In Light Reflected.
(“Look at me. Here I am. Right where I belong…” --Burns/Moss)
It should have felt good. It was Broadway, wasn’t it? Bright
lights and flashy songs and dance numbers that put some of the most famous
troupes in the world to shame. Broadway is a hustler, a street hooker without
class who wins you over with sheer curiosity and the promise of cheap tricks.
It had been your dream for as long as you could remember.
You’d taken some teasing about it, for sure. It wasn’t quite proper for someone male—and Italian, to boot—to harbor dreams of losing yourself in the Music of the Night, or to bound across the stage with a lithe sort of grace, the way Jellicle cats often do. You were supposed to like football and pool and spending long, cramped hours in the back seat of a muscle car, tongue buried in tantalizing pink delights, head mussed from the excess of pleasure.
Only fags like Broadway. That had been instilled in your brain from day one.
Your family understood, at first. They knew you were unique; that the typical ideologies of the football trophy and the wife and kids in the
You imagined that the feeling was a lot like Broadway: hot, sweaty, pleasurable beyond any other place in the world.
You belonged on stage. You were sure of it.
It surprised you most of all when plans changed a bit…when you traded your roles in Macbeth and Guys and Dolls for a heavy, sweaty, furry costume and a bit part in a musical revue based on a semi-successful fantasy movie. It paid your bills and gave you just enough recognition to take the edge off of your insatiable appetite, but it wasn’t what you wanted. While your coworkers reveled in the delighted squeals of the children in the front rows, you had your eyes on the bored middle-aged men picking absently at their fingernails, or their socialite soccer-mom wives who were probably fantasizing about George Michael or Prince. It didn’t stop you from trying your hardest. The director would sometimes yell at you for not playing to the people who were interested in the performance, but time and again your eyes went to those who didn’t want you, who didn’t care, who weren’t interested in whatever the hell you were trying to prove. They got your attention. They got your eyes.
Most told you it was a waste of your time.
You met JC earlier than the rest, back when he was a geeky teenager with floppy hair and a hapless goofy streak. He carried a sort of cautious confidence that was heartbreaking to watch, because he would pretend, badly, that he was cool. It broke your heart to hear, low to the ground, the nasty names he was called, ones that were more vicious than the simple four-letter standards. You liked the kid, liked his ambition and his drive, liked the fact that he got angry when you called him kid because he was older than you and therefore not a kid in any manner. You especially enjoyed crowing gleefully after him when girl after girl turned him down. You’d shoot him a full-out grin with a mouthful of teeth while snickering, and he’d mutter under his breath about “someday, man, someday.”
It was Chris who promised you “someday,” who came to you with earnest eyes and an odd, perfectly serious expression. He offered you fame and fortune and shimmering dreams in exchange for shutting down the lights on your Broadway, but you were so enrapt with delicious possibility that you didn’t see the neon signs slowly dim until they were too dark to be noticed.
At first, in the beginning, you didn’t mind being baritone. You liked the idea of filling out the sound, of having the bottom fall out without your voice. You were skinnier than Chris and far more jaded than JC, so you figured your only real competition was Justin, and he had the body of, well, a gangly teenager, so you figured you were safe.
You figured wrong.
You noticed that the screams seemed to swell when the pipsqueak walked into the room, or that the barely-legal girl in the frilly dress would turn a cold, bare shoulder to you the instant JC sauntered confidently across her path. You just gritted your teeth and focused that much harder on winning her affections, remembering your days as a werewolf. You wanted her eyes, just like before…but this time…you didn’t get them.
What you did get, eventually, was the fame and fortune that Chris had once promised you. It didn’t come without a price, not without heartache and the occasional night filled with terror. You even remember, with rueful remorse, the evening Justin had his panic attack. You felt a tainted sort of pleasure when you realized that just like you, he wasn’t made of stone. That his walls and his heart and his hopes and dreams could crumble just as easily as yours. The guilt came when you realized he was just a baby, and wasn’t equipped to handle pressure of this nature. None of you were.
Like a dream, though, and with the calculated precision of the grandest
It was three years later in April when you realized you were heading into the final act…getting ready to move from one theatre to the other, to let the curtain fall on the cast and crew that had been there since opening night, all those years ago. It was time to move on, to find new work, to read a different script with a different set of people.
It was in those moments of quiet reflection that you turned to see the once-dead neon signs flickering defiantly amidst the rubble of long-forgotten dreams. Broadway. The
You were terrified.
The play had been a suggestion from your well-meaning sister, who had casually mentioned over dinner one evening that casting for RENT should be coming up right when you’d happen to have a hell of a lot of free time on your hands. At first, you shrugged it off. You had family responsibilities and money to spend and months—MONTHS—of planning to do absolutely nothing.
That night, you threw popcorn at the TV and cursed under your breath as you flipped from one channel to the other. A Chorus Line. My Fair Lady. Even the fucking video version of Cats. You scowled and switched to TBS, only to see Michael J. Fox mugging it up as Teenwolf.
You took some Tums and went to bed.
Three days later, with songs in your head and time on your hands, you timidly placed a call to Johnny, who, God love him, could practically see the dollar signs flash before his very eyes.
“Just…you know…check it out, man. For laughs, I mean. Just…get some info or something.”
You hadn’t the faintest idea that the “or something” would morph into a role as Mark. On Broadway. In RENT, for God’s sake.
For whatever reason, you kept it a secret as long as you could, but Chris, who was craftier than Sherlock fucking Holmes, managed to find out, the little bastard.
“Why the hell did you keep that from us, man? ‘Fraid of us makin’ fun of you?”
His tone was only half-kidding, as was your answer.
“This ain’t about you, dude…”
But it was, indirectly. It was about what you could do without Chris, without Justin and JC and Lance. It was about proving to yourself that the murmurs of “free ride” and “lucky to be here” and “expendable” were horseshit, the way your dad said they were.
That first night, that first evening after you came home with your triumphant, if timid, first performance under your belt, you cried a little. Or a lot. You couldn’t be sure because things weren’t so clear after half of the bottle you hid in your desk “for emergencies” disappeared down your throat.
“Fuck you, Justin. Fuck all you guys,” You mumbled…and you weren’t sure why.
It should have felt good. It was Broadway, right? Why the fuck did it hurt so much?
Your answer was simple: they weren’t there to be proven wrong. You were alone. On your own. For the first time in forever.
You should have felt more satisfied when the empty bottle crashed against the wall, flying from your fingertips with calculated precision, but your cell phone was ringing and distractedly you picked it up, glancing perfunctorily at the display.
You froze. And then you reacted.
A second crash shattered the silence once again, and you stumbled off to bed, cursing as your head hit the pillow.
You got the call at home from Justin after a particularly long day, just as you were walking in the door. His chipper voice was strangely welcome after so many weeks of silence.
“So I’m coming Wednesday night,” He said. “Hope you don’t mind. I mean. I’ll need to get my mind off…”
“’Course, dude,” You replied automatically. “Whatever you want. You’ve got a place to stay if you need…”
Justin coughed once, uncomfortably, and muttered something about already having plans and while his apology and expressions of gratitude were equally sincere, your stomach still stubbornly clenched in knots, and you wandered back to your desk.
Emergencies, it seemed, happened more and more frequently these days…
You knew from the outset Opening Night would be a giant event. You had done interviews with anyone who had a notepad and a few seconds of airtime, and the buzz that had been slowly simmering for just under three weeks was finally going to boil over, or so you hoped.
The fans’ acceptance, as you had predicted, had been immediate and unconditional. You didn’t expect to drive sales revenues up as sharply as you did, but it was a nice bonus and made you feel a little twinge of pride when people began to say you had “revived Broadway.” Lest you get too big of a head, they also said that you were the first human being to attempt “over-processed insecurity,” and you mentally wrote yourself a note to send that particular critic a rotten fish.
It shouldn’t have surprised you to learn that not only Justin but JC would be showing up on your official “opening night,” but it also shouldn’t have hurt, either. That inexplicable stinging twinge that started in your belly and centered in your heart flared up in spades when you saw them, from a distance, preening in the spotlight, talking eagerly with reporters and mugging for the cameras.
Justin didn’t hear you creep up behind him; the prattle and the cries from this reporter or that news station all but obliterated subtlety, but when you got close enough you could hear his newly-acquired low-key, everyman persona speaking fluidly and without hesitation…
“I’m a little nervous, I mean…it’s the first time and everything. But it should be exciting, I hope…”
You couldn’t squelch a beam of pride from his words, and had your arm halfway to his shoulder when the reporter spoke again, her too-chipper words like razors through your skull.
“Well, we wish you the best of luck with your VMA performance. When does the album drop?”
And your hand stilled. And your jaw clenched. And you turned and walked away, disgusted with yourself for thinking that tonight might be, for once, just about you.
You passed JC as he chattered excitedly about Lance, faked a smile at the E! news reporter who called your name eagerly…and took picture after picture after picture, with the same practiced ease of a seasoned veteran. Eventually, just before you went inside, you even posed with JC and Justin, though few words passed between the three of you. You simply gritted your teeth and waited for your stage call.
It was sort of strange to look down in the audience of enrapt fans and former Broadway dignitaries and know they were here for you—for YOU. It was equally strange to see two of the men who had so often stood beside you in perfect formation looking up at you with something like wonder in their eyes. A weird sort of Wonderland mirror, you stole glances at JC and Justin while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge their stares, and when you stopped to think, the darkest most slippery form of shame crept into your mind. It was then that your gaze fell to the floor. You finally understood the importance of the “invisible wall”—the theatre mumbo-jumbo so often spouted about maintaining a distance between actor and audience. But unlike the professionals, you had built your wall with bricks. You figured it was safer.
Predictably, the show was over before you knew it. Broadway, though a hustler, is also a machine, with grinding gears and greasy joints and smoky by-products that leave an indelible residue on tender skin. When the last notes of the last song floated off in the air and the applause began, you dared, one last time, to look down.
Justin was on his feet. A smile on his face. Before anyone else.
Justin was applauding you.
Much later, when the emotional fog had cleared and you had time to process your feelings, you suppose it could have been a calculated move on his part. After all, making you look good made him look good; his support magnified his own image.
Look at me, you thought wryly. Here I am. I’m the one clapping for Good Ol’ Joey.
Justin, you decided, despite his new image incarnation, was as predictable as New York August.
JC…JC was something else.
You couldn’t call it happiness on his face…not really. Happiness didn’t have tight lines around the eyes and pinched skin around lips that tried their damnedest to smile but couldn’t manage around a heart still bleeding profusely.
Your eyes locked. And when asked, years later, neither could remember who had looked away first.
Broadway, right? Why the fuck should it have to hurt?
You figured it had very little to do with who was on the stage…and everything to do with who wasn’t.
A heart glows only in light reflected.
© 2002 ~A