When Tom was diagnosed with AIDS, he thought of it as a death sentence. His life was effectively over. He packed up everything and moved to a beach house in California. There, he could live out what remained of his life in peace. His landlord was kind, understanding—and interested in him romantically. Tom had found the safe haven he sought. That is, until his brother, Brian, reappeared in his life.
Brian’s shady business connections back home have him and his family on the run. With him are his homophobic wife, Susan, and his son, Daniel, who has never met his uncle. Thrown into an explosive situation, Tom and his family struggle to become closer. But when Brian’s dirty dealings follow him to California and threaten the lives of the entire family, the bond between the two brothers is put to the test.
Paul Monette displays a keen awareness of family dynamics as he explores coming out, life-threatening illness, and the lifelong consequences of brotherly conflicts. Halfway Home is a novel about anger and reconciliation, love and danger.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Paul Monette including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the Paul Monette papers of the UCLA Library Special Collections.
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About the Author
Paul Monette (1945–1995) was an author, poet, and gay rights activist. Born in Massachusetts and educated at Yale University, he moved with his partner Roger Horwitz to Los Angeles in 1978 and became involved in the gay rights movement. Monette’s writing captures the sense of heartbreak and loss at the center of the AIDS crisis. His first novel, Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll, was published in 1978, and he went on to write several more works of fiction, poetry, and memoir. Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, the tender account of his partner’s battle with the disease, earned him both PEN Center West and Lambda literary awards. In 1992, Monette won the National Book Award in Nonfiction for Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, an autobiography detailing his early life and his struggle with his sexuality. Written as a classic coming-of-age story, Becoming a Man became a seminal coming-out story. In 1995, Monette founded the Monette-Horwitz Trust, which honors individuals and organizations working to combat homophobia. Monette died in his home in West Hollywood in 1995 of complications from AIDS.
Read an Excerpt
By Paul Monette
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Paul Monette
All rights reserved.
My brother used to tell me I was the devil. This would be while he was torturing me—not beating me up exactly, since he didn't want to hurt his knuckles and maybe miss a game. But he'd pounce and drag me to the floor and pin my shoulders with his knees. Then he'd snap his fingers against my nose, or drool spit in my face while I bucked and jerked my head, or singe my hair with matches. He was ten, I was seven. Already he had enormous strength. I never thought of Brian as a kid. He'd loom above me with that flame-red Irish hair, his blue eyes dancing wickedly, and he was brute and cruel as any man. There are boys in Ireland now throwing pipe bombs and torching cars. That was Brian, a terrorist before his time. And I was his mortal enemy.
"Is Tommy gonna cry now?" he'd taunt me, rubbing those knuckles across my scalp. "You big fuckin' baby."
And I would, I'd cry, not from pain but sorrow. I'd blubber and bite my lip till Brian would release me in disgust, full of immense disdain because I couldn't take it. He'd lumber away and grab his glove, off to find one of his buddies from Saint Augustine's, tough like him. I'd stare in the mirror above the dresser in the room we shared, still gasping the sobs away, hating my sallow skin and my blue-black crewcut.
That's why I was so diabolical to him, because I didn't look anything like Brian or Dad, both of them fair and freckled, lobster-red in the summer sun, big in the shoulders like stevedores. I got all the Italian blood instead from Mom's side, so that I was the only Sicilian in a mick neighborhood. Hell, it seemed the whole county was Irish, from Hartford all the way to New Haven. And the Irish hated everybody, especially wops. So I never stood a chance, lean and olive and alien as I was. But the reason I cried had nothing to do with my differentness, not then. It was because I wasn't good enough to play with my big brother. This boy who never ceased to make me suffer, beating me down and plucking my wings like a hapless fly, and all I ever seemed to feel was that I'd failed him.
I haven't thought about any of that in twenty years. Well, nine anyway: since the day my father was buried in the blue-collar graveyard behind Saint Augustine's. Brian and I had our last words then, raw and rabid, finishing one another off. He was twenty-eight, I was twenty-five, though in fact we hadn't really spoken for at least ten years before that. As soon as Brian understood I was queer—and I swear he knew it before I did—he iced me out for good. No more roughhouse, no more nugies and body checks. I didn't exist anymore. By then of course Brian had become a delirious high school hero, the darling of the Brothers as he glided from season to effortless season, football and hockey and baseball. Me, I was so screwed up I missed being tormented by him. I played no games myself.
It doesn't matter anymore. I sit out here on this terrace, three thousand miles from the past, and stare down the bluff to the weed-choked ocean, and the last thing I think of is Chester, Connecticut. Once a day, toward sunset, I walk down the blasted wooden stairs jerry-built into the fold of the cliff, eighty steps to the beach below. At the bottom I sit at the lip of the shallow cave that opens behind the steps, the winter tide churning before me, the foam almost reaching my toes.
I brood about all the missed chances, the failures of nerve, but I never go back as far as being a kid. I put all that behind me when I came out, Brian and Dad and their conspiracy of silence. I never look in the mirror if I can help it. My real life stretches from coming out to here, fifteen years. That's what I'm greedy for more of. Sometimes out of nowhere perfect strangers will ask: "You got any brothers and sisters?" No, I say, I was an only child. I never had any time for that family porn, even when I had all the time in the world.
Which I don't have now. I know it as clear as anything when I turn and climb the eighty steps up. I take it very slow, gripping the rotting banister as I puff my way. This is my daily encounter with what I've lost in stamina. The neuropathy in my left leg throbs with every step. I wheeze and gulp for air. But I also love the challenge, climbing the mountain because it's there, proving every day that the nightmare hasn't won yet.
The cliff cascades with ice plant, a blanket of gaudy crimson that nearly blinds in the setting sun. The gray terns wheel above me, cheering me on. I feel like I'm claiming a desert island, the first man ever to scale this height. As I reach the top, where a row of century cactus guards the bluff with a hundred swords, I can look back and see a quarter mile down Trancas Beach, empty and all mine, the rotting sandstone cliffs clean as the end of the world.
Not that the Baldwins own all of it anymore. The beach house on the bluff sits in the middle of five acres, shaded by old trees, shaggy eucalyptus and sycamores eight feet thick, no neighbors in sight on either side. To the north is a pop singer's compound, a great white whale of a house that's visible from the coast road, all its new-planted trees still puny and struggling for purchase. To the south an aerospace mogul has gussied himself a Norman pile complete with drawbridge and watchtower, which the surfers in the Trancas Wash call Camelot.
The Baldwin place is like none of these—a lazy, overgrown bungalow with red-tile roof, balconies off the bedrooms, and a drizzling Moorish fountain in the courtyard. Built in 1912, when the Baldwins did own as far as the eye can see, twenty-two miles of coastline all the way south through Malibu to the edge of Santa Monica. Till the thirties this was the only house on the water, with a bare dirt road that snaked up into the mountains where the big ranch house stood, seat of a vast Spanish land grant. Gray remembers his Baldwin aunts saying the only way to the beach house was half a day's ride on horseback from the ranch.
That's how it feels to me still after two months here, remote and inaccessible. I've only had to leave twice, to go see my doctor in Hollywood, about an hour away—who had the gall to tell me I was fine, without a trace of irony. "He's right," insisted Gray, who drove me there and back, "you look terrific."
I'll say this much: considering I'm on Medi-Cal, living on six-hundred-bucks-a-month disability, I'm doing very well to be in a house in a eucalyptus grove, with a view that seems to go all the way to Hawaii. No hit record, no Pentagon kickbacks, and I live like a fucking rock star. You get very used to being lord of all you survey.
But even here reality intrudes. Yesterday was full of portents, now I see that. I didn't go down to the beach till almost five, because I woke up late from my nap. The sun was already dancing on the ocean when I started, and gone below by the time I reached the sand. Immediately it was colder, even with the gold and purple rockets trailing in the afterglow. I saw right away there was junk in the mouth of the cave, beer cans and an empty bag of chips. I was furious. I snatched up the litter, grumbling at the trespass. The property line goes to mid-tide. In theory nobody ought to walk on my three hundred yards of beach at all.
I started back up the stairs sour as a Republican. No one had ever violated my grotto before. Maybe a sign was in order: QUARANTINE—INFECTIOUS WASTE. NO LOITERING. THIS MEANS YOU. Then about step sixty I got this terrible stab in my heart—doubled me over. I dropped the trash and sagged against the crimson ice. Oh shit, I was going to die of a heart attack. Even in my bone-zero panic I could feel a sort of black laughter welling up inside. Leave it to Tom Shaheen not to die of AIDS, after all that drama and street theater.
It passed as quick as it came but left me heaving, clammy with cold sweat. For a minute I was scared to breathe too deep, and kept kneading my chest in a fruitless amateur version of CPR. But the pain was gone. If anything, there was a queer feeling of utter emptiness at the center of the chest, the way you feel when someone walks out on you.
I took the last twenty steps most gingerly. It was folly to think my little coronary event wasn't AIDS-related. I was probably heading for a massive stroke, the virus in my spinal column swirling like eels in a sunken ship, and I'd end up mute and paralyzed. Generally I don't waste a minute, especially out here in Trancas, figuring how short my time is. I've been at this thing for a year and a half, three if you count all the fevers and rashes. I operate on the casual assumption that I've still got a couple of years, give or take a galloping lymphoma. Day to day I'm not a dying man, honestly.
But I reached the top pretty winded and shaken, gazing down the bluff with a melancholy dread that things could change any minute. I've given up everything else but this, I thought; don't let me lose this too, my desert island. I couldn't have said exactly whom I was addressing, some local god of the bluff. Not big-G God. I've been on Her hit list now for a long time. If She's really out there, I'm douched.
Then I saw Mona. She lay on one of the white chaises, her back to me and the view, smoking a cigarette. From the top of the beach stairs it's maybe twenty paces across the lawn to the terrace. I flinched and tried to think if I could sneak around her, but no way. Mona's like my sister, she doesn't have to call first. But after my crise de coeur I wanted to collapse. And Mona doesn't indulge me like Gray. She wants me up. For a renegade dyke committed to anarchy, in fact, she is remarkably Donna Reed in her dealings with me, cutting the crusts off sandwiches.
I started across the lawn, emitting a tentative whimper. Mona turned in startled delight. "Pumpkin! I've just come from the workshop!" She leaped off the chaise and darted toward me. Her tortoise-rim glasses covered half her face, her platinum hair beveled and moussed. "They were appalling, all of them," she said, reaching a hand with black-painted nails and scratching the hair on my chest. "Dumb little stand-up routines, clubfoot dances, thrift-shop chic. The usual. But oh, there was this girl from Torrance, squeaky clean—"
She stopped and peered more closely at my face. "Carn mia, are you all right? You're looking more than usual like the French leftenant's woman."
"I just had a heart attack."
"Come on, I'll make you hot chocolate." See? Very Mom-is-it-lunch-yet. "I brought you a tin of shortbread. Twenty-two bucks at Neiman's. Now this girl. Rosy as a cheerleader, practically carrying pompoms. I was wet all day."
She steered me across the terra-cotta terrace, through the peeling colonnade and into the musty cool of the house. I tried on a pouting scowl, but Mona was off, full of raptures about her little bimbette from Torrance. In the kitchen I sat at the zinc-top table, a palimpsest of dents and scratches, while Mona free-floated about, putting the milk to boil.
The workshop she speaks of is Introduction to Performance, a grab-bag of mime and movement and "auto-exploration," thirty dollars for three Saturday sessions, a veritable magnet for the egregiously untalented. But it keeps the wolf from the door of AGORA—our feisty open space in Venice that we reclaimed from a ball-point pen factory, famous throughout the netherworld of Performance, with its own FBI file to boot. Except "our" is not exactly right. It's Mona's. I am no longer an impresario.
"Someone was looking for you today," says Mona, mixing the cocoa.
"A rabid fan, perhaps."
"Some guy. Looked like he sold insurance. He came by during the break—said nobody'd seen you around your apartment since Christmas."
"Probably sent to cancel my disability. I've been getting these 'Aren't you dead yet' letters from Sacramento."
We took the tray of chocolate and biscuits into the parlor. Through the arched gallery windows the sunset had turned to dusty rose. Mona went to the wood-box, knelt, and laid a fire, more butch than I. I cozied up in an afghan as old as the shedding velvet that covered the swayback sofa. No one has bothered to upgrade anything at the beach house, not for decades. When Gray dies this last piece of the Baldwin vastness will be disposed of, and then some starlet can swath it in white upholstery, so it looks like everyone else's house. Meanwhile the tattiness and furred edges are just my cup of tea.
Once the fire is crackling, Mona snuggles in under the afghan with me. "You know," she says conspiratorially, "we don't have anything set for tomorrow night. Queen Isabella canceled—the piece isn't ready. If you just did forty-five minutes, you'd save our ass." I begin to shake my head slowly, as if I have a slight crick in my neck. "Oh, Tommy, why not?" says Mona, more pettish now. "It'd do you good. You're stronger than you realize."
I turn and give her a withering look. Mona is of the persuasion, diametrically opposed to the "Aren't you dead yet" theory, that I am not really sick sick, and thus should push my limits. "My life on the stage is like a dream to me now," I reply in a dusky Garbo voice. "I have put away childish things."
"People still call and ask, 'When are you having Miss Jesus?' I swear, we could fill the place three months running."
Mona sighs. She knows I am not convinceable. Not that I'm unsympathetic. I understand the longing for a breakthrough gig that sets the whole town buzzing. In the first two years of AGORA, before I retired, Miss Jesus was a sensation whenever I did it. Bomb threats would pour in, and church groups from Pacoima would picket back and forth in the parking lot, practically speaking in tongues. Mona and I were devastated to have only ninety-nine seats, with ten standees additional permitted by the fire laws, because at the height of the outrage we could have packed two-fifty in.
I lay my head on her shoulder and offer her the plate of shortbread. She shakes her head no thanks. We sit there slumped against each other, watching the fire, not needing to talk. I love the smoky elusiveness of Mona's perfume, a scent she swears is the very same Dietrich wears, a beauty tip passed in whispers through the shadowy dyke underground. She seems more pensive than I today, unusual for her, an action girl. I think she's about to ask me something about my illness, like how do I stand it, but she says, "Do you ever think about your brother?"
I shoot her the most baleful look I can summon. "In a word, no."
"But don't you ever wonder? He's prob'ly got kids—" She waves her hands in a circular motion, flailing with possibilities. "I mean he could be dead, and you wouldn't even know."
If anything I grow more icily impassive. "I believe I'm the one who's passing away around here."
"Don't be defensive. I just wondered."
"Mona, how is it you are the only person in the world who knows this person exists, and yet you forget the punch line. He loathes me. I make his skin crawl. I have not imagined these things. He said them, over and over for years, knuckles white with passion. Get it?"
She pulls her head slightly in under the afghan, rather like a blond turtle. Cautiously she observes, "People change."
I scramble out of my side of the blanket. Kneeling almost on top of her, I push my face close and hiss: "Girl, what's your problem today? I did not request an Ann Landers consultation. I hope he's dead, frankly, may he rot in hell. And I hope his orphan children are begging with bowls in the street—"
"Sorry I brought it up."
"Well, it's a little late for that now, isn't it?"
I'm actually feeling rather juiced, more energy than I've had in days. Mona knows I'm not going to actually pummel her. I'm a total wimp, abuse-wise. She may even think it's good for me to blow off steam. I am speechless though as I pant with rage, my head reeling with images of Brian. Midfield, running for daylight. Serving Mass with Father Donegan. Riding away laughing in his first new car, surrounded by his mick buddies, leaving me in the driveway eating their exhaust. Not even the really painful stuff, the punishment and the hatred, and still I want to let out a primal scream, as if I know I have to die before all of this is really put to rest.
Then we hear a knocking on the screen door in the kitchen. And the really strange thing is this: suddenly Mona looks terrified. As I clamber off the sofa to go and answer, her face is ashen, the hand on my arm beseeching, as if I am about to let a monster in.
I know who it is. I zap Mona with a perplexed frown—what's she on—as I amble into the kitchen. "Coming!"
Excerpted from Halfway Home by Paul Monette. Copyright © 1991 Paul Monette. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A perfect balance of humor and drama, this novel is one that proves to be as powerful as it is entertaining. From the first chapter, I was so wrapped up in the characters and the twists of the story that I had difficulty putting it down for even minutes at a time. At moments, you think the subplots and development are easily predicted, and Monette's flawless storytelling then surprises you again. Admittedly, there are moments in the beginning where it seems like Monette might veer toward a character trait or twist for shock value, or in a turn of didacticism, but those early moments are entirely passed by once the characters begin to become more clear and the plot pick up. Certainly, this book isn't for every reader, but I'd like to think that it should be, and so I recommend it whole-heartedly--it should be read. There's little doubt in my mind that this might end up being my favorite read of the year, and that the engagement and power here make it a book to be reread and remembered at large. Absolutely recommended.
Halfway Home by Paul Monette It's 1991 and Thomas Francis Shaheen (Tom) is living with Kaposi Sarcoma, a lethal complication (at the time) from HIV/AIDS. He has retired to die at the beach house owned by Graham Cole Baldwin (Gray) of the Baldwin family who owned most of California from Malibu to Santa Monica. There Tom meets Mona McMahon (Mona) and alongside Gray, they become a family. Growing up as a child, Tom was abused by his father and brother. "I'm an only child." was Tom's mantra. One day, out of the blue, Tom's abusive brother, Brian, walks into his life. Amazingly, Brian is now more accepting of Tom's lifestyle and demonstrates affection for his younger brother. After Brian leaves, there are news hat Brian and his family have been killed. It turns out that Brian was involved in a corruption case with his construction company's partner, Jerry Curran (Jerry). Brian turns on Jerry and Jerry burns out Brian's house. But Brian and his family had escaped alive. Brian reappears back in Tom's house with his wife, Susan, and son, Daniel. Escaping from Jerry, they are being protected by the FBI. Brian is testifying against Jerry, in exchange for a plea deal with minimal jail time. For the first time in his life, Brian needs Tom's help. And help is what Brian gets. Brian has become a beaten man. In his bitter wife, Susan, and sensitive son, Daniel, Tom can see the pain of his own past. Brian must help his brother, while he deals with a new love relationship with Gray. To do so, he enlists Kathleen Towney, an ex-nun who runs the women's shelter and the gay and lesbian friends who have nurtured him. Tom has to mend his own fences and heal wounds that had never closed. The book ends with Tom finding a way back to the theater to perform his signature piece, Miss Jesus, as a metaphor of opening himself to the love that may heal him.... The book is narrated from the first person point of view. It takes you back to the days of the plague and it's a beautiful story of love and redemption. It is a story that tries to find meaning to the madness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It reads in a day or two. However, for those of us who lived the epidemic, it can open old wounds...