Isn’t that the most clichéd and ridiculous title? It is to me – but I was not very creative with titles in my younger days and I’m only slightly better at it now.
The title belongs to the story below, which I wrote my first semester of my freshman year of college. Or at least tiny bits of it were drafted then. The revised version below was my final submission for a Creative Writing course the following Spring – or maybe the following year. I don’t think it improved much from the incomplete draft, and I also have no intention of doing any revisions now to any of my writing from “way back when”.
I publish this now, in its original, mediocre state, not for writing’s sake, per se, but because of the times we are in today with society. The story is not about the freedom to marry – at least not directly. Instead, it is an affirmation that fundamentally who I was 20 years ago is who I still am today. Sometimes this kind of discovery can be disappointing, other times it can be reassuring.
Today it is reassuring, but I still wondered at my motivation for posting this and came to the simple conclusion that sometimes, you just want to throw something out there to the world to see what happens.
It’s a little sad, however, that in 20 years, the basis of this story is not yet outdated.
He stands, listening to the priest give his sermon about the after-life and thinks how funny it is that everyone says that death and funerals bring people together. He realizes that the opposite is true. He looks around at all of the members of his family. He sees his mother standing between his grandparents. The three are very close to each other, but they don’t quite touch. His aunts and uncles are holding hands, but avoid looking at each other and everyone else. Friends of the family stand a little further away, shaking their heads, as if they understand what he and his family are going through.
His eyes move to his sister. She is the exception. A few people are glassy-eyed, but she is sobbing and clinging to her husband. She always was so emotional. Girls always are. He remembers the time when he accidentally broke her favorite vase and she cried for days. Now, as he thinks back to it, he supposes he should apologize.
He thinks of when his family arrived from Washington and California. They all hugged and said supportive things, but they all seemed so distant, not at all close to each other. His friends at school were the same. When he told them that his brother had died they all said they were sorry and let him be. Distance.
He’s supposed to be tough because he’s a man. Men don’t cry; they take the punches as they come along. Sometimes he hates being a guy. Everyone expects so much. He has to be strong, play football, and make the first move with girls.
He feels a hand on his arm and realizes that it is time to lower the casket. He picks up a handful of dirt and lets it slip through his fingers slowly and listens to the pattering sound it produces as it lands on the smooth metal, then rolls around a bit before finally settling down. He squeezes tightly onto the last bits of soil before he lets go. As he does so a single tear escapes out of the corner of his eye. He wipes it away before anyone has a chance to notice it.
The service ends and everyone moves away, silently, back to their cars. Tyler spends a moment beside the grave before joining the rest of his family. He looks down into the pit and wonders what it would be like if he were inside the box instead. He decides he wouldn’t like it and turns away.
They are all silent during the drive to the church gym. Just as they pull into the lot, Tyler’s sister says, “I wish Daddy was here.”
Tyler sees his mother’s eyes harden and avoid his sister’s. His mother is angry at his father because he decided not to come to the funeral. She had pleaded with him, but his father had been unmovable and said that he just couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t face everyone there. It was too embarrassing.
“When should we leave tomorrow morning?” Tyler’s mother asked his father.
“You can leave whenever you want,” Mr. Carrington said. “I won’t be attending.”
Mrs. Carrington put the glass of water that she was about to drink from back down on the dinner table. “What?” Her voice was steady and low.
Mr. Carrington just stared back at her with an expression that Tyler interpreted as saying, “You heard me.” Tyler’s stomach began to tighten and his throat constricted making it difficult to swallow the last bite of spaghetti.
“Just what are you trying to prove? That you’re some macho man that doesn’t need to go to a funeral and grieve?”
Mr. Carrington’s voice escalated. “No – that I’m a man who sees no reason to grieve over a ‘fag’. That’s what they’ll all be thinking tomorrow. Do you think I want to put up with that kind of embarrassment? Forget it.”
“He’s your son, for God’s sake—“
“Fuck that! He was my son at one time, but hasn’t been for longer than he’s been dead—“
“Fuck you for calling yourself a father. Fuck you for making me go through this alone! God, it is so like you to dump it all and walk! Fine, skip out on the rest of your family tomorrow – let everyone talk about how Dan’s own father couldn’t ‘face up to the crowds’.” She got up and stormed out of the dining room. Tyler sat, his stomach muscles beginning to contract and his throat still getting even tighter. He could not remember the last time he heard his mother use such language. Tyler sat staring at the blank wall ahead of him, his thoughts shattering over the silence of the room.
Tyler and his family walk into the church gym where there are many different cakes and cookies and salads. Someone has even brought a couple of hams. He wishes they had brought chicken instead. He hates ham. He hates how everyone looks at him in sympathy and pity, too. They all seem so far away.
He wonders if things might have been different if he had just told his parents right away about his brother. Then he decides that nothing would have changed, except, perhaps, everything would have happened sooner. At least this way his brother had a few years of freedom and peace.
That’s it, Tyler suddenly realizes. Dan was always at peace with himself and others after that day.
“Are you okay, Dan?”
“Yeah – yeah, I’m okay, man.”
Tyler never really asked his brother much else. He wonders now if Dan was ‘okay’ when he died.
A friend from school interrupts his thoughts and tells Tyler he’s sorry. Tyler mumbles a “thanks,” and his friend continues talking.
“I mean it; he was a good guy. Well, anyway, I’m sorry.”
As his friend walks away, Tyler manages out another weak “thanks.”
He remembers the football games and his big brother, the star. He remembers the arguments.
“Why does he have to be such a jerk to you?”
“Man, Tyler, I don’t know. I guess in his eyes he’s a failure because of me. Be a good son to him, Tyler – the son I can’t be.”
It had taken Tyler a long time, but he thought he finally understood. He had kept the secret, anyway, but the truth eventually had come out that Dan was a ‘fag’. Many guys after that suddenly claimed they remembered a time when Dan had supposedly made a pass at them.
Tyler ran into his brother in the locker room doubled over in pain.
“Geez, Dan, what happened? Are you okay?” Dan didn’t respond. “Talk to me, man! What’s going on?” Tyler crouched down and put his hand on Dan’s shoulder. Dan whipped his arm out and shoved Tyler back against the lockers.
“Jesus Christ! What the hell was that for?”
“Dan looked up with mixed anger and pain in his eyes. “I thought you weren’t gonna say anything! I thought –“ Dan suddenly stopped and leaned back against the wall and sighed. Tyler immediately understood.
“Oh shit – I didn’t say anything; I swear it. Not even any reference—“
Dan interrupted him with a wave, “Tyler – man, I know you didn’t. I’m sorry. I guess I just had to vent my anger on someone and you got in the way.”
Tyler moved closer. “What happened?”
“Todd and Jason came up to me in the hall and dragged me in here and racked me a couple of times saying I wouldn’t be ‘needing them’ anymore.”
“Fuck them, Dan. We can turn them in—“
“No. No man, just forget it. I’m okay—“
“What do you mean? You can’t just –“
“Yes, I can. Just forget it, got it?”
Tyler feels a wave of nausea come over as he recalls finding Dan behind the school. He starts toward the bathroom, but then stops as the feeling passes. He decides not to think of that time. His mom had suggested that he see a counselor or a psychiatrist. Maybe he will. He doesn’t know.
He walks by a table of relatives, friends, he’s not sure which, and hears them laugh. His first instinct is to keep walking, but then figures he may as well sit down. As he does so the table becomes quickly hushed. He should have followed his first instinct as the conversation changes to how beautiful the ceremony was. Some bits of conversation from other tables drift over to him.
“The idea of the pastor saying he was so noble…”
“He was just plain weird, that’s all…”
“His father should have been able to straighten him out somehow…”
This is too much for him, he excuses himself and tries to find a place where he can be alone, but the words follow him. “…just plain weird…” “…straighten him out…” He wants to shout at them all. Shut up! You’re all full of shit! Just – shut – up. He shuts his eyes, trying to block out everyone’s comments. He swallows hard and fights back the tears. They will not see him cry. Crying is for girls, like his sister. He decides to go apologize to her now. He gets up and walks toward where his sister is sitting with her husband. When he sees the tears in her eyes, his energy fails him. As he turns away, he catches a glimpse of his father. He has just walked through the entrance and is moving towards the nearest table in a corner. Tyler freezes. He feels trapped. He is sure that his father will look at him accusingly as if to say, “This is your fault. Now you’ll probably turn into a freak, too.” Tyler grips the top of a nearby chair, his knuckles turning white. He looks around him and feels the accusing stares from everyone – he feels the pierce of his sister’s eyes, his mother’s eyes deep into him. He takes a few labored breaths and tells himself that Dan was not a freak. Quickly, he jerks his head around to meet his father’s eyes.
A long moment passes as the two silently appraise each other. Tyler thinks about going over to his father to really tell him off, once and for all. That would show him. It’s about time someone finally showed him who’s boss, now, he tells himself.
Instead, he sighs, and slowly raises his thumb to his dad.
He sees his father hesitate, and Tyler waits until finally, as Tyler is ready to turn away, he sees his father slowly return the signal, as a tear runs down his cheek.