I wish I had hair under my arms. The thought coursed through my mind the entire time I hung on the cross. I was on display in front of hundreds of people in what essentially was a crude diaper, and my main concern was that I had no hair under my arms. Most of the guards had hair sprouting out from under their uniforms. They looked like men, and I felt like a boy. Had anyone ever fashioned a wig for underarm hair? It wasn't until I was safely removed from the cross by James and John and placed in my mother's arms that I felt comfortable again. Mary, my mother, was played by a radiant Lisa Hughes dressed in a blue satin robe with her curled blond bangs jutting out from under her white head piece. Her costume had the same feel as the edges around a baby's blanket. She was the hottest girl in the eighth grade. She smelled like candy. I imagined that kissing her would taste like a watermelon Jolly Rancher or one of those giant cherry ring lollipops. Lying in her arms while some of the other girls did a death dance to a song stolen from Jesus Christ Superstar was worth the embarrassment of being stripped and hung, bald eagle, from a cross in front of a church full of people. Bill Connelly and Matt Sullivan were stoic and efficient in their duties as James and John respectively. They did not drop me once in the twenty or so times they had to take me off the cross in the spring of 1985.
I was selected by my classmates to play the role of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in a Passion Play at Annunciation B.V.M. Blessed Virgin Mary or Mother—I have always had trouble remembering which. At the time it seemed natural to have eighth grade Catholic kids perform a Passion Play, but after seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I wonder if the material wasn't a little weighty for thirteen-year-olds. The audition process for the part consisted of our eighth grade teacher, Sister Marion Pahl, calling a special joint session of homerooms. Sister Marion Pahl had the largest breasts I had ever seen. Some of the kids used to joke they could see pieces of electrical tape holding her bra together when she wore the light blue summer habit. It did not matter what time of year it was, Sister Marion Pahl always had beads of sweat streaking down from her temples. She was a sweater. When she would swipe her right hand through her boyish haircut, the sweat would get distributed through her hair giving the effect of someone who had just applied gel. She appeared to be wearing a grin, but very rarely had the disposition to match her Elvis-like snarl smile. Nuns and nurses must have a secret place where they shop for shoes, and when Sister Marion Pahl waddled to the front of the class you could almost hear her shoes cry out in pain, as she turned to the class to inquire, "Who wants to play the role of Jesus?"
Ever since I can remember I have hated public speaking. Occasionally in class we would read a textbook chapter with each student taking a turn reading a paragraph. With the last name Sefton, I was almost always near the end. I would frantically count the paragraphs and the students ahead of me to see which paragraph would be mine and read and reread it in my head until it was my turn. I never learned much from these chapters since I hadn't heard a word of the twenty some paragraphs before mine. If I had to give a speech, the result would be a dizzying symphony of heart pounding, page shaking, mumbling that I would have no recollection of when I sat down. No one was more surprised than me to find my hand raised, indicating that I would like to play Jesus Christ in front of friends, family, and the entire community, not to mention a telecast on the local community access cable channel. I assumed someone other than just Joe Heffernan and me would have raised their hand. I thought every boy and maybe even Carolyn Koonis would want to play Jesus, and I just wouldn't get picked. I could have bragged to my parents that "I tried to play Jesus, but oh Jack Quinn beat me out. I got the role of Bartholomew. Would have been nice. I guess it wasn't meant to be."
Sister Marion Pahl put Joe Heffernan's name on one side of the blackboard and mine on the other. My competition was stiff. Joe Heffernan was an adept performer. He excelled at the Mexican Hat dance that we would do in gym class on rainy days. Once he asked to be excused to go to the bathroom and was next seen outside the class window with his tongue out and holding his necktie up in the air with one arm as though he'd hung himself. This type of comedy ruled in my grade school and Joe Heffernan was a master. His detention record spoke for itself. Maybe his history of performance would get me off the hook. Sister Marion Pahl cast her vote when she spat out the name, "Mr. Heffernan" with disdain. It was clear she was not thrilled that the only two choices were a shy mute and an unruly hyperactive kid who would have benefited from Ritalin had it been around in 1985.
She counted the hands of those who wanted to see Joe Heffernan win the role. After placing a large number 23 under his name, she wiped the chalk residue off on her habit and in only a slightly nicer voice asked, "Who would like to see Mr. Sefton play the role of Jesus?" I never should have raised my hand at all. Is it worse to lose than to have never tried? Do I secretly want to win? Will everyone make fun of me if I lose to Joe Heffernan? Will they all make fun of me if I win and have to pretend to be Jesus and wear that diaper? I started doing the math in my head. I knew there were forty-six in our entire eighth grade class minus the twenty-three for Joe Heffernan left twenty-three for me. A tie! Now what? As Sister Marion Pahl reached once again for the chalk, I remembered the quiet girl with the long last name who joined us mid-year from Alaska, the only person other than Sister Marion Pahl who asked to open a window in January, Mima Dipietrantonio. How would she vote? And a 24 went up under my name.
As Jesus, the regular rules no longer applied to me. It was my first glimpse at some of the perks afforded to actors. I would not need to cut my hair anymore, but rather was encouraged to let it grow for authenticity. This was my introduction to preparing for a role. The requirement to do homework became more of a suggestion for me. I could, and often did, play the Jesus card. I would start by telling my teacher how hard I was working on memorizing the lines for the Garden of Gethsemane scene. By the time I explained the difficulty in returning to find my most trusted apostles asleep three times in one night, she had forgotten, forgiven, or both that I had not done any homework for class. Many times I would be pulled out of class all together. A tiny sixth grade messenger would interrupt whatever class we were in and stride across the front of the classroom to hand Sister Marion Pahl a note. Everyone held his or her breath. It was rarely good news if your name got called. A class interruption usually meant the principal wanted to discipline you, someone in your family had just died or at least gone into the hospital, or, if you were Jed Rausch in 1983, you just got nabbed calling in a bomb threat that shut down the school for a day. But in the spring of 1985 I would happily start packing my books away and begin wondering what theatre adventure lay ahead.
When I was pulled out of class, it was by our director, Father Thomas Smith. Father Smith was the same height as most of the eighth graders and walked like a duck, which led me to believe he wasn't a good athlete. He had white hair but seemed younger than my parents, an upper lip that stayed put while the rest of his mouth was talking, and a distance in his eyes that didn't make them quite crossed, but he never seemed to be focused on anything specific either. Father Smith had hands that were softer and shinier than any I was used to seeing.
We would either talk through some of the more difficult monologues in the show or rehearse the blocking, which I learned was a fancy theatre way of saying, "walk here when you speak this line." Sometimes we would have lunch and discuss the piece in its entirety. Father Smith had directed the Passion Play in 1983 and 1984 and built a reputation for getting the best performances out of kids. He had a calm exterior that couldn't quite hide an anger that we all knew could bubble over given the slightest opportunity. That opportunity presented itself when Tony Fitzgerald wrote a message to me on his feet during the "washing of the feet scene" that sent eleven apostles into a fit of laughter. Banging his well-manicured fists on the front pew, Father Smith's face turned veiny and purple while he screamed at us, "What is so funny?" The entire eighth grade class decided then to take the play very seriously. The show was an hour and fifteen minutes long with light and sound cues, dance numbers, and tons of dialogue. The culmination of our rigorous rehearsal process was two weeks of performances at Annunciation, a tour for some of the other congregations in the area, and a stop at Fair Acres Home for the Aging.
On some occasions the note would specify that Kevin Mcnulty, Dave Maher, and I were to report to the church at once. Kevin and Dave were the tech guys for the show and the three of us would hightail it out of class before the stares of jealousy from our classmates had time to land. Father Smith, Kevin, Dave, and I would have lunch and then visit one of the stops on our tour to see how the show was going to work in this new venue.
The freedom was intoxicating. Here we were being waited on at the Drexel Ale House in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. Me ordering a French dip and fries with a ginger ale, while my friends back at Annunciation were sitting at sticky wood desks in a classroom that smelled like peanut butter and ham from all the brown bag lunches jammed in the cloakroom since eight a.m. It became clear to me that out in the adult world, someone could be right in the middle of a business meeting and decide they didn't like how it was going and get up and leave the office and go swimming if they wanted to. I kept wondering, "What keeps these people from just running away?" No one was monitoring their every move like they did at school. We had to call in bomb threats from a pay phone just to get out of class. In school there was a predictability and suffocation that nearly put me to sleep the moment I started trudging up the stairs each morning. As soon as I got outside of Annunciation, especially when I knew everyone else was inside, the world became electric with possibility. There was even something inside of me at the Drexel Ale House that fantasized about finishing my French dip, smashing my empty ginger ale glass on the floor, and pushing back the table to declare, "The collar gets the check," and then running out into the blinding sunlight to find the closest body of water to throw myself into.
As much as I enjoyed the perks of preparing to play Jesus, I had to deal with the idea of playing him for real in front of a crowd. It was easy to luxuriate in the rehearsal process, forgetting that we were on a speeding train hurtling toward opening night. If you ever want six weeks to fly by, sign up to do something in six weeks that scares the hell out of you. With the exception of watching the Villanova men's basketball team miraculously claw their way through the NCAA tournament and eventually topple highly favored Georgetown, my spring of 1985 was consumed with the Passion Play. The hours of rehearsal made the thought of performance more bearable. As I gained confidence, the jarring surge of nerves began to subside. We had four readers along the back of the altar dressed in white robes. They would speak the dialogue into microphones while we, the actors, mouthed the words. There were two boys and two girls. Fran McGee took care of narration. Tom Boyle did the words for Jesus. And the other two divided up the rest of the parts. Tom Boyle and I were one that spring. We had had nothing in common for eight years of grade school. Tom was a bowler. I was a basketball player. Tom used to place the pretzels that he bought at recess for a dime on top of the radiator and speak into the eraser end of his pencil as if it were a microphone, staring at the pretzel saying, "toasting 1, 2, 3." He was a natural choice for the voice of Christ. Tom Boyle and I made a good team that spring, and knowing that he had the words right in front of him made it easier to relax. One way or another those words were coming out.
We opened to a packed church. My family had the first two pews on the left side of the church roped off. Another perk. To my surprise I was not nervous as the music began and we made our way on to the altar. We had done the work and now it was time to just go out and have fun. Never could I have imagined getting up in front of people and having fun residing in the same sentence. It is also amazing how clearly and quickly you can think on stage. Acting is like living in the moment before a car accident for two hours. All the different strains of thought get processed with razor sharp accuracy while performing this other task. I would find myself in the middle of a scene with Jack Quinn, who played Pontius Pilate, and be thinking, "Is the Velcro on my robe bunched? My mom said my pinkie toe looks like it is holding its breath and is ready to explode. Can anyone else see that? Would Joe Heffernan's Jesus have been better? His Judas Iscariot is pretty solid. I wonder if he has hair under his arms. I can see the reflection of my grandmother's coke bottle glasses as she turns her head to watch the action from the front row. Is she embarrassed for me? Am I embarrassed?" Being in front of a live audience causes time to bend in a way that makes things appear to happen slowly and quickly simultaneously. While I crawl up inside a moment to think all of these tangential thoughts, the play trudges forward, and like a trained monkey I go through the steps we have spent months practicing.
By now Jack Quinn has washed his hands of me and Matt Walsh and Joe Ryan are coercing the crowd to choose Barabbas over me. I think they do a little too good of a job. When all of my classmates scream with passion that they want to have me crucified, I can't think of what I did to make them so angry. Then I remember the lunches at the Drexel Ale House, the months of not doing homework, and Lisa Hughes. If they don't condemn me to death, I won't end up in Lisa Hughes's lap. Is she looking forward to having me in her lap? Sometimes she rubs her hand across my chest and I swear she is close to breaking character and kissing me and rubbing me wildly all over. Would I get a boner if that happened? Everyone would start laughing and my dad would tell them to shut up and that it wasn't their kid who got picked to be Jesus. He would then tell me that he was proud of me, and how he was going to learn to use the VCR so he could tape the cable access airing for his aunt who was very Catholic but too sick to see the show in person.
By the time I finished with this inner monologue, Joe Heffernan has taken his thirty pieces of silver and stunned the crowd with his mimed hanging suicide. Tony Fitzgerald has denied me thrice before the cock crowed, and Chris Cirella and Ned Healy have whipped me using a special whipping technique taught by Father Smith that is meant to look real and not hurt me, though it still leaves red welts in my skin. I am now hanging on the cross in my loincloth that looks and feels like a diaper. The costume piece has been secured to my naked hairless body by Father Smith's shiny hands, using another one of his techniques that he says, "gives the play authenticity." This procedure brings him a little closer to me than I am comfortable with and forces me to stare up at the ceiling of the bathroom stall red-faced and embarrassed, praying that it will be over so I can put my big thick Jesus robe on. I have just told Lisa Hughes and Brian Petersen, "Behold him as thy son, who stands there by you, and be as a mother to him." All of which has brought me closer to my last line, my favorite, because I can relax and look forward to being pressed up against the warmth and security of Lisa Hughes's body. I find my saddest face and mouth "It is done." I look soulfully at the church ceiling, pause, and wait to hear the first inkling of Tom Boyle's breath. In perfect unison we say, "Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit." My head rolls and I slump on the cross. Matt Sullivan and Bill Connelly remove my limp body from the cross. As I am placed in Lisa Hughes's arms, thoughts of hairlessness are supplanted by thoughts of watermelon kisses, the looming summer, where my family and I will go out to celebrate when the show is finished, eighth grade graduation, and the last day at Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary––or Mother––it doesn't matter, when I will be able to run out of that stifling building into the blinding sunlight and go swimming.
It was rare for my father to use a computer. He called it "the machine." He would say, "Jaybird, can you get on the machine and tell your old man what the Kelly Blue Book value is for a 2003 Chevy Trekker?" He was required to have an email address for work and that would be the only email address he would have his whole life. So when an email came in from Joe.Sefton@AAAmidatlantic.com, I took notice. In 2007, I got an email from him with the subject line: "The Bastard." I was living in Los Angeles at the time pursuing my long held dream of a career as an actor. The link inside the email led me to an article in a Philadelphia newspaper. It said the Vatican had defrocked a former priest accused of sexually assaulting and whipping boys participating in Passion Plays. Father Thomas Smith was accused of using costume pins to prick the boys until they bled, according to a 2005 grand jury report. He also was accused of whipping boys participating in dramatic representations of the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ. The Philadelphia diocese said that the allegations in the grand jury report had been found to be credible and called the behavior "depraved and sadistic" and determined that Father Smith should be defrocked.
I remember feeling uncomfortable around Father Smith and was relieved when he finished pinning my loincloth so I could exit the confined area and put on the rest of my costume. I was more comfortable hanging on a cross in that diaper in front of hundreds of strangers than I was in a private room in front of one man who was supposedly a man of God. My thirteen-year-old mind had already been programmed not to question my church, or the community that supported the play and my family that was proud of my being picked to portray Jesus Christ. My thirty-six-year-old brain was not surprised to find out Father Smith was defrocked for behavior "depraved and sadistic," however, my mind did have to wrap itself around the fact that I was being described as a victim of sexual abuse.
After reading the article about Father Smith, my father was angry and guilt ridden. He couldn't believe he had invited this man into our house and opened the door for a pedophile to spend time around his two young sons. I tried to calm him down but his grief was unwavering. Looking through the lens of this new information, my dad was outraged when he remembered that my brother and I had played racquetball with "The Bastard," and that he had let me go on a ten-day whitewater rafting trip down the New River in West Virginia with him.
Child grooming is defined as actions deliberately undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, to lower the child's inhibitions in preparation for sexual activity with the child, or exploitation. Father Smith's behavior toward me met the definition of a likely pedophile's pattern of building trust. I assured my dad that nothing had ever, you know, "happened." I tried to lighten the mood when he asked me about the allegations from the article, "well, yeah, that stuff was true but it's not like I blew him." I used humor to ignore what I was not willing to look at—that Father Smith had used the Passion Play and other trips to groom me for sex as a thirteen-year-old and hid behind his Catholic faith and collar for protection. What were the effects of being groomed by a pedophile? Whether it was a playful headlock in the locker room of the racquetball club or kneeling in front of my naked thirteen-year-old body to pin a costume piece, my worldview was, at the very least, distorted by a trusted figure, like Father Smith, testing the waters to see how far his sexual advances would go. Questions and unnecessary obstacles were planted where none before existed and it takes precious life energy to deal with and ultimately move beyond those impediments. Time spent writing essays might have been spent swimming.
My dad urged me to call the hotline listed at the end of the article. When I did, they apologized for what I had been through and offered to pay for counseling. Even at this point, I wasn't exactly sure what I had been through or what they were apologizing for. I did know that it had taken years to try and untangle the web of guilt and fear that the Catholic Church doled out in their teachings and confessional booths. If for that reason alone, I gladly accepted. It was supposed to be for one year with a subsequent review. That was five years ago and I still have my therapy paid for once a week.
A year after my dad sent me "The Bastard" email, he sank into a deep depression. He spent three years on his couch smoking and drinking and dwindled down to 105 pounds. No amount of pleading or pep talks could get through to him. In 2011 he asked if I could come home. He told me, "Your old man is in trouble." I left Los Angeles and headed to Philadelphia. I wasn't sure if the growing Catholic Church scandal had anything to do with his condition, but he too had denounced the Catholic Church and would show signs of life when the topic came up.
It took about three months to get his medications squared away. I noticed he was so disillusioned with life that there was no regularity to when he took his medications or solid knowledge of what they were for. We made the rounds to all of his doctors to get the dosage details straight. He started gaining weight again eating three meals a day that consisted of something more than Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Quitting smoking was never really an option, but he did regulate it to smoking outside, which cut down the number of cigarettes and eventually cleared the house of the suffocating plumes of Marlboro smoke. He said his desire to drink was disappearing and in its place was a new motivation to get things done and tie up loose ends. He began writing letters and opening files on things that had slipped through the cracks over the years. He had the house repainted and brought in new furniture and then when he had the strength I saw him turn his ire toward the Catholic Church. This was a side of my father I had never seen before. I liked it.
He wrote a letter to the pastor at Annunciation B.V.M., my grade school in Havertown, Pennsylvania, where Father Smith had directed the Passion Play years before. "Like everyone in the gang you belong to, you minimize everything that you have done or failed to do. As a matter of fact, I am most likely partially to blame. How was I to know that one of your brother priests was depraved and sadistic and apparently everyone, even the dogs knew it, and hid it?"
I am named after my dad's uncle who was a Monsignor. Monsignor John J. Sefton was a high-ranking church official and the head of the Catholic Charities Appeal in Philadelphia before his death in 1980. I remember him as a sacred family figure. Uncle John was a man of the cloth who was beyond reproach. An intimidating figure who played the part, he stationed himself behind his enormous oak desk in a rectory of dark wood walls and deep burgundy carpeting that covered a mine field of hidden creaks that made you jump with fear when they interrupted the creepy silences of the building. No one would have dared question his righteousness or his extremely close relationship with his secretary, Eleanor. He too came under fire in my father's letter. "I wanted to try and protect my late uncle's good name because I have no indication if he was ever like most of you. Having said that, I don't know how old the woman who he played house with was when they started their thirty year 'marriage.'"
It made me sad that he blamed himself, but I admired his fire. He went on to write, "I'm sure you don't care about this, but I am also sure that when you don't have but one Mass on Sunday with everyone putting a dollar in the plate you may begin to care. I won't be at that Mass but here is my donation," and he put a dollar bill in the envelope.
His missive to the priest made its way to the same victim's assistance coordinator who I had talked with four years before at my dad's suggestion. She called him to let him know that the church would be happy to pay for his counseling as well. My dad was never much for talking it out, but he answered with an emphatic, "You bet your ass you can pay for my therapy," and he began to see Gary Jackson, Ph.D., once a week, Susan Phelps, M.A., once a week, and Dr. Joseph Fiedler, M.D./psychiatrist every other week.
In January 2012, my Dad called me home again. This time he wanted me to bring my girlfriend, whom he thanked for completing the family. He flew my brother, his wife, and their four-year-old in for the week. This was a very different visit from the one that had found him alone on a couch and wasting away. We cooked dinners, laughed, and celebrated that we were a family for the first time in a while. During that trip to Philadelphia, it was reported on the local news that several Catholic schools in the area were slated for closing, among them my grade school, Annunciation B.V.M., as well as my high school, Monsignor Bonner. The evidence of my twelve years of Catholic education was quickly being erased. It felt like the plug was pulled on a noisy appliance that had been running my whole life, a whirring that I had always considered a part of silence. I watched as students sobbed and vowed not to let it happen, saw the headlines that declared "A Day for Tears," and listened as alums made hyperbolic statements comparing the school closings to a death in the family, an event that was shaking their faith and rocking their worlds. How would they ever tell their son, daughter, mother, father, brother, or sister? I followed the shock and dismay of friends and family members on Facebook.
I shared none of their sadness. I could not participate in their dismay and mourn the closing of buildings that belonged to the same institution that, in addition to running schools, was also complicit and horrifically active in the rape and sexual molestation of many of the young students they were promising to educate. There were spirited rallies to save these schools. I wondered if they planned on doing a reading from the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report alongside their obligatory gospel reading? If not, I thought this excerpt might do well: "We were saddened to discover the magnitude of the calamity in terms of the abuse itself, the suffering it has caused, and the numbers of victims and priests involved."
I wrote an op-ed piece about the school closings that I sent to the New York Times: "If the sexual abuse of children and its subsequent cover up is not enough to celebrate the closing of each and every Catholic school, then perhaps an end to their teaching of myth and parable as history is. My Catholic education did teach me to read and write and introduced me to a few friends and some good times, but it also presented me with the complicated task of untangling the webs of fantasies and lies that are passed off as fact. I was taught to believe in virgin births and resurrections alongside math and physics. I was offered salvation in an exclusionary afterlife, while their indoctrinated guilt and fear made this life as confusing as possible. They sit in judgment and prey on the fears of their followers. These are the same men who were busy covering up for, hiding and in some cases promoting the criminals responsible for the sexual abuse of the children who trusted them. I am sure that after two thousand years of lying to congregation after congregation about matters of faith, it was not difficult for them to look a few parents in the eyes and say, 'nothing to see here.'" I even stole a line from my dad's letter to the Pastor at Annunciation, "When the next rally is staged in support of the schools, I hope they remember to wrap the gym, the football field and the classrooms in crime scene tape, so as to not forget what also happened in those buildings they are trying to save."
I sent a copy of the op-ed to my dad who joked, using a Bible quote from Matthew, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." When it wasn't accepted by the Times, I told him I was scared to send it to the Philadelphia Inquirer because everyone in the family would see what I wrote. He took a drag on his cigarette and said, "Fuck 'em. Send it in. It's a good letter." I did and was still kind of relieved it didn't get published.
A month after that conversation, in February of 2012, I received a call from a doctor at Wilmington Hospital who said my dad was there and it didn't look good. My girlfriend, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and I were joined on this trip by the rest of my dad's family. We spent his last three days with him in the hospital playing his favorite Johnny Mathis and Willie Nelson songs, sipping his favorite whiskey, and even smuggled his pug, Casey, in for a final goodbye. When the nurses asked if he wanted to see a priest, my dad refused. His oldest sister thought it was the morphine talking, but he shot her a look that said, "I know what I am doing." On February13, 2012, at noon exactly, my dad died. I had just stepped out of the hospital room to get a Whatchamacallit bar from the vending machines at the end of the hall and returned to find the fight and fire drained from his face.
My dad never got to read Maureen Dowd's scathing article from April 28, 2012, that said, "Somehow the Philadelphia church leaders decided that the Reverend Thomas Smith was not sexually motivated when he made boys strip and be whipped playing Christ in a Passion Play." He didn't get a chance to see the headline in the Huffington Post that read, "Philadelphia Priest Trial: Reverend Thomas Smith's Passion Play Allegedly Used Naked Boy." In his own letter to the church, my dad wrote that he hoped the United States would become more "like Ireland in handling you folks. And when you do not or will not turn over your brother priest, you will be arrested on the spot for aiding a felon." He would have liked to have known that Monsignor William Lynn, the highest-ranking cleric accused of imperiling children by helping cover up sexual abuse, was found guilty in June of 2012 on one count of child endangerment. Mostly, my dad would have appreciated the irony of a check arriving the day after his funeral from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for almost exactly the cost of his post-funeral luncheon. The check stub noted that it was reimbursement for therapy. The Catholic Church was not invited into the hospital room, but was more than welcome to pick up the tab for lunch.
In his chaotic final trip to the hospital, my dad left a necklace on a stool in his living room. It was a dog tag with the inscription, "My dear son, forge your own path. Anything is possible." I promise, Dad, I will.
* An earlier version of Part One of this essay appeared in The Licking River Review.