Diane Bass looked down at the small brown paper wrapped box that had arrived in the mail. She sighed sadly as she looked at the return address: James L. Bass, Orlando Florida. It had been postmarked September 28, 2009, which was several weeks ago, and Diane assumed that it must have gotten lost on its way to take so long to get to Mississippi. Diane shook her head as she tore the brown paper off the package and opened the box, revealing the jewel case within and the yellow sticky note on top of it with the message: "Play in your DVD player"
Diane removed the disc and walked into her living room. She placed it inside her DVD player, turned on the television, and pressed play. Diane's breath caught in her throat as she saw the image of the young man in front of her.
Diane let out her breath at once and resisted waving at the screen, knowing that it was just a recording.
"I know we haven't talked in a long time, ever since that night but I wanted to try again...to get back together with you cause I need you. Now more than ever, I need you."
Diane realized just then how thin and gaunt her son looked, how unhealthy, how tired and haggard he appeared to be.
"Mama. I'm dying. My doctors have told me that I don't have a lot of time left. They told me that this cyclomegalovirus I have is going to make me blind and then everything else will go after that."
Diane's eyes widened, as she whispered, "Oh my God he knew he was dying ."
"Mama. I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry that I didn't try to make up with you before now. I was too proud to put aside all the hurtful things you said to me and to try again until now. But I want to try now with this tape try again and hope that we can come together again before "
Diane sniffed and shook her head.
"I want you to know that I love you, Mama. I love you and I forgive you for everything that happened that night. I forgive you for shutting me out of the family and for not talking to me for the last 5 years. I am sorry for all the sadness I caused you and I forgive you for all the hurtful things you said to, and about, me."
"I remember that just after that night, I said I'd never forgive you for what you said and did. I remember telling Joey that I "had my pride" and I think I actually believed that for the longest time. I believed it until just after the doctor told me that I was going to die. Then I realized what a nebulous commodity pride really is."
"It's a funny thing, Mama, but pride doesn't comfort me when I am lonely, and pride won't be there for me on my deathbed. I don't want my pride anymore, I want my mommy back."
"Oh my baby " Diane said as her tears fell freely down her cheeks.
Diane's gaze never strayed from the screen as she listened to the words her son spoke. As he spoke of forgiveness and love, she realized that he had never changed he hadn't changed from the bright, kind little boy that she'd raised. And he hadn't changed on the night that he told her he was gay. It was she who had changed. She had let her prejudice and fear harden her heart and turn her away from her own flesh and blood. As Diane strained to catch her breath from the sobs that had begun to constrict her breathing, she realized that this- revelation, painful as it was, had come too late.
Diane's thoughts snapped back to the image on the screen and she inadvertently
"Mama. I need you. I need you here Mommy I'm so scared."
Diane put her hand to her face and began to weep into it. She was too late too late.
The image flickered and disappeared bathing the living room with the eerie dim light of the blank screen.
Diane reached over to pick up the phone from the coffee table and dialed the number she had never been able to forget. She hesitated when she heard the voice on the other end.
"Hello Joey. It's Diane Bass."
"Hello Diane. I was kinda expecting your call."
Diane nodded and then asked in a small voice, "I need to talk with you, if you'll let me. If I fly in tomorrow morning, can we meet and talk?"
Joey sighed. "Yeah. I'm free tomorrow."
Diane sighed and hung up the phone, immediately re-dialing the airport and booking a seat on the first flight out to Orlando the next morning.
As the plane took off from the airport in Mississippi, Diane reflected back on the last night she'd seen her son alive: the night that he'd told her that he was gay.
"Mama? I need to talk to you. It's really important."
Diane looked at her son and saw the mix of nervousness and fear in his eyes.
"What is it baby?"
Lance took her hand and held onto it as he looked into her eyes.
"Mama I've been keeping a big part of my life from you. I know that with work and all, I don't get to see you that much, but when I'm here .I don't like to have to keep something like this from you.
"Mama I'm gay."
Diane's eyes widened slightly and she let out her breath. "What did you say?"
Diane closed her eyes and sighed, then opened them again and shook her head.
"Gay? Who did this to you?"
"No one did this to me it's what I am."
"No. My baby is NOT gay. Who DID this to you? Was it Joey? Did HE do this to you?"
Lance shook his head. "Mama please nobody MADE me gay! I love Joey, Mama and he loves me too!"
Diane just shook her head and sighed. "Well this just can't be happening. I can't have a homosexual as a son."
Lance looked at his mother and shook his head.
"I'm sorry Mama, but that's what I am. I hope--"
"We can get you treatment baby! We can take you to--"
"Treatment? NO! Mama .I finally came to grips with this myself I don't need any crackpot treatment to cure me of what I really am."
"There's no other way. This will ruin you. I'll go call a doctor I know who treats this kind of thing and see how fast he can treat you."
"NO! Mama! The word is NO. I am not seeking treatment. I'm gay. That's the way I am. I've dealt with it .now you need to find some way to come to grips with it too."
"Lance .you are my son. You will do as I say."
"No I won't. I may be your son, but I'm also legally an adult. I am telling you as a courtesy only, because you are my mother and deserve to hear it from me."
Diane pulled her hand free from Lance's and shook her head.
"You will do as I say, or you will no longer be welcome in this house or in this family."
Lance shook his head. "Then I guess this is where we say goodbye."
Diane stopped and put her hands on the table.
"You ungrateful bastard! You'd leave leave your family, just to go traipsing around being perverted with all your friends? After all the hard work we did to get you where you are today, you would just leave us?"
Lance's head snapped up and he laughed a mirthless laugh.
"ALL YOUR HARD WORK?!? Mama all you did was encourage me to join the band and come and visit. I did all the hard work. You just watched me do it."
Diane shook her head and turned around, walking over to the sink. Lance watched his mother closely as she grabbed tight hold of the countertop and rested her weight against it.
"Then go. You're no son of mine. Get out of my house. You're no longer welcome here."
Lance nodded sadly and left, grabbing his bags from where they lay in the hall outside the living room. Lance had placed them there earlier, along with an airline ticket back to Orlando. When he'd made up his mind to tell his mother, he had prepared for the worst, but still hoped for the best. He was disappointed nonetheless; that the worst had come to pass as he slung the last of the bags over his shoulder and headed towards the door.
"Goodbye Mrs. Bass." Lance said coldly as he walked past his mother.
"Lance .you can change .if you'd just change, none of this will be necessary."
Lance shook his head. "If you cared a damn about me .if you really cared at all, I wouldn't have to change. You'd just accept me for me but I see that that's not gonna happen so goodbye."
Lance walked through the door and out to his car, loading his bags into the trunk without a backwards glance. Diane's resolve crumbled slightly as she heard the car door slam closed and the engine rev to life.
"Goodbye my baby."
A slight jolt, as well as sounds of the wheels touching ground, roused Diane from her thoughts and she realized that the plane had landed in Orlando. After disembarking, Diane grabbed her bags and headed for her hotel.
After changing clothes and freshening up, Diane drove over to her late son's house. She sighed as she got out of the car and walked up the path to the front of the house. Diane knocked lightly on the door and waited for a response. Several seconds later, the door opened and Joey Fatone peered out.
"Hello Diane. Was your flight OK?"
Diane nodded at the greeting and the perfunctory pleasantry Joey extended to her.
"Come on inside. Can I get you something to drink?"
Diane shook her head and sat down on the muted sage green camelback sofa in the living room.
"Joey-- I just received a DVD from Lance. He wanted to try to make up to get back together before--"
"Too late, huh? I'm sorry about that."
Diane looked up at Joey and gasped as she saw that his face had changed to a mask of pain and sorrow.
"I hated you so much. That you could treat him like that that you never tried to make up with him in those 5 years I just hated you so much I couldn't even see straight when your name was mentioned."
Diane's eyes widened and she placed her hand over her chest as she listened to Joey speak.
"He recorded that almost a month before he died and I promised him I'd get it to you. But when I got to the post office I just couldn't bring myself to send it. I hated that he would even want you back in his life after the way you treated him. But then after he lost his sight and his health began to slide I realized that I better send it. It was too late, though. He died about a week after I sent it. I sent it bulk rate mail. I guess deep inside, sending it made me feel better, even though I knew there was no way you'd get it in time."
Diane's mouth gaped open as Joey's words slammed into her mind, and she felt just a hint of the hate he felt for her.
"What tore me up inside, what really made me hurt, is that in the hospital, sick as he was, he still begged to see you. You! DAMN YOU! YOU! You you threw him out and abandoned him and yet he wanted you he never called for me. Just you! He wanted his mommy! And she never came."
Diane's control evaporated and she began to weep.
"I hated you up to that point until I realized how much Lance loved you and then I dunno I couldn't feel just hate for you anymore he had forgiven you and I was the one who could not find it in my heart to forgive you."
"My baby asked for me? Oh God "
Diane looked up and saw that Joey was crying as well.
Joey shook his head and walked over to the bar, grabbing a bottle of whiskey and pouring out two shots. He then walked back to the sofa with the shot glasses and the bottle, placing one of the glasses on the coffee table in front of her and one in front of himself.
Diane looked down at the shot for a second before grabbing it up in her hand and placing it to her lips, swallowing it all at once. Diane gasped as the powerful liquid burned in her mouth and throat. She gulped in air as the shot left her feeling lightheaded and breathless.
"It's not your fault, Joey. I should have seen how wrong I was a long time ago and reconciled with Lance and tried to start over--"
Joey shook his head and sat back in the seat.
"It IS my fault It's all my fault. He'd be alive now if I'd just just gone with him .all my fault that he got sick all my fault that he died."
Diane looked at Joey and was shocked to see the broken, lifeless look in his eyes. She wondered what had happened that he could shoulder such emotions.
"He came back here after you tossed him out. He was upset and he wanted to get out and just get drunk and forget about it. And I didn't want to. I wanted to stay in. I was tired from recording and I just wanted to go to sleep. If I had gone out with him, he'd still be alive today. He wouldn't have ."
Joey poured another shot of the whiskey and downed it in one gulp, almost cringing at the powerful kick of the spirits in the glass.
"What happened Joey?"
"He and I were just starting out as lovers back then and after I told him that I didn't want to go out he went out by himself. He got really drunk and hooked up with a guy. They went back to his place and had unprotected sex. Lance never spoke to me about it to me, but six months later, he tested positive for HIV and admitted that he'd only ever had sex with two guys: me and this one night stand."
Diane watched as Joey held his head in his hands, silently sobbing as he drew breath.
"So you see if I had just gone with him that night he'd still be alive today. He and I would have come home and made love and he wouldn't have had sex with that guy. I could have stopped it but didn't."
"Oh Joey. There's no way you can feel responsible for the decisions Lance made. You can't hold yourself accountable for something like that."
"Can't I?! I let my lover go out to a bar and get drunk how can I not feel responsible? He had sex because he got drunk and I could have stopped it if I'd just been there with him? I AM responsible for his dying. His death is as much on my hands as it is on yours. We both made the decisions that ended up killing him."
Diane shakily poured out two shots of the whiskey and laid them out in front of them before sitting back on the sofa.
"So now what?"
Joey looked at her and shrugged, then got up and grabbed a package off the top of the television and tossed it to Diane. Diane looked at the wrapping and immediately realized that it was the same paper that Lance had used to wrap her DVD. Diane opened the package and got up off the sofa and placed the disc inside the player and turned the television on.
Both Diane and Joey gasped as they saw the pale, haggard looking young man appear before them.
"Mama Joe-bear. If you are playing this, then you two have gotten together and talked. Mama I made it clear in my other video to you that I forgave you everything that happened that night. I am sorry if we never got together again to make up like I'd wanted to, but please know that I do love you."
Diane nodded almost imperceptibly as the tears again began to fall freely down her cheeks.
Lance sighed and looked back up at the screen.
"Joey I know you feel as if me getting sick is somehow your fault. That if you'd gone out with me that night, that I would still be alive. It's not your fault, baby. It's mine. If I had been a stronger man, I would have realized that I didn't need to go out and get drunk to feel better if I'd just stayed home with you that night, your love would have made me feel better like it always does. Joey, I didn't stay and that was my choice, my fault and having sex with that guy that was my decision as well and I accept the consequences of that decision."
"Mama Joey you have to forgive yourselves and each other now. Mama, I know you blame Joey for me being gay and whatever else and Joey I know you hate Mama for shutting me out and all but it's all in the past now. Joey I'm gone, baby and you are all she has left of me. Mama I'm gone and Joey's all alone now too."
"Can you find it in your hearts to forgive each other? You're both going to need one another so much now ."
Joey turned and looked at Diane as Diane met his gaze. Only then did both realize how much they really did need each other. Joey held out his hand towards Diane and she gingerly put her own into his.
"I love you two more than anything in the world. Please take care of each other."
Joey and Diane looked at the screen as Lance let out a deep breath.
"Mama Joe-bear I love you both. Goodbye."
The screen flickered and went dark. Joey and Diane sat on the sofa in silence for a long while, holding hands and drawing on each other's strength. No words were said because none were needed. Both had found what they had most wanted that night through forgiveness.