"Sit down, Mitchell. We obviously need to talk."
"What's to talk about, Pop? Jason's a queer! A faggot! A homo! My own brother!"
Were there tears in his eyes? No! Was there a look of concern or compassion on his face? No! This was one angry kid. That in itself told me volumes. This was not the Mitchell I knew and had lived with for three years.
"Mitchell. Where is all this coming from? This isn't like you at all. What difference does it make who Jason loves?"
"WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD!"
"Hold your voice down, Mitchell. We can talk without screaming at each other."
"Dad always told me that queers were the lowest thing on the face of the earth. He said he'd seen plenty of them on the streets, and hanging around gay bars. It made him sick the way they'd kiss each other and touch each other in public, just like nobody cared!"
"So? You kiss Tammy and touch her as though nobody cared. Or at least as though you don't care what other people think."
"But I'm normal, Pop. I'm straight. People expect that from a boy and a girl. Dad always told me to stay away from faggots! He said I could get AIDS if one of 'em even sneezed on me."
I was starting to get a picture of Tom that I hadn't seen when he was alive. And Mitchell had obviously thought so much of his dad that Tom's attitudes even overcame Mitchell's own intelligence and ability to reason. The more Mitchell talked, the more I felt I was arguing with a dead man.
We talked for maybe 20 or 30 minutes and made no progress. Mitchell just kept spouting off all the crap his father had fed him as a young boy, including misinterpreted scriptures from the Bible. The more Mitchell continued his diatribe, the easier it was to picture Plan B. I knew I had to act while I still had emotional and mental control, so that what I did was done according to plan and not in anger or reaction to Mitchell's haranguing. As he sat in the chair next to his desk, I stepped over to him. I'm only 5'9" tall, but with him in the chair, I was at least a foot above his head. I tried to hide all my emotions as I spoke.
"Mitchell, take off your glasses and set them on the desk."
He looked up at me quizzically and then did as I had asked. As he turned back to look at me, I slapped him. A hard, open-handed slap that left a red imprint on his cheek.
"YOUR FATHER'S DEAD, MITCHELL! ARE YOU GOING TO LET HIM LIVE YOUR LIFE? YOU FUCKING INGRATE! YOU FUCKING VEGETARIAN. WHAT KIND OF FREAK ARE YOU, MITCHELL? YOU WON'T EAT MEAT. YOU TELL ME YOU COULD BE A SWAT TEAM MEMBER AND KILL A PERSON, BUT YOU CAN'T STOMACH KILLING ANIMALS FOR FOOD? HOW DO YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL YOU DAMN LETTUCE LICKER. FUCKIN' CARROT CHOMPER, GRASS EATER. YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW WHAT PEOPLE ARE THINKING WHEN WE GO TO A RESTAURANT AND YOU TAKE THE MEAT OUT OF YOUR HAMBURGER?"
I slapped him again with my other hand.
"WHY DON'T YOU MOVE TO INDIA OR SOMEPLACE WHERE NOT EATING MEAT IS NORMAL? THEN I WOULDN'T HAVE TO LIVE WITH YOU, LOOK AT YOU, SUFFER YOUR INTOLERABLE EATING HABITS. DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? DO YOU THINK I LIKE HAVING TO COOK SPECIAL FOODS FOR YOU? MY GOD, JUST THE SMELL OF SPINACH MAKES ME WANNA PUKE! BUT DO I EVER COMPLAIN? NO! YOU THINK YOU'RE NORMAL, MITCHELL? WHAT A JOKE! YOU'RE A VEGETARIAN IN TEXAS. HOW ABNORMAL CAN YOU GET? YOU'RE A FUCKING EMBARRASSMENT!"
I didn't slap him again, but I continued verbally beating him like this for about as long as he had spent beating and berating his brother. Finally, I heard the words I had never wanted to hear again and yet hoped with all my heart that I would hear. Tears were flowing down the boy's face as though his head was filled with nothing but water. They poured out like a waterfall from the entire lower rim of his eyes. The shock was so great he wasn't even trying to defend himself.
"POP! STOP! PLEASE! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!"
I stopped abruptly and looked at him, my own tears beginning to emerge. I turned and walked over to the door. Opening it, I paused, and without looking at him, I said, "Listen to yourself Mitchell. Listen to what you just said and try to remember where you've heard it before. Then think about it."
I couldn't stay. In fact, I couldn't get out of his room fast enough. I felt the bile rising in my throat even as my tears broke forth in torrents. I ran from his room and down the hall to my own, slamming the door back against the wall as I lunged for the bathroom. Running straight to the shower stall, I threw up with such force that the barf splattered against the wall and back onto my clothes. The entire 24 ounce bottle of Pepsi I had consumed just before Mitchell got home was now covering the walls and floor of the shower. Over and over again I barfed until there was nothing but green bile left.
I lost all control of my emotions and began to wail. I had read of keening cries of anguish in stories and scriptures but had not known what they sounded like until now. Now I knew. They sounded like me. Huge racking sobs reduced me to a quivering mass on the floor of my bathroom. I couldn't get the look of shock and utter betrayal on Mitchell's face from my mind. I had implemented Plan B, expecting the shock effect to have an impact, but I could never have imagined the look I saw on my son's face. Now I was convinced I would never forget it.
I sat on the floor hugging my knees to my chest and cried harder than I had ever cried in my life. The tears I shed when Mandy was stillborn and when Brian died were nothing compared to this. Their deaths hadn't been my fault. I had done nothing to cause them. This time was different. Even if my plan worked, would it have been worth it? I can't begin to paint a picture in words of that frightened, betrayed, shocked, destroyed look on Mitchell's face. It would have to be a picture of utter emotional destruction. The boy I loved as much as any other, a son I loved as much as my own daughter and granddaughter, a son that God had given me so late in life had looked up at me in absolute devastation.
I thought I would die right there on the floor of my bathroom. I almost wanted to die, the emotional pain was so great. I didn't even have to try to keep quiet. My sobs were so severe hardly any sound came out. Huge, racking, heaving, almost silent cries. Just the high pitched keening cries of anguish. The emotional pain that gripped my heart was as palpable as any pain I experienced 10 years earlier when I had open heart surgery.
I don't know how long I was there when Mitchell finally joined me. In fact, the way I became conscious of his presence, he must have been there for several minutes, kneeling by my side, holding me in his arms like a little child. As I realized who it was, I lunged at him, grabbed him in my arms and hugged him harder than I ever had before.
"Oh God, Mitchell, I am so sorry. Can you ever forgive me for what I've done? I love you so very much."
We held onto each other for several minutes before Mitchell extracted himself from my clinging hold and stood up. He pointed to the shower stall and all the barf that covered everything.
"What happened, Pop? Does this have anything to do with us?"
I just nodded my head up and down, unable to look at him.
"You mean... this was caused by what you did? By what you said?"
I struggled to explain, my tears still flowing down my cheeks and my breathing still ragged with emotion.
"Yes, Mitchell. I said what I did on purpose. I hit you on purpose. But you're like a son to me, and I love you so much. I was just trying to make a point, show you what you had become. I didn't realize how terrible it would be. Oh, God, Mitchell, I am so sorry."
As I sat weeping, trying to collect myself, Mitchell started cleaning up the shower. By the time he had finished, he had made a couple of trips downstairs for bleach and cleaning supplies. When the bathroom was clean, he helped me undress. My outer clothes were so splattered with barf that the stench of vomit had permeated even my underwear. He helped me out of them and then began to wash my chest, arms, legs and crotch. Somewhere in my subconscious, I marveled at his ability to wash my genitals after his reaction to Jason's situation.
As I dressed and sat down on my bed, he talked to me. This was the Mitchell I knew. He had obviously been thinking about things, reasoning out the events of the past few hours.
"After you left my room, I thought about what you said. And I remembered where I had heard that phrase. That was the same thing Jason asked me, wasn't it Pop?"
"Yes, son, it was."
"And the way you treated me, the screaming and the slapping and the things you said. That wasn't really you, was it?"
"No, it wasn't."
"You did that on purpose, then. You said all those thing and hit me and screamed at me to get me to think about what I'd done, didn't you?"
"Yes, son. I did."
"You didn't really mean any of those things?"
"No, Mitchell, of course not."
"You really do love me, don't you Pop?"
I started crying again.
"Oh, yes, Mitchell, so much it hurts."
"Yeah, I can see how much it hurts. The barf, the crying. I was really worried when I heard those high pitched sounds. At first I couldn't figure out what it was. I never heard a sound like that before."
I remained silent as he sat in thought.
"You love me that much, in spite of how I treated Jason? My own brother?"
I just nodded my head, my tears still flowing down my cheeks. I couldn't erase his look of betrayal and shock from my mind.
In a voice I barely heard, Mitchell said, "My dad would never have done that. He would never have reacted like that at anything I did or he did. He'd never have cried that way."
"He was a different man than I am, Mitchell. Perhaps your dad just had more control of his emotions than I do."
Then I heard the words that would eventually erase those mental images I had thought would never go away. Quietly, but with great conviction, Mitchell responded.
"Perhaps my other dad didn't love me as much as you do."
Just then we heard Jason cry out, yelling Mitchell's name and asking him to stop. The boy was obviously having a nightmare. I started to rise from my bed to go to him, but Mitchell stopped me with his hand on my arm.
"I'll go, Pop. He's my brother."
A few minutes later, I went into Jason's room to close the window against the night's chill. It was already dark outside. The boys were lying n their sides, Mitchell pressed up snugly against Jason's back, his arm draped over his younger brother. Mitchell acted like he was oblivious to my presence, though I knew he had to have heard me close the window. He was whispering to his little brother, and I could tell that this stoic youth, who so seldom allowed himself to shed a tear, was crying. As he sniffed, he whispered.
"I'm sorry, Jason.... I love you, Jason.... I'll never hurt you again as long as I live..."
He was whispering those same phrases over and over again to his sleeping brother as I left the room and went downstairs. I knew we hadn't come to a complete resolution of this issue in so short a time, but I thanked God for the progress we had made. And I actually looked forward to being able to help Mitchell and Jason deal with this part of their lives.
When I got to the kitchen, I looked at the menu I had left on the table for tonight's dinner. Then I thought to myself, fuck it! I'm gonna have a Guinness. In fact I might even have two!
... to be continued
Author's Note: The next chapter is number 7a. The number does NOT indicate that it is an alternative to this chapter. It is more like a sub-chapter to this one. Don't skip over it.
© 2000 by Dan. All rights reserved.
Comments are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org and are usually answered.