The Great Schism
The Great Schism of The Silver Family was a pivotal conflict in the history of the Clarkwoods Literary Universe. It began on August 31, 1989 with the unexpected coming out of Matthew Silver, and ended on April 9, 1994 with the death of Matt’s grandfather Eli.
During his service in the Vietnam War, Robert Silver was caught behind enemy lines with two fellow soldiers. When one of them was killed during the trio’s attempt to make it to safety, a shocked Robert found comfort in the close bond he formed with the comrade still at his side. A little too much comfort in hindsight, at least in Robert’s confused mind.
In an attempt to bury these feelings, Robert slept with the first girl he saw when he got back Stateside: fifteen-year-old Lydia De Rosa, who was a classmate of his younger brother Albert (and, unbeknownst to Robert at the time, the object of Albert’s adoration). Lydia got pregnant, and Robert was pressed to marry her if he didn’t want her parents to press charges instead.
Their son Matthew was born on September 11, 1971, and Robert did his best to step up his “masculinization” of the boy whenever he caught an affect or behavior in Matt that he sensed was even vaguely effeminate. But while he succeeded in some places—getting Matt to try out for baseball and to join Boy Scouts—he failed miserably in other arenas, such as in his attempt to get Matt interested in cars (a favorite pastime of both Robert and his father Eli).
It was only once Matt fell in love with a friend from Scouts named Garry Kent, an Italian boy who seemed to love cars even more than Matt’s father did, that Matt took an interest in the garage. But, sensing his father might ask too many questions—and fearing how the old man would react to the answers he got—Matt waited until that summer’s trip to Cape Cod to talk to someone else about his newfound interest in automobiles: his grandfather Eli.
The two bonded in the garage all that summer, with Matt eventually confessing to his grandfather that he was gay. No one else knew yet, except for Matt’s sister Veronica, but Grampy took the news even better than Veronica had. Veronica was struggling with her own sexuality at the time and was terrified of what her father would do if he found out that both his children were gay, but Grampy was an old pro at this. His sibling Dottie had been queer, and he’d loved Dottie more than life itself. So he was encouraging and fiercely protective of his grandson.
August 31 was a big day in the Silver family in those days, as it was both the birthday of Matt’s cousin Ashley and traditionally marked the end of the family’s summer holidays on Cape Cod. The tradition was to end the night with a board game played around the kitchen table, and August 31, 1989 was no different. The game that night was Clue, and it was Matt’s sister Veronica’s turn when all hell broke loose.
An insensitive comment by Robert Silver about then-popular talk show host Arsenio Hall set off an emboldened Matt. And though both Eli and Veronica attempted to stop him, Matt decided that this was the moment to come out to his father and the rest of the family.
It did not go well. In fact, it ended with Robert’s hands wrapped around Matt’s throat and the other men in the room (Eli and Albert) trying to pry Robert and Matt apart. But it took Matt spitting into his father’s face with the last of the strength left in his body to get Robert to let go.
The Muddy Middle
Robert and Lydia took Veronica home with them the next day, but left Matt behind with his grandfather—along with a check to cover Matt’s expenses for the remaining eleven days until he turned 18. Lydia had the uncomfortable task of telling her son by phone the next day that Robert would no longer be paying for Matt’s college expenses, which resulted in Matt withdrawing from Kimball College before he’d even begun.
That said, a retired Eli took Matt under his wing and gave him an education over the next five years that no college could have provided.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family—Albert, his wife Michaela, and their children Michael and Ashley—tried to stay connected to both sides of the family. They still visited the Cape during the summers, but took to spending the winter holidays with Robert, Lydia, and Veronica back home in Chelmsford.
Closing Battles & Armistice
On the night of December 31, 1991, history found an odd way of repeating itself. Veronica Silver, now just a bit older than her mother was when she got pregnant for the first time, ended up in bed with the spare guy her best friends’ boyfriends had brought with them to crash the girls’ annual New Year’s Eve sleepover. And it was all because she was drunk and afraid of coming out!
Veronica got pregnant, was forced into a marriage with the baby’s father to keep things respectable, and had her daughter Tracy in September of 1992.
Matt, by now a student of his family’s history who was digging deep into his father’s backstory, laid into his father just as it seemed things might be about to simmer down between them. Eli, exhausted by years of effort to reconcile his son and grandson, doubled down on his smoking habit.
Then, in late 1993 and early 1994, Matt was asked to be a secret-keeper for his grandfather when the old man was diagnosed with lung cancer. Eli didn’t want to worry anyone. At least that’s what he said. But secretly, believing there was nothing he could do about the diagnosis anyway, he believed that his death might be the one thing that could end the conflict.
Sadly, he was right.
Aftermath & Impact
In his will, Eli left most of his property and wealth to Matt. And he left Matt in charge of how the rest would be distributed. This, in combination with Matt’s tearful phone call to his father to say that Eli had died, put an end to the family’s great schism. Though relations would remain chilly for years to come, the reality of Matt holding the pursestrings on Eli’s estate was something that Robert could finally respect. His son had stood his ground and had won the affection of the one man Robert had always been trying to impress above all others.
Matt’s reluctance to back down eventually, in its way, led to his sister’s own coming out (documented in the novel The Piano of Death).
And it sure as shit inspired his cousins and his niece Tracy to stay their own course when faced with wave after wave of troubled waters, as the Silvers always seem to be.