This is Chapter 19 in the "Queer Theories" series.
Go back to "Like Pittsburgh", the previous chapter.
The narrator is Victor Grassi, and features Tim Reilly, Brian Kinney, Dr. Max Finer.
Rated R and contains no warnings or spoilers.
Summary: Vic seeks out an old friend for some advice about Justin. Takes place in April 2002, with a flashback to April 1988.
Disclaimer: This is for fun, not profit. Watch Queer As Folk on Showtime, buy the DVDs, videos, and CDs. Read the stories and enjoy.
I needed to do something about Justin. Every time I saw the kid, he seemed to be in free-fall and I felt helpless as to what I could do for him.
What do I know about troubled teenaged boys? Nothing!
But I knew one person who knows -- or used to know -- everything about them.
So, I took a little jaunt to see my old friend, Tim Reilly.
There was a bar where he used to hang out in the old days. When Frank was still alive. I took the chance that he might still be hanging out there.
"Have you used any drugs since we last talked, Brian?"
"No." He paused and avoided the gaze of Dr. Max Finer. They were sitting in Dr. Finer's office at the Kensington-Welsh Center. Just being in that building again was making Brian extremely nervous. Seeing Dr. Finer. Like they would lock him in and not let him out. Especially if they knew.... "Just some weed. But that's not drugs."
"I think the police would disagree, but let's discuss that later. What about the other?"
"No." He sucked in his cheeks and blew them out again.
"Do you have any cravings for the drug, Brian?"
He gazed up at Dr. Finer. "No. Not really." He looked down. "Sometimes."
"That's normal, you know."
"Then that's the only thing about me that's normal."
"Now why do you say that?" The doctor tapped his clipboard with his ballpoint pen.
"I just feel like a freak most of the time. Like someone who isn't -- normal. Like other people. Real people."
"Don't you feel 'real,' Brian?
He shook his head, no.
"How are you getting along at Father Tim's?"
Now Brian really paused a long time. What should he say? What was he supposed to say?
"It's okay. I guess."
"They're not too hard on you there, are they?"
"How so?" What was the doc driving at?
"Strict. Making you do things you don't want to do?"
Brian immediately went on the defensive. "What kinds of stuff I don't want to do?"
Dr. Finer noted the hostility. He made a note on his chart. "I mean work. Punishments. I don't know much about the Catholic religion, but I'm told that it can be strict. Physically."
"No. Nothing like that." He sat back in the wooden chair. "They make you make your bed. Wash the dishes. Nothing I can't handle." He twisted around in his seat.
"I just wish I had a cigarette."
"You're too young to smoke, you know."
He just stared at the doctor. "That's a good one. Everything I've been through. Everything I've... done -- and you're worried because I need a fuckin' cigarette! People really are screwed up." He looked around and then looked back at Dr. Finer. "I bet you're just like my old man."
"What makes you say soemthing like that, Brian?"
"I bet you don't believe in anything. Cynical. Always mocking other people. What they think. What they feel. What they believe."
"Why would you conclude that, Brian? Have I mocked anything you say here?"
"No. But I'm sure you think it. Maybe you say it behind my back."
"Like your father does?"
"Mock what? Like religion?"
"That and other things. Emotions and stuff. Love. When you tell your mother you love her. Things like that. Sissy stuff."
"Why is that sissy stuff?"
"Because it IS. It just is... You know that, Doc."
"Most people would disagree."
"Normal people, you mean?"
"Isn't your father 'normal'? What is 'normal'?"
"These questions give me a headache, you know."
"I'm sorry. I'm just trying to gauge how you're feeling. How you're getting along at the halfway house." Dr. Finer paused. "How close you may be to backsliding."
He looked up. "I won't do that shit anymore. I promise."
"Brian, it isn't just a matter of 'promising' -- it's a matter of self-control. Of opportunity. Of feeling hopeless or in pain -- and deciding that only one thing will help you stifle it."
"I'm getting pretty good at 'stifling' the pain all by myself. It's easy to make yourself not feel things."
"Is it? I would think it's the hardest thing in the world."
"Not for me."
Dr. Finer leaned over to the boy. "Don't close yourself off like this, Brian. It will make it worse in the long run."
"Sure. I'll let you know how things turn out -- in the long run. If there is one."
"Planning on going somewhere?"
He laughed shortly. "You mean, like checking out for good? You never know. Shit happens."
"What kind of 'shit'?"
"All kinds. Sometimes it doesn't seem worth it all."
"But after all you've survived so far -- and come through so well...."
"You think so?"
"I didn't say 'undamaged' -- I said 'survived.' That's an accomplishment, you know."
"Great. Let's have a party for me and my accomplishments."
"Might not be a bad idea."
"Are you kidding?"
"Why would I kid you?"
"I don't know -- humoring me, maybe. Humoring the dumb kid." He shifted around in the seat, as if looking for an escape route. "I bet you're like, an atheist, right?"
"They talk a lot about religion at that halfway house?"
"Sometimes. But not as much as my mom and her friends. Her church friends. They are always talking about that shit."
"I'm a Jew, ethnically and culturally. I was raised a Jew. But, to answer your question, I would say I was an agnostic. Do you know what that is, Brian?"
He looked at the man blankly. "I am -- was -- in the Honors Stream at my school, Doc. I've read 'Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man.' I've read 'The Fountainhead' -- three times. I know the difference between an atheist and an agnostic."
"I didn't mean to talk down to you.'
"That's okay. Everybody does it. Everybody. I don't know what it is about me that people look at me and immediately think I'm stupid. It must be a gift."
"You're very... handsome, Brian, if that's a word you're comfortable with?"
"Sometimes people assume that good-looking people must not be too bright. Maybe they WANT to think that. It might seem unfair to be beautiful AND intelligent."
"And that's why girls act dumb all the time. Yeah, I've heard all that. It's bullshit. Besides -- I'm not a girl and I've got the dick to prove it! If you want references -- I can provide them!" He bristled and sat up in the chair as if he'd stand up and prove it there.
"I never said you were a girl. Or anything like a girl."
He sat back again, kicking at the rung of the chair.
"You know, when I was... younger, I guess -- I really believed all that stuff."
"The religious stuff. I believed in it. I guess."
He was kicking his feet again.
"They were nice to me there. The priests. I especially liked serving the early mass. Mainly old ladies. It was a calm way to start the day. It was quiet at the church -- unlike my own house, which was like hell on earth. Quiet and dark. You could sit and not say anything and people wouldn't bother you. You could think. "
"What kinds of things would you think about?"
"Everything. Not God and shit. But my life. What I wanted to do with it. My friends. About dying."
"Why did you think about that?"
"I don't know." His head was down. "But then my old man ruined it all."
"How did he do that?"
"He said it was all a pack of shit. Lies. Made up for 'women and other people with weak minds.' That's what he said. Women and people with weak minds. Like me, I guess."
"What else did your father say?"
"That the priests were only interested in getting into my pants and they'd turn me into a big fag if I kept going back there."
"And were you afraid of that? Afraid of becoming a 'big fag'?"
"Sort of." His face started to close down. But then he added, "But it was already too late for that."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I already knew I was a big fag. It was too late. And I thought he could see right through me. See it in me. That scared the shit out of me."
"Being a big fag?"
"Fuck no. Having HIM know it."
"He was what? Sixteen, seventeen? There's no excuse for my actions. None at all."
"Tim, believe me, Brian may have been sixteen, but he was in every way a man. And a lot more experienced than you -- sexually and in the ways of the world."
"He was a child emotionally, Vic. And that's what counted. That's what I blame myself for."
"Do you think he's going to come back and sue you now?"
But Tim looked grim. "It isn't funny, Vic. Not even a little bit."
"I'm sorry, Tim. I didn't mean to make light -- but that's all in the past."
"Yes, in the past. But it's impacted everything I've done with my life since then. My decision to leave the priesthood. My decision to go back to school and become a social worker. Even my decision to come out. Even...," he frowned slightly. "Even what happened to me with Frank. His diagnosis. My positive status. And my work as an AIDS counselor. That was the turning point for me. I can't forget that."
"I'm sorry if you're bitter, Tim. It feels like it was all my fault, in a way. I was the one who brought him to you. But he needed help then so badly...."
"No, Vic. I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter at all. And I don't blame you. Or Brian. There IS no blame. There are only choices and consequences. Who could have foreseen it all? And if we had, would we really have done anything differently?"
"Probably not. But that's something that only Jimmy Stewart could ever know."
Now Tim really smiled that killer smile. He was still devastatingly handsome. At least to me.
"Don't think that I don't pray every night, still, for forgiveness."
"Oh, Tim. Please!" I put my hand on his arm.
"It's true, Vic."
"Well, I'm sure Brian isn't losing any sleep over it after all these years," I laughed.
But Tim wasn't smiling. "You don't know that, Vic. You don't don't anything for certain."
"But with everything else that had happened to him... has happened to him since...."
"That I was just 'one more' bad incident in a lifetime of 'bad incidents'? Just a coincidence? That I should forget? He should forget? One more betrayal? One more person who used him? Who injured him and never looked back?"
"I wouldn't worry about it, Tim. Brian is the world's ultimate survivor."
Tim's eyes riveted me. The blue was penetrating, as if he really could see into my soul. What a priest he had been, I kept thinking. Imagine telling all your deepest secrets to those eyes?
"Is he, Vic? Is he?" Tim picked up his beer and took a very long sip. The foam clung to his upper lip and he licked at it. "For such a survivor, why does he seem to be in so much trouble? And I don't only mean life-trouble. Emotional trouble. Psychic trouble. Why does he seem to need so much help from so many people? And all the people around him are impacted, constantly. Everyone. Even you, Vic."
I put my head down, thinking about how I sought out Tim's help in talking to Justin and helping him to get over his grief over Brian.
Proving Tim correct once again.
Continue on to "The Devil's Candy", the next chapter.
©Gaedhal, May 2002
Picture of Gale Harold from "Paper Magazine."
Updated January 16, 2003.