Elliot Hawthorne was a man of many faces. Multifaceted, complex—sure. Schizophrenic, crazy—no. He went through life smoothly in some matter of speaking because Elliot was a simple kind of man in some matter of speaking. During his school years his presence in class was rarely noticed, though he held a perfect attendance record. He was never outspoken, flashy or rude. No team held his company. He excelled in philosophy, mathematics and chemistry. Yet upon graduating, Elliot, in fact all his life, was rumoured to have been in rebellion. “Attitudes issues,” one of his teachers claimed. They said his post-modern ideas and cynicism were the root causes to his so-called depression. Anger and bitterness toward a person he never met, but soon desired to, was more or less like it.
He came from relatively normal people and they were out there somewhere, alive and kicking. “Such an awful and lonesome idea,” Elliot used to tell people, “to be the one and only offspring of two unfortunate people who had wanted nothing to do with you since your first day outside the womb.”
Angela was Elliot’s mother and she was a pretty girl with heart and soul and a way with words and singing and laughing and dancing that made everyone fall in love with her. So was the case with Richard Hawthorne. He came into her life as fast as he was taken out. They lived, loved and their passion resulted in a child whom, of course, was named Elliot.
Richard Hawthorne was a pitiable creature; a man who you could have some compassion toward. He was born with a capacity for great joy, but so harboured the tendency to wallow in giant grief. He was raised by a single mother who tried her hardest but had no luck with money, men or society. Her efforts to provide for and love her only son were something to admire and esteem, and Richard could have taken after his mother if it weren’t for his itching desire to run, kicking free and wild like a newborn calf out of the stall. If he were smart, he’d blame his nature on the absence of a father, for that was the reason for his inability to nurture things, human or not. He had only known abandonment and so abandonment was all he chose to offer.
Everyone expected Richard to propose to Angela, but he didn’t. Angela was nineteen and wouldn’t have let him go through with it because she didn’t love him, though she loved her unborn child. Richard left the St. David region, the county where everyone knew everything about everyone, and wasn’t seen again for many years.
Angela lived with her parents until her son was born and loved and cared for him for the first two years of his life. She was twenty-one and wanted an education, but there was no way of getting one where she was from; no college near St. David would be the school for her. She needed a new life in some far-away town where no one knew her. So, her father allowed her to go East to study and get a job; he’d taken care of a child before and he could do it again.
Julia and Samuel Weal loved Elliot like grandparents, not as parents for they believed that to be a very sacred love, an irreplaceable love; one they were sure Elliot would be able to sense counterfeit of. Angela wrote letters and sent pictures and assured phone calls home about her success and failures alike, but when the communication dwindled, when the mail was dispersed, long months spent with nothing but anxious days waiting and hoping, her mother and father were moved to disapproval. They wanted to protect Elliot from the false promise, the wavering devotion shown by his mother, to ensure his heart would never grow sick. Because, of course, you and I both know that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, and deceit and separation lack all good things. And the hope felt by a child to know their parents was deep-rooted whether that child knew his or her parents were out there in the world or not.
Living with his grandparents and his grandparents alone was all Elliot had ever known and it did him just fine. Although, Grandma Julia died too young, too soon and without any warning. Her death hit Samuel in his heart, in his very soul, but young Elliot’s face forced him out of depression and into forward motion, saving him from a life drenched in misery.
Grandpa Samuel, one of Elliot’s only living relatives, roomed his grandson in his one-man cabin built, lonely, in the center of a wheat field on a never-ending paved parkway in the county where everyone knew everything about everyone. And he taught Elliot everything he needed to know about how to be a human. He sang to him, he cradled him, hugged him and fed him. He let him pet giant horses and drive his truck when he was still much too small. He told him he could drink beer and smoke cigarettes when he was old enough and Elliot tried it; his common sense told him he hated it even if a part of his flesh told him he loved it. Grandpa Samuel taught him about God and how to appreciate the water and the sun and the springtime and the sound of a round neck wood-bodied resonator guitar. He gave him a job at the Cheese Factory where he had worked since he was a teenager and paid him to mop the floors at the downtown office. But most of all he loved Elliot and Elliot loved him back and that is what it feels like to be a human he used to say.
They spent summers making blackberry preserves. They grew the berries themselves, picked them, boiled them, added sugar, crushed and sold them at local fairs. They began bright July afternoons practicing their skills with Grandpa Samuel’s new hunting rifle and at night took trips to the Town’s bowling alley. And lest we forget the daily trips to the Lake to catch the night’s dinner. There at the Lake they had many deep discussions, tossing many cosmic questions into the air.
Someone once said that Elliot Hawthorne walked around looking like he knew something the rest of us didn’t. The way he quoted poets; the way he looked at sunsets as if they meant something. He could have for all they knew; Elliot Hawthorne could have been a prophet. But he wasn’t. You and I both know that, but prophet or not Elliot puzzled people. “Oh, Elliot?” some would declare, “He holds his guitar like Johnny Cash.” Others would claim: “He’s a whiz kid, real smart, you know the type?” Of course, the girls secretly loved him, saying: “Who Elliot? He’s a cutie, a total sweetheart.” And, of course, the jocks scoffed: “Hawthorne? If I ever see him in a dark alley at night…” He wore black P.F Flyers, had a habit of wearing wrinkled button-front shirts, and skinny black ties when the occasion called for it, and he had one old blazer made of herringbone which belonged to Grandpa Samuel and oh, how it smelled of him.
One thing was true and it was this. Elliot’s mind was forever winding, constantly turning, switching like a radio scanner with too many stations. And the thoughts channelling through his mind always spoke of a cold war. On that radio inside his head, in between the twang of a guitar and a pull of a violin, voices rang out to him, telling him of this war; a war that would soon come to a head or an end, whichever came first.
The world around them would say it was a life of grief and sorrow that killed Samuel Weal and some even said it was Elliot himself who did it. It happened in the summer, and in that summer when he was alone for the very first time, Elliot decided that he would start a new kind of life, something along the lines of what his mother had done once.
Now, Grandpa Samuel believed solely in the school of life. There’s nothing you can learn in some fancy classroom in some fancy school that you can’t learn out in a field, he always said. And I’ll tell you, Elliot always esteemed his grandfather’s ideas, though he had a disrespectful impulse to refute them every once and a while. This once and a while being this moment exactly, for Elliot had been accepted into St. David’s College on the Lake and was preparing to travel toward it in hopes of securing some intimate relationship with the land and the school and maybe the people around it. And even though it pained him to do it, Elliot liked to think Grandpa Samuel was laughing about it anyway.
His story begins in September when summer isn’t ready to die and autumn isn’t ready to be born. It was about the same time three students were singing in a choir at St. David’s College; they were like this: Bridget Welles, Gemma Lumley and Tom Doyle; and I only mention them because they are of some grave importance to the story.
Returns next Tuesday
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