Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Broken Man Broke: An Excerpt

“I want you to call home at least once a week,” Margaret Davenport said, searching through her shopping bag-size purse for a tissue as she choked back her tears.

“I promise,” Scott Davenport said.

“And remember to eat.” Margaret dabbed the tissue at her moist eyes. “It’s cafeteria food, and it may not be as good as home cooking, but it’s food. And it’s paid for. You have to keep up your strength.”

“Yes, Mom.” Scott sidled his eyes to his father, who avoided eye contact with him. “I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t want you drinking.” Margaret’s voice was sharp. “You’re here to get an education.”

“Mom …”

“And be careful. The devil’s going to tempt you at every turn, but I don’t need any more grandchildren yet.” Margaret gasped and covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes wide open. “Oh, dear, I guess I don’t have to worry about that. Just be careful then.” She rushed towards Scott and drew him into a crushing embrace. “Oh, my baby.”

Scott loosely returned the hug and pushed back. “I’ll be fine, and I’ll be careful.”

“And find a church.” Margaret blinked magnificently. “There’s got to be a decent Baptist church nearby.”

“We should get on the road,” Terrence Davenport cut in as he watched the tears roll down his wife’s pumpernickel face. He extended his hand to his youngest son and said, “If you need anything, just call.” He continued, in a whisper so that his wife couldn’t hear, “Do call your Mom. It’ll make my life easier.”

Scott nodded, and when he went to let go of his father’s hand he fumbled to hang on to the roll of money his father was slipping to him. He said, “Thanks,” and slipped the bills into his pocket.

“All right, let’s roll,” Terrence said to Margaret, and moved to open the passenger side door of the silver Land Rover.

“Your father will put money into your account every two weeks,” Margaret said as she was getting into the car.

“Margie!” Terrence huffed, and closed the passenger side door. “Good luck, son,” he said as he made his way around to the driver’s side and got into the vehicle. “I thought we agreed on once a month …?”

Scott laughed, and took a couple of steps backwards as the engine flipped and the car rolled backwards. He waved, and felt both excited and terrified as the car sped down the narrow street and came to a stop at the intersection. As the car turned right, Scott’s mother stuck her arm out the window and waved. Finally, Scott thought when the car and his parents had disappeared out of sight. Scott was, at last, on his own, free to do as he pleased, and he had big plans for his newfound freedom.

The bright September sun was warm against Scott’s caramel skin as he walked leisurely along Willcocks Street towards New College residence, which he would call home for the next eight months. He studied the buildings along the route, some built with large grey stones, other with red brick, or the newer structures made of steel and glass. He would sometimes stop and, with an almost child-like wonder, scrutinize a building’s architecture, amazed at how so many pieces came together — metal, brick, wood — to form something whole. Scott wanted to feel whole, like he was a part of something. And when he saw his reflection staring back at him in a street-level window, Scott would move on. Often he didn’t recognize himself in the reflection. There was a part of him that didn’t completely exist.

But this was a day of new beginnings, where repressed desires would be allowed to unfurl and peel away a season of nerves. Scott, who was eighteen or soon-to-be, would willingly give himself over to this new city, let it “claim” him, set in motion the transformation from boy to man. That was why he had fled — and it was a sort of fleeing — to Toronto. He had wanted to live off campus, where he could take possession of himself, live-out some of his secret fantasies. Maybe his mother had sensed that “darkness” in him, and that was why she had wanted him to stay in Ottawa? But Margaret didn’t want to think about that, but if Scott was determined to study in Toronto, she insisted that he live in residence. That was the condition for any financial support. Residence, as far as Margaret was concerned, was “safer,” both for Scott and his soul.

Crossing over Spadina Avenue, Scott thought about the emotional goodbye at the car with his mother. The scene had surprised Scott, who was used to his mother’s sentimental ways. But the way she had hugged him was different, like it had a certain transformative power. Perhaps she was trying to purge the devil from him, reclaim his soul. That made Scott smile as he turned onto the pathway leading to the entrance to the residence. At least Scott and his mother were talking even though at times their relationship felt strained. Scott adored his mother, but when he told his parents a year ago that he was gay, Margaret was shocked. Devastated, actually. She could not look at Scott without crying, and when Scott came into a room, she’d rush out.

“Give it time,” was how Terrence had put it when Scott came to him about the way his mother was evading him. “It’s just the shock, but she’ll come around.” But Scott couldn’t wait. He felt cut off, discarded like a bad poker hand. “Give it time” was hard advice to swallow when Margaret couldn’t make it through the suppertime meal without crying. But after a lengthy discussion when Scott had, for the first time in his life asserted himself, Terrence agreed that, temporarily, Scott could stay with his Uncle Norman.

Norman Clarke had been more like a father than a brother to his younger sister. Margaret was eight when their father died and, although Norman wasn’t the eldest, he was the eldest of the children still living at home. He eagerly stepped into the protector role. When it came to Scott and the homosexual question, Norman sought purposely to intervene. Norman’s middle son, Tyler, was gay, and the news — only four months after he had buried his wife — was too much to handle. Norman threw Tyler out of the house, declaring bolding, “My son is dead.” Norman immediately felt guilt, followed by remorse. But before Norman could apologize, Tyler had packed what he could into a duffel bag and left the house. Years went by without Norman knowing if Tyler was dead or alive. Norman eventually hired a private detective, who tracked Tyler down in Vancouver. The reunion was not “joyous” but Tyler and Norman managed to, on some level, maintain a fragile and temperamental relationship. Norman wanted more for Margaret and Scott, more than the strained, five-minute phone calls on birthdays or cards at Christmas. Norman, even now, felt as though he had “lost” his son but remained convinced that Margaret still had a chance to hang on to hers.

Margaret, schooled in the “old-fashioned ways,” did not understand the homosexual question. She prayed daily for understanding, for the Lord her God to give her the strength and courage to understand. But more than her belief in God, it was Margaret’s anchor in the Holy Scriptures that made it so that she wasn’t necessarily open to such understanding. But Margaret loved her son, who secretly had always been her favourite, and so she continued to pray and asked for God’s direction. That was because deep down, when Margaret had had time to seriously think about it, she knew that Scott had always been somehow different from her other sons, Neal and Frank.

It was shortly after Scott’s fifteenth birthday, and Margaret had just finished folding the laundry. There were a couple of Scott’s T-shirts in the pile that she carried upstairs. Normally, Margaret simply placed the boys’ clothes on their bed for them to put away. But this time Margaret had decided to put the T-Shirts away herself. Margaret opened the middle drawer of Scott’s dresser to see each shirt folded like it was on display at Holt Renfrew. The shirts were divided into piles by colour, and then, as Margaret had correctly deduced, by season. She opened the top drawer to find Scott’s underwear all folded the same way, and similarly his socks. Margaret closed the dresser drawers and left the T-shirts on the bed. She had wanted to probe Scott about what she had seen but she never dared to ask.

But there were other signs, too, of Scott’s differentness. When Neal and Frank had hit puberty, they talked nonstop about girls. Frank and Neal had taken up soccer and baseball in their youth, and eagerly looked forward to the annual guys’ trip, to either Montréal or Toronto, to see an NHL game. Scott had taken painting and figure skating lessons, and was less enthusiastic about the annual trip with his father and brothers. So Scott was different, that didn’t seem to faze Margaret until Scott had said the words, “I’m gay.” That stunned Margaret, sent her spinning.

Two months after Scott had moved in with his Uncle Norman, Margaret had sent Terrence to collect their son. The shock had worn off, the tears had stopped, and when Scott walked back into his childhood home, Margaret rushed to her son and held him in a clenching embrace. Scott looked searchingly at his mother, hesitant to accept that his mother could accept him as he was. Even if Margaret didn’t understand or really “accept” the situation, she knew that with Scott back at home she could monitor his comings and goings. Margaret worried that Norman had let Scott do as he pleased — that that would be Norman’s way of doing right by Scott where Norman had failed his own son.

But after moving back home, Scott soon found out just how different his life would be. His weekend curfew had been rolled back to ten from midnight. At that time in his life, Scott’s best friend was Edward Doyle, and they hung out together a lot. When Edward’s parents travelled, Scott crashed at Edward’s so that Edward didn’t have to stay with a relative. After Scott had come out, and Margaret had seen the way that Scott and Edward looked at each other, Margaret understood the true nature of their “friendship.” Scott was ordered to sever all contact with Edward, but Scott remained faithful to his friend. Conversations didn’t come easily to Scott and Margaret like they used to, and at Margaret’s prompting they made an appointment to see a therapist. Scott, unable to listen to his mother’s sobbing, walked out midway through the session with the Christian psychologist. And then there was the question of church. Scott would, and Margaret stood her ground on this, attend church faithfully on Sunday mornings. While Scott was glad to be “home” again, his life had been regimented like a convict serving out his time at the Millhaven Institution.

Scott entered the residence building and leisurely climbed the stairs to the third floor. He opened the door to the long corridor, and the animated voices rushed at him. Parents were carrying boxes and suitcases into the new homes of their children, mothers were crying, younger brothers and sisters were screaming and laughing as they ran up and down the hall. Scott’s room was located about midway down the corridor. He was trapped behind a guy carrying two boxes with two full plastic bags balanced on top of the boxes. One of the bags fell and Scott intervened to catch it.

“Got it,” Scott said, and followed the guy down the hall.

The guy stopped in front of the door directly across from Scott’s room. He made a play for the doorknob but was unable to reach it. He looked hopelessly at Scott and said, “Could you get the door?”

Scott said, “Sure,” and stepped in front of the guy. Scott pushed the door open wide, standing off to the side to let the guy pass through.

“Just toss that anywhere,” the guy said as he set the boxes down on the floor by the window. He made his way towards Scott, who was still holding the door open and clutching the bag in his hand. The tall man extended his hand and said, “I’m Chad.”

Scott accepted the firm handshake. “Scott.”

“Thanks for saving the day earlier,” Chad said and took the bag from Scott.

“No worries,” Scott said and slipped his hands in his pockets while he and Chad stared intently at each other. “I should go and try to settle in a bit.”

“Are you first-year?” Chad said, and ran his free hand through his brown hair.

“Yes. A potential English major.”

“Ah … An aesthete.”

Scott smiled faintly. “Hardly.” Then, in a pointed tone, he said, “What about you?”

“Biology major,” Chad said, with confidence. “And afterwards, med school.”

“Well, good luck with that,” Scott said, somewhat dismissively, and backed out of the room. He moved across the hall, jammed the key in the door and pushed down on the door handle in one sweeping movement. He rushed into the room and closed the door quickly to block out the rowdiness. He looked through the peephole to see Chad standing in his doorway. After a moment Chad disappeared into his room, the door swinging closed on its own.

Scott advanced into the room and sat down on the bed. Anxiousness replaced the excitement he had felt earlier. How was he supposed to live in this tiny room with cement walls? The room felt cold and lifeless, but maybe it wouldn’t be that different from his last year at home. His bedroom had become a sort of cell since his mother feared that he slept with all of his male friends. But at home Scott had his photos and trophies and his books. He had brought very little of the ornaments and knickknacks that decorated his bedroom. He knew that he would have to find a way to feel at home, give himself over to the room.

And what about Chad? Would they become friends, or perhaps something more? Scott immediately dismissed the “something more,” laughing, because Chad was not his type. But Scott, who was still rather inexperienced when it came to sex, could he really have a type? Then Scott tried to imagine what his mother would think of Chad, and he burst out laughing. That would be a rather awkward scene … for Chad.

Scott slid his body backwards until his back rested against the cool, cement wall. There was a change already occurring in him, and the anxiousness was beginning to ebb. On his own, away from his family, this was Scott’s time to prove to his family, and perhaps more so to himself, that he could stand on his own. He had to in order to shed his mother’s perception of him, that he was her baby still in need of mothering. That was why he had worked two jobs over the summer, to earn his own spending money for the year. He had amassed a sizeable amount that he thought he would use mostly for travelling back and forth between Toronto and Ottawa. He had been awarded a scholarship that covered his tuition, and his parents paid for his residence and meal plan. Sometimes Scott wondered if his parents were proud of him. His brothers hadn’t gone to university and Scott thought that if he could get a degree, perhaps even go on to do graduate studies, that his parents, his mother especially, would see beyond his gayness.

After a time of just sitting there, Scott moved off the bed and began to unpack his belongings. He plugged in his CD player and hit the play button. He sighed frustration as Mahalia Jackson’s voice overtook the room as she sang, “As the Saints Go Marching In.” Margaret had inserted the CD without Scott knowing. Scott removed the CD and replaced it with one of Tracy Chaplin’s. He hung up his clothes in the closet, which were organized in the same manner as they had been at home. He made the bed, taped a couple of posters to the cement walls and arranged his dictionaries and notebooks on the bookshelf above the desk. He cleaned his washroom, and was thankful that he didn’t have to share. He had just put away the cleaning supplies when there was a knock on his door. His heart thumped as he pulled opened the door. “Oh …”

“Interested in grabbing a beer?” Chad said, and shoved his hands in his jeans pockets.

“I’m not old enough yet,” Scott said.

“Then how about a bite to eat?”

“I’m on the meal plan, and the food is supposed to be good.”

Chad shook his head. “Let me explain how this works. I’m new here, you’re new here. You helped me out earlier, so that kind of broke the ice between us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone here yet. So you say, ‘Yes, sounds like fun,’ and grab your wallet and keys, and maybe you’ve made a new friend on your first day in residence.”

“Sure.” There was a hint of reluctance in Scott’s voice as he went to retrieve his wallet and keys from his desk. He turned off the music and headed towards the door. In the hall, he pulled the door closed and locked it. Scott, who was six foot, felt short next to Chad, who was taller.

Chad led the way to the stairwell. They barrelled down the three flights of stairs and edged their way through the crowded lobby before emerging outside, squinting at the bright afternoon sun. They navigated their way towards Bloor Street and went into the first Starbucks they came upon. Scott ordered a latte and Chad, opting for a chai tea, handed over a twenty-dollar bill to the cashier to pay for both drinks.

“Thanks,” Scott said, and went to collect his drink at the far end of the bar. He took his beverage and made his way outside to the small, street-side patio. He moved quickly to secure the table being vacated by a grey-haired man and sat down. Scott was nervous. Chad made him nervous, and Scott wasn’t sure why that was. Scott wasn’t looking for another friend, at least not in the way that he and Edward had been friends. Was Chad even gay? And did that matter?

Chad said, “So where are you from?” as he sat down at the table.

“Ottawa,” Scott said dryly. “You?”

“Calgary.” Chad lifted his paper cup into the air and said, “Cheers!”

Scott picked up his drink and echoed, “Cheers,” and took a sip.

Chad sat back in the plastic chair and stretched out his legs. “Why did you choose U of T?”

Scott shrugged. “The scholarship, a chance to live in Toronto, be away from home and family.”

“I understand that,” Chad said. “I just want to be myself and not have to pretend to be someone else.”

They laughed.

Chad brought himself forward in his chair and reached for his drink. “Did you leave anyone behind?”

Scott said, “I’m not sure what you mean?”

Chad smirked. “I mean, were you seeing anyone?”

“Oh!” Scott shook his head. “No. It was a clean break.”

“Lucky you.” Chad fell back in his chair. “I thought Paul would follow, but in the end he decided to stay in Calgary. Wasn’t ready to leave the nest.”

“Oh …” Scott looked down, holding his gaze to his lap.

“Don’t worry,” Chad said, askance. “This isn’t a date.”

Scott looked up. “Edward went to McGill. It wasn’t serious between us, but I needed to be farther away than that. Montréal seemed to close to home.”

Chad was smirking. “I thought so.”

“But this still isn’t a date,” Scott insisted. “Just two friends out for a coffee together.”

“So now we’re friends?” Chad chuckled. “What are you going to do with an English degree?”

“Write, proofread, edit …” Scott smiled thinly. “Not all doctors can write.”


Scott and Chad never stopped to think about how, in such an unfamiliar way, a friendship had been born. The afternoon slipped away as they laughed and joked, sharing stories about their families, cautiously revealing their hopes and dreams. They were surprised how easy it was for them to talk to each other, how quickly they had let their guards down. After two lattes and two chai teas, they headed back to the university in time to eat before the cafeteria closed. They spent the evening in Chad’s room, listening to music and drinking scotch while playing cards. It was close to one in the morning when Scott stumbled across the hall to his room. He collapsed onto his bed, feeling hopeful about the days ahead, and about the new friend who had just come into his life.



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