Hugh sorta outed us in an essay he wrote in September, 2020 for his Facebook page, mentioning we were an “item” before the summer of 2013—meaning, of course, a few months before he got his degree from New York Film Academy where we met in my class. I have always publicly maintained our student-professor romance didn’t start to develop until the following summer after he had graduated since I obviously didn’t want to herald its existence while I was still teaching there. So now that the proverbial cat is out of the proverbial bag, I felt maybe an explanation—or is it a confession?—was in order.
Hugh came into my class in September of 2012, the fall semester immediately after he transferred west to LaLaLand from our New York City campus to complete his final year. He was 23, certainly handsome, and obviously a gifted student, but romance was hardly on my mind. See, I grew up the son of a cowboy and that image, something Hugh carried like a badge of honor, was about the last thing to which I gravitated. Anything that reminded me of my father I basically avoided like the plague.
Besides, although my then-43 year relationship with Victor hadn’t been lived as lovers in over 30 years at that time, a new love interest, even a fleeting one, was something I was totally sure and content that at age 65 was no longer in my future. Even the idea of physical intimacy was something that for me had morphed over the years of regret and disappointment into something I found kinda creepy, not to mention that the last thing I wanted at that point to share with anybody was a vision of me in my rather corpulent all together.
I connected immediately with Hugh and admired his talent as an actor and as a critical thinker, but it wasn’t until, at about the halfway point of our semester together, that something happened which turned my thoughts around. I had assigned his class to write and perform their own monologue, which we would then film on location on the Wisteria Lane set at Universal Studios.
Hugh’s creation knocked my socks off, not only because it was brilliantly written and performed by him but because it was a tearful, heartfelt monologue spoken by a young professional in the 1950s or 60s telling his male lover he had to break it off with him because of what he saw as an obligation to appease his narrow-minded religious family.
I was gobsmacked but still, my thoughts did not in any way drift to the romantic. After all, not only was I his mentor, he was 23 and gorgeous and I was at 42 years his senior and hardly a young sprout ready to be picked off the vine. What I did realize, however, knowing a bit by then about Hugh’s upbringing and family situation raised on horseback on a farm on a Navajo reservation in rural New Mexico, that his subject matter for the monologue was not an easy one for him to attempt.
It was a fluke Hugh ended up studying for a degree in Acting for Film after achieving his first degree in Outdoor Education, which was paid for totally on his own despite his father’s disdain and refusal to pay for his kids’ higher education. While he was going to college and working 60 hours a week on his dad’s oil rigs to pay for it, he was discovered by an Albuquerque modeling agent and launched into a career that lead him to an audition and then a scholarship to study at NYFA in Manhattan.
I could see he was in pain and, on a break later that day from filming of his class’ midterms, we talked a bit about his choice of subject. He assured me he was not gay, something that for me was not as successfully executed as his other performances. Although I never made a point of declaring my lifestyle to my students, I also never hid it if the subject came up in class, so Hugh was already aware of who I was and what I believed.
So when he admitted some confusion about the brave new world unfolding around him, I respectfully told him I had a good ear and, sensing his aloneness, I would be happy to be there to discuss anything he needed to talk about along his journey discovering his place in the world. Again, a “quickie”—or even a “longie”—was not on my mind; I genuinely wanted to be there to help filter the confusion and potential pain he would be experiencing as he opened up to this new world so foreign from Farmington, New Mexico.
As a theatre reviewer, I am always given a pair of tickets to shows and events and always made a habit to invite my students to go with me if my usual group of like-minded friends could not attend. This was frowned upon at NYFA, so I was careful to choose my “plus ones” to avoid trouble with the administration, only including students who loved and had a passion for live theatre (sometimes rare at a film school, sadly) and that distinction surely included Hugh. I would meet students I invited at the theatre to not further fuel any suspicions about my intentions and usually invited males to join me so no Harvey Weinsteining would be suspected knowing the climate in which we all live these days—ironic though that surely was.
Hugh was an exception since, although he had a car, he was a little overwhelmed by LA and would come to my place first and we’d drive together to whatever theatre was hosting me. One of the first of several nights enjoying a play and amazed at the insight and intelligence and passion with which he dissected a performance, on the way home with him driving both of us this time, he again cavalierly blurted out he was not gay but this time added, “But I admit I am a little curious.”
Again, I did not see this as an opening for a session of forbidden lovemaking between a hot young cowpoke and a proverbial dirty old man, but began instead to warn him about not rushing into something like that with just anyone but to wait until he could relieve his curiosity with someone he loved or at least respected or admired. I had a mental picture of him walking into a gay bar (a place, I admit, I myself had not entered over 30 years and still to this day) and getting swallowed up by some slick shark who would disillusion all the genuine feelings and tender simplicity Hugh deserved to find.
On that night or maybe the next time we went to the theatre, his loneliness and confusion broke my heart and just before I got out of the car, I told him not to rush into anything and to know I would always be there to help him understand himself and see the world a bit more clearly if he needed me to be. He threw his arms around me in the front seat, a sweet, simple gesture, but the bolt of pure electricity that suddenly ran through my body scared the hell out of me. I instinctively kissed him lightly and affectionately on the back of his neck and said goodbye.
When I got into my house, I was truly almost dizzy, sitting staring forward wondering what I was feeling and telling myself what an old fool I was. Within 15 minutes of so, Hugh had gotten back to his place and texted me, saying that hug and my chaste peck on the neck marked the first time anyone had touched him or shown him affection like that for over two years.
I sorta avoided him for awhile, beginning to feel I was starting to overstep the traditional student-teacher relationship in the worst kind of way. I made sure he had some fellow students with whom to spend Thanksgiving and was planning a trip home for the holidays, but during our semester break, I did something I’d never before done with a one of my students: I emailed him a link to my unpublished novel Waiting for Walk, a thinly-veiled personal memoir about growing up as a kid actor and discovering my own sexuality.
He soon after sent me this email, something to which I did not feel comfortable responding to right away for fear of how happy his reaction made me:
I finished reading your book... It was one of the most heart-rending pieces of work I have ever read. It was smart, funny, and captured an essence that was relevant to myself on an incredibly personal level. I was dumbfounded at the development between Morgan and Chris; my god. I fell in love with but also grew so exasperated with the evolution of Morgan and Sean's relationship, the invisible barriers that presented themselves through Morgan were so heartbreaking.
Your honesty was so impressive. I would be proud of myself if I were brave enough to be as open with my life as you have. This book surfaced many issues in my own life, and I want to thank you for sharing it (your life) with me. I would really like to read your book about your years in the music industry.
After reading your book I really would like you to look at a screenplay that I have been kicking around for some time. I wrote it before I read your book, but... The subtext/story that I am trying to capture in this project is precious to me, I want to do it justice, and I know your feedback would help me a bunch. It is nowhere near the quality of your work, but I humbly ask that you skim through it. I’ve attached it to this email if you get the chance. Please note that it is not complete yet, but I would like your opinion before I finish it.
I would very much like to get together sometime soon and discuss your book. It really had an impression on me. I honestly mean that. Maybe you could let me buy you a cup of coffee at Aroma or someplace you'd prefer.
His screenplay was about a young rural Native American boy trying to come to grips with his sexuality. I gave him some sketchy thoughts but told him we’d talk more after our last class, pushing him away a tad when school resumed after our holiday break, knowing Hugh would no longer be my student during his final semester before picking up his degree late that May. Then against my better judgment, I invited him to go with me another play and he eagerly accepted.
As we sat out on the patio in front of the Odyssey Theatre in West LA on January 21, 2013, I was mesmerized by Hugh's beautiful, deep, amazingly wise eyes as he went on and on about how brilliant my book was and how he wished he could be brave enough to write such a thing. Then, I guess because I was ignoring his innuendos, he told me he had fallen in love with me.
I almost fell off my chair, but kept my composure and started talking a mile-a-minute about how it was just an infatuation because I was not only his teacher but the first person who reached out to him, and that one day soon he would meet someone his own age, etc., etc. I could see his very expressive young face drop, especially after, I’m sure, it had taken him a lot to say what he did.
The rest, I guess, is history. After many jokes about myself and quite feeble protestations, our epic romance was suddenly on and it was truly a whirlwind. After two months of things happening I thought I would never experience again in my lifetime—and rethinking my ideas about intimacy being creepy after remembering what it felt like to be intimate with someone you love—my constant comments to Hugh about what would happen when he really found someone his own age to love prompted him to blurt out to me after one glorious night, “I don't think you really believe how much I love you.” I twirled my jokeshop Groucho Marx moustache and immediately quipped, “No, I do, I do... I just think you have lousy taste.”
That was it. He said he had to get out of this, that I was making him feel his feelings for me were somehow wrong. As my heart sank, we bravely vowed to stay friends but to move on from being lovers. That lasted about two weeks, culminating with his flow of tears over a California omelette late one night after a play. We gave up trying to stay apart—and I did my best to bite my tongue whenever a bout of self-deprecating humor overtook me, a defense mechanism I’d developed to perfection over my long lifetime.
Funny. I thought I was being so cool when I attended Hugh’s graduation ceremony that May, shaking hands with the grad, meeting his entire family, and even being photographed next to him with his mortarboard perched on top of his cowboy hat. So cool, so professional I thought I was. Last year when his mother was staying with us in New Orleans during my gallery opening, Becky admitted to me she knew right away that day I was not just Hugh’s favorite teacher. She knew. Mothers know, they say, or maybe Hugh and I are not as good actors as I thought we were.
Hugh and I have been together now for eight years on January 21, 2020 and, although I haven’t been terribly successful at abandoning my cruel self-inflicted humor, he has become a master at merely shaking his head, rolling his eyes, and cuddling himself into my arms. Together, we care for Victor as he descends into Alzheimer’s and we’ve spent our quarantine time realizing our love is stronger and stronger and more amazing every day.
My only regret, of course, are those 42 years between us, always knowing the time we have together to experience this special love is limited for us. After 51 years of living with Victor, he’s been more family to me than my own family has ever been and I’d be willing to give up my life for him in a heartbeat but still, I would never have known a real true romantic love in my lifetime if had it had not been for Hugh and these magical eight years we’ve shared. Oddly, that somehow seems like enough.
Then again, he does still owe me that damn cup of coffee at Aroma so I ain’t’a gonna croak just yet.