thumping. I scanned the faces of my family as I set the pages on the pulpit. My uncles, aunts, and cousins. They looked so pleased and proud and sure that I was up to this. It was a strange and wonderful feeling that I, the boy with a secret tucked beneath his skin, under his new suit, could stand as the one chosen to deliver. I heard the rhythm of my heart in my ears, fiddled with my tie. If they only knew who I really was, it’d be over. Yet here I stood.
Things will start happening for you
, she’d said.
Vocation is given like a gift
. I looked down at the neat column of stanzas, the simple drawings. She’d pulled me aside at my uncle’s house after dinner, before dessert.
I want you on the altar at my Mass
, she’d said.
You choose what to read. Something that rhymes, if you want
. She was in the front pew now, in her best habit, navy blue. I glanced at her for just a second. She was beaming. I began to read. Why, even with these nerves, even with this fear that they’ll see I’m a phony, did it feel so right to be standing in front of them? Reciting? Something inside my wild body, a force, a remembrance, lifted my chin, fueled my voice. The sound trembled in my chest and filled the chapel. It was the sure tongue of a grown-up I didn’t yet know. It was the sense, for an instant, that everything, even me, was good.
Two weeks later, I returned home on a Sunday evening after spending my second weekend at Bright Raven Ranch. This time it was just him and me. We’d stopped again at Arby’s in Boulder. He’d bought me a roast beef sandwich and thanked me for my good work. When we got to my house, he dropped me at the curb. This time he didn’t wait, he drove right off. I stood in the front yard, staring at the red brick, at the square of light in the kitchen window. A heavy sickness came into my stomach—an argument, a rip, a chunk of me gone off in the front seat of a truck. And the sickness, I knew, was my own. My own doing. I walked slowly to the door and reached for the knob, assembled my face.
She was at the kitchen table, filing her nails. It was late,
“A letter came for you,” she said without looking up.
I set my pack on the hall bench. “A letter?” I took off my muddy boots, set them on the rubber mat, and walked into the kitchen. “From who?”
, you mean.”
She pointed her file toward the little black-and-white Zenith. On top of it sat a small white envelope. Written on the front in beautiful, blue cursive it said:
Master Martin Moran, Jr
. It looked like holy script. I picked it up.
“At first we thought it was for your father.”
Cloistered Maryknoll Sisters
, it said, in the upper-left corner.
Ossining, New York
“It’s from her.”
Mom nodded. “How was your weekend?” she asked.
“Busy. We did a lot of work.” I tucked the letter into my pocket, next to the five Bob had slipped me.
“Don’t forget to take out the garbage.”
I took my pack downstairs to my room, sat on the bed, and opened the letter.
I hope this finds you well and happy, and I hope that you find time to write. (Send me one of your rhymes!) Today a tall iris opened at the very end of our garden, surprising us all with its vivid color and beauty. I thought of you
W E FOUND WAYS to be alone. It seemed to just happen, no parental impediments, no questions asked. Sometimes he picked me up in the truck. Other times in his cream-colored VW Bug. He didn’t come into the house; he just honked the horn.
That first summer, instead of going to St. Malo, I spent two weeks at his ranch-camp cutting hay, shooting arrows, and sneaking off for sex with him. There was a ragtag collection of nine or ten other campers there. It was strangely disorganized but we enjoyed taking care of the few horses and goats, the two milk cows, and spending time fixing things up, going for climbs. Sometimes I wondered if he was involved