“A Collage on Depression”
As seen in Austin Community College’s rio review (spring 2019)
According to the Apocryphal Saint Thomas, Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
NARRATOR – Born “James Dean Byrd” on October 28, 1963, 8:30-something in the morning. “James” is a family name on his mother’s side (her older brother Dalton James; her grandfather Henry James). He will never be called “Jimmy” because that was the name of his mother’s younger brother, who died on Halloween at the age of six. His middle name is from his father, Roy Dean. His father was the first to call him Jay Byrd. After his father’s death, he began using “James Dean Jay Byrd” in his senior year of high school as his nom de plume.
Possible scenarios that could come from telling my mother:
She believes me, is compassionate;
She believes me, confronts my uncle;
She believes me, cuts my uncle off without explanation;
She believes me, wants me and my uncle to enter into mediation or therapy.
She doesn’t say whether she believes me or not, and all of the situations from above:
She won’t engage with me about it:
for a long time;
for a short but intense period.
She doesn’t believe me, becomes estranged;
She doesn’t believe me, is confrontational about it.
She has a nervous breakdown.
She believes me, is fascinated by the relationship, wants to hear all about it.
She doesn’t care, tells me I should put it in my book or “one of my little plays.”
Romans 1:27: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
Tommy K, sleek and slender, Fighting Gander MVP; eyes mere slits, cut there with the same pocket knife used to carve his initials into my heart. He doesn’t know how I watch him coast across the Commons. He doesn’t notice because I watch with my peripheral vision, keep my head moving to throw off suspicion. I’m only ever able to take in sips of Tommy’s visage, but these sips quench my thirst. Even as he nears, I study some part of him as yet unstudied, the places where his jeans are faded, the bunched-up skin of his wrist at the outside edge of a pocket… hand deep in a warm pocket.
I’d always assumed I didn’t appear as even a blip on Tommy’s radar, but today, something different: “Hey, Jay.” His mom works at JCPenney with my mom; since both of them are widows now, she must’ve focused her son’s attention on me. Our eyes meet, mingle, mine huge and winsome, his sleepy but electric. It’s almost naughty, this feeling; exhilarating.
“I’m sorry to hear about your dad, man.”
I coast through the day, then turn immediately into my mother’s bedroom, her bathroom, where the triple-mirrored cabinet doors make me a kaleidoscope. I squint at my reflection, imitating Tommy, trying to see the world the way he does. Suddenly, he’s there, looking back at the reflection, like he snuck up behind me then continued until he was inside me. A shadow drawn inward; souls merged. Empathy, that’s what it is; for the first time in my life, I’m bathing in the light of a stranger’s empathy.
STEPFATHER: What’s that s’posed to be?
STEPSON: It’s an earring.
STEPFATHER: But what’s it s’posed to be?
STEPSON: It’s not supposed to be anything; it’s an earring.
STEPFATHER: What’s it doin’ in your ear?
STEPSON: I got it at the mall.
STEPSON: I dunno. I like it.
STEPFATHER: You know what that’s gonna make people think, about you?
STEPSON: No, that’s the right ear. “Left ear, buccaneer, right ear…”
STEPFATHER: What’s that s’posed to mean?
STEPSON: I dunno. That’s what the girl at the mall said. The left ear is okay.
STEPFATHER: I’ll show you where ya can stick that goddamn thing.
My mother bought me a ticket to visit her, then texted that my uncle would be picking me up at the airport. In order to avoid an awkward exchange, I sent him a letter telling him about my memoir, explaining I’m examining how our relationship affected me, what role it played in my depression, etc. I mentioned the events when I was ten; I used the word “molested.”
He wrote back, saying he didn’t know what I was talking about.
It makes me sick to think about doing anything to a ten-year-old person. Much less my sister’s son! The only time I remember doing anything with you was when I lived on Polk Street. You were not forced to do anything. I felt bad about it and thought that was why you didn’t go to Hawaii with me. All I wanted was to do good for you, help out when I could. I did the best I could and didn’t expect anything in return.
We wrote back and forth a few times. I mentioned the crackhead who’d moved in with him after I lived in New York City, a young man who twice beat him up, putting him in the hospital with broken bones, then robbing his house while he was there. My mother had called me at the time, concerned particularly because she’d heard one thing from his friend and something else from Dalt himself. Uncle Dalt told me those were lies made up by his ex-best friend. “By the way,” he wrote, “the crackhead is still living with me, but he never put me in the hospital.”
I don’t know why, but that did it. After everything, that was what made me lose respect for my uncle. I started thinking about telling my mother about our relationship; I was tired of carrying the weight of it on my own. I haven’t had contact with Uncle Dalt since.
I heard a podcast not long ago featuring a man who knew from a young age he was destined to be a child molester. He got help, joined a support group, moved into a house full of pedophiles, most of them there by court order. If I’d known about such places when I was young, would I have had the courage to seek one out? Would I have gone willingly? If my father hadn’t died when he did, I’m convinced I would’ve been sent for conversion therapy at some point. If that had happened, how would my life have been different afterwards? Would I have been more, or less, prone to suicide?
● I forgive my mother and my father for trying to keep me from becoming the person I was born to be;
● I forgive those eighth-grade bullies for making me hide from my true self;
● I forgive my uncle—both uncles, actually—for cheating me out of my childhood;
● I forgive those “friends” of mine in college for believing I was unworthy.
Luke 23:34: Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.