Betty and Bully took little Tommy to Idora Park. Bully was his mom's friend, named after Teddy Roosevelt. He was a big man with a mustache and sandy hair and bright blue eyes and a big grin and a booming voice.
The three of them crowded into a photo booth and posed. Bully's big arms encircled Tommy and his mom. They looked at the strip that came slowly crawling out of the slot. Four separate images. Three smiling people.
When they got home Bully got scissors and cut the pictures apart. One for Tommy. One for Betty. One for Bully. One for the scrapbook.
That evening his mom fixed baked potatos and steak that was pink in the middle and she said she hoped he liked it that way. She said Bully liked his steak medium rare. Bully and Tommy ate at the table while his mother went back and forth from the kitchen. More potatoes? More salad?
Bully chewed on his steak. Shook his head. "Betty, you're the best," he said.
One Saturday evening Mike told Tommy, "Sit down."
"So how was your visit?"
"It was okay."
"What did you do?"
"We all went to the swimming pool."
"What do you mean WE? Who else was there?"
"Bully?" Mike squinted.
"Yes, my mother's friend."
"So what kind of friend?"
"I don't know."
"Does he live there?"
Two days later his father sat Tommy down again.
"You can't see your mother anymore."
"You heard me."
"You want me to tell you? Huh?"
"Yes, I do."
Mike leaned forward, eyes blazing. "She’s living in sin. That's why."
"She’s not living in sin."
"Listen, your mother is nothing but a fucking whore. That's all she's ever been."
Tommy wanted to shout, "WAIT! What about what YOU do, when you go out every Saturday night and come home drunk?"
But he couldn't.
"You can't see her anymore, and that's IT."
* * *
"Your father spoke to me this morning," Monsignor Clandillon said.
He and Tommy were in the park, six blocks from St. Xavier's, at the edge of a large pond. Oaks and poplars rustled in the breeze. Canada geese spotted them, came swimming over.
"He's so deeply distressed by your decision. He truly loves you, my son. He does not want to lose you. There were tears in his eyes."
Tommy looked away.
"Have you considered the consequences of your decision?"
"Yes, Monsignor," Tommy said. "I'll be with my mother, and I'll be happy."
"But what about your father?"
"I could visit him."
Monsignor Clandillon reached into the bag and tossed out pieces of stale bread. The geese waddled out of the water, and hungrily lunged.
"Visit him? After such a profound betrayal?"
Tommy said nothing.
Monsignor Clandillon sighed. "You are at an important crossroads in your life, my son. It's unfortunate that you're called upon to make such a grave decision, since you are still a child. But we do not choose the cross our Lord requires us to bear. We must accept it, without question. Now, I want you to think about this."
"On spiritual grounds there is but one choice. You must remain with your father, because that will keep you in this parish where you'll continue your Catholic education. At the appropriate time you'll go to the Jesuit seminary on full scholarship and become a priest. You know how important that is, don't you?"
"You also know what Augustine teaches us: 'The measure of loving God is to love him without measure.' This means you must abandon everything, including a mother's love."
Tommy could not speak.
Monsignor Clandillon continued. "And on purely ethical grounds, well, you must consider the impact your decision to live with your mother would inevitably have--not just on yourself, but on others. How do you suppose your father will feel? Your aunt? Your uncle? Your cousins?"
"It's not like I'd be going to another country."
"Your father's family took you in, nurtured you for nearly ten years. And to whom would you be going? To a woman who abandoned her husband and her infant son, and sought a divorce."
"Her acts in the eyes of God were unquestionably immoral and sinful. Which is why she was excommunicated."
"But my father is a sinner, too."
"We all are sinners," Monsignor Clandillon said quietly.
The sky darkened, the wind gusted. They headed for the park's exit. Tommy walked quickly to keep up with Monsignor Clandillon's long steps.
"I want to live with my mother," Tommy said.
"Yes, you do. But you can not ignore the facts. Your mother made no attempt to communicate with you for nearly ten years. Your father and your aunt and uncle provided for you. They did not abandon you. True?"
"Yes, Monsignor. But..."
Tommy could not finish the sentence.
Half a block from the rectory, beginning rain made little dark spots on the sidewalk. They quickened their pace.
"You need to give this a great deal of thought, " Monsignor Clandillon said. "But you know what you must do. In the name of God."