Technical Difficulties Episode 06byLucyH©
A year after Ryan moved out of his mother's house into his own apartment, his father called out of the blue and asked to meet him for the first time since he was a baby. His first reaction was to tell his father to go fuck himself. Ryan didn't blame the guy for leaving Mom, because anyone would have left. Ryan himself had signed the lease for his apartment on his 18th birthday. But his father knew Mom, knew about her mood swings, and left a helpless baby and a little girl in her care anyway. That was unforgivable.
Ten minutes after he cut his father off and slammed the phone down, though, Ryan called back. He invited his father and stepmother over for dinner, if only so that he could have a face to attach all that resentment to.
Two days later, he answered the door and found himself looking at that face -- at least the part of it that wasn't hidden by a bushy grey beard. The features that the beard didn't hide looked nothing like Ryan's, except for his eyes. He had one green eye and one blue eye - something Ryan had never seen before except in the mirror.
Ryan's stepmother looked like she couldn't have been much older than Ryan, but she wasn't pretty enough to be a trophy wife. She hid most of her chunky figure under loose black clothes, but when she raised a stubby hand to wave to Ryan, he saw enough of her forearm to notice white blotches on her dusky skin. They all stood there in silence, sizing each other up for a few seconds.
Ryan spoke first. "Well, hi, come in. As you might have guessed, I'm Ryan."
His father stepped into the front hall and put out a hand for a handshake. "Good to finally meet you, Ryan."
He shook his father's hand because he wasn't feeling quite hostile enough to ignore it.
His father's wife followed behind him, and kicked her shoes off beside the door. "My name is Jamila. It's nice to meet you." She had a gentle voice.
They sat around on the mismatched castoff furniture in Ryan's living room and inquired about each other's lives, while the tray of lasagna finished heating up. Their conversation started out fairly normal. Ryan told his father about his job as a waiter, and his girlfriend, Trisha. His father wanted to know whether he planned to go to college or get married, and seemed a little disappointed when he said he didn't know.
Ryan was surprised to learn that his stepmother was a church secretary, and his father was a minister. "What denomination?" he asked.
The volume of Dad's voice rose. "None. We don't figure we need a council of strangers to tell us how to run our church, when we have the word of God to go by." He stared at Ryan, as if daring him to challenge the statement.
"Oh." Ryan mentally ticked off the 'fundamentalist' box. "But you weren't a minister when you were with Mom, were you?" Mom had only described him as a jerk, and occasionally a liar.
Ryan's father relaxed his posture a notch. "No, I got the calling a few years later."
"How do you get a calling?"
"It's different for everybody, but God sent an angel to me."
"Oh. What does an angel look like?"
"He appeared to me as fire in the night."
"Wow. I bet most ministers don't get a personal invitation like that." Ryan tried to remember what the symptoms of schizophrenia were, besides hallucinations. He drew a blank.
His father gave a slow, dignified nod. "Well, minister is just my official earthly occupation. I'm also a prophet."
Ryan coughed to cover up a startled laugh. Was that a joke? He stole a glance at Jamila, who was picking bits of fluff off her shawl and giving no sign that she found anything unusual or funny. "So God uh... gives you messages?" he asked.
"Yes. The first thing he told me to do was start a church. So I did."
Ryan raised his eyebrows. "Then what?"
"Then he told me to have as many sons as there are nations in the world."
"What?" Ryan couldn't help the bug-eyed look.
"God wants me to have a lot of sons," his father said slowly, with exaggerated enunciation as though he thought Ryan was mentally deficient.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Ok, yeah, I get that. But there's gotta be more than a hundred countries in the world."
"A hundred and ninety five, in fact, or ninety six if you count Taiwan. Unless God reveals otherwise, I count Taiwan."
"Yeeeahhh. So how do you think you're going to manage that without the Mongol hoard at your disposal?"
"I can tell you don't believe me, Ryan, but every word I speak is true. The women in my congregation give me children."
The oven timer beeped and Ryan sprang up to get the lasagna, glad to have a moment to collect his thoughts. He tried decide whether to laugh, worry, or just think of this as a curiosity. Unfortunately, he couldn't make up his mind before they were all at the dinner table discussing prophethood again.
Jamila picked at her salad and said little, while Ryan's father expounded at length. "I'm just a humble servant of the Lord, Ryan. When He calls you to be his prophet, you get down on your knees and thank him, because what could be a more precious gift than the words of God? You don't do like Jonah and run away, just because people might not want to hear His message." He bellowed the last bit. "You say 'Yes Lord,' and you do what he tells you. You preach his message."
Ryan worried briefly about whether his upstairs neighbor would be upset by the noise. He helped himself to another roll, not because he was hungry, but to get a little relief from his father's intense stare. "Hey, I wasn't saying you should say no to God. I was just curious how you know it's God telling you stuff. If it was me, I'd wonder."
"When you are touched by the Holy Spirit, you cannot mistake it for anything else. It's as obviously real as this table." He thumped his hand on the rickety table, rattling the dishes. "But you have to open your heart, just like you have to open your eyes to see the table."
"Oh." Ryan took his time buttering the roll. "But why is God contradicting himself, then? Wasn't he pretty much against adultery in the Bible? Now he's asking you to sleep around so you can make lots of babies? How does that work?" He snuck at Jamila.
She sat up straight with her eyes downcast.
Ryan's father shook his fork for emphasis. "It's sanctified because the Lord requires it. It's a pure spiritual union, not some kind of animalistic fornication. My sons will go to all the nations of the world and preach the words of God."
Suddenly, things clicked in Ryan's brain. "Whoa. Is that why you wanted to meet me? You still don't care about me at all, do you? You only want to convert me so I'll help with this scheme."
"It's not a scheme. It's God's command, and it is not to be mocked."
Ryan would have laughed if he hadn't been starting to wonder whether this guy was stockpiling assault rifles and arsenic somewhere. "I think we'll have to agree to disagree about that. Why don't you tell me about my half brothers and sisters? How many do I have, anyway?"
"You have thirteen brothers."
He hesitated for a moment. "Nine or ten."
"You don't know how many daughters you have?"
"We don't do paternity tests on the girls. It's too expensive."
Ryan couldn't explain how wrong he thought that was without getting back into the discussion about religion, so he just inquired about his 22 or 23 siblings. They turned out to all be under the age of 5. One of them was Jamila's son, and she volunteered that he liked Legos. Ryan thought she seemed too young to have a kid, especially one old enough to be interested in Legos, but he kept that to himself. It was easy to mind his manners when speaking with Jamila. She seemed so sweet that he couldn't help liking her.
When Ryan's father excused himself to go to the bathroom after dinner, Jamila insisted on helping Ryan clear the table. When she brought a stack of plates from the dim dining room to the brightly lit kitchen, Ryan noticed the bruises on her cheek and neck that she'd nearly concealed with heavy makeup. Her dark skin must have made them easier to hide. She lowered the plates into the dish water.
"Did my father do that to you?" Ryan asked.
Jamila raised a wet soapy hand to her cheek, and it hovered just short of touching her face. "Yes. Prophets can be temperamental." An apologetic smile flickered across her face. "It's not an easy job."
Ryan blinked in shock. "I assumed you'd lie about it."
Jamila shook her head no and slipped her hands back into the dishwater. "Lying is a sin."
"So's hitting your wife."
"Maybe yes, maybe no, but only Christ was perfect."
"There's no maybe about it. It's just not cool. Look, when you decide you've had enough, if you need a place to go, you can come here and crash on my couch or something while you get stuff straightened out." Ryan spoke quickly, afraid that his father would come out of the bathroom before he got it all out.
Jamila kept shaking her head and started washing silverware.
"Just remember the offer. Never think you have no place to go," Ryan insisted.
The bathroom door opened and Ryan's father emerged, tucking in his shirt. Ryan punched him in the face.
His father staggered back against the wall and raised his hands, getting ready for a fight. "What the..."
"There. Now you match your wife," Ryan said.
Jamila appeared at Ryan's side touched his arm to get his attention. "You should respect your father." There was reproach in her voice, but no anger.
"He's not my father. He's just my sperm donor. A worthless, disappointing sperm donor who needs to get the fuck out of my house. Now." It felt really good to say.
The bearded man clenched and unclenched his fists, and his face contorted with rage. Ryan expected some kind of physical retaliation, but instead, he whirled around and stalked out of the house. "May the Lord have mercy on your soul." He spit it out like a curse.
Jamila followed in his wake, her shoulders slightly hunched. "Bye," she murmured as she crossed the threshold. Ryan thought she looked resigned, and he had the gut twisting feeling that she was going to pay for what he just did. The rage had to go somewhere.
Ryan kicked the door and swore as their car pulled out of the driveway. Now he knew where his violent impulses came from. They weren't the result of his dysfunctional way of looking at things, his mother's neglect, or the stress in his life. They were a crappy genetic legacy from his disappointing sperm donor. Meaningless. And they would probably never go away. People like Jamila would eventually suffer for it. If Trisha knew what was good for her, she'd run like hell, not drop hints about wanting to get married.