Infuriated in a way that was excessive even by his standards, Garrison showed me an e-mail he'd received from his mother early Saturday afternoon. This is what it said:
Your sister and Brian are trying to hang on as best they can, though he, terrified of dying to the point of being quite cowardly and irritating to her and to the rest of us, endlessly complains of his pain and his fear.
We have all discussed the idea of your coming here to visit; but with Brian's excessive sensitivity to his affliction, and with Julia's own touchiness, we need to have only people around her who can be tactful and who can speak in gentle, carefully chosen words. Since tact and the ability to say and do the right thing have never been your strong points, Garrison (especially considering the afflictions you have from Azazel), we must tell you not to come. Sorry, dear, but I have to tell it like it is.
We've all prayed for Julia and Brian, and for their two sons, who are too young to understand what's going on. We prefer not to tell them about Brian's cancer just yet, not until after he dies. We've just told them their Dad's really sick. Causing them to share their mother's pain, at so tender an age, would be too much for their family to bear. And for Julia to hear her boys crying, and to see the pain in their eyes at losing their Dad, that being added to her already difficult situation, would be intolerably cruel.
"Love?!" Garrison spat out as I sat beside him, looking at the words on his computer monitor in his apartment. "What love? Neither she nor the rest of the family has seen me in years, but now I'm persona non grata? I have a problem with tact, yet she doesn't? The way she bluntly told me I'm not wanted there...was that tactful? Of all the damned arrogance!"
"Garrison, try to calm down," I said.
"What?!" he shouted. "Do you agree with her?!"
"No, of course not," I said, in all sincerity. "What she said was completely despicable."
"You're Goddamned right!"
Wow, he's swearing, I thought. Maybe I can wean him away from religion after all.
"My mother just spat in my face," Garrison went on. "I tried to show love, I tried to be a good Christian, and all she can do is throw fucking Azazel at me again! Jan agrees with me: I told her about Mom's e-mail, and Jan says my mom went over the line this time."
"She sure did. A religious family--if religion means anything at all--should stick together in times of sorrow."
"That's all I wanted to do, to help Julia in any way I could, to do the Lord's work. Why didn't God help me to get that message through to The Five? If I'm as tactless as they say I am, why didn't God smooth over my words and make them kinder? I've been regularly praying to God for my family and for guidance in all matters, including reconciling me to The Five: what was God thinking?"
"Maybe there isn't anyone up there doing any thinking, Garrison," I said, as gently and tactfully as I could, in hopes of encouraging his inner atheist. "Have you ever thought of that?"
"Of course I have," he said. "But I mustn't."
"'Cause it will leave me defenceless against the devils inside me."
"What devils?" I asked, sneering and chuckling.
"Satan wants us to believe he doesn't exist. That's what Mom says, anyway."
"I'm sure she does say that; maybe you should stop listening to her."
"I'd like to, but I'm afraid," Garrison said.
"Of losing control."
"You've done plenty of losing control with your beliefs," I said. "Maybe if you'd stop believing, you'll finally have control."
"Maybe, I don't know. Let's go to Steven's apartment for the party."
"Speaking of losing control..."
We arrived at Steve's place a half hour later. Garrison had already told Corin and McLean about his mother's e-mail when they were at work, and they were sympathetic to him. I was glad to see at least some bonding with them on this issue, though of course I preferred them not to bond on any other.
Steve was rolling a joint at the living room coffee table, around which everyone was sitting, as usual. The other four guys were drinking their beers as Garrison and I walked over to the couch to join them.
"You look mad, Garrison," Gerard said. "What's wrong?"
Corin and McLean looked over at Garrison, sympathetically frowning.
"My mother doesn't want me to go back to visit," Garrison said angrily.
"Why not?" Lee asked, sneering in disbelief.
"I'm too tactless, apparently," Garrison sighed.
"What kind of bullshit is that to hear from your own mother?" Steven asked.
"That's awful," Gerard said. The others nodded in sympathetic agreement.
"Absolutely," McLean said angrily. "All the guy wants to do is go back to Toronto for the sake of family solidarity, for the sake of his dying brother-in-law, and his mother shamelessly rejects his attempt at love."
"That's right," Garrison said. "I was ready to sacrifice my savings, do the right thing and forget about old grievances, and then she throws a brand new grievance at me!"
"And the way his mother worded her rejection," McLean said, in a building paroxysm of rage that was typical of him, such that one would have thought he was the one rejected by his mother, and not Garrison. "It was so condescending!"
"Yes," Garrison said, looking almost as if he was going to cry. "They always treat me like that. That's what I tried to tell you about before, with the devils bullshit."
"No wonder you're so screwed up, Garrison," Lee said, almost kindly.
"It's obvious that you need to stay away from your family," McLean said. "My family can be nasty like that: especially my mother. She's a cunt."
Lee and Steven laughed at McLean's bluntness. Corin and Gerard were speechless, wishing they could find the right words to comfort Garrison and reconcile him with his family; but they were powerless to do so.
Instead, the usual smoking of dope and getting drunk came next, with the five guys changing the discussion topic to politics, and Garrison mumbling his rage to me.
At the end of the night, I took him home and he fell, fully clothed, on his bed. He went to sleep within a few minutes.
This was his dream.
I, Garrison, am in my old Toronto home with Jan. We're visiting The Five in the living room.
"What are you doing here?" Mom asks, frowning.
"I thought we told you not to come," Julia, also frowning, says.
"Well, yeah, but I--" I begin timidly stammering.
"Your sister's in an emotionally delicate state, Garrison," Dad says.
"She needs to hear gentle voices," Fred says.
"Which you don't have," Reynold says.
"But if you'd all just give me a chance, I can show you--" I try to say.
"You'll show us what?" Mom asks, angrily. "Azazel?"
Even more angrily, I glare at her and open my mouth as wide as I can, as if to break my jaw in doing so. I shout, "YES!!!!!"
The demon flies out of my mouth and at all of them. His body is all fire, and his face is hideously ugly, a cross somewhere between that of a pig and a hyena. The Five scream in terror at Azazel's swift assault.
Garrison woke up gasping and sweating, in the middle of the night. After tossing and turning in bed for an hour or so, he eventually got back to sleep.
On Sunday morning, he arrived at Mass at about 11:30, arriving just in time to hear Father Delacroix's sermon. Hoping the priest would say something to inspire him to resolve his problem with his family, Garrison went up to the front pew and sat next to Gerard and Corin. They were relieved to see him finally arrive, being worried that Garrison was losing his faith in God due to his family problems.
"Today, I want to talk about the importance of honouring our mothers and fathers, and about the necessary sacrifices God wants us to make to preserve family unity and harmony," Delacroix began. "Especially, the sacrifice of our personal pride."
Groaning, Garrison knew he didn't need me to invalidate this disappointing homily.