This week, we sit down with Levar Cousins from Press (White House Men series 1). Interestingly enough, he’s the only one of my characters who was interviewed before, though that was not for Character of the Week and it was a more formal and less personal interview. We talked about him being a part of President Shafer’s “Gay Squad”, his ambitions for the future, and more. Make sure to read it!
Levar, thanks for making the time for me. I know you’re crazy busy.
My pleasure, Nora. And yes, I am, but that’s nothing new. It’s all a matter of time management and priorities.
What are your priorities?
[pauses for a moment] You know, even a few months ago, I would’ve said that my job as press secretary was my first priority, but that has changed. It’s still the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life, I suspect, but it’s no longer my first priority. That would be Henley, with my family and friends in second place and my job only third.
Our interview for Character of the Week this week is with Levar Let’s just say that I’ve been reminded of how fragile life is…and how important it is to prioritize relationships over anything else. And I know President Shafer agrees. My job is crucially important, but nowhere near as important as Henley or my family and friends. You can never get the time back that you didn’t spend with them, and I don’t want to look back on my life one day and regret that I chose the wrong thing. Henley is… He’s my everything.
I bet he’d say the same about you.
[smiles] He would. In fact, he has, and he’s proven his love for me by quitting his job. Even though he may not have been completely happy anyway, walking away from one of the most coveted jobs in journalism was as they call it in movies, the ‘grand gesture.’ He’s made a sacrifice, and not a day goes by where I’m not grateful for it, because without that, we would’ve never been able to be together.
So things are going well between you?
[his smile widens] Very well. I love everything about him, and funny enough, he feels the same about me. We’re both enjoying getting to know each other even better. He’s met my family by now, and they loved him, of course, and we’re close with his mom as well, who is amazing. We try to spend as much time together as we can…and every now and then, I’ll come home and find a sexy surprise for me, like some new lingerie he wants me to model for him. It’s a hardship, of course, but one I’ll happily suffer for him [laughs]. Henley has officially ended his lease and moved in with me, and we both couldn’t be happier. He was at my place all the time anyway, so it made little difference in reality, but emotionally, it was a big and important step for both of us. Making it official mattered, and it was time.
Knowing that Rhett was taken care of must’ve made a difference.
Yes. If Rhett and Calix hadn’t ended up falling in love, the process would’ve been different. Henley has always understood how close Rhett and I am and that he needed me. I would’ve never forced him to move out, not in a million years. Not that Henley would’ve ever asked me to. I think in that case, Henley may have still moved in, but Rhett would’ve been there as well…and we would’ve made that work. Henley and Rhett get along great, though, and now with Calix in the mix, we hang out as much as we can with the four of us with all of our jobs.
What is it like for you, seeing Rhett with Calix?
A little weird [laughs]. Calix is still my boss, so it’s always a bit complicated. But I think he and I have both gotten very good at separating professional and personal. It helps that we genuinely like each other and get along well, but we’ve never had a professional argument spill over into our personal lives or vice versa. Seeing how much he loves Rhett and how well he takes care of him… I would’ve moved heaven and earth to support that. He’s exactly what and who Rhett needed, and Rhett is changing as a result. He’s becoming more confident, his anxiety has lessened, and you can tell he’s found where he belongs. I’m so, so happy for him. I’ve been worried about him for a long time.
And with reason.
Yes. You know, Henley and I have been talking about this a lot, how differently people react to a traumatic event. There’s this weird thing people do where they compliment someone for not being bothered by something traumatic, as if it somehow means being stronger or better. It doesn’t. What we went through…it was traumatic, and no one should feel weak or guilty or less for struggling with those memories. Rhett didn’t leave the house for a full year afterward, and even though I didn’t have that problem, I understood. He wasn’t weak, and he didn’t need to learn to be stronger. His body and brain were trying to protect him after experiencing something deeply traumatic. That’s a normal reaction, and as Henley’s psychologist pointed out, even a desirable one. Pushing through mental pain is not necessarily a good thing. In some cases, we have to allow our body and brain to protect us until it’s found a way to cope with it.
None of you walked away unchanged.
Exactly. It has manifested in different ways because we had different experiences and because we are different people. President Shafer, for example, who was still a senator at the time, had already seen some things in combat from when he’d served. That made him respond differently. Calix’s husband died in his arms. That made his trauma focused on that very specific moment, whereas I, Henley, and Rhett reported on it, each in our own way. The pictures Rhett took… Some of them still haunt him. For years, he had nightmares about what he saw through his lens. That doesn’t make him weak. It makes him human. And the same is true for Henley, who’s only now coming to terms with his losses. It’ll take time.
In the previous interview we did, you were still assistant press secretary to the vice president. You said that your goal was to make it to the big stage one day, to become the White House press secretary. You reached that goal much quicker than you had expected…
I did make career a hell of a lot faster than anticipated…and not under circumstances I would’ve chosen either. It’s been one hell of a learning curve, getting thrown into the deep, but I’ve found my footing now, I think. I’m grateful to the president and Calix for their belief in me, but I also have to give credit to the White House press corps. As much as we complain sometimes about them, they really took it easy on me those first weeks, despite the circumstances. They were understanding of me not having all the answers yet, of the new administration still getting into place, and about things getting lost in translation. It took us a while to get fully up and running in the Communications Office, and they were very understanding and never tried to take advantage of it. That built a lot of goodwill with me.
Do they still go easy on you?
[laughs] Hell, no. But they’re not supposed to. Their job is to be critical of what I say and to ask questions. I don’t resent them for that, even if it frustrates me at times.
What’s the most frustrating part?
That I know the truth about a lot of things, but I can’t tell it. I can’t share what I know because it’s classified and not ready to be shared with the public yet, and I sometimes struggle with that. I don’t lie to the press, but I do evade and redirect a lot, or simply refuse to answer. Those moments are not fun.
What’s the next step for you?
I don’t know. Most press secretaries don’t last much longer than two years, and I can see why. The pace of this job is brutal, absolutely unforgiving. I promised Henley that I would do one full term at the most, and after that, we’ll see. Honestly, I’m not even looking that far ahead. I’m taking it day by day, and who knows what the future will bring.
A family, maybe?
[laughs] Right now, I couldn’t do it. It’s just impossible with this job and the hours I make. But in a few years? Yeah, I could see us adopt a kid or two and become parents. I think I’d like that…
PS Did you know that Levar’s story, Press, is also available in audio? John Solo did a fantastic job narrating it. The other books in the series should be coming soon!