I walked home in the middle of the night, through a “less than desirable neighborhood” before arriving home.
I knocked and banged on the front door window, yelling to get in, but Dad would not stir from where he must have passed out in the living room, his body partially under the card table where, three months after Christmas, my paint-by-numbers picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane still lay unfinished. Bathroom light crept into the room. Dad’s chest heaved deeply. Snores penetrated the closed door. Great, I thought. He’s drunk on his butt, but he would remember to lock the door before passing out.
Who did stir was next-door neighbor Theresa, startling me with her abrupt appearance in a white robe. Backlit by the bare, glowing porch light, her long black hair shimmered past shoulders and down her chest.
“You scared me,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a loud whisper. “But what are you doing, Kenny? You’re going to wake up the whole neighborhood!”
“My dad. He locked the door, and I can’t get in,” I said, trying to keep her from seeing my welling tears.
“What? It’s way after midnight. You should be in bed.”
“Do you have a key?” I managed to ask.
“Come,” Theresa said.
She wrapped her arm around me and stole an over-the-shoulder look through our front door window as she led me into their side of the duplex. I sat on the couch and tried to hide my face.
“How’s your mother?” Theresa said, stroking her palm across my forehead.
“I don’t know,” I said, sobbing.
Six months ago, we moved from Denver to Tulsa so Mom could get better treatment for those spots on her body that were now making her insides hurt. I hadn’t seen her since she went into the hospital.
“I’m so sorry,” said Theresa. She held my head to her bosom and swayed from side to side. “Your dad says your mom will be home soon, and then everything will be okay. You’ll see. I’ll make up the couch for you and you sleep here tonight…”
…Theresa stood over me and hesitated a moment before leaning down to kiss my forehead, her cool hair brushing the sides of my face. My mother did not have long hair.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You go to sleep. Things will be better in the morning. They always are.”
Not always, I thought, picturing Dad passed out on the floor just a few feet away, inaccessible by more than the wall separating us. I wanted to be with him, be close to him. I wanted to love him, but I didn’t know how. I pulled the second blanket to my chin and settled into deep couch cushions and closed my eyes.
— Excerpt from Chapter 15, “Boys Town,” from Security Bound
Shame, with the power of a trump card, for many years held me back from realizing my true self. And, although to a lesser extent than in my childhood, I think it still does. I’ve been blessed with numerous “guardian angels,” like Theresa, who did not see me as a boy filled with shame, but as a human being simply in need of a helping hand. Sometimes, I sense shame as the “sins of our fathers” and their fathers, an ever-smoldering volcanic ember in the crater of my soul, and I wonder what it will take to burn itself out completely, and whether it ever will.
Writing has stirred to the surface memories long forgotten, revelations that have helped me to understand why I am who I am and to affect change.