NO TURNING BACK
The letter of acceptance from Dartmouth was waiting for me when I got home from school today, and I was so excited my heart was thumping around inside my ribcage. Ever since I was a little kid, Dad has talked about Dartmouth, his alma mater, how it’s the best college in the country, what a fantastic time he'd had as a student there, the prestige for Dartmouth graduates. He's always encouraged me to go there, and urged me to work hard in school so I'd measure up to the stringent admission requirements. Even though Dad won't accept me as a gay man, I feel sure that at least now he will be proud of me for getting in to Dartmouth.
I called Mom first, she was thrilled and I could hear her crying, though she denied it. She was so happy for me, and said she would call Dad right away, and she assured me that he would be happy too. I called Daphne next, just to hear her scream, and we chatted happily for a few minutes. Brian I saved for last.
He was at work of course, but he took my call. "Congratulations, that's a great achievement," he told me. I waited a moment, with Brian sometimes you have to wait for the punch line, but this time there wasn't one. He just said I should be proud of myself and I said I was. Unfortunately, I added that I thought my dad would be proud of me, too.
There was a pause, then, "Is that your reason for choosing Dartmouth?" he asked, his voice distinctly chilly. Brian hates my dad.
"No," I hastened to say, but then I wondered if that were true. Brian had doubts.
"Justin, if Dartmouth's what you want, then more power to you. Just be sure you're doing what YOU want, what's best for YOU."
"Yeah," was all I could say. I looked down at the Dartmouth letter I was still holding and it drooped in my hand. I let go and watched it flutter, caught on a draft from my open bedroom door, it wafted briefly on the breeze for a moment before taking a final swoop and sliding under the edge of my bed.
"Look," Brian was saying, "I have to go, I'm getting ready for a meeting at four. How about I buy you a celebration drink, tomorrow night at Babylon?"
"Sure, Brian, thanks," I answered, making myself sound eager. And happy. And confident. Suddenly I was feeling none of those things as I hung up the phone. I sat down on my desk chair and gazed at the corner of the Dartmouth letter peeping out at me from under the edge of the blue bedspread. Was Dartmouth best for me? Was it what I wanted? I knew the answer. I've known the answer for a long time.
Tonight started out so fantastic at Babylon; I met Brian there and he bought me the drink he'd promised, even making a toast, 'to Justin, the college man.' We danced, the others arrived and joined us on the dance floor, and a couple hours passed happily. Brian even went to the men's room with me and we stood side by side at the urinals having a pissing contest. Brian won, of course; he'd had a lot more to drink than me and he's had a lot of practice aiming his dick. He bragged that he could write his full name in the snow - Brian Allan Kinney, and even dot the i's. He promised to show me sometime.
When we went back upstairs and joined the other guys on the dance floor, Brian told them I was going to Dartmouth. Michael had a put-down for me as usual, he goes, "Mumsie and Daddy must be so proud!" I didn't let it bother me, it was just Michael joking around; besides, Debbie told me that instead of going to college, Michael had gone to work after high school, to help out at home. If he liked me better, I'd tell him how much I admire him for taking care of his mom. He's always over the house, bringing groceries and picking up Vic's meds and taking Vic to the doctor, and just helping out. I've learned from him that you don’t have to make a big deal out of doing things like that. I mean, he'll just put out the trash or empty the dishwasher, nobody asks him, he sees stuff that needs doing and he does it. I really respect the way he looks out for his family.
Michael had confused me for a while. The first night I met Brian, I remember Michael glaring at me as I sat in the jeep and Brian roared away from the group, then the next morning he'd yelled at me in Brian's loft, I remember wondering why he was so mad at me. The next time I saw him, when Brian pushed me away at Woody's, Michael had been really nice, even buying me a burger and introducing me to his mom. But after that, when I managed to get Brian to pay attention to me again, for a long time after that, Michael had seemed to hate me. I'm not blind and I'm not stupid; I figured out early on that Michael is in love with Brian. It isn't my fault that Brian doesn't love him back. Well, Brian loves him all right, just not the way Michael wants. Not the way I'm determined to make Brian love me.
It was after I started living at Deb's that I got to know the real Michael. He's what my psych book calls a 'caretaker,' literally taking care of everyone around him. He's probably a good manager at his store, I bet he cares about the employees and knows all their names and treats them well. Sometimes I wonder how much Michael has taken care of Brian. They've been friends forever, and Deb says Brian has always looked out for Michael. Something tells me that's not so one-sided as it seems. Brian's a rock, or so he wants everybody to think. But I'm around Brian more than most people, and I've seen some cracks in that rock.
After Michael's jibe about "Mumsie and Daddy," I told them all I've decided to go to PIFA instead of Dartmouth. I just blurted it out, and surprised myself as much as anyone else, I didn't realize I'd made the decision until just that moment. In fact, I hadn't wanted anybody to know I even applied to PIFA, it will be embarrassing if they reject me. But Brian's words had stuck with me and had been chasing around inside my head all day: 'Do what's best for YOU.' And I knew PIFA was best for me.
Brian's face reflected his surprise at my decision, and then reflected approval as I told the others, "I have to do what will make me happy."
Of course Brian quickly covered up his slip, God forbid he should show his real feelings for me in public, so he sniped, "And here I thought I was finally rid of you!"
I shot right back at him, "Not till I say so!" and I loved the look of surprise on his face. But he said nothing, he didn't push me away or make a nasty remark, which was a huge deal, at least, that's how I felt at the time.
The conversation changed direction, Michael started bragging about this guy who'd been hitting on him, and Brian urged Michael to give in, "You should DO him," he said. Then that guy Blake, the one who gave Ted the drugs that put him in a coma, suddenly showed up and started throwing himself at Ted. I was so busy watching the drama of Emmett pushing Blake away that I didn't notice Brian was missing until suddenly he was beside me, pulling on his leather jacket.
"I'm off," he said, looking at Michael, "Shouldn't you go home to your hubby?"
Michael asked where he was going and Brian said something like "Home to say his prayers." That was obviously a code because Michael smiled slyly back at him.
I knew for sure it was a secret between them when I said, "Hold on, I'll come with you," and Brian just brushed past me without a glance.
"Not tonight," he said, and I watched him disappear up the stairs.
Crushed, I turned to Michael. "Where's he going?" But Michael only smirked at me and wouldn't answer. I had to turn and walk away for a while, to compose my face, so it wouldn't be obvious to everyone how mortified I was.
Brian had only offered to buy me a drink tonight, but somehow I thought it was a kind of date; I thought it meant he would take me home with him. Brian doesn't do dates of course, but he'd been dancing with me all night, then suddenly he was gone. All the pleasure of the evening was gone with him. I hung around a while longer, but only so it wouldn't seem like I was being a wimp about Brian leaving me alone. Of course I'm sure they all could tell anyway, so finally I just said goodnight and left. I could have gone home with somebody else, guys are always hitting on me at Babylon. But I'm cursed with wanting just one man. Somebody on TV the other night said, "Once you've had champagne, you'll never go back to beer." Brian Kinney is champagne, everyone else is beer.
I'm so upset I can hardly hold a pen, but maybe if I write in my journal, I can calm down and think more clearly. Right now I'm all fuddled up.
This morning when I came down to breakfast, Debbie handed me an envelope. It was a letter from PIFA. I held it in my hands, I turned it around, looking at the return address, looking at the stamp, but I couldn't open it. Finally Deb took it from me and slit it open with a table knife, and she read it for me. At first she acted like it was bad news, then suddenly she beams at me, "Congratulations, Picasso!"
Vic roared, I yelled, and I jumped up to hug Debbie. I can't even begin to express how I felt. Thrilled of course, happy of course. But almost scared. No, not scared. Maybe worried. Definitely worried. PIFA's expensive. I can't do it on my own, I need my parents to help me. But will Dad help me? I know there is a college fund he started years ago. But will he let me have it, if I don't go to Dartmouth?
As soon as school let out, I hurried over to the house. Luckily Mom was in the driveway, taking groceries out of the trunk of the car. It would have felt funny going up to the door and knocking. Yet I honestly don't feel like I can just walk in. Mom gave me a big smile and a hug, and when I showed her the letter from PIFA and explained what an honor it was for me to be accepted, she was as happy for me as I hoped she would be. Mom has always encouraged my love of art.
Then Mom warned about Dad expecting me to attend Dartmouth. I knew that of course and I was planning to get her on my side, to get her to talk to him for me. But when I started to ask her, this car drives up and a woman gets out and walks up to us. Mom introduces her, and it turns out the woman is a realtor. I go, "What's she doing here?" and then Mom says they're selling the house! I was stunned, just stunned. I grew up in that house, we've lived there since Molly was a baby. Even though it's not my home now, somehow it will always be my home.
Worse was coming. Way worse. Finally Mom blurts out that she and Dad are getting a divorce. I stood there with my mouth open, I was like paralyzed, I couldn't talk or even move. Mom grabs a bag of groceries and disappears into the house. I stood there for a minute, a few minutes, I don't know how long. Mom did not come back outside. Finally I just turned and walked away. I walked and walked, for hours, not going anywhere, just moving my feet.
I know it's all my fault. It's because of me that Mom and Dad won't live together any more. Everything was fine till they found out I'm gay. Mom's been sticking up for me, at least sometimes. I saw that when Brian took me home that time. Mom surprised me at first, she told Dad to let her do the talking. But afterwards, when Dad gave me his rules, Mom didn't say anything. When Brian told me I could leave with him, Mom didn't say anything. It hurt that she didn't speak up then. But maybe she'd done all she could. That's what I told myself afterwards. So it's me that's in the middle, it's me they've been fighting over, I'm the reason they're getting a divorce.
Poor Mom. She loves that house, she decorated that house and made it a beautiful home for her family. What will she do now? Where will she live? And what about Molly? Now she will grow up without two parents. She's going to be so unhappy. She's going to cry and cry. And it's all my fault.
I know I'm not to blame for being gay, I know that. Nothing can change that, and I'm not ashamed, either. I'm proud to be gay. Brian is out and proud, and I want to be like him. Emmett is out and proud too. I couldn't live like Michael, like Ted, who hide their real selves and pretend to the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, it's still my fault that my parents found out the way they did. I should have stayed in the closet till after high school. I should never have gone to Liberty Avenue. Once I met Brian, once I got the experience of being with other people like me, I couldn't go backwards. Or that's what I told myself. But maybe if I'd stayed quiet, stayed away from the clubs and from Brian, none of this would have happened. My parents wouldn't have found out, and they'd still be together.
I wish I could talk to Brian about all this. I tried to call him when I got home, but he was out. I had to work tonight and I pretended to Deb and all the people at the diner that things were fine. Now I'm home and it's time to sleep and I can't sleep. I can't stop feeling so sick with guilt, guilt for ruining my parent's lives. I don't know what to do.
I called Brian three times at work today, twice he was in meetings, the third time he got annoyed and told me to stop calling, he’d see me at Babylon on Saturday. I know he’s got deadlines, I know his boss has been on his case since the harassment business. I just needed so bad to talk to him. I don’t know why though. Probably he would just tell me to grow up and stop whining. To be a man and toughen up. Yeah, probably that’s what he would say. And he’d be right.
Today I sat through classes and talked to Daphne and even worked two hours at the diner, all the time acting normal and cheerful, all the while I felt like dying inside. Somehow there is nobody I want to talk to about this divorce. Except Brian. But I need to be mature and handle it myself. I need to make some tough decisions, and on my own without running to others for help.
I think I’ve made up my mind. I’ll go to Dartmouth after all. It’s the least I can do for my parents, after breaking up their marriage and ruining their lives. Probably I couldn’t be an artist anyway. Who cares about silly drawings and sketches and animation and all that garbage. Business is more important. Dad’s a successful businessman, and he loves his work. Brian’s a businessman and he does, too. I know I’m smart enough to get through the classes, and maybe once I get to Dartmouth and make friends, I’ll start a new life for myself. Some day I’ll probably look back and realize that this was the best decision I ever made.
Tomorrow probably these awful feelings will go away. And I know that it’s okay for men to cry, but you have to stop sometime.
Lindsay and Melanie invited me to come over for dinner tonight. I wasn’t in the mood to be around happy people, but I went anyway, they’ve done so much for me this year, how could I say no? They fixed some of my favorite things, and had candles and their pretty dishes and silverware, and the whole dinner tasted like sawdust. I held Gus and played with him while the women were working in the kitchen, and I could swear that he sensed I’m unhappy. Gus kept touching my face and saying, “Jus-jus?” Sometimes he raises his eyebrows exactly like Brian does. Or maybe he’s too little, maybe I’m imagining it. But he sure looks more like Brian every time I see him. I don’t say that to Melanie though.
After dinner we settled in the living room and they went to fix us an after-dinner drink. Actually, I don’t much like those liquers that you drink in tiny glasses, but I’m trying to because it’s intensely cool to drink them. Anyway they came laughing into the living room bringing the tiny glasses, but also bringing a surprise for me. Lindsay handed me a large wooden box with a handle and a metal clasp.
When I opened the box my heart sank. Inside were dozens of artist supplies, paint brushes, pencils, crayons, chalks. I didn’t know what to say. Finally I had to tell them. Of course I said thank you, it was such a special present, such a nice thing for them to do. But I had to tell them I’m giving up art. I’m going to Dartmouth. Each time I say it, I believe it more and more.
I worked the lunch shift at the diner today, I’ve found a way to stay numb on the inside so it’s easier to act normal on the outside. I was even joking with my customers. Being mature means keeping your sadness to yourself. When I came in the front door at Deb’s a few minutes ago, she was working intently at her sewing machine. I thought I could sneak by her and get to my room, but she has that sixth sense most moms have and stopped me cold. Then she showed me the sketchpad I’d thrown in the trash that morning. I tried to bluff it out but she wouldn’t let me.
So I told the truth. That I’m giving up art, that I’m going to Dartmouth, that I need to do it for my parents, because of the divorce. Of course she tried to talk me out of it. She kept insisting the divorce is not my fault, but I know better. She means well, but she doesn’t understand. She even thought I was just doing it to get my parents back together! I’m not that stupid. I’m not that naïve. But honestly, going to Dartmouth is the least I can do for them, to make amends for all the trouble I’ve caused. Finally I told her I’d think about it. Just to make her stop talking and talking.
I came upstairs and I hoped that writing in this journal would make me feel better. Eventually I’ll feel better. Won’t I? Now all I want to do is sleep. Sleep for about a hundred years. I’ll take a nap now, maybe by dinner time things will seem better. And tonight I’ll see Brian. I haven’t decided if I’ll talk to him about my decision or not. I don’t want people to argue with me any more. I’m a man, I’ve made a mature decision, I know that I’m doing the right thing.
Brian really cares about me. I’ve known it for a while now, but I didn’t know if he’d ever consciously let me see it. Last night he did.
When I got to Babylon, I saw Brian and the guys hanging out in the usual place, but I wasn’t ready to talk to anybody, I needed a drink first. But the fucking bartender wouldn’t sell me a beer, he kept repeating “Not without I.D.” Which is so stupid, you can’t get into Babylon without I.D I’d forgotten my wallet, but the doorman knows me and let me come right in. This bartender also knows me, well he’s seen me around a lot so he knows I belong there. He was just being hard-nosed. Power-tripping. I was pissed, and I said right out loud, “Who do you have to fuck to get a drink around here?” Just at that moment, Brian walks over and says, “Me.”
So he orders two beers from the incredibly annoying bartender and starts to hand me one, then pulls it away. “To Dartmouth,” he toasts, “And your bright shiny future as Pittsburgh’s new Andy Carnegie.”
At first I thought Debbie told him.
“I’ll drink to that,” I said confidently, but I couldn’t look at his face.
“But I thought you were going to be the new Andy Warhol.”
I remember every word he said. It’s imprinted on my brain.
“I changed my mind.” Finally I glanced at his face. He was smirking.
“And after all the trouble I went to, to make you the best homosexual I could.” He handed me the beer and I took a big gulp.
“And now you’re going to blow it,” Brian was continuing his sarcasm. “And for some stupid reason: ‘I’ve caused my parents enough pain.’” He made his voice all squeaky, he was making fun of me. Then he demanded harshly, “How can you even stand there and look me in the eye?”
I had to look him in the eye. “It’s true,” I said, with more confidence than I was feeling.
He slammed me then, glaring at my face, “It’s bullshit. They cause their own pain, just like everyone else. And now you’re going to give up everything you want, just to make them happy? That is totally FUCKED!”
“Shut up, Brian, you don’t know anything!” I shouted back at him.
He stopped scowling and smiled instead. “I know this,” he told me, “It’s scarier making your own way, than doing what’s expected.”
“I’m not scared!”
“You’re fucking terrified,” he said then. “Just like the night you met me.”
That got my attention and I turned to look at his face.
“I thought sure you were going home,” he was saying, “But you didn’t. You said, ‘I’m going with him.'”
A thousand emotions flooded through me in a nanosecond. I was amazed and thrilled that he remembered our conversation that first night, I was annoyed that he always pretended not to remember, I was angry that now he was using those memories against me.
“I cannot believe that you remember that,” I turned away, my voice shaky. “Especially since you couldn’t remember my name.”
“And look what happened!”
I leaned my elbows on the bar at my back, tried to sound nonchalant. “I turned into a big queer.”
“Yeah, lucky for you,” Brian leaned toward me, “Or I wouldn’t be wasting my time.” When I glanced at him uncertainly, he said, “But it’s too late now. There’s no turning back.”
With that he grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me onto the dance floor. I remember the song, I’ll always remember the song, ‘Forever Young.’ Confetti was falling from the ceiling like golden tears. Confetti-tears of misery mixed with tears of joy. Brian pulled me into his arms, closer and closer as we danced. Bent his head and kissed me. I melted against his body, my arms went around his neck. I couldn’t have resisted him if I tried. Of course I didn’t try.
We left right after that. He didn’t find the guys to say goodbye, just kept his arm around me as we went to get our jackets, and the ride in the jeep was silent except for music blaring on the tape player. It seemed like we both just wanted to continue the mood of our slow-motion dance in the golden confetti, words would have been in the way. At the loft we walked right up to the bedroom, pulling off our clothes, and with one movement , each standing on his side of the bed, we pulled off the duvet and slid into bed, slid together, an immediate jumble of arms and legs and seeking, hungry mouths.
In a way, I wanted him to be rough with me last night, I was afraid of gentleness. I tried to mess with him, to make him get rough, but he wouldn't. He kept pulling me tight against him, running his hands slowly over every inch of my body, his lips gently kissing my hair, my neck, nibbling my ears, licking my adam's apple and collarbone and tracing slow concentric circles around my nipples. I tried turning over, usually when he fucks me from behind, it's faster, hotter, harder, but he pulled me back around to face him and kissed me some more.
He lifted my legs to his shoulders, slowly slid his hands down to raise my hips and settle himself between my thighs. When he handed me the condom, my hands were shaking too much to open it, so he did it himself and rolled in on. All the time he kept kissing me, kissing me, murmuring, "Justin, Justin," and then once, in the middle of our slow-fucking, he called me "baby," I heard him, and it caught in my throat, made my hands clutch convulsively on his shoulders.
Slowly, gently, with moans and soft wet kisses, with rhythmic thrusts that made me shudder, slowly Brian brought me to orgasm, and he came along with me, both of us gasping and breathless. He collapsed beside me and then suddenly, for some reason, for some reason I don't understand, I started crying. That's never happened before. Never. I turned my face away, I didn't want him to see my tears, but he saw them, he reached over and pulled me tight against him, and then he kissed the tears right off my face. He said nothing, just kissed away the tears and held onto me real tight, until we both fell asleep.
Later, when we woke up and got out of bed - me for cookies and milk and him for a bottle of water - Brian said it was Lindsay who told him about Dartmouth. I'd been sure it was Debbie, even though I'd asked her not to tell anyone till I was ready; I should have known she'd keep her promise. It never occurred to me that Lindsay would call Brian, she's the one always telling me not to expect too much from him or depend on him, so I don't know why she told him. He didn't explain, just said she'd called and told him to 'do something.' Lindsay sure has a strong hold on Brian; maybe someday he'll tell me why. I've asked before and he just says they have 'history.'
We didn’t talk about school any more last night, and not at all this morning. We didn’t talk about anything really - Gus’ latest accomplishment (he can now say ‘poo poo’ and ‘pee pee’), the weather (it’s supposed to snow another couple inches today), and orange juice (Brian likes it thin, I like it pulpy). When he dropped me off at Deb’s, all Brian said was, “Justin, you have to make your own decisions, about college and everything else. Just be sure your reasons are valid. You owe yourself honesty.”
I nodded and got out of the jeep. Luckily the house was empty, I could come up to my room without talking to anyone. I needed this time to relax before going to the diner for my afternoon shift.
I appreciate all that Brian has told me, and everything Debbie told me, too. I really do. But there’s no need to talk any more, and there’s no point in thinking any more. I haven’t drawn a sketch for three days and I don’t even miss it. Not a bit. If I were a real artist, I wouldn’t be able to stop. So it’s no big deal after all. My mind is completely made up, and now I’m going to write my acceptance letter to Dartmouth. As soon as I print it out, I'll get dressed, and then I can drop the letter in a mailbox on my way to work.