Please Wait for Me


The second was just as offensive. One of the teachers at my parish's grade school misplaced trust and confided in one of her peers that, when she was 15, she had gotten pregnant and had an abortion. The busybody peer reported the affront to the Pastor, who reported it to the Bishop.

The Bishop fired the teacher. The Church didn't care that the teacher was 60 years old, had taught at the school for 20 years and in Catholic schools for 35 years, and was a devout Catholic and zealously pro-Life, with part of her zealotry inspired by her adolescent experience with abortion.

When parishioners protested the heartless act, the Bishop shouted them down, eschewing forgiveness and insisting the teacher needed to be held accountable for her sin. An abortion, even one from 45 years before, meant she was not fit to teach Catholic children, no matter what penance she had endured and served in the meantime.

I left the Church. I could not be part of any institution so merciless and heartless. I also could not believe an institution with so many planks in its own eyes could be so fixated on the specks of dust in the eyes of others. The Church had, among other things, unrepentantly harbored pederast priests, exposing generation after generation of children to the most base, rank violations of their dignity and innocence. Yet, here it was, ignoring the simple message of Christ ("whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers, that you do unto me") and expelling the homeless and holding a woman who had devoted her life to teaching Catholic children -- at far less than she'd have earned in a public school -- accountable for a teenaged mistake to which she had confessed and for which she had sought -- but had apparently not received -- forgiveness. A merciless institution deserves no mercy, and I had none to give the corrup, hypocritical church in which I had grown up and had once loved.

I still prayed the Rosary when I ran. I still begged and pleaded with Mother Mary to intercede on Jess's behalf. I still begged St. Michael, the Archangel, to defend me in battle and to be my protection against the wickedness and the snares of the Devil.

But, the men who ran the Church were, to me, heartless, power-hungry who had betrayed humility and who had bastardized the teachings of Christ and turned the Church into yet another tool of oppression. I did not need or want to be a part of that. The world was a cruel enough place without "men of God" perpetuating the cruelty.

The rupture was permanent. I knew the Church was too arrogant and too ignorant to change. It reminded me of that which is true: The enlightened are too uncertain, and the ignorant are too certain.


I was thinking of Luke, not the Church, as I showered before bed. In my mind, it was Luke's hand, not my own, running through the hair on my chest and stomach as I soaped myself clean. It was also Luke's hand, not my own, that was responsible for the mess I made all over the shower wall.

I dried off and headed to bed. I always slept nude. I used to joke to Jess that I was going to be ready if and when she ever went tap tap tap in the night.

She had more than I expected. Unlike many of my married friends, I had no complaints in that department. Jess had loved me, and she loved me inside of her, her mouth to mine, her hands on my backside trying to force me to give more than I had to give, and her wetness signaling I could take all that I needed or wanted. She had not used sex as a bargaining chip or as a reward or weapon. If she was horny, I was accommodating. If I was horny, she was accommodating. If we were both horny, well, then we were in for a long night.

I also always slept with the bedroom door closed and locked. Jess had insisted on it for safety, and I had continued the habit once she died.

I continued a lot of habits. With her gone, I didn't need a suburban house, as schools were no longer a reason to live south of the city, where the cookie cutter prevailed. But, I couldn't leave the last place she had lived. In fact, I couldn't move anything she had touched. Everything was where she'd left it. Two years on, I could still smell her in her clothes, all of which still hung (or lay wrinkled) in her closet. Sometimes, I'd kneel in there and move my face from garment to garment, imagining she was still there. Other times, I'd sleep on the floor, surrounded by her discards.

It had taken me forever to change the sheets on our bed. I did not want to wash her out of them. When the smell of me and sleep overwhelmed the last smell of her, I finally gave in and stripped the bed. I still did not wash the sheets. I folded them, put them in her closet, and bought a new set.

I deviated from all of my habits that night. I unlocked and opened the bedroom door. I did not in a million years imagine Luke would join me in the night, but he was not going to find a barricade if he did.

But, he would find a shield. For some reason, I slipped into boxer briefs.

I laughed at my schizoid behavior. The door was open, but I was clothed. Some time between seeing Luke's giddy smile at Gate E5 and watching him undress in my spare bedroom, I had lost my mind.

My obsessiveness kept me awake. After two hours of tossing and turning, I got up, stepped out of the briefs, and closed and locked the door. Relieved, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I awoke with a start. As I often did, I dreamed of Jess, although I could not remember the details of the dream. I was fortunate not to. They were almost never good. Invariably, she'd be in peril, far enough away that I could not help her, pleading with me to save her.

Even in sleep, I was tormented by the thought her lying in that ditch, slowly dying, her pelvis shattered so she could not move, her mind begging for, hoping for, pleading for salvation, in whatever form it would come. I wondered if she struggled against it, if she saw the light and tried not to walk into it. I wondered if she knew the end was near. I wondered if she died in pain, relieved at the warmth of peace as it washed over her.

I had hoped the autopsy would confirm she died instantly or that the force of the impact had rendered her unconscious. It did not. She died from internal bleeding. She may or may not have been aware. She may or may not have felt life slipping away. She may or may not have known the end was nigh, the softness of the ditch betraying the hardness of the reality imminent death presented.

My eyes wet, I dressed, slipped on my running shoes, and took to her route. I prayed the Rosary and wondered what she'd have been thinking in those final moments, if and when she knew no one was coming. I hoped peace had washed over her. I feared all she felt was fear and panic. With each step I took, fear and panic gripped me. It rushed into my brain like adrenaline, like it wanted me to know what she had known, when what she knew was evanescent.

Luke was still asleep when I returned from my run, my thoughts more troubled than they had been when I started. At times, running cleared my head. At other times -- like that day -- the pounding of the blood in my arteries and veins was matched only by my pounding thoughts.

I was soaked with sweat as I opened to the door to the spare bedroom to check on my guest. He was splayed on his stomach. The sheet was to his waist, and his left leg was sticking out and hanging off the side of the bed. I had failed to close the blinds, and the room was bright. He had adjusted by burying his head under a pillow and holding it down with his arms.

I stood beside the bed. Luke's back was lightly muscled and heavily moled. I reached my hand toward him, wanting to connect the dots with my right forefinger. I stopped myself before I touched him.

I looked at his left calf and foot. Like his back, his calf was lightly muscled and heavily moled. His left foot was large, probably a twelve or so and out of place on his smallish frame. The arch was high. I imagined he had spent his childhood barefooted and outside.

I left the room while I still could. I made coffee and took it on the screened porch with my iPad. I was reading the New York Times when I heard "Sir" after "Sir" from inside the house.

Luke was in the kitchen in his threadbare jeans and his Hollister shirt, staring at the pictures of me and Jess that littered our refrigerator. "Sorry," he said, turning around. "But I couldn't find you." The grin was back.

"I was on the porch. Would you like coffee?"

"Yes, please, black. . . . Your wife was very beautiful."

"Yes, she was."

"You two look very happy together."

"We were. You couldn't help but be happy with Jess. She was contagious."

"Did she call you Jammer?"

"No, to her I was always Jimmy. She's the only one who was allowed to call me that."

"Jimmy suits you a lot better than Jammer. You look like a Jimmy."

"I don't think so. I think I look like a James. Jimmy seems younger and more playful than I've ever been."

He stared at me, still grinning, like he was studying me. I felt bare, turned away, poured him a cup of coffee, and led him to the porch. As he drank and stared at his phone, I watched him over my iPad. His hair had partied while he slept, the top of his head now a jangled mess. His protruding ears were even more endearing than when they were topped by a hat.

He looked up and caught me watching him. I could have pretended I was not doing what I was doing, but it was plain I was. So, I continued to stare. Luke raised one eyebrow at me, a move Jess had used thousands of times to question me wordlessly. I smiled at the memory, which Luke seemed to mis-take as a smile at him.

"What do you want, Sir?"

"Oh, nothing, Luke. My wife used to raise an eyebrow at me like that. I was smiling at the happy memory of it."

"Why were you watching at me, Sir?"

"I was trying to figure this situation out," I pretended. "It really doesn't make sense to me. Have you heard from your family?"

"Not yet, Sir."

"So, how is it that you were so excited to see them and they seem almost equally unexcited to see you?"

"It's a long story."

"It's early, and the coffee pot is full."

Luke unlocked. Over the next hour, he told me a little of the story of Luke Rydell, including that he had kept a shoebox of letters under his bed, the shoebox included letters from "someone" he had met online when he was sixteen years old, the letters were more graphic than they should have been, his mother had found and read them, and his parents had then sent him to live with relatives in White Plains, Missouri, "to heal." If you don't know, White Plains is fundamentalist and in the buckle of the Bible Belt. In some White Plains churches, they still use serpents. In all White Plains churches, they take the Bible literally and condemn those who don't.

During his year in White Plains, Luke had no computer or phone, was allowed out of the house only with an escort, had a monitored weekly call with his parents, and met daily with a Preacher who performed exorcism after exorcism to force out any demon that resided within. He was browbeaten and bullied, returned to Belton for his delayed Senior year of high school, and then forced to join the Army to become a "real" man.

He told the story with no emotion and less regret. To him, it was what it was.

"Do you think they're avoiding you?" I asked.

"I ain't sure, Sir. My last two years were tough on them. My mom and dad looked at me like I was from outter space. I ain't heard much from them since I left. I thought doin' what they wanted me to do would make it all better, but . . . ." His voice trailed off. I don't think he wanted to say out loud what he would have to say to finish that sentence.

I suspected the "someone" was not a woman. If it had been, he'd have said so. He had made a confession without confessing.

I tried to use words in place of actions. "I'm sorry, Luke," I said, contrasting his parents in my head with mine. "I guess sometimes those who are supposed to love us the most also hurt us the most."

"I ain't hurt," he insisted. "I just wish it was't what it is. It's wasn't nothin' to me, but it's still somethin' to them. A big somethin'."

I felt the need to match his honesty with some of my own. I told him the long story of Jess, how we met, how we married, how I learned she was missing, and how I learned she was found. He listened like a solider, silently and rapt.

When I was finished, Luke put a point on it all. "Sir, I ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer. But, it seems to me you were luckier to find her than you were unlucky to lose her."

His pithy summary brought a bigger smile to my face than I was used to. I had been trying to embrace his view, that I should be grateful for what I had than I was sad at what I lost. But, it was harder than the words made it seem.

"You're sharper than you think you are, Luke."

"That's mighty nice of you to say, Sir. But, I ain't never been any good at school."

A thought struck me. "Why is the tattoo on your chest backward or upside down or both?"

"It's backward. So I can read it in the mirror."

"What does it say?"

"'Saved by grace, alive in Faith.' I got it the year I was down south. It was one of the first things they had me do. It's to remind me how lucky I am to have been saved, of who I am, and who I'm to be. Anytime I am tempted, I just gotta look in the mirror to be reminded of the path I'm to take."

I didn't know whether to cry or laugh. I could not believe this dear, sweet boy had been permanently marked through the bigotry of others, forced to bear a scarlet verse simply because he wrote letters to another boy or to a man, somewhere.

"What's the one on the back of your arm?"

"This one," he asked, raising his left arm and revealing his lightly haired armpit. "It's Latin. 'Ego sum a milite.' It means 'I am a soldier.' I just got it a few weeks ago. All of us did. I love it."

"Me, too."

Chapter Three

Luke's mother called while I was in the shower. She claimed they had been asleep when he called and texted and had not heard him banging on the door.

I didn't believe her. I don't know if Luke did, but he at least pretended to. He asked if I could take him back home. I said sure.

I was a bit maudlin as we drove. I had enjoyed having someone in the house. It had been a long time since I was not alone in my house. There was a comfort in knowing someone else was there, even if only in another room. I had also enjoyed having someone to speak with over coffee.

I wondered what would greet us in Belton. I had an image of the Rydell's in my head, but the reality of them had to be better than what I imagined. In my mind, his mother was a cross between the mother in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and the mother of Honey Boo Boo. And, his father was a malnourished rail, like the sexually abusive father in "Delores Claiborne," Kathy Bates' "one of us is goin' to the boneyard" movie. Together, they had to be hoarders.

As we closed in on Luke's home, I gave him my number for his phone in case he needed anything while he was on leave. He responded, "Sir, can I ask you a question?"

"No, not if you insist upon using 'Sir.' You can uses James, Jam, or Jammer, but no more Sirs. I'm not your superior, I'm your friend."

"Okay, James," he said, drawing the James out as long as he could. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," I answered, wondering if he was going to venture where I'd been afraid to venture this morning. I had almost asked "are you gay," but I feared it would push me across the creepster line I had been straddling since I met him.

"Why did you decide to come back last night?"

Had it only been last night? It seemed like much longer ago.

"Actually, I didn't really decide. I just did. Something didn't seem right. I didn't want you stranded."

"Why not? Why'd it matter to you?"

"I don't know. It just did."

"Is that all?"

"Yes," I lied. I had to. I could not answer truthfully. I could not say, "Luke, I'm attracted to men, more so than to women. When I saw you in the gate, I was smitten. Your giddiness was attractive. Your ears were adorable. Your jeans revealed just the right amount. I wanted to be near you. Once I was, I didn't want to leave you. I needed to know you."

I drove on, my lie hanging over the both of us. I also wondered why Luke was asking. I particularly wondered if he was fishing for the truth, and whether he had also been fishing over coffee that morning.

Luke's home ended my musings. It was worse in the light than in the dark. In the light, I could see the duct tape on the cracked window, the deteriorating foundation, and the animal excrement all over the yard.

My image of Luke's mother was way off. She was thin and stern, her hair pulled tight into a bun. She wore a shapeless black dress. A massive crucifix hung from her neck.

"She has fibromyalgia," Luke whispered, as if she might hear him through the car's closed windows.

My image of Luke's father was also way off. He was thick, but not fat. He had long hair and a longer beard. He wore dark work clothes. A massive crucifix hung from his neck, too.

"He has it, too," Luke whispered again. "He claims he got it from her. She claims he got it from him."

"It's not an STD," I answered.

"It ain't nothing but a reason not to work, if you ask me," he answered, sighing heavily. "But, it works. They ain't worked in a long time. They live off what the government gives 'em. And then do nothin' but complain about the government."

As I reached to turn the engine off, Luke insisted there was no reason for me to get out. "They won't want to meet you," he said. "They don't like strangers, and they sure won't like you."

I kept the car running. Luke turned to me, reached his hand out, and said, "Thank you for everything, Sir, uh, James."

I turned my body to shake his hand. "You're welcome, Luke. It was a pleasure meeting you. I mean that. Be safe."

He relapsed. "I will, Sir."

He let my hand go quickly, exited my car, and unloaded his rucksacks from the popped trunk. As he walked toward his parents, I expected he was exiting my life. I was sad to see him go.

Luke's parents greeted their son with a wariness that disappointed me. There was no joy in seeing him, no warmth in their welcome. His father shook his hand. His mother didn't even do that.

Luke did not look back before entering his home. I was crushed when he didn't. I had planned to use the smile I had practiced on the plane.

I backed out of the drive and headed back home. As I did, I realized I had not gotten Luke's number and so had no way to reach him. I thought of going to the door and asking for it, but did not. I had spent the twelve hours I knew Luke avoiding anything that might appear creepy. I couldn't undo all of that work with a creepster move now.

I made a mental note of his address. Maybe I'd come up with a reason to drop him a note while he was on leave.


Once I was back home, I ate a bowl of gazpacho and took a glass of wine to my office. I found myself drinking earlier and earlier, and I'd have been alarmed by the amount if I cared at all. But, I didn't. I was willing to do whatever I needed to get through the day.

I sat at my desk and opened the notebook in which I was plotting what to do. There was no reason for me to stay in Kansas City, but I wasn't yet ready to leave the house I had shared with my wife. I also hadn't settled on a different place. Nothing drew me anywhere. I was thirty and feckless. I had the small group of friends that Jess and I had made, but Jess's ghost hung over our gatherings, and their lives were moving forward while mine stood still. They were living the life I was supposed to be, making babies, outfitting nurseries, joining play groups, choosing nursery schools.

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