Farewell, Mister White
© 1991 and 2011 by R.M. Usatinsky
All rights whatsoever in this play are strictly reserved and applications for permission to perform it, etc., must be made in advance, before rehearsals begin to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dedicated to the fond memory of man’s best friend
Sherlock B. White (1980-1991)
And to Daniel (1994-2006), the finest dog there ever was, and ever will be;
And to Simon (1997-2011), you’ll always have a special place in my heart
RICK, in his late forties
GABRIEL, in his early twenties
The first performance of FAREWELL, MISTER WHITE was given at
The Chicago Dramatists Workshop, December 9, 1991, with the following cast:
The play was directed by Victoria Thor;
the stage manager was Kimberly Wetherell
The action of the play takes place twenty years in the future. It is late afternoon on a warm winter’s day on a strand overlooking Lake Michigan on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University. The sky is grayish white, waves pound against the rocks. RICK stands beside a lone tree looking out over the lake. GABRIEL approaches and remains a few feet away. RICK remains looking out over the lake.
GABRIEL. It wasn’t very difficult to find you. You come here every year on the same day, the same hour; you always stand by the same tree. You missed a year. That was the year your mother died—I saw the obituary in the Tribune. You’re pretty famous. I mean you have to be famous for them to put an obituary about your mother in the Trib. I was sorry that she died. I come here every year, too. I was born at Evanston Hospital. I grew up just a few blocks away from here—I go to school here now. I remember seeing you here when I was a baby. I know it hard to believe. It’s one of my earliest memories. I still dream about it. My nanny used to take me here, and I used to see this man—well, you. You stood by the same tree looking out over the lake. You would always be crying and I never understood why—why a man would be crying. “He’s probably very sad,” my nanny used to say. The first time I rode my new bicycle away from the house alone I came here. You were here that day. My mother almost didn’t allow me to go because it was so cold out. And there you were. Standing beside that same tree crying, just as you are now—just as you have for the past nineteen years, except, of course for that one year when your mother died. I have dreams about you. I dream about you and about places that I’ve never been to before. I dream about you and I don’t even know who you are—except, of course that you’re pretty famous. I’ve read some of your books and plays—I saw the play about the French scholar who goes back to nursery school and makes friends with an imaginary giraffe. That was great. And I bought your last CD. How did you learn to sing in Spanish? To be honest, I don’t understand what the words mean but the songs are nice. I have a friend from Argentina, Elena, she says that they’re really beautiful songs. (Pause.) If I’m bothering you, I can go.
RICK. What did you say your name was?
GABRIEL. Gabriel. My name is Gabriel Audela. I go to school here. We’ve never actually met before.
RICK. Anyone could know that I come here. It’s not as though I live a secret life.
GABRIEL. But don’t you find it odd that we both come here on the same day and at the same time every year?
RICK. What did you say your name was?
RICK. Gabriel, that’s right, Gabriel…Audela. And you say that you come here on the same day every year, just as I do?
RICK. Now why would you do that?
GABRIEL: Well, like I said I grew up around here. My nanny used to bring me here when I was a kid. And I go to school here now.
RICK. And you always make it a habit talking to strangers?
GABRIEL. I’ve seen you here before…
RICK. For nineteen years. I heard your story. You come here, to this spot, year after year to see a grown man weeping. That strikes me as being very odd indeed.
GABRIEL. I only thought that you might have wanted someone to talk to. I guess I’ll be going. I’ve got a birthday dinner waiting for me at home.
RICK. Wait. Did you say birthday dinner? Is today your birthday?
GABRIEL. Yes. March thirtieth.
RICK. Your first words to me were, “it wasn’t very difficult to find you.” Were you looking for me? I mean did you specifically come here looking for me?
GABRIEL. Well…yes. But I’m not exactly sure why.
RICK. You’re not exactly sure why, but you came here looking specifically for me.
GABRIEL. I mean I’m sure exactly what I mean.
RICK. Okay. I can deal with that.
GABRIEL. You can?
RICK. I can.
GABRIEL. That’s a relief.
RICK. My name is Rick Hirsch.
GABRIEL. I know.
RICK. That’s right, you know. I forgot that you knew. And maybe you’ve seen me here before, I don’t know, maybe I’ve seen you here before, who knows…
GABRIEL. I know why you come here.
RICK. I don’t t think that you do.
GABRIEL. I didn’t always. I mean I just figured it out—just before I came. I didn’t think it was possible.
RICK. That what was possible?
GABRIEL. Well, that I could have known you..
RICK. You said that before.
GABRIEL. And that you know me.
RICK. And I know you.
GABRIEL. And I know everything about you. Nearly everything. Everything you’ve ever felt, everything you’ve ever seen and done, touched, tasted—everything so thoroughly etched upon my mind, written in journals, in diaries, in notebooks, tape recording—but I never knew what all those things meant. Not until today.
GABRIEL. I’ve dreamt it all. Lived it all—and no one—not a soul on earth knows. I was too afraid to tell anyone. All my life I thought I was some kind of freak or something.
RICK. What is it exactly that you want from me? Money? Is this some sort of blackmail? Are you on drugs? You need money, right? If you need money—
GABRIEL. —No, I don’t need money and I’m not on drugs. I only need you to listen to me.
RICK. What did you mean when you said you know everything? What everything?
GABRIEL. Things. I know things about you. I know about you when you were a boy, when you were growing up, your travels, experiences—everything.
RICK. That’s not difficult to come across. If someone wanted to find about these things all they’d have to do is Google me.
GABRIEL. I know about your great-grandfather.
RICK. I’ve written about him. Often.
GABRIEL. I know where you were when he died.
RICK. I’ve written about that, too. Try again.
GABRIEL. What about the favor you asked of God when he died, when you were in Acapulco standing there in a puddle of tears. Did you write about that? When you looked up at the sky and said—
RICK. —That’s enough. I know what I said. And no, I’ve never written about that. In fact, I’ve never told that story to a soul.
GABRIEL. But I know about all those things. I thought I just dreamed them all up. But they really happened; and they were all your life, all fragments, bits and pieces, dialogues, people, places. I know them all, I’ve seen them all and I’ve lived it all as if I have lived your life in my mind for the past twenty years.
RICK. I think I’m beginning to feel somewhat unwell. I need to sit down.
GABRIEL. Please don’t be upset.
RICK. I feel so cold all of the sudden.
GABRIEL. I need to know the truth.
RICK. Let me look at you.
GABRIEL. Then you do know me.
RICK. How can I be sure?
GABRIEL. You can trust your heart. I’ve trusted mine by coming here today, by talking to you.
RICK. Tell me more things.
GABRIEL. What more can I tell you?
RICK. What I have always wanted to know. What I have always wanted to know but have never had the courage to ask myself.
GABRIEL: It was twenty years ago this very month. It began with an illness. Nobody thought it was serious, the symptoms were nothing for anyone to be worried about. But there was concern and the proper measures were taken—for the most part anyhow.
RICK. For the most part?
GABRIEL. Well anytime that irregularities in behavior, especially over the age of eight or nine, as were displayed in this case—loss of appetite, listlessness, the coughing—a complete work-up should be done immediately.
RICK. So they were wrong in their diagnosis?
GABRIEL. Well, no one ever really made a diagnosis. Their only suggestion at the time was to monitor the behavior.
RICK. And that’s when it got worse.
GABRIEL. It was already pretty bad then. That’s when you went for the second opinion. That’s when you got your first look at the inside, when you saw the pathology with your own eyes.
RICK. I never felt worse in my entire life than on that day. It was all like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.
GABRIEL. And then the breathing got worse.
RICK. And he wouldn’t eat anything.
GABRIEL. Had to be carried up the stairs.
RICK. But he was in such good spirits.
GABRIEL. Because he was in the presence of such good spirits. Love and tenderness, caring and concern are universal, they transcend human qualities.
RICK. I had no idea.
GABRIEL. There are many things far beyond our mortal knowledge…
RICK. It feels as if I’m frozen. I can’t seem to feel anything. My whole body is numb. I can’t seem to move.
GABRIEL. You can move. Come. Let’s sit down beneath your lonely tree. (A few seconds pass…the sound of waves beating against the rocks is heard)…And then he died, peacefully and painlessly.
RICK (Fighting back tears). All these years I have regretted not having been there. I have never forgiven myself for not having gone that day. It was my place to have been there. I was a coward, deserting my best friend in his time of need. And when he closed his eyes for the last time, having not seen me there, he took with him to his death this horrible image of me. It was Sunday. A warm and eerie day, the sky was white and gray and there was a feeling of dread, like the earth had stopped moving, like everything was dying. Maybe it was cold, maybe it was warm—I don’t know. Maybe it was a day just like today, a day just like every other day, warm or cold or cloudy. I didn’t sleep there that night—or maybe I did—I had slept there so often. I’d sleep with him there on the kitchen floor. We decided that Sunday would be the best day. The best day. How strange that sounds. His breathing was so heavy. I fed him everything. He would eat breakfast cereal. He wouldn’t touch his own food. He ate everything else: chicken, potato chips, hot dogs—he must have eaten a ton of hot dogs. He had good days and bad days, the whole thing happened so fast and within four weeks of that first examination he was gone. (Short pause.) And no one knew if he was suffering, if he was in pain or what was going on inside of his body, let alone his mind. Though I have to say he seemed almost content through it all, inconvenienced and fussed over, uncomfortable no doubt, but he really did seem content. So I decided to go for another opinion. The new veterinarian said, after examining him, “how I can put a dog to sleep that’s sitting here wagging his tail and smiling at me?” So he decided to continue with more tests. There were encouraging reports at first that maybe the lung pathology was viral or bacterial. We went back that Friday after having a few good days followed by a few bad days. That Friday was a disaster. I thought he wouldn’t survive the ride to the clinic. We took a new set of x-rays to see if the drugs had had any effect. The results were plain to see. The pathology had gotten worse instead of better. Everyone was so confused. We had to make a decision right then and there. We decided that Sunday would be the day. Well we were caught up in a few days of religious holidays, family commitments, you know, and well the next day, desperate and anxious, I took the x-rays to a specialist out in the suburbs. It was my last resort. That maybe there would be a miracle and this guy would throw the x-rays up on the screen and say “nothing serious, just a minor case of lung cancer, we can clear it up in no time.” But I was kidding myself. (Long pause.) I had met a woman about two weeks before. I was down at the lakefront one day pondering all this and waiting for test results when we met. She was playing with a little black dog. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two of them. I knew that would never play like that with him again. Finally I went over and asked the woman if I could pet her dog—I know she must have thought it was some kind of come on or something—I told her that my own dog was at home dying and that I was probably going to have to put him to sleep. She told me that she had just put another one of her own dogs to sleep just the day before. And of all things, this woman was a euthanasia technician at a local veterinary hospital, if you can believe that. I mean it was her job to put dogs to sleep, or as she put it, it was her job to make dogs comfortable. I just couldn’t believe it. Well anyway, she talked to me. She told me things that I must have been desperate to hear. She was like an angel. She told me about the peace and tranquility that euthanasia brings to the animals and their caregivers—that’s what she calls us, caregivers—and how there’s nothing more humane and right. She said it would be the best thing if I were there, if the whole family were there. “What a better way to leave this world,” she said, “having the last thing you see be the ones that have loved and cared for you all your life.” And that’s what she told me. She gave me a whole new perspective on death and dying. She even told me that she would do the procedure at the clinic where she worked if and when the time came, if I wanted her to. Anyway, back to Sunday. The time had come. So, this woman worked in the afternoon so I waited all day to call her at three, that’s what time she started. That day went by so quickly. I did things that I promised myself I wouldn’t do. I took pictures of him in the back bedroom. I closed the door so nobody knew that I took them. They’re beautiful pictures. I clipped a good size lock of hair from his tail, too. I still have it hidden away between pages of a Rolling Stone magazine. I’ve never even looked at it since that day. So when I finally called the clinic they told me that my friend, the woman that I met at the lakefront, had left about fifteen minutes before. I called her at home and she told me that she got off work at three and that she had worked all night because she had to go out of town in a hurry and there was probably no way of getting back to the clinic and make her flight in time. So she said she’d call and arrange everything with one of her colleagues at the hospital and that everything would be all right. That’s when it happened. I decided that I wouldn’t go. I just couldn’t go and watch this precious dog who I had brought home in a cardboard box eleven years before lying on a cold metal table while the life was being taken out of him with by a stranger in a lab coat who makes his living by…well, who makes his living by making animals comfortable. I mean I still wasn’t even convinced that he was dying. We never got a positive diagnosis. All the reports, all the lab work, nothing came back positive. Just those damn x-rays and that damn lung pathology. (Pause.) It was getting late and everyone was feeling pretty anxious. The time had come for me to say good bye to my sweet friend. I know everyone was curious as to how I was going to say my farewell, how I would react about the whole thing. I knelt down on the floor putting my arms around him. He grumbled a little. It seemed as if worlds were colliding inside of me. My mind was racing, my heart was pounding fast and I didn’t know if it was him or me that was going to die. The last thing I said to him was, be a good boy. Then I kissed him gently on his head for the last time. And he grumbled at me kissing him on his head for the last time. He didn’t know it, but I did, or maybe he did or maybe it was just his way of saying good bye. And then I left. I got into my car and I cried for him. And I cried for me. Not for the first time and not for the last. As I drove away I looked up at the apartment window and said, “good bye my friend, so long my sweet precious dog; farewell, my dear Mister White.” And then I drove off with tears in my eyes that nearly blinded me. I passed the clinic on my way home. “That is where my dog will die,” I said out loud to myself as I passed the red brick building with the big white letters…
GABRIEL. I never imaged that anyone could hurt so badly.
RICK. That was only the beginning. The months that followed were very difficult. There were good days and bad days, naturally. There were sleepless nights and there were times that I just couldn’t stop thinking about him, not even for a moment, like some kind of obsession. The one thing that really surprised me the most was that I just didn’t seem to be getting over it. People lose pets every day, it’s a part of life, part of having a pet. We put the old and sick ones to sleep; some run out in the street and get hit by a car, but there I was, twenty-seven years old, a man right? Whining and whimpering and squealing like a baby. It was harder at first, though. I had gone through a period of total denial. I kept having these ideas that he really wasn’t dead, that the euthanasia was a fraud, that the clinic just faked the procedure and that the animals were drugged and then sold to laboratories for research. I kept having this vision of him, all sickly, skinny and…and these people in white jackets poking and prodding and doing all kinds of weird experiments—it was torture is what it was. And when I imagined him going through this, he had this look on his face, suffering through it all, the same look that he had on his face during those last few hours of his life. And sometimes, late at night, when I would be in bed, I thought I heard him calling out to me, like he needed me but I didn’t know what to do or where to find him. Like he was waiting for me but I never came. I would think what if he was alone and scared and hungry and cold. I began believing these things and it got to where I just couldn’t bear it any longer, I couldn’t cope, couldn’t function.
GABRIEL. And that’s when you decided. That’s when you knew that the only way you could end your suffering was to go and find him, and to be with him. You couldn’t bear the thought of him alone and suffering. And what was even worse was that it was you that was alone and suffering. And so, on the first anniversary of his death, you came here for the first time, the first time in long time. You came here to cast your pain and your suffering away out in the depths of the cold winter lake. But something happened that day, something that changed your life, that changed your destiny. There was a young woman on the strand that warm winter day nineteen years ago. She had a little baby with her in a dark blue buggy. As long as she could remember, this young woman would always come to the strand to study or read or just to be close to nature, after all, it is a beautiful place. She had always remembered seeing this handsome young man there, sitting and writing beneath a tree. He always seemed so happy and vibrant. They had actually met once, when they were both much younger. He wrote a poem for her when he was seventeen, but they never spoke again. But that’s another story for another time. Many years had passed since she had seen him there and it was then, on that day, when she had come there once again with her little baby on his very first birthday. She wanted to share with her young son the beauty and tranquil splendor of the lake. To her surprise the handsome young man from her past was there standing beneath the same tree she had always seen him sitting under, but something was different. He wasn’t the same happy, vibrant man she remembered. He looked old, too old for his years, and tired and sad beyond words. Just then, she was suddenly overcome by the strangest feeling. The man started walking towards the rocks. He stopped for a moment and looked out in the vastness. She felt frightened and at that very moment a warm wind blew up from out of nowhere and caught the little wooly hat that the baby was wearing, sending it sailing into the air and then landing upon the rocks below just a few feet away from where the man was standing. She called out to him, “Excuse me! The baby’s hat has blown away. It landed on the rocks there…” It was if he had suddenly been pulled out of a deep trance; confused and bewildered he climbed down to the rocks below and picked up the baby’s hat. He climbed back up the rocks where the woman now stood with her baby in her arms. “Thank you,” she said. “The wind must have taken it.”
RICK. I remember the wind.
GABRIEL. “Would you hold him please?”
GABRIEL. “Would you hold him please?” That’s what she said. She asked you to hold the baby while she put his hat back on.
RICK. I did…I held the baby.
GABRIEL. And you looked into his large green eyes, and you touched his soft pale skin, and you saw life. And you wanted to live again.
RICK. I did. Yes, I did. I have never recalled that day, not until now, that is. Not until you just brought it up. It’s like it never really happened at all; like I had completely blocked it out from my memory. And the baby…that was you. You were born on the very day that he died. And on your first birthday, the day that was destined to be my last, you were there. And the wind. The wind that swept up your little hat that I retrieved from the rock bottom. The little baby that I held and that I touched, that gave my life a new meaning, that brought something back that had been long gone from inside of me. And it was you, the young child who I’d see playing. You, the young boy who I’d watch running and jumping and tumbling on the grass. You, the boy with the brand new bicycle who rode around and around in circles trying to get my attention. You, the young man who’d curiously be watching me year after year from behind the guise of a magazine or a book. It was you. It was always you.
GABRIEL. Then you did notice.
RICK. As much as any blind man would have. I saw you, yes, but I really didn’t see anything. Like always I was so emotionally numb, everything so bitterly internalized. Nothing on the outside could ever move me. Tell me Gabriel Audela, am I to be hated?
GABRIEL. I should hardly think so.
RICK. Then what? What becomes of me? What happens now?
GABRIEL. That’s up to you. My journey has been long and trying, but I’m here now. All my life I have waited for this moment, to find the answer, and to discover what has been happening inside of me for so long. The rest is up to you.
RICK. Yes, I suppose the rest is up to me. (Pause.) I have had so many ideas about how this might all turn out. Would you be interested in hearing them?
GABRIEL. Of course I would.
RICK. (Reaching inside of his sports coat.) I always keep a notebook…here we are, let’s see. I had thought that the two of us would, would just be talking. Now here’s where it gets a little theatrical; the lights would fade to half and a screen would come down showing our silhouettes and we would continue talking, some jazz music, you know, piano, upright bass, saxophone maybe, would play and that would be it.
GABRIEL. Not a bad idea. I mean naturally we’d have a lot to talk about. Not a bad idea at all. I like the part about the music, it’s simple yet effective.
RICK. Then I had this other idea where I would break down and embrace you and beg you for your forgiveness, but that might be a bit you know, awkward—it would be sincere, something that Stanislavsky or even Meisner or Spielberg would approve of…
GABRIEL. I think that some people might get the wrong idea, I mean an older man embracing a younger man. I mean there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that, well like you said, maybe it’s just a little awkward.
RICK. Okay. I have one other idea. (Short pause.) I thought that maybe I just wouldn’t finish it.
GABRIEL. Oh, I get it. So everyone would just have to figure out the ending for themselves. I like movies that end like that.
RICK. No, that’s exactly not what I meant. I mean not finish it at all.
GABRIEL. Not finish it at all? You mean throw it away?
RICK. Yeah, I mean throw it away, chuck it out, right here, right now.
GABRIEL. But why would you? It’s a beautiful story.
RICK. Maybe, but who’s going to believe it?
GABRIEL. What difference does it make who believes it or not? It’s your story. It’s our story.
RICK. That’s just it. It’s my story, our story and maybe I just don’t want to share it with anybody. I mean just think about for a minute.
GABRIEL. Okay. So? Don’t be absurd.
RICK. That’s just it. I mean this whole thing is absurd.
GABRIEL. Why are you doing this to yourself?
RICK. Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea. Look at me, I’m m no better off today then I was yesterday, or the day before for that matter. You have to understand that I just needed someone to talk to. I needed to tell someone how I was feeling.
GABRIEL. I can understand that. I really can. But it’s time to let go. It’s time to get on with your life. I’m in a truly better place now. You don’t have to worry about me anymore. And you don’t have to suffer anymore.
RICK. Then what? There’s so much more I’d like to say.
GABRIEL. Then say it.
RICK. So many beautiful memories I’d like to relive.
GABRIEL. Then relive them.
RICK. Then tell me, how do you think I should end it?
GABRIEL. Just end it.