Little by little Justin found himself drawn into a world he would never have expected to enter. Although he had only seen Brian’s mother once at the loft, and from a distance once or twice since then, he had a strong impression as to who the woman was, based on stories he had heard from Debbie, Michael, Vic, and others. Brian told him some things about his childhood since they finally settled down together, but he did so almost painfully. Justin tried to avoid bringing the subject of Brian’s family up to avoid seeing the hurt that sometimes peeked through, even when Brian tried to mask it. The one thing that Justin knew for sure was that Joan Kinney hated that her son was gay. She had been adamant that he was bound for Hell because of it. Justin understood how this hurt Brian, because it still pained him that his own father was the same.
Yet, now Justin was learning something about Joan Kinney that belied everything he had heard about her. Most of the letters were short, so it didn’t take him long to get through them all. As he finished reading the final page, he set it down on the pile with the others and felt his heart squeezed tight with emotion. Whether he liked it or not, Justin knew that Brian needed to read the letters too. But not here, he decided. Brian needed to be in a safe place. This house was too full of negative memories. That might taint Brian’s reaction to the letters. Justin bundled up the stack and put them back into the shoe box, covering it up with the lid and rubber band once more. He joined Brian, who was just finishing up his perusal of the last things in the attic. The couple climbed back down the stairs and closed up the entrance to the attic. If Brian wondered what Justin was holding onto so tightly, he didn’t ask. Soon, they were back in their rental car and returning to the hotel. Justin knew he would have to tell Brian about the letters then. He prayed that he wasn’t making a mistake saving them, and giving them to Brian to see.
The couple had their dinner brought to the room. They were mentally and physically exhausted from the ordeal of assessing the value and dispensation of the Kinney house contents. Justin waited until Brian was finished, and had settled into an easy chair in front of the wide-screen TV set, a glass of Jim Beam in hand. Before he could turn the set on, Justin walked over to him and sat on the floor in front of him. He rested his arms on Brian’s legs and looked up at him with an expression Brian couldn’t describe. But there was definitely a question in that look.
“What is it, Sunshine? You seem to have something on your mind. Truthfully, I noticed that you appeared a little off on the way home too. Is there something you want to say to me? Was visiting the place where I grew up too much for you? It certainly won’t ever be my favorite experience to look back on.”
“You’re right, Brian. I could feel how tense you were when you first stepped into that house, and you never did seem to relax completely. I hated seeing you like that, but that’s not what has me so distracted. I have something that I brought back from the house that I really think you should see for yourself. I think it may help you come to some kind of understanding about your past, especially in regards to your relationship with your mother.”
Brian’s brow furrowed as he looked quizzically at his husband. What in the world could he be talking about? He already knew all he needed to know about his relationship with her. She had made it very clear that she wished he had never been born. She didn’t really seem to even like her own daughter very much either, although she wasn’t quite as cold to Claire as she had always been with him. She definitely didn’t care for her husband. Sometimes he even thought that she hated Jack. As far as he was concerned, Joan Kinney wasn’t even capable of loving anyone, except maybe for her mystical God and Jesus. He barely knew her side of the family, because she seldom talked about them, and they rarely visited when he was young. He couldn’t imagine that Justin had found anything in that old house that would change his opinion of the woman who gave birth to him.
“Alright, Justin, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Justin rose from the floor and walked over to the desk, where he had left the mysterious shoe box Brian had noticed him carrying from the car into the hotel. He had intended to ask Justin about the box later on, but really didn’t care that much what he might have found that was interesting enough to bring with him. Justin walked back to Brian and sat down next to him in the other easy chair. He removed the band around the box and opened it up. He reached in and pulled out the bundle of letters inside. He set them down on Brian’s lap and gazed over at him.
“What is this?” Brian asked.
“These are letters that Joan wrote many years ago, but never mailed to the intended recipient. Did you know that she attended college after high school?”
“I think I heard them talking about it once, but didn’t pay any attention. I know she married Jack after getting knocked up with me when she was nineteen or twenty.”
“Well, according to what I’ve read in the letters, she did attend college for one year before she married.”
“Okay. So why is it so important that I read her letters? If they were about her college year, then it means nothing to me.”
“Brian, do you trust me?”
“With my life, but what does that…?”
“Then I’m telling you that I believe you need to read the letters. I don’t think you knew Joan Kinney at all, at least not in the way you thought you did. It could change your outlook about her and your childhood entirely.”
Brian was doubtful that anything Joan Kinney had to say to anyone would alter his feelings about her, but there was something so adamant and intense in how Justin was talking to him, that he decided he would at least glance through them… just to appease Justin, if nothing else. Brian picked up the small bundle and removed the ribbon tying the letters together. He checked the name of the intended recipient. He didn’t recognize the woman’s name at all. He opened the first envelope on top and removed the letter inside. Justin nodded, and retired to the couch where he picked up his drawing pad and the pencil he’d left on the coffee table earlier that morning. He began sketching, all the while keeping an eye on Brian. He watched intently as Brian began to read the words written in the first letter.
My Dearest Ginny,
Although I doubt you will ever read this letter, I feel compelled to write it anyway. I can’t believe it has been a full year since I last saw your beautiful face. I only wish the memory could be more pleasant, but I realize that it is entirely my own fault that we parted with so much hurt between us. But I must set the record straight, if only for my own sake.
My dearest, I lied to you for both our sakes. I truly believe it was the right thing to do, even if it tore my heart out to do it. What was happening between us was endangering both our immortal souls. I could not let that happen. I only pray that I will see you again in Heaven when our time here is over. God will surely reward us for not giving in to our sinful desires. When I look back on how it all started, I am torn with emotion.
I will never forget the moment I first saw you. You walked into the dorm room we were to share for our freshman year at college, and I was struck immediately by your beauty, and the contagious smile you had that lit up the dreary room we would inhabit for the next nine months. Your laugh was even more contagious, as you plopped down on the bed on your side of the room, and complained that it felt like the Rock of Gibraltar. Your words were harsh, but your laugh softened them. It didn’t take me long to realize that you would always find the light humor in things, even when others would find only the dark. I had never known anyone like you before. My family had no sense of humor about anything. I was certain we would have trouble connecting. We were so different. But I was so wrong.
The change came so slowly that I hardly recognized what was happening until it was too late. By the end of the first semester, I knew that my feelings for you had become something strange, yet wonderful to me. I had never had such feelings for anyone else in my entire young life. They frightened me a little, but also gladdened my heart. I felt alive whenever you were near. I began to sense that you were feeling some of the same things I was. And yet, we did nothing about those feelings. Yes, we hugged each other often, and occasionally offered a gentle kiss on the cheek, but nothing more. Still, there were times when those hugs lingered, and I could feel your heart beating so close to mine. And there were times when a quick kiss also lingered. Oh, Ginny, how I longed to feel your soft lips on mine and not just your cheek at times like that. But fear held me back.
Then came our second and final semester together. At first it seemed that nothing had changed when we came back after Spring Break. But then I slowly felt a tenseness that wasn’t there before. And then it happened! We each lay on our beds reading a book and munching on our snacks. You suddenly yelled out and jumped off the bed, shocking me. I looked over and saw that your soda bottle had somehow fallen onto the bed and spilled its contents all over the bedcover. I jumped up to help you, and together we pulled the bedcover and sheet off the bed. It was too late. The mattress had a large circle right in the center of it that was soaked with cola.
That was the first night that we slept together in my bed, squeezed in tight on my tiny twin mattress, after I refused to let you sleep on the floor. But it wasn’t the last time, was it? It soon became a habit. And although we did nothing more than cuddle close together, occasionally hugging until we fell asleep, and even sharing a soft kiss or two, we never went any further. I don’t know how you felt inside with what was happening, but it both scared me senseless, and gave me such a feeling of comfort. And although I knew how wrong it was, a part of me wished for more… wished for your touch against my skin with more than a gentle hug. But somehow, I managed to avoid telling you, even though I also sometimes sensed you may have been feeling the same thing. Yet, I told myself that as long as I didn’t give in to my wicked thoughts, I was committing no sin against God.
And so we continued on this path until the end of the year. When we parted to return to our own homes and families in different cities, we promised each other that we would remain close through phone calls and letters, and then we would return to school for our sophomore year to continue our devoted ‘friendship’. And the day I hugged you goodbye, I truly meant every word. But then, oh my dearest, without the ability to see your beautiful loving face every day, I began to feel my strength waver and all I could think was how wicked my longings for you were. I finally got up the nerve to speak to our family pastor, and his words chilled me to the bone. He reminded me, through many private consultations, that what I was experiencing with you was unnatural and a sin against God. Finally, his advice that I find a more appropriate outlet for my feelings sunk in. And that is how Jack Kinney came into my life.
Jack was the son of my parents’ best friends. We had known each other for years, but he was slightly older than me and never seemed to pay attention to me before that Summer. Then, out of nowhere, he came to our house and asked me out. The first few dates were fine. But then he made it clear he wanted more from me than kisses (which always made me feel uncomfortable). I told myself that I had to prove something… that I was interested in men, not a woman. I thought that if I had sex with Jack, it would banish my feelings for you, and I would no longer be in danger of God’s wrath. So, I gave in to his persistence. Oh, Ginny, how painful and degrading it made me feel. His touch repulsed me, but I kept those feelings buried deep inside.
I swore I’d never let him touch me again. I wanted to be with you and could hardly wait for the Summer to end. We continued to talk on the phone sometimes and write friendly letters to one another. Then, barely over a month later, I realized that I might be pregnant. I visited a doctor in the neighboring town a couple weeks later and found out it was true. I can’t begin to tell you the fear and anger I felt that this had happened to me. I was terrified to tell my parents. I decided to tell Jack first, not having a clue how he would react. And it wasn’t good. He started out by suggesting an abortion. I had to remind him that as a devoted Catholic, I could never do such a thing. Finally, after much arguing and tears, we realized that we had no choice but to tell our parents what we did.
Confronting our parents was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Of course, they insisted that we must marry. Thus, I ended my Summer vacation as a wife and expectant mother. Then I sent you that letter telling you that I was not going back to school because I had married. I said good-bye in the letter and thanked you for being my friend. I thought I’d never see you again. Then… there you were, on my doorstep. You were so upset, wanting to know what had happened, and why I married this man so suddenly, whom I had never even mentioned the entire time I shared a room with you at school. I said nothing about the baby. I just told you that I realized how much I loved him, once I came back home, and he finally noticed me. I told you how happy I was, while my heart cried out for you to see through my lies. Of course, you were far too hurt to see anything but my betrayal. As I watched you walk away and get into your car, I knew I’d never see or hear from you again. And I knew I would never be truly completely happy again.
And now it has been a year since you left my house. I had my baby… a little boy we named Brian. Oh Ginny, I tried so hard to love him, but I can’t seem to bond with my baby. Every time I see his face, I think about all I have given up for him. Believe me, I am paying a very high price for hurting you. I will do my best to be a good wife for Jack, but I will never be able to love him. And I can tell, after only a year, that he feels much the same for me. When he comes home drunk after work, he reminds me how he was trapped into our marriage. I suppose this will be my lot in life for as long as I live now. Maybe I will grow to love my baby with time. I’ll try. At least I know that I deserve a place in Heaven, because I am living my Hell now on earth.
So, now I have told you the whole story. I hope you have learned to forgive me, Ginny. Maybe I’ll have the courage to send you this letter someday, and maybe not. Only time will tell. I just hope you are having a better life than I. With all my love, Joanie
Brian set the pages of his mother’s letter down onto his lap and looked over at Justin. His eyes were unreadable. Justin had never seen that look in his eyes before, and he thought he knew them all. They were unfathomable. He couldn’t know that Brian had retreated deep into the darkest recesses of his mind, a place haunted by his lonely confused childhood. Now, for the first time, he had the evidence of why his mother never seemed to love him, even when she put on a show of caring when others were around. He had always suspected that his father didn’t love him as much as most men would, because he had to marry Joan. Brian knew he had been born less than nine months after their wedding, although no one ever talked about it.
Now, as he slowly digested all that he had read in his mother’s unsent letter, he began to feel a completely different emotion start to take over. He felt an anger building that he had never felt before. He had always tried to dismiss both of his parents as the useless part of his life, especially once he was old enough to get away from them. He only tolerated them when he felt it was necessary for one reason or another. He told himself that he didn’t have time to be angry with them, that it was a waste because they didn’t care enough for it to matter. Of course, much of his behavior with others was a direct result of their neglect and treatment of him, but he avoided thinking about that. But now, he could not disguise or avoid the anger he found himself feeling. Justin had been watching Brian closely and saw how his eyes began to change. He clearly saw the anger, which Justin was familiar with in the past. He hurried over to once again kneel in front of Brian, laying his hands carefully on the papers in his lap. Brian’s eyes finally focused on the man he loved.
“Talk to me, Brian,” he gently entreated.
“You read the entire letter?” Brian asked him.
“I did, and the others too.”
“And do they reveal even more that I should know?”
“For the most part, they are much shorter and really just a litany of complaints about her lot in life. She doesn’t mention her love for this woman, Ginny, again until the final letter. She just talks about the bad choices she made in her life and how she regrets them, without being very specific about those choices. If you don’t read the first letter, you would have no idea what choices bother her so much. She does end each one by saying that she knows she will probably never mail them, but it helps her deal with things when she can get them off her chest by writing her feelings down.”
“So, what is different about the final letter?”
“Even if you don’t read any of the others, I think you should read that one too.”
Brian hesitated. He didn’t know if he wanted to read any more of her words. But he knew that Justin would not suggest he read the last letter unless it was important. He trusted him, so he gathered the bundle of letters and pulled off the final one. Justin returned to the couch as Brian began reading again.
My Dearest Ginny,
It’s been a long time since my last letter, which I also never had the courage to send. I don’t quite know why I keep writing them when I am fully aware that you’ll never see them. All I know is that it helps me cope with how my life has turned out during those times when I feel I’ll lose my mind. So, why am I writing now, especially when it has been so long since the last time? It is because I saw you for the very first time since we parted so long ago. I was meeting an elderly fellow parishioner for lunch at one of our finest hotels, and I saw you entering the lobby. You looked every bit as beautiful as I remembered. I thought, for a brief moment, of calling out to you, but then I saw an attractive woman step up behind you and wrap her arms around you. You turned, smiled at her (as you once did for me) and gave her a sweet kiss.
My dear Ginny, I felt as though the world had upended and I could barely breathe. It was at that moment that I realized what I had lost. I had nothing left but my faith to cling to… faith that I had done the right thing if I ever wanted to see the face of God when my time comes. The rest of the day is still a blur. When I returned home, I saw Michael Novotny, a neighbor’s boy who is my son’s best friend, sitting in the living room waiting for Brian. Brian is a senior in high school now. I can’t believe the years have flown by so fast. I must confess to you and you only, that I still find it hard to bond with Brian. I wish I could, truly I do, but I just can’t seem to. What makes it worse are the suspicions I have about my boy. He and that boy, Michael, just seem too close sometimes. I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect that Brian is cursed with the same affliction that I suffered when I met you. He never dates any girls, although they throw themselves on him all the time. If I am right about him, I know it is probably my fault. God help him if I am right. God help us both.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I don’t regret knowing you, Ginny, but I am sorry that the way our friendship developed forced us apart. But saying that, although I mourn for your immortal soul, I do hope you will be happy in whatever life you choose for yourself. Even if it is one that I know is not right. I just want you to have love in your life, even if it has been denied to me.
And now that I’ve said that, I feel that this may be the last time I will write a letter to you. I will tuck all the letters away in a safe place that I know Jack will never bother to look, and perhaps someday when I am old and my time is about over, I will bring them out again. Then I will destroy them so that the past will be in ashes, much as my life has been. Who knows? Farewell, my dearest friend… my beloved. God bless and keep you, no matter what.
With true affection, Joanie
When Justin saw that Brian had finished the last letter, he returned to him again. At first, the couple said nothing. Then Brian broke the silence.
“She hated me because she hated herself. I was nothing but a reflection of her bad choices.” His voice rose. “But how dare she judge me when she was no different than me!”
“She was a lost human being, Brian… a sad pathetic creature who couldn’t accept herself and it colored everything in her life. Perhaps, without ever realizing it, some of her animosity towards you, especially once she had proof of your sexuality, was as much about envy as it was condemnation. Some part of her had to recognize that she would have had a much happier life if she had stayed in her relationship with this Ginny, which she obviously cared for so much. But before you allow yourself to hate her for what she put you through, maybe you should remember that it was a very different time when she was young, as well as the kind of upbringing she must have had. I think pity is more in order for her than hatred.”
Brian listened intently to every word his beloved Justin spoke. Although Justin was a dozen years younger than him, he knew that there was a wisdom Justin showed far beyond his years, and sometimes he was much wiser than he himself was. As he gazed into the eyes of the man he loved, he realized how lucky he was. Unlike his mother, he had lived his life free of guilt and self-hatred. His reward was right in front of him and he knew he would be a happy contented man every day of his life, thanks to Justin. All his mother had was bitterness and emptiness, living with a man she despised. Yes, Justin was right… Joan Kinney deserved pity, not hatred. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he felt as if a ten-ton weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He realized that he felt a kind of freedom that he had not felt before. He had not been aware that his hatred and anger at his family had been weighing him down since childhood, but it was no longer there.
Brian stood up and gathered Justin into his arms. He kissed him deeply, hugging his love as tightly as he could. Just as he had so many years ago, he whispered in Justin’s ear… “I love you”. They kissed again and Justin sensed that everything would be alright for Brian from this day on. And if Brian was at peace, Justin was happy.
Before leaving Pittsburgh, Brian made the arrangements with Joan and Claire’s church to handle their joint funeral services. Originally, he hadn’t planned on staying around for that day. He had wanted to get back home as soon as possible, and simply wait for the day the house was sold, so that he could fully close that chapter of his life. But after reading his mother’s letters, he changed his mind. Justin convinced him to keep the letters and consider trying to locate the elusive Ginny. Brian wasn’t so sure he wanted to do that, but he would keep that thought in mind. Now, he stood in front of his mother’s casket inside her church, Justin beside him, and stared down at her face. It looked so calm and peaceful, something he seldom saw on her face throughout his life. Then he made one final gesture. He leaned over and whispered…
“Goodbye, Mother. I’m sorry you wasted your life, but I can promise you that I never will.”