Thomas Whaley was born in 1972 and has lived on Long Island his entire life. He is an elementary school teacher and has always enjoyed writing as a pastime. Thomas currently lives in Shoreham, New York with his husband Carl, their two sons Andrew and Luke, and loyal dog Jake.
Literary Fiction / Family Saga
Date Published: July 2014
After a forty-year-old secret is exhumed from his parent’s tumultuous marriage, Benjamin Sean Quinn boards a plane to Billings, Montana to face the secret head on and let go of the anger for them that silently ruled his life. It would be the boldest move he ever made, ultimately changing his life and the lives of those around him. Compelling literary fiction based on true family saga!
Leaving Montana is the recipient of both the 2015 Eric Hoffer Award for a Small Press Published work and also the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award for Literary Fiction!
My bags were already packed. I had made sure to put them in the car the night before, so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. The alarm was set for three in the morning, but I had already woken up. I shut it off. Waking up before the alarm was something that happened to me often, especially when it was an important day. Growing up, it was always the first day of school, or my birthday, but as I aged, it became quite common. I enjoyed lying in the darkness, listening to all the subtle sounds a sleeping house makes. It was soothing, but these were also the moments when I thought too much. And, I already had a lot on my mind.
My partner and two daughters were fast asleep, as I quietly prepared for the monumental day in the soft light coming from the master bedroom. I had been waiting almost two years for the day to arrive. Making these particular plans come to fruition had not been easy—especially for someone who was used to being quick and efficient. It was the day I opened the door, and emptied “it” out. Well, almost. It would be another day or two before I had the chance to empty “it” in its entirety, but the door was ajar. That was the most exciting part.
Having already showered the night before, I quickly rinsed myself off and fumbled around the bathroom, getting ready.
The master bathroom was tight to begin with, and trying to be quiet made it seem even smaller. Our shower was the stand-up kind. It was like being in a test tube, and my elbows kept hitting the oversized shampoo bin, suctioned cupped to the side. Every drawer I opened, and each item I placed on the counter, made a louder noise than usual, but I wanted to make sure I looked perfect for the trip.
I slipped on my favorite pair of broken-in jeans, a maroon hoodie that I had gotten on a family trip to Maine a few years prior, my running shoes, and a ball cap. I had already laid out everything on the ironing board before I went to bed. It was going to be a long day of travel, and comfort was key.
I made sure not to dig too deep in my massive, walk-in closet. Only the things that I found easily came with me. This proved to be a very difficult process. Being a certified clothes whore (and proud of it, I may add), made it extremely hard to decide what to pack. Would I need something dressy, in case we went out to a nice restaurant? Did I need a classy sweater? Do I pack a pair of dress shoes just in case? A matching belt? This caused me stress every time I traveled, but this time, not having to dress like a professional made me happy, and somehow, it was easier to turn down all the accessories calling my name.
Faint, distant beeps from the coffee maker invited me from down the hall, into the kitchen. I inhaled the potent Columbian fragrance like a pothead inhales dope. The intense aroma always made me smile, but today, it needed to be especially strong—something that would keep me alert. Focused. Calm. Saying I had a severe addiction to coffee was an understatement. It had been a staple in my maternal grandparents’ house, where I spent most of my time growing up. Memories of my grandfather, encouraging me to sip espresso from his tiny cup, as I sat on his heroic lap, came to mind each time I experienced a really good cup of Joe. By the age of nine—I was hooked. And straight up too. Never a drop of milk, and always unsweetened. What I like to call a “real” coffee drinker. Naturally, I was not allowed to drink it in front of my parents at such a young age, but like any child, I was a great sneak.
Last time I drank too much coffee on the way to the airport, I was forced to get out of my car and pee in the middle of traffic, so I made sure to hit the bathroom one last time before leaving.
It was a bitter, December morning, so I enjoyed a cup while my car warmed up. It had been an especially cold winter, and we’d already had well over 36 inches of snowfall on Long Island. A blizzard had dumped nearly 20 inches two weeks prior, so our house still had tall snow walls along the walkway to our front door, and the edge of the driveway. Underneath all that snow and ice were my hibernating English-style gardens. Knowing I would nurture and appreciate them sometime soon was the only thing that got me through the winters.
Gardening is one of my passions. Dirt calms my nerves, and whenever I felt anxiety rising, I would head straight to the local nursery. My gardens are the gifts that kept on giving, like my children. From the very beginning—when they are fragile and new, you get to nurture and shape them, hoping they eventually grow to be strong and independent.
A green thumb was one of the very few positive things that I had inherited from my paternal side. My paternal grandfather loved gardening. From as far back as I can remember, his gardens were the most exquisite. Blooms of all shapes and sizes, bursting with sweetness, and attracting a multitude of bees and butterflies. I would sit and stare. I often wished I could live inside one of his gardens. It was quiet there. When he passed away, his gardens died along with him. I would like to believe I am his apprentice, but to this day, I still cannot grow peonies the way he could.
It was not that cold on Long Island—not compared to where I was heading. That was the only downside to the journey. I despise snow. I loathe it. And the cold? Unless it is a cold shower, or a refreshing pool on a ninety-degree day, I am not interested. Layers, chapped lips, and wet, cold, wrinkly-gloved hands are not for me.
I am a summer kind of guy. Give me a lawn chair, a cold six-pack, the roaring sun, and by four in the afternoon, I’m a new nationality, ready to sport a crisp white pair of shorts to show off my bronzed skin and great calves. Although cold weather and bulky layers bothered me, I was more than willing to wear three layers for the occasion.
I was already running late. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer—especially since it was the only flight of the day that could get me to my final destination. Although I was traveling within “The States,” not many New Yorkers had reasons to travel to where I was going. But I did. The trip required precise planning, and there was a connection. So if I missed the first flight, I was screwed. Needless to say, I picked up my backpack and added my dirty coffee cup to “Clutter Island” in the center of my kitchen, rather than putting it into the sink only steps away. Laughing to myself, I made my way down the hall and walked out the front door, gladly forgetting about the mess.
The car ride was tranquil. Hardly anyone on the highway. No questioning children in the backseat, and the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel, and The Carpenters playing from the radio. I had put those CD’s in the car stereo a few days earlier, and now I was truly appreciating that I did. Both had number one hits in 1970. I didn’t exist yet, and everyone was still clean back then.
I loved music from the 70’s. All the songs somehow had lyrics you could relate to. I knew exactly which singers from the 70’s to listen to at specific times. Barry White, for the times when I liked what I saw staring back at me in the mirror. For summer BBQ’s, and trips to Fire Island—Donna Summer was a must. Pink Floyd, for when I felt the need to drown myself in booze, or lock myself in a dark room. Whatever the emotion—I had the 70’s to run to. I truly believed that anyone who was born in the 1970’s was conceived in lust, rather than love.
I know I was.
By the way, let me formally introduce myself. I am Benjamin Sean Quinn. Forty. Confidently handsome. Sexy, as I’ve frequently been told. And a damn good advertising executive. I have a fantastic, caring and supportive partner of 14 years. My home belongs in a Pottery Barn catalog. We live in a prestigious neighborhood, and our two adopted daughters are perfect in every way…but there’s one small problem.
I am angry as hell.
Angry to the core.
Most people would question, “How could someone with such a pleasant and obviously privileged life be so angry?” Most people would, in turn, firmly state, “What an arrogantly pompous, self-appreciating, douche bag!” especially based on the way I just described my life, and myself. It is all true. I admit that whole-heartedly. But, I deserve to be. Now, you may think that no one deserves to be so self-appreciating, but I beg to differ. Growing up in a toxic environment that you have no control over forces you to make a choice: adopt that pattern and sink to the bottom, or swim like a motherfucker. I chose the latter. I am an awesome swimmer.
I wonder if ALL of us have experienced toxicity in our youth—the kind that leaves us branded. But unlike cattle, being scarred with a symbol from a branding iron, it leaves a word on our
foreheads that only certain people can see: SHALLOW, VAIN, NAÏVE, SLUT.
Personality traits we try to scrub away, or cover up when they surface. Isn’t there at least one undesirable personal trait you blame your parents for? I believe you can. If you are someone who has not internally blamed your parents, or at least one of them, for one, or more of your shortcomings, then you must have grown up in a utopia.
It is natural to blame your parents. Everyone does it. It is an unavoidable cycle. We are timid, because our mothers were too overprotective. We have anger and abandonment issues, because our fathers were unloving and never available. We have issues with commitment, because their marriage was a bad one. Who knows what the reasons are. But they are there, lurking deep within.
Blaming my parents for ruining my childhood, and branding me POMPOUS, ARROGANT, SARCASTIC, and God knows what else, is an understatement. I often overhear people complaining about the ridiculous things their biological breeders have done to them, and I laugh inside. “Big deal,” I’d say under my breath, hoping they’d hear. “Come on! You’re still upset with your mom for not letting you go to prom with what’s-his-name?” Put that petty shit away already. Let it go. It doesn’t matter anymore. Not to mention, it is trifling. Believe me, I know. When you have accumulated the amount of emotional baggage that I have, and yes, I DO blame my parents for it all, then you really can’t just forget it. You cannot let it go. You store it.
This is why I like walk-in-closets.
I LOVE my walk-in-closet. It has plenty of storage.
Lined with spacious shelves, deep drawers, shallow drawers, hanging poles of various lengths, and tiered shoe racks—it truly rocks my world. When I stand inside and look around, I see my entire life before me. So many things from my past, yet ample space for my future. It is conceited.
I am a walk-in closet.
I am polished, refined and perfectly coordinated. A private clothing boutique on Fifth Avenue, with Italian cashmere sweaters. I am Calm. Collected. Confident. But in an instant, one thought from my childhood can transform me. I am Disorganized. Wrinkled. Torn.
I am dirty clothes twisted among clean. A confusing jumble of belts, shoes, pants and hats on the floor. Socks stuck in sleeves, ties still knotted, and things inside out. Scattered feelings, and emotions that cannot be sorted out, picked up, washed, or turned right side in.
I am a walk in closet—and just like a walk in closet, when your poles begin to bend, and drawers cannot close—we realize that we have accumulated way too much.
Listen closely, friend…. there comes a time in everyone’s life when we hit a crossroads, faced with some of the most difficult decisions we ever have to make. Do we open our closet up and finally clean it out? Or do you close the door and pretend it isn’t a total mess? I wanted to open mine. Carmella and Sean chose to close the door and ignore it. I chose to board a plane. When I left the house, I did not close the door. Anyone could peek inside. The effect could cause an emotional catastrophe. But I chose not to care anymore.
Finding a parking spot at JFK was a pain in the ass, even at five o’clock on a Thursday morning. I lowered the radio, as if that was going to interfere with finding a parking spot. Do you ever notice yourself doing that? Randomly lowering the volume for no apparent reason? I do it all the time.
I focused on all the makes and models of the cars and trucks. It was truly astounding. When you live in a neighborhood full of Range Rovers, Mercedes, BMWs and Saabs, you forget the variety. There was a perfect match for everyone. Imagining what the owners of the vehicles looked like, and where they went, proved to be a humorous way to pass the time while searching for a spot.
Did any of them resemble their cars? You know—the way dogs and their owners eventually morph into one? I slowly approached a brown, oversized, slightly beat-up Yukon, which practically took up two spaces. I noticed that a piece of the side view mirror was missing. Evander Holyfield? Maybe just a coincidence, but uncanny none the less. There was also a meek, bullied Toyota next to it. It was missing a hubcap, which in my opinion, is the most unattractive thing about older cars. Hubcaps. Dented, rusted, MISSING. Replace the damn thing! If your shoe falls off, do you just walk around wearing one? Precisely.
Greenish. I stared at it for a second. I guess you would call it teal. No automobile should ever be teal. Ever. Or light yellow. Anyhow, after getting slightly annoyed and distracted by the hubcap, I noticed it had a Reba McIntyre license plate cover on the front. Obviously, this car had much bigger issues.
I stared at it. A concert souvenir, no doubt. The car immediately transformed into the owner. A pear shaped, tall, amazon-like woman, in her mid to late fifties. She was stuck in the 80’s—with big, blown out, Ronald McDonald colored hair. She had split ends, but her friends were too nervous to tell her. She was probably on her way to some “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” convention. I began to frown, and when I looked into the rearview mirror, I noticed that my head was gently moving side to side in disgust. This very reaction happened to me quite often. I am shocked that it hasn’t brought me any bodily harm yet. This caused me to laugh out loud and drip some coffee on my seat.
I quickly pulled over and got out of my car to wipe the coffee off my seat, before I ended up looking like I shit myself. I was still laughing. It felt good. It was the first time I had genuinely laughed recently. Feeling nervous was foreign to me. And although I was very excited about the trip, the unknown was still frightening. Things didn’t usually bother me; my skin was thick as a rhino’s. Inherited, I guess. Earned? Absolutely.
White lights. Someone was leaving. A flashy new, black Escalade dripping in chrome, was now backing out. It resembled a drug lord’s ride. I was immediately intrigued. True Long Islanders are drawn to shiny, black Escalades like moths to a flame. “Thank you!” I mouthed to the mysterious driver with my thumb up. Again, similar to turning down the volume on a car radio for no reason, I wondered why I was “mouthing” to my hero—speaking through the glass without volume. I do that often too, and I never quite know why.
My mysterious parking spot friend was a gorgeous well-dressed Latino man. I had one word. YUM. His hair was long, wavy and slicked back. Although it was still dark out, he was wearing sunglasses. His shirt— white and crisp. I was impressed. Impressing me was hard to do. I also noticed the sparkle of his diamond cuff links. This sparked a fire. He was pure cocaine.
I hope his trip to Columbia was as enjoyable as my coffee.
When I get to an airport, there are three things I look forward to doing: Browsing the magazine shops in search of some quality literature, getting myself a large cup of coffee, of course, and finding the right seat to people watch. It is one of the best places to truly appreciate the art of people watching. Airports and malls. Ample seating. Perfect for shallow, self-absorbed people to judge.
Upon finding the perfect spot, I made myself comfortable.To my dismay, there was a lack of interesting people, so I decided to enjoy my coffee and quality literature. Men’s Health, Vanity Fair, and GQ. What did you expect? Shallow. Need I keep reminding you? These magazines kept my stomach flat, my wardrobe up to date, and my sex life smoldering. A gay man’s guide to a perfect life.
My backpack had all the essentials for a day of travel, and my magazines were only a portion of them. The most important thing in my backpack was my crossword puzzle. I was addicted, especially to the one in the back of The New Yorker. To this day, I am still not sure why that particular crossword from that particular magazine brought me the most joy, but it did. I don’t even read the content. It would require too much concentration. Sitting down with a pen, and having the uninterrupted time to work on one is better than jerking off to any DNA magazine photo spread. And yes, pen. Would someone as overconfident as I use a pencil? I think not.
It was time to board. 12D, an aisle seat. This was the only way to fly. To be crunched between two fat asses would make anyone cry, and I needed legroom. Plus, with the amount of coffee I had already consumed, a bathroom needed to be easily accessible.
As instructed by Flight Attendant Barbie, I placed my perfectly worn, leather carry-on bag in the overhead bin, and then I organized my array of quality literature in the seat pocket in front of me. After fumbling with my overstretched, tangled seatbelt—from the oversized passenger that had been on the flight before me, I tested out my pen, by scribbling a mini-tornado on the cheesy, airline mall magazine.
While Barbie informed us that our flight was going to be leaving soon, I caught myself humming The Carpenters. I bet my parents, Carmella and Sean, heard We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters on their way to Montana—just as I had on my way to the airport. Although there was a forty year span between our visits, we all personally connected with that song during that moment in time. Carmella and Sean had only just begun their lives together. With each mile closer to Montana, Sean’s control began to gain power and momentum. As for me, I had only just begun finding closure.
The stewardess began reciting her script, her voice reminding me of the schoolteacher in Charlie Brown. I looked around. No one was paying attention. Oxygen. Flotation devices. Blah. Blah. Blah. We all knew that if we went down, that shit wouldn’t work. Picking up my crossword, I noticed my ink tornado on the cover.
That tiny tornado was me.
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