I spent a dreary Sunday scuffing around the house in my shorts and a tee shirt while my mother and Danny went to the picnic. The old man watched me out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't say anything, not even, "Go put on some clothes! You look like a goddamn bum!" which is what he'd have said under different circumstances.
The other thing he didn't say weighed even heavier on me. What was I going to do, if anything? He knew I'd been out most of Friday, but he didn't ask where I'd been, just as he never asked where I went out in the evening. Just as he never asked when I came home very late at night. He didn't ask. He never asked. Neither of them did. It was a typical Desmond conspiracy of silence. Marianne's know-it-all husband, Mike Fagan, always said that the CIA used to recruit heavily at colleges like Notre Dame and Georgetown, where they had a large group of Irish-American students, because they knew that Micks, when the chips were down, were masters at keeping secrets. Even the old man, now that his drinking days were finished, had sunk back into that sullen, tight-lipped Irish watchfulness that must have driven the British nuts during their ill-fated occupation.
For such a poetic and generally engaging people, the Irish can be maddeningly uncommunicative when it comes to anything really important. During my childhood my father and I communicated mainly by grunts. It was pretty clear to him very early that I was not the son he'd been expecting. While he was big, sandy-haired, and blustering, I was slender and delicate-faced, with straight, silky Black Irish hair and dark green eyes like my half-Irish, half-French Canadian mother. My boisterous red-headed sisters were more like the Desmonds -- argumentative and reckless, they would have been the kind of sons he could be proud of. Instead, they were girls constantly on the edge of trouble -- and there was always plenty of trouble for them to get into.
I, on the other hand, was recognized as a pretty little sissy boy as soon as I could walk. I toddled out into the world and discovered it was full of boys who would grow up to be men like my father -- boys waiting to knock me down and then kick my ass for good measure. I spent a lot of time on the ground. But it was even worse when my old man was the one who had put me there. And he put me there more and more the older I got, especially after he'd been drinking. I seemed to embody all of his failures as a man -- I was weak and bookish and preferred to run and hide rather than stand and fight. In another generation I would probably have been sent to the seminary early and done the family proud by becoming a priest. And I have no doubt I'd have been a good one -- the academic life isn't that far off from it -- but in the 1980's it was no longer an option. The old man derided the Church and my mother's devotion to it, and although I attended Catholic schools right up until I fled to New York, I didn't feel particularly spiritual. There was too much else in the world that caught my attention.
Like Greg Keeley. My Little League buddy. My first boyfriend, although I'd sure he would gag at that characterization. But it was true. The two of us did everything together that two boys can do -- except the Big One. We stopped short of that, out of ignorance, but also out of fear. We both knew it was the final step to being something neither of us wanted to acknowledge. The proof that you were a fag.
By that time I already knew, but I was never sure about Greg. Was he? Or is he now, deep inside? Or was it just basic horniness, with me as a convenient crash test dummy? Or would he eventually be like Aaron -- a guy who suppressed his desires and forced himself to be straight until he could no longer take the pressure? Because when Aaron burst out of the closet, he came like Superman out of the phone booth and never looked back. But Greg Keeley, from what my mother told me, was just a regular suburban dad who still lived a few blocks away from his parents and went to the same church we all grew up in, St. Clement's, where his kids now attend school, the same parish where Danny would start Kindergarten in a couple of days. Maybe Greg had a baseball-playing son Danny's age. Maybe the cycle just kept going. And going.
On Monday -- Labor Day -- I worked myself up into a sweat trying to decide what to wear to Raj's get-together that night. He'd said it was informal. What did that mean? Raj was a pretty formal guy. Maybe informal to him was actually dressed-up to me. I thought about calling and asking him, but I didn't want to look like a clueless dick.
His friends were going to be there. Did that mean other doctors? Did that mean gay friends? The party was at his condo in the Flats, so it certainly wasn't a family thing. His wife wouldn't be there -- would she? No, of course not. Even the confident Raj Kumar wouldn't invite the guy he was casually fucking to the same party as his wife. Would he? That told me clearly that I didn't really know Raj Kumar at all. I knew what he liked in bed, and I knew how he decorated his condo, and I knew what kind of booze he drank and what smokes he preferred, but that's not knowing someone.
Promptly at 7:00 Sanjay pulled the big black BMW up in front of the house. You could set your watch by that guy.
The old man watched me pull on my leather jacket. In the end I'd decided on beige chinos and a dark green cotton shirt. Boring, yes, but informal. I thought the leather jacket would add a slightly outlaw touch. Besides, it might get chilly later.
Just before I went out the door, my father spoke. "You going to be late? In case your mother wants to know?" She and Danny were still over at the church party.
"Probably. Tell her not to wait up."
He grunted. It was a familiar grunt.
I paused. "What?"
"For what?" I challenged. After all, I hadn't done anything he needed to be sorry for. Yet.
"Whatever." And then he looked away. Back at the television screen. Jerry Lewis had just finished singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
And I walked out the door.