This is Chapter 13 of the "Queer Realities" series.
Go back to "Queer Theories" for the very beginning of this saga.
The narrator is Ben Bruckner, and features Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Michael Novotny, Dr. Julius Gorowitz, Others.
Rated R for language and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Justin, Ben, and Michael take Brian to rehab -- again. Pittsburgh/Springhurst, January 2003.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
When I arrive at Brian's building the next morning the black Jeep is already pulled up in front. I'm buzzed in and Michael is waiting at the open door of the loft when I get off the elevator.
"Hey, Ben," he says. Michael's voice is subdued. I don't know if it's because Brian is leaving town again or because Michael has to spend the entire day in the Jeep with me, his betraying ex. Probably some of both.
"Hello, Michael. Everything all right?" I look around, but I don't see either Brian or Justin, and the panels that block off the bedroom are closed.
Michael shrugs. "Brian's packed and re-packed his suitcase about 10 times, so I suppose that means everything is normal."
I nod my head in agreement, but obviously everything is far from normal.
Michael offers me something to drink, but I decline. He goes into the kitchen and cleans up the remnants of breakfast. It doesn't look like the boys were too hungry.
"Did you stay over last night?" I ask.
"No," says Michael. "I wanted to, but... I didn't think it was a good idea. I don't want to... you know, step on Justin's toes or anything." Michael makes that worried face that is so familiar to me. It makes me want to touch him. To comfort him. To let him know that everything is okay. That this is a good thing for Brian -- and probably for Justin, too. But I have no right to do that. So I turn away.
"You ARE a good friend, Michael," I tell him.
He swallows. "I'm trying. It's hard to... to accept that I'll never be first in Brian's life, ever again. Maybe I didn't have a lot, but I always had that."
"You're still Brian's best friend, Michael." I smile, thinking about how many times I've heard him tell me that. "That's important."
"No," Michael corrects me. "I'm a good friend. I'm Brian's oldest friend. But Justin is his BEST friend. And his partner. And that's the way it should be." Michael looks at me pointedly. "That's the way I would want it to be with my own partner. My own lover. I would want HIM to be my best friend. Someone I could always trust. Someone I could always count on. That's what I'd like to find in my own life."
There isn't anything I can say to that. Michael always knows how to get to me. It never fails. I lied to him and I cheated on him with Ron. I was pissed off at Michael at the time and I figured that it was a meaningless fling. I never imagined that Ron would try to use it against me. That makes me feel like an even bigger fool. I have to walk away from Michael. I go to the big loft windows and stare out through the billowy white curtains. It's starting to snow again a little. Just some flurries.
"We need to get on the road soon," I state, watching the snow.
"I'll hurry them up," says Michael.
He knocks on the panel and says something in a voice too low for me to hear. A few moments later the panel opens up and Justin comes out. His eyes are red, but he's being stoic. He's carrying his winter coat and scarf. Then Brian comes out with his suitcase, a suede jacket clutched under his arm.
My first thought when I look at Brian is that he's stoned. He's walking normally, but he seems fuzzy. His eyes look unfocused and it's more than simply being tired or distracted by everything that's happened to him. It's a spacey aura that's palpable. I thought so yesterday, too, but I didn't say anything.
It wouldn't be too odd if Brian were high on something. He's on his way to rehab, after all, and he knows that he won't be getting high again for a long time. But the fact that both Justin and Michael don't seem to notice it, or that they are pointedly ignoring it, bothers me. Or perhaps they are afraid that if they confront Brian about what he's doing that he'll bolt again. Justin especially seems terrified of losing him, in whatever way. Perhaps Justin is merely hanging on until Brian can get where he has to go -- into treatment.
"How long is this drive going to be, Ben?" asks Michael.
"About three hours, but it might be longer if the weather gets bad." I glance at my watch.
"I checked the report on the internet and it said that flurries were expected, but nothing too heavy," Justin says hopefully.
"But we're heading into the snowbelt," Brian adds. It's the first thing he's said since I arrived. "You never know what's going to happen there."
No, I think, you never know what's going to happen.
We load up the Jeep. Michael is going to drive while I feed him the directions, so we climb into the front, while Brian and Justin get in the back. They're huddled close together, and Justin is clinging to Brian like he's afraid he might jump out of the car and run away. Then we hit the road.
"Hey," says Michael with false cheer as we head north out of town on I-79 to Erie. "This is just like the road trip we took to New York, right, Brian?"
"When was that?" I ask.
Justin makes a funny little noise. "When I ran away to be a go-go boy in Chelsea."
"A go-go boy!" I laugh. "How come I never heard THIS story? It sounds like a good one!"
Michael and Justin proceed to tell me the entire tale, from the loft being burglarized, to Justin stealing Brian's VISA card and flying to New York, to the boys driving after him, finding him, and then bringing him back home to Pittsburgh. Michael and Justin make it sound like an epic journey!
"That's when I started living at Debbie's house," Justin explains. "And working at the diner, too. Brian made me pay off all the charges I ran up on his card."
"Brian, you didn't!" I say.
He snorts. "You fucking bet I did! There's nothing like a large debt hanging over your head to keep you in line and teach you a lesson about financial responsibility!"
"Oh, so that's why you did it? To keep me in line and teach me a lesson?" Justin sniffs. "I thought it was so you could have access to my ass whenever you wanted it?"
Brian shrugs. "Yeah, that too." He smiles a little, but his voice sounds flat.
As we get farther north and closer to Erie, the snow starts coming down harder as the lake effect takes over. The visibility begins to get much worse.
"You okay, Michael? Would you like me to drive for a while?" I offer.
"I can do it," Michael insists. His mouth is set into a pout. He obviously sees me as an interloper here. "I know how to drive the Jeep! I've been driving Brian's Jeep ever since he got the first one, right after he started working at Ryder."
"I didn't mean to suggest that you couldn't drive the Jeep, Michael," I try to explain. "I was just offering to take over any time you wanted me to." I pause. "I'm sorry. I guess I should back off."
Michael sniffs and fiddles with the heater. Typical displacement activity. "No, it's okay, Ben. I'm a little on edge this morning. And the weather isn't helping things." He grips the steering wheel tighter.
I glance in the backseat. Justin looks like he's asleep, but I know he probably isn't. His eyes are closed and he's leaning against Brian's shoulder. Brian's arms are wrapped around him and he's stroking Justin's blond hair almost compulsively as he stares out the side window. Neither of them has said anything for the past 50 miles.
Finally, as we come into the outskirts of Erie, Brian says, "Do you think we could stop, Mikey? I really need a cigarette. And I also need to take a piss."
"Sure," says Michael. We find an exit and pull into a truck stop. Lots of big rigs are parked in a huge lot and there's a complex that looks like a shopping mall. Michael parks the Jeep as close to the door as he can get, but the place is surprisingly busy, even on a snowy Tuesday morning.
"Do you want to eat lunch here?" Justin asks Brian.
"I don't care," Brian shrugs. "If you're hungry, it's okay with me."
We walk in and the place really IS a mall, with stores and a food court, but also what looks like a locker room and shower area, obviously for the truckers who are driving long distances away from home. We hit the men's room and then try to decide what we'll eat.
"Fried chicken, burgers, and pizza," Brian huffs. "The All American Diet!"
"Hey, asshole," Michael says playfully. "You like all of those things!"
"I know, Mikey, but not as much as you do." Brian leads Justin over to the chicken place, which also has a salad bar. Michael heads for the pizza and I join him.
"Don't tell me you want pizza, Ben! I don't think they have tofu and sprout pizza here," Michael snipes.
"But I see white pizza and veggie, too," I reply. "You know that I like junk food as much as the next guy."
"You used to... sometimes," he says as we stand in the line.
"Can't we have a truce, Michael? At least until we get back to Pittsburgh?"
His face falls. "As bad as this trip up to this... this rehab place is, Ben, I keep thinking about the drive back, when we'll be coming back without Brian!" Michael eyes look huge. "So you have to excuse me if I'm a little bitchy. I can't help it. This whole thing with Brian just sucks!"
"I know it does," I say quietly. "But isn't it better that it's US taking him to rehab and not some strangers? Or those studio people out in Los Angeles who only give a damn about Brian because of how much money he can make them?"
"I know, Ben, but it's still hard. Really, really hard." Michael picks out two slices of sausage pizza with onions and green peppers. I take the vegetarian.
"Let me get it." I pay for the slices and we find a table in the food court. As it gets closer to lunch time it's getting more crowded. "I know it's difficult for you, Michael, but think about how it must feel to Justin. He's already done this once, at that place in Malibu. Taken Brian and dropped him off where he thought Brian would get some help. And he must be thinking about how that turned out."
Michael leans toward me. "But you know this Dr. Gorowitz, Ben. You wouldn't have suggested him and his rehab center if you didn't think that... that things would be different."
"No, I wouldn't have," I say. "I believe it WILL be different this time, Michael. But all we can do is hope for the best. The rest is up to Brian."
The subject of our conversation comes meandering among the tables with Justin following behind him. He has a salad and Justin has a salad, a piece of chicken, and some rice on the side. Brian sits next to Michael and Justin sits across from him, next to me. Brian picks at his food and Justin keeps urging him to eat it. Justin is constantly setting down his fork and reaching over to touch Brian's hand.
We all look up and see a young woman standing next to the table. Two other girls are standing slightly behind her, letting her take the lead, but nodding and giggling. All three are gaping at Brian.
"Are you Brian Kinney?"
Brian looks slightly sick, but he obviously can't say no. Brian is very definitely Brian. Even at a truck stop outside Erie, Pennsylvania, it's hard to deny that fact.
"I guess I am," he says, squirming in his seat. Brian is wearing a ratty-looking suede jacket, battered jeans, and he didn't bother to shave this morning, but he still looks hot, as usual. And somehow these fans have honed in on him -- a movie star in their midst.
The girls all burst into waves of giggles and chatter. "Oh, my GOD! I KNEW it! Can we have your autograph? PLEASE?" asks the boldest girl. And the other two nod eagerly. They produce pads of paper and pens from their large leather bags. A few more people come over and watch the scene with curiosity.
"Sure," says Brian. He smiles and signs their pieces of paper, asking their names and how to spell them. Brian may hate Hollywood, but Ron -- or someone -- trained him well in his role. He falls into the 'gracious celebrity' mode very easily, even in this unlikely setting. An older woman steps up and also asks for an autograph. And then another.
The first girl is grinning happily, holding her autograph. "I wish I had my camera! I could post the picture on the 'Brian Kinney Fanpage'!" she exclaims. She looks Justin up and down. "Are you the boyfriend? You are SO cute! Can I have your autograph, too?"
Justin's mouth falls open and he turns bright red. He must be thinking of those embarrassing photos of Brian and him on the boat. But Brian says, "Go ahead. Sign it." So Justin writes his own name, underneath his lover's signature. And then he has to sign for all of the girls and the two women, too.
"I'm Brian's best friend!" Michael pipes up. He's grinning like mad. People admiring Brian is something that Michael can relate to innately.
"And I'm not anyone," I add, not that anybody asked.
Brian stands up and puts on his jacket. "Thanks, ladies, but we have to get going now." We all stand up, like Brian's queer posse.
"When is your next movie coming out?" the bold girl demands. "I've seen 'The Olympian' THREE times!"
"I've seen it TWICE!" one of her friends says. "It was really good! I cried SO MUCH when Bobby died! And the love scenes are WAY hot!"
"Thanks. It's nice that people liked it. The next film is called 'Hammersmith.' It's coming out this spring," says Brian smoothly. "Justin is in it, too." Brian glances at Justin and shrugs.
"That is SO cool!" the girls cry.
But before they can continue the interview, Brian grabs Justin's elbow and hustles all of us out of the mall. A few people follow to see what kind of car we get into. Michael pulls the Jeep out of the lot and heads back onto the interstate, leaving our moment of Fame behind.
"Shit," Brian sighs. "I never got to smoke my fucking cigarette!"
Justin leans his head on Brian's shoulder. "Think of that as another thing you can quit -- starting today," he says.
Springhurst is located right on Lake Chautauqua in a small town called McKinley. Funny how a summer resort looks even more forlorn in the winter than a regular town. Houses and businesses are closed up all along the main street. The cold wind whips across the icy lake and I shiver even though it's warm in the Jeep.
From the road Springhurst looks like another large summer place. You see an old Victorian house and a wide lawn. But behind the house, which is only the facade of the complex, are a group of modern buildings. I read Michael the directions and we pull up behind the main house and park in the area designated for visitors.
"Now what?" asks Justin.
"I guess we go in and find out," I say.
Brian takes out his suitcase and he and Justin follow Michael and me inside.
Julius Gorowitz is waiting for us just inside the door.
He's balder and he's got a beard now, but otherwise he's the same old Julie that I hung around with in grad school. I want to ask him a million questions that we didn't get around to over the phone, but this is not the time for it. Besides, I know that he doesn't like to share too much personal stuff with his patients. They get to know a lot about your life eventually, I imagine, just as my students end up knowing more about me than I'd like them to. And I can't forget that we are here because Brian is going to be one of Julie's patients. He told me that he was definitely going to take Brian on himself and not pass him off to one of the other members of the staff, not even to his partner, Dr. Henry Mason.
He escorts us past the reception area and down a hallway into a large office. Everything matches the Victorian decor of the house, with old oriental rugs, antiques, and paintings of stiff-looking people in tight, elaborate clothing. Lake Chautauqua began to be popular as a resort during the Victorian Era, so it makes sense that Julius, who is a modern New York City man at heart, would want Springhurst to fit with its rural, small town surroundings so perfectly.
Brian looks around and turns up his nose. He hates antiques and he hates anything that even smells of 'Americana.' All the knickknacks and the tchotckas and lace curtains are making him nervous, you can tell. He likes places like his loft -- white, sterile, and soulless.
I make the introductions all around and then I wonder if Michael and I should get lost while Julius talks to Brian and Justin. But he wants us all to have a seat. Then he closes the door and sits behind his desk. He looks uncannily like a young Sigmund Freud. Perhaps that's intentional.
He hands Brian a clipboard with some forms on it and he and Justin fill them out. Justin has a folder with all of Brian's medical and insurance information in it -- the kid is totally prepared. Julie and I chat about my classes. He's also looking at Michael with undisguised interest. The last time we really talked Michael and I were together and he apparently thinks we still are.
Finally, Brian gives back the pile of completed forms. He and Justin are holding hands and I can see the tension in their grasp.
"So, Brian," says Julius Gorowitz. "Are you willing to give us a chance to make your treatment work this time?"
Brian is taken aback. He frowns. "I... I thought you were the one giving ME the chance."
But Julius shakes his head. "No, the choice is yours, Brian. It's always yours. You are an adult with free will and I would never attempt to take that away from you. But YOU have to choose to make a change in your life. What Springhurst can offer is a way to help you change yourself. We are merely facilitators. We offer psychological treatment, certainly. And medical treatment, if that is necessary. We also encourage our patients to use whatever resources that they can to aid in their recovery. If that includes faith or belief, then that's fine, but we don't compel you to hold to any creed or system. If you want to follow the 12 Steps and recite the 'Serenity Prayer,' you are welcome to, but it isn't a requirement here."
"That's a fucking relief," Brian says, almost under his breath.
"However, Brian, it might be important to explore just what it is about such beliefs that terrify you so much," Julius counters. He sits back in his chair and smiles serenely.
"How about that fact that they tend to be spouted by homophobes and bigots?" Brian snaps back. Justin squeezes his hand, as if reminding him why he's here. And it isn't to get confrontational during the first five minutes.
"I can see that we will have many interesting discussions, Brian," says Julius, smiling broadly now. He's a guy who likes a good fight -- and with Brian he'll get one. Maybe that is exactly what Brian needs. Someone to give him a good fight. Not to break him down or totally remake him, but to challenge him to make changes in himself. Changes for the better that come from HIM, and not from some outside 'Program.' Brian is a frighteningly intelligent man, but he often reacts by lashing out at people instead of using that intelligence to persuade them.
Brian glances at Justin. Then he rubs at his eyes with his long fingers. He suddenly looks very tired.
"We have your room ready in the main building, right behind this house." Julius points through a frosty window to a complex of modern buildings. "Once you are settled here at Springhurst, then we'll see about your schedule of visitations." Julius looks at Justin, whose mouth has dropped open in surprise. "Of course, that will depend on your partner's availability. I realize that it's a long drive from Pittsburgh, especially in bad weather, so you may want to work out the best weekends for him to come up here."
"Come up here?" says Brian, incredulously. "You mean that Justin can actually visit me?"
"Of course," says Julius. "Weekends are usually the times we set aside for family visits. But when you do come, Justin," Julius nods at him. "You'll need to consider your stay as part of a treatment program for BOTH of you. Ben tells me that you have been together for two years? Is that correct?"
Justin nods. "Yes, a little more than two." He doesn't mention that period when Brian was out in California. Maybe they don't consider that a true separation.
"Then you have been living with your partner's problem for a while now. Your relationship has been co-existing with Brian's addiction. And since you are still together, regardless of his addiction, that is a sign in favor of a successful treatment outcome. I find that people who are in strong relationships and who have the support of an understanding partner who is willing to be active in the program are much more likely to succeed in the long run."
Justin blinks. "You mean that... that you don't think I'm part of Brian's problem? You don't think that I'm his... his enabler?"
"Justin, you know fucking well you aren't!" Brian interrupts.
"But I want to hear what the doctor says!" Justin turns those blue eyes on Julius. "Do you really think that we can work together in this?"
"Yes, Justin," he replies. "I think you MUST work together. That is what being a partner means. You aren't his enabler, Justin. You have been trying to help him. From what I can discern from speaking to Ben on the telephone, doing a little simple searching into Brian's life on the internet, and also calling around to a few facilities that are familiar with Brian's past treatments, his problems certainly predate his relationship with you." Julius looks directly at Brian. "You were a heroin addict at 16? Is that right?"
Brian swallows. "Yes. That fucking movie, 'Red Shirt'!"
"Yes, that 'fucking movie,' as you say. But your records also tell the tale, Brian. You were in a rehab unit at the Kensington-Welsh Center in Pittsburgh, and later in a Catholic halfway house for teenagers," Julius says, flipping through a thick folder on his desk. He has done a lot of research on Brian already, it seems. "You also have a number of hospitalizations for drug toxicity over the years, including when you were 18, 21, and twice when you were 25. At least those were the ones I could track down. And then the Spencer Pavilion in Los Angeles...."
"Jesus," Brian breathes. "Isn't anything private?" Justin's face is furrowed with concern.
"Not really, Brian," says Julius, honestly. "My specialty is substance abuse and addictive behavior and when I need to find out information on a patient, it isn't that difficult." He leans forward over his desk. "So you've never been completely off of substances, ever, have you, Brian? Drugs and alcohol, often in combination. Both narcotics and stimulants, depending on the situation. And you use sex as a sedative, as well. That seems to be a pattern for you."
"Pain management, Doc," Brian sniffs. "It's always worked for me."
"Has it?" Julius says, his voice serious. "It doesn't look to me like it's working at all. It's almost killed you a number of times. And also killed people close to you. That should tell you that it is definitely NOT working. Unless death is the result you are seeking."
Brian cringes at the mention of Ron. And Justin looks down at his lap. I don't know what they were expecting from Julius Gorowitz, but they were not expecting this kind of questioning.
"No," says Brian slowly. "That's not the result I'm seeking."
"Good. Then you both must show that you are serious about working together on this addiction. I don't know how long you'll be staying here, Brian -- you might walk out tomorrow or 6 months from now." Brian and Justin and Michael all start when Julius says 6 months. "But when you leave here you'll have to continue to live in the world that also surrounded your addiction. You're an actor and I don't expect that you will give up your career just because it exposes you to drugs and alcohol. That never works. I've known drug addicts and alcoholics who lived like hermits, far away from the stresses and temptations of Hollywood -- but they were still addicts. You have to live in YOUR world, Brian, with your chosen partner. What I try to do is help you learn to live in that world without giving in to your addictions and destroying yourself. And for that you have to understand yourself. Are you willing to do that?"
Brian turns to look at Justin and then Michael. "I... guess so...." He pauses, his jaw working. "Yes, I'm willing to do that."
"Then I think you are ready to begin." Julius comes out from behind the desk. "Please stand up, Brian, and come over here."
Brian stands slowly and warily. He releases Justin's hand. Julius Gorowitz walks right up and stands face to face with Brian. He's about five inches shorter than Brian, but he seems quite imposing and gives off an aura of strength. That's what makes him a good doctor, I believe. The strength that he radiates.
He gazes into Brian's eyes and Brian fidgets under his scrutiny, but he doesn't look away. "When was the last time you took a hit, Brian?" he asks.
Brian swallows. "Before we got here," he says in a low voice. "Once before we left the Pitts, and then again when we stopped for lunch."
"Brian!" Justin wails, slumping in his chair. But Justin must have known? Or at least suspected? I glance over at Michael and he's staring into his lap, his lips quivering.
"That means you'll have to go into detox for at least 72 hours. It's necessary until we are certain that everything is out of your system." Dr. Gorowitz steps back. "Do you have a cellphone?"
Brian nods and pulls it out of his jacket pocket, handing it to the doctor. "Here, Doc," he says.
"You can't have this in detox, but you'll get it back as soon as you are released. Then I want you to call your partner first thing, is that clear?"
"You... you want me to call him?" Brian says, frowning. He turns to look at Justin.
"Yes, to tell him that you are all right and to arrange for his return visit. Perhaps next weekend?" Julius nods at Justin.
"Yes, next weekend!" Justin stands up and puts his arms around Brian. "I can do it! Any weekend. Every weekend -- if it's allowed!"
"We'll see how the first visit goes and then we can decide from there." Dr. Gorowitz opens the door of his office and whispers to a woman in a tailored suit. "When you are ready, Leila will take you over to the detox unit, Brian. Don't forget to bring your bag with you." He motions for Michael and me to leave the room so that Brian and Justin can say goodbye in private. "Oh, and by the way -- where is the rest of your stash?"
Brian picks up his suede jacket resolutely and gives it to Julius. "In the lining. Under the inside pocket."
Justin hangs his head and rubs his eyes. "I knew it!" he whispers. "I fucking KNEW it was in that jacket! But I couldn't find it!"
"Anything in your suitcase?" the doctor continues.
"No," Brian says. "You can check."
Julius nods. "We will, Brian. I'm sorry, but it's necessary."
Brian shrugs. "I know the score, Doc. But it never hurts to try, right?"
"But it does hurt to try, Brian," Julius answers quietly. "It hurts not only you, but your partner, your friends, your son -- everyone who loves you. And everyone you love."
"I know," says Brian. "I know that better than anyone. I know who it hurts. But that doesn't mean I can stop doing it. At least not by myself." He touches Justin's golden hair. "But I can give it the old Kinney try. Yeah," he repeats. "I can always try."
Continue on to "My Aim Is True".
©Gaedhal, April 2004.
Posted April 28, 2004.