Right Back Where – A story of Sam, a story of me.

 

Hello readers, and people I’m assuming may come upon this post for other reasons.

I thought long and hard before sitting down to write this post, but in the end, my heart is hurting so much that I need to write this post in order for it to begin healing. I’m not looking for sympathy with this post. What I am looking for is understanding. An understanding that I am a human being. That I am a person who writes stories about other human beings (and sometimes aliens), with human fallacies, human problems, human motivations and hopes. I write stories. Fictional stories. I don’t write biographies or histories or political pieces on how the world does or should work. I try to write books that make you think, that may make you question, but in the end will leave you smiling. Apparently, in some respect for at least one person, I have failed at that.

I’m writing this post to apologize to that person, but also to seek a mutual understanding with that person. I hope they can see where I come from, why I wrote what I did, and maybe in the end I can understand why they came away from the story with an unintended view about not only the book but about me. Assumptions were made. Painful assumptions. Assumptions I’m still coping with. This person will not be named, a fellow aspiring author who may one day be in this exact position. I open my hand to them, hoping they will at least give me an opportunity to show that I am a person, too.

The book in question is Right Back Where. Some of you have read it, some have not. This post will contain spoilers, as I seek to explain some things and figure out where it all went so wrong. I’ve been accused of romanticizing abuse. Of being toxic. Of writing about something I shouldn’t. Of writing about something I have no idea of. Of taking certain experiences for granted. Mostly it’s been directed at this book, but this book is part of me. So, I feel this need to talk. I will try to keep it brief, and I thank you so much for sitting down with me to read what I write here.

Right Back Where is a story of Sam, but it’s also a story that contains very intricate pieces of me. Parts of me I don’t talk about often. Pieces I usually keep for myself. Shards that still hurt sometimes when I try to think about them too hard. But it also contains hope, my hope, of how things could be if we all simply remembered one important thing – we are all human.

In the story, Sam returns home to Alvarado, Texas. He left right after graduation without looking back, intent on putting the past and the town behind him. But something pulls him back, a strand he left connected despite his attempts to disconnect. When he arrives in town, he is first greeted by the news that this strand has been broken without him realizing it, that this person has died. All the reasons he thought he had left to go home have vanished, but he keeps driving forward into town anyway.

This part of the story shows how quickly and unexpectedly things can change. How we can leave a goodbye left unspoken because we assume there will be a next time. There isn’t always a next time. When you go to say goodbye, the opportunity may be gone forever. After not saying goodbye to my mother, nor keeping the type of relationship I wanted with my father, they both died. They died before I had a chance to say goodbye, or I love you, or to properly express all the things I thought I would have all the time in the world to convey, things I let my fear get in the way of. A fear of what’s behind. A fear of what is past. A fear of how it could affect my future. Through Sam, I relive this. And through Sam, I drive forward into town, hoping there is still something left for me there, despite all the miles I’ve tried to put in between.

When Sam arrives in town, he is amazed at how things have changed, but also at how much has remained the same. Pieces of memories flare, some unwanted. People greet him, and he struggles to converge the bitter memory of this place with the warm welcome he receives. He expects deceit and viciousness around every corner. He is slow to accept the smiles and offered hands. He has his reasons, good reasons, for being cautious. He’s been hurt in this town. By this town. By these people.

Enter Cody Greene. High school football star. Son to the woman who has died. A long time crush of Sam’s. Cody and Sam grew up together, with Sam spending more time at Cody’s house than his own, learning to play the bassoon from Cody’s mom. Cody picked on Sam a bit, but not out of spite or bullying or abuse or anger. Cody has always been in love with Sam, you see, but we as a society said that’s not right. It’s wrong, we said. Two boys can’t be in love. That kind of love is wrong.

Ideas like that shape a society. They fester into a cancer that spreads into places unseen. Into the hearts of people like Clint, someone else who fell in love with Sam. Clint is a good kid; a gentle soul, quiet and unassuming despite his big size. A wallflower except when he’s with his best friend, Cody. Clint is also gay. A gay high school kid in Texas. A gay high school kid in Texas who plays football. He’s been told by his dad that faggots should die. He’s been told by his fellow football players that queers should get beat. Even his best friend Cody told Clint that if he were to like a guy, it would be gross. Both Cody and Clint were gay high school students in Texas who play football.

Let’s stop right here for a moment. I grew up, for the most part, in Texas. I went to high school in Texas. No, I didn’t play football. No, I’m not a gay man. Yes, I’m gender queer. Yes, I’ve dated girls and boys. Yes, I married a man. Yes, I had several gay friends growing up, and I hope they all knew how much I love them, how much I wanted them to be accepted for who they are. I want to be accepted for who I am, too. Not judged for it. Not pigeonholed into some label like CIS or Straight or Bisexual or Undecided. You don’t walk in my shoes. You don’t know what goes through my head when I look in the mirror; what I wish I saw or what I want to be. Those assumptions, and the painful knifing words that can accompany them are exactly the point I’m trying to convey through Clint and what happened.

So, what did happen? Clint decided to be brave. Clint decided to confront Sam at the senior prom. Clint decided to tell Sam how he felt, that he too is gay, that he wanted to kiss Sam.

But fear can often be more powerful than even the most noble of intentions, and it can lead to the most horrible, unspeakable things.

Clint kissed Sam. He took Sam into his arms, his hands shaking and uncertainty swirling in his stomach like a hurricane while all through his head he heard the hate repeated over and over by his father, his teammates, his best friend. Then he opened his eyes. Standing there, watching him, stood Cody.

Like lighting, the fear took hold. It didn’t matter that Cody had said those things out of jealousy. It didn’t matter that Clint’s own father had struggled. It doesn’t matter that his friends had only been repeating what their parents said, the adults in their lives, the television they watched and the shit they read on the internet. It didn’t matter that they were high school kids in Texas. It didn’t matter that they were kids. All of them. Scarred by the words over time like branding irons, until those scars became a monster, and that monster consumed Clint.

Clint hit Sam. Then he hit Sam again. And again. And again. All while Cody cried for him to stop. When Clint did stop, the whole town did, too. It takes a village, after all, to create a monster.

Sam went to the hospital. Sam survived. Cody stayed by his side without Sam ever knowing. Clint went to jail. Some in the town fought, saying Clint only did the right thing. Clint stood up and said no. He plead guilty. He went to jail. Yes, his fists hit Sam. Yes, he is responsible. But it’s not as simple as Monster and Man, black and white, good and evil. Life doesn’t work that way. I wish, sometimes, that it did.

In the aftermath, a time Sam doesn’t fully remember, the town began to change. When stopping to see the monster they had helped create, they stopped to look at themselves. Yes, this may sound like a fairytale to some, that a whole town can come together to try and change things. I hope this can happen. I hope somewhere, in this broken country of ours, there are towns like Alvarado in my books that have come together, have realized it does take a village, and have made positive steps towards change and acceptance. I hope. I have to hope. Otherwise, what the hell am I even writing for?

In the aftermath, there stood Cody and Sam. There also stood Sam’s father. A drunk. A self-loathing man who didn’t know where to place his anger, aside from the bottom of a bottle of whisky. In all respects, he’s an asshole who doesn’t deserve Sam, and Sam knows it. But, he’s also Sam’s father. Some small part of Sam yearns for a reconnection.

There is a small part of my own father in Sam’s dad, just like there is a small part of me in Sam. My father didn’t drink. In all accounts, my father was a good man. A good man with a temper. A good man with a temper who sometimes lost it on me. A good man with a temper who had his own internal demons. A good man with a temper who told me I should be ashamed for having kissed a girl. A good man with a temper who beat me one time so hard repeatedly upside the head that his big dual cab truck shook and my neck hurt for days. I had told him I couldn’t pretend everything is okay. He was a good man I loved, because we were so much alike in so many ways. A good man who beat me one time, but that one time was enough. I ran when I turned 18 and never looked back. A good man who died of cancer, and I never did say goodbye. A good man that a village I had never been too had turned into a monster, even if it was a monster he kept deep down inside until he broke.

My father is Clint. My father is Sam’s dad. My father is the village and the hope and failure and the regret.

I never did forgive my dad for that day when the truck shook, or the fear it put inside me; a fear of his hugs and things I could never undo or get back.

Sam didn’t forgive his father, either. He did, however, decide to let the bridge go. His father asked for forgiveness near the end of the book as part of the Five Steps program, but Sam didn’t say Okay. Sam allowed himself to be okay with not forgiving. He allowed himself to be okay with letting the broken, burned bridge go. He allowed himself to be okay with the idea building a new one.

If I could go back, to that town, to that village, if I still could, I would be okay with the idea of building a new bridge with my father, too. I can’t. But, Sam can.

Sam can be brave where I have been a coward. Sam can accept kindness where I remember only bitterness. Sam can begin to heal wounds I may never heal.

Except, maybe I am. Maybe through Sam, I can. Maybe, through Sam and through Alvarado, I can hope.

And this is the story of Sam. It’s not about romanticizing abuse. It’s not about saying the abusers win, or abuse is okay. It’s so very far from that, I have to wonder where I went wrong. Did I go wrong? Did a fail so grievously in my attempts to tell a story that is as much about myself as it is these made up people in this made up town?

I don’t know. I may never understand. All I can do is hope.

All I can do is keep writing, until the words are all gone.

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6 Responses to Right Back Where – A story of Sam, a story of me.

  1. Kristina says:

    I adored this book. And if you’ve received unkind words from someone over it, then I’m very sorry they didn’t grasp the message which I very much understood; it’s like you wrote so beautifully above – badness happens, but it’s very rarely true ‘evilness’. Quite often, humans do the wrong thing. We hurt each other emotionally, physically, or both. But we’re all still human, and hopefully we learn and grow for the better. The benefit of fiction, and your stories in particular, is that we can get that growth and happy ending real life doesn’t always give. 🙂
    I think those of us who have serious, traumatically hurtful experiences better see and recognize this than those who’ve led more narrowed, sheltered lives. ‘Knowing’ someone who’s been through something and wanting to be an advocate is vastly different from ‘Experiencing’ and having the life comprehension that comes from it.
    I think you convey this well, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of your work. I hope you don’t dwell on whatever internet vileness happened too much, and remember to look at those positive reviews, too.

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Kristina 🙂 I know I took this too personally. I should be used to reviews like this by now. For some reason, or maybe for personal reasons, it struck me particularly hard this time. Thank you for your kind words. I’ve decided to channel all this into something positive. After I get done writing my current novel, I am going to return to Alvarado and give Cody a chance to tell his side of the story…and maybe even have himself a wedding.

  2. Michele Reuber says:

    We all receive different messages from the books we read. That is a magic of the brain, and how our own experience, schema, demographics and temperament shape our reactions. Sometimes books take those feels inside and shake them like a Coke can. Triggers are a part of life. When we try to sanitize humanity with overall kid gloves on hard subject matter, we all suffer in the end. You are an amazing complex soul, and it shows through your writing. So often your personness is not acknowledged. You are a person first. And you matter.

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Michele <3 You're right, we do all perceive things differently, so I shouldn't dwell on this. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  3. Christina Kovatch says:

    I have loved all of the Alvarado books so far! Personally, I thought that each of them was very well written especially when dealing with heavier/darker content at times. The stories and characters came to life for me and felt real. Life is messy and often not very pretty. I like seeing that side of life in this story but also getting to see/feel the joy and hope as well. Thank you for being brave enough to put yourself and your stories out there for us.

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