Quadrangle 68 prose

Someone Else, To Someone Else
Yeardley Mruzek

Freddy’s life began––depending on who you ask––either two days after Isabelle and Gary “Colt” Lushomm nearly tripped over each other on the altar of Our Lady of Mercy’s Cathedral on a blisteringly out-of-character hot autumn day in 1958, or nine months and one week later when the frigid, sterile hospital air slapped his dripping wet body for the first but not last time. He was promptly named after Colt’s closest army buddy, and went home four days later to a one-story house with a baby blue nursery. The driveway leading up to the house was cracked and bruised, with bits of gravel strewn all across. The outside looked quite nice, but the cars flew by so fast that the drivers hardly had time to admire the coat of tan paint that Colt had finished putting on a mere month after moving in. Father Perry, who had joined together Colt and Isabelle the year before, came by for a visit upon request and blessed the infant Freddy, who lay on his back with one hand at his side and the other mindlessly aimed for the corner of his sky blue blanket. Freddy didn’t notice Father Perry, who wore a nice black dress shirt and  whose shoulder he spit up onto. He didn’t notice his own blanket, either. There was a lot Freddy didn’t notice about the world he now inhabited. His infant senses were still adapting to the wild colors and temperatures and noises, and, in some ways, he would never truly adjust. He did not understand that when he was moving from one place to another, a human being was carrying him; he did not know how to tell where each limb was when it was outside of his vision; he did not realize the breast he instinctively latched onto belonged to the same person who had carried him for nine months, a memory he had already forgotten. Freddy was a normal, healthy baby. The next Sunday, young Freddy was baptized in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit: his first step toward being a man of God, which Freddy would hopefully be some day.

Freddy grew slowly but surely, switching from Isabelle’s breast to baby-mash to solid food––reluctantly but elegantly. His mother played with him and exercised his limbs daily, readying him for his eventual first steps. Slowly, Freddy learned to recognize the woman in front of him as another human being, and eventually, as his mother. He became aware of where her smooth hands gripped his ankles as she stretched his feeble muscles, and he would kick back often. His father read stories to him, speaking a complex language he would one day better understand because of these stories. “Is” or “and” or “the” slowly became subconsciously defined in Freddy’s brain, as he heard them used again and again in appropriate contexts; complex words like “family” or “money” or “little man” soon followed. A very democratic process, where the sounds which proved useful in his life were kept closer to his tongue, and those which rarely resulted in a positive change were left behind and only subconsciously known. Freddy wore cloth diapers. Freddy said his first word, “baby,” at fourteen months old after hearing it said so many times––not just to him but between Mommy and Daddy, who were now expecting again. Perhaps it was not wise to have another baby so soon into Freddy’s life, but such things can hardly be planned. Freddy was moved out of his crib and into a big-boy-bed that he despised seven months later when his little sister, Nancy, came home and stole it from him. Once the switch was made, though, Freddy was able to reluctantly adjust. 

For his eighth birthday, Freddy received a pellet gun from his father, wrapped in nothing but a light blue bow. He was at first confused, but quickly lit up his eyes when he realized his Daddy was beaming over him, waiting for the right reaction. After too-sour lemonade and cake (a simple chocolate with frosting), Colt took Freddy down to the nearby woods to shoot off their new pellet gun, and secretly brought along his own hunting rifle for a boy’s––or perhaps now men’s––day out. Seeing this in action, Colt was sure, would be the real birthday gift. Freddy learned how to shoot his pellet gun with help from his father, who told him the secret was not to press the trigger, but to squeeze it one slow pull so even you yourself don’t know when the gun fires. Freddy even hit the practice target once, but lost interest fairly quickly. His father didn’t want him to have any friends over for his birthday and the resentment clogged up his mind, keeping his eyes unaimed and unfocused. Seeing this, Colt mentioned the special birthday surprise he promised in the car ride there, and slipped out a barely-used Marlin Model 336, much to Freddy’s amazement. Freddy got to touch it––not the trigger of course, just the smooth-as-glass wood of the stock; no chips, no scars. ‘That’s the good that comes out of Belle not wanting this around,’ thought Colt. ‘It sure stays nice-looking.’ Freddy saw how it was loaded and cocked, heard a satisfying clunk, and wondered what it would be like to twist the rifle like that himself. 

“Pay attention while I shoot,” said Colt, and Freddy stood completely hypnotized as Daddy waved him to the back of the car that the rifle had seemingly materialized out of, lowered the gun, dropped his smiling eyes to the sight, took one last glance back to Freddy to make sure he wasn’t standing too close––but also not too far away––and, finally, pulled on the trigger in an almost romantic motion. Freddy was instantly down on the ground, having expected the merely bothersome “pop” of the pellet gun to come out of his father’s gun, and he sat sobbing and holding his ears in terror at the deafening blast that rattled his bones for another ten minutes. Colt dragged him back up, afraid for a split second that the bullet had somehow ricocheted off the tree and into his poor son, but quickly turned around and told his son it was just a simple gunshot––nothing to be afraid of––and that real men never cower from gunfire. Freddy nodded, and promised he was a real man, eyes red from the tears that weren’t stopping anytime soon. His dad made him sit through two more shots just like the first. But, eventually, Colt was satisfied enough to drive the both of them back home. The tough, yet respectable father and energetic, ready-to-learn son that Colt had imagined riding home from the momentous boy’s-first-gunfire did not exist. Rather, the car was full of ghosts, simply driving itself back to a tan-coated, one-story, cracked-driveway house. Upon their return, Isabelle, a woman who always followed her intuition, wondered why Freddy was so sober. After she juiced a confession out of Colt like the lemonade she made for Freddy’s party, she took the poor boy in her arms and told him that Daddy didn’t mean it and he’d never do it again. Freddy hid the pellet gun in the backyard shed, Colt hid his back behind the desk in his study, and both were relieved when the other never brought the incident up again.

When Freddy was twelve, he scored the winning goal in a P.E. soccer game. He strutted back into the locker room to change, yanked off his shirt and shorts, and looked around the room, thirsty for any more affirming congrats from the others. But as his eyes scanned around, all he found was a hard-on in his underpants (Freddy wore Incredible Hulk underwear). Not quite understanding why it was embarrassing, but somehow aware that he needed to be, Freddy turned to face his locker in an attempt to hide it, hoping to wait it out until the room was a bit more cleared out. But he didn’t understand that nothing attracts more attention in a changing room than a boy not changing. Schoolmate Norman Linklatter saw and was happy to make a show out of Freddy, and all of David Park’s Elementary and Middle School knew by the end of sixth period. Colt found out that night at the dinner table when eleven-year-old Nancy, as talkative as her mother, let it slip out. It was the first time Colt yelled at his daughter, bellowing at her to never lie at his dinner table again, or else he’d shave her head bald and stick her out in the cold. Freddy’s relief that Dad didn’t even believe the story fell to bits at bedtime when Colt motioned Nancy out of their shared bedroom and commanded Freddy very clearly––eyes thick as a helmet––that he would never think about boys like that ever again, or Dad would kick his ass straight into hell to save Jesus the trouble. He told Freddy that no son of his would grow up to be a homo or a faggot or other words Freddy had never heard of before, and then Colt sliced the air between them into shards one last time and asked Freddy if he understood what he was just told, or if he’d rather sleep in the doghouse outside from now on. Freddy squeaked out a yes, in tears. The next day, Colt told Nancy to move all her things into the spare room, deciding that sleeping near a girl wasn’t good for his son’s natural development. Once the switch was made, though, Freddy was able to reluctantly adjust. Freddy slept alone from then on for about four years.

At sixteen, Freddy was dating Carrie Frune, who had grown up as an only child, a bit spoiled by her parents––still a reasonable girl, but she was used to getting what she wanted. She would go her whole life without telling anyone that she was deathly afraid of germs and disease. When she was seven years old, her father yelled at her for bringing several wagon-fulls of mud into the living room, an unnoticeably traumatic experience. Another time, at twelve, her science teacher showed the class some pictures of microbes he found in the school’s tap water as a way to show off the new microscopes, but all Carrie saw were shapes that looked identical to a few months prior when she pulled a loose stone up from underneath her deck and got a glimpse of a nest of insects taking advantage of the dark and moist space. Carrie was terrified of these bugs, and couldn’t force herself to drink from the drinking fountains for months. She washed her hands upwards of twenty times a day, showered twice daily since she was nine, never lent her makeup to anyone, and had become a master of finding excuses to leave a conversation upon seeing the other sneeze or cough. Her fear of disease would eventually lead her to being incredibly overprotective of her twin boys she had after marrying at 22, not allowing anyone to visit her home, forcing her husband James to shower before interacting with the twins, and sobbing uncontrollably when young Trey had a fever one night because she was convinced he would die soon. Her marriage soon crumbled, and her adulthood was rocky and terrifying until she committed suicide 26 years later, having never remarried. Her need for perfect cleanliness, spurred by seemingly inconsequential events in her childhood, drove her insane. Freddy knew none of this; he would never know any of it. In fact, all of this has no immediate relevance to our story.

What Freddy did know was that Carrie was a blonde and fair-skinned girl who had dated twice before. And Freddy, with short blond hair that complimented him, nice clothes, and what she called “a sensitive nature,” was next. Freddy wasn’t one to complain. She fulfilled his one and only girlfriend requirement: be a girl. Colt couldn’t have been happier, and badgered Freddy until he finally brought Carrie over for dinner. He practically yanked her through the doorway, shook her hand so hard her head just about hit the ceiling, and asked questions all evening long. Carrie answered them expertly. After a quick scope of the house, she complimented the family’s color TV set, asked whether there was a puppy who used that old doghouse in the backyard, and knew all the right army questions to ask Colt. The perfect high school sweetheart, Colt decided. Freddy figured she was, as far as he could tell. The pair laughed through a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, went on group dates with the gang to the gazebo in Sarck’s Park, and their relationship culminated when Freddy took her to Cupid’s Ball, their high school’s spring dance. At the dance, Carrie insisted the two of them get a picture taken––“for posterity’s sake, Fred darling,” she’d argued––in front of the cheesy light blue backdrop with Cupids fluttering about with heart-tipped arrows ready to be shot into unsuspecting asses. Freddy froze at the idea of a picture. He couldn’t tell quite why, but he wanted this picture taken less than anything else in the world. He suspected it was that nothing quite admits a real relationship like a photograph of the happy couple (the walls of his own house were brimming with photos of Mom and Dad, some of himself, and some of Freddy, the long-dead army buddy who Freddy Lushomm called his namesake) and the knowledge that if this picture was taken, he would have no choice but to see himself and Carrie firsthand in the way everyone else did. He wore plaid boxers for the first time, actually. In his irrational and unscientific mind, a photo would eternalize the pair. Freddy wasn’t sure he could handle that, but if there was one thing he knew, it was that he wanted and needed this girlfriend to work. So, Freddy grinned. Freddy bore it. Freddy stood in the line with Carrie, pretended to be just as excited as her, and even asked the man with the camera to make an extra copy––“For the folks,” Freddy said.

Freddy had realized he was gay the year before, which was what prompted him to hide it with Carrie, whose desire for him made her a convenient way to force the eyes he was sure lived at every angle off of him. Freddy made sure friends saw them kiss. Sometimes, he even enjoyed the kisses. He avoided Matt Larken at all costs, the handsome boy that gave Freddy another humiliating but telling hard-on, and a short burst of pleasure that night. Freddy even helped beat up poor Larry “Fairy” Cullen, who the school bullies saw mindlessly staring at the back of Mr. Blotch’s pants and was instantly assigned the school faggot. Colt had a short talking with his son about this, telling him not to beat up the other kids. But he didn’t let Freddy leave the dinner table until he had taken a second helping of ham. 

Freddy and Carrie lined up in front of what he now realized was just a sky blue bedsheet with naked angels stitched into the corners, and stalled for a second by adjusting the collar on the suit Colt had eagerly let his son borrow for the night. ‘It’s for the best,’ Freddy told himself. ‘If I don’t take a picture, everyone will know right away.’ He looked straight into the camera with a fake smile he’d long since perfected, only to hear: “Hey, kid, you don’t want to put your arm around your girl?” Freddy blinked, coyly laughed, and froze again. 

“Fred darling, you better be the type of man who knows how to hold his lady!” chirped Carrie. 

“I’m a man!” barked Freddy instinctively, and he swerved an arm around Carrie’s back, yanked her close, and stared at the camera to say cheese. 

The 30-something standing behind the camera looked right at the happy couple and said, “You both look great. Make sure you pay attention while I shoot so I don’t have to take any more.” As the cameraman clicked the button, the horrible image of himself bending over Carrie in a bright blue bed––her body replaced by a naked Cupid, the pair in a sweaty embrace––forced itself to the front of Freddy’s mind. This was all he could take, and the contents of Freddy’s stomach lurched out of him and all over poor Carrie’s expensive dress, the one her father had bought for her brand new.