Stanley Stocker is an African-American/Mexican writer and the winner of a 2021 PEN America/Dau Prize, a Creative Power Award 2023, and a finalist for The 2022 Best Spiritual Literature Award - Fiction. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Transition, Brittle Paper, Kestrel, Susurrus, Middle House Review, and on the Short Story Today podcast.
How to Break a Boy
First, perhaps paradoxically, find one who needs fixing, say, one who has lost a mother at a tender age. A boy who because of the turmoil of a loss of a mother has suddenly struggled academically. Offer him assistance. You know about students in need. Offer to pay for his summer school after the disastrous freshman year in high school when his grades dipped precipitously. When he floundered. Welcome him into your home, be a mentor to him. A father even. Tell him each morning before he leaves for summer school, “Go get ‘em!” Let him become attached to you. Need you. He who did not grow up with his own father. Invite him to swim in your pool. Has he no trunks? Offer him a pair of your own. The beige pair, the figure-hugging pair. Yes, those. Look how handsome he is. Let’s take a picture. Tell him he seems pensive. To share what might be on his mind. Tell him, “Let me be for you that special person until that special person comes into your life.” Watch him smile. Is he uneasy? Assure him this is all very natural. When you are alone with him in the bedroom one day ask, “Shall I masturbate you?” He looks uncertain. Troubled. But he nods, Yes. After he comes, spouting like a fountain, like a whale at sea, ask if he would do the same for you. When he shakes his head, No, chastise him with a darkened brow for not reciprocating your kindness, your generosity. For not understanding how relationships work. Invite him to move with you and your wife and young child to the suburbs away from his family, from his twin, the twin who always seemed a little wary of you. If he seems torn, remind him of all you have done for him. Once ensconced in the suburbs, when he brings up what you did you can’t tell his intent so ask him if he would like it to happen again. When he says, No, file it away. Maybe he’ll change his mind. Does he seem resentful, ungrateful? If so, when he brings a beautiful girl home and fails to introduce you to her demand that she be sent home. Insist that decorum be maintained, that respect be paid. Later after he takes in turn – a train, a subway, a bus – to visit his brothers in the city, if he expresses ambivalence about being away from his family, say in no uncertain terms, “Tell him you are not moving back.” Watch his face fall. Watch him obey, if not in words, but in deed. He remains. Tell him you want him to change his last name to yours. That it will make him feel more at home, like a member of the family. When he tells you it won’t, tell him it will in time. He wants to belong, right? If he tells you that he’ll use his real last name when he publishes books one day, smile kindly, indulgently. On the day of the name-change proceeding when he turns to you saying he didn’t know he would have to lie under oath, saying he didn’t know where his father was, tell him you thought you told him already, that it would be easier this way. Let him walk the earth under the burden of an unwanted name. He’ll get used to it. If one summer he wants to go see a therapist together, put him off until the end of the summer when the leaves are lush and full, then tell him the town is too small and word travels fast, that you don’t want it getting out about why he wanted to talk to someone. But offer to pay for him to see someone when he’s away at school. That’ll do, right? Whew, count your blessings. You dodged a bullet. When a decade later, he writes you telling you that he’s cutting you off because it was all a scam, that you never saw him as a son, but as something to be used, enlist the help of his brother, get him to reconsider. Tell him you only meant the best for him. That you only wanted to do good for a boy in need, and maybe get a few chips in your favor on the heavenly ledger. It was a win-win. When he reminds you how you asked whether he wanted it to happen again, assure him that you only wanted to see where his head was. You know, was he doing all right? You were concerned about him. More than anything, assure him that you long ago forgave yourself for what you did. That if you hadn’t asked for his forgiveness, well, you hadn’t gotten around to that. When he does cut you off make sure he keeps his counsel and doesn’t tell anyone else what you did. That’s what counts. Count your blessings. Again you dodged a bullet. You’re one lucky bastard. When he writes you a letter telling you he has changed his name back to the original, that he doubts you ever felt fatherly toward him, remain as silent as the grave. Do not respond. After all, you don’t want anything in writing. That would be foolish. Ignore it. Let it blow over. The architecture of the scam is strong. Too many people already believe you saved a motherless boy from academic ruin. You’re a hero. You opened up your home, your heart to him. Treated him like a son. You gave him your name. No, he was – is – your son and you love him. He’s a part of the family. He sends you pictures of his own son after all, doesn’t he? He still wants to see you as a father. He still wants to believe. Use that. Thank him for his kindness. He kept the secret. He kept it close as far as you can tell. He is a good boy.