I woke before 7:00 AM the next morning. I suppose part of it was the anticipation of sharing the start of the morning with Jackson again. It was Thursday morning and I’d now passed the threshold and been in Newberg for just over a week. And what a difference this one week had made. I got up, padded to the bathroom, took a pee, brushed my teeth to make sure there was no dragon breath, and slipped into shorts and T-shirt. I knew I’d have to shit, shave and shower before meeting with the attorney, but that was for later. Right now, I wanted to be comfortable to be with Jackson.
I slipped downstairs, saw on the kitchen clock that it was just before 7:00 and looked on the back porch with a touch of fear. What if the paper was already there? My paranoia was unfounded—there was no sign of the paper. I smiled inwardly and went to make the coffee. Then I pulled bread, eggs and bacon out of the refrigerator and put a frying pan on the stove. I started the bacon, put the bread in the toaster so it was ready to go, and whisked some eggs so making scrambled would be quick and easy when we were ready. The coffee was done, and as I poured a cup and enjoyed the aroma wafting up from the pour, I heard the back door open.
My heart leapt. It literally leapt in my chest. It was a feeling I’d never experienced, only read about—my love was here, and my body was responding ahead of my brain. I turned to look at him as I set down the coffee cup. He had stepped into the kitchen, stopped and was looking at me too……as if he had to test the waters to make certain that after the last few days of hell, even following the wonderful night we’d had, that all was well.
I broke into a huge smile that must have bordered on a stupid grin. He followed suit and his eyes lit up and sparkled in the early morning light. I said, “Good morning, Lover Boy.”
He replied, “Good morning my Sexy Man. I’ve missed you. I can’t wait for you to hug me and hold me and kiss me.”
“Then get over here,” I said, holding out my arms. He strode across the kitchen, into my embrace and tipped up his face for a kiss. We kissed long, with a little tongue play, but it was mainly the kind of kiss that told each other ‘you’re loved, and you are the most important person in the world.’ We both pulled back and looked in each other’s eyes. He said, “So I’m lover boy this morning?”
I cracked a huge grin again and said, “You sure were a lover boy last night. I love it when you call me Sexy Man. I’ve never been called anything like it before. I never even thought someone would consider me to be their sexy man.”
He grinned back, with an evil glint in his eyes, “Well you are. You’re my man because you’re older than me, and you’re my sexy man because you’re still young enough to qualify compared to all the old farts around here. And because you’ve got a sexy body and sexy lips and a sexy tongue and a sexy dick. All of you is sexy, and I love every inch.”
“Jeez,” I sighed, “I should be able to start every day like this.”
He smiled evilly again and said, “I can arrange that.” I didn’t even need to say, “Please do.” We were back in each other’s embrace and kissing deeply.
“I love you, Jackson,” I whispered in his ear. “Me too,” echoed out of my neck somewhere, and I could feel the vibrations from his lips being so close to my skin.
“I’m so glad the last few days are over. I was so scared that the best thing that’s happened in my life so far was over, that it had just blown up and I didn’t know what I’d do.”
“I know, David. I felt the same way. I cried myself to sleep every night. It was horrible being alone and stuck in the house with you so close.”
We hugged again and I pushed him back to arm’s length and smiled and said, “Okay, but that’s over now. We know how we felt when we thought we were going to lose something precious that we’d just found. Now we’re in a new place, and we can go on. And the added bonus is that you told me that you love me! And, the consolation prize is that I can already see your face healing, and the black and blue marks resolving.” He smiled back and blew me a kiss.
“I do love you. It took the fear of losing you to make me realize I had to get beyond my hang ups and just tell you how I feel. That’s how I feel: I love you.” We just looked at each other for a few seconds, and that silence said it all somehow. Finally, I asked, “Did you bring my paper, are you ready for some breakfast?” He nodded and reached for the paper he’d dropped on the counter when he came into the kitchen. I realized I’d left the bacon frying on low and turned to the pan. It was close but done without being burned.
“All right, Kiddo, pour yourself a cup of coffee and I’ll finish up the prep.” I turned back to the stove, drained the bacon, pushed down the toaster and started the scrambled eggs.
He sat down with this coffee and mused, “Wow, what a feast. You’d think we were celebrating something!”
I glanced at him while stirring the rapidly cooking eggs and said “You damn well know we are—the first day of the rest of our lives. And a great life it’s going to be too.”
Jackson just grinned, I served the food and we ate, our feet intertwined below the table. We were both hungry and ate straight through the food with just a few comments. Finally, when the plates were clean, Jackson looked up and grinned again and said, “Wow, I guess sex really makes you hungry, huh?”
I cracked up and just sat there grinning at him, finally replying that it certainly appeared to. I reached across the table and took his hands and we looked each other in the eyes and shared our love. “I can’t tell you enough times that I love you, Jackson.”
He said, “I’m the same way. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love you so much I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t stand not being with you. I think about you all the time when I’m not with you.”
“I think that’s called early love,” I replied, “moving from infatuation to a more stable and permanent relationship. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Either way, I feel the same way. But now you’ve got to tell me what happened when you and Gary and your Mom went back to your house last evening and how you got to get out.”
Jackson paused for ten seconds or so, seeming to want to compose his words. Then he said, “You blew Gary and me away when you and Mary McGinnis met with us. I think Susan and Ellen blew Mom away too, cause when we got back to the house it was like we were on a new page. We weren’t playing the old guilt and control game. Mom said she loved us and was sorry she’d been part of our pain and it would never happen again. We told her we loved her too and knew it wasn’t her choice that Dad had put the control trip on us all. Then she said, you and Mary and Susan and Ellen said it was time for a new beginning, so that’s what we’re going to do. So, she said “detention and grounding and over and done. We were going to act like we trusted each other and loved each other. Gary and I looked at each other—we couldn’t believe what she was saying.”
I asked why they were so surprised? He went on that it was so out of character to how she’d been the last few years or so, but they figured she’d had a few days after Dad was arrested to realize how bad it really was and that she could lose everything. Any way, that’s where it started. We talked about stuff and being a family and taking care of each other. That’s when I told her I wanted to be able to use my fort again, and she said she’d trust me to do it responsibly and wouldn’t question me about it. I reminded her that I got claustrophobic when it was warm in the house and that’s why I liked the fort at night and she just smiled. Gary was mainly listening, but when Mom went to cook dinner we went upstairs, and I told him again I was sorry what happened to him and that I didn’t know and that I’d been a jerk dissing him for bullying me. He apologized too, and I told him not to sweat it anymore.” Jackson seemed quite pleased when he said Gary’s comment was “we’re on a new page.”
He went on that they’d started talking about what happens next. He said they knew from Mary that Mom had to get into counseling and also start AA or some alcoholic’s program. They both knew it could fall apart easily if she started drinking so they decided that at dinner they were going to talk to her about it, and confront her if they had to, to get rid of all the alcohol in the house. He said, “We talked about some other stuff, and then Mom called us for dinner and for the first time in a long time it was kind of nice, like pleasant—not eat and run. And then Gary looked at me and raised his eyebrows, so I knew he wanted me to do the talking.”
So, I turned to her and said, “Mom, thanks for dinner. It was nice just us three being here together with no pressure and getting started on a new life. We have to ask you something though, is that Okay?”
She smiled and said sure it was. I went on, “Mom we’ve all got to be honest with each other now, right? And Mary said you are going to counseling and we think that’s great. She also said you’re going to an alcoholics program too, right?” Mom nodded, and I went on, “Okay, well we’re all in this together, and we think you should start now by getting rid of all the alcohol in the house. That way you show us you’re serious and you’re ready to start. Will you do that?”
I looked at Jackson and said, “Wow. How did she handle that?” Jackson replied, “It was quiet for a while, like she didn’t expect it, but then she slowly started nodding like she was agreeing she had to do it. She finally looked up and said, ‘you’re right, I’ll have to do it sooner or later, so why not now. I want to show you boys I’m serious about getting better.”
He smiled and said, “Gary and I looked at each other like ‘can you believe it.’ But then we had a ‘get rid of the alcohol party’ and poured all the vodka and wine down the drain. After dinner, when we went upstairs, we were still amazed, like we couldn’t believe it happened. I guess we started believing the change was happening then.”
“That’s pretty impressive for your Mom,” I said, “and equally smart for you and Gary to get it started right away. What made you think you should do it?”
He looked back with a glint in his eye. “I have to be honest, David, it wasn’t all pure and maybe a little manipulative. I wanted to get some level of control about what’s going on. Me and Gary have been on the receiving end for years, and this is a chance to have something to say about what’s going to happen. I don’t’ want to be a control freak over Mom, but I don’t ever want to get back into the scene where we’re dominated and on the receiving end all the time. Does that make sense? Is that cruel?”’
I thought for a few seconds. “No, I don’t think it’s cruel and it does make sense. We talked yesterday about being equals, and the natural situation is parents over children. That hasn’t worked in your family and you’re not children anymore, and if this situation is going to be repaired it has to get to equality, and you did a good thing by requiring something important to happen. That put you on equal footing, and to her credit, your Mom agreed. That’s a good sign. It also means your plans, and I know you had others like sleeping in your fort, have a good chance of working.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be a manipulator. But I don’t want to be the Invisible Boy anymore. Besides a chance to fix this family mess, I have you and I want us to be in a situation where we can love each other. You know what I mean?”
Okay, here we go, I thought. This is a good a time as any to start the ‘reality conversation.’ I smiled at him, caught his eyes and said, “I do, Jackson, and I agree and that’s what I want too. But we’ve got to talk through a few things, is that Okay with you?”
He rolled his eyes, “This sounds heavy! Do we have to?”
“Yes, Lover Boy, we do. Let’s call it serious, not heavy! The fact is we’ve got a new chance here, and not just you and me, but your family. All the people you love. It’s too important to screw up, wouldn’t you agree? And on top of that there are some other practical matters. I know you’d rather not have to face them, but we do. Did you hear me say ‘we,’ because I’m talking to both of us? We both have to face them and figure out what we’re going to do. I’m the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in this town and the Presbys currently prohibit ordaining homosexuals and consider it a depraved sin. On top of that you’re under the age of consent. If we get caught, not only does it compromise the trust we’ve established with Mary and Susan and Ellen, it could really hurt your Mom. And it could ruin your life in high school. And I could be defrocked and put in jail. There’s all that that we have to deal with.”
“Gee, Rev! Like I said, pretty heavy!” I noticed he wasn’t grinning but had said it with a certain amount of resignation.
“Serious, heavy, whatever. But it’s do-able. It just comes down to us being sensible and establishing a program where mainly we show affection for each other here, at home. And out there we’re careful, very careful. It may be 1977, and there may be protests for gay rights, but the majority of people look down on it, and are biased and prejudiced or hate us. That’s the reality. So, we’ve got to make sure that our relationship is ‘our’ relationship. It means we can’t hold hands openly and we’ve got to be careful in public, and all of that. But why can’t it work? You’re really smart and you’re cagey. Don’t deny it, I can see it in you eyes sometimes. But that’s good, it’s what is going to help us succeed. And that’s what I want, us to succeed. Do you?”
“Like, duh! Of course, I want us to succeed. I guess you’re telling me I need to be more grown up about it, right? Think about the consequences ahead of times, like that?”
“Yep,” I replied, “that’s a lot of it. We’ll also have to work out what and how our relationship is in public, and how to explain you spending a lot of time here, with me. Do you want to hear my idea for that one?”
Now he really grinned. “So, I’m the cagey one?”
“Not the only one, I can assure you. But I’m trying really hard to make sure that what I do and what I suggest is honest and moral and ethical. We can’t be lying and cheating and deceitful. You know what I mean?”
He nodded, and then I went on to tell him about the Session approval of the week long church summer camp program and how that could mean getting the youth program going again, and how I’d need three counselors, and my first choice for a counselor was him. He looked at me like I was crazy.
“Me? Are you kidding? I’m the kid who pretty much flunked Sunday School and doesn’t believe all that stuff. You want me to be a counselor? That’s pretty crazy.”
“You don’t have to believe a bunch of religious stuff to help people. That’s what counselors mainly do. They help people with the program, help then succeed. We’ll be starting at the church in the morning with singing and some Bible lessons that I do, then we’ll go swimming or hiking or whatever—fun activities. A lot of what the counselors do is make sure all the kids are in the right place at the right time. But you’d have to be working with me to plan it out and make it happen. Do you think you could do that?”
“Yeah, that sounds easy. We can do this!” Now he was getting enthusiastic. We were still sitting at the kitchen table, the breakfast dishes before us. I reached across the table and took his hands in mine. “Can I ask you something about your Dad?”
He winced just a little and nodded. “I really mean about you finding out Bud is not your Dad. How are you taking that? You haven’t said anything. Are you Okay?”
He smiled grimly. “It’s the best news I’ve had in a long time, but I couldn’t say that in front of Mom, could I? It frees me. I don’t look like him, and now I know why? I don’t think like him, and now I know why. He never liked me, and now I know why. I don’t know who my real Dad is, but maybe that’ll happen some day. In the meantime, it just feels like a weight is off somehow. It’s not like I feel like I lost something cuz he was never really there for me anyway. You saw that when we got back the other day, how he treated me—somewhere between dirt and invisible. I’ve had to listen to years of being told I’m worthless and disrespectful and nothing but a pain in his ass and all the rest.”
“So, you’re sure you’re Okay with it? I mean,” I said, “for most people this would be pretty tough news.”
“I’ve thought about it since you told us yesterday. It’s no loss for me. And guess what the best part is? I don’t need him. I have you, and you’re the best and you’re my Sexy Man.”
I didn’t want to appear to back pedal or give him the wrong impression, but I did say, “I hear you, but I can’t be your Sexy Man and your father, Okay. I’m here to help you work it out, and you’ll have to at some point. I’m here.” That’s when he really squeezed my hands, and I thought I could see the beginning of a tear in his eyes. We’d come back to this subject at a later date.
I changed the subject and told him I had to get organized for a meeting later in the morning with an attorney about how his Dad’s business was going to be run during the jail sentence, and how that got me thinking about why he and Gary weren’t working during the summer like all the other kids.
“That’s easy. Pop, or now Bud, is a control freak, and he didn’t want us out doing our own thing. Like he didn’t want us to have friends. I think now that I know about the sexual stuff with Gary that he didn’t want to risk Gary telling anybody. Me, he just wants to make sure I stayed the Invisible Boy, like under this thumb.”
“That makes sense,” I responded. “You guys should have something lined up to do for the summer though, at least to earn some money. How are you going to buy drinks and snacks and stuff? And importantly, if the money from Bud’s business drops you may have to be helping your Mom. What are the summer employment options around here?”
Jackson gave me the standard answer that it was a small town and not much going on, which told me he hadn’t had to look into it. I decided that meant I needed to do some investigating for them. Both of them needed to be engaged doing something, and if they could earn some money doing it all the better.
“Jackson, have you ever mowed lawns?”
“Nope, Rev, not other than mowing the lawn at home and here when Dad told me I had to do the lawn at the parsonage. But I know how to run a mower and so does Gary. We’re not skilled laborers, but we can do that.”
“Good, cause that’s a start and I happen to have access to a good mower that I just might be able to make available to you.”
Now it was Jackson’s turn to look me in the eyes, as serious as a seventeen-almost-eighteen-year-old could and say, “I know you love me, but why are you doing all this stuff for me? No one else ever has?”
I was taken aback for a minute, then I realized what he was asking. “Jackson, I know you’re going to be a senior when school starts and I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but do you know the difference between quantitative and qualitative?”
He shook his head. “Okay, the simplest way to describe it is the difference between quantity, like volume, and quality, you know like the good stuff! You follow? Don’t ever confuse quantity with quality. I love you and I hope everything I do for you is quality. Are you with me? I’ll do tons of stuff for you no matter what because I love you. The quantity doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the love I feel for you. Are you hearing me?”
He smiled and said, “I think so. I still don’t know why you love me. I’m a horny teenage and I know a big part of loving you is sex—I want to get it on with you. I still don’t understand why you love me. Part of me is still just a kid doing kid stuff. I know we’re attracted and all, and we like some of the same stuff, but why me? Is that stupid to ask?”
I looked straight into his eyes for ten seconds or so without saying a thing, just smiling. He smiled back, and finally I said, “No, Lover Boy, it’s not a stupid thing to ask. It’s perfectly natural to ask why. I can only tell you some of the answer to that question. I’m serious here. As we discovered last week, I’m a kind of an emotionally disconnected person, not very good at expressing my feelings. So, I have a question for you. Can I try to answer your question by giving you an example?”
He looked quizzical for a second and then said, “Why, sure. What have you got in mind?”
I still had hold of his hands and stood up and hauled him up from the table by one hand and said, “You’re going to come into the living room and I’m going to play you a song.” He followed me along like a puppy, and I sat him down in one of the armchairs. I knelt down in front of him and took both his hands and said simply, “I wish I was more eloquent, and maybe one day I will be. But for now, this says what I’m feeling better than I ever could. The words of this song were what came into my mind the morning after we were first together. So, I want you so sit here, if you will, and listen to what is said, and know everyone one of theses words is what I feel about you and what we have.”
He nodded silently, as if he understood the seriousness of what I was trying to say. I walked to the stereo and put the stylus down on the track and walked back to the kitchen to clean up the breakfast dishes. From there I hear Gordon Lightfoot start strumming his guitar and starting to sing the first verse.
The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
To the dark, and the empty skies
To the dark, and the empty skies
He had done what I asked and sat in that chair while the entire song played, and when it finished, I walked back into the living room in time to lift the stylus before the next track started and ruined the moment. I turned to look at Jackson and he was sitting in silence, tears on his cheeks.
I went to him again, and knelt in front of him, taking his hands and kissing him briefly. “That’s how I felt when I saw you the first time, and it was the first time I ever felt that way. That’s how I felt the first time I kissed you, and it was the first time I ever kissed someone I loved. That’s how I felt after our first time we laid together, and that was also the first time for me.”
I just looked at him, giving him space to respond. He was weeping now and said “No one ever told me they loved me before. No one ever told me I meant anything like that to them.”
I whispered to him, “Now they have. Now I have. Now do you know why I love you? It just is. It’s a feeling I have a hard time expressing, it’s almost beyond me, one that controls me. That’s love, as I’m finding out. It’s that complicated and that simple.”
Jackson put his arms around my shoulders and pulled me to him, and we stayed like that for some time, just embracing, hugging and loving and occasionally weeping tears of joy. Finally, I looked up and saw the clock was saying 10:00 AM, and I had an 11:00 AM appointment with the attorney.
“Jackson, I love you. And as much as I don’t want to, I have to go get cleaned up to meet with an attorney at 11:00. Somehow, I think you Mom expects you home sometime this morning too. So, in the spirit of us working out a program that supports our relationship, we’re going to have to break this up. Is that Okay?”
He looked at me and said, “No, it’s not Okay, but I know we have to do it.” He gave me a final kiss and slowly headed for the kitchen. I heard the kitchen door close and I headed upstairs to take a shower.
Unfucking believable! That’s the only word I’ve got for the last three days. Unfucking believable! I mean how do you go from finding the kind of person you always wanted to love you to being beaten by your old man to being on detention at home to being rescued by the guy you love and the ass hole Dad who abused you getting arrested and thrown in jail, finding out he’s not your real Dad after all, and not call it unfucking believable? I mean it really happened too!
Talk about roller coaster ride! I thought it was pretty much over when I got caught sneaking out by my Mom, who was drunk and we ended up fighting and then Bud showed up and it got real nasty and then he knocked me down the stairs and I got hurt hitting my head on the banister, But the good thing was that it left me bruised and what neither of them realized is that was evidence. I know David must have gotten really worried when I didn’t make it back to his house that night, but when he saw me the next day with the bruise and all, he said it was abuse, and then out of the blue, like the Lone Ranger riding in or something, that afternoon there’s Miss Albridge at the parsonage while I’m there working and she’s gives me a real grilling and then on Monday she calls CPS! How crazy is that?
Almost as crazy as the Rev talking about me in his first sermon! Well, not really talking about me, thank God, but talking about how we’d talked about that Simon and Garfunkel song and what the lyrics meant and calling me a good friend. That gave me hope that this wasn’t all going to go into a Don’t Judas Me spiral like everything else in my life! And then Miss Albright and Miss Hayes report Bud, and the CPS lady shows up with an officer guy and Bud gets arrested! Totally amazing.
It was a pretty heavy day, having to explain it all to the CPS people after the grilling Miss Albright gave me. Now I know what a mandatory reporter is! That’s scary in a couple of ways, but this time it saved my butt! The amazing thing is the change! I still don’t believe it. I mean, this is me the invisible kid who was always picked on and bullied, especially by Bud, and now he’s gone and Mom got the what for from CPS and she’s got to go to counseling and AA, and being at home is no longer like being in a prison camp!
I feel bad for Gary, I’ve always resented that he was bullying me, but I never knew what was happening to him, So, now I guess I understand why he was doing what he was doing. He was hurt and angry too, and I was the one getting the shit because he couldn’t get back at Bud. But Bud’s gone, and Gary and I started getting it sorted out because of the CPS lady and more importantly because Miss Albright and Miss Hayes had a serious talk with Mom, and at the same time the Rev had one with Gary and me. They told Mom she had to get real and make some major changes and do the counseling thing. And then we had a real conversation with Mom, like the first real one ever. Amazing!
But after all that, all that emotion, I realized how lonely I was. I mean, it looked like the Bud nightmare might be over, but I was in my room alone and couldn’t stop it, the loneliness was so strong it just hurt, and I couldn’t take it anymore. It didn’t matter what might happen, I had to see him. I had to have him hold me. I had to be not alone!
David was kind of freaked when he woke up and saw me in his room, but what was so great was that he was as lonely as me. I don’t mean being lonely is great, but he told me how lonely he was too! And how he wanted the loneliness to go away and he wanted to hold me just like I wanted to hold him. And feeling his arms around me made me feel safe and warm and happy. And then we were stroking each other’s back, and it felt so good to have warm hands on me, the warm hands of the person I loved who had just told me that he loved me too! For the first time in my life I totally felt accepted. Just accepted and loved and warm and safe. Wow!
And yeah, it didn’t stop there! Who knew when you’re rubbing someone’s back, you’re feeling their backbone, and all those bumps and how sexy they feel, because you’re feeling actual parts of your lover’s body? Not just some hug like you give with clothes on, but actually the parts of him! It was unreal. And we both got hard and then we started grinding on each other, and I was on top of him and we both came. We came on each other, or between each other, and we weren’t embarrassed. Go figure that out. Me the shy, invisible kid, and him the new pastor and we weren’t embarrassed, and I know that because we went in the bathroom together to clean up, and I cleaned him up with the washcloth at the sink, and he cleaned me up. And we were holding each other’s cocks and washing each other and talking about it. Does that mean the embarrassment goes away when you love someone? I hope so. I want it this way forever.
We even talked about it the next day when I went to the parsonage after doing my paper route. I made his house the last one on my route again! That gave me the perfect excuse to go inside and see him. And we talked about what happened, and loving each other, and how he was struggling with not just figuring out he was gay, but, being emotionally shut down and not really knowing how to tell me how he felt! But I don’t care. He told me he loves me. I figure he’ll sort all that other stuff out.
But it didn’t stop there. He was talking about me and Gary starting to mow lawns to earn some money and work together, like that would be good for our relationship. I don’t know about that! Me and Gary never got along that well before! Anyway, maybe it’ll work. We’ll see. I’ll try it if he wants. And now he’s going to go see the lawyer about sorting out my parent’s mess with Bud in jail and stuff! It’s too much. I don’t know why he’s doing all this. I don’t want to be paranoid or anything, but who does all this stuff for a kid? I mean no adult ever treated me like a grown up before, and I’m still worried it’ll all come crashing down and I’ll be back in the same shit hole as before. But maybe all that is just being paranoid, like I’ve listened to Don’t Judas Me too many times. Maybe it doesn’t have to be like that. I mean he played me that Gordon Lightfoot song, and I couldn’t believe it, that he said this was how he felt about me. About me!
The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
I’ll never forget those words because it didn’t just mean that he was telling me that he loved me. It also meant that what he saw in my face and in my eyes was someone good enough to love!
Anyway, I’ve got to go now. I can hear my Mom calling me from downstairs. These are pretty crazy days. But they seem to be getting better!
At 11:00 AM I was sitting in the waiting area at Spencer Sullivan, Attorney at Law. I had met him the previous Monday evening at Session Meeting, and while he was open and friendly there, I had no idea what his personality or experiences were, let alone how he would handle what I was here to discuss with him. At two minutes past the hour, the door to his office opened and he stepped out with a smile and a “Good to see you Pastor, please come into my office” greeting.
He saw me through to his desk, pointed to a chair for clients, and went around the other side and plopped down in his chair. He was a man about fifty or fifty-five, with an expressive face that tended to smile instead of grimace, and I was impressed that after a career in law that was where we were starting. This might go well…. who knows?
His opening comment was pretty typical, “And to what do I owe this pleasure, so soon after your arrival in our fair city? Are you settling in well? I’m surprised you need legal advice this soon after your arrival.”
I smiled back and said, “Well Spencer, it’s complicated because it’s not church business per se and it’s not my personal business per se, but both are connected to the problem at hand.”
His brow furrowed a bit and he said, “Well, you’d better start at the beginning then, Pastor.”
I told him I’d get to the point, and the simple fact was that we were dealing with a major crisis in a family in the church, that it had already involved Child Protective Services, and that now we were dealing with consequences and trying to make things work for the remaining family members.
He rolled his eyes, and said, “Okay, now I understand. I’m on Session so I’m indirectly involved because it’s one of our families, and I’m guessing you need legal assistance or at least advice. You’re involved because you’re our new Pastor, but what’s the personal dimension? Fill me in on the details.”
I started by explaining that the personal details were that we were discussing the Harris family’s, that I’d gotten to know them because the Parsonage Committee on which Lily Harris served had enlisted the two sons Jackson and Gary to help me move in and get settled, and as a result of that they were the only family I had gotten to know in the church so far. “Spencer, the problem here is physical abuse of the two boys by Bud Harris, complicated with medical neglect by both parents, and an allegation of sexual abuse of the older boy by the father.”
Spencer’s eyebrows went way up, and he said, “I know there were previous abuse problems, and it appears that wasn’t the end of it.”
I nodded and went on with a description of what happened in the confrontation between Jackson and his parents, how that resulted in the parents being reported to CPS, how the sexual abuse allegation came out in the interviews, how Bud had been detained and was in jail, and of the kind of interim solution that the CPS representative had crafted to try and avoid legally separating the children from their mother.”
“Holy smokes,” he said, “that’s a passel of trouble. Aren’t you the lucky one to stumble into that? So, what is it you need me for?”
Now I knew I had some sticky ground to cover as some of what I was about to divulge was likely confidential, and some of it we didn’t want to spread around if we could avoid it, and we needed his help to boot. “Spencer, I’m a minister, not a CPS professional, and so I’m not bound by State confidentiality requirements, and as the pastor of this church and its members, while I do have clerical confidentiality responsibilities, I have to begin by trusting you and then taking the risk of sharing as much as I think necessary so you’re fully conversant on the situation and are in the best position to assist. Is that acceptable to you?”
“When you say it like that,” he remarked with a wry smile, “I wonder just how complicated or dicey this is going to be. That said, I’m on Session and have the responsibility of being an Elder in the church, and this is a church family, and as an attorney I have an obligation to assist how I can. But you do understand that I have legal constraints regarding confidential matters and the law as well, don’t you?”
I nodded and continued. “I certainly do, and I don’t think anything I’m about to tell you will get you in trouble with the law let alone violate some confidentiality standards. Ultimately almost all of it will be public record. The single piece that won’t be, as I understand it, is who reported the abuse and you need to know that. I was the person that found out about the abuse because Saturday morning Bud told me there had been a confrontation with Jackson the night before and the boy was grounded and on detention—like can’t leave the house detention. Though, he would be able to help me finish the unpacking on Saturday afternoon. It sounded bad to me, and I confided it to Susan Albridge when she stopped by that morning to do worship service planning, at which time she told me that this was not a new event in that family. Then, she stopped back by the parsonage Saturday afternoon when Jackson was there and saw for herself the contusion and bruise on his forehead and confirmed that he had not been taken to the ER. To her that confirmed medical neglect, and as a Mandatory Reporter she said she had to and would report it to CPS on Monday morning. She did, and then a CPS representative and an officer arrived Monday afternoon, and after the interviews Bud was taken into custody. I don’t know if he’s out on bail or still in jail.”
I stopped to let him process what I’d told him. He sat looking over my shoulder, tented his fingers and leaned his chin on them and pondered. Then he looked and me and said, “You can’t change the spots on a leopard, or so they say. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it’s happened again. It’s always seemed to be a strained family, and the last abuse situation wasn’t very public, but word got around. The parents had to go to counseling, if I remember correctly, right?”
I nodded and he went on. “Bud is a difficult and domineering person, so that the physical abuse has reappeared doesn’t surprise me. The sexual abuse accusation is new and a surprise, but it is what it is.” He asked, “What’s the situation now?”
I described the interim solution Mary McGinnis had crafted, the meetings we’d had, the partial reconciliation between the two brothers, Lilly’s openness to do what she had to do to keep the children, and how Susan and Ellen and I were involved in support roles.
Spencer asked “What are you looking to me to do? See about helping him with bail and get out of jail?”
I paused and said, “I actually hadn’t thought of that, I’m ashamed to say. I understand there is no other family, so I guess that means he doesn’t have many people to call for help. The more pressing problem I wanted to speak to you about is more practical, how his business continues to operate if he’s in jail so that Lilly and the boys don’t suddenly suffer an income loss and have a big financial problem on top of all of this.”
“That’s a real concern,” he said, “what are you thinking there?”
I told him all I knew was Bud owned a machine shop, that I had no idea how many employees, if it could operate without him, or how any of that would happen.
Spencer’s reply was quite direct. “I understand that the business is large enough that he has multiple employees, so that implies it can continue to operate. I can contact the staff and see what the situation is. However, it sounds like the first thing I should do is visit him in the County jail, determine if he’s even eligible for bail given the charges, discuss that with him, and try to assess the next steps forward. I can see now what you were alluding to about trying to help manage the situation without all the details getting out and becoming a scandal. At the end of the day Lilly and the boys have to live here and living with scandals and rumor isn’t easy. So, let me do this. I’ll call the Sheriff’s office and talk to someone I know to find out what I can. I’ll try to see Bud this afternoon if possible and discuss the situation with him. I’m not looking to have him retain me, but if he wants to and that’s what’s necessary, I’m willing to. As to the business, let’s look at worst case. If he isn’t subject to bail, or even if he is and there’s the scandal of child sexual abuse, he may not want to be around town. That leads to the legal question of who manages his affairs and runs the business, to say nothing of the family. Let me get started on that, and I’ll aim to call you before end of business day to tell you what I’ve discovered and where we are. Is that acceptable?
“More than acceptable, Spencer,” I said, “it’s very gracious and I appreciate your willingness to get so involved on short notice.”
He looked straight at me for a bit and then smiled and said, “After your sermon Sunday about The Good Samaritan, I really don’t have any option, do I? It would be unchristian to stay on the other side of the road and just walk on by like the rest of those people in the parable. We all have to work out our faith, and that would be the case even if this wasn’t a family in our church.”
I wanted to be careful not to say something patronizing like “bless you,” that could be wrongly understood, so as I stood I extended my hand and said “It is always a joy to see people who take their faith seriously and are willing to step forward to help those in need. I’ll look forward to your call later today.”
Spencer saw me out of his office, and as I walked to the El Camino, I thought to myself that the meeting probably couldn’t have gone any better. Hopefully he had enough legal connections to really find out what was what and could help handle those parts of this problem. I started the engine and put the car in gear with a certain level of relief.
Now what? It was undoubtedly lunch time, but it dawned on me that trying to meet with Lilly and the boys this afternoon would be a good idea. I also needed to start working on planning and scheduling the events for the church camp. Then I realized that if visiting the Harris home was going to happen, the best first step would be to have a chat with Susan. She and Ellen and I were the support team after all. I thought about that for a second and decided there was no time like the present and that I probably could find my way to her home even if it was out in the country.
I headed out of town on Main Street, remembered the turn onto the main County road, and then almost to my surprise remembered the local road they lived on from when Jackson and I drove back to town after being in their home. From there it was easy, and I quit worrying about getting lost. When I came to the house, I pulled into the driveway, parked down by the road, and walked up the drive and across the lawn to the front door. I’d only knocked once when the door swung open and Susan was right there! “Welcome, Pastor. What a pleasant surprise. I’ve been thinking about you all morning, and then I hear a car pull in and took a peek out the window and there you were! ‘All things work together for the good,’ right?”
“Well, that’s what St. Paul said, but you know that most people forget to include the second half of the passage don’t you?”
“Ah yes! You mean “for those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” I know it and the problem with leaving it out very well. It’s a good example of taking scripture passages out of context. Don’t forget I’ve taught Sunday School for years.”
I grinned at her and said, “As I pointed out the other day, you’ve already taught me a few things and I have a feeling there are many more to come.”
She smiled demurely, and said, “Well, no point standing on the porch. Come in. You’re just in time for lunch. Have you eaten?”
I said no and that I didn’t want to interrupt her and Ellen, and that I should have called first, but I was in town and didn’t have her phone number. She just said “Shush. Ellen is at work, and so this is easy. I’ve got a chicken salad prepared and there’s plenty. So, come in and join me, and then we can talk.”
Lunch was a very good chicken salad on a couple of lettuce leaves with sliced tomatoes on the side and some nice home-made bread. After some compliments on the food, I turned to the business at hand and told her about my visit with the attorney.
She asked a couple of questions but summed it up by saying, “It seems to me like we have a good beginning and now have to see what Spence can accomplish.”
I concurred and then told her that I hadn’t sought her permission in advance to tell him that she was the Mandatory Reporter, but that I thought it was important he knew, especially since she and Ellen and I were now in substantial support roles. She surprised me by agreeing, saying as an attorney was subject to attorney/client privilege, and it was best he knew.
Then she changed the subject. “So, what now with Lilly and the boys?”
I shared my plan to try and visit the family in the afternoon, mainly to try and spend some time with the boys, but likely also having a conversation with Lilly if they all were there. She nodded, and then said, “Spending time with those boys will be valuable. Helping them establish a closer relationship is really good. Ellen and I plan on connecting with Lilly on her next days off.”
I smiled agreement, and said, “Now tell me what you know about them. What are the boys interested in? What did they do in school or at church you know about? That way I’m not walking in totally blank.”
Her comments weren’t too encouraging. “I’m afraid there’s not that much to tell. Gary’s last couple of years have best been characterized by the terms sullen and non-responsive. I don’t think he’s involved in any sports or extra-curricular actives…at least that I know of. Though he did play sports his first three years in high school. Jackson, while different and not sullen has been withdrawn and not significantly engaged in much I know of either. No music, no sports, no after school activities. I can’t even think that they were involved in the church youth fellowship.”
“Well, that maps to what Jackson told me when I suggested he be a counselor for the church summer camp and the youth fellowship,” I said. “He acted like I should have thought of him as the last person to ask. He has told me, though, that he reads a lot of scientific fiction and historical novels”
“Why did you ask him to be a counselor?” she asked? I replied as I had to Jackson that it was less about being knowledgeable about Bible passage and theology and more about helping people. “Like you said the other day about helping people get better and do good. He accepted that!”
“Good to hear,” she breezily continued, “it’ll be good for him to work with you and become engaged in something worthwhile and that has social relevance. So, what are your goals with the boys if you can meet with them this afternoon?”
“Well, I don’t have big expectations,” I said. “Mainly I want to just get to know them in their setting, learn more about them, especially Gary, and try to establish some common ground. You know, be accepted as a person who cares instead of as the Pastor involved in their family crisis.”
She smiled, “Yes, that makes sense. Getting to know them both, especially Jackson is a good approach.”
“If you only knew,” I thought to myself about Jackson.
“Well, that’s the plan anyway,” I went on, “because it seems to me if I can get them out from under Bud’s miasma and start getting them involved in some activities, that would be healthy and contribute to a good outcome. Jackson calls himself the Invisible Kid, and doesn’t want to be one anymore, and Gary just seems to be a study in withdrawal.”
“There you go, Pastor. First, you’ve got to tell me what a miasma is. Then I can tell you that you’ve learned more than I know already, and you get to tell me why he calls himself Invisible Kid? He’s never been invisible to me. I’ve always noticed him and thought he was a good kid.”
“Well, a miasma is an unhealthy cloud or vapor. As to the Invisible Kid part, that’s how he sees himself,” I answered her, “in terms of his parents. They lived their lives and acted as if he wasn’t there. I’m also betting a lot of that tied back to Bud not being the father. He would have hated the fact that Lilly has an affair and got pregnant to boot, by extension hated the progeny, and it must have been downhill for her in their relationship from there, and then even Lilly started treating him badly. That whole thing makes me sick to my stomach, and I want to do whatever I can to help Jackson get past it.”
“Good for you, he needs someone one his side that’s looking out for him, for a change. If I can help you just let me know.”
Our conversation was drawing to a close and I asked Susan how I could help clean up. She, of course declined and we had a little give and take and then I helped her carry the dishes to the sink and she said that was enough, she’d do the clean-up.
I thought it was important to say something to her about the action she and Ellen had taken, so I took her by the hands and said, “I want to be clear that I respect you and Ellen greatly for making your own decision to get involved in this family crisis. You didn’t have to, but you chose to, from the CPS reporting to agreeing to help with Lilly. Most people, meaning most Christians too would step back from a thing like this, but you two stepped forward and I can’t thank you enough.”
She blushed. Susan, with the big bosom and the strong voice actually blushed. Then she said, “It’s only what any decent person would do. And you know, I didn’t have to persuade Ellen. As soon as she saw the medical neglect she went from ‘we ought to help’ to ‘we need to take an active role and help this family.’ She’s that kind of person, and that’s why I love her so.”
This wasn’t the time to explore their relationship, but I did say to her, “Well, all I can say is that you two complement each other very well and obviously have shared values, and you both have very high levels of ethical engagement. I, for one, really appreciate that.”
She smiled and didn’t say anything. I made a comment about getting going, and she saw me to the door, and I gave her a kiss on the cheek and headed down to the El Camino, and then back into town.
When I got back to the parsonage it was going on 2:00 PM, so I just parked in the driveway and walked over to the Harris home. Lilly answered the door a few seconds after I pushed the doorbell and simply said, “Hello, Pastor. Good to see you.”
I apologized in advance for just dropping by but asked if this was a convenient time to speak to her and also with the boys. She said that she had a hair appointment at 2:30, so had to leave in ten minutes, but we could talk that long and then she’d call the boys. She said Gary had something going on later in the afternoon but appreciated my interest in coming by.
We walked into the living room and sat down, and I asked her how it was going for her, after all this had been a pretty emotionally trying week. She paused, collected her thoughts and said “Yes, it has been. But for all its challenges, it’s also been a good week.” She went on to tell me that the boys had confronted her about the reality of the alcoholic abuse program she was about to begin, and she’d poured all the alcohol down the drain and there was none in the house. She was waiting to hear from Mary McGinnis about the family counseling program and schedule but knew that was a priority and was why she was going to have her hair done, so she’d look her best. I smiled at her, starting to feel some sympathy.
“Pastor David, can I be frank?” I smiled again and said, “Certainly, what would you like to say?”
She began to tell me how her thinking had changed in the past few days after confronting what happened and not having Bud in the house telling her what to do and how to do it. She made clear she understood she’d been part of the physical abuse by letting it happen but was horrified by the sexual abuse on one of their own children. “I’ve decided that the sum of that is just too much for me to tolerate. I’ve had to come to grips with Bud being arrested and begun to realize how much he was controlling me as well as the boys, and that I don’t think I can get healthy as long as I’m in this position. I have to try and mend bridges with the boys. I think I need to get a divorce. What do you think?”
I was surprised that she was putting it to me that bluntly, but the last few days had had a lot of blunt realities for her, and if what I was learning about Bud from others in the church was true, the odds on him changing were very slim, plus he was almost certainly facing a jail sentence. “I’m really not in a position to make a specific recommendation, but I will go far as to say that from what I’ve seen in the week I’ve been here, you and the boys have been negatively influenced and pressured and abused by him, and healing can’t occur in that environment. There is also the practical reality of his likely jail sentence.”
She nodded grimly, and simply said, “I know. There’s that too.”
I said to her, “You need to know that we’re all concerned about that and how it could affect not just your family, by also your finances if Bud’s business suffers. I want you to know that I met with Spencer Sullivan this morning and he’s going to do his best to meet with Bud in jail and determine the state of affairs for his business, try to work out how it can continue to operate if Bud doesn’t get out on bail, and what the best long term approach is.”
She smiled this time, and sighed, “Thank you for that. I’ve been thinking I should do it but haven’t gotten around to it. I don’t even know if this house is in both our names or just his. I know it’s paid for, but I also don’t know how his business operates or any of that. I appreciate you getting that going for me.” She glanced at her watch and said she now had to be going. “This hair appointment may be even more important now, so I look good when I have to meet with the attorney!”
She got up and walked over to the stairs and called up “Jackson and Gary! Pastor David is here, can you come down here?” She busied herself getting her purse and ready to go, and in a couple of minutes Gary and Jackson walked into the living room. Lily told them she was leaving for her hair appointment, but that I’d come to talk to them and that she’d be back in an hour or so and then they could think about dinner. Gary said he’d be gone by then but would be home by 5:30. Jackson was quiet but smiling.
Lilly headed out the front door and it closed behind her. Jackson immediately turned to me and said, “What’s the occasion, Rev?” He had a big smile on his face. Now that a few days had passed, as had the initial infatuation that hazed my mind, I could now size up the differences with them standing side by side. I knew now that Jackson was about five foot seven and weighed 135 pounds. He definitely had the tall and thin look to him, he said he was growing this year, and would probably be five foot ten by next year. Gary, now in the summer after his senior year was at least six feet two, and probably weighed over 175 pounds. Some of that was fat, but he was also huskier with a bigger build overall. Jackson wouldn’t be as tall but would fill out and likely have quite an athletic build. Gary looked like he’d be able to play college football if he had put his mind to it, but without a successful high school football career behind him that was unlikely.
Gary looked at him sideways like he didn’t know what “Rev” meant. Jackson turned to him and said, “Gary, don’t worry. I’ve worked for the Pastor for a few days, and he’s cool with me calling him ‘Rev.’ Isn’t that right, Rev?”
Gary’s eyebrows were arched in disbelief, almost as if he was hearing or seeing something that compromised his little brother. I felt the panic rising. Was the cover for our relationship going to be blown right out of the gate, and by some stupid pet name, no less?