Turning the Other Cheek

When Wally turns seven, his grandmother gives him a Bible and tells him to learn his verses.  He studies dutifully for two weeks, and then never reads his Bible again.  One day, he goes to the convenience store with his grandmother.  Mr. Weiss at the store tries to sell his grandmother some brake fluid, though she doesn’t need it.  His grandmother lies.  She says no thanks.  She says that she is getting ready to put her car in the shop anyway.  Wally decides that this is what it means to turn the other cheek.

Wally is ten.  His teacher tells him to write a story about what he wants to be when he grows up.  She tells him that he can be anything he wants.  Wally wants to be a dump truck.  Not a driver.  A dump truck.  Wally writes the story.  His teacher tells him that this is impossible.  Wally doesn’t believe her.  Wally weeps.  His teacher draws a big “D” in red ink on Wally’s paper.  Nobody gets to be a dump truck.

Wally is sixteen.  He just got his driver’s license.  He is in the back seat of his father’s Buick with Leslie Connelly.  They are kissing, and Leslie lets Wally touch her breasts.  Wally has a hard on.  Wally tries to unbutton her pants.  Leslie says no.  Wally tries again.  Leslie slaps Wally in the face.  Her plastic fingernails cut his face, and he is bleeding on the leather seats of his father’s Buick.  Leslie cries and demands to know how Wally could do this to her.

When Wally turns eighteen, he enlists in the Marines.  His mother does not want him to go, but he does anyway.  He ships to Parris Island.  Basic is hard.  Wally has trouble sleeping.  Wally has dreams.  In his dream, he is standing in a field of yellow sunflowers.  Their petals look like teeth.  He awakes crying, but he doesn’t know why.  Wally tells Private Thayer, his bunkmate, about his dream.  Private Thayer looks at him, laughs, and says:  “Are you some kinda faggot or what?”

A week later, on the rifle range, Wally holds Private Thayer at rifle point for seven minutes.  He puts the rifle down.  He spends six weeks in Psych.  He is discharged.  Wally has a section eight.  The night after he is discharged, Wally smokes marijuana for the first time and ejaculates inside of a prostitute.  She has a prosthetic leg.  She fakes an orgasm.

Wally is twenty-six.  He lives with his mother.  His father is dead.  Wally works at a barbeque joint.  He doesn’t like barbeque.  After closing, Wally and his friends stand out behind the building, smoking marijuana.  One night, they are bored.  They kidnap a young, black boy.  In the kitchen of the restaurant, they tie him to a chair.  They call him nigger and ask if he wants to be white.  They boy, terrified, says yes.  Wally holds the boy’s head while they spray paint his face white.  Wally laughs.  Wally is disturbed.  Wally has nothing against black people.

When Wally is twenty-nine, he meets his wife.  He responds to a personal ad in the newspaper.  They both tell each other that they’ve never tried personal ads.  They laugh.  They are both lying.  On their third date, they have sex twice in the back seat of Wally’s Toyota.  Wally puts a sheet down to protect the leather seats.

Wally is forty-five.  He is married, and his son is sixteen.  It is late one night and Wally tries to make love to his wife.  He fails.  He is ashamed.  Naked, Wally goes downstairs for a drink.  His son is on the couch in the living room.  His son is kissing another boy.  His son’s hand moves vigorously across the other boy’s lap.  Wally goes blind and deaf.  When his senses return, his son’s arm is broken.  The ambulance takes his son to the hospital.  The police take him to jail.  No one seems to notice that Wally is still naked.

Wally is fifty-one.  He is divorced, and his son has not spoken to him in nearly seven years.  Wally sits on the front porch and listens to the crows taunting each other.  He puts the barrel of the pistol in his mouth.  It tastes like sucking on a penny.  The night is cold.  Wally turns the other cheek.