Dad was a diplomat, or so I was told. Honestly I was too young to understand or care. He might have been MI5 for all I knew. The only thing I understood was that he was gone a good bit, and that when he was home we were an inseparable lot; me, my mum and him.
My parents loved me a great deal and I always felt loved even when I thought that I was different from other boys. But they loved each other even more and I could see it each time their eyes met. Maybe that was why their death hurt me so much, because their love for each other was the spark in my small world that told me how much I was loved.
When my dad left in the mornings my mum’s last touch was just a light whisper of her fingertips, as if enticing him to hurry through the day and come back home again. And when he did return there was always a small cuddle in the foyer, or the kitchen, or wherever he caught Mum unawares. I use to watch them when he snuck in and winked at me, a conspirator’s nod before he ambushed Mum with his simple affections. It always made me smile.
I remember the day she picked me up from school and I was crying up a storm at being found out for being a bum chum, as my mates were now calling me. Mum sat me down and told me she didn’t care one wit if I liked boys or girls. She said it was my decision and she would love me no matter what.
I also remember asking her about what my dad would think, would he not love me anymore? I could think of no worse torment in my young life than to have my father’s face reflect that of the headmaster’s.
“Don’t you know how much he loves you?” she had asked me.
I had shaken my head no because I couldn’t fathom my existence without his approval, without his warm hand tucking me into bed, without the bristly touch of his whiskers when he kissed me good night. Would he still do that, would he kiss his gay son goodnight?
“You know how much he loves me?” she’d asked.
I had nodded; of course I understood his feelings for her. Love surrounded them like the sun’s warmth enveloped the earth. It was always there, even when it was hidden by distance or his constant comings and goings.
“He loves you more,” she’d whispered to me with small kisses.
I remember staring down at the floor, my mates taunts still fresh and headmaster’s glare of disapproval still hovering in my head. “Will I find love like that one day?” I had asked her, hoping I might find someone who loved me like my mum and dad were in love.
She told me that when I least expected it, my heart would blare the news out loud, and all the rest of the times, when I just thought it was love, that would just be my brain talking, not my heart. She told me that’s how I would comprehend the difference, right at that moment, when my heart spoke instead of my head.
It seemed an irony to me that I met Dustin on the anniversary of my parents’ murder. But then, maybe Mum was sending me a message on a day when she knew I would be more likely to pay attention.
*Stephen Dobbins is a character from Listening to Dust. This post and others like it are intended to give readers and fans more insight into some of the characters.