The Roar of Love - 1

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Susan_0.jpg
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio



Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later,
and then you still have to decide what to do. ”• C.S. Lewis




Paul Atreides and Frodo and Sam and a host of others had traipsed through their bedroom on a nightly basis for the past few years. And Carlo and Danny would have signed up to fight for freedom or hunt for Orcs or even dare to enter Mordor. But not Mark. If King Peter the Magnificent had been real he would have welcomed the younger boys as Kings of Narnia…Sons of Adam. But he would be completely surprised to find out the oldest boy would have shied away from battle since he wanted with all his heart to be as kind and caring and sweet as Queen Susan the Gentle…


Scotch Plains, New Jersey, 2009, the Albanese home...

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder
'Til it was a battle cry
I'll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Mark stared at his father as the man finished reading the story. Even at the fourth time through, the boys loved it just as much as the first time; all except for Mark, who turned on the futon and faced the wall. His father had been paying heed to the twins. Carlo beamed as his father closed the book and placed it on the nightstand between their two beds. And Danny put his head back on his pillow and smiled

“And who wants to be a King in Narnia?” the man asked with a soft laugh. Danny raised his hand and waved excitedly; he was the most animated of the three. Mark rubbed his eyes in fatigue; he looked tired, but it wasn’t from the hour, but more out feeling completely out of place in his own home. If Carlo wanted to be a King, so be it. If Danny wanted to go to war for Narnia, that was all well and good.

It wasn’t as if Mark didn’t appreciate the story; even at fourteen, he still enjoyed his father’s reading. Since their mother’s death, it was not only a nice way of connecting, but of remembering since Louise and Jerry had shared that wonderful task. Tolkien. L’Engle. Even an intro to Heinlein and Herbert. It wasn't so much what the story said as much as what it meant and how painful it was.

Paul Atreides and Frodo and Sam and a host of others had traipsed through their bedroom on a nightly basis for the past few years. And Carlo and Danny would have signed up to fight for freedom or hunt for Orcs or even dare to enter Mordor. But not Mark. If King Peter the Magnificent had been real he would have welcomed the younger boys as Kings of Narnia…Sons of Adam. But he would be completely surprised to find out the oldest boy would have shied away from battle since he wanted with all his heart to be as kind and caring and sweet as Queen Susan the Gentle…


One year later...Faith Chapel, Scotch Plains, New Jersey...

“Your boys are very keen on the church camping trip, Jer.” Pastor McKenna said, but his expression seemed to belie his words.

“What’s wrong, Pat?” Jerry shook the man’s hand, feeling awkward. Pat McKenna pulled him close and grasped his arm; almost knight-like in the strong grip.

“Mark told Sean that he’s skipping the Men’s retreat next month. I’m wondering why he’d do that in light of your position here.” The words weren’t intended to be coercive but they gripped Jerry just as much as the strong hand of the shepherd of their fellowship.

“I talked to him about it. He feels that he needs to take a break; we’ve been going non-stop since the beginning of the year and it’s just more about him needing to have some time to himself. It's only been two years since...well, since Louise passed. You understand?” Pat understood but didn’t accept Mark’s decision at all.

“We think it’s best that he attend; after all, Jerry, you are the care pastor here.”

“We? You…and who else?” Jerry shook his head; not so much in disagreement as in surprise.

“Just me and Dave and Cal, Jer. It’s really important that Mark set an example for the rest of the boys as a young man in Christ, no matter what he might be going through himself. You understand, right, Jer?”

“Oh…let me talk to him, okay?” Pat’s expression didn’t seem to leave any room for failure; Mark would be expected to attend the retreat and that would be the end of that.


That evening...

Just because everything's changing
Doesn't mean it's never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war

The room had grown quiet other than the pop and hiss of the burning logs in the fireplace. A compound bow lay on the hearth along with a quiver of arrows. Mark sat on the sofa across from Jerry; Carlo and Danny were at a friend’s house for dinner.

“But Dad…you said it was okay?”

Without comment, Jerry stood up suddenly and walked into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of mugs and the coffee pot off the counter. It’s been said that when you want to talk about how you feel, you share a pot of tea. And when you want to solve a problem, you put on a pot of coffee. Mark felt that more than just his decision was a problem; not just in the eyes of the church leadership, but with his father as well.

“I know, but Pat says that we really need to show an example; as a way of getting other young men involved and interested. Mark shook his head; a barely noticeable gesture that his father noticed nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, Mark, but you know that as a pastor's kid, you really should expect to have more responsibility.” Not just the things that would be expected, but a mindset to follow whatever path was placed before him, no matter how he felt.

“But Dad….”

“No, Mark. I understand you’re disappointed, but we all have to pull our weight. You understand, don’t you?” The boy nodded without remark other than a breathless sigh.


The office of Marie Chang, therapist...a few days later...

Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light
You'll come back
When it's over
No need to say goodbye

You'll come back
When it's over
No need to say goodbye

“Mark? You’ve been awfully quiet. I know the anniversary of your mother's passing is growing close.” Marie looked at the boy and half-frowned; an expression of empathy for the boy’s recent struggles. Mark unfolded his arms and quickly refolded them in an embrace.

“It’s …. You know it bothers me that we don’t read anymore.” He put his head down.

“Well, you’re past fifteen, and your brothers are getting older.”

Marie felt that no one could really outgrow books like The Silver Chair or The Hobbit. Most boys and some girls were more likely forced by convention or expectations to abandon the friends they had grown to know and love in their favorite books. Some, thankfully she felt, never did, and kept that life-long bond between reader and author.

Mark wasn’t about outgrowing his childhood so much as re-defining and even reconstructing his past. Identifying things long-buried and coming to grips with needs long ignored made it better for a teenager, but not at all for the son of a pastor; albeit one lower in the pecking order of church, to be sure, but still one with the demands and expectations of others.

“Carlo still reads the books on his own. Danny asked Dad to read, but he said it was time to put away childish things. I mean, come on! Childish? It feels like getting beat up with Scripture.” The boy’s words faltered and he choked back a sob.

“It’s important for all of you to remember, isn’t it?”

“When he read…when he reads to us, it’s like life comes back for us as a family. But now? It’s like he forgot all about Mom.” The boy shook his head as tears began to flow.

“Reading the stories honors her memory.” Marie said softly, knowing it was so much more for the boy before her.

“It reminds me of the end of the Last Battle, where Susan doesn’t even come into…. Like she’s no longer interested. I'm like when Susan's actually sweet and caring and Dad is like when Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia..." His voice trailed off and Marie was tempted to interject 'and no longer yours, either,' but thought better of it.

"Mom knew, and I thought Dad was beginning to understand….you know? And then...”

The boy had spoken more than several times about more recent bouts of self-discovery; even telling his father about the long talks he'd have with his Mom when Jerry was off helping tend to the flock. But his father said it was all well and good to feel that way, but that he had to change for everyone’s sake; it felt almost as bad. No, it felt worse than when Louise died because the pain Mark felt seemed to go on and on, and that it would indeed go on for ever. Somehow it made sense that the pain of his grief would subside because he knew he'd see his Mom again, but he feared he'd never see his future....his future fulfilled.

“The closer I get to who I am the further away he feels….like he’s moving away. But I can’t let go of who I am. Why can’t he see that? It feels like I don’t have… like I’ll never….”

“You’re afraid that you’ll lose part of yourself, aren’t you?” She knew, of course, that it was only a beginning of Mark’s fears.

“He wants me to go to the Men’s Retreat. I don’t even have a say. I can’t, Marie. I just can’t.”

“What part of going hurts the most, Mark? What would be the most harmful part of that?” She knew his next answer as well, but asked the question anyway to give him a place to be heard.

“I thought after our last time with you and me and him and Danny and Carlo that I could…. My brothers think it’s weird, but they still …. It’s like it’s okay with them.”

“Because they love you, anyway?” The boy nodded as he wiped his face with his hand.

“But it feels like your father doesn’t?” A very pronounced nudge meant to be freeing seemed to miss its mark as the boy turned his head toward the wing of the sofa. After a few moments of silence, the boy turned back to her and spoke.

“No….it’s because he does. But he loves what I’m supposed to be. Who everyone thinks I am. How do I deal with that? How can I argue with that when ….”

“He means well, but that doesn’t help you at all, does it?” She shook her head to mirror Mark’s expression.

“I mean….he loves me. Shouldn’t I be grateful for that?” Too much insight for a fifteen year old; his words seemed to back him into a corner that no one understood would lead to a life-long sentence of frustration and sadness.

“You are grateful. But it’s not enough to give love if it’s conditional; even if those conditions are unspoken or even unconsciously held. You’ve told your father how you feel, and what has his response been?” Marie paused for a moment. The boy seemed to be gathering his thoughts, but she quickly corrected herself.

“You’ve told your father what you know; it’s more than what you feel, but what you believe about yourself, right?” Mark nodded and half-smiled but he continued to cry wordlessly.

“I know it’s hard to think of this right now, since he’s pushing for you to go to this event. But that’s not the thing that worries you…or rather, just going isn’t what is troubling you, is it?” The boy shook his head and wiped his face once again with his hand.

“It’s what attending the retreat would mean…to him…to your brothers…to the rest of the church…. What it would say to everyone when you want to tell everyone something else entirely, right?” He nodded once but shook his head.

“We talked about when to change…. I think very soon is the time. Have you given any more thought to that?” She smiled warmly and stood up. As he thought she disappeared for a few moments before returning with something shiny in her hand.

“Dark chocolate always helps me think.” She handed him the foil wrapped candy. He broke off a few small pieces in almost a timid fashion.

“You can have more if you like,” she said as she placed the packet on the table in front of the couch.

“Names are important for so many reasons. And hardly anyone gets to choose their own. But I believe you need to speak your name to your family; at least at first to your Dad. We can do it here, if you like.”

“I…think I can tell him tonight when I get home.” Marie nodded; almost but not quite reluctant. The act of confession, as it is defined by the root words, means to say the same thing. The boy would be speaking for the first time to his father and perhaps his family the same thing as he knew himself to be. Rather, he would be speaking, not as a boy pleading his case before a well meaning if ignorant father, but as a young woman who would be telling her family exactly who and what she was.

"Maybe next week in my office?" The boy's frown ended that discussion. She nodded.

“Okay. I think you’ll do just fine,” she said with a cautious smile. It wasn't the best choice; she had wanted Jerry to come to the session that afternoon for everyone's sake, but he canceled to do a visitation at the hospital. The boy nodded but the relief of making the decision was too much for the moment and he burst into tears; sobbing with a peaceful if unfamiliar freedom. And Marie knew that no matter how successful the pastor's kid would be in expressing the truth, Jerry Albanese would see the truth through the prism of his own beliefs. And that meant that 'just fine' still would be very, very painful.


That evening...

“Dad?”

“Hey.” Jerry sidled to the edge of the wide couch, leaving room.

“What’s up?”

“I need to talk to you. I…”

“You know you can tell me anything.” Jerry smiled, but the boy half-frowned.

“I….sometimes….”

“Really, you can tell me anything,” he insisted, making it more about him at that point.

“We’ve talked about this before, Dad.”

“Come on, Mark…not that again.”

“It’s who I am, Dad. I’m sorry.” The boy put his head down and began to sob. A few seconds passed before he felt a hand raise his chin.

“No, Mark. I’m sorry. I’ve been pushing you too hard. This is an awfully confusing time for you, and I should have been sensitive. I know you miss your Mom and all, and Pastor Pat is convinced it’s just a phase you’re going through. It’s alright. Even Christians boys get conflicted and confused. You don’t have to go to the retreat.” Jerry half-smiled.

“You told him? We agreed that you wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“You tell your therapist. What’s wrong with me telling Pat?” Jerry shook his head impatiently.

“I….it’s my life. And my decision. You had no right to say anything.”

“He’s our pastor, Mark.”

“No, Dad….he’s the pastor. You’re my pastor. And Carlo’s and Danny’s, Dad. I trusted you.

“Your secret is safe with him, Mark. He won’t say a word to anyone.” Jerry practically pled; not to be sorry but to not be in trouble.

“It’s not safe because he knows…He knows all about me and we both know already what he believes.”

“How is that so wrong? He’s looking out for you…for us.” Right in a manner of speaking, but not quite correct, since looking out meant expectations and demands and even words that were spoken in public which condemned who the boy really was in private.

“I can’t even …. What…. you promised…. You promised!” Mark began to sob; not hysterically even in the midst of angry tears, but an almost low moan of helplessness. Jerry tried to hug him, but he pulled away.

“You promised….” The boy got up off the couch and ran down the hall to his room. A few moments later Jerry stood at the closed door and knocked; a firm and insistent rap that demands to be heard rather than the urgent need to hear.

“Go away….”

“Mark? Come on….Mark?”

“Dad…this is who I am…what I am. I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit, but I don’t know what else to do other than be myself.

“No son of mine!” Jerry snapped but stopped just short of the expression of anger and judgment he felt toward his oldest child.”

“I’m not your son, Dad….please?” The words were halting and low, but distinct enough to be heard and still ignored.

“Mark, you’re my son. Stop it!” Demands, misconceptions, fear; even a bit of hatred mixed with the true, deep-down love the man had for his oldest; diluting that love to the point of tepid tolerance.

“Daddy! Please?” Sobs mixed with shouts. A child feeling small and helpless and abandoned.

“Mark….come on, open the door!” The man with the closed mind and heart dismissed the sad pleas.

“Daddy…. Go away! I hate you!” Words that were more a fruit of hopelessness and futility than conviction. Jerry went to knock harder on the door but thought better of it. And inside the room, a lonely figure lay in the dark on the bed, crying softly while repeating over and over,

“My name is Susan.”

Now we're back to the beginning
It's just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can't feel it too
Doesn't mean that you have to forget

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
'Til they're before your eyes
You'll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

You'll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

to be continued...


The Call
Words and music by the performer
Regina Spektor
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq8-d8bG6hY



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