On Friday afternoon, Garrison was walking down the street to the school where he worked; he smelled a pleasant smell--freshly cut grass on either side of the sidewalk. This was a unique smell, it seemed, for just about every outside area in this city in China was paved and polluted. Now the pleasing smell temporarily lifted his spirits from the brooding rage he'd been in all week; but the smell in itself also brought back bad memories.
One of his chores as a teenager had been to mow the lawn surrounding his family's house in Toronto. It was a large lawn, with little hills that encircled the house. There were lots of obstacles like that which made the job difficult, especially in the swelteringly hot summer. Of course, he'd never been given any kind of compensation, financial or otherwise, for doing that frustrating job.
Indeed, Garrison's whole adolescence had included lots of little domestic jobs for which he felt he'd never been adequately paid: jobs like serving tea to the family, cleaning the kitchen, and others, all for a trifling weekly allowance of a few dollars. He found serving the tea to be especially degrading, for it made him feel like the family slave, always seeing the gloating smirks on his brothers' faces when he came into the living room with the tea tray and put it on the coffee table. The reviving of those painful old memories only further embittered him against The Five.
But those memories were just a backdrop to what was bothering him about his family now. All those years of them nagging him condescendingly, telling him to care more about the family, to give more, to suppress his own wants and wishes; and now, when he had offered to do just that, to give his love to them, to sacrifice his savings, willingly, to see a sister he never even liked. Not that he needed any prolix thanks from them, of course; but still, what thanks did he get? Being pushed away contemptuously!
Having arrived at the school later that afternoon, he grumbled in the office with McLean and Corin about his mother's reply to his angry message: This may amaze you, Mom, but I've grown a lot since my days in Canada! He told the other two teachers about what she'd said, quoting her words quite accurately:
Now, that's what I'm talking about, Garrison. I mentioned so many things in my e-mail to you, and the only thing you could think about was what I said about you. We can't have you coming over here, talking about only your problems, when Julia's are the real focus here. To be sure, you have improved a lot over the years, thank God, but those devils inside you are keeping you as self-absorbed as ever, trapped in your own private, hallucinatory world, without any thought for anyone else. All I can do is hope and pray that Azazel will one day release you; but until then, we can't have someone like you around us. That's simply the way it is.
"That is unbelievable," Corin said, shaking his head.
"She isn't just a religious nut; she's a total cunt," McLean growled. "Sorry for saying that, Garrison."
"Don't apologize," Garrison said, frowning. "Say it as much as you like."
That night in his apartment, before going to McLean's house to party with the others, as had been his plan, Garrison wrote another angry reply to his mother, though this time with more controlled anger. This is what he said:
And you completely missed my point.
My whole reason for wanting to come to Canada was to be a comfort to Julia, not to talk about myself. What would have been the point of that? You people haven't seen me in years (and that would seem more than reason enough for you to welcome a visit from me, by the way), and you have no knowledge of how I've grown over the years. I'm not the 'awkward, immature' type you all knew when I was living with you. For you to think I'm exactly the same as before can be chalked up to one thing only...prejudice. Yes, I said prejudice.
You all seem to think I'm some kind of incomplete human being, an overgrown child with stunted emotions. I've been putting up with this for decades now. Can't you see how unfair this is? Can't you see how this hurts me?
It is absurd and hypocritical to say that my involvement is potentially counter-productive to helping Julia, when it's your rejection of my involvement that is. I don't want to be wasting time being mad at you on account of your weird demon theories (I don't wish to resume the Azazel topic ever again). I wish to discuss what can be done to help Julia and Brian. Is he at least comfortable? Are you all praying for them? Tell me about that instead.
After sending the e-mail, he sat back in his chair and thought about his whole life with The Five. He just sat and brooded, so lost in his thoughts that he lost track of time.
He thought about what his mother had often said to him when he was a child: "The priest said you should be locked up in an asylum and we should throw away the key! Be grateful to God, Garrison, that He's kept the demons reasonably at bay, so you can function in life in a fairly normal way. Your father always worried about your future prospects: we really didn't know if you'd make a good garbageman; well, as long as you were happy. Be grateful, Garrison: there, but for the grace of God go you."
She'd always said those words as if they were meant to touch him, to inspire him in religious belief. Now, he felt only doubt, doubt not only in his religion, but also in his family and the memories they'd shaped for him.
He thought of the question he'd asked her in his e-mail: "Are you all praying for him [Brian]?" And it finally occurred to Garrison--does my family ever pray? He had memories of family group prayers, prayers for him and for other things. Only his atheist father didn't participate, of course. With all of Garrison's hallucinations and dissociations from reality, though, he started wondering if, perhaps, many of his recollections were lies, fabrications his mother had invented to keep him deceived about himself.
Indeed, whenever Garrison had gone for days without drinking or drugs, his mind would clear up. Hallucinations, delusional thinking, or any other kind of bizarre perceptions were far fewer. He even talked to himself much less. And whenever his mind reached back for old memories, he found a lot of them didn't seem to exist, except as narratives his mother had recounted. Or if the memories were real, that is, if he could visualize a moment from his childhood or adolescence, one that he could attest to with categorical certainty as a real memory, often his mother had 'interpreted' the memory in a way that could easily have skewed its real meaning.
One such doubt, it suddenly occurred to Garrison, was the idea that the family often prayed together for him. He had no such memories: no images came to his mind of his family standing together in a circle with bowed heads and clasped hands praying for poor little Garrison. His mother, however, often spoke of them doing that.
As a child, he once asked her why he never saw them praying together, for him, or for anyone or anything, for that matter. She would say they often did, right in front of him; but the devils inside him caused him not to see this, for they frequently made him have visual and auditory hallucinations. He was about eight when she'd said this to him.
Thinking of how Lee, McLean, and the other teachers often laughed at him for his demon-possession stories, Garrison started to wonder if his mother had ever told him the truth about himself.
Was his dad the only atheist of the family, or were they all without religion? Garrison remembered no family trips to the church. He did remember, as a kid, seeing them work on Sunday...regularly; though his mother had told him they all went to church together, without fail, every Sunday, taking little Garrison with them. The demons in him had caused him never to see that.
The dawning of all of this on him was making him break out in a sweat: was it all a big lie? Or were the devils deceiving him again?
He became so fixated on these doubts that he ended up not even going out to McLean's house that night.