Backseat Devil

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Epilogue

He finds himself fidgeting with his black Reeboks in the elevator.  It seems so pointless as he realizes he wore long shorts and athletic socks thus exposing the snake eating its tail tattoo around his right ankle.  At no time would this be a problem, but no doubt there are countless waves of Witnesses huddled in the private ‘friends and family’ waiting room of the intensive care unit.  He didn’t want to give them any more reason to gossip and peck like chickens at the seeds he would be throwing via tattoos and earrings.

That still happens.  But that is not the worst.  He fishes the paper from his pocket where instructions were written.  He turns the corner and approaches the glass wall on the right past the room of moist slithering vipers on the left.  Through the transparent divider he sees in the distance a flesh-colored ghost of a once 215-pound former Green Beret who served eight years in the United States Army.

When the cancer started to creep back into his father’s life, Steve made several resolutions.  Among them, he never wanted a colostomy bag, he didn’t want to waste away in an undignified manner, he wanted his ashes to be spread at the Rosenberg, Texas Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses where he had worked hard for 5 years or so, and he didn’t want to leave his family penniless.  Steve was the smartest person James knew, and a wise man in his late 50s.  James trusted his father knew what was best for himself.

His mother insisted that her husband forgo the normal treatment of chemotherapy and/or radiation for a homeopathic course, a growing and profitable trend among the faithful followers of Jehovah since the early 90s.  The December 15th, 1994 Watchtower had an article written about the subject, paragraph after paragraph of hazy nothing explaining little than it’s “basically an area for personal decision.”  Per the Watchtower’s normal glazing, the warning was more about the preoccupation with the subject than the physical health of its readers.  For this, it seemed perfectly suitable to make the ‘decision’ to truck his father from Colorado to California with massive expense to keep him alive on a ridiculous diet while his body still systematically failed.  It started innocently with aching legs and ends four years later in a single bed room on the fourth floor ICU section of Spohn Hospital on Elisabeth Street in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A year earlier James had visited his father while Steve was undergoing evaluation at the beautifully situated and well-equipped MD Anderson Hospital in Houston across from the Houston Zoo.  He thought about Brit and Derrick, and the other people he had lost touched with after moving to New York… Ollie too, of course.  What a different life I would have had if I could have just stayed here and come out on my own terms.

If only.

His father was in good spirits but thinner then he had ever been.  I really hate for you to seem me like this, he said.

Well dad, look at it this way… at least now you’re at your ideal weight.

His father made a ‘model’ pose from the hospital bed.  The air was broken and goodness was flowing throughout the room, the building, their hearts.  The only person who was immune to this was Blanche.  The Perez family (sans an older brother) were a popular family in the religion.  They had moved around almost yearly, worked at the assembly hall construction site, and performed enough circus tricks at the conventions that their name and faces were recognizable.  Because of that, news of Steve’s returning cancer and preferable nontraditional un-Western medicine path to health was known.  People loved him, they prayed for him, they talked about him amongst themselves at their meetings and out in field service.

For the entire time he was in the hospital, and over the next year (between the home in Refugio and various hospitals) Steve would be forced to endure a parade of people with a convivial mutation plastered in frozen ersatzic excitement across their face.

Heyyy, Brother Perez!  How’s it going?

How well can a slow death go?  His father would smile as his mother would stage the next couple or group of people who arrived, engaging them and escorting the current cluster away if they stayed too long.  Steve needs his rest or Is it possible for Brother/Sister so-and-so to get in a quick word with Steve?

It was all a farce as his father would rather battle this alone in quiet, silent, militaristic even.  The only reason why the procession existed was so his mother could soak in the sympathy of the entire known religious catalog.  The show was more about her than the condition of her husband.  If this was something that irked him when his father was first diagnosed, it was torturous to watch by the visit in Houston.  All this changed when James enters the hospital.  As he was disfellowshipped and chose to remain such, this tattooed and body pierced pariah had to be shunned per the organization’s requirements.  With his presence, the parade came to a screeching halt after a father and son in a hospital room burst into laughter.

Ten minutes into the stay Blanche interrupts.  Steve, the Hasdorffs are here.

They can wait, Blanche.  I’m talking to my son.

Steve.  They drove all this way from Victoria.

James flew in from farther.  They can wait.  How often do I get a chance to see my son?

What a question.  It sat honest and innocent, but the weight of its truth harbored a guilt that James hadn’t felt before.  It was he who cut off all communication from his family so as to establish himself in the world without the burden of their menacing disapproval and injection.  It worked.  James was a fully functioning human being wading his way through the world safely on the other side of the United States with success.  But what his father asked was equally as important as it showed respect without meaning harm.

Dad, it’s okay.  I’m going to be here a while.  Let me run out or something and you visit with them.

Blanche, give me 5 minutes.  Send everyone who drove in at once, but no more, okay?

Steve, I can’t control if people show up.

Get off the phone and quick calling people.  5 minutes.    

Okay, but make it quick.  Blanche fusses out of the room.

James was still exhaling from the concrete humility.  Dad, it’s really my fault that you don’t see me.

It’s okay, son.  I understand why.  You look good.

Thank you.

I have just one question for you and then we can visit more later.

Okay.

How is your heart?

It’s such an odd question.  He doesn’t immediately remember it was the same question the brothers asked him at Bethel… a question about a metaphoric muscle angry and bleeding in front of them.  He didn’t remember because he ignited into a smile – a full, open, teeth apart grin just shy of chortle.

It’s fine.  I’m still working on parts of it, but overall… it’s just fine.

His father returned the smile.  That’s good to hear.  I just had to ask.

It’s okay.  I’m going to go to grab a bite to eat.

Thank you, son.  I’m sorry for this.  Your mother has people lined up out the door.  I’ve been trying to watch the news for an hour now.

Why not just tell her to stop?

It makes her feel better.  Just, give me enough time to deal with this and be back.

Of course.

Don’t take too long. 

James walks out the room with the best of faces.  He  passes a line of people waiting to see his father.  The older vague vintage memories of his childhood nod gently and look away.  Those of middle-age and younger hiss like wretched reptiles at the dirty, filthy clog that had dammed up this fluid cavalcade of pious spirituality they were gifting his father.

James returned later and the hall was empty.  His mother was inside arguing with his father.  He pauses at the door before going in.  They had probably been going at it for an hour by the sound of his father’s frustration.

But he is disfellowshipped.

He is also my son.  I don’t have long in this world, I get to spend it with whoever I want.  I want to spend it with James.

Steve.  Don’t talk like you’re dying.  And no one is saying you can’t spend it with James, but not at the expense of the brothers.  They’re going to be in the New System.  He is not.

Then I can socialize with them in the New System.  But James is for now.

He stares blankly at the slightly ajar wooden door’s obnoxious stainless handle trying not to cry.  When news of the child abuse had broke in 1994, Steve told the molester he would never be forgiven, ever, not caring if that meant Jehovah God kept him out of the New System.  Blanche accused James of making the story up to get attention.  The molester was handled “internally” through the congregation… something that bothered his father for years.  No matter what, Steve stood up for his son and in his chest he understood the true definition of the word “beautiful” as his dad encompassed all aspects of it if by no other reason but the purity and solidity of the heart.  He knocks at the door and opens it to intrude.

Hey.

His mother looks at him blankly.  I’ll give you two an hour or so, then I’ll be back.

An hour or so?  James was a little confused.

Well, okay.  If you want then until visiting hours are over.

He was obviously missing something.  If visiting hours are over, why will you be back?

So I can stay with him, she said frustrated.

James looked at his father in an effort to help translate the parts of the conversation missing between the parts of the conversation.

She stays with me at night in case anything happens.

What’s going to happen?  You’re up, alert, you look fine.  Are you dying tomorrow?

I wasn’t planning on it.

I don’t think dad needs a baby sitter.

Her feathers were getting ruffled.  I’m not babysitting.  I’m just here in case something happens.

Like… spontaneous death? 

James!  Don’t be morbid.  In case he takes a turn for the worse, that’s all.  These doctors are all trying to pump him full of pills.  I can’t have that.  I’m allowed to worry about my husband.

He’s in a hospital!  Just… go home, mom.  I’ll stay with him tonight.

What?  James!  You can’t do that.

It must be insufferable for you to live with the tension, get some rest.  I have clothes in the car.  I think I can manage this for the night.

Let him stay, Blanche.  I could use the company.

She turned a mean eye to him, I’m not company?

Steve gave a breath and stared her down.  That’s not what I meant, Blanche.

James didn’t want this to go much further so he said the magic words, Mom, get some rest.  You look tired.

With that cave of vanity she was convinced to go home, sent packing with her overnight bag to go back to the house they were renting so Steve can stay close to the Houston hospital.  He was distant with her, only giving her a half hug.  Even her It is good to see you, son was barely audible and entirely unregistered.  It was heartbreaking on some levels, refreshing confirmation on others.

James retrieved his clothes and settled in for the evening.  The nurses came, introductions were made, praises were sung, and vitals were checked.  Throughout the afternoon his father spoke as if for the first time.  With the absence of the parade and his mother’s exhaustive consumption of attention his father had time to be him.  So Steve opened his mouth and talked.  He talked a lot as he had much to say.

Obvious was the spoiler alert that homeopathic treatments does not cure cancer.  In the five to six years he was attempting resolution from the disease with herbal remedies he could have gone through chemotherapy and/or radiation and recovered.  Now it’s different.  The doctors had pretty much told him they were past the point of no return.  Steve spoke openly, honestly, and with a calm understanding of reality.

To tell you the truth, I’m ready to go now. 

You mean like Hospice… or did you want me to slip you something?

His father chuckles.  Hospice… I suppose.  I don’t have any other choice.  I’m ready to go… while I still have some life in me, you know?

There can be immense dignity in death.  There is absolutely no dignity in dying.  His father was a good man and had much to be proud about, but showing such pride was not in his character.  This made the good man even better.  James notices a bag next to the lounge chair.  He opens it.  It’s filled with pills.  He reads the first bottle’s name: Oxycodone.

Uh, dad.  You have a bottle full of one of the hottest drugs on the black market right now.

I know!  Who knows what all that’s worth on the streets.  Take it.  You could pay for your whole trip.

They both laugh at the idea.  I’m not taking your drugs, dad.  The question is why aren’t YOU taking your drugs?

Steve began to explain why the drugs were out of reach from the hospital bed.  His wife would not allow him to have any pain medication as she still holding on to the less-than-shadowy remnants of genuine belief that homeopathic treatment would still save his life.  Her all-encompassing denial prevented the man from having any peace either from the outside world of constant footsteps of people shining with smiles to mask the shock of seeing a formidable man fade from existence or from soothing his own nervous system from the ache that came with cancer’s unquenchable hunger.

So Steve sat in wait… in pain… smiling and joking.

He had to digest this.  So he diverted over to asking about David.  Katy had passed away in a unexpected and unavoidable car wreck in Dallas a few years earlier.  He wanted to know the condition of her twin sister and of David as he and Katy tried to date on a few occasions.  There was little update to the rebel’s whereabouts, the only link would be occasional visits from David’s father.  In return he was asked about Aaron.  It was a subject he didn’t want to discuss but since they were being cathartically brutal in their honesty, James bullet-pointed the events about six months after his departure from his parents.  Yes, he had seen Aaron.  He flew up to Oregon and surprised him at his house.  It didn’t go well. He had the police called on him.

Don’t worry.  He’ll come around one day.  (Pause.)  And if he doesn’t, are you okay with that?

Yeah.  I mean I’m not okay with it, but I made peace with the situation, he said while smiling.

Decent people facing death tend to become somewhat “zen” about the world, his father was no exception.  Behind his perky hazel eyes James held a mountain of unsteady un-sedimentary rock.  He had made the trip because he needed to know that Aaron was okay.  He was not.  James was screamed at, yelled at, and verbally beaten.  He stood there and took it because he thought it was deserved.  He had ruined the young man’s life, he wished he had never heard the name “James Perez”, leave him and his family alone, and he wished James was dead.  Then the police were called finding James in tears in his hotel room off Interstate 5.

The light in Aaron was gone.  The shining yellow gold of sun that beamed from his brown eyes ceased production.   It had not only stopped producing light, it was absorbing and demolishing neighboring light within his vicinity through a  hovering vacuous cloud of black and venom.  The force of Aaron’s damnation was probably the only release of steam this battered bruised body could muster and it came with such a force that years later James will tear at the mention of the name.  His knee stopped hurting after that trip.  It’s amazing how physical pain can so easily be overshadowed when the heart breaks at such a volume.  But he couldn’t tell his father all that.

The truth was that he didn’t need to say a single word, his father already knew.  He could see it in his son’s scared and immobile eyes.  Steve changes the subject as dinner arrives.  The two men continue talking, laughing.  The nurse bringing the second plate for James mentions that she hadn’t seen Steve in such a good mood and winks at his son in the lounge chair.

Trying to sleep brought a startling layer of revelation.  Even though his father can hold his own during the day and enact normalcy with only passing clinches, his body was of its own accord come the fall of night.  James sat in the shaded dark away from the hall lights staring at his father clinching and grimacing, his face contorting to reactionary shapes while his hands buckled in a motorized interpretation of screams.

Is there anything you can do for this?  He asked a nurse on her mid-night circuit.

His body is in pain.  Doctors prescribe medication, but they can’t force someone to take it.

How does this not wake him up?

Your dad doesn’t rest during the day, he has so many visitors.  So he knocks out pretty easily, especially when we can get him to take a sleeping pill.  I’m guessing he took one tonight?

He did.  It was probably the most sleep Steve had had since being in the hospital.  James curled up on the mauve overstuffed chair and watched his father move in ways he has never seen another human being move.  How could his mother sit there nightly and watch this and not feel some compassion for the man?  How could she sleep while her husband’s body tormented itself without alleviation?  It was inhumane.  It was less than inhumane.  It was a deceptive selfish fantasy and it was killing his father in the most grotesque manner just because she had faith in a absolutism that doesn’t actually exist.

With the morning he confronted her about it.  She defended her stance as she felt the brothers were praying on their behalf and Jehovah will provide a way for her husband to make a full recovery without the use of drugs.  He called her delusional.  She called him demonic.  He purposefully stayed all day with his father to prevent any more of Jehovah’s Witnesses from visiting.  He couldn’t give his father life, but he could give his father peace.  So they watched television, it was the first time they ever watched a baseball game together.  They ate lunch, talked about the tattoo his father accidentally noticed, and made the nurses laugh when they came to check in. By the evening Blanche was literally pushing him out the door to reclaim her spot as caretaker.

When he conceded she stepped out for a moment to return to making phone calls.  Dad, this is crazy.  I don’t want  you suffering.

I know, son.  But I gotta be faithful to your mother.

One thing that he learned from his father is the true understanding of what being “faithful” means.  It wasn’t just something sexual, it was also faithful in heart, mind, and word.  His father would not break his word even if it meant death.  If he promised anything to Blanche, including not taking pain medication, it was going to be upheld in all aspects. It was his prism of honor.  James took a bottle of pills and stuck it in the side table’s top drawer within arm’s reach of the hospital bed in case the pain became too much.  He left his father in his mother’s hands.

A year later he stares at the glass wall at the result of her god-fearing work and failed prayers, creeping whispers of disapproval floating from behind his shoulders from the patriarch of the house James refused to stay at as a child because he would beat his children.  The tyrant sits with a group as they recoil to the corners in hopes the demons saturating the young man’s soul will not infect them.  James opens the glass door across the hall from the pit of judgment.

There is a body laying on a mattress.  His older brother is in the room, his mother walking about on a cell phone.  His uncle, and elder in the Victoria, Texas Riverside Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses clomps back and forth between praying at the bedside and the room of collected Christians.  The person on the mattress is being fed through the nose, IV in hand in a vein practically sitting on top of the skin, machines pumping and beeping providing a soft medicinal background hum.  Over the year people stood over his bed in a circle so much the perception of feeling metaphorically buried in one’s own grave eventually gives way to reality as one is forcibly suffocated into the actual grave.  His father was beyond that point, now at half the size he was just a year before.  He retreated to the safety of a coma.

Approaching the bed finds a skeleton projecting itself through the leathery skin and presenting a non-working visual display of how the joints of the body function, if these had functioned.  They are motionless except for the rotating cushion of air underneath.  His veins and arteries are barely concealed as his all-white hair atop his crown and around his face stand with wiry weariness through holes of the skin, now elliptical in shape instead of round, pulled sagging by the weight of itself.  The body’s heart beats through the chest, visibly noticeable through the skin.  It was shockingly gruesome, yet not near as gruesome as his mother standing among the gaggle of Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaiming “They’re trying to kill Steve!” before returning to her phone call and the room.  No one was trying to kill him.  The doctors were begging his mother to be a decent human being.

According to the Witnesses, removing life support would be tantamount to murder, especially if there was a chance for survival.  In the mind of Steve’s wife, there was not only still a chance of survival, but a chance of full recovery, so Steve Perez was kept alive month after month without acknowledgement of the obvious.  James doesn’t know his older brother at all, he was not raised around him… but even at this point the two estranged blood relatives saw eye-to-eye without words.

He grabs what was once his father’s hand.  There is movement from the body as it lifted its eyelids to reveal faded green eyes glossed with cloudy white.  The body looks straight at James.  There he is – there is his father.  James smiles.  They silently converse.  The eyes close and never open again.  His mother runs about the hospital screaming that her husband had miraculously awakened from a coma.  He had not.  There is arguing, there is attempt at reason.  There is his uncle approaching to say with the most untimely inappropriateness, You know, what your father would want is for you to come back to the Truth.

The entire spectacle is profusely dense with emotion and empty of sensibility.  Logic is in catastrophic failure.  He cannot support this.  He does not support this.  He will not support this.  The hideous devil in the room is not his own.  It is a monster of unified prayers and desire for importance on a godlike scale allowed to run freely since proper truth in observation fails the followers and their religion.  He is hesitant to voice as there is nothing to say to those of such devoted daydream.  The most powerful truth in the world is the lie one believes in their own mind.  There is no arguing with that.

So he walks away.  Within 24 hours he flies out of the Corpus Christi Airport, the last location he saw Aaron’s smiling face.

When the cancer started to creep back into his father’s life, Steve made several resolutions.  For two years he had a colostomy bag, and for most of a year he wasted away in a hospital in the most undignified manner.  When the brother finally pulled the plug at noon on a Friday, the heart continued to beat on it’s own for 43 additional minutes.  His father indeed had a strong heart.  He knew that before he received a phone call from Texas telling him it was over, the story had ended.  Steve’s ashes are buried in San Antonio instead of being scattered per his wishes, bank account empty for continual herbal treatments that didn’t work.

James didn’t care.  It was not his family anymore.  It was a gross misrepresentation of what a family should look like, papier-mâché sculpture using pages of the bible as strips and lines of the Watchtower as glue.  There is nothing of worth, heart, or value within the sociopathic diorama created to give the illusion of ‘family’ and ‘spirituality’ without ever providing the love of a family or viable spirituality.  It is wrecked with false hope, spiritually superior but only through denunciation of all other paths, censured much like a schoolyard bully would attack a classmate.  He didn’t blame a “god” for his father’s death.  People die, it’s part of an undeniable necessity of every life cycle on the planet.  But what kind of god warrants such excuses to validate the faithful for such cowardly acts of conceit against death?  How can any god allow an inevitability, then bless those who march so disrespectfully over the body of a good man against it?  He was right the first time he left.  He only returned at the health of his father.  That is no longer going to be an issue.

He grips his chest when he puts down the phone.  Does he have a heart as strong as his father’s?  He doesn’t know.  But the answer is not found in his past.  He did not go to the memorial service so as not to take focus from a man who deserved to be honored, however they chose to honor him.  He has no desire to pick up the phone in that direction ever again.  That life perished with his father, fell silent with David, was tied with twine by his mother, and sucked into oblivion by Aaron.  All this in the name of ‘God.’  He loved life, he loved living.  There is no need to fear death when one is celebrating life.

Because of that none of them were never contacted again… including God.

James P. Perez © 2014

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Chapter 30 – A Beginning

He is nervous.  He has the house to himself on this bright sunny Sunday.  He will not go to the meetings with his parents.  Already the elders have delayed the announcement of his excommunication because of his lack of attendance.  It seems to be important to them, but James doesn’t care.  And he tells them that.

Today is different, however.  He is in a better mood.  His father has a talk to give out of town so his parents left earlier in the morning.  James smiled at the information and retreated back to his room.  Once they have been gone for 30 minutes, he begins to quietly pack his clothes into two duffle bags, emptying one side of the closet.  His mom had crammed his entire childhood into the other side without a sense of historical sentimentality.  He then remembers… he doesn’t have a mom anymore.  So he continues packing his clothes, all of which are marked with a small tag reading his Bethel number of “594”, used to keep everyone’s laundry separate.  He knows how the numbers function.  He worked on the computer program that monitors them.

He thinks about taking his computer.  No.

His heart is pounding so hard he fears it’s going to knock the wind out of him.  He loads the two bags into his car and goes back inside to sit on the bed, trying to calm down.  He eventually gets himself moving again to start packing everything else in the room into his closet.  He looks at his childhood memories loosely packed in boxes filled with his graduation cap, diploma, pictures of his first trip to New York, awards and honors he achieved in school.  The boxes told a story of a child who had so much talent and potential… a suppressed dreamer unable to pursue any of it because of an organization that praises structure over truth and promotes the ignorance of separation over the empowerment of knowledge.  He remembers the scholarship he was offered.  He remembers Henry, the first boy he kissed in high school.  He briefly skims through some of his artwork.  He sees the plans and pictures of the assembly hall and decides to take the binder of architectural drawings with him… it’s the only resume he has.  He remembers being given a small baseball bat with his name engraved in it.  He remembers his baptism.

On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?

No, not anymore.   Jehovah and I have two very different definitions of “sin” and I will not repent from any of mine.  I am proud of them, I honor them.  I respect their existence and acknowledge the good and the bad that they have, can, and will do. 

Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?

Yes, and I wish it is something I could retract.

He was a child, he didn’t know what he was doing.  As an adult now, he knows more, feels more, understands human nature with more clarity.  He regrets that he has been so blind in sticking with the organization that allows such brutality.  Being distracted with kingdom hall and assembly hall buildings made it easier to tolerate, work with, and support the religion.  But the organization allows people, imperfect mortals, to control others and wield power that no human should have over another human.

He’s not resentful of the time he spent with them.  He learned much that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  But there is a good and decent human being whose light has been extinguished from the planet and he feels an increased level of responsibility to replace that light.  He doesn’t know how just yet… but he’s going to find out.  The anticipation makes him pause for reassurance that he is doing the right thing.

He closes the door to the closet.

He walks next door to see his grandmother.  He just wants to say “hi”, give her a hug.  She appreciates it.  He walks back.

He enters his room and looks at his phone.  There was one number of one guy he met one time way back before the shit storm started.  On Friday he called and asked if he could crash at his place a few days…

Sure man!  Come stay as long as you need.

Relief.  One small thread poking out after the rains, the winds, lightening, and the torrential display of engorged authority bloated with self righteousness there stands this one thread sicking out after the storm.  The biggest smile comes over his face.  Years of his life melted from his body.  Relief.

The dynamic in the house began to shift in the past week.  His parents were talking, moving, and conversing differently.  They will help him.  They will fix him.  They will make him better for with Jehovah, all things are possible.  He can stay in the house, get a job, and they will nurse him back to health.  It’s the best possible maternal mending held fast by a paternal powerhouse drenched in the glory of God’s love.  His mother is already telling stories of how her son was salvaged from the grips of Satan’s claws and redeemed through the power of the one true organization of Jehovah.   There is a need to control, to reconstruct, to infuse a new bible battery to power the shining example of the golden boy he once was… the ultimate story of redemption and salvation.  For his parents, it is not only possible, it has already happened in their minds.

James just needs to catch up.

He couldn’t take any more intervention.  Some things people just need to do on their own and this time he needs to walk on his own feet, his own way, and be honest about who he is as a human being.  He is not a Jehovah’s Witness.  He was a gay man trying to play a straight role in a religion that considers his natural biology worthy of condemnation.  And for 23 years, he went along with it, he worked for this organization, dedicated his life to it’s growth, and promoted it from door to door.  And every year the light of truth inside his soul dimmed… until he met someone who turned the volume up… way up… to the point where publishers, elders, and bethelites took notice and feared the beam that shot forth, for the brilliance of it’s honesty was too much for them to comprehend.

He likes that light.  He doesn’t fear that light.  In the grand scheme of things it’s positive energy being put out into the universe… something far more beneficial than any energy someone like Bechman produces or extracts out of others by beating them with the bible.  James sighs at the concept.  The bible is a book with no original documents written by people who thought the world was flat… and the copies of the translations that do exist are then translated into English… English, a language confusing in its spelling but so oversimplified in it’s lexicography it only has one word for “love”.  And somehow a group of people, any group of people, will provide a specific interpretation of precise wording and use it to to impose discipline and banishment in grandiloquent arrogance tantamount to that of the Crusades.  That is arrogance on a level even James fears to tread.  And yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told they must accept whatever comes through the organization, the good and the bad.  We are all just humans, after all.

One could apply the same philosophy to the supposed “wicked world” – one must accept the good and the bad, the evil and the angelic, the “blessings and the maledictions”.  There are evils of society, government, people who are obsessed to the point of causing harm, bombers, and mass shooters.  But in such debris comes the good.  Fred Rodgers is quoted as saying “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

For every tragedy, there are always people running to the problem.  James loves these people, he is inspired by these people.  They do not act out of religion or faith, their instinctual response isn’t because of their love of god.  They act out of a sense of global humanity and honest concern for their fellow man, something his former church failed to teach him.  Any religion that adamantly believes they are the one and true path to salvation is a lesson in a cloaked sense of superiority.  In the back of their mind, running at all times is their “reality”… they have the truth, you do not.  They have the answer, you do not.  They will survive the last days and the coming judgement of god at Armageddon, and you will not.  The colors of the ties and dresses may be different, but the smiling display of warmth and “humility” is exactly the same.  They are not concerned for humanity, they are only concerned for themselves.  If every religion who separates themselves off with such dramatic enthusiasm were to tear down the walls they have erected, they would be shocked to see at how similar they are to each other… and many times, they are indistinguishable.

So when it comes to this particular cult-like religion cowering behind imaginary plastic facades trying to protect themselves from the Devil and his demons, he doesn’t want to be fixed or healed.  He wants to move on and grow up, think globally and respect humanity as a whole.  That is where he finds himself when he sits at the dining room table, writing a brief note to his parents.

I’m sorry, but I have to do this on my own.  Goodbye.

He signs it.

The release of one’s mask brings a freedom from tunnel vision, the ability to view the periphery previously obstructed by the limitations of the eye holes.  In his naked exposure, he his proud of who he is.  And for being such, he has been beaten with lies and absurdity.  Even more painful, the man he loved was beaten to the point of being unrecognizable.  He chooses to not stand for this behavior.  He is better than this.  And if he’s not better than this… he’s going spend all the time he needs to make himself better than this.  He will never reach the same level of brightness that Aaron or people like him can produce, but he can try.  He would rather give it an honest attempt then muzzle his heart.

There is a place he has seen and visited where there are people just like him living honest and openly.  It is a world filled with orphans and rejects kicked out and discarded by their families,  some with physical violence and disgust.  They welcome everyone, the poets and the idealists, the artist and the philosophers.  They welcome those broken down from the ravishes of religion, homophobia, and hate.  And their response is to have a big fucking party.  But they also fight, organize, and care for each other, they tend to the sick and the ailing, the lonely and the depressed.  They volunteer their time and money to better themselves and the world around them.  The community is not perfect, from what he has experienced it has its faults and those who overindulge… But I gotta take the good with the bad, right?  It certainly couldn’t be any worse than what he just went through.

He looks around one last time.  He smiles to himself.  He can’t believe he’s doing this.  He can’t believe it took him this long to do it.  Thank you Aaron.  Thank  you for the kick in the ass I needed.

He walks outside and locks the front door.  He tears up a little, he’s not sure why, he wasn’t expecting that.

He gets in the car and starts driving quickly, before any of the neighbors see him.  Once he gets on the highway he puts in White Zombie’s “Astro Creep: 2000”, a CD he has purchased four times since first listening to it with Tony, and cranks it up.  He is officially moving the devil from the backseat to the front.  And come to find out, he’s not that much of a devil after all – certainly not the worst one he’s encountered.  James rolls down the windows and screams with joy to the open Texas landscape.  People passing him think he’s insane.  He is insane, and he just escaped from the institution.  He’s free.  He’s finally fucking free.  He can’t stop smiling from joy of nothingness on his shoulders.  The light in his chest is getting brighter and brighter the farther he drives, pulsing with a stronger sense of morality, integrity, and humanitarianism.

It feels so fucking good to taste the molecules of air on the back of his throat.  Nothing scares him anymore.  He’s not invincible, in fact, he now knows exactly how fragile he is.  He respects it.  It’s beautiful to him.   Everything is beautiful, even the burned flat Texas fields of dead grass and falling fences look beautiful.  And now, he can be whoever the hell he wants to be.  His choice.  Because he is free to make that choice.

He is… FREE.

His cell phone rings.  It’s his parents.

He happens to be coming up on a body of water.  He stops at the lake and stands on the edge of the grass.  He looks at his Motorola StarTac phone.  Eight missed messages.  He breathes in the fresh air and throws his cell phone has hard as he can.  It makes a tiny splash in the distance, barely any ripples.  He smiles and gets back in his car.

Okay.  NOW he’s free.

THE START.

James P. Perez © 2013

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

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

Chapter 27 – Shit Storm

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!

Will do!

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.

I see.

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.

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. 

I don’t…

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.

Meetings?

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?

Yes.

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?

Yes.

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.

Aaron…

Yeah?

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.

Goodbye, James.

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.

Blank.

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. 

Aaron, please…

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.

And closer.

He closes his eyes.

Jolt.  A screeching and a crunch.  He feels the car spin.

Blackout.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 26 – Road Trip

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.

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.

You are?

Yes.

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.

Thank you.

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.

He’s gone.

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

Chapter 25 – An Ending

The life cycle of a bethelite is fairly simple.  One begins work at Bethel and after 90 days there is a review.  If the review is favorable, then the volunteer is required to work for a minimum of one year.  After their year is up, there is no fanfare, there is no acknowledgement or notice.  Bethel, Inc. assumes one will continue to work.  However, should someone want to leave, a letter of intent is written to their overseer.  This is considered a “30-day notice.”  In the event someone is excommunicated (disfellowshipped) or in other ways required to vacate the premises quickly, brothers are assigned to pack up the room, place everything on a pallet, and ship it off.

The first in the group of friends to leave is Jake.  He put in his letter shortly after the accident with James’s knee.  Jake was having a very difficult time with his job.  Being a waiter at Bethel is demanding and every single item on each of the dining room tables has to be arranged in a very specific “Bethel standard” format.  The place settings, food delivery, how to pour the water, and how much to give in refills is all meticulously regulated.  Jake is an artistic, fun, bouncing free spirit, and it is impossible for him to be that detailed oriented.  Plus the hours are long, waiters have to be there before breakfast and stay to clean up after dinner.  They eat later than everyone else, and although they are given extra time off to compensate for the hours worked, the time is when everyone else is working, so there’s nothing for them to do.

He was the first to confront James about his emotional fluctuations.  Dude, you are like a completely different person.  It’s like your nerves are shot to hell.

They were shot to hell, still.  James couldn’t seem to get a grip on his emotions and having a talented illustrator and sketch artist like Jake leave Bethel was nothing but heavy-hearted sadness.  It looks like I might be right behind you, James told him as he left to the airport.

After the meeting with Brother Friar, he realized that he might be leaving… for real.  It was a realization that had yet to sink in.  Aaron has been amazing, putting up with the bipolar apogees of what was once a very well put together, controlled, and disciplined mad-man.  The Vicodin had stripped away all the tools of emotional management that are used to deal with everything from not cuddling to how the eggs were cooked at breakfast.  James hates not being in control, for the emotion he contains is vast and plentiful, and without proper moderation and restraint, they can travel endless distances and cause a tremendous amount of harm.

James still keeps a bottle of Vicodin around, just in case.  Stairs are difficult, standing is stiff, but at least he can walk on it now with the help of a cane.  He realizes that he owes Aaron… everything.  James has never put another person through so much emotionally than he has Aaron in the past two months.  He had never been as close to anyone, opened up emotionally and physically, he had never cared about someone else’s well being as much as he cared about Aaron, and with the pain pills, all that seemed to have been grotesquely thrown back in Aaron’s face relentlessly.

James decided it was time for a ‘thank you’, an apology, and to tell Aaron that it looks like he’s going home.

He makes reservations for dinner at the Mohonk Mountain House which offers a seasonal menu at $75.00 a plate.  Aaron comes home from work and James tells him the plans for the evening.  Aaron sits down… he is surprised and overwhelmed.  He is noticeably excited, something James hasn’t seen in months. The dining hall was set on a lake, an elegantly wood carved room with large dignified windows giving an awe-inspiring view of the sun setting over the Hudson Valley.  The table for two was set in the corner and each are allowed three items off the menu.

After dinner there was a walk on the wooden railed boardwalk that runs along the side of the water.  There wasn’t a lot of talking during dinner, but there were smiles and the energy from the table was balanced for the first time since the injury.

James needs to take a break from walking.   There are little alcoves with benches set over the water.  The two sit down on one.  Aaron sits unusually close to James.  It feels comforting.

I cannot think of anything less Bethel than this.

It’s wonderful.  And to you I must apologize for my behavior and thank you for tolerating me.

Oh James.  It’s okay.  I know all this has been tough.

But there is not another person on this planet I want to hurt, and I know I’ve hurt you, some of the things I’ve said…

James, stop.  You’re making this harder.

He gets the feeling they are talking in two different directions.  Making what harder?

Aaron takes a breath.  Looking down he says, They are making move out.

What?  Of Bethel?

No, your room.  They think we’re a band influence on each other.  They said… Aaron stops for a second as his eyes are beginning to water and turn red.  This is hard.  They said if I don’t move out, they will send me home.

James is stunned.  He’s angry but he’s also in disbelief.  His emotions are fluctuating between the feeling of betrayal for Aaron not telling him sooner and the feeling of indignation that this is something they can protest. Aaron can see the tidal clash of two liquid emotions crashing inside his friend and tries to continue, I don’t want to move out.  Nothing in me wants to… please believe me.  But if it means staying at Bethel, I have no choice.

James focuses on the water around them and gets a grip on his feelings.  Do you think this is Bechman?

I think so.  I mean, Brother Kelly was pretty uncomfortable with the conversation.

What do  you mean?

All the other times he’s talked to me he has been really concerned, like he’s really trying to help me out.  But this time he had no facts or any information, it was just a message he was delivering.  Plus he kept talking about involvement with the congregation, so…

James wants to get up and fight, but he has no fight left in him.  I can’t believe this.  All those little comments that people keep making about Beckman… I couldn’t ever figure out why people are so scared of him.  

Aaron is sitting even closer to James with tears streaming down his face, but still speaking close to normally.  I don’t know what to do, James.  I want to stand up to them and say ‘No.  Kick me out if you want to but don’t kick me out because of the opinion of someone else’.

James give Aaron a hug.  Wow.  The new Aaron.  Ballsy.  I like it.  I like it a lot better than the new James.

Awe.  It hasn’t been that bad.

Aaron, please.  I know it’s been awful.  I’m been pissing myself off.

It’s okay, he says while rubbing James’s back.

And I’m trying not to take any more pain pills to hopefully balance all this out, but it’s slow in coming and it’s affecting my work… so… James takes a moment to breathe, because of this knee… it is suggested that I go home.

What?

It wasn’t a work related injury, so my choices are to either take time off to get it taken care of or go home, and I don’t have enough vacation time to take off to get knee surgery. 

Aaron puts his arm around James’s shoulders and pulls him in close.  I’m so sorry.

James rests his head on Aaron’s chest.  If everyone could just wait, I will be gone in a month and you will have the room to yourself.  With the sound of Aaron’s beating heart James feel the quivering tension of an explosion subside.  In his head he is screaming and yelling… hitting random people with his cane just to exert some energy equal to the level of disappointment and frustration he was feeling.  He is in tears, but he is keeping it together like he has never done before.

He lifts his head and Aaron takes back his arm.  This is going to tear me up on the inside.  You can’t leave the room.  Not now.  Wait a month.

No, I can’t.

Please?  Tell them you will think about it and wait a month.

I already told them I would move.

Aaron.  What?

Don’t get mad.  I didn’t have a choice… just like you didn’t have a choice.

I have a choice, just one that really sucks.

Aaron faces James.  Please know I didn’t want any of this to happen.

James sees Aaron’e eyes and exhales.  I believe you.  I’m sorry.  James tries to regather his thoughts.  Do you think these two incidents are connected?

Uh… yeah.  Aaron, such a flare with the obvious.  

I just want to freeze time and savor the moment so that I will always know how wonderful life can be.

Aaron scrunches his face, Can we save a moment from a few months back?

James smiles, Yeah, that’s a better idea.

Aaron moves close to James and grabs his hand.  I like that a lot.  He then rests his head on James’s shoulder.

It seems Aaron had it in him all along.  The close, intimate moment against the lights of the resort and the lap of the lake behind them… people passing by, smiling, accepting, walking along without discrimination.  It was a moment of perfect peace set against the most tumultuous tempest that he had ever faced.  It was the eye of the storm and it was calming, comforting, a pillow of clouds against the cold concrete of Bechman’s Bethel.

Aren’t you feeling brave with the public display of affection?

Aaron sits up and smiles and gestures, What?  This is the one place no bethelite would ever be.  And very few Witnesses would pay 75 bucks for a meal.  So… He extends his arm around James again, pulls him in with a smile and kisses him on the cheek.

James laughs.  Here we are, only 5 miles from Bethel and yet a million miles away.

We’ve always been a million miles away.

Yeah, but we were a million miles away together.  

Yeah.  I like it that way.

James tries to look Aaron in the eye.  It’s hard.  Aaron, I can say with the most honest and pure heart that I completely and truly love you.

Thank you, because I love you too.  You’re the one person I honestly feel I cannot live without.

What the hell are we going to do?

The two stopped talking for a while and just absorbed the nature, the surroundings, the air, each other.   There was nothing that could be done… they both knew this.  They wanted to fight but there was nothing to fight against… it would be like trying to scratch a way inside a fortified cube with no windows or openings.

The next day, James drafts his letter of intent to leave Bethel.

Watchtower Farms owns various little farmhouses and barns scattered in the area acquired as Bethel purchased more and more property over the years.  Usually these buildings are left standing and are renovated for one purpose or another.  Aaron was moved to a single occupant bedroom in a small white farmhouse on Steen Road, 1/2 mile farther from the Watchtower Farms main buildings than the already distant A Building.  It now takes him twice as long to walk home, and he has to catch a ride in the mornings to be on time for breakfast.

Aaron tries to recreate the look of A314 in his room but it was still cold, isolated, and lonely… and everyone could see the look of defeat upon his face.  He tried to smile and laugh, but the fire he held in his chest is starting to grow cold.

A week after his letter is submitted, James is called into a judicial committee meeting.  No information was given, just a note that came to his room and nothing more.  The next day at the scheduled time, he shows up to a meeting room and goes into the door.  Inside there are three older brothers he has never seen before sitting in a half-circle, each with pad of paper, a pen, and one or two manila folders of paperwork.  There is a chair in the middle, presumable for James.

(Brother 1)  Brother Perez.  Please have a seat.

He takes his seat and places the cane on the floor.

(Brother 2)  How is the knee doing?

Not very well.  I have loose cartilage and a messed up tendon.  It hurts a lot, and the pain killers have given me a nervous condition.

(Brother 3)  When did you have this accident?

It’s been over two months ago.  I should have already been taken care of and back to work by now.

(Brother 3)  And was this a work related accident?  I don’t know, I didn’t get any paperwork on this.

My understanding is that if this was a work related accident, it would have been taken care of.  Since it was not, I have to go months without treatment.

(Brother 1)  James, I can tell you are upset about this.  And with your Bethel letter alerting us to your 30-day notice, we can see the same anger.

Brothers, I certainly don’t mean to present a lot of anger.  How else does one react to a total lack of concern for my health?  No one seems to care that I am in severe pain with little chunks of cartilage floating around every time my knee moves.

(Brother 2)  You had several weeks of physical therapy.  Why didn’t you bring this up then?

I have been asking for an MRI scan and an orthopedic specialist from the first day I walked into the infirmary.  All I got were rubber band exercises and an endless supply of Vicodin.

(Brother 1)  Well, we will get to that in a second because your drug dosage is at a dangerously high level.  And recently you asked for an increase.

No I didn’t.

(Brother 1)  You went in to complain about the pain.

Because it hurts and the best way to solve the pain is to correct the problem, not cover it over with pain pills.  Brother Friar knows that.

(Brother 2)  Okay, we will get to that in a second.  First let’s talk about your breakfast attendance, which you know is mandatory. 

It was every conversation he has had about his knee with every bethelite since the accident… all over again.  Because of the nature of judicial committees, the main focus is not on facts or justice, but on a person’s attitude and humility when it comes to the structure of Jehovah’s Organization.  Two people can commit the same sin (adultery for example, considered a “natural” sin).  One person may go into the judicial committee filled with remorse and tell them everything that happened.  The other may go in, admit it was wrong, but refuse to give the details of the sexual act claiming it’s ‘none of their business.’  This person would be disfellowshipped because of his attitude and unwillingness to cooperate with the elders in disclosing all the intimate details.

At Bethel, one’s attitude must be that of unity and cohesion.  There is a militaristic compliance in listening to one’s superiors, whether they are correct or not.  It is a concern that James kept bucking the wishes of the medical staff and his insistence in wanting alternative treatment showed a lack of flexibility in working with the brothers and sisters in the infirmary.  The end result of the pain medication shows his inability to be rational with this circumstance.  His resulting anger and frustration were considered attitudes not befitting the dignified nature of a Bethel worker.  His emotions may be justified, but his expression of them were considered disruptive and dangerous.

With it all being presented so simplistically, James found he didn’t disagree with the brothers at all.  You’re right, I am angry, irrational, and frustrated.  I want to go home get this knee taken care of.

(Brother 3)  How is your heart?

Broken.  I was really hoping to stay here longer and now I’m going home because of an accident no one wants to touch.  My heart is broken.

The end result is the committee deciding not to hold James at Bethel for the full 30 days.  Instead, they are going to ask him to leave.  It was requested he be out by Thursday.  However, they would accept Friday if three days wasn’t enough time to arrange his affairs.

James… Aaron said, shocked without breath, That’s so soon.

I don’t know, Aaron.  They want me out and they want me away.

They were sitting in Aaron’s room on the futon, side by side.  I am so sorry.

Technically speaking I’m being ‘asked to leave.’

What the fuck?  They won’t even let you have your own exit?  You’re the one who said you were leaving, not them.

They are asking me to leave early because of my attitude.  And that’s the part that gets me because that is the part that they put down on paper and send back to the congregation. 

Dammit.

I fought on that one, Aaron, I really fought.  But it was no use.  The more I fight the worse of an attitude I have.

So what are you going to do?

Like so many other issues in the past month, James was so preoccupied with the emotional side of things he failed to realize there was action needing to be taken.  It wasn’t suppose to end like this.

Aaron put his arm around him and the two huddled motionless, almost realizing that this may be the last days they will have together.  The inability to digest life without the other person being there was something they didn’t want to face.  James had come to grips with it,  but now things are… different.  Aaron really pulled through a massive haul with James’s Vicodin addiction.  James’s heart was captivated by so much love… but now, in addition there are levels of appreciation and honor, faith and thankfulness that supersedes any romantic intent James was enjoying.  It was no longer about sex or comfort… it was about this bright lighthouse of a good and decent human being whose light was flickering dimmer and dimmer by the day.  That can’t happen.

James is so over taken by his feelings he fails to understand that he needs to pack his entire room into his tiny car and drive to Texas, where his parents are living, in three days time.  He has to physically remove himself from Watchtower Farms, the friends he made, the fun in the City, his work, the brothers and sisters in Saugerties, and everyone he knows… and leave Aaron, the one person who showed him so many different aspects that can captivate another human being.

He doesn’t know how to let go.

Centuries of artists and poets come from the depths of the earth and begin screaming in his ear all their anguish of all their lost loves in one groundshaking screech.  This… is heartbreak.  Both men were feeling two separate versions of it at the same time.  This is what it feels like to have the soul ripped out through the heart.  It hurts.

It hurts… a lot.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 24 – Requisitions

The volunteer workers at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses are given $90.00 a month to help pay for incidental expenses such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, or supplemental foods they might enjoy.  Three meals a day, a clean room, and a bed are provided for them.  The money is also used to help bethelites get to meetings at their assigned congregations.  Each trip to and from a meeting costs $3 for a passenger. Each passenger gives their money to the driver to help pay for gas and, in the case of the brothers who travel to Saugerties, the toll of the New York State Thruway.  Since 90% of the brothers working at the Watchtower Farms do not have vehicles, this means that of the $90.00 allowance given each month, around $24.00 of that is spent just on travel to the congregations.  That’s not including any other trips to go out in field service on Saturdays or get togethers with their local brothers.

There was also a running account for each Bethel member.  If a person needed glasses, the lenses would be crafted and the frames would be fitted at cost.  James bought his glasses for $15.00 total.  But that amount is put on one’s account.  If a brother or sister wanted to wash their car, or have a headlight replaced, it was all provided for, and then charged to one’s account.  Even small things like notebook paper, pens, bandages, etc. were all charged and at the end of the month there is a bill… and that bill is deducted from one’s allowance.  Some brothers find they are left with no money at all after just one weekend causing the dynamic of people working at the World Headquarters of the one true God, Jehovah to act like more like 18th century London street urchins than the dignified workers they were constantly told they were.

The idea is to seclude the workers off from the extraneous by keeping them unable to experience anything on the outside.  In rare occasions like James and Aaron, parents would provide some sort of supplemental help either through checks or with a credit card.  Care packages like those sent from Amber and the twins would always include goodies to eat, fun things to read, and a check.  Checks could be cashed at Finance department service window during regular business hours.  All the brothers in the computer department were on rotation to give tours to visitors and James eventually became a regular.  At the end of each tour some of the brothers would shake his hand and slip him $40 or $60.  Sometimes it was from one person, sometimes it was from multiple people.  On occasion James would receive a phone number from a young sister’s father which always felt just as pimp/whorish as it sounds.  Little old ladies were sweet, but they would only slip $5 or $10 at most, and somehow that seemed absurd to James.  Still he smiled, and was thankful that each of them could spend all this money to come visit the Watchtower Farms in the middle of fucking no where, and still be generous enough to part with five fucking dollars.

And it is at that point James officially realizes how Bethel changes someone.  He understood the mentality of having nothing and being dependent on a sole provider, allowing them to be your only source of financial support, fun, relaxation, spiritual growth, mental stimulation, and physical well being.  He understood how it made a class of people eager for any handout, gift, or offering of food to the point where it becomes indigent neediness.  There is an entitlement that grows from under the depths of the volunteer worker system at Bethel, and when it finally takes root, and it will take root, it becomes a vicious and demanding bitch.

The only person who didn’t seem affected by this phenomenon is Aaron.

Dependency in all of its forms can sometimes be contrived tricky maneuvering, especially when it comes to the matter of the health care system at Bethel.  Injuries are divided into two categories:  Work-Related Accident, or Non-Work Related Accident.  The difference between the two is demoralizing.

Meeting #1 – The Day After

It looks like a doctor’s office.  It smells like a doctor’s office.  But it’s not a doctor’s office.  Finally making it past the waiting room of people who bumped their head or were green with stomach aches, James now sits on an examination table waiting for the results of his x-rays.  His knee is still hurting, but at least the swelling has subsided by an inch or so.  There is no strength at the joint at all.

The Watchtower Farms do not have a full time doctor on staff.  They have nurses and people who were assigned to the department much the same way James was assigned to computers or Aaron was assigned to mail sorting.  He has already been given a speech about the cost of the x-rays that are now billed on his account.

James puts his head in his hands, This is so messed up, I know.

The medical worker comes in.  She is a robust woman, a little taller than James, with short bobbed hair and a very plain, simple look about her wearing a white coat and holding a clipboard.

James, I have some bad news.

What is it?

The doctor looked at your x-rays and you seem to have loose cartilage floating around in your knee.

That was something James could tell from just trying to bend the damn thing, but he let her continue.

What  happened was your knee cap came off, and popped back in.  With that, it tore up a lot of cartilage and may have even damaged a tendon.  We won’t know unless we get an MRI scan.

Good.  There is a process in place. He feels relieved.  Okay, let’s do it.

Do what?

Get an MRI scan.

Well, because this is a non-work related injury, you are going to have to pay for it yourself.

I understand that.  But I am in a lot of pain right now and would like to get this taken care of promptly.

James, I don’t think you understand.  An MRI at cost is about $500.00.  It may eventually lead to an operation… just to remove loose cartilage.

That’s fine.  When do I schedule? 

The sister looks at James with the most unbelievable face of disbelief and amusement before half laughing, You’re a bethelite.  You can’t afford that.

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  There is path to recovery, to freedom from this constant pain.  This sister is suggesting that because bethelites are poor, the best thing is to not know what’s going on in the knee.  It takes a full thirty seconds for him to comprehend that her responses are serious… she really believes this and the end result is that she isn’t going to help him… at all.

Listen, sister… bethelite or not, my health doesn’t work off ninety dollars a month.  I have parents, I can ask them for the money.  I have a credit card in my wallet that has that much on it if we wanted to do this right now just please schedule an MRI.

The sister was a little taken aback by intensity of the plea, but she looked at her clipboard and back up at James.  Well, we have to schedule this with an outside company.  It’s going to take some time.

Please.  I am in a tremendous amount of pain.  

For the pain I have 300mg of Vicodin for you.

Okay, and for the MRI?

For the MRI you are going to have to put in a requisition using the form found in the various lobbies.  I believe we have some in the waiting room, in fact.

What?

In the meantime, I’m going to pass you off to Sister Wallace in Physical Therapy.  Hopefully she can help you with some exercises that will reduce the swelling and help keep that knee flexible.  She might fit you up with some rubber bands for stretching.  You’re going to have to pay for those but they’re pretty inexpensive.

He could not grasp what he was hearing.  I’m confused.  Physical Therapy?  You just said I may need to get this operated on.

Again, you would need an MRI before even thinking about surgery.

Which I am okay with.  So let’s get the MRI.

And I’m trying to tell you, you need to put in a requisition first, and if they approve you, you can get an MRI scheduled.  It will be at least six weeks.

It is like being caught underwater five inches from the surface, unable to reach fresh air.  The seriousness of the situation was turning to mud sliding down the crevices of what was once structure and strength.  She really didn’t understand the extent of the injury and now she is trying to move things along so she can give more faulty medical advice to the next victim.

Six weeks?  I’m kind of in an emergency situation here.

Oh, come on.  I wouldn’t call it an emergency.  But listen, I will put in my own recommendation that you get that knee scanned.  We will get you an appointment with an orthopedic specialist we refer bethelites to… and you have the Vicodin.

How long will I be out of work?

She is again amused by him.  Out of work?  As soon as we get that thing wrapped up and get you some crutches, you can get back to work today, hopefully. 

Meeting #2 – Physical Therapy

The physical therapy area looks like a first grade classroom.  There are brightly colored balls and bands, different kinds of rubber and plastic instruments of mobility all set around a large, round wood veneer table and small wooden chairs with very little cushion.  Sister Wallace is a peppy middle-aged woman with shoulder-length reddish-blond hair and is pseudo-charming, somewhere on the annoyance level of Strawberry Shortcake.

James swallows a Vicodin without any water.

Good news!  She says as she enters the room.  I got you approved for these… She reaches into the closet and pulls out a pair of crutches. That way, you can get back to work for this afternoon.  Now, these are just borrowed.  If you want to purchase them you have to put in a request.  But you won’t be needing them for that long, and this way it doesn’t cost you any money.

What about the MRI to see what’s going on with my knee?

Sister Wallace tried to be as comforting as possible in her limited version of genuine sweetness.  We know what’s going on with your knee.  You have some loose cartilage   It will settle.  So  as long as we keep that knee moving, you won’t get any of that loose cartilage stuck in some crevice that would prevent your knee from moving smoothly. 

Wait, sister.  That makes sense with the the front and side, but you can’t tell me that the pain I’m feeling in the back of my leg is just a bit of loose cartilage.

Well, it might be worse.  But with the therapy we’ll be able to see what happens once the swelling goes down and the cartilage settles, okay?

Not really.  I would prefer to have my injury scanned in full color and checked out by an orthopedic specialist.  Today, if possible.

The sister moves closer to James and puts her hand on his back and tries to talk softly.  James, and MRI is expensive, as is the specialist visit.  We are talking anywhere in the area of $700.00 for the consultation, the scan… and you will have to pay for a taxi ride to get there if you don’t have your own car.  The price can add up.

The sincerity in her voice was almost too much and he couldn’t have this argument anymore, with anyone.  It was a trap and it was pointless.  Money isn’t as much of an issue as walking around with my knee like this.

I will let my overseers know you are interested in the scan, but you still need to fill out a requisition.  Now, in the meantime I have gotten you approved for these rubber bands, you will have to pay for them of course.  There are three of them in three bright colors for three different levels of resistance…

Sister Wallace then proceeded to demonstrate using the exercise bands tied around the middle of an office chair and wrapped around the ankle.  From this position one could do several leg exercises, both extension to the front, and off to the side.  One could also stand up and pull one’s leg backward.  It was suggested James starts with the lowest resistance (yellow) and work his way up.

He didn’t go to work that day.  He made the trek across the road back to the room on his new used crutches.  He didn’t know how to respond to any of this and emotionally he felt helpless and lost.  He called his parents.  Like everything else regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their solution is “listen to what the Organization tells you.”  No matter what the problem is, the solution is always “listen to what the Organization tells you.”  James knows that phrase makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy because it frees the burden of responsibility to someone else for your spiritual well being…  but in this case there is a physical injury being made worse with neglect and “listen to what the Organization tells you” isn’t the advice he needed because the Organization was wrong.

The next morning he wakes up to excruciating pain.  He takes a Vicodin and wraps his leg tight.  He barely makes it to the required breakfast.  A little later on he is trying to do stretching exercises at his desk.  It is almost unbearable but he tries to the point of tears.  He puts his elbows on the desk and places his face in his hands.  He wants to cry.  He wants to weep.  He wants to scream in frustration until everyone in the complex stops what they are doing so he can find one… just one person to stand up and say “Hey, I think this guy needs to see a real doctor!”

But instead he just breathes quietly.

Oscar comes up to the cubicle.  Hey chief, what’s going on?

James lifts his head and realizes he probably looks like a red-faced mess with a large exercise rubber band tied around his right ankle almost in tears… instead of the cool, collected computer programmer who normally sits at this desk.   Not much, Oscar.  I’m just doing what the doctor prescribed… popping pain pills and making my knee worse.

I don’t get it.

James explained the situation as calmly as he could, starting with the accident itself the day before.

You said this happened yesterday?

Yes.

Ah, that’s why.  It wasn’t a work-related accident.  Any additional medical services will have to be requested with a requisition.

So I keep being told.

Well, I hope  you feel better soon.  I know it’s hard to focus when you’re in pain.

That’s why I have these.  James shakes the bottle of Vicodin.

Oscar laughs and goes back to his desk.  James continues to attempt to do the exercises, but it finally becomes too much.  Instead he just moves his knee around to make sure none of the cartilage lands where it shouldn’t.  It still didn’t explain the inability to stand on the leg itself from the stabbing pain in the back of the knee.

Meeting #3 – Three weeks later

James has been able to get around using only one crutch for about a week.  The leg is tightly wrapped, but there is still no strength in it.  Today  he is sitting at a leg weight machine attempting to make it move… and finds it impossible to extend the foot out while there is any weight resistance.  So he is just staring at the machine… watching nothing happen.

Sister Wallace bounces in and looks surprisingly at James not moving the weights on the machine.

What’s going on here, James?

Sister, it’s been three weeks and it’s getting worse.

That’s impossible.

James was coming down off the Vicodin and was irritable.  No it’s not.  I have not had my knee properly taken care of.  And now it’s getting worse.

James, just breathe for a second.  I know that it seems like it’s getting worse, but it’s actually getting better.  Already you’re moving about with only one crutch.

Sister, I am in more pain then ever.  It takes me two hours of icing down my leg when I get up in the mornings.  I’ve already been talked to twice for missing breakfast but not missing work, and I got talked to by the touring department because I’m parking too close to the building and taking up visitor parking spaces.  And the entire time I just want to scream because I’m in so much pain.

Okay, okay.  I know the healing process can be frustrating.  I’m going to make sure we up your pain medication as well.  But James, if this becomes a problem for you to perform your Bethel service, you might consider going home to take care of this.

The last part of the sentence didn’t sink in right away.  Nothing did much anymore.  With the constant supply of Vicodin James wasn’t really sure what was real and what was implied.  He needed people to speak specifically.  And when the pills wore off, every sadness he had ever felt came crashing on his head in such burdensome layers of misery, it was impossible not to react manically.  And at this moment there was nothing more manic than having to go home and leave Aaron behind.  That was not an option.

What you are telling me, is that with a non-work related accident, even though everyone knows what should be done, even though I agree to pay for everything, Bethel will still drag it’s feet, delaying medical treatment and, if in the process it becomes a problem to my Bethel service, I have to go home?

Yes.

Does that make sense to  you?

Bethel isn’t suggesting you go home, James.  I’m just saying it may come to that somewhere down the road.  Later.

Well thank you for the warning, but you said I could get a scan and consultation done if I paid for it myself.

Which is impossible.  No bethelite has that amount of money.

Sister, please do not assume anything. 

Okay, Okay.  Next week we will have a brother who lives near Patterson visiting us for the day.  Once a month he makes the rounds to each of the facilities.  He’s a real doctor who works with joints and such, and you can talk with him.  I will put you on his list.  There are other bothers with work-related accidents that come first, however.  

Each time James visits the infirmary it feels like he’s having the same conversation with the same wooden marionettes, all with the memory of goldfish.  It seemed illogical that any one person would put such minimal importance on one’s health, but to have and entire organization working contrary to any productive solution was disheartening.  He doubts this doctor will be any different.

James leaves the physical therapy area and stops at the infirmary to fill out another requisition… for the third time.

Meeting #4 – One Month After

It looks like a doctor’s office.  It smells like a doctor’s office.  And unlike the first time he was in this room it will be functioning like doctor’s office.  The medication has him so confused sometimes.  It isn’t so much that he isn’t aware of what is going on, but that there are vast amounts of emotion that are starting to build and release at unspecified moments without warning.  So far he has yelled at Jake once and Aaron twice, even throwing a crutch in anger.  And for what?  Nothing.  It was emotion that comes out of no where and for no reason… then it disappears.  Afterward, a wave of shame and guilt as if he murdered an innocent child would hit.  These are all feeling he has felt before, but the potency of their volume and their proportion to the situation was completely uncontrollable.

He was yelling at people because no one would do what he wanted them to do.  So the question is asked, what is it that he wanted them to do?   James couldn’t answer.  It was frustrating.  The emotions of everyone around him became intense, as if a magnifying glass had been placed in front of everyone… and he would respond with the magnitude shown by the enlarged projection, NOT the actual level of emotion the person was expressing.  And with each misstep came a constant anger of failure.  He knew he had better control over his emotions than this.  He was able to handle the world of Feathers and the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses simultaneously and still go through the heartbreak with Ollie and now… now he’s going to throw a temper tantrum because Aaron is going to go spend the weekend with a family in Saugerties instead of being stuck in a room all weekend with a bipolar patient who can’t seem to control his emotions.

And James didn’t blame him.  In fact… he was jealous.  James wanted to escape whoever he was himself.  Sometimes he would be in mid-temper tantrum before he even knew what he was temper tantruming about.  Other times he would space out completely and come to, thinking to himself Wait, how did I get here? Other times he would blank out, and when he refocused, he had a full arsenal of emotions ready to go without knowing what he should be emotional about.  The inability to understand sentiment without context and ferocity without motivation is so much worse than the physical pangs of the knee injury.

The doctor enters the room.   He is tall, well built man, looks to be in his 40s.  Hello, James.

Hello.

I took a look at your x-rays, the ones from a month ago and the ones from today.

I know, I know… I have to pay for them.

He pauses for a second and tries to give James a comforting smile.  I’m guessing that the finances of this situation is not as critical as the situation itself.

James looked at the doctor in the eyes.  It was the most wonderful sentence he had heard in a month.  Finally.  The air in the room deflated and James lowered his head.  That’s what I’ve been trying to say for the past month, and no one seems to be listening to me.

The doctor signs a little and attempts to talk in an empathetic tone.  I am a professional.  I do this for a living.  These brothers and sisters here… they have your best interest at heart.  But they are not always as informed as they need to be.  

For the past month since this happened, I have been hopped up on Vicodin… which I’m now at… what, 750mg twice a day?  Three times a day?  I can’t remember, I just take them when it starts to hurt.  I’ve been icing my knee for two hours every morning.  I have to ice it down again at lunch at my desk.  I keep trying to do these stupid rubber band exercises all day to make sure I keep the knee moving…

 Stop.  What rubber bands?

You know… those stretch bands, they come in different colors and you use them for muscle resistance.  I had to pay for them myself, but the physical therapist gave me these exercises… James demonstrates.

The doctor looks disturbed and shocked.  Oh Jehovah, help me.  He gets up and walks out of the room.

James didn’t know what to think.  This could be good, it could be bad.  It  didn’t matter anymore, it was fucked up and it was going to remain fucked up for the rest of his life.  He started to feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of this weighing on him for decades to come.  He tried to focus.  Come on, James.  Keep it together.  You seem to finally have someone on your side.  Don’t have a mental breakdown now.

The doctor returns with the same robust sister (still sporting the same bobbed hair) that he saw his first day at the infirmity and two sets of x-rays in his hand.  He places the x-rays on the light box and turns it on.  Sister, James tells me that he has been in physical therapy for the past month.

Yes, he has been working with Sister Wallace, as prescribed by the doctor.

The doctor picks up the file he had previously left on the counter.  No where in here does it say anything about rubber band stretching exercises. 

He wrote down “physical therapy”.

Which could mean anything.  I want you to see this.  He motions her over to the light board displaying the x-rays and starts pointing.  This is James’s knee a month ago.  This is James’s knee a few hours ago.  You see that right there?

Yes.  It’s a little notch out.

Exactly.  A notch out, if you will.  That is bone, not cartilage.  James’s knee is getting worse, and no one is doing anything about it.  He turns his attention to James, catching him off guard, but not without its comfort.  Stop all exercises now.  Keep that leg wrapped up tight and ice it down as much as you can.  Cut back on the Vicodin.  James, it’s going to be tough and painful, but it needs to be done.  This is only until the specialist can be scheduled.

Is this something that you can handle while you are here?  The sister asked, nervously.

Sister, I cannot legally practice medicine in the state of New York.  I come here to help out where I can, but he needs a local specialist as soon as possible.  So if you could please do me a favor and go out there and schedule an appointment with whatever specialist you use.  Thank you.

The sister is quite taken aback and nods her head before rushing off, closing the door behind her.

James doesn’t know how to react.  He wants to hug the brother.  He wants to cry.  There was light at the end of this tunnel and it was him walking with full mobility.  Someone with voice, someone with authority finally stood up and made things happen.  It is so refreshing.  Thank you.

I’m sorry James, but this is crazy.  A month of physical therapy?  I’m going to have to talk with these brothers again.  James… Go to the doctor, he will schedule and MRI.  After the scan you’re going to have some choices to make.  I visit here once a month so come by and keep me posted, okay?

Okay.  He says it with smile that he didn’t know he had in him.  It had been a month since he smiled and meant it.  It had been a month since he felt appreciation and thankfulness.  Now he feels it.  And he doesn’t stop smiling.

Meeting #5 – Six Weeks After

Two weeks after the doctor from Patterson visited, Bethel was nice enough to give James transportation to a local orthopedic specialist.  He was a short, loud man, older, spunky.

You mean to tell me you’ve been like this for six weeks?

It took me two weeks just to get this appointment.

James, I hate to tell you this, but you not only still have loose cartilage… I can feel it when I rotate your knee… but there’s something wrong with your tendon.  That’s why you’re having that sharp pain behind your knee.

Wow.

I’m ordering an MRI immediately and we need to get you into surgery.

Doctor, look.  The people at the Farm will delay and drag their feet.  It will be another month before I even get an MRI.

You don’t have a month.  This needs to be done in a matter of days.

Then please promise me you will let them know the seriousness of this or else I will never get this taken care of.

The doctor looked blankly at James, almost as if he were talking in a different language.  No, no, no, no,no, that can’t happen.

Meeting #6 – Two Months After

One of the brothers who eats breakfast with James in the mornings is Brother Friar, a tall, black,  gentle man with soft eyes and a kind laugh.  He also works in the infirmity administration and has been communicating with James in the mornings about the slowness of the requisition process.

Two weeks after James’s visit to the outside doctor, Brother Friar calls him to the infirmary to talk.  James is walking with a cane at this point, still in pain, trying to live without the Vicodin and without knowing how to deal with the resulting mania that comes from not taking it.  He  knocks on the door and enters the office.

James!  Good morning.  Why don’t we sit on the couch here.

James sits and Brother Friar grabs a file and places himself on the opposite side of the couch.

When can I get my MRI?

Well, James… I’ve been talking with Brooklyn Bethel and other brothers around here trying to see what we can do.  We all feel that since this was not a work-related accident, it would be best if you handled this yourself and just asked for the time off.

You have got to be kidding me.

I wish I was, but it’s not something we want to handle.  There are a few good hospitals in the area.  The Kingston hospital is very good, as is the one in Middletown.

But I have no insurance.  How am I… James  could feel the wave of uncontrollable panic knocking at the gate.  He stops and takes a few deep breaths.  Is everyone wanting me to go home? 

Brother Friar looks at his file and then sympathetically back at James.  There has been some issues with you and your performance in the computer department, and there seems to be an issue with you and your roommate.

I can’t work well, because I’m in pain.

And you said that you haven’t been taking your pain medication.

 Because it’s addictive and the doctor I saw in your office said to cut back.

Still, pain killers are for pain, and if you don’t take them, that is your decision. If the result is you missing breakfast or not able to perform at work because of pain, we cannot help you with that.

I don’t believe this.  What is the issue with my roommate?

They didn’t give me any information about that.  It only says you two miss a lot of meetings together.

He was frustrated.  Well, we’re roommates.  We get sick at the same time.  

I’m just telling you what I found out.  (Pause.)  James, can I offer you a suggestion?

Of course.

I would suggest you handle this at home and not here.

That means I have to write a letter that I’m leaving Bethel and then wait 30 days before I can leave.

It would still be faster than waiting on us and easier than trying to get this taken care of around here.

Brother Friar could see it on his face… the loss, the hopelessness, the empty air that exited his soul through his eyes.  This is it.  He is leaving Bethel.  He is heading back home because he has an injury no one wants to get involved with and  it took them two months to say it.

He has to leave Bethel.

Even worse… he has to leave Aaron.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 23 – Snap!

Outside the inner turmoils troubling James, there was still an incredible amount of happiness in the air around him.  The young teenagers of the congregation saw the bethelites happy and joyful, sometimes pleasantly boisterous.  James never much cared for children or teenagers in or out of the Organization, despite his argument with Brother Kelly, but Aaron did and he would hang out with them, play the guitar, and encourage them in the most heartfelt, endearing, and honest of ways.

The two roommates began to spend more and more weekends apart from each other.  Already from the beginning James would feel lonely and missed Aaron when he was not around.  There are those moments when Oh, Aaron would like that or Aaron would think that was funny would run across his mind.  But it seemed to be a necessary evil to separate his longing heart from the situation, and maybe everyone would stop looking at them like a couple.  The energy that people place on them sometimes far outweighs the reality – it was more draining to present themselves as individuals than it is to simply live as a couple.  James found a solution in talking with the head of the drafting department at the Watchtower Farms.

He was invited, and he accepted, to work at the third location of the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Patterson, New Jersey to be part of the drafting team for an Assembly Hall that was going to be built further down I-84 in Newburgh.  Brother Bechman did not like this idea and talked it over with James on at least two occasions about missing the Sunday meetings at the South Saugerties Congregation.  James understood the problem, but his heart was in drafting and the brothers at Patterson gave him the okay to work over the weekends.  He would drive up on Saturday, and drive back.  Sunday go up again, catch the talk given at the Patterson congregation, and then skip the Watchtower study since bethelites already have the Watchtower study on Mondays.  That allows for about 14 or so hours of drafting on the assembly hall for the weekend.  He was meeting new people, making new friends, and having a real enjoyable time in a very relaxing atmosphere.

The other thing that Brother Bechman frowns upon  is that volunteer work in construction (in this case, the Assembly Hall) counts as field service hours.  From the time James first started to work on the Rosenberg, Texas Assembly Hall, there has never been any consistent answer as to how much a construction worker can use as part of their field service work.

All Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to spend at least 10 hours a month performing preaching work in some facet (usually in door-to-door service).  If one has the time then one could be an Auxiliary Pioneer on a month to month bases and dedicate 60 hours to ‘field service’.  The truly ambitious became Regular Pioneers giving 90 hours a month for a year, after which they are given the privilege of attending a private two-week school on how to become better preachers of the word (or “Illuminators of the World” as their training book calls them).  All time spent in all aspects of the Organization is recorded and each publisher has a “time sheet” that is turned in every month and reviewed by the elders.  The elders can then judge how a person is doing based on the time they are recording in field service.

The general, unwritten rule is construction work could count as fifty percent of one’s field service time, so that would be 5 hours going door-to-door and 5 hours+ helping out with the construction of a Kingdom Hall Building, for example.  Together, those 10 hours would fulfill the minimum time requirement for that particular Witness for that month.   For full time construction workers and committee members, the tally becomes disproportional, where they will spend 5 hours out in field service, but have 160 hours because of a construction projects the are on – so their time sheets would read “165 hours” which is all recorded as “field service”, thus giving an inflated accounting  of how much preaching work is being accomplished when the yearly reports for Jehovah’s Witnesses come out.  But there is an inconsistency based off one’s rank and importance in the Organization.  A framer who is just a regular publisher would still be required to make the ten hour minimum average while an organizational committee member and elder might count 100% of his volunteer work as ‘field service’.  It varied from location to location and body of elders to body of elders.

James decides to work five hours in field service in Saugerties one Saturday a month, then spend the rest of the Saturdays working on the Newburgh Assembly Hall.   He alternates Sundays so that there is always a consistent exhibit of congregational interest, something the local brothers sincerely appreciate.  The overseers with the Assembly Hall Committee thought this was a great solution.  Brother Bechman, did not and his disdain for the situation was even more noticeable when James would turn in his time sheet with “38 hours” or “42 hours” and he would get a look of annoyance, sometimes a question And how many of these are in actual field service?

At least five, of course, James would smile.

The congregation was weak and fragile, it was emaciated and hungry and the amount of bethelites flooding the place was suffocating them.  They needed brothers like Aaron, Jake, and Kyle to be there, smile with them, and care.  They needed brothers like Neil to broaden their minds and make them laugh.  James didn’t need to be there.  He was worker, a performer, a production coordinator.  He did best with organization and sequencing… not with human interaction and fellowship.  His job working with FoxPRO programming was nice, but it was hardly challenging.  Working on the assembly hall helped him maintain some stability in his head by doing what he loved while making sure he and Aaron spent some noticeable time apart.  The brothers and sisters at Patterson were nice, and friendly, they were relaxed and refreshing.  Of all the people and overseers he met there wasn’t a single overbearing Bechman among them.  It seemed Utopian in a way.  And it was a rejuvenating venture to escape everything weighing him down while still doing something productive in Jehovah’s Organization.

On Sundays, James, Aaron and Jake would meet back at the room and wind down, maybe have a few drinks, watch a movie or… on this particular evening… simply horse around.  Aaron is at the kitchen counter making drinks and cleaning up from dinner while James and Jake were facing off in the living room on top of the futon mattress laid on the floor.  They have already tackled each other twice and Jake has pinned James both times.

Am I the only one who thinks you should wait an hour after eating before  doing this? asks Aaron.

Jake looks intent at his opponent, Okay evil James, you have yet to defeat me.

James is not daunted, You’re ass is mine, bitch.

The two attack each other.  Jake tries to flip James.  James punches Jake in the stomach repeatedly.

I guess so, Aaron says sarcastically to himself. (Louder) So I guess no one wants drinks then?

James straightens himself up, Drinks?

Jake makes a full hit wrapping his arms around James, tackling him to the mattress.  Gotcha!

That’s not fair!  I was distracted with alcohol!  James muffles from  his face buried in the fabric.  

Jake releases James from the floor and both get up.  James is fake smoldering.  Jake is smiling big, feeling confident in himself.

Wait, James.  Hold still.  I want to try something.

What?

Just stand right there.  He takes a spread leg position and counts to himself, one, two, three.  Jake jumps.

What Jake is attempting to do is jump in the air and scissor-kick James at the leg, hitting him behind the knee so that the knee gives out, causing him to collapse on his ass.

What actually happens is Jake’s lower legs get caught on either side of James’s right leg and the “scissor” maneuver causes James’s femur bone and all the thigh muscles to go in one direction, while the fibula and tibia bones and related muscles go in the opposite direction.  The patella and all interlocking tendons and ligaments are then stretched to the extent of the two opposite motions until the kneecap is dislodged from it’s socket, the whole of which sounds like a loud and very deep, but extremely distinctive “snap.”  Then James collapses on his ass.

The room turns definitively still where even the dust particles in the air remain motionless.  Aaron is at the microwave in mid wiping with his eyes shocked open, unblinking, not breathing.  Jake is looking back from the other side of the mattress, eyes focused on James and caught with a deathly horror upon his face. There is no movement.  There is no sound.  It is complete suspension of space and time.

Then it hits.

The pain from the knee stabs like a molten knife.  James grabs his leg and feels the kneecap clumsily slump back into place as he pulls it toward his chest… which is more unnerving than the pain.

The pain.

It is coming from all over, the front, the back, from the inside, it comes from the bone, the light, even the walls.  It is just one solid wave of agony on a level he has never experienced before in his life.

FUCKING SHIT.

The air proceeds upon it’s movement.  Aaron runs closer.  What the hell was that?

Jake is on his feet at James’s side.  Are you okay?  Please tell me you’re okay.

James was not okay.  FUCK.  FUCK.  FUCK.  He rocks back and forth holding his knee.  FUCK.  FUCK.  FUCKIDY FUCK FUCK.  FUCK.

Aaron is trying not to panic.  Okay James, I need you to stop saying “fuck” so loud.  Please.  Talk to me.

James glares at Aaron and attempts to get up onto the bed.  His leg has no function and the movement makes the pain worse.  James is starting to get a headache that is making him dizzy and nauseous.  He cannot form any other word besides “fuck”.  On the bed.  He props his knee up bringing lift and elevation to the already excruciating experience.  The entire leg is starting to throb by this point.  He holds his index finger up to his two friends to keep them quiet, until he can finally form sentences.

Jake.  Get two bags from under the sink and fill them with ice.  

It’s a mini-fridge.  We used what little ice we had for drinks, Aaron observed.

Okay, then  go next door to Brian, and get what he has, then across the hall to Jason.  Fill one bag with a lot, and the other with about half as much.  Go!

Jake dashes off and gets his bags and goes on an ice hunt down the hall.

Aaron, get me that pillow and some Advil.  Aaron is moving and delivering while James is talking.  Don’t forget my drink.

Do you think you should…

Aaron.  I don’t want to hear it.  Now get the trash can, and empty it in the bin and bring it here next to me.

The trash can?  Why?

Because I’m about to throw up all over the fucking place.  Just hurry.

James takes the Advil and takes a drink.  He sets it down and closes his eyes trying to keep his stomach calm.  His body is pulsing, and the pain causing his leg to tremor is sending palpitations throughout the body, causing an almost sea-sickness type rocking and making nausea a very real possibility.

Aaron returns with the trash can and looks straight at James with so much love and concern.  Here you go.  He pauses.  I am so sorry.  What else can I do?

James breathes for a little bit… trying to keep whatever is in his stomach down.  When Jake returns, I’m going to ask you to do something.  Please do it for me, and do it quickly.

You’re scaring me.

No it’s okay.  When Jake returns I want you to lift my knee from here, and shove the smaller bag underneath.  Put my leg back down and put the larger bag on top.  Can you do that?

Yes, I think.

Let’s practice.  Lift from here.  

I’m afraid to touch it… it will hurt you.

It’s going to hurt me a lot.  That’s why I’m going to have a pillow over my face screaming at the top of my lungs.

Aaron pauses.  I can’t do this.

Please Aaron.  Just lift from here…

You don’t understand.  I can not ever do anything to hurt  you.  Ever.  And this… will make your pain worse.

For a moment, but I cannot move it myself and I need to get ice under my knee.

I still… I….

Come on Aaron.  Look at me.  Please.  Just lift up from here and take the ice and…

And shove the ice in there.  It finally hits him.  You’re trying to get to the top part of the back of the knee.  Aaron stands up to demonstrate where the ice needs to go on the back of his own leg.

Yes!  Exactly!  James finally understands what Anne Sullivan must have felt like with Helen Keller.  And there is no gentle way around this, just fast.  So… do it fast.

Jake returns with two bags of ice, one half as full as the other.  I had to knock on four doors, but I got enough.

Thank you Jake.  Give them to Aaron.

Aaron takes the bags and places the larger one on the floor and lays the smaller one next to the knee.  He is focused and he is ready.  He looks James in the eye.  James gives him a nod and covers his face with a pillow.

Aaron lifts the leg and positions the ice under the upper back part of the knee, arranges the pillow for support, and puts the leg back down… all the while James is screaming into the pillow.  Aaron puts the other ice bag on the top of the knee.  After few seconds the waves of pain begin to subside to just the nausea and nothing more.  James removes the pillow.  Jake retrieves a towel and drapes it over the knee to keep the ice in place.

James, I am so sorry. 

Jake… there will honestly be a lot of time to apologize later.  but not now.  Okay?  Put it out of your mind.

But I…

Listen, anytime the words “hold still I want to try something” are spoken, something bad is going to happen.  We all know this.

True.

Just, apologize to me tomorrow or the next day.  Tonight, let’s just figure this out.

Should we take you to the infirmary? Aaron asked.

The infirmary is closed on the weekends except for a nurse to pass out Band-Aids.  I can go in the morning I just need help getting over there.

Because Jake was a waiter, he was required to be at work an hour early to prep for breakfast for the rest of the Bethel family.  I have to be at work before the infirmary opens up.  

I can take him.  Are you going to be able to get to sleep tonight?

Yeah, sure.

The boys talk for a bit more… then nestle themselves into bed.  James stays very still to make sure not to make the intensity of the pain any worse.  The ice is soothing and painful at the same time.  The heat from the knee seemed to be kept at bay, but nothing could stop the continual twisting of the knitting needle that seems to be stemming from right behind the the top of the knee.

James didn’t sleep much… doses off once or twice.  He cannot wait to see a doctor.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 22 – They Are But They Aren’t

Late one night he gets  up and stares at Aaron sleeping in the bed next to him.  They do not sleep close, they never sleep close, even when Jake is gone.  Watching him sleep is like watching a sunflower gently rock gently in a moonlit breeze.  He is so beautiful in his features and style… even for a hippy.

He gets up and exits the room and quietly walks across the hall two doors down and opens the door.  This room has been empty for a week and the housekeepers keep the door open until someone is assigned to it with a key.  James closes the door behind him.  It’s a flipped version of his room.  The moonlight is pouring in through the large window onto the grey carpeting providing drastic diagonal lines illuminating the space in the middle, but making the rest of the room that much darker, the scene that much starker.

He takes a spot on the floor under the beam from the window to lie down on his back. spread eagle and closes his eyes to allow his body to absorb as much moonlight as it can.

If he thought anything between he and Aaron was going to change after having sex, he was wrong, it didn’t.  They were still the same rambunctious duo they were before, same caring listeners, same studious congregational participants, and same hard workers they were before.  Over the months things had taken a dirtier twist, a freakier level.  Aaron was indeed a masochist and James had plenty of experience being a sadist, but this was the first time there was sexual pleasure linked with burning someone with hot wax on their nipples or attacking their back with a homemade claw until the skin whelped flushed with red and pain. Aaron felt free to ask any request or suggest whatever he wanted and it made Friday nights feel more like an ‘open mic night’ at the kink club than anything else.  They didn’t paddle or spank because of the noise it would make… a problem James was already familiar with.

In day to day activities Aaron became more confident, especially since he and his overseer developed a better understanding of how to work with each other.  But in the bedroom he was more passive, even when he would suggest things and he liked how James took control and yet… on some nights out of the blue, he would turn the tables and pin James down and whisper “My turn.”

It was all very gratifying but kept in the context of Friday night.  It was their only night of indulgence, drinking, and complete satisfying relaxation.  Every other day and night they were Joe Bethelite doing the Organization’s good work.  Every morning they were in their assigned seats to listen to the morning text and discussion.  Every morning they would socialize with everyone at the table with spiritual exchanges before they were off to work.

Every afternoon they would meet up for lunch and enjoy the company of whoever the visitors might be dining at their randomly picked table, and they were sure to present the perfect Joe Bethelite persona.  They worked at their jobs, and worked well.  In the evenings they studied for the meetings separately, attended the Monday evening Watchtower study for Bethelites, and made the forty-five minute journey twice a week to their congregation, three times if they went out in field service on Saturdays.  They were still crass, they were still insightful, there was nothing evil or manipulative going on.  They were not bad people.  Nothing about anything they were doing felt sinister or destructive.  In fact, they were more coordinated and harmonized with a “two heads are better than one” characteristic.

They still found time to eat out, go to a spring concert festival where Aaron was invited on stage to dance with Iggy Pop, singing with a suspicious nose bleed.  They made it to Albany to see the Garbage/Smashing Pumpkins tour, hike trails, and there were still trips to the city to enjoy musicals with Neil.

James twists on the floor and opens his eyes to stare at the ceiling, blue and barely visible as he is blinded by the radiance of the moon.  That’s not what is bothering him right now.

After the initial ninety days, bethelites are given one day of vacation for every month they serve.  James and Aaron had built up enough to take a long weekend vacation for the summer’s Messengers of Godly Peace District Convention anywhere they wanted.  The choices were either Aaron visits Houston, or James would visit Seattle (where their convention would be held).  James had never been to Seattle in the summer and he desperately wanted to go… and Aaron was very anxious to see his family.

James and the twins would correspond by letter.  James and David did not.  In the first month David received a series of extremely dark and depressing letters written from a James that David was not familiar with.  It cause the one and only phone call between the two guys.

So, are you going to kill yourself?

No.

Okay, good to know.  Gotta go.

James had been writing out his feelings just to get them out of his mind and shipping them off to the safest place he trusted… David’s room.  Even with the most advanced search party, nothing could be found in there.  All that emotion changed once Aaron entered the picture, and James really wanted his two best friends to interact.

James invited David and the twins to Seattle and they agreed.  He was overjoyed.  They get a summer vacation together, Aaron gets to meet David and the twins, and the two bethelites will finally have some decent space away from the compound.  Reservations were made, tickets were purchased, and anticipation was at full discharge.

The reunion started a day late, thanks to one of the twins mis-reading the departure time.  They had to get on a flight the next day, which pissed off David to the point where he almost didn’t show back up.  The following afternoon Aaron’s family and James collected David and the twins from the airport.  James has never been happier to see anyone in his life than the three of them.  David was in full beard and pouting, in the same clothes he was in the day before, throwing out a I’ll hug you later, and barely greeting Aaron’s family.  The twins overcompensate as they get acquainted with Aaron’s mom and sister.  It was a dynamic that James missed dearly.

In the boys hotel room, Aaron goes and spends time with his family and David excuses himself to shower and shave.  When he comes back out, he is fresh and clean-shaven and goes Now I’ll give you a hug, and gives James the biggest hug of his life.

I am so glad you came.

I almost didn’t.  I was so pissed.

I don’t believe that.  You wanted to see me too much.

Ahh!  Don’t test that theory.  So he is the new me?

He’s not the new you.  No one can replace you.

Damn right. 

He and I have a very different relationship than you and I have.

Are you a couple? He asked jokingly.

We are not a couple.

You act like a couple.

We do not!

There is a knock at the door and the twins come in for more hugs and chatting, constant apologizes for not showing up the day before.  Everyone is hungry… it’s time to eat.

James closes his eyes and breaths in the silence of the empty room.  He holds his breath… then releases it.  He does this again.  He does it once more.  They act like a couple, they feel like a couple, they fuck like a couple, they work around each other and take care of each other like a couple… but they are not a couple.  Something is missing that is impossible to have, namely, the small displays of intimacy and affection.  It is missing because that is something couples would do, and externally it is something that couldn’t exist because if anyone, anyone at all would have seen it… even the slightest peck on the cheek or wink, it would be instant tribunal in a judicial committee and a trip back home.

But it was heavily missed.  James loved Aaron so much and the time they are having together is mindblowing, but he would give it all up for a kiss on the cheek after a hard day at work, or to hug him from behind if he is unusually depressed.  He so desperately just wants to hold him in his arms as they watch a movie or snuggle up together when the nights were cold.  He missed how Ollie would stare at his eyes no matter what they were doing, whether they were at the store, walking along the streets of Houston, fucking, or if the world was crumbling to ash around them, Ollie would still be staring at James’s eyes the whole time… still with a half smile, and still beaming with his bright blue eyes while paying attention to the environment around them so as to give a slight brush of the hand when nobody was looking.  That was what was missing… the cohesive cement that says You are on my mind as much as I am on yours.

And it was that electricity he craved so badly.

In Seattle it took less than 24 hours and David and James were back in sync.  The convention was great.  David managed to sit still through most of it, mainly because their seats were near the arena floor, brightly lit and open for to everyone and he wasn’t hiding in his normal spot of the grey level of the Astrodome that was dark and cold, perfect for napping or wandering around.

During the final Sunday Aaron’s parents headed back to Oregon and the boys and the twins were left in Seattle on their own on a bright and sunny day.  After walking down Alaskan Way they decide to eat at Fisherman’s on pier 57.  They were given a round table right on the water with a expansive view of Puget Sound.  James and David ordered seafood life by the bucket to split.  Aaron and the twins ordered meals from the menu.  Then… James, David, Kristy, and Katy picked up and started talking like nothing had ever changed.  Aaron sat back and enjoyed the show respectfully, but eventually his opinions were dragged out of him. Aaron made everyone laugh.  He did good, he fit well.  He was comfortable holding his own at round table, and everyone liked him… a lot.  James looked at him with with his head tossed back, laughing with the water and the clear sky, the greenery of the hills beyond.  He so wanted to be in love with him.

Part way through dinner there was a excitement that erupted in the restaurant.  Two wales were seen in the distance on the opposite end of of the sound.  All five at the table looked, and sure enough… there was a spray of water off on the other side near the island.  It made for a good sign, although probably not for the wales who are somehow trapped in Puget Sound.  Toward the end even Aaron had to admit, this banter was something unique.

Do you four always talk like this?

Katy answered.  Yeah, but it’s usually only with James and David.  They bring it out of us.

Aaron paused for a moment.  Seriously… I can tell you two apart (pointing at the twins) better than I can tell you two apart (pointing at James and David).

Everyone laughs.  James desperately missed the sound of the twins and David laughing – the strange mixture of two soft chuckles in stereo with one harden hackle piercing in the middle.  After dinner the five walked around the park and even listened to some live music before calling it a night, as they had to get up early in the morning and the girls did not want to miss the departing flight yet again.

Aaron went ahead with the girls to give James and David some time to talk.

I like him.  He’s cool.

Thanks.  I think so too.

I’m glad you found someone.  I thought you were going to… you know…

Yeah well, I… seriously… it’s just not a place for me.

Then leave.  We’d love to have you back.  

Aaron’s made it tolerable. He really saved me in all this.

I can tell.  He’s nice though… like actually nice.  He’s a good person.  Not like us.

He has his wild side but you’re absolutely right.

You need to be careful with that.

I know.

He knows.

Aaron later talked about how it was good to see James’s roots, where he came from… the people that helped create the crazy guy he knows now.  He was shocked at the candor everyone spoke to and about each other.  It was refreshing and raw, honest and unapologetic.

They are what kept me sane.  I had the pressure of drafting a $12 million assembly hall, setting up the Regional Building Committee computer system, cranking out Kingdom Halls, while still trying to maintain publisher’s average in field service and responsibilities of a ministerial servant in the congregation.  Just like you twist your back for work and it sometimes needs massaging, well, my brain needed massaging… and they were it. 

The pressure of Bethel was no different.  Even more so when someone like James is just expected to be a career bethelite and someone like Aaron is constantly threatened with being sent home.  Bechman seems to be looming in the shadowy corners everywhere with his discriminatory forehead and leery eyes.  The segregation between the departments of Bethel is bizarre.  It felt frowned upon that someone from the computer department would be such close friends with someone from the factory.  It was so typical of the real world where the white collar guys eat at one table while the blue collar workers eat at another table, and life at the Watchtower Farms was no different.  Not only were Aaron and James going against the Bethel standard norm, but the typical sociological behavior of the work environments as well.

There’s no time to just be us…

And that’s the point.  They were suppose to be Bethel workers functioning in unison for the Bethel business, not individuals there having the times of the lives.  And there is to be no mistake, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, New York is a business.  James had access to all kinds of files and programs.  The Organization was bringing in over $2 billion dollars a year worldwide in donations.  The extensive real estate property in Brooklyn has more square feet than the Empire State Building and is valued well over $1 billion dollars.  But each volunteer at all the Bethel facilities only receives $90 a  month for expenses.

The paper they use is cheap and thin, half the cost of regular magazine paper.  The ink they make themselves at a cost next to nothing.  Food is grown and prepared themselves, and there is constant maintenance on the buildings and its infrastructure… all with volunteer labor.  They use the oldest of machines with a team of workers keeping them running.  There is no real cost to the printing of anything and yet there is consistent reminder to the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the outside that production of books and magazines is expensive and costs must be compensated with donations.  The rest of the Organization may be in panic that Armageddon may be arriving at any time, but not at the World Headquarters.  Investments where being made, future projects are being planned and reorganization was taking place for the introduction of the SAP program coming in the next year.  It is 1996 and James was spending most of his time preparing for the 1999 to 2000 year changeover.  Outside the walls of the World Headquarters, Jehovah’s Witnesses are presented as a religion of faith and devotion, but inside the walls of Bethel it is a business dependent on its slave labor.  And somehow two nonconformists that seem to be attached at the hip are maintaining their deviation from conformity and smiling the entire time, and this was not consistent with Bethel as a business.

He turns to his left side and faces the moonlight streaming in through the window and clouds floating still overhead, the sprinkle of stars covering everything like a cool blanket.  He crosses his arms and holds them close to his chest.  That is the problem.  Aaron is legitimately good… too good to be working at Bethel.  James knows he has the ability to pull the best and the worst out of people, it’s a talent and a curse.  He can handle the broken heart.  He can handle the rejection.  He can handle not having any more sex.  What he couldn’t handle is shattering someone who is inherently decent on levels they are not experienced in and that was what was going to happen to Aaron, either at James’s hand or Bethel’s.  Testing boundaries is one thing, even sex is one thing, but harming one’s heart at the core is unforgivable.  James knows he can put sex in its proper place, but some of the sexual suggestions Aaron expresses feels like he was taking it to a level this could not go… a place James wanted it to go… and yet it goes there, but only one night a week.

The end result is a relationship limbo, where the presentation of a brick wall is on display, but lacking mortar in between the bricks to give the wall any real structural integrity.  Aaron and James were presenting the display of a couple, everyone could see that.  They were even presenting it to themselves on Fridays.  But the subtle ethereal delicacies were missing, the tiny slivers of mortar that solidifies a relationship and gives it real structural integrity.

They could disagree in the most drastic ways:  Upon seeing RENT in the spring Aaron thought is was a gritty tale of love and art.  James thought it was a loud obnoxious story about bums who wouldn’t get a job.  They discussed it all evening at a diner in the City and all the way home.  There was no end to the conversation and the mental stimulation without judgement or condescension, which is a relief from working at a facility where so many thrive off judgement and condescension.   There were no complaints about the physical stimulation.  Aaron was beautiful and handsome.  There was nothing about his body he did not enjoy, but Aaron’s suggesting new things to do in bed annoyed James sometimes.  It wasn’t the kink aspect… Aaron still had a long way to go before he reached James’s boundaries.  It wasn’t that Aaron’s suggestions weren’t good… they were always fun.  But sometimes James had in his mind a simple question of Can’t we just sit here and enjoy each other for a moment?  The energy that the two bodies gave off is so comforting James just wanted to just relax intertwined and appreciate it.  And they didn’t.  That would be too emotional.

Too late, though.  He was already connected to Aaron emotionally.  He loved him, he desired him, he felt fresh air when he entered the room, he would protect him, fight for him, do anything on this earth just to make sure the sunshine he brings to the planet stays lit.  But that very emotional love is also considered one of the worst sins by the Organization.  And that was a problem.

No, sex didn’t change anything.  It just made the obvious more obvious, and because of it, that much more confusing.  This trust, honor, love, excitement was something straight people have all the time, every day.  They are allowed to be smitten with each other, dote on each other, grab each other’s hand from across the table, hug each other on top of a mountain at the sight of a breathtaking view… and over time through tests and turmoil, the bond between them is strengthened and shored from beyond the little moments of affection to honest and true faith and security taut with moorings.  That is exactly what these two bethelites have and the emotion and feeling at the end of it is so rewarding and satisfying.  The benefits of waiting to have sex until you have that perfect mate has certainly become justified in his mind.  It’s all there with bright colored contentment.

But only on Friday night.

James knows sex.  He knows how to handle it in different configurations.  He also knows love… in all its different forms.  Everything about this particular situation is well within his boundaries, but he is in no way convinced they are within Aaron’s nineteen-year-old psychological tool belt.  He doesn’t have the vast array of knowledge spent understanding the difference between sex, love, and intimacy and how to separate the three beyond the typical male “shut down” avoidance technique.  James does.  Ollie did.  Sex is only as complicated as the rules that are placed upon it.  With Ollie the structure was simple, clean, and strong… very little rules allowing for a myriad of fun, appreciation, and adventure.  With Aaron, there is a weight of the person’s mental well being, levels of appropriateness, rules of the religion, attraction, dependency, and all the matters of the heart and of self discovery that are then all tossed aside for the benefit of Bethel, Inc.

He’s a good person.  Not like us.

And although James wants to be with Aaron for the rest of his life, the reality is that he will not as long as they are in this Organization… and it is something he has already come to grips with, mourned, and wept over.  Aaron is a perfect companion, he’s just not allowed to be a perfect mate.  The end result is a constant emotional distance and it was eating James up on the inside.  He grinned and bore it because he seemed to make Aaron more comfortable, and anyone who was captivated by those big brown eyes and half smile would see that the energy that emanates from his core was so blinding it was almost addictive to the point of lunacy.   He heart leaps out of his chest each time he makes a joke that catches Aaron off guard.  He melts every time Aaron enters the door with a big smile, head cocked to one side, arm out, and starts the sentence with “Oh. My. God.”

All of this, James keeps inside.  He has learned to do it countless times before.  He would rather let it out and be free, which is why he still misses Ollie.  But what weighed on his mind was not being sure if Aaron had the ability to understand the depths of what was happening.

The door opens.  James stays motionless.

There you are.  Aaron closes the door gently and comes up behind James and kneels down beside him, rubbing his shoulders.  What are you doing in here?

Thinking about how we’re going to hell.

Aaron gives a half laugh.  I find it best to just put it out of the mind.

James smiles.  That’s what he was afraid of.  It’s hard to do for an overthinker.

Come on back to bed.  Aaron rubs James’s back until he gets up from the floor and they return to room A314 across the hall.

That would be the only physical contact they would have that night.

James P. Perez © 2013