Unlock the Doors and Throw Away the Keys


“How long’s he been in there?”

“Really? I’m not sure anymore. Could be a couple of hours. Could just as easily be a couple of months.”

“He just sits in there? Doesn’t talk to anyone?”

“That’s pretty much it, as far as I can tell. I’ve been in there a few times today, but he just looks at you––or maybe through you––and grunts an ‘uh-huh’ or ‘nah-thanks’. And then goes back to reading or staring or maybe just staring at what he’s reading.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“I thought maybe you could go in there and try to bring him out. If not out of his room, then out of whatever shell or hole his hiding in. He’s always respected you, Ben. You’re always been Andy’s favorite coach, a mentor, a friend. I’m sure he’ll listen to you.”

“I don’t know. He’s been a little withdrawn for a bit. Still the hardest worker. Great pride and caring for his teammates. But he has been quieter and it’s really been noticeable since…you know.”

“But at least it’s worth a try. Please, see if you can get him to come out.”

“Okay, I’ll go in there and talk. But I can’t make any promises. We haven’t spoken with one another since the service.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll leave you two alone.”

“Andy? It’s Coach Ben. May I come in?”

A pause.


“Yeah, if you want to.”

“Hey. How you doing? I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by to say…”

“Could you close that door, please?”

“What? Oh, sure, sure. I’ll just leave it open a crack, okay?”


“So how you been? Your Mom says you’ve been kinda down in the dumps, though I can completely understand. What with..”

“Yeah, well, it is what it is. I’m okay. Just want to be alone for a while.”

“She says you haven’t left your room for a few days. Barely even eaten. That’s not good, man.”

“Not hungry. And I said I’m all right. Really. You don’t have to make nice and try making me feel ‘better.’ Okay?”

“Well, you don’t look okay. Jesus, can you at least open the blinds in here? It’s dark as the…oh, sorry.”

“The grave? Yeah, how ‘bout that?”

“I’m sorry, man. I should be more sensitive, think about what I’m saying. It’s just I didn’t expect to see you so…I don’t know.”


“Yeah, I guess I’d call it that. But, with your Dad and all, I can understand.”

“No, I don’t think so. But that’s okay. Look, you don’t have to stay. I’m all right. Just thinking. Trying to make sense. Figuring things out.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing, nothing really. Just…things.”

“C’mon, Andy, it’s me. Maybe if you just talked a little.”

“Okay, okay. I’m thinking about how I killed my father. You satisfied now? Now go away. Please.”

“What’re you talking about? You didn’t kill your dad. He, well, you know. For some reason he just wanted out. It’s a tragedy, man, but you can’t blame yourself for someone else’s decisions.”

“Oh, no? You didn’t know my dad, then. When I finally got the courage to tell Sergeant Clean Marine, Lieutenant Super-cop, he just stared at me with this look of…I don’t know what. Like I was some kind of repulsive criminal, a pedo or something.”

“That’s ridiculous. Your old man was proud of you. Super athlete, straight-A student, one of the most popular kids in your class, great son, true friend.”


“I’m not lying. It’s all true.”

“Not you. Me.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“I’m the liar. My whole life’s a lie and that’s what made my dad kill himself.”

“You’re freaking me out, Andy. What do you mean, your whole life’s a lie?”

“C’mon, man. You know. You of all people know.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I finally told him about who, what I am. And that I was in love.”


“With you.”

“What? I never… You never.. You came out to your dad?”

“Yeah. And now you.”

“Okay, one big fucking deal at a time. And you think that’s why?”

“Not a two weeks after, man. He didn’t speak to me but a handful of words from the day I told him. I’d look up and find him looking at me and then quick-like tear his eyes away, like I was malformed, a freak.”

“Man, I’m sorry. Did you tell your Mom?”

“No, I wanted to get the hard part over first, then I’d worry about Mom. That was my big mistake. Besides even telling him at all.”

“I can’t believe your father would take that news like that. He always seemed so open, so loosey-goosey about people, especially for a cop. It’s what made him such a great cop.”

“Well, then you’d be wrong, Coach. I told him, I broke his heart, he killed himself. It’s all on me. And now I’m been thinking I might…”

“Cut it out, man. Stop this crazy talk. You’re not going to. You’ve got too much to live for. Your old man made his own decision. He didn’t have to do what he did. He could just as easily blown up, punch you in the mouth, thrown you out, whatever. It was his decision. This was all on him.”

“Nah. He’d rather be dead than have a gay son. Of that I’m sure.”

“Andy, stop! You stop that right now.”

“Mom? Were you listening? Jesus Christ, this is great. Why don’t we invite the whole town in here? I’m sorry, Mom. It was me. It IS me…”

“Honey, your father didn’t kill himself over you. He loved you. You were his shining light, the greatest decoration he had. He was more proud of you, valued you a thousand times more than his Silver Star, all the medals of valor combined, more than even me.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. It’s all my fault. I drove him to it. Did you see his face? Did you?”

“Andy, that was pain, fear. He didn’t have the courage to tell you.”

“What? That I was an embarrassment to the marble man? The most perfect man ever?”

“Stop it.”

Ben back toward the bedroom door.

“The world would be better off if I was the one who killed himself. Then you’d still have Dad.”

“No, I wouldn’t. He was dying.”


“Dying, Andy. Your father had an inoperable tumor. Remember those headaches?”
“No. I never… I mean, he never said…”

“He said he’d tell you when the time was right. But he decided to end it before it got started. He left it to me to tell you. You know cops. They just…”

“Don’t cry, Mom. I’m sorry. But when I told him..”

“Andy, we’d pretty much figured out something like that was going on with you a while ago. It was hard for your father, but he’d come around for the most part. He was even going to tell you we knew, wouldn’t let me. Said it was a man-to-man thing. I was so stupid. It’s just that men in his family never open up, don’t talk about what’s really on their minds. Macho bullshit. And you’re a true Miller, just like your father, your grandfather, your uncle Bobby. He’s gay, you know.”

“ Uncle Bobby, the freakin’ All-American? I didn’t know. I didn’t know any of this. Why..?”

“Because everyone kept their doors closed. All the time. That’s the real tragedy of your father’s passing.”

“I’ll see myself out, Mrs. Miller. Looks like you two have got some stuff you want to talk about. You want me to leave this door open?”

“Yes, Ben. And thank you for kicking this one open in the first place. Looks like we’re going to air things out in here, in this family, for the first time in a while. Maybe ever.”

“Aw, I didn’t do anything. I think you two just needed someone to help open that door you talked about. Hey, Andy, when you’re ready to get back to practice, just let me know. We can talk about all this. It’s all cool, okay? You’ve still got the most guts of any player I’ve… well you do. See you soon, okay?”

As Ben Tolliver stepped outside the Miller’s house, he gave a great sigh and tightly shut his right eye and gave it a rub with his finger. He pulled out his phone and clicked on a number he called often, but for nothing as big as this time.

“Hi, Dad? You got a few minutes this afternoon? There’s something I’ve got to tell you that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

“Yeah, see you in an hour. What? No, don’t want to talk about it on the phone. I’ll explain when I get there. Yeah. Yeah, keep the door open for me.”

Here’s the first draft of a story based upon the photo above and somewhat on this quote:

Happiness often sneaks in
through a door you didn’t
know you left open…
– John Barrymore

For whatever reason, I just started writing it as all dialogue. It’s my hope that the voices are distinct enough and the language helps express emotion. It’s kind of an ultimate experiment and exercise in  “Show-don’t-tell.” My friend Annie Fuller laid the photo and quote on me .


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