- This Is How It Always Is
“But your history project.” Rosie finished her stitches, tying off the thread but not the issue.
“What history project?”
“The one last year. The one you failed.”
“That was so long ago, Mom.”
“It was antigay.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“It was about the problems with letting LGBT soldiers serve openly.”
“Yeah. Problems the military should address. Responsibilities they’re, you know, shirting.”
“Shirting?” said Penn.
“Redshirting. Benching until they’re ready to deal with them.”
“Shirking, I think,” said Penn.
“But that stupid voiceover.” Rosie mimicked Roo mimicking a movie trailer: “The navy is navy. Gay soldiers don’t belong.”
“Exactly,” said Roo. “The navy should be rainbow-colored, but it’s totally not. Gays should feel like they belong, but they don’t. The army can’t just change the rules and think their job is done, problem solved. That’s what the video showed. That’s why there’s violence and abuse. They have to change the rules, but then they also have to help everyone make them work.”
Penn was so relieved, he was light-headed. Roo wasn’t a bigot. Roo had a smart, nuanced, important point. Absent the gushing head wound, it was good news all around.
“What?” Why was she still mad?
“Roo, that project was terrible,” Rosie shrilled. “We watched it. Mrs. Birkus watched it. We all concluded you were some kind of homophobic zealot. It would be one thing if you had nothing to say. But you have a message to spread, an important one, one you are uniquely positioned to impart in an environment where it’s crucial that you do so, and it’s buried under all this stupidity—fighting and cursing and shit videos. If for no other reason—and there are many, many other reasons—you must do better work.”
“You’re going to lecture me about speaking out about gay rights?” said Roo. They were back to this again. “You’re the one who’s ashamed Poppy’s trans. We all think it’s fine. No one else cares.”
“We all?” said Penn.
“Ashamed?” said Rosie.
“All of us,” said Roo. “Ben, Rigel, Orion, and me all think—”
“And I,” said Penn.
“Ashamed?” said Rosie.
“You seem ashamed of her.” Roo pressed tentatively at the bandage Rosie had affixed atop the stitches. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be so afraid to tell people. I’m not homophobic. I’m not antitrans. Are you though?”
“We’re not ashamed.” Penn stood so his supine son could see his face. “We’re proud as hell of her. All things being equal, we’d shout it from the rooftops. But all things are not equal. First and foremost, we have to protect her. There are lots of Derek McGuinnesses in the world. You can’t beat up all of them.”
“Any of them,” Rosie corrected. “You can’t beat up any of them. What about college?”
“What about it?”
“How will you get into college with suspensions on your record and Fs in history?”
“I’m not the smart one,” said Roo. “Ben’s the smart one.”
“Roosevelt Walsh-Adams. You are smart. And you have important things to say. And for damn sure you need help learning how to say them clearly and appropriately. You need to learn something about responsible decision making, cause and effect.”
“Why?” said Roo.
“You are bleeding from your head,” said his father.
“You need to go to college,” said Rosie. “So you also need to knock this shit off.”
Maybe it was the strain of the day, the sympathetic blood loss that came from watching it seep out of your child. Rosie felt punished because he was punished. Penn felt relief that he wasn’t their worst nightmare, hateful and intolerant and prejudiced. Rosie was alarmed that he was in pain, alarmed that he had inflicted it too. Penn was worried Poppy somehow felt like Roo did, that they were keeping her secret from shame rather than shelter. Maybe it was that they were still angry, still had much to be angry about. Maybe it was the layer-upon-layering of all of the above. Whatever the reason, they missed it again, Roo’s warning, Roo’s wisdom, Roo’s mysterious ability, myopic though he was, to see far down the tracks to what was steaming inexorably ahead.
It was June before anything else broke. When it did, it wasn’t as obvious as a gushing head wound, but it was less easily repaired.
Ben and Cayenne were at the beach celebrating the end of school, becoming seniors at last. They were rushing the season. Right on the water, Alki was often cold even on an August afternoon. On an early June evening, it was freezing. But that was part of Ben’s plan. If it were cold, they’d have to build a fire, which would be romantic. If it were cold, they’d have to get under a blanket and press their bodies together for warmth.
Ben had only thought to bring one blanket, so they had to lie in the sand, the quilt tented above them on a piece of driftwood and tucked in at the sides. They had their phones in the way of mood lighting. Ben was anxious that the bonfire not alight the blanket. Cayenne drew circles in the sand with her toes and said, “How much do you love me?”