The Harris Men

The Harris Men

by RM Johnson

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RM Johnson's extraordinary debut is a stirring family portrait that resonates with emotion and wit, as a father faces death -- and the three sons he abandoned so many years before.

"Mr. Harris, I'm sorry, but you have cancer." Although devastated to learn he has just one year to live, fifty-five-year-old Julius Harris has always known that the day would come when he would pay for walking out on his wife and three children twenty years earlier. Now, with a sudden and passionate determination to make his family whole again, Julius begins trying to find a way back to his sons.

Caleb, the youngest, struggling to support a son and make his way in a
relentless world, couldn't care less about his own absentee father. Middle
son Marcus can't abide even his father's memory, which gets in the way
of his committing to the one woman who has turned his life around. And Austin, Julius' eldest child, so adores what he remembers of his father that he's following in his footsteps, abandoning his wife and children just
as Julius had done.

Inspired by RM Johnson's own fragile family history, The Harris Men is his poignant exploration of the increasing problem of absentee fathers -- and of the compromises made by the families they leave behind. As the Harris men grapple with their fears and their choices, Johnson gets to the very heart of what it means to be a man.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439129074
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/23/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 906 KB

About the Author

R.M. Johnson is the author of ten books, including bestsellers The Harris Family and The Million Dollar Divorce. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"Mr. Harris, I'm sorry, but you have cancer," the thin, white-haired doctor had told him. The man said it without emotion, without sympathy, without the slightest look of sadness in his eyes. Julius had to let it sink in a moment and decide whether his doctor was telling him the truth or not. He remembered sitting in the chair, stone-faced, unable to move.

Julius Harris shook the old thought out of his head, knowing he shouldn't dwell on the past. He pushed open the bathroom door, and there, sitting in the middle of the antiseptic room, was the toilet. He walked cautiously up to it as though it might snap at him like a small angry terrier. He unzipped his pants and stood poised above the bowl. He stood there holding himself, the bright bathroom light splashing across his slumping head and shoulders as he waited for the flow of urine to make its way toward his urethra.

It will be a while, he told himself, and when it finally comes it will hurt like hell. Julius took deep breaths. Deep cleansing breaths, hoping the action would trigger something inside him, release the old dam gates and let the fluid flow. He tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and tried to relax.

Come on, dammit, he urged himself. I don't want to be here all day, not again. The thought of just saying "screw it" ran across his mind. He'd zip his fly back up and busy himself with some simple task, just forget about it. But past experiences told him that wouldn't work. Even though he didn't have to urinate that minute, it sure as hell felt as though he did, and that feeling would remain with him until he let his contents out. So he stood and waited.

Then he felt it. It was coming, and he was able to relax for the most part and just let it flow. He always felt normal at this point, like he was a kid again, when pissing was something that you never thought two seconds about -- feel your bladder getting tight, whip it out, piss all over the side of a tree and push it back in. One, two, three. Didn't even have to worry about shaking it, because dried piss stains in the front of your Fruit of the Looms were commonplace at that age.

But, like always, he soon realized it wasn't just like normal. The flow of urine was approaching its exit when Julius felt an extreme pain. It was like a bolt of lighting striking the tip of his penis, then flowing up his urethra and exploding somewhere just behind the center of his pelvis, very close to his anus. He shrugged, gritted his teeth, then relaxed a little as the pain subsided. The urine shot out in spurts at first, two streams flowing in different directions, one stream stronger than the other.

A lot of blood came out this time and the water was pink from the quantity. Some had managed to land on the rim of the toilet and the floor, speckling it like a weird abstract painting; pink drops on an all-white canvas. He rolled out some more toilet tissue, dropped to his knees and began to wipe it clean. He inspected the floor, and it was clear of all droplets. But wait. There was one...and another, he thought. But the droplets were not urine and blood, but tears. Two fell quickly from the corners of his eyes and splashed to the floor before he even realized he was crying. He sat up, pushed himself against the vanity, and smoothed the tears away with the heels of his hands.

"No. Don't let it get to you," he told himself in a hushed voice. He had to accept it. That was all. There was nothing he could do. Nothing would change, the disease would take its course whether he filled himself with self-pity and dreaded waking up every morning, or took each remaining day as a blessing. His doctor had told him that. But what the hell did he know, he wasn't the one dying.

Julius stood, telling himself he was stronger than his actions displayed. He looked in the mirror and a man of fifty-five years stared back at him, dark under the eyes; two days of hair growth dirtied his face. "Pull yourself together," he told himself. The doctor was right, and he knew it.

"Two years, thirty months on the outside," the doctor had said. That was all he had left to live. Julius had swallowed hard and tried to stop himself from breaking down. He had tried instead to focus on the man who had just condensed the rest of his life into a number of months. He looked in the doctor's eyes, and the doctor looked back, a blank stare, not at him but past him. Julius understood. The old guy couldn't get too involved with each individual poor sap that happened to be dying in two years. It would be too much to take.

Outside of the hell that was taking place in Julius's head, he had heard Cathy, his girlfriend of twenty years, crying. She was grabbing both of his hands, had pushed her chair very close to his and was bawling, sobbing heavily on his shoulder, a combination of tears and mascara falling to his sweater. Julius wrapped an arm around her. The sight of her experiencing so much pain made him furious.

That was a couple of months ago, and the memory still devastated him. To think that in a matter of months he would no longer exist. Julius reached for the sink, bracing himself there for fear he would fall. He looked up at himself in the mirror again, a desperate look on his face. Why me? he wanted to cry out. He wanted to yell at the top of his lungs, look toward the heavens and demand an answer from the so-called God that lived there in relative comfort while he suffered like an animal beneath him. He wanted to feel pity for himself, but he had done that so many times over the past two months that he knew it would do no good. It would just increase the despair he was already feeling, and pitch him into a deeper hole.

Julius heard footsteps above him, Cathy's gentle movements about the house, which signaled that she had awakened. She had probably reached a hand across the bed, felt that he wasn't there, and immediately become worried, wondering if something tragic had happened to her dearest friend. She cared the world for Julius and he knew that. She would have gladly taken the pain for him, taken the death sentence that he had received just so he could go on living. It was one of the hardest things about accepting the knowledge of his dying -- knowing he would be leaving her behind to grieve painfully for probably the rest of her life.

Julius heard her descending the stairs, making her way just outside the bathroom door; he could feel her weight, her presence there waiting. He turned on the water to mask any sounds that would betray the fact that he had been wallowing in self-pity again.

"Jay, are you in there, sweetheart?" Cathy called. Her voice seemed tentative, as if she hadn't known the man she was speaking to for the past twenty years, but had met him yesterday and now found him in her bathroom.

Julius didn't answer, just rubbed his face with a hand towel, peeked in the mirror, and slipped on the most authentic smile he could manage. She'll never buy it, he thought, as he heard her voice again, more frantic this time.


"Right here." He opened the door. "Just washing the old mug before breakfast." He smiled, feeling unnatural. Cathy looked up at him and didn't say a word. She stared in his face as if trying to decode some puzzle that was hidden there.

"What?" Julius asked, extending his arms out to his sides in animated bewilderment. She threw herself into him, her arms around his neck. He closed his arms around her small body and could feel her trembling within his embrace. He felt how her heart was rapidly pounding in her chest. Her grasp on him was tight, and he knew she knew exactly what had gone on in the bathroom, could read it in his face like she could read everything he was thinking. He squeezed her tight, rubbing his cheek against the soft curls of her hair, smelling the natural sweetness of her scent. The love he felt for her at that moment was too intense to bear.

"I'll fix you a big breakfast. Pancakes, sausages, eggs, grits, everything, well, not sausage. That's bad -- turkey sausage. I'll call off from work, and we can -- "

"No. Don't. I'll be fine," Julius said, pulling her hands away from his face, holding them in his hands. "I'm fine, really." He tried the plastic smile again, feeling just as phony as before.

She stared into his face with her big brown-orange eyes. She always did that, as though she couldn't say anything without first really thinking it over.

"Why didn't you wake me when you got up?"

"Because you were up with me late last night, and you needed to get your sleep."

"I thought you said you'd wake me if you weren't feeling well."

Julius let go of her hands and took a couple of steps back. "Yes, I did agree on that, but I'm feeling fine. I'm fine, Cathy."

"Then why -- "

"Cathy, stop. I'm dying. I accepted that. But I'm not dead yet. I don't even feel that bad. I'm all right, and I'm going to be all right for who knows how long. Now, I love you to death, but I don't think I'll be able to handle you on my case like you are now for the next couple of years. I'll go crazy before it's time for me to check out. You wouldn't want that, would you?" He laughed a little, feeling more genuine.

"I'm sorry, Jay. It's just I don't want you to feel alone with this thing. I want you to know that it's not just your problem, but ours. I'm here, whatever you need. Whatever you want."

"What I want is for us not to dwell so much on my, I mean, our problem. Can we just live like we have been for the past twenty years, huh?"

"Okay. I'll...I'll try that." She smiled, giving him a small kiss on the lips. "I'll go to work, but I'm still going to fix you that breakfast."

"No. That's all right. I have a lot on my mind. I was really just planning on going out and finding somewhere nice to sit. You know, something beautiful to look at."

Cathy didn't say anything, but he could see her making an effort to try not to ask to accompany him.

"Okay, sweetheart. I'll eat all by myself, but don't complain when you miss out on the best breakfast I've ever made."

Julius parked his car, a 1970 Mercedes two-door coupe, on the bank of the Pacific Ocean. It was spotless. He had just washed and waxed it two days ago and it looked brand new. He looked back at it as he walked toward the water, remembering when he had first purchased it so many years back. Fifteen years to be exact, from some old guy. It was spotless then, and looked just as good now, if not better.

It was his gift to himself for making it, for doing what he set out to do and accomplishing it, even though he had to sacrifice a wife and three sons. He stood, the water to his back, a gentle breeze in the air, looking at the car. A solemn look covered his face. What a gift. He had bought the car in celebration of leaving his old life, venturing out in the cruel world where no one knew him, and making a new life. Yes, he had bought the car five years after he left his family, to commemorate the year his business was finally in the black, and he could feel accomplished.

The car had meant so much to him then. It helped mask the pain he was feeling for abandoning his family, helped him forget that he was still a married man with three boys that were probably missing him as he drove through the streets in the small two-seater, declaring how single and carefree he was. It had meant so much to him then, but now it really wouldn't matter to him if the brake slipped and the thing slowly started rolling toward the water. He would let it roll. He'd probably even give it a nudge and watch the water eat his car, leaving behind only ripples and bubbles, then nothing. It would only be fitting. But then he would have nothing, neither the car nor his family. He would only have his diseased shell of a body, and soon that too would be gone.

Copyright © 1999 by R. Marcus Johnson

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The Harris Men 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought one RM Johnson book, and I've been hooked ever since. Every single one of his stories has great characterization, a smooth plot, and adult scenes without being vulgar and drawn out. I wish every fiction writer would master this craft! Anyway, this book is about three brothers, one an ex-con with a big heart and a hard head, one who would make a mule jealous because he is so stubborn about EVERYTHING including accepting his not-so-dead-beat-anymore Dad, and the third just can't make up his mind what he wants his future to be like--he wants a relationship, then he doesn't, he wants to have his kids around, then he doesn't want kids anymore. They're all trying to reach growing up goals but have a habit of being SUPER immature at times. Marcus reminds me a lot of me so it was funny watching him cause he was dead wrong most of the time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good book. I learned alot about myself. I couldn't  put this book down.Thx
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
While not only going into the hearts of so many adults who are not the cause of their continuous unhappiness this book provides confort and understanding to many broken hearts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book based solely on the other reviews I've read online and an excerpt from the book. The book is EXCELLENT. I found it hard putting the book down and I really felt pulled in by the characters. RM Johnson does a great job of getting the reader emotionally involved with the plot and it's characters. I haven't read many books that even attempt to delve into this subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To say I enjoyed this book would be an understatement. I cannot relate to growing up without a father, but I can now understand the plight of those who do. This book shed light inside the soul of men. And although, I don't agree with men ever leaving their seed, I did find myself having sympathy twd the father. This is a great book about family, love and forgiveness.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading this book, I found it extremely hard to put it down. Whether walking down the street or riding (train, bus, or car), I was in this book. Mr. Johnson told a story in a manner in which one could definitely relate. With the streeses we as African-American men face with regard to family, it is not difficult to find oneself in the pages. I recommend this book to all African-American men, especially those who have experienced growing up in a home without a father present.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book on so many levels. I laughed, cried. I feel like this book was written for me. I am a black female, about to meet her father for the first time. This book has helped me to understand both points of view. I thank you RM for this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harris gives such a realistic account of the men's actions you almost beleive the book was based on his own life. The characters were intriguing; each in his or her own way. The end was the best because the real world does not offer happy endings everyday. But the end result was not to for everyone to be happy but to have a sense of resolution. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book deserves more then 5 stars. This was and excellent book. The author really made me emotional and uplifted after I read this book. I was very pleased with the writing. I can't wait to read his next novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a African American Male I found the book to be outstanding. Above all through this book one can find a sense of self understanding. Can't Wait till the Next Book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author is going places. The book read very well. I enjoyed every moment, every chapter, and could not put this book down. I look forward to reading his next book, Father Found.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was 'THE BOMB'. I had past this book several times in several book stores, for what reason. I don't know. I was sitting at a Braves baseball game reading the book in the stands. That's what I thought of the book. I am glad my brother purchaced it and made me read it. It made me realize their are unneccessary hurts in the world and it's sad. Thanks Mr. Johnson. My Husbands and Sons will be reading your book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must read for anyone who enjoys reading as much as I do. I felt really bad for Caleb, a child lost in this world like so many are. I will be reading Mr. Johnson's next novel and hope to be reading many more books by him in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For this to have been this authors first book, he picked a excellent, yet too familiar subject, that will catch all readers. (Very good job!) I thought the book was very well written and each characters identity was unique in its own way. Its too bad that that absentee fathers is so common in today's society. This is definately going to be on my list as a must read for others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really, really, enjoyed this book. As an avid reader I must say this book was well thought out, and it was just great. I would recommend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really hit home!!! Having not had a father in my life, it was easy to understand how children can emulate their parents even if they don't want to. A must read for anyone who've lost their dad or did not have their father in their life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of fiction books by black authors both male and female but one of the complaints I've had for a while, being a man, is that they don't ever seem to write any books with all men as the 'lead' characters. With that said, I could NOT put this book down. I loved reading how the brothers interacted (and in some cases, DID NOT INTERACT) with each other. I loved seeing their father try to do something that was on his heart and mind to do and that is to attempt to reconcile with the three sons he abandoned 20 years earlier. A fantastic book that men will be able to relate to and it is also a great book for women to read as well. Go out and buy this book!