Authors: Caddy Rowland
The next day, she finally convinced Jean to get the doctor. Jean became afraid that Gastien would not be a good farm worker if the shoulder was not fixed. Saying nothing, the doctor pulled the shoulder back into place. Gastien’s shoulder hurt for weeks. Jean complained about the cost of the doctor for months, maintaining that the boy was nothing but a pain in the ass.
Flash forward to about three and a half years old. His father was no longer beloved Papa, but a man to be feared. Stomping into the house one day in July, Jean declared that Gastien was old enough to start “earning his keep”. Marguerite knew enough not to argue. She needed to protect Gastien and baby Paul. Plus, she thought she might be expecting another one. Jean turned to Gastien. “Gastien, come with me. You are going to learn how to collect eggs from the chicken coop.”
Gastien was excited! He must be a big boy now because his father was going to allow him to do something important! He liked watching the chickens running around the yard. Gastien could not wait to show his father how good he would be at this new job. Entering the henhouse, his father told him to just reach under the hen and gently grab an egg, then put it the basket. As Gastien reached out, the hen angrily pecked his tender young hand, drawing blood. Gastien screamed. Jean laughed. “Try again, Gastien.”
Gastien did not want to try again. Getting pecked hurt! Yet, he was even more afraid of his father’s wrath. Once again he plunged his hand in. Once again he was pecked. He cried out. As tears flowed down Gastien’s face, Jean laughed again.
“You are a sissy, Gastien. You have to show the hens you are not scared of them!”
Finally Gastien got the hen to move out of the way by scaring her. He grabbed the egg quickly, but too hard. He broke it. His father slapped him.
“You clumsy little bastard! You just wasted a meal for yourself! Don’t break another one, if you know what’s good for you. Do you understand?”
Gastien was no longer excited about his new “job”. He felt only fear. The little boy stood there, staring down at the ground, heart pounding.
“COLLECT THE EGGS!” his father roared. Gastien jumped, drew in a shaky breath, and began collecting the eggs. Soon the basket was full. “Take them to your mother – and be careful!” his father said roughly.
Gastien turned quickly to leave the henhouse. As he hurried, his little foot caught on the entrance stoop and he tripped. As Jean’s son fell, the basket went flying. All of the eggs were broken. Gastien expected his father to scream at him, but there was only silence. After a few moments, Jean spoke. His voice was quiet and steely.
Gastien stood up.
“Turn around and walk back in here.”
Gastien walked up to his father. Jean took Gastien’s little hand and stuck it under a roosting hen, holding it in place as the hen pecked him over and over. Gastien was shrieking and his hand was covered in blood. Finally, Jean let go of his hand. He raised his foot and kicked Gastien to the ground. The floor was covered in chicken shit.
“I believe you are the clumsiest boy I have ever seen, Gastien. You are proving to be as worthless as I feared! God knows why I have to put up with a son like you. Do you understand what a wasteful, worthless boy you really are?”
Gastien said nothing. He was scared to say anything. This enraged Jean further.
Finally Gastien whispered, “
“I don’t think you do. I am going to keep you out here with the hens since you are worthless, like a girl! You can just sit in here and think about what a burden you are to me.” Jean walked to the door. Gastien scrambled to get up. He looked at the hens.
PLEASE! DON’T LEAVE ME IN HERE! I WILL BE CAREFUL! I – “
But his father locked the door and walked away. He left Gastien in the coop for six hours. There was nothing for him to drink and nowhere to sit, except on the shit covered floor. As the July day wore on, it became hotter. There was air circulation, as the henhouse was screened so that the hens would not overheat, but it was still very uncomfortable. The air was hard to breathe and smelled of dried droppings.
As time passed, Gastien needed to go to the toilet. He called out for his father, but either Jean could not hear him or chose not to respond. He eventually had no choice but to piss his pants, and finally to shit them. When his father let him out he was forced to keep the dirtied clothes on until bedtime.
The next day, Gastien did not break a single egg. Gastien was very careful to never break anything else around his father. Jean, however, would break his son’s heart many times over the years.
Whenever Gastien had those nightmares he woke up bathed in sweat. He never mentioned them to anyone. He learned at an early age to never show any emotion. To do so opened a person up to being hurt. As the years went by, not only did he become skilled at not showing emotion, he learned to harden his heart around his father.
He also promised himself that he would never let anyone get close to him if he could help it. To do so was a sign of weakness, and an opportunity for someone to hurt you. He had felt enough hurt to last him a lifetime before he was even five years old.
As the years passed and the cruelty continued, Gastien made it a game of wills. He was determined not to cry out or show pain to his father. He also became determined not to give up his forays into the woods to draw. What was another beating anyway? They were as routine as getting a drink of water.
It went on and on like that, him sneaking away, sometimes not getting caught, but always disappointing his father. Because, of course, he did not get the amount of work done that he should have, had he not disappeared for as long as he dared. Gastien could not remember ever pleasing his father. He was never once complimented for doing a job well. After all, only sissies needed reassurance. If he managed to stay and work the whole time, his father would say that he should have also pushed his siblings to do more. It never stopped. Sometimes he wanted to take the shovel he was holding and slam it over his father’s head just to shut him up.
Day after day he heard about how grateful he should be, how he didn’t measure up, how the city would take advantage of him once Gastien ran the farm unless he “manned up” and pushed his siblings and himself harder. Gastien despised his father and held no respect for him. Jean Beauchamp was a deceiver. Always the charmer in town, at home he beat his wife and children into submission.
Marguerite loved Gastien, but obviously did not dare to stand up for any of them. She could not chance all of the children being hurt. She did, however, find a way to buy him paper and charcoal when they went into town. It infuriated his father, but at this she held her ground, saying that art was part of a well rounded education. She insisted that all of the children were to be given a small amount of time to draw each day. For some reason, his father believed her when she said it was part of a good education. Gastien cherished the time given each school day to draw.
In addition, unknown to his father, she bought him quite a bit more paper and charcoal. He hid it in a special place only he knew about in the attic. Gastien would sneak up there after dark and draw by candlelight whenever he could. He knew if he got caught he would be beaten until he could barely crawl, because a fire could be started easily in the attic. In spite of that, he could not stop. It was in his bones, to deny that would be like denying his next breath.
Marguerite also made sure to instill in Gastien a sense of worth whenever she could. Whenever Jean was not in earshot she praised her son, but not gratuitously, and told him how intelligent he really was. She explained that his father felt threatened by Gastien’s strong sense of self. She urged him to keep that and never be untrue to it. She repeatedly told him that the seeds of greatness were in him, and that he would accomplish whatever he set out to do, because he was destined for success. She told him often that she loved him. She also taught him how to read his father’s moods. Around her, he allowed himself to be open. He drank up her love, inwardly growing stronger and more resolved.
When Gastien turned sixteen, his mother gave him some painting materials for making some watercolour paints along with a new kind of paper. He could not imagine how she managed to hide away the money for them. When he had opened the gift, it was the happiest moment of his life so far.
That moment was cut short by his father’s roar. “I will NOT, WILL NOT, have my son painting flowers like some girl! Give me that garbage right now, Gastien! You will NOT become a homosexual in this household! You are, and always will be, a farmer. Beauchamp men are never sissies!”
Gastien grabbed the supplies and ran fast, deep into the woods. His father could not even attempt to catch up with him. He had secret places in the woods, places all boys have to keep special treasures that they don’t want others to know about. He put his new supplies in one of those places. They would stay clean and dry. Most importantly, they would stay safe from his father.
God, how he hated him! He was so tired of being called a woman. He would like to tell his father that he had started dreaming about women a few years ago, and that sometimes he wanted to see a girl naked so badly that his penis got hard and then erupted. He supposed that would be another reason for a beating, though, so he kept silent and let his father berate him as feminine.
One thing he did know. Whenever he did get lucky enough to get between a girl’s legs, she would not scream in agony! He would make sure that having Gastien Beauchamp was a pleasure females sought after. He did not know yet how to go about pleasing one, but he was determined to eventually learn. He had enough of hearing his pig of a father rut like an animal while his mother cried out in pain. He would never be like his father!
The one concern was that women always seemed to decide to have babies and those he did not want. That was not really his concern, he told himself. If women wanted babies that was their business. They just were not going to tie him down with that decision. He would give them what they wanted in bed. What they did with it afterwards was up to them. He wanted to paint, not listen to babies cry.
Between fantasizing about the great lover Gastien Beauchamp, relieving himself (a habit that was becoming more frequent the last several months), and trying out his paints it was soon evening. When he came back, after dark, he knew he was walking into yet another beating. Gastien had no way of knowing, however, that this time would end up being much worse than any previous beating.
His father was waiting for him inside the door with a wet, leather strap in his hand. Jean Beauchamp looked insane. He told Gastien to remove his shirt. Then Jean beat his son over and over again, raging that he would beat the foolishness out of him or kill him in the process. Gastien heard his father’s heavy breathing as he wound up and lashed him over and over again. He steeled himself against the blows, trying to ignore the cruel words about how worthless he was and his father’s threats to kill him.
Gastien refused to cry out. He would not give his father the satisfaction of begging him to stop or hearing his pain. Instead, he bit down on the insides of his mouth until he bit through, swallowing blood. Still he kept silent. He could not stop the tears, but he would be damned if he would make a single noise. Gastien could see all of the blood on the floor. Dazed, he wondered if he really was going to die, after all. Mercifully, he finally passed out.
The next morning, he woke up where he had fallen. There was blood all over the floor and his back was a sticky, raw mess that burned like fire. It was barely dawn. Gastien tried to stand up but found he could not. He had lost too much blood. He collapsed back down to the floor. That woke up his father who came out with his mother in tow.
“See your son, Marguerite? See what a weak little
your oldest son is? YOU have made him a girl. He can’t even take a man’s beating and get on with his life. I shudder to think of how he will end up! He will probably end up in Paris, getting it up the ass like he deserves! That is all he is good for.”
His mother did not dare say a word. The tears slid down her cheeks, and she rushed forward to help Gastien up off of the floor.
“That’s right!” his father spat. “Run to him and baby him! All you are good for is spoiling our children. Get him out of my sight until he can work like a man! The sight of him has always made me sick!” With that his father went back into their bedroom.
Gastien’s mother helped him to bed. He shared a bed with his brother Paul, who was pretending to be asleep. “Gastien, I am sorry, so sorry,” his mother whispered. “Don’t listen to him. Don’t let him get to you. He is not a man, he is an animal! You be the man, and someday you will stand up to him. Just try to stay out of trouble until then. There is greatness in you, Gastien! I know that without a doubt.”
Gastien was too weak to even answer. She left, returning with water and soap, cleaning his back carefully. She then wrapped him in bandages. “I am sorry I can’t protect you. I am afraid he will kill all of us if I try!” She then went downstairs, returning with a broth that made him sleep for quite some time. He stayed in bed for a few days, finally getting up for longer and longer periods, regaining his strength. He returned to the vegetable fields and was back to shoveling dung within the week.
He vowed he would do his best to please his father and try to work this farm until he was eighteen. Maybe if his father saw how hard he worked for the next two years, and how unhappy he still was, he would give him his blessing to go to Paris and attend
was a private art school, and Gastien knew it was expensive. If his father would give him a start he would work his way through. Surely if he worked hard enough and explained that he did not want the farm, his father would give him enough for a room while he worked to pay for school and food. He began to dream about when he would be eighteen and on his way to Paris.