Sunday, June 1, 2014
Rook (Part 2)
Chuckles, Rook, and Richard came in, chatting about computers. I knew Rook had a mild interest in them; it turned out Richard was an enthusiast like Chuckles: the long bench with at least three glowing CRT monitors, empty cases, motherboards, random parts, manuals, all the bits a computer enthusiast/geek needed. Richard's parents had the money to supply him with anything he needed, but he preferred Chuckles' method: scavenging. They both felt there was a certain purity in building working machines from stuff other people had thrown away. Chuckles and Richard were arguing Linux versus Windows, and also which build of Linux.
" ---an ideal world, sure, Linux would dominate. But to remain employed, I have to stay up to date on Windows. I can't avoid it; if I do, I'm out of a job. Windows has a nice friendly GUI, so businesses use Windows, so those are the machines I'll be working on, period: 95, 98, NT, hell, I've come across companies, big ones, still holding onto 386 machines running 3.1."
"But that's what sucks! People act as if working from a command line is like dismantling a bomb, and it's perfectly simple. Dude, I could walk into any company, switch their OS in the morning, and by the end of the afternoon have 'em all trained in using Red Hat with the same confidence they have with '95 or '98 now. I'm not afraid of public speaking, and I know several different commercial builds of Linux like the back of my hand. I could so train office monkeys to not fear Linux---- Dude! We could start a business! Get the licensing for Red Hat, we both do installations, you check their towers as, like, a 'bonus' service --- y'know, blow 'em out, check for loose connections and damage --- I comb my hair down and put on a good shirt.... Our only investment would be the mass licensing from Red Hat!"
"Except I'll guarantee you your hypothetical company will have two or three guys who are loyalists to Caldera or SuSe, they run 'em at home, and will dismiss---- "
The two of them looked up to realize they were standing in the middle of the living room. They were partially surrounded by smirking roommates (who'd heard this style of talk from Chuckles before) and had nearly walked straight into Mom and Dad, so absorbed they were in their conversation. Rook and Richard had their arms around each other's waists, and Rook was simply trying to keep up with the conversation.
Chuckles was startled when he realized he was about seven inches shy of walking into Dad. He backed up and quickly recovered. "Hi, I'm Charles, you must be Richard's parents."
A chorus arose from behind him: "Chuckles!"
"Please, excuse me a moment," he said to Mom and Dad. He then turned around and gave us all the finger, individually. See, Chuckles (nee Charles) is one of those types who hate any modification to their name. He was Charles, dammit, not Chuck, and not Charlie. (Especially not Charlie.) So getting saddled with "Chuckles" was pretty much an eventuality at the Silo; any attempts on his part to rectify his name was like fighting the tide with a push broom.
He turned back and said, "You'll have to excuse my friends and roommates. Some suffered head injuries as children, others enjoyed eating paint chips, and some were in homes with chronic gas leaks."
"My mom smoked PCP from conception until they wheeled her into the OB-GYN unit!" called out Little Steve.
"I was one of three triplets, and me pa liked to juggle. He wasn't much good at it, though," threw in Rory.
"Both parents ate mushrooms!" announced Hawk.
"You know those little merry-go-rounds on playgrounds? Well, it is possible to spend too much time on one," was my contribution.
Glare said, "My father had sexual addiction issues, and even in the ambulance headed for the OB-GYN, he was on my mom and.... You know. So I came out with a concussion, a repetitive stress fracture type."
Everyone processed this for a moment, then the room erupted with laughter and, "Aawww...!" "Dang!" "Whoa! Damn girl!" "Yeah, Glare wins this one." I looked over at Mom and Dad. Mom was rolling her eyes back in her head. Dad was turning red, shaking, and had a hand over his mouth, with eyes squeezed shut. He was desperately trying to not burst out into raucous laughter. Evidently he and his wife didn't share the same style of humor.
The sound of a tiny stampede, like a herd of feral Oompa-Loompas, came down the stairs. Mimi, Even Littler Steve, and a raver-looking chick we'd never seen before launched themselves into the living room; their entrance practically demanded someone to say, "NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!" My own thought was, "Please don't be too strange, Mimi," but I realized it was a little late for that, on account of the rest of us.
"Hello, the parents of Richard! My name is Mimi, this is Even Littler Steve --- I'm sure you can work that one out on your own --- and this is Zandra, a near-total stranger. I don't know much about her, except she's really good at---- "
"Mimi!" Rory The Mick yelled. "Mind yer tongue, girl!"
"Oh! Sorry. Um, anyway, we'd have been down sooner, but we couldn't figure out who's clothes were who's."
"Thanks. For. Sharing. Mimi," muttered Mookie, who had probably had an audio tour of the previous night's festivities.
"Well then!" I said, clapping my hands, "Everyone's accounted for. Plus one."
"So. Did you, um, have any questions?" asked Glare of Richard's parents.
Mom spoke up with the question I expected and dreaded. "Yes. Rook, I'm curious as to what your real name is."
In a clenched but controlled tone, Rook told her, "As far as I am concerned, Rook is my 'real' name. My last name is Denton."
"Why is it such a big secret? Surely your friends here---- "
Hawk interrupted. "I don't."
Mimi: "I don't know her 'real' first name. She's Rook, always has been."
Glare: "She has made it clear to everyone in this room...." Glare stabbed at Mom with her eyes, reminding her she was included " .... That she hates her name, and will not use it. She. Is. Rook."
Rory: "I've no clue. Two men here do know, and are sworn to silence. They've kept that pledge."
Me and Chuckles confirmed we knew her 'real' name, learned when enrolling her in Berkeley High School. We would not divulge; in fact, we'd fudged the paperwork so that 'Rook' would show up as her 'real' first name.
Both Steves told Mom that yeah, she is Rook. Nothing else.
Dad said, "For God's sake, Melinda, let it lie! It's obviously very important to her."
Mom practically hissed, "She is dating my son. I want to know!"
Rook let go of Richard's and Glare's hands, stood up, then stepped over the coffee table and walked up to Mom. She said in a voice that rasped with anger, "Mrs. Sutherland, it's really that important to you? You will never let the subject lie? Fine. Come on." When Mom didn't move, Rook grabbed her by the wrist and practically dragged her into the kitchen. "Come on!"
Mookie and Hawk both started to get up. I held out an arm and shook my head. Dad also held up a hand and said in a low voice, "This is a hole my wife dug, let her climb out." And in a lower voice, he said, "I'm rather upset with my wife right now. She could have dropped it --- she should have --- and is now having a confrontation with a girl I know my son cares deeply about."
Richard looked up at his father and said, "Thank you, Dad," and it was clear he meant it. The rest of us gave Mr. Sutherland approving smiles and nods.
In the kitchen.....
"Mrs. Sutherland, I've made my feelings clear on this subject over and over, and you still won't let it drop. Fine, you're getting your goddamned wish, okay?"
"Do you always speak to adults like that?" Mom queried.
"Only when I'm rather angry, and also when it's the most expedient way of getting my idea across. And I have to ask: why is it so all-fired important to you? What's the difference?"
Mom snapped, "You're dating my son! I have the right to know!"
From the living room, Richard called, "No you don't, Mom!"
Mom called back, "Fred, talk to your son!"
Dad walked over to where Richard was sitting on the sofa, sat down on the coffee table.... And said, "So, did you catch the Niners pre-season game Thursday?" Loud snickering broke out. Mom had said for Dad to talk to his son. She hadn't specified about what.
Richard smiled at his dad and said, "I only saw half the game, 'cos I was on the phone with Rook! (this for his mother's benefit) and missed quite a bit. I dunno, Terrell Owens was looking sloppy."
Back in the kitchen, Rook leaned against the refrigerator with her arms crossed, watching Mom pace in very small circles. She finally said, "You know what? You'll hear it, you'll know why I hate it and don't use it, and all your obsession will have been for naught. You'll understand. And frankly, I believe you'll feel foolish for not believing me or anyone else that it wasn't worth pursuing."
"I shall be the judge of that, and I doubt I will feel foolish over something as simple as a first name."
Rook shrugged and said, "Suit yourself." She straightened off the fridge and told Mom, "I will tell you with one big condition: you tell no one. Not Richard, not your husband, not your pastor, not no one. Period. No, this is not flexible or up for discussion. You will have your fucking answer, what you wanted, so be satisfied with that, and don't share it.
"I am going to spell it in your ear. You can sound it out in your head, not out loud. You agree with what I told you? Keep the secret?"
Mom stared briefly, and said "Yes."
Rook leaned against Mom's head, and spelled out
A - R - I - E - N - N - E
(Go ahead, pronounce it out loud. Imagine the sort of shit you'd go through starting around third grade with a name that sounds like 'Aryan.')
Mom processed what Rook whispered in her ear, stared into the middle distance briefly, and said, "Yes.... I can understand your dislike of the name. Not to be rude, but you have to wonder what your parents were thinking."
Rook gave a bitter smile and said in a low voice, "My parents aren't much for thinking, and when they do, it's manipulative.
"Let's take my mom. When I was ten, she hooked up with some Bible-thumping cult, then took off for their compound outside Redding. After a few months, she called and asked if I'd go up and visit her for a weekend. They'd even provide transportation.
"I was stuck there for five months.
"I finally managed to jump the fence at two in the morning, and started running. When I hit pavement, I knew enough to head downhill. That's where town was, more or less. They came looking for me: I'd dive into the ditch whenever anything drove by. I got to know the fucking van they were driving really damn well, it was missing a headlight. After a couple hours I got to a Shell station that was open. The hippie at the register took one look at me --- I was filthy from rolling around in ditches --- and said, 'Gettin' away from the Jesus freaks? Phone's back here, if you got someone you can call.' Guess I wasn't the first.
"I got a hold of my dad, who was pissed at me for calling at that hour, 'cos he had to go to work in a few hours. I explained to him where I was and what was going on. 'But your mom's been calling every few days, saying how you love it there and are going to stay.' I told him no, that's a crock, I'd been kept away from the phones, the fences, mom, even fucking writing paper, and to please come and get me.
"Heh, that hippie saved my ass. He was on the phone with my dad giving directions when all of a sudden he grabs me by the collar and shoves me to the floor, then puts his foot on my back so I can't move. I was about to yell at him when I heard a voice I recognized from the compound. He was all, 'What? A kid that young wandering around at this hour? Nope, ain't seen no one.' We talked while I was waiting for my dad --- the van went by a half-dozen times, so I spent the time on the floor next to the drop safe --- and he said they averaged about one escapee a month that he knew of, ones that hit his gas station while he was there. He'd always help 'em as much as he could.
"By the time I was twelve, it was obvious my mom wasn't coming back and she couldn't convince us to hook up with those assholes. I went to hours-long Bible studies twice a day when I was trapped in the compound. I can tell you what I learned.... Fuck the Bible, fuck Jesus, and fuck God. You know, I always tell that to the religious vegetables, and I've yet to be struck by lightning or turn into salt or whatever, so there might be some meaning there."
Mom said, "Not all Christians are bad."
"Yeah, I know.... But I've had a bad track record so far. So I just avoid the non-bad ones, and will happily tangle with the bad ones."
"Who are the bad ones?"
"Well, any piece of shit that quotes from Leviticus as an excuse to hate friends of mine. There's a start. Stuff did sink in when I was trapped in that compound: not like there was anything else to read. Betcha I can beat your ass at 'Name That Scripture.'"
Changing the subject desperately, Mom asked --- foolishly --- "So where is your father?"
"What time is it?"
Mom said, "Um, around seven o'clock."
"Then dad is home beating off, has just finished beating off and is showering, or has decided to forgo hitting the bars and is at the video rental place picking up more porn so he can beat off all night."
"Perhaps I should explain."
"Yes, I believe you should! Why.... What is---- "
"My father got me out of the house through sexual abuse by proxy. That's the short version.
"Dad decided that with Mom gone, and their marriage had been headed downhill anyway, he would become the fuck-monster of Albany. But having a daughter wandering around was jamming him up, so he basically got rid of me by engaging in things you shouldn't in front of your kid.
"'Kay, look at it like this. Say you and Mr. Sutherland weren't married, just dating. Of course you're gonna fool around. Now say your husband already has Richard, from a previous marriage.... Only you've never met Richard, somehow. One night you and your non-husband are getting busy: you're suckin' his dick on the sofa, or he's fucking you over a chair in the kitchen---- "
Mom hissed, "Young lady, I do not like where this is going. Are you try---- "
Rook said, "I don't like where it's going either. But I'm trying to create a picture of a situation. Anyway, you and Mr. Sutherland are.... having fun, and Richard walks in. Remember, you've never met him, he's just some kid. Of course you start to freak out a bit.... But Mr. Sutherland just starts laughing. 'Aw, he's seen this dozens of times! Don't worry about him!'"
"Well, I'd---- "
"No, don't think about how your reactions, or how you feel. Think about Richard. Think about how he feels.
"And think about this happening to Richard several times a week, because Mr. Sutherland has a silver tongue and has two goals: fuck every barfly in the Albany and El Cerrito areas, and get rid of Richard.... So he can continue fucking barflies in peace. Yeah, Sutherland's got it goin' on: his son is scared to come home at night because of what might be going on. But you can't go out every single night, so those nights you sit in the living room, in front of the big TV, masturbating to porn. That should disturb the shit outta Richard. In fact, it makes it crystal clear that Mr. Sutherland has no use for Richard's presence at all, Richard's just jamming him up.... And every so often, Richard comes home to find a random pile of his stuff thrown out of his room and into the hallway. And when he asks his dad, he gets a reply of, 'Well, maybe your shit is trying to leave on it's own. By the way, I've got a woman coming over tonight, so don't be around.' Richard asks when she's leaving and is told, 'In the morning. What do you care?'"
Mom said, "I, uh.... I guess in your analogy, my husband is your father, and Richard is you."
"Correct-a-mundo. By the way, where do you live in Albany?"
"On Vincente, near Ensanada."
"You're three blocks from my father's house. He's on Tacoma near Colusa. I'd be careful driving on Tacoma. You may contract a venereal disease. You know, just from being there and breathing in."
Mom asked, "So.... Your father's terrible sexual activities where what drove you out? I don't blame you, I'd have left too."
Rook answered, "Yeah. It was the jerking off that was worst. I would actually hope he'd scored at a bar when I'd come home at night. When it was just him, it was.... Scary. I mean, he wouldn't cover up, he wouldn't even stop! And he'd always say, 'As soon as you start dating, get used to this! Guys do it all the time!'"
Mom said angrily, "Yes, but not in front of their daughters. What your father was doing was sexual abuse, there is no question about that. Did you ever consider calling the police?"
Rook laughed bitterly. "Yes, and dropped that idea just as quick. I'd end up in the CPS cycle, and there is no way I'd involve myself with CPS. I've heard too many horror stories. I'd say a good third of the street kids on Telegraph are runaways from CPS homes, and the tales they tell are enough to keep me gun-shy. I'm still at risk of them."
Mom opened her mouth, then closed it. After a pause, she said, "Let's not have a debate about that." Her face softened. "Rook, thank you for answering my question. I will keep my word, and I understand your dislike of the name. And thank you for being as frank and open as you've been. You've been through some very difficult times. You're a strong person to have come out on top.... Especially at the age of fourteen."
"Thank you, Mrs. Sutherland. I appreciate you hearing me out. Oh! By the way, I know there's a question you have, and just haven't gotten around to asking it yet. You want the answer?"
Mom smiled: a genuine, honest smile that conveyed genuine happiness. "Were you going to explain where the name 'Rook' came from?"
"Yeppers!" Rook reached in the small pouch/pocket of the sun dress and pulled out a small piece of carved stone, no more than an inch high and a third-inch thick. It was shaped like a castle tower.
It was a rook from a chess set.
Rook handed the rook to Mrs. Sutherland, who turned it over and over, admiring it. "It's very nice. Where did you get it?"
"Found it on the sidewalk on Marin Avenue when I was eleven. I wasn't sure what it was, so I asked my teacher, and she explained it to me. I've just sorta kept it as a lucky piece. I dunno why, it doesn't work very well, know what I mean?"
Mom stared at the piece for a few moments, and said, "Oh, I don't know. Yes, you've had some terrible things happen in your life. But from what I've seen, you're surrounded by people who care about you, and love you, and will do anything to keep you safe. You are well-loved here, Rook, and that includes by my son. Please never forget that. Always --- always --- know that you are loved. By my son, and by the people in this house." She handed back the rook.
Rook tucked the rook back in her pocket, smiled briefly, and burst into tears.
We had long since given up trying to eavesdrop from the living room. They weren't yelling at each other, so we decided to leave well enough alone.
Things were normal for a Friday night. Too early to go out to any clubs or parties, so we pretty much just sat around chewing the fat. Rory The Mick and both Steves were playing dice, Mookie and I were speculating about how Jim Nastic's band's tour was going, Hawk was cleaning rifles, Mimi and Glare were gossiping about work (Mimi and Little Steve's fuck-toy having departed earlier), and Richard and his dad were talking football, specifically the Forty-Niners. They were serious fans; they were throwing around player names and statistics with the cool intensity of any mega-fan. I'd already thrown in my two bits on the subject:
"Me personally, I root for two teams: the San Diego Chargers and the St. Louis Rams."
Richard and Dad gave me worried looks. Dad said, "But.... They both suck."
"Exactly!" I declared. "Rooting for complete no-hopers means you don't get involved emotionally in how a team performs. Yeah, the Chargers are always going to be total shit. You can count on that. And what that means is, you can sit back, enjoy watching a football game, and not worry about how the team performs, because you know they'll perform poorly. It's a far more relaxing approach to watching professional sports."
Dad asked, "Tell me, Lenny. Does your brain always work this way?"
I replied, "I defy you to find flaw in my logic. Think about all the people you know who are emotionally crushed because 'their' team lost an important game. Why put yourself through it? Why not just enjoy watching football? By rooting for garbage teams, you get all the enjoyment and none of the emotional stress."
Richard grinned and said, "Dad, Lenny's scaring me. He's starting to make sense."
Dad said, "I know. I'm scared too, son."
I threw in an extra. "Of course, I like the Packers, too. I don't care about the team, I just feel there's a quiet dignity to the 'Cheese Wedge' hat. No other team has accomplished that."
"What about the Raider Nation?" asked Dad.
"Oh please. They look like rejects from a low-budget remake of 'Road Warrior.' Besides, I refuse to either live in Concord or drive a lowered black Chevy pickup truck." I took a swig from my Mountain Dew. "Of course, football and baseball need new leagues in them."
"Huh? How so?" asked Richard.
"Well, think about it. Both sports seem to be constantly plagued by drug scandals. And not just boring old cocaine anymore, either. Oh, by the way, Richard? I'mma beat your ass if you do coke. All cocaine does is give you an unimpressive high and make your dick not work. And smoking rock is a religious experience: you feel like God for fifteen minutes, and utter hell for forty minutes after that.... Unless you keep smoking. Talk about one insidious product. And your dick don't work smoking rock, either. Me, I think having my dick work is a lot more fun."
Richard nodded with a grin. "Right. cocaine, bad. Functioning penis, good."
"Atta boy. Anyway, think about all the weird crap athletes are using these days: horse testosterone, human growth hormone, pineal extract from iguanas.... Just a whole mess of performance-enhancing compounds.
"Well, to hell with trying to ban all that stuff. They just need to start whole new leagues made up of players who dope up. All they want, anything they want. They can inject the most psychotic, untested mix of steroids and HGH, topped off with huge amounts of pharmaceutical biphetamine, and shove 'em out onto the field. Shortstop's growing a third arm out of his back? All part of the game, man. People forget that these days, sports is fucking entertainment. There's no silly concerns about honorable conduct or the purity of competition. No, it's all about what's gonna get people to tune in and buy tickets, period. So give the people what they want: horrible mutants who've wrecked their brains and warped their bodies from all the different drug combinations, hammering it out for nine innings or four quarters. Hell, we could turn baseball into a full-contact sport: they've already got the bats."
Richard said, "I'd totally watch that. Actually, your idea, let's call it the Performance Enhancement Drug League, should be aimed at really dull, wussy games like soccer or golf. Imagine if golf somehow required protective gear. At least three ambulances would be on the course at all times."
"Yeah. The players would all be sharpening up the cleats on those dumb-ass shoes...."
Dad said, "I swear, Lenny, a conversation with you is like setting a mime on fire. Absolutely hilarious, but for terrible reasons."
"Thank you sir. I try. Hey, I know how we can have some fun! Let's embarrass the shit out of Richard by discussing our respective first experiences with oral sex!"
Dad stared at me with hooded eyes for a moment, then said, "Giving or receiving?"
I answered, "Yes. Also, double points if being in Tijuana is involved ----- wait a minute."
Richard said, "What's up?"
I shushed him and listened for a few seconds. "Umm..... I can hear Rook crying."
I swear Richard didn't hit the floor. He bounded over the coffee table, cleared an empty chair by going over the top, and was at the door of the kitchen before Mr. Sutherland and I were standing. Mookie and Glare picked up on the vibe and bolted for the kitchen door themselves.
And when everybody who had moved got through the door, we stopped. Rook was crying her eyes out, and being held and comforted by Mrs. Sutherland.... Who was also teary-eyed. She held a finger to her lips, and continued stroking Rook's hair and saying, "It's okay now. All the bad things have passed, and now you're with people who love you...."
We all backed out, except for Richard. He looked indecisive, then quietly walked up beside Rook. He placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "Rook, it's Richard."
She turned her head towards him. He said, "I don't know what's going on, but can I.... Do something.... To help? Can I, um, help you feel..... Better?"
Rook smiled through her tears. "Please, just hold me and don't let go." Then she whispered in his ear, "And later, Jumbo."
Mom broke off, and the space was immediately filled by Richard. Richard and Rook hugged, Richard holding Rook's head on the shoulder of his leather. Her crying slowed down, and finally stopped. Richard got her a glass of water and a paper towel without her asking (right on, kid). They sat down at the kitchen table, saying nothing, just holding hands and smiling softly at each other.
Many sets of eyes were focused on Mom when she came in the living room. All the eyes showed a mix of curiosity and distrust. Hawk said, "Rook okay?"
Mom replied in a quavery voice, "She'll be all right. Richard's with her. We were talking, and some.... Painful things from her past came up.... Things that were painful just to hear. Lord, that poor little girl...." And Mom began sniffling again. Her husband got up to comfort her.
Glare, still not feeling much trust, asked, "So who did she talk about, her mom---- "
"---- or her dad?" finished Mookie. She'd always been the biggest booster for the "let's hospitalize Rook's asshole scumbag motherfucker of a dad" idea. She really did want to use her whip to take chunks off of him.
Mom said, "Both of them. I don't think I've ever heard of a more evil man than her father." She stared at the floor and dabbed at her eyes.
Glare was on her feet and in Mom's face. "What the fuck, lady? Why did you sta---- " .... Then cut herself off. Mom had looked into Glare's eyes, and Glare didn't see a woman toying with a teenage girl. She saw eyes that conveyed contrition, sorrow, and the suffering of the pain of others.
Glare said, "Please accept my apologies. I shouldn't have snapped at you. My anger is horribly misdirected, and I'm sorry," and put a hand on Mom's arm.
"It's alright. You're Glare, I believe?" Glare confirmed this.
"May I thank you for caring so much for Rook? Richard told me --- don't tell him I said this --- that you are her support, her guiding light so to speak. I've learned a little about her past, that's why we were crying, and you've acted in a truly christian manner.... I use the word in it's literal meaning, not in a religious sense."
Glare smiled in an aw-shucks manner and shook hands with Mom. "Thank you, Mrs. Sutherland. We all love and care for Rook." Nods and voices of agreement went around.
Dad stood up and said, "Honey, we should get going."
"How's he getting home Sunday? Are we picking him up?"
Mookie volunteered, "If you don't mind a sex monster in an MG dropping him off again, I've got an Albany client Sunday afternoon. In fact, he's just a few blocks from you."
Dad said, "That would be great, Mookie. So what will the fashion theme be this week?"
Dad ignored her, and Mookie answered. "Black leather, spikes, and semi-opaque material. It's a comfortable one, breathes well."
"Well, I'm looking forward to it."
Walking past, Dad decided to say good-bye to Richard. He stuck his head in the door of the kitchen, to see Rook's mood had improved: she was straddling Richard in his chair, and the two of them were making out with the sort of tongue strength and dexterity only found in adolescents. Rook was grinding her pelvis forward, and Richard had a hand most of the way up Rook's dress.
Dad turned and walked towards the door. Mom stopped him and said, "Where's Richard? I wanted to say goodbye to him," to which Dad replied, "Don't bother dear, we see him Sunday, let's get going."
"But --- "
"Let's go, dear."
And Rook and Richard showed great restraint. They waited nearly ten minutes before crawling into Rook's cubby hole, getting naked, and making enough noise to guarantee everyone in the house either hid in their rooms or located a party to go to.