When wedding singer and failed musician Gerard Way returns home to care for his sick brother, he encounters the ghost of Frank Iero, a fellow music-lover.
All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Part One: Diminishing Returns
When winter sets in, it has a way of crystallizing the bad times, the fevers, the heartaches. This is all of it, this is everyone I’m wanting to forget
I wish I had known in that first minute we met, the unpayable debt that I owed you. And I didn’t believe them when they told me that there was no saving you
Gerard let his eyes roam one last time around his barren Brooklyn shithole of an apartment. The walls were bare, and the three duffels that held the bulk of his worldly possessions were scattered by the door. He scuffed his toe fondly across the floor of the filthy kitchenette, recalling all the nights he’d spent sprawled on the cracked pink linoleum.
“With you gone, there’ll be no one to clean,” Ray deadpanned. His voice was precariously close to cracking. Considering how capricious they’d been with paying the heating bill recently, though, it could very well have just been a runny nose. Gerard preferred the more romantic option, and decided the lump in his roommate’s throat was because of his leaving. “Don’t think I’ll be on my knees scrubbing and mopping while you’re dicking around in Michigan.”
“The only mop you own is the one that grows on your fat head,” he retorted absently. “And I’m sure you’ll be on your knees, just for an entirely different reason.”
“Right. Dicking around.” Ray smiled at the bad pun. “Which is exactly what you won’t be doing while you’re with your family.”
Gerard huffed, brushing his jet-black hair out of his face. “God, you’re exasperating. If you weren’t the best guitar player in this goddamn city I’d have kicked you out a long time ago.”
“And if you didn’t sing like a fucking angel, there’s no way I’d put up with your ‘artistic temperament’ or your questionable hygienic standards or your curried tofu casserole.”
“You steal my jeans and stretch them out with your massive thighs,” Gerard blurted.
“You wash your socks in the sink when you think I’m sleeping.”
Gerard went all shifty-eyed. “So you noticed that.” Privately, he thanked the celestial deities that he’d gotten away with peeing in a mug that one time Ray had been hogging the bathroom.
His best and only friend made a zipping motion in front of his mouth. “I never said anything about it because I love you so freaking much, man.”
“I’ll miss you too,” Gerard muttered, darting forward to peck him on the cheek. “You sure you’ll be all right until I get back?”
Ray sighed. “Yeah. I can email you the demos as I finish them, you can try to get some lyrics together if you have time. I’m taking night classes again this semester, and I have ramen and lots of ugly sweaters to keep me company.”
“Toro,” Gerard said with all the solemnity he could muster. “It’s time to stop playing chicken with the heating company. It’s been four days; I think they mean business.”
“There’s no way we owe that much!” Ray waved his hands around in agitation. “They’re pulling some kind of corporate mindfuckery because they know we’re not the moneyed elite.”
“Pony up or we’ll be the frozen elite.” Gerard shuddered at the thought. “Come on, help me with my stuff. The taxi will be here soon.”
They spent a few minutes carrying his meager belongings down three flights of stairs to the sidewalk. Panting, Gerard struggled to recall why he’d ever thought living in a building without an elevator had a certain caché.
“I can’t believe you’re giving up the nightlife to go tend to your sick brother. You can only respond to so many false alarms, you know? The kid’s gonna be fine.”
Gerard rolled his dark eyes in exasperation. “Because it’s Mikey.”
“The love of your life, your soulmate, I know.”
Gerard choked out a laugh. Other people never got it, how he shared everything with his brother. How he would do anything for him, because Mikey was the only one who forgave him no matter what.
“Actually, we prefer the term ‘life partner’,” he deadpanned, but his throat felt raw. He spilled the truth to Ray like he always ended up doing. “Shit, man. I’m like, really worried about him. He says it’s no big deal, but it is. I don’t want to set up this precedent where he can’t tell me when he’s sick and then something — something happens and I’m not there. And I’m really not okay with going home. It rubs it in even more, the fact that I failed, you know? In case I don’t have, like, a giant fucking neon sign hanging over my head. I just, Ray, I just — being stuck there with those people is what messed me up in the first place.”
There was a reason Gerard stayed here over the holidays and worked odd jobs in the summer. The last few times he’d gone to visit Mikey, it had always been at some big hospital out of state. This time was different.
Ray’s eyes softened. He didn’t know the exact details of the past Gerard was trying to escape, but he’d seen enough to respect him for having the strength to even try. “They have some kind of hotline out there? You have people you can call?”
“Yeah,” he said, halfway to reassure himself. “Yeah, I can handle it.” He didn’t mention that he really couldn’t afford to fuck up when Mikey seemed so tired on the phone, when his voice sounded like sandpaper. It was closer to the truth than Gerard cared to admit, even to himself. He laughed it off, shrugged on his leather jacket and walked out the door.
“Let me know how he’s doing,” Ray called after him. Gerard waved his hand in what he hoped was an affirmative gesture. He would never admit it, but his eyes might have been the tiniest bit misty. The apartment they shared was the closest thing he had to home, and he had no idea when or if he was coming back. He struggled with shit like that. He needed schedules and rules, something that approached normality. When he made decisions for himself, that was when things started to go terribly, horribly wrong. And Ray was practically family, annoying habits and all. When Gerard had lost all his other friends, he had stayed and taken care of him. He couldn’t begin to repay him; he tried all the time, though.
He’d worked out the flight to his hometown of Saline so there was a five-hour layover in Boston, just enough time to squeeze in an extra gig. Gerard hated his job — god, so much — but the rent was due and they’d agreed to prostitute themselves only in the direst of emergencies.
So he changed in a bathroom stall with a broken lock, shimmying into his cheap pink tuxedo as he kicked the door shut repeatedly. He emerged rumpled and breathless, tugging at the too-tight collar. He’d been willing to sacrifice everything else — his ambitions, his band, his dignity — to keep singing. No matter how many times he did this, it always struck him as tragicomic that his art, at one point the only thing that had given his life meaning, had become this.
Gerard Way was a wedding singer. Well, that was what he advertised as, but after three years he’d done it all. He’d crooned and sighed his way through corporate events, bachelorette parties, even funerals. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but easy money without a college degree was too hard to pass up. By now he was used to moonlighting as his humiliating alter ego, Geraldo Winters. Every couple of days he’d take the bus to a hotel conference hall draped with sagging crepe streamers or some godforsaken plywood church in the middle of nowhere. He’d squeeze into some femmy, ill-fitting pastel rental suit, slick his hair back into a greasy pompadour, and spend a few hours making sweet love to the mic. At the end of the night, his voice shot, he was presented with his pay and yet another slice of tasteless wedding cake. The frosting-flowers crumbled at his touch; the chalky flavor lingered on his tongue.
No one had taught him. The first few months had been rough, stealing champagne, blushing as he fucked up in front of a room full of strangers. He’d felt utterly naked until he figured out how to fake a smooth veneer of confidence. At first he was scared to branch out from “At Last” or “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, until sheer boredom drove him to find some new material. His extensive repertoire — Over Three Hours of Classics! The Soundtrack to Your Love! — now included drawling covers of ballads he’d heard as a kid and songs whose lyrics were actually subtly disturbing. By the time he busted them out, no one was ever sober enough to listen carefully. Besides, he could always feign ignorance of the passive-aggressive, malevolent lyrics when he covered “Every Step You Take” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
Gerard sighed and dragged a hand over his tired face. He’d had integrity as an artist, once; he’d refused to sell out. Although he was only thirty-two, it felt like another lifetime. What really killed him about his job was that it was safe, and dull as ass, and he’d wanted something more from life.
“But this is what you’ve got,” he told his reflection sternly. “And you should pay for your own fucking mistakes.”
He walked out of the airport into the cold Boston street, arm outstretched to hail a cab.
It was a wedding this time, and the couple was chubby and placidly unattractive. The best man had eyes for Gerard; he stood right in front of the dais and swayed in time to the music. Gerard wasn’t going to lie, he fed off that energy a little. It was nice to have an audience, even if it was only a horny groomsman and a few of his drunken friends trying to haul him away. Usually, he just stared off into space and let his mind go blank for minutes at a time while he performed. He didn’t even have to think about the moves anymore, he had them down pat. The back of his mind ached with all the songs he wasn’t allowed to give voice to — music that had blood and claws, something much more powerful and instinctive than this staid fluff.
I’d kill to belt some Björk right now, he thought wistfully. Love could be selfish and violent, too. It wasn’t all valentines and diamond rings.
His back was soaked with sweat as he left the stage at the end of his allotted time. He felt like an opening band that no one had come to see. But he put it out of his mind as he pocketed his check — Ray wouldn’t have to sell his body, after all — and endured a pretty incoherent stream of praise from the mother of the bride. He had this part down, too, the nodding and smiling and offering his congratulations to the happy couple on their big day.
He was busy helping himself to a bottle of good Shiraz on the way out when the best man sidled over.
“Hey, man,” he beamed. “You’re, like, really…talented…for a wedding singer. And I mean, you’re no Bowie, but, uh, I liked your dance. S’your name?”
Gerard leaned away from the acrid smell of vodka, resisting the urge to fan the air in front of his face. “Geraldo.” He cringed as Drunk-and-Bicurious laughed. He was good-looking, if a little too wholesome for Gerard’s taste.
“No,” he said, with surprising patience. “Your real name. And maybe your real number, that would be nice.”
Gerard blushed. This was not part of the plan. “Look, I, uh…” he trailed off, one hand twitching reflexively upwards to rumple his stiff hair. “I’m not exactly on the market. I’m on my way to see my sick kid brother; I have a plane to catch in a few hours.”
“Not a problem.” He could have sworn the guy was winking. Maybe it was just a facial tic. “What I have in mind won’t take that long.”
“Dude, I—” Gerard nearly swallowed his tongue. He was panicking now, as in he was pretty sure he’d end up dead in the convention center bathroom. Bicurious seemed nice enough, but Gerard’s powers of homoerotic seduction couldn’t drop a fly, much less a reasonably attractive man. Gerard was also wearing a baby-pink tuxedo, a black ruffled shirt and matching wingtips. He was pretty sure that dropped his fuckability quotient into the negative double digits.
There was only one answer, then: this guy was totally creepy. But Gerard knew from experience that when he flipped out, he tended to overshare in a big way. This time, he welcomed it, letting the words spill from his mouth with a profound sense of relief.
“I’m so not eligible by, like, any conceivable definition of the word. I’m kind of a recovering drug addict, if you define ‘recovering’ as ‘cutting down on the pills and only doing coke once or twice a month and still being a chain-smoking functioning alcoholic and general fuck-up’. My destructive habits broke up my band, which was the only thing I cared about — I skipped out on college to play music, but we were never successful anyway, and I turned down the one deal we scored because they wanted us to ‘tone that emo stuff down’—” He had to remind himself to breathe. He was riding on the very edge of losing it because all of it was still way too real. “I’m still…getting my act together, I guess,” he admitted, dragging pale fingers over his face and rubbing at his scalp, messing up his hair. “Definitely not looking for…whatever you were talking about.”
He snuck a glance upwards. The tipsy best man looked absolutely mortified. Gerard smiled. Success.
“Wow. That’s…really gritty. You’re, like, a tortured artist, I see it now. Why don’t you do some of your own material?” The guy asked out of the blue. “No offense, but it seems like you could use the publicity.”
“I don’t like to live in the past,” Gerard said firmly. He never played his own music, even on the rare, rare occasion when someone recognized him and asked. It would have tarnished the way he remembered those songs. He used to live inside them, weaving himself into the notes like smoke; to sing them now would be to undermine all the things they had once stood for.
Drunk and Bi-creepy left him alone after he wrote down his old website and a few song titles on a scrap of paper. Gerard beat a hasty retreat, suitcase in hand. He finished the wine outside the airport terminal and spent the second leg of his flight in a pleasant haze.
The house looked exactly like he remembered, a drab taupe two-story with an ugly balcony that jutted out over the front door like a defiant chin. Their mom Donna had willed it to them before the years of smoking finally caught up to her; technically, Gerard still owned half of it, although he’d never consider living here again. Memories of an unhappy childhood began to come thick and fast. Their father went missing when Gerard turned eight, but he hadn’t really been present before then, either. Their mother drank away the welfare checks while barely holding down two shitty waitressing jobs, leaving Gerard to entertain his little brother all day.
Mikey and his girlfriend of three years, Alicia, lived here now. Which meant that snow had been shoveled off the walk, her motorcycle was parked in the garage, and there was a vase of flowers in the big bay window. Not much had been done about the retail value, though; Gerard wrinkled his nose at the faux-brick and rang the doorbell.
It was answered by a petite woman with wavy honey-colored hair. She beamed in delight and threw her arms around his neck, shouting his name.
“Alicia,” he winced as his ribs crunched. “It’s good to see you, too.”
“It’s been a long time, motherfucker,” she stressed, ushering him inside while she hefted his bags like they weighed nothing. She had mechanic’s arms, lithe and bulging with veins. Gerard had always kind of liked that, how she could be feminine and strong at the same time. “I think he really started to miss you. Sit down, I made you some soup. Was Detroit-Metro as hellish as usual?”
It had surprised him a little when they first got together, because Mikey had never been what most girls considered a catch. He was twig-thin and wore girls’ jeans and talked in a laconic monotone, but he was also selfless and patient and ultimately his good heart won everyone over, Gerard liked to think. He and Alicia were good for each other. He seemed happy. Then again, Gerard really only saw his brother when he was hospitalized. When he left home at nineteen, he’d been on the brink of making it; fame and fortune were imminent. That dream had withered and died years ago, but somehow coming back home meant admitting a defeat that stung as freshly as on the day Gerard had gotten kicked out of the band.
He finished his soup while they both carefully skirted around the subject of Mikey. Alicia had been worried for a long time; her face was pinched and little frown lines marched across her forehead. Gerard wasn’t hungry, but the bachelor diet of cereal and wine wasn’t sitting too well with him, and he didn’t want to greet Mikey by yacking all over him. They drove to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in silence. It was already twilight, and the trees looked like skeletal people, all bony arms and bald heads. Gerard remembered belatedly that it was later here — or earlier, maybe, but it got dark sooner since Michigan was up north — he couldn’t recall the exact time difference. The purple light cast weird shadows over the snow. He pressed his cheek to the window and watched his breath fog the glass.
Then there was signing in, and waiting in a hard chair in a too-bright room, clutching overpriced coffee, but Gerard didn’t really register any of it. He’d been through it all one time too many; he was used to the smell of disinfectant and the nervous parents pacing the floor. He felt glad he’d pregamed, though. The time slid easily and he didn’t have to focus on anything or acknowledge the black pit of anxiety roiling in his gut. Soon enough the nurse called their names, and Alicia held his arm as they were led down hallway after bleak hallway. He whispered each turn so they could find their way out, but gave up when they passed through another waiting area with six identical doors.
Mikey was all the way at the end of the building, in a wing that looked like an afterthought addition. The hallway here was drafty and too quiet; the reassuring bustle of nurses and orderlies had disappeared somewhere in the maze of twists and turns. Gerard faltered for a second outside of room 2616, where his brother’s name was written on the little card in the plastic holder by the door. The smell of bleach was overpowering, and it was only Alicia’s hand on his back, comforting but insistent, that propelled him onwards.
He reminded himself he’d seen all of this before. The tubes and wires and his brother’s body making too small of a lump under the sheets, none of it was new. Mikey sat up a little, readjusted his giant Buddy Holly glasses, and smiled. The gesture pulled at his pale cheeks and bunched up the hollows under his eyes. Numbly, Gerard was aware of smiling back.