Rumi has a poem called “Reason is Powerless in the Expression of Love”. Featured image is “Hillcrest Rainbow Flag” by Tony Webster on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license 2.0.
This story is how I feel right now. Afraid and grieved and so, so powerless. All my love goes out to this wounded, bleeding world.
Words are the only medicine I know.
I never go out with them, but tonight Truman is feeling possessive and Will is feeling a playful desire to be owned, and I can’t resist them, so I’ve taken them deeper into the East Bay, to a dingy place called Club Fred’s that Lucy and Nick haunted when we were younger.
Hard to remember the last time I sat here at the bar, watching people. It was before Truman, before Will. Before my life held meaning, if I want to get sentimental about it. I’m at the far end, closest to the heart of the club, the dance floor where my men writhe against each other.
I can always tell when Truman’s feeling just a little more territorial: he gropes Will more openly, very occasionally covers his eyes and whispers things that make me wish, for a second, that I’m out there with them, that I’m in on the secret.
Our secrets are little gifts between us. The things they whisper to one another will be revealed to me slowly over time, and savored, drawn out, a delicate balance of exposure and need and love.
I’m hard watching them. Truman makes sure they’re mostly on the outskirts of the crowd, where I can see them. Now he turns Will until he’s facing me, but covers his eyes, forces his head back, and his other hand lewdly gropes between Will’s legs where the tight pants show off everything.
My mouth is dry. I sip my drink—a beer, which is a weird thing for me to order, but maybe it’s the ambiance of the place; it would have been silly to ask for wine or tea—and adjust my own trousers, feeling the phantom sensation of Will’s head on my shoulder, Truman’s hand on my cock.
They are so desirable in this moment that my skin can barely contain the sensation; it fills everything in me, suffuses every cell of my body, until I am bursting.
Bursting, bursting, as if a light connects the three of us, and even in this dark club, with its pounding electronica and constant din of voices, this thing is alive between us, a bright thread we’ve spun and woven and knotted until it is so much stronger than I imagined any relationship could ever be.
For a minute, in the very beginning, I think the pop, pop, pop, pop is in my head. I think it’s fireworks because the three of us are the only real people in the world, or some elemental expression of the heartbeat that is my blood, and Truman’s, and Will’s, and all of our hearts beating in time with the others.
But just for a minute.
Then everything is horror and fear and I lose them, I lose my shining men, my heart and soul, in the chaos and darkness and why is everything so loud I can’t hear? I hit the floor and someone steps on my hand, but the pain is a small flare in a nervous system buzzing with terror.
The gunshots—correctly identified now, even in my panic—come again. A spray? Is it an automatic, or a semiautomatic? I don’t know anything about guns.
Screams, shouts, and the speakers are still pumping music, a surreal soundtrack. Gunfire again and I watch a woman fall, clutching her stomach.
I have to get to them. I can’t tell where the shooter is because I’m too afraid to lift my head, but I can’t lie here not knowing if they’re all right. I snake forward on my belly, and people are still screaming, still moaning. It seems darker now, and smoky, like a haunted house. I bump into someone and both of us scramble away.
Are they hurt? I can’t stop. I have to get where I last saw Truman and Will.
Everything’s happening too fast, but I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. I can’t get to them. I’m trying and trying and some scuffle on the other side of the room leads to more shots.
Until I’m almost on top of them.
Thank god, thank god, thank god, oh thank god.
“It’s me,” I whisper. “I’m here. Are you—”
Truman’s face is streaked with tears. “Will…”
He’s in shock. Of course he’s in shock. We’re all in shock. “He’s right here.” I reach out, brushing my hand through Will’s hair. Clever boy, still on the ground, not drawing attention to himself even in the gloom.
My hand’s wet.
“My love…oh, my love…” Truman’s voice is almost too low for me to hear, so I lean in closer, still trying to understand why my hand is wet. “My love…Will…”
“He’s right here.” Every sound in the room recedes, even though I can feel on my skin how loud it still is, and how oppressive. “He’s right here…” My hand is wet, warm, and it hits me but I deny it. “He’s right here,” I repeat, and I feel like I’m shouting but I can’t even hear my own words over the muted, distant roar of music and screams and blood pounding in my ears.
Blood. Wet. No. No.
“I love you,” my husband murmurs. “We love you so much. Hugh, you are my everything, and I love you more than life, I love you, I love you, I love you…”
“He can’t…he isn’t…” But I won’t name it. I won’t. My fingers in Will’s hair, brushing one ear, and it feels wrong, I can feel how wrong it is now, but my mind won’t let me imagine it. “No, Truman, I can’t…he isn’t…”
It’s so dark, and the smoke obscures everything, the smoke is like the sound, an opaque maelstrom, in which I can only see the three of us, and not well. Not well at all. Or too well.
I’m weeping now as I lean toward Truman, one hand still in Will’s hair. “No. No, he can’t be…” I’m whispering, whimpering, not really speaking at all.
And Truman’s voice is softer still, telling me he loves me, he loves me, he loves me forever, they love me. He’s in shock, he’s babbling, babbling and in shock, and the indignity of it—of my husband, my rock, my everything babbling like this—makes me angry even though I can only feel the edge of it, sense its presence beyond my ability to feel anything at all.
“Oh, my love,” he says, babbling and in shock. He is babbling and in shock and he is bleeding, he is bleeding, blood staining his lips as he looks at me. “Oh, my sweet, sweet love, Hugh, my sweet…my sweet love…”
“No!” I’m shouting, but I’m not. I’m not making a dent in the sound everywhere around me. We are the eye of the storm and I look at him, and he looks at me, and I say, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I lose my breath saying it, I pull him toward me so I can say it in his ear, so I can stop looking at the place where the blood stains his lips, his cheek, so I can stop thinking about what it means.
I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, Truman, I love you. While inside me everything breaks apart, tears asunder, everything twists until it snaps. I hold him and I can’t stop crying, I can’t stop saying his name until it is only one high pure note of love and sorrow.
Everything in me goes dark.
The sting registered first.
Then I remembered, and in remembering tried to crawl back into the black. I would not open my eyes in a world without them. I would not. No power on earth could make me continue living without my heart, my soul.
“Hugh, my love, you were dreaming. Wake up now.” For a moment I thought it was my mother, only my mother could insist in that tone—ordinary, comforting, eternally assured tone—that I wake up.
It came again: “Wake up now. You were dreaming.”
I curled into a ball, shaking, trying to block it out. Not my mother. Truman. Truman, who was gone, who was lost, whom I’d held in my arms, whose whispers of love trailed off until there was nothing but silent emptiness echoing forever in my head.
This time I felt the slap. “Ow.”
“Thank god. You were scaring me. Are you awake now?”
“Truman?” A fresh wave of tears hit and I pressed my hands to my face. “You’re dead. You can’t be here, you’re dead.”
“Oh, love, no. Is that what you dreamed?” Arms wrapped around me. Strong arms, a tight embrace that smelled like Truman. “Darling, I’m not dead, I’m right here. What was it?”
I was shaking, but I couldn’t look, I couldn’t bear to discover that this was the dream. I hid my face in his chest and wept.
“Oh, Hugh, my love, I’m fine, I’m right here. We’re in our bed, in our room. Shhhh, if you listen, you can hear the drip in the bathroom because I didn’t turn the handle far enough off. Listen, Hugh. Listen hard. Do you hear it?”
I never wanted anything in my life more than I wanted to hear the bathroom facet drip. I held my breath and listened.
I took three shuddering breaths and raised my head.
Truman, my Truman, right there, so close I could kiss him. But I didn’t. I looked at him, breathing hard, willing him to be real. “You and Will. You were dancing. I took you to a club and you were dancing, and then there was shooting, and blood, and you were dying in my arms.”
His eyes were deep wells, full of tears. “Love, you dreamed about Orlando.”
“No. No, it was La Vista, this club Lucy and Nick used to go to.”
He kissed me, his lips soft and warm and very, very real. “In your dream, that’s where it was. But think for a minute. There was a shooting Saturday night in Orlando, at a gay club. Remember? We talked about it all day.” His fingers brushed through my hair. “Hugh, you dreamed it was us, but it wasn’t.”
“You were dead.” I needed to hear him say it again.
“I’m right here. Safe. With you. Except I left the dripping tap on in the bathroom again. I know that drives you nuts.”
Tears spilled over onto my cheeks and I grabbed at his shoulders. “You were dead. I held you in my arms. And Will…Will…I didn’t even get to tell him I loved him. He was dead before I even…” I tumbled back into his arms, shaking, out of control tremors racking my body.
“I’m right here, my love, I’m right here.” He kept talking, but it didn’t matter. I just needed his voice, his arms, his chest rising and falling, his heart beating steadily against my cheek.
When I thought I was done—at least for the moment—I raised my head. “I think I need to talk to Will. Is that—I mean, I know it’s unreasonable, but I—”
He shifted both of us and reached for my phone. “Call him. He would want you to call.”
I dialed with trembling fingers. It still felt so real that he was dead. He’d been face-down on the ground. His hair had been wet with blood. The air choked with smoke. The gunfire—
“Hugh? Wha’s wrong? Tru okay?”
I meant to speak, but I couldn’t. I started crying again. His voice, thick with sleep, so obviously not a dream voice.
“Oh shit, Hugh? What’s wrong?”
Truman took the phone from my fingers. “He’s fine, my love. He had a very, very bad dream, but it’s fine now. I think I’ve mostly convinced him it was all just a nightmare and it’s over.”
I couldn’t hear Will’s response, but this time I recovered faster. I’d spent years never crying, and in this night I’d cried a flood.
Orlando. A shooting in Orlando.
Yesterday. We’d read about it first. Then the three of us sat in the kitchen and listened to NPR and called all of the people in our extended family. And cried. I’d cried, yesterday, thinking about the nightclub in Orlando where fifty people—fifty queer people—lost their lives.
People like us. In a club like Club Fred’s. Music and darkness and dancing. And screams.
I was shaking again, but Truman’s arm tightened, and his voice quieted the wave of panic before it could break over me.
“I told him we’re not dead, but he doesn’t fully believe it yet. I know, I had the same thought. He dreamed we were there, or it was here, and we died. No, I don’t think you need to drive over, but here, talk to him so he knows you’re all right.”
Will started talking before Truman even got the phone against my ear.
“I’m alive, totally and completely, and if you want me to drag Ads out of bed to verify, I so totally will. But listen, this isn’t going to happen to us. We aren’t going to die. We aren’t going to leave you, so stop worrying about it, okay? You can’t get rid of us. You married Tru, and I know how to make tea the right way, so basically, you can’t get rid of us. You can’t, Hugh. You’re stuck with us forever.”
I took the phone and touched the little speaker so both of us could hear him. “That was the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. It was so real. I can’t explain to you how real it was. I could feel that you were bleeding. I was so fucking scared I was going to be shot, and I couldn’t find you, and when I did you—you were—“ I broke off and shut my eyes.
“I had to slap him to wake him up,” Truman added. A kiss, pressed to my forehead. “My love, we are safe. The three of us are safe.”
A sound on the line, a flutter against the speaker as Will repositioned his phone. “And we’re staying the fuck out of goddamn nightclubs, Jesus.”
“Oh no.” The abrupt vehemence in Truman’s voice made me look up. “No, I think we should go to this club, Hugh. As soon as we can. We should go to this club, and we should dance, and we should stay until they close. Because no one gets to make us so afraid we stay home. I will not hide from these people. I don’t care how many guns they have.”
Tears again, but I wasn’t sobbing this time. Tears because the man I married was the bravest, the most determined man I’d ever known.
“Let’s go Friday,” I said, wiping my eyes. “On Friday I’ll take you to Club Fred’s. Both of you. And I bet we can get Lucy and the boys, and Nick and Bernie to go out, too.”
“And my house, if we’re making a political goddamn statement about it.”
Truman shook his head. “It’s not political. Or it’s personal, but the personal is always political. I will not live in fear of these scurrying, pathetic little people, cowering behind their guns. If they want to shoot me, they’re welcome to do it, but they’ll do it while I am living out in the open, and free, and with the two of you at my sides.”
I couldn’t agree, not so soon after believing he was dead, so soon after feeling his life drain away while I held him in my arms. But I could kiss him, and I did.
“Oh fuck, Tru.” Will’s voice was ragged. “I’ll stand with you any fucking day. But I just can’t stop thinking of all those people, and of every time we’ve ever gone out, and how goddamn terrified they must have been. And I can’t stop being grateful it wasn’t you two, which I know is horrible, but I just can’t even think about…I can’t even think about it.”
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” I murmured.
“Both of you will stop thinking about any of us dying. We didn’t.” Truman tugged at me until I rested my head on his chest again. “William, do you have time to stop by in the morning?”
“Yeah, like there’s fucking any chance I didn’t already set my alarm an hour earlier so I can catch you before work.”
“Good. Will you be able to sleep?”
Will sighed into the speaker. “I wish Moll was here. I’ll sleep eventually. Maybe I’ll try that podcast where the guy talks you to sleep.”
“Yes, do that. We’ll put it on as well.”
“Okay. I love you guys. Kind of a lot.”
“We love you too, my sweet boy.”
My sweet love.
I cleared my throat, trying not to think of Truman’s laboring whispers in my ear. It was a dream. A nightmare. It couldn’t hurt me. It couldn’t hurt them.
“I love you,” I said. “So very much, Will. I can never tell you enough how much you mean to me.”
“Oh well Jesus, now I’ll never sleep.” He sounded choked up again. “I gotta go. I love you guys. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Truman replaced the phone on my nightstand without dislodging us completely, and resettled with my head higher on his chest. A position which resolved when he rested his cheek against my forehead. “I’m sorry, my love. It’s a horrible dream.”
“It was so real. You called me your everything.” I swallowed. “You called me your sweet love. You never call me sweet. I should have known it was a dream.”
He kissed me. “You are my everything, Hugh Reynolds.”
I shut my eyes once more and took solace in his breaths. “I thought I’d lost you. It’s the worst I’ve ever felt. God help me, Truman, it was worse than losing Mom, and I didn’t think anything on earth could cut me deeper than that.”
“You didn’t lose me. Or Will. And if Cordelia were here, I have the sneaking suspicion she’d tell you to stop dwelling on nightmares and get some sleep. You do have work in the morning, you know.”
“God. She really would.” I turned up my face for a proper kiss. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. And it was only a dream. What the people in that club must have felt…Truman, if they put out a call for therapists to help, I’m going. I want us to go.”
He nodded. “Then we will. Together. But for now, we’re going to bed. And Hugh?”
“Don’t think I don’t see your sweetness, as much as you try to cover it up with other things. I consider it our secret.” He kissed me once more. “Will knows, too, but he’ll never tell.”
I understood why people didn’t come out. I understood why it seemed so much safer to avoid exposure, so much cleaner to just pretend. It was, in a very real way, even in these days of progress, in the so-called civilized first world.
But you’d never know how much you gave up, living in hiding. You’d never know that by choosing to be silent you sacrificed this moment, in near-darkness, after the very worst kind of nightmare, your husband pulling you close to murmur of your carefully guarded secrets, which were the most potent, powerful kind.
“I love you,” I said. “There aren’t words enough in the world for me to tell you how much, or how profoundly. You’ll just have to take it on faith.”
“Oh, I do, my love. I do.”
It would be a long, wakeful night. But I’d spend it in Truman’s arms, feeling his heartbeat, connected by so many invisible threads I could almost feel their weight on my skin.
The facet dripped in the bathroom. I let it.