Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 33

Lunch, as you can probably well imagine, was kind of awkward. Dad didn't say much after barging in on us, other than muttering apologies, turning on his heel and leaving. Mom seemed to not know what was going on, while sensing something was up between me and Dad. In between handing out sandwiches and cartons of milk, she glanced at all of us in turns, scrutinizing our faces for any clue she manage to find.

"You're very quiet my darling," she observed cheerily, "everything all right?"

"Oh yes," Dad said, plastering a smile on his face, "I'm just caught up in thinking about all the stuff I've got to do after we wrap up the summer, is all." While relieved to see him smiling, I dreaded the moment that I knew was sure to come. What I didn't know was when, or whether he would be angry. My belly being leaden with anticipation, I left most of my sandwich uneaten.

What worried me above all else, was Neal's reaction. Normally, Neal would be the first one to throw off the mantle of any concern about what other people felt, at least that's what I expected. Not this time, however; Neal withdrew into a quiet state, although his appetite didn't seem to suffer that much. He looked over at me and raised his eyebrow when he saw my half-eaten sandwich. I simply nodded silently, and Neal took it and ate it. Between the two of us, we didn't say but two words to each other. I hoped he wasn't angry with me; I couldn't imagine why he would be, but it still lingered as an undesired possibility.

"So," my mom piped up, "what do you two have dreamed up for after lunch, Neal?"

"I dunno," Neal shrugged, sounding somewhat subdued, "I didn't get much sleep last night and I kinda have a headache. I thought maybe I might catch a nap."

"Oh my dear," she cooed, pressing a palm to his forehead, "doesn't feel like you have a fever or anything. How about you Oliver, you feeling okay?"

"I'm kind of in the same predicament," I said gloomily. Mother made a comical frownie-face, clearly satisfied that she had stumbled upon the reason for our quietude that afternoon.

"Perhaps you two should spend a couple of days in down time," she mused, "you know, take it easy for a little bit."

"That's not a bad idea, you two," my father spoke, raising an eyebrow at me, "you two have been going at it a bit hard lately, might do you some good." I mentally replayed what he said several times, trying to discern any unusual emphasis on the word "hard". Before I could reach any conclusion, Neal abruptly pushed away from the table and stood up, looking positively green. He fled the room, dashing outside. I got up too, albeit more slowly, and watched through the window as he jogged down the drive toward his parent's cabin. In the distance, Neal stopped running, hunched over, and put his hands on his knees. I narrowed my eyes, trying to focus on him, I realized he was vomiting.

"Oh my God," I exclaimed, "He's getting sick!" I started to go after him, but my father put his hand firmly on my shoulder.

"Oliver, stay," he was firm, but not angry sounding.

"But DAD!" I cried.

"It's okay Oliver," he said soothingly, "Garrett's got him, see?"

I looked back and saw that, indeed, Garret had seen Neal in distress and gone over to him, rubbing his back. Presently, after Neal stopped heaving and retching, Garrett slung him up in his arms and started carrying him towards his parent's cabin. I couldn't see Neal's face as he gripped Garrett around the neck, but I guessed he looked pretty miserable.

"You don't feel sick to your stomach, do you Oliver?" my mother asked.

"No," I said quietly, "but I think I'm going to go to my room now."

"Why don't you go with him," my mom suggested to my father, "make sure he's okay while I clean up lunch. I'll check up on him later."

I trudged up to our house, stepped into the back door, shuffling through the kitchen, up the stairs, and into my room where I flung myself onto the bed.

"Oliver," Dad started, standing in the door jamb, "I, uh... I think we need..."

"Dad," I interrupted him from the bed, one arm slung over my eyes, "do we have to do this now? I really don't feel well."

"Okay," he said, softly, "but it's important we talk soon. Can we do that Oliver?"

"I guess," I breathed, resignedly. I really did suddenly feel extremely tired.

"Alright then," Dad said, pulling a light blanket over me. He left the room without another word, leaving me to my tortured thoughts. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I did managed to fall into a dreamless sleep. I was aware of my Mom coming in to check on me sometime during the afternoon, but other than that, they left me alone. Later, my Dad came into the room, sat on the bed next to me and gently shook my shoulder.

"Hey Dad," I said, my voice still thick with sleep.

"Ready to have that talk now?" He ran his hand over my brushy hair, it was beginning to grow out, starting to naturally part again on the left, leaving a stubborn whorl of cowlick in the back.

"Not really," I sighed, "but I guess now's as good a time as any."

"Look, Oliver," he started, "I've known for some time that you and me needed to have a talk, and I must have rehearsed what I was going to say probably a thousand times. It's just... when I walked in and saw you and Neal together like that, I knew I'd waited too long."

"Dad, it wasn't what you think, we weren't..."

"Of course it was, Oliver," he said softly, "and of course you were." There was a finality in his tone that made any further protest futile. "The thing is, Oliver, I want you to know that I am NOT mad or upset at you; it's important to me that you know that from the start." I sighed heavily, feeling both relieved and not relieved, if that makes any sense.

"Dad, Neal and me..." I tried to speak, not even really sure what I was going to say.

"Ollie, listen," My father interrupted, "I've got some things to say first and I want to just get them out before anything else, okay? Just listen for a minute."

"Okay," I nodded, my voice sounding like a mouse's squeak.

"Okay," he echoed, pressing him palms against his thighs like he was trying to smooth the wrinkles from his pants. "Here goes......" He stood up and turned toward me, his face an inscrutable mix of worry, pain, anxiety and frustration. "Oliver, whatever you were doing with Neal, it's okay with me, I don't care, it's not my business. Uhm, kids do that sort of thing, and it's like, completely normal and stuff." My father was sweating and agitated, had I not been so keyed up myself, I might have felt badly for him. "I know you are concerned I'd be upset, and I totally am not. But I do worry, Oliver. I worry that you two might not completely understand what can come of things like this."

"Dad..." I wanted to offer him a way out.

"Just let me say my piece," he said, slowly pacing. "When I was your age Oliver, maybe a little younger...... okay, a lot younger... I was, like most boys, very curious about, you know... things." I saw where this was going, and I started to get uncomfortable.

"Dad, you don't have..." I said, trying again.

"Dammit Oliver," he exclaimed, "let me talk!" He didn't exactly shout, but I understood that I needed to just let him speak. "So yeah, like pretty much every boy I know, me and a few friends messed around some and that was that. And it's completely normal, so that's fine. The thing is, as we grew older, we gradually all figured out what it was that we liked. Most liked girls, a few turned out to like boys and some of us discovered we liked both." He stopped for a moment to let those last few words hang in the air, my eyebrows moved up in surprise.

"Holy cow, Dad." I breathed.

"I know, right? But you see Oliver, I grew up in the fifties, you just didn't cop to something like that when I was a kid, it was bad news! My friends would have ostracized me, probably beat me up and stuff, not to mention that your Grandpa would probably have whipped my ass for it."

"Wait, I don't understand," I said, putting a finger in the air, Dad ignored me.

"At least I had an out, I liked girls too, so it wasn't so bad for me," he continued talking, "The day I graduated high school, I enlisted in the Navy with a bunch of friends of mine so we could avoid the draft. Anyways, during basic training, one of my buddies got outed and he got a blanket party and washed out because of it."

"What's a blanket party?" I asked. Dad got quiet, and he looked away from me, his eyes glittering.

"It's a bad thing, Oliver," he said, his voice choked with emotion, "It's where a bunch of guys throw a blanket over someone to hold him down, and then they put bars of soap or rolls of quarters into socks and beat him with them, all over his body."

"Sheez," I whispered.

"Yes," he said, "my buddy ended up with cracked ribs, a busted nose, teeth and jaw, and he had bruises all over him like I have never seen on anybody before. He was unconscious and bleeding when they carted him out of there."

"That must have been hard," I said, "watching that happen to your buddy." Dad went quiet and didn't say anything, he just stood there, his jaw rigid. His Adam's apple moved up and down like he was trying to gulp something down.

"That's the thing, Oliver," he finally said in a croaking voice, "I didn't just watch." He looked down at the ground, I could feel his shame.

"You mean you tried to stop them?"

"No Oliver."

"What? Do you mean, you beat on him too?" This completely floored me. My dad has always made his pacifistic nature quite clear. Everyone who knew him, understood how much he loathed war, fighting and violence of any sort. Nothing made any sense to me now.

"Oliver..." he said, his voice catching in his throat, "understand that I didn't have any choice in the matter. If I had not participated, or pulled my punches or had, in any way, gone easy on him, the others would have fingered me for a homosexual too. I would have suffered a similar fate."

My father stood before me, humbled and trembling, and I still couldn't wrap my head around it all. While appalled at his treatment of his friend, I also understood his need for survival, to avoid the punishing blows that surely would have come his way. As with most boys, I revered my father deeply and in ways that I could never express. Seeing him undertake such a devastating confession to me, rocked me to my core. I felt tears of sympathy and rage spring to my eyes.

"That is so unfair for you Dad," I cried out, "it makes me so angry!" Dad stepped forward and sat down on the bed again, wrapping me in a bear hug.

"Oh Oliver," he said, ever so softly, "It was easily the worst day of my life. I got my orders to ship out shortly after and we never saw that guy again. I heard a rumor that he killed himself after the Navy dishonorably discharged him, but I don't know if that's true." We sat there for a bit, holding onto each other, until he sat up straight, with his face set back to the Dad I knew, his emotions once again collected and in check.

"I'm sorry Dad," I said, "I never knew."

"Here's the thing," Dad started again, a bit more calm now, "I learned something you might not have yet considered. There have been people, like you and me, for as long as there have been people living together. We're not strange, we're not diseased. We're certainly not NORMAL in the purest sense of things, but there is nothing truly wrong with us either. The problem being, Oliver, some people think it's a sickness, or a sinful plague visited on men by the devil himself. They judge us as willful sinners, spitting in God's face, an abomination unto Him. Above all, they fear anything that does not fit into their very narrow view of how things should be. They fear what they do not understand, and as I have told you many times before, fear breeds hate." I nodded, now fully understanding why my father so fervently spoke against hate and violence. Not only did Dad know what it could bring, he knew what it had cost him and his friends.

"But Dad, wait a second," I asked, scratching my head, "If you are like that, you know, liking boys, then how are we here now?"

"My son," he chuckled, "I met your mother while I was in the Navy. She worked at the PX at my base, and we sort of hit it off. It didn't take me long to fall madly in love with her. We married, much to the relief of my mother and father, and shortly afterwards, there came you."

"But Dad," I persisted, still confused.

"Hush now," he said with a smirk, "I want you to know that you were conceived in love and we both wanted you very much. I confessed my proclivities to your mother before we got engaged, and we both promised that once we committed to each other, neither of us would stray." Now that sounded like my father, stalwart and faithful, almost to a fault. "Listen to me, Oliver, this is very important," he said, barely suppressing a smile with a mock-stern voice, "It doesn't matter to me, or your mother, whether you like boys or girls or mutton-chops." I giggled a little at that, it was good to see him smiling at me through all his seriousness. "But I want you to be careful Oliver. Be judicious in whom you let into that part of your life."

"I think I know who I can trust, Dad." I said, confidently.

"No doubt you're a good judge of character, Ollie, but so am I, and even I got fooled. Let me tell you about the fellow who labeled my buddy as a homosexual. It turns out that son-of-a-bitch made a career of luring other guys into doing stuff, and then reporting them as sexual assaults to superior officers. That is, until he tried to take down an Admiral's son and got dragged in front of the Judge Advocate General. He was charged with falsifying a report of a criminal nature and tossed into the Brig. That fucking guy, was one of my best friends. He participated, very enthusiastically I might add, many times in little hay-making sessions during our high school years. I don't know when or even if he ever got out of jail, but if he did, he better not ever show his face around these parts again."

"You gonna beat him up if he does, Dad?" I asked, perhaps a bit too eagerly.

"Not my style," he said firmly, "but if he is ever foolish enough, I'll be happy to alert Deputy Sheriff Olsen. HE will, probably not-so-kindly, escort him to the city limits with unambiguous advice to never return, at peril of his personal well-being." We sat together for a few minutes in silence. So many questions whirled through my head, I didn't know where to begin. Suddenly, I sat up.

"Oh my God, Neal!"

"What?" Dad asked, startled.

"I've got to tell him we're okay," I blurted out, "You saw him, he was so worried about stuff that he barfed!"

I started to go, but Dad grabbed me by my belt buckle and pulled me back slowly to sit back down on the bed.

"You see, that's another thing I need to talk to you about, Oliver."

"Wait, what?"

"He's probably not worried about me, what he probably is... is worried I'm going to tell his father," Dad paused to take a breath, "and Neal's father, is a whole other ball of yarn."

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