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Star Treatment
By Aaron Hartzler

Once I was all beaten up, I would stand in the wings with the guy who carried me on. I always felt what mom called butterflies in my stomach right before we made our entrance. The first couple of times that the guy had carried me on in rehearsal, I had been so excited about being in the play that I swung my arms, and kicked my legs. I couldn't help it. Dad stopped and explained that if I was dead, I had to be completely limp. Later that night at home, we went over my lines, and he demonstrated how limp I had to be. We spent quite some time playing dead that night on the couch, and on the living room floor. Dad practiced picking me up and walking around with me. He had a lot of really great tips on how to look as authentically dead as possible. I got to the point where I could be very still and not use too many face muscles to hold my eyes closed. But I liked this acting thing so much that it was really hard not to smile.

All I knew for sure was that when I did a really good job pretending to be dead it made the audience very, very sad, and my Dad very, very happy. Dad assured me that the reason the ladies in the audience gasped when the guy carried me on was because I was very convincing as a little dead boy. In fact, when my Dad's mom came to see the play, she came running up after curtain call, clutched me wildly to her bosoms, and told my father in a raised voice that what he had done to me was absolutely terrible.

But my father just beamed at me. He explained that people who didn't go to church might come see a play, and that we were using quality Biblical drama to reach lost souls for Christ. And I was good at it. He showered me with praise about my natural vocal inflections and excellent facial expressions, and from that moment on, I was determined to be a star. Within six months, after watching yet another one of my impromptu performances in the living room, I remember my mother dryly remarking to my father. "Well Hubert, I hope you're happy. All the world's a stage now, and he's the only actor."

It's the fact that my brother Josh couldn't care less about being in a magazine that makes me crazy. I have been dedicated to a craft since I was four years old. I have a mountain of student loan debt backing up not one, but two degrees in acting. I have a Master's degree in Make Believe. But my brother Josh is in STAR magazine? He's got a Master's degree in counseling for the love of God. From a Bible college.

At least Caleb is gorgeous. He eats nothing but egg whites and runs four miles a day. Fine. Put the boy in Details. My Dad is 6'2", and of the five kids in our family, of which I am the oldest, everyone but Josh is tall and statuesque. Josh even makes jokes about how he's the milkman's son. He got mom's genes, and while the women in her family are tiny beauties, the men are all just over five feet tall, and, well, husky. But there he is. Page 22. Josh in full-color, standing there looking disgruntled that he can't hail a cab. He's got a weird little beard and a receding hairline, and he's short, and squat. He's wearing a giant, puffy coat that makes it appear that his sternum has swallowed his neck, and he's scowling. Picking Josh over me for a picture in STAR magazine is like designing the cover of a travel brochure for Middle Earth, and choosing Gimli over Legolas.

Of course, there wasn't a choice. I know this. The photo editor didn't have the option of putting my headshot in the magazine, because I'm not the one engaged to a rock star. No one is choosing Josh over me. And really, this has nothing to do with Josh. I'm amazed at how in love the two of them are. At Thanksgiving, I caught one of those quiet glances between them at the dinner table. No words were exchanged, but I watched her gaze linger on Josh as he turned to pass the gravy boat to my Dad, and I was so happy that someone loved my brother so much -- as much as he deserves to be loved.

And that's really the issue. I'm the gay son, and 28 years after the chariot wreck, I'm still looking for that approval I felt from my Dad for those fleeting weeks in my fourth year, when playing dead for him onstage brought me the purest love I can remember feeling from him. For years, I worked so hard at doing something because I thought I really loved it, only to have my brother show up on page 22 last week, and make me realize that it's the recognition I'm really looking for. That somehow, if I'm good enough to be featured in the pages of a glossy magazine, that my dad will see me -- really see me as worthy, and be unable to argue with the power of pop culture opinion.

Of course, my father doesn't read glossy magazines. So, I sat and stared at the picture of Josh, stunned at this realization about the truth behind my acting career, and feeling a little like a man without a country. For a moment, I wondered if I could ever act again. But then, I realized I was being dramatic, and reached for another ice cream bar. I can't quit acting. I'm not qualified to do anything else.

Unless, of course, anybody knows a rock star who needs a date.

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