Authors: Emily M. Danforth
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Homosexuality, #Dating & Sex, #Religious, #Christian, #General
“What didn’t I do?” Jane said. “That’s the typical stuff, anyway. I just told you all the good parts.”
I shrugged my shoulders. That “stuff” she was leaving out didn’t seem typical to me.
“What? You want to hear about how I was
playing doctor with girls at fourteen? Only nobody calls it playing doctor when you’re fourteen. Besides, what I was doing with those girls was more gynecologist than general practitioner.”
I laughed. “Your mom caught you again?”
Jane shook her head at me, like I was way slow on the uptake. Probably I was. “She didn’t need to catch me with anyone. I was living my sin right out loud. I was calling myself a proud member of Dyke Nation, and I got a friend to use her brother’s electric razor to shave off all my hair. I tried to hop a Greyhound to the coast, either coast, wherever, more than once. You can’t
somebody doing something they’re not hiding.”
I asked the inevitable question. The only one left to ask. “So are you
“You mean you can’t tell?” Jane asked, doing that weird grin she did so well, the one that didn’t reveal anything.
I would have thought of something to say back to her, but Pastor Rick and Aunt Ruth came into the barn. They looked up at the two of us, parked there at the edge of the loft. Rick smiled his dimpled, rock-star smile. Ruth looked calm. Well, calmer than she had looked when we’d arrived.
“Isn’t this nice out here?’ Ruth asked. “All this fresh air.”
“We’re very blessed to have these grounds,” Rick said. “We make good use of them, huh, Jane?”
“Indubitably,” Jane said.
“It’s a beautiful place, it really is,” Ruth said. “But I suppose . . .” She looked up at me.
I looked right back down at her, trying to reveal nothing, just like Jane. Nobody said anything for lots of seconds.
Then Rick asked, “You’ve got a long drive ahead of you?” He didn’t say what some adults might have—
Your aunt has a long drive ahead of her, Cameron
—to scold me, to make a point, to back up Ruth. He could have, but he didn’t.
“I do,” Ruth said. “Though I’m just going to Billings tonight. I have a Sally-Q party there tomorrow afternoon.”
She explained Sally-Q to him while Jane and I stood up, brushed away the straw stuck to us. Rick pretended to be interested in what Ruth was saying about
tools for women
. Or maybe he wasn’t pretending at all.
At the ladder, as she was maneuvering her leg onto the top rung, Jane said to me, quietly, “You’re not going to feel any better if you’re wretched to her as she’s leaving.”
“How do you know what I’ll feel like?”
“I know whole bunches of things,” Jane said. “And that I know.”
This was our good-bye: out, alone, next to the FM, the breeze down from the mountains still cool and spicy, the sun still hot, glinting off the white paint of the hood, Ruth hugging me tight, already crying a little, and me with my hands shoved in my pockets, refusing to hug her back.
“Rick and I talked about this anger you have toward me,” Ruth said into my neck. “You have so much anger in you.”
I said nothing.
“The worst thing I could possibly do right now is give up on you because I let your anger get to me. I won’t do that to you, Cammie. I know that you can’t see it now, but
would be the terrible thing to do. Not bringing you here; giving up on you.”
I still didn’t say anything.
Ruth put one of her hands on each of my shoulders and pushed back from me, held me at arm’s length in front of her. “I won’t do that to you. Your anger with me won’t change my mind. And I won’t do that to your parents’ memory, either.”
I jerked out from under her grip and stepped back. “Don’t talk about my parents,” I said. “My parents would never send me to a fucked-up place like this.”
“I have an obligation you can’t understand, Cameron,” Ruth said, keeping her voice level and calm. And then, more quietly, she said, “And to be clear, you don’t know everything there is to know about your mom and dad and what they’d want for you. I knew them both for a much longer time than you did. Can’t you even consider for a minute that this is exactly what they would do in this situation?”
What she said wasn’t any profound thing, but it landed on me like a football tackle all the same. It was just the place to hit me to make me feel weak and stupid and guilty, and most of all, afraid, because she was right: I didn’t know much at all about the people my parents had been. Not really. And Ruth had called me on it, finally, and I hated her for doing it.
Ruth kept going, “I don’t want to leave you this way, with all this anger between us—”
But I didn’t let her finish. I took a step toward her. I made myself look right at her. I was careful and slow with my words. “Did you ever think that maybe it was
coming that made me this way? Maybe I would have been fine, but then every single choice you’ve made since they died was the wrong one?”
The face she made confirmed just how terrible my words were, and they were lies, of course. But I couldn’t stop. I didn’t stop. I got louder. The words just came and came. “Who do I have but you, Ruth? And you let me down. And now you have to send me here to try and fix me, quick, before it’s too late. Before I’m fucked up for good. Quick! Fix me, fix me fast, Jesus. Heal me up! Quick, before it sets in for life!”
She didn’t slap me. I so wanted to head back into that fake lodge with a bright, hot, red slash across my face. But Ruth didn’t slap me. She stood sobbing tears more genuine than any I’d ever seen her cry over me. I believed that, the authenticity of those tears. Those sobs kept on coming, even as she got into the FM and pulled away. I could see her heaving great sobs through the window, unable to look at me, or unwilling, and I felt that, finally, finally, I had actually done something awful enough to deserve that reaction.
That first night at Promise, after Erin and I had circled around and back again our lives and dreams and newfound purposes—hers authentic, mine made up for my present company (accept Jesus’s help, heal, find a fella)—I listened to the sound of her breathing, the rustle of the covers on her bed, all the other sounds that you hear in the night when you’re staying in a new place with a bunch of other people. I thought not of Coley but of Irene Klauson, away at boarding school on her first night, hearing these same kinds of sounds, thinking, maybe, of me. Eventually all that thinking and quiet noise put me to sleep.
I dreamed that the real Jane Fonda came to visit me at Promise. I hadn’t rented that many movies with her in them, but
On Golden Pond
had been on TV one afternoon. Katharine Hepburn’s in it, but she’s already all-shaky Katharine Hepburn and she keeps telling her husband, an even older Henry Fonda, to look at “The loons, Norman! The loons!” Jane Fonda’s supposed to be like the fuck-up daughter or something, but her dad is crotchety and old and probably has dementia, and so it’s hard for them to resolve anything. Maybe they do eventually. I don’t know, because Ruth came home and I had to help her with something and I missed the rest of it. I’m not even sure about the significance of the loons.
But in my dream Jane Fonda is all tanned angles and blond hair blowing out behind her without any real wind, and I’m giving her this tour of the place. We go through all the buildings, and then when we open the door to leave the cafeteria, all of a sudden we’re at Irene Klauson’s ranch at the height of the dinosaur dig, but it’s like it is Irene’s ranch and it isn’t, the same way it always is and isn’t in a dream. And when we step out onto the ranch, into the sunlight, and I smell the churned-up dirt, I think maybe Promise is where I’m supposed to be. Something about that smell, and the way the light is settling, seems somehow right.
I try to ask Jane Fonda about this, but she’s not standing next to me anymore. She’s over by the barn with some tall man in a gray suit. It takes me a long time to walk to them, like I’m walking on one of those blow-up bounce houses at a carnival, and the ground shifts up and down, the surface all puffed with air. Not until I’m almost right in front of them do I see that it’s Katharine Hepburn Jane’s talking to, but the young Katharine Hepburn, in a man’s suit and tie with all that billowy auburn hair. And then Katharine Hepburn sort of bounds her way to me, over the ground, which is still more balloon than earth, and she says, “You don’t know anything about God. You don’t even know anything about the movies.” Then she leans in with red lips too full and big to be real and she kisses me with them, and when we pull apart I have those lips between my teeth, but they’re wax. They’re the oversize wax lips like from Halloween and my teeth sink into them all the way up to my gums, and they’re stuck there. And I want to say something, but I can’t, because those lips are all stuck on my teeth and my mouth can’t get around them to form the words. And then Jane Fonda is laughing from somewhere far off—though I’m not sure if that part is still my dream.
uring my first one-on-one session we did my iceberg. I guess it was really a two-on-one, because both Reverend Rick and a woman I’d never met before that day, Promise Psychologist/Assistant Director Lydia March, were there “supporting” me. The language at Promise was all about support, not counseling:
. I learned later that I wasn’t special and that everybody at Promise got an iceberg of their very own. The icebergs were black-and-white photocopies of a drawing Rick had done. When he first handed mine across the table, it looked like this:
“So you know the deal with icebergs, right?” He asked.
I studied the picture for a little while, trying to work out where he was going with this. We had spent half an hour talking about how I was adjusting, about the classes I’d be taking, about any concerns I might be having in regard to the rules. We had not gotten to just how this place was going to cure me, and I didn’t understand how this drawing might be a step in that direction. And not understanding bothered me; I didn’t want to be tricked into revealing anything important. I stayed quiet.
Rick smiled. “Let me try that another way. What do you know about icebergs? Anything?”
I made my answer as unhelpful as I could, given my uncertainty. “I know that one spelled big trouble for the
,” I said.
“Yep,” he said, smiling his smile, tucking his hair. “It did. Anything else?”
I looked again at the drawing. I kept looking. This was weird.
“Surely you know something more about them,” Lydia said. “Enormous islands of ice adrift in the oceans.” She had an English accent, and not that I knew anything about the variations of such accents, but hers was clearly more of the refined, posttransformation Eliza Doolittle variety than the pre-transformation flower peddler Eliza Doolittle variety. “Think about the expression
tip of the iceberg
,” she said.
I looked at her. She didn’t smile. She didn’t look mean, necessarily, but serious, all business. She had one of those faces with too many sharp points, her nose, her cheekbones, severely arched eyebrows; and she wore her hair pulled back supertight to her head, like the backup faux-guitar-playing women in that Robert Palmer video, so it seemed like her forehead went on forever. She did have great hair, though. It was really white, like a perfect shade of white,
, and with it all pulled back tight like that, into a ponytail, it looked somehow futuristic, like she might have come off the
“Tip of the iceberg,” she said again.
I had just heard that expression recently but couldn’t remember where, and I didn’t have time to think about it with them both looking at me with such expectation. “You mean because so much of it is below the surface?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Rick said, smiling even bigger. “You nailed it. We only see about an eighth of an iceberg’s total mass when we view it from above the surface of the water. This is why ships sometimes got in trouble, because the crew thought that what they were seeing on the water seemed pretty insignificant, manageable, but they weren’t prepared to handle all the ice below the surface.”
He reached over and slid the drawing back across the table and wrote a couple of things on it, then slid it back over to me. Next to the pointed mass located above the water’s surface it read:
Cameron’s Same Sex Attraction Disorder
. He had also written:
Family, Friends, Society
above the ship.
Now I could see where this was going.
“Would you say that the tip of the iceberg, in this drawing, anyway, looks pretty scary to the people on the boat?” He asked.
“I guess,” I said, still looking at the paper in front of me.
“What does that mean,
?” Lydia asked. “You need to answer these questions with a bit of reflection. We can’t support you if you aren’t going to put forth any effort.”