“I hope you know how that man feels about you.” he said, nearly a hush in his voice, not like the sort of hush one uses when trying not to be overheard, but more like the almost involuntary change in a man’s intonation when he is suddenly more serious than he might ordinarily be.
Troy’s heartbeat skipped when he heard the words, and all he could think about – what every cell in his body wanted to know in that second – was the answer to the question, not so much asked, but stated.
How does he feel about me? I’m dying to know!
He would not betray his level of expentancy, for fear he’d be seen as presumptuous, so he said nothing. He waited several seconds, praying to the ceiling that he’d hear what he dreamed to hear – Why, he thinks you’re amazing! You’re going to make a great company vice-president someday! There were so many wonderful, delicious statements that Troy imagined were about to come across the other end of the telephone, but what he heard next was akin to a rush of adrenaline or the impact of some highly potent drug, injected directly into his brain.
“That man loves you like a son.” he heard through the receiver.
And this was all Troy heard for the rest of the conversation; in many ways, it was all he knew he would hear the rest of the day. Oh sure, there were other things said, about how this man – larger than life, more respectable, more admirable, more confident, stronger than anyone he knew – thought Troy was such a great division manager and leader and many other things that seemed so mundane in light of that first thing, echoing endlessly in his mind. “Son”. He loves me like his son!
This was huge. Sons are more than just good workers. A son is treated differently. A son is admired for simply being. A son is an heir! Troy noticed he’d started to grow teary-eyed, so he picked a random excuse to hang up with the regional supervisor he’d been speaking with, and he continued to reflect on what he’d just heard. A subconcious microscope moved across something deep and primordial inside him, emotions sparking throughout his body for reasons he was too repressed to explain.
Why was he crying? This was a great day! Of course, these were happy tears! After all, Troy had been working himself numb for nearly four years – staying late, bringing work home, coming in weekends, keeping his phone attached to his hip day and night, angering his wife because all he ever thought about was work, and today it was all paying off in a way more profound than he ever dared hope for.
But the feelings moving him were quite certainly rooted in something deeper than his job. Somehow he knew, whether he was capable of admitting to himself or not, that his tears were less those of elation, and more of relief. He seemed to feel much like a cancer patient who’s just learned he’s in remission. Knowing there was someone important who thought of him as a son – who thought of him at all – was soothing an ache in him so constantly present that it had grown impossible to detect, and now the reality of that long neglected wound was becoming difficult to ignore. His tears were threatening to become sobs; he was in danger of losing composure and was glad his office door was closed so nobody would see him this way.
He needed to get away from his desk. His calendar was loaded, and he didn’t have time to sort through why the news was affecting him the way it was. He was determined to make sure he continued to remain worthy of the honor spoken over him, working even harder so he would never lose the approval he so desperately craved; he’d allow it to inspire and drive him to greater heights than he ever imagined for himself.
Of course, any high, whether chemical or otherwise, must inevitably precede a low. Somewhere, lurking behind the quiet echoes of doubt that Troy fought to silence, there was the knowledge that this “son” stuff must all be fantasy. Deep in his mind, he was already several hours in the future, driving home in the rain, fighting traffic while simultaneously trying to push away the demons that taught him to hate himself.
Soon, he’d likely find himself creeping along the freeway, so immersed in his inner struggles that he would forget to become frustrated about the duration of the drive along the clogged, concrete arterials that very much made themselves into his own personal hamster wheel, coldly imitating some sort of progress to and from places of excitement and joy, while at its end – were it to have end – there remained just him, alone with the disappointment of knowing that no amount of success or approval ever seemed to get him closer to feeling right. And why would today be different?
He would sit there, hands limp on the wheel, ignoring the chatter of talk radio, and he would realize the level of his own foolishness for getting his hopes up and for momentarily thinking that any sort of adoptive sonship could ever erase the nagging feelings of inadequacy he could never overcome. If he wasn’t careful, and he let his melancholy grow unchecked, he would start thinking crazy, stupid things. He’d start wondering if he should ditch the whole idea of trying to be a responsible husband and father. He might decide he would never be capable of doing or being enough for the people who counted on him to ever feel fulfilled, so he’d search in his own mind for a way or a place to liberate himself from the cruelly obstructive walls he’d built around his life. Running away to someplace distant, becoming a hapless drunk, living out of his car – all these things might pass through his mind, if he were to allow them.
Likely he would arrive at home with his mind utterly preoccupied. He’d be distracted while his wife tried to fill him in on the day’s events, the crazy thing their son did to torture the dog; he’d become elusive and angry while she got frustrated with his lack of attentiveness. A short argument might ensue, ending as quickly as it began, with Troy offering a half-hearted apology, motivated only out of a desire to avoid the exhaustion of trying to explain why he tended to react the way he did all the time. In that moment, so typical of his life these days, the thrill he experienced in his office just a few hours prior would seem to be years away. All would seem empty again.
The night would drag on, Troy fulfilling his nightly household task list while simultaneously creating another list for his next day at the office – bathing the kids, answering an e-mail, dressing the kids for bed, studying notes for tomorrow’s presention. As with most nights, the kids would not go to bed without a fight, and Troy would be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time putting them down. His eldest boy in particular would beg him to read just one more story and plead with him to sing a song. Out of desperation, he would sing a nightly lullaby, and this would be the time, were he to listen to the words coming from his own lips, when he may experience an intervention from the Glorious.
He would slow down long enough to sense the presence of One who truly did think of him as a son. Peace overtaking him, he’d look his own child in the eyes, tell him that he is beloved, and nothing in the world – no success or failure – could ever change it. He would hug him tenderly while laying his hand upon his head, praying God would comfort his heart and that he himself would be granted the ability to cherish him as a father should. Walking from the boy’s room, Troy would suddenly understand that times like these are what allow innocent young boys to grow up free, so they are not likely to allow longing to turn to an addiction to the approval of men. He would find solace in knowing that, if he were to duplicate this moment over and over in his son’s life, he’d grow to be a stronger man than he himself could ever be.
And then there was a chance, however slight, that Troy may take a priceless few minutes to intrude the solace of Night’s cool air, and there he would find – as he’d known from lessons past, learned both from the painful repercussions of ignoring its lack and through the teachings of wiser men than he, the Space so yearned for by his heart. He would gaze at the sky, stars barely visible behind a haze of cloud, and he’d wonder at the day’s events, how such excellent news had unexpectedly taken his mind from exhilaration to desolation, and how he was rescued from both extremities by a tender moment with his child.
Only Heaven knew whether all these things would be allowed to happen. For now, they were mere possibilities – whispers of what could be, and Troy was barely aware of them. Grabbing a fistful of tissues to dry his eyes, he rose from his office chair and started walking from his desk. The day held many possibilites – those of hope and those of darkness. Without his knowing, the choice of the day, the choices of his heart – so simple, yet weighted with the eternal, were up to him. He reached to open the door.