Behind The Silver Screen
By Jerry Miller
Driving south on I-75 towards Cincinnati with Eric, I began to realize many things about my life. Since Mike's death, I had concentrated on my sadness and the void that his death had left. Even though I had positive things in my life, I shadowed them with grief. I had wonderful people in my life; Ben, Debbie, Betty and my sweet Mikey. But as I glanced over at Eric, riding in the passenger seat, I marveled at the idea that someone else could actually love me. My fingers, entwined in his, clenched with that wonderful feeling of his-that was catalyst that sent me over to the rediscovery of myself.
Eric was watching me. He may have thought I was crazy comparing the virtues of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" to our lives, but I knew I was just dizzy with self-revelations. The revelations just kept right on coming. Eric had waited for me. His silent yearning and love for me was undeniably flawless. I suspected that his lovemaking would be unhesitatingly generous. What I felt from his eyes was warmth. What I felt from his fingers' grasp wasn't the urgency of lust or sex; it was the transmission of his unwavering love for me. A touch foreign to me for so long, but now welcome and comforting, that if I didn't resist it, if I didn't reject it, if I just let it flow throughout my being, I realized with much relief and inner joy that I could find myself happy.
And I relaxed with the knowledge that his touch was not like Mike's. It was different; it was Eric's.
Ben was right. If I took control of my life instead of letting it lead me, I could have the things I needed and wanted. It just took the combined efforts of three people who loved me to integrate the message, whether quietly or directly, into my stubborn and weary brain.
Taking the exit off I-75, I realized that no words had been spoken between us for some time. Stopping at the light I looked over at Eric. His eyes met mine.
"It's okay, Eric. Everything's is going to be just fine."
"I know that Mike. I have always known."
I turned left and headed towards the theater. My hand never left his. My thoughts spread over how I felt about Eric and Jay and, of course, Mike.
This was different than what I felt with Jay. When I realized that Jay didn't really love me and I didn't really love him, I knew instantly what I had to do about Jay.
I also knew I had three letters to read if I wanted to find more answers about Mike. The question now was, 'do I need to know?'
The sun was descending into its western path on this June day in 1975 as Eric drove north into Dayton after we left the Dayton Mall. I didn't know where we were going just yet. I closed my eyes and remembered the things that had happened in the last year and how they had changed my life. Eric had already been in my life, but on that one day, last year, he discovered another way to change touch my life: a kiss that took me, reluctantly at first, then ever more fully, until I opened my heart to him, without resistance or hesitation, changing me, changing us, and changing my world forever.
I wasn't sure what I expected today by going into that theatre where Mike and I met, worked and loved. What I found was some inner peace, a sense of wellbeing about who I was and where I was going.
Walking away I also felt sadness. I would never see the theatre again. Only in my memories, those that had been with me for so long, would I find the place where Mike and I loved each other. I wanted my memories to be a source of joy, ones that I could hang on to without grief. Ones that I could go back to with fondness, happiness and a sense of thankfulness that I had them to marvel at and treasure.
Eric exited at Needmore Road, driving towards Shoup Mill Road. When he turned north on Main Street, I knew where we were going. I wasn't sure what Eric had in mind, though I suspected this was his way of helping us both find more closure. As he turned left on Philadelphia Drive and into the driveway of the cemetery, I realized I had a yearning to talk to Mike.
Eric and I entered the Ambassador Theatre. I showed him around and headed up the stairs to the projection booth. Eric showed a keen interest in the ways of the booth. After I threaded the first reel of "The Sting", he asked me to teach him with the second reel. He picked it up fast, I discovered. When it was time for the first showing, Eric went down and watched the movie.
Alone in the projection booth, with decisions about my life firmly made, I relaxed and thought about the things I wanted to do with Eric. Not necessarily about sex, but about the other things in life we could share. Our love for each other, his mother, Ben's family, our love for music and movies and our love for Mike. Though I knew I would never regret how things developed between Mike and me, I knew it would be different with Eric. My mind slipped to the wonder of Eric's body and how much it might resemble Mike's. I remember memorizing every square inch of Mike's body. I knew it would be the same with Eric. I began to plan my first night with Eric, not in a locker room, but in a room with a bed.
I was threading reel one when Eric arrived after watching the movie. He came over and stood next to me, watching my hands as they guided the film through the projector's path: over the sprockets and under the pad rollers, inside the film gate, the film pressed against the sound drum and down to the take up reel.
"May I do the next reel, Mike?" Eric asked.
I looked over Eric with different eyes than I had before today. I noticed the outline of his thin body, the contours of his cheeks and nose. The dimples when he smiled. I took his hand and walked him to the generator room, away from the portholes through which we could be seen. I faced him. With his eyes questioning me, I took his face in my hands and brought my lips to his. I kissed him with the force that had been building in my body. When I felt his arms reach around behind me, I embraced him. Our kiss intensified. It was not a kiss of lust, but of a passion that exploded simultaneously within each of us.
For me, it was a kiss of emotions and feelings. I knew well that I would be getting aroused and I was sure Eric would as well, but my mind wasn't on that area of my body. It was on what my feelings were, what I felt from him and how I reacted to those feelings. The kiss was long; I was aware of nothing but the points of contact between our bodies: our lips, and the hardness between our legs. I felt his and I am sure he felt mine, but neither of us made any moves other than with our hands to caress each other's back.
The kiss was far more than I had dreamed it would be. It was nothing like any kiss I shared with Mike. Mike could take my breath away, but that was in a time of pure lust and passion. I knew now, that Eric could do the same with just this simple, powerful kiss. I backed away to catch my breath. He, too, looked like he needed a moment to recover. We stood there looking into each other's eyes, reeling from the first real passionate kiss between us. Eric smiled.
"Where did that come from, Mike?"
"Did you like that?"
"Yeah, I did. Very much."
"Me, too," I said, taking him in my arms for a hug. "I have a lot of things to tell you. It may take a while for everything to get said. I figured some things out about you and me."
"Mike," he said, "I glad."
"I hope so," I said.
I let Eric thread reel two and he did it like a pro. He was a quick learner and I suspected he would be that way later. I lit the carbon arc and started reel one. I was satisfied with how it looked on screen. I turned to Eric and said, "Before anything else, I have to tell you about Jay."
I told Eric everything.
"It's okay, Mike," he said. "I understand how it happened. I am not upset. I'm sort of relieved a little."
"I thought your initial resistance was just about me."
"Well, some of it was."
"Jay was a part of that then?"
"Yes. I was afraid to tell you about him. I didn't want to hurt you and I knew that if I told you about Jay before I was sure about us, that it would hurt."
"Today, in the car, after your interpretation of 'Amahl and the Night Visitors", you seemed deep in thought. Was it then that you made some decisions?"
"Yeah. The 'Amahl' thing came out of the blue. I have no idea how it popped into my head, but I am glad it did. I was so conflicted about you and Jay that I talked to Ben and your mother about it. They both said things that didn't click with me until I was holding your hand."
Eric's eyebrows cocked upward.
"Really?" He asked.
I got up to do the change over for reel two. I let Eric thread reel three and I taught him how to trim the carbons in the lamp house.
"Eric, do you have any idea how I felt about your brother?"
"I was surprised when my mother told me that Mike had been involved with another guy. I never imagined Mike being anything other than straight. She told me how Mike felt about you, that it wasn't that he was gay; rather his attraction was just for you. We both surmised at first what you felt for him. I watched you and at the funeral; you looked so crushed. More than I was."
"I loved your brother more than myself. He was everything I could have imagined a lover to be. It tore me up when he left for the Marines. It nearly killed me when he died."
"I know. I could see it written all over you."
"I never imagined your being gay either. I figured that you would go to college, find a girl and get married, and give your mother grandchildren."
"I knew better."
"I'm not sure your mother is pleased with the idea that both her sons fell in love with me."
"She surprised me when I told her. She said that she wonders what it was that both of us saw in you that others didn't."
"If I knew what that attraction was, maybe I should market it," I said jokingly.
"Do you know what initially attracted me to you?" I shook my head no and he said, "At first I was taken with how you grieved so hard for Mike. I saw the love through your grief. After seeing the love you still showed for Mike, I wanted that kind of love. It just took me a couple of years to realize that I wanted that love from you."
"I was so wrapped up in how I felt about Mike for so long, I just felt..."
I lowered my head, fighting the off the tears that were starting to build up in my eyes. I felt Eric's arms go around me and pull me in. As I quietly let the tears out, no words were spoken. How many times have I cried over Mike? How many times did Ben hold me when I cried? But in Eric's embrace, that too, felt different.
The bell dinged the warning that reel two was nearly finished.
I taught Eric how to make a change over by watching for the black dots in the top right corner of the picture. The first dot signaled for the operator to turn on the projector motor and open the lamp douser; the second dot signaled for him to throw two switches, thereby changing over the sound and picture from one projector to another. If done properly, the changeovers were smooth and went unnoticed by the audience. Eric threaded reel four without any mistakes. I watched his hands move over the projector like he had done this all of his life. I wondered what his hands would feel like moving over me.
As we waited for reel three to unspool, I took Eric for another kiss. I couldn't get enough of him, and he was more than willing to comply with my sudden need for him. We seemed to fall into a groove, finding the right pressure for our lips. Our tongues had yet to meet, but it wasn't far off. As our arms wrapped around each other, I noticed that neither of us was aroused this time.
I let Eric do the next change over this time. I studied his body in the reflection of the porthole glass as he concentrated on the screen. His hair was dark blond, cut short. His shirt revealed nothing of what his back looked like. His slacks were just tight enough to reveal nice round buns. I wasn't paying any attention to what he was doing. I didn't worry that he would miss the cue marks. He turned on the motor switch and leisurely pulled the handle for the douser and flipped the two switches. The sound of the change over clicked and reel three finished into the take up reel. Eric took the reel out of the film magazine and placed it in the rewind machine before placing it back into the cabinet for the next showing. He removed the next reel from the cabinet and threaded it perfectly.
We sat down facing each other, my hands holding his. I looked into his eyes and saw such wonderment and love.
"I know you are ready for sex. I am too. But I swear, with you it's going to be special the first time. Romantic with a dinner and a locked room with a bed for complete privacy, where we can take our time and enjoy each other."
Eric smiled at me and said, "I love you so much."
He had years to build up his love for me, and I felt empty-handed all of sudden because I couldn't say that to him, just yet.
"I am finding myself loving you as well. It may not be so intense as your love for me, but I am sure that will change."
"I know it will. Just by the way you are kissing me tonight I can tell. Mike, we have what you and my brother didn't have. Time. It won't run out for us."
Hearing him mention his brother again and the time that was stolen from us, I felt a tear slide down my cheek. He reached up and took it upon his finger and said, "Mike, it always got to me how much you loved my brother, and I know that I can't expect you to feel that way about me. I want you to understand that I know that what you feel for him will never go away." He started to caress my face. "I don't really want it to. You were a different person four years ago. You are today who you are because of him. We have enough time to tell each other about Mike."
As I thought about what he was saying, I realized that Eric was right. We did have all the time in the world. While I was thinking about his words, the bell went off again, and he proceeded to make the next change over. Mike would always be near, in my heart, and together, Eric and I could share our love for him. Maybe, together, we could help each other find closure.
I felt Eric's lips on my face. His affection was endless, I thought. The rest of the evening we spoke some and kissed some. In the background we could hear Scott Joplin's tunes for the movie, music that I felt would be a constant reminder of this evening with Eric.
Our hands clenched together, we rode back to Dayton, chatting about music and movies. I watched the rear view mirror continually to make sure we weren't followed. When I dropped him off at his house, we had a long kiss goodnight. Although it was after one a.m., I drove by Ben's place to see if a light was on. There was.
"I saw the light and wanted to see you," I said as he let me in the door.
"Mikey has me up again. I could use the help," Ben said handing me Mikey.
Mikey's eyes got wide and a big smile greeted me as he saw who was holding him. I sat down in the rocker and I told Ben about the union threat, what the company did about it and the cut in my pay.
"Get out, Mike. Find something here."
"I don't know if I want to do that just yet, Ben."
"Why? It's obvious that they don't care."
"I know. I will pick my time. I promise."
Mikey seemed determined not to fall asleep just yet.
"How's Debbie feeling?"
I rocked Mikey and stared at his beautiful eyes. He had his little fist wrapped around my finger again.
"I might go with Eric when he goes back to school."
Ben arched his eyes at me and said, "Something happen?"
"I figured it out. I owe you."
"The way I figure it, you owe me a lot," he said, chuckling.
"So you and Eric are together now?"
"What's holding it up?"
"I need to talk to Jay."
"And what will you tell him?"
"The truth I guess."
Ben nodded his head in understanding. I hadn't really thought about the words I would use when I talked to Jay. I knew that the sooner it was the better it would be for everyone. I figured I could stop at the firehouse tomorrow afternoon.
I heard Mikey giggle as he squirmed around. He was wet.
"Would you get me a diaper, Ben?"
"Yeah. You want to change it? You never changed him before."
"I figure that it goes with the territory."
Ben laughed as he headed upstairs. I tickled Mikey a little as I laid him down on the couch to change him. I had never seen Mikey naked before. I slipped off his rubber pants, unclipped his safety pins and pulled the diaper off of him. As I heard Ben coming down the stairs I noticed that Mikey had his foreskin. This surprised the hell out of me at first and I didn't know why. Then it dawned on me that Ben must have taken his readings on the subject seriously. I never really thought about circumcision that much, just noticed that one or two guys in the showers at school weren't cut.
"Do you know what you're doing, Mike?" Ben asked with a smirk.
"I can figure it out."
I slipped half the clean diaper under Mikey, pulled the other half over him and slipped the safety pins through the diaper, making sure I didn't prick his skin with them. Then I slipped his rubber pants back on.
"See, I know what I'm doing. When are you guys going to start buying the disposable diapers?"
"It costs money."
"So does washing the cloth ones."
"When did you become an expert on raising kids?"
"By watching you."
Ben just laughed as he picked up the dirty diaper and put it the laundry room behind the kitchen. I went back to the rocker and laid Mikey down on my shoulder to rock him to sleep. Ben returned to the living room.
"I wish I knew what you had that works with him. You're a natural, Mike."
"Mikey and I have an understanding."
"When he tells me I will let you know," I said, tongue in cheek.
Ben gave me one of his big smiles and closed his eyes. While I was holding Mikey, I was gazing on Ben; it looked like he was starting to doze off. I have thanked God everyday that Ben was in my life. I knew that going with Eric would take me away from my little family here, but it seemed to be the right thing to do, for me at least. Finally, Mikey was asleep and so was his Dad. I held on to Mikey tightly. I didn't want to let him go. I looked over at Ben and knew that I had to.
The next afternoon I headed to fire department to see Jay. Since he was off on Saturday, Jay and I were supposed to have a date on Friday when I got back to town. I didn't want to wait two more days to tell him that I was not going to see him like that anymore.
I found him cleaning out the ambulance, and he was glad to see me. I asked if we could speak privately. He took me to the locker room, which was empty. He reached for me and kissed me and I let him. I tried to feel something in his kiss, but it was nothing like Eric's.
If the kiss had knocked me on my ass, I would have been in trouble and back to square one. It didn't come close. I broke it off and asked him to sit down on the bench.
"I'm sorry, Jay," I said to start off with.
"What's up, Mike."
"Another time, another place and I might have been ready for this with you. But, I'm not."
Jay looked stunned. He didn't see this coming, and I felt bad about it.
"So, we are breaking up already?"
"We hardly got started, Jay. Don't get me wrong about last week. I enjoyed our time together, but I have come to realize that we both want different things in our lives."
I watched his reaction. His face looked pained at first, but I assumed he was taking the time to understand what I told him. Then he lost the look.
"You know, Mike, I really wasn't sure myself either. I enjoyed being with you too, but something told me that you had changed too much. You weren't the Mike I remembered anymore. I thought I would have to get to know you all over again but I never considered that as a bad thing; it just felt different."
I placed my hand on his arm. I liked this new Jay a lot. Maybe Ben was wrong. I wondered what might have happened if it had been a different time. But I knew in my heart this was the best for both us.
"I'm glad we had a chance to resolve what happened," I said. "I think we both needed that."
"Maybe more for me than you. Still friends?"
"Absolutely," I said and felt a great relief that he took it so well.
We stood up, hugged each other, and promised to stay in touch. But in the back of my mind I doubted that would happen. Not from not wanting to, but just from not having the opportunities to do so. Jay walked me to my car, and we wished each other well. I don't know why I felt free. Maybe it was from letting go of Jay. All I know is, I did.
I drove immediately to Eric's house and let myself in. Betty always insisted that I never had to knock. I found Betty watching "Another World", another soap opera. She told me Eric was upstairs. I climbed the stairs and stopped outside his closed door. I looked down the hall at the closed door of Mike's bedroom. I wondered why it always remained closed. I had never asked anyone about it, but it seemed important to me at that moment.
Eric's door opened and the look on his face told me he was surprised to see me. I took him in my arms and kissed him. A nagging thought in my mind kept telling me that we were moving too fast, but I didn't care.
"I missed you," I said.
"Really? You haven't seen me for what? Twelve hours."
"Too long," I said.
Eric brought his lips back to mine and we kissed leisurely.
"Would you like to go with me tonight again?"
"Yes, I was hoping to."
"A slight change of scenery, though. My boss called me. I have been moved to the Jolly Roger drive-in tonight. Apparently, some union guys were caught last night cutting the underground speaker lines. So, they fired the projectionist."
"Interesting. How late will we be tonight?"
"Well, I was thinking about that."
Eric's eyes bore into me; I loved watching his mind work.
"What were you thinking about?" he asked.
"I thought, maybe, that we could get a room tonight in Cincinnati."
I watched for his reaction and he didn't disappoint me. His eyes got real big and a huge smile crossed his face.
"Tonight?" he asked, "You want to be with me tonight?"
"I think so," I said, trying not to sound too excited about it.
"Mike," he said, "I would be happy to."
"Are you sure?" I said sounding too serious.
Eric's eyes pinned me down and asked, "Are you playing with me?"
I pulled him into a hug and whispered into his ear. "I want to make love to you with all my heart tonight. I want it to be so special that neither of us will ever forget it."
Eric's body melted into mine. I knew that this was something he had wanted for a long time and I believed I couldn't make him wait much longer before both of us would go nuts.
"I love you so much, Michael," he said.
"Well, get some stuff together for tomorrow so we can get going."
Eric spun around and walked to the middle of his room and stopped. He turned around to me with an incredible smile and tears running down his face.
"I hope those are happy tears," I said.
"Yes. They are," he said, wiping the wetness on his shirtsleeve.
"Well, hurry up."
He grabbed a duffle bag from his closet and shoved jeans, a shirt, underwear and socks into it. I followed him to the bathroom where he grabbed his shaving stuff and toothbrush.
"I'm ready," he said.
"Fine. Now let's tell your mother."
"Oh God!" he said.
"Well, you didn't think she wouldn't have noticed you not coming home tonight?"
"Eric, I am not going to hide from her what we are doing. Okay?"
We went downstairs and told Betty that Eric wouldn't be home until tomorrow. Betty looked at me asking silently with her eyes if I was sure about what I was doing. I nodded my head yes and she smiled and kissed Eric and me goodbye.
In the car we headed to I-75, south to Cincinnati. We rode quietly; I believed we both were thinking of the night that laid ahead for us. As we passed Middletown I thought of the last time I had a night like this. It was with Mike. Suddenly it seemed so long ago.
Eric had my hand in his and his touch continued to inspire me. By morning, I would have seen Eric completely, and known him. I knew in my heart that Mike would be far from my thoughts and Eric would be in my arms as my lover.
The end of Chapter 15