NOTE: This story is 4,307 words.
Chicago ophthalmologist Patrick Holt wants to move to the suburbs, but his partner, marketing manager Clayton Teal, doesn’t. The two men, who share a condo together in the city, are having a hard time coming to an agreement about their future living arrangements. An argument ensues and Clay storms out of their home and heads to the gym to burn off steam.
While he’s running on the treadmill, he listens to a playlist Patrick recently made for him. The playlist contains nine songs and each one reminds Clay of times, both happy and sad, that he and Patrick shared over the years. Is this all that’s left of their relationships? Or can they work things out?
The third song was “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips. I really used to love this song until Patrick and I went to South Carolina to visit my family and the song became a painful reminder of every awful thing that happened to us during that trip.
Patrick and I had recently purchased the condo we currently lived in. He’d met my parents and two of my six siblings (my sisters Andrea and Charlotte) when they’d come to Chicago to visit, but he’d never been to my home state of South Carolina until that trip. Everything was fine at first. Andrea, one of my younger sisters, picked us up from the airport and drove us to my parents’ house where my mother and father greeted Patrick warmly. But later that evening, during a barbeque my parents hosted in the backyard, my brothers Blake and Silas showed up and started drinking. Then they started fighting. As someone who’d grown up with these two, I wasn’t surprised by their behavior, but Patrick, who’d grown up as an only child and didn’t know my asshole brothers, was stunned.
Normally, I would ignore my siblings and let them fight it out. Hell, as long as they weren’t coming after me, they could beat each other to a pulp. But since Patrick was there and I was embarrassed by my brothers’ behavior, I stepped in to break them up. That’s when Silas took a swing at me! He clocked me, too, bloodying my nose in the process. I was about to let him have it when my father grabbed me to stop me from going for my brother.
But that didn’t stop Silas from coming for me again. What did stop him was Patrick. Dr. Holt is not a fighter, but he jumped in to defend me and grabbed Silas, putting my brother in a chokehold and telling him to “calm the fuck down.” Silas went crazy, calling Patrick a “faggot” and telling him he’d kick his ass, too. There was no ass kicking that night. Eventually Silas did calm down and his wife took him home. Blake left soon after that also when my father escorted him out and drove him home. Blake did at least apologize to everyone for his behavior (something Silas hadn’t bothered to do) before he left, but the damage had been done.
When Patrick and I finally climbed into bed that night, he turned to me and said, “I’m leaving tomorrow. You can stay if you want to, but I’m out of here and I’m never coming back. I’ll apologize to your parents.”
I didn’t even bother trying to talk him out of it. I just sighed and said, “Okay.” I didn’t blame him for wanting to leave. My family was a lot to take. I’d warned Patrick that the Teals were crazy, but he had to see them in action for himself. He hadn’t grown up like I had, in the South, with six siblings, in a house full of chaos. He’d grown up in a quiet home in suburban Chicago with quiet parents and little to no drama. His parents’ divorce was probably the most traumatic thing that had happened to him when he was younger.
My sister Andrea drove us to the airport the next morning. I hadn’t bothered renting a car for me and Patrick during our visit because my mother had offered her own for us to use since she rarely drove anywhere anymore. Andrea had picked us up from the airport, so I’d called and asked her to drive us back that morning. Patrick and I were able to get a flight out in the early afternoon that cost us a ton of money, but probably saved our relationship.
During the drive to the airport, “Midnight Train to Georgia” came on the radio. Knowing I loved the song, Andrea cranked the volume up. She and I were deep into a rousing rendition complete with the train whistle sounds when I heard a laugh from the back seat where, I thought, Patrick had dozed off. I turned to see that he was wide awake and quite amused by our performance. When the song ended, he gave us a huge round of applause that almost made me feel like he’d forgiven me for inviting him to my parents’ house.
After that trip, Patrick never went back to South Carolina with me. I’d invite him, and he’d graciously decline. I still kept asking though, hoping he’d have a change of heart and give the Teal family another chance. So far, he hadn’t.