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A Mother’s Son

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Alumnus finally pens the story he’s been burning to tell

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Jamie Brickhouse '90: B.A. Communication

If his mother had her way, Jamie Brickhouse would permanently be five-years old.

For Mama Jean, as she’s nicknamed, five years was the perfect blend of cuteness, obedience, and maternal admiration. Brickhouse was her constant companion and grew to weigh the majority of life’s decisions against the approval or disapproval of Mama Jean.

Of course, no person can stay one age forever.

Brickhouse grew up in the coastal city of Beaumont, Texas, surrounded by a wide breadth of true Southern characters. Most notable was Mama Jean, the city’s very own Elizabeth Taylor. A local real estate maven, Mama Jean was simultaneously Brickhouse’s harshest critic and most ardent supporter.

During the fall of his first year at Trinity University, Brickhouse came out to his parents as gay. In his memoir, Dangerous When Wet, Brickhouse describes Mama Jean as “protective” and purposefully “blind” to his homosexuality, viewing his sexual orientation as a flaw. It became a source of tension between the two.

In the following summer of 1987, Brickhouse was back home in Beaumont. He recalls leaving for a date and, in a moment of honesty, sharing with Mama Jean that he was going out with a man. Exploding, Mama Jean rattled off about AIDS and types of intercourse. After the date, she laid into him for worrying her, for drinking alcohol, and not knowing “what love is.”

Living up to Mama Jean’s idealized version of him would be something that Brickhouse would struggle with for the remainder of her life, but Brickhouse always knew that Mama Jean was in his corner.

“Love her, hate her, or disagree with her, you could never argue that no one loved as fiercely and completely as she did,” Brickhouse says.

In writing his memoir, Brickhouse says that the “revelation is in the writing.” Looking back on that particular story, Brickhouse acknowledges that Mama Jean reacted that way because she was afraid, afraid of the AIDS crisis raging at the time, afraid of the lack of medication, afraid for the safety of her son.

At Trinity, Brickhouse majored in communication with a focus in journalism and minored in art history. Sacrificing a flair for theater in lieu of a major he considered more practical, he still regrets not adding theater as a second major. Of Trinity, however, he has no regrets.

“It was a great university for me,” Brickhouse says. “I absolutely loved Trinity and I still feel as though I got a great education despite not completely going with my passion.”

After graduation, Brickhouse fulfilled his lifelong dream of moving to New York City and took the Radcliffe Publishing Course, a postgraduate course in book and magazine publishing. This would be the start of a more than 20-year career in the book publishing industry.

In his time within the publishing arena, Brickhouse would work with Molly Ringwald, Sidney Poitier, Gloria Estefan, Mary Karr, and more. Prior to founding his own speaker’s agency in 2012, redBrick Agency, where he now serves as CEO, Brickhouse was vice president and director at the HarperCollins Speakers Bureau, the first publishing house lecture agency.

Yet Brickhouse’s 1990 move to New York City also marked his gradual descent into alcoholism. What began as a way to enhance life’s pleasures slowly morphed into sneaking alcohol before and during work, a use of hard drugs, a loss of employment, contracting HIV, and ultimately, a failed attempt at suicide.

Brickhouse’s unsuccessful suicide led him to rehab in California and, at last, allowed him to right the ship. He became serious about becoming a writer, something he had always wanted to pursue after being surrounded by authors for all his working career.

Although he has written sporadically for various publications, including The New York Times and The Huffington Post, Brickhouse knew it was time for a book.

So he wrote honestly about what he knew: his sexuality, his alcoholism, and yes, Mama Jean.

“It was important for me to express myself artistically,” Brickhouse says. “This was a story that I was burning to tell. Writing, for me, has been so gratifying because I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life. There is a high which cannot be equal to any high that you would get from alcohol or sex or any other mind-altering substance.”

Today, Brickhouse is oddly liberated from Mama Jean. When he began work on Dangerous When Wet, Mama Jean had been dead two years and his alcoholism dead for one. And although he can now make life choices more freely without the rebuke of Mama Jean, he would still give anything to have her with him again.

ON TOUR: On Thursday, May 14, at 5:30 p.m., Brickhouse will visit The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio for a reading of Dangerous When Wet and conversation with Trinity English professor Coleen Grissom.

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a 2014 Trinity graduate. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.