Backseat Devil

Chapter 29 – The Departed

What’s that piece of shit you’re driving?

Hey, it gets good gas mileage when you’re a broke bethelite.

Did you wreck it?

Yeah.  Tire blew out on the bridge in Corpus.  Closed down the entire highway.

Geez.  Way to keep me up to date.

James and David sit opposite each other in a booth at Bennigans, the only two people in the restaurant.  The mid-afternoon sun is shining on their half eaten plates against the dark wooden tables.  Both men rarely look at each other in the hour that they have been talking, instead remaining slumped, slouched, picking at their plates in avoidance.

Sorry.

So what’s up with the knee?

James lets out a sigh.

Earlier that morning, he made it back to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston.  After checking in, he was instructed to wait in a small hallway with a row of chairs.  Eventually a doctor came out of one of the offices to retrieve James.  He was young with glasses and nervous but still maintained his professionalism.  James entered the tiny doctor’s office and sits in one of the chairs against the back wall.  Next to him on the counter is a model of the human knee.

So, James.  Um, you have two things going on.  Okay… uh, first, you have some dislocated cartilage and it has lodged itself here (he points on the model) and it looks like it did some damage at some point, I’m not sure how… but anyway, it may not do anything to you now, but you might have issues as you get older.  It’s not something that is an immediate concern, but you will eventually have problems.  Um… 

The doctor turns the model around to show James the back side of the knee. and adjusts his glasses.

The bigger issue, um… I feel, is that your tendon here (points on the model) was severed from the bone. 

The snap we heard when it happened.

Yes! exactly.  It would’ve sounded like loud snap, and very painful.

It was.

I’m sorry.  He gives James a comforting sympathetic look.  Um… so… what has happened is that this tendon has rotated completely and reattached itself to the bone… uh, but backwards or flipped.  We call this a lax tendon.  Uh…  I’m not sure how this happened, I guess with movement and such although I don’t know how you would move it that much, it’s a very painful injury, but anyway… however it happened it’s now backward.  

So what are my options?

Your best option, in my opinion, is to… um, have surgery.  What they will do is strip the tendon from the bone, flip it around, straighten it out, and then screw it back in place.  At the same time they can get that cartilage out.  Otherwise, you can just live with it, but that knee is always going to be susceptible to displacement because of the way the tendons are pulling.  You should keep a metal hinged knee brace on at all times.  I mean… um, you’re young now, and it probably doesn’t mean much to you as you start to feel better, but this will only get worse as you get older.  Your knee is weak and your chances of it dislocating are pretty high. You’re going to have this for the rest of  your life.  So…

So basically, you do nothing, David says, throwing down a limp French fry.

Yeah, unless I want to lay up in the hospital, freshly disfellowhipped with no one coming to see me.

I still can’t believe that, dude.

What?

Getting DF’ed.  It’s just… Not you.  The twins are going to freak out.

Do what you can to soften the blow.

Well, I’m glad something finally caught up to your arrogant ass.

(Laughing.)  You’re one to talk.

Hey, I wasn’t the one making sacrifices to Satan at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

You have no idea how difficult it is to get dove’s blood out of cheap carpet.

James, I honestly don’t know how you’re handling all this.

I’m not handling it.  Because I don’t have to.  I don’t have to fucking stand there and listen to a bunch of shit from a bloated faced, incompetent, ‘I have my own agenda,’ too blind to be a decent human being so let me over-compensate for my small dick Bethel elder. 

Damn James.

I’m still a little pissed…

Ya think?  (Pause.)  This religion is fucked up some times.

If you think it’s fucked up in the little areas of the local congregations, it’s diabolical at the World Headquarters.

When do they make the announcement?

Tuesday.

Are you going to be okay?

After the knee, Aaron, Brother Bechman, the pain it’s causing my parents, not having you and the twins around, being in the middle of bumfuck Texas with no job… how could I possibly not be okay?

I have something personal to ask you about Aaron.

(James smiles as he looks at his sandwich).  Yeah?

You two seemed… pretty close.

I didn’t have a David, so I found an Aaron.

Don’t get me wrong, I can imagine life without me can be devastating.  But you two were… close close.

Are you trying to ask if we…

(Interrupting.)  Yes.

James laughs to himself.  The simplicity of the answer will dwarf the beauty of the reality.  Yes.

At Bethel?

Yes.

You realize you’re going to hell, right?

We don’t believe in hell, David.

I’m pretty sure Jehovah is going to create a hell just for you.

Should I save you a seat?

Yeah, probably.  

Where is our waitress?  I’m thirsty. 

David starts picking at his straw.  Who knows.

James can read the disheartening conflict in his friend.  It reminds him of that evening on the futon almost two years prior.  David, look…

David interrupts, I will still talk with you, you know.

Thank you.  

But we can’t do this… here.  We know too many people in Houston.

Yeah.  I know.

David pauses for a second.  Someone will see us.

But that’s not what’s bothering you.

(Long pause.) I… I just can’t handle the gay shit.

David, it’s okay.  I understand.

You being DF’ed is one thing and if it was a one time deal, I would be okay with that but if you go all out gay, I can’t talk to you.

Okay.  I won’t ask  you to.

David fidgets with his food a bit more.  I just don’t see how a guy could like it up the ass.

Don’t do that.  

What?  I’m serious.

Don’t make it about sex.  It’s about so much more than that, and you cheapen it by reducing it down to just fucking. (Long pause.)  And not everyone likes it up the ass.

Dude, whatever.  I’m just saying it’s something I can’t deal with.  Don’t talk to me if you’re going to do the gay shit.

And I’m telling you that’s okay.  I’m not going to ask you to handle it.  And I won’t talk to you.

So you’re not going to try to come back to the Truth in a year?

No, I’m not.

You made up your mind.

Yeah.  About everything.  I’m sorry.  

So I guess this is it.   Our goodbye.

I guess so.

The two guys bathed under the tinted sunlight in silence for a while.  There isn’t anything more to say, but neither want to leave the table.  Once again, there exists two energies that feel comfortable near each other, even when they disagree in the most fundamental ways.  The waitress finally appears, presumptuously with the bill.

David sits up.  I got this.

You don’t have to pay for me.

James, I want to.  I mean… we’re never going to do this again.  So let me get it.

Okay.  And thank you.

As they walk out, David puts on his sunglasses.  They shake hands and James heads to his car.

Hey, David says, if you ever decided to be not gay, you know where to find me.

James smiles and nods his head, David.  I love you.  Tell the twins I said goodbye.

He feels like he’s driving down highway 59 without legs in silent tears, mentally hyperventilating.  He needs someone, anyone.  It is all just so… empty, a vast nothingness of destitute and exhaustion.  James decides to make a detour.

A left.  A right.  A faded blue building behind a flickering 7-Eleven.  He parks in the grass next to the dumpster.

He walks through the screen door and knocks at the first apartment.  No answer.

He knocks again.

The door opens.  It is pitch back inside.  He cannot tell if the person answering was a man or a woman.  Yeah?

Hey.  I’m looking for Ollie.  Does he still live here?

No, man.  I don’t know who that is.

Okay.  Sorry to bother you.

No problem, man.

He spends an hour driving around Montrose, retracing areas they visited, looking at every face on the street begging for the chance to see his eyes.  Nothing.  He was gone.

His drive back to his parent’s home is in depletion, his face flushed with silent disappointment.  There is no more atmosphere in the world, the air conditioning in his car is hurling chunks of failure at his flesh, cutting him and leaving bloodless scars, reminders of everything he is not.  There are no more tears to tear, there is no more breath to breathe.  The end result is a world without air.

He is officially all alone.  It doesn’t hit him right away.  It doesn’t hit him until he enters the now silent house with parents walking around in low volume trying to avoid talking to him.  His mother is in conflict.  1 Corinthians 5:11 says “‘you must not associate with anyone who… is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”  Their son is… most of those things.  But does she still make dinner for him or let him fend for himself?  Maybe she will just make him a plate and he can eat it later?

His father cannot look at him in the face.  He is so saddened, disheartened, and discouraged, hurt and humiliated.  He knows his son, he knows most of what was written about him is false.  He knows there was an elder with an agenda who went after his son without mercy.  But he knows his son is gay… and he knows he had sex with his roommate.

He also knows his son loved Aaron, he could see the pain in his eyes during the judicial committee when the questions turned intimate.  But he is a faithful elder in the Sinton Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he must follow the procedural ruling as if his son were any other publisher in any other congregation in any other part of the world.  He handles it with quiet reverence and a higher level of decorum than when Tony was disfellowshipped at the Rosenberg Assembly Hall.

James sits on his bed, crushed in deflation from the weight of his own emptiness, waiting for nothing to happen.  Nothing happens.

Then something happens.

James P. Perez © 2013

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Chapter 28 – Let’s Talk

James.  I’m Beth.  I’m going to be talking with  you for a little bit.  Hopefully we can find out what’s going on, she says with her hands clasped in front of her and her cutest, default smile.

He already cannot stand this woman.  He would much rather talk to Strawberry Shortcake from the Bethel infirmary than this overdose of Mary Sunshine.  Okay.  So what’s going on?

Well, I’m a licensed therapist that works with Witnesses like you.

Did she mean young, closeted Witnesses who moved to New York, fucked their roommate, fell in love, and got kicked out of Bethel?  She hardly seemed equipped to handle one of these issues, much less any combination thereof.  Maybe she wanted to talk about his time in Houston?  Okay.

But before we can start. I need you to sign this first.  They are sitting in a small office in her home in Rockport, nicely decorated…calming, nothing too loud or boisterous so as to excite instability of the mind or cause the demons to pop out of one’s mouth.  She slides a sheet of paper across the painted wooden coffee table.

Yeah.  More paperwork.  As if he wasn’t already drowning in it from the hospital.  What is it?  A confidentiality agreement?

Yes, kind of.  It’s my confidentiality agreement.  It says that everything that you say will be kept between you and me, unless you say anything that I personally feel that the elders of your congregation need to know, then I will tell them.

He is pretty sure this is illegal and void of the actual definition of “confidentiality”, something she could lose her license over.  It annoys him.  He’s not even sure why… but he asks, What?  Are you serious?  

Of course.  I’m bound by Jehovah’s law above the law of the land.  And by Jehovah’s law, the elders need to know if you reveal anything or admit anything that I feel they should be aware of.  It’s for your own protection.

The person that came out of the car wreck is a very different person than who went in.  He is now docile, quiet, blank.  He has no emotions left to show, and so no emotions are displayed.  Everyone kept talking to him and it all seemed like each person was trapped in a bag of water yapping endlessly.  He couldn’t hear them clearly and the mass of people were colliding and pressing against each other causing unbreathable intrusive bubbles of asphyxiation upon his chest and face.  His zen-like state is a way of handling the now, preparing for what’s coming, and dealing with the disappointment of his failure.  He tells everyone he doesn’t remember anything about the wreck.  He claims ignorance and amnesia.

He remembers opening his eyes, seeing blood… not a lot, but enough to startle him.  He was facing oncoming traffic.  His head was splitting in two, throbbing like he was struck by a gigantic bell.  He kept blacking out.  Someone opened the car door, a woman.  She tries to keep him awake by shaking his shoulders.  Stay with me, sir.  He can’t seem to focus, his eyes seem to be vibrating side to side.  He sees the concrete barrier.

He closes his eyes again. Off in the distant blackness of the sea wind whipping over the Harbor Bridge he hears a faint sentence, From where I was driving it looked like his tire blew out.

Yes.  My tire blew out.  Let’s go with that.

It fades off until he wakes up at Spohn Hospital’s emergency room, signing papers he doesn’t even know he’s signing.  He goes back asleep, sort of.  In his semi-conscious reverie he can hear the footsteps of Brother Bechman jaunting off with paperwork and files in hand, wrapped in an inner schadenfreuden sense of glee.  James knew Aaron put up as much of a fight as he could.  Unfortunately, Aaron doesn’t have the tactical experience to fight like that, and more importantly… it wasn’t Aaron’s fight to fight.  In the end, Bechman got what he wanted.

With his excommunication, there will be no discussion.  Aaron’s name would be announced to all three Bethel locations… Brooklyn, Patterson, and the Farm.  He would be escorted off property immediately.  His family would bar all communication from James, blame him, accuse him, and Aaron himself will slowly become angry and bitter.  It’s how his process works.  It’s how everyone’s process works.  Aaron was lost.  James just had to learn to deal with that… and he could. What he couldn’t deal with is the guilt.

And for James, he would rather die than to think any more about what Aaron had to endure.

Your mother brought in some pictures of your time in New York.  Now, who are these people?

These are the guys I hung out with.  That picture was taken in Albany.

And who is this?

That’s Aaron.

Do you want to talk about Aaron?

Was she referring to his best friend who showed him new levels of love and appreciation, taught him about the softness of humanity who was repaid by enduring a gauntlet of berating torture all because of James?   No.  There’s really not much to say.

While his parents thought it was important for James to experience the joys of Jehovah’s Witness non-confidential “confidential” therapy, he knew in the background, behind the scenes letters were being mailed, phone calls were being made, and resolutions being drafted.  He knew the final piece of the Bechman puzzle had been placed.  That was the point… that is what he was after and he achieved it by whatever means necessary.

His father managed to get the car fixed.  It was banged up quite a bit, but not totaled.  The frame is still in tact and with a new fender and work on the hood and door, the car is once again driveable.  But James doesn’t drive.  He is afraid to drive, he doesn’t trust himself.  He is angry and upset and he wants to finish the job.  Mostly he hated that car.  It reminds him of Aaron.

Eventually, brain injury or not, placid emotions or not, he has to face his own judicial committee, this time with more serious albeit accurate information.  One night after the Tuesday evening meeting, the body of elders stay behind in the small Kingdom Hall in Sinton to discuss the matter of young Brother Perez.

James walks into the library and is faced by a circle of eight brothers, one of which is his father being on the far right side in the back.  They asked if it is okay if his father stays, he agrees.  For some reason James isn’t nervous.  His nerves are so callous by this point, nothing would shock him.  The worst offense to humanity wasn’t gay sex, and that James honestly believed in his heart.  He still finds it difficult to breathe, oxygen unable to reach the brain from the lack of air circulating in the claustrophobic horseshoe closing in on him.  He worries the signs of physical weakness in the stifling room filled with eyes and questions may come across as mental weakness.

James, in a follow up letter from your congregation we received… a ton of allegations on top of the ones from the first letter.  These are all very serious and we have to go through them one by one.

I’m ready.

James, did you make threats that you were going to kill your parents?

Okay, that shocked him.  This was not what he was expecting.  He snapped out without the benefit of air, What?

Did you or did you not make a threat of killing your parents?

I don’t understand where this question comes from.

Well, from Aaron we have that in conversation you wanted to kill your parents, dead.  

A dagger, a spear, a lance, and a sword all flew from the back of the room and landed in his chest, one after the other until there is no more skin to pierce.  He realizes that all his words and conversations are going to be twisted and misaligned to fit an agenda contrary to reality.  It is a deplorable maneuver on Bechman’s part and one that is impossible to fight against.  I do not recall such a conversation.

Okay, you may not remember, but we need to know if we should be concerned with your parent’s well being.

No, I’m not going to kill my parents.

While at Bethel, did you practice the occult or witchcraft?

 He is not prepared for this level of nonsensical ludicrousness.  Excuse me?  I really need to you repeat that.

Practice the occult.  A celebration of Satan.  Burning of incense and candles are often linked to that.  Aaron said you two burned incense and candles and did other things that give the implication of practicing the occult.

He had no more heart to break, there was no more blood to drain from his body. At this point… with a mentality of distance and perspective this is horror of the absurd.   I do not know how to even respond to that.

James, this is a serious matter you have facing you.

Then ask serious questions.

These are serious questions because these are very serious allegations.  If you deny them, that is fine.  But we must continue. 

And they do continue, one by one.  He was creating factions in a congregation he barely attended. He was leading the children of the congregation astray… children he couldn’t even name.  James was seducing Aaron by getting him drunk and taking advantage of him, manipulating him, and threatening him and his family with their lives.  He is accused of trying to seduce other members of the Bethel family and members of the congregation.  Specific names of who these brothers were are not given, neither is their testimony included. 

If any brother or sister has ever been before a body of elders for a sex-related sin, they can confirm the amount of intimate detail the elders want to know about the sex is disturbingly creepy.  James sits with seven straight older men and his father on the side as they ask him questions in rapid fire format.

With oral sex Aaron reports “more times than he can count”.  Is this you performing oral on him or he performing on you?

How many times did anal sex occur?

Were you the one doing the penetrating or were you the one being entered?

Did you ejaculate each time you were involved in sexual activity?

Did you ever ejaculate inside Aaron’s rectum? 

Did you ever have sex with Aaron while he was unconscious?

The last question hit like a gong so loud there was physical air displacement in the small room at the disrespectfulness and perversion of the idea causing his lips to shake at the mere suggestion.  There was a tear that formed, he didn’t bother wiping it.  He let it drop.  This was so wrong on so many different levels.

And it kept going.  And going.  He was getting nauseous.

I’m not admitting to any of this… in total.  This is ridiculous.

James didn’t know what the fuck Bechman did to Aaron, but whatever he did… the light he loved so much was gone and the backlash that snapped from New York to Texas was devastating.  Whatever technique or method of interrogation that was used, Aaron didn’t stand a chance and would literally admit to anything and everything.  It is bizarre and illogical… but mostly it is offensive in its malevolence.  They have taken everything he had experienced in his heart, in his soul, the loving pure energy of happiness and contentment, trust and comfort and have reduced it down to a series of creepily sterile worded sex acts, and it disgusted him.

He couldn’t take anymore.  Stop.  I’m done.  I won’t admit to anything… across the board.  Whatever is on that list I will deny it all.  Disfellowship me if you want.  

Are you going to refute all these allegations?

I’m saying I’m not admitting to anything.  Killing my parents?  The occult?  Rape?  No.  Everything… this entire everything… no.  I’m not going along with this, any of this.   

There is no way he is going to stand up against insane charges that were beaten out of someone at the world headquarters of the religion.  James finally sat in his chair with seven very simple and confused men staring at him, looking at his father… and it struck him.  I don’t deserve any of this shit.  Nobody on this planet deserves any of this shit.  He has read the bible twice and nowhere in it does it say that men can weld such power over another human being that they can pummel them with threats and lies until their soul is dark with desolation and vacuum.  No where does it say the creation of ten lies justifies getting to one truth.  People, as human beings on this planet, as individual entities and energies do not deserve to have someone else judge them, condemn their present, or dictate their future with this much authority.  It is a contemptible and despicable concept in slavery.

He has fucked crackheads and experienced far more genuine spirituality than what is being displayed with this scenario, and there is nothing the Organization can offer him that remotely compares.   He isn’t going to suppress that glorious creation of energy between two people… whatever gender they may be… just because a dishonest and unfair Organization deems it so.

He reaffirms that he is not admitting to anything.  The elders say they recommend disfellowshipping.  James completely agrees.  He gets up and leaves the library and goes outside to sit with his mother who was waiting in the car.

So what happened?

I’m going to be disfellowshipped.

Oh James.  Is there nothing we can do?  

No.  It’s stupid and ridiculous.

James.  Don’t say that about the elders.

I’m not.  The elders are just doing their job.  I mean the situation in general.

And the situation was fucked up.  James gets excommunicated.  Aaron gets excommunicated.  Then what?  Is the Organization any better off?  Is it now more “clean”?  The imbalance comes that the greater offense to humanity far exceeds the anything James and Aaron were doing.  They may have been selfish and immoral, but at least they were honest with themselves and were producing a very decent, pure light, unmatched by anyone they met.  How is destroying that of benefit to anyone in the Truth unless the Organization…

And then it hits him.

The Organization, the religion of his childhood and his young adulthood as it stands is not about joy or happiness, it’s not about spiritual well being or garnering the best goodness there is out of people.  It’s about control and fear… it is about binders and blinders, making sure the ‘flock’, the ‘sheep’ do not see too much, learn too much, or experience too much.  Just like with Bethel, the less one is exposed to, the easier it is to manipulate them…

… just like every other religion on the planet since the beginning of modern civilization.

There was nothing dishonest about what he feels in his heart.  He is no different than his straight counterparts.  He is, in fact, a normal person feeling normal emotions and normal desires… just gay.  He was happy.  He was content.  Maybe Aaron wasn’t the one, but at least he had a glimpse of what it feels like to look at someone after a year and still be as giddy as the first time he laid eyes on him.  He knew what it meant to be unselfish and think of someone else’s needs ahead of his own – that alone is a tremendous change for James.  He knows the heartbreak of failing that person… letting them down, disappointing them because of screaming at them for no reason.

Now he knows what it’s like to lose them… completely, forever… and the inability to move on with life as he knew it.  He would need to become a poet again to express the cycle and process.  It was enormous in it’s magnificence yet softly respectful in its delicate structure.  It was the true and complete spectrum of life – what a glorious, beautiful bitch.  And in condemning it, his religion is no different than any other religion.

He puts his head on the window and waits for his father.  He has one week to draft a letter to challenge the disfellowshipping, but in that week his attitude would need to change and he wasn’t changing his fucking attitude.  It is requested that the person being disfellowshipped be at the meeting when they read the announcement publicly to the congregation.  He has no plans on ever stepping foot in another Kingdom Hall ever again.

With his head against the window, he cries silently.  Not for himself.  He didn’t give a flying fuck about himself.  He cries for whatever Aaron must have gone through.  The end result of that torture was something appalling and he refused to legitimize it by admitting anything.  He feels at peace with his decision.

His father comes out of the Kingdom Hall and gets in the car.  His mom rubs his arm.  They both look at each other.  Steve presses his lips together and gives a slight nod to Blanche.  They both have a son they are not allowed to talk to anymore.  James had a best friend who has accused him of incomprehensible wrongs, and every person he ever knew, associated with, or socialized with from birth until today is now gone from his life.

There is an incredible serenity that comes over him.  Maybe it is avoidance maybe it a protection measure but he isn’t afraid anymore.  He isn’t scared or arrogant.  He was free.

It felt good.  Lonely, but good.

James P. Perez © 2013