You should see his room. It looks exactly like yours.
I know, I saw it before I left.
He has no life in him anymore. I don’t know what to do. You know I wouldn’t call you long distance if it wasn’t important.
Thank you for calling me, Neil. I appreciate it so much. I will see what I can do.
Oh James. I can’t say how much I miss you.
I miss you too. I gotta go though, I’m driving through Houston.
Okay talk to you later. Write me!
It took about a week, but James was finally able to get an appointment for an MRI scan at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. As it is part of the University of Texas Medical Branch it offers treatment and services based off a person’s income. It took several attempts as James couldn’t hold his leg out straight without it shaking, but everyone was patient with him and they were finally able to get a readable scan. He will have to go back in a few weeks for the results.
His parents helped him get a cell phone and on the ride back he gets a call from his dad to come straight home, meaning that James couldn’t get sidetracked in Houston. A little farther in the drive he gets a call from Neil at Bethel, describing in detail the extent of Aaron’s depression.
His friend is suffering. People are noticing. He knew this was going to happen. What can he do? Nothing. What you should have done was left him the fuck alone.
As he passes El Campo James calls Aaron’s room.
No answer. Dammit Aaron.
There is an incredible amount of guilt that waves across his body… guilt and helplessness. He is frustrated and angry. Aaron didn’t have the tools James had to occupy himself, sustain his attitude, and defend against the thwarting spears of those trying to extinguish the light he bore. He wasn’t equipped with arrogance and conceit so as to remain immobile in times of instability. In the past year and a half James has learned how to use his own pompous arrogance to stand for something good, righteous, beautiful and he had Aaron to thank for that. On a strictly humanitarian level Aaron gave James something worth fighting for… a reason to be unselfish and an expansion on what it means to truly love another human being. And what did Aaron get in return? A shield of protection from the judgmental elements flying at his soul that at 1,900 miles away is fucking useless.
James continues to drive back to Refugio in silence trying to will strength and power to his lone friend in Wallkill. His own future in the Organization is the last thing on his mind.
Upon arriving home his dad is waiting for him at the small wooden dining table shoved in the corner of the kitchen.
Hey son. How’d the MRI go?
It went okay. I will get the results in a couple of weeks.
So you have to go back?
Yeah. Where’s mom?
I sent her and your grandma to Corpus for the day. Have a seat.
He can tell right away this isn’t good. His dad isn’t angry and he isn’t disappointed. He seems in a state of shock. As a person whose emotional state has been all over the map in the past months, James feels a certain amount of comfort in his father’s hidden emotional tells. What’s up, dad?
Son, (long pause) what happened in New York?
That is a rather open-ended question. Regarding what?
Well… Steve readjusts himself in his seat placing both elbows on the table. When you left you were a ministerial servant and a regular pioneer. You were a ministerial servant in New York and when you returned we were expecting you to continue to be a ministerial servant. No one was expecting you to be a regular pioneer right away… mainly because of your knee and most of your time came from working at the Rosenberg assembly hall anyway… it was something we were expecting you to work towards… if you wanted.
Okay, thank you for that.
Well, son… our elder body received this letter from a Brother Bechman that… well, is like a running tally of all your imperfections as a person.
“Imperfections as a person” James could handle. It basically means a personality clash. He didn’t think he had an actual problem, two people must communicate in order to clash, but still the matter is serious. What did he write?
I can’t tell you the details because it’s confidential, but… he’s not recommending you for being a ministerial servant… at all. He thinks pioneering is definitely out of the question, and his recommendation is that you possibly be considered for disfellowshipping.
James stares at his father, who is visually calm but conflicted inside. He seems to be traveling down a tunnel going farther and farther away. What kind of crap is that?
Watch your language, son. Look. I know it’s a little strange… and the entire elder body here is trying to figure it out.
Is this is own personal letter?
No. This is a letter sent by the congregation and is signed by the entire body of elders.
That hits James hard… “signed by the entire body of elders”. The local elders were all so nice and sweet. His only association with them was at the meetings. How could all of them make a decision without knowing him outside the congregation? I had no idea.
None at all?
No. When I went to say goodbye to Brother Bechman I asked if everything would translate down here he said he didn’t know.
He didn’t know?
I said I didn’t know either and I was told there was nothing more to discuss. He said they would be sending a letter. That was it.
So you mean to tell me there was no discussion of your behavior?
What behavior? All I did at Bethel was eat, sleep, work… go to meetings and hang out with Aaron and the guys. That’s it.
Dad, please be upfront with me. What am I accused of?
Son, this stays between us. His list… Steve takes a pause and speaks slower. His list included trying to sway the young people of the congregation, trying to undermine the elders, causing divisions among the congregation, creating factions, disrespecting the elder arrangement, missing meetings, being lazing you your attempts for field service, disobeying elder suggestions…
Stop. The amount of shock can only be measured by it’s proximity to disbelief, and currently both were nowhere near each other. He has to wrangle everything in to digest what he is hearing. I… Hold on. (Pause.) Dad…
Son, that is only the beginning. The letter goes on for 12 pages.
These letters of recommendations are passed from elders of one congregation to elders of another congregation. They are confidential and they are only about a paragraph… half a page at most. “We, the body of elders recommend whoever to continue their service as a whatever they are and we hope the best for them,” and that’s it. Or don’t recommend in some cases. Whatever, but it’s short… not 12 pages.
There are 8 elders in this little congregation in Sinton, and none of us has ever seen or heard of a letter like this. And we don’t know what to do.
I was not aware of any of this.
Well, we are sending a letter back because something in all this just isn’t right. He personally recommends us to kick you out of the organization and disfellowship you… for something you didn’t even know you did wrong.
James puts his head in his hands and inhales deeply. I’m so sorry, dad.
Steve gets up and puts his arm around James and hugs him, Don’t worry son, we’re going to figure this out.
James has difficulty sleeping. This all makes sense, but it doesn’t. How could someone do that? The question raced repeatedly in his mind. And the entire elder body signed it. He couldn’t get over that. His level of disappointment far exceeds the joys he had experienced his entire time at Bethel. He doesn’t know how fight like this. He is not equipped to play political mind games. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t mourn. There is nothing about this that makes sense.
It is the next day on the way to Corpus when Aaron answers the phone. Excited and relived he pulls the car over on the side of the road and gets out of the car, leaning on the back fender above the tire. It’s a wide open space of flat fields of plowed dirt reaching for the horizon, interrupted by a straight stretch of empty asphalt. He is so happy to finally get a chance to talk to Aaron.
He explains the letter his elders received.
What? Can you even name one of the young people of the congregation?
I know, right? Undermining the elders?
Did the elders have some grand plan you foiled?
I guess so. Missing meetings and being lazy in attempts for field service?
Okay well… that’s kind of true.
(Laughing) Yeah, okay. I’ll give them that. But how can do this much scheming if I never attended any meetings? Aaron laughs. James can tell there is weight in his voice. The sound coming though the speaker was heavy and landed on his ears with an enormous thud. How are things up there?
Madness. It’s… it’s so different without you here. He is starting to sniffle on the phone. James’s chest begins to break open and bleed on the wild grass below. He has never seen or heard Aaron cry the entire time they have known each other. It’s so… lonely here. And everyone is just so… so DUMB.
James slides down to the grass next to the tire and stares out to the plowed rows of empty soil leading to one lone leafless tree far away in the distance.
Aaron, I know. But maybe this could be a good thing… give you time to focus and study more?
Everyone here is just these mindless robots doing what they’re told. No one thinks for themselves. You can’t tell me that’s normal or a good thing.
Guilt and helplessness again. Aaron. I don’t know what to tell you.
And these meetings they keep dragging me to.
James, they keep dragging me into elder meetings… I’ve had three already… about you.
Wait. About me?
These people are obsessed with you. They won’t stop. (Pause.) I’m thinking about… I’m thinking about telling them.
Telling them what?
Aaron is crying on the other end. James stretches his legs out in the grass and leans his head back on the car. He knows the answer to the question. Telling them about us.
He started to panic. He doesn’t care what happens to himself but Aaron could not be harmed, that light must still shine bright at any cost. Aaron, no! Why would you do that?
James, you’re not here. With you not around it’s not the same. I can’t be strong. They keep dragging me into meeting after meeting and I think I’m about to break.
He gets up from the grass and walks across the shallow ditch toward the field. He is trying to be as loud as possible without yelling. Aaron. No! Don’t you dare. Ugh. I would rather my parents die then you go through the hell of being disfellowshipped from Bethel.
I’m sorry James, with all this, my conscience is starting to bother me… and … I…
Aaron! Stop! Please. Are you listening to me?
If you are going to confess, and your conscience is really and truly bothering you, I understand, and it’s okay. But do not allow it to be a puppet play for Bechman. I have a suggestion. Are you still listening to me?
Go home. Put your letter in and go home. Confess to the elders in your home congregation. They love you, they will work with you, and they do not have an agenda. You will be taken care of and you can rebuild spiritually. But do not confess while at Bethel. Does that make sense?
Yeah… it does.
Whatever you do, don’t let Bechman have this one. Please. Just go home.
Okay. I will try.
I love you.
I love you too. I gotta go.
Me too. Bye.
He walks over to the car and slumps in the grass next to the passenger’s side door. He rests his forearms on his knees, lowers his head, and listens to the breeze traveling across the open Texas expanse. There is a slight paranoia that creeps in from the side. Was the phone conversation being recorded? Was this a set up? It didn’t matter because that wasn’t the problem. He didn’t care about himself. He had been a “bad christian” for so long it was about time it caught up with him. The problem is Aaron’s unique pulse that made everything organic in his presence perk up is being attacked. And he’s being attacked… because of ME.
This needs to stop.
The next day James makes a phone call to New York using the house phone, sitting at the kitchen table. He asks for Bechman’s office. He is trying to keep as calm and collected as he can.
What I’m not understanding is why you, or any other elder, didn’t warn me of these things.
James, that letter is confidential and between this body of elders and yours.
But my body of elders is confused. So when they come to me with questions… I don’t have any answers because I don’t know what they’re talking about. How I could I possibly have the time to lead the children of the congregation astray or cause factions in the congregation?
James, you know good and well what we are talking about.
No, I don’t. Please refresh my memory.
I’m not going to play this game with you. So if you’re going to take the denial route, that’s your choice.
I can’t deny something you never told me.
We dropped clues and suggestions.
Again, please remind me when.
I’m sorry to hear you lost your memory from your time here at Bethel, but the disciplinary action that we suggested stands.
Being disfellowshipped for not catching clues and suggestions?
Look, not that it is any of your concern, but our elder body was in the process of discussing all this when you were asked to leave.
I decided to leave on my own.
Whatever, James. Any further discussion will have to be through your elder body.
If you had a problem with me, shouldn’t you follow Matthew 18 and come talk to me first? I’m still waiting for that.
Yes or no?
Brother Bechman hangs up the phone.
Fucking bastard! James slams the receiver back on the phone. The idea that twelve pages of Jehovah’s Witness imperfections pulled out from nowhere was one thing. The idea that James just made matters worse for Aaron is a very very different thing, and one he took extremely seriously. There is no possible way he can comprehend the level of debilitation Aaron is experiencing, and because of such James finds it difficult to breathe. There are no more levels of heartbreak left to experience. He cannot feel any more forsaken by the very Organization he dedicated himself to at 10 years old.
He has engaged in many wrongs and listened to a lot of unholy music through the years. There are many… many flaws he could be strung up and beaten for but none that were so diabolical as messing with people’s minds, conspiring against the Organization, trying to form some little militant group… to do what? He respected people way too much to disrupt what makes them happy and for many people in the Organization, the Truth makes them happy. That’s not worth disrupting… and that new found respect for other people came from Aaron.
He didn’t get a chance to say what he wanted to Bechman, if I admit to all of this and they disfellowship me, will you leave Aaron alone? James looks at the phone… wondering if he should call back. He is already regretting the path the conversation took… will calling back make it better or worse?
No, they are not going to leave Aaron alone. The two subjects were separate. By all intents and purposes James should be disfellowshipped and out of the organization right now, it’s only because of the confusion of the local elders that he’s not. Still, James as a Jehovah’s Witness is out of the picture in New York and being dealt with in Texas. Bechman was wanting something else out of Aaron.
Steve walks in from next door. He had left to give James some privacy in his conversation. James. What did you find out?
Nothing. He won’t tell me anything or give examples. It doesn’t make sense.
I know it’s tough. We’re trying to make sense of it too.
He says this is stuff I already know but he never talked to me so I… James was in tears. I’m so confused.
I’m sorry, son. Steve puts his arm around James.
There is a moment when mental overload gets shot into the air like a rubber band, and when it hits its vertex there is a suspension, a slowing down of reality. James cannot do anything to help his friend, his love, his heart. He was powerless against the agony he was going through. Not only was he unable to protect Aaron, he was the sole reason Aaron was getting pummeled to the point of tears. What could they possibly be putting him through? Who sits there and makes a conscious decision that this person, weak and lonely, who just lost his best friend, stuck out in offsite farmhouse, needs to have more torture added to his anguish? What kind of monster looks at another human being and says it is acceptable to mentally traumatize them… for any reason?
Growing up in the Truth it had always been taught that ‘all things will be revealed in their own time.’ What James and Aaron did is considered wrong by the Organization… an “unnatural” sin. But it didn’t feel wrong and the positive energy it produced into the universe was spectacular and refreshing. And if it needed to be revealed, it would be revealed. His molester went a decade before anyone found out and that was just because James accidentally told someone on a road trip to Oklahoma who reported it to the elders. Aaron may have the need to confess… fine. The truth is what is inside and, yes, it will set one free but at no time does it require the whipping and bashing of a person to get a confession.
He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He just wants to get in his car and kidnap Aaron and drive him back to Oregon. James is perfectly okay with coming out of the closet at this point. It’s already been well proven that he loves men. He can have a dynamic relationship with them and can be happy in a couple-type scenario. There is no mistaking. James is gay.
Aaron is not. He is a spirited wind that understands the delicate spaces between the real and the imagined. He is a man with a heart and a love that knows no boundaries, nor does it have a label. He is his own label. As a good soul, he does not, in any way deserve whatever it is they are doing to him and the lack of information is killing James. His heart ached at the pain Aaron was going through and his brain, his stupid annoying brain wouldn’t stop reminding him how it’s all his fault.
A few days later James is driving down 181 to Corpus to look for work, because life does go on. There is a call on his cell phone.
It was Aaron, and he was sobbing. I told them.
There is a sharp ringing in the ears. What?
I’m sorry James, but I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
James is screaming in full panic without making a sound. Being disfellowshipped from Bethel is an enormous atrocity. I thought you were going to go home to take care of this.
It’s too late. I have a judicial committee meeting in an hour.
Aaron, I don’t accept this. James is in full volume hysterics. No! No! No!
Don’t scream at me. I didn’t have a choice!
I don’t mean to be screaming, but come on. You’re better than this.
Aaron’s voice goes flat with tears. No. I’m not. I’m scum and a fag.
He’s broken. Not the information, not the sex or the dirty details… not the secrets contain in and around room A314… the person itself was broken, the vessel, the spirit, the mind, everything that made Aaron Aaron was shattered and James can hear the pieces falling to the floor over the phone. Listening to him was like listening to a whimper of a dying lamb. Don’t you ever fucking say that. That’s not true and you know it. You are so much better than this. Don’t give this to Bechman… just go home, be with your family. Or come here if you want.
Aaron softened. It was nice over there.
There are other musicians here you can hang out with. I mean, you will still get disciplined, but at least you’ll be around people who love you.
I… I can’t talk anymore. I have to go.
Aaron, please. What the hell is happening?
I’m sorry, James. I have my meeting and my Dad is flying in tonight. I should be gone by tomorrow. Don’t ever call me again.
Aaron. No! You don’t mean that.
(Angry) I can never talk to you again.
James. Don’t ever talk to me again. Ever.
Aaron. I’m sorry for all this. (Pause.) I love you.
(Softly) I… I… I know. Goodbye.
Aaron hangs up the phone.
This is all his fault. Aaron, such an innocent bystander just enjoying life is now fractured as an entity.
Fractured. Because of me…
As he is approaching Harbor Bridge, James throws the phone and it bounces off the dashboard and lands on the passenger’s side floorboard. He hits the steering wheel repeatedly, his face flushed with guilt and anger. His lungs feel heavy with fluid. He cannot breathe. As he reaches over to pick up the cell phone, he almost hits an 18-wheeler. What? I might have an accident and die? So fucking what? I already ruined the most important thing in my life. I deserve to fucking die.
The little Ford car is already swerving when entering under the arched structural latticework of the bridge. The 18-wheeler gets closer.
He closes his eyes.
Jolt. A screeching and a crunch. He feels the car spin.
James P. Perez © 2013