Continuing our gallery of morose, possibly horror story grade film or novel scenarios, here’s another based on the stream of thought I had contemplating the plot device in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That’s the one you may recall, where the two lovers break up and one decides to undergo a procedure which erases the other from their memory, and the other, sad to learn of it, does the same. Then they reconnect anyway which only goes to show they were really meant for each other to begin with and love isn’t always a fairy tale but a lot of hard work for both people. Yes, yes…so very romantic. Actually, I love that plot device. But somehow it always turns a tad dark in my imaginings…
I have an idea. It’s a story about a heterosexual man…
When he was a teenager he was well liked by his teachers and friends. He’s very open minded, somewhat more so then his parents who are mostly liberal, but with some hang-ups about class and gender and race. They’re not raving prejudiced, because that isn’t fashionable, and they try, really try their best, to teach their kid not to be that way.
In school he befriends a gay kid and right away they start to get along really well. He defends his gay friend from bullies and takes his part in political arguments about gay civil rights and same-sex marriage. They become very close friends. Brothers almost. But as often happens, not just in gay/straight relationships either, he finds his perfect girlfriend, and the gay kid finds a nice boyfriend, they slowly begin to drift apart.
The gay kid’s boyfriend turns out to be a real jerk, and as he grows older it becomes a pattern with him. He falls into a bitter cycle of one disastrous affair after another. Nothing seems to work for him.
The straight kid’s girlfriend on the other hand is his perfect match. They have a lovely, almost fairy tale romance that grows ever more beautiful over time. They marry, have beautiful kids, he finds the career of his dreams, they settle down in a nice suburban community with good schools and decent shopping.
Fast forward. The straight guy is in his late middle age, and he is reflecting on how happy his life has been. Especially compared to most of his classmates from way back when. Many of them have had it really hard. One day, he reconnects with his gay buddy from back in the day. His gay buddy has had it hard. Very hard. He’s still single, and bitter.
They have lunch together one day and they instantly reconnect like old and dear friends. The gay friend is happy that his old pal has had it so good and it is obviously sincere joy. Seeing how happy his old friend from high school is makes him a bit happier too, brings him out of his gloom and lifts his spirits. It makes him believe once more, after so long, that life maybe doesn’t have to suck after all. It can get better.
He decides to tell his straight friend that he’s re-considering something his parents tried very hard to talk him into back when they were teenagers. There’s a procedure…it’s frowned upon in more liberal circles, but not illegal…that can change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. It’s just been so hard living my life as a gay man, he says, so lonely, so terribly terribly lonely... For all his accomplishments as a gay political activist, his private life has been completely miserable. I’m not sure I want to go on the rest of my life like this, he says. His straight friend is appalled. He urges his gay friend not to do it, it would be a sell-out, not just to the cause he’s long fought for, but to himself, to his soul. Yes, says his gay friend, but…it’s so hard being so alone. At least as a heterosexual, I’d have more of a chance at finding the kind of life you’ve had.
It is a sad conversation, but by the end of it the straight guy has mostly convinced his gay friend to hang on, and live an authentic life. Even if you change he says to his gay friend, how do you go on knowing that it isn’t really you, but something that was done to you? Then his gay friend lays one more thing on him. The procedure can be coupled with a memory wipe, so you never know you were once gay. New memories are introduced to make you believe you were always straight. That’s completely outlawed now against children, but he says, even on adults it’s a lot harder to do that to someone our age. Too many memories…the risks of complications are much higher. No…he finally says, it isn’t worth it.
They get up to go their separate ways and now it seems the gay friend has had a definite change of heart. No…it’s too late now to even think about changing. Better he had done it back when he was a teenager. But really…better still to live an authentic life. And anyway he says with a shy smile that takes his straight friend back to their school days, the worst thing would be having to forget you.
They part ways. The straight guy had always known his gay friend had a crush on him, and for his part he was always very fond of his gay friend. Back in school they were almost inseparable. Brothers almost. But it was always clear to both of them that it could never be. He is thoroughly heterosexual. He has always liked women. And now he has a wife he loves very much, and even at their age they still have a great sex life.
But now something is bothering him. He does a little digging into this ex-gay procedure. It was something he’d never really looked at before. He’d always opposed it, had always spoken out against it. There had been attempts to outlaw it completely that he had supported. But activists had only succeeded in outlawing the practice on children. Mostly he avoided the issue altogether. And now that he thinks of it, that seems a little strange. In his own low key way he is actually very politically aware and active. But his style was more behind the scenes then his gay friend’s upfront activism.
It quickly falls entirely out of his mind. Then he gets an email from his gay friend thanking him for the visit after all these years, and the encouragement. He writes that he’s redoubling his efforts to find a mate after all, and getting back into the fight for full gay equality. He would still like to see the ex-gay procedure completely outlawed, and he tells his straight friend he’s getting back into that fight now.
Oh yes…that. Now it begins to bother him how uncharacteristically he’d just put it all out of his mind. It was something that should normally still bother him about the world he lived in. His parents had raised him to be tolerant and progressive, even if they’d had their own repressed doubts and prejudices. Homosexuality wasn’t something they’d ever much discussed when he was a teen. But as an adult, often while remembering his gay schoolmate, he had always worked for the better, more inclusive world.
Now he looks more deeply into it, forcing himself at times, posting reminder notes just to make sure he follows up on things he finds out about the ex-gay process…its invention, its history of usage…the patterns of its use…the political controversy. Sometimes it’s a struggle to maintain an interest…he has so much else he’s busy with in his own life. But soon his wife, also very much the progressive and pro-gay rights person, gets involved and begins helping him with it. He has told her the story of his gay friend’s struggles and she is very sympathetic, and as disgusted by the very existence of the ex-gay clinics as he is. With her help, he maintains focus.
So he digs for information and learns more and more about the procedure that turns gay people straight and wipes their memories of ever having been gay. What he learns appalls him. He periodically writes his gay friend back and tells him about what he has uncovered…much that was never really fully aired in public. His gay friend is overjoyed to have his old pal back in the fight.
But at night the research is also causing him very unpleasant dreams…dreams about sudden violent arguments with his parents…or someone’s parents, he is not sure. He wonders if they are real memories or just his own projections of what his friend’s home life must have been like.
One morning, saying nothing to anyone of his plans, he goes to a private investigator, someone who he has read about, who has done much of the main investigation for various gay rights groups concerning the ex-gay clinics. This man has a reputation for uncovering secrets in not always legal ways, but his revelations were crucial in getting the procedure against children stopped. He asks this man to check to see if anyone in his high school class had been taken to one of the ex-gay clinics, and then had their memory of being gay wiped.
The investigator takes him into another room, stacked with filing cabinets, some bulging. Through various court cases, and a few not completely legal methods, he has acquired tens of thousands of what were once secret files, documents, recordings, some he is still not at liberty to disclose the contents of publicly. These files have proven critical in the search for victims, the investigator says, and the prosecution of some of the people who ran the clinics, as well as the outlawing of the procedure against children.
Tell me a little about the school you all went to, says the investigator. Tell me about the neighborhood, the area churches, politicians, community leaders. Certain ex-gay clinics were intimately connected to certain churches, and certain politicians. Tell me a little more about the students…and…about yourself… The whole sordid story of these clinics is in these files. Tell me what I need to know, and I can give you the information you are looking for.
He spends hours talking to the man, who all the while is entering data into a small computer. Then the investigator gets up, walks over to a filing cabinet, and after a little flipping through the files inside, pulls one out. He hands it to him. In it is a name and a case history. Somehow he is not completely shocked to learn that, yes, there was one kid from his high school that got sent to an ex-gay clinic.
He reads. The evidence in the file suggests it was done to him against his will. His memory of ever being gay, of ever even suspecting he was, was completely wiped. He checks the dates. It had to be he realizes, very soon after his parents found out about his gay friend.
And then and there in that office, reading the notes on his case for himself after all those years, he remembers it all in a sudden rush…about when his parents first learned about his gay friend. They had turned suddenly angry and suspicious. They’d had an awful argument. The next day some men had entered his bedroom in the middle of the night, and taken him to a place…somewhere…somewhere dark…
He can recall no more then that. But it is enough.
He walks back home in a daze. He loves his wife. Really deeply and truly loves her. And without a doubt she loves him. Their sex life is great, even in late middle age. They have beautiful kids, grown now and pursuing their own careers and love lives.
But…he loved his gay friend too. To his gay friend he has always been a straight buddy. Yes, his gay friend had a crush on him…that was always something they both knew, but it was always clear to both that it could never be, because he was straight. Except he wasn’t. At least, not born straight. He looks back to their teen years together and sees it clearly. They were always more then just friends. They were soul mates.
I…I loved you…
And he sees the life his gay friend had…his very lonely, bitter struggle…and sees now, clearly, the life he could have had…the life they could have had.
But…what does he do? What Can he do? Who does he tell? What good would it do to say anything to anyone at this point? His parents have both passed on…he, his wife, his gay friend, are all at the doorstep of old age. What good would it do to tell anyone? But there is more. The last words the private investigator spoke to him before he left the man’s office echo in his brain: You know don’t you, that the procedure can be reversed. You can be the man you were born to be again. If you want. Others, many others, have had the procedure reversed.
But could he really, after so much time has passed? And what would happen to his family then? What would they have? He loves them very much.
It’s not true that there is only one perfect soul mate out there for each individual. His gay friend still has a chance to find someone to love, and be loved by. They both know this. He decides to say nothing. The investigator had assured him that nothing would be said about him unless he specifically authorized it. Privacy laws forbade it. When he gets back home he finds an email from his gay friend telling him he’s dating someone new now, hoping that this time it would be different.
He agrees to meet them both for lunch somewhere, he and his wife and his gay classmate and his new boyfriend. And at that pleasantly cheerful little gathering of old friends and their lovers, he sees that this new guy is nice on the outside where it doesn’t count, but isn’t any better deep down inside where it does then any of the other guys his friend has hooked up with in the past. He can see another broken heart coming for his friend all over again. And it makes him angry, angry at the new boyfriend/creep, angry in a deep dark place inside where he had never been angry before.
His wife sees the broken heart coming for his gay friend too. He’s such a beautiful spirit, his wife says to him later. It’s so tragic he never found someone. I hate how this world treats people like him. Not just that he’s gay, but that he’s such a beautiful spirit. It’s so hard for people like that to find love. So hard for everyone really. I’m so glad I found you.
Not all horror stories have blood splashing everywhere.