Backseat Devil

Tag: Jehovah’s Witnesses

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

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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 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 15 – Attack of the Clones

No, mom… I’m fine, really.  It’s just been a strange adjustment but everything is going well.

It was unnerving how his mother could take the smallest bit of trepidation in his voice and turn it into the biggest crisis of contemporary history.  This time she may actually be correct, but he wasn’t sure. There is too much to absorb and too little time to digest before he gives any fluttery thoughts of “oh fuck this was a mistake” any credence, and he didn’t want his mother jumping the gun on this just yet.

He stands at the red brick with white column ‘A Building’, the oldest constructed dorm building at 900 Red Mills Road, Wallkill, New York among the desk slots of requisitions and time slips decorated in the best 1970’s ‘upscale farm cottage’ cream with splashes of barn red decor using one of the two pay phones next to the staircase looking at a row of young men waiting to call their own families about their own well being in most militaristic compound outside the military.

First month heading into the winter of 1995 it is difficult to get used to the schedule and the drones’ cadenced movements in constant force.  Mondays were the private Watchtower study meeting onsite for only Bethelites that took over an hour and a half.  It was kept private because application of the information found in the Watchtower sometimes have structural application to the organization that common publishers attending the Kingdom Halls across the United States should know or need to know.  Tuesday was the two-hour normal congregation meetings in a town 45 minutes up the I-87 tollroad to a struggling congregation in Saugertiese, New York.  It was recently formed when the original, larger church was divided into two smaller and unequipped groups without having a proper balance between local publishers, local elders, and Bethel volunteers due to the overbearing persistence of a tall, balding force of a Bethel elder and constant form of friction known as Brother Bechman. Currently the Congregation of South Saugerties, New York was taking one out of every three newly inducted volunteers meaning the congregation had no mid-week support and a large number of untrained green newbies flooding the few native families on the weekend in a disproportionate convergence.

Wednesday was relatively free (usually spend as studying time), Thursday was the hour bookstudy at the compound in the room of Brother and Sister Bechman in the ‘B Building’ on the opposite side of complex, and Friday the young brothers were encouraged to stay with a family from their local congregation for the weekend.  Saturdays was spent going door to door in field service, Sunday mornings had the two hour meetings of bible discourse (called a “Talk”) and the public Watchtower study that the Bethelites had prepared for the Monday prior.  Sunday evening were the hour to two hour orientation meetings for new volunteers.

It is certainly difficult for the natural night owl to get use to the morning routine: Up at 6:00 am to fight for the communal showers; Dress in button-up shirt and tie with slacks; Walk 1/2 a mile to the main complex to one’s assigned seat in the dining room for breakast and morning text; 15 minutes of discussion and assigned comments about a bible verse (known as the “daily text”); prayer; food is served; 30 minutes to eat; announcements; final prayer; be ready to work by 8:00 am.

For the first two weeks the new Bethelites are in housekeeping duty for the day until they are given their permanent assignment. This is to give them a sense of appreciation and respect to the care of their dorm rooms and the women who maintenance them daily. They are housekeepers… not maids.

For the afternoon, 12:00 pm the bell rings and at 12:15 pm prayer and food is served with announcements and pleasantries. If the volunteer is a ‘grunt worker’ they have 15 minutes to shower and change back into shirt-and-tie before walking to the dining hall. 1:00 pm is back to work until 5:00 pm with dinner prayer at 5:15 pm.

Meetings at the congregation start at 7:30 pm with the orientation meetings on Sunday starting at 6:30 pm. If Saugerties was 45 minutes away and it is encouraged for all publishers to be there at least 30 minutes before every meeting, it was necessary to leave the Farm by 6:15 pm which was difficult for those on a long day or filthy from working on a production line. Construction workers were a near impossibility.

It was also required for all new volunteers to read several manuals for which there were tests, memorize the list of rules (‘no wrestling in underwear or back massages between roommates’ was rule #5), keep up with congregation meeting preparation and participation, read the entire bible (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures) in the first year, and maintain a publisher’s average hours in door to door field service (10 hours a month, although only maintaining the minimum was overbearingly frowned upon).

Everything was provided for onsite… so much so that the general term for anything not Witness was considered “outside” and spoken with a air of hesitation and disdain. Haircuts were on a three week schedule, laundry was once a week, the commissary provided outside luxuries like Pop Tarts or frozen foods alongside necessities like toothpaste and deodorant all at cost. If one needed clothes, there is always something available in the ‘grab bin’. Also included was basketball court, small weight room, and pay phones found at each building.

None of this was particularly overwhelming, but in a compound of 2000-or-so young men all trying to out-Disney Disney… it was difficult to wade through the “bro’s” and “chief’s”, winks and finger guns, and find any genuine emotion outside the drone worker bee with a shrink-wrap thrillness to be doing Jehovah’s work in a specialized avenue expressed with perfectly maintained glossed-over smiles and vacant expressions of sight where their biggest highlight of the week was ice cream being served at lunch. Everyone was just playing their cog and any sincerity as a human being was pushed out via overworking an under-appreciating and a redundant weary lifestyle, once again under the weight of humility in Jehovah’s service. He had already noticed immediately that having any in depth discussion of opinions was a struggle in tugboatting a ground battleship. Young men across the compound seemed almost afraid to have a personal opinion… about anything… at all.

The Farm is referred to as such because in 1963 upon its purchase, is initial responsibility of the self-reliant religion was to be an actual functioning farm for the main production work of printing Watchtowers and Awake! magazine, bibles, tracts, and various other publications found at Myrtle and Adams streets in Brooklyn, New York. The Farm raised pigs, produce, fully functional dairy, slaughterhouse, and processing facilities which then trucked the foods to Brooklyn. Beginning in 1973 the function of the farm began to change when production of the magazines for the United States outside New York City was moved to the farm while printing for the local witnesses, books, bibles, and tracts remained in Brooklyn. Shipping via United States Postal Service became more cost effective than private shipping through the New York harbor. In fact, the Watchtower Farms is located outside New Paltz, New York, but use Wallkill as their address since the towns postal station is better equipped to handle the amount of mail the Jehovah’s Witness compound than the small SUNY college town of New Paltz. Shortly afterward, there was an increased need for organized computers and databases, and the Farm seemed safer than in the big city, so the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Computer Department was formed at the Wallkill location while the administration of the Witnesses and the Governing Body who makes the decisions for the religion and it’s beliefs remained at the created complex collectively known as 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York (1+2+4=7, a biblical number of all things Godly).

James has worked with computers for most of his life, and this finds himself labeled as one with a “special skill” and was assigned to the computer department’s receiving desk to get to know the department through the stockroom… a first step of every computer department worker.

Mom, please don’t worry. Look… I’m just going to look at it like the challenge it is, no big deal. I’ll get over it.

From the entry he sees someone out of the corner of his eye… pale skin, sharp features, long-by-Disney-standards black hair parted in the middle, radiating with the sunlight shooting from his half smile, big chocolate eyes trying to absorb his surroundings with a childlike wonderment while still maintaining the smooth cool hippie vibe in the bounce of his black textured Doc Martins grounding his laid-back stride. They briefly lock eyes… and smile cordially.

James almost drops the phone.

Air.

Sanctuary.

A no-drone.

Please don’t be a clone…

What? Who’s a clone?

Everyone is a clone!  He seems to exhale the sentence with unusual force. Only then he realizes there is a group of men still waiting to use one of the two phones, all with wide eyes. The neighboring phone user throws an annoyed look.

…which is a good thing… it keeps us unified in this… spiritual warfare … against… the world… Look, mom, I’ve got to go.

He isn’t sure whether everyone was looking at him because of the burst out or because he just seemingly eye-banged the new Seattle-grungish newbie, but either way he felt it was time to exit.

Love you too.  Tell dad I miss him.  (Click.)

He hangs up the phone and dashes up to A314 on the third story while the new guy turned the corner to the right on the first floor. He sits on this bed and turns on the television to something pointless.

Baseball. Women. Grandma…

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 14 – Fly Away

His last day in Houston and he sat at the first leg of Terminal C hearing his parents and the twins chattering about the upcoming Kingdom Hall building plans.  It all faded into a low grumble of nonexistent emotion about a nonexistent future in his soon to be nonexistent present, as many of the conversations had become in the past month with the absence of David.

In the subsequent weeks after the party he saw Ollie a few more times.  New Orleans was a blast.  He first showed up with a whole new set of clothes and a new cap, looking stunningly dapper with his freshly shaved angular jaw and ready-to-rape piercing blue eyes.  After their third encounter, he told the young escort that he was leaving to New York.

Ollie took it hard, and gave James a remarkably simple and sentimental gift that James kept private… and was currently on his person as he is a nervous flyer.  Being with him was the closest I’ve ever been to flying, so if the plane goes down, maybe I will have a chance?  He isn’t superstitious, but all kinds of rules are bent when it comes to air travel.  For a young escort who had absolutely nothing to his name, he gave the only thing he had to spare, and to James it was the most important gift he received during his entire departure tour.

The workers at Feathers (and later at the Gold Room) gave him a fantastic farewell party.  Ozzy was particularly concerned about the situation but was  supportive, giving him a scarf sure to spruce up any ‘dull church outfit’.  Billy occupied the night with last minute lighting design changes to his almost finished play, what looked to be a rather dark masterpiece of this young, straight, muscle jock theater director.  Brit and Derrick sat with him the next day at House of Pies, and even China Doll sitting a few tables over in her thick Chinese accent had to scream her goodbye to the entire restaurant… ending in grand applause for someone everyone eating didn’t know.

He spends a month with his ‘nose to the grindstone’ in order to prep himself for the goody godly goodiness that lays ahead.  He thinks he has everything out of his system, except Ollie, or… even worse… what Ollie represented.   He comes to grips with the fact that this was a luxury that straight people go through and this was not something he, as a homosexual was ever going to experience while serving in the Organization.  This was a fact that cuts him deeply.

He is at his core soft and sensitive.  The hard-working douche exterior is a facade used to keep people at bay and prevent anyone from asking too many questions.  Even if questions are asked, he has no problem taking the lie down to the very core of his sole in order to keep up the appearance of the Golden Child he was bred to be.  But the reality was that he is skinless and exposed at all times causing him to cry often at night, and he finally found strength in other people… people who are just like him… people who didn’t think he was better than them, people who humble him because of their strength and next to them he feels the ‘completeness’ that everyone on the straight side keeps talking about… sometimes sexually, sometimes in a bar fight, sometimes just sitting around with a straight friend watching gay porn trying to design lighting cues for a staged production he will never see.  All these people are condemned by Jehovah (or at least by his servants) and they were the same people that made his soul leap from the weak comfortableness in lying to everyone he knows to the integrity and honesty of a structure like is seen in his father that he so often admired.

Maybe we all need to take different paths to be the best people we can be?

It was conversation that doesn’t lead anywhere with David.  There is only one path.  The path is through Jehovah.  If you get there through another way, that mean’s you’ve got Satan’s “angel of light” shit going for you.  You know this.

I know this, but I’ve never… FELT… it… this… whatever.

It is easier to change the subject than to discuss it as neither person knew what it is there was to discuss.  Feeling everything the Organization told them to be as ‘good Christians’ by stepping away from their dogma and surrounding oneself with the energy of the world isn’t exactly an easy discussion to have, much less justify.

The grand time of enjoying the world is now over and everything he learned would be put to good use… even if he wasn’t sure what ‘good’ was anymore.  It seemed absurd that a person like his molester can continually rape him and still progress in the organization without admitting anything to the elders (of which, he eventually became), and yet those that embrace who they are as sexual beings are considered so ugly in the face of Jehovah that they are only listened to through a thick spiritual demon-proof plexiglass cylinder that surrounds the Witness but keeps out the heavenly-offensive sinner.

The time is gone.  With each page from Ollie… His time is gone.

This will never be repeated.

The heartbreak comes from saying farewell to ‘Honest James’ and the people who helped him understand his own psychology through their gracious sharing of their sociology and style.  His Witness  going-away party is about as emotionless as struggling through a heavily one-sided and disconnected surreal foreign  movie.  The effects are nice, but the lack of interest is not going to be compensated with shredded meat tacos or Tejano music.  Everyone is there from all over Texas – the history of James until now – a happy and lighthearted “This is Your Life” muted and in black and white.  And with each new attendee, he only sees the blind and the innocent.

There is such legitimate honesty in their truth but their truth is less than 1/1000th of what the world actually was as a composite entity.  The laughter and congratulations, the emotional outpouring of support and happiness are misplaced against the real loss of what is lost in the longing that he had to just stay stationary and learn… learn everything there was to learn about people in the deepest corners of the world making their way through the day with addiction and tolerance, substance and coping skills, or blissful avoidance and smiles.  He wants to walk where others walked and run in paths unclaimed, run so hard that the arrogant condescension of the religion he was attached to would drown in the backdraft and dissipate it’s judgmental flames into it’s own honest consistency of thin smoke and ash.

The plane is boarding… or so he is told.  Suddenly all eyes are on him.

He tries to be witty.

He tries to play it off.

Waaait!

Loud clumping footsteps of overused Doc Martins are coming closer with a very out-of-breath white boy dressed in blue polo shirt running to catch everyone at the gate.  He slows down to catch his breath as the other guy in a blue polo shirt meets him out of earshot of the others, speaking only into the pupils of the other.

I can’t believe  you came.

I know.  Normally I wouldn’t.  You know… not the cool thing to do.

Well this is the nicest not-cool thing ever.

I know.  

They embrace in a way that speaks a conversation of loss and pain, hellfire of loneliness and confusion, abandonment, and paths slightly turning into different, seemingly opposite directions.  It was a touch which teared up in the heart and snaked its way into the eyes meaning that this one person will have to be the last person he embraces with any reality as the countdown from now until full weeping was a minimal five minutes, maybe six at best.

Don’t… go crazy up there.

I promise nothing.

Well, at least don’t die.

Least of all, I cannot remotely promise that.

I know.

The soft whispers release the embrace and the two similarly dressed guys separated and were careful not to look each other in the eyes.

Half-hugs to the twins under the guise of needed to get to the parents.

Half-hugs to the family under the guise of being late to board the plane.

Where is David going?  You girls want to go eat?

Yeah, we could use the company.

Call David.

Don’t.  

You sure?

Yeah. 

Goodbye, Son.  Call us when you get there.

I will.

He boards his plane.  Window seat.  He sees a big green truck in the parking lot just sitting there.

When the captain gives the signal, James leaves his window seat for the laboratory.

He screams in pain.  It is a pain he has never felt before.

From the tiny toilet in the back of a 757, he immediately begins construction on a structure to avoid ever feeling such loss ever again.  Loss as a whole… people, life, sex, love, hope, honestly, and faith… it was all so fragile and beautiful.  Most of all it’s all integrated together in a finely woven silk sheet of energy threads and if one anchor fails, the entire fabric unravels… and with one lift off, it was all unraveling.  It is impossible to cope with on the flight without causing more scars than were already going to be carried with him for the rest of his life.

I guess I had a heart after all.

Back at the seat he broke out the fake ID he had purchased in his last trip to New York while 42nd street was still in its seedy state. He is legally over 21 now, so he doesn’t need it anymore, but… still… for old time’s sake.

Jack and Coke, please. 

I.D. please?

Certainly.

Oh. You’re heading home.

So I am told.

Here you go. Let me know if you need another.

Thank you.

He places a bracelet on his seat tray.

He toasts a goodbye, a thank you, appreciation for what was, and for what will never be. He thinks he can barely see the lights of Houston dying in the background haze and he wanted to thank each bulb… the collection of them, the wires linking them, the designers and the engineers who created the visual, the installers, and the maintenence people who flip the switch to light the night for those like himself, sailors on the dark rivers of asphalt and mischief. For the nicity of everyone, the function of their society… above and underground… working together, Thank you. To the gay brothers and sisters who have the courage to be themselves, out, and humane to each other, Thank you. For taking on a stray cat and keeping him safe while he learned void of scars or trauma (except those left on his clients), Thank you.

For allowing him to see the true nature of who he is, Thank you for the rest of my life.

He places the bracelet back in his pocket. It was too much to get to specific people just yet.

Ma’am? I’m going to need one more.

Of course,

When exercising the muscle of hope, one must always be prepared when hitting “the wall”.  It was one of the last lessons he was learning… how forcing something not ready to manifest itself could be made worse with the lubrication of drugs and alcohol.

Did you want me to make it a double, sir?

No. Just the one. And a water. I have a long evening ahead still.

A long evening tonight, the rest if his life tomorrow.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 13 – The First

Through the years of puberty and adolescence he felt he was missing out on a greater emotional consciousness. Guys would talk about women with such longing that seemed to border on seasickness-like continuity.  If they were Witnesses they couldn’t wait for the day of their marriage for what the evening will bring.  The world is different in many ways, but all religious fundamentalists across the platform think straight sex before marriage is a grievous (albeit natural and thus forgivable) sin.  The “wicked” world assigned many generalities to sex, but the two most common were either yet another distraction of  avoidance, or a spiritual-like reverence.

The straight guys at Feathers talked about their women with substantial and weighty fragility and honor as if sex is one of the most delicate dance interactions between two humans that could lead to new levels of appreciation, or spin the dynamic into treachery.  The payback of such a strong return originating from something so delicate means going into a sexual situation requires an adult application of forethought.  This is different than the almost disrespectful eagerness that comes from some men who wait until their wedding night.  Any person with a strong sexual maturity in the straight world came with a remarkable knowledge-base of humanity in general.  There is a noticeable pattern that straight men who had sex regularly have no real objection to gay couples getting married.

He previously assumed all worldly men were ravishing hard-ons of discrepancies, the opposite of those who were blessed by having Jehovah God in their lives making them strong enough to wipe every evil thought from one’s being.  As he is a miserable failure on this, he then developed a two-prong problem:  Not only does Jehovah not love him enough to make his path of coping easier, he did not love Jehovah enough in order to properly convince his God to help.

1 Corinthians chapter 7:9 says, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (ESV, 2001).  It was a scripture that never made sense to him.  Who would burn with so much passion that Paul… anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-fun, big-stick-carrying possible friend of Dorothy Paul, would even have to admit that sometimes two people’s energy are so intertwined, getting married would be LESS of a distraction?  He had never found anyone of this sort of arousal, especially not in women.

He had been having sex within the boundaries of his set rules, with a few minor exceptions due to the idea that the situation just ‘aesthetically’ called for alteration in the plan to take advantage of… opportunities.  He is having fun and learning, but at no time has he been so inflamed with passion the result would be a burning sensation in the chest or a longing to have a person closer to him than was physically possible.  He had certainly seen more than enough people burn with passion for him, but it was hardly anything he would return in feeling or desire.  Some people he had a fondness for, but mostly there was an aesthetic additive to the mix and less from-the-gut-to-the-heart-and-by-pass-the-mind electrical explosion, the path of which… some people have described as “a fire in the chest”.

His passion is art.  Art is his only creative indulgence-driven outlet he had for his emotions.  It is never going to amount to anything… it is ART.  No one in Jehovah’s Organization makes money on ART.  It is an argument he couldn’t win, and it is true, all the good art made Witnesses think too much… and one cannot spend brain energy on the opinions of a non-Witness artistic expression and their point of view on a world that is going to be destroyed at Armageddon.  Any stray from the End of Days “reality” is a moment where Satan can hijack one’s mind and heart, so what is the point in paying attention?  There is no point.  Painting will always be nothing more than an expensive hobby for him.

He related the passion of attacking the canvas with the way a newly married man would attack his new wife’s body for the first time she undressed for him, for them, for the sex they were about to enjoy. Relating it to creating a painting is as much intense zeal as he could give anything.  Art made him happy, but he never felt he had that layer of joy a straight guy has when fucking a woman for the first time.  That level of excitement and anticipation was still evasive to him.

It was evasive to him until the moment Ollie is sitting on his lap.

The entire day of waiting and daydreaming, the nervousness and playfulness, the dances between innocence and mischievousness, so young in their presentation but still carried enough strength so that the room filled with flickering light the moment the blue-eyed escort straddled his legs and relaxed the weight of his body on the thighs.  The world beyond the walls disappeared into frozen nothing, birds stopping in mid-air or the Third Ward stopping in mid-nothingness.  There was a candle-like glow emanating from between them… almost visible between the separation of the pale and tanned skins.

They move in closer but hold still, blue and hazel intensely focused on each other.  There is a foreign thumping coming from… near.  He wasn’t sure… it was…

Ollie’s heart.

He stopped to appreciate the reverberation, as if it was the first time he ever heard a heartbeat before… or even cared.  There is a moment where intelligence shuts off and the primal kicks in.  Then intelligence comes back and say “Hey, why don’t we work together on this?”  He noticed a lot of guys, gay or straight, never really get to the part of the conversation where evolution and the evolved work together in their process.  His mind bouncing between the two aspects of male humanity in a sexual situation was like bouncing between the Tasmanian Devil and a seasoned ballet dancer.

The kiss was known territory and yet it still hit with more punch than it did the first time.  The kisses earlier in the day were the only allowable forms of affection and interest… a tease of what may never happen.  The kiss now is the beginning of sensual discourse, a start, a diving board, a form of balancing and synchronizing the two energies so that they can coordinate and proceed as one.

The decade of the inability to relate to his straight counterparts finally came to an end.  Often he would ask himself Who would put themselves through all that pain? about people who met, fell in love, and got married in the time it takes an Olympian to clear the 100 meter dash. While watching the room’s reflection in the blue ocean of Ollie’s eyes he finally gets it.  If this is what a heart filled with passion felt like, he had two forms of releasing it into the universe:  Artwork, or sex.  Currently there is no canvas to be found, but there was a white inked hottie, and at that moment he attacked his companion in a way he has never attacked a stretched piece of canvas before, causing the lighting in the room to shift from a candle-lit glow to a vividly dramatic spotlight.

Once naked, the primal comes up again, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this” it seems to say.  He doesn’t know how he’s doing the things he’s doing, but he’s doing them… and he’s doing them well.  They roll around, laugh, and increase in momentum.  Brilliant and beautiful, both right there matching movement to movement as if they were longtime dance partners who knew each others steps as if they were his own.  The younger more experienced escort let himself go and would take control just long enough for James to catch his breath.  The power of energy bounced back and forth several times until James took final control.  The home stretch, the feeling of the inevitable.  He had felt it so many times but now it was a mix of awesome and “fucking-hell”.  Sex always had a well plotted story line with a beginning, middle, and end.  This time he didn’t want it to end.  Why should there even be an end?  He thought about ways to last longer.  Baseball.  Women. Grandma.  Ugh!  Nothing is helping!  For the first time he realized, when one is with someone they find impossibly sexy, the whole world becomes very sexy… even Grandma with her perfectly pressed hair and well moisturized skin and pinched-rouged cheeks.  If the world was sexy, then nothing will prevent what is going manifest according to the way these two incredible energies deem it.  It is an ignited primal instinc out of his control.

And it was beautiful.

For the power of the passion he could not hold it in any longer and completed the intense live performance beyond art inside his companion while simultaneously slamming the blonde head into the wall as James stretched for the slightly-out-of-reach window sill over them in a final act of attempting to leverage stability for the exhaustive release.

Pause.

I’m sorry for that.

Damn.

Are you okay?

I am… just fine.  Thank you.  

Did you cum?

No, man.  I’m not going to cum tonight, but I definitely wanted you to.

You… are so fucking sexy.  I’m sorry I couldn’t last longer.

Man, I’m gonna have to try you out sometime when I’m not on drugs.

James responds with a kiss.  That, is going to be my favorite complement ever.  I promise.

Can we just lay here?  Ollie asks with a remarkably innocent delivery.

Of course.  James lays his head on his white skin covered with nothing more than a few tattoos and a rainbow bracelet on top an exposed mattress drenched in pleasure.  But we’ve been gone for over an hour.

Shit!  We should go.  We will cuddle later.

I’m holding you to that.

James needed to clean up a bit.  Ollie, in ardent joy, decided not to clean up… anything.  Both guys stood in the doorway of the restroom and kissed once more.   It was just as intense, but sad.  This kiss is a ending.

Arriving back at the party started with crossing the pregnant woman once again.

We’re back.

How are you holding up?

I’m fine.  But is it possible to get a glass of water?

Of course.  Is that pillow enough for you? 

If you can spare another that would be great. 

We’ll be right back.

I thought about going up there, but there’s just so much moaning.  So I just drank some from the faucet down here.

Do not go up there.  Jack would freak out if he knew there was a pregnant woman in his home.

At the top of the stairs he was glad to see the cute astronaut has made it free of the confusing perplexities of the kitchen’s diabolical puzzle of mixed drinks is now trying to tackle the inept failed mechanical engineering of the VCR to get the porn back up and running.  There are less people in the living room, but he’s not sure how many as the sight from the bedroom distracted him.

Jack was tied to the bed, right hand to the headboard and the left hand to the foot board, ass facing the hallway, and being tagged-teamed by Derrick, the skinny boy with full erection, Ben, and a cucumber.  Apparently there was a moment when everyone went flaccid and God’s vegetation had to take over.

Ollie was already in the room announcing our successful return.

Oh thank god.  Pack the pipe.  Quick.  It’s right in there with the… no, the other side.

James comes up behind Derrick who was standing beside Ben.  I didn’t spend your money. 

Dude, this is crazy.  He gets on the stuff and nothing is big enough.  And I’ve already came like, three times.  So has he.

It’s wild.  Ben says.  

By the way, your wife is doing fine.  I’m going to get her some water and hopefully find a pillow that doesn’t have lube on it.

Serious?  Thanks man!  Tell her I’m going to check on her in a sec.

It might be a little bit, he’s being reloaded.

Damn.

Wait, she told you we were married?

Yeah.

We’re not married.  We are going to get married.  I’m just… you know… trying to do the right thing.

James had no reaction except he wanted to hug Ben and tell him to run, run far far away.

That’s good of you.  Don’t worry about her, I’ll make sure she’s okay.

Thanks so much, man.

Derrick stops him.  Can you get me some water too?

What am I?  The fucking waitress?

You’re the only one with your clothes on and not covered in lube.

So make yourself useful.

Hey, I just make deliveries.  I’ve made my money for the night.  You two still have to keep working.

Ben gives him a half punch in the arm.  Dammit… and for another two weeks for the amount of shit you brought.

Sorry.  James rubs both guys shoulders and shakes his head.  No one will every believe this.  My first crack orgy and I’m the Mexican help.

Everyone laughs.

Jack perks up.  What are you laughing at?  Are you laughing at me?

No, we’re laughing at James.

Oh.  Then carry on.  Did you take any for yourself?

No, we had to go to a few places because of the amount, then we came straight back here.

Well take some for yourself.  There’s plenty.

James leaves the room, finds a discarded pillow in the corners of the living room, and retrieves a plastic cup of water for the lying whore downstairs.  He doesn’t talk with her because of a non-existent pressing matter he must tend to.  Then he takes the time to straighten out the single-occupant living room, ending with starting the VCR for the young man so he can not focus on it and not stroke his not erect penis.  Might as well check the kitchen.

The kitchen wasn’t bad.  The cooler was left open.  Some tops to a few bottles were missing.  Nothing tragic.  Ollie comes in and gives him a kiss.  Stop being the maid!

James smiles.  I really want to see you again.

I really want to see you, too.

They did a hurried exchange of pager numbers using whatever scraps of paper they could find.  They talk for a bit more.  James doesn’t hear a single word or even knows what is coming out of his mouth.  There is a sharp, wonderful monotone constant in the ears that warmly numbs the skin and the brightness of the kitchen has been lowered in volume so that it is nothing more than a shadowy moot point.  Eventually they stop talking and just hug.  Enjoying the them.

I have a fantastic idea, is heard from the other room.  Ollie!

The two guys join the gathering crowd around a tall naked Jack freshly tweaked.

I am moving this party… to New Orleans. 

That’s my cue to go, James says.

I will pay for everyone’s ticket.  You don’t need to pack anything, we’re only going to be there for about two or three days.  We will get you new stuff there.  Who’s in?  You?  You?  James?  New Orleans. 

I can’t.  I have work.  Real work.  Not Feathers.

Real real work? 

Yes.  I have actual responsibility beyond all… this.

Good.  I’m not going to compete with real work.  Anyone else?  It better be legit.

I as well.  Derrick raises his hand.  I work with James.

So you both work at Feathers and you both do real work as well.

Derrick was making himself a Jehovah’s Witness and an Assembly Hall volunteer in one fragmented sentence.  It was hardly believable.  Jack doesn’t know the back story, but there was no way Derrick is going to pass for an office worker at a religious-based construction hierarchy.

I work in computer drafting, and he works with my father in the welding shop.  We all work for the same construction company.

You work… in a real welding shop?  HOT.  Okay, real work people must stay here in the real world.  Ollie, gather up… whats-his-name and the other guy.  Ben.  You coming?

Let me go ask my girl.

You have to ask permission?

Well, she’s pregnant and really far along. 

Okay, well if you need to use the phone, go ahead.

No, she’s just downstairs.

Wait.  WHAT?  There’s a pregnant woman… in my house??  Oh my… GOD!!

It was more ‘disgust’ than ‘freak out’.

Ollie walks up to James as Derrick gathers his clothes.  Are you sure you can’t come with us?  We will have a lot of time to ourselves.  Maybe even our own room?

I would love nothing more than an all-expense paid vacation with you.  But I cannot, under any circumstances, leave my job and family for three days.  I… am… truly sorry.

It’s okay, man.  I guess now I know just how much I really mean to you, he said in faux sulk.

What Ollie doesn’t know is how the fake nip bites harshly in James’s heart.  It is painful to pass up this opportunity.  What may outwardly seem like a casual easy “no” response to something so exciting actually inflated a tremendous battle between legions of religious foes, raging in violent war for decades… placed in time frame starting with Jack announcing his “wonderful idea” until this point.  The fake twist to how the events are interpreted were seemingly harmless to him, to the world, to reality, but to James it just confirms that the battle to support the religion of his youth came at a cost of his own true emotional understanding and humanity.  Understanding is not a cookie-cutter development, and his had been stunted by the weight of this religion.  Now he is seeing the glorious exquisiteness, and the depths of its pain.

Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7:9 make sense… not just in male-female passion but in other non-sexual aspects.  The heart is a powerful engine and when it works well it is a juggernaut.  Jeremiah chapter 17: 9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT, 2007).  The desperation of those wrapped in a religion trying to avoid the powerful emotions of the earth, the electricity of the contents, or the wonderment of its combined evolution seems more deceitful than opening one’s eyes and taking an inventory of the world around them before making such broad and naive decisions using a simplistic “either God or Satan” filing system for something it took the Universe billions of years to develop.

James’s heart wasn’t deceitful.  It had a grip on reality.  It acts more of a compass and the mind navigates according to the direction the heart’s true north is.  A pure heart points one way, a deceptive heart points another, and each mind works in unison in order to create steps to justify the heart’s projection.  A pure heart runs into fewer problems than those of deceptive intent as a pure heart tends to take into account the energy of the surrounding location before rotating into it’s final position.  Ollie was not a deceitful person, though he does do deceitful things.  James cannot judge with the current life he was leading.  So with an immense amount understanding of the young guy in front of him, James took the joke for what it was, and nothing more.

He still starts with a response of heartfelt anguish, Please don’t say… but realizes that is going to lead to tears… tears without context.  So he changes to accepting the joke with the method it was presented and responded with, When you get back, page me.  And if I don’t hear from you, I’m going to go to your apartment and knock on your door every day until you answer. Then you will see how much you mean to me.

Ollie smiles generously.  He doesn’t comprehend were that is coming from, but it was enough pointedly direct emotion that Ollie believed he is being told the truth.  James guesses he is someone who isn’t told the truth often.  It will be good too change that, he feels.

They kiss once more.

Ben heads off downstairs.  Derrick is dressed and is given his money.  Jack is on the phone to his travel agent, who he woke out of bed.  He waves to James and then waves for him to come back.  In a surprise show of human appreciation, he give James a big hug, says Thank you, and releases him to start yelling at the travel agent again.  James was now wearing the most lube he had on him all evening.

I need names and Social Security Numbers.  Write it down.  Ollie…

Getting pen and paper.

Derrick shakes his hand and walks downstairs.  A wave to Ollie.

Downstairs Ben and his girl are arguing.  James descends the final steps waving to both.  Thinks he should help.  Look, it’s a great opportunity.  Everything will be paid for.

Are you going?

No I can’t.  I have real work I have to get back to.

I would feel better if you were going.  

Look baby.  It’s only for two days.

And he got the money from tonight already.

That’s right!  Here.  Take… 900 bucks.

He’s not going to need it.

Yeah, take it all!  Gas, groceries, it’s all here.  Come on.  This guy is loaded.  So let’s cash in while he’s partying.  Plus he’s got some great shit.

Two days?

Baby, he said two or three.

Which is it?  Two or three because we have a doctor’s appointment on Friday.

For the baby?

(In unison) Yes.

He opens the door.  That baby?

(In unison)  Yes.

He pauses and gives his best impersonation of his mother that he could muster.  Don’t you think health and development issues like a doctor’s appointment is something the real father should be involved in?  Ben is already marrying you. Let him make some money to help with after the baby is born.

James quickly disappears out the door and closes it… and walks as fast as he could to the car.  Every mile he drove home brought a bigger and brighter smile.  The theater of the absurd, a very different genre of entertainment, but certainly not without its adventure and relatable information.

The lights on the drive home seem to sing.  There was music in his heart.  There was also pain.

Not pain now.  The pain to come.  But the pleasure now is too grand not to pause in gratitude.

So this is what this feels like?

He put aside Ollie for a moment to quietly pray for forgiveness to the years of straight guys he beat up for being weak of heart in getting over a girl or the scriptural tirades he would give if they decided to get married ‘too soon’.  Each and every level of heart burning made sense, from the cute child-like attempts for attention to the madness and ripping of worry that someone wouldn’t jump at a chance to get out of town and be alone for a few days.  All stations on all levels had all channels blaring different content, but once digested it was understood.  Yes, Ollie is going to hurt as it is a situation needing to be nipped in the butt.

Butt, (giggle).  He has such a cute butt.

Wow.  This is what awesome is.  This is really going to suck.

James P. Perez © 2013