Backseat Devil

Tag: Kristy and Katy

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

If only.

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

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

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

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

Heyyy, Brother Perez!  How’s it going?

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

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

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

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

Steve.  They drove all this way from Victoria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

Okay.

How is your heart?

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

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

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

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

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

Why not just tell her to stop?

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

Of course.

Don’t take too long. 

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

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

But he is disfellowshipped.

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

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

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

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

Hey.

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

An hour or so?  James was a little confused.

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

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

So I can stay with him, she said frustrated.

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

She stays with me at night in case anything happens.

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

I wasn’t planning on it.

I don’t think dad needs a baby sitter.

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

Like… spontaneous death? 

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

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

What?  James!  You can’t do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does this not wake him up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James P. Perez © 2014

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Chapter 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 10 – The Stillness

James walked out of the hospital late that night with the twins close behind. He was angry with his mother or maybe just deflection.  It was a tumor and nothing more so far. She is already killing her husband in her mind, pacing back and forth in an egotistical rant of how she wouldn’t be able to go on.  Her negative projectile energy of her burdensome future pain and suffering stood in rippling contrast to his calm and collected father laid up in the bed trying to make jokes to keep the atmosphere light.

James’ parents worked best as a team – the mother was emotional, and the father was logical.  The balance provided proper incubation for James to develop into a perfect child.  His mother was the perfect homemaker, his father was the perfect breadwinner.  The result by default was James having a perfect life void of conflict or friction.  Boundaries were never tested, and hardships were easily overcome.  James was now seeing how others outside in the world handled hard times… struggle… and some of them had great coping mechanisms in place that he had never seen before.  Others just used the lifelong combination of sex, drugs, and alcohol which seemed to only land everyone back in the same position they were initially trying to cope with.

Assumptions from people he talked to in ‘the world’ always jumped to religious household not accepting of homosexuals?  Your upbringing must have been hell.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  His home life was wonderful, and up until this point he had no complaints whatsoever.

Sometimes his mother would shift focus from father when James felt this really should be ‘dad’s time’ for attention… and this seemed to be one of those times.   David stood by his side until the appropriate “I’ll wait for you in the truck/Get well soon, Brother Perez” was exchanged giving James some time to be alone with his father while his mother talks to the twins in the hall after their visit.

David is sitting on the tailgate of his Ford truck stationed diagonally at the far end of the parking lot watching the traffic across the street.  How is he?

He says he’s fine, but by the amount of jokes he’s making I think he’s a little worried.

James sits next to David and stares at Highway 59.

The twins come up and stand on either side of them.

James, your mother is so sweet.

Thanks, I know.

I seriously think that is the longest time I’ve talk with her.

Me too. 

I’m so sorry about all this, James.

Thanks.  This, is a very weird feeling, honestly.

Did you want to go eat or something?  It’s late.

I think… I think I just want to go home.

I could eat.  Why don’t you ladies go on ahead, I’ll take James home and catch up with you later?

(In unison) That sounds good. 

Both girls give James a hug and say bye to David.  James doesn’t move.  David doesn’t either.  After a minute David puts his arm around James’s shoulders.  Dude, I cannot even… begin to fathom what you’re going though.  If this was my father I would have fucking lost it… throwing things, smashing windows… who knows.  I know you,  you are containing yourself for everyone, but now it’s just us.  so…?

James didn’t know.  He was gripped with fear and didn’t want to release it via anger and thrust.  In fact, he wasn’t even sure he could move himself off the tailgate to get into the truck.  His emotions were in freeze frame in mid free fall in a free-for-all.  This couldn’t be happening… not to his Dad.  Despite the gay issue, his father is his consulting oracle for all matters of logic and argument.  He is mentally the strongest person he knew and physically formidable in stature.  Being hugged by him is spiritually balancing and works almost like a re-calibration for the soul.  This man… this force couldn’t have a tumor.  His body would have said What the hell is this shit? and kicked it out, which is essentially what Steve found in the toilet.

Like his father, humor is used for a variety of reasons but the effort it takes to breathe at this moment even made constructing a fairly decent c-grade joke an impossibility.  It feels almost disrespectful to not have some sort of wild and violent reaction to the situation at hand.

I want to have a reaction, but everything within me is in dead silence like my insides have been removed and replaced with condensed air.

David takes his arm back and moves closer to lean over, shoulder touching shoulder.  We can sit here all night if you need.  Take your time.

The two young men watch the traffic of the highway silently in the shadow of the parking lot light off to the right of the truck.

***

An unknown amount of time passes before James finally speaks, I think I want to go home.

In the truck David takes a right at the light and heads north on Highway 59.

Are we taking the long way?

Yeah.

Thank you.

James rolls the window down and rests his head against the metal frame of the door and lets the Houston air fan across his closed eyes.  He hopes in desperation that the wind would dislodge the stillness consuming the infrastructure of his mentality, his emotional non-response, and gravity of his physical being.  This cannot be happening.  Not to him.  Please, not to him.

He opens his eyes and sees the passing lights slur across his line of sight.  He remembers riding in the back passenger’s side of mother’s car, going through Houston in the middle of the night after working the late security shift at the Rosenberg Assembly Hall with his father… their first job as volunteers before construction had began.  The city was such a mystery to him at that time.  He thought everyone was asleep and the concrete and glass laid at quiet rest in the dark.

Now he knew different.  The city is vibrant at night.  In some ways it’s even more interesting with a different set of people running about interacting with other people and doing things.  He now knew because he was one of them.  This life, this city… it pulses with life every hour of the day.

He was too.  His veins were pumping with new blood increased in volume with each new and delightful person he met.  And those that were self-consuming or socially vampiric were lax in their effect thanks to the contrivance footwork of new social skills he was learning.  There was so much good out there, so much joy and fun to be had.  He saw the universe burst in the eyes of some people.  The “wicked world” had so much not-wickedness about it.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness wasn’t bad, but it was confining in its boundaries both mentally, and as he’s seeing now, emotionally.  He was giving his brain a new pair of running shoes and stretching his legs trying to take in sociology from every corner he could, and he was loving it.

There still wasn’t much in conflict, and there still weren’t very many excuses to run back to the church with new found vigor.  Maybe that was the point.  He wasn’t finding the horrors and depravity drenched with the frothy mouths of those mad with drugs and disease.  They were there, he passes them nightly.  But upon talking with them he finds out they are really just people, like himself, trying to cope with shit, like himself, and upon discussion he usually found out he has quite a bit in common with them.  Every picture in the Live Forever book or in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines depicting what the world looked like was, basically, wrong.  The pictures he had grow up with were just snapshots of the worst part of humanity… a patchy occurrence sprinkled across mankind as a whole and not a reflection of the expansive spaces of beauty  and stimulation in between.  Some of this could be dangerous and seductively deceiving, others can be provocative and riveting, but all inspired thought and metaphor and the differences between “good” and the “bad” were massive.  He had been living on one small acre of real estate near the “good” side of a spectrum that encompasses the entire globe and under the weight of this realization he felt something he had never really felt before… humility.

Do you think Jehovah is punishing dad?

Why would you say that?  You’re dad is the best Christian I’ve ever met.

Yeah, I know.  But… I’m not.

David didn’t know anything about what James was doing outside the church, and without any knowledge or content he could still skillfully snake his way around James’s landmine mind and deal with questions so precisely, it was sometimes annoying.

James.  I know you may not think of yourself as a good Christian for whatever reason, but you do a lot of good everywhere you go.  If Jehovah as a problem with you, he will punish you, not the best Witness he has playing on his team.  Plus, colon cancer… IF he even has cancer… is a very common disease.  Many people get it, and survive without skipping a beat.  So, frankly,  not to speak for Jehovah, but it would be a very stupid way to punish you for not being a good Christian.

James can verify.  His accuracy was, in fact, annoying.

Thank you.

David’s intense sense of perception could tell that his friend was overthinking.

Ready for some music?  Or too soon?

No, actually  I think I’m ready for something.

“Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin” is slid into the CD player.  It was just what he needed.

Perfect.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 7 – Tale of Two Pretties

There were fundamental flaws to the Witness perception of living a double life, especially for teenagers and young adults.  Up until this point it never made sense to ‘serve two masters’ and with logical arguments presented by his father, there was nothing he found specifically attractive or enticing in ‘the world’.  Outside he is the same person that he is on the inside with a minor homosexual character flaw that he keeps in check.  Who knows what destruction the world would face if that demon was ever let loose.

For as long as he remembers he had always been the subject of division in the congregation.  In each location there were a select few among the elders who thought he was nothing more than a flamboyant fabrication.  Baptized at ten?  Yeah, right.  What are you, Jesus?

No.  I’m not Jesus.  Just a kid, making his own decisions within the boundaries that his parents set for him, nothing more, nothing less.  Of course he never added that he was a gay male abused as a child who desperately searched for ways to compensate for the Devil inside.  Assumptions from the shadowy corners of the Kingdom Hall sat in counterpoise to those that seemed to drift from the fluorescent lights with ignorant lambency.  Would you spend some time with my sons?  They need better influences in their lives before they go down the wrong path.

Your older teenage son is a delusional narcissist with sociopathic tendencies who is in love with his rather hot best friend and will probably grow up to be an overweight red-faced alcoholic who beats his wife and smokes cigarettes secretly… just like his father.  Your youngest teenage son is a manipulative homo who lures men in the steam room at Bally Total Fitness and then cries “rape” if they get caught… which everyone believes because he’s only 15.  Is there anything else I can do for you Sister Melon?  No?  Okay then, moving on…

Being a family constantly moving from congregation to congregation to “help where the need was greater” came as an added benefit.  He had to learn who people were and their character as soon as possible before the family  moved to another location.  ‘The world,’ as it stood on the outside was kept at bay and was a minute inconvenience at best.  But as a teenager now going into his twenties and staying in stationary locations for more than one year at a time his perception of the ones he judged so harshly underwent a paradigm shift in understanding.

Sometimes kids get bored.  Fuck… even I’m getting bored.

Now with an end of a construction era, he was about to go to the world headquarters, mainly filled with young ‘able-bodied’ single men who (for all intents and purposes) should be horny as hell after an entire adolescence of not masturbating and not fucking.  What normal, red-blooded teenage male thinks that after years of sexual repression, the best thing for him to do after high school is to head to the world’s largest sausage fest and delay fucking a hot wife for a few more years?

Unless Bethel is the Witness equivalent of the Catholic priesthood where young gay men head to seminary in order to avoid getting married.  James is now a little more more encouraged by the move.  Maybe it will be a safe place for people like me. 

Though he was going for avoidance it didn’t mean others were.  Praying for freedom from sexual thought (gay or straight) and the ability to relieve an erection via benedictions may work for everyone else, but he was failing miserably in this regard.

Tick, tock.  This won’t stop.

Each medical and psychological study he read repeatedly stated that a teenager – any teenager – has the inner necessity to test their body as it is developing mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Events like pregnancy can alter the hormone development of a girl while males taking supplements can cause testosterone levels to spike over dramatically in an already unstable environment.   In the mind, a teenager needs to be able to test different cliques, persona, cultures, and counter-cultures in order to find a balance which suits them personally.  Puberty and adolescence is almost a decade long experiment in fluctuating chemicals and growth spurts.  To have a teenager living a ‘double life’ isn’t so much about living a sham or lie as it is trying to find out who they are as a person, and experimenting with who they want to be as a future adult.  It’s not deception, it’s honesty.  If they find honesty and safety within the structure of the Kingdom Hall, then they wouldn’t be like James and venture out.  When that structure begins to fail, they are going to be like James and search for it elsewhere.

The paradox is that due to the cult-like limitations of socialization it is in a young person’s best interest to be one person to their parents and elders while secretly trying to find their place in humanity.  Being excommunicated means being shunned by everyone one knows and unless there is a safe place to land, it’s a lesson in cruel and arrogant torture.  From a human heart, he understood so many people he met over the years.

Tick, tock.

With Houston life coming to a close and a monster who keeps screaming in his ear, he decided to let the Devil out to play a little… on a leash of course in desperate hopes that he will tire himself out and sleep for the next… however many years.

(Ground rules.)

1.  No drugs.  This was an exercise in being a homosexual.  He has never taken any drugs before and wasn’t going to start now.  The last thing he needed was to realize he was gay and a junkie before going to Bethel.

2.  No alcohol.  James hasn’t consumed alcohol in his life except one time when he was house sitting for a brother and sister.  He woke up with a headache from hell… and never drank again.

3.  No bottoming.  This is simply a matter of good sense.  He thought his penis was adequate… everyone seemed to have liked it so far.  The last thing he needed was to be at Bethel and find out he has AIDS.  The assumptions of the religion would spiral into untold realms of nausea.

4.  No falling in love.  He isn’t even sure if this was a rule or not.  He isn’t even sure it’s possible.  In tragic romance he would meet the man of  his dreams and give up everything for travel and cocktails.  But the reality is his inability to lose site of his primary goal of reaching Bethel for a new beginning, instead arriving with a broken-hearted longing for something he should have never touched in the first place.

Observe, understand, find a million insurmountable flaws that strikes your soul with the fear of God (out of love, of course), and get the hell out.

This was all very exciting.

Shaddup!

David smacks James in the face playfully as they walk through the Maintenance Building. The construction was starting to come to an end and many parts of the construction staging areas were being dismantled. The twins and Amber were waiting in the office that will now become the new drafting room for the Kingdom Hall Building Committee, Texas #4.

I mean you have the Vaseline right there in the shower. You don’t even bother putting it away for guests.

You’re not a guest, David said.

Not the point.

Did you use it?

Also not the point.

What are you guys talking about?

(In unison) Nothing.

Did I just hear you say “Vaseline?”

Are you talking about self abuse?

Because we are warned against that.

James smacks David in the shoulder. Yeah, David. You just need to pray more.

Well… old habits die hard.

Hard you say?

Working at night with a staff of openly gay people, and sexually comprehensive straight people has made James more in tune to new levels of innuendo that, for some unexplained reason he has no control over.

Not funny, James.

Soon you will be having premarital sex.

Which will inevitably lead to an abortion.

Yeah, I’m pretty potent.

And wanting more sex will lead you to rape.

All because of masturbation.

Ew! You are talking about abusing your penis.

It’s not really “abuse,” per se.

And who said he was abusing his penis?

(In unison) James!

James had convinced the Building Committee to order kneeling office chairs rather than the standard swivel because after three years of drafting at the building site, his back and wrist began to hurt.  The center part of the Maintenance Building was now empty, the temporary walls and desks against flat files were demolished, sold, relocated, or moved to a storage facility.

It is a sad realization that the Rosenberg, Texas Assembly Hall had the best facilities for full-time volunteer labor.  There were always enough beds, plenty of work to do, a massive food tent serving three meals a day every day (plus snacks), and a row of privately owned RV trailers that could easily be borrowed for a long shower or a power-nap… maybe if one just needed peace and quiet from the constant construction mix of clank and boom.  The building itself was (almost) unimpeachable in its design and everyone who worked on it had something visible that they ware proud of.  The collegial-like family was comforting and basic, unassuming in the midst of flying steel girders and rumbling backhoes, waving hard hats and pointing clipboards.

The young brothers who lived in the loft had shuffled off slowly, teary-eyed, and lost.  Many were trying to get onto other assembly hall projects to keep this emotional attachment going… San Antonio, maybe.  Did you hear about the one in Dallas?  Are they doing that?

Mainly he sees that many of these brothers simply do not have any other place to go.  The first time he walks through the building after the keys of the Assembly Hall were handed over to the overseer and his assistant who will be living onsite in two of the four apartments built into the design, James stood motionless in reverence.  This is not my building anymore.  This is not our building anymore.   He smiled.  We did a damn good job.

Now onto new and better things, into the box in the corner of the Maintenance Building to set up Kingdom Hall Regional Building Committee’s servers and computers for the standard packages of windowless Kingdom Halls that had been sent down a few months prior, but where put on hold until the completion of the Assembly Hall.

It’s not that I don’t love social hour around here, but if you all don’t mind, I need to get these new packages arranged on the new servers and print out… everything.  Three times.

No one was listening to him, and David had already taken the short, black scissor-shaped sitting stations out onto the empty and freshly coated main floor for racing.  

David won 3 to 2.

Later that evening James finds himself at his other work laying in the couple’s room with Billy eating Pop Tarts on the side-by-side massage tables.  Ozzy in watching the front desk and RJ is finishing up with a client in the next room.

So who do you think is going to bottom first?  It seemed like Billy’s favorite question.

I think the short one.  It just seems…

Proportional?

Yeah. 

But he has the bigger dick.  I mean look at that thing.

I didn’t say it wasn’t a missed opportunity.

I say the tall one.  Whoever wins buys dinner. 

RJ appears at the door.  The tall one gets it.

That’s what I think, Billy says.

The two straight guys are going to tell me which one bottoms.

Yeah, dude.  Trust us.  It’s in the eyes.  Look at the way he’s attacking that cock.  RJ could be remarkably perceptive when it came to gay sex.

But doesn’t everyone attack a dick like that?

In any moment he’s going to…

(Unison) There he goes!

James was impressed by his straight counterparts.  I honestly feel I have learned something today.

Ozzy appears at the door.  When you two said you were going to come back here and watch porn, this was not what I was imagining.

James is excited about sharing the porn.  You missed it.  This guy who is… (blank).

Chasing art thieves.

Chasing art thieves was having a cigarette and tried to light it from the filter side.

Is that what you were laughing at so loudly?

If he’s catching art thieves he seems to be hot on their tail.  Billy, your guy is here.

Oh man. 

Sorry, dude.  No more gay porn for the straight guy.

Nor this one.  I’m out of here.

How was your client?

Very touchy feely.  But tipped well.  He tried to finger me.

Look, RJ. I’m sorry.  But your ass is just…so… you know.

I’m gonna go home and fuck my girl so hard right now.

Can… we…

(Laughing) No!

The blushing and oddly flattered RJ heads into the break room to clean himself and retrieve supplies to wipe down the room.  James turns off the projector and gathers up the crumbs of dried pastry thrown at the screen slightly earlier during a particularly poorly acted moment of passion.  Billy appears at the door with a distressed look on his face.

Don’t ask.

James didn’t.

Up at the front desk he sits with Ozzy until they both realize they have been staring at RJ’s ass as he walked out the building.

Anyway.

Yes, anyway.  I am suddenly hungry.  Do you mind manning the front desk while I go grab something from Burger King?

I thought you were a vegetarian?

I am.  I get a Whopper and just discard the meat.

I’m learning all kinds of things this evening.

Did you want anything?

No, my mom made dinner.

Girl, I cannot believe you.  What you are doing is crazy.

I know.

But at least your mom makes you eat all your vegetables.  That helps when people suck you off.

Does it?

Does she make your dad eat all his…

Ew!  Go get your food!

From the lobby, Ozzy turns back around.  Speaking of home, when are you leaving for that thing you’re doing for your church?

I’m heading to New York after my birthday.

And you will be back…?

Not sure.  Maybe never.

It’s not like the Mormon two year thing?

No.  It’s volunteer work where they produce all the magazines and books that we bring to your door every weekend.

Sounds… different.

I know. 

Are you sure it’s not going to be like a gay rehabilitation thing?

No, no.  Nothing like that.  Just a different job in a clean atmosphere.  A different life, I think. 

Well, I hope you know what you’re doing, my dear.  Cults can be tricky.

I hope I do too.

Ozzy walks out the door and James whispers to himself and it’s not a cult.  The honest concern for him was something that James had felt frequently but the thankfulness he showed in return was an illusive rarity.  He was surprised at how thankful he was feeling to have someone he just met be so… genuinely uplifting.  And there was no subject off limits. No matter what topic or scenario he brought up, Ozzy perpetually remained… unshocked. After a few minutes of thinking on the subject,  Billy appears in the hallway in his underwear with a large hard-on holding oiled hands in the air like a doctor who had just scrubbed before an operation.

Dude, this is the grossest thing I’ve ever done.  The guy is nothing but hair.

You have an erection.

Well he’s very sweet, you know… with all the movement and rubbing… things happen.

Not that I’m complaining about the visual, but… why are you here?

Can you heat up some more massage oil in the microwave?  The guys body hair is literally soaking everything up.

James smile and gives Billy a half hug.  Sure thing.  And massage in place rather than across the skin.  It will be more enjoyable for him.  He demonstrates on Billy’s arm.

Thanks dude.  Honestly, I don’t know what I would do in this place without you.

Glad to help.

James P. Perez © 2013

Chapter 4 – Nights of the Round Table

There they are.

How is it possible that they could get so far behind?  The theater is only like five minutes away.

You never knew with those two.

Hi! Sorry we’re late.  We had to stop for some gum for Kristy.

You wanted some too.

Yes, I know.  But it’s in the middle of the night and we are about to eat.  I could have waited.

Maybe you could have waited, but you are not on the receiving end of your breath. I was just trying to help before we met up with the boys.

Oh yeah. You were being polite.  It wasn’t because those sticky Twizzlers with their fake flavors and preservatives are rotting your mouth from the inside out, leaving a trail of stench along the way.

Katy, we did not need that visual. We’re about to eat.

David looks at the man standing near them, watching the scene.  They will be dining with us.

The obviously gay waiter is disappointed that the two similarly dressed young men would not be alone for him to flirt with and takes off to gather two more place settings.

Are you two going to sit down, or what?

Yes, David.  Don’t be inpatient. 

I know.  Plus, I’m still traumatized from the thing.

James and David look at each other and then to the twins.  The waiter returns with two place settings for the girls and grabs his pad.

Diet Coke.

Regular Coke.

Hot tea.

Make that two.

The twins first made their appearance when a young local girl with a crown eclipsed with thick golden blonde (sometimes reddish brown) curls and a dominate force which was perfectly scaled by her incredible observant sense of sweetness.  Amber’s father worked with the building committee and she liked to visit James, so passing through the Maintenance Building was a regular occurrence for her.  After work was filled with talking with him about the various teenage consternations James lovingly referred to as “like scrubber base through the pump truck, so are the daze of our lives.”  And it was true, and a large building project after working hours can be a therapeutic place to talk out one’s problems.

Amber talked about James often, and one day she brought in two identical twins named Kristy and Katy, who only slightly swayed from the ‘perky blonde’ stereotype, but in complete opposite directions.  They, like Amber, were sweet, honest, and excelled in poised diplomacy.  Unlike Amber, they maintained a rather spotless appearance while working on the construction site which speaks more about Amber’s work ethic than anything else. The twins were often quiet at first, but once their engine was started, they were nothing short of heartfelt refreshment.

As the twins and David lived in the same area of east Houston and knew each other from the same congregation, the three of them associated with each other often with a group that included others from various circles of the Organization whether construction, congregation, or relatives.  As James and David hung around more it was only a matter of time before the twins made their way into the story, and around the table.

David still has a look of concern on his face.  Are you going to explain what you were talking about?

Yeah, I’m desperate to find out if you made it out alive.

Well, obviously I made it out alive.

He’s joking, Katy.

I know he’s joking. I’m just saying he didn’t have to worry.

I’m sure he’s not that worried if he’s making a joke.

James and David speak in unison, What happened??

A homeless man walked up to Katy at the gas station.

He was big and ugly. He smelled like pee.

And?

And that was it.

No, it wasn’t it.  He popped out of nowhere and grabbed my arm and didn’t let go.

Where were you?

I was on the other side of the Jeep on the passenger’s side.

What?

Well, he approached the driver’s side.  I thought he wanted to just talk to Katy.

David is beside himself, What man comes out of nowhere in the middle of the night and just wants to talk?

He wasn’t that big.  I thought she could handle it.

James tries to be comforting.  I have no doubt that you can handle yourself.  But it is a bit creepy.

Thank you, James.  It wasn’t a big deal but I appreciate saying that.

We will walk you your Jeep after we eat.

To the well lit parking lot off the street.

The sentiment is nice.

I think she’s being dramatic.

I think you’re being naive.

Have either of you two considered taking a self defense class?

We looked into it before but we got conflicting information.

Dad thinks it’s a good idea…

Yeah, because he’s a father and wants to protect his girls.

But an elder in our congregation said that taking a violent class would be contrary to what we are as Christians.

He said that in a talk, Kristy.  He wasn’t talking about this particular situation.

And generally speaking the consensus is that everyone, brother or sister should stay away from any kind program that teaches a person to be violent. James had heard the argument many times.

Wait.  I’m not going to go against the elders here.  But there is a stark difference between taking jujitsu lessons and self defense classes.  One is an offensive method of aggression while the other is a protection mechanism in case someone is aggressive to you.

Yeah, but both are violent in nature and gives you knowledge on how to harm another individual by using violent-based maneuvers.

Which is what you need whenever someone with violent intent is coming up to you.  It’s not demonstrated in this case because the guy didn’t have violent intent, but seriously… especially for young women.  I would like it if you took a self defense class because, seriously, I wouldn’t know what to do if anything were to happen to either one of you.

James turns to the twins, I agree with him.  I mean, I am trying to make the elder’s argument, and violence is not the way to solve anything, but I honestly agree.  But I will add, talk it over with your dad again and make a decision as a family.

Yeah, but don’t mention this incident because then you’ll get the…

‘Why were you out so late in the middle of Houston’ speech. Yeah I know.

We’ve already gotten that when we got the flat tire.

It’s just an opinion but, you may get shit from the elders, but at least you will be alive.

…and not violently raped, bloody, and left for dead on the side of the road.

David looks blankly at the waiter who is bringing the drinks.

Sorry for the delay.  Is everyone ready to order?

Kristy and Katy both sip from their drinks and almost instinctively trade the glasses without looking at each other.

Did I switch them?  I’m so sorry.

It’s okay.

It happens all the time.

David starts, I’ll have the personal with pepperoni.

Can I have a slice of that?  I love their pepperoni.

Yeah, moocher.  Make it the fourteen inch.

I’ll take the chicken Casar salad.

I’m not sure yet. Go to James.

Twelve inch mushroom pan, please.

Twelve inches, got it.  That leaves you.

I think I want the Italian sub with the dressing on the side.  You’re going to split that with me, right?

Oh my god, I got the freakin’ huge salad.

James and David in unison, It’s a salad.

We good?

Yeah, that works.

Okay, I will get this right out.

David, would you really lose it if something ever happened to one of us?

Katy, I don’t even want to discuss it.  I would… I don’t know, kill myself.

Awe.  That’s sweet.

I personally cannot say the same.  We’ve only been hanging out for a year or so, so I’m less attached…

(Laughter)

James tries to redeem the joke.  But, I know how much you mean to David and on his behalf I have to say I would probably be pretty upset. 

Thank you for that sentimentality.

Both of you now… with the sentiments.

In its reality, the round table discussions were a source of energy for James, fuel for his soul.  He had to pay it some respect.  Honestly, a world without you two is like a world without flowers or sunshine.  You would definitely be missed in a very noticeable way… and moving on would be a very dark and dreary path for anyone who knows you, and recovery would be something I can’t even imagine…

Wow James, that is…

I don’t know what to say.

Yeah James, way to show me up.

It’s true though.

Thank you for that.

I was just going to kill myself, not be some whiny… bitch.

Killing yourself is just as poetic, don’t sell yourself short. 

Do you write poetry?

I bet you would be good at poetry.

I haven’t in a long time.  I kinda go through phases.  Poetry to me is like clearing a brain clog after some event or adventure.

I would like to read some of your poetry.

David sits back in his chair right arm over the chair back and left arm on the table fidgeting the swizzle straw brought with the hot tea.  Speaking of adventure… are you going to tell them?

Tell us what?

David smiles his best douchy “ha-ha fuck you” grin and gets up from the table.

I’m going to go ask the waiter for some waters and pee.

Ew.

James gives a reasonable sheepish avoidance pause in order to give David enough time to get out of earshot.

I’m going to Bethel.

Oh my god that’s great.

You already told us that.

I did?

Yeah, a few weeks back you told us you were going to Bethel.

Yeah, and although we would be sad to see you go, we are going to try to be very supportive.

We will be very supportive.

A lot more supportive than David, that’s for sure.

James laughs and shakes his head.  I’m going to try this again.  A few weeks ago, I applied to Bethel.  This evening, I received my letter of acceptance to Watchtower Farms at Wallkill.

Oh my god!  I’m so sorry I didn’t catch that.

Yeah Katy.

You didn’t catch it either.

Wait, is that why he…

Yes.  So… let’s speed this up before he gets back. 

(In unison) Congratulations.

When do you leave?

In six months.

Wow, that long? 

They are allowing me time to finish up at the Assembly Hall and get the Kingdom Hall Building Committee settled in their new offices, especially since we now have the new standardized Kingdom Hall packages.  They are giving me time to get all that up and running before leaving.

That is very cool.

I bet your parents are so excited.

They are.  My dad couldn’t stop smiling and my mom immediately started calling everyone.  It was almost too much.  I was kind of glad to get away tonight.  It just so happened David was there, I don’t know how I would have told him otherwise.

You just found out tonight?

Kristy, he just said that in his re… announcement.

I’m sorry, it’s just all now sinking in.

Yes tonight.

And David was there? 

How did he react?

He was naked and holding a pork chop.

The waiter is standing with two waters, and places each down carefully.

I don’t even want to know what that means.

Seriously, how did he take it? 

Subtle graciousness.

Wow.

Are you exited? 

Of course he’s excited, Katy.  Why wouldn’t he be?

You just don’t seem that excited, that’s all.

True, usually when people have news like this they would say it right away.

Not wait so long in the evening after a movie, you know.

James smiles.  I’m excited.  It’s just a lot to take in.

If you weren’t that excited you could tell us.

We wouldn’t judge you.

But this has been a goal of  yours, right?

Since birth, it seems like.

It’s a big move. 

Of course he’s excited.  You can see it in his face.  David slides past James and pats the right cheek twice with his palm of his hand before slumping down in his chair, same position as before.

To wrap this up…

Please, don’t change the subject on my behalf.

… For the benefit of those who brought up the subject in the first place, yes, I am very excited, but it is six months away and I have a lot of work to do between now and then.

Plus he’s going to the farm and not the city.

You’re going to the farm?

Oh my god, Kristy, are you not listening to anything he says?

That’s right, you said the farm.  I’m sorry.  It’s a lot to take in, Katy.

Which honestly, I’m not thrilled about the farm itself, but would probably be the healthiest thing for me.

You would get in trouble in the city?

You would sooo get in trouble in the city.

And honestly, now that’s it’s official, it feels a little bit different then when it was just ambient suggestion.  Everyone is always talking about Bethel service and when you’re preoccupied with the Assembly Hall and Kingdom Hall building, Bethel service seems a little limiting at times.  And once you have the letter in front of  you, it makes it… real.

I think I know what you mean.

Because your lifelong goal is to go to Bethel and you got accepted?

No, but like the courses we’re taking or something.  You know.  Getting what was once an idea, official.

I don’t know what she’s talking about,  but I’m proud of you.

I was trying to relate to your emotions, but I’m proud of you too.

David sits up and places his hand firmly on James’s shoulder but does not squeeze.  We are all proud of Brother Perez.  (Pause.)  And now we can change the subject. 

James says “thank you” in his head and looks over at David.  He got it.

David slouches back in his chair.  And both you girls need to stop saying “oh my god” all the time.

I know.  We’re working on it.

Why are you bringing that up?  You’re the one with the dirty mouth…

You too James.

And you’re going to Bethel.

Nobody realizes this, at all, but David in all his… “gotta do the cool thing”-ness really tries hard to make me a better Witness.  He bitches at me when I curse, sends me home when it’s late, even with his “oh my god” suggestion to you…

Stop.

What?  It’s true.

No.  Don’t do that.

What?

Totally fuck up my image like that.  Not to these two.

They’re probably going to tell everyone, now, you know.

Exactly.

You will be a Ministerial Servant soon.

I don’t have the ties for that. 

You have to give up the Doc Martins.

I’m not giving up my Docs.

The twins butt in.  Wait, what?

Tell people that David is actually a good person on the inside.

Who would we tell?

And who would believe us?

Are you actually worried, because we really won’t tell.

Are you two doing the fake conversation thing again? 

On the way here David ran over a basket full of puppies and laughed.

(In unison) Ew!

Nice save, James.

You guys say the worst things.

What is this “you guys” crap?  He’s the one who said it!

Yes, well… we know where he gets it from.

They can’t spread gossip about something they don’t even believe, I suppose.

Thanks guys.

David, we know you’re a good person, it’s why we love you, and we would never do anything to tarnish your bad boy image.

Thank you, ladies.

We were actually really surprised you two hang out so much.  I mean… it’s like…

The bad boy and the golden child being friends…

… a little surprising. 

No offense to either of you.

It’s honestly seems like a odd yin-yang thing going on.

That’s an interesting way of putting it.

All I know is that with your “oh my god’s” and his foul language, I have the best mouth at the table.

The waiter is standing with their food, not sure how to take what he just heard.

Here you go.  Chicken Caesar.  Italian sub.  And here are the two pizzas. 

(Sporadic)  Thank you.

Does everything look okay?

(Sporadic) Yes.  Thanks.

Can I get you anything else?

More napkins.

Napkins.  Right away.

The waiter disappears as suddenly as he arrived.

So what’s the deal with Bethelites and free food?

Yeah, I mean… they eat like kings and one person offers to take them out to eat and they get the most expensive thing on the menu.  And when the check comes they expect someone else to pay.  Remember Michael?

You sound like an apostate, Katy.

Okay I’m not trying to sound apostate, it’s just something I notice.

The waiter returns with napkins.

James had already taken many trips to Bethel and seen the same thing.  You don’t sound apostate.  It’s something I notice too.  I have no clue, but I promise once I get there and find out, I will let everyone know.

Thank you.  (Pause.)  James, when you get to Bethel, don’t become weird.

Katy, my dear, I’m already weird.

I mean weirder.

I will try.

I thought we were changing the subject.

(Unison) We are.

James P. Perez © 2013