Sunday, August 21, 2011

The House of Gabriel, Part 1 of 2

It is 1991 and I am ten. 
My mom, dad, and two little sisters lived in a northern California town; a town I thought quite large, though I’ve never had any knowledge of the population. I always expected people to be familiar with Oroville. After the popcorn jokes, many would say, “Yeah I think my uncle has a trailer out there. He stays there in the summer to go to the lake. My parents don’t talk to him anymore.” My dad was open with us about our town being low-class.
The longest stretch I’ve ever been at a single school was two and a half years. From half of second grade through fourth grade, I was sent to a tiny Christian school before we upped and moved again. 
For those years, my best friend was Gabe. 
He was a bit of a bully, mostly out of love, but also (please pardon the coarse expression, but it needs to be written exactly as such) a total queer. This wouldn’t be a problem for him until after high school, and it wasn’t part of our friendship. I wasn’t aware of it until years later, anyway. Gabe and I played lazertag, circled our favorite Nike Air’s in monthly athletic gear catalogs, and spent hours talking about Regina, Tara, Jamie, and Kirstie* well after bed time.
Gabe’s mom and dad were Christians.
Gabe’s mom Vicki, though she was a sweet, conservative, motherly type, said “awesome” a lot. This convinced me that she was herself, awesome. I even remember directly asking my own mom to say “awesome” more often, so I would think she was cooler. I don’t think she did. 
Vicki and Gabe’s dad, Roger, held devotionals every morning. I always hated this, but so many friends’ families required this back then, and Gabe’s was one of the easier ones. They had really soft carpet in the living room to lay on in the morning while they delved through the New Testament. They prayed with us (for what seemed like forever) before we went to bed. They hanged Christian prints in light oak frames of Bible verses that had the stronger words like “awesome”, “life”, “forever and ever” in funky, pastel, cursive fonts. 
They were really, really good people, and they said “Praise Jesus” intermittently while washing dishes, doing homework, or driving through a yellow light. 
He had an older sister from a different dad that was about 15 years older than us, who lived down the street with her kids and husband. She ran a salon out of her garage. I only had a haircut by her a couple times, I think because we couldn’t afford to pay her, or tip her for that matter. Gabe’s sister gave Gabe’s light blonde hair a perm one time in fourth grade. I think he secretly enjoyed the ridicule of the top ramen pie attached to his head. 
Gabe also had an older brother from Vicki’s previous husband that wasn’t allowed to come around. Gabe’s older brother was possessed by at least one demon, possibly more, and we heard a lot about this when we ate dinner at Gabe’s house. The demon made Gabe’s older brother do drugs, steal money, and live in sin with a young girl.
Gabe’s family introduced me to DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Carmen (the singer), and Michael Sweet’s solo stuff (he was the singer of Stryper, who controversially released the song “To Hell with the Devil”, verbiage that ruffled many Christian music feathers). Vicki’s big conversion van always had a basket of dusty cassettes on the floor between the captains chairs and a tape deck that was never broken. Drives to the Chico Costco were fun and frequent. 
Both Vicki and Roger would palm our heads like a volleyball whenever they’d pray for us, and whatever we were doing rendered a pre and post prayer. This included riding bikes, playing basketball, and going to bed, the store, or school. Every action required a skull-grasping shout out to God. 
Gabe was the first kid to talk to me about my family's divorce. 

We were taking a piss at the end of recess, and I thought I should kinda sit him down and let him know that my mom and dad were getting divorced, you know, break the news gently, so that he didn’t get upset. 
I took a breath and said, “Ya know dude my parents are getting a divorce.” 
Gabe sort of laughed and shot back in a low voice, “Yeah that slut..”
He didn’t mean slut. That wasn't even a word we used. He just didn’t know what to say and had to blurt out something. 

He was actually a very nice guy, his words were usually quite sweet, and it was obvious he didn’t know what he was talking about, nor how to talk about it. He wasn’t a particularly funny kid, and that was the only way that he knew to give a kneejerk reference to the subject of divorce. He didn't know if there was cheating going on or anything. 
I just said, “What?” 
He replied, “Oh nothin nothin. Yeah man that's sad. You’re gonna be okay though. Sorry man.” 
We didn’t talk about it again, and I didn’t talk to anyone my age about it for many, many years. 
Vicki was the first adult to talk to me about the divorce. I didn’t even know it was called that at the time. I just thought things were rough and my mom and dad were mad at each other all the time. She brought it up on a drive to school. I didn’t know why she was so sad. She was basic about it. She just asked how I was doing with everything at home and I knew from her tone what she was talking about - though I had no idea how she could possibly know what was up. It perplexed me, and sort of angered me that she knew my secret, but it was comforting after a while, for years in fact, that she went out on a limb and mentioned it to show she cared. 
Vicki and Roger were strict, but they loved spoiling their baby, Gabe. They also loved spoiling me when I was around. I don’t have any proof, but I feel like the extended praying, the groggy devotionals, the punctuality of Sunday services (and other days of the week if we were that unlucky) were amped up when I was around. I never talked to Gabe about it, but I always had that feeling. Like they were watching out for me. 
Church was, at that time, just being with Gabe's family. 

They taught me that this stuff was important. It was more important than school, more important than friends, more important than my family, especially while my family was weathering a nasty, drawn-out divorce. 
*Gabe had an obsession, at the age of 10, with Kirstie Alley, which neither proves nor denies his homosexuality.

1 comment:

  1. Vicky does sound "awesome"! the small house of gabriel sounds about as helpful, complicated, confused and well-meaning as any church of any size. the family feels extremely (uncomfortably) familiar to me. reading it brings both a feeling of comfort and dread...odd. i love the way you write.