A Special Place--Part Forty-two--Luke
When we arrived at the school, Ms. Jones met us with a huge smile on her face. "I thought you'd get here a bit early," she said. "Matt, thanks for loaning the organ, even if you didn't know it was yours." As we left the house, Greywolf had handed me a small toolbox and, while Matt went wild on the organ, I affixed the brass plate to the side of the instrument.
Five minutes after Matt started playing, I saw Paula, Eugene, and the entire chorus and ensemble start sneaking out from backstage. Obviously they had been tipped off by Fr. Tom. Matt was still unaware of their presence when he started playing the Gounod "Sanctus". He hadn't finished more than a bar or two when the ensemble and chorus joined in, scaring Matt out of his wits. When he turned around, all started applauding and cheering. Their cheers soon changed to Lakota war whoops.
The whole group got into the music for graduation full swing and was having a great time until Ms. Jones said, "Ok, enough. It's time to get dressed for the big show." We left the auditorium and went to the room set aside for the chorus and ensemble, where the seniors got into their graduation gowns. Michael and all the Fellowship were there, waiting for us. When we were dressed and ready, Ms. Jones held up her hand for silence and said, "I want you to know I am very proud and honored to be your principal. The people in this room have made Independence High School what it was intended to be. I am eternally grateful to all of you. Now--let's get this show on the road!"
Graduation and commencement--an ending and a beginning had started.
Matt and the ensemble took their places and started playing--and they didn't play "Pomp and Circumstance". I noticed that the daughter of Mother Loud-mouth was in line. I guess Mommy had decided graduation without "Pomp and Circumstance" was better than no graduation at all. The faculty marched in behind Ms. Jones and Mr. Allan, all dressed in academic regalia--gowns and colorful hoods. Immediately behind them were Derrick in his cap and gown and Michael dressed in the unofficial school uniform. The two young men, of course, marched directly to the stage with the administrators and faculty as did I. As soon as everyone was in place, the senior members of the ensemble joined their classmates while the underclassmen went to their reserved section. Eugene and Paula, of course, sat with the honors students as both, along with Larry, were wearing honors insignia. Matt came on stage and sat beside me. I wanted to reach out and grasp his hand, but refrained.
After Ms. Jones welcomed the audience to the 1995 graduation exercises of Independence High School, Derrick went to the podium and said, "Ms. Jones, Mr. Allan, faculty, students, parents and friends, today a long-standing tradition of Independence High School is being broken. Traditionally, the president of the student body has introduced the valedictorian and salutatorian. But a young man, a sophomore, broke another long-standing tradition at Independence this spring. Rising seniors, as if by divine right, have always run for student body president for the coming year. This year, a sophomore ran for the office and not only won, but won by a landslide. He won because he had shown what a leader is, and that was recognized by his fellow students. The student body president-elect has, through his leadership, done more for Independence High School and the community than, I suspect, all the past student body presidents--myself included--have done. It is my expressed wish that he, not I, make the introductions this year. Michael Andrews."
As Michael stood up to walk to the mike, the entire senior class stood en masse and started applauding, and soon the entire audience joined them. Michael nodded in acknowledgement of their applause, but it didn't stop. A few seconds later, he held up his hand for silence but the applause went on. The faculty had remained seated until Ms. Jones stood and started applauding. She was immediately joined by the entire faculty. Michael turned and looked around at them and started turning red. The applause continued and Michael said what Michael always says: "Holy shit!". Fortunately, he was still facing away from the mike and the applause drowned out everything, but Luke, Greywolf and I knew what he said and all three cracked up. Finally, Michael leaned into the mike and said, "Enough already! I have a picnic to attend when this is over and I'd like to make it before dark!" The audience laughed heartily, but gradually stopped applauding and sat down.
"Ms. Jones, Mr. Allan..." Michael did the proper introduction and then said, "I am deeply honored at Derrick's gesture. While some wonderful things have happened at Independence this year and I may, in some way, have provided some of the leadership which helped bring them about, I take credit for them in no way. Others also have been leaders who stood for right and brought about changes. But without those who chose to follow good leadership, nothing would have happened. Leaders are leaders--for good or bad--because they have followers. Any good that may have been accomplished came about because good and decent people made wise choices in the leaders they followed."
"I take special delight and am doubly honored to introduce the 1995 Independence High School valedictorians. There is no salutatorian. I am told that Ms. Jones and Ms. Norman used every conceivable means of calculating grades to be able to choose between the two men who will address you today, but each time came up with the same result, a tie." Michael turned toward Ms. Jones, smiled, and said, "I could have told you that. There is no way to choose between my brothers. Well, actually, you could have chosen the older over the younger. While they have the same birthday, one is fifteen minutes older than the other--and reminds us of that when it is to his advantage!"
"The criterion for choosing valedictorians is simply grade point average. Given the fact that grades are now calculated to the second decimal point--utter foolishness since the original grade is a whole number and we all know or will know about significant numbers before we get out of the ninth grade--it is amazing that two students would end up in a tie. It is more amazing that the grade point average of these two men is 4.00, a perfect one." Michael again turned, this time to look at Matt and me, and said, "If they only knew how far from perfect you two are, but I won't tell!" The audience loved it.
"As you will be told again later, their hard work and discipline as students is not going unrewarded. Both--along with Larry Watley, Eugene Willingham and Paula Wright--have received full scholarships to Oberlin College, not a mean feat. But in addition to the usual full scholarship, the five had also received a scholarship to pay for their books and fees." There was thunderous applause at Michael's announcement.
"Grades make them valedictorians, but grades do not make a man or woman. It is other qualities which make them worthy of honor and respect as men and women. Personally, they have shown me qualities of love and concern, care and responsibility my entire life. They were patient when I wanted to learn to ride a bicycle, learn to swim, drive a car and in a thousand other things. They have demonstrated their love, sometimes tough love, throughout my life. When I was wrong, they let me know it. When I was right, they supported me without question. And that is far more important than grades."
"The same has been true of their relationship to Independence High School. Their contributions to life here are well known. I need only mention the state and national recognition they brought to Independence--recognition given to no other school in this state, past or present. The concert and exhibition held a few weeks ago, for which these two men were responsible, received state and national radio and TV coverage. In connection to that, I am sure Paula Wright and the chorus, together with Eugene Willingham and the ensemble, would demand I mention the fact that their groups were invited to be a part of what was to be a recital by one of the valedictorians--a one man show. When he learned the chorus and ensemble would not be having a spring concert, rather than keep his recital as an ego trip, he asked that they become a part of it, making it a concert the likes of which Concord had never witnessed. Surely these two deserve to be honored by Independence for putting this school and this town on the map."
"For these, and reasons too numerous to count, I am deeply honored and humbled, overjoyed and delighted, to present to you my brothers and the 1995 co-valedictorians of Independence High School, Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Greywolf and Luke Hans Yonghon Tongmu Larsen."
I took a minute to recover from Michael's introduction, especially with his adding Yonghon Tongmu to my name. Matt looked at me and smiled, reached out for my hand and the two of us walked to the podium.
Matt turned to Michael who was now seated behind us and said, "Thank you, Lil' Bro. Glad you could find something nice to say about us." We all three had huge smiles on our faces.
Matt started our speech.
MATT: "Ms. Jones, Mr. Allan, faculty, parents--especially our parents David and Margaret Andrews, Yong Jin and Patanka St. Michael Greywolf, Gabrielle and Jens Larsen--and friends.
The human soul, it has been said, is divided between good and evil, right and wrong, prejudice and love, bigotry and acceptance, between, if you will, darkness and light. Darkness and light--these are in constant battle to determine whether life and the human spirit will prevail over death and nothingness. This year--especially this spring semester--has seen the battle between darkness and light raging in our school and our community.
LUKE: While the war between darkness and light will never be over so long as there are human beings on earth, darkness fought well in Concord and Independence High School this year. And light is winning.
MATT: Looking back, it began when the bigotry and prejudice of students in this school and this town drove a young man to utter despair because he was different. Daily taunting, name-calling, shunning was his life at Independence. But his despair was not enough to satisfy darkness. Bigotry and prejudice led three other young men, classmates of his, to beat and rape him. Raped and beaten because he was different, he was rejected by his parents because he was gay. Beaten by his father to a point near death, thrown out of his home, he was, literally, left in the street to die. Darkness had won a victory at Independence, a victory which found tacit approval by the Concord community when those guilty of the act were given no more than a slap on the wrist for their deed--they received probation. Yes, darkness claimed a major victory.
[As Matt said those words, I looked at the seated seniors and saw the three weeping openly and wondered if we had made the right decision.]
LUKE: But light was not defeated. A kind uncle rescued Gregory, took him to another state where he could enter a new school and have a new and better life.
MATT: But darkness was not finished. It was not satisfied with the its victory. It demanded more and it won more. In one way or another, students at his new school learned Gregory was gay and the abuse and harassment started afresh. Again, he was hounded because he was different until finally, in utter despair, he saw no way out except the final--and dreadful way--he took his own life. Gregory was a sacrifice to the hatred and bigotry so loved by darkness. Yet even that was not enough to satisfy darkness. An administrator at this very school, in announcing to the student body Gregory's final desperate act, proclaimed Gregory should have expected what he got because of his choice of lifestyle. How could anyone believe Gregory chose to be hounded, literally, to his death? And how did his lifestyle warrant his death? The proclamation by the administrator implied, if not gave, his approval to the acts which drove Gregory to his death. Darkness celebrated and laughed at the foolishness of his servants.
LUKE: But darkness did not win. Yes, Gregory was dead, a sacrifice to hatred and prejudice, a sacrifice which cost the world we know not what and can never know, for Gregory is dead, but darkness did not win. The administrator who had said Gregory should have expected what he received was immediately challenged by Patanka St. Michael Greywolf. Greywolf's challenge galvanized Michael Andrews, a sophomore, into action and he began an immediate student protest, a protest which led to the dismissal of the administrator. Further, Michael called upon the students of Independence to acknowledge their complicity in Gregory's fate. He called for a service of public repentance by the students of Independence, a service which was attended by most of the students of this high school. Those who gathered were students, such as myself, who had essentially stood by in silence when Gregory was hounded by abusive words and taunts in the halls and classrooms of this school--classrooms in which we were supposed to be learning what it means to be concerned human beings in a world of diversity. Darkness was not laughing. Light was shining for us all.
Further, since Gregory's body had been cremated without ceremony, Michael called for a memorial service for him. The cost had been high--as it always is. In this case it cost the life of a young man of unknown potential, but light triumphed.
MATT: But darkness and evil had not finished. The battle between darkness and light is not like a ball game--win or lose, it comes to an end--no, the battle continued. The same three young men who had attacked Gregory once again attacked some Independence students. Now legally adults, their probation was revoked and their attack was so outrageous they were charged with many serious offenses including attempted murder. Seeing nothing but emptiness in their future, the three tried to take their lives. Darkness had won a major victory and he laughed.
LUKE: But not for long. Fortunately, the three young men were not successful in their suicide attempt. Alive, they revealed a well-known pattern. They abused because they had been abused. Perhaps out of fear at first, they revealed that they had been tools of a man who claimed to represent all that was right and good and holy. They had been victimized by one who claimed to serve light, but was a true servant of darkness. The young men who had beaten and raped Gregory had been raped and abused by a man who condemned those of us who are different. Their tormentor was a man who operated a child pornography business netting him hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were not only the victims of his sexual abuse, but also caught in his web and forced to make pornographic videos distributed world wide. Darkness had a powerful servant, but the young men chose to serve light. And because some people care and serve light through providing mental hospitals, the three were sent to the state mental hospital for treatment, and then to a halfway house where their treatment continues. Maybe we complain about taxes, but your tax dollars worked serving light, seeking to repair the damage done to the three young men. Because of their treatment, they are here today. They have a hard road ahead--no-one said living in the light was easy--and darkness has already exacted a tremendous price from them. It took their childhood, but light is winning their future for them.
MATT: But the three were not the only ones who suffered from the darkness of that man. Eugene Joyce, simply because he took part in the service of repentance and memorial for Gregory, was beaten and left to die by his father--a father whose mind had been poisoned by the very man who had raped the three and who had also raped Eugene. Don't you know darkness was joyous at the possibility of destroying one as talented as Eugene? Darkness was pleased.
LUKE: But darkness was not to have the four. All chose to serve light at a high cost to themselves. They all testified against the man who had victimized them. Their abuser will be a very old man before he sees the world--if he ever does--except through bars and razor wire. And justice is not finished with him yet. Light prevailed.
Eugene, in spite of his nightmare and his father's condemnation of him as a liar, testified. Light had found, in him, a willing servant. Eugene was adopted by a loving woman, Millicent Willingham, and as a result is not only graduating with honors today but also, together with Matthew Greywolf and Paula Wright and the chorus and ensemble of this school, won honors no other school in this state has received. Eugene rose from the depths where darkness tried to keep him. Light was victorious.
MATT: But darkness was not defeated. As Concord and Independence were celebrating the victory of light brought about by the concert and exhibition, darkness struck again. Operating out of hatred and prejudice, again with minds poisoned by the same man who had raped the young men and who had made himself wealthy selling child pornography, four young men and four young women plotted to destroy the work and life of Luke Larsen. Their leader slashed a painting in the exhibition while yelling slurs against the artist. When Michael Andrews again stood up for what is right and sought to prevent the destruction of the painting, he was slashed so badly there was little hope for his survival. And darkness laughed and laughed as Michael lay dying.
LUKE: But Michael's death was not to be. Students and parents of this school lined up to give blood because there was not enough to save Michael. Literally gallons of blood were shed for Michael, shed as surely as if it had been shed on the battlefield--and it was. It was on the battlefield between darkness and light. Students maintained a vigil, a vigil marked by candle light when night came. Light was shining in the darkness. Darkness discovered light had many warriors at Independence High School.
MATT: These are but some of the battles darkness has fought. Defeated in major battles, darkness, as always, becomes more subtle, more cunning, using small attacks to undermine light. When LaTisha Gregory took a stand against those who had slashed the painting and Michael, racial slurs were hurled at her. She was called "nigger", a coach--a so-called leader of young men--encouraged the vandalism of campaign posters, a student was attacked because he was gay. Subtle so-called jokes, slurs, name-calling and put-downs are still heard in these halls--and will be until the warriors of light demand they stop. Darkness is ever with us.
LUKE: But so is light. LaTisha has a major scholarship to study jazz, the coach has been dismissed in disgrace, the student attackers have learned a painful lesson about violence. [I looked at Eugene and saw a huge smile on his face and on Larry's as well. Randy and Sandy were practically laughing out loud. Ben and Marc were looking very sullen.] Shortly you will learn of the accomplishments of the students graduating today. There is little doubt that this graduating class has been given more and larger scholarships than ever given to a graduating class at Independence. There is no question this class will set a record for SAT scholars. Every student in the careers program has received a job offer and/or apprenticeship. The present is a witness to the victory of light this year at Independence.
MATT: But the war is not over. As surely as Independence exists next year, there will be new battles. Hatred, prejudice and bigotry do not take a holiday. Darkness waits for the smallest chance to attack. Darkness smirks.
LUKE: Yet as this class graduates, we leave behind mighty warriors of light. We leave an administration which will not tolerate hatred and bigotry, a dedicated administration which has already demonstrated it will not tolerate darkness, doing battle against it whenever it appears, an administration which will give all the support it can to the light. We leave behind a faculty which has witnessed what it can do and knows it cannot do less in the future. We leave behind a student body president who knows well the power of darkness and who has demonstrated his stance as a warrior for right. And this is most important of all, we leave behind a student body which has shown through difficult times that those who question the values and responsibility among the youth of today are fools, tools in the hands of darkness.
MATT: Darkness has fought a good fight this year at Independence and will continue to fight. Never forget that. Never forget that.
LUKE: But light has triumphed! And light will triumph in the years to come because we know it can and we know it must. Thank you.
There was deadly silence then the audience went wild. Michael hopped from his chair and ran to the podium to hug both of us. Ms. Jones was right behind him. The seniors, who had been applauding wildly started war whoops and when I turned to look, Jake Hilliard, Danny Elrod and Buddy Johnson were running toward the stage. They ran up the steps three at a time and all three embraced me and Matt, crying for all they were worth. Matt and I hugged them as the seniors and other students continued the war whoops.
Once Ms. Jones got order restored, Ms. Norman started announcing the scholarships and apprenticeships. While I had mentioned them in my speech, I was bowled over when I heard them named one by one. Independence's seniors had, indeed, set an amazing new record.
The rest of the ceremony was just the usual--giving out awards--of which there were many--and diplomas. Matt returned to his new toy and the recessional marked the end of the graduation ceremony. An ending had just taken place. Suddenly I realized I was in unknown territory. Matt walked up to me and said, "I feel like that little kid I was twelve years ago when the next day was my first day at school. I had thought about it, been told about it, but I was frightened because it was new and unknown."
"So do I, Sarang Hanun Pomul, so do I."
A Special Place--Part Forty-two--Matt
A soon as we could get away, Matt and I, Eugene and Larry, Paula and Jacob left school and headed for my place. When we got there, the rest of the Fellowship had already changed into shorts and shirts for the picnic. We five seniors rushed upstairs and did the same. When Mom saw us she said, "You have changed! We all wanted pictures of you seniors in your caps and gowns at the falls."
"No problem, Yong Jin," Luke said as he slipped on his gown and once again tried to balance his cap atop his blond Afro.
"By the way," Michael said as we left the house, "I learned nothing was planned for Jake, Danny and Buddy--their parents have more or less abandoned them--so I invited them to our picnic. They weren't sure they would come...."
"Would you?" Bill asked. "That would take a hell of a lot of guts. I mean, don't get me wrong, I hope they come. A lot of people are going to have to reach out to them if they are to make it, but it sure won't be easy for them to show up at a celebration where the people they might see as having put them in jail will be."
"Yea," Linda said, "but if they have made any progress at all, they know that our pressing charges against them was their only hope for salvation". It's easy to forget most of the time that Linda has a good brain, then she comes out with an insight like that.
"Well, if they decide to come, Ms. Jones will be bringing them."
One of the nice things about living where we do is that there is little traffic so we felt free to hold hands and walk down the middle of road toward the falls. The gate put in for David's and Margaret's wedding was kept closed except when necessary. When we reached the fence, we all crawled through rather than open the gate, only Matt and Paula getting their gowns caught on the barbs. As I bent to untangle Matt's gown I said, "Better a throw-away gown, Lover, than your face," and kissed him.
When we reached the falls, all the parents wanted to make pictures and we were posing first one place and then the other. Everyone was careful to not get too much in the picture because the four guys looked kinda silly with bare legs below their gowns. But leave it to Millie--she kept having us move back and when she made a picture said, "I think I'll have that one made into a poster and call it 'Barefoot Graduates'". Well, we were barefoot. We had kicked off our shoes as soon as we reached the falls.
Mom, Gabrielle, Margaret and Millie had started getting the food laid out. Paula's and Larry's moms were helping. Soon people started coming in. When Dr. and Mrs. Walker arrived, they were carrying two gift-wrapped packages. "You can put those on one of the tables over there," Millie said. I looked where she pointed and there were a couple tables with name tags for graduation gifts. Before the day was over, it would be piled high.
Suddenly I had a sinking feeling. I turned to Luke and said, "Luke, I forgot to give..."
"We forgot to give each other our birthday presents! Damn!"
Greywolf heard us and laughed and said, "From the looks on your faces the next morning, I doubt that very seriously". I blushed and Luke laughed. "Seems each of you gave yourself to the other. Pretty big birthday present I should think. Save the other for Thursday night and the party."
"Makes sense," Luke said. "You know, Sarang Hanun Pomul, we forgot just about everything that night!"
"I did, everything except you."
All this was said as the five of us got lined up in a cap and gown, barefooted receiving line as people came. Chelsea and Gladys gave each of us a hug as they came down the line. Fr. Tom said to Jacob, who was standing behind Paula, "Young Man, I understand you have captured the heart of the prettiest and most talented woman in the graduating class. You are to be commended on your taste in women." Jacob blushed and Paula laughed. Uncle Michael and Mr. Stephenson shook hands with all us men and hugged Paula, giving her a kiss on the cheek. I was surprised to see Mr. Fox. He was with a beautiful young woman he introduced to us as Ms. Paris then said, "So all the stockholders of the Oberlin Five, Inc. are here. Some serious investing you are doing. Think you might do some for me?" he laughed. Several other people came, some friends of Paula's I did not know. Several teachers came. When Mr. Mitchell came, Luke said, "The man deserves a cheer." We were happy to oblige. Ms. Norman came with her husband. Strange how you never think teachers have a life outside of school. Mr. Allan was also with his wife--a real looker. In all I guess about fifty people showed up in addition to the Family.
It seemed we had done our social duty when Ms. Jones appeared, followed by Jake, Buddy and Danny. The three seemed hesitant, but when they reached us, we greeted them like long-lost friends. I'm sure all of us were thinking about Bill's statement that if they were to make it, people had to reach out to them. And, man, it did take guts to show up.
"Ok, one more picture, then we eat," Millie said. "You three, borrow a cap and gown and get over here by the falls." The three complied--I mean Millie had spoken, what choice did they have?
The food--need it be said?--was excellent. Soon older and younger adults fell on it like a plague of locust. I mean it was almost 5:00 and we hadn't eaten anything after the church reception. Soon everyone was groaning from having eaten too much. People were sitting down in groups talking, then getting up and moving to a different group. Luke and I were sticking close together. I saw Jens smile at us once and, when we walked over to him, he said, "I guess no-one would know you were on your honeymoon from the sad look on your faces," and laughed.
Luke looked over to where Mr. Mitchell was standing alone for the moment and said, "Matt, I think this would be a good time to thank Mr. Mitchell". We walked over and Luke said, "Mr. Mitchell, there is no way Matt and I can ever thank you enough for your faith in us but, even more than that, I'll never forget you admonishing us to take time just to enjoy being alive. That's meant a great deal to me especially since... well... well... since I tried not to live. Calculus I might have been able to live without, but that lesson I..."
"We," I interjected.
"We needed to endure all that has happened since you first gave it to us. Thanks." Luke grabbed Mr. Mitchell in a bear hug which he returned, then I hugged him as well.
"A teacher lives for such moments," he said. "They are rare, but worth the wait." Mary Kathryn suddenly yelled, "Hey, you guys going to open presents or what?" None of us needed a second invitation. There were all kinds of gifts.
Millie gave all five of us huge down parkas with fur trimmed hoods. We put them on over shorts and stood, barefooted. Everyone started laughing. "Laugh now," she said, "but next winter in Ohio you'll love me to death. I've been there!"
One gift was addressed to the Oberlin Five and Paula got to open it. It was from all our parents and was a real nice digital camera. "We expect pictures from you all next year," Paula's mom said.
When we had opened all our gifts, there were three packages left. They were addressed to Danny, Buddy and Jake. Mary Kathryn handed the packages to them. They seemed stunned for a moment, then started opening the gifts slowly. Inside were three very nice watches, all different. "Who're they from?" Mary Kathryn asked.
"The card just says, 'Good luck and we're pulling for you.' It's not signed," Danny said. "Thanks to all of you for everything."
"Ok, folks," Paula shouted, "It's time to get... " she paused and started taking off her clothes! I think all the Fellowship was standing with their mouths open as she continued, "in the water!" She started laughing like mad as she revealed a swim suit which showed off her stunning figure. Jacob gave a wolf whistle, stripped off his shorts--also revealing a swim suit--and the two of them raced to the top of the falls where Jacob grabbed Paula for a passionate kiss just before they dived into the basin.
"If you forgot to bring swim wear," Greywolf said, "I think you might find something that fits in one of the baskets over here. Women to the cane brake to the right, men to the left." Matt and I had to dig out trunks from the basket. Danny, Buddy and Jake were standing back, but Luke tossed them trunks and soon the basin was full of young and old.
Michael was standing in the water when David and Margaret walked in. "Guess Mom won't be doing any diving anytime soon," he said. "My two sisters are showing right well, don't you think?"
It was pretty obvious that Margaret's figure had started undergoing a significant change.
All the kids were diving from the top of the falls except Michael. Luke, Jacob, Bill and I were waiting for Michael to get out of the way below, when Danny, Jake and Buddy came up. Luke said, "Glad you guys decided to come. I know it wasn't easy."
We all dived and, when we got into the basin, cut-to-the-chase Michael said, "Glad you guys showed up. I know it took a lot of guts."
"Yea, it took more than I thought I had," Buddy said. "I wouldn't have except Ms. Jones kept insisting. She said we had to begin to associate with people again and knew that it would take guts and some real determination. But it also took a lot of heart and forgiveness for you to invite us."
"Well, that's what it's all about, I think," Michael said. "Maybe we can talk about that. The adults will be leaving soon."
"I think we would like that," Buddy said after reflecting for a minute or two. "I would anyway." About that time, the adults did start leaving and Ms. Jones asked, "Are you guys ready to go?"
"I guess it'll have to wait," Buddy said. "Sorry, because now seems a good time and place."
"It is," Michael said. "Here's where we come to be alone and think, or come to talk out things. Yes, this is a good place."
"Ms. Jones," Bill said, "Linda and I can take the guys home if that's all right.'
"I'm not sure. I had to sign them out of the halfway house. I'm not sure it would be permitted."
"I'll call and see," David said. He was never far from his pager and cell phone. The guys gave him the number and he called. He talked for several minutes, then still holding the phone he said, "Couldn't get permission for you three to go back with Bill, but if an adult will take responsibility..."
"May I use your phone?" Chelsea asked, and took it when David nodded. "I want to talk with these guys anyway."
While Chelsea was on the phone, Greywolf walked to the edge of the basin after he got dressed and said, "Think you fellows could load everything? David and Yong Jin have gone to the house to get the vans so we can carry stuff back."
"Sure," Bill answered for all of us, and we climbed out of the water and started gathering up things. By the time we had the first load to the meadow, David and Mom had the vans waiting. We quickly loaded them, then Bill said, "We'll walk to the house and help unload."
"You can do that later," Greywolf said, "Why don't enjoy the falls a bit longer? Matt, remember you have to move the furniture in the den so there will be a place for the organ."
"We'll all help," Jacob volunteered.
"Well, take your time at the falls. It will still be here when you finish."
It was arranged for Chelsea and Gladys to take the guys back to what would be their home for the foreseeable future, the halfway house, and she came over to the edge of the basin.
"Guys, I've been hatching a plot and would like to talk to you."
"We also wanted to talk to the others," Danny said. Soon all three of them, the Fellowship and Gladys and Chelsea were sitting on blankets on the beach.
Danny opened the conversation, "I guess what I wanted to say--what we wanted to say--to you guys--and Paula, Linda and Mary Kathryn--is that we are sorry for what we tried to do to you. We have been in pretty intensive therapy and gotten a lot of shit--pardon ladies--straightened out. Buddy, Jake and I have all talked about why we did what we did and I think we know why--that doesn't excuse it or change it or make it right. Also, it doesn't mean we don't still have some of the same irrational thoughts and feelings."
"Yea, we were all filled with rage over what had been done and was being done to us and we felt helpless against McBride so the rage got directed elsewhere--where it didn't belong. Today I saw all your friends--old and young--around you celebrating your graduation and when I saw how happy your parents were, I felt rage rising up in me--against you. I found myself becoming enraged because you had everything and I had nothing. You were being loved and I was hated. Didn't make sense that I was enraged against you folks, but I was. The difference was that I recognized what was going on inside and was able to stop it. Sometimes I still can't," Jake said quietly.
"Eugene, I find it very hard not to direct my rage at you,' Buddy said. "You were in the same boat with us and you escaped. That makes me feel weak and rotten. Why couldn't I have been strong enough to escape? But it wasn't to be." He, then the other two, started telling us about the whole rotten mess with McBride. Unlike Eugene, he had been giving them drugs and alcohol when they were mere kids--with predictable results. McBride had them right where he wanted them. Suddenly the three were telling us horror stories of how they were abused. The videos often showed them, they said, being absolute animals to each other because that's what McBride's customers wanted, but they stuck together because they were all they had. McBride pimped for them, often giving them to older men who were into every kind of perverted sex. It got so graphic that suddenly I was sick to my stomach. I jumped up and ran into the cane brake where I started throwing up my guts. About the time I was going into dry heaves, Chelsea appeared. She had a wet towel which she applied to my forehead and gradually I stopped heaving.
"I guess I'm just a wuss," I said.
"No, you're a sensitive human being whose sensitivity hits him in the stomach. Matt, I'm sorry you had to hear all that... well... I guess I'm not. When a person gets a boil, it has to be lanced and drained of the pus and corruption inside. I know those three guys have spilled out the same sick mental pus in their therapy sessions, but I suspect there is a major difference between that and pouring it out to your peers and to those your mental and emotional illness has hurt. I think all of you have done them a great favor, allowing them to purge themselves of an infection of the mind as powerful as any of the body. Frankly, I have seen just about everything I thought, but I'll admit, I haven't come as close to being sick as I was today in years.... Are you ready to go back?" I nodded.
When we reached the group, Mary Kathryn, Linda and Paula each were holding one of the three, all of whom were bawling like babies. As the three women--man, we were lucky to have three such strong women in our midst--held the three former tough guys, stroking their hair, Danny, Buddy and Jake gradually calmed down. Strange as it might seem, I noticed all of us guys were sitting quietly, patiently. Sometimes, I guess, a woman's touch is what is needed and we knew it.
The three finally gained control of themselves and Chelsea said, "Fellows, I have talked with the director of the halfway house and with your therapists and all agree that if you are willing, you can work in the hospice. It won't be easy. You'll be dealing with people who are dying and know it. You'll be doing some pretty unpleasant work--changing diapers on adults, cleaning them when they soil themselves, feeding people who can't do it themselves. But I think you might draw strength from those who are facing certain death, but who are dealing with who and where they are so you can learn who you are and where you choose to be headed. You'll still live at the halfway house, but one of you will be on night duty and sleep at the hospice--if you get any sleep. In return, the hospice will pay you a small, very small, stipend to get what you have to have. And a bit more. Your therapy will be paid for as long as you need it--Judge Snow has seen to that--but you'll need money for college. A generous supporter of the hospice had agreed to pay your expenses at Lexington Community College so long as you maintain passing grades. Of course, getting to Lexington would be a problem, but the college holds extension classes in Concord. You can take courses here for the two years needed to get your associates' degree, then you'll be ready to move on. I don't want an answer now. I want you to talk about it among yourselves, think about it on your own and spend some time at the hospice--we have two patients already and I am sure more will come soon. When you have made your decision, one way or the other, let me know."
Again, silence. Finally Danny asked, "Why are you all doing this for us?" His voice was filled with suspicion.
"Because we think you can be redeemed and that's better than having three people rotting in prison or a mental hospital costing the state money rather than contributing to it," Gladys said. "Actually, it's just good economics--as well as the right thing to do." Silence again, then Gladys said, "Ok, fellows, you know what you've got to do. Now it's time Chelsea and I get you back."
The three were profuse in their thanks for the afternoon and left, all three a bit teary eyed. Who knows what will happen with them? I surely didn't, but at least there was a possibility that they might become worthwhile citizens and I felt good--still queasy--but good.
We all went back to the falls and it was obvious that Paula was in command. All the women were skinny dipping. Needless to say, the trunks we were still wearing were shed quickly. We all swam for another hour and then got dressed and went to my place.
Since school was out, Mom and Dad said we should move the desks out of the den to make room for the organ. We put them in the downstairs guest room and decided that was all that needed moving. In spite of the fact that we had eaten more than enough in the late afternoon, Mom prepared more food and we all sat around the dining room table, laughing and talking about the day. It had been a wonderful day for all of us. We were in complete agreement about that. The talk got serious when the three guys came up, but soon became light-hearted again until Michael said, "Commencement--a beginning. But it's also an ending."
Again we were all lost in our thoughts for a time until Bill said, "Well, I for one am ready for an ending and a new beginning. I don't think I could have stood the pace much longer. My good God, how have we lived and stayed sane for the past three months? I guess if I were a religious person, I'd have to say that was the answer--good God. Even if I am not overly religious, I guess I'd have to say that."
"Yea," Paula said. "How else would you explain it? But does it matter? Who would believe it if we told them?"
"Well, I've got to run," Jacob said. "I know my dad has a ton of chores for me this week--and we do have a party Thursday and break loose Saturday night. Laters."
After the others had left, Michael said, "I've got to go. Today has really been great, but I have about had it. Wild Woman, drive me home?" Mary Kathryn's kiss was a positive answer. Only Luke and I were left.
"Sons, if you can spare the time, how about a glass of wine with your mom and me?" Mom got glasses and we all four went into the den. "Matt, Luke, I have been proud of you two all your life. You are, even allowing for my natural prejudice, two very exceptional young men. I have heard a lot of graduation speeches and usually I could recite them without having seen them before the speaker stood up, but I have never heard speeches with the power yours had. They will be remembered, I'm sure."
"I agree," Mom said. "It took real men to give them. I am sinfully proud of you two."
We sat and talked, drinking our wine. When we finished the wine, we talked some more. I suddenly realized that graduation had, for Mom and Dad, changed our status in their eyes. Sure, they talked about our being grown men, but now we were being treated as grown men. I liked it, but I also found it sad. What about those times when I needed to be a little boy again? I guess I'd have to wait to find out.
"Greywolf, do you know when the organ is arriving?" Luke asked.
"I suspect around 9 or 10. The movers were to be at the school at 8 to pick it up. Shouldn't take long to get it ready to move the short distance it has to be moved."
"Sunrise as usual tomorrow?" Luke asked.
"We could put it off to Tuesday," Dad answered.
"I would like to go ahead with it. Everything's changing. I'd like to keep what I can unchanged."
"I would too, Dad," I said.
"Then it's sunrise as usual," Dad said. "I'll call Jens and David. I guess that means early to bed or you two will play around the rest of the night and not make it."
What Luke had referred to was a tradition the families established about the time the two of us were born. Prior to that, each family had a garden, but with David's and Jens' schedules--Gabrielle's and Elizabeth's as well--their gardens were a real chore. Since Mom and Dad were out of school for most of the summer, they offered to have a common garden. Dad had always done a Lakota blessing of the garden when he started spring planting and Jens had his own blessing, but when they started the common garden at our place, both blessings were kept, but took place the day after school was out at sunrise. Of course, things had been planted before the first of June, but I guess a retroactive blessing worked as well as any.
After Jens and Dad did the blessing, Gabrielle, Mom and Elizabeth prepared furrows and the men planted seeds. For the first time, as I thought about it, I realized there was something very sexual about that. Since Mom had been given a summer fellowship to study Hopi culture, corn was always the seed planted in the symbolic blessing and planting of the garden. After the ceremony, we all had breakfast together. This year, Margaret would participate for the first time.
It was a great family tradition. The blessing and planting were, of course, ceremonial, but sometimes I think it is ceremony which keeps us going. During the summer, Mom and Dad, along with the Gang of Four, do most of the work of tending the garden. But the entire family gathers once a week to work together and share a meal afterward.
I was with Luke. I wanted the sunrise blessing of the garden this year, perhaps more than ever before.
We said goodnight to Mom and Dad and went up to my room. After making gentle, tender love, we lay in each others arms and talked about the day. It had really been wonderful. Then, our hard bodies snuggled together, we drifted off to sleep, two very, very happy high school graduates.