Monday, December 14, 2015

Welcome once again to A Proud Love. Today's installment, chapter 30, finds Tim and Leo on the brink of a major transition in their lives:








XXX





It was a Sunday morning in late June, 1970. Tim and Leo's apartment was filled with packed boxes; the walls, the living room shelves, and the kitchen cabinets were bare.

They were leaving the next day for Los Angeles. Leo had been signed, along with the rest of the original cast, to do the film version of We Are Here. After sober consideration and, Tim thought, touching discussions between him and Leo, the two had decided to leave New York and make Los Angeles their new home.

Leo's agent (his first ever) had promised that after the movie filming was complete, he could get Leo jobs in television and maybe other feature films. Leo asserted that he wanted to play gay roles whenever possible. (“Not that there are many of them,” Leo told Tim privately. “But when they do represent 'our people'”—and here Leo had laughed self-consciously and endearingly—“I want to be part of it.”)

Tim had little difficulty lining up work for himself on the West Coast. Home magazine was happy to retain him on a free-lance basis, doing stories about architects and landscape artists based in California. Due to his past work on Multitudes, Tim also had been contacted by a new Los Angeles-based magazine for gay men, The Activist. The magazine had been launched two years before in part as a way to publicize and foment a response to incidents of police harassment at area gay bars and businesses. And the magazine already had proven its usefulness; The Activist played a crucial role in helping protestors gather and organize when police targeted The Patch, a dance bar near Long Beach. The resulting demonstrations had occurred nearly a year before the Stonewall Inn riots, Tim noted to Leo.

Tim had been a bit dubious when he first was contacted by The Activist; he realized that he was at least twenty years older than any other writer for the magazine. But the editors assured him that he had the right idealistic and rebellious spirit to be a contributor.

Tim and Leo also would have family in the area after their move; Sam Gould recently had taken a position at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He had been glad to hear Leo and Tim were coming, and Rose was grateful that they would be there to keep an eye on “her boy.”

On this morning, though, as Tim wandered through the piles of packed boxes, he was touched with feelings of sadness and loss. He and Leo had spent twenty years together in this apartment, and he had grown to love the place. He especially would miss those quiet Saturday and Sunday mornings when, while Leo slept, he would walk quietly out to the living room, pull back the curtain, and recline on the sofa in prayer while focusing on the beauty of the open sky overhead.

Of course, Tim knew in the end that anywhere he went with Leo he would be happy. Because for Tim, to be with Leo was to be home.




Later that morning, after finishing a light breakfast at a local deli, Tim and Leo set out walking. As they did, Leo reached for Tim's hand. Tim was moved every time Leo made that gesture; it showed that Leo was done with hiding, that he was happy to show the world that he and Tim were a couple in love.

“What are you going to miss most about New York?” Leo asked.

Tim smiled. “Lots of things. The changing seasons. The beautiful buildings. Our friends. The places where we've made happy memories. How about you?”

 Leo was thoughtful for a moment. “I think what I'll miss most is good bagels.” They laughed.

As they continued through the narrow, winding streets of the neighborhood, they passed fliers on windows and lampposts advertising a Gay Pride march, one year to the day since the Stonewall Rebellion.

Leo shook his head in wonder. “Did you ever think, sweetheart, that you would see the day when people would hold an event to celebrate being gay?”

“I think it's wonderful,” Tim replied. “You and I have been working toward our own gay pride for a long time. How tremendous is it that, in the years to come, maybe it won't take other people as long.”

Leo squeezed Tim's hand. “You've taught me a lot about pride, sweetheart.”

“You've taught me, too, darling,” Tim said happily. Then he paused. “You know, I'm thinking of a Bible passage right now. From Paul. You might remember it—Pete used it at his wedding. It's the one that goes, 'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.'”

Tim glanced lovingly at Leo. “Except our love has been filled with pride, Leo. Pride in each other, and learning to take justifiable pride in ourselves, too. To see the good that's in us and to own it, to celebrate it.”

They walked along silently, hand in hand, until they arrived at Waverly Place, near Sixth Avenue.

The crowd had begun to assemble. Craig Rodwell, from New York Mattachine and the owner of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, was there, and so was his partner, Fred Sargeant. “It's good to see you!” they called to Tim and Leo as they worked the crowd and persuaded passers-by to join in.

Two young men held a banner reading “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, 1970.” Others held signs identifying themselves as members of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, the Lavender Menace. Some participants carried streamers; one person held aloft an American flag.

“Let's go,” Rodwell called, and the at-first ragtag group started up Sixth Avenue in the direction of midtown. Quiet in the beginning, members of the assembly soon started to chant and to sing:

Say it clear; say it loud. Gay is good; gay is proud.

Tim and Leo joined in the chanting, grasping hands and holding them aloft. Each had a radiant smile on his face.

Tim leaned in to give Leo a kiss on the cheek, and as he did, he happened to glance behind him; the number of marchers had grown from several dozens at the start of the parade to thousands. Tim was astonished as he continued to glance behind him. There they were: people of all genders, races, ages, marching, chanting, laughing and jubilant, moving boldly and proudly as one into the future.


 
 
 

THE END




Yes, dear readers. . .today's chapter is the final installment of A Proud Love.

I hope you've enjoyed sharing in Tim and Leo's love story. And if you didn't, thank you for checking out this blog.

It's not too late to leave comments, on this or any installment. I'd love to hear what you think! Did you like the story? Did you find Tim and Leo believable? Did anything about their experiences surprise you?

Thanks again, and best wishes to you all!  --Dave Kucharski

Monday, December 7, 2015

Welcome back to A Proud Love. Today's installment, chapter 29, finds Leo opening in his new play, and Leo and Tim unexpectedly becoming part of a historic event:





XXIX

 
 
 
Tim had arranged to meet Jack and Joanne and Rose and David in the lobby of the theatre. He finished dressing (with a paisley ascot rather than a tie) and headed down the stairs to the street.

As he rode uptown in a taxi, Tim—although not as keyed-up as Leo—was nervous. He realized the potential significance of We Are Here. Gay men (or at least one subset of that population) would see for the first time their lives depicted with some reality on the stage. And straight audiences would be plunged into a world many of them were completely unaware of, and be asked to understand and perhaps identify with it.

“Tim!” Joanne called to him as soon as he stepped out of the cab.

“Joanne!” He gave her a hug. “And Jack! It's good to see you both!”

Joanne smiled. “It's nights like this that make me wish we hadn't moved out to the suburbs this spring. I miss the city!”

“I'm eager to get a look at this theatre,” Jack said. “I have a feeling I'm going to be envious!”

Tim looked across the theatre lobby and saw that Rose and David already were inside.

“Come on!” he said to Joanne and Jack. “I'm going to introduce you to Leo's sister and brother-in-law.”

Introductions were made, and the members of the party decided to take their seats. Tim observed (to his initial surprise, but then he wondered why it hadn't occurred to him) that Rose and Joanne got on famously; seated on either side of him, they leaned across him to talk animatedly until the lights dimmed.

Leo was the first actor on stage; his character had a lengthy opening monologue over the phone. Tim's heart raced as he remembered how nervous Leo had been at the apartment.

But soon, Tim was able to relax; Leo was giving the performance of his career. Tim never before had seen Leo so free, expansive and winning on the stage.

“He really is good, isn't he?” Rose whispered proudly after Leo fired off an angry and pointed speech.

All around him, Tim could sense the audience being drawn into the play. There was appreciative laughter, gasps at moments, then muffled sobbing.

Finally, Leo stood alone on the stage—his character deserted by his friends and abandoned by his lover—to deliver the play's closing line, and the lights dimmed to black.
 
Immediately, the audience rose to its feet. Applause and loud cheers brought the entire cast on for their bows and held them there for a long while.

“Come on!” Tim said excitedly. “Let's head backstage!”

Tim arrived first of the group. He saw Leo with his back turned, talking with the other actors.

“Leo!” he cried.

Leo turned, saw Tim, and raced to take him in his arms.

“Oh, Tim!” he said, laughing yet nearly hysterical, “I'm so glad that's over!”

“Leo!” It was Jack who called. “Pal, you were terrific!”

The two embraced, and Joanne leaned close to Tim. “Look, Tim—tears in Jack's eyes. Just like a proud papa!”

“Rose! David!” Leo saw his sister and brother-in-law and grabbed them in his arms. “What are you doing here?”

 “It was Tim's idea, baby brother,” Rose said through tears. “I'm so glad we were here! Leo, I'm so proud of you!”

“You were great, Leo,” David said enthusiastically.

Tim watched for a moment as the four surrounded Leo with compliments and affection. Then, he too was pulled into the group and welcomed into the circle of love.




Hours later, the six were seated around a table at Sardi's (the director and other cast members were at another table nearby). Tim was entrusted with reading the review from the Times. “Last night,” he began, “a new venture on 46th Street called Theatre '68 opened for this reviewer a door on a startling, unsuspected world. It is a world rich with caustic humor, vivid conflict, and searing drama. It is the world of the male homosexual, upper-middle-class Manhattan variety, and it is called We Are Here.”

“He loved it!” Joanne gasped.

Tim continued, with interjected comments from those seated at the table, as the reviewer praised the playwright, the director, the members of the cast. Then Tim paused, looked Leo in the eye, and concluded: “And lastly, there is Leo Stein as Joe. Stein, a fixture of the off-Broadway scene for many years, has given consistently admirable performances. But here, he is a revelation. He is funny, ferocious, and ultimately heartbreaking. This is the performance of an actor coming into his own.”

He squeezed Leo's hand, while Rose and Joanne each kissed a cheek.

“Leo,” Jack said, “I'm so goddamned proud of you I could bust.”

“That goes double for me, darling,” Tim said.

Leo, his eyes reflecting gratitude to those gathered with him, was speechless.




We Are Here settled in for a long run and, indeed, proved to be something of a phenomenon. The New York reviews were unanimously positive (although some reviewers raised the same question Tim had: whether today's gay male truly was as unhappy as depicted here). Reviewers from other cities—Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.—came to see the show for themselves and joined in the cheering.

Both national newsweeklies had a generally positive reaction to the show. And one of the news magazines, within a few months, ran a feature story on the play with an article proclaiming that “The age of the homosexual has arrived.”

Leo, his director and cast mates were invited on the talk shows and fielded a variety of questions, some insightful, some well-meaning but naive, some unintentionally offensive (such as the interviewer who asked, in all innocence, “We're hearing so much about gay people today. Do you think they're just a passing fad?”).

At the theatre, celebrities began appearing in the audience; Leonard Bernstein asked to be introduced to the entire cast. The actors were invited into the studio to make a recording of the play, to be released as a double-LP set.

Not all of the attention was positive. One night, pickets from a gay liberation group paraded outside the theatre with signs proclaiming that the play was “a gay minstrel show.” Leo was particularly hurt by that assertion; “The demonstrators were all in their twenties,” he told Tim afterward. “They don't know what people of our generation went through.”

Other attention came from unexpected quarters. A Manhattan Episcopal church invited the cast and director to a discussion after their Sunday services. And one night, when Tim went to meet Leo at the stage door, he saw a young man there wearing a Roman collar. Tim introduced himself and found that the man was a Jesuit priest, Fr. Hank Simons, who ran a faith-sharing group for gay Catholics. (Tim went on to attend the Wednesday-night group periodically himself, noting with amusement that the gatherings were advertised as “be-ins.” Tim found Fr. Simons inspiring, particularly when, in a discussion about different forms of oppression faced by gay people, Fr. Simons included oppression from the Church itself.)

As the media coverage continued, though, Leo and Tim began to notice that one line of discussion was not crossed. The omission came through most noticeably when Life sat the entire cast down for a group photograph and an interview. The three straight actors in the cast were asked what it was like “playing gay,” and their wives and children were referenced. The personal lives of the gay members of the cast, on the other hand, went completely unmentioned.

“I think they missed a great opportunity,” Tim said as he and Leo reviewed the finished article. “I would say that your story has been pretty interesting.”

Leo just nodded silently.

“And what about Walter?” Tim asked. He was referring to Walter Nash, the only black actor in the cast. “Being black and gay, he's got a fascinating perspective to share.”

Leo closed the magazine. “Apparently, the world's not ready to see us gay men as complete human beings yet. They feel more comfortable with us at a distance, as an abstraction.”




As the play continued into early summer 1969, however, an event occurred in Tim and Leo's neighborhood that made the gay population a bit less of a comfortable abstraction. Tim learned of the event through a Saturday morning phone call from Elliot.

“Did you hear about the riot last night?” Elliot asked breathlessly.

“Riot?” Tim asked, confused.

“Tim, it was only a few blocks from you!” Elliot replied. “On Christopher Street. At the Stonewall Inn.”

“What's that?”

“A gay bar,” Elliot answered. “I've been there. It's kind of a dive, but it draws a fun crowd, including lots of drag queens.”

“What happened?”

“It started off the usual way,” Elliot said. “A friend of mine was there. The police came in to harass the patrons, haul some of them off to jail.”

Tim felt a flash of anger. “I hate that they can get away with that!”

“But this time,” Elliot said, “the crowd fought back. There was such chaos, my friend said, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. But apparently, the crowd started throwing things at the police, and the police ended up trapped inside the bar at one point. A riot control squad showed up, but some of them got chased away down the streets. And all the while, there was a kick line of drag queens singing a protest song!”

Tim was astonished. “I can't believe it!”

“The bar's been completely trashed,” Elliot said. “I guess the police did it while they were trapped inside.”

Tim sighed. “So again, the police win.”

“Not this time.”

“What do you mean?”

Elliot spoke firmly. “It's all over the neighborhood. People are planning to gather there again tonight. There's such anger—everyone's looking for a way to show it. We're going to protest the harassment, the hate, we've had to put up with.”

“'We'? You mean you're going, Elliot?”

“I wouldn't miss it.”

“It sounds like it could be dangerous.”

“Why don't you come and see for yourself?”

The question struck Tim forcefully. “Me?”

“Yes, Tim,” Elliot replied. “You've been at protests before, like the one at the U.N. But those were small and didn't have impact. This protest—who knows? The potential is there for something big!”

“I don't know, Elliot,” Tim answered, but his mind already was beginning to tick off reasons why he should go.

“I'll see you there, Tim,” Elliot said, and ended the call.





When Tim and Leo arrived at Christopher Street that night (Leo's performance had ended shortly before), there already was a huge crowd milling around: drag queens, street kids, hippies, the occasional man or woman in professional clothes. Tim spotted Elliot in the crowd, and he and Leo squeezed their way through to him.

“Good to see you two,” Elliot said.

“I didn't want to come at first,” Leo said. “But the thought of seeing us rise up against the guys who make life tough for us. . .” Tim didn't say anything but just smiled and took Leo's arm, holding it tightly.

It broke out suddenly: there was a scream, then a bottle or two flying past. The police at the edge of the crowd pulled out night sticks and began swinging away. Tim saw Leo wince and wondered what he might be remembering.

“Do you want to go?” Tim asked.

“No!” Leo said firmly. “We're staying.”

Despite the night sticks, the crowd did not disperse. Kids and hippies threw at the police whatever they could lay their hands on. A black drag queen (Tim later learned she was Marsha P. Johnson) who had climbed a lamppost threw a package at a squad car and smashed its windshield.

Members of the crowd began shouting, chanting, even singing: “We're not going away—we're here to stay . . .”

Despite the chaos around them, Tim felt emboldened and inspired. Here were the groups society most despised—drag queens, people of color, homeless kids—and they were telling the authorities: You can't stop us. You can't keep us silent. We matter and we will be heard. Tim also realized with some humility that he and Leo were merely bystanders at this event. The primary actors, those who were leading the charge, were those who were most marginalized: Sylvia Rivera and other drag queens, young kids from the streets.

Tim and Leo held each other's hands tightly, joining in the chants and singing.

This is a starting point, Tim thought. There's a new future, and it begins today.





To be continued. . .

Monday, November 30, 2015

Welcome once again to A Proud Love. In installment 28, the scene shifts to the late 1960s and Leo is offered a surprising role in a new stage play:




XXVIII



The following year, 1968, was a year of upheaval: the escalation of the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, the tragic murders of King and Kennedy, the massive protests at the Democratic National Convention and the often violent response to them.

Tim and Leo saw changes, though certainly less dramatic, in their neighborhood as well. Daily, flower children and other hippies gathered in Washington Square Park to spread a message of love and peaceful protest, and also to smoke grass. (The couple saw more hippies that year thanks to Leo's eighteenth anniversary gift to Tim: two tickets to Hair. Tim adored the show, especially for its spirit of youthful idealism. As they left the Biltmore Theatre, though, Tim asked Leo about another famous aspect of the show: “Leo, if you were offered the chance, would you do a nude scene on stage?” Leo's response was, “Tim, I'm going to be fifty years old. No one would pay to see me take my clothes off.” To which Tim took Leo's hand and said, “They don't know what they're missing, darling.”)

Another change in their neighborhood was the periodic threat of crime. Tim had been walking the same route home from work for nearly two decades, but one night after having stayed late at the office, he was held up at gunpoint at an alley just a few blocks from the apartment. He found himself not particularly frightened but calmly did as the thief told him and handed over his wallet.

“Thanks, faggot!” the young man said casually as he took Tim's cash and tossed the wallet in a nearby garbage can. He then gave Tim a gratuitous blow on the side of the head with a gun butt and ran off, laughing.

Although the wound was superficial, Tim was bleeding quite a bit by the time he got home. When Leo saw him, he panicked. He examined the wound (it was small and required no stitches) and helped Tim clean up, all the while asserting loudly that Tim had had no business walking alone at night and that he must take a cab to and from work from now on.

Tim was touched by Leo's concern, and he acquiesced verbally to Leo's command. But inside, he had no intention of using a taxi; he decided instead that he would just change his route when walking home.




There also were changes to Tim and Leo themselves, at least cosmetically. Due to the influence of the Beatles on men's grooming, Tim was inspired to let his hair grow, and it dipped over his ears and then past his shirt collar. Leo, meanwhile, stopped using tonic to try to tame his tousled locks; he let his hair grow naturally in tight curls and added a pair of long sideburns.

Looking at the two of them side by side one morning in the bathroom mirror, Tim shook his head in wonder. “Would anyone even recognize us as those two kids who fell in love, right after the War?”

Leo gave Tim a kiss. “We just keep getting better with age, sweetheart.”




On a summer evening that year, Tim returned home to find Leo seated on the sofa; he was staring straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought.

Tim leaned over to give him a kiss. “Come back to earth, darling. I'm home.”

“Oh, hi,” Leo responded, and gave Tim a kiss in return.

Tim set his briefcase by the door and sat on the couch next to Leo. “What were you thinking about?”

Leo continued to seem distracted, so Tim gave him a nudge on the arm. “Leo!”

 Leo suddenly turned to Tim and laughed. “Sorry, sweetheart!”

“Something big must be on your mind.”

Leo nodded. “There is. I've been offered a role in a new play.”

“That's wonderful!” Tim gave Leo another kiss.

“Thanks, Tim. The producers got in touch with me through Jack. They're familiar with my work and asked for me specifically.”

“That's really wonderful!”

“Here's the thing,” Leo said, then paused before continuing. “They're asking me to play a gay man.”

Tim started to say, “That's fantastic!” but stopped himself. He had learned over the past few years not to impose his opinions on Leo but instead to listen to what Leo was thinking. So Tim asked the classic psychoanalytic question, “How do you feel about that?”

Leo stood up and walked over to the window. “I don't know, sweetheart. In the back of my mind, I've wondered from time to time what I'd do if I had this opportunity. But I just don't know.

“On the one hand, if the play is a hit, it could really be a great thing, and not just for me. But if the play's a flop—well, I could get branded with the 'gay' label. It might prevent me from being hired for straight parts.”

Tim considered Leo's words thoughtfully. “What is the play, darling?”

 “It's a new script—never been produced before. I haven't even seen it myself yet. I'm supposed to meet with the producers and director on Thursday to talk it over.”

Tim rose and stood beside Leo. “So I guess you'll make up your mind after that, huh?”

Leo nodded his head. “Yeah.”

“Well, whatever you decide,” Tim said, putting his arms around Leo, “this is a wonderful tribute to how good you are. The producers asked for you!”

Tim kissed Leo on the cheek. Leo returned the kiss, but then turned again and gazed silently out of the window, deep in thought.




Going in to work on Thursday morning, Tim was nervous on Leo's behalf. He wanted desperately for Leo to play, and be a hit in, a gay role, but he recognized the decision was not his to make. He also reminded himself that he knew nothing about the script.

Late that afternoon, Tim received a phone call.

“It's me, sweetheart,” Leo said.

“Yes?” Tim asked, expectantly.

“I accepted the part.”

Tim broke into a wide smile. “I'm so happy for you, Leo!”

“There's lots to talk about when you get home. I can have dinner waiting for you, courtesy of Luigi's.”

“I'd like that—we can celebrate! I should be home around 5:30.”




As they sat on the sofa sharing pizza, salad and wine, Leo showed Tim the script. Tim opened to the title page: We Are Here, a play in two acts by Burton Reilley.

“Tell me about it, Leo,” Tim said eagerly.

“It's a comedy-drama about a group of male professionals, all gay, who live in Manhattan. They struggle, they form relationships, they fight with each other. I play Joe, the oldest, who's a college professor and who lives with his younger lover, Brett. Joe is kind of like the 'mother hen' to the rest of the group.”

“It sounds interesting!”

Leo laughed. “That's not the half of it, Tim. This script is real insider stuff. It addresses elements of gay life—different varieties of sex, being a masculine vs. a feminine guy, alcoholism and pill addiction—that are really bold. I don't know how straight audiences are going to respond to it.”

Tim was astonished. “Has there ever been a play like this before?”

“Not that I know of. And the title—it refers to how we gay men may not be visible but we are everywhere in society, trying to find our own place in it.”

“I don't know how straight audiences are going to respond to that, either!” Tim said.

Leo took a sip of wine. “I've got a good feeling, though, about the director. His name's Chuck Murand. He came up like Jack and me—worked in TV, then off-Broadway. But he's done a few things on Broadway in recent seasons.” He paused. “You know, it's going to be funny not working with Jack. He's been my director for years. Even the few small things I did in other off-Broadway houses, I did with his blessing.” He smiled. “In some ways, the Dramatists' Theatre has been like my second home. That tiny stage, the small auditorium—it's so cozy and safe there.”

“Where will this new play be staged?”

 “It's a new space; they're calling it Theatre '68. It's an off-Broadway-size house, but it's in midtown, right in the theatre district.” He chuckled. “I guess if we flop, we'll be flopping out in the open!”

“You won't flop, darling!” Tim said firmly. “I'm so excited for you!”




When rehearsals got underway, Leo seemed enthusiastic but exceedingly nervous. He talked about little else other than the play, sharing stories about the rehearsal process and his co-stars. He also frequently ran lines with Tim, something that Leo never had done before. Tim felt at times that he was helping to prop Leo up and give him courage, but he didn't mind; in fact, Tim was excited to play this small, vicarious role in bringing the play to life.

“Today,” Leo said one evening shortly after rehearsals started, “we sat in a big circle on the stage, just the actors and director. Chuck asked each of us to go around and share one story about what it was like growing up gay or, for the three actors who are straight, what their earliest encounter was with someone gay.”

“It sounds like a group therapy session,” Tim said, intrigued.

“It was!” Leo responded. “Chuck really wants us to break down our barriers with each other, get comfortable and develop a sense of trust. He warned us that playing this script is not going to be easy—it's going to bring up hurtful memories for a lot of us.”

A few days later, Leo said sheepishly to Tim, “I got an interesting offer today.”

“What do you mean?”

 “From my co-star, Lon, the one who plays my lover.”

Tim raised an eyebrow. “What was the offer?”

 Leo laughed a bit. “He said that if we're going to play lovers, we really should make it together. Just so we'll be comfortable around each other, you understand.”

Tim frowned. “You can tell him that I don't care for that idea.”

Leo put his arm around Tim. “I told him I'm in a relationship, that I have been for nearly twenty years. He seemed a little stunned and said that monogamy's not his 'bag'.”

“That's too bad,” Tim said, “because it's definitely our 'bag'.” He looked Leo in the eye. “Right?”

Leo laughed heartily. “Right!”





There was only one thing about the play that disconcerted Tim: “Everyone in it seems so unhappy! All of the men fight with each other; your lover cheats on you and then walks out on you. . .”

“Yeah,” Leo agreed. “The playwright was at rehearsal a few days ago, and some of the cast members asked about that. He responded that he knows there are well-adjusted gay men, but he just didn't happen to write about them.”

“I guess it does make for better drama that way,” Tim conceded. “And parts of the play are very funny. But it certainly gets dark!”

Leo nodded. “I wonder what straight people will think about that.”

“I wonder,” Tim added, “what gay people will think about it, too.”




With rehearsals well underway, Tim decided to cook up a surprise. He knew Rose and David had been promising a visit to New York for some time, so he called one day on the sly to invite them to Leo's opening night.

“And trust me, Rose,” he said, “you and David never will have seen a play like this one before!”

“It sounds exciting!” Rose said. “You really think you can get us tickets?”

“All of the actors get a small block of complementary tickets,” Tim replied, “and the only people Leo has mentioned wanting to ask so far are our friends Jack and Joanne, and me.”

“I would love to come!” Rose said. “Let me talk with David as soon as he gets home and then get back to you.”

“And we won't tell Leo that you're coming,” Tim laughed. “He'll be so stunned to see you!”

 Tim and Rose then proceeded to catch up on family news, which of course revolved around Leo's nephews and niece.

“Dan and his wife are so happy,” Rose said, “and it's good to have him in business with his father. And Frances loves her new job; she's an assistant designer at a small decorating firm here in Nashville.”

“How is Sam?”

There was a moment's pause. “I'm worried about him,Tim. He and I talk about his work but never a word about his private life. He's thirty-three years old; he must be seeing someone.”

Tim hesitated over his next question but decided to risk it. “Rose, do you think he's gay?”

“Oh, Tim, I'm so glad you asked me that!” Rose said with relief. “I don't know for sure, but I suspect maybe he is.”

“That could make it difficult for him to talk with you.”

“But I love him, Tim! Nothing could ever change that!”

“It's funny, Rose,” Tim replied. “Even when we know our parents love us, we still can be afraid to broach that subject with them, out of fear they might judge us. Believe me, I know from experience. I went for years avoiding the whole topic with my mother; it really hurt our relationship.”

“What can I do, Tim?” Rose pleaded.

“Rose, you're a great mother. Just keep letting Sam know you love him—let him know he can come to you to talk about anything. He'll still have to make the decision to do so, but at least he'll know you're there for him.”

“I'll do that, Tim. Thank you,” Rose replied. “And—God bless you.”




Opening night arrived. As Leo prepared to depart for the theatre, Tim gave him a good-luck hug.

“You're trembling,” Tim said, surprised. “Are you that nervous, darling?”

 “I guess so, sweetheart,” Leo said, trying to sound cheerful. “This is a big night for me.”

Tim folded Leo in his arms and kissed him tenderly. “You're going to be great, Leo; I have confidence in you. I'll be watching from the audience, sending good thoughts your way.”

Leo clung to Tim. “Thank you, Tim.” Then he turned and headed quickly out the door.

 


To be continued. . .

Monday, November 23, 2015

Welcome back! Today's post is the 27th installment of A Proud Love. In it, Tim and Leo return to Tim's hometown for a family wedding, an event that leads to a few surprising developments:




XXVII





The few years following their brief separation and reconciliation, Tim and Leo settled into a comforting routine. Each became less focused on his individual needs or fears and more attentive to what would be good for them both.

Leo continued to appear regularly with the New York Dramatists' Theatre; his and Jack's latest production was Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, giving Leo the chance to command the stage in a one-man performance. Yet Leo made sure that his Saturday afternoons and Sunday and Monday evenings remained unscheduled so he and Tim could spend those times together.

For his part, Tim gave up attending the Mattachine Monday night meetings, and instead focused on finding productive activity during the evenings Leo was at the theatre. (Sadly, Multitudes ceased publication around this time, depriving Tim of that opportunity to share his gifts with the gay community.) Tim often volunteered one or two nights a week as a Mattachine counselor, meeting with men—young and old—who were struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their need to fit into society. On Friday evenings he might have dinner with Elliot, who had become a good friend, and explore the budding signs of public gay life in the Village, such as the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, the first bookstore devoted exclusively to gay and lesbian authors. Or, Tim might offer to babysit young Paul and Ellen Leland, giving Joanne the chance for a night out with the girls. Occasionally, Tim would go to the Dramatists' Theatre to see Leo perform, and they would have a romantic, late supper afterward.

This routine of Leo and Tim's was interrupted by a pleasant event: Pete's spring 1967 wedding. Of course, Tim had some suspicion that this family milestone was in the works. For months, his phone calls with his mother had been filled with excited news about Pete's courtship of Lisa Reynolds, a lovely young woman whom Pete had known since high school who recently had resettled in Cedar Rapids after working for a number of years in Chicago. Tim's mother went into considerable detail about Pete and Lisa's movie dates, drives out to the country, and dinners at the homes of each other's families. (Tim couldn't help feeling a bit resentful that his mother continued to lack any similar interest in his and Leo's personal life.)

In a sad irony, just three weeks before the wedding was to occur, Tim's father passed away. The death was not entirely unexpected; his father had been in fragile health for many years. Tim was sad, yet somehow he couldn't seem to feel angry over his loss; mostly, he just was grateful that he had been blessed for so many years by his father's gentle and good-humored love.

Tim also was grateful that Leo was able to take time away from the theatre for both the funeral and the wedding. Although the funeral Mass itself was something of a blur to Tim, he was aware of the comforting presence of Leo by his side. And it also was good to have Leo there when, the night after the funeral, Tim, Pete and their mother gathered around the kitchen table to look through photo albums and share family stories together. Tim was touched when Leo, too, contributed a few memories about Tim's father and concluded with, “Thanks, Tim and Pete, for letting me share your dad for awhile.”




Then, just two weeks later, Tim and Leo walked once again into the Kolcheck family home. The wedding visit was to be a brief one. They arrived Thursday afternoon, in time for the rehearsal dinner that evening; the wedding Mass and dinner were Friday night; and their return flight to New York was Saturday afternoon.

Tim and Leo had rented a car at the airport to spare either Pete or Tim's mother from having to pick them up. The car also gave Tim the chance to take Leo on a brief tour of Cedar Rapids “landmarks” such as the high school Tim had attended and the auditorium where he and other piano students had performed in recitals.

At the rehearsal dinner, Tim and Leo were seated with Tim's mother and the bride and groom. Tim silently appreciated the enthusiastic bear hug with which Pete greeted Leo, and he thought that Lisa was pretty and fun. “And she has enough drive to keep Pete on his toes,” he whispered to Leo.

“I like her, too,” Leo said. “She kind of reminds me of Rose.”

In the midst of the dinner itself, there also was a moment of unaccustomed closeness for Tim and his mother. As the wine was being poured and the servers were setting the entrees before the guests, Tim's mother sighed and seemed momentarily on the verge of tears. “If only your father were here to see this,” she said.

“Oh, Mom,” Tim replied and leaned over to give her a reassuring hug.

For the most part, however, Tim felt like a spectator at the wedding festivities. He didn't feel resentful; he understood, for example, that Pete had to choose a best man who lived in town and could see to the needed preparations and details. He also understood that now was not the time to address any sensitive feelings between him and his mother, although he had to grit his teeth when his mother remarked at one point (unintentionally, he hoped), “I never thought I'd see the day when one of my sons would get married!”

Tim did have the chance for one brief and tender moment with Pete. Pete was dressing in his room before leaving for church and the ceremony. Tim noticed that his door was open and walked in.

“Can I help you with that tie, Pete?” he asked.

“You sure can,” Pete smiled. “My hands are too shaky to work right at the moment!”

Tim patiently gathered and knotted the fabric of the tie. “There. How does it look?”

 “It looks great. Thanks, Tim,” Pete gave him a quick, one-armed hug.

“How do you feel?” Tim smiled. “All ready?”

 Pete gave a briefly panicked look. “No! But maybe nobody feels that way!”

“I guess not.” Tim leaned on the window sill. “I like Lisa a lot, Pete. And I think she's lucky to have you. You'll make a great couple.”

“I hope so!” Pete suddenly looked serious. “Marriage is such a big step, Tim. I didn't really think, until Lisa and I were doing the marriage prep classes, how much of a commitment it is.”

“I think you'll do fine.”

Pete removed his coat from the hanger and slipped into it. “I want to. Actually, all I guess I really want is for us to be a happy, stable, old-fashioned couple. Like Mom and Pop. Or you and Leo.”

Tim was immensely moved by the unexpected compliment. “I appreciate that, brother.”

Pete shrugged it off. “That's OK. Guess I'd better get going. See you at church!”




Soon, when Pete and Lisa were standing before Fr. Schmidt at the altar reciting their vows, Tim thought back to that day, more than fifteen years ago, when he and Leo had spoken similar words to each other. Tim turned briefly to look at Leo, who was focused on the bridal couple. It may not have been presided over by a minister or a judge, Tim thought, but we—Leo and I—we're married, too. And he smiled to himself, joyfully and gratefully.




At the wedding dinner, Tim and Leo were seated at a table with several of Pete's friends from college. Tim felt uncomfortable at any event where he was placed artificially in the midst of strangers, and this dinner was no exception. (Even the normally life-of-the-party Leo was more subdued than usual.) It didn't help matters when Tim introduced himself as the groom's brother and one of the friends commented, “Wow! You're a lot older than he is!”

When the dinner was concluded and the dancing had begun, Tim and Leo thought it would be safe to slip out. They said their goodbyes to the bridal couple and told Tim's mother they would see her at home. Tim offered to get their coats from the cloakroom.

While busily searching through a rack of topcoats similar to his, Tim became aware that Fr. Schmidt was standing beside him.

“Hello, Father,” he said. “I want to thank you for the Mass. Your homily and your remarks about Pete and Lisa were lovely.”

“Thank you, Tim,” the priest replied. Then, more quietly, “I was keeping my eye out for you. There's a reason I was hoping to run into you, briefly.”

Tim was surprised, and not necessarily pleasantly. “Yes, Father?”

Fr. Schmidt reached into his coat pocket, drew out a small hardcover book, and handed it to Tim. Tim looked at the title: Christ and the Homosexual by Robert W. Wood.

Tim was confused. “What is this, Father?”

“It's a book that was published a few years ago,” Fr. Schmidt explained. “The author is a Christian pastor who makes the case, effectively I think, that homosexuals should be welcomed as they are into the church.”

“Has my mother talked with you about me, Father?” Tim asked warily.

The priest laughed. “No, Tim, she's never mentioned the subject to me. But I've seen you and Leo here together for several Christmases. And it doesn't take a brilliant mathematician to add two and two.”

Tim was taken aback and touched. “Thank you, Father, for thinking of me. I'd be very interested in reading the book.”

“My pleasure, Tim. I hope you find it beneficial.”

As Tim and Leo walked to the car, Tim took Leo's arm. “Let's hurry home, darling. I have some reading to do.”




While Leo slept, Tim read the book cover-to-cover late into the night. He was startled by the breadth and confidence of the book, which among other things asserted that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the military, protected from employment discrimination, and welcomed into ordained ministry. The author also stated that two people of the same sex who are in a loving, committed relationship certainly should be looked on as married.

Early the next morning, Tim told the drowsy Leo that he was slipping out of the house “for just a moment.” Tim drove to the St. Mary's rectory and rang the bell; he was happy when Fr. Schmidt himself came to the door.

“I want to thank you, Father, for this book,” Tim said. “I've had scattered thoughts about many of these subjects myself, but I've never known someone who presented them in such a forceful and well-organized way. If there were priests doing these things in ministry, I would be going to church today.”

“I'm glad you enjoyed the book, Tim,” Fr. Schmidt smiled.

“Now you can do me a favor,” Tim said. He handed the book back to the priest. “Please give this to my mother to read.”

“You don't want to give it to her yourself?”

Tim shook his head. “Believe me. It will mean more to her coming from you.”

Fr. Schmidt gently returned the book to Tim. “That may be, Tim. But in the end, your main concern is trying to improve the relationship you have with your mother, correct?” He smiled. “Maybe you have some work to do.”

Soon, when Tim returned home and entered by the back door, he saw his mother having her first-of-the-morning coffee in the kitchen. In his heart, he agreed with what Fr. Schmidt had said. So, no time like the present, he thought to himself.

“Morning, Mom.” He leaned over to give her a kiss.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said. “What has you up so early?”

Tim handed his mother the book. “It's this book, Mom. I just finished reading it.”

Tim's mother looked at the cover, and her face took on a troubled look. “What is this, Tim?”

 “It's a book Fr. Schmidt gave me last night.”

“Fr. Schmidt gave you this??”

Tim sat down next to his mother. “Yes. I've read the whole thing, Mom. In my heart, I believe that God is speaking through this author. You don't have to agree, but I hope for both of our sakes that you'll agree to read it.”

Tim's mother didn't reply, but she didn't give the book back to Tim, either.

Then, later that morning, Tim found another ally in trying to create greater understanding with his mother. As he and Leo stood in the front hallway saying their goodbyes before leaving for the airport, Leo suddenly said hesitantly, “Mrs. Kolcheck, I—I'd like to say something to you.”

Tim was caught off guard. “Leo—?”

Mrs. Kolcheck turned around, surprised. “Yes, Leo?”

 He cleared his throat. “I've known you now, Mrs. Kolcheck, for nearly ten years. You've always been gracious during our visits with you. But I've always sensed that there is a part of you that's. . .closed off to Tim. I love him very much, Mrs. Kolcheck, and I can see that hurts him.

“Look, I lost my own mother when I was six years old, so I know what it's like to go through life without a mother's love. I just don't want Tim to have to do the same thing.”

Mrs. Kolcheck had a stunned look on her face. “Why, Leo—I. . .”

Leo leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. “Goodbye, Mrs. Kolcheck. I hope we see you again soon.”

As they walked out the door together, Tim threw his arm around Leo and held him tightly. And a few weeks later, Tim came to feel something good had begun when just before ending a phone call with him, his mother said, “Now Tim, in that book Fr. Schmidt gave you. . .”

 


To be continued. . .

Monday, November 16, 2015

Welcome! In this 26th installment of A Proud Love, Tim joins the homosexual protest movement. And what about his and Leo's relationship? Read on, and see. . .



XXVI


It was 1:00 a.m. the next morning, and Tim hadn't been to bed. He was sitting miserably on the couch, praying for Leo to come home.

The phone rang. Tim raced to it and picked it up.

“Tim, this is Joanne.”

 Tim was confused. “Joanne! Why are you calling so late—”

“He's here, sweetheart,” Joanne said. “Showed up about eleven o'clock saying he needed a place to stay.”

“Let me talk to him!”

“No, he's asleep. So are Jack and the kids. But I thought I'd better call—I didn't want you to sit up all night worrying.”

Tim's voice shook with relief. “Thanks, Joanne. You're a good friend.”




Tim went to bed after the call but still got little sleep that night. He headed to work exhausted and spent the day distracted by worry.

When he returned home, he went to hang his suit jacket in the bedroom closet. It was then he noticed that Leo's suitcase, and many of his clothes, were gone.

Tim let out a small cry. He wasn't sure why, but he hurried back out to the living room; there was a note on the coffee table:

I need some time away, Tim. Things just aren't right between us now. I'll be in touch when I figure out what to do next.

--Leo

The only words that came to mind for Tim were a panicked prayer: “Dear God, please!”

He headed back, dazed, to the bedroom. In the hall he noticed the framed photograph on the wall; it was the black-and-white image of the two of them on the set of Leo's long-ago movie.

Tim simply stood and stared at the image for a moment. Then he walked into the bedroom and collapsed, weeping, on the bed.




A week went by, and Tim received no word from Leo. That Friday at work, Elliot stopped by Tim's desk.

“What's wrong, Tim?” he asked. “You've looked miserable all week.”

 Tim replied flatly. “It's Leo and me. I think we've split up.”

Elliot was shocked. “Oh no, Tim!”

“I really don't want to talk about it, Elliot. It's too upsetting.” He gave Elliot's arm a pat. “But thank you for asking. I appreciate that you care.”




That weekend was a long and painful one for Tim. He continued to prepare for the demonstration, both because he remained committed to it, and also because it gave him something to distract him from thinking about Leo.

Sunday afternoon, the phone rang.

“Tim, this is Joanne. How'd you like to have lunch tomorrow? I can come down to the Village.”

“I don't know, Joanne. I don't think I'm good company right now. . .”

“I think it's important that you and I talk, sweetheart. Should we say 12:30?”





Tim met Joanne at a little coffee shop around the corner from his office.

“Have a seat, Tim,” she said, calling him to her table. “We'll order quickly, then I have something to say to you.”

 After the order was placed, Tim asked. “What do you want to talk about, Joanne?”

 She placed her hand atop his. “I'm just sick about you and Leo, honey. I love you both too much to see you apart.”

 Tim turned away, feeling that he might start to cry. “I love him so much, Joanne. But what can I do?”

She took a breath, then continued. “I'm going to speak frankly, Tim. There are a few things I think you need to hear.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you're being terribly unfair to Leo.”

Tim was startled. “Me? What do you mean?”

 “He's been a wreck, Tim, he really has. He told me what you said to him—that he's been a coward.”

“That's not what I said,” Tim started to interject, but then he realized that that probably was how Leo interpreted what he said.

“He admits he's scared about this new interest you've taken in homosexual rights. And he feels bad that he hasn't been able to support you the way you want him to.”

“Leo told you that?” Tim asked quietly.

Joanne smiled. “Look, my two cents, for what it's worth, is that you should do exactly what you think is right, and more power to you. But at the same time, try to see things from Leo's point of view, and give him some credit, too.”

“What do you mean, credit?”

 “He's been pretty brave over the years, Tim,” she responded. “For one thing, although he's never announced he's a homosexual, he's never tried to lie about it, either. I know a lot of gay men in show business, and more than a few of them are married to women.”

Tim just listened.

“And both you and he have talked about how he decided to start using his real name. I know a lot of Jews in show business, too, and many of them won't do that.”

Tim nodded. “Yes, that's true.”

Joanne laughed. “Look, I don't want to turn this into a lecture. But just think, Tim, maybe you and Leo can meet somewhere in the middle. . .”

“I don't see how,” Tim said. “As you said, I've got to do what's right. And I've tried to convince Leo it will be better for both of us when we can be more open about who we are.”

“So, you want Leo to change some more?” Joanne shook her head. “Look, honey, you've got to decide: do you love Leo for who you want him to be, or for who he is?”

Tim was shocked into silence. He had heard similar words before, and after a moment realized where: he had said virtually the same thing, on that Christmas trip back to Cedar Rapids, to his mother.

“I do love him, Joanne!” Tim said. “I just want him to come home!”

Joanne squeezed his hand. “Believe me, that's what I want, too. I'm tired of having to explain to the kids why Uncle Leo is sleeping on our sofa.” She laughed, then was more serious. “There's something else I'm concerned about, Tim. I know that Jack is attracted to Leo.”

“You know??”

“It's not hard to see,” she explained. “I love Jack very much, and I know he loves me and the kids, too. But he told me when we got married that he had been with a few men before.”

“Oh, but Leo wouldn't—“

“I trust Leo completely,” Joanne said. “And I think Jack is as faithful as the average husband. But I don't relish having 180 pounds of gorgeous temptation sacked out on the couch.”

“But I don't know what I can do, Joanne,” Tim said helplessly. “Leo won't talk to me. Maybe you could tell him how much I want him to come home!”

 “I'll do my best, sweetheart,” she said. “If I know any couple that was meant to be together, it's you and Leo.”




Tim returned to work after the lunch feeling somewhat hopeful. But then Joanne called that evening to say, “I'm sorry, Tim. Leo said he's going to leave our place, but he's not going home. He's going to move into a hotel.”

“A hotel?” Tim asked, dazedly.

Joanne said briskly, “I think he's just being stubborn at this point. I'm getting a little fed up with him.”

Tim responded sadly, “But maybe that's not it, Joanne. Maybe he just doesn't want to come home.”




Tim spent the days that followed alternating between a state of dazed numbness and moments of grief that brought him to the edge of tears. He prayed and told himself to be hopeful, but having had no word from Leo, he feared in his heart that their life together was over.

Sunday the 18th, the day of the demonstration, arrived. At the most recent Society meeting, participants had been drilled carefully in how to act. They were to dress conservatively, carry their signs with dignity, focus on looking straight ahead and not be distracted by any possible reactions from onlookers.

Older members of New York Mattachine thought the demonstration was an act of folly. They felt it would draw unfavorable attention and set the movement back. But the younger members prevailed.

Those assembled for the demonstration that April Sunday (which happened to be Easter Sunday) included about twenty men and women. New York Mattachine members Dick Leitsch and Craig Rodwell were there. Also joining in was poet Allen Ginsburg, whom Tim admired; he had no opportunity to talk with him, however.

Leitsch's sign summed up clearly what the protest was about: “15,000,000 homosexuals in USA ask the unmasking of Cuban persecution.” Tim's sign had a similar message: “We demand fair treatment, here and abroad.”

The assembled protesters marched solemnly in a circle on the U.N. Plaza. Because of the holiday and the day of the week, there were few onlookers, but at one point a small crowd stopped to watch. Tim, instructed to ignore them, tried not to look in their direction. But when he did look for a moment, his heart stopped: He thought he had caught a glimpse of Leo.

The marching continued,with Tim struggling to remain calm and focused—he hadn't really seen Leo, he told himself, it just was a trick of his mind—until Rodwell and Leitsch called a halt. The demonstrators relaxed, put down their signs, and talked quietly among themselves. Tim then was able, with a mixture of fear and hope, to look over at the small crowd. He saw that Leo was indeed part of it, and that Leo was racing toward him at that moment.

“Tim!” Leo called. Soon, Leo had rushed up to Tim and taken him in his arms.

Some of the other protesters looked askance at this public demonstration of affection, but Tim didn't care. He buried himself in Leo's embrace. “Oh Leo, Leo!”

 “I'm so sorry, sweetheart,” Leo said. “I've missed you so much. I want to come home.”

“I'm sorry, too, Leo!” Tim responded. “I was so wrong. I didn't understand how unfair I was to you.”

“Let's forget that, sweetheart,” Leo said. “Just tell me you'll let me come home.”

“Of course I will!” Tim cried. “I love you, Leo!”

 “I love you, too, Tim.”




The demonstration attracted practically no attention; it was complete ignored by the press. (A similar, earlier march by the Washington Mattachine chapter had been covered by only one paper, the Washington Afro-American.) Tim managed to keep his job at Home without any problems.

Tim still considered the experience worthwhile, however. He had been changed inside by the demonstration; he felt somewhat more confident, more willing to be open about who he was.

Even the fight and separation Tim and Leo had endured enabled them to come to a better understanding of each other. Leo said that he recognized Tim's need to do what he felt was right, even if Leo didn't agree. And Tim said he now understood that what he thought was right didn't necessarily have to apply to Leo, too.

That Sunday evening, with Leo's suitcase and clothes back in the bedroom closet, Leo and Tim reclined in bed in each other's arms.

“This is one of the things I've missed most,” Leo said tenderly, giving Tim a kiss.

Tim said sincerely, “Leo, let's never fight again.”

 Leo chuckled quietly. “I don't know if I can promise that, sweetheart. But maybe we can say, if we do fight, neither one of us will leave the apartment until it's worked out.”

Tim relaxed into Leo's embrace. “That sounds good.”

Leo added, “. . .no matter how long it takes.” And both of them laughed.






To be continued. . .