Sunday’s Child: Epilogue

It had been several months since Gregory had visited his good friend, Sal, at the monastery. He’d had a lot of time to think since then and he had been in regularly via email and e-cards. He was praying the Liturgy of the Hours regularly now. He enjoyed it very much. He had tried to pray the Rosary as he had once done so religiously, but it was no use. He just could make it work. It was too frustrating trying to remember all the different parts. Once upon a time, it had been like breathing for him, but now it was impossible. He went back to his mala and chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” just like he did before “the Visitation.” That he could do. That was what his soul needed.

The medications he was taking now just to fit into society, now made it impossible to paint, but he wasn’t making stained glass either! The very thing he feared the most, and that had kept him from seeking help before he did, had happened. He was no longer excited about anything. Everything was gray, no color anywhere except in his dreams. He still managed to see beauty in nature, but he was no longer inspired to re-create that beauty. He knew that this was the way it had to be. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make for his partner, his family, and his friends. So what if he never painted again. There were other things in life besides that. He would find other things to occupy his time.

He wasn’t unhappy, far from it. It’s just that the elation, the excitation, the motivation were gone. In truth, the mania was gone and he missed it! He always felt like he could do anything. That he was on top of the world. But all that had been replaced by gray todays and would be replaced by gray tomorrows too. Gone were the frenzied days, but the angry days were gone too; those days that had been filled with unfathomable rage, when he could have raised his hand in anger as his father had done to him.

Gregory had always assumed his mother and sister had suffered from bipolar disorder too. But now he thought maybe he had been wrong all along. Perhaps they had merely been depressives. Perhaps his father had been the one to pass on the bipolar gene to his son. He had always been an angry man as far back as Gregory could remember. If Gregory’s disorder displayed itself as uncontrolled anger and aggression, could that explain why his father could also have been so horrible. “How strange,” Gregory thought. “Why has it taken me so long to see what was right in front of me all along?”

All those times Gregory had cussed people out over the phone, or written vicious emails, yelled at a coworker, they could all be traced back to his illness. But more importantly he could point at them and say,

“I am just like my father. For better or worse, I am my father’s son. I don’t’ have anyone to blame, but myself, though. I am at fault. No longer will I put the blame on others. I will accept responsibility for my actions, good or bad. I may no longer have bright white days or deep black ones. I may have to accept the gray ones and find the beauty wherever I can, but I will no longer be ruled by my disorder. I will take the medicine that makes my days gray, but the alternative is far worse. I have lived with that for far too many years and will no longer. My name is Gregory, and I have bipolar disorder. I won’t run from it any longer.”

There was still one more thing to do. He searched for Joe on Facebook and found him! He had so many questions about their time together. As it turned out, he had repressed so many memories from his time in Pittsburgh (as a result of the rape) that there were holes in his memory of his life there… of he and Joe, there. Joe was more than willing to share fill in all the missing pieces for his “David.” He knew that they were no longer the same people, but it was good to reconnect with his first love. Good to learn who Joe was now. Good to know that all the decisions Gregory had made, for better or for worse, since that day in the apartment at One Allegheny Square, had led him to this point in his life.

*****

John: “As soon as he could talk, his mother and I prayed that our son would think before he spoke. That he would measure his words with care so as not to hurt others. As soon as he could walk, we prayed that he would follow the path of the Lord. That he would walk with his head held high, not out of vanity, but out of respect for himself. And as soon as he could run, we prayed that he would not run away from his problems, but face them head on like the man we knew he would become… and he has… finally. Thank you, God.”

Susan: “My Lord, I have hoped for so much for my little brother. He has been, for the most part, healthy. He has been strong both morally and spiritually. He found someone to love and who loves him in return. He has experienced joy and even though no one knows better than I that life can be harsh, he was spared the worst of it. But most of all, I wished that he would live a long and happy life. That is still my biggest hope.”

Billie: “Thank you, Father, for watching over my baby boy all of his days and nights.  His joys have outweighed his sorrows. He grew up to be a man that affected the world, in a positive way, as a teacher and an artist. Please help him rediscover his love of art. I am so glad he has come to know you, trust you, and love you as I do. Thank you! Amen.”

“For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary.

For those who do not believe in God, no explanation will suffice.”

Song of Bernadette (1943)

The Author’s website: http://www.dgregdenton.com/index

The Author’s blog: http://www.dgregdenton.com/blog1

Recommended Reading: The Bipolar Disorder Survivor’s Guide: What Your Family Needs to Know – David J. Milkowitz, PhD

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

– Kay Redfield Jamison

Some of My Poetry

Madness fills my soul with contempt for life and all its sorrowfilled days and nights keep me from becoming who I am is what I never will be more than I am in this great void I reach out to another who is not there to fill my void with nothing but contempt for life and all its sorrowfilled days and nights keep me from becoming who I am is what I never will be more than I am in this great void great void I reach out to another who is not there not there to fill my void with nothing with nothing but contempt for life contempt for life and all its sorrowfilled days and nights keep me from becoming who I am who I am is what I never will be I never will be more than I am in this great void in this great void I reach out to another who is not there who is not there to fill my void to fill my void with nothing

© Denton ’90

There is no light.

Only darkness exists in truth.

Happiness is an illusion.

Family means suffering.

Intensity of sound, but lack of sight.

Burning flesh smells pleasant.

Thick, dark blood flows.

Peace is a fantasy.

War within, my reality.

Tired of living the nightmare.

Green and purple darkness

lights my way.

Seeing all,

but nothing do I see.

Day with moon,

night with dead star.

Longing for release,

escape,

mercy,

continuing instead.

A simple life

Made too complex by living.

Release?

Escape?

Mercy?

There is no god.

© Denton ’90

We Believe

We believe what we’re told,

told to believe.

Father,

Why did you lie?

We deserved better.

Lying words:

“stupid, incapable, unlovable fool”.

This is the picture

you helped us to paint.

We don’t want to believe,

believe what we’re told,

told to believe.

Scars of purple and red

heal more easily

than those within.

We can’t hide anymore.

We’re starting to show.

I can see them, too.

It frightens me.

Where do we go from here?

I no longer believe what I’ve been told,

told to believe.

© Denton ’90

Pain, joy, no not joy, confusion, no not confusion, sadness

yes, sadness, a sadness that fills the empty days with depth but no substance,

because substance would mean caring and there is nothing, no one to care for,

only sadness, an all consuming sadness that marks life like a pen on paper,

dots and scribbles, no meaning, no content,

only sadness which doesn’t mean anything really,

it just is and can’t be helped by all the do-gooders or well-wishers,

it just is and isn’t, it isn’t what I want,

it just is what I have and no one can take that away from me,

it’s exclusively mine, I cherish it and it comforts me

as I sit alone in the empty rooms of my life wondering what I did,

what I will do, why I must do anything at all, it isn’t enough just to be,

or so they tell me, but IS I anything, need I be, does it even matter?

Questions but no answers.  Isn’t that what this thing called life is all about?

No, just sadness, only sadness, an all embracing sadness in my soul.

© Denton ’90

Family

Mother, Father, Son, Daughter;

such is the family of me.

It’s getting crowded in here,

some of you will have to dissolve.

But I need you all,

please don’t leave me.

Keep me sane,

save me from doing it.

Come together as a true family.

Love each other

and strengthen me.

We have a long way to go,

but we can make it.

Stop fighting

and learn to live

together.

© Denton ’90

My heart is in my ear, the beating is loud, growing louder.

What does it mean to hear it, feel it pounding next to my brain?

The pain is stronger now, stronger than when it first began.

How do I endure it, day after day, year after year?

The numbness grows as well, marking time in hollow hours.

Will I end up like her, shattered, body broken, alone in an empty mind?

I cannot see tomorrow, the next minute hard enough for me.

Does each day pass or is it all a dream from which we cannot wake?

I fear the end, yet long for it, I wait in warm anticipation.

Will I make it to the end of my days or vanish as if never there?

© Denton ’90

The Light

Darkness all around me.

Only one small light

to guide me.

“Stay on the path.

Do not stray

to the left or right.

Look straight ahead.

Keep your eye

on the light.

You’ll be fine

if you do as I say.

I won’t let you down.

A few more steps;

we’ll soon be there.

No need to hurry.

Not much further now.

Take your time.

How do you feel?

Are you tired?

That will all be over soon.

You’ll be able to rest.

Here we are!

Aren’t you happy

you made it?”

“Thank you for your help.

I couldn’t have done it,

without you.”

All is bright, white, warm;

I am no longer me, alone

We are us, together.

© Denton ’90

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 13 – The Visitation

He no longer had a phone number for Bro. Salvatore, so he sent him an email asking if could come for a visit. They settled on a date and Gregory drove the nearly three hours to DC to see him. When he arrived, he had to pee… badly, so he went in through the gift shop and did so. He went back out and walked up to the friary entrance then rang the door bell. A black gentleman answered the door and asked,

“May I help you?”

“Hi. I’m here to see Bro. Salvatore.”

“Is he expecting you?”

“Yes, he is.”

“And your name is?”

“Gregory.”

“Come in. I’ll tell him you’re here.”

The lobby hadn’t changed much. The life-size statue of St. Francis was still the first thing that greeted you upon entering. He noticed that the gilding on the capitals of the columns that had been done years ago still looked good. There were new computers and another new phone system. He remembered, with fondness, the old switchboard. Soon enough, Sal was waling down the hall to greet him.

“Why are you squinting? Where are your glasses?” Gregory teased.

“The radiation treatments screw up my eyes so I can’t wear them right now,” Sal answered. “So he has cancer again,” he thought. “He didn’t tell me, because he knew I’d cancel if I knew he was sick. No time to think about that now, though.”

“You look good,” Sal said as he gave Gregory a big hug.

“Liar, I got old,” he replied. He could do that with Sal.

“You look the same.” It was Gregory’s turn.

“Now who’s lying?!” he teased right back and they laughed.

Gregory had arrived in time for lunch so they headed to the refectory. As they passed the mailboxes, they saw Fr. Stefano. He was much older now and used a walker to help him get around.

“Do you remember this guy, Father?” Sal inquired loudly and close to his ear.

The priest looked at Gregory,

“No,” was his reply.

“That’s okay, Father, it’s been a long time,” Gregory assured him.

“He can’t remember anything,” Sal said to Gregory. “He has dementia. Don’t you motherfucker?” he asked the old priest.

“Sal!!!”

“Don’t worry about it. He’s deaf, too,” he said chuckling.

“Yeah, but still…” Gregory just shook his head as they continued on their way. “He’ll never change,” Gregory thought.

When the two arrived at their destination, Gregory saw Bro. Samuel and Fr. Miguel already eating. Gregory made a bee-line to the table and reintroduced himself to his old friends. Samuel suggested he get some soup and a sandwich, then come back and sit down. They caught up on a few things. Gregory and Samuel had kept in touch, but not he and Miguel. When Fr. Jacob came into the refectory, Salvatore jumped and introduced him to Gregory, giving him credit for single-handedly restoring the church. Gregory made sure to that Fr. Jacob knew that he just been a consultant to Bro. Louis. He did accept credit, however, for restoring some of the catacombs.

When Fr. Miguel had finished eating, he announced,

“I have to go. I have confessions. It was good to see you again Gregory. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too!”

“By the way,” Miguel called to them as he was leaving, giving them a final dig as he walked away. “I can’t tell one of you from the other. You both look so much alike!” Then he chuckled, but Sal didn’t until after he had left.

After lunch, Sal and Samuel walked Gregory down to the Tour Lobby for some photos. Fr. Miguel was walking to the chapel so Gregory asked him if he would mind taking pictures of the three of them, quickly. When Gregory felt that he had enough photos to last him until his next visit, Samuel and Gregory hugged and said goodbye. Sal took Gregory over to the Franciscan Hall to see the exhibit of artifacts made in the Holy Land from mother-of-pearl. Gregory was amazed at the exhibit, but he really wanted to just hang out with Sal so when they were finished, they walked back to Sal’s office and sat down for a chat.

“So how are you doing, really?” Gregory asked with concern.

“About as well as can be expected, I guess. I don’t actually live here anymore, though.”

“Where do you live then?” Gregory asked.

“I live at the hospital with four other guys who are in the same boat. We’re in an experimental program.”

“But you’re holding your own?”

“For now,” Sal replied with a forced smile.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Because I wanted to see you.”

“I wanted to see you too. I’ve missed you!”

They caught up some more. Sal asked about Denny. Gregory assured him that he was doing well despite the MS. And he asked about the goats, of course. He wanted to know if they were “fainting” goats, but Gregory told him that those were too expensive. He just had plain old pygmies. Gregory asked about Sal’s work. He complained about getting correspondence from the Holy Land. It was in Italian and that had to farm it out to be translated. So Gregory showed him that he could use Bing Translator and do it himself, thereby saving the custody money. Soon enough the conversation turned to other subjects.

Gregory asked Sal about the brothers he didn’t see at lunch. One by one, Sal told him of a friar being in Texas, or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, but no longer there. It made Gregory sad to know that his former friends were now scattered to the four winds and there was no longer anyone there to take care of his former home. There was now a board of governors for the monastery and one for the Commissariat of the Holy Land. This was all a little much for Gregory to take in and even though the monastery had been declared an official pilgrimage site by the Holy See, it was still hard for him to be happy about the current state of affairs.

“But how are you doing?” Gregory asked, trying to change the subject.

“I’m as well as can be expected. But you know, God sets out these ‘jewels of life’ for us to see, but it’s up to us to take them time, slow down, and see them. They’re not hidden, they’re not hard to see, but sometimes we’re just too busy to recognize that they’ve been right in front of us the whole time. We just have to open our eyes and look. Now, I’m not going to say it isn’t harder to see them when I’m in pain. It is! And they may be few and far between, but they are well worth the wait and they far outshine the pain and mundaneness of ill health.

“Is life worth living? YES! Pain and suffering are only moments in time and to reuse the phrase, ‘It gets better,’ in the end I have discovered that not all pain is bad. It can be the great motivator of life. It can move us to places that we would never have gone on our own and makes us discover talents we didn’t know we had. But if we embrace it, well, all I can say is that result can be spectacular!”

“Wow, Sal, when did you become such an incredible philosopher?!”

“You have a lot of time to think, pray, and meditate when you’re sick.”

All Gregory could do was nod his head. Sal shared more of his wisdom and the time flew by. The next time he looked up at the clock it was time to go. Sal asked to security guard to take e a few more pictures of the two of them before Gregory left. They hugged and vowed to keep in touch. On the long drive home, Gregory had plenty of time to ponder the visit and his decision to leave all those years ago and seek out someone special to share his life with. He had found his someone special, his better half, the one who completed him. He had no regrets about that decision. And he knew he would keep in touch with Sal at least once a month from now on. After all, they were friends.

Sal and Greg

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 12 – Some Answers… Finally!

Denny was anxious to get out of Northern Virginia. He was tired of the long commute to DC every day. He had grown up in the Shenandoah Valley and even Gregory’s brother lived out there now, so Gregory set about looking for a position for Denny as a paralegal in the valley. He found a position online with a law firm almost immediately. Denny went on the interview and was offered the position. He moved to the Bryce house and would come home on the weekends to help pack. They hired movers, then Gregory gave his notice and moved to the Bryce house, too, until they could find a place near where Denny worked.

While they were living at the Tree House, Gregory was feeling quite sorry for himself. He started overeating again. He had lost enough weight while working at Clearbrook that he made lifetime status with WeightLookers, but now he didn’t care anymore. He had run out of Zoloft® so he just wallowed in self-pity and ate junk food all day. When he and Denny finally found the right house, they put in an offer and it was accepted. But the couple who owned it wanted to stay in the house for two more months. So they took back their offer and started looking again. This time they found a gentleman’s farm. It was ten acres, with a house, and a three-car garage. It was perfect for them.

They had a fenced in pasture and a barn, so Gregory thought it only logical to have farm animals. Sheep were out, because you had to shear them. Boar goats could be milked, but they were too big. Pygmies were small enough to pick up. That was important to Gregory, because he needed to be able to pick them up if they got sick and to trim hooves. He bought a book on pygmies and found a couple for sale a few counties away, so he and Denny drove there to pick them up. The owner showed them how to trim their hooves and then made Gregory do it. They were brothers, so there would be no babies until he got a female. But that would have to wait. He had to get them home and introduce them to their new environment. Now Gregory just had to find something to occupy his days. He applied and was accepted into the Veterinary Assistant program at MTC (Massanutten Technical Center).

Classes at MTC were a couple of days a week. He was learning a lot about dogs and cats, but nothing about goats yet. The tests were relatively easy for Gregory. He was able to use his ability to see the words he’d written down in his notes to answer the questions. He had never thought of himself as having a photographic memory, but he must have one. He “graduated” with the highest marks in the class. He was now a certified Veterinary Assistant. Denny suggested he send out résumés to find a job and he received a call from the local animal hospital in Bridgewater, just five minutes away. When he left the interview, he had the job. He really enjoyed the people and the work there. His duties included, holding animals for exams, developing x-rays, assisting with surgeries, and much, much more. He cleaned out cages and washed pets, too.

There was a special little kitten that was brought in by the client that found him. He had a “blown” eye, so that problem needed to be taken care of before he could be adopted. He lived in a cage in the isolation room, but Gregory would take him out and put him in the pocket of his scrub jacket every day. He would fall asleep riding around in Gregory’s pocket while he did his chores. The doctor’s daughter named him Cheez-It and when Denny and Gregory adopted him, they kept the name. He would have a scar and difficulty seeing out of that eye for the rest of his life but he would have a family who loved him, even though Gregory had developed an allergy to cats while his mom was still alive. He would work at Stonewall until it went out of business less than a year later.

He was hired at another hospital, but before he could work even one day, they called him and told him not to come in. They had hired someone else. He told them that it was pretty unprofessional of them and that he wouldn’t be bringing his pets to them for care ever again.

Gregory’s next job was at Parkland Veterinary Clinic in Harrisonburg. He volunteered to help repair and maintain things there, just as he had at Clearbrook, when he wasn’t performing his regular duties. It was working out as a great way to stay busy and make money. Plus, he got a discount for any services performed on his and Denny’s animals. MollyGirl had a crooked leg and when it was x-rayed, it turned out to have been broken but never set. The handsome orthopedist told Gregory he would break it and reset it with rods and pins. After she was fully recovered, she was able to run better than she had before. He was so happy for her.

Gregory went back to WeightLosers to lose the pounds he’d gained while throwing his extended “pity party” at Bryce. He had almost twenty pounds to lose again. Meetings were held in Dayton and he quickly got back to free lifetime status. He also thought it might a good idea to work for them. That way he could keep the weight off and make money at the same time. So now he was working two jobs, whereas just a few months before he hadn’t even had one! One thing he was happy to do for client’s sick or dying pets was to offer silent prayers for them while they were being euthanized. It was the least he could do; if not him, then who? It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the Vet clinic, though. He would have arguments and anger management issues there, too, so he told them that the WeightLookers job was becoming more demanding and quit working there rather than getting fired. He did continue to take his babies there, however, when they needed something. He found a new doctor, a nurse practitioner actually, and got a new prescription for Zoloft®.

While he was waiting for meetings to pick up, he took a couple of jobs as a nude model. Now that he had lost the weight he’d gained, he figured he might as well give it a try. He had only ever modeled for photographers, so he read up on poses, bought a timer, a robe, and a couple of props. He called around and found out that the art department at the local university was in need of models. He modeled for several classes and really liked it, so he decided to look into modeling for local artist’s groups as well. There was a group in Edinburg that was looking for male models. He called the contact and went several times to pose for them.

The first time he was posing in Edinburg, on a platform in the front of an old classroom, they forgot to close the blinds on the overly large windows that faced the street. When they took a break, Gregory asked if maybe they should close them, not that he cared, but maybe passersby might. On another occasion, he forgot to put on his robe during a break and realized that even though the artists had been drawing him nude for quite some time, they were uncomfortable talking to him nude when he was not “on duty.”

When he was driving home afterwards, a funny memory came into his head. He remembered the fight he’d had with Denny when they were living at the Axton house. He was uncomfortable with the way he looked once he’d gained so much weight.

“Why won’t you let me touch you anymore?” Denny asked exasperated.

“Look at me! I’m a beached whale!” Gregory screamed back at him.

“No you aren’t. How can you say that?”

“Because it’s true, that’s how,” he replied as he pointed at his big, fat stomach.

The opposite was now true. He had his self-esteem back and he was happy with his body. Denny didn’t exactly approve of his nude modeling, but he didn’t tell him he couldn’t do it either. He knew that Gregory felt good about his body again. As soon as he got some evening meetings, he had to quit, though. It was a shame because he liked it, but it was time.

He did join some nudist sites online where he could connect with other nudists from around the world and discuss nudist issues. He always made sure they knew right up front that he was “happily partnered to a non-nudist” and that he wasn’t looking to host or meet up with other nudists. He just wanted to talk. And he liked practicing his French and his Italian, but that was all. Most guys understood, but when they didn’t, Gregory broke off communication with them.

*****

Gregory’s Auntie was going to Oklahoma for a family reunion on her late husband’s side, so it was a good time to remove Billie’s ashes from Fairfax and take them to Oklahoma. He would get to see his Auntie and some of his cousins. He flew into Tulsa and met up with them at the motel. They had dinner together at an Italian restaurant. Gregory had very few choices being a WeightLooker and a vegetarian, but he managed. He had become a vegetarian before he joined WeightLookers. Being a vegetarian was as a moral choice, because how could he profess to love animals and then eat them?

They visited several cemeteries the next day with his Auntie pointing out various relatives before they arrived at the open grave next to Billie’s mother. Gregory placed the cedar box that his maternal grandfather had made, with her cremains, a photo of her children, Susan’s Rosary, and a lock of Gregory’s hair in it, in the hole and read a prayer over her new grave. They went into McAlester the next day to pick out a stone. Gregory went back home the following day glad to have laid his mother’s ashes to rest for the final time.

*****

Gregory had started with just two pygmy goats, one neutered and one intact male. When the opportunity presented itself, he acquired two females, sisters, Lilly and Jazz, and another neutered male who didn’t even have a name, but who he later called Sweet Boy. He got them all for a very affordable price. He kept the females apart from the intact male until he was ready to breed them. But somehow, Disco got Jazz pregnant and five months later, much to his surprise, she had a kid.

“You’d better put on your boots and come to the barn, Denny informed Gregory.

“Why?” Gregory asked.

“Just come. You’ll see.”

“No way, I kept them apart!”

But there he was; cute as could be and a complete surprise to Gregory. He named him Banjo. He was just the first of many: Lilly had Rosie and Cosmos; Jazz had Banjo, then Buttons, Coral, and Iris, then Pepper, and Poppy. He bought Bella from the same family that he got Disco and Mars from. She had Angelina and Nino. He also acquired two Nigerian Dwarves from his sister-in-law, Kitty: Cocoa had Puffs, Pebbles and Bam-Bam. He now had a herd and that made him very happy.

Most of the births were without incident. Lilly didn’t give birth until almost midnight, though. Denny was of no help, because he fainted at the sight of blood and there would be much worse coming out of this goat! He did, however, fetch towels for Gregory. The first kid, Buttons, was coming along nicely until the second, Rosie, decided to make her debut at the same time. Gregory had to help Buttons out and put him in front of his mother to finish cleaning him up before Rosie made her appearance. The most important thing was to get them to suckle right away so that they would get the colostrum they needed which is the source of nutrients and immunoglobulin for all newborns. After they fed, he dipped their umbilical cords in iodine and left them to their mother.

Not all births went well, though. On more than one occasion there was a stillbirth. It was very sad for Gregory, but there was already a small pet cemetery on the ridge where he could place a stone, paint their name on it, and bury them, just as he had always done as a kid. Daisy had a breach and Gregory was forced to reach in and pull both stillborn kids from her. It was a horrific experience for both he and the goat. Something Daisy never seemed to recover from.

Barn cats came and went at the farm. Fluffy was the first to show up, then Scruffy, TwoSox, and Punkin. Gregory took them to the Vet whenever they needed something. Two Sox came to them as a kitten, apparently abandoned by her mother. It took her awhile to warm up to Gregory and Denny, but when she did, her favorite thing was having her back stroked. Fluffy went away and never came back and so did Punkin. The barn was also visited by various other animals on occasion: possums, raccoons, mice, and of course birds.

When they received a phone call from the couple, who gave them Mugsy, about a five year old girl who needed a home, of course they said, “Yes.” Her name was Trudy and she was with them for just forty-six days. Gregory dropped her off at the clinic to have her teeth cleaned and got a phone call later that afternoon that she had died on the table. She had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and there had been no way to know this was going to happen. The family gathered together around the little girl and said their farewells then had her cremated and kept her ashes in a photo box on Gregory’s nightstand. He also put some cremains in special pendants and made necklaces for her former owner and her breeder and sent them with a letter about how much they had loved her even though she had been with them for such a short time.

From the letter:

She never walked when she could run. It was as if she knew life was too short to waste. She even barked at Muggs and Molly as if to say, “hurry up… there’s so much to see… and time’s a wastin’!” Thank you both for sending Trudy into our lives. She will be in my heart forever… and when I cross the “Rainbow Bridge” at the end of my days, I’m sure she’ll be waiting on the other side to greet me with a wagging tail… and when I pick her up, she’ll kiss me on the nose and say, “where ya been? Hurry up… there’s so much to see… and time’s a wastin’!”

Mugsy’s former owner called one more time shortly after they received news of Trudy’s death from Gregory. She was wondering if it was too soon to consider rehoming a little girl living near Roanoke. Her breeder needed to find the little one a new home, because she was getting old and had too many Norwiches to care for. Gregory could easily say yes, but he had to ask Denny what he thought, because he always took the death of a pet way harder than Gregory. He had dealt with a lot of death through his work at the Vet clinics. Denny agreed and they drove down to pick up Spice. She turned out to be just what the grieving couple needed to mend their broken hearts. They were told Spice was a talker, but she didn’t start to vocalize until two weeks after they had already fallen in love with her.

A miniature horse showed up at their neighbors and a passerby stopped to ask if it was theirs. Gregory went across the road and brought him to their pasture. A neighbor down the road thought it was his, but by the time he arrived at the farm his wife had called to tell him that theirs was still at home. In the meantime they called him “Flicka.” He made more phone calls, but no one claimed him. He finally found a horse rescue a few counties over that would take him. They picked him, gave him a job pulling a cart and named him “Magic.”

Another kitten came to them, but he was not destined to stay with them long. He had a broken leg and his mother had abandoned him. Somehow he had made it to the farm. Denny found him behind the fountain and named him Milo. All he could do was squeak “m-yack.” They gave him a warm bed and some food, tucked him in the crate and left him in the garage. But the next morning he was at death’s door. Gregory took him inside the house, gave him a warm bath and some cat milk by mouth in a syringe, but he was just too far gone. He died in Gregory’s arms and he buried the little guy in the cemetery with the other beloved pets that had left this earth way too soon or had never even gotten a chance to live.

And so it was with life on the farm. There were births and deaths. There were comings and goings. Gregory loved the animals and they were enough to get him through most days, most days but not all.

*****

On December 9, 2011, Gregory got a call from his step-sister, Cindy,

“I have some sad news. John passed away this evening.”

“I’ll be there tomorrow,” he told her then hung up.

He told Denny then set about making arrangements for subs for his meetings and a reservation at a hotel. The next morning he made the trip to Richmond to be with his family. His brother, Perry, and sister-in-law, Kitty, were already there, having missed their father by just a few minutes the night before.

Gregory and his father had been “on the outs” for the past few years. John had raised Gregory, Perry, and Susan as liberal Democrats. But something had happened to him as he got older and got money. He became a vicious Republican, spewing vile comments and sending horrid emails about the first black president of the United States. This was against everything his gay son believed in. He had voted for President Obama and believed in his message. He could not understand where this hatred of all things liberal and democratic had come from.

Gregory, Perry, Cindy, and their step-mother went to the funeral home to make arrangements. There was to be a viewing at the funeral home where Gregory got to see his father for the first time since his death. He notice how thin and frail he looked, not at all like he did growing up or even the last time he had seen him in the hospital. There was another viewing before the funeral service at the Masonic Home Chapel. Perry delivered the eulogy and Gregory read the poem Death is Nothing at All by Henry Scott Holland. The burial was for family only in Waverly. The next day was spent helping their step-mom clean out John’s closet with his clothes being donated to charity.

Inventory was taken and the will was looked for. The most recent one was found, but it was unsigned. Gregory never saw it, but would always wonder if he maybe he had been written out of his father’s will in a moment of anger and that’s why he never signed it. Perry would have to apply to be executor of the estate and have the will declared intestate. It would take months, but eventually things would work out so that everyone got something and John’s widow would be taken care of. Many more trips would need to be made to Richmond, but some things could wait. The important thing was that he came through for his family in the end. Perry even found a copy of their half-sister’s birth certificate. They didn’t know if she was alive, but they finally knew her name!

Memories came to Gregory. When he was a boy, he and his brother were playing in a pool and there was a slide. Perry was at the top of the slide, but he was too scared to go down. Their father told Gregory to be patient and NOT to push him. But he wanted to go down right away, so he gave Perry a push. He went screaming the whole way down! Of course, as soon as Gregory got to the bottom and landed in the pool, he was hauled out and beaten with the closest thing his dad could find… a flyswatter. He still remembered the welts and the sting of each hit and how it sounded when it connected with the flesh of his legs.

He remembered the time when they were playing baseball on the church field. He couldn’t hit the ball, because he couldn’t make the connection between hand, eye, ball, and bat. He also couldn’t catch for the same reason. It hurt his feelings when his dad yelled at him for that. He never did well in sports and never even tried after that outside of gym class where he was forced to participate.

John had Perry and Gregory shower with him once so that he could show them how to keep their penises clean. When they were born, John had them both only partially circumcised to prevent a condition called phimosis where the foreskin gets too hard to retract. Gregory was grateful for that decision, because being mostly intact kept the glans sensitive, increasing sexual pleasure. He also instructed them to keep their foreskins pulled back.

When the boys were older, though, they used to fantasize of ways to kill their father. They both hated him. When they were working on the roof at the Cooper Road house, helping their father put on new shingles, they talked about pushing him off! They weren’t evil; they just hated being abused by him over and over and over again. The physical abuse Gregory could handle. He always healed from those torture sessions. It was the mental abuse that was impossible to recover from. John’s hate-filled words sliced like a knife into Gregory’s very soul. Many, many years and many, many therapy sessions later, he was doing the best he could to recover from his childhood of abuse. He now had a much better opinion of himself and he was no longer haunted by the ghosts of past abuse, both physical and mental.

He wrote a poem that expressed his feelings very well about how he felt as a child:

The beast on the wall

lives down the hall.

He comes and goes

and still I know

what he does and doesn’t do.

He calls me “fool,”

he beats me, too.

What can I do?

Not only his name

is to blame.

He’s a tormentor.

Some call him “Father,”

but I know what he is

and where he lives;

in my nightmares,

and my daymares,

on the wall,

down the hall.

Copyright © 1999

While the family was living on Cooper Road, Gregory decided to run away. He was sick of it all, so he just didn’t come home from school. He spent his day walking to Mount Vernon and then to Alexandria. When night fell, he had to find a place to sleep, so he hunkered down between the side of a church and its steps. It was wet and cold, but it kept the wind from making it any worse. He went home the next day. His mother was happy to see him, but he could tell that she had been crying. His dad took him out to the car and when they’d both closed their doors he asked,

“Where did you go?”

“Around,” David said without looking at him.

“Where did you sleep?”

“Behind some steps.”

“Are you home for good?”

“I guess.”

Gregory’s first car was a used VW bug that needed a lot of work. A repair book was purchased, the engine was taken out, disassembled, parts cleaned, and then Gregory was told to put it back together all by himself! Gregory didn’t like resenting his father, but he sure did make it difficult to love him or even like him most of the time.

John was going to have his other knee replaced, this time in a Catholic hospital outside Richmond; the first having been replaced years earlier at Mount Vernon Hospital. Gregory went down to be with his step-mom at the hospital while John was in surgery. He was able to see him before he went in and heard the nurse ask John,

“Are those your teeth?”

“You bet they are!”

“No, I mean do you need to take them out?”

“No, they don’t come out. They’re original.”

The knee replacement went fine, but he had a heart attack while on the operating table. They did a quintuple bypass and sent him to recovery. While they were waiting to be told they could see him in recovery, he was rushed back into surgery. He had developed blood clots in his chest as a reaction to the surgical wire they used to bring his sternum back together. While Gregory and his step-mom were sitting anxiously in the waiting room for news, the chaplain came to sit with them. They were both grateful for her kindness and her prayers. John was going to be kept in the hospital a few more days than anticipated, so Gregory made calls back home and told them that he needed to stay until he was sure that everything was going to be okay with his dad.

*****

John was born in 1923 in rural Oklahoma. He was a product of his own childhood. His father, brothers, and step-father abused him so he became an abuser. Of course that’s no excuse, but it explained why he did what he did. And why his children hated him on more than one occasion. He related a memory to Gregory about how his own dad came back after being gone for months. He was mad at Johny’s mom and nearly beat her to death. He even stomped on her. She recuperated at his great-grandmother’s house for about 3 months. Gregory thought, that is not something a child should have to witness, but abuse perpetuated abuse. That was why Gregory and Perry had each decided early on not to have children.

Then there was one memory that he had almost forgotten. Gregory could not have been more than twelve or thirteen when he entered an art fair at Colonial Beach. He set up a table and displayed his drawings and one painting right on the “boardwalk.” He made only one sale that day. His father bought the painting, the largest and most expensive piece he had for sale. That was a pleasant memory.

And the one where while his father and step-mother were still living on Herkimer, and he was much nicer, John showed Gregory a photo of a young boy. He said,

“So what do you think?”

“I don’t remember this picture being taken.”

“When I found it, I thought it was you, too. But look at the background.”

“Is that a Ford Model-T?” Gregory asked.

“It’s a Model-A actually, but that’s me!”

There was no denying it; just as Susan looked like her mother when she was younger, so Gregory looked like his father. He had to dismiss all those childhood fantasies about being adopted or someone else’s son. And every time his father had referred to Gregory as “my boy” in public and he hated him for it, he couldn’t dismiss that either anymore, because that’s what he was. For better or for worse, he was his father’s son.

Now that Gregory’s father was gone, his family’s ancestry was even more important. He discovered a lot of interesting facts about his ancestors. Several grandfathers were rabble-rousers and put to death because of it. One grandmother was accused and acquitted of witchcraft. There were all kinds of Europeans, Native Americans, Persians, Mongolians, and Russians, too. There were Jews, Zoroastrians, Quakers and even Catholic saints including: Sts. David and Margaret of Scotland, St. Olga, St. Philip, and St. Louis.

That made him think, “Should I really turn my back on my heritage?” He still had a problem with Catholics and Protestants hating Gays; hating him and his “people” just for being who they are! And nowhere was it more prevalent than in the Valley where he lived now. They were people who voted against everything and for nothing. Theirs was a God of hate, but Gregory’s was a God of love. He could never worship or pray to a God who condoned bigotry and hatred of those who were different, because He had made them all!

When President Obama came out in favor same-sex marriage, but North Carolina voted to outlaw it, Denny and Gregory were asked for an interview for the local paper. Gregory was quoted by the reporter as saying,

“My problem is when conservatives are saying this is a church issue, but I’m going to get it sanctioned by the government. It doesn’t make sense to me that they want it both ways. They want government to stay out of their bedrooms, but they also want [it] to tell you who can get married. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The couple knew they weren’t going to change many minds in the Valley, but they weren’t going to fade into the background on equal rights for all Americans, despite their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, either.

*****

It was becoming more apparent that the Zoloft® was no longer working. Thoughts of suicide were starting to resurface. He was thinking of ways to kill himself and even dreaming of it at night! He was sleeping more than eight hours again. He had no energy and felt sluggish more often than not. He couldn’t bring himself to see friends; when he and Denny were invited over for a party or get-together, Denny had to make an excuse for Gregory. He hated that he couldn’t be there, but he just couldn’t make himself do it!

His manic episodes were getting out of control, too. He always liked the fast talking and talking too much, but Denny didn’t, so Gregory tried very hard to slow himself down when he noticed it happening. He had gotten the impulsive, risky, and addictive behaviors, and spending sprees under control for the most part. But it was no longer as it had been, when he could paint for hours on end without food or drink. He was still easily distracted, which he could laugh off most of the time, except when he was driving. And he had gotten the road rage under control, the one thing that scared him the most; even more than suicide, because it involved another person and he’d been dealing with that for decades.

But the problem came to a head when a coworker who was supposed to be mentoring a new staff member at WeightLosers lost her temper. Connie was supposed to let Mia do the paperwork after the meeting, but apparently she wasn’t doing it fast enough. Connie had made plans with her family for 7:00 p.m., which she wasn’t supposed to do, and she wanted to get home to her family. She finally lost her patience with Mia and slammed her hand down on the desk shouting,

“NO! Don’t worry about that. Concentrate on finishing this!”

“Connie, you need to go home. I’ll stay with Mia,” Gregory insisted.

But she refused. Gregory called her the next day and told her to take the next week off. When he called his boss to tell her what had happened and how he had handled it, he was told that he had not handled it correctly. She was the only one who could tell staff when to stay home. He called Connie and apologized for how he’d handled the situation. He took some time to think about what he wanted to do next and in the meantime he was relieved of that meeting. He still believed he did the right thing, standing up to a bully for a coworker. He only wished that there had been someone to stand up for him to all the bullies of his childhood.

There was only one thing he could do, see a psychiatrist and finally get diagnosed properly for his bipolar disorder. He definitely needed to get his speeding under control. He had gotten three tickets in the last year and he couldn’t afford to lose his license. If he lost it then he couldn’t get to work. He needed to get his anger under control, too, lest he be fired from the only job he had. He needed to continue to be a productive contributor to the farm and life on it. After asking Gregory a bunch of questions including, “Do you often feel like you’re on top of the world?” The psychiatric nurse practitioner prescribed lithium and Prozac® and he was thus able to manage his symptoms and keep his job helping others lose weight. In the process of being treated, he was also told that he had hypothyroidism. This was easily managed with medication, also.

It was good to finally understand what was going on in his brain. Bipolar Disorder meant that he had dysregulations in the emotional regulation “circuitry” of the brain, especially the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Now that he was properly diagnosed and taking the proper medication, life was good again.  He could smile again. He could even laugh at things that used to upset him. Now that he knew what most people felt like on a regular basis, there was no way he was going back to the old Gregory, the unhappy, angry Gregory.

*****

Gregory’s nephew, Timmy, decided to get married to his longtime girlfriend, Daphne, so he asked his Uncle Gregory to perform the ceremony. Gregory had been ordained in 1979 and had performed two weddings already, so he was delighted to say, “Yes.” The couple agreed to meet halfway, in Manassas, to have lunch and discuss what they wanted to include and exclude from the ceremony. It was going to be a very meaningful ceremony, but there would be at least four people missing from the wedding: Tim’s mother, grandmother, and both grandfathers.

Rehearsal day was fast approaching, so Gregory made a hotel reservation and found directions online to LaPlata, MD. The drive alone was three hours, but it didn’t turn out to be as difficult as he thought it would be. The rehearsal didn’t go well, but that is always the way. The ceremony was beautiful. The groom wore red suspenders and red sneakers while the groomsmen wore black suspenders and black sneakers, no jackets. Gregory had to admit that was unusual, but apparently he had inherited his mother’s eccentric streak. The bridesmaids wore red and Gregory wore a red clerical shirt to match. The beautiful bride was walked down the aisle by her father. Gregory tried to remain calm and speak slowly, because he tended to talk fast when he got nervous. He had never been more proud to say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

The reception followed immediately after photos were taken. They served something that Gregory had never heard of, Frog Eye Salad, and things he would never think to try, like Fried Chicken Livers and Venison Sliders. After some dancing, Perry drove Gregory back to his hotel then drove on home to his wife, Kitty. Gregory went to sleep that night very pleased and very happy.

*****

There had been a lot of people over the years who told Gregory he should write down an account of all the things that he had done and that had happened to him over the course of his life, so with his 54th birthday approaching (the same age his mother was when she died), he figured now was the time to write his autobiography.

In the course of writing his autobiography, reliving his reasons for becoming a Catholic in the first place, and reflecting on his time in the monastery, he chose to get out his crucifix, Rosary, and prayer book and add those devotions to his Buddhist and Native American ones. He still believed in the Tarot, Runes, divination, reincarnation, karma, and magic; he always had, but the Catholic Church never would. That’s why he wouldn’t be attending mass anytime soon. He had been a practicing Buddhist for years having chosen to follow the Pure Land path because they believed in God and heaven. But also because he missed the mediation he used to practice at the monastery.

He wondered if maybe his friends needed a spiritual outlet. That maybe their spiritual needs weren’t being met in the valley either. So he contacted them and asked if they could start a “church” of their own. He suggested they get together once a month for a spiritual discussion and a meal afterwards. During those initial meetings he learned that two members of their new “Spirit Family” were atheists, one was an agnostic, and another was a Wiccan.

Gregory suggested that one gathering be devoted to the Tarot, psychic healing, Medicine Cards, and an explanation of the tools of Wicca. Greta did Tarot readings and explained the Wiccan tools. Gregory did Medicine Cards. And Ruby did the psychic healings. All in all, Gregory thought it was both a fun and informative gathering.

Greta, Sadie, and Gregory took a stained glass class together and he fell in love with the medium. Since he hadn’t picked up a paint brush in years, this was a much needed outlet for his creativity. He missed painting and the days when he had could do it for hours without stopping, but he no longer had the passion for it. And he was okay with that. There were other things that made him happy now. He had his partner and their four-legged kids. He had his friends and his family. He had his faith and his beliefs. Life was good. He was happy. What more could he want? He couldn’t think of a thing.

Well… maybe one thing.

Us

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 11 – Unraveling

There was a new private elementary school opening in Chantilly and they needed someone to get their art program off the ground. They wanted a part-time teacher to share with their sister school in Sterling. He interviewed in person with the vice-principal of the Sterling school and over the phone with the principal of the Chantilly school. It went very well with both and he was hired to work two days a week at one and three at the other.

The teachers and staff spent the week before the start of the school year making sure everything was ready when the students arrived. On the last day of that week, Maura had arranged for a team building “game show” battle between the two schools. Gregory finally got to put some of that useless trivia he had stored in his head to use. He buzzed in often and was seldom wrong, so the Chantilly school trounced the Sterling school soundly and was then challenged to a rematch the next year.

Gregory settled into the new routine of teaching art at one school and then another pretty quickly. The school in Sterling had 7th and 8th graders, but no textbooks, so Gregory had to be a little more creative with them. Luckily, he had plenty of other materials and resources to fill in the gaps. What he really could have used was a little enthusiasm from the students. They were sullen, quiet, and often uncooperative. He also had a classroom, which ended up being a burden rather than a blessing. He was “art-on-a-cart” at Chantilly and liked that much better.

There was one part of his new job at Clearbrook that Gregory didn’t like. He was expected to babysit the kids in After-School, because he wasn’t a “real” teacher. Most of the time it was okay, because he could take the kids outside, but the colder months proved more challenging. He did his best to come up with games or puzzles or projects for them to do while waiting for their parents to come pick them up. But sometimes it just pissed him off the way other teachers and the administrators treated him. Real teachers could leave early on snow days. Specialty teachers had to stay until the last child left. It sucked!

The classroom at Sterling was another bone of contention. When he was at the other school, it was used and left a mess. The new principal would yank his locked closet open and give away supplies that Gregory bought with his own money. And teachers would line their students up outside his door before the end of the previous class, so that he had to dash down to the hall just to use the bathroom between classes. When he had the chance in year two to work at the Chantilly school exclusively, he jumped at it!

He called the main number one morning and spoke with the Administrative Assistant.

“Hey, Annie. I’m stuck at the dealership. I’ll be there soon. Please tell my morning class that I’ll make it up this afternoon.”

“Okay, see you when you get here.”

“Thanks!”

He had stopped by the local Dodge dealership to look at a flame red Dakota 4×4 Sport he had driven almost every day for weeks. He bought it on the spot that morning and when he pulled up in front of the school, Maura and Annie, came out and asked for a ride around the block. Maura was average height with brown hair and brown eyes that sparkled with bits of gold in them. Annie was over six foot and blond. He could tell that Maura was mad at first, but then her happiness outweighed her anger and they had a fun little trip; even though the two women were crammed into one bucket seat.

Gregory liked being art-on-a-cart and not having a classroom. He did, however, desire an office. He asked Maura if he could have one of the storage rooms in the gym. They built a small shed on the back of the property and moved the extra desks and chairs they stored in there outside. He put up shelves, brought in a table, and made a place to park his cart. Finally, it was great to have a place to keep his supplies, work on his lesson plans, and prepare for class. It was a sanctuary and he was glad to have a place to call his own.

He needed one more thing, though, clay. Each textbook had at least one chapter on sculpture, but the school had no clay with which to sculpt! He asked Maura,

“How am I supposed to teach sculpture without clay?”

“I’m going to have to move some things around, but I’ll find you the money you need to buy clay. After all, my kids are your students too!”

When she had procured the funds, he called his friends at Pearl Art and Craft and asked what kind of discount he could get on some clay. They settled on a price, Maura gave him a check and he took his truck to pick up the supplies. Now he could really teach sculpture; that made him a very happy man.

Gregory was walking by Tori’s office when he noticed a pair of feet on the seat of her chair. When he poked his head in further, he noticed that she was asleep on the floor with her mouth hanging open. He just had to get a picture of that! He snuck out, ran back to his office, grabbed his camera, and then back to hers. He snapped a photo and left quietly. He did have to tell Maura and Annie, though, so they could see for themselves. The next day he downloaded the photo to her computer and made it her desktop. Of course, Maura and Annie each wanted one too. When Tori found it on her computer she yelled,

“Who did this?!”

Gregory, Maura, and Annie all pretended to be working when she came up to the front desk.

“Did what, Tori?” Gregory asked impishly.

“You know what I’m talking about! You did it didn’t you?!” she said angrily pointing at Gregory. She came around the desk and saw it on the computer screen there, too.

“Oh, that,” he replied with a grin. Then they all laughed, including Tori!

Playing games made the teachers laugh as well. Just because they couldn’t figure out how to set up the volleyball net in the gym, didn’t’ mean they couldn’t play a game. In fact, the group decided to play with a larger ball than regulation which made the game even more fun. Unfortunately, the Spanish teacher, Señora Aramaño, thought she could play in high heels and promptly turned her ankle, so she was out.

As the hibernal weather approached, so did the annual Winter Concert. Gregory was happy to make the backdrop each year. He worked closely with the music teacher on this and other productions. The students were learning songs for Winter, Kwanza, Christmas, and Hanukah, so he designed a “quilt” of squares on the back wall one year; one for each of the four holidays that they would be celebrating with instrument and song. He designed a giant snowman another year with a “carrot” nose that stuck out from the wall. He was even asked to play Santa the year before he joined WeightLosers which might have been one of the reasons he joined! The concert was another success.

*****

When the next year’s catechism class at St. Michael’s came around, the new director asked Gregory if he would teach the new group of high schoolers. Gregory agreed even though it was going to be difficult. Denny and he had bought a chalet at Bryce Resort. They traveled up each weekend to the “Tree House” to get away from the city. It was called that because it was built on a concrete pedestal, thirty feet in the air, on the side of a mountain and had a perfect view of the treetops. He would have to come back early on Sunday morning, though, in order to make it to class on time.

One snowy Sunday, they came back from Bryce just in time for Gregory to get the lesson on the board, but there were no students in the classroom. After he had been waiting awhile, one of them stuck his head in the door and informed him that Fr. George was showing them a movie in the classroom across the hall and hoped he didn’t mind if they skipped his class this week. But Gregory did mind, so he packed up and left. He called the director the next day and told him about the situation on Sunday and told him that he would not be back. Gregory also stopped going to St. Michaels’ altogether.

Ben, Gregory’s old roommate, told him about a church that he should check out. It was the Arlington Metaphysical Chapel. Ben had “heard” from his loved ones who’d passed over. Gregory was intrigued, especially after he had heard his mother call his name once, while he was alone in his apartment at Tower 2000 after she had died. Denny was interested too, so they went one evening and as hoped for, he heard from Susan. In front of the entire congregation, she apologized for having killed herself. Through the medium she said,

“If I had known how much my actions were going to hurt you all, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Gregory cried and was finally able to forgive her.

They went to many services over the coming years and even joined the church. They went to a Psychic Fair and Gregory finally understood why he was he was hydrophobic. He had fallen overboard and drowned as a young Viking in a previous life. He heard from Susan on more than one occasion and Denny heard from one of his favorite Grandmothers, so Gregory made an appointment for a private reading with the pastor. He learned quite a few things in that hour, chief among them that he didn’t need to fear having money. He was told by his spirit guide that he had been a religious in a previous life. “So that was why I was drawn to the Franciscans!” he thought. And his guardian angel asked him to plant yellow roses in her honor.

*****

Denny and Gregory’s first big summer vacation was to Colorado Springs to visit Denny’s cousin and her family. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been on vacation before; they had been to New York City and Disney World. It’s just that Gregory had never been to Colorado and he was anxious to go. Denny’s cousin, Deana, had moved there years ago with her husband and daughter. Denny was anxious to see them again and Gregory had never been to Colorado. They flew into Denver, changed planes, and then into Co. Springs. They had booked a suite at the Garden of the Gods Club Lodge. It was a beautiful place that overlooked the natural red stone monuments.

Of course, they wanted to do touristy things while they were there, so they rented a PT Cruiser to tool around town in, which Gregory insisted on driving. They first went to the Fine Arts Museum where a whole gallery room was devoted to sculpture for the visually impaired. It affected him so much that the next school year, he had his kindergarten students make sculptures that the blind could appreciate. Each sculpture had to have a thick part, a thin part, and a hole in it. He was proud of them for fulfilling their objective.

They next went to the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame, because what self-respecting gay man doesn’t like figure skating? They visited the US Olympic Training Center and saw where the Olympians trained for the games. The Cave of the winds was something they both wanted to see in order to compare it to Luray Caverns back home. Seven Falls was pretty impressive, too. They even had a chuck wagon dinner at the Flying W Ranch.

The Garden of the Gods and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings were a step back in time. They had their old timey picture taken in the town of Manitou Springs dressed as gunslingers. It was funny how Gregory felt about Manitou Springs. He was drawn to the place like he had been to no other town before. It was a deep spiritual feeling that wouldn’t leave him. There was an undeniable connection to the place. If it weren’t for all the snow they got, he would love to live in this beautiful place.

And of course, they took the Pikes Peak Cog Railway all the way to the top of Pikes Peak. The seats were at an angle which would come in handy when they were higher up the side of the mountain. They made one stop for a hiker to get off and hike the rest of the way up. When they reached the top, Gregory had expected to feel the effects of the high altitude, but he didn’t. In fact, he felt fantastic! He ran around the peak with so much extra energy, he felt like he was a kid again. He had to use the restroom before they went back down, so he went into the building. As soon as he opened the men’s room door, he saw a boy scout sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. His face was what can only be described as the sickliest shade of “Kermit the Frog” green Gregory had ever seen. His scoutmaster was holding an oxygen mask over the boy’s nose and mouth. Gregory said a little prayer and went about his business. The trip down seemed to go more quickly than the one ascending. The couple took one more trip to Colorado and they enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

*****

Clearbrook had all kinds of special days: Crazy Hat Day, Crazy Hair Day, Backwards Day, and of course Halloween. Everyone got into that one. Gregory came as a hippy one year and had to explain what that was to the kids. He came as “Fat” Elvis in a costume that inflated with a fan and came with fake hair! But the one he loved the best was his SpongeBob SquarePants costume. He was a big hit especially considering it was the hottest cartoon on TV.

Pajama Day meant that Gregory had to buy pajamas because he didn’t own any. That day coincided with “Stories Under the Stars” which was held after school and teachers would read a short book or part of a book to students then they would read to another group of students, and so on, until everyone got to hear all the stories. Gregory read from one of the Harry Potter books each year, doing accents for each of the characters. The kids seemed to enjoy it as much as he did.

The holiday and end-of-year parties were something, too. One very memorable holiday party found Gregory singing the karaoke version of Santa Baby to his coworker Erika. He won a prize for it too! Another party had a casino night theme, so Denny and Gregory rented tuxes with white ties and tails. They were a hit. End-of-the-year parties were more about letting their hair down and having quite a few drinks. Many times Gregory’s tongue was loose enough to let things slip to his coworkers that would have been better kept to himself. Enough said about that.

*****

Their second big summer vacation was to Las Vegas. Gregory hadn’t been there since he was a child. His father had worked for the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation in Boulder City. The family had lived in both Boulder City and Henderson and Gregory was anxious to see the area once again as he had fond memories of the desert. The trip to the airport almost ended their trip to Nevada, however!

They got an early start because it was raining. Unfortunately, they hit a large puddle of water and hydroplaned. Denny lost control, the car went up on a bank, and almost a hit tree. Denny swerved in time, but flipped the Pathfinder on its side. They both just sat there, Gregory hanging from his seatbelt sideways, for a few minutes counting their blessings. A police car just happened to be close by and stopped to help.

When they had extricated themselves from the vehicle, the policeman made sure they were okay and as a formality asked if they had been drinking. Then he called a tow truck and a cab. The couple made it to the airport in time despite the exciting rollercoaster ride. They had chosen to fly first class for the very first time and were quite a sight with their clothes covered in mud. All they could do was laugh and toast to their little adventure, so far.

After they landed, the couple reached for their suitcase off the baggage carousel and found that their indestructible rolling bag was smashed to the point where it wouldn’t even close anymore. South-South-West Airlines offered them no compensation. They shrugged it off and took a cab to the Venetian. It was a beautiful hotel, inside and out. Checking in was a breeze, but the elevators to the rooms were accessed only through the casino (ten guesses why). Their room had a great view of the pool and the Treasure Island Hotel.

Their first Vegas adventure was a bus tour to Hoover Dam, Lake Meade, and Ethel M Chocolates. The tour was very informative and it was good to see something Gregory hadn’t seen in over thirty years. After they left the dam, they went to the chocolate factory for a tour of it and its desert gardens. It was a day well spent. That evening they went to see the Blue Man Group at the Luxor. It was an amazing performance and Gregory was glad that he had ordered tickets for seats outside the range of the splatter. He also purchased a CD to take home because it was cool music!

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum was connected to the Venetian, so Denny and Gregory went to see, and have pictures taken with, the likes of Lucille Ball, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell, and of course “Fat” Elvis! That evening they went to see Rita Rudner perform at New York-New York. She was hysterical and they had an absolutely wonderful time.

Gregory had booked a skydiving adventure online also. When the day for their foray into the skies arrived, they waited downstairs where the buses came and went. But the car sent by the skydiving outfit did not arrive. He called and found out that they had been waiting out front! They hurried upstairs and flung themselves into the waiting vehicle. When they arrived at the airfield, they were instructed to watch a safety video and then sign a waiver. They were to dive in tandem and Gregory was glad of it. Denny’s instructor did not seem to have a problem with his weight, but Gregory’s did with his.

They went up in a small prop plane, Denny and his instructor sat facing sideways, while Gregory and his were facing backwards. Gregory suffered from motion sickness, so he felt like throwing up soon after takeoff. Gregory and his instructor were closest to the door so they got up first. Once they were out on the wing, he instructed Gregory to lean forward, so of course they promptly fell backward. Immediately Gregory found it impossible to breath. As the earth rose up to meet him, he continued to struggle to breath.

His instructor was equipped with a video camera on his left hand, so the entire trip was being recorded for posterity. Gregory had no idea where Denny was, all he could do was try to breathe. He tried not to think about how he was hurtling toward the ground at 120 mph and how perhaps this had been a huge mistake. He couldn’t even pray. He just didn’t want to die, not this way. When the instructor finally pulled the shoot they were jerked backwards, away from terra firma. Then they began to float. At last, he could finally breathe normally again and enjoy the view. As they floated closer to the earth, he was informed that they were going to make a sliding landing, not the standard kind. He braced himself for a soft landing, but it wasn’t as soft as he’d hoped.

If he could have bent down and done so, Gregory would have kissed the ground. But he still had a man attached to his back. Soon enough, he was released then struggled to stand. The camera was still recording, so the guy asked Gregory,

“Are you alright?”

“I’m okay, but I’m never doing that again.” Everyone laughed but Gregory.

They had tickets to a drag show up the strip in the old part of town. When they arrived they found out that it was first come first served, so they were seated in the back. There was no way they were going to see anything from back there, so they left before the show even started. Rather than waste the entire trip up there, they had their photos taken as Chippendale’s dancers. It was a silly souvenir, but they both got a laugh out of it.

As their remaining time in Vegas drew to a close, Denny and Gregory had to buy a new suitcase to replace the one the airline destroyed. They found one that was reasonably priced and would hold all their clothes and souvenirs. But when they got to the ticket counter it was over the weight limit, so they were charged an additional $50.00 even though it was the airline’s fault that they had to purchase a new one! Gregory let the man at the counter know just how he felt about the travesty.

As a result of the car accident and the sliding skydiving landing, Gregory was suffering from neck and back pain. He had gotten x-rays and a CAT scan but neither showed anything more than the usual degeneration for his age. He was going to physical therapy, but it wasn’t helping, so he decided to call a massage therapist. A friend he knew from Dignity who was a certified massage therapist. He drove to Boyd’s apartment in Arlington. Boyd answered the door in a pair of shorts and invited Gregory in. There was a massage table set up in the office and New Age music was playing. Boyd told him to go ahead and undress then lie on the table face down.

The massage started with warm, lightly scented oil. He was gentle but thorough. When he was finished with the back, he instructed Gregory to turn over.

“Don’t be embarrassed. It happens to everyone,” he told Gregory at the sight of his erection. When he finally did turn over, he noticed that Boyd was nude, too.

“I hope you don’t mind that I got comfortable.”

“No, of course not, I know you’re a nudist.”

Gregory tried not to stare but Boyd was hung like a horse. The rest of the massage was great, too. When it was over, he got up slowly and when he was ready, he got dressed. He thanked Boyd then he paid him, accepted the bottle of water offered, and left. He felt a hundred times better leaving than he had going in; no more neck or back pain.

*****

Gregory was having chest pain, a cough, a fever, and it burned every time he took a breath. He made an appointment to see his regular doctor, but he was on the ski slopes, so he settled for seeing another doctor at the practice in Springfield. After x-rays, he was diagnosed with pneumonia in the left lung. He was given a prescription for antibiotics and told to take it easy.

The music teacher, Mrs. Robins, also got sick that year, but she was pregnant and her son was born with a constellation of health problems. Gregory went to see her in the hospital after the birth and then she took him to see the baby in the NICU. He really didn’t know what else to do so he prayed for them all. Even though Gregory would continue to have problems with his lungs afterwards, he knew that the Robins family had it way worse than he did.

*****

On September 11th, 2001, the country watched and listened in horror as airplanes were flown into the twin towers in New York City, the Pentagon, and into a field in Somerset, PA. Between classes, Gregory went to the Principal’s office to listen to the radio for any news as did anyone else who was between classes. Almost immediately, parents began to come and get their children. It was the teachers’ job to keep the children calm and unaware of what was going on in the outside world. Gregory had to ask several of them to take their conversations into the hall, so that other people’s children would not be exposed to that kind of information until their parents chose to tell them. It was a sad day for all Americans and the world.

A few months after 9/11, Gregory hit rock bottom when the school was having a pep rally. He couldn’t make himself attend. It was just too much for him. He was drowning in a sea of grey goop and he was unable to break the surface. Just then he heard voices outside his office door and the handle jiggle.

“Have you seen Gregory?” he heard Jeb, the P.E. teacher, ask.

“No. Where do you suppose he is?” replied Cal, the third grade teacher.

“You don’t think he’s in his office do you?”

“I tried. It’s locked.”

“Let me get a key,” then nothing. A few moments later a key was inserted into the lock and it opened. Jeb looked in.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” But he was far from it. He needed help and right away.

The next day he started making calls to psychiatrists, but not one of them was taking on new patients. What was he going to do? He couldn’t go on like this any longer. He was going to hurt himself if he didn’t do something right away. He called and made an appointment with his regular physician. Maybe he could prescribe something to keep Gregory from killing himself.

“So, what’s going on?” his doctor asked.

He proceeded to describe the depressive symptoms he’d suffered through since he was a teenager and even the suicide attempts.

“I’m having trouble sleeping. I have no energy to do the things I really enjoy. And I’m thinking about killing myself again.” He did not however, relate his manic symptoms, because he was sure he needed them in order to remain creative. He just wanted to relieve his depression. The doctor said,

“It’s a good thing you don’t have episodes of mania. Then I’d have to refer you to a psychiatrist.”

Gregory kept his mouth shut. He’d already tried that route without success. The doctor prescribed Zoloft® and sent him off to fill the prescription. It was expensive, but Denny’s insurance covered it. After years of trying to keep it together by himself and failing, he knew it was time to get help and keep getting it. He had hit bottom and it was awful down there, so the only place to go was up.

It took a couple of weeks, but the pills started to work and Gregory felt the dark cloud begin to lift. The gloomy thoughts and feelings started to move to the back, allowing happiness and contentment to resurface. It was good to smile and have fun, even laugh once in awhile. Now that Gregory was able to enjoy life once again, he and Denny decided it was time to move.  They chose a contemporary house in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood of Fairfax. It was a four bedroom, three and a half bath house with a fully finished basement. Now that they had a new house, Gregory needed to find a new church. He chose Holy Spirit because they had a folk mass. Gregory loved a good folk mass. He still went alone, but the music was so wonderful he didn’t mind at all.

While the new house was beautiful, it wasn’t perfect. There were changes that they wanted to make. They wanted the hot tub removed from the house and put outside. Making love in the hot tub outside was exciting for the both of them, but eventually they would have to get rid of it completely, because it kept breaking down. Next they wanted to open up the kitchen and make the old hot tub room a breakfast room. They did most of the work themselves, so it took longer than it should have, but they had the satisfaction of doing it themselves and that was worth the wait. Gregory spent his summer off painting the house. When his neighbor saw him painting the house shades of “purple” he told her that the colors were actually Naughty Neutral with Playhouse Plum and Morocco Red accents. It was beautiful!

They had made the new house a home by adding a lovebird. Gregory had picked it up at the pet shop as a birthday present for Denny. He named his little guy Billy. The next addition was a Norwich Terrier named Mugsy. He came to them with a special talent that the owners forgot to tell them about; Gregory would notice paw prints on their glass dining room table when he came home from work and quickly figured out who was responsible. Mugsy could climb on chairs and then onto tables! He had gotten the four and a half year old boy as a birthday present for himself, but Mugsy quickly changed his allegiance to Denny, so Gregory chose to adopt another, this time a girl.

She was a Beagle/Bassett mix he found online. He changed her name from Georgia to MollyGirl. It would take her awhile to get used to her new home and her caretakers. And she ran off several times, but they would always get her back. They had to assume that she had been abused at some point in her previous life. They were patient, though, and would give their babies all the love and time they needed in order to feel loved and protected. She loved all critters and tried to make friends with everything from skunks to squirrels.

Denny and Gregory took all their pets with them to the Tree House each weekend, including the Beta fish that Maura had given to Gregory. It was like a mini ark sailing on an asphalt sea called Route 66 which flowed into the I-81 ocean all the way to Mt. Jackson and beyond. But on President’s Day of 2003 they got snowed in. It was a blizzard that took them two days to dig out from. They made the mistake of parking at the top of the one hundred foot long driveway in order to make it easier to unload their little ark. But that meant that they had to dig out almost three hundred cubic feet of snow, because Mother Nature dumped nearly three feet of snow that weekend!!! They would never do that again when snow was in the forecast.

*****

October of 2002 brought terror to the region. People were being shot by a sniper and everyone was afraid. There was a shooting at a gas station, but everyone still had to get gas! So Gregory took to pumping his gas with his back to his car, constantly vigilant. You had to stay away from Home Depot and MJDesigns, because that is where some of the shootings had occurred. The worst news came when a student was killed going into his school. That meant that Clearbrook was on lockdown during the day, no recess. Parents rushed their children in and out of school. The kids, and consequently the staff, were going stir-crazy! It was the worst three weeks of his career as a teacher. Everyone was relieved when the Beltway Snipers were finally apprehended.

*****

Clearbrook had a little mouse problem. The day before the exterminator was scheduled to come they caught one of the little guys. The sixth grade teacher, Hilly, had an aquarium with a mesh top. They put him in it, but he managed to get out in Maura’s office. The two of them spent quite awhile trying to get him back in his new home, but finally managed. Gregory volunteered to take him home. Gregory called him “Bing-Bong” because he bounced off the top of his house like a ping-pong ball. He lived to be three and half years old!

The next creature to find his way into the school was a duckling. One of the Kindergarten classroom doors was open to the outside when the duckling just waddled in. Maura named him “Flash” and Gregory offered to take him too, because there was a pond across from the Tree House and a family of ducks lived there. Gregory introduced Flash to the mother duck and she adopted him just as he had hoped she would. He was going to miss having that little duck around. He used to hide inside Gregory’s shirt wherever he went.

When Tori, the Vice-Principal at Clearbrook, got pregnant, she needed a couple of months off after giving birth. David offered to help out wherever Maura needed him in addition to his regular classes, after-school, and maintenance work. While Tori was out on maternity leave, however, David got really pissed at Maura and called Tori at home to complain. She declined to get involved while she was on leave. Maura found out however, was quite upset with David, and extremely disappointed in him, too. David felt badly about his behavior especially when she called him into her office to confront him. She even looked as though she might cry and that made him feel worse!

“Tori’s on maternity leave. You know that. Why would you call her and try and get her involved in this? If you have a problem with me, you need to talk to me!”

He was silent.

“You really have nothing to say? What you did hurt me. I thought we were friends, but I’m still your boss. Keep that in mind.”

More silence.

Shaking her head, she said, “You can go.”

Why couldn’t he keep his damn mouth shut? What kept getting him so mad and why didn’t he know how to handle those extreme emotions? More questions, still no answers, and now he’d hurt someone he truly cared about and didn’t know if he would ever be able to fix it.

Just before Tori was scheduled to come back to work, she brought baby Erwin with her for a visit. Gregory volunteered to babysit between classes, so that she could catch up on some work before coming back full time. She gave him the baby in a carrier that you wore in the front like a backpack and Gregory walked the halls bouncing him up and down. Gregory probably loved the experience more than Erwin because he loved babies. He’d even joked with his colleagues about adopting Erwin if it turned out Tori and her husband didn’t want him after all.

By the end of the school year, Tori decided to step down as Vice-Principal. That meant that Maura would need to find a replacement. David asked if he could apply for the job. He was given a test to take, but later, when he found it in Maura’s drawer, un-mailed, he knew it wasn’t meant to be. Clearly, she wanted Annie for her second in command. So when it was time to declare his intentions for next year, he informed her that he would be leaving his position as art and art history teacher.

Maura was clearly disappointed, but wished him well. He spoke with the director of the Special Ed program and asked if he could be a tutor, since he had taken a special class in the Wilson Reading System and was currently taking graduate courses in Special Ed through UVA. She gave her consent and David was all set to start tutoring students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia at the beginning of the next school year at both schools! He couldn’t have been happier to do something new. He had been teaching the same curriculum for five years and while he enjoyed teaching art history to the fourth through eighth graders and running the Artist’s Studio after school, which paid for additional art supplies, he knew it was time for a change. Five years at anything seemed to be his max. He sold the truck he loved and bought a PT Cruiser, because it would be more economical, especially now that he was being paid per student instead of a regular salary.

Gregory had a wonderful time tutoring his students. He prepared their lessons and wrote progress reports that he gave to the Director and to the parents each week. It was so rewarding to see their little faces light up when they got it. It was very different from teaching art. The students enjoyed his art classes, but he had to grade them, something he didn’t really like having to do. This was one-on-one and he got to see their progress measured in weeks and months. It was so unlike the way it was in a large group.

Not all parents were as eager to help out their children as the school, the director, and Gregory, the tutor, were. He had a particularly interesting student at the Sterling campus. Lacey was a sweet little girl who was having trouble with reading. Gregory worked with her once a week. It was difficult, at first, to keep her attention. She would slide out of her chair, little by little, until she was under the desk. Then he would say,

“Lacey, sit back up in your chair, please.”

She wouldn’t respond she would just do it. She did the same thing every week, but Gregory never lost his patience with her. She was really making progress, but suddenly, her step-mom decided she didn’t have dyslexia after all, so she pulled Lacey out of the tutoring program. When she saw him in the hall, and asked when he was coming to get her, he had to remind her that he couldn’t come to see her anymore. She hugged him and then went back to her class. Soon enough he would walk away from all his students and from Clearbrook.

Everything happens for a reason and as much as Gregory loved teaching and tutoring it was time for a major change.

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 10 – Hope Rises

At a social hour after Mass, Peter asked Gregory if he bowled. He told him that he hadn’t in years, but had practically grown up in the Penn Daw Bowling Lanes. Peter and a few others from Dignity were members of a gay bowling league, through DC Sports, who bowled at those very lanes. They needed a sub whenever one of their regulars was sick or out of town. Gregory thought it would be fun to bowl again, so he agreed. He substituted for the guy whenever he was asked and even made “turkeys” on several occasions.

The time finally came for him to substitute for someone else. He was finally to meet the infamous Denny. Gregory had heard stories about the man, but they didn’t do him justice. He was cute, hairy, a little shorter, and a little bit older than Gregory, but that was okay. He liked older guys anyway and he had what could only be described as the perfect butt. He had a cute nose and nice arms, but his ass was amazing! Denny enjoyed every strike he made, jumping up and down and clapping his hands. Gregory liked watching him. He was smitten right away, but Denny didn’t seem to feel the same way. He didn’t seem to know what to make of the guy with the ponytail and earrings. He didn’t seem to pay much attention to Gregory at all. So the question was, “What do I do to get him to notice me?”

He decided to show up at the bowling alley each week, even when he wasn’t playing. He just hung out, drank beer, and watched. He figured he’d be there for moral support for the team… and for Denny. His sheer persistence must have worked, because out of the blue, Denny showed up at mass one Sunday evening and he wasn’t even Catholic.

Gregory saw him on his way out after mass was over. He was sitting in the back and he was wearing a pink button-down shirt. Gregory smiled and he smiled back. He made his way to the back of the hall and waited for Denny to walk through the doorway. Gregory waved him over and told him that it was a nice surprise to see him there.

“Would like to go get a drink?” Denny asked.

“Yes. I would.”

They went to Mr. P’s, a piano bar on P Street. Denny knew the bartender and ordered them a couple of beers. They made some small talk, which somehow led to kissing. Gregory couldn’t believe how fast a conversation could turn to smooching in a public place! Finally, Denny had had enough. He asked Gregory back to his car for more kissing and some heavy petting (if the reader doesn’t know what that is, Google it). That was November 5th, 1990.

They made plans to get together after bowling that weekend. Gregory followed Denny back to the townhouse he shared with Peter. They needed a shower after having spent hours in the smoky bowling alley. Gregory loved exploring Denny’s body and vice versa. While getting clean they got a little dirty and then they got clean again. Gregory made a big discovery; he found that it was more fun to shower together than alone.

They saw each other as often as possible. Then Gregory invited Denny home for Thanksgiving and Denny did the same. Gregory had never done that before and neither had Denny. It was nice to have someone to share the holiday with. Both families accepted their new significant others with grace and charm. They made plans to do the same for Christmas.

A week after Thanksgiving was the one year anniversary of his sister’s suicide, so Gregory called Denny and asked him for some time alone. He said,

“I’ll explain everything when I see you in a few days, okay?” Denny didn’t seem too happy about the idea, but what could he do? He had to honor Gregory’s request. When enough time had passed, Gregory called Denny and asked,

“Can I come over?”

“Sure,” Denny replied, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

“Then I’ll see you in a few.” He arrived at Denny’s about twenty-five minutes later. Denny let him in and they went downstairs. Gregory sat down on the couch as did Denny.

“A year ago my sister, Susan, committed suicide,” Gregory started. “I just needed to be alone to deal with the first anniversary. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s still hard.” Denny hugged him and said,

“I’m sorry. You wanna talk about it?”

“Well, she was more than a sister, she was my friend. When we were younger we could finish each other’s sentences; we were that close. My mom told me that Susan was so happy to have a little brother. I was her real, live baby doll. We only had one falling out. My mom was in the hospital, the first time, and Susan offered to give me money for gas, because I was the only one who lived close enough to visit every day. Perry lived in Leesburg and she lived in Southern Maryland. I didn’t ask for money, she offered, and then I never saw a dime. I was so pissed! We didn’t speak for almost a year. I really missed her, ya know?

“Anyway, I guess enough time passed that we were able to move past it. Eventually we forgave each other. She was dealing with her MS, but the brain surgery really messed her up. Then she went and killed herself and I was pissed off all over again. Only this time she was dead and I felt guilty for being pissed at her!”

“Wow! I had no idea.” Denny remarked. “That must have been so hard on you.”

“I’m doing better now. Thanks for letting me talk about her and for understanding about my needing some time to myself.”

“I thought it was something I did. I was really upset and then I wrote some really bad poetry about it.”

“Can I read them?” Gregory asked mischievously.

“Definitely not!” Denny said rather loudly. “I guess it’s time to tell you something, though.”

“What is it?”

“I have MS. I’m good right now, but it may get bad someday. I’ve been worried about how you’d take it.”

“Is that all?” Gregory asked. “I did plenty of research on it when Susan was diagnosed. Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere because… I love you.”

“You do?” Denny asked. Gregory just nodded.

“I love you!” Then they hugged and Gregory spent the night once again.

By now Gregory was spending all his free time at Denny’s, when he wasn’t working or studying, that he was starting to get on Peter’s nerves. Gregory apologized and thought maybe if he gave Peter his statue of the Infant of Prague and the vestments that came with it, as a replacement for his plain one, that it might make things better between them. Peter thanked him for the generous gift and admitted that he had been jealous of their relationship, because he was currently between boyfriends. They hugged and everything between them was okay again.

Gregory decided to surprise Denny by driving over to his house in nothing but an overcoat and a pair of cowboy boots. The whole way over he just hoped he wouldn’t get pulled over. It was exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. When he finally arrived and rang the bell, his adrenaline level was through the roof. Denny opened the door and invited him in. As soon as the door was shut, Gregory opened his coat and yelled, “Surprise!” Denny took it all in then pounced, kissing him passionately, then released him and dragged him upstairs to the bedroom. The sex was unusually intense and amazing as always.

Gregory’s next job was at Gold Leaf Studios. They did restoration, framing, and gilding. Gregory learned a lot about stripping bronze paint; gold leaf, gilding and burnishing; and framing while he was there. Gilding letters on the outside of a federal building was the most interesting project he worked on. He even learned how to make casts of broken or missing pieces of a frame, replace it then gild it. When the monastery needed a restoration team with expertise in gilding, Gregory recommended his employer and they got the contract.

For Gregory’s senior project at CUA, he decided that he would create a mixed media installation piece. His theme was “The Artist as the Christ.” He combined paintings, neon, a kneeler, and graffiti. He thought it was a great piece, but some thought it was a little too controversial for the Catholic University of America. He wanted it to be thought provoking on the idea of “Jesus Saves” vs. “Jesus SLaves.” Several times when he came by the gallery, though, the neon cross had been unplugged by the secretary. The third time was just too much for him. He was so pissed that he pulled his car around, dismantled it, and took it home before the end of the exhibition.

In May of 1991, Gregory graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Catholic University of America with a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art and minors in Religion and Anthropology. He would have to settle for six Bs among all his As; four Bs in Philosophy and one B each in Italian and Art History. While he had been a C student in high School, he graduated from college with a 3.82 grade point average. He was pretty darn proud of himself. The baccalaureate mass was held in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with the commencement ceremony held on the side steps of the Shrine. The speaker was Roger Staubach, a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Gregory couldn’t have told you what he said though. He was listening to his Walkman, a present from Denny, the whole time. Gregory’s family, and of course Denny, came to his graduation which was nice. His father had missed Gregory’s high school graduation, because he was attending his step-daughter’s, so it was good that he could make this one.

Now that Gregory was out of school, he and Denny decided to get a place together. It had to be near the Metro to make it easy for Denny to commute downtown each day. They settled on Dunn Loring, because it was within walking distance of the end of the Orange line. They chose Memorial Day weekend to move which turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year! They rented a U-Haul and borrowed Gregory’s dad’s truck. He had never driven a vehicle with “three on the tree” before, but he got the hang of it pretty quickly.

They had chosen a two bedroom, one bath apartment on the third floor. Hauling all that furniture and all those boxes up all those stairs on such a hot day was a real challenge. It took its toll on both of them and they swore they’d stay there for quite a while, just so they wouldn’t have to repeat the process again anytime soon. They had to buy a sofa and a dining room table but the latter proved harder to agree on than the former. A little table in the kitchen would have to do for quite some time.

*****

Matteo went back into the hospital in November, but he didn’t make it back to the monastery this time. The funeral mass was a moving tribute to a good friend.

*****

Gregory was working in Falls Church now at an art supply store called Adcom. He liked working there, because he got to put furniture together among other things. He got commission on certain items and he got his art supplies at a discount. There was one coworker who had a knack for stealing his customers, so that she could get the commission, but he just kept his eye on her. The store went out of business within the year, so Gregory took some time off before looking for a new job.

Gregory had been working on restoring the catacombs at the monastery off and on since he left the brotherhood. The first thing he had worked on was restoring a faux marble column after water had damaged it. They were so pleased with his work that they asked him to fix one damaged area after another. He liked working down there all alone. He listened to Enya and felt closer to God when he was among the chapels and the relics.

His most ambitious restoration project, for the monastery to date, was repairing a hole put in a painting, of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, by a ladder. It was going to be a challenge, so he called a contact he made while working at Gold Leaf. She gave him suggestions and when he was finished, you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been an “L” shaped tear in the antique painting. Then they asked him to do some repainting and gilding on the San Damiano crucifix in the Portiuncula Chapel outdoors. That was easy compared to the painting of the Annunciation above it. The canvas had deteriorated so much that it was beyond repair. He told Bro. Caleb that he would have to paint a new one. Gregory was unable to save much of the original, but what he could save he used as a reference. He found a holy card of the painting and used it for the rest. When it was finished it measured 5’x 4’, was square at the bottom and pointed at the top in a gothic shape, mounted on wood, and covered in plexi. The friars were pleased with the results.

*****

He needed a job after Adcom closed, so he chose to work at the local multiplex there in Dunn Loring. He started working at the concession stand. He got to see movies for free, but it wasn’t a really great job, so he started looking again.

He had had a chance to learn sign making on the computer while working at Adcom. He had to plot everything on the x and y axes, but that would come in handy in his next position as a sign maker at FastSigns in Tysons Corner. He started out in production, but moved up to design and layout. His boss even sent him to Connecticut to learn more. He loved that job and would remain friends with everyone after he left despite his having lost his temper with the boss on more than one occasion. He blamed his quick temper on his father. It would be years before he learned the real cause.

*****

Gregory’s step-sister, Cindy had met and fallen in love with a great guy named Jim, so the next step was to get married. They were married in Gregory’s dad and step-mom’s garden. It was a beautiful ceremony that almost didn’t happen, because Jim was in a biking accident the week before and broke his neck. Luckily, all that was required was that he wear a neck-brace until the break healed. Of course, his fiancé would not have a neck-brace ruining her wedding and the photos afterwards, so she gave him permission to forgo wearing it that day only.

While Denny and Gregory were living at the apartment in Dunn Loring, the A/C went out on one of the hottest days of the summer. It was a Saturday, so there wasn’t a maintenance man on duty to fix it. As their apartment was facing full south, it was even hotter than usual. Gregory couldn’t take it so he called Cindy and asked if he could spend the night. She and Jim said yes, but Denny wanted to stay home. So Gregory spent the night alone in the sweet, cool breeze of borrowed air conditioning. When it went out the second summer, they resolved to move.

They found a place in Pentagon City. It was the two lower floors of a townhouse and they only got it because the landlady’s dog liked Gregory. It had two bedrooms and one and a half baths. Finally, Gregory wouldn’t have to wait to use the bathroom! He would also have a good-sized studio now. They didn’t stay there as long as Gregory would have liked because the landlady was a little crazy and she and Denny didn’t get along at all.

Gregory’s dad’s friend, Paul, died and left his house to his daughter. She lived in California, so she asked John to find a renter. He asked Denny and Gregory if they’d like to see it. It was in North Springfield, was a three bedroom, one and a half bath ranch, and it was on a good-sized lot. They took it and moved out of the townhouse and into their first house. After a year, Paul’s daughter, Pamela, decided to sell it. Denny and Gregory had first crack at it and so they were then able to purchase their first home together. Denny was finally able to indulge in his love of horticulture and thereby improve the gardens on the property.

Now that they were in North Springfield, Gregory was able to attend mass at St. Michael’s again. Denny wouldn’t join him, but that was okay. St. Michael’s was Gregory’s home church, so he could go by himself and feel perfectly comfortable. There was also the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration. After his mother died, he was able to take one of the 168 hour time slots, now that he had a job he couldn’t, but he could still stop in anytime for a visit with Jesus. He could say a prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament or say a Rosary. It was the only church that he knew of in the area that was able to remain open 24 hours a day, because someone was always there.

When he heard that St. Michael’s catechism program needed a teacher for the high school students, he volunteered, because he had previous experience with high schoolers. He ended up enjoying that year very much. The students were great and the director was easier to get along with than the one in Valparaiso had been. He tried to make it fun for them by supplementing the curriculum with puzzles, games, and word searches. He even gave each one a religious gift on the last day.

Gregory’s next job was at Pearl Art and Craft in Alexandria. The position was as Floor Supervisor which was a step below Assistant Manager. It was a salaried position and his boss tended to take advantage of it. He worked every Saturday and every other Sunday. He had to attend Mass on Saturday evenings when he was scheduled to work on Sunday. Mallory, his boss, was a little crazy, but his coworkers, for the most part, were terrific to work with.

He made some longtime friends at Pearl. DaRell had a particular fascination with Gregory despite his insisting that he was straight. Gregory did tease him every so often about it, too. Jason was Mallory’s son. He showed Gregory his full back tat of aliens and a spaceship, so Gregory showed him his tats. He got his first after leaving the monastery, then another while at Adcom from Nan, a coworker. Denny called them his “decals” and of course Gregory just laughed at that and got more.

He had a blow up with one or two of his coworkers and he just couldn’t seem to keep himself from doing it. He really didn’t know where the anger was coming from. He was also starting to notice some obsessive compulsive behaviors cropping up. He had to go back and check to see if he had locked a door more than once or make sure the fringe on a rug was straight, objects had to be at 90 degree angles; weird little things like that. But it was getting ridiculous. He wondered if there was a medication that he could ask his doctor for to help with the problems he was having.

He ended up postponing the doctor’s visit because he was thinking about showing his work now that he had plenty of pieces to exhibit. He looked for opportunities in DC, Maryland and Virginia. A group of Gay artists was his first foray into the local art scene. Lambda Soleil and the Male Nude Figure Drawing Group were having a combined drawing/nude pool party. Gregory thought it would be a good way to meet other artists and draw the nude male figure at the same time. He met some really nice guys that day and got some pretty good drawings out of it as well.

The Triangle Artists Group was the next group he joined and he was made aware of shows where he could enter his work. There were be juried shows and Art Fairs, but he wanted to be represented by a gallery. So he did something unconventional. He took out an ad in a local Art newsletter and it worked! A gallery in Georgetown wanted to represent him. He went in, signed a contract, and after awhile he was given a solo show. He was able to get the vinyl lettering for the wall cut at FastSigns in Tysons Corner, by his old boss, for free. He was glad he hadn’t burned that bridge even with his bad temper.

When he had the opportunity to get a pick-up truck, he sold his Celica and bought a used Chevy S10. It would be great for hauling his overly large paintings, furniture and the like, and when not doing that, he could haul plants and such for Denny’s landscaping projects. It ended up working out great.

*****

The following is an entry from Gregory’s online journal:

April 13, 1999

Uncle Yutch died last night at 6:55pm.

He breathed his last just as the priest was finishing Last Rites.

He had been sick for a while now, and in a coma recently.

I was sad, but it was a blessing that he was finally free from the pain.

The thing I will remember him for the most is the time when I was a teenager;

he took me aside and told me that it was okay to be different. It was okay to be me.

I will always love him for accepting me for who I was, long before my own parents could.

May he rest in peace.

He would miss that man.

*****

Pearl had a policy in place that if a customer wanted to pay with a check, they had to fill out a form to apply for a check card. Most customers had no problem with it, but one woman in particular did. Gregory had the misfortune of working at the customer service desk that evening. Her husband was in the military and she didn’t feel that she should have to fill out the form like everyone else. Gregory informed her that there were no exceptions, so she cussed him out.

“You really shouldn’t talk like that in front of your children,” he admonished.

“Don’t you worry about it. They’re used to it!”

“I’m sure they are,” he mumbled under his breath.

“You know I should have my husband come back here and kick your ass, you little faggot!” Gregory kept his cool and said,

“Have a good evening.”

After the irate customer left, Gregory asked Mallory if he could call the police. She told him, “No.” He had been threatened with bodily harm and insulted, yet was not allowed to call and report it. He couldn’t stay at Pearl working for a boss who didn’t have his back and he was itching to do something else anyway. When asked, he said he wanted to teach, but he went back to sign making next.

He found out that FastSigns in Alexandria needed someone to do their computer design and layout. The franchise was owned by two women and he found he got along with them very well. Pip was a larger than life coworker who lived in DC. They would have a love/hate relationship, probably because they were both gay artists. Two drama queens trapped in a small space together.

The ladies sold the business to a nice man who knew nothing about the sign making business. He was a really good guy, but Gregory knew there was no chance for advancement, so when he saw an opportunity to make a change he took it. Gregory left that job to become an art teacher, something he’d wanted to do for years.

Denny and Greg

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Fragility

depression

An artist can often be described as having a “fragile” ego. But I think fragility goes much deeper than that. It’s not just the ego that is fragile. It’s the artist’s whole state of mind. No not mind, but of being. We walk a fragile tight rope between acceptance and rejection. On the one hand, we want to be accepted. But in order to be accepted we have to risk being rejected… over and over and over again.

We say to ourselves, “I don’t give a fuck about what others think of me or my work!” But that’s bullshit!!! Of course we care. Otherwise, why would we keep putting ourselves out there, risking rejection… over and over… ad infinitum? The trouble really comes when you’re rejected by another (or artists) in your community. You say, “What the hell am I doing this for? Why do I put myself through this?” Answer… because otherwise we end up with all this accumulated stuff that reminds us that we do what we must do (what we are driven to do) but no one will ever see it or appreciate it. Maybe not even after we’re dead. It all might just be thrown out with the rest of the trash and then who would remember us?

noun: fragility

  1. 1.   the quality of being easily broken or damaged.  “osteoporosis is characterized by bone fragility”
  • the quality of being delicate or vulnerable.
    “a film about the fragility of relationships”
“Easily broken or damaged.” Wow! That really describes me right now.
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Pain

Knife
noun
  1. physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.
    “she’s in great pain
    synonyms: suffering, agony, torture, torment, discomfort
  2. careful effort; great care or trouble.
    “she took pains to see that everyone ate well”
    synonyms: care, effort, bother, trouble
verb
  1. cause mental or physical pain to.
    “it pains me to say this”
    synonyms: hurt, cause pain, be painful, be sore, be tender, ache, throb, sting, twinge, cause discomfort

    Pain is a tricky thing. People can’t see it so they don’t always believe you when you say: “I’m in so much pain.” It’s relative and not quantifiable. I had to go to a hospital in Oklahoma a few years back and they asked me “on a scale of 1 to 10, what is your pain level.” I said my pain level was about a 9 and a half. Another person in the waiting room said there’s was a 10. Who got the doctor’s attention first? I did. Why? Maybe it was because the side of my face was swollen to the size of a grapefruit and the girl showed no outward signs of being in pain at all. I don’t know.

I’ve been in a lot of pain lately, so it’s got me thinking… how much is too much? Muscle pain, joint pain, now nerve pain… what’s next? No… maybe I shouldn’t ask that question. My mother always used to say “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I just wish he didn’t trust me so much (chuckle, chuckle). Of course, I have been thinking about inflicting pain on myself just to distract me from all the other pains. I mean I get why people “cut” themselves. I haven’t done it yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about the knife fairly often.

I may not be able to get an appointment to have my scripts renewed before I run out. What would happen if I went off them for a week or two? I’ve thought of this often (smile). I don’t like feeling fuzzy all the time… in a fog. I liked it when I was “clear.” Of course, I didn’t like being angry and paranoid all the time, though. And I guess I can say no one else did either! So I’ll have to see what the next few weeks brings me. Stay tuned…

My heart is in my ear, the beating is loud, growing louder.
What does it mean to hear it, feel it pounding next to my brain?
The pain is stronger now, stronger than when it first began.
How do I endure it, day after day, year after year?
The numbness grows as well, marking time in hollow hours.
Will I end up like her, shattered, body broken, alone in an empty mind?
I cannot see tomorrow, the next minute hard enough for me.
Does each day pass or is it all a dream from which we cannot wake?
I fear the end, yet long for it, I wait in warm anticipation.
Will I make it to the end of my days or vanish as if never there?

© Denton ’90

For more of my depressing poetry go to http://www.dgregdenton.com/poetry

May 28, 2014

My pain has grown worse over the last few months. I have decided to “offer up” my suffering as a sacrifice to God on the behalf of others. I know that this will sound strange to some. I encourage the reader to google the term and ponder the meaning of the term… and the act.

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 9 – Tragedy Strikes

It was Spring Break and that meant moving day. Fr. Kenneth had offered to help Gregory move. He was going to drive the truck to Maryland first to pick up the things Gregory had in storage at his sister’s house. Then they would head over to Thom’s place in Arlington. Gregory had become friends with Fr. Kenneth after he had come to Valparaiso to bring the simply professed brothers home from novitiate and they shared an office when Gregory was working on the Crusader magazine.

Gregory’s room was on Thom’s second floor. The little white house was a two story bungalow with a basement. It had three bedrooms and one bathroom and was posited on a long narrow lot, not too far from the house they used at the end of the movie “No Way Out.” There was an A/C unit in the window and baseboard heating. It was a cute little room with shag carpeting à la 1970s and a ceiling that sloped down in the back. He would hit his head on that ceiling quite a few times before he got used to it. His sister gave him a bed and he took back the dressers that he had been storing at her house. He really didn’t need much more than that besides a TV which he made payments on until it was his outright.

Gregory took a job at the National Air & Space Museum selling tickets at the IMAX Theater and the Einstein Planetarium. He worked some weekdays and every weekend. He was pretty good at it, too, and it was right off the Metro’s L’Enfant Plaza stop. He did have a knack for accidentally hitting the panic button with his knee when he was working the ticket booth upstairs at the planetarium, though. Security was getting a little peeved after the first two times, so his boss tried to keep him downstairs at the IMAX as much as possible.

On his way to the Metro one sunny day, he was walking by the park when he noticed a couple playing tennis on one of the courts. Suddenly, the man collapsed. His partner dropped her racket and ran around the net to his side. Looking around she spotted Gregory and yelled at him, “Get help!” He didn’t even think about it. He sprinted across the park to the fire station nearby. When he reached the office he was out of breath, so it took him a few seconds before he could speak.

“Man… heart attack,” he puffed out.

“Where?” The fireman asked as he stood and got his gear together.

“Tennis courts,” he huffed again and pointed in the direction he had just come. With that the young fireman ran out of the firehouse in the direction of the tennis courts. Gregory didn’t want to be late for class, so as soon as he felt able to breathe normally again, he set off for the Metro. He never knew what happened to the man, but always hoped and prayed that he had survived.

*****

Gregory’s sister, Susan, was admitted to the hospital. She had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. She needed surgery to fix it before it ruptured and killed her. David took the Metro to Roslyn every day while she was there then walked across the Key Bridge and up the hill to Georgetown University Hospital, because there was no stop in Georgetown. She was worth it. The day came for her surgery and he waited by the phone eagerly of any news. When he got the news it was upsetting. The doctors had gone in on the wrong side! They would have to wait two weeks and try again.

It was an agonizing wait, but when they went in again, they got it right this time. They wrapped the vein to keep it from rupturing. Afterwards, however, she had trouble with her long term memory. She would call her brother when he was working at PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) on several occasions, now that she was on disability, and ask him about their childhood. He assured her that most of the memories weren’t worth reliving, but she insisted. So he tried to tell her only happy stories and leave the sad ones forgotten.  He had no idea at the time just how much damage had been done by the surgery.

Gregory’s dad heard about him having to take the Metro and then having to walk to the hospital every day, so he found a used car that he could pick up for $2,000.00  if Gregory would pay for half of it. Gregory told him he’d have to do it in installments, because he didn’t make that much money at his part-time job. His dad agreed and pretty soon he was the proud new owner of a very used Toyota Celica.

*****

It was December 6th, the last day of classes. Finals were next week, so he was going to go out and have some fun. The phone rang just as he was getting ready, but Thom wasn’t home yet, so Gregory answered it. It was his step-mother calling. She was saying something about bad news and that Susan was dead. He wasn’t sure what that meant, so he found himself asking her,

“How?”

“She killed herself,” she answered.

The best Gregory could do was,

“Okay, I have to go now.”

He started pacing. He couldn’t stay there. He had to go somewhere, anywhere, but where? He thought of Kane and Neal first, friends from Dignity, so he called them. They told him to come on over, he was welcome to stay the night. Gregory wrote Thom a note saying only, “My sister is dead.” He drove to their house in Maryland. When Kane opened the door he grabbed Gregory, gave him a big hug, and pulled him inside. Kane released him and then it was Neal’s turn. They didn’t ask him any questions, just showed him to his room and told him that they were there for him when he needed them. He went in, closed the door, picked up the phone and called his therapist from CUA. He told Dean what had happened. He asked Gregory if there was anything he could do for him, but he assured him there was not. After he hung up, he lay down on the bed and cried. He let it all out, finally crying himself to sleep.

In the morning, Kane knocked on the door and told him, without opening it, that even though Neal had to go to the hospital, he was taking the day off.  He was going to make breakfast and Gregory could join him whenever he was ready. Gregory dragged himself out of bed, made his way across the hall to the bathroom, and looked at himself in the mirror. He looked like he’d been used as a punching bag, all red and splotchy and puffy. “Well, I guess Kane won’t care what I look like,” he thought.

“There you are. Sleep okay?” Kane inquired kindly.

“Not really.”

“I’m sorry. I’m making pancakes and eggs. Want some?”

“I guess. Thanks,” Gregory even managed a half smile. “And thanks for last night.”

“Whenever you’re ready, you know you can talk to me.”

Gregory nodded and Kane went back to making breakfast. They ate in silence for awhile, but when Gregory was ready, he shared what he knew, which wasn’t much. He would have to call his step-mom back and ask for more details. After the call, he spent the morning sitting and talking to Kane about his sister. But he knew he’d have to leave eventually, so he thanked Kane and headed to the hospital to be with his family.

When he arrived at the little hospital in southern Maryland, he found his brother, brother-in-law, and step-mom. His father had suffered a stroke a week before so he was at home recuperating. He hugged them, one after another. A man in a white coat came in and asked who would be identifying the body. Perry wouldn’t, Rob couldn’t, so Gregory volunteered and his step-mom said she’d go with him. The two of them were led through two sets of double doors into a cold sterile-looking room. There was a body lying on a metal table and it was covered in a white sheet. The head was wrapped in a bandage, because she’d shot herself in the temple. He thought it was strange that she was supposed to be his sister, because it didn’t look anything like her.  All he could do was stare at her face and try to see something that reminded him of his beloved, older sibling. He looked at his step-mom for something, he didn’t know what. She nodded then he did too.

There were more people to call and funeral arrangements to be made. He needed to see his nephew and hug him too. So he drove to Susan’s in-laws’ house. His nephew was a month shy of his third birthday and in a few weeks he would be celebrating the first Christmas of many without his mother. After his visit with Timmy, he drove back to Arlington to clean up and tell Thom what had happened. He was very sympathetic and offered to make phone calls for Gregory. He appreciated the gesture and told Thom that he might take him up on it.

He heard from his brother-in-law and was then able to make calls and give details to his friends and family. Susan wanted to be cremated, so all Rob and his folks had to do was set up the funeral service and have the grave opened. Gregory’s Aunt and cousin were flying in from Michigan and he was going to pick them up at the airport, then drive them to his father’s house.

When they arrived at his dad’s, the trunk lid fell on Gregory’s hand and tore a chunk of skin out of it. It bled horribly and he cussed a blue streak. When he was finished with his rant, he said, “That’s just great!” He would have a scar on the back of his hand, to remind him of this tragic event, for the rest of his life. Everyone drove to the funeral home the next day. Gregory thought it would be a small turnout, but there were dozens and dozens of people already there when he arrived. He saw Kane and Neal, Thom, Peter, Blaise, and more importantly Salvatore, Aaron, Kenneth, Silvio, Malcolm, and a few of the new postulants.

Gregory sat in the front row next to his little nephew and before the service started, Timmy asked him,

“Did Mommy go to heaven?”

“Yes, Buddy, she did,” his uncle remarked.

“That’s what I thought,” Timmy said.

After the service, Perry and Gregory sought out their father. He was standing in the back, leaning on his cane. Perry hugged him, then Gregory, and John started to cry. In all his years, Gregory had never seen his father cry. He touched his dad’s arm and said,

“Don’t worry, Dad. We’re here for you and we love you.”

Gregory made sure to thank each one of his friends for coming, hugging them as they left. The graveside service was small and intimate and was attended mostly by family and close friends. The small wooden box was placed in the open grave and dirt was thrown on top. Everyone went back to Marbury Baptist to warm up and have something to eat.

With his sister’s death, his family flying in and then the funeral, Gregory hadn’t had the time or the energy to open even one book to study for exams. So he made appointments, met with each one of his professors, and asked them if he could take an incomplete for the semester and take a makeup exam later. When he explained what had happened, they were all great and told him he could definitely take his final exams whenever he was ready.

Gregory called Jane and Jess and asked if he could spend Christmas with them and his nephew. They invited him to spend Christmas Eve with them as well, so that he wouldn’t have to drive all the way from Virginia so early Christmas morning. Gregory slept on the other twin bed in Timmy’s room. Rob was down the hall (there was no way he could go back to the house where his wife had shot herself), and Jane and Jess at the end. The four of them made it the best Christmas Timmy could possibly have had, under the circumstances.

That Christmas reminded him of past Christmases. The one where little Perry and David got dolls and Susan got a truck. Their parents wanted to make sure that their sons had dolls as well as trucks. They wanted their daughter to have trucks as well as dolls. Essentially they wanted them to be well balanced.

Susan collected Barbie dolls growing up. Her mother used to sew and crochet clothes for them. Her mother used to make clothes for Susan as well. She made every Easter outfit and both Prom dresses. She taught Susan how to sew as well.

She ran away to the desert when the family was living in Nevada. She didn’t stay gone for long, just long enough to worry her parents. About that time she also decided she didn’t like her name anymore, so she insisted on being called “Sally.”

She had to wear glasses from an early age and she didn’t like it! The old saying, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses” went through her head on a continuous loop. She eventually got contacts and was much happier with her appearance. She also started to suffer from allergies a few years after the family moved to Virginia. Susan was taken to the doctor’s office once a week for an allergy shot. She had to quit mowing lawns giving that job to her brother, Gregory. When he developed his own allergy to cut grass he in turn gave it to Perry.

Gregory was very protective of his sister even though she was three years older than him. When one of her boyfriends wasn’t nice to her, it took all his willpower NOT to take a swing at the guy even though he knew the guy would probably mop the floor with him. She seemed to attract them in high school and beyond. She was some kind of magnet for the wrong guys. Luckily, she snagged a good guy for her one and only husband.

When Susan was between boyfriends, she and Gregory liked to go to the beach together or take dance classes. They learned to do disco dances like the Hustle as well as ballroom dances like the Fox Trot. She liked taking dance classes so much that she signed up for a package at Arthur Murray. She met one of her live-in boyfriends while taking dance classes there. He was an instructor and a poet. He turned out to be a drunk as well, so when he hit her, she threw his worthless ass out!

Susan was the first of the three siblings to find out that their father had been married before their mom. She let her brothers know. Of course, Gregory confronted their mother about this revelation.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Gregory asked, hurt.

“I kept meaning to, but it never seemed like the right time,” his mother replied. She could see that he was upset.

“Our cousins knew but we didn’t. That’s not right.”

“I really am sorry, Honey.”

John had even fathered a child by his first wife. They had a half sister out there, somewhere, and didn’t even know her name!

­­*****

Gregory wrote a poem after his sister’s suicide.

She set sail

for the sea,

without me,

she set sail.

With the tide,

for the sea,

without me,

by her side.

Times I tried

to set sail.

I did fail,

I confide.

To set sail

and to be

one with she

was my grail.

Desire died

to succeed

without she

by my side.

Now the tide,

not for me

and the sea,

not my guide.

Life prevails

and I’m free

from the sea

and the sails.

Some day sails,

I will see.

For the sea,

I’ll set sails,

with the tide.

And we’ll be

together free.

Love abides.

Copyright © 1998

­*****

One of Gregory’s professors had heard about his situation and appeared to be sympathetic, so one afternoon, he asked Gregory to help him with the sorting of slides for an upcoming class, to help him take his mind off things. Gregory was doing just as he was asked when the man sat down next to him and put his hand on Gregory’s leg. He stopped what he was doing and looked at the man incredulously. That’s when he leaned forward to kiss Gregory. He stood up and said,

“Wait… a… minute!”

“Don’t forget, I control your scholarship,” the professor lorded over him.

“I didn’t sign up for this!” And Gregory stormed out of the classroom. The next time he saw the old man, he refused to back down. He had done nothing wrong, his professor had. Gregory couldn’t believe how some people could abuse their positions. It was Fr. James all over again. This time would be different, though. He would stand up for himself. If there was any funny business on his next report card or if something happened to his scholarship, he wasn’t going to ask someone else to handle it for him!

*****

Gregory dated a few guys when he got out of the monastery. Alan was a Dignity member that Gregory was attracted to. He was tall, muscular, and hairy. Well, at least he had a hairy chest; not so much hair left on his head, though. He and Alan went to dinner a couple of times and they sat together at mass. Alan wanted to have sex with Gregory, but Gregory wanted to get to know him better first. Alan wouldn’t let up, so eventually Gregory gave in. Unfortunately, there was consequence of getting together with Alan. He gave Gregory crabs! They itched like crazy and were easy enough to get rid of with an over-the-counter remedy, but Gregory was pissed. Before he could tell Alan he was breaking it off with him, Alan told Gregory that he was breaking up with him, because he’d slept with him too quickly. After he got over the shock, Gregory just laughed and told him to have a nice life.

*****

Gregory became friends with a playwright by the name of Edmund. He was fair haired, slight, and shorter than Gregory, but they shared the same sense of humor. They would go for a bite to eat after mass. Edmund asked Gregory to read some of his works-in-progress. They were all gay themed and he liked that. He was even invited to a reading of Edmund’s latest play at a theatre with real actors. It was pretty cool.

Halloween was coming up and Edmund asked Gregory if he’d like to go to a costume party and dance. Gregory was excited, because it had been years since he’d made a costume. He’d always wanted to be an Indian. He had some brown material that he could make into a vest, armbands, loin cloth, and braids to lengthen his hair. He already had moccasins, so he thought it would be pretty easy to put together. When he got to Edmund’s apartment, he was greeted by a soldier. Edmund had chosen to go in camo. And he was pretty impressed with Gregory’s outfit.

The party was at a hotel in upper Northwest. Gregory and Edmund danced with a lot of guys from Dignity, but neither one got lucky that night, so they went back to Edmund’s apartment. Gregory spent the night and woke up in the morning with Edmund’s arms around him. He asked his friend,

“Uh, what does this mean?”

“Just two friends cuddling on a Sunday morning.”

“Okay, if you’re sure,” Gregory responded, hoping he was right.

Edmund hugged him and got out of bed.

“I’ll go make us some breakfast.”

They remained good friends and they never had sex. They didn’t need to. Gregory discovered for the first time that it was possible to have a friend that you could sleep with, but didn’t have to have sex with.

Woody and Donny were a nice couple that attended Dignity and befriended Gregory. They lived out in Maryland and asked Gregory if he’d like to come over and play. He hadn’t been with a couple since his stripping days, so he said, “Yes.” Woody was darker and shorter than Donny who was a tall redhead, but their roles were reversed. They had a dominant/submissive relationship. Donny asked Woody for permission to do things to Gregory. Toys weren’t usually Gregory’s thing, but as it turned out, it was actually a kind of fun. He even got to sleep in between them.

That night had given him an idea. He took the Metro downtown to the Leather Rack. In addition to leather goods, they sold toys. Gregory decided to check out the ball stretchers. The cute guy behind the counter got one out of the case for him and showed him to the back where he could try it on. Gregory unbuttoned and unfastened his overalls and hung them up on the wall hook. He tried several times to buckle the strap, but the hole was too far in. He couldn’t make it tight enough. After a few more minutes, the guy came back and asked him from outside the curtain,

“How’s it going?”

“It’s not,” Gregory replied. “I can’t get it buckled!”

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“Sure.”

The young man pulled back the curtain, came in, and closed it again. He kneeled down in front of Gregory and with trembling hands he attempted to buckle the leather strap. Gregory’s erection wasn’t helping the matter, but he couldn’t get it to fasten either. Then he stood up and said,

“I’ll be right back.”

When he did come back, he tried it again and it did buckle!

“What did you do?” Gregory asked.

“I made another hole.”

Gregory stood there admiring his new toy.

“Would you like to wear it home?”

Gregory nodded.

“Then I’ll see you out there,” said the young man as he gave Gregory one last appreciative look.

He removed his overalls from the hook, pulled them on, buttoned the buttons and fastened the clasps. They guy was still a little red, but Gregory paid, winked and smiled at him then waved as he left. It was thrilling to walk down the street wearing his new accoutrement.

*****

The next guy Gregory dated, he also met at Dignity. Frank was Gregory’s height and weight, but had dark wavy hair and a mustache. They went out to the movies and to dinner a few times. They even went to a dance club once. They slept together and then Gregory stayed over that night at his apartment. It wasn’t going anywhere, though, so he let Frank go. The next time Gregory saw him was at Gay Pride marching with the Radical Fairies. Wearing skirts and waving wands was not Gregory’s thing, but he was happy that Frank had found his.

But Gregory had left the monastery to find love, not one night stands or flings. He would have to put the fun aside for awhile and be more selective.

Susan and David

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 8 – A Life of Service vs. the Artist in Him

David’s sister drove him to the monastery on move in day. It was actually a few days earlier than everyone else was scheduled to move in, because his lease was up and he had to be out of his apartment. She wasn’t allowed to go into the cloister, so she drove him around back and helped him at least unpack her trunk. David was one of fifteen candidates that year. The biggest group they’d ever had. Not all fifteen men were expected to make it through to Novitiate and beyond, but David was sure going to try to be one of the ones who did.

There were only so many rooms in the postulant’s wing, so several of the new arrivals had to live upstairs on the second floor with the professed brothers and fathers. He was right next to an older man who would later become his best friend, Ray. Ray was quite a bit older than David with gray hair, a pretty good sized belly, and a heavy Long Island accent that David loved to mimic. Ray could laugh and tell a story like no other.

Everyone was thrown right into their new lives with a schedule of morning prayers and mass, breakfast, work, lunch, class, evening prayer, dinner, and then free time. The weekends were a little different. Everyone was expected to take a shift in the gift shop and serve a mass. The others were way ahead of David on the doing the latter. He had been a Catholic less than a year and had never served mass! Luckily for him, the priests were very patient with him.

Each postulant was assigned a job. David was assigned to the laundry with Bro. Samuel, who was a big man in both stature and presence. The laundry was kept in a separate building which was connected to the monastery by an underground tunnel that was used in the winter or by a door above ground. Each person who wanted their laundry done, put their clothes and sheets in a bag and set it outside their door. Either David or Bro. Samuel would come by with a cart and pick up the laundry bags. Each friar and candidate had a number on their bag, and they put that number on all their items to be washed. When they were washed and dried, they were folded and put in a numbered cubby for the person to pick up later or put back in the bag and dropped off at their door.

Laundry was only done once a week, though, so he worked with Bro. Samuel in the Taylor Shop, too. He helped repair clothes, mend socks and make habits for the friars to wear. He also worked with Bro. Louis who was a very muscular guy with a tan from working outside all the time. Bro. Louis asked David to paint the ceiling of the portico. It was supposed to be white, but had turned quite yellow over the decades. It took a couple of coats and David painted the portico ceiling until the paint froze in the can. Then he moved inside to paint the ceiling of the refectory. There always seemed to be something that needed painting, so he kept pretty busy that first year.

Classes were taught by some of the priests and were about the Holy Land and the history of the Custody, and about St. Francis and the Order of Friars Minor. David did pretty well in these classes despite his being at a distinct disadvantage. As it turned out, there was another candidate who was not raised as a Catholic either. Daren was a redheaded, freckle-faced guy who was brought up Mormon. David found this fascinating as he knew next to nothing about the Mormon faith at the time. David’s father had once gotten the family into the Mormon Temple in Kensington, Maryland before it was consecrated and “infidels” like him were no longer allowed in.

David would find out that friars liked to have fun, too. The Halloween costume contest was reputed to be a lot of fun. David and the other candidates tried their best to come up with something that would be good enough, but no one outdid Bro. Samuel, not even David. He made a tiger mask out of cardboard, pastels, pipe cleaners, and glitter. He would later give the mask to his good friend “Ella.”

One of the first postulants to leave was someone David was actually trying to help. David sat next to him in choir to keep him in tune. Unfortunately for David, he thought that made them friends. It wasn’t that David didn’t like him, it was just that Flynn thought David owed him his friendship. That should have been David’s first clue that it was going to be a difficult conversation. David tried to make him understand that friendship wasn’t demanded, it was earned. But Flynn wouldn’t accept that.

Christmas was a huge deal at the monastery. They went all out with the decorations and the flowers, especially poinsettias. People donated them in memory of loved ones. ­Christmas trees were set up, too. Midnight Mass was a really wonderful experience for David. It was his first there and he got to experience the beauty of the singing of the Christmas carols and the lighting of the candles. The friars didn’t exchange Christmas gifts, but they did celebrate Gaudeamus. David won the Gaudeamus gift that year. It was a figurine of the baby Jesus that was made in Italy and carried in the gift shop. He would always cherish that statuette and even made a special pillow for it to lie on.

1986 would be David’s second Lent and Easter. On Maundy Thursday, David got to watch Fr. John wash the feet of some of the Knights, some of the friars, and some of the people who came to the mass. On Good Friday, the life-size statue of Christ was taken by the Knights down from Calvary to the spot in front of the tomb and later taken inside. And then on Easter morning, the tomb was of course found empty.

*****

Every postulant chose a spiritual advisor and confessor from among the priests at the monastery or the local parish. He had chosen Fr. James because he seemed easy to talk to and indeed he was. Unfortunately, Fr. James started to pay a little too much attention to David. He was a slight man and David could tell that his hairline was receding a little faster than would have liked, because of the pains he took to conceal that fact with a comb-over. They were never supposed to meet in their rooms, but Fr. James came to David’s room one evening and sat down on the floor while David sat on his bed. He gazed up at David which made him feel very uncomfortable.

“I like you, David. I feel drawn to you. Do you feel it too?” Fr. James asked.

“Uh, I like you too, but I’m afraid I don’t feel anything more than that. I’m sorry.”

After Fr. James left his room, David went and talked to Fr. Daniel about the visit. He assured David that he would take care of it and advised him to find a new spiritual advisor as soon as possible. The next day, Fr. James avoided David like the plague. He felt badly about it, but knew it was for the best.

David had made a really good friend among the professed friars who didn’t want anything from him. Bro. Julian was a jolly, older friar who had worked in the Holy Land for many years. He was retired now and spent most of his day holding court in the lounge. He would sit in his chair (some called it his throne), drinking his ale, and smoking his cigars. David and some of the other postulants loved to hear stories of the old days in the Holy Land. Even though he was not English himself, he seemed to know a lot about the British monarchy, too. He could tell you who reigned as king or queen and from when to when. He was a font of amazing facts.

The postulants’ numbers dwindled as the year went on and they got closer to leaving for novitiate. Those who remained were packed into a van to go on retreat in Pennsylvania. This was their last chance to search their souls and make sure that they wanted to continue on the path to a life of service at the monastery and later the Holy Land. There was plenty of time to eat, pray, and reflect on the week long retreat. On one of his walks he had taken a pen and paper and made a sketch of the retreat house. He figured since he was so close to Pittsburgh, he’d take a few moments to call Sharon and tell her where he was and what he was doing. She was surprised, but supportive.

When they got back from Pennsylvania, the community had to vote on each postulant, hear from their work supervisors, and hear final recommendations. At last the final group was set; it would be David, Ray, Silvio, Gaz, Malcolm, and Adam (Dennis asked to attend novitiate in the Holy Land). The length of their stay was a tradition. It was to be a year and a day. They were to pack up their things, ship their boxes ahead, and take a train with their suitcases to Valparaiso, Indiana. They were all pretty excited, because it was a night train. Each man had his own room with a tiny bed and a sink. The only problem was that when the train was stopped there was no air conditioning and you couldn’t use the restroom. And it was stopped for two hours in the middle of the night in, Pittsburgh of all places, in August!

The sweaty and exhausted men arrived at the train station in Valparaiso the next afternoon. Matteo and Salvatore were there to meet them. They were about the same height, but that was where the similarity ended. Matteo was stocky and dark-haired with a full beard. Salvatore was fair haired, slim with a mustache. When David stepped onto the platform, Salvatore didn’t even recognize him. David had been eating three square meals a day for the past year and the last time Salvatore had seen him was when he came to stay for a weekend before applying for candidacy and weighed about 135 pounds. He was probably up to about 185 now and looked like a totally different guy.

The anxious group piled into the van for the ride back to the Shrine of the Seven Dolors. Each man was assigned a room and then went about exploring the church and grounds before dinner. Even though David and Salvatore had been corresponding over the past year and Ray had been writing to Matteo, it seemed only natural for them to switch and go off in different directions. There was a lot that David wanted to know about the shrine, the friars, their duties, etc. He was sure that Ray was asking Salvatore the same kinds of questions. They only had one more day before they had to return to the Franciscan Monastery, so David wanted to share as much quality time with these two guys as possible before they were separated by hundreds of miles.

Each of the new novices was given the opportunity to change their name. As there was already a plethora of Davids at the monastery, he chose the name Gregory Augustine. Gregory for Pope St. Gregory the Great, who was credited with inventing Gregorian chant and Augustine for the sinner turned Saint, who became a Doctor of the Church, and wrote City of God among other great works.

The shrine was dedicated to the seven dolors (sorrows) of Mary. The sorrows were: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus in the temple, Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary, Jesus dies on the cross, Mary receives the body of Jesus in her arms, and the body of Jesus is laid in the tomb. Each of the shrines and grottoes were made of a volcanic rock called tufa. It was a pretty cool place.

The friars who lived at the shrine were from the Polish province. There were two priests and a brother. Fr. Stanislas was very old and retired, but he still said his own private mass each day on the altar in the sacristy behind the main altar. Then there was Fr. John James, the Novice Master, and Bro. Mark who was in charge of everything else. The house had a cook for most nights, but the brothers were in charge of making at least one meal a week, so that she could have the day off. Her specialty was making perogies. She made traditional potato, but also made sauerkraut and even prune (Gregory’s favorite). One thing that Fr. Stanislas liked to eat, that Gregory couldn’t stand, was blood sausage, because it stunk up the whole house! There was one more person vital to the welfare of the house and that was the “Cookie Lady.” The friars called her that because she dropped off cookies at least once a week. She had trouble sleeping so she baked!

A few months after Gregory arrived, his Auntie drove from Michigan for a visit. He showed her around the Shrine and they had a nice talk. She wanted to make sure he was happy. He assured her that he was and that she needn’t worry. He told her that there were plenty of things for the novices to do at the shrine. They had community prayers twice a day, classes, manual labor, and they had a rotating schedule as servers at daily mass. Some of the friars also volunteered to teach catechism classes during the school year. But no one wanted to teach the high schoolers. Word was that the high schoolers didn’t want to be there either, so Gregory volunteered to teach them. He enjoyed teaching them, so when they wanted to have their own Christmas party, he said, “Okay.” As it turned out the Director of the program was not thrilled with him for doing that and let him know it, months later, in front of the whole group of teachers, religious and non-religious alike, at their end-of-year party. “No good deed goes unpunished Gregory,” he thought.

Gregory developed a particular devotion to the Infant of Prague after reading a book about it. The shrine church had a statue of the Infant Jesus in one of the side chapels, so he took to changing the statue’s vestments according to the season. The story of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague goes like this:

The Carmelite friary was plundered and the statue of the Infant of Prague was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar. Here it lay forgotten, its hands broken off, for seven years, until it was found again in 1637 by Father Cyrillus and placed in the church’s oratory. One day, while praying before the statue, Fr. Cyrillus claimed to have heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.” Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to go and honor the Holy Child. Claims of blessings, favors and miraculous healings have been made by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.

*****

Gregory’s sister, Susan, had told him that she was pregnant when he was back at the monastery. She was due in January, so he was anxiously awaiting news of the birth every day after the start of the New Year. Finally, he got the call. She had given birth to a baby boy. She was doing well and she would send pictures as soon as she could. Gregory congratulated her and her husband and told her that he loved them then hung up. He told everyone, who wasn’t in the room, the good news. He was one happy uncle!

Soon after Gregory arrived in Indiana, he read stories about St. Francis and other saints practicing mortification of the body. So he tried fasting and flagellation for his penances while there. His only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of his immortal soul, so he fashioned a cat-o’-nine-tails from cording. He added knots and small bits of wire. The tool did hurt, but it had an unwanted consequence. It gave Gregory pleasure as well as pain. That was not what he desired, so he gave up the practice after just a few weeks.

Morning meditation had a desirable consequence. He had another vision. He was sitting in his pew in the church with his eyes closed when he “saw” Christ on the cross. The rain started to wash His blood from His body, down the rocks and into the earth. Down through the earth it ran, red, until it flowed over the dead. As it did, it resurrected those dead bodies and as they climbed though the earth toward the surface, they began to look as they had in life. That’s when he opened his eyes. He hadn’t had a vision in a long time, but he was happy to have had another. He was sure he was still on the right path. When their prayers were finished, he went back to his room and wrote the vision down in his journal.

Fr. John James was into Faith Healing, so he took the novices to a couple of healing services. One was at a small gathering where the healers spoke in tongues. This was the one and only time he would be exposed to this supernatural language. On another occasion, he took them to a mass where each person went up and had hands laid on them. It was an interesting experience, but not one where Gregory felt anything out of the ordinary. A few people were slain in the spirit, though, so it was a good thing there were “catchers” to keep them from hurting themselves when they fell back.

The novices heard about an Eastern Orthodox Church in Chicago that had a weeping Madonna icon. They received permission to make a pilgrimage to see it. When they parked and made it to the church, they saw that there was a line, but they thought it would be worth the wait. They were dressed in their habits, so when they got inside they were asked if they’d like some of the tears to take home. Of course they said, “Yes.” Each novice was given a cotton ball that had soaked up tears from the icon of the Blessed Mother. Gregory cherished his new treasure.

Then soon enough their time in Indiana was coming to an end and there was another retreat to take before taking simple vows. The small group went to a retreat house in Wisconsin this time. It was run by a group of friars from yet another province. This was again a time to reflect on their decision to follow Christ as a Friar Minor. The brother who greeted them was a very large man with a round belly. He turned out to be the cook and he was obviously very good at his job!

After everyone settled in, they met for evening prayer and then had dinner. It was soup and homemade bread served at one great long table. The novices got to meet the other brothers at dinner and even one doing his retreat before solemn vows. His name was Bro. Bartholomew and he couldn’t have been more opposite from Gregory if he tried. Whereas Gregory was tall, he was short. Gregory was fair while Bart was dark. They did have one thing in common, though. They both loved to laugh. Bart had a great, big laugh actually; bigger than he was it seemed.

He and Gregory got along right from the start. They went on walks around the lake. They talked for hours on end about everything under the sun. And Bart was gay, too, so it was easy to talk to him. One evening, he and Bart were sitting on the bed talking and Bart was wearing a striped t-shirt. It reminded Gregory of Hobbes, the stuffed tiger from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, so he called him Hobbes just for laughs. Bart didn’t seem to mind and even called him Calvin in return. They both laughed at that. They looked at each other and something sparked. Bart leaned in and kissed Gregory. And he returned the kiss. They made love that night in Gregory’s room. It was slow and sweet and absolutely wonderful. Afterwards Gregory held the smaller man in his arms and asked,

“That was great, Bart, but do you think we’re bad friars for having had sex?”

“I don’t think God would consider what we did bad. No.”

“Would you do it differently if you had to do it over again? I mean, would you have kissed me?” Gregory asked needing all the reassurance he could get.

“Look at it this way, Greg. I’m taking a permanent vow of celibacy in a few days. This was probably my last chance to be close to someone.” Bart offered. “And I’m glad it was you.”

“Thanks! Yeah, you’re right. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, Hobbes.”

“Me either, Calvin, me either.”

Bart kissed him, got out of bed, put his clothes on, said goodnight, and went back to his room. The next night, Gregory came to Bart’s room to help him pack, having finished his own packing earlier in the day. When they were finished, Bart lay down on his bed and invited Gregory to join him for a cuddle. They hadn’t planned on doing anything more, but he and Gregory had sex again, one last hurrah. Afterwards, they said their goodnights and goodbyes with kisses. It would be the last time they ever saw each other. They would keep in touch for years, but eventually even that would stop. The fond memories would not go away, however.

The next morning, the guys were packed up and driving back to Valparaiso to start packing up their things for the trip back to DC. After each of them spoke with Fr. John James and he made his final recommendations, that is. Fr. John James recommended that all of the novices take their simple vows, which they did in a special ceremony before leaving for home. Fr. Kenneth even made a special trip to administer the vows on behalf of the Custody. There would be no train ride this time, though, they were going to fly home. Bro. Malcolm had called and gotten them a great deal on airfare and they were all happy to be closing this chapter in their lives!

*****

When the group got back, they were greeted by the friars and given their new room assignments upstairs. Gregory, already having roomed upstairs, was used to it. He was now down the hall and around the corner from his old room. This room was actually a little larger being an inside corner room. When you first walked in, the wardrobe was on the left, then the desk and a bookshelf. Straight ahead was the window. In the summer, the A/C window unit kept him cool and beneath it was a radiator to keep him warm in the winter; then the bed, the dresser and the sink, with a mirrored medicine cabinet above it, behind the door.  That was it. It was sparse, but he had all he needed. They were free to exchange furniture with spare rooms, but all Gregory wanted was an extra bookshelf for all of his books, because he dearly loved to read.

At first, the old brothers had trouble remembering to call them by their new religious names, but got the hang of it after awhile. Fr. Javier, the leader of the Hispanic community who worshipped at the monastery, had the most trouble. He had called Gregory David (only he pronounced it Day-bee) for a year, and was now having to call him something entirely different. It was very hard, but Gregory was patient with him.

Gregory had thought long and hard about what he wanted to do once he got back, so he asked the new Commissary, Fr. Matthew, if he could go to school. He knew that the Catholic University of America was within walking distance of the monastery and that they had a small art department. He didn’t think it would be hard to get in since he had already gone to art school and taken some community college courses. All he had to do was request transcripts and apply. Fr. Matthew said, “Yes.” And that was the beginning of his academic career at CUA.

He was able to transfer four of his classes from community college, two to the Philosophy department and two to the Religion department. He was also able to take care of some of the entry level Art classes with credits from art school. He was never very good at Math, so he enrolled in what he hoped was the easiest one. In addition to Math, Religion, Philosophy, and art, he took English, Anthropology, Sociology, Education, and Italian, because it was the official language of the Custody.

With his class schedule full, Gregory would only have time for one job in the house now. He chose to keep working with Bro. Samuel in the Tailor Shop. He also asked Bro. Louis if he could have a small section of the paint shop for times when he needed to stretch canvas or paint at home. The only regret he had about attending college was that he had less time to spend with Bro. Julian.

Julian asked Gregory to come to his room one afternoon. He knocked on the door when he got there and Julian opened it, inviting him in. He wanted to give Gregory something. It was a book on the architecture of New England where Julian had grown up. Over the course of many conversations, he must have remembered Gregory’s love of architecture. He said,

“I want you to have this,” as he handed Gregory the book.

“Thanks Julian, but what’s the occasion?”

“No occasion, I just wanted you to have it. And this,” he said as he handed Gregory a

brass sailboat.

“Thanks. Again,” David responded. Gregory left the room shaking his head and

wondering, “Wonder what that was all about.”

When Julian was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure a few weeks later, Gregory went to visit him every day, before or after class. At first, Julian was doing okay, but pretty soon he started going downhill fast. On one of Gregory’s earlier visits, Julian asked him something completely out of the blue.

“Gregory, do you think I’m being punished?”

“What are you talking about, Julian?”

“For drinking and smoking, am I being punished?” he asked again.

“Of course not, don’t even think like that!” David replied and took Julian’s hand in his.

The next time he visited the hospital, Julian didn’t even know who he was. This made Gregory very sad, because Julian was drowning in his own fluid and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. Then just like that, he was dead. Bro. Salvatore was Master of Ceremonies, so he asked Gregory to do one of the readings at his funeral mass. He was pretty proud that he made it through the entire reading without crying. He was going to miss his old friend very much.

It wasn’t too long after Julian’s funeral that Gregory was made Master of Ceremonies. And he was terrified! He wasn’t sure he could do it. His vow of obedience meant that he had to, but that didn’t mean he was going to like it. His first big test was Holy Week. The Knights almost dropped the statue of Christ, so Gregory thought it might be best not to have them carry it down the marble stairs that year. He could see that they were disappointed and he would regret that decision for years to come. It was a stressful week, but he somehow managed to survive it, but obedience would be the one vow he would have the most trouble with. He just wasn’t good at following orders even though he would continue to try.

In order to save some money on retreats at houses owned by other provinces, the monastery decided it was time to buy a pair of townhouses in Bethany. One house was “Mary” named after the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet, so it was the contemplative side. The other was “Martha” for the sister who did all the work while her sister sat at the Lord’s feet. They needed some decorations, pictures, etc. to finish them up. Gregory was asked to take care of it, but when the group got back and Bro. Caleb saw the bill he was not happy. Gregory assured him that he had only got what they absolutely needed and most of it had been on sale. After the good brother got a chance to see the houses, he came to Gregory and told him that he thought he had done a good job decorating them.

*****

Morning meditation was a time of quiet reflection and even though Gregory wasn’t a morning person he looked forward to it. It didn’t always turn out to be quiet though. A stomach could often be heard grumbling if a friar had forgotten to drink some water beforehand. Sometimes someone would fall asleep and start snoring. Bro. Albert had a hearing aid and sometimes he forgot to turn it down during meditation, so it would make a high-pitched squealing noise right in the middle of this supposed “quiet time.” He couldn’t hear it squealing though, so Fr. Matthew had to yell,

“Albert! Turn your hearing aid down!!!”

The friars had to try very hard not to snicker.

As Gregory passed the infirmary on the way to his room one afternoon, he noticed Fr. Matthew, an empty wheelchair, and someone lying on the floor about halfway down the hall. He dropped his backpack and asked Fr. Matthew what had happened.

“Angelus has fallen out of his wheelchair. Help me get him back in it.”

“Sure.” They tried to pick Angelus up off the floor, but it was proving difficult.

“Angelus, you have to help us. You’re deadweight!”

But he just lay there unable to help them. After some more struggling, they somehow managed to get him back in his chair and down to the solarium. It seemed he was none the worse for wear, but the same could not be said for Bro. Gregory and Fr. Matthew!

Most of the friars’ rooms didn’t have showers, so Gregory was used to walking down the hall to take a shower. As was said previously, he was not a morning person, so he never turned the light on in the bathroom. Fr. Miguel took his shower in the morning, also. Whenever he came into the bathroom and saw that the light was off, but heard the water running, he would ask,

“Gregory, is that you?”

“Yes,” he would answer.

“Why didn’t you turn the lights on?” Miguel would ask, as usual.

“Because I know where everything is,” Gregory would always answer.

*****

A production company came to the monastery and wanted to film a couple of scenes for a movie starring Dan Aykroyd, Gene Hackman, and Dom DeLuise. They asked a few of the friars if they would like to be extras in the film. Gregory and the others were to stand in the Lourdes Grotto and appear to be singing (they would add Gregorian chant later in postproduction). There was a lot of standing around, but each one of them was to be paid scale for the day. They would even be allowed to keep the money!

It was interesting to see just what went into making a movie. Gregory, who was always good at details, saw that one of the actors had a regular rosary instead of a Franciscan habit rosary. He made a comment to the prop master about it and was asked if they could borrow one of his. Gregory had made several, so he agreed. Lunch for the cast, crew, and friars was served in the Franciscan Hall. Mr. Hackman was nice enough to sit down and eat at the brothers table and Aaron (formerly Ray), being the most gregarious of the bunch, entertained him with stories all through the meal. At the end of production, Gregory was asked if they could buy the habit rosary from him, but as the rosary was blessed it could not be sold. The prop master told them that he would be sure to mail it back to Bro. Gregory once the movie was finished. The movie came out a good deal later and was titled “Loose Cannons.” It didn’t do very well at the box office and they even changed the ending shot at the gates of the monastery, but Gregory didn’t care. His back was in a movie for a whole second!

*****

Gregory’s sister, brother-in-law, and 11 month old nephew came to visit him at Christmastime. They met him in one of the parlors meant for visitors before you entered the cloister. Gregory was so happy to see them, especially his nephew, Timmy. Susan took him out of the stroller and handed him to his uncle. While Gregory was holding him on his lap, Timmy started making a grunting sound.

“Why is he making that sound?” David asked her.

“He‘s pooping,” she said laughingly.

“Here, then take him back!” he said, as he lifted him and tried to give Timmy back to his mother.

It was a sunny afternoon in 1988, when Gregory heard his bell page. He picked up the phone in the sacristy and when he was connected with the caller, it was his sister. She wanted to tell him something. She announced that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He asked her if she was okay. She assured him that she was, but that she had to walk with canes.

“Canes, plural?” he asked incredulously.

“Yeah, both of my feet are always numb, but I can get around better with two canes rather than one,” she responded.

“You sound like you’re okay with this,” he replied.

“Yeah, I guess I am.”

When they hung up, all he could do was think, “Wow, this is terrible news.” He went to ask Salvatore, who was a nurse, about MS. He gave Gregory something to read on it and even though he found that it was incurable, it was good to know that Susan’s getting around was a good sign for now. When he saw her that Christmas, he experienced it firsthand. She made it up the stairs, at his Dad’s house, slowly and with two canes. It was her son’s second Christmas and her mood could not be dampened even by a debilitating disease.

Gregory had to do some real soul searching. His sister had MS. How could he go to the Holy Land while she was so ill? What if she died while he was away? Would he ever be able to forgive himself? And what about his art, as a friar he was supposed to be drawing, painting, and sculpting religious themes, right? Where did his love of the human form and his nudes fit in? He was very conflicted, so he called Bart and asked him what he thought. Bart told him that he had to make that decision for himself, but that it sounded like he already had even if he didn’t know it yet.

*****

Matteo was the next friend he had to visit in the hospital. He knew that Matteo was HIV positive, but apparently one of his lungs had collapsed. When Gregory arrived, he was shocked by Matteo’s appearance. It was as though he had changed overnight. He could see every bone in his skull-like face. He was much thinner than he had ever seen him and he had tubes sticking out everywhere. Gregory sat down to visit with him and noticed that had considerable trouble breathing. He was so moved by Matteo’s appearance, that he used it as the inspiration for a relief sculpture in sculpture class. It was haunting and very personal and one of the best pieces he ever did in that class.

Matteo had told Gregory that there was a group called Dignity where gay Catholics went to worship openly together. Gregory took the Metro up to DuPont Circle and walked up the hill to the church, St. Margaret’s Episcopal, one Sunday evening. He didn’t know anyone there, but was greeted by a nice young man who was rather on the short side, balding, and a full beard. He introduced himself as Peter. After a moment’s hesitation, Gregory introduced himself. He hesitated because he wasn’t sure if it was actually “okay” for him to be there. Peter asked if he could stay after Mass for social hour he would be happy to introduce him to some of the guys. Gregory thanked him, then went inside and took a seat.

The Mass was full of wonderful singing and the homily was very good, not dry at all like they sometimes were. After the Mass was over, Peter found Gregory in the crowd and introduced him to some of his friends. It was easy to talk to these men and they were curious about where he lived and what he did for work. He deliberately didn’t tell them what he was, while still telling them the truth; he was a student, in the Art department, at Catholic U. On his way back to the monastery, Gregory was sure that he wanted to come back again next week.

Now he was more torn that ever. Should he stay in the Order? It would be easy enough to do that. Or was there another path that he was supposed to follow? What about all the time and money the friars had invested in him? Didn’t he owe it to himself to find out what he really wanted, though? This wasn’t a crisis of faith; it was a crisis of vocation. And now he had more questions than he had answers. He really needed to talk to his spiritual advisor.

After the whole Fr. James debacle, he had been going to see a priest in another community, but still within walking distance of the monastery. He met with Fr. Anthony and told him the situation. Fr. Anthony was supportive of Gregory’s conundrum, but he reminded Gregory that nothing had to be decided right away. He advised him to give it some time and check back with him. Gregory made his confession, was absolved, and given his penance. He thanked Fr. Anthony and left. “Nothing needs to be decided yet,” he repeated to himself all the way home. “I have time.”

*****

Gregory had long ago made his choice of majors, Studio Art. But he could choose a minor as well, an area of study that also interested him but didn’t require as many credit hours. He chose Religion as his minor. It made sense. He was a “Religious” and he had to take religion classes anyway, so why not? Gregory’s name was submitted by the head of the Art department for the Magi scholarship through the Religion department. Religion majors always won, so he wasn’t too confident. It would take care of half his tuition if he did win. When he received the letter that had indeed won, he was overjoyed. It would help the monastery and he would be the first recipient ever from the Art department. He even had a chance to meet the donor on one occasion.

There was another area that interested him, though, Anthropology. He loved the study of Archeology. The class even went on an archeological dig! It was so fascinating to him: the ancient relics, architecture, and cultures. He just thought it would be great to take a few more classes and minor in that as well. He was now the opposite of his high school self. He was focused, he studied, and he attended class. He was determined to do his very best. He wanted to be able to present good reports to the Commissary, but more importantly he wanted to be proud of himself.

Perry was living and working in San Francisco, so Gregory decided to visit him for his vacation that year. Perry was living in Marin County and working in the East Bay. Gregory stayed with him and slept on the sleep-sofa in the living room. He watched MTV while Perry was at work, something he couldn’t do back at the monastery. Perry drove him to the top of Mount Tam, over to Pier 39, down Lombard Street, and for sushi. Gregory had to admit that once he tried sushi, he liked it and it would become one of his favorite things to eat. On his way back to DC, he stopped in Detroit to visit his Auntie. When he got home, Bro. Caleb was not happy. Apparently, he was only allowed to make one stop not two, but Gregory didn’t know that. All he could do was promise not to do it again.

That same year San Francisco was rocked by a 6.9 earthquake. It was impossible to get ahold of Perry afterwards. The bridge that Perry took over the bay each day collapsed. Days later Gregory learned that the building where Perry worked was hit badly, people panicked, and that he had helped one of the secretaries that had fallen and other people had stepped over in order to get out. He was glad to hear that his brother had survived and had helped someone out, too.

With his background in Graphic Art, Gregory was asked to take over the Crusader Magazine. It was a publication that the monastery put out highlighting pilgrimages to the Holy Land, good works, the Knights of Mt. St. Sepulchre, and the friars both at home and abroad. Gregory really enjoyed pulling the articles and photos together, designing the layout, and even drawing a picture of St. Francis for the vocational ad. It was a really rewarding endeavor and he was happy to help out with it.

The days and months passed by so quickly that soon enough it was the New Year and Gregory was about to turn 30. He had been attending services at Dignity every Sunday evening for the past few months. He had made some really close friends and he had come out to them as a Religious. They were very supportive of his situation and sometimes drove him home after church. Blaise took a particular interest in Gregory, but he made sure that the nice young man knew that he was not available due to his vow of chastity. It did make Gregory wonder if he really wanted a relationship, though. Was this life enough for him or did he want to fall in love and settle down? He had a difficult decision to make. One that would either keep him on the path he had been on for four years or start him on a new one; one that was a mystery, a new adventure. Which one to choose? He made up his mind and then made an appointment with Fr. Matthew.

Fr. Matthew was an imposing figure. He was tall and wide and his voice was always rather gruff, even if he didn’t mean for it to be. His eyes seemed like they could look right through you. Gregory knocked on the door and Fr. Matthew told him to,

“Come in. Have a seat.” He got up from his desk and gestured toward the chairs by the window.

“Thank you for seeing me Father.” They sat down in chairs opposite each other.

“What can I do for you today, Gregory?”

“I have been praying about this long and hard for months now and I have finally come to a decision.” Fr. Matthew didn’t interrupt. He continued to give Gregory his undivided attention.

“I would really like to fall in love and have a relationship. I can’t do that here. I’m sorry.” Gregory couldn’t help but look down.

“Don’t apologize, Gregory. This life isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to make this kind of sacrifice. You’ve always been an exemplary friar. You’ve given it your best and it didn’t turn out to be God’s path for you. You need to find your own way now.”

“Thank you for understanding,” Gregory said relieved.

“When would you like to leave?” Fr. Matthew asked.

“Spring Break would be the best time, I think. I have a week off from classes and should be able to find a place to live by then.”

“Well, let me know what we can do to make the transition easier for you.”

“I will,” said Gregory. “Thank you.”

“Oh, before I forget. Would you like to let your vows run out in September or ask to be released from them by the Custos?” Fr. Matthew asked.

“I hadn’t thought about it, but if it isn’t too much trouble, could you ask the Custos to release me?”

“I can do that. God bless you, Bro. Gregory.”

“God bless you, too, Father,” and he left the Commissary’s office.

He needed to tell some people that he was leaving. Salvatore and Aaron were the most important ones. He told Salvatore first. He took it rather well. He told Bro. Samuel alone; he gave Gregory a great big, bear hug, and wished him all the best. He told Fr. Daniel and Fr. Kenneth, too. It was proving more difficult to tell Aaron than he could have imagined. A few days before he was set to leave, he finally told his best friend.

“I have some difficult news that I have to share with you.”

“What is it?” Aaron asked.

“I’ve decided to leave the monastery. Wait, “he held up his hand as Aaron was about to interrupt him, “I’ve given this a lot of thought. It would be really easy for me to stay, but I would be living a lie. I want to fall in love. I want to find someone to settle down and grow old with. I need that. Can you forgive me?”

“There’s nothing to forgive! You’re my friend and I want only what’s best for you. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wanted you to stay, but I want you to be happy.”

They both cried. Gregory was still going to be attending CUA and he assured them all that he would come to visit often. He was going to miss them very much. He also had to tell his friends at Dignity. Hopefully, they would have some ideas about possible places to live and maybe even jobs.

When he told Peter and Blaise that he was leaving the monastery, they told him not to worry. They would ask around and find him a place to live. The following week, Thom came up to Gregory after mass and told him that he had an extra room and would be happy to rent it to him. He was a very tall impressive-looking man with a gentle smile and his house was within walking distance of the Metro, so it would be easy for him to make it to classes, no problem. Gregory thanked him and told him that he would find a job as soon as possible. Thom told him not to worry about it, he had faith in him.

the artist

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Sunday’s Child: Chapter 7 – New Beginnings

After David was settled into his new place, he decided to go back to school at night. He found a couple of courses that interested him including creative writing and Thanatology. Thanatology was a class on the philosophy of death and dying that they offered. He would combine both courses to write stories and therefore deal with the unresolved issues he still had over his mother’s recent demise. He also took the Bible as Literature, because he liked the professor.

He also decided now that his mom was gone that he should change his name back to his father’s last name. He had changed it in order to separate himself from the man, but now that he was back in Virginia, he really didn’t have any reason to keep the new one. And besides, his brother and sister had their father’s surname, so he might as well.

While at work one particularly stressful day, David experienced chest pains and then his arm went numb. He went to his doctor who diagnosed it as a panic attack. But his blood pressure was hard to read, so he was referred to a heart specialist. It turned out that he had mild mitral valve prolapse with occasional nodal contractions. After what happened to his mother, he decided to quit the stressful world of advertising and take a trip to visit his great aunt in Oklahoma for a couple of weeks (after that he wanted to visit his sponsor child in Brazil). His friends and coworkers threw him a combined quitting/going away party. There was a cake and music and dancing. Since he was leaving, he decided to ask Marie, the nice lady in accounting, to dance with him. He admitted that he had a crush on her for quite some time. She was more than a little shocked, but he just smiled.

He made arrangements for his friend, Patti, to take care of Dawn while he was in Oklahoma. Then he packed up the new car he purchased with some of his mom’s insurance money and headed off on his first adventure. He made a stop just outside Knoxville, Tennessee to visit and spend the night with his boyhood friend Darrel and his folks. David and his family had spent some of the most wonderful summers of his life in the Great Smokey Mountains with them. They had a cabin at Kinzel Springs on the Little Pigeon River, so they had spent their days tubing down the river, taking baths in the river, hiking, crossing the old swinging bridge, and shopping in Gatlinburg.

He arrived late in the evening, but managed to stay awake long enough to eat a little dinner, share family news, and hear all about them, too. He slept upstairs in the attic with Darrel. It felt kind of like an episode of the Waltons, but it was good to crawl into a nice warm bed.

In the morning, his first stop was the outhouse (they had running water indoors, but not a working toilet), then he sat down to a hearty breakfast before a quick tour of the farm. The house was old but in surprisingly good condition. It was the typical white clapboard siding farmhouse with a big front porch. It was a small working farm. There was a barn and several out buildings. Darrel showed him his horse and the calves they were fattening up for veal and of course David felt sorry for the poor little things. Living their whole short lives in small pens fed nothing but grain, all for the dining pleasure of others.

After the tour, he told Darrel he needed to get back on the road if he wanted to make it to the motel in Arkansas by nightfall. He said his “goodbyes” and assured them he would stop by again on the way home in a week. He drove straight through to Nashville, just as planned, and stopped at the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’d always wanted to see Dolly Parton’s “coat of many colors.” Then he was back on the road, driving straight through to the motel. It wasn’t a bad motel, but he didn’t plan on stopping there again on his way back.

He made good time the next day, but stopped in Hartshorne to get some flowers for his great aunt Myrtle. This would be the first time either one of them had seen each other since he was a child. They had been corresponding for years and David had to admit that he loved getting her letters. They were like coded messages that needed to be deciphered, because she only had a second grade education and used no punctuation or capitalization. After picking out a nice bouquet, he got back on the road.

He missed the sign off the highway to Gowen. It was indeed small and easy to miss, just as aunt Myrtle had said it was. He turned around and drove into the small town. It looked kind of deserted. She would later explain that when the coal mine had played out, a lot of people just left. He saw what could only have been the old school house on the left and the old general store on the right. The post office was the size of a small shed with a porch on it. There were five roads off the main, like fingers on a hand. He took the index finger and found her house, next to the last, at the end of the road, across from the shale dump.

She came out onto the porch to meet him. She was a little bit older than the last picture he saw of her, but still much as he’d expected. He handed her the bouquet of flowers,

“These are for you.” He could tell that she was tickled to get them.

“They’re beautiful! Take a picture of me with ’em, will ya?” she asked.

He promised to send her a copy. The house was just as it looked in old photos, small, white with green shutters, two front doors and a covered porch. He had been told by his mother, when he asked her about it, that in the old days, before indoor plumbing, you went out the bedroom door to go to the outhouse so as not to wake the whole house in the middle of the night.

She showed him around which didn’t take long because it was only a four room house. Inside the front door and to the right was the living room and beyond it the kitchen and bathroom (which had been the second bedroom before being converted). She had an indoor toilet. “Yay!” he thought. The bedroom was in the front, opposite the living room. He hadn’t noticed when he first arrived, but half the house was actually lower than the other half. You had to walk up an incline to get into the bedroom and the bathroom. He guessed it must have settled over the years and she was just used to it being that way.

She asked if he was hungry and without really waiting for an answer, she moved into the kitchen to prepare some Spam and home fries. She told him to put his things in her room; that she would sleep on the pull-out sofa bed. As much as he protested, she would have none of it. So he resigned himself to putting her out even though she insisted he was not. They sat down to a nice little meal, greasy but nice, at her kitchen table. She asked,

“Would you like to call home and tell your brother and sister that you arrived safely?”

“Sure, thanks,” David replied.

But when he picked up the receiver from the phone on the wall, he could hear someone already talking! She told him,

“I’m on a party line, Honey. That’s probably Miss Ada. You’ll have to try again later.”

Of course, he let her explain the concept of a party line to him even though he had seen it once in an old TV show.

After breakfast the next morning, they were off to take a tour of the places where David’s mother and father had grown up. Their first stop, however, was the cemetery where his father’s brothers were buried. Jimmie had died as a baby and Charlie had died hopping a freight train with his father when they were going to look for work. She pointed out many more long dead relatives of his and he took fastidious notes to share with his siblings when he returned home.  They finished up that day’s excursion with a visit to the café that his grandmother had owned and ran after she kicked his grandfather out for trying to kill her and their children. When they got back, David tried to call his sister again and was able to get through this time because there was no one else on the line.

The next day they took a drive to another cemetery to visit the graves on his mother’s side of the family. He took photos and notes there as well. Then she took him to meet his aunts, his father’s half-sisters, the ones he had never met before. He took more photos and afterwards, they went to see his Great-Aunt Sylvia. When they got to her house, she was hanging clothes on the line wearing nothing, but her bra and a skirt. His Aunt Myrtle ignored it, so he did too. When they got inside, they all sat down at the kitchen table and she shared stories with David, too. Even on the way back to Aunt Myrtle’s house, they didn’t talk about the elephant in the car. All in all it was a great family day.

The following day was Sunday, so he drove her to church. It was a small one, only twenty-nine members and she was related to most of them! David was treated like a minor celebrity. As it turned out, she had told anyone who would listen that he was coming from Virginia to visit. He was happy to meet everyone making sure they knew it was his privilege to be visiting her! In the evenings, they sat at the kitchen table and she told him stories of all his relatives and ancestors; ones he had never heard before. He made sure to write them all down so he could retell them faithfully.

He had to leave on Monday. He wanted to visit the Choctaw museum (to honor his Native American heritage) and then head to Texas to visit the graves of his great uncle George and great aunt Lela. So he gave his great aunt a hug and a kiss, thanked her for her hospitality and told her to keep writing to him. She did just that until she got dementia and had to be put in a home, because she and could no longer take care of herself.

The museum was wonderful and he picked up a handmade Native American doll to bring back to Patti for taking care of his cat while he was away. Then it was off to Dangerfield, Texas. He didn’t actually know where his aunt and uncle were buried, so he stopped in to the local government center and as luck would have it, the woman behind the counter was a “kissing” cousin on his great uncle’s side! She gave him directions to the cemetery and he paid his respects to the aunt and uncle who had been like grandparents to him growing up.

He drove straight through Arkansas to Mississippi. It was very late when he crossed the state line, but he managed to find a hotel that had a vacancy. It was a nice enough place, but he hardly noticed because he was so tired! In the morning, he drove to Itta Bena to visit his great aunt Ethel’s grave. He knew it was near a tree, but that was all. So he started walking. He had no idea where in the vast cemetery it was as he had only seen it in photographs, but something drew him right to it. Afterwards, he went to visit his uncle Sam (his late Aunt Ethel’s husband), but he wasn’t home, so he proceeded on his way back to Virginia by way of Tennessee.

When he arrived back at the farm, he was greeted warmly once again and asked about his trip to his parents’ birthplace. He told them about all the people he met, but especially about his great aunt Myrtle. After dinner, Darrel’s mom took David aside,

“You know you’re mom was my best friend. I took it real hard when I heard she passed. It’s been hard on me living so far away from her.”

David just let her talk, because it seemed like she needed to say those things. But more importantly it was nice to hear someone who cared so deeply for his mother praise her like that. And of course, Billie had meant the world to him, too.

The next morning he was supposed to drive back, but he wasn’t feeling well. In fact, he barely made it to the outhouse to throw up! As it turns out, they drank milk straight from the cow and David’s stomach couldn’t handle it. So he was forced to stay another day and night. By the next day, though, he was feeling well enough to get back on the road. It was a long drive, but he made it by dark. And when he got upstairs and into his apartment his little friend was waiting anxiously to greet him. Once he had unpacked, he called everyone and told them he was back. Then he made arrangements to get together with his brother and sister later in the week to tell them what he had learned about their family.

*****

A few months later it was time for his big trip to Brazil! He was going to spend two weeks there. Unfortunately, he left on Election Day so he wouldn’t know whether Mondale and Ferraro won or Reagan and Bush did until he saw the photo in the Brazilian paper. He was to land in Rio de Janeiro (literally River of January), then transfer to a smaller plane for the flight to Belo Horizonte (which means Beautiful Horizon). At the airport, he was met by the guide and introduced to the other gentleman visiting his own sponsor child. They were driven to their hotel and then taken out to dinner.

The next day they visited the community center, met their sponsor children, and their interpreter. They were treated like honored guests and a show was put on for them by the children. They ate lunch and enjoyed themselves immensely. The next day they spent time with their individual families. They got to visit the children’s homes and see how they lived.

David’s sponsor child’s name was Cintia (pronounced Seen-chuh). She had a younger brother and younger sister. The family lived in a rented two bedroom house. It was well-maintained and small, but very clean. While David was there, neighbors came to visit. No doubt to see the “American.” Cintia’s mother served flan to everyone and David had to admit it was the best he’d ever eaten. He had brought dolls for Cintia and her sister, and a toy car for her brother.

The next day they took a trip to the zoo. Their zoo was a little different from the National Zoo in DC; no lush green trees and shrubs there, just a lot of dirt. The kids didn’t seem to mind, though, so David didn’t either. They saw many animals including an albino python and Cintia’s favorite animal an elephant. David bought an elephant carved out of stone as a memento.

The Pampulha Art Museum was next where David saw a sculpture that was of particular interest to him. It was both beautiful and disturbing at the same time. It was a group of heads. Each one was perched on a long thin neck and looking up. Each face was twisted in agony and its mouth was wide open in a silent scream. It mesmerized him and Zezé had to touch his arm in order to shake him out of his trance, so that the group could keep to their schedule.

From there they went to a local church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, built in 1943, but not consecrated until 1959. The church was known as Igreja de São Francisco de Asis and it was an absolute work of art! He noticed something interesting while there. The mother of the other sponsor child put money in the poor box even though she, herself, was poor. It would be repeated over and over again. That small gesture touched his heart so deeply that he started doing it too.

Ouro Preto was the next day’s adventure. It is called the city of churches. Everywhere you look is a church. Most are in the Rococo style and just beautiful. He learned that the city had much gold in colonial times and in order to keep from sending it to the crown in the form of taxes, they spent it on decorating the churches of the city. And because the Catholic Church had great influence at the time, the gold was not confiscated. Rich people and those with great influence were buried in the floors of the church. The less money you had the further away from the center of the church you were buried. The poorest people were buried in vertical mausoleums outside the city and when the time came (i.e. the money they paid as “rent” ran out), their remains were removed and replaced with someone else’s.

The trip to Ouro Preto was not without incident. On the way up the hill, the party noticed that there were children on the hill above the roadway. They were throwing something at the cars below. Before they realized what the objects were, a rock came in the open window and hit David in the leg, barely missing the baby sleeping in her mother’s arms next to him. It was the guide’s daughter.

“I am so sorry that happened!” the guide said apologizing. But David said,

”No it’s okay. I’m just glad it hit me and not the baby!”

Then the VW van they were riding in got a flat tire. But the driver didn’t have a spare with him. Good thing he had a radio and called back to the garage for someone to bring them a new tire. While they were waiting, they realized they had a great view of the city below. It was breathtaking! There was practically a church on every corner and every hill. Their guide had thought to bring lunch for everyone, including the driver, so some of them sat in the van while the rest sat down on the side of the road and ate. The tire arrived soon enough and they were back on their way.

When they arrived, they picked the Church of St. Francis of Assisi to visit first. David wasn’t Catholic, yet he found these churches beautiful, spiritual places where you could actually feel, through your skin, the holiness and sanctity of the space. He had been brought up Southern Baptist with no stained glass windows, no crucifixes, no images of any kind, and definitely no saints! But he found himself drawn inexplicably to these places of worship and their sacred images.

While they were walking through the city, Cintia stopped at an open window and asked the woman inside for something. A few moments later the woman appeared back at the window with cold purified water for everyone. David was surprised by the whole thing. First, that a little girl would ask a complete stranger for water and second, that the woman would then give the group of strangers cold filtered water. It was amazing to him. Ouro Preto was the place he first felt his guardian angel’s presence.

The next trip planned was to a local cave and archeological dig. David had been spelunking many times as a Boy Scout, so going into caves was nothing new to him. This one was dark and dank and it went deep into the earth, but he could tell Cintia and the other girl were not so sure about going in there. So David squatted in front of them and with his best “it’s gonna be okay” smile on his face, he looked at them both reassuringly. They both seemed to understand and looked up at their respective mothers and nodded. Zezé, the interpreter, just looked at him and said,

“How did you do that?”

David replied, “I just remembered how scared I was the first time I went into a cave and then how much I liked it afterwards. That’s all.” He decided not to tell her that he had often encountered rats, snakes, and bats in the caves back home.

“Amazing! Thanks.”

“No problem. Shall we?” David asked as he motioned toward the mouth of the cave.

They all had a great time looking at the cave paintings and when they came back out, they noticed that there were fossils for sale. David knew his brother, Perry, would love to have one, but he decided to wait.

As his time in Belo Horizonte was drawing to a close, they had one more trip planned, to the Parque Municipal Américo Renné Giannetti. It was a beautiful! There were rides, beautiful birds, and a flower market. When it was time to go, David bought Cintia’s mom a bouquet of flowers and presented them to her saying a phrase he had memorized,

“Obrigado por tudo.”

Her reply was, “Obrigado para patrocinar Cintia e por ter vindo visitar. Esta é uma experiência que ela vai se lembrar para o resto de sua vida.”  Zezé told him it meant, “Thanks for sponsoring Cintia and for coming to visit. This is an experience she will remember for the rest of her life.”

David said, “De nada. O prazer é meu,” which was the other phrase he knew.

David gave them both hugs and watched them walk away. He and Zezé sat down at the outdoor café and ordered some Guaraná. It was a soft drink that David had gotten used to drinking while he was in Brazil. He didn’t know at the time that it was an energy drink, he just liked the taste. When they were finished, David hugged Zezé, thanked her and then got in a cab. She told the driver which hotel to take him to and he drove away from the last person he knew from part one of his Brazilian adventure.

The next day he took a plane back to Rio. He was scheduled to spend a few days there before flying back to the states. He checked into his hotel, a really nice one located right on São Conrado beach. He had a view of Christ the Redeemer from his balcony. He woke up to that view every morning and went to sleep to it every night. The sight of the favellas (the shanties) built all the way up the side of the mountain, below the statue of Jesus, the juxtaposition of the wealth of the hotels on the beach against the slums at Jesus’ feet, would have a profound effect on him for years to come.

There was a trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain on the first full day back. It was a beautiful, clear day and the sight of the mountain was incredible. It seemed to rise straight up out of the ocean. You had to take two cable cars to get to it. The views both going over and coming back were amazing! And when you got back, they had a plate with your photo on it ready for you to buy as a souvenir. Since it was already made, he decided to go ahead and buy it.

On the second day, he took a bus tour through the rain forest to the top of Corcovado Hill. On the way up, they stopped to see a waterfall and it felt like it was raining. It was actually just so humid in there that the water falling off the leaves, where it pooled, made it feel like it was raining. Before he was ready, they were being told to re-board. And once they reached the top and the bus was parked, all the sightseers disembarked to get a better look at the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

When David looked up, he noticed that he couldn’t actually see the top of the statue. A cloud had descended over his head and shoulders. It was a little disappointing to have come this far, to be this close, and still not be able to see him! But David got over it pretty quickly, because there was nothing he could do about it… Mother Nature and all that. Before he knew it, it was time to board the bus again for the trip back down the mountain.

When David got back to the hotel, he wanted to do some shopping for souvenirs to take back to friends and family. They had a really nice little gift shop right in the hotel lobby. He went in and immediately struck up a friendship with the salesgirl. He had a list of people to buy for which made it easier. While he shopped, he would talk to her and she would practice her English and ask for him to correct her when she made mistakes. He ended up stopping in several times a day just to talk to her.

That evening, David thought a steam sounded like a good idea. He presented his room key to the attendant and he wrote down the number, gave David a towel and directed him into the locker room. He stripped and put his clothes in the locker. He didn’t need a lock because of the attendants. He walked into the steam room, climbed up to the top tier and sat down on his towel. There was another guy in there, slim build, dark hair. And he was shaving with no water, no mirror, and no shave cream! He tried not to look, but it was fascinating. When he left another guy came in. This one was big, burly, and had a hairy chest.

When that guy left, David thought he’d sweated enough, so he got up to leave, too, but when he stepped off the last tier and put his foot down on the floor, it slipped out from under him and he fell flat on his ass! The attendant and another man came running. They helped him up, through the door, and back into the locker room, helping him sit down on the bench. But that hurt and the big guy could tell, so he helped David back up and into the massage room.

David was pretty sure that a massage was going to be extra, so he tried in vain to get the message across to the nice man that he didn’t have any extra money with him. The man was well-muscled and incredibly handsome and he seemed to finally understand and indicated to David that it was no charge. He helped David onto the table and had him lie on his stomach. He didn’t give David a full body massage, both sides, but he did try to make the affected area feel better. Maybe he was just being nice. Maybe he was hoping David wouldn’t sue the hotel. He didn’t know. He just knew that it felt good and was trying very hard not to get hard, but it didn’t work. When the nice man was finished, David was hesitant to get up due to his state of arousal. The guy was nice about it though. He offered David a towel and looked away while David got up. He thanked the man and went back into the locker room relieved that he hadn’t embarrassed himself too much!

The next day was free. It was a beautiful day, so he decided to go shopping for something for himself. He went outside the hotel, found a small shop and picked out a sweater, because it was Fall back home, and an album of Portuguese music. Then he had lunch in the little café in the hotel. It was easy to order from the menu and the food was good. When he finished the last of his lunch and his Fanta, he took a walk on the beach. While he was walking south, he noticed the hang gliders floating lazily from the top of São Conrado Mountain. He was fascinated by the sight of multiple “birds” gliding in loops and circles on the thermal updraft. While he was standing there, a young woman in a bikini came up to David and asked him something he didn’t understand. He replied,

“Não Português. Inglês.”

“Não?” She asked. He was pretty sure she was interested in him, but since he had no idea how to say, “Wrong tree… I’m gay,” he shook his head and replied,

“Não, ” and walked back towards his hotel.

He went to the front desk, introduced himself, and asked if the cute desk clerk could recommend a place to go dancing. He thought Rafael was gay, but didn’t know for sure. Rafael asked David if he didn’t mind company, he could take him to some clubs that night. That was a pretty good indicator, so David smiled and said,

“That would be great. Do you want to come to my room when you get off duty?”

“I can’t. It’s against the rules.”

“No problem. Meet you here then?”

Rafael nodded. David gave Rafael his most alluring smile and went upstairs to take a nap.

When it was time to meet Rafael, he grabbed his coat and headed for the elevator. They met in the lobby. He told David they were going to take the bus to the club, but that David should remove his rings, necklace, and watch and put them in his pocket. He explained that anyone wearing jewelry was just asking to be mugged, so David did as he suggested.

Their first stop was a club on Ipanema Beach. David paid the cover charge for the two of them. It was a nice place, it had good music, and they danced. But Rafael could tell he wasn’t really into it, so they went to another place. It was okay, too, but he asked David if he’d like to go to one more place. David said, “Sure.”

Once David figured out that Rafael was taking him to a hotel that rented rooms by the hour his mood changed drastically. They walked up a flight of stairs to an open window. A man came to the window and they spoke to each other. Rafael told David how much the room was and David handed the cruzeiros over to the man and he handed David the key. Rafael said they had the room for the next hour.

Rafael reached for David’s hand as they climbed the stairs together. The room was easy to find. David was more than a little nervous when he slipped the key in the lock and opened the door. The room was clean and the bed was a good size. Rafe started to undress when David stopped him. He wanted to do it for him. He unbuttoned Rafe’s shirt, then slipped it over his shoulders. He liked the curly black hair on his slim, but well defined chest. He proceeded to undo his belt and then unbutton and unzip his pants. He had him sit down on the bed so he could slip Rafe’s shoes off one at a time and was then able to pull each pants leg over his muscular calves. That just left his boxers. David hadn’t expected that. He thought tight little bikini briefs would have suited him better, but he didn’t care. He thought they were actually kind of sexy.

David knew he should still have been nervous, but he wasn’t. Rafael seemed to put him at ease for some unknown reason. Now it was Rafe’s turn. He did the same to David. When they were both standing there, facing each other, in nothing but their underwear, as if by mutual agreement they came together in a kiss. It was tentative at first and then more passionate. Each one could tell the other felt the same heat. They rubbed their erections together while their lips made love. But neither one could take the suspense anymore, so they fell into bed, each removing the other’s last bit of clothing. Hands explored skin and hair. Lips and tongues explored more than just mouths. Discoveries were made and new territories were conquered. Climaxes were reached and heated passion gave way to warm caresses and tender words.

David moved to get a towel to clean them up, but Rafe offered. Once they were more or less dry, he asked Rafe about his life here. And Rafe asked David about his life in the states.

“My mom died a few months ago, so I quit my job and traveled here.”

“Why? What brought you here?” Rafe asked.

“I sponsor a little girl and I wanted to meet her, meet her family, see where she lived,” David explained.

“Does she live here in Rio?”

“No, Belo Horizonte.”

“Oh. I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s quite beautiful,” Rafe remarked.

“It is actually.”

“What will you do when you go back?” Rafe asked. He seemed genuinely interested.

“Get a job, I guess.” David answered.

“What do you like to do?” David thought that was a funny question, but he didn’t laugh. He didn’t recall anyone ever asking him that before.

“I like graphic art. Do you know what that is?” Rafe shook his head, so David explained. They were still talking, holding onto each other loosely, when they realized at the same time that maybe they had been in the room for more than an hour. When David checked his watch, they were right. They had been there almost two! They got dressed quickly and just before they got to the door, David pulled him into an embrace and kissed him one last time. They decided to leave the key in the room, so they wouldn’t have to turn it in. They snuck past the brightly lit window and down the stairs, laughing once they reached the safety of the street.

Rafael rode the bus with David back to the hotel. He wanted to make sure he got back safely. They said their goodbyes and thank yous. David went inside; Rafael went in the opposite direction. He saw Rafael again the next day, working behind the front desk. He slipped Rafe his number in the states and was treated to that heart-warming smile one last time. He waved and then left for the airport. Rafe did call him once, after he got home. It was nice to hear from him again. Each one updated the other on what had been going on since they last saw one another. He remembered the lovely man fondly; the man with the handsome face, the beautiful brown eyes with flecks of green in them, the curly black hair, and the amazingly gentle smile. He would remember that trip for the rest of his days. It was a life changer.

The flight out of Rio was not without incident. It was postponed once and then again due to mechanical problems. Finally, at two o’clock in the morning they were allowed to board, but even before they took off, things were still not quite right. Panels opening spontaneously did not make David feel at ease. Luckily, the flight over the ocean was uneventful and he landed in Florida safely. Unfortunately, Bill had no way of knowing when he was arriving due to the later departure and the fact that David had forgotten to tell him which airlines he was coming in on!

Bill being the smart guy that he was deduced the correct airline, arrival time, and was there to meet David and take him back to their place. They even had some naked time in the hot tub before driving to Key West. David had never been there, so it was a real treat to see the sunset over the water on the East Coast. People gathered together to witness the sight each and every night. All too soon, it was time for him to head back home. And it would be the last time he would ever see Bill.

*****

About a week after he got home from Brazil, David was lying on his bed listening to Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead when something very strange happened. His eyes were closed but he could see an unusual scene in front of him. Everything was black, blue, and grey. There was a paved blue marble walkway in front of him with a building at the end. It looked like a church or a mausoleum of some kind and it was in the Baroque style. He started walking toward it when he noticed a bench to his right, very close to the building. There was a figure sitting on the bench and the closer he got, the better he could see that the figure was a woman. The woman was dressed very much like the Madonna from the Pietà and she was holding something. He thought it might be a baby wrapped in a blanket. Soon enough he was standing in front of her. He leaned in to look at the baby, but what he saw was a face twisted in anguish, mouth open in a silent scream. But the face changed to another horrible one and then another. He opened his eyes and it was gone. He wrote it all down in his journal even though he knew he would never forget the vision as long as he lived, because those faces were the very same ones he saw in Brazil at the art museum.

A few weeks later, David was lying on his bed again, but this time he was listening to Handel’s Messiah. His eyes were closed and he saw himself lying on his back with his arms outstretched. It was very dark, but he could see a light off in the distance. It was hazy and indistinct and he could just barely make out a figure approaching. The man knelt down and bent over him. When he got closer, he could see that the man had his face. Then he was the man leaning over himself. He had a wooden mallet in his hand. He brought his arm back to take a swing at David’s hand that would drive the nail in. He screamed out in silent agony. The next blow was to his other hand and he screamed again. One more blow to his feet. Then he was being brought upright. The heavy wood timbers sunk into the hole with a thunk. The other “him” looked around to the back of the cross and he was hanging there, too. He opened his eyes and it was gone. He wrote this vision down in his journal as well.

One vision David could dismiss as no big deal, two, not so much; but what to do? He thought of only one person he could talk to about them, Patti. He called her up and asked if they could have lunch. When they met up, he told her what had happened and how he felt he was being called to serve God. She said she could see him at the Franciscan Monastery in DC. She suggested he visit it. She told him that it was a really beautiful, spiritual place.  They had gardens he could walk in and he could take a tour of the church and the grounds. So he decided to do just that.

The Monastery was located in Northeast DC. It was an easy drive and he chose a weekday to visit just in case they were busy on the weekends. He went in through the gift shop and asked about tours. They were offered every hour on the hour and he only had to wait a few minutes before the next one. There were a few other people milling about in the tour lobby waiting, so he joined them. An older friar came in through the double doors and introduced himself as Bro. Cornelius. The brother was on the short side, had white hair and a white goatee and mustache and he could only be described as stout. He led the small group into the church starting with the chapel devoted to St. Joseph. While the good brother was explaining the chapel’s decorations, the weirdest thought came into David’s head. “I would get down on my hands and knees and scrub these floors anytime,” then “Where did that come from?” David asked himself silently. He’d had a bad knee since he was a teenager, so there was no way he could even do that!

He tried to dismiss the thought as they moved through the next chapel, St. Anthony’s, barely listening to the knowledgeable yet personable guide. He snapped out of his fog when they had to climb the steps to Calvary. After they finished with the chapels of St. Mary and St. Francis, it was time to descend into the catacombs. A series of long narrow passageways with niches carved out of them, just like in Rome, connecting small and large chapels. By the time they climbed the stairs back to the upper church, David had resolved to do whatever it took to live there.

He met with his pastor and told him his plans. Needless to say, the Baptist minister was not thrilled to hear that David wanted to become a Catholic! Try as he might, David would not be dissuaded. The next step was to get in touch with the local parish and find out when they would be holding the next RCIA (Rights of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. They told him the program took a year to complete, but he didn’t have a year! He made more calls and they all said the same thing. He still had to apply, interview and be accepted to the Monastery all in the next year. The last parish he called said they were starting a new class and it would take just three months. So he said, “Sign me up!” He met with a young priest by the name of Fr. Passato. He asked David a lot of questions, mostly why he wanted to become a Catholic, so David told him of his plans to become a Franciscan. He seemed satisfied with David’s answers and enrolled him in the upcoming RCIA class. David was excited to begin his conversion.

David had been keeping Patti up to date on his progress toward becoming a Franciscan, so he called her after his meeting with the priest. She was so happy for him. Then he asked if she would be his sponsor. She gave him an excited and very enthusiastic, “Yes!” The next call he made was to his Auntie. She was excited for him too. She had converted decades before in order to marry David’s uncle. She was thrilled and asked to be kept informed as well. The last one was to his sister, Susan. He knew he could trust her with the news and he was not disappointed by her reaction either.

The classes were going well, when one night the group found themselves sitting, waiting in the basement of the rectory for Fr. Passato. He was late and he was never late. Just when it seemed like he wasn’t going to come downstairs at all, he did. He apologized for being late and proceeded to teach the next chapter. Only afterwards did he inform the group that he had received a phone call right before class was to start informing him that his father had just died. The folks gathered there were in shock, but before anyone could say anything, he told them that he had to go upstairs, make plane reservations, and for the trip home to New York.

The following week, he was back and there were many questions. The first was,

“Why did you teach the class after you received such devastating news?” David asked. He replied,

“I couldn’t get a flight out ‘till the morning anyway. What was I going to do? Sit in my room? No. So I came down here and did what I do.”

David was simply amazed by him. He knew that he would never have been able to do the same thing after his mother died, no way. And he would never forget that selfless act. The classes continued to go well over the weeks and months. The doctrines he was learning made sense to him and he accepted them easily.

He read anything he could get his hands on. One story about a young Karol Wojtyla struck a chord with him. His mother died when he was a young boy. He was looking at a statue of the Virgin Mary and said to her, “You are my mother now.” That young man would grow up to be Pope John Paul II. David found himself saying the same thing to the statue of the Mother of God that had been given to him.

He was approached one evening as he was leaving church by a man who asked if he could spare some money to help him get his car fixed. David asked him how much he needed. The gentleman replied that he needed a hundred dollars. David asked if he could ride with him to the ATM to get him some money. The guy nodded and got in the car. They drove to the nearest bank where David withdrew a hundred dollars from his account and handed it the man. He was very appreciative and asked for David’s address so that he could pay him back. David was pretty sure he was never going to hear from the guy again, but gave him the information anyway. The guy thanked him again and went on his way. David never did hear back from him, but prayed for him anyway.

He met a young woman at one of his classes. Her name was Kate and she was sitting in because wanted to help anyone who needed it. She was a sweet girl, 5’4’’ brown hair and glasses.  She and David hit it off right away and became friends as she wanted to become a nun. It was proving difficult for her, however, because she was an only child and her mother wanted her to get married and have babies. They both thought it would be neat to keep in touch after they went away to serve God, but Kate never did make the commitment to become a “bride of Christ.” They drifted apart as friends sometimes do when they no longer have a connection.

Not long after, it was time for his confirmation and first communion. He picked Francis as his confirmation name in honor of St. Francis and the Franciscans he hoped to be joining soon. His sponsor, Patti, came of course and so did his family. They all went out to lunch afterwards to celebrate.

The next step was to apply to the Franciscans and hope for a call for an interview. Part one of the application process was to get a clean bill of mental health from a Catholic psychologist or psychiatrist. The Monastery even made suggestions to make it easier on the candidates. His parish priest had to write a recommendation and David had to write a short essay, just a couple of paragraphs actually, as part of his application:

Christ has asked me to take up my cross and follow him. By taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience I am answering God’s call to service. I feel that being a Religious is my response to what He wants me to do with my life. My vocation to spread the Gospel means that I must do it without a wife and children to distract me. I want to use my mind, talents, and energy to love and serve the Lord and His people. I feel I can best accomplish this by becoming a Franciscan.

In simplifying my life, it is not so much what I rid myself of as in what I concentrate on; what focuses the soul. The focus is primarily on the spirit, to be one with God. And by aiding others I am helping them to see Christ in the world and experience His love through me. There is nothing I would rather do than give hope to those with little or none.

He kept busy with temp jobs as a freelance graphic artist waiting for an interview. Soon enough Fr. Daniel called him and they scheduled a time to meet. Fr. Daniel was a man of average height with brown, curly hair and a beard. He had a very comforting smile and sincere voice. It was no wonder he was head of vocations. He asked David many questions, including how long had it been since he last had sex. He said that it had been about a year and the priest thought that was a good amount of time since the friars had to take a vow of celibacy. When the interview was over, Fr. Daniel told David he would be in touch one way or the other after the committee reviewed his application. David thanked him and made his way back home.

Finally, the call he had been waiting for came and there were so many things to take care of. He had to make arrangements for someone to pick up the furniture that he donated to a local charity. He had to make sure his cat was taken care of. He had to arrange for storage of the childhood things he wanted to keep at his sister’s house. And he had to leave his car with his father to sell. He got more and more excited as the time to start his new life approached.

Franciscan Friar

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