I’m going with you.
No. You’re not.
Yes. I am.
They are walking quickly away from the dining room. Aaron has to get back to work and James has to get back to packing. He doesn’t need any more distractions, but it’s difficult to work with Aaron when he already has something planned in his head.
You can’t go with me.
Look. I have 4 days vacation. We leave on Thursday, drive, get there on Saturday, I can fly back on Monday. Neil can pick me up from the airport after work.
James stops. It didn’t sound like a bad plan. In fact, it sounded like a wonderful plan.
Okay. James concedes with a grin. I’m going to ask my parents and if we can find a cheap flight out of Corpus then… yeah… you can come with me.
Aaron gives James a half hug. Okay, I’ll catch you later.
He heads upstairs to the computer department, the section on the opposite side of the building where he used to work. At the end of a line of cubicles sat Brother Bechman’s small, predominately burnt orange and dark wood office. James would not have time to attend any meetings at his congregation to give proper farewell to the bothers and sisters he had spent the past year and a half with. So he wrote individual notes to all the families who he appreciated, thanking them for the pleasure of attending their congregation, and briefly explaining his departure to take care of his knee. They were short, sweet, and drama-free.
James. Come in. Close the door. Sit down.
Thanks for seeing me.
I see you still have the cane.
Yes, I still have a knee injury. Speaking of which I will be leaving Bethel on Thursday.
I am aware of that.
Okay. Unfortunately, I will not be able to see anyone from the congregation, so if you could please give these cards to the various brother and sisters, and relay my thanks to everyone in Saugerties, I would be most appreciative.
Brother Bechman takes the cards and places them to the side. I will.
And, of course, being a ministerial servant, I am going to ask that you please send a letter to my congregation with your recommendation.
Brother Bechman did not change facial expressions or move. I don’t know. Do you think you are going to be recommended as a ministerial servant?
James is taken aback. With Brother Bechman it was hard to read if a question was serious or a trick. I would hope so. I don’t see any reason why I would not be recommended.
James, if you don’t know why you wouldn’t be recommended as a ministerial servant to your home congregation, then there is nothing more that I can say on the matter.
I don’t understand. What matter is there not to discuss? You haven’t talked to me or reprimanded me for anything. The most you were bothered by is my work on the Assembly Hall.
That’s fine, James. There is nothing more I can say. Your body of elders will be receiving a letter from us.
Okay then. James gets up and offers to shake Brother Bechman’s hand.
Brother Bechman looks at it first, then shakes it. Have a safe trip home.
Walking away from the office feels like drudging through a river of nails. He doesn’t know what it all means. He is trying to keep a clear head. Maybe there’s something they didn’t discuss with me. It could be meeting attendance. It is true, as helpers to the elders in a congregation, ministerial servants must maintain excellent meeting attendance and participation. Between the Assembly Hall work and the knee, his meeting attendance has been slacking. But again, he had never been talked to about it personally.
He thinks of his conversation with Brother Friar… meeting attendance was mentioned.
The situation makes him feel sick to his stomach, but he calms himself down with a “what’s the worst they can do” temporary precept to keep him focused. He has a few hours to pack up his cubicle and pass off his work, and then it’s back to packing up the room.
On the side of his mind, he thinks of his family. Blanche and Steve had moved from Rosenberg to their hometown of Refugio shortly after James left for Bethel. Refugio didn’t have enough publishers for it’s own congregation so the couple would drive to Sinton, Texas for their meetings. These will be the unknown elders James will be facing once Beckman sends whatever damning letter he plans on sending. Because of the area’s location near Corpus Christi, Texas, Aaron would need to fly out of the small airport to New York in order for the road trip to work.
And Blanche found a flight in a matter of hours. The road trip is on.
In two days time everything that could be crammed into the little Ford Aspire was. Aaron is allowed the time off even though it was very short notice. James said goodbye to the small group of friends that gathered to watch him drive off into the sunset. Neil gives James a long and emotional farewell letter. Hugs. Smiles. “Come back to visit.” “We’re coming to Texas to see you.” Sentimentality. Waves. It is very emotional but coated with the surface pleasantries meant to give hope and joy whether it was based on reality or not.
Driving away from the red brick and white columns of the A Building is arduous. It had been his life for a year and a half. He had accomplished so much… progressed in the Computer Department, met people from all over the world, fell in love, and injured his knee. He had seen the extremities of the seasons and their effect on the incredible landscape. There is so much history in the small little room on the third story in the middle of the building overlooking the entrance. The impact that a place has on someone is noted by the appreciation of both the good and the bad, when combined it makes a place one would call “home”… and A314 was his home.
They leave on Wednesday evening and right away James feels like his heart is jumping all over his chest in a haphazard and unpredictable pattern. He is so thankful to have Aaron by his side, but the truth is that they are now going their own separate ways. This trip feels like desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable, and already it is hard for James to wrap his head around the complexity of his love for Aaron. The simplicity of the word “love” mixed with the complications of the human heart and the ease for which both are displayed is a powerful combination and sometimes difficult to contain.
There is a problem early on as a blizzard hits Pennsylvania. The little car, even with all the weight, can barely stay on the road. James cannot see anything in front of him, the car is too packed to see anything behind him, and on either side is pure dense walls of white. Creeping along at 5mph is the only solution. They pull over on the side a few times, mostly by choice but one time because they slid off the road. Eventually they get behind the storm and drive a good distance before stopping for the night. James tries to get physically close to Aaron but is met with an uncomfortable distance. There are mixed feelings about this. But, Aaron is doing is the right thing. They could be having one last blow-out , but it would be far better to use this time removing certain levels of the heart from the relationship. Aaron is correct. There needs to be distance. That night, they sleep in two separate beds.
The compounding hammer is that both men want to do well in Jehovah’s Organization. Aaron was determined to make it at Bethel on his own, James will take some much needed time off and regain his status as a ministerial servant, and everything will be okay for both of them. What they had was fun, and exciting, comforting, and sexy… but now it’s time to move on. Now it’s time to grow up.
They wake up in a great mood to a beautiful, clear, and sunny day. The boys eat breakfast, stop at Wal*Mart to purchase some road trip “devil” music and snacks, fill up the car, and take off down I-81 to Knoxville.
There is no Bethel. There is no Bechman. There is no discussion about future plans, past mistakes, or present realities. It’s just two guys, two friends, riding across the United States with the windows rolled down and their hair blowing in the wind, smiling the entire time. Americana is sometimes a spectacle of finely crafted simplicity. Whether it is stopping at a humorously decorated fruit stand in Virginia or browsing through an antique bazaar along the Tennessee highway, there was nothing that doesn’t excite the two adventurers on their quest to enjoy the now across the country.
The second night James leaves Aaron alone, reminding himself he needs to sever several layers of heart strings. It’s hard to do. Eventually, after watching TV Aaron goes over to sleep next to James. They don’t touch, they don’t cuddle. They don’t need to. They couldn’t even if they wanted to. The vibration of having the other in close proximity is a comfort that transcends any concept of gay or straight. Aaron isn’t a boyfriend, and this isn’t a break up. Aaron is a person who gives off an energy that James responds well to. And it is apparent that James puts off an energy Aaron responds well to. With such comfortably, Aaron passes out asleep.
The romantic part of his heart seems like such a faded memory of a childhood that was lost in a tornado. The present has a sunflower, asleep in the dark, fragile and detailed, and all thoughts of categorical classifications fail him. They were the best of friends and their closeness is on a level that even the term “family” would be lacking in its definition. This person sleeping next to him, the sunlight captured in his smile, the joy he brings to people, the way he brightens up a room… he doesn’t have to be gay or straight… he just has to be. His benefit to the world transcends any label that society or the Organization could put on him. It is certainly more important than any label James feels he could put on him.
But now, all of that has to be stripped down. The sex, the experimenting, and all the other gay shit has to be removed and never spoken of again. Unfortunately, when one takes away the sex, the experimenting, and all the other gay shit… they are still left with the incredible love of a best friend and the comfort they feel sleeping next to each other. Aaron is just a human being with a heart. James is just a human being with a heart. Two human beings do not need to be inflamed with passion or consumed with immoral thoughts. It could be that they just work well together as energies on this planet.
The next day the two guys ran the last stretch of highway blaring music and singing as loud as they could, as if by some effort the pain and reality of everything they were about to face would be frightened away by their vocal audacity. There is a lot of laughter, but come Houston… it starts to set in. By the time they completed the 1,974 miles to Refugio, Texas, they are already drained of heart, drained of spirit, drained of love, and ready to let go.
They pull up to the small white one-story wood-framed house on the corner that sits next his grandparent’s home. There is excitement in his heart. His mom and dad are happy to have their son back and they hug him… they ask about the leg. Blanche cooks a large meal and they eat. After dinner she shows Aaron James’s baby pictures. Steve tells stories and shows pictures from the Rosenberg Assembly Hall. It is assumed that Aaron will be sleeping in James’s room and James will be sleeping on the couch, and so they do.
Sunday is the meeting in Sinton. James enters the beige brick building with green doors and meets all the brothers for the first time. His parents speak so highly of him, and are very proud of his accomplishments. Ever since moving to the congregation, Steve cannot stop talking about all James has done with his life… and now added to that is “bethelite”.
There is the most relieved disencumbering that takes place in the placidness of the Sunday meeting. Aaron feels it too. It is a feeling they forgot exists on this side of the Organization. It’s the simple joy of honest brothers working without an agenda. The calm smiles and the occasional loud laughter brings forth a genuineness in peace. The liveliness of everyone in the Kingdom Hall is uncomplicated, mellow, and accommodating. It is comforting in it’s realness.
I don’t know how you’re going to make it here, laughed Aaron.
What? It’s a nice place.
Yeah, but you’re a city boy.
True. But maybe this quiet, simple setting is exactly what I need to get over Bethel.
Aaron is very much worried about James. He has seen this very studious example of a Witness turn into a spiraling series of frayed nerves and exposed trauma. James is worried about Aaron. Being alone, by himself in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere is suffocation to him, and Bechman can weld any power he wants. Aaron will no longer have James there to protect him, comfort him, make him laugh, or take him away for the evening.
The next morning Blanche makes breakfast. The guys eat quietly. James decides to take Aaron into Corpus Christi early so he can see the coast. They don’t say much. There’s nothing left to say. There is only a certain amount that’s able to surface without causing a complete meltdown, so they just enjoy the feeling of each other’s presence while they can. Each one is trying to be strong for the other.
At the airport they hug. It takes a while to let go. The plane is on the tarmac and Aaron has to walk outside, go through a gate, and up the stairs to get into the little plane. There is a chain linked fence preventing people without tickets from entering the tarmac area.
James stands and watches, grabs hold of the fence. Aaron turns and waves, his dark hair waving in his face from the ocean wind, his white dress shirt being blow against his body. He motions and mouths “Don’t worry, I will call you.” James smiles and nods “okay”.
He doesn’t let go of the fence. He can’t let go of the fence. The stairs of the plane are removed, the door is closed. The plane taxis. The plane takes off. He waits until the plane is no longer visible in the sky and places his head on the fence, looking down at the asphalt.
Back at his parents’ house, he keeps having tears stream down his face without the physical act of crying or weeping. It isn’t that he is void of emotion, it’s that there is a tone in the ear that is numbing his thought process to the point of stillness, and the tear ducts in his eyes seem to be working of their own accord.
James opens his closet to find Aaron’s pair of black lace-up Doc Martins, the only other pair of Doc Martins on Bethel property besides his own. There was a note: “I thought you might like to have these.”
The house was empty.
James couldn’t hold it any longer. He wept.
He wept loudly. He screams until his lungs feel bruised. He buries his head into the bed’s crocheted pillow cases and yells with despair. The pain… it hurts so much more then he thought it would. It shouldn’t hurt like this.
Nothing should ever hurt like this.
He is stuck… for hours… unable to move, just holding the boots on his bed, crying.
He didn’t cry for a lover. He didn’t cry for a partner. He cried for his friend… his best friend. He cried for the human being that came into his world and lit it up like a bonfire.
He cried out anger and selfishness. He cried for loss and loneliness. He cried for abandonment and the fucked up situations they were cornered in. All the heartache that lead to this very moment collapsed with the mass of a thousand broken hearts.
So James cried.
James P. Perez © 2013