Title: Lost in Translation
Fandom: Hair, the musical: 2009 Revival/Tour
Word Count: 4,992
Disclaimer: Neither the musical nor the boys belong to me, if they did they'd be groping each other on sta-. *pause* *blinkblink* Huh. Look at that... they do. *eg* :D ((Hair was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni with music by Galt MacDermot.))
Summary: "When did George Berger become the answer to everything? When did I start expecting him to fix the problems I couldn't? When did I accept his presence in my son's life to that degree?"
November 13, 2011: Wow. It really helps in finishing stories when they're oh... 90% finished to start with. Who knew? I wrote this story over the summer, started it on one of those days when Josh and Paris were killing me with the scene right before the Be-In - and believe me, there were several. This Claude and Berger are a mix of Will/Gavin and Steel/Paris... but like with "Give up all Desires," they're more Steel/Paris. O_o I still feel a little like that's a betrayal. I'm a dork. Anyway, this is meant to be yet another stand alone character introspection.
Enjoy and please remember... comments and reviews are love!
Lost in Translation
I don't understand my son. I don't say that lightly, either. We used to have the kind of relationship that I always dreamed of having with my father when I was young. We talked about everything. We spent all of our weekends together - fishing, mowing the lawn, tossing around a baseball. We did all of the things I wished my father had done with me and never did. My son looked up to me, almost worshipped me in his own way. He wanted to be just like me. I was so proud.
Then it all changed.
I'm not sure exactly when and I'm not sure exactly how, but it did. We spent less time fishing. We hardly ever tossed a ball around. He did his chores without much complaint, but certainly didn't want to spend extra time at them to be with me. Worst of all, though... we stopped talking. His admiring looks changed to derision... to pity. He stopped aspiring to my life and started disdaining it, as though following in my footsteps was the worst fate he could imagine.
That hurt. I didn't expect it to hurt as much as it did. It was as though I woke up one morning and there was a perfect stranger in my house - one who was smarter than me, faster than me, younger than me, more capable than me... and who was constantly looking down on me in disgust. Gone were the days when I understood him. Gone were the days when he tried to understand me. And I'd no idea how to get them back.
It would be easy for me to blame his new friends, these hippies he'd fallen in with. It would be easy, but it wouldn't be accurate. Our falling out happened long before the advent of these new friendships. Still, it's easy to blame them, these friends who are closer to him now than he ever was to me. I resent them. I don't want them in my home. I don't want them near my son. But what I want no longer seems to matter.
There is one in particular... G-d help me, if banning him from my home would make any difference, I'd have barred the doors against him long ago. But I know better than that. In spite of everything, I still know my son better than that. If I refused George Berger entrance into my home, Claude would simply meet with him elsewhere and that would be infinitely worse. At least here I can keep an eye on what they do. At least here, they show some restraint. Out from underneath my roof? I am sure they show none. I shudder to think what they get up to when there are no adults watching.
He's come alone this time, Mr. Berger, none of his usual coterie of brightly costumed flower children adorning him like jeweled accessories. Today it is just him. Just him... and my son. They're in the den, sprawled on the couch and watching some television program or another. Claude is sitting at one end with his legs sprawled across the sofa, George is laying full length across the same sofa with his head in my son's lap, one arm wrapped around my son's leg.
Though the way they lay there, wrapped so casually around each other as though there is nothing objectionable about it, makes my stomach clench in disgust... that isn't what truly bothers me. No. It is those moments when Claude is so caught up in the television program that he isn't paying attention to what his friend is doing. For in those moments, I've seen that oh-so-casually draped hand shift to brush soft fingers over my son's thigh. I've seen him turn and press gentle, barely-there kisses against my son's knee. And worst of all are the looks that boy sends my son's way when he knows that Claude isn't looking. I've seen looks like that before. My wife wore that look on her face the day we walked down an aisle to be wedded forever in the eyes of G-d and our fellow man.
George Berger loves my son.
No. That isn't quite right. George Berger does not just love my son. George Berger is in love with my son. And as horrifying as that realization was for me, it was an even harder punch to the gut when I realized... my son loves him in return, equal measure for measure. For just as George takes those moments when my son is distracted to express his emotions, so too does my son when George is distracted. It's enough to drive a man to drink.
I should stop this. I should walk in there, turn off that television and pry them apart. I should bar George Berger from ever again setting foot in my house. I should have him arrested. But deep in my heart, I know it would make no difference. All it would do is drive the wedge between my son and I so deep that I'll never remove it. For the first time in my life, I'm at a complete loss for what to do. And so, I do what I always do. I do nothing. I say nothing. I walk away.
Three months later, Claude is standing on my last nerve and grinding his heel against it. We're having dinner with the Thompsons, a family we know from church. They have a son, Michael, two years younger than Claude, and a daughter, Mary, who is the same age. We don't arrange marriages in this country, but if we did, she'd have been a perfect choice. She is quiet, obedient, well-groomed and just intelligent enough. She could be a stabilizing influence on my son, help get him back on the right track. But we can't force the issue, can't set up contracts and dowries and plan out their futures for them. All we can do is subtly guide. And I can only be grateful that, in spite of our current difficulties with my son's behavior, Mary's parents are still in support of the idea. They recognize the potential in my son, just as I do, and are willing to overlook what we are all calling "youthful indiscretions."
After tonight, they may not be so willing.
Claude was late coming home, as though he'd forgotten about this dinner. And to make matters worse, he was dressed as he usually is these days - in his hippie costume. And rather than slink up the stairs to shower and change - perhaps even to hack his shoulder-length hair off in shame - he walks brazenly into the living room, just as is, to hand out flowers to all the women in the room. Finding himself with an extra, he smirks and gives that one to Michael.
I nearly slap him for that one. Especially when I see the entranced look on Michael's face as he stares down at the flower. With a thunderous look on my own, I take Claude by the elbow and drag him into the kitchen. When all he does is give me that mild, blissed out grin he wears whenever he's been indulging, it's all I can do not to haul back and slap him across the face. Instead, I grab him by the shirt and give him a firm shake, "What is wrong with you, Claude? You know how important tonight is. You know how much this dinner party means to your mother. And still, you come home late, dressed like a beatnik and stoned? What were you thinking?"
Claude's smile just widens and he reaches out to pull my head forward and plant a messy kiss on my forehead. As I push him away he laughs, says, "Hey, man. Lighten up. Can't we all just get along?"
That bland, stoned look on his face makes me see red. I don't understand. I don't understand why he does these things. Does he not want a future? Does he not want a family? Children of his own? What does he want? To be stoned? To engage in disgusting acts of a carnal nature with his male best friend? I throw my hands up in disgust. Claude merely laughs again, turns to rummage in the cupboard.
When he turns back to me, a bag of potato chips in his hands, it is the last straw. Now, on top of everything else, he's going to ruin his appetite for dinner. On my wife's behalf, that is an insult I won't tolerate. I slap the bag of chips out of his hands and onto the floor, ball my hand into a fist and drive it into Claude's face to send him crashing down right after it. I'm so enraged, I can barely see straight.
Claude lays there, sprawled on the ground, one hand to his cheek, stunned into silence for several minutes. I am so livid, I can't speak, either. It is only when my wife walks into the room that we manage to unfreeze from that tableau. Claude gets slowly to his feet, one hand raised to his reddened cheek, eyes fixed firmly on the floor. My wife is fluttering around him, exclaiming over all the fuss. Finally she rounds on me and says, "And what will his professors think when they see him in class tomorrow? How will he explain this? What will people say?"
That's when Claude finally shakes off his paralysis. His mouth stretches into the most hideous smile and I hope to never see it, again. He looks up, straight into my eyes and that smile widens into a sneer as he says so casually, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, mother. I dropped out months ago."
As I roar out my fury and reach out to grab him, my wife's hands on my shoulders all that keep me from doing him real harm, Claude laughs again, grabs the bag of chips off the floor and saunters out of the house as though he were taking a walk in the park.
It's a week before we see him, again. My wife has been frantic, walking the streets looking for him, calling all of his friends, she even - unbeknownst to me - took a trip into the city one day to try to find him there. It's just long enough that I start to feel some true remorse for what I'd done. No matter how angry I was, Claude didn't deserve that, especially when the truth of the matter isn't so much that I was angry, but that I was afraid. With those casually uttered words, "I dropped out months ago," Claude had changed the rules of this game. He'd ended all possible futures but one. He could enlist or he would be drafted, but either way, his future was now in Viet Nam. It was only a matter of time. I wonder if he even realized that, if he even cared.
When he finally did come home, it was with George Berger in tow. I should have expected that, should have been prepared for it, but I wasn't. I was so angry when that boy walked into my house that I almost missed that he'd brought Claude with him, almost forgot how relieved I was to see my son. But as my eyes blazed and I opened my mouth to yell at the pair, the look in those green eyes pulled me up short.
As angry as I was, in that moment, I had nothing on George Berger. The boy was covering it well, but he was livid. Now that I was looking for it, I could clearly see it. George Berger wanted to hurt me. Why? Because I'd dared to harm his Claude. His Claude. His Claude. That's right. That anger was paired with a possessiveness the likes of which I'd never seen. George Berger wanted to visit on me each and every pain I'd doled out to my son. And when I saw the desolate unhappiness in my son's eyes, saw the way he flinched away from the angry look on my face... I almost let him. Good G-d... what had I become?
I let them pass without a word. I remained silent when Claude fled up to his bedroom and came back down with a packed overnight bag. I said nothing when he pulled his mother aside to speak a few hushed words with her in the kitchen. I was too caught by that look in George Berger's eyes, by the depth of feeling revealed there.
I once compared the love this boy feels for my son to the love I feel for my wife. Seeing him now, like this, I must reevaluate that opinion. I love my wife. I do. But looking into those green eyes, I'm forced to admit that that love doesn't even hold a candle to what George Berger feels for my son. Not if the force of his reaction to this situation is any way to judge. And in that moment... I'm ashamed.
So, I say nothing. I let them go without a word. And if I drink myself into such a stupor that I pass out in my recliner that night, at least my wife is good enough to also keep her silence.
Two weeks later, my son comes home. He's alone this time. Alone and uncertain, and when he sees me, a little afraid. I'm so relieved that he's back that I don't care. His mother races out to him, hugs him tightly to her. All I can do is pat him awkwardly on the shoulder, tell him that I'm pleased to see him home, that he worried his mother.
The look on his face is both relieved and disappointed by that. Relieved to have this fight tabled for the time being, but disappointed that that is the best I can do for him. I don't know what he expects from me. Does he expect me to be as outwardly affectionate as his friend George? I don't have that in me. I know I don't. But for a change, I almost wish I did. Maybe physical affection could finally bridge this gap of understanding that's been between us these last five years. Maybe it could finally get us speaking the same language, again. But I can't. I just can't. And so he trudges upstairs, resigned and disappointed.
He mopes around for weeks after that, hardly home except to sleep and not even that most nights, and when he is, he's barely there at all. It's as though he's become a ghost in our home. It isn't until several months go by that I realize how much my fault that is. In my own mind, you see, I'd already declared him dead and gone. Whether to his hippies or to the grinder of Viet Nam... one way or another, I knew I'd already lost my son.
Still, even with that knowledge beating in my breast and underlying everything I do, I'm still shocked when the day finally arrives. As I flip casually through the mail, that one envelope stares up at me in blinding accusation, telling me clearer than any words that this is my fault. This whole damned situation is my fault. My son is going to die... and it's all my fault.
I sit on that envelope for the entire day. Claude's in a rare good mood, flipping through the newspapers and cackling over the editorials, pulling petals off a bunch of daisies he has in his hand and scattering them around the house just to watch my wife vacuum them up. The argument starts simple and to my everlasting shock, it's my wife who sets it off. She knows what came in the mail today. She knows that unless Claude straightens up and goes back to school he's going to Viet Nam and she'll lose him for good. And she can't take that thought any more than I can.
He reacts badly, cornered by the one person he thought was supporting him in his desire to direct his own life. Eventually, he storms out, intent on fleeing into the arms of his friends. I can't let that happen. I can't sit on this knowledge alone one more night. I can't let him run off to say, "Damn the consequences," when the consequences have already caught up with him. If I can't sleep tonight, then neither will he. I hold up the envelope, say quietly but firmly, "Your draft notice arrived today."
That freezes him right in his tracks. He turns back to me in slow motion, eyes wide and more than a little scared. Good. He should be scared. He should be terrified. I know my wife is. I know I am. I hand it over, watch as he retreats to the other side of the room, muttering to himself as he reads the words within. Finally, he looks up, shocked fear clear to read in his face as he says hesitantly, "It says here... I have to go in for a physical?"
And there... Oh G-d, there is my son. Uncertain and afraid, yes, but looking to me for guidance and comfort in a way he hasn't since he was a child. As awful as this situation is, I can't help but feel a small shred of hope. Maybe... maybe as terrible as this is, it will bring us together, again. I step forward, reach out a hand towards him, a hand from which he flinches away. I swallow hard, get out, "Claude... the Army will make a man out of you." A man who knows his responsibility. A man who has honor. A man who will come home - of course, he will come home - a decorated hero. A man of whom I can be proud.
Damn that language barrier! Claude doesn't understand my meaning, doesn't understand the desperate plea beneath my words. His expressive face closes down, revealing nothing but that usual derision as he sneers and snaps me a salute. He says, "Well. Huh. Stand aside, Sergeant. I'm sleeping on the streets tonight."
And then he's gone. He's gone and he's left me alone with the knowledge that this may be the last time I see him. He's gone and he's left me alone with a sobbing woman, berating me with every other breath, demanding I bring her son home. He's gone and he's left me alone with the knowledge that this is somehow all my fault. My son is going to Viet Nam. He is going to die. And it's all because I no longer understand him.
Claude is hardly home at all after that, spends all of his time with his "Tribe," the people from whom he truly can't bear to be parted. They've become his new family. He turns to them for comfort, for love, for everything. He no longer has a use for us.
My wife cries herself to sleep every night, unable to bear being parted from her son. I'm deeply ashamed, but I've taken to drinking myself to sleep shortly thereafter. Two weeks after that fateful night, I'm sitting in the den, drinking my scotch and flipping through some old photo albums trying desperately to remember those happier times... the times before it all went wrong. And there is the evidence that it happened, right there on those pages - My son. Smiling. Laughing. Carefree and joyous. I haven't seen him smile like that in years... except for those moments with George Berger. They seem so long ago, now... I find myself hoping that George is doing a better job understanding him than I have. He's half crazy, but he does love my son. He'd do anything for him, even die for him, I think. I never had a friend like that - there are only a very lucky few that do - and I find myself wondering... what must it be like? What would it be like to have a friend you loved so dearly that you would risk anything for them? What might George Berger be willing to do for my son?
I find myself imagining scenario after scenario, then. Claude going to war and George following after him to protect him. George taking a bullet for my son. George drugging Claude and slipping off to war in his place. Any of a thousand different permutations and possibilities and they all amount to the same thing in the end - George Berger protecting my son where I cannot.
The next day, my son comes home and it's as though he's already dead. His eyes... dear G-d, his eyes... they're so desolate, so defeated. In all our years together, all the arguments we've had, one thing I can say for my son is that he'd never given up. Until now. My wife tries to talk to him, to get to the bottom of what's bothering him, but to no avail. He just gives her this sad smile, kisses her cheek and locks himself in his room. I don't even have the heart to say anything when I smell the distinct odor of marijuana coming from beneath his door.
He spends three days locked in there, only emerging to use the bathroom or steal food from the kitchen. It's heartbreaking. And where is George Berger in all of this? I'm disgusted and shocked with myself when I realize that I expected him to be here, to be trying to talk some sense into my son, to convince him to go back to school, to enlist if it will keep him off the front lines... but he's nowhere to be seen.
I'm mildly sickened when I realize that I'm disappointed by that.
Over those three days, I run my precious scenarios over in my head again and again and again. Surely... surely somehow George Berger will come through for all of us. If he's the one who's ruined this family, it's his obligation to help fix it. And maybe it need not even be so dire as him offering his life in exchange for my son's. Maybe... what if he was just willing to break the law for him? A new scenario creeps in amongst the others - George convincing my son to run away to Canada. Though it nearly makes me ill the first time I picture it - just the thought of my son, living in sin with another man... G-d, it turns the stomach - it begins to grow on me with time. It would mean that my son was safe. It would mean that he was happy. It would mean that he was loved.
I find myself latching onto that scenario, almost hoping that it will come true. It could. It isn't outside the realm of possibility. George is crazy enough... he could manage it. He could smuggle my son away from here, keep him safe, protected. Somehow, he could do it. I almost hope he does.
When Claude finally does leave the house again, it's quietly, stealthily, in the middle of the night. In unspoken agreement, my wife and I follow him. He takes the subway into the city, makes his way to Central Park. It's cold, it's eerie, but we are determined. Our last confrontation with this Tribe did not go as planned. They reacted badly, all of them, and it was after that experience that Claude came home and smoked himself into a stupor for three days. We have to do better this time... and I know where to start.
Claude stays back, hugs the shadows so he can watch but not be seen. He's like a ghost... the invisible man. My wife tugs on my jacket and I tear my eyes away from him long enough to find George. The man is frantic, clearly strung out and there are dark circles under his eyes. He hasn't slept much in the past few days, that much is clear. Apparently he spent them searching for Claude. But why not come to his home? Would that not be the first place to consider looking?
I answer my own question. No... no, in Claude's case it wouldn't be. And George would have known that. That's what made it the perfect place for Claude to go to ground. Damn it. I want to grab George and shake him. That's three days that he could have spent talking sense into my son! That's three days he could have used to pack him off to Canada. That's three days that he could have used to fix the mess I caused!
I stop then, horrified at my own thoughts. When did George Berger become the answer to everything? When did I start expecting him to fix the problems I couldn't? When did I accept his presence in my son's life to that degree?
Simple. It was the day that Claude came home after that disastrous dinner with the Thompsons. George declared himself my son's protector that day and I didn't challenge it. What's worse is that I suppose I've expected him to live up to that declaration ever since. But George is just a boy, himself. He doesn't know what to do to fix this, either. And the truly horrible thing is that this is my fault. Claude thinks that I want him to go to war and get killed, that it's the only way to fix the gulf of misunderstanding between us. My own words come back to haunt me, then.
"The Army will make a man out of you!"
"My son is willing to go to war and die for his country... and I am proud of him!"
How could I have been so stupid? How could I have uttered those poisonous words? How could I...? Enough. George has wandered away from the group, looks lost in a way I've never seen him look before. It doesn't take much to pull him away from the others.
The moment he identifies me, however, his eyes blaze to life. He knows me and he isn't pleased to see me. Good. If he's angry, he'll act. Mind fixated on this newest fantasy of mine that I'm still ashamed for hoping will come true, I shove a wad of money into George's hand. He stares at it dumbly, opens and closes his mouth a few times, finally gets out a, "Huh? The hell is this, man? I don't want your stinking money. And if you think for even one fucking second that bribing me will keep me away from Claude, especially now, you're fucking deluded, man."
He moves to throw it back at me, but I close his hand over it, shake my head, "I've made a right mess of things, son. I don't expect you to understand. Claude won't understand either and he's my son. Actually... that's the problem, really. I... I don't understand him anymore. He doesn't understand me. And because of that he's gotten it into his head that I want to him to go to war and die, if necessary, to reclaim the honor he's cost our family."
I stare straight into George's blazing eyes then, spit out, "That's bullshit." Though George's eyes widen at the expletive, I say, "I'd rather have a son living than a son dead, any day. Even if his choices bring me shame. Even if his choices are ones I don't agree with. Even if he never comes home again. I'd still rather him be alive... and, if at all possible, happy." I grip his hands tightly around the wad of cash and say, "Do you understand?"
It takes a moment, but George finally nods, says, "Fuck, you two are a pair, aren't you? If you'd just talk to each other... Fuck." He pulls away, drags a hand through his hair and shoves the money into his jacket pocket, "OK. OK, I get it. You want me to smuggle Claudio up to Canada, even if I have to knock him out and drag him off by the hair to do it, right?" Before I can come up with an answer, he laughs maniacally and rubs his hands together, "Of course, right. Jesus. Fuck. You really don't know your son at all, do you? This is not gonna be as easy as it sounds. Once he's got an idea in his head, he doesn't let go of it easy, you know."
"I know," I say. "I know it won't be easy, but in spite of all the evidence which suggests to the contrary, I feel I can have faith in you, George. You'll find a way to keep my son safe. I know it. I feel it."
George stares at me again, bemused, as he says, "But... why? I'm a fuck up. Everyone knows that. I screw up everything I touch. Why trust me?"
I finally smile as I pat his shoulder, "Because you love my son. Because you'd do anything to keep him safe. Because you're just crazy enough to pull this off."
George laughs then, a quiet snicker muffled quickly in his coat sleeve, "Yeah... yeah, maybe I am at that. OK. You've got yourself a deal, man. I'll convince him. Somehow."
We leave then, drift off into the night. One way or another, our son is not coming home tonight. He's not coming home ever again. We don't hear from George Berger again after that, either. I choose to believe that he succeeded, that he convinced my son to flee to Canada with him, that my son is safe and happy. And in the deep dark hours of the night, when my wife is sound asleep in my arms, I can't help but hope that somewhere far to the North my son is just as safely asleep in someone else's... even if they're George Berger's.
Claude: *sweatdrop* Seriously... what the hell with you lately? You veered away from us for two stories and had such separation anxiety after the fact that we get two in two days? What the hell, man?
R-chan: *gapes* *blushes*
Berger: *snickers* I, uh... think you may have pinned that one pretty accurately there, Claudio.
R-chan: *blushes harder*
Claude: *smirks* Huh. Look at that. *eg* I finally got the last word!
R-chan: *points accusingly* No. Uh-uh. You do not get to steal that punchline for your own nefarious purposes!
Claude: O_O Huh?
R-chan: *cuddling a thin, blue-eyed man in an equally blue shirt and black trousers* Mine. You can't have any part of him. *pouts*
Leonard McCoy: *roars* I'm a doctor, not a stuff animal! Someone get her off me!
Claude: I am so confused.
Nuriko: *snerts* Oh, please. She's just on a massive nostalgia trip lately. All kinds of odd fandoms have been cropping up lately. I mean... she's been watching Sailor Moon and Generator Gawl for crying out loud.
Tasuki: *raises hand* Guys, I caught her watching Superboy and Out of this World. And she bought King Arthur and the Knights of Justice off Amazon. I saw it.
R-chan: D: O_O D: Tasuki! You promised you wouldn't tell anyone that! ;_;
Tasuki: *snorts* And you promised you'd finish chapter 5 so we could officially get to the sex you wrote for us in between chapter 5 and 6! That was months ago.
R-chan: *scowls* Hard. Drive. Crash.
Tasuki: Tired. Of. The. Pity. Party.
Claude: *leans over towards Berger* Is it just me or did this veer wildly off track?
Berger: You gonna look a gift horse in the mouth?
Claude: Fuuuuuck, no.
Nuriko: *nods sagely* I've taught you well, young Skywalker.
R-chan: *scream of frustration*
Questions, comments, Magnolia cupcake?