Today’s post is an excerpt from my work-in-progress, tentatively title Monty & Me: From Fractured to Free, a Memoir. I am posting today as part of a larger synchroblog started by the wonderful Jim Woods. Jim issued a challenge at the beginning of the month to focus on writing that matters. What follows is my attempt to show that I’ve been doing just that. In doing so I’m uniting in solidarity with other writers from around the country, and indeed the world, who have similarly taken up Jim’s challenge.
Suburban white boy tragedy is still tragedy all the same. Look beneath
the facade of the nicely painted house, the bushes trimmed just so,
and you’ll find suburbia’s dirty little secret: despite their best efforts, not
even the Joneses can keep up. They never could. There is a crumbling
marriage, two boys to corral, a mountain of bills, and a man who wants
But nobody on the outside knows any of that; all they see is what they
want to see: a happy family.
How did people live next to John Wayne Gacy all those years and not
know the truth of him? Because he looked like such a nice man. And he
was a clown for goodness’ sake! A clown! Everyone knows that clowns
love children. But some clowns are scary, and like the whitewashed
tombs Jesus spoke of, beneath the facade of the happy clown were
dead men’s bones.
Unlike Gacy, there are wounds which do no seeming harm, but rather
seek to kill the soul. Just because I grew up in suburbia, doesn’t
mean–despite having a roof, clothes, food–that I grew up happy,
Suburbia is full of whitewashed tombs: the people living in them
appearing alive, but dying inside. I know because I lived in one.
Let us look beneath to the fractured bones of my soul.
Because you see broken men beget broken boys–boys who grow to be broken
men, further begetting brokenness of their own.
This is the story of Monty and me–of how I went from fractured to free.
Motes of dust playing in beams of light. Children are playing around the town square. Little girls in frilly dresses, boys in dungarees. The Methodist church stands off to side, ignored for now, stalwart in all its red brick glory. It is the 1950’s in small-town Northwestern Pennsylvania.
My dad is there, with his sister, playing with the children. He is six, maybe seven–younger than his sister by two years. She is named Roberta, after their father. She knows him, their dad, little better than my own dad–who knows him not at all. Who does he look up to? Who’s his rock? His mother? I’m told he was very close to her.
Yes, his mother is his world. She has forbidden him from seeing his dad, and indeed from having any relationship with his father’s side of the family; like a good son, he has dutifully complied.
“I have a secret,” the little girl said.
“What is it?” asked Roberta.
“Tell us! Tell us!” shouted little Monty.
“I have a secret, and I’m not telling!”
“Aw! No fair! Tell us!”
“I know who’s getting married in the church today.”
“Who? Tell us! Come on!”
“Sillies! Your mother! Your mother’s getting married today.”
Monty and Roberta hadn’t even known their mother was courting, letting alone marrying again.
“No! That can’t be.” Almost as if on cue, like when Peter locked eyes with Jesus after the third denial, there was their mother, walking down the steps of the Methodist church, arm-in-arm with a man they’d never seen before.
Doubtful he could have articulated it at the time, but commingled with the love he bore his mother–his moon and stars–little Monty felt a shattering betrayal. If I had to guess, a seed was planted that day. One that would, with the right kind of tending, later bloom into something other than that great love he bore towards his mother.
Because, like oil and water, love and betrayal don’t mix. Or if they do somehow commingle, become tangled in the heart of a man, the results are likely to be as explosive–and as volatile–as nitroglycerin.
If I had my guess, young Monty bounced back from this betrayal, and his mother regained his trust.
He wouldn’t always. Because some seeds go deep before they bloom into a bitter harvest.
Young Monty grew up in an environment much like that of his peers: it was the 1950’s, the era of rock-n-roll. It was a music foreign to the ears of his mother and stepfather, but soothing to his soul. He was akin to his peers in another way: he grew up in a house of secrets:
Evening. Dinner has been eaten, and cleared. Chores, and homework, are done. The children have bathed, and have been sent to bed. Monty is in his room, in the dark, hoping to drift off to sleep to strains of his radio. Needing to sleep, willing himself there.
Then he hears the voice:
“Turn that goddam radio down!”
He knows what’s coming, feels powerless to avoid it. He wants to hide, to die, but can’t. He hears the footsteps on the stairwell, counts them. The heavy tread stops outside his door, the knob slowly turns.
“Didn’t I tell you to turn that goddam thing off?” asks his stepfather.
Monty fears to speak.
“Yes, sir.” He doesn’t move. His stepfather approaches.
“I’ll turn it off, you stupid kid.”
Monty knows what’s coming: it will be more than the radio’s knob that gets fumbled with. It has been this way since shortly after his mother remarried, but he can’t tell. Who would believe him? Why won’t she protect him?
Where is God?