When young John did return back to Atlanta, he moved in with his mom for a few months. Char was an understanding woman who knew her son to be different and had been protecting him from the world for decades.
She was from a small town outside of Atlanta called Jesup where her elementary schools had asbestos so bad that she had lost several classmates to lung cancer during elementary school. She suspected that some of these cases were due to both the asbestos and the thick cloud of Pall Mall smoke hovering over the town at all times.
Her dad worked for Amtrak servicing the Jesup stop of the line part of the time and for the police department the rest of the time. He worked hard, and a lot, and never ever left for wanting more than his family. His mom worked at her dad’s hardware store that pretty much kept everyone fed and happy.
For being from such an utterly shit town full of neglected broke white folks, Char was in a unique position of coming from a well-respected blue-collar family with enough money to get by comfortably but not so much that people felt a certain way about it – right in that sweet spot. They had friends in their neighbors and coworkers, they had a small but warm family, they never went hungry, and everything they wanted managed to be in reach.
When Char got pregnant in high school after some asshole on the wrestling team raped her in her parent’s backyard, everything stopped being so easy. Instead of accept her fate as a “victim” or “prude,” she just accepted the new commonly held notion that she was a slut who deserved to get pregnant. Billy the Wrestler bragged up to the fucking (but never the forcing) right up until the day she learned she was pregnant. Suddenly his story changed.
Char’s story is so cliché that I won’t recount it but she had to get out of Jesup, took a bus to Atlanta, six months pregnant, hustled for money and a place to sleep, odd jobs, cots, infections, blah blah blah. John joined her the literal day after she found herself a place to live and would continue to bring joy into her life always at the exact right moment.
Like when he was 18 years old and he moved to a monastery in the Loire Valley and he invited her to come visit. She flew to Paris, first time on a plane, she saw her son open and free high on acid in the monk’s garden, flirting with his friend Buddy, being happy all over the world. She saw the Mona Lisa and Penseur. She drank bottles of wine out of carafes in small, smokey rooms. She smoked Chesterfield Bleus, dozens of them, in the way classy women do. Not the way Jesup women did.
What do you do when the child you weren’t supposed to have is the most important thing in your entire life?