The story of All We Have Is Now is told by Ian McBride, an actor in his mid-fifties who works for a repertory company in Washington, D.C. He and his much-younger lover, Jimmy Davidson, met during a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Ian played Prospero and Jimmy played Ariel. In this excerpt, Ian goes to the theater to talk with the company’s artistic director, Zena Fitzmorris.
Jimmy and I went back to Washington right after Labor Day. It seemed strange to be there, that first night, away from the sound and the smell of the ocean, but we both agreed we were glad to be home.
I went over to Capitol Rep the next afternoon to see Zena Fitzmorris. She’d spent the week of the Fourth of July with us at Rehoboth Beach and had come back to sort out the next season’s schedule.
“What have you decided?” I asked. “Still starting off with that Mamet play we didn’t get to last season?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s all cast and ready to go. Well, two substitutions, but basically intact. We’ll start rehearsals the end of the month.”
“And follow up with Art after that?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. You remember telling me you’d like to do some more O’Neill?”
“I’m wanting to capitalize on the success of The Tempest, get you out there again as soon as I can. So I thought . . . Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
“James Tyrone,” I said. “Incredible role. Thanks, Zena.”
“And what do you think of Jimmy for Edmund? Could he handle it?”
“I haven’t a doubt in the world.”
“He’ll have to audition.”
“Of course. Just to be sure. And to be fair.”
I found Jimmy outside in the garden, tidying up the perennials we’d left untended all summer. When I told him, he was thrilled.
“Wouldn’t that be terrific,” he said. “Us onstage together again. I’d love it. And in that play. Like a dream come true.”
As soon as he and I started working on his scenes for the audition, I knew the part would be his. His Edmund was intense, wary, vulnerable. As much of this world as his Ariel was not. There were depths to this boy I had not begun to see.
Jimmy went off to his audition, called to say he was waiting to hear, called again to say he’d done it. He would play Edmund.
“Why am I not surprised?” I said.
We went out for dinner to celebrate. A new French restaurant everyone was raving about. Jimmy looked handsome, quite elegant, in the suit he’d just bought.
“The best thing of all,” he said after we’d ordered and were sipping our wine, “is I get to stay here with you – for a while, at least. Not have to go back to New York looking for work. I was dreading that.”
“Me, too,” I said. “God. I’ve been wishing for something like this, but . . . I could hardly believe we’d be so lucky. You know . . . I’d decided if you did have to go back to New York, I’d . . . look for something there, too. And if I couldn’t find anything right away, just hang out up there with you. Till I did.”
He stared at me. “But you love it here. Your work. And . . . what you’ve built up.”
“I do. But I love you more. I don’t think I could bear being without you . . . even for a little while.”
“Oh, my god, Ian,” he said. He put his hand on top of mine and squeezed it. He swallowed hard.
The waiter brought our plates of escargot and set them in front of us.
“Just smell that garlic,” I said. “Marvelous.”
“No problem with ‘garlic breath,'” Jimmy said, “if we’ve both got it.”
The waiter took away our plates of empty shells and served our rack of lamb. We dug in.
“Are you as excited about Long Day’s Journey as I am?” Jimmy asked.
“I . . . am,” I said.
He looked up quickly and narrowed his eyes.
“No ‘but,'” I said. “I am.”
“Don’t dance around with me like this, Ian. It’s no good. You say you love me, enough to make enormous sacrifices, and then you . . . avoid things that really matter.”
“Like you are upset about the play.”
“Why would I be upset, Ariel mind reader?”
“Because I’ll be playing your son. And it’ll just remind people how much younger I am.”
“Bull’s-eye. Again. How do you do that?”
He smiled. “It’s not so hard. You’ve been fretting about this ever since we met. It’s part of why you were so adamant about not giving me a chance. It drove you crazy when my parents were here, and made you cranky and irritable all summer, when I’d go out with my young friends. I don’t have to be a mind reader to see that. Just somebody who loves you very much and wishes you wouldn’t keep being your own worst enemy. You’re determined to make it be something whether it really is or not. And you shouldn’t. You honest to god shouldn’t.”
“I know you’re right. At least, my head knows you’re right. Sort of. It’s my . . . what? My gut, down where the demons are, that isn’t sure.”
He smiled. “‘Sure’ is what we never get to be. We don’t have any guarantees. Nobody does. We should be glad for what we do have, you and I. Which is a lot. Can’t we just let it be that . . . for a while?”
I put my fork down and reached over to take his hand. I held on to it. Who cared who might be looking?
“I wish these rotten thoughts didn’t come around to haunt me,” I said. “Do I ever! But I can’t seem to keep them out. And the better I know you, the worse it gets. The more I see how talented and smart and . . . desirable you are, the more I think that everyone, everyone younger and handsomer, must surely see it, too. And the more I love you, the more afraid I am of losing it. What we have.”
He shook his head. “You see what I mean? Your own worst enemy. You let what might happen tomorrow take away from the pleasure of what is today. I used to do that . . . a lot. I’d wish for this and wish for that. And feel sorry for myself when my wishes didn’t come true. And then it hit me – like a two-by-four. ‘I’m spending all my time wishing,’ I thought, ‘and none of it living.’ That’s when I decided to leave Texas, go to New York. Just like that. No assurances. No guarantees. I just realized that if I was going to do what I wanted to do, I’d better go do it.”
I rubbed my thumb along the side of his hand.
“That’s one of the benefits of my growing up weird and . . . different,” he said. “I’ve known for a long time that nobody was going to give me anything. Not anything I really wanted. I was going to have to go get it myself. And you know what? It’s been a blessing for me. It made me work harder than I ever would have otherwise. I had to figure out where I wanted to go, and then work like hell to get there.”
Our food was getting cold, but I couldn’t have cared less.
“And where is that?” I asked.
“Here,” he said quietly. “Living here. Loving you. Playing Edmund Tyrone. After that, who knows? But for now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. You’re older than I am, that’s a fact. You’re a pain in the butt when you don’t get your way. You’re neurotic and volatile and you’ve got a huge ego. But I love you.
“I don’t wish you were younger. If I wanted somebody younger, I could go out and get him. Right now. Tonight. I could. I’m not blind. I see how people look at me – here, New York, Granada, for heaven’s sake – and I know what it means. But I don’t want that. I don’t want somebody shallow who’s never been anyplace. Or done anything. I want you. And I’ve got you. If you don’t let your fears and . . . insecurities build a wall I can’t get over.
“Don’t do that, Ian. Relax. Just love me. You do that real good, when you want to. When you put that other stuff aside. So . . . quit worrying so much and just love me.”
“I’ve got it all backwards, haven’t I?” I said. “You’re the one who’s older. Aren’t you, really? You’re just disguised as this lovely young boy. You’re really old and wise, and I’m the one struggling to catch up.”
The next afternoon, we went to join a spa that had just opened over in Northwest. We planned to use the exercise machines and swim two or three times a week. Jimmy found a dance studio downtown, where he could settle into the routine of daily classes he enjoyed. I went back to my habit of reading whenever I didn’t have to be doing something else. Now, though, I read for enjoyment, not to hide from my loneliness.
It was a comfortable time for both of us. Those weeks together seem to shimmer in my memory, unhurried, tranquil. Disconnected from what went before and what came after. Our talk at the restaurant had been a catharsis of a kind. With no other people around to spark disagreements or to be an audience for whom we could play out our little dramas, we drifted into a quiet, easy rhythm that moved serenely from day to day.
A phone call from Texas interrupted it, jarred it a little. “That was my mom,” said Jimmy, who’d come down to the basement where I was moving clothes from the washer to the dryer. “It’s her birthday on the 18th. Her fiftieth. I’ve been putting her off, but she says she wants us all there. No excuses. If we were already in rehearsals, maybe I could . . .” He shrugged. “But we’re not. So I’ll have to go.”
“You might enjoy it,” I said. “No? How long since you’ve seen your brother and sister?”
“Christmas before last. Martin and his wife have a new baby since then, so . . . Maybe it’ll be all right.”
We found him a cheap ticket, bought him a new roll-on suitcase, and made love every night that week before he left. His flight was at 8:45. A.M. I drove him to the airport, and we were both grumpy as we said goodbye.
* * * * * * *
Jimmy left on a Friday and called Saturday afternoon to say he was there and things were fine. Lots of relatives he hadn’t seen for a while. Lots of food. He called again Monday night, late, to say the birthday party had been a great success. Out at the country club. Dinner and dancing. His mother was delighted with it all, so he was glad he’d gone. He’d be home on Saturday, as planned.
Thursday morning, the phone woke me out of a deep sleep. I rolled over and looked at the glowing green digits of the clock. Seven-nineteen. Jesus Christ. No one who knew me would ever call at such an ungodly hour. After four rings, the machine on the bedside table clicked on. “If you’d like to leave a message for Ian or Jimmy . . .” Good, I thought. I’ll see who it is and call back later. When I’m awake.
“It’s Zena, Ian. I know you’re there. Still in bed. Pick up the phone and talk to me.”
Zena? What on earth could she want? Rehearsals didn’t start till a week from Tuesday.
“Pick up the phone, Ian. You know I wouldn’t call this early if it weren’t important. Ian?”
She’s not going to give up. Not her. I reached for the receiver.
“Hello, Zena. Shall I pretend to be pleasant?”
“No jokes, Ian. Not now. Just listen to me very carefully. Jimmy’s dead.”
“No,” I said. “No, he’s not. What are you talking about? He’s not . . .”
“He is, Ian. Listen to me. A reporter from the Post just called, wants to see me. They got the news last night and . . . there’s an article on the front page of this morning’s paper.”
“No,” I said. “No, you’re wrong. He’s in Texas. For his mother’s birthday. He’s called me from there, twice. You’re wrong.”
“No, Ian. I’m not wrong.”
I wanted to scream. Shriek. Smash something. But I was too numb. Besides, none of this was happening. No need to scream. It wasn’t happening.
“Ian? Talk to me. Don’t go all silent like that. Say something.”
“No. It isn’t true. You’re making this up. I don’t know why, but you are. You’ve got it all wrong. Jimmy’s in Texas.”
“I know, Ian. That’s where it happened.”
“‘It’? What do you mean, ‘it’?”
“He was beaten, badly, night before last. He died yesterday afternoon, in the hospital.”
Oh, Jesus God. If this were true . . . But it couldn’t be.
“Beaten? Robbed, you mean? What are you saying?”
“Just beaten. Some kind of ‘hate crime,’ the reporter said.”
“Hate?” I wanted to laugh. “Now I know you’re crazy. Who could hate Jimmy?”
“Two young hoodlums. Upset because he was gay, apparently. They’ve been arrested.”
“Arrested? Then it’s . . . ? If they’re arrested, then he’s . . . ?”
“Yes, Ian. Yes.”
Oh, god. It was true. I’d have to cry. Again. The numbness would go away and I’d have to cry.
“Oh, god,” I said. “Oh, dear god.”
“I’m coming over, Ian. You stay right there. Don’t look at the paper, whatever you do. That’s why I called as soon as I heard. So you wouldn’t just . . . Ian?”
“Don’t move till I get there. Just stay where you are, and I’ll be right over.”
She hung up. So did I.
I stared at the ceiling. She needn’t worry. I couldn’t move. Too numb. I didn’t have the strength. I could just lie there. Forever. Not move. I didn’t have to move. I could just lie there. Forever.
But first, I had to know. Maybe she hadn’t really called. Had she? I wasn’t sure. Damn machine. Maybe that blink was someone else. Some other time. Maybe she hadn’t called. Maybe it was a bad dream. I wasn’t pushing the button to find out. But . . . If I looked at the paper and the story wasn’t there, then I’d know. Itdidn’t happen. She didn’t call. Jimmy was all right. He was in Texas, where he was supposed to be.
I dragged myself out of bed. Everything was an effort. No energy was making its way to my legs and feet. It took all the will I could muster to force them to move. One. Then the other. Then the other. Toward the front door. The last place in the world I wanted to go. Down the stairs, one at a time. Agonizing. Moving in a fog, dreamlike. Walls wavering, in and out. My legs wavering. Feeling that I was going to pitch forward, fall to the bottom. Maybe I should. Fall and be done with it.
Moving, slowly. Nothing real. Nothing substantial. Only movement. Slow. Agonizing. Down the stairs. Across the hall. To the front door. Don’t open it! Please God, don’t let me open it. But I have to. I have to open it. To know he’s all right.
Turn the knob. Pull the door. Slowly. Back. The paper is there. Lying there, still, quiet. Nothing bad. Not for me. Bad, yes. Bad things there. But not for me. Not today. That’s all over. All in the past. Bad then, but not now. Please God, not now.
Pick up the paper. Close the door. Look at the front page. Force your eyes to focus. Force them. Look across. Bombing. Refugees. Election . . . campaign. Look down. Oh, dear god. No. No, dear god. It wasn’t a dream. She did call.
Read it. Force yourself. Even though your brain is numb. Read it.
“CAPITOL REP ACTOR . . .”
Oh, my god. No. No, dear god.
Go on. Read the rest.
“SLAIN IN TEXAS.”
Slain. Not hurt. Not beaten. Slain. Picture of Jimmy . . . smiling. Jimmy. Dead. Feel yourself breaking apart, inside. Everything breaking. Falling apart. She did call. She’s coming. Here. No! I can’t see her. Not her. Not anyone. I can’t. I have to be alone. Starting now, I’ll be . . . alone.
Up the stairs. Find some clothes. Car keys. Back down and out the door. Hard to keep moving. Hard to focus. Force yourself. Get in the car. Feel the tears. Feel the ache . . . in your chest. Hold it back. Not yet. Drive. Onto the freeway. Out to the country. Keep driving. Hold it in. You’ve had experience, controlling emotion. Hold it now. Just a little longer. Into the picnic area. Park by the grassy hill. Lie face down. The grass smells nice.
Let it go now. Let it go. Cry. Yell. Shriek. Hit the ground. Beat on it. The ground doesn’t care. Can’t feel it. Hit it. Don’t hold back. Get it out. Cry so hard. For Jimmy. For all of it. For loving. For believing. For losing. For all of it. Keep crying, till it’s gone. For now.
Some semblance of reason began to return. He was gone. He was dead. I loved him, so much, and he was gone. Slain? It made no sense. None. I’d have to read it . . . so I would know. But the paper was at home. For now I’d have to let it make no sense.
Jimmy. Sweet, funny, lovely Jimmy. My Ariel. Gone to be fire and air once more.