It Will Get Better–Story #3

When I PressRelease-Wegner (2)decided to move forward with a collection and send it off to Lamar UP, I had a variety of completed stories that needed revision, but I also knew I needed 2-3 more stories to round out the collection. Like many folks who write, I have half a story here, an opening paragraph there, and a sketched out image in some manila folder some where else. “It Will Get Better” was one of those sketches.

I had this half a page scene where a middle school boy has to read his “What I Did Last Summer” essay to the class. In that early draft, he didn’t want to read the story because his parents were fighting and their marriage was going to hell.

I wasn’t all that interested in what the boy did last summer, but I did want to know why his parents were fighting so much. In many ways, this story wrote itself from the middle out. In the scene I already had, the narrator is sitting at his desk watching the other kids read. He sees this girl walk past, and he notices this little string hanging from her pants. I think when I started the scene (before I put the sketch away to work on something else), I had in mind that little string would serve as a path for both his coming of age and as a kind of momentary stay from the confusion of his family life.

When I started writing the story, though, I looked back to his summer. He watched his parents fighting. Dad started going out at all hours, coming home all drunk and nasty. One night his parents fight and his mom yells “I never wanted this. You should have told me ….”

I remember stopping while I was writing. I wanted to know what he should have told her.

Forget the string, my fingers seemed to say. Dad’s homosexual and he’s tired of hiding it. This story, then, is about this boy who has to write that he spent last summer finding out dad should have told mom he preferred men before they got married, not after having a child. I wrote a scene where the dad and son were raking leaves and even as a sixth grader, the son can sense something. Dad drops hints.

I had these two scenes before I ever wrote an opening. If I’m 12 in the mid 1980s and I find out my dad is homosexual, I thought, what would I do?

More importantly to a 6th grader, how would I keep it a secret? It might be pretty to think all his friends would understand back then, but I doubt it. The kids I grew up around certainly would have been merciless.

I opened the story with these two older boys about to graduate. They had been drinking on the junior high roof when the cops show up. Dad has to drive them home, and I had this sense that the boy who had to write about his summer back in the 6th grade would come to some understanding that a homosexual dad was just another dad. He would tell Chance Henderson this secret and Chance would help him cope.

Sounds so nice, right?

Well, I hope no one is that interested in that story because that’s not what happened.

The essay assignment is still there. The boy’s parents fight. There’s a scene where they rake leaves, and the two boys do drink beer on the roof.

That’s about all that survived.

Once I started the story, I didn’t want the boy to struggle to understand his dad.

He needed to struggle with his own sexuality. And that string is hanging from Chance Henderson’s Levi 501 button flies not Mary Grace’s Jordache jeans.

We are, the story wants to say, what we are, and we all fall in love the same way regardless of our sexual orientation. In many ways, the idea here is that love is love, regardless of who we are attracted to. Guess what, though. Heart break also transcends gender.

Here’s a couple paragraphs to wet your appetite. (Or turn you off, as the case may be.)

It Will Get Better

“‘He’s like a damn bobble head.’ Chance moved his head around in a kind of slow motion wiggle.

I glanced at him and then looked at the men in the parking lot. We leaned against a tree near the Glenn Middle School gym while my dad signed some papers, nodding his head when the sheriff’s deputy or the tow truck driver asked a question. He rocked back on his heels moving his hands as he talked.

I could see my dad sigh as he shook hands with the deputy. He watched him walk back to his cruiser and then followed the tow truck driver to his vehicle. They said a word or two, and he stepped back, raising his hand in a small wave as the strobe lights went off. The darkness was stark and sudden, and we could hear the diesel engine clattering as the truck drove off with Chance’s blue Mustang secured on the flatbed.

My dad took his glasses off, pinched his nose, and ran his hand from his hair line to his chin. He crooked his finger in our direction and gave it a little wag. We were already about halfway there.

“I’ll tell you what…” he paused. “I realize two teenage boys have the brain power of a couple used tires, but you two,” he shook his head, “I don’t know. It’s like you took a class in dip-shit 101. Right here near graduation and you’re on the roof drinking beer and doing god knows what.”

I hadn’t been paying attention until he stopped talking, but when I looked up he was staring at me. He glanced at the roof and then at Chance. I followed his gaze, and I could see Chance’s face in the pale street light, smiling as if he was waiting for my dad to tell a joke or say something important. My dad’s mouth was partly open as if unsure what to say next.”

If you want to know how Chance and our narrator wind up on the roof of Glenn Middle School and find out if the dad ever knows what to say next, the collection should be available tomorrow. Click on the press release above for more information.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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