In 1937, when Theo was 15, his father had him called out of prep school class in Connecticut where they were at the climax of HUCK FINN (“All right then, I’ll go to hell!”) with the news of his maternal grandfather’s sudden death on the golf course.“Take the train down to the City and out to Brooklyn, and I’ll drive us back up to Mystic. I have something to tell you.” This circular route made no sense to Theo, but life was increasingly appearing to him as Ezekiel’s wheels within wheels.
On the last leg of the trip, as they passed Rye Playland, his father suddenly pulled off the road at an exit. A police car followed them.
“You can’t stop here,” the cop said, beginning to write a ticket.
“Please, Officer,” Theo’s father said, “I’m telling my son that his mother has left us for another man,” and he named the man.
Inured to scenes of greater catastrophe, the policeman nevertheless relented and left them with a warning.
After the funeral, Theo’s mother was inconsolable. When Theo went to her bedroom to try, she spoke wildly. “My father was a giant! Hit by lightning, a thunderbolt! Struck down by jealous gods! A creator! A Hayley! He inherited forests, the lumber business, industrialized silk – invented the machines, built the factories – the Japanese Emperor gave my father a medal! One of the trinity creating Mystic Seaport! He employed the family’s men and men in two states – Theo, you must always be a gentleman,” she choked. “You are not your father’s son. I was raped, and you are a rapist’s son. But you are a Hayley!”
Theo recoiled. He listened to his mother’s ragged breathing. Then he heard himself exhale, icing his respiration into the words: “Never need worry, Mother. I’m also a queer.”
She shut her Gorgon eyes. But Theo had not been turned to stone. Leaving that room, he felt surprise and relief. He’d spoken a truth he’d only known as nameless fear, and now seeing it, it was so much smaller than its nightmare form that he felt like laughing – also nauseated and his stomach ached, as if he’d vomited, but of all the things he’d just learned – about his grandfather’s ludicrous death by golf, his mother’s victimized life, his alleged paternity, the divorce – the thing that mattered most was what he now knew about himself and how he felt. “All right then, I’ll go to hell!” Theo felt better.