Can you tell me why you left your adopted parents’ home at sixteen?
Sure. You already know I was five years old when my birth parents were killed right in front of me, in a car accident, but I didn’t tell you it was my aunt and uncle who adopted me. They couldn’t have kids of their own, so it was a win-win, because I was familiar with them thanks to regular visits before the accident happened, and they loved me to bits. Basically, a bad situation was made as good as it could be due to the fact that I was young enough to be moulded into a kid they could call their own. I was still malleable enough to one day reflect back all the values they were going to instill in me.
My uncle was a gentle, soft spoken kind of guy; profoundly Christian. My aunt was a little sterner, but again, profoundly Christian. They both wanted the best for me. Not so much the best of things, but the best of experiences—good, wholesome, Protestant Ethic, Pentecostal experiences.
[He stops to light a cigarette.]
Not many kids get the kind of second chance I was given. I mean, my aunt and uncle doted on me without spoiling me. They dedicated the best years of their lives to what was, in their minds, the noblest of undertakings: the raising up of a hardworking, decent and honest young man. I was going to be their gift to the world—a gift that would honour the memory of my real parents while honouring the glory of god. They were good, well-intentioned people. But like everyone else, they were flawed. Unfortunately, they were flawed in what I now consider to be the worst possible way.
[He takes a big drag off his cigarette and exhales through his nose.]
In some ways, I guess you can’t blame them, because nothing beats religion when it comes to willful ignorance and intellectual passivity…Why think for yourself when your pastor and your bible will do it for you? Believe me, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said they were profoundly Christian. They went to church twice a week, and of course, I had to go with them. At first, I was happy to because I liked Sunday school. I liked the arts and crafts and stuff. It was pretty fun…It really was.
[I can hear the nostalgia in the cracks of his voice.]
I remember making this caterpillar one time. It was made out of little green and red pom-poms. I glued Popsicle sticks to each end of it so I could move it around like a puppet. I brought it home with me and put on a show for my aunt and uncle. I still remember the storyline. It was about a caterpillar who tries to make friends with a butterfly, but the butterfly is old and arrogant to the point of forgetting where it came from, and it laughs in the caterpillar’s face before flying away. A few weeks pass and the caterpillar turns into what it thinks is a butterfly, and it wastes no time exploring the meadow, testing its new wings, and lo and behold it sees the old butterfly caught in a spider’s web, so it stops to help and while doing so it reveals its identity, but the old butterfly mocks the idea of metamorphosis, calling it a blasphemous lie, and then it mocks the young butterfly for thinking it’s a butterfly when it’s actually a lowly gypsy moth the likes of which are never to be found in the company of self-respecting monarchs, and while the gypsy moth contemplates its drab wings, the monarch flies away without so much as a thank you.
[He pauses like he’s waiting for me to catch up to him.]
Do you know what the moral of the story is?
[I shake my head while thinking the story is too complex to have come from the mind of a kid.]
Humanity cannot be rescued from it’s arrogance.
[He flicks the butt of his cigarette out the window and immediately grabs another as I consider the extent of his embellishments.]
So anyway, I grew up going to church way more than the average kid, and it wasn’t long before I graduated from Sunday school straight into the boys’ choir, thanks to my melodious voice.
[He sings a couple lines from some church hymn I don’t recognize.]
I got chosen to be the soloist. And it made me proud to stand at the front of the choir, but it was there that I found myself face to face with the man who ruined it all…We’ll call him The Ruiner.
[He looks out the window, smoking his cigarette a little faster than before.]
The Ruiner gathered intel on all of his choir boys because it expedited the grooming process, and if you were unlucky enough to be one of his favourites, then he’d redouble his intel gathering efforts. Me being the soloist automatically meant I was one of his favourites, if not his very favourite, which meant I was given more one on one time with him, in the form of vocal training sessions…You know what pederasty is, right?
Good, then I can skip the theory and get right down to telling you that The Ruiner started scheduling weekly meetings with my aunt and uncle, so he could glorify my god given gift for singing and, of course, stroke their Christian egos by telling them how polite and respectful I was, and that Jesus himself was smiling down on their parenting skills.
[Something akin to a paroxysm grips him right at this point, and the quickness with which it happens is unsettling to watch: His body stiffens, his hands ball up into fists, his face flushes red, his eyes clamp shut, his mouth contorts into a grimace, and veins swell up and protrude from his temples. I can’t tell if he’s in a fit of rage or in physical pain, because he manages to stay completely silent while it’s happening, and then it’s all over as fast as it began and he continues where he left off.]
His one on one vocal sessions were held in the basement of the church. There was a room down there he said was acoustically perfect, but that was bullshit. It was just a private place where he could introduce his choir boys to the wonders of being fondled. Some boys were more receptive to it than others, and I was one of them. He’d tousle my hair, massage my shoulders and give me lingering pats on the bum, before he sat down at the piano and put me on his lap, to accompany my singing.
[He stops again, and the haunted look in his eye tells me that he’s being tortured by mental imagery involving The Ruiner, so I ask him if he wants to take a break for a bit, but he shakes his head, lights another cigarette and keeps going.]
After the basement of the church it was vocal training weekends at his cottage, where he had a sailboat, and only one boy at a time was allowed to go out on it with him, for the simple fact that he could not have any witnesses to the heinous crimes he was committing below deck—crimes that started with a kiss and ended with sodomy, and when I bled he’d get a bit remorseful sounding while quoting Mathew 6:14-15.
[I’m unable to prevent my body language from betraying my revulsion at what I’m hearing, so he asks me if I want him to stop, but I remind him that I need to know everything for the sake of this book, to which he agrees, before asking me if I’m familiar with Malachi 3:10, and I respond by admitting my knowledge of the bible begins and ends with Proverbs 26:2.]
That’s the one about swallows and causeless curses, right?
[I nod, and just as I’m about to recite it, he makes a joke about swallowing in the context of fellatio, which he says is the one thing he never did for The Ruiner, and of course I don’t know how to react to this, so I say nothing as he clears his throat theatrically and continues.]
Malachi 3:10 is the one about the tithe, which is supposed to be ten percent of your income, and that’s ten percent of a hell of a lot of money when you consider the church in question served a wealthy congregation of about three hundred. Can you imagine what the collection plate looked like on a Sunday afternoon? Makes you wonder how much of it went into The Ruiner’s sailboat.
[In my peripheral vision I see him staring at me as I drive a little faster toward the glow of a gas station looming in the distance. I’m eager to get out of the taxi because I get the strange feeling he’s looking at me differently. It’s like he thinks I’ve been tainted by what he’s told me. Thankfully, he concludes his story with a bit of redemption—if there can be such a thing under the circumstances.]
I don’t need to tell you that I went home from the sailboat weekend a very different person, yet I never said anything to my aunt and uncle because I was ashamed I could feel any pleasure at all from something so aberrant. I kept everything to myself and I refused to go back to church, which I don’t think they ever recovered from. They kept asking me over and over again why I had shut Jesus out of my heart and eventually it made me angry, and then my anger turned to hatred, and that’s when I came up with my exit strategy: I got a job as a stock boy at the local grocery store, saved every penny I made, and the day I turned sixteen I found an apartment and moved out, leaving them to wallow in their grief. And two years later I went to the hospital with a migraine that turned out to be a fucking brain tumour.
[He flicks the butt of his cigarette out the window and mutters something I don’t quite catch, so I ask him to repeat it, and this time he says loud and clear that he’s never told anyone what he just told me.]