Behind The Silver Screen
By Jerry Miller
Eric sat up and turned away from the screen, towards me. “What is it, Mike. What do you want to tell me?”
I knew this was going to be difficult, not being too sure of myself, and I said, “I have to admit that I haven’t heard of Mozart before.”
Eric looked over at me in disbelief and cracked up laughing.
“I see I will have to enlighten you about the composer.”
“Okay. I’d like that, but what about the music from this movie? Do you like it as much as I do?”
“I’ve been listening to it. It seems to fit with what’s going on in the movie,” Eric said.
“I saw this movie when it came out in 1972. I am a big John Wayne fan. I love Elmer Bernstein when he scores one of Wayne’s movies. I fell in love with the music from TRUE GRIT and THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER. When I read that John Williams scored this movie, THE COWBOYS, I was disappointed it wasn’t Bernstein. Bernstein’s scores are usually big and brassy. I knew Williams had been Oscar nominated for THE REIVERS, and I eventually grew to love Williams’ score. I have been trying to find the album for it. I collect soundtrack albums, Eric. I must have over a hundred in my collection.”
“I will just start by listening to your collection. Maybe I can distinguish some similarities to classical music.” Eric looked at me with a very content and impressed look and said, “You do realize, Mike, that more than likely, these film composers all studied the classics. The influence here is really strong.”
Then he looked thoughtfully at me and said, “Someday I am hoping to have a big collection of classics.”
“I am sure you won’t have a problem starting your collection,” I said. “I will take you by a record store so you can start.”
Eric looked at me with disbelieving eyes, not sure I was serious or not.
“I’m serious,” I said. He just nodded his head.
At the conclusion of the movie I started my car and headed towards Eric’s house. The ride back to his house was in silence.
I had debated all night whether to tell Eric about Jay. As much as I wanted to before returning to his house, I just couldn’t do it. I parked the car and turned it off.
“I had a good time with you tonight, Mike,” Eric said.
“I did too. I still have some things to think about,” I said, hoping to sound positive. Eric nodded his understanding.
“Are you working anywhere this summer?” I asked.
“No, I haven’t looked.”
He turned towards me and took my hand. “When can I see you again, Mike?”
“In a couple of days. I’ll call. I promise.”
“Okay, Mike.” He said and
leaned over to kiss me. The kiss was soft and brief.
After I watched him go in the house, I drove over to Ben’s. I wasn’t sure he would be up, but when I saw the living room lights on I got out of the car and knocked on the door. Ben answered with Mikey in his arms.
“Out kind of late, aren’t you, Mike?” he asked with a mischievous grin.
“I’m sorry, Ben. I hoped you were still up. I needed to talk to you.”
“Come in. I’m up with Mikey so Debbie can get some sleep.”
“Don’t you have to get up early for work?”
“Yeah. But Deb is feeling
pretty bad with her tonsils again. I will probably call in. How was your date
with Eric?” Ben asked returning to the rocker.
“I hadn’t considered it a date, but I guess it was. It was nice,” I said, sitting on the couch.
“What did you do?”
“I took Eric to the cemetery. I encouraged him to talk to Mike. At first he wasn’t too sure of himself. He considered the possibilities and with some reluctance he did speak to him. It was good for him. I realized what it feels like for you when we go there.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said looking at me with soft, understanding eyes.
Ben looked comfortable rocking Mikey. I sensed he loved being a father. I knew I would never know what that would be like.
“Is Mikey restless or hungry?” I asked.
“A little of both I guess.” Ben got up and walked over to me. “Here. You hold him while I go check on Deb. With you he might just fall asleep.”
Ben left Mikey in my arms then headed upstairs. I laid him down on my legs with his head at my knees. I took his little hands in mine. He looked up at me and just smiled. I love it when Mikey smiles. He looks so much like Ben with those big blue eyes and those ears that stick out some.
“You know, little guy, you look so much like your Dad. Yeah, you do,” I said, talking out loud to a six-month-old baby who had no clue what I’m talking about. Mikey kicked his legs up and giggled. Why? I have no idea.
“You’re lucky to have your Dad and your Mom, buddy. Your Dad is something else. Someday you’ll know what I mean. He’s my best friend. He’s been there for me ever since our senior year in high school. He’s in my heart, little guy. Do you know what I mean? He and I share everything with each other.”
Mikey just smiled. I suspected he liked the sound of my voice.
“Here’s my heart,” I said, pointing at mine. “You’re in my heart. YES, YOU ARE. You are in good company, too. Your Mom and Dad and your other Uncle Mike are there. Someday, I hope to tell you about him.”
“You got a heart, too. It’s right here,” I said, touching his chest. “Mikey, your heart is incredibly flexible. It can grow with love and it can let people in who are very special. I know you will have many people in your heart. I want to watch you grow up and be happy with those who will find their way there.”
I put Mikey against my shoulder so I could hold him tight while I laid down on the couch. It felt good to hold Mikey like this. We had bonded and somehow, I gave Ben credit for that. I sensed that Mikey could feel Ben’s affection for me and mine for Ben.
“Mikey, its not like opening a door and pushing someone into your heart. It’s how that person works their way in without your realizing that it has happened. Then, suddenly you know they’re there and a warm, wondrous feeling comes from your heart when you think about that person, whether they are near or far. It’s how it is with your other Uncle Mike. He will always be in my heart. It’s how it is with your Dad. Mikey, you have no idea what he means to me. He’s been in my heart a long time.”
I thought back trying to remember the exact moment I felt Ben in my heart and I couldn’t pinpoint it exactly.
“And, you, my little guy. You worked your magic on me. I just want to love you and protect you. Your Dad gave me a great gift by sharing you with me. You are so blessed and loved by your Mom and Dad. I feel blessed, too, by being in your life. I know you will find out that you can talk to your Dad about anything. Your Dad does that with me. I never had that with mine.”
I always felt slighted in life by not being able to talk to own father.
“Mikey, have you gone asleep, little guy?”
Mikey was sound asleep. I felt in awe that he could fall asleep in my arms. I know he loves me, even though he doesn’t really know what that is yet. I bent down and kissed his little head.
“I love you, little guy.” I said. When I got up and walked around the wall to the stairs to take Mikey to his bed, I saw Ben sitting on the steps about half way up. He was wiping his eyes.
“How long have you been sitting there?” I asked.
Neither of us moved.
“Awhile,” he said. “I couldn’t help myself. It sounded so nice hearing you talk to Mikey like that.”
“How much did you hear?”
“A lot,” Ben said patting the step he was sitting on. I went and sat down next to him with Mikey. Ben looked a little pensive, and I knew something was on his mind.
“Aren’t you tired of being gay, Mike?”
I wasn’t expecting Ben to ask that question and said, “What do you mean, Ben?”
“It’s done nothing but bring you sadness and grief.” He turned to me with concern in his eyes and asked, “Is it worth it, Mike?”
I thought about that for a moment
“I know you’re right, Ben. Life has brought me much sadness and grief with Jay and even more with Mike. But that can happen to anyone. No matter what, it still doesn’t mater that I’m gay. It’s not about what I am. It’s about who I am,” I said shaking my head. “I don’t know why. It isn’t like I just woke up one day and decided that I wanted to have sex with other guys. This just seems so natural to me. I don’t know anything else. I don’t understand anything else.”
“Look at Mikey, Mike.”
I did. He looked so peaceful asleep in my arms.
“Mike, don’t you ever want that someday? To be a father of your own children?”
Again I knew he was right. I did want children of my own, but they probably weren’t in the cards. Mikey was going to be the closet thing I would ever have to having my own children.
“Ben, yes, that would great if
I were perfectly straight and I could be sexual with a woman. But I can’t. It’s
not going to happen,” I said with some resignation.
“Have you tried, Mike?” Ben said, almost sounding desperate for me.
“In my way I tried. I looked at those Playboy magazines in private and couldn’t get hard. I’m not like you Ben. I can’t do it. I can’t get hard for a girl. Not even a whimper. I look at guys like you look at girls,” I said taking his hand. “When we jacked off together, you looked at the boobs of the girl, while I was watching your hand and what you were doing with it. ”
Ben looked away from me. I think he might have been a little embarrassed judging by the color of his face. I was just being honest with him.
I suspected he wasn’t finished with the subject. He wasn’t.
“I had to do some research one night when we were at Sinclair. I got bored one night and I did some reading on homosexuality.” He turned to me, releasing my hand; his arm went around my shoulder. “Mike, experts claim that homosexuality is a mental illness.”
“I’m not sick, Ben,” I said with some indignation. “How could you even consider that?”
“It’s what I read, Mike,” he said still persisting with his point. “Mike, haven’t you ever wondered why just about all the guys we saw in the showers were circumcised?”
“Yeah,” I said, wondering what that had to do with being gay.
“I read that since early in the century, some experts believed that circumcision would eliminate masturbation and homosexuality. These were the same people who believed that homosexuals were deviants and that jacking off with another guy could lead to same-sex attraction, and therefore to homosexuality.”
I shook my head not sure I believed what he was saying.
“They thought that by cutting the foreskin off and making it too difficult to masturbate, they could prevent guys from taking the path to deviancy, that mutilating a baby was a safeguard against homosexuality.”
“Well, Ben, both those theories are proven wrong just by us. We never had any trouble jacking off, and it didn’t make you gay.”
“Don’t you see Mike? It doesn’t matter whether the theory was wrong or not. People are afraid of homosexuals. They don’t know what they are and don’t care to find out. Remember when we were in elementary school when kids would pick on other kids saying they had ‘cooties’? We didn’t know what ‘cooties’ were; we just didn’t want them. It’s the same with homosexuals. It’s like homosexuals have something like ‘cooties’. Straight people don’t want to be around gays, because they’re afraid their ‘cooties’ might be contagious.”
“Are you afraid of me, Ben.”
“No, I’m not. But I am afraid for you.”
I sat there, holding Mikey, taking in everything he said. It was making some sense to me.
“Times will change someday, Ben?” I said, only half believing it.
“Mike, how long did it take before we had Civil Rights for everyone?”
“Too long, Ben.”
I looked down at the sleeping baby. I hoped the world would be more understanding by the time Mikey was my age.
“Are you afraid of explaining all of this to Mikey someday?”
Ben began nodding his head and said, “Yeah, that has crossed my mind. But Mike, it’s just so sad to me. I can just imagine your life one of constant sadness and disappointments. I don’t want that for you.”
I laid my head against his shoulder. I was sitting with the two most important men in my life. I felt content that I had these two guys who cared about me in their own unique ways.
“Why didn’t you make any moves on me, Mike?” he asked, almost in a whisper.
I was surprised that it took him this long to ask.
“Honestly, I thought about it several times. But something told me that you were too precious to me to take a chance and ruin our friendship. I am glad that I never did.”
We sat there quietly for a few minutes.
“Are you comfortable like that holding Mikey?” Ben asked.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I love this.”
“Good. Well, now that I got all of that out of my system, what did you want to talk about?”
“I’m somewhat confused about Eric and Jay. I just want some advice.”
Ben nodded his head and asked, “So, what’s the problem with Eric?”
“I couldn’t tell Eric about Jay. I well I did, but it was about our time in high school.”
“You’re afraid to tell him?”
“I was and still am,” I said. “I never told you what happen with Jay, did I?”
“I never felt like I had the whole story.”
“I told you that Jay and I would jack off together. I didn’t tell you that the last time we did I went down on him.”
“Oh really?” he asked with a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Yeah. He later told me that he liked it and wanted to do it to me but he said it scared him and knew if he did, he would be like me. He wanted to stay straight.”
“That explains a lot.” Ben said. “Are you sure Eric’s gay, Mike?”
“I asked him the right questions, he gave me the right answers. He looks at guys sexually, like I do. He has no interest in girls. I wanted to be sure.”
“But you have some hesitation about Eric?” he asked.
“Yeah, I do. I don’t know if it feels right. He reminds me so much of Mike, his eyes, his smile and even his kisses.”
“You freaked out when he kissed
“Mike, it’s just a kiss. A simple expression of affection that connects two people.”
Without warning, Ben pulled my face to his. He planted his lips on mine and kissed me, with a sense of purpose. I was shocked. I was beginning to enjoy the kiss when he pulled away.
“See? It’s just a kiss. You’re the first guy I ever kissed on the lips,” he said with raised eyebrows. “And the last.”
I brought my fingers to my lips. His kiss was still fresh on my mind and I won’t ever be forgotten.
“I am sure we will both remember that kiss, for different reasons. But the point is, it’s just a kiss and if you keep thinking that Eric is too much like his brother, you’re aren’t being fair to him or yourself.”
I began to understand his point.
Ben was quiet for a few moments. “I want you to remember, despite what I am about to tell you, that I love you. You’re my best friend and I care about you.”
“I know, Ben,” I said with some apprehension.
“I think it’s time, Mike, for you to come to terms with your life. Face some realities and take control of your life.”
“Ben? Why would you say that?” I asked, with great concern and surprise. It’s been a conversation of surprises. Even with his kiss.
“I am being your friend, Mike,” he said. “It’s time you let go of Mike. Mike died in 1970. This is 1974. You knew Mike for less than a year and you have spent four years grieving over him and what you had with him. It’s time to get over it, Mike. It’s no longer healthy.”
“Ben, what are you doing?” I asked. I trusted Ben and if anyone else had said that to me I might’ve gotten angry.
“I am trying to get through to you. You may feel like you can move on with either Eric or Jay, but you have to let go of Mike first. I am not saying you have to forget him, but you have to accept the reality that what you had with Mike is long over. And if you think that if he would have come back when his tour was over like he was when he left, you would be wrong. He wouldn’t be the same, Mike. Your relationship would probably not return to what it was when he left.”
“Why, Ben?” I asked.
“The reality of it, Mike, is that most of the soldiers who came home from that war were emotionally damaged. Even though Mike was killed two weeks after arriving in Vietnam, his letters to his mother revealed that he was changing. I read those letters, Mike.”
“I never saw any of Betty’s letters, Ben.”
“No, Betty wasn’t going to show those to you,” he said.
“When you met Mike, seeing him for the first time, what did you see?” Ben asked.
“A kind hearted, sweet, innocent caring guy.”
“Exactly. What do you think they taught him in boot camp?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought
“To kill, Mike. They gave him a gun and taught how to kill another human being.”
I never thought about that. Never really wanted to.
“Mike couldn’t hurt anyone,” I said trying to defend him.
“Exactly. But war changes a man. We all grew up being told it was wrong to hurt anyone else. The Marines gave him a gun and told him it was okay to shoot another man and they paid him to do it. That was the soldier he became, doing his duty to protect us. Mike struggled with that concept and when he killed someone the first week he was there, it made him sick. He hated himself for it.”
Oh my God, Mike. I thought.
“This is true, isn’t it, Ben?” I said, not sure I liked the implications here.
“Mike, did you read those last few letters you got from him after he was killed?”
“No. They’re in the box,” I said, knowing they were safely out of the way, tucked quietly intact with the rest of his things.
“I can only imagine what he wrote, Mike,” he said. “He wouldn’t have been the same guy you knew if he had come back. Some of the veterans are suffering from severe ‘Delayed Stress Syndrome’. It messes some of them up pretty good. You might have lost Mike anyway.”
I didn’t like what Ben was telling me. I struggled to understand. Sadly, I began to accept that what he was saying was true.
“Since he died, you have lived in the memories of what you had with Mike. Stop living those memories and create new ones with someone else. You and I will never forget him, but we both have to live our lives. I have a life here with Debbie and Mikey. You’re in my life, too. I want you to be happy, whether it’s with Eric or Jay or someone else. I may have trouble understanding what makes you homosexual, but I know you better than anyone else. I’m not afraid to learn more about it.”
Ben pulled me in and hugged me. With my free arm I hugged him, too.
“You’re in my heart, too,” Ben said in my ear. That warm feeling flooded me. Ben’s still my rock.
“Now, there are a couple more things I going to say to you about Jay and Eric before putting Mikey and me to bed. I’m not sure I trust Jay, even more now that you described what happened between you two. He was such a player with the girls in our senior in high school. I saw him with a different girl about every two weeks. The stories that went around about him were probably true that once he got one, he dropped her and moved on to the next one.”
Apparently Jay was trying to push his own homosexual feelings as far away as he could by proving to himself and others what a stud he was.
“He might do that with you. My advice to you is that you belong with Eric. He needs someone he can trust and he trusts you. But remember one thing, when you met Mike, he was emotionally and affectionately starved. Eric is the same way, but not as bad. I trust you to be sensitive to his needs and make the right decisions about Eric and Jay”
I beginning to realize that I had only one choice in the matter.
“I am also worried about you working the strike. You know I work at Frigidaire and I am in the union. I’ve heard the stories about how far a union will go to discourage scabs from crossing the picket lines. Have you been threatened yet?”
“Yeah, I guess in a way. Nothing blatant, though I was followed one night back to Dayton, but I lost them.”
“Mike, my advice to you is to get out of that job. Find something else. I don’t want you getting hurt that way either,” he said, yawning. “That’s it. I got nothing else to say. I’m going to bed.”
I handed Mikey over to him and said, “Ben?”
I looked him in the eyes, I pulled his forehead to mine and said, “You know how I feel about you and nothing will ever change that. I appreciate that you cared enough to share with me your concern and that you can show me affection without thinking you might catch something.”
He chuckled and said, “I love you, too, Mike.”
I kissed his forehead and kissed Mikey and went home with a lot to think about.
Eric and I left the Dayton Mall after seeing “Jaws”. Eric was driving so I got in on the passenger side and buckled up.
“I’m sure that music will be a tough one to beat at the Oscars next year,” I said as Eric started the car.
“You and your movie music, Mike,” He said shaking his head. “Don’t get me wrong…completely. I do like some of it. Not sure about that one though.”
“What? You don’t think that wasn’t the best score of 1975 so far? It made the movie more fun.”
“I know. I guess I liked it. The way it started out at the beginning. Haunting as the camera passed through the water, searching for its prey. Like a heart, beating in anticipation and then increasing its momentum as it approached the girl, like every heterosexual being on this earth,” Eric said with sarcasm.
I saw the smirk on his face and I laughed hard at that analogy.
“What? You’re disappointed it wasn’t a nice looking, young guy in a skimpy bathing suit, with a big bulge, so your heart beat would have increased?” I asked, still laughing at him.
“Yeah. I am.”
“I thought you were happy with my bulge.”
“I am,” he said. “I may be in a monogamous relationship with you, but I didn’t agree not to fantasize about other guys. Besides, weren’t we talking about the music?”
“I thought we were.”
“The music was actually great. You should buy the album so we can have sex while it plays,” Eric said sarcastically taking the ‘on ramp’ to I 75.
I thought that would be an interesting idea. Playing the John Williams score to “Jaws” and screwing our brains out. I was seriously imagining which sex act to do to each movement of the score. I liked it. Despite Eric’s obvious joke, I was definitely going to make that happen. I wondered if he was going to drive by a K Mart.
The end of Chapter 13