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Friday, May 25, 2012

There are some characters that just grab you by the heart

Recently I was asked if I cried for any my characters. My answer has always been that if you're not feeling it, you're not doing it right. Because if you're not feeling it, the reader won't.
Some of my characters are real, and some of the imaginary ones are just as real, based from people I've know and loved over my life. And yes, I've cried over all of them.
Most of the time, the characters that grab you are the protagonists, but if a writer is doing their job right, the secondary characters should as well.
For instance, Jay and Marian in Director's Cut.
The real Jay always reminded me of the actor Rene Auberjonois - one of my favorite character actors. Certainly there was a resemblance between the two. Both were tallish, thin, with long noses and distinct features.
Jay was gay and already in full-blown AIDs.
It was toward the end of the AIDS crisis, they were starting to develop the drugs that now help so many survive. I'd already lost one friend to the disease and I hadn't handled it well. The idea of losing Ross to that disease had been more than I could cope with.
Jay and the woman I called Marian in Director's Cut had already formed a deep and abiding friendship long before I met them. She was divorced, struggling to raise her son alone. When Jay's disease became known they reached an agreement - they would marry and she would care for him in his last days. For them both it seemed like the perfect solution.
In the days before our little theater group put on the play version of Phantom of the Opera we were beset by a series of disasters. One of our actors was mugged, costing him his front teeth. Jay was hospitalized - again - with pneumonia. We had no understudies. And the circumstances in a key scene of Director's Cut took place. Our entire production was in jeopardy, but more than anything, we were praying for Jay, for Marian, and for our other actor.
In a tremendous show of strength and courage - given that it was just a community theater production - Jay left the hospital and appeared onstage in the role of one of the producers. The other actor had to have a bridge put in to replace his missing teeth at the last minute, but he went on as well.
The show went on, too.
Sadly, Jay took a bit of abuse in the reviews and it clearly hurt him, but he was a trooper. None of us could say anything, back then the stigma of the disease was pretty disastrous. Not that Jay would have let us. Even for our little production, he was ever and always the consummate professional.
Shortly thereafter our little company parted ways due to circumstances none of us foresaw and my life took unexpected turns.
I learned some time after that Jay had died through other sources, and far too late to pay my respects, in much the same way that I lost the friend I've called Electra in The Last Resort. My mother told me, probably years afterward, that Electra's daughter had tried to make contact with me. Probably to tell me that her mother was ill but my mother hadn't passed on the call or my number.
Electra was the closest I've come over the years to a best friend.
Time and distance do that. Now, years later, I hope I've done justice and honor to both. I've celebrated them, in my own way.
I adored Jay, respected both him and Marian, for the sacrifices they made.
Honestly, I don't know how the woman I've called Marian got through Jay's death. I know she loved him deeply, even if not in the way most people expect. Of course back then gay couples couldn't marry at all but straight ones could. In many states gay couples still can't, of course. But it was Jay himself who told me he wouldn't have another lover who could only stand there and watch him die. He just couldn't do it to them.
Marian, who was already his friend and aware of his illness, understood.
I did, too. Those are the sacrifices we make for the people we love...or might love. To not make them face the pain, even if it means not experiencing the joy.
Perhaps there's something better waiting beyond. If so, I hope Jay found it...