Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Should Be Laughing: Renny and Wyatt Talk

“There’s a saying old….”
Having showered and changed into a well-worn pair of Levis, faded to the color of the sky on a hot summer day, and a clean white shirt, Wyatt padded quietly in sock clad feet down the hallway. The voices, one coming from downstairs at the back of the house, the other behind Renny’s bedroom door, stopped him at the top of the stairs.
“…says that love is blind…”
Leaning against the banister, Wyatt listened to Renny croon from the tiled bath in her room, and marveled at the sweetness and light with which she sang; her voice sounded so pure and innocent.
“Still, we’re often told, seek and ye shall find...”
Unable to hold back, Wyatt joined in—“So I’m going to seek a certain lad, I’ve had, in mind…”—his rich tenor melding beautifully with the delicacy of Renny’s voice upstairs, and the low, huskiness, the sassiness, of Sarah Vaughan, downstairs. “Looking everywhere, haven’t found him yet. He’s the big affair, I cannot—”
Immersed in the view beyond the upstairs window, distracted by the music and the sunset, which invigorated the hills along the coast with optimistic colors, Wyatt hadn’t heard the bedroom door open. The carpeted field across from the house, as well as those rising up the mountain, were dappled with rich emerald greens and luminous yellows; the leaves on the trees nearest the highway becoming a robust green almost purple, sparkling like exotic jewels. The wildflowers running unbridled in Renny’s Forever Field were a rainbow of splattered color and the sky above twinkled light satin. So much color trapped in the glass square, surrounded by the bleakness of the house. The expression on Wyatt’s face, when Renny discovered him outside her door, was reminiscent of Dorothy’s the day she stepped from her black-and-white world into the Technicolor of Oz.
“Sorry…I—.” He instantly plunged his hands in his pockets to silence his music.
“It’s okay.” Renny smiled almost as melodically as she sang. She stood against the doorjamb running a towel through her hair. “You have a nice voice.”
“Thanks…um…you, too.” Wyatt stared; in a plain white robe, her hair so wet it was a deep, rich brown, she looked more like Harry and Jimmy. Without the jewelry and the extravagant wardrobe, her face scrubbed free of make-up, she seemed years younger, more playful, if he could believe. Wyatt realized at once how beautiful she was, but she stiffened under the pressure of his gaze; he braced himself, positive about her response at another of his intrusions. “I didn’t mean to bother you. I was walking downstairs and…. I suppose I really should wear a bell.”
“I can’t believe I said that.” Renny laughed loudly, a completely unexpected though entirely welcome sound; she stepped into the hallway, gathered her billowing bathrobe in one hand, and hopped onto the banister. She shook her head as she laughed, spraying water in every direction. “I’m sorry, Wyatt. I can be such a bitch.”
“Well, you are pretty good at it,” he teased, laughing tentatively until she giggled along with him. Living with Harry, he had acquired the ability to say what was on his mind with a laugh and a smile; most times, it put people at ease. “But you should see Harry first thing in the morning. There’s a real bitch for you.”
Renny’s smile paled and he noticed that the flamboyant colors on the other side of the glass dimmed as well. “Please, Wyatt, you have to know I didn’t mean it. You took me by surprise is all. I thought I was alone. I’d forgotten how quiet this house can get.” She hopped off the banister and walked back into her bedroom, shaking her head, though with a sadness now. She kept talking, and when she disappeared into her bathroom, Wyatt slowly entered her room.
“I suppose you found the bottle.”
“Did you tell—.”
“Thanks.” Leaning back, she stared through the bathroom door at Wyatt. “I suppose I should explain—.”
“You don’t have to,” he said, but, realizing she wanted to talk, he sank onto her carefully made bed. There was still an aura of uneasiness in the room, that shadow of their morning encounter darkening the relationship somewhat, but Wyatt liked her, and wanted to know her, to understand her.
“It’s not like I have a drinking problem…” Renny began, although both she and Wyatt, unbeknownst to the other, recalled an old joke: ‘I drink. I get drunk. I fall down. No problem’; neither smiled as it played through their minds. “One of the less pleasing gifts I got from my mother is that I tend to drink in times of crisis, and—.”
“This qualifies, no doubt.”
“Wyatt,” Renny volunteered with a controlled smile, “this is the mother of all crises. It’s opened up a can of worms that I thought…” The words trailed off, and she ran a comb through her drying hair; in one fluid motion she swept it behind her ears in a sleek chignon, which she then pinned back with two ornate onyx and silver pins before going on. “I know it’s foolish, but it helps calm my nerves…sort of numbs the edges.”
“You could always talk to someone,” Wyatt said. Watching her, he couldn’t help but think that she needed her hair and makeup, jewelry and clothes to be perfect, so precise, so neat, to mask what was happening beneath the surface. “I’d be willing to listen.”
“You know something.” With a vacant look in her eyes, Renny mechanically began brushing her cheeks a dusty rose. “I can out-dress anyone…anytime…ever! I can give a party for a hundred people and make each one feel like the guest of honor…I can order off a menu in fluent French and know the perfect wine for each course. I can tell the difference between Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Bill Blass at thirty paces. I’m…I’m a genius at picking out the perfect gift and I always send thank-you notes…I can—.”
Now, holding a mascara wand to her eyelashes, she stopped rambling and her eyes welled up; her hand began to shake and the wand tumbled into the sink, streaking the porcelain with feathery black lines. Unsure of what he could, or should, do for her, Wyatt sat still until, thinking she was about to faint, he ran to the bathroom door. Renny stopped him with a wave of her hand.
“I’m okay.” The whisper kept him at bay, though he lingered in the doorway and looked at her near flawless reflection in the mirror. Not surprisingly, she was already dry-eyed and reapplying the mascara. “See…Wyatt? I can do all of those things without even thinking about them. And I can listen to friends…acquaintances, actually…for hours on end, prattling on about this or that, but I never talk about myself.” Her voice trembled like her hands. “I think it’s best to keep things hidden. It’s, I don’t know, safer.”
“Sure.” Examining her eyes in the vanity, turning her face this way and that, she sniffed her approval. “Nobody asks questions I don’t wish to answer, and my secrets stay my secrets.”
“But…holding things in can’t be good for you,” Wyatt disagreed. “No one can ever get to know the real you.”
“The real me?” Her eyes filled again, but the perfectionist quickly re-emerged and she tilted her head back to stem the tide of new tears. “There is no real me anymore. I’ve told so many lies and lived too many lives to be a real person. I don’t even know who I am, which is why…being here…in this house…where…I can’t go back an be that person.”
“How do you keep people—.”
“I smile sweetly and change the subject.” She murmured almost to herself, and then, meeting Wyatt’s eyes in the looking glass, she asked, “How come Harry’s so calm about Mother’s death? He seems to be handling it all so well…coming home, I mean.”
Wyatt was bewildered. “Is this an example or are you—.”
“I’m changing the subject, Wyatt. Please.” She smiled at him while constructing her face, though Wyatt believed no amount of powder or shine could cover the hurt. “Harry’s so quiet and matter-of-fact about all of this.”
Realizing that Renny was closing herself off again, that the walls were going back up, Wyatt eventually began to speak. “It sounds sad, but Harry’s used to people dying. The first time someone he loved, someone he was close to, passed, he was pretty torn up, but over time, he’s gotten used to it.”
“Was it AIDS?” It was the first time the thought had crossed her mind—that way—about Harry. Renny had never known anyone who had the disease, much less died from it. For her, the virus was nothing more than a blurb on the evening news, a headline in Time, a red ribbon at an awards show.
“Sometimes.” Wyatt said reflectively. “Most of the time, I guess. We’ve lost a lot of our family like that.”
“Your…family? I didn’t know you—.” Once more she was struck by how little she knew about her brothers; Jimmy was married and had a son; Harry had Wyatt and…. She set her blush down on the counter and faced Wyatt. “Who?”
“Our family. Mine and Harry’s.” Wyatt explained, although he saw only chaos and a bit too much rouge on her face. Pausing a moment or two, thinking about his life, his family, Harry, Wyatt found a new way to begin.
“There’s a quote of Maya Angelou’s, ‘The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.’ Have you heard it?” Renny shook her head and he went on. “For a lot of gay people, it isn’t like that. Home isn’t a safe place. Their families don’t make them feel safe; they cannot be themselves. We get cursed at, shut out, cut out…” Wyatt fought to keep the tears from falling. “Anyway, in order to feel safe and loved as we are, gay people often create new families out of friends, old lovers and—.”
“Did your family do that to you?”
“No!” He chuckled, and, for some reason, felt embarrassed for it. “I was luckier than most. My Dad had a hard time of it, at first, no grandchildren to carry on the family name and all that. And my mother blamed herself for the things she did, or didn’t do. But they love me…and Harry, too. They treat him like a son. Harry has a family in my family.” He stopped when Renny’s smile turned to ice.
“Don’t get upset,” he finally said. “He doesn’t blame anyone, not anymore, I think, but he feels like he lost his family a long time ago. You left and he didn’t know where to find you. And Jimmy, well…he was just a kid when Harry moved away; what could he say to Jimmy about being gay?
“When people ask if he’s gay, Harry says, ‘Yeah! In every sense of the word!’ He’s learned that because of our ‘family.’ He’s discovered that he’s all right.” Wyatt laughed a bit, but then turned serious. “He wrote your mother, telling her that he was gay, trying to explain who he was, and that he was happy. He wanted to share that with her, but she never answered him. So, he gave up…he didn’t want to, but he felt it was the only way. He gave up, and started a new family to share…birthdays and holidays, anniversaries…life, even death.”
Renny nodded as she listened. “And because a lot of your family is gay, you’ve seen many of them die from AIDS?”
“Yes,” Wyatt nodded soberly, stopping to remember the friends, the lovers, the family, he no longer had in his life: Erin and Joey. Mark. Eddie and Ryan…And he told her about John, Harry’s first lover, ending by saying, “He died of pneumocystis…complications from AIDS.”
“Oh my God, Wyatt. Is he—?” The idea of Harry being sick, of him dying, hit her full force, leaving her breathless; it couldn’t happen, not after she’d found him again, but Wyatt was quick to calm her fears.
“No! No…he’s fine…he’s—we’re both fine.” He swiftly said. “Harry was lucky. He didn’t come out until after the virus was big news, and I think it scared him into monogamy and safe sex. He’s always…we’ve always…been safe.”
“This is so sad…” Holding a tube of lipstick in her hand, Renny stared at the jade green tube as though she had no idea what is was, or how to use it. She looked frozen in place, until she finally said, “I hate to think of him dying alone…like our mother.”
Stung by her inability to comprehend what he was saying, Wyatt stepped into the bathroom—essentially a tiled closet with a drain, the room was that small—and took the lipstick from her hand. This simple act appeared to thaw Renny and she looked up at him. “He isn’t alone, Renny,” Wyatt said. “I told you. Harry has a family that loves him. And he has me. I love him, Renny—I think I fell in love with him before I even knew his name—and I’ll be with him forever. We’re a family, Harry and me, but, I was thinking, there’s always room for a sister and brother.”
Crying now, out of sadness and joy, Renny hugged him. Much as Harry had done, though for entirely different reasons, Renny created a family of her own; only she dreamt up the family from her past while he created one for the future. That was the difference between them, Harry and Renny; she dwelled on the past while he looked straight ahead. Renny started to say something to Wyatt, but he was near tears, too, until she whispered something in his ear and they began to laugh.
“Oh shit. There goes my makeup.”

1 comment:

Wonder Man said...

cute, very personal