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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