House returned the gun to its old box and reached up to put it back on the top shelf of the closet. He saw the sword there, and took it down. He pulled it out of its sheath and read the engraved inscription – John House. So many memories flooded back at the sight of that name.
John treasured the sword. It was one of his most prized possessions, a tangible reflection of his valiant military career and the esteem of his fellow Marines. After the funeral, Blythe asked House which of his father's things he might like to have, and this and the gun were the only ones he requested. Blythe immediately agreed, and so they wound up in the apartment in Princeton, relics of a former life and symbols of the proud and brutish man who had owned them.
When Greg was young, John showed off these weapons to him once in a while, but Greg was never allowed to touch them. House vividly remembered the look in his father's face when he brandished the sword and the gun. It was a mixture of pride and arrogance, as if the mere fact of having them was proof of what a powerful man he was - powerful in his job, and, lest Greg forget it, powerful over his son. Despite the fear John's attitude was designed to instill, Greg still loved looking at the sword and the gun. For all the reasons Greg hated his father – and there were many – he couldn't help admiring John at the same time. This ambivalence confused him as a child, because all the military trappings, and the implied bravery that went along with them, were also part of who his father was, and sometimes he couldn't help but be proud of that.
Until he grew up, that is, and learned more about what had really gone on in Vietnam, a war which his father had been proud to wage. Until he grew up, and decided for himself that blind patriotism was just as stupid as racism or homophobia. Until he grew up, and knew for a fact that John couldn't have been his biological father, long before he had the chemical proof of it. Until he grew up, and realized beyond a shadow of a doubt that what John called discipline was actually abuse that no child should have to endure.
House returned the sword to its place on the top shelf, and went back into the living room. He sat on the leather couch, lost in thought. Maybe the time had finally come to get some answers. His mother knew he'd gone to prison, of course, but he'd specifically asked her not to visit – no need for the elderly woman to travel up from Kentucky just to get upset and depressed by seeing her only child in such a place. He'd also recently let her know that he was finally free, but had been avoiding any extended conversations with her and rejecting her suggestion that she come for a visit. It was just too hard – all of it, and avoiding emotionally hard situations had become second nature to him over the years. But he was starting to realize that he couldn't avoid her forever, and the thought suddenly occurred to him that he couldn't put it off indefinitely. Blythe was getting older, and she wouldn't be around forever. If he wanted answers he needed to deal with her while her memory was still intact.
He slowly pulled out his cell phone and dialed her number. One ring, two, three. He chickened out suddenly and didn't want to leave a message. He was about to hang up when she picked up after the fourth ring.
"Hello," Blythe said. No caller ID, Greg immediately thought. She didn't know it was him. He could still hang up. "Who's there?" she asked.
Finally he said, "Hi, Mom. It's me."
"Greg? Is that really you?" He could hear the excitement in her voice.
"Yeah, it's me. Just wanted to see how you've been."
"I'm okay," she replied. "It's so good to hear from you! How are you doing?"
"Well, I got funding to hire a full team, so I'm getting back to being pretty busy at work."
"That's wonderful, darling. I'm happy for you."
"Is that really what you're calling about? Or have you reconsidered a visit? You know, it's been so long. I really do want to see you."
"I know. About that – I guess we could plan a visit sometime soon."
"Can you come here for Christmas?"
He certainly didn't want to mention the ankle monitor, so instead said, "I'm not sure. We never know when a patient will keep us close to the hospital, even on holidays."
"Well, I could come up there instead. Whenever you think would be convenient, Greg."
"Let me think about it. I'll let you know."
"Are you really okay? I worry about you."
"I'm fine, Mom. We'll talk more when we see each other, okay?"
"Sure. I look forward to it, Greg."
"I'll be in touch. I promise."
"I'll hold you to it."
"Okay. Gotta go now, Mom. Take it easy."
"You too, honey. I love you. You know that, right?"
"Love you too, Mom. Bye."
He hung up and ran a hand over his face. Why the hell had he done that? Now he'd really have to see her. Could this time be any different from every other time? Could he find the courage to actually talk to her about more than the weather or the state of her health? Could he bring up the past, John's abuse, and his questions about his biological father? He knew he needed to do it. But knowing it and actually doing it were two very different things. He thought again about the sword and the gun – symbols of strength, both menacing and comforting, in an odd way. That's all he needed to do this – strength. He thought of the long days and longer nights during the ten months in prison. If he could get through that, then it surely shouldn't be impossible to have an honest conversation with an elderly woman who did, after all, still love him. Strength. Find it, House, he told himself. Just find it.