The Letter: A Links in the Chain short
A Links in the Chain short
The town of Crivitz, Wisconsin was small by most standards. The population was only 1,079 but they were mostly friendly types. When Aiden and I went to grab a pizza at the Hot Stone Pub, we were greeted warmly. No one made mention if Aiden was using his walker or the wheelchair, and they treated him as one of their own, despite the fact we only came up a few times a year.
We’d been together three years now, and life had been great. Mostly. Aiden and I didn’t have problems different than any other couple. Finding time together was always a challenge, especially since his stained glass business had taken off. Everyone in our family—my folks, Tom and Galen, Lincoln and Noel, Aiden’s sister, Livvy, Marco and Andy—had all bought things from him. Then Marco showed them to his parents, who loved the work so much they ordered things they could sell in their floral shop. Then the customers who bought from them showed others and…. Yeah, my guy now had a fulltime job, and he was over the moon happy because now he felt like he was contributing to the household.
Seeing how hard he worked, I had instituted mandatory vacation time for both of us. He and I would sit down and figure out when we could go, then block our calendars so the time was just ours. It worked out well, and we spent a good chunk of it at the cabin, which we both enjoyed.
I had gone into town to pick up the hot chocolate that my little sugar fiend loved. It was his current ‘favorite’, but then anything with obscene amounts of sweeteners was his favorite. I loved watching his lip quiver when I brought home donuts from the bakery. They’d be fresh and warm, and he could smell how sweet they were the minute I stepped into the house. Today I did a quick stop at both places, happy to find there wasn’t a line, and I got back faster than I had expected. I stepped into the house and heard Aiden’s voice. I thought he was singing, something I’d been encouraging him to do more of, but then I heard something that froze the blood in my veins.
“Good morning, Brian. I hope you’re all right. I’m sorry we haven’t had time to talk recently, but with everything going on, it’s been hectic. So, where were we? Ooh, I remember. I found a book when we moved into the big house. Tom had said it was the one you loved most, so I sat down to read it. It was so sweet. I really wish we had known each other better. I would have loved to share my happy place book. It’s called BFF by K.C. Wells, and it’s based on a true story of two straight men who find out that they’re in love with each other. I cry every time I read it.”
Why would Aiden be talking with Brian? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. They barely knew each other, and beyond the fact we discovered that Brian had chosen Aiden for me, they had very little in common. I came into the living room and found Aiden laying back on the couch, staring up at the ceiling. He had a soft smile on his face as he continued to talk to Brian, my deceased husband.
“Aiden? Baby, what are you doing?”
He jerked upright, his eyes wide. “Tom! I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”
“There weren’t any lines. Why are you talking to Brian?” I wasn’t upset or jealous. Merely confused. When Aiden’s cheeks pinked, I went to him and took him in my arms. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I…. Well….” He sighed. “I try to talk to him when I can. I tell him about our lives, the things going on, how much I appreciate what he did for us. Anything I can think of.” He nibbled his lip. “You don’t think that’s weird, do you?”
I chuckled. “No, not at all. In fact, I find it really sweet and endearing that you would share with him.” I kissed him gently. “I love you. You know that, right?”
He nodded. “Tom? Can I ask you something? I mean, I know it’s not anything to do with me, but is it okay?”
“You don’t need permission to ask. What’s on your mind?”
He scrunched up his face. “When you told me about Brian, you said that he, like me, was disowned by his parents.”
“Have you ever reached out to them?”
Now it was my turn to sigh. “After he died, I did try, but there wasn’t any reply.”
He snuggled in closer. “I think we should try again. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s important that they know what they missed. Even if they never contact us back, at least everyone Brian knew will find out about his life and death.”
“I don’t know,” I said, uncertain about opening old wounds.
“Can I do it?” he pleaded.
“Why would you want to?”
“To tell them what a wonderful gift he gave me. To let them know that in death he gave me a life. To…. I don’t know. Just feels like they should be told.”
I was conflicted, but maybe writing them would help heal things so Brian could rest easier.
“Okay, we can do it.”
“Then how about we each write a letter?”
That sounded like a good idea, and I told him so. What I hadn’t expected was him wanting to do it right away. He sequestered himself in the bedroom and I sat in the living room. My hand shook as I tried to figure out the words I wanted to say.
To the parents of Brian Jun Chen
You don’t know me and after how you treated your son, you probably don’t want to. But I know about you and what you did to your son. You can deny it all you want, but you forced your son out because he wouldn’t live the lie you wanted him to. So I’m going to tell you what you missed out on in the years after you kicked him aside.
Brian was full of life. His smile could light up a room. He had a way with people where he always seemed to know what they wanted, even if they couldn’t say it themselves. I can’t tell you how many times he helped our friends find their way when their paths were dark and uncertain. When Brian died, we all lost someone important to us.
The part about finding their way when their paths are dark and uncertain? Even as he was being consumed by the cancer, Brian made the ultimate choice. After nearly twenty-five years as my husband—and please note, that’s exactly who he was—he knew me better than anyone else. He knew me so well, in fact, that he enlisted our family to help me find the one thing he knew I’d need after he was gone. Love. He found the perfect man for me. One he knew would make me happy when he no longer could. Even Aiden, my husband, is grateful for what Brian did.
It would be easy for me to say how ashamed I am of you both. The thing is, if I’m honest, you don’t matter in the least to me. Brian died, and I no longer have to hold in what horrible people I think you are. And I do, don’t get me wrong. Anyone who would kick their child out for being gay is pathetic and small. In the end, though? It didn’t matter. Brian found a new family. One that did what every family should do. They loved him without limits or restrictions.
Aiden said we should write you, to tell you what you missed out on. Honestly, I don’t really care anymore. You gave up a wonderful gift that I was happy to have as mine. That my parents had as a son. That gave my brother another one to talk with. That every fucking person who knew him was blessed by the very fact he was alive and in their lives.
While I wish I could have taken that hurt from him, now it no longer matters. He’s not in pain anymore. But you should know that as for me and the family we built? We will never forgive your hate and ignorance. I’m sure Brian wouldn’t want me to hold grudges, but as far as I’m concerned, you can rot in your hatred and burn in hell.
Tears of anger streamed down my cheeks. How Brian was treated made me furious, but so did the fact Aiden wanted to reach out to them and my letter would make that impossible. I didn’t have any interest in building bridges with them. I had no desire to grant them absolution. I was a man whose whole world had been ripped apart because his parents couldn’t love him.
As I sat there, rereading my letter, a piece of paper was placed beside me. I turned to find Aiden standing behind me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I just can’t do this.”
“Look at my letter, Tommy.”
I picked up the sheet and read three simple words. “What he said.”
“I don’t understand.”
He gave me a gentle smile, then moved around the couch, holding a hand on it to balance himself. He took a seat beside me and slipped his hand into mine.
“You knew Brian better than anyone. I talk to him because I’m so very grateful for what he did for you. For us. I feel like he and I could have been great friends. If nothing else, we could have bonded over being tossed aside by our parents. I’m fucking angry on his behalf, because like you said, he should have been loved regardless. But they didn’t love us. Brian deserved it so very much. He was a sweet and caring man. Mom and Dad tell me stories on occasion. Things like the two of you would send money to Galen at the shelter to try and keep it open. Or how he was willing to go hungry to make sure you ate. How he loved having his own shop and making the customers smile. By any metric, how is a person like that not worthy of being loved by his family?”
And I understood. If Aiden and Brian had become friends, theirs would have been one forged by their traumas. They would have held each other up when everyone else was trying to push them down.
“Trust me when I say, Brian would have absolutely adored you.”
Aiden dissolved into tears then, and I held him to me and let him cry. For the loss of his family, of Brian’s family, and for the friend he never got to have. I doubted the letters we had written would ever get sent, but if I’m honest, it felt good to get the words out of my heart and onto paper.
I kissed Aiden’s hair. “Think you might want to take a nap?”
He nodded. I picked him up and carried him to our bedroom. After helping him strip, I followed suit. We got into the bed and I pulled him to me, then drew the blankets up. It didn’t take long before Aiden fell asleep. I understood. He’d been carrying this pain in his heart for years, and talking to someone he’d only met once allowed it to finally start to leach out. I turned my gaze to the ceiling and smiled for the man who’d made all of our lives so much better.
Jun Brian Chen.