that things didn't work out between the two of you. It... it just wasn't meant to be. But I hope everything works out for you in the future, sweetheart."
Lilith Rosenblum kisses Brian and then she pats my hand and kisses me, too. Brian seems moved by what Mrs. Rosenblum says. I can see that he cares about Ron's mother. She's the type of lady that Brian should have had for his own mother -- she really cares about him, unlike that bitch, Joanie Kinney. Then Mrs. Rosenblum and the rest of the family go over to speak to Jimmy and Tess. It's starting to get very crowded now as more people arrive for the memorial service, which is scheduled to last about an hour. Then a smaller group will go to the cemetery for the actual burial. I'm not looking forward to that at all.
Freddy Weinstein and his scary wife, Dolly, enter and walk right past us, noses in the air. They pointedly look the other way before they go into the temple. They don't even stop to acknowledge Jimmy and Tess. Diane's old boyfriend, Jerry Baxter, and his wife also snub Brian. And they aren't the only ones who pretend that Brian doesn't exist. It seems that people in the movie business are already choosing sides, pro-Brian and anti-Brian, with Jimmy and Tess and Diane leading the pro contingent, while Freddy Weinstein and Jerry Baxter head the antis. "Who the fuck cares what those assholes think?" rasps Brian, his throat sounding raw and dry.
"Right," I add. "Who the fuck?" I hold tighter to Brian's hand.
Howie Sheldon sidles up to Brian. He's being his usual arrogant self. Howie looks every inch the sleek studio executive, wearing his two thousand dollar Versace suit, shiny, manicured, and perfectly turned out. His long-time lover, William, is waiting, again as always, at a respectful distance. God forbid that someone might see them together at Ron's funeral! They've only been living together for 10 fucking years. Howie is such a hypocrite!
Carmel and Maria come in, wailing and weeping. They hug Brian. They hug me. They even hug Howie. Carmel is dabbing at her eyes and moaning, "Poor Mr. Ron! Poor, poor Mr. Ron!"
Brian sniffs and clears his throat a couple of times as the two women go inside to a find a seat in the rapidly filling temple. "Christ, they didn't care that much when they were working for Ron. Now Carmel is making such a fucking fuss you'd think that she was the bereaved widow."
"No, Brian," says Howie out of the side of his mouth. "Playing the 'grieving widow' is YOUR role. So make sure you do it correctly. Which means STOP holding hands with the kid. At least TRY to look like you're all busted up over this. It'll help your image."
"Fuck YOU, Howie," Brian retorts quietly. "How I show my emotions in public is no one's business but my own. How I fucking grieve in public is no one's business, either -- especially yours!" Brian takes a tighter hold on my hand. "And I'm not going to hide Justin just because YOU tell me to! As if our relationship isn't already public knowledge. He's my partner and I need him here if I'm going to get through this ordeal in one fucking piece!"
"And if you think I'm going to slink off in some corner and leave Brian alone with all these asskissers, then you don't know me at all," I add, glaring at Howie Sheldon.
But Howie only shrugs. "Just hope that this is Ron's funeral -- and not the funeral for your career, too, Brian," says Howie coldly. "And take off those sunglasses! Don't let everyone here think that you've been on a bender -- even if you have!"
"Excuse ME," Brian replies sarcastically. He takes off his dark glasses and slips them into the pocket of his suit.
"I thought you'd like to know something else, Brian," Howie says.
"What now?" sighs Brian, looking up with red, bleary eyes.
"The Medical Examiner has returned his report to the police and I've seen a copy of it." Howie smiles. He seems so self-satisfied. Brian is right -- Howie must have made a deal with the cops. "Ron's death has been officially ruled an accidental overdose. He took too many pain pills that had been prescribed for his bad back."
"Bad back?" says Brian, incredulously. "Is that what that fucking Dr. Hall said? That Ron had a bad back? That he gave Ron drugs for that? Because that's a goddamn lie, Howie! Ron did NOT have a bad back! There was nothing wrong with his back! And I ought to know!"
Howie glares at him. "Just shut up, Brian. This is the best way -- for both you AND Ron. That's the story, so just let it go." Howie pauses. "You know what you have to do, Brian? Don't you? Answer me!"
"Yes," says Brian, slumping slightly. "I know what I have to do."
"Good. I'll see you after the service." And Howie walks away, William trailing after him like a kicked dog.
"Brian, what did Howie mean?" I ask. "What the fuck does that mean -- 'you know what you have to do'? What is he talking about?"
"Nothing, Justin." Brian sniffs again. His nose is running slightly. He takes out a white linen handkerchief and dabs at it. "It has nothing to do with you, so just leave it."
"Anything that has to do with you concerns me! How many times do I have to tell you that?"
"We'll talk about it later, Sunshine." And Brian shuts down again. A few minutes later it's almost time for the service to begin. Just before we go in to sit down Brian suddenly turns and heads for the men's room and locks the door behind him. I knock on it, but he won't open the door.
"Where's Brian?" asks Tess. "The service is about to start!"
"He's fucking locked himself in the toilet!"
"Brian! Come out! NOW!" says Tess, rattling the doorknob.
"Just a fucking minute!" Brian's voice comes through the door. And then it opens. When he comes out I know immediately that he's taken something. I don't know what, but I can guess. What can I say to him right now? The memorial service is ready to begin! Brian and his fucking Pain Management!
I grab Brian's elbow and Tess takes his arm on the other side. Diane and Angie are already sitting in the second row, so we slide in beside them. Jimmy, who is giving the eulogy, sits on the end. Mrs. Rosenblum and the family are directly in front of us. She turns around and smiles at Brian, but I see the sisters frowning. Everyone in the whole place is looking at us. Seeing what's going to happen. Waiting for Brian to freak out or break down or something. But he just sits, sniffing, his eyes all hazy.
The memorial service proceeds, with all sorts of tributes to Ron. Poor Mrs. Rosenblum cries and cries. It seems that Ron had a lot of 'friends' in Hollywood -- too bad that none of them were there when he really needed them. Too bad Ron spent all those years by himself, brooding and living in the past. I wonder where all these agents and producers and actors and hangers-on were then?
Finally, Jimmy gets up to give the eulogy. 'The Most Powerful Actor in Hollywood' -- I guess Ron would like that. It means that he's a true success at last. I think that Jimmy has taken a tranquilizer or maybe some of Ron's Xanax, because he's a little unsteady. I can feel Tess holding her breath as he walks up to the podium. He takes out a wrinkled piece of paper and reads from it, shakily.
"Ron Rosenblum was my best friend for ten years. That's a long time in this town, where people come and go. The seasons don't change here, but the people do. They love you when you're up -- and they don't even recognize you when you're down. I met Ron when he wasn't anyone. And when I was trying to prove myself as something more than just an ageing light comedy leading man. My last couple of films had tanked. I needed something that would either save my career -- or send me to permanent exile on 'Hollywood Squares.' My beautiful wife, Tess, found a script about a gay man with AIDS. It had been rejected by every serious actor in the business, so the producers were willing to take a chance on me. And I needed that chance."
Jimmy pauses and looks around. A lot of those actors are sitting right here.
"My wife, Tess, suggested that since we were making a movie about AIDS and about gay men, that I might actually get someone on the set who knew a little about the subject -- or someone who could find us the resources we needed so that 'Liberty' wouldn't be exploitative. So we would tell a good story AND be true to the people it was about. That's when I met Ron. He'd made a couple of documentaries, including a film called 'Red Shirt.' I had him bring me a copy and we watched it together. I remember thinking that this man, who was being hired to be an assistant to an assistant director -- in other words, a go-fer..." There's a lot of laughter at this line. I can see it hits home with the movie crowd. "That this man should be directing my film! No offense to George Robbins, who, of course, did a great job with directing 'Liberty,' but this was a subject Ron knew intimately. He was part of this community. He was involved in AIDS charities and he got me and my wife, Tess, involved, too, at a time when AIDS wasn't exactly something that a lot of people in Hollywood wanted to align themselves with. And Ron helped me make my character, a person living with AIDS, as accurate, as unstereotypical, and as real as I could make him at that time."
Jimmy drinks some water. His voice is a bit stronger now. Tess is watching him avidly and I wonder just how much of his speech Jimmy wrote and how much Tess wrote.
"I also saw that Ron was a great director. At the time he was working in television and doing some -- um -- independent features." And there's a lot of laughter because everyone knows Jimmy is referring to Ron's porno films that he made when he was short of money. "But he had a dream to make a classic film. His favorite book was 'The Olympian.' He felt that it had every element to make a wonderful picture -- passion, romance, a powerful plot, and two strong lead characters. The only problem was that it was the love story of two gay men -- and no studio would touch it. I read his script and believed in it so much that we formed a production company together and spent the next decade trying to bring 'The Olympian' to the screen. And we did it. We did."
Jimmy pauses again, swallowing hard. "All those years Ron worked in the background. Few people knew his name. Sometimes he couldn't get jobs because he never tried to hide his sexuality. He never pretended to be something he wasn't. And even when other powerful gay men in this town..." Jimmy looks directly at Howie Sheldon. "... were hiding in the closet, Ron refused to compromise himself. He refused to shut up when people made homophobic comments. He refused to change his vision of 'The Olympian.' When certain people suggested that it was too... graphic, that the sexuality was too... real, Ron wouldn't pull back. He wouldn't cut scenes that he believed were real. That he believed were true. He fought the good fight...."
And Jimmy stops, choking up. Brian is holding his head down. He can't look up at Jimmy. Maybe he can't even listen to this at all. And Tess is crying. She wipes her eyes with a kleenex, trying not to smear her make-up. Diane squeezes my hand and whispers, "Ron could be so good sometimes -- so why did he go out of his way to be a bastard?" And that's the real mystery. How could Ron be so many different things to different people? How could he be so many different people just to Brian?
Jimmy looks up from his piece of paper. "But it isn't over. Ron may be gone, but Ron's films are still alive. That's what the movies are all about. They capture a moment in time and the people in them will always be young and beautiful. Most directors would be lucky to make one really good picture in their whole lives. Ron made two great pictures -- 'Red Shirt' and 'The Olympian.' And in those he'll always be with us."
It's weird, but the people give Jimmy a standing ovation. Right in Temple Beth El! But Brian just sits there. He won't stand up. He won't look up. And I sit next to him, waiting for it all to be over.
When the service is finished I have to get out of there for five minutes and get some air. I feel like I'm suffocating. Diane and Angie have taken charge of Brian. They are sitting with him in the front of the synagogue while we all wait for the crowds to clear out and the limos to take us and the Rosenblums to the burial site. Then we'll return to sit Shiva at the house. Tess has ordered up a huge spread of catered food for the guests.
I go to the men's room and when I come out Jimmy is talking to Howie Sheldon. I know they are discussing Brian because the second they see me they shut right up and Howie goes outside. But Jimmy and I still have some unfinished business. "Jimmy," I say. "I need to talk to you."
"Later, Baby Blue." And he starts walking away. "I don't have time right now."
"But Jimmy," I whisper. "What about the note?" I've been carrying it around with me, moving it from pocket to pocket, like a magic charm that is keeping me alive. But I'm afraid to read the fucking thing. Just afraid. "Ron's letter to Brian!"
Jimmy looks at me, his face a perfect mask. "What letter, Justy? There IS no letter. I don't know what you're talking about."
"Jimmy!" I hiss, grabbing his elbow. "Tell me! What the fuck should I do with it?"
Jimmy brushes my hand away. "I don't have anything to say about something that doesn't exist. So don't mention it again, Baby Blue. Ever." Jimmy abruptly strides away from me and out the door.
That settles it. I have to give it to Brian. Let him decide what to do with it. But I have to read it first. I have to know what it says. I can't NOT know.
I walk out of Temple Beth El and look around. There's a small garden area at the side where I can sit and be alone. Most of the press is out front, waiting for any stragglers who might still come out of the temple. I walk around the side. I see one of Ron's young nephews wandering around, obviously bored, waiting to leave for the cemetery. I'm sure he just wants to go home. Don't we all?
I sit down on a marble bench and take the folded paper out of the pocket of my pants. I don't wear a formal suit very often, but I have the feeling that every time I wear one from now on I'll think of this day. I unfold the letter. It's written on two sheets of cream-colored paper, the kind that you'd write Thank You notes on. The handwriting is very small, but legible. Sane handwriting. That's the last thing I expected from Ron. That sanity.
I didn't say anything when you left because I didn't know what to say. I know that you didn't want me to say anything. Any words at that point would have been meaningless. Yes, that's one of my favorite words. I always like to point out how meaningless things are. Like how everyone and everything else in the world -- except you and me of course -- is meaningless. Like how your feelings for anyone -- except me of course -- are meaningless. But I don't want this final gesture to be meaningless like so many things in my life have turned out to be. I want this to mean something. It's the last thing, so I want it to count. To matter somehow. Maybe that's foolish at this point. At the end. After I've ruined everything. After everything I've done.
Now I feel like I'm just waking up after being in a long haze -- or a coma -- or drunk. My head is finally clear and I look around at what the fuck I've done with my life, with my talent. It isn't pretty. I've always been an arrogant bastard -- an unhappy bastard. That's a dangerous combination. You go on, thinking that what you are doing is always right. Making yourself even more miserable and making everyone around you miserable. Making everyone you love miserable. That's what I've done. I've been rotten to my family when I could have been kind. Mean to my mother when she never deserved it. I never had time to do things right. I never knew how to do things right. I only knew how to do things my own way. And I did the same to you, right from the beginning. I never did anything but hurt you. I hated myself and I thought that if you couldn't make me right, then it was your fault. I blamed you from the start for a lot of things, but especially for making me realize that I was a faggot. That was something I always fought against. I felt it, knew it, in the back of my mind for years, but I could never acknowledge it. That wasn't part of my image as the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect hetero man. What a fucking joke! But you -- Jack -- forced the issue in me. I mean that you forced me to face it. Forced me to know myself. And I didn't want to be who I saw. I didn't want to be what I was.
But I always wanted you, Brian -- or Jack. I always wanted Jack -- and you aren't Jack. I know that. I've really always known it. I tried to make you into what I thought you should be but it wasn't right. It wasn't you -- and I made you unhappy. I ruined things between us when we at least could have been friends -- or I don't fucking know what we could have been! Our relationship was always doomed. I see that now. And when I couldn't make us right I decided to kill you -- I admit that. And kill myself too. I thought that would make things perfect. That we would be perfect -- a legend -- in Hollywood! The perfect ending to our perfectly fucked up relationship. That's what I thought. But I wasn't in my right mind, Brian. I haven't been for a long time. I know that now. I can see it clearly now at the end. But I almost did it -- I almost succeeded. Thank G-d that Fate intervened. Thank G-d the gun didn't fire. I don't know why it didn't, but I'm glad. Thank G-d I woke the fuck up.
I don't know how I can live with the knowledge of what I attempted to destroy. So I'm not even going to try to. It was your compassion that showed me how wrong I was. And your compassion that convinced me to do this last thing. Because always you have been kind. When I never deserved it. Brian -- I know that some people think you are cold. That you don't have feelings. But I have seen you show compassion even when you were surrounded by cruelty and evil. I remember the way you were with that damaged boy on the Bowery -- the one covered with the burns. I can never forget how gentle you were, even as everyone around you was cruel to him. How gentle you were with me even when I underestimated your intelligence and condescended to you. Even when I forgot things, like I forgot to bring you the food that I promised. When I forgot so many things. Even when I took out my frustrations on you sexually. That was wrong. That was my own sickness!
But you were always forgiving. And good. And gentle. That's what I loved about you. And what I forgot the most. Until you were gentle with me again tonight. Even after I tried to destroy you. Even then you helped me. You cared what happened to me. You picked me up off of the floor when I was a wreck and you comforted me. You held me until I stopped shaking. You still cared enough to do that. And you let me make love to you one last time, even though I know you feel nothing for me. Can never feel anything for me ever again except maybe pity. But you were compassionate, Brian. And that tells me what I need to do. What I have to do so I never hurt you or anyone you love ever again. I know that you love that kid, as much as it kills me to admit it. I know that you do. I can see it in how you are around him -- a better person, a stronger person. I could see it from that first moment I saw him standing in the kitchen last June. I knew then that WE were impossible. So I tried to hurt him, destroy him, scare him off. But he wouldn't be scared off. Because he loves you. He'll always be there for you in a way I never could be. The way I don't have the heart to be. The way I don't have the balls to be. I could never deserve you, Brian. Never. And so it's better this way. That way I stop torturing you and I stop torturing myself.
I'm running out of paper. And time. Jack is dead and he always has been. The ending of 'Red Shirt' was right. Jack is gone. And it's time for me to go with him.
I love you even now -- Ron."
And that's what it says.
I refold the paper and sit on the bench, holding it in my hand and shaking, inside and out. I think of what Ron did and what it means. This was his own 'Great Romantic Gesture.' He had to set Brian free -- but the only way he could do it was to destroy himself. I think about Brian's own 'Great Romantic Gesture' so many years ago in New York. How Brian tried to set Ron free, and the only way he could do that was to leave him. And Brian almost destroyed himself in the process. So the story has come full circle. They both tried to give so much of themselves to the other person, but no matter how much they gave, it was never enough. It never could be enough. Because their relationship was doomed from the start. It just wasn't meant to be. I truly believe that.
And then there's the final irony. Brian can't find out about this letter. Ever. What happened to Ron that night, what he was thinking and what he was really feeling, has to be a mystery. Because he can't know how Ron sacrificed himself for what he thought was Brian's happiness. Knowing that would fucking destroy Brian more completely than any gun or bottle of pills! The guilt would crush him, even more than it already is. That would be the final straw.
So I have this secret to keep. I can't allow Brian to be devastated by Ron's words. I have to agree with Jimmy -- Brian's fucking sanity is at stake! And now I have a alliance with Ron, the last person I would have wanted to protect. A bond with a man who was willing to ruin me to keep his relationship with Brian alive. But a man who, in the end, understood just how much I really love Brian. And how much Brian loves me.
And that makes me shake even more.
Continue on to "Shooting Star -- Part 3", the next section.
©Gaedhal, October 2003.
Updated October 18, 2003.