I've had an idea sitting out there in various states of incompletion since early 2006. The idea still fascinates me and I love the characters involved. I've never actually been able to write the whole idea, though. I think there are two reasons for that.
First, this project, such as it is, really brought the origin of the sketches idea. I kept seeing scenes of interaction between the characters. I never really knew what happened between the scenes, though. Every time I tried to write their stories I got hung up on the events between the events.
Second, this project, such as it is, straddles the end of my Christianity like nothing else. It arrived during the period of great confusion that marked the beginning of the end. It's stuck with me ever since, with the characters remaining the same while their worlds have changed drastically.
In the spring of 2010 I tried to re-write the book. Well, I tried to write the book in a different way than I'd conceived of it the first time around. I didn't get very far. I'd still like to get somewhere with this one of these days, though.
Today and tomorrow I'll put up the first two chapters from that 2010 re-write. I might put some other stuff up later. This is unedited, for the record. I just pulled it directly out of the file in question.
The last thing Jackson Paul Reed's father said to him was, "Don't ever let a woman get her claws in to you, kiddo. It just ain't worth it." He'd then thrown a pair of suitcases in to the trunk of his old brown Cutlass and disappeared in a cloud of thick, black exhaust smoke.
Jackson, or Jack, as his biological father had called him, was five years old. He stood in the middle of the street. Watching. Expecting the beat up Oldsmobile to return.
It never did.
His father had left plenty of women in the past, but never a kid. He didn't know that a child didn't quite understand the dynamic of relationships between a woman and a man who was terrified of commitment. He didn't know that the kid could grow up blaming himself, could grow up insecure. Chances are, though, he wouldn't have cared. Such is the nature of selfishness.
To her credit, Jack's mother never once attempted to use her son as a stand-in for his deadbeat father. She'd set out as soon as possible in an attempt to find a real man, not the sort of self-focused rebel who stoked the imagination of an 18-year old girl from a small town, then left when things got tough, but the sort of man who was stable. She decided to do it right the second time around.
Tom Patterson was exactly the right sort of man. When he met Cindy Reed he was a thirty-two-year old widower looking for a new start. She was thirty. Jack was twelve.
He'd arrived at the door to pick Cindy up on their first date with a bouquet of flowers for her and a Transformer action figure for Jack. Bumblebee.
Jack already had a Bumblebee, but he didn't care. All that mattered to him was that Tom had thought of him. He hadn't heard from his own father in seven years: no calls, no birthday presents, no Christmas cards. Nothing.
His mother had always called him Jackson. She'd named him after Jackson Pollock, hoped that such a name would give him creativity and genius. Tom called him Jack, and so did everyone else, except for about three months during his eighth grade year when all the boys at school called him Action Jackson after he told a whopper about getting his hand under Jennifer Dooley's shirt after a basketball game. She had actually let him kiss her. On the cheek. When word got out about his supposed adventures she'd met him at his locker, slapped him as hard as she could and called him a pervert. Even as a marginally aware thirteen-year old, Jack had been able to recognize the pain in her eyes. He'd vowed right then and there to never hurt another girl again. If anyone was going to get hurt in his future relationships, he decided, it was him.
The one thing nobody ever called Jack was "son." His biological father had always called him "kiddo" before he'd stopped calling him anything at all. His mother called him by name or referred to him as, "My boy." Sometimes, too, she called him "kiddo." Tom had wanted to call him son, but hadn't, even after the official adoption papers went through.
Tom had been hurt and never really understood why Jack refused to take his last name. It was no big deal, really, just the defiance of a teenager struggling for an identity, but Tom had never seen it that way. He had always wanted a son, and even if this wasn't how he'd envisioned getting one, he was determined to make the best of it. The fact that Jack wouldn't completely play along bugged him on some level. It wasn't supposed to work that way.
From the first time Cindy and Jack came in to his life, Tom had regarded his treatment of the boy as one of the most clear-cut aspects of his Christian duty. God had adopted Tom, after all, a metaphysical orphan who had only made it through the years following his first wife's tragic death in a car accident with God's help. He was bound and determined to make sure that Cindy and Jack knew the same God he did. His new wife adjusted to the concept well enough. She'd grown up in church, but really hadn't had time to go in years. She didn't so much leave as much as come up with other things to do with her time.
Jack didn't adjust to the church idea anywhere close to as well as his mother. Nobody really knew why, and Jack didn't say anything because he didn't want to cause any problems. But whenever someone referred to God as the Heavenly Father he winced just a little bit inside. His father had left in a cloud of smoke, after all. What was to stop this other, new father and his big, cosmic father from doing the exact same thing?
Eventually, though, things settled down in the Reed-Patterson household. Teenaged Jack never rebelled like the rest of his peers did. On one level he knew he had it pretty good. On another level he feared that it could disappear at any time. That little five-year old standing in the street trying to figure out what he'd done to chase his dad away had grown up to be a teenager who tried to figure out how to never chase anyone away.
He grew up handsome and awkward. Certain girls saw this and decided to take advantage of him. A succession of clingly bitches used him through high school and college, always taking and rarely giving back. He rarely broke up with a girlfriend even though he always knew within a few days or weeks that he should. Still, with each one he thought that he could help them or, at the very least, he didn't want to hurt them like he'd hurt Jennifer Dooley, like he'd been hurt. So a succession of girls had used him up, sucked him dry, then left him abandoned, hurt, confused, and calling them, weeping, in the middle of the night long after they'd gone on to their next mark.
After a while, Jack began to believe the last words of his father. He vowed at some point to never again let a woman get her claws in to him. It just wasn't worth it.
And so Jackson Paul Reed grew up a living embodiment of one of the great, unspoken truths. Although people rarely get what they actually deserve, most are spectacularly good at getting what they think they deserve.
Looking back I can honestly say that I wouldn't change much about this chapter. I also absolutely wouldn't include it in anything as is, especially not as the introductory chapter to a book. It's just a bit on the nose. I guess I might have been fascinated with the notion of being on the nose at the time. I don't know.
It's also interesting to me how hard I was trying to flog the idea of god, family, and fathers. The idea of god as a father and, more importantly, as a deadbeat dad, was strong in my mind.
So...yeah. That's a thing.