One weekend, my parents were out of town and Righteous was at some religious camp for good little boys. So Kurt spent the night. The Sci-Fi channel was running a “Prisoner” marathon that weekend, the show about an ex-spy who gets kidnapped and sent away to the Village after resigning from his job. We got hooked and watched all 17 episodes. We were big nerds like that.
The Village had all sorts of ways to break you. In one of my favorite stories, if you didn’t conform, they posted your name in the paper. Your only hope for salvation was to join the Social Group, to work out your shortcomings so that you’d eventually fit in.
If the Social Group couldn’t “rehabilitate” you, they labeled your ass “unmutual.” That’s when the whole Village gave you the full-on silent treatment. Your only hope for redemption is through the Appeals Subcommittee.
My parents never hit me. Whenever I really pissed them off, they excommunicated me. Being excommunicated meant more than them not speaking to me. It meant that I had to live as if I didn’t exist in their world. If I’m around them, I was expected to be silent. If I said anything thing, they said nothing back to me. It was preferred that I didn’t stay in the same room with them for too long, so that meant I couldn’t watch TV. Righteous saw to that. We only had one, in the living room. Whenever I tried to watch, while I was under excommunication, Righteous made sure to come in and change the channel. And he’d sit there until I left the room. After I’d gone, he’d last for five minutes, then turn off the TV and leave the living room. If I went back and tried again with the TV, he’d return and do the same thing all over again. I had no recourse. My folks wouldn’t listen or speak to me. I didn’t exist. During times of excommunication I did a lot of reading alone in my room.
The only time I was allowed to be in the same room with them was for Sunday dinner. We normally sat around the dining room table together. When I was excommunicated, I could not sit at the big table with everyone else. My father set up the little flower table on the side for me to use. I was not allowed to get food off the serving dishes on the table. I had to get my food out of the pots and pans in the kitchen. Pretty often they would talk with each other and laugh and shit. Sometimes my name would come up, always in the third person. I could never figure out if they went out of their way to talk about me, or if it was just incidental. When dinner was over, it was understood that I would clean up without any assistance. They’d just get up and leave. No signal, not even a little bell, to let me know that it was time to hop to it. I was just expected to figure it out. Once I thought of just leaving the shit in the dining room overnight to see what they would say. I never got the nerve to do it, which still pisses me off.
During excommunication, I felt a British domestic in an estate home. Sometimes, when I passed them in the hall or something, I would turn and face the wall, the way they do it on those British dramas they run on PBS. They never did or said anything. Not sure if they got it.
Righteousness had a lot to do with my being excommunicated. I was no saint, but I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t run drugs or pimp hoes or live on the street. I wasn’t a playa. In fact I got beat up at school a lot for being an A student, until I learned it was better to help the bullies with their homework, that’s to say to do it for them. Then they left me alone and sometimes protected me from other bullies. No, their problem with me was that I just didn’t fit in with their idea of righteousness. And who better to point that out than Righteous himself. If I did something to annoy him, like listen to my satanic heavy metal music too loudly, he’d complain to my folks. I’d usually keep doing whatever it was I was doing, just to fuck with him, and then I’d get excommunicated. It usually lasted for a week.
By the time the confirmation service came around, they had excommunicated me for about three weeks, a new record. It put me in a shitty mood. The only words spoken to me were by my mother, when I finally broke down and asked her what I had done wrong. “May the Lord have pity on your soul,” she said then lapsed back into silence.
I was never close to any of them, to be honest. At one point I started calling my parents XY and XX. It made me laugh out loud. Sometimes for no reason I’d just start laughing. They looked at me like I had lost my mind.
Actually, there was a time when my mom and I related, at least on a certain level. Once, when I was ten or twelve, she was watching a fashion show on TV and I sat and joined her. Then she started talking to me about the clothes, what she liked, what she didn’t like, who had the good hair, who needed to keep their butt home. And I responded with my opinions. Suddenly, I had become the daughter she never had. We talked like that a few times. She didn’t know about me critiquing folks at service. So one Saturday, I made a bitchy comment about this pair of shoes this woman was wearing, and she agreed with me. It was just an off-the-cuff type of thing, and only between the two of us. XY and Righteous were elsewhere. But that evening she came into my room and lectured me about being a man and how a man should act. Clearly, she meant that men don’t make bitchy comments about what folks wore at church. We didn’t talk about fashion anymore and she became XX again.
As we rode in XY’s ’78 LTD to church, I kept thinking about how XX used to be my mother and how we used to rip the models and their outfits to shreds and laugh about it. I got sad. So I did what I usually did when I got upset: sing The Lumberjack Song. Well, I didn’t start off singing it. First I hummed it to myself, with my face turned towards the window. Then I turned up the volume a little. Then I went from a hum to a mumbling scat.
“Dooo-do-doo-do-doo-do-dooo, dooo-dooo, ba-ba-baaa, ba-ba-baaaa.”
I could feel Righteous twitching next to me. So I decided to go for it.
“He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK. He sleeps all night and he works all day. . .”
“Jerald. That’s enough,” XX said.
I started a coughing fit.
“You heard your mother,” XY echoed, “that’s enough.” My fit ended.
I didn’t have to glance at Righteous to know he was smirking triumphantly at me. But I had a triumph, too. I made them acknowledge my presence.
XX, Righteous, and I got out the car in front of the place. We lived five blocks from the church. The only reason we drove was to make an entrance. Given that the church was housed in an old movie house, with a threadbare, faded old red carpet in the entry way no less, it seemed grotesquely appropriate. XY parked the car. We didn’t wait for him. I trailed behind as XX and Righteous waltzed in with much adulation thrown their way. Everyone wanted to congratulate Jerome. They hugged him, shook his hand, took pictures with him, like that. I just acted like the shadow I was, sliding along the ground. Until one of them, Mrs. Hammock, came and looked me up and down. I always called her Mrs. Hamhock, ‘cause that’s what she looked like to me, an overdone ham hock.
“Well, Gerald,” she said to me, “you must be very proud of your brother. This is quite an honor and accomplishment.”
I muttered something.
“You can only hope that one day you’ll follow in his footsteps.”
Jerome choked down a laugh.
“I got an A on my trig exam last week,” I said.
Nothing. I didn’t think so, but I had to say something. I do well in all my classes, but I really do well in math and science. My goal was to go to Cal and get into physics or chemistry. But with this crowd, none of that mattered.
Once, a couple of girls came around the house. I felt sorry for them. They were sniffing around Jerome, not realizing that they were barking up the wrong tree. But anyway, so they were looking me up, down, and sideways, while waiting for him to take them out, and so I started talking about my classes and school and wanting to go to Cal and study science. And they started talking about how scientists are all Satan worshipers and that the only true “science” was the word of the Lord. “While we’re in heaven, we’ll be looking down on you and your little telescope,” one of them said. Yeah, whatever, I thought, and I went into my room. That’s what this crowd was like. If they didn’t understand it, it was the work of Satan.
The pastor was this roly-poly guy with a thick grey salt-and-pepper beard and mustache. He seemed to smile every time he spoke and he talked in exclamation points.
“These young men are our future! Let us celebrate their accomplishment!”
He didn’t say what their accomplishments were specifically, but maybe I just didn’t understand the thing enough to know. Or care. But anyway, after he finished talking, the music started. The whole place whipped into a furious version of Oh Happy Day. It didn’t really sound like too much, especially since it was played on an organ, and the rhythm seemed kinda raggedy to me, but still, Oh Happy Day is my favorite religious tune. It’s one of my favorite tunes, period. I love the beginning of it. There’s something ancient about the way the piano starts, the way it echoes. And the whole spirit of the thing, for me, transcends the words. Even a heathen like me can appreciate the spirit of the tune.
So, yeah, while the whole place was singing, clapping, and swaying to it, I joined in. For the first time, I actually joined in and became part of the service, and not just an observer of it. I lowered my guard and let the voice carry me. Righteous stared directly at me from stage the whole time, as he sang and clapped and swayed, too.
To be continued…
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.