Welcome to Suburbia
Three days later we left the children’s home in a red Kia minivan. It was early afternoon when we began the journey. Anthony and Cindy were dressed a bit more casually that day, for they had already made their first impressions. Strange new places flew by all around me as the drive went on. People walked in and out of them, some carrying things, others leading children along, and some talking and walking and chatting away. A few jogged along the side of the road. Maybe they had to go somewhere quickly, but what for? I didn’t say anything at all during the ride.
“Well, what do you think?” Cindy asked.
“There’s a lot going on.” There truly was. I closed my eyes and I could see all of the people running around like ants inside of my head. I imagined everything as if it were going in reverse. People walked and drove backwards from their workplaces to their homes as 9:00a.m. became 8:30. Could it ever happen that way? Next I imagined it all in fast-forward: buildings being built in seconds, people living and dying in only a few minutes’ time. What would be happening in this place many years from now? What had happened here before?
And all of a sudden I was floating, suspended in a sparkling cosmic fluid, in some long forgotten corner of outer space. The stars looked just the same as they had looked from earth. They glittered eerily, still so far off in the distance. Something warm touched my hand. I turned to find Anna next to me, our hands interlocked. I found her at last!
“Don’t let go,” she said. I held on as tightly as I could, but she slowly disappeared into the void. “I have to go, Tristan. We can’t…I’m so sorry…” She was gone.
“They’re going to tear you apart, child. They already have. Just wait and see for yourself.” The deep voice from before had returned to give me this message.
“Who are you? What are you? Wait! Wait, damn it! Come back!” And then we pulled into the driveway.
“Tristan, we’re here.” I slowly got out of the car, the sound of shutting doors filling the air around me. A big white house and a freshly mowed front lawn stood in front of me. Flowers and lights lined the sides of a path made of stone and gravel that led from the driveway to a large wooden front door. I looked up and down the street. White house…white house…white house…white house. Wow, how was would I remember which one of them was mine? “Come inside, Tristan. Come and see the inside.”
I would soon be ‘comfortably’ settled into suburban life. Anthony sold insurance for a living and Cindy was his stay-at-home wife. In the daytime Cindy’s friends would pour out of the other white houses and stop by to gossip. Their conversations were mostly centered on the ‘questionable’ behavior of the people in the community.
“She’s pregnant? She’s only fifteen!”
“Johnny was drunk the other night and…”
“Jake got into a fight with someone on the school bus last Thursday…” These were only a few of their favorite templates.
“Kids these days” was a favorite phrase, as well as “no responsibility!” The repetitiveness of these became annoying rather quickly. I hated always knowing what they were going to say.
“Tristan, have you ever heard of Christianity?” Anthony asked soon after we walked into the house. I had. Mrs. M. had talked about God and heaven and angels, but I never really understood what she was getting at. I wasn’t sure if she was claiming that all of those things were real or not.
“No.” I wanted to hear his explanation.
“Our family is a Christian family. Tomorrow there will be a church service, because tomorrow is Sunday. Sunday! It’s the most wonderful day of the week, the day of rest, the day that we must remember to keep holy. You will go with us and learn about what it means to be a Christian. It won’t take long for you to become one yourself. It had better not.”
After this I walked across the wooden floors, past the living room with the leather sofas and the 50-inch flat screen TV, past the kitchen with the granite counter tops, then made my way into the hallway. Here there were pictures of people in the Anderson family. They were all smiling cheerfully. I hoped that I would not be asked to fake a smile for a picture. It would make a rather inaccurate representation of me, and wasn’t that the same as lying?
We made it to my room where a twin bed lay against a green wall and white carpet floors. The carpet was actually white! I had never seen white carpet that was still white before. There was a desk sitting in the far left side of the room, and a small black chair that could spin around. But I was not paying attention to what was inside. I planned to waste no time. I needed to know.
"What are you going to tell me about Anna? I need to know.” This prompted Cindy to walk out of the room, although I wished that she would have stayed. I hoped that Anthony was not going to hurt me, but I was prepared for it anyway. I could only hope that he wouldn’t be like father. His expression was incredibly serious.
“Alright, Tristan, come over here.” He sat down on the bed.
“Because I said so, and you must do as I say. I am your father…your master. Come and sit on the bed right now.” Jesus Christ. I slowly and fearfully walked over to the bed and sat down. It was more comfortable than any bed my ass had ever sat upon. Anthony turned and faced me.
“Anna told the people at the children’s home quite a few things. She asked to see you many times, but mentioned an intimate relationship between the two of you…a romantic relationship.” Where was he going with this?
“Yes…I think so.”
“Kissing, touching, nudity, sexuality…did things like that happen?”
“I think all four. Yes, all four.”
“Anna is your sister, Tristan. That relationship cannot be allowed to continue. I know that there probably wasn’t anyone around to tell you this before, but intimate relationships between siblings are completely unacceptable and wrong. Maybe you didn’t know until now, but all of the thoughts about her that you are having must stop this instant. Those thoughts are sins against God, our Holy Father. The society does not, and will not, ever allow it.” In sixty seconds my world had been completely destroyed. I had no idea what to make of this. Surely he had to be lying.
“That isn’t true. I love her.”
“I knew you would pick a weird one. Incest? Really? Wow.” A boy’s voice said this. The door was flung open. He was a couple years older than me, maybe sixteen, maybe seventeen. He was athletic, extremely confident, very much unlike me. He must have been listening from the other side of the door. “This is ridiculous.”
“I know,” Anthony replied. “But you don’t know what Tristan came from. Even I don’t know the whole story. He is going to learn the correct way to be.”
“You know? You think my feelings are ridiculous?” I was appalled. “I don’t understand what is wrong about us. We were happy. I don’t understand what the problem is.”
“The problem is you, man! You’re fucking sick! You’re fucked up, kid.” The boy’s voice rose.
“This won’t get better overnight, but it will get better.” Anthony seemed very sure of this. “Let’s give Tristan some time to himself. Church is in the morning. I think that will be good for all of us. Come on, Hector.” The two of them left the room, and Silent Cindy followed after them. Having been left alone with my thoughts, I lay down in the bed and wondered about what had just happened. I remembered what Anthony said. It repeated over and over in my ears.
“The society does not allow it.” That was the most devastating part. The love I felt for Anna was very real. Why would a society not allow love? I didn’t care whether they allowed it or not, I had to find her again one day. I just hoped that when I found her she would still want me. Maybe she had been convinced by whatever family she now lived with that the two of us being together was wrong. I could only hope that she hadn’t been…
“Tristan, it's time to get up.” Anthony. I must have fallen asleep. “It’s time to get ready. We got you some clothes. These will be appropriate to wear today.” On the other side of the room hung a white button-up collared shirt and a pair of black slacks. I liked the way that ‘black slacks’ sounded, but I was not pleased. What was wrong with the old grey T-shirt and blue jeans that I was wearing already?
“Why aren’t my clothes appropriate?” I wondered out loud.
“These are nicer. These are better.” I still didn’t understand, but I put on the ‘better’ clothes anyway. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I didn’t think that I looked better at all.
“We’ll need to get you a haircut later on,” Anthony said as we piled into the Kia. “It’s almost down to your shoulders! That will never do.” Something was wrong with my clothes. Something was wrong with my hair. What would be wrong next? I now thought that everything about me would be thought of as wrong, and I was basically right. We pulled into the crowded parking lot of the large, ornate, pointy-tipped building. It looked very different from the other buildings that we drove past. I didn’t know what to expect.
As we walked inside, Anthony and Cindy were greeted by many different people. All of them looked at me, a few even said “hello”. They complemented my clothes, though I still wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because my clothes looked just like theirs.
“You’re a fine looking young man! You just need to get yourself a haircut and you’ll be doing just fine.” Variations of this were said to me over, and over, and over again. Were the people flocking around me all variations of a single prototype? I found it strange that they all wanted me to get a haircut, especially when images of a man with hair much longer than mine could be found in different places all around the building. This was extremely confusing.
We soon waddled our way into the inner sanctum of the church. Tapestries hung from the walls, all gloriously decorated with a variety of elaborate shapes and symbols. I wasn’t sure what all of it meant. I sat down next to my new family on a long fancy-looking bench and waited for something to happen.
Before long, a line of people covered in robes descended from the uppermost part of the building. They stopped behind a big stage just in front of me and began to sing. All of the people sitting in the benches around us rose to their feet. They sang words like “the Lord washed us and made us clean”, and “a wretch like me”. Was I a dirty wretch? Why did I need to be cleaned? I must be something filthy and disgusting.
Eventually the singing stopped and a man walked out to the middle of the stage. He stopped behind a wooden podium and opened a book that all of the people around me had a copy of too. Anthony handed me one that was already been open. I can’t remember everything that the man sad, but a few things stood out to me.
“…and then the snake spoke to the woman…” I touched Anthony’s shoulder.
“Why is he saying that a snake can talk?”
“It was possessed by Satan. Be quiet.”
“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Homosexuality is disgusting, revolting, and an abomination in the eyes of the Lord!” Why did the man on the stage think he had the right to insult people because of their sexuality?
“You’re fucking sick!” Hector’s voice from the day before echoed inside of my head. I held back my tears. I didn’t like this place. I missed Anna…but I couldn’t let anyone know. Maybe I was dirty, like all of their songs seemed to suggest. Maybe I should have let Mother beat me to death…
“…and the man shall be the head of the household…” Maybe that was why Anthony almost always spoke before Cindy, if she even spoke at all. I couldn’t understand why it was that way.
“Why are the men in charge?”
“God wants us to be. It is the right way. There is no other way. Do not talk again until the pastor is done with his sermon, or I will take you out of here and whip you with my belt. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Why was he calling me sir? Confusion was becoming a recurring theme. I stayed quiet.
“Say it!” His voice boomed much louder this time. A few people in the congregation looked over at us.
“Yes, sir?” He looked away, seeming not quite content. What had I done?
“You embarrassed me today, Tristan.” He said once we were back inside of the minivan.
“How?” I wondered aloud.
“You know exactly how! Don’t play dumb with me!” I didn’t, and I wasn’t. I didn’t see any point in playing dumb anyway. But since I wasn’t playing, I knew that my new sort-of-father thought I was either an asshole or an idiot. Were the last twenty-four hours a preview of how the rest of my experience with this family was going to be? I certainly hoped not, but I didn’t try to argue or explain to him how I had really perceived the situation. That would only add ‘argumentative’ and ‘belligerent’ to the list that idiot and asshole were already on.
Not much was said on the way home. I wondered if silent Cindy thought that Anthony had overreacted and was simply appearing to agree with him “for the Bible told her so”. Either way she stayed quiet, just as the pastor suggested that good wives should.
“We need to get you into school,” Anthony said later on that evening. “We’ll get started on that in the morning.” It wasn’t as if I had a choice.