W.A.R. Part Six - Commencement
Chapter One - Paula's Pride and Joy
by Jeff Wilson
"In the sight of God and these witnesses, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Cheers and applause rose up from the assembled gathering of friends and family. Pastor Carl Stevens smiled broadly and asked the bride and groom to face the congregation.
"Friends, it is now my pleasure to present to you for the first time Mr. and Mrs. David Bland!"
I wanted to throw up. I wanted to throw up often, but at that moment a good puke would have felt especially appropriate. There she was, my mother, now legally married to the man I lovingly referred to as the vanilla douche. The two of them walked happily down the aisle, followed by my aunt and uncle who had been the witnesses to this debacle. The vanilla douche couldn't even scrounge up a best man after I'd laughed in my mother's face when she'd had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to participate in their stupid ceremony. They were lucky I'd even shown up at all.
My dad had been dead for about a year when mom's wedding to the vanilla douche took place. Dad kept telling us that he was going to die, and then one day he did. He went up to the cabin with his best friends, Ed and Donnie, one weekend in July and they played cards until two in the morning like they always did. Ed and Donnie found dad dead in his chair in the main room of the cabin where he always slept the next morning. They said he died in his sleep from a heart attack. He just fell asleep and never woke up. Of course, dad had been in such bad shape for so long it was no surprise to most people. They would tell me that at least he died happy. Maybe it didn't surprise most people, but it certainly came as a shock to me. Beth Nicholson had to come to the house on Sunday morning to tell us the news. I don't remember much about that day or the days and weeks that followed. I think I cried at the funeral, maybe? I don't know. It felt like something broke inside of me when he died. I was just numb for the rest of the summer.
It's been a year now and it still feels numb, like there's a piece of me that's missing.
Anyway, junior year of school kind of sucked after that. My former best friend, Dustin, had moved away to live with his sister after he'd almost killed himself. Losing him and dad in the same summer really hurt. But I couldn't blame him for leaving. His life had already sucked before he got lured into a life of prostitution that only ended because his dad found out about it and nearly killed him. Even though he had been angry at me when his life fell apart, we had been making strides toward reconciliation before he moved away. Not having him around only added to my misery.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend, Brett, was being pulled more and more into other activities so that he had very little time for me. He couldn't stay overnight at my house because my mom had forbidden it. He was becoming more popular as he learned to rein in his hyperactive impulses and began to act more maturely. Most of his bratty behavior had been forgiven by the community, and he was becoming accepted by a better class of people. It seemed that the more the lure of popularity sunk into him the more it felt like we were growing apart. Of course, the less he was around the happier it made my mother and the more miserable it made me. I felt completely alone.
Mom recovered quickly enough from dad's sudden death. By the time school started she was already dating the vanilla douche. Now, barely a year after dad's death and just a week before the beginning of my senior year she had decided to ruin yet another summer by marrying David and having him move into my house.
I hadn't been welcome at mom's church since the day I'd been threatened by Jack McKenzie. I knew something about Jack that he didn't want anybody else to know, that he'd cheated on his wife with his wife's best friend, my boyfriend's mom Jenny Reilly. That was terrible enough, but what Jack really didn't want anyone to find out was that her son, my boyfriend Brett, was his son. What a mess! And when I'd discovered the secret, Jack threatened to sue my family into oblivion if I ever told anyone. At the time, I was too young and stupid to realize that he really couldn't have done the things he threatened to do. But he was still a very powerful and influential man, and if I told anyone, even Brett, about his secret Jack McKenzie would make my life an even worse hell than it already was!
It's not like I missed the church, though. It was filled with the same sanctimonious assholes who had populated it before, only now there were even more of them and the new members were even more devoted to all things Pastor Carl. The congregation had grown to the point that they were considering expanding the building. Pastor Carl's Cavalcade of Christ had driven the other churches in town out of business and now he was the only show in town. He was more powerful than the mayor. He'd had the park closed at night and drove out all of the drug dealers and prostitutes. (Okay, I guess that wasn't such a bad thing.) He really gained a lot of political power when one of his older sons had been killed in Afghanistan. Carl didn't even miss church the following Sunday, delivering a sermon which had raised the preacher's mythical standing in the community to Messiah-like proportions. Afterward he became even more actively involved with the politics of our town, more than he had been before. Nobody wanted to cross him as he used his status as a Gold Star parent and beloved pastor to accumulate even more power in town life. Together with Jack, they had pretty much taken over the town council and the school board. They were determined to clean up the town and shape it into a conservative Christian paradise.
I'd had a front row seat to the event of my mother's blessed occasion and had managed not to puke all over myself. Mom had made me wear a tux. I did it to keep the fragile family peace that we'd had going since she revealed that she knew I was gay. She was convinced that my homosexuality was a phase that I was going to grow out of with enough prayer and counseling. She kept trying to convince me to talk with Dear Leader... I mean Pastor Carl. Of course, that was never going to happen. Pastor Carl was the same asshole who had kicked his own son out of his house, and now mom was expecting me to tell him about my impure thoughts and feelings. I didn't want that man to even know my name, but I knew that mom was probably telling him everything. I think that was part of how Carl had accumulated so much power. People just willingly gave him their secrets which he could then use to maintain control over them.
After the ceremony, I walked up the aisle toward the back of the church where my mother was expecting me to stand and greet her friends. I caught Brett's eye as I passed him and his mother seated in a row of chairs near the back of the church. Brett was dressed in a dark suit that matched his mood toward me as of late. He had been convinced that things were going to get better and we were going to be able to be open about our relationship before dad died. But with everything that happened, I got really depressed and everything in my life started to fall apart. We were still boyfriends, but only because neither of us had taken the effort to call it off. I couldn't remember the last time we'd had sex. I felt like I was suffocating. I knew I was falling apart and that my father's death had broken something inside of me, but I couldn't fix it, and I couldn't put myself back together. Not that I was really trying. I hadn't had a haircut in two years, since before my tenth grade year started. I think half the reason I didn't cut it was because mom hated it, and the other half a reason was that I simply didn't give a crap. If I didn't put it in a ponytail, like I had done for the wedding, my hair flowed down over my shoulders, and I could hide my face behind it in the front if I wanted. The sun had turned it a summery yellow blond. I looked like the Cowardly Lion.
I joined my mother at the back of the church and began the process of pretending to give a shit about the people who were greeting me. I knew many of the people. Most of the guests were mom's friends. I wondered if Dave had invited any guests besides his mother. Mom cheerfully greeted everyone as they came through the line. She was in her glory, so much attention being lavished upon her on a day that was all about her. I realized as I stood there that the last time I'd seen most of the people who were coming through the line was at dad's funeral. I was finding the parallels between that day and this one very disturbing. The undertaker remarked that day that he'd never seen so many people come out to pay respects to a man who wasn't the mayor or on the town council. The line of cars in the funeral procession seemed to stretch from one end of town to the other. Now I was being greeted by those same people, telling me how handsome I looked or how tall I'd gotten. Not that I'd grown all that much since the funeral. I was maybe an inch over six feet tall if I didn't slouch. Maybe being so skinny made me look taller? I'd lost about twenty-five pounds since Spring.
When Brett and his mom came through the line, mom gave him that same cheerful greeting that she always gave to Brett. So happy to see him... Such a fake bitch. I knew she couldn't stand Brett or his mom. She wouldn't be trying so hard to keep us separated if she truly liked Brett. Brett moved from my mother to me in the line. We offered each other our hand and shared a handshake. It was embarrassing. We knew there were probably more eyes on our stupid ass handshake than were necessary, but that's what happens when the whole town wants to know your business. Brett didn't even say anything to me in line. He just shook my hand and walked on. I knew he hated the situation even more than I did, and that he was starting to resent being stuck with me. I think the people in that lobby were waiting for us to show some sign of our disgusting sin so they could finally have their proof that I was an unrepentant sinner. Dr. Reilly followed Brett though the line and hugged me.
"You okay?" she whispered in my ear.
"Yeah, I'm good," I whispered back. My standard answer. Nobody wanted to hear the real answer. "No, I'm not okay. I want to murder everyone in this room and myself." Ain't nobody got time for that emo shit. And it's not like I'd actually act out on it. I've got to quit listening to Simple Plan's music.
Everything else that followed went as weddings normally do. There was birdseed thrown at the happy couple as they left the church, since the rumor was that if birds ate the rice it would make their stomachs explode. I kind of wished I could fill up with enough rice to make my own belly burst. I could have reenacted that scene from the movie, Alien, during the reception. It would have made it a memorable occasion. The reception was held in the large social hall of the church. There were the usual speeches and toasts and the cake. Oh, how happy folks were that mom and Dave had found each other. Oh, how glad everyone was that Dave was there for mom when she needed him. Oh how beautiful that God had put them in each other's life. I felt like throwing up again. Okay, I'll admit the cake was really good. Somehow, I'd expected it to taste something like ashes and human tears.
Mom and the vanilla douche shared their first dance together, to the tune of some weird ass Christian love song about Jesus. I was reminded of the South Park episode with Cartman singing, "I want to get down on my knees and start pleasing you, Jesus." I guess mom was comparing the love that she was sharing between herself and Dave to the love of Jesus for lost sinners? I don't know. I wasn't paying that much attention.
Some of the tables had been cleared away to make room for a dance floor. Happy couples joined the party. I sat at a table in the dark as far from the festivities as I could. I hoped that no one would find me sitting there, but of course I couldn't just be left alone. My friend Emily found me and sat down in the chair next to me.
"Well I didn't think it was possible for you to look any more miserable than usual, but you sure proved me wrong today."
I scowled at her. "Oh, fuck off," I said. "I really don't need this today."
"Billy, what did you expect? Did you think your mother was just going to be the poor grieving widow for the rest of her life?"
"No, I expected her to have a little self-respect and not throw herself at the first douchebag who came along. Why do you care how I feel about it? Your dad isn't dead. Mine is. Why do people want to judge me because I'm sad because my dad is dead?"
"Billy, you are way beyond sad. I don't even think depressed is the word for what you've become. It's like you're the one who died."
"Yeah. That's exactly what happened. I'm the one who was put in a box and buried. I'm the one rotting in the ground alone while my wife is off marrying some other stupid balding asshole with a stupid moustache. That's exactly what happened, Em. Christ! Just when I think you can't get any more stupid you lower the bar even further."
"Ugh!" Em groaned in frustration. "I don't even know who you are anymore. What is wrong with you?"
"My dad is dead. Yours isn't. Why don't you go annoy him instead of me while you still can? Because someday your dad will die too. When he does, I hope your friends are more understanding than mine are."
Emily stood up. "You're such a dick, Billy!"
"It's William," I replied. "Billy is dead, remember?"
"I don't know why I bother with you!"
"Please don't! It'd make me a lot happier!"
She stormed off in a huff and I was glad. I was so sick of people trying to tell me how I should feel. No one could understand me. No one knew what it was like. I continued to sit quietly at the table. I leaned forward and allowed my hair, which I'd loosened from its restraints, to flow down and cover my face. It was like I was in my own private little world when I did that. I was looking forward to my mom and the vanilla douche going away for a week to enjoy their honeymoon. I could be by myself without anyone trying to `help' me. I didn't need or want anyone around me.
A slow song began to play and a bunch of couples made their way to the dance floor. I could hear their feet stomping like a charge of elephants as they all trampled over each other to be the first to demonstrate their love with their clumsy gyrations. I wanted to puke again. I was about to leave when Brett sat down next to me. His tie was hanging loose around his neck and his shirt was mostly unbuttoned. He was trying to grow a beard. He was more successful at it than I could ever be, but he still looked like a dork.
"Some party, huh?" he asked.
"Yeah. I'm just thrilled for the happy couple," I replied.
"I know you are," Brett said. "I guess you pissed Barney off pretty good. You made her cry."
"Good. I don't care. She needs to mind her own fucking business."
"She's only trying to help."
"Blah blah blah. Yeah, everyone wants to help poor sad little Billy. Whatever! I didn't ask for this, Brett. My dad is dead. I miss him every single day. The whole stupid town wants to destroy me for being who I am. I can't even enjoy love because everyone thinks my love is toxic. I feel like I'm losing my mind."
"Well the way I see it, you can sit there and bitch and moan about how bad your life sucks or you can do something about it. Frankly, I'm getting tired of waiting for you to make up your mind."
"You want to abandon me too? Okay. I guess I should have seen that coming."
"Who said anything about abandoning you? I know you better than that. You say you want people to leave you alone, but I know that's not what you need."
"And what do I need, Brett?"
"A swift kick in the ass for starters," Brett said.
"Great. Kick my ass then. I don't give a fuck."
"Dammit, Billy! Stop this shit. I don't mean stop mourning for your dad. You have the right to feel how you feel about losing him. I hate that he's gone too! You know that! He was the only father I've ever had too. I miss him every single day! But just because he died doesn't mean you have to stop living too."
"Another psychoanalyst friend, another bullshit diagnosis. I know my dad died, not me. I'm aware that I'm not the most enjoyable person to be around. Hell, I don't even like me anymore. You don't know what it's like, Brett. You'll never know."
"Because I don't have a dad?"
"No, because you're not me! You can be yourself and no one gives a shit! You're more popular now than you ever were. I've got the fucking kings of this little fiefdom all over my ass. One wrong move and my life is fucking wrecked forever!"
"Then fuck them, Billy! Fuck this stupid town! Things were going so well. We were almost free. Then your dad died and it all fell apart. You were never the bravest guy in the world, but you just totally gave up on everything important. It really is like something inside of you died with your father."
"Okay. Sure. So, you go out there to that happy fucking couple, that fucking preacher, the school principal, the mayor, the bigshot lawyer and his asshole son... You tell them all about how happy we are and how we don't care about what they think and how we're going to be together whether they like it or not. Then see how long it is before our lives are ruined forever. Go on!"
Brett sat there, obviously frustrated with me as he'd been for months now. I could tell he was holding back from what he really wanted to say because he didn't want to hurt me. He could have said a lot of things about how I was a coward for being such a pussy about everything. He could have said that I wasn't the boy he fell in love with. He could have said those things and he would have been right. But he didn't. He said something instead that I never expected.
"Dance with me."
"Huh?" I replied.
"You heard me. Let's show these sons of bitches. Why are we letting them rule our lives? Why are we so afraid of their opinions? Get off your ass and come dance with me. Don't you remember how good it felt to hold each other's hand as we walked on that trail in the mountains? Or how good it felt to make love by the lake? Stop letting these people control you and tell you who to be. Come dance with me."
"Brett, you know I want to but..."
"But you can't. Because you're a gutless coward."
Brett stood up from the table. He shook his head in disappointment.
"I'm not hiding anymore. Something has to change. Either you grow a set and stop hiding or I'm going to have to find someone who isn't ashamed to be with me. I'm not doing this shit for another year. It's humiliating. I'd rather get my ass kicked than live a lie. I don't think you even care if I go."
"Don't bother," Brett interrupted me. "You know, Dustin's back in town. He's going to live with his mother again and finish school here."
"Yeah. And you won't believe that I'm the one who is going to tell you this, but maybe you should go and talk to him. Make peace with him at least. Maybe listening to someone whose life is worse than yours will wake you up from this shit."
I watched Brett find his mother and the two of them left the reception soon afterward. It wasn't too long afterward that the party died down and people began to make their way back to their boring lives, not to be seen by me again until the next wedding or funeral. I sat at that table for a long time, even as people started cleaning up. I really wished that I'd said yes when Brett asked me to dance with him. I hated feeling the way I felt. I was tired of being miserable, and I know other people were tired of me. I knew I needed to change.
But I was afraid.
Welcome back! Oh yeah, sorry I killed Billy's dad...
You can reach me at email@example.com
Next time: Scarred Straight