The Story of Rachel
For years, I’ve been promising my friend, Liz, that I would tell her the story of Rachel. I haven’t ever gotten around to it because I’m not sure that it will translate in print. It seems to be a story best told in person by Pat and I; I hope our voices will be heard as I try to explain (for everyone who has seen pics of her or read references to her) who Rachel is and what she means to Two A.
THE STORY OF RACHEL
We were off for one of our movie days. Pat and I like to take a Saturday or a Sunday and go to the picture show; we usually see two in a row, sometimes three and, on rare occasion, even four. Four’s my limit. On this day, we were off to see FANTASIA 2000. Pat had actually seen the first FANTASIA as a child. I had not seen the film until I was an adult and it was available on dvd. It is a work of art, truly magnificent. Pat tells me that when it first came out it was the intent of the Disney studio to do another FANTASIA movie every few years – it was to be an ongoing installment of films. It took them until 2000 to do another. And we loved it. Pat was particularly moved by the Pines of Rome segment while I was all over The Firebird. Neither of these, though, got to us the way the Rhapsody in Blue got to us.
It’s set in New York! Our favourite city, our home; how could we not love it? The music is by Gershwin, one of the greatest composers of the musical theater, of the American standard, and a resident of New York City. The animation is based on the style of Al Hirschfeld, the legendary illustrator famous for his charicatures of celebrities, especially those of the Broadway stage (I worked with him and, let me tell you, what a freakin’ thrill). Yes. We were in love with the Rhapsody in Blue segment. We were, particularly, in love with the little girl in pink whose nanny drags here all over the city when all she wants to do is hang out with her mommy and daddy. We loved it, loved it, loved it. Three times. That’s how many times we saw it. Once on the big screen and twice on the IMAX. We loved it and didn’t forget it.
Christmas was here.
Pat was in Texas for what (it was clear) was going to be his mother’s final Chistmas. Sue Dwyer had been battling cancer for six long years and the battle was drawing to its’ close.
Christmas had always been my holiday. I could do it up like the worst of the Martha Steward queens and had become kind of a legend among our friends and family. That year, though, I stepped into the background while Pat spent almost all of our savings to swoop into the Dwyer home with lavish gifts and an expensive plane ticket, to make sure that his mama’s last Christmas would be a happy one. I was glad he did it, for his sake as well as hers.
I spent that Christmas holiday alone. It didn’t bother me; I like being alone (when it isn’t a lonely solitude). I hung out in Two-A and around the city; I did a lot of Christmas sightseeing and shopping. I spent Christmas Eve with an angel – I went to see Cheryl Ladd (my favourite of the angels, with respect and apologies to the also deeply beloved Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson) in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN on Broadway. It was heavenly (ha ha! I amused myself with that one!). During my time alone, that Christmas holiday, I dropped into The Disney Store on 5th Avenue to do some shopping for my neices. I turned and saw a field of pink. I walked over and looked at this enormous pile of little pink plush dolls. I picked one up. There was a tag on the doll’s wrist that said FANTASIA 2000. Oh! It’s the little girl from FANTASIA! Oh! She’s WONDERFUL! I flipped the tag over and it said RACHEL.
HAHAHAHA! She has a name! It’s Rachel. I LOVE it.
I’m getting one for Pat. He’ll love her.
I looked through them. You know, these things are uniformly made – but they are never the same. It had to be just the RIGHT Rachel. I found the one that I thought had the sweetest face and I bought her, as well as a Box DVD set with the original FANTASIA, FANTASIA 2000 and a Making Of dvd. There was an enormous silver coffee table book about the making of FANTASIA 2000. I bought it. I took all three items home and wrapped them up, nice and pretty, and put them under the tree, so excited for the long wait until we would have our Christmas. Christmas Eve and Day came and went. The reports from Texas were that everyone was having a wonderful holiday and the family was happy. Happy is where it is at. I was glad we had opted into this plan. It has been rare that Pat and I have not been together for Christmas; in fact, I think this was the only Christmas we have been apart in two plus decades. A few days later, he was back stateside and we were celebrating our own holiday in NYC and in Two-A.
As he picked up the package, I was excited. He ripped the silver shiny paper.
He looked at me oddly. I had given him a doll.
“what? is this?”
He was, clearly, confused.
“Don’t you know? ….. Well…. then open the next one.”
He ripped open the box. He read what it said.
‘”OH!!!!! It’s the little girl from FANTASIA 2000!! OH!!! She’s WONDERFUL!”
I smiled. He liked her.
He was very happy to have the dvds and the big picture book. He was very happy with these and all his prezzies that Christmas. It was a truly lovely day; this made me happy. He had been sad for awhile. It was very clear that Sue was about to be recalled and he was not ready for it; but then, who among us is ready for our parent to make that departure? I have said that I idolize my mother; it was different for Pat. His mother was not a force of nature like mine, not the kind of person you idolize, specifically. Sue was the kindest, sweetest, gentlest woman. She was filled with modesty and dignity, with grace and with glory. She had a quiet strength and that is where Pat lived, inside their relationship. While I actively idolize my mother, Pat bathed in Sue’s goodness, still, languid and peaceful. Watching her die was the most difficult passage of his life. When his dad, Buddy, was recalled, Pat handled it with monumental strength because Buddy’s death took less time than Sue’s, was less painful than Sue’s and, what is more, it took him back to Sue – these things made it easier on Pat. Sue’s death was slow and agonizing for everyone who witnessed it.
When Rachel came to live in Two-A, we needed some smiles.
She gave them to us.
Later that faux Christmas Day, Pat was in the kitchen doing some dishes. Suddenly, he heard the tv come on from the other room. It was the Rhapsody In Blue. He turned off the water and got a hand towel and walked into the living room. There, in the blue velvet armchair, sat the little Rachel doll, the dvd remote in her hand. She was watching her segment of FANTASIA 2000. He came to me in the Happy Room, stood in the doorway and said
Later that day, Pat had been doing some work on the computer; needing a break, he went to watch some television. Entering the living room, he looked at the sofa. The pink doll was sitting there, the enormous FANATSIA 2000 coffee table book opened to a two page spread of illustrations of her. He came to me, where I was folding towels in the bathroom and stood in the doorway.
It made me laugh.
In his youth, Pat was a ventriloquist. It was his first talent as a performer. He doesn’t talk about it often and he certainly will not do it, though he still can.
I don’t remember how long it took for Pat to get on board; but it wasn’t long at all. Within a day, Rachel had a voice. Within another day, he had taught me how to make the voice, too, how to make her talk. Once Rachel had learned to talk, getting her to shut up became a bit of a problem. She was this pink chatty Cathy and she would say the most hilarious, outrageous things! We would often just laugh ourselves to sleep at night while Rachel would discuss the finer points of the world, show business and her nemesis, a french girl named Madeleine.
Rachel became the darling of our circle of friends. Everybody loved her … well, not everybody. Some people were, genuinely, baffled by her; and baffled by her presence in our lives. She went with us to parties. Friends gave her a chair to sit in. Heather Spore gave her another. Tim and Chris gave her two more! Some people embraced her and the spirit she brought to our home. She brought a sense of whimsy, a sense of fun, of laughter, to a home that had been sad for awhile.
One friend, in particular, really loved Rachel; so I told Pat I wanted to get Tony Cointreau (and Jim Russo, his spouse) a Rachel of their own. I went to every Disney store in Manhattan, only to be told that she had been discontinued. Desperate, I asked them to find me one. Calls were made and it was discovered that the Disney Store in Paramus had about 10 left. The next day I was on the road to Paramus and I rescued every single one of them. Now Tony Cointreau would have his Rachel and Pat and I would have a set.
When Pat came home that night, there was a Rachel in the kitchen cupboard, another in the fridge, another sitting on the toilet paper roll… there were Rachels everywhere! He was a little overwhelmed but he went with it and, soon, we were all laughing and the Rachels were talking up a storm, making the laughter louder and harder.
We call Rachel our daughter. She is, widely, hailed (and has been from the onset) as our daughter. Our adopted son, Pat Jr, calls her his sister. His ex girlfriend (who calls us her gay dads), Kristen (who we call our not gay daughter) refers to Rachel as her sissie (and vice versa). We have learned that peoples’ individual reactions to Rachel will be a good gauge of how our friendships will play out. People who get Rachel get us; people who do not, don’t really ever go past a certain plateau in our relationships. You see, there is a sense of whimsy, of magic, that Pat and I feel is necessary to enjoy this life to its’ fullest. Rachel brings that magic, that whimsy, to our lives and the lives of our family. Laurelle says that Rachel makes her happy. Marci talks to Rachel the moment she enters the apartment. Once, Pat and I were out of town and I asked Tom to check on things at the apartment. When I came back, he told me he had stopped by to water the plants, check the tivo, make sure everything was in order; he brought his friend, Lu, and, upon entering the apartment, called out to Rachel.
“who are you talking to?”
“they have a daughter?”
“yeah. i’ll show you”
It wigged Lu out. Tom’s other friend, Rob, wasn’t phased.
“Stephen’s an eccentric. He’s an artist.”
Edgar Bergen had a famous ventriloquist’s counterpart named Charlie McCarthy. Charlie McCarthy had a room of his own. Edgar’s daughter, Candice Bergen, has written (openly) about her sibling rivalry with Charlie McCarthy.
On a famous occasion, we drove to another state to see Marci in URINETOWN. She got us seats in the front row. Rachel sat on my lap, watching Aunt Marci. We heard, later, that during act one, one of the actors said (backstage) “there are some people in the front row holding a puppet” The star of the show, Michael Buchanan, said “I bet those are Marci’s friends”. He has become one of our best friends.
Another time, I had Rachel in my lap at STAGES ST LOUIS because we were seeing David Schmittou in SHE LOVES ME. I heard later that there was an uproar from the head of the theater, concerned that audience members might be disturbed by the grown man in the audience holding a doll on his lap.
A few years ago, I had the occasion to go to my loved ones, one by one, and say “I am doing my will; if there is something you would, specifically, like to ask me for – now is the time.” Most people were very uncomfortable with this; but my close friends, my pragmatic friends, the ones who know that I take this seriously and that I wouldn’t ask if I weren’t serious; they shot straight with me. Marci asked for the kitchen table. Good choice. There were one or two other specific requests that came down. Aj asked, quietly and gently, “may I have one of the Rachels?”
I have met people who have their own version of Rachel – I have heard them referred to as “couch kids”. There are more of us than I would have imagined. Grown ups without children who create their own children. Pat and I have children that are flesh and blood; we also have Rachel. She is a most important part of our life. She travels with me, wherever I go; she sits on my lap in the plane and I don’t care what people think of it. My parents took awhile to come around (my father: “son, you are very strange” “dad, how long have you known me?”) but they have reached a place where they respect the presence of the pink princess. Rachel has been photographed in 23 states and three countries. She gets her picture taken with our friends, with my favourite clients and my close celebrities (Alan Cumming did something naughty with her that made me shake my head and say tch; but she ignored it, like a lady, and kept going). Rachel is well liked and well loved and, dudes, she says things that make Pat and I just bust up laughing.
Pat says that Rachel is the place where his and my inner child meet. He says:
“Rachel is the best parts of me and Ste, mixed up in a little pink superstar.”