In January 2006, I saw "Brokeback Mountain" for the first time. Early buzz about the subject matter had gotten my attention and made me keen to see it. In the meantime, I collected everything I found about the movie and compiled it into a folder, still located in our filing cabinet. I found a copy online of the short story written by Annie Proulx, on which the movie is based, and printed and read it numerous times. The movie was released in the U.S. in mid-2005, and I was frustrated that, for some reason, the release date wasn't the same in Canada.
When I finally saw "Brokeback" with Chris in Victoria, where we lived at the time, I was deeply moved by the portrayal of unfulfilled love between Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. At the end, when Ennis, powerfully portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, opens the closet in his trailer and sees hung on the back of the door one shirt inside another, the outside one belonging to him and the inside belonging to Jack, played skillfully by Jake Gyllenhaal, I lost it. The lights went up in the theatre, Chris and I got up to leave, and I couldn't see where I was walking I was so upset.
I waited anxiously for "Brokeback" to be released on DVD. I wanted my own copy of the movie--not just so I could watch it anytime I wanted to, but so I could own Jack and Ennis's story, so I could be close to it, have it a part of my everyday life. Several months after seeing the movie in the theatre, the DVD was released, and I paid full price to own a copy on the day it arrived in stores. I couldn't wait, or maybe I'd already waited too long. I was eager to watch it again.
But I couldn't, not until last night. Four and a half years passed between seeing it for the first time, and getting up the nerve to see it again, because it was too painful. I knew I'd cry at the end, like I had the first time, and I didn't want to put myself through that. How many times over the years had I planned to watch "Brokeback," but only when Chris wasn't around. When I cried, I wanted it to be in private. I didn't want to look over at Chris and see him watching me. So I waited until he wasn't home, when he was hundreds of miles away in the Interior of B.C. visiting his father. The perfect time.
Only, once I got to the TV room and located the DVD, I'd look at the picture of Jack and Ennis on the cover, anticipate what I was about to see...and I couldn't do it. I missed Chris too much. I worried that if I watched "Brokeback," somehow I'd tempt fate, and something awful would happen to him on his long drive back home. Superstitious? Absolutely. What was the connection between the movie and Chris driving back home? I'm not sure. But Jack couldn't have Ennis, and I worried Chris would be taken away from me, so I wouldn't have him, either. I couldn't fathom my grief and all-consuming sadness if that happened.
When Chris was away visiting his sister last evening, not that far away from where we live and an easy enough drive back home, somewhere, I found the courage and the strength to watch "Brokeback" once again. I'd forgotten some of the parts. I'd forgotten just how intense the emotions are between Jack and Ennis. I'd forgotten how difficult their relationship was over the twenty or so years they continued to meet several times a year in the mountains of Wyoming. I'd forgotten Jack's ever-hopeful plans for them to be together, and Ennis's realistic conclusion, at least for the place and the time, that they couldn't be a couple of men living on a homestead, with a cattle and calf operation.
As I watched the movie, the ending drawing nearer, I prayed the story would turn out differently for Jack and Ennis. I prayed something had happened in the interim, between January 2006 and now, to change the outcome. Thankfully, times have changed since Jack and Ennis met each other in 1963 during their summer of herding sheep on the mountain slopes. In my mind, both men, as young and as beautiful as they were then, were now in the present, and they could fulfill their dream of being together on their own piece of land, living happily ever after, not unlike what Chris and I are doing.
Chris returned home about fifteen minutes before the movie ended. He always comes to me when he gets back to let me know that he's arrived safely. I worry about him constantly, that something untoward will happen to him, that he'll be taken away from me before we've lived a long and satisfying life together. But he didn't disturb me. He must have recognized the music from "Brokeback." He must have known it was near the end, remembered how difficult watching the end had been for me before, wanted to give me the time to take it in and respond the way I had to. I was grateful for his consideration--and not grateful, too.
I did not cry, although I came close. Perhaps the tears will come later, when the numbness wears off, when I see what happened to Jack and Ennis in the context of my relationship with Chris today, when it registers in my heart that their story is the story of countless gay men over the decades. It's a shame so many men were kept from each other because society would never have accepted their love. Our society should be ashamed of itself for ever playing a role in preventing even one gay man from being with the man he loves most dearly, with whom he wants to share his life, grow old, and die.