Chapter 9: The Abandoned
The key turned. The engine struggled to start, sputtering, but upon a second attempt to turn the key, the engine roared to life. Keith turned the rearview mirror down and to the left slightly. Dax was taller than he was and always fumbled with all of the mirrors in the car. They fought over it constantly, but what did it really matter? As long as the driver could see that was all that mattered.
The drive to the alligator farm in the early morning, before the sun rose, had become Keith’s favorite part of the day. All barriers were down and he and Dax had truly honest conversations and dialogued about what they liked and disliked about each other. It was uplifting and condemning at the same time, but it was also challenging and there was no promises made to change the behavior the other partner disliked.
Changes for other people never had to happen. That was for people who were less evolved. Numerous people wanted him to change his sexuality, but he never wanted to. He believed without a shadow of a doubt that it was natural and that he had been born gay, but would that sway anyone else? It didn’t matter whether people could prove it to be genetic or not because people would not be swayed towards the other side of the argument. He just knew for himself that in order to get the type of love and affection that he so desired and needed it had to come from another man. That was just the way he had been wired. He was gay so of course he wasn’t seeking love from a woman.
His love for Dax was real. He knew that. However, the love had dwindled greatly. The initial spark between them, the fire that he thought was ethereal, seemed nothing but ash floating in the wind now, dissipating as it was carried in the breeze. A thought of leaving him had been brewing over the years. He had his bags packed and was ready to walk out, but then they had been attacked for attempting to start an alligator farm, not because the town didn’t want the income, but because they didn’t want homosexuals running it. Pride for his sexual orientation took over and he stood by Dax as they sought a new location. The spark returned and they were married a year after having lived in Midvale, but as a deeper, darker trial had terrorized them, the water had completely doused what was left of the fire and even the smoke had gone away.
Ever since they had discovered the paltry remains of Charlie, dialoguing during the morning drive had become limited to a bare minimum. Dax had resorted to falling asleep on the drive whenever Keith drove, and Keith just stared out the window refusing to talk to him. But this morning, as Keith heard Dax’s snores on the winding road of sheer black, no streetlight to be seen, he had had enough.
Dax had become so pessimistic as of late. Keith, the forever optimist, tried to remind him that they would capture all of the alligators and life could return to normal for them again, but Dax would have none of it. He would go on these monotone rants about how it was the end of their career and that the town would turn their back on them the instant they found out. Dax had been convinced they would get kicked out of Midvale, an extremely religious community, ever since they moved there. Keith thought a lot of the minds of the youth had been opened to the broad color palate of love. Their minds had changed for the better. The adults would never get behind them as a couple, but they got used to them being there. Dax, as usual, was selling Midvale short. They had been treated extremely well by the town and he would greatly miss the friends he had made there, but he had to leave.
Love was strong and passionate, but as he came to realize in his life with Dax, it was ultimately fleeting. Love was never long lasting. Love was never forever. It always died down and just became more of the mundane every day chores. He missed the passion, the inferno that love could give you when you first discovered you were in love. Dax could no longer give him the thrill and with the sheer devastation of their alligators escaping and attacking members of the town, their relationship couldn’t survive under the weight and he didn’t think any relationship genuinely could.
“Dax?” Keith asked, foolishly hoping his heart would start pounding again when he responded.
Dax continued to snore.
“Dax? Can we talk? It’s important.”
“Hmm?” Dax grunted awake. “Can it wait until we’re inside the building and I’m more awake?” he asked agitated, falling back asleep.
“No,” Keith barely whispered. He had his answer loud and clear.
The guilt overwhelmed him, tearing at every pore on his body. Nothing would ever get him to feel clean of this tragedy. He didn’t deserve forgiveness for what he had done. He could never forgive himself. Now, in the heat of the moment when he realized he would never receive forgiveness for the alligators escaping did he realize how critical forgiveness truly was, but it was never going to happen for him. The best thing he could do would be to move away and not have to address it visually and audibly on every street corner, on every face.
Keith pulled up towards the alligator farm knowing this would be the final day he ever spent with Dax and he wanted to make it special. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t tell Dax what he was planning to do. He knew he wouldn’t have the strength to walk away if he was forced to say goodbye to Dax in person. A handwritten letter would be left behind and it would explain everything.
Dax gasped beside him. Vulgar phrases had been spray painted all over the building.
“It’s starting again, isn’t it?” Keith asked flashing back to the hatred they received as a gay couple coming into the community that forced them out of the job.
“No,” Dax shook his head. “It’s already begun.”
Time had passed. It had been over a week since Charlie’s funeral. Bennie hated herself for not talking with anyone afterwards, but she left as soon as the final hymn began. She hadn’t uttered a word to anyone, not even her parents since then. They had informed her of Zach and Jermain’s passing briefly, but due to the fact that she didn’t emotionally or verbally respond to them, they left her alone to her thoughts in her room.
The only thing that made sense to her was to indulge in her self-doubt. Did God actually exist? It was a pressing dilemma that she couldn’t stop thinking about. Throughout elementary school she had been home schooled. Once middle school began, she shifted over to Christian private school. Her education had been solid, at least she thought it had been solid, but they added an extra class to her packed schedule that dealt with all things Biblical. In talking to peers it appeared that she had been the only one who had actually read through the entire canon of Scripture, although that for her was an extracurricular activity. Her parents professed faith in the Methodist church. At first all of them had been completely against the thought of homosexuality, but after her older brother had come out, everything changed. It wasn’t just a concept they disagreed with, it was an actual person they loved and deeply cared for who was begging for love and understanding.
She was willing to give it to him instantly, but her parents took some time to become accepting again, fully embracing their son, but even with the support of his family, it wasn’t enough. He attended a Christian university and they kept pushing him to become straight and when he refused to do so, they mocked him mercilessly calling him obscene names. Dialogues were closed to make room for constant ridicule. When he finally couldn’t take it anymore, he took his own life. She had gone to the memorial service at the college, where people loudly wailed, asking God why He took away someone so precious, so special. She wanted to believe them, that they actually cared about him that much, but she knew it wasn’t true. These were the same people who incessantly harassed him. They must have felt shame and guilt, or they were just lying through their teeth.
The funeral wasn’t much better. There was no comfort. Suicide was the worst type of death. It’s the only death that’s actually preventable. She had cried for months after his passing, but eventually life moved on. She had trouble picturing what he even looked like. That had been the first time she went to a state of catatonia. She was angry with God, bitter. She was even angrier at the church, at the people that were supposed to love above all else who only mocked and belittled others for their own amusement. She had been lucky to never experience it personally, but she wasn’t gay either. It seemed to intensify for the gay community.
Eventually, she came back to God. She decided to open her Bible one day. The only way she knew to get answers about God was to read about Him. Asking others seemed petty and pointless because everyone brought their own biases to the text. She wanted to just read the Bible and gage whether she personally believed what was said or not. Opening to the first pages, she started at the beginning with the book of Genesis. She read it through straight. It was fascinating, enthralling, and a bit uncomfortable. The genealogies, and there were several in that book, didn’t bother her in the slightest. It only showed the intense details committed to the text. Parents told her outright that they skipped those portions of the book labeling them as ‘boring’. She wanted to spit in their faces. She didn’t even know if she wanted to commit her life to the teachings in the Bible and she could read through it without problem, but those that did seemed to cherry pick passages and it made her gag.
She smiled at herself. She could go on numerous rants about the hypocrisies within the church, but she only wanted to reflect on what happened when she first read through the text. She read a book a day. It took a little over 2 months, but she had fallen in love with the story. She got whisked away and was truly breathless reading about how God showed up to protect His people, His followers over and over again. It made her want to read about Him, to commit to Him. Nothing about her schooling dedicated to learning the Scriptures, no amount of Sunday School or going over Bible stories made any difference. She noticed a significant change when she picked up the text and read it for herself…but things had changed.
How could God allow the alligators to escape, to terrorize this beautiful town that she had nothing but happy memories of, until this summer at least. Innocent people, people she cared for desperately were dying left and right. Sure God had allowed tragedies to occur in the Bible, but it was different when you were directly faced with it. When you had to wait for the answers instead of read a few sentences down the line about how God showed up in miraculous ways.
She had done a study on what the Scriptures said about homosexuality. She longed for it to be praised, but she couldn’t find that. She wasn’t fully convinced that the text condemned it either. There were multiple interpretations of those particular passages, but she had made up her mind the moment her older brother had told her that it was something he didn’t think he could change. Why would he lie about that? If that was true, then she needed to try to make sense of very few passages. Her brother wanted help, but nobody gave it to him. She had promised herself that she would help anyone who came out to her. Then it dawned on her. She needed to step outside. The first person she would talk to would be Everett.
Jogging around town, Reid made his way towards the nature trail that circled around the forest. It took about an hour to jog. In the summer he tried to jog it once a week. It took his mind off the impending sermon and just gave him a chance to breathe and relax, to forget about everything for an hour. He jogged in place slowing himself down and then stopped to stretch out his arms and legs.
The nature trail seemed bright and soothing. It felt wonderful getting out into nature and not thinking about anything else, but something kept probing at the back of his mind. Not all of the alligators had been caught, only one had so far. He was pretty certain it wasn’t all of them that were attacking people, but he didn’t want to put himself into that situation if he could prevent it.
He may have to skip this week and every week following until all the creatures were back in their cages. A woman came out of the trail sprinting to a halt when she saw him, and stretched alongside him.
“I can see we’re kindred spirits, you and me,” she said. “I’m Ms. Witcher. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. I’m so used to just calling myself by my last name because I’m a teacher that I tend to forget to give people my first name. I’m Diane,” she finished holding out her hand.
“Reid,” he responded taking it.
“Oh wait. I, I know you!” her eyes lit up as it dawned on her. “You’re one of the pastors here, aren’t you?”
“You’re new, too. I remember it was quite controversial when you came by. Why was that?”
Reid laughed to himself. “Boy, do you like to pry.”
“I’m sorry, you don’t have to share if you don’t want to.”
“No, no. It’s totally fine. The short story is I messed up and that led to divorce. I found faith in my devastation after that, but I don’t know, it took Midvale a while to warm up to the idea of a pastor who was divorced.”
“You are such a trendsetter,” Diane added with awe.
“Why? Because I happened to live a life that’s socially acceptable? Because I don’t fit the clean-cut Christian image?”
“No, because you promote acceptance.”
Reid burst out laughing. “My friends would disagree with you on that one.”
“How exactly?” she responded.
He could tell she was slipping into teacher mode, but it didn’t bother him because he slipped into counselor mode quite frequently whenever he met with people in his office. “I’m stubborn and opinionated. I like to see what people are really thinking and I’m pretty good at breaking down people’s walls to get them to say what they really mean, but I usually piss them off in the process. You know, it comes with the territory of discussing spiritual matters. Some people flee. You just get used to it after a while, but it always stings.”
“Well, what if I told you that I’m spiritual, but I’m not a Christian and I’m not religious. How would you respond to that?”
“You’re not the first person to say that and you won’t be the last. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. So I wish people wouldn’t use it as a tool to shock me, although I doubt that’s what you’re actually doing.”
“Who are you?” she asked incredulously. “I’ve never met a pastor quite like you. You’re so blunt and passionate. You fascinate me. Listen, can we like, I don’t know, grab a drink sometime soon?” she asked but then she winced. “I’m sorry, I forgot. Pastors don’t drink.”
“Stop with the assumptions. This pastor,” he said placing his hand on his heart, “does. Although not recently because people get tense, awkward around a pastor with a drink in his hand.”
“Meet me at Toby’s Saturday night?”
“Can’t. How ’bout Wednesday?”
“You got it,” she said as she jogged away from him.
“Hey! Can I at least have your phone number?” he called out after her, but it was too late. She couldn’t hear him or she was just choosing to ignore him. His mind started to wander. Was she flirting with him? No, maybe he wanted her too, but that wasn’t the vibe she was sending. She just wanted to sit down and talk with him, which was fine, preferable, even. He wasn’t going to take the afternoon jog, but what he got instead may have been even better.
Everett jolted awake as he heard a knock at the door. He was a little disgruntled at being awoken from his nap. It was probably just for Uncle Reid anyways. When he opened the door, he was stunned to see Bennie. He was pretty certain she wasn’t there to see him, but there was the off chance that waking up from his nap might lead to a connection again, a connection he hadn’t felt since Charlie befriended him.
“Hi,” she said timidly.
“He’s not in now if you’re looking for my uncle.”
“No, I, I came to see you. May I come in?”
He opened the door fully letting her walk inside. She sat down on the couch. He sat across from her in the chair staring at the floor.
“Well, this is awkward,” she said.
He appreciated her trying to lighten the mood, but they both knew why she was there. “Yeah. It’s,” he paused unsure of the proper word choice, “good to see you again.”
“You don’t have to lie for me.”
“I’m not lying. I just didn’t know what to say.”
She put her hair behind her ears. “Do you think we’ll ever move on from this?” she asked desperately.
Everett ran his fingers over his buzzed head. He had cut off all of his hair the night the alligator farm gate had opened. Sighing, he said, “I know we will because we have to. If we keep chewing on it we’ll never grow. I don’t know why nature allowed it to happen. I’ve got to believe there was a reason though.”
“Is there always a reason? Because I’m not fully convinced there is,” she responded glumly. “I mean think about it. Did God cause tsunamis to wipe people out? Did He cause brother to attack brother in war or did He cause people to pull the trigger? I can’t believe that He did. He might have allowed it to happen, but for a reason…I just don’t believe that. Maybe God allows senseless tragedy. He doesn’t cause it, but He allows it. Maybe there’s no point at all. Charlie died for no reason other than his own foolishness. I feel awful talking about him in this way seeing as I think I loved him.”
“Whoa there!” Everett said feeling overwhelmed. “Love is such a heavy word. Are you sure you felt that way?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Maybe I just feel guilty. All I wanted was his forgiveness before I heard about his passing. I fell asleep crying up a river into my pillow.”
“Wow,” Everett said barely audible. “Perhaps you did love him.”
“Yeah,” she said nodding her head, smiling to herself. “I guess I did.”
“So what do you do about that?”
“I beg your pardon?” she asked confused.
“What do you do about that?”
“Excuse me?” she asked offended.
“Come off it.”
“I don’t see what you mean.”
“Now that you know that you,” he paused choking on the word, “loved him, how do you move forward?”
“I don’t know,” she said as a single tear slipped out. “I wish I knew.”
“Can you let him pass on?”
“What? Is his spirit like attached to me or something?” she asked sarcastically.
“I don’t believe in that.”
“Yeah, well I don’t believe in the God that you follow. So I guess that makes us even.”
“I’m not sure that I want to follow Him anymore,” she uttered under her breath.
“What was that?” he asked not believing what he heard. Bennie seemed rational enough. She was one of those rare Christians that didn’t think that homosexuality was a sin. It was a definite plus, but she had a lot to learn about how to talk about it, at least to him. He just didn’t see the point in believing in God that way. It only seemed to harm people. Nobody seemed happy. They just seemed to complain about giving up things that would make them happy. Why anyone would deny happiness like that was staggering to him.
“That’s not the reason I came here though. I know you don’t believe. I need to figure out if I do myself.”
“And how do you go about doing that?”
She smiled. She understood that time. It was obvious. “I need to read through the Bible again free from influence and try to understand what it’s saying, what it’s trying to teach me and to gage whether it still speaks to me today, right now. Until then the jury’s out.”
“I see. That makes a lot of sense actually.”
“What are you surprised?”
“No, not at all,” he added with a chuckle. “You seem to be a lot more analytical then others in your faith. I’m quite impressed with you.”
“Well, thanks I think,” she said obviously uncomfortable with accepting a compliment. “That’s not the only reason I came by though. I wanted to ask you where you were in terms of accepting who you really are?”
“Do I have a lot of support for being gay, you mean?”
“Yeah. I just didn’t want to say it so bluntly.”
“Understandable. I don’t have a lot of support, but I don’t need it. I know who I am. I’m comfortable in my own skin and nothing’s ever going to change that.”
“Good for you. You shouldn’t have to change for anybody. I’m amazed by how comfortable you are with yourself. I wish I could be more like you.”
“Wait, are you a lesbian or something?” he asked bewildered.
“No. I just wish I were more content with living in my own skin. You seem to already be there.”
“I’m not as strong as you’re hoping I am. Trust me. You don’t want to be like me.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Do you want to go for a walk outside?” he asked tilting his head towards the door.
“Totally,” she said as she stood up.
They walked out the door slipping through the slit in the screen door. Everett was pleased with how the conversation had gone although nothing seemed solved. They at least respected each other and he truly wanted her to be his friend. She was the only one who understood the pain that he felt upon hearing about Charlie’s passing. He felt bad. He had focused so intensely on Charlie’s passing and hadn’t given a fleeting thought to Zach and Jermain’s deaths. Their friends must feel just as upset if not more so about their passing, but Everett felt nothing. He hadn’t liked them and they had tried to pressure him into something he didn’t want to do. No feelings of sadness occurred to him. It hadn’t even disturbed his day. He would ask Bennie once they were walking outside what she knew about them if anything at all. He felt a pressing need to find out who they were outside of his brief encounters. A bloating fear rose inside of him that he knew who they truly were more so than anybody at his uncle’s church.
Dax woke up from his nap with a smile on his face. He had connected with Keith at the alligator farm in a way that must never be talked about. It had been an amazing morning. When he leaned up from the couch, he noticed Keith was no longer there with him. It made sense. There was a lot more to get done. An envelope lay on his desk. He smiled. It must be a love note. He walked over brimming with excitement. He tore the envelope open. The papers slid out. The wedding ring jingled against the floor. He knew exactly what this was. He wish he could say he was surprised, but he wasn’t. Closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, he opened them and started to read:
This is very difficult for me to write. I questioned whether I could write anything at all to you, but I felt I owed you that much. It’s very simple really. I’m leaving you. I wish I could say that I’m ashamed, but I’m not. I think you and I both know we haven’t truly connected in a while and that’s a shame.
There was a time that I loved you. There was a time that I wanted to commit myself to you and only you, but that hasn’t been true for a long time. I have to be honest with you and I knew I couldn’t face you in person to say this. You’re much more sensitive than I am, even though you try to hide the fact that you are.
You view relationships in a much more traditional way than I ever did. At first I thought that was cute and romantic, but then I quickly realized that you only wanted us to be together. I just can’t live like that. The first time I cheated on you was right before we were forced out of the other community. I met a guy at a bar and we hooked up. I started to develop feelings for him and committed to leaving you for him, but all that changed the instant we were booted off of the building lot. I saw how devastated you were and I knew you wouldn’t survive without someone standing by your side and it made me mad enough to recommit to you.
I remained faithful to you until the week after we had been married. I stayed out one night and you, the constant faithful one, never doubted me for a second. I’ve cheated on you with four different people since we first got together as a couple.
I won’t go into intimate detail about who they were. Punish no one but me. It is not their fault for none of them knew I was committed to you at the time. You are one of a kind and I’m just not right for you. I never have been. I know you truly loved me and were faithful every single day. Know that what I said about loving you and wanting to commit to you was true, but I just wasn’t as strong as you.
I know you probably wish you had never met me, but I’m so glad I met you and I got to be in a relationship with you for a brief amount of time. We just want to lead two separate types of lives. Even now I know that you’d take me back, but you shouldn’t. You should respect yourself more than that. I am a terrible person. I know I said that asking for forgiveness was solely for less evolved individuals, but I guess I was hiding the fact that I couldn’t stop cheating on you and not wanting to take the fall from it. I know I don’t deserve forgiveness. I know I won’t get forgiveness. You’d be wrong to forgive me.
Please just let me leave when I still have lovely thoughts of you. I want to leave knowing I loved you, not hating you. I know I would get to that point and I would eventually leave you. It was an inevitability. Foolishly I shall ask for your forgiveness. I know you will eventually give it to me if not right away. Even if I ever came back to you, I know you would take me in, but I can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done and I can’t forgive my lack of guilt about it.
I will forever love you, but I can’t be yours, not in the way that you’re asking me to.
Dax held the letter to his heart. He hadn’t truly wept in years. He hadn’t even cried at their wedding, but he was crying now. He couldn’t stop himself. He picked up Keith’s wedding ring off the floor. Struggling to get his own off, he grunted in frustration as he tried to pry the ring off his finger. Finally loose from his hand, he headed over to the pond in the back where a single alligator lay in the water content with itself. He tossed the rings into the water and watched as the alligator snapped its jaws around them, causing the water to splash violently and the ripples to continue to grow.
Reid crumpled the letter in disgust. He couldn’t believe what his brother was asking him to do. He loved his brother dearly and what was being asked didn’t scare him in the least. It only excited him, but the reasoning for why they were asking him made him sick to his stomach. How was he ever going to tell Everett?
Everett walked through the slit in the screen door. He jumped when he noticed Reid sitting in the dining room. Reid wanted to laugh, but he knew it wasn’t the best time to do so.
“Can we talk for a couple of minutes?” Reid asked.
“Uh, sure,” Everett said walking into the kitchen. “Actually, can I call my parents first? I’ve been meaning to catch them and I just seem to miss them every time I call.”
“That’s actually what we have to discuss,” Reid sighed. He was humiliated by what his brother and sister-in-law had done.
Everett’s face fell. “What are you saying exactly?”
“They’re not correct and I want you to know how much I love you and care about you before I continue. You do know that, right?”
“Of course. You don’t even have to say it.”
“Everett, your parents…oh, how do I put this lightly? They’re uncomfortable with you embracing homosexuality.”
“What else is new? That’s why I’m here this summer,” Everett responded nonchalantly.
“I know, but this is different. They hoped I would turn you straight. My only hope is that you would walk with the Lord, that you would seek holiness because heterosexuality has all the same sin tendencies. They’ve been displeased with the fact that you’re not straight so they’ve asked me to take full custody of you. I’d be happy to do so, but only if you want me too, but I’ve gotta admit you don’t have any other legitimate option right now.”
“They don’t want me?” Everett asked unbelieving.
“I, I can’t deal with-” Everett walked away unable to finish his sentence.
Reid was devastated. His heart ached for poor Everett. He dialed his brother’s cell phone number. The number he called was no longer available.