I had planned to post this sooner, but life got in the way, then I realized there were some changes that I wanted to make. Thank you for the emails and I hope I do not disappoint those that have written to me. I continue to look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want I can let you know by email when a chapter it posted.
Things Are Different - Chapter 2
I survived the flight, thanks to Devon and I kind of hoped I would run into him again, but I also dreaded the prospect of seeing him again too. I know that doesn't make sense, but there is a lot that just does not make sense to me. Besides, I don't know that my gaydar works all that well, but he was far too handsome and neat. He also smelled way too nice for a straight guy. Not only that, but he did not have to keep holding my hand after I fell asleep.
All I had was my carry-on so I didn't have to go to baggage claim, but I did not know who I was going to meet or where I was going to meet them either. Did I look for a little old lady with a walker? I had no idea what my grandmother looked like. All I knew is that she couldn't fly, so I assumed she was some sort of invalid.
Boy was I wrong. Standing at the end of the concourse on the other side of the security barricade was a woman waving a sign that said "Jason Westwood." So my name was spelled wrong. How many people would spell it "Jayson?" That is why I usually just went by Jay. I figured this was a friend or caretaker of some sort, because even though she was older with silver grey hair in a ponytail that went all the way down her back she did not look impaired or crippled in anyway. In fact she was wearing hiking boots, shorts and a plaid shirt, looking like a lesbian that just came in from a mountain hike.
"I'm Jayson," I said when I walked up to her, though I have to admit I did briefly consider just walking past her and out into the world. Why didn't I do that? Curiosity, I think. After all, I had a grandmother I knew nothing about. Besides, I can always walk away later.
She dropped the sign and her hands briefly went to her mouth in surprise before she got a huge smile on her face and hugged me harder than I have ever been embraced in my life. I tried not to involuntarily stiffen at her touch, but it is just something I do when I am touched. I'm just not used to it. I am not tall, about five-nine, but she could not have been more than five feet. My mother was only five-one.
"Oh my god! Look at you!" She held me at arm's length looking me over. I imagine I was looking like ten miles of bad road, wearing the same jeans and t-shirt for the last three days as well as just the general wear and tear of traveling.
"Uh, hi?" What else could I say?
"I'm sorry, this week has been a real roller coaster for me," she said, tears on her cheek. "Hell, me, this must be like a train wreck for you?"
"Um, yeah. You must be my grandmother." I thought it was probably obvious at this point, but you never know.
"Oh god, yes! I guess you can call me Grandma, Granny or whatever. Or you can just call me Sue if you want. Come one let's get the rest of your stuff." She grabbed my bag and took my arm in hers to start leading me to the luggage carousel.
"This is all I have." I indicated my small duffel bag. God, I thought, by entire life currently fit inside a gym bag. That is pretty fucking sad.
She looked at the bag, hefting its insubstantial weight.
"I was thinking of stopping to get something to eat, but I thought you might just want to get home and I can throw something in the oven." She changed directions to the parking deck.
"That sounds good." I was stuck on word the "home."
The car turned out to be a nice SUV, leather and power everything. So grandma did not appear to be poor, which just made me worry that things would be nicer than I had ever experienced, but also that something would happen to change it all. What if she was some sort of homophobe and found out about me? Well, I wouldn't let that happen anyway, I was good at keeping that under wraps. No one ever needs to know.
We drove in comparative silence. She would point out a landmark here or there. It was early evening and the sun was dipping closer to the hills that marked the western horizon. Over there was Mount Hood, which I spied out the window when approaching the airport and over there was Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens had blown its top off thirty-five years ago unexpectedly; previously it had processed a sharp peak like Mount Hood. Its eruption or at least its severity, my grandmother explained took nearly everyone by surprise. That, of course, was well be for I was born. We took a high bridge that spanned a river she called the Willamette, pronouncing it Wil-lam-et, that afforded a view of the city of Portland. To the west was a downtown of high rise buildings going up to a ridge of high hills of forest while the east side of the river the city was lower and flatter with a few hills rising from the urban landscape. Coming down into the west side of the city we drove through part of downtown and up again into what she called the West Hills and a forest dotted with nicer looking homes.
We finally pulled up to a garage on a road shaded by conifers, but I could not see a house, just a tall fence and lots of trees. Getting out it was noticeably cooler in the shade of the trees which dripped with moss and ferns. My thin t-shirt and hoodie were not enough for somebody used to the August heat of Texas, even though the sun was shining brightly during the drive from the airport we had driven into its shadow as it dipped towards the mountainous horizon. There was also the thick aroma of growing things and decaying things. A rich perfume of damp soil, barks, leaves . . . everything, a sharp contrast to the choking dry dust of the desert. I actually loved the true desert with its surreal landscapes and a Milky Way so bright that you could read by it, but I spent almost all of my time in the paved desert of a highway defined suburbia where the perfume was not of living things, but of truck exhaust.
"Follow me," she said as she led me to a gate next to the garage. The gate was of a rich hued redwood with ornate wrought iron scroll work and hinges. It opened to a catwalk behind the garage and a house that seemed to float among the tree tops on the side of a mountain. The inside was even more amazing with a wall of windows that looked down on the city. The setting sun bathed the city and Mount Hood in a warm red glow. I admit I just stood there staring at the view. I had never been in a house anything like this before.
"Well let's get you settled in. You can shower if you want while I make something to eat. I think there is frozen lasagna here somewhere." She was looking through a stainless steel and granite kitchen off to one side of the living room.
"That sounds good," I was starting to sound like a parrot, but I was still too stunned and wary about everything that was happening. This could not be real; this place could not be real.
"Let me show you to the guest room . . . well, I guess it is your room now."
She took me down two flights of stairs, the entrance and living room was on the top floor while the bedrooms were on lower levels. The house hugged the side of the steep hill. The first floor down was the master bedroom and a den and below that was the guest room. It looked like it came out of one of those interior design magazines with a four posted queen size bed heaped with pillows and a comforter. A pair of glass doors opened out to what looked like an Asian style garden that was rapidly disappearing in the gathering shadows of night.
"Your bathroom is in here. We will have to redecorate, make this into something more suited to someone your age."
"This is real nice," duh, why couldn't I think of anything to say, "thanks."
"Come up when you are ready. We can chat over dinner."
I wanted to explore the room a little, but a shower was what I really needed. The bathroom was all mirror, slate tile and shiny chrome fixtures. There was both a large tube with spa jets and a shower bigger than some bathrooms I had been in. It took me a little bit to figure out the knobs that controlled multiple nozzles at different levels and to get the temperature right. Steam filled the space as I shed my filthy clothes and stepped in to the pulsing jets of water. I never dreamed that I would be in such a place and experiencing such . . . what is the word? Opulence? Is that too strong? Not for me, I think.
I let the water massage virtually every inch of my skin. I stood with my hands against the wall of the shower and my head down lost in the luxury of feeling clean. But, how clean could I ever really be? There was no way that this could wash away my past. What would things have been like if I grew up here? What would things be like if my mother hadn't been a fucking addict? What if my dad had not killed himself when I was nine?
All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.*
Why didn't I wonder if I had grandparents? Why didn't I try harder?
I don't know how long I stood in the shower, the powerful spray massaging my shoulders, my back and even my buttocks and legs, too many thoughts going through my head. I stared down at my flaccid penis, water running off it like a stream of urine. I couldn't remember the last time I had jerked off or even had a good hard on. Taking it in hand, I casually played with it, but too many things spiraled through my head and there was no reaction from my fondling. Afraid of using too much water I finally soaped up, rinsed and shut off the shower. The towels were thick, soft and white. With just a towel wrapped around my waist I rested on the edge of the bed.
I think I must have laid back briefly, because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright light assaulting my eyelids, my stomach growling and a morning piss hard on.
Admittedly I panicked momentarily, not sure where I was. I was lying on top of the covers, still naked from my shower, but covered with a blanket. A clock by the bed read 10AM. What time was it when I obviously fell asleep? The realization that my grandmother must have come down, seeing me naked and asleep, covered me with the blanket and put the towel away killed my morning wood. That embarrassment did make it easier for me to pee. Despite my half-hearted attempt in the shower last night I couldn't imagine jerking off in this place; it was too nice for that.
I threw on my only other pair of jeans and a clean SpongeBob t-shirt before heading upstairs.
The main room was flooded with sunlight.
"I was just going to see if you were awake," she was in the kitchen which had an island that separated it from the living room with stools along that side of the counter.
"You missed dinner. I bet you are starving," almost on cue my stomach vocalized a load growl as I sat in one of the stools.
"I guess that means yes. How many pancakes do you want?"
"A lot, thanks." I was still at a loss as to what to say to this person. At least at loss as to what to say besides: Why did you let your daughter become a drug addict? Why didn't you come for me sooner? Why did my mother never mention you?
"A lot it is," she was flipping pancakes and I don't think I smelled anything so delicious in my life. Most of my meals came out of a can or a Styrofoam container. If we were lucky there was a microwave, which meant some regular hot food, even it is was only ramen. Mr. Chang often brought me a plate of leftover Chinese food or even packed a lunch for me without my mom knowing it.
"Here, eat up." She put a mile high stack of pancakes in front of me with real butter and what she told me was local marionberry syrup. I didn't even think of manners and I just dug in hungrily, making short order of the stack.
I could have eaten more I am sure, but with some food in my stomach I was starting to become a little more clear headed and simply said, "Thank you, but no, I'm fine."
"You know what your grandfather used to say FINE stood for? Fucked up. Insecure. Neurotic and Exhausted."
Maybe it was the sleep and the food, both of which were about the best I could remember having, but I actually cracked a smile and I had to say, "That probably sums it up. Except for maybe the exhausted part." Not only that, but I couldn't believe my grandmother just said "fucked."
"Oh being exhausted has more than getting enough sleep to it." she sighed and smiled. She had a nice smile. She seemed nice and I wanted to trust her, but I knew I always had to be careful.
"I know you have been through a lot lately," I looked down at my syrupy plate, "and I know my daughter was not a good mother, nor has your life been what it should have been. But I want you to know that it is going to be different now." I glanced up; her face was serious, though still kind.
"Okay," was all I could say as I dropped my head down again to stare at my plate.
How could I say "Yeah you say that and you might even mean it, right now, but what about a day or week from now? Where were you for the last sixteen years? What will happen if you find out I like boys?" I can't trust you, at least not yet. For now it was easier to say as little as possible and wait for the other shoe drop on my head.
"I know there are a lot of things we want to ask each other, but there some other things that need to be taken care of first." She was clearing the dishes away and I was thinking; already, here comes the other shoe.
"I don't know how you feel about it, but it is Labor Day weekend and school start on Tuesday. I talked with that social services lady in Texas and she said you were a good a student, so I got you enrolled in the nearest high school."
Crap school! I had completely forgotten about school. I was a good student, but that was mostly because no matter how bad school could be, it was always better than home. I just nodded my head.
"So I thought we could go to the mall and get you some things for school. Clothes, supplies . . . "she looked over at me, "Do you have a computer?"
I shook my head. I didn't say that if there was ever anything of value it would have been hocked by my mom for drugs. That is what had happened to my dad's CD collection and virtually everything else that my mother could get her hands on.
"Okay, we will have to take care of that. You are probably an Apple person. I'm old, so I am a PC person." My mouth must have been hanging open with a stunned expression on my face. Stunned, confused, downright overwhelmed seemed to be a more or less a constant mental state for me lately. It was very disconcerting for me, because I always prided myself on staying in control of my emotions and mastering any situation that came my way, but was she saying she was going to buy me my own computer?
"You can close your mouth now." she said with a laugh. I liked her laugh, it was full of mirth and seemed to be, I don't know . . . honest. Her face took on a more serious look before she continued, "You know I am probably going to spoil you, but I think you may have earned it. From what little I've learned from Texas, I owe you more than can ever be repaid. I know I wasn't there when I should have been. I would have, if I had known. Just know that I am here for you and I won't press you about your past, but I want you to know you can ask me anything. You can tell me anything without judgment."
I don't know why I did it, maybe as a test, but I asked; "Why didn't you come to Texas to get me? The social worker said you couldn't travel, so I was imagining some little old lady in a wheelchair or something."
"I really wanted to, but I burst an eardrum SCUBA diving in the gulf this summer and my doctor would not let me fly. The change in air pressure could burst it again before it completely healed. I had to take a train home from that trip."
"You SCUBA dive?" I couldn't keep the astonishment out of my voice.
"Yes, I was helping out some friends at the university studying the ongoing effects of the oil spill in the gulf. I may be retired, but I'm not tired."
"Oh," this was more of a meaningful conversation than I had probably ever had, "What did you do before?"
"I was a biology professor at PSU. You grandfather was in finance, that's how we could afford all of this." She said waving her hand about to indicate the house.
"Oh, what happened to him?" I wondered briefly if it was even okay to ask that question.
"He died about a year ago. His job was stressful, especially the last few years, and it finally caught up with him. But, boy did he know how to have fun too." She looked wistful, then continued, "Come on, let's go to the mall!"
I don't know why I did it, but I did something I never do. I walked around the counter and took here in a close embrace. It just seemed like the right thing to do. She hugged me back with more strength than you would think for her size and age, but she was turning out to be a surprising person. We finally broke apart. She had tears in her eyes and I fought to keep them from showing up in my eyes.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.**
"Come on, the mall will be very crowded."
*"Father and Son", Cat Stevens, 1970
**"I am a Rock", Paul Simon, 1965