A week later, when they were in Damien’s SUV, leaving the grimy but oh-so-good Astro Burgers on Melrose, Damien explained, “My mom gave me the silent treatment when I was younger for a full summer. And I know how you are: you don’t like people who blame issues in their adulthood on their childhood. Which reminds me; I’ve gotta ask: Why do you never even talk about your childhood?”
“We were in Ansley Park looking at my childhood home just a few weeks ago!” Levi protested.
“But you talked about the neighborhood; not your childhood. Why don’t you ever talk about growing up or your childhood?”
Levi considered this and philosophically offered, “Damien? This may come as a surprise to you. . .but I don’t think I was all that interesting until I got shot five times” making Damien giggle with disbelief at his irreverence.
“Okay, you got me. But next week? When you’re in Atlanta with me? I want to see more of those places that meant something to you. I’ve seen where you grew up but where did you go to school? Where did you work? What clubs did you go to. . .We didn’t get to do it last week, and the week before that, I came here—”
“Okay. We’ll do that. But we also need to get you and Track to Varsity—”
“And, I know you probably hate Gone With the Wind after growing up in Atlanta—”
“Like Coca-Cola, I’ve overdosed but can still take the occasional sip.”
“But I’d really like to see the Margaret Mitchell House, not the condo you showed me but the museum. There’s something about seeing where creative people created what they are famous for that can be inspiring. Even if you don’t even care for what they created.”
“Okay. So Margaret Mitchell House is on the list. And we should go to Ponce City Market and. . .,we’ll make it a great trip. But. . .what about your mom? You started—”
“Oh. That. So, one summer,” Damien explained as he navigated a perilous reverse and slammed the SUV into drive to cut into traffic from his curbside parking spot, “I think I was eleven. Maybe ten. No, eleven. And I saw my mom cleaning the house. Someone called and she got on the phone and I thought, ‘I’ll surprise her and finish cleaning for her’.”
“Oh—that was sweet,” Levi said.
“Eh—“, Damien said, hinting something not so good was to come. “So, I hadn’t really done a lot of house work. My mother thought that stuff was for fairies. Little did she know, right? Me and my brother, we could do yard work—rake leaves, mow the grass, that kind of shit. But housework? No, no, no. But she looked so tired and worn out so I thought, ‘Let me surprise her.’ Well, I went to polish the coffee table. It was this nice, richly carved table, nice mahogany finish. It had been her grandmother’s and was probably the nicest thing we owned in our otherwise budget-furniture shitty home. So I sprayed some 409 on it. You know—that all-purpose cleaning product? Spray and wipe and go? Well. . .”
“Yeah. I sprayed the hell out of that table—”
“And the spray and the finish on the table did not agree and—bam!—there were suddenly white stains all over this table. So, I panic. I wipe it away. But it’s not wiping away. There are these enormous white clouds all over it. That fucking brown table was stained white. I spray again, thinking something is wrong. I don’t know; I was in a panic. I couldn’t have just ruined this table. But then I made it even worse. And as I’m wiping and wiping trying to make it all go away—I had only wanted to make her life easier—in came my mother.”
“She started screaming at me, ‘You idiot! What did you do? That was your great grandmother’s table? Can’t I have anything nice? You stupid kid! Get out! Get out of this house right now! What were you thinking?’”
Had Damien taken his eyes off the road ahead, he would have seen Levi staring at him, heartbroken, wishing he could travel back in time to hug the young, heartbroken Damien and tell him all would be fine.
“When I dared to come in for supper, my mother wasn’t talking to me. And I mean, she would not answer me. ‘Tell your brother I’m not talking to him’, she’d say, right in front of me, to my brother. And I would beg her, ‘Mom! Talk to me!’ and she’d ignore me. I’d ask her something and she’d look out into space like I wasn’t there.”
Damien found Levi had taken his right hand and held it.
“It went on for a whole summer. ‘Go tell your brother supper’s ready’, ‘Tell your brother it’s his bedtime.’ And every now and then, a relative or neighbor would visit and then she’d talk to me. And I’d think, ‘Oh, thank God. It’s over.’ But when they left, she’d start doing it again. ‘Mom—’ I’d ask her ‘Have you forgiven me?’ And she’d just pick up a magazine or leave the room. She’d say nothing to me. After the table was refinished, she still said nothing to me. One day, she just started talking again, but she never brought up the table. And there’s a part of me that’s never forgiven her.”
“You bought her a house,” Levi reminded him.
“Guilt,” Damien confessed. “Not love. Guilt. And I can not stand ever getting the silent treatment because of that.”
That night, after they made love and as they drifted off to sleep, telling one another how much they loved each other—their usual routine of trying to one-up the other; “I love you more than Donald Trump loves himself”, “Oh, yeah? Well, I love you more than Andy Cohen is obnoxious!”—Levi turned around and held Damien against him.
Reversing the spoon, he lay Damien’s head on his chest, stroked his hair, whistled him to sleep, and told him, “You never deserved to get the silent treatment. You were just being helpful.” And when Damien quietly sighed—sadly and with thanks–Levi held him all the closer.
“I love you more than mahogany hates 409,” Damien whispered. They giggled and their giggles turned to guffaws so hard and long, they ended up staying awake for another thirty minutes roaring and kissing.