Chapter 11: Brian’s POV
I wake up, not sure when, not sure how I even fell asleep. I hurt so much it’s hard to believe I could ever fall asleep. Waking up hurts. I adjust the recliner, trying to redistribute my weight. Nothing really helps. The lights are off except for the ambient glow from the television that’s broadcasting yet another showing of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I see a brush of blond hair on the arm of the couch and I know he’s fallen asleep there, instead of going to bed. So much for making sure I didn’t slip into a coma.
Oh God, I am so sore.
Muscles I never knew I had are screaming. I want drugs. I need to piss, again. I’m a miserable, helpless, useless, fucking baby. And now I feel like crying, going full circle on the baby thing. I hate feeling dependent on anyone. I hate it when my body turns on me. First, the fucking cancer, and now this. I’m so fucking over having to deal with health issues. I know people have it worse. I know people live with torrents of pain every day. I acknowledge that sad truth. But I still feel a little sorry for my own plight, and that makes me mad at myself.
I lower the footrest to the floor and put my weight on my good arm and my good leg and slowly manage to stand. Unsteady. Now what? One foot in front of the other, I make it three steps then brace myself on the back of the couch to keep from falling. I stare down at him, watching him sleep. The sleep of the innocent, he’s oblivious to my drama. I resent that, unreasonably. I resent everything, unreasonably.
“Could you at least help me walk to the bathroom?” I bark at him, unfairly, and he instantly hops up and says,
“You shouldn’t have stood up on your own. You can’t fall, Brian. Your head, your ribs…”
“Just help me, god damn it.”
He steadies me with his arm and I make it to the john and shut the door in his face. Why am I being such an asshole? He’s helping me when no one else would. Why do I resent it? I sit on the edge of the tub when I’m through and try to garner the strength to walk out. He lets himself in and places a hand on my uninjured shoulder.
“No, I’m not okay. I’m in pain. I’m miserable. Will you get me some Advil?”
“Yes, come on. Want to try the bed?”
I shake my head. I know if I lie down in that bed, I could never have the leverage to get out of it again. Totally dependent. Shit! I limp back to my chair, grabbing a pillow on the way. One goes under my ass, this one will be for my back. “Is it cold or is it me?” I ask as he covers me up with the afghan. He leaves and comes back with the comforter from the bed. It’s huge, but the soft warmth is soothing. He makes me eat some crackers with the Advil. I drink water. I wait for the relief that doesn’t really come. The edge goes off the pain, maybe, but I’m never free of it.
Free of pain. Nice concept. Something I know little about.
“Please turn off that ludicrous movie,” I beg him. He does. Watching him flip the channels and land on something on MTV, I experience a revelation. Call me a prophet, I don’t know, but it hits me with such clarity that it’s as if someone lit the burning shrub. The pure, white knowledge that I receive is jarring to me. I want to erase it from my brain. I want to make it go away. I want to do something to myself to make it stop.
Wait, didn’t I already do that? On my fourth run? Why do I always have to be my own victim? I look at him. Bad alternative. Don’t do it, Brian. “Do you have to listen to that crap twenty-four hours a day?” I can’t help myself. He calmly switches off the television and turns on a lamp.
“Besides being in agonizing pain?”
I reach up with my good arm ( hurts to do so because of having to use some muscles in my torso) and rake my hair. It feels grungy. I want a bath. “I don’t think I should talk right now.”
“Because I’m in a foul mood. I might say something I’ll later regret.”
“Maybe you’ll just tell me what you really think, for once.”
Don’t go there, Justin, I think to myself. Not tonight. It’s not fair for me to fault him for going to New York to follow his career. Even if I don’t really understand the necessity for New York, it’s his call and his career is as important to him as mine is to me. I won’t do it. This is my problem, not his. He didn’t do anything wrong by leaving. He was right about how stupid the whole marriage sham was. He saved us from a fatal mistake. How do I know this isn’t the right thing, as well? He’s a lot better at this than I am, apparently.
Or is he?
“Yak, yak, yak,” I grumble. “What’s the point?”
“Some might call it communication,” he gets up and comes back with that damned messenger bag of his. He pulls out a familiar looking present. I wince.
“You haven’t opened it?”
“I was saving it. Then this happened. I’m going to open it now.”
I sigh. “It was a stupid, impulsive gesture.”
“Of course it was,” he says with a smile. “You bought it.” He rips open the paper and stares at the red leather box with the gold scroll trim. A small gold button is pushed to open it. He doesn’t push it. “Cartier?” he says with a shocked expression. I shrug. He finally opens it and removes an eighteen-karat yellow gold band with flat screw heads evenly spaced around the bracelet. He turns it over on his palm and tries to slip it over his hand, but it won’t get past his knuckles. “Is it a puzzle? It’s beautiful, but…”
“There’s a note.”
He looks in the box again. Under the lid is my handwritten note that reads: “Cartier first made this bracelet before either of us were born. It was called the “Love” bracelet because it can only be opened and slipped on when you use a special little screwdriver. So one lover “cuffed” the other and it was supposed to be symbolic. Come see me and I’ll give you the screwdriver to open it. Merry Christmas, Brian”.
He looks over at me, his eyes glistening. “I’m here.”
“Not really. You came here to ski, not to see me. And the screwdriver is at my loft.”
“I would’ve seen you. You’re the one who left town for Christmas.” That’s true. “I’ll bet the hotel has a screwdriver I can borrow.”
“It’s a proprietary fit, you have to use the jeweler’s screwdriver. It’s a little piece of art on its own, hangs from a little chain. The original concept is the giver wears the key to the cuff.”
He stares at me. He then gets up and goes over to the table where my stuff from the hospital was tossed. My torn sweater and parka, my ski gear, an envelope with my personal effects, all are where he left them. He rips open the envelope and sorts through my watch and lift pass and small zippered nylon thing that holds some cash and my room key and ID. A slim gold chain with a small eighteen gold cylinder hanging from it glistens. It looks like art, but the top of the cylinder reverses to reveal a ridge that acts as a screwdriver. He shakes his head. He knows me too well. He knew I’d be wearing it, and he’s right. Damned bloody scarf. That was the giveaway, I guess.
“Now you’re lying to me?”
I shrug. I guess I am. The necklace has become a talisman for me, a connection. Something ephemeral. He brings it over to me, along with the bracelet. “Open it.”
It’s hard to do when one of my arms is so tender, but I manage to unhinge the screw that closes the latch. The bracelet expands to fit over his hand. Once it’s in place, I tighten the latch and he puts the screwdriver back in closed position and slips the chain over my head. It looks stupid against my bandages. He holds up his right hand, admiring the classic look of the band. “I hope it’s paint proof.”
“It’s gold. Gold is tough.”
“It’s way too expensive, Brian.”
“You can pawn it if you need the money one day.”
“Yeah,” he sits cross-legged at my feet, using the overflow of the comforter as cushion. He looks about fifteen with his hair a mess, his sweat pants and t-shirt rumpled, and white socks on his feet. He looks fucking beautiful, breathtaking. “That’s exactly what I’d do. So far I’m managing to keep the wolf away from my door.”
“You’re never going to be my equal,” I tell him. “And I’ll never be yours. So what the fuck are you trying to prove? If you’re trying to prove something about your art, your talent, okay. I understand that, I guess. But if you’re trying to prove you can be my equal, forget it. We’re two different people. I’m older than you, more experienced in a lot of ways, a better businessman, better with money, better at the ad game, more capable of dealing with sharks on both sides of the conference room table, and I always will be. You’re a better artist, more attuned to the emotional side of life, able to capture that emotion and vision on canvas, more intuitive, better with people, and you always will be. Why are we supposed to be ‘equal’? What does that mean, anyway?”
He stares at me. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say anything so straight-on about our relationship, Brian.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“I’m serious. I’m impressed.”
“Am I wrong?”
“No. But it’s not that I’m trying to be your equal in the boardroom, or in any of the theater where you operate. Or that I’m trying to match your bankroll, even. Maybe someday I will. But that’s not it. I just don’t want to be your boy, at home, you pay all the expenses, I live off your money, paint, dabble, become…one of those guys. I can’t respect that, and while you may think it’s okay now, sooner or later you’ll start to resent it. I know you, Brian. Any partner you ever take on will have to have their own personal drive and ambition or you’ll ultimately lose interest and start feeling like you’re being used.”
I’m listening. He’s not wrong. “You do have drive and ambition.”
“Yes, I do. But it needs to go somewhere. It’s not just a desire to paint. It’s a desire to get my work out there, noticed, sold. I know some artists, great artists, didn’t sell their work, and didn’t care if their work sold. Others, not so great, seem to paint only to sell their work, they’ve become a business. I think I’ve got a foot in both camps. I’m not motivated to paint by whether I think my work will be commercial, but I do want to sell. Someday I want to walk into Cartier’s and buy you a matching bracelet with my own money.”
“Don’t you see how unimportant that is to me? If I wanted a bracelet, I could buy it myself.”
“And don’t you see why it is so important to me to be able to buy it for you?”
We stare each other down and then I sigh. In a way, I do see. My dependency issues are not unique to me. Just as I hate being dependent on him right now because I’m hurt, he hates being dependent on me for everything financial. That’s not unreasonable, and he’s right. If he were willing to settle for that indefinitely, I probably would tire of it. “Why can’t you let me be the breadwinner until you do start selling?”
“Because I need to be a little hungry to be motivated to get my work out there. I’m a perfectionist about my art. It’s never good enough. I need to be able to say, stop. It’s finished. Put it in a gallery and see if someone bites. So long as I’m completely supported by you, I can tweak a painting forever. I think once I get some pieces sold for real money, I’ll learn more about when a work is ready to pitch. I think I’ve already learned something about that. You’re not an artist, Brian, so it’s hard for you to understand. I suspect it’s like an author writing a book. Sooner or later he has to say, this is it. It’s ready, otherwise it dies in eternal editing. No one ever reads it.”
Smart and beautiful, he makes it so damned hard to shoot holes through his theories. I like that. But then there’s that damned revelation of mine. What about that? It won’t go away. I can’t ignore it. It explains so much to me. My anger, simmering beneath the surface, my dissatisfaction with everything, even tricking, my self-destruction, all become understandable in context. The core of my life is not what it used to be. For the first time since I’ve been old enough to understand what I want from life, I’m not living the way I want to live. And that is alien to me. I take a deep breath, it hurts, my fucking ribs remind me, but I do it anyway. It’s now or never. I have to tell him about the burning shrub, or there’s never going to be any hope for us. And that’s not okay.
“I’m no longer happy living alone,” I throw it out there. “I don’t know what that means for us, but I don’t want to live this way anymore.”
The silence expands. The crickets in my head chirp. Time is suspended. Neither one of us knows what to say next.